Thursday, January 29, 2015

Surprise in my DNA

For our anniversary this year, Bing and I decided to have our DNA examined. We paid our 100 bucks, spit in a vial and sent them off to see what could be seen.

I was not particularly excited. Both of my parents were born in Ireland, so I figured that mine was a slam dunk. Bing knew that she was Cajun, French and 1/8 Native American, but felt that she was so much more.

Turns out that we both are.

Results are just back. And you know, I don't know why I was so surprised at mine. I mean, Ireland has been invaded by England and the Vikings,  so it stands to reason that my blood didn't run green, right?

Turns out, it doesn't. And a lot more.

I'm only 77% Irish.

19%  British.

2% Danish

1% French

And a whole mess of .1's ( Native American, Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, Belgian,....)

Bing's surprised us too. She is not only French and Native American but a good deal Middle Eastern as well. In fact, I snickered when we looked up one of her ancestry names online and it basically said that they were "wandering nomads in the region now known as Yemen who were feared for their thievery and violent ways."

I slid my eyes over at her. Widened them.

"Wow," I said. "I married a thug."

She laughed. "You were warned, sugar. But...hey...the truth is that if the zombie apocalypse ever happens, your talent with that Irish charm and blarney is not going to take you too far with those walkers. But, now ME. I can wield a sword, missy and I would keep you safe. And those genes for thievery would come in handy when we had to invade drugstores looking for insulin and RA drugs for you. Plus, you can't deny it. You love my swashbuckling qualities. You do."

I laughed with her. Agreed. I do love me a bad girl. Or boy. And then I reminded her that I have that 2% Danish. Probably Viking blood. So, I might have a bit of the bold in me as well.

She snorted. "You have that 19% British thing going on too, though. All good manners and the King's English."

We also took a close look at our genomes and examined them intricately. I was not surprised to see that in my bad genes rested the tendency for Rheumatoid arthritis and of course, Type 1 Diabetes. Also, a LOT of immune deficiencies. The good news is that my genes tend to live long and prosper and propagate well. Also, it said: You are likely to be quite fair skinned and probably have blue or gray eyes. No shit. If I am outside for more than ten minutes without sunscreen, I look like a boiled lobster. I always wanted to tan deeply and hotly. But, no. I burn red and peely.

Then we took a look at Bing's genome tendencies. We weren't shocked to see pancreatic cancer show up. Her Father died of it when she was just a year old. Tendencies toward acne were there. Interesting. She told me that she struggled in her teen years with it and I  vividly remember Clearisil tubes on our college dorm room sinks. And then there it was: early onset Alzheimer's Disease. That shut us up. And then we both looked at each other and said, "It isn't written in stone" at the exact same moment.

And it isn't. But, of course this started an unwanted discussion (on my part) about her wishes if she were to get it. They are pretty much along the lines of "Just let me wander into a busy street and get hit by a car." Right. Yeah. I'll just do that, hon. In the end, I promised that I wouldn't allow her to lose her dignity. Would not let her sit in a diaper and not know who I was, who Liv was. That I would find a way to off her in a sneaky way that wouldn't compromise the life insurance money.

We'll see. I always live my life in a cross that bridge when I get to it way. But, it gave me much to think about. I truly do not want to have to make those kinds of decisions. And I know exactly how she feels because I am the same way. I do NOT want to sit in a diaper and not know where I am or who I am.

I imagine that for the next few months we will get shivery every time she forgets something. And then we'll let it go. The pancreatic cancer hasn't shown up. Maybe this won't either.

But, you know....I am really, really glad that I did not get this done when I was in my 20's (I don't think it was available, frankly) because I may have decided not to have a child. I mean, if I knew that I was going to probably be walking with a cane in my 50's, I would have thought twice about having a child when I was 41. Even though Liv was an accident, she was an accident because I thought that I was infertile, that my eggs were too old. If I hadn't been trying to conceive, I would have never known that and been as careful about birth control as I always was.

And Liv may never have been.

