Global Mom: 1st World Stress, Like Owning Stuff

From Global Mom: A Memoir

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(Cont’d from last post, “Le Chef Makes A Move”)

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Then someone down on the road cleared his throat. “Madame,” Le Chef called up to me, in French with a Breton accent, “Uh, it’s maybe best you get something to write with.”

And after several hours of unloading a container that had not only been somehow partially submerged in water, but had been tampered with somewhere during its thousands of miles in transit, after those patient hours of watching these men fish out our waterlogged belongings from deep in this container, I filled seven full pages of legal pad note paper. Line upon line of damage, disappearance, and loss.

All eight beds and bed frames including headboards and bunk beds, trashed. Two vintage leather chairs from the Marché aux Puces, wedding gifts to each other, rotten from prolonged exposure to moisture and punctured with . . .bicycle handlebars? Lamps, crushed and bent around . . .a basketball? A couch, gored through with . . .fireplace pokers? Clothing, boxes of what we had planned on wearing the next week, rank and fuzzy with mildew. And in the end, a personal visit and apology from the global moving company’s owner and namesake.

Somehow, our Norwegian long table, shipped in a separate and smaller container, made it to France unscathed.

An email to a friend:

Unpacked 17 days straight. All the damaged stuff has to stay here so insurance folks can come by (when?) and verify damage. Moldy mattresses, broken bed frames, incinerated treadmill, everything, stacked against walls in an apartment one-third the size of U.S. home. Only clothes are what we had for summer vacation, we’re trying to clear a path through piles by taking stuff down into the communal cave beneath the building, the greasiest, dustiest dungeon in Paris. Borrowing towels, inflatable mattresses, essentials from church friends who schlep them here by Metro. Incredible folks! Haven’t had a chance to stock up on food which takes forever here, so I’ve been eating mini yogurts from the grocer’s down the street and handfuls of pretzels. R is “floundering”, he claims, totally consumed because his job is 100 percent in French every day. Works councils, labyrinth-like French legalese; he had to appear in court and testify in French last week, oh-la-la. P and C have long school days with a forty-five min bus ride both ways. D adjusting, which means, yes, I’m losing lots of sleep over him. (Can you lose “lots of sleep” from four hours of sleep? Do that math for me, will you dear?:-) Luc in sweet bilingual Montessori preschool across the street: saves my sanity. Living in the middle of Paris decidedly different experience from Versailles, and of course a universe apart from where we’ve just been. Intoxicating, energizing, really. At least. . . I hear it is, because I can’t get to it for all the piles and the work of replacing the piles and all the details of just getting settled, like finally getting working Internet, voilà! When I die and have that Life Review, the whole film’s going to be a vast landscape of moving boxes. Come visit when I have a few square inches for you to stand in.

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Global Mom: Le Chef Makes a Move

From Global Mom: A Memoir

(Cont’d from last post: “Our Daughter With The French Name”)

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The head of the moving team, a burly guy you’ll remember from earlier, [in the Foreword of the book], a man I call Le Chef, stood in the middle of Rue du Colonel Combes in Paris’ seventh arrondissement brandishing a huge pair of industrial clippers in his hand ready to perform the ceremonial Cutting of the Lock.

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In theory, our forty-foot moving container had not been opened between locking in the U.S. and lock-cutting in France, so I wasn’t paying too much attention as I leaned out of the second story window, eager to just get this move moving.

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Le Chef cut the lock. One door creaked open a couple of centimeters, and with it, a quick swish of water spilled out of the bed of the container and onto the street. All the moving crew threw quick glances up at me. I was cool. Imperturbable. Blithe-lite.

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The second door creaked open a bit, held back by a man who watched me, not the door. More water. Then two men swung both doors wide open, their eyes squeezed shut, and as those doors swung, a veritable waterfall gushed out onto the road. These men, former fishermen from Brittany, literally hopped out of the way as one mattress after the other, eight in total, slumped out of the back of the trailer. Like enormous slices of pound cake soaked in an ocean of coffee, every bed we owned was moldy and saturated with brine, and fell limply one after the other onto the street. I remained immobile. Blithe-less.

(To be continued. . .)

Global Mom: Our Daughter With The French Name

From Global Mom: A Memoir

The following I wrote in my journal:

The hardest moment was in our bedroom tonight. We’d already told P by himself, which was a good move. We knew he’d be ecstatic. But C just finished doing Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man” and just last week we promised her a dog. Finally, the dog she’s waited a decade for. For D and L, we would just announce the choice when we’d make it, not discuss it, so we didn’t involve them at first.

Claire as Marian

Claire as Marian

Claire living her dream: horses

Claire living her dream: horses

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Piano teacher down the street

Piano teacher down the street

Big yellow American school bus also down the street...and a 6 minute drive to school

Big yellow American school bus also down the street…and a 6 minute drive to school

Free range living

Free range living

Did I mention a cottage and lots of open space. . .for a dog?

