Sweet Peas, Part 2

In March I promised myself I would finally plant sweet peas. I wasn’t going to let anything deter me. 10464083_10203233205662896_3100015098842395032_nWell, 10464083_10203233205662896_3100015098842395032_neverything did and they didn’t get planted.

Along about the first few weeks in June I saw an interesting little volunteer popping up. It looked just like sweet peas. I moved a trellis to have something for it to climb. Then I remembered. A few years, that’s maybe five or six, I gathered some seeds from Vickie’s, my sister-in-law, garden off of her sweet pea plants. They grow wild there, year after year.

Just like Janice, my mother-in-law, iris, I set them aside for the summer and said I would plant them in the spring. (I’ve moved the iris from house to another, from one bed to another, and they grow like crazy. Do you want some?) But I didn’t plant the sweet peas. That fall I decided to throw them in some soil, “Just to see what might happen.” Nothing. For five or six years, nothing happened.

This june they sprouted. I guess my moms, who have been gone now and are dearly missed, got tired of my promises and took things into their own hands. If you follow my pictures of my garden, you know how prolific the iris are.

Now, I have sweet peas. Thank you, Mom.




Here is the poem I wrote earlier this year. Silly me.

Lent and Sweetpeas

I’m going to grow sweet peas this spring
I won’t allow the busyness of the day to interrupt
I won’t let the excuse of sultry spring sun
and red clay soil divert me from my plans

I can’t remember now
and being there is no one to ask
when I was young
or maybe it was eight
my mother
planted sweet peas in the backyard for my birthday

Were they to be in bloom by my birthday
or did she plant on my birthday
always a few days either side of Mother’s Day

Edging a small patch of grass squared by
Gus’ gas station
my father’s television repair shop
Interstate 70
and Washington Street
she knelt on red clay soil
already sprayed for bugs and weeds
my father’s madness

She planted
I now understand
maybe to forget
mostly to make something pretty
almost certainly to give me hope

To my surprise
surely not her’s
they grew
ruffly pink flowers on twisting stems
twining their way around a chain link fence bordered by
and asphalt
and thirsty bistre grass still in winter slumber

This year
I’m going to plant sweet peas
in my clay soiled garden
in spring
with hope

I Couldn’t Sleep Last Night

I couldn’t sleep last night.

Earlier in the evening I attended the Underground, our youth group at Church of the Holy Family led by Fr. Scott Jenkins. I am no “youth.” Yet, at fifty-seven years of age, I was invited and found myself walking through the doors to the meeting.

There was exploration around the theme of social justice, a Christian way of living.

Some words repeatedly made themselves known to me through the evening’s discussion that continued onto the Underground Facebook page.

Agitated, addictive personality, abuse, discernment, hubris, fixer, and self-care
camped-out in my unsettled thoughts.

I was too agitated to sleep.

I didn’t know why.

Morning Ride

This morning on my way to my writing group I grappled with a lingering question. How do I find compassion when abuse is part of the equation?

Mental illness played a large part of my formation into adulthood. On the surface I understand, from years with a schizophrenic and alcoholic mother, that beneath the outward abusive actions, there are things that simply cannot be controlled. Luckily for me, physical abuse towards me was minimal. I only remember a few minor incidents that I have never shared with anyone.

However, the verbal and mental abuse aimed at me was stellar. Our family doctor assured me that my mom loved me and that she couldn’t help herself. My dad was there to smooth things over.

My mom was institutionalized several times and subjected to shock treatments. The end of her life was somewhat easier. Drugs were better by then. My dad was retired and spent twenty-four hours a day with her making sure she took her meds and kept her away from alcohol. Being that he is OCD, it worked out well.

I still don’t know if my mom really loved me, or could love me.

The Social Justice Way

I also connected with a statement from one member of the group. During the previous evening we weighed out the positives of the Social Justice Way with its inherent dangers. One group member said he wonders if he is missing something by doing the action part of social justice and not participating more fully in the communal prayer of Christian living.

I understand from where he is coming, only in the opposite direction. I always wonder if I am too prayerfully self-absorbed and not active enough.

My head tells me that I should be more persistent in the Social Justice Way. I want to be more involved in helping others who are marginalized, on the fringe, especially understanding how mental illness comes into play. After listening to the discussion, I realized that I might just already be there.

I am a teacher.

