Yesterday I took my daughter in for her yearly check-up. As she had her vision tested I remembered when I had mine at her age, but not because it was mandatory, but because I was a naughty little girl. Two of my closest friends in my first grade class were wearing glasses. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted glasses too. My friends said that they had headaches from all the squinting they had done. They said their eyes hurt. They said their eyes turned red.
I went home and cried to my dad that my head was killing me, and that my eyes hurt so terribly, I was afraid they’d fall out of the eye sockets. I rubbed and rubbed at them, and my eyes became red and inflamed from all the rubbing I did. I walked around the house squinting and rubbing at my eyes. My parents were worried. Bad eyesight was a common occurrence in my dad’s family. Three of the seven siblings were wearing bifocals.
So my dad took me to see the eye doctor.
The doctor’s sitting room was filled with kids who, no doubt, had the same idea I did. There they all were in their blue and white school uniforms rubbing at their eyes and squinting. And there were the parents slapping the kids hands away from their eyes, looking worried.
I was sure I would come home with a pair of glasses. I was sure I could fool the doctor just as I had fooled my parents. I was sure that all I had to do was just squint and rub at my eyes. No one told me I had to make mistakes reading the eye chart. I was a first grader and proud to be reading already. I wanted the doctor to see how smart I was, and what a good reader I was, and that I was sure to receive a certificate from my teacher claiming that I was the smartest little girl in all of the first grade.
The doctor was impressed. Not with my reading as much as with my vision. My vision was perfect, he said. And (almost) perfect it remains to this day.
My daughter is happy she doesn’t need glasses. They’d only get in the way of soccer and ballet, she says. Sunglasses, on the other hand, she can’t have enough.
All children have expectations of their parents. The seeds of expectation are planted in a child’s infancy, by the first cry. From the first: I am hungry, feed me; I am wet, change me; I am scared, protect me; I am hurting, love me, expectations are watered daily, and they grow. The roots go deep. Far into the earth. And whatever the outcome, disappointment follows.
I know all about disappointment, dashed expectations. Mines were dug out, set fire to, and destroyed soon after I turned nine. That’s when my childhood stopped. One day I was a child and the next I wasn’t.
It wasn’t anybody’s fault.
When my parents came to the United States in 1981, with five children clinging to their legs ranging from two years old to nine, they worried more about what things to bring in their allotted two suitcases, than about how they would function in this country. Functioning in the United States, in fact, was never an issue. To their minds they were not the first immigrants and they would certainly not be the last. Besides, they had family here, to secure them a furnished rental house, an automobile, even a job for my father. Within a year or two, with hard work and many economies, they would even be able to buy their own home. So many immigrants with a strong work ethic did it. They would too.
And they did. My father had two, three jobs at a time. He worked from four in the morning to eleven at night. Monday through Saturday. Week after week after week. For years and years. He did this while my mother raised us five, gardened and cooked and drove us to school and to church and to wherever else we needed to go. All because they were determined that their children have a better life than they did. That they’d have better opportunities.
But it was the lack of English skills that they bumped against every single time they stepped out of the house: at the grocery store, at the bank, at the doctor’s office. And as the oldest child in the family, I became their interpreter. A parent to them, in a sense. Their confidant. The one privy to all their secrets and moles and blood clots and financial situations. I had more control over their lives than I understood. And maybe even more than they understood.
While my sisters and brothers chased each other in the rows of vegetables and fruit trees, while they splashed in a plastic blue kiddie pool in the shade of the backyard pomegranate tree, or read books, or played with bits of wood they imagined as dolls and action figures and cars under the scented lemon trees of the front yard, I was translating insurance forms or waiting on the line for the electric company. That’s when the seeds of responsibility were planted. One. By. One.
I did not know any better. I was raised to respect my elders.
If there was any resentment toward them, if there was any resentment that I didn’t have the freedoms of my siblings, it was buried deep within my body, somewhere in my toes, I think. It was the toes that always itched to run away when I heard my name called.
But I never ran. Responsibility had become a vine and I was ensnared within it.
