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Quest for a Quote

Mother’s Day is wonderful for some people and super uncomfortable or downright painful for others.  I have some mixed feelings about it.  I think it’s a Hallmark holiday (even though I know it didn’t start that way.)  But I often struggled to figure out what to do for my Mother on Mother’s Day, and I was dismayed to discover that – even though I think it’s a Hallmark holiday – the ways my kids acknowledged me on Mother’s Day mattered a lot.

For years, there was also my mother-in-law, who needed to be taken into account, and my stepdaughter’s biological mother, and it was a complex and frustrating holiday.  I used to promise myself that once my girls became mothers, I would leave town for the weekend so they could enjoy the day themselves.

So it’s not surprising that I often have trouble finding a quote I really like for my daily Facebook post.  I want to find something that applies to people who have great relationships with their mothers, and those who don’t speak to their mothers. I want it to make sense to the mothers whose kids live with them forever and the mothers of those kids who don’t speak to them.

I want a quote that applies to biological mothers, foster mothers, step-mothers, stay-at-home mothers, career mothers, and the mothers who left.  It has to work for the “you’re like a second mother to me,” mothers, and of course for the men who mothered some of us.  Plus, of course, it has to fit my own socio-political ideas about motherhood.

It is not easy.

Part of the difficulty is that Mother’s Day has become a celebration of the archetype of Mother – the all-loving archetype of warmth, nurturance and creativity, growth and love. Mother Earth – sunshine, gentle rains, crops and harvest. Mother with a baby at her breast – holding, rocking, soothing, nurturing, maybe with a toddler playing contentedly at her feet, an older child doing homework nearby.

This aspect of the archetypes gives us these kinds of quotes:

“I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”
~~ Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Or this one:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”
~~ Washington Irving

Those are far too cloying sweet for me.  Here’s the archetype described through the lens of patriarchy:

“It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!”
― Ezra Taft Benson

That quote could be subtitled “Instilling guilt in women who think they should have a career outside of motherhood.”  Clearly, that quote is not going up on my Facebook page!

In response to that patriarchal and limiting view of mother, we get quotes like this:

“I wasn’t put on this earth to be housekeeper to my own child or to anyone else for that matter.”
― Lynn Freed

Or this one:

“And really, how insulting is it that to suggest that the best thing women can do is raise other people to do incredible things? I’m betting some of those women would like to do great things of their own.”
― Jessica Valenti, Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness

The flip side – the “shadow” side – of the archetype for “mother” is Mother Nature, with her tsunamis and hurricanes, floods and drought.  Mommie Dearest and evil step-mothers are aspects of the archetype.   Some quotes reflect that.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one. ”
~~ Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Or this one:

“You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children or the world, who was always suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams. When my first pen pal, Tomoko, stopped writing me after three letters she was the one who laughed: You think someone’s going to lose life writing to you? Of course I cried; I was eight and I had already planned that Tomoko and her family would adopt me. My mother of course saw clean into the marrow of those dreams, and laughed. I wouldn’t write to you either, she said. She was that kind of mother: who makes you doubt yourself, who would wipe you out if you let her. But I’m not going to pretend either. For a long time I let her say what she wanted about me, and what was worse, for a long time I believed her.”
~~ Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Those reflect the shadow side of “mother” as intensely as the cloying sweet ones reflect the all-good mother.  Way too harsh for Mother’s Day. I would be more likely to use this one, which at least recognizes different aspects of “mother.”

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

― N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


 In real life, moving away from archetypes and polarized aspects of mothers, I find quotes like these, which reflect real people who mother us, who struggle to come to terms with what it means to be “mother.”

“Mom’s eyes held yours for a moment. ‘I don’t like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like? There are things you have to do whether you like it or not.’ Mom’s expression asked, What kind of question is that? And then she murmured, ‘If you only do what you like, who’s going to do what you don’t like?”
― Shin Kyung-sook, Please Look After Mom

Or this one:

“But will you not have a house to care for? Meals to cook? Children whining for this or that? Will you have time for the work?” “I’ll make time,” I promised. “The house will not always be so clean, the cooking may be a little hasty, and the whining children will sit on my lap and I’ll sing to them while I work.”
― Gloria Whelan

In real life, we get quotes like this:

“Maybe a mother wasn’t what she seemed to be on the surface.”
― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

Or this one:

Maybe it’s just a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

Or – a personal favorite:

“Of course mothers and daughters with strong personalities might see the world from very different points of view.”
― Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

If we’re lucky, we grow into being able to distinguish our mothers from the archetype of mother.  We learn to recognize our own mother’s strengths and failings, and recognize that she was just a person, not really a goddess at all.

