Thursday, May 31, 2007

In my own world~

I don't flow in the mainstream. I never have. Not that I'm a weirdo, or anything, but I live in my head, and miss a lot of what goes on in the real world--which is fine with me. Most of the time I don't even know what I'm missing. Which is also fine by me.

But sometimes I'm pulled up short-- made suddenly aware of what I don't know. How can I make it to my age-- 50 whatever-- without knowing things that are familiar to so many?

Take "Pirates of the Caribbean." (A movie. There have been two. The third has just come to a "theater near you." I found this out today, though the first came out in 2003.) The title reminds me of the Saturday matinees we used to pay a dime to see. The "Sinbad the Sailor" movies. I liked those-- when I was ten.

Don't take that as an insult if you like Pirates of the Caribbean. It must be awesome. It's a three series blockbuster. All I know is it's not for me. Even though it has Johnny Depp in it. Whoever he is. I've heard his name a lot, and that means he's "hot."

I'm surprised when I hear Bruce talking about it with Joanna at the supper table. She's 23 and up on all the latest movies, but even Bruce knows about "Pirates of the Caribbean?"

He knows my taste in movies. I'm tough to please. I hate "fake." I like relationship movies. One that comes to mind is "Mr. Holland's Opus." There are others I've liked, but I seldom remember the titles, or the actors, or even the plot for long. I don't know why that is.

I asked a few questions about "Pirates of the Caribbean." "Is it about real pirates? Sort of based on history?"

"You saw it, " Bruce told me.

"I did?"

He sighs a little, and says, "Don't you remember?"

I don't.

If I was in the same room when he was watching it on TV-- because we definitely didn't pay to see it in a theater-- he might have thought I was watching. Most likely, I had my laptop on my lap, or a book, and had shut out the sight and sound of the movie.

Like I said, I live in my own world. It will take quite a movie to pull me out. I may miss out on good things, but ignorance is bliss.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day tears~

Last night my husband Bruce and I sat on the patio at dusk, rehashing the day.

It had been beautiful. The weather cooperated for our son's high school graduation, which was a milestone for me, as well as David. He's the youngest. I'll have an empty nest, temporarily at least, when he's away at college. I think this will be fine. I've looked forward to it, but still . . .

"Are we going to the parade tomorrow?" I'd asked Bruce. Tomorrow was Memorial Day.

"I suppose," he said.

I mentioned that there would be a ceremony at each of the cemeteries in town. Taps would be played in honor of the dead who'd served our country in war.

"That would be tough for me," he said.

"It would be too emotional?" I asked, tentatively.

He'd been a Captain in the Marines. He was going to get drafted, so he signed on to become an officer. He was sent to Vienam after OCS at Quantico, in Virginia. Then, Camp Le Jeune after Nam. I really don't know much more than that.

He came home in 1968. I was in still in high school. We didn't know each other then. We met twenty-four years later. He would never talk about Vietnam. But he teared up watching war movies.

I tried to get him to talk. I felt shut out. What had happened? What was it like? How could he not share with me? I loved him. I would never hurt him. I could share his pain.

He wouldn't talk.

He couldn't.

I let him be. For years.

But this night he seemed open. So I asked what it was that made it so difficult after all these years, not just for him, but for so many other veterans to speak of the past.

This is when the grenade split the air between us. My husband accused me of tossing it, but I didn't even know I'd held it, let alone pulled the pin.

This is a subject that stays buried. I need to understand. I can't ask questions. He won't answer. It isn't that he doesn't trust me to be gentle. Yes, it might help if he talked, but he won't. He stormed into the house.

I sat alone. He had every right to keep his experience to himself, but I felt hurt. Shut out. His hurt was bigger though; I'd swallow mine. What choice did I have, anyway?

In a while, he returned and spoke haltingly of learning that survival meant making decisions, quick ones, life or death ones. He said sometimes those decisions were made "for the greater good." Those who couldn't make decisions got their men killed. He said he was in charge of his men, it was his responsibility to bring them through alive. But some didn't make it.

We sat silently watching the goldfinch at the feeder. I changed the subject.

Today we went to the town common for a simple Memorial Day ceremony. We stood with others in front of the memorial with names of local men who'd died in war from WWI to Vietnam. It was one of many ceremonies being held across the nation. Dignitaries spoke. Veterans spoke. There was a gun salute, and a bugler.

