Missing the Picnic

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My daughter called me while I was in Target earlier today. Whenever she calls during the day at an unexpected time, I usually think, “Uh-oh. Something’s wrong.” Today was no exception.

Carrie was upset because she had forgotten her five-year-old’s end of the year picnic. She and the teacher had been communicating about pizza and times, but Carrie thought the date was Wednesday the 21th and not Tuesday the 20th. A social child and real party animal, Colton was going to be some kind of upset when he woke up from his nap and realized that he had missed the big bash.

It’s time to mention that my daughter has five children and that her husband has been in California for several days. During his absence, Carrie has juggled numerous events, including three birthday parties in one day. She has managed to carry the extra load with aplomb and good humor until today when she got her days mixed up.

She wanted advice from me on how to handle her feelings of guilt. Ha Ha. Doesn’t she know that I  feel remorseful about more things than I can count? I told her what a wonderful mother she was (is) and reminded her that she was just ONE PERSON. Running a large household is challenging in the best of situations, and when one parent is gone and the family is a state away from other family members, then that ONE PERSON just has to do the best she can in juggling homework, housework, and playtime.

She knew all of that, so my “mom talk” was falling on deaf ears.

Then I remembered Stephen Covey, a man whose wisdom has aided me in many situations. One of my favorite Covey concepts is that of the emotional bank account. The people in a relationship make deposits such as hugs, meals, back rubs, gifts, time, attention, or anything else that the other person perceives as good.

Sooner or later the individuals are going to make withdrawals. Withdrawals range from angry words and raised voices to forgotten anniversaries or birthdays. While withdrawals are never good, their harm is not quite so dire as long as the emotional bank account is still in the black. If there are more withdrawals than deposits, then there could be trouble.

“Here’s the thing, Sweetie,” I told Carrie. “You make dozens and dozens of deposits every single day for all of your children, and this is one withdrawal. One.”

“He’s going to be so upset.”

“Yes, you’re right about that. Tell him you’re sorry and hug him tight. Remind him that you love him, and then you might want to apologize again.”

“I just feel so awful, so guilty.”

“I know that feeling all too well. But feeling bad on and on is not going to help matters. Apologize and stop beating yourself up.”

If I know my daughter, she still feels wretched about missing the picnic and is worried about Colton’s feelings when he hears his friends talking about the fun time they had. But can a mother prevent that from happening? No. She can only apologize. Apologizing, by the way, was considered by Covey to be a major deposit. When it’s added to Carrie’s other constant deposits, their bank account should stay in good shape.

Although it was a bit disheartening to hear of this mother/son situation today, I’m glad that Carrie called. I’m now reminded of Covey’s concept and am thinking of some deposits I need to make.

What about you and your relationships? Are you overdrawn? Is it because you need to make more deposits and fewer withdrawals? Has the other person made deposits that you aren’t giving him or her credit for?

 

Kitchen Company

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No heavy duty thoughts tonight. Just a few insights and feelings that I had while working like a maniac in the kitchen Friday.

We were snowbound for a couple of days here in the sunny South this week, and at some point I started paying attention to recipes. A one-layer chocolate cake recipe grabbed my attention, and when I clicked the link, I saw the magic words “unsweetened cocoa.” How can a person go wrong with the real stuff in a recipe? I’ve made my share of chocolate cakes and have doctored them up to make them a little more delectable, but I knew that nothing short of bona fide cocoa could provide the rich chocolate flavor I craved. With the thought of my grandchildren arriving later in the day, I got out the big mixing bowl.

Lining up the baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, eggs, and other ingredients required more work than opening a box of Duncan Hines mix and adding eggs, water, and oil. And yet, I found that I got into the task (?) right away. I listened to my iPod and started measuring the all-purpose flour.

As I added the baking soda, I recalled the words of my mother. “Always break the lumps up. If you don’t, someone might bite down into a bitter clump in the cake.” I heard her voice again as I began applying butter to the pan. Years and years ago, I couldn’t figure out how to grease a pan with Crisco without getting greasy hands, and again my mother came to my rescue. “Just use a paper towel to rub it on,” she said.

