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Child 1

“At my age,” the 9-year-old said to me in all seriousness, “I just feel like The Jungle Book is a little silly and childish.”   Ten minutes prior to this statement I had heard him complaining to a girl his age that his mother hadn’t paid his cell phone bill, speaking as if he was always having to check up on her.  The little girl was just as serious as she told him it wasn’t his parents’ job to pay for everything, explaining how much she had saved to get her hair done.  I felt for a moment like I was watching children parody their parents like some kind of juvenile Vaudeville act, but they weren’t, and as that boy looked at me like I was being ridiculous to even suggest cartoons to a person his age I was immediately saddened by what’s happening to the current generation of children.

When I look at children I see two things that stand out.  The first is an amazing culture of unschooling, home schooling, alternative teaching, and children encouraged to do what children do naturally.  They are encouraged to play, to touch, to create, and to use their imaginations.  These are the thinkers and the inventors of tomorrow.  These children will be what pulls us out of the mire someday, because I believe the only thing that will save us as a society is something new, something “outside the box”.  These children, as adults, will be less concerned about the “shoulds” that repeatedly dig our society deeper into the hole.  Instead they will focus on the “cans”, because these children have not been told what their lives “should” look like, only what they “can” if they dare to go after dreams and find ways to make those dreams realities.  These children will be adults who have been given the resources to make their own decisions and the tools to process their emotions.  They are learning to communicate and grow from their mistakes.

The second thing I see scares me a little bit.  I see children with cell phones and tablets who don’t know how to jump rope.  I see children who already believe that “make-believe” is something to eschew for more mature pursuits.  I see children who will someday know the formulas and the codes but never anything else.  I see libraries full of stereo instructions but no fairy tales.  I see children who will never be taught to have a frivolous outlet growing into adults who have no way to release stress or frustration in a healthy manner.  I see decades of the same mistakes being repeated because no one can think of another way of doing things.  These children will be brilliant, able to memorize the patterns and the steps, but they will be stunted when it comes to problem solving and fresh ideas.  They may be self sufficient at a younger age, but they will be emotionally under-developed or possibly emotionally blocked altogether because of the belief that emotions and passion are childish.  They will be able to analyse anything, but feel nothing.  They will not be able to handle change, failure, people who don’t think or act the way they do.  They will have excellent decision making skills and consequence comprehension, but they will not actually be able to think original thoughts.  What we are witnessing is the destruction of imagination on an extremely large scale.

What remains to be seen is whether or not there is enough balance to keep the world spinning once these children are all grown up.  Will there be a place in it for everyone, and will there be enough of a grey area to not have the two extremes constantly at a stalemate?

Hubby and I have had countless discussions about this. While I agree that our children need to learn how to cope with hardship I believe that it’s just as important for them to learn to let loose a little and not take themselves too seriously.  Parents?  Teachers?  What are your thoughts?

English: Feeding the Giraffes at Miami Metro Zoo

My mom used to love to feed the giraffes at the zoo.  She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there, and she loved the experience.  Looking back, my mother had that spirit in all areas of her life.

I can not remember a single challenge or occasion in life my mother didn’t rise to.  When she lost her site she learned braille and newborn care in the dark.  She got a Guide Dog and eventually a job teaching computers to the blind.  I have days when I can barely remember how to tie my shoes, but this woman thrived no matter what was thrown at her.  This is what I remember when I feel like I just can’t fight anymore.  That my mother did not just survive her life. She lived it.  

When faced with significant things like motherhood and love she dedicated all that she had to give, and she never turned down a friend in need.  At times it let people take advantage of her kindness, but it never stopped her.  If she could help, she did.  If she couldn’t help directly, she found a way.  I grew up knowing my mother loved me and would give anything for me to have a good life and a happy heart.  I never knew anything other than acceptance and support, never doubted she believed in me, and that unconditional love has carried me through many points in my life where I’ve veered from the beaten path to find myself.

What else has my mother’s spirit lived on to each me?  That no matter how hard things get it’s always alright to laugh, to play, and to dream.  As a kid I watched my mom bowl, play Frisbee, and beat the pants off of everybody at Monopoly.  She decorated a giant tree every year for Christmas, dusted around ridiculous decorations at Halloween, and dared to wear pointy little heels to work.  She rode roller coasters and went to concerts, Disneyland, and, yes, the zoo.  Nothing was ever off-limits or too much trouble.  If it sounded like fun, my mom was there before anyone.