Ok, maybe there is a bit of goddess in all of us, but we are mostly human.  And as we find ourselves cast in the role of “mother” we may feel as conflicted as this quote suggests:

“I want to mother the world, I thought. I have so much love.
Then—I have no business being a mother. I am a selfish woman.
Then—I can do this. Millions of women have been mothers.
Then—I feel very alone. I do not know what I’m capable of.”
― Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories


Look Out Mexico…

…here we come.

Found this poem this morning, and it made me smile.

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

E. E. Cummings
Love this part:  may came home with a smooth round stone
                        as small as a world and as large as alone.


It’s All About the Shoes…

My granddaughter has clearly inherited my shoe “thing” – I won’t call it an obsession, that would be excessive, but I do kind of have a shoe thing.  And so does she.

She’s not exclusive or particular about her interest in shoes – she’s just as fascinated with Dee’s shoes


as she is by my (much cuter) selection.  She likes to carry his around and try to put them on – today, she discovered she can get both of her feet in one of his shoes.  It makes walking a little tricky, but that’s beside the point.

She is, however, apparently developing her own ideas on fashion.  I was getting ready for work yesterday morning, wearing these shoes:


when she came running to me, saying, “Oooh, Ooooh,” with great urgency, clutching another shoe in one hand.  By dint of pointing and her favorite monosyllabic word – “uh,” she made it clear that I was to put on the shoe she’d brought me.

Obediently, I did.


We both admired it for a minute – it was, I have to admit, probably a better selection for my outfit.  Unfortunately, I had to explain to Lucia, I haven’t been able to find the match to that shoe for a while, and I can’t wear just one shoe to work, no matter how cute it is.

She accepted the bad news, with only a reproachful glance or two at me.   I hope my shoe selection today meets with more approval.

She is clearly my granddaughter.

Shopping at Walmart?

I was with some friends the other night, and Dee, my partner, was “confessing” that he’d gone to Walmart on Thanksgiving Day to buy a tool for the yard work he was doing that morning.  He was a bit apologetic.  I looked around the room and realized that this particular group of friends would not have any hesitation about shopping at Walmart, not on Thanksgiving Day, not on Black Friday, not any day of the week.

I, on the other hand, consider Walmart the epitome of what’s wrong with consumerism and only half-jokingly refer to it as “The Evil Empire.”  I’ve shopped there twice in my life, and still feel a twinge of guilt about it.

I’ve been quick to explain that Walmart is worse than other stores like that because their Board of Directors supports racism and sexism in promoting people.   I’m convinced of that because I know the Board recommended that  stockholders vote not to release data on the percentages of women and African-Americans in management.

But mostly I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, tilting at windmills.  By not shopping at Walmart, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing.  It felt right to me, but was pretty futile.

Lately, with Walmart workers striking, and a bunch of people stepping up in support of that, I’m feeling like there might be the possible hope that someday, something might actually change.  And ~ it’s making me think about where I stand and how it makes sense in my world view.  It is not simple.

Walmart employs lots of people.  The Board of Directors has the right to run the company any way they choose.  Lots of other employers don’t pay some of their employees a living wage.  Those things are true.

I’ve heard people say that Walmart was designed to hire college students, who would work there for brief stints and then move on, rather than people trying to support families.  (Yes there are a lot of assumptions there about college students and families and  the worth of an employee.)  That may have been true ~ it’s certainly not true anymore.

Here are the facts that shape my thinking.

The average salary for a Walmart associate is $15,600.  NOT the starting salary, the average.  Poverty level for a family of four is $22,000.  Poverty level for one person is $11,170.

Walmart has more employees eligible for Medicaid and Food Stamps than any other employer.

Six members of the Walton family have wealth totaling the wealth of the bottom 30% of Americans.  NOTE:  This doesn’t mean income.  It means net worth.   This is important.

At Forbes, source of the richest 400 list, Tim Worstall wrote a response to the Waltons wealth claim. He did not dispute the accuracy of the statistic but offered some broader perspective.

