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  • The Confliction of Five and Ten

    September 18, 2014

    What follows is a post I wrote in the fall of 2009.  Sean was five.  He is now ten, on the verge of 11. And once again we again find ourselves wobbling unsteadily between two worlds.  The one constant in the midst of the never ending river of change that is childhood is Mr. Monkey – he is still there, albeit a little frayed and wobbly himself, but still an ever present and never faililng source of comfort.

    August 2009 – The  Confliction of Five

    As of late, Sean has been trying to convince me that he is over being a baby, that being a baby is so yesterday, that he has moved on, that he has joined the ranks of the big boys.

    But like a politician, his actions don’t always line up with his words.

    The other day as we were leaving the house for a play date, he ran back to his bedroom and grabbed Mr. Monkey to take with him in the car. As we are walking towards the garage, I notice his grimy little boy fingers, set to automatic, busily working and petting Mr. Monkey’s muzzle.  Mr. Monkey used to have a nose and a mouth. But they have long since been loved off.

    His fingers are long and delicate and even pretty.  I remember how I marveled at them, the first time I saw them, how fragile and breakable they felt in my hand, how they moved as though powered by batteries. I was fascinated by his fingernails, miniature and as fine as tissue paper.  The thought of trimming those itty bitty fingernails terrified me.

    I still marvel at those fingers although now they are scraped up and have a good amount of dirt under the nails which need to be trimmed.  Even so, they are still long and delicate, and even pretty.

    As we walked towards the car, I watched him out of the corner of my eye, his fingers methodically twitching over Mr. Monkey’s muzzle. I wondered if he was feeling anxious about the play date.  Then he turned to me and said, “Mom, I don’t care for cartoons anymore. Those are for babies. I prefer real shows with real people, like The Food Network and Survivor Man.”

    “Oh really?” I said more than asked.

    I was struck by the composition, the stark contrast between the boy clutching Mr. Monkey and the same boy telling me he has moved beyond childish cartoons.

    He is conflicted.  He is a boy wobbling and balancing on a high wire between two worlds.  On one side of the wire is a soft and sweet and safe place, where all the anxiety and ills of life can be soothed by a fraying and well loved monkey. On the other side is a not safe and not soft world that calls to him to come taste new and exciting things.  And he is conflicted. He wants to live in both worlds.

    I’m conflicted. I want him to live in both worlds.  And daily we swing wildly between the two.

    waitingfortheboy

    Uncle Claude

    May 24, 2014

    Back in the summer of 2001, my Uncle Claude by marriage, passed away after a brief battle with cancer and Alzheimer’s.  During the time afterwards that I spent with Aunt Jean helping her write thank you notes, I came across a short essay that he had written among the papers at her house.

    The essay is not remarkable.  It was probably written many years later, and only makes note of the details of his service as a 20-year-old boy in World War II in the most general of terms.

    What is remarkable to me is that for all the many years that he lived beyond the nightmare that was Normandy Beach and the Battle of the Bulge, he never spoke of it.  He was a hero and you would never know it, which in my mind makes it all the more so.

    The only tell-tale sign of his service was the funny way he held his arm, crooked and bent up just a little, a remnant from a gunshot wound to the arm.   He simply put the horror of the war away and went on with his life as was the way of those of his generation.  But Alzheimer’s has a way of prying open dark places, and it was then that he sometimes began talking about the war.  When he died in July of 2001 he took the war and the rest of the untold stories with him.

    I have found myself thinking about this essay every year on Veteran’s and Memorial Day, but I never could find it again.  This past year, Aunt Jean, now 96, moved into assisted living and as we were sorting through some of her things I was delighted to find it again and share it here:

    I was born and grew up in Bailey, Texas.  In 1941 when I graduated from high school I had dreams of becoming a major league baseball player.  I had a strong arm and could throw a baseball a “country mile”.  It was not long before my plans were made for me.

    I received greetings from Uncle Sam requesting (rather instructing) me to go to the nearest recruiting station.  To make a long story short, I was drafted into the U.S. Army.

    My basic training was in Bastrop, Texas.  The summer heat was so intense we had to make our 30-mile backpack trip through the night when it was a little cooler.  Our drill Sergeant loved to take us through the small towns chanting to the top of our voice, “I had a good home but I left-right-left-right-left” awakening the residents.

