Sunday, August 31, 2014

The words that must be said

(This was originally published as a Dallas Morning News Community Voices column on November 27, 2008)

In 1991, when my daughters' school district faced a controversy over a textbook shortage, public outcry resulted in the scheduling of community meetings to explain the situation. Parents had the opportunity to voice their concerns. As I sat, intending only to listen, a Hispanic woman approached me. I didn't know her, but recognized her from my youngest daughter's school. The mother, obviously concerned that her limited English might prevent her from expressing herself clearly, pulled at my arm and pleaded, "You talk for us. You have words. Please, you talk."

So I registered to speak and addressed the representatives on her behalf. She hugged me and thanked me. Seventeen years later, I can't recall what I said to that Dallas ISD panel or what they said to the audience. What I do remember is that mother's confidence in my ability to express her concerens. I gave her a voice that she might not otherwise have had.

Not long afterward, a dear friend decided to leave her husband after more than 20 years of marriage. When she called to tell me, she said she wondered if there could ever be a chance of happiness after years of sadness. She said, "He told me so many times that I was worthless, that I was stupid. I stopped believing in myself."

I was heartsick. I had witnessed that emotional abuse and heard those caustic words, yet I had not spoken up to dispute them. I had told myself it was none of my business, that I must be over-sensitive, that surely if the verbal mistreatment bothered her she would stand up for herself.

I had kept silent.

Recently I participated in an event hosted by a domestic violence shelter and advocate agency. Two women who had left abusive relationships shared their stories about the positive changes in their lives made possible by the services the agency provides. They had made the decision to seek help after someone close to them had told them that there was hope for a better life. Someone had cared enough to speak up.

I thought back to those two experiences. I remembered how good it felt to help someone have a voice - and how terrible I felt after that long-ago conversation with my friend. I called her and asked, "If I had spoken up in your defense when I heard your husband ridiculing you, if I had let him know I disagreed, would it have helped?"

"I'm not sure it would have stopped him," she replied, "but it  might have helped me find the strength to do something sooner. I felt awfully alone."

A person I barely knew asked me to speak up for her at a public meeting, and I was glad to help. A person I love needed someone to speak up on her behalf, and I was silent. In the first case, I spoke up and barely remember it. In the second case, I said nothing and have never forgotten it.

Isn't life often that way? We hear unkind words and keep silent, or see unkind actions and keep silent. Not because we don't care, but because we're afraid of what the reaction might be to speaking up. Not because we don't care, but because we don't feel that it's our business to interfere. Not because we don't care, but because our lives are so busy we don't make the time to get involved.

But if we don't speak up, perhaps the necessary words remain unsaid. If we don't protest, perhaps the hurtful actions continue. If we don't show that we care, perhaps a person who needs that caring feels awfully alone.

I still regret that I didn't speak up for my friend when I should have. She made me realize that it may be a good thing to speak up when it's easy, but it's often a better thing to speak up when it's difficult.

In the years since, I have tried always to speak up against unkindness, cruelty and injustice. Not stridently, not angrily, but firmly. If I can be a voice for someone who needs an advocate, I will. All I have to do is remember my friend's words, "I felt awfully alone."

Never again. Not if I can help it.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Can I make a mid-year resolution?

Some years back when my parents made the sudden decision to leave their home of 40+ years and move into a retirement community, I asked Mom, "what about the house and all your stuff? What are you going to do about it?" She replied, "Oh, I thought you kids could figure that out for us."

"You kids" was pretty much me. As the eldest child, I had usually been the one called upon the pick up the mail and feed the birds when Mom and Dad went on vacation. Since for several years Jack and I lived just a block away from the folks, it did make sense. Even when we moved into another house, I was still the kid who was closest geographically, so I was the one called upon. So once they made the decision to move, I began spending several evenings a week going through the mountains of crap (and I use that term intentionally) that they had accumulated and held onto to try to get to the point where we could have an estate sale.

Although Dad had three storage buildings in the back yard, each with available space, he had lumber in the attic. Lumber. In the attic. Who does that? Also in the attic was a waterbed mattress from the 70s, a giant piece of stained glass that was in the front window of their long-ago studio, a box full of faded sales receipts from the studio (like a customer was gonna seek him out 30 years later about a refund?), and just plain junk. In one storage building were probably 60 or 70 individual cabinet doors. I think Dad used a few of them to cut up and build wall display units for their various collections of thimbles or whatever, but what the heck? How could he possibly need 60 cabinet doors?

There were three or four 4-drawer metal filing cabinets full of records, most of them unnecessary.

What I didn't find was family photographs. "Where are all the pictures of us when we were kids?" we asked Mom. "Oh, I threw most of them away. I scanned them into my computer where they didn't take up as much room."

You keep worthless sales receipts from the 80s but throw away sentimentally-priceless photographs from the 50s and 60s. Check.

When I first started the cleansing process I was worried that I might be setting up for a family version of Hoarders, but I was amazed to find that my folks let go of nearly everything extraneous without a fuss. They took the furniture and housewares they needed for the new place but let everything else go, to estate sale or trash as applicable. After months of dirty, exhausting effort at cleaning and clearing out, I swore to myself that I would never accumulate that much junk myself, would never do that to my children.

