Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Circus is Coming to Town

I was born a poor white child, to paraphrase Steve Martin in that classic "The Jerk". I really was though. I grew up in downtown Long Beach, not quite the ghetto, but definitely the 'hood. I know Snoop Dogg has already put LBC on the map, but to me growing up poor was nothing to sing or rap about. If not for the grace of God, welfare and grub stubs(70's ghetto talk for food stamps), I don't know where I'd be.

Anyway, one of the great things about being poor was living in crappy apartment buildings that were overrun with roaches, mice and the occasional flea. From time to time the local slum lord would have to 'tent' the building we lived in. You've seen those tents. Big, multicolored, and lets face it, might as well have a huge sign that reads 'We've Got Bugs!!!!'.

Well, to take the edge off the humiliation of being poor and living in a place where the vermin easily outnumbered the people by 1000 to 1, we kids used to refer to this almost perrenial event by saying 'the circus is coming to town.' in reference to those beautiful tents. I can just smell the fumigation at the thought.

In fact, the very first motel I ever stayed in was the one our landlord had to put us up in because we had to be out of our apartment for two days. I bring all this up because we recently found out that our house has termites and, you guessed it, the circus is coming to town. Cue the big top music!

What really gets me is not so much the surreal childhood flashback of it all but the very notion that my summer savings fund is now down the toilet. I now envision termites chewing on dollar bills rather than the wood in my house. So much for that trip to Vancouver we were hoping to take in August. So long to that Millenium Falcon I was bidding on on ebay. I guess I should'nt be bitter.

My point, and I swear I do have one, is this. God's provision is amazing if not occassionally amusing. Two weeks ago I was not expecting to teach summer school and then bam! I get a part time assignment which meant we would not have to recycle cans for grocery money this summer. One day later I received word that I would be needed full time for the summer. Cool. Vancouver here I come. I was planning all kinds of ways to spend this 'extra' money. And then two days ago we found out about our wood destroying friends.

You know what, the estimate to fumigate is almost exactly as much as the 'extra' money I am going to make this summer. I can't imagine having to do this without the added income I was given. Sure, I may not be a world traveler. I may not go to a lot of places and do cool things. I don't even have some of the things I occassionally envy that others have. But I've got my family. A safe, if not slightly chewed on house. And most of all I have a God who knows everything I need and provides it abundantly , despite my grumblings.

Happy summer to all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Summer Miscellany

I just wanted to send out a whole big bunch of thanks to everyone who read my last post and responded with such sincere encouragement and prayer. When life disagrees with you, it is always comforting to know in tangible ways that there is a group of people, even across this vast nothingness that is the Web, that cares about you. Right back at ya!


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Missing Mom at Home Depot

The strangest things seem to trigger the most intense reactions in me. I was in Home Depot today trying to find a pot for this vine in our backyard. . .anyway, as I was walking around the nursery department I happened to notice this elderly lady walking with either her care giver or relation of some kind and I overheard her say "boy the sun sure feels good". That is exactly what my mom would say every time I took her out to one of her doctor's appointments. For those not in the know, my mother died three months ago.

The elderly lady's comment just seemed to be the switch I didn't want flipped. It reminded me of all that my mother and I had gone through in the last four years. I was always so busy trying to get her to her appointments, filling her prescriptions, drawing her needles and taking care of her finances that I never really thought about why she always said that. You see, my mother spent that last five years of her life confined to a wheelchair. The only times she left her apartment and felt the sun on her face was when I took her out to see one of her three doctors.

It is funny how we busy ourselves so much with obligation that we neglect to consider the everyday words of those around us.

Anyway, what started out as an innocent home improvement quest turned into a downward spiral that has manifested itself in this post. I got to my car and melted down. It all started rushing over me again. The guilt, the depression, the anger at myself for feeling relief at her death, and the pain of her absence.