    In November of 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin determined that Operation Overload was necessary to hasten an end to the conflict.  After several months of intense training, we knew we were training for something big, but we had no idea what.

    Operation Overload was a code name for the invasion of Normandy. General Eisenhower was the allied commander and it was determined that on June 6, 1944 this operation would take place.  If was first planned for June 5th, but severe weather, the worst in 40 years made it necessary to make it a day later.  I was assigned to the 146th combat Engineer Squadron.  It was our job to blow up the mines on the beach that the Germans had planted.

    On June 6th, the operation consisted of 5000 ships and crafts set to land 175,000 men and 50,000 vehicles.  An allied armada of 11,000 planes began the bombing of German positions and coastal towns.  We, the Combat Engineers, were the first on the beach and after the landing craft took us near there, we waded the waters with our back packs.  The drivers of the landing crafts did not waste any time turning their ships around and getting out of there.  There is no doubt that many would like to have gone back with them.

    American forces landed on the western, or right flank, of Normandy,  code named Utah and Omaha Beaches.  I landed on Omaha. The British and Canadian forces landed on the other three beaches.  It was a day that can never be forgotten.

    Several of my buddies that I trained with from the beginning were among the casualties and are buried in the cemetery in Normandy.  I realize how lucky I am and I wish they could have survived also.

    Paris was declared an open city so that it would not be destroyed. After several months of combat in France and Belgium we were already in the month of December 1944 and the snow was deep.  On December 16th, The Battle of the Bulge was in full swing.

    On December 26th, 1944 I was injured at St. Vith in Belgium.  [shot in the arm]  I was hospitalized in England for several weeks and came home on the Queen Mary in the hospital ward.  I was a patient at the VA Hospital in Temple, Texas for about a year.

    This is a condensed account of just a  portion of what I remember.

    Claude

    claude-and-purpleheart.4W

     

    Antique Mommy 1, Easter Bunny 0

    April 21, 2014

    I always think I should make Sean an Easter basket or fill a Christmas stocking.

    But I never do.

    I think the last time I made an Easter basket for Sean, he was four or five.

    That was the year I had the bright idea of filling Easter eggs with coins instead of candy.  I am still finding quarters in my flower beds.

    Every year, I think that making (or even buying) an Easter basket for Sean is something I should do because all the good moms make awesome Martha Stewart-Pinterest worthy baskets and they post pictures of their happy faced Easter-basket-holding kids on FaceBook.  But by the time I remember it, which is like the day before, I don’t feel like going to the store.

    And then after it’s all said and done, I would be left with plastic stuff that I don’t want in my house or candy which I don’t really want him to eat.  And Easter grass with it’s Velcro-esque properties that sticks to everything including air is evil.  Like glitter and those little green bits that shed Christmas greenery, Easter grass is insidious, it gets everywhere — once it enters your house, it NEVER leaves, never decomposes. It is FOREVER.  When the world perishes in a big ball of fire, and God sweeps up the remains, in the dust pan will be glitter, Easter grass and green Christmas bits.

    So on Good Friday I was starting to feel something that resembles guilt over depriving Sean of this childhood memory, of not having what all the other kids have, so I said to him,  “Sean, I’m sorry that I don’t have an Easter basket for you.”

    To which he replied, “What’s that?”

    “You know,” I said, “An Easter basket, plastic eggs filled with stuff, candy? Coins? Stuff?”

    “Oh. Yeah. Whatever.  That’s kind of lame.”

    So then, I cancelled that order of guilt and went on my merry no-frills parenting way.

    Score:  Antique Mommy – 1, Easter Bunny 0

    Wherein I Am Omniscient With The Help Of Amazon

    March 16, 2014

    As many of you know, Sean is now a 10-year-old boy and as such, I have had to learn to lengthen the leash, to give him a bit more freedom.

    I have had to carefully calculate how much to lengthen the rope by the severity of the consequences that could befall any unfortunate decision he might make in this new space and then recalibrate and test the rope again just to make sure.

    When he was little it was much much easier.  I could allow him to roam to the other side of the playground where I could see him. I could let him ride his bike in the cul-de-sac where from the windows of the house I could see him. This arrangement was a win-win for both of us.  He felt un-tethered and I felt tethered.  He got to practice freedom and I got to practice letting him have a little freedom in laboratory conditions.

