Boy Scouts did What this Mom Couldn’t

May 18 2014 056A 30 mile bike ride with nary a whine. Just an I Made It! text. And where was I? 10 minutes behind the Scout, my butt and legs hurting.

Our ride started at Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, the meeting place of Boy Scout Troop 110, and ended at Carver Park Reserve.

It didn’t take me long to realize how out of shape I was. Before leaving the parking lot, I tipped over. I couldn’t get my foot out of my clipless foot clamp. Lying on the ground, I looked up at Antonio while other Scout leaders rushed to help me. His face was expressionless, a look that he’s mastering.

“Perhaps, I’d better ride around the parking lot a few times before riding out,” I said.

Antonio’s daily bike riding had him in good shape for this challenge. Still, it was 10 miles before I saw his first smile. Antonio and another Scout had found the electronics table at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, our first rest stop. I didn’t chide Antonio to join the other scouts outside. I could see that this was a boy bonding moment and his way into this Boy Scout Troop. Instead, I snapped a picture, left a bottle of Gatorade and chocolate chip cookie on the Playstation.

Before leaving for our next ten miles, he said, “I think I’m going to like this Troop.”

May 18 2014 057At the 20 mile mark, he shocked me with two hugs. This could have been because we were at Adele’s Frozen Custard in Excelsior and in a moment he would ask for gummy worms and sprinkles . . . or maybe he was overwhelmed with love for his mom. Either way, I was shocked when his rock hard arms came around me and squeezed.

I had been giving him space on the ride, staying closer to the back of our herd of 16 bikers. I didn’t want to crowd him as he found his way into the pack.

Sometimes it’s only in a gathering like this that I get a glimpse of Antonio or Crystel as the ‘different’ ones. They are such a part of me that I don’t see any differences between us. In this group, Antonio was the only person of color. Meaning that in this group I was his white mom.

I wanted Antonio to choose how to ‘come out’ in this group that he was adopted. After all, it’s his group.

I’ve watched Antonio step between the world of Hispanics and the world of whites with ease. In this gathering he was the only Hispanic, even though at school his very best friends are Hispanic and white. (Thank you, Richfield Dual Language School!)

Troop 110 found a way around

Troop 110 found a way around

Six years ago, in kindergarten on his way home from school he whined, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” Perhaps, he saw himself such a part of Jody and me that he didn’t see his difference. I paused thinking ‘Shock alert here’ then answered, “Because you’re Guatemalan, dude.”

At Carver Park Reserve, I texted Jody and told her that I had arrived. Antonio would be camping overnight with the Scouts while I headed for home.

This was another nice surprise: Antonio camping with the Boy Scouts by himself. I had told him in Cub Scouts that if he needed me to I would camp with him until he was 18. Perhaps he is writing his own book, LIFE WITHOUT MOM.

Except his book is LIFE WITHOUT TWO MOMS.

Carver Park Reserve

Carver Park Reserve

I wasn’t sure that Antonio was ‘out’ yet to this Boy Scout Troop that he had two moms. I’m sensitive that he and Crystel are allowed to be visible in their own timing and in their own way. I wrote a blog post about this July 26, 2012 titled Truth Telling.

I had already checked with the Scoutmaster (in private) about how the Troop felt about Antonio having two moms. “Everyone is welcomed.”

Since Jody and I weren’t sure if Antonio had come out to this Boy Scout Troop, we gave him separate quiet goodbyes.

The next morning at 7:40 a.m., I received a text from Antonio: When do you pick me up?

The Boy Scout

The Boy Scout

I couldn’t read between the lines–did he have a good time? Didn’t he have a good time? Would he be adamant about never returning to Scouts?

I texted back the time and then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go?”

He answered, 10!

Everything That Rises Must Converge

405My experience as a Loft Mentor Series speaker.

It had been going on for some time before I noticed. My daughter was choosing an adult out of the people milling about at the Loft Literary Center after the Mentor Series Reading, taking him or her by the hand, and leading the person to open floor space. Once there she generated a dance routine for the adult to follow. After their two-minute routine was complete, she released the adult back into the gathering and chose a new person. Each person learned and performed a never-done-before dance routine. My son followed along videotaping each jig.

Who is this girl? And what magnetism does she possess that adult men and women will willingly leave the fold (and food) to dance with her? Even Jerald Walker and Mark Anthony Rolo, acclaimed authors and mentors, followed her as did many others.
All I could do was stare and see if anyone needed saving. They didn’t. They were enjoying the girl.

