Thursday, August 8, 2019

Alannah



At the pumpkin patch 2015

In a few days, Alannah will begin another school year—and it’s all she can talk about.
“I’ll see all my friends,” she says, breathlessly. “I’ve missed them so much and they’ve missed me.” She has a beautiful way of delighting in the sweetness of friendships. She loves her friends the way that her mother—my daughter, Alicia, used to. When I volunteer in her classroom, Alannah is a shining star, hard-working, but also very friendly. She has lots of friends and is genuinely warm and welcoming to all of her classmates.

At the Discovery Museum with a walking stick 2019

Alannah is curious and loves to learn about so many things.  Science is fascinating, cooking is fun, but art is where she excels. loves to watch plays, ballets, and singing.  She paints, draws, and writes poetry. Like her sister, she loves reading and being read aloud to.

For an early birthday present, Alannah chose a sleeping dog—it’s called a Perfect Petzzz, a stuffed animal—for her collection.  When we took it home, she set up a shelf for him to sleep, collected a few family members for him, and then made the sleeping dog a mother as soon as she found a  stuffed animal small enough to be a baby.  It was such a wonderful day, watching this, and playing with her. There's part of me that is always hoping she will stay this age.



When you’re a grandmother, there are few things in your life that equal the love of a grandchild—the love I feel for Alanna is enormous. It swells in my heart, like a wonderful wave of surf, and she makes me feel like I can actually stand up on a board.


The love I receive from Alannah is like a taste of  heaven.  There’s not one condition or string attached to our relationship—it’s all just about love and discovery.


Every day I’m with Alannah, I’m grateful. Every day she’s in my life, I stand up straighter, take deeper breaths and learn more about life and why it's so worth living.


Happy Birthday to Alannah! You are a glittering ray of joy and hope.  Let’s celebrate!!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Alicia






Alicia, Harmony, Alannah and I in June 2019



You Are.../I am...

A song whose melody is light—
the best there is—singing
with outstretched hands, my love
inspired by the sparks of joy
reach out and take my hand

I wasted precious time, forgetting
of you in my arms, my house, then
wandering, looking for something I lost
sleep—those nights drowned in red
darker than blood wine, the secret
fear that I wouldn’t find the thing
if there was a thing—that kept you from me

I once held expectations, now only hope—
broken and glued-together hope,
for the reasons mothers understand—with
my hands. I named you 
seeking truth, the gold you might find in
everything.  My girl, always shining,
as you lift your arms to be carried, lifting
away from tender wounds, look
for your heart, unveiled. Look
this way, see me reaching now
by the mercy of God, to bring you back
to me—a mother who loves you



This poem is for my daughter, Alicia, a woman in constant motion, who turns thirty-one today! If you read it line-by line from the top down, it is about Alicia and my constant search to understand her as she grew. If you read it, line-by-line, from the bottom to the top, it is about me seeking understanding for today--to love her for the woman she is.  

All by the grace of God--all by the grace of God...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Mario

Happy Birthday, Baby!!


I just got off the phone with Mario, the love of my life, the man who normally reaches in to make things easier for me, when the world seems like it’s unravelling in my hands.  He is the best guy I’ve ever met, a man of exceptional capacity to care for others and make everyone around him feel safe and understood.  The world is a better place with him in it--and I celebrate him every chance I get.

 Mario turns 65 today, which seems impossible, since we just got married last week (32 years ago) and our kids just graduated from high school (yesterday Joe turned 38). Didn’t we just get back from Africa? (Six years ago, we arrived home in Sacramento).  It’s easy to lose track of time when it flies by…and time does fly when you’re having fun.

Today I’m typing from a single bedroom in an AirBnB in Los Angeles—staying here while I attend the third residency for my MFA at Antioch University.  Five days into my residency, a time of stimulating and intense I’m exhausted and I miss him. Next to me is my purse, my book-bag and nothing else. I miss my husband, the one who validates me at every turn.  I miss the smell of his neck, the sound of him making coffee, the way he lays out his clothes for the next day.  I miss him.  I have to remember that sometimes marriage is tested by absence, and for some people, they have to endure separations for much longer than two weeks! When marriages are strong, love and respect keep the distance between us like a thread of music, continuing from another room.  When we’re reunited, we’re able to pick up where we left off.