    But now Sean is ten and lengthening the rope to allow him to go across the street or around the block seems like nothing compared to the internet.  The stakes seem higher, but maybe they are not. Maybe they are just different stakes.

    So, yes, I have of course done all the prudent things to lock down the internet, and we have had frank discussions about the dangers of the internet and made clear to him what he can and cannot do on-line, and why.  But still.  Nothing is fool proof and I am always on high-alert on this front.

    So the other day, I told him that whenever he watches anything on Amazon Prime that I get an email, and that is true.  I didn’t really know that until I got an email the other day from Amazon reporting that someone in our house had watched Square Bob Sponge Pants.

    Let me say here, that Square Bob is not evil, I just don’t think he’s all that worthy and I have discouraged that he be viewed as such.  So when I brought up the Amazon Big Brother email with Sean, Square Bob was really all I had in mind.  And for all I know, AD had watched it.  Although, I might have to rethink my marriage vows if that were true.

    So when I told Sean about the Amazon email,  he looked down at his shoes and said, “Well.  Then I guess you know my secret.”

    Opportunity knocked.  At this point, I had not mentioned any specific show.

    “Yes. Yes I do,” I lied as I dangled my unbaited fishing line in the water.

    “I’m really embarrassed,” he admitted.

    Now I was starting to wonder if maybe he had watched some other sort of lurid shape of pants, not square, and I panicked just a bit.

    “Well,” I said, and then paused not for dramatic effect but because I could not think of one thing to say.

    “I know,” he sighed, “Power Rangers.”

    And then he scrunched up his nose like he had eaten something green, like a vegetable.

    “It’s a baby show, I know, but I like it.”

    “You know,” I said, “You can watch Power Rangers if you want.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I’ll be honest, I still love Captain Kangaroo.”

    I reminded him that he knows what is acceptable and what isn’t and that we trust him.

    And I also reminded him that Amazon would be sending me an email documenting his viewing whereabouts.

    Like Ronald Reagan, I will trust and I will verify.

    And then I may or may not have left the impression that anytime he does anything anywhere I get an email.

    Pi Day

    March 14, 2014

    Today is Pi Day.

    It is the day we celebrate the elusive, mysterious and incalculable mathematical equation known as pi, or the constant ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.

    It is also Einstein’s birthday, a curiously divine celestial arrangement.

    But to me, March 14th will always be the day my dad gave up his battle with cancer, a year ago.  It is fitting.  Just as pi is in constant harmony to it’s circumstances, so was my dad.  No matter his circumstances, large or small, he was content.

    In early December of last year, knowing that the sands of the hour glass were falling fast, I traveled back to Illinois to spend time with him.  Other than the fact that he couldn’t get warm, he was doing okay.  He napped a lot but he enjoyed visitors, getting out and could walk a short distances.  I put up a little Christmas tree for him which he loved to look at from his recliner.  I took him to get his hair cut.  I took him to Wal-Mart.  When he stopped to pet a display of flannel shirts I bought him one and he wore it every day that I was there.  But mostly I just sat nearby so that when he woke from a nap he could see me and we would just pick up the conversation right where we had left it and pretend that he hadn’t dozed off.

    The day I left he tried to get out of his chair to see me off.  I told him to keep his seat and I bent down and kissed the top of his head and promised him that I would see him again.  And that’s a promise I intend to keep.

    A  year later, I am compelled to record the day we returned my father to earth from whence he came, a spot only a few miles from where he lived his whole life.   Beyond the fact that it was blindingly sunny and 31 degrees with a lacerating north wind, I want to remember three unexpected things that marked the day for me — the first being the unexpected sight of a crowd of mourners, which I think would have surprised him, particularly given that he had outlived all but one of his lifelong running buddies. I had assumed there would be 15 maybe 20 people at most.

    My dad was the kind of guy who didn’t want any sort of fuss made over him.  He had pre-planned his funeral years ago to be the simplest of affairs.  He didn’t even want his obituary published until it was all said and done.  He  didn’t want flowers or awkward post-mortem displays of affection.  So it was really surprising on that bitter cold day that such a big crowd of people showed up to see him off.  In spite of my dad’s best efforts to keep it low-key, word got around.

    The second thing that I recall from that day was the unexpected sound of a voice out of place.

    My father’s death was not unexpected.  I had cried an ocean of tears for him off and on in the preceding 18-months. On the day of the funeral, I was more or less numb and occupied with the details of the day.  I was holding it together.  Or so I thought.

