06 September 2012

a unique child

How far would you go to advocate for your child? In January First, father Michael Shofield and his family struggle to find the right treatment for his daughter Jani, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at six years old. Join From Left to Write on September as we discuss the Shofield's memoir January First. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I read January First in one sitting.  I literally could not put it down.  Some of it, a lot of it actually, was difficult to read, but I just couldn't stop until I reached the end, until I knew what had happened to Jani and her family.  It's not accurate to say "how they ended up" because they haven't "ended up."  They're living each day as it comes.  
I can not, would not and will not say that I even begin to understand what the Schofields have gone through.  I do know what it's like to parent a unique child though, a confounding child, and one that does not fit neatly into any category, diagnosis or label.  Not that I'm a fan of labeling children or people for that matter, but when you don't understand why your kid is the way he is, or does the way he does, having a word or a condition or description to feel as if you know a little about what you're dealing with helps.

We used to have regular meetings with the school psychologist.  In preschool, he couldn't be moved up to the three year old class room because he wasn't potty trained.  He couldn't handle scissors properly yet.  We were informed of these things as if they were character flaws, as if there was something wrong with him.  He commenced to screaming and crying at drop-off time and we commenced to keeping him home from school.  We found a much better program that was much more inclusive of children at all developmental levels, rather than one that implied that we had already failed him, at the age of three, by not insisting that he learn to manipulate scissors, and by not forcing the potty issue.  Have you ever gotten locked into a battle of wills with a two year old over the potty?  Heh.  Good luck with that one.  
But we talked it over with the doctor, who recommended some occupational therapy to help with delayed motor skills.  He'd had speech therapy as a baby....he didn't utter his first word until he was nearly 18 months old.  That word?  Apple, pronounced ap-mmm, while pointing at a picture of an apple. Mama and Dada came much later.  

In kindergarten and first grade, the teachers expressed a little concern about his social skills (or lack thereof) and his attention.  He'll probably grow out of it, he'll be just fine, he's just a little behind, they said.  Don't worry until there's something to worry about.  It has to be said here, this is an extremely bright child, with a photographic memory.  He taught himself to read before he was fully potty trained (at 4, finally).  He has this fascination with Japanese anime, specifically Pokemon, and he memorized 1500 characters, their powers and their strengths and weaknesses.  1500.  
In second grade, at conferences, I asked the teacher straight out, tell me about his attention.  She let out a huge sigh of relief and said, I'm so glad you asked about it, because I was going to bring it up if you didn't.  So, we did all the recommended testing, and were told that he had a solidly average IQ, definitely had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, predominantly inattentive type, and showed significant markers of Asperger's Syndrome.  The psychiatrist was on the fence about whether it rose the level of clinical diagnosis and ultimately decided that it did not.  

We tried adjusting his diet; this kid is picky beyond reason and if dinner did not consist of his favorites, well then, he'd just wait till breakfast to eat, thanks.  And he didn't mind skipping meals.  At all.  Although I was never fully comfortable with it, we tried medicating him for a time.  In the end, the meds didn't address the real root of his struggles, and they just made him want to eat even less.  This was an eleven year old child who weighed maybe 50 pounds.  You could literally count his ribs. We had an incident that freaked me out sufficiently to stop medicating him not quite a year ago, and we haven't been back.  Since then he's gained 20 pounds.  20.  We tried therapy, sports, martial arts; some have been more helpful than others. 

Some of his quirks are due to immaturity and he's catching up with other kids his age.  Some are due to Moe just being Moe.  His younger brothers, Larry and Curly, seem more mature than he does at times.  He struggles to understand social cues and social norms.  But he's learning....other kids are good teachers of what is ok and what is not ok for him to do or say, more so than we are.  From all reports from other parents and teachers, he is beloved by his classmates.  We send our children to a very small parochial school, and the kids have all grown up together.  They accept and love him, quirks and all.  I wish he could stay at this school, with these kids forever.  But he's in junior high now, soon to head off to the much bigger high school, with lots of kids he doesn't know.  Will they accept him and love him too? 

