Monday, December 31, 2012

And In The End....

It's finally cold enough to wear my bright yellow polar fleece vest.  The days may be getting longer, but it's still dark much earlier than I'd like.  The full moon woke us up, shining through the shades, and neither one of us was enthusiastic about leaving the warm covers to change the angle of the blinds.  

There's no snow, Elizibeth wore flip-flops on our hike today, and I walked comfortably and barefoot out to soak in the spa and consider the advisablility of planting gerberer daisies in the containers out back.  It's not the end of December as I knew it, but it's what I've got, so I'm going with the flow.

There is no traffic on the roads.  The parking lot at the trailhead had plenty of spots when we arrived at 10:15am.  Lines are non-existent in the grocery store and the mall lot is full only near the entrances to the movies.  I'm not sure where everyone has gone.  

It's winter in Tucson.
There are hours to go before we fall off the fiscal cliff.  This is less imaginary than the Mayan-end-of-the-world-scenarios and yet only the talking heads seem to notice that it's going on. 

I take the temperature of the populace at the manicure palace and on line in the market.  The Mayans were the topic of conversation before during and after the end of the world; nobody's talking about how they'll manage when their take-home pay is drastically reduced.  

That, in and of itself, feels like the end of the world to me.
The good news is that I hiked part of the Sweetwater Trail this morning.

The bad news is that I hiked part of the Sweetwater Trail this morning.

Every piece of connective tissue with even the most remote association to ambulation is announcing its presence with authority throughout my nervous system. I walked consciously, using my toes and ankles, holding myself up and out of my hip joint, taking big, bold steps and lifting my knees over uncertain terrain. My arms were swinging, my neck was long, my shoulders were secure.  I am paying for that precision now.  

It's a good kind of ache, a muscular, well-used exhaustion.  I'm trying to ignore the fact that it took a little over a mile and 100' of elevation change to do me in.
All the laundry is done.  The groceries and wine are laid in.  Dessert fixings are waiting to surprise TBG as we spend New Year's Eve just the way we like it - at home, alone, with backgammon and gin rummy and a movie or two on the telly.  

Tomorrow is about resolutions and the future.  Tonight, I'm leading into the new year with the Beatles, the last lyric on their last album:
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make..
Happy New Year's Eve, denizens!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winter in the Desert

We've been sleeping with the bedroom window open.  Most places, you do that in the spring and the summer, but here, when the temps reach the 90's by April, winter is the only time that fresh air feels good in the middle of the night.

It's hard to feel Christmas-y when the temperature is in the 70's; all my winter sweaters are vacuum packed away, waiting for a trip to the kids in Chicago.  I was lucky enough to have cool weather on the 25th; I could wear my new sweater to JannyLou's for dinner and not feel that I was pushing the season.  Of course, I didn't need a jacket to walk next door, either.
Winter's our second rainy season, plumping up the succulents and the cacti.  For those of us who have placed containers strategically beneath the downspouts, there will be no need to drag out the watering can this week.
The downside of this free watering is the mess on the side of the pots.
The rain comes in fast and furious
  pushing the blue sky away ahead of the front.

The sun tries to maintain a presence
but the clouds are immutable.

And then, as quickly as it begins, it's over.
In the time it took me to write a post, to lose the post to a weather-induced-internet-outage which precluded saving my work, and to rewrite something you could read (stifling my groans along the way), we went from raindrops to the makings of a beautiful sunset.

There are many things you can say about the desert.
Boring is not one of them.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nannie's Christmas

Her birthday was December 26th.  No wonder her son, whose birthday is January 2nd, and she didn't care that much about celebrating the event.  The big deal had already happened. For each of them, I think, that was the way it ought to be.

She was a presence, my mother-in-law.  A great athlete in her youth, and her son's youth, by the time I met her she was on her cancer/heart/macular degeneration way toward the end.  I never ran the bases in Awful Arabs vs Terrible Turks family baseball games in the backyard, but I heard tales of her smacking the ball far enough for the littlest one, who grew up to be my Big Guy, to make it all the way home.

Home was what she made.  G'ma kept us fed and clothed and I always knew I was loved, but home for me was overlaid with a patina of angst, of worry, of waiting for the next shoe to fall.  According to TBG, home for him was safety and comfort and laughter.  It was his mom.

He remembers her sitting at the breakfast room table, laughing at a ribald joke told by her big brother, who'd stop by to see how she was doing in the late afternoon.  He remembers her sangfroid when he was caught smoking cigars beneath Teddy Mortimer's stairwell.  He remembers her whistling louder than any mom should ever be able to whistle, calling the kids and the dog home for dinner.

I remember Christmas.

I'd been to their home before, but Christmas was different.  I watched.  I paid attention.  I took mental notes. All the things my family cherish here are directly descended from that first Christmas, my very first Christmas.

I never missed it growing up, a fact that surprises TBG to this day.  My friends were Jewish, my neighborhood was Jewish, and I had my menorah to light up eight separate nights.  I didn't think I was missing anything.  But, as Big Cuter says, "once you've seen Christmas you realize it's great!" I was hooked from the start.

I think Nannie recognized a kindred spirit from the get-go; we never exchanged a hurtful word.  Strong-willed, she was always willing to listen to another opinion.  She loved to learn, and all things Jewish became a major topic between us.  We learned from one another, she encouraging me to light the Chanukah candles when the holidays coincided, I asking for help in explaining Easter to a toddler.  There was respect, there was love, and there was shopping.

Oh, yes, denizens, there was shopping.  She was good at it.  She enjoyed it.  She never wasted time or money.  She found what she wanted because she knew how to ferret it out.  She was a good teacher, and I an attentive pupil.  After a while, she didn't have to ask if I wanted it.... she just knew.

The fancy presents have been out-grown.  The sentimental mementos remain bright and shiny, just like my memories of her joy when I opened the white cardigan with pearl buttons she'd remembered I'd lusted for months before.  Did I mention that she was perfect?

Her gifts struck the right note - not too silly, not too treacly. Like this Santa from 1980
which has hung at the bottom of my tree for the last .... oh, dear.... 32 years.  He has his own special box, with clouds  behind the hard plastic which holds him in place. I laugh with Nannie's ghost every time I put him away.

Though her house gifts were seasonally colored,

the woman was obsessed with ducks.
There were wooden ones and felt ones and stone ones which hung from the ceiling and rested atop the televisions and the shelves and were nicely complemented by the pterodactyl which flew in the window between the tv room and the living room. When she died, I chose dish towels as my piece of the inheritance
 I've never regretted my decision.

Auntie Em was an Avon Representative for a while.  I was the beneficiary of many fragile ornaments which did not survive the many moves and trees they adorned.  These little angels are called Nannie and Grandpaw
and were also part of the stash I took home.  There were lots of fancy glass pieces and collections of Tobey mugs and commemorative spoons, but the simple, silly things
like this winking Santa, are the ones I treasure most dearly.  They are Auntie Em and Nannie and Cleveland in the snow.  They are long walks after huge meals and cousins of all ages and descriptions dropping in just as the ball is snapped for the final down of the game they'd been waiting for all vacation long.

As the ornament I snagged reminds me
How lucky I was to have so much of it.

Happy Birthday, Maw.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Afternoon....

I'm back on Douglas, Big Cuter to my right, each of us engaged with our netbooks and the Knicks and the Lakers and the holiday.  He's got his "Open Me First" sweatpants on above his new, no-show, running socks.  He chose the t-shirt himself last weekend; it's no surprise that it's keeping him covered now. We're sharing the occasional laugh or gasp or "Need anything from the kitchen?"'s as the afternoon winds down.

The boxes are flattened, the bags collapsed and folded, the ribbons stuffed in the glitter-dripping-everywhere-free-if-you-buy-3-greeting-cards-shiny-red box.  There is no such thing as a free lunch. I'll be finding little bits of red shiny stuff all year long. It's already all over the chair... the floor... the couch... my lap....

My stash is stacked on the wooden table Adele-the-decorator told us we'd have forever.  When she was right, she was right.  We won't talk about the scary fabric she insisted on hanging above our bed in Chicago. It's Christmas and I only want to think happy thoughts.  Everything I can see is soft and useful and it's mostly pastels.  That's not where I usually go, but it feels right this year.

TBG's taken over the hearth with his blacks and greys, the ebon brightened only by the crimson IU tees and the white, crew socks which are nearly 3" deep at the toe padding.  They may not fit into his new shoes, but they'll be perfect as his version of barefoot.  The man likes his toes covered..... there is nothing else to be said.

Big Cuter's pile has a purplish hue.  It's a good thing he was with me when the clothes were purchased; I'd never have guessed that he'd stray so far from the navy and grey that have been the staples of his wardrobe since middle school.

Auntie Em's paperwhites are growing inch by inch as we watch them, the basket and blooming overseen by  Henry VIII.   We'll go next door to JannyLou and Fast Eddie's for dinner with their in-from-out-of-town families and then we'll come back, and put on some more of these new comfy clothes, and start all over again.... on the couch.... together.

I love this time of year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Merry

I was sitting on Douglas, left-over wedding wine in one hand, Kate Shugak on the Kindle in the other, my big boy to my right, listening Soft Rock: Holiday Hits on Comcast's music channel. My nearly kindling tree looked  beautiful, CTG's angel front and center, Mei-Mei's monogrammed bird house right above it.  The sun was setting and peaceful was the relevant adjective.

We looked up and saw that the factoid on the screen was revealing the rather alarming fact that a two-headed Buddhist god gave children Christmas presents.  There were so many, many, many questions, but first and foremost the two of us were wondering why a Buddhist god was sending gifts for Christmas. Then, Big Cuter smiled.

"It's like the fork, Mom.  Once you've seen it, you realize that it's great!"

On that theory, I wish you all, each and every Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Jew and Muslim the happiest of happy holidays on this, a day that celebrates a baby's birth.  We can all be happy when a baby is welcomed to the world, can't we?
As a Christmas gift to those who've asked, here's the brownie recipe I use for the Brownie List.  You can try it with fancier chocolate and serious extracts.  I have, and I always come back to the generics.  Just be sure the extracts are pure and not imitation, the chocolate is Bakers, and the butter is unsalted.  You can leave out the nuts if you'd like; reduce the cooking time if you do.
  • Melt 2 squares of Bakers unsweetened chocolate and 1/3 cup unsalted butter.
  • Beat together 2 large eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and a dash of pure almond extract.
  • Add the melted chocolate and butter.  Mix together.
  • Add 2/3 cup King Arthur Flour and 1 teaspoon each of salt and baking powder.
  • If you like, add chopped walnuts.
  • Bake in an 8x8x2 ungreased pan at 350 for approximately 20 minutes.  My crew likes them slightly undercooked (17 minutes) and gooey, but you may prefer them with a drier texture.  You know your oven better than I do.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Holidaze in the Desert

It started with Stuff the Hummers for the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.
It was a rainy day, but it didn't seem to matter much. 
By the end of the day, there were over 200 bikes for the Salvation Army to donate to needy kids.
There were all kinds of toys, too.
They covered the entire covered patio at Sullivans.
 First responders and military personnel were there to pose for photo ops
and to load the goodies 
into the decorated Hummers.
There were elves to help, too.
Then there was the Hanukkah Party at Amsters.
I love living in a place where the McMahan/Hernandez house hosts a party with menorahs.
Miss Texas helped put the wrapping paper on the table 
to protect it from random dreidling.
Making menorahs with clay
is a messy business.
especially when Ms Suzi insists that you clean up after yourself. 
The finished product was lovely. 
although the nuts as candle holders turned out to be less wonderful than anticipated.
Moms and daughters, 
and big kids 
made them, too.
They listened to the story and lit the candles and we sang blessings in English and in Hebrew.
We remembered those who were not with us, and felt them close to our hearts.

Then, it was time to eat.
Miss Texas is the best kitchen helper.
Those were the cleanest potatoes ever shredded in a Cuisinart for latkes.
The recipe is the same paper I've been using since playgroup parties in the 20th century.
There's no reason to mess with something that works.
Though his dad didn't believe it, Frankie managed to eat that entire turkey leg. 

