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A friend from church—a very positive person, no less—shared at one point that this was the main piece of advice her father liked to repeat. We all laughed, but it’s hard to imagine that’s the real lesson we want to teach our children.

I want to teach mine that if you give people the chance, most people will rise up to the occasion. When you are raising sensitive people, you have to repeat that a lot. It’s hard living with people whose skin is turned inside out. No matter how many good experiences they’ve had with people, they’re more likely to remember the few bad ones. Don’t I know it—I had to develop my own thicker skin.

I just hate when I tell my kids to expect that people will be reasonable and encourage them to advocate for themselves and then find out that my advice is all wrong. Instead, I’m just sending them out to develop that tougher skin.

Part of getting through life is knowing that you will have to deal with some bad apples—or those who are simply curmudgeons—but somehow not letting them dampen your appetite for doing the things you love, as well as for trying those activities where you have more doubts than confidence. Just because it’s a fact there will always be people who will kick you when you are down or inadvertently crush a seedling doesn’t mean people in leadership roles shouldn’t try harder to be kind.

I’m sure some of them think they’re just preparing you for the real world: the people who will vote you off the island or the Simons and their criticisms. Often these kinds of people just expect that everyone comes prepared and full of confidence and competitive spirit. And, if not, oh well. Survival of the fittest. Maybe these leaders assume that the others can’t reach a higher level, even if given time. Or that it’s not worth the trouble developing them—late bloomers need not apply. The meek are going to have to wait a long time to be first in their books.

Oh well, we don’t need another trophy to dust. The hell with it. Thanks for undoing all the work I and other people previously have put out trying to help my kids develop a lifelong hobby—and to, gasp, have fun with it. Turns out it really is about being tough from the start and winning after all.

I’m not about to believe that people are no damn good if they don’t win the race. Those of us who show up—and treat people well—are the real winners. That’s the lesson I’ve been trying to teach, but I just might have to add the lesson where I admit that some people really are no damn good.

A person can toughen his/her skin too much—that’s called scarring—and it can leave you weakened, not strengthened. Sometimes it’s just better to take your efforts somewhere else and go where people do appreciate the work behind what you do.

Wrong Way, June 2009 (c) CBL

Wrong Way, June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

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Even before I started practicing yoga and learning more about the mind/body connection, I knew, instinctively, that grief was also physical. Sometimes in the dark of my basement I would dance through my grief: my grandparents’ deaths, the Columbine shootings, 9/11, my father’s illness and subsequent death, and once in awhile, even old hurts from times as long ago as high school. With my curtains drawn, I worked through pains I couldn’t express in writing.

The funny thing is that as I have faced so many types of mourning over the past few years, I have forgotten to dance. Maybe it’s because the furniture arrangement in the basement doesn’t always allow it—or because a certain son plays video games there and keeps the floor rather cluttered—or that part of me doesn’t remember that I can dance.

Oh, my mind dances often in savasana. But then I am lying still in the dark, watching the dance, not participating with my own body.

Trina & Debbie Logan, Wittenberg 1983

Trina & Debbie Logan, Wittenberg 1983

If there is something about me that casual acquaintances don’t know, it’s that I am a much different person when I dance. I still remember an impulsive trip to Happy Hour during the 80s. I would have dressed differently if I knew I would be going out—after all, I knew myself and knew that I would get warm dancing. But no, I was wearing my most conservative outfit: the proverbial gray wool suit combined with a high-necked burgundy shirt. John Malloy would have been proud! Some guy asked me to dance and I knew from the look of surprise on his face that he had not expected someone dressed like me to dance with so much energy.

I am the little girl grown up who begged for ballet lessons, but, small towns are hit or miss in opportunities. Instead, I learned tap, baton, acrobatics—and Hawaiian dance. Soon I was making up routines to songs like “None But the Lonely Bull” and other Herb Alpert favorites. When my mom’s students taught me to dance psychedelically at a sock hop at the age of seven, I wholeheartedly followed their moves. My friends and I played at “American Bandstand” more than we played House. Yet, as a shy teenager, for a long time I was the epitome of the Madonna song, “Into the Groove”:

Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free
At night I lock the doors, where no one else can see
I’m tired of dancing here all by myself
Tonight I want to dance with someone else

Many years have passed since I had to dance by myself, but boy do I need to dance regularly, not just with Sherman at the very occasional wedding or other dance we attend. That’s why I jumped on the opportunity to take a Zumba® class the first month it was offered at my local recreation center. Now, this is my kind of exercise—and just what the doctor would have ordered if she knew anything about my dancing background.

