Monday, April 30, 2012

Who Am I These Days?

I haven't examined the lint in my navel for quite some time.  I have noticed this dearth of introspective posts with a wry kind of amusement.  It seems that I've even begun to bore myself with my story.

The last few days have rearranged my thoughts, though.  It feels appropriate to work it all out here in The Burrow.  As I've said before, typing to you is great therapy.

I've been engaged with a new physical therapist for the past two months, and for the first time in a long time I am beginning to see some real results.  TBG had been after me for a long time to get back into the weight room at the gym and, of course, he was absolutely right.  I am weak.  That weakness can be corrected only with consistent exercise and constant attention to form.  The re-construction of my hip is not the issue; Dr. Boaz was a fine carpenter.  The absence of muscle, the reliance on compensatory patterns, the fear factor ...... it's all on me.

So, I have been to the gym this morning.  For the first time in a long time, that sentence means what it used to mean, back before my perforations.  I worked steadily for an hour, moving between equipment and mats, always with a purpose.  My iPod was cranking and I was breathing into the movements.  Even though those movements were smaller, subtler, lighter and less explosive than they used to be, they were also larger, more obvious, more weighted and powerful than they have been of late. 

I am not setting any records, except those I'm keeping for myself.  I can now do 2 sets where last month I could do but one.  I can move the hamstring curl machine with my right leg alone; that wasn't even a dream in January.  The fact that there is only 10 pounds of resistance on the machine doesn't disturb me.  I am fully capable of appreciating what I've accomplished and where I have to go. 

My new mantra is "You are only cheating yourself."  Turns out I'm a pretty stern taskmistress I have a fairly healthy superego I really am capable of listening to myself when it matters.  I laughed out loud as I looked at the clock to see if I could be finished yet; with only myself to impress, it felt self-defeating to leave.  Seems that I'm making mental progress, too.

I'm not doing endless sets of a single exercise.  I'm doing as many repetitions as I can of each one of the movements Becky's outlined for me and then I am moving on.  If I am in charge, I'm creating a program that doesn't bore me or tire me out or make me feel inadequate.  I admit it - I need to feel good about myself at the end of each exercise. 

Failure is an option of which I am quite conscious; the temptation to sit still and just be an old lady is often overwhelming.  I picture Christina-Taylor at those moments, hands on her hips, arms akimbo, eyes flashing as she silently chastises me for being a slacker.  That's usually all it takes.... and that's a good thing these days.

Used to be, when I went out on the town, running errands alone or having lunch with my sweetie, strangers would approach me with admiration in their eyes.  "Look at you!  Out with a walker/a cane/without any devices! How wonderful!"  I came to see these conversations as a whole, the overall impression one of marvelousness, of success, of achievement.  I said that "Tucson doesn't need to see me in a wheelchair,"  and it was true.  As I was healing, so was my town.  My progress was their progress and it felt good all around.

However, as TBG reminded me over lunch today, one can only be a hero for so long.

Nowadays, as I meander from the gym to the grocery store to meetings all over town,  I am more likely to garner looks of sympathy rather than awe. "You're still limping?" is better than "So, is that limp permanent?" which is quite an improvement over "Does it still hurt that much?"  I locomote but I do not ambulate... at least not very well.  I lurch and I lumber and while there are occasionally several perfectly even, weight-shifting steps strung together, for the most part my walking is a hodge-podge of strength and weakness, attention and distraction.

TBG wants me to listen to the rhythm of my footsteps.  So does Becky.  I really don't want to listen; it's asymmetric and a constant reminder of how far I have to go.  Every expression of sympathy from a stranger or a friend, every wistful look at my tilted hips, every shared sigh and shrug of the shoulders places me as a patient. 

It's incongruous.  A year ago, when I really was a patient, I felt triumphant merely to be both a survivor and upright at the same time.  Now, 15 months or so after the fact, I often feel as if I'm letting people down. 

Please don't rush to the comment section to tell me that you think I am swell.  I know it, deeply and profoundly.  It keeps me going when my body disagrees.  I'm not talking about reality here.  I'm talking about my perceptions. 

I have to remind myself, over and over and over again and again and again, that four months ago I was unable to conceive of a time when I could hike for a mile and be satisfied in my soul.  I have to accept in my inner most self that I will be able to do this.  I have to prove to myself that I have the fortitude to stick with a lengthy, painful, slow and unsteady process that may or may not result in my return to an absolutely normal gait.  I have to have confidence in myself and the team of miracle workers surrounding me.

Mostly, I have to stop whining and be glad that the sun came up this morning and I was here to see it, even if I did creak and crack as I bent down to retrieve the morning paper.  A year ago, bending that far was totally out of the question.  I just have to keep that in mind.

Thanks for listening, denizens.  As usual, I feel much better now.  This is, indeed, the cheapest form of therapy there is. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Three Dollars and Forty-Seven Cents

All the parental units attached to this little person were at work yesterday.  That's really saying something, since there are four of them involved in his life right now and two of them do shift work. There's usually somebody around when he bounds off the bus.  But Wednesdays are proving particularly difficult this semester, what with his  "early out" release and their overtime making meeting him at 1:45pm a challenge. 

Sure, I'm glad to help.  I know the security code to open the garage door and Amster's dining room table is a lovely spot on which to type.  The dogs are in the backyard and require no attention at all.  His brother didn't feel well and went to rest at work with mom. It was just the two of us.  I was stoked.

Listening to Mr. 8 is like having the grade school Big Cuter back in my life all over again.  Curious, serious, thoughtful and smart, there's nothing like a latency age boy to make my heart soar.  And soar it did, denizens, yes, indeed, it did.

