Friday, August 29, 2008

Making Dreams Come True

Walker's birthday party is today, part of a series of celebrations with unexpected gifts and his requested Taco Bell dinner on his real birthday.

My children place great emphasis on birthdays, although as they've gotten older, I've trended away from trying to find the perfect gift and focused more on getting exactly what they asked for. This has met with mixed results. For one child, having more stuff she doesn't need or want is a burden. Another wants me to keep on trying to find something that delights and/or surprises her. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't quite manage it. It seems a shame in this economy to buy more stuff that may or may not be appreciated. Often I end up giving cash equivalents. Sometimes my gifts are late...sometimes very late. That's mostly when they can't decide what they want though. I'm thinking that one of the girls never did get her Christmas present last year. I need to fix that before it's time to do it all again.

Walker has outgrown pitching a fit if he gets clothes for gifts after getting in serious trouble for announcing to his sister that her gift of a sweat shirt, or maybe it was a sweater, just wouldn't do. His mind has opened to exploring the gifts he gets. He, like his sisters, usually presents most of us with a very specific request. For Walker it's usually some obscure collectible that is difficult to locate even on E-Bay. My sister sent a real goodie box yesterday and we all had fun unpacking all the Coca Cola gear she had put together for Walker. There was even a Coca Cola Olympics pin, a true collectible, and a nice check to boot. That was the perfect combination of thoughtful and pragmatic for Walker.

Tonight's party will be a simple one. Swimming, if it isn't raining, music on the porch if it is, Pizza, and a Scooby-Doo birthday cake with those little cups of ice cream. He will be glad to see old friends and celebrate in style. Perhaps he'll bring his new keyboard down and entertain.

Walker spotted a billboard for the Hollywood Casino, in Tunica, just before his twenty second birthday. His enamourment with the film industry was already well established. "I want to go there," he commented as we drove to work. "Well, you're over twenty-one now. You can go if you want to."

"That would make all my dreams come true!"

And so it did. Family and a couple of friends met us at the casino, giving Walker rolls of coins instead of gifts. The first time he hit a small winning, his face lit up like the Chinese fireworks. "Aw RIGHT!"

I wonder what it would take to make my dreams come true. I hope I recognize it when it happens. For today, it would be knees that ache a little less, and a nice dinner that I didn't have to prepare for or clean up after. Oh, yes, and World Peace!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Ferris Wheel

It's just about fair time in the Mid-South.

When I was a kid, the coming of the Fair was about as exciting as the opening of school to me. (Okay, I'm wierd. I loved school best of all.) There was excitement among my classmates about who was going with who to the fair. My grandmother always sent me a little cash for my birthday which was close to fair time, so I didn't have to worry about not saving enough from my allowance. When I was twelve, ten dollars could buy a lot of happiness. The fair was full of good food and gaudy fun.

Mostly, I wasn't brave enough for the scariest rides, although once my girlfriends did convince me to go on the Coney Island roller coaster when I was in New York on a choir trip and I survived. The bumper cars were too rough and aggressive for me, and even though I looked much younger than my actual age because I was small, I didn't have the guts to ride the less frightening kiddie rides once I got past third grade.

Ah, but the Ferris Wheel. It was a tolerable level of fear and excitement that led me back to that one from year to year. The thrill of looking out over the fair, especially if it was a clear, cool night was enough to quell my fears.

The Ferris Wheel was by and large predictable. There would be the tummy dropping moment as we came over the top, especially in the middle of the ride when it went a bit faster. The rocking of the car was usually gentle, unless you happened to end up with a rowdy boy in your car who thought it was funny to rock fast and make the girls scream. If you were lucky, there would be a bit of a delay when you were at the very top. If that happened, my anxieties would quiet as I enjoyed the view of the small city below. This cycle was repeated several times, depending on how long the lines were awaiting a ride, then slowly, sometimes with some jerking, you would descend and disembark. The Ferris Wheel would begin it's journey again with new passengers.

Sometimes my friends and I would jump right in line and ride again. I liked those times, but many of my friends thought it was too boring and headed for the Tunnel of Love or Tilt A Whirl or The Bullet. Since I lack the thrill seeking gene, I would content myself with pitching baseballs at cats or tricking the guy who could guess your age until they were through.

