When The Drama Doesn’t Stop

Last year at this time, my husband was recovering from a near-death experience that required surgery and hospitalization, we had just buried my mother-in-law after she suffered a massive heart attack and stroke, and we were preparing for our son’s wedding – all while in the midst of a major kitchen remodel. So when I ran into a colleague last week and told her that I was looking forward to a relaxing, uneventful summer this year, I should have known to knock on wood.

One week ago today, my 19 year old son was riding in a golf cart that flipped over, causing him to fly out of it, and then the cart crash landed on his face. Two men had to lift it off of him, and then they rushed him to the nearest hospital. Current situation: His fractured jaw, nose, and orbitals are slowly healing. The swelling is going down, the midnight black eyes are fading to light black, and his nose is settling back into the middle of his face where it belongs. The pain is becoming bearable.

Deep breath. Sigh. He’s alive.

I went back to work after three days of caring for him, and then only because my mother, a recently retired nurse, came to stay with us to help out. She took him to his follow-up doctor appointment at the hospital clinic, made an appointment with a dental/face specialist, and called my insurance company, pretending to be me, to inquire about coverage.

Thank God for mothers.

At work, I was barely able to function, so utterly worn-out I felt from setting my alarm round the clock to give him his meds, and from worry. Therefore, I hardly paid attention when one of my co-workers pulled me aside and told me she wanted to sage the office. We have a brand new colleague who had pointed out to her that, in the short two weeks since she’d arrived on the scene, one co-worker had lost a close relative, another’s mother and sister were hospitalized within days of each other, and now my son. The new co-worker feared she was cursed, as a similar series of unfortunate events had occurred when she had just started her previous job.

“That has nothing to do with it,” I told my co-worker. “She wasn’t here last year when all the bad stuff happened.” This in reference to my husband and mother-in-law, a co-worker’s dad passing, and another’s grandmother passing – all this over a four week period.

“It’s those masks,” my co-worker said. “I think they’re evil. I get the creeps every time I walk into her office.”

Our new co-worker has been to 35 countries, which I’m quite impressed by, and her office is filled with unique items from her travels. I think the masks are from Africa, but I can’t remember for sure.

“The masks aren’t evil,” I said.

She appeared doubtful. “I want to sage anyway.”

“Won’t the sprinklers go off if there’s smoke?”

She shrugged, leaving me to wonder if I was living in an alternate reality, one where evil curses and masks exist.

Superstitions aside, this past week has made me pause and see how much I have to be thankful for.

I am very thankful for my job, which provides my family with excellent health insurance coverage. God knows we’ve needed it over the past year.

I am thankful for my boss, who understands that family comes first. In a situation like this, she doesn’t hesitate to show her support and reassure me that I can take as much time as I need.

I am thankful for my mother, and especially for her recent retirement. Not only was she a huge help during this crisis, she was recently able to help out my brother and sister-in-law for almost two weeks after the birth of their second child.

What I am most thankful for is that my son is alive. He’s not in a vegetative state, and he appears to be healing.

It can be difficult to see the blessings in the midst of crisis and hardship, but if you look hard enough, they are there, in abundance.

Still, to be on the safe side, I plan to sage my house this week.

I leave you with this throwback video of Stevie Wonder playing Superstition, the song that was playing through my mind as I wrote this. I dare you not to dance!

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Beautiful Muse

For over 30 years, this lovely lady was the window covering in my grandmother’s bathroom. I used to love spending time in that magical space when I was a girl. The entire room was pink – the tile, sink, toilet, tub, and sparkly wallpaper – plus a Fairy Princess lived there! In that ultra-feminine place, experimenting with my grandmother’s cosmetics, I felt privy to all the secrets of womanhood.

When my grandmother died, the Fairy Princess became mine and evolved into a Garden Goddess. I still can’t believe I was so foolish as to place her out in my perennial gardens where anything might have happened. A tree branch could have fallen on her. A baseball could have shattered her to pieces. Luckily, the only thing that happened was her rustic wood frame disintegrated around her from exposure to the elements, and I learned my lesson about being careless with family heirlooms.

