Monday, July 10, 2017

Tonight's thoughts

     It's been a rough couple of months for me and mine since I last wrote to you, my loves. May is a really icky month, between Mom's birthday and Mother's Day, and this year it was made all the tougher by my job not honoring my request for the day off. My sister and I still went to Mom's grave, but it was two days before her birthday. We had to turn and burn to get there and back in a day and a half. It also impacted Mother's Day morning with my kids, which led to a whole other level of guilt. The schedule hasn't gotten any better, and it's wearing me thin. So thin in fact that I got the flu and was sick throughout the bulk of June. And now here we sit in July, the year half complete, babies older and hopefully we're a little wiser.
     But amidst this brouhaha, an amazing thing has happened. My first book of poetry has been released with Nixes Mate Books. I tell you this not to shamelessly hustle, but to share the enormity of this moment. Over these posts, I have described that my faith, music and words have in various parts of my life kept me alive, and sometimes not in that order. I'm not speaking in hyperbole. Books were a means to escape, to learn, to change, to become a better version of me. I've been writing poetry since the fourth grade. In  my teenage years, I kept most of it kept to myself and shared only occasionally with mom. Man, it was angsty and dark and filled with unrequited love.
     In college, I spent more time writing non-fiction, getting my poetry fix through Forensics and hours spent in the theater, my longed for vocation. Later in my twenties, I would ride the subway in Boston and write in notebooks. There were poems for babies that didn't exist yet, for worries for the future, for boys I loved. Then the children came and everything changed, as it does for most of us. Meanwhile, I worked for a bookstore, so I was around books all the time. I was always waiting to be found out as a fraud. Everyone I worked with read fiction and the classics, some could wax on about esoteric themes in literature, others had read every bestseller ever. I was the girl who read comic books and poetry and philosophy, so I memorized all the book jackets and learned how to confidently upsell something I had never cracked open.
     Books are light. They are freedom. They are hope. Unlike your pants, they never stop fitting, although you can outgrow them. They are knowledge, commiseration and growth. The first time I saw one of my poems online and then in print, I was giddy. Mom made sure we had library cards the moment we could print our names. To have a book with my name on the front cover would thrill her to no end. She was a writer, too. Honestly, she could do anything creative if she gave thought to it. I wrote her a poem for her birthday more than fifteen years ago. It was super sappy, and she ate it up. After her death, we eventually moved her desk into our bedroom. I haven't removed a thing from its original spot, other than to give my siblings their baby books that she kept in the lower right hand drawer. I've added a few items of mine in the hope that they will absorb her magic. I found the envelope with that poem I wrote her tucked between some files. She's in a lot of this book. I think she'd like that.


   

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Parenting

     This morning at work, I caught a flash of judgment about my parenting. It's possible that I'm blowing it out of proportion because obviously, I'm touchy about anything that relates to the kids. These three humans I adore are the best thing I will ever do with my life. They are the chance for me to ensure that my bloodline carries on in this world long after I've shuffled off this mortal coil.
     Papa is out of town this weekend at a reading for his latest poetry book. When it was arranged, I was originally scheduled to be off, but life happens, as it all too frequently does, and now I had to work. We then had to turn to the 19 year old to watch the younger two until I got home. This meant getting up wicked early for her when she normally stays up late writing. She did it, but it made her really anxious and upset just before I left. Her father was calming her down, as I walked out the door. She was going to have to be up and alone for a several hours before her siblings woke up and that added to the stress. She watches the other two when my husband and I go out for a couple hours, like to get the groceries or go to a local reading, so being in charge isn't a problem normally, but this felt different to her.
     Obviously, every child is unique and capable of different things. What you or I did at 14, 15 or 16 may or not be what another child then or now could or even should do. My husband and I have always believed that the kids should be young for as long as possible, because once you 'grow-up" there's no going back and being an adult often sucks, if we're all being honest with each other. When I was younger than 13, I was watching my siblings when we got home from school. My mother's expectations were that I do my homework, keep them alive, read her mind about whatever cleaning was necessary and start dinner. She got home late from work and that was life. Was it fair to me? Probably not, but I was the eldest and it was deemed my responsibility. As I got older, I had all sorts of activities after school (sports, theater, etc.), so I had to get myself home and then get done whatever I could before she got home.
     We were poor. She was a single parent. I was forced to grow-up faster then a lot of kids my age. I don't think it was a blessing or that it gave me some magical gift of strength. It taught me from a young age that life is work and that there's always more work. It taught me that you have to put up with shitty bosses so you don't get fired, since your kids like to eat and have electricity. I learned how to figure out how expensive something was in relation to gallons of milk or a loaf of bread; i.e. that shirt costs 6 gallons of milk, do you really need it? I learned that your chores have to get done before you're allowed to eat, that a meal is your reward for washing dishes and vacuuming the house. These aren't new ideas for some of you either. Unfortunately, I never forgot any of these lessons, but I didn't want my kids to feel the same way. Don't get me wrong, they have chores. In fact, they have a lot of chores, but their #1 responsibility is learning. Since we home school, that varies from day to day, but after chores, it's learning, writing, reading, music, language, the news, video games and a host of other interests.
     Getting back to this morning, when I got to work I told my team briefly what happened and said that if she called me, I'd have to leave. When I mentioned she was anxious, that seemed to make sense to everyone, but then someone said, but isn't your son 16, and I could swear I saw a flash of raised eyebrow. I deflected, talked about how the other two weren't even up yet, etc, but that moment stuck in my head and I've been ruminating on it all day. Intellectually, my kids are well beyond their age group, but emotionally they're a bit younger. By allowing them to have a longer childhood, I began to wonder if I've done them a disservice. My son is plenty cynical, and the eldest isn't far behind, so it's not as though they don't know about how hard life can be and often is. They have lost people they love. They are very politically minded and aware of current events, concerned how this administration will effect their future and their family. We challenge them to think critically, but we haven't challenged them to pick up the pace to grow-up.
     I've always felt that if you're questioning your parenting choices and decisions, you're probably on the right track. If you get too comfortable in your certainty on any topic, then you stop challenging yourself to do better and you stop growing as a human. I can be a better mother, a better friend, a better sibling - I'm an almost perfect wife, so not much room there for growth (haha) - but I know I can do better by them. The goal of every generation is we're supposed to screw them up less than we were screwed up by our own parents. It's going to be a long night of ruminating on my choices. I should probably find something to clean.          

