x's and o's

Walking in line with a few hundred other graduates at the Convention Center-- the first thing I looked for was H and the boys.  A sea of faces, where were they, I squinted up and finally saw them, my heart skipped a beat—they’ve never looked so handsome and so big, and so well, I got lost in a moment of love for my family and gratitude for this strange journey. 
Relief swooshed over me walking onto that platform in graduate attire, relief when I shook that outstretched hand, passing a document rolled cleanly like a baton, wrapped with a little silk ribbon.  The relief—walking back to my seat. It’s finished. This part is finished.  Scroll in hand, I found the boys again in the distant stands and saw their thumbs up, outstretched arms and excited waves, I saw H beside them, his still-tantalizing-after-11-years-grin saying everything, “I’m so proud of you. Here we are, we made it again.” 
I found my seat and listened one by one to all the other names called and thought of the stories behind the names, the journey each one of them took—the struggle of a few hundred motley crew students through school via second chances, single parenting, day jobs and night jobs, babies born during capstone courses and still not quitting.  Everyone has a story.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps the biggest collective sigh Cox Convention Center has ever seen. “It’s finished.  This part is finished.”
In reality, this is just the beginning. The next chapter has started and we are on our way. For me, what that means, I can’t really say. 
School wasn’t simply a stepping-stone towards something ahead like i originally thought.
When I started back to college three years ago I had the best of intentions. But you know how intentions go. I want to be a therapist I’d say.  Oh and then I’ll get my master’s, and then... and then… just you wait.  I was sort of embarrassed about being right where I was.  I apologized for my lack of ambition in the past, those infamous, postpartum, roaring twenties, and I handed out my common soliloquy to make certain you knew I had a plan.  “Oh yes, I have a plan.  This school thing, oh don’t mind that, pretend that’s not there.  Here, look at what I’ll become.”
Then, halfway into getting back into the swing of college demands—brain chalked full of vexing cognitive quarrels—H was struck with a near fatal illness, and more than a few times I near fell apart trying to keep everything together.  Come to find out, trying to keep everything together is an illusion along with thinking you have a plan, and one must learn the formidable act of uttering two simple words when necessary, “Please help.” A major lesson while learning lessons in class—learned.
Back to glancing up while in graduation garb and seeing the boys in the stands:  I had a wave of realization hit me as I took in the moment.  I learned more while on this strange journey than I could have imagined, and I don’t just mean about neuroses and psychological theories.  And what I learned won't impact a might-be-career, near as much as the way I parent. 
Somewhere along the way I stopped caring so much about what other people think.  Somewhere along the way I stopped apologizing for the kind of parent I wasn’t yet, or for the kind of parent I’d been when I ‘secretly’ sought solace in the banal bottle of booze.  Somewhere along the way I learned how to love learning, remembered how to ask questions, and feel the natural high of being curious and sleuth-like about things I know not of yet. So many riddles in this life! So many curiosities and quandaries beckoning us to come see and find out, look into or read!
Somewhere along the way I decided not to compare myself anymore to the slew of  “shoulds” that took up residence for so long in my psyche.
Somewhere along the way, I learned it’s ok to be this random Alison person with all these upside down and backwards ways of doing things and that maybe just maybe this is the mom I’m supposed to be to these little human beings entrusted to me for a wee bit of time (shall I say big, growing bigger in their sleep each night). 
College at 34 was exactly where I was supposed to be to find out how to be in the now, to grab hold of it, to share the upside down and backwards process with the boys—all the pains and joys of learning some ‘elementary’ lessons as an adult.  To learn to not pretend I have it all together, but include them in the family story by really living in it, engaging in it, not wishing for a different one or someone else’s story.  Re-engaging in life before it all makes sense, to fully ‘live the questions now’ as Rilke implored.  Before I learn how to organize, or the house gets fixed, or we have a grown up family sized car, or before we find Dave Ramsey’s financial peace, in other words stop putting off living and love life in the here and now.  Live the questions now.  
I looked up in the stands waved up at the boys and saw them waving with the hugest smiles on their faces.  As younger brother, L described how he felt about his birthday party bliss one year, “I can’t explain it with words Mom; I can only feel it.”
That’s my family up there, my team. They are my home. My residence could be anywhere, and in the last 10 years has been many-wheres. But this crew waving at me, we fought to stay a ‘we’, we ran the heck out of some plays out there on the 'field'. 
Pretense doesn’t have a place anymore, fear isn’t fought alone anymore, pain cannot penetrate the walls anymore, chaos or catastrophe cannot control anymore. We have learned love really can conquer and cover and connect pieces back together.
{I’m not talking a Hollywood-ending kind of love here.  This is a new beginning sort of love.  A forgiveness sort of love.  A willingness to come out of hiding, out of acting parts but really walking around with a broken heart sort of love.  A love that usurps physical pain/limitations, mental/chemical imbalances, ugly phases, pretty faces, hard truths, and bad news.  A love that we found by finding out how little the externals matter, and how strong “starting from scratch”(sometimes a second or third time) can re-build this fortress called family.}
Miracles come out of mistakes if we let them, if we keep playing, keeping fighting towards the other side- upside down as it may seem. There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen sings.
School wasn’t a stepping-stone to something bigger.  School is a part of the story.  And as upside down and backwards as it may be some days, I’ve learned to live life on life-now’s terms rather than yearn or strain towards a life I think will look better, feel better in the future; meanwhile missing miracles that come out of mistakes or mayhem or come what may. 
I’m grateful to be a college graduate finally.  I’m grateful for the lessons I learned along the way that taught me how to engage in the game of life and parenting more than i did before.  We can take those kinds of lessons out of any challenge confronting us. 
To echo Coach Taylor’s unfettered phrase: “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” As H says—sometimes joking sometimes not—thank football.  This time I may have to thank football.  Vince Lombardi sums it up well, “Once you agree upon the price you and your family must pay for success, it enables you to ignore the minor hurts, the opponent’s pressure, and the temporary failures.”  On to the next play…