His Super Mario backpack got stuck in the doorway.  He had his arms out for help, but I was laughing too hard to get up off the chair.  The worker bees in the garage (installing some pipe for something that neither Mr. 8 nor I could identify) were giggling, too.  Their ladder impeded the progress of the offending door and there he hung, caught between his school day and his play date.  It was a moment to be treasured.

Twisting hard to the right and the left dislodged him and before another second had passed the backpack was on the table and his hand was in his pocket.  "I have $3.47. Wanna see?"  Of course I wanted to see.  His hand revealed a carefully folded and then safely wadded roll of bills.  The coins managed to stay within the confines of his palm, too.  $3.47.... hardly a treasure, but all his. 

It was burning a hole in his pocket.  I felt his pain.  Big Cuter had the same issues.  If he had money he had to exchange it for something more tangible, more fun, more colorful and playful and new.  After discussing and sighing over the fact that "you really can't buy very much with $3.47," we decided to go to Wally-World anyway.  There had to be something he could buy.  That money was taunting him from the table.

So we drove back the way I'd come, parked and walked to the very back of the store where the Leggo's live.  I was thrust back in time.  Big Cuter didn't have the Ninjago line of products to tempt him, but the space guys he loved were still on the shelves.  Watching Mr. 8 pick up the boxes, telling me which of his friends had which pieces as he examined the pictures and shook his head over the prices, I could close my eyes and imagine my own personal little boy doing and saying the same things.

I knew just what he was feeling.  Big Cuter said the same things, stood the same way, anguished just as Mr. 8 was.... really, you can't buy very much for $3.47.

No trip to the store would be complete without a trek down the video game aisle.  I understood this.  I didn't really get it when Big Cuter was little; what joy could be had by looking at the boxes, locked in a glass faced case, untouchable and too expensive and taunting.  But, then as now, I learned to watch the signs as tension passed out of his body.  I'm not sure about  the magic which emanates from these things, but standing there, unable to buy them but enthralled nonetheless, his little shoulders came down out of his ears and his face unscrunched. 

Yes, Jacob has the big box with the figures and the game and the story and yes, Mr. 8 would love to have it for his birthday next month, and no, he hasn't told Mom about it nor does he have any idea how she will know that he wants it.  The conversation was the same as thousands my own boy and I shared in the aisles of Toys R Us.  Solutions were unnecessary.  I learned that lesson two decades ago.  Sharing the experience was enough then and it was enough yesterday.

Boys are easy that way.  At least these two were/are.

After deciding that $3.47 was a useless amount of money, we headed out the door to continue our adventure.  Funtasktiks?  Neither of us knew what was behind the name, but it sure did sound good, we agreed.  But, on the way there we passed Fiesta Bowl and that was it.  Bowling had been on his list for a while and I was just the girl to take him there.

Nope, he doesn't wear size 12 shoes anymore; more like an adult 4.  Who knew?  Not us.  Yes, I could tie his laces for him; no, I had no idea why one lace was 15" longer than the other.  No, I wouldn't be bowling but yes I would be watching.  And watch I did.  There were only singleton bowlers at the lanes on this cloudy Wednesday afternoon; Mr. 8 fit right in.  While the other gentlemen were carefully lining up their shots, aiming between the arrows and smashing the pins to smithereens, Mr. 8 was employing a more free form approach.

Using the bumpers like a pro, his bright orange 6 pound ball caromed from side to side before taking down the pins with a mighty .... ok, a minuscule.....thwack.  A spare.  A picked-up split.  A score of 96. 

The Happy Ladies Club bowlers would be proud to include him in our ranks.  His score is just like ours.

Aiming wasn't in the cards.  Proper form was an unattainable concept.  The finger holes sometimes caught his thumb and the ball often took its own sweet time to meander down the lane.  Sometimes the pins went down, sometimes they stayed up, but his face was always the same: intent.  He didn't care about technique.  He just liked doing it.  And so, over and over again, for 30 frames, Mr. 8 communed with the alley as I did the same with my memories. 

Kids do have an annoying tendency to grow up.  It's a good thing that the fun times are stored in the memory bank, retrievable whenever the moment strikes. 

I can hear Big Cuter groaning over that unintended pun as I type it. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Kate Winslett's Legs

Kate Winslett doesn’t look like this
 GQ's Kate Winslet photoshoot
and she’s not afraid to say so:

“I do not look like that and more importantly I don't desire to look like that. 
I am proud, you know.” 

The editorial staff of the British edition of GQ back in 2003 decided that she didn’t look quite right enough for their cover so they took to  Photoshop and got to work.  By the time that they were finished, Ms. Winslettt was considerably thinner…..smaller….less womanly.  It’s a beautiful picture, it’s just not Kate Winslettt.

Titanic’s been re-released, and that must be why this story about her body gracing GQ’s cover has been all over Facebook of late.  I remember watching the movie with Little Cuter and her girlfriends, over and over and over again.  Kate gets naked and Leo draws her and her curves are lying there on the couch, Rubenesque in their fleshy wonderfulness.  For the first time in a long time, I didn’t need to interrupt their viewing with a muttered screed on how unhealthy, how very very thin and very very unreal the leading actress looked.  Kate Winslettt was a real person in the real world and she embraced it, proudly and loudly, both then and now.

She’s not overweight.  She’s not obese.  She’s normal.  Her legs have been holding her up for all of her 30-some years; if they are larger than the gams which graced the dreams of the editorial staff of Britain’s GQ that’s their problem, not hers.

I love it when a star steps to the stage and takes on her own image.  Carefully cultivated and curated, images often bear no resemblance at all to the actual human they (theoretically) represent.  Those horrible star on the way to the grocery store sans make-up photos prove it.  They are news the way the fact that I went to the store with my shirt on inside out last week is news. Honestly, who cares?

