Friday, December 19, 2014

My Ten Moments From 2014

These are hard posts to write--take a whole year and boil it down to ten things? But I like them, too, so I'm going to try to sift through. In no particular order, but this is what I remember as being important and favorite and, sometimes, more like sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. I will carry these things in my heart.

1. Watching my oldest girl and her girl scout friends complete the high adventure course through Girl Scouts. There she was, my left-handed out of the box thinking mega-introvert, proving how strong she was. Not only her--one of my girls cried through the whole high ropes event, and then presented it to her class in essay format last week, writing about a life-changing event. I was part of that. I was part of what brought these young women to this fullness of life. I know, it's only a weekend of bonding and challenge, but so much of our lives is so mundane. I got to witness something that wakes you up.
2. Spending the night at La Prele Ranger Station in Medicine Bow National Forest. All alone in the middle of nowhere with no contact with rangers or officials, just pulling up in the truck, using the code to let ourselves in, and experiencing the thrill of being completely, totally, off the grid. No cell coverage, no electricity, no authorities, just a beautiful little cabin in a cluster of old buildings on a dirt road, well frankly, calling it a dirt road is an insult to dirt roads. It was so isolated, perhaps the most isolated I have ever been. And it terrified me. Not my kids, not my husband, just me. I am not designed for isolation. But it was clean, lovingly cared for, and all was well. In the morning I kind of wished we had more time. But only kind of. Because I needed some civilization.
3. Moving my sister back to St. Louis in a cockamamie cluster of bad planning and Blake realities. So much fun and so stupid and OF COURSE I traveled back and forth to Columbia Missouri twice in one day. But we were both in good moods and you know, if it ain't a good time, it's a good story.

4. Waking up in the camper on our vacation this summer, everything around me the perfect temperature, knowing that it's going to be COLD when I step outside, which is tantalizingly lovely in July, to be cold in the morning, and also knowing that I don't actually have to get up yet. It was a really good trip. I can't let this time slip through my fingers.

5.Allowing myself this little bit of midlife crisis. I knew it would happen, going back to the classroom. I just didn't know it would keep going, spiraling out of control. Too much, it was a winter and spring and summer of too much. Too much love, too much drink, too many words, too many new realities to come to terms with. And I did a pretty bad job of it. But I came out shining like the damned sun, fearless, strong, and good. I will carry these moments in my heart alongside Christmas mornings and vacation snapshots. They aren't perfect and they aren't beautiful, but they are a rocky climb to a high summit of self-knowledge and peace. There is some peace. And it's quite the view.

6. Mourning the loss of Daisy's tae kwon do master, Glenn Warren. Really being crushed by this, by the death of this man I barely knew, but who loomed so large in my middle child's life. And I was so broken hearted about this, about the fact that he gave things to Daisy I never could. But then the slow, solid realization that no one could take those things away, either. These belong to her, these are part of the rich texture of her own life, her own beautiful brave poignant life. She is more me than the older one is. She will carry these things in her heart and I want to tell her, baby, be easy. Be easy or it will grind you down. Be easy.

7. Sitting in the St. Louis County Justice Center waiting to post bail and thinking about everything that had brought me to that point. Noting how freaking clean that place is, more like an unused bus station than a jail. Realizing that my life is richly textured, beautiful and fragile and broken and amazing. Kissing him hello. Kissing him goodbye and dropping him at that corner of the Patch and watching him walk up the road. Nothing, nothing can stop me from loving you baby.

8. The moment when teacher and student grok each other--it's happening this year more than it's ever happened for me. I've let down my guard and brought more of my heart to the table, and they have responded in stunningly honest and lovely ways. The moment when I look over at that 8th grade boy or that 6th grade girl and we get each other. We get it, and it's all a huge inside joke that we share between each other but also with everyone else in the room and it's the beginning of community and it's the earth-shattering idea that you can only learn anything important from someone who loves you and gets you. Gets it. Remembers, and can make herself slip into her 8th grade shaker sweater and scrunch socks and remember, tangibly, what it was like to be there with Lillian and TJ and Tony and Kerry. I spend so many moments in 8th grade gear now. And it's amazing, every one of them. So young and bold/14 years old.

9. Laughing at the urgent care doctor as he tells me I need my appendix out. That's a ridiculous idea. Not going to happen. It's just gas, send me home with a stool softener and embarrass me. Oh. Ok. It's really happening. Ok then. Umm. And then laughing nervously and creating the mental list of everything that needs to be done RIGHT NOW. Finding out my 18 year old cat passed away waiting for me to take her to the vet to be euthanized. Oh Hickory. And then heading out to the ER at Mercy, still pretty sure it was ridiculous. It wasn't.

