Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The "New Fear"

How is one to interpret the ‘new fear’ that parents have that their children won’t like them? I say ‘new fear’ because I’ve never heard of such a thing until recently. But now I see evidence of it coming from so many places. I see evidence of the ‘new fear’ on “Dr. Phil”, when he says to parents dealing with a difficult child, “Did you ever trying saying ‘No’?” And the parents say, “Well no, because my child may not like me anymore.”

The loss of a child’s affection is the ‘new fear’ and it is spreading like a plague. You know it is because I’m sure you’ve seen it on “Dr Phil”, “Supernanny”, in child-rearing magazines and other various places including young parents in your own neighborhood.

And so, I begin to wonder what spawned this ‘new fear’. If parenting is akin to the workplace, here are some basic truths that might help us understand. In the workplace, if you don’t have a job description, you are dispensable. And if you go on leave, and no temp is needed to cover for you, you are dispensable. And with profits declining, if you are part of a pool of workers doing duplicate work, that’s not a good place to be either. But on the other hand, if you are highly skilled in critical and specialized tasks, your unique value will make the boss very reluctant to replace you with another.

And so, now I wonder, could there be something in the workplace analogy that comes to bear on the ‘new fear’ of rejection that parents have? Maybe here there is something that can explain parents living in such fear and making such concerted efforts to retain their children’s affection through soft discipline, rewards, bribery, and proffered amusements.

You see once-upon-a-time, children were reared in homes where the job descriptions of a father and mother were uniquely different – without overlap. Fathers could not provide mother comforts and mothers could not provide father comforts. And children knew that. So it mattered not to them if one was more patient and the other a harsher disciplinarian. Both parents, because of the unique aspect of what they provided, were equally valued by their children and as parents there was never a concern that the children would love one less and the other more.

The ‘new fear’ was absolutely unheard of. But all that has changed. Now parent job-descriptions overlap. Men have moved into the kitchen and routed out the vacuum. And although the children probably give this little contemplation, the parents are contemplating it. And from that contemplation springs parent insecurities that stem from knowing that if one or the other is absent, the children will continue to have normalcy in their daily work, play, and other routines. Whether the children will miss that parent, and how much they will miss that parent, is an intangible thing to assess. What is apparent is that day-to-day activities and routines of the children will not suffer in a drastic way. And from hence comes the ‘new fear’.

And so now we have parents with job-insecurity competing like children against each other for the approval and affection of their offspring. Butting their heads together over basic things like discipline, allowances, personal hygiene, chores, plus dozens of other ridiculous things that aren’t even worthy of discussion. And with overlapping job descriptions, no matter what situation occurs, neither can be held responsible, cause each can blame the other.

And so as insecurity builds, the competition increases in direct relationship to that insecurity. Soon it is a household with two parents secretly and separately scheming at how to make themselves more appealing to their children than the other parent. Secretly and separately scheming how to excel in a marketplace that is all about profiting from children’s affection rather than from wisdom and leadership.

And so, with overlapping job descriptions, internal rifts develop as both parents become exhausted in their efforts to compete, and soon, rather than because of adultery, the competition has them headed toward divorce court – maybe in some sick way to discover which of them their children love more!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Easy Solutions

I like to think we make life far too complex. I like to think there is a simple solution for everything. And so, in recent days and weeks with the ongoing saga on the news of Brittany and Anna Nicole, I became embedded in thoughts about intervention in the lives of other young people who may end up losing their way like these two. And to myself I thought, “There just has to be a simple thing that has escaped us all that can prevent these sordid things from happening.”

Maybe it all boils down to simply encouraging young people to ‘love themselves’. That is, once the definition is fully clarified. I say that because I misinterpreted that bit of advice for more than a decade. I thought it meant having support for all my personal endeavors, having the latest fashionable clothes, a professional do, a fitness membership, and time to luxuriate in a foaming bath with perfumed candles. But I found that interpretation did not fit with my obligations as a wife, a mother, and the nurturing needs of those around me. My first faltering steps in living up to this mandate brought only conflict with those dearest to me.

And so, upon contemplating what was happening, I came to the realization that marriage is about frequent self-sacrifice and raising children is about daily self-sacrifice. And when I let myself ‘fall off the wagon’ things radically improved. I began to understand about loving myself when I started facing each day with the question, “What can I personally do to make things better?”

It worked so well not only for me, but for my boss at work, my Hub, neighbors, close friends, and my children that I became convinced that this must be the proper interpretation of the new approach-to-life policy about loving ones-self. It certainly worked like magic once I got rutted in the grove.

So now, moving on, what can we do with young people careening down the same disastrous road that so many of the celebs find themselves on? “It’s simple. So simple,” I thought. In adolescence we need to give them a clearer understanding of what it means to ‘love themselves’. That this does not refer to the latest most fashionable goods but rather to being the best kind of person they can be today and a better person than that tomorrow.

For instance, – Teen waking up today and thinking about last night’s party. And thinking, ‘Eww – skull cramp – guess I drank too much last night. I won’t be doing that again. And today I feel like such a fool for dancing on the table. I’ll not do that again either.

And so with this kind of thinking upheld, here are two steps made toward young person become a better and more responsible person. How simple is that?

I really thought I was on a roll at this point and more than a little anxious to share my new-found method of gradual healing of the lost with ED (Eldest Daughter).

In two seconds flat, ED shut down that grandiose theory. “You’re too easy forgetting the competitive spirit of young people trapped in a culture of semi-developed brains where only peer approval counts”, she said. “And you’re also forgetting that young people do not only dress the same, they think the same. Sure Teen will wake up the next day and reflect on yesterday’s frolic. Only you’re dreaming if you think it will be with regret. This is what she will think…”

“Oh, I had such a grand time last night. Drank more than anyone and didn’t even puke. I was definitely the sexiest girl there. My skirt was the shortest. And I’m so glad I was bold enough to dance on the table. That showed my sexy bod off to the fullest extent.”

Well, that sure shot that theory full of holes. Oh well. Back to routing out another problem in today’s world, that I can fix with a really, really simple solution.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Little Shadow

It was a wonderful day of discovery, the day I discovered this poem as a child. (I’m reciting it from memory, so I hope the words are correct aside from my choice to substitute “she” for “he”.

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me
And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see
[She] is very, very, like me, from my toes up to my head
And I see [her] jump before me when I jump into my bed.”

- Robert Louis Stevenson.

I always liked this poem because it celebrates the intangible part of a child. So comforting to think that my shadow could even be endowed with such importance by stressing it’s unimportance and giving it properties so appealing to a child’s sense of fun.

(Now this is where you need to back out of here and go elsewhere cause the rest of this is just a miserable whine).


Still reading? Oh well, that's your choice.

So now what I want to tell you about is yesterday’s shopping trip.

When I got to town I went to a shop, selected my purchases, and took them to the counter. There were two clerks at two separate tills. Clerk I had a customer; Clerk II had none. Clerk II’s till light was on, but she was busy as could be. She was busy fluffing papers. So I lined up behind the customer at Clerk I. But the transaction would not complete, so after several patient moments of waiting, I moved my stuff to the other till. And there I waited and waited.

Now you know when you watch someone shuffling papers whether they are counting, doing math, recording, even alphabetizing. And when this is the case, that person deserves the patience and respect to complete that task. But Clerk II was doing none of these. She was, as I said, fluffing papers and frequently looking out the window. Eventually she looked up. “Oh,” she said, “could you go to the other till?”

I glanced at her till light and then obediently lined up once again behind the customer at the other till. Clerk I was still fighting with the transaction. She finally managed to cancel her second attempt and with the third, ding-ding, another error message. So I waited and waited while Clerk I continued to fight with her till and Clerk II continued to look out the window and fluff paper.

Finally I moved back to Clerk II and put my purchases down on her counter. “I can’t wait any longer,” I said, and turned to leave. Clerk II responded amazingly fast. “Oh no, oh no, don’t do that. I’ll get that stuff for you right now.”

But then, instead of ringing up my few items, Clerk II disappeared behind the counter and began re-arranging boxes. “I’ll be right with you,” she said, while popping her head up from behind the shelf.

I waited and waited. And after ten minutes or more, with Clerk II still behind the counter re-arranging boxes, I finally said, “I am leaving,” as I turned and headed for the door. That’s when she dashed out from behind her counter and hurried after me yelling, “Lady, come back, come back. Please come back.”

As the door was closing behind me, I turned to her and said, “No point, my dear. You are much too busy today.” And so I left.

Leaving didn’t make me happy. Staying and waiting longer would not have made me happy. Now if clerks are busy with customer line-ups I don’t mind waiting as long as it takes. But this was not the case.

And then I got that ‘chip on the shoulder’ mentality that so many minorities have. You know, thinking that because you are ‘different’ from the rest of the line-up that the push you just got was not accidental or coincidental, it was bloody on purpose. And the reason you were overcharged was not because of an honest error but because, as a native, people assume you don’t have the intellect to notice. These are not the best examples but I think they adequately reveal what I mean.

So now I’m thinking, that I have differences from the mainstream that are starting to show. Because of my gray hair, slow amble, and other’s assumption that I am retired and have all the time in the world to make my purchases, service need not be a priority. And so in that moment, a chip settled down on my shoulder and I became convinced that elder-bias was involved. As the situation unfolded Clerk II’s behavior was far too deliberate to believe that this was the standard of service to all customers.

So now I’m heading home without vacuum bags and a couple of other things I needed and again I’m reflecting on my status in society and thinking about a poem that was the sweetest, loveliest thing I had ever read, when I was a child. But now it suddenly seems all wrong. It really needs some editing to reflect today’s realities. And so this is my new recital.

My shadow has a ‘being’ that goes into town with it
It drags along its ‘being’ that is slow and hardly fit
There is no need to hustle with a shadow in your day
Shadowed-beings are no matter. They just get in the way.

Today was not exactly a celebration of my physical shadow or the seemingly intangible being that accompanies it.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Battling Wits

I laugh. Hub is always battling wits with the little twins from next door that love to come to walk the dogs with us. After our walks they usually stop in for a visit and some juice. Yesterday I had fresh cookies so they had cookies as well.

Now Girl-twin doesn’t eat raisins, never has. So, although she asked if the cookies had raisins in, Hub didn’t think they did, so he said “No, just chocolate chips.”

So twin-girl took two cookies and immediately said “Ewww. These cookies have raisins in them."

Of course she badgered Hub for telling her there were no raisins in those cookies. But in the end she ate them while slowly and cautiously extracting every raisin. Two cookies and out of those two cookies, an unbelievable 15 raisins. Now there she sat across from Hub with a messy pile of cookie crumbs and 15 raisins on the table.

And that’s when the sparring of wits began. “I’ll give you two dollars if you eat those raisins,” Hub said. Of course, Girl-twin said eating 15 raisins was certainly worth more than two dollars. So then some serious negotiating began. They went from one dollar up to ten dollars and then back again. Finally girl-twin upped the ante by agreeing to eat the 15 raisins in front of her plus another cookie for an agreed on fee of three dollars.

And so then the debate began that in this ‘survival test’ of raisin eating whether she should eat them one at a time, two at time, or three at a time. Hub said it was her choice so she decided to eat them two at a time.

She asked if she could be permitted to swallow without chewing and Hub said she must chew them. So she put two raisins in her mouth, made an awful face, and chewed them gingerly and swallowed them. Hub said that wouldn’t do. That she must smile and look like she really enjoyed them and say “Yum, Yum.” So she grimaced a smile and said “Yum, Yum.”

Next two raisins, here comes that face again. “Wait, wait, wait,” Hub yells, “get on your pleasant face. Yum, Yum, Yum.” And again with more too-doo than anyone could imagine, with much grimacing and painful pulling of her face from sad to glad and mutters of “yum, yum,” twin girl continued.

It was a long process with much banter about her doing it the proper way and in the meantime I laughed and laughed. Half-way through twin-girl begged for a drink to wash down the nasty taste, and of course Hub got her one while shaking his finger at her yet again because of the flash of I’m-going-to-be-sick look on her face.

Occasionally she turned her back to Hub and heaved her shoulders as if silently retching and of course he responded by saying, “Oh, we’ll certainly have none of that or the deal is off.”

Eventually through much process, delay, and resetting of her countenance, interspersed with a less-than-convincing "Yum-yum", the raisins and the extra cookie were all down the hatch and Hub handed her the money. She told him it was the hardest bit of cash she ever worked for.

And then, as she pocketed her money, her face lit up like morning sunshine, and she laughed and laughed. “Guess what, Mr. Smith, I’ve always eaten raisins. I’ve always loved raisins. I can eat a whole bag of raisins without even blinking!”

I knew that wasn’t true, that she really does hate raisins. But I didn’t say a word. Hub, on the other hand, believed her. Felt ‘taken’.

I laughed some more. Not sure who won this round.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lord, Preserve Me From Repetition

As I child, I disliked repetitiveness, and I still do. I am unable to mentally relate to individuals that can nestle for a lifetime in strict unchanging codes of conduct and belief. Who can watch the same movie ten times, or talk the same talk and walk the same walk. Systemic paths so deeply rutted in the brain that they can’t be ruffled in a breeze or soaked by a shower. (I can’t help but reflect on a few war-mongering VIPS as I type this).

But I am guilty in some respects as well. Every morning when my feet hit the floor, I go through my repetitive physical routines of morning grooming and coffee drinking. But, at the same time, from the first slant of dawn I am on the hunt for a new discovery.

And though I find physical ease wrapped in this old housecoat, and these same old slippers, sipping coffee and poised in front of this same old laptop, mentally, I need change. The old, worn, and familiar is as distressing as being incarcerated.

So I wake up each day searching for a new thought, a new outlook, a new understanding, a new conviction…to override the ‘old thought’ that was pertinent to yesterday. And, for me, it is the best kind of day if I route out something new in your mind, or mine, to admire, evaluate, ponder, maybe even abhor.

This is my kind of radical sport -- the thrill of free-fall after another fresh mind-expanding discovery.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oh, Sweet Valentines!

That which to adults appears as nothing more than a superficial act, often holds much deeper meaning for children.

Do you remember when manufacturers of Valentines made books for children with cards to cut out and envelopes to cut and glue as well? Even in our one-horse town, my mother could always find me a Valentine Card Craft book for Valentine’s Day.

And so for a week or more before Valentine’s Day, I’d be busy as a little bee, cutting out my Valentines. Cutting out the little arrow that went through a slit in the Cupid-angel’s heart and the tiny hearts that needed to be pressed into a slit in his basket. Every Valentine absolutely unique and every Valentine a work of art. Then there were the envelopes that also needed to be cut and glued. It was such fun. It was a grand occupation.

But it was more than that. It was a reflective occupation that magnetically inscribed things into my inner being. While I crafted with scissors and glue delightful little cards, a similar crafting was taking place in my soul. Empathy, tolerance, understanding, and a new appreciation for others was being cut and pasted into my childhood convictions through the context of the paper icons that I was so patiently cutting from each page.

And Valentine’s Day. How exciting. Recognizing the wonder of giving. Thrilled by the kindness of getting. And when he, who my heart painfully longed for as a ‘boyfriend’, but yet so disappointingly never gave me notice, sent me that cut-out bouquet of roses stuck and glued so carefully in that Valentine heart with his own hand, that was as good as it gets.

Valentine’s Day was the special Day that our classmates bonded together as an affectionate group. Sure there were kids in the class that I sneered at as kids are wont to do – but they got Valentines from me and I got Valentines from them, and even that small act corrected rifts in our subconscious. The exchange of Valentines was like a peace offering between all parties, even the school bully, or the misfit. An offering with meaning that I guess I never fully realized until today even though some cards were only sent because the number of Valentines at my disposal exceeded the number of classmates I had.

But than some a--, who will never be my Valentine, started manufacturing books with die-cast pre-cut Valentines. And no envelopes. No scissors needed, just press out the valentines. This effort, without fail, ripped the best cards. And the die-cuts were so sloppy most of them were farther outside the line, than I have ever colored. And so, when pressed out, the Valentine was too much of a disgrace to even give to someone I didn’t care about. Even receiving these Valentines from others meant so little. There was no ambiance of affection in the preparation of these Valentines. Anyone who had them was too buried in the frustration of sloppy cuts and torn edges to think affectionately about anybody.

And then some other a--, who will never be my Valentine, got the crazy notion to package valentines, custom made, ready to go, most of them duplicates of another, in plastic bags. What fun is it to have no hand in the Valentine-assembling process? To have no need for scissors, glue, staples, or tape? To displace the sweet basic meaning and intent of Valentines to a mindless dispensation of a pack of shuffled cards? Even the puns and clever witticisms of the cards, juvenile as they were, had sadly weakened and waned.

So why didn’t I send you a Valentine this year? Because, my heart wasn’t in it? Someone stole my heart years ago when they made ready-made ready-to-send Valentines. At least I have my glue and staples and tape at-the-ready to try and repair some of the damage.

P.S. Amazingly the Grandchildren did get Valentine books from which to assemble Valentines. Yes, they were pre-cut as sloppily as ever. But still, the Grandchildren couldn’t have been more thrilled. Daughter told me, she was thrilled as well to find these books though the search for them was a truly difficult quest.

I WAS NOT so thrilled. Why? She didn’t buy me one!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When Old Friends Meet

Normally, it is a treat to be an observer when old friends meet. That is generally the case, but I saw two old friends who seldom rendezvous meet and greet this morning when I got up and it did nothing for me but send cold chills down my spine.

Forty below Fahrenheit and minus forty degrees Celsius met at the exact same point on the thermometer this morning. And there they were kissing and embracing, and for me, watching it happen was worse than a crime.


Monday, February 12, 2007


The older I get, the more resourceful I become. Resourceful enough that people, who hardly even know me say to Hub, “Man, your wife is an easy-keeper.” And when those comments come back to me I wear them like a badge of honor.

But maybe, just maybe, resourcefulness is as slippery a slope as paranoia, or depression, or some of those other ills of the mind that can so soon become chronic and difficult to cure. I don’t know. Let me tell you about today, and then you be the judge.

Today, I’m baking muffins. It’s not that I want to bake muffins today but I can’t be wasting food, you know, and I have one banana left in the fruit bowl that is going to expire within the next seven minutes. Sure, I could freeze it, but frozen bananas should be used within 6-8 weeks, not four years later. So I will use it now.

But there is no such thing as a recipe for 12 muffins made with one lonely banana. The best I can do is a recipe that calls for one cup. And I know at least two bananas are needed to make one cup. But then, while pivoting my head around in the fridge, I notice a bowl of mashed potatoes left over from last night. That’s when the thought came to me that I could simply expand the mashed banana with mashed potatoes (that thankfully were not seasoned with dill, garlic, rosemary, thyme, or cajun)? So mixed together, we now have one cup of ‘generic’ mashed banana.

Now I have muffin papers but I am disinclined to use the bloody things. I buy parchment paper that is non-stick to bake cookies on, so why can’t affordable muffin papers be non-stick? Don’t manufacturers know how much I resent eating the top half of a muffin with all decorum and then in the end being forced to awkwardly apply a disc of pink or yellow accordion paper to my face so I can eat the bottom half?

That’s why muffin papers don’t appeal to me. And so I grudgingly greased the muffin tins, (which means washing them later will be such a pain) and flung the muffin papers back in the drawer. Then I popped my pan into the oven I just cleaned last Wednesday but isn’t it already smoking because of errant raisins that leaped off yesterday’s raisin bread? Oh well, by now they’re probably close enough to charcoal that it doesn’t matter.

But aren’t we just always thinking? Burnt raisins? I have a purpose for them. I’ve wanted to show the grandchildren how to make a colorful miniature garden of stalagmites but I needed coal or charcoal. Now where is one going to find coal in this day and age? As kids we used to seed miniature rock gardens in rose bowls and grow beautiful stalagmites in lovely rainbow colors. I had forgotten how we did that but I found a recipe recently in a really old cookbook – first coal or cinderblock in the bottom of the bowl, covered with a mix of salt, water, ammonia, food coloring, and bluing.

So now, coal, charcoal, burnt raisins? Is it all one and the same? I’m half convinced it is. So I’ll use those raisins as a charcoal substitute.

And so now, the potato-banana muffins are baked and coffee is poured. I am so amazed. You would never believe how good they are.
And, in case you’re interested, this is the garden that I grew with scorched raisins. Cute, but obviously a different recipe from the gardens we grew when I was a child. Still the grandkids might think it is pretty awesome.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Meet D.O.G.

I want you to meet D.O.G.

I am so excited today about showing you this picture that I can hardly take the time to write this. The big dog in this picture is Dough-Gee. His Christian name is “D.O.G” but it is pronounced with a slur, Dee-oh-Gee, that ends up sounding like ‘Dough-Gee.’ Dog’s mother was a basset and I think his father was a Rottweiler. Despite his overly long body and stocky crocked legs, Dog is so special because he has a sweet and mild nature that still continually astounds us.

Hub and I were shocked when Dog brought this little fellow in through the dog door early one morning. We could not imagine that anyone abandoned him but that must have been the case because after advertising and calling others in the neighborhood in order to find his owner we were finally forced to give up. But thankfully, through a local animal rescue group, Dog’s little friend was quickly adopted into a loving home. I have heard reports since then and his new owners love him to death, the way Hub and I love our Dough-Gee Dog.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Spontaneous Acts

When I was in the Romantic stage of my life, that would be my youth, a hug could fix just about anything. And still it’s a good fix when everything is beyond human control. But having reached the reflective stage of my life, where romance is no longer the be-all and end-all, sometimes a hug is not the fix I need. Not if there are more practical options.

Now over the many years Hub and I have been together we have had numerous philosophical discussions. And what consistently comes to the fore is Hub’s philosophy that if a man has to be told to send flowers, to date his wife, or take her to dinner – if this is a taught and learned protocol rather than a spontaneous desire, he might as well not bother. And yes, I agree this is true.

But this week we got right down to the application of this theory and there seemed to be a problem with it. With my recent eye surgery, I’ve had my days. Days when I felt whimpy, days I felt a little down, and days when I needed spontaneous acts of reassurance from Hub.

But what I’ve come to realize, upon reaching this reflective stage of life, is that men are lacking a vital piece of thought-processing, that women have. The uncanny ability of intuitive empathy and understanding of other’s needs. It’s the thing that tells us the other half (or the kids) are not feeling up to snuff even if they don’t complain. Women know. It’s the thing that makes us seize control of the moment.

Doesn’t this all sound too familiar? “You’re looked a bit peaked this morning. I think you better stay home today. Does your head hurt? Are you in pain? What did you eat yesterday? Better let me take your temperature. Here’s a cool cloth for your forehead and let me put this warm pack on your back. You aren’t hungry? Well, you should eat something. If this doesn’t appeal to you I’ll make some broth? When did you last have a bowel movement? Do you want your pillow fluffed? Should I turn off the TV?”

So now the other day I was feeling down. Eye just a bit too uncomfortable for me to have confidence I was doing okay. And of course, what furthered my distress, was thinking how quickly doldrums can root and blossom into full-blown depression. What I needed was ‘spontaneous’ emotional support from Hub.

But, as I’ve already stated, men lack that thing so ever present in women’s psyche. They never notice if the wife is pale, or hollow-cheeked. If the eyes are worried, the face sad. How could they when they even fail to notice she cut her hair or colored it? So since Hub lacks feminine intuition, there is no point in me remaining silent. I might as well stop pulling a sad face and tell him.

So, “Hub,” I say, “Today my eye is uncomfortable. I’m feeling anxious, sad, and depressed.”

That was clear enough, don’t you think? Shouldn’t need to say more.

“Chin up,” Hub replies. “The Doctor said you need six weeks to heal so you’ll just have to wait it out.”

Now Hub already knows one thing I want. I want the color and contrast on the television minimized so that watching it will be no different than looking across the room at the bookshelf. I want my computer set the same way. But if it is going to happen, it isn’t going to happen until he finishes tweaking up the computer on the diningroom table and after he replaces a switch and a broken antenna on a two-way radio. So I told him my woes, but nothing happened. No one wiped my forehead, gave me a warm pack, or made me a cup of tea. No one adjusted the TV or suggested I relax in the big chair. When Dough-Gee dog rattled his empty waterdish and booted it down the hall, no one said, “Roberta, don’t move. I’ll get that.”

So I didn’t want to say it, the thing that can’t be learned or lectured. Yet, I needed to do something to clue this man in. So I tried an oblique approach that I hoped would not irreparably damage the wholesomeness of heartfelt spontaneity.

“Hub,” I said. “You know how often you’ve said that if the experts tell you to give the wife flowers, the gesture becomes meaningless. Well, we have that same situation here and I have no idea what to do about it. Except to tell you, you have a few dead brain cells and I can’t reactivate them without the meaning of all that is connected to spontaneous acts of kindness being destroyed.”

Hub looked at me blankly and went back to watching ‘Lone Star’ and tweaking up the computer on the diningroom table. I sat in the kitchen feeling woefully sorry for myself. Faced with a difficult quandary that obviously had no easy solution.

Later, much later, I saw Hub adjusting the contrast and brightness on the TV. Later, much later, he appeared by the big chair with a freshly-made sandwich for me. And tea. They were small steps, but admittedly they are steps in the right direction.

And amidst all this Hub would not have hesitated to give me a hug. Yes hugs are okay, they’re nice, but when you’re past the romantic stage of life, might as well reserve hugs, as I said earlier, for situations outside of human control. In the reflective stage of life, when I’m slipping into the doldrums, hugs don’t have the same impact they once did. This is not a situation beyond human control. What I need is the magic of ONE day, so seldom requested, so seldom expected, of emotional support through a servile attitude and a fresh cup of tea and a fluffed pillow.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The Surgery

We sat lined up in little chairs in the waiting room. We chatted with dim, inattentive eyes, about things beyond our control. About weather, temperatures, roads, and travel time. I didn’t want to talk but I wanted to eavesdrop. I wanted to find something in one of those conversations to lower my alarm about the here and now but there was nothing. Discussions about eye surgery – right off the agenda. It was as if we were all pretending we were waiting for a call to dinner rather than a call to surgery.

Then one by one we pealed off those chairs and moved into another room. The nurse looked at my name and looked at me and said, “Roberta?”.

“Yes, I said. We spoke on the phone.” And no, we didn’t embrace and mingle tears (see previous bog), but she gave me a wry little smile and flourished one hand under each eye than shook it out over the floor. I grinned and mimed the same.

So now here we sat in groups of five while another nurse dropped drops in our eyes. A stinging drop followed by a soothing drop. Over and over again. Now you know how reluctant even a dim sighted eye is to having anything dumped in it. And the eye is even more reluctant when the thing is expected. So with a running commentary that this ‘may sting abit’ and ‘this will feel okay’ she re-cycled drops into the corners of our eyes. We, with our dim little pigeon eyes, that can’t even read the first ‘E’ on an eye chart, saw them coming, and of course we blinked. And when she tried again we blinked. With tissues, we mopped up hoards of solution spilling down our cheeks, as we consistently blinked in smooth synchronization with each drop that hit.

And when she said with impatience, “you must hold your eye open”, of course we agreed. But the mechanism of unconsciously controlled body movements disagreed so always18 trilla-seconds after her demanding we keep our eye open, without willing it, we breathed and blinked which of course was just as the emulsion dropped. None were talking, we were all too busy willing ourselves not to blink, and wondering if we had any of the critical solution in the eye. I only knew for a certainty I had some of the stinging variety.

With our upper bodies dressed in hospital nightgowns, tied but still gaping at the back, we were each given a sheet to wear as a granny shawl to keep our teeth from chattering. And eventually each of us were transferred from our chairs with our sheet shawls to wheel chairs and transferred to the operating room. An intravenous was set up in my right hand by another individual after three painful failed attempts in my left by the first individual. And then I was left on a stretcher in a hallway. My God, what I wouldn’t have given for a warm quilt? I keep asking for one, they said they’d get me one, but no one ever did.

Discomfort in such circumstances is the not knowing what is going to happen and how it is going to happen. But when it came to parking the guerney I was on in the hallway, that was familiar within the context of my mind. Gurneys are somewhat like taxis on a slow day, are they not? Only taxis wait and wait at a sidewalk entry, and gurneys wait and wait anywhere in a hospital where there is room - hallways, alcoves, etc. So when placed on a gurney and parked in a hallway, I felt the comfort of familiarity with that event.

Across the hallway, but not directly in line with me, was a body under a shawl-sheet identical to mine, with navy dress socks sticking out from under the sheet. I recognized the socks and realized it was the patient that had gone into surgery two patients ahead of me. His feet were parallel with my waist, he was parked a little farther down the hallway, so I had to raise my shoulders and tip my head backward to see the rest of him. But the sheet was bunched around his head making that part of him invisible. So I was left to examine his feet and lower torso.

The feet were positioned like those of the pope when he was packed around during his funeral procession. The body was very still, the face hidden from me, but I watched the feet and lower body very carefully. No twitch, no movement, nothing. I wondered if he had an adverse reaction to something. A sedative or freezing stuff. Maybe he wasn’t moving for a very good reason. If that was the case, maybe I could borrow his sheet. I was becoming so rapidly convinced that he was dead. After all, doesn’t it make sense that with our present health care situation that takes a critical patient 17 hours to get through the convolutions of the administrative process in Emergency, it might take as long, or even longer, to get a dead body transferred from a hallway to a morgue. Less the hurry really. Less the emergency at that point. No one to call up their Member of Parliament to complain or lobby for change. The deceased are the silent minority – and when they succumb on gurneys in hallways they are statistics of a kind that in their dumb silence are, it seems to me, not even counted. We’ve all seen the stat counts – numbers of deaths from homicides, vehicular accidents, drownings, heart disease, cancer, but I’ve still yet to see on the list – death from “unattended gurney in the hallway”. There must be enough to warrant adding these to the list.

Now moving on to another thought, I know that it is true that if you are driving on a slippery road, and you go into a skid, you need to look where you want to go rather than where you are going. Because if you look at the ditch, you will go in the ditch. So I realized if I seriously didn’t want to swipe his blanket, I had to ditch such thinking by turning my head. It was the only way to avoid scuttling across the way to snatch his blanket. Taking it would be so unkind, regardless of what his situation might be. So I turned my head away, and wrapped my sheet tighter around me. I sniffed the air but I could not smell death.

Just then my gurney was wheeled into surgery and my head put into a snug cradle. Something was hooked up to the intravenous and away we go. Finally warm. Finally, oh so comfortable. Not one negative or anxious thought. Loving myself, the world, even the incompetent that couldn’t plant an intravenous in my arm. Still able to hear conversation and able to respond. Thinking what a lovely place to be. Doom and gloom eradicated. Thinking positive thoughts about the Iraq war, politicians, even global warming and the president of the U.S. Loving what I love, and loving what I hate. Wanting desperately to write blogs from that wondrous place. Thinking about them, coining them. Knowing that readers of those blogs would weep tears of boundless delight.

I had no idea what was being rotated through my veins. Whether it was morphine, Novocain, Valium, banana peel with nutmeg, or poppy seed elixir. How would I know? I’ve never tried a street drug, not even marijuana. Or does an occasional poppy-seed bun count? And I’ve never taken pharmaceutical drugs beyond an extra-strength aspirin. But I certainly know now how people get hooked on drugs. If this is what drugs do, life just doesn’t get any better.

So in summary these are the events of today that impacted most on me.
1. Them asking me, of all people…”What eye are we doing?”
Response: It’s my right from behind the eye where I am positioned. It’s the left from where you are standing but if you turn your back to me it will be on the right. (pointing to eye). It’s this one….I think… (all the while thinking ‘why are they, the experts in this business, asking me? No one gave me a print-out of what they found in the assessment of my vision. Even verbal discussion was as limited as a dot-dash telegraph transmission.’
2. Most painful part of the day – all those intravenous attempts with that gigantic needle.
3. Most dubious part of my day – time spent in the hallway on a gurney gazing at a pair of navy blue socks.
4. Most orgasmic part of my day – the feeling that came over me when I entered that drowsy, comfy, positive-minded, cocoon of time and space just before surgery.

So now, it’s healing time and I’ll just have to wait and see how that goes.

As a final thought, I must tell you that only a couple weeks before surgery I happened to notice in a magazine a method for putting drops in one’s eyes. You pinch the bottom eye pouch between a thumb and first finger and pull it out into a pocket. Then drop the eye drops in that pocket. Couldn’t be happier I discovered that little trick. Although I couldn’t put drops in my eyes for an entire lifetime, now I can do it slick as you please. Which is good cause I have to put drops in my eye every time I turn around. I should have told that frustrated nurse, but experts seldom want advice and oft times don’t take kindly to it. So I guess today she’s probably back flooding faces with eye drops while patients wonder if they have sufficient of the stuff in their eyes to safely prepare them for eye surgery.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

The Inevitable

I can afford an overly-long rant today because I may not be posting again for a good while. Cause tomorrow is my eye surgery so I’m forced to let it creep back into my thoughts. If you read my last blog you can readily see the stress of the effort of controlled ‘not-thinking-about-it’ has been making it impossible for me to intelligently string rational thoughts together.

But this morning, I finally allowed myself to contemplate what is so soon about to happen. At 8:30 when I woke up I felt good. Rested. Sun streaming in the window. Still lying in bed I covered my good eye and looked across the room. I could see. And then I thought, ‘Why am I doing this scary thing, when I can see? Maybe not so good, maybe not well enough to drive, but not so bad either.’

Then I began wondering. Is cataract surgery elective surgery? And isn’t elective surgery something that the patient elects to have? Something offered as a possible alternative, but not necessarily accepted? Is that what it is? A mere offering? Then why was I told, point blank, by two separate specialists, that I couldn’t have glasses? Why did they say, ‘You HAVE to have surgery.’

I’ve never involved myself in all those other elective offerings, so why this one? No spinal whatever it’s called for childbirth, no hormones for hot flashes, no drugs for the prevention of osteoporosis. My mother did perfectly well with none of it and so can I, or should I say, so did I – up until now.

But this morning, that’s a whole different matter. For tomorrow I want hormone therapy pills to chase away the blues, I want a spinal thing to numb my senses, and I want the bone thing so I can kick and flail my arms wildly enough to retain control over the whole process.