God, what a sorry world that would be.

I am wishing that we hadn't had it done now. I guess I never thought it out. I knew that it would tell us our ancestry, but didn't know that Bing would suddenly take her scientist skills and take a close look at all those numbers and letters in our genomes and do all that research.

Better not to know.

And who knows....a few other things popped up. Bing's showed asthma and she has never had it. Mine showed swallowing problems and I have always been a champion um....swallower.

Watch us both live to be old ladies on a porch in New Orleans, rocking and laughing and giving each other foot rubs as we enjoy that warm breeze.

The wandering nomadic thief and the Viking queen with a tongue dipped in blarney. We'll be fine.

Let the zombie apocalypse come. We're ready.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Crazy mad in love with a three part show on The History Channel.

DO NOT MISS. I kinda sorta knew my country's history. characters come alive. And I would have loved to meet Sam Adams.....

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New friends

It helps to have someone to snicker with at parent-teacher conferences and open houses. I've never liked these events. Not because Liv gets bad reports. She has never had less than a stellar one and the worst I've heard about her was in 1st grade when her Montessori teacher told me that she couldn't decide rather Liv was very shy or just very aloof.

There was that dreaded word again, The one that has followed me everywhere throughout my life: aloof. And now I had to worry that I had handed it down to my offspring. But, seriously? If that is the WORST thing said about her, it's pretty good.

Liv's Montessori years, from pre-k through 6th grade were all seamless. She excelled. She had an independent spirit. A talent for mathematics. I genuinely liked most of the parents. It was a school that was known for it's diversity and openmindedness, as well as having interesting speakers (Jane Goodall!!)

In junior high, at Holy Ghost Against the Infernal Fires of Hell, (yes, I'm jesting!), it started out shakily. She had a problem with some 8th grade girl bullies who were angry that she had taken their friend's place on the varsity basketball team. But her talent and coolness under fire won everyone over and when she left to go to high school, her academic record was spotless and one of her teachers had written, "Liv has strong opinions but she shares them in a soft, respectful way." Bing and I went through a crash course in Catholic parenting styles that left us a little stunned, but we slugged our way through. I made no real connections with the other parents. Some were tolerant of Bing and me, others not so much, but only a few were openly disdainful. And Liv made some good friends. I found that the younger generation is much more open to homosexuality than their parents.

Now, in high school, at Peace Academy for Girls, Liv is thriving. She has an incredibly large circle of friends, which is so different than my high school experience that I just watch and learn most of the time. She is never short a study buddy and all school events are usually gone to in groups of at least nine or ten girls. And she is very athletic, plays JV basketball, track, and soft ball. She isn't fond of the cafeteria heavy lunches, so packs her own salads and soups the night before and they are so healthy that I am taken aback. She packs alfalfa sprout sandwiches with tuna, carrot sticks and a power bar for lunch. Takes two bottled waters with her every day. I recall living on Cheetos and Snickers bars when I was in high school.

As I said, Liv has lots of friends, so I have had to stretch my social muscles and get to know a lot of parents. This has run the gauntlet from extremely strained conversations to....Sheila. My new friend. One of Liv's favorite friends, Sophie, comes from a huge family of nine where she is the middle child. They are all red headed, freckle spattered, athletic and extremely Catholic. Sophie's Mother, Cece, is a traditional stay at home Mom who always seems to be bringing homemade cookies, cakes, bundt pan cakes, macaroni dishes, chili, ham salad sandwiches or brownies to every single event. She always has a baby in her arms, and is surrounded by children who all take responsibility for the sibling under them, like the family Von Trapp. Yet she never looks messed or stressed. She looks like she is blissfully blessed and she will tell you that she is just that, if you ever asked her. Sophie's Father is a doctor and is never around, always working. I imagine with nine children to support, he has to work nearly non stop. At church events, they can all be recognized instantly from the backs of their bright red heads sitting in synchronized age in the third pew from the front. One of the toddlers proudly came up to me once at a school event to tell me that he had memorized his first bible verse:
Jesus wept. Even the coloring books that are brought to entertain the younger children are religious in content. GREAT MOMENTS IN THE BIBLE it says on the front. One child worked blissfully at coloring a bright red sea being parted by Moses. Another worked on Jesus as a sexy teen scolding the money lenders.

