Wednesday, November 9, 2016

election



My beloved blog has been taking back seat to my heavy schedule and homework.  Not intentionally, I have been disconnected with an audience that I worked hard to build.  This morning, I arrived at school and found my first class cancelled – my Poetry Professor (capitalized out of respect) probably too depressed to hold class.  Or he’s nursing a wicked hangover.  Or he’s sick…

Last night, the country watched television and computer feeds that returned election results we definitely were not expecting.  I live in California (our friends call it the ‘left coast’ for our left-wing politics) and our extended family is in either Boston or New York City.  Our insulated bubbles of left-wing surround sound did not prepare us for the majority of our country screaming for change.  NO to the status quo – NO to Congress at a stand-still – NO to our increasing debt.  Domestic policies be damned, Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States.

The United States.

When we lived overseas our friends laughed at that name.  “You are Fifty countries sharing one government!” They would joke- and that joke was not far from the truth.  We live in a place so diverse, we have to work hard to feel united about anything. 

Despite what most of our friends living in other countries think, the country’s decision to elect Donald Trump was a hotly contested fight to death, and many Americans believe that he is dragging the corpse of our ideals, it’s flesh still fresh from the kill, all the way to the swearing-in ceremony. 
If you’re interested, here is how these things came about:

  • 1.        The Majority of Americans are EXTREMELY WORRIED about our national debt – and should be.  


We were in South Africa when we heard – ON EVERY RADIO AND TELEVISION STATION – that the USA had lost its AAA Credit rating on the world market.    When we lost this top-tier AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's it was an unprecedented blow to the world's largest economy.  It happened in the wake of a political battle that nearly took the country to the brink of default.  It exposed that the USA spent far more than it was producing.

President Obama signed legislation designed to reduce the fiscal deficit by $2.1 TRILLION over 10 years -- Budget Control Act of 2011.  This action was well short of the $4 trillion in savings S&P had called for as “a good down payment” on fixing America's finances on the world exchange system.

All of this happened while we lived in another country – and we wondered how it would affect our money, our assets, and our children’s future. 

I went to American news stations – and guess what? They were reporting on Jerry Lewis and how he would would no longer host any further MDA telethons.  American political shows, like the Daily Show, were poking fun of Michelle Bachman and her face.  There was some talk of “immigration reform” and Obama opened his arms to more people streaming into the United States, citing our open policies of taking care of our own. 

“Where are we getting the money?” I wondered…
That’s when I became a Libertarian.

  • 2.        The Majority of Americans are SICK AND TIRED OF CAREER POLITICIANS.    

The 2016 US Presidential campaign saw some interesting stuff.  It was filled with brilliant candidates and I wondered how America would choose.  Both big parties put forward their best, but it was a hard, long race that required money and political favors right and left. 

My candidate, Rand Paul, represented common sense and the Constitution.  I am a fan of both.  He was out early.

 Bernie Sanders, an Independent Party junior senator from Vermont organized the largest grass-roots campaign that America has ever seen.  People who didn’t vote registered and swore allegiance to the ideals that Sanders held – that together we could make a difference. 
The debates were brutal.  Many people didn’t watch because of the inability of candidates to do anything more than promote themselves. 

In the end, the Republican Party, with much hesitation, put forth Trump as a candidate.  Democrats traded the popular favorite (Sanders) for the politically savvy Clinton.

This is when it became a pit with two vipers – and we (the American Public) were watching in horror and disbelief.  Many people insisted that Hillary would be “more of the same” – a person who would promote the Democrat’s platform instead of manage the country for us all.  Trump was seen as a loose cannon – the candidate that somehow made it in despite such a (fill-in-the-blank) personal character.

We are a nation that uses the electoral college, a group of electors who cast their votes for whomever their district elects.  And last night, we watched the Electoral College – declare that Trump had it. 

  • 3.       The Majority of Americans are on one side or the other – we are a nation divided. 


There are always the Versailles Treaties that precedes the Hitlers.  There is always a pendulum swing to cause a certain political action. 

