Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nine. Count 'em, Nine

Behold, the teeth that came out of the gums of my eldest daughter this morning. The poor dear showed up in the oral surgeon's office wearing her silk pajamas, pink slippers and Snoopy robe, clutching an enormous stuffed rabbit under her arm, ready and willing to go to sleep for the sake of her future dental health.

Other than a sharp intake of breath and a couple of tears hovering at the corners of her eyes as the stinging sedatives entered her bloodstream, she was an absolute trouper. She endured Bubba's jokes that we may have to supply the catgut stitches ourselves by performing a tummy tuck on our own kitty. She watched in rapt fascination as the blood pressure cuff, oxygen monitor and EKG leads were stuck to various parts of her body. She didn't move a muscle as the twin cannulas poked themselves into her delicate little nostrils to deliver oxygen and measure her carbon dioxide output, even though they were altogether the wrong fit and forced her nostrils apart unnaturally. She went to sleep peacefully and trusted that she would wake up just fine.

That she did. Bubba and I refused to look at each other for the first few minutes in the waiting room, knowing that meeting the other's eyes would only prompt tears from both of us. We managed spurts of conversation amidst islands of silence and he finally said, "It is so much easier to be the one in there," as he gestured toward the door of the operating room.

But an hour and a half later, the doctor emerged from the back office to let us know that she had sailed through and was ready to go home. Packing ice, extra gauze, tea bags to help stop the bleeding (wet them and it activates the tannic acid which helps stop the blood flow), and a baggie with nine of her teeth, we headed out. She spent the day on the couch watching Star Wars movies with Bubba and endured only a few twinges of major pain. Her tongue has found the stitches (she calls them 'whiskers') protruding from her gums and pokes at them endlessly. She is enjoying her diet of applesauce, mashed potatoes, 7-up, and ice cream (specifically dark chocolate and blackberry, although not together). Her cheeks are puffy and her eyes are very tired, but she has sailed through the first day better than we could have ever imagined.

As we tucked her in to bed tonight and poured all nine teeth in to her tooth fairy box she said, "I hope nobody else around here lost any teeth today, cuz the tooth fairy is going to be really busy at our house tonight." Indeed, my dear. Indeed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Come on, Sing With Me! You Know you Want to!

Happy Anniversary to me,

Happy Anniversary to me,

Happy Anniversary to Kario,

Happy Anniversary to me! (and Bubba)

Yup, it's that time of year again. It was on February 26th, fourteen years ago that Bubba and I tied the knot in a small winery in the Willamette Valley (before they were even known for their wine) on a cold, rainy day in front of a room packed with college friends and family from all over Oregon and Washington and California. The actual ceremony lasted about five minutes and the reception lasted for hours afterwards. What fun!

Not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars for this man I get to share my life with. We started out as friends (well, okay, he lusted after me and I was his calculus tutor in college and found it endlessly amusing to turn him down over and over again in the friendliest way). After a year or so of getting to know each other it suddenly occurred to me that he was the complete antithesis of any guy I had ever dated or could ever see myself dating and maybe that was the sole reason I OUGHT to go out on a date with him.

You see, Bubba came from a small town cattle ranch. His parents were (and are) not only still married to each other, but they actually liked each other. He enjoyed spending time with his older brother and sister and actually sought out their opinions on his life. He was smart but didn't flaunt it. He was athletic but not overly so. He had no idea what he was going to do with his life and it didn't bother him one bit because he had confidence that he would eventually figure it out when he needed to. He was mischevious and even though college was supposed to be a 'serious' time in our lives, he knew how to have fun. Whether it was playing harmless pranks on fellow students or spending a day riding his mountain bike down the steepest hills he could find with some of the daredevils he hung out with, he did it with zest. Everyone on campus knew him by his smile and easy attitude and students and their parents liked him (although both for vastly different reasons).

He was the kind of guy who could deliver really bad news to you in such a way that you would leave thanking him. He was the only person I had ever met who was absolutely 100% comfortable in his own skin, flaws and all. He was from another universe entirely.

He has an uncanny ability to distill things down to their core importance. He has never failed to surprise me with his capacity for empathy and love, laughter and willingness to take on new challenges. I have traveled with him, broken down in his arms, laughed until my stomach ached, and held him as he suffered mystery ailments. I have been away from him for long periods of time, aching to share the funny joke I just heard or the crazy thing one of our children just did. I have never been more content than to sit next to him on the couch, our legs intertwined, each of us engrossed in our own books just sharing space.

