You can’t run on gratitude alone.

You can’t run on gratitude alone. I knew this already, but I’m learning it again. All the heartfelt thanks in the world are not going to make up for the lost sleep, poor food choices, and exhaustion.

It feels good to receive heartfelt thanks. Then it gets awkward, watching a tear of gratitude trickle down someone’s cheek. They’d rather not be crying, you’d really rather they didn’t. Neither of you wanted to be in this position in the first place, they didn’t really want you to bring them dinner, they’d rather have their home, their own kitchen, their own dishes.

Sometimes they want to share their experience with you. You’re told stories that sound like apocalyptic Hollywood plots: fireballs racing down the street as you want the children. People make confessions of guilt over the beta fish who was left behind, I grabbed the baby, but the smoke was too thick to grab the fish. What do you say to that? I’m glad you grabbed the baby, sorry about the fish. 

You don’t really know what to say. Taking a meal to a family that has lost everything is very different than taking a meal to a family with a new baby. With the new baby, it is usually a joyous (if somewhat exhausting) occasion. With the loss of all worldly possessions, there is the uncomfortable moment when you have to go home, because you still have a place to go home to.

So home you go, feeling somewhat guilty that your house wasn’t destroyed. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It sits with you uncomfortably. Why was your town spared the devastation? You have an overwhelming desire to punch anyone who suggests it was karma, or worse, the Christian Science equivalent, of not doing their prayerful work, as if enough aligning one’s thought with God, would make a difference. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, why didn’t the wind blow your way? You’re not a better person than they are, nor are you any worse, seriously, who makes these judgment calls anyway? Sure, everything was covered in an inconvenient layer of thick ash, but it is just that, inconvenient (and toxic), but you still have a place to live.

The entire exchange is awkward, but at the end of the day, you’re in a position to help, so you do. It is okay to receive help. It is okay to provide help. It is okay to take care of yourself, because if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else. I need this taped on my fridge in foot high letters, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, otherwise you are USELESS to others. 

Lesson clearly still not learned.

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I’ve “done enough” and I’m going to do more

Another week, another meal train. More meals made for a family that is not my own. Another night of pasta and whatever vegetables we happen to have in the fridge for dinner so someone else can have a freshly made pot roast and veggies or baked ziti and a salad. Brownies for dessert, something chocolate is a must at times like these. Another bag of quick snacks and not-super-perishable goods put together in a reusable grocery bag that I don’t intend to get back, and a new box of super-soft kleenex, don’t forget the kleenex.

Kleenex are important, almost as important as the brownies. There will be tears. Plenty of tears. Theirs of gratitude, yours ugly-crying in the car later, after you’ve dropped off the meal. Tears of exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional. Acknowledging that there is so much more to do, and you can’t do it all, and you feel helpless, and slightly ill.

People asking how you’re doing, you’re doing ok, you still have a house. You’re not really okay though. When your phone pings from the police/sheriff updates your heart skips a beat. Your heart as skipped quite a few beats in the last few weeks. First the evacuation orders pinged out, then more, finally some re-entry updates, and then at long last, “this street will be blocked off for Halloween” notification. Doesn’t matter, the conditioned response is the same: panic, disaster, are we next?

There is more to do. There is always more to do. “Can you set up another meal train?” It isn’t really a question. It is coming from someone else who is also over-taxed and carefully balancing the emotional needs of many, including themselves. “You’ve done such a good job with the others, thank you, I really appreciate it.” So you set one up, and then start to feel guilt when no one signs up for food in the first week, or the second… The family needs support. So you make another meal (or two, or three) and email around the link again, reminding people: this family needs dinner!

People need dinner. They need nourishment. They need support. People don’t need anymore stuff. The stuff sits in boxes and bags around their tiny temporary living quarters. This isn’t where they’re going to stay for more than a few weeks, at most, if they’re lucky. They don’t want to get too comfortable, just comfortable enough. Besides, they may have to leave in a hurry, again.

You see the stuff outside, piled under a tarp, scattered and somewhat exposed to the elements. Piles of good intentions. You feel overwhelmed on their behalf. If there was something more you could do to help, but what? You can’t fight everyone’s battles for them.

You want to help, but not overwhelm. You want to help, but you also realize the only reason you know them so well now is because you’ve been asked to assist them, and under every day circumstances you’d likely never exchange more than a polite “hello” or a brief conversation about the weather.

Is this karma or serendipity? Were our lives fated to be intertwined for a few brief weeks so I could help them through a tragedy, or is this merely happy happenstance that we both participate in a community that cares deeply for one another? I prefer serendipity. To suggest that this tragedy was somehow fate is too horrible for words.

