My Grandma’s Eulogy – Nov. 2017
The Red Cupcake
Aug. 12, 2012
Today is the second Monday of kindergarten for both my son and me. I walked him in to drop off his backpack and discuss “after school exit strategy” with his new teacher. After we walked out into the hall, I saw a row of beautifully colored cupcakes with lots of glitter and jewels posted on the wall.
I was so busy looking at the sparkle glued on the blue-colored cupcakes that I didn’t notice the only one that was colored red instead of blue.
“That’s my cupcake,” my son informed me. “You had to color your cupcake blue if you had a brother or sister so I had to color mine red.”
I quickly scanned the row of cupcakes. Not one other red cupcake. All blue.
“Were you sad that you were the only one without a brother or sister?” I whispered.
“Yes! This is why I tell you all the time I want to adopt a sister!” he huffed as he quickly walked down the hall toward the playground. (Something he has been doing regularly since he watched the movie Annie last year.)
“I know,” I quickly retorted. “I wish you had a sister, too.”
But surely he is not the only kindergartener in this school that is an only child, I thought to myself. So as I walked by the second kindergarten room I looked at all of their cupcakes posted on the wall.
Yep. He’s the only red cupcake.
He gave me a hug and scurried to the playground, and as I walked home I did what any mom of an only child would do … I cried.
As much as he wants a sibling, I think I want it for him more. I can’t imagine my life without my brothers, and I wish I could give him the same. But God knows this. He and I have talked about this issue on more than one occasion. And he knows what the future holds, and It might just involve a single red cupcake.
The only red cupcake. What a metaphor for my child. He is definitely different. Always has been. He was pouring and flipping pancakes in the kitchen this morning before school for his dad and me. He fly fishes and hits bullseyes with his compound bow. He jibber jabbers non stop, he sings and dances to Spice Girls songs, and he informed me last week that coral is an animal and not a plant. (Did you know that?)
He most certainly is NOT the average six-year-old. But then I got to thinking that he is also NOT the only red cupcake.
In an ocean of blue cupcakes, I feel like the red one most any day of the week. I am a red cupcake, too. So are you. We are all unique and different. Not one of us fits in quite perfectly.
And then another analogy came to me. I was thinking about my brother’s church, Paint This Town Red, and how my Christian family proudly claims the color red as the blood of Christ, which has made us nothing less than perfect in God’s eyes.
Red’s a good color. A saving color. An extraordinary color. The color of life both now and later. Being a red cupcake is not something to cry about. It’s something to celebrate.
There are two more kindergarten walls across the building I need to check after school. Surely there has to be one other only child in that entire kindergarten. But if there’s not — and he is indeed the only red cupcake — that’s okay.
No, that’s … wonderful.
I’ve always had a thing for red velvet cake.
Your Sadness is My Sadness
Okay, I admit it. I’m an empath.
If you’ve never watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” you might be a little lost with the word. But after some “word attack” (thank my junior English teacher for that term) I think you can see what the word means: “An individual who has the ability to sense and feel the emotions of people, animals or objects at a distance,” or so saith Wikipedia. (The name of an online pseudo-encyclopedia, for those of you who shy away from the Internet – which we really must discuss at a later date.)
I don’t know when I came to terms with my empath status. Probably in the last few years. It was my husband who really made me aware of it. He would tell people that I cry at Hallmark commercials, which is pretty much true. But it’s not that I’m a huge crier. Not that criers are bad. I mean, I am a crier. But not in the typical sense.
And it’s not just because I like to cry. I don’t. I hate it.
And it’s not because I’m a woman. Let’s not go there.
And it’s not because I love the feeling after a good cry. Crying gives me a headache.
I don’t cry because I’m frustrated. I don’t cry because I’m mad. I don’t cry because I was yelled at, or when I want to scream at the injustices of the world. That’s what writing is for.
Strangely, I cry because I feel your pain, and that guy’s pain on “Touched by an Angel,” and the protagonist character’s pain in the novel, and my student’s pain over getting her heart broken, and my child’s pain over having an upset stomach. I cry when others don’t or won’t. Or even when they do. I feel their pain.
It’s really nothing less than bizarre. I fully realize this. You don’t have to tell me. But all someone has to do is start talking about something sad that’s going on in his or her life, and I’m there. One hundred percent. I’m there. If you’re upset, I’m upset. My emotions well up the minute I feel someone else on the brink of emotional duress.
Hey, it is what is. I’ve come to terms with it. But today’s events reminded me of the difficulties of the empathetic lifestyle: Funerals.
I went to the funeral of my first cousins’ grandmother – the grandma we do not share. I silently sat there and lost a gallon of saline in the span of 45 minutes. The whole time. Start to finish, even after I gave myself the mental pep talk. You know, the one where you say, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to do it. Nope. She’s not my grandma. Sure, I knew her. But I only went to her house a dozen or times in my entire life. I haven’t spoken to her in five years. This is not going to be Cry Fest 2008 for Miranda.”
