Saturday, August 26, 2017

Another summer, another hospital stay

For the fourth time in four years, Honey is in the hospital. And he has been for most of this month. Again I spent almost 30 straight hours in the ER with him waiting for answers: Lying on a window sill countertop trying to snooze, leaning on various uncomfortable chairs in various waiting rooms while he has test after test. Eating crap food from the cafeteria. Feeling helpless as I watched him in pain and frustration. Hearing a renowned specialist say he doesn't know what's causing the pain -- in the 7,000 endoscopies he's performed, he says, he's not seen a case like this -- but they're going to attack it more aggressively now. I wonder why they didn't attack it more aggressively 2 weeks ago. Why can we never get one step ahead of this illness or out from under its financial burden?

I am willing my feet to step out of his room now, to go back to my children and my life and try to be normal. I can't help wondering when I leave him here in the evening what condition he'll be in tomorrow when I come back, or whether I'll see him again at all. Should I come back tomorrow? Is this healthy for me, to just sit here day after day while he sleeps in a morphine haze? 

Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Every hospital looks the same. And I've seen them now in North Carolina, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine. Long corridors. Shiny surfaces. Light blue and yellow walls, beige linoleum tiles on the floor. Cheerful signs at each turn reminding me to wash my hands. Acrid bodily smells reminding me why.

I am willing myself to walk out to the parking garage. To stand upright in the face of my fear. 

It’s been over a decade now that he’s struggled with this illness, and although it’s his body that’s wracked with pain, it’s taking a toll on my body, too. My shoulders seem permanently tight with worry. He complains of a stomach ache and I sleep lightly, in case I’ll be awakened in the night to call an ambulance. I watch him calculate every bite of food he puts in his mouth, wondering if this is the one that sends him into another attack. I worry about my sons - do they carry the genes for this condition, too? I hate his father for passing it to him. It’s irrational, yes, but I hate his father for his genetics as well as his weak character. 

Also irrational is the anger I feel toward my husband. I am angry about how his illness affects my life. I am angry that our children are growing up with this uncertainty. This was not exactly what I had in mind when we vowed “better or worse, sickness and health” — that was supposed to come much later, after we traveled and put our kids through college and played with our grandchildren. I am angry that our peers haven’t had to face such illness and disruption as many times as we have; they don't know what to do for us, how to help or what to say. I’m angry too that we can never be more than an hour from a hospital. I am angry about the financial toll this takes; every time I think we may finally be out from under debt, another heaping hospital bill piles on. We can't make a plan for a vacation without that small voice whispering doubt. My brain knows it’s not his fault. He has tried especially hard these last two years to be healthy - he has changed his entire lifestyle, he has lost 100 pounds, he sees specialists every 3 months to check in. Yet he is sick. Again. Still. And it hurts me, too, and I'm angry.

In the weeks since this latest bout started, I have argued with doctors, I have kissed up to nurses, I have cried in the lobby listening to the elderly pianist playing show tunes. I have called Honey's boss, filed for his short-term disability, combed through our bank account to ease our budget woes while he’s out of work. I have planned for daily childcare so I can spend time with him in the hospital. I have canceled vacation plans and missed my cousin's wedding. I have worked for two weeks by his bedside, pushing back my own deadlines so I can be there when a too-busy doctor breezes in to give us over-simplified explanations that don't make much sense. I have prayed words that didn’t really mean much because I don’t really know what to pray. I have held his hand as he writhed in pain; I have wondered over and over “is this the one that kills him?” I have tried to encourage him even when I feel completely black inside. I have kept family and friends abreast of each development, repeating the same things over and over. I have asked questions and read medical articles and borne the brunt of his frustration. He yells at me because I’m strong, you see. So fucking strong. 

Ten times he has been hospitalized in our 17 years of marriage. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But this is the most anxious and sad I have ever been. Tomorrow begins the third week without him at home. I wake up every morning feeling empty; I can only sleep at night with the help of a cocktail or a pill. 

Right foot. Left foot. Remain standing for just a little while longer. Pretend everything is fine so your children don’t worry. Hope that someone will offer to help with the kids, regret that you moved so far away from your closest friends who always knew what to do without you asking. Wish you lived closer to your family so you didn’t feel so much guilt at asking them to stay in your crappy guest bedroom another week. Try to be present for work meetings even though you can’t focus on anything but trying to solve the medical mystery your husband has presented. Pay the bills. Make the lunches. Feed the cat. Fold the laundry. Take the kids hiking on a beautiful day, even though you just want to lie in bed with the covers over your face. Preserve as much normalcy as possible; this may be a while. 


I am so tired. 