We are apart today out of necessity, but I feel him here. He is off chasing his dream and I am here anchoring things for him just like he does for me when I need to go. I used to feel guilty when I realized that I could survive without him here for long stretches of time. Now I realize that that is the ultimate compliment. I can survive without him. But I don't want to. Having him in my life is one of my greatest treasures. I love you, Bubba! Here's to spending a few more decades together at the very least!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Power of the Stomach

Have I mentioned how much I love my local NPR station? I almost always am spurred to think in a different way about something I've either never considered before or something I thought I knew everything about already.
This morning, Frederick Kaufman, an English professor at the City University of New York and CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism was on talking about his new book "A Short History of the American Stomach." I happened to tune in to the conversation at the exact moment he was talking about the idea that human beings have two brains, one that consists of the cerebral tissue and spinal cord, and one in our stomachs; something he called the 'enteric brain.' I was pretty quick to dismiss this idea until he began to expand on it.
He pointed out that there is a greater concentration of nerve endings in the human stomach than anywhere else in our bodies. Greater numbers even than those in the traditional brain and spinal cord combined. Huh.
He went on to talk about 'gut reactions', things we all have although we might call them by different names such as intuition. We have all had an experience that hit us right in the stomach - either something that caused us to instantaneously be sick at the thought or sight, or a tragedy that we felt deep in our viscera.
Faithful readers of my blog will know that when I have deep-seated issues I am in need of examining, I rarely discover them via meditation or thought. Nope, I suffer immediate and prolonged bouts of stomach pain and diarrhea that eventually bring me to the notion that there is something going on I need to address.
I remember a philosophy professor of mine that used to encourage us to really investigate what was behind our most visceral reactions. We might be talking about slavery or persecution of some kind, euthanasia or abortion, and he would ask us what our initial 'gut reaction' response was - were we predisposed to cross the street when we saw a black person walking towards us on a city street? Would we automatically decide not to get to know someone better if we found out they had chosen to have an abortion? Whether we acted on those notions or not, he talked about the importance of acknowledging these immediate reflexive thoughts and then examining the roots of them in our lives.
Every time I see a smushed raccoon or possum in the middle of the road, I find it hard to turn my eyes away. As much as I want to, I often cannot and at the moment my car passes this poor dead animal, my stomach tightens and goosebumps run the length of my body until one big shudder shakes them off. Every single time. That is a gut reaction.
I am not sure what to make of all of this, but I am certain it will provide me with some interesting fodder for reflection today. Thanks again, NPR!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obsessions of the Week

I just finished a terrific book and I'm in the middle of another one. Actually, I think, technically, you could say I'm in the middle of three books right now, but that's the way I do things. I almost always have one fiction "brain candy" book going, one nonfiction "make-me-a-better-writer/person" book going, and one book club book going.

The non-fiction selection I've just finished is Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and I am inspired! Not only is BK a terrific writer with an easy style and good sense of humor, she is a go-getter. Don't worry, I'm not moving to Appalachia to start my own farm and live off the land, but I am dedicated to eating more local fare. Lucky for me farmer's markets abound in my region and this week, at least, Spring has sprung.

The fiction book I'm deep in the middle of was one that I thought would qualify as brain candy but has instead turned into a "make-me-a-better-person" book and I simply cannot put it down. Kris Radish (whom I have never heard of before I spotted this hot pink paperback sitting on the shelf at my local used bookstore) has written a novel about a group of women and the incredible bond they share. Prompted by one of the member's personal crisis, they embark on a walk that lasts days and days and acts as a meditation not only for each one of them individually and together, but for the members of their community as well. This is definitely going to be one of those books that I will hate to finish.

Because Bubba is out of town, I decided to try a new dessert. He indulges me all too often in my search for new flavors of ice cream, but he draws the line at sorbet and frozen yogurt. Because I have a sweet tooth the size of a T. Rex, I am always looking for something not quite so fattening and I usually experiment while he is safely on a business trip. While I'm not certain the new dessert I have come across is less fattening, I'm certain I'm glad I don't have to share it with anyone this week. I know that sounds awful, but as I sat on the couch last night, book in hand, towel wrapped around the carton of bliss in my lap savoring each and every mouthful of silky chocolateyness, the thought of taking a bite and then passing it off to anyone was ridiculous. So, you ask, what is this dessert that has inspired such passion? Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss. Ice cream made out of coconut milk (no cow's milk, soy milk, rice milk, no preservatives, no cane sugar) and flavoring. They have several flavors: vanilla, dark chocolate, cherry amaretto, coconut (duh), mint and cappuccino to name a few. So far, I've only indulged in the dark chocolate and, being a total chocolate snob, I can say it is FABULOUS! Creamy, rich, chocolatey, absolutely satisfying. And, it's made in Eugene, Oregon. That qualifies as 'local', doesn't it? Sorta?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Boundaries? What Boundaries?

