Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Little Bit of Hope?

Is that like being a little bit pregnant? Can you be a little bit hopeful? Maybe you can, maybe most people can, but I'm a little black-and-white, a little all-or-nothing about my hopefulness. I find it hard to just hope a little. Even if I know that I probably shouldn't get my heart set on something working out in a particular way, if I let myself be a little optimistic, I find myself dejected when whatever it is I was hoping for doesn't come to fruition.

I accompanied Bubba on Monday afternoon to a new doctor. One who is supposedly THE pancreas guru. Type his name into an Internet search engine and prepare yourself for the onslaught of medical-ese that will flood onto your computer, folks. Given that, I can't say I went in expecting much. Three years of meeting doctors who were sure they could decipher my overachieving husband's mystery malady and watching them slowly, over weeks and months, begin to scratch their heads and shrug their shoulders like schoolboys caught shoplifting smokes has dampened my optimism. Forgive me.

I wasn't even planning on going to this appointment. Since the last episode, post-surgery, I have distanced myself from the micro-managing of this particular affliction. For my own sanity, I decided it was time for me to abdicate responsibility for driving the investigation. Besides, I reasoned, it would be empowering and important for Bubba to take the lead on this. I hadn't realized how much that gorilla weighed until I removed it from my shoulders. Fear in the pit of my stomach - gone, thankyouverymuch. He wasn't going to die from this (I don't think), and my inability to find the answers singlehandedly didn't amount to abandonment. Time and energy to devote to other pursuits - welcome!

Lest you think I am some coldhearted bitch who doesn't care, let me assure you, I still worry about what happens when he collapses again (we are, after all, eight weeks in to the twelve-week countdown, so the clock is ticking loudly in my head). I will most assuredly arrange for someone to watch the children while I rush him to the ER and I will sit next to him, reassuring him that we'll get through this again. I will harass the doctors and nurses to pay more attention to him than they possibly can, and I will ask as many questions as they let me before they have an urge to scream and slap me. It is just that I've given up trying to be in control of all the appointment scheduling and web surfing for answers, listing the history for each and every physician we see, collecting records and transporting them, following up on lab tests and recommendations. Nope, I'm done, and it's his turn. And it feels great.

But, as Bubba left for work on Monday morning, he turned to me and asked if I would meet him at the doctor's office, I found myself grateful that he wanted me to come. After we were shown to the exam room and the doctor arrived, I sat meekly and silently (something I find nearly impossible to do under most circumstances) and listened to Bubba relate the entire history of this unknown disease. He had brought every CAT scan, blood test, surgical report and endoscopy report for the doctor to look over and as the two of them talked, I found myself liking this physician. Through their conversation I gathered that he was impatient on our behalf and understood our frustrations. Whoa, girl, went the inner monologue. Just because he symphathizes doesn't mean he will be able to help. Slow down.

He didn't seem to be in any hurry to get on to his next patient, and, although he physically examined Bubba, most of his time was spent clarifying details of specific treatments and tests from the past three years. As we went on two hours in his office he acknowledged that he had seen similar ailments but none quite this severe. Normally that would have elicited an eye-roll from me (duh!), but he followed that up by providing some plausible explanations for why it follows the pattern it does and what he would like to try and do about it.

I didn't expect any forehead-slapping revelations and, it's a good thing because there weren't any lurking in any of the sterile corners of that exam room. What we got instead was a physician who wants to start small but soon and gather as much information as he can to verify his thoughts. Armed with 30 years of expertise and three years of background medical information on my husband, he didn't give us any pie-in-the-sky proclamations about how he'd have this cleared up in no time or it wouldn't require surgery. While those things may have been welcome at one time, by now we can recognize the smell of that particular cow patty a mile away. I can't say that I'm optimistic we will learn enough in the next four weeks to prevent another trip to the ER, and I'm actively trying to quash any hope that I have that there is some magical cure out there, much less a name for this thing, but I trust this doctor to do his darndest to get us as close to that as he can and I guess that's all I can ask of him. Wish us luck!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thanks, Mom

"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." Tallulah Bankhead

One of the most difficult and most rewarding challenges I've overcome in my life is coming to see and accept my mother as a person. Of course, as a typical "child" I didn't come to that realization until after the fog of puberty hormones had left my brain and the selfishness of my 20s was over. Once I became a mother of my own children and sought out my mother for an entirely new type of support and advice I began to respect her right to be an individual as opposed to simply my mother.

