Thursday, June 30, 2011

Corrections, retractions, and expressions of concern

There are no corrections, no retractions but perhaps an expression of concern is appropriate. I have gotten some funny reactions to my post, "I probably shouldn't do this but...". And by funny I mean funny-ha-ha as well as funny-odd. I definitely think they are funny-ha-ha, but then, I thought the post was funny-ha-ha. Others just thought it was funny-odd.

I'm OK. Well, I think I am anyway. I am not experiencing any excessive bouts of anger, my mood is securely in the positive zone for now. And I really wasn't expressing any specific sentiment towards anyone in particular. I'd like to avoid an in-depth analysis of my thought process behind the writing because that kind of takes the fun out of it, but honestly, I really just found the idea of the tirade amusing. Ho ho ho, I am just so hilarious... to myself. Perhaps I am guilty of not thinking through how it would be perceived by others, which was one of my "shoulds" from the post. On the other hand, that was a little bit the point of it. So no apologies. Unless you really insist on it, and in that case, I'm sorry.
This guy is so cute, I just really wanted
to use this photo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I probably shouldn't do this but...

Seriously... you should.
Do you have a special someone in your life who is always telling you what you “should” do? Someone who seems compelled to constantly give unsolicited advice? Someone who is often hopelessly out of touch with what exactly your priorities are in life? I know I sure do. I actually know a number of these people. In fact, I have known so many special "someones" throughout my life that I begin to wonder what exactly it is about me that attracts them like a dog to a funky smell.

Because I am so obsessed with having people like me, pleasing people, coming across as polite instead of the wicked, crabby bitch that I am, I tend to just absorb all these instructions without any argument. I am the youngest of three sisters, the baby of the family, so I am accustomed to being told what to do. I am also accustomed to the seething undercurrent of resentment that runs through my veins. Not that all the advice is bad or misguided, because sometimes what I am being told I should do is actually something I should do. My point is simply that I don’t know what it is about certain people that they can so effortlessly whip the advice around whereas I, myself, stop to really wonder whether or not anyone cares what I think they "should" do before I offer up my infinite wisdom.

Well, not today. For one brief moment here, I am going to quit holding back. I am going to think about every single person I have ever known who really needed a good piece of advice and I am going to dump all of my best ideas onto this page. I am going to tell everyone exactly what I think they should do and I am going to do it in a manner that will make it virtually impossible for anyone to know who the hell I’m talking about and therefore, it will be impossible for me to offend anyone. Or, I suppose it’s possible that I will offend everyone. But whatever, without further delay, here is what you should do to finally turn that sorry life of yours around (or maybe just that one isolated, sorry aspect of your life around).

You should seek help, immediately, from a qualified mental health care professional. You should begin long-term psychotherapy and you should finally be honest about all that crap and ask someone, for the love of God, what you should do to finally address those debilitating issues you have around that certain area of your life. You should probably be on medication. You should definitely stop eating high fructose corn syrup and despite what someone else told you, you really should worry about what kind of artificial crap you are eating. You should stop drinking so much. You should put your cell phone away. You should pray. You should think about how others will interpret what you say before you say it. You should stick up for yourself. You should stop blowing your money on stuff you don’t need. You should go for walks more. You should relax. You should lighten up. You should be more accepting of others. You should listen to yourself! You should stop being so self-absorbed. You should think about other people more. You should scrutinize your own life instead of everyone else’s. You should stop caring what other people think. You should stop feeling sorry for yourself. You should just be yourself. You should not drive like such an ass. You should stop being the way you are, in just about every way, and start being an entirely different person who does not bug the crap out of me so much. Oooh… I may have gone too far with that one.