Why do I find it so appealing to wade in to the swamp that is someone else's issue? Instead of keeping my distance, sympathizing from a safe place and going about my own life (which is busy enough in its own right), I'm pulling on my hip waders.

"Man, I'm glad I'm not going through that," I say to Bubba. All the while I'm thinking, 'I can remember being there. In that exact same place. With that same wild look in my eyes, the same high-pitched falsetto that is meant to convey confidence and a sense of humor about the situation. The same rising blood pressure and tears building behind my eyeballs. She's heading for a crash."

I swear to everyone around that I'm not going in after her. I'll just stand at the edge of this fragrant muck and holler friendly advice. I'll assure her that I've been waist-deep, armpit deep in the same pit and made my way out. She just needs to take off that sandwich board that proclaims, "I'M FINE! I CAN MANAGE ANYTHING! EVERYTHING!" and realize she's standing hip-deep in the sludge.

All the while I'm planning: life ring on a long rope? armchair with helium balloons tied on so I can float over her and haul her up? Hmmm, nope.

I have watched her slowly disintegrate over the past months. She's been struggling with "stomach flu" for over eight weeks - nausea that just happens to coincide with the days of the week she has to work. She's lost ten pounds she didn't need to and wasn't trying to lose. Her reactions to unexpected events are blown way out of the stratosphere and she leaves her co-workers with their heads shaking as she leaves a wake of stress behind her. Been there, done that.

Her children are turning away from her, each regressing in their own ways. She can't manage to sit still for even a minute and breathe. An invitation to my house on a Friday evening for pizza and wine and games is met with "I just can't do that right now. I think I'm going to be a little too stressed." Still, even though we aren't particularly close friends, I feel as though I should persist. Her family is worried but used to it - "this is how she is. She's always been this way." Why do I feel so compelled to offer my story and encourage her to stop and look at why she's choosing to live this way? Intimacy on this level is not welcomed by her, that much I know. Why do I feel the need to save her?

Deja vu. Been here, done this. Okay, point taken. I'll be terribly sad if she does, indeed, choose to remain standing in the middle of the swamp refusing all offers of help. Maybe this is one more way I distract myself in order to not be present in my own life. No more. Starting tonight, I'm putting the girls to bed and sitting with myself. In my own space, my own swamp. Feeling the mud and muck surround me, slowly emerging step by step. Reminding myself of the power within me and taking note of the way it feels to walk out on my own. As I stand in my own skin I'll send love and light the way of all the other swamps and then I'm going to bed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

P is for Precocious

Oral surgeon: So, do you know why you're here today?

Precocious 8 year old: Just to meet you and, like, talk about what you're going to do. But you're not going to do any surgery today or anything.

OS: You're right. So, do you have any questions for me?

P: Yeah. Om, how are you going to keep my mouth open? Cuz' usually I sleep with my mouth closed.

OS: We have something called a bite blocker that is rubber and we'll have you bite down on it with your back teeth before you fall asleep.

P: Cool. So, am I going to have stitches in my mouth?

OS: We will put some small stitches in there, but they will dissolve, so you don't have to come back to have me take them out.

P: Dissolve? What the heck?

OS: Yep. They are made out of catgut.

P: Cool! I'm going to have cat guts in my mouth. That's kind of gross.

OS: The only thing I am a little concerned about is that sometimes when we put little girls to sleep they wake up feeling a little sick to their stomachs. You're very petite and I want to make sure the medicine doesn't make you feel like you need to throw up.

P: Don't worry. I'll just lean my head towards Daddy if I need to barf.

She's having a total of eight teeth extracted from her gums in an effort to find enough space in her mouth for the permanent teeth she already has. She's seen the x-rays, understands the procedure enough to explain it to her father, and is looking forward to subsisting on a diet of pudding and soup and ice cream for a few days. As we walked through the parking lot toward the car after our visit I asked Little Miss Precocious what she thought of the surgeon.

"I liked him. He seems to really like kids and he told me the truth. That's all I needed."

Good girl.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Cave

I am standing just inside the opening, but after the first few steps there's a jog to the right. No light filters around this corner to where I am standing. I am barefoot and the cool, thick mud is pushing up between my toes. It feels good - therapeutic, even, to be standing here in the darkness with this rich, dark, organic earth surrounding my toes, wrapping them each individually.

