The Rule of 18

Raising a child is a delicate balance.

1. Obedience and Defiance
Listen to those who have more wisdom / Question what you hear without hesitation

2. Acceptance and Challenge
Stand down for the beliefs of others / Defend your own beliefs

3. Curiosity and Caution
You will never stop learning. Never / Not all lessons are good

4. Pride and Humility
You are the king of your world / There are many worlds with many kings

5. Independence and Accountability
You have freedom to become anything / Freedom is not free; you must own your choices

6. Compassion and Strength
Empathize with others, understand their pain / Need versus want; know when to say “no”

7. Laughter and Tears
Laugh every day; joy is a natural high / Sadness helps your heart grow

8. Sympathy and Disdain
Your heart and mind work together; trust them both / Feel apathy toward actions, not people

9. Clouds and Gravity
When you dream, always dream big / Temper your desires with your reality

10. Pick and Choose
Never fear going against the flow in life / Sometimes life makes your choices for you

11. Apples and Oranges
“Apple and orange … in the end, we all fruit” (Thanks, Gus!) / Some apples and oranges are bitter

12. Family and Friends
Family will always be the home in your heart / Your truest friends become part of your family

13. Gifts and Grifts
Be proud of your achievements / Never take credit you didn’t earn; theft is a dark path

14. Kisses and Shrugs
Ask first; always wait for an affirmative answer / No means No; look it up in the dictionary

15. Skins and Bones
Be Who You Are; celebrate yourself fearlessly / Judge others on what’s inside, not outside

16. Pirate and Princess
Be bold and brave when the need arises / True diplomacy is fighting a fight without fighting

17. Love and Loss
Love openly and without bias / Life is a Dance of Change and we all learn new steps

18. Life and Death
Live fully, live well, live for this day / Don’t live in fear of the end; it is a new beginning

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Running with Pumpkins

Part of being a grandparent is you can take a step back. In my case, I’m directly involved in my grandson’s life. It’s a privilege and a great responsibility to guide a child.

I like to think I did well with my adult children; looking back, they were raised by the “Rule of 18,” though I didn’t realize it at the time. I am proud of them.

My Three Kids: a Teacher (for the mind), a Nurse (for the body) and an Activist (for the soul). While I can’t take all the credit, I’ll take some ūüôā

© 2017 JDL

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The Waters Rose . . .

Louisiana, August, 2016..

A week ago in mid-August, 2016, an area in Louisiana which had never experienced
major flooding was inundated by water from swollen rivers. Torential rain in the
area filled rivers faster than they could drain. The result was massive, widespread
flooding as rivers overflowed their banks and areas saw three or more feet of water.
Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, Walker, Watson, my hometown of Zachary and more were
partially or almost completely under water.

Video of my hometown of Zachary, courtesy Atmosphere Aerial

It was an unprecedented event. Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas are fifty-six feet above sea level. New Orleans is averaged at two feet below sea level. But, Baton Rouge. Fifty-six feet above sea level. Not in a flood zone. The flooding was surreal.

I was one of the lucky ones who was not touched by water Рthis time. I have been in a flooded home in the past. I have been through hurricanes. This time, the waters went the other way.

Livingston Parish was the hardest hit. Official reports state that ninety percent of
Denham Springs (a suburb of our capital city of Baton Rouge with a population of 10,000+) was flooded (forty-three feet above sea level).¬†Ninety percent. Writing the number out doesn’t give justice to the scope of the devastation.

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How do you explain such loss to someone who has never experienced flooding? How do
you vividly describe the smell from the aftermath? Or the absence of any sound save
that of rushing water during the flood?

I have friends from all over. Most are here in the US, some are in other countries.
All can empathize. They comprehend¬†what “losing” a home means. Many are in areas
that have their own unique natural disasters – tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires,
snowstorms, mudslides.

There is a difference when it comes to flooding. Water leaves behind its own
particular memories long after the rivers recede. Waterlines, watermarks, red X’s;
waterlogged clothing and possessions gathered in black garbage bags and waiting for
trash pickup which may be a month or more away; mold, mildew, the fetid smell of
water-soaked homes; a heavy blanket of rotten as Louisiana humidity speeds up
the decomposition of consumables spilled out of refrigerators and freezers tipped
over by the water.

Roads were closed by the thousands, impassable because of water. The major interstate system, I-12, was closed for 60 miles when water flooded numerous areas. Motorists were trapped atop overpasses, stranded for over twenty-four hours. We were in touch with several who were stuck with no food or water for over a day. We were helpless to get to them.

