‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine
I think I'm moving towards a middle ground between typical homeschooling and unschooling - at least that seems to be how it's taking form right now. An online friend who also homeschools, reminded me "remember not to underestimate her - and remember it is easier to pull back expectations than do the opposite." I need to remind myself of that every day. Regardless of what I am feeling worry-wise, it is all very exciting.
Tonight we researched a few traditional Russian dishes she missed and then went shopping for ingredients. I let her write out the list, figure out the money we needed, choose the items, and pay for the items. She's still in the kitchen working on another recipe and it's 11pm at night! I think this foray into Russian cooking was inspired by our current book, which is a history-based, fictionalized diary of Anastasia Romanov and her life in Imperial Russia. It's bringing up a lot of memories from Russia, but mostly the good ones.
Regarding memories, we walk the dogs each night down to a local elementary school, and our new ritual is, we stop at the swings, and she swings for about a half hour while the dogs run around, and she does her own unique version of therapy. She climbs onto the swing, swings VERY high, and talks non-stop about experiences at the orphanage . I'm allowed only to listen...no questions. It has just kind of evolved over the past few weeks, and I'm learning her 'rules' as we go along, but she seems to really enjoy it. On the way home last night she had her arm around me all the way home and leaned her head on my shoulder.." Mom, I really like my swinging therapy...It feels good." she said. I, of course, according to the rules, was silent, but gave her a hug of recognition.
Cute phrase of the week (because these slip-ups are happening so infrequently now ...)
'Mom! Have a patient !' ( when I was rushing her to get her shoes on...)
The New England Academy for Highly Spirited Russian girls named Anastasia has officially opened.
After a week visiting family in Florida, we are home and settling in to our home school routine. I have to admit, Anastasia is getting used to it far faster than I am. I'm still struggling with worry -- Will I be a good teacher for her? Will she actually learn anything from me? Is it ok that we do actual schooling during after school hours? Will I even survive the first week?
But I'm trying, oh so hard, to be easier on myself. Why? Because Anastasia is positively radiant with this change. Her personality has truly blossomed . She is more open, more hopeful, more positive, and best of all...more willing to say yes to things like emptying the dishwasher when asked! (Of course I'm kidding. I'm far happier about her current state of happiness than her willingness to do chores...) Anyway, it is like watching a chick emerge from its shell. It's fascinating to watch.
Still, we are taking it very slow. We are focusing mostly on reading, handwriting, and printing penmanship now - as those are her most glaring weaknesses, and the areas that bother her the most. We are also spending lots of time together walking the beach & through the woods. She asks me a thousand questions about each plant, each shell, each animal we see. And where she was always sullen and withdrawn after school, now she is so energetic and up for adventures when she gets up that I'm completely exhausted in two hours time. I notice she interacts much more with others and in a positive way. She had the mattress salesman in hysterics yesterday with her very witty banter, when usually, upon meeting a stranger, she would sulk behind me with her arms crossed. So, I guess I am writing this as a reminder to myself - that this is a good change for her.
How apropos I'm directing Macbeth this month. Because, I get it...I get how Macbeth feels in that speech. I wish I didn't, but I do. I get it. Some days it really does feels that bad . For those who aren't familiar with the speech, it comes at the end of the play, and is a perfect study in of hopelessness. Here it is...
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle; life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound of fury, signifying nothing.
I can't help commiserating with Macbeth on this -- this week anyway. Chesky & Miriam losing their best friend Pete to suicide, Susan quickly losing her battle with cancer, and the Petit family. God be with the Petit family in Connecticut, their girls being raped and tortured by those two evil monsters . Sometimes I really don't want to try anymore. I feel like throwing my hands up and saying 'ok, bad guys, you win.' But I'm tired, and stressed and overwhelmed, so it's easy to sink into that space. But, dammit, I am sick about that family.
I keep replaying what happened to them in my mind, and just the thought of it propelled me to the bathroom last night to throw up. Not from sickness...from pure disgust and the deepest sadness. I cried about those girls all night long. Why did it hit me so hard? Maybe its because I now have a daughter? I don't know, but I could not get them out of my heart. I'm praying for them. That's all I can do. I'm praying for their Dad, and though I cannot fathom how he will live through this, I ask God to keep his heart beating. Let him find a way to walk this life. Is it possible? God, please hear my prayer.
There is nothing better I can do than spend time with these children. There is no other way for me to feel so alive.