But sure enough, I see my cousins walk into the sanctuary, and that’s the moment I lose it. My thoughts switch gears. “My poor, dear cousins! Losing a wonderful grandparent! Oh, how I’m dreading when we have to say good-bye to the grandparent we share. I know how badly this is hurting them. I know how hard this day is.” And my heart instantly breaks for them. I have no control over it. None whatsoever.
So, you’d think they would be crying as well. Surely it was their tears that caused my own.
Nope. Stoic as stoic can be. Two of them even spoke at the funeral without breaking up once. Unthinkable – when I’m sitting there driving the stock of Kleenex up.
But the moment the funeral ended, as soon as they all walked out of the room, I was back to normal. Back to my dry-eyed, animated self … with a headache.
Honestly, I would bemoan this all except a dear soul once told me that our greatest weakness is often our greatest strength.
And thus, my fellow empaths – you all know who you are – this seemingly dreadful curse is, but of course, a blessing in disguise. We have a place in society, and not just to keep the Kleenex Company in business.
Yes, I cry at Hallmark commercials and TNT Tear-jerkers. I bawl when I hear your mom or dad or sister or brother or cherished one passes. I tear up every time Romeo thinks Juliet’s dead before she really dies.
I, however, also unmistakingly feel what you’re going through even if I’m not going through it myself. I unexplainably feel your loss and grief, and I share in it. When I walk up to someone who’s in pain, in a matter of minutes, I’ve found a kindred spirit.
Laugh as you will while I’m watching Home Makeover, but I’m that one emotionally available friend. I’m here to share your joy, your hurt, your pain, whether I want to or not. Still, I’d really rather not go to your grandma’s funeral. Or your funeral. Or mine, for that matter.
Life in the Seventh Grade
“So what’s it like teaching seventh grade?” my friends ask me, knowing that I’ve only taught high school students and adults.
Let me tell you, life in the seventh grade is a far cry from the global financial crises of the real world. The biggest stress for seventh graders in not getting locks on lockers to unlock before the last bell rings. Or not lining up for lunch on time. Or having to write more than 20 sentences – which is also called an “essay” or “composition” in adult land. Oh, and they don’t know how to spell the word, “essay” either.
In the seventh grade, things that would embarrass most twelfth graders are menial – like farting in class. That’s worth nothing more than a huge, hearty laugh for a room full of 12 and 13-year-olds. High school seniors would turn at least a shade of pink while laughing softly amongst themselves and silently avowing to never let it happen again.
In the seventh grade, students are falling in and out of love like it’s the new fad of the moment. They love to laugh, and eat junk food, text, and welcome any chance they can get to change the subject. Seventh graders also ask for band-aids at least three times a week. Note to self: Get a first aid kit.
Seventh grade students like to argue with adults. But don’t tell them not to argue, because they don’t think they were. Or are. They don’t even know what arguing is. And when you tell them what they were doing, they argue with you some more.
Many seventh graders also don’t know to look an adult in the eye while having a conversation. Their inclination is to look at whatever is directly behind to whom they’re talking. Weird. Because by the time they’re juniors in high school, they know to look straight at you. Most of the time.
In the seventh grade, it’s hard to keep your mouth shut while someone else is talking. Especially if it’s the teacher. And in seventh grade, it’s a good day if someone said, “You look nice,” or made some positive comment about your hair, clothes, shoes, jewelry or book bag.
In seventh grade, boys cut out hearts on notebook paper, give them to their teachers, and simply write in pencil, “To: Mrs. Bailey … Love, Alex.” Students also like to cut out snowflakes during study hall instead of doing their homework. And they get excited if you ask them to pass out papers or organize a book pile, or help in any way, shape or form.
Boys in the seventh grade will cry if you give them lunch detention and write you notes insisting, “I’m sorry I broke the rules. I’ll never do it again,” and then they’ll write on the outside of the folded note, “DO NOT show this to anybody!”
Girls in the seventh grade dot their i’s with hearts and stars, talk your ear off and will do just about any thing you ask them to do. Even stand in front of the class and do the “Macarena” dance to help everyone wake up in first period.
But seventh grade is also sad some days. Like when a student makes you cry after you read his first essay and hear the story of how he found out during his birthday party that his mom was sentenced to prison.
Or when one of your students walks up to you before class begins and tell you he’s scared because his 19-year-old cousin got shot in the head last night. And died today.
Seventh grade is no laughing matter when you find out that some of your students don’t have a mom, or dad in their lives anymore. Some have dyslexia. Some suffer from depression. Some can’t sit still long enough to do an assignment. Some stare into space and act like they are physically here and mentally checked out. And they’re only 12 years old!
What’s a teacher to do?
Seventh grade is not what I expected, and exactly what I expected, all rolled up in one. But it’s early in the year. And I still need a first aid kit, some days, like today, for my heart.
Caring enough to send the very best
Shopping for cards has become a bit more complicated these days. Or maybe it has been complicated for years, and in my youthful lack of thoughtfulness, I have failed to fully explore the complexities of card giving.