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'd have more time for writing



I’d have more time for writing* if I didn’t love the evening read-and-huggle routine with Zippy. If he didn’t smell like toothpaste and sunshine, if he didn’t curl up perfectly in the C of my body, simply a larger version of the infant he was when he came out of me. I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t know he’d only be 7 and cuddly for another blink, hands that fit perfectly inside mine, pink cheeks and long dark eyelashes. This is the only time of the day when he is still. I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t long to cuddle his big brother like this, also.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t cook actual food for my family -- and serve it at an actual table -- or if we didn’t hold hands when we recite the simple grace rhyme the kids learned in preschool. I’d have more time for writing if this wasn’t my favorite moment of every day, having all four of us in one spot for just 15 minutes, Zippy's hand in my left, Happy's in my right, Honey's eyes locked on mine from across the table. (I’d have more time for writing, too, if chopping vegetables wasn’t so cathartic.)


I’d have more time for writing if I drove to work instead of walking. If the sun didn’t rise so brilliantly over the peninsula, bay, and Back Cove like it does and the snowy egrets weren’t out to greet me every morning, I’d definitely have more time for writing. And I’d have a lot more time for writing if walking this trail wasn’t both exercise and meditation.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t read such good books, if didn’t fall in love with old curmudgeonly characters like Leo Gursky or Olive Kitteridge, if I didn’t get swept up in clever word play by Junot Díaz or twisty plotting by Lianne Moriarty, or crave Mary Oliver’s poetic precision. I’d absolutely write more if I didn’t catch my breath with every turn of the page of When Women Were Birds, then go back and read it all over again the second I finished.  


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t need to put my feet in the sand or my head in the trees as often as I do. I’d write volumes, I’m sure, if the salt air didn’t feel so refreshing on my face and the smell of pine needles didn’t remind me of all that’s good. I’d have much more time for writing if I didn’t need to sit with my face in the sun so often, if I didn’t crave its warmth and energy and promise.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t text my people all day long. If I didn’t need to feel so connected to my besties' love and humor to get me through every day, if I didn’t get anxious when I don’t hear from my father or siblings every morning and afternoon. If I didn’t want to share photos of my kids as they grow up so wondrously 500 miles from everyone we love most, I’d write more, I’m sure of it.


I’d have more time for writing if this cat wasn’t so soft and her purr wasn’t so soothing. If she didn’t melt into my touch like this, or look in my eyes like I’m the only creature on the planet, I’d likely write more often and for longer stretches.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t look forward to lying on this couch with my husband every evening, just feeling his warm hands on my feet and hearing the smooth rhythm of his breathing.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t go to the movies with my kids, or out to dinner with my friends, or wander aimlessly through the farmers’ market on a Saturday morning.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t daydream about places we’ll travel to or reminisce about places we’ve been.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t get lost in old photo albums or tell stories about my grandparents or try to recall my mom’s smile.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t stop everything to dance whenever a Prince song plays.


I’d have more time for writing if I didn’t like the taste of red wine so much.

I’d have more time for writing if I wasn’t so busy living.

---
* The same could be said for cleaning, too...or sleeping...or exercising...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For the love of Nacho

Just around the time I was starting to wonder if Nacho really loves me -- or if he really just uses me for food -- I read this article that confirms what I'd hoped: He really likes hanging out with me. Maybe he even loves me, and I know now I love him.

Nacho is a big fat jerkface of an orange tabby cat, with a big fat gentle heart. He often can't get out of his own way, but that makes him a good snuggle on a cold winter evening, and you know we have plenty of those around here. He may drive you nuts by sleeping on your feet so you can't roll over or move to get out of bed in the morning...but he will certainly keep you warm.

He's a Nacho, Nacho Cat.
He doesn't meow or cry much. He squeaks, somewhat timidly and ridiculously for such a large cat. I only heard him truly meow for the first time this weekend when he felt pain. Nacho speaks more with his purr; his constant rhythmic rattle is what I'm missing most right now in this quiet, sleep-filled house. He has a different purr for every message: a feed-me purr, a pet-me purr, a hey-kid-back-off purr. This cat is not patient for food, but he's never mean -- just persistent, sometimes (especially on a lazy Saturday morning) over-assertive, but he won't try to hurt you. Even when he's pressing his full weight on your chest and you're having trouble breathing, the sight of that bubble-gum nose will dissipate your annoyance. Mostly.

Nacho loves to stretch out and show off his macho bod, all 16 pounds of cat flesh. He's the only cat I've known who relished belly rubs. He'll flop down next to you, turn on his side and purr loudly until you sink your hand into that thick, soft belly fur. Then he'll close his eyes and roll his head back and relax every muscle, purring and sighing, and I swear it, smiling. Pet him anywhere and he'll melt a little. Except on his flank -- that will get you a warning nip or swat.