And now it's time to go to housebound-Bobbie's birthday party.
The noodle kugel (thanks for the recipe, Seret) is puffing up nicely.
She'll be surprised to see dinner arriving in many cars.
We'll be smiling and glad to share the joy.
After all, that's what it's all about, right?

If you're wondering what I'm wearing this season, here's a peek at my attire for the last ten days. 
The pants have changed, the sweater remains the same.
I really thought I had the best holiday outfit, until I met this guy at The Gap.
I leave you with his smile. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

They're Just Kids

There were six of them.  They were neatly dressed in first-time-this-season cold weather gear, or what passes for such when Tucson's temperatures dip to the 50's.  Each one held a prettily wrapped gift as she walked through the door and into Five Guys this afternoon.

Sitting at an outdoor table in the sun, waiting for TBG and Big Cuter to arrive from the airport, I smiled at those grown up Madelines, walking in one straight line, happy and healthy and .....

oh, no, they didn't do that.  They did not let that door slam in the face of the older woman who had been waiting patiently just inside the restaurant as they made their way past her.  They did not do that.  It's too nice a day for such bad manners.

Sigh.  The woman and her two female companions opened the door themselves and smiled at me and the girls as we all shook our heads.

"Obviously raised by wolves," I opined.

"Oh, no," said the leader of the pack, "they're just kids."

As they laughed and drove away, I felt even worse than I did before.

I don't think that the bar is set too high.  I think that High School students should have learned to hold the door for their elders, for little kids, for men carrying too many packages, for the disabled or the feeble or the limping.  I refuse to believe that it's too much to ask .  I absolutely refuse.

Please and Thank You and holding doors and waiting til the chef sits and picks up her fork before snarfing your dinner are not that difficult to instill if you start at the very beginning.  You model it yourself and you expect it of your toddler and by first grade it's part and parcel of who they are.

Why do I care?  Manners make the world go 'round, I used to tell the Cuters.  They take the edge off the inevitable inconveniences of living in society.  They are an attempt to connect on a human-to-human level in an increasingly uncivil world.  They reflect well on you and on your parents.  They demonstrate respect.

Giving those girls a pass is an abrogation of parental responsibility, a lovely phrase coined by someone in the Department of Justice as she was comforting me after the sentencing hearing.  I'd heard comments that I'd been too hard on the shooter's parents.  They were suffering, too.  Mental illness is intractable and tests even the hardiest of families.

True, true and true, I thought. What's also true is that they allowed an obviously disturbed young man to live in their house with a locked safe in his room.  Inside that safe was a written plan for the assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Under my roof, under my rules meant no locked doors (or safes, had it come up) when I was young, and when our kids were young.... and our kids were not mentally ill.  They were children and teenagers and my responsibility.

Didn't the parents of the Columbine shooters ever go into their garage?  Bombs were being constructed there.  How was it possible for them not to notice?

I understand the impulse to embrace anything that would connect a damaged child to the world around him.  I understand that it would be facile to say that the Connecticut shooter's mother should have refused to accept weaponry as an outlet for her son who, apparently, had little in his life which brought him joy.  But what about a gun safe?  What about renting a weapon at a shooting range?  Why not keep the bullets in the vault at the bank instead of accessible to a broken boy with a mental illness?

And why not say no when it came to purchasing a Bushmaster? What if he'd wanted a rocket launcher?

They're just kids just doesn't cut it.  It's hard to be a mean parent, not to be the cool parent, to make the rules and enforce the rules and stick to the rules. But if you do, you end up with kids who would never let the door slam in the face of anyone, let alone a woman old enough to be their grandmother.  If you do, you withstand the rage as you lock the automatic weapon in the gun safe, and admit that there is no ammunition in the house.

It's hard.  I wish you didn't have to go through it.  But there are 26 families in Newtown, just as there are 19 families here in Tucson, who wish you'd given a little bit more thought to the rest of us out here.  We're expecting you to set the bar high enough to keep us safe.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Olio - Holiday Edition

Shopping is much less stressful when your children are adults.  The newlyweds wanted unpurchased items from their registry.  Big Cuter wants jeans and a sweater and he wants to go with me and pick them out.  TBG and I need nothing and want even less.

It's easier, true.  It's also a lot less fun.
Last year I bought our tree at WallyWorld.  It was inexpensive and they put it in my car and I drove around the corner and I was home.  The tree was so healthy, so vibrant, so verdant, that it dropped not a single green dribble on the floor.  I kept it up through all twelve days of Christmas.  I couldn't let it go.

This year, hoping to repeat my success, I ran into the yard, picked one that looked straight-trunked and full, and ran right home.  I put on the base all by myself and carried it all into the house unaided.  Then I stood it up.

Cascades of dead needles fell on my head.  Clumps of brown needles were nestled in every crotch of every branch.  Adding ornaments was a feat of balance and care; the branches were so dry that heavy ornaments cracked them.

Next year I'm bringing an Episcopal along; Jewish girls are obviously not well trained in the selection of indoor ornament holders.
I did a very good job of culling the crap from my ornament boxes.  I no longer have scads of red and green and white balls in all sizes.  In fact, I have no undecorated balls at all.  The ugly, the unknown origin, the handmade have all been distributed to Goodwill or the child who created them.

What's left is a chronicle of my life. The angel Little Cuter made at a holiday party when she was five sits atop the tree. It was once a white paper plate; now it is a memory I'll cherish forever.  The skier Big Cuter bought when I dragged his cranky fourth grade self to the mall is hiding behind the lacrosse sticks and the New Orleans tree and the MackenzieChilds glass globe.

It's nice to go back in time.  I just wish the tree were worthy of its adornments.
I finally removed the zinnias from the outdoor containers.  Several have reseeded themselves in the ground; one of God's little miracles that I treasure every morning when I raise the bedroom shades.  The amaryllis I planted in the containers out front have grown tall and straight but seem to be waiting for something to make them bloom.

