Thursday, July 10, 2014

A day of karmic injury and repair

I am riding my bike along a favorite path, my first ride of the summer on what I think of as the "long route" (as opposed to the "short route"-- yes, a lot of creativity goes into my bike routes and their identification). I know that I am approaching a popular entrance onto the bike path so I should be on the lookout for the occasional clueless rider who isn't paying attention to oncoming traffic as he/she wobbles tentatively on to the path. And indeed, here they come, one, two, three young riders following a 20-something summer-campy-leader/guide-looking type guy. And the kids keep coming until there are about 10 of them strung out all across the path, occupying both lanes of the bike path, as well as the pedestrian portion, leaving me no way around them. And I know, since they are kids, they don't mean to be a-holes about their bike path etiquette, they just aren't familiar with this situation. However, 20-something, summer-campy-leader dude has probably been here before but he is not providing any guidance so I (kindly) call out "scoot, scoot guys! Don't take up the whole path!" Because that is what I would say, as a mom, to my child if she were the one being clueless. It's like a friendly little nudge. But the kids remain oblivious, as is campy-leader dude. I slow way down but still hope to navigate a path around them as they are now slowly making forward progress. Then some speedy kid decides no way Jose does he want to end up at the back of the pack. He will take this most inopportune moment to veer to the left and pedal up to his campy-leader friend. I unleash a wee tiny fraction of my pent-up bitterness and say, "You can't take up the whole path! People are trying to pass you!" And then I add an involuntary gutteral snort of disapproval and mutter "Jeez!" as I clear the bunch of youngsters and pedal off to greater freedom.

In repsonse, campy-leader dude hollers, "You're not the only one on the path, you know! Have a nice day!"

And I can tell, he doesn't really mean it. I don't think that he wants me to have a nice day at all. His insincerity was palpable.

As I shrug it off and get on with my ride, I see in my head the earnest little faces of the children I just verbally abused. I could tell the stragglers at the back were truly concentrating on not getting in my way but they just weren't sure where to go. And I replay my remarks, wincing at the bitchy, condescending tone of voice. I say to myself (defensively), "But they need to be aware of the people around them! If you're a car, you can't just pull out into the middle of an intersection and sit there! You have to watch for traffic!" Campy-leader dude should have planned and executed that whole thing better. Shame on him. Loser.

A mile later I admit to myself that my behavior was lame. I was too bitchy, my reaction was too much, I was venting crabbiness and frustration that was packed too tightly in my head that belongs elsewhere, not unleashed on the biking summer campers. I say to myself, "I'm sorry kids, that was too much. I didn't need to be that cranky. You were doing your best and it's not really your fault and I sincerely apologize. I really do." I recall the myriad times when I have issued this exact same apology to Martha after I explode over some minor infraction. And I repeat my apologies, hoping that if I mentally toss them out into the cosmos it will make up for my poor performance earlier. I am way too crabby. I need to work on that. I rededicate myself to the task of being kind. And lastly, I chuckle quietly as I think, "ha, ha, wouldn't it be funny if I have an accident on this rid?" Payback... Huh. Loser.

Fast forward a few miles to the road along the Mississipi River and the sign that says, plain as day, BIKE PATH CLOSED AHEAD. There has been a lot of flooding around Minnesota this summer and I have heard that a portion of this road has been closed. But I feel like it has been fairly dry of late, perhaps the path isn't really flooded anymore. I'll just ride off the curb and go right through that narrow opening in the road block.

I am not savvy on my bike. It may be that my lack of savviness explains, in part, why I am a little on edge when a big group of riders wanders out in front of me. I cannot steer my bike through the narrow opening and I will have to stop. And then it comes, the moment of exquisite anguish as I realize I can't unclip my feet from my pedals in time to stop and there is no way out. I am going down. It's not really so bad falling over and crashing into the street, but it's not my favorite thing. Still, I feel like it's justified in this instance. The blood running down my leg affirms my suspicion that I needed to repent for my rude display earlier. I think I am almost happy that I just fell over.

Eventually, I realize I should turn around and go back the way I came. I am not surprised when, a few miles later, I see the group of young riders lead by their leader dude and, once again, I am happy. I slow down and call out to them, "I just want to apologize for yelling at you when you got on the path! I'm really sorry!" But snarky leader dude replies, "Ok. Have a nice day!" And then I look right at one of the boys and point at my leg and say, "Look! I fell off my bike as payback!" I think he smiled. A lone girl in the group calls out, "Do you need a band-aid?" I tell her, "No, I'm okay! But thank you!" And that little question just made my day. I feel it is the forgiveness I need.

Once again, I feel certain that the dude did not really mean it when he said "Have a nice day!" But I don't care. I think I am having a nice day anyway.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Homage to sweatpants, my mother & the cold temps

 First, a little Haiku for a chilly day:

Air so cold, skin aches
leaves us trapped inside our homes
life slows, sweatpants rule

Second, a little anecdote:

Several years ago, before I had my daughter and I still lived out east, I was visiting my mom here in Minnesota during the winter months. Sub-zero temperatures were moving through and I was dressed, I thought, appropriately in jeans over long underwear. I felt rather snug and warm, encased in fabric from head to toe. My mom, however, had some issue with my clothing choice. She of the "my way is the only correct way" mindset, is intensely anti-denim in the winter. It's too cold next to your skin, she says. Which is why I chose long underwear to insulate me from the icy interior of my jeans. But that was oddly and inexplicably irrelevant to her.

So she says to me, in her finest irritated, critical and verging on angry voice, "Don't you own any sweatpants?" Because sweatpants, preferably purchased for no more than $9.99/pair, is her go to choice of bottoms on a frigid, winter day.

And I responded, with as much disdain and condescension as I could muster, "Mom, I don't wear sweatpants out in public."

I was perfectly comfortable, god-damnit, why did she have to harass me about my choice of pants? Even if I didn't have the essential base layer under my denim, what was it to her? It's no skin off her ass if I'm cold, right?

And here it is, 12+ years later, and 13 degrees below zero outside and when I finally showered and got dressed at 2 o'clock this afternoon to run to the pet store, what do you suppose I wore? Sweatpants.

Cheers to you, ma, and your cranky, old-lady ways. If she knew what I spent for my fleecie sweatpants, however, she'd most certainly have something (critical) to say about that. There is no pleasing that woman. Be warm, friends, in your jeans, as well as in your hearts.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sometimes I am invisible

Pretty close similarity
Sometimes I am invisible. I'm not exactly sure how or when it happens but it's true, on occasion I can become strangely transparent. I am like a ghost. Although I feel heavy and solid, the people around me don't seem to notice me. There is no acknowledgement of my presence. I watch their faces and their eyes are focused elsewhere and their posture bears no sign of the fact that I am standing just inches away. I can hear my voice speaking, feel the vibration in my head, yet my words pass unnoticed. Sometimes, the people who can't see me even begin talking while I am still speaking and this is what makes me realize I am obviously invisible.

Whenever this happens to me, I walk away confused and a little dejected. I am not sure how I should react. Should I try harder to be seen or should I accept my invisibility? Perhaps it's a sign that I should reel myself in, avert my eyes and hunch my shoulders, still my voice so that I am as small and quiet as I can be. I don't want to disturb anyone. Mostly I just shake my head and wonder why they can't see me.

There are other people, though, who definitely see me. I am so big and so bright to them, I see myself filling up their faces and overflowing out into the world. Some people can't help but see me and I think they see me even when I am not around. There are not that many people like this but there are enough to confirm for me that I am alive and real.

I wish I could use my invisibility more to my advantage, but it is so unpredictable that I just couldn't count on it for something like crime fighting or sneaking into someone's house just to see how they live. For now, I will have to stick with things the way they are. Whenever I need to know I really exist, I'll just spend time with my dog. He always knows I'm around.

But just a word of advice, for anyone else who has ever experienced this: if they can't see you, maybe they are not supposed to. Even if you were to make your presence known, they would never see you as you really are. Just go with it. Pretend you are a superhero. Maybe you really are.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve

So here it is, December 31st, the last day of 2013. So many of us are looking back at the year behind us, reflecting on the events in our lives and the world around us. In a few hours, we'll kiss and hug and wish each other a Happy New Year and ideally we'll feel hopeful with a renewed sense of optimism about life's potential. Maybe we'll make some resolutions to be better people.

I'm not really big on New Year's celebrations but I do feel hopeful. Lately I try to strive for hopeful every day although some days all I can do is strive for an absence of the sorrow, despair and ennui that hovers constantly on the outskirts of my mind. How's that for optimism?

The thing is, what does a "Happy New Year" really mean?

I generally tell people I did not have a happy childhood and it slips off my tongue without much thought. I can think of a lot of happy memories from childhood. I spent tons of time with my sister, Carrie, who is two years older than me and was, by far, my most favorite person in the world when I was a kid. Anything that involved playing with Carrie was fun. Rollerskating with Carrie and my best friend, Molly, pretending we were Charlie's Angels and the Bay City Rollers were our boyfriends? That was the epitome of fun. Summer was always filled with happy memories of swimming, playing outside after dinner until it was dark, sleeping with the windows open. Sure, there was happiness. But the whole of my childhood is also colored by my parents' divorce, the subsequent bitterness and passive aggressiveness between them, my abusive step-father and the way all the adults in my life consistently put their needs ahead of mine and neglected my safety and well-being. I know that's a big charge, but I make it with confidence that I have worked hard to heal from all of that, as much as I can.

