Saturday, April 28, 2007

"You're Taking This 'Green' Thing a Bit Too Far"

Large Doggie Dooley Steel Septic Tank
Never deal with pet elimination again. With the new Doggie Dooley systems you won't have to. Simply use the no bending or stooping scooper to place the elimination in the in-ground Doggie Dooley. Meanwhile inside the Doggie Dooley the fast acting chemicals break the waste down. Thus never having to take out smelly trash bags again. Doggie Dooley utilizes the enzyme and bacteria action reducing dog waste to a ground absorbing liquid.

Environmentally Safe Pet Waste Disposal Tank
Galvanized Steel
Easy and Convenient to Use
Foot Operated Lid Opener
Made in the USA!
For 2 Large or 4 Small Dogs
My husband thinks I'm nuts, but I have requested this for Mother's Day. He said he couldn't possibly get it for me, nor could he ever look anyone in the eye again if he did get me such a thing for Mother's Day.
"But I specifically asked you for it!"
"Doesn't matter - it's a product designed solely for dealing with dog crap. It's against gift etiquette rules."
Hmmm, I think since I'm the one who deals with the dog crap, I ought to be able to make that decision. Oh well, if he doesn't get it for me for Mother's Day, d'ya think it'd be too cruel to get it as a Father's Day gift? Yeah, you're right. Okay, is it acceptable for me to get myself a Mother's Day gift?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Grinding Away

Sandpaper on balsa wood.

The Colorado River deep in the crevice of the Grand Canyon.

Abrasion cuts into the rock under a glacier, scooping rock up like a bulldozer and smoothing and polishing the rock surface, creating a pocket.

Knives of pain slowly carve away at me. Wave after wave of grinding agony peels layers off any protection I might have against this. Against watching my father suffer. His skin is gray against the sterile white linens. Two thick yellow tubes emerge from his back and bubble into a metered box partially hidden below the hospital bed. He shifts from his back to his side, pushing against the mattress in an effort to relieve the pressure on the incision. A row of twenty or more staples winds its way down his shoulder blade and disappears under his arm. His grimace is permanent at this point, it only deepens from time to time. His full head of hair is a disadvantage now - reflecting fully the amount of time since he's had a shower or a comb to tame it.

The heaviness in my chest feels like a sandbag, but instead of protecting me from a flood, it pulls deeper and deeper in to me with each passing minute. I can feel the crater threatening.

A hidden spring bubbles up almost imperceptibly. My brother comes to visit at the hospital and stays to watch the Yankees-Red Sox game and "shoot the sh*t". This is a gift that could never have been predicted. Dad is released on Sunday and comes home to sunshine and a home cooked meal. The pallor of his skin is replaced with unmistakable joy at being in his nest again, surrounded by adoring pets and more comfortable in his own recliner. Monday evening my sister comes for dinner and calls him "Daddy". I am welcomed in to this house and trusted and appreciated. My efforts to ease the transition home prove helpful and I am so pleased to be able to cook and clean and walk the dogs. The quiet calm and tangible love that surround us in this place are a balm. The grinding pain of the past week has opened up a new place inside me that is gradually being filled with love and gratitude. I have more space to contain it all. This is something I can hold on to for now.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Driving through the slick streets in an unfamiliar town I stopped at the intersection, waiting my turn. Directly across the street in front of me was a cyclone fence with plywood attached and blue spray paint scrawled across it...


My first reaction was to chuckle. I could barely make out a jumble of old electronics, car parts, and broken appliances beyond the barrier. No worries, I have no intention of going in there.

My second thought was that if the owner was that protective of what was behind the fence, perhaps there were some unique treasures to see. Hmmm. Intriguing. Now I wanted to sneak over there and peek through the cracks in the plywood. I'm not going to, but I'm imagining all sorts of mysterious things in there.