Without a safe way to display her, I slid her in the space between my dresser and the wall, where she stayed for years until an opportunity to restore her arose. A neighbor had started making stained glass art, so I asked him if he knew where I might have a frame made for her. Within days, he was carrying her away to his backyard workshop to make a custom frame. The result is what you see in the photo.

Now she’s the window covering in my living room, and her presence has coincided with a creative reawakening in my life. I’m blogging again after a near-year hiatus, and practicing yoga on the floor in front of her several days a week before sunrise, something I haven’t done at home in years. The Garden Goddess has evolved into my Muse.

Inspiration is all around us, in books, music, art, nature. Sometimes it’s tucked away in corners waiting to be rediscovered. So often we look for something or someone new to come along and inspire us, when what we really needed may have been there all along.

My grandmother at age 18, newly engaged to my grandfather.

For Whom I Long

That perfect line
Where sea and sky meet
Is where you’ll find me
Waiting, an eternity,
My sweet.

I wrote this poem when I was in my early 30s, experiencing the first of what would be many challenges in my marriage to a man I had met when I was 21. I was convinced I had made a terrible mistake by marrying my husband, and I became obsessed with the idea that my true soul mate was out there somewhere. I imagined him as my warrior mate in a past life, who was now off in some distant horizon, and that one day, in another time and place, we would be together again. I knew this because I could feel his presence in my soul as a longing so deep and intense it ached.

Then a therapist told me that my longing was a coping mechanism to get through my current reality. I was crushed. There was no soul mate.

I told my best friend. She shook her head and looked sad. “You’ve always had more imagination than anyone I know,” she said. “Remember when you got a crush on the Polish guy that worked at the liquor store just because he smiled at you?”

In my first, short-lived marriage at age 17, when things got hard, when they weren’t fun anymore, I left. I did not want to deal with having to fix, heal, or help another person. I wanted someone to fix, heal, and help me. I got tired of laundering his dirty socks and underwear, and of hearing his words slur more as the night wore on and he drank beer after beer. I wanted nothing to do with any of it.

In my second marriage, I resolved to stick it out, to endure, to think of others beside myself. I didn’t want to be that person who kept bailing when things got tough.

So I stayed, and as we moved through the roller coaster that was our marriage, I learned some things. Soul mates don’t have to be husbands or lovers, they can be our best friends, and marriage is hard, hard work. Yet I could grow in this marriage, with this man, and learn to love him in the depths of my soul.

And I have. Each birth, death, joy, sorrow, blessing, and hardship we face together entwines us more. If I am destined to live another life, it may be him for whom I long.

Here is a powerful scene about the excruciating ordinariness of life, and the difficult realities of marriage, between the characters Big Daddy and his son in the Tennessee Williams’ play turned film, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (you can stop watching after about 1:15 minutes to get to the grit of it).

The Lost Little Ones

Oh, yes, I am so going there.

Today my son and his fifth grade class went on a field trip to historic Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed in 1620 and site of what would later become the birthplace of New England. I carefully packed his lunch bag to ensure he had plenty of food to eat and share, gave him cash to spend at the gift shop, hugged and kissed him, and sent him off with my husband, who brought him to school to catch a 6:45am bus.

After they left, I prayed.

I prayed to God for the bus driver to get him and his classmates to and from Plymouth safely. I prayed that they would be safe while they were there. I prayed because as an American parent, I can no longer take my child’s safety at school, or anywhere, for granted. There are people out there with guns, many obtained legally, who want to hunt down and kill our children.

My son and I rarely go to the movies anymore. When we do, we sit in the way back, against the wall, so I have a clear view of the theater. I calculate what I might do if a shooter were to come in and start spraying bullets. Throw my son on the floor, under a seat, and then lay on top of him. Alternatively, throw him down, tell him to stay down and hide while I charge the shooter so he kills me instead of my son.

