To Talia on Her 17th Birthday

While on vacation in California this July, I received a text from the youngest daughter, Talia, announcing that a dog had been rescued and was living with the two teenage daughters currently at home alone. In this text from the youngest daughter was a long list of why said dog should stay. Mainly, she stressed that this dog would be the blonde replacement for the blonde older sister, Hannah, who was leaving for college in two weeks. This sentence was followed with: “Please tell Dad.”

I gave her 10 days to potty train this dog. (I wanted to name her Mary Murphy, but was told that she was not my dog.) 

10 days have come and gone. She is not entirely potty trained. But…well, here we are:


Talia the Rescuer

Sherman, the 13-year-old cat in the shelter for six months
came home with a tearful 13-year-old daughter.
6 months after Sherman, the 14-year-old cat died,
 there was Shelly, the 12-year-old cat in kidney failure

2 months after Shelly passed,
Surely, a 4-year-old obese fluff ball came home too.
Surely- the *%#!@ 
She’s a cat too.
She’s not very nice.
Her full name is Surely You Didn’t Just Call Me Surely.
It fits.

well, yeah, maybe, I brought all of these animals home.
But, I brought them home for Talia. Who wanted them.
I swear.

And then there’s
Me.
Talia rescues me when I’m a sobbing, pitiful failure
By raising herself out of her teenage self to encourage.
She always knows how point out that I am not as pitiful as I think.

But mostly,
there’s Chewie.

A matted,
Tossed around,
Scared,
Skinny
Dogsortof.
Not yet a dog when found frantically trying to get out of a lake.
But now,
 Chewie is the sweet rescuer of the perpetually sad Talia,
and
Snickers, the 13-year-old first pet dog who is romping again
and
Surely, who is less of a *%#!@
and
Hannah, the sister who moves out today and turns to mush at the sight of Chewie,
and
Me, again, who sees the change in all of the above,
and
the Dad, who is more in love with Chewie than anyone else.

We all laugh at, love, play with, cuddle and adore

Chewie
A scrawny, mess of calm grace and playful gratitude.
A little portable mop that found our home
Because Talia is a rescuer of vulnerability
And abandoned, hopeful causes.
Where there is an ache,
There will be
Talia to the rescue.
Thank God.

To Talia on her 17th birthday:
GIFT CERTIFICATE
ONE SPAYED, VACCINATED DOG
WITH OBEDIENCE TRAINING.
Take good care. 
Both of you.

This Last Year

It’s 12:15 pm on a Wednesday and she’s asleep on the couch. Again. After two hours of this unconscious state, she will send 42 texts about, well, hard to say. With great difficulty she will then tear herself off of the couch, rearrange her tangled hair and within a split second be “ready” for work. She will drive 15 minutes to the mall to sell teensy strapless t-shirts and jeans for three hours to the same demographic she has been texting.
It’s day 47 in my daughter’s high school senior year. 
This is the last year I get to watch her sleep.  “Hush little baby don’t say a word, momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…” Well that explains a lot. I should not have promised her a mockingbird for her silence. She now expects that mockingbird to land in her lap. And why wouldn’t she? I have set her up for a life in which she won’t cry out loud and gets rewarded for every little thing that disappoints her. The bird won’t sing – here’s a diamond ring. The ring won’t shine – how about a diamond mine? And if that diamond mine runs dry, mama’s gonna bake you an apple pie. I didn’t know all the lyrics…so I made some up…a parenting style…make up what you don’t know. As usual, I can trace every act or inaction to my failure as a mother.
Why does she sleep so much though? It’s almost ironic. 17 years ago trying to get her to sleep consumed my very existence.
“Yes, she sleeps through the night and takes three naps.”  I proudly told my friends, not mentioning that every time I peeked into her crib I prayed she was still breathing. Always petrified I couldn’t keep her alive and well back then. Now, I just want her to stay awake long enough to ask why she keeps falling asleep.
I check to see if her chest is rising and falling and whisper, “Sweetie, why are you so tired? Are you bored? On drugs? Scared? You know, you can’t hide here forever.” Maybe she just has senior-itis and some free time.
Although, last Thursday, when I asked her to do…anything… at all, a mini-explosion occurred “You know, I don’t think you appreciate the fact that I’m not doing drugs. I don’t sleep around. I have nice friends and I’m a good person!” she said rather emphatically.
            After an uncomfortable silence she continued, “All we ever talk about anymore is college!”
“Oh, my sweet girl, I am thrilled and relieved about what you don’t do. Deeply. But, what are you doing? Are you scared? About leaving? About going to college?” I replied.
 “Yes!”
“Do you want stay home?”
“Yes!!!”
The thing is, I can see she’s scared. And as much as no drugs, no sex, nice friends, good morals will get her very far in life, I know these fabulous qualities aren’t enough by themselves in the long run.
Except that there was another school shooting in Colorado today. So, I want to wrap her and her sister, into my arms and tell them they are perfect just as they are. And protect them. From depression and violence. And fear. I want to lock the front door. From the outside.
But, maybe this isn’t the moment for protection. Maybe we are in the moment of lighting fires under butts to send an educated, hard-working, morally strong woman out into the world. Maybe my fear needs to stay silent in order to quell hers. For the moment, sleeping is her only escape from the fear of growing up.
“Why am I standing over her forecasting her aimless descent into a frivolous life?” I ask the ever-present dog. Thank God we have a dog, frequently she is the only other living being who will listen to me with her wise, unconditional, blank stare.
There just hasn’t been enough time in-between napping and texting to guide her into the kind, fearless, delightful person she promises to be almost every day. Sadly, this is not true. I’ve had 17 years of opportunity.  What have I been doing? Oh, right. The laundry. And the dishes. It’s the regret that’s doing me in.

