Sunday Morning ~ Where We Are

Sunday Morning ~ Where We Are

Athawa mpfuu race womwe. ~ He runs from the sound of his own echo.

~ Chewa proverb

July 5, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I am a sucker. I admit it. I never learn. My habit of giving the benefit of the doubt often doesn’t work out for me so I don’t know why I keep doing it. My trust issues tend to make me overcompensate in business dealings and I’ve had more than a few bad endings. These are difficult times, I get it. So when someone needed a temporary place to stay I gave him a deal on the rent when he told me he couldn’t afford the place. I knew he had a good paying job but thought his money problems were none of my business. The agreement was he’d do some needed work in exchange for reduced rent. (If anyone is considering doing this, call me first.) He was a pleasant chap, had a friendly dog, flattered me about my book, listed all the tools he had, raved about the house, and it all blurred my judgement. I rationalized that, even though I could have done the work myself, my energy could be put into other things. I assumed any decent person would make good on the agreement. But he clearly did not appreciate my generosity, or if he did he didn’t feel the need to honor it. He moved out early, let someone from out of state stay there, got defensive when I asked about it, and didn’t get his stuff out until midnight of his last day without having done any of the work. He also left the place filthy. And took the set of sheets I’d lent him. Not that I want those back.

I kicked myself as I madly cleaned, painted, scrubbed, and fixed broken wall lights (with an SOS to my neighbor for help with that) in order to get it ready in time for the next tenant. I spent a fair amount of the time complaining to myself about what an idiot I am. I didn’t even get a deposit! What a smooth talker! I told myself I will never do this again! Then thought I may have heard that before from myself. How do people live with themselves? I ruminated as I worked, listening to podcasts and oldies when I got tired of hearing myself think. Oh well. I kept my word and I get to live with that. He has to take himself with him. I always left rental properties better than I found them. It was my home and I cared for it. When we were dirt poor I’d asked a landlord if we could have a deal on the rent in exchange for fixing the place up. He refused without a hesitation. I always thought that was rigid and uncreative of him. Now I understand. I did manage to get all the work done before my new long-term tenant arrived and after a quick smudge it’s all good energy in there now. I complained to my friend that I’d never rent to entitled, privileged white males again. “Can I discriminate like that?” I asked. She said, “Probably not. Why don’t you just have a better rental contract?”  Hah! She’s right, of course. I’m the one who’s gullible but wanted to blame a whole group because of one person. Hmm. What does this remind me of?

Segue to Facebook. I admit I rely on it for announcements, information, entertainment, and connection. As disgusted as I am with it’s CEO I’m still using it. It’s not like Walmart or Hobby Lobby where I can boycott the place and still live comfortably. It’s annoying that I’ve become dependent on it and am very grateful to the advertisers who have pulled their business. I don’t drink coke or would buy some just because. I try to limit the amount of time I spend on there, but am often lured into this substitute for human contact. I have blocked a couple of people whose posts I can’t tolerate but have kept some, including my brothers, for reasons I’m trying to understand. Their views disgust and embarrass me yet I hesitate to hide them. I worry about being associated with them and struggle deciding if I want anyone else to see them. Sometimes I just take the comments down, (thank goodness we are able to do this) but then I think about what it means to stay silent when someone speaks in racist language. Is removing a post staying silent? I don’t believe I will change their minds. I consider them members of a cult and who knows what it takes to get people out of cults. I mean, seriously, when career military people are defending this behavior, what else can it be but a cult? I decided to let some of the comments stay and state my truth without trying to find an exposed nerve to jab. I need to get clear about what my goal is, though, when I do engage. I’m learning more about how we perpetuate racism if we stay silent and I have a lot to learn about how to speak up effectively. Maybe just challenging it publicly is enough. I heard from an old high school friend that she really did not know what was racist about the post she put up when I simply stated it was racist. She sent me a private message asking me to explain and it was an honest request. I was moved by her question. She said she really wanted to learn what she had done wrong. I thought about how to respond because her question was so different from other provocative comments I’m used to. I told her I was glad she reached out because I really wanted to discuss it. I told her I am learning about how we perpetuate racism in our system and I’m not an expert, but can safely say that expecting black people to thank northerners for fighting the civil war is inappropriate to say the least. I explained a little of what I’d read, how our history lessons were so inadequate in school, and that I’m trying to learn more. She thanked me and took the post down. I felt good about that and want to have more discussion with her if she’s willing. Again, I’m not claiming to be an expert, only someone who wants to be more aware. I really think there are racists who are beyond the pale and pathologic, whether it is from their past experiences of abuse or from greed and narcissism, I don’t know. But I also believe there are good people who are victims of a terrible education system and are unaware of how their actions and words are affecting others. 

In the voter training they said: Meet people where they are, but don’t leave them there. I like that.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ The Hard Ask

Sunday Morning ~ The Hard Ask

Cirombo cinafera m’dambo la kamundi. ~ The lion died in the marsh called: “lemur” bush baby. 

~ Chewa proverb

June 28, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I was reading Chewa proverbs this morning looking in vain for one having to do with protests but found this one instead. I like it. It comes from a story of an unnamed marsh where children found a dead mouse. They decided to name the marsh the “Marsh of the Bush Baby”. When the lion heard this he was jealous. He wanted the marsh named after him so went to the marsh and killed himself there but the name was never changed. It was always called the Marsh of the Bush Baby. I read that and sighed. How utterly apropos and hopefully prophetic. I love thinking about these proverbs, their wisdom, and how they relate to our lives. I love how Malawians incorporate them into their discourse. Watching the current self-immolation of our “president” I thought this was just too delicious even though I hadn’t planned to write on that topic. But here we are.