Cece can hardly stand me, but she would never admit it. Her body language gives her away, though. When she sees me, she always looks as if she just swallowed a rather large sour pickle, but she tries to disguise it by reaching out to touch my arm, to ask about my RA, can she help in any way? Pick up Liv from school? I've heard it said from other parents that Cece has lots and lots of problems with Liv being at Peace Academy when her parents are both women. This, of course, does not sit well with Catholic doctrine. But, the headmaster of the school, an old priest called Father Joseph, is lenient. Liv is not the only non-Catholic, there is a Hindu girl, a Jewish girl and even the daughter of atheists. The school's tuition is very steep and they need the dough, frankly. The school has much funding from the church and five other sources, families who go WAY back to the 1800's when the school was founded with attendance and they donate richly. But, still. The classes are small (less than twenty) so, they need outsiders. The rule of thumb is of the don't ask, don't tell variety, so nothing is done.

But, you can see in Cece's eyes that while she sincerely wishes that Sophie and Liv were not good friends, she will find the Catholic charity in her heart to put up with Liv and her heathen family. And Liv tells me that Sophie says that her Mother goes out of her way to spout bible verses around Liv and talk of church doctrine. I am guessing that she sees this as her big chance to recruit Liv.

The rest of the parents are less like Cece, but most don't go out of their way to seek Bing or me out. We are tolerated with good grace.

Until Sheila. I met Sheila a year ago when Liv started track. Sheila's daughter, Melissa, is also into track and Liv and Melissa began training together and staying after school together to go running. Eventually, they took to studying together and socializing and soon Melissa was part of Liv's big tribe of friends.

Strangely enough, I met Sheila because I mistakenly took her for Cece at an open house. I was sitting at a table during the Mother/daughter breakfast, waiting while Liv went to get me a coffee and muffin and I saw a red headed woman plop down next to me. Glancing over, I said, "Well, hello, Cece!" (A little surprised that Cece had deigned to sit down next to me unless she had no other choice...)

"Hells Bells, PULEEAZE don't mistake me for Cece Durango!" a boisterous voice said.

I looked over more closely and saw that while the woman did indeed have red hair, it was not Cece. I apologized and held out my hand.

"Maria Lastname. Liv Lastname's Mother."

She took my hand and shook it. "I'm Melissa Place's Mom. Call me Sheila."

So, I did.

We talked all through the breakfast, having great fun ordering our daughters around, since they had been instructed to be our servers. I think I had Liv fetch fresh cream for my coffee five times and Sheila had Melissa go up to the buffet several times in search of what looked like "crispy bacon instead of that wilty kind."

I found out that while Sheila and her husband, Pete, were Catholics, they were what Sheila called CINO's. (Catholics in Name Only); that they were both pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and card carrying liberal Democrats. But, they were both (like me) raised in very conservative Catholic families and had made the decision to raise their children in the church and have them attend Catholic schools because they liked the structure of the schools better and the smaller, more intimate classes.

"We're basically hypocrites," Sheila sighed. "But, our kids know where we stand and they've seen us take stands at enough holiday family dinners. I suppose we could put our money where our mouths are, but you know, I have hopes with this new pope. Maybe if enough of us keep pushing for change, our church will begin to join the new world."

I adore Sheila. She is a social worker and her husband is a nurse. Melissa has an older brother who is in the seminary. ("I have no idea how that happened. I feel like our family mimics that old show with Michael J Fox, FAMILY TIES?") She has been my guide through the deep parent waters at Liv's school, letting me know who is tolerant, who isn't, and who I should not touch with a ten foot pole...)