I’m sure it’s the latter. But as you WELL know, I’m older now. I am now seeing things I’ve never noticed before. Seriously. Like bird species, flower types and, yes, card-giving genres.
Did you know that we now can buy not just a sympathy card, but a very specific kind of sympathy card? Here are some of the categories to choose from:
Death of a Spouse
Death of a Child
My favorite is infertility issues. I love the idea of telling someone something as specific as: Sorry you’re having trouble having a baby. Have fun trying – without having to write those very words myself.
Now, come on! Who wants to get that personal in a card? I mean, look … here I am bearing my soul to the masses every week in the daily paper, and you don’t hear me telling you about my infertility issues.
Because that’s just too much information! It’s over-share.
I like you, you like me, I want to hear about your life, you put up with hearing about mine, but there are just some things that we don’t talk about. We’re Americans. That’s the way we work.
These cards are really chipping away at the very foundation of this institution. And since when did it become socially unacceptable to simply send a card that says: Sorry for your loss, or I’m thinking about you. Now we have:
Good luck going to college, and don’t do too many drugs
I’m sorry your cat got run over by your neighbor kid’s Mustang
Congratulations – you’re marrying a real loser
No. I didn’t see those cards. But I almost did. If that seems a little too blunt or personal, well, that’s because it is. Because they are.
Even the get-well cards have turned on us. Three categories I found included:
Cancer in Remission
Remission for 100 days
What about all of our friends who are sick with diabetes, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? That doesn’t seem very fair to limit cards to cancer. Yes, I hate cancer as much as the next guy, but it seems a little presumptuous and slightly too specific, if you ask me.
Of course nobody did.
The funny thing is that I think the card makers are trying to simplify our lives. By making the cards as specific as possible, it should be making the card “just perfect” for our individual situations.
Instead, it shows we care enough to send the very best blunt and possibly awkward message that may or may not be appropriate for the person we’re giving it to.
Look, I know some of you don’t want to write. I know you’d rather eat beets for breakfast. But just saying something simple in your own words is enough. I personally would much rather have handwritten, easy messages like:
Just thinking of you …
You’re on my mind!
I’m sorry you have to go through this pathetic attempt at humor in a card-giving column,
Let ’em Go
The high school graduation ceremony has come and gone, but still I find myself thinking about what that momentous occasion means to many of the families in our town: Change – for all parties involved.
When I was in high school, my graduation was almost more anti-climatic than the senior prom. While growing up, we have these ideas in our head of what prom and graduation, and really, what all life’s major milestones will be like.
Rarely are they as we imagined.
Yet I believe one old adage does in large part remain true when it comes to high school graduation. I’m a firm believer in the “Let them go, and they’ll come back to you,” idea.
Now is this true for everyone? No. But I’ve taught high school long enough to know that what your Pampa kids, and truly most kids, really want after graduation is freedom.
Freedom to leave our town and see the outside world.
Freedom to go off on their own.
Freedom to fully become who they have envisioned themselves to be all of their lives.
It’s hard for adults and parent, in particular, to understand this in the middle of what I know are feelings of loss and sadness. You’re kids are leaving. I’ll be a total wreck when my son’s graduation rolls around in 2024. I get that.
But as hard as it is to let them go, don’t you want them to come back?
Case in point: My mom was devastated when I informed her that I was going to go to college in Portland, Oregon 1400 miles away from home. She had a tissue in her hand as she and my dad waved good-bye to a 17-year-old girl who had never been to Oregon, much less flown there. Without a cell phone, with only one large suitcase and a backpack – I began my life adventure. It was glorious.
And to where did it ultimately lead me? Home. Back to this part of the country, yes, but more importantly, back into the heart of my parents. We speak or email one another almost daily. My parents are some of my best friends in this world, largely due to the fact that they graciously and gracefully let me go.
I often hear Pampa teens talk about how their parents don’t want them to leave, or want them to get their “basics” done before they leave Pampa. That’s fine and great if all you are concerned about is paying for your kids’ education (which you shouldn’t be doing, by the way, and that’s another column …).
But is that really why you want them to stay here? Is it completely a financial decision, or do you secretly and subconsciously want your kids to stay close? Are you manipulating your kids into doing something they don’t want to do for your own, personal gain?
Look, if you’re financing your kids’ life for the next five years, I’m not sure that anything else I will say should apply to you. Many Pampa parents feel obligated or obliged to pay entirely for their kids’ college education. I understand, but respectfully disagree.
However, what I’m most concerned about today is the kind and generous act of letting children go. They need to go – if they want to go. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Especially for small-town kids.
The warmth and solace that many of us have in raising our children in a small town is the very same thing that is now stifling them. Pampa is the only thing they’ve ever known. I even had some students who had never driven to Amarillo by themselves. To say that some of these kids are sheltered is an understatement – which is what makes it all the more terrifying for parents.
But they will be okay. It’s normal to grieve the temporary loss of your children. That is to be expected. Yes, life will never be completely the same. But a new normal will evolve, and believe me, that that can be a wonderful thing as well. Perhaps the best graduation gift you could ever give your children.