“Wealth is always more unequally distributed than income,” Worstall wrote. “By the way, it isn’t even true that all of those households with zero or negative wealth are what we would call poor, either. It’s entirely possible to have no net assets while having a good income, even a high income. All you need to have is debts higher than your assets: something that will almost certainly be true of anyone with student debt and fresh out of college, for example.”

He added: “If you’ve no debts and have $10 in your pocket you have more wealth than 25 percent of Americans.”

“Bivens, for good measure, calculated the comparison of the Waltons vs. all Americans after removing households with a negative net worth — those that drag down the overall average and make the Waltons’ advantage look greater. He found that the Walmart heirs’ $89.5 billion “is still equal to the combined net worth of the bottom 33.2 million families (about 28.2 percent of the total).”

There’s nothing wrong with the Waltons being wealthy.  Nothing wrong with them running Walmart any way they want to.

But let’s be clear.  If we believe that, then we must also say:

There’s nothing wrong with people being on food stamps and having Medicaid for their health insurance.   Nothing wrong with it.  We need to recognize that people who work for companies like Walmart DESERVE those benefits, that we choose to provide them.

Not everyone can get a “better job.”  Not everyone can work two jobs.  People have children,  people have elderly parents they’re caring for, people go to school.

People need food, and they need health care.  That’s not optional.  Unless we’re prepared to watch people die in the streets, people need food and health care.

So maybe the taxpayers need to help support the Waltons by subsidizing their employees’ salaries.  Maybe that’s fine.  But then we need to quit acting like people who get food stamps or Medicaid are less hardworking than the rest of us.  We need to just accept that some companies need to make more profit than others, and we need to pay for that.

Or maybe we need to hold the company accountable for paying a living wage.

When Papa John’s CEO said he would close stores, cut jobs and make workers part-time because of the new health insurance laws, we reacted with outrage and promises of a Papa John’s boycott.  Now, the CEO is saying he was misquoted, that he didn’t say that at all.

People need food.  We need healthcare.   Now is the time for us to hold companies accountable.

Yes, they can choose to do anything they want to.  And we can choose whether or not to shop there.

Part III ~ A Fable ~ {just for fun}

{If you’re just now joining the story, Part I is here.  Part II is right here.

God looked around ~ well, in a manner of speaking to humans, that’s what we’d say.  God was, of course, not actually like anything we can imagine.  Neither black nor white, not male or female.  Not like anything we can imagine.

But we’ll say that ~ “God looked around.”   From the God chair, everything was revealed.  The little pockets of humans conferring about where they wanted to go to spend eternity, worrying about making the wrong choice.

God smiled.

Poor humans.  They were so sure there was a right choice and a wrong choice.  It was almost cruel to trick them that way.   Of course both the “entrances” led to the same place.

The “friends” they saw at the “bottom of the stairs” were their own projections, well, with maybe a little bit of help from God.   Kind of like holograms.

Of course, the humans couldn’t remember what it was like up here.  When you’ve wrenched yourself away from the celestial souls to become human, you forget where you’ve been. All the wisdom of the ages fades away so you can be born fresh and innocent.  And if the humans had some vague memory, some sense of oneness with the universe, the world soon taught them not to trust that.

The Buddhists were as close to having it right as anyone.   We are all one with the universe, and the sum of us all is ~ well, God, you could maybe call it that.  It is a joyful presence.  Not like the humans.

Divisions.  That’s what people were all about. Classifying and dividing.  And judging.  Judging themselves and other people, and doing it all in the name of God.

God shook his head, or her head ~ well, figuratively speaking.   Part of the process of coming home was giving up one’s ego.  You could either do it voluntarily, chosing to let go of something you had thought was important, or it would be stripped away as you went down the stairs.

But once they got through the entrance, all of that would disappear.  The outer trappings of personality would fade away, and only the essence of each soul would be left.   Each soul, uniquely wonderful, taking its place in the vast union of souls, becoming one with the universe, at home again.  Feeling the joy of finding that bliss once again.

God smiled.  Yes, they were still down there, trying to figure out what they should do, weighing the pros and cons in human terms.  Poor things.  Fussing about fetuses and protesters and who knew what else. Things that just weren’t important any more.

Once they had rejoined with the other souls, the lessons they learned on earth would be absorbed by them all, taken in and processed.

