Monday, October 20, 2008

Boundaries


JustMehas been talking about boundaries lately.
What she talks about strikes so close to the bone. I want to stick my fingers in my ears and scrunch my eyes tightly shut and yell, “la-la-la-la – I can’t hear you!”

The problem is, I hear all too well.

I hear my personal boundaries crashing all around me.
And, I have to admit that often, I am the one who is leading the charge to dismantle them.

So I ask myself why and, as if by magic, my friend Wanda emails me, providing me with both the answer and the inspiration.

Bitchology

When I stand up for
myself and my beliefs,
they call me a
bitch.

When I stand up for
those I love,
they call me a
bitch.

When I speak my mind, think my own thoughts
or do things my own way, they call me a
bitch.

Being a bitch
means I won't
compromise what's
in my heart.
It means I live my life MY way.
It means I won't allow anyone to step on me.

When I refuse to
tolerate injustice and
speak against it, I am
defined as a
bitch.

The same thing happens when I take time for
myself instead of being everyone's maid, or when I
act a little selfish.

It means I have the courage and strength to allow
myself to be who I truly am and won't become
anyone else's idea of what they think I 'should'
be.
I am outspoken,
opinionated and determined. I want what I want and
there is nothing wrong with that!
So try to stomp on me,
try to douse my inner flame, try to squash every
ounce of beauty I hold within me.
You won't succeed.

And if that makes me a bitch,
so be it.
I embrace the title and
am proud to bear it.

B - Babe
I - In
T - Total
C - Control of
H - Herself

B = Beautiful
I = Intelligent
T = Talented
C = Charming
H = Hell of a Woman

B = Beautiful
I = Individual
T = That
C = Can
H = Handle anything


Woo hoo!
Just the kick in the rear I needed.

I'm reclaiming my boundaries and re-introducing them to the people in my life.
And if they want to tell me I’m being bitchy, they certainly have that right. And I have the right to be a Bitch In Training Clearly Hearing herself and striving to be a Beacon of intelligence Totally Centered and Honoring of herself.
What kind of bitch will you be?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Proper Medical Care

OD called me. She's worried about a weird rash on her back and she wants me to make an appointment for her with her doctor. I gloss over the facts that she doesn't live with me, that I don't know her daily schedule and that she knows exactly how to make her own appointments.

I don't remind her of these things because I am over the top excited about the fact that, after years of no primary care physician and months of searching, I have found a doctor.
She is a naturopath and she is fabulous!
She listens to me.
She makes suggestions that are non-invasive and fairly easy to accomplish.
She works with accounting to make sure that I am billed in such a way so as to make the most of my medical insurance coverage.
I can’t say, “I love her!” loudly nor often enough.

I tell all this to OD and ask if she wouldn’t rather see my doctor.
I suggest it because OD’s doctor, is a pediatrician.
A wonderful woman who has held our hands through years of ear infections, bouts of the flu, chicken pox, strep throat, tonsillitis, warts, mono and any other of a number of childhood illnesses. We have relied on her through all of it, and she has never let us down, but, at nineteen, many of OD’s ailments are no longer really within the realm of a pediatrician’s expertise.
I point this all out to OD.

OD shakes her head into the phone, “No thanks,” she flips.

“Why?” I plead. “You’d really like her.”

“Because she’s a naturopath.” OD says this in a sing-song, Valley-girl lilt, as though no further explanation is needed.

“Uh-huh...?”

OD sighs. “A naturopath will want me to change my diet, which I already know is bad, or take herbs, which take too long to do anything, or give up tanning, which will never happen…I jut want some good ol’ western medicine that will give me a pill or a cream and push that rash right back down where it came from.”

LOVE that girl.
LOVE her self-awareness.
LOVE her honesty.

OD will be visiting her pediatrician next week…and she made her own appointment.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

Mo, my dragon, is omnivorous. Her diet is mostly greens but she enjoys an occasional side order of bugs.
Sometimes, I harvest earthworms for her from the garden. This evening though, I head to the neighborhood pet store and buy a bag of crickets.
I shake them into her aquarium home and Mo becomes a wily hunter. The crickets scatter. Mo follows, on the tips of her toes, a dancer. She catches a cricket in mid leap and smacks her lips with satisfaction.

The Buddhist in me feels guilt over Mo’s delight.
The mother in me blesses the creatures that sustain my baby.

Usually, Mo is a dancing fool until she is once again the sole inhabitant of her aquarium. Tonight, though, Mo tires of chase and she leaves two crickets behind. They hide in the shadow of her log. Mo pulls her heavy body to the top of her basking rock, close to the heating lamp. She is asleep almost before she stops moving.
The crickets lie silent.

My house is quiet too. My children are with their father. I am looking forward to an evening of tranquility, an oasis of calm amidst a week of turbulence.

I snuggle into my comforter and reach for The Antelope Wife, the novel that has been waiting too long for my attention.
The cover is stiff. I gently ease the book open and the round smell of freshly bound pages surrounds me.

Chirp.
Chirp.
Chirpity, chirp, chirp, chirp.

The crickets begin to sing.
I smile and imagine a wide-open meadow. A creek bubbles in the distance. The moon is full and her golden halo softens the world’s sharp edges.

A siren breaks my reverie, reminding me I live in the city. A police car rips through the night and red and blue lights spin across my wall.

Chirp.
Chirp.
Chirpity, chirp, chirp, chirp.

The crickets go on. They fill my room with their talking and my book rests open on my lap.

My neighbors come home. The car idles in their driveway and my mind wanders as I wonder why they don’t park. The engine is a gravely rumbling, a large cat stuck in a satisfied purr. It fills me with warmth. I pick up my book.

And the crickets go on.
Chirp.
Chirp.
Chirpity, chirp, chirp, chirp.

I can’t read. I can’t sleep.
The city and the country are waging an all out battle in my bedroom.

I root for the city.

It’s not that I don’t like crickets.
I love crickets…in the country.

I love their soft touch upon the earth as they join together and weave music through the stars.
I love they way they make the air feel crisper and softer at the same time.
I love the peaceful blanket of calm that envelops me when I breathe in their song.

In the city, though, the chirping is jarring and unsettling.
The noise fights against the city sounds, hammering with heat and pins.
It is a burr under my skin that itches and stings with its incongruity.

I blast out of bed and flick on Mo’s light, hoping she will wake up and eat. Her eyelids flutter as the light screams at her to open her eyes and, for a blessed moment, the crickets are silent.
Mo settles back into her dream.
The crickets overcome their silence.

Chirp.
Chirp.
Chirpity, chirp, chirp, chirp.

The noise bangs into my body and knocks against every nerve as it echoes endlessly down through my toes.

I slam my bedroom door and thump down the hall to my daughter’s empty room. I slam her door shut too and then open it once more so I can slam it again. I stomp my feet and clench my fists and shake my head.
It doesn’t help.
The muffled sound of the crickets slides under the door and explodes into the room.

Chirp.
Chirp.
Chirpity, chirp, chirp, chirp.

I collapse into a puddle of prickles.
Morning cannot come soon enough and Mo had better be hungry.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

In the Moment


The woman’s tired, watery eyes grabbed my eyes with a ferocity that contradicted my assumptions. “You are my miracle,” she whispered with a voice so powerful it shook my soul. Her grey head shook slightly as she nodded an exclamation point.
This woman had survived such horrific abuse that the very fact she was sitting in front of me was, itself, miraculous and she was calling me her miracle.

I have “officially” been working with survivors of domestic violence since February, but I have “worked” with survivors for two years. I know that advocates have an enormous responsibility, but yesterday, I literally came face to face with the reality of it.
And, I was humbled.
And frightened.

What if I fail?

The process of leaving an abuser can be the most dangerous point of a survivor’s journey.
It is also when she is most frightened and vulnerable, angry and frustrated, sad and lonely, confused and overwhelmed.
And sometimes, it is when she calls my organization.
And sometimes, we can help.

This woman made that call.
This woman, who had left everything, who had left behind her entire life…again.
She called.
And we met.

She was not asking me for resources or contacts or shelter. She was not asking me what she should do or where she should go or how she should get there. Nor did she tell me her story, though she circled slowly around it, each ripple getting a little closer to center.
She just talked.
And I just listened.

And that, to her, was a miracle.
And she felt humbled.

And I realized that I have it all wrong.
A miracle is not determined by the number of people who recognize it. A miracle does not need to be global to be valid.

Moments contain miracles.

Small, personal, individual moments.

Don't let them slip by without being noticed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Up, Up and Away


My children are dribbling back to school this week.

OS started today.

This morning, he drove off for his last, first day of high school.

Drove off!
Without me!

This summer he finally found the time to get his driver’s license. His original life plan had him getting his license on his 16th birthday, but real life consumed him and the driver’s license window did not open for him until late June, more than a month after his 17th birthday. The delay turned out to be a good thing for him and he passed the test with flying colors on the very first try!