Which brings me back to the giraffes.  My mom never had to see them to know they were there and to experience their beauty.  We spend so much of our lives looking for something, and quite often it’s already here waiting to be experienced, waiting to be loved, or waiting to be nurtured.  Sometimes I close my eyes and the world becomes a very different place, one with more potential than I can see with my eyes.  It’s all so very simple, but it’s something many of us spend our entire lives trying to learn.  My mother knew. If you hold the food out, the giraffes will come.

Aloha.

Go now, feed your giraffes.

I have a confession to make, dear friends.  I still believe in Santa.

My mom worked very hard to make sure I believed in Santa as long as possible, and I did far after my friends and other kids had grown jaded and cynical.  One year she even made dirty boot prints on our carpet, a mortal sin in our house and punishable by slow, torturous death, only to complain about having to clean it up.  That Santa, she said, he can come down a chimney, but he can’t deliver presents without making a mess?  There were years of half eaten cookies of which I took pictures with dreams of running dental records, glasses of half drunk milk, and dozens of letters and pictures left for Santa.  Yes, my friends, my mother suffered terribly in her role as Santa.  I often wondered in later years why she went through so much work.  All kids eventually stop believing in Santa or dragging their irrefutable proof of his existence to school for skeptical friends on the first day back to school.

The simple answer is the sheer excitement, mystery, and wonder that comes from waiting for Santa.  For years my cousins and I would swear we heard sleigh bells and feet on the roof.  Hubby’s mom even snuck him to the top of the stairs one year to witness Santa, proxied by Pop-pop, to suspend his belief for a few more years.  Especially for kids like Hubby and I were, kids who knew too much and always looked for more answers, it was hard to keep that belief and excitement alive.

I have not yet had the opportunity to have  Christmas morning with Lil Guy, but his excitement around opening presents and Santa this year was contagious.  I hope someday we can come to some kind of agreement with his mother, but I hope more that she does what she can to keep that spirit alive in him as long as possible.  Too often we stress to children their need to mature and grow, and we let those things that keep them young and vibrant well into their adult years fall by the wayside.  Children need a good portion of fantasy and mystery in their lives in order to not become adults with no sense of imagination or silliness.  Bah humbug to that!

In any case, it appears this year, his five-year old’s excitement was contagious, and could not have needed it more than I did this year.  With Hubby and I apart for the holidays for the first time in four years,  it had been a stretch for me to find the spirit.  I was going through all the motions and waiting for January until one night I had a thought.  I hadn’t had Christmas with my family in at least six years, and I missed it.  I’ve always had jobs that kept me home at Christmas, but this year I had enough seniority to get the day off.  If I could find people willing to pick up the rest I would fly to California for Christmas.

The logistics here were rough.  I decided to make it a surprise to everyone but my dad, who would have to pick me up.  I wanted that excitement!  The last few times I’d seen my maternal grandmother she’d seemed down and a little depressed, and I hoped this would brighten her day a little.  I also didn’t know if I could get there.  Because my day job is at an airline,  I fly for free, but I fly standby.  To fly standby at Christmas is a gamble all around.  I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up and not make it after all.

So, I schemed.  My dad helped.  Co-workers were kind, and flights were miraculously free of a seat or two.  Lo and behold, Santa arrived in Oakland two days early on a Boeing 737, carrying me!  I was as excited as a kid on…well, Christmas.

What I didn’t know is that both grandmothers had been having a bit of a rough year, and both of them needed a little extra Christmas spirit.  When I showed up at the first one’s house she almost fell over.  Then she cried.  The other was so excited after I called that she rearranged her plans the next day and couldn’t sleep that night.  They needed to reconnect as much as I did.

And so it began!  My dad and I drove the neighbourhood looking for elaborate displays of Christmas lights.  My grandmother and I made the cemetery rounds, and I was able to reconnect with the family I’ve lost.  Afterwards we had lunch and were finally able to talk like we haven’t been able to do in a long time.  It’s been an amazing experience.  While Hubby and I may have needed the overtime pay, but he recognized this need as well and encouraged me to do what was best for me and my spirit.  We can make up the money.  I would never have been able to make up this time with my family.