The returning souls would stay in the oneness of celestial being for as long as they chose to.  Someday, they might decide to return to the earth, or one of the other planets.  Just like “God”  had separated out to play the role of “greeter” to the returning souls.

God watched them struggling with themselves at the “Gates of Heaven”.  What petty, self-righteous creatures they could be.  So hard for them to let go of their own beliefs and come home.  But this was their last chance to learn anything from this trip to heaven.  No point in rushing them, they could take all the time they needed.

And God waited.


Part II ~ A Fable ~ {just for fun}

On the other side of heaven, God was manifesting for a couple of different people who had died recently.  By an amazing coincidence, they had once known each through the abortion clinic too

Unlike Connie and Benjamin, these two souls had been on the other side of the abortion wars.  They had volunteered as escorts, accompanying women past the chasers, preachers, and prayers who lined the sidewalk in front of the clinic, supporting the clients’ right to choose.

Abby and David watch as God appears to them just as they’d always imagined her.  A little bit like the wind.  A little bit like a pillar of  fire.  And a little bit like  a black woman.  Whoopi Goldberg maybe.

Abby nudges David, delighted.  “Look,” she whispers, “She IS a black woman.  How cool is that??”

David is shaking his head, “I can’t believe it!  I didn’t even think there was a God!  I’m amazed!  I thought you were just a myth!”

God smiles, “Well, there’s a lot of myth to what people believe about me.  But here I am, for real.  Or at least as real as I can be to the newly decesased.”  And she sighs to herself, thinking of the misconceptions people bring.

They go on to review David and Abby’s lives, and God gives them both lots of positive feedback.  David gets some extra praise for having lived such a good life without the expectation of reward at the end.  And Abby feels quite satisfied with her share of kudos.

“There’s just one more thing,” says God.  “The abortion clinic.  We need to talk about what you two did at the abortion clinic.”

“Oh, yeah,” says Abby, smiling. She’s pretty sure this was one of the best things she did.  David is more cautious.

“What?”  He says.  “You’re not going to tell me we were wrong?  You’re not anti-abortion, are you?”

“No,” God says, “you were ok on that part of it.  And escorting the clients was a good thing.  But.  The way you viewed the protesters?  Really.  That was very disappointing to me.”

“The way I viewed them?” cries Abby.  “What did you want me to do?  They were awful!  How else could I have seen them?”

God shakes her head, “They were people, just like you.  They were trying to do the right thing as they saw it.”

“Listen, I tried,” said David.  “But really, they were always spouting that mumbo-jumbo about… oh.”  His voice trails off.

“About God?” says God, a bit sternly.

“Well, yeah, I mean, it just seemed ridiculous.  All that about evolution and dead babies and I didn’t know you were real.”

“Besides,” says Abby, “They were awful!  I mean, I tried too!  But they were horrible!  And such hypocrites, acting like they were such good Christians.  Out there shaming women, judging them.”

“So you figured it was ok for you to walk around in a rage, judging them?”

“Well, I couldn’t help it!”  Abby says, at the same time David says, “Hey, I tried not to!  I did the best I could do, really, I think I did the best anyone could do!”

God shakes her head.  “Well, if you”re going to enter the Gates of Heaven, you’ll have to figure out how to get along with them.  I won’t have you bickering and sniping at each other up here.

“Up here?” says Abby, “You mean those protesters are going to be in heaven with us?”

“Well, of course they are,” says God.  “Some of them anyhow.”

David and Abby look at each other in dismay.

“Omigod,” says Abby.  “This is going to be awful.”

“I know,” says David.  “An eternity with the protesters.  I don’t know if I can do that.”  He shakes his head.

God shrugs.  “Well,” she says, “You don’t have to.  There’s always a choice.  You can go this way instead.”   She gestures, and  a stairway opens at their feet.

Abby and David peer down the stairs.  At the bottom they can see a couple of old friends, waving their arms and saying something.  Unfortunately, neither David nor Abby can hear the words or even interpret the facial expressions.

“Maybe she’s not God,” says Abby.  “Maybe this is a trick.”

“I know,” says David.  “And really, spending eternity having to get along with the protesters?  I don’t know if I can do that.”

“I hear you,” says Abby.  She turns to God and asks, “Are the protesters different in heaven?  Are they still arrogant and nasty or have they repented?”