In the years since, our relationship has grown steadily and is firmly cemented with mutual respect, trust, and love for my children. I have also gained an awareness of the gifts I have received (not always gracefully, I regret) over the years from her. I realize that the advantages of watching someone you love make mistakes and recover from them are immeasurable. There are many times in my life where I have had to learn lessons the hard way, and there are other instances where I benefitted from witnessing my mother struggle with difficulties and overcome them. She gave me the ability to trust in my own dreams and invest in my personal happiness and spiritual health. I have watched her put herself last and self-destruct, and I have seen her flourish after following her heart, even when it meant taking a rocky path. As adults, we have formed a mutual admiration society, talking on the phone at least once a week and reminding each other to slow down and remember to take care of ourselves.

My daughters have come to know her as a playmate, a confidante, and a person who loves them without compare. They are secure in the knowledge that her affection for them is unconditional and boundless. Their relationship with her is open and playful, silly and sweet and it enriches all our lives.

We are leaving this afternoon to spend the weekend at her house to celebrate her birthday and, for the first time in several years, my mother will have all of her children with her on her special day. I fully expect to see her cry and hear sentimental words of joy that will make my brother gag, but I also know that her overwhelming happiness at this simple gift will be sincere. Regardless of mistakes she has made as a parent, our knowledge that she would sacrifice virtually everything she had for any of us is unwavering. She continually gives us the gift of her love and support and the benefit of her wisdom and I am tremendously grateful. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lessons Learned Again...

Okay, as I sit here with two hours spread out before me to write whatever I want with no interruptions in my new writing space I am excited. However, I have just found the first flaw in my "room of my own". While the children and my husband respect it as being off-limits unless they are invited in, Peanut (you remember, the cat who defeated the automatic litterbox) has just arrived to "do his business". Yes, people, I am just stupid enough to have put a litterbox in my writing haven, and his business at this particular moment is not some innocuous little stream of urine, but a toxic, eye-burning pile of poop. I know he feels the same because he can't seem to cover it quickly enough and dash out of smelling range. Unfortunately for me, until I remove the offending waste from my room, all inspiration for writing will halt. I've got to find another spot for him to do his dirty work - preferably far away from my brilliant work...

Now, that little bit of work completed, I can get to the task at hand: writing about one of the bigger lessons I have learned over the past two years. For a multitude of reasons, I began to see a therapist a few years ago and found myself unable to stop crying. I had gone from being a very busy, competent perfectionist to a puddle of salt water in a matter of days. As I spent the first few sessions with my head in my hands, a box of tissues at my side and my eyes bulging from the effort of squeezing tear after tear out, I struggled to identify what had triggered this overwhelming sadness. Eventually, I shifted my focus somewhat and began to ask myself what I truly wanted to feel in its place. The conveyor belt of shoulds that ran through my brain day and night held phrases that ruled every moment of my life: make that doctor appointment, plan and prepare healthy meals three times a day, take the dog out for some exercise, make sure the house stays clean and Bubba's favorite clothes are clean so he can pack them for his next business trip. Buy that birthday gift, get the girls haircuts, check in on your sick friend, make sure you play with the kids sometime today, oh, and it's bath night. The cats need more food, the oil needs to be changed, etc., etc.

After weeks of trying to find a balance between acknowledging the to-do list and collapsing in utter exhaustion, it came to me. I wanted to learn how to be. I wanted to feel the freedom of following my heart in the moment. I had to learn how to shut down the conveyor belt and listen to my surroundings without worrying about what was going undone. I wanted to be spontaneous and not weigh every decision against some artificially constructed triage system of what was more important. If the only thing we had in the house for lunch was frozen waffles and peanut butter, let's make peanut butter waffle sandwiches! Or order a pizza. Or scramble some eggs, put on our jammies and have a pillow fight. Who cares?

Being does not come naturally to me. There is an inverse proportional relationship between the stillness of my body and the frantic racing of my mind. The less I am physically doing, the more awful I feel about what isn't getting done. Meditation has helped that somewhat, but the only way I can meditate is to put on a CD and listen to someone else guide me through it to keep me on track. I still grind my teeth while I sleep and wake up with that list of shoulds buzzing in my brain. I have found a way to trick myself by putting them all down on paper, vomiting them out in acknowledgement, and then I am able to let them go for the day: they will either get done or they won't. I was initially afraid that writing them down would make them seem more "real" or "necessary", but it has had the opposite effect. They seem ridiculously trivial and petty, and increasingly, the center of me yearns for less activity and more quiet time.

The benefits of learning to just exist in space are incredible, and I hope that my children are able to sense the difference in me and understand the importance of learning to do this for themselves before they dissolve into their own minds and jump on that conveyor belt. I struggle with it daily, but in those moments when I am truly able to shut off the buzzing of my brain and truly appreciate my immediate surroundings I reach nirvana. I know that I am in that place I really wanted to be, that place that simply accepts where I am right now and lets time flow over me like a river over stones, not affecting my position or my mindset one bit. It truly is something worth achieving, I've decided.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Random Memory

The first time I went snowshoeing was with Bubba on our second wedding anniversary. We were staying at this wonderful place in the mountains above Leavenworth and it was the end of February. We had been driven up to the lodge in something called a snowcat. It was really like this enormous tractor with wheels taller than me and it was the only thing that could navigate the three miles of deep snow to get us up there. Once there, we were trapped until this yellow beast could come retrieve us three days later. The hill was terrifically steep, but I don’t remember being scared.

