Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Our new song

Bing and I were talking before sleep. Something we used to do a lot of, but as we've grown older, less of.

We are more inclined to go to sleep seconds after our heads touch the pillow now. One quick buss on the lips and we're out for the count.

But, for some odd reason, last night we were both feeling chatty. I brought up the fact that we don't really have a song You know, EVERYBODY has a song.

Bing thought for a moment. "Well, we have Ventura Highway," she finally said.

I scowled. "That's a song about someone leaving."

"Story of my life for the first twenty years that I knew you," she commented, wryly.

I pretend pouted.

"I think we need a song," I said, firmly. "Let's put our thinking caps on here, missy."

We did.

And then it just got silly.

Hey, Mickey!

Auntie Grizelda

Bohemian Rhapsody

Muskrat Love


She Blinded Me With Science.

"Be serious!" I cajoled.

We finally agreed to sleep on it. Rolled over and drifted off to dreamland.

This morning,  I sleepily accepted Bing's kiss goodbye as she woke me up as she was leaving for work. (She is my alarm clock...)

And there on the kitchen table, was a sheet of paper with 6 words on it.

The Story Brandi Carlile  Our Song

Wow. She's good....

Friday, September 26, 2014

Bing's dream or WTF?

Last night, Liv and I shared some nice talking time on the way home from her softball game. They had lost, but it was fair and square. They simply were outplayed. Bing had missed the game to stay late at school to tutor a student.

Liv and I stopped at Buffalo Wild Wings to get her "blazin" wangs. How she can eat these without her stomach catching fire is beyond me, but...go youth. She kept them in the box to wait til we got home, where water was plentiful. I didn't order any. Funny thing. Now that I have that missing finger, I don't care much for messy finger foods. Unless I have a full frontal bib.

So, we talked about the game. About how her stubborn mule coach is still not letting her pitch, even though last year, he had her as a starting second pitcher for Varsity. She ended up with a rotator cuff injury and under doctor's orders, we pulled her from the team. Her coach practically accused her of being a baby and warned that she might not make varsity this year if she tried out again. And she didn't. She made JV and he stuck her out in right field. Not once has he let her pitch, even though their pitcher is mediocre at best.

This actually makes me madder than it does her. She's made peace with it and isn't overly concerned. She just likes to play. She knows that he'll give in eventually.

"I can wait him out," she says calmly. She is very Zen about the whole thing. Whilst, I, her angry parent, am ready to punch him in his big red clown of a nose. I wisely haven't commented much on this to Liv, although I have plenty to say to this guy in my head.

And then, the topic moved to school and subjects liked and not so liked.

"I've been thinking," Liv said.

"GOOD!" I told her. "That's why I pay that ridiculous tuition. You BETTER be thinking up a storm, missy!"

Liv gave me a wry look. Went on.

"I am considering marine biology as a major."

I was surprised. She had been talking green logistics and environmental ecology but hadn't mentioned marine biology. A surprising choice for a prairie girl.

I told her that this sounded interesting.

"I'm still in the thinking about it stage," she said. "But, the University of California at Long Beach has a really good marine biology program and next year when we start actively looking at colleges, I'd like it to be on the list."

I said that was fine with me.

"Oh, and I want to take the lifeguard test next Summer," she said. "When I'm 16, I'll be eligible to lifeguard and I think it would be a great Summer job."

I said okay to that too and we talked a bit about how this meant that her Summers with her Father might be impacted by this decision. But...we agreed that it's in the future, so put it on the back burner. We were almost home anyway.

When we came in the back door to the kitchen, Bing was waiting, begging for a wang wing. Liv shared one, laughing when Bing nearly gagged on the heat of it.

Bing looked at me. "Remember this morning when I told you that I had that weird dream last night?" she said.

I said yes. Did she still remember it? Because this happens to us both ALL the time. In that quick time of goodbye kisses, one of us will say that we had the oddest dream that night and then later, when prompted, we can't remember one part of it. Or maybe...just one tiny fleeting piece, like a floating cloud right on the edge of the horizon that is sinking rapidly. Too fast to remember, but it's sort of there.

This time, Bing said that she had actually written it down, that it had been so VIVID that she hadn't wanted to forget it. So, while Liv ate her wings and chugged water, we listened.

