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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fireflies and stars

Sometimes it's hard to tell stars and fireflies apart, especially if your vision's clouded. Yes, I know that fireflies usually glow green and dart about and that their light appears to be a whole lot closer, namely because it is. But if you take your glasses off to have a good old-fashioned cry, as I did a couple weeks ago, well, it's pretty easy to confuse them. Not that this confusion is necessarily a bad thing – after all, what I saw through tear-rimmed lashes was a glorious blur of twinkling lights.

And Lord knows I needed both glory and light that late spring night. I'd been butting heads with one of my kids, watching something eat away at her before my eyes, and it didn't seem like there was anything I could do. If anything, in fact, I kept making things worse, which is about as bad a feeling as a mama can ever have. So yeah, I needed light that night, and plenty of it. I sat on my front porch praying for guidance, praying for help and a sense of hope. I got my answer in the form of fireflies and stars.



As I sat there watching, my tears slowly dried. Then I got to thinking about what stars and fireflies really are. Fireflies are awesome and all, but, truth be told, they're bugs. Black, wiggly, six-legged, flying bugs. As for stars, well, they're balls of heat and gas and nuclear reactions. Look too closely at either and you risk losing the sense of beauty and wonder they instill (unless, perhaps, you happen to be some sort of entomologist or astronomer, which I'm not).

I think it might be kind of the same with our relationships, family and all the rest. If we look too closely, we might lose the forest for the trees. Yes, we should keep on looking, and yes, we need to give those we love the full extent of our attention and care. Just don't get hung up on the details. Focus too much on atoms and antennae, and you'll miss out on the glow. Stay watchful, but as you do, don't forget to cherish the miracle of this other life which for some incredible reason, you are blessed enough to share.

Step back.

Look again.

Firefly or a star?

Does it matter?

Hold it loosely.

Let it shine.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Great-Aunt Jean and Grandma Ruth

my great-aunt Jean
My great-aunt Jean died this week. It's a loss for all of us, including my mom. She had a special connection with Jean, and not just because Jean brightened and warmed the world for everyone she met. And it's not that my mom didn't have a great mom of her own –she did–, but Jean gave her something too, something no one else could, or did. This post is in honor of all the Jeans, the women who, perhaps unbeknownst to them, helped our moms raise the rest of us up into the men and women we are today.

For me, one of those women is my father's mom, Grandma Ruth. For a long time, she was "just" Grandma to me, but as our family got more complicated, the addition of her first name made it easier to keep everyone straight. I often worry that Grandma died without knowing the influence she had on my life, partly because I hadn't yet lived enough of that life to understand it myself. I didn't realize that all the things that make me, well, me, they have to come from someone, and one of those someones is her. She's been on my mind a lot lately, and Mother's Day seems a good time to give credit where credit is due.
Me with the women who made me: Grandma Ruth, Mom, and Grandma Florence
(more about Grandma Florence in a future post...) 
Here are three of Grandma Ruth's gifts to me:

1) She showed me I can be my own person. Be a Democrat in a red Republican sea. Cheer on the Red Sox when just about everyone else is wearing Yankee blue. Camp in an Argosy when other travelers are towing an Airstream. If you're more a writer than a farmer's wife, so be it. She actually got to live the dream of seeing her name in print.

2) Music, reading, writing, art. She loved all these things, and judging by a girlhood diary, she loved them her whole life through. We even loved and loathed some of the same things. We found ourselves baffled by modern art, transported by soaring arias. Little Women is the book that defined our lives. We cried when Beth died, admired Marmie's and Meg's steadfast motherly devotion, frowned at Amy's frivolity, and most all, wanted not-so-secretly to be Jo. I, like Jo, like my grandmother, have filled diary after diary and now, however tentatively, I too am trying to make my way in the writerly world.

Grandma Ruth with three of her boys, my uncle Doug, my uncle Steve, and my dad
3) I never thought that families had to look or be any one particular way. Her father left their family in a time when such things weren't really done. I imagine that led to a different, harder life than the one she once dreamed of and deserved. Yet she grew her family all the same, through birth, foster care, and adoption. She wanted to be Jo March so much that she literally filled her house with boys. I parted ways with her there, certain I had at least one daughter out there in the world (turns out I have two!), but I kept the idea that families can be born not just of blood, but also shared experiences, lives built in community, and above all, love. I may not have grasped it at the time, but my desire to expand my own family through adoption surely had its roots in her example.

Grandma Ruth with my girls
I could talk about so many other things I shared with Grandma Ruth. Shared loathings: migraines, fear of heights, how computer solitaire won't let you cheat. Shared loves: key lime pie, coffee, black labs and white-faced cows. And yet, we used to butt heads so bad. Sooooo bad. I was young and foolish and so let myself be impatient, selfish, even unkind, sure she could never understand the person I was and wanted to become. It's hard to admit that, much less put it into words, yet here I am, following her lead to do just that. I don't know if they read blogs in heaven, but if they do, Grandma Ruth, this one's for you.
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PS Much to my children's chagrin, I am constantly going on about how people are so busy photographing their lives that they forget to live. But apparently I got so busy living that I forgot to snap one photograph: a picture of Grandma with my son. So when you finish reading, please grab your camera or your phone and get that picture you always meant to take. You'll be glad you did.