While I only celebrate Christmas secularly, this is what it’s about to me.  It’s about family, togetherness, and excitement.  It’s about sharing, connecting, and laughing together no matter how rough the year has been.  It’s about hope for the coming year and casting off the grudges and petty arguments of the past year.  It’s about excitement, mystery, and surprise.  It’s about magic.  It may be only a part of the Spirit of Christmas, as I do respect that it is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is the power behind the Spirit of Santa and the reason I will always believe.

Aloha.

Go now, have a Merry Christmas!

My mother passed away right about that time in a girl’s life when she needs a mother’s guidance.  While there have been innumerable women in my life who have taken me in as their own, there are still some doubts only a mother can quell, some thoughts only a mother can understand, and some decisions only a mother can support.  In the beginning I stumbled, but in the last few years I have learned from my mother in ways I never thought imaginable.  My faith and my memories of her have allowed me to connect with her in ways I had never noticed before.  The part of her that lives inside me teaches and inspires me every day, and every time I look back on a moment in my life when she made an impression on me I smile and remind myself how much I have become who she was shaping me to be all along.  These are the things I have learned from my mother…

  • Smile no matter how much it hurts.  No matter how sick my mother felt or how much pain she was in she very seldom let it show.  She was always present with a smile or a joke, even when she was in the hospital or having a bad day at home.  The thought of her smile the last time I saw her got me through a lot of rough points in my life, most poignantly the two-year illness that left me close to home bound.  I tried every day to remember a reason to smile, and that may have been the only thing to bring my family through the struggle.
  • Stand tall no matter how short you are.  At four-feet and change my mother stood a good head shorter than most people around her, yet she never backed down from anything she deemed important.  Her family meant the world to her, and she would never let anything happen to any of us.  She taught me to be confident in my decisions and strong in my beliefs.  She taught me that sometimes you have to be a little harsh, and she reminded me that it is perfectly acceptable to say “no” sometimes.  When I forget the impossibility of pleasing everybody and the reality that sometimes the facts make people unhappy no matter how nicely I deliver them, this lesson comes back to me sharply.
  • Greet everyone with an open heart.  The house in which I grew up had an extra room in the basement that was larger than my first couple apartments.  There were very few times when there wasn’t someone living in that room.  Whenever a friend, relative, or someone she stumbled across needed a place to stay, my mom would open up our home to make sure they had somewhere to go.  If they were hungry they would join us for dinner.  If they had kids who needed clothes, we would offer things I didn’t need.  No matter who or what it was, my mom was always there to help where she could.  She taught me a lot about giving and not taking what I have for granted, and when I feel like I have lost everything, I remember that I still have everything I need.
  • There is very little a disability can keep you from if you are determined.  Though my mom was blind, there were very few things it stopped her from achieving.  She taught at a local community college, learned to play the piano, bowled, and played Frisbee.  She could sew, cook, and somehow managed to know everything I thought I could get away with.  With a little determination and creativity she found ways to get and do what she wanted, and that fact inspires me every day.
  • There is no truth in fear or doubt.  My mom loved rollercoasters, thrill rides, and acts of sheer nerve.  She wore stiletto heels and miniskirts, and never apologized for it.  She told me once the way to overcome fear or doubt was not to show you have any.  If it doesn’t appear to exist, eventually it won’t.  There are times in my life when I’ve been terrified of the next step, times when I’ve had no idea what to do or how to keep going forward.  It’s these times when I strap on my mental stilettos, but on a confident face, and pretend I have any clue what I’m doing.
  • The light is always there, even if you cannot see it.  Barring that, make your own light.  My mom required the light on to be able to do her makeup.  She also did it in front of the mirror.  Part of it was force of habit from when she had sight.  The rest was merely a comfort.  She knew the light was there.  It made her feel more at ease.  Just after the 1989 earthquake, the bay area had no power for days.  At the time we had someone staying with us, and he remarked that he couldn’t eat in the dark.  My mom’s response was, “make your own light, or starve”.  Like many things that sustain us, just because we can’t see the sun, the stars, or the light within never means it doesn’t exist.  We must find it…or starve.
  • Money does not make the (wo)man.  One of the greatest skills I’ve learned from my mother is how to look, eat, and live like a millionaire on a scrap budget.  It may require a little effort, but it isn’t impossible to be happy or healthy with any budget.  Life is never about having everything we want, it’s about wanting everything we have.  Decisions, choices, and priorities.  Family, love, and experiences.  These things are what make us rich.  With a little ingenuity we can look good and eat well, too.

