Saturday, April 16, 2011

Daze of Summer

Her mentor is one of the most gentle people on the planet. He catches flies in his hands and sets them free outside his studio, and he flicks mosquitoes away rather than smashing them to death.

She often asked him why he is like this and he always said, "One day I will tell you."

One day she went to see him to show him her latest drawings and he said that he was busy and couldn't see them, but that he had some work he wanted her to do on the computer with some pictures she'd taken for him, that he'd set her up, he working on something next to her. As she went back to his "lair" he said, "Today might be a good day for you to understand what you have been asking so much about." She didn't really care one way or the other to hear the answer and for a moment she didn't remember the question, having assumed that he was a sensitive person who valued all things from birth, and her question was always asked in admiration. When he offered to tell her why he was so much the way he was, she misread him as being mischievous, expecting a funny story involving laughter and funny characters. He wanted her to read what he wanted her to know.

She sat down at his computer and he stood over her and muddled through various files until he found the story, "There," he smiled, "This should keep you busy for a while." He sat down behind her with his back to her while he worked on another project.

The story started off innocent and pleasant and took her to a place that existed a decade before her birth, when he was young. She could feel the hot, muggy air of the summer time, and smelled the grass and the flowers while she pictured him as a scrawny kid, much like her own kids, to a summer mixed with the ratio of 90% boredom and 10% excitement that her own summers had while growing up on the opposite coast much later.

Her mentor had never liked how she dressed as she covered herself in long skirts and hair covers, but she always blushed when he teased her and said that he always saw through her clothes and knew that she was beautiful, and when she asked him why he wrote a certain way, he explained that he wrote in a similar way to how she dressed-- when he wrote, he could reveal everything without describing, and that interested people would let their imaginations step in where he left off. His stories often left her breathless, but if one took the story apart, paragraph by paragraph, one could not say, "This is where he leads the reader on to the fascinating part." His work, both in words and in pictures, existed as a whole, interacting with the viewer's imagination and creating a newer work all together. Unlike how she dressed, his work had many more admirers, and people often came to him for advice on art, whereas few asked her for advice on dressing.

On that day, his story was not what she expected. As she met the people in his life from the time before she was born, she was jarred when he encountered his Abusers. As this was his story to tell, I will not tell you what had happened to him, other than to say that it was very horrible, and it was their threats and his forced silence for many years that got her the most. She wanted to pull him on to her lap and hug him, but as he was much older than her and quite tall, it would have been awkward had she tried. Unlike in his stories where the imagination of the reader filled in what he didn't say, he was graphic in what he described, and her imagination, which had only made his stories happier in times past, retreated, and she sat reading and rereading the horrible facts of the story without her imagination to help her.

She didn't know if he heard her gasp, and he kept typing as she absorbed what she had read. This wasn't about her, it was about him. She wondered why she was worried so much about her own reaction and how he'd perceive her. She had volunteered with Hospice and worked with victims of abuse in the past, but this wasn't something that he was sharing for her to comfort him or say anything wise. He was telling her as a friend about something terrible. After a deep breath, she asked him, "How do you heal from that?"

His voice was soft and he still wasn't looking at her, "You don't."

She tilted her head, and sharp pains circuited from her neck to her left shoulder and down her left arm and into her hands, coming back via her right arm and surrounding her shoulders and ribs and shooting back into her neck. She asked, "May I massage your neck?" He said she could, but asked why she wanted to massage his neck. She wanted to massage his neck because hers hurt, but she told him she just wanted to massage his neck, like it was normal for her to go around offering to massage people's necks. She often didn't make sense to him and this moment, in spite of its severity, still had her in it and she wasn't going to start making sense when she was brought into this part of his life. He let her massage his neck and he knew that she was putting all of her physical force into his muscles, but he hardly felt them because her hands were not strong hands.

She wondered if the abuse from 50 years ago was with him every day and every minute, but she didn't ask him that.