Nacho is extremely patient with kids -- I can't count how many times Zippy has picked him up about the middle and hauled him around the house like a giant floppy toy -- but he's not terribly playful. Every now and then he'll tear through the house chasing his stuffed starfish or a rattle mouse or a ball, but if we initiate play he watches us with condescending eyes. Silly hoomans. He loves sitting on the windowsill, his ample belly and hind leg spilling over the side. Oh, and the basement is his favorite place to explore! So many nooks and crannies to sniff out, but also a wonderful street-level window by the steps to gaze through -- kitty TV. He caught two bats inside the house the first summer we lived here, and he chases bugs here and there, but mostly Nacho wants to chillax. He has fit perfectly with our mellow family vibe.

For three years this big fat jerkface orange cat has hung around by my side. He's been between my feet when I'm walking or cooking or cleaning, he's been sitting next to me on the couch when I'm reading or writing or just watching television, he's been nosing into the bathroom while I did bathroom business. His purr has filled my ears, providing comfort when I'm sick, reminding me of his hungry belly when I'm not paying attention to him, warming me when I'm lounging. He filled the hole in my heart that opened when Pitino died (oh, sweet Pitino, my first true love, who walked and cuddled me through 18 years of my life), and Nacho swiftly created a new space for himself -- a giant 16-pound big-eared orange space -- in my heart and our family. We love him. I love him. And that's why I had to give him up yesterday. I couldn't provide the medical care he needs now nor throughout his life, and I couldn't bear to see him suffer. I thought I could cuddle him while he died, but it was too hard to bear his pain.

Always by my side, the purr-o-matic.
It happened quickly. He seemed lethargic, wasn't eating, hid under the bed, peed all over himself...these are all major bad signs. I took him to the emergency vet and soon had a diagnosis and a gut-wrenching decision to make. I brought him home. Over 24 hours, our family wrestled with so many feelings, worries, doubts. And we knew the window for decision was small, and closing quickly. I prayed for peace and clarity while I laid with Nacho on the bathroom floor, feeling his steady purr growing quieter, his eye wide and scared.

Yesterday morning, when I knew for sure he wouldn't get better on his own, I picked up the phone to call our vet. I would ask if they would euthanize Nacho for us, to stop his pain and ours. Before I got the words out, though, the woman on the phone said, "Is this about Nacho? We were just talking about him! I think we have an idea."

She offered a solution: They would perform the surgery he needed, at no charge, but I would have to surrender Nacho to their permanent care. In other words, they'd save his life, but Nacho would not live with us anymore. He'd be their office cat, or one of their staff would eventually take him home. Either way, she promised, he'd be doted on and loved and cared for for the remainder of his life. His medical care would be provided, pro bono. He would live.

So we said goodbye to Nacho yesterday, quickly before we could rethink or he could get sicker, and this morning his purr rattles on for someone else. Our hearts are broken, but we'll heal, and the best news is so will he. Through all of this, I'm most struck by the incredible grace and love shown by people who hardly know us. I mean, sure, they care for cats and likely did this for Nacho more than for his humans (and they, like you, may be secretly judging us for our decision). But I'll continue to view this as grace, as an unexpected, undeserved kindness.

We will mourn our family's loss of our favorite big fat jerkface cat -- we will miss his purr and his pink nose and his fluffy belly -- but we will smile to know that he lives with caring, big-hearted people. Happy asked last night if Nacho will remember us. I don't know the answer. I don't know much about cat consciousness or memory, but I hope Nacho will know that we love him, the way I know he has loved us.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Look up

I walk a lot. Walking is one of the pieces of my Portland lifestyle that I value most, in fact: countless trails, parks, paths, and sidewalks that not only get me where I need to be, but also show me woods and sea and proud old homes and all sorts of loveliness. (I also walk past a lot of not-so-lovely in this town each day, but we'll save that for another post.) Sometimes when I walk through a quiet neighborhood, like the one over here along Clifton Street in Back Cove, I feel envious of single-family homes and yards and kid-friends playing together in the driveway. Other times in these same neighborhoods, I feel grateful for the ample parking and snow removal of our rental home, as well as for landscapers who cut the grass and landlords who come to fix the kitchen lights or replace the dryer when it punks out. When I walk through Evergreen Cemetery, often I feel contemplative, peaceful; its consecrated ground and hundreds of years of history soothes me. Other times I feel sad and anxious about the fragility of our lives.

It's all about perspective, right?

These tracks around town are all familiar routes to me now. My feet know where to go, and I can look around, take in every sight and sound. This morning, for example, my feet navigated up over the curb while I turned by body to locate the robins singing to one another from trees on opposite sides of the street. I took a photo of the sun rising over the low-tide mud-flat of the cove -- a snowy egret has come home for spring, by the way! -- without stumbling or slipping in the soft gravel of the trail. And my feet know where the crags in the bricks are on the sidewalk along Elm Street so I can huff and puff my way up that huge hill without tripping while I fiddle with my podcast playlist. I notice most of the things around me, good, bad, and ugly, while I'm walking because my feet know the way. There are few surprises, the paths are generally flat and even, it's routine.