The brouhaha over Hilary Clinton’s hair and pantsuits made me nutty.  Did anyone consider that John McCain’s collars were unflattering to his facial structure?  Who cuts Mitt Romney’s hair, and how does it stay in place so well?  Is any of it important?

Not to me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Do you know how happy you make me, denizens?  Do you have any idea how powerful a force you are in my everyday life?  Life Well Lived asked me to write about how blogging increases my happiness quotient; I couldn't have asked for a better prompt.

I'm sitting in the living room of the Arizona Inn, typing to you from a big red leather armchair.  There's a game table with 8" chess pieces on an inlaid board and a glass fronted library case with leather sets of the classics.  Each seating area has its own Tiffany style lamp shining brightness to match the scorching sun outside.

I've never been so glad to have read the Wall Street Journal as I am this morning.  Alina Dizik wrote a piece last week  extolling the virtues of the hotel lobby as public office space.  Hoteliers seem to like the buzz that locals create and the locals enjoy the environs, several steps above a metal table at Starbucks.  Since I had a meeting across the street and down the block from the Arizona Inn from 10:30- 11:30 and then physical therapy one mile from the Inn at 2pm, settling myself in this sunny corner and writing to you seemed like the perfect confluence of events and proximity.

How very very trendy I am.  I'm smiling already.

Though I am physically alone in this space, I have lots and lots of company.  There are Megan and FAMBB, wondering why yesterday's post was late (blame Blogger and its glitches) as they opened their laptops over a morning cup of coffee.  One's in DC, the other in Foxboro, but they are also right here with me now, sitting on the low wooden window seat, helping me frame this paragraph.  One of my oldest friends and one of my newest bloggy buddies and we're all sharing the same experience.  Though we are separated by distance, we are together in The Burrow.  They are two who read me first thing every morning.  I listen to their comments as I'm typing to you.  

FAMBB likes it when I am a sesquipedalian; I smile each time I venture in that direction.I find myself laughing at the big words along with her, and then I take myself on a mental journey to the Long Island Rail Road and the streets of Manhattan and a gigantic mid-town movie palace showing Gone With the Wind to two high school girls and their seatmates - women of a certain age who were drooling, with us, over Clark Gable carrying Vivian Leigh up that staircase.  I can still hear us sighing.

Without The Burrow, that memory wouldn't have had a place in my brain this morning.  Without The Burrow, I'd have missed that smile, that warm feeling in the middle of my chest as I remember our surprise when the overture began - it was the theme from WOR's Million Dollar Movie.  We learned that fact together.  We are still friends today, 45 years later.  That friendship is nurtured by my reading and her writing.  

Oh, yes.  Blogging makes me smile.

I consider Megan, getting to work and being disappointed because Blogger didn't publish at 6am.  Her cup of coffee on her desk, her basically wonderful but sometimes quite annoying co-workers strolling by, her daily fix of whimsy, profundities and truths delayed.  I am sorry to have been the cause of distress while I am happy knowing that she is thinking of me.  We've never met but we are friends nonetheless.  She's seen who I am by reading my words and I've learned about her life from reading her comments.  The blog is better for me than a diary - I like the conversation more than the self-indulgence of writing for myself alone.

As the physical custodian of the remaining grandparent on my side of the family, I find it easiest to keep everyone up-to-date on G'ma's well-being by describing our adventures here in The Burrow.  Grandchildren don't want lengthy phone calls, and G'ma can't remember what she's done lately so the burden of carrying the conversation rests squarely on their shoulders.  Since their physical selves have been in Germany and Hong Kong and Chile and San Francisco and Chicago lately, keeping up with their grandmother's activities is more difficult than when she lived across town.  I blog, I insert pictures, I recount conversations and they are connected.  G'ma doesn't remember if or when they call, and that is hard when you are 20 something and have your whole life ahead of you; the impermanence of your existence in her framework is frightening.  I can fill them in on our adventures here in the Burrow and they can pretend that they were there along with us.

I know that they can because that's what I do when I read Ronni Bennett's Time Goes By or Meg's  Member's Lounge.  I listen to JES's tunes at Running After My Hat and he's there with me in the library, smiling at Susan Tedeschi's lyrics and verve right along with me.  I've created a community of souls in the ether, beings I'll probably never meet in person but whose words encourage and enlighten and delight me.  I've been healed when I was down, not by strangers but by beings who exist in my consciousness without being in my presence.

It's like pen-pals, only more public.  And, just as I loved receiving letters from Judith Kelly in Tasmania when she and I were grade school correspondents, I love reading your comments and sharing your notions and suggestions.  Does blogging make me happy?  Indubitably.
Go over to BlogHer and read the main post in this series here before you enter the sweepstakes here.
Who  knows, you might win an iPod Touch.  I won a Kindle Fire in a prior iteration of the sweepstakes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Random Thoughts, Cranky Edition

Ellen Marie thinks she's too young to be so full of aches and pains.  Her cortisone shot didn't do much good and she's tired of asking her hiking buddies to slow down and wait for her.  A hip replacement at 48?  How can this be happening.

She's the second 40-something I know with replaceable hips.  Was it something in the air during the years they were growing up?  Their mothers were girls in 1945.  Could it be an effect of the bombing of Hiroshima?

Alaskans are finding volleyballs and soccer(foot)balls on their shores as flotsom from the last year's tsunami makes its way from Japan; who's to say that I'm not seeing the tip of an iceberg here in Tucson? 
Our favorite restaurant changed its menu.  Our favorite dishes are gone, replaced by almost-kinda-sorta-adequate substitutes.  The waiters and waitresses and busboys and hostesses continue to have the flattest butts in town, but that's all that remains of our go-to establishment.

