Saturday, February 25, 2012

Subway travel

The wind is whistling, whooshing in a steady current outside our window. It sounds cold. My cheeks are still flushed from walking the mile each way to pick up Snuggler from play rehearsal. We've had supper, and relaxed by reading, and Little Guy bounced his obligatory 500 jumps on the mini-tramp to burn off the energy he hadn't burned off during the day. In half an hour I have to head back into the bluster to retrieve Dancer at the ballet. She scored orchestra seats tonight with her $15 student rush ticket.

Dancer is remarkably independent. City kids get that way; after 5th grade the school system stops providing buses, and gives kids a mass transit card, instead. So most kids are traveling around by age 11 or 12. It's one reason I couldn't imagine living in the 'burbs or the country; all that chauffeuring would make me nuts.

Our family rules for the subway are simple:

1. If the platform is empty, wait near the ticket booth.
2. Get on one of the cars with a subway employee (either the first car or the one in the middle with the conductor).
3. Sit next to someone who looks like a mom.
4. If you feel uneasy about anything, change cars.
5. Text or call when you get off the train.

Oh -- and use only one earbud if you're going to listen to music. You need to be aware of what's going on. And if you're sitting near a door, don't hold anything (phone, iPod, wallet) that can be snatched as someone leaves the train.

It's not complicated. But I still don't let young teens travel alone at 10pm. Even if it's cold and windy.

Friday, February 24, 2012


A homeschooling friend who knows herself well asked us to participate in a series of homemade science 'camps', two or three days of marathon exploration. She said that if she didn't approach science this way, she'd never get around to it at all. We did bio a couple of months back, and today was the first day of chemistry.

The mom who did the teaching clearly had her act together: in addition to learning the Tom Lehrer "Elements" song and learning about the chemistry of hamburgers, the 10- and 11-year olds made the periodic table out of sugar cookies:

Little Guy wasn't in the class, but using a copy of the periodic table he worked hard to spell each family member's name out of elements, then calculated the total atomic number and atomic weight in the name. His atomic number was 101, and his atomic weight was 229.5197.

I'm on the hook to teach for 3.5 hours on Monday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Convenience junkie

For Lent my computer has given up all my Microsoft Office products. They freeze. I can't do things the way I normally do. I have to find other ways to function. That has advantages, though most of the time I don't appreciate them. I want it all to be easy.

*        *        *        *        *

Last week I took Snuggler to the pediatric neurology clinic for an evaluation. We waited and waited, and 90 minutes after our appointment time had passed I went to the desk and asked, with as much good cheer as I could muster, how long the wait might be. "Oh," said the man, smiling, "It's usually two to three hours. But the appointment itself takes 45-50 minutes. They're very thorough." I thanked him, sat down, and reframed my perspective.

Going to a public health clinic is a different experience than going to a private doctor. If you bring along a middle-class attitude that time is money, you will be annoyed that your time is (and by inference, you personally are) worth so little. An alternative view is that you're getting something valuable for next-to-free, and you are paying for it in units of inconvenience. A third perspective is that this top-name hospital is donating three excellent neurologists to serve the public good one day a week, and they're doing the best they can with the limited resources they can give.

Whether you are thankful that you get called after two hours is a matter of how you look at it, and where your heart is. You'd think a steady diet of convenience would nourish one's sense of gratitude, but often it just feeds a sense of entitlement to smooth sailing.

At a minimum, I am grateful that the doctor -- who turned out to be personable and, indeed, very thorough -- did not think Snuggler has neurofibromatosis.

*        *        *        *        *

Many years ago, when we first started having major medical bills for Big Guy, we cut back on eating out and entertainment. Later we belt-tightened and stopped buying books; we delayed repairs and I got better at economy cooking. We developed a pipeline for hand-me-downs, and did away with a clothing budget. I took on more freelance work. We fine-tuned the concept of the staycation long before the word came into use. In short, we found ways to cope.