I doubled the recipe because of the number of people who would be sharing the cake, and when plundering through the pots and pans to find a second one, I found a pink heart-shaped dish that my daughter Elizabeth had given me. “Perfect!” I thought. It will be Valentine’s day in a couple of weeks, and we can start celebrating LOVE MONTH this weekend. Then I thought about Lizbeth and how much she has taught me about placing culinary creations on pretty plates and platters. “It’s all about the presentation, Mom.”

Cakes in the oven, I took a look around the kitchen and felt a little heartsick. The counters were covered with cocoa and flour, cracked egg shells were resting in the sink, and the boxes and bottles of ingredients were scattered everywhere. And the mixer and beaters…what a mess. How in the world did so much batter get on the mixer???

Immediately I thought of my Grandmother Padgett, a superb cook but a messy one. Standing there looking at my counters, I could visualize MaMa Padgett whizzing around her small kitchen. From the sink to the counter to the stove and back to the sink she’d go, leaving a trail of flour with every move she made. I can still taste her “angel biscuits” and pound cake, the latter often chock full of walnuts.

But back to Jayne’s kitchen. After the cake cooled, I used a chocolate glaze purchased right off of the Wal-Mart shelf. It didn’t feel like cheating since I’d cooked the rest of the cake without a mix or short cut. Was it a success? Let’s just say that the last image I had of my grandson Braden before he and his family left my house yesterday was of him chowing down on the two pieces of cake I had put aside for our dessert last night. Did I stop him? No way! I looked at him and thought of what my mother would had done if she’d seen a grandchild enjoying that last little treat. I just smiled and tousled his hair.

If you’d seen me in my kitchen Friday, you’d have thought I was alone. But I wasn’t. I had three of my favorite relatives with me the whole time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the dozens of lessons I’ve learned in the kitchen, some about food preparation and some about life.

Caught Between Generations

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I spent some time visiting cemeteries today. I’ve often excused my absence there by saying, “My parents aren’t really there. Their spirits live elsewhere. In fact, I can sense their presence quite often.”

Still, I needed to go. I was somehow compelled to go. I parked in the church parking lot and ate a couple of Chick fil-A nuggets before summoning the nerve to get out of the car. I hadn’t been in a while and was feeling ill-at-ease.

“What’s wrong with you, Jaynie?” My mother often called me that, and I could almost hear her asking me that question. Not wanting to disappoint her, I got out and walked to the gate. I pushed it open and headed right. Seconds later, I was staring at my parents’ headstones. Their names and birth and death dates were clearly etched on them. I stared at them for a few moments, incredulous that it had been over 15 years since I’d heard my father’s voice. I can still hear him saying, “Never better,” whenever anyone would ask him how he felt. That response always struck me as strange because he had emphysema and died of COPD. Breathing was a challenge, a scary and painful one (I think).

The main thing that struck me while standing there, however, was how names and dates reveal so little about what a person was really like. She could sing so beautifully. She could dance too. And she was a little zany at times. She was a real lady, and I loved her so much. So did my children. Even now, it’s Granny, Granny, Granny. What about me??? And my father had this cool walk. He sort of loped along in a casual stride, and my son walks the same way. Gulp.

Before I get too carried away, let’s move on.

I then went to another cemetery about seven or eight miles from the first one. My little grandson is resting there beside his great-grandfather, and I needed to see his stone today. His mama, my daughter Carrie, celebrates Spencer’s birth on December 8th of each year, and I wanted to let him know that he hasn’t been forgotten. I think the little angel healed a lot of family wounds. Maybe that was the purpose of his brief mission.

I’ve always loved my son-in-law, but the day that he told me they wanted to bury Spencer in Camden marks the day that I fell even harder for the guy.  He said he knew that there would always be family in Camden, and thus a reason for coming back here to bring Spencer’s younger brothers and sisters to visit his grave. What hope. What optimism. What faith. My daughter had already had two miscarriages and a stillborn child. And yet, Rich was confident that little Spencer would have younger siblings.