In church, we usually sit toward the back. If a shooter were to enter, I would tell my son to get under the pew and crawl his way to the end of the row, stay low while he heads to the exit, then run like hell away from the church. If this were not an option, I would throw myself on top of him and shield him with my body.

I do not share these thoughts with my son.

We send our most precious, priceless gifts from God  – our children – to school and sometimes they do not come home. This is not a fluke or an anomaly anymore; this is a regular occurrence in American society. No child is safe, not yours and not mine, and our government does nothing about it.

Arm teachers. Have fewer entrances. Be kind to each other. These are the innovative solutions our government throws at us each time we experience another violent loss of innocent life. They expect us to predict which one of the “weird” kids will become a mass murderer before he kills. They blame the victims when he, in most cases with legal access to semi-automatic weapons, massacres them while they learn .

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments for term limits for our elected representatives. Too many of them have been in office during these massacres and still are unwilling to compromise or take action to implement policies and laws to help prevent this bloodshed from happening in our schools.

Something is fundamentally wrong with a country that values the right of a private citizen to own an inanimate object capable of mass murder over the rights of living, breathing human beings to live their lives in safety and peace.

Children are dying. Do not think it cannot happen to yours.

We will all die. If we are fortunate, it will be at a ripe old age, after a life well-lived. As you lie on your deathbed, which do you want by your side, your gun or your child?

“In the end, both sides wanted what the Pilgrims had been looking for in 1620: a place unfettered by obligations to others. But from the moment Massasoit decided to become the Pilgrims’ ally, New England belonged to no single group. For peace and for survival, others must be accommodated. The moment any of them gave up on the difficult work of living with their neighbors—and all of the compromise, frustration, and delay that inevitably entailed—they risked losing everything. It was a lesson that Bradford and Massasoit had learned over the course of more than three long decades. That it could be so quickly forgotten by their children remains a lesson for us today.”  ~ Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Resolve

Every day life tests our resolve. Two weeks ago, I posted that my goal over the next year is to practice greater self-acceptance. The other day, I found myself wavering in that goal.

I took a much-needed day off from work, and so I picked up my 11 year old son from school. Before we even got in the car, he asked to go to his friend Jack’s house. I didn’t know Jack or his parents, plus my son mentioned that Jack’s mom wasn’t home from work yet. No way was I going to let him go to a strange house with no adult supervision. I said no, but told him to have Jack’s mom call me.

Back home, I got involved cleaning my grandmother’s old mirror that I’d taken down from the loft over the garage. As I was prying thumb tacks off the back cover of the frame with a butter knife, my son tells me, “Jack is coming over in a few minutes with his mother.”

What?!

I looked around me. Dirty dishes in the sink. School papers, bills, and newspapers strewn about. Piles of shoes thrown near the back door.  Dried cat food stuck on a dish. Loose ends that needed tying up from a remodel – and that was just the kitchen!

I wanted to throttle my son, but I was too busy panicking over the horrible first impression I would make on Jack and, more importantly, his mother. The impression of a disorganized, scattered, messy mother who is too busy indulging in personal activities, like fiddling with a 50 year old mirror, to keep her house in good order.

I should add that my son goes to parochial school, where a large chunk of the student body come from families who are well off. I’m just an ordinary, middle-class educator married to a blue-collar guy, who sometimes struggles to pay the tuition. Our house is in an older, working class neighborhood that I sometimes fear may be going down the tubes.

My inner demons kicked in: Will the mother look her nose down on me and my home? Will she think we’re not good enough for her son?

Then my goal came back to me. So what if my house was messy? I preferred self-care and creative projects to cleaning on a day off. We might not live in the best section of town, but our 1930 colonial was charming and in a friendly, down-to-earth neighborhood that we enjoy. That was what mattered, not the opinion of a stranger.

