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It’s time to say something…

<> on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas.

JOHN MOORE VIA GETTY IMAGES

Recently, Colleen Kraft, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.Laura Bush in the Washington Post, June 17, 2018

I try to make my public profile as positive as possible. There’s enough negativity in the world. That doesn’t mean that I shy away from sharing news articles or items that concern me, that I think are interesting or worth reading. It also doesn’t mean that I refrain from engaging in discussion, dialogue or disagreement, as long as it does not become personal. It doesn’t mean I look at the world through rose coloured glasses or shy away from the world’s unpleasantness.

It does mean that I value a variety of opinions and perspectives. It does mean that I believe in people’s freedom to share those opinions and perspectives in a respectful manner. It does mean I try to understand people who hold opinions and perspectives different from my own and try to make myself understood to them. It does mean that I search for ways of living together with differences.

However, the ongoing separation of children from their parents that is now occurring in the United States of America as the result of a directive of President Donald J. Trump demands that I say something. It does not matter that I am unimportant. It does not matter that I have no influence. It does not matter that people don’t care what I have to say about anything. It does not matter that this may be read by only one other person. It is time to speak out…

President Trump’s actions are wrong!

In fact, as a Christian who tries to live in a manner that I believe shows love, respect and gratitude to God it is my humble opinion that President Trump’s actions are sin.

I say this as someone who spent 12 years (four as President) on the Board of Directors of the Massey Centre for Women. Massey Centre began in 1901 as a maternity home and is currently an “infant and early childhood mental health organization which supports pregnant and parenting adolescents, aged 13-25 and their babies.” I say this as someone who spent twelve years on the York Region Children’s Aid Society Board of Directors, including a short times as President. Both agencies knew that the separation of children from their parents would be damaging and in some cases that damage would be permanent. That is the reason that so much work and so many resources were used to keep families together. Only if there was evidence that greater harm could be done to a child by remaining in the family was there a separation.  I also say this as a Canadian of settler descent who is aware that settlers before me separated indigenous children from their parents and the consequences were destructive. That damage has continued for generations.

I can no longer refrain from saying anything as I recently spent a week in the USA. I went to one of my favourite American Museums, The Tenement Museum and enjoyed learning even more about the benefit of immigrants to the USA. I can no longer refrain from saying anything because I stood on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and I remembered his letter written in the cell of a Birmingham jail to clergy asking, if not now then when. I stood in front of the African Burial Ground National Monument and was reminded of the children torn from parents and re-sold as slaves. I can no longer refrain from saying anything as I read of four former first ladies, known for their restraint in commenting on the decisions and actions of a sitting president, criticizing the separation of children from their parents.

I can no longer refrain from saying anything as I have recently read a biography of Sophie Scholl who was executed for telling people what the Nazis were doing was wrong. I am reminded of the famous words of Martin Niemöller “Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Initially, Niemöller thought that Hitler could solve the nation’s problems and so he supported the Nazis. By the time Niemöller began to question his support of Hitler’s ideology it was too late, but even so, he was willing to speak out and went to prison.

I can no longer refrain from saying anything because I believe the editorial cartoon of Mike Luckovich says so much.

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Mike Luckovich  – The Atlanta Journal Constitution June 14, 2018

I can no longer refrain from saying anything because I have seen the supporters of this President misuse and abuse texts I believe are sacred. Like many others I believe Jeff Sessions misused Romans 13:1. I am tempted to counter him by turning to scripture passages that demonstrate a despot who in his desire to retain power and to get his own way is willing to sacrifice children; passages such as Exodus 1:22 or Matthew 2:16, but I shall refrain.

It is time to say something… For me it is time to say that I believe that President Trump’s directive that results in children being separated from their families is sin.

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I haven’t got the words…

Anna Bolena

Left: Sondra Radvanovsky in Anna Bolena (Washington Opera, 2012), promotional photo: Cade Martin; A scene from Anna Bolena (WNO, 2012), photo: Scott Suchman.

 

I was given the gift of a ticket to see tonight’s production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena performed by The Canadian Opera Company. I cannot begin to describe it but I’m going to try.

I have been attending operas since I was five years old. My parents took me to an English production of The Barber of Seville in the hope that I would fall in love with the art form as much as they had. That night, so long ago, I was filled with wonder and awe and amazement, and felt goose bumps as I saw and heard something more spectacular than I had ever seen or heard before. Since then, I have attended a variety of types and styles and genres performed by a variety of companies and enjoyed the majority of what I have seen. However, tonight when I experienced the COC production of Anna Bolena, I felt all those same feelings that I felt when I saw my first opera. Spectacular seems too mundane a word for this performance.

Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena is both interesting and intriguing simply in its existence. Like most historical operas it shouldn’t be taken as a history lesson. Many of the “facts” are the result of artistic license. But the libretto gives an impression. The impression is from a Roman Catholic, Italian perspective, and is about the tumultuous English Tudor Court of the king accused of breaking the church–Enrico VIII. For those of us who have been raised with an Anglocentric history education about Henry VIII, this in itself, is fascinating.

Although my parents had a recording of this opera that I frequently heard as a child, and I now have my own recording, I had never seen a performance before tonight. The opera is infrequently performed, I am told because it is so demanding. The three hour story, in two acts, is dependent on the two lead soprano’s and this production’s Sondra Radvanovsky (Anna Bolena) and Keri Alkema (Giovanna Seymour) are a tour de force in their respective roles. The programme notes indicate that the two women are very close friends. It is evident that they use this friendship to reach added emotional depths in the duet of the second act when Giovanna reveals that she is “the other woman”. As each woman’s individual vocal excellence joins with the other, they create a musical interplay that combined with their physical interaction is spellbinding. Alkema truly appears as a woman bereft upon the sudden realisation she is sending her best friend to die; Radvanovsky portrays the trauma of registered betrayal with genuine consternation. Even though at the beginning of the duet it appears that Giovanna is waffling in her desire for the throne, upon receiving Anna’s forgiveness, her physical deportment shows her beginning to regroup and reconsidering her grasp at power.

Other than the duet there are two specific scenes where Radvanovsky’s dramatic abilities, as well as her incredible voice, are particularly entrancing. In Act I there is a short section when she is in front of Enrico and she realises that Enrico is not simply less interested in her, but rather, he has fallen for someone else. She portrays an incredible fragility and uncertainty as she suddenly becomes aware that her whole world is going to come crashing down. Her voice sounds weak and yet it retains it’s clarity and precision. The weakness is the character’s and not the singer’s. The second scene is “the mad scene” near the end of the opera. Donizetti seems to enjoy presenting mad scenes and Radvanovsky’s performance makes Anna’s solo every bit as unnerving as Lucia’s.

Alkema, as Giovanna, too shows off an exquisite vocal capability that reflects a variety of emotions when confronting Enrico. Her pleading that Anna be spared is quite different from her tense but assured interactions with Anna. She is able to vary between insecurity and imperiousness with ease.

Even though these two women drive this opera it would not be the success it is without others in the cast. Christian Van Horn is as close to perfect, in his portrayal of Enrico, as one could hope. I had to think about his performance carefully because I naturally fall in love with the bass. (I’m one of those who’s always cheering for Mephistopheles in Faust and in Jesus Christ Superstar it was Caiaphas and Judas who stole my heart. I don’t think that was the Gospel writer’s intent.) Despite my bias, upon reflection I realise it is the complete package that Van Horn offers that makes his Enrico so amazing. He is the perfect, handsome, “chick magnet” disdainful, arrogant, womanizing, self-centred, powerful, sexist, stylish, athletic creep! His voice oozes megalomania with a quality that makes the hearer quiver. He is an appropriately Machiavellian prince. Van Horn’s Enrico is one you love to hate

Bruce Sledge as Lord Riccardo Percy does an excellent portrayal of the typical weak hero. If he were to take it any further Percy would become a buffoon. Sledge draws the line at just the right point. His voice has a pleading quality when he approaches Anna that clearly indicates his passionate desire while maintaining its clarity and quality. Throughout his performance he professes his love for Anna and at the same time refuses to do the one thing that might keep her safe, he refuses to leave her. Even for those who know the ending of the opera Sledge’s performance offers surprise. He has performed the feeble hero so well that when Riccardo actually does the heroic thing in the end it is a shock. I was most concerned about the portrayal of this role–that the tenor would try to portray him as a true hero rather than as the flawed character he really is. Bruce Sledge delighted me in his portrayal.

Allyson McHardy as Smeton must also be mentioned. Her portrayal of the lovesick young man is extremely sensitive. Normally, when I’ve heard this opera, I’ve thought of Smeton as a necessary incidental. He is important to the plot’s development but it is hard to get a sense of who he is. McHardy in her vocal and physical portrayal gives the character a depth that was enchanting. Here is the young man full of hope and love (really infatuation) while at the same time despondent because he knows his dreams will never be realised. For me, she brought Smeton to life in way that made his death even more tragic.

The cast is well matched because in each of the ensemble sections all voices can be heard both distinctly and as an integrated whole. The performance of the cast is superb. So is the performance of the orchestra under Corrado Rovaris. Too often I have thought of the COC orchestra as too loud for the stage performers, sometimes overpowering them, but this performance strikes the perfect balance.

Was there anything I didn’t like? Yes. I intensely disliked the costumes of Ingeborg Bernerth and the staging was not impressive. Many of my opera loving friends would say, “Who cares when you have voices like those?” However, if I didn’t want to see “a show” I would be satisfied with a concert performance.

The director, Stephen Lawless, describes this opera in his notes:

We remain within the framework of our Globe Theatre setting, now suitably altered to reflect an earlier and darker milieu than the sophistication of Elizabeth I’s reign, a world where entertainment was more about the bear-pit then [sic] the subtleties of Shakespeare’s (as yet unwritten) verse, a world as much influenced by the medieval as by the Renaissance.

He is placing it within the context of the other two Donizetti Tudor operas performed by the COC. Unfortunately, I don’t think what he describes works, especially not in the first act where it is more drab than dark.

Using the Globe theatre as the framework has separated the ensemble from the main characters in a manner that places them in the position of the Greek chorus. They both observe and comment on what is happening and they do not engage as the servants, courtiers, retainers and advisors who are integral to the court and active within it. Even some of the essential minor characters, such as Hervey, went back and forth between the action and the Greek chorus making him more ephemeral than devious. The only time that there seemed to be a bustling court was at the end of Act I when Enrico makes his accusations and the supporters of Anna respond. This staging seems very disjointed. As well, at times the movement of the set was “clunky” and distracting as opposed to being enhancing of the performance

In the opening of Act I Anna is waiting for the return of Enrico. She is hoping to save their marriage. She appears in her first costume and it looks drab. Fortunately Radvanovsky’s carriage gives the role a sense of sophistication that was absent in the costume but that is not sufficient. Even within the confines of Romani’s libretto it is clear that the only hope of Anna’s survival as queen (her death is not yet being considered by the text) is to have a male child for Enrico. These events occur in an era before IVF. There is only one way the goal could be accomplished. Looking drab is not the way for Anna to achieve success. The only really glamorous costume was in a very cheesy moment when Enrico is dressed in the outfit of the Hans Holbein painting and strikes the pose. (Yes, I know it was during Seymour’s time that his painting was done but it’s just kitchy.) I believe it is no longer artistry when sets and costumes are removed from the plot and actually work counter to the plot. The performances of the cast however were so superb that the appearance of the stage could usually be ignored.

If you live within eight hours of Toronto and the COC, and if you can get tickets, take the time to see this performance. Even if it is the only show/concert/ recital you can afford this year. I imagine it will be another 60+ years before I will see another operatic performance that moves me so.

I started by saying “I haven’t got the words…” and yet I have used so many to describe the experience I had with Anna Bolena. The difficulty in finding one word that does justice to describe the evening is why there are so many. Anna… Brava!

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This weekend I Feel My Mortality

Perhaps it is the overcast weather, or perhaps it is the colourful changing and falling leaves that let us know we are at the midpoint of the autumn season. Perhaps it is the macbre atmosphere that emerges as some people prepare for All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Perhaps it is simply that I am tired from having three nights in a row where I was awake past my usual bedtime. Whatever the perhaps… this weekend I feel my mortality.

