Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Scarlett


Scarlett Star on Sunday

Last Saturday Scarlett and I walked to Brooktree Park, near our house.  On the way we held hands, and she asked me if I was afraid. 

“Of what?” I asked her, smiling.

“Are you scared of a skeleton?”  (Imagine this word coming out of the mouth of an adorable three-year-old)

I couldn’t help laughing.  I laughed so hard that she laughed with me.  “Grandma, you’re so funny!”

We got to the playground and she began climbing everything—she climbs like an Olympic athlete.  You would never guess that the baby born to our son Vince and our daughter-in-law, Rikki, ever struggled with anything in her whole life. 

In truth, Scarlett Star entered the world after a particularly turbulent labor (I was there through it all and cannot forget the images of her trying to be born).  She was born in Farmington, New Mexico three years ago today—the first grandchild to be born after Mario and I returned from Africa.  After her mother delivered her, Scarlett was placed under lamps to help her recover from jaundice.  She was watched and monitored for three extra days in the hospital, and finally got to come home. 

I remember those days because I secretly worried that Scarlett’s rough beginning might be indicative of coming struggles she might have with her health. 

“It’s not our job to worry,” Mario would tell me. “It’s our job to pray for her.  We can be fearless because God is faithful!”

Scarlett --7 months  old

God has been faithful with Scarlett – she has flourished, growing into a cool kind of warrior princess, fearless and filled with life.  She loves reading, drawing, playing with Legos, and most of all, climbing everything that looks like fun—even stuff  that she is not supposed to climb.



Today this girl turns three!! Where did the years go? I wonder how many years I will have in the beautiful wonder of her magical childhood…

Every Saturday, Mario and I babysit her while her parents go out.  Usually, we go to the park or someplace where she can run.  She hurls sticks across fields and I imagine her one day throwing a javelin.  She leaps over clumps of grass, and I see her running the hurdles.  Last Saturday, when we went to the park together, she ascended a steel ladder on the playground, meant to be ascended  by older kids.  She made it look so easy, even as I stood beneath her with that grandmotherly look on my face…

It was only then that I realized why she asked me why I was scared.  I use a silly ploy (sometimes) to get Scarlett to hold my hand: I tell her I’m scared to walk alone.


An independent little girl, Scarlett wants to run ahead in most things.  She charges into many situations with fearless abandon, just like many kids do.  The flip-side of this fearless personality is that she is tender and sensitive, especially thoughtful of those around her.   


I guess that’s why I tried this to motivate Scarlett, asking her to hold my hand—by telling her that I am scared to walk alone.  

Maybe I shouldn’t tell her  "Hold my hand because I'm scared!"   I can rest in the thought that God is faithful with her!  Happy birthday, dear Scarlett -- we miss you but we'll see you later!!

Grandma

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial



Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007

I know only one Gold Star Mom – a title given to a woman who has lost a son in the service of our country.  Her name is Robyn Ornsby, the mom of my daughter Alicia’s long time bestie, Morgan.



Memorial Day is not just another national holiday  for a Gold Star Mom—it’s a time to grieve a child they lost for the rest of us.  In service to the United States, soldiers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force obey without question—imagine that for a moment.  They obey without the luxury of saying, “Nah, not for me…not this time.”  Sometimes in the line of duty, they are killed by the enemy.  Memorial Day is the day that Americans hang their flag and say, “We remember you died for us –for our freedom.

“Ever since I lost my son I have battled with why people don’t celebrate this holiday,” Robyn once told me.  “I have a hair salon and if I ask a group of fifty people what Memorial Day is, only one or two will know exactly who we are remembering.” 

She’s not exaggerating; according to a recent Gallup poll, only a fraction of Americans know what Memorial Day is.  Specifically, 28% of us answer the question correctly: this day exists to honor those who died in war.

Those who have died in war leave behind families – they remember these veterans as more than just soldiers.

Jay-D --Two Days old

“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little monkey,” Robyn told me when I interviewed her about this holiday.  “Honestly, he was a little character who found joy in challenging me!”  Her laughter faded and she sighed, “I would give anything to have him here challenging me now.”

