Tag Archives: Carlos

Living or Nonliving

How do we know if it’s living?

A few weeks ago, after he had spent an afternoon with me at my office, Carlos and I stepped off the curb and cut a diagonal across the parking lot towards my car.

“Mama? What’s trees–living or non-living?”

“What do you think?”

“Living.”

“What tells you that they’re living?”

“Trees can grow. They drink water and eat…what trees eat?”

“Um…They absorb some nutrients from the ground through their roots. And I guess you could say they eat sunshine–they can turn it into energy like you turn food into energy.”

I pointed to a sleek gray Tesla parked in the spot reserved for the radiation oncologist. “What about a car? It drinks gas and it can move around. Living or non-living?”

He giggled. “Cars are non-living.” Before I could ask him, Carlos asked, “Why cars non-living?”

“They can’t grow or change or make more cars.”

He clambered up into his car seat and while I fixed the tangled straps he pulled his prized rocks out of the cup holder.

“Rocks are non-living.”

“Exactly. They don’t eat or grow or change.”

“There are fwee types of rocks,” he told me. “Igmeous, selementary, and mectamorphic.”

“Good job, bud.”

I love kindergarten science.

 

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The Thin and Sudden Line Between

A few hours after Carlos and I talked about living and non-living in the hospital parking lot, I got word from my cousin that her mother was going into hospice care. Aunt Dixie, who baked the prettiest pink cake that ever was, had been sick for over a year with a lung infection that just wouldn’t give in. But even as sick as she was for as long as she was, she was still 100% living. I pictured the delicate green chair that she had been sitting in on Christmas Eve. Everything else in that room is the same, the chair waits for her, but she is gone. That’s the way it goes–we’re absolutely alive and suddenly we are absolutely not.

I was there when Richard slipped across that profound line between living and non-living. When I leaned over him to check his oxygen cannula, he was living. The strange clatter of his ragged breath disappeared into the air between us. I straightened the clear plastic tube under his nose to make sure he was getting all he needed. Was it the silence or the stillness that I noticed first? He took no next breath.

I think now about that first blustery day when we met on the side of the highway, the first time we stood close to each other and our breath mingled in the living air. Saying hello, and help, and thank you for the first time. I value every breath from that first March day to the last March day. He was 100% living and NEVER gave up. I suppose that’s why, even after 10 months of watching cancer eat away at him cell by cell, the moment when he slipped across that thin line took my breath away.

 

Left: Beach gravel Right: Leukemia cells

Left: Beach gravel
Right: Leukemia cells

Some Things, Say The Wise Ones

By Mary Oliver

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
You live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said, Thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

The last trip Richard and I took together was to Maine. We sat beside a harbor like the one Mary Oliver captured in this poem. He ate a cinnamon roll that was bigger than his head. I took a picture of our feet with the boats as a background. Richard had burned with a strange and painful fever the night before, but that morning we were 100% living.

At a beach made of smooth pink stones in Acadia National Park, I slipped two small rocks into my pocket. All these years later, those rocks are asleep upstairs in a bowl on the book shelf. A pair of ancient and silent stones that aren’t living and never have been, but when I hold them in my hand, something else comes to life, a memory. A memory of living, a generous time when I lived my life my way and cheered on the clouds. A memory of the days when our life was blindly and blandly about living. A few days after that, Richard was diagnosed with leukemia and our days became consumed with staying alive.

Given the fear and sadness that entered my life on Richard’s last breath, given the hollow fact that Carlos won’t remember his Papa, my Daddy who would have been 75 today…How will I teach Carlos about living? Not just the facts about living, but the giddy joy of living? The living in a world of pink smooth stones, whether we can say if they are igmeous or mectamorphic. The living in a world of roses and starfish that are always going to die, every one of them every time.

I will teach him to love it all. Oh, my dear boy, the easiest way to tell whether something is living is to know that it can die. Love anyway.

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He Simply Doesn’t Know Better

Our Snowmaggedon turned into Snowmanothin’.

The kids were full-on, wide open RAMPED up about having snow this weekend. I got pretty excited too after my trip to Fresh Market to lay in a weekend supply of brie, crostini, cornichons, sushi, and bruschetta. We went to sleep Friday night to the sound of rain on our roof and temperatures dropping quickly. Friends to the west were already posting pictures of fat fluffy flakes. Wheeeeee!