I was seeing Liv, but it was weird. It was obviously in the future, but not too far ahead because she looked pretty much the same, just her face was a little more sharp. And Livvy, you still had long hair but only about to your neck. Anyway, it was so odd. It was like I was being SHOWN you and I wasn't supposed to interact with you, just look. You were sitting up on a lifeguard's chair and you were smiling at something someone was saying to you. Couldn't remember if it was a man or a woman, but you laughed and I was so happy to see you so happy.....

Bing pauses here just enough that I know (because I am an expert on body language and all that shit) that she is leaving something crucial out, but Liv doesn't seem to notice. I decide to ask her about it later.

Anyway, I looked around and I thought to myself that we were somewhere in California. And I thought how interesting it was that you had ended up in California. And I somehow knew that you were studying something to do with oceans.

Ok...dudes. Liv and I were seriously sharing looks here. This was just....weird. As if she had heard our car conversation.

And I knew that I was being shown something to comfort me. That I had been worried about you or something and this dream was telling me that you were just fine. In fact, more than fine. You were happy.

Bing stopped there. Liv and I waited. Finally, Liv asked her if that was it. Yup, she said. That was it.

Liv looked at me. Said to tell her what we'd been talking about on the way home. So, I did. We all were quiet, soaking in the whole oddity of this situation.

A truly strange feeling. Deja vu? No. Premonition? Maybe. Weird? Fucking TOTALLY.

An hour or so later, I got out of the shower and went to sit by Bing on the bed as she read her Apple magazine.

"So, what were you leaving out in the dream?" I asked.

Bing didn't look up. "Nothing," she said, too quickly.

I took the magazine away.

She looked at me. I made her hold our gaze. Finally, she said, "It fucking creeps me out the way you know me so well."

I didn't budge.

"Tell me," I said.

She sighed. ""Okay. When I was looking at Liv and she was smiling? I thought to myself how good it felt to see her smile, laugh. That I had never thought I'd see her really smile or laugh again after....well....after.....you died."

She sat up straight and took my hand. "It was just a dream, Maria. It meant like....NOTHING."

I sighed. "Yeah," I answered quietly. "That's why you wrote it down...."

She sighed again. "I do NOT want that dream to come true. And you aren't going anywhere. So, don't get that look on your face. That I just want to see my baby graduate college look."

"How old was she in your dream? I KNOW you weren't sure. But, if you had to guess?"

"I'd say, early twenties," Bing said, slowly.

I nod once. Lean down and kiss her forehead. She pulls me down for a better kiss. Which causes my sore back to ache so I have to tell her to stop.

"It was just a dream, sugar," she says again. I tell her that I know this and that I'll be in shortly, that I'm going to go check on Liv. She says okay, watching me a little too closely.

I walk into Liv's room where it's dark, but she sleeps with the curtains open by the side of her bed so that she and Socks can see the moon, so it's not pitch dark. I make my way to the side of the bed and nudge her over a little. She is almost asleep, but not yet. I tell her to scootch over.

She does. I am very lucky in that my teenaged daughter seems to have no qualms about me tucking in with her now and then. I climb in and take her in my arms. She is a full head taller than me, but if she scrinches just right, she can slide down and tuck her head on to my shoulder like she did when she was little. This is our preferred position. I tuck her hair behind her ear and she untucks it, like always.

"Everything, ok, Mama?" she asks, sleepily.

I say yes, that I just wanted to kiss her head a little bit before sleep.

I can feel her smiling.

"So," she says, "Tell me about Hogwarts."

This makes me laugh. Because from the time she was 6 until she was nearly 12, we had a running story about my tales from my alma mater: Hogwarts. Where I was a Ravenclaw. How, I didn't know Harry, Ron and Hermione well, because well...we were in different houses, but that I knew OF them. In my tales, I had my own set of friends and we had our own adventures. Our own run ins with Snape. Our own bullies (Ernestina and a terrible black haired boy named Everett Misenthrope.) Liv LOVED these stories almost more than the Harry Potter books.

"Well," I begin. "We were all sitting around drinking pumpkin juice one day....."

