Saturday, April 12, 2014

The care and handling of aging

Okay, I will just admit it right here and now.

I am afraid of getting old. Not in..the way that I am terrified of spiders or horses (yes, horse lovers, I have disappointed you now, yes? I am not necessarily afraid of horses per se, but of their heads, it's an odd fear, I know...but my own...) but leery. Very leery.

I want to die peacefully in my sleep at 78, 79, maybe 80.

Doesn't everyone?

I just don't want to be infirm. Dependent on someone else to take me to the toilet, or worse...change my diaper. I have already arranged to set aside money every month for the express purpose of either hiring a home health aide or going into a nice nursing home if it comes to that. I do NOT want my daughter to feel that she must take me in and nurse me if I become unable to take care of myself. The thought of Liv wiping my ass makes me ill. She and I have never discussed this and hopefully, never will.

I believe that I will outlive Bing. Not because I am healthier, but because I am not. It always goes that way, you know? With couples. The one who dies first always seems to be the one who was more robust. Of the two of us, Bing is by far the healthier. She has no major illnesses, as I do. She eats very healthily, we have meat maybe twice a week at the most. She rarely craves sweets or salt, while I, the type 1 diabetic, PINE for oreos. I am so jealous that she could sit down and eat a whole package of them while I can only eat one occasionally. If I told her this, she would be puzzled. I can see her saying, "Why would anyone WANT to eat a package of oreos? God, even one makes me feel sick." She gets cravings for ice cream occasionally and it is always around the first of the month, when she used to have her period. Another way that she is healthier than me. Her periods were always like clockwork. They would come on the first or second of the month. Mine were helter skelter. I would sometimes go for 19 days between periods, other times 42 days, sometimes I would miss a month entirely. Liv has not inherited this and I am glad. It was as if my body itself was just lackadaisical.

Hmmm. Feel like having a period this month? Let's see...ok. How about Monday? No? Well, why don't we just skip it altogether?

It is absolutely amazing to me that I was able to conceive a child at all.

Bing jogs every morning before she leaves for school unless it is raining hard or we are in the midst of a blizzard. She takes Socks with her and he loves it. She goes to the gym at least 5 times a week and swims laps. I don't run unless the house is on fire and I go to the gym about 3 times a week with her, but I just walk the track. It's all my RA will allow. I have a left knee that is inclined to blow up to the size of a grapefruit about three times a year. I also have such stiffness in my hands that Bing sits on the edge of the bed every morning before she leaves for school and rubs them for me. She makes a joke of it, says, "Okay, beastie, hand me your claws."

I get migraines about once a month. I have Meniere's syndrome that occasionally rears it's vertigo head. I am blind as a bat without my glasses and I inherited the bad teeth of my parents. I have 7 caps.

Bing had some back problems a couple of years ago that slowed her down for a few months, but she diligently did her physical therapy and is now back to normal. I occasionally need to use a cane when my RA is flaring and my joints ache so badly that walking is painful.

Of the two of us, you would pick Bing to be the one to live til she was 98. But, no. She will die before me. It is just the way these things happen. As my sainted Irish Mother used to say, "God loves a good joke."

So, it will be me left on my own. I won't re-marry. Hell, it took me over three decades just to marry Bing! I am very comfortable being a pot with no lid and I suspect that if Bing died, I would never, ever re-marry. In fact, I would bet money on it.

Bing will be gone and I will be aging. It won't be pretty. I have too many infirmities. And since I have no intention of letting my daughter be my nursemaid, I will end up in a nursing home, I suppose.

This makes me so sad that I can hardly bear it. I don't want to sit in some cookie cutter little apartment in some brick building with cheery motives on the walls. I don't want to play bingo or go to listen to some folk singers carry on about "Puff the Magic Dragon" while we all sit around nodding off, some of us will have forgotten to put our teeth in.

I don't want to sit at a table with others for my meals and have to eat my diabetic meal plan serving. I don't want groups of grade school carolers to come sing Christmas songs to us while I sit in my wheelchair trying not to wonder who lives in my old home now, if there are stockings on the hearth like we used to do.

I don't want someone to bring a dog around for us to pet. It will make me think of Socks, probably buried in the back yard where someone else lives now and they don't even know that he is next to where that big garden used to be but is now a koi fish pond.

I don't want to have my daughter visit me, sometimes accompanied by my grandchildren and there I will be not recognizing her and asking her if she is the new nurse and seeing the tears start in her eyes and wondering why that pretty nurse is crying.

I seriously don't want to wear a diaper or have nurse aides talk about me as if I'm not there.

"You know she used to be a shrink! And all those books that her daughter insists need to stay in her room when she can't even understand Cat in the Hat anymore!"

And if I am even a little lucid this will bring a memory up of a little golden haired girl sitting in my lap giggling over thing 1 and thing 2.

I don't want to have to remember Bing. I want to have her with me.

I don't want to look down at my gnarled twisted hands and fingers and remember how tenderly she sat at the edge of the bed kneading my fingers until they weren't claws anymore and then leaning down and telling me to get up now, time to get ready for work, goodbye my love, I'll see you tonight. It's The Americans night on television. Can't wait!

When I go into nursing homes (and it is rare), I always look at the people there and remind myself that these people were once a big part of the world. Once, as I sat at a Christmas concert that our friend was giving, I sat next to a man who told me that he used to be a college professor. Taught math. And that his wife had passed the Summer before last and so now he had a single room. That his son lived in Colorado and came and visited every few months and brought the grandkids. And I sat there thinking of him standing in front of his class and saying, "Ok, kids. Hand in your work from last week. And Bill? Can I see you after class? I have that brochure about grad school for you." I thought of him going home to his wife and his son, maybe eating dinner and watching Charlie's Angels or something. Maybe pruning the rose bushes. Going to his son's basketball games and hoping that he didn't ride the bench this time.

When we stood up at the end of the concert and said goodbye and I watched him shuffling off with his walker, his white hair a tuft on the top of his head, I had to bite my lip not to cry. I went home and wrote out a Christmas card and sent it to him. He never answered and that's okay. I probably wouldn't have either, if the roles were reversed.

And they will be.

One day, I will be that person sitting in a nursing home and some sharp dressed woman will come sit down by me and ask if she can pour me some holiday punch. And I will tell her that I once worked with kids with autism and yes, I have a daughter. She's an environmental engineer, living in Arizona. I see her once in a while. And my granddaughter and son in law. And then that sharp dressed woman will get up and get to leave afterwards on her good strong legs and I will be wheeled back to my room where I will sit for a while and remember Bing's laugh and Liv's high jumps at the track meet and this blog. And then some aide will come in and put me to bed and maybe I will dream that I am young again and in college and meeting Steven Tyler when his band plays at a dance.

I fear aging. I know myself well. I will not go gentle into that good night. I will fight it.

I want to die when I am 80 years old, in my own bed, in Bing's arms.

Is that asking so much?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Question for the hive....

.....have you ever had your identity stolen, credit card compromised, etc?

Yesterday, I was in a great mood when I left work. Bing has a law class ( school will be on her plate when she retires in a two years, she's getting the basics out of the way for now....) every Tuesday night and Liv was eating dinner/studying at a friend's home. I had plans to go shopping for new patio furniture. Ours is pretty ratty looking.

My phone rang as I was walking to my car. Hmmm. My bank. I answered.

"Is this Maria Lastname?"

It was.

The caller identified herself as Shelly from fraud alert at my bank. She wondered if I was currently in my city.

I was.

"Well, we are seeing some suspicious activity on your debit card in Dallas, Texas," she said.

Long story short: someone was enjoying themselves in Dallas on my debit card number. Apparently, they had hit several stores and had really had themselves a good time at Home Depot.

I guess it was inevitable. I mean, I'm in my mid fifties and I have never had this happen. Ever. Nothing even close.

But, still...I was flabbergasted and mostly MAD AS HELL.

I was curious. How could anyone have gotten my digits? The card was still in my wallet. I was told by a rather weary sounding Shelly that this is a very common occurrence. That she was shutting down my account and that it would be unavailable to me for several days until they mailed me a new card. That, no, my checking account was fine; only my digits had been "compromised."

I asked how long it would take to have the money stolen from me returned.

Well, she hedged. She said it would probably take from 3 weeks to a month and a half for their fraud verification team to insure that I hadn't been in Dallas going on a shopping spree. This kind of pissed me off. I also have to go to my bank and fill out an affidavit now too.

I want to slap this person who STOLE from me. I want to take a trip to Dallas, track his/her fraudulent ass down and kick the shit out of them. Twice. Three times.

I kept thinking to myself how can anyone do this?

Stupid question, I know. There is much evil in the world and this is just a small fish in the sea of it.

Shelly told me that I should be grateful that the bank had caught it. Well, yes, of course. I was. And even though Bing tells me to check my account daily, in truth....I only do it every couple of weeks. Well, never again. If my bank hadn't caught this, it could have been so much worse.

Any one else in this boat with me?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Because you winked at me.

I love our quiet evenings. Love the pale lights, the book sitting next to me. The television set on The Vikings or something else.

I love sipping my green tea or chai while you nibble on the leftover pumpkin bars that you made last night.

I love reading my book on commercials, listening to Liv's pen scratching as she does her homework on the floor at my feet. Our dog, Socks, curled up next to her or on my lap or yours.

But, what I love the most on these cold rainy April nights?

Looking over at you and seeing you smile and then wink at me.

A small wink. A little somethin' somethin' to let me know that you see me and like what you see.

And when I walk by and you catch my wrist and hold my knuckles to your lips and kiss them.

Later on, as I brush my teeth, looking up to see you smiling at me in the mirror. Maybe flashing me a boob, lifting up your tee shirt and wow...there it is.

That makes me laugh with a mouthful of Crest, but it's okay, you like me no matter what.

And then bed. Usually too tired from the busy day to make love unless one of us has an itch that simply must be scratched and then the other will comply. We usually agree to wait to the weekend, though. Pinky swear that we'll find the time soon. And then curling under the covers together, sharing a small bit of the day. That kid who never says much? Well, he talked to you today, asked you what the last song was that you listened to and you pulled out your i-pod to show him: The Goo Goo Dolls. Or I'll share that our new secretary brought brownies again and I am going to be fat as a pig in no time at all.

We'll talk about New Orleans in July, a visit to see the relatives and unwind.

And then, slowly...drifting into sleep, you spooning me, a hand over my hip.

'Tis bliss, Bing. Truly.

But...that wink? I love that small wink so much.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The calamity of my heart

I don't come across as an emotional person. I tend to be very slow to make friends, slow to trust, slow to commit to anyone or anything. In conversations, I am seldom, if ever, the one in the center talking. I'm the one standing off to the side a little, listening.

I sometimes think if one more person describes me as aloof, I might scream.

But, I make it hard, I know. I don't really like being touched unless I know you really, really well and I am not a hugger, with the exception of my daughter. I hug her quite often.

I was once told by an ex that I reminded her of Spock. That she thought I had Vulcan blood. I should have felt badly, it surely wasn't a compliment. But, I just nodded. I'm used to it.

But the thing is...I am a secretly emotional woman.

My Da saw my soul right off and since I believe it takes one to know one, I think that he and I were much alike. He told me once that I had a poet's soul. I was six, so I wasn't sure what that meant, but I remembered the compliment, tucked it away in a place to pull out when I was older, wiser.

My Da was a dreamy guy. Not just in looks (although I am told that he was quite handsome and his photos show a man with deep dimples, jet black hair and very light blue eyes) but in his demeanor. He loved reading and taught me to read when I was four. I went to kindergarten, as my older sisters did, knowing how to read. And he taught me all wrong. I didn't learn the sounds of words, I learned because he would read out loud and put his fingers under each word and I just picked it up somehow. I don't remember learning to read at all. I just remember reading and his finger showing me the words. Mostly, my Da showed me his spirit through his actions. He would drag us all out of bed (against my Mother's vehement protests) to show us falling stars, beautiful starry nights and full moons. He sang all the old songs from Ireland, the country of his birth. And to this day, when I hear a man with an Irish accent, I think of my Da.

After Da died, I was left to my Mother. She was not a dreamer and didn't put much stock in them. She had loved my Da fiercely, but it was the love of a young girl who got all caught up in a dimpled smile and a boy who finally, finally saw her red hair and freckles and thought them beautiful. She did not enjoy reading, was not swayed easily by a starry night and she rarely smiled. She was a very pragmatic, steady, stubborn woman. She was financially savvy too. If our finances had been kept by my Da, we would have been poor as church mice. But, my Mother was a saver and a penny pincher. She worked hard for the money and while my Da was a good farmer because he loved the land, my Mother was a good farmer because she understood the land and what nutrients were needed. My Da would croon to the plants. My Mother thought this ridiculous and told him so. She would never have thought to sing to a plant.

I've always felt things deeply but hidden them cleverly. It was how it worked in the house that I grew up in after Da died. Emotions were not prized. Crying was seldom tolerated and certainly not pitied. My Mother believed in being strong emotionally and physically and she was that, in spades. She didn't cry at Da's funeral. She made sure that all of his daughters were dressed and spit spot shiny. She went on with things. She was not the type to throw herself on the bed and weep over anything. She was a buck up and quit yer bawling type of person.

So, I learned to keep a lot of things under wrap, although, privately, my heart would swell and my throat would close easily. Lightning bugs could make me cry. The beauty of a summer garden aswarm with those blinking lights? Ah. It slayed me, it did.

I have always become close to characters in books, hating to have them leave. When I was younger, I was enamored with Pippi Longstocking and wished with all of my heart that she could move in next door. I devoured books, love the Little House books with an intensity. I can still remember Laura, the heroine of these books and how she fell into the creek during a flood and almost drowned. How she saw the Indians leaving the plains and saw a baby papoose and wanted to have that baby for her own. How she stood up to the kids at school on her first day who called her and her sister, Mary, long legged snipes.  I was right there with her and swore that if I found a Laura that she would be my best friend. I still have those Little House books and although I handed them down to Liv, I still go into her room sometimes and pluck up one of them, perhaps On The Banks of Plum Creek and I sit on the floor, cross legged, all caught up in Ma's vanity cakes and Jack the bull dog.

As I grew older, I found more characters to love.

Luna Lovegood
Rudy from The Book Thief.
Mr. Darcy
Huck Finn
Scout Finch
Peeta Mellark
Janey Larkin from Blue Willow.

I fell in love with books and the characters in them. To this day, when I finish a really good book, I carry it around in my purse for days afterward, not wanting to let my friends go.

I have certain words, phrases, paragraphs memorized and they still can make me weep.

In Wuthering Heights, when Catherine tells Nelly about Heathcliff:

"My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being..."

I weep EVERY time I read those lines. My heart just soars. I feel every moment right along with Catherine and Heathcliff and their sad, doomed love.

From A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I learned that I wasn't the only one who was freakish about books. Francie says:

"From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood."

And Shakespeare nearly did me in. From the simple utterance of et tu Brute? to my favorite play of all time: Romeo and Juliet.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love is deep, the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.

I read good books over and over and it always feels as if I am meeting old friends for coffee.

But it isn't just books, I fall in love with characters from movies and television as well.

Daryl from The Walking Dead. has some of the best lines written:

And people in hell want Slurpees. Shoot me again? You best pray I'm dead.

And I love his character, love his crackery red neck face, his tenderness held in check for fear of being hurt, his beautiful wild stringy hair. There is a scene in this show where he is wandering around with Beth, a character of almost unlimited hope and faith. Daryl is at his emotional tether. He is mourning the loss of their friends, struggling to go on with things. And Beth somehow infuses him with the will to go on. She looks at him, laughing and gently teases him. Asks him why he is suddenly not the naysayer, the grouch, the edgy razor. Daryl looks at her, struggling with the need to show his emotions and the wariness he keeps around him.  Finally, he raises his chin and looks at her straight on.

"You know," he says slowly.

And she does. And we do. That moment when someone or something just helps you rise up to your feet again when you thought you never could.

I genuinely adore Snape from the Harry Potter books. Another twisted soul, terrified of showing any warmth for fear of losing those he loves. I get him. And something sad and lonely in me cries out to him.

Physical things can undo me too. The first day when I go out to check on my newly planted garden and I put my hands in the soil, feeling their tender little roots that will soon take hold firmly and grow as round as my thumb. I stroke them gently, tenderly, lost in love for their helplessness and need.

Some songs make me shudder with joy or pain or something else? A thrum against my heart? A feeling of being there and having done that.

The opening chords of Ventura Highway.

James Taylor's Long Ago and Far Away plays and I am reduced to a wall of pain and joy. I feel as if he is singing about my soul, it is closer to me than I wish but still too far away.

Someone told me once, a priest who somehow became my friend after a long series of debates where I called out Catholicism right and left, that he believes that all that you need to get into heaven is to prove that you have loved deeply and been loved deeply in return.

Well, in that case, Liv will get me into heaven. I have never loved a soul as deeply as I love her, with the exception of my Da. And that love taught me how to be me, how to find my soul. I think back to the way my Da looked at me sometimes and I feel that I look exactly the same way at my daughter. It is a love that is so immense, so gentle and so all consuming that just the sight of one of her pale blue baby shoes can bring tears to my eyes. I found her shoes once in a box in the basement. I have no idea why I saved them.

Well, now I do. I must have known that I would need them someday, some rainy day when I felt sad and scared and unsure. I must have known that just pulling those pale blue baby shoes with the sturdy ankles to help her learn to walk, would be my undoing and exactly what I needed. The small wrinkles on the side of the right shoe where she used to tilt her foot a bit as she learned to walk steadily. Just the sight of those shoes, those wrinkles made me sit down on the floor, smiling and weeping at the same time.

Just her shoes.

I will surely be allowed into heaven if there is one just because her love saved me.

Our dog's button black eyes in his curly black fur make me want to be the best person I can. He trusts me completely, is so sure that I am his and he is mine. The way that he looks up at me with such pure sweetness. Ah. It makes me want to let him lick my face. And sometimes I do just that.

The calamity of my heart might surprise you. I may look unapproachable and stiff. Aloof and too cool to break a sweat, but underneath all that facade is the real me.

And I am soft as a candle that has been burning all night.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Ok, new age bitch, if you're so enlightened...why do you allow your kid to go to a Catholic school when your (sic) a lesbo?"

It made me laugh at first, this little nugget from yes....anonymous because, seriously? Why are these attackers always anonymous? I would love a bit of hubris and have them sign their name. But, then...well....they can't stay in the shadows anymore.

(Actually, a fake name is fine. Like Betty or Steve. Cassie or Johnny. Mimi or Peter.)

But, anonymous comments really bug the shit out of me. Kind of like phrases like conscious uncoupling. I mean, c'mon. Let's just say we're splitting up, folks. We gave it a go and it didn't work out so swell. We tried, gave it our best shot and failed. It sucks. We're sad. But to say that you are consciously uncoupling makes me think that you have way too much time on your hands.

Ok, I meandered. Let's get back to anonymous and his or her question.

I think I will give you a name, though. And I checked and you're not my pee butt stalker, so I will just go ahead and name you Agatha. Aggie. That sounds a bit more....accessible.

Ok, Aggie. My answer is that I may or may not regret letting my daughter go to a Catholic school, but the jury won't really be in for several more years, so I'll just bumble through things the best way that I can. It is pretty much how I've tackled parenthood. I just tried to do the best that I could.

Do I wish that Liv didn't go to a Catholic girl's Academy? A resounding yes. But, will I make her leave? No. Never.

I made lots of promises to Liv as I held her when she was an infant and I have tried very diligently to keep them. I promised her that I would never lie to her if I could avoid it. I promised her that I would not make her walk next to me after she turned 12 unless she wanted to do that. I promised her that I would try to find a village to help me raise her up. I promised her that I would never, ever inflict my own beliefs on her and let her find her own trail, her own journey. And when she was seeking it? That I would be right behind her to catch her if she fell. I promised her that I would make her accountable for her self, that when she hurt people, she would know that she had to apologize, try to make it right. I promised her that if she wanted to be a Republican, I would swallow hard and try not to vomit. I promised her that I would not give her everything she wanted, would teach her that she needs to earn money for things, that she would not see a cashbox as a little thing that just gave her money, no questions asked.

I promised to give her the gift of allowing her to fall. I promised to be right there, but if she fell, she fell and I would help her learn to get back up without looking around for someone else to blame. I promised to trust her opinions and allow her to be her own person, not a carbon copy of me.

Some of those promises have been easy. Others not so much.

When she was younger, my life was harder physically but easier mentally. No meant that she could not play on the garage roof even though she somehow managed to climb up there one day. No meant that she could not have two pieces of cake. One was plenty. No meant that she could not spend the night at Constance's house because she promised to clean her room and this did not mean shoving everything in the closet.

As she got older, everything reversed. My life was easier physically. I no longer had to carry her, feed her, change her. I no longer had to pull the wagon with her in it when we went to the library. But, mentally? Ai yi yi! She challenged me mentally like nobody's business.

This was because I raised her to feel comfortable questioning authority. That would be me.

I put her in a Montessori pre-school and she stayed in the same Montessori school through sixth grade. I adored this school. It was diverse and extremely liberal. Fit me to a T. Her class was small. Only ten kids. 8 girls and 2 boys. But, in the Montessori system, the older ones mentor the younger and classes are often joined so that they can all learn different levels of topics. She thrived. When she was in sixth grade, she asked me if she could pick her junior high. I was taken aback. I had assumed that we would just move her to another Montessori that went through 12th grade. No, she said. She knew the Montessori system, she wanted to learn other ways of learning.

Well, I had raised this child to be a seeker. What did I expect? I thought about it for a few months. Talked to Bing about it. She was absolutely against it. Said that Liv was too young, that I was her Mother and I should be the one to decide. I talked to Tinton, who disagreed. He thought that she was mature enough to pick her own school but that I should guide her carefully and explain everything even more carefully. I was an adult and she was a girl. She was smart, but not necessarily wise. I should let her explore, but not too much.

Well, I came to my own conclusion. I told her that she could pick her own junior high, but that I wanted to be a big part of all her searching. She agreed (Bing was mad as hell at me...) and she and I spent months visiting different junior highs, weighing the pros and cons.

There is a pricey private school about a block away from our home. We went there first. We didn't even end up going to our meeting. As we sat in the secretary's office waiting to see the principal, a young boy of about 8 came in and brusquely handed the secretary a 50 dollar bill. Said that it was all his Dad had and that he needed change for the candy machine. The secretary gave him change. Liv and I looked at each other, rolling our eyes. No. This was not what she wanted. We left without meeting the principal. After that, we looked at several parochial schools and several public ones. And the Montessori that went to 12th grade. I liked the Montessori best. I just like their learning style. But, Liv ended up choosing a Catholic elementary school that went up to 8th grade. The school was not far from our house and it was small and pretty and clean. The children wore uniforms.

I had told her that if she chose a Catholic school, she was NOT to hide the fact that she had two Mothers. I warned her that I had no intention of hiding Bing under some bushel basket. She looked at me quizzically.

"I would NEVER do that to Bing," she contested, hotly. "If I choose a Catholic school, they accept me for who I am and where I come from. No hiding."

This was to come back and bite her hard in the first few months. But she endured and the bullies were few. And what I liked the most? It was the other kids who came to her aid. And the teachers. To my surprise, the priest didn't flinch when I told him that we were a 2 Mother family in our initial meeting. He said something cheesy like, "I'm sure that God put you in our path to teach us some interesting lessons." But, I liked him anyway and he never once treated Liv, me, or Bing with anything less than good will and warmth.

By Christmas, Liv had made a niche for herself. She was so athletic that she made the all the 8th grade teams and this helped. She was a member of the drama club. She was a fierce opponent in debate club. She never once denied her parentage. Once, for a history class, she dressed up in her Lakota finery and taught her class how to do a chicken dance.

It bothered me that her best and most favorite class was her religion class. She loved it and excelled in it. She learned all the prayers. But, she never said grace at our dinner table (if she wanted, I would have been fine with it...) and when I came in to say goodnight to her and saw her saying the rosary, she told me that she loved to say it, that it helped her go to sleep and relax at night. She loved learning about the Catholic church too. When I asked her once if she thought she might like to join the church, though, she laughed.

"God, no!" she said. "I'm not a hypocrite, Mama. I don't believe that you and Bing are sinners and I am not a creationist. I'm more scientific. I know that the world was not created in six days. I think birth control is a good thing. I just really, really love all the history of this church. It's so interesting, don't you think so?"

Well, no. I didn't. I was raised and dunked daily in Catholicism from the birth to 18 years of age. I was long past finding it interesting. I left the church gladly and with a full heart. I knew that I was doing the right thing for me. But, if she found Catholicism to be interesting, well, okay.

When it was time for her to go to high school, I did the same thing. I let her choose, making sure that I was along for the whole ride. It was my fervent hope that she would go back to Montessori. I hoped that she had had enough of Catholic school. But no. She chose an all girl Catholic school. I thought that Bing might explode or at least refuse to go to her sporting events. But no. Bing is right there next to me, cheering her on. Although, privately she snickers at some of the things that the parents say and she thinks it is utterly ridiculous that they pray before games, as if God is sitting up on a cloud refereeing, deciding which school is more deserving of a win.

Liv is happy. She is settled in her high school. She is Freshman class president, a member of the jv basketball team and varsity track and won an honorable mention in a state art contest. She is on the honor roll, has never received a grade lower than an A. (Privately this bothers me. I worry that she has inherited my need to be at the top of every class, it was like a sickness with me...) She has had her first date. She has a huge group of friends. She is extremely social and so far, not one girl has ever declined an invitation to spend the night at our home. In fact, I often tell Liv that this tendency of hers to want THREE friends to spend every weekend at our house is a bit much. That begging Bing to make pancakes for 4 boisterous girls every Saturday morning is not fair.

Liv has never asked to go to a Catholic mass, although it is mandatory that she attend Friday morning mass at her school.

So far, so good. Right now, she is just a Freshman. We are in a holding pattern.

But, wherever she chooses to go next, I'm there with her. This is her life, her journey and as long as no one is being hurt, I will not hinder her.

Does it stick in my craw a little when my Sisters gush about how GLAD they are that Liv is going to parochial school? Yes.  I would MUCH rather be able to gush to THEM how much Liv is learning at Montessori.

But, that's me. It is not her. I have to respect that.

So, Aggie...for now, this is our life together. Liv is still young. She has many miles to go before she reaches true adulthood. And I can't wait to see where she goes.

You see, I trust her to do right by herself. I trust her to do right by me. And I love watching her emerge.

She is looking at going to college in Ireland. Or maybe Stanford. Or who knows? Right now, she wants to be an environmental engineer. This could change any day. I know that. She might end up a high school teacher or an artist or a lawyer. She might end up managing a book store or maybe just working in one.

Whatever she decides, it is all on her and she is aware of that and therefore thinks carefully.

I'm so proud of my daughter, Aggie. And if this means that I have to sit through a few games and hear a parent talk about how horrid it is because their niece went out and got an abortion, so be it. I also hear them, those other parents, calling out, "Good steal of that ball, Liv! Great basket! Great jump!"

We do what we can when we raise our kids and just hope that all that effort yields well.

We'll see. And maybe Liv has a point. She told me recently that she thinks that it's important that girls from families like hers break the ceiling in schools like hers. That change will come when fear of those who are different is turned into acceptance. She amazes me with her maturity sometimes. When I was her age, I would have been very leery of venturing into an arena where I was noticeably different.

In the meantime, let me assure you that I am not really new aged. I also am not all that enlightened; when you get to be my age, you realize that there is so much that you DON'T know. And I am not a "lesbo." I am a bisexual woman who is muddling through parenthood with a partner that she loves and a village to help.

Cut me some slack, Jack. I mean Aggie.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Best part of my weekend.....

.....when Liv got home from her track meet (yes! she is now on the VARSITY team as a high jumper!) and we were all sitting around talking about the dance that she was going to attend that night.

We talked about dances in general and both Bing and I talked about fads and how, at one time, we both knew how to do all the moves from the movie, Footloose.

Liv knew the song but not any of the moves, so Bing and I spent over an hour teaching her in our living room. And we had taped Kevin Bacon's epic entrance on Jimmy Fallon, so we put it on our big screen and we all did the dance (NOT the gymnastics, of course! And neither did he....) from beginning to end.

I was lucky. It was a day when I didn't have too much stiffness. But, fun?

God, I remember how fun it was and how fun it was way back when I was so much younger and so much more lithe......


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"Did you and my Dad ever love each other?"

Well, I knew it was coming and frankly, expected it long ago. I thought I was ready, well as ready as I could be.

Liv has never asked a lot of questions about the story of her Father and me. I've told her the basics: that we met at a Halloween party, had a very, very brief affair and that when I realized that I was, as my Mother would have put it, in the family way, he and I were not seeing each other any more. That he was upset, that I was ecstatic. That he relinquished all custody of her on November 29th, 1999. That he came back when she had just turned three years old and pretty much begged me to allow him to share in her life. That he didn't ask for his rights back, but promised that he wouldn't allow her to grow to love him and then just disappear. It was my only stipulation. And he has more than kept his promise. He has also contributed far more monetarily than any court would have ordered him to and that he has been an exemplary Father.

Tinton, her Father, tells me that she has not asked many questions of him either.

So, we've been waiting.

Yesterday, as I drove her home from a friend's house, she asked.

"Did you and my Dad ever love each other?"

I said that this was what I deemed a discussion question. Did she agree? She did, said she had more questions and wanted to hear the whole story of how she came to be. All the details, good and bad. I texted Bing that we would be late, stopped at McDonald's for two shamrock shakes and drove to a nearby park where there are big rock boulders to sit on right next to a pond. It was a cool, but bright sunny day. When we sat down, the rocks were warm from the direct sun hit they'd been feeling all afternoon. Liv looked at me eagerly.

"Just start at the beginning and I'll stop if I have questions," she directed.

I took a long sip and began.

"You were conceived, as you know, on Halloween," I began. "I had been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year, first with shots and then with in vitro procedures. Nothing worked. I picked out a sperm donor once and after that, your Uncle Vince (who is an uncle in name only, not a relative for god sakes...)donated sperm. I went through 3 cycles of the procedure. I miscarried all three times in less than two weeks. I decided that maybe I was not meant to be a mother, so stopped trying about two months before you were conceived. I was sad, but decided that maybe I would think about looking into adoption after the holidays.

I was invited to a Halloween party and almost didn't go. I had refrained from drinking or taking any drugs for two years and didn't want to jump on that band wagon again. Also, I was feeling so sad, so vulnerable, I was afraid that I would slip into addiction if I even had one drink. And what fun was a party if one couldn't drink? But, I decided to go anyway. It was a costume party and I dressed up in my Victorian mourning gown that I used to wear when I took you out trick or treating much later. I told myself to give it an hour and call it a day. Within ten minutes after arriving, I got into this fabulous discussion about global warming with this young guy who had refused to wear a costume. He was so good looking, Liv, and so young. I was forty. He was twenty two. You know what he looks like now and it is pretty similar to how he has always looked. Like that Ichabod Crane guy on Sleepy Hollow. Raven haired. Dark, broody, Heathcliffe eyes. Tall and slim. The more that we talked, the more that we flirted. And it was so much fun. I hadn't flirted in years. Eventually, he gently leaned down and kissed my lips and I knew that one of us would be going home with the other. I hadn't made love in a very long time and well, he...."

"Okay," Liv interjected, "Let's move on. I don't want the sexual details. So, he spent the night at your condo, right?"

I nodded.

"So, how about after that? Did you date or was it a one night stand or what?" she asked.

I sighed. "We went out a few times after that. So, yes, I guess you could say we dated. But, I made it very clear that I was not date material and had no designs on anything serious. Your Father told me later that was probably what made him hang on for as long as he did. That up until then, he had dated women who were very intent on becoming serious and he had never been interested, but when I made it a condition, he sort of balked. Was determined to make me see that we could do this crazy thing. Be a couple even though he was headed to Albuquerque in January for grad school and I was old enough to be his um...babysitter. After about two weeks, I became harder and harder to reach and eventually he just called me occasionally to talk.

Well, by that time, I had figured out that something was wrong with me physically. Your Father and I had discussed birth control from the first night on. He swore that he had no STDs and I swore that I didn't either and also that we didn't need birth control because I was barren. That I had been purposely trying to get pregnant for the last year and not been able to do so and therefore I was in no danger of getting pregnant. So, no. We never used birth control. And my periods had always been very off kilter. It was not uncommon for me to skip a month and I varied wildly in my menstrual cycle. Sometimes I went 19 days between periods, other times it was 41 days. I was never regular. I missed my period in November and just figured I was skipping that month. And then, on Christmas day, I found myself throwing up all day long. I thought I had a bug, but since I had not had my period, I went to a drug store and bought two pregnancy tests. The first one I took was positive. In disbelief, I did another. This one was also positive. I still figured that I wasn't pregnant, that this was some crazy fluke. I mean, I had been deliberately trying to get pregnant for a very long time and spent over 35 thousand dollars on this and nothing worked! And then, what? Bam! I get pregnant just like that? At the ripe old age of 40? No way! I was not going to get my hopes up and then see them dashed. So, I made an appt with my gynecologist and well, low and behold, I was going to be someone's Mother.

