Thursday, December 27, 2007


The brew drained, as if suddenly the plug had been removed. The mingling honey and charcoal sunk, leaving heavy, wet sand in its place. He is gone. Ever the thoughtful one, he waited for my mom to call him on Christmas night, her sister holding the phone to his ear as he lay comatose in his bed. She needed to tell him how proud she was to be his daughter. She needed to tell him one more time how much she loved him and how important he was to her. She said all the words she needed to say and then told him it was okay for him to go. She understood that it was time.

The next morning he was gone. He took his last breath and let go. The world is not as shiny anymore. The blankets not as warm, the walls not as strong. As I look around my house and find photos of him here and there I recall the feeling of his strong arms around me. I won't soon forget the tenderness that seemed so incongruent with his physical size. He was so frightened to hold my newborn daughter - afraid he was capable of hurting her. The sight of him cradling her awkwardly in his lap still makes me smile. The photo that captured that moment is framed on my wall.

He was so much. An inspiration. Strength and support when we most needed it. Quick witted and confident. Practical and whimsical, both. The absolute pillar of this family.

The sand is heavy in my gut. My tears come easily. I know that it is only a matter of time before I am full again. Full of the promise of the legacy he left to me and the others he touched. For now, I will sit with the sand and the tears.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I am a Libra. I am all about balance. Love it. I don't mind it when the see-saw tilts, just as long as I know it's going to keep moving and switch back to the other side soon.

As I slowly and quietly process the sad news that has come my way over the past week or so, I've noticed that the teeter has tottered a bit. My capacity for enthusiasm is greatly diminished. My wit is not as sharp or as swift as it normally is. The top third of my brain is submerged in that grey mist that hangs above the lake on autumn mornings. I am subdued.

While my world is tilted on its ear a bit, I've noticed that my capacity for tenderness has grown. My sensitivity to acts of love and kindness is on hyperdrive. I am so much more aware of the interactions of those around me. Watching my kids play with their cousin and make homemade gifts for each other warms me from the tip of my toes on up. Listening to Bubba and his brother sit and chat about everything and nothing reminds me how much these two siblings love each other. Sitting with the dog, his soft chin resting on my thigh, I stroke his silky ears and feel the emptiness inside begin to fill.

The honeyed sweetness of comfortable, connected affection mingles with the charcoal grey of sadness, swirling together in a yin/yang pattern, thick and deep. My easy smiles and belly laughter will return. For now, the brew inside is filling. It encourages me to sit with it, heavy and grounded.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar

I've been 'roared' at by Holly which is apparently, a good thing. It seems to be essentially the same as being tagged to add my two cents. The subject this time is three things that I think make for good writing. I can't promise to say anything terribly original, but here goes:

  1. I love it when people write what they know. A friend of mine once accused me of reading only depressing books (you know who you are, my dear) and I will admit that many of the memoirs I've read are sad tales. The story doesn't have to span a long period of time so long as the details ring true. I want to know that, fiction or non-fiction, the writer felt what they were writing about when they were writing it. That is what makes me feel it when I'm reading it. That's what I love.

  2. Energy. The story has to have energy. I want to know that it will continue to move along and progress. I love stories that I can't put down. I had a professor in college who used to walk into trees because he read as he walked, careening off sidewalks, tripping over 100-year-old maple roots and not even noticing. That is how engrossed he was in the reading material. Gimme that kind of book anyday!

  3. Please don't make it predictable. Please don't follow a formula. Surprise me. Give me a reason to turn each and every page, holding my breath in suspense. Find a way to twist my expectations upside-down until I can't even come up with a guess for what's next.

I'm roaring at Miss Devylish, Ammogirl, AELEOPE, and My Own Woman.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


As I move through my day, fully aware that it is five days before Christmas, the notion of connections sits in the back of my mind like wallpaper on my desktop computer. It holds everything important to me, frames it all. Christmas cards have been sent to those whom I am connected by blood and genes, friendship and concern, history and love. I have spent time perusing catalogs and websites in an effort to find a token that will accurately convey my feelings to friends and family.

Spending the last several days with my mother, sister and brother gave me the opportunity to reconnect and watch my daughters forge ever-stronger relationships with people whom I love. As my stoic brother's face cracked into a huge grin, he wrapped his arms around my youngest and wrestled with her. Opening gifts quickly turned into a 'snowball fight' with crumpled wrapping paper, adults and children alike giggling and ducking behind furniture to avoid flying gift wrap.

Moving on to my father's house, my urgency to add layers to the ties that bind becomes even more important. I scanned his face for any sign of illness, anything that might betray the eight bb-sized tumors embedded in his brain. My girls piled into his lap and began tickling his ears, his chin, pulling his slippers and socks off, hooting with laughter. He has regained the weight he lost after battling chemotherapy for three months. His face no longer looks as though it was dusted with flour, and he moves through the house like a young man again. Late night talks revealed his fears, though. He has seen the brain scan and the glowing cells that spell disaster. He knows that radiation doesn't work on brain tumors. He is on his way to the university hospital to look for new treatments, experimental procedures that might buy him some more time.

The girls and I arrived home yesterday afternoon, eager to put the house in order and greet Bubba as he came home from work. The last of the gifts were wrapped and placed under the tree for the cat to play with. The girls put their things away and settled back into their bedrooms. I was relieved to be in my own space, relaxing on the couch and stroking the dog's silky fur. I was so pleased to have had the time to spend re-connecting. The phone rang. My mother was calling to say that my grandfather who has been battling cancer for two years is on the verge of death. His last coherent act was to sign Christmas cards to each and every person he knows, including one each for my girls, addressed to them individually. He then laid down in his bed and slipped into a coma. They don't expect him to live out the weekend.

Connections. Ties. Relationships. I can't imagine the world without my grandfather in it. I am incredibly sad that his end is imminent. But I know that the connection will not be lost. The connection does not rely on physical existence to remain. The work we did to establish and maintain the mutual love and respect we had for each other is not lost. I see my grandfather in his children, my mother and aunts and uncle. I see him in the connections they have with each other and me. The memories I have of him will last a lifetime. I am reminded that the efforts I make to connect with others are important and lasting. Every time I strengthen the ties between myself and another, I will be rewarded by finding myself more intimately connected to the world around me.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


My palms sweat and my right eardrum feels as though it is half-plugged with cotton. I know it's not the double espresso I'm working on, and it's not the anticipation of the long drive I have ahead of me. The forces working on my nervous system stretch back behind me to the tension of the last month, last week, yesterday.

Bubba is leaving his job - his only ever grown-up job, the first one he got right out of college and has had for over 15 years. Starting in February, he is following his dream and it's about time. I'm thrilled for him and completely supportive. Mentally. I know I'll struggle with keeping my nose out of it. I will fight to zip my lips and sit on my hands when I start to see that he's running out of printer toner or business cards. Too easy to have my accomodating 'fix-it' style spill over from wife to business partner. Too easy to forsake the time at my laptop chasing MY dream in an effort to help him with his. Deep breath.

The phone call that came yesterday burned a path from my head through my heart and it's not done yet. Amazing how such small pieces of information begin a chain of devastation almost instantly. The cancer that was cut away from my father's lung in February has taken hold in his brain. The CAT scans and x-rays showed nothing, but his bloodwork continued to alarm the doctors who followed him. After a summer of poisoning his body with chemotherapy there should be nothing left of the cancer. But it appeared there was. Their job was to find it. Mission accomplished. Eight tumors in his brain, glowing on the brain scan. I was calm and clinical on the phone - 'get a second opinion before you start radiation', 'go to the university hospital in case there are some new therapies.' All it took was the touch of another, her arms around me, warm hands pressed against my shoulders, and I erupted into hot tears and shaking, the fear and sadness carving out my organs and leaving only darkness in their wake.

As my father struggled to recover after his surgery, depressed at his inability to heal more quickly I tried to encourage him and give him realistic information at the same time. Knowing that he would spend his summer having weekly chemotherapy treatments I said, "By Christmas you'll be back to your normal self. I know that seems like a horribly long time, but when Christmas comes, you will feel terrific." Ironic, here we are ten days before Christmas and he is back to work more often than not. He is walking on the treadmill and has an appetite again. "I feel fine - great, even!" he assured me on the phone. Both of us wishing that that truth had the power to erase the eight glowing spots on the radiology film.

My palms sweat. My heartbeat is picking up. In one hour I will buckle my girls in to their car seats for the five hour drive to his house. A planned trip to play Santa and visit my fully-recovered father. I am afraid to look into his eyes and see the fear there. I am afraid he'll look into my eyes and see the same. I am afraid he is dying.

"Don't be his doctor. Be his daughter," Bubba said softly in the dark last night as I lay on my pillow, tears streaming down into my ears.

Being his doctor would be so much easier.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Economy of Spirit

I am incredibly obtuse when it comes to economics. Not only do I not know much about the way interest rates and inflationary cautions and other such things work, I really can't be bothered to learn. So long as I am making more money than I need to cover all of my bills, I'm good. Typically, when NPR is doing a segment on the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates I switch to the CD player and rock out. Today, the host of the show "Day to Day" was interviewing a financial 'expert' and I paid attention.

The guest was explaining that he fully expected the economy to continue to suffer. He believes that after the first of the year retail spending will drop off considerably and Americans will tighten their money belts. He talked about the way that we as a people have been borrowing money and spending more than we make and fully embracing our consumer lifestyle for too long. He thinks that we have reached the outer limits of our comfort zone and will now begin curbing our appetites for material things, instead turning our attention to our woefully starved savings accounts. He didn't sound shocked or horrified or even the slightest bit frightened about any of this. I think that's why I continued to listen. You may remember this post when I talked about measuring our lives by other means. I was intrigued at his non-reaction.

The host asked, "What do you think will happen to the economy if people begin acting like you're predicting?"

"The economy will turn downward. But I don't think it's the worst thing that could ever happen. It will reduce our trade deficit. Americans are notorious internationally for our low levels of saving, and it can only be good in the long run for us to begin bolstering our savings again. I think it will hurt. I think it will be good for us. But it will be traumatic."

Okay. Been there. I am guilty of finding ways to use my current energy reserves to chase the things that I think I need. Things I've let myself become convinced are important. Running after fleeting things, all the while flicking that annoying little flea off my shoulder. You know the one. He sits there chirping in your ear, reminding you that this might not be the best course of action right now.

'Please stop rushing around spending money buying people expensive gifts. Please stop adding name after name to the list of people who absolutely must get your Christmas letter this year. Please put aside the menu planning you're doing in an effort to try and please each and every member of the family in one fell swoop. You haven't invested in yourself in a long time. How long has it been since you worked on your book? How long has it been since you slept peacefully? How long has it been since you meditated? How many times have you said to yourself 'If I can just make it until December 26th, I'll start taking care of myself again?' '

Yeah. It might be hard to give up all of the rushing around. It will be really hard to imagine what others think of me if I don't make an effort to put their favorite Christmas dishes on the table this year. I can't even imagine tearing up my to-do list. Do I really want to crash and burn between December 26th and the 31st? Is it worth it to continue to live by the 'shoulds' in the short term? Nah. Once I put it in those terms, I think I can accept that turning inward a little and investing in myself and my own energy stores might affect the others around me, causing those who are used to me taking care of business a little stress of their own. In the long run, I'll be better off and that is what's best for all of us.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

There is No Joy Like a Girl Turned Eight

My oldest daughter turned eight last week. For the ten days preceding her birthday she was a study in grins. Nearly everyone she came in contact with soon discovered how many shopping days remained until her special day. The energy emanating from her small, 40-ish pound frame seemed impossibly overwhelming. Or so I thought. Until it multiplied.

Last year there were three teachers in her classroom. She fell in love with all three of them, one more than the others. The one teacher about whom I was most worried turns out to have been the one who stole her heart. She was the one who lit my daughter's face up like a roman candle on the Fourth of July. The one who never let her doubt herself. The one who showed up for choir concerts on school nights and asked about her father when she knew he was in the hospital. That teacher.

She left at the end of the school year and, although she promised she'd be back occasionally, my daughter was devastated. I somehow managed to obtain a mailing address for her and the two of them began this crazy correspondence on restaurant napkins and silly scraps of paper. Three weeks ago we got some fantastic news. This lovely woman was scheduled to substitute in my daughter's classroom on her birthday.

"That is the BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!!!" the grin split my daughter's face wider than I've ever seen it. She couldn't contain her energy, bouncing up and down and turning in circles as she squealed with delight.

There were other gifts - four inches of unseasonal snow on the night of her birthday sleepover, flashlight tag at 10pm with her best girlfriends in the backyard, dinner at her favorite restaurant and a dessert with a candle in it while the rest of the patrons sang to her, enough books to keep her busy until January at least. None of them compares even slightly to the six hours she spent in the classroom with her favorite teacher. The one who never acts as though anything might be too difficult for my daughter. The one whose face breaks into a smile a mile wide as soon as she catches sight of my daughter down the hall. The one who picks her up into an enormous bear hug and a giggle each and every time they see each other. The one who makes her feel like she's a princess. We'll be riding this high for a long time and I can't tell you how much it warms my heart to know that this was her best birthday gift - the presence of this special person in her life. Some things just can't be gotten with a credit card. Thanks, Mrs. H!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Pineapple Express

It has been confirmed. I am a true Northwest girl - born and bred. The trees packed in tight along the hills, lakes and mountains breaking up the landscape no matter which direction you turn, rain.

The metal latch of the leash clips on to the dog's collar and his feet dance with anticipation. There is a break in the rain and blue sky is visible directly above us. Off to the west, the color is charcoal grey. The perfect backdrop for the multicolored arch that stretches above downtown. The streets and sidewalks are shiny and dotted with puddles that swoosh as the cars rush through them, one after the next. Closing my eyes I let my ears fill with the sound of the rainstorm that came with the morning and my nostrils fill with the sweet, clear scent of asphalt washed clean.

The dog's feet find every reservoir of rainwater as determinedly as mine avoid them. There is a bounce in our rhythm and a grin spreads across my face. I love the rain. The sound of it pounding down on the roof in the dark of night. The fruity smell that comes just before an electrical storm. The feel of it. It is warm today - in the 50s, but cold prickles begin to poke my face. The drops start small but within half a block they are 1/2 carat wonders, creating rivers of tear-like drips down my cheeks. By the time we reach the end of the block my ponytail is stuck to the back of my neck and the dog stops to shake himself off every three steps or so. Our pace does not change. I am still smiling. People with umbrellas walk by, hurrying to find some refuge indoors. The two of us continue to bounce along, feeling the spreading wetness. My bangs harbor individual drops of water, heavy like ripe fruit. My eyelashes sparkle with them. The dog continues to shake himself dry, the fur on his back ruffled and rumpled like a teen idol.

We walk for another half mile before we reach the car, soaked through. The car smells of wet dog, but I am warm and contented from our walk. The dog walks in circles on the back seat and settles into a heavy slumber on the ride home. The windshield wipers beat a steady back-and-forth and I blink rain from my lashes onto my cheeks. What a beautiful beginning to the day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It's a Family Thing