Once in a while there is a day in my life so good that I just want to shout, "Stop!" and enjoy the view from the top of the Ferris Wheel a bit longer. During those rare days, there is harmony in my universe. There is enough of everything...time, energy, money. None of the kids or people we love are in an immediate crisis. There might be a happy event to celebrate, but not one that requires exhausting preparation. Perhaps an engagement or new pregnancy is announced. The garden is looking good, and not requiring too much care. My arthritis is at least tolerable. Our little family is healthy and busy and happy. Those pauses never last long enough to suit me, though. The wheel keeps turning.

I hope the future holds more of those pinnacle days. In the meantime, I'll just hang on and enjoy the ride.


Monday, August 25, 2008


Soon after we arrived at Grandaddy’s house for the bountiful lunch provided by the church ladies yesterday, the children learned from Elsie, his wife of 19 years or so, that there were newborn kittens somewhere around.

Walker and Becket and John immediately set out on a search, and eventually found them in the bed of Grandaddy’s old pick up truck, which thankfully hadn’t been moved during the past couple of weeks. Soon Becket had given five of the six kittens a name, and then she let John name one. He named his “Gray Ham and Cheese” for his friend, Graham. Becket has laid claim to one named “Cookie”. I don’t know whether her daddy will allow a house cat, but he told me this morning that he was afraid Becket would hop a bus to go back to Cherokee to claim it even without his agreement. I suspect Cookie, and maybe Gray Ham and Cheese will find a home in Memphis in a few weeks.

Today John the Dad, who never misses anything, also tipped me off to a touching moment that I missed yesterday.

Ever since Walker was a Boy Scout, many years ago, he has had an undying patriotic streak. This was fueled by all the patriotic fervor surrounding September 11. He loves Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” and wore a button saying the same for many years until it broke. You’ll notice that he is often seen with a salute in pictures, which is somehow less annoying than the bunny ears he did when he was younger. The Fourth of July is by far his favorite holiday.

Yesterday, when the guys folded up the flag draped on Grandaddy’s coffin, we all teared up a bit when they handed it to my husband. Walker gave it his most serious salute.

I’m sure the girls will want to claim some things from Grandaddy’s house. There are the Bill Ding Clowns and an old orange truck that several generations have pulled out of the cupboard at every visit, and a few antiques. What Walker wants, though, is that flag. I think Grandaddy might want him to have it.

I hope we all find some spot of joy in all the sadness. There will always be baby kittens and treasured possessions and, best of all, our friends and family to ease the pain.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Give Us a Break!!!

My mama used to say, “When it rains, it pours!” Sometimes this referred to a not quite housebroken puppy, but mostly it referred to what seemed like an endless stream of troublesome events.

This has been one of those weeks, both literally and figuratively. It began with Geoffrey’s worsening condition and then death, and then yesterday as we were heading to Birmingham for his funeral, Big Walker’s dad died.

This death was expected. Grandaddy had a variety of illnesses and was eighty nine years old, but it’s never easy.

There are other not quite so serious things going on with close family and relatives, and I’m ready for a break in all this.

Grief is a bit like the weather when you view it over a period of time. The rain, and tears, always stop, at least for a while. In most places in the world the rains are seasonal, and you always have in the back of your mind that they won’t last forever.

Isn’t it wonderful to realize that grief, at least the gut wrenching, heart breaking, super out of control, intense kind, isn’t sustainable for very long at one time.

My first experience with this phenomena was when one of Katie’s friends lost her little brother to cancer, and I ended up with Rachel for a couple of days while her parents made funeral arrangements. She was about ten years old, and there would be periodic bouts of horrible sobbing, but in between those we went shopping at the sticker store and she and Katie happily swapped stickers and arranged their sticker books. (That was big in 1980.)

Walker is finishing up his speech therapy and has already checked the Playbook to see what new movies he and his attendant might check out. He is going to find out how much the new keyboard he wants for his birthday costs. The old one is fine, but the one he wants plays "Oh, Danny Boy" and he has discovered that singing, however badly, makes him feel better. I know he will sob again from time to time at losing his grandfather, as will all of us, but for now he is occupied, somewhat happily.