Liv interrupts me. "Mama, you didn't come in here to have some talk about boys, did you? Because I SWEAR I don't need that talk...."

I stop. "No," I say. "DO we need to talk about boys?"


"Well, okay, then..."

We don't talk again. I just cuddle her and feel her body go a little limp and then a lot limp as Socks sits at the end of the bed smiling at us. I think that I should get up but I don't. Instead, I just hold her and let the tears come. They fall into my ears.

I want to dance at her wedding. Or not. I don't care if she marries. Or not.

I want to be a grandmother. I want to see if she has that big family that she dreams of having.

I will NEVER be ready to say goodbye to Liv. Ever. I can't imagine us not together. The thought of leaving her so young, of her being sad without me...it tears me in two. It hurts me more to think of her hurting without me than of me hurting without her. Because I'll be dead. I'll be past caring.

Was it just a dream?

I don't know. But, how strange, really...that Liv and I would be talking about marine biology, California and lifeguarding and then come home to hear Bing's dream.

How very strange.


I look up and see Bing's shadowy form tiptoeing in. She leans down and whispers my name. I gently ease out of Liv's bed and Bing and I kiss her sleeping head and then I lean down and kiss Socks for good measure.

We walk back to the bedroom, arms around each other and silently go to bed.

Only to meet in the middle for a long embrace and twisting of legs around each other.

"You're NOT leaving me," she says, roughly.

"Ok," I say. "I'm not."


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Texts with Liv or getting blood out of a stone

My daughter and I often have wonderful witty conversations via text.


Other times, it goes more like this:

Hi, honey. How was school today? I'll be at your game at 5, ok? Are you taking the bus home with the other girls or do you want me to wait and give you a ride?

No gm.

Why isn't there a game?

Not enuf girls on JV

Why didn't coach send email? Where are you?

He just found out. Sending it now. At school. Come get me? Or he says he/ wife will give us rides hm.

Have patients. I'll send Bing.


(Sent text to Bing)

Bing is on her way. She'll pick you up by the fountain. Livvy, BE there. Go now. She's still at school but just left so is like five minutes away. Don't make her hunt you down.


I'll see you at home. Want me to pick up dinner? What sounds good?


Ok. Half veggie for you and Bing?


How was your day?  How was the history quiz?

k k

I just got your coach's text. You are WAY too chatty, little girl. Stop bothering me when I;m trying to work!


Later, gator. I love you.

me too u

Life with a teenager......

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lucky me

Guess who I get to see on October 30th?

David Sedaris is the best. I once laughed so hard when I was reading an essay of his in The New Yorker that I was hooting. On an airplane. The woman next to me and the people across the aisle kept glancing over at me and I was truly helpless with laughter.

We all need this, especially in the world today. Especially now.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Parenting or I thought it would be more like a Hallmark card commercial.

It's not. It's gritty stuff. Sometimes messy and/or smelly. Sometimes unbearably beautiful. Other times, so hard that I wonder why I ever decided it was a good idea.

I think all parents feel this way.

It's not definable. You can't put your finger on it and say yes, well you do this and you'll get that the way that the parenting books suggest.

Because we are human beings here. We are all different. We all bring different experiences, pasts, to the table, lugging our different baggage and trying to find room for it in that too narrow storage above our parent seats. And the flight attendants aren't helpful. They either imply that you are doing it all wrong or chastise you for trying to bring too much to the experience in the first place. Like you can help it.

I never wanted to be a parent until I was 38. And then suddenly that biological clock that everyone kept yammering about to me starting ticking. Actually it didn't really tick so much as it roared. I suddenly knew without a doubt that I needed to be a Mother. It was so clear to me! All I needed was some sperm....

I tapped my foot, thinking. Seemed simple enough. I'd spent good chunks of my life working at NOT getting pregnant until I was told during a gyno exam when I was in my twenties that I would probably never get pregnant since I had Asherman's syndrome. I had gone to a teaching hospital to have my exam done to keep things cheap and the md had humiliated me in front of ten interns by asking me crankily just how many abortions I had managed to achieve since he had never seen such intense scarring on a uterus before. When I told him that I had NEVER had an abortion, he scoffed at me, actually looked over at his note taking group and rolled his eyes. I shot up as best I could in stirrups and told him to wipe that look off of his face, that I had NEVER had an abortion. He smirked at me. I vowed then and there to never, ever smirk at a patient. I got a second opinion, this time from a woman gynecologist, who concurred. Not about the abortions, but about Asherman's syndrome. She offered to operate, but since I had no pain or problems and no desire to have a child, I skipped it.

