Saturday, July 29, 2006

Faking It

I am truly curious to know how much of the time people embarking on new journeys are faking it. I have been talking about writing a book for a few years now and, in the past six months, have taken some minor, preliminary steps toward actually working on it, but now I've really pulled the pin on the grenade, as it were. In truth, that sounds more definitive than anyone else could probably understand. It's not as if I've gotten a publishing deal and have deadline or anything. No, it's more frightening than that: I have begun telling people that I'm writing this book. That turns it into something that they expect and, let me just say that nothing terrifies me more than having others expect something of me. Now I have to do this, and I have to do it well.

The problem is, I don't really feel qualified. I've set up interviews in spite of the fact that I've never interviewed anyone for real. I have no idea what type of research I ought to be doing, either, and am a little worried that I might overlook something terrifically obvious to everyone else. I am simply hoping that as I take this leap my instincts will kick in and I will have tightly screwed on my listening ears. I want to believe that other writers feel this way and just go along writing until some sign jumps out at them and points to a particular path. I hope that I will be able to stay focused during my interviews and react to unexpected answers with insightful follow-up questions. I hope that as important issues come up I will find ways to address them without having a specific agenda.

I recall reading Hope Edelman's book "Motherless Daughters" and wondering how she was able to get such depth of feeling and detail from the women she interviewed. How did she know which professionals to seek out for important information. Is there a class somewhere that gave her a checklist of things to be sure to accumulate? I am not very good at going with the flow. I am the type of person that needs a roadmap with several different routes highlighted the day before my trip starts. I would like to run through each possible set of directions to set up a contingency plan and then I will agree to find the destination. Unfortunately, I have the feeling this particular journey not only lacks directions, but an actual final destination as well. I will just need to buckle up and enjoy the ride, turning the radio down so that I can hear my inner GPS system when it tells me to stop and look at something I might have whizzed on past in my haste to "get there". I'm going to have to trust myself which may prove to be more valuable than anything I will end up putting on paper. I'll keep you posted, potholes and all. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Have They Lost Their Minds?

You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think. -- Milton Berle

Yesterday the Senate passed a measure that would effectively punish those adults who assist a teenager in crossing state lines to obtain an abortion. This is not some attempt to strengthen family bonds or keep teenagers from endangering themselves, it is a bald-faced attempt to chip away at abortion rights in this country.

I will refrain from having the entire abortion-rights discussion because I understand it is a very polarizing discussion and I respect that it may be difficult for people to engage in. However, I would like to point out some logical inconsistencies here, if I may.

First of all, are there any laws in this country that prohibit an adult from taking a minor across state lines to obtain any other medical services? Suppose you live in a small border town that does not have a medical clinic that provides treatment for STDs or other services, even those as mundane as getting a suspicious mole removed. Is it a crime to seek those services elsewhere? If the closest clinic is in a town out of your particular state and you ask your aunt or uncle or best friend's mother to drive you, is that a crime? If the point of this measure is to ensure full medical disclosure among legal families (biological, adoptive, guardianships, etc.), then the measure ought not to single out abortion services. Other medical procedures are far more risky than outpatient abortions and if a parent ought to know, then there ought to be no limits on the particular service.

The age of medical consent varies from state to state, but generally speaking, once a minor of that age, their medical records are considered entirely confidential, even from their parents. As a teen, one of my close friends who suffered from bipolar disorder was not required to share any information from her therapy sessions with anyone, including her medication management. She was considered old enough to sign herself out of a treatment facility at the age of 13 regardless of her parents' input. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that a simple outpatient procedure is considered more dangerous than a lifelong mental illness in this case?

If the politicians are hell-bent on challenging abortion rights, then let them call a spade a spade. Have the discourse on a logical level instead of sneaking around talking about taking the moral high ground. This measure may pass and be signed into law by Dubya (oh, my stomach hurts just writing that), and the rest of the world will continue to be confused at what America considers important. Families come in all forms, those we are born into, and those we choose. Some people don't have the good fortune to be able to trust their parents and are forced to find others to turn to in times of crisis. We ought to support our teens in using their best judgement to solve their own problems and take responsibility for their mistakes instead of forcing them to turn to the people our politicians think they ought to consult.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is it Naptime Yet?