The memory of that first day I was left alone with a one year old and a one month old, comes careening around a corner of my brain, “Just pray we’ll all be alive when you get home from work.” I begged my husband as he dragged me clutching his left ankle out to his car. If we hadn’t been so broke, I wouldn’t have let him go.
When he walked back in at the end of the day he found all three of us upright and laughing. “I’m relieved,” he said. “Alive, standing up, and laughing at the end of the day was more than I expected.” This set the bar for the rest of their childhood. Upright, alive, and laughing…a gracious way to live. But, has it been enough?
There is less than a year to be alive and laughing together at the end of the day.
Yesterday, when she came home from school she announced, “I’m going to the prom for the special needs kids! I’m so excited!” She glowed. It’s the happiest I’ve seen her in a long time.
“I am in awe of how you love these kids. Please never lose your tender heart.”
“Okay Mom.” She replies with thinly veiled sarcasm, covered up in that sparkling smile.
The expression on her face when she talks of these special kids is beyond gut wrenching. Her tender spirit is vulnerable here. Maybe she should stay on the couch. It’s safer than what lies on the other side of the door.
“I can probably borrow Taylor’s red dress from homecoming to wear. Oh, and Taylor, Evan, Anthony and Katie are coming over to watch Elf tonight. Okay?” She is still beaming.
             “Okay. That sounds like fun. I’m gonna miss those guys when you’re gone.”  I can’t bear the thought of the silence you will leave behind.
She is so much more than I ever believed would come from me. It’s a good thing we had her father around. Maybe we’ve been a good combination in child rearing. Mostly, it’s Grace.
Can she survive on what she’s yet to learn in half days of high school, afternoons on the couch and evenings selling clothes at the mall? I guess I survived doing almost exactly that. Just not the survival I dreamed of when I was asleep on the couch in high school, or the life I envisioned for her when she smiled at me the first time.
Beautiful young woman, face smashed into the side of the couch cushion, displaying the one, adorable dimpled cheek she arrived with. From her apocalyptic bedroom, I retrieve her well-loved, yet barely recognizable stuffed monkey, and tuck it gently under her arm.
As I watch her innocence sleeping peacefully on the couch, I ponder the best way to get her up. Smoke alarm? Change all the clocks to 6:00 AM and then gently bellow “YOU’RE LATE! ” (I really want to do this one….)
Maybe I should be nice and just pull the couch cushions on to the floor and start vacuuming near her head when she and the cushions hit the ground? 
I’m wasting more time than she is by standing here staring at her. I wish I had spent more time sitting next to her than standing over her. This is ridiculous. I will be the good mother who does not let her precious daughter stay coddled in the coziness of her embrace. I will force her to grow up and relinquish childhood gracefully. I will bring about a good, strong person who is ready to live a good life. I will absolutely…wake her up.
I will absolutely say:
“Wake up! You are sleeping away your life and if you don’t get up now, you’ll be here forever!”