I still had used birth control, though. I wasn't stupid. But, since I dated far more women than men, it was an issue that rarely came up. Until I was 38.

So, I went to my gynecologist and asked about surgery. And voila! My scarring seemed to have disappeared. I know. Weird. Who'da figgered? It looked like I was good to go, like some entity had waved a magic wand and I was now Mommy ready.

I took it to my friend, Vince. He and I had gone to med school together and he was (and is)  one of my favorite people in the world. Smart, sassy, gay, and wicked funny. He offered up his sperm and we did the whole baster thing. Four times over four months. He lived in Chicago and literally flew to my city just to shoot his sperm into a baster for me so that it would be fresh. No luck. He had his sperm counted and was told that he could populate Chicago. So, it was me. I went to a fertility specialist and was told that while I was still producing eggs, they were old and well, just not in the mood, thanks. But there were a few that showed some promise....we just had to nab the right ones.

I did in vitro. Went through half of my savings account. Still....nothing. Nada. 

After almost two years, I up and quit. Decided that I wasn't meant to to be a Mother. I was too old to adopt a child from a foreign country and since I was single, not a prime candidate for it here. Unless I was willing to take on an older child with special needs. I didn't believe that I was equipped to do that. So, I shrugged my shoulders and dug into my career with both heels set deep.

And then, you all know the rest....on a random Halloween night with a one night stand (or close to), Liv was conceived.

And then, at 41 years old, I was a Mother.

The first four months were a trial by fire as she had colic. I hung in there. But, just barely. Okay. That's a bold faced lie. I was ready to throw the towel in. I realized that I had been insane to try to do this. I had the spawn of Satan. This child detested me and made it very clear on a daily basis. She slept lightly and restlessly all day and screamed all night. Honest to god screaming. As in GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE screaming. I tried every remedy known to woman. Nothing worked. All that really happened was that Liv screamed herself limp every night and I became a raving lunatic. I walked the floors numbly all night cradling my screaming maniacal child. I looked down at her hollow eyed, sometimes crying along with her, other times totally blank with fatigue. On one awful night, as she lay in her crib screaming, I calmly leaned over the bars and told her that I hated her, called her a bratty little fucker. I never shook her, never struck her, but I WANTED to. Many, many times. Mostly, though, I just pitied us both so much. We were stuck with each other. I've read many accounts by other Mothers and most say things like, "I loved my baby so much, but my, my, my, she made my life hard for a while!" Bullshit. I felt like I was in Dante's nine circles of hell.

One of my clearest memories is of a Thanksgiving where I turned down all offers because I was terrified that everyone would see that I was a terrible Mother with a psycho baby. And I am a medical professional! I KNEW better. I knew what colic was. I never pooh pooh Mothers who lament colicky babies. It is HELL. I remember eating a Stouffers turkey dinner while Liv slept fitfully in her crib and I tried to get some sleep because I knew that once 4 o'clock came around? The screaming would begin.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, it stopped. She suddenly changed course and it was almost magical. She started acting....well...normal. She was awake and happy during the day and slept peacefully ALL NIGHT. For the first two weeks, I walked on eggs, terrified that she would revert back to her madwoman act. Which would mean that I would as well. But, she never did.

And then, well...okay...my life was kind of like a Hallmark card commercial for the next five years. I left my job to stay home with her. I found that I not only took to Mothering like a duck to water, but that I was fucking GOOD at it. And being hermitlike in nature, I didn't really mind the days of just my baby and me. I kind of liked them most of the time. I loved feeding her, caring for her, watching her grow. When she rolled over, I crowed. When she began to army crawl, I crawled with her, laughing along. When she took her first tottering steps, I felt MAGNIFICENT. I wanted to run outside into the streets and scream that everyone needed to come and see this.

We moved into an old Victorian house that needed a lot of work but had beautiful bones. I began inviting friends over for dinner and going to their houses. I began to actually have a social life.

