Echo…Echo…at Spook Caves

It was MEA days here Minnesota (no idea what the letters represent), and every year, the third week in October, students get Thursday and Friday off from school, and most folks head up to the North Shore.  We’ve now lived in MN for three years and since, I’ve felt the pull of the masses, beckoning our little truck containing two fighting kids and the third talking incessantly to herself because she’s a bonafide Little Pony, up to a cozy cabin along the majestic North Shore.

I’d hoped that we’d finally head north over MEA days and revel in autumn’s finest foliage. Nine calls later, every cabin sprawled out to Canada Continue reading “Echo…Echo…at Spook Caves”

Baseball From the Lower End of the Lineup

A long time ago, I cheered for my adorable smiling preschooler as he hit the tee, and finally the ball after his fifth swing.  The following year, I asked Nikolas if he’d like to play T-ball again and he replied, “No, baseball is a waste of my life.”  A few years passed and Nikolas announced he’d like to give the sport another try.

Nikolas was no natural at baseball, and he observed many games in the shade of the dugout.  Nevertheless, over the years, Nikolas’ adoration of the game has only grown.  My sweet boy has an amazing attitude, listens intently to his coach, and even enjoys climbing on his bike with his baseball bag dangling from one shoulder, and heads Continue reading “Baseball From the Lower End of the Lineup”

Clueless Mom of a 16-Year-Old

 

Swishing red sequins, tap-shuffle-wing-tap, “Don’t Rain on my Parade” blaring, while my dancing butterfly fluttering before me on the stage.  How swiftly time had crept in and danced its own, nearly sinister score, causing dizziness with the flood of memories, a triple pirouette inside my mind.

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One January evening in the Arizona desert,16.5 years ago, a tiny Elizabeth was placed in my arms.  I’d had a c-section and while woozy and confused, and even if she really looked like a squirrel, my baby girl seemed remarkably beautiful to me.  I marveled at her tiny blinking eyelids, the sweetest little cheeks, dumbfounded by the immense love that filled my heart.

My husband, Nikos, and I were alone in Arizona, so bringing Elizabeth home was daunting, if not downright terrifying. My mom had passed away when I was a baby, and I hadn’t the first notion what it was like to be a mother.  I remember sitting on the couch after returning from the hospital, holding my tiny angelic baby girl, and suddenly thought, I don’t have one friggin’ clue what I’m doing! Two seconds later, Nikos accidentally dropped a lotion bottle on my head from the upstairs loft ledge.  I panicked a little more realizing that Nikos was equally as dumb as me.

I was a neurotic new mom, wiping down carts at the grocery store with anti-bacterial wipes, carrying those wipes along while shopping, just in case a doting elderly lady smooched on Elizabeth’s tiny hands.  It had taken a good eight years before I realized how harmful anti-bacterial anything was.

Elizabeth had been easy to breastfeed, thrived in spite of us.  She was a wild toddler, climbed in the dryer, stood on top of the table and threw dishes (I guess it was the Greek in her-Opa!), stole shoes at the mall, cried in earnest upon their return, seemed to be a genius at every new word, but then ate crayons instead of coloring, bringing her adoring parents’ pride down a few notches,

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Elizabeth read at an early age, because I was a psycho.  I wanted her to be the best, impressing the world. Yes, I was the most annoying mom ever.  I wish I could go back and smack that mom upside the head right about now.  Poor Elizabeth was so bored in kindergarten, she learned the entire alphabet in sign language and all of the bus numbers her first week of school.  I didn’t allow her to take the bus until first grade, because I was and still am Finding Nemo‘s dad afraid.

I dreaded picking Elizabeth up from school, because her kindergarten teacher never had a good report.  Finally, the teacher put Elizabeth in the gifted class, probably just to get rid of her, and to swell the head of a mom who needed stupid labels and compliments because she felt entirely inadequate. That same teacher told me that she didn’t envy me, that my daughter had a long, hard road ahead, and that I’d better find a channel for Elizabeth’s energy or she’d be a disaster.

I had to be the perfect mom-classroom parent, Girl Scout leader for five years, all baby food had been homemade, and tried to achieve this idyllic notion of Carolyn Ingalls,yet fumbling, while also acknowledging its unattainability.

Presently, I’m a mom of three and while no longer a germ freak, screw-ups happen daily, I forget that a kid needed to stay after school for a makeup violin lesson or Geometry test, and they’re the last kid standing (not good during a Minnesota winter!), roll my eyes more than Elizabeth, get mad and say mean things, never have a spotless house and love my precious darlings intensely while continuing to flounder.

Elizabeth and I argue what seems incessantly, a battle of control between two highly strong-willed people. We’re still dancing around that mother/daughter relationship, unsteady and tip-toe fragile.