Hiking is different, though, even on a trail I've hiked before. I'm super-cautious with every step. I watch the trail, I watch my feet, I watch Zippy skip-hopping in front of me and try to anticipate his (sometimes erratic) decisions. I analyze each segment of trail like a robot: "Slick looking mud to the right; step left. Watch out for that root; step up, over, down. Bend your knees more, your ankles are stiffening up. Zippy, stay to the right up there! Branch -- duck! That rock looks more stable, yes, good. Oh, more mud..." Seriously. This is what's happening in my head on a trail. (I've gone hiking to clear my mind, of course. Oh, the irony.)

Sunday afternoon we found a nearby "easy" trail to hike, to celebrate the re-emergence of spring. (It was 55 degrees and sunny and I swear every resident of Portland was outside in shorts and t-shirts singing happy songs in their hearts.) This trail, however, still hadn't seen the sun. Ninety percent of it was covered in slush and ice, the rest was thick black mud. We picked our way along -- Happy and his friend way up front, Honey and Zippy in the middle, slowpoke ol' Mom bringing up the rear -- and as much as I wanted to relax into the warm woodsy air, my mind went into robo-mommy mode (see above) and I started to feel frustrated with my family for zooming off so far ahead of me. Irrational. Anxious. Covered in mud. This is not the hike I'd craved!

Right in the midst of my pity party, my foot slipped off a root and into about 4 inches of squelching, stinky mud. It oozed over the toe of my boot, slurped at my heel. I had to stop completely to pull my foot out. That's when I looked up.

My family was so far ahead of me that I couldn't hear them anymore. I was standing alone in a copse of trees, pine mixed in with skinny birch and poplar, amidst a chorus of songbirds singing their sweet, feathery hearts out. They called back and forth to one another over the sound of a trickling brook of snow-melt. Sunlight streamed between the treetops, and everything looked like I was seeing it through a soft focus filter; the scene looked like Thomas Kinkade had painted it and sounded like the background soundtrack of my meditation app. Peaceful. Calm. Still covered in mud.

I almost missed this. The path was uncertain and full of obstacles, so I'd been walking with my head down. Yet the forest was screaming, look up, you silly girl! Look around! Pay attention to this beautiful moment, even though you're stuck in mud! No...especially because you're stuck in mud.

I guess it's more natural to look up when your feet know the route by memory. But it's so much more necessary to look up, isn't it, when the path is unknown and covered in ice and mud?

Just look up.


Friday, March 31, 2017

"She's taller than my dad!"

"I wonder if she can slam dunk."
"That mom is gonna hit her head on the door."
"She's taller than my dad!"

These are things often overheard when I drop my kids at school. Kids don't whisper quietly. None of these comments are new, mind you. I've heard these (and worse) since I was, oh, 9 years old, when I stood next to my 4th-grade teacher and one of my classmates noticed that I was as tall as Mrs. Schneider. No, I cannot slam dunk and I've never hit my head on a door jamb, but yeah, I'm taller than most dads. (And I've only met one mom in Portland who looks me in the eye; her kids go to a different school.)

I've borne the loud-whispered tall comments my whole life. Usually they're muttered behind my back, but often to my face as well. People say silly things. Period. Words sting, even if they're not intentionally harsh or teasing, and I wish people would realize that I can hear their gasps and whispers; my ears are not so high above your mouth that sound doesn't reach them. There are so many times - daily! - that I would like to simply blend in, to not stand an entire head taller than everyone in the room.

But what can I do about it? The only alternative I've come up with so far would be chopping off my feet just above the ankle to remove about 6 inches. (That would put be at about 5'9" which I've always felt would be a perfect height.) However, it would be difficult to get around without feet and ankles, and my hiking boots would surely never fit right again. I like hiking, so I suppose I'll continue to put up with the tall comments. I'll continue to pretend my ears are too far into the clouds to hear shorter people's questions, taunts, jokes. And I'll put off ordering the jacket that reads "I can hear you, dummy" across the back.

My kids are tall, too. Of course they are. You'd be surprised how many people - even well-educated people who understand the general concept of genetics - say things like "Wow, he's tall" when they see Happy standing next to me. (Interesting, too, is that they always ask, "Is his Dad tall?" As if my being 6'2" doesn't fully elucidate the origins of his height.) Just last week, at Zippy's 7-year-old well visit, our pediatrician's nurse practitioner said, "You should take a look at this growth chart! He's well above the curve for both height AND weight." I didn't respond with words. Instead, I glared a laser through her face until she realized what she'd said, how ridiculous it sounded when talking to a child's Amazonian mother. She looked down at the chart, wearing a sheepish I-can't-believe-I-just-said-that smile, and replied, "Well, I guess that's to be expected. I mean, he always has been. And you..." Her voice trailed off without finishing the sentence. (Can you believe she asked a few moments later if his dad is tall, too?)

