For the Love of Play Dough

One of my favorite scriptures is in the book of Isaiah.  Yes I know how deeply profound and prophetic this book is, but nonetheless I find enormous strength in this scripture from the 10th verse of the 41st chapter.  It says “fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”  I’ve always found comfort in this scripture, but the full magnitude of it has become clear recently.

You may recall from my earlier post how I’m the girl whose parents don’t love her.  I’m not being dramatic here either.  My father and I have never met and he blames me for essentially everything horrible that has ever happened in his life.  You know, I caused his wife to leave him and his son to hate him and him to go to jail and him to…fill in the blank.  If it was bad and it happened to my father, somehow I’m to blame.  In our last conversation he said that everything about my existence has done nothing but cause him pain.  He went on to say that if I was any kind of daughter and any kind of sister I’d work to reunite a father with his son (my brother) and maybe THEN he’d (my father) be willing to meet me and his grandchildren.  What he fails to realize is my brother is just as done with him as I am, if not more.

Then there’s my mother.  Where do I even begin?

Perhaps the best place is with some of the stories she told me growing up.  First there was the one about how according to hospital records I wasn’t hers because her baby was released three days early so there must have been a switch.  There was how she got my belly button at K-Mart and if I wasn’t good she’d take me back for a refund.  Then there was how she didn’t decide to keep me till a few weeks before I was born and, as if that wasn’t enough on its own, she followed this up by saying she only kept me to spite her father who, upon discovering she was pregnant, told her to choose between her family and her “nigger baby.”  Don’t worry, my grandfather came around and I ended up being his favorite grandbaby but yes, it did start out a little tumultuous for us.

None of the childhood memories I have of my mother are pleasant.  She has betrayed my trust more times than I can remember.  Not quite three years ago I set aside every heartache and sorrow and every broken promise and shattered trust to work on building a relationship with her.  While it was better than it had been before, I still never felt like a priority to her and found our relationship leaving a lot to be desired.  Instead of being heartbroken over how difficult the relationship is, I just chose to accept it for what it was and go from there.  That worked fine enough until she betrayed me yet again a few weeks ago.

Growing up my mother always told us to never make a promise we couldn’t keep.  I trusted her that when she said “I promise” it was something she’d do (or not do or whatever).  Hearing her say “I promise” was a huge deal.  She never said it often and when she did, she stuck to it…or at least she used to.  February 11th she promised me something and broke that promise not 8 hours later.  Every prior betrayal came bubbling back to the surface and I found myself in tears for days.  While in this teary place, I posted the song Just A Little Stronger” by Sara Evans and explained that while this song is about breaking up with a man, it fit for the break up I was having with my mother.  Then this comment was made “I’ve been in your life since you were 4 years old on and off seen a lot so that being said I’m here for you now if you would like to talk call me.”

I had to call the person who left the comment.  When I did, it was honestly…excruciating.  I learned that some the images that “flashed” in my head from time to time were actually clips of memories.  All the ones that involved my mother were bad.  I learned that my mother abandoned me when I was 4 because she met a man and honestly I suspect that wasn’t the first time it happened.  You see, the person leaving the comment was one of my first babysitters.  The things she told me, the connections she helped me draw, the pain she helped me process.  It was bittersweet to say the least.  Even now, weeks later I’m not sure if I was entirely ready for the conversation.  Growing up I had always figured my mom was awful due to her addiction to bad men (that’s a blog post for a different day).  I guess my subconscious reconciled the abandonment and hurt by convincing me that she was only “that way” because of the men in her life.  Having this conversation with my babysitter told a different story.  My mom was perfectly adept at doing bad by me all on her own.