Tonight was hours upon hours of giddy madness in my basement, and up the stairs, and in the hallways and kitchen... A large scattering of children carefully cutting patterns for their costumes, passionately sewing up awkward seams, discerningly choosing fabrics for Macduff and Fleance and Young Siward. A whirl of costumed sprites running about my house and yard with joyful abandon...no rules, no curfews, no "don't touch, no "be quiet"...just laughter and scissors and boiling pots of aprons on my stove and furious little workers dirtying up some cloaks with mud and rocks and twigs in my front yard.
It doesn't hurt to envision one. In fact, the opposite is true. The more we take the time to envision and imagine, the more swiftly the good things move in.
I was born an optimist. I can actually remember being an infant and feeling completely connected and in love with all things. Then life happens and one day you wake up a cynic. Well, I'm purposefully and intentionally and commitedly trying to find my way back to that little optimist. I can remember looking out the window next to my crib and seeing a tree that I knew was my brother-sister-mother-father-friend. I can remember this tree smiling at me and loving me through the window, through the bars of my crib, through my little baby skin. I even remember the feel of the cold crib rails between my fingers. I loved that feeling - clutching them in my hands and gazing out the window at my tree friend and hearing the wind. It was a feeling of complete knowingness and "all is well."
These days I wake, bolt upright, in my bed with abject fear and terror. I'm not sure where it comes from or why, but I know my job is to gently release it and know that I am ok, that I am still that little girl looking out at the tree all those decades ago.
Consciously, when I am awake and moving about my day-lit world, I try to whisper mantras to my soul, mantras that will get in and make a difference. Sometimes it is ' And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well ' from St Julian. Other times it is 'you are okay.' Last night it was 'just breathe'.
It's amazing that words can bring such comfort. What are words anyway? Just breath with intention. I take in the breath the world gives me, hold it in my lungs, and then let it move back out into the world through the conscious movement of my mouth. I form the shape the breath takes with my lips, but the breath itself comes from God/Universe/Oneness. We share the words I speak, in a sense. We speak the words together.
I like thinking that. I like thinking of God sharing the experience of my existence, through my very breath.
Now it's bed-time. I'll go to sleep, free my soul , and later wake to a new day. God will be there. I'll take a breathe every few seconds, and with each in and out breath, I'll be sharing the experience of being alive again, with all that is.
Peace everyone. And especially you, Dad. Congrats on this, your second anniversary of graduating from this life. I love you.
That quote is a balm to me. Pablo Picasso said it. He said alot of wonderful things. Mental note to myself: read more of what Pablo Picasso said.
So, this is just a quick check-in. I'm happy. I'm content. I'm even experiencing moments of bliss, but it is certainly not because my life is drama free. I don't want to go into details, but I am watching three people die right now. It's very hard (understatement), but I am learning alot (again, understatement) -- learning about being more present in my own life, how not to let their eventual deaths tear me down, but perhaps widen my heart instead.
My daughter is a constant source of joy and amusement. And frustration. After all, she is fourteen and still unknowlingly campaigns to be the poster girl for Reactive Attachment Disorder. But lately I am loving our time together. Simply loving it. I learn so much from her, and I am rapt in awe watching her grow, her mind expand and let light the light in. What a wonderful thing to be witness to.
So, good night sweet friends. I'm off to do walk the dogs, and then dishwasher and laundry duty and then bed.
It's Easter, which for me consisted of a predawn awakening to hide Nastia's Easter basket, writing out all the clues, and placing them, carefully, in their appointed hiding places. Then the watching of her, gleefully hunting for it. Even though she's fourteen by this world's narrow standards, she is still so very much the little child.
She screeched with delight upon finding it, jumping up and down, and filling he face with an incomparable grin. She later snuggled up in her blankets and carefully categorized each item that Easter brought her ...candy, tiny gifts, a Russian egg. After eating a few of the eggs we had colored the previous day, I went back to bed for a nap. I'm not feeling so well lately. In the quiet of our room, with the sound of the tv blaring cartoons a few rooms away, I just lay there, thinking of my father. Easter sans family kinda sucks.
Childhood Easters always consisted of impressive family gatherings, with an endless parade of food and cousind. I'd sit with my grandmother, hunt for eggs in my uncle's giant backyard, watch my little cousin Boo count out all the pennies and quarters she collected from her plastic eggs (we always let her find the most). Some Easters were the scene of knock-down, drag-out fights between the same Irish-tempered relatives, including my Dad. They were scary, but somehow riveting to watch. We kids would freeze with fear and owe. Funny thing is, I miss those times, too.
