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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Sharing Wonder Women: Am I Worthy Enough?

Lately when I write it feels like butterflies in my belly or helium in my heart. It lifts me. Something new is on the horizon. I can feel it in my blood. Almost like a fever. And I know I’m heading in the right direction. Dreams are being hewn and forged. My fingers flash like meteors on my keyboard, pounding out the metal-workings of my mind.

But just because writing gives me a jiggly, hot, helium-gut these days (hmmm, that really doesn’t sound like a good thing, come to think of it…), it doesn’t mean that the words come easy for me. Sometimes they do.

Some days, the words sparkle in the air like glitter, like dusty motes caught up in the sunshine, beams of beauty filling up my soul and the words falling down like magic onto my keyboard. The process is easy like Sunday morning. And the paragraphs simply spill out of me.

But then other days they don’t. On those days, my mind gets mired-up in the weight of the work. The sunshine flares and the sentences get heavy and coated with ash. The words don’t sparkle in the air, they clump in heaps, clotting up my lungs and computer screen and brains. And the magic skips town and the murk settles in. And the world is harsh as Monday morning. And the words glum up and refuse to form sentences, much less meaning.

This week I’ve had a bit of both — they’ve poured out and they’ve clumped up. And I’m thinking it’s because I’m pursuing a dream; I’m on a quest to reveal truths and to unearth gold. And it involves my writing, but it’s not simply my blog (well, it is, technically, I guess – but it’s more than that.) Because I’m not just telling my story. I’m telling other women’s stories, too — their journeys, their struggles, their successes, their truths. And it is a tremendous responsibility.

Because their story is all our story. Each one demonstrates another facet of the female evolution out of the primordial, patriarchal pond into the promise of the present, tapping into our collective unconscious and untangling the myths and lies to reveal truths instead. We too, are warriors and superheroes. We too, are strength and passion and power.

But revealing long-hidden truths is never easy. The way is hardly well-mapped. Really, it isn’t mapped at all – and it’s super hard to know where to dig if you can’t see where the truth lies.

And the truth does lie… or rather, the truth is lied about. We’ve been told for centuries that we are weak, that we are helpless, that we need to be told how to act and speak. That without someone looking out for us, we women could never survive.

Well, these women’s stories prove otherwise. They are all survivors. No, take that back, they are victors! And so are we all. We just have to believe. It is truth.

But the task of telling these women’s histories leaves me feeling overwhelmed and overtasked. Kind of like I’m living the life of the kid in The Alchemist, one moment blessings tumbling into my lap, and the next, nothing but scarcity as far as the eye can see.

But those butterfly wings and bubbly-heart beacon have never steered me wrong yet. So I have to take it as evidence that I’m on the right track and just keep digging – or typing.

As my fingers type, I watch what unfolds. And then I dig around. And sift. And throw out. And throw out. And throw out. And start all over again.

Because I need their stories to be as real and as true as their memory and my translation can be. And I have to remember that perfection is impossible — even though in this crazy, airbrushed, Instagram-ed world, we have been fooled into believing it exists. It doesn’t.

But reality is far better anyway.  It has dimension and depth, shadow and shine. The world would be a flat and featureless place without all of those things. And so would we. Flat, fictional, and fake.

But these women they have it all: depth, dimension, shadow and shine. Some of them have struggled through incredible darkness. Some have climbed incredible heights. Some are family. Some are friends. Some I have reached out to. Some have reached out to me.

All are beautiful. All are real. They have flaws. They are not goddesses. But they are no mere mortals either.

They are Women.

I will try my utmost to do their stories justice…

Ghostly Awakenings, Weekly Shaves, and Asparagus Pee: Simple Truths

We’ve named our ghost Argus. Actually, my AP kids did. Sort of. As I was telling them about his latest antics this week…

“Our ghost woke me up again at 2 this morning,” I began.

“Who?”

“Our ghost.”

“Argus? Who’s Argus?”

And from that point forward, his name has been Argus. And Argus has been at it again.

This week he toppled Tate’s plastic tea set to the floor. At 2 AM. On a Thursday. It’s his main M.O. (Well, the days of the week change, but honestly, if it clangs and clatters and it’s between 2 and 3 at night, it’s Argus.)

So lately, when I’m jolted awake by a loud crash, I don’t even wake Mike anymore. Instead, I lie still for maybe ten minutes, making certain we’re not being robbed blind or murdered in our sleep, and then I go back to sleep.

Or try. Because after Argus does his ghost-version of Ding Dong Ditch, it takes a bit for the fight-or-flight instinct to decelerate. So I lie there and think about stuff. All sorts of stuff. My mind runs the gamut of unhinged musings. For instance…

… how the deodorant in my vanity drawer should’ve run out weeks ago. but instead, keeps regenerating there in the darkness like the liver of Prometheus or a Hanukah menorah. It’s a miracle. Maybe not a miracle of Titan or Festival of Lights proportions, but a miracle nonetheless. And I know I really should go to CVS and get another before the miracles cease and my lavender scented underarms give way to stench, but I kinda want to see how long it’ll keep it up.