After piecing all the memories together, my babysitter told me two stories that I honestly wish I would have never know. Both involve my sisters.  When I was about 6 and my sister about 2, my mother’s neglect nearly cost me my sister.  We were living with my babysitter at the time (yes I do remember living with her) and she thought my mother had put my sister and I to bed.  I showed up at the top of her sunken living room sometime later where she reports asking me didn’t my mom put us to bed.  I told her no and that my sister was in the tub.  My babysitter reports racing to the bathroom to find my sister sitting in frigid water shivering and her lips a lovely shade of purple.  Purple is my favorite color but the lips of a 2-year-old shouldn’t be purple unless they’ve drunk grape kool-aid or eating a purple Popsicle and neither held true for my baby sis.  My babysitter and her husband yanked her out the tub and after searching for my mother found her asleep next to her drunk husband.  My mother nearly killed my sister to tend to her husband.  Not cool.  I actually have memories of her nearly killing her several other times as well.

The second story involving my sister is one that I can’t relate or even type without tears and it occurred more than 30 years ago.  Back then, there were no laws on the books against late trimester abortions and, though telling my sitter she was going to keep the baby she was pregnant with. my mom had an abortion at roughly 6 months pregnant (plus or minus a few weeks).  After lying to my babysitter about why she needed her to watch us, she proceeded to describe what my baby sister looked like in great detail after the procedure.  At that late in the pregnancy, the hospital induced labor, my sister was born, her cord cut and she struggled to breathe for several minutes before dying.  Because my mom signed papers to end her pregnancy, the hospital wouldn’t save her.  I later learned that another woman (a friend of my mom’s) had the same procedure around the same time and her baby lived for hours or days in a refrigerated room after being aborted.  I cannot in any way consider this any less than an act of murder.  My sister Stacie would be about 34 today.  Somehow I just know that she and I and my surviving sister would be best of friends.  I never met her, I didn’t even know about her (or remember my mom being pregnant with her) till many years after her death and yet, 34 years later I still miss her.  Her death at the hand of my mother is another betrayal.  Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s what it feels like nonetheless.  My babysitter informed me she was blonde and blue-eyed and I pray that I will know her or recognize her on the other side of the veil and that we will be close there since we were denied that chance here.

After processing all of this information I told my babysitter that I felt like an orphan and she said that she still considered my sister and I her girls and she loved us and I’d never be an orphan as a result.  It was then that the tide/tone of our conversation shifted and I began to realize that nearly all the happy memories I have as a child involved this babysitter and her husband somehow.  There aren’t very many that’s for sure, but the ones I do have somehow always come back to her.  While chatting on Facebook she showed me pictures of cakes that were made for birthdays for my sister and I, pictures of me as a child and informed me that after the bathtub incident she prayed every night that we would be protected.  She likely asked God to do just what He says he will in that scripture I started the blog out with…to strengthen us and to be with us.  And, while her prayers didn’t prevent all the heartache that we endured, I choose to believe that those prayers are what kept us from having it much worse.  Sure our experiences were rotten, but that rotten experience has had no power to permanently alter our course.  We have become great women and even greater moms despite the bad example our own mother provided.  Both my sister and I have deep personal relationships with God and we trust Him because His grace is always sufficient.

Though I’ve never had parents who loved and adored me, God has more than made up for that by putting countless people in my life who love me and “Mawee” (as my sister called her) the babysitter is one of those people.  As I’ve struggled and plead with Heavenly Father to remember childhood, often pleasant memories have her in it.  She and her husband were both very good to me.  Sadly I spent the majority of my life without her though because my mom took us away when she realized how close to her we’d become.  Nonetheless, in the brief time Mawee (pronounced Maw eeee) was in my life she showed me love.  The memories were often stuck in my subconscious mind but I choose to believe that her love, couple with that of my Great Uncle Ike and a few others was the driving force to help me beat the odds and turn out OK in spite of my mother.

What do I remember about Mawee?  I remember her in the kitchen cooking and me having a miniature Tupperware set “cooking” right alongside her.  I have a very vivid memory of sitting at her kitchen table coloring with her.  No words were exchanged she we just colored and colored.  It seems we could sit at the table with color-books and crayons or plain paper and crayons and waste away an entire day or two or 5. I remember my artwork being pasted all over her refrigerator too.  She loved me and she was proud of me.  I think she was even the one who taught me how to first write my name.