This post was supposed to come on Mother’s Day, but sometimes life takes priority to writing.  That’s the last of the lessons I’m going to share today.  Things will happen when they’re supposed to, not when you think they should.  Thanks, Mom.  After all these years you are still always right.

Go, now, listen to your mothers.

Aloha.

Today is the first day since we started our visitation agreement that we’ve had to cancel on the little guy.  Hubby’s sick, and the little guy tends to pick up sick like pocket change.  It’s also the first time I’ve seen him fight and cry because he didn’t want to leave.  It’s the first time Hubby has seen him fight and cry because he wanted his daddy.  It was heartbreaking, but it was a decision that had to be made.  It took me a while to convince him that his son will not hate him for making him go home, and I can tell it bothers him still.  We’ve fought really hard for what time we do have, and deep inside it’s still not enough for Hubby, but it’s a start.

We knew there would be struggles when we started this visitation pattern.  We figured the little guy would cry for his mom and his toys, and he did.  We figured it would take some time to adjust to a new house with new rules and an entirely new environment, and it did.  Some of that anxiety still hasn’t worn off, and it will take a lot more work to make this routine, but we’re taking it one weekend at a time.

We don’t have the little guy overnight yet, and maybe that’s part of the problem.  As soon as he starts getting comfortable and relaxed it’s time to leave.  I’m hoping that as this arrangement evolves I can do as well as my father did rolling with the punches.

Today reminded me of when I was seven or eight.  I was too sick to leave home for Christmas, and I was devastated.  I was a little more equipped to understand that the little guy is at four, but I was still highly upset.  My dad came over and brought my presents, and we had dinner together, but there was one thing he hadn’t brought.  That was the year my dad had bought me my own bed.  After years of sleeping on a fold out futon, I finally had my own bed at his house.  He had picked it out just for me and set it up for me to find on Christmas.  Of course, I didn’t know that.  I was just upset that there was this special present my dad had failed to bring with him.  I moped for days until I was finally able to go see it, and I finally understood why that particular present hadn’t made the trip on Christmas Day.  I felt a little foolish for having been upset, but I was seven.  I wasn’t going to admit it.

I wasn’t much older than the little guy is now when I started visiting my dad and his parents.  It was a huge adjustment being away from my home, my room, and my mom.  I’d pack as many toys and dolls as I could and lug them to my dad’s house for the weekend and try my best to set up my room there to my liking.  I know for a fact I was difficult at times, and as I grew it got more routine, but there were always new challenges.  There were always weekends I wanted to spend with my friends or rules I wanted to bend.

When my mom passed away I felt that same uprooted feeling as I lost the home I knew for good.  It was an extremely rough transition for both of us.  I had to learn a new life and a new way of doing things, and my dad acquired a teenager full-time.  We had clashes because there were parts of each other we didn’t know very well.  We also had a lot of good memories, and it got me through some of the roughest years of my life.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was leave my father and move to Philadelphia.  I know he hated the idea, but he never told me I couldn’t.  He never told me I shouldn’t.  He let me live my life, just as he always has.

I know it bothered my dad at times, but he never showed it to me.  He never gave up on me, and I never felt like he wanted to see me any less.  He was always there on the other side when I stepped out of a bad attitude  as a teenager or off of a plane as an adult and back into a daughter he recognized.  He’s always supported me in all my decisions and lifestyle choices whether or not he agrees or understands, and he’s always the first one to remind me I can always come home.

When I look at how upset Hubby gets when he can’t see the little guy or when he feels he’s letting him down, I see how much he wants to be a good father.  Part of that means knowing how to make the hard decisions and sacrifices.  I know he wanted to see the little guy today just as much as the little guy wanted to see him.  I know how much it hurt to see his son cry and not be able to hold him to make it all better.  Today I saw my husband be a father. He told me later he wants his son to see him as strong.  To me, he was.  To the little guy, he always will be.   More fathers should be this way, no matter what the situation.  I’m really glad mine was.

I love you , Dad.

Go now, love your father, whoever that may be for you.