Now, if you are like me, you may have read the previous paragraph with kind of a sick feeling in your stomach, thinking, why would she say that to me? If you are not like me, well, then, maybe you should read that paragraph again, paying special attention to the part that says you should scrutinize your own life. Just kidding. I’m not really speaking any of these statements to any one specific person, except maybe a few of them might apply pretty well to my mother, but that’s a fairly unique relationship. My theory is that most of us, after reading through a slew of “should” statements like that, already know which ones apply. We already know, deep down inside, what we should do. To have someone tell us just makes us feel angry and defensive. Personally, I think that, unless someone asks us specifically, “I got this problem, what should I do?” we don’t really need to be lecturing our acquaintances, friends and relations. Maybe the next time you feel compelled to tell someone what they “should” do, you might want to ask yourself how you would feel about the same piece of advice being offered to you. And if you are on the receiving end of one of these “shoulds” maybe you should try responding with the snappy comeback, “You should pull your head out of your ass.” Although, that isn’t a very nice thing to say, and we really should try to be nicer to each other.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 27, 2002

It was going to be another hot and steamy day in Boston. The temperature had been in the 90s for several days and I was finding it really hard to keep cool. Complete motionlessness was a good strategy and it was easy to be still now that I was about 3 feet wide and weighed in at 200+ lbs. But on this day I had to get up and go to a doctor’s appointment. I was 40 weeks pregnant and was checking in weekly now with the obstetrician. I wore humongous maternity capri pants and a linen tank top, thinking, absurdly, that the linen would help me keep cool. In reality, nothing keeps you cool when it’s 90 degrees out and you are 9 months pregnant.

At the appointment everything was fine, just like the week before. My doctor reported mysterious numbers and measurements, some percent effaced, some centimeters dilated, numbers that didn’t mean a whole lot at the time and which have faded from my memory now. She asked me if I wanted to schedule an appointment to have labor induced. No, absolutely not, I thought, I really don’t want to induce labor, what I want is for this baby to be cooperative and just pop right out on her own, preferably soon. I had heard only nightmarish stories about being induced, where women lie around in agony for hours upon hours, having really hard, painful contractions without labor progressing much at all. Bleah, who wants that? When we left the doctor’s office, I said I would think about it and call if I wanted to schedule the fun, baby-producing appointment. I remember my doctor offering me this option as if it would be really welcome, as if I would be grateful for the opportunity to organize “give birth to child” neatly into my schedule.

Next on the agenda that day was a trip to Target (we needed laundry detergent) and Home Depot (I have no idea what we needed there). Both were conveniently located at one of those generic shopping centers that exist in every U.S. city, massive, overgrown cubes situated in a row accompanied by a vast stretch of lined asphalt dotted with cart corrals. Under the noon-time sun on a hot day, a parking lot becomes stiflingly hot and a huge pregnant woman trudging across it lugging the largest size bottle of Tide can sweat buckets I’m telling you, buckets of perspiration in the time it takes to waddle from one end (Target) to the other (Hope Depot). Why did I foolishly say to my husband, “Just drop me off at Target. I’ll come find you?” Unable to follow him up and down the “Depot” aisles, still lugging my 20-lb. bottle of Tide, I found a seat and decided to place the call to the OB/GYN to schedule “birth of child.” There was still a chance the baby could come on her own.

Back home, I thought maybe a cool shower would be refreshing after my sauna-like sweat-fest of a morning. The contractions started around this time, about 1:00pm, and it seeemed like a brilliant idea to me to take the timer with me into the shower so that I could bathe and monitor the contractions simultaneously. Who doesn't appreciate multi-tasking? I had been having false contractions for weeks so I really wasn't paying much attention to these ones.  They were very irregular and I was certain they meant nothing (this I deduced from all my previous child-bearing experience). Then (and here’s where any reader who is A) not a woman or B) not a man who has happily fathered a child should just stop reading because I’m going to talk about bodily fluid), suddenly and most undesirably, I kind of felt like I had to pee but I was also having a contraction and it was getting hard to breathe. In my indecision over which bodily urge to pay attention to, I just kind of... uh, let loose. Yep, in the shower, but remember, I’m in the shower AND NINE MONTHS PREGNANT, which is way different than being a normal human being in the shower and releasing what sort of feels like pressure from the bladder area but could also just be pressure from some unidentifiable and previously unknown part of one’s body.

