Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Whatever your faith, whatever your circumstance, this night is meant for us to stop, breathe, and remember what is most important.  I hope each of you is with someone you love, in spirit if not in presence.  If you are stopping in to read this, chances are you have touched my life in the last year, and so I am thankful for you.  My love is with you this night.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What makes us American.

Today, President Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell into law.

I wish it would suddenly fix the economy.  It won't.

I wish it would end these intractable wars we're in (see one of the main reasons for our economic woes, above).  It won't do that, either.

But it will begin to demonstrate that we are who we say we are:  a nation that values tolerance, justice and human rights.  That's a good start.

Bravo, Mr. President, and the members of Congress who had enough personal integrity to vote for this bill.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Run-up

You have to wonder about a day that starts off by setting fire to your underpants.

I always take my underthings into the bathroom with me when I shower.  It's a habit I developed when the Bug was little; she had no sense of boundaries and it was not uncommon for me to come out of my bathroom and into my bedroom, to find her sitting there wanting to discuss the latest developments in the world of Pokemon.  Or perhaps to debate why she was starting to believe her dad's theory that I was, in fact, a reptile.

Yesterday morning, I accidentally grabbed two pairs of underpants; leaving one on the counter while I donned the second.  My bathroom is small, and gets pretty foggy, and because Mr. gets up several hours after I do, I keep the door closed while I'm in there getting ready in the morning.  As a result, I normally need to use my hair dryer to de-fog the mirror.  Rather than shutting it off, while I combed and gelled my hair, I left it running -- the hair dryer is getting old and it won't re-start if I shut it off -- in the (dry) sink.

I began to smell smoke and looking down, took note that my gonch had slipped off the counter into the sink and, under the influence of the hair dryer, had commenced to smoldering.  I grabbed the flaming underpants, only to realise that they were, in fact, hot.  I know this may have occurred to the rest of you earlier, but it was 5:40 in the morning and not all of my neurons fire at that hour.  I burned the bejeebers out of my index finger, which had the misfortune to make a connection with the then-molten waistband of my now-former underthings.

 I spent much of the rest of the day attempting to create a haiku to commemorate the event. 

Yeah, so that doesn't have anything to do with Christmas.  I should get out of the habit of writing titles first.


I've been addressing my inner control freak in therapy lately.  I recognize that my compulsive need to control those things that I can control is the direct result of not having been able to control the one thing that meant the most to me.  But it goes deeper than that, and we can explore this later.  For now I'll say that for the first time, I'm getting the message that "getting my control freak on" is probably not a bad thing.  So there.

The problem, of course, is that I'm trying to do too much for Christmas and I'm planning, planning, planning the days running up to it and external things (weather, my husband's absence, sewing machine needles, cold-process soap curing characteristics and flaming underpants) aren't cooperating.  There are times I wish I was the kind of person who could swing through Big Lots on December 23rd and buy six each of four things and hand them out with a kiss and be done with it.

Last night, I read the Gospel of Luke, which describes the nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem.  I came to realise that Mary's day wasn't exactly going as planned.  I'm pretty sure she didn't turn to Joseph and say, "You know, honey, let's just chill out about this whole birth plan; I'll just find a nice pile of straw, we'll pop out this kid and order a pizza.  It'll be just fine." 

She had lost control of everything she thought she knew; pregnant without her consent, wandering in a strange town, nowhere comfortable to have her baby, no idea what the future would hold for them, and probably pretty freaked out about this whole visitation by the Archangel Gabriel.  But in the end she did end up giving birth on a pile of straw, and while there was no pizza, things did turn out just fine.

Better than just fine, in fact.

Take the Bible for what you will:  the enlightened word of God or a wonderful mythology.  No judgments from me, either way.  But whatever else you think, there's a lot of wisdom there.

Hope your Christmas Run-Up is just fine.

Confidential to R.D.:  Thank you for putting your trust in me.  I can't make this not hurt for you, but I can at least warn you what's around the next corner.  I'm honored that you're letting me do that.  Peace.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Archangel

Sunday, April 11, 2004.

I stumbled into the office in an allergic haze and pulled my computer out of my laptop case, stabbing the power button with my finger before I headed downstairs to make coffee.  I had been up most of the night, working on a grant, and had forgotten to take my allergy pills before I fell into bed.

When I came upstairs 10 minutes later, coffee in hand, I was surprised to see that my laptop hadn't finished booting; it just hummed to a blank screen.  I hit the power button again, and noticed for the first time that my keyboard was wet.  It was then that my husband entered the room.  "Man, it smells like cat piss in here!"

My cat, Hoover, had somehow managed to balance himself on the edges of my open laptop case, and then urinate into the vents in the back of my computer, effectively flooding the machine.

This did not come as a surprise to me.  It did, however, horrify the manager of the computer core at work, causing him to don a pair of rubber gloves before taking the machine from my hands Monday morning, as I begged him to save my grant files.

Over the last fourteen years, Hoover has urinated on nearly everything I own, including my favorite $200 silk Stuart Weitzman pumps.  The things he hasn't urinated on, he has puked on.  At least twice a day.  He eats my house plants.  As a kitten, he used to fish my stockings out of laundry baskets and shred them. 

Why on Earth would I keep a cat like this?

Hoover is a Russian Blue, a breed known for their lush fur and quirky personalities.  The Russian name for the breed is the Archangel, and like the Angel Gabriel, Hoover begins each day with a glorious announcement of the previous night's events.  He is possessed of a gentleness of nature that I have never seen in a cat, before or since.  Hoover has the soul of a poet.  He will lay on my lap for hours, belly-up, and will allow me to roll his paw pads between my fingers like worry beads.  He waits, patiently, for me to acknowledge his presence when I get home from work, and then head-butts me and purrs.  He licks the tears off my face when I cry.  He hugs me when I pick him up, wrapping his body around my neck and shoulder.  Until a few years ago, he could jump three times his height to catch a feather on a string or a cat-nip mouse.  He loves to sit next to me while I sort laundry, hoping that I will drop articles of clothing on him and give him the fun of wriggling back out of the bottom of the pile.  He fetches.  He somersaults.  He is an awesome cat.

For a few years, poor Hoover was the unwilling recipient of the amorous attentions of my dog, Angus.   He accepted this with as much humor and good grace as a cat can muster, just before trying to rip the dog's face off. He puts the two younger cats in their places as only the "old man" can do.  He has fostered a life-long friendship and romance with Mudge, my 18-year-old calico who, at 5 pounds 9 ounces, is the undisputed alpha cat in the house. Seeing them sleep together is a comfort, no matter how I feel.

This morning, we said good-bye to Hoover.  His kidneys have been failing for some time, due in part to  a  terrible bout of urinary tract disease as a young adult, and we have probably held onto him a little longer than we should.  He was ready.  He purred a little, but didn't fight me.  He left this world in peace, wrapped in my arms and assisted by our gentle, kind and most caring veterinarian. 

Thank you for being my friend, Hoover.  I hope that cat heaven is wonderful.  I will miss you.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Some random thoughts for this week

No, I've not given up blogging; I'm just on an extended business trip that is mostly destroying my will to live.  I used to love business travel.  Now I hate it. 

As a result, we don't have anything particularly cogent for tonight.  Just a few random thoughts:

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting next to remarkable young man on my flight to Atlanta on Sunday.  Sometimes, we see in the next generation a reason to feel hopeful.  So to Andrew, in seat 7A:  I salute you!  Remember, if you do your job well, I won't have to work so hard at mine.  So I'm counting on you.

Every time I go to Orlando in the winter, they have a record-breaking cold snap that arrives the day I do and ends the day I leave.  I'm the Snow Miser.  Who knew?

My conference the first part of this week was on the Disney resort property, so I couldn't help but try to avail myself of a little of the magic while I was there.  I made my first trip to Disney when I was 30, and for me, it was as magical then as I think it would have been if I had been 8 years old.  When I was pregnant with Kiersten, I remember being at Epcot Center for the Millennial Parade.  There was a little girl seated on the other side of the parade route, who looked exactly as I imagined at the time Kiersten would look at the age of six.   I remember that looking at her filled me with a combination of excitement, expectation and intense sadness.  I cried through most of the parade. 