But, I don’t say it out loud. I tickle her instead and there is an explosion from the couch. Hair heading in every possible direction, glaring, with eyebrows furrowed, she hands me the stuffed monkey with an eye roll. Muttering “goodness gracious” under her breath, she slides into her flip-flops, grabs her phone and on her way out of the door texts me “I love you Mom.” And drives to the mall. Well, at least she’s up.
In the silence left behind, I text back, “I’ll miss you. I love you too.”
For both of us, to be known in this moment and still loved, is enough for now. I have less than a year left to say something else. Out loud. I remain petrified that I won’t be able to keep her alive and well. Even though I know, deep in my soul, she is going to be just fine. In fact, I know she is going to make a sparkling difference somewhere in this world…when she is brave enough to wake up and walk out of the door that I will unlock, on her own.
Next year will be the last year for her little sister. Another last year to survive. How? How to let go of childhood? The childhood I hope I gave them that prepared them for life.

I pick up her monkey and lay down on the couch.

I Didn’t Notice

I didn’t notice how you loved me yesterday.

I prayed that you would show me, that I would see one significant sign that you are still close and that you still love me.

But, I just ran errands and worked. I went shopping and bought chicken and green beans and cookies for dinner. I went to the bank to deposit a check from an extremely rare acting job.

I solved an emergency prom dress issue with what appeared to be luck and too much money.

My husband came home. He kissed me. My children talked to me. And hugged me. And laughed out loud.

I drove to work and home. Three times.

I had dinner with my family, something I am rarely home for. Because I have four jobs.

Late last night, in a quiet house, I laid down on the couch under ice. And watched Breaking Bad.

The cat purred next to me.

The hamster rolled by in her ball.

The dog stopped barking.

We all laid our heads on soft pillows and slept peacefully until the dog started barking again.

I didn’t notice you loved me yesterday.

Until today.

Thank you.

The Down Side of Raising Kids You Like

Everything was all well and good until I was taking down the Christmas decorations yesterday.

I have been in a blissful, protective state of denial. Denial, which gets an undeserved bad rap, allows us to move ahead in the face of certain pain or imminent failure and go confidently in the direction of our dreams. Without denial, no one would get up in the morning. Or is that hope? Maybe I’m confusing denial with hope. Whatever.

Okay, so I may have been denying the certainty that life changes. It’s a protective skill. I’m an expert. I believe my children are still little and will not be graduating from high school in the next nano second when I hang what are now 15-year-old hand made Christmas ornaments on an over-loaded Christmas tree, and shop for pajamas to open on Christmas Eve and purchase what seems to be hundreds of presents for the 12 family members staying for Christmas while baking bread and sweet potatoes and ham and mailing family photo Christmas cards that were as funny as I could make them.

It’s when the celebration has passed and it’s time to put away the precious childhood ornaments, that the truth shows up in shocking, uncontrollable places to point out that hands have grown bigger and daughters have become full-fledged human beings with lives to lead away from our blissful, protected home.

I really was doing quite well until I took a hand print Christmas paper plate lace trimmed ornament off of the tree and the poem fell off the back. I glued it back on and sobbing unattractively for 2 hours, waited while it dried. In the 200 times I read it before tearing myself away to sloppily hug the child/now laughing teenager who made it, I lived through every sweet moment and every mistake I’ve made as a mother and a human being.

So here, in my awakened terror, I wait for the day she isn’t home when I hang it up and take it down again. There is no fairness in parenting. We blindly take these itsy-bitsy people into our homes and while we unconsciously care for them we learn to love them and become used to their noise and progress and friends and laughter and kisses. And then off they go, leaving us as they found us; blindly going about our lives, but now with a near adult shaped hole right in the middle of our path and taking the sweetness we have become accustomed to with them.

The down side of raising children you like…they leave. I just hope they come back or at least stop by.