Stomach pain, cramping, sitting on the toilet. It makes me feel out of control, nervous, anxious, scared. I don’t know if it will worsen or get better. I don’t know if it’s something I ate or because my head is getting out of control. If it’s something I ate, it will self-correct and I’ll be fine after a dose or two of Pepto Bismol. If it’s my head, I don’t know how to make it stop. I close my eyes, breathe slowly, try to relax every muscle in my tightened torso before I start grinding my teeth. My voice repeats in my head, “you’re going to be fine. You won’t die. Just slow down and separate your thoughts.”

I try to tease apart the braided obligations I have. The ones for today set apart from the things I have to do for the rest of the week. Put the morning things in one place and the afternoon ones in another. Examine each one to see how critical it is. Picking children up and making sure they’re well cared for is not negotiable. After that, is it really so bad if we go home and I let them watch TV for an hour while I escape into sleep?

I used to worry about whether I’d make it to where they were. I used to think I’d have to dash into a public restroom somewhere and not be able to get off the toilet at all. I don’t know what I thought would happen – I’d have unstoppable diarrhea and not be able to move from the john? I’d pass out on the floor and nobody would miss me? I am mostly over the visions of those catastrophic scenarios, but I still worry that I won’t be able to recover from these episodes.

The problem is that I don’t know that I’m overloaded until my stomach starts to hurt. By the time I wake up with a jaw-ache from crunching my molars together, it’s too late. My stomach churns with acid and I’m doubling over from cramps. Later, it seems as if I must have been tooling along oblivious to the clutter of my schedule. I feel so competent and proud to have been able to figure out how to be in two places at once. I am superwoman. I can entertain guests all weekend, make orthodontist appointments on Monday morning, arrange for my neighbor to let the painters in, get my kids to camp, plan a dinner menu and get the shopping done. I can get my kids home, entertain them, let the dog out, make a healthy dinner that we all sit down to together, post a blog entry, read and comment on some others, put the kids to bed and make their lunches for the next day. Or can I? What is the price I’m paying for that? I’ll tell you; anxiety and stomach aches. It’s having everything come to a halt, leaving acrid skid marks in the road when my body says it’s had enough. It’s the look on my kids’ faces when I inform them that we’re going to have a day of nothing but watching TV and coloring inside. No neighbor kids over to play, no cooking or cleaning, no games of Candyland or Polly Pocket. It’s realizing that instead of looking forward to today, I am eagerly anticipating the end of this month when I can pencil in some time to be by myself. I’ve got to get back to enjoying today. I have to show my children that being a whole person does not entail being and doing everything you think you ought to. Maybe tomorrow I’ll only do what I want to. At least, I’ll think about it….

Monday, July 24, 2006

I Don't DO Change

Girl Scout Camp! My oldest daughter has been planning on it for weeks. We bought her a new backpack to carry all of her stuff, she packed her lunch fully 18 hours before we were to leave for camp, she checked and rechecked her supplies and checked them off against her list. She lugged the deadweight of the pack around for days, claiming she needed to "get used to it". I am so sure she will end the week with a stiff neck and a sweaty backpack, but she can't contain herself.

She and her girlfriend signed up for this day camp three months ago and they are filled with questions about what they might do - make crafts, sing songs, throw water balloons? Not even the fact that it is a half hour from home and she is required to bring bug repellent feels daunting. She just wants to go.

Armed with a piss-poor map and a general idea of where I was going, we headed off this morning with a cushion of 45 minutes just in case...Fifteen minutes into the journey, I was feeling smug - we were over halfway there. I would surely get us there in time to scope out the camp, meet her counselors, hook up with her girlfriend and find the bathrooms before everyone else arrived. Yay, me! I planned ahead. Twenty minutes later (and who knows how many u-turns) the rumblings began in the back seat. The beauty of driving with an older child is that they are more able to entertain themselves. The part that sucks is that they can tell when you're lost. I had to resort to phoning my realtor friend twice for help, once because a road I was supposed to take was closed. SHIT! Now I was going to be late. There is almost nothing I hate more than being late, especially on the first day.

I sensed only pure excitement in my daughter about this camp. My feelings consisted of 90% anxiety and 10% excitement. I hoped I wasn't telegraphing that to her, but I was afraid as we drove around in circles in farm country that she was noticing my nervousness. This camp was all day, five days in a row, far away from my house with only one person she knew - someone younger than her. How was she going to cope? I know I don't give her enough credit for being resilient and strong. I think that's because I see too much of myself in her. I don't DO change. I am excruciatingly nervous in new situations and would never have done something like this when I was little unless my mother was a counselor or all of my friends would be there. She is much more courageous than I, so why do I keep worrying that she will be like me?

