About Elizabeth di Grazia

An artist, I follow the nudge inside of me. This nudge led me to write Peace Corps stories, find the front door to the Loft, and to graduate from Hamline’s MFA program. The story that became my thesis for Hamline is woven into my book manuscript: HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption. It’s a story about family. And a story about love–for my partner Jody and the son and daughter we adopted from Guatemala. Most days, I can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. When I am not at the foundry I may be volunteering as a Police Reserve Officer for Richfield, MN or kicking butt at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do.

Entitlement

8 years old.

Entitlement is not a disease that I suffer from. In 1970, I was one of the kids who in middle school stood in the principal’s office amidst a tangle of classmates wondering why I was there. I was no stranger to the principal’s office. However, as I looked around at the others gathered, I wondered what our connection was. The Principal explained that a free lunch program started, and the ones gathered would be receivers of this new subsidy for low income families. Sweeping the small room with my eyes, I took stock. Two students were my siblings, the other seven were from families in our small town and farming community. We all knew each other. We were the ones on the fringes. It wasn’t difficult in our small community to know where you were on the economic ladder.

There wasn’t any money for a letterman’s jacket, yearbook, or class pictures. You knew what you could and couldn’t ask for at Christmas time. I never expected any inheritance from my parents. They simply didn’t have the money.

Jody and I feel blessed and fortunate for what we have. We truly are the lucky ones who have enough in this world.

Our teenage children also have enough. They don’t lack for anything. As well as having jobs, they have parents who like to give to them.

They have the letterman jackets, the yearbooks, the mopeds, and spending money.

Sometimes they feel entitled. They want for more.

This is when we stop. Give pause. In a way that isn’t too overbearing, too apparent, or overt, we seek to bring to their attention what they have. We want them to feel fortunate and blessed like we do. The best way we have found is to say, “No”. Or, “Use your own money from your job”. Or, “Write a letter what you are grateful for”. Or, “Fill a bag with toys, clothes, or whatever you are asking for to give away before we buy anything new”. Or, “Look around at others in your school and your community and notice the disparity”.

Our 4 trips to Guatemala, their birth country, have helped. We don’t need to say anything. They see what we see. As soon as we leave the airport, all of us are shocked into another reality.

This past Christmas, instead of opening presents on Christmas Eve, we played a grateful game. Though that isn’t what we called it. It was simply a game. The four of us joined together for a round robin of what we received during the year without it being on our birthday or holiday. Jody and I wanted the children to acknowledge all that they are blessed with. There was plenty.

Spring vacation Florida trip, South Dakota summer vacation, mopeds, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, Everglades airboat ride, jet ski rides, letterman jacket, updates to our house, etc.

Prior to our round robin, we did open one gift. A family values lazy susan. Words of wisdom, love and encouragement are colorfully displayed on this decorative table centerpiece. It would be great if this simple reminder would leave the teens feeling full of gratitude all year long. I doubt it.

That’s when we can pause. Stop. And, start counting our blessings.

Advertisements

I Confess…

Unity Minister, Aunt Jo, at Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s christening ceremony at our home.

On Sundays, I could be sitting in a pew. I’m not. I’m writing to you. Crystel is on social media. Juan Jose’ is sleeping. Jody has left to do maintenance on police cars as her volunteer job as a police reserve officer, and then she’ll visit her mother.

Sometimes, I feel guilty about not taking my kids to church.

During the holiday season, when Crystel was little, she’d holler out, “Look, there’s the little people,” when she’d spot a manger in a yard. Spotting the little people became a game we played in the car, as well as eyeing left over door wreaths that lasted well into the summer.

Aunt Amie blessing Juan Jose’ and Crystel

The guilt or the want for the children to create an image of God to their own liking propelled Jody and me to the front door of a popular church in Minneapolis. The preschoolers attended Sunday school while we listened to the service. That was fine until I found myself writing poetry during the mass. Why do that at church when you can do it at home?

We soon joined another church that we thought would be our forever church. We became hospitality hosts and also taught Sunday school. It was teaching Sunday school where I learned that I didn’t like 5th graders much. Then our kids were 5th graders and we were teaching them.

Uncle Scott and Aunt Ann

What pushed Jody and me toward the exit door, was having the feeling that we ‘had’ to hold hands and that we ‘had’ to hug people when it came that time in the service. I didn’t mind holding hands and hugging, it was the fact that I didn’t feel as if I had a choice to say, “No”.

When we told Juan Jose’ and Crystel that we were going to quit going to church, they beat us to the car.

Our church is volunteering at Loaves and Fishes once a month. I explained to the kids that our church was about giving and we are giving of our service. They haven’t complained since they know the alternative is finding and attending a church service on Sundays.

