Remains of the Day

Today, the fates granted me four uninterrupted hours with my teenage son. If you don’t have a teenage son, you might think this is no big deal. You would be wrong. Usually, he is either away with friends or behind a closed door. To have him in my immediate presence and speaking to me is a miracle.

Here is how it all went down, in case any of you want to try it yourselves.

The Set Up:
For most of the past week, my son spent time with 3 to 12 (the number changed hourly) of his nearest and dearest friends doing Spring Break things. Then, two days ago, for reasons that only another parent can understand and which would require a complete blog post of its own, he sprayed air freshener all over his hands and arms. One day later, his arms began to itch. Two days later, with a weekend looming and arms still itching, he agreed to see a doctor. This whole thing should take 90 minutes, tops.

The First Hour:
As I filled out forms at the doctor’s office, Teenage Son asked if I could take him to a friend’s house after the appointment. Sure, no problem. He ate two lollypops and texted his friends, was in constant communication with them the entire time. (Note this for later ironic twist.) Once in the exam room, he explained the origin story of the itch, at which point the medical assistant turned to me and said, “Kids.” We left for the drug store to pick up a prescription. “Then you can take me to Friend #1′s house?” Yes, sure.

The Second Hour:
At the drug store, Teenage Son picked out one candy bar, a packet of gum, a King Sized package of Reece’s Sticks, and a self-inflating whoopee cushion while we waited. After 20 minutes, we were told that this particular pharmacy was completely out of the medication we needed. So we purchased Teenage Son’s merchandise and headed to the next closest store. In between texts with his friends, Teenage Son tossed the partially-eaten Reece’s into my cup holder and said, “Here, Mom.” And he was shocked – SHOCKED – when I rolled my eyes. “Why would you do that, Mom?! I got that to share with you. Geez.” So I thanked him for sharing the candy I bought him. We picked up the prescription at drug store #2 and headed back toward Friend #1′s house. “No, no, no! We need to go to Friend #2′s house! No one is at Friend #1′s house yet. They are at Friend #2′s house.” Still texting the whole time.

The Third Hour:
We drove to Friend #2′s house. No one was there. (What was the point of all that texting over the past 2 hours? Insert irony here.) Where were they? At a Starbuck’s. Which one? (more texting) Downtown. No. “What?! What am I supposed to do?” I pulled over and played on my phone until he figured it out. After 10 minutes, the Texting Teens decide he should go ahead to Friend #1′s house after all because that is where they are going from Starbuck’s. They were leaving any second and would probably be there by the time we arrived.

The Fourth Hour:
Friend #1′s house was deserted. I discovered this after Teenage Son got out of the car and wandered aimlessly in the driveway. He was Not Happy when I refused to leave him there for goodness knows how long. “Why, Mom?! Who does that?! What kind of parent are you?” Would he get back in the car if I agreed to take him for a snack? Sure, but they will be back any minute so hurry. One double-cheeseburger, fries, and a root beer later, we were back at the driveway of Friend #1. Waiting. For half an hour. Then a car arrived, unloaded four gangly teenagers and my son was out of my car to join them faster than you can say Snap Chat. Not a word to me.

But we had four hours together! Uninterrupted. Sometimes with actual non-arguing conversation! He’s got food in his belly, less itchy arms, and a very annoying mom. I’ve got these remains of our day…

Fossil record of four hours with my Teenage Son

Blessing of a New Home

Welcome, Bitty Bitty and Bonga! We hope you will enjoy your lively, pink surroundings. Perhaps through your curved glass windows, you will catch glimpses of all the people (and one dog) who promise to love and feed you, clean your home (never, ever forgetting the water conditioner), and provide you will an rotating collection of faux-sea furnishings and rainbow loom bracelets, even though you don’t have hands or arms. If you are lucky, we hope you will also glimpse colors other than pink. Many blessings on your new home – the bowl, the house, and the family.

Is it pink enough for you, Bitty Bitty and Bonga?

Oh, yes I did

I’ve seen the sign for years and wondered who ordered “that” flavor. Well, folks, today I AM THAT PERSON! Cop Stop ice cream – coffee ice cream with hunks of doughnut smashed in. I ate the whole thing, oh yes I did, and it was fantabulous.

Is there a better way to end a long day?