I was wrong about how Kiersten would look.  But last night I saw a dozen different children running through Downtown Disney, each caught out of the corner of my eye, who looked so much like Kiersten that I was finally driven to flee the property in tears.  By the time I reached the car, I was choking on my sobs.  I have few regrets.  Not having a chance to take my baby to the Magic Kingdom was one of them.   We often think we have a lifetime to experience things.  And we do.  But sometimes that lifetime isn't as long as we think it will be. 

I am looking forward to going home this weekend and getting the Christmas decorations put up.  I hope that Mr. Bean and Daisy help.  I hate decorating by myself.

I really like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.  I sang Ooo La La in the Karaoke bar last night.  (lol)

This afternoon, on my way from Dulles Airport to the hotel where I'm staying, we passed Arlington Cemetery.  There was a funeral going on for one of our service members.  They were on a small hilltop, and they set off the 21-gun salute, just as we were driving by.  It was beautiful and desperate and dignified all at once.  And somewhere in there, a mother was saying good-bye to her child.  My heart was with her, for a moment.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Chapter 7, in which I fail to "make the noise"

There's nothing like taking your car to the shop, after it's been making a "noise" for awhile, and having it run perfectly smoothly for the technician.  It makes you wonder if the car ever made the noise, or if somehow you're doing something dysfunctional to make it make the noise.  In any event, leaving the repair shop after one of these episodes invariably fills one with a combination of disappointment, confusion and a touch of dread.

Yeah; so this isn't really about my car.  But I think you know that.

In the interest of not buying into my own hype, I've starting seeing a new therapist.  I've been so focused on being supportive for everyone else in my life that I haven't taken the time to check in and make sure I'm working my own program well.  And the fact is that I'm pretty stressed; I can't concentrate well at work, I feel completely overwhelmed in balancing work and home, and my husband and daughter are both telling me, "dude, you need to talk with someone."

So today, I had my first session.   I  had the luxury of 90 minutes to talk about meeeeeee.  We covered a  lot of territory.  He asked the normal questions about "Tell me about your support network.  What are you doing for you?  Do you have any guilt about your daughter's death?"  We probed denial, diversion, and re-direction.  We talked about the afterlife.

And we got to the end of the session.

"So what do you think?"

"I'm wondering why you're here."

"What do you mean?"

"You're already doing just about everything I would tell you to do.  I'm wondering what you're looking for here."

"A magic elixir might be nice.  Just sayin'."

"It's always going to hurt.  That's never going away."

"Well, crap."

We agreed to spend some time working on making sure I wasn't spoofing myself over the next few sessions, finding tools to let me better support Mr. Bean and Daisy Mae, and finally to working on strategies for making this year less painful than last.  But in the end, it was rather like going to your doctor with a hacking cough and having him tell you that you have a virus, you're already taking a decent cough suppressant and getting enough rest, so it's really a matter of gutting it out.

But I like him, and not just because he was validating today.  He's a good listener.  He's obviously got his ducks in a row.  So I'll keep going back.  But at the end of the day, nobody expects to go see a psych and be told, "you're pretty healthy; go home." You wonder if there's another shoe to drop.

With my luck, I'll develop a shimmy in my front passenger wheel on the way home.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lesson

"Ok, for real; we're just not celebrating Thanksgiving anymore.  So done with this.  Let's just leave the country from now on."

Kate and I were standing in the parlor at the funeral home, where we were at calling hours for yet another extended family member who died Thanksgiving day.  "Seriously:  my birth mom, then the Bug, now Mary.  Who's going to be left?  Thanksgiving is now, officially, my least favorite holiday."

Others in the room echoed the sentiment, among comments about our needing to circumvent the formalities and start renting out funeral homes for a shared Thanksgiving meal every year.  I heard more than one, "So we're supposed to feel thankful?"

It's a tough dichotomy, feeling so much pain and heartache during a holiday when we are supposed it be counting our blessings.  It was all I could do to hold my head up through dinner with our parents on Thursday.  Not for the first time in the last year, I heard family members question what lesson we're supposed to learn from all this loss.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what that lesson should be.

The lesson, I think, is about being able to look around, past our heartaches, and find reasons why we should still be thankful.   Things like the warm houses where we can gather to mourn as a community, share food we've prepared, and comfort each other.  We are not alone.  We are not cold, or hungry, or frightened, like so many in this world are. 

That I have a teenager who needs attention and guidance and patience and discipline.  She keeps me grounded and focused outside of myself.  She keeps Mr. and me from retreating into our own individual grief and becoming yet another failed marriage between two bitterly-damaged people, like so many others do after losing a child.

That Mr. and I have three sets of parents, and a much-beloved grandmother, all of whom need our attention and love, and who are equally glad to return both.  There are so many others who don't have parents they can care for and who care for them.

That we live in a nation where we can call our representatives "whackaloons" and not go to prison for it.  And that we have ready access to the tools to trumpet freely our whackaloonery.  We are not kept silent.  We are not isolated.

Mostly, though, that we have friends, neighbors, and family members to share our joys, hear our complaints, and to allow us to mourn our lost loved ones.  That we do not need to bury our own souls alongside the ones we've bid farewell, because we cannot bear to face them alone.  We don't have to face them alone.  We have each other.

I think that's the lesson:  To learn to see clearly, even through our tears, all the reasons we still have to be thankful.  If we can give thanks now, we will give thanks doubly so when our blessings are more abundant.

"Despite what you think, you are blessed.  Don't take it for granted.  Because it all can be taken away.  So give thanks." 

It's a few days late, but Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

1 Year

Dear Bug,

It's been a year since I last saw your sweet smile, held your hand, smelled your hair.  It's been a year since I last sang "You Are My Sunshine" as you drifted off to sleep.

I cannot believe we have survived this long without you in our lives.

This morning, we went back to the ice rink.  Your grandma and I brought flowers.  I put a picture of you on the glass and we taped the flowers to the boards near where you died.  There was hockey practice going on -- do you remember all those cold Saturday mornings at the rink? -- and while I was leaned against the glass, saying a prayer, all the midget players shot pucks at me. 

Sometimes, a little comic relief is a good thing.

Wednesday, I finally screwed up enough courage to go see Serena. It's been a long time.  I really felt like I let her down, but the last time I saw her, it hurt me so much I didn't think I could be around her without my heart shattering into a million little pieces.  She looks good; she says she got straight A's this quarter in middle school.  She's grown, too -- she's almost as tall as you were.  But she's doing OK; she really is.  Her dad's working again.  We had a really good talk.  I brought her a birthday present.

When you died, I took your DS and hid it in my night stand.  Your dad wanted me to give it to Daisy Mae, but I said no; it was your most prized possession and I was going to keep it.  I know I wasn't making very much sense, but somehow, I knew I needed to save it for something.

When I left to go to Serena's house, I went back and grabbed the DS out of my nightstand and put it in my purse, next to the game I had bought for her birthday present.  When she and I were finished talking; I stopped and looked her in the eye, "You don't have a DS anymore, do you?"

She hesitated, "Mine broke."  I took your DS out of my purse, and handed it to her. 

"There is only one person in this world who Kiersten would have given this to, and that's you.  You know, it was her favorite possession."

Serena hugged me so hard, I thought I would cry. 

"It's my favorite possession, now.  Thank you."

Last night, the light in your window burned out.  Exactly one year from the day you died.  I think it's a sign that you want us -- me, especially -- to start to move on.  I won't be easy; hanging onto you has given me comfort.  But it might be time to start living for myself again, instead of living each day reaching back towards you.  Not all at once, but a step at a time.

Thank you again, my beautiful girl, for a thousand lovely, funny, happy memories.  Each day that you were in my life was a joy. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Bug

September 18, 2000 - November 27, 2009

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And the worst part is, you can't even buy any fleas!

Well, now that we've all finished out little chorus of "Getting to Know You", lets move on to some lighter fare, shall we?