The last few years of my mom's life was one nightmare after another. She had diabetes, a heart condition that required a triple bypass several years ago. She was legally blind, suffered from crippling arthritis as well as kidney failure. And for the last four years of her life I tried to be her voice of sanity amidst the madness. As her health got worse I was sure that she would recieve better care in a facility of some kind. This was a hard conclusion to arrive at. Italian people aren't supposed to put their elderly mothers in a home.

Anyway, she wouldn't hear of it. She insisted on living with my verbally abusive and mentally unstable brother because he would take care of her. So I always had to monitor his violent out bursts and take his calls at 2 a.m. about how I wasn't doing enough to help mom and how I'd better get out there and do something. Even though I was there every week. He always demanded. He would call me in my classroom, yelling that my mother needed me and I'd better come because he was tired of it. Never understanding the concept of my working and having to care for a family for he hasn't worked since Reagan was president and is divorced. On some level he needed her money and support. She need him to make her the focus of his life, because I could'nt. Don't ask me how bad that makes you feel, I still can't articulate it.

Twice I had her convinced to leave and get care in a more quiet environment. Twice she backed out. It was fear and I know that. But it still rips your spirit to shreds. And everytime I was there I could not wait to leave. Her living situation was hell and I could'nt get her to see that. It haunted me. What kind of son was I? After a while my doctor prescribed sleeping pills to offer at least six hours of peace at night.

In October the dementia set in. So she was no longer able to self medicate or use the bathroom on her own. Then came the diapers and the occasional violent outburst. Two months later her kidneys went into complete failure. Oh yeah, and at the same time Lori-Ann was having difficulties with the pregnancy and was put on bed rest. How thin can you spread yourself? I tried. Something always suffers as a result.

Back to the story. After October, my mom spent more time in a hospital than she did at home and her dementia got worse. In December she was admitted again to the hospital. At that point she was hooked up to a dialysis machine and never came home. Because she was so exhausted from dialysis all the time(I know because I made myself sit with her through one of her treatments so I could know the depth of her suffering), and because of the dementia, she stopped eating. My brother, who by the way had power of attorney, refused to put her on a feeding tube. He insisted that I take turns with him coming everyday to feed her. Between work, the 40 minute commute, family and a bed ridden pregnant wife it didn't seem possible. He couldn't believe I would let my mom die because I had other obligations, so he did it. He went there three times a day and fed her. He kept her alive. I didn't.

"Sorry mom, I can't save your life, I have to go to work today".

Even the sleeping pills didn't help after a while.

Lori-Ann had the baby 4 weeks early and that provided a momentary, joyful distraction. But mom was getting worse. We decided when the baby was three weeks old that we would defy doctors orders and bring the baby to meet my mom in her hospital room. The last few months she had been saying the only thing keeping her fighting was the thought of her meeting her last grandchild.

We came. She held him. She touched him and commented on how small he was. She smelled that special smell that only newborn babies radiate.

Five days later she died.

She died on my wife's original due date.

The night she died I was on my way to visit her and feed her dinner. I got stuck in traffic on one of our many congested 'freeways' here in SoCal. I got there at 7 p.m. she had died at 6:30. I was the first one there and first to see the body. Incidentally, I was the first to discover my father's dead body 14 years ago. I hope this is not a lifelong trend developing.

I knelt at her bed, insane with grief. And mad. Mad at myself for not being there when she really needed me. She was always afraid of dying alone. I had let her down again.
Her nightmare was over. My nightmare was over. I was in disbelief. How dare I feel relief about that?

I couldn't believe it was over.

Two days later I drove out to the site where she was cremated. I watched the operators at the crematorium put the box she was in, into the furnace. Macabre? Perhaps. I was hoping for closure, better luck tomorrow. I'm still processing as you can see by the length of this little diatribe.

I can honestly say that in four years, there was not a day that I didn't worry about her. Whether it was her health or her living situation, I would worry. I was on my knees every morning the better part of those four years literally crying out to God "What am I supposed to do?". Silence.

Only God can speak in what we percieve as silence. During those four years my relationship with God grew stronger than it ever was. He sustained me and gave me the ability to continue doing the only thing I could do, serve Him in the faith of knowing that He was in control. He truly is my rock, my strength. My mother's faith became stronger. I read her scripture in the last few months that seemed to minister to her even in her circumstances. God was being glorified and I couldn't even see it because of my circumstances.