Family recipe

I just came across this family recipe for smoked salmon. My sister Katie and I made it for our families about four years ago and I CANNOT BELIEVE WE HAVE’T MADE IT AGAIN! Summer isn’t over yet, though…

Ingredients:
As much salmon as you want
Two more bottles of wine than you think you will need

1) Use convenient, time-saving charcoal chimney to light fire. Light and repeat over a 1.5 hour period until the coals catch. Drink first bottle of wine.
2) When coals are ready, place salmon on grill and close top to keep in the smoke.
3) After 30 minutes, when the fire has inexplicably died down and the temp inside the grill is about 100, add new coals. DO NOT REMOVE THE SALMON, IT IS STILL SMOKING.
4) Open second bottle of wine.
5) After another 30 minutes, give up and add a squirt of lighter fluid.
6) Refill the glasses while the salmon continues to smoke.
7) After an additional 30 minutes, check the fish, it will be smoky, but it will not be done.
8) Preheat broiler on oven. Open third bottle of wine.
9) Remove salmon from grill and put under broiler for 7 minutes.
9) Serve!

It didn’t quite look like this.

Mountains in my mind

At about this point every summer of my life, I start dreaming of getting away from the hot Texas sun and my hectic job for a place that is cooler and calmer. And for almost every summer of my life, that place has been the North Carolina mountains. As a child, moving from city to city following my father’s medical education and career, the family ties in the Blue Ridge helped me feel connected to people and a place. When I am there, I sense the spiritual power of community, rest, and the renewable baptism of jumping in an ice cold lake.

Hike around Kanuga Lake

My mother came to visit me in Texas earlier this summer, and during her stay she asked some of us where we’d want to travel if we could go anywhere in the world. I searched my mind, but North Carolina was the only place I wanted to be. It is so full of good memories and has played such a huge role in making me who I am. It is family, tradition, creativity, love, connection, and blessing. It is one place that will always be home to me.

This summer, I am not able to make that annual pilgrimage. I’ll be working until the last week before school starts and won’t get the chance to dash off for a peek of those beautiful peaks or a walk through a tunnel of trees or a late night on a back porch full of friends.

For now, those mountains will have to be in my dreams. And they are.

Warm Words

One of the blessings of being immersed in a completely new role (hospital chaplaincy) and unfamiliar situations (other people’s grief and loss) is that it allows me to see my own life in a new way. The frame of reference I used to have raising funds to address systemic issues is now replaced with work on a more personal level. When you stand with people in their times of crisis, you can see connections between their pain and your fears, between their comfort in memories and your unfolding story, between their response to extraordinary heartache and your everyday life.

My colleague Mike recently used a moving image to describe a moment when family members were gathered around a dying loved one. They said their goodbyes by “covering him in a warm blanket of words.” I imagined their words holding precious memories of the past, and also being part of the narrative of their family going forward, keeping the lost one wrapped together with them. Words allowed them to express themselves individually and also to articulate the bond that held them together.

This image has stuck with me for days. It speaks to more than just one family’s pain or even of grief. Words connect us to one another, they carry memories and bear emotion. While touches and looks have immediacy, words can connect people through time and across distances. They can bind entire cultures…or individual families. And so, the image of this family’s warm blanket of words connects their particular experience to any of us when we use words or allow them to land on our shoulders.

As a writer, the idea of words being a warm blanket is inspiring and a little scary. I want my words to comfort…or carry the emotion I intend. But once words leave your mouth or pen or keyboard, you can’t really control how others take them in. I hope when I tuck my daughter in at night my words are a warm blanket for her. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that no matter how warm my words seem to me, they probably grate on the ears of my teenage son. I know the stories I tell my children about their deceased grandparents keep those forebears enfolded in our family. If that is how my words can touch people I know – how might my words (or yours) be felt by others? People you don’t ever see or know? Words can have a life of their own.

Even on a summer night, it is nice to imagine thoughts, memories, and emotions enveloping you. Wrapping you in relationship. Holding you in community. Like a warm blanket.

Tiny Hands

Every day, I watch the strong, gentle hands of nurses adjusting wires, checking vitals. They help the nervous hands of parents hold and feed tiny new ones, becoming more confident as the days pass.

But always, it is the tiniest hands that amaze me. Wiggling in the air, tucked under cheeks, moving in what would have been an in-utero flutter. TheirĀ bodies are not developed enough to leave the hospital, but theirĀ hands can already get them into trouble as they pull at feeding tubes or try to “help” change a diaper.

Premature babies look fragile and sometimes their hands are covered with IV tubes. I once asked my father, a pediatrician, if it was depressing to work with these smallest of patients who are connected to wires and tubes to help them reach developmental benchmarks that will allow them to thrive. He told me what every nurse and doctor has repeated to me since: No! Babies are stronger than you think, even (maybe especially) premature babies. They don’t know how to do anything but grow and live, so that is what they try to do. Watching their hands, you know it is true. These hands are forever reaching out to grasp childhood.