I stood beside Bruce. He'd begun wiping silent tears long before the bugle blew taps. I put my arm around him, grateful that his name was not on the monument. I hoped some of his pain drained with each tear. That was all I could do.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The American garden~

There is a small Johnny-jump-up growing outside of the garden. A little farther down, behind the little wire fence my husband put up to contain their exuberance, the rest of the jump-ups grow. Beautiful! But restrained. Kept in check. Not a bad thing, but . . . I'm the one outside the fence. Metaphorically speaking.

I don't like being contained. Yet neither do I need to be. I won't wander far. But I want to be able to. Put me behind a fence and I'll climb over. No fence? I'll stay put. Maybe.

Along these lines, I don't like to be manipulated, which is what advertisers do to sell products. I can withstand the appeal to my ego when I hear, "Choosey mothers chose Jiff." I'm fine with not being considered choosey. I'll buy the product I like at the price I like. I'm a hard sell.

I find it especially irritating, and perhaps more insidious, to hear politicians-- of any party, at any level-- say, "The American people will not stand for this." Or, "The American people know better than to fall for this rhetoric."

This is manipulation at its finest. And lowest. It's an appeal to our desire to be seen as an intelligent part of the mainstream. If the American people all agree, many think, who am I to disagree? Who wants to be out of sync with the vast population of Americans? Too many of us slip into the stream and flow along rather than swimming hard the other way.

The American people? Who are we? Can we be lumped into one category with one collective mind? Who are these politicians who dare speak for me, let alone all of us? There are over 300 million "American people."

Driving home on jammed Route 24, I think of the diversity of people sharing the road. I'm willing to bet there is not one who is like me in any but the most general of ways. Consider just the broad demographic categories measured every ten years in the US census: income, education, race, gender, religion, age, marital status . . . think of the endless permutations of characteristics that make each of us unique.

Then stop and think. Period. Who will you let speak for you? You're one in 300 million. But you have a unique voice.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Always together~

Nancy Reagan told Diane Sawyer in a recent interview, "If anything, I miss him more now than ever." She was speaking of her husband Ron, of course, the former President who died in 2004 at age 93. They'd been married since 1952-- 55 years.

I immediately think of my mother sitting alone in her assisted living residence. She moved there less than a year after my father died. It was apparent she couldn't stay alone in the big house she and my father built, so my brother and I made the arrangements. Now she is alone in a small room.

She has staff to help her dress, and remind her to take her pills, but she's alone-- except for our visits and calls. Her cat, and the TV. And her dinner companion, Ruth.

Nancy Reagan tells Diane Sawyer. "We were always together."

So were my parents, Bob and Gini. A neighbor once said about a pair of mallards that paddled side by side around a neighborhood pond, "They remind me of Bob and Gini."

My brother and I discussed having a pair of ducks etched into the granite headstone they will share someday. Along with the ducks, the words "Always together," we think.

My mother has never been one to analyze her feelings. She'd shrink from an interview. Poking a microphone under her chin would elicit a self-conscious laugh, and perhaps a shrug, before she would manage to say quietly, "I miss him. I've been thinking about him a lot lately." The camera would catch her discomfort at "being the center of attention."

Her feelings for her husband, though, would they not be equally as strong as the indomitable Nancy's? Of course they would. They are. But this lonely sorrow she keeps to herself.

When friends and colleagues ask me, "How's your mother doing?" I always say, "She's fine, the same, very content."

I believed this. She told me this. But now I see it can't be true, really. Inside she aches with loneliness she hides. I've let her hide it. She wants to hide it. All my life, if I tried to dig deeper, she closed gently, but firmly like a morning glory after noon.

But now I know, and it hurts. Why did I not know see her sorrow? She didn't want me to.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Routine chores~

Today was a rainy Saturday. That meant housework instead of roaming the beach taking pictures. We have to eat, after all, and the cupboard was showing a lot of shelf space. Grocery shopping is one of my most disliked tasks; it's routine and repetitive, and involves choices on how to spend money.

For variety, I went to a store in the next town over. I find my thrills where I can. That took care of routine. Repetitive can't be helped, nor can the choices about spending money.

I was raised by thrifty parents who were into "unit pricing," so I'm never able to just pull items off the shelves and get shopping over with. I always take those few seconds to make sure I'm getting the best price for each item. Look at the weight. Compare that to the other package that looks cheaper at first glance. A ha! It weighs an ounce less. They can't trick me into wasting money-- just time. I drive myself crazy.

This store compounded my compulsive money issues by hanging neon yellow tags on shelves: "Buy two, get one free." I don't need two of anything, but I stop to think. Is the 39 cents I save on each item by buying two worth the storage space issue I'll face at home if I double up? I hate to spend 39 extra cents just because I only need one. Then again, if I buy two of everything maybe I won't have to go shopping next week. Did I mention that I hate grocery shopping?