I’m missing Malawi a lot this week. It’s now been a year since I was there and exciting things are happening. Malawi had a presidential election in May of 2019 when the incumbent, Peter Muthawika, claimed victory. It was felt to be largely fraudulent (the white-out on some of the ballots was a bit of a giveaway) and by the time I got there in early June there were huge, mostly peaceful, protests. Those protests persisted until the supreme court announced there were too many irregularities for the election to stand and there would be a second election in 2020. That happened on Tuesday of this past week and the results are exciting and historic. In 2017 Kenya had a contested election but the incumbent was returned to office after the second election. Malawi is the first African country to have the follow up election come out in favor of the opposition. Persistent (mostly) peaceful protests brought about this cataclysmic change for justice. Remarkable. Amazing. Seventy-three years of colonialism, thirty years of dictatorship, then multi party democracy for another twenty-five with it’s share of corruption and suppression.  And now this turning point where the voice of the people would not be silenced. Way to hang in there my friends.

I want to go back to Malawi for several reasons. I want to work on the midwifery ward I so believe in. I want it to be a model for the rest of the world and I want to be part of it. I want to eat fresh avocados. I want to sip a gin and tonic while watching red sunsets that take my breath away. I want to visit the good friends I have there. I want to teach there again where I see such potential. I want to sit in an open Land Rover as the sun comes up with a guide explaining which birds are which and what each plant is used for. I want to drink good fresh tea. The Malawian spirit, despite all the hardships, despite all the illness and death, is so positive, so genuine, so accepting. I miss it. As I sit here in my garden and inhale the peonies I’m trying to figure out how to marry the two places I love and weave them both into the life I have left. I’ve got time to consider this now that we won’t be allowed in to any other country for awhile. Criminal mismanagement of this pandemic positions us now as lepers once were. It both terrifies me and comforts me that I’m not shocked by this anymore.

I’m glad I’m home to work for our upcoming election which has me cautiously optimistic. I’m kind of chuckling at the comments I see from my conservative brothers and conservative others. I can tell they are panicking. I just finished a four part training to help get out the vote in swing states where we have a real chance to take back the senate and remove this raving maniac and his enablers from office. The trainings were inspiring. There is so much about the political process I did not understand. I love learning how all this works and love seeing it come from the younger generation. I am so ready to have them take over. In the past I’ve sat on many a task force, through countless meetings were we discussed the problem of the day and how to address it. Frequently the meeting would end with some nebulous plan for moving forward. “Let’s all get out and do our part!” without really knowing what that meant. Often nothing took form. I cannot adequately describe or measure the frustration of those meetings. I want to help. I want to have an action to perform and don’t think I’m alone. The four part training was brilliant. Over 16,000 people signed up and overwhelmed the zoom session and it was inspiring to see how they quickly remedied that to stream live so everyone could watch. I’m telling you, we could be in very good hands. These sessions gave background into how the process works, where we need to focus, and how precisely we can take an action to be part of a successful outcome.

Protesting works. Asking people personally to participate, works. Having hope works. If anyone is interested, go to votesaveamerica.com and look for Adopt A State Voter Training. The videos are there to watch. I want Malawi to be proud of us! We can be like them!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Following

Sunday Morning ~ Following

Tiyeni-tiyeni sacoka, acoka ndi  bvundumuku. ~ The one who says, “Let’s go Let’s go” does not leave, the one who gets up leaves.

~ Chewa proverb

June 21, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My aunt Ulca was a waitress in an Italian restaurant. She was a fabulous story teller and would have us in hysterics with descriptions of irritating customers, unethical bosses, and unsanitary conditions of the industrial kitchen. This was before OSHA and, believe me, there was a reason that agency was established. When describing demanding patrons who had more than their fair share of resources she would ask with incredulity and disgust, “How many steaks can one person eat?”  She was my father’s sister and knew well what poverty was. Italian immigrants and children of the depression, they faced their share of discrimination and deprivation. Incredibly determined and hard workers, all of them managed to create a comfortable life for themselves but it was by no means easy. Theirs is a story held up for others as a roadmap out of their destitution. See? If they could work hard and prosper, why can’t everyone? But they had advantages I doubt they were conscious of. Skin color was one. Timing was another. But when we are struggling, do we really see our advantages for what they are? I don’t think I do. In the midst of my divorce, when I was falling apart, people would say to me, “Wow, your husband walked away? Left you everything? You’re really lucky.” And I would go ballistic. With unrestrained anger I’d either say, yell, or cry, “Lucky? You think I’m LUCKY? When I win the lottery I’ll say I’m lucky.” And indignantly stomp off crying. But now, I look back and think, wow, I could have lost this home. I was really lucky. The only people I compared myself to at the time were the women with loving marriages and faithful husbands. I didn’t feel lucky next to them. I couldn’t see it then but compared to lots of other women going through divorce, I actually was really lucky.  It wasn’t just that I was left with all our possessions. I had supportive friends and family. I was healthy and had a job that paid decently. I had health insurance that covered the counseling I needed. I had a comfortable and safe place to live. It’s so much more than just working hard. 