It didn’t just end there though.  I remember once while visiting her she heard me say I wanted to learn to crochet so she went and grabbed a hook and some yarn.  It was a plastic pink crochet hook and mint green yarn. I don’t remember the actual “learning process,” but I do remember making a mint green chain the length of her living room lol.  She only taught me how to do the basic chain stitch, but it was a building block for future learning.  After being taught to crochet and getting the basic chain stitch mastered, she played a game called WaterWorks with her husband and I.

I remember Mawee and her husband coming to school with me to have lunch and I remember her husband reading to me.  In fact, they gave me a book called Holly Hobbie’s Nursery Rhymes for my 5th birthday and I still have it. I remember her always ensuring we felt loved, but my favorite memory of Mawee though is all about play dough. She would make her own dough and used kool-aid to color it.  Coloring the dough by kneading the kool-aid into it was my job.  I remember this vividly because it stained my hands and because there was oil in the play dough recipe, I could leave my kool-aid stained hand-prints on anything.  I remember “stamping” them on paper that was later displayed proudly on their fridge.  I sincerely wish some of the artwork we created together would have been saved.  It didn’t end here though.  Once we got the dough colored, she would play with me.  I remember having the play dough barber shop set and we’d take turns cutting hair over and over in various colors.  We made and “ate” play dough cookies and cakes and I rolled and rolled and rolled balls of it to make the worlds longest fake snake/earthworm and on and on.  I’ve honestly never known a grown up who was so invested in play than Mawee was.

Of all the things she taught me though, the most important one may well be to believe in God.  Until recently I had never been able to place where that deep-seated belief came from because my mom isn’t very religious, nor is anyone else in my family of origin.  I remember Mawee praying with me, I remember her teaching me to bow my head and fold my hands ad I remember seeing her read her bible.  Because she loves God the way that she does, it was easy for her to open her heart up to us and do unto the “least of these” like the Bible says to.

You see, when she started babysitting us, Mawee had no kids of her own.  She loved us as if we were hers though.  In fact, she tells of times where my mom would pick us up to take us home and we’d cry and cry.  We were close to her because she was willing to invest in us.  Her investment was likely viewed as a threat though and eventually my mom took us away and didn’t bring us back.  I don’t remember how old I was when my mom took us away for good, but thanks to Facebook, Mawee and I were able to reunite a few years ago and just like she did all those years ago, she continues to make me feel loved.  In fact, my baby sister has little to no recollection of her and yet Mawee tells me all the time (daily almost) how much love she has for my sister and I and how proud of us she is.

Recently she told me how much regret she’s carried for not keeping us to trying to keep us when my mom abandoned us for 10 days 35 years ago.  She said she often wonders what she could have spared us if she’d have just fought to keep us.  I submit to you that by praying for us every day, she DID fight to keep us.  I choose to believe that because of Mawee’s prayers for us over the years, our difficult situation was not any worse (and it could have been).  I choose to believe that because of Mawee’s prayers, God looked after us a little more than He might have otherwise.   When her third granddaughter was born, she had a prominent dimple in her right cheek just like me and of that Mawee says “when she was born that’s all I could think of was you…see maybe that was a sign from God that you were OK didn’t think about that till now.”  While we weren’t spared some monstrous circumstances, we were nonetheless spared.  Kids with childhoods like mine and my sister’s don’t always make it out alive let alone turn out as good as we have.

In a recent Facebook conversation Mawee said, “this is what I have protected for many years” and proceeded to show me pictures of me as a child and pictures of a cake for either my sister or I’s birthday.  This brings me back to that scripture…He says He will strengthen and help us and I choose to believe that the way Mawee loved my sister and I was nothing short of an act of God.  An act that has kept me strengthened and helped over the years far beyond my ability to comprehend it.  And so, though I have no warm regard or memories of my mother, I feel incredibly blessed that He saw fit to grace my life with women like Mawee who, has told me repeatedly I needn’t feel like an orphan because I have her.