A few other "old customers" have complained about the differences, according to our favorite waiter.  I'm not sure if old in that context refers to regular visitors of long standing or those who've inhabited the planet for many years.  Sad to say, I am certain he would consider me to be firmly planted in both categories.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is building a road outside our tranquil neighborhood.  There was nothing wrong with the old road that a decent job of paving wouldn't have fixed.  There was no need to enlarge it; even during the busiest times of day it never took more than two lights to get through the intersection.  From now until September, I will often be the only car in sight on what was, to my eye, an unmanicured but delightfully natural roadway.  It's being replaced by a 4 lane with turn lanes and fancy median strips and public art through-way. 

Driving on the piece that's paved is heavenly, I will admit.  The fact that it is a generic road, with no attachment to the native plants which volunteered to take up residence along its side, that makes me very sad.

And those plants?  Those hardy survivors of exhaust fumes and temperatures in the 100's were bladed and discarded, left in unseemly piles by the side of the road.  It made me sad.
Do I seem ungrateful, denizens? The taxpayers of Arizona have chipped in to repair my local infrastructure. I should feel honored and I would, I guess, if onlythe exit from my little acre of heaven required crossing this
before reaching that lovely paved part. 

Julie and Annabelle at AzDOT promised me that the graders would be out there by close of business today. They were glad to hear from me and happy to help.  All it took was a phone call. 

Of course, I took that picture at 3:45pm and the worker bees on the project usually head home at 4. 
I'm making plans for a weekend in Chicago at the end of June.  The Cubbies will be in town, and so will The Three Sisters at Steppenwolf.  As I am busily making mental plans and cheerfully sending Little Cuter informative emails I seem to have forgotten that the kids work.

How dare they not be available to be my playmates?  The nerve of their employment to interfere with my fun.... or the contemplation thereof.... the nerve.

And then I flashed to Sunday night's episode of Mad Men.  I was as oblivious as Don Draper.  Like him, it honestly never crossed my mind.
The world is reflecting my crankiness; as of 5pm absolutely no progress had been made on my road construction project.

I am glad that these are at the top of my worry list..... but still....

Monday, April 23, 2012

Team Sports, Redux

I spent Saturday watching other people's children play sports. I felt as though I were in an advertisement for Mrs. Obama's Let's Move initiative.  Though the temperatures were flirting with triple digits, there were hundreds of people at La Cima Middle School, watching and playing soccer. Only the parents of the players were sheltering under umbrellas, immobile in the heat of the noontime sun.  Everyone else was kicking a ball or playing tag or stretching before flag football.  Best of all, everyone was smiling.

I was reminded of the benefits of team sports as I watched Mr. 6's fellow first graders pass the ball up the field.  They are still working on scoring and aiming is apparently a higher level task than they have mastered as yet, but it was far from the herd-ball I'd seen at the first game.  The defense moved up in concert with the front line, the "far" kids stayed far and the "near" kids stayed near and I watched in amazement as they held fast to their positions while following the ball with their eyes.  There was so much going on and they were so little and they were so focused on the task at hand. 

Elizibeth was in the second day of her volleyball tourney, and, since even faux-Moms can only be in one place at a time, I went to watch her as Amster drove to birthday parties and other assorted boy activities.  Luck was with me - I arrived at the gym (with its very cool logo printed proudly on the far side of the volleyball net.... hence the white stripe through his beak)
just as her game was starting.
She didn't know that I was there at first.  I got to watch her strong serve and then her delighted gasp as she shared her joy in the unreturnable ball with surprise on her face.  "Oh, my God!" never sounded so good.  It's nice when your mere presence can elicit such happiness.
Getting a 14 year old to concentrate, to pay attention, to attend to the activity in front of her is often a mind-numbing experience.  Over and over you repeat yourself.... over and over she doesn't listen.  But look at that face, that intensity, that readiness.  Her team depended upon her and she was not going to let them down. 
A lot of it has to do with the coach, of course.  Volunteers all, Mr. 6's mom-coach has turned a ragtag bunch of newbies into a fairly respectable example of a team.  By middle school, that concept is well-established.  Caring about it is another thing, entirely.  Elizibeth loves Hannah, her coach (standing to her left) even as she stands bemused, clutching her roster and wondering where the skills she taught had disappeared.
For, while there were certainly many scenes like this one, where the ball actually did make it back over the net with force,  there were more times when frustration took hold.
The other team had many more opportunities to cheer and pound on the gym floor.
and then it was over.  They lost the game I saw, but Elizibeth's team took second place over-all, and she received a medal for outstanding performance. 

She was sorry I hadn't seen a snazzier performance, but I didn't mind.  It was more than the winning and the awards that made us smile as we munched on bruschetta and recapped the event.  It was the nicknames of the players and the fondness for the coach and the sound that the ball made when it bounded off her fists that were the real reasons to celebrate.

All these lessons learned while working up a sweat. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

RIP, Dick and Mike

Our icons are dropping like flies.  One minute I'm watching the world's oldest teenager recover from a stroke and then I turn around and he's died.  Laughing about "the most feared words in the English language" in a totally different context last week and all of a sudden Mike Wallace is no longer here to see me.

I, who usually will eschew televised celebrity obituaries, found myself fascinated by the coverage of these deaths.  I sat, enraptured, as Brian Williams and 30 Rock took me back in time to American Bandstand and my parents' Magnavox console tv.  I was back there on the carpet in front of the set, in full lotus (I thought that was "real Indian style"), wishing that I lived in Philadelphia so that I could dance on the show, too. 
I didn't realize that Dick Clark was a gazillionaire.  I never paid much attention to how he spent his time between New Year's Eve and $25,000 Pyramid.  Did you know that he hosted shows on all three major networks?  I didn't, though it doesn't surprise me; he was perfect in the role.   Hearing him compared to Ryan Seacrest made my skin crawl.  Dick Clark was never obsequious.  Dick Clark was never smarmy.  Dick Clark never made a joke at a guest's expense.  Ryan Seacrest?  Not hardly.