Fighting through all that Mother Nature threw at us (four inches of snow followed by a 20 degree rise in temperature and seven inches of rain; floods and street closures everywhere you turned), a coliseum of old farts managed to show up to pack the house for the Van Halen concert last night in Seattle. They did not disappoint.
David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen showed up onstage with significantly shorter tresses than when I saw them last, (GASP!) 20 years ago, but both sported six-pack abs and smiles a mile wide. Indeed, Eddie didn't even bother donning a shirt for the show, instead wearing his trademark white cargo pants (not parachute pants anymore, folks, this ISN'T the 80s anymore) and red sneakers. His age showed in the grey in his goatee and his gnarled hands, but his mastery of the electric guitar has not suffered with age. Say what you will about the bands of the 1980s, Eddie Van Halen is still the best electric guitarist around. He has the ability to make that thing talk and scream and sing and blow us out of our seats.
David Lee Roth, ever the showman, changed outfits again and again, throwing scarves and hats out into the audience directly in front of the stage. Bubba and I remarked on how those first dozen rows have changed in the last two decades. Originally, they were full of scantily clad teenage girls, hair teased to the spotlights, spike-heeled black boots lifting them almost to the level of the stage, screaming and swooning and offering all sorts of frightening things to the band members. Last night there were a few women reliving those days (most of them unwisely, I might add), but the vast majority of patrons in those rows were 30- and 40-something guys with receding hairlines wearing jeans and t-shirts and jumping up and down with their arms outstretched. I imagine they were the Microsoft geeks who could afford $500.00 per seat.
Alex Van Halen, safely ensconced in his fortress of drums, doesn't appear to have changed at all. He still sports his curly, shaggy long locks and headband and plays the drums like a madman. His drum solo, essentially unchanged from the one we heard 20 years ago, was so fun to watch as he grimaced and pounded away and smiled like a kid on his birthday.
The best part of the evening, though, was the presence of Eddie's son, Wolfgang (Wolfie) playing the bass guitar. At 16 years old, he is a welcome addition to the group. There were a few really cool moments ('campy', Bubba says) where he and his father stood side-by-side playing dueling guitars and grinning at each other like idiots. I found myself grinning along with them. When Eddie reached out and ruffled his son's shaggy hair in this very touching father-like way I ate it up. This kid is a good guitar player and it is clear that he is relishing every minute of his inclusion in this incredible band started by his father and his uncle. The times where he wandered onto the catwalk or stepped up to the front of the stage tentatively were probably frightening for him, but it helped the show seem more spontaneous and not choreographed.
Bubba and I had a terrific time and, although I felt old as I streamed along with the crowd of aging rockers, I appreciated the fact that we can still enjoy the music and the band without feeling like we're missing something. I like that the band members are acting their ages and not trying to seem as though we are all still teenagers. Well, except for Wolfie, that is.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

One More Thing You May Be Surprised to Find Out

I was a teenager in the 80s. I had an older brother whom I worshipped and jumped at the chance to spend time with. He was smart, completely irreverent, possessed a wicked sense of humor, and had the biggest CD collection of anyone I knew. Occasionally he invited me to join him in his inner sanctum to hang out and listen to music. Given this, it is hardly shocking that I grew to love such bands as Led Zeppelin, Metallica, the Scorpions, ZZ Top, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Van Halen. Although it was the era of the 'big hair' bands, he indulged lightly in such fly-by-night acts as Poison, Tesla, Whitesnake, Motley Crue and Ratt. Needless to say, I listened to what he listened to with rapt attention. Indeed, I memorized every word of every song on Ratt's first album. Not exactly something to be proud of, but a fun party trick in college karaoke scenes when it was too dark for me to display my other quirky ability of tying a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue.

I told you all that to tell you this: Monday night I have a date with Bubba. Van Halen is coming to town and we are so there! Because I am a bit of an idealist, before the tickets were purchased I had to make sure that the lead singer would be David Lee Roth. I have nothing against Sammy Hagar, but to me, he is second-rate Halen. I'm not paying a premium to see him. I'm getting out my comb and hairspray, putting on my acid wash jeans and my black eyeliner and hitting the road, baby! Whaddya think about hitting Dick's for burgers before the show? ;-)
(T-shirt may be purchased at

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Tis the Season

My girls each have three piggy banks. In an effort to teach them about the value and the power of money, Bubba and I started an allowance program about a year ago that requires them to 'feed' each of these piggy banks every week.

Although it sounds like a lot of money, each of them receives $3.00/week. One dollar goes into each of the piggy banks. There is a "spend" bank, into which they are allowed to dip any time they wish (with parental veto, of course). The second one is designated "save" and requires them to have some sort of plan for the contents. The final bank is for sharing and a few weeks ago as I walked into my eldest daughter's room I noticed it was outgrowing its boundaries. Sitting the girls down one Sunday morning, we talked to them about how they might like to distribute this money.

My oldest daughter didn't need even a moment to ruminate. She immediately asked me to donate her entire stash to a local animal rescue facility. Two years ago her class visited the sanctuary and met the animals who lived there. They saw two monkeys whose aggressive behavior had gotten them kicked out of the local zoo, a blind juvenile raccoon whose mother had abandoned it, exotic pets people had bought for their children and discarded when they discovered how difficult they were to care for (wallabies, pygmy goats, miniature potbellied pigs), and other creatures who had been found by hikers to be wounded or diseased or dying or otherwise in need of help. This place made such an impression on my daughter that she had been searching for a way to help them short of moving in.

My youngest was both astonished by the large amount of money she had collected to share and dismayed at the relatively small buying power it represented. Fortunately, the answer presented itself in Monday's mail. We received a donation form from a local homeless shelter, asking us to provide holiday dinners for families in need. The paperwork stated that $20.00 would feed 18 people a warm, filling, healthy meal and the thought of helping entire families proved incredibly attractive. We immediately filled out the form and mailed off a check. As we sat down to eat our dinner tonight, my daughter sat up a little straighter at the thought that there might be other children who were doing the same thanks to her.

As a family who is incredibly blessed with a safe, warm home and every material good we could wish for, we have always taught our children to be thankful for what they have. We routinely donate our used clothing, always give food to the food bank, and place gifts under the giving tree at Christmas every year. Asking the girls to be responsible for their own generosity this year empowered them in a much more personal way. As the thank-you notes came in today's mail from the girls' respective charities the girls' faces were glowing with pride. As I tucked my youngest in tonight, she caught sight of the other two piggy banks sitting atop her dresser, dollar bills protruding out the top.

"Mom? Is it too late to write another check to the shelter?"

She says it is so close to Christmas that she can't think of any toys or books she wants to spend her money on. She'd rather buy more dinners for homeless families. I am so filled with this loving spirit right now that I can't imagine anything better.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Seven Things You Didn't Know About Me...

I've been tagged by My Own Woman. It is my duty to come up with seven interesting tidbits about myself to share. Let me know if you think these fit the bill (where does that saying come from, anyway?).

  1. I spent seven years of my life training to be a ballerina. I performed onstage as Clara in The Nutcracker, Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, and in multiple other roles. There was nothing I wanted more than to spend my life backstage getting made up and hairsprayed and costumed for another show. My primary teacher was an ex-Russian ballerina who stalked the studio, pounding her cane on the hardwood floor and barking orders at us. I loved every minute of it. Moving to Wyoming unfortunately ended that portion of my life.

  2. The first time I attempted to ride my bike without training wheels I was so worried about my father letting go of the back of the bike that when I turned around to make sure he was still holding on I ran into a parked car.

  3. In high school I had to go without any caffeine (chocolate included) for two years because I had such fibrocystic breast tissue that they were afraid I might be at risk for other complications. Those of you who know anything about me will find it difficult to believe that I could go for two days without chocolate, much less two years.

  4. After a decade of swearing that I would never ever get married or have children, I proposed to my boyfriend during Spring Break in my senior year of college. His response? "You can't ask me that." I was crushed. I got into my car for the 200 mile drive back to school wondering whether our relationship could survive after this. Turns out I had stolen his thunder. He'd already purchased a ring and was planning to ask me to marry him when I graduated. We stayed together despite my misgivings and he asked me on the beach in Maui. We've been married for almost fourteen years.

  5. From the time I was 14 years old I have had the following jobs: ice-cream schlepper at Dairy Queen, customer service at a gift shop on the beach, busser/waitress/hostess at a five-star resort, re-shelver at the university library, calculus tutor, veterinary assistant, medical assistant in a family planning clinic, scheduler/assistant for women's radiology department at teaching hospital, secretary for international shipping line, microfilm processor for regional power company, surgical assistant for plastic/reconstructive surgeons, surgical assistant for dermatologist, office manager for a physical therapy clinic, quality management assistant for longterm children's mental health authority, database administrator/consultant for children's mental health inpatient facility, freelance writer.

  6. Before I had children I swore like a sailor and, in the proper company, I've still got it.

  7. I hate anything having to do with beauty pageants in any form or fashion. I find them useless and demeaning.
Whew. That was more difficult than I expected it to be. Now comes the 'chain' portion of the post. The next seven bloggers I'm tagging are Carrie,Michelle, Deb, Holly, Ammogirl, Miss Devylish, and just because I know she's looking for something to do, the final nominee is Jerri.

Monday, November 26, 2007


There is a group of people with whom I have a dreadful time simply being. There is a group of people with whom I gather from time to time who cause me to choose to be vigilant and guarded. History has taught me that sharing my honest political and moral views, my most deeply held beliefs and spiritual musings, will result in heated arguments, uncomfortable discussions and, ultimately, judgement.

These are individuals whom I love and care for and truly wish I could find peace with. They possess the power to make me feel less. Less intelligent. Less 'cool'. Less important. When I am in their company I feel instantly transported back to the halls of my small-town high school and begin watching my every step for fear that I might make a mistake that will be noticed by someone waiting to pounce.

I am fairly certain that my guarded personality in some way contributes to the difficult dynamic in these situations, but I have been stung by hurtful comments in the past and the thought of letting go and simply disregarding their opinions of me as unimportant seems impossible. Inevitably at the end of each of these gatherings I am left examining my reactions. Why is it that I feel judged by them? Their habit as a group is to judge most other people. Why is it that I resist standing up to them? I know I won't change their minds and I can't hope to disrupt a dynamic that has been going on for decades. By stating my opinion I am painting myself with a bulls-eye and starting a chain reaction of arguments that will serve nobody's purposes. Even though it makes me uncomfortable, is it okay for me to spend these infrequent get-togethers shielding my true self from them in an effort to keep the waters around us calm?

I worry about the message my daughters will get from this. I worry that these people will never value me without truly knowing me for who I am. On the other hand, I value being able to spend a few days in a relatively calm state without fear of impending confrontation or being mocked. I know what my husband's advice would be: who cares what they think? My gut tells me it is important to stand up for who I am, but my head says it isn't worth the fighting and constant effort of justifying myself to others. The reality is, these people will be in my life in one way or another for a very long time. I chose to marry one of 'them'. Ironically, it was his love and devotion for them that was one of the reasons I found him so attractive. Also ironically, it is the fact that he is so different from them when he's not with them that gives me the most hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Observations From the Dentist's Chair

  • I would rather get shots or have my blood drawn than experience the singularly uncomfortable feeling that comes from having the dental hygienist scrape the metal hook across the surface of the inside of my bottom front teeth.

  • There is nothing that activates the excuse-generating portion of my brain more than lying back in this chair with my mouth wide open, knowing that my brushing and flossing habits are betraying me.

  • Being a dental hygienist is a job I cannot ever imagine enjoying even for one minute.

  • It cracks me up to feel the air being pulled through my nostrils into my mouth when I close my lips around the suction straw.

  • The mere thought of berry or bubble-gum flavored tooth polish turns my stomach and makes me wonder how old my daughters will be when they begin to have that same reaction and fervently hope the dentist hasn't run out of mint.

  • Even though it has been ten months since I last sat in this chair it feels like it hasn't been nearly that long.

  • Crossing my ankles and clasping my hands together is strangely comforting in its ability to distract me from the skin-crawling reaction I get when a huge piece of tartar is being chipped off of my teeth.

  • No matter how much I dislike sitting here the day after Thanksgiving, I'd still choose this chair over fighting the holiday crowds at the mall any day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Right Now

"The word for yesterday and the word for tomorrow are the same in the Hindi language." Anu Garg's ( voice streams out from my radio as I navigate the wet streets from school to home this morning.

My local NPR station is doing an hour on word origins and they have invited the founder of the popular Wordsmith/A Word A Day emails to join them in the discussion. My brain slowly begins to churn his words around, folding them in to the crevices in my brain and allowing them to seep in to my consciousness as the voices in the background fade away.

To me, this means that both yesterday and tomorrow are equal in Hindi. Equal in that they are NOT today. Equally unknowable and uncontrollable and perhaps not worth dwelling on. Considering that I've spent most of my life in a concerted effort to plan for tomorrow so that I don't replay the events of yesterday, I find this incredibly interesting. Considering that I am right now attempting to spend more energy realizing and enjoying the moments of my days as they happen and less energy agonizing over and anticipating future events, I find this comforting. The origins of the words 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' in English arise from the negative - the fact that neither of these days is today. I think that somewhere over the generations many of us has lost the true meaning of these words. I'm going to do my best to remember their Hindi translation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hmmm, Nice Try

Forgive me if I'm not rushing out to invest my savings in this new prospect:

Reversible alternative to vasectomy tested

"Chinese doctors have developed a new technique in birth control surgery for men that could be made available to the public next year, the China Daily said on Thursday.
The method involves making a small incision along the testicle into which doctors place a tiny tube.
"The tube functions as a filter that blocks sperm," Wu Weixiong, the director of Guangzhou
Family Planning Technology Center"

Honestly? The combination of the toxin-tainted toys and the fact that men will have to trust someone to place a foreign object in their testicles seems to prevent anyone with a modicum of common sense from believing that this is a viable option.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mind the Levies

What if the person that I am is the person I am supposed to be? What if some of my less attractive traits serve some important purpose that I haven't before considered? What if, instead of nagging myself to be more patient I embraced the burrs of impatience as an integral part of my individuality?

"Mom, why can't we be home schooled?"

This is one of those questions that shouldn't be asked of me when I'm in a rush to get through traffic and drop the girls off at school. This is one of those moments where I would trade my big toe for a universal remote that would stop the world from spinning so that I could formulate a kind, convincing answer that wouldn't scar my children.

"Because Mommy doesn't want to. I have so many other things I would rather do with my days than spend them designing lesson plans for you guys and making sure I'm teaching you all of the things I think it's important for you to learn," was my actual reply. Ouch.

"I wish we could be home-schooled because then I could be with you all day long and never have to leave you, Mommy," my five-year-old says softly. Ouch. Ouch.

Even though I know that this doesn't hold true for more than an hour at a time (she's also called me 'the Queen of Meantown' and 'the worst mommy ever'), I think she truly believes this at the moment she utters it. I'm feeling pretty guilty right now.

But what if? What if the mommy my girls are seeing right now is the one from whom they will take their cues as they grow older? What if they are learning that it's okay to make choices based on your own interests and desires as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else? What if my impatience leads me to believe I can do a large variety of different things and still be a good mother? What if I stop second-guessing myself and just accept that I am who I am right now and that is good? Not just 'good enough', but 'good.' So what if I don't exercise as much as the experts say I should? So what if the house is messy more often than I'd like it to be? So what if I occasionally blow off their gymnastics lessons so that we can go out for hot fudge sundaes to celebrate a personal victory?

I walk the dog nearly every day. I feed the kids mostly healthy food. They always have enough clean underwear. It's not always in the drawer - sometimes we pull our clean clothes out of the laundry basket in the morning. The car gets cleaned out every couple of weeks. The newspapers often sit on the driveway for a day or two before being picked up. We don't always brush our teeth before heading out the door to school. Isn't that okay?

We do laugh at least once every day. We do hug and kiss each other before bed every night, no matter how late it is. We respect each others' wish for privacy as much as possible. We try to understand that each of us has a slightly different value system and flexibility is important. None of these things is a hard and fast rule. They are more like the bumper guards at the bowling alley designed to keep kids' bowling balls from running amok. 'Just mind the levies,' Bubba says, 'and we'll be allright.'

All right.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Touchy, Touchy!

I was a good student. A teacher's pet, peer-counselor, student-council vice president, nearly straight-A-getting senior in high school who had proven myself an 'atypical' girl by excelling at math and science. Biology was my favorite.

By the time I was a senior, I had taken all of the biology classes offered in our teeny rural school and had a free period that I wasn't sure what to do with. By biology teacher asked me if I'd be willing to act as a tutor to a student who was blind. He had ordered special materials for her and she would attend all of his lectures, but when it came to truly understanding all of the concepts he thought it would be great if she had some one-on-one help. Always eager to ingratiate myself to the adults in my life, I agreed without hesitation.

Opening the box that arrived the first week of school was better than Christmas. There were all sorts of amazing tools inside - models of cells made out of plastic that showed each phase of cell division and reproduction, a rubber frog we could 'dissect' and remove each of the authentic-feeling parts inside, squishy stomach, spongy lungs, etc.

The two of us spent at least half an hour together every day, reviewing the lectures and tracing our fingertips over the plastic materials we'd been so lucky to get. Even though I had aced this same class two years before, the simple act of integrating the information in a different way gave me such an enhanced understanding. Feeling the DNA of a cell as it split and copied itself for replication, I felt the lessons hitching a ride on my nerve endings and traveling up into my brain for storage. Knowing what the organs of a frog felt like without the blunting touch of latex gloves was exquisite.