President Obama has overseen, in his eight years in office, more domestic terrorism than any other president.  We are a nation at war with itself.  The economic divide (between rich and poor) and the social divide (between represented and under-represented) in our country is staggering.  There are single mothers (like our daughter) working their tail off to make a living.  People of color –especially African Americans, feel unsafe in the presence of people designed to protect them.  Waitresses that work long hours and can no longer feed their families. 

To remedy this, Obama’s administration has tried to legislate change.  His administration has produced more social programs and regulations than any other president in history.  As a Libertarian, I can testify that more government is not the answer – it only creates more debt. The cost of running this country has increased dramatically.  We are now holding a debt that we …can never repay. 
Ouch.  That hurts to write.

Obama’s Job Approval (according to the Economist) say that Fifty percent (50%) of the country approve of the job he has done, and forty-nine percent (49%) disapprove.  The chasm between the two sets is wide – and unfriendly.  On one side, people see a president who is suave, loves people, and represents us all as a whole.  On the other side, people feel abused, forgotten, neglected by a country who is supposed to be their home.  Many small business owners feel squashed by the forced social programs and systems to which they must adhere.  Many immigrants finally feel represented.  Many people adore the way Obama leads – many others hate it so much they can barely speak his name. 

In a Republic (which is what we are) we elect officials to represent us.  A Democracy (which is what people think we are) the people speak for themselves.  We elect officials to run our nation – and our nation, like the officials that represent us – is fallible.

Many people blame our Commander in Chief, who is actually only one arm of our government.  We have the Supreme Court and the Legislature to share the load of responsibility or blame. 


In the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center revealed the three most important issues to America:
1.       Economy (which includes our National Debt)
2.       Terrorism (Domestic and International)
3.       Foreign Policy  (US support of Israel, especially)

“Middle America” has now decided that Trump is the man to tackle these issues.


We, as a country, are apprehensive about electing Donald Trump -- to say the least.  Trump is not a stunning example of our best, and I will say this no matter how many of my fellows would disagree with me. Then again, neither is Clinton.  I would have liked to see Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Bernie Sanders in a race. 

I can say “if only” many times…but it won’t change things.

Last night, while listening to election results, I drove home from school.  The drive was long and hard and I was grieving.  Ahead of me, on Fair Oaks Boulevard, I saw flashing Police lights.  There, in the road, was a beautiful buck deer, sitting down as if he belonged in the middle of the road.  As my car past him, he looked at me.  There was a beautiful expression in his eyes, and his antlers were covered in a soft, brown velvet.  It occurred to me, as I passed him, that he had been hit by a car and the police were guarding him until animal control would arrive. 

I wept all the way home…and I haven’t stopped.


Pray for us.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Lilli


Lilliana Grace
at Mahaffie’s Historic Stagecoach Stop and Farm in Olathe 


When you love someone, really love someone, you want to know everything about them.  This used to apply mostly to Mario – the love of my life –as I tried to learn everything about him in order to love him better.

The older I get, the more this principle applies to my grandchildren.  It is especially true for Lilliana Grace, my enigmatic granddaughter who is happier to observe most conversations than participate in them.  Because I want so very much to know her, I spy on her.  

To be part of her world, I have researched Josh and Tyler, watched several Jack Septic-Eye videos and know who segue-way Steve is.  I know which emojis describe her.  I know that she has incredible relationships with colors because she is an artist (and how she prefers to wear certain hues while she paints her room dark)  


Because I love her, I want to know everything about her.  

Beautiful Lilliana

The last time we spent significant time together (this past August), I figured out something else beautiful and significant about Lilli: she remembers things.  She can store  details and facts that “normal” kids forget. Random things that we heard in passing, or trivial details about a destination and kept track 

We took a trip to Mahaffie’s Historic Stagecoach Stop and Farm in Olathe on perhaps the most beautiful day of summer.  I sighed as we walked down to the coach.

“This is so beautiful, isn’t it?”  I motioned to the rolling sorghum fields, the red barn in the distance and the Poplar trees, whose leaves were blowing in the warm breeze. 

