Saturday, December 24, 2011
i've been thinking about my father all day. missing my family terribly. missing home. and as i drove i thought about how much my father loved to drive. and about how much he loved christmas.
people have asked in the past why it is i 'let' my kids believe in santa claus. why i would lead them down the path of 'the big lie.' and i always chuckle because i believe in santa as much as my children. maybe even more.
i've made no secret that my childhood was a struggle. on many levels. when i was little there were times we had no heat or light. no electricity. once we did without a refrigerator for three months until my father could afford to replace it. i didn't get new school clothes until i started working at 13 and bought them myself. there were long stretches without a working vehicle. but we never went hungry and santa always came.
and the thing is, i *knew* from a very early age that the gifts under the tree weren't 'really' from santa. i just knew. but that never stopped me from lying in bed at night thinking about christmas and dreaming and wondering what santa would bring me. and even though i knew my father was responsible for pulling santa off and even though i knew we were ever on the margin, that there wasn't money for the basics at times, even though i knew this...santa always came. i don't know how, but he did. and every year it was like a christmas miracle. (i'm sure my father thought so, too.)
and that's how i learned to dream. to imagine that it could be different from what it is. that even though you can't always see it, it's there. possibility. it's there and it exists and the *only* thing you need is to believe.
and so my kids believe in santa. and i never stopped. and today while i was driving i was thinking about my father and santa and my heart was hurting so deeply i began to cry at a stoplight and knew i had to pull over. the light turned green and i made my way to the next driveway. and parked the car. and sobbed.
there's so much more to say here but i've said it all. and repeated it. and then said it again. this is such a humbling bumbling silly mortal process. and it sucks. and there are moments that REALLY suck. but i see the light, here and there. i know it ebbs and it flows, i know i know i know. that it won't get better, just different. i believe in the process. i trust that i'm right on track. but mostly i am just sad. today especially.
so i had my cry and wiped my tears. took the breath you take after sobbing deeply and looked around. and realized i was in a wendy's parking lot. and thought about a thanksgiving years ago when we lived with a baby duke in san francisco. and i was missing my family then, too. only it was because we moved a 1000 miles away, not 3000. and my father wasn't dead, just on the other end of the telephone.
and he asked me what we were going to do for thanksgiving and i told him we were going to wendy's. and he said oh honey, i hate to think of you guys eating at a fast food place on thanksgiving. and i chuckled. dad, i said, wendy is a friend of mine! we're eating at her house! and he chuckled.
so we spent that thanksgiving with wendy. wendy who had just the year earlier nursed the brand newly born duke while i spent two days receiving blood transfusions in the hospital barely able to sit up. when i couldn't, she did. and the re-telling of that story happened *just* today on a certain social networking site.
a wendy's parking lot. where i could most certainly get a cheeseburger. amazing. because if one was taking a quiz on sillymortalmama and got the question 'what is sillymortalmama's favorite food to eat after an emotional upset?' the answer to that would be 'a cheeseburger.'
ah life. sometimes it really is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
so i got out and got a cheeseburger and ate it in the parking lot of a wendy's on christmas eve so very far away from those i love the best with teary eyes and a broken heart.
and then, i felt better.
just like that.
so i wiped my mouth and dried my tears.
and then i drove home.
so it goes.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
i believe in jackalopes. and the ability of the postal service still amazes me. how siri works i will never understand.
the fact that they put a man on the moon doesn't phase me. the fact that they can do that and still not be able to construct a plastic lid that fits over a paper cup properly does.
i don't believe in unicorns, but i believe that others believe in them and for them they exist. i do believe in dinosaurs, though. and i believe there are many higher powers and i will never ever stop believing there is a santa claus. and i believe in love at first sight and i believe it's never too late to find what you're looking for. and i believe that good people are capable of making terrible mistakes and still be good people.
i believe in forgiveness, but i don't believe in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth across the board. sometimes it's better just to keep your mouth shut.
i believe in miracles. however small. however subtle.
i believe in the rope. you know, the one that comes dangling down from out of the blue. right when you need it most.
i believe in the mountains and valleys of a life. i am in a valley. i've been trying to come to grips with this past year. i'm not even going to pretend that this is one of those posts where i have a low and then find the high. this isn't like that.
today the husband asked me if we have any envelopes. he's been trying to pay bills. he gathered all the bills. then he needed stamps. then he said he realized he had no envelopes and kept forgetting until he went to send the bills. the process was taking forever.
'that's like a depressed person. that's how it is being depressed. everything seems to have five steps and usually i just get to step 1.5 and stop. the process eventually repeats itself until it gets to 5. so. there's that.'
i believe this will pass. i know it will. but what i can't wrap my head around is how different everything is. and how it will never be the same again.
usually i love beating a dead horse. if it's a story i really like or a point i'm trying to make, etc. but this feels over done. maybe if the year hadn't already been difficult then losing my father wouldn't be so awful.
i know that isn't true. because it's awful no matter how you slice it.
but how do you move past that loss? how. really. and i tell myself the thing i tell everyone who asks me the same thing about a million other losses human suffer everyday...time and distance. that's all. keep going, keep breathing and moving and eventually you come out the other side. you really really do.
only right now, i can't see that. because i'm not the one doling out the soothing words. i'm the one with the broken heart. i'm the one asking how? why? and lamenting how unfair it is. it's SO UNFAIR.
again, like with the house i KNOW it's not personal. i KNOW this. the world works the way it does and it's ours to react how we do. nothing more.
but it just seems so wrong. for someone to die so quickly and randomly and just...die. to no longer exist.
it seems so wrong to feel so incredibly sad. to miss someone so much. to be without the person who raised you.
i believe, folks, we have reached #4 of the phases of grief.
and the only door prize here seems to be a bottle. either in liquid form or pills. thankfully i've rejected both or else grief would be the least of our worries.
so what do you do when you feel so sad and broken? well. for me i get up and i don't go back to bed. i walk. i take great pleasure if a song i love comes on the radio, if it's sad i turn it. i learned that the hard way. (BAM! i ran into the back of the woman in front of me. i was stopped. so was she. both trying to merge. i thought she went. but i was teary and not paying attention. no damage for either of us. she was really sweet about it. but my god.) i cook. because under normal circumstances it's something i truly enjoy. and because when we are sad and our hearts are fragile there is nothing better than feeding the cracks and the tears with good wholesome food. and i try to do the normal stuff a normal person does.
but the fall reminds me of my father. and the days and weeks before we left the farm for good. at once fall is so hopeful and yet so melancholy. made even more so this year.
what do you do when you just can't go back to bed and cover your head? and what do you do when you do get to go to bed and you wake up in the middle of the night? nearly every night? writing poems in your head about how grief is like a house of cards and you want it to stop trembling or fall already. just pick one. pick.
it's like a battle every day to make sure this is all kept afloat. and some days are easier than others. and some days it's just so hard and sad. and my father is around every corner and in every expression the duke makes. and some days i can think about him and smile and some days i cry. and some days it's both at once. and it's like a war of the emotions. and there is no victor. but i keep going because the alternative is to give up. and just be in this place. that i've been in. and that i don't want to be in forever. or anymore. and i can't do that to myself or to my family.
move forward without missing a step on the path. yeah.
i suppose i could be approaching this all wrong. i mean, a normal person goes to therapy and gets a prescription and gets some aid for the rough patches. normal people don't try to general patton their way out of their shit. soldier on, baby. don't stop. i am my father's daughter. i would have made a good cowboy. a soldier cowboy.
(oh and thank you, well meaning people for your suggestions and concern. while it looks weird, it works for me)
there's a point to all of this. really. and here it is; all of this time i've been wondering how do you move past the pain of tremendous loss? and i saw glimpses of it here and there this past year after losing the house. then my father died and i couldn't imagine how that would look down the line. how? so i got all mired in that. and it compounded the grieving.
and then yesterday i was listening to NPR and there was an interview with michael stipe and mike mills on the demise of REM.
michael stipe was clearly in a more lamenting and contemplative place in discussing the matter than mike mills was. mills was being very deferential and sensitive to the situation (and stipe's attitude) while still being pragmatic and positive.
"I've been to a couple of shows since we made the announcement, and going to shows was not easy," Stipe says. "It was hard to watch friends, or to watch people who I admired, up there performing and think to myself, 'Wow, I only know that now from here — from standing in the audience.' "
"But it's not necessarily gone forever — it just won't be with the same people," Mills says, addressing Stipe. "I don't see you stopping making music forever. You have too much of a good gift for that. You'll be up there doing it with somebody, and I'll be up there doing it with somebody else, and it won't be what we had, but it will be what we have."
and it won't be what we had, but it will be what we have.
and all of a sudden, there was the rope.
things are never going to be what they were. my father isn't going to come back and i will never be serenaded to sleep by the frogs in the pond in the back pasture again.
and of course i knew this, i am not drowning in magical thinking. i just didn't know what to put in those spaces. you know, the empty ones. the ones that no longer hold my father or my former life. that's what i was wondering. what do i put there?
it turns out there really isn't anything *to* put in those spaces.
but there are new spaces to be created. and filled. when i'm ready.
it will never be what i had, but it will always be what i have. and that's going to have to be enough. and, eventually, it will be. it's not, right now, but it will be. and that's it. that's all i got. that's the best i can do. which doesn't feel like much, right now, but it's a lot better than getting mired down in the wondering. trying to fill the un-fillable. it's a start. something to grab. something to hold.
in the meantime, i bring you this installment of your moment(s) of zen. enjoy.