For most of my formal education, the power of touch was not emphasized at all. We were expected to use our eyes and ears to gather information and recall it from scribbled notes we took. Montessori school teachers know the importance of touch when it comes to tracing pathways in the brain and firmly rooting understanding versus memorization. Their classrooms are wonderlands of sensory information. They teach children letters by showing them and having them trace the letter itself with their fingertips, reinforcing it in at least two ways at once. Math is taught with the use of golden beads that help imprint the feeling of one, two, three into their memories. There are projects that experiment with the sense of smell and taste and lectures are not given in groups. Instead, lessons are provided to one or two children at a time when they are mentally and physically ready for them so as not to overwhelm their senses with extraneous information (the sound of a classmate fidgeting in their seat, the frantic need to copy down verbatim what the teacher is saying).

Wouldn't it be great if we were all taught from a young age to include all of our senses in our quest to understand the world around us? Instead, we are so often encouraged to block other things out and learn in a way that is one-dimensional and limiting. We cannot fully understand anything by looking at it or hearing it. To think otherwise is to discount potentially important information and give ourselves the false impression that we understand it.

Something to think about....

Friday, November 09, 2007

Food (or Drink) for Thought

The best man is like water.Water is good; it benefits all things and does not compete with them.It dwells in lowly places that all disdain.This is why it is so near to Tao.
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

Maybe this is why I love the rain. Being able to sit in a warm spot with a cup of tea and just listen to the sound of the raindrops falling on the roof is one of my favorite things. The only thing that trumps it is sitting on a deck overlooking the ocean and letting the sound of the rushing waves fill my ears. Lying in a deep bathtub, standing underneath the soft spray of a showerhead, swimming in a clear pool that's being replenished by a powerful waterfall, holding an icicle in my fingertips and marveling at its clear magic - all of those things inspire in me a golden warmth and a peacefulness I cannot otherwise achieve.

What is it about water? Is it that it does exist everywhere? That it sustains all of life? Is it the way it holds things - some of them floating on top, some of them suspended in the middle, others sinking to the bottom? Is it the way it is capable of transforming itself into other substances - its flexibility? The fact that it can be under incredibly hot temperatures and turn to steam, waiting for the ideal conditions that will turn it back into its normal state is astonishing. It can also exist under extremely low temperatures as ice and simply wait.

It flows downhill without resisting. If it finds a rock in its path it simply splits itself and continues around it. If it comes up against an impassable barrier, it pools. Water is patient and flexible. Water nourishes. Water changes things subtly and slowly over time, consistently wearing away objects that seem impossibly firm and resolute simply by being consistent. It is not in a hurry. It is different things to different beings without changing its nature in any way.

Hmmmm. No wonder I love the rain.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall

This is what a car looks like after a 600 pound cow lands on it. On. It. Not hit by it as the cow crosses the road, but hurtles downward, having fallen off a cliff, and lands squarely on the hood of a minivan. I'm betting these tourists are wishing they'd purchased the extra insurance on their rental car. I'm also betting that this particular trip to the Pacific Northwest to celebrate their anniversary might cause them to reconsider next year's destination. Perhaps they ought to find a place where meerkats roam. Or cockroaches. Stay away from cattle ranches. They narrowly escaped injury this time, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Legacy of Shame

Do I wish I had escaped the legacy of shame that started with the sexual molestation I suffered when I was eight years old? Sure. I suppose. It seems a little absurd to me to even think that way, though, because it did happen. If I'm going there, though, I have to say that I wish it in a pretty global way. I wish the person who taught that 17 year old boy that it was important to wield power over little girls by ravaging their bodies hadn't taught him that. It is hard for me to separate my experience from his. As angry as I was with him for choosing to act in that way, I can't help but wonder how he was broken. I doubt he truly understood why he was doing what he was. I know in my soul that he will someday, if he hasn't already, suffer some torment either by spending time in prison or by coming to terms with what he did. That doesn't make me feel better.

This morning the question that came to me was not one of punishment or revenge. The thoughts that bubbled up to the surface of my psyche had to do with the origin of my reactions to the way he treated me. For the first twenty years after I suffered the abuse my brain walled it off like some foreign body inside of me. I was not allowed to remember or process it. As grateful as I am to the inner workings of my brain for trying to protect me from this, I am dismayed that it didn't quite work. While the actual scenario was hidden from me my reaction to it was not. My primary response was to feel shame. Hot, vile-smelling, acid-producing shame. Shame that roiled in my belly for decades and sometimes still does. That shame prompted me to work extraordinarily hard every day to craft a shell of perfection around myself. That shame told me that I was not good enough or pretty enough or smart enough. That shame convinced me that I would never be loved unless I fooled everyone around me and made them believe I was something I was not. Something better.

As I begin to peel away the layers of shame and humiliation I sit and envision the real me as one of the tiniest in the set of Russian nesting dolls. Year after year I made good grades, did everything that was asked of me, plastered a smile on my face and ingratiated my way into the heart of every teacher I ever had in order to make people believe that I wasn't the white trash scum I knew I was. Every mistake I made added fuel to the small fire of shame that perpetually sat in my gut and threatened to burn outward and destroy the full body mask I presented to my friends and family.

I am curious about the origin of shame. Why, as an eight year old who trusted her babysitter, did I feel shame at being violated by her son? Why did I automatically assume I was the one at fault? Was it because I didn't cry for help? Was it because I had already been taught that I was unworthy unless I worked hard to prove otherwise? Did I somehow feel as though I had done something to deserve this? Was it the loss of power? Lying in the dark smelly bedroom of this greasy-haired 17 year old boy being sexually traumatized over and over again I certainly felt powerless. As an eight year old girl did I already understand the importance of power enough to lament losing it? Why did that shame continue to impact my every decision for the next two and a half decades, even after I was able to recall the abuse?

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. While I mourn for the loss of innocence of that eight year old girl, she somehow accepted her fate in a way that made her stronger. I am who I am today because of my struggle to become better. I did not physically harm myself in any way that left lasting scars, nor did I aspire to integrate the lessons I learned about sexual power in an effort to victimize others. At this point, I am only seeking understanding of the aftermath of sexual abuse for myself and others and I have nothing but compassion. Don't get me wrong, I am sickened and angered by the prevalence of sexual abuse. I have my moments of pure hot red rage for pedophiles and rapists. I just don't happen to have any for the one who victimized me anymore. I'm not thanking him, but I don't want to kill him, either. I just want to understand why I expected so much from that little eight year old girl that I made her feel ashamed of something she had no control over.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bear With Me

I am all about balance. I'm the middle kid - the peacemaker in my family. Chocolate is one of my dearest friends, but I adore broccoli and brussel sprouts and tomatoes and grapes, too. Whole grains? Bring 'em on. Full-fat cheeses? Mmmm, yummy. Finding balance is an obsession for me. Normally. Call me a Libra.
However, I'm at the tail end of the Libra calendar - close to Scorpio-ness. Which means I'm also passionate and idealistic. And when it comes to injustices I throw the balance out with the bathwater and the whole damn tub. Give me justice or listen to me lecture. And cry. And scream. And follow you around until you see the world from my point of view.

All of this means that I wish I had a vaccine that would rid the world of certain horrid things. Topping my list of abhorrent vices is sexual abuse. As I struggled to keep up with my dog on our walk yesterday I began to acknowledge that in all reality, I need to sprinkle all of this with a dash of Libra to temper the Scorpio. Sexual trauma is perpetuated exponentially in cycles. The vast majority of people who victimize others by molesting or raping them were victims themselves. They learned that the way to maintain power was to become the abuser. They were taught that power was the objective. They embraced this lesson in a desperate act of self-preservation.

As my stomach twisted around itself my mind slowly and methodically began working at the knots. Believing in some utopian reality where sexual abuse no longer exists is useless. Turning my back on it because of this is equally as useless. Is it possible for me to find some balance here? Can I work to help create a place where there is less sexual powerlust and have that be enough for me? Can I accept that I will not change the world in some dramatic fashion but be satisfied knowing that I have changed one person's experience for the better?

