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Not That I'm Complaining...


Not That I'm Complaining...

I came home to silence, the kind I needed — the whirr of the refrigerator, the click of the ceiling fan. It’s been two months without a day alone.

Not that I’m complaining. 

My husband — the beloved husband who crossed an ocean for me, for our life together, who is adored by his mother-in-law, adopted by his sister and brother-in-law and tolerated by his twenty-three-year-old autistic ‘step’ son — is training into a new restaurant which means a nine to five schedule with weekends off.  Same as my schedule. A departure from his two weekdays off and evening shifts.  How wonderful it’s been to spend time together. 

Well, spending time together isn’t really right — he was studying and fretting and exhausted from the ungodly regular person experience of a 6:30 a.m. alarm.  Also he’s Egyptian (Middle Eastern, man, traditional, blah, blah, blah) so requests for dinner and pressed clothes and his coffee were more like orders this month.  

Not that I’m complaining.

He’d do the same for me if I was learning a new job with all the executives in the company watching my every move. I’d do the same for you.  

His training was going on during the time that my parents were preparing to go north for the summer. While they are a very capable eighty-fourish, they are, well, eighty-four.  Requests for help with the thing on the thing (cable box) or the thing that won’t (internet) were coming rapid fire until they left.  They made it to the cabin and the Russians delivered their car. I kid you not, a family of Russians have a car delivery business and drive a rig from Spokane to Orlando for them.  So, all is well.  Except for the phone call last Thursday, “Can you stop by the house and look on the shelf upstairs, over the computer for my Powerball numbers and in the closet on the shelf above the shoes for the Bose noise cancelling headphones?”  One assumes that if dad wins, mom will need the headphones to cancel out the partying with the Russians.  

Not that I’m complaining.

It’s just of note that also my daily lunch hour for the last three weeks was devoted to picking up Henry, who is in a job training program. They needed to change the schedule last minute and I didn’t have the emotional ability to call Access Lynx and update his disability services van. Somehow mustering the strength for a daily drive across town was more doable than being on hold for forty-five minutes. 

Not that I’m complaining.

No. The complaining came when I stepped into my gloriously silent home sure that the husband would not be back until 11 p.m., knowing that Henry was with his dad until the next day and the parents are being cared for by the Russians.

I dropped my bags on the kitchen bar, stepped out of my clothes and headed to the sliding glass door.  I stepped into my bathing suit, opened the door and heard, no, it wasn’t thunder. It must be the neighbors rolling out their garbage. My feet hit the heated concrete porch and I heard it again. The roll. The boom. Then the pool which was reflecting the sun turned to gray in front of me.  

I started to feel the complaint rise up in me.  How could you, God. Universe.  Thundercloud.   How could you?  I stood looking at my beautiful pool, thinking about my how I hadn’t complained for two months. I wanted to scream but instead said to no one, since I was actually alone, “Well. That hurts my feelings.” 

With that admission I somehow moved from complaint to the understanding that I was tired, my energy poured out on people I love and on their well being.  And now I had a choice.  I could sit in the rain speaking out loud my What Have You Done For Me Lately complaints or I could choose me. 

I sat down at the piano, the one my parents bought when I was six or seven and showed an interest.  The interest waned at fourteen but not because I was fourteen, rather because I was terrible. Really. Very bad. It’s possible I haven’t played the piano in 20 years.   

I pulled out the Easy Classics and played. Mozart tepidly, Bach badly and found a Couperin that wasn’t horrendous. Then I made a BLT (turkey bacon, of course, Egyptian in-laws) and sat under the cover on my porch while it rained, amazed by what life is like when I can’t complain.  


French Fries, Faith and Losing a Friend. 

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French Fries, Faith and Losing a Friend. 

There was a particularly desperate time in my life. At seven years old, Henry was in the full bloom of behaviors. In the car, he’d reach from the back seat to my driver’s seat and pull my hair. He’d scream. I’d scream. Once, I pulled under an overpass and we shrieked until there was no more sound. Then we drove on. 

