Every couple of months or so, I write a blog entry in my head, but by the time I sit down to write it, I have homework to complete, or am too tired, or need to vacuum up the hamster poop from under Rowan’s bed, where the hamster, Caillou, spent a day trying to evade capture.  It was a harrowing escape from his cage, with 4 foot plummets, dashes across rugged terrain laden with petrified remains of an afternoon snack, and two maniacal predators, that stalked the addled little rodent, but were too lazy to actually hunt him.  Instead they just sat on the piano bench, licking their paws, and emitting a half meow/half growl sort of sound and left the actual capture to me.  They licked between their toes, kicked one leg into the air to lick their back sides, and then licked each other’s ears, all the while keeping their eyes locked on Caillou.  This story has a happy ending, because not only was the hamster successfully returned home, but you’re getting a blog post out of it!

It’s been a remarkable year.  The most significant and life-altering event was the death of my dear, sweet best friend.  She was brave and brilliant and inspiring.  She was enchanting and confident and bright.  She was my grandmother.  I miss her more than I knew it was possible to miss someone.  While the pain isn’t as raw, those lugubrious moments still creep through, and I find myself crying over silly things.  Just yesterday there was a cardinal prowling for food, and preening itself on a branch not far from where she used to sit in her room.  There is no longer a bird feeder there, but every now and then a hungry bird will wander over to make sure the food is still gone.  When these little remnants of her life pop up, that hole she left suddenly feels bigger, and I ache to hear her laugh, listen to her read to me, or cuddle in her bed discussing life.  It’s been nearly a year since I’ve been able to experience any of those things, but less selfishly, it’s been nearly a year that Grandma has been out of pain.  It’s been nearly a year that she’s been able to walk and run and jump with her husband, her parents, her family and friends, and her dogs. 🙂  It’s been nearly a year since she arrived at the gates of heaven.  She’s perfect and whole now, and that’s enough for me to be able to let her go from this crumbling world.

This year Rowan and I both ventured into the world of academia!  Rowan started his home school career this fall, and has flourished.  He eagerly devours any work pages I give him, kicks my booty in any educational game, and gently corrects me when he sees I’ve put the days of the week in the wrong order.  (Okay, he laughed his head off and said, “MOOOOOOM, even I know Tuesday comes before Thursday!”)  He loves any arts and crafts we do, and puzzles are easily solved.  I think his favorite thing is when I don’t give him a cap on the amount of books I’ll read to him.  Wobbly stacks of literature surround us on Rowan’s bed where we learn about bats and insects.  We laugh at Curious George, and marvel at  mighty construction vehicles and powerful locomotives.  I’ve started reading to him from Charlotte’s Web, and he’s learning to sit quietly, use his imagination, and to genuinely love words.  It’s magical.  Homeschooling is proving itself to be the best path for my little family.  It provides us ample time to be together, a flexible schedule, and a peace of mind  I certainly wouldn’t have sending my four year old to public school.   I also get a firsthand seat to the greatest show out there-watching my son grow up.  We have such an amazing homeschooling community here, filled with friends and mentors and other parents to encourage me.  Rowan has friends to play with, learn from, and be a wonderful example to him.  Rowan is swiftly on his way to graduating before I do.

I went back to college this fall to chase the geekiest degree I could find: Library Science.  In other words, I want to be a librarian.  Highest paying job out there?  No.  Most prestigious? Not really.  Great benefits?  Not so much.  A job I’ll love doing, won’t bemoan over having to attend daily, and something I’ll be proud to support?  Without a doubt.  My grandmother instilled an intense love of literature in me at a young age.  She exposed me to so many genres and authors that now I love to read everything from biographies to science fiction to the articles in Country Magazine.  She taught me to write and be read to.  She taught me the difference between books to read for fun and books to change the way I view the world.  I want to inculcate, to infuse that same kind of lust for reading into others.  I would thrive in a job like that.