Mostly, she is my partner in crime at track meets. Since Melissa's extracurricular activities only coincide with Liv's regarding track, we spend a lot of time together at track meets. One of my favorite photos of Liv is on my desk at work. She is standing back to back with Melissa, dressed in their Peace Academy track outfits. Both have ice bags tied around their thighs and are grimly smiling at the camera.

Sheila and I don't really socialize much outside of school. She and I both have little time free and tend to enjoy spending it reading or watching The Walking Dead or The Americans. But, it's nice to have someone to talk to during those fiendishly long track meets where your child runs in the second event and then not again until the 13th and then the 48th and then the 62nd. Hours can go by and you don't want to leave or you'll lose your prime parking spot. Sheila sneaks in vodka sours in coffee canisters and we both sip them and then smile saintly at Cece when she comes by offering us her homemade blueberry scones to munch on. They go great with those sours....And we smile as we take her pamphlets about where to picket the next abortion doctor. And then toss them away. Or once, Sheila asked for a stack of pamphlets to hand out at work and as we walked out, she dumped them all into a trash can.

Sheila can dish and I admit to liking this. She knows that Anna's Mother has had so much cosmetic work that her thighs look like she is 13 and yes, that is why her lips look like Angelina Jolie's. That Lucinda's Mother had a fling with Sophie's Dad and that is why she and Cece never speak. That this happened at the Christmas pageant in junior high and they were found by a Deacon when he ran to the back of the church in search of more candles and found her spread eagled in a pew while Sophie's Dad leaned over her enjoying his mid pageant snack.  A Deacon with a big mouth. She knows that Father Joe really, really likes his Grey Goose vodka and that Cassidy's family buys him a case every month.

Even the Catholic Church is not as saintly as it seems. Like most of us. But, in spite of her tendency to gossip too easily, Sheila is also a great social worker. She works for the state and has hit me up on more than one occasion to buy a case of pedialyte for her to hand out at home visits. And diapers. And on one occasion, a communion dress for a child whose parents could not afford to buy her one. She even had me meet her at the store to help pick it out with the parents and child. The child, a little Hispanic girl with the most beautiful black perfect ringlets that I have seen and no front teeth had beguiled me by trying on one of the more expensive dresses and then twirled happily in a circle proclaiming that she felt like Elsa in Frozen. 190 smackers and I bought that dress, even though her parents tried to insist on a much plainer one. No. Everyone needs a dress that makes them feel like Elsa. Whoever the hell that is. It's been a very long time since I've seen a children's movie.

Sheila and I aren't soul besties like Harriet and I are. We don't talk about our marriages or our deepest worries. We share a little about our children. I talk about how Liv has leaped into teenagedom in one single year, going from a nerdy Hermione Granger into looking like a young Brooke Shields telling us that nothing stands between she and her Calvin Kleins. She assures me that Liv is pretty much STILL that nerdy Hermione, and that she is just as bewildered as I am with all the attention from boys that she is suddenly getting, but that she hides it well because she is her Mother. She talks about her daughter, Melissa, and the sudden appearance of wild child tendencies and back talk where she used to be this quiet little mouse. I assure her that Melissa has been nothing but sweet and well behaved when she spends the night at our house and how once I walked into Liv's room to find them both in their nightgowns dancing to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" on a Friday night.

Sheila and I are good friends in that way. Every Friday morning, Peace Academy holds a family mass for their students and their parents. Bing and I try to attend twice a month, splitting the times once and then both going together once. I always look for Sheila, who takes a seat four seats back from the middle on the left side and always saves us a space. It usually isn't crowded and she and I have been known to spend the entire mass playing Hang Man or writing notes. We are incorrigible, I suppose. Bad MOTHERS. Bad role models. Luckily, our daughters are required to sit in the first five pews so they don't see our antics. And we always listen to the beginning of the sermon to get enough of an idea about what it is about so that if we run into Cece or another good Catholic parent, we can talk about it. Once, Sheila wrote Sermon is on prodigal son and I nodded and we went back to Hang Man. Later at the after church coffee meeting, we were able to keep up with Cece when she spoke to Father Joe about how timely his sermon was. We are like Mary Clancy and Rachel Devery in The Trouble With Angels. But, like them, we may not be perfect but we are good at heart.