I woke in the middle of the night and went right back to sleep with a smile on my face. The sound of rain had been replaced with a serene quiet that whispered, “Snow.”

I woke just after dawn and rolled over to peep out the window at….the browny browness of our deck.

Clusterflake 2017

Clusterflake 2017

“Aw, man,” I muttered. “The kids are going to be so disappointed.” I went back to sleep with a little gray cloud of gloom over my head. There goes our special excitement for the weekend.

I finally dragged myself out of bed late in the morning, sure that the children would be piled in a warm and dry heap of despair by the back door, their sleds quietly dry rotting in the tool shed.

Instead, Carlos met me in the hallway, dancing with glee (and nekkid, because that’s his weekend ethos).

“MAMA!!! IT SNOWED! IT SNOWED OUTSIDE! IT SNOWED!” He pulled me to the deck to show me the SNOW.

And that’s when it hit me–he doesn’t know any better.

Carlos is my snow baby, born during the big Christmas snow storm of 2010. That was a snow that I’ll never forget, but it’s not exactly a part of his memory. He also got a fat lip and a black eye during the ice storm of 2014, but I don’t think he remembers much of it.

He’s never been to Utah for snowboarding in a foot of fresh powder. He’s never made a snowman. He doesn’t know what the world looks like from atop a glacier in Austria. He’s never watched the giant pandas at the National Zoo play in the drifts of snow. He’s never been in a snowball fight. He’s never stood outside in the dark and marveled at the quiet of fat fluffy flakes falling all around.

To this cheerful lark of a child, IT SNOWED. He saw this snow for what it was, not for what it wasn’t. Sometimes it’s good not to know better, because it keeps us from comparison. It’s hard to allow happiness to float if we’re always comparing each experience to all of our other experiences to see how it measures up.

Oh, to not know any better so that I can enjoy what is before me.

Pants added in post-production.

Pants added in post-production.

G captured this photo of our boy “playing in the snow.” Boots are for snow. Jackets are for snow. Pants are for SUCKERS.

Ready I’m Not

Carlos invited me to play Hide and Seek in his room yesterday afternoon. “Mumma? Mumma? I count to ten and you hide, Mumma.”

Ten? That didn’t give me much time to find a hiding spot. I tip-toed across the hall and hid behind the open door of my bedroom.

“Seben, eight, nine….TEN! Ready….” He paused then shouted, “Ready I’m not…Here I come!”

My son, trying out a new game and trying to remember how the words are supposed to line up. And BOOM–his version was even better than what was supposed to be. My heart cracked open with a little more love for him than I ever thought possible. There we were, filling up a Saturday afternoon with playing. Him using new words. Me letting him boss me around. Shrieking and giggling and tumbling around, together.

Ready I’m not…Here I come.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

That’s how we head into parenting. I don’t care if you’ve been a big sister to twelve kids, or spent 10 years as a nanny, taught second grade, worked as a NICU nurse–not one of us goes into parenting READY. For the first couple of years of Vivi’s life, my therapist’s main message to me was “You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Good enough parenting is what parenting is. Stop trying for an A+. Shoot for ‘Satisfactory.'” You’re in it, ready or not.

I had spent the first part of my life hiding. Hiding anything that I messed up. Hiding from anything that I might mess up. Hiding my shame. Hiding my own needs. Hiding myself because I had become absolutely convinced, somewhere along the way, that I wasn’t enough. Good enough, kind enough, smart enough, pretty enough. So I hid. Ready I’m not.

But here I come. Parenting is urgent and tedious, immediate and theoretical, all in one moment. It’s incessant. Still, I keep showing up. Less hide, more seek. I get up every day reminding myself that my good enough is enough. We’ve gotten this far and we’re having a pretty good time of it. I pour the milk and I add a blue bendy straw because blue is his favorite color.

So, today? Ready I’m not…here I come!

Ending The Week On An Up Note

On Friday mornings, ESP camp holds “Fair and Flag.” For the fair, each unit sets up a table filled with the crafts they made that week. The vocational class sold granola, muffins, and bread they had cooked (I can testify that all three are delicious). The older teens sold door mats that had been painted with different designs. I got one that has stripes like Charlie Brown’s shirt. The younger teens sold watercolors and Christmas ornaments. I bought the interlocking hearts.