Aloha

Fourteen years ago I lost my best friend, my mother.  I immediately felt guilty for all the things I had not done.  I was sure I missed an “I love you” somewhere, sure she was mad at me for not visiting her in the hospital, sure I could have somehow been a better child.  I went through all the stages of grief at once.  I was angry with her for leaving me, but I was sure at times she wasn’t dead and that she’d come back to get me at any minute.  I kept a packed bag just in case we had to run.  I avoided all memories of her as sick or weak, and instead envisioned her as a secret agent forced to fake her own death.  When I wasn’t blaming myself I blamed my stepfather, who was on a different drug every week and stealing from her on a regular basis.  I tried to bargain with every deity I could think of.  I promised to be a better daughter.  I wanted to make sure I had done everything I could to make her come back.  I was sure that if she were alive my room had been bugged by whatever government entity had taken her from me.

I went through all the stages established by the Kubler-Ross model, and I acknowledged in my logical brain that they were all happening in my psyche.  I knew she was dead.  I knew she wasn’t coming back.  I knew it was silly, but I was a child.  I was a child who had made most of the decisions for her own mother’s funeral because no one else seemed capable.  I was a child who had not cried at that funeral, and refused to let anyone see me cry at all, because I didn’t want to seem fragile.  I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.

Some people simply believed I was not allowing myself to grieve, but children process things differently than adults do.  I had a lot of adjusting to do.  Not only had I lost my mother right before my thirteenth birthday, but I had lost my home, my spiritual guidance, and anything familiar in my life.  I moved in with my father and his parents, who did everything they could to make the transition smooth, but it was still a drastic change.  To top it all off I hit puberty that summer.  I had hit the time in my life when a girl needs her mother the most, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have one.

Children not only process things differently, but they develop their own way of coping with and understanding tragedy or loss.  I did what I had always done.  I made myself busy.  I dug myself into school and extracurricular activities.   I got a job.  I made it impossible to have any alone time in my head.  Unfortunately, my thoughts are a force to be reckoned with.  Eventually all the feelings and thoughts I was trying to avoid caught up with me.   It was the day I found out one of my best friends had killed himself.  A week later a friend of mine’s mother lost her battle with cancer.  A week after that I lost my mind in the midst of a computer malfunction that resulted in writing the same paper five times and having it rejected because I could not get it to print properly.

It is during these times when we develop the skills that will carry us through life in one piece.  After a full day of wandering around in a cloud, I cleared my head and began to put the pieces back together.  I started writing, something that has gotten me through every time I think I just can’t go any further.  I also pulled my friends around me, and even though the years have parted us they were my strongest asset at the time.  I taught myself to actually deal with loss instead of running from it with fantasies or aversion.  I learned to face my emotions head on, to embrace them, and to let them happen.

Sometimes I still have moments of survivor guilt.  My mother sacrificed her health and her very being for me.  She gave me everything she could, and I can only hope I was worth it.   I’m learning to accept that this life was her gift to me.  Who I am was her gift to me.  Her faith in me and her encouragement to believe in myself are things that will never die.  This year I’m having a rougher time than I have in the last several years.  There’s a lot of stress in my life, and there have been a lot of close calls and personal losses in the past year.  I have been planning a wedding, a time generally spent with excitement between a bride and her mother.  There have been times when I have simply wanted my mommy.  I know it won’t defeat me.  It might not make me the most pleasant person to be around for a few days, but I know the people who matter most to me won’t judge or mock me for it.  They know the storm will pass, and the old sunny Autumn will be back soon.

And I will be back….soon.

Namaste.

When I was young I was a dancer.  One of the several forms I studied was Tahitian.  I donned a grass skirt, coconut bra, and just in case there was someone who couldn’t see me, a tall straw headpiece adorned with feathers and shells.  Just the ensemble for young girls with constantly fluctuating body weight, size, and self-confidence.  Yes, I still dress like this on a regular basis today.

During one particular performance it was just me and one other girl.  I should have seen the train coming when someone nonchalantly told the headlining talent, a Chinese vocalist showcasing her heavenly voice at a small community theatre in Pinole, CA  who unfortunately had no pre-knowledge of American idioms, to break a leg.  She thought this person was insulting her and spent quite some time crying hysterically in her dressing room.