Then there are all the other things, life does not stand still for tragedy, it goes on. There are birthday parties to attend, field trips to chaperone, work obligations to fulfuill, home repairs to make, events to coordinate, meetings to attend, another email to reply to, a text from the outside world intruding, someone who is wondering why I haven’t done some unimportant thing in a timely manner and I just want to scream at them, and in the midst of all that, there are still children who need love and support.

Things are far from returning to normal. My husband is out for work and will not be home until well past the children’s bedtime. The little one is anxious: “is Daddy somewhere safe?” He persists until he and Daddy can exchange selfies. Daddy is safe, or as safe as he can be in a car driving on a highway, but I don’t tell the little one that. Later, after the little one is in bed, I check my phone, he is still safe.

The little one has lingering anxiety issues from our evacuation talks. Several friends from the play yard at school lost everything. I’ve done a lot of reassuring and a lot of snuggling. I would not leave you at school if I didn’t feel it was safe. If it was unsafe, school would be closed. If something happened to make it unsafe, your teachers would do their best to make sure you’re OK. For Real. Thankfully the little one is sleeping through the night. I’m still waking up some nights, drenched in sweat, wide awake. There is the hum of the ceiling fan and sometimes some light snoring from my husband.

We are safe. I have done enough. I am doing to do more, but first I have to go grocery shopping, again.

a rainbow does not make up for the annihilation of mankind

Ark on Mount Ararat By Simon de Male

The other night Kid2 wanted to read the story of Noah’s Ark. We have an older children’s copy probably first published sometime in the 70s. It was my husbands when he was a child, and as great flood stories are common in many cultures, I figured why not.

I did my best to read in a non-judgmental tone. Paraphrasing here, as book is back on the bookshelf and really, we all know the story, if you need a refresher, you can find it in the Bible, Genesis 5:32-10:1.

Noah and his wife live together with their children, and one day God tells Noah to build an ark. So Noah goes about building an ark, and collects two of each kind of animal for the ark.

So far, so good. Although Kid2 notes “thats a lot of animals.” Yes, yes it is.

Then God gets angry and sends a lot of rain and floods the world and kills everyone — except Noah and his family.

Kid2’s eyes got big. “That God is mean.”

I can’t say I disagree, after all “That God” just finished drowning (almost) all the the inhabitants of the earth simply because “they angered him.”

So Kid2 and I brainstormed better ways of dealing with people who anger you, then we worked our way to the end of the book.

God shows Noah a rainbow and promises not to kill all the humans again.

Kid2 does not think a rainbow makes up for mass drowning, and wanted to be assured it was “just a story.”

Yes, Kid2, it is just a story.


Soon they’ll know Santa’s not real.

public domain Santa

My eldest child’s teacher sends weekly emails to the class to keep us up-to-date on what is going on in the classroom. The most recent email included a section headed “What to do if your child hears that others don’t believe in Santa” as the class is learning the story of St. Nicolas (a very real man) and there has been talk of Santa.

What to do if your child hears that others don’t believe  in Santa?
     If your child has older siblings he or she might hear them say that they don’t believe in Santa anymore. Then your child comes to you and asks you if Santa is real. What can you do?
     First of all,  have a talk with your older child. Remind them of when they were young and how Santa  was real for them. Ask them to be the “keeper of the magic” and not discount the imagination of the younger child….
Secondly, this is a teaching moment for tolerance. When your young one tells you that his or her friend said that there is no Santa you can share how  people believe in different things and celebrate holidays in different ways. Share that  “in our family we…. believe in Santa but in other families they may not and that is okay…. This phrase…”in our family we…” will become your mantra in the years to come. So many things come up where families do things in different ways. We can’t change others. We must show tolerance of other people’s  believes and journeys but still hold on  to what we want for our own  family.

This morning in the car I brought up Santa – how some children believe in him, and how in our family we know Santa is a story. The children were in full agreement – we’ve never really pushed the Santa myth, one of the grandmothers tried briefly, but it never really stuck. Silly grandma, Santa is a story.

In the car this afternoon the little one piped up:

Kid2: Everyone in my class believes in Santa, except me. I know Santa’s not real.

Me: Did you tell your friends Santa is not real?

Kid2: No. They all believe in Santa.

Kid2 then got quiet, and didn’t say much more.

I decided to use some of the teacher’s suggested language. Me: It is okay for them to believe in Santa, people believe a lot of different things, and … at this point Kid2 interrupted me, and in a super-sweet kindergarten voice, informed me:

Kid2: Soon they’ll know Santa’s not real.

I’m not sure what to say to that. I think we may have to have a conversation with the teacher.

banishing the darkness

We recently gathered together to celebrate the start of Advent at my children’s school. The adults sat in the gathering darkness as the children entered the room, careful to avoid stepping on the pine branches and stumps arranged in a spiral on the floor.