And we both try to be good Mothers. I love having a friend at Liv's school. I can't tell you how nice it is to find that friendly face when I arrive to a room full of parents who may or may not accept me or even tolerate me. It means a LOT.

And Sheila? She's one of the good ones. In her own way, just as holy as Cece. She just dances to a different tune. Like Thoreau, she marches to the music she hears.

And I know that beat.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Must've been a helluva good dream....

This morning, I woke up to Bing coming in to kiss me after her run with the dog. She had a delicious, steaming cup of coffee with just a splash of cream in favorite. I sat up and took a sip. Sighed.

"Did you have good dreams last night?" she asked.

I am a prolific dreamer. When I was in med school, in my psych rotation, we were required to record our dreams and I made it a habit. And it's incredible how when you start doing it, your memory of your dreams gets better and better until you can almost remember at least one per night. I have grown a little lazy, so now I usually remember just a couple dreams per week.

I told Bing, that I couldn't remember any dreams this morning.

"Well, I woke up in the middle of the night last night and you were laying on your back sort of chuckling," Bing said.

"You should've awakened me!" I told her.

"I was going to and then you went from chuckling to really belly laughing and your face was illuminated in the moonlight. You looked SO damned happy that I didn't want to interrupt. I haven't heard you laugh much lately. It was so nice. So, I just went up on one elbow and watched you and then you stopped and were just smiling and then...back to just sleeping," she went on.

I sighed. Asked her what time it was.

"About 2:45."

Hmm. Nope. Couldn't pull one strand of that dream back.

But, it is sure better than the nightmares I've had of falling lately. Almost every night, just as I'm drifting off, I re-visit my fall and wake up abruptly, limbs rigid with fear. And I have this recurring dream of falling off of things. Mountain sides, bridges, trees. Once I dreamed that I was in an elevator and the floor gave way. I think this fall messed with my head a little. Funny, how when you are a kid and fall, you get up and brush yourself off, and when you're a teenager and fall, your pride is hurt but nothing else. When you are in your 20's, 30's and 40's and hurts like a motherfucker, but you go on, maybe with a bruised up shin, etc. But...once you hit 55, falling is terrifying. All those bones that shatter so easily and all that tissue that doesn't regenerate nearly as fast as it used to.

But, I think my brain/soul/body wants me to heal, so is showing me funny movies when I sleep. This pleases me a great deal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Child of Mine

Tonight, walking Socks. With Liv. Going slowly. I'm getting around well with my cane again, but my gait is still slow. Tomorrow, I will go back to work, even though both of my eyes are still bruisey. Not deep purple anymore, but sort of a cool yellow and green. Bing says I look like a forest nymph. I think I look plain ass scary. I was a little trepidacious about having my little autistic kids see me, but decided that if any child would find my face fascinating, they would.

And you're right, Kate. The thumb is a big deal. It's my left handed one, so a pain in the ass. My dominant hand, but I'm doing okay. It's just all bandaged up and getting therapy. Knees still swollen, but able to stand weight now. I'm just slow.

Liv and Socks instinctively know this. Liv holds Socks' leash in one hand and keeps my arm tucked in her other arm. We meander, Socks walking slowly and dignified, like a Scottish king's dog.

Liv and I talk of...things. Her upcoming basketball game on Tuesday. How she's working on her 3 pointers. Of that boy....Alan. The one who plays hockey and acts like he can barely breathe around her. We laugh a little. Her Father, Tinton, just left to go back to Colorado last week and the few times that Alan was around, he acted like he wanted to punch him in the face.

"He was almost growling, Mama!" Liv tells me, laughing.

I chuckle back. I say that he'll have to learn to deal with the boy thing. Liv sighs.

"It's just a boy."