… or how thinking about smells gets me thinking of asparagus pee and how you would never want to eat it before going to the gynecologist, where you must wee in a cup. Unless of course, you bear a grudge against a lab tech there and are into passive aggressive behavior. Then it’s genius. (Not that I would do such a thing. And not because I’m not passive-aggressive, but because I don’t know any lab techs there.)

And speaking of genius – and gynecologists – I once heard of someone tidying up her nether regions prior to a visit to the lady doctor and accidentally slicing some tender bits. So if you’re keeping a running list of what NOT TO DO prior to going to the gynecologist: that’s a NO to asparagus and a NO to trimming the hedges.

But DO shave your legs before going. That’s just common decency.

These days I shave my legs once a week — which is hardly common decency for Mike, but I really did used to shave them every day, until… well, Twins. (And Mike would claim “Well, marriage” — but I call shenanigans on that excuse…) So now, when I finally do break out the Venus Comfort Glide, it’s like hewing down the Hundred Acre Wood with a hacksaw. But this past Thursday at 2 AM, my legs were recently cleared of their tree line and as close to smooth and supple as a fancy, refillable razor can get them when you forget to refill for nigh-on a year. (Again, Twins.)

Each week after I shave I mark it off my TO-DO List. It qualifies as a major chore (you gotta look for silver linings), and I feel majorly accomplished.

And yes, I’m a List Girl. Eliminating items helps me feel less claustrophobic. Less buried alive under the rubble of twin tornados roaring through their toddler years. They spin wildly on their own – on the verge of category 4 storms — or join together in one massive category 5.

Our living room most times is scattered, smothered, and covered in wooden blocks and puzzle pieces and stacks of laundry that regenerate faster than my deodorant stick and the Hundred Acre Wood on my legs. (And then Argus keeps adding to the clutter with tea sets and DVD stacks and any other readily tippable targets at 2 AM.)

And let’s not even discuss my van, which looks like disaster coverage in a trailer park — flotsam scattered stem to stern.

So in the midst of this insanity, freshly-shaved legs are a huge check off on my To Do List. Please don’t begrudge me my minor victories.

Another big check off on my list is my weekly blog — which also qualifies as a major accomplishment, and also (I have to admit) a big reason I don’t shave more than once a week and why my house looks like a natural disaster sight. It steals time — robs me blind, actually, because I am not a fast writer.

But my blog gives me so much more than semi-smooth calves in return. I feel like I’ve reconnected with some inner light and voice — one that was growing ever dimmer and quieter. But now, it’s perked back up. Kind of like Argus.

For obvious reasons, Argus’ voice was buried. For less obvious ones, mine was. But he’s chosen to reappear and make a racket and be heard — and so have I. He’s stumbling around in the dark, looking to reveal his own sort of truths.  And so am I. And sometimes those truths are profoundly important and philosophical — like female empowerment —  and sometimes they’re small and still important — like asparagus pee-cup prevention.

Regardless, I still feel the need to share. Just like Argus.

So all these (and more!) thoughts tumbled around in my brain last Thursday night. And  as I finally found myself ready to drift back to sleep – nearly an hour later — I heard another noise, accompanied by the rankest breath this side of the underworld. And no, it wasn’t Argus this time. (I’ve never smelled him, thank the Heavens. That might just be my limit to ghost tolerance.) Nope, it was my dachshund, hacking and wheezing like a Sleestak –those weird, prehistoric, wet-suit wearing monsters of my Saturday morning childhood. I love Neci dearly, but her breath is vile.

So I rolled over to avoid her exhaust and immediately felt the bed tilt and swirl, an abrupt reminder of yet another escaped otolith rambling around inside my inner ear and wreaking havoc. It’s been a month of vertigo, off and on and it’s getting old.

But then I realized…

My mind was reeling while my mind was reeling.

I’d become a literal metaphor.

With freshly-shaved legs.

I feel so accomplished.

 

The Blinking Light of Fairy Heights: Shine a Life on Faye

Today, I sit quietly at my desk, the fog rolling off the river and into the leyland cypresses that stand as sentinels at the far reaches of our lot, and I ponder who to write about, which woman to celebrate first in my Shine A Life series. The fog attempts to blot the sun this morning, but it still manages to glow from behind the wet, winding gauze. I know it will burn through soon and shine its warmth again. And I am struck by the parallels to one who has steadily been a warm and guiding soul in my life, and how she, too, is currently struggling in the gray, suffocating gauze of grief.

I have known her since I was six, or somewhere thereabouts. She has seen me at my best, and she’s seen me at my worst. She has known me from the sandy creek-beds and maypop fields of Mississippi to the concrete gutters and asphalt acres of Texas. And though we haven’t seen each other in years, she knows me now, through the blue and white posts and profiles of Facebook.

And those blue and white posts are what have me thinking about her today. Particularly the profile pic of her with her husband and their only son in his Air Force dress blues. Because this week, she lays that Air Force Academy graduate and pilot-hero son to rest.

I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I know his mother well. And his mother’s eyes are there in his portraits, along with her aquiline nose, and the way his smile lifts his cheeks (and everyone who catches it) in glowing and genuine warmth.

This woman, this beautiful mother of four, and grandmother of four, and mentor to me and thousands of others has unknowingly nudged her way into my heart and my blog today.

I remember when I first met Faye (for that is her name, and it means any number of things, from fairy to loyalty to believe — and she thoroughly embodies all three), she was working toward her PhD at Ole Miss: a tall glass of milk with coal-colored hair and chicory-root eyes. She amazed my six-year-old self because she studied novels in her graduate classes. I never knew you could study novels. Physics, yes. My dad and my uncles did that. But novels? Rooting around in prose like an archaeologist in soil – unearthing various and sundry truths and philosophies and polishing them up for the world to see? This was mind-altering stuff.

Plus, she and her roommate were the first women that I, as a youngster, had ever known who lived independently. This was equally mind-altering.

I remember their apartment building. It was at the top of a wicked-steep, small-town hill – perhaps the steepest in our little university town. Our nursery school, The Busy Bee, was at the bottom of that hill, and at the top — just outside the paved entrance to her apartment building — perched a blinking caution light.

Funny, I didn’t remember that blinking light until just now. And simply writing about it reminds me of perhaps the most famous light in all of literature: the mystical, green light of Gatsby fame, symbol of promise and potential and the great chase of gargantuan dreams.

But this light on Faye’s hill was a blinking yellow — a signal to slow down because there, at the apex of the hill was a blind drive. It served as a reminder to look out for others after that long, precipitous climb to the top.

To me, it is a symbolic reminder of how Faye has lived her life.  After long, difficult climbs, she has reached so many celebratory pinnacles in her lifetime. She acquired that PhD. She’s been an educator. Now she’s a school board trustee. She’s also a regional director of United Way. But most importantly of all, she is a wife and mother and grandmother and mentor.

She is loved, and she is revered because people have been her life work — not titles, not accolades, not money, not prestige — not any of the things Gatsby pursued while chasing his elusive green light across the bay.

Faye has dedicated her life predominantly to children – her own, and her community’s. And I see myself as one of them. She will never understand the impact she had upon me as a six-year-old girl, nor as a sixteen-year-old, not even as one nearing sixty (ok, I’ve still got a few years till then, but you get the point…)

In this world made up of the fast and furious pursuit of things, it’s a rare thing to find a blinking yellow light. I will forever more think of them as Fairy lights, after my beautiful friend Faye. They symbolize wisdom and love — the two things of value in this green glass goblin world of greed. They will remind me to pause and always make room for others. Because when all else slips away under cover of fog and darkness, Wisdom and Love remain. And the greatest of these is Love.

This week is the hardest week that I hope Faye will ever have to endure. It will be a wickedly steep, achingly-hard climb for her. I can’t even imagine the pain, the cracking of all the what-ifs and why-Gods inside her chest. Her baby boy, one of her brightest, most perfect contributions to this world, has gone on to fly with the angels. And not a one of us knows what to say or do to help.

But I pray she feels all the hearts she has touched along the way as we send our sincerest outpourings of love and prayers from every corner of the world. I am confident in saying thousands are standing still with her in spirit during this, a mother’s darkest hour, as she celebrates the life of her beautiful boy, gone way too soon.

 

 

 

What Warklike Noise is This? Schools Should Not Be the Stage for Tragedy

Help me, Lord, to find what I am supposed to write today… A day after yet another school tragedy — the 18th in the year 2018. More headlines. More pics of moms in mourning, this time with the added dimension of Ash Wednesday smudges on foreheads. More stories of teachers sacrificing themselves. More stories of students who made it talking about students who didn’t. More stories. But not stories. All true. I wish they weren’t. I wish they were made up. I wish I were merely watching a Shakespearean tragedy. But alas, I’m not.

And how do I find the words to make sense of these real-world tragedies? To find words? To unearth them? To polish them and use them? To help myself through these dark times, these hellish realities?  To help me make some sort of sense of it all? To make sense of a world that steals sons? And daughters? And hearts? And grinds them into mincemeat to serve up on little slices of computer screens and news headlines… And now snaps. On Snapchat. Snap-shots of horror and fear. Screaming and gunshots. Panic and pain. All of these things are too horrible to fathom. To absorb. To digest. I am… overwhelmed. And inept. Is there anything that can be done? Anything?

Quesions. More questions. And no answers. Only words. And words are not answers. Words don’t do much. Words are those old standbys. They are hashtags. #ThoughtsandPrayers. Affections, not action. I can polish them up all I want, they ultimately do nothing.

It is Action we need, not Words. Not Thoughts. We have active shooters in our schools killing kids. Many, many kids. And educators. And the wrong sorts of people are the only ones acting.

No, I take that back. The rest of us are acting, too.

We are all playing a role. We have taken on the role of Hamlet — the great procrastinor. The tragic hero who unpacks his heart with words. Who delays and delays and delays until it is way too late. Until there is so much death and destruction that the entire kingdom has tumbled into the hands of the enemy.

Apparently, that is the role we are all willing to play –the politicians and public alike.