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Oddness

     I had two odd transactions with customers at work today.  The first was with an older woman who although she doesn't come in that often is known to be a challenge. She's the sort of human that really doesn't think any of us are capable of doing our jobs correctly. I was helping her with a rather menial task, no big whoop, and we were exchanging small talk. Our entire encounter lasted less than five minutes, and during that time she insulted all my people as being too new to know how to do their jobs well (2 of the 3 working today have more than 20 years apiece with the company and the other one has 10 years), told me that one of the former male managers was so intelligent and so beautiful that she would frequently feel a need to tell him, and finally, she said that it was interesting how a young woman such as myself would have such an important job as manager at such a young age.  Because clearly I've used my extreme sexual prowess to work myself all the way into middle management in a slowly dying seaside community.  Nothing says success like feeling your brain atrophy while you order checks for octogenarians.
     The second odd transaction took place with an older man who also needed to order checks, because nobody can figure out how to do this through their computers apparently. I was touching base with my assistant manager in her office when he strolled in and asked for help. I told him we'd be happy to assist and was preparing to leave her to it, when he said he wanted to ask us a question, as well. Honest to God, this is as close to word for word as I can recall:

Client: He's my question. Let's pretend that the three of us work in an insurance company together.
Me: I'm sorry. What did you say?
C: So we're all working in an insurance company together.
M: Ok ...
C: I'm the boss and you ladies are the secretaries. Every day I come in and say please and thank you and we get along just fine. And one day, I call you a little girl when I'm talking to you. You don't like it and complain, and then I get fired. I mean, how is that fair.
M: Wow ... ok. (My assistant and I look at each other.)  In my experience, there's usually more to the story. One "little girl" isn't going to get anyone fired.
C: Well how is that sexual harassment? He didn't even touch her.
(Clearly, we have moved from the hypothetical at this point.)
Assistant: Sexual harassment isn't just about touching someone. It's often about how you make someone feel.
C: That's ridiculous! Come on. If you're not touching anyone, you're not harassing them. A man should lose his job over that? If you called me a young boy, I'd be happy.
M: I'm sure there's more to the story. Companies have to be super careful to not fire someone without just cause. They'd investigate, bring people in to interview the employees, really cover themselves before anyone would get fired.
A: I have to agree. That's my experience as well.
C: (throwing his hands in the air) I don't know what I expected talking to the two of you! Of course you're going to think he should be fired.
M: I didn't say anyone should get fired. You asked our opinion, and I think there's more to the story.