Uncle Marty, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Pat

Sometimes, I still feel guilty. Are they finding God at Loaves and Fishes? Among the homeless? The poor? The people who come for a handout or companionship? Juan Jose’ and Crystel serve coffee, food, or help wash and dry dishes. Crystel may play piano or flute.

Crystel recently asked us what religion we were. I paused, searching for the right answer. “We respect all religions,” I told her. “That wasn’t my question,” she said bluntly.

“Well,” I said. “We aren’t anything.”

She asked about confirmation. Several of her friends will be confirmed this year. I told her that she could be, too, if she wanted to join a church and take classes. She shook her head no. She just liked the idea of getting the money you receive when you get confirmed.

Blessing for Crystel from Aunt Amie

“You were christened,” I said. “Your Aunt Jo christened you and Juan Jose’. Your chosen aunts and uncles gave you a blessing.”

Blessing for Juan Jose’ from Aunt Amie

My hope this Sunday is that my children will recognise God in themselves and others, whether it is Mama Jody visiting her mother, the folks at Loaves and Fishes, or in the people who aren’t anything.

 

 

My Wish Came True

My wish came true. On my annual trip to Destin, Florida for a human resources conference, I learned at hotel check-in that my guest room would be in the Emerald Tower on the 14th floor.

I smiled.

This would be my third stay at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort Hotel and Spa. My first time with a room that high that looked out towards Florida’s Emerald Coast.

I nodded along as the receptionist explained where the elevator was located.

Once in the room, I did my usual hotel check: looking behind the shower curtain, opening the closet door that held the ironing board, kicking under the bed to hear the thud of the base, and glancing behind the couch and chair.

I slid my patio door open and stepped out. I studied the brick wall to my left and right. A person would have to rappel up to get inside my room. Who would do that?

Kids’ laughter floated up to me. I viewed the white sand, the people walking on the beach, and the boogieboarders. I leaned back breathing in the sun’s warmth. I closed my eyes to bring even closer to my core the sound of the ocean waves. Ah, this was lovely.

For a moment, I held my breath. Could I leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the ocean waves?

Looking at my hotel from the beach. My room is on the 14th floor.

It took me years to feel safe enough in my own home to fall asleep while napping on the couch. I had to work hard to not chastise myself for relinquishing my watchful eye. Growing up, it had been my job to be vigilant. Being on alert sleeping or awake was my natural way of being. I had to teach my body that it was okay to rest. I did this by using an eye mask and earplugs. My signals to my body that it was time to sleep.

Even so, it was me who woke a moment before one of the babies did. I must have heard their rustling in the crib before they started whimpering. Later, it was me who woke Jody before one of our toddlers fell out of their bed in the hotel room. I reached across from my bed where Juan Jose’ and I were sleeping to theirs. I nudged Jody, “Crystel’s falling out of bed.” She quickly scooped the child up.

I have grown to be most comfortable with Jody sleeping beside me. She is a source of comfort. I have my deepest sleep in her presence.

I travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota, one week a month for work. I can’t take Jody with me. It helps to request the same hotel room. One that doesn’t have a connecting room. I continue to use earplugs and eye shades. I take the ironing board out of the closet and set it up against the hotel door. I push the rolling chair next to the ironing board. I figure, I’ll wake before the door opens.

All of my senses told me that I was safe in my guest room at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort Hotel and Spa on the 14th floor. Could I leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves? I took a deep breath. If not now, when?

That evening after our Welcome Gathering and dinner on the Sunside deck, I retreated to my room. After completing my hotel room check, I took the ironing board out of the closet and set it up against the door, pushed the rolling chair up next to it, and put another chair against the connecting door.

I walked out to the patio, listened to the rolling ocean waves. Even in the darkness you knew the ocean was there, splashing against the shore.

In bed, I imagined the universe holding me, embracing me. A mother and her child.

For the next four nights, I slept to the sound of waves breaking against the shore. When I’d wake in the night, I’d let it lull me to sleep again.

 

 

My First High School Prom ever!

High School Prom.  59 years old and I’m finally able to scratch attending a prom off the list.

Raising my children has made for a lifetime of do-overs.

The closest I came to attending a high school dance in my teens was stepping just inside the entrance doors. A younger brother asked me to go with him. Earlier, he had stashed a bottle of peppermint schnapps. I had never tasted anything so good. I told him that I’d wait for him outside the high school doors.

The best part of this prom night was before the dance at a friend’s house where the girls were having their hair done.

“Well, since you’re going to be there tonight,” one of the moms said to me, “you can take pictures.”

With excitement in her voice, a teen spoke up, “You’re going to be there? Yeah!” Another girl quickly chimed in her delight.

My date.