Did I mention a cottage and lots of open space. . .for a dog?

...Or for a little brother?

…Or for a little brother?

P and C were sitting on our sofa. We told them we had big news but wanted to discuss it. This isn’t final, kids, we said. Want to get your reactions. And when we told C, she immediately glazed over then her eyes welled up. P put his arm around her, and she just started crying, crying. “I don’t want to go back to that hard life. This is easy, good, perfect. I want to be here. I want to STAY HERE!” And she fell into P’s arms, bawling. I think I gave R an evil look, and I know I lipped to him, “This means no go.”

We kept trying to reassure her. We haven’t said yes to a thing, we said. We’ve just been asked if we could and we are free to say no, we said. We’ll never do something that makes all of us miserable and that Heavenly Father does not encourage us to do. We walked around and around the back yard, C between us, our arms wrapped around her shoulders, listening as she cried out all the reasons why this was all bad, all wrong. “All bad, all wrong,” she kept crying, stopping to catch her breath, to bend over and then shake herself upright. It broke my heart. I wanted to weep, too, but held it in. I was believing her.

I felt how selfish it would be to pluck them out of such bounty and ease, and I had just hung red geraniums on the wrap around porch, gorgeous! Why would we ever head to where things were, as Claire knew, much harder. The edges, harder. The expectations, harder. The language, harder. The traffic and school and rules and sky and air and everything, she said, HARDER.

Inseparable, these two

Inseparable, these two

What happened when Claire went alone into her room is something Randall and I didn’t ask or hope for. We sat, nauseated and sweaty, conflicted and brokenhearted, hands between knees, rocking back and forth on the edge of our bed. So what? we said to each other, if the company has an “acute” and “special” need? So what if that need is, as they assert, “tailor made” to be filled with Randall’s expertise? So what if this would only be “a couple of years” and then we could come right back to the home and the huge yard and the cul de sac on the hill and corporate headquarters where Randall, having done this, overseeing his function in the company’s largest subsidiary outside the U.S., would be “very well-positioned”, as he was told, to take on the job that his whole career had been grooming him for, the top and final level.

So what? I said.

So what? he said.

So what?

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And Claire knocked on our door.

She wanted to talk. She came with news that became a turning point and a landmark to which our whole family would refer for years to come. She sat with us on the bed and told us she’d run while holding back tears to her girlfriend down the road. That friend, whose parents were in the middle of a horrible divorce, reassured and comforted Claire, and listened as her new friend cried. Claire had then come back home to kneel at her bed and pray. Not for an answer — to move or not to move, that was not the question — but simple comfort in this hurting moment. It was then that she felt warmth and heat wrap around her twelve-year-old shoulders and a voice (she felt it, she didn’t hear it), told her clearly that though this would be really hard at the beginning, over the long run it would be the best thing for the family.

Yes, she should, we should, move to Paris.

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Global Mom: Going Home, or How to Be Present. Fully.

From Global Mom: A Memoir

We were moving to a Heartland Homeland and in many ways the American Dream Land. A 30-minute drive south from Randall’s company’s headquarters, it is a bucolic, historic swath of Americana with 200-year-old farm houses. . .

Early American home, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

Early American home, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

. . .and snaking stone walls surrounding horse farms and apple orchards. . .

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. . . a place known, as my new neighbor dressed in a Phillies T-shirt told me, for its Blue Ribbon schools and Blue Ribbon beer.

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Despite that appealing description, there were early indications the adjustment was not going to be so easy. Parker was immediately called “Frenchie” at a middle school that had a two percent rotation rate, meaning that people were born there and schooled there and never moved away. Next to zero international influx.

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Our children were mortified when everyone but them knew to stand in perfect unison at the beginning of the school day and recite, “Verbatim, Mom,” Claire said through gritted teeth later, an “Allegiance chant,” Parker cut in, all gluey and glum. “I had to lip sync, Mom,” he went on.

They had never heard it. Never knew it existed. And how would they? But they knew the Norwegian and French national anthems by heart, and I suggested they teach them to their classes as compensation.

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Getting to know Philadephia

Getting to know Philadephia

Then the girls on the elementary school playground were tittering in a tight clump about someone named Lizzy; her clothes, her hair, the way she talked, what she did this week and the week before and what she might do next week. And Claire, a month into this new world, interrupted to ask, “So. . .who’s Lizzy? Is she new here at school like me?” To which all the girls stared. And laughed.

“Lizzy McGuire, Mom,” Claire told me later, not crying, but looking stern, like an anthropologist who’s just spotted a member of an endangered species. “Lizzy, M-C-G-U-I-R-E. We have got to get American T.V.”

Dalton's first ever American soccer league: The Guppies.