As the day and night wore on and I continued to wedge my fingertips through the twists and turns of this knot I found myself picking up Lin Jensen's book "Pavement." Here is his take on my struggle:
"The world has a place for each of us that no one else can fill. I try to remember that when I find myself in some place where I'd rather not be. Maybe I don't want to be standing in line with my bag of groceries waiting to be checked out, or turning the compost heap on a hot afternoon with sweat soaking my shirt and trickling into my eyes....But if this is where I am, then this is where my life is taking place at this moment. It's not that I couldn't do something different....It's just that whenever I resist present circumstances, I'm resisting my own life. ... It doesn't really matter much whether I like being here or not. What matters is that I be faithful to the life I'm given and not forfeit myself in its rejection. ... To be truly and wholly present even for the present moment is to be vulnerable, without defenses of any sort. It is here that the boundary that fear constructs between myself and others dissolves. The heart is drawn out of hiding and the inherent sympathetic response called compassion arises. I cease seeking my own personal happiness at the expense of others because I see that the suffering of others is my suffering was well...In my actual life, the nation is at war and people are dying because of that. I wish with all my heart that it were otherwise. I wish my country and its people were known for their qualities of mercy and kindness rather than for their reliance on the use of force. I might rather remain in the seclusion of my own house and read comforting novels by Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy....But I've chosen instead to show up for life as it is, to bring whatever gentleness I can manage to the streets of my town, where anyone and everyone can see that I'm here."

'Nuff said.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Would it be Wrong to Say, "I Told You So?"

It's been pretty quiet around here for the past two days. Unusually quiet. The crud that's making its way through each set of lungs and nostrils and throats in my daughters' school finally settled here and we've been burning through the Tylenol and Motrin trying to keep fevers down. My oldest daughter woke up Thursday morning with no voice and an incredibly sore throat and my youngest coughed her way through to lunchtime.

Now that we're on day two of staying home sick I'm realizing what a blessing this is. While I hate it when my kids are sick, the mantra I've been chanting to them for the past six months, "It takes two people to argue" is only just becoming clear to them. On a typical day I act as the repository for tattletaling of all kinds - 'she hit me,' 'she's making mean faces at me,' 'she won't leave me alone,' etc. I encourage kind words, enhanced communication in an effort to avoid misunderstandings, and when all else fails, ignoring your sister. If I have told them once, I've told them a million times - walking away will always end the argument. When there is nobody to react to you, it's not fun anymore. My youngest daughter is the instigator most of the time and she is often quite open about the jolt she gets from provoking her older sibling. Her older sister, the principled one, just can't resist fighting back and trying to 'educate' her sister about why what she is doing is wrong.

For the past two days, she's had no choice but to resist fighting back. The first day was rough, but by now she is so used to not being able to utter a word, the impulse is not even there any more. On the way to the doctor's office this morning, my youngest made some of her most annoying faces at her sister. Nothing.

"You're faking it! You aren't sick - you just want more attention!" she screamed.


"Hmph!" she crossed her arms and looked out the window.

It's the most peaceful morning drive I've had since four years ago when my youngest began talking in complete sentences. This afternoon they have watched TV without arguing about who gets to choose the show. They have sat at the kitchen table and painted pictures side-by-side without offering any mean-spirited critique of each other's art work. I have watched the comments roll right off of my eldest daughter's back without even an eye roll. My youngest has struggled with the frustration that comes from not having her thrown gauntlet retrieved and flung back at her. It took a day and a half, but she has finally turned her attentions to bugging me. Well, I'm not biting. The peace and quiet around here have been too glorious for words.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Sugar-fest!

Halloween always sneaks up on me. I realize how ridiculous that sounds, given the fact that the stores begin putting up their spooky displays the day after Labor Day. Despite that, year after year I forget to buy any candy and procrastinate about shopping for costumes for my girls.

I know, I stink. When I was a kid, nobody bought costumes. We decided what we wanted to be and then found a way to make it. Sometimes, we were lucky enough to find an adult who was willing to help us sew, glue, or otherwise construct our fantasy outfits. I can remember spray painting two cardboard boxes white with black dots, cutting out holes for arms, legs, and heads, and teaming up with my little sister to be a pair of dice. Okay for trick-or-treating, but they came off the second we got home since it's pretty hard to sit down when your body is contained inside a box.

We used pillowcases to collect our candy as we walked block after block in our neighborhood, accepting congratulations on our creativity and wishing the grownups would quit talking so we could get to the next house. Like everyone else we knew, as soon as we returned home, the loot was dumped into piles on the carpet in the living room and sorted and traded.
I am a candy snob and, to some extent, I always have been. As a kid, I liked candy bars as much as the rest of them, but I wouldn't eat just any candy. Those families that gave out little stacks of Necco Wafers on Halloween? If I had been paying enough attention to pinpoint exactly who they were, I'd have gone back later with toilet paper. Those things are just glorified communion wafers with food coloring. They always tasted stale and the flavors were just gross. Come on, people! I can also remember rejecting Tootsie Rolls. Now, I know some people really like them but what are they really? They aren't chocolate. They aren't taffy. They aren't right.
No, back then I coveted Milky Way candy bars, M&Ms and Sugar Daddy's. Getting a real Sugar Daddy - you know, the big ones on a stick - was pretty rare, but at least one family in our neighborhood always came through. I could make those things last for days. Bubble gum was always welcome, too. Anything with peanuts, though? Those were fair game for my siblings as were Almond Joy and Mounds bars.

These days I almost don't have to buy any candy at all. With only six houses in our neighborhood, we don't get any outside trick-or-treaters. That leaves me free to make up special bags of goodies for each of the kids who live near us so I stuff them with temporary tattoos, stickers, and lots of good candy. Real size candy, not those piddly little bite-size ones. This afternoon I raced to the drugstore to pick out the loot since I had pretty much forgotten that tomorrow is the actual day. Lucky for me there are an odd number of kids in the neighborhood so I usually have some good stuff left over. Like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. And Sugar Daddys.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In a Music Mood

Speaking of concerts, I just happened to attend one today. A house party concert. It was the first one I've ever been to and I hope to God it wasn't the last. A few weeks ago I received an email from my friend Jess, alerting me to something called The Firefly Concert Series. They had ten tickets left to a show featuring Edie Carey, a singer-songwriter who happens to know Jess as well.

Something made me bite. Even though Bubba is (still) out of town and I'm the 'numero uno' parent right now (although not the preferred one if you ask my girls), I took the initiative to find a date and a babysitter and thought, "why not?" Even if her music wasn't my cup of tea, at least it was a way to get some time for myself with a friend, right?

Let me just say that it surpassed all my expectations. We were asked to bring a brunch item to share (a potluck concert? I thought) and some cash to buy CDs or drinks (mimosas and bloody mary's sounded good). Pulling up to a distinctly residential neighborhood I worried that this might be a little hinky. Walking through the front door and spying the view of the water and distant islands and the table piled high with homemade goodies, my worries evaporated.

Edie Carey is a terrific singer-songwriter. Should she not be able to make a living at either of those things, I suspect she would have a good shot at earning money as a stand-up comedian. There were perhaps 40 people in the room, most of whom had not heard her music before. She joked with us, told us stories of each of the songs before she sung them, and signed CDs for us at the break. She chowed on our homemade brunch items and gave most of us sincere thanks for supporting her today. One of her songs in particular gave me pause. She told us a story about an email she received from a man who wanted to hire her to perform at his wife's 30th birthday party. He then wondered whether she would write a song for his wife. He enclosed seven years' worth of love letters that they had written for each other in case she needed some inspiration. The result is a gorgeous song called "What Love Looks Like" that moved many of us to tears.

And so I began to wonder. After seventeen years of friendship (fourteen of them spent married), two children, multiple pets, two houses, three apartments, several jobs and a lot of time spent apart due to business travel, what does our love look like? I still consider Bubba to be my best friend. I am in love with him and relish any opportunity to go on a date with him. We make a very good team when we're running the household and parenting our children. We are capable of communicating at times without uttering any words. What does our love look like?

It is being excited for each other when one of us wants to embark on a new adventure. It is not worrying whether it will take too much time away from the family, but trusting that it will strengthen us as individuals and that, in turn, will make us all happier and better.

It is being able to recognize when the other one is feeling overwhelmed and step in to support them without making them justify it.

It is remembering the reason we fell in love in the first place.

It is not getting so wrapped up in what is going on today that we forget how much we loved each other yesterday.

It is feeling brave enough to speak our own truths, regardless of whether they match up or not.

It is knowing that when I feel like I'm going to fall down, all I have to do is yell, "Catch!" and Bubba will be right there, hands outstretched, no questions asked.

It is hating the fact that his frozen toes will press up against my warm shins just as I'm falling asleep at night. But hating the nights they aren't there more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't Ask Where This Came From...

