Monday, June 18, 2012

God and colorful birds

I recently spent a few days "up north" at a friend's lake house. I have always loved this vague directional designation for random vacation locales in Minnesota, simply for the fact of its vagueness and randomness, but that is neither here nor there. My daughter and I had the pleasure of joining some friends and a varied collection of their siblings, children, spouses and parents for two days of "summer camp," as we called it. It was a blast.

My friend's family is made up of some of the most ambitious people I know. Whereas my typical vacation day schedule goes something like "meal, activity, meal, activity, meal, bed time (emphasis on the meals)," their typical vacation day schedule is packed to the hilt with yoga, cooking, crafts, exercise, picnics, games, activities, play time, outings, shopping, eating, singing, storytelling and maybe an occasional nap stolen by some rogue member of the bunch. It's quite a sight. They are also incredibly kind and generous and the physical setting was beautiful and serene, surrounded by the woods and waters of "Lake Country."

I don't often, if ever, speak openly about God or my spiritual beliefs as this sort of talk doesn't always go over well. However, I'm going to go out on a limb here and admit that I feel certain I met with divinity out on the lakes. I actually think it's difficult to deny God's existence when you're out in a natural setting. My own spiritual beliefs tend to be fairly simple in that one of the only reasons I believe in God is because of colorful birds. Maybe this makes no sense, but when I see a bright red cardinal in the dull gray landscape of winter, I think to myself, you see? There goes God. I can't elaborate much more than that.

There is not always a practical function to all of the colorful birds, or for that matter, the colorful flowers, animals and waters of the world. But there are certain creatures, certain moments in time that are just too perfect to be random. And that may be the reason the colorful birds exist. They make you smile, they make you feel happiness and love. It's all I really need to believe.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Yesterday was the last day of school for my Martha. It is officially summer vacation and she is delighted to envision the next 3 months lying on the couch watching endless hours of Sponge Bob and her favorite Food Network shows. Doesn't get any better...

I unpacked her backpack this morning for the last time until September and uncovered 500 more pencils than a household could ever possibly need, a priceless collection of Martha's writing and the little yellow post-it note in the photo above, folded into a tiny packet at the bottom of her pencil box. When I unfolded it and read the message I instantly teared up, for reasons I'm not sure I can pinpoint.

I have no idea who the note came from so I can only guess at the writer's motivation. The first sentence, "Keep eye contact," makes me wonder if it came from one of the special ed staff who works with Martha primarily on social communication, which is her main autism-related difficulty. She generally does okay with eye contact in a conversation, at least looking near a person's face, if not right at them, but there are times she drifts away, vocally and physically.

It's the second sentence that chokes me up, this simple but powerful statement about my dear child that is meant to boost her up high enough to shine for the world to see. I know it is true so it does not surprise me that someone else sees this in her, as well. And I am thrilled that the writer cares enough to tell Martha she is smart, wanting to bestow confidence in my little girl's ability. All children of the world should be so lucky as to have their own cheerleader, reminding them of their strengths.

When Martha was in pre-school I used to get almost minute-by-minute updates of each day at school; I felt like I really knew what she did for the two and half hours of class, what she looked like and what she played and what she said. But since starting kindergarten this kind of vision has been lost to me and I have only the dimmest sense of what Martha really looks like when she is at school. The post-it note feels like a little glimpse into Martha's day. I can see her, talking to someone but looking sideways, correcting herself and standing a little taller as she recalls that she is smart. I can see that Martha is connected to her world and the people of her little elementary school world are connected to her. And for this, I am eternally grateful.

It's a valuable reminder to us all: stay connected, remember you are strong. Keep eye contact. You are smart!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Free fall

There is a lake here in Minnesota – well, to be honest, there are at least 10,000 of them, probably more – but there is one in particular not far from our house that my daughter loves to swim at. The big attraction for her is the raised dock about 25 yards from the shore. The dock itself is probably 8 feet high, plus there is a high diving board on the dock that allows her to plunge at least twice that distance to the water. That diving board terrifies me, but Martha loves it.

Last summer I decided that I should, at the very least, jump off the edge of the dock with her, simply to demonstrate that I am not entirely old and boring. Admittedly, I have my moments when I much prefer the old and boring behavior I call “relaxing,” but, like I said, I don’t want to get too comfortable in my old-ness and boring-ness. I know 8 feet may not seem like a stomach-turning descent to some folks. And it may be an overstatement to say it turns my stomach, but it’s enough to at least jostle it around a bit. It just makes me uncomfortable to look down at the water from that height and maybe that’s because my head is an additional 5 ½ feet higher than my feet, thus causing my eyes and brain to perceive a potentially 12- to 13-foot drop. I’m rationalizing.

Nevertheless, I was definitely going to jump. The thing I noticed about the act of jumping was how tense and rigid I was; I couldn’t figure out how to position my legs and my arms; my body felt unfamiliar falling through the air. Of course, my outstretched arms slapped painfully against the surface of the water and when I popped up my sister (also there with her children) commented on my “unique” form.

I’ve been thinking about that dock lately and how I really need to work on taking that leap with a different frame of mind. Instead of thinking so much about it, anticipating what it will feel like, how I will look and how my body is positioned, I’d love to be able to just go flying of the edge, let myself fall however I may, effortlessly into the cool water. Arms, legs, hands, feet, all parts can simply go limp and heavy into the air. I don’t have to be afraid and I don’t have to think about it. I should just go. And as soon as I surface, I need to climb back up the dock immediately and jump again. I need to keep jumping, again and again, until it feels completely natural.

It looks like the beach opens for swimming later this week. I hope my daughter is ready to go swimming with me.