I love this child, love him more than my next breath.  
This was the first year that I didn't go to meet the teacher night, and talk to his teachers about him, briefing them on what they could expect from him.  I've done that every year.  I debated whether to do it,  and Captain America (my flying, traveling spousal unit) and I went back and forth quite a bit.  In the end we decided to let him make his own impression, not to give the teacher advance notice and thus a preconceived notion.  So far he seems to be doing well, shining all on his own.  Just this week, he got the highest grade in his class on an English assignment. 

It's moments like that that make me feel like he's going to be ok.  

As parents, we all worry about how the world will treat our children.  As an adult, I understand and accept that challenges, heartbreaks and disappointments are what make us strong and help us grow.  As moms and dads, though, it's so difficult to watch your child struggle. 

I have a unique child. Do you?

28 August 2012

Who am I, really?

The Bakers Daughter by Sarah McCoy
This post is inspired by Sarah McCoy's The Baker's Daughter. In a small Texan town, Reba discovers Elsie's German Bakery and falls in love with more than the pastries. Shes drawn to Elsie's life in Germany during the last year of WWII. Join From Left to Write on August 29  as we discuss The Baker's Daughter. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Boy, it's been a long dry spell this summer, both in the local weather and in my posting.  I keep thinking that summer means long lazy days spent by the pool or in the backyard with my feet up, doing a ton of summer reading.  Heh.

I have three children.  Three boys, who like to do most anything besides read.  I instituted my summer reading/video game ratio rule, which is there must be at least thirty minutes spent reading before anything with a remote control or an on/off switch is picked up.  Boy, they were careful not to spend any extra time reading, I'll tell you that.  Thirty minutes and that was IT.  We had our usual summer activities and it flew by.  Today was their first day of school, and I was so ready.  

From Left to Write also took a summer hiatus and I was all discombobulated with my blog posting.  The book club discussions help me keep on track.  You see, I love to write, and I love to write creatively, but I still need subject matter and a deadline.  

In any case, here I am, having read this book.  I really enjoyed it, on several levels.  First, I am a total history nerd.  I love history.  I majored in it, and I write it in my gainfully employed state.  Historical fiction is great fun; it allows you imagine, what if?  Could this really have happened?  This book has enough authenticity in its detail to make you wonder as you read, not only could it have happened, but did it?  Also, it is abundantly clear that the author is well acquainted with baking, specifically German baking, and just exactly how things are made.  And the story is good.  I wanted to know what happened before, how characters were connected, and how things would turn out.  There are some good twists and unexpected turns of events that kept me guessing. 

The thing that really struck me about the story was Elsie's determination, no matter where she ended up, to maintain her cultural identity.  Even in Texas, she was German, through and through.  Elsie simply refused to give up parts of herself, even though doing so might have smoothed the path in front of her that was sometimes pretty rough and treacherous.  

I wonder, if circumstances conspired to uproot me from my life here in smalltown USA, and I found myself living in some other country, say, Norway....would I still hold fast to my American identity?  Would I just put my foot down and refuse to change parts of me in order to assimilate into a new culture, even if it would make my life easier?  Would they immediately know I was American? 

My cultural heritage is a mixed bag; I've got Irish, German, English, and French in me. One of my middle names (I have two) is French and once people get past my having two middle names, they don't know how to pronounce the second one.  (it's Rive with the accent on the 'e'...pronounced Rih-vay, in case anyone was curious) But that is about the extent to which I have preserved any smidgen of my cultural heritage.  We don't have German Christmas traditions in my house, for example, nor do we observe Irish traditions (well, there is St. Patrick's Day, but I'm not entirely certain that green beer really counts).  

After having read the book, and checked out the recipes for all of Elsie's many baked treats in the back (I know! How awesome is that?!) I find myself a little sad that I don't have recipes or traditions to pass on to my boys, or their future spouses.  

Do you have a sense of cultural identity?  Do you keep it alive in your homes with foods or traditions or other kinds of observances?  I'd love to hear about them! 