It's going down into the high twenties tonight; perhaps that chill is what they need to open.  If not, I'll find them bent over and frozen in the morning.  I have to pick the Meyer lemons earlier than I'd like because they won't survive below freezing.

Gardening in the desert is always a source of amusement.
The Happy Ladies Club was taking another walk this afternoon.  My pilates appointment precluded my joining them, but lunch was part of the activity and I've never been known to miss a meal.  Barb hadn't seen me since she snowbirded back to Wisconsin last fall.  Her astonishment at how well I was walking since last she'd watch me traverse a room was the best present I could have gotten.

I know I'm making progress.  It's nice to see it on someone else's face.
I've been wearing my reindeer sweatshirt all day. There's no snow, I don't have gloves or a scarf or a hat, but it's December and Santa is on his way and my outfit will reflect that fact.... no matter how ridiculous I look.

Little Cuter's words stay with me at times like these, when I leave the house with absurd attire: Mom, the world needs more people like you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Love in Circles

I spent this afternoon at school.  I walked around the playground with the kindergarteners and the third graders, all of us with smiles on our faces and Jingle Bells filling our throats. I gave star stickers to everyone who completed a lap, and then we started around again.

The whistle blew and half the crew had to line up to return to class, but the next cohort was leaving the cafeteria and they were ready to roll by the time the rest of us met them at the path.  "Do you want to walk with us?" I asked, and then there were twenty of us, once again.

We passed the garden, and the teachers tending the plants grinned from ear to ear.  We approached the pre-school nestled in the far corner and made the grown-ups supervising the play structure smile.  Our trek past the monkey bars brought joy to the aide supervising the little ones. Then, the whistle blew again.

I knew the first graders who joined the march.  They'd been in Ms Levine's kindergarten last year, and we'd shared stories in the loft and math centers at the tables.  They have a proprietary air about them when they see me.  They know me.  I'm theirs.

"Hi, Grandma!" is guaranteed to put a smile on my face; repeated over and over and combined with arms wrapping around my legs, it's orgasmic. Of all the accolades sent my way, Official Adopted Grandmother of Prince Elementary is my most treasured.

So, we walked and we sang and I gave out more stickers after we completed a lap.  I walked with a hiking pole to even out my gait; it fell to the ground as I dispensed the yellow stars.... and it was no where to be found when it was time to start walking again.  In its place, there were giggles.

Two small, brown boys with untied shoelaces had purloined my possession.  They were delighted with themselves.  They were also properly abashed when a bigger girl scolded them for leaving me stranded.  I stopped them there, and enlisted the rest of the crowd to supervise my gait without assistive devices.  Did they think I could do it?  Did I think I could do it?  We were going to find out, and we were going to find out together.

I've cried in front of 20 million Dateline viewers.  I've lit candles on a stage in front of thousands of Tucsonans.  I've never been as nervous as I was right then.

Their faces reflected just how I was feeling - some were anxious, some were encouraging, some were certain I would succeed.  All of them were watching me.  They knew not to crowd in close; my pleas not to bump me had obviously been heard and learned.  There was a moving circle of 6 and 7 year olds surrounding me, staring at me, judging me.  I'd asked them to be alert to even shoulders and hips, to feet lifting off the ground and ankles bending and they took it very seriously.

The proto-felons were still laughing, hands covering their mouths, plots a-hatching.

As the outer edge of the circle reached the boys, they took off again, and my circle gave chase, and I was left to stride out after them, alone except for one round faced first grader with perfectly even bangs and cheeks that begged to be kissed.  She was holding my hand, then a finger, then I had her finger, and by thinking about our hands and ignoring the pinching in my newly regenerating nerves I walked perfectly, precisely, deliberately all the way to the kids who had captured the stick-nappers and were returning their bounty to me with great ceremony.

It's the cheapest therapy I've ever had.
Written, with love, for the first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary.  You will not be forgotten, little ones.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It Is Time

I've stayed away from discussing weaponry in The Burrow. We had a conversation about it, my family and I, while I was on a morphine drip in the hospital.  There are angry people associated with the issue, Mom.  I couldn't bear it if you got shot, again.  Those are powerful words to hear from your adult daughter.  They made an impact.  I stayed away, and focused on doing good and healing.

Then twenty children were slaughtered by a young man with a gun.

Little Cuter and I agree; it's time to act.

I'm putting my energies behind Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns' effort to bring the record keeping efforts related to gun purchases into the 21st century and to Demand a Plan to end gun violence.  Our elected officials must have thought about the issue once in a while.  NOW is the time for them to share their thoughts.

We have been silent too long.  There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows individuals to carry concealed weapons with magazines more than three times the size of those carried by a Pima County Sheriff.  If you agree with me, I would like to ask you to take the time you'd normally spend here in The Burrow and click through to Demand a Plan.  Spend some time.... watch some videos... sign the petition... and then go and hug your kids, your family, a teacher.

This has got to stop.  It hurts too much.
Having spent today reading posts from mothers of mentally ill children, my heart bleeds for those who have to hide the sharp objects and have an escape plan for their other children.  I'm not sure where to devote my energies on this issue, but I'm sure I'll figure it out.  When I do, prepare to be asked to look into it.  Until then, why not start here?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown: The Morning After

Dear Newtown,

You woke up on Saturday morning, just as you will wake up every morning from now on.You'll roll over, eyes bleary. You'll look at the clock, check the weather, and sigh... or cry... or go back to bed and pull the covers over your heads.

It's just too much to bear.

You woke up with a hole in your lives, a hole that cannot be filled, no matter how well intentioned friends and family might be, no matter how much love is riding the tidal wave to your town. The school bus.... the breakfast dishes.... the toothbrush in the SpongeBob cup.... the ornament she made last Christmas hanging front and center on the tree he decorated two nights ago... before ….

Your world is divided: Now and Then. There's no going back. I know. I've tried.

What you want, you cannot have. You don't want very much, just to have things be as they were on Wednesday night, when you tucked your sons and daughters into bed, visions of sugar plums and vacation dancing in their heads. You want to urge her to finish her pancakes because the bus won't wait if she's late. You want to remind him to feed the puppy before he eats his own meal. You want normal.

