Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Grannie's Eulogy

My grandmother, Anna Leah Agniel, passed away on August 11, 2016. She was three weeks shy of her 94th birthday. I was honored to speak at her funeral.

{walking up to pulpit, adjusting microphone, pulling out lipstick, applying lipstick without a mirror blotting lipstick on back of hand}

...and then she would gesture with it {taking lipstick and pointing out to the crowd} "now, we just need to move that table over here." Or if she was cooking and had a carrot in her hand, she would gesture with that, "please bring that platter into the kitchen." 

I have so, so many great memories of Grannie. And yet when I started to put thoughts together for her eulogy, the memory that kept coming to mind was from down at the cabin in Shadow Valley. Often we would be down swimming in the lake when Pup and Gran would arrive. Their arrival came with great fanfare, honking of the car horn, and their voices, hellos, echoing across the lake. Though we were down in the water and they were up on top of the hill, you could hear their voices distinctly.

Soon after arriving, Grannie and Puppy would come down to the dock, they would grab chairs from the breezeway, and they would come sit - drinks in hand - while we swam. Grannie was the picture of grace and poise: she always wore lipstick and makeup, her hair was beautifully curled, she had on a nice skirt and summer blouse, panty hose, and dress shoes. Though I knew the answer to this question, I asked every single time:

me: Grannie, are you going to come swimming with us?

and she would say,"Well, hunney, I don't think so, but I'm happy to just sit here and watch."

Grannie's words always had layers of meaning. For example, in this response "Well, hunney" carried with it deep love and affection. She loved us deeply and she let us know it. And then the "I don't think so" which meant "not on your life, will I get in that lake water." And finally "I'm happy to just sit here and watch" was her loyal presence with us. Even if she wasn't going to get in that water, she was there, witnessing and being present in our lives.

Grannie was a woman who did not waste time. I remember a weekend when she came to stay at our house because our parents were out of town, and I was so grateful when my parents returned because Grannie had made us work hard all weekend. She had us clean our rooms, the whole house, and we even scrubbed the Tide stains off of the laundry room table, which was unheard of.

She did not waste her resources. She was known for creating beautiful centerpieces and a welcoming environment to any special occasion, but she also frequently rearranged the furniture. She was way ahead of her time: Grannie knew Feng Shui before it was an actual "thing." The night before she died, they say she was in the front room, trying to move a large armchair before the whole family arrived the next day to celebrate her birthday.

She did not waste words. I recall one time Grannie told me, "Oh, Anna Marie, you look so beautiful with that makeup on!"

me: Yeah, thanks! I don't wear it all that often.

Grannie: Oh, well you should, hunney, you should!

She did not waste moments to put herself together. One year for her birthday, my parents and aunt and uncle decided to bring us 7 grandkids down to Grannie's in Jefferson City to surprise her. We thought this was an excellent idea, and we arrived unannounced to find Grannie still in her curlers, no makeup on yet. She enjoyed the surprise thoroughly for 5-10 minutes before excusing herself to finish getting properly ready for the day.

She had no shortage of love for all of us, especially us grandkids. In 2007 I traveled to visit Grannie at her retirement home in San Antonio, Texas. I had no kids, I was single, and I was excited to go meet Grannie's friends, to hear about where she lived, and how she liked being there. When I arrived at her apartment, she told me I had a couple minutes to freshen up, and there wasn't much time to rest. There was a karaoke night going on downstairs in the bar.

Grannie: I've told everyone what a great singing voice you have, hunney, so just freshen yourself up, and let's go!

me: I'm not really sure that I'll sing anything -

Grannie: Of course you will!

After a couple of margaritas, Grannie had me singing songs around the retirement center bar. She was so proud of all of us, and she believed in us.

So back to the story down at the cabin: why didn't she ever get in that lake water? You could argue that she didn't want to get her hair wet or mess up her makeup, but rather, I think she wanted to visit with us and then go up to the cabin to help get dinner ready. I think she wanted to continue visiting with all the people gathered there, to make sure preparations were being made to her liking: she always had fresh linens when we came to stay at her house, always a full candy jar for grandchildren to dip into, always a stunningly beautiful Christmas tree when we came to Jeff City for the holidays. She wanted to make sure people felt welcomed, comfortable, taken care of. She was preparing the way.

Grannie is no longer here with us in physical form, no longer down here swimming around with the rest of us in the lake. But I believe she is still preparing the way for us even now. For example, yesterday when I checked into the hotel after a harried, frazzled week, and 2+ hour car trip with our three young kids, the man at the front desk said to me, "Well, you'll be staying in 408." Which was the address of Grannie and Puppy's house on Woodlawn for 40 years, and those numbers are how some people would refer to that home. 408. That's Grannie, that's her still preparing and taking care of us, even if we can't see her physically.

me: So, Grannie, are you going to come swimming with us?