    As people began to gather graveside, I greeted friends and relatives whom I hadn’t seen in years.  Then I heard the sound of a familiar voice behind me.  I reeled around to see my friend Ruthie who had flown in from Texas to St. Louis and then driven two and half hours north through the cornfields and flatlands to be with me. And I lost it. I just fell into her arms and sobbed, heaving big ugly mascara-melting sobs.  It was like when I was little and had hurt myself and I would hold it together until the moment I saw my mom and then I would melt down into a puddle of tears.  I will never forget that she came to walk alongside me that day and how hearing her voice released the floodgate of sorrow that I thought I had bridled and what a comfort it was just to have her near.

    The third thing was an expected sound with an unexpected reaction.

    My father chose to have a simple graveside military funeral.  The military chaplain warned us beforehand that they would fire three gun shots.  I have attended military funerals before, so I knew that and I thought I was prepared.  Yet when the first blast pierced the air, the shock of it forced the air from my lungs in a bellowing gust, like I had been punched in the gut.  That awful sound that had come from somewhere deep within me, hung large and heavy in the thin air in the immediate silence that settled over the crowd after the first blast.  And then it dropped to the ground and shattered at my feet. When the second and third blast came, I startled and shook, but I did not bellow.  There was something about the sound of my breath, the very essence of my life, being expelled from my lungs with such force that made me feel all too mortal and I will never forget the sensation or the sound.

    When the funeral was over, the crowd dispersed in a hurry, anxious to get out of the wind and back to the warmth of their cars.  But I couldn’t make myself leave, my feet were literally and figuratively frozen.  I didn’t want to move forward into a new life without my dad, I wanted to somehow stay in my old life.

    I stood by the coffin with my bare hand resting on it, thinking about the handprint I might leave upon it, thinking about the handprint dad had left on my life and Sean’s life and my brother’s lives and most importantly on my mother’s life.  I watched people walk away towards their cars and back into their lives and I felt invisible, like I was watching a scene from a movie.  I turned my back to the thinning crowd and put my forehead on the coffin and watched my tears turn white as they slid onto the metal.

    Finally AD tugged on my arm, telling me it was time to go and gently reminding me that Papa Ed wasn’t there.  That I knew, but still, I just didn’t want to go.  If I couldn’t stay in my old life, I wanted to at least be the last one standing by him in my old life.  After a few minutes, AD tugged on my arm again.  It was time.  The cemetery staff was standing at a respectful distance, no doubt anxious to do what they do when the family leaves.

    I patted the coffin one last time and promised that I would see him again.

    The Good Pilot

    February 24, 2014

    Years ago, back in the mid-70s I think it was, my beloved Godmother had a heart attack and flat lined on the table.  She miraculously pulled through and lived many more years.  She had always been a fragile sort, not much of a fighter, and had many health issues.  Without ever saying, I always supposed that John, my robust Godfather, a Lithuanian who could hoist the world upon his shoulders, would long outlive her.

    But if there is one thing I know for sure, and I for sure only know one thing, it is this:  God decides the number of our days.  We knoweth not the hour or the day.

    Year’s later, after my Godfather had passed away from stomach cancer and my Godmother was in assisted living, we spent an afternoon on her sofa holding hands and just visiting as she drifted in and out of sleep.

    In between naps, she told me the story of the day she was on the operating table and how she saw her mother standing in a bright light, calling to her in French, “Rose! Venez! Venez avec nous!” Come! Come be with us!

    She said she longed to run to her mother.  But she couldn’t.  “I can’t go now Mom,” she called, “I’ve got to take care of John.”

    As ridiculous and unlikely as that seemed at the time, that Rose would outlive John and would need to care for him, that is exactly how it played out.

    My Godmother passed away a number of years ago but it is one of those conversations that I have replayed in my mind many times, particularly of late.

    In the past several months, we have had to transition AD’s mother and stepfather into assisted living after George got really sick.  George has a long and complicated health history, so when he got sick it was not a complete surprise.  But then while he was recovering in rehab, Cleo got really sick, which was a surprise, and neither of them could get well enough to live on their own again.

    While George was sick, we braced ourselves for the worst believing that what remained of his life could be measured in days.  But George has made a full recovery.  And as of this writing, it is Cleo whose days seem to be numbered.