“Did you know that Olathe means ‘beautiful’ in another language?” Lilli asked, looking up at me. 

“Does it?” I asked, smiling.  The air was so warm and the sky was so blue and that day will forever be etched into my heart because Lilli glowed with summer as she told me. 

It turns out that Olathe does literally translate to “beautiful” in the Shawnee tongue.  When Dr. John Barton arrived in the spring of 1857,  the prairie was covered with verbena and other wild flowers. Barton asked his Shawnee guide how to say “beautiful” in his native language. The interpreter responded, “Olathe.”

Last Christmas!! Lilli in striped shirt in front
Because Lilli lives with her siblings (Max and Lauren) in Kansas and Mario and I live in California, our relationship is not the traditional Grandparent-grandchild type.  My own Grandma lived in the same city as I did as we grew up – she wore only dresses, didn’t drive a car, and hung her wash on a clothesline.  She baked cookies and sang songs in Spanish.  I loved her deeply and still think of her as a driving force in my life, an inspiration.  I want to be that kind of my Grandma to my Grandchildren, but today things are more complicated.  Lilli has four sets of grandparents – and we are the furthest away. 

But love knows no boundaries.  Love has the power to skip over natural barriers as easily as stones skip over water.  Lilli is in my daily prayers and I carry her with me wherever I go.  Because she is so incredibly valuable to me, I will continue to learn about her and find new reasons to love her.

Today, our Lilli will blow out candles on a birthday cake and the glow of her candles will light up her face like she lights up the world.


Happy Birthday, Lilli.  I hope you know that I do see you, even when you think I can’t, I do.  You are amazing, creative, brilliant, and loving.  I am so proud of you, honey.

 Oh! And BTW – did you know that your name, Lilliana means “beauty” in another language?  True story.  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

retirement


L to R:  Jeff, Mario, Ralph and Jim smoke a nice cigar to celebrate Mario's Retirement last week -- at lunch break

This year, on December 29, Mario and I will celebrate twenty-nine years of marriage.  The only relationship that Mario has sustained longer than this one is with the State of California – for which he has worked 35 years.  Now this relationship is about to change – Mario is retiring.

Saturday was the day to clean out his office, since Monday will officially be his last day at California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.   This morning, he texted me to say that everything that belonged to him was now cleaned out of his office space and that he was on his way home.  Knowing that he would be driving into the garage and unloading a car-full of personal items, I scrambled to make space.  In my head, I  knew what he would be bringing home: his painting of a South African winery, an assortment of snacks, a table-top fan, freshly laundered shirts, framed photographs, etc. I still remember him packing up those personal items to take to POST when he re-entered the workplace three-and-a-half years ago.

After we found places to store the personal boxes in our garage, we hugged.

“I don’t know how to feel,” Mario sighed.  “I have so many mixed emotions.”

I nodded.  When others would be jumping up and fist pumping the sky, Mario is entering retirement more than a little conflicted.  On one hand, retiring makes perfect financial sense and provides Mario with the freedom to teach in a police academy or community college.  He can serve as a subject matter expert without a conflict of interest or bias.  Yet, on the other hand, Mario will miss POST.  Changes in life bring all kinds of unanswered questions.  

Saturday morning brought an unlikely one: “What am I going to do now?”

I almost laughed.  Mario does not exactly sit still.  He is purposeful and driven in everything he does. He has worked hard to achieve the level of mastery and expertise that he has now. He has pioneered new things, developed as an employee and as an employer, and learned how to lead during turbulent times. 

When we left for South Africa in 2007, he really thought he was retired for good.  We were blessed enough to have a chance at fulfilling a dream to move to South Africa and work for God, joining a team that supported existing churches all over Africa.  We also joined forces with a local church in Johannesburg that became our church home for seven years. 


Preaching in Mozambique - 2008
When we realized that we were returning to the United States in 2013, Mario was asked to return to POST and serve as a retired annuitant. He appreciated the return, especially in the aftermath of a life change, transitioning from one continent to another; moving from full-time ministry back into his chosen profession of law enforcement.  After some thought, he officially “un-retired” and continued on as if he never left.


