Wisdom Teeth

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My youngest child needs to have her wisdom teeth out. Just as with her three older siblings (and most young adults), her third molars are impacted into her jaw and need to be surgically removed.

I still vividly remember having my own wisdom teeth extracted back in the days of chloroform and leeches. I was actually hospitalized overnight and can remember my mom coming to my hospital room with a milkshake to make me feel better. My own kids all weathered the experience reasonably well and were kind of funny as they slowly came out of their anesthetized haze. My older daughter kept telling me she thought the fish wallpaper in the oral surgeon’s office was so pretty, and my younger son kept slapping his cheek and exclaiming, “I can’t feel anything!”

Wisdom teeth are vestiges of our early millennia as homo sapiens. Early human diets were uncooked and rough, and people lost teeth on a regular basis. So third molars were very important to survival. As humans evolved and ate a softer diet, our jaws narrowed and now rarely can allow the wisdom teeth to break the surface of the gums.

So having wisdom teeth removed has become a rite of passage for young adults. For me, it has been a time when I could baby my children who are not really little kids anymore. For at least a couple of days, I could  park them on the sofa, ice their cheeks, and prepare Jello and other soft foods for them to eat. I could watch TV with them and wish these lazy summer days wouldn’t end.

My youngest child will be a junior in high school in the fall. She is driving and going out most nights with friends. Soon she will be taking ACTs and SATS, applying to colleges, and making her way out into the adult world step by step. I hope the presence of her so-called “wisdom teeth” indicates a maturity that will enable her to be sensible and safe. And I hope I have the wisdom to let her grow up and leave the nest, however hard it will be for me.

Still, I look forward to babying the baby of the family when she gets her wisdom teeth taken out. We still have a lot of TV to watch together.

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Who Needs Roseanne When We’ve Got The Middle?

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The surprising popularity of this spring’s Roseanne reboot, followed by its swift cancellation, has some critics regretting the loss of a TV comedy that depicted life for working class Americans. Little did they realize, we have already had a hilarious take on life in the fly over zone for 9 great seasons: The Middle.

The Middle is the story of the Hecks from fictional Orson, Indiana. When we first meet them, dad Mike is working at a rock quarry and mom Frankie is having trouble selling cars at a local dealership. Their three kids are a popular slacker (Axel), a klutzy positive thinker (Sue Sue), and a brainiac with social problems (Brick).

The Hecks are always just barely scraping by. Their appliances don’t work unless large amounts of duct tape are involved. Their cars are serviceable clunkers. Frankie brings home questionable meat and produce from the Frugal Hoosier. And throughout nine seasons, their financial fortunes don’t improve much.

Premiering around the same time as Modern FamilyThe Middle has always been like the less glamorous, less popular younger sibling. The Hecks lack the snappy repartee of the Pritchetts. Their stories are not as manic and zany. But the Hecks, with all their problems, dysfunctions, and squabbling, give Middle America a family it can relate to.

Who among us has not fought with siblings in the back seat of the family car on long, boring road trips? Who cannot relate to being an overwhelmed mom whose idea of making dinner is picking up fast food? Don’t we all have weird relatives that only add to the dysfunction of stressful family gatherings? Isn’t there always another family in the neighborhood who puts us to shame with their cookie-baking, high-achieving, wholesome ways?

What makes The Middle such a relatable show is the deep affection the Hecks have for each other. Despite their near-constant bickering, they weather the storms together and identify as a family unit. I recently watched the final episode of The Middle, which sees the Heck family grappling with a child leaving the nest and the knowledge that their close-knit clan will never be the same. It’s a heartfelt episode, and it made me cry, as did many touching moments in the series over the years. It’s a kind of laughing through the tears experience.

There is absolutely no politics in The Middle. Religion is treated with respect and gentle humor. The one gay character in the show has a slow and unspectacular awakening to his true identity. The Middle is not a show about issues, but simply about family. And it’s a gem.

I’m sure The Middle will find its way to Netflix or late night TV.  And when it does, I’d highly recommend viewers give it a try.

Everybody Needs a Friend

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I recently found out that my best friend from childhood had passed away in her late teens or early 20s. Kathy and I were both shy little girls, and we gravitated toward each other because of that. When we were young, we were both obsessed with horses and pretended to have stables of them, each with a unique name. As we got older, we’d spend hours in her quiet room (unlike the bedlam in my family of 13) listening to 45 rpm records on her record player.