10. "It's about the size and shape of an olive." Inside my body, deep inside breast tissue, such that neither I nor my OB/GYN could find it, was an olive they just weren't too sure about. Olive. I kept thinking about olives. Was it brown like a kalamata? What kind of olive? Which would be better? Olive. I left that appointment with another appointment card for a core needle biopsy to take samples of my olive, wondering what was going to happen to me. Everyone saying IT WILL BE FINE but there was this olive. People, listen. I have an olive. And it doesn't belong there. 

In the end, it did belong there, nicely benign fibroadenoma. People at work were lovely. Students were lovely. Friends were lovely. It was just an olive, after all, and life went on. And I will never ever grow so old again. I will never ever lose touch with that moment of oh, this could be bad. Really bad. And what do I have to show for it? Time to be fearless and live again. Time to quit the bad habits and start some good ones and come to the point where I wonder why I went to sleep at all. I can feel the shift in my brain yet again, just like with those 8th graders, but a different shift. This one is about shifting back into living. Back into living my life. Into living my life with my people, my tribe, laughing and talking and sitting at the table and burning, burning, burning a bright fiery arrow.

All the damned time.

It's been all loss and grief and poignancy and coming to terms with what 40 really means. It's been a big year after a big year after so many big years. I keep coming back to three words: Beautiful. Fearless. Perfect.

Here's to 2015. May it be fearless, perfect, and beautiful.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Right Now (a semi-regular recurring post)

Right now I'm watching Star Trek with Jake.

Right now we just got home from his work party, during which we took photos in a fake photo booth with silly holiday accessories. I cannot wait for the results from his coworker when she sends mine.

Right now I'm knee deep in grading and recording.

Right now the Christmas tree is decorated and there are even a few presents wrapped.

Right now I am done with shopping, just waiting on shipping.

Right now I'm thinking about summer, about a new porch if we can swing it, maybe a trip somewhere north with my parents' camper. Just thinking.

Right now I'm in the midst of an elimination diet. I came home from Thanksgiving so sick. So sick. No details, just trust me. But I'm coming to the realization that the e.coli infection I survived 13 years ago has in fact irreparably damaged my gastrointestinal tract and I have to do something to fix it. And guess what? It's working.

Right now I have 4 1/2 days of school left, which is only really 4 days of instruction, before Christmas break, and I'm stunned how fast this autumn went.

Right now Billy has recovered from his viral infection, but he gave it to Jake and then when we got home from the party I found out Daisy threw up. Lovely. Always an adventure.

Right now Walnut has decided to winter with us. It's been cold enough for her to shun the open door, but then today she sat on the rug in the front hall and didn't go out even though it reached 60 degrees. Didn't try to run out. She's hunkering down and putting on winter weight. Cozy.

Right now I've submitted the first two chapters of a novel I'm writing to the writing group I've joined. A little nervous but I need to have someone else read my writing besides Jake.

Right now I'm looking forward to Christmas and seeing friends and family. Rituals, traditions, time.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

It's been a long week

It's been a long week.

On Monday, the teacher across the hall, serious look on her face, her phone in her hand, beckoned over to me. She showed me the news alert. The grand jury announcement was coming this afternoon.

I thought about South City. I thought about my husband somewhere at work--he is a consultant and so he's all over the place on any given day--and I thought about my kids at two different schools. My sisters working in the Loop. But I had two classes left to teach and might as well get to it. Before I headed down for my last class in the computer lab I glanced at my own phone. Six texts from friends, each with his or her own piece of information. After school hours. Nobody got the 24 or 48 hour promised warning.

I went home. I got Billy from school and went home. We cleaned the house and ate dinner and had a normal evening. Lots of phone calls from friends and family. And then we turned the TV over from whatever was on Netflix to a local news channel. Waited.

It's strange to wait for an event to happen that is already over. We all knew what was going to happen because it had already happened and would continue to happen. The prosecutor finally came on the screen and announced what we already knew. The police officer would not be indicted. Dozens of witnesses and hundreds of hours of testimony and the result was no indictment.

And then the world erupted. Watching a split screen on the news, the president comes on and urges restraint in one box, and on the other box Ferguson is going up in flames.

I tuned in to a livestreamer I'd watched before, back in October. I watched from my porch and on the computer screen as a peaceful march down Grand happened. They stopped in the business district, had a moment of silence, and I thought to myself, this is going to be ok.