11 June 2012

You think you know someone....

This post is inspired by mystery thriller GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. They may not have the perfect marriage, but after Amy goes missing, Nick becomes the number one suspect. Can he discover what happened before it's too late? Join From Left to Write on June 12 as we discuss Gone Girl. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


The first thing I have to say is, I just cannot say enough good things about this book!  Holy cow! You know how sometimes you get in bed with a book, and set a time limit for yourself so you don't end up staying up all night reading?  This book will blow your limit off the map.  It's a fantastically written mystery that travels roads you never even considered.  I thought I knew what was going on, and who did what to whom, at a few points in the book, and I was wrong every single time.  I can't wait to get my hands on more books by this author.  

At first, I felt sorry for Nick.  Then I felt sorry for Amy.  Then I felt like neither of them deserved any pity.  These two have got one messed-up relationship.  I have been thinking about this book since I finished it a couple of weeks ago, and I've been thinking about not only the book itself, but all the issues and questions it raises.  Well, to be perfectly honest, it raises some questions I sure can't answer and don't really want to think about too hard, but it also made me think about the idea of really knowing someone.  Do we ever really, really know anyone?  Even our closest friends or spouses or children? 

Have you ever had that experience where you feel like you really know someone....you know their thoughts and opinions, you can finish their sentences, and you know what they're going to say before they open their mouths, and then they hit you broadside with something you never, ever would have expected from them? 

I have.

Or have you had the experience where you felt like you knew someone so well, that you'd know in a second if they were hiding something from you, or lying to you, or even just trying to surprise you, and then you find that they were pulling something off right under your nose?

I have.  

I guess these questions sound sort of ominous, but surprises come in different sizes and flavors; a surprise isn't always a nasty one.  My husband, who knows me really well, pulled off a giant surprise right under my nose last year, and I don't know if I was more shocked about the surprise itself or the fact that he could and did hide something from me for months.  We had been discussing buying a new vehicle for awhile and it was my 'turn'....the last time we'd replaced a vehicle he'd gotten to choose and he was the one who'd drive it.  He knew exactly what type of car I'd had my eye on, down to color, seat material and how many cup holders it should have.  Also, it must be said, during this time, I was finishing my last two quarters of college and Capt America has been known to make 'the grand gesture' on occasion.  At some point, I don't know exactly when, he started squirreling away some money each pay period.  He stashed money, a little bit at a time, away for several months,  and when he had racked up the amount he had in mind for a down payment, he placed an order with the local GMC dealer.  He almost completely pulled it off without me having one single clue, but I asked him some minor question about money, I can't even remember what it was.  He got super defensive and vague, which of course did nothing to answer my question, but only made me immediately suspicious.  What exactly I was suspicious of, I had no idea, but all of a sudden it was very clear that he was trying to steer me somewhere else. 

Long story short is that he finally asked me to just trust him and give him a few more days without any questions, which I tried mightily to do, with varying degrees of success.  As promised, a few days later, he made up some silly reason why we had to run an errand in the neighborhood of the dealership.  He was practically bursting by the time we got there, just in time to see the sales guy pulling up to the curb in our shiny new Acadia.  Whaddaya know?

Suffice it to say, that this is not the type of surprise that Amy has for Nick.  Or that Nick has for Amy.  Or that Gillian Flynn has for her readers.   I don't want to ruin the book for you; the surprises are what makes it so compelling and so hard to put down.  Just when you think you know what Nick is going to say, or what Amy might have done, they will surprise you. 

07 May 2012

On faith and rules

This post is inspired by I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write on May 8 as we discuss I AM FORBIDDEN. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.



I have always been fascinated by faith.  How different people view it, learn it, relate to it, define it and define themselves by it, question it, and outright reject it. 

