Wednesday, September 28, 2016

September 28, 2016

My late mother-in-law proclaimed, many times, that being a grandmother was the best role she ever had. It didn’t take me very long, once I stepped into that role myself, to agree with her.

It may surprise y’all to learn that, as a parent, I was a world class smart-ass. I was! I didn’t consciously become one, either. I think “smart-ass” was my default personality mode when the stress of life—that special combination of children, job, husband, and financial challenges—combined together and got to be too much.

Some of my zingers caused a great deal of eye-rolling and moaning among my kids, but I have to tell you, looking back at those comments even now, I chuckle. I realize that some of my responses weren’t my own originally crafted words. They’re just the words that emerged from my mouth when the moment was right.

There are a couple of instances and exchanges that particularly come to mind:

Kid: But you SAID I could have that! Me: I most certainly did not. Kid: YES YOU DID!! Me: (sighing). I know you believe you understand what you think I said; but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. Kid: I don’t get it. Me: Precisely.

Then, of course, there’s the universal-kid response when you are trying very hard to get them to comply with your parental will: Kid: You can’t make me, because this country is a free country. We live in a democracy! Me: This country might be a democracy, but this family isn’t. It’s a benevolent dictatorship. However, if you don’t toe the line and do as you’re told, the dictatorship isn’t going to be so benevolent.

Of course, inevitably, came the time when out of my mouth, despite all my previous vows that it would never happen, came my mother’s words: Kid: But why do I have to do it? Me: Why should I keep a dog and bark myself?

Then there was my middle child, who thought he was equal to his father and me—and he actually stuck to that tenet from the time he was about twelve, for the remainder of his life. I explained to him, gently, that he wasn’t our equal, and never would be. I would never be an equal to my parents, and he would never be an equal to his. That didn’t work. So then I tried another way, and this one I’m pretty sure is original. I told him that the world was comprised of us versus them—and that he was a them, not an us. This was a constant back and forth between us during most of his teen years. And then he became a father, himself. That was a humbling time for him, and I know that at the bottom of everything he loved his children with all his heart.

One day, he came over to visit and he grinned and grinned, because, he asserted, he’d finally figured out that, being a father he was finally an “us”.

I grinned right back and told him, that no, he was not an us. He was still a them. He was always going to be a them as far as we were concerned. But that baby of his? That baby was definitely an us.

Grandparents and grandchildren are natural allies against a common adversary, after all. I think it’s an immutable law of nature. And being a grandparent is…well, pretty grand. And because the law of sowing and reaping is another immutable law of nature, we parents are given great rewards when we become grandparents.

Number one kid as parent: Mom, you wouldn’t believe it! First this kid did that, and then that kid did this. I tell you, I have the children from hell!

Me: Oh, don’t be silly, sweetheart. You couldn’t possibly have the children from hell. I had the children from hell!

Then, another time:

Number one kid as parent: Mom, you wouldn’t believe it! I was in a hurry, picking up my spare pieces of lumber from the kitchen floor after making that repair—and I nearly threw my back out when one piece wouldn’t budge. He’d nailed that piece of scrap wood to the kitchen floor!

Me: Oh, dear, sweetheart, that’s horrible. Horrible! Your father and I never had that problem. You must be doing something wrong. (A special note here. Number one kid is also a world-class smart ass. He just rolled his eyes and laughed.)

Yes, being a grandparent is grand indeed. I’ve been a great-grandparent now for three years, but that role isn’t as hands-on fun as the simple grandparent role. In fact, I’m almost certain I have the progression of roles finally figured out.

We are an us, our kids are a them, their kids are an us…and yep, our kids’ grandkids are definitely a them.

At least they are to us.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 21, 2016

I couldn’t help but notice, as I made my way to Indiana at the beginning of this month, and then home again, that not only were the trees still all vibrantly green, but the sky still held that deep, summer blue it gets in July. I mention this today because that trip was not so long ago.