I was wrong of course. Don't know how it went down, but the dumpster behind my parents' house was dragged out onto Grand and set on fire. Police SUVs and a white school bus marked with Missouri Department of Corrections ran down Grand. My street, my parents' street, Grand Avenue were all turned into a parking lot with double parked police vehicles. Riot gear.

My neighbor texted. My daughters' school was calling off. I watched on TV as district after district called off. I waited; mine didn't. I kept watching and listening and waiting. I stepped outside and smelled the air. Acrid. I now know what that word means.

In the morning, I had a place for Billy (his school would be open after a nuclear blast). Fiona went to Gretchen's. Daisy went to school with me, where my quote at the beginning of each class went like this: "I got this many hours of sleep [holding up 3 fingers], and I'm beat. You be good to me and I'll be good to you. Now let's play some darts and figure out probability."

Daisy had a great day. Fiona and Gretchen went down South Grand and had breakfast at one place and shopped at another. Watched and helped with clean up and beautification--all the board ups were being painted with beautiful spontaneous murals. Fiona kept Dawn's kids so she could go to a meeting. Troy called on my drive home. "I couldn't not call and make sure you were ok."

I came home and braced for what was coming.

But what came was flowers and dinner. Jake walked down to the business district, the place full of love, and came home with gyros and flowers. I went to pick up the flowers, in fact, since the gyro place was swamped and taking too long. I walked by myself, past the boarded up windows, past my parents' street empty now. I talked with the florist and his partner, each of us hoping for the best. On the way back I passed unmarked SUVs with bored looking press or cops or feds waiting for what wound up not happening.

I was asleep by 9.

Wednesday brought snow. And then we left for the time warp of my in-laws' house. I've been here now for 30 hours and I've slept half of those. And it's beautiful. Healing. Boring. Lovely.

St. Louis ain't done. It's been simmering for months. Or, as one wise 8th grader said, "Since Mike Brown? How about since John Brown." There will be more--Black Friday will be interesting, I'm sure. But I'm hunkering down. I'm getting some sewing done and sleeping this autumn off.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

40/40 in 40: Let Them Be. It's Fine.

Last in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years. Let them be. It's fine.

I was on the phone. It was late summer 2013. I was talking to Rachel, Fiona's godmother, one of my favorite people alive walking the earth today. I love Rachel because she is like a better version of me. All my good points magnified and some of my bad points--but all taken more gently than my actual faults. Self-effacing and direct and funny and Jesuit Volunteery and beautiful. I don't talk to her often enough because we are both teachers with 3 children and households and husbands and a whole lot of whatnot added in.

But I was on the phone. I was telling her about Troy living with us and how that was going and then she said something to me, about me, that struck me. I can't recall the entire quote but it went something like, "You're so good at just letting people be. Me, I'd be meddling in everyone's business but you've been so good at just letting your kids be."

It struck me because I'd never considered myself someone who would just let people be. So I reflected on the observation and found that lo, it was actually really true. I DO let people be.

That whole summer I let the folks who lived in my house just be who they were, alongside all the other people who were just who they were. And I kept it up. I did it in my classroom, I did it with my friends, I just let people be.

But like most observations of other people, Rachel's statement about me was about my best self--I let people be when I have enough presence of mind to do that. And in saying it to me, proclaiming this about me, she created a goal for me. Something to aspire to. I should let people be. It's fine. It's all fine. And I should let people be.

I can't change people, I learned many many times in the past 40 years. All I can do is love them and work to change myself.

I can't control people, not and still be in relationship with them.

I can't expect people to meet my expectations that are unspoken. I can't read their minds and they can't read mine. I can't hold people to standards based on their own best selves on their best days. I can't expect folks to think the same things are important that I do. I can't love people only for how they are like me, only in the ways I approve. I need to love them because they are people and therefore deserving of my love.

I can't be everything to everyone, I can't be everyone's best friend, I can't be everyone's mom, I can't be everyone's favorite person, teacher, student, neighbor.

All I can do is let people be who they're going to be and love the hell out of them.

Because it's fine. You see? It's fine. And if it's not fine, then it's going to be. Or if it's not going to be fine, it's fine because sometimes that's the best it can be.

Not everyone is going to come around to my way of thinking. Not everyone is going to get sober or get it together or GET IT. Not everyone is going to be in my life forever. No one is ever going to understand how very much they mean to me, how much I keep in my heart and catalog in my brain and hold onto.

Which is why I need to let them be. It's fine. It truly is.

I stood there at the kitchen table, bandana tied around my wild crazy hair that cannot be controlled in the summertime. I wiped down the table and then set a plate in front of him. I tried to figure out how to explain it. How to translate Bridgett.