Yes. But, still.

"And he says that I remind him of you when you were younger, that you used to wrap guys around your finger and I seem to have inherited your charming spells."

This makes me laugh again. Because...well...hey....I was pretty damn good at making those boys go 'round. And now that I am watching my daughter do EXACTLY what I used to do, it doesn't seem nearly as acceptable. But, I don't have much wiggle room to complain, so I don't.

We pass the library and head back home. Liv tightens her arm around mine and says, "Remember when I was little and when I used to be introduced to people, I would throw your skirt up in the air and hide under it?"

I smile. Yes, I do. I remember it well. I always wore those swirly gypsy skirts (or as Bing calls them, your Stevie Nicks get ups. )And many, many times Liv would throw the skirt up in the air and go flying into my legs. I'd stand with her under my skirt, clinging to my thigh. I'd feel her little wet lips right above my knee, drooling.

It's a good memory now.

"You always smelled of lilies of the valley," Liv comments.

I lean in to her to kiss her cheek and she smiles.

"You are my child, always. Child of mine," I tell her.

Child of mine.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Please excuse Maria once again

Scene of the crime:

Wednesday night: Liv is studying with a friend. Maria and Bing go out for dinner since they've been too busy to talk for three days. They meet at a lovely little cafe after work, taking separate cars.

Afterwards, Bing tells Maria that she'll be a little late getting home as she needs to get gas in her car. Maria heads home and goes upstairs to change. At the top of the stairs, she turns to head into their bedroom. And stumbles over her own two oafish feet.

Takes a nose dive right on to the floor, skinning knees as she goes.

And passes out. Her last thought is that she JUST got cortisone shots in her knees, what a fucking waste of money because this HURTS and what was that cracking sound? Was it her nose or her glasses?

She awakens to Bing on the floor next to her, screaming her name and shaking her.

An ER visit reveals a broken nose, a slight concussion, a rotary cuff sprain, a snapped thumb joint, two very messed up knees (not broken...but...) and a partridge in a pear tree.

I am lovely to look at with two black eyes, a skinned up nose and I'm hobbled with my taking some time away. Awakened to more diarrhea. (YOU try making it to the bathroom when you can barely walk...)

I'm taking a break, dudes.

Life is just too much right now. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Kneeling at the feet of Marilynne Robinson

Books truly are the bridge that crosses me over. I honestly don't get people who don't like reading. Unfortunately, this kinda sorta includes my wife. She is a voracious reader, but not of fiction. She likes self help books, memoirs of financial wizards, and anything to do with media tech. I've told her that I don't consider this real reading and she puts her forefinger under her nose and tips it up, calls me a snob. She's probably right. I know this. I just don't understand WHY she is unable to lose herself in all the beautiful words that are right in front of us.

I always chose books when I could pick a present. I'm known in my family as the one who will give you a book at every occasion. Recently, I sent my niece the gift of Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness. My niece is getting ready to start student teaching this semester. A long talk over Christmas break revealed to me that she is still so young that I can't begin to see her teaching high school English. We discussed the difficulty of her first task: teaching Ulysses to a class of juniors at a small Catholic high school here on the prairie.  She shrugged. Said she'd bone up beforehand and do her best.

Later, I was in a small bookstore (ONLY SHOP AT LOCAL BOOKSTORES! MAKE THAT A RULE!!), with a gift certificate to spend. I happened across Marina Keegan's incredible book, bought it and wrote a long note to tuck inside. Now, Keegan breaks my heart. She died just four days after graduating from college and her book will be her only legacy to offer the world of a brilliant writer who would have given the world such a wealth of words if she had been allowed to live. It just hurts my heart to read her words:

I want enough time to be in love with everything. And. We're so young. We're so young!

She was. And now my niece is. Just at the threshold. My niece is a writer, too. Not yet that great of one, although she does show a gift for dialogue that I enjoy a lot. But, she is taken in by the internet and it's glossy hopefulness of sloppy readers. Her grammar is atrocious and spelling has much to be desired. Still, she is young. And the journey is just beginning.