I miss the smell of cigarettes and whiskey,being the errand girl and running drinks and plates piled high with ham and potatoes to my Nana, aunts and uncles. I felt safe amidst all the noise and chaos of those holidays. It was so much better than the silence up in my room.
I guess in some ways I feel like Nastia is missing out. Her life is a quieter life than mine was -- no siblings to battle, no all-night parties, no drop-by relatives and friends in and out of the house all day. She doesn't have brothers to harass or commiserate with. No rambling, creaky house filled with artifacts and heirlooms, squeaking doors, ghosts, and oh so many stories. She lives in a rented ranch. On a cookie-cutter street in suburbia. With her single mom. Most of her relatives live more than 1400 miles away. I wonder if she'll be different because of it.
I so mourn the loss of my father in her life. I can't get over it on some days. It feels so terribly unfair. Our family feels handicapped without him. It is like we are missing an arm or a leg, something necessary. The silence of his absence is not even bittersweet, it is simply bitter. I'm starting to realize that people who lose a loved one are handicapped for the rest of their lives. There is no going back to the whole person that you were - there is only coping, and on some days, if you're really lucky, living.
I felt understood and acknowledged by my Dad at such a deep level. I mattered, and I knew I mattered, in the deepest most fundamental corner of my soul. I don't matter anymore - that's how it feels, anyway. I matter to my daughter,yes, and that is wonderful and miraculous in its own way. But I miss mattering as a soul, and as my father's daughter.
Damn, I miss that.
I know my Dad is alive. Somewhere. I do. I can't say I know many details about his new life, but I know with great surety that he has one. But somehow, that is not enough. Sometimes it is - enough to know he is alive and happy, living out new adventures somewhere. But more often than not, his absence is too glaringly obvious. It's like a neon sign hanging in front of everything I do and see and feel. I hate it. I want him back. Now.
There is nothing good about death. I'd like to imagine there is, but today, on this grey and leaf-barren Easter Sunday, my heart knows that each death is simply having your heart ripped out over and over and over again, until you are numb from the pain of it.
If you know me, you know I had written Senator Obama a letter over a year ago asking him to consider the run for presidency in '08. It was just the pipe dream of a hard-working, single mom who was tired of the status quo. Tired of dishonesty and fear-mongering and hate. So, even though it was something I prayed for and dreamed of, it was still a shock when it came to be:
Here is Obama's announcement speech, in full. It is worth the reading, even if you don't support him. I am so grateful he is running. I feel hope for our country for the first time in many years. Here are his words....
"Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who've traveled, from far and wide, to brave the cold today.
We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be. In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union. That's the journey we're on today. But let me tell you how I came to be here. As most of you know, I am not a native of this great state. I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year. And I accepted the job, sight unseen, motivated then by a single, simple, powerful idea - that I might play a small part in building a better America.
My work took me to some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. I joined with pastors and lay-people to deal with communities that had been ravaged by plant closings. I saw that the problems people faced weren't simply local in nature - that the decision to close a steel mill was made by distant executives; that the lack of textbooks and computers in schools could be traced to the skewed priorities of politicians a thousand miles away; and that when a child turns to violence, there's a hole in his heart no government could ever fill. It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.
After three years of this work, I went to law school, because I wanted to understand how the law should work for those in need. I became a civil rights lawyer, and taught constitutional law, and after a time, I came to understand that our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate. It was with these ideas in mind that I arrived in this capital city as a state Senator.
It was here, in Springfield, where I saw all that is America converge - farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. I made lasting friendships here - friends that I see in the audience today.
It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable - that it's possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we're willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst. That's why we were able to reform a death penalty system that was broken. That's why we were able to give health insurance to children in need. That's why we made the tax system more fair and just for working families, and that's why we passed ethics reforms that the cynics said could never, ever be passed.
It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people - where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America.
And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.
I recognize there is a certain presumptuousness - a certain audacity - to this announcement. I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change. The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this country before. In the face of tyranny, a band of patriots brought an Empire to its knees. In the face of secession, we unified a nation and set the captives free. In the face of Depression, we put people back to work and lifted millions out of poverty. We welcomed immigrants to our shores, we opened railroads to the west, we landed a man on the moon, and we heard a King's call to let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more - and it is time for our generation to answer that call. For that is our unyielding faith - that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.
That's what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks. But through his will and his words, he moved a nation and helped free a people. It is because of the millions who rallied to his cause that we are no longer divided, North and South, slave and free. It is because men and women of every race, from every walk of life, continued to march for freedom long after Lincoln was laid to rest, that today we have the chance to face the challenges of this millennium together, as one people - as Americans.