College was not that happy, either, although I had some great friends and I had fun and I laughed a lot. I also drank too much, blacked out almost every weekend and did many unspeakably embarrassing things while blacked out that still cause me pangs of regret and humiliation when I think of them. I did untold damage to my already-fragile self-esteem. I did learn one or two things, though.

The alcohol abuse continued into my 20s, accompanied by an eating disorder and some bad "boyfriends." Finally, when I was 27, I started seeing the best psychologist in the world and have been taking Prozac on and off for most of the last 18 years.

So my "happiness" throughout my life has been affected by my parents, relationships, my own actions, chemicals and/or pharmaceuticals and probably more by genetics than any of us really realize. When someone asked me in my mid-30s if I was happy, I answered quite honestly, I have no idea. What's the baseline for happy?

Obviously, happiness is subjective. What feels like happiness to me could feel totally different to someone else. There's no way to measure it. So why do we go around wishing each other a happy new year? And all those resolutions we make to achieve The Happy New Year? They are pointless, although I'm sure I don't need to tell you that.

What I think we should really be hoping for is just a good life, not so much a happy life. Who says we are entitled to happiness?

When I was a senior in college and beginning to anticipate the "real world" that awaited me after graduation, a friend of mine gave me a book called Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood. I was obsessed with this book for several years as my charming and naive idealism convinced me that if I was happy, then that meant I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. And obviously, by this logic, if I was unhappy, I was clearly doing something wrong. I believed this was true with every fiber of my being. This one belief ruled my life and I felt so passionately that this was The Truth, the one, most important philosophy by which I should live my life. I agonized over it every day, convinced that if I could just figure out what made me happy, then everything else would be clear. I would feel peace, I would understand my purpose, all my decisions would be easy. First, find happiness, then smooth sailing.

Wow. It's so stupid it's almost cute.

I'm not saying happiness is a worthless goal, but I just think we are so out of touch with what it really means to be happy and what makes us feel happy that it's become somewhat meaningless. It seems more concrete to me to just try to be good to one another. Be good to the people you love. Work hard to do things that make you feel good, physically, mentally, spiritually. Do good things for other people, even people you don't know or people you don't even like! Be a good driver, be considerate, be good to the Earth, be kind to animals. Be good to yourself, don't compare yourself to other people because you either put yourself down or someone else. Eat good (real) food, do something good for your health, and read a good book. Then lend the book to someone, because that's sharing and sharing is good.

Maybe I have simply replaced on silly, naive belief with another but yes, I am prone to this type of thinking. It's the only way to fight back against the crusty, old cynic in my head. I want to live up to my daughter's view of the world as a relatively good place.

And that's my message as we usher out 2013. I have to go now and feed the birds, maybe help some little, old ladies cross the street. After that I might get raging drunk with my sisters and entertain my nieces and nephew with my ability to make lengthy speeches composed entirely of swear words. Just kidding. I try to keep the alcohol consumption in check these days (but I do swear a lot). However you ring in the new year, I hope you feel happy or peaceful or just feel good. Life is hard. We just have to do our best.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Santa's having a goddamn Christmas crisis

A few weeks back I posted a photo of my 11-year old daughter's letter to Santa Claus on my Facebook page with the caption "I'm guessing the average 11-yr. old kid no longer believes in Santa. But obviously Martha is not average." Many friends responded that their 11-year old kids still believed in Santa or that their older kids continued to believe past age 11 and most people, adults included, maintain that they still believe simply because if doubt is actually verbally expressed then presents from "Santa" stop coming. And no one wants that.

I ended up thinking maybe it was not so unusual that Martha still believes in Santa Claus, which makes me happy because it is, in my opinion, a beautiful, enchanting part of childhood and even when you reach the age at which you begin to understand that is physically impossible to fly around the whole world in one night, stopping at every single household with children (and seamlessly skipping over every single household without children), even when you begin to imagine all those apartment buildings and homes with no chimneys and see that that there are just so many exceptions to the Santa m.o. that it almost renders the core tenets of the myth completely meaningless, even when you are mindlessly browsing through your mom's Facebook page and you see your very own letter to Santa photographed and displayed for all her friends and you wonder how did the envelope get out of the mailbox & onto mom's Facebook page, even after all that, if you still feel deep in your heart that it is simply right and good to believe in the magic of a man in red who delivers gift to all the boys and girls of the world then you have a good chance of surviving the many disappointments and heartaches that life will eventually throw in your path.

Fast forward one month and I am now ready to don my Santa hat and go purchase the desired and requested items for my dear child. I'll be honest, there are a lot of parts of motherhood that I have been less than fond of (for example, breastfeeding, much to my shame). But one of my most favorite roles as mom is when I get to play Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. When I do these jobs, I AM the magic. I am transformed from my mundane, boring self into a mysterious character with boundless powers to surprise and delight. I bring gifts and that's all I do, it is my whole reason for being. So despite the fact that my Santa shopping required me to go to the den of iniquity otherwise known as the Mall of America to shop at the only American Girl doll store in the state of Minnesota, I was excited to go play Santa.

There is a slight problem to begin with, as Martha has requested four items from Santa and she has been informed that Santa only brings three gifts. Several years back another mom shared her philosophy of Santa gifts, stating that each child shall receive exactly three presents from Santa because that's how many gifts baby Jesus got. If baby Jesus got three gifts, then any other child may also reasonably expect to receive three gifts, but no more. No child can receive more gifts than baby Jesus because that would be sinful and/or sacrilegious. What, do you think your better than Jesus?? You think you deserve MORE gifts than baby Jesus? Oh no, I think not. Three presents for you, kid, that's it. Don't be greedy. Just be glad you don't end up with a sock full of frankincense, and myrrh (although gold might be nice, especially a couple of big, heavy ingots).

So last year Martha requested three gifts and Santa ad libbed a little and brought one extra, unrequested gift to surprise her. Now she figures if Santa offered a fourth gift last year then it seems prudent to add a fourth request to her letter so that she can be assured of getting something she really wants and not some dorky pair of pajamas.

Well, Martha composed her letter to Santa based entirely on the latest American Girl catalog and the following is what she requested:
  • School Desk Set, price $42
  • School Locker Set, price $58
  • School Backpack Set, price $28
  • Campus Snack Cart, price $150
One hundred and fifty dollars?! Pshh... I don't think so. Baby Jesus did not receive a $150 Campus Snack Cart so I'll be damned if my kid is getting this item. Even the price of the locker set is a little steep, but I'll buy it and justify it in my head because at least it is not battery-operated and requires a tiny bit of imagination.

BUT! Oh no... when Santa arrives at the American Girl store and inquires as to where said Locker and Desk Sets might be located, she is told they are OUT OF STOCK! And BACK ORDERED! Until February! What the fuck American Girl? Santa does not deal in OUT OF STOCK and BACK ORDERED toys. He's goddamned Santa Claus for fuck sake! There is no such thing as "out of stock" in Santa's workshop; if something is out of stock he just gets the goddamned elves to make more. And they do it. Because they are elves and they are magic and they make the goddamned dollies and accompanying Lockers and Desk Sets because they can AND because Santa asked and they are bidden to do Santa's work and they do not go to the goddamned American Girl website and order the toys online and then wait for the UPS guy or the Fed Ex guy to deliver it! They're goddamned elves!

This was the elf in charge of lockers
Ok, so now what the fuck is Santa supposed to do? Obviously, Santa is now forced to cough up the money for the Campus Snack Cart because if she doesn't her kid is going to be one pissed off little girl on Christmas morning. Yeah, yeah, I know, I should have taken a break from the Tooth Fairy/Santa gig long enough to teach my kid about gratitude and the real meaning of Christmas and then maybe I wouldn't have this problem but you have to understand, Martha's autistic brain is VERY literal. Why the hell would she write a letter to Santa if he's just going to get all independent-minded and deliver whatever the fuck he wants? Or thinks she wants? Does Santa have ESP? I mean, seriously, she obviously can see that if Santa has to deliver presents to every little kid in the world, that's a fuck lot of presents and how the hell is he going to know what EVERY kid wants? He doesn't! He needs these letters. He needs some guidance, otherwise he's just flying blind and everyone's getting footballs and dollies. And Martha doesn't need a dolly. She already got that last year. The dolly needs a goddamned locker to put her goddamned books in but now she won't have that but maybe it doesn't matter anyway because there's no goddamned desk to sit in either so how the fuck is she going to go to class anyway? She should just skip school altogether and go have a smoke in the parking lot. Fucking school... it's for total losers anyway.

Well, as it turns out, Santa left the store with the exorbitantly priced Campus Snack Cart (but come on, look at the tiny hot dogs! Look at the tiny money!) and the School Backpack Set AND the Allergy-Free Lunch set which costs $28 and will not cause any American Girl doll or her friends to break out in hives or go into anaphylactic shock because it is ALLERGY FREE. No peanuts, no gluten, no eggs, no dairy. Let's just hope no one is allergic to plastic.