One downside of convenience is that it doesn't tend to build coping skills. Nor does it hone one's ability to be resourceful and creative. It's only when we face limits that we need to figure out how to get over or under or around barriers. That suggests to me that the people who will invent the next generation of life-changing technology are unlikely to come from the ranks of those who had everything handed to them on a silver platter.It's hard to identify what people need if your only experience with need is at the margin.

Which isn't to say that a life full of barriers is desirable, but the skills we develop when we have to overcome difficulties do have a place.

*        *        *        *        *

I once read a book on the history of fear, which pointed out in years gone by the thing people feared most was an early demise. The author claimed that since this danger has largely been eliminated through modern medicine, we have replaced it with a visceral fear of failure. I suspect this is true; when I was pregnant with Eldest, I wasn't nearly as afraid of dying as I was that my 'birth plan' wouldn't go smoothly. It's a little weird.

Convenience -- or the lack of real difficulty -- can do funky stuff to your perspective. Once, after receiving notice that our housing costs would increase (again), I despaired that there was no fat left in our budget to trim. As I wailed and railed the thought popped up, What on earth are you crying about? You're still eating three meals a day! In its own bizarre way that was a comfort. For there's a difference between not being able to make ends meet in a way that allows me to lead my comfortable middle-class American life and being unable to feed my family.

Sometimes we get so accustomed to convenience that we panic that we'll starve, before we've ever gone hungry a single day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Tuesday

My dear friend and college roommate Magpie gave me a gift card for my birthday, saying she hoped I would use it for something frivolous (but a case of pasta would be okay, too). I spent a couple of days savoring the idea of buying something just for me. For me, frivolous can only mean one of two things: good books or good food.

Today I took Snuggler and Little Guy to the new children's history museum along with some friends (worth going!) and we stopped at one of the better branches of the library afterwards. We arrived home with two dozen books:

And found my Amazon shipment at the door, too:

I immediately began reading Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope, which is breathtaking and wonderful. I had to put it down, though, to make our last-blast supper before Lent. I made Caramelized Chicken with Vegetable Pancake from the French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook. My lovely friend Liz gave me two pounds of brussels sprouts for my birthday, so I roasted them up, too:

The chicken is lemony with a touch of honey and olives -- oh, yum!

Dancer and I have been cooking up a French storm lately. So instead of taking Little Guy to Cub Scouts, I sent him off with Andrew so I could finish making a lemon tarte:

And now we are ready to settle in and read and read and digest, and head into Lent.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Big Guy and I went to church alone last night. The rest of the family had gone in the morning, but we'd stayed home because of a shower stalemate. That resolved itself satisfactorily in the afternoon, so we went to the 8pm service uptown, and I rediscovered two things:

1. Relationships with teens are almost always better one-on-one, when you're doing something away from home.

2. It's often easier to talk side-by-side than face-to-face. That way you're traveling together, headed the same direction. (Friends who live in the 'burbs tell me their best conversations happen in the car. I believe it.)

I knew both those things. Really, I did. But like an embarrassingly large portion of parenting wisdom,  these insights, these tidbits of insight got lost. I ought to write myself a book of all the pithy parenting things I forget, and refer to it when I want to bang my head against a wall. I might re-learn something.

*         *         *         *          *

For many years I struggled with the story of Adam and Eve, because I couldn't believe they could be so stupid. I mean, it was one tree. How hard is that?! Then one day I thought, What if 'all the law and the prophets' was summed up... could I keep that one rule? Could I hold it in the forefront of my mind all day for a single day? Sigh. No, I couldn't. I forget the basics, all the time. (Sorry, Adam and Eve: I misjudged you. I get it now. Most days.)

Even when we have our priorities in order and work hard to align our days with each with them, we forget. Because, you know, that project is due and the kids are squabbling. Or someone said something hurtful and I'm out of sorts. Or difficulties have multiplied likemanic brooms, and the Sorcerer's Apprentice has set them to sweeping crazily at my composure. Or maybe (probably) because the path of least resistance is broad and easy, and I veer onto it, unthinkingly.

