Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year.

Let's hope for some promise for 2009. Let's hope for 2009. So many things went sideways in 2008. Who would have thought the bursting of the housing bubble would have turned out the way it did? It started small, more like several hand grenades being lobbed into various markets across the country, and ended with scud missiles destroying homes with rampant foreclosures. Banks started to fail, Freddie Mac failed, and the federal government, but really you and I, gave them 700 BILLION dollars to fix the problem. Is it fixed? Do we even know what they've done so far? I don't. Do you?

The the big three auto-makers here in the U.S. needed a bail-out. This time we were tough on them, chastising them for arriving in Washington in their private jets, which was probably reasonable based on the urgency and gravity of the situation. But our elected representatives, lacking any real knowledge of the auto industry, focused on that and demanded concessions by the unions who have held the industry, and Michigan, together for years. Take away the pensions of those who have epitomized the working class in this country. That makes sense.

It was an election year, and we had one dignified candidate and one candidate who seemed to lose himself as the campaign wore on, culminating in his choice of a running mate for the position of Vice President of the United States. Sarah Palin shot Tina Fey into orbit with her impersonations of Palin, turning Palin's remark about the proximity of Russia to Alaska (which adjective to use to describe Palin's choice of words: moronic, dense, brainless, simple-minded, naive) into "I can see Russia from my house!" Or when Katie Couric, Katie COURIC, hardly known for her biting journalism asked Palin which newspapers she reads daily, elicits the response "ummmm....all of them." Or maybe her response was more like "all of them?" As much as I don't like Sarah Palin and the ideologies she supports, some of the treatment of her was unfair. Like the CNN broadcast of her when she pardoned the turkey after the election was over, and the turkey executioner continued performing his duties shoving turkeys head-first down the turkey guillotine in the background while Palin continued her interview. I can hear the conversations that had to have occurred among the CNN camera crew. "I'll give you a hundred bucks if you position her in front of the turkey executioner." Those guys make a living setting up scenes and backgrounds - they HAD to know what they were doing. Still, it was pretty funny - as long as you weren't one of the turkeys! I sold my old television during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. They carted it out of my house mid-speech. Somehow, that seemed fitting.

This all led to the one truly bright spot in 2008, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Being unemployed, I figured the least I could was join the Obama phone banks, and made calls to various swing states on his behalf. I always appreciated the men who yelled "Get a job, Loser!" at me and slammed the phone down. Women never did that. They'd just say something like "I don't discuss my beliefs with strangers," and THEN hang up on me. But mostly, I just dialed, left messages, and occasionally had some really nice conversations with people, especially people who were caregivers for the elderly. I cried when Obama accepted the Democratic nomination. I cried when John McCain conceded the election. John McCain seemed to have started rediscovering himself at that moment. I cried when Barack Obama, his family, and the Bidens became the new leaders of this country.

On a personal level, it was also a year of ups and downs. My mom came back here to live after a brief foray in a residential living setting. She was miserable there, and I only had her living there because when she was first released from the hospital she was in a semi-conscious, complete invalid state. Four months later she was getting back to her feisty self. Sadly, on May 3rd, she lost the battle she had waged for the last several years against her body, which always seemed to want to fail her. Mom had the strongest constitution of anyone I've ever known.

We had a great summer. Chanti and I took to the road for a real road trip. We went to Yosemite, to my hometown, a mini family reunion, and Cambodian Heritage Camp, all in Colorado. We went to Arches National Park, and splurged with a night at Little America in Salt Lake City. My daughter saw more geography than most kids her age will see by the time they are in their twenties, now that air travel is so prevalent. She learned to read maps and most of all, we just hung out together and talked.

