Random thoughts from an animal-loving French prof / mom of three on things she finds beautiful, funny, sad, or strange.

Friday, July 31, 2015

On Poetry, My Favorite Poet, and Herons

My thoughts are still too far-flung to submit to the discipline of orderly, coherent words. School starts soon, for the kids and for me, and although two of us are returning to the same-old, same-old, my youngest will start middle school, while my oldest is off to her freshman year of college. We also had some sad news concerning the orange cat featured in the blog two weeks ago. Small wonder, then, that my musings refuse to coalesce into something worth sharing!

This is one reason I admire the talent of poets, although for the longest time, I thought I had no taste for poetry. I believed, wrongly, that it was too hard, that I didn't...couldn't..."get it." In fact, I may have been the person most shocked by my decision to write the bulk of my doctoral dissertation on poetry. Seventeenth century French poetry, to be exact. There were a few love poems in there, but mostly it was about satire. Turns out that satire, well, I totally "get" that!  Thus the door to poetry opened.

Since then, I have found comfort and inspiration in a number of contemporary poets. Chief among them is the incredibly wise and talented Mary Oliver. She sees the most ordinary things as though they were jewels, yet her style is anything but "precious." Yes, the writing is beautiful and evocative, the gift of an extraordinary mind, but it is also gentle and incredibly real. She does not condescendingly claim to see for us; rather she invites us to see with her, and so doing, brings us closer both to the world and to our own best selves. Take, for example, the following:

How Heron Comes

It is a negligence of the mind
not to notice how at dusk
heron comes to the pond and
stands there in his death robes, perfect
servant of the system, hungry, his eyes
full of attention, his wings
pure light.

I saw this beautiful creature on a difficult night not so long ago. I would have spotted him regardless. Birds fascinate me and the majesty of herons is impossible to ignore. Yet thanks to Mary Oliver, if this makes any sense, I saw him more.  

Nor, would it appear, am I alone. Just click here to learn more.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Bikes, bikes, and more bikes

Ever have thoughts so big they refuse to be disciplined into words? Yeah, me too. And when I'm not fighting that, I find myself wanting to rant extensively about, well, almost anything (trending now: LIARS, bad drivers, teenagers, and corruption, to name a few). Yet rants usually end up affecting no one but the ranter. So, in lieu of deep thoughts, the black cat brings you...

10 Reasons to Love the Tour de France
(in no particular order)

 At the end of every stage, there's a guy in polka dots.

What other sport rewards excellence with a yellow shirt and stuffed lion?

Clever (kind of) plays on words.

These guys climb mountains. On bikes...

...which gives new meaning to the term "switchback..."

...but also means you get to see views like this.


 This church.

The guy with the yellow flag.

Need I say more?

Thank you to the official Tour de France website for posting these amazing photos. You rock!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sometimes, The Cat is Orange...

This post is the first of several that I will occasionally publish on the theme of "questions I probably shouldn't ask."

One group of such questions usually arises between three and five in the morning, those hours when you've been in bed long enough to be blissfully asleep, and when, if wakened, you are unlikely to get any more true rest before life hauls you onto your feet for another day.

Lately, this question has all too often been, "who puked?" Follow-up questions include "where?" "how much?" and "what came up?" I have a dog, three cats, and three kids. This means seven candidates for the "who" question, not counting myself- I'd like to think I'd know if I'd vomited! And don't get me started on the answers to the follow-up questions. Let's just say that living with three cats exponentially increases the possibility of hairballs, and that my habit of walking around barefoot almost always shows me the answer to "where."

A somewhat related question is, "who ate the tops off all the corn muffins?" Again, we have seven potential candidates, eight if I have started sleep-eating, which I would not rule out just now. After all, I am the only adult caring for three human children and four fur babies.  Anything is possible, including the loss what little was left of my mind! All I know at six a.m., not having slept soundly since four, is that I really wanted a corn muffin with my coffee and now, I'm not going to get one.

The final question of recent days is, "do we have to hunt the orange felt mouse now? Really?!" The answer is always, invariably, a resounding YES. After minutes, or maybe hours (who's counting?) of yowling, pouncing, and dashing madly about, he sits by the side of the bed, expectant and triumphant. The old catnip mouse has once more been vanquished and left lovingly at my feet. And yet again, of course, it is not yet five o'clock. In the morning. I pet my baby and tell him what a wonderful cat he is, whereupon he flops over and curls into my side, purring contentedly. An hour later, when I give up on sleep for good and start yet another bleary-eyed day, he has made a nest of the covers, where he will likely stay until some new adventure, usually involving his belly, calls.