This was when I called to my husband and alerted him to the fact that something very strange was happening to me. He wanted me to exit the shower immediately so we could drive to the hospital but I felt this was being a bit hasty. Instead, I instructed him to please go downstairs and find my folder of meticulously taken notes from childbirth class. I was the only one who ever showed up to childbirth class with a pen. I wrote down as much as I could. Every word out of that nurse’s mouth I attempted to record because I knew that I would most certainly need to reference this essential info in a time of crisis. Obviously, everyone knows that a time of crisis is the perfect time for referring back to instructional notes. Duh.

The husband returned with my notes and fumbled nervously through them until he found the section where we discussed “What to do if your water breaks.” I said to him, read the part out loud where it says what color it should be. He’s freaking out. He can’t read. I can’t understand him. He can’t find the part I’m talking about. I stood there, naked, dripping wet, very, very pregnant (apologies for frightening imagery) and hollering “what color is it if you are going into labor?? Find the part where she talked about the color!” Husband had a better idea. He brought me the phone and told me to call the doctor’s office.

Oh. That is a very good idea. That is way better than my idea to read through pages of notes from childbirth class. I called, spoke with the nurse practitioner and explained what was going on and she said, very slowly and clearly, as if I was a child, “Christen, I want you to hang up the phone and go to the hospital right now.” Well, well. I guess the color is not really a pertinent issue at this juncture.

I was so positive I had tons of time and really, who likes to show up early for the birth of their first child? All that waiting around at the hospital, it can get so tedious and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I wanted to be sure I got there right on time so I could demonstrate how knowledgeable and capable I was. I shuffled around my bedroom with my “list of things to pack for the hospital” while my husband grabbed my duffle bag and ran down to the car. “Wait!” I called to him, “I haven’t checked the list yet!” Next I call my mom at work in Minneapolis. I go through the whole story for her and she, too, urges me to go to the hospital and call her later. Geez, I thought to myself, everyone seems really wound up about this.

The hospital was only a few miles from our house but a few miles in Boston can be an hour-long drive – on a good day. Our route took us around several rotaries. My husband is exceedingly even-tempered. A few things that get him visibly angry include bartenders who pour Guinness wrong and drivers who can't comprehend what the word yield means, particularly as it relates to the rules of proper driving conduct in a traffic rotary. While I sat in the passenger seat calmly breathing through contractions, he was flying around the rotary tipped up on the two right wheels of our car, all the while cursing the other drivers and pounding the steering wheel. It was only when we were within a block of the hospital that I began to feel a little panicky, like I was on a speeding train that was way out of control. I realized that the next time I returned home I’d be toting a tiny baby. A baby!

At the hospital, I had to ask at the information desk what floor to go to if I’m having a baby. I got on the elevator and pressed button number 5. Numerous other hospital patrons also boarded the elevator and between them they pressed buttons number 2, 3, and 4, as well. We stopped at each floor, slowly, while I had contractions and breathed deeply and tried not to draw attention to myself. At the fifth floor, I waddled off and announced to whoever was there to hear me, “I think I’m having a baby.” Nurse Janet Lovely came to my rescue. I have never gotten over how completely unlikely it seemed that her real name could be Janet Lovely. She really was lovely, if only because she knew what the hell to do and I did not.

Martha Alice Dall was born at 4:27pm that afternoon. My mother was confused when I called her to say I had a baby. She couldn’t figure out how I could have accomplished the birth of a child only 3 ½ hours after I called her from home to say we were leaving for the hospital. I guess when Martha heard me scheduling that appointment to induce labor she figured she might as well just come out on her own and do it in a big-ass hurry. It was a move that continues to define her; she doesn’t act until she says it’s time but when she makes up her mind to do something, you better not get in her way.

And here it is, nine years later. Tomorrow we celebrate Martha’s ninth birthday and I, personally, will rejoice that I have gotten her this far. To my charming, utterly mind-blowing daughter, I wish a very happy birthday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trying out for the part of Wonder Woman

I could do this (not the flying part)
Someday, my husband will come home from work to find me pinned under a large piece of furniture at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The following is one possible conversation that might ensue:

Husband: Whatcha doin’ down there?
Me (provided my vocal chords are uninjured): Oh, not much.
Hub: Figured it was time to rearrange the furniture again, huh?
Me: Yep.
Hub: I would’ve helped you move that when I got home.
Me: I, uh… didn’t want to wait. I thought I could do it by myself.
Hub: And how’d that go?
Me: Could you just give me a hand with this thing?