Grannie: Well, hunney, I don't think so, but I'm happy to just sit here and watch.

I love you, Gran.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Force Awakens

The children are obsessed with Star Wars. For that matter: the husband is obsessed with Star Wars. He and I saw #7  in the theaters and this started a tidal wave of hunting down the original three (4, 5, 6) and resurrecting the second trilogy (1, 2, 3). My chronological training in Star Wars is complete.

Our three children make multiple light sabers a day. Frankie calls them "light savers." Star Wars character roles are divvied out: Audrey is Leia, Sean is Luke, and Frankie is Yoda. Which makes sense, right? Frankie is short, so she is assigned the seat of wisdom. Hers is the character that molds and culls the force in others. Frankie calls herself "Yoga" and when I try to correct her, she never capitulates.

me: His name is Yoda.
Frankie: No. YOga.

One day the force was so powerful that they combined all their legos into one Jedi fleet. Sean brought out every lego set he has and Audrey enlisted the help of her girl-branded legos. They created worlds upon worlds where their characters fought the dark side and it was not uncommon to hear a distressed voice playing out some near death experience or brush with Darth Vader. (Frankie speak: Dark Vader.)

Frankie: Oh no! Are you ok?
Audrey: (calling to another character) I know the force is still strong in you!

The force is especially strong inside Audrey. The force is strong inside all three of them, make no mistake. Both a good force of love, compassion, and innocence, as well as a sense for right and wrong, justice, and even a force of anger.  Each of our children displays a fiery temper from time to time. Especially as they are learning to be their own person, making decisions apart from what Tom and I want them to do, they are fiery.

This winter has been a forceful challenge for Audrey. The revelation that her stomach aches were due to an egg allergy has led to a much needed but difficult nutrition overhaul. It's paying off, the stomach aches are subsiding. Yet she's struggled to figure out what things she can choose to eat on her own, and what things need to be checked by a parent. She doesn't like the label checking, but she abides it because she sees the benefit in her physical pain level.

Undoubtedly this is the reason we've seen difficult behaviors from Audrey. One evening after a stormy back and forth about taking a bath, shampooing hair, getting on pajamas and toothbrushing, everything stopped for a heart-to-heart between us and Audrey. We called out her choices, talked about the impact on our family with all of her arguing. As she struggled to hear us, Tom recalled a Native American story to better illustrate. He told Audrey how some people believe that a battle (much like the battle of good and evil in Star Wars) is raging inside people. This internal battle is between two wolves.

"one is evil. it is anger,
envy, jealousy, sorrow,
regret, greed, arrogance,
self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride,
superiority, and ego.

the other is good.
it is joy, peace love, hope, serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence,
empathy, generosity,
truth, compassion and faith."

I could see Audrey trying to understand how wolves could be inside her. If such a thing were true, where could she find these wolves, and what did it mean? Tom explained that when people wonder which wolf wins this internal battle, it's whichever one you feed. It was an inspired moment from her theologian father, a moment when Audrey really grappled with buying into and acting upon her anger and jealousy. He told Audrey that we all have to think about which wolf we are feeding with our actions. How what we believe about ourselves begins to come true in the real world: a self-fulfilling prophesy. Tom successfully (even if just for a moment) put the ball back in Audrey's court - to believe that she had control over who she is in this world and which wolf she decides to feed.

I have come back to this analogy a lot with Audrey. She seems to get it. The image of wolves is more immediate for her than the intergalactic warfare of Star Wars. In the midst of intense emotions when I've stopped and reminded Audrey about choosing which wolf she feeds, many times this tale of two wolves has called her back from being more argumentative and obstinate. She's been able to articulate things that upset her, and use her voice to explain that she wants things to be different.

The tale of two wolves has not, however, stopped the playing of Star Wars around the house. As they play out their characters, the kids learn that each character has some strengths and weaknesses. For example playing Yoda comes with a downside: that gravelly voice of wisdom starts to hurt the throat after awhile. Playing Leia is risky because her long capes are held together with a kitchen chip clip: the whole cape/chip clip must be abandoned in order to perform well in a light saber battle. Luke frequently is called into battle even when his introverted nature wants a break. Strangely, no one ever wants to play Obi-wan Kenobi (or "Obee BoBee"). So when Tom plays with them, he is assigned that role. The ultimate wisdom coming from their father: the contemplative, the professor.

