And now a poem…
Time to Step Up
All my life I have been politely
moving aside for other people.
When I was young I moved aside
for older people with more experience.
As I got older I moved aside for younger
people to GIVE them experience.
And now I’m 62 and I don’t have time
to move aside for other people anymore.
There are things I need to do.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell
Dad seemed to be losing ground the last couple weeks – sleeping most of the day, eating very little. So when Amanda messages me to let me know that Dad is up and bright-eyed I feel a grin immediately come to my face. I ask her if he is up for a drive and a moment later she messages that he answered, “Yes!” Today he has to be rolled out to my car in a wheelchair, but he is alert and happy to see me. As Amanda is buckling him in Dad turns to me and says, “Hi, Karen!” Then he turns back to Amanda…
Dad to Amanda: This is Karen. She’s my sist… (thinking)… she’s my daughter.
We drive through Burlington and then head out to Sisters Espresso for his root beer float (courtesy of Dave Waka). I hand Dad his float and then pull out of the parking lot to begin our adventures.
Dad: Didn’t you work at a school near here?
Karen: Yeah. Do you want to go by my old school?
I drive down country roads and make my way to Edison. I park in the parking lot there – with the car pointing towards the patch of sunflowers waving in the sunshine. I roll down the windows so Dad has a breeze, and then take my camera to the flowers to get some quick pictures. Back in the car…
Karen: (Pointing to the school.) There’s my old school. There’s Edison. Do you remember you gave your K2 talk there?
Dad: (Frowning as he tries to remember.) No. I don’t remember that.
I drive around and out of the parking lot and head towards Bay View so Dad can get a quick view of the bay. I wait for him to mention his old friends the Annens – he usually brings them up when we go by the bay – but today he doesn’t say anything. When we get a view of Mount Baker I point to it…
Dad: Yeah. That’s Baker.
(Dad always remembers his mountains.)
I make my way back to Dad’s home. Amanda and Gwen come out to help him out of the car seat and into the wheelchair, and they roll him around to the ramp and into the house. They get Dad comfortable in a recliner in front of the TV.
Karen: (Looking directly into his face.) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: (Mouths the words, “I love you.”)
Karen: Good bye, Daddy.
Dad: (Waving.) Good bye.
Dad is sitting at the dining room table eating breakfast when I come in. He sees me come in and smiles. I pull up a chair next to him and sit down.
Dad: (Said in the voice of someone who’s just awakened from a nap.) Where am I?
Karen: You’re at your home in Burlington. I live 15 minutes away.
Dad: Good. (Thinking.) How’s Mom?
Karen: (Thinking. Trying to decide what direction to go with this…)
Dad: (Watching my face.) Is Mom not alright?
Karen: Daddy, Mom passed on two years ago. (Knowing from experience the questions he’s going to ask…) She passed on peacefully in her sleep. She was in my house and I was sleeping on the couch next to her bed. You told her you loved her and she told you she loved you before she left the hospital.
Dad: (Tears are running down his face.) Was she in any pain? What did she die of?
Karen: No, she wasn’t in any pain. She had congestive heart failure. Her heart got tired. She passed peacefully while she was sleeping. (I wipe Dad’s eyes and the tip of his nose.) We had a memorial service for her…
(Amanda quietly slips the photo album of Mom’s memorial service to me and I open it and show Dad the photos. Dad recognizes the faces – his family and friends.)
Karen: A lot has happened in the last two years, Daddy. You’ve been very brave and very strong. Last year we took you up to Mount Rainier to celebrate your 100th birthday.
Dad: No, I’m 92. I was born in 1918…
Karen: And this is 2019.
Dad: (Thinking – doing mental computations.) Oh.
(Amanda has now brought the photo album from Dad’s 100th birthday celebration at Rainier. Dad and I go through the pictures together and talk about the people who came to his celebration.When we’re done looking at the album…)
Karen: Would you like to go for a drive? Or would you like to stay home and rest today?
Dad: (Thinking.) A drive would be nice.
Amanda helps me load Dad up in the car and buckle him in. Dad thanks her and she kisses him on the forehead. He thanks her for that, too.
We drive to the Sisters Espresso. I park and point to the stand…
Dad: (Nods.) Vanilla.
(I interpret this to mean “vanilla shake” and go up to order one for him, using the gift that was left for him there by David Waka.)
We continue on our adventure – heading down Allen West Road, up Farm to Market, down Josh Wilson, up Edison Bayview Road, left and back to Farm to Market. Dad’s head is turning from left to right, taking it all in. He periodically sucks through the straw on his vanilla shake. I park in front of his home.
Dad: Do I get out here?
Karen: Yup. This is your home.
(Dad thinks about this and then opens his door. I come around to help him out. Amanda comes to the top of the stairs and helps me get Dad up them. She leads Dad to a recliner in front of the TV.)
Karen: I really enjoyed our drive today, Daddy. I love you.
Dad: I love you, too.
*Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad* can be ordered through your favorite book store or ordered online through Amazon.