"If a man does his best, what else is there?" General George S. Patton
Thursday, October 27, 2011
which is not a good thing because i spend so much time in it.
it's not a bad kitchen. it's actually kinda cute. i guess. except that it was filthy when i moved in. which pissed me off. the cabinet full of liquor left behind mitigated that somewhat...but still.
plus, the rental ad touted it as a 'chef's kitchen.' so i was excited until i was standing in it and i was like, uhhh...chef's kitchen? chef who? chef boyardee?
i have always maintained it's not the kitchen, but the cook. if you can cook, you can cook anywhere. with any set up. but i REALLY do not like my kitchen.
because it's not my kitchen. in my house. 3200 miles away. and before you start rolling your eyes and stop reading because this is another maudlin post about how a sillymortalmama lost her house and can't let the fuck go...don't. because it's not. at least i think it's not. sometimes i don't know until the x. goes at the bottom what's going to come out. anyway...where was i?
oh yeah. okay, so i keep a running list in my head about all the shortcomings my kitchen now has. and i mutter them while i'm cooking in said kitchen. or hand washing the millionth tub of dishes that day (no dishwasher) or rescuing small items from the monster of a garbage disposal (not another measuring spoon! the tip top of the blender? great! sigh.) or battling ants and lack of space and the never learned to shop or cook bachelor sized refrigerator i could go on and on somebody slap me.
plus. it's charmless. my old kitchen had windows and light and space and the classical station was always on. in my kitchen now, it won't come in. the classical station. it's cold and the light is bad. plus the neighbors have full view of everything i do. but if i draw a shade then there's no light. somebody slap me. really.
okay. so yesterday i was sitting in the green chair in the corner by the window in the living room. thinking about how things are these days. how my life used to be. and how it is now. how i miss my house, my life before. and my dad. my family. and my friends. thanksgiving is coming and we are so far away. (it's okay. i'm still within time limits for grieving. for all of it. don't send the men in the white coats quite yet. unless of course they're here to clean. or tell me my hair looks pretty.)
i was thinking my favorite thoughts about how this house is too small and my office doesn't work and i can't find anything. good lord i do go on. and thinking about how i don't leave the house except to do things for other people. how i've lost my sparkle. and how hard it is without sparkle.
and i just sat there. wondering if this was it. you know, it. like this is your life from here on out. so get comfortable sister because you have arrived. in this house that's too small and in this life that's filled with loss. go you.
(you know what's coming, right?)
and then i thought about something my cousin, dane posted on a certain social networking site earlier that day. i don't know why, as it didn't really fit with what was flitting about. but it kinda niggled in and held on so i went to the computer and looked it up.
*Positive and attractive feelings such as security and confidence are similar to their polar opposites insecurity and jealousy in that they often end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.*
not a new concept, but seen right when i needed it. holy shit. i'm fucking my own self up. yeah, those things happened. and it hurts. still. sure. life's rough. tell me about it. and i do tell y'all about it. but if you spend your time telling yourself how rough it is, well that's just dumb. crap. i know this. i do. why do i keep having to re-LEARN it. SOMEBODY SLAP ME.
i live here in this small house. in this life. i live here now. i won't have a different kitchen anytime soon. i won't see my family for thanksgiving. or go a day without missing people anytime soon. it's not going to happen. so what am i going to do about it?
so i thought about my kitchen. why i focused on that i don't know, but that's what flitted in. and i wondered how in the world can i make it work. HURDLE. big hurdle.
and i swear the hand of the divine reached out and smacked me right in the ass. it hit me. (i mean the idea, not the metaphorical hand of the divine.) i got up i went into the kitchen and i grabbed the cutting board from where it always is for prep and i grabbed the onions and the garlic and the chilies from where they are by the oils and the cooking utensils the knives and the stove.
and i switched them.
i put the cutting board by the stove. i put the onions and garlic and chilies where the cutting board was.
i switched them.
and i discovered that prepping where i was was making me crazy. because there's no dishwasher so there are always dishes on the counter by where the prep space was. and no matter how often i do dishes it's ALWAYS a chaotic jumble right there. and the onions and garlic and chilies just spilled out onto the other counter making it impossible to use the space for anything but as a place to have STUFF.
so i switched them.
and i discovered a world of calm at the other counter. free of chaos. closer to the stove. walking across the kitchen with what i prepped to the stove was making me crazy. and it was stupid. why did i not see it before?
because i set that kitchen up in a haze of loss. through tears and irritation.
and i never revisited that. never once saw what i had done, and was continuing to do to myself.
and you know what else? with the onions and garlic and chilies gone the classical station comes in loud and clear. i kid you not. isn't that something? if i could make shit up like this i would. and make millions.
and then the husband moved the under cabinet light to the new prep space and it's the best lighting we've ever had. and it was a pleasure to be in the kitchen last night. and this morning making breakfast and preparing lunches with dvorak on the radio i actually found myself humming.
i don't hum.
i'm fond of saying it's the little things. that the big things are never really what do you in. because you can see them coming. and you HAVE to deal with them. so you just do. it's the little things that do you in. swooping in totally out of the blue and leaving you lying broken on the floor.
like a stupid cutting board in the wrong place.
and it does make me wonder where else i can 'move the cutting board.' i mean shit, where to start, right? every one of us has that running list in our heads. but what if instead of letting it hang us up because we'll never tick everything off, what if we abandon the idea of ticking those items off altogether? what if instead of ticking we go for tweaking? just a bit here. a bit there. you aren't going to have a different kitchen soon? fine. move the cutting board.
it seems simplistic, sure. but the moment we decide to let our lives be about the 'positive and attractive feelings,' quit muttering our lists aloud, let our lives be about the small tweaks to get us to the next step, about tweaking *instead* of ticking, that's the moment we don't define our lives by 'this moment.'
life is made up of a string of moments. no one moment defines us. so why should we let it?
so that's my story. i moved the cutting board. one foot in front of the other. lather rinse repeat.
Monday, October 17, 2011
it started with andy rooney and morley safer on 60 minutes. okay, it started with my father dying...but the actual can't keep back the choking sobs started with andy rooney's farewell interview on 60 minutes a few weeks back.
i know what you're thinking, she's not going off into the weeds, she's smoking weed! (and yes, people still say weed. i know because i asked.) but bear with me. or go clean your fridge. it's up to you.
anyway, i couldn't get enough of listening to the two of them talk. the language. the timbre of their voices. like discovering full fat butter after growing up on tubs of country crock. and i got up and left the room and went to the bathroom and shut the door and started to sob.
people don't speak like that anymore.
and then i heard harry belafonte being interviewed on npr. and i got the same feeling. like i could listen to him forever. again, the richness of his language, the thoughtful way he spoke, you could feel his heart in his words. and i tried to keep the tears back while i made my way through traffic.
people don't speak like that anymore.
my father spoke like that.
i miss that about my father.
i miss my father.
he drove me crazy when he monologued when i was younger, but as i got older i appreciated our conversations. well, mostly. he could still drive me crazy. and during our last visit i spent it mostly listening to him speak. about everything and nothing. just soaking it in. and as his days here on earth waned i appreciated hearing from him on the telephone. just hearing his voice.
i wish i had recorded him.
my father could hold a whole conversation with himself and still keep you engaged. he knew words and meanings and phrases no one else did, and he strung them together so beautifully. and his voice. it was deep and rich, and he knew how to pause, and to dip, and to draw out and it was like a perfectly coordinated dance.
people don't speak like that anymore.
people don't use language anymore. they don't have conversations. they just talk. text. type. they don't pull words out of their head in mid conversation and float them out there in hopes that they convey what they mean them to. typing and spell check and delete makes everything more crafted and less interesting. at least less spontaneous.
not my father, language was and remained incredibly important to him. he got it from his own mother, this idea that words always meant something. everything. the idea that you don't just toss words about, and that you don't use a cheap and easy word when there are so many magnificent ones to choose from. that you don't abuse language. ever. even as he was being admitted into a strange nursing home room that he was certain to know would be the last room he would know, my younger sister and i were admonished for our use of language with the nurse. he felt we were in poor taste and being crass.
and whenever i think about this i can't hold back the sobs. because i won't hear him again.
