Monday, February 2, 2015

Naseem

On January 13th, Omar's father passed away after a brief illness. We just completed all the things that come after: the obituary, the phone calls, the planning, the funeral and a celebration of his life with stories, memories and photos that spanned his life. I spoke at the celebration. Here is a copy:

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When you sit down to try to write something deep and profound, something to encompass the breadth and enormity of who Naseem was and what he accomplished in his 82 years with us, words tend to disappear from you head. The thoughts that flow in and out when you are falling asleep or waking up seem to dissolve, to seize up, when you stare at that terribly frightening and powerful blank white page. But the words that kept rattling around in my head were the few that Omar said to me in those first, paralyzed 24 hours after Naseem died. He said “Becca, how great that there was nothing left unsaid.” And he was so right. Though Naseem is gone from us much sooner than any of us thought he would, we don’t feel like we missed our chance. We aren’t saying “Oh, if I only had one more day to tell him…” And I realized that deep and profound words aren’t the one’s that need to be shared today, but instead, it’s the most basic of words, the ones we said to each other all the time.

I love you.

In the crazy of our lives – the kids, the dog, the noise and the bustle, the homework, the sports, the sleepovers – what we said as we shuffled out the door as cold air wrapped it’s unwelcome and uncomfortable fingers around Naseem, was “Love you, Pop,” and he would wave and said, “Okay, guys. Love you, too.” And it was sometimes muffled, sometimes shouted, and other times lost in the chatter of so many little voices. But, we are so unbelievably fortunate that we didn’t need to say more than that. We didn’t need more words, or grander words, because we knew – he knew – the enormity of what those few little words held.

When Omar said, “Love you, pop,” Naseem knew what Omar meant. He meant:

Thank you for believing in me, even I don’t even believe in myself.
Thank you, dad, supporting my dream, my family, my mom, no matter what.
He meant, You are my example and my hero, in business, in family and in just the decent way you treat every person that enters your life.
He meant “Dad, I will always put up with 100 of your suggestions, because 3 or 4 of them turn out okay.”

And when Naseem said “I love you, biddy,” to Omar, we knew what he was saying. He was saying:

I’m so proud of you.
Thank you for continuing this crazy American Dream journey with me.
Omar, You bring me joy
I wish you were better at Engineering, but that’s okay. I’m over it.
  
And when I said, “Love you, Naseem,” he knew I meant:
Thank you for raising my knight in shining armor.
For being a roll model of a life lived with grace, forgiveness and kindness.
He knew I meant "Thank you for fiercely loving your wife, a domino effect of love that I benefit from every single day."
And he knew I meant "I will teach the boys how to mow the grass at the cabin in perfectly straight lines, just the way you showed me."
 
And when my kids roll down their windows as we drive away from their home and screech “BYE OMI! BYE BABA!!!” he knew they’re saying:

We know we are always welcome here.
We know we are safe and loved inside of your four walls.
He knew they were saying "Thank you for making us Boston tea and toast with jam that never tastes as good in any other kitchen."
Thanks for your amazing BlueRay, 9000 inch TV screen that Omi can’t turn on. (Truly, he might as well have taken it with him)

And as he waved out the door to our boys, he didn’t need to say anything. We all knew his thoughts to our kiddos. He was thinking:

Keep going.
Study hard, work hard and make your own dreams come true.
Carry me forward. Take me on your own journeys, wherever they may take you.
Because I will always be there, in your heart, wherever you go.

There is no better sign of a life well lived that this room full of tears and laughter.

Naseem, We loved your easy laugh. We loved your beautiful smile. We loved your ability to see the good in anything and anyone. And we mean all of that, every time we say

We love you, pop.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Job of Writing

This past weekend I attended my first writer's conference. Janna and I packed our bags, and after a woefully prolonged journey to NYC, we arrived to our hotel 13 hours late before collapsing into our beds. At 7AM, we picked up our Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators name badges and hit the first of a series of lectures and break-out sessions.

There were a few things that I heard for the first time, but much of it was information I already knew. Story structure, plotting, the importance of characters over plot to carry a story, the fact that we all "fail" many, many times in the process of producing successful work. But for some reason, there were many things in this list that felt refreshingly new to my mind. Maybe it was just the enthusiasm of the speakers, or the vibe of being surrounded by people who are chasing (and catching!) this same dream. Maybe it was the fact that sometimes you just have to listen to something over and over again to  hear it for the first time. Whatever it was, I feel like this process now has a brighter outlook and a bit of a new beginning.

