Archive for August, 2012

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. (Maya Angelou)

Ella’s daddy’s softball season is over, but the celebration after that last game replays in my mind—not the typical parts of it, the beer and food. I don’t drink alcohol, haven’t for a long time. It’s the god-incidence I recall. A friend of mine introduced me to that coined word; it’s a coincidence that touches a deeper level. And, as usual, Ella acted as conduit:

I’m playing football Ella-style with a small cloth ball. Actually, it turns into a game of fetch. I can’t catch her wild throws, under picnic tables, into aisles. She sometimes prefers to chase her own no-aim-in-mind tosses. She squeals as she plays. Like a little piggy. Looks like one, too. She is wearing some of the playground. Nothing like being thorough. Delight exudes from her.  I watch as Ella runs, toddler style, a new skill. I’m more enthused about her accomplishment than I was when her daddy, Steve, took off at the age of one, the world at his feet. That came easily. For Ella this moment took work.

One young woman watches. It is apparent she wants to join in the game. Mini-football becomes a trio, still played Ella style, mostly out-of-bounds, but never out-of-favor. Ella hands the ball to the young woman and the young woman signs thank you.

“You know sign language,” I say.

I soon learn the woman’s name is Jen and she is completing her last courses in special education. She understands. Minutes ago, if I hadn’t had my granddaughter to laugh with, I would have wanted to be home—away from the artificial large-beer-centered entertainment, at the computer or strumming the guitar. Instead, I want the evening to begin again. Jen shows Ella how to open and close her own cup. Ella grins. She is the master.

Ella abandons the football for a moment and visits other tables. She makes friends with Amy and her husband. They give her fries with ketchup. Ella insists upon ketchup. This turns out to be another god-incidence because Amy has experience as a pediatric nurse. She is now a nurse educator. Another person who understands. Another gift.

Next we work on speech. “Say buh, Ella, buh.” Lots of chatter. Several times she has taken a phone, toy or real, and said, “hello,” sometimes clearly, sometimes less distinct. But, success isn’t a contest. Our butterfly-in-training is aware of colors the rest of the world has never seen. Sometimes I think that tripled twenty-first chromosome has extra spirit in it. Love comes naturally to her. The rest of us have to work harder on it.

photo by Sue Wilke

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A pleasure is not full grown until it is remembered. (C.S. Lewis)

I promised I would compile the photos from our Germany and Austria trip into a memory book, and I am. Finally. Our box of photos could give a hernia to a seasoned weight lifter. It’s possible that some of the pages devoted to Austria should really have been pasted into the Germany section—or the other way around. Don’t know. After almost a month, my memory cells have lost potency. Procrastination. Darn! The word fits. Sure I babysat a lot and didn’t have the blocks of time I wanted. But would it have been so awful if I had done this a little at a time and remembered which gold cathedral was in which city? Looks like I’m going to have a forty-nine-page book when I’m finished.

The carpet is scattered with pieces of colored paper. My fingers are glued together. Other obligations wait. I have two critiques to finish. Laundry waits to be folded, and my dust rag feels lonely. Can’t be helped. Once the stacks of pictures have been assembled they have to be tacked down. Otherwise they move. On their own. They need to be carefully monitored. I know darned well I had a stack of Salzburg pics on the right of the ones from Eagle’s Nest, or were they to the left of the Innsbruck pile? I couldn’t possibly have made a mistake. I mean, those upside-down pages turned when I got up to get the mail, didn’t they?

Getting up from the floor, now there’s another problem with long-term work of this nature. A table isn’t big enough. I like to spread out over a large space, but my knees and feet don’t always agree with the positions I give them. Such complainers! After a mere three hours they cramp and remind me that while I may play on the floor with my grandchildren, my stamina isn’t as keen as theirs is.

I have to admit, however, that the work isn’t a burden. As I work I remember following the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, some behind-the-scenes unknown facts. It took two weeks for the producer of the movie to convince the mayor to allow a Nazi flag to be flown. The flag is illegal. Finally it was permitted only for the duration of the scene. During the opening of the musical, a helicopter filmed the scene where Maria sings, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” They were alive all right. The whirling of the helicopter blades made it difficult for Julie Andrews to stand.

The ending of the story is complete fantasy. To walk from Salzburg to Switzerland would be like walking from Cincinnati to St. Louis. Moreover, if the family climbed the mountain in the film, which isn’t really feasible, they would have landed in an area now known as Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s headquarters. Of course it is unlikely that Hitler himself would have been there. He didn’t like heights.

Perhaps some of the album I am putting together contains fiction, too. Well, perhaps it’s just a bit out of order here and there.

“Sweetheart,” I ask my husband. “Was this picture taken in Innsbruck or Munich?”