and i think about kids these days, and young adults and how no one really has conversations anymore. and i know there is merit in the use of screens and text, and that life changes, and we adapt, but i can't help but mourn real live conversation.
but who am i to talk. pun intended. when i lost my house and had to move so far i all but stopped speaking on the telephone. and since my father died even more so. i can't think of what i would say if someone asked how i was doing. i can't find one more way to say 'okay' and not start sobbing and put us all in that awkward moment. people get tired of grief. they don't know what to do with it. and so i don't force the issue. i figure if i jaw on about in my blog it's their fault if they read. ;)
which makes it even more lonesome to be so far away from family and friends, people with whom i talked with. not only on the phone, but in actual person, on holidays, and during bbqs at the farm. i don't have that here. a bit, here and there, but not on the regular. like it used to be. and the more the year catches up with me and the more grief i bear the less i want to speak.
but i remember conversation. especially when i was younger. and there were few responsibilities and no social media and no one ever lost a house or a parent and hanging out and talking with friends was the best time ever. real live conversation. jesus, i sound old.
and i remember one of my very favorite people to have a conversation with was my friend kelly. he and i used to talk.all.the.time. sometimes for hours. there was this little park in our hometown we had our own nickname for and we'd go there. and if it was nice we'd head out to where the park rose into a little knoll and we'd pick a spot just shy of the top and we were off. if it was cold we'd sit in his car. it didn't matter. even if all we had was 10 minutes we'd take it.
we talked about everything and nothing. like you do when you're 16 and 17 and 18 and the world couldn't be more confusing and amusing. and if we weren't at the park we'd talk on the phone.
all of my friends were fabulous conversationalists, but kelly was my favorite. we were actually very different people, but he wasn't afraid to go to the places people are afraid to go in conversation because it's so unformed or new or scary. to explore those differences. and when you are a girl teenager or a boy teenager that's everything. because it meant being able to let go of some of the guard. and going to that place of being so sure you knew it all and yet none of it made any sense. and we could admit that. so, we did. and we'd try and figure it all out with words.
those conversations lasted for years, and then when we were apart we wrote letters. i hadn't thought about that in so long. but kelly was also my most constant letter writing companion.
and in those conversations and letters i learned what i thought about the world. and how that shaped who i was. was going to be. when you have everything floating around inside and you have someone who will not only listen, but respond, it's such a gift. especially someone so gifted with language. someone who understands the importance language.
and writing to kelly was some of the first 'writing' i did. i think because i always respected him as a person and a musician i was trying to make it to that level of being 'interesting enough.' and i found i had a voice when i wrote. plus, in some ways i suppose i was trying to impress him. and so i tapped into the writer in me to do so. all because i was under the misguided notion that he was cooler than me. we have since worked that misconception out. ;)
and yes, he talked about girls. and i talked boys. and we gossiped worse than two women over a backyard fence.
i always say my friends in high school saved me. i think my father thought so, too. he was grateful for my friendships, for what they gave me, and he loved my friends. he especially loved kelly. he once told me that kelly was the kind of boy he'd love for me to marry.
kelly and i did not date or grow up to marry. but there's something very sweet and precious about close friendships at that age. opposite sex or same sex friendships. i recently read an interview with jonah hill and he's talking about the sleeping bag scene at the end of 'superbad' (which is my favorite, BTW) and he said "The great romance of your youth is your best friend at that age." and i am inclined to agree.
i am feeling especially fragile these days. and anything that reminds me that there was a 'before' to all of 'now' is so dear to me. and i don't want to stay so long here where it's sad and i have a hard time keeping the tears back. but i'm here and while i'm here i want to be reminded that things used to be sweet and precious. to be reminded of my father in the positive. not just gone. because it helps.
which brings this full circle, i hope...the other day kelly told me he was going to go by the house i grew up in. just drive by. a bit of a pilgrimage. and until he said that's what he was going to do i didn't know that that's what needed to be done. but of course it does. i've always said that kelly knew me before i knew myself. and it's because we sat on that grassy knoll for so many hours talking about everything and nothing at all.
thank you. it made all the difference in the world.
and when you drive by the house pour one out for my father, wouldja?
Saturday, October 15, 2011
why? because my father, who raised me, didn't ever really tell me i was. not in general, and not on the days it was obvious i was suffering with some sling or arrow of adolescence. not just for the sheer parental praise of it. not ever.
thus i spent my high school years with, at time, crippling self-esteem that extended well after high school.
before you feel sorry for how i felt about myself, don't. we, and by we i mean me and my younger self, worked that out. it got better.
but in high school? not so much. i couldn't figure out why i was in the advanced classes if i wasn't smart? (for everything except math. stupid math)
my grades were crap, even though i fully understood the material (for everything except math. stupid math) and at times was so bored i couldn't keep my eyes open. but i was not raised by someone who paid a lot, or really any, attention to grades, and test scores, and attendance. my father was so busy trying to keep the lights on and food in the house and his own demons at bay that i was on my own.
my father loved me and he did the best he could, but parental praise and educational participation were not his strong suits. which is funny because i always knew he was my biggest fan and the smartest guy in the room.
but, if you grow up incredibly shy, and grow up never hearing, 'you're pretty, you're smart' by the ones who love you best how do you know?
you don't. and you believe that you are neither of those things. and you proceed accordingly. and are graded accordingly. and you measure the boys who like you based on that they like you at all, and that brings your self-esteem up. and then you add in short skits and a smart mouth and if you weren't basically a good girl what a recipe for disaster, right?
thank god my low self-esteem 'mistakes' were made MUCH later. you know, in the days when you know a little more than you did in high school. making ALL the difference in the world. still not always pretty, but keeping you out of the places you shouldn't be in in the first place.
all right. where were we? oh. yeah. all about me. i SWEAR I HAVE A POINT. i do. really.
okay, so it took a LONG time for me to understand that how i felt was not how it really was. when it finally dawned on me that what i never heard from my father DIDN'T automatically mean the opposite was true, it was a light bulb turned on.
the reason i tell you all of this?
the duke is failing math.
and yes, they are related.
see, okay, he's getting a high D. so not technically 'failing.' but c'mon, there's not a lot of difference between a D and an F. well, except if you're me and it's two days before graduation and you just learned you failed the geometry class in your SECOND ATTEMPT taking it and you are most certainly not going to graduate and add to that your mother is already in town for the graduation and how can you NOT FREAKING GRADUATE YOU DUMBASS so you cry to your teacher with big wailing gasping sobs and he takes pity on you and gives you a D and you pass and now you can actually graduate and no one is the wiser. then. yes. it makes a difference.
in the duke's case, it's in a sophomore advanced algebra honors class. so. it's a tough class. but still, none of us can understand it? it doesn't add up. pardon the pun.
so there's that and here's a recent snippet of conversation:
'the kids in my history class are all really smart.'
'yeah? well. you're smart, too.'
'i am? i mean, i know i'm not dumb, but they are like, really REALLY smart.'
'um. you're really smart, too.'
'i am? like how?'
i just looked at him and he was getting his backpack together and the bus was going to come and so we left it at that.
when he left i was left with the thought that the duke does not think he's smart! he's in mostly honors, doing well in EVERYTHING but his math class and he doesn't think he's smart? how can that be?
because he was never part of the public school system with its segregated classes of 'smart' and 'regular.' because he never had several teachers at once telling him or demonstrating to him that this was the case. and because he never got progress reports or report cards or awards or spelling bees or labels from the school and from other kids. because when you homeschool there is no honor roll. because he wasn't ever part of that process he never had a clue.
did i tell him he was smart? sure. but not on the regular. because we spent so much time together and he did so well on all his work, and i would tell him he did well. and help him when he didn't. and because he understood what i was saying to him and what he was reading and he taught himself geometry and algebra and did high school latin and greek and french.
i just assumed he knew? he finally started getting graded in 7th & 8th grade and i would tell him he got all As, but that was a pretty abstract concept to a homeschooler. and because i never emphasized grades as much as comprehension and participation and dedication to learning, i guess it was even more abstract.
it was just never an issue.
so he goes to school. and he's in these classes. and he looks around. and based on what kids around him say about who is and who is not 'smart,' and now there's As AND A pluses and minuses and Bs and Cs and Ds and Fs and everyone is so hell bent on grades and percentages and splitting hairs about pluses and minuses and suddenly he doesn't think he's smart. or at least 'as smart' as the other kids in his class. even though they are ALL in the same class. he's lost some confidence.
and it's impacting him. even though it couldn't be further from the truth.
so. i got out every year-end cumulative test result from every year he took the test starting in the 3rd grade. every year in may i would take him for a two day standardized test proctored at a big creepy church in the middle of nowhere. and every june they would send the results and i would look at them and file them away. so i got those test results out. and when he came home i spread them out in front of him. and he looked at them. and he saw how highly he scored in everything every year. grades and grades above the present grade he was in. by 7th grade he was scoring post high school in every single subject.
i'm not telling you this to crow about my kid. i'm telling you this because i never told him. and i think i probably should have.
he was dumfounded. again, pardon the pun.