My mom is in her real home now. The wheelchair that once restricted her movement has been cast aside. The eyes that failed her now see the glory that is God. And she knows peace. Something that I, try as I might, could never give her. Only God could.

Peace and good health to all.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Dinner, wine and conversation

You ever just stop for a minute and dwell? I mean really just stop everything and focus your entire being on your blessings?

Tonight my wife and I went out to dinner for the first time in I don't know how long. The atmosphere was great, the wine was great, though a little pricey (translated 'spendy' for those in the NW). The service was good and the food was outstanding. But it was the company that made my head spin.

Here I was sitting across the table talking to this beautiful, intelligent woman. We were discussing why we are both considering switching political parties. And then it hits me. WOW! I get to be with her.

You have to understand that my wife is a talented artist, gifted educator, wonderful mother and one of the most Godly people I know. And yet after 12 years of marriage and all my crap that she puts up with we can still have a discussion like this in an over priced Italian restaurant and there is no other place I would rather be. And even more amazing, she still seems to enjoy my company as well.

I was hanging on her every word. The light from the candles played hypnotic in her big brown eyes and I was spellbound (yes I'm aware of the cliche, but I don't care, I'm in love). If you are still reading, here is my point. Love is a blessing from God. Our ability to love and recieve love is possible first because He loved us. And for people like myself who took years to get passed my own emotional constipation to see God's love it is especially sweet. Sweeter still because I can see that affection reflected in how my wife speaks to me and how I hear her or the way we look at each other. She is one of the greatest expressions of God's grace in my life and I'm thankful.

Life throws things at you that can really test the strength of your character and your relationships. Friends, stop everything once and a while and just meditate on His goodness, look into the eyes of your significant other and listen to what He is saying. Peace.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I'm sorry, I don't have time for democracy

So this afternoon, after a brain draining day of writing curriculum, my wife asks me to run to the store and buy some pasta for dinner. First of all, I believe it is a genuine crime as an Italian to actually run out of said staple of my people's diet. But hey, she's only half Italian. I digress.

So I get out of my car at our local grocery store. I notice that there is a lady out front gathering signatures to get the latest proposition du jour on the ballot. We'll call her Ballot Initiative Lady. She is harassing, er, uh, I mean talkling with another patron as I run by her and into the store. Safe!

I do my shopping, pick up the pasta and some bread (I'm Italian, we don't do low carb), and pay for my purchases. On my way out the door, I see Ballot Initiative Lady. I know she is going to ask me to sign her ballot thingy. I don't have time for this. My wife needs me home, the baby was crying when I left, my son wanted to go for a bike ride and I'm so hungry I can feel my stomach shrinking to the size of a gnat's eyeball.

What do I do?
I'm not the kind of person who can just sign one of those thingies without asking several questions first. Everytime I sign, and I swear, I always stop, I'm usually with the person for awhile. Our conversations usually last longer than most Jennifer Lopez marriages. But I don't have the time today.

What do I do?

You know what I did.

I exited the door and Ballot Intiative Lady, who by the way was very nice, asked if she could speak with me. I said 'no thank you' and kept walking. I just kept walking. I got into my middle class four door sub-compact family vehicle and drove away to my middle class suburban tract house and gorged myself on dinner.

I am always preaching to my students that nothing about our government will change unless citizens stop bitching and actively participate.

And I just kept walking.

I suck. There I was, I had an opportunity to be part of the process and I literally said 'no thank you'. Especially here in California where we treasure the initiative process as the ultimate in voters taking charge of their political destiny. If you are governor, and screw things up we'll recall you three years early and replace you with the Governator. Sure it sounds ridiculous, but that is pure democracy baby.

And I just kept walking.

Next time someone like Ballot Initiative Lady approaches you, at least give them the time of day. I know I will.