In the spirit of full disclosure I will say that I am a convert to Catholicism, from a nondenominational, Pentecostal-style upbringing.  I have thought long and hard about faith, and about my own faith journey that has brought me to where I am today. I am devout in my faith, but I still have questions.  I am a faithful practicing Catholic, but I am not a Biblical scholar by any means.  I am not sinless (HA! far from it), and and I am not finished with my journey.  I have been in lively discussions about faith, and whose version is 'right' and whose is 'wrong.'  (for the record, no one ever really wins those debates) 

I know that when I go to my church and participate in the Mass, I am home.  For me, it's as simple as that.  There is a peace that comes over me that cannot be explained or justified any further.  This point was just recently driven home for me again.  I was away from home on a long, two week work trip, and over the weekend, I went to a Mass at an unfamiliar church with an unfamiliar group.  I found comfort in the structure of the Mass (it doesn't change from church to church to speak of) and in one sense I felt spiritually fulfilled and connected.  But then I got home the following Saturday evening, and when I went to Mass at my church Sunday morning, I felt truly complete.  I was home. 

One of the recurring themes I have come across in my discussions about faith (I seek them out, because I am so interested in learning as much as I can about faith, from every different perspective that I can get) is that the Catholic Church is too full of rules, man-made rules that aren't Biblical.   Well, as I said before, I'm no Biblical scholar, and I am not good at the game that I sometimes call 'dueling Scriptures.' I love to discuss these things in the context of learning, but I don't like when it turns to more of a debate, where one person is right, so the other person must be wrong.  I

But back to the rules.  Yes, there are a lot of 'rules' in Catholicism.  And in Christianity in general, truth be told (and yes, Catholics are indeed Christians....I've heard it said that Catholics are not even Christian).  Rules exist for a reason, and in matters of faith, we follow the rules out of our love for God and our desire to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  I spent a good deal of my life chafing against the rules, rejecting them and ignoring them.  You know what, though?  They didn't change.  I did. 

I will be the first to tell you, I struggle to understand some of the rules.  But that does not mean that I reject them....it just means that I'm still learning.  I see myself more as Mila in the book...I find comfort in the rules and the structure of my faith.  I find tremendous comfort in the fact that while the world around me changes all the time, my faith and its rules do not.   God's rules were the same 100 years ago, 1000 years ago, as they are today. 

Asking questions isn't the same thing as rejection.  I like to think that I have a living relationship with my faith, in that I'm always learning new things about it and how better to live it (although I don't always do that very well) and growing in that learning.  I am blessed with a phenomenal community of women with whom I pray, and study the Bible, and from whom I learn on a daily basis what it means to be a woman of faith.  I thank God for them every day, because I fall down on a regular basis, and it's truly a gift to have a safety net of sisters who will pick me up and help me brush off the dirt.  I hope that I do the same for them.

I didn't know the first thing about Hasidism or Satmar Hasidism before I picked up this book.  I don't claim to know a lot about it now.  But it sure made me want to dig deeper and learn more.

Are you on a faith journey?  Do you struggle with 'the rules' of your faith? 

11 April 2012

Being a girl has nothing to do with it

Trish Herr's then five year old daughter Alex wanted to hike all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000+ foot mountains. Would you let your five year old do the same? Join From Left to Write on April 12 as we discuss Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

Up A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis
I read Trish Herr's book, Up, and I have to admit, I'm impressed with her daughter.  It's not every 5 year old who understands and wants to undertake such an endeavor.  Actually, I'm impressed with both her daughters.  It's also not every 3 year old who would want to hike huge mountains.  

I have three children, for all of whom 5 and 3 are in the past, and I don't know if it would ever occur to them to want to hike 48 4000+ foot mountains, but in fairness, we live in the wide open spaces of Midwest USA.  Mountains are not exactly easily accessible for us.  And by that I mean, we'd have to drive for days or buy airline tickets to get to one, let alone 48 of them.  Would I let them do it?  Sure, if they wanted to. Would I let them when they were 5? Sure, if they wanted to. 

I love that Trish has instilled such a love and respect for the outdoors in her children, and I love that her daughters have learned that simply being a girl doesn't stop them from doing what they want to do, it's a matter of attitude.  Being a girl has nothing to do with it.  