In general, when I'm with my tall kids, the tall comments are directed at me (because I'm tallest, and I'm a woman and may as well have a horn growing from my forehead), and I absorb them as I always have. (Someday I'll tell you how mama-bear I feel when I hear people talking about Happy's size, and how amazed I am that my own parents must have carried a roiling ball of fire in their bellies without completely exploding on my behalf.) This morning, though, walking into Zippy's school and hearing (again) all the children whispering, a sudden anxiety gripped me: Will my kids be embarrassed by my size?

I mean, they're both at ages where their peers' perceptions are crucial to their own self-esteem. Will they hear these whispers and feel self-conscious of their own bodies? Will other kids tease them about me?! I was suddenly 9 years old again, hearing a classmate say "My mom thought you were the teacher!" about our class picture, listening to the laughter of my own classmates and wishing I could melt into the linoleum floor. I tucked my head down, felt my shoulders hunching.

At that very moment, Zippy reached out and grabbed my hand. I know he heard the comments, too. We walked a few more feet into the school entryway, and a little boy looked right at him and said, "Your mom is taller than allllll the teachers!"

"My mom," Zippy explained, "is tall like a superhero." His stride didn't slow, his voice didn't waver. True conviction and all heart. My boy's mom is tall like a superhero. In fact, she is taller than his dad, too.

I squeezed Zippy's hand. He squeezed back. Then I let go, breathed deeply, and watched him float along in the wave of children flooding the hallway. I could see him all the way to his classroom at the end of the hall, too, because he stands a head taller than every single child around him.







Thursday, March 23, 2017

Winter in Maine is

They tell us it's spring now, as of Monday morning, these experts who know about seasons and time and things. There are signs of spring, of course -- the sun certainly shines brighter and longer into the evening, the birds sing more confidently, and faces I pass on the street show a glimmer of hopefulness, a new willingness to smile or say hello -- but this is Maine, and spring in Maine is not like spring in other places. We still have 5-foot piles of snow at the back of our driveway, and the 20-foot snow tower in the Target parking lot will likely be there until June. We are still wearing our Big Coats because it's wicked cold...and boots because it's wicked muddy. We won't see a daffodil or crocus for at least another month, and we won't plant seedlings in our backyard gardens until Memorial Day.

The arrival of spring, even if in name only, means we've made it through winter, officially. And that's a pretty big deal. It's a long exhale, a softening in the shoulders after months of bracing against cold and dark and the ever-present wind. Any day now we'll be able to walk outside without a hat -- or even better, without buttoning our coats! Imagine how exciting it will be to peel off a layer of clothing, or even to wear lighter socks. Don't even get me started about the day the farmers' market returns...sheer joy, bliss, choirs of angels singing hallelujahs in my head.

Winter, however, isn't entirely bad. In fact, in the three winters we've spent here, I've learned how to settle in, how to embrace that Danish concept of hygge, to simply slow down and listen to what my body tells me to do. "Winter. Time to eat fat and watch hockey," Margaret Atwood began her poem "February." A more accurate description I haven't yet read.

Similar to the way we looked back over our summer as the astronomical year turned to autumn, the kids and I sat down this week to look back over our winter. It was a pretty good season, all told, and we checked off a lot of items on our Winter Fun poster, although I still haven't learned out to crochet.


Winter in Maine is...

  • darkness at 4:00, dinner at 5:30, bed (or sound asleep on the couch) by 8:00
  • flannel sheets, flannel shirts, flannel scarves -- and wool socks
  • a basket of hats, scarves, mittens to the left side of the front door and a throw rug covered in boots, gaiters, and snow pants to the right
  • jumping til we're sweaty and breathless at the indoor trampoline park, then watching the steam rise from our skin when we step outside
  • ice skating lessons on Saturday mornings, snow pants and helmets and teeny penguin steps across the pond
  • sledding any time we feel like it
  • hot cocoa loaded with marshmallows (or peppermint Schnapps)
  • twinkle lights strung across town that stay lit from November through March -- Winter Lights
  • weeks that waffle in temperture between 52 degrees and -15
  • Christmas parties, Super Bowl parties, Oscar parties, birthday parties -- all good excuses to eat junk food and drink beers
  • catching up on our Netflix list
  • catching up on our library list
  • catching up on our emails, letters, postcards
  • catching up on our cookie baking (and eating)
  • ducks bobbing on the surf like they haven't even noticed the wind that's slicing through your skull
  • a perfect blizzard grocery list: milk, bread, cold cuts, cookie dough ice cream, Doritos, wine, cat food
  • walking on the Old Orchard Beach in our snow boots, gulls overhead squawking a promise of warmer beach days to come
  • the warm purr of a cat on my lap, both of us enjoying a fleecy blanket
  • birch trees dabbled with lichen that bridge the gap between snow-sparkling field and cloud-dotted sky
  • never missing a chance to put my face in the sun and chant "I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive"


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

So I left a note on a car...