Mario with the "Road Warriors" from the TDC Bureau 
For the last eighteen months, Mario has worked as a Bureau Chief for Learning Technology Resources at POST, a job he takes very seriously.  Supervising the bureau that develops and applies technology to law enforcement training, Mario comes home raving about his employees.  Much of his work has been building teams, or supporting existing ones.  Even when he’s working by himself he strives to bring people together –or recognize their talents.  What has made him successful in ministry has also made him successful in the workplace.  It is also what has made him successful as a person. 

LTR celebrates 90,000 on the Learning Portal
L to R:  Jan M., Mario, Catherine, Jan B., Larry, Trish, Rich, and Ron.


 Mario actually  started as a State Park Ranger, straight out of the police academy when he was twenty-two years old. Last Monday he celebrated 35 years of service to the people of the State of California, working 17 years with State Parks and 18 more with POST.

Ranger Rodriguez - After Graduation 1977
 In this climate of political uncertainty, and with a public perception of police being so mixed, leadership is incredibly important.  Mario is an exceptional leader –and I’m not saying this just because I’m his wife. I actually used to work for him, when he was the supervising Ranger of Carnegie SVRA and I was a lowly Park Aid.  I remember feeling safe with him.  His leadership was solid and authoritative, but contained a humility that was extremely comforting. 


Mario's Fist POST Portrait.  Handsome!

To this day, I still see Mario as my boss – my leader. I am an avowed feminist, but there is nothing that makes me feel better than the leadership of a man who knows what he is doing.   Today, when he came home, I looked in his eyes and felt such pride and so much sympathy for his conflicted heart – at the same time.

“Why don’t you lay down?” I answered, after he asked me his question. “Rest first and then later you can sort all this stuff out.” 

I sometimes I say pretty wise things without even meaning to. 



I love you, Babe!  xoxo




The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training(POST) leads the nation in Training and Development.  It was established by the Legislature in 1959 to set minimum selection and training standards for California law enforcement. The POST organization, with more than 130 staff members, functions under the direction of an Executive Director appointed by the Commission.  Click here to see their website.  If you look  you will find him as a Bureau Chief -until October 18th, when he will be removed.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

David




Mario calls them “The David Shots.”  They are a series of pictures that he took with a new SLR camera the day that his first son was born – the day that changed his life forever.

When Cathy went into labor, Mario took her to Monterey Peninsula Hospital in a very interesting way.  Since it was their first child and Mario didn’t know what to expect, he loaded his wife into his patrol vehicle and proceeded to the hospital code-3.  “I flipped the lights and siren on and we took off for the hospital!”


David was born soon afterwards, and Mario began taking pictures and couldn’t stop.  He must have had forty or fifty prints – the days before digital –from high-quality film.  



Looking at the old prints now, I smile.  Their rounded corners and faded colors betray their age, but the memories of them are deep in Mario's heart.  The one above, taken when the Olympic torch was passing, is one of my favorites of father and son.  
Don't worry, Joe.  It's almost your turn! 


Today David turns 37 years old.  

I still gasp and hold my heart, unable to digest the fact that David is a grown-up with kids of his own.  I can still remember the soapy smell of  him at the Kaypro, freshly bathed and begging me for more time on the computer before he went off to bed.  I still remember the years in Arnold, chasing the boys around Big Trees State Park.  I remember his graduation, his wedding, the birth of his first child and the day he sold his company to Hewlett Packard.  

Life goes by so quickly, I know it is a cliché, but it does.  

David with Lauren, 2014

Today David is a husband and a father, the roles he loves and inevitably define him.  He is also something of a subject matter expert in communication systems. 

David is my step-son, but he’s really more than that.  Mario and I officially tied the knot just after he turned eight, so I feel closely connected to him.  He is a deep thinker and a wonderful communicator.  He grew up with a vibrant sense of humor and a strong personality.  In our blended family, David was the eldest son and proved to be a leader to his siblings.  Today, he still has a way of connecting with us.  He is a son who remembers to call his parents, and keeps inside of the life of his extended family.  This year has been an amazing, eventful time and he has grown more as a man than ever before.  I pray that God be his strength every day.