I am one of those people who get songs stuck in my head really easily. Once there, they attach themselves like velcro to the wrinkles in my brain and it takes a lot to dislodge them. Unfortunately for me, every other member of my household is fully aware of this facet of my personality and it gives them endless joy to exploit it.

Top 5 Songs Most Likely to Cycle in My Brain:

1. Star Wars theme song (the kids particularly like to hum this one to me first thing in the morning and see how many hours it takes me to purge it)

2. "peanut, peanut butter.....jelly" (I don't actually know any more of the words to this song and I suspect it comes from some absurd advertising jingle, but I couldn't say for sure)

3. "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin

4. "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland" (the farther the season is from Christmas, the more likely it is to be found in my head)

5. Bonanza theme song

On a similar note, my physical therapist and I happened to be reminiscing about our high school years the other day and we began sharing notes on the rock concerts we'd attended. Let me just say that the vast majority of concerts I went to were in the mid to late 1980s and many of them I went to with my older brother. My mother thought we'd be good chaperones for each other and, I suppose we were, but now that I'm a parent I've gotta say she was much more lenient than I will be. Just a sampling of the bands we saw:

  • Yes

  • Rush

  • Van Halen

  • ZZ Top

  • The Scorpions

  • Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

  • AC/DC

  • Kiss

  • Journey

  • REO Speedwagon

Lest you think I was only a 'rocker chick', I also saw Depeche Mode, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD), REM, and INXS. This was back when concert tickets could be had for $15 at most and you didn't have to pay for parking. Sadly, I suspect my girls won't have these same experiences at $65 a pop and an additional $20 to park. Guess they'll have to settle for pay per view...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Life is Good

Even as I struggle to fit in all of the things I know I 'need' to do this week, I can't help but feel an enormous sense of peace.

To Do:

Mail birthday gifts/cards to no less than four people whose birthdays fall between the 29th of October and the 5th of November.

Make an appointment to have someone come fix the dishwasher

Make dentist appointments for every member of the family

Get the cats their shots

Order flowers for friend whose surgery is Thursday

Write thank-you notes for birthday gifts I received

Make sure girls are dressed appropriately for school pictures on Weds.

The list goes on and on. Bubba is away on business for another eight days and I'm flying solo yet again. The laundry is far behind, the house is a disaster, I haven't written anything on my book in days.

I am so blessed. Over the past three days, I've been lucky enough to have some quiet 1:1 time with each member of my family. My youngest is beginning to come out of the funk that led her to flip out and start screaming and/or crying at the slightest disappointment and she is slowly overcoming her Ovaltine addiction. She is more compassionate, sympathetic, and quick to grin over the last week or so. She is working hard in school and feels very proud of herself. My oldest daughter has discovered new 'old' friends in her classroom and is expanding her circle of playmates and thoroughly enjoying herself. She is practicing her gymnastics skills every day because she loves it so much and can't wait to demonstrate her increased strength to everyone she knows. My husband and I unexpectedly reconnected with some friends we hadn't seen in over ten years at dinner on Monday night and had fun reminiscing and talking about how far we'd come.

As relationships wax and wane, and our connections to those around us stretch thin and strengthen over the years, I have often found myself worrying that the thinning is a dangerous trend. Today I realize that the thinning is perfectly normal and so long as my committment to the people themselves remains intact it is likely that hanging in there for a little while will pay off. The days that find me feeling close and connected to the others who share my household are such a blessing. Despite the continued whirling of the universe around me and the neverending bullet points that populate my to-do list, tonight I am able to sit back and relax in the knowledge that my children both love and feel loved by me. Despite the fact that I sit here alone while Bubba sits on an airplane bound for the other side of the world, I am secure in the knowledge that our goals and feelings are in synch with each other's and our love is deep and warm. The stuff will get done. Or it won't. But tonight, life is good. I'm grounded right here and thankful for what I have right now. I'll pack lunches tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Let Us Eat Cake!

This is the first year that I can remember when I've not only welcomed a birthday party, but I actually planned it myself. Typically, I let my family and close friends acknowledge my birthday, but because I despise being the center of attention, I absolutely forbid anyone to tell the wait staff in any restaurant that I am the guest of honor lest they decide to sing to me. I have also threatened my husband with a slow, painful torture should he ever throw me a surprise birthday party.

So imagine my surprise when, this year, I decided to save the four bottles of wine I managed to bring back from Sonoma and throw a wine, cheese, and birthday cake party for myself. After spending several days thoroughly puzzled as to my own motives, I think I've finally figured it out. I do not wish to be showered in gifts - it actually makes me incredibly uncomfortable to receive gifts at any time, but especially when I'm the only person in the room on the receiving end. I most definitely do not want to be sung to and I have no intention of putting even one candle in the chocolate cake I've ordered. I don't wish to be the center of attention.

I think I've simply decided that it is time for a celebration. Past time, in fact. The weather has turned and become rainy and windy and cold. The sky is dark by 6:15pm and stays that way until 7:00am. The daughter of one of my friends was recently hospitalized for surgery to remove a tumor growing on one of her ovaries. The little girl is five years old. Another one of my friends recently discovered that she was finally pregnant after five years of trying and three more years of giving up trying. Tomorrow she goes in for a D&C because the placenta failed to attach and her short-lived dream is shattered. One of my closest friends will undergo surgery at the end of this month to remove a tumor from her eardrum that has begun eating away at the bones in her ear, rendering her deaf on one side.

So on Saturday, we're cracking some fine California wine, opening some incredibly decadent cheese, slicing that gorgeous cake and having some laughs. If I have to be the center of attention for a little while in order to introduce some light on these difficult times, so be it. I can make that sacrifice. Let the good times roll. At the end of the night, we can all embrace and remind each other that, no matter what, we've got each other. And some damn fine wine, I hope!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Can You Say "Cuckoo?"

For a person who is absolutely certain I am incapable of writing fiction, I've decided all I have to do is look to my dreams. Not that they make any sense, but for people who enjoy psychedelic stories like "A Clockwork Orange", they just might do the trick. I've begun having hot flashes again after nearly six months free of them, which is really too bad because I love, love, love the crisp cold clear mornings of fall and look forward to putting on sweaters and heating up the kettle in the afternoons, but damned if these hot flashes haven't forced me back into capris and short-sleeved shirts and iced tea! Anyway, along with the hot flashes come the technicolor Pink Floyd dreams and who better to share them with than you all, I say? Here goes:

Last night I had a dream that I was in Seattle with my husband and some other nameless, faceless person. Somehow we either lost our car or it became incapacitated and we decided to walk home. For the record, that's about 25 miles. In the dream it seemed like no big deal. Until the thunderstorm started, that is. Along our route, we became aware that there were hordes of other people walking in the same direction as us and we decided to join them. We ended up on the I-90 bridge where it crosses Lake Washington towards Mercer Island but it was under water. Luckily for us, there were literally dozens of laundry baskets floating by us, pulled by the northward current (?) in the lake. Each of us grabbed one and jumped in. Yes, laundry baskets. With holes. Not sinking. Don't ask me! Anyway, I had my laptop in its pink bag and we started paddling. It took only minutes to get all the way across the lake and we were hauled out by some good samaritan on the other side and began walking on Mercer Island, looking for a phone to call the babysitter to come pick us up in her car. All of a sudden I realized I’d forgotten my laptop in my makeshift boat and, even though my husband assured me that it was a lost cause, I raced back to find it. Miraculously it was still sitting in the bottom of the laundry basket unharmed, and I grabbed it and opened it and turned it on and it was fine. I was gloating.

The power was out on the island so we couldn’t call anyone to come get us but they said it wouldn’t be down for long, so we decided to walk and wait. We came across this house with two pigs, an adult and a baby. They were both grey and dirty and ugly and the adult had huge sores on it’s back, filled with finger-width size worms burrowing in. I almost couldn’t stand to look at it. At some point the third person with us remembered that she had a house on the island and invited us to come have some food. By now the sun was shining and we followed her into the house and sat down at her kitchen table all together.

Later as we walked along the island, I saw the 13-year old daughter of one of my close friends and started talking to her about sex, hoping she would trust me with her most private thoughts.

Thank you, menopause, for entertaining me in my sleep. Now, if only the hot flashes served some purpose!