It amazes me honestly how something so little can often mean so much.  I only got to meet Mawee because my godmother was friends with both my mom and Mawee’s husband.  She suggested or mentioned to my mom that Mawee might be willing to babysit and the rest is history.  I don’t remember my godmother.  She’s been deceased now for nearly 10 years and yet I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her.  I got Mawee because of her and having Mawee then and now has made all the difference.

I am especially grateful to my beloved Heavenly Father for giving me exactly what I needed when my parents refused to be anything I needed.  Thank you Mawee for loving me and giving me so many of the happy memories I do have.  Childhood is barely worth remembering, but thanks in large part to you and your husband it’s not a total wash.  I think we should get together and make some more play dough (kool-aid colorants and all) just for old time’s sake.  I love you and will never be able to thank you enough for loving me just because you could.

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Just One

There’s this book called “Dorie:  The Girl Nobody Loved” and I can totally relate only my title might be “Faith:  The Girl Parents Don’t Love.”  I have jokingly said for years that my childhood is that period between birth and having my first child that I’d really like to forget.  Most of it I thought I had forgotten actually, but recently some repressed memories were brought to the forefront of my mind and confirmed by a few people who have known me since pretty much ever.  As I’ve pondered and prayed and healed I’ve come to the realization that the people who should have loved me never did and I’m not convinced even now, after nearly 40 years they do presently.

Despite the failures of my Earthly parents though, I’ve learned who I am as a daughter of God and He loves me beyond words.  Because of His great love for me, he has more than made up for the lack in my life and I’ve been able to overcome some really wretched experiences as a result.  Sometimes all it takes is just one.  One person, one thought, one moment, one smile, one hug…just one.

While I’ve been blessed by more than just one person or experience in my life, I’m not sure I’ve ever taken the time to write how one man’s efforts during sporadic visits to his home-made a huge difference in my life as a child and now an adult.  His name was Ike and he was one of the first people in my life that I KNEW loved me.  I’m honestly can’t remember him ever telling me he did but he behaved in such a way that leaves me 150% certain of the fact that he did.  Now, some 25+ years since his passing knowing he loved me is likely one of the things that got me through some of the dark days I’ve seen, even if I wasn’t conscious of this fact at the time.

Uncle Ike was my Great Uncle and a great uncle both.  When I was a child he lived in Medford, Oregon and though I didn’t see him too many times before his death, I remember him as vividly as I do fondly.  He used to work on the Alaska pipeline and I’m thinking I came along after he had long since retired.  On the floor of his home there was a white wolf skin rug.  Until a few years ago I always thought it was a bear.  I remember him sitting on the wolf’s head with me in his arms and being a captive listener while he told me a story about how that wolf became a rug on his floor.  It’s funny how the brain works…I don’t remember any of those stories now and I always fell asleep before he could get to the end of telling one, but I DO remember having the experience.  The memory is vivid in my mind.  I miss those stories and wish I could remember them.

My Great Uncle Ike also had a shop of some sorts on his property.  It was not  uncommon for me to be found underfoot while he worked in the shop.  I remember this stick he had.  I’m not sure if it was a yard stick or a drumstick or a tree branch or what.  I only know that it was colorful and magical and our experiences with this stick are firmly etched in the deepest recesses of my mind.  You see, each color of paint on the stick did something different.  Each color was magical and I could with Uncle Ike’s assistance we’d point the stick, call out the color and magically be transported or transformed into who knows what I don’t even remember; 25 years is a long time and my memory isn’t what it used to be.  I remember the house vividly, I remember the shop being “up the hill” a bit from the house and I remember how the shop was laid out.  The details of what the paint colors were or what magical power they possessed are immaterial.  These childhood games and stories serve to solidify two simple truths; I mattered to Great Uncle Ike, he loved me.