     I then excused myself to answer the phone in my office. When I got off, he was still belaboring the point with her. I heard her say, this is a different time now, sir. You can't say whatever you want to people without thinking about it first.  
     I know that I don't need to tell any of you reading this that there is a world of difference between calling a grown woman a "little girl" and telling an old man that he's "young." The first is a demeaning phrase used to talk down to someone and remind her to stay in her place, akin to calling a black man "boy." It's also incredibly demeaning to suggest that the surest way to advance on that old job hierarchy is to screw your way to the top. Unfortunately, some women far too easily buy into the bullshit they've been fed, too.  Age doesn't excuse harassment or make behavior acceptable.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Acceptance

     I'm thinking tonight about love, loss and obituaries. An odd mix, I know.  After work, I stopped in to Sara's wake. There was a large crowd of women laughing and sharing stories, oblivious to the evening sleet and snow coming down outside. I stood on the fringe scanning for an obvious family member to give my condolences to or her best friend Pam. I found her and the requisite family member keeping watch at the back right of the building near the casket. After extending my sympathies to Sara's kin and clasping Pam's hand, I knew that etiquette dictated I say my good-byes to Sara.
     Even though I've had a lot of people I care for die in my life, I've attended less than a handful of viewings mostly due to distance, timing, work schedule or cremation.  I was impressed by the people at the wake milling about from clique to clique and chatting each other up, all with Sara literally just over their shoulder. It was probably a testament to her personality how large a circle of friends she had; from her career as an educator, to her church, to college friends, town friends and decades with the Girl Scouts. So many people there to honor her and remember.
     Which brings me to obituaries. When I read hers, it was dignified, short and sweet. I've only been involved in writing one, and at the time I was kinda really sorta messed up, so my siblings and I enlisted my husband to make sure that the words all made sense.  On an interesting note, when we submitted it to what I will call my mother's hometown newspaper, they re-wrote part of it. That pissed me off immensely at the time. After I read Sara's, I couldn't help but think about how much was left out and how much would be left out of all of ours, out of mine.
     I'm not trying to be morbid, really I'm not, and maybe that's why you have a wake or a funeral or a celebration or some sort of event to allow people the chance to say out loud what you meant to them.  And I suppose that your chance to specifically mention the people who are beloved to you needs to come with each day, because we never know when the day you're going to get hit by a bus will come.  I absolutely adore taking anybody I love aside and telling them to their face how important they are to me, because I need you to know how special you are.  Not Hallmark trite crap, but the real stuff that matters, that I enjoy observing. My grown-up nieces have all gotten used to that last tearful good-bye from their silly Aunt Heather when we visit; my whispered thoughts on how awesome they are, how much I love them. I don't want them to read a line in my obituary that says "she is survived by" many beloved nieces. They need to know exactly how I feel. My only nephew and the great-nieces and great-nephews haven't gotten as much of this due to distance, a gigantic failing on my part.
     And then where is the place in the obituary to mention your treasured friends, your mentors, life-changing teachers, your great loves, to thank them for how they made you the human you are? Perhaps we should think of our obituaries more like an acceptance speech where there's no music to play you off or an extended acknowledgements page or album liner notes, and then I suppose you'd need to write it yourself in advance. Why leave it to someone else, allowing them to create a mythos of the real you? They'll sanitize you, my friends, and you're much too complex for that.
     For those of you still around when my time comes, be prepared for a party. I want you to laugh and sing, to tell dirty jokes and read poetry out loud, to eat and drink and tell as many stories as you can. Talk about the question game we used to play in the car, as there will be no need for secrets at that point. Talk about what it was like to kiss me.  Did we act together? Sing together? Talk about what it looked like when I lost my temper, when my sense of humor strayed towards a 14 year-old males, my ability to conjugate my favorite curse words. You're welcome to say sweet and lovely things, but don't belabor it too much because I've never been good at taking a compliment. I will haunt you.    
     I will continue to tell you all how much I love you, whether you ever tell me back or not. I don't say it for any of you to feel beholden to me to reciprocate, but for you to know my heart. (Although, I welcome any feelings you want to share ...I'm dorky that way.) I will tell you how strong you are and how proud I am of you, how hard you're working on improving your health, what an amazing parent you are, how I admire your dedication to your elderly parents, your patients, your writing, your crafting, your faith, your true self. I want to celebrate your love stories and dance to your music. I want to look you in the eyes and tell you how fantastic you are and how lucky I am to know and love you.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Requiem for Sara