And there are so many ghosts telling us to do something. So many. In hallways and classrooms and media centers and cafeterias and restrooms. Begging us to avenge their murders most foul with action.

But still, we wait… while noble hearts crack. And cease. While tragedy becomes commonplace.

So, no. I don’t need to find the words to make sense of this anymore. None of us do. Instead, we need to DO SOMETHING. We need to stop the bleeding.  And stop the madness. And stop the death…

To do or not to do.  That is the question.

And I don’t want to hear that now is not the time…  that the wounds are too fresh.

But in this, at least, Shakespeare’s words are right… It needs to happen now “while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance on plots and errors should happen.

Take up the bodies. Such a sight as this becomes the [battle]field, but here shows much amiss.”

Let’s find a way to be the change.

#dosomethingaboutallthetragedyalready

Shine A Life: A Series on Women Who Encourage and Lead

Women.

Just typing the word gives me strength and courage and confidence, and a sense of community. Sadly, I’m sure that to the vast majority of this distracted globe the word does not conjure the same – or even similar– connotations. Instead, huge numbers of men — and even women – think only of weakness and ignorance.

And why? Because of a tale as old as time…about a garden, green and lush, and a tree, juicy with promise…

And ever since the forbidden fruit of that tantalizing tree first burst with splendor inside that eager soft palate (yes, the double-entendre is totally intended — because the Garden of Eden is synonymous with sex and shame), Eve and her sisters have been blamed — never mind that Adam was an equal offender in the whole scenario…

Which means that when spirit animals got passed around – we women got saddled with the Scapegoat. And the varieties and the breeds are numerous and all equally hellish:

  • We’ve been sin-eaters from that very first bite, consuming the guilt and bearing the afflictions for all.
  • We are witches, burned regularly — with malice and forethought — if it appears we’re regaining any small semblance of strength or of power.
  • We are sacrificial lambs, slaughtered on bloody altars by roughly hewn knives that penetrate our innocence and slather it with shame.
  • And we are the scapegoats sent into the wilderness with mankind’s sins projected onto our villainized, ostracized flesh.

Women have been relegated to the shavings and the shadows of the world since time immemorial. Which is a travesty.

Because we are strong. We are intelligent. We are powerful. We are creative and disciplined and industrious and capable. Oh, BOY are we capable. And we deserve some long overdue recognition and respect.

This year – the year 2018 — has been labeled the “Year of the Woman.” The moniker was spawned by the #metoo movement in the wake of all the sexual misconduct and abuse that has been revealed in recent months – and has been an ongoing patriarchal proclivity since the wheel first whetted the knife…

But, as Oprah says, “A new day is on the horizon.” So I say: Rise and Shine. Shine as bright – or brighter than — all those sons who’ve come before.

There are so many brilliant, capable, strong women in this universe of ours — and it is indeed ours, not just theirs.

And our stories need to be told. And some of us are famous – like Oprah, and Ashley, and Rose, and Meryl, and Nancy, and Elizabeth, and Hillary — and those stories are being heard. But some of us are not so famous. Some of us are ordinary brilliant, capable, strong women. And in this Year of the Woman, our stories should be heard, too.

I’ve been following an account on Instagram designed to highlight brilliant, capable, strong women operating (literally… it features female surgeons) in a male dominated world. But I recently learned that the whole venture was nothing but a catfishing scheme. The author telling these physicians’ stories was a man posing as a woman — for unknown and indubitably disturbing reasons.

This imposter reached out through emails and social media to a multitude of doctors, claiming to be a young female surgical resident forced to leave her program due to debilitating illness (the disease varied, depending on the target surgeon’s specialty). These doctors – due to the false history –were quite empathetic and opened their hearts and lives to the Him they thought was a Her. Hopefully nothing more than emotional betrayal took place. That still remains to be seen. The Instagram has since been closed.

The whole situation has me pissed off but has also got me thinking. The platform may have been a lie, but there were so many lights, rising big and shining bright out of the darkness of that lie.

And then I got to thinking about the many women in my personal life: sisters, besties, moms, daughters, students. Some of them are surgeons. Some of them are teachers. Some are business women, some stay-at-home moms, some retirees, some immigrants, some artists. Some are from the past. Most are from the present.

And none of them are famous. But all of them are inspiring.

And they help me feel strong and brave and connected daily. And they all help me believe that I can do this hard thing called life. And since I know that not every woman feels the same sense of strength and courage and community, I have decided to begin a new series featuring the extraordinary lives of ordinary women. Strong, brave, powerful, ordinary women. Who can encourage all of us to Rise and Shine…. and cast off the darkness and shadows and goatskins and blames of our past.

I will call it Shine a Life.

Neci Noodle: Queen of my Heart and the Premeditated Poop

I have a dog. A smelly, aging, resting bitch of a wiener dog named Neci Noodle. And for those of you who have dachshunds, you know — you know the big personality that comes in that small sausage casing. They are loving and loyal, while at the same time, stubborn and independent – which is a polite way of saying they are tiny little temperamental shits. And this girl of mine, she is the wurst. (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself…)

Neci Noodle loves me with a heart the size of a dog twenty times her breed — let’s say, a bullmastiff – big and bold and without shame. And she is as fiercely protective as a bullmastiff would be, too – but with a distinct size disadvantage. Size doesn’t stop her, though. She’ll take on anything or anyone, big or small. And Mike qualifies as big.

