Friday, December 23, 2011

From Grinch to Golden Rings, Happy Holidays

There were so many times this week that I wanted to wrangle the thoughts running wild through my head and horse whisper them into a composition and take a sleigh ride through the winter wonderland of my holiday brain. But my creative reserves were spent on arguing with cookie recipes (' How can you call yourself The Best Damn Sugar Cookie Ever? You taste like a mouthful of sand!); and then  returning to the recipe with my tail between my legs after realizing that I had muffed up. ('But, seriously, how can one keep count of how many cups of flour is being dumped into the bowl when there is a toddler looming over all of the ingredients, with her fountain of drool threatening to defile the dough- while she stands on tiptoes on the edge of a chair- which shouldn't even be called a chair anymore because it really only has 3 working legs?'). Then the rotten plague befell our house- heating the children into mewling, whimpering stupors- grasping with each swallow at their swollen, scratchy throats. Realizing that the miserable events kept growing instead of shrinking like a paper chain counting down to Christmas-I became more Grinch-y and cursed the blasted holiday of joy, peace, and blah, blah, blah, and life's not fair.

And then the Universe spoke and said, 'Oh, no! Things are so out of balance here. I'm so sorry. I was trying to follow the Best Damn Sugar Cookie Ever recipe. I will set things right again.' And she gave a gift, a very unexpected gift, a gift that will keep on giving for the next 20 years and beyond to the students of the Buffalo Public School district.The Universe said, 'Say Yes to Education will partner with business leaders to provide free college tuition to any SUNY school to any child who has had continuous enrollment (at least four years) in the Buffalo Public Schools. And, Say Yes to Education will adopt a neighborhood (a zip code) in one of the most impoverished areas of the city- to help provide healthcare, guidance, resources, a partnership with families to ensure children in those neighborhoods are receiving the supports they need to work toward the goal of becoming college bound.' If ever there was a glimmer of light during uncertain times, this must be it. Of course my children benefit from this tuition guarantee as they all attend Buffalo Public Schools; but, without this gift, we still would have found, through what ever means necessary, a way to ensure their passage to college. The thing that strikes me the most, that which I am most grateful for in this wonderful news announcement, is that someone finally realized that it truly takes a village to raise a district of children. They realized that the problems with our schools do not lie in a lack of educational opportunities or lack of qualified teachers; but, the problem lies in a lack of support for the large population of students whose families are socioeconomically burdened; and, the problem hides in a lack of compassion or willingness to try to understand- on the part of those who would rather criticize another human's circumstance then take a risk in shifting the perspective. We have witnessed over the years, students from our disadvantaged neighborhoods arriving in Pre-K without even a spark of motivation and hope in their eyes because somewhere along the generations before them it had burnt out. I am hopeful that this promise made by Say Yes to Education and the business leaders who have signed on as partners will light the spark in children who for so many years have had that ray extinguished. I hope that this incentive will galvanize others who have talents and resources to become more involved. 

And then, if that was not enough good news, the universe spoke again- through the words of Family Circle's Executive Editor, Darcy Jacobs. She said, 'Amy, Congratulations! I wanted to personally let you know that your story came in second place in the 2011 Family Circle Fiction Writing Contest.' This was the story, Red Raspberries, that I shared last month (I have since taken it down from the blog) about the boy on the bicycle looking for his lost grandmother. I'll share more details about it all when I learn when it will be published (it will be online). But, I feel so incredibly honored that my work was chosen.

So, now that I've shed my itchy, Grinchyness, I can say that this was truly a good year. Challenging, of course. Exhausting and troubling, at times. But, it has been so filled with support, new perspectives, new opportunities, new enlightenment that I will carry with me into the new year. 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and many new and exciting opportunities and a fresh perspective in the New Year.