It's gone.

It's not a new normal – there is nothing normal about it. It's awful and it doesn't go away. You will learn how to manage the feelings, how to find a place to rest your hearts as you go about the grocery shopping and the laundry and snow shoveling. The everyday pieces need tending, because life goes on.

You'll come to recognize the signs of incipient panic, or, perhaps. a rage that starts at your toes and explodes out of the top of your heads. You will pray and you will hug and you will never be whole again.

That's the beast in it all – it never really goes away. You learn to work around it, but it's always there. It's not a disease from which you can recover.  It is what it is and there's no way to make it better.

I am three weeks shy of the second anniversary of my own brush with gunfire and death, 101 weeks without my little nine year old friend. While you were facing your first morning after, I went to Stuff the Hummers with toys at an event sponsored by the foundation her parents created to keep her memory alive. It will honor Christina-Taylor, but it won't bring her back.

And that's what you want – you want your little ones back. All you did was send them to school. There shouldn't be any guilt, any second guessing, any what if's, but it will take some time to figure that out. And then, even then, it won't make much of a difference.

The conversation will go to the lack of political will on regulating gun ownership and the lack of funding for mental health services and the commentators will rant and petitions will be signed and outrage will be felt.... but none of it really mattered in Newtown that morning, and all the mornings since then. It's all still too raw.

There will be time to move forward, to do good deeds in their name, to rebuild.  There will be time. You will find a way to face the days.  I promise. It will come, in time.

That morning and this morning, it's all about loss.


Friday, December 14, 2012


It only happened once.  I cried one time, and one time only, when talking to the prosecutors. Often, I was angry, or furious, or disgusted.  Always, I was sad.  But I sobbed for the first and last time when the lead prosecutor asked me to describe the moment when Christina-Taylor met Gabby.

In retrospect, it's surprising that I'd never gotten that perspective on what I'd missed.  On January 8th, I was in the moment, just the way a nine year old is in the moment, flitting from one fascinating topic to another with barely a breath between.  We hadn't gotten that far in our adventure; we were still in anticipation mode when the bullets began to fly.  I don't indulge in what if's about that morning.  It is what it was; I smile ruefully accept the facts GRIN, and move on.

So, Wally's question took me by surprise.  I'd never considered it until he asked about it.  It took me aback.  Literally, I stepped backwards and found myself on the ottoman under the window, chest heaving, tears flying, sobs wrenching.  TBG took the phone and reassured the quaking AUSA, poor guy, who had reduced me to a puddle. I felt for him, through my weeping.

All I could say, gasping the way you do when you've been crying and crying and crying, was "there would have been sparkles."

It stuck in my throat, and still manages to create a lump when it appears at the front of my brain.  Those two would have loved one another. Each would have seen herself in the other.  Each was self-confident enough to share some personal space with the other.  There would have been sparkles.

I was reminded of that today at lunch, where there were sparkles galore. It's all part of Christina's legacy, the assurance that she will never be forgotten.  We three would never have met had CTG and I not gone to shake Gabby's hand.

What's the opposite of no good deed goes unpunished? That's what I witnessed this afternoon.

We met at Ghini's, Tucson's French bistro/bakery with the unpronounceable name. We were all in gym tights; it's what we do.  The proprietor of my pilates studio met the proprietor of my physical therapy gym.... and there were sparkles.

I didn't say 50 words.  If you've been here for a while, you know how unusual that is.  There was nothing I could say; I spoke when they looked hungry and I noticed that my plate was nearly empty while Kyria's bowl of vegetable soup was nearly untouched.  Y'know that thing where you bring two people together and turns out they have nothing to say to one another?  Not so much of that today.  Nope, not so much at all.

We were relaxed by the time Becky's ice tea arrived. They were exchanging business cards and professional contacts before we ordered. They were full of admiration for one another by the time my tuna on baguette arrived.  It's a good thing I ordered twice as much food as they did; they were talking so much not a lot of eating was going on.

Becky's thrilled to be asked to speak at Kyria's international conference next May. Kyria would be delighted to share her curriculum guide .  Forking perfectly dressed salad to my lips, I tried to avoid dizziness as their heads nodded up and down and up and down, as the conversation jumped enthusiastically from German videos to Pilates lineages.

I was an after-thought.  Yes, we should all meet and work me out someday.  That's it.  There was none of the clinical examination of my condition which was my worst nightmare as I thought about the meal this morning.  Instead, by the time our ice teas and Arnold Palmers had been sucked dry and refilled more than once by the overly tall waiter, their calendars were full of one another and their voices were full of thanks to me for bringing them together.

It was my pleasure, ladies.

I got to see those sparkles, after all.  My heart is full. I can feel Christina smiling, too.... can't you?

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Jim DeMint decided to quit the Senate.  Just like that (cue snapping fingers), it's time for (him) to pass the torch to someone else and take on a new role in the fight for America's future. At least, that's what his press release said.

Funny thing about that timing thing, Senator.  Your constituents elected you to serve them for six years.  The time frame was agreed upon when you interviewed for the job (cue election stump speech). Leaving early may suit your needs, but what about those of the people who chose you to represent them?  They didn't have much to say about your decision, did they? And now, they will have a newbie Senator in Washington, a representative chosen by one woman (albeit the Governor) rather than the entire electorate.  Were I a South Carolinian, I'd be pissed.

Mr. DeMint anticipated this line of attack. My constituents know that being a Senator was never going to be my career. I came to Congress as a citizen legislator and I've always been determined to leave it as citizen legislator, his press release went on to state. I think he's missing the point.

His career path notwithstanding, he took a job and didn't finish it out.  Invoking citizen legislator, conjuring up notions of our Founding Fathers returning to their farms after doing their duty for their country, seems somewhat disingenuous here.  He's not going back to a family business, left in the care of a relative while he went to serve the people.  He's going on
to join The Heritage Foundation at a time when the conservative movement needs strong leadership in the battle of ideas. No organization is better equipped to lead this fight .....
So, working within the system lost its allure. Talking to Rush Limbaugh, DeMint conceded in the radio interview that "frustration" with Congress played into his decision to head up the conservative think tank instead of remaining in office.  

