Monday, December 30, 2013

Have a little faith

1 complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians
2 strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof
  • a system of religious belief: the Christian faith
--> a strongly held belief or theory: the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe  I've been thinking about this word a lot lately. Not in its usual meanings as described above. In fact, I tend to shy away from the word because I'm not religious or devout and quite honestly, my faith in politicians has not been restored. (Don't get me wrong, I'm still an Obama-girl through and through, but they can all go peddle their papers as far as I'm concerned. When one of them takes down the insurance companies, then I'll listen.) That is the Faith that requires great devotion and lasting commitment and a capital letter F. It's big faith. 

It's the little faith I am talking about. Small faith. Lower case f. It's the faith I need when I walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf after shelf of beautiful shiny covers, smiling author photographs and world-wide acclaim and I think to myself, "I'll never be able to do it."

My very first book is being published in April. It's already a real book; it's been edited, designed, pitched to a distributor. It now falls to me to get it into the hands of readers. I've been advised to hire a publicist, but that's not in the budget right now; I can do that  work myself. They are all tasks within my realm of ability, if not my expertise. I can call radio stations and send off my PR info. I can talk to bookstores and submit articles to magazines. I can do it all. But will I be any good at it? Will my book sell? Why would anyone want to read, much less pay for, my book with all of these other really great, well-written books available?

It's not just the book, either. There are countless daily opportunities to question my decisions or second-guess my efforts. In my work with parents and families, for example. Did I offer the right advice? Have I missed anything during a visit that I should have reported? The weight of responsibility to make sure I guide these families in the right direction can stagger my confidence some days. They are already in enough trouble; I don't want to add anymore.

How about teaching? Every time I walk into a classroom I wonder if I am conveying the information in a way that my students will understand. Am I presenting myself in a way that will give my students the confidence to question me if necessary and will I know how to respond to their inquiries? (Often the answer is no. One thing I've learned along the way is to admit when I don't know the answer rather than blunder ahead with a made up one.) Will anything I do make a difference in the lives of the people who are counting on me to help them? I wish I knew.

Do I even dare consider my own parenting and relationships? I think you see where I'm going here.

It's not just moving forward and trusting that everything will be okay. I can't see electricity. I have to take the first step without seeing the staircase. That's the big Faith. My daily struggles require the little faith. The tiny little bit of me that is with me all the time. The stalwart, stubborn sliver of my self that doesn't go away when overshadowed by fear and insecurity. And I always forget it's there.

I need that little faith. In myself. Every day.  Not just with the book. (I almost wrote "books" to be optimistic.) It still might be hard, it still might require being comfortable with the unknown. This little faith that I created from all the love and memories and successes of my life has already been in all those places and has survived. Like a nugget of gold or sparkling ruby, precious and eternal. It is astounding how often I forget to count on myself and let the dire forecasts of others influence my anticipation. And yet, time after time, it is the little faith that I have in myself that eventually gets me to my goal.

I'm going to have to remember that.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Monday, April 17, 2006
 I am really happy that I was so nice to her the day she died. Of course I had no idea that it would be the day she died, I just know that in hindsight. Other days I had not been so nice: “Jesus, Chloe! Shush! Who do you think I am opening this can for?" or “Don’t rub up against me - you’ll get hair all over my black pants!” But that morning I chatted with her as I got dressed and let her run in front of me down the stairs instead of trying to beat her so she wouldn’t trip me. In the kitchen, I cleaned out both her food and water bowls, which don’t necessarily need to be done very often since she is extremely good at licking them spotlessly clean. When I left for work that morning (and made sure she was still in the kitchen and not sneaking a nap on our new blue sofa), her last imprint of me was that I was nice to her.

Chloe died while we were having her groomed. We’d never had her groomed before, but she’d been on medication that dried out her skin and made her fur all icky and flaky. Annie moved home from California with her cats and we were preparing Chloe to meet them. They were sniffing at each other for a week behind a closed door; we read that it was the best way to introduce cats to each other. Occasionally they caught the random glimpse through a quickly opened and closed door, but after a week, it was time to arrange the meeting. So it was off to the groomers for Chloe’s first professional bath. But she didn’t come home from the groomer – not inside anyway. And Bella and Cali, who were now allowed out of their room, walked around with what looked like a curious expression on their faces as if to say, “wait a minute…we know we smelled her. Where is she?” Chloe’s loss was experienced by animals and humans alike.

Chloe, who my mom always called “Cleo”, came to live with us with her brother Joey (get it? Joey and Chloe?) soon after I became a single parent so it was one of my first Single Parent decisions of some significance. Annie had picked Chloe out of the litter weeks earlier, but when we went to pick her up, there was some fretting about whether she would be okay alone, if she’d be lonely and would it be better with 2 kittens rather than just the one, tiny one. Just about then, Christopher walked up to me with Joey in his arms and said, “could I get a kitten, too?” And we became a family of five.