We finally arrived, 30 minutes late. We spotted her friend's mother in the parking lot, on her way out, and she pointed us to the general area where the girls were situated. We dashed over (me carrying the inordinately heavy backpack - I suspect she added some extra items from home) to the picnic tables and spied her name on the clipboard for one of the groups. I signed her in and they gave her a pink t-shirt to change into. Ahhh, I could finally start to relax.

Two minutes later, I began to realize that her girlfriend was not seated around the picnic table. Hmmm, maybe she went to the bathroom? Some more sleuthing revealed that she was not actually in my daughter's group. What the FUCK? Now I was really freaked out. In my pre-therapy life, I would have belligerently marched up to the leader and firmly expressed my wish that they make this right. I planned for this. I didn't want her to be alone in the camp, so I arranged, exactly as I had been instructed, for her friend to be in her same group. Now, I realize, that might give my daughter the impression that I thought she couldn't handle being alone at camp and that there was a reason I was nervous.

I took some deep breaths, asked some of the other girls around the table what their names were, and acted excited that she was going to meet some new friends. My daughter, bless her heart, lost only about 15% of her smile when she discovered her friend wouldn't be spending the week with her, and plowed through. I have no idea what she is feeling, and I am fairly certain she'll persevere without tears until the end of the day. I dread the thought that she might break down and cry with me tonight because I know exactly how she feels. I cried as soon as I got on the road again, feeling that I had let her down and trying to release the fluttering creatures in my chest that scared me so. I hope she bonds with these girls. I hope she has a fantastic day and spots her girlfriend across the park once or twice. I still want to try to change things so that tomorrow they are in the same group, but I don't know if that's because I really wanted them to get to hang out together, or if it's because I'm frightened to be alone in a group of people I don't know. I probably won't be able to figure that one out.

I do know that tonight when I get home, I'm going to get out the map and find the most efficient way to get there tomorrow morning. I will call her girlfriend's mother and lament that the girls aren't together. I will probably feel guilty for a while and nervous when I drop her off again. Her bravery shocks me and fills me with pride. She is a marvel and I love her. I hope her stomach is not secretly twisted in nervousness like mine. I hope she is simply excited to be there and can't wait to go back tomorrow. Maybe I can learn from her how to do that someday.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fairy Tales

This is a story Lola shared with me when she was three years old.

"When I was one, I was in my big sister's tummy forever. There were three buttons sewn on her tummy and it wouldn't open. But when I was three years old, the tummy opened and I began to come out and turn into a beautiful princess. I danced on the walls and floated down to land on some flowers. I picked the flowers and took them to my friend. I'm so tricky!"

Eve, then four and a half, followed that story with her own:

"I had a monkey cup. One night, the power went out and I ran to the neighbor's house. The neighbor turned out to be my Aunt Jam (her real name is Jan, but the kids have called her Aunt Jam forever). She had beautiful pictures on her wall and we decided to have dinner together. We ate steak, snow, and corn. I put ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard on my steak. The end."

I can't wait to share these stories with them when they are teenagers and see what they can make of them. I love that they are so free of structure and reality and there is no fear in them, no boogie monster.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I Don't Want to Eat Off of My Driveway!

The natural order of the universe is towards entropy. I learned that mumble,mumble years ago in my high school physics class and, as I discovered today, I would do well to remember that more often. Just in case you don't remember your high school science, what that means is that the world, when left to its own devices, tends to head for chaos, disorganization, and general messiness. Thus, to create order and cleanliness, we must expend energy and remember that once we leave the scene, things will gradually deteriorate again. Weeds will grow, dirt will scatter, things will age and fall apart and until someone steps in to halt or reverse the process, it will continue on.

As a teenager, I found this concept somewhat defeating. Over time, however, I accepted it, which is what one must do with laws of nature. It is not as though we can hold rallies and picket against gravity and change things, after all. I am committed to expending a certain amount of energy to make my part of the universe habitable according to my personal standards, and letting the rest go.

This morning I drove to the local equipment rental store to pick up a pressure washer. We are finally having some painting done on our patio walls and I promised the painter I would eradicate the last seven years of spider webs and dust and cottonwood fluff sticking to the rough ceiling beams and walls before he begins next week. Wielding the long wand, I attacked the poor unsuspecting bugs and spiders lurking in the shadows and sent them packing with my tsunami. The dirt rolled down the side of the house and I had a moment of instant gratification. This would be fun!