*         *         *         *          *

These are some of the things that I know matter in parenting that I forget:

  • touch your children daily
  • say encouraging things regularly
  • ask questions that show you are interested
  • stay quiet if you can't say it with charity
  • focus on responding instead of reacting
  • know their 'love language' -- and speak it
  • assume it will take many times, perhaps hundreds or thousands of times, before they understand and remember basic manners
  • laugh as much as possible
  • make one-on-one time happen
  • remember to notice when they do something right
  • spend enough time with them that random thoughts come to the surface
  • let them see that you, too, struggle
  • let them know what you believe. Often.
  • show them how you think through problems
  • stories of your (and their) childhood are precious
  • new experiences trump new toys
Contribute, please.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The neighborhood

I went to the Post Office today to mail a care package to Eldest. I took a roundabout route home, planning to stop at the pharmacy a half-mile away to pick up a prescription. The pharmacy is at the end of the Orthodox stretch, and since it was Shabbos there were plenty of people out.

Most families had scads of children, but I happened to be walking behind this couple. 

Among the things one knows from living near a heavily Jewish area is which kinds of vitamins are kosher (Solgar is one) and that there is special ambulance service to ensure proper treatment:

Staffed by volunteers
Of course, the neighborhood also has a significant Hispanic presence, so there are shops like this around, too:
Though I've never smoked a hand-rolled cigar
I walked into a dumpy-looking shop that had an innocuous name, something like "Food Market" and discovered something amazing. The Russian store that I thought had closed a couple of years ago simply moved! Here it was, three times the size. I had a great time listening to Russian rock music as I perused the untranslated package labels:

I bought some pelmani (frozen veal dumplings) and what turned out to be spice cookies. I eyed the counter with twenty kinds of smoked fish and six varieties of kielbasa, decided not to get any Lithuanian rye today (but perhaps another time?), and smiled at the thought of bringing my younger ones in to choose random candies from the massive array in clear acrylic boxes over the counter.

There's nothing like travel, close to home.

With apologies for the fuzzy pix; I'm having computer woes and can't edit photos!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Developing character

When my parents got married my mom wanted to travel, but they had no money. My dad was in seminary (Lutheran) and had taken some German, so my mother researched programs abroad for which he could apply, found one, filled out most of the paperwork, got him to sign the application, and sent it in. Which is how I came to be born abroad.

My mom didn't speak German. But she was a pianist and had a good ear, so before the year was out she'd picked up the language. She spoke so well that people assumed she was a native and my father was the American spouse.

*        *        *        *        *

I didn't inherit my mom's chutzpah. When life brought me new situations I faced them with the usual mix of excitement and vague trepidation. I was rarely fearful of new experiences, but I wasn't necessarily one to initiate them.

Yet I did move out of the country when I graduated from college. It was not the stuff of character: my Cuban-born boyfriend went home to Puerto Rico to find his footing as an architect, and since I had no particular career plans and nothing to lose, I packed my belongings into seven boxes and flew to San Juan. It wasn't until I stepped off the plane into 95 degrees and 95% humidity that I realized I'd never been to the tropics before.

My boyfriend's folks knew someone with a studio apartment for rent a couple of miles from their home, which I quickly took for $250 a month. Then the only issue that weighed on me was finding a job. In theory that shouldn't have been hard. I'd had substantive, resume-building summer work while in college. But there was something scary about getting a Real Job. It mattered in a way that summer jobs didn't. Plus I was in a different culture speaking a different language, and knew only one person (and his family). Waves of  deep insecurity crashed over me for the first time in my life. I lay in the steamy breeze of my lopsided ceiling fan, listening to the tree frogs wondering, Why did I come here? What if I fail? What will I do?

My boyfriend's parents finagled an interview for me with the economic adviser to the governor. The job involved building a computer model of the Puerto Rican economy. On paper I was as qualified as any other 22-year old, perhaps more so since I'd gone to a strong college. What I was most aware of, though, was that I knew nothing about programming or how to build econometric models.