My wise brother-in-law gave the best gift to his wife on the day his last daughter left for college. He cleaned the entire house, lit hundreds of candles and had The Grateful Dead playing when his wife walked through the door at the end of the day (well…this is the band he and his wife like). He handed her a glass of wine and said “So, where were we, when we were so rudely interrupted?” They danced for hours.

The possibility of dancing with my husband, uninterrupted for hours, keeps my head above the floor.

And my mind busy enough to survive the certainty that life changes.


Today my hand is small,
but how quickly I will grow.
Just how big and tall
is for only God to know.

So look upon this plaque

hanging on  your wall,
and memories will come back
of me when I was small.

Merry Christmas

2001
I love you!

Follow up to The Fingerprint of Talia

She has been accepted as a part of the team at Teen Lifeline. Her joy is complete.

I trust she will be able to forge past her tender heart to make a difference in someone else’s. I trust her tender heart will grow stronger but not lose compassion. Or that she will take on the issues of those she wants to help. Really…with all my heart.

She called me while I and my tender heart (meaning my actual heart, not a code for my husband) were in Haiti and left an almost unintelligible giggling message via Voxer. Only saying “I have good news!!!! You’ll have to guess what it is.”

Then about 10 minutes later “It’s about Teen Lifeline.”

We guessed.

We were cautiously happy/relieved/sorry we weren’t there for this moment/glad she thought to call/worried/thrilled with the person she is.

Now on from here.

Haiti’s Acting Lessons

Our resort where all the water drinking will take place!

I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.  Oscar Wilde

Through the World Wide Orphanage, the benevolence of a couple of good friends and The Grove Church, my husband and I leave in a few days for Haiti. We’re teaching older orphans how to teach theatre and communication skills to their fellow orphans. Isn’t that nice?

I don’t quite know how we’ll manage, well, most of it…there are still arrangements to be made for our kids who will each be in a different place, when I don’t work-I don’t get paid and we often don’t make it month to month as it is, we’ll be teaching “communication” in a country whose language we don’t speak among some frightening cultural differences, not to mention unspeakable conditions and poverty and pain.

And yet…

We are flying first class. Thanks to my friends from college. Our trip has been underwritten by some friends we made while teaching theatre to their kids a lifetime ago in Rolling Hills, California. We’re staying in a “resort” in the mountains. It is apparently beautiful in the mountains where we are mostly sleeping. (Amy Poehler also taught theater for this same organization! (I love Amy Poehler.) (I feel we are in good company.) Family, friends,acquaintances,have all offered help to care for our girls and have showered me with puppet making supplies. It’s all working out, because we are sparrows with mustard seed faith…

But…

My husband suggested I not drink a lot of water so I wouldn’t have to go the bathroom at all when we aren’t at the “resort.” Okaaaayyyyy…

I’m fairly certain I’ll do something stupid so there is potential for humor, and for unending, eternally heart-breaking moments.

We are leaving our own children to do this.

Animals are treated differently in Haiti. I’m a complete wimpy mess when it comes to animals.

Ultimately…

We will be teaching acting. And acting is about trusting your instincts, making choices, listening, truth, putting all of your attention on someone else. Acting happens in plays. We are going to Haiti to play. Playing is good. Playing is what I do best. We made the choice to go to Haiti based on all of the above. We are blessed enough to have choices.

It’s highly likely I will want to bring them all home. I will not be able to, due to laws and practicality.

I can hardly believe we have this opportunity.

I feel my heart will finally break beyond repair. It’s so close already.

I’m fairly certain I’ll have something to say about the discrepancy between life here and life there. In the mean time, I would appreciate any prayers from those of you who pray – mostly for my children to make good choices while we’re gone helping other children learn that choices do, in fact, exist.

Smiling cuteness.
Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. Victor Borge, my idol.

The Fingerprint of Second Thoughts

“Thank you for not abusing me” she said.

“You’re welcome……….it hasn’t been easy” I replied.

My daughter, Talia, is training to be a volunteer on Teen Lifeline, the suicide hot line here in Phoenix. We had the above conversation more than once after the session on abuse.

I didn’t plan to have children. They just showed up. I thought about having a baby once and then BAM! pregnant. That first one just about killed me too, not all the way to fully dead, but dented into an unrecognizable state.  I have a salvage certificate.