Wedding 1988, Sherman & Trina Dancing

Wedding 1988, Sherman & Trina Dancing

Imagine my surprise when Christiana asked to come with me—and then wanted to come back. Lord knows that if anything can embarrass my children, it’s my dancing in Zumba® class! In fact, I was sure that would drive her away.

The fact it didn’t is just another sign how far she’s come in her healing process. That reminds me of the refrigerator poem I “wrote” for her some time during the darkest months last year.

God,
free her from haunted yesterdays.
Give hope & joy.
Courage brings peaceful days—
she will dance once more.

Now to take that poem to heart for myself . . . it’s time I danced once more—and I don’t even need to do it with myself.

Guy & Kristie Plugge, Wedding 1988, (C) Bill Willson Photography

Guy & Kristie Plugge, Wedding 1988, (C) Bill Willson Photography

(Can’t embed the link, but if you want to see the official Billy Idol YouTube video, click here.)

Jackson, Pre-Kindergarten Visit, 1997

Jackson, Pre-Kindergarten Visit, 1997

The kids’ final school year has begun—which is good since I don’t feel like I can keep doing this school thing much longer. Kind of a funny statement from someone who was pretty good at school.

The biggest thing I struggled with was my own procrastination, but I always came through and got things done on time. Yes, there were times I finished thanks to my mom sitting by my side and typing, but the work was my own and done at my own prompting. When I went off to college 1,000 miles from home, I didn’t have Mom to type for me anymore—although one time she did help me through writer’s block during a phone call.

I believe the school systems have gotten harder for kids with ADD than they were in my day—and my kind of ADD wasn’t that affected by how things were done. I didn’t have any other learning differences, so I had no idea how other people struggled. What innocence.

Trina, Art Show, ? 1969

Trina, Art Show, ? 1969

However, my kids weren’t even in school yet when I began to see the challenges my nephews and niece encountered in their early school days. Between the three of them, things like ADD, learning disabilities, and just a right-brained outlook made school seem so stressful for them and their parents. These were smart kids who loved to learn, but I worried that that love was already being beat out of them in the primary grades.

Christiana, Pre-Kindergarten Visit 1997

Christiana, Pre-Kindergarten Visit 1997

Lucky for these kids, their parents were willing to work with them and not afraid to take on the system, if need be. They even volunteered as advocates for other parents and once spoke at a teachers’ convention on the parents’ perspective about learning challenges. But you know there is scar tissue there, even though their older son has graduated from college and their daughter is in her final year of college.

I won’t forget the year all my sister-in-law wanted for Mother’s Day was the proof—which thankfully she received—that her younger son was going to graduate from high school in a few weeks. Not because he skipped classes or didn’t care about learning, but because it was hard for him to do things the school’s way—and, according to his older brother, he was less likely to take advantage of services the school offered to kids who needed help.

My kids loved preschool, jumping into learning with gusto. I really hoped that regular school wouldn’t be as hard for them as it was for their cousins. But I have to say it was.

Christiana, Kindergarten Graduation '98

Christiana, Kindergarten Graduation '98

My daughter has appeared to pull it off. Yet she has plenty of her scar tissue of her own, even if her grade point average doesn’t reflect that. Like me, she has done what it takes, even if the cost to herself was pretty high. The areas where she has struggled would have tripped me up, too, if I had encountered them when I was in school. What I know is the little girl who entered kindergarten full of energy needed to devote a lot of that energy to fitting in—and left kindergarten much more subdued. I can see it in the pictures from those days, even though she had a caring teacher she loved and a birthday party full of new friends.

