Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Milestone Moments

Anthem

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It was an unseasonably warm day, much like today, but in 1999, when weather like this was so rare as to be a miracle.

I waited to pick up a pregnancy test until after my hair appointment that, not wanting to give up my annual birthday ritual of highlights, but knowing that I would, if there had been a someone, to consider, inside.

A year had passed without two lines on a stick.

My first miscarriage was six-years earlier.In May of 1993.
The second–in November–of the same year, on the day of Uncle Joe’s funeral.
It snowed.

A son had come two years later, and now a second soul was knocking on the door, but I hadn’t found the key.

I stopped at Rite Aid with my fresh highlights and purchased this month’s pregnancy test.
I stopped at the Post Office too.
A yellow notification card.
A package.
A high school friend. A cd. Stevie Nicks.

Once home, I peed on a stick. I pushed play.
I called my husband. And my sisters.
No one was there.

I pushed play again, and hit the repeat button, and turned up the volume and opened the French doors and stepped outside, into the yard, onto grass, instead of snow, and danced and twirled and laughed with the mountains and the woods and the sky. In rapture.

It would be months before this song became an anthem.
He was born just in time.
A week early.

She held him in her arms before she died.
His life and this song became our balm.

Posted in Holidays, Insight, Nuts & Bolts

Candy Capitalism

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After Halloween, the whole point of candy is power.

Remember emptying your bag on your bed or on your floor like you won the lotto?

Did you sort your riches too? Did you bag them separately? Did you hoard them until the snow melted and they grew stale?

What about candy trading? That’s the ultimate power trip. Especially if you have younger siblings; they–who don’t know the value of select items.

My oldest asks what I’ll give for his Butterfinger.

Yes, even though I am a Mom–the ultimate power figure–I am still subject to candy power. But I brandish it as well.

How?

Candy tax.

Haven’t heard of it?

Candy tax is what you impose for all the help you give on Halloween… basically things you do on other days for free: like fixing dinner, driving kids around town, tucking them in.

It can also be used in the days and weeks after Halloween as a penalty.

Talking back?

Candy tax.

Leaving your laundry on the floor?

Candy tax.

Fighting with your brother.

Candy tax. Times two!

Be creative, parents. The power is yours.

Right now I’m sitting in bed with all the leftover candy from what we gave out. I call out the favors I need, and kids magically arrive to do them–in exchange for something in the basket.

We negotiate…

No, taking my workout bag upstairs is not worth a Twix bar. I only have one.

What about two tootsie rolls and a mini Milky Way?

…There’s power in candy, people. Tap it.

(And don’t even tell me that you were raised by socialists who made you pour your hard-earned candy into a family bowl to be shared by all.)

Kelly Salasin, November 1, 2011

ps. I eat Fair Trade candy most every other day of the year; and often share.

pps. To read more about my “take” on Halloween, click here.

ppps. To read more about my family & holidays, click here.

Posted in Holidays, Quotes 2 Inspire

Mothers Day Proclamation 1870

This original Mothers Day Proclamation from 1870 in Boston is particularly poignant for mothers of sons.

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice
.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

by Julia Ward Howe

Posted in Holidays, Quotes 2 Inspire

The Lanyard

From former poet laureate of the United State, Billy Collins.

Hands down, the best Mothers Day poem ever. (Hold on to your tissues!)


“The Lanyard”

“The Lanyard”

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Billy Collins

Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Insight, Milestone Moments, Teens

Is Santa Real?

When I look back on my childhood, I see that my unfolding understanding of Santa was seamless.  At first–a person, and later– a spirit, “Santa” always embodied the magic of abundance and possibility and good will.

I have to give credit to my mother.  She simply would not entertain any conversation around the “realness” of Santa.  It was a given that one “believed” if one wanted presents under the tree.  Born on Christmas Day, she was the one to hold the flame of faith and pass it down through her eight children.

When I was 17, I was given the honor of becoming Santa’s helper. My high school sweetheart and I were up till 2 Christmas Eve putting together my little sister’s Barbie Dream House–with four floors and an elevator.

At 18, I asked for my father’s credit card and spent a day at the mall playing “Santa” for my mother so that the tree would bless her with abundance too.

As a young adult, the Christmas season delighted me still–though the “magic” sometimes waited till after the big day to reveal itself–usually in the quiet evenings as I lie on the couch steeping in the glow of the evergreen.

As a new parent, I could hardly fall to sleep on Christmas Eve, and it was I who was up before dawn, waiting for my sons to head down to the tree.

My oldest is now 14 and he’s never asked me if Santa was real.  I guess that’s because he sees the spirit alive in me.

However, on par with the course of adolescent development, he resists the timeless rituals that have been a part of our holiday season, particularly the nightly reading of our December Treasury book.

But hearing him read the words,”Quaint arabesques in argent, flat and cold,” recited from December 4th’s poem, Frost Work, reveals the deep meaning the traditions hold in him.

In an revelatory moment, his younger brother turns to him on the couch and asks,

Do you believe in Santa?

There is a collective breath-holding before he responds in typical teen fashion,

Sure.

“Sure means ‘No,” my 9 year old proclaims, testing his brother’s metal.

