The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life


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The Brown Paper Bag Project

A while back Jo Anna Rothman sent me a mysterious little brown paper bag that turned out to have 10 bucks in it — 10 bucks that I was supposed to use for service, in whatever way I saw fit. I puzzled over what to do with that 10 dollars, how to make it bigger, make it expand into something that could really serve the world. Because lately, it seems to me like the entire world is a bucket with thousands of holes in it, and I felt like anywhere I could pour in my 10 dollars it would simply drain right out the bottom of the bucket without doing anything.

I needed a superhero to help me. So I turned to my daughter, whose present employment involves riding a pegasus, armed with a light saber, defending truth, justice, and liberty everywhere. At least, that’s what my father tells me.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. In July or early August, a pregnancy test told me what I already knew: I was expecting. We were so excited — 10 years of trying had finally paid off. I tried to ignore the *knowing* I had almost from the minute she was conceived: that I was pregnant, that she was a girl, that there was something wrong with her. I told my mom and my husband what I knew, and they told me what you have to say in those situations: You worry too much. She’s fine.

Except she wasn’t fine, as a bitter array of miraculous medical testing was able to show us in painful detail. The pregnancy ended at 16 weeks. I birthed a daughter in late October, but I didn’t get to take her home.

And then my milk came in — a strange, sad gift from my body to my little Amanda who didn’t need it and couldn’t use it. The doctors said this probably wouldn’t happen — my pregnancy ended too early for my body to make milk, they said. If any came in, they advised hot compresses and tight bras and it’ll go away quickly. But I didn’t want it to go away, I wanted it to be used. I thought Amanda would want to share what she didn’t need with other babies like her.

There are premature babies so young that their own mothers can’t make milk for them — and so fragile that without human milk they will die. And — maybe there’s hope for this awful world yet — there are also milk banks that collect human milk, pasteurize it, and give it to those babies. My daughter’s spirit whispered in my ear that her milk belonged to those fragile little babies. So I began to pump my milk.

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I didn’t have much — a few ounces a day at most. But the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England generously told me that they would accept whatever I had to give. So I saved and froze my milk from the end of October until now — and finally fed-exed them a box of 120-odd ounces of human breast milk, a check for $100, and JoAnna’s 10 dollar bill.

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Hopefully somewhere out there in the stratosphere, a baby ghost in a blue nightgown on a Pegasus with a light saber is smiling, and hopefully some little ones as precious to their mamas as mine was to me, will get the chance to smile because of it.

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(You may not have milk to give, but the Mothers’ Milk Bank is a non-profit, and testing, processing, pasteurizing, and delivering milk safely to babies is expensive. I’m sure they’d be happy to have your donation, 10 bucks or otherwise.)


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From Entitlement to Patience

I’ve been home from work on vacation for the past two weeks. For the first time in many years, we neither went anywhere for vacation nor had major obligations at home to discharge. My folks came for Christmas, but stayed for only a few days, leaving lots of uninterrupted, unstructured family time for us at home. That was just what I wanted, and it came with some surprising lessons.

Being home for a long stretch of ordinary time gave me a chance to see my husband, who makes our home, at work. It gave me a chance to participate in that work in a meaningful way, which I don’t ordinarily get. I spent time planning and making meals, cleaning, and helping him prepare for a home improvement project. None of these are things I ever get to do, although for a while many years ago they were my main job in our marriage, and (except the home improvement), they are things I am good at doing and mostly enjoy.

Doing that work together put me in touch with the fact that I apparently have a curious sense of entitlement. Now, I’ve never been the type of person to try to talk a professor out of a poor grade, or a cop out of a ticket, or to assume that I was owed rewards of any kind, from anyone. I’m not talking about that kind of entitlement. But I realized that I tend to assume — on some level anyway — that I’m a good, intelligent, person who ought to be able to achieve things easily. I make the same tacit assumption about the people I love.

I don’t take into account just how difficult most of life is, and how time-consuming even simple tasks can be done well. Then, when things are difficult, tedious, boring, I have a low frustration tolerance. When I’m bad at a task either from lack of training and experience, or lack of physical strength — removing a wall, let’s say, as we worked on this week — I tend to give up before I even have a chance to learn or grow strong. I sometimes rush through tedious tasks and end up doing them badly, when going slowly was all that was needed to make them go well.

I sometimes find myself surfing, shopping, reading, daydreaming — instant gratification activities, that require neither effort nor skill — when I meant to be making or creating. Then I find that I’ve run out of what little time I have for the things that really matter to me, because they were more difficult than I felt they were entitled to be for me.

Worse yet, I’m just as impatient with my family. I underestimate how long it “should” take my husband to do his work, and get angry when it takes “too long.” I’m even impatient with my son, when he has difficulty with things I remember finding just as difficult when I was his age!

Some people like to choose a word in January to guide the year ahead. I’m not sure whether that is an idea for me or not, but if it were, I think PATIENCE had better be my watchword for 2013. Patience with myself and the vagaries of life, patience with my family and son, patience with the timeline for every good thing.

Making Pine and Balsam Garland

What about you? Do you have a problem with entitlement? Do you have a watchword for 2013?