And Rich was right. I remember his statement every year when I go with Carrie, Rich, and their five children to pay Spencer a visit.

It was a day of connecting with family. Whether still walking the earth or abiding in holier habitations, people continue to affect each other. Caught between generations, my mind awash with memories, I again marveled at the web of connections.

Unspeakable Sorrow

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Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean that I have run out of ideas or that I’m giving up on it. Giving up on writing? Ha-ha. Might as well give up on breathing. It’s something that I’m compelled to do even if it’s just to jot a few items in my gratitude journal. Even if no one reads what I have to say, I still have to do it.

The recent loss of my stepson has unearthed many memories. Here are a few, all of which remind me (us) that human suffering is universal. While that knowledge doesn’t make grief disappear, it does help somewhat to know that if others have survived, so can we. Except for my great-grandmother, I’ve changed the names.

One fall evening many, many years ago one of my daughters and I were visiting an elderly lady who was a member of our  church.  We were chatting with her about a variety of topics while enjoying the ambience of her home and the sweetness of her company.  As we discussed the upcoming holidays, she told of her excited anticipation about seeing her son and his family.  Then she mentioned a daughter. A daughter?

“I didn’t know you had a daughter, Margaret,” I said.

After a moment, “Yes, she would have been 56 this year.”

Speechless (I know, strange for me), I waited quietly and then finally asked, “What happened?”

“She fell on her head out of an upstairs window when she was 3,” she said.

Totally caught off guard, I’m sure I gasped and asked, “Oh Margaret, I’m so sorry! How did you ever get over it?”

“I never did.”

A couple of summers ago my husband and I were traipsing around a cemetery outside of Ellenboro, NC, and I spied some headstones with Padgett on them. I took notes on some of the names and dates of their birth and death dates, and after a few minutes, I simply started taking pictures with my phone. There was so much to remember!

I saw a tiny grave marker and leaned down to read it. “Darling daughter” of Sidney and Minnie Padgett, I realized with a start that this was my grandfather’s sister who died several years before he was born!

Her name was Lillie, and she died when she was but 5 years old. How? Was she sick? Was her death an accident? My grandfather wasn’t born until three years later, and I wondered about my grandmother’s heartache. Was the untimely death of this small child the mystery behind all of the sad pictures of Grandmother Minnie?

On the way back to SC, I called one of my aunts to inquire about Lillie, and she confirmed what I had recently learned. She couldn’t add much to the story, however, and I realized for the umpteenth time that family history is rich and that we need to ask, ask, ask the people who carry it in their heads.

If I had known about my great aunt Lillie, I might have named one of my daughters after her. In fact, I’m sure of it.

And then there’s my friend Amy whose heart hurts for her son every single day (minute) of her life. His mortal life taken in an automobile accident when still a teenager, Matt’s early demise left a gaping hole in his family circle. After ten years, I continue to pray for solace for my friend.

And then there’s my Grandmother Padgett who lost a young child to scarlet fever. And there’s Sarah whose child was killed in an accident on Hwy. 17 years ago, an event so painful that Sarah got through her days “breath by breath,” not minute by minute. And there’s Traci whose daughter died shortly after giving birth to her fifth child. The horror of this event still haunts me, especially if I allow myself to think of Traci’s plane ride across America, desperately trying to get to her daughter’s side.

Then there’s my stepson’s death on Thanksgiving day.  Though his death was not quick and unexpected like most of the above, it was/is painful nonetheless. We’ve realized that while there are words like orphan and widow to describe the survivors of some deaths, there is no word in our language to describe the parent of a deceased child. No word to describe the unspeakable sorrow that my husband is experiencing.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the tragic losses experienced by parents. Last week, we learned of dozens more, thus making us realize the universality of pain and loss. It doesn’t make it any easier, but it does increase our empathy and our faith.

Along the Waccamaw

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We were sitting in the Trestle enjoying lunch when my husband called. Although I rarely take calls while in the company of others, especially during a meal, I decided to answer this one. I figured it must have been important since I’d already talked to him once that day.