Another game we played was likely the precursor to the now popular game of Jenga (dang it we should have patented the idea).  Only instead of playing with wooden blocks, we’d play with sugar cubes and just when I was ready to stack the last cube on the top of the wobbling tower, Uncle Ike would “accidentally” knock it down and we’d laugh and build all over again.  I remember him smiling at me when he caught me stuffing a cube in my mouth from time to time too.  I can still remember exactly where in his house this kitchen table was that we’d play at and where we’d sit while playing.  Near the table was a display case full of all kinds of trinkets and collectibles and I’d love to look at them and imagine the world they came from.  I remember Uncle Ike telling me stories about his trinket acquisitions as well.

I remember a door at the back of their kitchen.  I’m not sure if it was the “main entrance” to their house or not but I remember if you were inside the house and heading out the door there was a picnic table in the yard to the right.  Uncle Ike and Aunt Betty had beanbag ashtrays.  Kinda like this:

I don’t remember if Uncle Ike smoked or not but I remember him turning these ashtrays into toys for me.  He’d pull the “tray” part off the bean bag and I could play and play and play with that thing; seemingly without getting bored very fast and everything.  Uncle Ike; just thinking his name can bring tears.  He and my Great Aunt Betty’s house was always so full of adventure and mystery.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a good experience there.  There’s a line in the song “That Home” by Newsboys that says “In that home we knew we were safe to be young enough to dream, find the faith to believe and in that home, love, it had no end” and this is exactly how I’d describe Great Uncle Ike and Great Aunt Betty’s home.  In that home I was free to wander and explore, I was free to make-believe and play.  I was free to dream and discover and make mistakes and learn and grow.  In that home I was loved.

My dearest Great Uncle Ike likely never could have imagined what a profound impact all of those small gestures would have on a girl such as I. So few of the memories I have from childhood are happy and I am so grateful to have been so loved by my Uncle that every memory I have of him is a happy one.  Even when he got Alzheimer’s and we couldn’t play like we used to, I still knew he loved me.  Sometimes, oftentimes actually, growing up it felt like no one did and then I stop and remember the greatness that was my Great Uncle Ike.

A Beautiful Reminder

As a mom and scrapbooker, I’ve always taken tons of photos.  I’ve bought new cameras only when I’ve outgrown my current one and two years I bought my first DSLR.  It became clear pretty quickly that photography was something I was pretty good at and I decided to enter the 2013 fair.  That was a crazy nervous experience let me tell you.  At any rate, each image I entered received recognition, including a first place award for a picture I took of the Hawthorne Bridge at night.  Here’s that image:

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This bridge picture was blow up to about 16 x 20 and is framed in my living room and two years later I’m just as proud of it now as I was when I shot it.  In fact, I can’t wait to have a car again so I can go back and try other night shots now that I’ve learned so much more about this incredible challenging and rewarding art form that is photography.

A few months ago I decided I was done trying to pursue photography as a business.  I wasn’t making any money, I wasn’t having any fun anymore, and I hadn’t shot much of anything anyway so it didn’t matter.  Because of the chronic pain I live with, Winter did me in and I got severely behind on edits.  This past week or two I sat down to start finishing them up and wrapped up edits for the one of my seniors and came across images like this:

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She’s just stunning isn’t she?  The better news is she’s as amazing inside as she is beautiful outside.  Her parents are quite proud of her I’m sure.  I barely know her and I’m proud of her so…

As I sat there wrapping up these edits I remembered the session in which they were shot.  I remember the laughter, the fun, the silly faces caught on camera (I promise I won’t post them kiddo) and most importantly, how insanely happy I was while shooting.  Once her session was finished, it was a bittersweet experience for me.  On one hand I was relieved, on the other sad over the realization that I had shelved something I was pretty good at; something that has always made me very happy despite my skill set.  These images served as a beautiful reminder to me and I am shooting again…paid or not.