Carlos’ class sold painted canvases–with one decorated balloon cookie thrown in with the purchase. I paid $5 for the one that said C-A-R-L-O-S in the corner:

carlos camp painting

 

Recognize it? That’s Carl and Ellie’s house from the movie “Up.” I would have paid $500 for this remembrance of a fantastic week.

The “flag” part of Fair and Flag is a crazy cheering circle that celebrates the kids and the sponsors and the parents who all pitched in to make the magic. Carlos didn’t like the noise, so we sat off to the side with his counselor, Miss Abbie.

carlos camp abbie

She was dressed like a member of Troop 54 just like Russell in the movie. Carlos counted the twelve yellow dots painted on her face with the tip of his finger. She giggled. He counted all the blue things in her costume. He was so perfectly himself. I finally walked over to join the cheering circle and in a minute, he came and stood in front of me so I could cover his ears with my hands. Abbie told me all the things he’s done this week, like making a Cheerios catapult, singing “Green Machine,” playing in a tent with JoJo (from his preK class!), and telling her all about his kitties, Jinxie and Rufus. He got a shout-out yesterday at Flag for being a great song singer.

Y’all.

He has NEVER talked this much. I don’t know if it’s ESP camp magic or if it’s Vivi being out of the house this week, but his speech has exploded.

(I just had to take a break from typing this so we could have a sing-a-long at bedtime and teach Daddy the “colors song” and pretend to play “kitar.”)

He’s using expressive language, like “I love it there” and “Want to go back to camp.” He’s NEVER reported to me at the end of the school day about what he had done. Now, he talks about the Amanda Show and how she does tricks with rubber bands and he can name five of the kids in his unit.

He’s soaring.

carlos camp us

Wobbly

When we were on the spring break cruise, Carlos felt the roll of the ship under his feet and got the funniest confused expression on his face. He shouted, “WOBBBBBBBBBBBBLLLLLY!” every time we swayed from wall to wall walking down the passageway. He still says it when he slips and falls or stumbles. Well, his summer has gotten off to a wobbly start.

The camp we were counting on for the first week of the summer was full. Oops. There just aren’t that many options for a five year old who melts down at noise and crowds, so he spent days bouncing back and forth between G’s office and my office. He carried his little Spiderman backpack filled with Matchbox cars, Paw Patrol stickers, and tablet like he was getting paid to do it. I let him push all the elevator buttons and we played I Spy from the glass bridge between buildings at least once a day.

For the second week, we had both Carlos and Vivi signed up for the children’s theater camp that she loves. After the first day, the director reported that he wasn’t interested in doing any of the camp activities. She asked if we could send something to entertain him until he warmed up. The second day he spent face down in his Kindle Fire. By the third day, they emailed to say that he wasn’t ready for that camp and they would be glad to give us a refund when we picked him up. Before lunchtime, please and thank you.

Sigh. I flashed right back to last summer when he was getting sent home from daycare for tantrums. I felt those old fears of “life for him is always going to be difficult because he doesn’t know how to fit in.” He spent the rest of that week at his internship with me.

Seriously…my kid gets drummed out of THEATER camp? Can’t he just be a tree in the big finale?

We were counting on two more weeks of that camp and now the summer plan was crumbling before my eyes. G hustled around and found a spot for Carlos in a Montessori camp for the weeks that we needed. Excellent–the summer was saved!

I mean, how’s he gonna get kicked out of Montessori camp…not composting?

Just in case, we went out and bought this composting bin and it’s Carlos’ new favorite thing. He spins it like he’s calling Bingo at the VFW.

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Dang, that kid is cute, even with his do-it-yourself bangs and that crazy-eye face he makes when he says “CHEEEEEEEEESE!”

Today he went to yet ANOTHER camp. He’s signed up for four weeks of day camp at Extra Special People. His pre-K teacher suggested it and I’m so glad she did. It’s a program “where individuals with developmental disabilities don’t just survive… they thrive!” At first, I thought he wouldn’t qualify–his challenges aren’t really that tough. We’ve ruled out autism and developmental delay. The stuff on his IEP is social interaction. He takes his shoes off when he’s not supposed to. He tunes out talking if it’s not interesting. He hollers if he doesn’t want to go along.

I felt guilty sending my kid to “special” camp when he’s pretty ordinary. Except when he isn’t. I even checked with the camp director to make sure that we didn’t take a spot from someone else. I actually said, “he could survive the Y camp, but he might spend part of the day curled up in a ball.” They assured me that there was a place for Carlos at ESP.