He has the  “find my phone” app and knows where I am 24/7.

“Hey! I see you’re already on the way home.”

“No, I’m in Conway having lunch with Carrie and the California crowd,” I said as I smiled at Emma who was devouring her chicken strips with great gusto.

“Oh.” And then after a pause, “Well, are you leaving from there?”

“No, I actually have to go back to the beach before I leave.”

“That’s crazy! Why are you doing that?”

“Because there are 11 of us, and we couldn’t all fit in one car.  I’m a driver today and have been pointing out some of the sights of the area to Rich’s mom and sisters.”

“Well, when are you leaving Conway? Right after lunch?”

I was beginning to get un poco annoyed. It was hard to explain the desire/need  to spend every possible moment with the people around the table to someone who lives within a 30 mile radius of everyone he loves.  “Uh, well, we’re doing the whole River Walk thing first.”

Silence. Then, “Let me know when you leave.”

I promised to be home by dark and hung up the phone just as Brook asked if I’d share my sour dough bread with her. The Trestle in Conway has the best sour dough bread in SC, and Brooke, my 8-year-old granddaughter, apparently felt the same way.

We laughed and talked and had several photo ops. I bought a huge piece of chocolate pound cake to share with everyone, but my plans came to naught since 4-year-old Colton apparently thought I had bought it especially for him. After getting impatient with sharing the fork, he dug into it with his tiny fingers and pushed a savory bite into his mouth.

When we got down to the last bite, I offered to split it and share it with him. Keep in mind that I had only enjoyed two measly bites.

“Okay,” he said. “But how about I get the big bite?”

Bills paid and tips left, we took off for a stroll along the River Walk, and what a great time was had by all.  With temperatures in the low 70’s and the sun shining down through the majestic trees, the weather was beautiful. Old Man River just kept on gliding along, and we felt ourselves relaxing to its rhythms. Boats and at least one kayak slid by on the calm surface of the Waccamaw, and dozens of people sat on benches or sauntered along taking in the beauty of the scene. It didn’t take much imagination to think that this could have been an October afternoon in 1713 instead of 2013.

While the need to head for home and responsibilities nagged at my consciousness, I refused to succumb to “duty demands” and was determined to relish every moment of the afternoon. The children picked flowers for Aunt Heidi’s hair, and she was a good sport about it. Later I noticed three of the little ones surrounding Heather on a bench overlooking the Waccamaw. They were caught up in conversation with her, and I loved seeing the interaction between them. Glancing at the scene, I noticed for the first time just how much Brooke looked like her aunts, her father’s twin sisters.

There are many scenes tucked away in my memory bank from that special afternoon, too many to recount. Still, I’m listing one from each of the people I shared the hours with.

  • Carrie snapping pictures right and left. At one point, Colton jumped on her as she squatted down to capture just the perfect picture of Seth. Seth decided to get in on the fun, and it was fun to see her immobilized by the two tiny people.
  • Emma picking up acorns and placing them in strategic places for the squirrels to find.
  • Colton picking up what he perceived to be a unique rock and asking me to hold it for him. (I still have it)
  • Braden gleefully fun photo bombing his aunts’ pictures.
  • Seth sleeping peacefully throughout the hustle and bustle around him throughout lunch.
  • The interaction between my grandchildren and their California grandmother and aunts. Love abounded, and it touched my heart.

It was an awesome afternoon with lots of laughter and special moments. Maybe someone else who was there beside the Waccamaw that day will chime in with a memory. Or maybe someone out there in Cyberspace will share a memory of a time when he or she snatched a few hours from the daily round to make some memories.

Birthday Request

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There’s nothing like a birthday to make one pause and reflect on where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going. Serious reflection is even more likely when the celebrant is crossing the line between middle and later adulthood. That’s right: 65.

Years ago I came across William Hazlitt’s pronouncement that no young man believes he will ever die. “True for young women too,” I thought. If young people truly thought about the inevitability of their own demise, they’d probably do things differently, with more gusto and verve. They’d say yes more often to opportunities, adventures, and experiences and no more often to obligations that involve drudgery or cause resentment.