When I was a little girl, I loved sneaking looks into my mom’s or aunts’ purses. Treasures awaited. Every little scribbled note was a mystery, a secret message. The backs of wallet photos were especially important. I was looking for hearts and xo’s and I love you’s. Zippered compartments with their spare change, ticket stubs, receipts, and discarded candy wraps were scrutinized with suspicion. Perhaps I was just looking for candy. Or perhaps I was looking for something more, something deeper. A look inside the hearts of these women so dear to me.
I was remembering all this as I cleaned out my purse today. It was starting to weigh me down, starting to slow my walk. And I got to thinking about the things I carry with me and within me. How much is treasure, and how much is trash? Hoarding wrappers and unacknowledged addictions, receipts and guilt, lists and forgotten dreams, photos and great love, love notes and memories. Getting rid of the junk, and keeping the real.
It was surprisingly easy to let go.
I love lists. Oh yes! I do. Sometimes before I fall asleep, I make lists in my head. Of places I want to visit, things I want to accomplish, books I must read. Sometimes I make boring lists, about retirement and saving money and such. I don’t dwell long on those. And sometimes I make lists about the things I want to possess. Clothing, furniture, homes in 20 different places. But the possessions list is boring as well. Lately I’ve become sort of detached from the idea of excess, although at one time I’d rather have given up my right hand than separate myself from a walk-in closet.
In my current journal I have a few identical lists of my 100 favorite books, people, furniture, and clothes. The week of the rapture that didn’t happen, I dreamt that I was told that I must pack up my car with 100 of my *cannot live without* items and people. So I went to get a UHaul truck and started filling it up. But, for some reason, everything I put inside it ballooned up and there was no room for the people that I loved. Out came all the things I thought I couldn’t live without, and in went all my family and friends.
I love my life. It isn’t perfect, no, but I am content. And although I know it’s so cliche, the things that make me so, aren’t things. Not really. What completes my days, are the smiles of my darlings as they reach for me, all sleepy headed and heavy lidded in the early mornings hours. The chirping of the birds flitting from branch to branch outside my open window, beckoning me to rise from the softness of my bed and make the most out of the hour before everyone else is up; the books waiting to be read, impatiently threatening to spill out of the overflowing bookcases; the smell of coffee and of toast; my stash of emergency dark chocolate, hidden in a secret spot, high up on a shelf; the yellow roses scrambling up my patio’s trellis, competing with the green of the ivy; hubby surprising me with delicious treats when I least expect it; my ever-ready daily uniform of converse, dark jeans and fitted cashmere sweaters; treasured friends (see the photo) who support and encourage and never fail to check up on me whenever I pull a disappearing act; the smiles and the kindness of those who cross my path on a daily basis; and my faith, always present, always a comfort, a steady presence in my life.
I want to absorb all the delicious moments of my every day. Inhale them. Stretch out the minutes to last for hours. Remember them forever and ever, whatever life will bring. I watch the faces of my lovelies, those of my parents, of my siblings, of my friends. I try to etch the twinkle of their eyes into my mind, the wrinkles on their faces, the laugh lines on their cheeks, the perfection of their skin, the sound of their voices and of their laughter. Sometimes I feel desperate that I will forget something important, that a moment of eternity will pass me by and I’ll be looking the other way. So I stare harder and command my mind not to forget.
What about you, friends? What makes you content? What is on your happy list?
The photo above was taken this last Saturday at my friend Melania’s wedding (CONGRATULATIONS!), by my friend Teddy. Actually, it was taken by one of Teddy’s assistants because we wanted Teddy in the photo with us. Teddy is the one next to me in the white blouse and black slacks. She is an awesome photographer. When her website is up I will provide a link. Until then, keep an eye on her everyone!
Unfortunately, I haven’t been in any places with vending machines in the last several days, so this photo will have to do. Upon closer inspection, it is a highly appropriate photo as it invites one to choose between a selection of delicious yummies, just as a vending machine would.
I am reminded of the love story of one of my numerous uncles’ girlfriends of years past. This girlfriend kept a running tally of all the young men she had dated. My uncle was number 34, if I remember correctly. It wasn’t that she was a great beauty, she was just seventeen and lacking sophistication, yet already an expert in the art of seduction as some women are taught from an early age. The young men wanted to marry her, anticipating all that her body offered. She got engaged to one man, and on her wedding night snuck out to run off with another.