He seems to agree.

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When I picked him up, he was downright chatty! He told me about saying the pledgeallegent, singing Rainbow Submarine, eating lunch, and going bowling! There was a scavenger hunt and circle time and apple slices with peanut butter.

I hope I will always remember how he starts every sentence with “Mommy?” I do think I will always remember something he said tonight. We were talking about tomorrow being tie-dyed shirt day and he said, “Mommy? Today? I love it there.”

Not so wobbly any more.

carlos camp

Other People’s Boogers

Y’all know I am a fool about these kids in Carlos’ preK class. There are a couple that I am super foolish about and my heart is pinching up this week because Friday is the last day of school. I’ll probably never see these kids again. Their preK class is pulled together from schools all over the district, so they won’t all be moving to a different room on the same hallway next year.

We have been through a lot this year, so we took a selfie this week at the Moving Up ceremony.

My friends

My friends

The little girl with the award for Outstanding Bus Conduct is the Egyptian angel that I wrote about in The Least of These. For the first two months of school, she didn’t speak. Then one morning while we were building a tower with blocks, she held up a block and whispered, “red.” Look at how she sparkles.

The little girl in the red shirt, she’s my special baby. She gets more lap time than anyone else. She tucks her head under my chin and I tell her that her hair smells like coconuts and it’s my favorite smell in the whole world. She left some boogers on my shirt on Superhero Day but we found a solution. I’m going to miss that little girl. Every day I fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m a worthless piece of shit, but this girl sees something in me.

Mr Man posing in the back there? He’s a handful. One of the smartest kids in the class–been writing his name in a neat line since before Halloween. We play a game every morning where I sit next to Carlos in one of the tiny chairs and Mr. Man comes up behind me to tap me on the shoulder. I look one way and then the other–with him bobbing and ducking–and then I ask one of the other kids if someone is behind me. They giggle and say his name, but I pretend I can’t see him. He knows I love him. And I hope I will see him again one day.

The boy on the end there? He’s the quietest kid in the class–Silent E. He’s left the most boogers on my shirt lately. He loves his mama. One time when I was playing at his table, he touched my arm gently and pointed to his feet. “My mama got me new shoes.” I made a big fuss over them. Then a few weeks later, he whispered with his chin tucked down to his neck, “My mama car broke.” I was about to say, “Did she get it fixed?” but then I thought about how much that costs and said, “Oh, that’s a big problem, huh?” instead. He nodded and we left it at that.

Two weeks ago, Silent E was sobbing before school because he missed his mama. The teacher held him and rocked him. I held him for a while and his favorite sweatshirt that he wears every day smelled like old cigarettes.

A few mornings later, his friend came up to me and tattled that Silent E had been running in the classroom. I turned to him to remind him that it was a walking feet place and he shrunk away from me. His whole body got narrower. No matter how many times I said, “You’re not in trouble, honey!” he cowered in the corner of the reading area. He wasn’t playing, no faking. The idea twisted into my heart–Silent E already sees the world as a fearful place.

And wouldn’t you know it–once the teacher talked Silent E into joining the class on the rug, Mr Man threw something hard and it bounced up and hit Silent E right in the head. While the teacher dealt with Mr Man, I took Silent E in my lap and held him close. I floated my fingers back and forth from his brow to his cheek, up and down, to the same rhythm that we were rocking. He quieted some but was still hurting. When it was time to leave, I kissed him on the head. I went home and changed my boogery shirt.

I love this kid, and I don’t know what kind of world he lives in. But every day when it’s time for me to go, he gets in line for a hug. He’s little, so I pick him up in the air and whisper in his ear, “I love you. Go have a great day.” Same thing I say to Carlos, who mostly ignores me.

On Graduation Day, I waved to all the kids and took pictures, just in case their parents couldn’t be there. I called Silent E’s name from the bleachers and he waved back. After the ceremony (which Carlos sat out on the sidelines with G and me), we went back to the class for awards and snacks. Silent E lay in a tight little ball on the floor behind the teacher’s desk. I caught her eye and pointed to him. “Mama couldn’t come” she mouthed.