I hope I remember that the sunshine isn’t too far away on this dreary day. I am thankful that human nature is programmed to return to a state of equilibrium and that we can’t sustain sorrow forever. I’m going to do something equivalent to arranging my sticker book today and tomorrow before we go to Grandaddy’s funeral on Sunday.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Like Me!!!

Even if I’m all grown up and know I should trust my opinion of myself rather than those of the people around me, I’m still somewhat like a child getting a gold star when someone praises something I do. I’m also very discerning about the sincerity of those compliments, and treasure the ones I believe are truly sincere. The friends and relatives that I know read my blog regularly are truly paying me a high compliment by taking time to peek into my life. I really, really appreciate it.

Today, I picked Sarah up at the airport, and on our journey home during a rather dreary rainstorm, with an unscheduled stop for gas in a very iffy neighborhood, Sarah volunteered to me that she thought my blog had been really good lately. I was kind of floored, because I have kept writing even though I felt like the tone and quality of my thoughts were kind of off.

I feel like Sally Field when someone I respect offers me praise, especially when it’s unsolicited. (Not that Oscar nominations are exactly unsolicited, but the competition is so stiff that I’m sure that winning must usually be a surprise.) “You like me…you really like me!” My heart shouts.

Her compliment eased away the anxiety that had building all morning as I juggled getting Walker to work, picking Sarah up without leaving her cooling her heels for too long at the airport after a dreadfully long flight from LA in the middle of the night, and trying to get my other tasks into some sort of order. I still feel my heart smiling.

I hope that I won’t be too dependent on the praise of others and that I’ll remember to cut myself some slack more often. I am proud that I did manage to send myself a message in the midst of the chaos that I’m doing the best I can…at least most of the time. And when I don’t…it usually doesn’t matter all that much. I hope I remember to tell others often what it is that I appreciate about them.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Life Definitely Goes On

One of the surreal things about growing older is that the next generation reaches adulthood so fast and seems so incredibly wise for their years. Another young relative sent the following words of hope and comfort yesterday.

"Please don't be disheartened by such a tragedy. Good things happen in this world every day, and while we all feel the pain of a lost loved one, we must live on each day knowing that we can live each moment to its fullest and enjoy every little valuable experience and memory and moment with which God graces us."

Walker's words weren't quite so eloquent, but the message was the same. There are good times and bad, but we will move on. He's getting pretty good at that. When I was driving him to work yesterday, I told him he would need to ask to be off on Thursday to go to his cousin's funeral. His reaction was a mix of alarm, over having a short paycheck, and fear of dealing with death, and finally resignation once I gave him the lecture about family events being important, even if they're sad.

The most recent funeral Walker attended was of our housekeeper of many years. Amelia was laid out in splendor in an open casket. This is not customary in our church, so we just sat down and soon we were kind of trapped in the middle of the pew and I didn't want to disturb anyone in order to get out. After a few minutes Walker quietly asked me if it was okay to go forward. With my permission, he climbed over the two ladies next to him and went up to the coffin alone. We were strangers at the small African American church, probably the only unfamiliar faces in the crowd. Although Amelia's relatives knew us well, others must have wondered who this young boy who loved Amelia might be. When he came back to his seat, I was sobbing for my friend Amelia, and for joy in the brave young man she helped me rear.

We never talked about that incident, but Walker's alarm yesterday was apparently over the possibility of having to face another open casket and more tears. Once I assured him that there would not be a casket and that tears are not a bad thing, he hopped out of the car, thanked me for the ride, and went to work. On his break a few hours later, he called home to tell me that he had picked out his birthday cake at the bakery...fears forgotten, and happiness ahead and that includes a swimming party and Scooby Doo cake.

I'll talk some more with Walker about it being okay to be sad, even sob and cry, when tragedy occurs, but today I'll order that cake.

I'm thankful that none of us can sustain the worst throes of grief without some relief, and that we can and will move on to the happier events in our lives whether we want to or not. That's just the way God made us.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Really Good News

Only a few minutes after my discussion with Walker about the Company of Saints that Geoffrey would be joining, I received a note from a young relative.

