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Saturday, September 19, 2015

10 Years of Pain, Joy, and Miraculous Motherhood

Ten years ago today I lay waiting in a glaring white room for a woman in blue to pull life from me.

I wondered what motherhood would be like. Why I, a clumsy 34-year-old graphic designer, should be deemed capable of carrying a tiny mind and body into the world of sunshine, rainbows, money, cancer, fast drivers, prejudice, snobbery, class wars, and hate speak.

I had practiced opening complex strollers, I had installed car seats according to regulations, I had taken breastfeeding classes, and read the books about what to expect. But could I adapt to another human’s needs, to the actions, surprises, words, and expectations that waited in the millions of minutes ahead?

My body stretched flat, with a giant hill rising. My eyes stared at the sheet, shielding me from all that I should not see, and my ears prepared my mind for the sound of cries. My husband stood wondering, fingers wrapped through mine, as the woman in blue prepared the surface for her knife.

Ten years ago, when I saw my boy’s screaming lips enter the light, when his cheek brushed against mine for the first time, my laughter played like a violin in that white room.  My tears were honey. It was as though the essence— the miracle of life and truth grabbed my shoulders and shook. My uncertainty about God and goodness flew away as swiftly as the cries of my boy, disappearing on the horizon of the spinning planet. 

But as the winds blew outside the big window of my hospital bed, I did not know.

I did not know about the heart surgery, the medications, the snobs, the clicking heels, the big cars, the teachers, the rejections, the pastor, the relatives, the liars, the lawyers, the tutors, the therapists, the bullies, the judges, the shame, and the fingers that would point across classrooms and soccer fields and playgrounds, pulpits, and the internet.

I didn’t know about the humbling, the wanting, the needing, the hoping, the praying, the angels, the laughter, the joy, the inspiration, and the grace of compassionate teachers, pastors, friends, husbands, sisters, mothers, schools, charities, therapists, and God. 

I did not know about the words, the ideas and the passion that this baby would scrape, and cut, and yank from me.

As my boy meets this 10-year-mark, I kiss the back of his messy head. It is moving along its own path now. And I’m praying. May I watch and learn and listen to all that I do not know, like I would if I were to observe a dove hovering over my heart. May I wrestle with the struggles that meet me with certainty, while I keep site of the magnificent gifts stamped within them.


I think the beauty of motherhood, and babies, and children is in the pain, the quiet beauty, and the hope that is revealed to us, especially as we struggle.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Letter to a Refugee

I couldn't be too much more excited or grateful to have my letter run
on Huffington Post today. Just praying that the right people read it...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-aves-challenger/one-moms-letter-to-a-refugee_b_8156214.html




Monday, August 24, 2015

The Need For Community

My recent piece on the Huffington Post which, I think, relates to all parents...young or old!



Friday, July 31, 2015

Forty Years With A Little Sister

When I was four, my mom and dad came home. “We have news.” We were standing on our lime green and black striped rug in the den when my mom smiled a very big smile beneath a neat bob haircut. “I’m going to have a baby,” she announced. After that, all I remember is jumping everywhere with a smile that hurt really bad. I jumped on top of couches, beds, and anywhere that would take me up. I was going to be a big sister.

Then one morning, exactly forty years ago, I woke to find my grandma Nana there. My mom was gone, giving birth to my new sister Alison. When my mom and dad came home with my new sister, my stomach twirled twice as fast as it did on Christmas and there was that smile again... My wish had come true! I sat on a low couch holding Alison’s pink frilly shape while my older sister Pirrie held her bald head. Everything smelled so good— like Johnson’s baby powder. I was in Heaven. Though I had to share her, I believed that Alison was my very own baby. I wanted to take care of her forever.

As she grew, I got to feed my little sister Gerber baby food with a cute rubbery spoon. I stood on tiptoes at the white faux wicker changing table, carefully sticking a pink plastic topped diaper pin through folded cloth diapers as Alison "gooed" at me. I loved changing her diapers. I made funny faces that made her giggle, and for a little while I believed that I was the best at something— being a sister. 

Later Alison developed a hum that seemed to weave through the background of my childhood. She skipped, bounced, or played through her early years, trailing a happy melody behind. Her fuzzy hair tried to grow, but took a long time. Finally her head produced thin blond pigtails that stuck out like little feathers, twirling through the air, invigorating every person they passed. Her blue flittering eyes and high-pitched soft voice decorated the kitchen, the family room, the backyard…. Making everyone smile. My sister just made me so happy.