We lost Joey after about 5 years, when we moved out of our apartment and into a house with a yard. He died practically the first day he was let out of the house. He ran across the road to play in the field and on the way back got hit by a car. After that, Chloe, who had been the original scaredy cat, started becoming downright friendly. One night after Joey died; she came into the den where we were watching TV. Suddenly we heard a strange noise, like the refrigerator exploding or the furnace going on the fritz. We muted the TV and listened.  Chloe had come into the room and was looking at us. It dawned on us that the noise was coming from her – she was purring! We decided that she was channeling Joey and soon, she took on some of his other traits, too. Joining Annie or Christopher in their beds at night or keeping us company in the den if we were watching TV. And at our next home, coming outside on the porch and hanging around, never going far, mostly staying above or just below the porch just being with us. She had turned into this great cat. Quiet, friendly, funny and smart. She would eat her food in the morning with her paw. She chewed the ribbons off of our birthday and Christmas packages and ran to the door to greet us when we got home. Even after she got sick and had to take medicine, and it made her fat and uncoordinated she mostly just liked hanging out with us, sitting in front of the fire and sleeping.

When you lose a pet it’s hard. It’s not as huge as losing a human loved one because that can be all encompassing. This loss feels just as deep, but like it’s inside rather than outside. My husband said that maybe it means that I am more able to contain it, and I guess that sounds right. But I still miss her. Her presence was a constant and although I didn’t anthropomorphize her, I counted on her being there and she was kind of like – a friend. After I met Annie at the groomer we took Chloe to the vet – just in case. But they made the final diagnosis and gave me the option of paying $50 to bury her with other pets, $75 of having her cremated and buried with other pet ashes or $150 to have her cremated and returned to me in a little cat ashes urn.  Or,  I could take her home for nothing. We brought her back home, still wrapped in the groomer’s fluffy blue towel. We picked out a place in the back yard, found a sturdy wooden box and placed Chloe in the ground with some treats, her pillow and a little Christmas ribbon. I think that was best. That way, she'll be right there in the back yard, just hanging out with us.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Home for the Holidays

One of the emails I got in the early weeks of Black Friday Month (or “November” as it used to be known)  was a plea from a politician to support his bill to make retailers to pay their employees three times their regular rate if they were forced to work on Black Friday Month’s 4th Thursday (or “Thanksgiving” as we called it in the olden days.) It was then that I realized things had gotten a little out of hand. (“Really?” you ask. “Not the mobs in the Walmart parking lots beating each other with their own children?”)

I’m as surprised as you are.

My usual mode of handling this stressful and challenging time of year (Black Friday Month and Shoppingmas) is avoidance. During the years of single parenthood I had to nearly beg borrow or steal the gifts my children found under their bright and shiny tree decorated with love. This of course means it was largely decorated with handmade ornaments. Empty paper towel rolls, remnants of last year’s ribbon, buttons that never got sewed back on to sweaters were all fair game if they could be glued onto construction paper and threaded with red and green pipe cleaners. When the time came that the kids “knew” and didn’t expect Santa-wrapped presents under the tree, I relaxed a little. I didn’t have to go out there and battle crowds and my poor-parent’s guilt to fashion some sort of holiday out of my meager income. You’d never know it by looking, because my wonderful kids were always happy and appreciative of their bounty and if they weren’t - they didn’t let on. (Thanks, kids.)

Time rolled by and my income wasn’t always so meager, but my feelings about gifts, giving and holidays began to change. What I liked about the holidays was that it was a great excuse to have everyone together in one room. Eating, drinking and laughing was an extra added bonus. The old-fashioned Thanksgiving and Christmas were whole days that I didn’t have to do anything. Well, clean a little. Maybe go grocery shopping. Oh, and cook. But the family would be there and that was all that mattered. To me, anyway.

I know people who like to shop. Like? LOVE to shop. Some right in my own family. They have barely digested their pumpkin pie before they’re out the door to get the best deal on cashmere sweaters or martini shakers. And you know what I think about that? Good for them. And good for the stores that open up and let them. I don’t think that those big, bad box stores are the 21st century’s version of Simon Legree. I think they just want to run a business and if they have employees who would like to have a turkey sandwich and come in and make a little money, then that’s okay too. The reason I think it’s okay is that not everyone is lucky enough to be able to sit around at home moaning about having eaten too much. Maybe some of those folks need the extra money for their kids. Maybe some of them are alone for the holiday and working gives them something to do instead of sitting around an empty home. Of course there are some jerks out there who are unfair to their employees and make them do stuff that they don’t want to do. Like work on a holiday. Being a jerk isn’t illegal. But we don’t need a bunch of politicians getting their hands all over a Thanksgiving minimum wage. You guys want to legislate something? Legislate insurance companies.

At this time of year, I like to buy very little, eat very much and be grateful for all the things I have--mostly people, but I’m grateful for my new furnace, too. (I’m not kidding - we had to turn the heat DOWN the other day! Yippee!) Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. If you don’t like my opinion on this, that’s okay, too. You know where to find me. I’ll be home for the holidays.