One of those shrieking, desperate afternoons I was wearing, sweat pants, and a pale t-shirt with a sweater, all purchased from the Longwood Goodwill, as were all my clothes at that time. Henry insisted we go inside to the play place. The play place was a particular trial for me. He’d loose his socks or shoes or some article of clothing up in the highest tube. His play would confuse and challenge the other kids. The fear of a toileting mishap was constant. That day I was too tired and beaten up to argue, so in we went.  

In the warm afternoon I removed my sweater and left it in the car. It wasn’t until after we were in line that I saw that the pattern on my bargain box bra was showing through the modest pale pink shirt. I looked Iike I’d been panhandling for the 50 cents for our fries. 

When we got to the counter, the kid stepped aside to let the manager assist us. I looked into the face of my friend and pastor, Orlando Rivera. He was getting a business degree and felt he needed to have real-world management experience. He was also pastoring a church downtown and had moved his family, his wife and and then three or four of what would ultimately become 10 children, to a home on Westmoreland Street. There in the poorest neighborhood, they lived church from their front porch.  

It was school pick up time, so the play place was miraculously empty. Orlando took a break and brought a tray of fries — GFCF for Henry, vegetarian for him. We started what would be a semi-regular session. Henry played in his way and I received the counsel of my friend, pastor and manager of the Winter Park McDonalds.  

Last week, I got a text from my friend Sheryl whose birthday falls on August 3rd, the same day as mine, the same day as Orlando’s.  “Our birthday brother…” it started. I read it several times without understanding. Tragic. Traffic. Accident. Lost. And then I found myself on the ground and heard a wailing sound. My husband was next to me holding my phone saying, “I’m so sorry.”  

Nothing in my faith tradition, religious practices or in holy text helps me make sense here.  There is no a+b=c to look up. There’s no information to apply that helps me understand. 

But here’s what comes to me from the mystery of faith: the resonance of a man who took time for french fries with a desperate mother is eternal. It rings now in the lives of his children. It rings now in my life and Henry’s life. And its beautiful sound is ringing now in the heavenlies. 

Orlando Rivera

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There Are No Snacks


There Are No Snacks

Henry called me on President’s Day.  He never calls me.  When I leave him home alone to grocery shop he has a set of rules:

  • Don’t Go Outside
  • Don’t Answer the Door
  • Answer Me When I Call
  • Don’t Jump On The Bed

He never answers, preferring to text me three days later to tell me he’s fine.

I was at work when his name and face appeared on my screen.

“Hi, Honey. Are you OK?”

“Hi, Mom.”

There was despair in his voice in just those two words.

“I fell. I’m hurt.”

“Oh no. What happened?”

“I fell. I’m hurt.  And there’s no snacks.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry.”

Except that I’m not sorry. I’m the one who instituted the no-snacks policy.  He turned 22 and his teenage-boy metabolism is slowing to adult-man rate but he’s still eating like a teenage boy.  We met with his doctor who told him to lose weight. I printed up memos for the refrigerators of all three houses where he divides his time. The schedule outlines specific times for meals and one snack. Then for his science project he wouldn’t choose a topic, so I chose for him and titled it You Get A Serving Size! and he had to cut out pictures of serving sizes and we made a meme of Oprah for the heading. Yeah. I’m that mom. 

“So, you fell.  Are you at Dad’s house?”

“Yeah.  I’m at my Dad’s.”

“Did you talk to your Dad about being hurt?”

“Yeah, I talked to my Dad.  I’m hurt. And there are no snacks.”

“What hurts? Your knee, your head? Are you bleeding?”

“My tummy hurts.  There are no snacks.”

“Hmm.  Maybe the problem isn’t the fall, maybe it’s that you’re frustrated that there are no snacks.”

“I’m hurt and there are no snacks.”

“I’m so sorry.  I love you.  Do you feel better?”

“Yeah.” Click.

I followed up with a  congratulatory call to his Dad for maintaining the no-snacks policy under what was obviously intense pressure.

Giving up something that fills us is hard, even if the thing is artificially flavored and your goal is something much more fulfilling.  It feels empty in your tummy.  If makes every little bump hurt worse when there are no snacks.  The cosmic reality in this is that there are no snacks.  There are no short cuts to what we really want.  There’s no way to get that true fullness we crave by shoving something, anything, into that empty space.