There were sad times too. When Tinton, Liv's Father bowed out of her life, signed all rights to her away when she was four months old. Weirdly enough, this was in that two week period when I was walking on eggs, worried that she'd resort back to colicky babe. I was sad, but sort of relieved too. I felt like I could do this alone and was not in love with him. But, I felt badly for Liv, that she would never be able to really talk about her Father. Know him. He came back when she was three and everything changed, so all ended well.

But, no one really tells you that parenting isn't all that joyous ALL the time. There are down times and it isn't just because they are colicky.

There are times when they are toddlers when you swear that time stands still. During the hours of 10-2. And you get so sick of play-doh. Finger paints. Snow angels. Sippy cups. Pull ups. Getting knots out of pee soaked shoelaces....with your teeth. The NO NAP refrain. The constant arms in the air wanting to be held. The sudden shyness when you are bragging about how they are talking a blue streak to your family or friends. The swallowing of pennies. Pebbles. Buttons. Fingers constantly getting mashed in doors because they get into anything and everything. Throwing up pink bubblegum antibiotics all over your shirt. The smell of Desitin that lingers and the white smudge of it that stains every piece of clothing you own. How it got on the collar of your shirt is anybody's guess. That one time when they were three months old when you accidentally dropped them and you were terrified that they would end up brain damaged.

The nights when the fever spiked and they were limp against you and you walked the floors debating whether to go to the ER or not, even though you KNEW that it will be all right, there was still this voice inside whispering that if they died, you would NEVER forgive yourself and wasn't there that recent story on the news about that kid who spiked a 104 degree fever and died?

And then, there are the middle years when it's still pretty sweet, but you notice that they are getting kind of mouthy. But, they are so funny. Especially when you tell them that they are not queen of the house and they say, "I KNOW! That's what the problem is." Or when they call their soccer coach a dick and you totally agree but you can't let them call an adult a dick.

You read books together, delve into Harry Potter and Narnia. Anne of Green Gables and Francie Nolan. Betsy, Tacy and Tib. The babysitter's club (which you privately think is swill...) The Secret Garden and all the colors of the fairy tale books. The blue and gold and green and so on. Beatrix Potter. Roald Dahl. Sara Crewe.

You realize that you really suck at math and know this because suddenly you can no longer help with math homework because it is too HARD. I was lucky. Bing was part of our picture by that time and she was (and is) excellent at math, so a bullet dodged.

And that brings me to how relationships suffer because of kids. They do. Sometimes. Sometimes you are bound together cheering your child on. Other times you are one side of the fence and your partner is on the other. I live with a person who is not adverse to spanking. Yet, since Liv is biologically MY child, I have the final say and I say no spanking ever. This has opened the door for many, many discussions about how I am not a good task mistress, how I don't set the bar high enough, how it is terrible that I laugh sometimes when Liv acts like a smart ass, let her get away with too much. Still, I have always maintained that the proof is in the pudding. Liv is a polite child with lovely manners. If she is guilty of anything, it is of being too opinionated. Which I have encouraged, by the way. So, I have often set traps for myself. I trained this child to question authority. And since I am the authority, I get the major questioning and challenges.

Suddenly this child who never cared what she wore, just put on what you laid out on her bed....well...she has opinions...STRONG opinions about clothes. She doesn't like anything with frills. Nothing. This means no ribbons, bows, or what she refers to as geeky girlie frou frou clothes. Apparently, she has objections to wearing a long prairie dress and a sun bonnet. Who knew? She thinks the color purple is ugly. All shades. But pepto bismal pink is okey dokey.

Your rules begin being challenged. Why is a neat bedroom something that has to be? What is wrong with a little messiness? Why is there a lecture because she shut off your access to her on the FIND FRIENDS app on her phone? Why do you have to know where she is every single minute? Don't you trust her? Answer for rookies: Yes you trust her to some extent. But, she is capable of making poor decisions until her frontal lobe is better developed and this could mean deciding that it's ok to sneak out of leave school early to go swimming at her friend's house on one of the last warm days before Fall sets in. So, if she has shut off her FIND FRIENDS feature, you will assume that she has been kidnapped and you will come a'looking. That won't sit well. But, I can assure you that she will never shut off the FIND FRIENDS app again.