Sherman & Jackson, Kindergarten Graduation 1998

Sherman & Jackson, Kindergarten Graduation 1998

My son, well, that’s a different story. He never could fit in. Despite the fact he is a high-energy person, even he does not have enough energy to do what it takes. I can’t begin to say how much that has changed his outlook on life, but I think it makes him resistant to other ideas for how to do things, maybe because for so many years left-brained people have insisted he could do things he could not.

And now all these years later, I still encounter a wall from him any time I try to help. As much as I haven’t insisted that he do things my way or a specific way, he thinks the fact I get all Nike with him (“Just do it!”) means I am part of the problem. Almost every time I try to work him through his road blocks, it feels like 4th grade all over again, when the boy who had been singled out as top student in the classroom in 3rd grade found out that school had become something he could no longer “do”—and then took it out on me.

Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, Jeffrey Freed, M.A.T., & Laurie Parsons, (c) 1997

Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, Jeffrey Freed, M.A.T., & Laurie Parsons, (c) 1997

It’s easier for him to be No Man and shoot down every possible idea versus put something on paper that maybe the teacher and—more importantly—he won’t like. Over the years, most suggestions—whether for “how to” ideas or content ideas—have been met with “no” or “but”. I tell him he needs to listen to the advice Large Marge gave Pee Wee in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. She starts out saying, “Everyone I know has a big but . . .”

He does have a lot of “big buts” that are valid, but just because the system doesn’t work as well for him as for many others doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to meet his dreams—even if he has to write a few mediocre papers for classes that are not in his major areas of interest to get there.

Trina, Graduation 1980

Trina, Graduation 1980

I know it’s late in the game, but we now have both our kids working with Jeffrey Freed, an educational therapist and consultant who specializes in helping kids figure out how to use their energies for learning versus just fighting some system that is often hostile to how they process information. The hard part is working through how much scar tissue we all have, parents included, after all these years of jousting against how school is done.

Freed’s book, Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, came out in 1997, the year our kids entered kindergarten with so much enthusiasm. Sadly, so much of what he wrote about how school is done is still accurate all these years later. And since so much of that doesn’t work for our kids, this former salutatorian no longer feels like doing the school thing.

After Jackson’s first writing assignment of the year, although I am feeling defeated again, I have to remind myself that Jeffrey is experienced at breaking through that scar tissue. There is still time to reclaim the joy of learning and find a way to “do school” in our own way—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Zippy Easter 2005

Zippy Easter 2005

We all have life events: things that are more likely to happen at certain times in our lives. Sometimes they happen out of order and surprise us, but often many people our age are experiencing something very similar. Graduations, weddings, births, divorces, deaths, major illnesses, beginning careers, job changes, retirement, etc. Life events are transitions and can be good, bad, or neutral. Yet even the good ones can rattle us as they spin our lives in new directions.

Zippy 2004

Zippy 2004

Unfortunately, this past week we faced some transitions that we didn’t want to encounter. On Thursday, just as we were trying to digest the news that we needed to move my mom into a higher level of care, Zippy, our older guinea pig, died. As the kids’ childhood pets have grown old, so have their childhoods.

Can it really be 6 ½ years since Zippy, Jackson’s guinea pig, came to us in Easter 2003 as a companion for Christiana’s guinea pig, Chocolate? Zippy may have been tiny, but she was quick—thus her name. She zipped around that cage so fast and it soon became evident that she had no plans to be submissive, even to an older guinea pig. Within a month she looked full grown.

Christiana with Chocolate, Easter 2003

Christiana with Chocolate, Easter 2003

Oh, Zippy was tough. She seems to have brought mites with her, but they didn’t bug her. The treatments worked for her, but the strong medicine seemed to have weakened Chocolate. Beside Zippy we could see that Chocolate had never been strong, although her low energy seemed to make her more open to being loving. Loving wasn’t really a term we used for Zippy. Sadly Chocolate’s strength started to go—and a visit to the vet let us know that her end was imminent.

Thanks to the vet’s information, we could tell when Chocolate was in her final hours. Christiana spent time holding her, reading and singing to her. Although Christiana tried hard to stay up with Chocolate, her little piggy slipped away when Christiana fell asleep for a few minutes. Christiana ran upstairs to wake me and to bring me Chocolate. When Christiana returned to try to sleep again, Zippy began to make noises which she continued all night.