I'm a female in a male-dominated world, the military.  I get it.  I've worked long hard hours to be considered as good as the guys.  What I've learned is this:  if I don't focus on the fact that I'm a woman in a man's world, then generally neither does anyone else. If I ask people to notice that I am a woman, they generally will.  I don't see myself as a female Airman, I'm an Airman. What matters is not what restroom I use; what matters is the effort I bring, and the end result of my work.  The men I work with don't say, "Hey, great job....for a girl," unless they're trying to get a rise out of me.  Which only works sometimes.  

My children are all boys.  God most definitely has a sense of humor, and He definitely knew what He was doing, giving me all boys.  They're growing up with a mother who wears a military uniform to work, and still drives them to school every day.  They're growing up with a mother who chaperones field trips and does room mom duties, and who can also beat them at HORSE, and will practice pitching and catching and batting with them.  Their mother kills bugs (even the big ones), bakes cookies, and runs the house while dad is away at work, which is often. Their mother does indeed wear combat boots.  

And I think they'll be better men for it.  They don't see me, a woman, as limited by my gender.   I have one foot in each world, the traditional and the not so traditional.  No one made me quit working full time and choose the part time Reserve route; I made that choice completely on my own.  No one made me continue to stay home when my youngest child went to all-day school; again, my choice. 

It seems to me that kids will always take their cues from their parents.  When they take a spill, they immediately look at Mom to see how bad it really is.  If Mom gasps, they start to cry.  I get to determine, to a significant extent, how my boys view the world and how it works.  I like to think I'm showing them an example of someone who makes their own choices while considering others who are affected by them, who places value on education and on service to others, and who is willing to put effort into making a family work.  Someone who acknowledges mistakes (most of the time) and is willing to try to learn from them (most of the time). Not a woman who does these things, just someone who does them.  

I'm not at all ashamed of being female or wish that I was not; I love being a wife and a mother.  It's my true vocation, above all else.  But I don't allow my gender to limit me, or define me.  

Being a girl has nothing to do it. 

28 March 2012

Not really a single mom

During the fifth month of her pregnancy of her first child Natalie Taylor is devastated by the sudden death of her husband. Her journey with grief is chronicled in the memoir Signs of Life. Join From Left to Write on March 29 as we discuss Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

I am not a single mom. 

I sometimes make jokes about my traveling husband, how many days he is gone every month and how we practice tag-team parenting.  How, when he gets home, I clock out.  We slap hands in the driveway, my tires squealing as I shout, "I'm out!" before he can set down his suitcase long enough to protest.  I sometimes call his schedule and his absences "the married single-mom shuffle."  My friends, who know the unpredictability of his work schedule, just ask, "When will he be home?" when we're discussing weekend plans,  the kids' baseball practices and Cub Scout meetings. 

And there it is.  

He will come home.  I am not a single mom. 

Natalie Taylor's memoir is real, and honest, and raw. Her grief is palpable, something her reader experiences with her.  I don't mind telling you that I shed tears along with Natalie as I read her words.  I have experienced grief and loss and the deaths of loved ones.  I have experienced growing up without a parent.  I have not, however, experienced the death of my spouse, and I came to realize as I read this book, that I have no idea what I'm joking about when I glibly call my life "the married single mom shuffle." 

What would I do?  How would I cope?  How would I get up every day and get my kids off to school?  How would I help them cope with their dad's permanent absence?  How I would keep him alive for them?  How would I dry their tears and tell them we'd be ok?  How would I teach my boys about what it means to be a man?  Who would teach them to change a tire and how to throw a perfect spiral pass?  Who would help them build a tree-house?  Who would give them their first .22 rifle and teach them how to use it right?  

I found Natalie to be incredibly brave.  Brave enough to get up in the morning, to continue to do the things that needed doing.  Brave enough to be the mother her son needs, even when she doesn't feel like it.  Brave enough to continue living her life. Brave enough to write it all down, and to share it with the world.  I believe that giving voice to something takes away its power over us, whether it's a secret or a struggle.  