I was so excited, Liv and so scared! I was afraid to do anything strenuous, was terrified that I would lose you. And I knew that Tinton was leaving for Albuquerque in two weeks for grad school. He had been calling me asking for a goodbye dinner. Well, I gave him the worst goodbye dinner of his life. I waited until the food came and then, because I am an idiot, I just blurted it out. He burst out laughing, thinking I was joking. When it became clear that I wasn't, he was white with fury. Accused me of trying to trick him into fatherhood. I told him that I was having this baby with or without him and that he was a fool if he thought I had handpicked him to be my baby daddy and went after him. That I had never gone after him, he had pursued me all the way. He was quiet after that. He took me home after picking at our dinners and then, at the door, told me that he had a lot of thinking to do and would call me. I nodded and just shut the door in his face. I didn't hear from him for a week. And then he just dropped over one night, unannounced. We were able to talk it out. He admitted that he knew that I hadn't tricked him and said that we were both to blame for the pregnancy. He said that he would 'step up to the plate and do his duty as a Father to this child.' Annoyed with what I saw as his snotty attitude, I pretty much told him that it was up to him if he wanted to contribute monetarily but that if he was going to see this all as some big chore, I really didn't want him to be a part of our child's life. He restlessly ran his fingers through his hair, told me that, for now, this was the best place he could land. Could we just see how it went? I told him okay, although privately I had already written him off. When he dropped me off home, he annoyed me even further by trying to kiss me and making some lame joke about how we could sleep together now and not worry about birth control. I shut the door in his face again.

He left for Albuquerque not long after. True to his word, he stayed in touch, mostly by e-mail. Asked me how I felt, what the news was on your progress into this world. I had no problem with knowing  your sex, so as soon as I knew, he knew. He asked me about names, wanted to name you Grace. He also had a few Lakota names that he thought would be nice.

Mika (clever raccoon)
Mina ( eldest daughter)
Kimimela ( butterfly)

I nixed all of them. I told him that I was thinking of Olivia, Lucille, or Isis. He didn't comment, wisely letting me decide. Later, he admitted that he disliked all three names, especially Isis.

I sent him photos of me standing sidewise every month. He never failed to tell me that I looked lovely. He has always been kind that way.

And then, you were born. As you know, you weren't born in a hospital. And you know why. I have always had the heebie jeebies about hospitals. I can work in them, visit others in them, but I just can't stay in one. I honestly have been a basket case the few times I've had to spend in a hospital. So, I arranged to have a doula and a midwife. My ob-gyn was not thrilled since I was considered high risk because of my age and past, but he knows me well and could see that I was not going to budge, so he did what he could for me right up until you came.

I should have used a hospital, I see that now...."

Liv stopped me again. She reiterated that she knew that it was a long labor and birth, so no need to tell about that, it just made her feel guilty. That made me laugh, but I refrained. Okay, I sort of refrained.I managed to squeeze in that I honestly thought that I might die during labor and had at one point, demanded that someone "get this thing out of me NOW."

But, I skipped the gruesome details.

"And then there you were. We both made it. Your Dad was my second call, right after Bing, who was living in New Orleans at the time. Bing arranged to fly down the next day. Your Dad was very quiet when I told him, simply sat silently for a very long time and then whispered a question. Were we both okay? I said yes. He arrived a week after Bing. I was grateful that he waited because adjusting to an infant was so much different than all the books I read told me it would be. I expected to be tired, I didn't expect to be exhausted. I knew that my emotions might be edgy. I was not prepared for the fact that I burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Hallmark commercials made me weep. Anything AT ALL involving babies or children set me off. And you. Wow. I think I choked up every single time I looked at you.

Bing later told me that she had never seen me so emotional, that I was like a different person. She said that I turned into this incredibly protective she-cat. 'The doorbell would ring and you'd rush to pick up Liv like zombies might be at the door and you would have to flee.'

The first time your Dad looked at you, he had tears in his eyes. He told me that he thought you looked like his sister. I had not met his sister, but privately I thought you looked like Milton Berle. You were like this little scraggly froggy with a Milton Berle face. You had very dark hair when you were born and bluish eyes but within a month, your hair went golden and your eyes went dark brown. Your Dad stayed in town for nearly a month and visited almost every day. He brought you all kinds of toys and learned to give you a bottle. I couldn't nurse, my breasts became infected almost immediately and they ached so badly that I went around topless because I couldn't stand to feel fabric against them. Finally, I dried up. I had planned to breast feed, but this gave you more time with your Dad and I thought it might be a bonding thing. Bing did a lot of feeding you too.

Finally, it was time for your Dad to go back to Albuquerque and it was then that I saw how relieved he looked when it was time for him to go. I had a feeling that he might not be back. Our relationship was completely gone. And he didn't seem all that sad to be saying goodbye to you. I almost hated him for that, wondered how he could be so heartless because by that time, I was so bonded to you that if I had to part with you, they would have had to rip you out of my arms with me fighting to the last.

He didn't write or call for a month. And after the first few times of reaching out with emails and photos of you, I stopped sending them. I believe that in the last email, I called him a douche bag Dad. He never responded.

And by then you had colic and I was all alone. Bing had gone back to her teaching job in New Orleans, your Dad was as good as gone. I dealt with you pretty much on my own. Some days, I wanted out so badly that I wanted to scream. But, you've heard all my colic stories about you and I know you are more interested in what was going on with your Dad. The thing was...nothing. He wasn't communicating and I wasn't either.

Finally, finally, it was Thanksgiving and Bing flew up to help me with you. You were still a little colicky, but there was light at the end of the tunnel. I was surprised to hear from your Dad. He called me, said he was in town and asked if he could come over. I cautiously allowed it. And then, was horrible. He stood on the front porch, wouldn't even come in. He had a legal document in his hand and he held it out to me. When I went to take it, I asked him if he wanted to hold you and he said no. For some reason, that just killed me. I was choking back tears as I read it. I handed you to Bing and she took you back inside to stay warm. Your Dad and I stood on the porch. He was stammering, he was so upset. He said that he just couldn't do the parenting thing. He said that he thought he still loved me, had been in love with me when we had been together and had never really stopped, but that he just couldn't deal with fatherhood. I was so emotional back then, still hadn't reclaimed my stoic side and had to fight very hard not to cry.