I remember when he and I first started dating… Noodle was anything but a fan. It was three-hundred-pound Asian meathead vs twelve-pound German wiener dog. As far as she was concerned, he had no business cuddling up on the couch with me. That was HER territory — and she let it be known, baring her teeth, and squeezing in between us at every given opportunity.  Talk about a literal wiener block. (Again, couldn’t help myself.)

It took Noodle quite a long while to warm up to Mike. She showed her displeasure by regularly leaving him presents… leaving me presents… leaving anyone in her wake a host of moist and meaty presents smelling of deeply digested rage and rancor.

I want you to know I read somewhere online that it is impossible for a dog to be spiteful — that they just aren’t capable of that sort of emotional forethought. But you just can’t believe everything you read on the internet. Obviously, the author of such a ludicrous statement never owned a dachshund.

Now Neci Noodle, my impassioned and premeditated pooper, is getting a bit long-in-the-tooth – “tooth” being the operative word here, as she’s lost nearly all but one in the past few doggy years. We’ve found them in the bed sheets, the dog dish, between the couch cushions… As a result, her breath is noxious. There is a distinct thrill in dachshund kisses and an absolute agony in dachshund breath.

Along with the loss of her canine canines, she’s growing feeble and frail and has a failing bladder. She sleeps pressed between my shoulder blades nightly, and twice this month, I’ve woken up with soaked hair and bedclothes when her bladder gave out on her, much to her embarrassment. These weren’t spiteful piddles. These were accidental drownings, and she was deeply ashamed.

And along with the unreliable bladder, Neci has developed a cough that no amount of antibiotics can touch and she’s rapidly dropping weight. My doctor daughter says she’s cachectic. I don’t know exactly what that means… but believe me when I say she’s like a slinky dog stretched too taut and too far so that her ribcage is loose and circling her in saggy slices of too-big, too-sharp hoops. She seems to be collapsing into that giant, bony cavity.

The longevity of dachshunds is between twelve and fifteen. She is thirteen. I fear the worst for my little bratwurst.

Yes, Noodle is long in the tooth, full in the chest, weak in the bladder, and big in the spiteful shits. She used to have a dapple face, but these days it’s pretty much solid white. Her front end smells like fetid swamp water and her rear end has a preponderance of anal gland leakage. I’m sure some may wonder why I love her so…

I guess it’s because she’s more than a pet. I know, I know, this sounds just like every other person’s account of every other pet that is deeply loved.

But then, most times those people’s pets do extraordinary things that warrant such devotion — like save lives or provide service or catch frisbees or execute midair flips or roll over on command.

Neci Noodle? She hasn’t really done any of those things – although she has made OTHERS execute midair flips and rollovers by getting underfoot at every available opportunity. She’s nearly broken the necks of my mother, my mother-in-law, Mike and me, myself, and I on multiple occasions (usually in the kitchen where food is being prepared).

Her traits are far from desirable. She’s jealous, she’s catty, she barks too much, she spews sulfurous exhaust from both ends, and she goes spelunking through purses and suitcases for mints and chewing gum whenever some unsuspecting guest leaves one at nose level – perhaps in an attempt to irradicate her unsettling, malodorous funk.

But just thinking about losing her stinky-ass leaves me frozen. I am terrified to take her to the vet right now. I’m terrified of the news I might receive. I’m terrified to discover the cause of this congestion that won’t clear up after two rounds of antibiotics. All the worst possibilities run through my mind: tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, cancer.

We’ve been through a lot, my thirteen-year-old Noodle and I: a divorce (mine), a major back surgery (hers) a remarriage (ours — she finally took a liking to Mike) and a couple of twin boys (definitely ours).

I have to say that I was really worried when Mike and I had the boys. I’d always heard and read (again, don’t believe everything you read on the internet) that dachshunds are not very good with children – especially if they have never been around them. Neci was nine years old when the twins arrived — definitely not a spring schnitzel. And while I’m sure she was not amused by the writhing little purple runts stealing her humans’ attention, her maternal instincts kicked in the very first time one of them cried.

I’ve read that it is physically impossible to ignore a newborn’s cry – that it is designed by nature to scrape against your insides, leaving your heart shredded and aching to assist. And apparently this time what I read on the internet was actually true. Neci heard that persistent little caterwaul coming out of that persistent little kiddo and couldn’t turn her back. She approached — whimpered — retreated — approached again. Before we knew it, she had him by the diaper and was dragging him over to me with her teeth.

From that point forward, she designated herself eager and willing fairy dog mother. And she has never looked back. They are her babies, and even though they have long since outgrown her, she is always in their corner. And underfoot. And cranky. But always there.

The first time I almost lost her was seven years ago this April. The doorbell rang and when I went to answer it I saw Neci seal-crawling her way toward me. Her legs were useless. She was paralyzed from pretty much her shoulders down. Once we got her to the emergency vet clinic, we learned she’d ruptured several discs and that we had three options: do nothing and hope she improved, put her down, or have surgery.

