Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The view from the narrow kitchen window in the house I grew up in was a fairly stark scene, even in the spring when things began to grow green after those long, cold Kansas winters. Looking out while doing dishes, all I could see was a patch of unenthusiastic grass, some scraggly bushes and behind those, assorted dilapidated farm buildings.
However, just about this time every year this scene faded into the background when the lilac bushes burst onto center stage, decked out in their finery, singing bright, happy songs, cheering up the whole world. They were giant bushes of white and purple blooms, the branches joining with one another to make an arch under which we could walk.
Standing beneath these bushes, breathing in that scent, feeling the small flowers fall down upon my head when a breeze came though, I felt rich beyond belief. These opulent jewels hung heavy and I gathered them in my arms and breathed in their scent. My best friend E and I would sometimes play under the bushes, plucking large blossoms to place behind our ears and laughing at our exotic treasures.
This year the bush seems even smaller than most years and the blooms have not been abundant at all. Their smell is not as strong. I stopped a couple of times, but then started passing by without smelling the blooms. I was in a hurry to finish my walk and there were so many other colorful flowers popping up along my route.
Sunday my best friend E, that same one I played with under the lilac bushes, called to tell me that she most likely has a terminal illness that will slowly, painfully, take her life in the next six years.
So this is what a hard kick in the stomach feels like.
E and I became best friends in first grade and she has been a part of the landscape of my life for the past 44 years. Grade school, high school, college, marriage, children, and the loss of parents—we’ve been through it all together. “It’s only half-time!” I told her when we turned 50 together.
Now, well, maybe not.
I am here, 2000 miles from her, helpless, scared, speechless and bruised. I can do nothing at this point except be the best friend I know how to be. I send her a hand-written note through the mail every day and I dedicate my morning walks to her. I send her energy through my walks. I walk hard and I walk fast and I chant, “This is for you. This is for you. Can you feel it?”
And I stop, every single day at the small lilac bush, to touch its less than perfect blossoms, to smell the fading scent, to appreciate the beauty that is still there.
This morning I stopped and stood before it, crying at the sight of the few flowers that remain there. I cried because it is rare to find this kind of beauty on life’s route. I cried because I know that it is fleeting. I cried because I know someday it will be gone.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
- It’s lemonade, it’s lemonade, it’s daisy.
It’s a roller-skating, scissor-grinding day;
It’s gingham-waisted, chocolate flavored, lazy,
With the children flower-scattered at their play.
It’s the sun like watermelon,
And the sidewalks overlaid
With a glaze of yellow yellow
Like a jar of marmalade.
It’s the mower gently mowing,
And the stars like startled glass,
While the mower keeps on going
Through a waterfall of grass.
Then the rich magenta evening
Like a sauce upon the walk,
And the porches softly swinging
With a hammockful of talk.
It’s the hobo at the corner
With his lilac-sniffing gait,
And the shy departing thunder
Of the fast departing skate.
It’s lemonade, it’s lemonade, it’s April!
A water sprinkler, puddle winking time,
When a boy who peddles slowly,
With a smile remote and holy,
Sells you April, chocolate flavored, for a dime.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
It was summer and time for me to take the boys, then 6 and 11 years of age, back to Kansas to visit their grandparents.
HOB (Husband Of Betty) insisted he could not go. He was too busy at work, he said. “Busiest time of the year,” he said. However, in the days leading up to our departure, I grew suspicious. I couldn’t help but notice a certain lilt, a certain bounce in his voice when he talked about our trip.
Though he would not admit it, I knew he was looking forward to some time alone in the house. He was thrilled to have the break from his husband/father duties for the week. A week on the couch, the no danger of the remote being taken away, no children running through the house, Play-Dough on their feet, sharp-edged toys in their hands, jumping off furniture and no wife to glare at him if he wanted to eat greasy foods out of paper bags.
Ah, the Single Man Life.
Once we got to Kansas, I called him. The bouncy lilt had been replaced by a weird sort of relaxation in his voice, a dream-like quality. His words were slow and rhythmical, like the voice in an advertisement for old-fashioned lemonade or slow-churned ice cream. The placidity was apparent. His voice had nearly taken on the tinge of a drug-induced high. This was the voice of an extremely tranquil man.
Oh, and he had taken a day of vacation time while we were away.
This far-away, smooth, pleasantly-sedated voice was fine for the first conversation, but by the second phone call it was starting to bother me. The change in his voice would indicate to anyone that he had been released from the hellish prison of marriage and fatherhood and was now enjoying his life of freedom to the fullest.
The witch and her little sharp-toothed monkeys had been sent away and he now sat on his cloud-o’-happiness eating little chocolate-dipped marshmallows in peace.
“Oh yes, Baby. Oh yes,” he said in a smooth voice that made me suspect he was not responding to my question, but, I imagined, instead speaking to the two women in flowing white gowns who were no doubt fanning him with giant plumes as he reclined on a tufted velvet sofa.