I suggested to my husband that, while we had this magnificent machine, I might as well use it to clean the sidewalk and driveway of their accumulated grime. He heartily agreed and promptly disappeared inside. After ten minutes of rhythmical back-and-forth spraying, I noticed a huge difference. Our front walk and driveway are aggregate cement, the tiny rocks that protrude out trap every piece of dirt and compost that is blown over, poured over and walked onto them. Unfortunately, it had taken ten minutes to do about three square feet of space. Hmmm.

I loathe leaving things unfinished, so I pressed on. Thirty minutes later, my hippie physics teacher's voice popped into my head and I realized the ridiculousness of what I was trying to do. We live on two acres near a creek. We have two cats, two young children and a dog. There are fifteen other children in our neighborhood and seven other dogs. I love to garden and am constantly tracking dirt and manure and compost across the driveway into and out of the garage. I was wasting my time and energy battling a law of nature. Screw the 65 bucks I spent on the pressure washer; I'm going inside to play Candyland with the girls!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tiny Treasures

Growing up on the Oregon Coast, I perfected the art of beachcombing. I learned to read the tide tables to decipher the low tides, get to the beach early before the tourists, and where the best shells could be found. I was fairly picky, taking only the ones that were whole and unusual in shape or color and making sure that there were no creatures living inside before I put them in my pocket. Tidepools were sources of endless fascination and, often, I fancied myself a bit of a mountain goat as I easily bounded from rock to rock without slipping. I could identify dozens of different sea animals and spent hours walking on the beach on the weekends.

Last week I took my children to the very same beaches I once prowled and delighted in teaching them to spot sea urchins, touch anemones gently, find whole sand dollars and pop the floats at the end of the long strands of seaweed like bubble wrap. It felt good to be the instructor, sharing one of my favorite pasttimes of youth with my own daughters, but I never dreamed I would also discover a new fascination. I thought I had unearthed all of the treasures these particular beaches had to offer. Not so.

One morning we headed down to the beach at low tide and started walking north. Pretty soon we came upon an area about a hundred square feet of beach that was covered in pebbles the size of a pinhead. My youngest daughter sat down and invented a game of house where she was the mom and was fixing me dinner with the rocks. I sat down and began sifting through them absentmindedly, feeling the tiny tumbled edges cool against my skin as they fell through my fingers. The sun glinted off of one in particular as it dropped back into the mix and I immediately began searching for it. As I looked down, I noticed the different colors of these tiny treasures. The majority of them were simply grey pebbles, but tucked in among them were miniscule agates, orange, red, white and green, and bits of clam shells that had been smoothed by their journey in the sea. I started to separate the most unique of them out and collect them in my pocket.

Two hours later, my husband came to shake me from my reverie, reminding me that the back of my neck was getting sunburned and I could hardly believe I had spent my morning in such solitude. The constant rhythm of the waves shushing the shore, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the murmur of my girls playing their game and my mind completely occupied with sorting out tiny treasures had quieted the firing of my neurons and given me a complete grounding in place and time. Those rocks will sit in a jar of water on my kitchen counter as a reminder of that precious time, found completely by accident in a place I was convinced I knew inside and out. I have discovered another reason to love "my beach". I can't wait to go back.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Watch Your Follow Through!

I am absolutely exhausted. I just returned from a week-long "vacation" two hours ago and already I'm so tired I just want to worm my way under the covers of my very own bed and magically stop the Earth from revolving around the Sun for a few days. Now that would be a vacation!

Not only was my "vacation" not really one except in the technical sense that I was away from home on something other than work, but in my husband's haste to load the car, he neglected to bring my laptop, my oasis in the desert of chaos that is traveling with children. I have a very good friend who describes vacations with small children as "parenting in a different place". But I digress; that is all for another post.

Returning to the kitchen, I immediately felt pelted by incoming information. My eyes locked in on the pile of mail stacked on the counter, I heard the incessant chirping of the answering machine, my oldest daughter dropped the plastic garbage bag of laundry on the floor with a WHUMP. I thought of the friend in distress whom I had neglected to check in on while we were gone, the cats who instantly came to my ankles to reacquaint themselves with me reminded me that being home comes with some relief and a lot of catching up.

As soon as the immediate needs of finding something for dinner and feeding the animals were met, my stomach began to knot up as the list of things to follow through on grew like a sea monkey in a bowl of water. Sometimes I am caught off guard by the energy it takes to follow through on my daily commitments and values, especially when I don't keep up with them on a daily basis. Getting away from it all is great, but next time maybe I'll come home a day earlier than anyone thinks I will just so I can have a cushion of time to reimmerse myself in my own life.
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