Somehow I find myself coming upon a place of light. A room, circular and lit from above. A small clear pool of water sits in the center. The walls slope up and around to form a dome-like ceiling and lush green fern fronds dot the rocks, curling over protectively. I step barefoot through the warm golden sand, giving the pond a wide berth and staying close to the rock walls. My fingertips reach up to brush a dewdrop that hangs from the tip of a fern and brush the black-pepper-like seeds lined up along the underside of the leaves.

At one point I realize my feet have been breaded. The mud caked on them has become coated with the fine sand and I suddenly feel the need to cleanse them. My eyes dart to the pristine circle of water and just as quickly look away. I can't put my filthy feet into that gorgeous, undisturbed pool for such a silly notion.

In the next instant I am shoulder deep in the golden water. I haven't soiled it at all. It is so much deeper than I imagined. I am naked, clean, floating. No, not floating. Held. All at once I realize how good this feels. How safe I am. I am held in love.

I am held in love.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Must Be Present to Win

The inbox was full to bursting. I rarely check this email address anymore - it is kept as a promise to future 'professional' writing projects. Few know of it and I like that it is anonymous. It is time I cleaned it out.

One of the things I routinely receive there is an email from Tricycle Magazine - a Buddhist publication which distributes 'daily dharma' messages. I scrolled through them, certain I would never be able to read them all, but one struck me. January 27th. The day of my grandfather's memorial service. Jack Kornfield wrote of a lesson that made itself known to him once in Las Vegas as he found himself staring at a sign posted on the wall. "Must be present to win."

Yeah. I've not been present. I've not taken the time to sit quietly and feel. I have stepped far enough into it to acknowledge the events themselves - my grandfather died, my father is dying. I have stood at the edge of that cave opening and seen the darkness, then turned and walked away as if that were enough.

Today I will plant my feet in the spongy soil just inside the opening of the cave and close my eyes to smell the moist organic scents it offers to me. I will reach out my hand to touch the rocky walls, stroke them with my fingertips and find the fissures, push my palms into the sharp, jutting edges. I will listen to the silence and let it fill me up. Then, and only then, will I take a step forward to see what I can find. I will not carry a torch of any kind. Any illumination of my path will have to come as a result of the gentle opening of my heart to what awaits me. I know that, should I find I need a moment to sit, I will find the perfect perch as it juts out from the wall. I trust that the floor will remain level so long as I need it to. The farther I venture into this black place the more I expect to find gifts. There will be ferns that grow from the solid stone walls, dripping the purest dew, pools of clear water, and light. I need only be present. Present to win.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hold On To Your Hats

The mad dash to pack lunches, make breakfast. The dog is underfoot, demanding attention, toy in his mouth, body wagging from the waist on down through the end of his tail. I know he has had his most basic needs met – food and water in the dish, the first morning pee accomplished. But I keep tripping over him as I move deliberately from the toaster oven to the sink, refrigerator to lunch boxes, breaking up squabbles over who gets the ‘best’ thermos today, who gets to deliver birthday flowers to Gail.

When the girls are settled, tummies full, lunches packed, shoes on, hair brushed, bags in hand at the garage door, I can no longer deny it. I’m headed for the bathroom. The stuffing of the last few days, weeks, months is over. The dog knew it. My body knew it. I was the only one who thought I could make it through another week or two before I came undone. No matter how many times I learn this lesson I never really learn it.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Griffith. She was my favorite. Not quite five feet tall, long wavy hair that held an electricity of its own, a slight German lilt to her voice. Her nurturing way brought sunshine to the entire classroom. This was the year I perfected my cursive handwriting, loopy, connected, flowing. This was the year I learned that I wanted to rush through things and be the first one done. I got burned over and over again in my haste and her gentle reminders to slow down were appreciated but never heeded.

I couldn’t sit still. My family had disintegrated right before my eyes and I had to stay busy. I lost my brother, my soulmate in an excruciating blow that had yet to be acknowledged by anyone else. My father had moved out of the house. My mother took a full time job. My solution was to throw up. Careful not to draw too much attention to myself lest anyone discover this was just a ploy, I crafted a schedule that I thought would work. Once or twice a week I excused myself to the bathroom down the hall. Just in case there were any teachers wandering the halls, I made sure to hustle across the shiny linoleum, not pausing to gaze through the glass display doors at past school heroes and trophies. Once inside the girls’ bathroom I locked myself in the third stall and retched over and over again. Too afraid to stick my finger down my throat, most often it was just the retching sounds with nothing coming up. When I had exhausted myself enough to produce sweat on my brow and draw the blood from my face I slowly shuffled back to Mrs. Griffith.