    When George was sick, I sat by his bed wondering if this would be our last visit.  Flat on his back, with his eyes closed, he lay in his bed in a pitiful unshaven and disheveled mess, the picture of a man waiting for that one last clear call.

    In a raspy voice, he struggled to tell me how Jesus had come to him in the night and given him permission to let go.  He said he had never been so sick in his whole life and he longed for the discomfort to end.  “I told him, Lord, if you want me, I am ready,”  he whispered, “But I need to stay to take care of Cleo.”  Then a tear escaped and zigzagged through the stubble of whiskers into the pillow.

    At that moment, the idea that he would recover to care for Cleo seemed to be a machination of delirium.  He was flat on his back and she was ambulatory.  But that is exactly how it is playing out.

    Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day with George as we sat by Cleo’s bedside. She is mostly in a catatonic semi-sleep like state, mumbling and thrashing.  At times, she would reach out her hands, to whom?  Is God near? Is he giving her permission to let go? Does she feel His breath on her neck? Is her mother calling to her, “Come Cleo! Come be with us!”  Does she have a reason to stay?

    Throughout the day she would occasionally pop her eyes open and have several minutes of clarity, recognizing Sean and AD.  She would chat as best she could with a lazy and thick tongue. In one awakening, she reported that a pilot flew her up to Tulsa, where she lived as a young mother when AD was three.   And then just as quickly as she comes into our world she is off again.

    Who is this good pilot who takes my beloved mother-in-law joyriding through the days of her life and gently touches down so she can chat for a moment or two before whisking her off again?

    And when will he take her off to be with those we too long to see some day?

    We knoweth not the hour or the day.  But we know Him, the one who numbers our days.  And that’s all we need to know.

    The Grocery Store

    February 11, 2014

    Today I had to go to the grocery store.

    These days that task is as mundane as it sounds.

    Except for that the grocery store is never mundane, especially if you shop at Walmart as I often do.  Walmart embodies the whole of the broken state of humanity. It is where it all hangs out — literally.  It is the state fair and the airport all in one place.  Every person pushing a cart has some wild crazy Pulitzer Prize winning tragic story.  And I can see that, I can smell it and that lights some sort of fire in me, those stories that hide in plain sight.

    And that’s why I love the grocery store.

    Even with all that lurid carnival-style enticement, the store is not the same as it was when I had a grocery store buddy, a chubby fisted helper who was thrilled and delighted with all the exotic marvels that the grocery store offers.

    I thought of that today as I was pushing my cart towards the checkout.  Right in the middle of the St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts there was a man going up, up, up on a vertical lift.  He was retrieving a helium balloon from the ceiling.  Did his mother never tell him that if he just waits long enough it will come down?

    Had my little boyfriend been with me, even today, we would have stopped and watched and marveled at the machine and it’s scissor-like arm reaching for the ceiling.  We would lie with all sincerity about how we wish we could ride the vertical lift.  Except that we would be too scared.  And maybe we would impulsively buy a balloon when we got to the checkout and promise not to let it go.

    But today, there were no brave wishes or balloons or grocery store buddy, just a cart full of mundane to get through the checkout.

    As I waited my turn in the checkout line, I thought about how much I enjoyed going to the grocery store with Sean and how I miss him hanging off the end of the cart and his running observations and commentary.

    And then I caught myself.  Surely that is not really true, surely there were days when I just wanted to go, get groceries and go home — and not have to stop and watch a man on a vertical lift or see how much two apples weighed or see if they had any cookie samples for good boys.

    Has the same time that heals all wounds also rewritten the tedious and mundane days of my motherhood into a more lovely narrative?

    Maybe.

    But if so, if going to the store with a little boy was a chore and a pain, I honestly don’t remember it that way.

    And so I should like to do it all over again.

    Jane

    December 31, 2013

    When my mother-in-law dozed off, I shut the door to her room at the assisted living facility and looked for some place where I could sit unnoticed and NOT think.

    When you are visiting a place such as that, you can only really think one thought:  Life is a river flowing in one direction.  Eventually – and more quickly than the mind can conceive – the river empties out into the great delta of geriatric unpleasantness.

    Unless one capsizes mid-journey and is swallowed up by the river, the delta is our destiny.  The great contradiction of the delta is this:  No one wants to go there and at the same time no one wants to not make it there.  And so we spend most of our lives pretending we can outsmart the river.