I was crying for you, not for me. I so wanted you to have a Father in your life. But, in the end, I am always practical and I thanked him for his honesty and reading the document saw that he had given up all paternal rights to you. You were four months old. He and I were awkward. We shook hands, I think. I watched him walk to his car. Bing came out and handed me you, all wrapped up in a pink blanket. I held you tightly and watched his tail lights disappear. It had been raining off and on all day and now it started to really rain. When he was gone, I went back into the house and it was as if you knew, felt that life was all wrong now and you started wailing again. You cried all day long, back to your colic.

It was a bad holiday. It was really hard saying goodbye to Bing. Later she would come back into our lives for a while before you turned one. She moved back to our city and moved in with us. She and I tried to be a couple but I just wasn't into that yet, not ready. She moved back to New Orleans after a few months.

We didn't see or hear from your Dad for over three years after that. Strangely, I missed him badly sometimes. I guess maybe I had loved him more than I realized. You would say or do something new or interesting and I would want to tell him so badly, but then I'd look at that paternity paper and I would call Bing or a friend or one of my sisters instead. But, I missed him, Liv. So much.

Finally, one day not long after you'd turned three, there was a knock at our door. We had moved into the house we are in now by then, so when I saw that it was your Dad there, I was surprised, wondering how he had found me. I found out later that he had called my sister.  He was just standing on the porch, hands in his pockets, looking down. When I opened the door, I was holding you in my arms, held you on my hip and before he or I said a word, you said, "Hi there!" I was kind of startled, but you were often unpredictable. Sometimes, you would shy up easily around people, other times you would start conversations with strangers.

Your Dad looked at you and said very, very quietly, 'Hi Olivia.'

'I call her Liv,' I told him.

'Hi, Liv,' he corrected. Well, you decided then that he wasn't anyone very interesting and you clammered to get down and go play with your blocks. I set you down and you toddled away.

Your Dad was crying by then. He was wiping his eyes and trying to hide it, but he was crying. He asked me if I would give him ten minutes. He just wanted ten minutes. I told him that he would have to come back a few hours later when you were napping. He said okay. He kept craning to look in at you and I kept blocking the door. He agreed to come back at 2 and left.

So, I was anxious. So, you were anxious. You kept reaching up to touch my face, ask me if I felt sad. I tried never to lie to you, but I did that day. I told you that no, Mama was fine. Mama was fine. I took you out for a McDonald's kid meal that day and when I rocked you to sleep, I kept looking down at you. I wondered what your Dad wanted.

I found out that afternoon while you napped. I didn't let him in the house, didn't want him looking too much at our life together. He and I talked, he said that the last year had been torture for him. That he kept thinking about you, wondering how we were doing. He said that he had made a grave mistake by signing away his paternity, but he wanted to ask me if he could be a part of your life in any way. He said that he felt that he wanted to make up for lost time. I told him that I would need to think about this. He would be in town for a week. I promised him that I would call him the next day. So, I thought about it. A lot. Incessantly. I thought about my hopes for you. I thought about his ability to do this fatherhood thing. He seemed different, not nearly as....boltish. He seemed settled, older. He still looked exactly the same, though. But there was something in his eyes. Something grown up. I decided that there can never be too much love for a child, that every child deserved to be loved as much as possible by as many people as possible. I always hoped for a village for you.

We met the next day while you were napping again. This time, I told him that yes, he could see you, but that everything was up in the air. If I decided at any time that this wasn't working, he was to leave immediately with no questions. And that if he made you love him and left again, I would kill him with my bare hands. He solemnly agreed.

And you know the rest. Well most of it. I wish you could remember him the first year he was back in your life. He was so clueless about how to deal with you. You had to teach him that you were very advanced for a three year old, that you didn't need him to play itsy bitsy spider with you, that you were long past that and on to tying your shoes and dressing yourself. Often, you would look at me with bewilderment, as if to say, 'Who IS this guy?' Your Dad and I decided that if things were going well, you could call him Dad. But, until I said so, he was Tinton. Within three months, he was Dad to you. He tried so hard, Liv and he was so besotted with you. It was as if he couldn't get enough of you. He visited a lot and stayed with us so that you could get to know him.

He never tried to put the moves on me again, never tried to rekindle our relationship and truly, by that time, any of the feeling that we'd had was long gone. He had gone on to another relationship and while I was basically asexual, not even dating, I had little interest in it.

And now, well, you do know the rest. He's your Dad. He has invested many, many dollars in your college fund, co pays everything we buy for you. He, Bing and I are all heavily invested in your future. And he has never once wanted to leave again. He loves you more than anyone else in his life. You are his Gracie girl. The love of his life. As you are mine.

When he stayed with us this Winter, he and I talked a lot. We said a lot of things that we both needed to say. He is still so full of guilt about his behavior and I have told him that it is completely forgiven, that he was a 22 year old boy when this happened and that now he is a man, your Dad and one of the biggest presences in your life. We talked about how we are always emotionally invested in you together and how this has kept us woven tightly. He has told me that he thinks that I am an excellent Mother and I have told him that he is a wonderful Father. And we mean every word.

He sent me a video from you tube right after he left to go back to Colorado. He wrote, "This was how it was for me, was it that way for you, too?" I told him that he'd hit it on the head.

So, yes...I guess we did love each other and that we DO still love each other.  It just isn't a marriage type love. We've both found that with other people."

I stopped then and we sat silently for a long time. Then Liv asked me to show her the video when we got home, so I promised to do that.

Finally, I asked Liv if she was okay. She smiled her jack o lantern smile at me, my beautiful Halloween gift of a baby. She said, "I'm MORE than fine. I have both of you and Bing and all these people who love me. I think I am one lucky kid, Mama."

I was relieved. I can't tell you how many times that I've worried that this whole situation had hurt her psyche somehow, but she seems to have come out unscathed and intact and able to see all the love around her.

This is our video. For you and me, Tinton. And our beautiful daughter.