She wasn't ready to return to the cacophony of her own home, and she wasn't interested in editing the pictures that needed her attention. Regarding her work on the computer, he had been talking to her about retraining her eyes to see what is essential to the picture, to see and to represent the truth, while editing the picture's light and taking things out that didn't need to be there. Light had become a tangible entity to her and in the minutes following what she had read, she realized that there was more than just physical light to consider. There is a light in understanding, in knowing truths. Something can be ugly and still exist, but it doesn't have to take up the picture. She wasn't sure what she thought about the truth right then as she had cut out too much from pictures in an attempt to clean them up and therefore created idealized images, and realized that perhaps he was showing her something that was ugly, still managed to be part of someone she admired, and it didn't overshadow him. A few of her own demons were exorcised while she absorbed the lessons he was giving her: as much as the terrible event had hurt her mentor, he hadn't let it cripple him. She took out her omnipresent needlework while he worked on his project and they sat listening to Jackson Browne while drinking expensive tea from Styrofoam cups. She would go back the next week to discuss her work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Where am I going?

As of late, I have been trying to figure out what direction to take my blog. For anyone sticking with me, I am thankful.

When I started writing this, I was an isolated mother with lots of children and I was identified by the sheer number. I still have lots of children, but two are in their 20's now, and the youngest is about to start kindergarten. I have left my husband's church because I cannot handle the smell of incense and I have a couple of the kids at a different church that they love. (Cloud has become an organizer in the church for events for her group. This church isn't full of triger-happy survivalist types, thank goodness.) People don't normally know me as that mom with 9 kids now that many see me with just a couple of them. My seven left at home are in three different schools and while I volunteer, no one sees me with all of them.

A few weeks ago, a friend got on me for not working and for making my husband support us all. He jeered at me, "Why haven't you finished your degree? What do you tell people when they ask what you do?" Gosh, I tried to finish my degree-- when I started to tell him, he said that all I was offering him were excuses. When I told him that no one but him had an issue with me not working, he didn't seem to believe me. I was depressed for a while over it. (My husband started to talk to me about working. I was like, "That is fine, but you have to start cleaning." I used to work in the evenings and I also took some classes and I'd come home around 10pm and he'd be watching TV and dishes would still be on the table. Floors still need to be vacuumed, windows wiped off, they all have to happen, and if I am working in the evening, I am going to sleep at different hours. After more thinking on his part, he dropped it.) I think that as I am a housewife, I embarrassed my friend. He got into his head that I talked about him-- and when I thought we had a mutual friend, he told me to not talk about him to her and that it would be "a test." I guess housewives do nothing but jabber to other people about him in his world.

I've dealt with things that I have to write about months later because, while the kids don't see my blog, it is about privacy for them.

I am getting more involved with my art. My mentor found me, and he is making me think. Today he said to me, "Do not run from me. I am not your professor, I will not fail you. Just. . . think. Don't think tonight, think in a few days." Of course I am up at 3:30 thinking about what he said.

For years I have painted and drawn, and I had one fan for whom I produced many works given that we wrote snail mail. For my mentor I am starting to go back, not to the works that I did, but to what I am seeing, and creating. What have I seen that has moved me today? What catches my eye? Do it in pastel, now recreate it in water colors. Work fast, I haven't much time, I can usually go back.

I have an art show planned for September of 2012. I am finding themes in my work. Art is a language unto itself. I do envelope art and my art always says, "I love you, I have prayed for you, I thought good thoughts of you for however long it took me to make this." I do not know if the envelope art will make it into the show-- it is hard to create it just because I have a show coming up. "Oh cool! Art on an envelope!" Yes, it is nice, but for whom am I making it? Having an audience is important because I have direction. Now that I have a mentor, he is guiding me and ultimately, I can always create for him since so much of what we discuss manifests itself into my work.

I assisted at a friend's art show a couple of weeks ago. It was private and very elegant. I discovered that unplanned "fiascoes" are really opportunities in disguise. I went along to help set up easels (I think I was asked to help because I have a big vehicle!) on which to put up work, but given time constraints, I didn't have time to change from volunteering at the elementary school to where I had dressed almost like an elf in striped stockings, a mini skirt (not micro-- it was cute!) and bright colors. I arrived and was setting up when the people putting on the art show realized that they'd not booked the caterer to cater-- just to make food! They were having several guests come over and they asked me to stay to help serve. Since I was with my artist pal, I was there for him and was happy to do what I could. Their plans for the kids didn't work out because the kids got tired of watching a movie, so I had a container full of art supplies from the kids' school. I did an art project with the kids that the parents wanted to try, too! What had been planned to be an event from six to eight or nine lasted until eleven o'clock at night with fascinating stories and people bonding.