Yesterday I watched the virtual march of the Poor People’s Campaign. It was remarkable. I wondered if I’d be engaged for the whole three hours without the energy from a physical crowd but the effect was stunning. I was blown away by the creative and effective format for the “National Call for Moral Revival” in addressing poverty in our country. This was not focused on race, though systemic racism was a thread. It was about economic inequality and how our system was established to maintain this into eternity. It was powerful. As I listened to each testimony I thought, I’ve heard stories like this before, but there is something different now. I feel the shift. Each time they repeated, “Someone is killing our people and we will not be silent anymore” I felt like the earth was shaking. 

I’m learning a lot during this pandemic. I’ve had the luxury to read a new book each week and have learned more about emancipation and Jim Crow than I did in my entire educational career. I didn’t even know what Juneteenth was before this shelter in place. Or how voter suppression started. In addition to racial issues and black history I’ve been eager to learn about what drives people to accrue more than they need. What makes people drunk with power and unable to share? Also what is it that tips the balance into a revolution, a following, a movement? What was it about George Floyd that  started a multiracial movement? Why wasn’t it Rodney King? How do you get people to follow? I used to regard followers as somehow weaker than the leaders, but they are not. They just have a different role. I watched a Ted talk by Derek Sivers on this. He says, “The first follower is what turns the lone nut into a leader.”  

The nightmare of this presidency may have brought about a lasting change and I want to follow people smarter and stronger than me into a better future.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Lessons

Sunday Morning ~ Lessons 

Mbalame zomwera cigoli cimodzi zidziwana nthenga. ~ Birds which drink from the same trough know each other’s feathers.

~ Chewa proverb

June 14, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Seven years ago today my first grandchild was born. Her birth was supposed to be here where her mom grew up, in the hospital where I worked. We were all looking forward to it. My daughter was coming up a week before her due date and I’d planned a gathering for the next day to send her into motherhood with the blessings and well wishes of women who loved her. That didn’t happen. Labor started early and fast on the day she was supposed to travel north. There was no time for them to get to Maine. I frantically searched for someone to cover for me and jumped in the car to drive to Massachusetts, crying the whole way. I was happy for her that labor was moving along swiftly but sorry for myself assuming I’d miss welcoming this child into the world. It was very important to me. None of my births had gone as I’d planned and I wanted to greet this child, ease her passage, and protect my daughter from any unnecessary intervention. The first lesson of motherhood is giving up control so I tried to accept this birth wasn’t fulfilling my fantasy as my own births hadn’t. Lessons I’m taught over and over again. But she waited, and I made it in time, and I was able to gently welcome her into this world, and felt the universe telling me it will all be okay. Early today, when it was just her and her brother awake, we talked via FaceTime and I told her the story again. 

I can be outside in the morning now that the initial mosquito invasion has calmed and I sat on the porch swing wrapped in a blanket listening to birds, insects, and squirrels, sipping my tea, and talking to my two little loves. Blooming irises and rhododendrons were the backdrop. I’ve never seen blossoms like this. Sometimes I feel like the earth is singing a swan song; everything seems so much more vibrant to me now. Or I’m finally taking the time to appreciate it in a mindful way. I’m usually running past it way too fast. I’m learning the value of being still and am grateful with every bit of me to be able to do this. We talked about owls and larks. I told them I am a lark because I like to be up early. Owls like to stay up late and sleep late. We discussed which ones they might be. For a couple of hours no trouble in the world existed.

I’m trying to learn how to live in today’s reality and work toward justice while taking small escapes to a calm space. Like water stations in the marathon, each one is a relief, a short walk, and a boost to run again.

I went to protest downtown last week. There were about 600 people there, huge for such a small town on a night when high school graduation was happening. The event was organized and run by young people, younger than my own children. The speeches were given by young affected members of our community. They shared their experiences of growing up here, an island where there is little racial diversity. They were brave. They were honest and genuine. The crowd listened and clapped when one speaker was too choked up to continue. We clapped until he could talk, and then he went on. It was remarkable. It made me cry. Then we marched. 

In 1992 I marched in the pro-choice rally in Washington but other than that I’ve done little in the way of organized protests. We pushed three year old twins in the stroller and held the hands of the other three. It was the first protest / support march I’d been to. I was overwhelmed by the experience, seeing people of all walks of life gathered for a common cause. There was even a group of priests carrying a sign that said “Catholic Priests For A Woman’s Right to Choose.” It was way before cell phones and we had our hands too full with the kids to take photos but I always wished I’d had one of that. I saw the power of coming together for a common cause and how energizing that is. I was in Malawi for the Women’s March and too young for the Viet Nam protests. I’ve existed in a space where opportunity for people like me was taken for granted. 

I listened to Stacy Abrams this week. She continues to inspire me with her vision, energy, and optimism. She has every right to be angry but I don’t feel that from her. I feel potential. She said the protests are working. She lists the progress and in the next sentence lists what needs to be done next. I want to be like her: less angry, more effective. Lessons.

I went to the march again this evening and cried again. I cried as a First Nation leader spoke about the seventh generation prophecy. He explained the belief that this generation would lead us to a better, more equitable world. He said with incredible dignity that he did not care about the past, only about what we do with the future. Then we marched.

I think about how my grandchildren’s lessons can be a more realistic representation of history than mine were and am grateful for that. I want to learn the lessons of those wiser than me and not dwell on how far is left to go, but on the fact that we head in the right direction. I think about slowing down and using a pace that will make it to the finish.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Justice

Sunday Morning ~ Justice 

Litsipa lomva cozo mphini anatema kadzidzi. ~ The headache hurts the sparrow, but they made the incisions on the owl.