Mike Wallace told me where to direct my outrage.... and I had a lot of it in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  He was right in the middle of the action... often creating that action himself.. but that never bothered me.  He was ornery and crotchety and persistent and I loved him.  I found the debut clip from 60 Minutes:
which is well worth listening to, if only to hear Harry Reasoner explain that "it's kind of a magazine for television."  Yes, they were the first.  The show goes on with images you can enjoy even with the sound off -- Nixon and Haldeman and Pat Buchanan before they were infamous. 

60 minutes and American Bandstand occupied the same brain space for me.  They each told me what the grown-ups were doing.  Mike Wallace and Dick Clark were the faces of those grown-ups.  They never disappointed me.  They were unwavering in their characters.  They were who they were and that solidity was strangely comforting to me, I realize now. 

With an Etch-A-Sketch Republican running for the presidency, I'm reminded that strength of character exists in fewer and fewer of our leaders today.  RIP Mike and Dick.... I'll sorely miss you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Never Worked, Either

I was 30 and pregnant.  I'd been passed over for a promotion and my career was stalled so I paid some attention to the ticking of my biological clock.  The baby grew, the job became more frustrating, and then TBG received his compensation package.

He was moving up the ranks at Goldman, Sachs (back when that was respectable thing to say).  The financial services industry paid their employees on a scale unheard of in the social services sector of the economy then as it does now.  I've written about dollars vs praise as incentives for performance before, and my point still stands.  The words are nice; the dollars pay the bills.

We sat at the dining room table that night, for the first time truly thinking about whether or not I should return to work following the birth of our child.  My job was secure; I could take maternity leave and return without missing a beat.  The search for a full-time nanny would be stressful, but it could be done. This was before I was a parent, when I believed that all prospective nannies would resemble Mary Poppins.  Some day I will post about the 17 sitters we tried before we found The One, but at that point securing the human to care for our little one was not on our list of problems.

The decision was the issue.

This was 1982.  Our generation of women graduated from college convinced beyond question that we could do it all - have children, have husbands, have girlfriends, have careers and have fun.  After school day care was unheard of; it would take a decade or more before infant care was offered in an acceptable communal setting   We didn't want someone to live with us; we were looking for a flexible stable woman to work more than 40 hours each week,  a person who whould be willing to stay some nights and weekends so that we could have some time alone, a substitute mom.

That's what stopped me first.  I'd waited so long to decide to become pregnant.  Why would I pass the chore of raising the child off to a stranger. Granted, she wouldn't be a stranger for long, but she also wouldn't be me.  TBG thought I was the best woman on the planet (awww.....) and couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job than I could.  Neither of our mothers had jobs outside the home when we were young.  Quitting my job and raising the kid was a perfectly acceptable option for me, in his eyes.

I was flattered.  He was willing to earn all the money and let me spend it.  He was willing to get up before dawn and come home after dark without asking me to do the same.  He saw the value in having me home with the baby.  I would be creating our own little human, guiding him to become our kind of person.  We couldn't count on anyone else doing it as well. 

I was also scared.  "What do you do?" wouldn't be answered with a profession and a location.  I would be defined by what I didn't do - work.  I was still paying off student loans; how would I feel about writing a check for something I was no longer using?  And then there was the boredom factor.  I'd never really enjoyed the company of infants and babies and children.  I had always had a place to go every morning, a job to do, responsibilities to meet.  How would I manage when my schedule was free? 

The solution turned out to be fairly simple - my salary would cover the cost of child care, with $2500 left over at the end of the year.  The notion of direct deposit of my paycheck into the sitter's account was bandied about.... playfully but painfully.  It was suddenly very clear to me - I didn't have to work.

I took 6 weeks maternity leave and then I resigned.  The love and joy and pure pleasure I found in watching that little ball of protoplasm loll about on a blanket on the living room floor more than made up for the lack of human contact, the obsession with Pampers vs Luvs, the relocation of my ego to the mommy room from the social worker room.  I hated it when people told me I didn't work.  I was up at 5am and at 2am and at 11pm and there was no saying "NO" to this little boss.  My paycheck was in poopy diapers and the infant suckling at my breast.  I didn't need money or status or recognition; I was happy and that was enough.  Why didn't the world understand it?

I met Audrey at Mommy and Me; we were the oldest women in the group by a fair number of years and we became fast friends very quickly.  She, too, was on maternity leave.  She, too, was contemplating leaving her job and hanging out in the park with her baby.  She thought that her firm was aware of her leanings.... and then, they offered her a partnership.

There were precious few female partners in major law firms in Chicago back then.  The offer was amazing.  It was also slightly hostile.  Should she refuse it, the firm could honestly say that they had tried to find women to promote, but all they seemed to want to do was have babies.  She could make a difference if she stayed.  She'd be a beacon of hope in what we all agreed was a dismal situation.  The pressure was tremendous, the money was tempting, and ultimately she hired a full-time sitter and returned to work.

The sitter was great.  Audrey was torn.  She left a notebook with pages to be filled out each day - what he ate, when he slept, how many diapers he used, where they went, the books they read.  She lived her son's life vicariously.  She came home at the end of the day and became a play group mom, the cook for dinner, the bather and story reader and put-me-to-sleep person.  She worked two jobs.