Dalton’s first ever American soccer team: The Guppies.

And Dalton was having his own adjustment issues, not spitting at children this time around, thank heavens, but doing other things his teacher was trying to manage. “Twenty-two years as a teacher, Mrs. Bradford, and I have to tell you I’ve never seen anything quite like your dear Dalton.”

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At thirteen, Parker would have probably been riding the plate tectonics of an identity crisis anywhere, but here he was trying wardrobes and body postures and accents in order to fit in. When asked were he was from, he never mentioned a word about his real upbringing, would no longer speak anything but English with us although we’d always hopped from Norwegian to French to English in our home, in our private conversations, to keep secrets as a family when on the streets. It seemed he’d made an overnight decision to be a new person.

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Where, Parker? Where’d you just tell that guy at the gas station you were from?”

“Fully” he tipped his head on which he now wore a flat-rimmed cap tilted strategically off to one side. “Fullydelphia.”

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My son — maybe you remember him from barnepark and the Versailles Club du Basket? — had morphed in the course of exactly 0.6 minutes, into a boy from the hood. From the Fully hood.

After having written an essay for entrance into an honors English course for his school, Parker reported to me later how it had gone.

“So, ça va, mon cœur? How’d it go?”

“’Salright, I guess. I finished the thing. Wrote a good full three pages.”

“Sounds good! What did you write on?”

“Eve.”

“Eve? As in Eve . . . Adam and Eve—Eve?

“Yuh. Eve.” He was adjusting the hat and letting his oversized pants bunch sufficiently around his untied basketball shoes. My boy from Fully. Where’d this kid materialize from?

“As in, you wrote about the Bible story? Or, uh, what?” I kept smiling, taking it easy, knowing that I was now in a country where the separation of church and state is at times maybe a bit smudgy. But. . . Eve?

“They gave me three choices to write on,” he said, “And I picked, ‘Describe the life and accomplishments of your favorite First Lady.’”

“And Eve. . .She was the—”

“The First Lady.”

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Global Mom: Homeland? Security?

The American cemetery of Normandy

The American cemetery of Normandy

From Global Mom: A Memoir:

By November, still keeping a low American profile, and still getting settled into this rented home in the village of Croissy-sur-Seine. . .

Croissy-sur-Seine

Croissy-sur-Seine

. . .Which meant still sorting through boxes to find Christmas decorations I’d barely restacked in a now-dry basement. . .

Still in boxes. . .

Still in boxes. . .

. . .Randall got a call. It was word that he had been selected for an advancement that would put him at corporation headquarters. In New Jersey.

In the U.S. of A.

Could he move immediately?

Let me pause. Let me allow that to sink in a spell.

Home for almost 10 months...

Home for almost 10 months

This scene is not all that atypical in expatriate life. You move to a place — to Moscow from Minneapolis or to Mumbai from Moscow, let’s say – and you just begin figuring things out when a call comes. The call might ask you to repack your boxes and head back to where you just came from, (to the home you just sold, to the school you just forfeited your children’s slots in. . .

Claire and friend. . .

Claire and friend

. . .To your spouses’ practice/studies/firm/office he or she just closed or sold off), or to repack your boxes to head to another place altogether, (where you must find a new home, school, a new life track for everyone), or to repack your boxes because the company is sorry, there is no job anywhere for you in the brand new corporate structure.

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Imagine the scenario where you have uprooted because you’ve accepted an assignment in Cairo or Stockholm or Bangalore where you in good faith are digging in your roots and drinking from a new soil. . . only to be Rubrik-cubed back or away or out of a job all together. Most of the time employees are given the option to keep their job, but sometimes that means the job is in one country and the family stays in another.

Our youngest two

Our youngest two

It is a less-known and less-appealing side of the international life. But given the backdrop of 9/11 and a subsequent military invasion in Iraq, such professional dramas are, we certainly must agree, mini-dramas, even picayune.

Still, they aren’t easy.

Last bike ride before Dad leaves France

Last Sunday bike ride before Dad leaves France for several months in the US

Besides, I was writing about Randall’s offer for a new job.

“No,” he said, “We can’t move right now. We’re just moving in right now. But,” he eyed me for the no-go grimace or the go-ahead nod from across our bedroom where he was receiving this phone call from headquarters. . .

Saying goodbye to Montmartre

Saying goodbye to Montmartre

. . . “But, ” he said, “I can move in the new quarter. I’ll move. Melissa and the kids will finish out the school here year and follow in the summer.”

We did this for many months, Randall in the U.S., the rest of us in France, which time it took for us to get our heads around the prospect of reentering The Homeland.

Montmartre, Place du Tertre

Montmartre, Place du Tertre

Global Mom: 9/11 in Paris

From Global Mom: A Memoir:
Luc we called the Luminous One. Or Lucky Luc, from a French comic strip. Or, most often, The Luc Factor because this luminous, funny boy was also a force of nature. And this factor didn’t make the several serial moves that followed in quick succession any easier.