God frowns.  “You don’t need to worry about whether they’ve repented or not.  You need to change how you think about them.  If you don’t want to go to heaven with the protesters, you have a choice.  The decision is yours.”

David and  Abby look at each other.

God shakes her head.  Humans.  “Take your time,” she says.  “I’ll come back later.  I think I’ll go visit dog heaven for a while.”  At least dogs didn’t have these self-absorbed notions of what heaven should be ~ in dog heaven, even God could just throw some sticks and have a good time.

 {to be continued…}

A Fable {just for fun…}

Once upon a time, not in the past at all, but a number of years in the future,  two people die on the same day.  That’s not unusual, of course, but these two people had once known each other and had shared a particular interest.

One of them is a very old woman named Connie.  The other is a man who had been young when they knew each other, although not so young anymore.  His name is Benjamin.

So they both die of natural causes, on the same day, and since they are both fine, upstanding Christians, they find themselves both standing at the entrance to the pearly gates, side by side.  They exchange a glance and then ~

“Connie!” says Benjamin, at almost the same time that Connie says, “Benjamin!”

They hug, and chat a minute, congratulate themselves on being there – right at the Pearly Gate.  Just as they’re beginning to wonder how long they’re going to have to wait, the Gate opens and out comes God.

They know it’s God because He looks just like they’d always imagined.  A little bit like the wind, a little bit like a burning flame, and a little bit like an old man with a beard.

So God greets them, and they’re trembling and all excited about being in God’s presence.  But God quickly puts them at ease, and they find themselves reviewing their lives and feeling pretty good about it.  God has lots of positive feedback, and they’re smiling and soaking up the praise.

Then God says, “But I’ve got one problem with the things you did on earth, one thing we’ve got to really talk about.”  They’re nodding, listening intently.

“It’s about the abortion clinic,” God says.  “You both used to go down there and protest abortion.  Connie, you would stand by the door and hand out literatue, trying to persuade women to come back out.  Benjamin, you actually called yourself a sidewalk counselor, right?”

Benjamin and Connie are both nodding and smiling now, wondering if they’re going to get some kind of special recognition for their work there.

But God says, “What were you thinking?   What made you think it was a good idea to try to interfere at that point with the decision those women had made?”

Taken aback, Connie says, “Well, it was a baby.  They were killing babies down there!”

Benjamin says, “And I loved them!  I wanted to help them, to show them Christian love!”

God sadly shakes his head.  “What made you think that abortion was wrong?  A fetus is not a baby.  They didn’t have souls yet.  I put the souls in much later.”

Connie gasps, “Well, that’s not true!  Of course they were babies!  Poor little babies!!  What are you saying?  This is a test, right?  You can’t mean that!!”

Again, God shakes his head.  “No, Connie.  That’s not right.  Those fetuses were not part of my plan.  I didn’t intend for them to be born.”

There was a pause while Connie and Benjamin try to absorb the shock.  Then God says, “A couple of times, you did some real harm.

“One time, there was a young woman who was going to become a doctor.  She would have saved many lives, and her work would have helped find the cure for Parkinson’s disease twenty years ago.  Connie, you told that woman not to worry, to go ahead and have the baby and that she would have help.  And you did help her through the pregnancy, but once the baby was born you all lost interest.

“Another time, Benjamin, you told a young woman that you’d help, that you’d make sure the baby was taken care of.  But once the child was born, the “help” was over.  That baby grew up to be a serial killer.  In and out of foster homes.  No attachment.  No role model.  Benjamin, you sure weren’t there when he needed you.”

Connie and Benjamin look at each other and then back at God.  “This can’t be right,” says Benjamin.  “You were in charge, that’s not my fault.  I made sure she didn’t kill that baby, that’s all I could do.”

“That’s right,” says Connie.  “Killing babies is murder, that’s all there is to it.  We did the right thing.”

“Well, no,” says God, “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  You did a lot of good things in your life, but going down there and shaming those women, lying to them, all that? That wasn’t one of the good things you did.  You need to understand that before you can enter the Gates of Heaven.”

Connie and Benjamin exchange looks again.  “Wait a minute,” Benjamin says.  “How do we know you’re God?  How do we know this isn’t a trick?”

“Well,” God smiles, bemused, “You know, here I am, there’s the pearly gates, I’m reviewing your lives.  Who else could it be?”