“Uhm, Salzburg,” he answers.

Oh well, at least I remember all the fun, and those moments are finding a place in time very well, thank you.

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It’s the little things you do that make the big things happen. (Mike Dooley)

Multitask pretending—it’s a skill reserved for people with young chi. At least four-year-old Rebe (Rebecca) lets me know when she’s changing roles. Sometimes I ask leading questions for their humorous value.

“I’m your baby-sitter, teacher, sister, and mommy,” she says totally unaware of any problem with combining those possibilities.

“Okay, so what are you now?”

“I’m your mommy and I’m going to have a baby. Today.”

“How old are you, Mommy?”

“Sixteen. Or is that thirteen?”

Somehow I manage not to laugh out loud.

I expect to see her stuff a plush animal under her shirt, but it doesn’t happen. Instead she shifts into the teacher position and scribbles on a green chalk board. Mommy appears minutes later with my new sister, a white bunny with a pink shirt. She also carries an old worn toy snowman, carrot nose lost a long time ago.

“This is your brother, too,” she says. “He doesn’t have a mommy or daddy. So he is going to live with us.” Her tone is matter of fact. She hands me the snowman. No instruction. Love comes naturally to our preschooler, and she expects the same of me. I won’t let her down. Strange that she knows to choose the poorest looking creature in the toy section. And yet, she doesn’t hesitate to give.

Sometimes little folk aren’t pretending; they really are teachers.

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I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.  (Joni Mitchell)

As I drive on this cloudy morning I recall a teacher telling me that when I wrote in the clouds my writing was wonderful, but my term paper outline needed revision. She may have been onto something. I am enamored by the beauty of white and gray shapes spread across the blue. They are the catalyst for some great writing ideas. Unfortunately I turn right far too early and realize it two minutes down the road. I arrive a few minutes late for critique group.

Dictionary.com defines a cloud as a visible collection of particles of water or ice suspended in the air, usually at an elevation above the earth’s surface. While those particles can be beautiful, they don’t help my navigational skills.

They do help my spirit. A blue sky has a heavenly feel. And when it touches the trees, lake, Canada geese, summer flowers, the blend feels harmonious. It is easy to feel at one with the world. Then come the construction zones, the exhaust-stained city streets, garbage in the road, and broken glass from the last traffic accident. The sweet horizon doesn’t seem to fit the ugliness.

I want to climb into a plane and travel, watch the earth from the window. From the air the suspended ice particles look clean, fresh. The scenes below appear neat, organized into squares, rectangles and circles.

However, neither the faraway blue sky nor idealized earth have much to do with everyday reality. It is not until I sit with my father at his nursing home that the faraway and present find an unexpected meeting place.

Dad dozes and has difficulty knowing where he is when he wakes up. I speak softly and ask if he ever feels the presence of my mother.

“Yes. Sometimes, she is right here. And sometimes she is far away.”

I look to one wall. There isn’t enough space for a person, but her spirit wouldn’t need much room. “I think she is here all the time.”

He nods.

“You know? When I got married I never understood how people had a hard time making commitments. I took it for granted. I had such a good example.”

He smiles, a little more relaxed than he was before. Oh, he still hurts. The broken-glass feeling of being in a ninety-one-year-old failing body is still there. But, I suspect Mom really is close by, and a little blue sky and white cloud has sneaked into the room.

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There are better golfers, there are better drivers, there are better swimmers, and there are better cooks. The one thing that no one can ever be better than you at is… being you. Just be you. There’s no one more qualified for the job. (Doe Zantamata)

The water park may be closed for maintenance, but Ella doesn’t mind kicking in the indoor pool. She is ready to play the moment her small feet touch the water. I grimace at the temperature. Our little one doesn’t. Water means fun, and a second’s inconvenience doesn’t seem to get in her way. Action warms the body almost immediately, and young children are made of it.

Two other persons are in the water.

“Hi,” I say, initiating a wave. Ella takes the cue. She’s the conduit for conversation, the kind that bypasses the weather and television and goes straight for the heart. I tell a woman about how worried we were when we heard that Ella was going to need two surgeries before she was six months old. Our little one is wearing a new two-piece bathing suit. No sense hiding the scar from her heart surgery. All her natural love remains intact.

I hear the woman’s story, what makes her tick, while Grandpa leads Ella on a guided tour through the deep end of the pool.

After the woman leaves it is time for a senior exercise class. Grandmothers and great-grandmothers arrive. Somehow Ella knows this is an excellent opportunity for show-time. She gives every woman she sees a high-five. Sunshine rises from her eyes and fingers. Ella turns to some of the same people several times. Perhaps they need a little extra blessing. I don’t know. Only Ella’s keen intuition can see that.