Events have meant that I have been given many reasons to reflect and reminisce. On Wednesday I had to send a card to friends who celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary and who seem as much in love today as they did when they met in grade nine. I was not there when they met but they assure all who know them that for each of them “it was love at first sight.” The pictures that I was emailed by a daughter show them sitting regally in their two chairs decorated with flowers and ribbon–each with a walker to the outside of a respective chair so that they could hold hands during the festivities.

Yesterday, I ran into people I had not seen for about ten years and we caught up on children and siblings and mutual friends and acquaintances. We no longer ask about parents for we are at that stage where there is no point.  Yesterday I also listened to the reminiscences of Julia Munro, MPP. The Honourable Ms. Munro is the logest sitting female MPP in Ontario history. Her entire political career followed a 24 year career as a high school history teacher.  One of her purposes in speaking was to encourage women to enter into politics. As she spoke I could not help but think of someone who earlier in the week asked me why I had gone back to school “at your age”, what are you going to do with it. And the same person then asked, “Don’t you feel like you’ve stolen a place from some younger person?” (After checking into it I must say my guilt was relieved to learn that applications to my school for my programme had decreased in number.)

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This past week also contained much discussion about releasing the documents pertaining to the JFK assassination.  How many of the files would President Trump allow to be released? Why wouldn’t they all be released? What have the FBI and CIA got to hide? Is it a conspiracy? Was it a conspiracy? Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that the president had been shot?

Even though we were in Canada the impact the young president had on the world meant that our school had an assembly to honour Kennedy and there were both class and individual student assignments about his life.

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Yes you read it right. I wrote “young president.” In those years 46 was considered young, especially to be an elected head of state. Now politicians who are 50 are considered “long in the tooth” and should perhaps think about making way for some young blood. Pundits and popoulists alike speak of the necessity for change and and for someone younger and more in tune with what society wants. (What happened in the American 2016 election was unusual.)

When Tom Petty died a couple of weeks ago, at the age 66, he was said to have died young. However, no one has said that about Richard Wilbur, Zuzana Ruzickova or Monte Hall at 96 nor Fats Domino, who died this week at the age of 89. In fact, when one of those names was read in the news one of the “on air” personalities stated I thought he was already dead. (I will leave it to your imagination to guess which one.) I began to wonder at what age is it too young to die and at what age are you doing the right thing.

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My self-questioning became more intese yesterday. At the time I was sitting and listening to Ms Munro’s words of wisdom a friend of mine, who is my age, died. I learned of the death from another friend who sent me a message almost immediately. We three had been at university together in our undergraduate years. In most universities there are a few people who are together all the time, and we with others were part of one such group. Like many undergraduate friends we had drifted apart as our lives went in different directions but we had reconnected over the past several years thanks to social media.

Through social media I learned that my friend’s passion for theatre had continued, as a teacher of drama in high school and by working in a local semi-amateur theatre company. Square dancing, being a spouse, a parent, and looking forward to being a grandparent for the first time showed the vitality I had known in my schoolmate as a young adult had continued into middle age and retirement.

This death is sad for a close-knit family, for close friends and colleagues, and even old reacquaintances such as myself. What I am also noticing though, is this is the first time that someone from my cohort has died and I have not heard the phrase “too young.” Several have said “too soon” but the phrase “too young” has not been uttered.

This week I have again heard of the burden of an aging population, of the costs my generation will cause and the resources and infrastructure that will need to be developed to care for us. With all these things that have happened in these past few days I ask myself was the Psalmist right? “The days of our years are three score and ten;” (90:10 KJV) and as such I am approaching my alotted time. This weekend I am feeling my mortality.

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Changing Circumstances and Clearwater

For years, every June my son and I have travelled together to New York State for a holiday. Our adventure is always based around the Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival Music and Environmental Festival.  It’s a folk festival started by Pete Seeger to bring awareness to the plight of the Hudson River. Most of us just call it Clearwater. There’s a lot to be said about the various parts of the festival but I’ll let you go to the webpage to learn about those.