When my fellow dancer and I took the stage we had only slight recognition of what we were suppose to be doing.  As the drums started we watched each other in our peripheral vision for clues to the next move.  All was well, albeit slightly awkward, until the only other person with me on the stage lost her skirt.  As she grabbed it and ran from the stage in horrified tears I was left alone with no clue what to do next.  All knowledge of how to move, let alone dance, fled from my mind as quickly as she had fled from my side, and I found myself stiff as a statue in the middle of the stage, the cassette recorded drums still pounding away eerily to a stage holding nothing but a frozen ten-year old and a politely quiet audience.  A second later I, too, ran from the stage, certain my life was over.  I would surely be hung and quartered for my offense.  In the end my father, who had never seen me Tahitian dance before and felt terrible for the crying pile of a daughter he finally found in a dressing room that felt a mile’s run from the doomed stage, took me to get ice cream and assured me no one would ever remember that day.  Well, I did.

Fast forward to 2010.  Around Imbolc I had expressed an interest in casting the circle for Ostara.  Having never done this for an even for my coven, and knowing it to be a pre-requisite for putting in my letter of intent to start my first degree work, I thought it would be perfect for the second anniversary of my first ever Assembly event.  Unfortunately, no one ever confirmed my role and, frankly, I forgot I had even offered.  In my defense, when I asked later what roles needed to be filled so Hubby and I could volunteer for something no one reminded me of my previous interest.  Thanks for the heads up guys!

The night before the ritual I had a dream in which I was thrust into the role of cast and call and had to improvise the entire thing.  I should have known then that this would be my role in the actual ritual, but I was sleepy and not quite as observant as I should have been.  As I gathered our tools and ritual robes I considered packing my wand, which is unusual for me as I have nowhere to hold it during ritual and would not consider taking it unless I was circle casting.  Again I was not quite as aware of the signals as I should have been.

Five minute before we left for Philly I checked my email to see that someone had remembered my past expression of interest and seen to it that it be my role for Ostara.  Now, any one who knows me for more than a day knows how much I like time to prepare myself and my words or actions before I do anything important, especially with an audience.  I am not the best improviser either, so this was really dragging me out of my comfort zone and putting me on the spot.

The entire drive I obsessed over not being prepared and tried to gather my thoughts and remember my correspondences to the best of my ability.  Hubby, bless his heart, tried to quell my nervousness with conversation about his latest project, but it only caused more panic.  I could feel my focus unraveling like an improperly tied corset.  At any minute I was going to lose the ability to contain any composure I had left.

When we arrived in Philly I did my best to feign confidence even though I was sure I would be kicked out of the club if I failed.  Hadn’t my high priest said they wouldn’t let us cast in a ritual until we had first done it informally for one of them?  Obviously I was going against some rule of conduct by just jumping into an unguided casting!  I forced myself to quiet the urges to take the easy way out by telling someone how I’d foolishly forgotten my previous offer and that I was shamefully unprepared.  I knew I would not get out of such a thing by just asking to be set free.

Like the stubborn one that I am, I refused to quit.  I was sure I was shaking severely enough to knock down the joined circle of people like a set of dominoes, but I cast an acceptable circle without incorrectly naming any directions or finding myself speechless or bawling.  I didn’t run or commit any serious faux pas, and I managed to repeat the performance to open the circle at the end of the ritual.

It is times like my cast and call that force us beyond our comfort zones.  Too often we confuse stagnation for mastery, never pushing ourselves to grow or learn.  Mistakes are the best teachers in the world, and there is no greater power or confidence than that which comes from achieving something one knows will be difficult.  There is no value in doing something one has been doing on the same level for years.  This only leads to false confidence and pretension, and I have been guilty of this in the past.  Taking this step opened my eyes to a world of places in which I have allowed myself to be complacent.  I realize now how unhappy I am with this lack of progress, and I am renewed in my desire to grow and learn as a witch and in other areas of my life.  I now feel I am truly ready to step forward and claim the potential I possess.  Comfort zones are no longer acceptable, for they no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Go now, do something that terrifies you.

Namaste.

After months of bitter cold and more snow that I’ve ever seen spring is upon us.  Lore tells us that this is the time when Persephone comes up from the Underworld and graces us all with sunshine and new growth.  The days are longer, the air is warmer, and there is promise and hope of new life and fresh beginnings.  I have notices blossoms on trees and new sprigs of grass.  Unfortunately, the blossoms were blown from the trees and the dog did his business all over the grass, but the signs were there nonetheless.