Dear readers, meet Norbert, the answer to today's questions I probably shouldn't ask.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Art of Showing Up

Not so long ago I had someone offer what I'm sure she thought was "constructive criticism" on my performance at work, which she had found, well, lacking. I truly believe she meant well, but predictably enough, I got hurt, then mad, and by the time I went home, I was beating myself up over what she'd said.

Admittedly, it has not been my best year since entering the college teaching profession. It might even be one of the worst, given that the whole year has felt like a living illustration of Murphy's law. Since my writing coach is always saying "show, don't tell," here are just two examples of what I mean: 

-Lake Cumberland ER, October 2014. 
Yes, that is my daughter and me, each sporting a sling. Shoulder surgery and soccer injury. Oh, and she was dead-legged in an earlier match, hence the knee wrap. 

-My house, February 2015
Some of you may wonder what the big deal is. After all, in the polar North, this hardly constitutes a blizzard. Only problem is, I don't live in the polar North any more. On purpose. This is Kentucky.

This is just a taste. Don't get me started on the HVAC unit, or the water heater, or my son's episodes, or emergency IEP meetings, or my daughter's renal failure, or car problems, or the ACT, or college visits, or... or... or...

So yeah, it's not been my best year of teaching. I have definitely been distracted, and I hate that, most of all for my students, who deserve better. But it's time to grant myself a little grace too, something I'm just now learning to do. After all, it's pretty obvious that most of this stuff was beyond my control. And...in spite of everything, every time it was even remotely possible, I was there. Maybe I wasn't polished or put together, maybe organization became a distant memory, and maybe I was working off plan B or even C or D, but I showed up. I sat down with my students, and one way or another, we got it done.

It is true that we need people to be there in a real and productive way. We need effective teachers and doctors and people with snowplows and villages to help us raise our kids. But sometimes we just need people to be present. They might not know what to do or how to do it, but they muddle through with us anyway. They sit in hospital rooms, offices, restaurants, cars. They are THERE. Which, as it turns out, is almost always enough. So here's to the art of showing up, the one thing all of us can do.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Shadow mothers

True story: I never expected that my kids would forget their birth mothers. That's just not reasonable, especially given that they were 6, 3, and 3 1/2 when they came to live here. I have always known those women would always be a very real and important presence in their lives.

What I did not realize is that I would spend so much time thinking about their birth mothers too.  So much so that it is not really a stretch to say that I feel like I too have a relationship with them, even if we have never met and are unlikely ever to do so.

My feelings about my son's birth mother are complicated. We know absolutely nothing about his first two years, except that they weren't good. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes get pretty angry with her.  I get that she couldn't keep him.  But did things have to get so bad that he became scared –nearly to death– of forming relationships with other humans, especially those of us daring to call ourselves "mom"? Seconds after the anger surfaces, though, it melts. I am in no position to judge and the truth is, no one knows what happened. My son's cells and deep brain probably know more than we think, but they're not sharing (believe me, we've tried).

I am not sure that my connection to my daughters' birth mother is any simpler, but at least I know some of the back story. Without going into details that are not mine to share, I have good reason to believe that she did the best she could under the circumstances. My daughters clearly know what it is to love and be loved.

I spend a lot of time sending thoughts and prayers through the universe, hoping that somehow my children's birth mothers will catch them and know that our kids are growing up healthy and strong. And once in a while, my thoughts seem to reach their intended destination, for I sometimes feel what I can only define as a presence. The strongest manifestation of this happened recently, just after I dropped off my eldest for an overnight stay at a prospective college. We had just learned that she had received a full scholarship, and that as long as her grades were good, she would keep this money all four years.  It was an answer to many a prayer, and just as with any time my kids hit a major milestone, I sent a thought out to her birth mother.

About halfway home, I no longer felt alone in the car. Somehow, I felt like my daughter's birth mother was trying to tell me that we'd done it. Our girl was going to make it. That was all, but it was enough to make me cry. I turned off the radio to see if there was more. There wasn't.

"Shadow mothers" probably sounds ominous or sad, and maybe it is, but really, it's just how I've come to think of the women who brought my children into this world. They are here, with all of us, as much a part of our family as the members I can touch and see.


Author's note: While searching Google Images to find the images that accompany this post, I learned of a book entitled Shadow Mothers. This post was developed independently of and well before that discovery, and in fact is about another topic entirely.  Also, I want to give credit where credit is due, but can find no attribution for the first image, which appears on numerous sites, as does the second, which I believe was taken by Ruth Malhotra. Whoever they may be, thanks to the photographers for their excellent work.