'why didn't you ever show me these? whenever i asked how i did you just said i did well.'
'i didn't show you these for the same reason i wouldn't have shown you these if you did poorly. they are a measure of a time. a few days in the month of may. they aren't the whole picture of who you are as a person or a student.'
'yeah. but they're pretty FREAKIN' awesome!'
'yes. you did well.'
'WELL? i'm like totally smart!'
i may have created a monster.
but at least he's a monster with a new healthy dose self-esteem that will hopefully serve him well. and hopefully in algebra. and hopefully soon. (he's got a plan in place. someone to help. they offered to move him down but he declined. 'i've already taken geometry. why would i take again just for a good grade? and moving to a lower algebra 2 class would mess up my whole schedule. so, i'm just going to do it.' good for him. fingers crossed)
look, being a teenager is so tough. just 'being' a teenager. and then you start measuring yourself against everyone around you. and if you find you come up short, and who doesn't, really, you grab and reach for whatever makes sense. to keep you afloat. to bolster you.
if the duke starts wearing really really short skirts i'm going to begin to worry.
and add to all this that pesky frontal lobe. throwing any logical reasonable thinking out the window when you need it the most. so you NEED your parents to believe in you. to support you. to tell you you are pretty and you are smart. and i'm not saying my father didn't believe in me, quite the opposite, but he never told me what i NEEDED to hear.
the duke is different. he knew even before seeing those test scores that he wasn't dumb. that he had the chops, and that he was doing well. BUT he was letting his perception that he couldn't possibly be as smart as his peers affect his performance. at least in math, and who knows how far it might extend as time and pressure wears on. simply because he hadn't grown up being told that 'this is what you are. you are smart.'
all i know is it's pretty darn hard to sit in a room full of people and feel like an idiot. to hang out with pretty friends and feel not pretty. for four years solid. to know there is something there, to you, in you, that is *more* than what you think of yourself, but not have access to it. just because you believe this one thing. just because you never heard differently.
i don't want that for the duke. i don't want him strutting around like he's gods gift to the educational system either, but i'd rather he feel empowered. and we'll see where that takes him. either way, i'm a proud mama. no matter the grade.
and yes, i told him that. he's been hearing that for years. :)
so there you have it.
and just in case no one ever told YOU;
you are pretty.
you are handsome.
and you are smart.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
now. that may seem simplistic as he is 10, but i've always taught my kids to tell me exactly 'where' it hurts and 'how' it hurts. in words that are easily understandable by everyone. detailed description, however simplistic.
like the word 'stomachache' doesn't always cover what is actually going on. the stomach is a broad area to a child. where? point to it. how? do you feel seasick? do you feel like you've been punched? does it feel pinchy? or growly?
same with the word 'headache.' etc.
i learned that if they could tell me exactly where and how using language they understood then i could administer the best remedy. biggest complaints first and go from there. basic parenting.
okay, i have a point. i'm getting to it.
so his head doesn't hurt, it doesn't feel fuzzy, it just feels off. 'sick.' which i understand. even if i can't put my finger on it. he's not warm enough to worry about a temperature, he feels fine otherwise. but the BAD disposition percolating the last few days coupled with the glassy eyes this morning and his complaint leads me to believe we're on to something. so i sent him to bed and started a big pot of homemade chicken soup.
if he had said, 'i have a headache,' and if i had left it at that, he'd have some children's pain reliever in him and we'd be doing school. but that's not 'healing.' and being asked exactly how you feel and describing exactly how it feels is powerful to a person. to be asked. to be heard.
the beauty and power of language.
i was thinking about this as i pulled out the chicken. pasture raised, kosher, no antibiotics, etc. the words printed on the package gave me a specific view of the chicken i held in my hands. they told me that because of how it was raised, when this chicken sat in the pot for an hour with covered with water and a bit of vinegar added before cooking there would be more minerals and calcium to draw from the bones creating a healthier broth. and that because of how it was raised this chicken would produce more gelatin and give the soup more of the healing oomph that gelatin provides. everything from fighting the common cold to fighting delusions. a one stop wonder of healing! (that is, if you believe what you read about gelatin and pasture raised meat and chicken soup and if you're not a vegan or vegetarian ;) )
i make this soup with love. and when i tell wingman, 'i will make you a pot of soup' and when i hand wingman the bowl and say to him, 'i hope you feel better soon' he will feel the love in the soup and he will hear the love in my words. and that as much as anything will work to heal what ails him.
the power of language to have the power to heal.
which brings me to my point. i swear.
the duke told me the other day, chuckling, that his friend said to him that cupcakes are just 'slutty muffins.'
which is actually pretty funny.
but to which i said
'i don't like that word. slutty.'
'well, i don't either. i just thought it was funny.'
'it is. but you understand how derogatory the word slutty is, right?'
'yeah. i mean, i don't use it or anything.'
'but you did just now.'
okay, i wasn't trying to be a bitch about it. (aaannnnddd. there's that word. bitch. a whole other story. sigh. oh language, you are nothing but trouble some days.) i told him i thought it was funny. and i'm inappropriate A LOT. i get offensive humor. to a point. i laugh. but only UP to a point.
i am also 40 years old.
the duke is 14.
so the other day if i had just laughed at the joke and left it at that then the chances of 'slutty' becoming part of the duke's lexicon would be higher than it is today. and he didn't ask for my opinion, but he got it. because i am a woman and because i am his mother.
and because language has the power to heal. as much as it has the power to hurt.
the duke is just figuring out how the world works. how being a 14 year old boy works. figuring out how what we SAY shapes how others SEE us. how what we HEAR & SEE shapes how we VIEW the world. language. words. images.
he's figuring out how this puzzle fits together. and how girls fit in at all.
and what drives that process? parents, friends, media.
okay, parents and friends have a LOT of influence, but let's face it, the media wins this race based on sheer face time and the ability to catch and release our young people more times in a day than any other thing or person can. to 'hook' them. over and over and over again. in just one 24 hour period. HA! yes. i just used a fishing reference as metaphor. perhaps successfully. i am as surprised as you are.
anyhow, this is for most of our young men and woman. not all. but most. and the media is driven by numbers and figures and bottom lines. and the bottom line is that because of this, the portrayal of women in the media is more often than not not terribly positive. and oftentimes downright exploitative.
and if the young men are getting most of their information about women from the media how is that going to work? because you and i know what's out there. this is in no way a new conversation. what's out there is what's always been out there, only getting more outrageous. more intense and shocking. condensing women to boobs, hips, lips. and no argument from me that these are indeed intriguing female qualities, but they are NOT AT ALL ALL THERE IS to a woman.
but how do the young men find this out? how do they get the other side of the story?
which brings us to the joke about the slutty muffins. which, is, like i said, pretty funny...but...
all right. i have a point. i do. and it's this. i think that language is very powerful. and i think young people need to be more educated about the world around them before they just fall into using certain words. that the images presented to our young people should be less condensed and more balanced. homemade soup made with love vs. canned soup: just add water. how is that food? to nourish and heal and grow? okay, i'm falling into judgment and more bad metaphors, but you get the picture.
these days it seems our young people are way more sophisticated than they are mature. maybe it's always been that way, maybe i'm just old. but i'm willing to bet that's not entirely the case. and i'm willing to bet it's creating a huge deficit of actual understanding. about members of the opposite sex, the same sex, about who we are. as individuals and a collective culture. about what we are capable of. all of us. even the ones with the boobs, hips, lips.
so. when the duke came home yesterday i showed him the following video. (props to my friend jodi for directing me to it.) because it has nothing and everything to do with the joke about the slutty muffins. because it's timely and it's a continuation of a long and developing conversation. because women are so intelligent and so capable and so beautiful and so fabulous and they are almost always more than what the media tells us they are. and i know that. and you know that. and i want my son to KNOW THAT, TOO.
so we continue the conversation. the one that begins with 'say, MA MA.' and continues with 'hot! ouch!' and 'please.' and 'thank you.' and 'i'm making you a pot of soup.' and 'i don't like that word.'
it is in that spirit i bring you this installment of your moment(s) of zen. it's a bit long, but well worth it when you get a spare 8 minutes. and if you happen to know a young woman or young man share it with them, too. (though, in fair warning, there are images that could be considered inappropriate viewing for teens in some families. the images are in context, but they are there. so. proceed accordingly.)