I am in a school with a large population that along with very stable families also includes homelessness; refugees; illegal immigrants, single parent homes in constant transition; children living with grandparents while parents complete their jail time; and children who have been removed from their parents for lack of care. I am in a school with a Behavior Disorder program, Integrated Learning Classroom (ILC) for those with low IQs, and students with physical and mental disabilities.  I work with all of these children and I am charged with teaching them how to read.

When my students come to me tired because of the fighting in their homes or from sleeping on the floor because all the beds are taken; when they come to me in the same clothes they have worn for three days straight; when they come to me dirty and without breakfast; how do I ignore all of that, put it aside, and just teach them how to read?

I want to fix it. I want to fix it all. Hubris?

I want my six and seven-year-olds to be happy and healthy and clean and full and not tired. I want those sweet souls to feel safe and trust me. I want them to know they are loved just for who they are and not because they might give me the right answers or have proficient test scores.

And I don’t want the administration and politicians and the general public looking at data telling me I am not doing my job because my kids aren’t “grade level.” Even though some of my kids came to me two or more grade levels behind and made “only” a year’s growth according to the standards, I know they have grown tremendously in other ways. Test scores are not the only touchstone for me.

What matters to me is the day I hear the first student in each new school year call me “mom.” I know then that I am doing my job.

And I don’t want someone who is mentally ill walking into my classroom having easily obtained a gun and shooting every one of my first graders dead.

I want people to know this is how we feel – the vast majority of teachers. I love my kids, your kids.  And I will stand up for them and give my life for them, each and every one of them.

I want someone to stand up for me, too, and recognize that teachers cannot fix everything. I want administration and politicians (forget about the test makers who influence all of the above decision making) to realize that kids are not numbers. They are not test scores. Those scores, no matter how high or low they fall on an arbitrary scale, are not going to make successful people. Success should have nothing to do with teaching and becoming an adult.

Compassion should be our outcome. And I believe academics will fall in line if our kids are compassionate and love themselves and believe in themselves. Good test scores alone will never, ever deliver that.

I guess I am, after all, in a daily battle for social justice. And I can’t fix everything.

The Other Ways and the Enneagram

Reading through the other Christian ways of living that were presented at the meeting, I see myself during my life moving through the Contemplative and the Holiness Ways at different times. I have never been called to the Charismatic Way, nor the Evangelical Way.

The Underground will eventually explore personality types through the Enneagram.

I took the free Enneagram test and I came out with a perfectly tied score between 4 and 6. After some discussion, it was strongly suggested that I pay the ten dollars and do the extended test. I did.

My results:  4 squeaked ahead of 6 by one point. I am a 4 and 6.

I clearly see myself in both type descriptions. I will delve deeper into the Enneagram trying to understand myself with more compassion and acceptance and love.

Self-care, you know.

Until then, I believe I have more than enough material to discern for the next few weeks until we meet again.

Sweet Peas

I saw you today
Laughing and joking with the girls
You were so happy
I didn’t know you then
I think you had fun being yourself
Without the fences

I imagine you during the war washing spark plugs
Laughing and joking with the girls
You were happy

I imagine you skiing down the hill
Riding the trolley

You didn’t have a chance to stay on that road
The times
The haunting
I guess you needed someone to take care of you
The fences

I did know you tap dancing in the kitchen
“I’m an old cowhand…”
Planting sweet peas
Teaching me to sew
The bingo games
I think you were happy

I did see the fences
The new jobs –
the snowmobile place, candling chicken eggs
The haunting

I saw you today
I shook my new red hair
I know you saw me

I saw you
Laughing and joking with the girls
You were so happy

Author’s Note:
I finally gathered the courage to dye my hair red. Well, not as red as I could, but it was a big step for me. Also, I had a new cut. It felt good. I spent a busy day and fell asleep in my comfy chair in my bedroom. I had a dream. I saw my mom, who passed away about eights years before, as a young woman working in a diner. She was a waitress, something she never did, and was having the time of her life laughing and joking with her friends. She saw me out of the corner of her eye and I shook my new hair cut for her to notice. I guess I wanted her approval. I know she saw me but she disappeard through a door. This dream was the inspiration for my poem. I woke up and quickly jotted down the emotions and images it painted for me. I guess I never really new if my mom had much of a happy life. What I call “the haunting” encased her in mental illness. My dad put “fences” around her to protect her. We had some happy and silly times, but I always felt she was in pain her entire life. Mom’s dream let me know that she is now having fun and doing what she wants without any interference from anyone or anything.