And now, we're celebrating the new year the same way we've celebrated it for three years in a row, with one of my daughter's friends sleeping over. I was feeling a bit cornered, since it seems that this is now a tradition and very much looked forward to from year to year. I alternated between my nice self and my cranky mommy self, who surfaced when I found them with a spray bottle spraying water on the carpet. It's now 1:34 and the lights are out, the voices have stopped, and The Sandman has found them at long last. He seems to have missed me though! I guess I'll just have to try to find sleep on my own tonight. And Happy New Year, everybody. I'm sure 2009 will be not that different than 2008 - not all good, and not all bad.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Epiphany

Over the years, my approach to the holidays has evolved. A lot. As a kid, my parents were "anti holiday".

My mom :

From what I can gather, she inherited her attitude. Even so, when I was a kid, she did make an effort, which I'm sure now she just did for me. When I was about seven or eight, my parents gave me a gigantic stuffed St. Bernard for a Christmas gift. He was in a huge box that my mom wrapped with wallpaper because that was the only paper that she had enough to cover the box. I loved that stuffed dog. I even remember how sad he looked sitting on the curb still wearing his collar with his little plastic brandy barrel many years later, waiting for the Good Will truck to pick him up.

My dad:

His family was very poor, and when he was in the second grade his teacher went around the class and asked everyone what they got for Christmas. He didn't get anything. My dad is as honest as the day is long, so he didn't make up an answer. He hasn't liked Christmas since. The interesting thing about this story is he didn't come to dislike the holidays because he didn't get anything. He dislikes them because he was embarrassed at having to say he didn't get anything. I made the mistake of telling my daughter this story. Her take on it is that Santa Claus is mean and unfair. And she's right in many ways. Isn't that the point of many of the stories about Christmas - proving just how great Santa really is because he doesn't neglect the poor people - even though we all know he does.

I was well on the path to becoming a true anti-holiday person. My parents had divorced and I think particularly as an only child, I felt pulled in all directions. To be fair, that pressure was entirely self-inflicted, and enhanced by having a boyfriend whose parents were also divorced. But when I was in my late twenties, something happened. Nobody hit me, I wasn't in an accident. My epiphany came while I was in the midst of spreading my bah humbug attitude throughout my little world. But I did work with a group of holiday fanatics - or at least that's how they appeared to me. One day, with little warning, I realized that I was expending a tremendous amount of energy hating the holidays, and it would be much easier on me (not to mention those around me who were subjected to my constant humbugging) to just go with the flow. In retrospect, those fanatical co-workers really weren't all that fanatical - they just represented the holiday standard.

I started small. The first year, I just quit complaining. By the next year I was starting to respond to those bidding me a Merry Christmas with a heartfelt "Merry Christmas to you, too!" By year three, I was hooked. I think I even bought toilet paper printed with Santa's List that year. I began to relax during the holidays and I quit looking for everything that was wrong with the season. I began collecting Christmas decorations!

Now I have a nine-year old daughter. I'm so glad that I started liking the holidays a long time ago, because I'd certainly have to make the transition now. We're a small little group, with just the two of us and maybe my dad. This will be my first Christmas without my mom. I miss her. I think she was starting to kind of like being with us for the holidays. She's sure been on my mind most of the day today. Last year she was a hospice patient, living in a residential care home, but we brought her here for Christmas Eve. She seemed to enjoy it - quite a lot. We definitely enjoyed having her here, knowing even then that it could be her last Christmas with us. A week later, my mom got her best gift when we were brought her back here to our home to live with us. That also included having good hair days again. Hair is important - one of the easiest little fixes for cheering oneself up. Mom passed away on May 3 but lives on in our hearts. I'm finding another small evolution taking place this year, experiencing my first Christmas without my mom. As I pass through stores, I find myself thinking, "Mom would like that! Oh. Wait. She's gone." It makes me a little sad this year, but I know from experience that time will buffer the sadness. And in the interim, my dad is getting crankier by the minute. Bah Humbug and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Henry's Sandwich

This is one of my favorite stories about my mom. The part about the dimes in the payphone is one of the images that I will always keep of my mom.