    I found a little sitting nook in front of a window outside my mother-in-law’s room that overlooks a little courtyard and I pulled out my iPad hoping it would put me into an electronically induced coma of sorts or at least that it would serve as a Do Not Disturb sign and no one would stop to chat me up.

    Within minutes, I sensed her rolling up behind me, chopping her slipper-clad feet at the carpet to scoot herself forward.

    “Please oh please don’t stop,” I thought to myself, “Please just keep going.  Please don’t talk to me, please just let me be.”

    But she didn’t keep going.  She stopped. She rolled up beside me and didn’t say a word.  I looked up from my iPad and out the courtyard windows, and there she was, her reflection next to mine, both of us gazing beyond the window and down the river.

    Finally, because it was all that could be done, I turned to her and said hello.

    “What is that you got there?” she asked, pointing to my iPad.

    I told her what it was and that I was playing a game on it to pass the time while my mother-in-law napped.

    She said she always wanted to learn how to use a computer but never did.  And now it was too late.

    Then she told me her name was Jane.

    Jane had big round blue eyes and a mostly clear mind.  She had been a high school English teacher in the west Texas town of Odessa.  Jane was a little more tart than sweet and it didn’t take long to fall in love with her.  For the next hour, she recounted scenes from her life in Odessa all while folding and unfolding a piece of paper in her hands.

    When she ran out of stories or just grew tired of talking, we sat and stared at ourselves in the window.

    “Would you like for me to read you a poem?” she asked unexpectedly.

    “Yes, I would love that,” I said honestly.

    She sat up tall in her wheelchair and in her English Teacher’s voice, she read:

    Only Now –

    This is the best time

    The only now that

    we have time

    and soon, much too soon

    Now will become then and

    will start all over again

    Negotiating

    Pulsating

    Vibrating

    Celebrating

    Now!!

    When she finished, I asked her if she had written it.

    “Yes, I did,” she said, “In 1981.”  She handed me the paper.  I re-read the poem and noticed her pretty youthful handwriting.  I saw that she had written down the date and even the hour that she had written it – March 14, 1981, 2pm.  I wondered what she had been doing that day, what in her life had brought her those poetic thoughts and why she wrote them down.  On that particular day in 1981, I was barely 21, at the headwaters of the river.

    Jane1a

    Just then, AD and other family members found me and set up camp in what had been my private nook and began chatting and sharing news as though nothing special had just happened.

    When I turned my attention back to Jane, she had quietly slipped away and was scooting down the hall with her poem folded up in her hand.  I watched her scoot all the way down the hall and around the corner.

    And I wanted to go with her.

    Jane2

    On Being Ruth

    October 13, 2013

    One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the account of Naomi and Ruth, as found in the short Book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

    Naomi is Ruth’s Jewish mother-in-law.  Ruth is a Moabite .  This complicates matters because Israel and Moab were long-standing enemies.  Mother-in-law relationships can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but given the cultural and national differences, there could have been a lot of tension in their relationship but none is noted.

    As the story goes, the two women, along with another daughter-in-law, Orpah, also a Moabite, find themselves widowed, which is really bad news at any time in history, but particularly bad in those days because without men folk, women were left to starve.

    With no men to provide for them, Naomi plans to return to her family in Israel and urges both of her daughters-in-law to return to their people in Moab.  After much weeping and garment rending, Orpah yields to Naomi.  She returns home and eventually starts a talk show and we all know how well that works out for her.  Ruth on the other hand would not go.  Would. Not.

    Do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people and your God my God.

    ~Ruth 1:16

    At this point, I wonder if Naomi just sighed and said something like, “Ruth. Don’t be a martyr. Just go. Please.”  Or was she flooded with relief?  Did her heart swell with love for Ruth’s loyalty as mine does when I read that passage?

    Instead, Ruth hitches her wagon to Naomi’s rapidly falling star and together they make the journey back to Israel where she will have to figure out a way to provide for the both of them.

    As one who loves security and certainty and comfort and eating regularly, this would have been a really difficult choice for me.  Go home to my family who will take care of me – or?  – embark on a long and treacherous journey with an elderly woman into an unknown land where the people hate me.  I mean, I want to do the right thing and all, but all that potential for discomfort makes me flinch.

    But for Ruth the choice didn’t seem difficult at all. That she would stay with Naomi was unquestionable, not even a choice really.