Although I got along fine with the other kids in my small Catholic school, it was Kathy I spent time with outside of school. Then in the summer before eighth grade, my family moved away. I quickly made a new best friend in the junior high I attended, one whose friendship I have maintained to this day. But I regret how easily I let my friendship with Kathy slip away.

Everybody needs a friend. A friend is a buffer against the harsh realities of life – the pressures of school, the meanness of children, the dysfunction in families. A friend can make us laugh, share our secrets, and have our backs in tough situations. Family is important, sure. But a friend is someone who chooses to be in your life.

Lately I’ve been wondering whether Donald Trump has any friends. He seems like a lonely figure in the White House. I can’t know for sure, but his relationship with his wife seems frosty and with his son, distant. He always seems to have so much to prove, tweeting away at all hours of the night, viciously attacking allies and enemies alike, needing to have the upper hand.

The Parkland shooter didn’t seem to have any friends. There is some indication that his odd behavior made him an outcast. So when he lost his mother, he must have felt overwhelmingly alone. Without a friend to be that buffer against life’s vicissitudes, he turned into an angry and vindictive young man.

Society needs to recognize the danger of looking the other way while kids are bullied, people suffer from depression, and others are raised by harsh, demanding tyrants who leave them feeling unloved. Not having a friend not only affects the lonely person, but can have devastating repercussions for those around him. It’s important to reach out to those on the margins, to those who spend their time building up paranoid fantasies in their minds – before they do something harmful to themselves or others.

I truly hope President Trump has a trusted friend, someone with whom he can laugh and let off steam, someone who can listen and try to understand.

Everybody needs a friend.

 

 

 

Blessed Solitude

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There are few things I treasure quite as much as solitude. Being alone with my thoughts has always been an important part of my life.

When my children were young, the only sure place for some alone time was the bathroom. I would close and lock the door and gather myself for whatever the day held in store. Even then, my kids would find me, pound on the door and wail piteously, as if they might never see me again.

I mentioned in my last post that I had difficulty napping when I was young. Looking back, I see that maybe I had outgrown napping but my mother needed us to spend an hour in our rooms away from her so that she could enjoy some moments of solitude.

I have always been an introspective person, so solitude provides me with the time and space to think, imagine, puzzle out a problem. And I enjoy many of the activities that go along with solitude: reading, writing, working on a crossword puzzle. The absolute quiet in my house right now as I write this gives me a sense of peace. I’m content, not lonely.

Of course, as with everything else, with solitude there can be too much of a good thing. When my husband and kids leave me alone for a few hours, a day, or even overnight, that’s a rare treat. But when they are gone for days, I start to miss them. I rattle around the empty house and feel a little unmoored.

Solitude feeds my inner life, and that includes spirituality. Without some quiet time, it’s impossible to hear the “still, small voice” of God. It’s impossible to pray. As Psalm 46:10 puts it, “Let be and be still, and know that I am God.”

My solitude gives me a chance to fill up the wells of my mind, heart, and soul. Filled to the brim, I’m prepared to be engaged in every aspect of my busy and wonderful life.

 

Early Riser

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There are two types of people: those who get up at the crack of dawn and those who don’t. I have always been in the former category. Even as a teenager, that notorious somnolent period of life, my idea of sleeping in was rising around 8 am. And in college, I hated that all the bar-hopping and party action began well after 10 pm. I wanted to go out at 7:30 and be home and tucked in before midnight.

One of my problems is that I do not nap. As a little girl, I remember lying on my bed in the bright afternoons and trying to will myself to sleep. But I would toss and turn and get incredibly bored until my mom decided it was okay for my sister and me to get up. The only time I can recall longing for a nap was when I had small children whose sleep schedules kept me up half the night.

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“The early bird catches the worm” is a famous aphorism. I don’t know about the worm, but I do feel more productive when I wake up early and get a few things done. I like to write in the morning, and morning is when I am most likely to go for a walk, do chores around the house, pay bills, make phone calls.

There’s something lovely about being awake when most of the world around you is asleep. I love rising at dawn and watching the vague outlines of nature come into focus as the sun makes its way into the sky, trailing orange and pink hues. The stillness of morning is a quiet and prayerful time for me. Being a naturally ruminative person, I find the stillness and freshness of a new day inspiring.

As I write this, the sun is brightening the world around me. Some vestiges of snow sprinkle the lawn. They will be gone by late afternoon as temperatures improbably climb into the 50s on a January day. On mornings like this, I notice the sleeping buds on the magnolia tree outside my window, waiting for spring. A gentle breeze stirs the stalks of dry and brittle flowers.