     Sara died this weekend.  Her best friend Pam called me today at work to tell me.  Sara was one of my clients, but we had become friends.  We met almost two years ago when she came into my branch to get some help after her partner of 20 years, Beverly, had died.
     Sara was the sort of stereotypical New Englander that pops into your mind when you conjure up an image of one; a gruff, almost unreadable exterior, masking an encyclopedic knowledge of the Red Sox and what the weather over the coming week is supposed to be, a smile that spread through her eyes long before it reached her lips and a lightly acerbic honesty that endeared her to you. When Sara came to me for help, I was my normal empathetic self, prepared to cry when she discussed her love story and armed with how I would guide her through removing Beverly's name from their accounts.
     She didn't want any of my bullshit, and she didn't need my empathy.  I wasn't going to get a love story, because that was theirs to own and not mine to intrude on. That was what Sara had left. We didn't cry, and we weren't taking Beverly's name off anything.  They would remain together on paper, if she couldn't have her in the flesh. Sara did share that she was upset Beverly had gone without any warning, that there was no way to prepare.  But can you ever be prepared.
     Sara came in a couple times a month, refusing to do anything online, preferring to work with us in person. We would laugh over something minor, talk about baseball ... I'd ask her how she was. She'd look me in the eyes and never say what I already knew. We did this a lot.  Over the last year, she started using a cane due to an exacerbated knee injury. No big deal, she said. She was going to get it taken care of after she dealt with a surgery that was planned in the coming new year. I pressed, and she told me she needed to have heart valve replacement. She wasn't worried, and I hid my fear.
     My mother had valve replacement surgery in 1996. It was challenging for her, and she took some time to recover, but she did. During the surgery, they installed a pacemaker, a standard part of the process then, although I don't know if that is still the case.  This pacemaker worked well until 2008 when it was time to change the battery.  It was this surgery, the "routine" one to replace the battery, that ultimately led to my mother's rapid decline and eventual death.  Her heart had come to rely on that pacemaker to work, and the shock of the change to her system was too much.
     Before Sara went into the hospital, she brought her best friend from college, Pam, to meet me. Sara had decided that she wanted to put Pam on her accounts to make sure the bills were paid while she was in the hospital. It was a very difficult decision for her, because it meant removing Beverly's name. The three of us soldiered through it though, and they had me rolling on the floor with laughter. They shared stories of their college days, female college sports before Title IX, how Sara had a hell of an arm and how Pam would still drive all the way down from Maine to share in their Red Sox season tickets. It was a good time.
     A week and a half ago, Pam called me to say that the surgery hadn't gone well. Sara had had a stroke immediately afterwards, and the surgeon wasn't very hopeful.  Strokes are a major concern after valve replacement; blood clots can form around the new valve - whether mechanical or pig valve - breaking off and speeding to your precious brain. My mother had a stroke several months after her surgery. Although she recovered fully from that one, she had multiple little ones in the years after that impacted her emotionally. She was always worried that a big one would come while she was driving and cause her to kill someone. Eventually, this worry and her worsening congestive heart failure led to her coming to live with us.
     This morning when Pam called, my first question was how Sara was doing. Her long pause confirmed what my heart already knew was coming. Sara had died on Saturday. She had struggled. She had suffered, even though the doctor told Pam she wasn't in pain. She had pulled her feeding tube from her throat, and then she died. I remained silent throughout and had to remind myself to speak before Pam had to ask if I was still there. She told me that Sara really liked me, and Pam felt it important to tell me, to not have me have to read about it after the fact. We cried, and I thanked her, told her that I would help in any way I could.  I didn't say anything trite about Sara finally being reunited with Beverly, because that would have been the sort of thing that would have pissed Sara off.  And honestly, I don't think they were ever really apart.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