When people ask me about David, I tell them that he is strong, funny, and great to have in our family.  We love him.  We are proud of him.  We miss him.


Happy Birthday, David.  If only words were sufficient to tell you how treasured, you are in our hearts! We love you!!  

Just for fun!  Mario took this picture of himself the day that the guy on the right was born!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Harmony


Selfie (taken by Harmony) at Caper Acres, Chico

Harmony has lights in her eyes that sparkle, like fireworks.  She is filled with curiosity and loves adventure.  


When she puts a puzzle together she concentrates with such intensity that she twists her mouth and purses her lips.  She glows with love asks me to cuddle with her as we read, which she does at a fourth grade level.  

She is friends with every kid in her first grade class, even the awkward ones that have trouble fitting in.  She is tender and gentle, fiercely protective of her sister and her mother.


Today she turns seven years old. 

“She’s amazing,” her teacher told me two weeks ago.  “Her reading level is definitely advanced, but she enjoys helping her classmates, which is what makes her special.” 

Daniel and Harmony with their new teachers!

Harmony loves her school experience and looks forward to going every day.  She seems to delight in every portion, especially her friends. Daniel, her bestie from kindergarten, is always by her side when I come to pick her up on Fridays. 

Because I am two hours away, our Fridays are spent at one of Chico’s picturesque parks, or its Gateway Science Museum, or visit an old fashioned Ice Cream Shoppe.  

Ice Cream cones!

We shop at local toy and game stores that carry American-made toys and stuffed animals.  We go to the Library and look at new quilts hanging on display and then read a book or two.  Fridays with the girls are relaxed, sweet times.

Back at home, Harmony and I cook together.  She loves to cook, just like her Mama did at her age.

Making Tacos

“Grandma,” she sighs.  “I just love you.”

On Fridays, my world is filled with life.  I am grateful that I get to be engaged in this little person's life, someone who is joyful and loving.  How was I ever able to inherit such joy?  I love this girl so much… she is solid gold!

Happy Birthday, Harmony!  I am so proud of you!!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Alice

A recent photo of Alice
She performs with her whole heart!



When I fell in love with Mario, I fell hard. 

Anyone who has a true love knows the day that you realize that it is real.  There is a lock-down in your heart and new language. "He's the one!  This is it!"  Mario was the most incredible man and I wanted more than anything to be his wife. 

My parents had a beautiful marriage and I wanted one just like theirs.  I learned the tools from them: respect, tenderness, sacrifice, love, discipline, and oneness.  If you give of yourself, you can share your life and dreams with someone special.

As much as I thought I had it down, I never was able to make it work with anyone.  My first real try at a long-term relationship produced a beautiful baby, but proved to be otherwise fruitless.  Mario had also been married before and was not able to make it work.  When we brought our hopes and dreams --as well as our kids--into a relationship, we were hoping for the best.  

The two of us, single parents to great kids, met for coffee or diner and had wonderful, emotional connections where I gazed across the table into his beautiful brown eyes and listened.  He was the wisest, most beautiful person I had ever met and he wanted to build a future.
He had a plan. 

"If I ever  get married again,"  he told me, "it will be to my Alice."

He had to explain.  Mario told me about the relationship between his father (a Broadway actor) Chev Rogers had with his wife (Mario's "step-mom"), Alice Evans.  Alice was Chev's refuge from the storms in life.  She was also the most exciting person in Chev's life.  With Alice, things were open and honest, safe and secure, challenging and filled with color.  



Sweet Charity Original Broadway cast
Alice fourth from the left
Alice was also a Broadway actress, and could even break glass with her powerful voice.  She and Chev had met on the National Tour of Sound Of Music and became inseparable.  Their lives were one dream after another--and they adored each other.  They played hard, loved hard, fought hard and weren't afraid of truth and hard times.    

