Sunday, June 29, 2008


My oldest left for camp today. Two weeks. It seems like a lifetime this afternoon. The truth is, I enjoy living with, and spending time with my kids. When they're not here, I miss them. I hate when my older two go to their dad's every other weekend. I miss their smiles, their arguments, their questions, their hugs, their bodies sprawled on the couch.

I think I am going to be in big trouble with they move out. At 12, my oldest is already moving into the world in larger increments - more overnights with friends, more activities, a week gone here, a couple weeks there, coming up with her own ideas, becoming more and more independent with cooking, laundry, thinking, doing. My heart aches at the idea of not seeing her for 14 days, but I know that she is excited, and ready to do a week of extreme hiking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. Who is this bright and confident young woman? I see my face in hers, but she is so clearly separate from me. She is brave, and well-spoken, ready to take on the world, but has the nickname "Mom" because of her responsibility and respect for (most) rules, and especially her championing for the underdog.

My ex-husband says she's me with tools I never had.

I wonder what my mother feels in her solitude. She lost me early - at 15. I never came back, and we have gone years at a time without speaking. We spent the 3 years between 12 and 15 arguing and fighting and tossing the coin between love and hate - or at least I did. I can't imagine that relationship between my children and I. We have so much love between all of us. Of course, we are human and yell and say things we don't mean, and get angry...but we know that we are loved.

I still don't know what my mother felt or feels - did she miss me when I was gone? Did she even notice? She didn't do anything to get me back - and I can't imagine that either. I haven't given much thought to what she might have been feeling or feels now - but as my own children grow up and away, faster and faster, I wonder what I will fill my days with when they are gone. I wonder how much we will be in each other's lives - it will never be this intense and close again.

Is it like my relationship with spirit? Our love will continue to be present, without the physical body? Of course it will...but I have to remember to enjoy every minute, every second, because it will never be like this again.

My 18 mo. old daughter has learned the word "no" and this has demarcated her from the rest of the family. She is no longer an infant - nursing for all of her nutrition, needing to be carried everywhere. Just like the 12 yo, she is moving into the world- walking, running, climbing, seeking, learning, talking, becoming her own individual. In a blink of an eye, she will be 12, and then 18 and then 25. Who will I become between now and then? Who will I be when she is 35 and I am old? Where will our connections lie?

What connections are there between me at 35 and my mother at 72? Pain, disappointment, resignation. Orphaned, both of us. She by her children and us by her. I never want to be that - I have spent my life in not being that person, and my quest for spirit is so much about that - and also to understand those who are lonely and angry and offer them solace. To understand what else is there that is admirable and lovable.

My mother is my spiritual practice - to break myself upon her walls - to love her faults, to find her virtues, to mold myself against and with her. I wonder if that's how my children will see will they define themselves against their parents?

Friday, June 27, 2008

SQ and Sandwich Generation

Turns out, I got a 100 on my research paper on Spiritual Intelligence. This is such a turning moment for me. I have received lots of perfect scores, but this is the first time that a professor has told me what I have been suspecting - that I am doing graduate level work, for a variety of reasons.

I am considering trying to publish some of my papers - not just on spiritual intelligence, but on other things. I haven't freelanced in quite some time, and making multiple usage of the things I'm learning and writing to help support my family and to further my career makes a lot of sense.

My professor also, who has always signed her notes as Dr. X, is now apparently on a first name basis with me. Interesting. Heartening. Exciting. She sent me a link to Jill Bolte Taylor, which I found interesting. She is a brain scientist who studies severe mental illness (which fascinates me as well, in no small part due to living w/ my bipolar (not to define him solely by that!) ex-husband for so many years), and she had a stroke at the age of 37. She discusses how, as a scientist, she was able to note what was happening to her as it happened, and how she had a spiritual awakening during the process. It is fascinating and emotional to watch, at the very least.


I got a call from my father's nursing home early this week. He has dementia from his own brain aneurism, which occured when I was 4 months old. I had to place him in a locked facility about 3 years ago, in order to keep him safe, as he was wandering and his walking was getting worse as well. He's 81. He has lived for 35 years with this - and only now is completely losing control.