I was delirious with excitement at the prospect of having another driver in the house and I quickly bought us a second taxi.
OS and I chose a 1987 Mitsubishi Montero with a manual transmission – a sturdy, reliable, macho machine that had lived life as a tow behind vehicle. The original faded brown interior produced frown lines in OS’ otherwise pristine forehead, but a gear head friend assured him that the engine was in exceptional condition, even for a car half its age and that the cosmetic part would be a piece of cake.
The two of them have been busily “fixing” the car which OS has affectionately named, “the Beast”.

It’s not quite done, but it’s drivable.
And this morning, he drove it!
To school!
Alone.

For his LAST, first day!

Freed at last from the shackles of chauffeuring, I felt curiously unhinged.
My boy is growing up and away.
Too fast.

OS rolled down the driveway and I heard him grind the gears into neutral as he tried to make a statement by peeling off down the street. The engine roared, but the Beast remained at a standstill. OS whined the car into first and bucked into the start of a new school year.
His last school year at home.

I turned with a smile to finish getting ready for work and silently thanked the Beast for slowing my boy down…just a bit…to give me a chance to catch up.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Physician, I Will Heal Myself


I haven’t been to a doctor since before I got divorced almost two years ago. I’ve started having a few aches and pains and I thought to myself that it might be a good idea if I made an appointment and went in for a good old-fashioned once over. After putting it off for more months than I care to admit, I've decided to get it over with and call the doctor.

Except…
I don’t have a primary care physician.
I ask my friends for referrals.
All of them, every single one them, goes to a doctor whose office is in the back of beyond!

Not to worry, my good friend, Universe, steps up with a post card. It’s a notice from my ob-gyn reminding me that it is time for my annual check-up.
PERFECT! Said ob-gyn will be able to recommend someone good.
I call to make an appointment. I know that I will have to wait at least a month, but I’m okay with that…at least I’ll be moving forward instead of standing still.
But wait!
What’s this?!
She has a cancellation for the following Monday?! I am actually available on that exact same Monday at that exact same time?!
Yay!

I dance into the office on Monday. I arrive at 10:45 and my appointment isn’t even until 11!
Whoo hoo! Look at me!

I check in with the very straightly parted, thin, brown hair seated at the front counter.
“Oh, by the way,” I drop casually, proudly placing my new, never before used, insurance card on the desk in front of her, “I got a job, so I have new insurance.”
The receptionist peers at my card, lifting her eyes without moving her chins off her ample chest, “Of course, you do realize that we don’t take that insurance.”
“No,” I reply, the word knocked out of me as though forced by a blow to my gut.
“I mean, you could still see the doctor…” she says through her nose, “it’s just that you’d have to pay for it all...yourself.”
As she speaks, my precious, new insurance card hangs precariously between the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, dangled like a distastefully dirty diaper.

I rescue it from her limp grasp. “Can you recommend anyone who does take this insurance?” I inquire hopefully.
“You can try upstairs, in 522,” she replies lifting her head and shaking it at me, “I’ve heard that they can take Providence.” I leave wondering if the sorrowful head shaking was meant for me or for the poor souls upstairs who accept my apparently inferior, insurance.

The elevator dings and I step off on the fifth floor into a confusing world of déjà vu which baffles me, until I am standing with my hand on the doorknob of 522 and the “aha” light bulb blinds me with its brilliance.
The name on the door belongs to the ob-gyn who deigned to allow me to burden him with my last pregnancy. The knob fairly burns my hand and I quickly snatch it back. Angry and unpleasant memories of months of cold and indifferent appointments rocket me back to the elevator. The doors close too slowly and I rest against the elevator wall, thankful to have dodged that bullet.

The next day, at the office, I ask my co-workers for referrals.
One is on her husband’s insurance.
Another chooses not to carry any insurance and, instead, patronizes the neighborhood health clinic.
A third recommends her doctor – who, coincidentally, practices in the back of beyond with all of the doctors of my friends.
Finally, I light upon someone who both carries the company insurance and sees a physician who works within twenty blocks of my house.
“Bingo!” I yell.

Her PCP belongs to a group of family practitioners. I am thrilled with the prospect of one-stop shopping that a family practitioner promises. I am sure that any one of these eight, fine physicians will be perfect for me and I leave it up to Fate to decide who will be honored with the moniker of “my” PCP.

My fingers fairly dance across the keypad as I dial the number.
“Hello,” I chirp brightly into the receiver, “I was given your number by a co-worker and I was wondering if any of your doctors is accepting new patients.”
“No,” the disembodied voice clips. “Not at this time.”
Click.

As my head bangs into yet another brick wall, I comfort myself with the notion that employees are the reflection of a business and, if this particular employee is providing an accurate reflection, then this is not the group of docs for me.

Perhaps the back of beyond is not as far away as it once was.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

When I Dare To Be Powerful


I’ve been floundering.
Desperately trying to figure out what it is that I am supposed to be doing.
Actually, to be precise, I’ve been desperately trying to figure out what it is I am supposed to be being.

I thought, perhaps, prayer would help.
So I’ve been praying.

And the Universe has listened.

And answered.

This quote has been placed in front of me no less than three times in the past two weeks.

“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision – then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
Audre Lourde


Three times…in three completely unrelated places…in three totally different circumstances.

Damn!

Can anyone decipher Universe?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kindness Chronicles IV

There is a woman at work who is pregnant. Very pregnant. And very beautiful!

One day, she came to work in a soft, white eyelet dress. She floated in the door, a breath on a day that was heavy with heat. She was hope, and light and new beginnings personified.
She was a gift.

I’m glad I noticed.
I’m glad I told her.

Once again, I was reminded that it is the moments that matter.
And this moment made all the difference for this woman.

Apparently, she had been receiving all of the rude, insensitive, size related comments that a woman must endure during the course of a pregnancy – all of the inappropriate hands-on-the-belly touching of complete strangers and all of the I’m-so-done-with-this-pregnancy feelings of a woman in the last trimester of a second pregnancy.

It’s easy to be too busy.
It’s easy to think it doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to miss the moments.

But the moments matter.
The moments make all the difference.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Feeding My Baby

I spent my morning digging for worms.
Me.
Digging for worms.

Pushing the tip of my shovel deep into the unforgiving soil of my unplanted beds.
Breaking up the packed clay.
Searching for the exposed tip of an earthworm squirming towards the darkness.
Deftly grabbing hold of the quickly disappearing speck and dragging the stretchy sliminess into the light.
Placing it gently into my cupped hand.
Ignoring the shiver that runs through my body as the worm writhes and twists on my palm.
Lifting the dirt-covered pinkness and holding it between my thumb and forefinger.

Dangling it in front of my baby.
Tempting her.
Coaxing her.
Waiting.

She cocks her heads and watches as the worm dances intricate figure eights and slow ripples.
And then…in less than an instant…the dance is over.
The worm is gone.
My baby smiles.

I pick up my shovel and push the tip deep into the unforgiving soil of my unplanted beds.
Feeding my baby.

This is my baby.

Her name is Mo’olelelani – Heavenly Dancing Dragon.
We call her Mo.

I am not a reptile person.
I like my animals cuddly and furry.
And yet…I love Mo. I cannot imagine life without her.

I met Mo in June, when her name was “Sparks”.
My children were with their father for the weekend and I was out garage sale-ing.
A group of three woman friends had banded together and they were peddling their treasures. They were laughing and bartering and having raucous good time. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
I stopped at their sale at 2pm.
I stayed.
I perused the piles.

I tried on a pair of brand new, closed toe, sandals with an $8 tag tied on to one of the straps.
“Those are cute!” exclaimed one of the women. “Seeing them on your feet makes me remember why I bought them. If you don’t get them, they’re going back in my closet.”
My feet stayed firmly inside the sandals.

A funky black goddess lamp captured my attention, but she didn’t speak to me. Besides, what would I do with a funky black goddess lamp?
“I can’t believe that lamp is still here!” marveled the woman who coveted my new sandals. “I think you need it,” she nodded to me.
“Welll,” I drawled, “I’m not sure where she would go.”
“Anywhere!” came the quick reply.
I passed.

An empty reptile aquarium, complete with florescent light, heat lamp and basking rock lay in a pile on the slope of the front lawn. A little white sticker affixed to the side of the tank read $99.
“Hmm. That’s a lot,” I thought to myself as I walked past it without stopping.

I opened a little red lacquered box with a small white owl painted on the top. Six coasters were nestled inside. “Mine,” I murmured, after flipping it over to reveal the $2 sticker stuck on the bottom. One of the women nodded her agreement.

Each time I stopped in front of an item, one of the women would make a comment.
They were fun.
They were fuh-nee.

When I had finished meandering through their wares, I plopped myself down on the lawn, in the midst of the women, and joined their happy banter.

At 3, a passerby inquired as to what sort of creature would live in the aquarium set-up.
“A bearded dragon,” replied the apparent hostess of the afore mentioned garage sale festival. “Would you like to see her? She’s for sale.”
The gentleman declined, but I was intrigued.
“What is a bearded dragon?” I asked.
“She’s up on the front porch,” she said nodding toward the house. “You can go see her if you want.”
“What the heck!” I thought, peeling myself off the grass.