The feeling I remember most was awe. The entire world was white, save for the bits of evergreen branches poking through here and there. But it wasn’t stark or boring. The textures of powdery snow on the ground and deep crevices made by the snowcat were in such perfect contrast. As we headed up the mountain it was impossible to discern where the sky ended and the mountain began because of the thick cornflake-sized snow falling. The lodge was perfectly settled on a bit of flat ridge halfway up the hill and a huge deck extended the plateau out in front of it. The roof was steeply pitched and it seemed impossible that a foot of snow could be clinging to it, and the icicles dangling down were inches thick. Ski after ski leaned up against the side of the building and steam rose from the hot tub that overlooked a sledding hill 150 feet long. Three days would not be long enough.

As Bubba helped me down into the snow a German Shepherd sporting his winter coat sprinted around the side of the lodge toward us, barking his welcome. We came to be quite fond of Oggie over the next three days and he accompanied us on all our snowshoeing expeditions.

The above is from a writing exercise I was doing this afternoon from a terrific book I'm reading. I am really fond of this memory, but I don't think of it often. I am thankful for the writing exercise because it enabled me to bring it back in a way that let me sit with it for a while and recreate some of the wonderful feelings I had then. Hope you like it, too!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I've had it up to HERE with winter, okay?

At what point does a community decide they are going to change their approach to snowy weather? Granted, this winter has been an incredibly unusual one in my portion of the country, but when the school children are faced with going to school into the month of July to make up for snow closures and it's only mid-January, isn't that some sort of sign?

I know there are only so many snow plows to be had and I accept the rationale that to purchase more would certainly be frivolous spending, in light of past weather patterns. But when I look outside and see all of the dedicated workers slowly making their way to the office after spending the previous evening on the phone begging other parents or high-school girls to watch their children, I think, "Hmm, maybe what I should be doing instead of watching their children is asking them to drive my kids to school." For every school bus that can't make it up an icy hill, there are fourteen parents with 4WD SUVs who are reveling in their first opportunity to fully avail themselves of all the features of their gas-guzzlers.

Our schools usually have, on average, two to four snow days per year, and they almost always occur in February and March. With two power-outage days and five snow days already this year, July 4th is threatening to pass as just another "teacher inservice day" for our kids. My eldest daughter is one of those sickening children who actually can't wait to go to school and was despondent from the first day of snowy weather that she couldn't be watching the beautiful flakes fall from her classroom instead of our kitchen. But even my youngest, who would rather be doing just about anything besides learning something other than how to drive the rest of us crazy more efficiently, was complaining of being "bored of the snow" and wishing she could at least play with her school chums instead of the neighbor kids. I am sure you can imagine how I am feeling about now, with not one actual full five-day-week of school having happened since before Thanksgiving due to holidays and weather issues. I would just about volunteer to carry my girls piggy-back the three miles to their school if I thought anyone would be there to take them.

I say, let's come together as a community and find a way to get our kids to school just as we find a way to get ourselves to work when we absolutely have no other alternative. Any takers?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Not Exactly What I Was Hoping For...

I am a cat person. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs, too, but they are much more work. I am picky about my dogs. They have to be furry and at least 50 lbs. No yappy little "toy" breeds or something that looks more like a rat. I want a beast who will slurp my face and drag me down the sidewalk towards the park.

I have been blessed with three dogs in my life, a Hungarian sheepdog who was a terrific companion when I was a kid. She was mellow and friendly and had the rumpled, unkempt look that defied you to discern her head end from the opposite end. When I was in high school we convinced my mom to get a golden retriever puppy and I discovered the joy of a dog who would fetch and romp equally enthusiastically in the snow and the surf. My buddy now is CB, a two-year-old flatcoat retriever without whom I cannot imagine my life. He is goofy and sweet, trainable (if I had the time or patience to be consistent with him - I take full responsibility for his foibles. Well, except for his penchant to find the most repulsive pile of goo and coat himself in it. I have nothing to do with that), and pure joy to be with.