I get really embarrassed because I spend a lot of time at FaceBook. I don't spend too much time there, but on one of my accounts, I often access it from my phone. The particular group of people has my base of friends from 30 years ago, as well as close new friends. We post encouraging notes to each other-- it is like. . . . getting a dozen Hallmark cards every day! I recently posted something about my eldest daughter and how proud of her I am, and my friends who are also friends with said daughter were really wonderful because they know her, too. They told me that I had so much potential when I was younger, but that no amount of professional accolades and education could trump what they are becoming as people, and that the sacrifices that I have made are worth it. I am so blessed to be seeing it in my lifetime, and I hope that the younger ones will also be as wonderful for their sakes. (I think they already are!)

I am not ready for Starshine to enter school. We had a late snow the other day and she wanted to walk. I parked a few blocks away and she tramped through people's yards as I walked on the sidewalk. I asked my she was walking in the snow and she said it was so other people could follow her. At one point she paused and looked at her foot prints and said to me that her footprints are art. It was awesome. As we walked, I realized that it may be the last I walk with her to school in the snow. Next year, she will be an eager kindergartner. I may volunteer, but it won't be the same. I really want to have more babies. As she grows, I am also getting older. Sure, I am 43 and I am quite young looking, but age is a funny thing and you cannot escape it if you live. I hope to make the most of every year and be a wonderful role model on how to age well.

I suppose that like StarShine, I, too, am leaving footprints.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

I have the most wonderful child-- unless she is up to something. . .

With Esme's daughter in crises mode and quite scared about a pregnancy that no one is really worried about having happened, my own daughter has asked me about homeschooling next year so she can spend time doing what really matters to her. She doesn't want me teaching her anything, she has in fact looked online and wants to do a combination of math and science at her local school, and German, history, English, and whatever else she needs to do from home. She can use my help for German, but she says that she has been noting in class how much time is spent learning and actually doing anything and she said that she could get her day done in 2.5 hours if she was doing it alone, and then have more time to study what she wants. One of the things? She asked me to get with the mother's group at her church to find out about religious classes.

She is solidifying with the Catholic faith and told us this evening that she is hence forth crossing herself as a Catholic. Eastern Orthodox shouldn't mind, but they do, but I don't mind and I will lock pointy hats with any priest who wants to make an issue of it.

I played Devil's Advocate with her, and asked about abuses in the church. "Mom, I had nothing to do with those, and you are making a point with your ideas for abuse prevention. Besides, all I can do is to help prevent them from ever happening." She wants to learn more and I have to admit that I am happy for this. There are a few cradle Catholics who are her age who are baffled by her love for a faith they feel has been thrust upon them. (Of course Orthodox are stricter, so she probably feels like a rebel. Her godmother is Catholic and is really excited-- of course she has probably been behind this the whole time, praying for her conversion! There is a lovely church a town over that Esme loves that is a huge cathedral and she is planning her eventual wedding there!)

I know that with time that she will grow closer and then step back, then get closer still. For now I am enjoying her joy with it. This evening she asked what projects I will be doing with the kids for Lent. I was dumbfounded and she asked me, "How will you ever give us warm childhood memories of these holidays if you don't get it right and do them now?" I have always wanted to, but life has been swirling around us. I stammered out that we'll be making a salt dough Crown of Thorns and stick toothpicks in it and every time we do a good deed, we will break one off and throw it away? She liked that and suggested we put it on our Eastern Orthodox Pascha table at my husband's church.

My husband has sweetly agreed to let us do some events at the Catholic church over Lent-- his church isn't doing much as they don't have a priest.