I have a confession to make.  I despise flea markets.

The very act of rummaging through stuff that other people are interested in throwing out, for the purposes of buying it and taking it home, is deeply puzzling to me.  It's not that I have an issue with used stuff; I find eBay and Craig's list very useful.  But in those places, I say "I need one of these things here" and the web site says "Lucky you!  Herbert436 in Duluth Minnesota has one of those things and wants to sell it to you."  Simple.  Expedient.  And I never have to know if Herbert436 has teeth or not.

Not so with flea markets.  These are the People of WalMart, only the People are also working behind the counters. As it happens, I live with a man who LOVES flea markets, and who comes from a long line of flea-market-loving people.  So occasionally, I grit my teeth and follow him in.  I normally spend my time on these excursions shaking my head and muttering to myself.  Which makes me fit right in, I guess.

When in groups, however, I have an opportunity to engage in a game called, "WTF is that???", in which the object of the game is to find the cheapest, cheesiest, tackiest, or most bizarre item in the building.  Ah, now it's not simply wandering in an addle-pated way down the aisles.  NOW, this is a competition, and there is a goal.  NOW, I can embrace the flea market.

And so this is now I began my Sunday.

Despite this being a very small market, we were blessed with several excellent contenders for the WTF award.  Can you guess what won?

Really, can you have too many pairs of yellow platform shoes?

Book entry #1:  I think Luck and Pluck are pedophiles

The Bobbsey Twins meet Ahmed the Slave Trader

I don't even know what to say about this one...except, if you have you use the word "zany" in the description, it probably isn't...
I left this one larger because it won the "No, really; we meant it to look like that" award.  For the Venetian glass clown

What flea market is complete without a Velvet Elvis painting?

She wishes everyone would stop looking at her boobs

This was my pick for winner.  It's a touch lamp.  With a painting of native American children about to be attacked by a demented angel.  How would you like to roll over in the morning and see THAT next to your bed???
 The picture I wanted to get, but couldn't without being rude, was the mobile made of empty Coors Light beer cans, labeled "Redneck Wind Chimes"  Unfortunately, it was not eligible to win, as it was not actually for sale.

I think that, with this game in mind, I may actually survive three or four markets a year.  So stay tuned.

Monday, November 22, 2010

No; it's not like Crack.

My doctor wants to take away my estrogen.

OK, so I normally don't get into health issues -- let alone my plumbing issues -- here.  Fear not; we're not going into the TMI zone.  At least, not about my plumbing.

But holy heck!  My estrogen???  C'mon, man!  Clearly, she hates me.

But here's the thing:  I'm having some issues relating to the plumbing that may be foreshadowing Big Changes to Come.  But it's tough to tell, because I've been on the Pill for nearly my entire adult life.  But in the last year, my blood pressure has crept up a bit, likely due to multiple factors we need not review here.  Add to that the other, more delicate issues and it says only one thing:  Get off the estrogen, Sister!

This sucks for me on multiple levels.  Mostly, it scares me beyond reason.  Not because I'm an addict or anything; I mean, estrogen is not like crack. But it's been my friend for a long time and in a lot of important ways.

Which gets to the "TMI" portion of the program.

This is about postpartum depression, which is one of the most under-reported, misunderstood and stigmatized forms of mental illness.

According to a number of studies that I will not cite properly here, about 15% of all pregnancies result in  portpartum depression, ranging from garden-variety "baby blues" to full-blown postpartum psychosis.  That's about 950,000 women a year in the US.  Which is a lot.  Like, 2% of all women in the country have this disorder at any given time.  That's more than sprain their ankles each year.  That's more than are diagnosed with breast cancer in a given year.

Are you surprised?  I'm not.  I was one of those women.

After the Bug was born, I struggled tremendously with feeling like I wanted to be a mother.  On any given day, my thoughts would range from "Woe is me" to, "Hey, I'm gonna jump off the roof, mkay?" to "Hey, how about I take the baby and the two of us go drive off a bridge somewhere" to"I have a parasite and it's sucking out my life through my breasts."  I cried constantly.  I didn't sleep.  Ever.  When I had the knife in my hand, with the thought of removing the offending breasts from my body, my husband took the step of keeping someone in the house with me 24/7 while he went to work.  Hoo, yeah.  It was bumpy ride.

Enter my therapist and ethinyl estradiol. About a month after the Bug was born, she put me back on birth control pills. 

36 hours later, it was like someone flicked a switch.   I suddenly realized I had this incredibly cool little baby, and she was beautiful, and her little fingers and toes were adorable, and breast-feeding was totally awesome, and lookit how cute she is with her little face all squooshed up like that and...well you get the picture.  I went from complete basket-case to absolutely loving being a mother.  Literally overnight.  So simple.  But what if I hadn't had the presence of mind to ask for it?

This leads me to wonder about young women who don't have proper support from their families and friends.  Who give birth alone, frightened, and with those demons circulating around.  How do they get the help they need?  Who keeps them from acting on those horrible thoughts?  I am amazed and grateful to know that we have safe haven laws in this state and others, but I wonder how many of those abandoned children would have been able to stay with their mothers, if only their mothers had extra support and perhaps some hormone replacement.

I don't know why PPD is so much more prevalent in this country than others -- researchers cite, BPA, other environmental factors, the breakdown of the extended family, and a host of other potentially-contributing factors.  I do know that as a society, we need to stop sweeping this condition under the rug and start giving these women the support they need.

I've been off the pill a few times in the intervening years, when we were trying to get pregnant.  The world didn't come to an end.  But the thought that it's time to bid them adieu, perhaps for a long haul, is fairly frightening.  I sure hope I don't have to unpack that case of crazy again.  Time will tell. In the meantime, I hope she gives me back my estrogen soon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Last Hurrah

I think this last weekend was the last of the beautiful fall weather for this year.  Saturday was truly an Indian Summer day, with temps in the mid 60's and a lovely warm breeze.  I managed to sneak in a short hike between dropping Daisy off at the theater to get ready for closing night production and rushing home to make taco dip for the cast party. 

Sunday was the last of the yard work, a pot of soup and a bonfire with good friends and draft beer.  

These days are what we live for here on the North Coast.  They are filled with college football, garden work, bonfires, clam bakes and the smell of fallen leaves.  They give us one last, crisp taste of apple cider before we have to settle for a long winter of hot tea and snowbound nights.

Farewell, autumn, with your amber eyes and your sun-kissed skin.  Hello, Winter, wrapped in blue and white.  I hope your touch is gentle this year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I am a Lighthouse

I started this morning with The Lighthouse's Tale by Nickel Creek.  Absolutely beautiful song, although the story it tells is achingly sad.  The chorus speaks to me on a lot of levels:

And the waves crash around me,
the sand slips out to sea,
and the wind that blows reminds me of what has been
and what can never be.

Last night was the opening of Up the Down Staircase at Daisy's school.  It's her first drama production and she was on the stage crew for this one.  The director's choice for staging was an interesting one; in place of the vignettes that characterize the movie version, she created a Laugh-In style set that featured doors that opened with the actors' heads appearing inside to deliver lines.  Effective, and an interesting way to "shake up" a production many of us know by heart.  The young man playing Joe Ferone was excellent, although he affected such a strong Marlon-Brando-like accent that I kept waiting for him to start sticking dental cotton in his mouth, à la the Saturday Night Live "Godfather" skit.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening and I was very glad to get back into the groove of school activities.

Drama is good for kids, I think.  It teaches them to, in the words of Miss Sylvia Barrett, "reach beyond their grasp" and explore not only what they are but what they are not.  Like sports, it teaches teamwork and cooperation in a way that helps prepare kids for the real world.  And they are generally really good kids, with parents who are involved.  Mr and I were both drama geeks.  I think Daisy will do well here.  I am proud of her work in the crew, and look forward to lots more productions over the next several years.

