Sarah R. Callender

Crow

In Parenting on May 8, 2014 at 6:24 am

An Open Letter to the Mother Crow That Attacked My Head Last Spring

Dear Ms. Crow,

Let me start by saying that I hope you and your family have had a blissful year. I am sure you have enjoyed the magnolia and cherry and lilac blossoms in this neighborhood, the neighborhood our two families happen to share. Though I suppose I should ask: Do pastel-hued flower blossoms (lacking the shiny, silvery hue of hair barrettes and orthodontia), hold a crow’s attention? I suppose it could be mere myth that crows are attracted to that which sparkles and glints in sunshine. After all, I was wearing nothing shiny–neither bling, nor barrettes, nor braces–on the day of The Attack.

Speaking of, do you recall the events of that May afternoon? It was 3:20 p.m. on a Thursday. I was hurrying north on 50th, between 68th and 70th, wearing my raspberry-red Eddie Bauer jacket, likely rushed because I am often late to collect my child from school. I remember the next details quite clearly: there you were, black feathers on a black telephone wire, and I smiled, making eye contact. Poor crow, I thought. I bet no one takes the time to smile at you. To really see you. To look past your symbolic-of-death exterior and understand that you, on the inside, are a living creature. Just as I am. 

Unfortunately, thirty seconds after I smiled at you, you attacked my head.

It being late May, I can only assume you were guarding your fledglings. Fine. It was perhaps my imposing height and immense biceps that suggested I was a serious threat. Never mind; that was sarcasm. You, clearly a good mother, simply wanted to protect your children. Plus, I would later learn (in post-Attack crow internet research) that your species views thoughtful, compassionate eye contact as a threat. I had no idea! Please know I was simply trying to brighten your day, not threaten your family.

To make matters worse, I now realize you were just a few weeks postpartum, and while I don’t presume to know anything about crow mothers, if your first weeks of motherhood were anything like my own, I understand why you found yourself attacking the innocent head of another.

You see? We two are not so dissimilar. In fact, other than the black feathers, talons, sharp beak and nasty CAW CAW thing you do that, especially after The Attack, makes my stomach knot up, we are exactly alike.

I, like you, have children whom I would protect to the death.

You don’t believe me? Just a few weeks ago, a little girl made fun of my daughter’s cheek mole. This little girl made a mean-voiced comment about the mole, then went further, commenting on the three hairs that poke from the mole. Worse, she did this in front of several other girls. The moment my daughter mentioned this story to me, I felt my face flush. My jaw tightened. My pulse raced. I had to fight every instinct not to fly over to that twerp’s house and snap her in two.

Why didn’t I? For starters, in the Human World there are laws that prohibit mothers from busting down the door of a little girl and snapping her in two. Plus, her mother scares me. Her mother’s friends scare me too. They all make me feel like I am right back in middle school. Do crows have middle school?

Anyway. There have been numerous other events where I have wanted to take down someone who messed with my child. The school principal. The boy who pushed my daughter off the bleachers. The former-friend who said my child, “was a little freaky.”

I know you understand my desire to protect my child from cruelty, because that’s what you were doing when you flew into my head, thwacking me with your God-only-knows-where-those-feathers-have-been wing.  We mothers love our babies in ways that are neither rational nor fully healthy. And that love, sometimes, makes us attempt (or at least consider) acts of violence.

Mrs. Crow, you are smart enough to read this letter. You are smart enough to make tools that help you do stuff. You are, apparently, smart enough to do science experiments.

crow scientist

Here you are, Sept. ’12, measuring scientific chemicals. I assume these days you work part-time for NASA.

I know you are smart enough to know that I am genuinely remorseful, that I am truly sorry I engaged in pre-Attack eye contact.

I am sorry that I scared you on that day, that somehow you thought I was tall enough to pluck your babies from that 100-foot pine tree. I might steal my friend, Steph’s, French bulldog puppy in the next week or so, but I can assure you, I would never steal a baby crow. Ick. Yuck.