And then, just last Wednesday—a week to the day after I came home from my trip—I was driving to have lunch with a friend who lives in a rural area not so far away from where I grew up. And as I drove, I noticed the trees were beginning to turn to their autumn colors. Some had traces of orange, some of yellow and red. But it was more than a couple trees here and there, and it was for the entire 25-mile drive.

There are a lot of things I don’t understand in this life. I don’t understand how the days can be slow and fast at the same time. And I don’t understand how the trees can begin to go from vibrant green to twinges of fall colors in so short a space of time—especially when we haven’t even had a frost yet. 

The sad truth is that the older I get the less I realize I know.

I truly enjoyed my time away the first week of September. Despite the glitch of having to get a new battery for my car at the last minute, I consider my solo excursion to have been a success. The lady in the box, aka my GPS, got me there and back without a problem. As for the visit itself, I was so happy to reconnect with a woman I greatly admire. Other people talk of being brave and exuding dignity, but my friend, author Kennedy Layne lives it every single day of her life. She’s overcome challenges many can’t conceive of, and now, having done so, has found her happy-ever-after, and is reaping the benefits of having lived and walked in faith.

That’s not to say the challenges have ended. The truth is that life is a series of challenges for us all, challenges that exist for the sole purpose of our overcoming them. We never know when or from where these challenges will spring. But they’re certain to find us. Our growth as human beings—our growth in character and our growth in faith—relies on these challenges being a constant factor in our lives, and in our efforts to face and surmount them.

A life lived in a bubble, with nothing to challenge the mind, the will or the soul—in short, a life without challenges, would be boring in the extreme. Living our lives day by day, where one day is the same as the next and the next, would seem long, and a punishment of sorts, were it not for the challenges that appear before us, from time to time.

Life can be hard. It can sometimes seem as if you can’t catch a break, or even as if no one knows or cares what you’re going through. There may even be days when you break down in sobs so soul-deep, so wretched, that you think nothing will ever be right again.

But it will be, I promise. It won’t be the exact same as what was, because along with challenges, the other constant in life is change.

Things will get better. Because the truth is that while challenges come to you, and to me, and to everyone, they don’t come to stay.

They come to pass.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 14, 2016

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the Ashbury’s—news junkies who generally could be counted on to know what was going on in the world at any given moment—were clueless. It was a different day for us, because it was the day we went to the travel agent and paid for a vacation we were about to embark upon with our son, Anthony, and his fiancĂ©e, Sonja. We were taking a 7 day cruise to the Bahamas, out of Fort Lauderdale, leaving the first week of December.

I’m not sure why we didn’t have the car radio on as we drove, first into the city and then off to work. We left the travel agent, and I took my beloved to his job, and then I went on to mine. About ten minutes away from my destination, I turned on the car radio for the first time that morning and fell, with the rest of you, into a most terrible day.

That wasn’t the first most terrible day I’d lived through; I still recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated. But this time, I was an adult, with an adult’s understanding and an adult’s tendency to worry about what might happen next.

Twenty-six Canadians died alongside so many more Americans on that most terrible day. Though we do not carry the depth of the wound to our national soul as our neighbors to the south do because of this attack, we have mourned. We have stood with you, because we are good neighbors. We opened our homes to you when all air traffic over our continent was grounded, and some of you were stranded. Although sometimes it is forgotten by both of us, the truth is, we have your backs to the best of our abilities, just as we know you have ours.

That day fifteen years ago fundamentally changed us all—individuals and society alike. Some of those changes were positive, but not all of them were. The one change I regret is the degree to which we, as a society—a North American society—have allowed fear to enter into our lives and control us.

Fear has encouraged us to surrender some of our freedoms, payed for in blood and bone and sinew by our ancestors. Fear has made us regard those not like us not only as being different, but as a being a possible threat to the common good. Fear has lain within the dark recesses of our psyches and in some cases, sadly, grown into gross hatred.