Amid all the tensions and drama of my life and the world outside, it’s heartening to see the sun’s reliable trajectory in the sky. It’s a new day, and I’m happy to be awake and alive.

 

Re-Entry

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After a prolonged time in outer space, astronauts have major physiological adjustments to make upon re-entry to Earth. The effects of lessened gravity make simple actions such as speaking and walking difficult once the astronaut feels the effects of Earth’s gravitational pull. Astronauts returning from the International Space Station spend weeks being tested and monitored to be sure they recover their health and stamina.

While the post-holiday stress of re-entering regular life can’t quite compare, I couldn’t help being reminded of astronauts’ ordeal as I returned from the holidays and a wonderful vacation in Hawaii.

With a four-hour time change, I am still suffering a small degree of jet lag. I can’t go to bed at night but must arise at what feels like the crack of dawn to see my daughter off to school. And speaking of school, it is hard getting back in our day to day routines after two weeks of holiday feasting, family togetherness, and fun. When my kids are on vacation, I too feel a certain license and tend to let certain everyday tasks go by the wayside. Facing the piles of paperwork and general disarray in my house has been fatiguing.

Re-entry after the Christmas holidays is especially painful to me because there is nothing that depresses me more than taking down the decorations, especially the Christmas tree. Not only is it a tedious task that somehow falls to me alone every year, but it saddens me to let the merriment of the season go. The January to April winter slog is long and sometimes disheartening. I want my jolly back.

By next week, we will have settled back into a normal routine. My sleep patterns will stabilize, and I will be in a rhythm set by my daughter’s school and sports schedules. The holidays will be a distant but pleasant memory. To ease my adjustment, I have started a new program of yoga that I hope will calm me and help banish the blues of gloomy winter days.

Despite the pain of re-entry, my life is pretty wonderful. As soon as I get my sea legs back, I intend to enjoy it to the full.

The Aloha Spirit

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IMG_2959For my upcoming 60th birthday, I wanted above all else to go on a vacation with my family. As the kids have grown, it has become increasingly difficult to have them all in one place. So a logical time to gather my crew was over the Christmas holidays. The logical place? Paradise, a.k.a. the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Kauai and my hometown of Chicago could not be more different. The most obvious difference, especially at this time of year, is the climate. When we landed at Lihue Airport, it was a balmy 70 degrees, as opposed to the single digit temperatures that had descended on Chicago and, indeed, much of the mainland. Winter in Chicago is cold and bleak whereas the seasons on Kauai are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Everywhere we looked was a profusion of color: velvety green mountains, bright green shrubs and trees, pink and red and orange and yellow flowers. Our hotel even hosted a couple of friendly parrots and a host of noisy chickens that wandered the grounds.

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But the differences don’t stop there. Chicago is a big and somewhat impersonal city. People are in a hurry, perpetually hurtling from one activity to another. In Kauai – and all of Hawaii, really – there is a relaxed and unhurried vibe. Not for nothing are Hawaiians known for the “hang loose” gesture that implies there’s plenty of time, no need to rush. Whether driving around the island in bumper to bumper traffic, being waited on at a restaurant, or interacting with salespeople at shops, tourists need to cultivate a more easygoing temperament to match the Hawaiian way.

The Hawaiian word aloha represents the spirit of the islands. Aloha means both “hello” and “goodbye,” but most importantly, it means “love.” From the moment we landed on Hawaiian soil, we were greeted with this aloha spirit. Hotel staff greeted us by placing leis around our necks. “Aloha” constantly came out of people’s lips as they would pass us by. Smiles and friendliness were the norm and not the exception.

Another word that is important to Hawaiian culture is ohana, which means “family.” My favorite part of our Hawaiian vacation was not the fresh fish, the mai tais, or the spectacular views. It was the feeling of being surrounded by my family. We had adventures together hiking, rafting along the exotic Na Pali coast, and snorkeling in the pristine blue waters. But my favorite times were those spent together, on beach chairs just lying companionably next to each other and comparing notes about the books we were reading or the music on our iPhones. Or the relaxed dinners where we reminisced about vacations past and shared our “bests” and “worsts” of the present one.

Too soon it was time to part ways and go back to work and school in various parts of the country and the world. But my memories of this milestone birthday will always be ones filled with aloha for my ohana – and for the Hawaiian spirit that I hope will linger into a New Year in a less heavenly clime.