Henry's Sandwich
Several years ago, my mom befriended Henry. Henry was an eccentric, possibly brain-damaged, neurotic homeless fellow who frequented the government building where my mom worked. He was probably in his late thirties, slender, always very clean, and always wearing shoes several sizes too large for him, reminiscent of clown shoes. Henry, like many in our society, probably shouldn't have been living on his own. Each morning he'd come into the lobby and wander over to the payphone and shake the change flap several times looking for change. Most days, my mom had already left a few dimes for Henry to find. He was always delighted with his good fortune.Ironically, I also knew Henry because I worked in several of the libraries that he liked to frequent. The libraries were about 30 miles apart all told; Henry would ride the bus from library to library. During my seven years working there, I worked in four different libraries, and I saw Henry at each of them. He'd sit and read the newspaper each afternoon. The newspapers were kept on long bamboo poles, providing Henry a perfect cover for what came next. Whenever a library employee walked by, he made a clicking sound with his tongue against the inside of his cheek. Then, highly amused with himself, he'd laugh his neurotic laugh, shaking his shoulders up and down, inhaling and exhaling excitedly. One afternoon I got so annoyed with him that I shot at him with the stapler that I was carrying. I shouldn't have done it - it just egged him on.My mom was one of the information ladies, and sat at the front desk of her building. Henry used to come in and chat with my mom. Mostly he'd just giggle, hunching his shoulders up and down over some joke known only to him. On good days, he could tell her about the bus ride he'd just taken.One year around Thanksgiving, my mom asked Henry if he would like for her to bring him a turkey sandwich. Henry's face lit up. He would LOVE a sandwich! My mom told me that day about the turkey sandwich that she was going to take for Henry on Friday. She even shopped for special bread and pickles for his sandwich. On Friday, Henry came in and went over to the pay phone to collect his daily dimes. Then he started to leave the building! My mom called to him and said, "Henry, don't you want your sandwich?" He had no recollection of any promise to make a sandwich for him. As he approached her desk, my mom proudly went over and got the sandwich and other goodies that she'd prepared for him. Henry examined the sandwich. Whole wheat bread, mayo, turkey, and pickle slices. He looked at my mom and slapped the sandwich down on the counter. "I'm not eating that," he told her. My poor mom, crestfallen, asked why. "It's got mayonnaise on it," he said. I don't eat that crap." Then he hunched his shoulders up and down, giggled, and sauntered away in his big shoes. leaving my mother with a beautiful turkey sandwich.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Space - but not in cyberspace

Last weekend, my old friends and I stayed in Tahoe at what Ellen calls "The WOW House". And now I'm inspired. I haven't ever really made this place my own. When we moved in I made the egregious error of thinking that I knew which drawer our silverware should be stored in; it was promptly moved by my now ex husband. The coffee pot that my mom had gotten for me as a house-warming gift was replaced by my ex with a pot of his choosing with a malfunctioning clock (never mind that I'm the one who always made the coffee). The living room was arranged so that he could watch television from "his" chair, but nobody else in the room could see it even though it was a 36 inch television, which at the time was huge.

I take full responsibility for marrying him and staying with him, and maybe that's why it's taken me so long to start reclaiming my life. I think on some level I thought that since I had in essence signed up for this, it was what I deserved. And while I wanted to change things and apply the "out with the old, in with the new" approach, I couldn't legally do "out with the old" until our divorce was final. Then I had to give him extra time to get his stuff out of the garage because on the final day, his deadline, he said he'd had eye surgery and needed more time. I guess he couldn't see his way over here during the preceding three years to get his stuff. And then his new deadline came and went, my mom died, and there has just been a lot of stuff going on. But it's time!