Now, there's a lesson he should have learned in elementary school.  Frustration is not an excuse for taking your ball and going home.  Was the gridlock and the petty bickering a surprise to him?  Was he not paying attention when he applied for the job?  Is it possible that he is the only human on the planet who thought that Congress was a malleable body?  

That's not the kind of leadership I was showing Christina-Taylor when I took her to shake Gabby's hand.  I was ready to introduce her to a woman who, despite all odds, took on a diverse district and made it her own.  She didn't turn her back on the frustrations, she learned to work within them, around them, in spite of them.  After all, she was hired by the voters to do a job.

As was Senator DeMint.    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Finding Love in All the Right Places

Bad things shouldn't happen to little girls, but when they do, it's easier to bear when the little girls are warriors, willing to fight for every gain possible or promised or tantalizingly just out of reach.  Thanks to Little Cuter and SIR getting hitched, TBG and I have such a warrior in our midst these days.

She's wearing the bracelet that Brigitte gave me after I was shot, a flat leather contraption that came with a love note extolling my strength and my courage.  I wasn't feeling particularly strong or courageous when I opened the box last year; but reading that someone I admired thought I was gave me that little extra boost I needed.

Because that's the funky little secret hiding behind all the progress I seem to be making.  I need to be shoved in order to move on.  The gains are slow and awkward and often seem two steps forward and three steps back.  I feel great and I overdo it and I suffer and I sit and I regress and I have only myself to blame. I'm not much of a self-motivator when I'm feeling blue.

Of course I want to have a fluid gait.  Of course I want to walk through Costco without needing a cart to hold me up.  Of course I want to hike the Linda Vista Trail, with its uncertain footing and steep inclines and declines.  Of course I do.  It's just that getting there is taking so long... and aches so much... and is so damn boring.

Now, none of my instructors should take this amiss.  I love you all. Each and every one of you puts my interests above your own, goes out of her way to be sure that I am safe and not doing damage, and none of you seems to care the slightest bit that I am exhausted and achy while you put me through my paces.  I know you love me.  I just wish there were a less painful way for you to show it.

The fact is that the hours I spend under tutelage are only as good as the hours I spend reinforcing the teachings.  First among that which I am supposed to do is walk.... for a long time... with proper form... using my poles if I need them.... but moving with power and alacrity and symmetry.  Easy for you to say.

I tried walking on Christina's path by myself.  I did it.  I didn't enjoy it.  I walked with Amster and I walked with Elizibeth and I am proud to say that I kept up with them the entire way.  I only made them stop when further movement was impossible; it didn't happen that often.  That's three walks in a month; I'm not getting very much better any faster at that rate.

That's what brought me to Prince Elementary School's playground at recess.  I put on my coat of many colors, fill the pockets with stickers, and my hiking poles and I begin walking around the track surrounding the playing field.

There was an advantage to starting my career as the school's Official Adopted Grandmother in a kindergarten classroom.  Those students are now in second grade and consider me an old friend.  Of course I remember their names, their smiles, their stories, their hugs.  It's a shy reverence I see in their eyes.  Those getting-bigger-every-day boys saw me in my walker, barely able to sit straight in a chair.  Now, I'm galumphing around their schoolyard, twenty classmates following in my wake.

Yes, I am still shot. Yes, I am using those sticks to help me walk. Yes, I am walking. It's a wonder to their eyes, as it is to mine.  Their presence reminds me of where I was and where I am.  My issues are now with form, style, grace.  The numbness and atrophy are less of an issue every day; there is now tone where before there was none.  My companions think I'm a miracle.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - it is impossible to be sad when surrounded by little ones with hugs to share.  We walk a lap, singing our A-B-C's and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Row Row Row Your Boat and Feliz Navidad until it became obvious that we only knew those two words, and those two words alone, to the song. We stop under the shade of the tree and I hand out a sticker to everyone who walked all the way around with me.

And then, we start again.  It's five laps to a mile, over the requisite uneven surface my PT demands. There's lots of pushing and jostling as the walkers jockey for position by my side.  I'd pay more attention to the goings on if I weren't concentrating on moving forward and singing at the same time.  Good form will have to wait til I get stronger, I think.  For now, that shade tree can't come soon enough.

I tell them the story of Christina-Taylor looking forward to talking to her Congresswoman.  We talk about her forgotten sweatshirt and I laugh at the faces they make when I ask them to show me how she looked when her mom sent her back inside to get it. They listen to us driving across Ina to the grocery store parking lot, CTG formulating her question for Gabby, leaving that sweatshirt on the front seat of my car, and signing up to receive information so that she could be an informed citizen.

We spend more time on the civics lesson than we do on the bullets and the loss.  They're little kids.  That's the way it should be.  We do talk about my three bullet wounds, especially the one in my butt.  Want to get a laugh?  Say butt out loud to a 7 year old.  Through the laughter, I talk about my shattered hip, the scar through my quadriceps, the damage to the tissue, my limp.  I like it when they're giggling as I talk about why I'm lurching.

I tell them that I have to walk as part of my therapy.  I tell them that I can't make myself do it on my own.  I tell them that they are helping me to heal by keeping me walking.  I tell them the truth - without them I would not be getting much better.  The third and fourth graders seem to be catching on; they pushed me to do two laps in a row last Friday.

I suppose I ought to be careful what I wish for. I seem to have created a grade full of therapy monsters.

I couldn't be happier about it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sharing the Love

When people ask me why I took Christina-Taylor to shake her congresswoman's hand that sunny Saturday morning, my answer is always the same: Why didn't you have a child with you at the event, too? Don't you know someone who'd enjoy it just as much as you do? 

I founded GRIN to put the love to good use.

It seemed so obvious to me.  How will the little ones learn if the big ones don't show them the way?  How can you bemoan the fact that young people don't go to the polls when you've done nothing to show them that all politics is, ultimately, local. Our representative was coming to the neighborhood; I took the kid and off we went.