I am sorry for the way I disparaged you, post-Attack, and felt the need to wash my hair three times, scrubbing really hard each time, in order to “get the crow out.”

I hope you can accept my apologies.

I also know you are smart enough to, even one year later, remember my face. Hence the reason for my letter. Soon, your 2014 babies will hatch, and while I no longer feel safe walking my former route to pick up my daughter at school, while I now look down at my feet whenever I hear the screech of you overhead, black-feathered tightrope walkers, I know late May through early June is a time where you might feel, for lack of a better word, a little looneytuney if someone walks in the vicinity of your fledglings.

I propose that we come to a simple understanding: I swear I will not bother your babies if you swear you will not divebomb me or any members of my family, including my mother, whom you have apparently made uncomfortable with your too-close flybys. I assume you see my face in hers, being that your kind is so “good with faces.” See? You are smart enough to engage in Mafia-esque terror tactics, knowing that the best way to get to me is by getting to my loved ones. Donna Crowleone.

But I hope we have a deal. I also hope that we can be, well, not friends per se, but that maybe we can coexist in harmony, two mothers in the same hood, women who respect the other’s passionate love for her children.

Feel free to respond via email or text or carrier pigeon as I eagerly anticipate your response. Regardless, I wish you all the best and trust you will have a lovely Seattle summer with your children. Perhaps I will see you at Zoo Tunes or a Mariners game. If you are not aware, the Mariners are miraculously (at the moment) over .500, and the stadium’s not far from our homes, at least as the crow flies.

Sincerely,

A Seattle Mother

 

Me Too

In Faith on March 23, 2014 at 7:28 am

The other day, I wet my pants a little during a class at the gym.

I was doing jumping jacks, nothing fancy, and I wished my friend Steph was there because I always like to tell her when I wet my pants a little at the gym.

But Steph was probably off selling a house or listing a house or maybe eating cheese dip from a jar and cracking herself up with cheese & chip jokes. (“I’m nacho friend anymore!” “Please? Can’t we taco ‘bout it?”)

When I glanced around at others in the class, yet found no one in whom I could confide, I kept jumping-jacking, still wetting just a tiny bit with each landing. And laughing. While it’s not great to be at the point in life where I wet my pants a little, it is wonderful to be at the point where I can laugh at my gym-related incontinence.

Hold on. Did I just share too much?

Because I’ve been thinking about why we share what we share. Why my generation shares far more than my parents’ generation and far less than Generation Tee-Ball Trophy.

While there is, absolutely, the reality of TMI (I was recently privy to the sharing of someone’s stool sample story), I believe sharing one’s stories and foibles does good things. Sharing leads to understanding and understanding leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to cookies. I mean, connection. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing whilst residing on this big blue marble? Connecting, tethering, weaving?

connection

But my sharing about pants-wetting might not be any more acceptable than someone else sharing about stool samples. In fact, in Steph’s absence, I once tossed out a casual, “Wow. These jumping jacks sure make me pee!”

I shared because I thought it was funny, but in return I received only an uncomfortable, slightly-scared expression from the lady within earshot. That’s a lonely-making interaction, and that is the risk of sharing: I end up feeling less connected, tethered, woven than I felt before.

For some reason, though, I press on, I think because there’s always the hope I might hear these words: Yeah? Me too.

As in, Really? You feel that way? Me too!

Each time one of you stops me in the halls at my kids’ schools or writes me a little note on Facebook, about how you, too, went an entire day wearing inside-out underpants, I laugh with you. When we laugh together, we feel less alone and freakish, and when we feel less alone and freakish, we suddenly feel free to eat cookies. I mean, we feel free to connect with another someone.

Me too. Look at those two little words on a page, and they seem as breezy and inconsequential as a gnat’s sneeze. But those words are not gnat sneezes. Hear them after you share yourself with someone? Those little sneezey words have the volume and velocity to wipe out acres and oceans of loneliness and disconnection.