Six months after the first baby was born, in a moment of weakness to many, many, things, I thought about a new baby again, and BAM! same thing. I have not allowed myself to “think” since. 

Talia Hope became the second “thought.” Before she was Talia, she was 25,023,800 seconds of panicked thoughts. 24, 419,000 seconds is the length of an average pregnancy. Talia stayed another 7 days to put up shelves, it seems, in the hope of staying.

There are times in my life where I have been closer to God than others. Waiting for my second child to emerge while caring for a seven-month old was a time spent in close proximity; through prayer, pleading and endless bargaining.

At the risk of sounding crazy, when I was about 2 months into the pregnancy, I heard these words in reply to an outcry, “You’re having a girl. Her name is Hope.”

“I am? Whose hope is she? Mine?”  I replied. “Nice.”

Since you can’t name a child Hope Burns (for obvious reasons) we named her Talia Hope. Talia is Hebrew/Greek and means “Dew from Heaven.” Hope and dew from heaven are maybe too much to expect from a small person, especially since I’ve only ever hoped to keep my children alive or on good days to walk upright.

Through much doubt, I was “believing” for a pain free natural child birth while waiting for Talia to be done with her shelves. The pain free part didn’t happen, which leveled my faith for awhile. When Talia was done with her shelving project, she came hurtling out of the shoot with such a force that she broke her face and her collarbone and arrived the color of soot. Since my husband and I are not that color, it was a little suspicious…But, within 24 hours she was back to resembling us, along with a little bit of Yoda..(She still doesn’t like that comparison.) (The resemblance was striking though!)

The moment she was placed on my chest after her shoot hurtling entrance into this world, she cracked me up. She had a remarkable over-bite. ($5,000 later this has been fixed. Thank you Dr. Chamberlain!)  “This is the one that’s going to make me laugh” I told my husband through sobs and chuckling. Which has turned out to be true.

My second moment of weakness has become a person who notices “an underlying tone of agony” in humanity and is on a mission to find out why that is. And to make everyone laugh; at her, at themselves, at all the other ridiculousness in this world. It is her sense of curiosity and humor that focuses her listening so intently. Laughter and listening. Good qualities in a hopeful lifesaver.

She won’t find out if she “made” the Teen Lifeline team for another 2-3 weeks of training and finals and mock-phone calls that make her alternately break down in sobs and beam with pride. I dearly want her to pass these tests, just as I am deeply afraid that this may have too much tragedy for a tender 16-year-old to take on.

My second thought…noticed her life with us has been free of abuse,  thinks I’m cute, wants me to think this too, and is learning how to offer hope.

It’s enough to make me start to “think” again. Because one sarcastic, snarky, overly observant, sweet, clever, sometimes insecure, kind, fingerprint, maybe wasn’t enough.

Have you had a second thought that worked out better than you hoped? Has it changed your life? Or someone else’s life that you’ve had the privilege to notice?

If not, here’s mine. Maybe mine will help you find yours.

Yoda at 14.

Talia’s fingerprint:

* kindness wrapped in sarcasm.
* Compassion covered up in a contrary, perky, shell.(hence the “it wasn’t easy” comment above.)
*  is not gentle with herself, but is with everyone else.
* is love. A rescuer of precious creatures. Not the least of which is me.
 * is permanently pink, just because…

Talia, I suspect that God is giggling about His creation of you.

Advice She Will Probably Never Hear



It’s almost time. At 7:25 AM Monday, Hannah is a senior in high school. The same Hannah that was born to a freaked out mother who didn’t think she could raise a child. 

Oh. My. God.


If she does graduate from high school, does that mean I could raise a child?


There hasn’t been enough time to do everything I was supposed to do. I’ve done too much for her, just as I’ve done too little.


The doubt that I have not done enough to prepare her for survival is crippling. There isn’t enough time left to change what I missed. She is who she is at this point and if she fails it is on my head. Does her father share some responsibility here? Does half the making and raising of a child also count for half of the failure/success ratio? And what is success for a child? Staying alive? Or does it go deeper? Into thriving?Alive at the end of the day has always been my bottom line. May be time to raise that thing.