Years later, when I was beside myself after the man I was about to marry betrayed me, there came a knock on my door. Guess who? Alison. In one hand, she held a plastic carrier with her cat inside, and in the other hand, she held a suitcase. "I never did like him," she said plunking her things down. She moved in, just like that, until I felt better. One night, she told me that she had dreamt she tied up my ex-fiance with duct tape, leaving him on a beach. Even during my hardest times, Alison made me giggle. 

When Alison was thirty, she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I became tormented with worry about her, until I saw how she handled her disease. She immediately gave her diabetes the name "Betty" and often is heard complaining about Betty's bitchiness. But that bitch hasn't slowed down Alison! Last year she ran thirteen half marathons to earn money to raise money for diabetes research. 

Today is Alison's birthday. Forty years ago she arrived, changing me and this world forever. When she calls, the twang of her voice makes me smile, just like it did when she was a baby. Nowadays she's a mom, a wife, a pastry chef, a writer, an editor, an artist, and most of all, Alison is that dry-humored person who will humble you with laughter.

Thank you God for forty years with my little sister. Without her, I wonder if I would be able to find my smile today...









Every Little Bit Matters



Copyright Amy Aves Challenger 2014
It was 10AM. I felt busy, preoccupied, and stressed. But I decided to give my six-year-old a little time before getting the “real” stuff done. She’d been asking me to draw with her for the last couple of days.

A while later, as we finished drawing a fairy’s dress, my daughter’s sing-song voice pulled me in, “And Mama, see, this fairy likes candy so much!” She drew a piece of striped candy beside the face of the curly-headed girl with wings outstretched. And as I watched my daughter, I felt a weird sadness.

I noticed the high pitch of her voice, the tiny freckles on her nose, the ratty state of the swimmer’s hair that she refuses to comb. I smelled the sweetness of her breath exuberantly pushing out joyful chatter. I noticed how big her blue eyes grew when she talked and how thoughtfully she considered the life of a fairy.

And I felt more aware than usual that next year my girl will be different. She might not believe in fairies. She might not want to draw with me. She might never again be this bubbly being flitting through my kitchen, drawing and cooing over a picture she’s created with me. And because I’ve been so forgetful lately, I started feeling a panic about whether I might remember it all— exactly how it looked, felt, sounded. I worried I’d lose the moment.

And then it occurred to me that so many of us are running about capturing time with photographs or blog posts or emails or texts. The elusive quality of life is terrifyingly slippery. We get techy gadgets to bottle our moments. We share them with people who might remember them on Facebook, Twitter or Pintrist. If we don’t catch that moment or the next one, it just might slip away, into the forgotten memory bank of the wandering brain…into the terabytes of time hopping by. So we run around snapping, snatching, pinning life with all the bits of memory we can gather.

And I went on to think that there will come a day when I’m not with this girl any longer — at least not in this world. Where will my memories lie then? One day we’ll part from one another, I thought. How cruel. And then the tears started creeping out, betraying my depressing mind. I couldn’t believe I had managed to make this lovely time we were having feel sad.

“Mommy, are you OK?” her voice snapped me back to the present. Her thin eyebrows were raised. She had just finished drawing the star on the fairy’s magic wand.

“Oh yes, I’m fine!” I replied, quickly wiping my eyes with a sniff. “That wand is perfect!”

And as we finished our fairy, I felt like a different mom than minutes before— one able to see and hold and take in the real miracle of my child— the breathing, zippy girl, right there at the messy kitchen table. It was sort of like a talking gift had bonked me on the head, shouting, “Hey! Pay attention! Look what you got! Enjoy it, lady!”

I pray I remember that my family, my children, my friends, my life are HERE. And they’re bigger than my worries, my lists, or my fear of the future. They’re bigger than a photograph or a blog. They’re much bigger than a megabyte or a kilobyte or whatever. They are my miracles that exist only truly— right now.

I pray I learn to savor every little “bit” of life I’m given and that, along the way, my soul carries those bits into eternity.


May my daughters’ fairies live forever, in my heart, and in hers.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Alzheimer's Hasn't Stopped My Dad from Soaring


“Whatcha doing today, Dad?” I say in my car, speaking from a winding black road in Connecticut to what I imagine to be a messy South Carolina desk covered with partially read books.

“Writing a poem.”

“Oh really? What about? Can you read it?” Ironically, I’m driving to my second writing class of the week.

His finely tuned, philosophical words float, swim, and dip all the way to me, all the way into my stubborn mind. Somehow they make their way through the same thick skull that used to be too hard for his idealistic thoughts, his creative language. “You’re so weird,” I used to say. Now my heart opens for the messages, now I see the wisdom, now I grow through the listening.