After spending the day with my father and his youngest stepdaughter yesterday I am convinced that the sign is dead wrong. There are second chances. Even third chances and maybe more. They're there for the taking. We may not always recognize them for what they are, but they are there.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stop Thinking, Start Feeling

"My heart knows me better than I know myself so I'm gonna let it do all the talking." KT Tunstall

Have I mentioned that I don't do waiting? Or uncertainty? Seems I'm being tested on both counts over and over again. Methinks the Universe is trying to tell me something...

I never expected to reach the point in my life where I'm faced with my parents' mortality so soon. Hearing a diagnosis of "lung cancer" was frightening. The words rattled around in my brain like so many superballs, hitting every available surface and shooting off in all directions. There was no sense to be made of it - just random hits and spheres careening through space. Preparing to witness the reality of surgery and physical vulnerability in a person whom I have held to icon status is taking it one step further. I'm not sure how I'll react to seeing my father lying in a bed in the ICU with a chest tube in place.

"Your dad asked me to tell you he loves you." The hamster jumps off his wheel. He's had enough for today. The worries and thoughts popping in my head suddenly quiet. Warmth begins to bloom far lower - in my core. I am loved. I love him. I'm going to see my dad and I'm going to let my heart do all the talking.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

One Port in This Storm

We were in the local grocery store. It was probably Safeway, but I don’t honestly remember. I know that it was an unusual occurrence – all of us were there together – Dad, Susan, Chris, Katy and me, shopping for groceries. Maybe it was the first and only time since we were new to town and Dad was afraid to leave us home alone, or maybe he wanted to show us around town and get food at the same time. I don’t know. I don’t think it ever happened again, though, and maybe this is why…

I was probably being sullen and pissy – the very picture of a soon-to-be sixth grade girl who had just moved away from everything and everyone she was familiar with to a town where she would live with her father and new stepmother. It could be that school had just started and I was bothered that I didn’t fit in. They all wore Wrangler jeans and shitkickers and I came clad in Levi’s 501s and sneakers. They knew all about dust and horses and I had spent the last six years in ballet classes.

Whatever prompted it, I remember Susan taking me aside and offering to talk about it. Why did I agree? I was thousands of miles away from my mother and she was my confidante, not this traitor who had just married my father. But I couldn’t burden Mom with any more troubles, especially not over the phone. Maybe I was just desperate for a woman to listen to me.

Susan did something nobody I had ever known would even consider doing. She sat me down. Then she sat down next to me. On the floor, our backs against the shelves stocked with cereal boxes and oats. We stopped right there. Dad was mortified. Small town newcomers, sitting on the linoleum floor at the supermarket talking and crying. Susan sent him off with the cart and the list to finish shopping. Whatever it was that was bothering me, it was important enough for now. She didn’t ask me to wait until we got home. She didn’t brush it off or dismiss it with the thought that we were all finding this transition tough. She sat down next to me in that moment and acknowledged my 12 year old reality. She honored my feelings. She listened.

She didn’t give a good Goddamn what it looked like to the locals passing by with their carts. She chose me over everything else in that instant. This person who barely knew me, whom I had barraged with dirty looks and quietly despised. She showed me love and compassion. She sat with me on that cold, hard floor and ignored everything else, listening until I was done. I let the gate down and the hurt poured out, puddling around us. I felt so comforted. So relieved.

I remember her warm arm around my shoulders as we walked together through the parking lot toward the car. Dad and Chris and Katy watched us from the windows. I had an ally. My problems were important. I’m sure we didn’t solve anything tangible that day, but, like it or not, I had someone who cared.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Gimme a 'G'