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Sooner than we’d planned, the Versailles landlord returned to his home and we were out house-hunting again. We found a place being built in a village called Croissy-sur-Seine. The fact that the day the moving van pulled up to the house and the house was yet unfinished, (that is, if you consider a house with no glass in the spaces intended for windows to be “unfinished”), was the first concern.

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But in Versailles I’d weathered fire ants and bats and no parking for our two cars and four basement floods and the destruction of the Tempête de 1999, which uprooted much of Versailles and her magnificent gardens and landed a 200-year-old tree squat across the front seat of our next door neighbor’s car. Optimist that I am, I figured lack of windows just meant better ventilation. Glass half full. House half finished.

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But then the rains came. By that point, luckily, we did have windows, but we also had a basement and in France, as they say, when it rains . . . it floods your basement. I bailed for hours and hours. That was the first week of September. The next week the entire world changed.

Cidalia, my Portuguese girlfriend, was breathless and crying on the phone, “Faut regarder la télé, Mélissa. Faut regarder maintenant!” I had to turn on the T.V., she said. Had to turn it on right now.

There were images of smoke and imploding tall buildings I recognized instantly. This was New York. It was an earthquake or a detonation. But the French news said it was an attaque terroriste. Within twelve hours, all families associated with the American School of Paris were notified by the U.S. Embassy to go underground, to not visit any typical American haunts (certain restaurants, bars, shops, theaters), to not even step out on the streets if possible, and if that was unavoidable, then at least to not do anything that would advertise oneself as American. The children were brought home where they stayed in quasi house arrest. Our American missionary friends came and hid out at our home. We folded away any clothing that might look American; logos, brands, an embroidered eagle. We waited for word on the next move.

Within an hour, my French friends flooded my phone line asking if Randall was safe, if my whole family was safe, if I had any more information, that they were horrifié, terrifié, bouleversé, that they were praying for us, for the victims, for our country.

That this was un temps pour faire du deuil. A time to grieve.

A chapel full of both French and American church members gathered the next day visibly heavy-hearted and many in tears. There, I stood and sang the American national anthem, which was challenging enough. But when I reached, “and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” I was unable to make a sound.

The children did eventually return to school, but when they did, they passed by security guards with submachine guns and black fighter dogs in muzzles. The campus was in profound hyper security and palpable mourning.

Randall canceled his September 12th business trip to Islamabad. His work in the Middle East changed permanently, the events of September 11th leaving hot tremors across Paris and across our remaining lives.

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Blogueuse Relooking

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Which means, roughly, that I’m a female blogger (French: blogueuse), and I’m going to spruce things up (French: re-looking).

I thought it only fair to warn you.  Don’t freak out.  You’ll still recognize me.

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Next time you visit here, you won’t find the lugubrious blue-gray background, the flashy hot yellow-to-vermillion-to-hot yellow strip along the top, the calendar and Goodreads list and other cluttery widgets. Maybe you won’t even find my come-hither grin on the left hand side of the screen, I’m still deliberating.  (Although please, I do sincerely want you to come hither. Or, uh, come here.)

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What I hope you’ll find is a brighter, fresher page – so subtly tucked, so gently stretched, with a lift and a plump and still all the warmth and candor and depth and spirit I hope you have come to expect when you click for a visit.

Why all of a sudden this relooking? Age, quite frankly.  This blog is coming up on One Year Old.  In blog years, I think that’s over the hill.

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But more salient than the age thing, I’m making a shift.  We have spent two solid months of posting exclusively on my book entitled Grief and Grace: Collected Voices on Loss and Living Onward.  As you know, but as I should probably explain to newcomers, that volume is a manuscript born out of our family’s ongoing experience with catastrophic loss. I’ve written at length here at the blog and elsewhere about the realities of traumatic loss, acute grief and the droning underscore of absence that have been our family’s journey since July 2007.  That was when our eldest, Parker, then 18 years and 5 months old, lost his life while attempting at saving another’s.

While I think a lot and deeply about the experience of loss, (my own and others), and while I’ve researched and written extensively about what major and permanent loss means in our lives, (both intimate and communal), it was the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school that flipped a major switch in me.  I simply had to post on only this topic for a while. I’m certainly not done with it – neither with my own grief and burden of absence, nor with writing about it – but I find it necessary to shift this blog’s focus to other topics for a season.

But first, here is where I want to thank you, my readers.  Some of you have come here loyally without posting comments publicly. Instead, you have written to my private email address.  I need you to know that you have taught me life-altering things in your tender and stark messages.  You’ve confided sacred things in me.  You’ve sent, a few of you, pages of  straight-from-the-gut writing, and I have read them with respect. It is hard to know how to thank you enough.