In the aftermath, lying on Douglas and wondering what I would be able to do when I got up and around again, the notion of bringing together those who have time and those who have needs began to form.  Nearly two years later, eleven months into the process of receiving a 501c3 designation, GRIN has brought smiles to schools all over Tucson.

We've delivered treats for faculty and staff on The First Day of School Love Fest.  We've brought our cars to the parking lot for Trunk or Treat.  And, last Thursday, we were at Prince Elementary School once again, staffing the craft table at the PTO's Winter Fiesta.

It was our second time around; we knew what we were doing before we got there.  Last year, the volunteers got lost wandering around the campus, looking for the event.  That was less painful than the 30 minutes it took us to find an escape from the gated school grounds.  By the time we found an opening in the chain link, I was tearing up at the site of my car.  This year, I brought signs and made chalk arrows on the pavement to guide us coming and going.  It made a big difference; no one got lost.

As always, at Prince it's the United Nations of The Neighborhood coming together to celebrate the children.  The kindergarteners had mastered choral singing; the crowd was on its feet to cheer them on.

The headmistress at the Cuters' pre-school used to say that parents will sit for two hours in tiny chairs to watch their child portray a head of lettuce on the stage.  This crowd was no exception.

The games and the crafts were lacking in participants; everyone was watching the show on the stage.

Some little ones needed Daddy's shoulders so that they could see.

Some of the volunteers were mesmerized, hands on hips, trying to hear the little voices over the amplified sound.

There were two rows of proud parents pressed up against the stage, snapping pictures at a furious rate.  No one sitting behind them could see a damn thing, yet no one complained.  It was that kind of an evening.

Some of us go to Centennial Hall or the Leo Rich Theater or the Temple of Music and Art for our culture.  Some of us go to the cafeteria at Prince Elementary School.  As the PTO president (the blur in the grey t-shirt in the middle of the picture above) noted, this is the community's holiday party.  Everyone was there.
GRIN volunteers were at the craft table, making snowflakes by painting the hands of unsuspecting youths.
Hands were coated with white paint mixed with dish soap (making it easier to clean) and then placed carefully on the blue background.  The volunteer moved the paper around, and the painted hands were place four times.

Each snowflake was unique; each child's technique slightly different.

This was not a neat experience.
Cleaning up was almost as much fun as making the snowflake itself.

We were in and out in two hours.
As Debbie, our newest GRINner, told me, "this is the easiest volunteering I've ever done!"

And that's the point.
Hassle-free volunteering.
I do all the paperwork and the planning.
The helpers show up and share the love.
Then we all go home.

It's not that hard to do good in this world.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Inside and Outside

We are a microcosm of the world outside. That was how Cris Carter summed up the last ten days of NFL headlines on ESPN this morning.  The players and their families mirror the average guy sitting in his living room, watching other men play.  What goes on outside goes on inside, too.

Yes, he actually said outside.  Since I'm spending my days with Kate Shugak in the Alaskan Bush, I'm quite familiar with the concept.  Those who battle to survive, who come up against the elements 24/7/365, who care for one another (or respect the other's solitude), they know that they are sui generis.  There is no way anyone who lives outside can share their outlook.  Only they know what it's like. It's theirs and theirs alone.  The rules are around, but bend to their convenience... and no one looks askance.  Rangers and state troopers announce that they are not in the room, not seeing what might otherwise be reportable events.  It will be taken care of in the Park; no one outside need be involved.

In the same way, Cris Carter seemed to be saying, NFL players live in an insular society, feel immune, don't pay heed, have their transgressions excused, and die just like the rest of us.

The NFL has an enviable support system for the players and their families.  Jovan Belcher had participated in those programs.  He was still angry enough to shoot the mother of his three month old daughter nine times before turning the weapon on himself in the Chief's parking lot.  He shared the moment with coaches and staff, leaving them with images they can never erase.

I know this from personal experience, as you recall.

Josh Brent, defensive tackle for the Cowboys, killed his friend by flipping the car he was driving while intoxicated.  Those same sportscasters repeated what coaches and TBG and I have been saying for years: nothing good happens after midnight. In our shorthand, TBG and I look ruefully at one another and say,"While leaving a strip club at 3 am....." and sigh.

This goes beyond not doing anything you wouldn't want printed on the front page of the New York Times, my parents' admonition to their children from the time I could hear.  This touches on irresponsible behavior, like drinking and driving, and on the ready availability of guns, as Bob Costas bravely pointed out by reading the end of a piece by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock during his half-time report on Sunday Night Football.

That resonates with me because of the absurdity of the situation.  Football is a violent sport.  In his 30 for 30 biography, Bo Jackson scoffs at a coach's exhortation to leave blood on the saddle.  Sure, says Bo, I'll be dead of heat stroke and you'll still be marching down the sidelines, screaming about blood on the saddle.  At a certain point, the words really do begin to matter, don't you think? Pushing big, strong, young men to, as TBG's high school coach called his favorite drill, Beat Your Buddy Bloody, has to leave the athlete feeling invincible.  No one would venture on the field otherwise.  Cris Collinsworth talks about this all the time; he's said you have to be a little crazy to play professional football.

A little crazy is okay..... feeling invincible is okay..... but not outside.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tucson Together

Tragedy in Tucson.  Tucson Massacre.  Victims.  Plaintiffs.

I hated those words.  I hated the emotional space they occupied in my brain.  The negativity overwhelmed me.  I was trying to stay positive, to look on the bright side, to concentrate on what I had and not what was taken.  Those words got in my way.

There is still nothing I can use to name that day. Incident is too small.  That day works only in context. The shooting is too harsh for most people to hear, and I have to respect that.  Tragedy sticks me deep in the sadness.  Massacre brings me right back to the cold pavement beneath my bleeding self.  I am open to suggestions; it's been twenty-three months and I'm still searching so don't fret if you come up empty, too.

In the days immediately following January 11, generous donations began to accumulate.  Television stations, hospitals, schools, churches, they all started funds to gather monies to help us through a tough time.  It was heart-warming and pocket-book filling and awful.  Tucson Tragedy Fund.  Tucson Victims Fund.  The names were all true.  The names were all filled with sorrow.