I love that energetic, sweet to cats, crazy fireball, yet I’m endlessly trying to garner respect and tame her, which is as futile as her unruly hair. She says I pick at her, perhaps I do.  Elizabeth’s room is usually a scary mess, and during my “good mama” moments, I remind myself that inside that hyper-emotional teenager, with clothes strewn all over her furniture, seven water bottles ready to be knocked over by the cat, there is a little girl inside the chaos, one who needs to be told she’s loved and special, and that these years are not the best of her life.

If I tell Elizabeth that her shorts are too short or tight, she screams back at me with tear-filled eyes, “Mama, what exactly are you implying?!”  Doors slam, exasperated groans follow, yet she seeks me out at her dance competitions and gives me a wink. While we’re in a screaming match and I’m grounding her for a week and we can’t stand one another, what I really want to do is pull her in my arms and tell her how incredibly much I love her and never let go.

According to Elizabeth, I’m backwards, have succumbed to the oppressive role of a mom since I don’t work full time, and my sense of style is frightening.  I’m everything that Elizabeth is striving mightily not to become. I am grateful for Miss Emily, owner of Division Street Dance, who has been a wonderful role model during these years that everything I say is crazy and nonsensical.

Elizabeth never runs around, goes to dance, school, and then home again. She’s terrified of driving, says she’ll help the environment by sticking solely to public transportation.  She wants to run away and dance on Broadway, with dreams of attending NYU.  She makes As except for French, considers cooking as sexist, and she can’t stand her brother.

As the years have swept by and somewhere along this zig-zagged dance, I stopped worrying about impressing others, abandoned the notion of perfection, stopped being an annoying psycho and try my best to allow my kids to be who they are becoming without looking at the kids on their lefts and rights.  It simply doesn’t matter. I embrace their imperfections, relieved that I don’t have to be a perfect mother.

Occasionally, I quietly peer in her room, early in the morn, and gaze down at Elizabeth sleeping.  If only I could express the fierce love I have for her while praying, Dear God, protect this child, help me not to screw up too much and forgive me in advance for what I’d do if someone ever harmed her!

This past weekend was the dance recital.  Not only did Elizabeth dance eleven numbers, she’d also been the lead teaching assistant, and knew all of those dances without missing a leap or twirl.  To witness Elizabeth gently guiding and encouraging those little girls is heartwarming.  Elizabeth is patient, sweet, and born to teach, even though this is the last thing she wants to do with her life.  Those little girls look up to Elizabeth, greet her with hugs and hand-made cards.  Gazing at Elizabeth on stage, filled with more confidence than I’ll have in a lifetime, sincere joy and passion, not a lick of the credit is due to me, more so, despite me,

The haphazardly-choreographed dance with its most challenging steps is bewildering to me, I never know the right steps to take, wisest words to teach, nor the move that follows. I do know that her every fall will be caught, and every leap, applauded, wherever I am. It was Elizabeth who taught me the true meaning of unconditional love, she forgives, loves and accepts my inexperience.

Slowly, I’m heeding my desperate grasp, and allowing my dancing butterfly the freedom to soar, while reaching out to clasp an antenna.

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I Am an American Cupcake

Early last Sunday morning, I was frosting a batch of chocolate cupcakes to take to church for fellowship hour. In honor of Memorial Day, I’d used Americana liners and placed tiny US flags on top of each. I imagined the kids at church enjoying the flags. My slight smile immediately dissipated as I reflected on the Latino (And Friends!) Play Festival we’d recently attended.

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who served and ultimately sacrificed their lives for our country. We remember heroes, and in doing that, I feel compelled to mention a few heroes who carry within them the strength and courage of the greatest warriors. Most in this group haven’t medals, notoriety, or even social security numbers, but they have battle scars that will undoubtedly remain throughout their lives.

Elizabeth, along with her Performing Arts class from Northfield High School, participated in a two week performance at the Northfield Arts Guild. Elizabeth warned us that the program wasn’t appropriate for our younger two, but I finally decided we’d go as a family to watch the performance, regardless. I was sure to prepare Nikolas and Katerina beforehand, but none of us were quite prepared.

Traditionally, the Performing Arts class had been intended for Latino/EL students. However, this year the class had expanded to allow any students attending NHS, with the intention of allowing a greater interaction between mainstream students and minorities. Our daughter, Elizabeth, signed up for the class.  Furthermore, the teacher had wanted to get immigration issues out to the public, and hopefully help with awareness.

We attended the event, last Friday evening, seated in a packed theater. Those mere ninety minutes will continue to impact and haunt me for the rest of my life. Standing before us were seventeen children, artistically sharing their real life stories and experiences over a tear-filled audience.