Louisiana friends and those who are from Louisiana and now live away – they know.
Living in the southern portion of Louisiana, the toe and heel of our state, is to be
baptized by water. Over and over again. Our coastal state is filled with ponds,
lakes, creeks, rivers and swamps. Even native Louisianians who have never
experienced a flood know people who have.

Pictures of flooded areas courtesy Baton Rouge Advocate

It is hard to grasp what flooding does to someone who loses all to water. Like many tragedies in life, we can sympathize and empathize, but cannot totally understand until it happens to us.

Because some will never have a flooded house, they won’t know what everyone is calling the “Katrina” smell this week. It was the rotten smell in New Orleans months after the storm passed. Now it’s in the flooded areas of Louisiana and will linger there for awhile.

I do not know what it’s like to be in an earthquake, fire, mudslide, snowstorm. I
can empathize and sympathize because I know what it’s like to be in a flood. I know
what it’s like to have water lay claim to everything. Earthquakes, fires, mudslides
and snowstorms can do the same thing. So, I understand – to a degree.

As I write, I hear thunder outside. Dark clouds are rolling in. Soon, the rain will pour down.

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While Louisiana deals with the aftermath of the flooding and more rain to come to an already inundated area of the state, the rest of the world keeps going.

And that’s not a bad thing. We need to see normalcy during¬†this abnormal time.

I’m glad the world goes on. Louisiana will “geaux” on. It’s what we do. It’s who we
are. Perseverance through the worst of times. Communities coming together. Strangers giving to strangers. Everyone wanting to help people put their lives back together.

We are Louisiana.

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Until We Meet Again

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It’s been a year since Donald passed away in his sleep. Only forty-years old, his death was expected and unexpected. Even when the dark shadows loom over someone in terminally ill health, their passing is still an unwelcome surprise.

We knew Donald did not have long to live. His failed kidneys contributed to his failing heart. But, we hoped.

No parent (and Donald was a son to me, not just a son-in-law) should outlive their child. No child should grow up without their father. My youngest girls were five and seven when their own father died. Life was unfair to them then, and it’s unfair to my granddaughters now without Donald in their lives. Why does God allow such a horrible thing to happen?

The answers I’ve found are mixed. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s whatever you want to believe. Belief in the unseen is the rock of faith. Mine has been shaken over the past years. Little crumbly bits of that rock have fallen to the ground.

But, I still believe in the afterlife. I believe we go on. I don’t know what form we take or even if we have a form. At some point in the future I’ll know Donald, Daddy and Mom, Dan and Chuck, and so many others who are already free of this life.

It has been a year. There is still grief for his passing. There is sadness because the rest of us continued with our lives and an entire year passed without Donald in the world. Some days it seems a short time has passed. Other days, it feels so long ago. After a death, time loses its structure and becomes a wobbly top.

I remember the good times and the bad times, the happy times and sad times, the well times and the unwell times. Donald was a good man who tried to do good things for his family and for those in need.

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He was not perfect. Like the rest of us, there were things he should not have done. There were things he regretted. There were things he wished he could do over again.

But, the core of Donald was good. He loved us and would do anything for family. He proved himself a good son, over and over. He sacrificed his health when he should have been taking better care of himself. He did this for family.

Donald tried to protect his close and extended family, from internal and external forces. He tried to do right and keep his loved ones safe. He died looked forward to the next day when he would visit his wife in the hospital.

Something inside him, not consciously, knew his time was ending. He was adamant that I be there for his wife (my daughter) when she had her surgery. “I’m scared, Ma,” he kept telling me.

I look back now and wonder if his fear for his wife included fear for himself. He may have subconsciously felt the end was imminent. And maybe, also subconsciously, he trusted and wanted me to be there when he crossed over.

The night after her surgery when we went back to their house, everything was normal. It was late and we were all tired. He helped his daughter with her homework while I fixed her school lunch. We said good night.

Was it a good night? Not for me. It was restless and I kept telling the dawn to hurry up.

When I found him the next morning, his face was peaceful and his body was relaxed in a way I rarely saw him. The image is still strong in my mind. It will stay with me until my own time ends.

I am grateful that he had one more day with his family. I’m grateful that I was first to gently touch his face and say goodbye. I am grateful I was there for such an important event in his life. I am grateful.

One breath in, one last breath out.