Thank you all for your insights on my loyalty post. I am amazed at how often I revert back to my old "middle kid" habits of protecting others and making peace in the group. A year or so after my parents divorced and both remarried, my stepmother and I were having a conversation about "how things were going" and I started to cry. I remember telling her that it hurt me so much to know that my parents hated each other and disagreed about everything. I felt as though that would always be true and that there were permanent cracks in my foundation. My fondest wish, I told her, was that we could all find an enormous house, a big colonial-style white house with black shutters and a black door with a brass knocker. Big enough to have separate wings for each family group. Large enough for all of the kids to run around and play together, inside and outside. I was tired of traveling from Oregon to Wyoming several times a year. I didn't want to have to talk to my stepmother about important stuff when I knew it was my mom who wanted to be there. I didn't want to only show my mom how hard I could kick the soccer ball when it was my dad I was trying to impress. I wanted to be able to walk down the corridor instead of asking to make a long distance phone call. I wanted my family to come back together - if not emotionally and spiritually, at least physically. I wanted them under one roof.
I woke up this morning with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. After ruminating all weekend on the question of loyalty and filling up my well of emotional strength, this is what I came to. I am grateful that I am in a position to care for someone who needs me. I am grateful that this person is in a position to accept my help. I am grateful for the support I have from family and friends. I am grateful that I have lived the life I have and experienced both joy and pain so that I can offer love and compassion. I am grateful that I will have some time to spend with my father, whom I always saw as invincible and untouchable, in a vulnerable state. I know that there will be difficult times as he undergoes surgery and recovers, for both of us, but I am grateful that I can be there to experience it all with him. I know this will give me even more compassion and will teach my children that sometimes we need to move toward things that we fear in order to grow.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Question of Loyalty

"Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice. "
Woodrow Wilson

I am struggling with the question of loyalty. When does caring for one person violate your loyalty to another? Can it ever?

In grade school girls change "best" friends like hairstyles. Pigtails on Monday, a barrette on Tuesday, maybe braids on Wednesday. Changing alliances cause tears and bitterness that the boys just can't understand. I remember my big brother shaking his head and laughing as he walked away that us girls were so ridiculous. I suppose we were. But as we get older, the stakes get higher. Sometimes we are forced to choose between people we love just because they hate each other. Ideally, we could continue both relationships without being in the middle. For most practical purposes, it doesn't work that way.

What if you were forced to choose between your siblings? Your parents? What if two people you considered part of your family were completely incapable of coexisting? While I have not hidden certain relationships from certain people, I have not flaunted them either, for fear of wounding those individuals. Unfortunately, I am in need of some moral support and two of the people from whom I typically seek that support have been deeply hurt by the person for whom I am spending my psychic energy to support. I need to fill my well with energy to care for an individual who was responsible for a great deal of trauma in the lives of others. Two of those 'others' are the very ones I need to ask to help me fill this well. One of them is willing, perhaps both of them. But is it fair to ask? Is it disloyal to them? I am not disregarding their pain or any unfinished business they may have. I would not blame them if they refused. I only know that it is vitally important to me to take part in caring for this third person and I cannot do it alone. Physically, maybe, but not emotionally.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Best Spring Break Ever!

Sunscreen, at least 30 SPF
Two children who have never skied before
One husband who was a wild and crazy skier for a decade before he married me
Me, who is not wild about skiing, but is wild about my husband and willing to go along with the idea
Reservation at a lodge on the mountain which possesses a heated, year-round swimming pool and laundry facilities
Two St. Bernard rescue hounds - residents of the lodge

Drive children and husband to the mountain and check into the historical lodge. Feel anxiety rise when you realize what you've truly gotten yourself into and that you've promised to stay here for five days.

Calmly reassure husband that things will be fine even though he lost his wallet during breakfast and we haven't even rented skis yet.

Measure impatient children for skis and boots and slather sunscreen on them since it's sunny and 65 degrees outside. (Note to self: next time remember that the sun will reflect UP off of the snow and be sure to cover underside of 7-year-olds nose with sunscreen so that unsightly peeling and painful burn will not result). Take several photos of them in their impossibly cute ski suits and hold your breath as they stand at the top of the bunny hill.

Try not to fall down when your oldest child takes off down the mountain as if she were born on skis, making big swoopy turns and stopping carefully at the bottom of the slope.