As I neared the front porch, I saw a large black iron birdcage sitting in an oven of sunshine. The inside of the cage was decorated with a jungle gym of sticks. On top of the highest stick sat a lizard, mouth agape, panting heavily, sides heaving.
“Um…she’s in the direct sun,” I hollered, turning to look at the women on the lawn. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine…unless her mouth is open.”
“It’s open,” I confirmed.

The woman, whose name, I discovered, was Susan, clattered out of her lawn chair and dashed toward the porch.
She grabbed the lizard out of the cage and it clung to her shirt. Susan dipped her fingers in a bowl of water and rubbed them down the lizard’s back, gently soothing her.

I watched her fingers slide slowly over the lizard. My fingers ached to do the same.

“Do you want to hold Sparks?” Susan asked.
The “yes” leapt quickly from my soul before I had a chance to consider the reptilian furlessness of the creature she was holding.

Susan handed her to me and I knew exactly what to do.
I – who had never enjoyed the Reptile Show at the zoo, who avoided furless creatures with a vengeance – knew exactly what to do.
The dragon rested on my chest and she was home.

Susan came back to the porch an hour later and shook her head in wonder, “I’ve never seen Sparks do that,” she blurted.
The name jarred me and I could feel the soul of the dragon bristle at the sound of it. Both of us knew that that was not her name.
Susan didn’t. “Sparks does not sit still when she’s out of her cage,” she continued. “Ever! She always needs to move and chase bugs and find hiding places. You have to take her home with you!”

I knew she was right, and yet, logic took over and I heard myself saying, “A bearded dragon is not an impulse buy. You do not go to a garage sale looking for nothing in particular and come home with a bearded dragon.”

“Okay,” Susan conceded. “Go home and sleep on it. Come back to get her tomorrow, then it won’t be an impulse buy.”

The women began putting the sale away. I sat with the dragon until the shadows grew long -- until the women began making dinner rumblings and I knew I had to leave.

Alone.

I spent the evening on the computer, reading everything I could find about bearded dragons.
In the morning, I tired to forget her.
I distracted myself by picking raspberries in the backyard.

At noon, I was back at Susan’s, clutching a small bowl of raspberries.
Susan saw me and smiled “the question”.
“I don’t know,” I said, even as my soul knew that I did, “but I thought I would come by and visit…”
“I brought her some raspberries,” I added, waving the bowl and trying not to race to my dragon.

And when I got to her cage, she was waiting for me.

I opened the door and she stepped lightly onto my hand. I held out a raspberry. She licked it off my hand and swallowed with satisfaction.
I fed her the remainder of the raspberries, one by one. When the bowl was empty, she looked up at me with a raspberry juice, red lipstick smile and said, “Thank you.” And she sealed the deal.

I gave Susan $99 and I loaded the aquarium, the birdcage and all the paraphernalia into my car.
“Who knew?!” I smiled to myself as my dragon and I climbed into my car, heading for home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

He Listens


I work with survivors of domestic violence. Studies show that our culture perpetuates the image of the macho man and that anger is often the only emotion that a man feels comfortable expressing.

I like to think that our generation is working to change that. That we are raising, and have raised, our sons to be more than angry men.

I do not kid myself that we will wipe out domestic violence, but this story gives me hope that we are making headway.


A young girl breaks up with her boyfriend. She goes home and screams her anguish to the walls. She is inconsolable.

She thinks that she is alone, but her teen-aged brother is there. He is fixing himself some lunch in the kitchen. When he hears her, he immediately stops what he is doing and he goes upstairs to check on his sister.

The door to her bedroom is open wide. He knocks tentatively on the doorframe.
The girl sees him and she begins to cry to him all of her sadness and frustration.
He listens, though he can barely understand her words through her tears.
He listens, though he cannot even imagine the kind of heartache his sister is experiencing.
He listens, though her hurt makes him uncomfortable and he feels awkward and inadequate.

He listens because he loves her.

He listens, and he tells her, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here and I can listen for as long as you need.”
And he leans his lanky body against the doorjamb and she sobs him her story.

And he offers no advice.
And he doesn't try to fix it.

He just listens.

And that is more than enough.
It is everything.

And she is consoled.

I could not be more proud of OS.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

This Perfect Life


I used to think everything in my life had to be perfect in order for me to have a perfect life.

Not so.

It’s the moments.

If this moment is perfect, then life is perfect.

I had a perfect moment last night.

“Mummy,” YS stood in the middle of the kitchen, his big hazel eyes wide with anticipation, his mouth struggling to subdue the smile of excitement burbling behind his question. “Mummy, can we sleep in the backyard tonight?”

“Sure,” I nodded, even as I turned toward the computer to finish typing my blog. It was 10:30 and I wanted to post before I went to bed.

“You’ll sleep out there with me?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you want to use my camping pad?”

“Love to.”

“How ‘bout a sleeping bag? Do you want a sleeping bag or a blanket?”

“A blanket.”

YS began to gather the necessary backyard camping equipment. He dragged his sleeping bag and two pillows around the table, through the kitchen and out the back door. Next came the pad.

“Wanna sleep under the stars or should we use a tent?”

“Stars,” I replied, still distracted. I had not posted for months and it was somehow vitally important to me that I get that post done. There was no f’n way that the world could survive another moment without this post!

Nothing daunted, YS continued his preparations.
The pop up Play Hut cubes bumped down the stairs behind YS and slapped behind me on the kitchen floor. I heard him flip open the largest one, a 3’x3’ cube. It is made out of red parachute material. The top is solid, the sides each have one big circle cut into them, and the bottom is completely open.

YS squeezed it through the back door and the sides threatened to rip as he dragged it past the lip of the door latch.

Next, he scurried past me with the 13” TV/DVD combo. Even this was not enough to grab my attention away from my computer.

Got. To. Post.
NOW!

YS thumped down the basement stairs.
Silence.
Soon I heard him skip back up.

“OK. We’re ready, Mummy.” YS grinned and I could actually see the quiver of excitement flow through his body.

I hit post.
“OK. Let me go brush and floss,” I said. I disappeared up the stairs without even stopping to give him a hug or a smile.

Too long later, I headed out the back door.

YS had made the Play Hut cube into a little gazebo for the TV. The sleeping bag and camping pad were laid out in the middle of the yard and were as close together as they could be without being stacked on top of each other. A pillow rested on the pad and a blanket was laid across the top with the left hand corner gently turned down. All I could see of YS is his tousled brown hair sticking out of the top of his sleeping bag.

When he heard me, he turned and smiled his funny, crooked, gap-toothed grin.

“I was waiting for you for the movie,” he explained with pride.

"This is love," I thought as I slid under the blanket. For a moment, we were both lying on our backs looking up at the sky.

“Look at the moon,” I whispered. It was full and round and encircled by a golden halo.

“Uh-huh. Night light,” he said, flipping over onto his tummy and reaching for the “play” button.

He had chosen “Homeward Bound”. He knows that it is one of my favorite stories.

I turned over. YS reached for my hand.
I fall asleep to the sound of Chance attacking a porcupine.
When I woke up, the movie was over though the TV still glowed blue. YS snored gently beside me and his fingers tightened around my hand.

Perfection!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

At the Port

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and my two youngest children and I have been enjoying the Port of Portland’s Seaport Celebration. It’s an annual event that we discovered last year – on a MUCH cooler day.

This is the one day each year that the Port opens its doors to the public for music, food and informational activities so that we can all learn the hows and whys, the whats and wheres of how the Port operates. They give out re-useable bags and water bottles and stickers and pens and have a drawing for special prizes.

It’s fun.
Really.

Which is why we decided to brave the weather and return this year.
This day.

This 102° day.

This102° day, in the middle of a black, asphalt, parking lot with no shade save for a few canopy tents sprinkled about to shade employees who are manning the information tables.

This102° day, in the middle of a black, asphalt, parking lot with no shade save for a few canopy tents sprinkled about to shade employees who are manning the information tables with barely a hint of a breeze blowing against the heat waves that rise off the scorched earth.

We’ve been here for over two hours and we’ve finished our fun. We’re waiting, along with a small crowd of other hot, sweaty, tired people, for the shuttle bus to pick us up and return us to our car.

The bus arrives and we all pile on.

We pile on to an old yellow school bus that looks as though it has recently been refurbished with seats that seem to have new-ish brown vinyl. The windows are all open, but the only air you can feel moving are the currents of heat that swarm past our bodies as we travel toward the back of the bus. We slide our sweaty selves across a seat, and the back of my right thigh grabs onto the vinyl and my skin screeches across the remainder of the bench. None of the other hot, sweaty, tired people notice because they are all doing their own versions of the sweaty squack. The hot, sweaty, children who bounced in in the morning have melted into puddles of petulance.

This is when my daughter decides to strike.