And today, more than six years later, I look around my house and see that I'm doing precisely that. I have enough fabric to open my own store -- and probably half of it is more than 10 years old. I don't make my daughters' clothes any more, and seldom make anything for myself. I work at a job where I see only family, never deal with the public, and can wear shorts and tees to work. So I don't need many nice blouses and skirts. Why am I keeping this fabric? There are two boxes labeled "Vintage Patterns," none of which I've looked at in years. And two big woven baskets of embroidered linens which I keep thinking I'll incorporate into dresses for my toddler granddaughters -- who only want to wear stuff that's sparkly and princess-like.

I have two drawers in my dresser that are basically junk drawers. Old pin-on buttons (Super Singer, We Support Our Troops-Come Home Soon [pretty sure that dates from Viet Nam days], Overworked and Underpaid, Native Texan, DISD Volunteer, and so on), mortarboard tassels from graduations, a decorative box from India, a Color Me Beautiful swatch book (if you've never had your colors done, I can't explain it), handkerchiefs: stuff, stuff, stuff.

An upstairs closet holds most of my collection of vintage clothes. Oh, I do have some wonderful things from the 40s and 50s, and I used to be able to fit into some of them and even wore them now and then. But that was years ago, and now they just hang there in the dark.

My bedroom closet holds other things with sentimental value: a tee shirt from my church choir (a church that dissolved in 1996), my grandmom's View Master, a tartan from my mom that features a plaid of one of our ancestor's lines, the shoes I wore to high school prom, a stuffed unicorn (definitely an 80s item)...Seriously, will my daughters care about any of those things when I'm gone? Absolutely not. If my house caught fire and I only had time to grab a few things as I escaped, would I grab those prom shoes? Absolutely not.

I've never been big on new year's resolutions. They sound good, they may make us feel good, but we all know that they usually fizzle pretty quickly, probably because we make them only because we think we're supposed to. But this year I want to make a mid-year resolution, and I'm going to try hard to keep it. I'm going to start paring down - tossing out, selling on eBay or donating to charity - a lot of the stuff that is strangling me and taking up too much space in my house and in my life.

Even though it's taken too many years to get me off dead center, I do realize that the things that are important to me are the things that evoke precious memories. My journals about my daughters. The letters Jack wrote me from college. Family photos. The outfits Jack's mom knitted for our girls when they were little. The quilt my Great-Aunt Sue made that includes fabrics I gave her.

I'm challenging myself to let go of at least some of the clutter. Let's see if I'm up to the challenge.








Monday, January 14, 2013

Even when you're Mom, you're a mama

If I'd ever sat down to think it through all the way down the line before I had any kids, I imagine I would have accepted that my job was to raise my daughters to be "good" kids - to display all kinds of positive qualities, probably a sort of Boy-Scout-trait checklist, (thrifty, clean, brave, reverent, etc., with "good steward of the earth's resources" thrown in for good measure). I would have thought that once I got them raised to be adults, and they were out of the house with families of their own, their lives were their own responsibility and my job was essentially done.

I would have been so silly, and so wrong.

That reality is brought home to me each time a crisis or calamity occurs that affects one of those daughters. When a grown daughter needs sudden and unexpected surgery, she might as well be 6, because I can't be at ease until I know she's made it through okay. Yes, I know she has a husband who loves her dearly and is with her. Yes, I know the medical personnel are capable and that this surgery is not usually dangerous. Yes, I know that it's impossible to go through life without trauma of one kind or another.

I know all those things in my head. In my heart, what I know is that no matter how old they are, they are my children (who were once upon a time my babies), and seeing them hurt, hurts. And I want to fix it.

So I try to walk the fine line between helpful mom and overprotective mom, and throw in just a hint of a breezy "you'll be just fine" vibe to help keep my upper lip stiff.  I will myself NOT to call every hour on the hour to make sure she's still feeling okay. I tell myself she will obey the doctor's orders to take it easy. I remind myself that she is a wonderful, responsible, level-headed person who is perfectly capable of asking for help if she needs it.

But when something like this happens, I don't feel like Mom, I feel like Mama, wishing I could hold her on my lap and hug her and make it better.









Monday, February 20, 2012

Sew much fun

Janet started it. She had a bunch of tees from her Texas Tech days and asked if I could make her a tee quilt. I had a blast putting it all together. Then Jack was envious and wanted one, so he rounded up some tees that he didn't wear anymore but hadn't thrown out because of sentimental reasons, and I made him one. Then I was at a thrift store one day and saw a tee that said "Twisted Sister" on front, and another one that said "Blame my Sister" and I knew that I had to make one for my sister Karen, whose birthday was coming up. I made a Midlothian Panthers throw for the Longbranch PTV school carnival's silent auction. Another was constructed from g-daughter Megan's Waxahachie High School tees. I made one for my teacher friend Daniel from his Bishop Dunne school tees. The one shown here was for my grandson Joseph's birthday. The most recent one was for son-in-law Jeremiah, from some more Texas Tech tees. (and Jer's was made extra-long so he could really wrap up in it).