Me too!

You, too? Oh! Gesundheit. Salúd! Bless you.

I have been thinking about the line between being honest and being gross, when–wonder of wonders–the pastor at my church gave a sermon about being authentic, about how we humans spend a whole lot of time and energy wondering of one another, Are you one of us?

Not “Are you Christian?” or “Are you cool?” or “Are you liberal/straight/Irish/a Seahawks fan/someone who practices her dance moves when she’s home alone?”

But this: Do you also feel scared of failing? Do you ever feel stupid for trying to be an author? Do you ever wish you could go back and redo moments or days or years during which you didn’t behave well? Is your marriage also difficult at times? Do you sometimes wet your pants during jumping jacks? Do you feel sad and scared and hopeless sometimes, just like I do?

In other words, Are you easily-breakable, longing for connection, hopeful at the core? Are you human, just like I am?

Yeah. Me too. 

Here’s the rub. While we’re a society starving for connection, it’s scary to be authentic. It can also be uncomfortable to experience someone else’s authenticity. When I share personal details about mental health or parenting or God or marriage, it makes some people uncomfortable. When I hear about someone’s stool samples, it makes me uncomfortable.

But maybe we shouldn’t be so dang uncomfortable with discomfort. Maybe discomfort wakes us up, shakes us from our numbness, helps us understand that we do have something in common with someone who shares his stool sample stories. Because you know what? He’s not really sharing a story about his poop. He is sharing the story of waiting for test results that could have turned up something scary.

Oh. You’ve been worried about medical test results? Me too. 

I was doing a little research about being authentic, partly, I admit, because I do worry about how my sharing turns people off. I suppose I was looking for some kind of modern day Emily Post thing regarding what I should and should not share. Something like this:

Pants-wetting admission is acceptable in a blog post or private conversation, as is the fleeting mention of one’s stool sample. However, take care not to go into unnecessary detail about stool. Furthermore, take caution! Do not, in any venue or under any circumstances, discuss mental illness or Jesus, lest your audience assume you are crazy and/or intolerant.

I didn’t find an Authenticity Handbook, but my research reminded me of this fact: statistically, 10% of all people on this planet will not like me. No matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how much I reveal or don’t reveal about my incontinence, no matter how many cookies I hand out, 10% of the seven billion people on this planet will not ever like me.

That, my friends, is a number that starts with “7” and has a lot of zeros.

But there is freedom in those zeros. If all of those zeros aren’t going to want to connect with me, I can spend time and energy focusing on the people with whom connection is more likely. That’s a pretty big number too.

I was also reminded of Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability. While she doesn’t have a tidy list of Share This But Don’t Share That guidelines, Dr. Brown’s research proves that if I want good stuff in my life, I must share my heart. I must share the important parts of my story. The stuff that illustrates my humanness. Even if the person’s reaction is an uncomfortable, slightly-scared expression.

Yes, that’s right. Sharing my heart requires the willingness to be vulnerable, and the willingness to be vulnerable means there’s a chance I’ll be mocked or uninvited to social events, and sharing something in the face of potential mockery and social alienation requires cookies. I mean courage. Heaps of it.

But when we are willing to be vulnerable? In Brene Brown’s words, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of  joy, creativity, belonging, love.”

Yes. I’ll have a triple helping of all of that.

Consider the power of seven billion Me too’s. Seven billion gnat sneezes. Imagine what all that Me Too-ing would do in the world’s messiest places:  Syria. South Sudan. The Senate. Seattle. The church. My closet. My heart. 

So many sneezes. So many reasons to say Bless you. Bless you. Bless you.

one of us

Photos compliments of Flickr’s Bobbi Newman and Sharon West.