This surprised and pleased me. As a Police Reserve Officer, I attended all of Juan and Crystel’s middle school dances, even when they didn’t go. I thoroughly enjoyed joshing with their friends. It warmed me that I continued to be welcomed.

Up until now my involvement with this high school prom was as an observer. I witnessed the teens’ enthusiasm and angst over what they were going to wear, who they were going to go with, and what they were going to do before and after the dance. I didn’t say a word. I watched. I asked questions. I raised my eyebrows.

I arrived at the dance fifteen minutes before it opened. This time I had no peppermint schnapps or alcohol of any kind. I walked through the front door, past the registration table.

A scattering of students were milling about. This was not like the middle school dances where students packed themselves at the entrance doors impatient to get in. Tonight, there was a deliberateness in the air. Like you had to time your entrance, not be too early, not appear too eager and definitely, not appear too much like middle school.

When my date arrived, we had our picture taken under the balloon rainbow. For us there wasn’t any angst about what to wear or how our hair was done. Once the doors opened it was our job to observe and escort students who returned to their car to change into shoes that didn’t hurt. A few times my date and I circled the dance. On one of those rounds a student was being crowdsurfed.

Crystel and Juan Jose’

Later, Crystel and her group of friends walked over to where I was sitting. I was near the exit, informing students that were leaving they wouldn’t be allowed back in to the dance. I leaned into the group and whispered, “Seems to me, it was more fun before the dance than the actual dance itself.” They expressed the same opinion. Picking outfits, getting hair done, pictures, and dinner at a friend’s house was more entertaining. They soon left for a sleepover.

For me, there would be no waking up the next morning with hives from poisoning myself with peppermint schnapps and I could scratch my first prom dance off my bucket list.

Your Moms Are Going into The Peace Corps

I told the kids that after they graduated from high school that their moms were going into the Peace Corps. Even though it is 4 years from now, I believe in giving plenty of notice. Juan Jose’ has already told us that he isn’t leaving home. He’s going to live here forEVER. It was clear that the moms were going to have to leave to get on with their life.

I had been in the Peace Corps in my early 30’s. After 1½ years, I received a phone call that my mother was dying of cancer. I went home for a 30-day leave, returned to Tonga in the South Pacific where I was stationed, only to learn that I didn’t have the stamina to wait for a call telling me that she had died. Though our relationship was contentious, I needed to be within driving distance when she took her last breath. We never spoke of my decision.

It has always been in the back of my mind to return to the Peace Corps as a couple. I’m excited that Jody is willing. It will be an adventure we can share.

I mentioned Fiji, Tonga, and other South Pacific Islands.

Until now, Crystel had not been verbal about her plans after high school.

“I’m coming,” she said. I thought about that. Many people do have family members visit during their two-year stint.

“Yes,” I agreed. “A visit is possible. Maybe you both can even travel to New Zealand and Australia with Mama Jody and me.”

“No. I’m coming.”

“Oh, okay.” I had no answer other than that. How does one hide their 18-year-old daughter for two years in a hut? I’m not sure that the Peace Corps allows for extended stays. As her Uncle Scott mentioned, maybe they have a university she can attend.

When I was in the Peace Corps in 1990, most people went off the island to New Zealand or Australia to get their education.

Still….

“Is college important?” asked Juan Jose’.

Both Jody and I answered him in the affirmative. I wasn’t satisfied with my answer. How do you tell a ninth grader that college is important when he thinks that the stuff he is learning is useless?

I support the kids doing a gap year and traveling overseas. As a human resources manager, I learned that the most important work strength one can have is knowing how to get along with others. If you can’t get along with others you most likely won’t hold your job long and you’ll be stymied for promotions.

I thought about the foundry workers, the press and extrusion operators and other laborers at the companies where I’ve worked. All jobs which the kids are familiar with from plant tours that I’ve given them.

I explained to Juan that the people who do those jobs work much harder than me, but they make less money. “It’s another example of how the world is unfair,” I said. “The hardest working people make less money because they don’t have a college degree.”

I went on to say that if you get a college education you are more likely to be in a job you want, make more money, and do less work.

Juan was quiet. I imagined him living at home and attending a community college. “The college you go to is far less important than one would think,” I said. “It’s the 4-year degree that holds the importance.”

It never occurred to me that Crystel might do her gap year with Jody and me.

I learned that the University of the South Pacific includes Tonga. Maybe, that will have to be part of the deal if she starts packing her bags and sets them next to ours when we join the Peace Corps. The university is jointly owned by the governments of 12 island countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa. All places that she wants to travel.

Jody and I have our work cut out for us. We have to start teaching Juan Jose’ how to take care of the yard, the house, and the pool. Oh, and to run the dishwasher and throw his socks down the clothes chute. We have four years.