Welcome stranger

I had a dream last night.  In the dream I went to a restaurant on a pier in a different city than the one I live.  I passed an old fellow walking by me and we made eye contact.
Eye contact.
He found me later and sat across from me at a table and he asked me questions about who I was, where I came from and where I was going.  He did the strangest thing throughout the conversation—he looked me in the eyes.  At first I didn’t know how to look back at him, it felt so foreign, so unrushed, and so different.  But by the time he shook my hand and wished me good luck and walked away as mysteriously as he came, I realized I was starving for this kind of interaction.
Eyes. Something we don’t see near as much, perhaps we make less eye contact than any time in history. 
Even in a dream state, I felt ‘seen’ and remembered how to ‘see’ someone else.  This stranger across from me was a worn, unsightly fellow yet through the course of a conversation became a radiantly incomparable kind soul. 
Perhaps it’s still true—the eyes are windows to the soul.  Perhaps kindness and interest and compassion and many other emotions can be transferred through looking into another’s eyes and communicating worth.  Maybe we are not a food hungry country but maybe we are a face hungry country. 
I don’t want to get used to the feeling of holding and checking and looking at my phone while having a conversation with one of my boys, or husband, or friend, or stranger.  When did it become so okay to be so un-present? 
It took a dream of all things to wake me up, to remember what face time and conversation—undivided attention—felt like.  Ironic.  I woke up hungry and aware of my foibles. 
No one else is going to teach my kids etiquette when it comes to eye contact and conversation.  If I omit the human action of undivided attention, then it follows that my kids will most likely omit undivided attention from their relationships and perhaps their kids one day. 
Wake-up. This stranger on the pier seemed to say with his actions, wake-up.  What do you hold dear?  If it is conversation—with family or friends or strangers—attributing worth through eye contact, well then do it.  Put the phone down, away if need be, and be deliberate with what you hold dear.  Fight for what you hold dear internally and externally.  Don’t wish for a time when you didn’t have to decide because there was no such thing as a device in your hand that held your life.  Hold your life in your hands and decide what you are going to do with a device that is put-away-able.  Decide and then keep deciding.  Don’t blindly start and continue hiding behind it.  Practice and decide, teach your kids that they have a choice as well, that they can disconnect for various lengths of time and connect with the human face.   They won’t be missing anything, they will be gaining the ultimate and increasingly rare gift—being present and showing worth to the person you are with.  You will be gaining this gift too, and it will fill your starving soul with what it needs to stay connected.  Then you can give the gift away and offer what the stranger in the dream offered you.
Sustaining power of eye contact for a starving society.  I think we are going to get more and more hungry and we will need—strangers who remind us, even if in our dreams, to wake us up and feel the longing to see and be seen, to stop and ask questions, to connect; device not included.  