But desperation sometimes breeds bravada, and the appearance of confidence is usually nearly as good as the real deal. Calling up the memory of my mom and the story of how she got to Germany, I cheerfully assured my potential boss-to-be that I could handle the work and learn the programming quickly.

When the call came in saying I got the job, I flew to the university bookstore and bought myself an econometrics text and a FORTRAN manual. I spent the first month or so madly trying to make sense of printouts and equations, running regressions, analyzing statistics. Slowly it started to coalesce in my mind. I grew into the competence I'd pretended I had.

There are worse ways to start out in adult life than to madly scramble to appear like you know what you're doing. I threw myself into that job with a determination I'd never known. In making the choice between the big fear of spectacular failure and the little fears of each day, I learned that the two are related. Overcome the little ones, and you make progress on the big one. The trick is to keep moving. Do the next thing on your list. Don't let paralysis set in. Try a different approach when Plan A isn't working.

*        *        *        *        *

Only recently (this year, in fact) did I realize that my long-ago boss couldn't possibly have expected me to know as much about econometric modelling as I thought he did. He hired me because he assumed I'd figure it out. Whether he saw through my bluff or not, he trusted in my attitude. And how you approach daunting situations is actually far more important than whatever one learns in school.

Sometimes I wonder how much of the 22-year old in Puerto Rico I'd recognize today. I wonder if she'd recognize herself in me. I think she would, and yet there's so much of who I am that I simply wasn't yet. Back then I thought my future hinged on what I knew and which goals I set for myself. Yet so much of who we become arises from the pivot points: how we handle adversity, love, anguish, opportunity, fear, joy, and the people in our lives.

May you pivot well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I did my overview of Flourish at co-op yesterday. The book was full of great, practical ideas, though it would have benefited from some editing. (The author said he started writing it while on vacation, and I believe it.)

Flourish outlines five areas that go into having a sense of well-being. These are:

Positive emotion -- happiness, pleasure and all that. Culturally this is largely where we are, goal-wise, and it's only a fraction of flourishing. I found it interesting that one of the conundrums that happiness researchers face is that as much as 80% of their results can be attributed to how the respondents are feeling on the day they take the survey. So measuring this is subjective, but still important.

Engagement -- pretty much what Csikszentmihalyi (love that name! no idea how to pronounce it) calls Flow. This is when your greatest strengths are fully 'on'; for a writer it's when the ideas are pouring out and the brain is working hard, for a 6yo boy it might mean being in the midst of a complex Lego project, for a dancer it's when the body is moving smoothly through complex choreography. In the midst of engagement you may not be thinking, "Oh, I'm so happy!" but that's because you're so in the moment that the satisfaction comes in retrospect. I think this is the area which technology depletes us the most, because the web allows us to trail our interests rather than develop our passions.

Relationships --  Even introverts need others. When I was in my 20s I traveled to Europe several times alone. I enjoyed the sights and the independence, but ultimately I stopped going. It wasn't the hardships that made the trips unsatisfying, but that when I saw something glorious or interesting there was no one with whom to share it. I need solitude, but without relationships it is empty. I recently read about a study that showed that too much dependence on virtual relationships creates social deficits because 80% of all human communication is non-verbal. If you're not seeing it, you're not completely getting it.

Meaning -- Having a story or purpose that's bigger than you are.

Achievement -- Getting something done or reaching a goal because you can brings its own satisfaction.

These five areas are nicknamed PERMA.

So here's the thing: ALL of these elements go into having a sense of well-being. Seligman is a psychologist, and he notes that in the early stages of his career he thought that if you were treating someone for depression and got the sadness to go away, you'd have a happy person. What he realized over time is that the absence of sadness and lethargy doesn't create a happy person but an empty person. We have to know how to fill our lives with richness in order to lead rich lives.

Interesting stuff. And it gets even more interesting when you use it as a framework for looking at your life -- and the lives of your children -- to see which areas need shoring up or further development.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A little bit older

I had a birthday today. It was neither a big deal nor a little one; I don't care much that I'm getting older, and I don't particularly want to be younger. It's good to be who you are. In general I think I'm very Julia. That makes me happy.