My dilemma now is how to navigate the whole Santa-had-a-little-acquisition-failure issue while still trying to preserve her belief in the jolly, old, magic guy. I have to create a plausible story and it really shouldn't involve Santa ordering shit from his iPhone. My other option is to just tell the truth, which, of course, involves crushing her tender, childhood soul so it is unlikely I will opt for this solution.

There's still time to travel around the country to other American Girl stores and see if they, too, have experienced the same run on School Lockers and School Desk sets and, quite frankly, this seems like the best option. Maybe school for dollies is not so popular in other, less educated states. OK, wish me luck. Ho ho ho!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Update to 30 days of giving (12 days late)

The truth? I'm not sure I actually succeeded in giving something away for every day of November. I lost track of stuff and sometimes I considered counting some act of giving as part of my list but then reconsidered, believing some acts should just be reflexive and not viewed as generous but merely common, everyday occurrences. This lead me to question all of my acts of giving and wonder how meaningful they really were if they were done only for the purpose of tallying up 30 days of giving. And that thought just seemed depressing and sucked the joy out of what seemed like a good idea at the beginning of November. Oh, you silly obsessive brain.

So, anyway, here is what I did give away (in addition to the 4 items listed in the first blog post about 30 days of giving):

Check out the coolness of this toy
Playmobil crane (given away on Freecycle): this was an awesome toy that I bought for Martha when she was very young and crane was one of her early words she spoke and she also loved to see them and point them out in the car when we were driving around town. Playmobil toys, for those of you who aren't familiar with them, are these amazingly detailed, German-made plastic miniature toys, similar to legos but a little less blocky. The crane cost over $200 dollars but I bought it for my then-more-severely-affected daughter with autism because I was a desperate mother who wanted to nurture her child's developing brain. If you ever know a child with any kind of developmental delay or disorder, you might understand the logic behind a parent spending oodles and oodles of money to help their child, regardless of how stupid the object of the spending seems. Well, in the end, we constructed our crane, Martha never played with it, I tried to sell it at a garage sale with no success and it sat in our mud room for a few more years until finally, I gave it away. Free. A $200 toy. But totally worth it to have the box gone from my house.

Plastic baby gate (Freecycled): I saw an ad for a gal wanting baby gates for her apartment because she wanted to start fostering dogs and needed to corral her new guests. Obviously, I support anyone who is helping dogs and the baby gate I gave away had this system for being secured in a doorway that my daughter was too impatient to figure out, so it collected dust in my basement instead.

Two bags of kids clothing and winter gear (given to a local organization that helps families in need): When you're raising a child, it seems to me there is a never-ending stream of clothing that no longer fits. Never-ending, I tell you.

Books (given to a neighborhood Little Free Library): This is one of the items I gave away and then thought maybe it was lame to include in my list of giving. I'm including it anyway.

1 lb. of coffee (donated at a local coffee shop): I went in to buy myself a cup of coffee and the kid at the cash register asked if I'd donate a pound of coffee, supposedly to U.S. Troops abroad. I did it. I needed to beef up my list but it also seemed like a fine idea.

9 monetary donations made to various non-profit organizations in Minnesota: A few years back Minnesota started this "Give to the Max Day" where people can make online donations to a wide variety of schools or non-profit organizations. I like it because I can do my donations all in one day, I don't have to field annoying calls from solicitors all year round and I don't have to remember when I gave last to some group. Somehow the number of groups I give to keeps growing. This year I donated to Secondhand Hounds (the rescue group I foster for), Pet Haven (rescue group that my former dog, Carson, came from), Leech Lake Legacy & Red Lake Rosie's Rescue (two groups that help round up dogs on reservations in Minnesota and provide low-cost spay/neuter clinics and immunizations). I also gave to the Friends of Hennepin County Library, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, People for Pride in Living, St. Louis Park Emergency Program, and Second Harvest Heartland. Dogs, books, homes and help for those less fortunate; these are things that matter to me.

Volunteer time, 3 different days: Twice I shelved books in the Media Center at my daughter's school, which is kind of the equivalent of pretending I still have my job from last year; one day I helped out in Martha's classroom.

Unbelievably cute dog treats
Howl-iday Hat dog treats: these were gifts I sent to my sister and two friends for their respective dogs, Chipper, Beijing, Luci, Sadie and Zelda (who used to be my foster dog). Is this 3 gifts given to 3 people? Or five gifts given to five dogs? I'm counting it as 3 gifts so as not to appear like I'm trying to cheat.

Donations to two dog rescue groups made as a result of my purchase of Howl-iday Hat treats from Treat Me Right, an organization that makes healthful treats for dogs and donates a portion of their sales to various animal welfare groups.

Several turtlenecks I passed on to my sister from my own closet: In order to understand the significance of this act of giving you need to understand my older sister. She wears the piss out of her clothes, which is both virtuous but also kind of sad. It's virtuous because she does not end up spending money on clothes she doesn't need and it makes her seem very thrifty and reduces her carbon footprint. However, it is sad because she is a grown woman with a professional job and she is still wearing items of clothing from the 80s because they simply will not die. The turtlenecks hadn't had much action in my own wardrobe lately, so I entrusted them to Cindi. It really was a charitable act on my part.

So that's what I accomplished in the actual month of November. That's either 27 or 29 items depending on how you count the dog treat gifts. You can see what I mean when I say I wasn't truly successful with my original pledge. I wasn't even going to bother with a blog update.

But I gave one more thing to a stranger yesterday that made me decide I was ready to write about my experience with intentional giving.

Yesterday morning it was about zero degrees outside and I was shoveling my sidewalk before Martha left to catch the bus. A teenaged boy who I'd never seen before came down the street and asked me if the bus to Edina High School had come by yet. I'm not positive when the bus for the high school comes by but I told him I was pretty sure it had come and gone already (it had). He was a tall, slender, African-American kid, dressed only in sweatpants, t-shirt and a light jacket. He had no gloves or hat and his hands were stuffed into his pants pockets but he kept taking them out periodically to blow on them to keep them warm. I asked if he lived nearby and he said he lived a block away, across a busy street which is the boundary between my suburb of Edina and the city of Minneapolis. He usually catches the bus by his house, he said, but he had stayed up late the night before, overslept, and missed his bus.

So I asked him, tentatively, did he want me to drive him to school. I said I'd be happy to take him because I was sure there was no bus coming but I didn't want to seem creepy. I'm not sure if housewives/moms in sweatpants shoveling snow can really pull off creepy, but you never know how this sort of offer might be perceived. He accepted. Once my daughter was on her way to school we walked back to my garage and set off for the high school. The roads were icy and snowy and the traffic was not great so we had some time to chat. His name was Abdi and he's a junior in high school. I asked him about college (he has many in mind) and he told me about his high school football career and torn ACL. He seemed like a nice kid and he reminded me a bit of my 18-year old nephew. If he was my child waiting around in the frigid weather with no gloves, I would hope that someone would look out for him.

When I dropped him at school I told him that I walked my dog around the neighborhood all the time so maybe there was a chance I would see him. I added that I felt like I should meet his mother so she would know who the strange lady was who drove her son to school. He laughed and said she'd probably be mad if she knew a strange lady drove him to school (I appreciated that he basically just referred to me as a "strange lady"). He said he'd just tell his mom that he caught the bus. And then I realized that the reason he accepted my ride was probably to avoid having to slink home and ask his mom for a ride to school, which would, most likely, also make her mad. So I gave him a ride and a pass on incurring mom's wrath.

On my drive home I thought about the 30 days of giving because a ride was one possible thing I thought I could give to someone but the opportunity did not present itself in the month of November. As soon as I wrote the initial blog about giving in November, I realized that December is also an opportune month for giving, it being prime holiday season and all, and I considered trying for 60 days of giving (or, okay, 61 days to be exact). But then I had another idea. Instead of keeping a contrived list of the things I give for a finite period of time, I can also just give any time of the year, as needed. My new friend Abdi might need a ride some other month of the year. Charitable organizations need my daughter's hand-me-downs regardless of the season. My daughter's school always needs my time. And it's not just that the need exists all the time. My ability to give is fairly constant, as well. It appears to be kind of my "thing," it's what I do. I am the go-to gal! Because I can be.

So yes, give thanks at Thanksgiving, give extra at the holidays, but most importantly, just give what you can, whenever you can. And you can almost always give something. If nothing else, give kindness. Or a fist bump. Someone will appreciate it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


It's Sunday night and I am having my  "customary" (as of 3 weeks ago, so, like, newly-minted customary) bachelorette evening where I walk the dog, do some chores, eat a rather lonely-looking dinner and then try desperately to savor my "alone" time. In my mind, during this time I spend free from the bonds of motherhood I should look very free-spirited and comfortable in my alone-ness but more often than not I look like an idiot staring into space as I try to decide what to do with myself. There are so many things I want to do that I don't know where to start. Then, of course,  I think "let me check my email one more time while I decide," and suddenly a whole hour is lost to mindless clicking and tapping on pointless links and photos of dogs.

But not tonight. Tonight I am seated in my living room with the gas fireplace warming my feet and my adorable dog curled up next to me. I am ready to be a writer and express my thoughts and feelings using beautiful language and grammatically correct sentences that flow along the page. My leftovers have been eaten, my kitchen has been cleaned up, my home feels serene. It's time to write.

The problem is, I can't seem to find the proper avenue to follow that will lead me into my mind and allow the thoughts and feelings to flow in an organized yet melodic fashion. I hesitate to address what's really on my mind for fear that instead of producing one ounce of creative expression all that will come out is a whiney, self-absorbed accounting of how sad and lonely and frustrating it is to be a SINGLE MOTHER. In truth, the term "single mother" may be trite and inaccurate used here. I am not truly single; I am still married, it's just that my husband is not currently living with my daughter and me. And I have not been abandoned and forced to provide every single second of care and guidance to my daughter. My husband remains quite attentive to our daughter and therefore we end up spending time together several days a week. But I have moved closer to the single end of the relationship/living arrangement spectrum than I used to be and the knowledge of this movement is constantly on my mind.

The real issue is learning to live as the only adult member of my household which I haven't been since 1996. And it's not as simple as going back to living a single lifestyle because now I am responsible for the care of my child and my dog so I'm not the least bit free to pursue my own whims and interests whenever I want. Yet I no longer have a partner to talk to, upon whom I can unload the tedious and mundane details of each day. And that feels weird.

Despite the emotional distance that had taken up residence between my husband and I, he still occupied a very definite space in our home and now with that space vacated I am unable to navigate my way around the empty holes. I can't quite fill them all myself as there simply isn't enough substance to me to take up that much space. My daughter and I only occupy so much of our house. What is to be done with all that emptiness?

I never intended to use Facebook to announce my separation from my husband, oh-so-casually drawing everyone's attention to the minor fact that my relationship status mysteriously changed from "married" to something else that inadequately describes what is truly going on. But I do want to write about it and so inevitably I am (partially) baring my soul to the world (actually only about 5 people but "world" will do here) by posting this on my blog. Is it too much? Do I reveal too much? Of course, I know deep down I have revealed almost nothing. Being prone to a touch of the social anxiety, though, baring all can be terrifying and regrettable so I have to obsess over every word and hope my self-expression is genuine but still filtered enough that I don't sound like a psychopath. In the end, however, I am really just creating a story in which I happen to be the main character.

I know the story would be a lot cooler if the dog could talk and crack funny jokes all the time so if I can work that into the storyline, I will. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 4, 2013

30 days of giving (stuff) (away)

So I have seen many people on Facebook doing "30 days of gratitude,"  whereby they post a status update each day stating something for which they are grateful. This is done in honor of Thanksgiving this month, obviously. I am all for expressing gratitude because I think there are so many things, gigantic and minute, to be thankful for, that mostly get overlooked until we are forced to really take a closer look at the abundance in our lives. But rather than risk repeating others' sentiments, I thought of something a little different. For the month of November, as a way to demonstrate my gratitude for the bounty in my life, I am giving stuff away; I call this 30 days of giving. Clever, huh?

I have all kinds of ideas about stuff to give away. And, okay, I didn't initially conceive of this challenge as a heartfelt way to honor Thanksgiving. I really just had some junk taking up space in my house and I gave it away via the Freecycle Network and it was so great to get rid of some stuff that I thought, hey, I can do this every day! I can't guarantee I will be able to give one item away each day, but I do think it will be easy to give 30 items away in the month of November and I'm not even going to cheat and give away a pair of Martha's old snow boots and count that as two items. I already have a bag of kids' clothes ready to go and I'm counting the whole bag as one item. Generosity is the goal here. Also, clearing out some closet space.

Conveniently, as of today, the fourth day of November, I have given away four items:
  • 1 box of ceramic tiles left over from tiling a hallway in our basement (left by previous homeowners).
  • 1 box of slate tiles left over from tiling the front porch (also left by previous homeowners).
  • 1 old door, dragged home by me from someone else's garbage and intended to be used for something very cool and crafty (I don't know what exactly) several years ago (alas, my crafty dream was not to be realized).
  • 1 wooden bench with a hinged lid for storage, purchased for an old apartment I lived in in Boston, circa 1999. 
All four of these items I gave away through, which, if you've never heard of it, you should look up because it is a very handy way to connect your unwanted stuff to the people who may want or need the stuff and it keeps your junk out of the landfill and it generally makes the world a better, happier place. The first three items I posted as offers, but the fourth item, the bench, I gave away to a woman who placed a wanted ad looking for a bench to use for photo shoots. Do you see the balance and harmony of this? She needed a bench and I owned a bench (unwanted). We both walk away happy. And it conveniently gets me to four items given away in four days. Beautiful.