Our Christmas card (from Snapfish):

Monday, December 19, 2011

free your mind and disk space will follow

I wanted so desperately for this holiday season to be filled with a steady infusion of joy and light. I intended on administering to my own spirit an IV drip of warmth; tradition; love for life; amity; creativity and the driving force of altruism drawn from the holiday world around me. But this year, more so than any before it, has been fickle, changeable which has led to an overbearing, disconcerting sense of disappointment. It began with the loss of music (which stings especially badly when your heart longs for Christmas songs) and continued on with little inconveniences like a newly unreliable connection to the internet (caused by a sudden incompatibility between our particular router and the internet provider we subscribe to); an irreparable and obtrusive series of scratches on the surface of the Wacom tablet I rely on for illustrating ( which now makes my lines and edges look like my two year old drew them); two strings of burnt out Christmas lights which were absolutely not written into the list of expenses for this pay cycle and without which make the house look gloomy; a printer nearly drained of its ink (also not in the budget to replace- but, it is something I am in need of); an on demand exercise channel I use to find fitness inspiration is magically gone from my cable line up; an absence of computer disk space which was eaten by the boys' gluttonous downloads and applications (and which keeps me from saving any of my work); the wallet which was stolen; the copious flow of green snot spilling from the girls' noses; the realization that this is the first year I have not made any money and I will not be able to take my husband out for his birthday dinner after Christmas; the realization that once again, another year has nearly come to a close and our dang piano still has not been tuned and the front stairs are still crumbling, and the sink in the kitchen is still backing up and the dog's hair is woefully overgrown. I need to make the list- the list of crappy things- because when I read over that long- run-on- sentence I realize, once again, I am foolish to believe that I have it bad at all.  I make another list of as many tragic and devastating occurrences that could have easily been swapped out for any one of my complaints. I keep the scary list in my head because I am too superstitious to share- for fear of those horrible possibilities actually befalling my family.

It's just that I placed too many expectations on the season without taking the time to map out the route which would best help me arrive at the feeling I wanted to hold onto. I forgot that sometimes a rosy outlook takes some effort. I forgot to take stock in the one constant I can rely on- on any given day:

Oops, that's not it- although there is a steady supply of laundry in our house. This is what I am talking about:

Love. When I let the crappy things stick to me and make me reek of lugubrious grossness, all I need to do is watch from another room as Henry and The Baby reunite after school. He willingly- happily brings her downstairs from her crib, where she has just woken from her afternoon nap- calling, "Henny! Anna! Max!" He fills a bowl with a snack which he generously shares with his drooly, droll little sister. Love. It's in this house- in varying degrees every day. We take our turns riding the fluctuation of moods, the waves of pride or disappointment. There are moments (sometimes aplenty) of anger and frustration which threaten to tear down the house- but, love has taken up residence here-sometimes flickering in a corner, sometimes filling a room-gently prodding me to let go of my crestfallen condition and make something better of it. I may not have music in the traditional sense. But, all of those years of listening to Christmas songs, have committed them to my memory. So when I catch Princess Commando in just the right spirit, I can get her to sing along with me. We fill the house with a clamorous rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas (with strong and blaring emphasis on 5 Gold(en) Rings) which draws the boys into the room gradually until we are all butchering with glee a favorite holiday carol and driving The Mr. out of his mind (but, I've seen him smiling around the corner). And if there is a half glass full collation for computer disk space- it is that I was able to find 62 MB of free space to create the two illustrations above and a holiday card for Princess Commando's bus driver and bus aide. We will be stepping over the threshold of a New Year very soon. There will be plenty of opportunities for crappy days, I'm certain. But attached to them will always be the opportunity to see the circumstance as the glass half full. Or as I like to look at it- a disk with 62 MB of free space.