~Chewa proverb

June 7, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. I find myself repeating Bryan Stevenson’s words on a regular basis these days. Are people born with his fortitude? Where does this quality come from––this trait that can shine an inner light through any kind of hideous slime? It sprouts from which aspect of one’s being? Is it genetic? Or did his mother do something really, really right? 

I feel the same way about Obama. I watched him speak this week at the town hall put on by My Brother’s Keeper. I listened to his unique voice, his characteristic delivery, his words that instantly calmed me, and I wondered, is he a prophet? But maybe prophet is not the right word, because I don’t mean he can foresee the future, not a second coming or anything like that. Nor do I believe he is flawless. I mean more like he is the one who enters the room and makes everyone feel better. It feels like the ambulance or fire department finally arrived. I can breathe again. His reassurances are not contrived. I watched and marveled at the depth of his power. I can see why the old white establishment (republicans) were so scared of him. They could have listened and learned. Instead, they chose to soil themselves. What fools.

It’s June. My twins turned thirty-four this week.The year they were born the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up. The Iran -Contra affair became public and was living out in technicolor. Oliver North jokes were a dime a dozen. The nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded and threatened to wipe out Europe. The US bombed Libya. It seemed like the end of the world and I was bringing two more innocent children into it. And now all that seems like a six year old’s birthday party. Quaint. Little white lies. The outrage became a side show whose attendance dwindled into resignation and apathy. 

This week the panic that had fermented into more of a brine of apprehension started fizzing again. Then I listened to Obama, I watched Just Mercy, I read several articles from those abandoning the sinking ship, deleted a few of my brother’s comments on my Facebook page, and started feeling better. I now read words written by the far right and my thoughts shift from “Oh my God, how can someone believe this?” to “Oh my God, they see the writing on the wall. They backed the wrong horse.” Their words are that desperate. Something has shifted. The point is tipping and it’s happening fast.

Eight years ago, in a different universe, I fretted over the June temperatures so the peonies would hold off their peak so they’d be in their glory for my daughter’s wedding. I used to worry about stuff like that. I wanted the lupine to be in bloom when family drove north for my kids’ graduations. That was actually something I thought about. Early this morning I walked around in the mist and looked at those peonies covered in tiny blossoms and thought they can bloom whenever they damn well please. I will enjoy their little explosions of beauty when they come. I can’t control any of it and I’m the only one who will see them.

It makes me think about what I can control and what I can’t. I can support my peonies so they don’t fall over but I can’t tell them when to bloom.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Risks of Staying Quiet

Sunday Morning ~ Risks of Staying Quiet

Mu mphasa yongoima mubisala zoluma zambiri. ~ In a mat that just stands there many biting insects hide.

~ Chewa proverb

May 31, 2020

Hi Everyone,

This is the weekend of my annual national midwifery meeting. It’s a conference I always look forward to as a booster shot of midwifery energy. It gets me through the year. The midwives inspire me and sometimes make me feel like I do nothing at all. There are some great women out there working hard in ways that have me staring in awe. We shouldn’t compare ourselves, I know, but it’s a fine line between inspiration and deflation. 

We were supposed to be in Austin Texas this year. The meeting moves around the country, every four years swinging back to D.C. so we can storm the hill and lobby congress. That was last year. Two months ago they canceled the meeting in Austin and decided to make it virtual. I was curious how this was going to work for 2,000 midwives. I could see the educational sessions on line, but the business meetings and regional meetings? Not sure how that would work. I figured they’d just forget about the exhibit hall and sponsors, but no, they included everything including the final party. Amazing. In just eight weeks.

Friday evening started with a three hour strategic planning session for the national organization. That was impressive, complete with breakout rooms. I was in marketing, an area of interest for me since after thirty-five years of being a nurse-midwife some still think all I do is home birth. It takes some time to explain that while some of us do home births, I have solely attend births in a hospital and obstetrics is only a part of what I do. I practice women’s health care. All of it. Why are we unable to get this message out? It’s the same struggle we’ve been talking about since I joined the organization in 1987. I think we need a Netflix series. There seems to be one of those for everything now. 

Anyway, yesterday was the big kickoff with our opening session, induction of fellows, and keynote speaker. That was all done live and pulled off rather well. I was impressed as I sat in my comfortable greenhouse with a cup of tea and my knitting. I thought about sitting in the over air-conditioned rooms with terrible lighting––trademarks of huge convention halls, and considered this a reasonable alternative. This year’s keynote speaker was a man named Charles Johnson  whose wife, Kira, bled to death in a LA hospital several hours after having her second child. Charles described sitting with her in the recovery room, recognizing something wrong but unable to get anyone to take action until hours later when she was finally taken to surgery. She died on the table. She’d been a healthy woman in the prime of life. She was a marathon runner. She was black. His presentation was powerful and he has started a non-profit aimed at working toward preventing this happening to other families.

It’s not only black women who are dying needlessly in childbirth in our country, but they do so at three times the rate of white women. Native American women die at four times the rate of white women. I’ve been screaming about this for years (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2v5A3BxU4Uc&sns=fb) but it goes on and on. George Floyd’s murder has brought the persistent racism in our country back to the glaring light. It reveals yet again how lethal racism is to our communities and country. If we could only view it as the whole suffers when racism is allowed to persist, might things change?  

No one was videotaping Charles Johnson plead for someone to do something when he could see blood filling his wife’s catheter bag. He has the medical records as proof, but it’s not as immediate an image for public outrage. It took him ten hours to get someone to help her, whereas George Floyd was killed in only eight minutes. Black men are killed more brutally, while black women are murdered more subtly, more by neglect, more by systematically eradicating services for them in healthcare. 