Friday, October 12, 2007

My Love of Writing (A MEME from Michelle O'Neil)

  • My best 'writing' is done in one of three places: in the shower as I talk to myself, while I'm walking the dog, or in the grey, predawn hours as I'm between sleep and waking. I carry a mini-recorder in my pocket as I walk the dog because so often as soon as I get home the best phrases have flown the coop.
  • My daughters think it's cool that I am working on writing a book and my oldest collects spiral notebooks and has begun dozens of children's stories in the last few months.
  • When I was in high school and college, I firmly adhered to the formula of making an outline before writing anything. Now that I write for me, I can't even manage one powerful word if I use that method. Instead I have to firmly engage my creative mind and throw the rules out of my office on their a** in order to make magic.
  • Writing longhand is incredibly difficult for me. I type almost 120 words per minute and can't write nearly that fast. Because my brain works so fast when I'm writing, I can't keep up as I write. Typing is the only way.
  • The posts that I've dashed off without thinking about them too deeply are the ones that have gotten the most positive responses from readers. They are the ones that come from the top of my head and my heart and I doubt them every time - every single time. I am always blown away at the response to those posts and one day I'll learn to trust that process I hope.

Okay, next up are Scott from Oregon, Deb, Eileen, and Jenny.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Turning on the Lights

Chasing shadows, tiptoeing farther and farther in to the corners of the rooms of my history, I am sad but not frightened. I know there are monsters here, but I know that the most powerful tool I have is light and only I can deprive myself of that. I can feel my lifeline, tied firmly around my waist and tethered to a string of strong, wise, loving women behind me. I'm not going anywhere without this connection and I know the way back. Now that I'm here, I'm filled with a morbid curiosity that will keep me from leaving before I've illuminated every room in this place. I was strangely excited to sit with Deb and make the connections between the painful places in my past and the shameful way it all began. I sat for three mornings after I returned home and let my fingers translate the electricity in my brain that was busy finding more pieces.

Letting it all come was humbling and amazing. I still don't quite know how some of the stories found their way out. Certainly it wasn't through any active effort on my part. I am left feeling that they simply found a path to navigate after all this time and all I had to do was let them come and be sure to leave the door open.

Tonight I am in awe at the power that certain events have held over me in my life. Although there are not many details I recall, the molestation I suffered at the age of eight branded my psyche with a certainty that I was less. Unworthy. Deserving of pain and destined to work every moment of my life to prove myself to others. I accepted this unquestioningly and spent thirty years of my life basing my decisions on it.

The first time I fell in love I was even more determined to hide my 'true' nature and prove myself good enough for the boy I loved. In my fanatical need to be worthy of kindness from this other person, I courted disaster. I refused to acknowledge that I was human and needed any kind of support, emotional or otherwise. I actively solicited physical abuse and felt somehow validated when I received it, believing I deserved it.

I have spent decades of my life living out a sentence imposed upon me by someone who had no right to treat me the way he did. Without him speaking a word to me, I let him convince me that I was trash, worthless, good for nothing, disposable. It wasn't until I began walking through the dark rooms of this house and flipping on the lights that I started to realize he was wrong. Going from room to room I am recognizing the paths I've taken again and again, trapped in the dark. Today, I carry a flashlight and I'm going to light this place up like the 4th of July. Once I'm standing in the light, I think I might be able to begin formulating my own ideas of what I'm worth.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Stay in the Moment and MYOB!

Sunday. Homecoming day. We're packing up and leaving sunny Sonoma to head back to the weekly routine. Bubba (an affectionate nickname for my husband) has showered and dressed and has donned his 'professional traveler' mask. He's encouraging the girls to get dressed so we can get into town and eat before driving off to the airport in San Francisco. I'm lounging in the living room and beginning to feel guilty that I haven't yet showered.

"Okay, I'm off to shower, guys," I announce, hoping Bubba's 'all business' demeanor will ratchet down a notch.

Less than two minutes later the shower door is flung open, "Momma, I can't find my underwear with the purple stars and lace on them," my youngest hollers through the steam.

"I don't know what to tell you, sweetie. They don't fit me so I didn't take them," perhaps if I don't offer a solution she'll find one on her own?

"MOM!" yells my oldest, furious with me because I took her favorite (read: filthy) jeans out of contention for the plane ride home. "What am I supposed to wear? I am NOT wearing a skirt today! I'll freeze on the plane! I'm wearing those jeans! I'M WEARING THEM!"

My blood pressure is rising faster than the steam. Deep breaths. Rein yourself in, girl.

"No, you're not wearing them. They are filthy and disgusting and I will not let you go out in public like that, much less sit on a crowded plane full of people. You are a clever girl. I know you can find another solution," I hope that doesn't sound too condescending but....wait, don't they have another parent around here somewhere? Now I'm getting mad.

I find myself rushing through my routine, sliming the conditioner on my head and soaping up in a hurry. I've got to get out there and make sure the youngest hasn't decided to forego underwear altogether and pull something out of the suitcase for the oldest to wear instead of the jeans. Wait a minute. The bathroom door slammed a minute ago after I said my piece. Why can't I just stay here? Stay in the moment. This warm water streaming down my spine, inhale the steam and feel it as the moist air fills my lungs. My heart rate slows down. Staying in here for a few more minutes won't make us late for the plane. Letting Bubba solve the girls' issues isn't a crime. Breathe. Nobody out there knows that I'm done with the business portion of the shower and now just reveling in some quiet.

By the time I decided (repeat: I decided) to step out and dry myself off, both girls were dressed appropriately and I was patting myself on the back for having given myself permission to stay in the shower and not worry about what was happening out there.

Unfortunately, by the time I stepped out of the bathroom, Bubba was cursing my decision to purchase four bottles of wine to bring home. He was repacking our suitcase in his expert way, wrapping several layers of clothing around each bottle and shooting me looks that said something akin to, 'why must you torture me so? I tried to tell you we shouldn't bring wine home'. I assured him that when we got to town I would see if there was a way we could get a box from one of the sixteen billion wine purveyors in the area that would transport the wine without risking our wardrobes. His enormous sigh was my answer.

Within ten minutes he was herding us toward the door and his frustration was radiating off him in waves. He is used to traveling solo with only his own stuff to pack and his own timeline to adhere to. The three of us women, while none of us wear makeup or take time doing our hair in the morning beyond running a hairbrush through it, have come to our own version of a 'routine' by understanding each others' need to finish the task we're currently doing if at all possible before moving on to the next one. I knew making sure that all of the treasures we had collected were accounted for was of paramount importance. After spending five days finding acorns and their "hats", pristine oyster shells at Drake's Oyster Farm, unusual seed pods from trees and stickers from the Sonoma Chamber of Commerce, neither girl was about to leave without these trinkets and reminders of our trip together. I collected my belongings and looked under beds and through bed linens for odds and ends, all the while soaking up Bubba's impatience like a sponge.
As we finally made our way to the car, I inquired whether it was worth having one more look around the room to make sure we hadn't left anything behind. The way Bubba closed his eyes for two beats, opened them and said, "If you want to" gave me my answer. Okay. He was ready to go.

After breakfasting in town, watching him herd the girls toward the rental car and being 'instructed' as to how to use the GPS properly I was feeling pretty brittle. I began preparing my speech for later.

By the time we reached the San Francisco airport I was annoyed. The girls were feeling rushed and it showed. They were bickering with each other and as we made our way through the security line my jaw was set. Strangely, about 20 steps past the security line I realized I was at a crossroads. I could either continue to soak up his impatience and frustration with us in order to use it against him in our discussion after the girls were in bed or I could let it be his. I had no worries that we would miss our flight. I'm not exactly a novice traveler and I was sure we had made it in plenty of time to even have a nice lunch before boarding the plane. I recognized his discomfort at traveling with these other creatures who require more time and a little leeway and respected it, even, but I didn't have to embrace it. I could let him feel uncomfortable and, heck, even angry, but I knew it would pass and I didn't have to reflect it back to him. He didn't mean it in a mean way - it wasn't even really directed at us. Or maybe it was, but the end result was that nothing had to come of it. I could let go of the bad feelings and pretend ignorance, all the while making sure the three of us had what we needed to move along comfortably so long as it didn't result in us missing the flight. Huh. Argument avoided. And all I had to do was mind my own business and own my own feelings. Maybe I am learning something new every day. I think I can chalk up two points today!
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