Mario and I, chilling after an AWP Conference

Happy Birthday, Baby!  I love you so much!  I miss you so much it hurts!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Asher


Asher (grimacing after tasting frosting) Christmas 2018


Last December, I was in line at Hobby Lobby, holding gifts for Joe's kids that I let them select for themselves. Our precocious grandson, Asher, heard a cashier at the register ask someone to bring her a set of Copic markers, kept under lock and key.

"I changed my mind!" Asher said, looking at me, wide-eyed. "I want Copic markers!"

I laughed. Copic markers are used by art professionals, familiar with intricacies of layering and blending.  They are also extremely expensive and we can't afford them.  I'm a traditional grandmother who wants to buy everything for my grandkids, but I tried to deflect the request.

"No, Asher," I said.  "I don't think you're old enough for Copic markers."

Asher grimaced. I LOVE Asher's grimaces, almost as much as I love his smiles. 

"I'm old enough," he said. "I know what you're thinking.  You think I'm not going to treat them well, and I won't know what to to with them, but I do."  The grimace fell into a sadness that made me put my arm on his shoulder. 

"I know you're an artist," I said. "But I can't afford more than one Copic marker.  If you want one or two we might be able to afford it. But that's your Christmas gift. I think what you've chosen is better."

Asher looked up at me, then at his pre-purchased gift. "Alright, I'll take that," he said.  The look of defeat was all over his face. I knew better than to lecture him about being thankful--he was genuinely disappointed, and I didn't blame him. He looked up at me again. "One day, when you can afford it, can you buy me Copic markers?" 

I nodded. "Yes, Asher. Because I know you'll take care of them and I know you are a serious artist."

He smiled at me and shrugged.  "You should have just said you couldn't afford them in the first place," he said. "Instead of saying I'm not old enough." 

When we got to the cashier, I was so ready to be out of there.  I wanted to advise her not to say "Copic Markers" out loud while others are in line.  Instead, I smiled and looked down at Asher.  "One day, buddy, okay?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "Because I'm pretty good at drawing. You've never met another kid like me, right?"

I smiled. Asher remembered what I was saying earlier.  I told his parents that I never met anyone like Asher--he wasn't like other kids.


Asher's School open house - September 2017

I met Asher when he was eighteen months old. Mario and I called him "the little man" because he was so grown up for a little kid. He was already speaking in complete sentences, even though he didn't speak them to me.  His whole world was wrapped up in his mother, Ariel, my daughter-in-law Lennae’s sister.  Ariel and Asher occupied one room of (our son) David and Lennae’s house, so when we would visit our kids and grandchildren, we would see Ariel and Asher.


When our other son, Joe, visited David and Lennae, he got to know Ariel and Asher much better than we ever did. Soon, we noticed he was becoming pretty close with Ariel--a gorgeous, quiet woman that looked like a Renaissance painting.  When Joe and Ariel started dating, I wondered how it would affect the small, territorial little man in Ariel’s life.  After a brief warming up period, Joe and Asher got used to one another and began a relationship that looked like father and son.  A little while later, Harvey was born and the family blended quite nicely.

Playing Slinky on the stairs with Harvey - 2018

When you see Joe and Asher together, you see a unique closeness in their relationship, one that reminds me of how things are between Mario and Vince.  WhenMario and I started dating, Vince was 18 months old; when we married, Vince was two and a half.

Dog Pile on Grandpa
The blessing of a blended family is that everyone in it has a heart that makes room for each other.  While not always ideal, the children learn that they have parents on all sides.  When it’s working properly, the child feels loved on all sides.  While not ideal, the blended family has a special beauty, with  members that can adapt to newcomers easier.  Ours is such a family, where we are scattered and different, but we all love each other.  Asher helps me remember that life is pretty sweet –if we make it that way. 



Happy Birthday, Asher!!  I have never met another kid like you and I am so grateful that we're family!!  Blessings and love today and always!  Abuela.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Scarlett




Scarlett, my granddaughter, was walking upstairs tonight as I washed the dinner dishes.  “Goodnight, Grandma, I’ll see you on my birthday!”   

“Okay, honey,” I said.

“Because tomorrow is my birthday!” she started laughing, as if it were a great joke. In a way it is—Scarlett Star is five tomorrow?  It was only last week that she was born.

Scarlett Star Rodriguez was born in New Mexico five years ago today, in a birthing room perched on the top floor of the hospital.  After a long labor, Scarlett arrived, was weighed, measured, and handed over to her father, Vince (my son) as Rikki recovered.  Scarlett relaxed into his arms and after a few minutes with her, he let me hold her myself.  This scene will be with me forever—it was a perfect, peaceful time after a long, tumultuous labor.