    In spite of whatever fears she had, and there must have been many, in spite of her own grief, in spite of Naomi’s insistence, in spite of the legal out she has to ditch Naomi and go back to her own family, she does not abandon her.

    Like a stray dog that won’t be beaten off with a stick, she stays.

    Ruth sets the bar high for the rest of us daughters-in-laws.

    She works. She serves. She provides. She has dirt under her fingernails.

    And I think that speaks tremendously of Ruth’s character and her heart — that she would not only remain loyal to her mother-in-law, but that she serves her and loves her so deeply and sacrificially.  And more so, the Bible records no instances where she huffs or sighs or calls her girlfriends for sympathy or sits down for a  pity party.  Unlike me, she does not seem to have a flee response when life gets unpleasant.

    Ruth is on my mind a lot lately.

    My in-laws have both suffered a number of serious health issues on separate occasions in recent months.  Ironically, it is the one who is not hospitalized who ends up getting hospitalized from the stress of trying to care for the one who is hospitalized. So they take turns, when one gets out the other goes in. And now they are both in rehab together and I am doing my best to take care of the things which they cannot – their house and their bills and laundry and whatever else comes up.

    And I’m trying to be like Ruth.

    But they don’t see the dirt under my nails.  My efforts go unnoticed and unappreciated or are even sometimes met with resentment.  I understand that they are not fully aware, no longer quite themselves, but these things sting the heart just the same.

    Caring for aging parents is an emotional mine field and caring for in-laws makes it even more complicated.  Some days I am spent from all the tip-toeing through the land mines and it invokes my flee response.  I want to go back to my own people and be cared for.

    But I won’t.

    I will be her Ruth.  Not without question or without tears or the occasional pity party.  But I will stay and glean or clean or do whatever needs to be done, and scrub my nails at the end of the day.

    I will stay.

    I will be her Ruth.

    Fifty Ways To Leave Your Clutter

    September 14, 2013

    There are two kinds of people in the world.  Those whose clutter makes them feel secure and gives them comfort.  And those whose clutter gives them anxiety.

    I fall into the second category.  I feel overwhelmed by too much.

    My mother and my husband fall into the first category.  This is a problem.  Not for them, but for me.  People who enjoy clutter are seldom bothered by those who do not.  At least until their clutter goes missing.

    My mother’s house is one (of many) reasons I fled Illinois at the age of 20 and moved to Texas — to find some wide open uncluttered space, albeit in a 350-square foot apartment.  All I owned at the time was a box of coat hangers so clutter was not a problem.  My husband, on the other hand, with that whole until death do us part thing, I can’t really just move to another state.  So I gotta figure something out.

    Let it be said first and foremost, that I love my mother with all of my heart.  I love her and I admire her.  I just can’t be in her house for more than a day.  People love to drop by and visit my mother’s house, the door is always open and the coffee pot always on, but growing up in her house was stressful for me.  There was never any place to set anything down, you couldn’t ever find what you needed and if you did happen to find it, you would knock over or spill something in the process of getting to it and then once you had it in your hands, there was no place to set it down.

    On the contrary, I could go out to the garage, my father’s domain, and every nut and bolt was stored neatly together by size and clearly labeled. And that made me feel happy and peaceful and as though all was well in the world.  Everything had a place and when not in use, was right there, in its happy little place.  My dad and I were alike and he was very happily married to my mother who is like AD — so I know a mixed marriage can work.  Somehow.  On the other hand my dad was a really easy going guy, a go with the flow sort of guy and I don’t believe anyone has ever described me that way.

    Let it also be said that I love my husband, but for the past 15 years I have slowly given up on trying to keep order and have succumbed to drowning in his clutter.  But recently it has become apparent to me that the disorder and clutter that I had come to accept was causing chaos in our lives and that chaos created a lingering gray cloud of unhappiness and strife.  We were always cross with one another.   We were living in a constant state of emergency, constantly running late, never able to find anything because 90% of our space was being occupied by stuff that we don’t use, won’t use, can’t use and don’t love.  And I felt some resentment about that and that resentment further contributed to the collective unhappy.  Resentment never adds to happy, does it?

    And more than anything in this whole world, I want a peaceful house and a happy family – so some changes are in order.