I was up early, because I had a good dream that appeared to be heading the wrong way (my plane was taking off and I realized I was outside on the wing), so I thought it was better to wake up. I lay in bed thinking about beginning a new year. I know better than to wish I knew what lay ahead. I mean, really. We've all BTDT, and I can tell you that if God ever sat me down and said, "Well, this year, Julia, you're going to deal with ___ and ___ and _____" I'd be screaming, "NO way can I do that! Not a chance!"

Except, of course, I can. And when I'm stuck with it, I do. And in the long run that's better, and I'm a better person because of it. Even if at the time it stinks.

I have two pieces of good news to report:
  • At the last possible minute, Dancer was given a scholarship to the high school of her choice in EXACTLY the amount we needed, and 
  • Big Guy will have insurance again as of March 1. His case worker has filed to get him bumped up to the next level of care, too, which would give him a Medicaid disability waiver and a number of in-home services. That could be good.
Eldest thought ahead and made me a charming card, and snail-mailed it, and it arrived today. Smile. And Snuggler was very concerned that we didn't have sufficient festivities planned (to be frank, there were none at all), and when Andrew brought her home from play rehearsal they arrived with a cake. Little Guy wrote me a persuasive essay (a first!) on how he should be allowed to buy another top. He typed it.

My mom sent me a box with the two things I'd asked for: vacuum cleaner bags and a pair of jeans. 

And so the day ends with much to be thankful for. I am content, and older, and still staggering along the trail of sanity. Here's hoping the same is true for you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Little Guy decided he wanted to buy another BeyBlade top today. We had a discussion about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of spending $45 on a toy that will probably be popular for another two months. He conceded that it would be better to go to Target and get a garden-variety BeyBlade. On sale. So we walked Snuggler up to play rehearsal (which runs 2:30-6pm today, and again tomorrow), and kept walking.

It's 1.98 miles from our house to Target, according to Google Maps Distance Calculator. We got there and bought the top, and Little Guy said he wasn't sure his legs were up to walking home. While we were waiting for the bus I opened my wallet and realized that another family member had neglected to replace my transit card yesterday. So we walked back anyway, a bit more slowly than we'd walked before.

A top is small. It has a limited number of parts. We can find a home for it, even in the boys' room. But in general, my tolerance for further acquisitions is limited. After 15 years of living in the same 1200 square feet I am ready to jettison any toy I step on. I fantasize of sending the family away and renting a dumpster. I could discard a bag or three of belongings every day for a month and feel no regret. Given a three-fold increase in income, I would spend it primarily on donations, food and activities: things I don't have to store anywhere except in my belly or brain.

So dare I admit that my bedtime reading at the moment is Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things?  (It's a library book; I did not buy it.) If you click on the link and scroll down the Amazon page, there are nine photos that act as a scale for assessing hoarding problems. After I got over the eye-popping disbelief, I found the pictures soothing. Perhaps my life is more under control than I thought.

Smart but scattered

Since we're thinking about sending Snuggler to school next year, my to-do list this winter includes getting a good handle on the ADHD. At home we can work around (and with) it, structuring the day in bursts of work that map well to attention span. While that is a functional approach here, it's not going to help Snuggler stay on task for six hours a day in a classroom.

I picked up a book from the library recently called Smart But Scattered. This title is my child in a nutshell. Bright as can be, creative, interesting, insightful... but her mind jumps from idea to idea. I have seen her walk across the room with wooden blocks in her hand, think of something else, drop the blocks and not notice the clatter because her brain is focused elsewhere. It's mindboggling. Forget being able to follow two or three-part commands; we're still in the touch-and-make-eye-contact stage for simple requests.

But on some things Snuggler can focus for long periods of time; she can read four books in a day or spend an hour or more on an art project. Last night she used wooden blocks and little figurines to create LaGuardia High School for the Animals. She can write complex stories and is a natural team player, managing group work with ease. She's a curious mix of attention and inattention, highly inconsistent.