"Hello, Tori? This is Maureen." The voice is unfamiliar, somewhat tentative; I didn't recognize the phone number. I pause, put a smile in my voice, and respond, "Hello? I'm sorry, who?"

"Maureen. You put a note on my car yesterday."

Oh no. My stomach flips. In the midst of the blizzard clean-up a couple days ago, I backed the minivan into a small car in front of my house. The street was crowded with snow plows and commuters, I was a bit frazzled trying to find a way back into my own driveway, and I just didn't even see this little gray compact. I thought I'd backed into a snow bank! I was only moving about 3 mph, so I know I didn't damage the car, but I left a note because that's what you're supposed to do, right? I had hoped, since I hadn't heard anything in over 24 hours, that I'd never hear from the car owner. Maybe snow melted on the note and smeared the digits. Maybe she swished the wipers before seeing the note and it blew away. Maybe a gull pooped on it.

Yet here she is. A shaky-voiced stranger on the phone, and my first thought is, oh damn, this lady wants money...even though I know I didn't damage that car. Why didn't I just drive away? Because two years ago, when someone sheared the mirror off my car, I was more upset that they didn't take responsibility than I was about shelling out $500 to fix the damage. So I left my number and here she is. I chose kindness, and I need to stand by that now. I take a deep breath to calm the stomach flip.

"Yes, hi, thanks for calling," I acknowledge. "Is everything all right? I didn't see any dents or scratches, and I looked pretty closely." I'm so anxious I can feel my pulse in my throat. Damn, stupid snow! Damn, stupid crowded road! Damn, stupid me for being careless!

"Well, yeah, the car is really dirty," she continues, "so I really can't see anything until I wash it. But I'm sure it's okay." I breathe slowly, keep a smile in my voice, measure my words carefully as I reiterate that I was going really slowly, the car simply slipped on an ice chunk, I didn't see any damage when I checked.

Maureen keeps talking. "Oh, I know. It's a mess. I've been sick, and it was just such as hassle finding a spot in all that snow. Just a mess. I probably parked too close." This is a turn, isn't it? She's not asking for anything, just talking. Yet that small voice in my brain, the one that doesn't expect kindness from strangers, keeps whispering she's going to try to scam you.

She doesn't. Instead, she rambles on for a minute or so about nothing of consequence -- winter weather, trying to kick a chest cold, not really knowing our neighbors, wondering if the flowers she planted in the fall will actually bloom -- and finally she lands here: "I just wanted to thank you for leaving that note with your number. I was just real nice of you, that's all. I appreciate it."

Wait, what? My breath catches. She is just calling to thank me? For leaving a note? After I hit her car? She's thanking me for simply doing the right thing. Wow. Do we really have such low expectations of one another, that we don't think someone else will do the right thing? I guess so, judging by my own reaction to this phone call, my own expectations of this person I've never met. Wow.

What a big deal it is to be kind, to choose to do the right thing. And how scary. I mean, I'm still not entirely sure this woman won't demand cash from me eventually, but I stay on the phone. I ask where she lives (in one of the apartments across the street) and if she might need anything for her cold (she's improving, still not 100%). I could be opening myself to inconvenience and akwardness, but I've realized Maureen is an older woman (she calls me "hon" a couple times) who likely lives alone (she drives a teeny-tiny car!). We're coming to the end of winter (she's likely been cooped up just like I have), and she just wants to make a connection. It's a big deal for her to pick up the phone, too, isn't it?

And just like that, in a three-minute phone call from a stranger, I'm reminded how different the world could be if we each spent a few scary moments each day being intentionally kind to strangers -- choosing to be kind even when it could mean disruption, expense, or time. This is not a new concept...why is it so hard?



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Glimpses of spring in winter

I'm sitting on a park bench in New York City, overlooking 42nd Street just east of Grand Central Station, waiting for the bus that will take me home from a lovely girlfriend getaway in Manhattan. Right now it's an unseasonable 62 degrees and sunny; yesterday it was windy, rainy, and just above freezing temps. Kids are playing in a nearby playground. Folks are out in t-shirts and sunglasses walking dogs. Colleagues in suits are lunching on nearby benches. Everyone seems relaxed, smiling, happy to be outside on a Wednesday in February. Like we're all sneaking one past Mother Nature; even the birds are snickering. Everything is fine and beautiful.