I am a parent. I didn't fall off that turnip truck yesterday, son.

The hardest part of parenting for me (so far) has been the natural pulling away that comes with teenagers. I had been warned that this would happen by many, many friends. I had scoffed. Huh! Not MY daughter, I would think. She and I are two peas in a pod. I'll always be her best friend, her first choice.

Not to be. Now that my daughter is older, she very often prefers the company of her pack to time with me. If given the choice of dinner alone with me or going out with the friends, I would be left in the dust. My daughter is a social being, much different from me.

And THAT is another hard truth. Your child will not like everything that you liked or that you think they should like. This can be hard to take. Liv was bored to tears by the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was aghast. What the hell was wrong with her? And she is coordinated in all the places where I wasn't. Sports are pretty much her life. She plays softball in the Summer and Fall and basketball in the Winter. Track in the Spring. And she excels. I somehow thought I'd have the child who was more like me, someone who tended to prefer that the ball NOT come to them. Instead, she lunges for it and at it. She loves the thrill of that crack on a bat. The ball in the glove. The swish of the basketball net and the ribbon on her waist as she sails through first place.

I have somehow raised a conscientious eater. No idea how that happened because I swear I wasn't one of those Mothers who pushed carrot sticks. I was just fine with bringing cookies to the park in a baggie. She was the one who wanted celery sticks! Liv loves to try new foods, is fine with trying mussels or snails, ox tails and soup whose first ingredient is seaweed. No soda for this kid. Nope. She is not keen on carbonation, prefers to drink water. Or coffee. Iced or hot. And yes, that is my fault. I allowed it. Bad Mother!

I sometimes look at my daughter and am a little awestruck. How did she come to pass? She is fifteen now and full of opinions on how to save the world, what clothes are preferred and which color, and how to problem solve. And sometimes, they are opposed to mine.

That wasn't supposed to happen. I was planning on molding this child into the kind of person I wanted her to be. Instead, I am wearing a new pair of shoes: I am accepting the person that she is becoming.

A girl who likes music and if she hears a song she likes, will drop everything and just bust out that beat.

A girl who refuses to touch styrofoam. Or eat anything with refined sugar (birthday cakes are the exception...) A girl who thinks that my generation fucked up the world (she may have a point...)

I somehow thought we'd be like the people in Hallmark card commercials. The ones where the girl shyly gives her Mother a mushy Mother's Day card and goes shopping with her and smiles when the Mother holds up a dress and says, "Mother, it's the perfect one! You know me so well!" And the Mother turns to the camera and says, "I've know her since the moment she was born," and smiles a knowing smile.

Half the fucking time I have no idea what Liv is thinking. When we go shopping, she automatically vetoes every outfit that I pick out. Sometimes she barely glances at it. Yet, she raids my closet constantly in search of my old clothes because they are so retro and hippie. Once I heard her confess to a friend that I was a very steampunk Mother. I think it was a compliment. I think so....And there are sweet moments with us when she will seek me out just to lay her head on me for a moment, hug me, ask me to brush her hair. I savor those moments and don't let on, but I often have a lump in my throat as big as a golf ball at those times.

I swear that sometimes she says nay to my yea just to be different from me, to set herself apart. And yet, Bing and Tinton say that even this quality of hers is just like you, Maria.

That she is more like me than unalike. But, shhh! Don't tell her that! Because she prides herself on being the opposite of me.

And she just did what I SWORE I would never let a child of mine do last night:

She looked at me as if I was as dumb as a doorknob. I was talking about New York and how I'd like to go see some broadway plays. She shook her head. Gave me that look.

"Well, when I get to New York, I'm going to get on a subway and just ride. See where I end up," she said, cockily, I thought.

Me, being her also cocky Mother, said, "Well, have fun being in some pervert's trunk."

Soon after, Liv left to go out with friends and I told Bing, "Remind me NEVER to let Liv go to New York without us." She had laughed.

"What you don't get, my love," she said, "Is that the comment that Liv made? That was SO YOU when I first met you in college. She's her Mama's daughter. And you know what? You turned out just fine...."