This week turned into a dream! S. and E. got up every morning and got their lift tickets as soon as the lifts opened. We typically did not see them again until the lifts closed for the day. They came back tanned and giggling, pleased with themselves for skiing down the biggest slopes on the hill and telling inside jokes all day. L. and I dutifully made several trips down the bunny hill until we felt as though we'd done enough to quit for the day. We indulged in hot chocolate, lunch, and every afternoon found us impersonating mermaids and dolphins in the pool at the lodge. We all met for dinner, patted the rescue dogs, and fell into bed by 8pm. The girls were so exhausted that they were asleep within minutes and it was all S. and I could do to read a chapter or two before we followed suit.

S. confessed to me that this was his dream - to have this special, fun time with his daughter and every time I think of it I get teary. They are both looking forward to many more ski trips together and I can't wait to hear all about them. I might even be convinced to go along if the day lodge has wi-fi.....

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Walking on Hot Coals

I am standing in the corner of the living room but nobody notices me. The room is saturated with screams, the thick, anguished shrieks of a little girl who knows she is about to be punished. She has done something wrong and the wooden spoon has come out of the beige crock on the counter. My little sister’s hands tucked into the elastic waistband of her pants, covering her bottom to add a layer of protection. She is running away, little legs churning through the fog of terror that permeates the very air of this room. Nobody is chasing her. Her punisher stands sternly and larger-than-life in the doorway, spoon in hand, a pillar of quiet anger.

“NO NO NONONONONONONO,” over and over. She sounds as if she has had splinters shoved under her fingernails. She is walking on hot coals. She is tortured. I am frozen in place, horrified that her punishment will come to pass. I can’t let this happen.

“I did it. Spank me, please,” my voice breaks as I emerge from the safety of the corner. “It was my fault. She didn’t do anything. She’s too young. I’m the one who made her do it. Please, please, please. Spank me.” An avalanche of tears rolls down my face, picking up speed. I imagine them splashing to the floor one by one, leaving paths as they cut the tension.

I am still incredibly uncomfortable witnessing or even acknowledging the pain and anguish of others. I need to fix it. I need to make it stop. The single biggest challenge of my parenting experience to date is allowing my children to feel pain in all its forms: failure, rejection, jealousy, physical pain… I know that I cannot prevent them from having negative experiences in their lives and I understand, rationally, that living these things and learning to deal with them is important for their sense of growth and compassion. When faced with their agony, however, my first instinct is to take it on myself. Short of that, I am compelled to find a way to alleviate it as quickly as possible. I am afraid. Of what, I am not entirely sure. I only know that to see others suffer causes me to ache as well and I am uncomfortable with that.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Continuation, Part II (Menopause)

Oh, but we’re not done yet. After your child-bearing years comes menopause. I remember when I first started my period, menopause seemed like a wonderful vision that would never be realized. Of course, when you’re twelve, being in your fifties or sixties seems impossible anyway, but I truly longed for the day when I would no longer have to anticipate my mood swings and the mess of having a period. Ha! Be careful what you wish for…

It just so happens that the women in my family hit menopause earlier than most. My grandmother was 35 when she started menopause and two of my maternal aunts were in their late thirties. I was 33! My doctor’s first reaction was dismissal – there was no way I was in menopause at 33 years old. Oh yeah? Then why am I getting hot flashes that make me want to strip naked and jump in a tub of ice in the middle of winter? Why is it that I wake up two or three nights a week and have to change the sheets on my bed because I have sweat-soaked my pajamas and the bedcovers? Why am I having these depressive episodes that make me want to jump off the edge of the Grand Canyon and why, oh, why did my last period come to stay for 12 days?

Menopause introduced me to the world of antidepressants and psychotherapy. It also turned me into someone who is forced to carry tampons in my purse at all times (I don’t even like to carry a purse, for God’s sake, and now I have to have one just for my feminine protection items !?) because you never know when Aunt M might show up. Could be 20 days from your last period, could be four days later – it’s like playing Russian Roulette with my emotions and my underwear.