All women, not only minority or poor, have procedures they do not need for profit and convenience of the medical system. But black and Native American women are dying from these disproportionally. Unnecessary c-sections kill women but they go on and on and on. I get so sick of making the same argument over and over. I left my job over this. I could not work in a system anymore that abuses women only to be told I’m “too angry” when I yell about it. I will ask again, what is it about women dying unnecessarily that should not make YOU ANGRY??? 

And here we are, blaming the victims again. What is it about police killing innocent black men that should not make YOU ANGRY? 

If you want to protest but can’t do so in person, consider contributing to either Charles Johnson’s organization 4Kira4moms http://4kira4moms.com/home/#press or The Equal Justice Initiative  https://eji.org  

Both these organizations keep me from giving up.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Forty Years From Malawi to Maine

Sunday Morning ~ Forty Years From Malawi to Maine

Caona mwana tola; ukulu nkuona kako. ~ What the child has seen, pick it up. Being mature is to find your own.

~ Chewa proverb

May 24, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My oldest turned forty this week. Yikes. I have a child who is forty years old. Remember when being forty seemed really old? I’m having a hard time getting my head around this. I remember turning thirty thinking, yikes, in ten years I’ll be forty. And now I have a kid who’s forty. When that decade turned for me I still felt twenty. Except for the fact that I had a SEVENTEEN year old child plus four others. Holy smokes.

I was always a big planner and mapped out all my milestones when I was a kid. Looking at a National Geographic magazine made me decide turning forty was to be done in Venice. Oh the romance! The markets, the canals, the art! When I made that plan it seemed I might as well be tuning one hundred. Turning forty was eons away. A lifetime away! More than a lifetime away. The next ice age or something. But there it was, coming at me and I had to make good on my plan. Yes, I always felt once the plan was made it must be executed. I spent many hours as a visiting nurse sitting with those at the end of their life. They often said, “I wish I’d (fill in the blank) when I had the chance.” I vowed over and over not to die like that. I did not want to be an old woman filled with regrets and unfulfilled longing which seemed to me a cancer in itself. So off to Venice to fulfill the scripture! My mother, bless her to the stars and back, came to stay with our five teenagers so we could board a flight to Italy, leaving her with a hundred miles a day to drive the kids to all their activities. Our paltry contribution to her good deed was bringing in a television to preserve her sanity. God. I hope I made that up to her.

The attempt to retrieve romance, fall in love with each other again, shake off the stress of having five teenagers, and forget about work, was all secondary to turing forty in Venice. The swarms of tourists didn’t bother me. The polluted canals didn’t bother me. It was all an ecstasy of art, engineering, and history. We meandered, got lost a lot (something that drove Joe mad), argued about that, (“What is the problem? You have a meeting to get to or something?”), and walked a million miles sucking up all the mind boggling architecture. We ate gorgeous lunches and snacked on olives for suppers. Joe gave me diamond earrings which, kind as it was, was a bit of a disappointment since I had asked for a ring. Not having gotten an engagement ring, I asked for one for my birthday but for some reason, getting me what I wanted was not in my husband’s scope of practice. That would have shown weakness or something. So he got me diamond earrings and I pretended (not very well) that I liked them. I was in Venice. That was the important thing. I vowed to make each decade better than the last and buy my own birthday presents.

Now I have a child who is forty and it makes me feel like I’m moving to a new stage of life; like he’s moving into middle age so I must be moving into senescence. My mother seemed old when I was forty. Well, she was a lot older than me when she had kids, so I guess I shouldn’t compare, but I have been walking around this week thinking more about my joints.

He was born at 6:12 a.m. after a long labor. This week, forty years after that day, I woke early and wrote to him, sending it at the exact minute he was born. Amazing how we can do that, isn’t it? We talked and he told me I was very brave and slightly crazy to have had a child so young so far away from home. What was I thinking? he asked rather accusingly. I said, “Women do have babies all over the world, you know.” but his tone did echo several other family members’ at the time.

I never worried about having a baby in Malawi; I felt safer there than I did in our medical system. I worried about the world we were bringing him into. The Russians had invaded Afghanistan, Reagan was about to be elected, Mount Saint Helen just blew it’s top off, and John Lennon had been shot. I was terrified the world was ending. I thought not only would we be raising a child but we’d have to fix the world too! Came up a little short on that last one.

He was ten months old when we left Malawi. We weepingly said goodbye to our village and dog, got into a rickety boat that rowed us out to the Ilala, the lake steamer that would take us south. In 1981 the road south was still a dirt trail up an escarpment and was impassable in the rainy season. There was no dock in Karonga where we lived, so we had to pile into a small boat that took us out to the steamer. There we handed up the cargo and children to the deckhands and climbed aboard. It took three days to get to Lilongwe where we ended our Peace Corps service, a process much simpler then than now.  Now it’s like a week long process. Then, they handed you your passport and some money and said goodbye.