Yes, if he ever married again, it would be to his Alice.

I remember feeling threatened by the comparison.  How could I be like the Alice he was looking at as the epitome of true-love?  A Broadway Dame with a big voice, a gorgeous face and head-shots that changed with each show she was in?  I was insecure, a single mom, vulnerable and desperately in love with the "perfect" Mario.

I went home from one of our coffee shop chats and wrote a poem I called "Your Alice".  The next day at work I gave it to him.  Looking at it now, I remember exactly how I felt:

                        Looking in your face I see
The warmth of what was meant to be.
Listening to words you say
Speaking of one special day
When things will just fall into place
With one perfect face...

How can another feeling be-
So full of longing (you and me)
Than my need to be seen as real?
For you to match the way I feel?

In silence, how this feeling bleeds
Surpassing all my wants and needs.
               One face…
               What shape? What look? What kind?
               Tell me… and I’ll make it mine.

How I wish that you could see-
Your Alice come to life in me,
The peace in what you’re speaking of
I long for too: undying love.

The next day, Mario asked to see outside.  "Your poem," he said, with tears in his eyes.  "Where did you learn to write like that?  The last line...it's just how I feel."

I was flooded with relief. And love.  Not only did Mario love me, he loved my writing.  From there on in, we made plans toward marriage.

Mario decided to take me on vacation with him and his boys that summer.  They were headed to New York City to see Chev and Alice.  I needed some preparation and decided to ask Cynthia, Mario’s Mother, what to expect.

"Alice is wonderful," Cynthia told me, taking a long drag on her cigarette. "And Chev is horrible. Just horrible.”  I giggled.  Cynthia never minced words.  I was used to two peaceful parents, living a middle-class life side-by-side and never saying anything remotely insulting about each other. 
“I’m not kidding,” Cynthia said.  “He’s hard to live with.  Just the most ego-maniacal man ever born!" 

Chev, the way Mario described him, was larger-than-life.  An artist and an actor, he lived life by his terms.  Mario never exaggerated or lied.  Secondly, I had never heard an ex-wife speak so well of the new wife.
 
Chev with Mario 1987
"That's because she really is an angel," Cindy, Mario's sister later told me.  Cindy had a special connection with Alice (even Alice called Cindy one of her favorite people).   "She is beautiful, inside and out!  I wish I could go with you!”

By the time Mario and I boarded our plane bound for NYC, I was so nervous.  I would be meeting the "new" in-laws, Broadway actors who were larger than life.

Arriving in New York City, June 1987, at nearly midnight, we had to go through Harlem to get to the West End of Manhattan, where Chev and Alice lived.  Chev answered the door looking every bit the Broadway star he was... and I'm sure capitalizing on my sheepishness.

"So this is Janet," he said, in a booming, deep voice, stretching his arms out for a hug. I smiled, and hugged him, hitting my cheek against a plastic stop-watch hanging from his neck.  We made our way through the kitchen and into a wide, open living area with a grand piano and crown moldings and a hanging chandelier.  I scanned the room for Alice, but Chev told me she was in bed.  How dare she??  After all, it was only 12:30... and I'm sure she was used to partying until dawn.

While Chev offered us drinks, Mario insisted we put the boys down to bed, and we began the process.  While we set up beds, I saw more "realistic" pictures of Alice around the room.  They looked like a normal couple, not so much the larger-than-life version I had made them to be, but rather like my own mom and dad, with family, baby pictures, holiday shots.

Somehow I slept that night, and when I awoke, it was to Mario stirring to go to the bathroom.  He walked outside, and was greeting by an excited yell, followed by a laugh.  I could hear the hugging from where I was. Mario giggled and Alice continued a melodious laugh... one that I was strangely jealous of.

I got out of bed, got dressed, looked for makeup, gave up and then walked outside.  There she was.  She was...so small.   Somehow she wasn't so "Broadway sized", she was even smaller than me.  She turned around and gave me the most disarming smile I had ever been greeted with.  I blushed, and hugged her, as she said "So this is Janet."