But I don't want to limit my giving strictly to my secondhand belongings. I can give my time and energy. I am already planning to give several monetary donations on November 14th, Minnesota's Give to the Max day. And I won't cheat there either and count each dollar as a separate item. I can give someone a ride. I can give someone coffee, bake cookies, buy someone lunch. What else can I give this month? If you have ideas, send them my way.

I should clarify a few things that won't qualify as "giving:" advice (especially unsolicited), compliments, a piece of my mind, the time of day, something to cry about, a shout out, a speech, a kick in the butt. I'm sure you can think of some more. There has to be some value to what I'm giving and although I happen to think I have some really valuable advice for countless people I know (as well as those I don't know), I can do that any time of the year and my advice might not necessarily be perceived as a gesture of generosity.

So, okay, let the giving begin. I have much to give, as I have been blessed with many things, both tangible and intangible. And instead of complaining about all that is missing from my life, I am going to focus on what others need that I am capable of offering. Give thanks. Or just give.
A symbol of my life: a veritable cornucopia of gifts

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New life, old life, life and death

Last week was one rough mother fucker, as weeks go. Pardon me, if I offend. But it really sucked. One high point of the week, however, was planting the tree seen here in this photo:

Several years ago I had planted a magnolia tree in my backyard and every spring it would produce beautiful white flowers. Last year I took a photo of my daughter with the white blossoms:

OK, not too many flowers... but still pretty
And how fortuitous that I snapped this pic since later the same year the tree was afflicted by magnolia scales, some nasty little insect that feeds on the sap and excretes this sticky stuff that coats the leaves and turns them all black and attracts the late summer yellow jackets, one of which ended up stinging my sister and she can seriously talk for hours about how terrible that was but the yellow jackets and the magnolia scales and the now-dead tree are neither here nor there, because what I really want to talk about is the new tree I planted in its place.

Not having any dogs this summer, my backyard was badly neglected and the dead magnolia sat poking out of the ground until late August, when I adopted my latest canine sweetie-pie. When I started taking him out regularly for his potty breaks I realized how truly crappy my yard looked and slowly I have been working on bringing some life back to the yard that has often been a little sanctuary for me, a place where I feel like I can hide from some of life's evils. (One day, however, I might be out there on a windy day when a dead branch falls from a tree and kills me and we'll see how hidden from evil I am then.)

So I bought a new tree, a Japanese maple, and I dug a hole and added some of the super-high-powered dirt I create in my compost bin that makes me feel like a bona fide, groovy, all-natural, locally-grown-organic-food-buying, hemp-clothing-wearing nature nut and plopped that tree in the ground. It's a damn fine looking tree, if I do say so. And I do.

As I filled in the dirt, I added to it the ashes from my sweet dog Mandy, who I had put down last spring after she mauled the neighbors' dog. I had been waiting for a time when it felt right to put her to rest, when some of my sadness and guilt over her demise had eased up. She was the sweetest dog to the people in her life. I feel like she needed so much more than I could give her and although I gave her every ounce of love I could, I still couldn't fix her and maybe I did her a disservice by not letting someone stronger step up to take care of her. But she had needed a home and so I did what I could. When I had her put to sleep, I had a vet come to our house so she left this world in a peaceful place where she was loved and comforted and now I was adding her to my sanctuary, a place she could forever be safe and free. I pray she always knows how much I love her.

So I planted the tree, adding life to my world, and I tied to it a life that has passed. These things I did the day before my husband moved into an apartment, not entirely leaving our home, but embarking on something new that may not include the two of us living happily ever after in a holy state of matrimony. It is not what we had planned. But it can still be okay. Lives come to an end; whether it's a tree or a dog or a relationship, you don't really plan for it and it doesn't seem quite right if you did. But also new lives grow, not the same, maybe better, maybe not. I can't even take comfort in this fact because some endings are still incredibly sad and seemingly unfair. But stuff ends, just the same; lives, trees, good books, and seasons. And then there are new things. We keep going.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


It's back to September
time for back to school
back to cooler weather.

I'm going back to old ways of thinking
old ways of living
always trying to get back to the basics.

I know my body is facing forward
but I'm always going back to something.

A month ago I went back to Colorado
the place where I was born
long ago I had said I would never go back.

I keep thinking about what went wrong
trying to figure out a solution to our problems
but I just keep coming back to the same old things.

I love the feel of your fingers running up and down my back
but I just wish everyone would be up front
about what happened and how they feel.

Sometimes we have to make difficult decisions
and we move forward with our lives
even when we are headed into the dark
but I'm crossing my fingers
hoping we all turn out okay.

We keep flipping calendar pages
hurtling forward in time
but somehow we keep coming back to something.