If this scenario ever takes place, I will be placing blame squarely upon the shoulders of my mother. For one thing, I definitely inherited my lack of patience from her and this is a major impetus behind my need to move heavy furniture by myself. And in case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I read recently that, in fact, scientists have isolated the gene that causes impatience so I can say with some authority that it is genetic. But mostly I do the solo heavy lifting because my mother taught me at a young age that, as a female, one should never be dependent on a man. I realize this had much more to do with her supreme anger and bitterness towards my dad following their divorce in 1976 and almost nothing to do with feminism. But whatever the source of the lesson, I learned it well.

I mean, I’m not opposed to a man, or for that matter, anyone really (small children, the elderly), holding a door open for me. That act of courtesy does not offend my feminist sensibilities. Instead, it appeals to my sense of laziness and I think “hey, if you want to open that door for me, that’s super. It’s less work for me.” Such a sense of laziness, however, is non-existent when I get the bee in my bonnet to move furniture. When home decorating brilliance hits, one must act on it right away. If I’m home alone, well then, it looks like I’ll be doing all of the heavy lifting. Then when the hub makes his appearance I can say, “See? I am independent.” I may also be tired, sweaty, or injured as a result of this stubborn impatience, especially if my brilliant tweaking of the furniture arrangement turns out to be a bit of a misjudgment and I have to move the furniture back to its original location. But still, I am independent.

Maybe the hub likes not having to do all this work himself, I’m not really sure. It’s easy to assume he appreciates not having to do as much joint moving of heavy and often unwieldy items because anyone who has engaged in this chore with a romantic partner knows very well that it can make or break a relationship when you say “Turn it this way. No, not like that, stupid, towards the wall. Ow, stop, stop, stop, you’re crushing me against the wall. God damnit, you set it on my toe!” But probably one of the most unfortunate side effects of this obstinate need to prove my independence is that when he goes to move a coffee table, he’ll ask for help moving it and I'll stare at him, then stare at the table, then stare back at him, then resist the need to pick up the table by myself and jog it to the next room or up a flight of stairs or something. I mean, that would just be obnoxious.

And of course, the other negative is that sometimes, I’m really not so independent. As in, I’m not Hercules, sometimes there is no effing way I am going to move a particular item by myself. I might try anyway. Like that time I tried to move the landscaping boulder by myself and my husband just stood by, silently watching in amusement. In my defense, though, we needed the Bobcat for that rock… Those suckers are really heavy. But I want to teach my daughter to be strong and independent, just the way my mom taught me. Minus the scathing hatred and excessive swearing, of course. So just for fun, you know, just to see if I could, I decided to try moving our piano, as its relocation was part of a larger plan to freshen up the basement d├ęcor. When I successfully got it moved, all the while picturing my husband shaking his head at me, Martha said, “I guess we didn’t need help after all.” And I was able to respond, “No, I guess not. Because mommy is strong.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Benny and the Jets

When I was 16 years old I got my first job as a “pool attendant” at one of the public pools in Denver. It was a big deal at the time. A pool attendant was the grunt person at the pool, responsible for such prestigious chores as cleaning the bathrooms every day, checking baskets of clothing for the good patrons of Berkeley pool, and “guarding” the baby pool for the occasional toddler who fell over while mom was occupied with her Cosmo magazine. My favorite task was using the sophisticated tool necessary for scraping wads of sludge-y hair from the shower drains; we called it “the screwdriver.” That’s because it was – well, a screwdriver. A bitchin’ job that was…

The pool where I worked was nowhere near my house. At least it seemed that way at the time. According to Google maps, a mere 9.7 miles separates the two locales, but at the time, it seemed like about 50. Maybe the distance seemed so immeasurable because I had to take public transportation to work every day. I was forbidden to learn how to drive at the time, because of a few – uh, alcoholic indiscretions, let’s just say. Yes, yes, if you have been following my blog closely, you may detect a theme from my adolescent years. I’ve said it before, I’m not proud.