Donald, your earthly presence is missed, though we feel your spirit around us. In the midst of our sadness, we rejoice that you are in your heavenly home.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

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Birthday balloons floating to heaven 1-28-2016 ~ photo courtesy RLH

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The Book of Everything

I became the default keeper of my mother’s family book. It’s a little book, originally a weekly planner, but she transformed it into the history of her life and important events touching our family.

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As the defacto family historian, I’ve done a poor job. There are missing entries for births and important family happenings left unrecorded.

For a year, it has been tucked away in a folder. The last entry was the passing of my son-in-law in 2015. Since then, it’s been too painful to open. The page listing family deaths is getting larger.

Yet, tonight, when I opened it for the first time in a year, I felt the connection to my mother’s life.

She was an amazing woman who, given the means and opportunities not available to her when she was growing up, might well have been a doctor or professor or world-famous humanitarian. Instead, she became a mother (which encompasses doctor, professor, humanitarian and more).

Looking through the family book, I saw her life. She was a compulsive documenter of appliances. She kept records of when the house was painted and the carport washed. Important details were factually written down.

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She recorded major health issues in the family. She kept track of the wars and where a family member was stationed. She noted world events, catastrophic hurricanes. She wrote down her own medical history.

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And she listed births, deaths (including family pets), marriages, divorces, etc., until she began to lose her sight.

The quote on the first page may have been her own or something she read in a magazine or saw on television. It suited her because it was her.

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“Courage is often no more than the ability to keep going ahead. Those who don’t have it turn aside or quit altogether”

As I look through the book, I see the courage it took my mother to write down some of the more heartbreaking entries. She outlived so many loved ones, including her own son.

As our family increases, ages, loses and gains members, I will look to this quote. I will summon the courage to keep the history of our family intact. I will look to my mother’s life and summon the courage to keep going ahead.

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Goodbye, Bud

My neighbor died last night. Around midnight, I walked outside and saw the nervous red and blue whites pulsating next door. The local firetruck, several police cars, an ambulance and other department vehicles sat in his yard and along the street. I stood on the side and watched as different medical and official people went in and out of his house. I stayed rooted to the hard, cold concrete and watched. I didn’t need to walk over and add to the chaos when I already knew he was gone.

There was no rush from the paramedics. I watched them bring a stretcher out of the house and load it into the ambulance. Their movements were not hurried and the ambulance did not take off with lights and sirens blaring. The firetruck left, as did some of the police cars and emergency vehicles. Family members milled around, some on phones, others talking to the officials who remained.

I walked inside before he was brought out. The memory from five years, four months, nine days and fourteen hours of another body in a blue bag being removed from a house is still strong. The memory of a more recent body removed ten months and one day ago is too fresh. Those two memories forced me inside before I could bear witness to another body in a bag.

He was a good neighbor. Any time anyone needed help, he was always willing to lend a hand. He fixed my lawn mowers more times than I can remember. He was the voice of the neighborhood. Although his opinions were strong, he was respected by many. Over the last few years, his health rapidly deteriorated. This past year, I saw him less often outside, no longer daily pacing the area as our own personal neighborhood watch of one. Instead, I would infrequently see him on the porch or in his yard, a tank of oxygen following behind him like his beloved dog.

The last time we talked was some time ago when we happened to be outside at the same time. I don’t even remember the conversation. It could have been about my grandson or his grandchildren or the weather or why the city was slow in cutting the ditches or any number of things. I wish I could remember. The last time I saw him was a week ago, sitting on his porch as I drove by. He waved, I waved.

I’m not sure what I’m feeling now, except for the sadness of another death. The hurt and grief belong to his wife and family. We were neighbors, protective of each other, but respectful of each other’s privacy.

I will miss Bud. He was the fixture in our ever-changing neighborhood. Out of dozens of homes, only a few of us have lived here for more than fifteen years. Bud and his wife and family were here for decades. Always tinkering on lawnmowers and cars, I remember the time he showed me the car he was building out of an old refrigerator. The man was imaginative and a genius when it came to the inner workings of motors.

He lived the life he wanted, without compromise and, I hope, without regret. This neighborhood lost more than a neighbor; it lost some of its spirit. Another root that kept the neighborhood grounded has been unearthed. I can feel it in the air, this lost connection.

He was a good man.

Goodbye, Bud.

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I’m Tweeting Like a Bird

I started a new Twitter account as a dare from my friend UK Jinko. Because of my short attention span when writing, he threatened to start a pool.