"I believe Geoffrey is in wonderful company though. Not only in the presence of God but oh, Little Ed, Nana, Papa...the list just goes on. A brave little boy that has obviously left his mark on this world. Please know that I am thinking of you with all my being, God has his reasons...I wonder what they are sometimes and why but who am I to ask?"

"Tell Little Walker I am sure the Mansions in heaven are loaded with everything...Nintendo, all you can drink Coke, sunshine and most importantly no suffering."

I couldn't say it better myself. It is a priviledge to receive such words of comfort and wisdom so wisely stated.

I am thankful today that our faith keeps us strong from generation to generation. I hope that our family will always hold and support each other, celebrating the good times and bad, because they are all part of the world God has given us.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mansions in Heaven

Our little cousin, Geoffrey, died this morning in his parents’ arms. In this age of medical miracles, it is difficult to believe, totally surreal to believe, that one didn’t save this little boy who was so dearly loved.

When little Walker saw how sad I was as I told him the news, he told me to remember that I had also been sad when Nana and Papa died and I would make it through this too. A few minutes later, he reminded me of all those he knows who have gone before, and commented with utter conviction that they would take care of Geoffrey. This led to a discussion of who knows who in heaven and what kind of mansions we could expect. Walker’s faith bolstered mine today.


Friday, August 15, 2008

You Don't Call, You Don't Write...

Yesterday I got a call from a good friend who is one of my faithful readers :)! Ann was concerned that something was wrong because I hadn't posted anything lately. It thrilled me to know that someone missed my casual observations, but I’m still not feeling much like writing.

It's unusual for me to just take off for a while and not let anyone in on what’s going on. It’s even more unusual for me not to have something that I just can’t wait to share and have a burning need to get it down on paper…make it real.

The past week has been different. I had a lot of catching up to do from the two plus weeks I lost with that nasty cold, so I kind of took care of business first. Then I had family in and out of the house for several days. It was rainy for a couple of days, and Big Walker was stuck in the house, making it difficult for me to find the space both physically and mentally to write. It was more than that, though. It was like my soul wasn’t really processing any coherent thoughts worth sharing.

The news on Geoffery is not good today. For those of you who would be interested, you can go to the Caring Bridge website to read the posts. Hit Control plus the link to do so. Please keep him, and all those who love him, in your prayers.

I hope I'll remember to just shut up when I don't know what to say. I wish everyone else would do the same...especially the political pundits who are beginning to get on my nerves as much as they do my husband's.

Blessings, Janie

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fearful, Feisty, and Flexible

One thing about Downs Kids is that changes occur in slow motion. In some cases, that's a good thing. If Walker is stuck for a long time being an agreeable pre-adolescent, it's not nearly so difficult to deal with as the years he remained a strong willed toddler. I dread the day when he makes a leap ahead to being a "know it all" young adult, but some days I see us getting there.

Walker has finally developed past most of his fears, or at least found a way to deal with them. He kept a number of crosses and St. Christopher tokens for a while, and he's still prone to crossing himself when he hears thunder, but he no longer immobilized by his terrors. Thank goodness!

I'm not sure feisty is always a good thing, but Wednesday night Walker fussed at me in a very appropriate manner, and I was actually excited about it. I had left the hose out, because I was watering several times a day, and it was in his way when he was trying to get the garbage can out of the garage. I happened to step outside just as he was heading out.

"I rolled the hose up for you."

"Um humm. Thanks."

"Mom...That was very inconsiderate of you to leave the hose out out. I almost tripped over it. It caused me a lot of trouble. Don't ever do that again, please."

"Oh!" (followed by a sincere apology)

A few years ago, that inconvenience would have sent Walker into a tirade. He would have stormed in and told me he was never taking out the garbage again, and I would have had to figure out what in the world set him off. That may still happen again from time to time, but he's getting better at holding in his temper and dealing with day to day aggravations appropriately.

He's still no poster child for flexibility, for sure. But he's getting there, and that's significant. His speech teacher commented today that when she changed his usual exercises around today he accepted the changes much more graciously than usual, so I know it's not just my imagination that he's still growing emotionally at nearly thirty-three. Heck, I'm still growing emotionally, or at least sometimes I think I am, at almost sixty-four.