Jay-D was born on December 9, 1985 and seemed to be all boy through and through right away.  “He was mighty and tough.  He wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him.  He’d give them a good fight.”  As any mom would, Robyn tried to teach the delicate balance of sticking up for yourself and having self-control.  This was especially hard to teach when Jay-D fought for his friends in the same manner. 

“I would get a call from the principal's office, and they'd tell me that Jay-D was in there for fighting a boy who was bullying someone else,” Robyn told me.  “When he got home, I would ask him ‘Why are you now fighting other people’s battles?’ He answered me straight,  ‘Well, it just isn’t right!’”

Jay-D seemed drawn to help the disadvantaged, from the underdogs at school to the handicapped.  “At a time when it was not cool for him to help the Down Syndrome kids in school, he would.  We were at the movies once and a man in a wheelchair was trying to gain access and the other kids were just watching.  It was Jay-D who stood up and helped the man open the door and find his way down the aisles.  He was just like that, always helping someone.”

The boy who fought other people’s battles grew to have his own tender interior.  “He taught himself how to play guitar, he loved ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which he played very well.”

After high school, Jay-D chose to enlist in the US Army, since career opportunities were scarce without college.  “Jay-D wanted to get his life started,” Robyn said.  “He knew that if he enlisted he would be able to earn money for college and get other opportunities.”  At twenty years old, Jay-D enlisted, was sworn in, and scheduled to go to boot camp. 

“Once boot camp was over,” Robyn told me.  “Everything changed.  He was very focused on fighting for his country.  Shortly after, he was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, where he served as a tanker gunner.  While the main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, Jay D was part of the crew that operated the machine guns mounted outside.

Robyn told me about the day that Jay-D was killed.

 “It was actually supposed to be his day off.  He wasn’t supposed to work that day, but they needed him.  He agreed to go, not only because he was part of a team, but also he could apply that day to his next leave.”  Instead of their usual tank, the team took a Hummer as part of a convoy and made their way through the streets.  On the side of the road, waiting, was the enemy.  As soon as the company’s Hummer was in range, the enemy exploded an IED – an Improvised Explosive Device.

It was a massive tragedy.  Of the four soldiers in Jay-D’s Hummer, three were killed.  The enemy was fired upon by the surviving convoy and killed, but their deaths do not bring justice.  There are cruel realities in life, and war is hell.

“I was able to bury Jay-D in Sunset View, a cemetery in Jackson,” Robyn said, after she composed herself.  “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.”  Every year the Ornsby’s do something special to celebrate the day.  One year, Robyn had a BBQ, decorated a wine barrel and burned a candle for her son all day. 

For Memorial Day, this Gold Star Mom has a cherished wish: that Americans would stop and remember what this day really is all about.  “I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls, the shopping centers, and the grocery stores.  All of them say “Memorial Day Sale!”  I wonder if they will honor any fallen Veterans there; I think they won’t.  It’s all a money-making opportunity then.”


I think about Jay-D a lot.  His sister, Morgan (my daughter’s bestie) has a beautiful (gorgeous!) young son – named Jay-D—that will never meet his Uncle. 

“I love little Jay-D!” Robyn says, her voice lifting with excitement.  “Morgan shares him with me and I watch him every Monday!”   

Jay-D Ornsby on the left --  and Morgan's Jay-D on the right 
Everyone who has lost a person close to them know the painful reality that life goes on.  While it does, it helps to grieve with others.  On Monday, we all grieve together.  I will grieve with the Ornsbys for their son; I will grieve for all who fell in battle.


Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform. They are someone's baby, someone's spouse, someone's uncle or aunt.  Today I will grieve the fallen; I will celebrate every freedom I have inherited and they have defended. 

That’s what Memorial Day is.





Saturday, May 27, 2017

Harvey



When someone says his name, “Harvey,” the first thing I think of is his smile. 

It is light.  Half-mischief, half-contentment.  Curious and fearless. 

Harvey’s smile tells the world that he is going to be alright.  Only one person I have ever known has had that same smile—his father, Joe. 