This thing "Writing" is a job and an art. It takes time, patience and crafting. I need to give it the full dedication any job deserves - preserved, scheduled and uninterrupted time. My calendar will now reflect this. No more writing whenever I can fit it in. My Writer's Habit starts today, and that alone fills me with excitement. I will also cut myself slack, knowing that many days I will produce text that will never be seen by anyone but me. There will be garbage. There will be total junk. But there will be good stuff. Hopefully really good stuff. Stephen King says you have to unearth a story like an archeological dig. Kate Messner says you have to throw a lot of pots to learn how to make one good one.

Let's get to work...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shotgun

I have frequently been surprised at how hard it is to place people when you run into them in an unfamiliar setting. When I am rummaging through my mental Roladex, I am also trying to place a person in the right physical space: are you college, med school, residency, North Memorial, Meadowbrook, Breck, Surly, or the dreaded no-man's-land of "other"....? Given that I am not the best at remembering people to start with, taking someone out of their normal context can completely flummox me. A place for each person, and each person in their place.

Context and place have importance. I want to know which "me" do you know. Was I your doctor, your peer, your friend, your teacher, or the woman running your kid's play date? Not that I am a radically different person for these scenarios, but I can't say I'm completely the same either.

Last night, it became clear to me that place itself holds power. Up to this point in life, the passenger seat of my car has been occupied exclusively by adults. Those over 18 have ventured back to the Chex-Mix, water bottle and Big Nate strewn booster seats of my minivan, at their own peril, but the boys have never ventured forth. The front seat is, by definition, an adult space.

Until now.

Mr. Max, being a somewhat freakishly tall 11-year-old, is officially tall enough to take that long-yearned-for shotgun seat, morphing us from chauffeur position to buddy position. Road trip position. Long hours of chatting position. And I found it morphed not only our physical space, but our mental space as well. We talked differently. I wasn't lobbing questions to the bowels of the back over the din of pop radio and 4-boy chatter. Instead, we were just talking, not only about his day, but mine as well. Talking more fluidly and at ease. Talking equally.

When we hit the house, not surprisingly, it was back to business as usual. Back to the loud banter of our lives and our home. I was the one barking about the need for PJ's and tooth brushing, asking again if anyone was ever going to feed the fish, wondering how so many clothes could be on the floor in one 24-hour period. Back to being Mom. Max back to being Kid. Because that is what we do in that place. Those are our roles on that stage.

But it makes me want to drive a little slower and take the side roads next time he's in the car. Turn down the radio, and eventually roll down the windows. Though I yearn for him to stay a child, this window into the young man he is becoming is even more enticing. This new place, with it's different rules, is a place in which I look forward to many hours together. Road tripping, right here in town.

Friday, December 6, 2013

My time now

As may of you know, I left my job in June. I haven't really said much about it here, on twitter or on Facebook. I have kept a pretty low profile about the whole thing - despite it being an unavoidable topic of conversation - largely because of the decadence of it all. It's announcing to the whole world that I walked away not only from years of training but also a doctor's salary. Surly's success has allowed this reality, but it still feels weird to display something that is usually considered private in such a public way. Friends here in Mpls ask me "How's retirement?" and it feels very odd if not downright embarrassing. Who retires when they are 41? I'm not retired.

But I am also not going to work.

I'm writing. I'm cooking. I'm spending time with my parents. I'm seeing friends more. I'm getting kids on and off the bus. I'm trying to take care of my body. I'm sleeping like a normal person. I'm taking trips with my family on weekends. I'm helping with homework. I'm present.

Decadent indeed.

There are the many colleagues who were deeply worried about my identity. How could I wake up each morning knowing I wasn't heading to the hospital? Well, I am here to let all of the worriers know that my identity is doing just fine! In fact, I'm surprised by how little I miss my doctor life. Sure, I miss the great saves and the mystery illnesses whose diagnosis unfurls themselves with a little work. That's why I went into the job in the first place. But let's be honest. That was a pretty small percentage of what I did day in and day out. I do miss the comradery of my many lovely partners, but I find dinner and lunch dates make up for that quite well.