I was surprised by my reaction to the curtain call, however.  As the pairs came on stage for their bows, forming the traditional ensemble line, I found myself starting to cry.  As the leads took their place and the entire cast raised their clasped hands to take their final bow, I looked over at Mr. B.  His eyes were also filled with tears and I knew we were thinking the same thing:  The Bug would have been in drama.  She would have been an actor, perhaps a lead, having absorbed years of informal coaching from us both.  And we were struck again with what has been and what can never be.  I wonder, sometimes, how many more of these moments we will encounter; whether every milestone and happy event in Daisy's life will be tinged with just a hint of hidden regret that we will do all of these things with one child instead of two.  And I hope that I can keep that regret hidden -- it would be a shame indeed to let Daisy see the sadness in our eyes at every turn.

I am a lighthouse
worn by the weather and the waves.
And though I am empty,
still I warn the sailors on their way.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chapter 6: In which I take it out on others...

Driving down Carnegie Boulevard yesterday, I saw a woman with her three children on the sidewalk.  She was bent over the youngest child, who looked to be perhaps 2 or 3 years old.  She was screaming at him; my windows were closed so I couldn't hear her.  Then, she took her tote bag and swung it back and into him, which pushed him into the brick wall he was standing against.  She swung again, then cuffed the child in the head.  The other two children were standing by, clearly scared.

Although I was in the center lane and the traffic was heavy, I stopped the car and rolled down the passenger window, furious, screaming,


She retorted without looking up,



The traffic around me started to honk and I started up, but as I rolled away I heard her yell, "WHO THE F**K DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, B***H??"

Who indeed?

I was blinded with tears of rage.  Why does she get to keep her child, when mine was taken away?  I was a good parent!  I loved that little girl with all my heart and I made sure she knew it every single day!  Was she a bit spoiled?  Maybe.  But she knew she was cherished, which was more important.  It's so unfair!  Why do all the "bad" parents get all the kids they want, and then some?  Of course she doesn't deserve that child!  If I can't have my child, why should she get a child she clearly can't parent??  Why did God take MY baby?? IT'S SO UNFAIR!!!  I cried and raged all the way home.

But really, who the hell did I think I was?

Who knows why she was yelling at the child?  Maybe he tried to run into the street.  No; it's never OK to hit a child that way, but who was I to tell her she didn't deserve her child?

The truth was that I missed the Bug, and I felt like a victim, and I lashed out.  I think I wanted someone, anyone, to hurt as much as I do.

I feel terrible.  Yeah, she fought back and acted tough, but I know full well those words will echo in her ears for a long time.  I only hope in time they stop making her angry and perhaps make her think to treat her children better.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Where is Bill Cosby when we need him?

Huh?  Who is that?
It's the Lord, Noah 

Noah, I want you to build an Ark

What's an Ark?

(from Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Guy...Right)

I respect the rights of all Americans to believe whatever cockamamie thing they want to believe.  Seriously.  I may decry Young Earth Creationists and their willful blindness to scientific evidence, but I won't insist they believe differently, so long as they don't push their views on me or anyone else.  I also respect the rights of complete atheists, who believe that all that happens here is completely controlled by us and that when we escape this mortal coil, we become nothing but food for worms.  They don't share my belief in the immortal soul, and that's cool, so long as they don't insist I dispel my own belief in some plane of existence that transcends this place.

It's all good.

It's all good, that is, until religion starts to influence public policy, especially on things like education and energy, which affect all of us now and well into the future. 

Enter John Shimkus

Mr. Shimkus is a Republican (seriously; was there any doubt?) from Illinois who insists that Global Climate Change is a myth and will not cause us any long-term harm, because God promised Noah he was done messing with us after the Great Flood.  As a result, he claims, we should continue to carry on as we please and not pay attention to whether our actions have any effect on the environment.

Seriously. I can't make this stuff up.

And no; that link will not be taking you to The Onion.  The dude is serious.

So like I said, he has the right to believe what he wants.  But here's where I am getting a little nervous:  Congressman Shimkus wants to lead the House Committee on Energy and Commerce!  To which I say, "Holy Carbon Footprint, Batman!"  I mean, even if he's right:  even if God is going to save the planet from burning up into a French's Fried Onion, doesn't it make sense to try to take care of the place between now and the Deus Ex Machina rescue scene?  And criminy; what if he's wrong?  What if the authors of Genesis, through the generations of oral tradition that preceded the actual commitment to papyrus of the Enlightened Word of God, might have left off a key clause, like,

"...Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though all inclinations of his heart are evil from childhood and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done, unless you really really screw up again, and then I'm kicking you all to the curb."

I'm reading that covenant over and over again, people, and I don't see anything that stipulates that God is obligated to save our sorry butts from our own stupidity.    I think He just promised He wouldn't flood us again.  Am I missing something here?

The bottom line is this:  Do we really want our lawmakers designing energy policy based on a 5000-year-old myth?  Whose myth do we believe?

Are you willing to take that chance?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Re-finding my bliss...or at least giving it a chance to re-surface

I have always been an outdoor bliss baby.

In the times when I have felt most stressed, most helpless, most in need of centering, I have always found solace in the outdoors.  A hike in the woods can calm my mind when nothing else can.  We are blessed with about 15 miles of semi-improved (read:  There are blazes on the trees, and someone has moved the biggest of the fallen branches out of the way) trails a five-minute drive from the house.  These traverse woodland, meadow, marsh and creekside terrains, with abundant wildlife to match each.  If I pick the right combination of trails, I can get a fabulous 90-minute work-out, and see deer, pheasants, rabbits, egrets, herons, ducks, and fox along the way, as well as more songbirds than I can recount or even identify.

In the last year, I have forgotten how much I love them.

The Bug loved hiking, too, although I suspect that no small amount of that was a daughter's desire for quality alone time with her mother. We spent hours together, exploring those trails.  I haven't been back since her death.  In my exhaustion and sheer inability to remember that there was happiness in the world before she  entered it, I have associated hiking with the absence of my precious daughter and in doing so, I have done my mental health a tremendous disservice.

My friend, Kate, told me Saturday night that she is beginning to worry about me.  It's no secret that my much beloved husband has struggled horribly with the Bug's death, and the stress of watching him suffer has compounded my own (perhaps-too-) carefully-managed grief.  "I feel like we're losing you, sister.  Time to make a change."

So tonight, about an hour before dusk, I snagged Daisy Mae and dragged her out on a hike with me.

She complained, as any teen might, of my pace through sometimes uneven terrain.  "Mom, I'm not exactly Ms. Outdoorswoman here!".  I asked her if she was really interested in being out-done by a fat old broad like me.  She set her teeth and kept going.  ;)  But as we entered the clearing between the thicket and the marsh, we got our payoff:  A doe with her two spring fawns, munching away at the last of the green reeds.  They were beautiful and appeared to ignore us entirely.  Mom kept one eye on us, however, tail flicking as the three of them were intent on getting dinner finished before the sun set completely.  As they walked off, I kept Daisy where she was for a moment, explaining in a barely audible voice about the crepuscular habits of deer, raccoons and other wildlife in this region.  I told her we were being watched.

As we listened to the reeds and brush around us, we could hear four more large deer moving around, including the 12-point buck who rules that part of the woods.  Although I couldn't see him, he could see us, and he finally let us know of his displeasure at our presence in his territory with a snort, and a stamp.  My tough-girl daughter grabbed my arm, in excitement and just a touch of fear.  I took her hand and we backed carefully out of the clearing.

"Mom, that was really cool, but freaky.  I was afraid that deer was going to kill us."

"That was really cool, and I promise I won't let you get killed by a deer.  Kind of a stupid way to die, dontcha think?"

We spent the rest of the hike sharing stories and thoughts as the darkness deepened.  She didn't let go of my hand until we emerged in the clearing that serves as a parking lot: tired and chilly but clear-minded and smiling.

So maybe it's time to return to the woods.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Just a thought for today

A friend the other day reminded me of a favorite Anton Chekhov quote:

Any idiot can face a crisis, it is this day to day living that wears you out

Yep.  I hear that.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What we get paid for...

I had lunch the other day with a long-time friend and work colleague, who just took a new job with a multi-national.

"They seem to love me", he said, "but I don't feel like I'm working nearly hard enough."