Cloud proceeded to explain to her brothers and sisters what it means to give something up for Lent, and to take on a good new habit. She shouldn't have shared what she wanted to give up because Basil quickly goaded her and got her mad enough to yell at him, and he smirked. I made him put his nose on the wall and he was not that worried about his punishment and said he thought that I should perhaps give up punishing him for Lent!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Little curve balls in life

No sooner had my daughter and I completed our mandatory, pointless class with the Catholic church on relationships and abuse (that turned into a cheesy lecture on not having intimate relations) and I wrote a rant, than my friend, Esme (not her real name, but you knew that) called me up. Her 14 year old daughter was getting really, really close. And she was getting stalked by a boy who she had turned down.

Esme was not hysterical, she had also been at the class at the church in the next town over. The class did not spur the discussion, but rather, her boyfriend getting death threats scared her daughter into sharing. Her daughter is in no way a floozy-- but Esme would be a ding-a-ling to leave her alone with a boy at this point. (I offered to state that my son, Mudd, is to be her paid companion and to join them on dates and she is really considering it. Hey! Mudd is a fun kid!) Esme handled it with humor and has not slept since. Of course she told her husband-- couples don't keep secrets like that from one another. (He, having been sick, took to his bed and to the Wii. For four days. Wii basketball-- the best thing for an ailing person. He decided to make Esme handle it alone and he'd work with what she shared with possibly doing and then he will either agree or not. Esme's daughter swears her father will "want to kill" her, but he didn't when he found out. He was surprised that it was happening 2 years before he had expected it.)

The threats came via her text messaging. I went with her to the police. At first they didn't want to take it, but I have a degree in human services and since I am a mandated reporter, I pointed out that the suicide threats were something that had to be acted on immediately. It sounds like the kids' parents were relieved-- apparently he was already in the system for infractions of which were not elaborated on and they had numbers. His parents were called while we were there, and within the next week, the kid was sent to a residential facility for observation.

The Catholic church was not interested in my views on fixing the problem with the classes being so bad. Basically, they ignored me. I told the moderator of the class why I thought it was cheesy and not enough, and explained that I knew she knew of patterns of abuse and that sharing these with the teens would be another voice when the voices of the parents were being drowned out. Parents who found her class informative probably had their heads in the sand and wouldn't talk to their kids about abuse because they would not think it could happen. No comment from her, or the two people at the church to whom I spoke. I was disappointed, but not surprised. I later had breakfast with a group of moms who feel as I do and I may see about working something through a parent's club at one of the schools. (My party will be cooler!)

As for Esme's daughter, Esme has decided that 16 is the youngest she can be to date. The young man is a sweetheart and I even met him. It's not that he is bad by any means. Does a 16 year old have a better understanding than an almost 15 year old on why it is better to hold off on intimacy? (Does a 25 year old understand it any better?) She asked me about symptoms of pregnancies and I knew that she would be psychologically bringing them on in her worries. I told her of nerve pain shooting up the leg from the right big toe, mental alertness, and a desire to clean her area, be it her room or the entire house. Esme called to report that her daughter indeed is acting as I had spoken. (I am so going to hell for this. LOL) I do not think that she wants to be pregnant, but like many women, the posibility of a pregnancy is the posibility of potential and the sweet girl has names picked out!

I brought Esme some chocolate and tea and we knitted for a bit. She is still confused, but at least she has chocolate and yarn.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A very lame class on abuse prevention

Tonight I took my teenager to a Catholic Abuse Prevention class. I had thought that this would be great-- a chance for the Catholic church to prevent some of the abuses that have occurred in the past, that have blotted her history. It was lame. The teens talked about relatiooooonshiiiips and premarital sex and waiting. It was the same lame and stupid crap that my generation heard as kids and while we parents were required to sit through it, I got the impression that the kids were speaking for us. Statistically, how many of these kids will go to the altar as virgins? How many in that room were gay? I am not worried about priests or clergy making moves in this parish because we have a lot of safeguards, but if they do and if they succeed, I will blame it on the education.