Membrane

In Faith on September 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm

fragileThere’s an older man who lives not far from me. His neglected home is barely visible behind drooping trees and overbearing bushes. And his car, surprisingly new-looking, shiny and clean on the outside, is stuffed to the ceiling with newspapers, boxes, bags full of what-I-do-not-know, empty food containers, sweaters and coats, shoes, books, piles of papers, empty plastic bags . . . the driver’s seat is the only place where stuff and junk are not piled high. Sometimes, I see the man in the driver’s seat, just sitting, just staring, his car parked a little catawampus so the left tail light could be easily nicked by a UPS truck or a Metro bus.

It makes me uncomfortable, this man’s car. I didn’t understand exactly why until the other day, when I was thinking about life’s fragility. I passed his car, and I wondered if maybe he thinks about the fragility of life, too. Maybe he copes with it by cramming his car full of things he doesn’t really need. Maybe his car (and probably an equally full home) help soothe and calm him.

I would understand that. Life and relationships and people are all so easily shattered or squashed. Two women in my community lost their husbands recently, one to brain cancer, the other to a massive stroke. One was 39, the other was 41. In my Bible study circle, women have lost husbands, some without any warning at all. Two friends, both who have been battling cancer for years, both acknowledge that some day, cancer will end their life.

Beyond death and illness, so much of what I see appears fragile: Sweetie’s social connections seem rock solid one day and built on sinking sand the next. Relationships and marriages that seemed unbreakable, end without much warning. And homeless people in our city, I see them holding their Please Help signs, and I imagine they once held a solid job, that they have a college education, that they were just slapped with too much bad luck. They remind me that no matter how many safety nets we construct, we all live a life far more fragile than we want to admit or accept.

But! Two things keep me from crumbling. Were it not for my trust in the goodness of God, I might forbid my children to ever leave the safety of our home. I might not follow dreams of being an author. I might not get married or invest too much in friendships that could, in the end, unravel.

The other thing that keeps me from crumbling under life’s quakes? The simple act of noticing. Noticing that what looks fragile is actually far stronger than it appears.

I see this when I accidentally walk through spider webs, some of the most brilliant, perfect works of art. I have inadvertently destroyed this little guy’s hard work, but does he freak out? Does he throw a hand to his forehead, then roll over and die? No. He simply sighs, then says something like, “Oh, rats.” And then he gets busy spinning a new web.

That’s a tenacious little creation.

We are tenacious creations, too. One friend has been living with cancer—five or six rounds of it now—for nearly ten years. She keeps smiling. The homeless people I see in our neighborhoods, they return to their corners or intersections each day, holding tight to their Please Help signs and even tighter to their hope. My young friends who have lost their young husbands carry on, raising their children and muddling through with heartbreaking grace.

Have you read Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow? Anne is my kind of woman (a lovely, generous neurotic mess who isn’t afraid to act otherwise). I love this point she makes in her book:

Sometimes circumstances conspire to remind us or even let us glimpse how thin the membrane is between here and here, between birds and the grave, between the human and the divine.

That’s right. We all will suffer, and we all will die. But! We also persevere, leaning our full weight into the most solid, unchangeable, permanent, true, source of strength in our life.

The other night a fat, orange full moon sat in our sky. How tenacious is the moon . . . the sun too. How hopeful! Soon Husbandio will plant the tulip bulbs, that, come springtime, will push green sprigs from cold earth. How tenacious are the tulip bulbs.

Likewise, we humans are designed to forge friendships and fall in love and build various kinds of families, all-the-while knowing our webs might be walked-through by some clod.

When that does happen, we will grieve (as we are designed to). We will sigh, saying, “Oh, rats,” mostly because we had imagined our webs a certain way, suspended in a certain place ideal for catching flies and other yummies. But after the sighing and Oh, rats-ing, we will remember to turn hopeful faces in the direction of Light, getting back to the work of spinning fragile strands of silk into something that’s pretty darn miraculous.

Photo compliments of flickr’s arbyreed.

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