The first year we left home Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. The next year we left home Wednesday, took the train into New York City Thursday and Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. The year after that we left home Monday, took the train into New York City Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, walked around Peekskill (where we stay) Friday, enjoyed the festival Saturday and Sunday, and then came back home on Monday. Unfortunately, no matter how we tried, we couldn’t make the trip longer than a week and so a week’s where we maxed-out.

We were planning for Clearwater 2016, wondering when the performers lists would be published when, out of the blue, an announcement we could not believe. Clearwater 2016 was cancelled. Now you have to understand, this is the oldest folk festival in the US and it was being cancelled. There were lots of reasons given, lots of rumours afloat, and lots of fingers being pointed. Suffice it to say that the Executive Director quit while the Board rejigged, regrouped and restructured. I’m sure the other 14,999 people who attend were as heartbroken as I was.

At the same time as Clearwater was dealing with its issues my son was endeavouring to finish his last year of university. I say endeavouring because, as he reminded me every time we talked, he was not enjoying any of it and was having trouble being motivated. However, last October he finally, along with many other young people across the country graduated, and like most who have reached this point in their lives, he was looking for a job. Like many other young people in this country who graduate with a degree in liberal arts or humanities he spent months and months searching and searching, and like many other young people in this country,he went six months before getting an interview. He had become “the son living in the basement”.

I probably don’t need to tell you that he was getting pretty depressed. Finally, in April, he got interviews. He had four of them and two of those called him in for a second interview. One place asked him in for a one day trial saying he’d be paid. That was the place that offered him a job and he likes it. It’s not a career. He wants to go back to school. (Don’t ask!) He’s always wanted to go back to school but not just yet.

This digression is not totally irrelavent to the events I began sharing. You see, he found this job just four weeks, to the day, before we were to leave for our annual holiday. The tickets had been bought for Clearwater (no refunds) and the room had been booked at the Inn on the Hudson. (It’s an ordinary hotel, maybe 3 stars, but man has it got a view.) This year I bought tickets to see Come From Away on Broadway too. (I’d been given a ticket to the Toronto production as a Christmas gift. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted my son to see it but the Toronto production was sold out. It was heading for Broadway and thanks to Google I learned it was going to be there when we were.) I went to the webpage the day tickets went on sale and got a special rate through a tourist thing and had great seats at a more than reasonable price. They were also non-refundable but I wasn’t worried about that because I was fairly sure I could sell them if I had to.

After we discussed it for a bit my son said that I should go without him. He also suggested a friend I should invite. His choice was very wise–a good friend from years ago with whom I’ve recently reconnected. We usually laugh at the same things and we know we can share accomodation. So I issued the invitation.

I’m afraid the rest of this story–if it interests you at all–is going to have to wait until the next blog because I read somewhere that people will only read about 800 words of a blog before they stop, and I’m at my limit.

 

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Common Compassion & Bombastic Brands

I have not made much use of this blog site. That is because my thinking and writing process is more reminiscent of the tortoise than the hare. It takes a while for my thoughts to fall into place so that I can try to make myself understood by others. However, being a tortoise is okay. For many years I have been assured of this by my good friend, Stuart McLean. No, I never met him, but like many Canadians I looked forward to each Sunday at noon-time when there would be another broadcast of The Vinyl Cafe. Along with many others in the nation I would learn about the gifts and contributions of ordinary people. And like many Canadians I knew Stuart was my good friend because I am an ordinary person and Stuart was a friend of ordinary people. Like many Canadians, this past Wednesday, I felt the numbness and the sorrow when I heard that my good friend, whom I would now never meet, had died.

Stuart reminded us that some of the most important people are the ordinary people. These are the people who don’t always get it right and don’t always look their best. They are the people who make us smile, they make a world of difference to us by simply being there. In some cases they do something they think is unimportant and it can turn a life around.