Choices, choices. And that’s how it is with vending machines. One’s forever second guessing the choices made.
For more on REAL vending machines visit Jane’s sidebar at: #mce_temp_url#.
As teens, my sisters and I would roll our eyes whenever my dad or mom would bring forth the subject of their courtship. It seemed such an old fashioned concept, and we were more than slightly embarrassed by it. Normal people’s parents had dated, not courted. According to my dad, mom had quite a few suitors and she couldn’t make up her mind between them. One night she’d meet one of them for a walk down the linden city center streets, stopping somewhere for a beverage or dessert, and the next together with her girlfriends she’d run into another at an ice cream parlor.
Apparently these meetings carried on for a while, and dad was losing patience. Christmas was approaching, and he was playing the trombone in a brass band that visited the surrounding village churches. He would be gone for a while every Saturday and Sunday and those were their designated days to walk the promenade, coyly flirting, my mom in her tailored miniskirt and kitten heels and dad in his well cut suit. On a cold November Sunday he demanded that she choose between them. Who would it be?
I can just imagine my mom looking up at him surprised. What was his hurry, she had probably murmured in her soft voice. My mom is very soft spoken. She couldn’t be rushed, she had most likely added. She was just twenty-one. And so my dad did what every honorable man of his time did. He paid a visit to my grandparents, laden with gifts, and asked for my mom’s hand in marriage.
The only problem was that another of her suitors had beat him to it, and while she hadn’t been promised (as the decision was solely my mom’s), my grandparents were faced with an issue they hadn’t foreseen. Although she does not admit it, claiming she does not remember, I believe mom may have had an inkling of it. What to do? She liked both of them, for different reasons. They were both good men, from good families. She couldn’t make up her mind. Grandmother and grandfather prayed that God would lead her to choose the kindest of the two.
Mom finally decided that she would pick the one she would first encounter, unplanned. She got herself ready, her long dark tresses in a topknot popular in those days and went to meet a girlfriend. And whom should she meet on the way there? My dad, of course. Was it planned, a coincidence perhaps, or was it really a sign from God? No one’s telling. And my grandmother had a saying she loved to repeat over and over whenever I pressed her about it: God speaks clearly and he doesn’t play magic tricks.
A month later my parents were married, and almost two years after that I came along, the first of five children. Now, as they are preparing to celebrate another anniversary together, I am praying for their long, happy marriage to continue, in good health and love, side by side.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. (Henry David Thoreau)
Monday morning dawned cold and clear, a streak of pink across the sky. I lay in bed a few extra minutes, loving the warmth of the sheets, hubby’s arm around me, and my youngest darling who had snuck in our bed sometime during the dark night. It had been a restless night, characterized by much tossing and turning and checking of the time. As we were preparing the kids for bed we had received horrible news. A close family friend had died after almost a year of fighting for his life. He had been young, younger than me, and had left behind a wife, siblings, and aging parents.
And he had worked so hard, a most diligent student of life. First at his studies, then at his job, then at his marriage, and finally at what was slowly killing him. We were expecting this call to come sometime in the future. He had been doing so well lately, and the spark of loving life hadn’t left his eye. The news left us speechless, our thoughts meandering over the years of our lives.
How many of those we had lived carelessly and ungrateful for the miracle life is? We had hurt the ones who love us in our indifference and selfishness. We had worried about ridiculous things. We had overlooked nurturing relationships in favor of making money. And shouldn’t it be the other way? Why is it that the suicide rate had increased during the present economic situation? For that reason alone: a genuine lack of spiritual and human connection. When what one places one’s hopes in disappears, what is there to turn to?
As I am preparing to say my last goodbyes to our friend, I am making a promise to myself. I will tend to my relationships; I will be more thankful; I will forgive more quickly and apologize to the people I have hurt; I will love unconditionally; I will kiss and hug my loved ones even more; I will measure my words; I will act with compassion; I will stop worrying about transient things and instead focus on the eternal; I will live with a sense of gratitude and not one of entitlement; I will seize every opportunity to see the beauty around me and revel in God’s gift of life. And finally, I will live. I will live passionately.