Another routine-breaker is the international/specialty section they have. I cruise slowly down these aisles, pricier items, but unique enough to make me think I might splurge.

I'm looking at imported teas when I see, "Buy two get one free." Super Diet Tea. Hmmm. I have my weaknesses, and anything as simple as drinking tea to lose weight gets a second look-- lots of flavors, 36 tea bags times two! That's a deal.

I flip the box over to check the magic ingredients. My eyes catch the word diarrhea. It appears that a "side effect" of drinking this diet tea is that is causes diarrhea, diarrhea potentially bad enough to "call your doctor if it persists." No thanks. That's no bargain, even for 72 tea bags, 36 of which are free. Diet and exercise sound far more appealing, and they are not my two favorite words.

I made it through checkout without buying the magazine with the screaming headline: 24 Pounds Gone by Memorial Day! The one that also would have helped me get instant health, perky breasts, serene energy, fresh breath and toned thighs. And also help me flush "xenoestrogens" that make me hungry. And seaweed wraps that melt off 15 inches in one hour. (Fifteen inches of what? Off what?) I do wish these things were true, but I've bought enough magazines to feel safe saying only diet and exercise works. If you actually diet and exercise, that is.

I hope tomorrow is sunny. I have a plan for exercise that doesn't involve walking supermarket aisles.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Last time~

I woke my son David for school for the last time ever yesterday. Not a big deal, really. I wouldn't have even thought of it if he hadn't reminded me that night, "Don't wake me tomorrow, Mom. I'm going in late for a final."

Then he added, "In fact, you won't have to wake me from now on."

And that's when it hit me. He's done with high school. Again, not a big deal, really. Except that it is.

He's my baby, this 6' 4" man.

Twenty-seven years ago, I managed my first born the best I could with my entry-level maternity skills. My second child, four years later, was easier, because I knew what to expect, and she was temperamentally calmer than her older brother. Then after the heartbreak of a miscarriage, there was David.

He was it, my last baby. I knew that, and that awareness made me savor every moment of his babyhood in a way I hadn't with the others.

I rocked him to sleep, and then continued rocking, feeling his warm weight on my shoulder, instead of plopping him in his crib to "get something done" as I'd done with the others. When we went for a walk, I didn't hurry him past the drain where he knelt to plop in pebbles into the water.

It wasn't that I loved him more, it was just that he was my last, and I knew how fleeting the time. I didn't hurry David on to the next step. I let him unfold like the leaves in spring, sometimes early, sometimes not.

Now he's my final fledgling. He's ready to fly, although not in the sense of escape. I'm ready to let him go, although not with any sense of urgency. This is unfolding as it should. I raised him to stand on his own two feet, find his own way in the world, and be productive in a way that matters to himself and others. He is my baby, but I didn't baby him.

I'm proud of David, of who he is, despite me and because of me. I played a role in directing him, but he is the one who made the choices about how to act. Soon he'll be the director, and I'll sit in the spectator seats.

I've sat there before. It isn't always easy. But I'm ready to applaud, and if I have to, I'll hiss and boo.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Simple pleasures on Mother's Day~

Today's Mother's Day was a far cry from the days when my three kids were little, the days breakfast in bed was served on a tippy tray by beaming children who wiggled beside me and watched me swallow every bite.

No five dollar Hallmark can beat the homemade cards scrawled in crayon, the marigold sprouting in a paper cup, the sticky kisses. I loved those days.

But they were also the days when I wondered who perpetrated this Mother's Day hoax on the women of America. It was mother's day all right. Not only did the routine chores continue-- changing diapers, nursing the baby, doing dishes, picking up the house fall to me-- but there was the added job of hosting the Mother's Day celebration for my mother, my brother and family, and my own family. Nice to get together in the name of motherhood, but what a farce to call it Mother's Day. No rest for the weary mother.

At work the day after one Mother's Day, a new mother was still in a state of shock over the reality of the day vs her expectations. Her visions of being treated like royalty had been erased with the morning sun as she made coffee and fed the baby while eating cold cereal. By the end of the day she was in tears, and was still not speaking to her husband the next day. I don't know if her gift-- an azalea bush-- lived until next Mother's Day.

I thought she was a bit of a princess, but I understood. We all did.

Kids grow up. Change is good. Today was beautiful. A perfect Mother's Day.

