Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In His Hands

I tried to photograph his hands while he slept, but in the dark they resembled the grotesque pale fish found in a bottomless ocean. That's not how they are, at all. His hands fascinate me. They were the clue that I missed. I noticed them when we first met. I held them while he slept and I whispered in his ear that he should be a piano player.

His hands are beautiful. Long and elegant, they fly over the keyboard - the computer's keyboard - with blinding speed. His fingers, tipped by nails longer that socially appropriate for a male, are translucent with the blue of his veins pulsing lightly below the surface. Sometimes I can only gaze at his hands, unwilling to meet his challenging stare – daring me to mention his disheveled hair or the meds he's not taking.

Our life together has become a dance of avoidance. I avoid voicing anything but the most urgent of information and he just avoids me altogether. Driving together in the car has become a place for me to practice my rich inner dialog because I don't want to give him further opportunities to freeze me out. I stay quiet, listening for that moment when he might feel like talking.

A diagnosis could bring some relief – perhaps not to him but certainly to me. Relief that my instincts to cut him a lot of slack were correct. That when he said he was tired, he actually was. When he was overwhelmed, it was true. And that when he said he ached inside, he really did.

There is so much we don't know about connective tissue diseases and scientists are unlikely to learn anything from my son, because he doesn't want to talk about it. He may not want to talk but I need to.

For some, it starts at a cellular level, as a mutation. The FBN1 gene did something funny, took a wrong turn, danced with that Capulet over on another strand and now we have a young man with exceptionally long hands and feet. His back curves in ways that doctors and his family blamed on poor posture, but it goes deeper than that. His feet are flat and very narrow and his arms and legs go on forever. On an X-ray, his bones look so thin that a puff of wind could snap him in half. His elbows and knees seem large in comparison to their adjacent limbs like those famine victims from the pages of National Geographic.

He has never been remotely athletic. Keeping up with the other kids in the neighborhood was impossible and eventually he stopped trying. He didn't learn to ride a bike until he was 11 and hasn't touched it since. Marching band was a nightmare. He was assigned the smallest bass drum, but even that was too big. The harness left horrible marks on his skin, he couldn't see where he was going and it was painful seeing him stumble around the field at the first parent demonstration. His dad and I left the event stunned and tearful. We requested that he be reassigned to the pit (stationary percussion instruments) and while it was an improvement, the entire experience was exhausting. Even though the equipment is on wheels, he was often pushing things uphill on his own. When it came time to start summer band camp all over again last summer, he put in 2 hours and left in the middle of the day. No-one noticed he left and no-one ever called. I was disillusioned. I thought band was supposed to be like family. I was wrong.

We switched him to choir and he seemed to enjoy that but standing for an entire hour really hurt his back. He complained that he couldn't take really deep breaths needed for singing but I assumed it was lack of aerobic conditioning. I assumed his lanky frame was due to poor eating habits. I was wrong.

He's been on anti-depressants since seventh grade. Anxieties had overwhelmed him and he developed
agoraphobia. Physical education class was such an unending nightmare that he took to hiding around campus rather than being forced to stand in formation under that cavernous sky. He understood that his fear of falling off the earth was irrational, but the panic gripped him all the same. Prozac helped. It seemed like a miracle. He stabilized and while his grades were not on parr with his brilliant intelligence, I thought he was doing okay. I was wrong.

He's always been shorter than most of his peers and I quietly prayed for him gain height once puberty hit. Yes, puberty hit but he was then hit with a whole host of new problems. Plotting his growth in the last year, the gentle curve takes a sharp steep climb. Strange horizontal stretch marks appeared on his back and his complaints of aches and pains and exhaustion became more strident. I assumed it was normal growing pains. I was wrong.

It was only after 6 weeks of school absences and 6 weeks of doctors visits and blood tests and x-rays that his pediatrician was brought up short when I pointed out the stretch marks on his back. I assumed they were a normal part of growing. I was wrong.

The doctor stopped his exam, stopped talking and began to type furiously into his computer. He spun around and took my son's hands, his beautiful long hands and began to bend them backwards in impossible contortions. He moved onto his wrists and his elbows and then his two shoulders which he pulled forward until they almost met in the front. I was stunned. He re-examined the curves of his back, the protruding cartilage in the center of his chest and his long narrow feet. He had him bend over to touch his toes, but he didn't even come close. He had him hold his arms out to the side and measured him, finger tip to finger tip and made his pronouncement.

“I think we may be looking at Marfan's Syndrome. Have you heard of it?”

Yes . . . . .

I'm a voracious reader and I knew that Abraham Lincoln supposedly had it. I knew it could be serious.

I had been expecting some sort of virus was causing the aches. I feared something like fibromyalgia – harder to treat, but it would be an answer. He had been tested for lupus, checked for infections and was even told by one doctor to take away his iPad because he wasn't sleeping enough. (He sleeps 14+ hours a day).

I wasn't expecting this. It should have been obvious, but his lack of extreme height hid the other symptoms. He was immediately scheduled for full body x-rays, more blood tests and an echo-cardiogram.

Our immediate concerns of missing school and his fragile emotional state soon transformed into a life or death vigil. People with connective tissue diseases can die of a dissected aorta at an early age if it goes undetected and untreated. Until the tests were back, physical activity was to be curtailed. No PE, no basketball, no competitive swimming, no soccer, no weightlifting, no running. The document excusing him from PE was golden for him. It was a reprieve from expectations. While I lived in fear that the heart tests would bear bad news, I was also incredibly relieved.

I was relieved for my son that he no longer has to bear the criticism of his lack of athletic prowess. I am relieved for myself that his body is skinny because of his genetic roulette rather than my liberal meal policies. Several of the orthopedists that he has seen over the years for his scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis simply told him to stand up straight – it's just poor posture. They were wrong. This is genetic.

Connective tissue diseases can wreck havoc on the human body. Aside from the elongated skeleton, fragile aorta and stretchy skin, we also have to look out for signs that his eye lenses could become dislocated. People with Marfan's Syndrome are prone to lung problems – including spontaneous pneumothorax – collapsed lung. In 6th grade he contracted a random case of pneumonia – perhaps it is related. They often have digestive problems. His chronic childhood constipation now makes sense. Most people with connective tissue diseases have trouble gaining weight. My child was destined to be ultra thin. It's not anyone's fault.

We have spent the last 8 months exploring this tentative diagnosis. The heart testing came back fine so far, but he will have it repeated every year for the rest of his life. When damage starts to become evident, he will have to go on medication and become even more physically cautious. Many patients eventually have their aortas replaced. This is not minor surgery and survivability is not guaranteed. Intense eye exams are another yearly necessity. I have been trying to find a pediatric pulmonologist to measure his aerobic capacity, but they are hard to come by. I'd be willing to bet his lungs are not up to parr. We have seen a pediatric geneticist who reconfirmed our pediatrician's tentative diagnosis and recommended genetic testing. Of course our insurance covers genetic “counseling” but not genetic “testing.” Despite that, we are moving forward, paying out of pocket and had the test this week. Finally.

Actual test in progress.

Our son has stopped attending school. We put him in an independent study program, but he did nothing. We switched him to an all computer virtual school program, but still he does nothing. He is exhausted. He is deeply depressed. He sleeps too much. Plays too many video games and has stopped taking his meds.

Scientist do not have any hard evidence that connective tissue diseases cause neurological complications, but researching Marfan's and depression produces too many hits for there not to be a connection. One Norwegian study that concluded that Marfan's patients had a reduced quality of life on parr with cancer patients. Anxiety is a common thread for sufferers and there are a significant amount of children on the autism spectrum that also have Marfan's. Of course, if you have the sword of Damocles hanging over your aorta, you might be depressed and anxious too.

I have my own depression to deal with. Well, perhaps not depression, but certainly I'm going through a grieving process. I have to let go of all those dreams I had for him. When I found out I was expecting a son, I had a vision of a tall, strong, young man, with broad shoulders and brunette hair like mine. He would pick me up and twirl me around and tell me I'm the best mom ever. He smiled, he was healthy and he was successful. Maybe he was a doctor, or a firefighter or a dancer. Maybe he was in the armed forces or an airline pilot. He had dreams and he pursued them.

What I have in reality is a slim young man who should never, ever pick me up. He does not smile often and his hair is blond when he bothers to wash it. He long ago let go of his childhood desire to be a firefighter. His academic downward spiral makes the more recent dream of becoming a dermatologist more unlikely. He has expressed an interest to go into the Navy, but they will never accept him with Marfan's Syndrome. He was once a brilliant drummer with tons of potential, but he rarely picks up his sticks anymore.  He has no dreams of the future because he no longer expects one.

He is not the son I daydreamed about because he is something so much more. He has a brilliant mind. This is a kid who knew about string theory when he was in second grade. He wrote such an accurate yet amusing account of a frog dissection that his ninth grade biology instructor shared it around the teacher's lounge to any who would listen. He has love in his heart. This is a young man who cradled his newborn niece with such anxious tenderness, it tore at my heart that he may never risk his genetic anomaly on his own children. He has charm. Some might say that he manipulates me into cutting him more slack than he deserves, but I'm the one who encouraged him to use honey rather than vinegar.
He is a product of my own making. He is funny. His wicked sense of humor never fails to astonish me. His appreciation for dry wit exactly matches my own. I really couldn't ask for a smarter, more entertaining companion. I treasure the time we spend together, even when we are are silent.

Any decent parent has goals for their children. We want them to be happy, healthy, productive and eventually independent. We might dream of them attending medical school or becoming a famous musician. Perhaps there is family business we want them to carry on or they come from a long line of family in law enforcement. Whether our kids are perfectly sound or facing multiple challenges, letting go of those hopes is hard. It's hard but necessary.

I'm learning everyday day to pick my battles and celebrate small successes. Enforcing a sleep schedule is futile. Insisting on daily showers will just produce increased resistance. Forcing meds on him now will make him more resistant in the future. Even overseeing homework made things worse. If he graduates a year later, that's okay. If he tests out early, that's okay too. If he chooses to spend his precious small amount of energy typing, who am I to say otherwise? What I want doesn't matter.

Ultimately, it's in his hands, his beautiful hands.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

On particularly difficult days I wear my grandmother's diamond ring.

I've had a lot of hard days lately. Fridays are the worst - that's the day I reserve for crying on my way home from work.

I wear her ring to remind me that my troubles aren't that big. She was here for 111 years and saw two World Wars. She lived through the Great Depression as a doctor's wife. When patients couldn't pay cash for care, they paid with live-stock and crops instead. She kept a pot of hot stew on the stove for the hungry people that routinely appeared at the back door. She watched her oldest daughter die of cancer leaving her two young granddaughters behind. She lost her husband of 50 years yet survived another 25 years with grace and good humor.

When I start to feel sorry for myself, I instead think of my granny.

When I wrote last year about coping with things out of our control - Home de Fence, we were waiting for my husband's job to be eliminated, and it was. He spent many subsequent months working really hard to find a new job, but middle aged white men who once had good salaries are no longer desirable in a dying industry. On the advice of a career coach, we started to looking into business ownership. We looked at many franchise opportunities, did our research, asked lots of questions and decided that kind of risk was not for us. Having to wait 6-18 months to turn a profit was too frightening to consider. We began to look at existing businesses and finally settled on one, and then another. That's right, we bought two business and felt that between us, we could run them both. We used our retirement funds, mortgaged our house, got an SBA loan and borrowed against my inheritance to make it happen. We were happy, but anxious. We were confident that we could face any setback and figure out a solution.

What I didn't figure was that that people will look you in the face and lie.

While I have given the impression in the past that I am about as cynical as they come, I also believe that
people are basically good. I understand that bad decisions are made out of desperation and fear. Sometimes you find yourself backed into a corner and you do things that you never dreamed. With that in mind, we once code named a software product BMO – short for Black Market Oranges. We lived near the orange groves and would often see people selling bags of oranges, freshly picked, in order to feed their families. While I disapproved of the illegal behavior, I declared that I would do it too, if it meant the difference between feeding my family or not.

I won't go into specifics but I am heartsick at how bad things are. Our financial stability, our employees lives, our children's future and two different business are at risk. If we fail, we lose our home.  My son says I look worried all the time. I can't deny it, I am. I've cut our food budget to the bone. I cancelled my gym membership (that was actually a relief). I cancelled my Ancestry.com membership (I was too busy to use it anyways.) I cut our car insurance down to the highest deductibles. I tried for cheaper health insurance, but no-one else will have us. No vacations or trips (not even my oldest friend's wedding). Our last meal out was on a credit card for our son's birthday. I stretch grocery shopping out to 8 or 9 days instead of weekly. No more dog grooming and car maintenance is being deferrred. I never fill the gas tank anymore, just $20 at a time. No dry cleaning, no nail appointments. I'm ready to drain the pool to save on water. I used my birthday check from the in-laws to pay for the car's smog check. (Are you tired of my whining yet? I am.)

I spend my evenings working on marketing materials, researching the industry(s), writing emails and updating websites. I work (we both work) 7 days a week. I knew it would be hard, but I naively thought it would be a joyous hard. I thought it would be satisfying hard. I never thought it would be a “I'm working as hard as I can” and still losing money kind of hard. It's scary hard.

I get little glimmers of hope. New contacts and contracts. Encouraging inquiries. Situations that demand patience and delicacy. When I think all hope is lost, something happy happens.

Our oldest daughter and her husband are expecting a baby girl. I'm gonna be a grandmother. How wonderful is that? This gives me added motivation. I want to help out with their childcare, at least two to three days a week. I can't do that if I'm working 7 days a week. If I'm going to be available by January, then I need to work even harder to get things stable.

Our middle daughter, after 5 years of auditioning, finally got her dream job at Disneyland. How wonderful is that? She's been down a tough road but her perseverance has finally paid off. (Pick yourself up, dust yourself off . . .)  I learn things from watching her - how to work a crowd, how to charm people, how to keep trying when everyone else would have given up.  After five years of disappointments she is wearing the biggest smile.  

I have a wonderful husband that has managed not to blame me for poor sales, even though I blame myself. I am blessed to have him.

Our son is 15 now. He still hugs me. Sometimes.

Our challenges have me thinking about God a lot. On the surface, I seem like an atheist. Down further, I'm more agnostic – cause I'm not really sure if there is a god. Deep down, I wish I could take comfort in my Christian upbringing. But I don't.

It would be really tempting to throw my hands up and put it all in God's hands. I see people do it all the time and I'm jealous. But it wouldn't solve anything for me and it wouldn't be sincere. It wouldn't make phone calls, or write letters. It wouldn't finish a website or sign contracts.

I think of that old joke about the guy on the roof in the flood. He drowns despite God sending two boats and a helicopter. Maybe God will send me a big contract. But I honestly don't think God would help me ONLY if I went to church and believed. If god exists, then god knows how hard I'm trying and will help us despite my doubt.

I see other people trying hard - trying really hard. Good people who are deeply religious. And really awful things happen to them. Health problems, financial problems. I drive around and see other small businesses that have closed. People who had great ideas and big dreams. People who worked really hard. People who failed despite the best of intentions.

I'm afraid.

And I have no real confidence that God in the traditional sense will help us.

Yet . . . . I have my grandmother's ring. I wear that ring like someone wears a cross around their neck and I take confidence in that ring. 

 But it's not the ring and it's not the diamond. It's grandma. 

She survived so much and so can I. I imagine her up in “heaven” and looking down on me with love, and guiding my decisions. I think about what she would do, what she would advise. I think about her beautiful comforting smile and her gentle encouragement and her implicit belief in my abilities. With my belief in her, I can do anything.

If that's not God, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Better Living but not Through Chemistry

In a conversation with an old friend, I questioned why she didn't read fiction anymore. Her reply surprised me, implying that there was nothing to be gained from reading fiction because it couldn't change her own tragic circumstances. Her fiancee would still be dead and she would continue to wake up every morning without him. I wanted to argue with her, but closed my lips and continued to listen. I didn't have sufficient evidence to counter her grief based choices. My life has been untouched by grief. All I can do is listen.

But this conversation had me pondering what place fiction has had in my life. Many of my most profound insights come from reading and reflecting. They come from absorbing other's life experiences. I'm a voracious reader, from the newspaper every morning to blogs, from library books to grocery store novels, from magazines in doctor's waiting rooms to textbooks. Reading is how I come to understand the world I live in.

I can be very impatient with the spoken word. My husband and I are in the process of purchasing a business and it involves very lengthy sales presentations via the telephone. After 20 minutes I am up and prowling the room looking for something to read. Once the same fact or point has been repeated for the third time, I am ready to pull my hair out. If the information could be condensed into a typed format, I would be a much happier business owner. I can read much faster than you can talk, so let's get on with it.

I draw inspiration from good fiction. The characters may not be real, but their circumstances often are.

In cleaning out my son's bedroom, I found a school copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Somehow, he ended up with two copies, but only returned one. I decided to read it before returning it to his old school, not having read it before.

I have not seen the movie, and was unsure what the book was going to be about. I knew it involved the south, and prejudice, and some sort of gripping court room scene, but that was about it. The book is full of many colorful characters and lessons, but I was most struck by Mrs. Dubose, the frightening, ancient neighbor that Jem Finch is required to read to, while she, as it turns out, is withdrawing from a morphine addiction.

This happened to be the week that I decided to beat an addiction of my own. I've been taking Trazodone for the last ten years, presumably to prevent migraines. Except, I continued to have migraines, so it wasn't working for that. I continued to take it to help me sleep better, so I would be less likely to have migraines. Yes, it would help me fall asleep, presuming that I was in bed and ready to relax into the blissful mindlessness it afforded me exactly twenty minutes after consumption. On the rare occasions when my prescription ran out, or I left home without it, I would be in for a night of insomnia. One night was hardly bearable, two nights was unthinkable.

My most recent prescription ran out the same day I read of Mrs. Dubose and her determination not to die an addict. I finally have my migraines under control with the addition of magnesium to my diet and my continued use of Trazodone was superfluous. It was time to stop. 
Sunday night was as expected. I was drowsy and crawled in bed hoping a busy day full of activity was going to be enough to carry me to slumberland. It was too much to hope for. I tossed. I turned. I went to the bathroom and got back in bed. I turned over my pillow to the cool side. I went to the kitchen and had some toast and cold milk. I went back to bed. I may have slept a bit, but it was so shallow and restless, that it wasn't worth much.

Quitting is important. The last ten years have been a haze of equanimity. While that may be what many may strive for,  I've been thinking that, for me, doing it through chemistry is cheating. It's a fiction and while I've been missing out on moments of true despair, I've also been lacking transcendent joy. The last decade which has seen the death of my beloved grandmother, aunt, and both my parents, failed to plunge me into depression. My daughter's wedding, our twenty-fifth anniversary, other family triumphs have given me a warm happy glow, but there's no exhilaration. It's time to find out how I feel without the cloak of chemistry. Am I truly a zen-master or am I as crazy emotional as the rest of y'all?

The real side effects of withdrawal started the next day. My skin itched and felt tight all over. I began to sweat with only light exertion and then was chilled and achy. I was tired and listless, though maybe it was just from lack of sleep. Trazodone is sometimes prescribed as a mild anti-depressant and in those cases withdrawal side effects can include anxiety and suicidal thoughts. While I am very fortunate not to be prone to these feelings, I did wonder if I could be overtaken and questioned my wisdom of quitting cold-turkey.

It was only when Mrs. Dubose had died in pain but free of the grip of morphine, did Atticus Finch explain to his children her true situation:

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

It's only been three nights, and my side-effects are already waning. I still itch but the sweats and chills are gone. I'm still worrying about getting a decent night's sleep but I can't pretend that this is anything like morphine. I've hung onto my empty pill bottle just in case I “need” to get a refill, but I won't. I won't get a refill because I read a piece of fiction that spoke to me. Mrs. Dubose taught me a what it is to be strong in the face of my weakness. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Shifting Seasons

"Sun in an Empty Room"  by Edward HopperHeading


It's a melancholy day. The fall solstice is upon us and there is finally a freshness to the air. I rake leaves that have dropped due to the heat of the summer rather than the chill of fall, but the effect is the same. Things are changing.

I sit on my son's floor and sort through the detritus of his middle school years. Pages and pages of what we used to call “dittos” and notebooks full of illegible chicken scratch. Very little of it has long term value and is relegated to the recycling bin. He is now in high school and these things are not needed. His room no longer suits him and I'm clearing it out.

While my nest is not yet empty, it is shrinking. Our daughters have moved on. The oldest married a year ago and has a home and husband of her own. The younger moved with the spring into the blistering desert seeking her own season of change. Her room stands empty waiting a fresh coat of paint but I haven't yet been able to bring myself to cover over her own shade of sunny yellow optimism.

Our son is moving, at my suggestion, into the oldest sister's room, taking the things he wants across the hall, and leaving rest behind. Lacking the sentimentality of old age, there's very little that he desires and it's up to me to sort and save his childhood.

I move on to the bookshelves. Familiar titles by Dr. Seuss mixed with Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and the entire Harry Potter series failed to make the move across the hall. These among many others will be packed in cardboard and moved to the basement to await grandchildren that may not be too far behind.

A short novel caught my eye and I sit in the recently vacated yellow bedroom, in the rocker that I nursed my children in and skim through the book before it gets donated. It's a beautifully written Caldecott winner about a young girl surviving the dustbowl with her widowed father. My crumpled leaves and powdery dirt are of insignificant concern compared to the strife caught in the pages of this book.

My son comes to find me and despite his advanced age, he's still slight enough to curl up awkwardly on my lap, all elbows and knees. I rock him, lost in reflection and melancholia, but he blocks the motion and we sit still. He initiates the rocking again but proceeds to remove my arm that is wrapped around his shoulder, still wanting contact – but only on his terms. Thus we perform the ritual, the push and pull of the seasons, the dance of parent and child.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Home de Fence

I've been neglecting my blog – in part because I got outed. Not in the sexual sense, but two of my kids discovered I had a blog and read it. As expected, one shrugged it off and was “like whatever.” The other was reportedly rather upset, and concerned that I was “depressed.” For the record, I'm not. 
I've been waiting for something funny, or profound, to write about, that wouldn't upset anyone, but divine inspiration eludes me. My life drifts on, without literary inspiration or a vision of the future, so I fill it with activity.

I'm waging war on weeds because that's the only thing I can control right now. I pull them, whack them, and hoe them, but best of all, I BURN them. My latest weapon is a propane
powered weed torch. It's very frightening and highly dangerous, but immensely satisfying. It's hot and it's loud. It roars. I point it at the enemy and they shrivel into blackened ash with a hiss. Only today did I dare use it in the front yard, fearing the passersby would deem it dangerous and call the police or fire department. If I get it too close to fallen leaves, they burn, but a quick stamp of the foot puts it out. Best of all, it smells of camping. I enjoy the scent of campfires and this makes me really quite happy. Roaring hot destruction also pleases me.

The hubby is waging his own war on roaches. Those nasty big brown ones periodically infiltrate our house and he gets crazy about them. I figure it comes with the “old house” territory but my dearest insists on complete and total elimination. I managed to talk him out of spraying insecticide all over every surface in our kitchen and pantry, opting for me caulking every crack and crevice that could be discovered. Then we followed with roach bait stations, but they were still making themselves known. Next, hubby armed himself with

the boric acid powder that I had gently powdered in the appropriate places. The instructions call for “lightly dusting” areas where roaches travel – do not create “piles” as roaches will avoid those. Hubby (being a typical overachiever and non-label reader) finished off the first bottle and is now on his second as he creates Sierra Nevada sized snow drifts along every baseboard in our kitchen and has now moved on to the backyard where we are enjoying winter during the spring. (I am not allowed to water near any of his boric acid deposits, which is pretty much everywhere.) At least it gives him something to do.

Which is really what the problem is here. He has nothing to do. He has a job (or at least an employer) but he works from home - that is, he is . . . home, but . . . he has nothing to do. The new company, that took over his old company, doesn't know what to do with him. He's had several conversations with his “new boss”, but he has no projects to work on, no office to go to, no-one to meet with and nothing to plan for. It's very unsettling, knowing that at any minute, this mega company will figure out that they don't need him after all and terminate him. We'd like to hit the road next week, for our son's spring break, but he can hardly ask for vacation time under the circumstances. Staying home is more of the same. Killing weeds and roaches. We continue to search the internet for a “more substantial” job for him and wait. And wonder. And burn weeds. And kill roaches.

Idleness can breed anxiety. Hubby's been working from home for a number of years, is very aware of the pulse of the neighborhood and has become known as our local Gladys Kravitz (remember
Bewitched?). This is good and bad. Good, because he's keeping an eye on things, and bad because you can't see everything at once. We have an alley in the back of the property that is partially fenced by chain link. Our front yard is on a very busy street that sees a lot of transient foot traffic. Our neighbor to the west was foreclosed and the house has been empty for 3 months. Despite Gladys's vigilance, the copper plumbing next door has been stolen twice. It's all a lot of to keep track of, so now we are working on fences. Yesterday, we started covering over the chain link with recycled fence boards from a previous project. We bought solar lights for the top posts of the redwood fence that we started building FIVE YEARS ago. We are replacing posts of the gothic pickets along the sidewalk that are on the verge of breaking off the next time a drunk stops to steady himself.

Killing weeds, annihilating bugs, stronger fences, constant vigilance. It's starting to feel like we really are prepping for the zombie apocalypse. Zombie prepping has become quite trendy. Why do you think that is? Not having premium cable, I don't watch shows like the Walking Dead, so I'm a little out of the loop when it comes to this stuff, but I don't know anyone that really believes that zombies are actually coming to get us.

Zombies are a metaphor for things we have no control over. You can't kill something that is already dead. How do you prepare for that? Propane flame torches and toxic acid powders won't kill them. Stronger fences won't repel them. So we stand at the window, like Gladys Kravitz, ready to sound the alarm, fearing the worst but hoping for the best.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ho ho humbug

The last several years, I've found myself growing increasingly glum every December. Some might say "oh you have seasonal affective disorder,” but I don't think that is possible in sunny southern California. I speculated to a friend on Facebook, that seeing as our small children have grown, we don't try as hard to kindle the magic of the season in our homes. We are not pretending that Santa is coming. We don't write notes to him or put plates of cookies out. Perhaps, someday when the grandchildren come along, that will change.  

While I have rejected the church attendance that was required of me as a child, I do miss the magic of the midnight candlelight services and music that ushered in the season. I find myself looking on the internet for local Christmas concerts, to see if that would dispel my ennui.  I doubt the family would go with me. Maybe I could claim I was out buying gifts. Never mind, forget the concert. I'm still avoiding holiday music on the radio.

I'm not as excited about giving gifts. In fact, I haven't purchased ANY yet. Since mom died, I have more money than I ever had in my life, but I'm so terribly anxious about spending it. My husband's employer is about to close their doors any day now and buying stuff that we really don't need seems irresponsible. The job search has been yielding some action, but no offers.

It's supposed to be a time to count your blessings. I've had quite a few this year. Our oldest daughter was married in September and it was a beautiful event with our very special friends and family gathered around. Our youngest has pulled himself out of his academic funk and is earning mostly A's and a B or two. Our house still stands and all the appliances work.  The dog is getting old, but is healthy.  My roses are blooming in December and the chickens are still laying beautiful eggs.  

 Our middle child still struggles – but is blessedly alive and unscathed – despite the fact that she was in a serious car accident Sunday night. I don't know that she realizes how lucky she is or understands that my favorite vehicle – a 16 year old Suburban with only 150K miles – sacrificed itself for her life. It is probably going to be totalled by the insurance company tomorrow. They tried to issue a check to me today - that would just cover body damage, but didn't address the potential damage to the suspension and axle.  It's at a repair shop for further evaluation which I think that is going to be the death knell to my car.  I'm really sad about that.  

I've never thought it was a good idea to become emotionally attached to a vehicle, but damn, we had some great trips in that car. I need it to pull our Airstream. I need it to bring ladders and scaffolds to worksites. We put our canoe on top. I hauled band instruments for the middle school. I need it to pick up our Christmas tree next weekend. I'm gonna miss that car.
Something else to miss? My parents. Despite the fact that I am severely lacking in holiday spirit, I brought the decorations up from the basement. I had a particular item in mind – the nativity set from my childhood. I brought it back from Portland when my mom was dying last Christmas. All the parts were there, including two sheep and three broken leg pieces. That's when I started losing it. My parents both gone, a potential financial crisis, my favorite car smashed up and now three broken legs on two sheep. Could it get any worse? Of course it could. I have two dear friends that have suffered devastating personal losses this fall and my next door neighbor is losing his house to foreclosure. In comparison, I am spectacularly fortunate.

A damaged car and broken sheep don't seem like much to cry over, but cry I did. I retreated out to my workshop to get the superglue and sat there feeling spectacularly sorry for myself. Once done with the pity party, I wiped my eyes on my scarf (it's just saltwater), I wiped my nose on my sleeve (easier to wash) and went back inside to face the family and fix the sheep.

If my life was a sitcom on TV, a series of mishaps would occur, a miracle would be revealed and I would find the true meaning of Christmas basking in the joy of my family. My children would have a new appreciation for how very lucky they are and someone besides me would wash the dishes after dinner.