“Hey,” she smiles to her brother, “what happens when you take the “s” out of safe and the “f” out of way?"
“Huh?” he replies, face scrunched into an irritated grimace, a tiny drop of sweat forming in front of his left ear and hesitating before it starts to roll slowly toward his chin.
My daughter sighs and repeats herself. “Take the “s” out of safe and the “f” out of way."
My son looks annoyed and says, “A-way?”
“No”, YD breaths, “ take the “s” out of SAFE and the “f” out of WAY.”
“I DID!” my son snaps, irritation erupting and oozing down his sweaty face.
“No”, she says in the condescending way that a teenaged girl reserves for a younger sibling, “you took the “s” AND the “f” out of SAFE. Take the “S” out of safe and the “F” out of way!
By now, YS is totally exasperated. He glares at his sister and, at the TOP of his voice he yells, “THERE'S NO "F" IN WAY!!!!”

YD dissolves into tears of laughter.

“What?!” snaps YS, and, raising his voice a few decibels he repeats, “THERE'S NO F'N WAY!!!”
The dimmer switch over his head slowly illuminates the light bulb. He begins to chuckle and then starts laughing so hard he almost falls off the seat into the aisle.
I join my children and my stomach starts to hurt from laughing so much.
Barely able to speak through his laughter and still at the top of his lungs YS leans against me and yells, “Mummy, Mummy -- THERE'S NO F'N WAY!!!”

The rest of the people on the bus...
Blank stares -- totally clueless!

Half of them get off at the first stop, even though the bus driver announces that he will be making three stops so as to get people closer to their cars.

We wait until the second stop before we climb off. As we begin to back out of our space, hot, sweaty, grumpy fellow passengers trudge past us.
We watch them as the make a dusty path through the loose gravel parking lot toward their cars, which are parked just past the third stop.
Apparently they are of the opinion that it is better to brave the evils that you know than face the crazies that you don’t.

My children and I turn up the air conditioner to full blast, flip on the oldies and laugh all the way home.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Art of No

I have never been fond of the word “No”. In fact, I have spent a large part of my life diligently avoiding it.

Before I had all the stubborn beaten out of me, I wouldn’t hear the word “no”. If I wanted something, I cried and grizzled and argued reasoned my logic into manifestation.
Once my inner self learned how to submit to outer expectations, I found I couldn’t say the word “no”. My life was all about pleasing others, making life easier for others. I was taught that being happy and agreeable was the road to success – all I needed to do to be on that road was sacrifice my ability to say “no”. It sounded easy. I paid the toll and, at the fork in the road, I took the path of least resistance.

Loosing my ability to say “no” did not make hearing “no” any easier. Now, though, it wasn’t that I wouldn’t hear “no”, it was that I couldn’t hear “no”. Every “no” I received became a personal rejection; a reflection of the worthlessness of my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas, my hopes.

I banished “no” from my life.

When I became a mother, I began experimenting with “no”. My oldest daughter would say that I became quite adept at using the word.
I did try to set very clear boundaries, limits that felt like “no” to OD, but, in reality, “no” was still a word that caused me great discomfort.
In fact, I consciously avoided it.
Where most parents would yell “NO!” when their child was about to do something dangerous (run into the street, pull something off the counter, eat a marble), I would yell “STOP!” When faced with a direct question like “Can I eat my chocolate Easter bunny?”, I would respond with “You may eat part of your bunny. Would you like to eat the tail and the feet, or the ears and the head?”
While I set boundaries for my children, I rarely said “no” to them.
I would like to say that my parenting strategies were a result of an understanding of child psychology, but, I’m afraid that they were merely a byproduct of “no” avoidance.

It is ironic to me that both of the jobs I have chosen after my divorce have been all about the “no”.
My first job as an independent sales rep was all about hearing “no”. Nine out of ten calls I made resulted in “no”. “No, we purchase books through another publisher.” Or “No, there is no money in the budget for books.” Or “No, I don’t have the time to speak with you.”
I had to learn to let those “no’s” flutter past me rather than allowing them to stick to me like burrs, weighing me down and making me uncomfortable. It never got to a point where “no” felt good, but it finally got to where it didn’t feel personal.

My current job is all about saying “no”. Learning how to be comfortable with being unable to help everyone that calls in looking for assistance. Having to turn away people in need because they are not part of the population that our organization has been set up to serve.

I am so glad that the Universe provided me with this opportunity to re-member myself. I see, now that “no” is not a bad word. “No” is a gift – a gift that I accepted with reluctance and now understand as a blessing.

Jane Fonda once said that late in life she finally discovered that “No.” is a complete sentence. While I have never been a huge Jane Fonda fan, I have come to admire her greatly for sharing that one piece of wisdom.

No.
Not no but…Not no because….Just no.

Not a sentence fragment that Word tells me I should consider revising.

No.

No is complete, in and of itself.
No is succinct and to the point.
No doesn’t make excuses nor require explanations.

No.

“No” and I are still becoming reacquainted with one another, but I know that some day soon, we will be the best of friends.
I can’t wait!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Alien Cat


This morning, there was a cat in my house.
Not Poki, the cat that is supposed to be in my house. Poki was on the roof, meowing at the window, as is her wont.
No, the cat that was in my house this morning was a different cat. A foreign cat. A cat masquerading as Poki.

She might have pulled it off, too, if she had crept into the house of one not quite as discerning as I.

She was pure black, just like Poki.
And small, just like Poki.
And quick, just like Poki.
But even out of the corner of my eye, distracted by the mounds of laundry that I was sorting and folding, I could tell that she wasn’t Poki.

It was the tail that gave her away.

Poki’s tail is crooked. There is a 45° angle bend at the very tip. The tail I saw disappearing behind a post, was straight as an arrow.
And, it was fat. A straight, fat, tail. Definitely not Poki’s.

I abandoned the warmth of my freshly laundered clothes and gave chase.
Out of the laundry room, over the landing, into the family room. And that’s where I lost her.

The family room, in the middle of a major overhaul, is construction central. Furniture is stacked “out of the way”, in the corners, and there are tools and wire, sawdust and nails, everywhere.
The imposter disappears into the shadows of this chaos.

I go back into the laundry room and continue my sorting and folding.
Quietly.
Waiting for the fuzzy black face of the alien cat to reappear.

No luck.

I stack my laundry and carry it upstairs. I am sure that the fact that I am leaving will be exactly the magnet I need to draw the cat out of hiding.
But when I creep back downstairs, deftly avoiding the squeaky step, I discover I am wrong.

Still no cat.

And so I begin cooing “here kitty, kitty, kitty” in the most alluring, I-am-a-cat-lover tone of voice I can manage.

Alien cat is not impressed.

I change tactics and begin banging on tables, stomping my feet and yelling “scat, scat, go away you cat!” I go for one last moment defining stomp and my foot, shoeless as usual, comes down on the edge of a nail. I grab my foot and forcefully swallow the expletive that has traveled in less than a nanosecond, from the ball of my right foot to the back of my throat and threatens to explode from my lips with the fury of a shaken pop bottle. As I cradle my foot and hop in ever shrinking circles, I’m sure that I hear the cat snickering from the safety of friendly black shadow.

I glance at the clock and notice that, in five minutes, I will be late for work.

“Shit!!!” The “bottle cap” jettisons across the room.

I fly back upstairs, grab my shoes and scream off to work.
Nine hours later, I return home.

I open the basement door and am assaulted with the unmistakable smell of alien-cat-trapped-in-a-basement-all-day-with-no-way-out-and-no-litterbox.
Flipping on the light, I tiptoe gingerly down the stairs so as to avoid stepping in any surprises.
In the basement, I discover that sawdust that has been swept into a pile and forgotten goes a long way towards containing the river of cat pee that wanted to snake across the floor. I make a mental note not to complain about construction debris – at least not today.

I feel silent eyes watching me as I move quietly around the room. They pierce my skin and I start to itch. It is driving me CRAZY!!! I know alien cat is somewhere in my basement.

WHERE?!

I open the outside basement door and it cries out with the exquisite agony of Tinman moving for the first time after Dorothy oils him. The rusty creak is the signal for which alien cat was waiting, the call from the mother ship to come home.
Alien cat answers in a blur that streaks out the door and into the arms of a spring twilight pregnant with the anticipation of rain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Being Catholic


I was raised Roman Catholic.
That means that, although I may recognize Bible stories when I hear them, I cannot quote from the Bible. Apparently, little has changed.

The following are actual answers from a test given at a Roman Catholic elementary school. Nothing has been retouched or corrected.

1. IN THE FIRST BOOK OF THE BIBLE, GUINESSIS. GOD GOT TIRED OF CREATING THE WORLD SO HE TOOK THE SABBATH OFF.

2. ADAM AND EVE WERE CREATED FROM AN APPLE TREE. NOAH'S WIFE WAS JOAN OF ARK. NOAH BUILT AND ARK AND THE ANIMALS CAME ON IN PEARS.