"I can't know the ending--anymore than I can know whether Daisy
will have another seizure, I can't know. All I can do is pray and clean the bathroom and cook for a bunch of people and try to keep everybody in my house reasonably happy."

He laughs. "Everybody seems happy, Bridgett."

"I do try to let people be," I smile back at him. I sit down on the stool catty-cornered from his. I take a piece of fish off his plate.

"You do. Everybody in this whole house, you just let them be, you don't mess around with their lives." He grabs the sriracha from the cabinet. Our boys run through the kitchen and out the back door, letting it slam behind them, heading to the tree house.

"See?"

It was probably the first and last time in his whole adult life this was true. He's in the wind somewhere on his own again, but I can't do anything about it. I have to let him be. I have to let him come back on his own, if he ever does. And if he doesn't? It'll be fine.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

39/40 in 40: Nichyevo

39th in a list of 40 things I've learned in 40 years.

ничего.

It's nothing. It's no big deal. The thing that has happened is acceptable and not a problem. You can thank me but really? You shouldn't even bother it is so not a thing I worried about. Eh. Nada. Nichyevo.

Shrug it off. Whatever.

I found myself thinking this a lot the past few years. My Russian is rusty but certain things stuck with me. Little curses, polite phrases, the essence of Russian language instruction, some present tense verbs, bits and pieces. And this one. It's all right. More resigned than happy about it, but it's all right. I think about this word and about Russia. The winter is long and life is short and those are probably intertwined and so many things are grim that thanking me for cleaning off your windshield of ice or bringing your boots up from the foyer or grabbing your child out of traffic, well, ничего. Seriously.

Was dinner to your liking? ничего.

Isn't that child on the swing adorable? ничего.

Thank you for the garlic!  ничего. It grows wild in my garden. No sacrifice there. 

Over the course of two years or so it became a sort of philosophy. I like to be noticed for my accomplishments and contributions, sometimes letting that get in the way of getting things done, and this was a good reminder to let that go. If it isn't a big deal, it isn't a big deal. 

I sometimes really mean it, like if I drive someone home from school who lives on my block and I'm on the way anyway, seriously, no big thing there. 

And I sometimes say it to myself to remind myself that nothing is that big of a deal. I'm not that big of a deal. Life isn't that big of a deal. It's nothing. Really.

38/40 in 40: Don't Give Up

38th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years: Don't give up.

I'm not a sprinter. I'm just not fast enough to get across that finish line in a hurry. In 8th grade I was assigned to the middle distance running, and I took to it fair enough. I was reasonably ok at the 1/2 mile and even went to district finals, where I came in 5th and I was pretty proud of that. I pushed myself hard on that last straight away, I remember, passing two girls at the very end. My coach gave me the title of athlete of the week that week. I never did another track meet, moving to Georgia and focusing on soccer (and boys). But I think about that last race sometimes, because I was up against my toughest competition and I didn't give up. I didn't.

Fiona was born after a rough labor and delivery. We were both sick, very sick, on multiple antibiotics that resulted in systemic thrush. You don't want systemic thrush, just know that. I really wanted to breastfeed that baby and I really didn't want to be one of those women who said, well, I tried, but....I really really wanted to make it.

So I started setting goals for myself. I would breastfeed today. I would nurse her one more time. I would nurse her tonight, this baby who would not sleep and would not be put down on her own. I would do it. I made it through 6 weeks this way, one nursing session at a time. I did not give up, even though everyone around me told me I could. I nursed that baby until she was old enough to negotiate her own weaning. Seriously. And I nursed two more.

Breastfeeding gave me the gift of perseverance.  I was a typical gifted child--if it wasn't easy, it wasn't worth doing because, frankly, lots of things were very easy. Might as well do one of those instead. Here I finally was, with something I really wanted to accomplish, with the odds against me, and I did it. I fucking did it. When I think back to those early weeks of motherhood and what I survived and accomplished, I just want to shake my fist in the air at everyone who thought I wouldn't, who thought I would give up.

I am often wrong. I am often blundering and do cockamamie things. I laugh too loud and am soft-hearted to those with no defenses, be them children, cats, or young semi-homeless acquaintances. I can be strident, I can be boring, I can let my tongue get me in plenty of trouble. But if you need a cut man in your corner, if you need someone to fight your cause, if you need a cheerleader on your sidelines, if you need someone to walk a hard path with you, I will. Because I don't give up.

 I don't give up so hard I had a man with a needle and ink inscribe it on my skin. It's the hobo sign for don't give up.

Don't.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

37/40 in 40: Be vulnerable

37th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years. Be open, be vulnerable.