I thought about it for a minute, "So maybe you're finally reaching that part of your career where you get paid for what you know, rather than for how fast you can run."

This very statement stopped me dead in my tracks.  When we are young, we assume we get paid to work insanely hard, to be faster, brighter, stronger and more persevering than our colleagues.

As we get older, though, that changes.  As some point, we get paid for other things.

My friend, Joyce, said she believes that pay is directly proportional to stress:  Low-stress jobs don't pay well, in her opinion; high-stress jobs do.  I asked her if she'd ever been a daycare provider.  ;)

Another friend thinks that pay is linked to influence.  It's who you know.

Increasingly, however, I'm coming to realize that you really can be paid for experience and knowledge, work less hard, with less stress (or perhaps manage it better) and get paid more money.  I had another colleague today ask me, "Where did you learn how to do all this stuff???"  My answer?  "I got kicked in the head every day for years.  I decided I wanted to learn how to avoid that." 

I think we grow up with this idea that working harder is better; that the proverbial cake is a lie.  But it seems to not be bearing out.  I'm encouraged by this.

Our parents have known this for years, I suspect, and we simply haven't heard their lessons.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Big-Girl Pants

I am not yet ready to pour out my sorrow over yesterday's elections here.  But I will at some point. 

Some days, the world makes you put on your big-girl pants and just deal with it.  And not always in the ways that you expect.

I seem to have a lot of those days lately.

Yesterday was election day, and as I alluded to in my preamble, I was deeply unhappy with the outcome.  This will, of course, result in many more days of wearing big-girl pants in the future.

However, that's not what made me put them on yesterday.  

My cat, Hoover, is getting rather long in the tooth.  As is common in cats he has developed high blood pressure and resultant kidney failure.  We hospitalized him 10 days ago, and he's been on IV fluids since then.  He was OK while he was hospitalized, but each time we took him off the IV, he stopped eating again and declined quickly.  The vet and I talked Monday and it became pretty clear to me that it was time to say goodbye.

I arrived at the office yesterday, having played out the events in my mind and having cried my eyes out for several hours.  Hoovie has been my buddy for 14 years.  I had screwed up my courage to say goodbye to my little buddy.  But then the vet surprised me by saying that Hoover rallied overnight, started eating robustly, and seemed to have decided to stick around.  I was flabbergasted.  I was not prepared for this.

Once I left the vet's office, kitteh in hands, I surprised myself by completely falling apart.  Having lost my adrenaline, I sobbed harder than if I had actually lost the cat.

Last night at 7:00 was the All Souls Day mass to honor everyone in our parish who passed away in the last year.  They planned to light a candle for Kiersten and I planned to be there to receive it and take it home.  I saw this as an important part of my grieving process.  Due to a lot of things going on here in the Land of Bean, I was to be the solitary representative from our family.  As I have discussed here before, grieving is a very active process for me.  In the interest of remaining functional for the rest of the world, I am careful about making time for rituals and other "safe" opportunities to grieve in an acute way.  I was prepared for it to be hard, but I was almost looking forward to the emotional release of the evening.

And then Daisy Mae came home from a shopping trip, clutching her side.  Shortly thereafter, she dropped to her knees, sobbing with pain.  It was 5:30.  

At 7:00, I was still at the hospital ER with Daisy, awaiting the results from the CT scan that would later reveal her debilitating pain was the result of too much teen-ager fried food and not enough fiber.  

She looked miserable, "Mom, I'm so sorry you're missing mass.  I know it was important to you."

I took a deep breath.  "It's OK, baby; I don't need a mass to remember Kiersten.  She's in my heart 24/7.  Your health is more important than any grieving ritual at this point."  I meant what I said, although inside, my heart was breaking in yet another small way.

Yesterday, I was reminded anew that life is for the living,  It's not for the faint of heart, however, so bring your big-girl pants.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

V O T E !!

I don't even care who your vote for.

(OK, that's a lie; I have really, really strong opinions about who should and shouldn't be handling our affairs, but that's not the point today).

Midterm elections bring out the most radical in our society, and that's not how it should be.  We shouldn't just get the haters out on election day in years not divisible by 4.

Every vote counts, every time.

Especially yours.

Do it.  It'll make you powerful.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The reason I couldn't attend the Rally to Restore Sanity... (warning: jargon below)

...even though I absolutely, desperately wanted to...

Every year, I have the honor and pleasure to speak at the Science and Technology Forum for the Scholarship of Entrepreneurial Engagement program, sponsored by Ashland University.    This program brings high school students from across the region here together to talk about how they can combine the best of technology and business NOW, before they learn about all the stuff we say they can't do.  These are bright, motivated students, although not all of them are your garden-variety honors kids.  I love them, because they are not satisfied with merely doing well; these kids really do want to shake up the world as we know it.

One of the movies they show each year is called "Shift Happens".  It describes how much the world has changed, not just since we were kids, but since these kids were kids.  We now generate more information in 18 months, for example, than the world did in the previous 5000 years.  Out knowledge and technology doubling time is now six months, which means that, for students entering college today, 75% of what they learned as a freshman will be out of date by the time they are juniors.  Crazy stuff.

Saturday morning, I got to teach these kids a bit of introduction to regenerative medicine.  They are smart:  there is no "Heebie-Jeebie-Embryonic-Stem-Cell-Panic" going on here.  These kids understand the power of growth factors and bioscaffolds and adipose stem cells (yes; your fat makes stem cells.  lots of them.  your fat does make more fat; it wasn't your imagination.  don't you feel better now?).  They can wonder aloud whether donor-specific immune tolerance induction (tricking the body into thinking a transplant actually belongs to you) will completely restore the cancer-fighting capacity of the immune system, versus long-term immune suppression drugs for transplant recipients.  They can draw a line between induced pluripotency (an alternative to using embryonic stem cells that involves turning your cells essentially into mock embryonic cells) and cloning and debate the ethics.  It's a blast, and talking with these students gives me hope for our future.

It may have done more to restore my sanity than any trip to see Messieurs Stewart and Colbert. 

But I still would have liked to see Father Guido.

P.S.  Tomorrow is Election Day.  If it was important to you to vote in 2008, it's just as important to vote this year.  Get your butt out there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And just because it's not always about a high-handed social statement...

There have been moments -- actually, strings of moments that lasted weeks sometimes -- over the last year during which I had doubts I would ever truly feel like a parent again. Parenting a teen is nothing like parenting a school-age child.  And parenting a teen who was raised by someone who doesn't always share your value system is like parenting a difference species.  Not judging, mind you; it's just that different folks can approach the same things very differently.

This week was not like that.  This week, I felt like a parent again.

Back at the beginning of the school year, Daisy Mae and I made a deal:  if she could get through the entire first quarter without missing any assignments in school -- not a homework, not a quiz, nothing -- she could have a Halloween party.   A real one with decorations and friends and music that was too loud and a bonfire.

Well, Saturday night she had her party.  The house and the deck were decorated up, we built a bonfire of epic size in the front fire pit, I moved the stereo onto the screened porch (where, if I had my druthers, it would stay forever), and we cooked up enough food for a small army. 

About 15 kids showed up.  It was big enough to be fun for everyone and small enough to be controllable for a first party.  The kids were great.  They danced.  They sang Top40 dreck.   They played on the swings and hung out around the fire.  They threw candy at each other.  Nothing was broken; the mess was nothing extraordinary, and outside of some minor irritation due to the preponderant habit of teens to open a can of pop, drink 2 ounces and then abandon the can, I couldn't complain about anything for the evening.

It was fun.  And I was really proud of Daisy.  She made sure everyone felt welcome, and introduced everyone around.  She hugged everyone hello and goodbye.  She mingled. 

Twice, she came inside and thanked me for helping her throw the party.  And she meant it.

It's good to see your kids succeed. It's even better to encourage and see them earn a genuine reward.  I'm looking forward to doing this again sometime.

Floating Dichotomy

My Facebook status yesterday said this:

People in Haiti and around the world are dying because they do not have fresh, clean drinking water. How thankful we should be for a hot shower.