Grandma’s death brought many of her most beloved friends and family into our(her) home.  People poured onto our front porch, and story after story was acquainted of her life.  Many were from her childhood, some were from her adulthood, a few about her death.  There was one recurring theme that popped up no matter where she was, what she was doing, or who she was with.  She gave.  She gave her time and her talents.  She gave everyone a smile.  She gave advise and encouragement.  She gave me a love of words, and some of the best memories of my life.  Every person at that service knew that it was a celebration of who Jean Emily Wetherbee was.  It ended up being the highlight of my summer, as I was able to reconnect with relatives I haven’t seen for years, and meet some I’ve somehow managed to live my whole life without knowing.  We are not perfect, but let me tell you something about my family: we genuinely love each other.  I know I’m sort of biased, but I think my family is pretty cool, and I wish we all lived closer together.

In between all the big stuff this year has been lots of little stuff.  Rowan completely potty trained himself in one day.  Early in the year he just decided that he was done, and would wear underwear now-even at night.  He never had an accident, and I have happily spent all his diaper money on chocolate.  He turned 4, decided he would start reading, and soaked up any form of words people would give him. He’ll sit for as many books as you’ll read to him, he loves hearing different languages, and he’s more stubborn than….than….I was going to say me, but that’s not possible.  He’s just really stubborn, and unlike some parents, I don’t want to punish it out of him.  I want that strength to do what he believes is right, to follow him for the rest of his days.  I know it’s my job to mold that little boy into a man.  He’s not perfect, as nobody is, but he is a wonderful example of love, energy, a hunger for learning, humor, and a mischievous streak a mile long.

I’ve never in my life been so confident with where I am and where I’m going.  I’m happy.  My son is happy.  It’s just the two of us in our little family, but two is all we need.

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The White Board

Every day when Grandma Jean was in the nursing home, we’d have a dry-erase board for her visitors to tell her who had been there, how long they had stayed, what happened, when they were there and when they were coming back. It turned into a daily journal that she could see from her bed and, for the thousandth time realize that we hadn’t forgotten to come see her. 96% Of the notes were written by my mom and I. By far my mom did most of the work, but I was right behind her picking up the slack and do the tasks she didn’t want to do. Between the two of us we made sure that one of us were there every single day. Five months of everyday visits made for some fun times, (a LOT of sad times too)and that board saw a lot of love a lot of sarcasm, some jokes, and even a quote or two. At the end of those visits, we would write those mini-journal entries on her dry-erase board, prop them by her bed and then after the 30 minute routine of Jammie’s, wash-up, diaper, removal of the teeth and hearing aids, she’d get lifted into bed, and finally read the note, and question, comment, laugh, talk about her day,

That board played an important role in our communication. It opened up so my doors to conversations about the day, about my life. I remember learning more about life in the last six months of her life than ever before. She didn’t know what she was always saying, but a lot of slurred, “it’s a funny, funny world” would slip out. In between moments of total confusion came the short bursts of clarity, where she would tell me things about my son, various boyfriends I brought in, and my future. She would offer little peeks into her life growing up on the farm. I would always sum up what was said on the little white board.

Shortly after gram was gone, and I was siting alone on her recently empty bed, tears blurring the words below, I wrote this:

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In a way it made my heart want to break in a trillion pieces, and at the same time, it was just enough to hold those pieces together.

Dear Gram,

I said goodbye to you today, but you didn’t even hear me. Your eyes fluttered open, you briefly looked into my eyes, but not a hint of your previous twinkle was there. You turned your head, closed your eyes, and mumbled something that sounded like, “honey.” Your heart is still beating, and your lungs-they’re still filling and empting out air. It’s just your body though-nothing of YOU is there. I like to think that you’re already halfway to heaven, arms out to hug Grandpa. I sat with you for four hours today, just holding your hand, rubbing your back, and caressing your head. I will treasure those hours until I can see the REAL you again.