I’d almost like to stay for the class. I’m a senior. But this little one could be a distraction as the teacher gives directions. Ella’s service is finished—for now. Our high-five princess can come back and spread love another day.

Ella on slide

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In heaven an angel is nobody in particular.  (George Bernard Shaw)

My father dozes outside the nursing station as we wait for transport service to take him to his ophthalmologist appointment. I watch another nursing home resident and wonder what is happening in his inner world. He sits, quietly, and reaches for something unseen in front of his geri-chair. Then he gently picks bits of air from the left side, then right. No evidence of anxiety in his movements. It would seem his world is uncluttered, peaceful, albeit invisible to the observer.

I smile, wondering what dimension he has found.

There is no way anyone can know what this gentleman sees; that doesn’t stop me from speculating. I imagine angels, in all shapes and sizes. Some have wings; some don’t. Some could be mistaken for the custodian, and others, well, they make Archangel Gabriel look like a stick figure. These angels move through the room and check on the people present. It takes a lot of energy, even for the spiritually gifted. After all, the aides and nurses have more residents than they can handle. The residents’ needs tend to be immediate, as well as unrelenting. The unit clerk has three people waiting at her desk when the phone rings. Triage is her way of life. Moreover, some of the older folk have alarms attached to their beds or wheelchairs because they are fall risks, or because they tend to escape when they get the chance—into places that no longer exist. The center room of this facility hosts one emergency call after another all day long.

The angels in my imagination work as a team, one that operates via thought waves. They maneuver the serendipitous, calm the excitable, direct perspective, and hold the hands of those who will be following them into the light of the next dimension.

The man in the geri-chair smiles, not a full grin, one of those smiles seen on fresh newborn babies. It is difficult to tell whether it is real, or an involuntary twist of a facial muscle. An angel wearing a sky blue T-shirt and jeans floats above the man. She  drops particles of light in front of him, then on either side. He reaches for them and misses the first two times, then on the third try succeeds. The light opens a door. But this space belongs to the man’s future; I may not enter. Besides, it is too bright for me.

Dad wakes up and my bizarre fantasy ends. I ask if he wants his sunglasses to shade his eyes from the artificial glare. He has an eye infection. Somehow I know everything is going to work out fine, even if none of the angels in my daydream exist. Well, maybe some of them do. They just defy description.

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I know you aren’t perfect. But it’s a person’s imperfections that make them perfect for someone else. (Stephanie Perkins)

The Y parking lot has never been this empty! We find a place almost next to the door. Maybe early Saturday evening isn’t prime exercise time. Doesn’t matter. Jay, Ella, and I have plenty of splashing space in the water park. Warm water and a happy child’s squeals fit well together.

Our youngest granddaughter has a knack for drawing people to her. A tall man walks the water channel. I suspect he has a disability of some kind, but don’t know for sure. “Hi, Cutie,” he calls to Ella. She smiles and waves back.

Before long Ella has drawn most of the people in the water to her, or so it seems. The tall man suddenly becomes chatty. He says he usually brings his dog, his loyal retriever, but his buddy is sick today. I look into the man’s eyes but don’t see any obvious abnormality. He knew Ella was in the water. Perhaps he sees shapes. Then again, our little one’s glee hasn’t been silent.

“I’m legally blind,” he says. Then as he talks he tells stories of working with Special Olympics. “I’m handicapped. I have Asperger’s.”

“Ella has Down syndrome,” I say hoping that my tone could also relay that she is blonde, blue-eyed and thinks broccoli should be thrown on the floor—and kept there to rot. (Ice cream, of course, is another matter.)

She stops kicking and holds her arms out to the tall gentleman. His smile widens to the width of his face. I don’t know this man; I’m uncertain letting folk I don’t know hold my precious granddaughter. But Ella sees a soul. Her vision is keener than mine. More pure. I stand. Close by. And watch the miracle.

Ella also makes friends with a grandfather, present with his wife and granddaughter. She pulls off  his hat and puts it back on. Repeatedly. Patience, it lives in the pool at 6PM on a weekend, too.

I think that my spiritual gifts have been sufficient, then receive one more. In the changing room I realize I only brought swim diapers. While I am searching, Ella smiles at a little boy across the way. I noticed him earlier. He was abnormally quiet as his mother led him through the water. “Sorry, baby,” I say. “I left your regular diapers at home.”

“I have some,” the mother says.

“Thank you.” I answer. The diaper is one size too large, no real problem.

We talk as I dress Ella. Her son has autism.

No one else is in the dressing room. We share a secret not easily relayed. Special needs folk are special in superficial ways only. Inside, their souls could have a larger capacity than the so-called normal people.

Pass it on . . .

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