Friday, December 16, 2011

borrowing from my kid

My thoughts on the season have been muddled this week and it has been difficult to find time to put my sentiments into words. So, I thought I would borrow the words of someone quite close to me. The following is a poem written by my 12 year old son, Henry, which I am sharing with his permission. It is a poem for two people. There are lines that both readers recite together and then there are lines which the readers take turns speaking. It is titled, Christmas of Two Brothers by Henry Wojtasik. He was generous enough to allow me to illustrate it.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy 15

It's First Born Son's 15th birthday today. He has been the greatest gift day in and day out. His humor, his kindness, his endurance, his ideas, his great taste in music- all qualities worth imitating. I feel so fortunate to learn from his perspective each day. But, it has been an exacting task trying to find a suitable gift for him since is tastes have shifted. (By taste, I mean that he finally has some. Hallelujah!) And the siblings have struggled as well with the formidable task of finding a worthy present for their older brother. But, I think they rose to the challenge.

Happy Birthday to you- if it is your birthday, too! And if it isn't your birthday, A Very Merry Unbirthday and a Joyful Friday to you! I am also over at Mamalode today. They have been kind enough to share my essay, The Glimmer,  from last Friday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

It's raining. 
It's pouring. 
The ground isn't even frozen yet; 
we're shut indoors
and it's getting pretty boring.

The highlight of our Monday was watching squirrels from our kitchen window as they frantically gnawed through rotten pumpkins.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

a glimmer

There were a few years when the three older children knew
that Christmas held magic
that the lights from the tree also lit a spark within them
that nutcrackers (especially the Viking nutcracker) came to life while you slept
that John Denver and The Muppets sang the best renditions of favorite Christmas songs
that all was bright, all was calm

There were a few years when all three of the older ones
thrilled at the jingle of a bell outside their window on Christmas eve
which let them know Santa was near
and it was time to go to sleep
or else he would skip their house completely.
And, they would claim they stayed up all night waiting for him.
But he came anyway

There was the year when the Spoiler-
sandwiched between my boys on a ride home from school-
whispered in first born son’s ear
‘I have a secret only grown ups know.’
Although we love the child who blew the whistle on Christmas,
when recalling that moment- we say her name as if we’ve eaten lemons.
First born son was ripe and ready
to be plucked from the tree of ‘all-believing.’
But his younger brother, only six, fell hard
when the Spoiler pulled the rug out from beneath him.
And no amount of back pedaling
could  undo the damage to his faith.

My heart hurt
as I watched him question
everything and everyone
What is really real?

There were many years after the boys had stopped believing
that they remained supremely respectful
of their younger sister’s steadfast trust in all things Christmas,
where they all still found enchantments in raising the tree
and arranging the nutcrackers on the mantel.
They spoke of Santa as if the 'secret only grown ups know' had never been uncloaked.
They created their own tradition, the sibling gift exchange-
designating the morning of each Christmas eve
to give each other gifts they bought with their own savings.
Early morning gift trades eased the agony of Christmas anticipation
with which their sister was so clearly afflicted.

This year the sister’s faith began to waver
as she tried to shake off the chatter of school mates
who had crossed over to the other side.
She, like her oldest brother, was ready
although it stung a bit more when she heard the words from her mothers lips
which answered the questions running through her mind
and confirmed the worst for her-
she was growing up.
And this holiday season, her first since letting go of her Christmas dreams,
is peppered with a hint of bitterness
as she 'bah hum bugs' every image of Santa that passes before her eyes.

This is the first year where all three of the older children are
old enough to choose where their Christmas magic comes from.
This is the year when the baby builds a new vocabulary
drawing from the living room-
bedecked in holiday regalia and transformed into a Christmas tableau:
Charlie Brown
Each song
each adornment
each story
a stepping stone,
a new hook on the tree of 'all-believing.'

This is the year when mother and father are
stitched between those children who think they understand-
and, yet are unsure of what expectations to hold for the holiday season-
and the child who is just learning
but none-the-less, marvels each day
at each new introduction
and accepts it all as magic.
We grow backwards,
once we know.
We work harder for the magic to keep its dominion over the season.
We flip the lights on the tree-
the memory of Christmases past illuminates their eyes.
And, spark begins to glimmer again.