We’ll never meet again on this earth, Gram You’re not going to ever see Rowan grow up to be the strong, goofy man that you want him to become. You’ll never get to see me (God willing) get married. I wish with all my selfish heart that wasn’t how it has to be. The part of me that loves you like a grandaughter, a friend, a confidant, a mentor, and someone I would wish nothing but happiness to, wants you to go quickly and without pain. So, just so know, you can let go now. it’s ok. Go see Grandpa and your heavenly Father. We’ll miss you, but we’ll see you someday. You’ll always be with me-like a handprint on my heart.

So much of me is made up of what I learned from you. You always told me to never save things for a special occasion. EVERY day we are alive is a special occasion. Nothing in your house was sacred, we were allowed to touch, pick up, and even use the most expensive ironstone dishes you had. Regularly we served each other tea and spaghetti o’s in $500 dishes. Why? Because we were together and alive. No other reason was needed. Now, at 32 I practice that philosophy. There are no such thing as “the good dishes.’ If Rowan wants to use Christmas dishes in March, AWESOME! Our last day could be tomorrow, and me, for one, will never have the regret of not letting things go. I got that from you.

Books! And more BOOKS! Aside from the books that you wrote and actually published and sold, there were the ones you read to me. You taught me to love to read at the tender age of 4, and I haven’t stopped since. I love to hear about the stories of people I will never meet, of places I will never go-things I will never do. “Picture it.” you would say. “Pretend you were there. Be the character you have the most in common with. Get into the story and don’t come out.” From Steinbeck to Harper Lee to Alcott to Paulson to countless others, you cast me into these roles, giving me the tools to not just read about these characters, but to learn about them, sympathise with them, and learn from them. These are tools I will hang on to for the rest of my life. I got them from you.

The gift of time is the one I will treasure the most. You ALWAYS had time for me….for anybody really. Never once was I turned away because you had to do something else, like make dinner. You just pulled a chair up to the counter, handed me a spoon, told me to mix whatever it was you were making, and we talked. I suppose sometimes we just stood there in silence, working side-by-side. That’s ok though, because did you know you can absorb love? You can, just by being close…it works, trust me. At the end when we were both living at my parents house, you used to ask me to play scrabble with you, and I’d have to say, “I don’t have time right now, Rowan needs this or that….” You never once made me feel bad or guilty. You would cheerfully say, “Ok!” I always knew deep down though, that if the roles were reversed, you would have made that time for me. I’m sorry I didn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t always stop into your room to sit and talk and just be with you. I’m so, so sorry for that. I will always grieve for that time. For the time we did have together-for the years of growing up with you, learning so much about books, art, how this planet is made so beautifully, how to make the best meatball soup in the world, and how to love and forgive and laugh and give. Even though most of the time all you had to give was your time, that was enough. I learned that from you.

How could one possibly ever list everything we’ve learned from you? I know who I am today because I knew you. You were strong and brilliant and funny and a good friend. We got our ears pierced together. Me, a scared five year old…you a scared 54 year old. We held hands and laugh-cried through it. It was one of those moments I will NEVER forget and feel so happy for the five year old me to have that support, and for the 32 year old me to have those memories.

Watching my once so bubbly grandmother deteriorate these past few months has been excruciating. Watching the person I love start to fade and slip through my fingers has been enough to bring me to my knees. It’s also given me the chance to show just how much I love and respect and care for you. Visiting you every day I could (which has been pretty much every day), advocating for you, changing your diaper, helping you bathe, feeding you with a spoon, sitting through physical therapy with you, cuddling with you for hours, pouring through old photo albums. Those games of Scrabble I should have played with you earlier? I finally got those in. Here’s the real kicker: I lost every game-right up to the end.

I won the lottery when it came to grandmothers. You were every single thing a grandmother should be. You’ve loved, and taught, and scolded, and then loved some more. You gave and gave and gave and never wanted anything in return. I hope you felt the love I have showered on you these past few months, even if you couldn’t express it.

You’ve left a legacy, Gram. One of kindness and gentleness and love for our Saviour. So many people have benefited from the generosity of your heart, and even though I had to share you, it was worth it to see what you’ve done for others in your lifetime.