The most effective treatment for the Cholera epidemic that is sweeping through Haiti right now -- more effective than antibiotics -- is clean water.  That's it.  Both prevention and cure. And yet it is too expensive and too difficult to deliver to most who need it.

I was at an AIDS conference a few years back and the keynote speaker stood up at the podium and poured a 16-ounce glass of ice water and set it down.  Then he said "If this was the cure for AIDS, most of those who need it couldn't afford it."

And here we are, nestled in the Great Lakes Basin, dumping enough of that precious cure on our bodies every day (10 gallons in a five-minute shower) to keep five active Cholera patients alive -- ten, if they are children.  In total, the average American uses 50 gallons of fresh water daily for bathing, dish-washing, clothes washing, toileting, etc...but only drinks about 1 gallon.  And most of that, we have polluted with sugar, caffeine, or other chemicals that don't benefits our bodies.

Making clean water a priority in the world is not rocket science.  Most of it can be accomplished with low-volume pumps, simple filtration, and plastic soda bottles.  

I'm not saying that we should give up showers, or coffee for that matter.  But I am saying that we should know where our blessings lay and realise that not even the worst off among us is having to watch their children die of diseases that can be cured with the most basic of necessities.

Feeling a little thankful today?  Enjoying your morning shower?  Think about supporting one of the organizations that is bringing clean water to the poorest in this world.  I included some links above.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Got Mine

"Do you know why people are suffering so much more during this recession than many did during the Great Depression?" My husband was in the passenger seat, preparing to give me the answer to his rhetorical question, "It's because folks in the 30s used to have back yard gardens, maybe a few chickens, a goat. They grew and canned their own food, so they could weather an economic storm better than we can now."

I winked, "You're just lobbying for us to get some chickens aren't you? It's always about chickens with you."

He frowned, "I'm serious."

He was serious, and I think in honesty, he was largely right. We were more self-sufficient then. We still made most of what we needed here. Everyone had access to garden and a workshop and women still knew how to sew their own clothing. Making soap wasn't just a yuppie hobby, like it is now.

But I think it's only half the story

You see, what was also different then was that people looked after each other. If your neighbor was struggling, you gave him a share of what you had. My grandmother would keep a pot of soup on the stove nearly all the way through the Depression; when the beggars came to the back door, she would give them a bowl to warm and sustain them; they would sweep her stoop or do a small repair in return. The owner of the greenhouse in town would allow men to sleep in the greenhouse at night during the winter, and in return, they would make sure the fire in the stove stayed lit. They might do a little weeding or re-planting if he threw some bread into the deal. You made sure your neighbor's kids had a safe place to stay and got something to eat, while the neighbor was out looking for work. Nobody had very much, but they shared what they had.

That attitude of abundance, the concept that enough is enough, the idea that "I am my brother's keeper" has been lost in the country. What I hear in this country today, especially from the "Tea Party", is: "I Got Mine. Why should I share it with those bums??" Only I wish they stopped at the word "bums". More often it's "scum", "deadbeats", "towelheads", or words that start with the letter N or the letter F. As in "That n***** president is gonna take my hard-earned money and give it to a bunch of other deadbeat n******"

The Tea Party mouthpieces (and make no mistake; the real leadership of the Tea Party can be found in big business, not in the grass roots) are my contemporaries; they did not live through the Depression. They have not learned the lessons about community and compassion that our grandparents did; or if they did, they have forgotten them on their way to the Temple of the Almighty Dollar.

Where does the blame rest? In my opinion, it is in the most unexpected of places: Social Service Programs. Now don't get all self-righteous on me, or accuse me of having gone off my meds; hear me out.

When we stopped having a human connection to the poor in our communities, when we placed the government in the position of intermediary between the Haves and the Have-nots, we turned our nation's poor from people into amorphous objects. We stopped having that very real, human, physical connection to our charity. We lost the ability to place our hand under the elbow of the ones who have stumbled, and in helping them rise, to see ourselves in their faces. We have lost our sense of, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

In two generations, we have lost our compassion.

Do I think the poor would be better off without Welfare, AFDC, Medicaid, etc? Of course not. They are a lifeline. I would no sooner do away with social services than I would my own job.

So how can I praise and blame our Great Society at the same time? How do we keep the good in our lifelines and eliminate the unintended negative social consequences?


We didn't go far enough. (and I hear the collective sign of relief and your renewed faith in my bleeding-heart-liberal roots)

Let's look at countries like Denmark, Norway, or even France. There is, generally, an economic equality in those nations. Perfect? No. But the sense among the populace there is, "I may not have everything I want, but I have most everything I need; we can choose where to live and what to do, we can elect our officials, we can have a strike if things aren't going according to our liking, and nobody is starving and nobody dies for lack of access to health care."

Why don't we have that? Because in designing our social service programs, our leadership in the 30s 40s and 60s -- and more recently, in 2010 -- wimp-ed out. They bowed to political pressure from the moneyed minority. They didn't design policies that said "Them is us". They didn't say "'Universal' means everyone; no exceptions". They didn't design a system that allowed the rich and the poor to share equally in healthcare, transportation, and other common denominators. If you design a system that only benefits the portion of the population that cannot afford to pay for it, of course you'll get resentment. Our social service structure not only maintained the haves and the have-nots, but it deepened and reinforced the differences between them.

We cannot transform the attitude of an entire nation in the blink of an eye. It will take another two generations to re-learn lessons about compassion and community, and I fear that many of us will suffer a difficult journey getting there. But we must recognize that "I Got Mine" isn't sustainable for very long, and we have to push our leadership to finish the good work that we elected them to start in 2006 and 2008.

Which means, like it or not, we have to bring them back to office this year. Because if the party of "I Got Mine" comes back into power, we will have more in common with pre-revolution France than post-modern Norway.

Yeah, I Got Mine. You wanna share?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If you could change one thing about yourself...

As an American female, I was brought up in a culture of self-loathing. Like all American women, I can, with no prompting whatsoever, recite a litany of my physical flaws: I have thunder thighs. My nose is too big. I wish my arms were tighter. I was dismayed to learn that acne did not completely go away when you turn 40. My hair is too fine, and too wavy. My ass is unmanageable.

But if you ask me what one thing I would change about myself? It's this: My sinuses.

My mother is Mohawk and Irish; my father Bavarian German. This combination of genes has rendered my face almost completely flat in front. Picture an Asian with a European nose. It's not an unattractive combination -- I was lucky enough to have gained wide-set eyes out of it -- but anatomically, it means that there isn't enough room for everything to move around properly in there, and it makes me a walking, talking breeding ground for upper respiratory viruses and bacteria.

Yeah; pleasant.

Where others get colds, my pretty little head makes the rhinovirus right at home, supplies chips, a big-screen TV and a phone line where it can call all of its little friends and neighbors to watch the big game. Invariably, my sinuses want to get my lungs involved, and in no time, I sound like Bela Lugosi. Or a trained seal. It depends. I have had more than my fair share of bronchitis, pneumonia, and mononucleosis over the years.

This also makes me snore. Like, scare-the-cat-off-the-bed snore. Like any red-blooded American woman, I denied this with vigor for the first several years. Ladies, I explained to Mr. B, do not snore. You are simply a light sleeper. Then I tried to convince myself and Mr. B. that I just needed to lose weight. 28 pounds later, it still sounded like Mount Vesuvius was erupting in the master bedroom every night. I finally threw in the towel and got a mouth guard -- one of those torture devices that holds my lower jaw forward, making me look like a bulldog with a bird in its mouth. I no longer snore. But neither can I eat anything that requires the use of my molars for the first two hours after I wake up each day.

So why am I writing about this today? Because I have picked up the first cold of the season. Too much airline travel; too little sleep over the last few weeks. And it's making me want to cut my own head off.

So I'll keep the thunder thighs. We've reached an understanding.

But you can take my sinuses.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bug

Dear Bug,

Today is your 10th birthday.