Or maybe not. I opened Smart But Scattered and did the assessment quiz for Snuggler (there are different versions for various age groups), which breaks out executive function issues into sub-groups: response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, and seven other categories. This is fantastic. For it turns out that executive function isn't an all-or-nothing issue. My child has strengths as well as weaknesses. Afterwards I did the same kind of quiz for myself, to see where my strengths match or complement my child's, and where our weaknesses overlap. It's a start.

*        *        *         *        *

I was setting up a neurologist appointment recently for Snuggler (we need to explore the possibility of neurofibromatosis), and got to talking with my pediatrician's office person. Her son is Snuggler's age and has ADHD, or what sounded like ADHHHHHHHHHD. We don't have the hyperactivity at our house, just the inattention. Same brain region, different issues.

As this woman and I talked about how to get an IEP and she said, "I don't want him getting a label!" I smiled and said, as gently as possible, "But you just said everyone at school has already given him one: 'the annoying kid'! Better to have a label that gets him the accommodations he needs."

I've written about labels before. Sometimes they help.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our homeschool co-op

Someone wrote and asked about our weekly homeschool co-op. Here's the skinny:

We have seventeen families, with 45 or so kids in grades 3-8. Every child takes writing and an elective. Over the years the electives have included documentary production, logic, electronic art, hands-on geography (with water tables and scale models), urban planning, stage combat, Shakespeare, and stop-motion animation. This term's options include chess, film analysis, art, and debate. Interesting stuff, classes we'd probably travel to participate in, but are relieved to coordinate in one place at a reasonable price. There is a math team (MOEMS) for 4th and 5th grade girls and a visual math class and a chorus after lunch.

We hire teachers for each class. I particularly value this for writing, because by the time a child reaches age ten I think it's hard for parents to teach writing. That has nothing to do with parental ability, and everything to do with the fact that writing is inherently personal. No matter what the topic and no matter how objective a mom may be, a kid is going to take a mom-critique too personally. It's life.

I like having hired teachers because it allows my kids to work with adults who aren't Mom. They learn with the same group of children from week to week. Invariably there's a kid who is disruptive, one who can't keep up, and another who's way ahead of the crowd. This is good: learning to deal with annoying people is a life skill one can't live without, and learning where you fit on the yardstick of ability is useful, too.

One of the less-spoken-of benefits of co-op, though, is the benefit to the mothers. While the kids are in class we have chatting time and book groups and parenting discussions. Next week, for example, I'm going to present the ideas in Martin Seligman's new book about the research on what one can do to foster a sense of well-being in life. My book group just finished reading Conversations With Great Teachers.

When your child is very young you know you need a support group; when your kids are pre-teens it's far less likely you'll still have one. But whether you homeschool or not, it's important to have friends off of whom to bounce key questions like "How much of this is normal adolescence, and how much of it is that we need to see a psychiatrist tomorrow?" I get that kind of feedback at co-op. It's a good thing.

As for the logistics, you need a core group of 3-5 people to figure out the basic structure, and to do the planning and scheduling. There are other groups for planning speakers for moms, hiring teachers, coordinating payments, setting up a refreshment schedule and so on. Pretty much every mom has some job; it is a co-op, after all!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Handling disappointment

Snuggler choked on her middle school entrance exam today. The first section was speed multiplication, 50 problems in three minutes. As homeschoolers, we have never done this. Fluency in calculations is necessary for math, but there are calculators for that kind of speed. And besides, computation is a lousy measure of mathematic ability; there are excellent mathematicians who stink at addition and subtraction. Eldest can vouch for that! 

At any rate, Snuggler freaked, and after those first three minutes had a hard time gathering her wits. She made some foolish mistakes on the rest of the math section. Then there were three essays, all of which it sounds like she aced. But the school she wants to attend focuses on math, science and engineering. And all her friends thought the math was easy. And she is devastated at the thought that they will get to go to this terrific school, and she will not. So this afternoon she sobbed for a while, then went off to be alone. Then she came back in for a hug, then retreated. Then there were more tears. And so on. 