Life for most of us falls somewhat short of that. So I'll leave you with my Christmas wishes:
  1. A new and better job for my husband.
  2. Michelle and Marianne find peace and eventually joy and Rick finds a new home.
  3. My next car proves to be just as self-sacrificing if called upon.
  4. That the superglued sheep hold it together for at least this month.
  5. I regain my sense of consumerism and go shopping.  The economy needs the help.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Am I losing my mind?

Some people worry about cancer or the economy, but I've got something else to think about.

There's a word for it . . . . but I can't remember it. I need - three items – I can see them in my mind – but can't say the words that represent them. I walk into a room to get something – but I have no idea what. Eventually, I find the word, I come up with the three items and I recall what I was going to get. But maybe someday I won't.
My Aunt in 1963.

My brother recently sent me a copy of Mom's brain autopsy. She was part of a study examining brains for Alzheimer's – fortunately there were few signs. Dad was fine too. He was exhibiting high cognitive function (& telling jokes) right up until his last fifteen minutes. But, my aunt – whom I take after, was not fine.  She was a brilliant woman, scholar and world traveller. She forgot who we were. She lost her way on familiar streets. She eventually failed to remember how to swallow the very food in her mouth. It was the ultimate irony. Two sisters, the one who used her mind lost it and the other . . .  stayed relatively intact.  
(See “Do Different”.)

I suffer from chronic migraines and recently they've been getting more frequent, especially the ones with visual auras. It's mostly likely due to hormonal fluctuations. Having the auras puts me at increased chance for stroke. The Imitrex I take has its own host of side effects not to mention the over-riding feeling that my brain just isn't functioning well. (It's not.) People ask me questions and I just stare stupidly at them, trying to process what they are asking.  Trying to come up with an appropriate answer proves difficult.   I try to go without the meds, but the pain is just as mind numbing. My snappy comebacks no longer snap.

My refinishing work is probably not helping me either. Chemical strippers, stains, and varnishes all have a vaporous effect on my health that can't be ignored. I inhale all sorts of materials when I sand. Yes, I sometimes wear a respirator to reduce my risks – but I often don't. I love the smells – but they give me headaches. It might even be killing me. Lead paint? Is it making me stupid? Asbestos – lung cancer? Fiberglass? Paint thinner?  What am I doing to me?

Before you inundate me with pleas to see a doctor – I do. I'm about to get new glasses to cut down on eye strain. I see my GP and OB/gyn every year and have every damn test they recommend. I even ask for a lead-level test every other year and that's always been fine. My blood and urine couldn't be better. My mitral and tricuspid heart valves leak a bit – but not enough to be concerned about. All in all, I'm in great shape. I exercise regularly, drink in moderation and sleep well. So why am I worried?

Here's the thing: If I lose my mind – to dementia – where will it go? Where will I go? Aware of the changes taking place, my aunt elected to move to a senior living community, but things quickly deteriorated. On a group shopping trip to downtown San Francisco, she disappeared, only to be located at the opera house trying to attend the ballet, where she once had season tickets. While it may have been frustrating for her caregivers, it is not surprising that she drifted down familiar paths and habits. She soon had to be moved to a more secure care facility.  Libraries and ballets were lost to her.  No more long walks in the Berkeley hills.  For her own safety, life had to be limited.

If I lost my mind, what things I loved best would be lost to me? Playing the flute: would I still be able to read music? I'll just make it up.  Improvisation will take on new importance.   Power tools would definitely be off limits.   Reading books:  would I just stare at the pages uncomprehending? Gardening? I can see me now, cutting off flowerheads like Morticia Adams and proudly presenting the denuded stems to my family.  They would be horrified and I would laugh maniacally.  Maybe I'd even wear red hats and purple dresses.  Bat-shit crazy.  That would be me.  Let's have fun with it.

I last saw my Aunt several months before her death in 2006.  I had no idea it would be so soon.  She was thin, but seemed healthy.  I could tell she didn't know us, but was very pleased to have visitors.  She was given some small bath soaps and she so enjoyed smelling the packages but puzzled over unwrapping them.  Despite the obvious deterioration, my aunt never lost her innate graciousness. Her delight in simple pleasures was still there, perhaps expressed in a more childlike way, but never-the-less, she seemed happy. I hope I will be too.