Friday, September 16, 2011
dear person i like to pray to: this does not mean i think it's a good time to get knocked up. that would be never again. amen.
but they don't tell you how much you will miss your child. just simply miss him.
oh you know they're not that same little kid you used to know. and you love the teen they are now. you know that they won't initiate as many of the hugs, you know they will want to be with their friends more than you, that weekends are best when spent with their group. you were a teenager once. you know how it is.
and it's natural. and it happens every day. but now it's happening to me.
and i miss my kid.
i eat breakfast with him and dinner with him and hang out with him when he wants company for homework. and i'm not there when he doesn't want me there.
we make time to do family things.
but it simply is not the same.
because it used to be different.
and i know it's just a transition.
and things will change.
and there is a new normal on the horizon.
and it will be golden.
but right now, i miss my kid.
and they never mentioned this part. not once.
i had a baby. and now i have a teenager.
and some days i just need the world to be a little patient and let me catch up.
Monday, September 12, 2011
this describes my grief as of late.
instead of crying when i want to i will feel it come and i will send it up and away. i don't know why this is. i am a champion crier. i cry at anything. and yet, i don't want to cry. be sad. think about it.at.all.
i am choosing to believe this is normal.
i've been thinking about my father a lot lately. i feel his presence with me even as i am completely certain i'm not fully understanding that he is actually gone.
there are things i need to do that aren't getting done. there is personal work and paper work and house work and LOTS of things i need to do that aren't getting done. this is depression. i know this. depression and grief. i am allowing it. even as i can't really stop it. we have an understanding.
yesterday we went to REI to buy sunglasses for me. i sat on my beloved smiths more than a year and a half ago and have lived with cheap/free crappy ones since then. my cheap gas station ones were stolen (nice work, idiot. how are those crappy sunglasses working out for you?) and my free with a box of vitamin ones i somehow LOST. i still don't know how. if i didn't know better i would think the husband lost them for me so i would be FORCED to get new sunglasses.
but i couldn't put it off any longer. and now i know why i did.
when i sat on my beloved smiths i was still estranged from my father. and then i wasn't. and then he got sick. and then he died. and i knew the place i would be going for sunglasses was REI to replace the smiths. not online, not to another store, because REI was the place to go. i lived in seattle nearly 20 years. that's just the place you go.
my father worked at REI for years and years. he fitted packs and sold stoves and recommended or didn't the fun gadgets and charmed customers with his tales and his twinkly eyes so that you couldn't quite figure out if he was pulling your leg or not. he won the coveted sales award one year. he was good. it was his element. he was even featured in a television report about REI. we joked he was the 'face' of REI. he was 'that' guy you see in every REI.
and, he sold the sunglasses. he loved to fit glasses to faces, he would flirt and cajole and the customers ate it up.
of course i didn't want to go buy sunglasses. didn't want to go to REI. not then. not now.
but i was out of sunglasses and out of options.
and when i went to the REI yesterday, across the country from the one where he worked, there was a guy my father's age working with the sunglasses. 'that' guy. REI is like that wherever you are. the same young girls in clothing, the older handsome woman in kayaks, floaters in books and maps. i drifted over to the cheaper glasses (made by smith at least, but under a different name and not as good.) because that's just how i roll. even as i heard my father's voice and felt the husband's push towards the smiths. 'take care of your eyes' my father would say. 'why would you put cheap glasses over your eyes for protection? they're your most valuable asset? take care of your eyes.'
i just wanted to grab a pair and get out of there. i hated the shape of my stupid face in the stupid mirror and i hated the selection of stupid smiths that weren't the ones i used to have that they didn't make anymore. it all felt scratchy and wrong. i felt teary.
and then i asked the guy working the counter a question about a pair and i swear to god he had to hold up the glasses to his ONE GOOD EYE and try to read what was on the side! he couldn't SEE! okay, a bit, from far away, with ONLY one eye.
a sunglass salesman who couldn't see.
this would have been one of my father's literary characters. this would be the kinda guy he'd make up and create a life for. imagine that, x, he would say. the guy sells glasses and HE CAN'T SEE!
all right. okay. hi, dad. i cracked a smile. i let my shoulders down a bit and ended up with the glasses i first saw, i liked them and they fit my face, and we left. i felt better. and OH MY GOD i cannot believe how much more relaxed my eyes were! i cannot believe i've been living with crappy sunglasses for so long. TAKE CARE OF YOUR EYES. i get it. i got it.
and then later when we were checking out at the brazilian market right there, on the ground, there was a penny. and then another. and another. they weren't there before, i swear they weren't. and then they were. just like that. all over. the duke and wingman and i kept finding them 'look i found another one!' nearly 10 in all. in just one spot. we were giddy. it's Pops! they said. yes, it is. it's Pops.
i guess this is how grief goes. you are sad and then you're not and then you're sad again. you take comfort in the signs however they come. lost sunglasses, lucky pennies. humor. you let it all sink in. you go with it. it's okay. or, it will be. you pick up the lucky penny, the wish having changed, but still there just the same.
you take care of your eyes and your heart does the rest. it distills the best of the person that you can remember and you take little sips here and there to sustain the momentum of moving forward.
Friday, September 09, 2011
i am the middle child. my mother moved out when i was 8 and moved across the country when i was 13. and it occurred to me that i had never really been alone with my mother. and here we were. just the two of us.
my mother is the most fun when traveling. i discovered this on that trip. one day i'll have to tell you about our more recent trip to los angeles when her own mother was dying. let's just say it involved a HUGE ASS white on white cadillac and an incident that started with a safety deposit box and ended with me stuffing into my purse a plastic grocery bag full of not technically belonging to her (yet) jewels on the streets of east la. like the gypsies we totally are.
anyhow. back to the graduation trip. so we were headed up the coast. we stopped in oakland for breakfast. my mother was born in richmond and grew up in the bay area. but she was always more of an oakland girl than a san francisco girl. more east bay. those were her stomping grounds. with a mother who worked nights as a cocktail waitress and who was always in between husbands and adding kids, as a young girl my mother had lots of responsibility and maturity and very little supervision. she was a child of the neighborhoods, running with the gang, two little brothers in tow.
we made our way up highway 101, through cloverdale, stopping in booneville for something cold, driving through wine country and orchards and heat and continued up highway 128. towards highway 1 and the coast.
i had recently bought the album union by toni childs, but i think my mother had it, too, at any rate we were listening to one of our copies while we drove. we were chatting and reminiscing, the area we were headed to was our old stomping grounds. my favorite place. the place i lived with my mother, my whole family, intact. the way i remember it, the place where my mother was happiest.
now as you're driving on 128 you will go through a stand of trees. and when i say stand of trees please know that it is a majestic gorgeous band of redwoods. it's about oh 10 miles or so. and after winding and heat it's a welcome bit of straight and cool. we turned off the air conditioner and rolled our windows down. we were mostly quiet. listening to the music, enjoying the trees.
when you come out of the trees there's a bit of an estuary where the navarro river mixes with the ocean and then bam. there's the pacific ocean. just.right.there. and if you are me you KNOW it's going to be there because you've made this drive for as long as you remember breathing, but every time it feels like you've snuck up on it. because you can't see it through all the trees.
okay, so we are nearly out of the trees. and the song is ending on the tape. and as the music dies my mother asks
'where's the ocean?'
and i kid you not my hand to god THAT'S right when we came out of the trees to the estuary to the ocean. and it was right.there. like we snuck up on it. and i KID YOU NOT MY HAND TO GOD that's when 'where's the ocean' the LAST SONG ON THE TAPE starts playing!! and the very first line is 'WHERE'S THE OCEAN!!'
my mother looked at me and i looked at her and we couldn't speak so she took my hand and held it as she drove. she would not let it go.
as you may imagine there's a lot more to the story when it comes to my mother. and the stories aren't the same, as no two stories of the same circumstance ever are. she has hers and i have mine. and i'm not going to pretend in my story that as magical as it was that THAT'S the moment i knew i would be able to be totally 'okay' with her and the circumstances of our relationship. that it was right then that our mother/daughter relationship was cemented and firm. a magical musical moment that had the power to heal all. because it wasn't, and it didn't happen like that. that would come later, and i am happy to say that it did.
but i will say this, i remember the way my mother's hand felt in mine as we shared that moment of serendipity. as we looked out over the ocean we both loved, in a place we were both mostly happy. the only place i feel like that had ever really happened for the both of us. together. and please, when you hear the word happy remember the relativity of it. always.
and i did realize then that this meant something. this moment. that this person holding my hand represented a bond that i did not, could not share with any other person on earth. that she was my mother, and regardless of how it all played out, that was a fact that would never change. that and the fact that i love my mother.
so no matter what she did or what had happened, no matter the circumstances, the history...it was done. and that going forward, well, that was up to me now.
so, i held her hand back.
it is in that spirit i bring you this installment of your moment(s) of zen. <------ (psst. click
there are songs on that album i love more, and this is more a love song than a mother/daughter sharing a moment song, but life isn't perfect and neither are the circumstances of the moments that make up that life. so, you take serendipity where you can find it and you try not to be too picky about it.
have a wonderful day. and if you can, call your mother. she'd probably like that.