So...back to the living room. The television that he bought was a behemoth. In fact it was so big that it took three grown men to move it in, and it nearly collapsed the ugly particle board entertainment center that he also purchased without consulting me. I couldn't figure out how to get rid of the television, and then it hit me - sell it on Craig's list and make whoever bought it move it! The TV was actually a good set - a Sony Trinitron. But it weighed so much that we had to stack a bunch of law books on the shelves under the shelf the TV sat on to support it; as it was, the whole entertainment center listed to port (leaned to the left). I finally managed to sell it on Craig's list. I had to keep lowering the price and actually sold it for less than $100. There are a ton (ha! very punny!) of those televisions listed on Craig's List and I figured the only way I was going to get rid of it was by slashing the price to some ridiculously low figure. It was carted away during the middle of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. The people called to see if it was a good time and I suggested they come and get it before I broke it throwing things at the screen.

Then - get this - I bought an even LARGER set! It's a 42 inch LCD HD flat screen. I can't figure out how to get it to make popcorn but it's really nice. But it looked ridiculous in the entertainment center. It fit in the opening in terms of width, but it had space at the top and just looked like it really belonged somewhere else. So I started looking for a new stand for the new TV. Entertainment centers are SO passe - now we have media consoles. The thing is, most of them look like slightly shorter versions of my dad's old console stereo - without the innards. I kept feeling like I was back in my parent's house and I didn't like the style. I found a couple that were all right, but they had to be assembled and I thought that maybe at this point in my life I might be able to buy one piece of furniture that was new that didn't require assembly. Finally, I settled on a piece from Crate and Barrel. It's sort of a buffet, but is listed as a media console. So today, my neighbor came over to help me move out the old entertainment center. We got it as far as the front door on one of those furniture dolly things when it started to fall apart. It didn't take much convincing on Joe-joe's part for me to go get the sledge hammer and we just broke it up and put it in the back of my Jeep to go to the dump.

Tomorrow the new furniture arrives, but in the meanwhile, my daughter and I were able to sit together on the couch and watch television! It's like we moved and got a new living room! And when it gets cooler, we will actually be able to stay on the sofa and enjoy a fire in the wood stove AND watch television at the same time. AND I was able to move the "man chair" just ever so slightly, and now it forms a part of a conversation pit rather than making us sit in a row that destroyed any thoughts one may have had of actually conversing with people. Before the change, it was like sitting in a classroom with everyone lined up looking at the wall. Now we actually face one another and I can sit on the couch with my daughter and watch television. That's not a very lofty goal in life, but when you've not been able to do so for will do for an evening.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech Parents and the loss of a child

As a "blogger", I feel like I'm supposed to have some sort of comment to make on Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech. But I feel like so much has been said - what can I possibly add to the conversation?

Sixteen years ago I had a son. He died of spinal muscular atrophy, which is like ALS (also known as Lou Gherig's disease)
when he was just shy of being seven months old. Such an event is one of those defining moments in life. I remember the morning after he died feeling as if my life had just taken a sharp turn to the left. I distinctly recall standing in front of the built-in bookcases in my bedroom thinking that exact thought - not that my life took a dramatic shift, but specifically that it had taken a sharp turn to the left. It wasn't a political thought - although I have always leaned rather sharply to the left. But as of that moment, my life was no longer following the same path experienced by the majority of parents in today's world.

In a similar sense, the same thing has happened to the parents of the victims of Monday's carnage at VT. In fact, I'd dare say that the survivors are the victims. They are the people left to mourn the loss of beloved children, the loss of dreams, left with chapters filled with promising memories. And now the book has abruptly ended without warning. It's akin to reading the only copy of a novel and turning the page only to find that someone has removed the rest of the book. You never get over the loss of a child. Time is a great healer, but you always, always, remember.

When my son died, I felt robbed. I lost out on so much - watching him crawl, watching his first steps (which due to the nature of his disease, had he lived, would not have occurred anyway). But I always had some peace in knowing that he died in my arms. He had the security of knowing that his mom was there. He didn't die alone. He didn't die a violent death. And this week, I've come to realize that if he did have to die, I think I'm glad he died as an infant. I don't think that I could bear to lose a child who had just started college; a young adult just beginning a promising new chapter. I don't think that I could stand to lose a child in violence; I don't think that I could bear not knowing what had happened to my child.