I'm thankful for the good place we are in right now. I hope that I'll remember that the bad times never last forever next time we're stuck in one.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Be Not Afraid 2

Now that I know I’m probably wired to be afraid, it makes being a wimp a bit more bearable for me. My dear friend, Katie, once commented, “In my neighborhood, you could murder your wife and hack her up into little pieces, and it would all be okay, as long as we all understood your reasons.” I like having some science to back up my hunches.

I watched a film when I was in graduate school that depicted a group of children from birth through age six in a variety of situations. That film described them as being innately Fearful, Feisty, or Flexible. Well before the first birthday, you could tell which was wired which way, and it didn’t change. What did happen though, was that the children in the study adapted to their innate natures in one way or another. Ain’t it grand the way that works out for most of us!

With the help of a loving family, teachers, and the rest of the community around us, we develop some balance. We maintain just enough fear to keep us safe, we are feisty enough to stand up for ourselves, and we become flexible enough to cope with the things we can’t change. I personally think that the dominant type we’re born with is always a part of who we are though.

Sometimes we have no choice but to overcome our fears. I was caught in one of those instances when I climbed the ruins of a Mayan Pyramid at Chichinitza with my family when the girls were in college and I was still young enough to try to keep up with them. I had no problem getting up that mountain of steep, narrow steps with no handrail, but when I got to the top, I struggled with my terror when I looked down.

I knew that I couldn’t survive the terrible heat for very long, and there didn’t appear to be any carcasses of former adventurers… but neither did there seem to be anyone to come to my rescue. So, I bumped down on my backside. I gave real meaning to the catch phrase made popular by Nike. I just did it. Somehow, doing something that seemed impossible gave me a drop more courage from that day forward.

This summer, William took swimming lessons for the third summer in a row. Molly was determined that he would learn to enjoy the water like the rest of the family because his fears were really not much fun for anyone.

What Molly hadn’t counted on, though, was the terror of her youngest as he watched his big brother tackle the water. Owen was not quite two, but his fear for his brother was immense. “No, Winnie, NOOOO…” he howled at most of the lessons the first week.

As Owen watched from the safety of his mother’s arms, he saw William gain confidence and skill, and he eventually calmed down. At this point, Owen has no desire to jump in the pool himself, but he’s no longer afraid that Winnie will be lost forever when he plays in the water.

When I was a child, the story of Noah and the flood never made much sense to me. That mean old God had obliterated a whole society and saved only the one good guy and his small family. That's really not fair! I guess the story motivated me to try to be good though. Maybe I’d be like Noah’s wife and get to go on the ark too. In truth, however, I’m much more of a nag than Noah’s wife was, so he’d probably leave me to the flood waters.

A few summers ago most of my family was at our lake house when a ferocious looking storm brewed up across the western sky late one afternoon. I turned on the afternoon news and was barraged by tornado and storm warnings and watches. Then the power went out.

As it got darker and darker, soon the only idea of what was brewing came from the nearly continuous flashes of lightning. I couldn't even count the seconds between thunder claps they came so close together. Without a television or radio we had no idea where the storm was heading or how serious it would be there in the creaky old house. Our house sits out in the lake, and has for about eighty years, on huge pilings that come right up through the den and support the second floor. Not exactly an ark.

As the wind and waves got worse and worse, I asked my husband, who is a former Boy Scout and Army Engineer, where the safest place in the house was. He replied that there really wasn’t one, but that he planned to hang onto the pilings when the storm hit the house.

Well, my arms barely reached around the pilings, and the probability of my hanging on during a tornado wasn’t great, and I knew it. There was nothing I could do but just wait to see what happened.

I’m not great at just waiting, but once again I had no choice. All the life preservers were out on the boat, and there were too few flashlights and candles for me to go off looking for a safer place. So I waited…and I waited with an unusual lack of fear. And the storm passed.

There wasn’t a beautiful rainbow after that storm, because it was nighttime, but the next day dawned so sunny that it was hard to remember how truly bad the night before had been. The only evidence left was a large metal silo about a quarter of a mile away that the storm had crumpled like a tin can and tossed across the road.

I still don’t like to be at the lake when serious storms are predicted, but John gave us a weather radio so I could at least obsess over it if the power goes off. I have found a hidey hole under the stairs where I plan to go if necessary. That is, if I can overcome my fear of the mice and bugs under there.

