Panamá

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View of downtown Ciudad de Panamá

 

Headed to Panamá to accompany my dad to a battery of tests because the doctors are recommending back surgery.  The plan right now is to be in the city only through Tuesday evening.  If I have to be there (and the timing couldn’t be worse. I am bone-tired), at least I wish I could be here:

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The Mamacita’s Livingroom.

where my dad and I sit and talk with a fire going and the cool, gentle rainforest mist keeps everything beyond that space just a little blurred and soft.  Maybe there will be some time to read and write. I have missed that.

 

Lenten Reflection 1: Embrace and Exclusion

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The bed is back and better than ever with a very fancy new mattress.  So fancy is this new mattress, that we have had to order little stair steps so both Sherod and I can get in and out of bed safely.  Right now, the maneuvers to get in and out of it are fall on the floor and laugh till you cry pathetic.

The string of starlight will probably not last long.  But when we put our bed in María’s room the first time, when she was about 7, I think I was as entranced as she by the string of twinkling lights we strung all around the bed.  I’d lie with her each night to tell her a story about the adventures of Spot the cat, comforted by all those little points of light.

A few weeks ago, I said I’d be reflecting on Miroslav Volf’s book, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation as part of a conversation with my friend James whose son has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  James and I share a curiosity about theology and now, our children challenge us with all kinds of theological questions.  I had read enough of this book in the past to think it might give us a foothold into good conversation.  I had not anticipated that I would be so absorbed by the grant proposal I was preparing, so emptied out of words.  I am coming to the project very late, but at any rate, here I am, and it begins with the bed.

In my last post I wrote about this bed, wrote about it on a day of considerable rawness.  Late last night and early this morning, I lay in it and finally got back to Volf’s book.  The following sentence just jumped out at me:

The will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.

It was wasn’t hard to welcome María.  We had spent two years, and literally, tens of thousands of dollars working to bring her home.  There is a lot about those two years that’s a blur but this isn’t:  When it was clear in January of 2001, that soon and very soon, she’d be home, I finally allowed myself to do what I had practiced hundreds of times with my baby dolls.  It started with the baby showers given in our honor and any number of absolutely delicious outfits we were given.  Then I went to Target and bought these teeny-tiny little girl panties, t-shirts and socks, so small they truly seemed made more for a doll than a child.  I washed them and after laying all the new clothes out on her freshly made bed that waited patiently to receive her, I hung the outfits and dresses in her empty closet. Carefully, reverently, I folded her underwear and put them in their drawers.  For days afterwards, I’d go in and open the drawers, pick up a little t-shirt and smell it, put it back and close the drawer, only to open all the drawers all over again.   No, we had been waiting for so long to welcome her. That wasn’t hard.

Giving myself to her, readjusting my identity to make space for her–that has not been so easy.  After an initial “honeymoon” period, she began to challenge, to oppose, to resist, and especially, to rage.  It wasn’t just her behavior that astounded me.  I was far more disturbed by my own responses, my own insistence that I should control and dictate and determine what she should do and be.  My own behavior was magnified and laid bare by the extreme tantrums and rages our daughter brought with her.  Had I given birth to a child, raised a little one who did not have all the issues María brought, I suspect I might never have had to confront so directly all the ways in which I resisted being changed by my daughter.  Most of the changes I had to make, almost all of the pieces of myself I had to let go of, were surrendered not as a tranquil act of a generous will, opening me to the preciousness of a new life.  They were wrenched and torn and ripped away from me by the desperate love I had for this little girl.  It was brutal. It hurt. It had nothing to do with the fairybook story that was implied in all those beautiful dresses, the delicious little wisps of sturdy Hanes underwear I put in her drawers.

Now that she is gone, now that part of my task is regathering some of the pieces of my life and carefully glueing them back in place, I am surprised by the extra bits and flotsam left in the wake of the past twelve years.  One is a far deeper appreciation for the darkness than I ever had before.  And right there, with that new comfort in the places where I can’t see or know things with any real certainty or clarity, is the awe I feel when I see a tiny little light shine bright.  The bed is ours again, and not María’s.  I would gladly return it to her in a heartbeat and I know that I can’t.  Instead, what I can do is let that string of insignificant stars have its place in our room, strung on our bed.  Lighting the darkness in my heart.

 

A Bed to Sleep On

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Yesterday turned out to be achingly sad—and as always, in ways I could neither anticipate nor prepare for. María had it rough at school. Again. Part of the problem is the school’s plan for managing her behavior. Despite our best efforts to share what we know works for her, there is an astounding amount of condescension toward her behavior support team from ARC/BARC and us. There’s also the fact that a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Sunset is closing. Won’t even bother to go into the details of that whole drama, but faculty, staff and students are up in arms and my daughter feasts on drama. The reasons go on. But the bottom line was the same. We couldn’t see her. She spent time in isolation time out. The chaos that is so addictive and so toxic to her won the day.