Grave

     I've been gone too long, my loves, and for that I am truly sorry. Health issues and politics have sapped me.  Meanwhile at work, it seems as if every other day another client comes in to tell me about a partner who has suddenly died, a friend who's been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer or children lost to drug overdoses. If Star Trek were real, I think I'd be classified as an empath. And I am overloaded and overwrought.  Then I came home from work and the news showed me that another Jewish cemetery had been desecrated.
     As many of you might know, once a year my siblings and I make the trek to our mother's grave site to celebrate her birthday with her. We plant flowers and sit in the grass talking to her. My grandfather's grave is there. My mother's sister who died when she was three is there. My nana's unmarked grave is there. My great-grandmother and great-grandfather's graves are there. It's very peaceful when the mosquitoes aren't eating you alive. Mom always makes sure we have good weather while we have our communion.  We have dug in the earth with our bare hands to plant those flowers. I have rubbed the skin from the pads of my fingers taking the moss off her stone.
     I am perfectly aware that my mother isn't there in that cemetery, just what remains of the shell that housed her hopes and dreams for her children. Her shorter than me, slightly bitter and neurotic shell that was really good at guilt and knew how to push every button in my psyche.  When we were younger kids, she would take us to the cemetery to teach us how to respect our ancestors, how to have comfort in sitting in that quiet moment, to allow the sadness to come and go.  It was ok to bring a little picnic and be with your people.  My people.
     So my question tonight is how much hate do you have to have in your heart to walk up to the marker of someone's ancestor, someone's mother, father, sister or brother, someone's beloved, someone's child, to approach that spot and desecrate that space? How much hate does it take to harden your heart enough to take that quiet moment away from another human being? A cup of hate? A tablespoon? A pinch? My guess is that it takes a very small amount to rot you from the inside and give you the peace of mind to place yourself far above another human being's ancestors. Just a small amount of hate will change you forever.
     If my mother's stone were ever desecrated, I would certainly work to repair it through my tears. And after I was done, I would not rest until I found the people responsible. My heart says that I should make them pay, make them hurt the same way they would have hurt me. But what would that change, not their mind nor my pain. Instead, I would take them to their people - their parents, their children, their beloved - and make them explain why my mother mattered so little and why desecration of my quiet moment, her quiet forever, was so very important to prove their point. Expose the hate to the light.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Save your energy

     I have to keep reminding myself to not waste my energy on internet trolls. Does it help if I remind you to do the same? I'm talking about those "well-meaning" souls who post videos or running commentaries on why you people just don't understand Donald Trump.  You should be respecting him, trusting him.  They say that the women's march was unimportant/stupid/unnecessary and filled with liberal sore losers with vulgar signs.  How shameful.  How nasty.  
     Don't waste your energy on these people, because you need your energy now more than ever.  You need to fight and rage and do everything you can to make this country what it's supposed to be.  If you voted for Donald Trump, you need to hold his feet to the fire.  Tell him enough with the "there were 3 million fraudulent voters" bullshit and get to the making jobs.  He's demoralized by the media and the people who don't believe he's a legitimate President?  Are you kidding me? Methinks he doth protest too much.  Did President Obama tell people he was demoralized after years of you saying he was born in Kenya?  
     As for the misguided women who tell you that the women's march was a bad idea, imagine a big beautiful bell curve:


I love bell curves. This is a curve made up of women's opinions on the march. The women on the right loved that march, marched in that march and talk about every single moment of it.  The women on the left hated that march, make fun of the women and men who marched, and take every opportunity to tell you it was stupid.  The rest of us are in the middle somewhere ... loved this or that, would have liked some more or less of XYZ, were maybe thrilled to see Indigo Girls and/or intrigued by Madonna's lack of breath support, but I digress.  Those rare women who tell you the march was stupid and unnecessary are on the left side. You're never going to be able to change their opinion, and that's all it is ... an opinion. The fact is that they get to have an opinion, get to voice it and stomp their feet because of the thousands of women who came before them to fight for their right to voice that opinion.  Read this lovely retort from Dina Leygerman:


     Something else to bear in mind, the trolls and others who are responding to the "pussy hats" and "vulgar signs" as further proof of the shameful and nasty women who marched and support them. This is part of the foundation of slut-shaming, a further way to silence, shut down and shout over in their communication style.   The new President can talk about grabbing all the pussy he wants on tape, but a marcher reclaims the word on her sign and she's vulgar. He's "being a man" and she's being a slut. Real men, decent, honorable men, do not talk about women this way. Men who talk like this are predators. You may also hear this in phrases like, "settle or calm down," "little girl" spoken to a grown woman, "get over it," "stop being so emotional." These are all attempts to shut down the conversation.
     This is how the conversation will be framed over the next few weeks/months as regards to the abortion debate, reproductive rights and contraception access.  It'll be all about the slutty women who want sex without repercussions and want to force us to pay for their birth control.  Arm yourself with the facts and not opinion.  The abortion rate in the US is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade and this is due to better access to contraception. Some will tell you that it's because abortion access is being restricted in many areas around the country, but birth rates aren't increasing. Teen pregnancy is also at a historically low rate.  Public opinion has also remained relatively stable over the last two decades, so that's not why either.  As with many areas, education and prevention are much better investments than medical intervention and shaming.
     Don't waste your energy on the trolls and their opinions that you won't change.  Frame your arguments cogently and arm yourself with facts. Do you remember Wonder Woman's bracelets? They're called the Bracelets of Submission. A symbol of the Amazon's past oppression, they were indestructible cuffs given to girls when they turned 15 and used to defend themselves against projectiles. Channel your inner Amazon and bounce those lies, those alternative-facts right back at them.