I left my husband turning over the garden soil, and drove forty minutes east to walk along Nantasket Beach. Camera over my shoulder, sandals in hand, I shuffled through shallow shoreline water that felt warmer than the brisk breeze. I pocketed five striped rocks for my collection. I took a picture of an older couple at their request. I stood in a tide pool watching a seagull eat something dead-- another gull, it looked like. I watched young and old ride the carousel-- the only reminder that Paragon Park once stood on that site before it was torn down for the condos. I walked for nearly two hours, down the beach and back. Then I stopped for warm carrot and ginger soup, and got a cafe au lait for the ride home.

My husband was still working in the yard when I returned, as happy and relaxed as I was.

Now I sit with a cup of Chai tea heated in the copper-bottom whistler, steeping in a China cup-- gifts from my daughter-- along with the York Peppermint Patty I'm savoring. She remembered I used to love those. I still do. In a minute I'll get into bed and curl up with the book my son gave me. Simple pleasures that make this day special.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mother's Day gadget~

I just got the perfect Mother's Day gift: A gadget-- a man's gift-- or at least the kind of gift men like to give: a GPS for my car.

Yes! Forget diamonds, flowers, and shrubs to be planted on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Forget breakfast in bed.

I need a GPS.

With my left/right confusion, and inability to visualize directions, I've been lost more times than I care to admit, closer to home than I care to admit.

I have trouble with lefts and rights. If you tell me to go left, I'll invariably head right. It's a glitch in my directional wiring. I've worked around it by excessive use of reverse gear and U-turns.

Add to that my tendency to "zone out," only to discover miles and miles later when I come out of my reverie, that I missed a turn and have no clue where I am.

I once drove by my own driveway, so engrossed in the book on tape I was listening to, that I failed to notice I was home.

My husband has come to expect my phone calls when I'm off on a jaunt somewhere. "Bruce? I'm on 95 S and it says Providence? Now where do I go?"

He always knows where I went wrong and redirects me. Except for the time that I asked, "Should I take Exit 11 S? Hurry!"

Too late. Traveling 75 mph I passed the exit before he could answer.

Today Bruce gave me the GPS before I headed off to visit my mother. She lives an hour and a half away in an assisted living home. I've driven there several times, but that means nothing. I've relied on Google-map directions on the seat beside me.

Today with my Garmin GPS suctioned to the windshield, and my destination programmed, I drove with confidence. I'd traveled .9 miles when I realized I'd left my cell phone at home.

I U-turned. The sweet GPS voice began. "Recalibrating! Turn left. Recalibrating. Turn right." She was anxious to get me to my destination.

I got nervous. I didn't want her to blow some of her digital innards, but her voice stayed calm, and I figured she needed to get used to my foibles.

She has some foibles, too, my little GPS chick. On the way home I stopped at Wrentham Village, a shopping center the size of a small town. She had trouble getting me out of a parking lot full of twists and turns, stop signs and traffic lights. "I trusted her when she said, "Turn left," even though it didn't look promising.

She tried for a while, then went silent, just a gray arrow on a blank screen. I followed my gut and got us both out, and soon she was confidently guiding me home.

Maybe between the two of us, we'll get where we need to go. She'll remind me to turn, and I'll get her out of the tough parking lots.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Endangered species~

I've edited my revised New Year's Resolution. No more walking in circles around a track, wondering, "Is this lap seven or eight?" No more walking on a treadmill, going for miles and ending up where I started.

Yesterday I went for a walk-- for exercise-- that turned out to be such pure pleasure I wondered why I hadn't figured this out before. Why walk for exercise when you can walk for the sheer pleasure of it?

I guess I knew in my heart of hearts this was the way to go, and I'm sure others are ahead of me in making this discovery, but sometimes I'm too busy for pleasure. There is so much to do, so much that absolutely *has* to be done. And when it is done I find my pleasure in a dish of ice cream, or a nap, or both.

I intended to do the minimum-- walk for thirty minutes. I ended up walking for over an hour, and finished happier and more refreshed than if I'd done the "for exercise purposes only" walk.

Beside a road leading through the college campus, I found the entrance to a series of woodland trails I hadn't known existed. I followed a path keeping my "exercise" pace, but I also paused, to take pictures, to listen to the birds, to smell the woodsy scent, to inspect life in miniature moss.

I had my camera. There were pictures everywhere. Vivid bluebirds flitted, landed, and flitted again. A hawk soared, the biggest I've ever seen. Sun cast picket fence shadows through trees.

I continued, sometimes lost, sometimes sure of where I would come out, content to be alone soaking in the beauty.

The trail hooked right and opened into a clearing, a bluff overlooking a large empty parking lot. I looked down on a human scene as beautiful as any in nature. Below me college students were playing baseball.