You may be here physically still, but I’ve started to let you slip away. It’s harder than I ever imagined it would be. I would never trade the lifetime of memories and lessons for these weeks of grieving. I think you were the most awesome person I’ve ever met. Thank you….for everything.

I love you, Gram. (Even though you always told me I have boy’s hands…good strong working hands. Hands that can do anything. I hated that as a kid. Now, as I go through the rest of my adulthood withouth you, I will always think of you when I look at my hands.)

Love, Tiffany

Out of the mouths of….the elderly.

In November of last year, my Grandma Jean came to live with us.  She was 89 and had fallen and broken her hip and wrist.  She spent several months in a nursing home, doing rehab and regaining her strength.  She’s a tough old broad though, and fully recovered, with total use of her wrist and she is walking with a walker 90% of the time.

This particular Grandma has been a part of my life since the day I was adopted.  She lived in the apartment attached to my parent’s house in Andover, MA, and then close by wherever we lived after that.  She taught me how to read full chapter books by the time I was four, how to paint, how to properly serve tea (That little life lesson  hasn’t been particularly useful), and ultimately cultivated a love of words in me.

There is one, I don’t want to call a glitch, but maybe more of a hiccup in her awesomeness.  It’s her inability to filter anything that comes out of her mouth.    I wish that in all the years I have known her, I had the foresight to write some of these gems down.  I think I was too busy being mortified by the stories she would tell my friends to see that she was really quite funny.

My memory isn’t what it used to be, as all my brain cells have been killed off by sleepless nights, an over-abundance of Thomas the Train, and my son’s farts.  Those things could kill.  In any case, here are a few prime examples of her wit and wisdom that I have had the joy of being present for in the past few weeks:

-Let me set the scene:

After church on Sunday, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat on our way home, so we wouldn’t have to do dishes.  The lunch itself was pretty uneventful, apart from Rowan not having any pants on, but that’s a whole different post.  As we were gathering purses and lone pairs of pants, my mom decided to use the facilities.  So as my dad  tried in vain to buckle my son into his car seat, I walked Grandma to the door. 

Now, her hearing is mediocre, at best.  She believes that if she can’t hear what she’s saying, we can’t either.  So shouting during a conversation with her is a given.  As I was leaning on the door with my back to shove it open, she bursts out, “HER BOOBIES CAN’T BE REAL.  SHE MUST HAVE HAD THE SURGERY!”  I meekly replied, “I don’t know.  Let’s talk about it la…..did you just say boobies?  Seriously?”  After recovering from the initial shock of witnessing my Grandmother checking out some chick’s boobs, I hurried her to the car.  By the time we had gotten there she forgot what we were talking about, and I was able to shove that unfortunate incident to the back of my brain.

-Since we’re talking about her inability to hear, last night she happened to wander by as Rowan and I were sitting on the floor, having a living room picnic together.  She asked what we were doing, and I told her, “We’re sharing.” 

“You’re eating herring?!  It looks like pasta to me!”

“No Gram, we’re SHARING.”

“I’m not staring, I’m just passing through.”

“Okay Gram.  Thanks for stopping by.”

-A few days ago I was helping her get out of bed in the morning, and she stops, places her hand on my arm, and says with the utmost sincerity, ” I had a dream I kissed a fine-looking man last night.  He would be perfect for you!” 

“Gram, I don’t think you and I should be sharing men.”

“Love doesn’t care about age.”

“Yes, but I do.”

“Maybe you should lower your standards.  That’s why you aren’t married.”

-Today was the icing on the cake.  While helping her get dressed she, in all seriousness, observed that, “Either these pants come up too high, or my boobs hang down too low!”

-Ever since it became shorts wearing weather, Grandma likes to tell me that my legs are sexy.  It wouldn’t bother me except that for emphasis she swats my booty when I walk by.  I know her mind isn’t all present and accounted for.  She’s slowly slipping away, and now,  more than ever, I have to remind myself to appreciate the fact that she thinks my legs are sexy while she still knows who the person is that those legs are attached to.