If I didn't have to hold it together to help my child, I think I would cry: I hate to see her hurt so much. I hate to see her writhe this way, to feel so terribly bad. And while I know it's not over 'til it's over (and we've got a long wait, for we won't find out until late May or early June) in a way it's better to assume the worst, and let it be what it is.

I remind myself that my job is not to try to make her feel better right now. My job is to let her feel her feelings, and to empathize with them. My job is to make sure she's handling the disappointment in a healthy way. My job is to love her and guide her through the lousiness so that she knows that disappointment passes, and pain passes, and hurt heals, and most setbacks in life -- even the hard ones -- are situations from which we can recover.

It's a stinky job. But the payoff is this: tonight she came in for another snuggle, and as she started to cry she said, "Oh Mommy! I feel so stupid... even though I know I'm not!"

That sounds pretty darn healthy way to me. And I'm so proud of her for that. Even though she did just come in again, at nearly 10pm, in tears.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In which I go all theological on you

I'm a big believer in paying attention to the good things in life. Not because I'm a Pollyanna, but because I'm not: there are times when negative emotions will grab your life and run with it, if you let them. The way to stop that is to work at seeing -- and remembering -- the good stuff in each day. After all, it's there. Somewhere.

Most days, taking note of the positives adds enough perspective to tone the negatives down to a manageable level. This is true even when you've got a 15 year old in Major Depression with no health insurance, an unemployed husband, uncertainty over where your kids will go to school, perplexity over how you're going to make ends meet, and the emotional tenor of the family seems to vary between frazzled and freaked out.

But this past week remembering the good things wasn't enough, and I had a handful of rough days. Bleak, dark, heavy days. Days when it seemed like the troubles were endless and insolvable and I was going to crack. One morning I said,"Lord, I feel like I've forgotten how to succeed." I got an answer to that right away. It was, "That's okay. There are other things you can learn now."


This is why faith is good for you. In its own weird way, it helps.

On top of everything else on my plate, on February first I was scheduled for jury duty. I haven't had to go since I sat on a Federal jury for three solid months, back when I was single. But since we won't be homeschooling next year, I didn't feel I could ask for an exemption. So I was planning on serving... up until last Thursday, when I realized that this was a really, really bad time to lose a couple of days. I went online to reschedule, only to discover that I needed to have postponed a week in advance. Missed it by a day.

The church, not the court
Andrew told me I could still go in person to postpone, so on Wednesday I dragged myself downtown to the Supreme Court building. I was almost there when I realized a) I was 15 minutes early, and b) a lovely church was nearby. I detoured to the church, which is one about which I have particular memories, and went in for ten minutes. It was so unbelievably quiet that the silence muffled even the cacophony in my head.

I sat in a pew and stared rather blankly at the front of the church, letting nothing fill my mind. It was great. It was like breathing again. After a while my eyes started to focus, and this is what I saw:

I mused for a bit on how, when one looks at a cross, one sees different things at different times. If you are Protestant and look at a crucifix, you are struck by how stark and uncomfortable it is. If you are a Catholic and look at a plain cross, you are struck by its emptiness. And on this morning I was struck by the shadows. For look: the shadows are different than the cross itself.

I looked at the shadows, and realized that though the shadows were created by the crucifix, they were actually a lumpy shape. They were related, but not the same. And I wondered how many times we think we have our eyes fixed fully on Christ and instead are focused on his shadow. We're close, but not as close as we think.

I wondered how many times we try to take up the shadow of our crosses instead of the crosses we're given, and then we wonder why we struggle.

I wondered at how many things there are to wonder about with the cross, while it hangs there: silent, waiting, hoping, blessing.

And then I smiled in the silence, and said a prayer, and went off to wait in line to see the County Clerk to postpone my jury duty. And instead of feeling like I'd crammed something else into my day, I felt as if the world was light again. And there was hope.