Then I pick up my iPhone, check Instagram -- which is usually a fairly neutral, politics-free social media space -- and I see posts about high school students walking out of class in protest, Elizabeth Warren voted into silence on the Senate floor, President Trump talking about terror attacks in Sweden that never actually happened, the Army Corps of Engineers granting an easement and allowing work on the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue. Everything is fucked up.

Yet right here, right now, from my seat on this particular park bench, life is peaceful. The Chrysler Building gleams and glints in the distance; yellow cabs honk and zip on the street below, tourists hustle to their trains at Grand Central. Elementary school kids in crinkly uniforms just walked by me, paired off, each holding hands with a buddy on their way to the playground. They're focused only on the hand in theirs and the games they're about to enter into. The lunchers on the benches to my right talk and smile and laugh; they're focused only on their sandwiches and their conversations. The dogwalkers continue their strolling, the birds continue their chirping, the sun continues its shining.

A notification pops up on my phone's screen: Blizzard warning! Tomorrow, all along the eastern seaboard. Winter is still here, of course. And isn't this the perfect metaphor for this time in history we've entered? Glimpses of spring even in the middle of winter: We just have to be sure to notice.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

#WhyIMarch, part 2 - for my sons

A note to my sons on the night before the Women's March

Hi, guys. I've been thinking a lot about this march, as you know, this week...and last week...and the week before...and as the day gets closer, I'm feeling pretty anxious about leaving you and traveling to Washington. I know you will be safe with Dad (winter camping! how awesome), and I'm going to do everything I can to keep myself and your Aunties safe in Washington. I've been reading and preparing and talking to everyone I know who's ever been involved in a protest march, so at least I'm ready mentally. 

I wrote that long post yesterday, full of all the high-minded reasons that I'm marching. As I thought about it last night, I felt uncomfortable with that post. Like it was a re-hash of all the things other people have written. Even more, I feel like a phony-baloney. You know I'm not really an activist, or at least I haven't been. For example, I cried and cheered when the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality for gays -- I was so happy for people I love who finally had the same rights as me! -- but the truth is, I didn't do anything to bring about that change. Others did. Other people fought really hard and gave up time with family and friends and spent lots of money and had horrible things said and done to them in order to gain those rights. And that's the way it's been through time. People like me stand and cheer for the ones who really sacrifice. But we don't get into the mix.

Change is coming. Likely really big change, social and economic, and some of it will be painful to witness. Freedoms will be taken away from some people in order to make others feel better. The truth is, though, it's unlikely our family will be directly affected by the changes that this new government wants to make. This is our privilege. Our family is white, middle class, college educated, and heterosexual. We have many options. 

But here's the thing that's changed in me over the last couple of years: I have realized the responsibility that comes with privilege. I know that even if I'm not personally adversely affected by a law that's overturned or enacted, or even if I enjoy some benefit from that change, someone else will suffer. And I'm not okay with that. I believe, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said often, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We need to take care of one another. And I need to get into the mix.

You know how I read a lot of WW2 and dystopian books, right? I think I'm so fascinated with these books because I always wonder if I have what it takes to stand up for other people, knowing that it could mean punishment, suffering, or death for me. Would I be able to harbor a Jew in my basement in Nazi Germany like the family in The Book Thief? Could I be strong enough to keep my family alive through starvation times, like the sister in The Nightingale? Or, like the other sister in The Nightingale, would I be brave enough to lead strangers through the dark and cold to safety? Would I even be smart enough to know how to help families flee to safety, as in Number the Stars?

I don't know. And I hope I never have to learn. What's in my heart, though, is love and peace, and I'm going to do all I can to let love and peace guide my actions in the coming years. I have lived long enough to realize that love and peace don't just happen by accident. Remember Monday when we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr.? You both told me you'd seen his "I Have a Dream Speech," and your teachers talked about how he worked for peace. Do you remember what I told you? Martin Luther King, Jr., worked against injustice. He was hated by many people, feared by those in power, because he threatened their comfort and way of life. He did not sit around patiently singing hymns and waiting for justice, though; he wasn't the pacifist "can't we all just get along" man that's been portrayed in recent history. He actively spoke and risked and ultimately died opposing laws and beliefs that he knew were wrong. 

I'm not going to Washington to yell about Donald Trump. I've told you that more than once. I'm going to stand up for justice for all people. One of the tenets of MLK's nonviolent protest is this: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. This is a really important concept that we have to keep reminding ourselves throughout the next few years. I might need you to help me remember this, too, because sometimes I just get so angry! It's really easy to get mad at people, though, without realizing all the forces at work around those people. So let's remember this together: Fight the forces of evil, not the people who do evil. Think about what happened to Anakin Skywalker, right? He was a regular person who became fearful and angry and turned toward hatred for power. Darth Vader was definitely a bad dude. But ultimately, he was just a dude. And even he realized, in the end, that he'd been on the wrong side of history.