Friday, September 02, 2011
all right, so we don't need to recap do we? regular readers know about 'the year of my loss' and for those who don't, check the 8th season DVD (still in progress).
okay, so it's a bit of a recap. call it a rerun. it's me. no dead horse left unbeaten. it's what i do.
so. i've made much of trying to move with and in and past loss and change. at least with the house. my father is so freshly 'gone' that i understand there is a process there. steps on the path. stages of grief. last night i think i was in stage #546 PEOPLE ANNOY ME WHEN THEY ARE IN MY EYESIGHT OR WITHIN EARSHOT. WHEN THEY BREATHE.
it's a real step. look it up.
anyhow, so there's a lot here. a lot going on. some days i am so close to tears i can taste them even as they don't fall. some days i just try to keep my mind occupied, my loss and grief in the abstract. most days i just wish for a break and carry on. did i mention it's been a tough year?
wingman and i decided to get out of the house and walk down to get a slice of pizza. it was the end of our school week (we don't have school on fridays. ask me who's idea that was. ;) ) and what a weird week, two weeks, it had been. death, grieving, the duke no longer at home with us.
so much change. so much 'muchness.'
i swear wingman and i catch ourselves staring at each other, like empty-nesters. looking at each other, looking around, wondering what in the hell just happened here? for the whole time i've been homeschooling and wingman has been homeschooling the duke has been *here.* and now, it's just the two of us. just like that.
okay. it's NEVER 'just like that.' but you get the point. and really, when things finally happen, even though you know they will, it still feels 'just like that.'
anyhow, we needed to get out of the house. so we headed down the hill. wingman was chattering on about the thing that gives meaning to his life, link and the legend of zelda, and i was just amazed at how fine a day it was. the weather had finally turned for the better, the sky was blue, the clouds amazing.
and i know this sounds an AWFUL lot like other walks i've described, but i swear to you after a block i had to literally stop.in.my.tracks.
what was that?
i realized that it was so silent. in my head. in my heart. my gut.
there wasn't any buzzing or squeezing or continual knot tying.
it took me a minute to define it. and then i realized it was...calm. joy. relaxation. peace.
what is this? did someone slip little white pills in my trying to stave off an ulcer (true story) probiotic drink that morning?
i started walking again. and it felt like i was hi-IGH. like 'knocked up' seth rogan high. like this is fucking awesome.
here's the thing. i lost my house. yeah. but, and it doesn't make up for it but it's amazing nonetheless that when we lived on the farm i could NEVER EVER in a million years decide we needed to leave it right then and there and get a break and just put on our shoes and just leave out the door and just take a walk. and here we were. just heading out the door. taking a walk. wingman was trucking along, in a neighborhood he's getting really familiar with, saying hello to his favorite dog, thinking about his favorite slice two blocks away. we'd walk to the library after. and he was humming. the whole way.
and the buzzing and knot tying were gone when my father died. the past few months have been hell wondering when and if that phone would ring. bringing more bad news, no news, stasis, crisis. every day there was potential for absolute heartbreak. i knew the proverbial shoe would drop, but when? and not before kicking my ass first.
it was incredibly painful, crazy making, stressful. *refer to the ulcer above.
so here i was. knowing that was a hook i was no longer on and i could really and truly just enjoy the afternoon. for the first time in a long time. it was incredible.
and i started thinking about loss and its impact. how hard it is to bear. how much havoc it reeks. and yet. there is that point when the benefits show themselves. you've just got to be able to see them. and pull them into the process. because it can't be all about the loss. that's why it's a process.
a process that brings you to the good stuff. a process that HAS to include loss.
i literally hadn't been this relaxed in a very long time. we sat outside. wingman eating his slice.
(me with my almost ulcer NOT eating a slice. along with a blander diet, there is no alcohol or caffeine or ibuprofen. okay i cheated last night with a glass of wine after i ate. but i swear, really? no alcohol? i e-mailed the husband and i said
"no wine for awhile while i heal this ulcer. what will i do with all that free time? take up knitting? porn? "
he said knitting was too dangerous and voted for porn.)
okay, so we were sitting outside and wingman was eating and i was just...there. without the buzzing and squeezing and churning. just.there.
and i know there are ways to achieve this feeling by manufacturing the relaxation. and those are fine too. for a minute. constant whiskey and putting 'the boxer' on repeat helped the first few days after my father died. my doctor offered tranquilizers. she offered it all. i declined.
the worst moving across country road trip imaginable helped after losing my house. there's no way to feel pain when every day for 8 days is a fresh kinda road rash hell. complete with blizzards, police pull overs, and freshly severed deer heads. by the time we landed i was exhausted and still had to keep steady. for the boybarians, the family, the cats, the future. no shrugging for atlas.
(yes. the cats. who wants 4 fucked up cats? not me.)
so finding a break from the pain that is neither breaking me down or addiction worthy, even if just for an afternoon, is amazing and welcome.
because some places of peace you cannot stay in.
okay, this is an old story, you've heard it before, but bear with me a moment. when i gave birth to the duke i almost died. i had been in so much pain for so long. 36 hours of hard labor, 3 hours of hard pushing, no drugs, etc. etc. when my behemoth son emerged it was too much loss for my body to absorb. so, i started to bleed. it was as if someone turned on a faucet in the yard. and i bled more than the normal human (not pregnant) has in their body. and i floated up to the ceiling and watched the scene below.
god. i felt so good. so warm. so peaceful. it was easy, now. no more pain. i could observe the scene below without being the main attraction. big big sigh. big smile. but there was a problem. and the problem was that i saw the husband in the corner holding the duke. watching me bleed. watching me fade. watching his world fall apart in front of him.
the problem was that i was up on that ceiling alone. and i knew that that feeling of being absolutely pain free was ultimately false. because NOTHING is pain free without a price. ever. and i grabbed a fireman's hand and yanked him to my face and said
'look at me. talk to me. do not stop.'
'uh. okay, who's the president of the united states?'
and then i knew i was saved.
cue the p-funk.
so i KNOW there is a way to be pain free. but there are a lot of ways to achieve it without bleeding out and floating up. and choosing to stay there.
i don't want to escape the pain only to end up in my own private idaho. so i took yesterday afternoon as my parting gift and absorbed it as much as i could.
of course by the evening my afternoon of peace gave way to melancholia and irritation and wondering if i would ever not be sad. about it all. *refer to grief stage #546 above.
lather rinse repeat. process. blah blah blah. so in life loss is inevitable and yes, necessary. you have to go through it to get through it. to understand. and to accept. and to benefit. and you just do it as long as you need to. it gets better and worse and better again. but it goes forward. in its own way. yours is to recognize it moving forward. however that presents itself.
and that whole thing about all you need is love. and only love prevails. i believe those. with all my heart. i also know that it's not as easy as all that. in the end, sure. but in the meantime? in the meantime it's two steps forward and one step back. it's messy and complicated. it's heartbreaking and crazy making.
and it's funny. because when you're in the thick of a situation that's so FUBAR you can't imagine it can get worse, and then, of course, it does, and you are so scared. you are in so much pain. you can't imagine ever feeling better. and then, you do.
just like that.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
i had spent the whole night curled up on the couch with my phone to my ear, the phone in my father's room on his pillow, just listening to him breathe 3200 miles away. it reminded me of being young and we'd be at someone's house, a gathering going too long and i would get sleepy. and i would curl up in his lap and put my cheek against his chest, let the rumble of his talking put me to sleep. he was always talking talking talking.
that night i settled for breathing. trying not to count how long the periods in between breaths were extending. watching the candle on the mantle burn down. matching my breath to his.
by morning he had pulled out of his coma briefly to say goodbye, to say he loved us, i love you, too dad, i said into the phone.
my sisters were sobbing and that was absolutely heartbreaking to listen to. to know i wasn't there to comfort them, to hear brokenness and grief and despair and not be able to help. had i been able to be by their side i would have given anything. my father and i were set, we were solid, and i knew my one trip out in early summer was the only trip i'd be able to afford to take. he and i made the most of our time. but to not be able to be there to hold my sisters up, to grieve with them. well, so it goes. and that hurts the most.
and then, later in the day, he was gone. just like that. as these things happen.
my father told me to always look someone in the eye when you shake their hand. and to do it firmly, the shake. and the look. he taught me to never sit with your back to the door. he taught me how to properly knife someone and gave me a switchblade. he taught me to shoot a gun. he taught me how to pack everything i would need to survive on my back and told me, you carry your own load. always.
i would have made a good cowboy.
he also taught me that every night is the night to sit at the table with your family for dinner. no matter what. and with all the whats in our house we still sat down. he taught me about loving someone, even when it's difficult. especially when it's difficult. and about forgiveness. that we are, all of us, martyrs and saints, devils and angels, we are good and bad, and sometimes we are definitely ugly. but that in the end the beautiful moments win, if you let them.
but you have to let them. you have to fight for it. he taught me that.