They spoke of the acronym for LIFE (Love, Infatuation, Friendship, Exploitation.) We talked in our groups about what this meant. In mixed groups of parents and youth, we were asked to write down what we thought of these four definitions. Then the moderator of the session wanted them to be read to our groups and for us to guess who said it. I told her that I didn't think this was a great idea for her to spring this after we had written these down, so she quickly told us that if someone didn't like this, to just read them. Of course when the group chose their faves to share, the woman queried, "Who said that?" Knowing who said what did not matter to what she was teaching and I have no idea why she asked. My quote was read as the best from our group, as I said that infatuation is like salad dressing. . . a little goes a long way, but it is never the main course of the meal.

They spoke of waiting for sex until marriage, but they didn't talk about the hormonal effects of sex on the body and why this might be a good thing. While I do not know if it is true,  I was told in a Crises Pregnancy volunteer class that sex produces happy hormones that make you feel attached to the person you are with, and that in a healthy relationship where there is love, it really builds your relationship up with your partner/spouse. I get that way. (I have had reason to think of it lately, bad experiences from my past, and indeed, good experiences, also, and the casual encounters, where my boyfriends didn't want to be called my boyfriends, who panicked at me calling the Sacred Act, "making love," I had to detach myself from them. One of my friends recently shared with me that if her husband is looking at his iPhone instead of paying attention to her when she is talking about her day, she feels like she did with her casual encounters when he makes moves on her later.)

I can handle that they didn't talk about abuse by clergy in the class, but they didn't talk about abuse by other people. I think that gay teens need to be warned about abuse happening just as much in their relationships and how to spot it-- and places to find out how to get out of the situations. (Of course gay youth don't exist in the Catholic church and if they squeeze their eyes shut tight enough, they can pray away the gay!) They also didn't really talk about abuse in interpersonal relationships.

The girls were wistful about what love is. It's so simple to them at this age. It was basically the crap about "True love waits!" The message of the evening was, "If it is infatuation, don't! If it is love, wait!" How simple! They didn't talk about how to get from point A (being single) to point J (being married.) Oh-- I am assigning letters to my variables. They touched very lightly on hormones which, while they are well and good, they did not over ride them. If I was 16 and making out with my boyfriend, I would not be thinking of the bookish hag that taught the class.

I think it is noble to wait until marriage to have sex-- you avoid a lot of problems, many that are too personal for me to go into here as I'd offer up my personal experiences. The issue, however, is not to wait, but how to wait. If you choose to not have sex before marriage, I think that dating is like saying that you don't want to drink, but you are going to go to a wine tasting. Don't put yourself into temptation's way! Why can't the Catholic church figure this out? They need a young adult group (not youth) director who provides outings for the singles to meet and go out just to have fun. Bowling, white water rafting, these things are all great ways to meet other singles in the group and to go out. One of my friends is an Orthodox Jew and her kids will not date and will instead be introduced to possible matches and they will not be left alone by choice, until they get married. I wanted to stand up and scream in that class, "Listen! Your bodies are made to want to have sex! Decide now what you want to do with this choice! If you don't want to have sex before you marry, going off to a party college is a bad, bad, bad idea! Involve your parents! Don't go out with your friends who like to date so they can troll!" I knitted and reserved my comments for Cloud when we got in the car. She said, "You should be teaching this class, Mom." I told her that I am the old lady who knits and covers her hair and who sits in the corner. She said that that is only believable until I start talking, and then I could be wearing a gorilla suit and no one would notice. That was sweet.

They did say that "friends with benefits" is a form of exploitation, which I thought was great. Adults need to be told this, too. Sadly, the woman giving the talk is not someone who I could see as ever having had to avoid a situation such as this. If she was pure when she married, I doubt that it was by choice. It is complicated to have kids take this advice from someone who does not seem to have ever had a life to enjoy, who was ever young and vibrant like they are.

Of course, choosing a life partner is something that one cannot cover in two hours, but this course was about abuse prevention, and I thought it did a bad job of covering abuse prevention.

The class should have been taught in a gender specific fashion. I sat in the back and watched the girls look back at the boys before they spoke, and the boys didn't talk much at all.

Overall, I felt cheated of my time. The people who put the class on felt good because they made parents and teens come together to talk. They didn't talk about anything that I wasn't discussing with my kids when they were younger.