All of us know what those challenges are today - a war with no end, a dependence on oil that threatens our future, schools where too many children aren't learning, and families struggling paycheck to paycheck despite working as hard as they can. We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years. What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems. For the last six years we've been told that our mounting debts don't matter, we've been told that the anxiety Americans feel about rising health care costs and stagnant wages are an illusion, we've been told that climate change is a hoax, and that tough talk and an ill-conceived war can replace diplomacy, and strategy, and foresight. And when all else fails, when Katrina happens, or the death toll in Iraq mounts, we've been told that our crises are somebody else's fault. We're distracted from our real failures, and told to blame the other party, or gay people, or immigrants.
And as people have looked away in disillusionment and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page. We've made some progress already. I was proud to help lead the fight in Congress that led to the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate. But Washington has a long way to go. And it won't be easy. That's why we'll have to set priorities. We'll have to make hard choices. And although government will play a crucial role in bringing about the changes we need, more money and programs alone will not get us where we need to go. Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility - for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice. So let us begin. Let us begin this hard work together. Let us transform this nation. Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America. And as our economy changes, let's be the generation that ensures our nation's workers are sharing in our prosperity. Let's protect the hard-earned benefits their companies have promised. Let's make it possible for hardworking Americans to save for retirement. And let's allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country's middle-class again.
Let's be the generation that ends poverty in America. Every single person willing to work should be able to get job training that leads to a job, and earn a living wage that can pay the bills, and afford child care so their kids have a safe place to go when they work. Let's do this.
Let's be the generation that finally tackles our health care crisis. We can control costs by focusing on prevention, by providing better treatment to the chronically ill, and using technology to cut the bureaucracy. Let's be the generation that says right here, right now, that we will have universal health care in America by the end of the next president's first term.
Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We can harness homegrown, alternative fuels like ethanol and spur the production of more fuel-efficient cars. We can set up a system for capping greenhouse gases. We can turn this crisis of global warming into a moment of opportunity for innovation, and job creation, and an incentive for businesses that will serve as a model for the world. Let's be the generation that makes future generations proud of what we did here.
Most of all, let's be the generation that never forgets what happened on that September day and confront the terrorists with everything we've got. Politics doesn't have to divide us on this anymore - we can work together to keep our country safe. I've worked with Republican Senator Dick Lugar to pass a law that will secure and destroy some of the world's deadliest, unguarded weapons. We can work together to track terrorists down with a stronger military, we can tighten the net around their finances, and we can improve our intelligence capabilities. But let us also understand that ultimate victory against our enemies will come only by rebuilding our alliances and exporting those ideals that bring hope and opportunity to millions around the globe. But all of this cannot come to pass until we bring an end to this war in Iraq. Most of you know I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. Today we grieve for the families who have lost loved ones, the hearts that have been broken, and the young lives that could have been. America, it's time to start bringing our troops home. It's time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace.
Finally, there is one other thing that is not too late to get right about this war - and that is the homecoming of the men and women - our veterans - who have sacrificed the most. Let us honor their valor by providing the care they need and rebuilding the military they love. Let us be the generation that begins this work.
I know there are those who don't believe we can do all these things. I understand the skepticism. After all, every four years, candidates from both parties make similar promises, and I expect this year will be no different. All of us running for president will travel around the country offering ten-point plans and making grand speeches; all of us will trumpet those qualities we believe make us uniquely qualified to lead the country. But too many times, after the election is over, and the confetti is swept away, all those promises fade from memory, and the lobbyists and the special interests move in, and people turn away, disappointed as before, left to struggle on their own.
That is why this campaign can't only be about me. It must be about us - it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle, of your hopes, and your dreams. It will take your time, your energy, and your advice - to push us forward when we're doing right, and to let us know when we're not. This campaign has to be about reclaiming the meaning of citizenship, restoring our sense of common purpose, and realizing that few obstacles can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.
By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope.
As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: "Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought to battle through." That is our purpose here today. That's why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation. I want to win that next battle - for justice and opportunity. I want to win that next battle - for better schools, and better jobs, and health care for all. I want us to take up the unfinished business of perfecting our union, and building a better America.
And if you will join me in this improbable quest, if you feel destiny calling, and see as I see, a future of endless possibility stretching before us; if you sense, as I sense, that the time is now to shake off our slumber, and slough off our fear, and make good on the debt we owe past and future generations, then I'm ready to take up the cause, and march with you, and work with you. Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth."