The Unconventional Easter

Image    (Easter, 1969 with my two sisters)

Perhaps no other holiday evokes more guilt from me than Easter. As my father was a devout catholic, this was his most favorite religious holiday; and with my mother a protestant, I was always well dressed for Easter, complete with new white shoes, a hat, and a new dress — although often hand-made or handed down from my older sisters.

These memories flooded through my mind as I sat with my children at the local diner Easter morning, where we ended up because Russ and I realized we were out of eggs for breakfast. And out of bacon.  And we didn’t want to serve pancakes because they had more than enough sugar in their Easter baskets to last well through summer vacation.

The longer I sat watching my rag-tag family, the more I chafed.  Both daughters sported dirty hair, Katie wore a yellow fleece that was so dirty it looked brown and Olivia was wearing the same hockey sweatshirt she’s worn every day for the last three weeks.  The clincher was Russ, who chose to entertain our 8 and 11-year olds by hanging a spoon off the end of his nose.

I sat there and wondered where had things gone so wrong?  Why aren’t my children dressed up for Easter? No hat. No miserable white tights to match the shoes. Dear God, why aren’t they even wearing clean clothes? And Russ, for goodness sakes, really? A spoon on the nose? We are eating OUT.

Truth is, I don’t normally care too much about these things.  I’m a pretty easygoing mom, to say the least.

But as I looked about the diner, filled mostly with single older adults, or older couples eating before dashing out to Easter Service, inferred by their unusually nice dress for Vermont on a Sunday, I saw only my failures as a parent.

I should be torturing them by making them go to one of the two most boring yet beguiling of church services: the death and the resurrection of Jesus. I should be torturing them by making them wear scratchy tights whose crotch reaches your knees by mid-service. I should torment them a bit more with long days visiting with very old relatives who smell funny. I should make them eat an early dinner comprised of mushy vegetables, ham, and scallopped potatoes using only their best manners.

But no, I took them out to breakfast because I ran out of eggs at home, and I let them out of the house looking like scallawags.  Happy Easter!? I hoped no one would greet me that way today. I didn’t feel like I deserved it.

I was not being the best breakfast mate. I excused myself from the table to the restroom, to escape my husband’s spoon-dangling nose and my grubby kids and gathered my thoughts.

No, this was not our best effort for Easter. This is, however, the first Easter we’ve been completely disengaged from church all year, because Olivia’s hockey schedule and our chosen church’s schedules are incompatible. And we’ve been busy all weekend attending hockey games of the Women’s World Championships (IIHF) in our little town – a rare opportunity to see the world’s best women hockey player!  And with both my parents are deceased and no family within a four hour radius, we’re on our own for this and most traditionally “family” holidays.OK. So those are my excuses.

As I wrangle with guilt that I don’t take my children to church, that they don’t really understand Easter’s Christian symbolism, and only associate Easter with the chocolate the the Easter “bunny”, I remember that my best and abundant memories of the holiday are not about the church piece.

Dad and Mom would be so angry with each other because we were late to church and had to stand in the back — a given for the Christmas and Easter catholic masses when my mother indulged my father by letting us go to church as a family  — as opposed to him going to mass while we went to the Presbyterian service with Mom.  I did like getting new clothes, but I hated having to wait for Easter to wear them.  In the end, after so many years away from home, my strongest memories are of looking for the Easter eggs my mother would have hidden all through the house, in the cleverest of locations and the joy of the hunt. I remember the basket next to my bed first thing in the morning. Those are my most fond memories.

And those are the ones I have worked to make for my children.

Without the church piece.

Am I doing another disservice to my kids? Maybe.  Do I want them to be church-less? No. Do I want to take them only to church on Christmas and Easter? Absolutely not!

I could have married someone who was a regular church-goer, a true believer and marched my kids through sunday school and bible school in the summer.  But I didn’t. I married a questioner, and a deep-thinker. And we respect each other for our different approaches and together we are trying to raise children who think and ask questions and formulate their own opinions.  We will get to religion. We will. It’s not like we don’t discuss it. We ARE raising morally strong children.

OK. So, back to the breakfast table. I vowed to wash the girls clothes. And to make them take a bath today. And then the food came and I didn’t have to worry about that spoon on Russ’ nose any more.

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The Unexpected Conversations

I’ve been obsessed for a week solid and think blogging might help.

I’ve written about my oldest daughter before.  She really is a gem (ok, they both are, but this one deals with her.).  In the past 10 days, she and I have learned that her best (new) friend has anorexia.  It’s had me pretty shaken since I learned of it.  Yes, I’m immediately thankful it’s not my daughter.   I am atwitter because it’s so close.  And because they are so young. And because this young lady is the first real friend my Olivia connected to who is a girl. She has lots of friends. Her longest, oldest friends are boys.  This young lady is the first girl she could identify with — she is athletic, she hates dresses, her parents have pretty tight rules, she’s book-smart.

Over the past few weeks her mother had mentioned to me that their daughter seemed to be obsessed with food. Wondered if Olivia was too.  She and her husband worried about her losing muscle mass.  At the time, I was still thinking she was a bit health-over-conscious.

Anyway, it all came to a head on the weekend of Olivia’s 11th birthday. Yes, these girls are E.L.E.V.E.N years old.  Her friend came over for Olivia’s birthday and watched me cook dinner. She was interested. Admired my carrots. I offered her an apple for a snack. She asked if my refried beans were the no-fat kind her parents buy. I lied and said “yes”.  She called her mom before dinner because she had a headache and wanted to go home. Unsuccessfully. I knew it was because the prospect of eating dinner with her classmates was too much on top of a long day at school where she had to skip the chocolate covered strawberries Olivia brought in to share with her class for her birthday, and lunch, where she routinely skipped most of her home-packed lunch.

While Olivia and two other classmates tore through three made-to-order tacos each, Olivia’s startlingly skinny friend ate a dollop of refried beans and some lettuce. No milk. No brownie. Then she talked about how much she likes english muffins — the whole wheat kind. She tried to engage her friends on the subject of beans and brown rice as the perfect protein. The others acknowledged her, but over a “please pass the cheese” and a reach.

The friend would not play soccer as she usually does. She stood in the middle of the back yard while the others played and laughed and kicked.  And this is HER sport.

The next day, while watching sports on television with Olivia, the commentator spoke of how the figure skater was competing again after two years off battling Anorexia. Then Olivia said “That’s what ___ has”.

I tried not to panic.

I played it cool.

I asked a few questions, but not too many.

But now we have a regular dialog on the subject. Fortunately, the friend is getting counseling with her family.  Unfortunately, she does not seem to be on the upswing yet, and yesterday missed a soccer game because of the family’s rule that she must meet the doctor’s weight target or no soccer. So yesterday was the first – of what I suspect will be many – missed soccers.

But now I am hypervigilant.

And Olivia is getting frustrated.

She said she wishes she could talk to her friend’s brain. To tell her to eat.

I know my girl. She is strong. She is healthy. She is courageous.  She will want to help “fix” her friend and she will get frustrated when the efforts fail.

But she is also intensely loyal, and so I think she will want to stick by her friend and do what she can.

Meanwhile, I have tried to find a fiction book that involves a friendship between girls when one of them gets an eating disorder.  But I can’t find one that doesn’t deal with the grisly details of bulimia, or imply something tragic that has happened at home — death of a parent, incest, or involves older teen topics of sexuality, attracting boys, etc.

Remember, my daughter is 11. She is in the fifth grade. She is a sports girl.  Boys are still her friends. I don’t want to frighten her with topics that are not age appropriate.

And so, perhaps for the best, we just talk. We talk about anorexia. We talk about being friends. About not being able to fix her friend. About how this can take a long time to change.  About staying healthy herself. About showing her you can drink milk, eat a peanut butter sandwich, a kiwi and a brownie and still be a great, healthy, happy kid.

As the subject seems to come up daily now, we’re working up to “why” this happens.

I realize as I have this precious time with my newly 11-year old, how special my kid is.  I am trying to protect her from the pain of watching a friend withdraw, as she might, and to help my daughter to remain the strong, wise, courageous and loyal friend that she is. So that she might emerge from this unexpected education even stronger.

Truthfully, I am scared. Scared for my daughter — for having to face these trials so young in life. Scared for her friend. Scared for my friends, her parents.  Trying not to show it, I do want to hug Olivia just a little bit longer and a little bit tighter. To protect her just a little bit better.