In the first years following my son's death, I did quite a bit of volunteer work, working first for children in foster care and then for the rights of persons with disabilities. I felt a strong need to ensure that my son's life had an impact on this world. It felt good to know that in a sense, my son impacted more lives with his short little life than some people impact over the course of many years. It's something that is difficult to measure, but I know that literally thousands of lives were made better as a result of my son's life.

I'm a mom again. Perhaps a somewhat over-protective mom. I a have little girl adopted internationally when she was three and a half years old. She just turned eight. I've told her that she literally saved my life. I'm an only child and a single parent. Before my daughter came into my life it was so empty and void of any real happiness. Today I'm lucky. I have the happiest kid on the planet. My daughter's smile is bright enough to light up the universe. Someone once asked me what my goal is in raising her, and I replied, "to stay out of her way." She needs guidance of course, but for her it is generally a minor correction - a tightening of a sail here, lightening up on the rudder there. Rarely do we need to come about - a sailing term for changing tack and heading in a different direction. In fact, when we do come about, its more because of something that I have done or caused than any doings of my daughter.

How will the parents of the students killed on Monday cope? I used to get so tired of people saying things to me like, "How do you do it?" The statement that always bothered me the most was "You're my hero." You do it by putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes the best we can do is just to get out of bed, one foot at a time. We aren't heroes because our children died. Believe me, we don't WANT to be your heroes - in fact if given the choice, most of us would probably just as soon be loathed and still have our kids alive.

One more thing. Just be there for these parents. If you are their friends - and you know who you are out there, be patient with them. Don't expect much. Invite them to your homes. Understand that if you have kids the same age, they may love them - and then again they may not be able to be in the same room, same house, maybe even the same street. Their hearts are broken. Give them time. Be gentle.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ratty Old Sweaters

I have a ratty old sweater that I heisted from my now ex-husband. It wasn't quite as ratty when I first acquired it. Neither was he, for that matter. In fact, I used a sweater analogy for years to explain why I stayed with him, in a relationship that was decidedly bad by all accounts. As a matter of fact, for many years I was the only person who "knew" why I stayed with him. I described our relationship and him as an old comfy sweater. It was a bit - okay quite ratty and worn out, but I always knew what to expect. Never mind that what I knew to expect was actually quite abusive, both verbally and psychologically.

I started thinking about this today when I picked my sweater up from the cleaners. The sweater is an old v-neck black cashmere sweater. It's stretched out and riddled with holes; some from wear, some from our bunny nibbling away when he sits on my lap. I don't wear it anywhere except here at home - in fact I wear it in place of a robe on a chilly evening lounging about in my jammies, which are sweatpants. It seems I've become the epitome of "not sexy", but at least I'm comfortable. And life is quiet and I don't get yelled at anymore.

The last couple of times when I've taken the sweater in to the cleaners, the owner's wife, an old Greek woman, has lectured me. "The sweater, it is full of holes! Why you clean it?" Then she would shake her head in a mixture of disbelief and what might have been disgust. So this time when I took it in, I told the owner "I just want it cleaned. I don't want any lectures about it. I know it's ratty and full of holes. I sleep in it. So no lectures this time." He took the sweater and started writing out the ticket. He tossed one arm on the sweater aside and shook his head. "It has a lot of holes," he said. I told him that I knew that and reiterated to him "No lectures this time, I mean it! Your wife always lectures me. Maybe you should write 'no lectures' on the ticket."

Today I picked up the sweater. He turned on the rack to spin the clothes about, asking my last name as he approached the "M's". When I was working, I went there often and he knew me. Now a far less frequent customer, I reminded him "I'm McCoy. It's my ratty old sweater," adding "and no lectures." He smiled wanly and pulled the sweater from the rack. "We did the best we could" he said, as if the sweater was a patient that had died during surgery.

What matters today is that I only have one ratty old sweater in my life. I don't get lectured, yelled at, or threatened by it. I'm moving on.