3. LOTS WIFE WAS A PILLAR OF SALT DURING THE DAY, BUT A BALL OF FIRE DURING THE NIGHT.

4. THE JEWS WERE A PROUD PEOPLE AND THROUGHOUT HISTORY THEY HAD TROUBLE WITH UNSYMPATHETIC GENITALS.

5. SAMPSON WAS A STRONGMAN WHO LET HIM SELF BE LED ASTRAY BY A JEZEBEL LIKE DELILAH.

6. SAMSON SLAYED THE PHILISTINES WITH THE AXE OF THE APOSTLES.

7. MOSES LED THE JEWS TO THE RED SEA WHERE THEY MADE UNLEAVENED BREAD WHICH IS BREAD WITHOUT ANY INGREDIENTS .

8. THE EGYPTIANS WERE ALL DROWNED IN THE DESSERT. AFTER WARDS, MOSES WENT UP TO MOUNT CYANIDE TO GET THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

9. THE FIRST COMMANDMENTS WAS WHEN EVE TOLD ADAM TO EAT THE APPLE.

10. THE SEVENTH COMMANDMENT IS THOU SHALT NOT ADMIT ADULTERY.

11. MOSES DIED BEFORE HE EVER REACHED CANADA .. THEN JOSHUA LED THE HEBREWS IN THE BATTLE OF GERITOL.

12. THE GREATEST MIRICLE IN THE BIBLE IS WHEN JOSHUA TOLD HIS SON TO STAND STILL AND HE OBEYED HIM.

13. DAVID WAS A HEBREW KING WHO WAS SKILLED AT PLAYING THE LIAR. HE FOUGHT THE FINKELSTEINS, A RACE OF PEOPLE WHO LIVED IN BIBLICAL TIMES.

14. SOLOMON, ONE OF DAVIDS SONS, HAD 300 WIVES AND 700 PORCUPINES.

15. WHEN MARY HEARD SHE WAS THE MOTHER OF JESUS, SHE SANG THE MAGNA CARTA.

16. WHEN THE THREE WISE GUYS FROM THE EAST SIDE ARRIVED THEY FOUND JESUS IN THE MANAGER.

17. JESUS WAS BORN BECAUSE MARY HAD AN IMMACULATE CONTRAPTION.

18. ST. JOHN THE BLACKSMITH DUMPED WATER ON HIS HEAD.

19. JESUS ENUNCIATED THE GOLDEN RULE, WHICH SAYS TO DO UNTO OTHERS BEFORE THEY DO ONE TO YOU. HE ALSO EXPLAINED A MAN DOTH NOT LIVE BY SWEAT ALONE.

20. IT WAS A MIRICLE WHEN JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD AND MANAGED TO GET THE TOMBSTONE OFF THE ENTRANCE.

21. THE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOWED THE LORD WERE CALLED THE 12 DECIBELS.

22. THE EPISTELS WERE THE WIVES OF THE A POSTLES.

23. ONE OF THE OPPOSSUMS WAS ST. MATTHEW WHO WAS ALSO A TAXIMAN.

24. ST. PAUL CAVORTED TO CHRISTIANITY, HE PREACHED HOLY ACRIMONY WHICH IS ANOTHER NAME FOR MARRAIGE.

25. CHRISTIANS HAVE ONLY ONE SPOUSE . THIS IS CALLED MONOTONY.

Explains a lot...doesn't it?!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Standing Together

DO NOT read this post if you are in a hurry or if you are looking for a "light" read.

My intellectual self has always been aware of the fact that women often do not get a fair shake.

Women work harder for less. The careers that have been historically female do not garner the same earning power as the careers that have been historically male. Men seem to get more recognition for being good fathers than women get for being good mothers – it is somehow expected that women will mother well given their “natural” proclivity toward nurturing, whereas a nurturing man is perceived as an anomaly. Hillary gets called Hillary while Barrack gets called Obama.

I could go on, but you get the point. I have not been oblivious to the “plight” of women. Intellectually.

Emotionally. That’s another story. I just wasn’t there.

And it’s not because I have never experienced the subtle (and not so subtle) discrimination against women. I’ve been talked down to in all matters involving cars and power tools. I bore the brunt of the blame for the failure of my marriage – a stay-at-home mother should be able to manage to keep her home intact, after all, what else does she have to do? I’ve been asked why I don’t wear more form fitting clothes so that I can “show off” my body or “put on my face” before I go out in public. I’ve heard teachers make excuses for the behavior of boys because “boys will be boys” while girls get reprimanded for the very same behaviors.

Yes, these things disturbed me. They bothered me enough that I have talked often with my children about equal rights, their right to be treated as a human being and not ranked according to gender. But I have never been red-in-the-face-shake-my-fist-curse-the-injustice-of-it-all angry.

Until I learned about the Second Congo War. It has been characterized as the deadliest conflict since the end of World War II. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
I hadn’t.
A friend opened my eyes by forwarding me this 60 Minutes video.


Then I read this.

And this.

Rape has always been a factor of war. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has become the preferred weapon of war. Women and girls, some as young as 14 months, are being brutalized. Families and communities are held at gunpoint, forced to witness this horrific act of violence being perpetrated on the women they love. Physically, the women are left HIV infected or suffering from fistulae or pregnant or all three. Often they are ostracized – children cannot take food from their mothers who are now “unclean”. Husbands abandon their families either because their “woman” has been with another man or because they are so broken at their inability to protect their families that they simply cannot face them anymore.

This is the systematic annihilation of a society through the destruction of its women.

Why should we care?


In the face of unspeakable horror, these women go on. They are strong. They will not allow their abusers to destroy them, their families nor their communities.

I am humbled by these women.
I admire these women.
I will help these women.

Women For Women International works to help these women rebuild their lives, to rise, like phoenix, from the ashes. Run For Congo Women events are staged in many communities in the US. This year’s Portland run is scheduled for September 14tn. If running is not your thing, sponsor a runner. If sponsoring a runner feels too removed, sponsor a Congolese woman. There are many ways that we can become involved.

Do not ignore these women. They deserve more. So do you.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Labels


I am struggling with words.
Specifically, words to define the men in my life for people who don’t know them.

Patrick is “my children’s father”. I try not to use the term “ex-husband”.
“Ex” feels dismissive. Cut off. Separate.
While I realize that I divorced him exactly so I could feel that way, I also realize that my children did not divorce him and do not want to feel that way.
My children love their father and he loves them. Labeling him “my children’s father” takes my relationship with Patrick out of the picture and puts the spotlight where it should be, on my children’s relationship with their father. That is the relationship that matters now, the relationship that needs to be nurtured.
However, it feels awkward when I describe him that way to a new acquaintance precisely because of the fact that it doesn’t address my relationship with him. I find that I often want to tack on some kind of qualifier that explains that we used to be married but are married no longer. I know that urge says more about my discomfort at being “left out” of the picture than it does about anyone else’s need to know “the rest of the story”, and that pettiness bothers me.

Then there is “the man that I am dating”.
What do I call him?
“Boyfriend” is too high school. Besides, I like to think I am dating a “man” not a “boy”.
My mother asked if we were “going steady”. Going steady?! That sounds both high school and hopelessly out of touch with the 21st century.
“Well,” I replied, tersely addressing her underlying question, “neither of us is dating other people.”
People at work use the term “partner”. That strikes me as being at once too cold and too intimate.
I grew up in an era when “partner” was a reference used for a business relationship. My relationship with this man is definitely more personal than that.
On the flip side, “partner”, to me, implies a relationship akin to marriage and I am certainly not ready to take that step.
I could just go with “friend”, and sometimes, I do. But then I get the “Oh, is he your “special” friend?” remarks.
And so I’m stuck with calling him, “the man that I’m dating”, which seems like too many words and not enough feeling.

And I know that it’s all just semantics. That it really doesn’t matter. Except…words matter.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Pond


As a stay-at-home mother, my world revolved around my children and my home. The issues on which I focused were the issues that directly affected my small, little corner of the pond.
I worried about the schools my children attended and the neighborhood in which we lived.
I did my part for the environment – I recycled, paid extra for renewable energy and donated to the Sierra Club. I volunteered in classrooms, lobbied for school funding and was active in our church community.
I lived my life in a tight circle, the boundaries of which had been clearly defined for me.

As my children grew older, I realized that the limits that had been placed on me were beginning to limit my children as well.
And I realized that the dynamics of my marriage did not allow me to be both a good wife and a good mother.

Forced to make a choice, I chose my children.

It was not a popular choice.
Prevailing “wisdom” said that divorce was the worst possible thing I could do to my children.
Inner wisdom told me otherwise.
Still, leaving was not easy. I had to fight my way out, but my marriage had sucked me dry of the strength I needed to leave. And so, I relied on the strength of friends. Friends who loved me and supported me, who fought for me and held up the light so I could see in the darkness through which I needed to travel.

That experience led me to the work I do in support of women.
This has opened up a brand new world for me. It is a world that reaches far beyond the narrow confines in which I used to live.