I also share my life with two cats, an obese five-year-old tuxedo girl named Minnie (as in Mouse, of course) and a seven month old tabby named Peanut. So long as they have fur, I am not picky about my cats at all. I prefer females in order to avoid furniture marking, but I'm willing to train a male cat. As far as I am concerned, there are not many experiences that can surpass an evening spent with a book, a cup of tea and a purring cat in my lap. Minnie is a bit standoffish - a typical cat's cat. Disdainful and superior but pushy when she decides it's time for her to be the center of my attention. Peanut, on the other hand has the temperament of my dreams. He allows my children to pick him up and haul him around the house in awkward positions. He rides on my husband's shoulder for long periods of time. He is playful to the point of ridiculousness, and spends most evenings curled up either at the foot of my daughter's bed or on my lap while I read or watch TV. He is more affectionate than any other cat I have ever had and he not only gets along with CB, but allows him to lick his fur until he's dripping, purring all the while.

When Peanut first joined our family I noticed he was having some difficulty using the litterbox. We tried all of the usual remedies which I won't bore you with here, but none of them solved the problem. Finally, I decided to try a self-cleaning litterbox. For those of you who may be unaware of this terrifically convenient (and mostly unnecessary) device, it is a litterbox with a laser sensor that, when tripped as the cat uses the box, begins a countdown. After 10, 15, or 20 minutes, it starts a rake moving through the litterbox which collects the solid waste and pushes it into a disposal receptacle. Thus, the litterbox itself is cleaned regularly throughout the day, and the owner needs only discard the bag of waste once a day or so. Nirvana, right? They're expensive, but I found one on sale with a $40.00 rebate (which, as I think about it, I have yet to receive despite the fact that I purchased the damn thing three months ago), and I talked myself into it.

What I hadn't counted on was having a cat who was too stupid to use it. Peanut recognized it for what it was and used it regularly. Unfortunately, every time the rake would begin moving through the box, he would jump right back in, triggering the laser sensor and causing it to stop. He attacked the rake, effectively rolling in his own fresh waste as he did so, and dislodged it from the mechanism. A sandstorm of litter flew out of the box, covering the laundry room floor and the box was rendered useless until I could come and put it back together. We did this little dance for a few days until one day I heard a constant low buzzing coming from the laundry room. The rake was in perpetual motion, moving back and forth aimlessly like a swingset in the wind. The laser light was blinking rapidly and my kitten sat nearby, triumphantly cleaning his whiskers. He had finally killed it. The undisputed featherweight champion of the litterbox, Peanut "Ali" McDipstick. He's lucky he's so snuggly.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Striking Fear into the Hearts of Mothers Everwhere...

"It's Cookie Time!"

I know, it seems like a relatively innocuous phrase, but for the mother of a daughter involved in Brownies or Girl Scouts, it is frightening. I am sure there are those mothers who live for this. They are the ones with seemingly boundless energy, organizing phone trees and driving around to local grocery stores to ask permission to set up tables outside. They have charts to track the progress of the troop and can't wait to obliterate past goals this year.

When I think of selling Girl Scout Cookies I think of grumpy seniors slamming the door in my poor eager daughter's face, outraged that their daily soap opera was interrupted by this insolent young thing raising money. I think of my husband's co-workers feeling obligated to peruse the list of goodies and buy at least one box or risk looking rude.

I know there are people out there who can't wait for the girls in green to come knocking, hawking Thin Mints and Samoas (my personal favorite). I know people who buy entire cases just so they can have enough to tide them over until Cookie Time next year. I wish those people would place a special sign in the front window, like a mark of the Underground Railroad, so the girls in our troop could make a beeline for those front porches knowing that they are welcomed warmly. I hate fundraising as a general rule, and I hate having to sell things even more. Please let Cookie Season pass quickly this year!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Fond Holiday Memories

1. Never knowing at what angle the Christmas tree was going to be sitting each morning as I came down the stairs. The six-month-old kitten's nocturnal cavorting resulted in my girls getting to re-decorate the tree every day and, frankly, having it sit askew a bit each day allowed for easier access to check the water level.

2. When asked what her most cherished Christmas gift was, Lola didn't hesitate: it was most certainly the rubber chicken Santa left in her stocking. The hen, named Henrietta (of course) sports a Santa hat and red bikini and is actually a dog's chew-toy. It took my youngest all of three seconds to discover that when she stretched it out by pulling on both the feet and the Santa hat, a honkingsqueakingsquawking noise fills the room. Damn you, Santa!

3. I was lucky enough to spend an entire morning with my husband's 89-year-old grandmother and heard some awesome stories of life in the early 20th century. I have always loved this woman, but I have a newfound respect for her strength and unflappability. I can't wait to record some of her tales to share with my daughters as they grow up.

4. Spending a few hours making an awfully ugly (but dang tasty) peppermint cheesecake with Eve. We rarely cook together anymore because her social calendar is soo full these days, you know. What a treat to do something together that we could reap the benefits of later!

5. Last, but not least, hiding outside the playroom door after being kicked out by my girls who were practicing for a show with their new karaoke machine. We squatted right around the corner and listened to them belt out tunes together and every once in a while I was bold enough to peek in and get an advance showing of their extra cool moves.
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