Others of you have posted comments for all of us, mostly strangers to one another, to sift through. Not easy, especially when the topic singes nerve-endings and cuts right down to the marrow.  I honor your experiences and appreciate your trust in sharing such personal treasure in a public forum.

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As I re-look the blog to something slightly cheerier and hopefully easier on your eyes, I hope the content will follow suit. You know already that my book, Global Mom:A Memoir goes to press. . .GOES TO PRESS?. . .(goes to, gulp, press). . .tomorrow. . .and will be in your neighborhood bookstore (and on Amazon) as of June 1.  Between now and then, I want to return to posting from that manuscript. I will be picking up from where we left off ages ago (does it feel like ages ago to you, too?), in Versailles on our way to Croissy-sur-Seine, a village outside of Paris, where we lived for a while.

Then on to five other addresses/languages/cultures/homes.

Here’s what you can anticipate over the next few months:

-More frequent but shorter posts, mostly excerpts from Global Mom: A Memoir. (I’ll try to post 3x a week)

-Lots of photos from my archives (which, of course, will not be included in the printed book. So you get the exclusive illustrated version!)

-Behind the scene peeks into the process of writing and editing this book; what it’s been like working with an exceptional publishing/design/editing team in a cutting-edge boutique publishing house; you’ll meet some of my online writing/cheerleader friends (so you might meet yourself); and you’ll get an inkling of how my family has been (stupendous!) through this all.

-Glimpses into what’s happening now in the real Global Mom’s world, namely: what does spring in Switzerland really look, smell, sound and taste like?

-And with all that, some extra fun travel in and around central Europe.  I envision a little Poland rather soon, some more Italy, probably some Austria, undoubtedly a whole lot of France. I’ll take plenty of pictures and even video footage.

-Speaking of video footage, I’ll be adding much more of it, and will link to You Tube.  I want you and others that you tell about this blog and the book, to get to know Global Mom on the road.

-And then, of course, anything else that happens to pop up on the journey.

This should be so much of fun! Thanks to each of you for being here and for making my world an abundant place worth living in.  With you, I want to dig into it with both hands,  my head on straight, and my heart wide open.

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Freshly Pressed?

Here we are, five of our six. I'm including today a selection of my favorite photographs from my previous posts.  All of them, with the exception of this one taken by Rob Inderrieden, I took. Enjoy! So glad you're here.

Here we are, five of the six Bradfords. I’m including today a selection of some of my favorite photographs from several of my previous posts. All of them, with the exception of this one taken by Rob Inderrieden, I took. Enjoy!

Hello, everyone. It is great to have you here.

Judging by the variety and number of readers this week’s Freshly Pressed incident (and what doyou call it?) has drawn here, we’ve got some rich times ahead. One of my readers suspected that I probably didn’t fully “get” what it means to be Freshly Pressed, but that reader was gracious in suggesting that it was probably best that way.

And I didn’t.

And it is.

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I don’t mind this little flurry of recognition. It would be false to say much else, since we serious writers ache to create something someone will find worth reading. And we’re a bit tired of being that Someone, reading to ourselves. (Oh, the echoing drone of one’s own voice in the caverns of one’s head.)

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So it’s heartening to have you here, reading as you apparently are. Your presence is invaluable to me, and I want to honor it with vivid, meaty material that will invigorate thinking and stir feeling, and open up the possibility of a nourishing connection between us, all of us.

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I write because for me, writing is a physical and spiritual imperative. Is it also like that for you? If the significant happens – in my world, or in The World – I feel compelled to engraven it, pin its largeness down, trap it somehow. Then I lean close and marvel at watching its complexity or simplicity crystalize on the page. My readers, I hope, share in that marveling, not, of course, because I am marvelous (although my husband seems to think I am, dear guy), but because the potential of our human reach irrefutably is. Words stimulate and facilitate that reach. Almost all of us, when we were babies, reached – and touched and connected and established ourselves as a teeny but proud pinprick part of humanity – first with words.

So. Here we are. May I explain some things?

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I write long.
You’ll want to get a drink. And oxygen tanks.

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I write books.
Two are in either the editing or legal approval phases as we chat right here, you and I.

The first to be published (with Familius and later this spring) will be Global Mom: A Memoir, and is about our family’s 20+ years on the international road. I’ve been posting excerpts of that manuscript here every week for some time, now.

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The second book is an anthology (with a chapter-long essay as introduction) on loss, grief, and adaptation. Its title is Grief and Grace: Collected Voices on Loss and Living Onward. Here, I post liberally from its 300+ pages of wise and varied voices.

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I also write short.
I am a published poet and will post some of my (long-ish) shorts here. I’ve posted several pieces already; dig a minute and you’re bound to find them.

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I also write creative personal essays.
Some have been published in journals and other blogs, and one recently garnered an award. I’ll post excerpts of them here, too.