Then, something wonderful happened.  The fund managers actually spoke to one another and agreed to join together as one.  Under the watchful eye of the Pima County Attorney's Office, the monies were pooled and a Review Board was established. Funds would be distributed to cover incidental expenses that were not covered by insurance or one of the government's victim compensation funds.  The letter accompanying the offer of the first check suggested uses for the money: stationary and stamps to reach out and to thank, gas for appointments heretofore unneeded, counseling for family members, transportation for loved ones to visit and share the pain and the healing.  

Can you imagine how my heart was filled with the notion that others thought that thank you notes were a worthy way to spend my afternoons?  As I reclined on my couch, watching the sun move through the heavens over three long months, writing to family and friends and strangers near and far kept me connected.  Others understood that.  I wasn't alone.  I was supported.

At the first anniversary, another check was offered. It covered transportation for SIR and Little Cuter to join me for the first annual Stroll and Roll.  It covered permits and publicity for the event. It gave GRIN a sound financial footing, to cover stickers and colored paper and signage and markers and more stickers. They weren't asking for any receipts. They wanted us to have the money and they trusted us to do right with it. It filled a hole in my heart.

They were established to get us through the duration of the court cases.  Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney and human being extraordinaire, had not ruled out a local prosecution after the Federal case had been tried. She wanted to be sure that we were all covered. This had the potential to go on for years. Once the Department of Justice's elegant indictment, naming every one of us who was in the path of bullets that day, secured a conviction, without the possibility of parole or appeal, Ms LaWall stepped back. She will not be prosecuting the shooter, although it is her right to do so.

The shooter was convicted of harming each of us.  None of us must come to terms with incarceration-for-hurting-someone-else-but-not-me.  The judicial system served us all, and now it's done.  Ms LaWall recognized that there was nothing to be gained by further prosecution.  She told us so in the conference room after the sentencing hearing, holding the letter we'd signed, asking her to let it be.  She listened.  She thought.  She considered.  She decided.

We are all ever so very very grateful.

The thought of reliving the events for a trial was more than I could bear.  My testimony would have been required.  There would have been days of trial preparation set inside months of emotional angst.  I try to keep the shooter out of my head as much as I can; the passage of time makes that easier and easier.  Having another court case looming on the horizon was not something to which I was looking forward.  Not at all.

How rare and wonderful it is to know an elected official who is more concerned about the people involved than she is about herself.  There would have been a great deal of publicity for Ms LaWall and her office; she gave that up because it was the right thing to do.  She told us that it was over right when we were ending the Federal case.  There was no time spent worrying if we'd have to go through it all again.  She ended it right then and there.

The legal piece has closure... another of those words I do not like. No one will require that I allow the shooter into my personal space ever again.  I can say no to reporters and authors and strangers; I couldn't refuse the DOJ.  I have another small measure of control over my life, and I am grateful.

It's another way in which our community has come together, and it's reflected in the name and motto of the fund which has our backs.  It's called Tucson Together.  The logo exhorts the reader to Volunteer-Donate-Be Kind.

I can't think of a better way to start every day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Letting Go

My kids are nearly thirty years old.

Can you hear the screaming from their desks right now?  "Not til May!" he cries. "Not for two more years," she yelps.  NO! It cannot be.

I share their perplexity (have I just coined another new word?). Thirty years is a very long time.  Decades begin to be counted.  Humans are born who have never seen a land line, a pager, a world where the Red Sox never win the big one.

I knew my grandmothers for thirty some years; they were always old and I was always young.  They gave advice.  I listened dutifully.  There was never a question about it - I was young, they were old.

I never thought to ask if they saw me as an adult.  It never crossed my mind.  I was always their little girl; Bubba called me tateleh til she died.  Tateleh, little one, was how she saw me.  Though I had her first great-grandchild, the only one she knew before she died, I was still her eldest grandbaby, her tateleh.

I'm having the same problem with my own kids right now.  They are certainly living their lives as adults.  They are working and loving and cooking and paying the bills.  I don't check for tied shoelaces or missing buttons before they walk out the door in the morning.  Little Cuter's winter coat had a defective zipper, causing her to step in and out of the garment rather than removing it gracefully from her shoulders.  It wasn't my place to take it to the seamstress and have it repaired; it was hers to laugh at and deal with.

That is not to say that the fact of the broken zipper didn't eat at my soul.

That's the ongoing burden of parenthood, I suppose.  I look at her womanly curves and see the mis-matched socks and uncombed curls of kindergarten.  He's taller and stronger than I am, than I ever will be, and yet all I see is the toddler running Monday morning errands with me.

I don't want to turn back the clock.  I am delighted that they've reached adulthood relatively unscathed, armed with the tools they need to face the world.  They've forgiven me my parenting mistakes, they've acknowledged my failings and the fact that I did my best, they are moving on with their own lives..... and I cannot let go.

I feel as if I'm living a country music medley.

I'm working on letting them own their own problems.  I can't fix them.  I shouldn't fix them.  I won't fix then.

I find myself intoning those phrases at stop lights.  They may be living their own lives, but I still retain a part of them, under my heart, deep in my psyche, permanently embedded in my Worry Box.  I won't act on my angst, but I won't let it fester, either.  Growing up is hard work for the child; it's also a difficult task for the parent, I'm finding out.

When they were in college I could justify my intrusiveness, my obssessive need to know, my compulsion to fix things.  We were paying the bills; we still owned a piece of the rock.  Now, years later, I have no excuse.

You're only as happy as your unhappiest child defined my child-rearing years.  I thought I'd have a new mantra by now.  I was wrong.

Little Cuter bemoaned the fact that we won't be seeing her this holiday season.  TBG doesn't want to travel to the cold when it's 80 and balmy here in Tucson. She and SIR have to work, making travel expensive and awkward.  I'm stuck in the middle, loving them both but capable of being in only one place at a time.  I don't want to disappoint my baby.... my married lady baby... my nearly thirty year old baby.... my little girl.

Life goes on. That's a good thing.  I just wish I had been better prepared for the fact that I still see them as mine.  I really thought I'd have had an easier time letting go.