I would have, in an earlier and more innocent phase of my life, said, "Today, you are 10 years old". But we both know you will never be 10 years old. You are now ageless and eternal. When I encounter you now, I encounter a spirit, mature and wise, who walks by my side. The years of me teaching you are over; the years of you teaching me have only just started. I know that I will often appreciate your companionship in the years to come. Today, however, I am just a grieving mother who misses the innocence and beauty of her child.

10 years ago today, you entered this world, though you had entered my life in a very personal way several months earlier. I had talked to you, caressed you, sang you songs, and dreamed about the remarkable person I knew you would be. You started out very much as you ended; surrounded by a team of doctors, desperately trying to get your little heart to beat and your little lungs to bellow after a terrible labor and a c-section. We were worried for a few minutes, until you decided that you were going to stick around. The moment you committed to being here, you started moving, little legs and arms kicking and flailing so much that they were afraid you would crawl off the table. You never stopped moving after that.

You were in such a hurry to live – crawling at five months, walking at eight months. You talked in full sentences before you were two. You were expelled from three schools before your fifth birthday, because you just couldn’t handle a system that wouldn’t keep up with you. Heck, it was all your dad and I could do to keep up with you!! Always bigger, always faster, always stronger, always wanting to sprint ahead of your classmates. You were even in a hurry to become a woman, which in the end was what caused you to leave us so young.

And yet, you never tired of being my baby, and for that, I will always be grateful. I’m glad you never went to bed without your dad or me by your side, talking and holding your hand. It guaranteed that we never missed a chance to say “Goodnight, Little Love.” I’m grateful for all times that, despite the fact that the other kids made fun of you for it, you held my hand when we went out and you always kissed your dad and me goodbye. I’m grateful that you still wanted me to sing you songs in the bathtub every night, and I’m sad that I didn’t always accommodate you. I’m grateful that, when we all sat on the couch, you always touched either your dad or me – even if it was just with your foot. We were always connected.

I don’t know how I’m going to honor your birthday today. My heart is still too broken to do or say anything out loud. I’m still too sad that I’m not frosting cupcakes and filling goodie bags for your friends today. Your dad and I will stay as busy as we can, taking care of jobs around the house, so we don’t have time to miss you so acutely. Maybe in years to come, you can let me know how you want to celebrate the day you came to live with us.

Happy Birthday, Bug. I hope they have a party for you in Heaven.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

For the Birds

OK, So I know that I promised -- or at least eluded -- that I would write about the Combine Derby week before last. I'm struggling with how to explain an event that goes like this:

Especially when I managed to get seats that placed me in a spot where all the best action happened behind the support pole.

The combine derby consists of heats of 5-6 mostly beat-up large farm implements, many of whom have been painted to resemble cows, chickens, dogs, and in one case this year, an incredibly large flying pig. And yes, I said "whom". Alison, that was not just to make that nerve behind your left shoulder start to twitch, although I know it had that effect.

These combines take on a certain personality that extends beyond their operators, their paint jobs, and their inevitable gleaner attachments. Some move slowly and with tremendous constitution, grinding their way across the track and through their opponents; others are lithe, nimbly side-stepping the worst of the hits. The crowd roots for the largest, or the smallest, or the one that looks like it really shouldn't be running at all.

This, my friends, is Americana. It carries with it a charm missing from NASCAR, Monster, Trucks, and anything having to do with American Idol. This is about corn dogs, harvest time, and bragging rights. It's about lending your opponent your TIG welder, because it's his first time here. It's about baseball caps, slaps on the back, Hammond organs, and singing the national anthem. Out loud.

What does this have to do with birds? Nothing.

So...birds. Yeah, I have one. A Cockatiel. His name is Kevin. And if my sister is reading, the name is from the movie "Up", not about making a namesake for your husband. Kevin showed up here without warning one afternoon. We put an ad in the paper; no one claimed him.

The bird is in love with me. As in, he wants to get to "know" me. If I walk into the room, he wolf whistles. If I take him out of the cage, he sits on my shoulder and hisses at anyone who comes within five feet of me. He coos and rubs up against my neck. When I come home from work, he dances and sings me the Colonel Bogey March and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

And now Mr. Bean has put Kevin on the family stickers on the back of the car, which means he is a permanent part of the family. Which wouldn't be so bad, if the family stickers didn't already feature 4 cats and 3 dogs. But can I get rid of him? No; I can't. Because he's just sofa king cute.

Oh and more birds? Yesterday, Mr. Bean won a chicken coop off a radio show.

Yes; you read that right: Chicken. Coop. Which means, of course, that we will soon have chickens.

This is something I have resisted for years; I hate chickens. Hate them. Mr.? He loves them. For as long as I've known him, he's wanted chickens. Kes wanted chickens, too. I think she may have had a hand in this.

Mr is thrilled beyond words. This is important to him.

So maybe having chickens won't be such a big deal. The little ones are actually kinda cute.

I wonder if any of them are interested in having a very handsome pied cockatiel for a boy friend? This has possibilities.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sacred time

It's been nine months since the Bug left us. I don't know why that is significant, except that I carried her for nine months before she was born, so this feels like some sort of weird symmetry.

It really doesn't make me sad. It is just a time to mark, I guess.

Tomorrow, we make our annual pilgrimage to the county fair at dawn. Mr. Bean and I have done this every year for the last 23 years. Breakfast at the Grange cafeteria (which isn't actually run by the Grange anymore, but it's still the same in my mind), a leisurely stroll through the barns, the sound of roosters crowing, horses pawing to get out for a bit of exercise, 4-H kids sweeping and mucking and watering, the smell of fresh hay, announcements of upcoming auctions. There is a peace to the fair before the midway opens and the music starts.

We will miss the Bug tomorrow. We will miss her taking pictures in the chicken barn. We will miss her talking to the goats. I will have to avoid the bunny barn this year, and perhaps every year from now on.

We will still go to the fair, however, because it is our time together. Sacred time that we do not violate. I had to back out on a weekend with friends, rather more at the last minute than I should have, because I realized too late that it was our fair weekend and it would get in the way of this time together.

Tomorrow night? The combine demolition derby.

Yes, I will repeat that.

Combine. Demolition. Derby.

Oh yeah. There's a post in there, I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In which we ask the question: What Would Jesus Do?

Lately, I find myself doing impressions of Rachel Maddow, without really meaning to.

I'm not sure if this means that I'm getting more cynical, or perhaps less tolerant, or as my mother would probably point out, that I'm letting my brain get the best of my manners.

As everyone on the planet has heard by now, a group in New York wants to build an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, near the former site of the World Trade Center. Folks have their panties firmly knotted over this issue, either vehemently for it or vehemently against it, and have extended the debate into utterly ridiculous conjecture over whether or not our President has Muslim leanings that we all should be concerned about.

To which I say, "Really? Really??? So nobody has a problem with the fact that we have a dildo shop, a couple adult book stores, a few nudie bars, three gambling salons, 17 salons that will provide a bikini wax on demand, and about three dozen pizza shops within two blocks of 'ground zero'. Oh, and about a dozen churches of various denominations, (including Catholic, which was the flavor of Christianity practiced by Timothy McVeigh). But if we put in a worship and community center for Muslims, suddenly, we're defiling the area??? REALLY??"

I made a comment elsewhere on the web today, that Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is the Christianity. Hate is ugly, no matter who's spewing it. That includes the hate that we are hearing from those who so violently oppose this community center. There are those who would paint all Muslims as bad, because there were a few who chose to commit a truly heinous crime. But by the same token, the KKK purports to be a Christian organization, and those who do things like bomb women's clinics also purport to do so because of their Christian views. WE don't paint all Christians as terrorists. We don't ban Catholic churches within two blocks of the former federal building in Oklahoma City. Why not? Because we purport to be a "Christian" nation, and we "know" that not all Christians are terrorists. And never mind that terrorist groups are motivated by politics, money, and hate, none of which has very much to do with religion.

So I will suggest to all those who feel that a mosque within sight of the World Trade Center attacks is an affront to the dignity of the area: Let's follow our Christian guidance and ask ourselves,

What Would Jesus Do?