I am not a single mom.  But I'm afraid I could become one, at any given time, unexpectedly.    I can't say I'll never make a joke again about tag-team parenting or doing the married single-mom shuffle.  Besides giving voice to my fear, those jokes allow me to laugh a little at the possibility, and humor is a powerful weapon, especially in the face of difficulty, however awful it might be.  

I know I don't understand Natalie's struggles.  I can't.  And to be perfectly frank, I don't want to.  I am afraid to.  I applaud her and I admire her for her honesty and her strength.  But I can't understand. 

Her story reminds me that I am not a single mom.  It reminds me to be grateful for the blessings I have, and that you just never know.  It reminds me that life can change direction, and turn on a dime.  It reminds me that I am, or I could be, stronger than I think.  It reminds me that there is always hope.  

What are the things you laugh about, that you're really afraid of?


20 February 2012

All things in moderation

Could you live an entire year eating locally or the food from your garden? Barbara Kingsolver transplanted her family from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Virginia for their endeavor. Join From Left to Write on February 21 as we discuss Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own. 

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Well, for me, the short answer for that first question would be: uhm, no.
I don't know how to grow daffodils, let alone anything one could reasonably eat, I don't happen to own (or be married to someone who owns) a farm on which to hone my growing skills, and I lead a very hectic life (or does it lead me?) with three very active boys and a husband who is off flying the friendly skies half of every month.  I am a big fan of convenience and the pizza delivery guy, especially when I'm the only one in the house with a drivers' license and a car, and three kids have to get to different activities or practices in the same afternoon.  My mantra is 'all things in moderation.'   Except coffee.... I really, really like coffee.   

Now, having said all of that, let me back off from my "uhm, no," at least a little bit.  

First of all, I fully realize that it is possible to lead a very hectic life and still grow vegetables.  Or buy from farmers' markets and farming co-ops or CSAs (community supported agriculture).  And I realize that many, many people far busier than I, can and do eat locally grown and harvested produce and meats all the time.   I also realize that I don't necessarily have to be the one doing all the farming and the growing.  Which, honestly, is a relief, because I'm not exaggerating, I can't even grow daffodils.   But I'm still a wife and a mom who wants to feed her family healthy and nutritious food that tastes good, is grown in a responsible way and doesn't cost more than my children's college fund. 

Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from Tucson, Arizona to Virginia, to a farm her husband owned, and made a pact together to only eat food that they grew themselves or that was grown locally, or just do without it.  That's a huge step.  Huge.  Kingsolver's story is fascinating and well written, with humor and amazing research.  I especially liked the sidebars written by her family members.  I only wish my children loved fruits and vegetables so much!  
Being a historian, I was fascinated by Kingsolver's research into the types and variety of different types of fruits and vegetables that we have lost, due in large part to the mass production of industrial farms and the focus on growing only a couple of crops, but A LOT of them, for maximum profit.  I had no idea, and it's tragic.  If France and Italy and Germany and India are all known for their wonderful and unique cuisines, what would American food be?  McDonald's?  Ick.

I don't think I possess the intestinal fortitude for a transcontinental move and a vow to give up Honey Nut Cheerios, I'll just throw that out there.  But after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I will say that I am inspired to expand my horizons and try some new things.  I will frequent the farmers' markets and local farms more, I will research local CSAs and I will learn to enjoy cooking.   I will stop caving to the whiny "how many bites of THAT do I have to eat?" and I will continue to encourage and teach my kids to make healthy food choices.  I will learn more about what is in season, and what is not, and I will try to do better to abide by the schedule nature gave us.

I can't promise to delete the pizza guy's phone number from my speed dial, but I can promise that I will press 'call' a little less often.

Hey, it's something!   We've all gotta start somewhere. 

31 January 2012


When Julia travels to Burma to search for her missing lawyer father, she discovers much more than she expected. Join From Left to Write on February 1 as we discuss The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.


Four little letters, one short syllable. So heavy with layers of meaning. 