He has been getting more and more aggressive. I believe that he is depressed. He has a real issue with people being in his room, but since all the other residents have dementia as well, they often wander into his room, not knowing any better. He has had some physical altercations in the past but this time he pushed an elderly woman so hard that she hit the wall and hit her head quite hard and had to have an x-ray. She has quite the bump.

If this continues, he may have to go to a geri-psychiatric ward for evaluation and medication changes. I didn't even know such a place existed! He is on a psychotropic med already to keep his mood level and to help him sleep at night, as well as to help him with agitation. (Seroquel). It has worked fairly well, but the last few months he is having these outburts. I am a bit afraid to take him out in July by myself with 3 of my 4 kids.

This sandwich generation thing is so hard. My parents are not, nor have they been, parental in years and years and years my dad since I was 16. My mom...maybe ever, really. I became my father's power of attorney and guardian some years ago, and have worked very hard to help him keep his autonomy. It has been a struggle which ended in this placement, where he will eventually die.

I feel perpetually guilty. If I didn't have kids, if I didn't work, if, if, if...I could take care of him long enough to transfer him out of state. He is so angry at me. He has so many misconceptions and little understanding of what heart and soul I have put into keeping him safe and independent for years. My kids love their grandfather but hate the nursing home and are a little scared of the little old ladies who hover and want to love them to death - they are all so lonely. And we visit so rarely - 4 hours is tough with 4 kids - the youngest at 18 months. I always feel like I'm making excuses, but it is hard. But I miss him.

It's odd though - he is himself when he is violent; when he is angry. He was a passionate, angry, violent man before he got sick, from all accounts. I didn't know him that way, but I could see as a child, that his true self came out when he was angry. It didn't scare me; it made me feel close to him - like I was getting a glimpse of my real dad - the one I never knew. I feel a bit like that now - I hate that he will have to be medicated, but of course he must be, to keep others safe.

He is a walking miracle. An aneurism. 4 brain surgeries. Seizures. 2 heart attacks and needs a quadruple bypass (at least) which he will never have because of his brain damage. He is my dad.

I miss him. I wish I could call him and tell him how successful I am in school. And I could, but he wouldn't really get it. Being an orphaned sandwich child/parent is very lonely at times. It's almost enough to make me believe in God - just for the support - but not quite ;).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reflective Learning

I'm really enjoying connecting all the learning in my classes together for the last two semesters. I'm able to use so much of each class in the others- partly because I chose them that way, and partly because of serendipity.

In my reflective learning class, we were...well, learning about how we learn, and the biological basis of learning. I had to do a final paper and did it on Spiritual Intelligence. I am not sure how much I buy of the science behind it, and there doesn't seem to be too much current research that I can put my fingers on, other than by Sisk, but it was neat to connect the idea of the God Spot, SQ, Multiple Intelligences, and biology together in one big theory about whether SQ exists, and if so, how we can improve upon it individually and collectively. Once I get my grade, maybe I'll post it here, if anyone is interested.

Have any readers out there done any research/reading on this?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Membership in the larger context

Jan and I have been talking about membership and what it means to those who make use of the RE program - a little more than half of our families are members - and that translates into money, on some level. Thinking about money and spirituality makes me a little queasy, quite honestly, but we had a great and reflective discussion about it and how it is communicated at First UU. I just found this post from UUMomma about membership and what it means. She doesn't seem to get clear answers either, so at least I'm not alone. I want to think about visioning and what it means to be a member - both as a current member of my church, and as a future minister.

Jan explained to me that the hope is that people who come regularly will pledge, even if they don't become members. This wasn't clear to me before I became a member at either of the UU churches I have belonged to, and I don't think that there's a clear communication path around this. As a user of RE or community services through the church, this makes sense though.

The other piece is that pledging seems to be the big piece of becoming a member. Our ministers had a dessert for prospective members and gave us a spiel about where pledge money goes and how it supports the church. Now I adore our ministers, but this felt more like buying a used car than joining a church.