In our country right now, the forces of evil -- fear, hatred, anger -- are motivating a lot of people and making them feel powerful, starting with our new President and trickling right down through our neighborhoods. And those forces are acting on people like me, too, who consider ourselves liberal and progressive and on the right side of history. I am afraid, no question, and I am angry. But we're all just people, no matter who we voted for our what we believe to be right. We need to do all we can to resist those forces of evil and to remind all people that love is so much stronger. Love is much easier to bear in the long run, too. 

Love and peace, when activated, will spark justice. And tens of thousands of people resisting the forces of evil will show anyone who's paying attention that we mean it. That's why I'm going to Washington. 





Wednesday, January 18, 2017

#WhyIMarch

Zippy and I hiked in the woods the other day, following the icy trails around Evergreen Cemetery. The cold air stung our eyes but the sun shone warm and bright, and it felt great to breathe fresh air. As he skipped and hopped and twirled beside, in front, and around me, I felt peaceful, happy, content. Until I realized the Womens' March is in a few days, I am going, and I don't know what to expect. I've never done anything like this, except for a few years ago at Occupy Philly, which was nothing compared to the numbers they're anticipating this weekend. The Women's March will be a peaceful protest, yes, but 200,000 is an awful lot of people in highly charged city during turbulent times. I felt anxiety creeping into my chest.

"So you know I'm going away this weekend, right? To Washington, D.C. For just two sleeps. Do you know why I'm going?" I asked Zippy.

"Because you don't like Donald Trump and he's going to be the President."

"Well, that's true, but it's not really why I'm going," I tried to clarify. I explained that I don't hate Donald Trump, but I don't believe in the things he stands for. I didn't go into great detail, but I wanted my son to know that I'm marching because I love him and I love our family and I care a lot about protecting the progress that has been made for civil rights of all people. I told him I'm marching to stand up for what I believe in.

"Do you understand what I mean, babe?" I asked.

"Yeah, momma, of course. Hate has no home here." 

I caught my breath, wiped my eyes. Hate has no home here. Words from my 6-year-old son, who doesn't blink at having friends with two moms or a genderqueer teacher, a child who has only ever known a black president. His little-kid world is open and welcoming, free of judgment. Yet this is the same child who asked about World War 3 the day after the election, who worries that his immigrant friends will be sent away. Hate has no home here. 

Suddenly the anxiety I felt over the march melted away, replaced with a renewed sense of purpose: I'm marching on Saturday not to protest Donald Trump -- I have no more control over him than I do over hurricanes or the flu -- but because I reject all that he stands for. I reject racism, sexism, chauvinism, homophobia. I reject Islamophobia and isolationism. I reject bullying. I reject cronyism and nepotism and the 2% getting richer at our expense. I reject endless war. I reject stripping the land of natural resources. I reject legislating women's bodies -- anyone's bodies. I reject the notion that any human is illegal. 

Of course I want jobs and prosperity for people in rural America; of course I want safety and security here and abroad. But not at the expense of civil rights and common decency. 

I'm marching because I'm raising white, middle-class boys who will grow up to be white, middle-class men. They will come of age in an era in which the elected leader of their country is a mean-spirited, short-tempered, ignorant, bully. He's demonstrated overt racism throughout his lifetime. He stirred up significant hate during his campaign and legitimized violence. And he is  a sexual predator, let's not forget. He has shown every indication that he intends to rule as a despot. The people he's chosen to surround him during his campaign, his transition, and his Cabinet have shown they accept and embrace all of this, as have the folks who now lead the House and Senate. Will my children grow up thinking that in order to be a leader, you have to intimidate, strong-arm, and harass? Will they grow up thinking that the only opinion that matters is yours, that facts are not necessary, or that science doesn't count? Will they grow up thinking the only way to get ahead is at the expense of women, people of color, and poor people? No. No. No. Not while I'm standing.

I'm marching because I want my sons to know that when you're afraid of something, you don't pretend it's not really there. You gather your courage, you hold on to what you know is right, and you stand up.


I'm marching for respect and rights for all people, regardless of skin color, class, gender, or sexuality. I'm marching for fair wages and for women who have to make hard decisions about childcare and work. I'm marching for strong public education and teachers who work hard for our kids. I'm marching for my friends and family who rely on the ACA for health care. I'm marching to make it clear that a woman's choice over what to do with her body remains her choice. I'm marching because our earth, air, and water need protection from humans. I'm marching because I believe in peace, empathy, and care. 

In my search for pithy sayings to write on a sign (which I've actually given up on -- only a pink pussy hat for this girl), I came across a quote attributed to Angela Davis, the civil rights activist. As I've mentioned here before, I'm no freedom fighter. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call myself an activist, either. But these words hit the mark:

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change…I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

I'm no longer able to sit still.