The third day there we drove out to see HOB’s parents. Driving around the hilly streets near their home, the Blazer I was driving blew out a tire. It was unnerving to say the least. I managed to park precariously on a hill, told the kids to get out and stay put on a nearby grassy bank, and I walked to the nearest house (it was a time before cell phones, children!) to give my in-laws a call.
I was met at the door by a very skinny man with acne scars on his face who looked at me suspiciously as I asked him if could use his phone. He nodded, and nearly pulled me in, slamming the door behind me.
“Air conditioning,” he growled by way of explanation.
I picked up the phone as the man headed to the kitchen. I could hear him rustling around in the drawers. Obviously, he was searching for a machete with which to kill me. I made the call, yelled my thank you, and then escaped to wait at the car for my in-laws to pick me up.
They did and we returned to their home. I decided to call HOB to get the number of my nephew who lived in the area and who drove a tow truck to see if he could come and get me or at least give me some advice. My voice must have been shaking as I called HOB and explained the situation, trying not to cry while I was at it. I took a deep breath and finally said,
“So, could you look in the Rolodex and get Scott’s number?”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah….Well, that could be a bit of a problem….”
There it was—that tone. The maddening, euphoric tone.
I sat still, in disbelief. Was he so far gone, so totally indoctrinated in the cult of pleasure and non-responsibility that he had lost all his senses?
He continued in that unnervingly calm, dream-like voice.
“You see, that number is in the kitchen and I’m in the bedroom. I'd have to walk out there and get it and I'm really comfortable right now.”
Oh no, he didn’t.
Oh yes, he did.
I sat there for two seconds in stunned silence. Then, I slammed down the phone. Hard.
He called back one minute later.
I picked up the phone and then slammed it down again.
He called back.
He apologized. "I don't know why said that. I wasn't thinking. Now, here's the number. Do you have a pen? Are you writing this down?
It was not the words he was saying that made me happy.
No, it was beautiful tone of voice he was using. It was that familiar husband/father voice—the one tinged with concern, peppered with bossiness, the one bordering on tension, the one with more than just a hint of stress. It was the sane and sober voice of the beleaguered but loving husband and father.
I relaxed. The gear was back in place. Maybe it was the slamming of the phone that had jarred it back. Whatever it was, it was a relief.
“It’s OK,” I said. “I can handle things. I'll make some calls. I think everything’s going to be OK.”
And it was.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Back in 1987, at my ten-year high school reunion, somebody brought out movies taken during our senior trip. I stood there, watching the video and caught a glimpse of my younger self in a go-cart, racing around the track. I remember being stunned at that moving image of me.
During high school a combination of low self-esteem, cruel classmates, the stigma of being poor, and a steady diet of staring at perfect models Seventeen Magazine had convinced me that I was pretty unattractive, bordering on ugly.
But when I saw myself on the video, I saw a cute girl having fun on the track.
It was then I realized that because I had not known myself, I had let others define me. I had seen myself only through at lens of criticism and while some people may have created tidbits of insecurities that I nibbled on, I was the one who took them, added mounds of my own negativity and created a Home Town Buffet of self-criticism. I didn’t like my hair, I thought my hips were too wide, and my upper arms were too skinny. The list went on and on and on….
I wish I could say that moment at my ten-year reunion was a turning point for me, that I figured it all out. And though my perception of my looks did take a turn for the better, I continued to be self-critical about my looks throughout the years and I was not alone.
We as women seem to dwell on our own deficiencies, bringing them up to others, even making a competition out of it. “You think you have big thighs? Mine are bigger!” I must have racked up hours and hours in the frequent whining club. Conversations with groups of women nearly always had a hefty dose of complaining about our imperfections, our weight, our bone structure.
What a waste of energy and time.
When I look back at pictures now, I see my old self looking back and more than anything else, I wish she could have appreciated her beauty at that time. I used to be so self-critical, and egged on by society and the media, I played right into the hands of those who sought to benefit from my insecurities. (I remember complaining even during pregnancy, as my body was toiling away creating life!)
Here’s the thing: I am now 51 years old. I am all done complaining about my body. I’ve decided it’s beautiful just the way it is and more importantly, it’s healthy. It carries me through the day and does what I ask it to do. I'll take care of it and I'll appreciate it. That starts with no more negative comments, either spoken or thought.
Won't you join me?
Around me I see people who deal with real physical ailments, whose bodies are breaking down in one way or another. One of my best friends recently got a devastating diagnosis of a disease that affects her ability to move, to function normally. My complaining about my wide hips or the size of my stomach is stupid and dishonors her and all people who must face true problems.
Most of all, life is short and I do not want to be 75 years old, and look back on a picture of myself as a young 51 year-old and have that same kind of jolt I had watching those high school videos.
I will not look at a picture of myself in my fifties and wish I had appreciated my beauty at the time.