At that time, British Airways let you stop anywhere along your route for free as long as you didn’t venture more than five hundred miles off the course, so we looked at the flight route from Malawi to Boston and picked all the places we wanted to stop along the way. We decided to spend two months traveling, arriving home just before Matt’s first birthday. It seems astounding to me now that British Airways allowed you to treat it like a hop on hop off bus but that’s how it was. I laugh now just to think of it. So we stopped in Kenya for a week just to see Nairobi and it’s environs, admitting to ourselves that climbing Kilimanjaro with a baby was probably not a good idea. From there we went to Sudan for a few days seeing Juba then staying in Khartoum to see where the Blue and White Niles meet. There was no war in Sudan back then. Imagine. Then it was to Egypt for a fascinating week in and around Cairo, then to Athens to see the major sights. Rome for Easter seemed a good idea, and we’d met a seminarian in Malawi who set us up with a place to stay and Easter dinner at the seminary near the Vatican. It was before the Pieta was smashed by a crazy person, so on Good Friday we stood in the front of a huge crowd, feeding Matt oreos to keep him quiet, waiting for Pope John Paul II’s Friday audience. Being so close to this holy man as he processed past Michelangelo’s Pieta is still one of the most spiritually moving moments of my life. He was so close to us. Joe held Matt out toward the procession and the pope looked straight at my child, smiled, and made a graceful sweeping sign of the cross. Call it wishful thinking, but deep in my bones I believed that blessing would protect my child forever. Maybe it has. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ If We Only Knew

Sunday Morning ~ If We Only Knew

Ciipira acaje, amace ndi mwana. ~ The one who is nasty for others keeps being a child to his own mother.

~ Chewa proverb

May, 17, 2020

Hi Everyone,

So last Sunday I told myself, “Do not look at Facebook, do not look at Facebook, do not look at Facebook…” a tool I appreciate in many ways but one that makes Mother’s Day like scab picking for me. When my kids were growing up their father made a splash out of Mother’s Day. This was long before I could share these images with the world. He’d buy me presents and put the kids names on them, give me many funny cards, breakfast in bed, and meals he prepared in a loving manner. I was appreciative of the intent but him cooking meant that: a) I had to eat it, and b) he spent most of the day making a huge mess in the kitchen and part of the evening cleaning part of it up. Monday, the roasting pans and piles of grunge in the sink corners were somehow neutral territory now that Mother’s Day was over. Erma Bombeck wrote: “Later, when you decide it would be easier to move to a new house rather than clean the kitchen…” a line that always came to mind the Monday after Mother’s Day. Those were quaint times, simple really, and I miss them, messy kitchen and all. My mother cooked and cleaned on Mother’s Day, but I’d make her cards and some crap gift she oohed and ahhed over, stifling a laugh now that I think of it. When I got older and had no money, I gave her a list of promises as a gift, written in floury loopy handwriting with hearts dotting the i’s. When we went through her papers when she was dying I found that list, so it must have meant something to her. I miss her, too.  

After my husband left, so did any celebration of Mother’s Day. It was harsh. For many years afterward the kids all felt it was a Hallmark holiday and weren’t going to buy into it, a notion I agree with, but still. The every-day-is-mother’s-day is a nice nod but they weren’t calling to acknowledge me any other day either. I told myself to get over it. And don’t look at Facebook!  The lockdown and isolation seems to have softened them a bit. Or maybe it is adulthood, but this year I went up a full 60% and heard from all my children. A message or call is what I wanted and got and I am glad. And believe me, I was keeping track. By nine a.m. I’d received a text from one and a call from another. 40%. I thought that was pretty good and went through my day not expecting anything more. I repeated my mantra, “Stay away from Facebook” and pretended I didn’t care. I went for a long walk, missed a turn, took a longer walk, and pretended I was fine! Evening brought another call, then another and I went to bed thinking four out of five was pretty good. When I got up on Monday there was a text sent at 11 p.m., just under the wire and I thought all day how happy I was that I finally was batting a thousand! Then I went on-line and bought myself a present and tried to remember the poem about buying yourself flowers or something like that, but was more practical and settled on nice new sheets. I find I either sleep really well these nights or don’t sleep at all. Sheets have become a more important part of my daily existence. I thought I deserved something special to spend so many hours wrapped in. I bought bamboo and love them. Thank you.

It really is critical to survival of the species that we do not know what we are getting into when we have kids. No matter how many books we read, stories we hear, lived experiences we’ve had, we still think we are going to do it right and better and have kids that fulfill the missing parts of ourselves. What a terrible burden to lay on them. I wanted a family so badly from the time I can remember. My dolls were real to me and I cared for them like real babies, irate if anyone treated them otherwise. I came of age when women finally had choices about procreation. I chose a big family, it wasn’t an accident. And there have been many times during the raising of my children I wondered what I was doing wrong.  All my good intentions weren’t enough and things were not turning out how I expected. And, yup. That’s how motherhood is. 

During this time which, I think we can all agree, is historic, I think people should be writing about their experiences. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I keep a daily journal and write this blog every week, but this is just me. I wish I had access to mothers’ daily experiences across time, not just the noble women who could write, but every woman. I want to know what she felt and thought about raising kids. Honest feelings and honest reflections. History is clearly and obviously skewed by male writing and perspective. What was it like for women in 1918, day to day? How did her heart break when she lost a child? I imagine it based on how I feel when I’m sad if a child of mine is suffering, but I want to know about the grief she felt; the fatigue of just getting through a day trying to keep everyone alive. I want to know her story and I want her to tell it. We can’t go back and get those stories but we can get women’s stories now. So write girls! As if no one will read it. And make it from the gut and heart. I want to believe the world will survive this and your stories will help shape the remake. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mothers With Sons Who Run

Sunday Morning ~ Mothers With Sons Who Run

Cikumbutsa nkhwangwa mdi cisanu. ~ It is the cold that reminds us of the axe.