At three-years old, this girl could not talk intelligibly. Part 3 of my memoir, House of Fire, speaks to this. Thank God for the goat, it begins. During one of our camping trips, both my partner Jody and I thought that the other person had the girl. When I understood that neither one of us did all I could think was, The girl can’t tell anyone her name, where she lives, or who her moms are. We sprinted back to the the animal pens, which was the last place we saw her. She and the white double-bearded goat stood in companionable silence, the goat chewing her cud, the little girl waiting for her mothers to return.

The girl was diagnosed with articulation disorder and on two occasions we were asked by the school district to have her tested for autism. Jody and I refused. We were afraid she’d be mislabeled.

I mentioned this to a fellow mentee on Friday night, told her that I was in awe of the girl. She said that the girl just needed the right fertilizer and that Jody and I provided it for her.

I think she’s right.

I thought about myself. How my life’s work has been to be visible, to stand and speak my truth.

All this love, this fertilizer, brought the very best out of the girl and me on Friday night, the night of my Loft mentorship reading.

I recalled a quote,

“Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Yellow tulips flowers. (3)[1]I did the only thing that I could do when we got home. I presented the girl with a bouquet of tulips that I was given. After all, she gave quite a performance.

On Being President

Antonio di Grazia 5th Grade President!

Antonio di Grazia 5th Grade President!

The presidency started off like many presidencies. When Crystel announced that Antonio was running for 5th grade class president, he denied it, “She’s lying!”

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “Antonio, your sister was excited for you. She just thought that you threw your hat in the ring. That’s all.”

I didn’t tell him that I was excited, too.

Antonio just wasn’t ready to share it with the world. The next day he confirmed that he was running for President. Candidates are allowed to waffle.

5th grade Presidency leads to White House. First Dog.

5th grade Presidency leads to White House. First Dog.

I asked him if he wanted me to write a speech for him. He said, “No.”

I did it anyway. I knew that he would probably need a speech and why not have one ready? I could see it in my mind. He’d pull it out of his backpack, it would be typed, easy to ready. And, oh, so eloquent.

Have you ever felt different? I have too. Starting with this line was sure to grab everyone’s heart. And, how vulnerable for a fifth grade boy. I could see Antonio on stage, speaking clearer than he has ever spoke. (In reality, he absolutely hates being the center of attention. And has refused since preschool to be on a stage).

Carving of President di Grazia scheduled on Mount Rushmore.

Carving of President di Grazia scheduled on Mount Rushmore.

Then I went on to say how I like Pokémon and soccer. Thinking that would bring in the male vote.

I was really into this. I thought if he was willing to stick his neck out at least I should offer my assistance. I didn’t worry too much about his popularity. His grades looked like he had been campaigning all last quarter.

After I finished writing the speech, I put it in a plastic sheaf so it wouldn’t get crinkled, and I slipped it into his science notebook.

Coming home from running errands, I saw that the speech was gone and that he had gone back to bed.

Probably to look the speech over.

My New Home. In Retirement.

My New Home. In Retirement.

But another part of me knew better and I checked the garbage. And, there it was. My speech all torn up in itty bitty pieces with the plastic sheath on top.

He told me that the speech was suppose to be WHY you wanted to be President. “Can you just say, “Because it’s pretty cool, and I’d feel awesome?”

He didn’t want to draw any posters – it was too much work. Too, bad. If he had included Pokemon drawings on his campaign posters, they would have been rad.

I knew WE had an uphill battle for this presidency. Even his sister wasn’t going to vote for him.

Unpacking

Unpacking

The big snowstorm put off the vote for a week. After the vote (no Antonio didn’t win), we were sitting talking about this blog, he said with a grin, those people who put posters up have to take every piece of tape off the wall, even the sticky part.

And now that I’m sitting with THEE Crystel, she tells me that Antonio didn’t even vote for himself and he voted for the person who won.

Oh my goodness.

Yippee!!! My Book Is Done!

I just pressed “Save” and declared it done.

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 12.06.26 AMIt seems like a lightening bolt should fork across the sky. Or the aurora borealis should glow tonight especially for me. But nothing like that happened. If I’d ever pictured this moment, I might have thought it would call for Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or champagne. But instead I’m just quietly pleased. And tomorrow I’ll get up and go to work.