I almost fainted. No lie. You see that sort of thing in the movies – someone gets bad news delivered and their knees buckle. Only this was real life and it was no lie. My knees buckled. I sat down so I wouldn’t fall down. I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t afford this surgery. It cost the equivalent of a small car. I could barely afford the payments on my own car…

Let me pull back for just a minute and give a quick history of the Dachshund breed. They were designed for burrowing deep underground to root out badgers and rats. And while this girl of mine has never wrangled a badger, she definitely wrangles hearts, burrowing in deep and staking her claim.

She got mine from the minute she climbed onto my shoulder as a pup of twelve-weeks, clinging there like the little fruit bat Stella Luna from the children’s book — ears back, eyes wide and swimming with love, willing me to pull her in and love her back.

And she can burrow her way into the most resistant of hearts. Somehow, she even managed to gain ground in Mike’s. She must have. Because not only has he squeezed her disgusting anal glands on multiple occasions, he also sponsored the surgery that saved her life — and secured my deep and abiding love. If I didn’t know he was a keeper before then, I definitely knew at that moment.

She’s a burrower, this girl of mine. And if I lose her, my heart will forever house a Noodle-nest of tunnels where she has staked her claim. I don’t think it will ever be the same.

Please say a little prayer for me and my girl — my smelly, spiteful, cantankerous, loyal and oh-so-lovable girl.

From Otoliths to Life Events: The Week the World Spun Way Beyond My Control

Vertigo: the feeling of being on a never-ending, spinning tea cup ride, as if the world has gone topsy-turvy and is spiraling off its axis.

Things shift and flicker, things swim and bob, things sink in a giant whirlpool of dizzying proportions. Nothing is right; everything is wrong. And it feels as if Newton’s laws have high-tailed it out of town.

I experienced vertigo this past weekend on two different occasions and on two very different levels. Both hit without warning, though, and both knocked me to my knees.

Everything was normal — until suddenly it wasn’t.

The first scenario: me sitting up in bed on a sunny Saturday morning, the boys calling my name — only to be slammed sideways by a hard punch from gravity-turned-testy thanks to some little stones called otoliths that decided the ear canal was not to their liking.

I was miserable and debilitated, but my own dizzy issues soon took a backseat…

…to the second scenario: Boop sitting in bed on a Monday afternoon, the contractions calling her second child’s name — only to be slammed sideways with a hard punch from a gravid uterus-turned-testy thanks to a little fella called Beau who decided the birth canal was not to his liking.

Things dropped by dangerous degrees and with dizzying speed. One minute we were all sitting in Labor & Delivery, predicting birth time and weight, the next we were upside down and riding wave after wave of rapid-fire, disjointed images tossed up and spinning like Polaroids in a cyclone.

The following is what I recall, and not necessarily in proper order — because there was no order; there was only pandemonium:

I remember a disembodied nurse’s hand, inserted to the wrist and churning, trying its best to eliminate the final swollen sliver of impeding cervix.

And fetal monitor ticker tape scattered across the L&D floor like shorn snakeskin, registering a gradual and then sharp decline in the baby’s heartrate.

And a tidal swell of green-bodied scrubs, dozens it seemed, filling the birthroom.

And at some point there were doctors paged in twos and threes, names flickering and hanging in the air like disjangled chords.

And the memory of a syringe in a gloved hand holding a glittering vial to stop contractions and hopefully restore a healthy fetal heartrate.

I see our GiGi with a handheld iPhone image of a horrified sister’s face — one who has seen just how quickly the thin veil between life and death can part — holding her cheeks in knuckled slices as she facetimes from 800 miles away.

And the round circumference of a fetal vacuum extractor, positioned on a tiny, dark, tufted crown.

I hear countdowns echoing through time and space, and in the layered slices between I hear the grunts and screams and brittle, gasping breaths of a mama working without benefit of contractions to help push her little guy out.

And then the tugging, hard and intense, from a blood-spattered obstetrician with a Big One on the line. But time and again the vacuum pops loose and the bystanders groan. And each time that it does, the tiny sliver of a crown slides back into warmth and imminent danger.

And a close-up of Boop’s crumpled up, scared-to-death face.

A scared to face death, face.

This was all wrong. This was all so horribly, horribly wrong.

Poor Boop was helpless. And poor Beau was helpless. They gave it their all, but it wasn’t enough. And I can’t say the medical staff and their years of wisdom and training were enough either.

Because the last clearly-visible shot I see was of a gurney rolling away toward the operating room, surrounded by dozens of women in scrubs and followed closely by Bradley in some new, paper scrubs of his own.

Turns out, he wouldn’t need them. When things took an even darker turn and the downward spiral steepened, he wasn’t allowed in the OR after all.

The last thing Boop heard as they put a mask on her face was, “Don’t let the dad in,” and “As soon as she’s under, I’m cutting. Let me know.”