She always stopped talking as I entered the classroom and cocked her head to one side as I made my way to the front of the room. I took in her long peasant skirt and flowing sleeves, longing for that warm protective arm to surround me and pull my head to her shoulder. I would get sent home and my mother would have to come stay with me. A good daughter, I felt guilty at the thought of disrupting her work day, making her lose a day’s pay to sit with me on the couch and push my hair back from my face, my Dorothy Hamill hair always springing right back to where it framed my cheeks.

Instead, I ended up across the street from the school. Coat hanging across my shoulders and drooping down the front of me, backpack bunching up the fabric behind me as I climbed the concrete steps – five of them that led to the white house where my sister and I would curl up on the couch and watch TV while Jan sat in the kitchen and talked on the phone all day long. We watched TV together and waited. Waited for her son to get home and bring us in to his dark cave of a bedroom where he molested us and nobody knew.

I hate throwing up. The mere thought of it brings tears to my eyes more violently than anything else I can imagine. I would rather choke back the bile and swallow it – push it deeper and deny it any power or release. These days I know I’m in trouble when it starts to come out the other end.
My grandfather. The man who was one of my heroes. The glue that held his family together. The one who accomplished what I could not. Since I was eight years old my mission has been to put my family back together and draw a tight band of steel around it so that it can never be split again. Only then can I truly believe that I have the right to be a mother. Only then can I truly believe that I am worthy of being part of a family.

My grandfather is gone. How can I learn his lessons now?

My father is dying. Before I can find my brother again, I am threatened with losing yet another member of my family. The little eight-year-old inside me is cowering in the corner, desperate to wake me up. “Please!” she screams. “Please fix this! I need help! I can’t bring them back by myself. Everything I do turns out wrong. I can’t scream loud enough to make anyone pay attention. I need a witness." I can’t cry quietly anymore. I need to feel the sobs coming from deep in my gut. My throat must be raw from the sounds that erupt through it. My body must shake with the effort, the tears should fly from my cheeks as I struggle for air. Please listen to me.

As I sit here and lift my eyes to the sky, feeling the streams of hot, salty tears making tracks down my throat I realize that the electricity, the horrible tingling dizziness that permeated my body from my bowels to my skin, is gone. My fingertips feel like fingertips again. Tight skin, smooth to the touch. They are no longer shimmery and holographic. For now, I can experience the world as it is again. The phenomenon that kept me from feeling anything but distorted energy has dissipated. For now.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Having shared this story with my mother (whose father it was that recently passed away), I now feel free to share it with the world. Had she not laughed, I would have felt less secure in telling it, but I am pleased to say she found the humor in it.

Before driving to the airport to board the plane home, Bubba, the girls, and I joined several of my family members at my grandfather's condominium to sort through his things. The effort was a combined "take what might speak to you" and "support each other while we remember the details of his life" exercise. Photos were removed from the walls, clothes hanging in the closet were embraced and smelled in an effort to catch one last whiff. As was our habit, tears mingled with laughter and head-shaking disbelief when we discovered the cache of cassette collections he purchased while he watched late night TV.

All of this came to a screeching halt when a photo album nobody had seen before was discovered in his desk drawer. We all gathered around to see what treasures it held. We got more than we bargained for....

Several years before, my grandfather decided he needed to have a show car. Something he could drive through town to attract attention. Something he could drive to car shows throughout Southern California and stand beside proudly. The car he bought was a Clenet. Not a kit car, not a typical hot rod, not an ancient Model T. This car was, like him, very unique. Only a few thousand of them had been made and they were gorgeous. He was so proud of that car and he took full advantage of it. He loved to park it outside his condo on the street. He drove it to every car show within reasonable reach. He met Jay Leno, drove the mayor of his town in the local parade, and, apparently, let nude models sit in it and on it.

Yup. It appears that at some point a prestigious magazine contacted my grandfather and asked him whether they might use his Clenet as a 'prop' for their gorgeous young nude models. Seems as though he was more than willing. The newly discovered photo album contained between 10-15 photos of twenty-something women, mostly blonde, mostly well-endowed, sitting behind the wheel of his car, posed (sometimes artfully, sometimes not so much) on the hood of the car and, in the final shot, standing next to my grandfather who was fully dressed in a tuxedo, chauffer's cap on his head, arm around a buck-naked female model's shoulders, cheesy grin on his face, next to the car.

A life well-lived, indeed.
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