All eyes turn to my oldest to see how he’ll navigate this sudden test of faith.  t first he falters with a luke-warm response and a half-hearted laugh,

Well, kind of…

And I gasp. I want to alert him to the fragile significance of this moment, but just in case, I resort to this:

You remember what happened to Alonzo’s big brother in the Little House in the Prairie, don’t you:  He told his little brother that there wasn’t a Santa–and he didn’t get ANY presents that year because he didn’t believe.

My teen turns from me to his younger brother and back again, measuring his independence from belonging; Then shakes his head and says in earnest,

Of course, I believe.

There is a collective exhale as we turn back to the night’s Christmas reading with greater meaning.

I never feel the necessity of telling my children “the truth” about whether or not Santa is “real.”  For me Santa transcends the stories that surround him throughout time and culture.

As my children grow older, I begin, like my mother did, to talk about the enduring qualities of Christmas.

And when all else fails, I turn to the classic, Yes, Virginia There is  a Santa Claus whose text I can not read without tears~

Virginia, your little friends are wrong.  They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.  They do not believe except what they see…

YES, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty…

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…You tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest men, nor the strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view… the supernal beauty and glory beyond.

Is it all real?  Ah…in this world there is nothing else real and abiding…

NO SANTA CLAUS!  Thank God he lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now…nay ten times ten thousand years… he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

…And the heart of grownups like us who still believe!

(2009)

Posted in Holidays, Insight

Our Culture of STUFF!

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”

Stewart Emery

“If we have become a people so self-centered that we are willing to step over a lifeless body to get a bargain, we have problems that go beyond terrorists, a credit crunch and bad mortgages.”

Bob Shieffer

Last week, we spent an entire morning working on the chaos of toys, games and gagets in the cellar with our son Aidan. There were tears and yelling and complete meltdowns. For everyone.

Once again, we’ve created beautiful, manageable order; and we’ve agreed that at 8 years old, Aidan will be accountable for that which he wishes to keep. But, how appropriate is it for us to allow our child to be immersed in stuff and then to berate him for it? And with Christmas on the horizon and his bedroom wobbling on the constant precipice of cluttered chaos, what’s a family to do?

Surely, everyone loves new things and it is a delight for us as parents to “present” them- but at what cost? Isn’t it a call to action when fellow Americans crush another human being in order to get the best deal in Wal-Mart?

In some ways, consumerism is easier on our family than others because we just can’t afford to buy much of anything, particularly this year with my husband’s continued unemployment. This limitation forces us to put needs, desires and holiday shopping in perspective with the rest of the country and the economy.

And yet, even we– in our modest one-income rural life– are responsible for passing on the culture of “stuff” to our children.

Did you know that one of the largest growing markets in this country is– “storage”? People buy storage units for their extra things while other human beings live on the streets. Something is off with this picture, isn’t it?  And it’s off for all of us–not just the poor or the wealthy.

Imagine what we could do with our time and energy if we didn’t spend it managing our stuff– and that includes everything from our houses to our bills to our cars and our nicknacks and family treasures and photos and catalog orders and box store purchases and boats and bikes and…

With an “overstuffed” mind, I searched for support with this crisis and found two solid resources that I’d like to pass on:

The first gem is a “clutter-free gift list” posted by parents at Flylady.com.  Ideas for all ages include:

-recording books on tape

-family memberships to local museums

-gift certificates for art classes.

Named for her love of fly fishing, “Fly Lady” is a self-described “personal on-line coach to help you gain control of your house and home.”  Her “services” are free in the form of daily email reminders. You can also follow on her Twitter and Facebook.

A popular offering on the Fly Lady site each year is the “Holiday Control Guide,” complete with weekly Holiday Cruising Missions—“so that you can sail through the holidays” without clutter.

While “decluttering” doesn’t address the problem of “stuff” at its roots, it does offer some breathing room while we re-think our priorities.

The new book, Simplicity Parenting, by Australian born educator Kim John Payne, is just the place to do some of that re-thinking. Each chapter highlights both the philosophy and tools of “Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids.”

Payne’s trademark compassion and sense of humor make this an enjoyable and practical read.  Chapter Three of Simplicity Parenting discusses the toll of “too much stuff” on our children’s emotional and mental health.

Payne offers a “10-Point Checklist” of types of toys to discard and suggests getting rid of half of them—and then another half— and maybe even another half–while holding on to those sentimental items that are most precious to your child.

Surprisingly, Payne applies the same approach to books, as well as clothes and other items that crowd a child’s life.  Even lighting and “scents” are addressed as issues of “too much.”

“Embrace experience over things, and ‘enough’ over always more,” counsels Payne who works on behalf of social well being in schools and communities around the world. “Clear out space, literally and emotionally (to create) a container for relationship and the slow unfolding of childhood.” For more information about Payne’s work, see simplicityparenting.com.

As parents it is often a challenge to feel that we are “enough.”  This may be the root of our constant striving toward “more.”  Perhaps if we slow down and take the time to notice just how much we truly have, our need for “more” will dissipate and our holidays will be filled with just “enough” of all the truly good “stuff.”

Kelly Salasin