I am beginning a children’s book
It will address loss and living onward and will be done in collaboration with a gifted illustrator. I’ll ask for your input. You’ll meet the illustrator if and when she’s ready to be revealed. Her work alone is worth hanging around for.

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And finally,

I am a poser of a photographer.

I’m learning to blend my newfound wonder for photography with my life-long and hard-core passion for the written word.

That’s this cozy sky blue/ocean blue blog you’re sitting in the middle of right this very moment.

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What else, you ask, can I expect when I come here to visit Melissa? (Besides, you mean, long-ish, probing posts that sometimes leak tears and sometimes crackle with laughter?)

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The last posts, as you’ve perhaps read by now, have treated some “Don’t Do’s” of co-mourning: Don’t judge or preach, don’t disregard or disappear, don’t enforce arbitrary deadlines, etc. Over the coming posts, you can expect me to examine the nature of “Can Do’s” in the face of great grief. In two posts from now, for instance, I’ll tell about the necessity of “Continuing” by introducing you to Antonini, a family friend, who was the last survivor of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Enough to reduce to moltenness any brittleness in our spines, that post should not be missed.

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Through the posts beyond that, and with your help, we’ll delve into the experience of the death of a beloved. What does it mean to a mother? A father? A sibling? Grandparents? A friend? An extended community? Strangers? What are the implications of tragic loss for our faith? For our non-faith? In other words, what can we learn, broadly and specifically, from death and other losses? What meaning do we deliberately or indiscriminately assign to suffering, to “mortality’s primary companion,” as one insightful reader here put it?

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At that point, I’ll update our Table of Contents. By then, Global Mom will be ripe for public consumption and you’ll probably want to return with me to those excerpts and our family’s years living in Paris, (where I last dropped off my readers somewhere on the rainy cobblestones near the Louvre), then continue to Munich, then Singapore and finally to where we live now, in Switzerland.

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There’s plenty to share with you about Switzerland, as there is about Sicily, where our daughter lives as a missionary (really – who’s going to believe this?) among the Mafia.

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And I will faithfully update you on news on Grief and Grace.

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Before we all finish that morning cup, stretch our arms and brush the wrinkles out of our pants, a parting quote from Peter Wehmeier’s, Picasso und die christliche Ikonographie.

If I can claim a personal mantra as a writer, this would be it:

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In the face of death, art’s duty – indeed, her raison d’être – is to recall absent loved ones, console anxieties, evoke and reconcile conflicting emotions, surmount isolation, and facilitate the expression of the unutterable.

**

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Again, thank you for coming here. For all the reasons listed in that quote, I hope you’ll come often.

Swiss Christmas

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From Christmas in the Serengeti. . .

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. . .To Christmas in the Swiss Alps.

 

They say that strong contrasts make for strong writing. But I say that if nothing else, they make for heavily textured living.

So may I begin writing about this, our First Swiss Christmas, by taking you back to a contrasting one, to a Last Christmas? Not our last Christmas chronologically, the one spent in Africa, the one about which you’ve just read.  But the last one we spent in Paris, our last Parisian Christmas.  We’ll always refer to it as that.  At the time, though, we didn’t know it would be the last we’d spend there, as we were still leaning toward staying in Paris from where Randall would commute back and forth for his new postion in Munich.

Despite those details, we did know we’d  be sending Parker off to college in June.  So it was a “Last Christmas”. Of sorts. Our last Christmas with all of us together like this. So I’d run my self a bit ragged with holiday preparations, writing and directing and performing in the church Christmas program, writing and printing out and folding and addressing and sending by snail mail our 95 annual Christmas missives, decorating and baking and scurrying and visiting and hosting and getting into the holiday spirit.

At least euphemistically so.

That Christmas Eve I hit a wall, and the collision landed me in a mental state I’m not so proud to write about.  For lack of a more incriminating description, I’d holed myself up. While holed up, the universe didn’t bother to tap me on the shoulder and whisper into my heart, warning me that this would be The Last Christmas, the very last we would ever share with our firstborn son. We weren’t given the luxury of preparing ourselves for devastation.  Usually, if devastation is coming, the universe is preoccupied preparing you in other, extremely subtle ways (besides shoulder-tapping and coded whispers). I suppose we’re all being trained in one way or another for whatever devastation will surely be ours.

But something did tap on my shoulder that December evening.  And something did whisper.  And something did warn me it would be the Last Christmas with Parker.

And that something was Parker himself.

**

The Last Noël

A true Christmas story

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

For Unto Us A Child Is Born

“Mom?”

Her son, whose voice normally had the resonance of a foghorn, was whispering from behind her, kneeling next to her bed.  She was on her side, knees curled up a bit, a dark purple woolen comforter dragged up over her curves and tucked into her hands, which she held against her sternum.  Her eyes she kept firmly closed.