She found, as I did, that there is no rest for the mommies.  You sleep in your in-box.  There is always something to be done.  There is always an unmet need.  There is no escape.  Yes, Mitt, raising children is the hardest job in the world.... the most important job in the world....the worst paying job in the world.

I was luckier than most.  My husband could support us and pay for a sitter when I needed some time to myself.  I ran the household and supervised the staff.... just as I'm sure Ann Romney did.  Her son may say that they never had a nanny, but I don't think he meant that they never had a babysitter.   Ann Romney and I are in the very small subset of women who "don't have to work."  It's a very different world from those who must juggle child care (I am off to get Mr. 6 & 8 today; I'm the only adult who's available) and homework and paid employment.  Having room in your budget and being able to stay home and raise the kids yourself --- that's not "working".... that's a privilege, a bonus, a benefit that most women would grab without much thought. 

There are downsides to being gainfully unemployed in this way.  I could never support our family in the style to which we became accustomed; my contribution was less concrete.  I was lucky (as is Ann Romney) to have a husband who appreciated my efforts.  That said, it was hard for me to spend money when I wasn't earning any myself.  It was difficult to chat at parties when I was asked about my life; no one wants to hear diaper stories on Saturday night with a cocktail in hand.  I often felt that I had lost my identity. 

I did all that.  I felt all that.  I just don't think I'd be accurate to call it work.  It was a labor of love, without a paycheck or an annual review.  The proof would be in the pudding, and the pudding wouldn't be ready for decades.  Til then, I could only watch and wait and feel the love.  It was many things, but it's not a "real job." 

We all know what "a real job" means.  This brouhaha over who works is classist and stupid.  Our society is not set up to support working moms.  Ann Romney and I were lucky that we never had to enter into the fray. 

I'm just sayin'........

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Painting the Love with The Happy Ladies Club

Kathleen started Reach Out after I was shot.  Combining the human resources of The Happy Ladies Club with her own (self-described)  natural talent for finding and promoting projects, there have been blood drives and food bank visits and today there was Ben's Bells.

Founded by Jeannette Mare and her family after the death of her nearly 3 year old son, Ben, the project promotes kindness in the community as a way of returning the kindnesses the family was shown after Ben's illness and death.

Jeannette is the warmest, funniest, most interesting leader of a non-profit I've ever met.  Her blonde curls announce her presence; her dazzling smile draws you into her heart.  When she thanks you for coming and helping you know that the sentiment originates from deep within her.

What she's created is the most satisfying good deed in town.

Open 5 days a week in a donated building (which housed a saloon during Tucson's formative years), there is no charge to participate.

You walk through the main building, cross the courtyard, gather your supplies and start to work.

How prosaic that sounds as I type it.  The pictures, I hope, show a warmer, deeper side to things.
We are so glad to see one another.

The courtyard is filled with ceramics - pots and tiles and mosaics like the one above of Ben himself.

The main desk is similarly decorated and unattended.
The worker bees really do work.
There are ceramics for sale on the most interesting displays.
 Mini-bells for purchase.
 Reusing the window frames...
 and the uncomfortable chairs as display cases.

And, of course, there are t-shirts.
There are always t-shirts...... right?
We were charged with creating Kindness Coins like these.
The pieces of the bells are made here, too, but that was not our mission today.

 We wouldn't get to create the bells; we were there to paint.
And so, donning our aprons
 we collected the unpainted flowers....
....listened to our instructions
and began to paint.
 Three solid coats on all the surfaces and then some kind of decoration.
 The holes in the center fit nicely on the wooden stakes for drying.
 and they came in handy for painting the bottom and the side while keeping your hands clean.
Hearts and dots and birds for Kindness Coins.
They are tagged with a note that says "Thanks for your kind act" and are designed to be given to someone who does a good deed while you are watching.  They are not kept, but are passed on by the recipient to someone else.
A favorite in schools, I have some just for fun in my real life.
These beauties have positive affirmations inscribed and will soon become bracelets. 
 And here are my contributions. 
One big heart was as much talent as I could muster.
I'm pretty good with the dots, though.
We cleaned our brushes and our water bowls and left the ceramics to fully dry before they went to the kilns.
Our hands were covered in paint and our hearts were smothered in love.
We left for a lovely lunch, holding Ben's mission close.

(All these items can be purchased.... the kindness decals come in all sizes and shapes.... the mini-bells ..... the bracelets... the kindness coins.  Visit the website for details.

Addendum:  4/19/12 Here's a link to a lovely article about the power of finding a bell

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Lake 10 Minutes from Home

Who knew?  I certainly did not.  For six long, hot years we have been living in the desert.  If I wanted to see water I headed to the coasts.  When water comprises only 0.35% of the area within our state's boundaries, it never occurred to me to look closer at hand.  The pool in our backyard sufficed.

But Margo checked out Silverbell Lake at Christopher Columbus Park here in Tucson last week and invited me to join her on a circumnavigation.  She promised a smooth track and lots of water.  She was right on both counts.

Do you see the fish on the welcome sign?  
This lake is stocked every other week with  channel catfish ....delivered all the way from fish farms in Arkansas, rainbow trout ...grown and delivered from sources in Colorado, and sunfish ....from farms in Arkansas, according to the Urban Fishing Fact Sheet

Who knew? Apparently these folks did.
I know.  I know.  This photograph does not look like Arizona to me, either.
I spent an hour circling the lake and saying "Where are we???"
Our trek began with these Mexican Fan Palms.... somewhat like the ones in my yard, but 10 times taller.  There's no need for irrigation; the roots steal nourishment from their watery neighbor.
The fisherman under the palms glanced over his shoulder at us and then returned to contemplating the water's surface.  I'm not sure what he hoped to find.
This fellow was more enthusiastic.  He actually stood up to cast his line. 
The trees all clustered around the shoreline.
They know where their bread is buttered, so to speak.
The water was blue and green and clear enough for us to see the fish carcasses which had been returned from whence they came.  I'm not sure what the thinking was behind tossing dead fish into the lake, but it was certainly a better solution than this one
I spent some time wondering why the javelinas and the coyotes and the bobcats were uninterested in this already harvested source of nutrition, before I was distracted by the ducks.
Ducks in the desert? 
Yes, indeed.
This picture could have been taken on Long Island.
There were honking swans in the middle of the lake, but they refused to cooperate.
Every time I focused, they turned and swam the other way.
Plus, the noise was annoying.
So much for Arizona swans.
Along with the empty soda cans and snack food bags, there were more permanent markers of human habitation.
But mostly there was peacefulness....
and shade
and all that water.