Fortunately for the human race, I was finished having children. Unfortunately for my children, I have been reduced to a lunatic whose brain is intermittently and unpredictably bathed in chemicals that tell me I am no longer necessary to the human race. You see, strictly evolutionarily speaking, I have done my part and now I can go. That doesn’t necessarily mean I have to die – it just means that my existence is no longer vital, so the species won’t mourn my loss. Thanks for the hostess gift, you can stay to party a little, but don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

I was truly freaked out by the strength of the effects menopause had on my brain. I am a self-described control freak who tends to be very emotionally sensitive, but I counter that with a strong dose of critical thinking and manage to see the world in a fairly realistic light most of the time. Menopause tossed that all down the garbage chute. Despite having an incredibly supportive prince of a husband and two fabulous children who showed me in many different ways that I was wanted and needed, I had an overwhelming sense that I was weak and pathetic and unworthy of them. I was sure I had made all the wrong decisions in raising my children and was doomed to continue to do so. I occasionally questioned whether they would all be better off without me, although the control freak side of me won out there – “ain’t nobody else gonna raise MY kids”. Then, almost like magic, when my period would subside, I was back to feeling competent and optimistic and sure of myself. What the hell? I was truly blindsided by this every time my hormones would surge and frightened by my inability to either predict or prevent this. I beat myself up for months trying to give little pep talks (“suck it up”, “you can do this”, “just ignore it and get through it”), but when I finally pictured my poor little wrinkled brain trapped in this vat full of chemicals telling it that I SUCK, I realized that this was more powerful than the boot camp instructor yelling at me to get over it.

Being a control freak, I am also big on personal responsibility and so it was difficult for me to let go and ask for help. I was resistant to taking medications to control this, but after my first bout with a severe depression that made me want to kill myself I decided that countering the evil chemical soup in my brain with some more chemicals didn’t seem quite so dramatic.

My husband, on the other hand, had hormones that informed him it was his biological imperative to spread his seed starting at about fourteen. He was to look for the prettiest, fittest girls and sow away. Because he can continue to make sperm for decades, his usefulness to the human race will not be in question for a long time to come. Fortunately for him, Mother Nature hasn’t yet figured out how to discern which men have had vasectomies, so his hormones will just keep on telling him to get laid. How nice for him!

My husband will dispute the size of the discrepancy in genetic justice, purporting that the men have to exist with the women throughout their lives, and I do respect that. There is just nothing quite so powerful as your own body telling you that it knows how you ought to live your life and judging you for your choices. Thankfully, I have come to terms with the fact that life is more than a series of biologically-driven events and that helps give me perspective. I have also acknowledged and come to accept the fact that, as a woman, I have been given the short straw and have chosen to reward myself for my struggles accordingly. Belgian chocolates, lots of rest, long, hot baths and pedicures tend to help soothe my injured psyche and are fairly simple to indulge in as I see fit. Until my genetic lines somehow manages to evolve past its current state into a more socially defined realm of women and men, there will be women in my family who will be forced to indulge as well. My daughters will always know where to get the best chocolates and foot soaks. At least I can give them that….

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Continuation of the Species, Part 1

If we’re talking in strictly evolutionary, survival of the fittest gene pool, continuation of the species terms here, I’m pissed. I am convinced that women are getting the short, slimy, splintery end of the stick. First of all, we get menstruation. Sure, we are the sole gender blessed with the ability to get pregnant and nurse our young, but there are some not-so-great physical symptoms that are bundled up with that package, too.

I “came of age” in the 80s with a stepmother who not only survived, but fully embraced the sixties. You may not be surprised to hear that the speech I received when I first started my period was that it was a fantastic, magical, female-power affirming, life force continuing ritual that I should celebrate. Forgive me for my confusion – you mean this smelly, bloody, messy, crampy, emotional phase that occurs every freaking month? We can’t possibly be talking about the same thing here.