I've received an unconventional education.  I don't so much mean school.  Though my school education was a bit unconventional-- jam packed with various "inhibitors" hardwired into my brain at a wee age. That aside;
The unconventional education I'm referring to: "Addiction 101" and "Depression/Anxiety 101."  I failed much of 2 decades worth of classes.  And then...A bit over 4 years ago, I started passing these classes and actually learning something, retaining a few things, and applying a few whatnots to some whathaveyous.  For this education, now I am eternally grateful.  I know for fact I wouldn't be a parent or wife or friend or student or dog-owner (etc) were it not for this unconventional education.  Because i was originally a runner (not the cardio kind), a non-forgiver, a non-asker-of-forgiveness, a know-it-all though i acted like i didn't know it all, a doubter of hope, a victim of loss, a confused little girl unable to grow up.  In other words, really needed to figure out how to pass some classes or else i was going to flunk out of life completely... and almost did.  And then a couple of rather brilliant, humble teachers (the first of many) encouraged me as good teachers do-- that i had some potential if i would just take a look at some things (refer here to "I was originally a...") and be willing to do something different and admit I wasn't so original but simply human, like all humans, and thus the pressure off having to prove my originality over and over i could finally admit and see-- I'm selfish (check). I'm addicted (check). I'm ready for something different (check). Hence, admittance into school of hard knocks round 2, now armed with a study guide or 2.
I'm in no way a 4 point student.  There's certain pop quizzes, especially when it comes to anxiety or fear, that i still barely scrape by.  There's moments in being a parent especially that i fail and then realize a make-up quiz is immediately available, i just have to be willing to take it.  Which usually entails an "I'm sorry".  Which as a parent is humbling.  But I've seen make an impact far greater than what i used to think parenting naturally entailed:  Act always like you have it together.  Especially when you don't.  Pretend like everything's peachy, don't admit your wrong because the wee ones might smell weakness; lecture and spoonfeed, brainwash if needed, be in control. 