How nice to know (now) that this exists just down the road.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Just a Typical Sunday

It rained yesterday morning and the flora are enjoying the drink.  The cacti are bulging, having soaked up as much as their expansive innards will allow.  Walking out to get the paper was pure joy.  There was enough breeze to warrant a light jacket; I wrapped myself in a friend's gift while I was lying on Douglas last year - a stretchy hoodie that reminded me of how far I'd come.  Walking down the driveway last year was cause for celebration and alerting the media.  Seriously.... there are several national news outlets that ran B-roll of me hobbling to my mailbox.  Apparently, American needed to know.

The paper was filled with Rio Nuevo related financial shenanigans.  As I recall, when we moved here in 2006 the headlines were much the same.  Closed door meetings, secret plans and no clear line of accountability were true then and were true this week, if the Arizona Star is to be believed.  And what an embarrassing mess it was; "We don't know who invited him," is not designed to engender trust in the voter. 

My body has changed more than they have.

I ate my oatmeal with brown sugar and glass of 1% milk with LuAnn and Baby Blues and Doonesbury.  I flashed back to G'ma's kitchen table, Newsday's tabloid pages fitting perfectly on the small table in the corner.  I've been having breakfast like this for a long long time. 

On my way to the gym I noticed a crane and a slab of concrete at Christina-Taylor's park.  It's the beginning of an art project; all 15' tall of it.  Right now there are birds and curlicues on what looks to be the first of many pieces. 

I'm not sure what it's going to be, but I like it so far. 

The landscaping is coming in beautifully, that both willfully and voluntarily planted.  There is an acre of brittle bush cascading between the road and the path, the yellow flowers dancing on their long wiry stems made me laugh out loud. 

Penstemon and salvia and desert marigolds have supplanted the poppies.  For a month or two we will be covered with color as the palo verdes and mesquites and acacia's take their turn changing from teeny green leves to big bright yellow blossoms.  There's a narrow window of opportunity to attract those pollinators and our trees don't miss a moment of it.

I sat on the bench in the garden and let the day wash over me.  It was just a typical Sunday.

Did my weights and my floor exercises at the gym, just like everyone else.  I wasn't carrying any extraneous pieces of equipment; it was just me and my ipod and my water bottle.  I managed to feel impressed that I could get my body contorted into the seated leg press machine.  I resisted the impulse to fume at the fact that there was no weight on the contraption and that my right leg alone was incapable of holding the plate.  I was there.  I was doing it.  That had always been enough for me in the past and it was enough for me this morning.

Talked to Danielle about recovery and resilience and living in the moment and ended up convincing her to begin blogging.  We've each had our challenges over the last year or so; it was refreshing to listen to her positive energy.  Laugh if you want to, denizens, but at the end of our conversation, wherein we had been finishing one another's sentences and laughing before the jokes were finished and found ourselves acknowledging the past but striding confidently into the future, at the end of it all there was an unavailable to the naked eye but there nonetheless palpably real connection.  I could feel the energetic waves moving between us.

As I said, scoff if you must.  I was there.

Rode that wave all the way to the pod-castle where G'ma was finishing up chocolate pudding and Glenna, her newest tablemate, was still working on her berry cobbler..... possibly my favorite dessert.  Returning from the kitchen with my own portion, 6 of us talked of pharmacists and farmers and volunteering and graduations and for a while there was not a whiff of dementia in the air. 

Furthering the wonderfulness that was my typical Sunday afternoon, G'ma and I went to Rillito Nursery for some zinnias and basil and verbena and a new hanging basket to refresh the valiant but daunted petunias.  She chatted with Stephanie, who's getting married in 2 weeks, pet the calico cat on the counter and meandered to the car with a smile plastered on her face. 

The sun was shining in my heart, too.

I came home and made a turkey sandwich and planted my flowers and came in to type to you.  There's a Harlan Coben paperback on the coffee table and a pitcher of mango tea tempting me on the kitchen table.  It's just a typical Sunday.  The fact of bullets never entered into the equation.  I've gotten through the whole day dealing with my aches and pains and in-abilities without defaulting to the shooter or the event or why

I'm finding myself on days like today..... I just wanted to share.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Random Thoughts

I sat on the patio in the backyard yesterday, drinking Proseco and gossiping with the girls. We ate hulled strawberries and shifted around so that the sun didn't burn any of our parts more than the others.  There were shared memories and new stories and much advice was given.  We wore no makeup and our shorts were the ones lying atop the laundry pile; we were there for one another, not trying to impress.

Sparkling wine as dinner..... I could get used to this.
There's a distinct change in the breeze and the air quality here in the desert Southwest.  April is nearly half-way gone, and most all of the snowbirds have fled to cooler climes.  Those of us who are planning to stick it out through the summer share a certain glee, a glint in our eyes, a reluctance to admit that we love baking in triple digit temperatures.