~ Chewa proverb

May 10, 2020

Hi Everyone,

My five children all arrived into a changing family dynamic with unique reactions to our family events. Child rearing often blindsided us while their accomplishments delighted us. They quickly taught me the vision I had for them had nothing to do with the one they had for themselves. Some hard times were easier to roll with than others, I guess stemming from my own experiences as a child. I never wanted my offspring to experience the painful parts of my childhood and naively thought I was more enlightened and therefore more capable of protecting them than my parents were. I thought I’d be more on top of things. It didn’t take long for that comeuppance to hit home. 

It was my mother who noticed one of my children spent an inordinate amount of time running in circles. I hadn’t noticed it as there were always kids running around in the house. I ignored the activity until someone fell or broke something. My mother asked, “What’s the matter with this kid he keeps running in circles?” as if he were poking needles in his own eye. I snapped back at her, “Why do you care? Is he hurting you?” always sensitive to her criticism.  But after that comment I did start watching more closely and he did run in circles. Huh. It started looking strange to me and I started thinking it did sorta look like something was wrong. I pointed it out to my husband and asked, “Do you think this is a sign of some problem?”  He brushed it off as if I were overreacting. I focused on other issues. But then I’d watch his little red jacket going by in the woods when I looked out the kitchen window. I thought it was great he was playing in the woods but one day I went out there and could see a deep track he had made by running in the same circle over and over. He was a loner and had more trouble socially than any of my other kids. He ran in circles in the woods, he ran circles in the house, rerouting if something blocked his way. He seemed to meditate and self soothe that way. It seemed a good coping mechanism for him. I tried not to make an issue of it.

In elementary school he was bullied and it left scars. He was getting in fights and I worried constantly about him. He ran cross country and did well and I’d hoped that would boost his self-esteem. It was a positive thing but he still struggled. High school was different. Track, specifically running the mile, became an event that would alter his life. He’d been training for this since he could walk. He was good. His coach, who to this day I credit for the positive pivot my son’s life took, cared about him. I’d stand at the chain link fence and watch him giving my son feedback. I watched my son listen and nod his head. I was grateful this coach knew how to connect with this running son of mine. It was crazy exciting to watch him run the mile. I’d barely breathe for the four minutes and thirty-eight seconds it took. By the end I was screaming and flailing my arms to the point I had to warn people sitting near me. He’d start out at the back of the pack and slowly move up lap after lap, his ponytail flying out behind him. He reminded me of a pony set free, graceful and fluid. Awkward in many other aspects of life, he would glide over the track with some combination of God given talent, dedicated coaching, and pent up angry energy at how his world treated him. He often won the race in the final few feet. I loved being his mom. I loved sitting in the stands hearing parents from other towns say, “Watch this kid, he’s amazing.” I’d think, “Yes, that’s my son. He’s amazing.” 

I was never a runner but he made me want to be. I asked him to help me train to run a half marathon for my fiftieth birthday. He agreed. He’d say things like, “Remember, there is never a day when you don’t run.” and I’d absorb that like a sponge. I have no idea where he got this or if he made it up, but every time I didn’t want to run I would think of him saying that sentence and would force myself to run. I wanted to honor him. Running saved him and I wanted it to save me, too. I became stronger and started liking it more. I realized I don’t like the first two miles but after that I felt good. I stuck with it because it was running that changed my kid’s life and I wanted to understand the experience. We’ve run a marathon together. (Well, it was the same marathon but I was no where near him after the first two seconds. We didn’t actually run it together.) I think often that my child’s life was saved by running. But today I can’t stop thinking of  another mother’s son, taken by running because of the color of his skin. I can’t stop thinking about her. I wonder if she cheered him on during races? Was he a high school star?  I wonder if she felt that running changed or saved his life? I wonder if she were grateful to his coaches for helping him? It’s her first Mother’s Day without him and I don’t know how she can she bear it. I want to reach inside her and help carry her grief. I want her to know I am sorry for the burden she carries. I worried about my kids for all sorts of reasons but never worried they’d be shot while running. I always felt that if my son were running he’d be ok. I wonder if she felt that way? As long as he was running, everything would be ok. 

Mother’s Day is hard for so many. For every mother who has lost a child, I am sorry. None of it is fair.  

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Shining, Gleaming, Steaming, Flaxen, Waxen

Sunday Morning ~ Shining, Gleaming, Steaming, Flaxen, Waxen

Ukapanda tsitsi, usamabise lumo. ~ If you have no hair, do not hide the razor blade.

~Chewa proverb

May 3, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about their hair this week. I get it. I’ve had short hair for a long time and one day you wake in the morning and it’s too long. It happens overnight. You have to get your haircut that day. It can’t wait another minute. Little wings sprouted over your ears while you slept; your bangs, grazing your eyes for a few days now, are suddenly IN your eyes. They are too short to put behind your ears and too long to make vision involuntary. It’s an emergency. You can’t think of anything else. You cringe every time you walk by a mirror, unable to glance away from the horror. Of course, there aren’t many hairdressers who can give you an appointment on that exact day at the exact hour you are free, even though when you call you make it sound like you’ve got appendicitis. You (I) are (am) not the type of person to book your (my) haircuts six weeks ahead, because who knows what the world will be like then? There might be a pandemic and you’d have to cancel anyway. Then you (I) find out there isn’t an opening for two weeks! What? How can that be? This dire situation can’t wait two weeks! Even if it is the result of my own poor planning. I’m sure every hairstylist has thought that to herself or maybe even said it out loud to the lucky customer sitting in the chair at that very moment.