It is a bigger world, with bigger realities.
It has more beauty, and it also has more ugliness, both of which have come crashing in to my life with the force of a tsunami.

And as my little pond fills with water, I am forced to swim to stay afloat in my ever expanding universe.

Some days, I feel as though I am drowning.
Some days, I am a water polo player, buoyed up, working with the water and possessing the strength to lift my body into the air so that I can slam the ball into the goal for a SCOOOORRE!

I am grateful for both kinds of days.

I grow stronger on the days that I keep from drowning.
And my water polo days…ah…those days are simply glorious!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Rio


She is old. My dog.

Her hair is long and shaggy, white, with black spots. Her “papers” say she is a “Springer mix”.

She became a part of our family in the summer of ’95, when she was two-years old. We had been talking about getting a dog for about a year and looking for a dog for a few months.
A dog, not a puppy.
With three children, I already had enough potty training and obedience lessons in my life.
We visited pet stores and private residences and the Humane Society. We scoured the newspapers and we talked to friends. We visited countless dogs. They were too big or too small, too jumpy or too noisy, too young or too old.

Rio found us on our third visit to the Humane Society. She was looking for a family that was not too big or too small, too jumpy or too noisy, too young or too old.
She chose us for the exact reasons we chose her.

Walking through the kennels at the Humane Society was deafening. The sight of humans set the dogs to barking and jumping, clamoring for attention.
“Pick me! Buy me! Want me!” they all begged. Loudly.

All except Rio. She was a lady.
She sat patiently in her kennel. Waiting.
Waiting for her perfect family to come along and find her.

OS noticed her first. He pointed at her and looked up at me with question and excitement in his eyes.

The day before we had visited with a Gordon setter named Everett. He had decided that OS was the perfect chew toy and that OD was the perfect jumping post. His antics had confirmed for us what we didn’t want.

Rio was the perfect anti-Everett. The perfect dog for us.

Before we had even left the pound, she had burrowed her way into our hearts. That day we grew from a family of five to a family of six.

For the past 13 years, Rio has graced our family with love and patience and peace. In an effort to compensate for the almost daily vacuuming required for the copious amounts of fur she sheds, Rio generously pitched in to help with family chores by being the official plate pre-rinser. She has also shared her superlative foot warming skills with cold toes on wet winter nights.

But lately, things have changed.
She has lumps that squish and bumps that ooze.
Her body’s urge to eliminate has overcome her mind’s ability to control the process.
Her soft brown eyes are clouded over with a silver haze.
My voice is no longer a part of her world and when she strays too far, she cannot hear me calling for her to return.
She chooses to live in the garage. The house is no longer a place of comfort to her.

I want to put her out of her misery.

And yet, when I take her in for her check-up, the vet says, “She has old dog lungs, but her heart is nice and strong.”
When I ask about the lumps and bumps, she says, “Oh, that’s to be expected with this breed of dog. They don’t bother her and they’re not cancerous.”
The eyes, the ears, the incontinence…all to be expected in a dog “this age.”

Rio, apparently, is perfectly happy. She rules her world from the garage, where she has easy access to outside and a comfy cave under the stairs. When the backyard beckons, the cool grass aching to be rolled in, the plum tree eager to provide a shady respite, Rio has the power to answer the call, or ignore it.

After visiting the vet, I realize that I want to put Rio out of my misery.
I am the one who perceives Rio’s life as miserable. Not Rio.

I have always been told that dogs are social animals that relish the companionship of their people. My dogs, therefore, have always been an integral part of the family.
When Rio started having issues with incontinence, I started putting her in the garage when everyone was gone and bringing her back inside when we got home. One day, though, Rio didn’t want to come back inside. I left the garage door open for her, so she could come back in when she was ready. Many months later, she still is not ready.

At this point in her life, she does not appear to need the constant reassurance of our love for her. She has lived with us long enough to know that we love her.

Apparently, what Rio wants is the freedom to make her own choices and the quiet and solitude she has earned after a lifetime of often chaotic, togetherness.

I will love her enough to give her this.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Girl Talk


I flee from my house, eager to get back to work and the predictability of emergency services. I realize that I will have to talk with OS when I get home. I know I should have done so before I left, but the shock of Elizabeth’s blinding smile wiped my mind clean of the ability to form words. When I finally regain the ability to speak, all I can do is apologize for the mess in the basement and mumble something about needing to get back to the office.

In the car, my mind is a jumble of questions.

Would OS have told me about his friend if I hadn’t come home? Why was she there? Why have I never met her before? Wow, she sure was cute, wasn’t she? What were they doing? Should I have made her leave when I left? There is no way any messing around could have been going on with eight fourth graders running around the house playing hide-and-seek, was there?

Mostly I wonder, how did my children get so old so fast?

It is difficult to concentrate at work. I fluctuate between wanting to laugh out loud and wanting to take OS and thump him on his incredibly dense little head.
Answering crisis calls and writing a letter for a participant serve as good distractions, forcing thoughts of home to the back of my mind. There, in the deep recesses, my agitated thoughts finally rest in the cobwebs that blanket important facts, stored long ago, for safekeeping.

Returning back home at 5:45, I find that work has provided just the respite I needed to put things in perspective. It has also given my children time to clear out all extraneous people.
This evening, in stark contrast to earlier in the day, the house is a virtual catacomb and I shake the walls awake as I slam the door behind me with a bang.
“Hello,” I yell, cocking my head to the side and waiting for three echoes to be returned to me. I am not disappointed. YD’s distracted “hello” floats down the stairs, YS’ “hello” bounces in front of him as he bounds into the living room and throws his arms around me in an exuberant hug, and OS’ “hello” crawls from the basement as though just waking from a hazy dream.
“Hey, sweetie,” I say to the top of YS’ head. I know that my days of seeing the top of this head, are numbered and that, too soon, our roles will be reversed and YS will be looking at the top of my head. I grab the opportunity to give him an extra little kiss and tousle his soft brown hair.
He smiles indulgently at me before he dashes off to resume his Lego creation.

I head downstairs.
Time for “The Talk”.

I find OS sitting on the couch, his long legs stretched out in front of him, effectively restricting access to the other side of the room. His thumbs dance nimbly over the video game controls as his player executes the perfect slam-dunk, complete with a 360 spin move.
He makes no indication that he has noticed me.

I wait.
He pauses the game and looks at me with eyes filled with equal parts interest and annoyance.

“When you have a minute, I’d like to talk with you,” I say to him, trying for a tone that casual yet serious, hoping that his available minute will be sometime in the future so that I can postpone the inevitable.

He calls my bluff.
“I have a minute.” As he speaks, he checks the TV screen to make sure that the game is, indeed, on pause.
“I wanted to talk with you about this afternoon,” I begin.
OS shifts uncomfortably in his seat, unsure of where I am going to go with this conversation. He says nothing.
“Thanks for introducing me to Elizabeth.”

He nods.

“I kind of got the impression that I only found out she was here was because I stopped by.”

He nods again.

“I am responsible for the people in this house,” I remind him, “so I really need to know who is here.”
“I know. Sorry.” OS looks appropriately contrite.

“Of course, it goes without saying that I expect you to keep your clothes on when you’re with a girl.”

OS is shocked into silence.

“You did keep your clothes on!”

“Muh-mee!”

I’ve done this teenaged thing before. I know better than to let that question go unanswered. I also know that I need to keep it light, so I smile and chuckle, “Well?”

He nods.
I confirm, “You both kept your clothes on?”

He nods.

Question number one asked and answered.
I move on.

“And…having a girl come to visit, by herself, when there is no adult around, is really not a good idea.”

Nothing.
I keep going.

“I didn’t let OD have a boy over when I was out, I won’t let YD have a boy over when I am out, so it doesn’t seem fair for me to let you have a girl over when I am out.”
OS nods and shrugs his shoulders, which I take as a sign that he agrees.
“It’s just not a good idea to be alone with a girl. You don’t want to get yourself in a situation where it is difficult for you to say “no”.”

So far, I’m feeling pretty good about our “talk”. I rehearsed this part several times with my oldest daughter when she and I discussed boys. This is the standard, unisex, opposite sex talk.
But now. I must move into unfamiliar territory, the talking-to-a-son-about-girls territory. I hesitate as I try to form my thoughts into coherent sentences.

OS waits.

“Also, you don’t want to be in a position you have to defend yourself against false accusations, where a girl can say something happened, even if it didn’t.”

There is a vivid picture in my mind of exactly what I am trying to say – a shameless hussy, “in trouble”, falsely accusing my “nice guy” son in order to protect a boy who has been less than honorable.
My words get in the way.
I wish I could hook my brain up to a video camera. I want to project the movie I am seeing in my mind onto the TV screen so OS can see what I see.
I can’t, so I stumble on.

“You need to make sure that you always have someone who can back you up – who can verify your story.”

OS maintains eye contact, but says nothing.