Zippy had never been alone. Both Christiana and Jackson had to leave in another day for a few days for a school trip, so we brought Zippy’s cage upstairs. Chocolate had been such a sweet little girl—I missed her desperately. Looking at Zippy, I noticed that for once she seemed to want me to hold her. And while the kids were gone, Zippy and I spent a lot of time snuggling together—which was something new.

Can a guinea pig feel remorse? Did she feel badly for how ornery she had been to Chocolate? Who knows, but she became much more sociable after Chocolate died.

Jade, 2004

Jade, 2004

Soon Christiana was convinced that she needed another guinea pig—well, it seemed that Zippy did anyway! When Jade came into the cage, she acted nothing like Chocolate had. Like Zippy before her, Jade was not interested in being submissive. Thus began the dance that would continue throughout their lives together. As soon as Jade got big enough, the game was on. Who won? Hard to tell—can’t say either one won the title of Queen of the Cage, but they both seemed to enjoy the power struggle.

Jade & Zippy Easter 2005

Jade & Zippy Easter 2005

As these things go, our kids grew older, got other interests and became less involved with their guinea pigs. Another one of those signs of life passages. But Zippy and Jade weren’t really “people” guinea pigs, like Chocolate had been. They seemed pretty content to spend their time taunting each other over who got to stay in the house or who could drink the first fresh water or whatever aspect of their lives could be made into a competition.

Zippy & Jade, June 2009 (c) CBL

Zippy & Jade, June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

Then one day—or so it seemed—Zippy was elderly. Still trying to be top pig, although not succeeding too often. Never stopping with her vocal requests for food. Yet, the one thing that changed was that, finally, she would cuddle into Jade and sleep. The guinea pig who didn’t seem to sleep for her first year or so could relax.

Except she couldn’t really relax when her body really began to fail. Everything we’d learned about death from Chocolate seemed to have no application to Zippy. She continued to demand food and water, never approaching either with anything less than gusto. When her ability to move began to fade, we just assumed that the rest of her systems would go very soon. So we propped her up when she asked for water and moved her food into shorter bowls when she couldn’t reach the racks anymore.

Zippy June 2009 (c) CBL

Zippy June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

Still she kept going, fighting, as usual. I wondered if we were going to have to take her in to be put down—which seemed crazy, but I couldn’t stand to see her suffering anymore. So I told her that she could stop the fight, if she wanted to. Stop raging against that good night and go gentle. That night her breathing became more labored. Unbeknownst to me, the next morning Sherman told her the same thing.

In the afternoon when I looked on her, there was no demand for food or drink. In fact, she appeared more whole than she had for weeks. I think I knew, but I wanted Sherman to verify what I saw. He agreed that, yes, she was gone.

And now she is, once more, with Chocolate. They rest next to the rose bush, the one that blooms so gloriously each June, with almost no effort on our parts. It was time. In fact, it was past time, but that doesn’t make it not hurt.

It was a long run, Zippy Chippy, and you were strong until the finish.

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This day has come too soon. And yet it is no surprise after the last several weeks. Today, just a couple weeks after Mom’s residence facility called to suggest assisted living, I received a call saying it needs to be the memory wing or else. How I wish she didn’t worry about “those people behind that door.”

We all know that none of us wants to become one of those people in the secured wing. The bitter pill is that sometimes entering that door is much safer than life outside that door. I wish I could argue that she doesn’t belong there, but she does.

Mae, Betty, & Phyllis--Three Roommates

Mae, Betty, & Phyllis--Three Roommates

Tomorrow I was planning to meet up with one of her friends from her single teaching days, so that the three of us could have lunch tomorrow in her building. I’d warned Betty that we needed to do this sooner than later. Despite the fact that it’s later than we’d like, we’re not changing our plans, though, because this is probably our last time to be “Ladies Who Do Lunch” together.

I’m bringing pictures that show Mom & Betty, young, beautiful, and hamming it up with their other roommate, Phyllis, who has been long gone. One more chance to remember the good times and realize that much of life was really good, even if things aren’t going to end the way anyone would have wished.