When I went for a physical three weeks ago, my doctor didn’t check anything. He went through one quick motion with his stethoscope of listening to my breathing. He did not check my heart-rate, my blood pressure, my throat, ears, or blood. Sure I look healthy, feel healthy, can walk and sit upright in a chair, but Gees, doesn’t he understand what comforts come with attention to details? How mind settling it can be for me when he shows an interest?

I want health care the way it used to be. It would be so nice to think the eye surgeon has a hospital room reserved for me in case I need it, with little terry slippers laid out, a soft quilt folded back that invites one to crawl into the bed. Crisp white linens, and a pair of cozy pastel pajamas that you tie at the waist. And nurses in crisp white little hats and rustling uniforms hovering over me like angels. Bringing me a cup of weak tea and telling me the discomfort will soon pass as they stroke my arms and hair. Nothing is as healing as that kind of rapport. The comfort is the solid knowledge that preparations have been made and no one will be going home until recovery is guaranteed. These are the comforts I want.

But this doesn’t happen anymore and added to that are new hate-crimes that society is insidiously blending into the fabric of our thinking. Hate-crimes that are happening that we see, but prefer to ignore. But the evidence is there. While I was in my G.P.’s office getting a pre-opt check, he asked me if I smoke. And yes, although my breath was mint-fresh, my clothing odor-free, and Hub and I came to town in the ‘town car’ rather than the ‘dog car’ (that would be the car that no one smokes in), I was still honest. “Yes,” I said, “I do smoke”.

I had indicated so on my pre-opt form. And with that honest confession, he suddenly pulled the stethoscope from my chest, ignored the tongue depressor set out on the table, and the blood-pressure monitor hanging on the wall right next to my shoulder and backed away from me like I had the plague. And that’s when he wrote “N/A” as fast as he could down my form next to “Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, Lymph Nodes, Nose, Throat, and Lungs”, then rose quickly and steered me by the elbow out of his office.

A few days later I phoned the hospital to get final pre-opt instructions. I ended up whining to the receptionist in the OR about my General Practitioner’s sudden change from a partnering rapport to rejection. “I know,” she said, “I’ve seen this kind of thing before. I understand because I am a smoker too.” And then she said the kindest most comforting words I could hope to hear in all this bloody melee.

“We are so close to extinct, I can’t help thinking that when I see you we should embrace and let our tears mingle.” Now I’m not being over-dramatic when I say that her words really touched me. My heart, having suffered for so long the pain of the new societal hate crimes that have even invaded doctor’s offices, connected to hers and in those kind words I found sweet bonding.

Now, back to a discussion about my eyes. Doesn’t anyone appreciate what my eyes mean to me? Seeing is a small part of it. Besides sight, my eyes are where I store so many treasures. I store everything in my eyes. My remaining beauty (now that I have crows-feet, frown lines, and withered skin), my love, my care, my empathy, my longings, my romance, my pleasure, my displeasure, my satisfaction, and my reflection.

So can I let a surgeon take out the lens on my right eye that reflects all these emotions and change it to a man-made mask that lacks the natural luster needed to convey my innermost soul? Can I put a generic lens under the delicate mesh of my retina and still be the same person I am now? Will the emotions resident in my soul that come frequently to peer out at others through the windows of my eyes, become shadowed and sealed away from Hub, the grandchildren, my sweet daughters, and their husbands? Will I look at them after this as if through a distortion of emotions that makes it impossible for them to read in my face feelings of appreciation and joy that go well beyond what words can express?

You know, for the most part, as a human race, we are thoughtful and clever. Always seeking, it seems to have understanding take precedence over emotion. So I can’t help thinking that something yet undiscovered by scientists is causing the new hate-crimes against the obese, smokers, couch potatoes and choco-holics? Could it be that the perpetrators have all had eye surgery and through that process now have a ‘mote’ or ‘beam’ in the eye that distorts what they see? And so prior to instalment of an artificial lens, they saw and felt unimpeded acceptance for all of society, included those whom they now see as ‘misfits’. But since surgery, that acceptance has been over-ridden by a changed image. A distorted image that now sees warped reflections through a man-made lens of a world with two distinct races/species not dictated by birth. A race/species of plague-carrying degenerates and a separate race/species of supremes who are Journeymen of self-discipline and self-preservation.

Now I started this post out suggesting that I see well enough to forego surgery. That was my first excuse to cancel. But now I have a better excuse to cancel. To preserve my clear understanding and perception of ‘what I see’. But, unfortunately, it is too late to cancel now. I will have to go with the flow and hopefully when the eye scars are healed I will still see ALL mankind and womankind as one race and one people.

You know it. I am very stressed. I may not be back here for several weeks, at this point I don’t know. And yes, I am scared, I think more so by the unwritten exclusionary clause because I smoke. But I am going to embrace the nurse in O.R. as promised, mingle my tears with hers, and then turn myself bravely over to a surgeon, who I hope, deep in his heart, harbors no bias.

“See???” you all later.