Although these are pieced works, they're only partially quilted (for those of you in the know, I do stitch-in-the-ditch to outline) because with fleece backing they're substantial enough that they don't need much quilting. So I call them tee 'throws' rather than tee quilts.

I haven't calculated how many hours go into one of these. It doesn't matter because each one has been a labor of love. It's so much fun shopping for just the right complementary fabrics, then laying each design out and making it personal. I've got another one in mind, one that will be a complete surprise to the recipient.

Please excuse me. I hear the fabric store calling.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Genetic, or learned behavior, it's still dumb

Last week my dad fell and cut his hand. The nurse at the retirement home bandaged it but thought he probably needed stitches. So Mom loaded up both walkers into the car, and drove the couple of miles to the VA Hospital, where they had to wait nearly five hours for treatment (stitching and bandaging - turns out he broke a couple of bones). In all that time all they had to eat was a bag of popcorn and a bottle of Sprite. By the time they were done it was dark and her valet-parked car was nowhere to be found. A sympathetic security officer took her keys, found the car, and brought it to them. The idea of my 80-year-old mom, stomach growling, wandering around a parking lot in the dark looking for her car really made me unhappy.

And I didn't know about any of this until late the next day, when I learned of it by the email she sent to several family members.

No matter how many times I tell her "call me and I'll come help you," she never wants to bother me, especially when I'm working, so I don't find out until afterward. Even for the follow-up visit this week, she turned down Aunt Suzie's offer of a ride. That's my mom to a T: independent and unwilling to bother anyone else.

And it wasn't until just a few moments ago that I realized I've been doing the same thing for much of my life.

For years I've wrestled with a deep-seated insecurity that made me feel that I wasn't worth imposing on someone else's time.  That really is what has kept me so darn stubborn for so many years, only asking for help when I absolutely had to. I just always thought people would resent having to help me, or at least be very annoyed. And that's really stupid, if I'd only taken the time to analyze it. Because if someone asks me for help, I don't resent it, or get annoyed (at least not usually...) Instead, I'm nearly always glad to do what I can when I can. So why shouldn't I allow others the same response? I'm not talking about the kind of uber-neediness that some folks display, always wanting this favor or that favor, but surely a broken-bone-have-to-get-to-the-hospital kind of need justifies asking for (and accepting) a helping hand.

If I'm really, truly brutally honest, I wonder if my stubborn independence is actually a bit selfish with just a tinge of martyrdom. "I don't need help. This is my responsibility. I'll just have to gut it up and do it myself. (Sigh)."

I'm gonna think about this some more. But I'm also going to try to ask for help when I need it, and accept it when it's offered.

And I'm gonna tell my mom that if she doesn't call me next time, I'll kick her butt.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Walking for the Cure says I love you

This year on the first weekend in November, 2700 women and men took part in the Dallas-area Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. Each participant raises at least $2300, funds which go to global breast cancer research and local programs supporting breast cancer education, screening, and treatment. In a commitment beyond fund-raising, they walk 60 miles over the course of three days to raise awareness, support those fighting breast cancer, honor lives lost, and celebrate those who have survived the disease. For one unforgettable weekend, they become a community.

Hundreds of volunteers help at the base camp and the pit stops, give rides to those who need a break, care for medical needs, and much more. The pit stops allow walkers to rest, rehydrate, and have a snack. Pit Stop 4 each day is manned by staff from Komen national headquarters along with volunteers. My daughter Joanna works for Komen, and she persuaded me to volunteer. Once I experienced it, I was hooked.

In 2006 my friend Dianne Horton of Cedar Hill volunteered with me. Our task was to stand on the corner and cheer the walkers as they approached Pit Stop 4. We laughed at the crazy outfits some of them wore, and fought tears when we saw tee-shirt tributes to lives lost. We didn’t know anyone walking, but it didn’t matter - we celebrated as if they were long-lost friends, and told them “Hang in there - you’re nearly done!”

In November 2009, Dianne was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. During her illness, her daughters Sarah St. Louis, Rachel Edwards, and Rebecca Epperley signed up for the 3-Day to honor their mom. They held a garage sale, hosted a concert fundraiser, and appealed to friends, family and coworkers to support their efforts. Their dad Hank joined the support crew which camps with the walkers. Together the family raised nearly $11,000 for the cause.

Dianne lost her battle with breast cancer on September 11. It would have been understandable for her daughters to decide not to go through with the walk while their grief was so fresh. But they channeled that grief into a determination to follow through, to walk in tribute to the mother they loved so dearly. They know how important it is to hold on to hope for those who still must fight.

Some people say they’re tired of seeing pink ribbons and hearing about breast cancer. But breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women across the globe. You may never have breast cancer, but someone you know has it or will have it. Even though individual battles will be lost, we have to believe that the war against breast cancer will ultimately be won. By giving, by loving, by supporting those who fight.

And for Sarah, Rachel, and Rebecca, by walking 60 miles.

11/08/10  Found online at http://neighborsgo.com/stories/62558