Peace and good health to all.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Of bicycle rides and fatherhood

I have two boys. Today, my oldest son and I went on a bike ride. Nothing noteworthy. Or was it? You see, my oldest is six years old and it wasn't until about three weeks ago that he actually would go out on a ride with me. For over a year I tried to get him to ride that darn bike, but he wouldn't. It could have something to do with the fact that I had removed the training wheels without him knowing. Once he saw it, he was on to me.

For over a year he would not get on that bike. I would encourage him. Do the dad thing and say "Don't worry, I'll hold on until you get your balnce." Well it only takes a few nose dives on the concrete to realize that dad was only telling half the truth. Anyway, back to the story. About three weeks ago he finally agreed to let me teach him to ride without the training wheels. You know what? He did it. In a blink of an eye, he got it. Once I let go of the seat, he kept pedalling. He took to it like a fish to water, like a cop to a donut, or any other analogy you can think of. As I stared at this marvel, my son, riding a bike by himself, it struck me. This event is a metaphor for the rest of his life. He has discovered what freedom is and the more distance he puts between me and him, the freer he feels. Crap.

After this epiphany I tried to convince him that he really wasn't ready for this particular stage of his life. He didn't buy it when I told him that training wheels were actually as sign of maturity and sophistication. Alas, the bike riding genie had been released from the bottle.

My whole point, if I do actually have one, is that I don't think I'm ready for my kids to get older. After the brief elation I felt of teaching my son to ride a bike it was followed by the dread of knowing he was becomming a little bit more independant. What is next, having the sex talk with him? Shaving? Driving? Girls? Oh God help me!

In three short weeks my son's life has literally taken him in new directions. Our rides get longer each day. He wants to see more, do more. He is growing as a person right in front of me. Am I up to this? I still haven't been able to figure out all the things that are wrong with me. How can I possibly hope to raise two boys into good men?

That is why I am on my knees in front of their beds every night. Praying for them and myself.

Nothing thrills me more than being a parent. Few things worry me as much either. What a ride.

Peace and good health to all.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The hardest day of the year

Today was graduation day. I had the pleasure of helping pass out diplomas to 925 members of America's future while thousands of their loved ones watched from the stands. What joy.

However, as I sat on the stage and listened to our guest speaker go on about what awaits these young adults my mind began to wander. I have invested in some of these people for the last three years. They are leaving. Leaving me behind. Suddenly a very real sense of loss came over me. By the way, this happens to me every year at this time. As much as these kids drive me nuts, I love them. Seeing them looking great in their graduation regalia only reinforced this fact. I will miss them. Kids like Bobby won't be coming to my class everyday at 6:30 a.m. to talk about things of major and minor significance. Greg won't be around to give me handshakes that crush every bone in my hand. Ryan will no longer walk down my hall yelling my name on his way to his sixth period class and kids like Angela will be telling her boy problems to somebody else now.

What is wrong with me?

I'm a teacher.

Its terminal.

The only things that I pour more of myself into are my relationship with God and my family. I guess graduation confirms what I've always known. They enter my life on the way to the rest of theirs. I hope my colleagues and I have done well by them.

Joy and loss. How is it that a day of such celebration can cause sadness? It is the bitter sweet nature of events like this that make life all the more worthwhile. If you know someone who is graduating, hug them and tell them that they can do great things. They just might.

Peace and good health to all.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

They said it could'nt be done

One of my biggest gripes in our society is the abundance of crap that the major car manufacturers espouse about the impossibility of making cleaner, safer and inexpensive cars. I found this little article at the LA Times website. Check it out. Buy Green. Drive Green. Respect God's created order.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Other blogs of interest

Check em out. Reply. Interact. Blog.

David T

Monday, June 07, 2004

A blog of my own

Well, they've gone and done it. 'They' being Scott and Ian. If they can have their very own place to post whatever they want, then by jinxie so can I! This is great I finally have a place that I can go off on one of my rants at any given time, 24/7 and nobody can tell me to shut up. How cool is that? I hope some of you visit often and comment just as often. I have a lot I want to talk about. . .I always do. Peace and good health to all.