There is a part in this beautifully told story where Tin Win goes to a monastery as a young man who has lost his sight. I am not blind, and cannot fathom what it would be like to lose my sight. To lose the primary way I engage with and experience the world. I can't imagine how frightened and out of sorts I would feel, even in my own comfort zone, my home. But I know very well the layout and the design of the rooms and hallways within these four walls, and I could navigate it in the dark if I needed to. Home is, and is meant to be, our safe place, our soft place to fall. 

For Tin Win, he experiences a different kind of home when he arrives at the monastery. He has never been there before and it is all unfamiliar territory to him, and yet he feels peaceful, as if he is at home. 
There have been relatively few times in my life when I have felt that deep peace of coming home, when I was most definitely not at the house where I reside, and most definitely not in familiar territory.

I felt that way the first time I attended the church that spoke directly to my soul. I was not raised in this church or with the beliefs or traditions of this church. And yet, the first time I sat in the pews and really absorbed the message, I knew. I'm an academic; I need to know the why's and wherefore's of things. I need to see the proof and examine the sources and analyze the credibility of the argument and the premise upon which it is based. And yet, I can't do that when pressed about my faith. 

Because I didn't choose my faith after careful consideration of all the options and a thorough analysis. I just came home. 

I felt that way when I met the man who would become my husband. I didn't try to flirt like crazy with him, or impress him with how cute and clever I was. He didn't wait any certain number of days to call me after he asked for my phone number, and he didn't waste time acting disinterested to see how hard I would chase him. We skipped over the initial, sometimes awkward, dating rituals and mating dances. I just knew about him. 

I didn't choose my husband because he adhered to a list of do's and don't's or because he met a list of criteria. I just came home. 
Home, to me, is not about a nice three car garage on a wooded cul de sac. It's not about four bedrooms in a nice suburb. It's not about Home is about peace. Home is about feeling safe. Home is about acceptance and love and comfort. Home is about belonging somewhere, belonging to someone. 

What makes you feel at home?

18 January 2012

On appreciating quiet

Are you an introvert or extrovert?.Author Susan Cain explores how introverts can be powerful in a world where being an extrovert is highly valued. Join From Left to Write on January 19 as we discuss Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. We'll also be chatting live with Susan Cain at 9PM Eastern on January 26. As a member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.

I'm guilty.  

There, I said it. 

I'm guilty....guilty, I tell you. 

My crime?  Wanting my child, no, expecting my child to be something different than he is.  As if there's something wrong with him, or lacking in him.  When he is just exactly as God intended him to be, without me and my neuroses laid upon his scrawny, preteen shoulders. 

You see, my son is an introvert.  And I...I am not.  Oh, I enjoy quiet time now and then, and I happily kiss my children goodbye as I drop them off at the door of the school, looking forward to the temporary peace that reigns in my kid-free house for a few hours each day.  I get weary of the constant chatter and TV noise and music noise and video game noise that invades my house during the hours that Moe, Larry and Curly are at home and awake.  Oh yes, I enjoy time to have a cup of coffee with a book or checking up on my Facebook friends for a while.  But not for very long.  I get a little antsy and I feel like picking up the phone and calling someone, or asking a friend to lunch or maybe just going to the grocery for a little friendly checkout-line-chitchat.  Too much quiet bothers me.   Full disclosure:  I am an ambivert, comfortable in both realms, but not comfortable enough to really stick with one or the other.  I'm a perennial fence-sitter in so many aspects of my life, but that's another post for another day.

Reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, has given me a whole new view on the introvert/extrovert question.  I haven't worked full time outside the home in nearly twelve years, and when I did work full time, my office was the cargo compartment of a C-141 cargo jet, flying for the Air Force.  So I don't have much of a frame of reference for much of the office statistics, such as how private or at least semi-private offices or cubicles vice an open floor plan affect productivity or how meetings are creativity-killers, and multi-tasking is really just a myth.  (As a busy mom, I wonder about that, but who am I to question solid research?) 