What’s the meaning of life? Does my life have meaning? Are people and relationships and connections (even those across time and cultures) what make life rich? These and dozens of other questions crossed my mind last week. To be honest, I think about those sorts of things quite often. I think it was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

I’m not sure (is anyone?) about all of the answers to the above questions. I do know that people count and that relationships need nurturing. I know that everyone you see is, has been, or will be fighting a hard battle. Everyone needs a hand, a hug, or a smile from time to time. Sometimes people need a lot more.

Last week when one of my daughters-in-law and I were chatting on the beach pondering such issues aloud, I told her that Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, always asks for the same birthday request each year: that each member do at least one good deed on his birthday. He needs no gifts, and nor do I (but don’t tell my husband or children that!).

Seriously, what I’d like for a belated birthday gift is for every one of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances to do something nice for another person. This could be paying for their meal in a drive-thru, giving a few dollars to a homeless person (even if you disapprove of what you think he might do with the money), spending time with a child, or simply paying someone a compliment. Mark Twain said that he could live for two months on a good compliment, and really, how hard would it be to give one???

About spending time with a child, this has one major qualifier. Make sure you give him or her your undivided attention. Put your cell phone away for a few minutes and really get to know the little one better. Recently I read about a person who said he could see a child’s internal light begin to dim when trying in vain to get his dad’s attention. The father was holding the child on his lap but was too tuned in to Facebook, a game, or a news report on his phone to even look at the child. Come to think of it, it’s not just children. It’s anyone we’re in a relationship with. Could you turn off the television for a few minutes and actually look at the other person while he/she is telling you something?

Enough instruction! You know as well as I do what constitutes something kind. Just go out and do it for my birthday. And me? When talking to my daughter Elizabeth, I told her that I was going to try to do 65 good things for people this week.

“Why not make it this month, Mom? A week doesn’t give you much time.”

So from now until the end of August, I’m going to commit up to 65 charitable (loving, nice, kind) acts. Later today, I’m going by a neat store called Coccadots and get some cupcakes on the way home from Myrtle Beach. I’m giving four of them to a special group of teachers, the Core 4, who teach at Aynor Middle School. And I’m counting this as four nice things instead of one. I have to get to 65 the best way I can!

What about it, Folks? What is something nice you can do to make my first chapter of later adulthood better? Will you accept the challenge?

Rise Above It

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“Rise above it, Jayne. Rise above it.” That’s what my friend Murph used to say whenever the two of us would get upset over a work-related issue, especially the ones involving people. She was right, of course. There’s no point in getting bent out of shape because someone is being irresponsible, smart-alecky, bull-headed, or downright belligerent.

There are at least half a dozen other phrases that convey similar messages, and I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately. We’re told to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:39, and in Matthew 18:22, there’s that seventy times seven thing. You know what I’m talking about, the reminder of how often you’re supposed to forgive. Sometimes forgiving is easier said than done, and yet I know that being unforgiving can be especially poisonous to the one holding a grudge.

The Bible isn’t the only source of reminders to let things go. “Don’t take anything personally,” reminds Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements. According to Ruiz, if someone hurts you verbally, physically, or emotionally, it says more about the other person than it does about you. If someone tells you to stop that caterwauling when you’re singing your heart out, don’t take it personally. Maybe the other person doesn’t know good singing when she hears it. Or maybe she doesn’t appreciate that particular type of singing. Then again, she could just be tired and in need of some peace and quiet.

Then there are quotes from famous people that often ring true. Regardless of what you’re going though, there’s a perfect quote from someone you admire who’s “been there, done that” that can make you feel okay again. Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Thanks Mrs. Roosevelt. I will not, will not, will not give my consent.

Even among the best of friends and the closest of family ties, there are occasional comments, oversights, or slurs that can break one’s wings. At those times, you just have to rise above it, be forgiving, refuse to take things personally, and decline to give your consent.