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He knows I can write because he’s read my stories and books. His criticism is a bit harsh, but his advice is very good. He doesn’t hold back, even if he is a little pissy sometimes. Hence, the September Twitter challenge.

We’ve been online friends for a number of years. I first met him when we were both writing for Rutger Hauer (yes, that Rutger Hauer, the only Roy Batty).

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The Real Roy Batty

Our friendship evolved into what it is today; no sugar coating, no fear of hurting feelings, truth so raw it could be dipped in ranch dressing. UK Jinko is his pseudonym. In a moment of weakness nine years ago, he told me his real name. His alias is much better.

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He knows I’ve had writer’s apathy for the past few years. I start¬†a story and quickly lose interest. I finish short stories but have little motivation to edit them into a collection.

He suggested Twitter as a way to give my brain a needed “enema to clear out s**te.” Brain-popping 140 characters a day isn’t that hard. I jumped the gun and started a few days ahead of the bet. And I anted up to more than one tweet daily because, surprisingly, it’s fun.

Join me on my Twitter quest if you will. I promise I’ll tap-dance 140 or less characters for you twice a day.

Click me, I’m on Twitter

https://twitter.com/JanDorris

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A Flower in Heaven – Goodbye, Mama Rose

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Mama Rose passed early on July 5th, 2015. She was in frail health for a long time and after this latest bout, she was put in hospice. Her family had time to say goodbye and for that, I am deeply thankful.

My connection to Mama Rose was through my son-in-law Donald. Donald passed away on February 4th (What My Son-in-Law Taught Me), dying peacefully in his sleep. This is the way most of us would like to go. He had been adamant about not dying in a hospital; he wanted to be home among family. His prayer was answered.

Mama Rose and Donald were not your typical family. Donald, a Southern white man with strong opinions and Mama Rose, a refined elderly black woman with kind, gentle words for everyone.

Their relationship started over the kidney disease with which they were both afflicted. For a long time, Donald and Mama Rose rode together to the Statesboro Davita center for dialysis.¬†As years went by, Donald and his family became part of Mama Rose’s large family.

Mama Rose holding baby Abigail

Mama Rose holding baby Abigail

He was as concerned for her as he was for me, his mother-in-law/Ma. Sometimes, Donald would call and talk to me as he waited for Mama Rose to finish her dialysis. Many times he expressed concern for her other health problems. Several times after dialysis he took her to the hospital, knowing something very wrong was happening with his Mama Rose.

When things went well after dialysis, they would stop at a store or drive-thru and share meals and snacks before making their way home. I only know what they talked about through what Donald told me, but the subjects ranged from gardening to government, from the minuscule to the grandiose.

Even as his own health rapidly declined and he transferred to a different dialysis center, he kept up with Mama Rose. She was family, after all. She called Donald her “white son.”

At Donald’s funeral, I sat for awhile on the pew in front of Mama Rose. Surrounded by her blood family, she held my hand and kept crying, “My boy, my boy,” and my heart was as heavy for her grief as it was for my own.

Mama Rose was love. The times I talked to her, she was full of concern for others even as she battled her own serious health conditions. She worried about her loved ones. She was always concerned for Donald in the way a mother is fretful over the health of her child.

used by permission

Mama Rose

Mama Rose leaves a legacy with her blood children and her choice children. Donald’s family is still a part of her family. But, what is family?

We have the family we were born into, the family we birth, the family we choose. But, there is a larger scale for family.

Go back eons in time and you see we are all connected. We started out from two, a man and a woman. From there, people spread across the world.

The entire world is family. I may have a seventh cousin in Pakistan or a fifth cousin in Nigeria or a ninth cousin in Mongolia. Go back through the lines of time and you can see how we are all related, despite the color of our skin, our geographic location and the religion with which we associate.

I think Mama Rose recognized this. I won’t presume to read her mind, but her declaration of a white man as her son was more progressive and powerful than most leaders for racial equality.

All they need to do is look at Mama Rose. She made my son-in-law equal. She raised him to her status. She promoted the connection of all people in the world to each other by loving Donald as a son. And he reciprocated by loving her in return.

Your presence is missed, Mama Rose. I weep as I write this tribute and I wish I had lived closer so I could have really known you. I regret the missed opportunity because Mama Rose was a unique lady, a supportive mother and wonderful example for everyone.

On Sunday, July 5th, 2015, Mama Rose left our earthly world. Waiting, Donald opened the door for her one last time and walked her across the threshold to Heaven. Together, they are dining at the Table of God.

used by permission

Mama Rose

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