My Grandma’s Will

I come from a line of strong willed, I can do it myself, I WILL do it myself, don’t believe me? watch me, women. Telling one of these women that they can’t do something doesn’t give way for retreat, it ignites a spark that pushes her to success. Even when I fail, I want to do it by myself and on my own terms. I guess that part of me never really matured past the age of 3.

A few days ago I decided to mow our lawn. Our gas mower was broken, but I had a manual push mower (I call it the “Ftftft mower” while flipping my hand in a circle – which is the international female sign for all things that rotate). In a kind of cross between June Cleaver and a Mud Run I decided to mow the lawn with said push mower, in 95 degree weather with 752% humidity, with a head cold that was kicking my butt, and after only 4 hours of sleep.  Why, you ask. Why not. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when I started to get a little dizzy…and clammy…and my heart was about ready to beat out of my chest. The problem wasn’t that I needed to go inside and cool off, or heaven forbid do something rational, like perhaps stop. No. The problem was that my body didn’t understand the day before my husband had sealed my fate by telling me there was no way I could use the push mower to mow the lawn. What?!?! So I did the only logical thing I could do at that point. I sized up the yard, found the half way point and went a few passes beyond that for the sole purpose of telling Dan that I mowed over half of the lawn. With the push mower. Ha! There! Eat that!

What is wrong with me?

Turns out this stubborn apple didn’t fall far from the tree – or at least it choose to not fall far from the tree. It broke loose and stared at the tree with unblinking eyes during its entire decent. Didn’t even flinch when it hit the ground.  Because it fell on it’s own terms.

Fifteen years ago I took Dan to meet my grandma, Lorraine, for the first time. An 80 year old widow living on her own, Lorraine had just recently had her chainsaw removed by my dad and aunt. In case you missed that, I said chainsaw. After knocking on her door for several minutes with no answer I became concerned. Growing up, I rarely turned the knob on her front door, and almost always saw her standing in the door frame before getting out of the car. Right as I told Dan we needed to get one of the neighbors, my grandma appeared in the doorway short of breath and obviously sweating. My first thought was heart attack. Lorraine quickly apologized and explained that she had been out back chopping firewood. Lorraine, at 80 years old and 115lbs was wielding an axe in her back yard wearing polyester pants and matching blouse, chopping firewood. Why? Not because she was short on help. She had a son, son-in-law, and 2 grandsons, all over 6 feet tall, strong, and all willing to help her. And that was the problem. She didn’t need help. She just needed an axe and a few logs. She could do it herself.

Recently, while in the hospital she was considered a fall risk and was supposed to call a nurse whenever she wanted to get out of bed. First thing she said? “I don’t need help. I can do it myself.” And she did. After a few dozen trials, an alarm was placed on her bed to let the nurses know when she got up.  It worked at first. She got up, the alarm went off, nurses came in, helped her, offered a smile and a reminder to use the call button. I’m sure she drove them bananas. That routine worked right up until Lorraine rigged the alarm so it didn’t go off. You gotta love this woman. I can just picture her, arms crossed, lips pursed, not looking at anyone in the room while she let them know exactly how little help she needed and how ridiculous the whole charade was.

Lorraine’s great-granddaughter is following suit as well. The other day Natalie decided to use her walker during a family walk. When Dan and I told her we didn’t think she could make it the whole way, her face quickly went from and excited “may I please,” to a very serious “I’m doing this.” I know that look. It’s the look my grandma got when she was hell-bent on something. It’s the same look I get. And I know only a fool argues with it. Natalie made it, but barely. Her legs were shaking when she got home, and she needed to be carried around the house after that, but she was proud that she did and that she did it by herself.

My grandma, like her daughter, and granddaughters, and her great-granddaughter was a strong woman. She didn’t give up or given in. She was persistent – to a fault. But what a great fault to have.  I wish for my daughter to know that she isn’t strong willed by accident but by design. It is engrained in her DNA. She needs that will power. She needs to show others she can when they see her wheelchair and assume she can’t. This week we say goodbye to my grandma one last time. As we do, my heart is filled with gratitude for her strong willed, bullheaded, can-do, will-do, spirit. What an incredible blessing to pass on to her girls.

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Dear M.

Dear M,

We met you at the Splash Pad yesterday. Technically we didn’t “meet” you, but we saw you. We saw you when we got out of our van. Something told me to take note of you and your friend, so I did. I’m glad I did.

We went to the Splash Pad in Waterloo when we could have easily gone to the pool or the lake. We went there because it is in Waterloo. You see, M, I want my kids to have the same perspective of and affinity for Waterloo that I formed from growing up there. I don’t want them to be scared. I don’t want them to use the excuse that Waterloo is too far of a drive to thinly veil fear and judgment. Fear of what is different. Of people who don’t look like them or talk like them.

While my kids were playing in the water, someone yelled “they’re breaking into cars down there!” My husband looked and realized it was our car being broken into. I saw you sitting in my seat, riffling through my things. My kids saw you too. My 7 year old and 3 year old kids saw you breaking into our car and heard me call the police.

You almost ruined our trip and my intentions. Almost. It would have been easy to add this to list of “reasons I don’t go to that city,” and no one would blame me. I’m sure they would have jumped in to add their own story and reasons. But that’s not what happened. You see M, you gave my kids something that I could not have planned or orchestrated. You gave my kids the opportunity to experience some of the best of Waterloo.

The man who was sitting next to me ran after you even though we’d only met 20 minutes prior. In those 20 minutes we talked about how his wife made him sell his boat, how he’d paid off his mortgage and was looking forward to visiting his family in DC. But the conversation ended when you entered my car, and he left his grandkids with his friend and ran.

My husband ran too. Without thinking and without shoes. I’m sure you didn’t plan on being pursued like that, and I’m sure you didn’t count on him running that fast, but he did. And my kids got to see their dad turn into their hero who protects them at all costs.

But my daughter was scared and crying. One of her biggest fears is “robbers.” And there you were, a “robber,” now running from our car. What you didn’t see and what I won’t forget is the woman on my daughter’s right who was comforting her, reassuring her.  Telling her that her daddy was okay and wouldn’t get hurt.

There was one other thing you didn’t consider, M. You didn’t consider that you were in Waterloo. The thing about Waterloo is that despite its reputation, this city has a knack for community. You know your neighbors when you live in Waterloo.  You know the kids in the neighborhood. Even the trouble makers. Especially the trouble makers. Before you even ran out of sight I knew your name, your age, and where you went to school. From several people. Including your friend’s mom who was standing right there, which is something else you didn’t count on.

My kids could have walked away from all of that with animosity toward Waterloo. But they didn’t. I refused to let them. They walked away with a sense that Waterloo is a place where people know each other and help each other out. They don’t walk past. They don’t pretend they don’t see. And they don’t think it’s someone else’s problem. They act, sometimes in unison. Waterloo is a beautiful place for that reason.

One more thing, M. I told you I’m glad I took note of you and I really am. I know what you look like. I know your name. I know where you go to school. M, my husband leads a small group of young men at our church, some of whom go to school where you go to school. This isn’t an accident or a coincidence. These young men will know your name and what you look like because, remember, I took note of you. This is not a threat, but a promise. We are going to pursue you. These boys will be challenged with finding you, meeting you, praying for you, and inviting you. My husband and kids and I will be pursuing you in prayer. Relentlessly. The thing is, M, we think you’re lost and need to be found. We think you’re worth more than you give yourself credit. We think you are loved and should know it. And we intend to pray for you until you find your way.