Perhaps a more accurate statement is that the book may not be done, but I’m done with it.  I have written it to the best of my ability, and now I need to be done with this project begun in 1997. Wow.  Until I did the math I didn’t realize that this memoir (working title: Colette’s Legacy) has been part of my life for 16 years. First it was notes about a memory I couldn’t shake, next a sketchy first draft I set aside for years, and since 2009 (drafts 2, 3 and 4), I’ve made a lot of room for it in my life. I’ve worked on it nearly every weekend and on many of my days off. I’ve taken classes, worked with writing coaches, and shared it with my ever-so-patient and supportive writing group.

I’m proud of myself for finishing it, but I’m also relieved. In the coming weeks, it may feel odd not to have it occupying my thoughts and my time. But right now, I feel so much lighter.

After this last revision, the book is definitely better. But is it good enough? I don’t know. I can’t tell anymore. Some days, I don’t even like it. Other days, I think, hmmm. This is pretty good—better than I remembered. I do know that it’s as good as I can make it. Colette’s Legacy is a workplace coming-of-age story set in 1979. My memoir recalls a time when combining a relationship with a career wasn’t a given, and it honors the way Baby Boom women changed the world of work and family. What I don’t know is if anyone (besides 20 or so friends and family members) will be interested in reading it.

But whether or not to pursue publication is a decision for another day.

Today, my book is done and I’m really happy about that.

Our Handyman, Tim

Tim 004This is not a paid advertisement.

On April 28th, an article in the Star Tribune written by Paul Muschick stated that in 2012 the home repair industry was the most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It was also the second-most-complained about.

My family is lucky we found Tim.

When you have children you acquire (whether or not you want it) – a calendar – that posts events in your mind that are Before Kids or After Kids.  Tim belongs in the Before Kids category.

Our relationship started simply enough. Leaving the YWCA in Uptown, Jody lifted his business card off of the advertisement board. We were dating then. She had witnessed my attempt to block birds from nesting inside the air vents on the roof. Thank goodness a storm blew through Richfield breaking my windows and leaving me with hail damage. Insurance would pay for a new roof and I’d have to hire someone to do the work.

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

I had a history of floundering as a homeowner. An electrician I had asked to make a repair in the bathroom mangled an outlet and the wallpaper. It was never the same again. The contractor I hired to put on the new roof was unable, even after many attempts, to fix the leak on the porch roof.

Finally, I put a cake pan inside the ceiling to catch the dripping water.

Until Tim came.

Tim smiled, handed me my cake pan.

He fixed the leak and has been with us for over ten years. We’ve had him longer than we’ve had the children. I think of us as growing up together: Tim, Jody and me, Antonio and Crystel.

Our relationship has matured to the point where we keep a running list of any repairs we need done and schedule him in the spring and fall. Tim lets himself in and finds the list on the counter.

004I look around our home and there is little that he hasn’t touched. He’s painted and tiled, painted and tiled. Put in an egress, trimmed trees, planted trees, tilled our garden, put up fences, taken down fences, removed the window that kept slamming on Crystel’s hand and in its place put in a patio door. He’s taken apart and put together exercise equipment, desks, futons, and beds. He’s put in windows, taken out windows, the same with doors.  He’s tuned up what needs tuning in the spring and fall.

I have even had him change light bulbs.

Jody couldn’t believe that. She said she could do it. I told her, that I knew that she could but that it goes on the list and if it wasn’t done by the time Tim came then he’d do it. Now she’s a believer. The kids are too. When something needs repair, even a toy, they say, Tim can fix that and we put it on the list.

Tim working on our porch project

Tim working on our porch project

Tim is a person of few words. He never said anything when I had him make a jungle gym on the second floor for the kids. If I could imagine it, he could do it. They had a swing, a climbing rope, trapeze bars. He never said a word when I had him take apart Crystel’s bunk bed and move it to the finished basement letting her transform her closet into a cave. Hopefully, he’ll have few words when I have him bring the bunkbed back to her room.

Phone May 2013 344Our latest project has been changing our 3-season porch into a 4-season and taking down the wall between the kitchen and the porch. First, he added new windows and a door on the east side, then he added windows to the west side, and he just finished the mudroom – from conception to completion. The couch he built has storage underneath the cushions.

Next year the wall will come down.

In-between the large projects, Tim has lists.

This summer, if all goes as planned, he will be working with Antonio and Crystel to build a tree house in the backyard. We wanted someone to show the ten-year-olds how to use tools. Who do you call for that? Tim, of course.

The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor.

What I like most of all is that at any given time, I have a home that I am proud of.

I have Jody and a handyman to thank for that.  Email timschwartz@wwt.net for an appointment.