She texted me when she received the book via postal mail.

Thanks, Auntie! Ill take a peak at it.

I bit my lip. Told myself that yes, she is young, she is young.

Like Marina.

Books have changed my life. From the first book read to me by my Da: The Wind in the Willows to my great joy in sinking into Maud Hart Lovelace's series of books about Betsy, Tacy and Tib. I still laugh over The Everything Pudding chapter and the quote: "Betsy loved to think up things to do, and Tacy and Tib loved to do them." Sadly, when I tried to read this book to Liv, she shunned it. Was bored, as she was at the Little House books as well, deeming them to be boring. On the other hand, she went nuts over the Narnia series and Harry Potter. I was in the wrong genre. To each his/her own.

When I was in sixth grade, I discovered William Shakespeare. My Mother took me to the Franco Zeffirelli produced Romeo and Juliet and I fell madly in love from the first line. I was so shaken by the beauty of the words, the dialogue, that I could barely breathe. I finally began to cry soundlessly, causing my Mother to look at me alarmingly from the seat next to me. The play had not reached it's sad part yet, she had no idea what the hell was the matter with me.

It was the words. Just the words. I had never heard them put together that way before and I was beguiled and tremendously shaken. Later, a psychic would tell me that I had lived in the time of Shakespeare and had simply recognized a dialect that was familiar to me.

I don't think so. I think it was the literature. The word choices. I was shaken to the bone by the jovial Mercutio, teasing Romeo at first:

Romeo: I dreamt a dream tonight.
Mercutio: And so did I.
Romeo: And what was yours?
Mercutio: That dreamers often lie.

And then, the pain in his voice as he realized that his capriciousness had led him wrongly:

Mercutio: A plague on both your houses! They've made worm's meat of me!

I wept and wept, careful to be silent. Knowing that if I made a scene, that my Mother would remove me from the theatre. Afterwards, in the car on the way home, she shook her head at me.

"I can't believe that you got so worked up over a silly movie about too young kids making bad decisions that hurt their parents."

I looked over at her, incredulous. Hadn't she heard those words too? I would save up to buy the soundtrack from the film and memorize almost all the dialogue, feeling it slide off my tongue like silken weavings. And when I found out that he wrote a LOT more, I immersed myself in his writing, even his historical plays, falling deep into Henry the IV, V.

Reading has always lent me a crutch.

When Liv was younger, I read The Velveteen Rabbit to her, getting so caught up in the Skin horse's words that I could barely read without crying:

Real isn't how you are made, it's a thing that happens to you. And Once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

And from, The Story of Ferdinand:

I like it better here where I can sit just quietly and smell the flowers.

I would read in the evenings after Liv went to bed. Elizabeth Berg has always touched my soul.

"Never be afraid of doing the thing you know in your heart is right, even if others don't agree." From Dream When You're Feeling Blue.

The first line of Kaye Gibbons masterpiece (and my favorite book of all time), Ellen Foster is: When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.

It just amazed me that there were all those brilliant writers out there for me to discover and there was so little time!

I had my problems with some of the so called "great writers." I tried and tried to read Hemingway. Diligently worked to get through A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. I could not get through them, got all tangled up in run-on sentences and descriptive passages that left me cold. And then, I read that someone had asked Hemingway to write a novel in 6 words, had laid down the gauntlet.

He responded with: For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I've decided to try again just because of that six word sentence.

I think, though, out of all my ventures, that Marilynne Robinson has struck me the hardest. I've read Lila, Gilead, Housekeeping, and Home and all of her books make me shiver over and over again.

"How does she do that?" I will ask myself, as I am sinking into the books. How does a writer manage to keep a hold of a reader's heart like that?