I thought back to the family with five girls that used to live in the little ranch behind me when I was a girl. Their house was the place to hang out. They had a Roly-Poly, a round, wooden contraption with bench seats and bars to hold onto while someone rolled us around the yard. There was an underground fort where we would bunker down, in the pitch black, and pretend to be hiding from danger. Their basement was finished into a recreation room where we would put on plays for their parents. The girls’ dad made us homemade potato chips, and on Halloween night he would pile us into his station wagon and drive through a nearby cemetery while we screamed in terrified delight.

In retrospect, they probably didn’t have much money, and their house was way more messy and disorganized than mine, yet I loved being there. The chaos was part of the charm.

Suddenly, I was excited that Christian’s friend was coming to hang out at our house. If he and his mom saw me as messy and scattered, all the better. To hell with perfection!

They arrived, and I invited the mom inside so we could get acquainted and exchange phone numbers. Her eyes scanned the kitchen, just as they’d scanned the neighborhood.

“We’re at the tail end of a kitchen remodel,” I said, feeling the need to explain the plywood backsplash over the counter, the lack of trim by the floor, and the box of silverware on the kitchen floor.

“It’s cozy,” she said, leaving me to decide if this was an insult or a compliment.

Then it dawned on me: I knew nothing about this woman. Not where she lived, where she came from, what her story was. I was making all kinds of assumptions based on my own insecurities. Hadn’t I resolved to end this bullshit?

I smiled at her, and felt warmth and acceptance spread through me. “Thank you.”

OMG, Did I Really Just Say That?

The older I get, the more I wish I could say whatever I want without fear of repercussions. It gets tiresome having to always be politically correct and feel responsible for people’s feelings. I am constantly searching for the right language to use so as not to hurt, upset, offend, anger, alienate, or demotivate someone.

Not that I want to be a jerk, but once and a while it would be a relief to tell someone what I really think, exactly as I am thinking it, instead of keeping my mouth shut or censoring my words.

Like that former co-worker who clipped his fingernails at his desk. I wanted to shout, “Why in the hell would you do that here? It is disgusting and unsanitary. Who raised you to think that’s okay?” Instead, not trusting myself to find a polite way to ask him to stop, I said nothing and cringed each time I heard a clip.

How I long, even for a day, to do away with the filter and speak my mind as I please.

In response to that job interview question: How do you cope with stress? “Mostly I do yoga and journal, but on really bad days I drink an entire bottle of wine, then pick a fight with my husband.”

To the delusional college senior who is applying to medical school and asked me to write a recommendation, even though her GPA is 2.6, she flunked chemistry, and has yet to volunteer in a health care setting, “Girl, you do realize that your chances of getting into medical school anytime soon are like no way in hell?

Twice in my life I actually said what I wanted without a filter and the feeling of freedom was liberating. The first time was in a supermarket checkout line. An item rang up higher than I’d expected, so the cashier put on a blinking light to alert the manager to come over. The people in line behind me started to shift impatiently.

Then one guy said, “There’s one in every line.”

I could have chosen the path of dignity and kept my mouth shut. Instead, I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, are you referring to me? Yeah, because I purposely selected an item that I knew would ring up incorrectly just so I could hold up the line and wreck your day. Because it’s all about you.”

He went still. Said nothing. In a moment, he slinked away. The others in line avoided my gaze. Turns out the item had rung up incorrectly. Ha!

The second time was when the worst plumber on the planet entered my basement to inspect a leaking pipe. I followed him down and told him that every time I turned on the outside hose to water the garden, a loud, thumping sound roared through the pipes. The resulting conversation went something like this:

“Lady, I don’t know anything about a thumping sound,” he sneered. “I don’t know what’s wrong with the pipes.”

I said, “Neither do we, which is why we called a plumber, so you can figure it out and fix it. By the way, did your boss mention that we don’t have hot water in the kitchen sink and the downstairs toilet is running?”