Handing over a check while signing the membership book - ick. I'd rather hand over my soul ;).

Personally, I know that money is part of church, but I don't want to think about it that much as a newcomer. I want to bask in the sermons, feel the safety of community, and meet people. But I think that if I had been invited, even as a non-member, to congregational meetings (even though non-members don't get a vote), I would have understood so much more about how important time and pledges are to the running of the church.

I told Jan that I think that our membership committee should reach out to new people in their first year and help them connect to the practicalities of church - after all UUs are pretty methodical and seeking people who want information for the most part. I wonder how other people feel about that? About having a conversation with people about membership vs. pledging - they dont' have to come together.

Congregational and budget meetings are as community building as small groups like book group with the minister, Wellspring, etc. Just from a different perspective. I'd much rather go to those and be asked to pledge than to be "sold" the idea of pledging. But maybe that's just me?

So what does it mean to be a member? I think that's probably as personal as what UUism means to people in a religious and spiritual way.

Speaking for myself, membership means a commitment to my spiritual path as a UU, as well as practicalities. Being willing to serve on committees, to volunteer my time, to attend groups that help me grow personally.

Membership means that I need to take part in radical hospitality - I need to commit to reaching out to old and new members and making them feel welcome every time they show up. To be in contact with our ministers and staff about things I know about our visitors and members - what they need from us.

To evangelize - talk to others outside the UU about the UU - to encourage people to try it out, to see if it's the right path for them if they're seeking one.

To support the church financially and with energy and time. To make it a priority as my top community that gets a lot of my resources and talents.

To support the church's initiatives in the local and global community.

And finally for me, to lead, to love, to nurture, to build. To use my love and talents in organization, speaking, web-weaving to reach others and serve. Being a member is to embrace everything practical and spiritual about our religion (is it a religion? For the sake of argument we'll say it is, for today).

Reduction and Focus

I am always busy, busy, busy. I keep a lot of juggling balls in the air, but this summer I get to focus on my grad school application and my family.

My job as RE Assistant at First Unitarian wraps up in a couple of weeks, and I have mixed feelings. I have loved just about every minute of it - oddly enough, my least favorite part is doing childcare, but that's not what most of my job was about. And it's not that I don't love the kids - I do. But I love classes, and watching the kids grow throughout the year and learn about UU stuff and test their values, and to see them fulfilling their potentials. Summer childcare is just boring.

I have loved sitting in the lobby each week getting to know old and new families. It is a simple kind of evangelism to teach about our RE program and what it means to me as an employee and as a parent. I even loved organizing the supply closet and my boss' office. And I love being an employee of a place that cares about me - about whether I have a living wage, about if the hours fit my lifestyle, that allows me to participate as a member and as an employee - to wear my different hats. It felt so good to be appreciated by the other volunteers, parents, and staff. To feel that I was doing a really good job, and making a difference to all of those people and the kids too.

I can't do this job next year - J. needs someone who can work more hours, and I need to focus on finishing school. But I'll miss it. It will be nice to go to the services. To teach in Jude's class. To socialize and have more time at home, and to ask less sacrifice of Tom. This job actually took money away from our coffers in time and energy - but it was worth it to me. It gave me a window into the back end work that goes into RE, and how it fits into the greater church workings and community. It gave me a chance to get out of the house and focus on how important my spiritual and practical work is, and it made Emma and Soren feel important and connected them to the greater church community and its teachings.

I'm so glad I had this year of work. I'll miss it, but I am excited about the future.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I spoke to the Admissions Director at Meadville Lombard today. It was such a good feeling to talk to a real person that doesn't know me, and to take another step on my journey. It made me a bit more worried about financial aid, as I have to apply as a non-degree student at Colgate, but I'll look at that issue this summer when my semester is over.

She sent me some helpful information, and is going to snail mail some more. I am feeling so positive and good about this. It's what keeps me going in my BA studies every single day. Transformation is drawing me through each part of this journey.

In other news, it is exceedingly hard to be spiritually calm with the dog when he whines for no reason, for hours on end. Yes, it's hot. Me too.

Saturday, June 7, 2008