Some interesting and thought-provoking conversations in the last couple of days have caused me to feel the need to say this:
Women – your value goes beyond any ability you have to get pregnant and give birth. You are whole human beings with your own unique talents and gifts to share with the world. Please use every gift you have to make the world a better place. The world needs you – ALL of the good in you – not just your uterus.
Men – never think that you are “disposable” and that you aren’t valued. Don’t be afraid that you’re not needed or necessary. Your value goes beyond big muscles or the size of your paycheck. You are worth so much more than that.
Listen, intelligence and wisdom, kindness and honesty and courage, compassion, empathy, and strength – these are all valuable to our world. You don’t need money to share these things with others. And these things aren’t limited to one gender – you don’t need a uterus or a penis to be kind or courageous or strong. All of us – of whatever gender or sexual orientation – can express intelligence and kindness, courage and honesty and strength in our lives.
Okay. I guess that’s all I have to say about that at this time. Please know you are loved and valued.
“Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong.”
– Mary Baker Eddy
Pop made the front page of the Skagit Valley Herald today for winning the Mountaineers Lifetime Achievement Award.
And I want to take a moment here to share some of the many reasons I feel blessed to have this man for my father. I was born before Title IX: “Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: ‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.'” (www.ncaa.org) It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that my school finally got a girls’ track team and I was able to high jump on my school’s team. But my dad introduced me to high jumping long before that. He built a little high jump for me when I was a youngster, and rooted for me as we had our own track meet in the backyard. He also taught me how to ski; led me up Mount Rainier, Baker, Adams, and Hood; took me on my first little rock scramble (Pinnacle Peak) when I was four years old; supported me in my university education and wrote me encouraging notes throughout my teaching career – he was always proud of me as a teacher, and he’s proud of me now for running for school board. He’s never in any way limited me because I was a female.
And this was a man who was born in 1918 – two years before women even had the right to vote!
We need to talk about this. I’ve been reluctant. I wasn’t sure everyone would understand. And I wanted to be careful not to share anything that might put anyone in jeopardy. But it’s been ten years and I think it’s okay for me to share now. And yeah. We need to talk about this.
About 10 years ago I transferred from Edison to West View, our district’s dual language school. I was immediately embraced by the staff and community there, and felt right at home. I loved walking down the halls, surrounded in Spanish and children’s laughter. I loved the positive energy I felt there. And the staff! They were completely dedicated and committed to their students – they never worried about who was getting which lunch or planning period – it was always about what was best for the students.
Not long after I’d been at West View I began to realize that my students were dealing with things that I’d never had to deal with in my life – problems that I hadn’t even known existed. I feel embarrassed as I write this. I’d been so insulated!
After I’d been at West View a month or so, I asked my sixth graders to sit in a circle on the floor with me, and share with me some of what they’d been experiencing. And the stories started pouring out – I remember some of them said they no longer went shopping at a certain store because there were always agents there, waiting to look at their “papers.” I remember feeling shocked by this – I’d never needed to carry “papers” with me to prove I was a citizen – I didn’t even know that was a thing! One student who couldn’t find the words drew a picture that broke my heart – a Border Patrol van at night – children silhouetted in its search light, running into the woods.
There was the day one of my students looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and told me he’d come home from school to find his entire family had been deported. There was another student whose father voluntarily returned to Mexico, hoping he’d be able to return to the States as a citizen some day – my student loved his father deeply and didn’t know if he’d ever see him again – his father had told him to stay in the U.S. and get his education – even if it meant they’d never see each other again.
These stories were eye-openers for me. I hadn’t realized!
Later, when I taught at a high school in another district, I had several students who shared their stories about escaping the violence and poverty in Mexico by crossing the desert barefoot – and risking their lives – in the hopes that they and their families could find freedom and better lives in the U.S.
If you are interested in learning more about the lives of these young people – my friend, Janice Blackmore, who worked with these students when they were in middle school, asked the students to share their stories and published them in a book called DreamFields: A Peek into the World of Migrant Youth.
(The girl on the cover is one of my former students.)
I had one of those perfect moments in life today – the kind of moment where I felt at total peace with the world. I was sitting in the shade of a maple tree on a bench in Boulevard Park – there was a cool breeze that brought the briny smell of the bay and I could hear laughter and seagulls and people chatting cheerily with each other. It wasn’t too cold or too hot. I wasn’t hungry. I had everything I needed. I felt completely content.
And I had a flashback to a day 11 years ago – when I was in the middle of a severe depression and walking through the same park, watching people smiling and laughing, and wondering if I would ever feel happy again – wondering if I would ever feel at peace and content, and be able to laugh again with my friends like the people around me were doing. I remember feeling sort of in awe and wonder at the happy faces around me. I remember sort of letting myself ride on top of the joy of other people for a while. And I thought if I could ever find the joy again I would be sure to share it – like the people around me were doing for me.
I am really conscious of my joy now – and so very grateful for it.
(Seen in Bellingham this morning: Bee on Big Blue Sea Holly flowers. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)