Watching for awhile, I felt I'd stumbled across a prize, an endangered species of sorts-- college kids, playing, laughing, having plain old fashioned fun. They spotted me and waved. A rare species I hope I see more of.

See: Renewing My Vows (revising a New Year's Resolution)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pruning the Valentine rose~

My Valentine rose was dying.

I don't like to see plants die, and this plant was a Valentine gift that represented a less than healthy relationship. It arrived in bloom, a token of love more than an expression of it.

Its leaves began curling and dropping off, so I gave it more water. It got yellowish and sickly looking. I picked off the dead leaves, and repotted the plant thinking its roots needed to stretch.

Then I spotted tiny webs woven between the leaves. Nearly microscopic specks crawled across the strands like stealthy thieves. They must have been aphids. They'd been sucking the juices from the plant, these unseen killer parasites.

All the water in the world would have been futile; the veins were dry and had no ability to absorb what they needed.

Sort of a metaphor for my marriage.

Something's not right. It's not healthy and happy. It's stopped growing. So I give it what I think it needs, to no avail. Sometimes I don't care; let it die. Put it out of its misery.

Something that neither of us recognizes is sucking its life-blood, leaving the skeleton of what was once a vibrant blooming love.

I live as a parched twig in a rainforest, wondering what others know that I do not. Wondering what is the secret that fifty percent of married couples stumble across. Wondering what are the aphids that attack. I can't see them. They hide in anger.

I gently packed the sickly rose into new soil in a bigger pot. I pruned it back to nearly nothing. Then I washed the remaining leaves with soapy water to remove the aphids. I didn't hold hope for survival.

But today I see that there are tiny leaves beginning to emerge from the stems, tender leaves that promise growth and health. If I'm watchful, if I keep away the aphids, this plant might live, and even flourish.

The thing is, I don't know what the aphids that have attacked my marriage are. I don't know how to wash them away. I don't even know if I want try any more. It will take hard pruning to cut away the dead branches. There will be pain. Will it be worth it?

I'll watch my Valentine rose.

See: Where has the heart gone?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Have a nice day (part three)~

"They thread a thin flexible straw through your cervix," I said, grimacing. "The straw collects the cells."

"Relax," my husband told me. "You've popped out three babies. How bad can this be?"

He was referring to the endometrial biopsy my doctor had scheduled to rule out cancer. While I'd said little about being worried, I suppose the fact that I was gasping at what I read on the Internet indicated some concern.

What is it that turns a fourteen-hour labor into "popping out" a baby? But still, he had a point. Childbirth makes most other types of pain seem pale. The procedure was said to cause some "cramping." Big deal. Cramping. Some women get light headed and nauseous. Some women, not me.

Now I was lying on the exam table, "undressed from the waist down" covered with a paper sheet. I'd been shown the "straw,"-- yellow, sealed in plastic-- about the circumference of a glass mercury thermometer. I stared at the ceiling, waiting for the doctor.

She told me current research indicated that if the endometrial lining was thin as shown in a pelvic scan--as mine was-- a doctor might choose to wait and observe rather than have a biopsy.

She said, "I wouldn't be doing this today if you were very old, or frail, or, or, . . ."

She trailed off.

What? "If I looked like someone who would freak out on the table?" I prompted.

"Exactly!" She laughed. I laughed too, to show that I wasn't the freak out type.

She was ready. I assumed the familiar position, heard the clinking of instruments, felt her touch, and jumped as always.

Then she said, "Just a touch, here."

A sharp pain encircled my waste. I sucked in my breath, curled my toes, and threw an arm over my eyes.

"Holy shit!" I said. More "little touches," as she bumped the tip of the straw against the uterine lining to take cell samples from all over.

I continued to waggle my toes, clench my fists. I tensed my leg muscles, and breathed as if in labor. Only this pain was sharp, continuous, it didn't wax or wane. It was like being plugged in to an electrical current.

"Thirty more seconds," she said. "How you doing?"

I didn't answer. Nauseous and faint, I wanted to put my head between my knees, although I instantly realized that this was not the time for that move. If I pass out at least I'm  lying down, I thought. Then I broke out in a sweat, a full-bodied, every pore open, cold sweat.

When she was done, I lay drained and dripping. My reaction was typical, she said. Don't get up until I return, the nurse said, putting a wet paper towel on my forehead.

"Don't worry," I said.

Twenty minutes later, crossing the parking lot, still feeling woozy, I thought of the many people who cross my path daily. I don't know what they're dealing with, some much worse than my procedure, I'm sure. And yet in the sunlight, we all look normal-- on the outside at least-- people going about the business of living.

Have a nice day (part 1)

Have a nice day (part 2)