Yep, i said it, hogwash. 
This line of thinking kept me drunk and depressed and emotionally eating my way into bed.
This line of thinking kept my wee ones at a distance, and established a "do as i say, not as i do, why? because i said so." kind of relationship. 
This line of thinking is not in my new study guide.  And thank goodness.  thank all that is thank-able. 
Pretense teaches how to pretend. So if I strive to 'pretend' like everything is ok, and then expect my wee ones to take responsibility, act humbly, be honest, any number of lecture points we carry in our parent arsenal-- well, simply put, fail. It will fail. It's like the law of gravity.  It's no fun. It wastes precious time that could be spent connecting and dealing with our own poop instead of incessantly covering over our poop only then to start teaching others how to cover their poop.  I apologize for the uncouth comparison.  But this is an important, no vital, lesson to me constantly.  A lesson i have to keep learning or i try again to live to cover up poop instead of live to learn. And in effort to learn, I find that teaching (especially wee ones) NATURALLY and organically occurs.  Our learning process with all our A's and D's and every grade in between can be a classroom in and of itself to our wee ones (referring to all ages of course).  It's not about trying to convince others we are straight A students when really we are struggling to even pass, it's about getting extra help when we need it, a tutor for some of our questions perhaps, being open to see new formulas or strategies to help work out the problem. 
Lecturing usually entails a whole lot of words and a teensy weensy bit of listening (and comes from our own foibles usually, as i've revealed in earlier posts- oh the lecture i hastily give wee one when meant for me to change so that i could learn and then show instead of tell. Why this compulsion with words with so little behind sometimes?  ah, I'm chief amongst. education continues forth...)
But the key now is that i know there is hope. I know that i don't have the answers inside my own mind to my problems and that's half the battle right there.  I know that life is one big classroom with learning and experiments and opportunities to grow and... so many lessons that i can't wait to keep learning from.  
Random as they are, Dr. Ginott's thoughts teach me constantly to look at how my words and intentions so directly affect the wee ones (though not so wee anymore):

"If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others."”

“"Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.”"
(Dr. Haim Ginott)


night o' the free-write.

i don't know
if i've aged well according to the information age.
as in, grown into a grown-up who deals well with information.
information overload feels like a strange ride
like the Gravitron
the first time i road it and the floor fell out from under me
and i was suspended in air from the force of the carnival ride
i loved it.
so much so- i exited and re-entered the ride,
handed necessary number of tickets to the ticket taker
and rode again.
this is the problem with my brain.
the 2nd time I got violently sick.
The Clam Festival was over and done with for me, prematurely, due to Gravitron sickness
and i had to go home, sans cotton candy
while the lights were still blazing joyously
and fellow 5th graders were still basking in the festival night
and able to keep down their cotton candy.
they basked because they knew you just don't get on the Gravitron
if you just got off the Gravitron.
Replace Gravitron with Google.
When i want to know about something that i realize i don't know much about
but feel i should
or could
and that information if i just find it
understand it
memorize it
takes notes about it
will help me understand life or dreams or parenting or writing or documentary making or
jeezlouise. i find i've squandered precious time
feeling utterly inferior
far less capable
aware of what i don't understand
far more than what i do, or did, oh
Watching Ramona and Beezus with the wonderboys
took me back to age 9 and i missed being
more aware of the dreams, the possibilities, the imaginings
than my deficiencies.
 Ramona, often confused and misunderstood
but alive and inventive and uninhibited often in her own world.
I miss Ramona, I miss identifying with her-
in some ways the 9 year old
could teach me oodles about life
much more than google
I don't think my brain on the information age
is a good thing.
Sure, if i could enjoy the ride, the research, the find
for what it is, glean the bit o' nonsense i need for the whatnot...
but no, i jump right back on the Google Gravitron, the floor falls out from under feet
and suddenly I've lost the joyful convenience of finding a needed tidbit of info 
suddenly i think i need to keep finding "answers" to questions i don't know i have yet.
some nights i feel that same motion sickness feeling in my gut
like when i walked home from the Clam Festival
sick as can be and green.
wishing i rode a gravity defying ride
once, left it at that
and kept down my cotton candy.

L. quotes Dr.Seuss


a wee yarn

One night before bed, i ask Noah,
"Have you read, just like your teacher said?"
"no, mom, i didn't. i don't like to anymore."
i gasp under my breath, almost fall to the floor.
not acceptable! the thought- then my voice:
Noah, you must finish the books you start to read
or the habit will get out of control completely
you must remember how it important it is
to finish what you start, you must finish what you start...
i say with my kind of kind and kind of annoyed voice,
there is no choice!
 for heaven's sake, you need to read! Be disciplined and follow through indeed!
You need to do this. You need to do that.
You need... to do just what i ask!
our "Goodnight" said after that
i walk out of his room
instantly hit with mom-guilt-attack.
as Noah slips into the land of nod
i'm struck over the head with a lightning rod:
a shot of truth...
the lecture was so premature,
laced with fear
rather than something pure