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. . .

Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. . .

She faced away from the voice, away from the faint glow of the one night table lamp, away from the door, which she’d closed a couple of hours earlier, barricading herself into silence and as far as possible from the everyday, holiday noises that emerged from the end of the hall.

The holly bears the crown. . .

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood. . .

Kitchen sounds.  A swirling, tinkling holiday CD. Conversations between teenagers, the low word or two from the Dad, the swish-swish-swish up and down the hallway of two younger children in houseslippers.

The silent stars go by. . .

The silent stars go by. . .

A spike of laughter here. A name said with a question mark there.  Noises she simply wanted to escape.

How silently, how silently. . .

How silently, how silently. . .

She was doing it, that thing she sometimes did.  She was retreating into silence.  She was sending a loud signal.

“Mom? Look. . . Listen, Mom.” He was leaning his weight on the edge of her bed, now.  “Please, don’t do this.  Not again. Not tonight.” The weight of his hand on the mattress next to her hip was enough to make her flinch and consider scooting away. But she couldn’t muster the effort. Tired.  So bone-deep tired.

And sad.

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

The hopes and fears of all the years. . .

He sighed, her oldest child, and then readjusted himself on the floor with a groan. She could tell from the sounds that he was wearing jeans. And wasn’t he also in a turtleneck? Probably his maroon one.

Let loving hearts enthrone him. . .

Let loving hearts enthrone him. . .

Should she just turn around, face him, turn around and face the family? Just roll over and brush back the matted hair a bit soggy, now, with old tears, just roll over and swing her legs out and plant her feet on the floor, shake some oom-pah-pah into her limbs, just turn it all around like that, switch directions as slickly as a Brio train track, switch gears, flip some switch, just head back out? Smiling? Humming Bing Crosby?

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. . .

We traverse afar. . .

She remained silent and still, hoping he’d think she was sleeping deeply.

Sleep in heavenly peace. . .

Sleep in heavenly peace. . .

This is when he tapped her right shoulder.  And then he left his hand there.  The heat traveled all the way through her, into the mattress, as she envisioned its course, and to the floor.  How she wanted to respond. But her jaws were clenched and held in all the loving feelings her heart held in its pulse.

For unto us a child is born

Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel. . .

“Why don’t you say something, Mom?  What have I done? Okay, so I should have cleaned up the dishes first.  But c’mon, they’re done now. Just. . .just come out there. Come see.”

She had lodged herself too deeply in the silence to creep out so easily now. Tired of speaking, giving orders, answering to everyone. Tired and worn out.  Another year: Gone, wrung out like I feel, squeezed dry to its very last particle.  

Ring out wild bells and let him die. . .

Ring out wild bells and let him die. . .

Here we are again. Christmas. And stymied.

For mighty dread had seized their troubled mind. . .

For mighty dread had seized their troubled mind. . .

Then she heard the lightest tap-tap on the door, and the sound of its edge shuuuuushing over carpet. The smell of her husband’s cologne.  And she pulled the purple up over her head.

Sing, all ye citizens of heav'n above. . .

Sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above. . .

“Hey.”

“Hey.” The son’s voice was deeper, even, than his Dad’s.  And heavier.

“Honey. We’d love you to come out, just eat a little dinner, kay?  And then watch the movie with us. Maybe? No big production. Just be with us.”

And still their heavenly music floats o'er all the busy world. . .

And still their heavenly music floats o’er all the busy world. . .

So, so tired. And so emptied clean out.  All this pressure to be happy. Please. If you could let me be alone.

The oldest son made a sudden move.  His voice came from above her, now. “Alright. I’m just. . . I’m going to change things here.” There was ballast in that voice now, a clip on each consonant. “Mom. Mom. Get. Up. And. Turn. Around.”

Rise up shepherd and follow. . .

Rise up shepherd and follow. . .

She pulled the purple from her face. She rolled over, opened her eyes, and was looking right into the knees of two men in jeans.

Then the son knelt.  His eyes were at her eye level and he looked right into her. She’d never seen this look, at least not from him. The earnestness and resolve. The deliberateness.

Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. . .

Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices. . .

“Kay, I’m not going to add to the drama here, but you know, um, this is my last Christmas with you all.  This is it.” He pounded a fist into the carpet and shook his head.

Was he trembling? What was the stiffness in his lower lip? In his chin?

Their watch of wondering love. . .

Their watch of wondering love. . .

“And so I want us to celebrate and have the Spirit.”

Let every heart prepare him room. . .

Let every heart prepare him room. . .

“So will you please come out and be with us? Now? Mom?”

God and sinner reconciled. . .

God and sinners reconciled. . .

He took her hand, which gesture was a bit odd, but not too odd right then, and she let him take it. She felt each of his callouses from dribbling balls and pummeling drums.