Do you think Jesus would march around with a poorly-spelled sign on His back? Or perhaps show up on Fox News and say that He is insulted that a group of people want to worship His father within sight of a building that was destroyed by people who have doubts that He was really the Messiah?

Here's a news flash: I think that the Muslim community feels as much pain about 9/11 as anyone else does; If one of your neighbors, or friends, or distant relatives (or even one of your close relatives) murders an innocent, do you not mourn the death and wish to make a gesture that helps to heal? If a community is injured, and seeks to rebuild itself, is this an affront to God? This community wants to convert an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory into a space where the beauty of their faith (and the Islamic faith is as beautiful as any I have seen, despite what the radicals would have you believe) can shine and help to foster healing and love and understanding.

We should embrace that, in my opinion.

If you stopped to ask yourself "what would Jesus do?", I think the answer is that Jesus would view this as an act of love and community and understanding..and perhaps contrition, and would greet it with love and understanding...and forgiveness. Can we imagine Jesus doing otherwise? No? Maybe we should give His way a try.

So long as we respond to those who are different with hate and suspicion, those who foster hate will win. And hate really does defile the memory of those we love.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I think that, deep down, I must be a Luddite

I tried mobile blogging last night. Ha!


If I borked your blog feeds, I apologize. It wasn't intentional. ;)


The experience of finalizing Daisy Mae's adoption on Tuesday was simultaneously momentous and anti-climactic, joyous and bittersweet.

Watching a judge sign a piece of paper and shake your hand is no where near as exciting as watching a doctor hand you a squirming new infant, but the squirming infant also doesn't look over at you and mouth the words, "I love you."

Standing together as a family in front of your community is beautiful, but the knowledge that you were supposed to be a foursome, not a threesome, is heartbreaking.

Still, no differently than the weeks following a wedding can leave one with a sense of satisfaction and relaxation, the days following an adoption leave one with a sense of peace and closure. We can plan now. We can look toward a future that does not including weekly check ins with state and county officials, lingering doubts about commitment, or rules that govern everything from where she spends the night to how often she gets her teeth checked.

It is very good to have this done. We can exhale, finally, at long last. It feels good.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Forever. Family.

...Aaaaaand we're back.

It's not that I haven't had anything to talk about for the last 8 weeks. (Good lord! It has been 8 weeks, hasn't it?) On the contrary, many things have happened.

I had a fascinating trip to Ireland with Daisy Mae and ClevelandK8. Galway is like living in a Renaissance Faire.

It's like...well, it's like this:

and this

Dublin is like being in Piscataway, NJ, with better architecture. But just barely.

I went to Washington DC and got to hang out with people who have stars and letters after their names. I love these trips; all good news, big plans and restoration in faith in our government. It doesn't last too long, but it does give one a few ideas to work with.

I got a chance to try to bring together a group of surgeons who hate each others' guts as a matter of course. And they got along. And promised to work together.

All of that pales in comparison to yesterday.

Yesterday, I got to officially become a Mom again.

Yes, yes: I know that once you are a mom you never stop. But there's something about having someone in your house, calling you "mom" (or in my case, "mother"), that makes you actually feel like a mom.

I'm Daisy Mae's mom. Forever.

It's been a long trip. We have endured almost unimaginable heartache along the way. But we made it. And it's worth it.

Take a look and see.

Welcome, Daisy. I can't promise to be a good friend. But I can promise to be a good mom.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Perspective 4: Your Blues Ain't Like Mine

**With apologies to Bebe Moore Campbell, who is heartbreaking and brilliant.

Ed looked up from his salad and stammered.

"I...well, I almost feel embarrassed even talking about this. I mean, compared to what you've been through, this seems really trivial, but..."

I can't tell you how many times over the last six months friends and acquaintances have started conversations this way. Not a single tragedy is described, except as preceded by the caveat that the story I was about to hear could not, in any way, begin to compare with the pain I've experienced in losing my little girl.

And in some ways, it's true. In my experience, there is very little any of them can describe that can be as heartbreaking...for me. But just because my experience has been tragic and awful, doesn't mean that they don't have legitimate heartaches, setbacks and disappointments.

"Ed, your problems are real. Don't discount them because they're different from my problems."

"But you've been though the worst thing that can possibly happen."

"Ed", I said, "I'll tell you something. Three weeks after Kiersten died, my mom told me a story about her co-worker. Her 20-year-old son was a heroin addict. After the third time he dropped out of the rehab center, he hung himself off the backyard swing set. I don't know; given a choice, losing a happy, innocent child instantly doesn't sound so bad."

I wasn't trying to be flippant. We each live our own experiences; we each define pain based on those experiences. I can see how much my friends are devastated by divorces, job changes, lost homes, illnesses. They are overwhelmed by the gulf oil spill, or local drilling for natural gas, or illegal dumping of waste.

For each of them, this pain is real. My personal loss doesn't lessen that for any of them. Likewise, knowing that my mom's co-worker suffered a more difficult loss than I did doesn't at all diminish what I have gone through over the last six months. I won't miss my daughter any less because she lost her son so terribly.

Some of us will gain perspective at one level, some at another. But we cannot pretend to judge the experiences of another based on our own joys and heartaches. If you've never lost an arm, that paper cut can hurt pretty bad. If you've never lost a spouse, the breakup of a 6-month relationship can feel like the end of the world. And we cannot diminish our own pain because it is different from that of another. There will always be someone worse off. There will always be a story of another that takes our breath away.

As humans, we need to treat each other, and ourselves, with compassion.

So Ed, and the rest of you. Don't apologize. Your blues ain't like mine. But they're still your blues.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Friends, Roses, and the Beach Girl's Enduring Spirit

My friends, Cathy and Mike, performed a remarkable and beautiful favor on behalf of another friend, Patty, last night. That sounded convoluted, didn't it? Well, read about it here; it'll make more sense.

So I haven't mentioned this too much before, but Bug loved the ocean. When she had just turned three, we took her to Florida for the first time, and immediately headed to the north point of Captiva Island on the Gulf coast. I love that point -- it's a haven for Dolphins, Herons, Egrets, sport fishes of all kinds. The beaches are covered in shells, the waters are sparkly, and the sand is fine and soft. Bug took one look at the place and fell deeply in love with the great expanse of water that lay before her.

At three, she didn't have the skill for ocean swimming, so I held her hand tightly while she was in the water. She hated that. She longed to venture out. I longed to keep her from being carried out to sea. But she loved it. There are a lot of stories from that week. Stories that include her getting cold in the water with resultant pooping on the beach and hungry seaguls and Mommy deciding that she could no longer show her face in public and having to find a new beach after that. Stories of our needing to stop at every alcove and inlet, so she could get out of the car, feel how the water was "different" on her feet in each place, and dip her bottom in the water. Stories of first encounters with manatees, including more impromptu swimming forays. But we can tell more of those stories another time. They made her life richer, and ours, too.

Bug insisted I teach her to swim, immediately upon our arrival at a pool, and at every opportunity thereafter, so she would never again have to spend her beach time tethered to her mother.

By the time she was seven, she was "Beach Girl". Here she is, saving sand fleas in a bucket.

Have you ever seen sand fleas? Also called "Mole Crabs", they're tiny crustaceans that live on the beach, just at the breakline. They like the extra oxygen that is generated by the churning of the water as the waves break. When you pick them up, in a handful of shells, they try to burrow into the sand and they tickle your hands. This was Bug's definition of "The Best Animal God Ever Created".

Cute little suckers, aren't they?

No? I don't think so either.

But Bug loved them, which doesn't surprise me. Because she was always finding wonder and beauty in the things the rest of us found odd or even ugly. And because she was, is and always shall be a sea-loving creature.

So the favor? Cathy and Mike took a rose from Bug's funeral, lovingly saved for the last six months by Patty, and cast it into the ocean when they reached the shore yesterday. It was a beautiful gesture of love and remembrance. I'm sure her spirit was there to catch it. And I'm sure she smelled it, then smiled and laid it on the beach next to her bucket, just before she grabbed her dip net to head back into the water.