I know I can’t pray or exercise—or even eat enough chocolate—to put a good spin on this. But during savasana today in yoga, I saw my mom, young and radiant, dressed in orange chiffon and full of life. I don’t know if she ever wore orange chiffon, but she should have.

Mae at a College Dinner

Mae at a College Dinner

As I rested, I watched as all the important girls and women from her life joined her. We danced around her, the movement swirling our own chiffon dresses, each in our own favorite and empowering color in the prime of our youthful beauty. The rainbow of love couldn’t have included all those young women who were touched by her who I didn’t know, but I can tell you the group of those faces I knew grew in numbers until Dr. Dennie called me back to the reality of this world.

My mom may be going behind that door, but I know that young woman in orange is waiting to dance again. May we all help her until that day comes.

cbaptism1992Every time I go to church lately, I feel like crying. In a lot of ways, I’m not sure why. I suppose a good part of why tears form in my eyes is because I have so little contemplative time these days. It is so rare that I can just sit still and be alone—or somewhat alone—in my own head. And, well, there are burdens in my life these days that are heavy.

All these tears are almost enough to make me want to stay home from church. Isn’t that funny? The last place I want to be seen crying in public is in church. Can you tell that I am one of the “frozen chosen”? Yes, I prefer to keep my church cerebral, not emotional. Yet if you can’t allow yourself to cry in church, what good are your church and your faith?

I admit that it’s not really my church’s fault for this attitude, but no doubt many of the other people in those pews feel the same way. Our Scandinavian and German forbears didn’t take much stock in crying—or little things like physical contact or admitting weakness. Forgive the pun, but it’s a crying shame that more of us don’t reject our upbringing, despite knowing how unhealthy those attitudes really are. How often do we really tell others how things are? Not often, unless we really, really know them well. Even then, we tend to downplay the problems.

jbaptism1992Maybe that’s why I am so comforted by seeing family groups leaning into one another. This past Sunday I watched a six foot plus sixteen-year-old boy rest his head on his even taller father’s shoulder as they stood in church. Was he tired from having too much fun the night before or even just from being up on a Sunday morning? Did he have something heavy on his heart? Or was leaning together just part of how he experiences church?

And, in one of those recently too frequent moments where I swing from joy into sadness, tears filled my eyes. Despite how I want my heartaches to stay private, here I am telling my story to the world. I cried because my children weren’t there to lean on me nor could I lean on them. Our casual contact from Sundays past is a distant memory, not because they’ve left home, but because they don’t want to come with us.

It’s not out and out rejection of the faith of their parents. Just doubt, apathy, and the critical assessment of youth toward the foundations of previous generations.

“Nobody in our generation believes anymore,” I hear. In my head my voice responds, Tevye-like, “And this makes all these kids so happy?”

Just because certain traditions aren’t applied perfectly by previous generations, doesn’t make them invalid. Although the questions themselves are as old as our faith and well worth asking, staying away doesn’t make it easy to improve how things are done.

Previous generations would have insisted, “While you’re in my home, you’ll do as I say.”

jcbaptismcandles1992Me, as part of my own generation, I ponder whether forcing attendance is really a good way to demonstrate why my faith is valid or to show the initial love behind all the imperfect traditions and institutions based upon that love.

Yet, that doesn’t stop me from feeling a pang in my heart and acutely feeling their absence whenever our church leaders mention the importance of faith foundation. I’ve tried to build that cornerstone. I brought my babies to the baptismal font, to classes and services, placed the Bible in their hands, prayed with them, discussed the issues, but as long as I believe it’s my cornerstone to build, I am guilty, once again, of thinking I am the one in control.

1stcommunion2001Christ is the true cornerstone and I can only attempt to build upon that foundation. In the end, it’s up to Him. I just have to trust that, in the words of their baptisms, they are children of God and are marked with His cross forever.

It’s my job to pray—and to be ready to welcome them back to our fold whenever the day comes when—God willing and the creek don’t rise—they take up, again, the faith of their father and mother. How can I demonstrate the worth of attending church if, tears or no, I am not in the pews to hear God’s word myself?

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert