Archive for December, 2008
It is early morning, the house is quiet, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee and my thoughts, looking out the window at the snow falling and swirling every time a gust of wind veers it off its vertical course. The snow is deep, probably around two feet, and it hasn’t stopped descending. While I was loving it days ago, I feel it’s about time it stopped.
Today is my mom’s birthday. I did not need to read through my journals -although I did read a whole lot yesterday- to recapture the emotions I have been going through the last four years. Since childhood the dynamic energy of our family has been held together by this peaceful, calm and loving woman. She has sacrificed her youth to us, mothering, cooking, making peace, taking us places, admonishing tenderly when we needed it, teaching us songs, reciting poetry, raising five kids with strong personalities, to be kind, to be loving, to be polite, to love God, to think for ourselves and not give in to the peer pressure around us. Reminding us that mother, father, sister, and brother are one’s true best friends. She has been silly when we were silly, cheerful when we were cheerful, encouraging when we were sad, no matter how inconsequential (from an adult perspective) our hurts.
As we reached adulthood and started families of our own, she gathered us back home on Sundays, cooking up a storm, waiting on us, holding and playing with the grandchildren so we could eat while the food was hot. She babysat on weekends so that the five of us kids with our spouses could go out to dinner together. She babysat during the week when we were in school or at our jobs, caring for and loving her grandchildren with the same patience and dedication she had shown us.
And then cancer struck. Out of nowhere, no indication. It took my breath away, and I, who had believed myself strong and optimistic and unafraid, couldn’t stop crying and began to fear every phone call and every shadow. I became moody and short-tempered and found fault with the littlest, most unimportant thing. I am sure I was a nightmare to my husband and my son. And for the first time in my life, I blamed God. How could He do this to her? To her?? I could name two dozen people who deserved it. But her? What had she done?
Sensing the pain and disillusionment of her children, she stood strong and unwavering in her faith in God. She’d never complain, not even when the chemotherapy and radiation left her weak and pale and trembling. Not even when she lost her hair and her eyebrows and her eyelashes. When every breath she took must have hurt her to the core and every step was an exertion. While her heart must have cried out to God and possibly to my father, she was her faithful, encouraging self to the rest. She knew how frangible we were.
I cringe when I reflect upon my immaturity. She, who had encouraged me for years and years, could barely get any words of encouragement from me. I was too afraid to linger on her illness. I was too afraid I’d come undone. I couldn’t find the right words. I didn’t know if the right words existed. Everything I came up with sounded empty and pathetic, a screen to keep the real feelings in. I didn’t even know what my real feelings were, other than a jumbled up and chaotic mess. Besides, I was busy being selfish and busy blaming God. I wallowed in self pity day after day, wondering what would become of me, were she to die. Wondering what would become of the relationship between my sisters and brothers and father. She was the glue between the parts, the filling between the cake.
The winds of despair blew me in many directions. I reflected about the church I had been brought up in and how it had become a millstone around my neck with its formulas and laws so intent on punishment. I fell victim to my newfound occupation of holding everyone but myself responsible. That inner voice that I had always attributed to God, had become less and less dependable. All the things it was telling me seemed to be meant for someone else. Angrily, I just stopped listening. And then one day my mom said something I had often heard (yes, even in my head): God rains His blessings on the just and the unjust, and we have to be strong in our faith and take the good as well as the bad. It isn’t for us to question, and not because we don’t have the right, but rather because it keeps us from seeing the grace of God and the miracles He works in our lives.
I wish I could say I went home and got on my knees and prayed for repentance. I wish I could say that hope and courage and contentment and selflessness became such a part of my life that I never questioned God anymore. But I didn’t fall on my knees. And, I didn’t become a better person. Instead I became angrier at God, and (I’m ashamed to admit this) even at her, for saying such simplistic things. It was all well and good for someone to dole out the advice, especially if there had been no major suffering in that person’s life, but how could she just sit back and believe it? And not just believe it, but repeat it?
Yet, my mother is a wise woman. She knew what she was doing, she felt my uncertainties and my need to be uplifted. She knew those words would slowly work their way under my thick skull and turn me in the right direction. She has unwavering faith in God to hold her up and knew that I was lacking. Slowly faith has worked its way back in.
But it isn’t easy. Even now, day by day, I have to remind myself. To pray. To hope. To lift up my head and stop focusing on the mud and dirt around me. To stop looking for faults in others while just noticing the good in me. Sometimes all I can offer to God is a please or a thank you, because words fail. My mom’s health has improved. The peace within me has increased. The love between us all has deepened.
I love you mom. More than I can possibly express in words or deeds. For all that you were and you are and you will be. I love you and thank God for each day we are together. Happy Birthday!
I love winter. I love sitting inside with a warm drink in hand, cozying up to my husband on our goose down filled couch, watching the flames dance in the fireplace, the children around us, my son reading to us from one of his books, my daughter wanting my sole attention, while outside the snow falls in huge, fat, barely formed flakes or sheets of rain pound the roof, the wind roars, the windowpanes rattle (and you can bet they do in our 100+ year old house), as nature merciless, yet, at its loveliest, makes itself feared and respected.
As I write this, the wind is howling and knocking on the windows, lifting the snow that had fallen earlier in the day in spirals and clouds and flinging against the panes its grainy flakes. The house is quiet, everyone, asleep. I remember the winter our daughter was born, and the snow storm a few days after we brought her home. Our house up on the hill shook and trembled with every gust of air. I was afraid the windows would pop out of their frames or shatter in thousands of sharp edged pieces, and that night I sandwiched both children between my husband and myself in our big bed, too terrified to fall asleep. It was our first winter in the house. The next morning everything outside glittered in dazzling whiteness. My husband and son couldn’t wait to bundle up and go sledding on the empty lot next to us. Holding my newborn, I watched from the dining room window, again fearful, but now that my son would break an arm or leg.
Since I’ve started reminiscing, I might as well go on. About twelve years ago we had an ice storm that made average winter tree skeletons into the most breathtaking crystalline sculptures. The roads were a nightmare of course, and for a couple of days no one I knew attempted to drive anywhere as every street major or minor, was enveloped in ice. Certainly, we’ve had ice storms like this before or since, but I remember this because it was the winter before I got married, the last winter in my parents’ home. The electricity went out, and we brought out the candles and the board games and we played into the night with my brothers and other friends who had come in the meantime, joining.
My sister and I had walked to the store earlier this evening because we had craved chocolate. The store isn’t far, but it was dark and chilly, and as usual I had miscalculated how cold I’d be. As the wind took our breath away and froze our noses and foreheads we couldn’t talk much, but with the snow crunching underneath the soles of our fleece lined boots we both fondly recalled our ritual yearly sledding on the hilly golf course near our parents’ house. We had been carefree then, our only worries were how to best enjoy ourselves. Everything was accomplished while laughing until our sides hurt.
Our dad used to pull us after his running figure on a sled down the street every winter of our childhood. He used to like dumping us in snow banks at the edges of driveways and he’d throw snowballs at us, probably having more fun than we did. He sure knew how to pack the snow, and it sure hurt. But it didn’t really matter because we loved our dad and his playful ways.
Earlier in the day my husband took both kids out, but this time, after my sister assured me that my daughter’s bones aren’t as prone to fracture as I’d worried, I just watched out the window and once more was glad that it is winter and it is snowing and yes, even that the wind is blowing. They played in the snow, made snowballs, even attempted to make a snowman and came into the house with their cheeks red, their noses runny, and all giggly about how much fun they had.
My wish is for my children to experience winter and all it’s splendors just as I had growing up and as I have now growing older with them by my side.
Since we gave up our television set a little more than a year ago, we have been doing a lot of reading. In the beginning it was a bit hard to get used to the seemingly empty evening hours and I confess I was anxious to fill the time with anything that would make the hours pass. After a few nights of going online to get the news and chat with friends, we realized that our decision to kick the TV out had been in fact a desire to create a bond between us, and not just to prove our superiority to our family and friends.
So we brought out the cookbooks and cooked up elaborate meals with the kids participating, stocked up on board games and delegated Sunday night ‘family game night,’ and went to the public library and made library cards for each one of us. (As I am writing this, I am looking out the window at an elderly woman walking along and reading a paperback. I see her everyday at about this time and sometimes she stops and reads, flipping the page, as though wondering what she missed. I want to ask her what she’s reading so intently that she can’t wait until she gets home or to the bus stop. It must be good if she’s willing to risk falling or tripping and breaking an ankle! I have done that a few times, dragging myself off the couch and walking around the house in an attempt to get some exercise in besides my reading. I have ended up either stubbing my toes or bumping my head on a wall that suddenly came up. Consequently, I have determined that I much rather work out my brain.)
I am thrilled to say that reading became our favorite pastime. Every evening (unless I go to one of my two book clubs, on a date with my husband, or to the bookstore or library with the family), following a yummy dinner where we sit and chat about our day, school, work, current events, books we’ve read, etc., we all retreat to our cozy family room lined with brimming bookshelves and depending how cold it is outside, a blazing fire, and read until time for bed.
It doesn’t take much to get us into the holiday spirit, even without a TV, or without trips to congested malls. The kids open the respected day’s flap on the advent calendar, select a book from the overflowing holiday bookshelf, my husband and I find our places in our books, and we’re on our way. Silent reading is the best! Nonetheless, memories are made while reading to one another, so we try to remember to include that in our nightly ritual. Following is our recommended holiday list. Pick one, pick all, just sit back, sip something comforting (a little spiced apple cider?, a hot cocoa perhaps?), and enjoy making memories!
The Gift of the Magi O. Henry
The Fir Tree Hans Christian Andersen
A Miserable, Merry Christmas Lincoln Steffens
The Legend of the Christmas Rose Selma Lagerlof
The Birth Of Christ St. Luke 2:1-16
The Three Wise Men St. Matthew 2:1-14
A Pint of Judgment Elizabeth Morrow
The Miraculous Staircase Arthur Gordon
The Story of Holly and Ivy Rumer Godden
The Little Match Girl Hans Christian Andersen
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
Toot and Puddle: I’ll Be Home for Christmas Holly Hobbie
Christmas in the Big Woods Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree Robert Barry
Eloise at Christmastime Kay Thompson
Ever since I have read Prague, a novel by Arthur Phillips, I have wanted to visit Budapest. Prague is the story of five American expats who settle in post communist Budapest in the early 1990’s for business and romantic opportunities. Most of their time is spent entertaining obscure suspicions that their fellow expats in Prague are faring much better than they are. The novel is thin on plot (I like a story with a beginning, middle, and end), and thick on character development (which has its own time and place), yet it offers some breathtaking descriptions of sights around the baroque, hillier Buda, where the National Palace is located, and Pest, the downtown, which abounds in grand 19th century architecture.
I can’t say I enjoyed the characters as much as I enjoyed reading about the city they were in. Or, I should say, as much as I dreamed about visiting the city of Budapest. My mom had visited while a newlywed and she told me all about the restaurants and the museums and the palatial residences on leaf-shaded streets. Family and friends filled in with descriptions of the famous, mosaic tiled public baths, the Buda Castle, Andrassy Avenue, and the numerous antique stores and clothing boutiques. I love castles, architecture, antiques, history. And I love to eat good food. It wasn’t a question of whether or not to go, it was merely a question of when.
So, two years ago, armed with diapers and enough formula to feed my five month old for 30 days, we set off. Our goal was to see as much as we could of eastern and central europe as our 6 year old and 5 month old would allow. Surprisingly (although we were rushed and needed to take into account nap times and snack times and all the etc. pertaining to kids), we were able to accomplish a lot and both of them were little angels… most of the time.
We left Budapest as our last city to explore. We had flown in to Budapest and we were to fly out of it to come back home. What we forgot to take into consideration those last few days (and we should have been experts at it by then), was to look at a calendar. Traveling with two kids, it’s best to avoid visiting a city in the middle of a festival or a national holiday. And that’s exactly what we did.
We were stuck in traffic for hours. Our car overheated and began to steam and there we were in the middle of the city with no place to pull over, but the grassy park divider. We didn’t speak but a smattering of unrecognizable Hungarian, and based on the people we had met thus far on our cross country trip, hardly anyone spoke English. Someone kind enough jumped out of their car and handed us a big bottle of water. We popped the hood and waited. We gathered it was some kind of celebration. It was stifling, people were loud, through open car windows techno music was blaring; in a bus that passed us by, two teens were fighting, and no one wanted to have anything to do with it, even when they pushed each other violently. Gradually it got dark and the fireworks started. Or what we assumed were fireworks. As it was we couldn’t see much, too many tall buildings in the way. Then, with the car sufficiently cooled (we hoped), we pulled back into the traffic, and not a minute too soon, as a strong gust of wind, deafening thunder, and forceful rain came pouring down. A huge branch snapped off a tree, and the street was rapidly flooding. Never in my life have I experienced or thought possible anything like that. The clouds burst like a water ballon. The windshield wipers barely kept up. Somehow we made a u-turn and climbed on to higher ground. The streets below us were flooded, plastic bags and tree branches were floating on the river that had previously been a street.
The next morning we left. We had heard that some boats had capsized on the Danube, where thousands had been out celebrating and watching the Independence Day fireworks. People had died. It was scary and sad and unpredictable. It made me think of how one moment you’re full of life, pulsating with it, and then in a flash it’s gone, almost as it never was. But, I’m getting too morbid here.
The romance of Budapest is still awaiting me. Next time I’m going it will be early in the fall; I’ll have checked the calendar beforehand.