The more prominent sign of the season to come sprang up at me last Wednesday.  I was on the porch with the pooch when I saw it, the season’s first spider, a fiddleback or brown recluse to be exact.  It was most likely living under the stone pot on which the dog caught his leash, and it darted somewhat dazedly across the porch in its panic, and I was able to grab the dog’s leash before he tried to eat it.

Let me tell you all what a big deal this is to me.  Though I have curtailed it in the past several years, I am a severe arachnophobe.  Just the word makes me shiver a little.  When I was a child anything that remotely resembled a spider was subjected to my screams and stomps whether they were actual spiders, mosquito eaters, which I thought were flying spiders and couldn’t think of anything more terrifying, or mere dust cobwebs in the corner.  Then fifth grade happened.

My teacher in fifth grade was a wonderful woman whom I still talk to this day.  Her only detriment was her insistence on two things.  One was named Hairy-it and lived in a terrarium a hundred miles too close to my desk.  All year I lived in a sustained state of anxiety and panic.  What if it got out?  What if it decided crickets were no longer good enough to eat and went carnivorous?  What if she had mistakenly been sold a venomous beast?  If this didn’t bring me close enough to dropping out of school in the fifth grade and living out the rest of my life as  circus performer, the second thing would really drive me into madness.

It was a report, but this was no normal report.  We had to catch, you heard me, catch a spider in a jar and observe if for a little over a month.  There were 36 students, which meant there were 36 spiders just hanging out in the classroom.  The jars sat on our desks, and once a week we would open the jars and feed them.  I had a hard enough time looking at the thing.  My grandfather trapped it for me, and I spent the next fortnight trying not to vomit every time my gaze wandered towards the  jar haphazardly sitting on my desk just waiting for an excuse to fall, knock over the other 35 jars, and set all the eight-legged captives free to claim the fifth grade classroom.  The research phase of the report eventually came to an end, and some brave kind soul let my spider free so I didn’t have to chuck the glass jar at a wall and run like mad.  I got an A and lost five years from the end of my life.  I have done research reports and dissection write-ups on some seriously repulsive things, and have done them happily with not even the urge to look away.  None have ever caused me as much turmoil as that one spider report.

I am happy to report that I stayed in school, and even graduated.  I have also noticed that as my arachnophobia matures it takes on strange nuances.  For instance, I am more bothered by spiders in a movie of on TV than I am of real life spiders.  Why?  I think it’s because I can kill real spiders whereas I am forced to watch two-dimensional ones until the scene ends.  There is a quest in Diablo II in a spider cave, and I almost didn’t make it through the level because of it.  Hubby had to coach me.  It’s extremely difficult to kill things and pick up gold and gear with one’s eyes shut tight.

Living with someone who is almost as anxious around spiders as I am has helped me fortify my nerve at least to the point where I can kill them or trap them and toss them outside if weather and environment permit.  I still shriek like a little girl and brush myself off for 20 minutes each time, but I’m a lot better than where I was.  It still doesn’t mean I like it, but I’ll tolerate it if it means sunny weather is here again!

Go now, dear readers, sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider…with the hand motions.  I won’t watch.

There is no way to list all the women in history who have changed the world in which we live.  Just the same there is no rubric for which ones deserve the most acclaim and the unique privilege of being written about in the blog of yours truly.  If I sat and poured over the timeline of women’s history, I’d end up with an overwhelming number of women who made it possible to even have such a blog, or even the ability to read and write.  Let’s get a little more personal than all that and honor the women who have made the most impact on my history.  The list is long, but I will cover a few.

Let’s start at birth.  I come from a long line of strong women on both sides.  My great-grandmothers overcame hardships and stigmas, and sometimes had to be a little creative or daring,  to make sure their families were provided for.  While one worked as a Rosie the Riveter, another sold moonshine from her basement during Prohibition.  My grandmothers  joined the work force as career women.  My mother, a diabetic since early childhood, knew the risks of continuing her pregnancy with me but did it anyway.  She lost her sight in the process.  Not only did she adapt, and being discontent with being “disabled”, she flourished in both her career at a local community college and her personal life.  She made sure I always knew I was loved, and she never sacrificed a good time.  Beautiful both inside and out, she taught me through her actions and words that grace and strength are not exclusive to each other.  Without this I would not be the woman I am today.