i try to mold his sacred being
into what i think he needs to be
when the lecture
needs to be- to me.
i half finish things so chronically.
especially books-
i start them you see-
i want to get smart,
take the books right to my heart
but ambitions too big for my brain or eyes
i don't take a dang book one page at a time,
i set 5 out to read...
then stay online.
the very thing i berate Noah for
is the very thing I've done for 30 years more
than i care to confess,
but now did-
SO...I'm now reading
one book
with him.
Ali, don't tell.



April 19, 1995
I skipped first hour.  Slept in. Felt a boom, in my bedroom and I think like many Oklahomans that day, in my heart.  It was so surreal- those next 48 hours.  I was a senior and a piece of the wanderlust- the allure of life after graduationwas snatched away in that moment I found out what anger, hatred, and resentment can do.  The bomb hit downtown, the bomb hit our hearts, the reverberations of that morning echo still when we least expect it-
That night in 1995, April 19 into the wee hours of April 20th, I went downtown with my dad to deliver blankets.  The Red Cross workers shuffled us through to ground zero to make circles around what had been a few hours before a stalwart Federal Building. We offered weary workers coffee and blankets the unexpected shuffle from what we had planned: dropping off blankets, to the unplanned: putting blankets on weary souls at ground zero. 
H was there too that night, and the next day.  We didnt realize the impact of the shared experience until far later. 
April 19, 2009
I had the humbling opportunity to co-write a song for the Oklahoma City National Memorial that year.  The morning of April 19, a Sunday, our family was going to head downtown together to be a part and listen to Jami Smith sing our Stand Together.  The days leading up to this were full of meaning and sense of accomplishmentH was an Oklahoma City Police Officerwe were all so proud of him and his resoluteness in fulfilling this dream to protect and serve.  This was a direct result of witnessing the OCPD protect and serve and search, tirelessly, at ground zero. 
We had finally come to some semblance of normal.  Eight days on, six days off. The boys and I had gotten into a rhythm with Hs odd schedule, we had our way of saying goodbyes around nine p.m., watching dad head out into the dark night with uniform perfectly pressed, bullet proof vest strapped firmly underneath, flashlight amongst other necessities in belt. 
We found a rhythm.  This after some discordant years of financial, relational, emotional insecurity, postpartum, more than a dozen jobs to make ends meet, amongst other onerous events.
The morning of the Memorial ceremony was going to be a culmination of growing together through all those things as a family. A closure per se.  When we couldve and shouldve at many times have grown apart.  We made it through some of our own ground zero moments, H was living out a dream, and I might be about to embark upon one of mine.
But instead, that morning H came home from third shift with a massive headache.  This headache coupled suddenly with another onslaught of kidney stones.  He stayed home to try to sleep off the pain, I put water by the bed, kissed the boys who skipped over to Hannys, and I headed downtown alone. 
When I returned home just a couple of hours later, it was evident Hs pain had increased rather than decreased, and to a shocking level.  I dont remember how I got him into the car and I dont remember the drive to the first hospital experience of the day, but I remember the shock, like a bomb dropped when we least expected it, and the aftershock was greater than what we could have ever planned for.  Confronted again with the unexpected problem of pain.
I want to say Ive been brave and resilient the last couple of years. But mostly I just feel tired.  I havent found a rhythm since that day.  Ive found some major chords, some fluid moments of a concordant melody, but mostly the aftershock of watching my husband almost lose his life from a strep infection and blood clots, watching his OCPD dream vanish, watching our finances siphon away through medical bills, watching the boys have to adapt to more changes and unknowns  aftershock.
Perhaps these are minor chords; in between there have been major chord harmonious moments that have emerged in fortuitous ways as well- wonderful opportunities that wouldnt have otherwise emerged.  Many good things.   