Stuart had the ability, in sharing his observations and stories about ordinary people to help his listeners focus on the goodness in this world. He reminded us of simple kindnesses ordinary people do for one another and he knew that our offers to comfort and to allow ourselves to be comforted were okay–they were ordinary. It is the ordinary people who get us through life and it is often the ordinary people who remind us of our worth and give us our personal excitement. These are the people we must carry in our hearts and memories. These people cannot afford naming rights and we will rarely see one of their names on a building.

Just under 24 hours after hearing of Stuart’s death there was a hastily convened press conference of the President of the United States. The current President has carefully crafted a bombastic brand that rarely offers kind words or compliments and seems so counter to all the goodness that I had been recalling as I remembered Stuart’s warmth, goodness and compliments. In fact, the only person I recall the current President complimenting is his daughter, and that was about her looks and not her personhood.

I heard him complain about the mess he had to clean up, and of course, about his favourite topic–fake news. I heard him insult and criticize. He lambasted and lampooned and his fans adored him. This manoeuvre brought the congress back into line–and the emerging GOP concerns were silenced.

The President’s name is on many buildings, golf courses, a university, and anything else for which he could pay. What an honour! Yet I wonder how people will carry him in their hearts and memories. What I wonder even more is who really contributes more to make this world a good place–the brand or the ordinary person?

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The diaper dilemma.

My friend Laura always expresses the reality of caregiving so well I don’t even try.

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In 2014 there was a heated online discussion about whether the following picture was appropriate.  In this photo we see James Lee carrying his sixteen year old son, who lives with severe disabilities, to the shower.  The image was part of a series authored by NPR exploring the demanding lives of caregivers.

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There was considerable response to the photo, including more negative responses than were expected.  So NPR published a follow-up discussion you can read via the link posted here.

I remember being generally indifferent about the picture.  This image is lived out in my home every day. Heck, we talk about poop at the dinner table.  This morning’s breakfast conversation discussed the timing of enemas.

I did, briefly, wonder if the picture was disrespectful to the Lee’s son who cannot consent to images that might be posted publicly.  But, as an extreme caregiver trying to illuminate the hidden…

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It continues and continues and continues…

Today my progeny phoned me, distraught. I heard the pain-filled voice and my heart lept. With the distance between us I was unable to offer any real comfort–except an ear–and an attempt at a calming voice. First the tears and sobs and then the anguished declaration “I have failed, again!” In the greater scheme of things this was not a life ending situation, but my mother’s heart was breaking.

Parenting is one of those jobs that continues, and continues and continues. I remember that even when I was more than a half century of age I would  turn to my father for adivce. In hindsight, I now wonder if he knew what he had signed on for when he became a parent, if he knew it would last for so many years. I can’t remember what I expected for myself at this stage of my parenting life.

I find that although I am now the parent of an adult I still want to take on those people who would dare to hurt my child–even when the pain was not intended. I also wish to embrace my child, to wipe away the tears, to cuddle, kiss and comfort; but this is not possible. And, so I listen.

Many thoughts enter my head. First, I am glad that I am not young in this day and age. I think it must be a very difficult time to be “starting out in life”.  Second, that despite the many differences, disagreements and arguments, I am still seen as a source of comfort and caring–and I confess it makes me feel good, or at least useful. Third, I am reminded, for the umpteenth time,  why there is so much difficulty for a family when parents become the vulnerable members rather than its supports. Fourth, I am amazed at how similar my child and I are–although most would take a look at the two of us and say “no way!”

We have shared some of the same experiences. I have referred to my life as being one where “I’m always good enough to make the team, but then I sit on the bench all season.” My child and I have each had a life with many blessings but also a not uncommon sense of inadequacy. We are each the type who always makes it to what is considered the upper level, but then is in last place at that level. In this very competitive world there is a constant reminder “I am in the bottom and have failed again”. It might be the bottom of the best, but it is still the bottom. In this very competitive world it is difficult to acknowledge “I have accomplished a great deal.” It is especially hard to acknowledge accomplishment when the pain is fresh.

I do my best to ackowledge the pain, tend to the fragility, and indicate the blessings–in equal parts. I hope I am right and that I have done those things in at least an adequate fashion. In any case, I have done my best. I am a mother and so I wonder.

It continues, and continues and continues….