My heart is absolutely broken that I have only one more year to see her sleepy face in the morning. Only one more year to imagine that our relationship will go on forever. Only one more year to teach her to how to put a glass in the dishwasher and place shoes somewhere other than the center of the family room. Honestly, I have done enough on that end. I don’t understand how putting any thing in a different place from where you happen to be standing is still impossible after 17 years of demanding it be so.


How is this child remotely ready to enter the world? The real world. The real, wild, terrifying, beguiling world. The truth is, she’s ready and thriving and fabulous. Even though…


She can rarely find something to wear, under or over, clean or gently used, in the one room she has charge of, her bedroom, or as I call it, the apocalyptic glimpse. How will anyone who is not her mother live with her? I vaguely remember my mother saying that same thing when I got married…


I failed her in underwear location. I can rarely find anything I need either.


There are perhaps more important things to be taught.  I wonder if I will ever say or do what is inherently vital. Can she survive on what she’s yet to learn in half days of high school, afternoons on the couch and evenings selling clothes at the mall? Well, I survived doing almost exactly that. Just not the survival I envisioned in the childhood days spent daydreaming. Or the life I envisioned for her after she smiled at me for the first time.


If I was really, really brave and probably really, really stupid I would say:


“Beware the world outside of your apocalypse bedroom! Good exists beyond our doorstep, but so much good is missed if you spend too much time trying to find your underwear. You have to appreciate and take care of all that you have been given in order to be happy, and to move toward the life you are dreaming of now. And to stop your mother from aging any faster. 

Know how you feel about important stuff – and little stuff – and what is the bottom line for you – and then be strong enough to say it out loud to anyone. Even boys.

As beautiful and as useful as it is, you cannot get by on your smile. 

Drive carefully (never go onto a freeway or drive faster than 25, or 10 if children are present). 

Work harder than you play. 

Pray more than you idly wish. Then listen for the answers. Say the name of Jesus only in love.

Leave your world (room) better than you found it.

Keep saying “Goodness gracious” when you’re surprised.

Invest in something with your money that brings more money back. And invest money in your training of whatever career you finally land on. But, try not to get so caught up in just making rent that you ignore your dreams. I did this and still regret it, and my mother warned me about it too. 

If I had any money left – I would invest it all in you and your sister. I think you two are the best things that ever happened to me. Well, and your Dad. He’s very cool.

Healthy competition is good. Set a goal and think about it fervently, because Talia is right on your heels and she has something to prove.

If you get to play Cinderella at Disneyland, cherish every moment. This has been your dream ever since the first boy you loved didn’t slide a glass slipper on your foot. I think you were three years old.

I hope you don’t grow up and move away. 

I hope you do grow up and move away and talk fondly of your apocalyptic bedroom and the childhood you survived.”


7:25 Monday will be the beginning of life moving on for me and the beginning of the end of childhood for her.

But, beginnings are always exciting. And some things remain the same…I am still that freaked out mother who didn’t think she could raise a child.And just look at her. She’s thriving.

One Thing

 

One thing. Done right. And it wasn’t even on my to-do list. I hope this isn’t the only thing.

The moment when you realize that maybe, you said one thing right. And it came back. And helped.

A conversation between me and my 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:

Me:        I ‘m debilitatingly* over-whelmed. (*not a word, but just so perfect)

My 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:      Why?

Me:       Four regular jobs,  two acting jobs with insane amounts of memorization,  two summer camp performances to: direct, choreograph and show up for, recital that I have to dance in, piano/voice recital that I have to play the piano in and pray any of the kids show up and make a good showing. You. I should be there/here for you. Oh, and Dad and Talia probably need something that I’m not remembering. And occasionally, I think it’s only right that I do the dishes/laundry/sweep the floor/feed you and the dog and the cat, especially the dog and the cat because I really don’t know how they are still alive with only you and Talia looking after them.

My, now 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:      Do what you always tell me…just take one thing at a time.

Me:      I say that to you? That’s really good advice!

My, now 17-year-old daughter, Hannah:     Yes, it is.

Well, there you go.

I took the advice.

It worked.

One good thing I said came back to be the one good thing I needed to hear.