The pain from these teens possessed and enveloped our hearts, enraptured us as they confronted stereotypes, poverty, health care discrimination, suffocating oppression, molestation, bullying, murder, racism, rape, hopelessness, drug abuse and alcoholism, domestic violence, abandonment and eventually hope. Never, in my forty-two years have I witnessed a more heart-wrenching, powerful, deeply spiritual and aching experience, other than Katerina’s battle with congenital heart disease.

Elizabeth had a few different roles, one representing an American teen raised on stereotyping, living in oblivion to the struggles of the world, belting out racist cliches and assumptions. Another role, which we faced as a family was health care discrimination. Katerina was denied health insurance by several big companies based on her “pre-existing health conditions.” We wanted to buy our health insurance, and Katerina was blatantly denied. Obamacare to our family, represented freedom from discrimination. Finally, Elizabeth’s main role was as a dancer being bullied and ostracized by her classmates, all of it genuine. Elizabeth’s dream is Broadway, and she tapped away some of the tension of the program with “Don’t Rain on my Parade.”

A boy on the stage spoke of his mother being raped, and the bruises covering his own body the following morning, after a night of only remembering “the monster’s eyes.” A fifteen year old girl cried out, remembering the fear provoked by an immigration officer’s badge, representing authority that would take her mom away, possibly never seeing her again. A once anger-filled teen had witnessed while a little boy, his father being shot and killed by his mother. The haunting voices and horrifying touching were expressed through a girl who had been molested by an uncle at the age of six (Katerina’s age.) Another student, at ten years, was raped by a man entrusted to smuggle him across the border, to be reunited with his mom. He’d only followed his mother’s innocent orders to behave and listen to what the man said. I wondered how Nikolas would be affected by these tragic stories, and his dripping tears along his cheeks had spoken for him. We witnessed one story after another, taking hold of our hearts by these courageous children.

On that stage, through blurry eyes of tears, a shining aura of light surrounded the group of teenagers-they represented quintessential hope. These children stood on stage with pride, embraced one another, mourned together as they shared their pain and abuse, wiped the tears from their friends, now a united family. These heroes stood before us due to the heart and dedication of Jennifer Lompart, an NHS teacher.

Sitting in the front row was Mrs. Lompart, the hero who orchestrated it all. Throughout the program, a resounding and instinctive voice told me that some of these children’s lives were saved as result of Lompart teaching this class. Most of these children hadn’t shared their stories with anyone;  abuse, pain and treachery resided within their guarded walls, a cancer essentially killing them.  Lompart gave these students a voice, a safe place for them to shed their victimization and begin to heal. Jennifer Lompart wins Teacher of the Year Award this year, and every year after.

What does it mean to be an American? A hero? A human being? I don’t believe that waiting twenty minutes in line at a Starbucks drive-thru with the engine running, ordering a five dollar coffee with a crown of whipped topping, then buying one for the next car, boasting about it on Facebook, and hoping you get 180 likes, is exactly the definition. Those two coffees you just paid for cost more than double what one of the teens in the play makes hourly at Taco Bell, in which they share with their mother, hoping to get the bills paid by the end of the month.

Education is the key, yet the US government spends roughly 12 billion annually on border control, with continued abuse and barbaric practices in the Southern US.  What a remarkable contribution that money would make instead to educate immigrant families, find them homes and jobs here in this country.

Love and humanity is in confronting racism, poverty and all that makes us squirm and look the other way out of discomfort. Excuses and delusion sweeps in and gives us reason to justify why we fail to embrace the uncomfortable, and instead look forward to what was added to the Netflix menu on our 55 inch flat screen.

I gazed down at my finished cupcakes-cute and promising sweetness. I suddenly felt ashamed. Here I stood in my semi-roomy kitchen, with cabinets and a refrigerator filled with mostly unnecessary food. I was bringing cupcakes to church, we’d add to the offering plate, dish out hugs and prayers and well, you know, “just doin’ my part.”  I hold the door for people, shop at the Co-op for mostly organic and locally grown foods.  I give a few bucks here and there to those in need, box up old clothes, not caring if there are stains, because after all, it’s a donation to charity. It’s all one big fat farce. I am a white, educated, middle class American and as full of fluff as the frosting on the cupcakes before me. I am failing at doing my part as a human being. As long as racism, victimization, discrimination, immigration hostility, violence, poverty, homelessness, and hungry children are sharing this country beside me, I might as well be a cupcake. When will a human life become more valuable than a dollar?

I will forever be haunted by the stories of the young heroes in which I had the honor to meet. My prayers go out to these children, that they never, ever give up and continue having their voices heard, regardless of what language they speak. They represent the future of America-by facing persecution, danger and risking their lives for freedom and a better life, entirely reminiscent of our forefathers.