Alice made me feel welcome and told me quickly that she had heard all about me.  She wanted to know more and we connected in the beautiful living room, a baby grand piano in its center and pictures of family hanging on its cream-colored walls.
 
Alice and I - that week in NYC
Throughout the week, Alice's beauty became real to me.  The perfect image I made of her broke away and I was able to see her in the warm and real place that she lived.  She was genuinely full of love for most everyone we talked about.  She asked real questions about me, about my family.  And she loved my poem.

"Honey," she said, in her gorgeous voice, "your poem is a treasure.  I wrote it down here in my journal, see?" I smiled, so humbled that she would save this.  "I am just so glad Mario has met you.  He needs a woman who really can see him."

Saying goodbye after the week was over was a little sad, but I was ready to get back home. As she hugged me, she whispered "And you, my dear, are a delight!"  She meant it.  It meant the world to me, and I thought about her the whole trip home.

At the end of the year, Mario and I got married.  We had our own passion, our own drama, and our own obstacles we somehow overcame.  The following year we had a daughter and named her Alicia, the name that Chev called Alice.

Alice and Alicia 

Today is Alice's birthday.  I cannot begin to tell you how blessed we are to call her family.  To have her in our lives means that we have a woman who values us and accepts us regardless of all our shortcomings.  She is always ready to bless us, encourage us in sad times and celebrate the happy times.  She is a delight and a treasure.

Over the years, Alice has earned the place in my heart that she already had in the hearts of our family – as a treasured, irreplaceable treasure.  But I like to think we have a special connection, one that has been tested by time and circumstance.  One that is not afraid of intimacy or questions – I am a better person for knowing her.


Blessings and love, dear Alice.  I love you deeply!  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Max


When you have a grandchild, the world changes.  Most people say that they feel a genuine sense of awe that that new life has come from their own child.  This was definitely true for us.
The day that my first grandchild was born changed my life.

Laila Willow Rodriguez was born in Kansas City, to my step-son, David, and his wife, Lennae.  We heard from David after the event was completely over and Mother and baby were doing well. It was a very intimate birth—our first grandchild was delivered in a hot tub with the help of a midwife.  An unconventional birth delivered an unconventional child.

I remember turning to Mario and asking, “What is today?”

 “August 30.”

We hugged and I whispered that we were now Grandparents, a title that filled me with new purpose.    Not only was Laila’s birth unconventional, her name definitely was.  “Laila Willow Rodriguez,” I kept saying to myself over and over and over.  I was hoping that one day it would just roll off my tongue.  One day it did –I learned to love her name.
Laila's bold haircut last year

Today, that grandchild of mine -the one who made me a grandmother in the first place, turns 13 years old.  There have been a lot of changes this year—changes that have been private and almost protected.  

On a trip to Kansas at the beginning of the year, David and Lennae told us, very carefully, that Laila confided to them that she was gay.  We were a little surprised, but not too worried.  After all, Laila was very young.  Could she really know for sure if she was gay?

Almost instantly, I realized that the answer was yes.  My gay friends tell me that knew they were gay from a young age.  Why would Laila be different?

“What should we do?” I asked David.  “What should we say?”

“I don’t know if the subject will come up,” he said.  “I’m telling you just in case it does.”

Our New Year’s visit, like so many others, included spoiling our grandchildren.  We took Laila, Lilli, and Lauren places that they wanted to go, bought them things they didn’t need, and celebrated with each other over large family dinners.  As always, Laila was herself.  She didn’t seem too different from the grandchild I related to before, and she never brought up the subject of sexual identity or preference. 

During my spring semester, I called Lennae to check in.  I wanted to see how the girls were doing and ask what Lauren wanted for her birthday.  After some discussion, Lennae told me that Laila was going through a different kind of metamorphosis.  She had cut off her hair, changed her name to Max, and told her parents that she identified more as a boy.  I swallowed hard.

I had just learned that my granddaughter was gay.  Now I would have to accept that Laila was uncomfortable in her assigned gender.  This felt like a very large pill to swallow, and I prayed hard, asking God for direction.  How can I reach out with His love?  What do I do?  What should I say?