I realize that I am making women sound manipulative and patently untrustworthy. This is not the message I am trying to give to my son, but I do need to make sure that he is aware of the entire spectrum of possibilities.

I add a clumsy disclaimer.
“Which is not to say that any of the girls you know would ever do anything like that…you just need to be careful. You have things you want to do and places you want to go and you don’t want to mess that up.”

My conversation with OS is turning into a monologue.

“And, of course, you know that “no” means “no”, right?!”

OS nods and rolls his eyes.

“No. I mean, “no” means “NO”. If a girl says “no” at the beginning of the evening, it means “no” for the rest of the time you are with her.”
I pause, waiting for a response.
I get none.
I plow forward.

“Even if she starts kissing on you later in the evening, her “no” from earlier is still in effect.”

I look at OS.
He looks away.
I press on.

“Even if she said “yes”. If she changes her mind and says “no”, it means “no”.

OS looks as if he wants for put his fingers in his ears and hum “lalalala” at the top of his lungs in order to drown out the sound of my voice.

I speak up a little.

“Even if you have already started something, “no” means “no”, no matter what point you are at.”

OS’ face tells me that I have gone beyond the bounds of decency, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do to make me stop.

I show mercy.
He’s had enough.

“Anyway,” I say, switching abruptly to a light, casual tone, “just wanted to put that out there…just so you know, and so I know that you know.”

OS nods.

“For now,” I finish, “I think it is just best if you hang out with girls in a group.”

OS unclenches his jaws.
I kiss the top of his head.

“I love you, honey.”
OS sighs.
“I love you too, Mummy.”

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Surprise


My children were all home for Spring Break.
I wasn’t.
I had to work.

Thursday, I had a meeting. It was near the house, so I stopped by on my way back to the office.
I parked my car out in front and walked up the driveway toward the house. I was smiling to myself, anticipating the big hug I would get from YS and the slouching “Waddup, Mummy?” I would get from YD, my wannabe homey. OS, recovering from oral surgery, would be holed up in the basement, a bit fogged in from the pain medications.
I climbed the front steps and marveled again at the fabulous job YS had done cleaning the porch for the Easter Bunny.

I reached for the knob and found the door locked. I made a mental note to give my children a pat on the back for remembering to lock the front door and I gave myself a gentle reprimand for leaving my house keys in the car.

As I reached up to knock, I peered through the front door glass. Peering back at me were four eyes belonging to two children that did not belong to me. The girl, with straight blond hair and blue eyes, became frantic, first reaching to unlock the door, then backing away, back and forth, back and forth. The boy, with short brown hair and root beer brown eyes stood stock still, frozen in the middle of the living room, staring at me.
I tried to direct the girl, “Turn the lock that way,” I yelled through the door, pointing toward the right.
The girl was a fistful of thumbs, unable to master the deadbolt.

I started knocking on the window again.
Finally, I saw the familiar face of YS round the corner into the living room. He was trailed by two of our neighbor boys, one of whom is his best friend. He face lit up when he saw me and he raced to the door to let me in.
“Mummy!” he smiled as he threw his arms around my hips in a big hug and lifted me off the floor.

This is one of his favorite “tricks”. He is proud of the fact that he has been strong enough to lift me off the ground since he was in the second grade. This year, he has learned to stagger walk with me in his arms, my toes dangling just inches off the ground and my head towering two feet over him.

YS put me down and, just as the chaos in the living room was subsiding, a new commotion was erupting in the kitchen. We moved as a unit toward the kitchen where we discovered someone trapped in the bathroom. The pocket door was rattling and a small voice was yelling, “HELP!”

“Just a minute, sweetie,” I yelled back, racing madly for the tool drawer to grab a screwdriver. I discovered a flashlight, matches, curtain rings and miscellaneous screws, hair bobs, a hammer, a pencil and three pens, clothespins, string and a broken candy cane, a box of keys that unlock nothing, a padlock, with no key and a whistle. What I could not find, is a screwdriver.

In my mind, I was flailing and cursing the person who “borrowed” my screwdriver, but my unflappable mama exterior held the frantic in check and I calmly yelled to the bathroom door, “Hold on, honey, I’m still looking!”

I went clattering down to the basement, thinking perhaps one of the people we have working on the “remodel” might have left behind a screwdriver. The room was dark and there was a movie playing on the TV screen. I could see OS’ head peeking up over the top of the couch on the other side of the room. He twisted his head slowly up and around so he could see me out of the corner of his eye. “Oh, hey Mummy,” he mumbled lazily. “I…”

“I’ll come talk to you in a minute,” I snapped, cutting him off. “I need to find screwdriver. Somebody is locked in the bathroom.”
“Isn’t there supposed to be one in the drawer in the kitchen?” he asked in the superior tone of a teenager who knows everything.
“Yes!” My exasperation threw the word at him with the force of a missile.

Shaking my head, I went back to my search. I found sawdust, nails, a compressor, lumber and electric wiring hanging from the ceiling, but no screwdriver.

Back upstairs.

YS was crouching by the bathroom door, the neighbors and two strangers huddled behind him, watching. With the skill of a surgeon, YS was wiggling a screwdriver the size of a matchstick between the door and the jamb.
“Got it!” he yelled with pride.

The door slid open.

Instead of the one child I expected, three children tumbled out into the kitchen. Freed from their bathroom prison and their panic at being trapped, the children began talking all at once, eager to be the first child who got to tell the story.
The largest girl, one whom I recognized at a classmate of YS’, won. The other children gathered around her as she recounted the tale of her imprisonment; the two who had been with her nodded vigorously, adding details as necessary.

YS detached himself from the crowd. “Mummy, did you see how I did that?” he asked, eyes round and glowing. “I jiggled it up, like this,” he explained, grasping the tiny screwdriver tightly between his thumb and fore finger, “and it pushed the latch up, like this.”
“I missed it, honey,” I said as I shook my head with honest regret. “It was clever of you to think of that. I was looking for the big screwdriver so I could turn the lock screw from the outside.”
“Yeah, well, I just thought I’d try this while you were looking…and it worked!” YS explained. YS has always been mindful of the feelings of others, and I could tell that he was trying to protect my feelings by downplaying his ingenuity. He turned to rejoin the crowd, and I looked for his sister.

YD was sitting calmly at the kitchen table, working on the Sudoku. I beckoned for her,

Rising, she slouched toward me.
“I thought you were only babysitting two people,” I began, in a tone that came out sounding slightly accusatory.
“I am!” she responded, Valley Girl accent and teenaged attitude meshing perfectly with the hand placed oh so emphatically on the hip.
“And…” I paused, gesturing at the eight fourth graders who were now dispersing toward the living room.
“Well, M called and YS invited her over to play and she brought all those other kids with her.” YD looked at me and I could see the wheels turning in her mind as she quickly calculated the effect her words were having. Realizing that, as the “responsible” party I had left in charge for the day, she was still in the hole, she added, …and he didn’t even ask me, and they all just showed up.”
“Does M’s mother know that there is no adult here?”
“Uh…no,” YD admitted. “But it’s actually easier with all of them than it was with just the three boys.”
Ignoring her rationalization, I continued, “Do you think that perhaps it would have been a good idea to let her know?’
“Well…I guess.”
“Do you think it would be a good idea to call her now?”
“Uh…yeah.”
I stepped back, raised my eyebrows and gestured toward the phone. YD didn’t move a muscle. “Yeah, but you’re here now,” she pouted.

YD hates the phone. Even when her friends call, she cuts the conversation short, trying to get rid of the phone more quickly than she would a burning piece of coal.

“You could just call when you leave,” she suggested, pursing her lips in a mock frown and working to perfect a look that is the perfect combination of pathetic yet beguiling.
She nailed it and I agreed to make he call.

As it turned out though, neither of us had to make the call as the game of hide-and-seek had ended and the mystery children banged out the front door and headed back down the street to the neighbor’s house.

YS and the boys YD was babysitting stayed behind.
I pulled YS aside and sternly reminded to him that he cannot invite people over without checking with me first.

Chaos cleared, I grabbed an apple and got ready to head back to work, when I heard a bump at the top of the basement stairs, OS appeared.
Oops. I had forgotten that he had wanted to tell me something earlier.

“Uh…Mummy?” he began, fumbling for words. “Uh…you like to know when someone is at the house…uh…so…uh…this is Elizabeth.”

A beautiful curly haired brunette with a Pepsodent white smile and a shy, “Hi,” rounded the corner.

Oy!! This parenting stuff is not for the faint of heart!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Forgiveness

Over at Fully Caffeinated, Carrie brought up the issue of forgiveness. Coincidentally, I have been struggling with this issue.
A lot.
What does it mean to forgive?

As a mother, I forgive regularly and often.
It's easy.
I love my children.

Unconditionally.

I have forgiven them for the little things: the unmade beds, the rooms knee deep in clothes, both clean and dirty, that apparently, leap unbidden, from the chests of drawers and closets, the bathroom sink artfully decorated with green toothpaste spit.