There have been several teachers in my life who have made a huge difference.  My 5th grade teacher, Ms Borges fed the writing bug and encouraged me to write poetry.  We still talk to this day.  She may be appalled to find my writing success is thus far limited to the scope of a blog.  Then I went to high school, an all female, former boarding school connected to a Catholic convent, whose catch phrase at the time was, “Where Young Women Exceed Expectations!”  There I encountered the likes of Ms. Sutter, lovingly referred to as Ms Debbie.  I may have been less than adept at the French language, but I learned invaluable lessons about individuality that have given me the courage to be the woman I want to be instead of the woman others want me to be.  There were other women on the administration who inspired me and taught me more about myself than about the subjects they covered, because while I remember very little about high school physics I will always be prepared to prove my worth and strength as a person rather than as a woman.

Last but not least, and I hope I don’t embarrass her, is one of my best friends.  I have watched her sacrifice everything she has for her son, friends, sisters, and parents without asking for anything in return.  One of my first female friends in Philadelphia, she became like a sister to me years later as roommates.  She has coached and held me through sickness, break-ups, and personal crises, and has never judged me for any of it.  She is a beacon of perseverance and the quintessence of resilience.  I have seen her bounce back from a fall more times than I can count, and she never lets it get her down for too long.  Because of her I am never afraid to be an individual, nor do I view mistakes as fatal.  She has taught me to laugh at myself and never take anyone too seriously.  She embodies the saying, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”  Thank you, Cat, for always being willing to laugh at me, and for always being honest even if it might hurt my feelings.

This list is by no means complete, but these women are on my mind and in my heart as I look up at posters of Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie.  The women I have written about deserve a bit of recognition for the impact they have had on my world every bit as much as any woman in a history book.  Think about the women in  your own lives, my friends, and whether or not they know what a difference they have made.  Maybe it’s time they learned.

Go now, hug your matriarchs!

My first memory of snow is not exactly a happy one.  I was young, maybe three years old, and terrified of the cold mush falling from the sky.  I was also certain my grandfather was making it snow more as he threw snowballs into the air in an effort to convince me snow could be fun.  I was not swayed in my hatred, but would have a love-hate relationship with snow for the next two decades.  I should mention here that my next two memories are of losing a shoe in a gopher hole the moment I jumped out of the car and of breaking my foot by stopping an out of control sled with a tree and hopping around on one leg all day. In high school I picked up a love of snowboarding, and snow an I made amends and agreed to a mutual respect.   This is why I will forever remain a California girl.  I love being able to drive “to the snow”, spend a weekend, and drive back never worrying about shoveling or grocery shopping in the mess.

My first winter in Philadelphia was extremely mild.  It flurried and stuck to bushes, but nothing enough to inconvenience my life.  It was pretty, albeit slightly cold.  The next year I would stand in the middle of Market Street in wonder, as I had never witnessed main streets being shut down or department stores being closed due to weather.  I earned my snow legs that winter as I carried my groceries from the corner grocery, the bottoms of my bags scraping the surface of mid calf deep snow.  I was, once again, not convinced of the good intentions of snow.

Since that first year I have come to accept snow as a part of my wintery life, but this year has tested the limits of the contract I made with snow as a child.  As we face our third, and possibly heartiest, record-breaking snowfall of the season, I have to wonder what was I thinking? I admit, Hubby and I have had our fun.  We’ve rolled in it, posed in bikinis on a dare, trekked through half-shoveled sidewalks due to a lack of transportation, and built a giant snowman in the dark with the tot.  We’ve laughed at the dog trying unsuccessfully to find a spot on the frozen lawn in snow taller than he, and managed to foster out a cat in addition to the new one we brought in to our home.

Still, there is something warm and cozy about watching the snow fall from the porch, Hubby in one arm a cup of hot tea in the other.  No matter what this last year, the last few weeks specifically, have thrown at us we have hung on and made it through.  From the nice Jewish couple who drove me home from Acme to the friends who have offered their love and support, we have acquired the company of warmth in all forms.  We are growing stronger and continuing to make happy memories in the midst of a literal and metaphorical blizzard.  I guess I can get used to the snow.

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