Anyway, I caught the number 15 bus at Colfax Avenue and Hudson each morning, rode it downtown, transferring to the number 44 bus in front of the old Woolworth’s store (a popular hangout for some of the more upstanding and fresh-smelling Denverites in 1984) and then riding that to a distant corner of the city. Someone who currently lives in Denver could easily come back at me here and tell me how distorted my grasp of the city’s geography is and truly, I would have nothing to say in my defense. Take my word for it, though, on the city bus, it was a long-ass ride.

On the plus side, however, I got to see some colorful characters. Like my good pal, Benny. In the summer of 1984, I had shortish hair, which I was trying to grow out after a failed bid at being a punk rocker. I also had this unfortunate streak of bleached blonde bangs that perpetually hung in my face, unless of course I bobby-pinned them back, which was only slightly preferable to the bangs-in-face look. My hair is naturally brown. Dark brown. So the blonde chunk o’ hair looked… funky, and not in a good way. Also, consider it was about 7am because that’s how early I had to get up to ride all those damn busses out to Berkeley and arrive by 8:30am. And I worked at a pool, so it’s not like I “did” my hair each morning. Ok, the long and the short of it is, in case you haven’t picked up on it, I was looking pretty ragged on that number 15 bus. Plus, I was still sort of hanging on to my boyish appearance, which peaked in 4th grade but was VERY stubborn. However, in spite of all these strikes against me, one morning, about half way to downtown, a man got on the rather sparsely populated bus and chose the empty seat next to mine.

Man was in his early 20s I’d say, dressed in some old, ripped jeans and a well-worn red t-shirt. He didn’t look like a man who had really taken great pains with his appearance. He might have had sunglasses on. He shuffled. Or maybe he ambled. He was not a fancy-looking guy, but my mom always taught me not to judge a book by its cover, so by golly, I welcomed my new seat-mate. Mutely, and with no detectable movement but still, I was mentally welcoming him to sit right down and make himself comfortable in that seat next to me. He said hi. I said hi. He may have asked where I was going. I may have explained. He chatted casually. I responded, real friendly-like. He asked me what my name was. I froze up. “Sally!” It was the only pathetic fake name that came to my desperate mind. “Sally! Say Sally!” my mind screamed. Oh, who was I kidding, that was just lame. I surrendered and said “Christen.” “Like that song, Sister Christian (it was 1984 remember),” was the man’s response. And I thought, “No, no dumbshit, I said Christen, Chris-ten, ten, ten, like the number, ten, not chen,” because I had spent 16 years correcting people on the pronunciation of my oddly-spelled name and I was a little bitter already. Plus I was a bit sensitive about being called what I thought was strictly a boy’s name, Christian. But, of course, not wanting to appear ill-mannered to a total stranger on public transportation, I politely replied, “uh… yeah.” And he said “My name’s Benny. Like that song, Benny and the Jets.” Only it came out more like Binny. Like that song, Binny and the Jets. I nodded my silent “pleased to meet you.”

The next question Benny asked me was clear out of left field, I did not see this one coming, at all. Totally taking me by surprise, Benny asked me, “Do you like to get high?” I was shocked. Did I look like the kind of messy, boyish-looking girl who liked to get high?! Again, hiding my true feelings, I simply said “no.” Which was true, I might add; if you recall, alcohol was really kind of my drug of choice at the tender age of 16. And this was the best part: Benny came back with “neither do I.” Oh yes, Benny, I can see by the way your eyelids droop and your eyeballs are shot through with more red than a fire engine and you have been slurring your words from the get go, I can see that it is totally obvious, you do not like to get high.

Apparently the next stop was Benny’s stop. He shuffled off, not in any hurry, and I rode the last few blocks to my transfer location. I had probably just missed that number 44 bus by about 30 seconds, so I was looking at a good 20-minute wait for the next bus. But maybe I’d meet some more interesting folks. I sure hoped so.