And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there. . .

And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there. . .

“Come on, ” now he was whispering so low she could hardly hear him. “Come in here with me.”

Close by me forever and love me I pray. . .

Close by me forever and love me, I pray. . .

The gesture, a tug, unlocked something in her bones and she moved, almost effortlessly, letting the purple wrap crumple to the floor as she trailed her son and her husband down the hall, into the light, the noise, the company of her family.  The other three children looked at her, stopped tinkering, quibbling, and went quiet.  A suppressed grin and, “Hi. . . Mom!” came from the youngest, who wriggled his nose under the round little red frames of his glasses.

Round yon virgin, mother and child. . .

Round yon virgin, mother and child. . .

“Okay. Everyone?” The son holding his mother’s hand announced in the middle of the room, “We need to have a prayer.  We’re going to turn things around here.  So. . . we need the Spirit. Right now. So come on. We’ve got to kneel.”

In the dark streets shineth. . .

In the dark streets shineth. . .

It was the prayer of a full grown man, and his mother – no, everyone – felt its weight settle on their shoulders.  They knelt for a moment in silence.  But not that resistant, withholding kind of silence.

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

Sweet little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you was. . .

This was the silence of soft awe, and like the invisible bending of the arc of a rainbow, it did indeed turn things. The mother spoke, but her words opened up a whole swamp of apologies, to which all the children and the husband now countered, wading in with their own apologies. Then they embraced, got off their knees. . .

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

Risen with healing in his wings. . .

. . .And embraced again.

And so it continued both day and night. . .

And so it continued both day and night. . .

Later that evening, the mother and her oldest son sat next to each other, legs stretched out, on the overstuffed sofa.

Where meek souls seek him the enters in

Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in. . .

He, between spoonfuls of ice cream straight from the container, lip-synced Jimmy Stewart. . .

Heaven and nature sing. . .

Heaven and nature sing. . .

. . .And she knew all the lines for Donna Reed. . .

Tender and mild. . .

Tender and mild. . .

And the whole family sat together and watched, like they had every Christmas Eve for as long as they could remember, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

And it truly is.

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**

“Temporary separation at death and the other difficulties that attend us as we all move toward that end are part of the price we pay for. . .birth and family ties and the fun of Christmas together. . .These are God’s gifts to us – birth and life and death and salavtion, the whole divine experience in all its richness and complexity.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

2012: A Year’s Passage

Christmas Day 2011, Tanzania

December 2011, Tanzania

December 2012, Switzerland

December 2012, Switzerland

Like you, winding up a year makes me look back, unwinding it.  While you’ve been with me for half of 2012 (I launched this blog in May), having strapped yourself in just in time for the second part of the year’s ride, (that big move from Singapore to Switzerland, if you remember), you missed out on the entire front half of the calendar.  That’s kind of a shame, really, because there was stuff going on, friend.  Are you interested in seeing a bit of that passage?

Christmas week, 2011. . .

Christmas week, 2011. . .

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Before I get carried away, though, may I insert a small, smiling caveat?

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As you visit here throughout December, would you please keep something in mind? It’ll help so that I don’t feel too crippled by self-consciousness and you won’t feel sludgy or arrggghy or slumpy. Or slap-toppy.

(That stinging state of mind when you slap shut your lap top, resenting what you just saw inside it.)

Not that you would slap shut on me. But in case.  Since you know, things happen.

Please hear my whispered voice saying that these posts are all given in the spirit of sharing between friends this riotously colorful and complex globe we live on. These posts are about nothing but that: sharing, celebrating, being whooshed away with wonder.

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So consider today’s post a jiffy Table of Contents for what you can expect to read here throughout December, this last month  of 2012.

There was an extended trip to Tanzania, Africa.  I will post several times on that and explain why we were there in the first place, what things I observed, why I want to return.  The photos alone are worth clicking in here once in a while. (I didn’t take them; my men did.)

Then there was Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand.

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 And Indonesia and Hong Kong.

And that morning spent diving with dolphins in Mauritius. 

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When not posting on the past passage of 2012, I’ll keep you abreast of the current passage, what we are experiencing in the here-and-now.

“Here”: Central Europe.

“Now”: right about. . . now. This alone will keep us busy, as we’ve planned a couple of family outings.

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Come with us to Vienna to hear these talented boys sing…

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Drive with us to Strasbourg for the Christmas market that dates from the 1500’s…

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Take the TGV with us to Paris

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Then get some retrospective Paris with a few excerpts from Global Mom: A Memoir where most recently we’ve been looping back to Norway but we’ll now return to France.

Only to leave France briefly.

Only to return to France for a few more years.

All to keep you thoroughly confused and a bit transfixed.

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And finally, come share with us our first Swiss Christmas. They promise to be deeply, whitely, purely holy days.

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