i think about this year. what i've lost. and adding it all up what does it mean. i think about the book i can finally write, about difficult childhoods and how they stay with us. my difficult childhood. the load i will always carry myself. how strength comes from the most unlikely places. a story to be told and not hurt anyone's feelings. finally.
in the meantime.
so. now what? i ask myself.
now what? i'm 40 and living 3000 miles from home. in boston. on foreign enough soil literally and figuratively for this to be...something. but what. what now. what do i do. now.
and then i hear it
bloom where you're planted. be here now. start where you are.
my father would never utter any of those words, not in a million years. NOT IN A MILLION FUCKING YEARS. nobody actually says those words and certainly not my father. but the sentiment stands. and i heard it.
cowboys don't stay lying bleeding in the dirt for long.
so i took the whiskey from the kitchen counter and put it in the liquor cabinet. i grabbed the glass and finally washed it. i got dressed. i left the house. i cleaned up the stack of newspapers. i stacked the scattered books.
and that's when i found it. the post card i bought while staying with the goddess mother on cape cod last weekend. i bought it for my father. i specifically picked one that had glitter on the edges. with his failing eyesight i thought he would appreciate a little sparkle, the feel of the rough texture of the glitter on his fingers.
even as i bought it i knew somehow i would never send it. he was declining rapidly last weekend, there wouldn't be time for a post card to arrive in time. he would have liked it. he would have loved cape cod.
bloom where you're planted. be here now. start where you are.
i went into my office and got a pen.
it is really pretty on cape cod. i think you would love it. i miss you.
with nowhere to send it, i left the address blank. i got a stamp and grabbed my keys.
i walked to the post office down the hill, chose the blue box at the end, opened it up, and popped the post card inside. the one for my dad. who died. the one with no address to send it to. i stood there for minute, just holding onto the handle. gripping and unable to let go. thinking about what the man at the place who would eventually turn my father to ashes said about death making people crazy. and then something i read recently flitted through my brain;
To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
my grip tightened on the handle. shit. now what?
bloom where you're planted. be here now. start where you are.
the tears started. i let the handle go. and headed back up the hill towards home.
Friday, July 29, 2011
i am not a religious person. not by nature and not in practice. but i have spirituality and beliefs that run deep and get deeper as i get older.
i love church on the radio.
and when people find out that i listen to church on the radio or that i love the virgin mary or that i regularly pray, sometimes to god, they give me the same look they give me when i try to convince them that i am not a vegetarian and that i am not a 'hugger.'
it is simply not fashionable among some segments of the population to believe in god. or his son. and, some people simply don't believe. and that's just fine with me. always.
but. i do. i also believe in gaia and witches and fairies and the absolute divinity of a much needed cheeseburger and the salvation that comes with a well timed dirty martini. three olives, please. and if you think i'm being cheeky adding in the last two you don't know me very well.
i believe in so many things, my spirituality is shaped by so much it's impossible to pinpoint any one influence. and yet it's funny how there are those who zero in on my 'god thing' as it has been called.
and i fully understand people who don't believe as i do, that there is a god. god. or any god. though the way i see it is that beyond the god we all know from experience or popular culture is that there are many. gods. and they aren't all male. and they aren't all gods. thank god. really.
the thing about belief and spirituality separate from religion is you get to choose. and no one gets to tell you what you choose to believe is wrong. NO ONE.
believing in the ability of something/one to call upon, in the existence of transcendence in its many forms, in the divine here on earth, is crucial for those of us who are mere silly mortals. and the beauty of the world and our individual relationships to it is that there is so.much.there.
and yet even in my belief of god there are also those who discount it as blasphemous. not real. because i don't believe in the way they believe. which is the most ridiculous notion. NO ONE gets to tell me what i believe is wrong.
there are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground. whether you are on your knees or are arms open to the sun or flipping on the radio. painting a picture or creating a meal or nursing a baby. spirituality and belief take so many forms it's impossible for me to even fathom judging another for how they find theirs.
the other night i was in an angst that can only come from it being the day AFTER the day you turn 40 and the fact that a parent is dying and your children are growing older and the world is such a mess how do any of us even get out of the bed in the morning. so, i went on to you tube. and i listened to all the songs i loved from when i was young. a time when all practical experience to the contrary my faith in the world should not have been as strong as it was. and i basked in the reality that it just is. that life has its own rhythms and mine was to just go with it.
music was my prayer to find the handhold. to keep me steady. to hold me. to ground me.
and who is to judge whether that is 'just as good' as kneeling or confession or knowing the bible or you don't know or praying to a 'real' god. NO ONE.
i have these two friends. and both of these friends have a child(ren) who require more of their parenting skills than other children do. more of their 24/7 parenting hands on than other children do. all of it. all of them. all of their presence in nearly every single waking moment. all of their patience, their expansion, their faith. they are pushed daily, sometimes hourly i'd imagine, to find the balance. lather, rinse, repeat.
and both of these women have THE most incredible smiles i have ever seen on anyone in real life. the kind that not only meet their eyes but they bore into your soul and they settle there. and they burst open. and you smile, too. it's amazing, really.
being in their presence brings me a peace and a measure of comfort, a reminder that life is and ours is to just go with it. like they have to. like they do. and they do and they are smiling. to have faith that life is not what we have been given, but what we choose to make it. no matter what. and they show that to me with their actions and with their smiles. it is divine. it is peering into to the light.
and who is to judge whether that is 'just as good' as kneeling or confession or knowing the bible or you don't know or praying to a 'real' god. NO ONE.
lately the world seems to be so incredibly tragic and sad. it threatens my sensitivity on the regular. there isn't a day that i don't consider giving up the paper and scrolling past the news on the internet. but i don't. won't. considering is as far as i get. because burying my head won't make it go away.
it's then i am reminded of a quote by abraham lincoln "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
and that's when i remember that i am not alone. not alone in my overwhelming grief and incomprehension. that my belief and spirituality give me somewhere to go and lay it all down.
and i think that's quite amazing. really. i think being able to lift my head or get on my knees or sit in front of the buddha in the back yard under the big pine tree or talk to my friend who has been dead for too many years or turn on the radio or you tube or re-read siddhartha or the dharma bums or create a meal that takes hours and is wolfed down in 7 minutes or do yoga or get wildly drunk or watch pretty in pink for the millionth time and to lay it all down is such a gift i cannot imagine not having that.
today i am sick. my throat is sore. i need soup. i need a shower. i need to clean my house. i want someone to hold me and i want to be left fully alone. my father is dying and has just been put on a constant and double dosed morphine drip. they said it could be hours. days. maybe a week. two weeks. more? one cannot know with these things. it's in another's hands now. he's 3200 miles away. i need to brush my teeth. i'm afraid of the new bathing suit in the box on my desk. i'm afraid. i'm at peace. i'm hurting. my sisters are in pain. my family.
i have been on my knees and lifted my arms and i have taken the deep breaths and i have said, are you there? because pretty soon my heart is going to break. and i just need you to hold me in the light while that happens. so that i can be okay. eventually.
i've called on who i need and now i'm listening to stevie nicks. one more tool in my spiritual arsenal. breathing easier.
and i tell you what, if i didn't have that, all of it, i cannot imagine how this would and is all going to play out.
hold on to what you believe in and don't let anyone fuck with that. NO ONE gets to tell you what you believe is wrong. hold on to it because at some point, if it hasn't already, it will be your greatest gift right when you need it the most.
be blessed, x.
Friday, July 08, 2011
not today. today i woke up with swollen eyes and a broken heart. after falling asleep in a puddle of tears.
i think the worst part of someone being sick and in the process of dying is that it's such a...process. there are so many layers. and you have to navigate each one. have to. if you don't you'll just have to go back.
and when i woke up this morning i saw what i had written in the night:
'for my father,
It was enough.'
and i cried again.
because it's true.
because i wouldn't change a thing.
because i am certain this broken heart is complete underneath.
it was enough.
Monday, July 04, 2011
i miss my father. i miss seattle. i can't not think of it as my home. i lived there longer than anywhere. and with no actual hometown left seattle became it. plus, and oh yeah, that's where my family is. and when your family is getting smaller it feels so far away to be so far away. it hurts like hell.
but i had to leave. and so i did. and because even in grief i can't go anywhere without tripping the wire that signals 'things are about to get weird' i set off security at the airport. they scanned my stuff and something was suspicious. so they put me in the slow cooker x-ray thingamajig. and that's when it got good.
'ma'am can you step over here.'
so i step to the side and a very beautiful woman in a very official uniform is talking into her shoulder radio (to the person who is looking at my x-ray somewhere else) and then informed me
'there were some areas of suspicions on your person. the uh, chest and upper inner thigh region to be exact.'
and the WTF bubble pops up above my head. so basically she's telling me my girlie parts are suspicious and tripped off some alarm. nice. not to reference pornos twice in one week of blogging lest i gain some kind of reputation, but really? i call 'em like i see 'em. and this is a seriously good set up.