Harvey’s story begins with the Seattle breeze in unexpected calm.  He was born one day after his parents, Joe and Ariel were married.  A home birth, Ariel was surrounded by a team of midwives attending to her, including Joe’s sister, Seantel. 

“She’s close, but it’s hard to say how long this will take,” Seantel told us, as soon as Mario and I arrived. “Can you go get snacks?”

Seantel explained that the midwives had been working all day without food and would be hungry after the task of delivering a baby was over.  As we would fawn and coo over the new life, the midwives would chart and be administrative at the kitchen table—surrounded by healthful snacky foods.

Mario and I headed to Safeway, holding each other’s hands tightly in nervous anticipation.  We bought drinks, cheese trays, chips, and dip.  When we were driving back to the apartment, we talked about the challenge of another long-distance grandchild.  At least I did.

“Seattle is a long way,” I told him.  “I wish they could be in California.”

“It’s not so bad,” Mario said.  “It’s a heck of a lot closer than Africa.  At least we’ll see him more than we would have if we still lived there.”  Mario is an optimist—or a realist.  Both mindsets have a way of being fine in the moment.

We got to the apartment in time for Ariel’s transition.  We met Cathy in the living room and silently prayed for the upcoming delivery.  I was in awe of the smooth, careful breathing I heard coming from the next room.  The Midwives’ voices were louder than Ariel’s soft cries that would bring Harvey into the world.  Ariel sounded nothing like I did in labor; her cries were gentle remarks about the inconvenience of pain. 
Harvey --10 minutes old


Eventually, the sounds of a baby coming into the world came.  I stood in the doorway with the audio of my phone turned on.  Eventually, I heard the sounds of a baby, a soft cry that became a loud one.  Harvey was here!!  I held the phone up, with tears in my eyes.  No one, no matter how gifted with words, can prepare you for the incredible brilliance of a new life coming into the world.

We left two days later, after holding Harvey and sharing him with his family who wanted him all to themselves.

We saw him the following Christmas, already playful and engaging to those around him. 

Joe and Harvey --his first Christmas


It wasn’t until this year when we really got to know him.  We visited earlier this year and spent real time with the boys –and Joe and Ariel.  Visiting with them was heavenly, getting to do the normal grand-parenting things we can easily take for granted.  



We got to play Legos with Harvey, chase him around an indoor play area, eat with him, sing with him…and hold him close.  He has a beautiful combination of innocence and mischief in his spirit, so like his father that I broke out laughing sometimes. 

Oh, yeah...I just threw that!

My favorite picture of Harvey is one where he is sitting at his Lego table, looking over his shoulder at me.  His mother, Ariel, looks on smiling.  In the corner (and this is what is easy to miss) is a red Lego.  Oh, yeah…he threw it! It makes me laugh to remember this…laugh and cry at the same time.

Today marks TWO years since he was born.  Happy Birthday, Harvey.  You remind me of your father—but you are your own man.  Don’t ever wipe that smile off your face!! We love you more than you could ever know.


Grandpa and Abuela

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dad


Four Generations - Thanksgiving 2016

It is said that young daughters believe that the authority of the whole world rests in their fathers. Growing up, this was doubly true for me.  My father, Jack Ryan to his friends, Jackie to his mother, and John G. to strangers, was a man that I saw live a life filled with authority.  He was a manager at work, a deacon at our church, and a strong member of our local community.

My mother, a type B, traditional, Catholic woman of Mexican descent enjoyed the safety and steadiness of my father’s structure.  She would later tell me that her father was the same--patriarchal and strong.  To me, my father's rules were old fashioned and rigid.  Dad was from a different world, I reasoned, a generation that was fading away as mine was taking shape.  Instead of trying to be the perfect daughter, I challenged every boundary that my parents lay down.  I was bold, sneaky, and filled with the classic deceptive attributes of a rebellious teenager.  When I was twenty-three, I realized I was wrong. 



Big time.

It is impossible to entertain any thought of my father without thinking of how he endured these young adult years.  He was strong, unwavering.  He never budged.  

At twenty-five I married Mario, my beautiful mercy straight from God.  I couldn’t believe he loved me—but he did.  As our kids grew, I saw him be a father in very similar ways.  This is what makes me smile now.  The attributes I absolutely challenged growing up are the ones I considered to be golden to our family.  These strengths made the men in my life lead their families in an upside-down world.