My dad has Alzheimer’s. And he wears it well. He wears it like a finely pressed suit that has a super jazzy tie. A purple tie that everyone thought was the worst one to have, until they saw it on my dad.

Don’t get me wrong. He doesn’t dress fancy. In fact, sometimes he might need a tad bit of fashion advice. But he wears the Alzheimer’s humbly, sharing details with me at times, laughing about them, but moving onward always, seeking more than the simplicity of a disease.

Another day comes. “What’d ya do today dad?” The list is silly. It is long. It is rich. He swims, walks, reads, writes, creates pottery, sells pottery, calls his daughters, throws footballs with his grandchildren, gets cool dislocated thumbs, kayaks, attends church, makes new friends, and still gives his daughters homemade fish roasters for Christmas.

Sure, he forgets stuff, but so do I. So I sigh with relief when we chat, knowing neither of us needs to pretend we remember what we talked about last week. Neither of us has to worry about the future. We can just talk about now. “How are you doing Amy?” he asks, and I know he really wants to know. My dad cares.

Yes, he disengages. But just like how that purple tie might work well in the right place, disengagement also is a great skill to have at times. Like when you’ve had a stressful life losing your mom early from alcoholism, serving as a naval officer in the Vietnam war, recovering from your own alcoholism, running an ad agency, managing your own furniture company, authoring and selling countless books, raising three daughters (one who is a drama queen—that’s me,) and maintaining a marriage for over fifty years.

Ya just might need to disengage sometimes. And that's OK.

Finally, my dad is a hopeless dreamer, and when I talk to him it seems that Alzheimer’s, and that rude plaque that is supposedly descending on his brain, uninvited, has only heightened his ability to dream. I used to think dreams were annoying. Now I know they are the stuff that has made up my life. Dreams have made my mind able to travel to new places when the pain comes, and to find hope in a tube of paint or a handful of words during a stormy season of life.

I can recall him smiling on the top of a ski slope as he swerved from side-to-side just a few years ago. “This is the best slope I have ever skied,” he called out. I can picture him clutching the tiller of a sailboat as he discussed his idea of sailing around the world. I can remember him traveling to China and Dubai, becoming consumed with cultures and ideas relating to foreign countries. I can see him hunched over a wheel, spinning his tenth gorgeous beige mug for a set someone might be blessed to drink from.

I remember him saying,  “Learn to write, Amy, if you learn nothing else in college, learn to write well.” I was on my way to college. It was 1988. “The ability to communicate is the greatest skill you can ever hope to have,” he said. "If you can communicate, you can do anything."


So today I want to thank my dad. 

Thank you for encouraging me to dream. Thank you for inspiring me to talk, talk, talk with words, with paint, with language, with love. Thank you for being the precious soul whom you are, deep inside a body that will age, will not be perfect— but will be my dad. My dad who will never, ever stop soaring. I know you, Dad. Your soul has no borders, and no disease can stop it. Your soul will continue flying, in its own unique way, into eternity.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

This Daddy Is A Dream

This daddy is a tree standing tall.

His solid shoulders rise above three little heads with branches extending to shelter them. His steady shoes root into life with constancy, guiding a family through hospitals, surgical rooms, long endless white corridors, more hospitals, therapists offices blurring with books, through moving boxes, up mountains on shimmering bicycles, with boys flying behind— children cheering, celebrating victory.

This daddy is infinity, forever reaching farther, faster and higher.

His arms are long, lifting their mother when she trips, scooping her in from the loneliness, holding a steering wheel steady through blizzards, down ski slopes with screaming smiles flying behind through frozen flakes. “Weee!” His arms hold a boy whose mind is confused, a rollercoaster, lost in the landscape of time, but never alone. His arms wait forever, like extensions of a heart, carrying a family through troubled times, through scary places when they dare note take another step. His arms reach outward farther and farther, never giving up, embracing souls together, sailing to the stars, to heaven, where families fly.

This daddy is a harvest moon shining light into lives, promising goodness tomorrow.

His smile comes as certain as the sky, arcing a rainbow onto everything this mommy sees, healing a hole trying to bend her.

This daddy is a dream, he is the father to my children and I am grateful in ways that I will never be able to fix here in time, never be able to capture.


Thank you God for this daddy. May his father's day be infinitely joyful now and forever— may all fathers including my own, here and in heaven, in the stars, and in the dust, smile with You FOREVER. I am certain that the fruits of their branches will never, ever die.