Most importantly, the time I have with the boys (though maddening at times) is, without question, the best gift I have ever received. Max was chosen to perform in front of the whole 5th grade last month, and I was there. I didn't have to explain to him why mom couldn't see him. I am reading to Spencer's class today, and still have a chance to write, exercise and meet friends for dinner.

Were things different, I would still report to the hospital for every shift, smile on my face, ready to ride that horse into the real retirement sunset. That is the life I happily signed up for. But, I am the incredibly lucky gal who gets to see what else life has in store for me. And I'm pretty excited to see where that horse takes me.

Friday, November 8, 2013

First Born

My eldest might be the most earnest person I have ever met. His genuine concern for the well-being of others, specifically his brothers (when he isn't telling them to kindly go away), goes beyond his years. I am pretty sure I don't care that much about people... actually, I'm quite certain of it. This is a quality that is deeply IN him, not learned. He once told me I wasn't greeting the dog in a kind enough tone.

So, this morning, he asks if we can talk, "alone." This is also part of his earnestness. Someone, someday, will love having found a boy that actually likes the phrase "We need to talk." It turns out he is pretty worried about Leo. Apparently, in a story Max was reading to said 5-year-old yesterday, somehow someone asserted one of the silly characters was drunk. (No, I don't know what children's book they were reading, but I clearly should find out). Leo, always happy to jump into whatever his brothers are doing or saying, comprehending or not, then said "They are all drunk!" I am sure this was followed by him looking from brother to brother to see if he had made them chuckle.

Max is very worried about this. He feels it isn't appropriate that a 5-year-old is making jokes about such a serious matter. It should be said, with our family's unavoidable steeping in the beer culture, I have tried to be very straight forward about the goods and bads of alcohol - the moderation vs excess concept. In doing so, I have somehow mistakenly given Max the impression that drunk people are to be deeply feared and avoided. I think any mother would argue this isn't a terrible misunderstanding, one that could actually work in our favor, but it is a little over the top.

I tried to explain to Max that Leo really has no idea what he is talking about. He was saying a joke thinking it would make his brothers laugh. He wasn't buying it. He said he's concerned that Leo is going to grow up faster than he should, being the youngest, and that he and the twins are to blame.

I mean, really? What 11-year-old says such things? I assuaged him as best I could, but he went to school still concerned.

I guess I should cross "Buy Leo cigarettes" off of my To Do list...


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Taking turns

It seems, of late, that the children have a well orchestrated schedule worked out. They fake not knowing the time, the date or the flow of a day because the clearly know how to tag-team pushing me to my limits these days with swiss-watch-like precision.

It goes from whining to not finishing homework, to starting eating without sitting down, to standing up during every meal, to leaving a needed book at school, to forgetting the math on the table, to interrupting every word that comes out of my mouth, to glad-handling your brother's body because he won't give you some worthless piece of plastic that you've had NO interest in for the past 4 years, to refusing to take the time to poop properly, to peppering me with the never ending Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom, to leaving the door open (again), to leaving your new game where the dog chomps it to bits, to not drinking your milk (again), to leaving clothes all over the damn place, to having no idea where your sports gear is, to leaving that sports gear all over the greater Minneapolis area, to intentionally bugging your brother, to leaving your dishes at the table (again), and for the curtain call, acting like a victim of child abuse when I get upset about ANY of the above.

It's been a bit of a rough week.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Answers

Much to my husbands frequent chagrin, there are very few questions posed by my kids that I will not answer. I figure it's better they get the straight dope from me that some awkward 8-11year old version elsewhere.

While single-parenting last night, the kids asked if I would read them from "The Book of Lists," their new favorite way to pass time. This book has a wide variety of lists, from Top Ten Unsolved Murders to Top Ten Unusual Uses for Beer, and everything in between. They chose Top Ten Frivolous Lawsuits as our first list last night.

One of the lawsuits involved a woman suing Victoria's Secret (explain what that is) for injury to her eye when the thong she was trying on snapped. This, of course, required explaining what a thong is. Now, if Omar was in this situation, he would simply say it's a pair of underwear. 'Nuf said. But, we all know, that's not really answering their question.

The looks on their faces when I described the construction and positioning of a thong was completely worth the effort I put into it. Horror and frank disbelief. "Why would anyone do that???" This inevitably led to a discussion of what a panty line is. Again, horror, embarrassment and copious giggling.

They are now pretty sure Victoria's Secret is a purveyor of disgusting, bizarre, undesirable items.

Mission accomplished.