'i suspect it's the bling on your shirt-'
okay. i have to stop the story and interject here. to clarify, i did not have 'bling' on my shirt. i do not own anything with 'bling' on it. BUT i did happen to be wearing this t-shirt i picked up on a whim to go with a skirt i refuse to wear because i can't find the right sandals. and this shirt happens to have a few sparkly seed beads at the v neck part. i'm not saying it's the most fashionable shirt, but it's cute and happens to have a FEW sparkly beads. which are NOT bling.
i'm not sure yet how my crotch tripped the alarm. but we're getting to that.
'i suspect it's the bling on your shirt. still, i need to wand you and then pat you down. where the bling is. in the area of your cleavage.'
and of course i want to make a joke. like 'well you're not my type but it's been a long time since i've seen my husband and you know what grief can do to a girl and i do like a drink first but what the hell carpe diem right?'
but of course i don't. because those fuckers on 9/11 made sure the airport can't be funny anymore. even though it's just good material going to waste most of the time. such.a.bummer.
so she gets down to business then she asks me to empty my left pocket because that's where it was suspicious on the screen.
so i pull out a wad of tissue and wouldn't you know it, FIVE lucky pennies. the ones i found on the floor of my father's room. i carried them with me once we took him into the hospital.
'those should have been put in the bins, ma'am. how deep does your pocket go?'
'i guess it's pretty deep.'
'well, it must have shifted toward the middle of your body. i will still have to pat down your inner upper thigh. please spread your legs and hold out your arms.'
so i do this and i can only wonder if life is really this amusing for others or if it's just me. my pocket full of lucky pennies shifted toward my girlie parts and now i'm being treated like a criminal. oh, and this is not a private exchange. i'm right there where everyone is bustling about to get shoes on and laptops back into cases and i'm just in their way.
'okay. you're good.'
and i want to say, well now how do YOU know? you only got to first base. but instead i say thank you and have and nice day and go to get my stuff.
and once i'm on my way in the airport this thing happens that's been happening since i was first in seattle. i keep seeing my father. not my father, of course, but i keep seeing men who 'could' be my father. you know, if he were well. if life had been different. if his life had taken a different turn. healthy, robust, on his way somewhere. for business or pleasure or life different from the one he has now. if he was really the travel writer he tells the nurses he is. if he had married the girl from high school he's loved since he first saw her. if he wasn't dying. if if if.
the lack of dignity in air travel depresses me. i fall promptly asleep when the plane takes off. and when i wake i trip the weird wire again. the 10 year old boy next to me is getting the news from his mother next to him that when he's 18 he will inherit one hundred thousand dollars. she's on her third bloody mary (and has to be told the bar is now closed) and seems irritated at telling him. she says she and his father wanted them to change it to 21 or 25. and that it's his to do what he wants when he's 18 but that she's his mother and he should do what she thinks is best. save it for a master's degree, or a doctorate. to put down on a nice house.
and the cynical bitchy part of me is like way to go lady. he's 10. go ahead, put this on him now. set his path.
but she's just being a mom. she wants for him all the good things. and if this means one narrow path that she decides is 'all the good things' then so be it. she's parenting the best way she knows how.
and i think about my father. and how he never encouraged me to go to college or to get my homework done or to 'pad' my high school resume with activities that 'look good.' i'm sure we never even discussed my high school resume. or why i missed 60 days of school a year to stay home and watch love boat re-runs. or why i failed nearly every math class i took. why they still moved me up, to the next grade. never once did he ask me what i wanted to be when i grew up or encouraged me to go for it.
now, this does not mean he didn't love me. or didn't parent me. like the drunk mother beside me he just did the best he could. and giving me wings was probably out of his grasp when all he was doing was just trying to hang on.
i think about this and i wonder at what i could have done had the woman beside me been my parent. did i miss out on anything? did i want to be a doctor or a lawyer? did i want my master's degree? in what? i am a nearly 40 year old stay at home mother of two with a half finished college education and i look like shit on paper. what did i miss?
and i realize i didn't miss a damn thing. that by my father not giving me wings i found my own. and i did what i found i wanted to do. i delivered babies on the border and got married and got divorced and had babies of my own and got married and everything i did i did because i wanted to.
well shit. not everything. who 'wants' to get divorced? and who wants the broken hearts and dreams that come with living a life, that come with not yet learning how NOT to be an asshole? but you get the picture. so for lack of a better word, 'want.' i did what i wanted to do because i wanted to do it. not because someone else wanted me to do it.
and while my resume would suggest otherwise, i am happy and accomplished. my heart and my life are full to bursting.
and i will tell you what, don't we all want that for our children? for them to follow their hearts and do what makes them happy? i'm not saying my father didn't have dreams for me, i'm just saying that the dreams i had for myself were able to fill the space left by his inability to do what the woman beside me is doing for her son.
and that is parenting the best way you know how. even if the kid has to pick up the slack. even then.
and just like that i become the weepy creepy woman on the plane. and i don't want to scare the boy next to me so i cry quietly. i wish i were home. and in awhile i am. well, in awhile i am in boston. 'home' for now. and i am happy to see my own boys and the husband. but i want to scoop them up and drag them home. not to poet's corner, our new home. but our 'home' home. back home. seattle. to be with my father. until it's not possible anymore. to be with our family. to build the fence around our hearts you can only build with family and friends and familiarity. i want to go home.
and i think to myself, girl, you better hold on. you are days away from being 40 and you knew life would be different, but you weren't prepared for this. this is the kinda thing that makes someone think whiskey in their morning coffee is a good idea. or 'i KNOW! let's have a BABY!' shit like that. this is gonna hurt like hell. so hold on and try to avoid the rabbit holes that seem to be popping up on the regular.
lather rinse repeat.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
when i got to seattle and would bring coffee and meds down to my father in the morning (while he was still at my sister's house) i kid you not somewhere in the two rooms he was in i would find a penny. just there. on the ground. every.single.time.
i am thinking about the pennies as i rub my father's back in the VA. he's in his favorite position, a kind of doubled over yoga pose. he has a theory about this position. i know this because he lectured to me for nearly 20 minutes this morning on his theory.
and i didn't mind, i just listened. happy that he can do this again, have theories and give lectures as his pain has finally somewhat been managed, he is somewhat comfortable, he has color, he has humor. my father is my father again, and i just bask in it moment by moment.
he has lost so much weight that it doesn't take much movement to cover his back. up and back, a scratch here and there. but he is still strong, i feel that. and whether that's strength of muscle or spirit it's hard to say. and really doesn't matter.
he looks good now. the big windows with the million dollar view don't hurt. but it's mostly the fact that by dosing him up with a metric assload of morphine and adding in cocktails of various other white pills he is able to relax a bit. to get some sleep. he reported that he even dreamed the night before. eating still isn't high on the activity list, but he does what he can. and you take what you can get.
my father looks like a man one might find sitting cross legged at the edge of the ganges. holding court. dispensing wisdom and experience to all who ask and all who don't. doctors, nurses, techs, social workers, the former historian and now custodian who comes to sweep the floor. my father looks like the guru he has become. the guru of the VA. he looks like gary snyder.
'dad, you look like gary snyder.'
'oh? well. i'll take that as a compliment.'
i am rubbing his back and thinking about how odd it is that we are so present and relaxed. my father and i. how our journey has been rocky at best at times, and yet was also marked by the sheer wonder and beauty that is the parent child relationship. and it's not lost on me that for the first time in my life i am physically stronger than my father. that even in my curvy softness i could take him. and somewhere deep and ancient and inside the eight year old silly mortal is shouting YES! and throwing a fist up in the air.
but none of that really matters. at all. not now. as it turns out, the balance of a life is just that...a balance. that in the end, any one period of time doesn't take precedence over another. the mistrusts and missteps are just that and no more. the cataloging is done.
i understand also that what this is, me in this hospital rubbing my father's back , that what this is is me being given a gift. that this is grace here on earth. and just like those pennies i am so very lucky. to have made the journey and been able to rest at the end of it with my father.
my wise friend ingrid always likes to say 'only love prevails.' i understand that in a way i only theoretically did before. i understand that in a way that cannot be explained or ignored. i understand. and as i rub my father's back i close my eyes and lift my face upwards in thanksgiving.
we are, all of us, martyrs and saints, devils and angels, we are good and bad, and sometimes we are definitely ugly. there are moments as divine as can be, and low moments that level and break us. rendering us knee bound and groveling. we are pain and heartbreak and love and light. and all of this is so and necessary, because in the end there is a balance. no tally, no score. just balance. in the end it all makes sense. it really really does.
i don't know much about heaven. so i don't know if those pennies were from heaven as they like to say. i do know that they are a tangible sign of what is always around us. the abundance and the good. the richness of life. we just have to be willing to do a little bending to grab it.