I will look at that picture, smile, and know I did.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
When I was getting ready for Evan’s 17th birthday party, he said, “You know, this party is more for you than it is for me, Mom.”
He didn’t say it in that Lifetime Movie way, in a voice full of gratitude, you-are-the-wind-beneath-my-wings way. “Oh, my dear mother! Though this is my birthday, this party should really be a tribute to you, the selfless one who has nurtured me throughout all these years and made all things possible.”
No, it was more in a slit-eyed suspicious teen “You-and-I-both-know-I-don’t-care- anything-about-having-a-party;-you-just-want-to-have-your-friends-over-and-you’re-using-my-birthday-as-an-excuse kind of way.
I had been wheedling the boy for a week or so about what he wanted to do to celebrate and he had no idea. I decided a small dinner party with some friends would be a great idea. I presented the idea to Evan. He was less than thrilled.
“No, Mom. Come on.”
So I decided not to do it. I would be embarrassing him.
Then I decided to go ahead and do it. It would be fun! He’d see.
But shouldn’t I respect his wishes, let him know I had heard him?
I wouldn’t do it.
But no birthday party?
I had to have a party for my boy.
No. He was nearly a man. It was time to let him make the decision.
A few hours later, I changed my mind again.
Oh heck, I thought. I’ll have a party whether he likes it or not.
(My inner alarm: “Warning! Psychological Damage ahead! Therapy Bills Coming!”)
Evan begrudgingly invited three of his friends, choosing ones who already knew how “weird” we were and who could commiserate because they also had uncool parents who were likely to embarrass them by bursting out in song or dancing at the drop of a hat.
I am happy to say we had a great time with about 13 people in attendance. There were two girls just about two years older than Evan and his friends and so the six teens had a good time talking about their high school/alma mater and what was happening around town.
I figured the young people would be outta there right after the presents had been opened, and had organized a craft project for the adults who remained. It was a simple candle/tissue paper/Mod Podge project. I brought out the materials and off-handedly asked the kids if they wanted to participate, fully expecting them to shrink back in horror. To my surprise most of them said yes.
So for about an hour the tissue paper flew, Mod Podge was slathered on, and laughter and talk flowed. The adults finished up and went into the next room to play Wii bowling, but the teens remained, working on candles and talking for another hour or so. I listened and smiled, knowing Ev would never admit the party was a good idea, but also knowing he was having a great time.
As our children grow into these later teen years, it becomes increasingly difficult to use the Mom-o-Meter to know when to move in and when to back off. These offspring of ours push us away, sometimes at the exact moment they want us close.
And we, as parents, are sometimes too quick to back away when pushed, thinking that is what we are supposed to do. We reason they need independence and we want that for them too. However, we then discover they are asking boundaries even as they are proclaiming that we are ruining their lives with all our useless rules.
It’s enough to drive a mama crazy.
So what’s a concerned, dedicated parent to do? Well, quite naturally, as in all weighty matters, I turn to cats for guidance.
Think about it: Bring out a cat carrier and the cats will sense a trap and disappear for hours. Present them with a fancy new cat bed or an expensive cat play structure and they will look at you as though you have lost your mind. However, leave an old box on the table or a suitcase open and before you know it, they’re in there, relaxed, hanging out, and in no hurry to leave.
In the same way if you arrange a specific time to talk to your older teens specifically about their lives, they’ll sense a trap. Arrange an event that even remotely smacks of prepackaged bonding time—especially one reminiscent of their childhoods, say, the zoo or park, and they’ll look at you like you have lost your mind.
However, stand in the kitchen chopping vegetables, or relax on the couch and they might just come around, hang out, maybe even start talking.
Or sit at a table, mindlessly putting together a puzzle. Say nothing, be patient, avoid eye contact and eventually, you might just find them there, standing beside you, then sitting, maybe talking about nothing, maybe talking about everything.
If you are lucky, they might even pick up a few of the odd-shaped pieces and help you solve just a little bit of the confusing, but always colorful, puzzle that stretches out in front of both of you.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Friday, April 16, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
There's a reason Betty teaches college students and not little tiny children.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The old cat sleeps
in the newly arrived sun. One more spring
has come his way
dropping a solar bath
on failing kidneys, old cat bones.
I check for the rise and fall of breath.
Once he stalked hares
across the yard, tracked down
chicken hearts with split-lentil eyes.
Fearless, disinterested, a poseur, a demideity.
He and the dog are strangers still
after years of eating side by side.
I remember times of wailing
into my couch, alone
and utterly baffled by life,
when suddenly a cat
would be sitting on my head.
Last week I pulled him snarling
from under a chair in Dr. Bacon's office,
held him while she examined his dull coat,
felt his ribs. Pressed where it hurt.
Eight pounds of fur and bone and mad as hell
but "He's certainly less anxious in your lap,"
she murmured, astonishing me.
I had no idea. Old cat, old friend,
have I reached some place inside,
added to your life
as you have to mine?
Monday, April 5, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Betty's cool (most of the time).