The teacher spoke a few words about our inner light of kindness, and compassion, then she went and lit the candle in the center of the spiral. The one candle did little to light the room, but from it, all the others would be lit.

waldorf spiral

One by one, each child walked the spiral, holding an apple with a beeswax candle in it. They walked to the center, lit their candle, and walked back, placing it on one of the stumps placed throughout the spiral.

Slowly the light from the candles grew, and when all the children had finished, there were around thirty candles lighting up the darkness. The teacher reminded us that together our lights shine more brightly than they would on their own, banishing the darkness.

My inner light is feeling pretty burnt-out right now, but I will continue to attempt to be kind and compassionate, in the hopes that it rekindles.


Mommy, what is church?

We were driving somewhere and Kid1 spoke up from the backseat: “Mommy, what is church?”

While I’ve done a lot of reading (see relevant book list below) on how to talk to the children about religious issues, I still felt caught off guard by the question. They like to ask these questions in the car when I can’t escape or easily change the topic — last time it was “how many gods do we have?

Kid1 continued “Grandma goes to church.”

Yes, I acknowledged, both grandmas, and other extended family, go to church. I left out that they go to Christian Science churches, “church” can be generic for now.

“Why do people go to church?” Kid1 was not going to let this drop. “We don’t go to church.”

“No-oh-o,” Kid2 agreed. “We no go to church. No.”

The questions hung in the car. The children were silent, waiting for answers.

A church is a group of people who gather together, usually on Sunday mornings, to hear a lecture about their perspectives on god. I started.

“Do you believe in god?” asked Kid1. “Why do people go to church?”

“No god!” piped up Kid2 from the backseat.

No, I continued. I do not believe in a god… People go to church for a number of reasons, often is is because the are seeking community with people who share the same views as themselves. 

“Why don’t we go to church?” asked Kid1.

We enjoy doing other things on Sunday morning, I replied,  and we find our sense of community elsewhere. 

This seemed to satisfy them.

“No church,” Kid2 said.

Kid1 agreed.


Related Reading

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Straightforward & Honest

When I clicked on When A Mother Decides To Stop Cancer Treatment And Face Death I was not prepared for the onslaught of feels I was overcome with. It was another vaguely interesting article on my Facebook feed, and then a few paragraphs in I was hit with all the feels.

“We’ve always been straightforward and honest,” Lum said during an extensive interview in June. The kids “get the facts and the truth and it’s not ‘Mommy has a tummy ache.’ No, ‘Mommy has cancer.’ “

Straightforward and honest are not words I would ever use to describe Christian Science.

Using Christian Science logic, acknowledging that “mommy has cancer” would only empower mortal mind, and make the “issue” harder to overcome. Actually, you’d never get that far, because cancer would be a diagnosis, which would require going to a doctor (see all the other posts on this topic).

Christian Science wouldn’t even say “mommy has a tummy ache.” “Mommy” would be “resting” or “working with the books” or something even more vague. “Mommy” would be working to overcome something – including fear of the unknown and worst-case scenarios. In Christian Science, “Mommy” is expected to overcome or it is failure on her part.

Our society does a poor job handling the issue of death, and Christian Science adds horrible layers of shame and secrecy. I was reminded of Lucia Greenhouse’s book fathermothergod, which

touches on some of the elephants in the Christian Scientists living room: secrecy surrounding illness, the idea that Christian Science must be protected (from what, I’m still not sure), the tremendously large abstract concepts that young children are expected to understand and demonstrate. Mortal mind, error, protective work….

Reading about Greenhouse’s mother’s health challenges difficult, as was the family drama that played out around it. The line between respecting decisions — even when you disagree with them — and stepping in to intervene is a very fine. Regardless what you choose to do, you will be criticized by someone for your actions.

We are trying to be straightforward and honest with our children about medical issues, but it is difficult. When the eldest child asks “why can’t [still in CS family member] join us at the beach or keep up with us on a [moderate] hike?” we walk the fine line of respecting the family member’s choice and being honest with the child. They’re “not feeling well” (which is true), or they’re “not as young as they used to be” (also true).

My fellow former-CS and I have watched family members secretly succumb to illnesses, only seeking medical care and sharing diagnosis days before their deaths. We have watched them struggle with “situations” that, if they had been diagnosed or treated by modern medicine, could have been resolved, or mitigated. We have offered support as they refused to seek diagnosis, much less treatment. While this is their choice, and it is within their rights to do, the results are often horrible and frustrating.

For the Christian Scientists reading this (if there are any), please be honest with yourself, if a healing isn’t forthcoming, seek medical treatment. Please don’t isolate yourselves in your darkened bedrooms with your  periodicals and books. Please be honest with yourselves and your children, they want to know, they want to help.