“How do we know that’s heaven?” Connie says.  “How do we know that you’re really God?  God wouldn’t say it was ok to kill those little pre-born babies.  I just can’t believe that.”

God frowns a little, shakes his head.  “Not babies yet.  But that’s beside the point. The biggest problem was that you decided you knew what I wanted.  What my plan for everyone was.  And then you tried to cast shame on people.  To bully them into doing what you thought was right.  That’s not ok.”

But Connie and Benjamin are backing away from him.  “You’re not God,” says Benjamin.  “I can tell!  You can’t be God.”   He looks around, “Where is God? Where’s the real God?”

Connie begins looking all around too, as if she thinks God is hiding and likely to jump out and yell, “Surprise!”

God chuckles a little.  “Well,” he says, “I can leave the choice up to you.  You can accept the idea that you didn’t really have it right down there at the clinic, and you come to heaven with me.  Or you can stick to your way of thinking, and go here instead.”

As he speaks, he waves a hand.  Suddenly, a stairway opens up at their feet.  The stairway leads down.   At the bottom of it, they see a couple of people waving their arms at them.

“Look!” says Connie, “That’s my old friend Tom down there!  You remember him from the clinic, don’t you?”

“Sure,” says Benjamin, “I sure do!  And see, that’s Sarah down there too, you remember her, right?”

“That’s hell,” says God.  “It’s completely your choice at this point.  To enter the Pearly Gates, all you have to do is recognize that you were doing your will, not mine, what you thought was right, not what I wanted, down there at the clinic.  Otherwise, you’re welcome to join your friends Tom and Sarah in hell.

Benjamin and Connie stare down the stairway. They can see Sara and Tom pretty well, and see that they’re waving and yelling something, but they can’t hear the words, or even interpret the looks on their faces.

“You think about it,” says God.  “I’ve got some newcomers to deal with over here on the other side of heaven.”  And he disappears, leaving Connie and Benjamin standing right outside the gates.

{To be continued…}

Jen’s Love Bomb

Yesterday, i went to a parade ~ not your typical parade.  We were celebrating the dedication of a special bike rack, in memory of Jen Futrell.

Bardstown Road was closed to cars for the afternoon for CycLouvia.  We strolled, or rode bikes or skateboards, from Mid City Mall to Highland Avenue, the site of the accident that killed Jen.

Her mother tells the story.

Four years ago, on September 30, a beautiful autumn afternoon, Jen left work and was riding her bicycle down Bardstown Road.

The driver of the car wasn’t drinking, wasn’t speeding.  He was passing a TARC bus on the right hand side, and just didn’t see Jenn on her bike.  He just wasn’t paying attention.

Jen was in a coma for four days, and died.  She was 29 years old.

I teared up while her Mom was talking ~ of course, how could I not?  I didn’t know Jen myself, but my daughter did, and I know so many other people who did, and part of my sadness is that I never got to know her.

Her friends put up a ghost bike.

But a couple of years ago, Tom Owens, alderperson and historian, asked if the family would trade the ghost bike for a memorial bike rack.  Yesterday, we came together to dedicate that bike rack.

It was a nice crowd.

The bike rack/sculpture is a love bomb.  Jen had a habit of painting the love bomb in places that she thought needed healing.  Abandoned houses, other desolate urban areas that seemed to need ~ well, to need love.

The artist hadn’t finished it ~ it still needed to be painted.  In honor  of Jen’s love of community, we were invited to help paint it.

And the finished product:

It was a simple dedication ceremony.  Jen’s mother and sister spoke, and some friends.  It sprinkled some rain, not enough to get wet, just a few drops, as if the skies had teared up too.

Unfortunately, there are still some issues with the city around getting the Love Bomb bike rack permanantly installed.   Hopefully they will be able to ease through that, and folks driving down Bardstown Road, or looking for a place to park their bike, will enjoy this reminder of Jen’s life.

Food in Oaxaca

I am not the type of person who looks at unfamiliar food and says “Ewwwww…”  My mother was a “try three bites of everything” kind of parent, so I’m not afraid of experimenting.

And I already have a “food in Mexico” story from when I was nine.  We spent a month in Mexico then, and I remember going to a nice restaurant , where I ordered fish.