It occurred to me that God is the same God for Laila as He is for Max.  There is nothing that surprises God –because He knows this person intimately.

How would things be different between us if Laila became Max?  Wouldn’t I always love my grandchild?  Wouldn’t I always want relationship with this person?  Wouldn’t there always be time for discussion and sharing –if I were safe enough to discuss this with?  

I was able to spend some time with the kids last month when David and Lennae went on a cruise for their anniversary.  Cathy and the kids picked me up at the airport, where Max –formerly Laila –looked different, but not so different that I didn’t recognize him.  

Cathy, Lauren and I last month

I wanted a picture with all of us together, but Max yelled out, “No pictures!  This is my awkward, transitional phase!”  

There was a rustling in the back seats, and soon only Cathy, Lauren and I were in the frame.  I shrugged, and snapped it.

Over the next few hours, I could see that things had definitely changed.  Max was now wanting to be called Max – not Laila—with “him” and “he” – not “her” and “she”.   I tried to remember his new name in my speech and change personal pronouns, but I kept forgetting.  My brain knew only Laila, and as much as I wanted to support Max, I still had my habits and language that, I could tell, caused hurt. 

I was ready to learn and Max was ready to help me.  We did have a few private discussions, and many opportunities to affirm one another.  I think that Max wanted to know that I was still Abuela, the grandmother that loved without condition, without limits, and without boundaries.  For that reason, it was relatively easy to live up to what was expected of me.

Max fanning the flame of the Smithy - Mahaffie Farm
We visited the famous Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm while I was there, where the kids fanned the flame of the blacksmith, fed the pigs and goats, and took a stage coach ride with me.  The working farm is meant to remind its visitors of a simpler time, when things were not so instant.  

Things took time to process, and community was very important.  Before we left, I wanted a picture of all of us in front of a delicious, irresistible boot that guarded the entrance.

“No pictures!”  Max repeated.  “I don’t want to remember this part of my life!”  Max waved his hand in front of his face in a circle, summing up his appearance with dissatisfaction.

 I turned to look into the beautiful face of my grandchild and smiled.  “You are beautiful!  Don’t you think that most thirteen-year-olds think this about themselves? Now I’m you’re Abuela and I want a picture with you!”

Before the boot - Max, Lili, and Lauren (seated)
The obliging docent snapped a few, with Max objecting and acquiescing at the same time.  I am grateful we have them—it is my only snapshot with Max during my visit.

Before I left the house, Max and I spent some time picking out a birthday present from us.  Max chose bow-ties, an accessory that he really wanted for the beginning of school.  Just a few days ago, for the first day of school, Lennae snapped an action shot of Max getting ready to leave the house.  Looking cool and collected, I could see the bow-tie around my grandchild’s neck.  I smiled.  He was finding his unique sense of fashion.

1st Day of school- 2016

“What am I going to write this year on your birthday?” I asked him, before I said goodbye.  “For your birthday blog?  Every year, it is my chance to tell your story….”  My voice trailed off. 

I didn’t say, “Every year I look forward to writing a blog about how unique and special you are.  Every year I tell the story of how I grew to love your name, Laila Willow.  Every year I talk about what a strong person you are and how important you are in our family…” 

I didn’t say those things, but Max could hear me say them anyway.  “This year, you’ll write a blog called Max.”

And so I did.  I have permission to share these things (from everyone) and we hope it conveys love, especially for families who may be struggling.

This is the story of our family as we begin to navigate uncharted waters.  Swimming way out ahead is my grandchild, Max, a unique and wonderful person with a heart that I have always admired.   As scary as this life change is, Max feels confident.  He also takes comfort that we have his back. 

Today is a celebration.  Thirteen years ago, this person came into the world and changed my life, a person who I love beyond measure.  I still I have a genuine sense of awe that the baby who was born in a hot tub became this person – this unique, special, multi-faceted, complicated person. 


Happy Birthday, Max!  Today and always we love you.