Yes, things corkscrewed out of control in ever-tightening coils, but all was not lost. Newton’s Laws had not quite high-tailed it out of Dodge. His third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And for us, that reaction was prayer. And as the darkness spun faster, our prayers– quicker and lighter — lifted and pulled, tighter and tauter than the darkest force in that helpless whirlpool here below.

Yes, we prayed: me from the “Authorized Personnel Only” line in the hallway on the way to the OR; and Bradley from that closed OR door where he watched through a five-inch gap between window and curtain. And from that five-inch gap, he saw them slice a twelve-inch gap into the rock of her belly and pull Beau from darkness to light.

But the fight wasn’t over yet — because when Beau came out, he came out limp and white… and as close to lifeless as it’s possible for a newborn to be. We found out later, his Apgar score was a 1. The highest and healthiest is a 10.

But we had prayed and were praying still.

And while Boop was helpless, and baby Beau was helpless, and even the docs in all their wisdom and experience were seemingly helpless to the carnage of a world where the rules have run amok, God was not.

Because after what felt like an eternity of Bradley praying from the doorway and GiGi and I praying in the hallway, we finally heard baby Beau cry. And in those cries — those stubby, angry, newborn baby squalls — we heard God’s tender mercies.

Yes, this week all went cattywampus on me and mine, leaving us vulnerable and vehemently out of control.

Now my tiny little bout with vertigo was nothing in the grand scheme of things, but Bethany and Beau’s birth plan skidding sideways was another thing entirely.

Thankfully, all of it, from the smallest of otoliths to the biggest of life events, is all in His capable control.  Praise Him from Whom all blessings flow.

Pretty Sure We Have Ourselves a Ghost: Night Noises and Red Shirts

It would appear we have a ghost — a real live (well, I guess not live), but real used-to-be-live blustering, busy-body, house-haunting ghost.

It all began three weeks ago. Although looking back, I think we’ve had some other curious situations over the last couple of years of living in our house. Things lost and then found in odd locations. Or things never found at all, but heard — like nursery toys not seen for a year or more suddenly heard playing their eerie, tinkling tunes. No clue from where. Still. we chalked all that up to pudgy toddler hands and their haphazard hiding prowess. But then, the events of the last three weeks have convinced me otherwise. The events of the last three weeks have led me to suspect the supernatural…

It all began deep in the belly of night — the deepest crease of the deepest fold of the big, broad belly of night – when our sleep was sucker-punched by a bruising, clanging sound.

I jolted awake. Mike blinked in the darkness. He thought he’d dreamed it until I asked, “Did you hear that?!?” and then he shot instantly up. Armed with a golf driver made of carbon fiber for flexibility and force and kept at our bedside for just such an occasion. I watched the shadow of his imposing figure creep out of the bedroom and into the echoing darkness.

The wind was howling outside, and my soul was howling inside. Someone was in our house.

A long and frightening aeon later, he reappears. “The flue flew open,” he explains. “Pretty sure it popped due to the pressure of that storm.”

“Really? Are you positive?”

“Yep, it’s held closed by tension. Storm got it.”

Ok. I guess I’m buying. But not sleeping. Nope. My adrenaline raged – as hard as the wind at my window.

Then last weekend…

Doors that we were certain we had locked were found unlatched or unbolted: the back screen, the side garage, the front entry. Forgetfulness, we rationalized – even though my childhood full of attempted break-ins has left me locking and double-locking every door in the house all the time. Still — if not forgetfulness, then toddlers. Two of them. Always eager to let out the dog or check out the state of the weather.

So cut to the middle of last week…

Asleep. Again. This time, not quite buried as deep in the fleshy middle of night, but late — just after midnight – and I find myself floating slowly up to the surface of my slumber, where I hear a woman’s voice. It’s a metallic, tinny voice. I listen intently. Am I dreaming this? Is this reality? Then I hear her again.

I’m certain its coming from the boys’ rooms — projected through the monitor on our nightstand. My heart lurches, then trips, spilling sweat across my chest and arms.

“Mike?” I grab his wrist.

“I hear it,” he answers.

This time, it’s not the golf club he grabs, but the gun from the closet. He clicks the slide, loads the chamber, and heads out the door.

After another terrifying aeon, he returns.

This time, it isn’t the flue. This time, it’s the television.

“It’s turned itself on — just the sound bar. Just the audio. Probably a power surge,” he rationalizes.

I’m not buying. Not this time. “No clocks are flashing. No lights have flickered. I don’t think so,” I reply.

“All’s clear, though,” he states.

Eventually I fall back asleep. It takes me a long, long time.

Then, yesterday…

We’re all in the basement so the boys can run wild. Their playroom is down here. So is the game room. I’m facetiming my daughter. We’re commiserating about the racist leader of our great nation when she stops cold. “Hey, let me see the room you’re in.”

So I pan the phone around the game room: pool table, big comfy couches, newly-purchased karaoke tv.

“Who was that man I saw a minute ago? Is Sam there?” she asks.

Mike and I freeze. “What man?”

“The man in the red shirt I saw over your shoulder.”

Over my shoulder, there is nothing but the blank wall of the hallway. Not even a picture, a photograph, to break up the blankness.