When Mario and I moved to Africa, we began a life of being full-time ministry.  During this time, my father was a great source of wisdom to us.  He charged us not to neglect our own spiritual lives for the sake of ministry—because he knew how easy it was to get lost in the work.  When it was time for us to come home, he made it clear that he thought it was a good decision.  His counsel over the years has been unequaled.

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), the author of Out of Africa, once said about the male species: “Man reaches the highest point of lovableness at 12 to 17 — to get it back, in a second flowering, at the age of 70 to 90.”  Today my father is 83—and I agree that he is in his second flowering of loveableness. 

Today my Dad is reflective, wise, and easy to talk to.  He beta-reads most of my writing, which I ask him to do because he is such an avid reader.  He is also unafraid to tell me when my work could be better.  Oh, the nerve!

Happy Birthday, Dad.  You cannot imagine how grateful I am for you.  You are one of the greatest heroes in our life –and I get to be your daughter.  I love you!



Dad surrounded by family

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vince

Vince's first fish - Lake Alpine, CA 1991



Vince was born in 1985 and this is 2017.

That means that my first born is now 32 – which doesn’t make sense.  I know it sounds cliché, but it went by in a flash.  Just yesterday mastered the Etch-a-Sketch.  He learned to read and write before he was supposed to.  He learned how to ride a bike in the backyard at Arnold.  We took trips to Great America and Disneyland; took family vacations to Hawaii and Washington D.C.  He collected baseball cards, rocks, and Legos.  He played sports and work at a movie theater. 

He moved out suddenly; we moved to Africa.  And then – he was gone.

It was like losing an astronaut in deep space when Vince moved out- in Africa I prayed constantly for him.  Once we reestablished contact, we asked him to consider spending some time with us in the RSA -and he did.  It was the beginning of the relationship we have now.

Vince arrives in South Africa - 2008


It is one of the greatest graces of God when your adult children choose to have relationship with you. When I pray, I thank God for the kids he gave us.  I thank God we have grown and changed together.  I watch them in a certain kind of wonder, thankful that they can do all the things they do.

Vince has recently changed professions—no longer is he in the oil fields of New Mexico.  He lives in Sacramento again and works as a plumbing apprentice.  

Vince under a house - earlier this year (2017)


He works very hard every day and still comes home to play hard with his daughter, Scarlett. As I do homework I can hear her shrieking with delight upstairs, as her Dad plays with her.  

Every Saturday night Vince and Rikki go out and Mario and I get to have Scarlett.  Tonight we made a birthday cake together.

“Who is this cake for?”  I asked her, almost rhetorically. 

“MY Daddy,” Scarlett said, hitting her chest with her hand.  “MY Daddy!”  

“YOUR Daddy is MY son,” I said, smiling. Scarlett gave me a look that always makes me laugh.  She is possessive of her parents, and doesn’t like me to hug either one or talk about them like they are any relation to me.   Scarlett shook her head. 

“MY Daddy, and that’s Daddy’s cake!”

After I put it in the oven, I marveled at the beauty of life.  Not only do I get to write about my son growing up, I am also writing about his daughter growing up in front of me, as well. 



God is so good.

Happy Birthday, Vince.  You grew up fast, but you became a man who I am glad to know.  I love you!


Mom.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mom

A recent family gathering at Casa de Rodriguez
(Mom in white turtleneck behind Dad)

The story of my mother, Jennie Ryan, is surrounded by family.  She is the fifth out of seven children, born to Ignacio and Juana Gonzalez, my Grandpa and Grandma.  She grew up on a farm and some of her earliest memories involve feeding lambs from a baby bottle with her twin sisters, Emily and Molly.

What I don't know about my mother, what she never talks about, is what it was like learning English in the immersion of school, speaking a foreign language under the pressure of learning how to read and write.  I don't really know how they made it through the winters when my grandfather, a farm worker, was not working so much.  I don't know how it  was for her to grow up in a small town that was predominantly white during a time when racism was not called racism --it was just the way things were.