Scarlett was finally here.

The birth of a child is always a little unpredictable, but soon things became normal and Vince and Rikki brought her home to meet Bruno, the family dog, accepted her as his baby. 


Scarlett was the first child to be born after Mario and I returned from South Africa, and we rejoiced that we were so close.  Even though the family still lived miles away in New Mexico, I was grateful to be back in the USA, only two time zones away from a phone call—a simple plane ride from here to there.  Still, Scarlett’s birth magnified the desire for all of us to be closer.  It also exposed an interesting fact: California was Vince’s home, but New Mexico was Rikki’s. 


Where would Scarlett find her home?  The answer was, as it is for all children, that Scarlett’s home was with her parents.  No matter where they chose to live, Scarlett’s most important connection would be with her mother and father during these formative years.  Vince and Rikki eventually decided to move “back” to California, and so we are very close now.  After a getting-to-know-you period, Scarlett became more and more accepting of us, and each step has been a miracle. 


Today Scarlett Star turns FIVE!  This year, in addition to growing into a more delightful version of herself, she became a big sister to Violet Moon, a baby who has given her a new sense of identity.


“Grandma, watch how she is when I put my face up to hers,” Scarlett tells me as she gets close to her sister.  It’s a beautiful sight to see, especially since my own older sister used to bit and pich me the first year I was alive!

Every other week, for a Friday trip to Chico, Scarlett accompanies me to see her cousins and Auntie Alicia.  These days are especially beautiful, since the building of strong family connections is so important. 

Tonight, I type in the half-light, using my phone as a hotspot because our internet is down,  Tomorrow, I’ll probably wince at the typos and sentence structure, until I see the birthday girl and “Janet, the writer” will disappear and make way for “Janet, the Grandma.”



Happy Birthday, Scarlett Star!  You are an amazing joy in our lives!





Monday, May 27, 2019

Harvey


Joe and Harvey run across the finish line in record time!

The day before Harvey, our grandson, was born at home, his parents got married.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in Seattle and Mario and I walked with the little family through an old-town section to a chapel where the couple tied the knot.  It was magical, and the couple took full advantage of Ariel's 9-moth pregnant tummy in the frame!  She looked to beautiful!

Before Vows--May 26, 2015



The next day, we got a text from my "step-daughter" Seantel, telling us that Ariel went into labor.  We were going to be present just to see the baby on the day of his birth! I was so elated! Seantel met us in the parking lot in front of Joe and Ariel's apartment, letting us know of the progress.

"She's pretty close to delivery, but there's still time," she told us. "Once he gets here, the midwives will sit down to chart.  Is there any way you can run and get snacks?"

Happy to have an occupation, Mario and I went to Safeway. I couldn't believe we would be grandparents again! Mario and I held hand tightly and smiled secretly at each other.  I can still smell the beautiful organic strawberries on display in the aisle.  I examined them, thinking, "He'll be here soon! He'll be here soon!" 

As we drove back to the apartment, I looked up at the clear Seattle sky and thanked God for his mercy.  Almost one hour after we delivered snacks, Harvey Locke Rodriguez was born at home, entering the world with unusual contentment.   

Harvey Locke, 10 minutes old.

Joe and Ariel (now the parents of three boys) moved to Kansas City, much closer to David and Lennae and their children--and much closer to Cathy, mi comadre. Our trips to see the kids are not as frequent as we’d like, so we see Harvey grow up mostly through pictures.  

Now and then, we all get together in Kansas City and reconnect.  I'm always surprised at how much the kids have gown; always amazed at how much Harvey looks like his father, who looks like Mario.

Ariel sent me this picture three and a half years ago.  Her caption was: "No family resemblance at all, is there?"


Three Generations 2017
Harvey exudes happiness and confidence.  He has more energy than even his brother, Asher, has (a LOT...a stinkin LOT!)   Harvey is the mischievous, playful, happy grandson!  Harvey is the beloved, the mighty, the beautiful.  Now...we see him being quiet, like his father became in these younger years.  
  
Mario and Joe--exhausted from playing with Harvey!

When Joe and Ariel had their third child, Theodore, they made Harvey a BIG BROTHER!!  I know it all sounds cliché,but once you start having Grandchildren, time goes by even faster!