I used to have hair long enough to sit on. I started growing it long in junior high, either because everyone else had long hair or one of my friends told me to. I had to get my father’s permission to grow it long and had to agree to keep it out of my face. It was the late 60’s and the contempt my father had for “women libbers” was only outdone by the contempt he had for hippies. I could put it in braids and french twists. I agreed to the terms and let it grow. It was easy enough to brush, wavy, and not too thick, and the damage done by hot curlers and sun exposure was remedied by baby oil, which, also fried my skin. Lucky for me I had mediterranean genes. When I got to college I found myself still wearing my long hair pulled tightly away from my face even though I was free from the parental restrictions. It was required in labs and certainly in clinical rotations. One day, riding my bike from campus to my apartment in Brookline I looked over my right shoulder to cross traffic. I had my hair pulled back and secured with one of those trendy leather patches with a stick going through it. When I turned my head, the stick came out and the leather patch fell off. My hair came down and when I turned to look forward the wind blew it across my face. I was riding my bike down the yellow line of Brookline Ave in rush hour traffic, cars going both ways, blinded by my hair. I didn’t panic (well, I did panic, I didn’t lose control) shook my head slightly while keeping the bike steady going as straight as I could until some of the hair blew back and I could see again. I so could have been killed by my hair. I was attached to my long hair and didn’t consider cutting it despite the risks it posed. Not long after that incident I spent my last summer at home. I couldn’t find a summer job, had no car, and was bored. I had way too much free time and hardly any money. I took a bike ride one day up through Stow with my hair secured in a ponytail never to repeat the hair/traffic incident. On my way home I passed the shopping center where I saw a new hair salon had opened. I coasted into the parking lot, locked my bike to a stop sign, and went in. The place was empty. I asked if I could get my haircut and they took me immediately to an empty seat. This may have set off alarm bells for some people but I was happy with the accommodating atmosphere. She asked how short? I said, “All of it. Short. Cut it off.” This was the most impulsive thing I had ever done. She asked several times if I wanted to do that all at once? Go shoulder-length maybe first? Nope. All off. Short. 

I wonder now what led me to that impulsive act? Boredom? Bad hair day? Frustration with my life? I had a boyfriend at the time but couldn’t see him much in the summer. He lived in Wellesley, had a convertible, and a summer job. We had no cell phones. I couldn’t text him and ask if he thought I should chop all my hair off. Texts were science fiction in that day and age. I only remember him coming into my thoughts on the matter insofar as the fun of seeing his reaction. Long hair was a huge deal at the time. Guys dated women for their hair. It could have been the end of that relationship for all I knew but I never gave that a thought. Maybe I was secure in the idea that he like me for me. She started cutting and I was happy. I felt freer by the snip. The waves turned into curls and the color seemed a darker brown. I loved it. I must have had cash shoved into the pocket of my cut offs because I pulled out the six dollars it cost. I don’t think I knew enough to leave a tip. It was 1975 and I hadn’t learned all the unwritten social rules of hair salons. I got on my bike, helmet-less and smiling, happy, anticipating the shock value of returning home. I often felt like a wallflower and was looking forward to a little attention. First my mother: Scream! Then an admiring approach to run her fingers through the short curls. That made me happy. I tossed my head around to see how it felt. I loved it. I went upstairs to her bedroom, the only one with a mirror. My sister could, and still can, make me laugh harder than anyone else. That choking unable to breathe laugh. The pain in my stomach laugh. She bounced down from her attic bedroom, the one I’d vacated to go to college. She peered into my mother’s bedroom when she saw me, then screamed. She yelled “Why didn’t you warn me?” and flopped onto the bed as if the shock was just too much to bear. She did have a flair for drama and her hair was much more important to her than mine was to me. I laughed. When she recovered herself she came over to rub my head and toss the curls and examine the damage more closely. She liked it. I remember being happy she did.

The boyfriend liked it too. He picked me up on a street corner in his convertible on a day I’d planned a trip into Boston. I hadn’t told him about the haircut. It was a big change. He did a double take and smiled. He was a man of few words and didn’t say a thing. I hopped into the car and he turned onto the road looking straight ahead. At the first stoplight he reached over and rubbed my head like a poodle. He smiled and said, “I like it.”

I’ve had short hair ever since and realized there is a price to pay. Haircuts, for instance every four to six weeks. Where I live there are no chain haircutters that take walk-ins and most of the places I’ve lived the situation has been similar. I don’t care who cuts my hair so never had an attachment to a particular stylist. I have been to hairdressers all over the world and my hair always looks the same. For that reason I hate paying a lot of money to have my hair cut. Well, I hate paying a lot of money for anything, but especially that. I’m not fussy, always want it the same way, don’t require a blow dry or even a shampoo. Years ago when I couldn’t get an appointment before my hair drove me mad I took matters into my own hands. I thought I’d just cut off the little wings that look so cute on a two year old. I did that and it didn’t look too bad. So I kept going. I trimmed the bangs and… there, that was better, then started on the top and before I knew it, I had a haircut that looked pretty much the same as when I paid for it. I left the back alone since I couldn’t see it. Years of this self-grooming has left me well prepared for this very pandemic moment. My bathroom, a pair of scissors, and apathy for my appearance are all I need to make the zoom close-ups tolerable.

Stay safe everyone. Hang in there. Cut it yourself. It’ll grow back.

Love to all,

Linda