“Jesus,” he said, “No, he didn’t. It’s almost four o’clock. I wasn’t planning on being here all night.”

We went back and forth like this for several minutes, mostly with him bitching and moaning and gesticulating, until finally I exploded.

“Listen, mister. My mother-in-law passed away last week, just before that my husband was in the hospital and almost died, and now I have to stand here and deal with you? If you don’t want the [expletive] job, leave.”

I feared he might strike me, so aghast did he appear. Instead, he held up his hands as if surrendering.

“Calm down, lady. I’ll take care of everything.”

While part of me could not believe I had just spoken to him like that, another part was glad I had. Clearly, it was the only kind of language he understood.  Some people need to hear it straight, no filter involved.

Imagine if everyone in the world said exactly what was on their minds? We would either be at war constantly or maybe we might start behaving better. Then there’s the matter of having to take in what we dish out. Would we want to know what people wish they could say to us? Probably not.

As I was writing this, Justin Timberlake’s “Say Something” kept playing in my mind. Here’s the song if you want to listen.

The Road to Self-Acceptance

I used to be a self-improvement junkie. From self-help books and journaling, to daily meditation and yoga, I was forever striving to become the best I could be, but somehow always falling short.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I am so over it.

It takes tremendous energy to always be striving toward a better version of yourself. Almost as much energy as learning to love and accept yourself as you are, flaws and all. Of the two, I am convinced the latter is the greater use of our energy, and the more difficult, which may be why so many of us prefer the former.

Evolving  toward our highest potential is a beautiful thing. Sadly, too many of us start our journeys of growth and self-discovery from a place of lack instead of love, convinced we’re not good enough as we are and that we therefore need to strive and change to be better.

My entire life has been a struggle to feel good enough, to appreciate myself for who I am – the good, the bad, the quirks, and even my God-given strengths and talents. Did it start in the womb, with my 17 year old mother “disgracing” the family by having pre-marital sex and getting knocked up with me? Can shame be passed on at the cellular level? Does the stain of being the black sheep seep into one’s offspring?

Or could it have started with my father? He never could seem to accept me for who I am. He still corrects my speech (not how I say things, but what I say) and seems overly concerned with how I make him appear. There are digs about me acting like my mother, as if being like her in any way means that something is wrong with me.

What about those small moments that add up over a lifetime, such as when I was eight years old and sitting on my friend Jenny’s front steps with her and a group of girls. Someone mentioned the new landscaping around the front walkway of Jenny’s house and I, in innocence, said, “My parents said they copied our landscaping”, which they kind of had given it was identical and we lived directly across the street. Not that I cared, but my parents had taken issue with it.

Unbeknownst to me, Jenny’s mother was listening inside the house through the screen door. All of a sudden, a voice hissed, “You little devil. How dare you say that. Get off my property.” Stunned and afraid and ashamed, I left without saying a word and spent the rest of the day sitting in our garage watching the girls play. The residue of that day has stayed with me all these years.

I don’t know how my lack of self-acceptance started, but the days of feeling like I have to act a certain way, say things a certain way, dress and wear my hair a certain way – I could go on and on – to fit in and be accepted by others are slowly coming to an end. I am getting too old for such bullshit. I want to experience myself fully for the first time in my life, to know what it feels like to appreciate and accept myself as I am, right in this moment. I want to observe my thoughts, words, and actions without judgment, even the “bad” ones, and to naturally be myself first in every situation, instead of adhering to my tendency to adapt myself to others’ opinions of who and what I should be.

A funny thing that has been happening lately that has prompted this shift. All of the things I’ve learned and thought I understood in my self-improvement heyday are rushing at me, seeping into me as primal, mini-revelations during which I think, Oh my, God. This is what it meant. Now I get it. Now I really, truly get it, in my soul. I couldn’t explain the revelations if I wanted to because they go beyond words to a deep knowing.

What a gift! The world is opening up to me and I’m ready to dive into it.