Theodore, Mama, Harvey

I am typing this in the afternoon on Memorial Day, thanking God for our Harvey.  I love how he loves life and runs into it without fear.  His face is filled with mischief and he’s always cooking up a plan to do something a little naughty—but funny.  Born in a place of contentment, raised in a place of safety, and growing with joy and affection from all sides, I can wish only one more thing: God’s amazing grace all over him and his family.  I also wish for a chance to see him soon!




Happy Birthday, Harvey!  You are like sunshine to our lives!




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Memorial


R.I.P. PFC JAY-D ORNSBY ADKINS
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007


Every year on Memorial Day, I remember one soldier—his name was Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins.  He was handsome, funny, compassionate, kind to strangers, and enlisted in the US Army.  I think of him to remember what Memorial Day is all about—to honor the soldiers and sailors who have paid the ultimate price while serving their country in the armed services.  Jay-D was  born on December 9, 1985 and was killed in Iraq on April 28, 2007, making him only twenty-one years old when he died.

The reason I know of Jay-D in the first place is because of Morgan, a girl who has been Alicia’s best friend since high school.  It was not long after I met her that I found out her brother was killed in action. 

It has made me see this holiday, Memorial Day, much differently.

Jay-D’s mother, Robyn, is a beautiful woman who now bears the dubious distinction of being a Gold-Star Mom.  “I have a hair salon,” she once told me, “and every year I ask people if they know what Memorial Day is.  Only one or two will know exactly what the holiday is for—only a few know who we are remembering.” 

She’s not exaggerating.  According to a recent Gallup poll, only 28% of Americans know that Memorial Day is specifically to honor those who died in war.  Veteran’s Day is to honor those who served—Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in battle.

These fallen soldiers leave behind families.  These families are given a folded flag and a thank you from the U.S. Government.  We, as a nation, also grieve on this day, with them.  We remember them as more than bodies on a field—we remember the people that they were. 




“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little monkey,” Robyn told me, laughing. “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 grew up dearly loved, an active boy who loved to play.  He was fearless and mighty, never running from any fight.  “He wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him,” Robyn told me.  “He’d give them a good fight, for sure.”  Robyn stopped to explain how hard it was to teach Jay-D the delicate balance of sticking up for himself and having self-control.  As soon as she felt he learned this lesson, he started sticking up for others. 

“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 laughed.  “When he got home, I asked him why he would fight other people’s battles, and he answered me straight: ‘Well, it just didn’t seem right!’”

Jay-D's anti-bullying campaign  was in place long before any even existed. “At a time when it was not cool for anyone to help the Down Syndrome kid in school, he did.  He would defend an underdog, stand up for the new kids, and even helped others when no one else would.”  

The boy who fought for the rights of others also learned how to express 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 seemed more promising after finishing school.  “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, he was enlisted, sworn in and enrolled in boot camp.  It was there that he became a soldier.  “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 Bagdad, 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.

Through tears, Robyn told me about the day her son was killed:  “It was actually supposed to be his day off.  He wasn’t supposed to work that day, but his team 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-- and killed three of the four soldiers in Jay-D’s Hummer.  The enemy was fired upon by the surviving convoy, but their deaths did not bring justice.  War really is hell.

Robyn was able to bury Jay-D’s remains in Sunset View Cemetary, a place in Jackson. “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.” 

Today, the Ornsby’s usually celebrate Jay-D’s memory with friends and close family. One year she decorated a wine barrel and burned a special candle, signifying how the light of love will always burn bright in her heart.  She will take delight in having her grandson close by, a little boy named after his Uncle Jay-D. 

Robyn's Jay-D (1985)      and        Morgan's Jay-D (2015)


For Memorial Day, please take a deep breath and remember a fallen hero.  Think of Jay-D, his heart of gold, and his Gold Star Mom, Robyn.  Remember his sister, Morgan, who honors her family and her brother's memory every day of her life.  

Resolve to be part of the minority of Americans that remember what this day really is all about.  “I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls, the shopping centers, and the grocery stores,” Robyn told me once.  “All of them say ‘Memorial Day Sale!’  I wonder if they will honor any fallen Veterans there? I think not.  It’s all a money-making opportunity to them.”

Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform. They are someone's baby, someone's spouse, someone's uncle or aunt.  I will grieve the fallen. I will celebrate the freedom that I have because of them. 

I will grieve with the families who have lost loved ones on Memorial Day.