The reason I don't know much about these things is that my Mom doesn't like to "dwell on negative things"--even when it pertains to her own personal history.  What she loves to tell us is stories of being our small town's Tomato Queen, riding like a princess on an elephant through the main streets. Stories of meeting our father, Jack, who blew into Tracy like her knight on a white horse, swept her off her feet and married her in the Catholic Church that we were all baptized in.

Mom dwells on beauty.  She loves finding the good, is optimistic to a fault, and believes in counting her blessings.  Her life has not been easy, but you would never know this by talking to her.


Four Generations

...plus Scarlett

The power of my Mother is the strong belief in goodness.  She believes in the power of love, the power of forgiveness, the purpose in living a life for God, and the underlying truth that the only thing we can control about life is the way we react to it.

Today my mother turns 80.

I just typed that--and I can't believe it.  I think of my mother as perpetually 45, sweeping the floor, curling her hair, listening to classical music, making breakfast, watering her garden, going to Mass, lighting the candles on the table, reading the latest Michener.  All of these memories kind of blend together to create one large memory of her being there for me, woven into my life in ways that are completely beautiful.

Because, at her very core, my Mom is beautiful.



Auntie Molly, Auntie Emmy, Mom

Happy Birthday, Mom!  You make 80 look like 45 -- which I know can't be right, because I'm 53, right?  Or am I fifty four?  What am I, Mom?  Tell me!

Happy Birthday!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lauren

My favorite picture of me and Lauren
Thank you to Hannah Joy Photography


Lauren Caroline is our son David's third child, a daughter that  moves with speed and energy that makes me wish to be young again.

This past summer I went to see them before the fall semester began.  Cathy and David's kids picked me up, but only one wanted to get in the selfie I wanted to take with all of us - Lauren.



While Lili and Callen hid in the back seat, Lauren was still the effervescent grandchild I remembered her to to be.  We planned out what we would do while we were there and did it all --on the first day.  We jump-roped, played clapping games, drew pictures, and went shopping.  The rest of the visit I just tried to keep up with her, and basked in the beauty of her seven-year-old excitement. 


I have always loved Lauren for being the baby of her family.  She grew up well-protected and learned confidence from her two older siblings.  She also learned how to wear their hand-me-downs, play with their toys once they were finished with them, and wait her turn for every new thing.  The baby of the family usually is the most patient, out of default rather than choice.  

 Lauren is trusting, hopeful, and filled with gigantic expectations of life.  Since she is the baby of the family, all of the love trickles down to her and she is consequently very loving herself.  


Today, Lauren turns eight.  

I still remember the day she was born – at home in a hot tub (my daughter in law had all her babies in the tub).  David and Lennae had two small girls already and I openly wondered about the addition of that third child.  Most young mothers can tell you that the third child is officially juggling .  I worried that the kids (David and Lennae) might be overwhelmed… with so much work.  There was little I could offer to help –we were living in South Africa.


We were living in Johannesburg when Lauren was born; she changed everything.  We had said goodbye to our family and moved halfway across the world.  I wasn’t sure how to process the birth of one of our granddaughters from such a distance.  Getting the pictures via email filled me with admiration, love and emptiness.  As much as we wanted to be there--to at least hold her-- it was not possible.

David and Lilli hold Lauren, only two days old.  

By the time we moved back Lauren was four years old and she barely knew us.  Grateful for her parents, who built toward us, we began the business of reconnecting.  Only one problem – we lived in Cali and the kids lived in Kansas.  We visited Kansas and spent good, purposeful time “giving the kids their rest” and selfishly kidnapping the girls to take them to fun places that we could remember later  as shared experiences.  Whenever we are together, Lauren wants to listen to my stories – she tells me some of her own.  She loves play of any kind and always invites me to be part of her world – a sparkling, glittery wonderland. 

One of Lauren's selfies, taken in 2015

As I type this, Mario is there with her.  He gets to play in her supercharged universe as I shirk homework to celebrate Lauren in words.   Happy Birthday, Lauren.  As you do grow up, may you take all of this family love with you and bless the world as you have blessed our lives.  You are the sparkles in the air, young lady.