When it arrives, the waiter presents it to me with a flourish.  In an oval dish ~ at one end, the tail almost hangs over it.  At the other end, is the head ~ the eye staring straight up at me.

I gulp.

The waiter sets the plate down, beaming.

My mother waits til he walks away to explain that in many cultures, the head is left on while cooking because it enhances the flavor of the fish.

I just keep looking at the eye, which is looking back at me.

And then Mom asks me if I want them to remove the head before I eat it.

With great relief, oh, yes, please, and thank you very much!

She says something to the waiter about people in America being funny about things like the head, and asks him to remove it.  He is clearly a bit surprised and baffled, but very nice about it.

I eat the fish, head removed, and it was delicious ~ I still remember that too.

So I’m not surprised when Senor Reforma serves fish fresh from the ocean with head and tail still attached.  He serves it battered and fried one day, baked in the wood burning oven the next.

His wife, Senora Reforma, makes fresh tortillas for each meal,

She places the batter in a wooden press,

presses them flat

removes them carefully

and bakes them on the wood-burning stove.

We serve ourselves the fish, from platters.  It is not filleted either time, and this is not a surprise either.  You just open it, remove the backbone, other visible bones, and eat carefully.

I deftly avoid taking any of the head.

It is delicious.  Absolutely delicious.  Forks are optional.  We eat by tearing off pieces of fresh tortillas, still warm, and wrapping them around pieces of fish, making our own tiny tacos.  They are better at this than I am, managing to eat daintily, while I eat more like a five year old.

We can eat our salad the same way.  The salad is lettuce, tomato, lots of avocado, and onion.  Rather than salad dressing, we squeeze fresh lime over it.  I watch Senor Reforma unwrap the limes from the green leaves around each one ~ that’s how fresh they are.

Unlike Mexican restaurants here, not every meal comes with beans and rice.   Sometimes that’s part of it, often not.  Meat is a big staple though ~ chicken, pork, beef, and so on.  Senor Reforma serves seafood, Paulina serves meat from the local farms, or Arturo brings her some from places he goes that have good meat.

We have meatballs at Paulina’s, that her sister comes over to make for us.

Pasta and potatoes are not staples.  Everything is served with tortillas, tostadas, empanadas or tacos.  A friend of Conan’s stops by with some creviche for us to try.

It’s in the plastic cups with spoons – ignore the flowered cup with my coffee.   I’m familiar with shrimp creviche, so I learn that “creviche” refers to the way it’s fixed.  It’s a little spicy, but not too hot, even for me, and I like it.

The afternoons we spend at the beach include snacks ~ tortillas with melted cheese, then you can add bits of other food to ~ shrimp, meat, diced tomato, onion, avocado.  Lots of avocado, which I love.

I have shrimp cocktail, which is cut-up shrimp, mixed with onion, maybe, and some avocado, I think, and served in a glass cup with a kind of cocktail sauce.  Delicious.

Everything is fresh.  I don’t know if Paulina has a can opener.  There are no cans in sight.

Here’s Emmanuel with some sugar cane.

You can peel it and slice it, and chew on a piece, sort of sucking the sugar out of it. That’s what he has in his mouth.

In Puerto Escondido, I order shrimp soup.  It’s very tasty, and comes with probably 10 or 12 whole shrimp in it.

Yes, whole.  With the head.  I hadn’t thought about it, but realize it when they bring it and I see the thin, red feelers from the one of the heads hanging over the side of the bowl.

For just a minute, I sigh. Damn.

But that’s ok.  I scoop  each one out, remove the head, peel it, and enjoy some delicious, fresh from the ocean, shrimp.  Life is good.

Paulina tells a story about Emmanuel that amuses us all.  He was eating some fish, with the head on, and she says to him, “Hey, Emmanuel, are you going to eat that eye?”

He grins and says, “No, because I want him to see me eating him.”  Or something like that.

I laugh, even though I’m pretty sure I don’t know get the context of why they think that’s funny.  I  laugh because it’s the exact opposite of the way I felt at nine, confronted with that fishy eye looking up at me.  It reminds me that so many things we think are “the way things are,” are really just the way we’re used to things being.


Warning:  This is about celebrations, but it’s not necessarily a “feel good” post.

Lots of celebrations in Juquila.  In all of Mexico, I suppose, but I mostly know Juquila.