I sat down on the carpet with him. “I was so proud of you today! Which song was your favorite?” He didn’t answer. “Hey, I took some pictures of you–look.” He leaned over my phone and swiped through the photos. “How about I email these to your teacher and she can send them to your mom? Or maybe she can print them out and you can take them home?” He nodded silently. Then he got a long hug and left some boogers on my sleeve.

This morning he was wearing a new shirt. He pointed to a tiny cut on his leg. I asked what happened and Mr Man said, “He fell on the playground yesterday.” Silent E asked for two hugs today.

I tossed him into the air and caught him close, held him tight.

I don’t know where he will land. I don’t know where either of us will be in the fall, but Silent E taught me that other people’s boogers can be a real gift. A sign of trust, of love given with open arms.

Superhero

Superhero

Today I Pledge

It was a rough weekend. Anxiety pinched at my every breath. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t finish any of the tasks I had set for myself. Just…couldn’t.

It’s been a rough month, what with the pneumonia and the plumbing crisis and taxes to do and summer camp registrations and bleeding cash and still missing my dad and the pollen and the and and ands.

It’s been a rough year, even the parts I haven’t talked about. I’ve been getting quieter and quieter because I started believing the lie that there were stories I’m not allowed to tell. I spent too much time listening to the vicious little voice that says, “No one gives a shit what you think anyway.” I started carrying the weight of “but what if I hurt someone’s feelings if I say that?” I put my own hand over my own mouth then wondered why I felt so stifled.

So with all that said, I found myself sitting inside my car at Carlos’ school this morning and I realized that I was pretty close to happy. Jayla and I had made a pattern of beads. She took my hair out of its ponytail and said, “Let’s be pretty!” Reniya sat in my lap while we counted pegs and stacked them up to make the tallest tower we could. Caleb counted all the way to 20. Rico snuck up behind me so I could play our game where I look over my shoulder and pretend I can’t see him back there. Malak showed me her new pink sneakers. Jaden showed me his dance moves.

When the Good Morning Song played over the intercomm, we cleaned up the toys and pushed the chairs under the table, then the kids went to their spots on the rug. I kissed Carlos on the top of his head and whispered, “Have a great day. I love you.” I gave a couple of hugs to the ones who wanted one. I slipped out the side door of the school and walked across the empty parking lot as the Star Spangled Banner played. The PA system reaches out to the playground, so I can still hear what’s going on inside the building.

I sat in the car with the keys dangling from the ignition and my phone in hand. On busy mornings, that moment in the car is usually my first chance to gather myself and see how I am that day. Today, after all those airless moments this weekend, I found myself with a glimmer of happy, like a candle flame trying to get started. I looked out into the sun rising over the playground and breathed in some of the pink sky.

The teacher in charge of announcements read the menu for breakfast and lunch. She reminded everyone that tomorrow is superhero dress up day. Then she welcomed three little preschool kids who would be leading the school in the pledge that day. Each one hollered their name into the mic–so loud and proud I couldn’t really understand them. But their joy came through loud and clear.

They launched into the Pledge of Allegiance with verve. One little girl was going double-time so it kind of fell apart in the middle section. The teacher chimed in to get them back on track, and in unison they all wrapped it up on, “with liberty and justice for all.”

My heart twisted. That’s the part of the pledge that’s hardest to hear right now. For the past couple of years, being woke has worn me out. Once you’ve become attuned to the unjust parts of our system, whether it be sexism, racism, or economic chokeholds–it’s hard to believe it when we say “liberty and justice for all.” I have to remind myself that it’s a goal, not a done deal. That liberty and justice for ALL is what we’re working towards.

The happy started to dissipate under the weight. I could feel all that joy that I had stored up with my preK friends begin to flicker and fade.

But those kids on the microphone weren’t finished. Right after the Pledge of Allegiance, all the students at the Early Learning Center recite their school pledge, which goes like this:

Today I pledge to do my best

By being READY to learn

RESPONSIBLE for myself and

RESPECTFUL towards others.

I am an ELC Lion…hear me ROAR!

The trio doing morning announcements really threw themselves into that pledge today and I thank them for it. As their roars raced across the parking lot to where I sat alone in my car, I realized that I can believe in their simple pledge. Right now, every day.

I am ready to learn, even when the knowledge hurts.

I am responsible for myself, honoring my mind, body, and spirit.

I am respectful towards others, even those who disagree with me.

I am a tired but hopeful middle-aged white woman whose heart sometimes breaks in the parking lot….hear me ROAR.

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