    You might think that one day I snapped and said, no more, but that’s not really what  happened, although that’s usually how things go with me.  What happened was that one day I decided to work on me, to do what I could with de-cluttering and bringing order to my own small realm, bit by bit, day by day.

    My guiding philosophy to de-cluttering and bringing order is this:  Do I use it? Do I love it?  If the answer is no to both of these questions, then it has to go.  Clutterers will say, no I don’t love it, and I can’t use it, but it’s good, somebody might need this, someday I might need this.  I say, if it is good and useful, give it to someone who will use it right now, not some day.  Hanging on to stuff until it is no longer usable by anyone is one of the defining characteristics of hoarding.

    I started by de-cluttering my on-line life.  (My friend Karla writes about that here.)  I had numerous email accounts.  I closed most of them.  I closed on-line accounts and unsubscribed to email lists and blog feeds.  I had a number of web sites; I pared them down to three.  I got a password manager so all my passwords would be in one place.  And that’s the key to bringing order to life:  cut out the unnecessary and unused and put all similar items together in one place.

    One day I woke up and the silk plants were on my nerves.  They were dusty, and truth be told, I never liked fake greenery.  So I got a garbage bag and went around the house and gathered them up and ruthlessly tossed them in, I maybe even tossed them in with a little therapeutic force. Such a small thing, but it felt amazing to have them gone.

    One day I woke up and all the magazines and books were on my nerves.  So I culled out the books I love and use and the rest I boxed up and sold to Half Price Books or sent to charity.  Text books from college did not need to occupy space in my life, nor did magazines or newspapers.  Listen up people, if you haven’t read an article within one month of the publication date, it’s probably out of date.  And even if it isn’t, you can find it on the information highway.

    One day I woke up and sifted through my closet.  I pulled out 50% of my clothes and shoes and purses and sent them to charity. I had stuff in my closet that I had not worn in three years, or even10 years, and in some cases probably 30 years — and I wasn’t going to ever wear that stuff ever again.  Several months later I weeded out again.  I could still get rid of another 50% of my clothes and have more clothes than a girl needs.  I keep a box in my closet and when I try something on and it doesn’t work, into the box it goes.  When the box gets full, I take a second glance just to make sure and then I send it off.  Now I have a little space between my clothes as they hang peacefully in the closet and I can see exactly what I have.  I no longer go out and buy another white shirt because I know what I have.

    One day I woke up and Sean’s toys were on my nerves. So I sorted through them and chunked all the fast food toys and broken toys.  I stored all the toys in the attic that he had outgrown but that we still have a sentimental attachment.  Maybe in another year, we won’t feel sentimental towards those things and we’ll pass them along.  It’s always good to re-visit and re-evaluate the things you have stashed away.

    One day I woke up and my medicine cabinet was on my nerves. I tossed out all the expired prescriptions.  I put all the band-aids together in one space, all the tummy medicine in one space, all the other like medicines together.  I must have had six boxes of Benedryl.  Because our allergies are that bad? No, because I could never find the Benedryl so I would go out and buy more.

    The next day I purged my make-up drawer and the drawer I keep brushes and combs in.  I threw out bottles of lotion that had gone bad and probably weren’t good to begin with.

    I threw out all the hotel soaps and shampoos we had hoarded over the years.  And we have travelled a lot so we had a very large supply. But let’s face it.  If you don’t use them at the hotel, why would you use them at home?  You won’t. Don’t bring them home.

    I plan to go through my paper photos and pull out the good ones and throw out the rest. There is no reason to keep a blurry photo of the ceiling.  I will organize my pared down collection of good photos in an orderly way so that I can actually enjoy them instead of looking at a massive box of photos and feel so overwhelmed that I just shove it back on the shelf.

    The process of de-cluttering the whole house overwhelmed me for so long that I just couldn’t get started, it was easier to let it go another day, and then all those days turned into years.  I think what happened for me naturally, just focusing on paring down one item at a time, starting with something like dusty fake greenery that didn’t require an emotional decision, helped make it doable and helped to get me started.  And it felt so good that it wasn’t hard to keep going and I realized I didn’t have to do it all at once.

    I’m just getting started.  I have got a long way to go, but I am on a mission to bring order to my house and peace and happy to my family and I’m going to do it, one box at a time.

    * * *

    Instead of 50 ways to leave your clutter, how about 101?  If you are interested in simplifying and minimizing your life, Becoming Minimalist is a great place to start.