Of course, girls have a quinceañera,  ( Spanish: “fifteen years celebration”)  also called quince años.  According to the on-line Encyclopedia Britannica:

“…this is the Mexican celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, marking her passage from childhood to adulthood. The traditional quinceañera is both a religious and a social event that emphasizes the importance of the family and society in the life of young people.”

I didn’t go to any quinceaneras.  Conan described them to us, and they sound like a huge big deal.  I’m not sure how I feel about celebrating a 15 year old girl’s transition to adulthood, but am not going to worry about that today.

I saw this celebration outside the church, with dancers:

I don’t know what they were celebrating.  It kind of reminded me of World Fest ~ isn’t that funny?  And the dance was similar to Irish clogging, at least to my untrained eye.

What I remember best from that part of the afternoon is watching a group of children playing.  They get a ball stuck in a tree.  Several adults try different strategies to get the ball down, while others of us watch hopefully.

A stick is not long enough.  Another man is not able to shake the tree limbs enough to get the ball down.  A third man has a package of some kind.  He throws the package at the ball, and succeeds ~ in getting the package stuck in the tree too.

We move on then, and I wonder if the ball and the package are still up there, even now.

Here is another celebration.  I hear the music from Paulina’s house and come out to take some pictures.

It goes on for a long time.  After it is almost gone, I ask Conan what the celebration is.  He hesitates a minute ~ shrugs, “I don’t know,” then says ~ “Wait!  Yes, I do.  It’s the three year birthday celebration!  ‘Coz look – here she comes with her parents.”

I missed the picture, you’ll have to imagine it.  At the end of the parade,  a cute three year old girl dressed in a long pink dress, with a full skirt, walking along holding her mommy’s hand on one side, daddy on the other ~ presumably, anyhow.

“Wow,” I say.  “That’s a big birthday party for a three year old.”

Conan nods, frowning a little.  “Yes,” he says, “that’s because three years, I think, is considered some kind of cut-off, like if you make it to 3 years old, the parents are grateful and have a special party because you’re probably going to live.”

I’m not sure what to think of this ~ that’s why I miss the picture, standing there pondering.

But I decide it makes perfect sense.   In fact, I kind of wonder why we don’t do it.

Surely everywhere the early years are the most risky for losing a child.   Do we just prefer not to think about it?  I can’t think of anything we do that is this kind of recognition or celebration.

Of course, the easy answer would be if the mortality rate were lots higher for children under 3 in Mexico than in the U.S.   But when I consult the World Bank information, I’m not convinced that’s it.

I don’t find data for under three years old, but there are statistics for deaths under 5 years old per 1000 live births.  And there is a difference ~ in the U.S. it’s 8 per thousand, in Mexico, it’s 17, as of 2011.  And that seems significant.

The CIA “The World Factbook” ranks countries by rate of death of infants under one year, estimating for 2012.  By this standard:

Mexico is ranked 104th with 16.77.   The U.S. is ranked 174th with 5.98.

If  that sounds like a big difference, consider that Afghanistan is first, with over 121 deaths per 1000.

France,(212)  Spain (213) and Italy (214)  each have about 3 deaths per 1000.

Japan is 221 with 2 deaths, and Monaco is last with only 1,8 deaths of infants per 1000 live births predicted in 2012.

I think it’s interesting that the U.S. number drops from 8 deaths for the under-5 category to about 6 for the under 1-year old, while Mexico’s number is about the same.  I don’t think it’s a straight comparison, but if the U.S. had 8, we would be in the 150’s, along with Bosnia and Latvia.  And does that suggest that we have a higher rate of infant mortality than Mexico between one and five years old?

I know, you can’t compare different sets of data like that.  It’s just something to think about, right?

But I don’t think the answer to this cultural difference lies in the data.

I think the difference ~ maybe ~ is in our tendency, in this country, to want to avoid thinking about death.  We don’t want to talk about it or think about and really, we’d prefer for nobody to do it.  Ever.  Which would be interesting, wouldn’t it?  Imagine family reunions with 10 and 12 generations…

Ok, that’s silly, but you know what I’m saying ~ or if you don’t, it would take me a whole other blog post (at least) to explain it.

I don’t like thinking about death either.  Particularly the deaths of children under the age of 5.  But they happen.  We can’t prevent them all.

In Mexico, when this particular bad thing doesn’t happen, they celebrate.


Data sources:



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