But for me, the real gems in Cain's book were about people who contributed a great deal to life as we know it, with all the creature comforts and technological gee-whiz fun toys, and they didn't seek the spotlight.  They were introverts.  They wanted, they needed to be left alone, in order to really get inside their own heads and pull all that magic out. Everyone knows about Apple products and the legendary Steve Jobs, may his soul rest in peace.  But not everyone knows about the other genius, the other Steve, behind my super-cool iPhone. Steve Wozniak, Introvert.  He wasn't good at, nor did he want to, jump up and down and attract a lot of attention to himself.  He didn't need to be the public face of Apple.  He just wanted to build computers.  And boy, did he ever build computers.  Given his tremendous success, he has learned to deal with the spotlight from time to time.  But he doesn't seek it out.

Why and how do these quiet, unassuming people get all this wonderful and creative innovation and all these way-cool ideas, when they're not all that good at selling it?  Why is it better to work alone when the light bulb moment strikes?  Why doesn't brainstorming work?  Why do we seem to be more attracted to qualities like magnetism, charisma, forcefulness and energy, while allowing qualities like duty, honor, manners, integrity, and hard work take a back seat?  The latter group are all things that a person can work to improve, but the former group...well, you either got it or you don't. 

The world loves an extrovert.  And the world loves someone who will toot their own horn confidently, and sell themselves boldly.  We live in a time where people are famous for nothing more than, well, being famous.  These people simply assume that the rest of the world is interested in them and what they're doing, where they're going, and whose clothes they're wearing.  And to a significant degree, they're right.  These celebrities make more for showing up once at a nightclub than I'll make in the next two years.  How do they do that?!

It's all in the book.  There is a lot of science and statistics, but Cain writes it all down in a way that makes it easy to follow.  

But really, how does this relate to my crime and my guilt?  Well, my son is an introvert.  He's a bright, capable, intelligent kid.  His imagination and the world he inhabits inside his head are nothing short of amazing.  And yet, I fail on a regular basis to appreciate the wonder that is my introverted boy.  I'm such a social creature that I don't truly understand his need to be alone, his preference to work alone, his lack of concern for the small number of phone calls and invitations he receives.  It's not that he doesn't have friends; he does.  He does get invitations and when he shows up at a party or a basketball game, he's greeted by several friends high-fiving him or giving him a noogie (this is apparently how preteen boys show affection and happiness).  

He's totally okay with being, playing, thinking alone.  On his own.  No one else.  But I have to admit, I sometimes wonder....do the other kids really like him?  Why do they so rarely call to ask him to come over, or to shoot some hoops, or to sleep over on Saturday nights? Why does he always seem to be alone?  Is something wrong with him? More full disclosure:  we live in smalltown USA and attend a small Catholic school where everyone knows everyone else and it's not as if he's swallowed up in a huge school and doesn't really get to know anyone.  He's been in the same class with the same kids for the last seven years. And I know that the other kids love him.  But still, I worry.  I worry that he's going to get left out and left behind. 

I don't understand his imaginary world.  I often have to remind him that I don't understand the language he has just now made up, and I'm going to need him to just use English, please.  Sometimes I have to remind him to rejoin the here and now.  He always does, but he's sometimes pretty darn reluctant.  And I worry. 

I've had people...coaches, instructors, activity leaders, other parents...insinuate (or sometimes outright say) that with his temperament and his inclination to be perfectly happy on his own, that he's going to get left out and left behind. And I worry.  In the words of one of these esteemed individuals (a 100% complete and total extrovert, maybe not capable of being alone for 10 minutes), if he didn't learn to be more outgoing and change facets of his personality, he was "going to be totally screwed in this life."  Imagine how well I took that comment. 

But Susan Cain begs to differ.  And through her book and her research, she gives me reason to beg to differ.  She has given me a reason and a way to view my son differently, and new ways for me to interact with him so that he feels loved and safe, no matter how social he may or may not be.  I don't understand him.  That's a terrible feeling, to not really get your kid.  To sometimes wish he could be a little more this or a little more that.  To fail to appreciate the beauty and the wonder, the gift from God,  that is right in front of me on a daily basis. 

But after reading Quiet, I'm beginning to get it.  And I'm beginning to get him.