This one took me a long time, to learn to take a joke, to roll with it, to let time and longterm relationships grind down those prickly sharp edges and just be with people who know my flaws, laugh at my mistakes, and not take myself so damned seriously.

I'm right out there, there's no hiding anymore. Everyone knows and I can't let my feathers get ruffled when they disagree or point out my flaws or laugh at my ridiculousness. It's part of my plan, right?

Teaching middle school this time around is what finally brought this to fruition. Deciding to put on the frosted lipstick and eye shadow, the mullet wig, Madonna-inspired costume, and walk into an 8th grade math classroom to talk about the ratio of mullet business (front of the hair) to party (back of the hair), that moment I realized that I had lost the last bits of that false self-respect. Because it is false, the type of self-respect that keeps you from being a fool when it serves the greater good. It isn't really a self-respect, but more of a fear of losing respect.

Deciding to be vulnerable, really open, is actually incredibly empowering. Different from winding up vulnerable, afraid, exposed. Choosing to let that guard down and spill that purse or wear a lace petticoat over rainbow knee-highs or admitting that yes, that happened to me too, yes I know--opens me up to a kind of real human connection, real teaching, and real love that holding it all in and taking it all too hard keeps me blocked from.

My vice-principal came into my room one day at the end of school. "You have a blog," he announced.

"Yes," I agreed, a bit afraid. I knew this day would come--and I slipped up, linked my twitter account to school and there I was, vulnerable and not intending to be.

"And there's something I want you to do," he started and I interrupted.

"You need me to take it down," I finished his sentence.

He looked confused. "No. No--not only am I pretty sure I can't legally do that, but I want the opposite."

He wanted me to bring it into the classroom. Open it up, open myself up, to my kids and share it. Oh no, I thought, that will never happen, I am not going to friend students on facebook and I'm not going to tell them about this blog. If they find it by mistake or their own hunting (it isn't hard) that's fine and their business, but I'm not going to hand out cards with the address on it.

But then I reflected on it.

I thought about Br. Stephen, my 6th grade teacher, who told stories to us every Friday morning in Theology class, stories he'd written and was hoping to publish, in the darkness of the classroom with a candle lit. He did eventually publish them, but I heard them first. I thought about him sitting on the floor, cross-legged in his habit, telling stories by heart to middle school students.

So I brought in my "Ten Things About My Kitchen Table" and opened myself up to my 6th grade a bit. I brought in stories about my grandparents to my 8th graders. Told stories about my marriage and about the hardest things we've been through. Stories about high school friends and mistakes and weighty decisions and learning to apologize.

They love story time. Yeah, it's a class with no notes, no written work, nothing but listening to me in the dark, the smartboard playing a set of photos that match up with what I'm reading. It's easy. But it's also vulnerable. I told about my brother and his wife losing their baby, and watched as Tim in the back of class pretended those weren't tears he was brushing away. I had them in my damned hands when I read some of the stories--that one, the one about my uncle not dying in the barracks in Beirut, the ones about my sister being a witness at a murder trial. I opened this book of myself to them and it worked.

Their first quarter project was "Telling Our Stories." They told them to me. And they made me cry. And what I gained from that project was worth every nervous moment of "I wonder if I should say this" and "I hope they take this seriously." They did.

Being open, being vulnerable, letting go that fear of sharing, fear of being, fear of exposing, moves us all closer to each other. And if that is what I can bring to the table in this life, if that's what I can take away? Man, that's enough.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

36/40 in 40: Relax and take the long view

36th in a series of 40 things I've learned in 40 years. Relax. Take the long view.

Don't hurry so much. Don't expect it all to get done now. Don't try to change everything right away. Not everything can be known now, and nothing is guaranteed. Ease in, ease back.

This is one of the hardest lessons for me. I still don't have it all figured out. I'm kind of smart, and it seems sometimes that things are easier for me to see or figure out than people around me, so it frustrates me when it doesn't seem so effing clear to everyone. Why don't you see that my plan will work? Why can't we give this a try? But in the end I don't see everything and I often miss the layers of complexity in whatever the situation might be.

And then I get blunt, rude, frustrated, angry, cynical.

Nothing is permanent, and very little that is imperative right now will last or matter soon enough. I don't have to have it all figured out, I don't have to have all the answers and I certainly don't have to fix it.

Especially when that "Fixing it" involves other people, in any fashion.

Yesterday was Dorothy Day's birthday. In the end, she says, all we can do with other people is love them.

That's all we're called to do.

All the rest is just details and ephemera and I don't have to make it all so hard. Rein it in, ease it back, tame it down, and relax, Bridge. It's not all that. None of it is.