Monday, November 19, 2012

The Golden Silence

 "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord."
Psalm 127:3

     I understand children are a gift from God, but that doesn't stop me from suffering moments when I'd like a refund. Or an exchange. Maybe one child for two cats and a gerbil. Or a rabbit. Rabbits would be good. They're quiet. They don't eat much and they let you hold them on your lap without squirming away.
     And they don't walk like elephants. Only elephants—and my children—walk like elephants. There is a law of physics that applies here: the smaller the child, the louder the footsteps. A sixty-pound nine-year-old running through the living room has the ability to make our best china rattle like a 7.1 earthquake with aftershocks inevitable. Inversely, a 120-pound teen of sixteen can move from the front door to their bedroom so silently I'll raise my head like a doe in the forest, sure something has just passed close but unsure of its intent.
     My children are destined for the theatre. "Please pass the mashed potatoes" is delivered in a voice heard by the back row of any auditorium. The discussion that follows regarding whose turn it is to clear the dishes is worthy of a Laurel and Hardy skit (and we even have our own Laurel). 
     I love our three kids dearly. Yet sometimes I yearn for "a time to be silent".
     One weekend, I got my wish—though I had to get sick to do it.

     We were scheduled to drive to our hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska to go to a Cornhusker football game. But when I woke up Saturday morning the glands in my neck made me resemble a chipmunk stocking up for the winter. Not wanting to ruin everyone's fun I sent my family on their way, checked with a doctor, got a prescription and settled into our empty house. 
     Our silent empty house.
     No elephant footfalls. No "But Mom . . ." No slammed doors, Scooby Doo, or the tortuous beat of loud music. 
     Just the ticking of the clock in the entry. The hmmm of the refrigerator. And the whoosh of the furnace making me feel cozy warm as I snuggled beneath an afghan on the couch.
     "This is the life," I told the air. "I can do what I want, when I want to do it. I can eat foods that have no nutritional value. I can watch old movies with no one moaning about the lack of special effects. I can read. I can take a nap or a bath with no interruptions."
      And self-serving hedonist that I am, I did all of those things, wallowing in the solitude with as much ecstasy as Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault of gold coins.
     But after my dinner of mint-chip ice cream and Diet Coke, after watching "An Affair to Remember", after crying over Father Ralph de Bricassart's death in The Thorn Birds, and after a bath where I emerged a prune, I took another listen to the silence I'd wrapped around myself and found it wanting.

     I missed Emily’s humming as she made a batch of cookies along with a mess in the kitchen. I missed the rumble as Carson hurtled down the stairs. I missed the sound of Laurel reading aloud to her invisible class as she played school. And our king-sized bed seemed empty without its king.
     With the noises of night closing in around me, I imagined a life without the sounds of my children. Their gentle snores assuring me they’re safe and sound in bed, the harmony of their voices saying grace before a meal. I imagined never hearing the title "Mom" whether it was tagged on a request for a ride to school or onto the thank you after giving the ride.
     As I tried to get to sleep I found the silence heavy—the silence that could have been if we hadn’t been blessed with three children. I turned on the television for company and fell asleep to the canned sounds of TV people going through the process of living.
     The next day when my family burst in with thudding feet, overlapping voices, and gusts of fall air, I was ready for them. Renewed. Patient again—at least for a little while.
     In the stillness of my weekend I found that silence is indeed golden. For it reminded me of something very important.
     My children are more precious than gold.


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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The American Dream: We're Not the Bad Guys

Mark and I in 1982
with two of our kids
My husband and I started a business in 1982 (paid 18% interest to get the start up money from a second mortgage!) Over the next 25 years we worked our behinds off through good years and lean. My husband sometimes worked 60 hour weeks. We took risks, We suffered and succeeded. We finally made enough income so that I could stop working in the business and follow my dream and write. We created jobs for dozens of people who became our friends. That's the way with small businesses. The employees often become family. We dance together at weddings, celebrate births, and support each other when we go through hard times like cancer or loss.
We sold the business to two of those employees in 2007 but my husband still works there part time (it's hard for him to cut the ties to those people he cares about--one guy has worked for us 25 years.) 
But you should have heard the despair in that office after the election. Desperate talk of who they were going to have to let go because of health care changes and the anti-business philosophy that is being coddled in a desire to find a scapegoat, a philosophy that punishes success and growth. Of individuals and couples. Of fellow citizens that are doing nothing wrong but following the American Dream.
Mark and I in 2011
Businesses and their owners are not the bad guys. They should not be punished for working hard and creating jobs and stability for their employees. It's like the president of Olive Garden said before the election: if things get worse for business with more taxes and high-cost health care, he was going to have to cut his workforce dramatically. He is not alone.
I fear we're going to see the predicted (but obviously ignored) inevitable become reality. Businesses will have to tighten their belts and lost jobs will be rampant. And then those who want to punish entrepreneurs will call out, "But wait! This isn't what we wanted."
But it's what you were told you would get. You just refused to listen.
I'm praying hard for our nation. And for all those who still dare to pursue their own American dream.