I’m saying this from halfway through a Lenten fast from alcohol. How can there be three more Sundays of this?! Yesterday, I toyed with the idea of lying to my Muslim husband and saying that in the Christian faith we only fast for half the time, so I could have a chardonnay now.  NOW. Then I thought, that’s just me facetiming God and saying “I’m hurt and there are no snacks.” My tummy is empty and that space usually filled by a Sunday afternoon white feels uncomfortable and ill-fitting and a little boring. There is something I want that is filling. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I know that the best way to find out is to clear out room, forgo snacks, feel empty and make room for something really filling. 


World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition


World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition

I’m not your typical Soccer Mom and Henry isn’t your typical Soccer player.  In fact, I’m not even your typical Special Olympics Soccer Mom, and Henry definitely isn’t your typical Special Olympian. 

Henry was 6 or 7 when we started Special Olympics. We only started because the coach bugged me.  I am not a sports person.  I’m a theater person.  I never played team sports and I had very little interest in getting my child involved. I didn’t want to go to practices, I didn’t want to get up early and drive 30 miles to Apopka on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to own a fold out chair.   But Coach kept at me, “Get Henry into Special Olympics.”  I asked her straight up, “What’s he going to do, host?” “I promise you, he loves it.”  

So off we went to our first competition, track & field.  We drove 30 miles.  I didn’t get a camp chair.  The kids ran the 50 yard dash with a helper at the finish line holding their favorite item — a bag of cheetos, a People magazine, a bag of M&Ms.  Henry’s helper held a DVD case.  On your mark, get set, go! And they were off, hyper-focused on their goodies, except Henry.  His body was running down his lane, but his face was turned to the cheering crowd.  He was on fire!  We were jumping up and down and screaming like crazy.  He ran all the way to the finish line where Mr. Eric was waving his favorite Disney DVD.  And he stopped, right before the line, then he turned and waved to the crowd.  Mr. Eric was screaming.  We were screaming.  CROSS THE LINE! CROSS THE LINE!   The more we yelled, the more he soaked it in — standing 2 inches from the finish line, basking in the glory.  

The next year, Coach Haas did get him the opportunity to host.  He led the athlete's oath on a microphone and has done so off and on for years. We gave up on Track & Field for Special Olympics Bowling, Basketball Skills and Soccer Skills.  That’s 3 times a year for those still counting. Some years we make it to State.  Other years we enjoy our sixth place ribbon.  I still have never bought a camp chair. And I admit, that on occasion I cheer for him to get 4th place so we don’t have to go on to the State level.  Honestly, going to both the County and Area competitions of an elevated game of HORSE is enough, right?  This attitude has earned me the title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition.  

The truth is he does love it.  He loves the attention.  If he’s not the chosen host, he hosts anyway, introducing his team, taking to the court or the field when there is a lull in activities, and always entertaining the parents and the volunteers. And I remain the World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition — I forget to bring water.  I forget what weekend it’s on.  I never have a chair.  I forget sunscreen.  I forget a snack.  The times I remember to bring water and snacks we’re there for 20 minutes, up first, play, get our ribbon and go and I have to haul all that junk back to the car.  When I forget to bring the giant cooler of treats, a magazine for me, an iPad for him, that’s when we’re inevitably there for four hours.  

There are many Special Olympians that are true athletes and the passion Henry has for entertaining, they have for their sport. It’s always a pleasure to watch them in action.  Henry does ok with his sport and he’s gotten better every year.  But here’s the thing about Special Olympics that I didn’t expect.  He loves the competition.  All the kids do. It does something to them.  Their energy changes.  Their focus increases.  Their passion gets channelled.  They work together as a team. They work to best their own performance. I had no idea that team sports would do this for Henry but it has.  He’s grown as a person, his disability has been challenged and his character developed.  And sometimes he gets to host. Now to entertain myself and Henry while we wait his turn, we create live streaming videos where he turns soccer skills into a Million Dollar Tournament.  This keeps me from being the worst soccer mom on the field and enables me to maintain my title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition.  This year, not only did he do videos, host, and hand out a trip to Jamaica but he played really well.  He got a blue ribbon and first place in his division.  Yay!  State Competition here we come…