Because of Robinson, I was persuaded to pick up the book of Ezekiel in the bible again and read it just to see if I agreed with her that although it is a very dark part, it is also full of indisputable poetry. I was astonished to see that if I applied myself to the words very, very diligently, that they sunk into my soul. And I am not a bible fan. Not that I think it is badly written. Growing up in a very conservative Catholic family, I was dunked in the bible daily for nearly 18 years before I began to back away and make my own observations. I came to the conclusion that while, in general, I thought that the bible was interestingly written, it was hardly consistent or all that well done. But, there was Robinson in her work, Lila , encouraging me to go back and take another look at Ezekiel. So, I did.

Robinson's words are not exclusively bible driven. Her fiction just stirs at my soul because as I read her words, I come to the conclusion again and again that she simply understands human nature in a way that few do. She writes, from Housekeeping:

There is little to remember of anyone, an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the hope that memory will fulfill itself and become flesh, that the wanderers will find a way home and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.

My heart just breaks at those words. They are exactly how I think about my Da, but can never put into words. I look at even the cover of her book, Home and am so done in by the photo of the rumpled bed on it with the sun slivering in through curtains and I am almost in tears. It's like she gets everything. All of it. How just the sun on a bed can turn us into a quiver.

Today, I am re-reading Home just because I always find something new to weep over, to exhalt over when I read her work. I came upon these words. One of the main characters, Jack, a ne'er do well son come back home to see his Reverand Father and little Sister is talking about how he reads the bible, but has his problems with it. I read this and felt my eyes well up:

"The idea being that the splendor of creation and of the human creature testify to a gracious intention lying behind it all, that they manifest divine mercy and love. Which sustains the world in general and is present in the experience of, you know, people whose souls are saved. Or will be." After a moment he said, "It is possible to know the great truths without feeling the truth of them. That's where the problem lies. In my case."

God, how did she KNOW what was in my heart and get it out on the page like that? How do good writers DO THAT?

I started this blog with one intention: I wanted my daughter to know me after I am gone. I knew that, in life, she would only know me in a daughterly fashion as we all know our parents. I wanted her to see the real me, the person behind her Mother. The person who I was, am. And it has been difficult for me. I don't share easily, especially not the tough bits. I don't really want Liv to know that I had so many bad traits! That I am incredibly vain at times, that I struggle daily with a feeling of being unable to really connect with the rest of the world. I am almost astonishingly cautious about letting others see the real me. I am far more comfortable to be that aloof woman in the corner, the one who seldom speaks.

And yet, I want her to see how I lived my life. That I found a way around many, many obstacles. That I looked addiction in the face and beat it (okay, subdued it....) That I fought cancer and beat it into a careful remission. That I did the best that I could to raise her up right. I looked at my parents and their way of raising of children and I kept many of my Da's ways and very few of my Mother's. I want her to know that I tried my best as much as I was able, sometimes failing, but usually succeeding. I want her to see me at my best, a smart, humorous woman who loved her daughter more than herself. Because Liv is my badge of honor. I learned how to love unconditionally and completely with Liv. I have yet to experience that in my other attempts at loving; my marriage suffers daily because I am a stingy partner, not inclined to show emotion. The psychiatrist in me comes out here. I understand why this is. It goes back to my Da. (Freud was pretty on target....a LOT of the shit we carry around goes back to a parent...) How dare he DIE on me like that? Leave me with my Mother? How DARE HE? It still slides around my life. I am extremely careful about who and when I let love in. And I've probably missed some great loves because of it. Luckily, I have had very stubborn people in my life who insisted on standing on that porch banging on my door until I let them in. Standing in the rain, the snow, the wind. Never giving up on me long after I gave up on myself.

I worry sometimes. I worry that Liv will read this blog and see me as foolish. Silly. Vain. Pompous. Smart but condescending. Giving, but more of a taker.

I wish that I could write like my idols do. But, I can't. All that I can do is present this to Liv. Lay it at her feet and hope for the best.

And thank the gods for people like Marilynne Robinson, Elizabeth Berg, William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Kaye Gibbons, Maud Hart Lovelace, Margery Williams, Marina Keegan, and Munro Leaf.