And yet still, Im tired of aftershock. Im tired of trying to make sense of the constantly changing tunes; tired of trying to learn the melody only to find it has changed again.  Im tired of trauma and sickness and chronically tense shoulders.  Tired of feeling helpless against these tsunamis and storms.
Or maybe Im just tired of not being able to help those in their own aftershock as much as Id like. Because I know what it feels like- the loneliness of grief, the grrrrr of life interrupted by sickness, the struggle to make sense of seemingly senseless events.  And I want to help.  But many times do not know how.  And often dont know how to mend my own melody still.
April 19, 2011
Life is a gift. Family is a gift. Breath is a gift. Mystery is a gift. Tears are a gift. Laughter is a gift.
I dont understand why they shuffled my dad and me with blankets and coffee in tow and sent us down to ground zero to that deafening silence, with those unthinkable sights.  But Im grateful because its part of the story.
I dont understand why at the least expected moment H got sick and we almost lost everything.  But we gained so many unexpected blessings in the aftermath- like time- especially H and the boys- getting lavish time to connect and be, present father and sons, that third shift might never have provided.  Im grateful, even in the aftershock, because its part of the story.
I feel like an observer.  Like I havent yet been able to connect to aspects of life since 2009.  Or havent been able to re-attach myself to dreams I felt so sure of before. 
I have no wise words or expertise.  I have very little common sense or know-how regarding this thing called life.  But for whatever its worth today-
To the ones in pain- whether physical or emotional- you are heroic in your unseen battle you fight.  You are the strong ones, you are the survivors, you deserve all the respite and refreshment life has to offer.  I wish I could pour all the needed peace and relief over you to enliven your step today and take some of the pain away.  Know today that if your pain is great, your strength is greater- what you are enduring is a battle and you are a valiant champion fighting it, often unseen and without the accolades and compassion you deserve.  I see you. You are a wonder.
To the ones who have lost everything it seems- you are in for a unique perspective on lifethat in the mess of loss- whatever the loss may be may you find a release and relief from the feeling of having to keep up with the Jones or the incessant race to the top of whatever however  I hope you can find reassurance in the little things, renewal in simplicity, regeneration in letting go of old and finding meaning rather than despair in the mystery of the new.  I hope for lightness for your soul in the letting go. And a wave of possibilities to breeze through you like wind through trees.
Ive lost almost everything- only to find the most essential things present like never before.  Ive tiptoed sanity- only to find peace comes in the present, nothing in the future is for sure, no matter how good I am, my achievements or how well Ive mapped out a grand plan. 
If you feel alone with the weight of the world on your shoulders or pain tucked in your pocket so no one will see or lost everything and can barely breatheyou are not alone. And you are braving so brave. You are the heroic ones today and I hope you find smiles on strangers faces, peace in random places, unexplained joy pitter-patters in your heart, beauty for the ashes, a pleasant song to assuage any grief, and hope perching on your shoulder every moment of every day until the aftershock dissipates
From Viktor Frankl’s Man Search For Meaning, p.135
"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves." 


7th day

my face hurts. a really lot. it burns and feels tender. but pre-cancer cells are melting away, and that is good. 
Don't have much to say, have much in my brain
not sure how to say. 
working on that. 
here's kind of what it looks like inside though. 
anyhoo, thought i'd check in and say 7 days into Efudex isn't too terribly bad.  a little self-conscious, but i know it's going to get worse before better. 
thought I'd share this quite amazing entry that super encouraged me and put a spring in my lolligagging step from: 
Austin Kleon author of Newspaper Blackout. 

and grateful for brother C today- you have copious creativity streaming through your being, thanks for drawing pictures with me when i was a tiny tot. and you are a dang good doctor. and a dang good brother.

that's all for now.