Incredibly, we were. Now, I was twelve years old: interested in horses and kickball and how soon I would be allowed to wear makeup. Makeup – now there’s a womanly, grown up rite of passage! It’s pretty, there are a range of choices to fit your individual personality, most of it smells good, and it’s something people can see on the outside. That would surely signal how grown up I am. Screw this menstruation thing! It’s messy, turns me into a neurotic blubbering idiot, and is not something I particularly want to crow about. According to my mother and my stepmother, I was apparently old enough to begin my life as a woman in biological terms but not necessarily in social terms. Nix on the makeup until I was fourteen. Crap!

Now, biologically speaking, when a girl begins menstruating, it means she is physically capable of doing her part for the continuation of the species. Whoa, nelly! I realize that as a purely social construct, this is out of the question – most normal people shudder at the thought. Thank God I reached this critical time in my life during the 1980s in America! At the age of twelve, the only time I critically assessed any males my own age was when I was captain of the kickball team and then only in the interest of choosing the ones who could kick the crap out of the ball.

In my personal experience, the onset of menstruation was a hormonal tsunami assaulting my brain. By design, these hormones are charged with attracting us to the male of the species in order to procreate. So, for lack of a gentler term, we get horny. Now, I wouldn’t say these pre-adolescent girls automatically turn into raving nymphomaniacs, but even for me, a self-professed tomboy, it was odd to suddenly begin thinking of boys as cute and patently horrifying to feel embarrassed and giggly around them. I certainly did not entertain notions of jumping into bed with any of them (I’m not even sure I understood what that would entail), but had I, Mother Nature was primed and ready to do her part.

I had been raised by a father who was a Marine, so to say the least, logic and reason were strongly emphasized in my family. This coupled with the fact that I was not possessed of any of the things that would have made having sex at this age likely (overly lenient parents, my own transportation, an overwhelming desire to HAVE A BABY!) helped to restrain me from pursuing any of my primal urges.

I never did embrace my stepmother’s view of menstruation. Indeed, I have spent most of my life dreading it and calling it such things as “the curse”, “my evil Auntie M”, “Aunt Flo”, etc. But I did come to accept it as inevitable and just deal with it the best I could. I also learned fairly early on to anticipate the changes in my personality that came with this dreaded monthly event. Without fail, I would become more likely to cry at small things, grow increasingly neurotic and require constant reassurance of my worthiness and lovability.

Could it be that this is a biochemical trick that is played on women when they get their period? Think about it, when you get your period it means that you are not pregnant. Now, the teenage girl, and many adult women, may find themselves occasionally rejoicing at this particular bit of news. If, however, you are primarily concerned with continuation of the species, this is a sad day, and the hormones that are your brain is soaking in are desperate to help you realize that you are not fulfilling your biological imperative. Get pregnant, dammit! Are you worthless? Can’t you even do something as simple as getting knocked up? Women have been doing it for thousands of years. Think about someone other than yourself for once, huh? That’s a pretty tough barrage to sustain month after month – I’m not terribly surprised that I found myself getting emotionally labile during my period.

On the flip side, suppose you actually do decide to produce offspring. One possibility is that you try and succeed at getting pregnant – yippee! That brings an entire new recipe for hormone soup in your brain. For now, let’s consider the opposite scenario: for some reason (or perhaps a myriad of reasons), you find yourself unable to get pregnant. Well, this sucks, because now you’re feeling anxious about getting your period because you don’t want it which can itself delay it by a couple of days, artificially inflating your mood so that you have actually fall even farther emotionally when it eventually does arrive. At this point, the hormonal mocking seems even more cruel – you can’t procreate, what kind of a woman are you? Can’t even manage the most fundamental thing common to all living beings? Even lizards can procreate! Yeah, sure, I am woman, hear me roar – in anguish! Suffer through a few months (or years) of this and you will realize just how strong a role biology plays in your life.

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