“Sam’s not here. Nobody else is here.”

“I saw a man.”

Hmmm.

Mike’s ready to call a realtor. Me? I’m not too worried. I can’t say I like being jolted awake in the middle of the night, but I’m not afraid of this trickster ghost, this old man in his red shirt.  I don’t think he means us any harm, he just wants us to know he’s here. Pretty sure he doesn’t want us gone. He just wants our attention.

And I’m intrigued to know why…

I will not Hush My Mouth

To the person who dressed me down today for my dissatisfaction with and absolute disgust of the current POTUS:

Whew! I’m glad you got that off your chest. I wouldn’t want to cause you any pain by perhaps encouraging you to try to see the other side of things. The side that isn’t white and male and in control of policies and procedures and pretty much anything and everything you ever take for granted because you resemble that establishment.

You see, I’ll respect that man when he respects my gender. He shows me no respect so why should I give him mine?  Oh, that’s right, he thinks because he’s big and powerful and rich he can just take it. Grab me by the pussy and demand it.

And let’s talk a bit more about respect, shall we? I believe he shows absolutely no respect for the office of the presidency.. He parades himself around like he’s the cat that swallowed the canary. And we the people are the canary. He is dangerous. Deadly, even. I respect the danger he represents. I do respect that.

You say I should remain quiet. I should not voice my opinion. The way I see it, that is exactly the way Hitler grew into the powerful monster that he became. By spreading his “Fake News” and terrorizing anyone who spoke out against him. Too many kept their mouths closed until it was way, way, too late. I will not stay silent.

I owe him no loyalty. I am not a sworn member of the military. I have the ability to speak against him in public if I so choose. It is my right. And as I see it, it is my responsibility. I hail from a place of extreme oppression. A place where men told me when to be seen and when to be heard and how to behave. Where education was wasted on women because our place was barefoot in the kitchen with a baby in the oven and a roast on the stovetop. And I’ll be damned if I’m going back to that place.

You worry about my students. You worry that by speaking my mind I am teaching young minds to disrespect authority. Here’s the thing. First off, I don’t prosthelytize in my classroom, if that’s what you’re implying.  I don’t talk politics in my classroom – or at least not partisan politics. I remain neutral when it comes to right vs left, republican vs democrat. But we do look at all sides. We deal with a lot of themes in the novels that we explore – themes related to man’s inhumanity toward man: prejudice and hate and dominance and greed and violence and bitterness and war. A lot of these naturally lend themselves to discussions about the political climate of our world, of our nation. But I do my absolute best to speak for both sides. And in the South, most kids hear nothing but one side. They know that side well. I encourage them to do research, to educate themselves, to question everything and then decide for themselves what they think and believe. Not their parents. Not their teachers. Not their preachers. Not their classmates. Themselves. THAT is what education is for: building critical thinking skills.

As far as friending my students on Facebook, that’s pretty much frowned upon in this profession of mine and it doesn’t happen — nor would it if it could. That’s just weird and that’s just wrong. But when my students have graduated, when they are ADULTS then they can friend request me. Not before then. And just like you, they can block me if they don’t like what I have to say. Or they can choose to engage. Or they can choose to scroll right on past. You say as a teacher I hold sway and influence over young minds. I hope that is true. I hope my influence is in showing them how to think — not WHAT to think, HOW to think. How to research and analyze, explore and question, sift and weigh all the options.  If I ever try to tell them WHAT to think, then I have crossed a line. I have become my own worst enemy. I have become HIM.

I love my students dearly. I only want the very best for them. And them using their minds to form their opinions, rather than having opinions spoon-fed to them by the establishment is ultimately what is best for them. That is not teaching them to disrespect authority. That is teaching them to think for themselves. The two are not synonymous.

Yes, sometimes my emotions get the better of me on Facebook. Sometimes I react to the man in the oval office’s tantrums or his 3 A.M. rants or his pompous, smug face or his endless strings of lies. And you’ve got me thinking… Yes, you speak the truth. I guess when I react to him, when I vent on social media, I am mirroring his small-mindedness. That is shameful and it discredits me and I need to do better. So for that, I appreciate the note. I appreciate the heads up. I will try to do better.

But as for my speaking out against him — as for my statements and beliefs about the sorry excuse for a president we have in the oval office, that will not stop. I realize my opinions are not to your liking. I get that. I am not, however, sorry for them.

This nation gives us all the freedom to speak. When we stop speaking, we run the risk of turning into an oppressive, dogmatic dictatorship, much like the one in which I was raised. A place where only those in power have any say whatsoever. Where individuals become slaves to the whims and whips of an elite few. A few who believe they are the chosen ones. (Chosen ones as in belief in manifest destiny and God-ordained right and all that jazz and bullshit, not general election chosen one, btw. I can see you jumping all over on that term…)

No, I do not believe in people who believe they are the chosen ones. That’s just entirely too dangerous for my liking. And for the rest of my life, I will fight and I will speak out and I will not ever give up. I’ve been silenced before. But like I said in that blog I wrote back in November of 2016, I’ll be damned before I go back to that hell again.

Thanks for hearing me out…

 

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