The legacy of this most terrible day must never be left to languish in the annals of history. We must never forget those who died in New York, office workers trying to flee downstairs and rescuers racing upstairs toward peril. We must never forget those who died in Arlington, airline passengers and soldiers alike. We must never forget those brave airplane passengers who, upon discovering events of just moments before, rose up and challenged murderers and died heroes’ deaths in fields of Shanksville.

Plain and simple, above all possible political rhetoric, we must never forget.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

September 7, 2016

I am what is often referred to as a “grammar Nazi”. It has occurred to me that perhaps this is not a complimentary term at all. However, since the meaning behind the name is to imply that I am a person who likes proper grammar, I choose to accept the title and wear it proudly.

As Shakespeare famously said, “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”. Although between you and me, lately, roses don’t seem to have an odor any more, sweet or otherwise. But I guess that’s another topic.

Even though I can be a stickler for proper grammar, I do commit errors of both syntax and spelling all the time—especially in the first draft of my manuscripts. Most of them are rooted out in my second draft, but my editor could tell you I really do need her services. In my defense, I will only say that I do try to get it right, but sometimes, I fail.

A few years ago, at a time when e-book authors were first coming into their own, and complaining because they were treated like “hacks” in the publishing world, I once wrote an essay, the point of which was: if you don’t want to be treated like a hack, then please, for the love of all that’s grammatically correct, be careful what you post on line. Check your spelling, check your grammar. Edit to the best of your ability.

I got very badly burned over that essay, as I recall. Apparently no one believed I was making a general observation. Several people—people whose online posts I’d never actually read, mind you—all thought I was of course talking about them. I was even temporarily booted from a group where I posted my essays because someone thought I had made a personal attack on someone else in the group—the prime definition of “flaming”.

That was several years ago, and I still don’t really understand what happened in that fracas. I don’t make personal attacks, even if I have been the recipient of same. The personal attacks that bother me are the ones I don’t understand. If I understand where the vitriol is coming from, I can generally deal with it. If I’ve screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is to immediately accept responsibility, and then apologize and move on. If I haven’t screwed up, I’ve found the best thing to do is apologize and move on. The willingness to offer apologies regardless of culpability might be because I am Canadian. Who knows?

But apologies don’t cost very much, and the more you use them the more familiar you become with them. That’s not to say they’re not sincere. They are. I’m always very sorry when someone has taken something I’ve said to mean something I didn’t intend. Hurt feelings are always a cause for regret, and therefore I’m always sorry for them.

I’m reminded of that incident because I’ve discovered that lately, I’ve been becoming less picky about the grammatical errors I’m encountering on line. Mostly, I suppose, because there are so many of them, and I feel somewhat overwhelmed by all I have to do in that medium to begin with. But while I don’t actually point out errors, or necessarily even talk about them specifically, my inner imp is always quick to mock them.

In response to any “thank you” I might give, I’m told, “your welcome”. My inner imp says, “my welcome what? My welcome presence? My welcome smile? It can’t be my welcome example of good grammar, because if it was, you might have said, “you’re welcome”, instead.

Sometimes, people agree with me. They do! And they let me know that by telling me, “I think so to.” My inner imp perks up. “To where? To the train station? To the airport? Or maybe, you meant, “I think so, to make things better.” But if you wanted to make things better, you might have said that you “thought so, too.”

That damned inner imp lives, I believe, just to get me in trouble. As I’ve said, I’m not that picky anymore, when it comes to conversational posts on the internet and I do keep my mouth, or fingers, shut. I can’t help but notice them, however, because that is the way I am. And I’m even coming to believe that most of these errors are caused by the authors of same having too much to do in too little time and therefore sometimes relying on spell check—just like me. 

However, these kinds of mistakes—any mistakes, really—in a book are still just as unacceptable to me today as they ever were. They still pull me out of the story, an experience that ranks right up there with bumping into an unforgiving and unexpected wall, and landing on my butt.