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MN Twins, Unloaded Hot Dogs and a Whoppin’ Big Lesson

Shriners Hospital sent our family field box seats to the MN Twins baseball game. Katerina is a Shriner’s kid, due to her leg length discrepancy. If you are ever feeling a little down, need some perspective in your life, head on over to a Shriners Hospital; you will undoubtedly be changed, at least for the moment.

The same Friday evening as the game, was picture night at the girls’ dance studio. I’d taken Katerina in earlier to have her picture taken, but Elizabeth stayed on for the night at the studio, glad to skip the game.

The drive to Minneapolis was a full hour, but at least the traffic wasn’t bad. We were all so excited! I was even more excited to eat, after having read an article about the Twins’ stadium food that my friend Tamara had mentioned on Facebook. Additionally, Andrew Zimmerman, one of my favorite Travel Channel stars, supposedly had a food truck there.

After paying twelve bucks to park, which meant a greater trek to the field, we came across a homeless man. We kept walking until Nikos said, “Wait! Keep going and I’ll catch up!” I know my hubby well, and he’s the kind to buy a meal and give it to those who look like they could use one. He ran back with one less ticket to the game and we all hoped the man would make it to and enjoy the game. Nikos promised the man that he’d buy him a hot dog if he showed up.

We decided to eat before finding our seats. Nikos bought some kind of steak sandwich, Nikolas a burger, Katerina had loaded nachos, and I had garlic fries and then asked the guy at the counter for a loaded hot dog. The cashier looked annoyed and smirked, then asked what I meant by a “loaded hot dog.” I explained, “Well you know, slaw, sauce, onions, the works!” His robotic reply was handing me a tiny cup of onions and pointing over to the condiment station. I dumped every last diced onion on the hot dog, then saturated it with enough mustard and ketchup that the hot dog was elevated. Nikos also bought a $14 Pepsi and later a popcorn. We were then a hundred dollars poor. I was bummed to not have the time to find Zimmerman’s food truck, but the game had already begun.

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The Target field was massive, hyper-stimulating and impressive. As modern as it all was, the atmosphere still somehow clung to the days of yesteryear, undying energy. The prevalence of nostalgia brought me back to the 1970s, watching a Cincinnati Reds game, hearing the fans, combined with tube socks and the funny talking guy from the speakers. It was an exciting game, the temperature was ideal, and Katerina was hooping and hollering louder than ten rows of fans together. Nikos asked her what just happened in the game and she shrugged her shoulders and replied, “I have no idea!”

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The moment I’d taken one big chomp of my hot dog, Nikos shockingly remarked, “Rebecca! You look like you just puked all over your shirt and pants!” I scowled at him and then was horrified by the mess all over me. Every bit of my hot dog was all over me! I told Nikos to go get me some napkins and he further aggravated me by saying only a washing machine would take care of that kind of mess. After two more bites (What?! No sense in wasting a perfectly yummy hot dog!) I hissed at Nikos to get me some napkins, and he said he first wanted to watch the play. I gave him “the look”, and he immediately proceeded to bring me five freaking pitiful napkins.

Nikos was right, the sauce just smeared all over my pants and shirt and I was too embarrassed to get up until…the kid in front of me had a small plastic bag over his head, entirely enclosing his mouth and nose, and his parents were distracted by the game. I freaked out and yelled to get that bag off his head. The mom glanced back and then immediately tore off the bag and almost the kid’s head in a panic. She thanked me too many times, and I tried to make her feel better by explaining that all three of my kids had done the same at some point in time. Nikos looked shocked and asked when that happened. Eye rolls are very appropriate in a marriage when one asks questions as such.

Nikolas told me he couldn’t wait for baseball season to begin. He loved the game and admitted that he’d never be able to throw as far as the guys on the team. It had been an exciting evening, and for a couple innings, the Twins were catching up. Nikos’ homeless friend never showed up, but I hope he’d at least gone to the game.

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It was getting chilly, even with the blanket I’d packed-yes, I was feeling momentarily smug and all organized, like a got-it-together kind of mom. Of course, all I had to do was glance down at my mustard/onion/ketchup massacre to remember I was as well put together as scrambled eggs in a frying pan. It was well past Katerina’s bed time, so we decided to leave before the game had ended.

Driving home sleepy and contented, I sang “Twinkle Little Star” to Katerina, our nightly ritual. I turned and appreciatively stated, “Katerina, thank you for this wonderful game! We wouldn’t have gone, had it not been for you and Shriners!” Katerina wisely replied, “No Mama, don’t thank me. Thank God for making my legs special.” I doubt there is need for me to explain the whopping big lesson that I learned from my precious little girl that wonderful evening.

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