I hope all of us find a safe place in our lives today.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Be Not Afraid

I just read an article based on monkey research that indicates that we really come into the world with a predisposition for more or less of a fearful, anxious nature. I knew that. My most vivid memories are of being afraid. Afraid of the open, circular stair I needed to go down to the dance recital dressing room and my mother changing my clothes in the hall to quiet me. Afraid of the kids in the neighborhood, particularly the Collins boys who chopped the curlers out of my hair when I was about five or six. Afraid of the ocean. Afraid of storms. Afraid I might have a child with a birth defect. Afraid of driving in unfamiliar places and of traffic. Afraid of losing loved ones. Afraid of cancer. Afraid of what others might think of what I wore or how my house looked, or what I said. Just generally afraid of things most people don’t even think about.

Those who know only my public person would probably find that statement absurd, because I function more or less as a confident extrovert. I don’t really mind things like speaking to large crowds once I get there. It’s the getting there that’s hard for me. I agonize and over prepare. I can’t sleep the night before, or at least I couldn’t before Ambien came along.

What I’ve found out in the process of getting there is interesting, though. It’s always less terrible than I imagined. Something kicks in and gets me past my fear. Some of the things I’ve anticipated with such dread have turned out to be total non-events. Others, like losing my mother, have been a whole lot harder than I imagined, but finally bearable, for the most part.

When I was pregnant with my first child, the possibility of having something be wrong with the baby came up in conversation with the large group of expectant moms I lived nearby. We all said that it would be intolerable, but then put the thoughts out of our heads. All of us had healthy babies, who are now in their forties. By the time Walker came along, I was busy with two other children, and didn’t have time to “borrow trouble”, so his birth defect came out of left field. For the first couple of days after he was born, I was absolutely certain I couldn’t deal with it. (Read some of my earlier posts for the details.) By the time I took him home, I was absolutely certain, at least on the surface, that I could.

I can attribute some of this confidence to a visit from a close friend’s sister while I was still in the hospital. Milton told me of her life with her teenaged daughter with Down syndrome, and made it seem like a piece of cake. I wouldn’t describe our life with Walker exactly that way. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t trying and demanding for a lot of years, but overall, it has been so much better than I ever could have imagined.

When Robert was sick, awaiting a liver transplant, on life support, the thought of life without my only grandchild was unbearable. My daughter gave me a little plaque that someone had given her. It said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9. She thought I needed those words more than she did, and she was right. She meant for me to be just as brave as she was. I wasn’t, but I made it through because she knew my fears.

I hope I will remember today that things rarely turn out to be as difficult as my imagination would lead me to believe. I hope the courage to make the first step toward the unknown won’t be too difficult to muster up.


Sunday, August 3, 2008


Okay, so I couldn't totally resist pointing out just a few more things that needed doing today. John and Katie suggested a family get together, since everybody had been kind of going different directions for several weeks. I was thrilled to have them over, but there were a few things that needed doing. Even if it is my children, the cobwebs on the porch had to go before we could ask anyone to serve food from there. Big Walker didn't grumble too much.

We had an extra four year old friend in the crowd, but everyone played together beautifully. The little ones played "Duck, Duck, Goose" and some kind of imaginary game involving cats in my closet. They were all hungry by the time dinner was ready, and hadn't had a lot of snacks, so they gobbled up the good food without very many comments about who doesn't eat what kind of fruit or whether the chicken was the kind the were used to.

Walker was initially peeved at me for making him put on different shorts, because the fly on his favorites needed some repairs, but he eventually changed and joined us. When the discussion turned to a friend who is unemployed, he became very concerned and offered to put in a good word for him at the grocery store where he works. I don't think the friend is interested in a grocery bagging job, but it was sweet to see Walker caring about someone else. That is a real developmental milestone for all of us.

I am full of good food, good feelings, and good cheer.

I hope there will be many more nights like this when I'm totally satisfied with what is in the fridge, and not concerned about what's not. Tonight I'll be thankful. Thankful for my family, thankful for having enough. When I'm in charge of the world, everyone will enjoy this kind of satisfaction.