So often I worry that I'm too hard on our kids, that their fiery nature is a response to me expecting too much from them. Yet Star Wars has clarified something for me. Perhaps for all my guilt about being too hard on them, I continue to feed the better wolf inside me: the wolf of compassion, hope, benevolence, and truth. I try not to read too much into their character assignment for me: C-3PO. For whatever my failings, my kids accurately see me stumbling and bumbling through parenthood. "A being programmed for etiquette and protocol... who develops a fussy and worry-prone personality" (thanks, Wikipedia!). Or as I like to think about it: a rule-following, problem solver who has to run to keep up with the likes of these three brave Jedi.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The spectrum of the unexpected

I love surprises. I love surprise gifts, surprise parties, and surprising moments. As I was telling this to a friend recently, he responded with, "so I should jump out and scare you sometime and you'll like it?"

No. Definitely not. I have never enjoyed being scared: not by my brother in a werewolf mask, not by scary movies, and never by haunted houses. Never. This got me thinking: why do I love surprises but not scary movies? Surprises tend to connote something good. Whereas scary movies often lead to something bad happening.  Being scared fuels fear, paranoia, and doubts about the goodness of the world. Yet whether I'm talking about surprises or something scary, they both involve the unexpected.

Unexpected situations in my life rest on a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum, we have good surprises. One morning, Seancito got up with his alarm clock at 6:30am, got dressed, and came downstairs to see me dragging the recycling out into -9 degree weather (real temperature).

Sean: Mama, is there something I can do to help you?

He can't melt the weather, but he sure did melt my heart.

Other great surprises include Frances discovering that her sweatshirt has pockets. This resulted in joyous shouts, shoving her hands in and out of the pockets, and quickly finding things to stuff inside. Or seeing a video of Audrey during her dance class, watching her return to this activity she loves deeply, beaming from ear to ear.

But the other side of this spectrum resembles the payout of a scary movie: a pit in my stomach, fear, and anticipation of despair. A flat tire on a -5 degree day. The dealership's inability to fix our van's sliding door, resulting in me womanhandling the door repeatedly in subzero temperatures. It's a miracle the cursing happens only in my head and not into my children's ears.

Recently Tom was gone for 9 days. It's the longest I've been without my husband since we were dating. It's the times when I'm dealing with the unexpected on my own that I most question my ability to roll with it. A child dumping soggy cheerios and milk all over herself and the floor quickly becomes a large event in the day, one that is peppered with anxiety and frustration, when I'm parenting by myself.

And a recent diagnosis of an egg allergy for Audrey has fluctuated on the unexpected spectrum. When the nurse called to confirm the blood test results about an egg allergy, I was nothing less than surprised. Flummoxed even.

me: Eggs? She eats eggs everyday. She loves eggs!
nurse: Well we know this is a low class egg allergy.
me: So you want her to take 2 weeks off eggs?
nurse: That's right. And then we'll go from there before we prescribe her an epi pin.

WHAT? How did we go from "the girl struggles with constipation" to EPI PIN?

me: Wait. What? She has eggs all the time, why would we need an epi pin?
nurse: Well just make sure you have Benadryl around the house -

This is the most bizarre conversation...

nurse: - in case she breaks out into hives, or anything like that. The doctor wants her to take 2 weeks off all eggs. Including any baked goods. You're just going to have to check the labels on everything.

This was one week before Christmas - the baking Olympics of the year. I suddenly thought of no "cheesy eggs" for Audrey in the morning. I thought of chocolate chip cookies. I thought of my mom's banana bread. Eggs are in everything, right? When Audrey got home from school that day, I told her what the doctor had said. She was still in her winter coat, hat, gloves, boots, still had her backpack on, yet she crumpled up in my lap.

Audrey: But I love eggs.

Tackling food labels and reinventing breakfast has been tricky, but we've done it. A two week trial of no eggs has turned into a year of avoidance of all egg products. I expected that breakfast would become the hardest part of Audrey's day, but she has handled no cheesy eggs in the morning quite well. The more unexpected thing was her behavior around the Christmas break, out of her routine, a ton of presents and sugar, traveling, and a constant reminder that she can't just pick up food and eat without checking with me and Tom first, that led to a rocky couple weeks of behavior from Audrey. Then Tom took a 9 day trip, and I suddenly had to reinvent how to parent this firey, sassy, bold 4 year old.

I felt fear, anxiety, and paranoia: I thought that perhaps all this rocky behavior was caused by me yelling too much at times, or being too hard on Audrey. Slowly over the course of the past 4 weeks, I've started picking apart my knee-jerk reaction to our kids, and tried taking a step back. Especially with Tom out of town, I've asked myself, "is anyone bleeding? has anyone done something to truly HARM another human being?" If the answer is no, then I've tried all sorts of new tactics to redirect, re-engage, and reconnect with our kids, most importantly Audrey.

On this spectrum of the unexpected, I don't anticipate or like the hard, scary things. However, I am beginning to see that good things can come from even the situations that create anxiety within me. Life can't be full of good surprises, but the more seasoned of a parent I become, the more I'm surprised at my capacity to deal with the spectrum of the unexpected.