The repeated daily offenses that require little, repeated daily forgiveness.
Petty nuisances that require constant nagging but require neither relationship repair nor restoration of trust.

I have forgiven them for the big things: the sticky fingers that somehow removed items from the store without first removing money from a wallet, the cheating at school, the overt and physical disrespect.

The one-time doosies that require big, God-love forgiveness.
Severe blows that require compassion and understanding and break the heart, increasing its capacity to love and accept.

I can do this.
I have done this.
I will continue to do this.

Not forgiving is not an option.

Then there is forgiveness for a friend.

I had a friend, a “best” friend, who judged me and found me wanting.
The Puanani she needed was different from the Puanani I was capable of being and, I think, different from the Puanani I wanted to be. This difference was unacceptable to my friend and she chose to severe our relationship.
Abruptly.

I was angry and hurt.
But, she was angry and hurt too.

She had been a friend who had gone above and beyond for me. She helped me to maintain my equilibrium during my divorce, at a time when I was teetering precariously on the edge of sanity. She had a certain vision of how my life would look after balance was restored. She expected me to have that same vision; after all, we had become like sisters, able to complete each other’s sentences and feel each other’s emotions.
We were of one mind...until we weren't. When my own was fully restored to me, I found that we did not always want the same things nor did we share the same vision. This hurt my friend and she was angry.

I could understand her feelings.
I forgave her and waited for her to forgive me.

A couple of weeks ago, she mailed me a note. It feels as though she has forgiven me.

Yet, when she asked if we could get together, my answer was "no".

I see no point. Rehashing the past would simply tear open old wounds and expose raw nerves.
I cannot mold myself to fit her image of who I should be – being her friend would require that I not be me. And, being my friend would require a change on her part that she cannot make. So I choose not to resume this friendship.

Some would say that this means that I have not truly forgiven her. I disagree.
I have.
I have also recognized the fact that we have chosen different paths, paths that have diverged, like a fork in a river. Coming together now would require damming that fork, leaving one side dry and barren, devoid of the life it once knew, and the other filled beyond its capacity, overflowing its boundaries and flooding the banks.
I do not want to be a raging river nor do I want to be a dry creek bed.
I do not want to alter my course. Luckily, forgiveness does not require that I do.

Forgiveness for Patrick, my children’s father, falls in another category.
Clearly, we did not love each other unconditionally.
Our marriage fell apart after being together for twenty-three years. I thought I knew this man, and I think he thought he knew me. Both of us were surprised by how little we really knew.

Our divorce proceedings were long and ugly.
Forgiveness and compassion were nonexistent.

Understanding…I had that.
I understood how he could feel hurt and angry. And so, I would try to forgive him. And just when I would get close to finding that forgiveness, he would reach into my chest.
Again.
And rip out my heart.
Again.
And stomp all over it.
Again.
Hard.

And I couldn’t, and still can’t, get away from him. He is inexorably twisted into the fiber of my life. I cannot say, as I did with my friend, “no”. He is a nagging itch under my skin that will not go away.

Sometimes, our relationship is better than others. Last Christmas, it felt as though we were on the brink of becoming friends. It passed. In January, we were back to sitting on opposite sides of the gym, resenting that we both had to breathe the same air.

Having him in my life requires almost daily forgiveness. The great big God-love forgiveness. And he is not my child, and sometimes, I don’t feel like forgiving him and I don’t want to forgive him and I resent that I feel like I should forgive him because he doesn’t deserve it, and he hasn’t forgiven me, and…just because.

I do know that when I am able to forgive him, I feel better. That sour taste, the alum in my mouth feeling that sucks the moisture out of my mouth while simultaneously causing me to salivate the way one does right before one throws up…that feeling goes away.
I also know that sometimes, forgiving him just takes more effort than I have in me.

But I want peace.
I know that forgiveness will give me peace.
And so I struggle with it.


I struggle with forgiveness.

What it means to forgive.
How to forgive.

Friday, March 21, 2008

6 Words


Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all extremely busy. In order to make their lives a little easier, I have often volunteered to do some of the leg work for them.

This year, the Easter Bunny asked that I research books that might be appropriate to include in my children's Easter baskets and to make recommendations. In the past, I have been able to plumb the depths of my memory to come up with several good suggestions. This year, my memory banks are frighteningly bare. The recesses of my mind, which should be filled with useful information, instead feel as though they are sucked dry, swept by tumbleweeds and sun parched wind.

Unwilling to admit defeat to my favorite of bunnies, I jumped on line and began perusing the stacks at powellsbooks.com. I was able to find several good choices, which I have passed along to the Bunny so that she can make her selection.

In the search process, I came across a book entitled Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

Interesting.

It got me to thinking about my six words. I could feel them bubbling, prickling my consciousness, until they burst forth in an explosion of light.

Plagued by miracles and blessed mistakes.

What are your six words?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sisters


It was August of 2001 and we were vacationing in Northern California with my sister and her family. After a lazy afternoon spent reading books and playing board games, my sister and I decided to go for a brisk walk down to the beach before addressing dinner. Joined by our gaggle of children, we donned our jackets and headed out the door.

The wind danced through the long golden grasses as we walked down a path of rippled sunshine. The children led the way, their walking sticks in the air, batons meting out the rhythm of our parade. My sister and I played the caboose.

We stopped when we reached the bluff overlooking the ocean. Gnarled gray trees stood sentry, their roots clinging steadfastly to the hardened earth. Far below, the sea undulated gently and the salt air rose to welcome us in her warm embrace. Out on the rocks, a lone sea lion lifted his chest to the sky and bellowed. My oldest daughter, OD, stood stock-still. “Shhh,” she commanded, “he’s talking to me.”

“What is he saying?” I asked, intrigued by her ability to understand his wild barking.
She closed her eyes and smiled, softly shaking her head, “it’s a secret.”
I watched her savor the moment as it settled in her soul. I wondered what seed had just been planted and I wondered if I would notice when it grew.

We continued on our journey, each lost in quiet contemplation. A thin black garter snake slithered between our feet and darted under an ancient graying log that lay sheltered under the wind swept branches of the evergreens. Flailing walking sticks and shrieking quickly replaced our silence, all of us scampering madly to avoid a snake that was already off the path and was clearly just eager to avoid us, as we were to avoid him. We dissolved into a comedy of keystone cops as we hopped and scuttled our way past the small stand of trees.

Moments later, we crossed a tiny wooden bridge that spanned a dry creek bed. The rocks below us were smooth, faded orbs shaded in grays and browns. Our feet clomped loudly over the weathered timbers.

“Who’s that tramping over my bridge?” boomed OD.
“It is I, the smallest Billy Goat Gruff,” responded my youngest daughter, YD, in her squeakiest and highest pitched voice. She clenched up her arms and her hands became tight fists as she spoke, trying to embody the most diminutive goat of the Gruff family.

My girls are separated by almost five years, yet at this moment, they are totally in synch with each other. I can see the tiny golden thread that each of them has cast out to the other. It will join with other random moments, twisting together and weaving the strong rope that will forever bind them together as sisters.

It has been a long road since that summer day. OD and YD have grown to be as different as marshmallows and brussel sprouts. They have often wondered to me how they could even be related. They have ignored each other, complained about each other and gone out of their way to be as unlike the other as they could be. They were not merely drifting apart; they were running as hard and as fast as they could in opposite directions.

It made me sad to see such a deep chasm grow between them. I wanted them to be the kind of sisters that my sisters and I weren’t. It seemed, however, that history was doomed to repeat itself

And then, in January, in the soggy, wet, miserable dead of winter, the sun rose and its warmth enveloped my daughters and their hearts began to thaw toward each other.

This winter, YD, a freshman in high school, needed a dress to wear to Winter Formal. I am NOT a shopper nor am I up to date on the latest fashion trends. YD knows this, she also knows that her sister is, so when I asked her if she would like me to check with her sister as to where to shop and what to buy, YD eagerly dialed the phone and handed it to me.

“Oooo!” OD squealed when I asked her advice, “can I take her shopping?” Her desire seemed genuine, but my daughters’ years of mutual misunderstandings made me hesitate.
“Pu-leeeez?!” she begged. “I know exactly where to take her.”
“Well…” I hedged.
Sensing a weakness, OD swooped in and took control, “How much do you want to spend? Ooo, and after we choose a dress, I can take her to Nordstrom for a make-over!”

YD, sitting next to me at the kitchen table, began to smile and her head started moving until she looked like a bobble head doll come to life in my kitchen.
OD was in her element. Fashion ideas were bubbling out of her. Her excitement was spilling through the phone and YD was lapping it up until the room was pulsing with anticipation.

We formulated a plan, and the next day, OD picked up YD after school and took her to the mall.
Two, over the top happy girls came home to me that evening, smiles big enough to bridge the Columbia River. They had found the perfect dress and had scored some fabulous samples at the make-up counter.
Most importantly, they had each found a new, tiny golden thread and both of my girls were busily weaving once again, strengthening the rope that would bind them together forever as sisters.