I thought it fortunate that we had some work to do around the house that would keep me busy–that is, until it became its own archeological dig that reached way down deep to the places of pain I try to forget about. If this were a movie, the scene would shimmer and fade and we would find ourselves standing in María’s room in 2001. When she first arrived, I had fixed up the brass bed I slept in as a little girl. It was funny and winsome, and represented all those hopes and illusions mediated to a person like me about bringing home a daughter. It didn’t take long to realize that arrangement would just not work. María hated sleeping alone and I was still operating from the school that says puppies and children are allowed to cry themselves to sleep because that’s the only way to train them to do right. A very Nordic approach, that. In psychological parlance, this is called “allowing a child to learn how to self-soothe”. It made sense. But it was totally wrong for our child.

The next attempt was to bring the twin mattress from her bed into our room. During the day, we’d slide it under Sherod’s and my bed. At night it would come out and María would sleep at the foot of our bed. That only worked for a short time. Desperate for sleep, beginning to understand the enormity of the shadows we were moving under, we disassembled the bed that Sherod and I had shared since early in our marriage, a bed I simply loved. We got a frame and a decent king sized mattress and box springs. It was utilitarian but it gave María room to sleep with us.

I was horrified to watch myself allow that to happen. But night after night, in those first months, I would wake up to find this tiny little waif of a girl lying on top of me, clinging to me, even in her sleep, like her life depended on it. Over time, she learned to sleep in the middle and Sherod and I simply accepted the reality that this was the only thing that worked. In fact, a couple of her therapists along the way were complimentary of our willingness to do this for her. Occasionally, we’d try to move her out. We took down my childhood bed and set up our bed, the one I loved, instead. It is a four poster and we strung little twinkling lights on the canopy frame. Her room looked magical at night and for a while it worked. Until it didn’t and she was back in bed with us.

Finally, in 2009, when Carol E. came into our life, we had the help we needed to break out of this pattern. But to get her in her room took purchasing yet another bed, this one a loft bed that she called her “Condo”. This time the move was permanent. Then in late 2010, when her behavior was actually as good as it had ever been and we were able to remove her timeout isolation space from her room, she asked to get the four poster bed back. One more bed was disassembled, the other rearranged. In the days and months after she moved to BARC, I would go by her room, or even sit in the room, grieving. The empty bed was a reminder of such enormous losses, for Sherod, for María, for me. Back when we first took that bed apart and put it away to make room for our girl, we lost so much.

A few weeks ago Sherod and I started talking about moving our old bed back into our room. As things worked out, we were getting a new mattress set today and we had to get the bed moved back into our room yesterday evening. A lot has changed since that was Sherod’s and my bed. I remember when we bought it. Sherod was always incredibly competent at guy kind of things. I think I pretty much got in his way, twittering and tweeting all around him as he put the bed together in Memphis all those years ago. When the bed was finally made, I dove into it and lay looking up at the ceiling, grinning from ear to ear.

Last night, I had to do a really big chunk of the work. Sherod’s back hurt too much for him to do the things I would always have expected of him. There was some small satisfaction in knowing that I could step in, but, really? I wanted to push back time. It was late and what we had was a job to do. Yes, there were some new sheets and our beloved bed was back, but there was also the ache that it was María’s “Gotcha Day” and we had not seen her. I couldn’t stop thinking that time passes, our bodies become frail, the limits of what we are capable of stares back unblinking, even with a relatively simple task like this. I kept it all together until the very end. We had been keeping the loft-bed mattress under the four-poster in María room. I pulled it into our room and got ready to shove it back under the bed. In an eyeblink, I had gone back in time—the motions, the light, everything was almost identical to what it would have been like getting María ready for bed 12 years ago. I finally slumped down on the floor and just wept.

It is the truth of grace for me that there is always, always that paradox of harshness and breath-taking tenderness in moments like this. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up and the man who I have loved just about all my adult life was lying right next to me, his warmth my warmth. In the king sized bed, in the time when we were struggling so hard to do right by María, I often felt so lost from him. Last night, he was right there. I could cling to him, like I needed to, until I fell asleep again.

Twelve Years

Twelve years ago, today on a cold day in Ciudad de México, that little hand slipped into mine.  My girl is having a rough time of it again and we only got to spend a little while with her at BARC on Saturday.  We may or may not see her today.  Be that as it may, I hold on tight and don’t let go. Because she is the best thing that ever happened to me.  The very best…

Fried

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I have been working for two weeks to finish a major grant proposal.  It has been grueling, grinding work and I have had no energy to do much of anything except keep plodding along. I play catch up today. I help to funeralize a dear, dear friend tomorrow, and I hope write a sermon for Sunday. Sunday is Sunday–the relentlessness of the Sabbath.  Monday is booked solid.  It will get better but right now, this is what I feel like…