I can't speak for anyone else, but, for me, it's self-preservation.  I don't want Tucson to be winter-crowded all year long.
Justified ended the season with a disarming end to a seriously evil bad guy (if you saw it you should be smiling now).  Big Cuter thinks that Ava has become more evil as the series has matured, but I disagree.  She started out by shooting her cheating, beating husband in the chest with a shotgun as he sat at the dining room table.  She's now married to his brother, Boyd, who's striving to become the biggest baddest criminal in Harlan County.  Ava's not more evil, she's just more grown up.
I found myself in the interesting position of explaining the workings of my Kindle Fire to a friend.  I can turn it on and off, play solitaire and read a book on it.... but not much more.  I can't figure out how to turn off the web browser when I don't need it.  I am flummoxed every time I try to highlight and then retrieve a passage.  I should be able to leave notes on the text, but that's not intuitive, either.

I suppose I should read the instructions..... but they are digitized and available on-line instead of in a handy paperback I can leave open to the important pages.  I'm having a stand-off with the device.... become natural in my hand or be gone.
And another thing about this Kindle thing - it's much more durable than it looks, but that doesn't stop me from being terrified every time I put it in my purse to go someplace.  In the house, we're fine.  Transporting it is a whole different matter.  Traveling requires a case.

I looked in Tucson and sighed, deeply and profoundly.  The slim pickings were confined to big box chain stores.  On-line, the choices were more varied.  I wanted to touch them for myself, and I could have done so..... if we still lived in Marin.  San Anselmo, Mill Valley, Mission and 3rd in The City..... I love my town but there are times when I throw my hands up in disgust.

Everyone here is complaining about allergies.  The palo verdes are in bloom, their bright yellow blossoms attracting birds and bees and sneezes.  The mesquites and acacias are right behind them, bringing more pollen and discomfort to sufferers county-wide.  `Between my achy hip and my scratchy throat I feel much worse than I really am.
The summer before I was shot I bought 5 pairs of colorful flipflops at WallyWorld.  They cost $1.25 each at the end of the season sale. Last year, my ambulation required lace up shoes that freed my toes up for balance instead of keeping the shoe on my foot.  This year, they are seriously tempting me.

TBG has issues every time he sees me put them on. "Are those the best shoes you could be wearing?" he inquires.  My "Probably not, but they go with the outfit," response solicits an interesting response. He's my spouse, not my parent, but he's been operating as my guardian since January, 2011.  I know I ought to listen to him, but I can't give up the colors.
After months of fits and starts and good intentions, GRIN is able to announce that Pilates at Amphitheater Middle School starts today, Friday the 13th. We are part of the Physical Education curriculum.

It is a public/private partnership in the very best way. Corporation and bureaucracy are not always terms of opprobrium. Thanks to Balanced Body for the equipment, Amphi Middle School and the Amphi School District and the University of Arizona for flexibility and perserverance, and, most especially, thanks to Kyria Sabin of Body Works Pilates for having both the original idea and the willingness to stick with it until we got it done.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where Are The Heroes?

TBG says it all the time - to whom can a parent point a child seeking a hero?

I might have started with religious leaders, but there's all that mess in the Catholic Church.  As a girl, I used to like to listen to Rabbi Hillel Hyman.  Daddooooo thought he was the smartest Rabbi he'd ever met; I just thought he was cool.  Young, hip, and quick-witted, he listened as well as he spoke.  I never felt small or ignorant or foolish; I rose to his level.  In today's climate, I'm not sure that G'ma would be comfortable with me spending time alone in an office with him.

I'm watching the Bobby Petrino mess erupt all over the news.  Petrino, who left his Louisville football team mid-season for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, who he left with 3 games left in the season for Arkansas, has just been fired by the University for lying about his inappropriate relationship with a 25 year old member of his staff.  He probably shouldn't have said that he was alone on the motorcycle he crashed early this month.  After all, a police report was filed. 

No one ever learns.  The cover-up is always worse than the facts, no matter how damning the facts might be.  Of course, given that Petrino is the at-this-point-in-time-still-married father of 4 adult children.  "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it.

Ozzie Guillen, leading the revamped Florida Marlins' Latin baseball image, managed to alienate anyone and everyone who spares a moment thinking about Fidel Castro.  I can admire the man's staying power, too.... but only in one language.  I'm willing to believe that the nuance was lost in his translation-in-my-head from Spanish to English.... I gotta admire the guy... people have been trying to get to him for 60 years and he's still there .... I gotta admire his perseverance...... doesn't sound like a paean to Communism in Cuba to me.

Now, maybe Ozzie is secretly plotting to overthrow the USofA and turning us into a socialized paradise, but I don't think so.  He's Ozzie, and his mouth is often ahead of his brain.  But, for a young person looking for a leader to admire, his gaffes are troubling.  On the other hand, he owned up to it, accepted the 5 game suspension, and promised to learn from his mistakes. 

Not a bad response, I think. 

Sadly for Ozzie, it was a slow news day so his error made it to the evening news instead of being restricted to the shouting heads on ESPN.  Another one bites the dust, it seems.

I was behind a mom-mobile yesterday.  The bumper sticker read I reached my goal at Anonymous Elementary.  Stunned, I could barely shift into first gear when the light changed.  Parents are now advertising that their kids do what is expected of them.  Just as with our search for a hero, simply avoiding pitfalls is cause for celebration.  Am I stretching too far to suggest that Rick Santorum's sweater vests were, like Sarah Palin's wilful ignorance, a nod to the I'm no better than you are school of politics?

Frankly, I'm looking for someone better than I am to run things.  I'm looking for someone to share my highest expectations and to push me to challenge myself to achieve them.  I'm looking for someone to admire.... and I'd like to find one before I am blessed with grandchildren old enough to ask me about my heroes.