This parenting thing is kind of like water skiing. It looks like all you have to do is stand up and hold on tight and keep your balance. But, really it is all about keeping your knees loose and riding those waves and not clutching so tightly that you end up locking your knees.

I'm still learning. How about you?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hiring a translator and rows of canned vegetables

It's been a hectic, but fruitful week.

Liv stayed home from school yesterday and I took the day off to get our canning and freezing done. We now have several lovely rows of canned tomatoes, salsa, peppers, yellow and green beans, pickles, black eyed peas, beets and carrots in our pantry and a freezer with several bags of okra and spinach. Nothing like our usual bounty, but considering the Summer from hell that has just passed, I think we did fairly well. There won't be any extras to hand out to the neighbors and none for Christmas gifts this year, but we have enough to eat all Winter without having to buy at the supermarket. And I have an abundance of rosemary, basil, thyme, Russian lavender and lemon verbena leaves drying on racks in the basement to be made into sachets or put into small herb jars. Those will serve as our Christmas gifts to the neighbors this year.

Plus, a bonus day spent working side by side with my daughter. She has become so adept at canning and freezing that she could easily do it without me now. That pleases me. Maybe she won't choose to have a garden or can or freeze, but if push comes to shove, she will have the skill. This has been passed on from Mother to Daughter for many generations in my family. Maybe it is time to hand it down to a Son the next time. I mentioned this to Liv and she smiled.

"Well, I want a large family," she said, "so, yes, that's a possibility."

How large? I was curious. She wiped her hands on a towel and thought for a while.

"I think five children," she finally said. "Boys or girls, no matter."

I was a little aghast. FIVE? Well, ok. I wondered out loud if this was because she was an only child. No, she said, absolutely not. She rather enjoyed having parents and rooms all to herself. But, she felt that a large family was in her future.

And a career too? I was even more curious.

She gave me one of her crooked smiles. "Of course!" she said. "But, I'd like to do what you did with me, if I'm able. I'd like to stay home with them for the first 5 years of their lives."

I pointed out, that with five children, that was um...let's see...25 years maybe?

She grinned sheepishly. "Well, obviously, I haven't thought this out well. Or maybe the key is to marry someone who can stay home while I work."

We didn't speak further of it. The future, I have found, is a tricky thing. I never saw myself as a single parent at 41. But, there I was. I never saw myself as a parent period. I NEVER wanted children or marriage when I was Liv's age. I wanted to teach high school English and be a spinster who devoted herself to books, to coming home from teaching school and treating myself to jam on bread and Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare's sonnets, sitting with my legs tucked up under me while I sat on a soft leather sofa and drank tea with my bread and paused to look out the window now and then.

As I said, the future is tricky.

But, now the garden is taken care of and we have lovely shining jars of produce on the pantry shelves in the basement and it smells delicious down there with the racks of drying herbs.

I felt productive all day.

It was a productive week, in fact. On Monday, our new translator started. His name is Fernando and he is....interesting.

I'm still not sure if we did the right thing in hiring him, but we shall see. He's in his late 50's and used to work for a law firm that specialized in immigration cases. He translated for them. He was married for 30 years to a lovely Irish girl named Irene. They had met when he came to America from Mexico and she was his English teacher. Within a year, they were married. She worked in the same building that our office is in, taught English as a second language. This Summer she died of leukemia. Fernando decided that he had no taste for his job anymore, wanted to be in the same building where his Irene had worked. So, he went to see if he could get hired on at her place of employment. No, they weren't hiring, they told him. But, there was an office on the fourth floor that they heard was looking for an interpreter....

And he came in to apply. I was impressed; we all were. But, I was also curious. He would be taking a rather large pay cut to work for us. He said he didn't need the money. His need was to be in the same building where his wife had worked so happily for so many years. And he wanted to help people, as she did. He liked the idea of helping to translate for families with children with special needs.

He wore a suit and tie. Believe me, that was something....considering that the previous applicant had worn shorts and a Grateful Dead tee shirt. He spoke with eloquence and knew the Guatemalan  dialects of Q'echi, C'anjiobal, Xinka and Itjaj. More and more, we are getting Guatemalan families with children with special needs and our previous translators had told me that translating the many dialects of Guatemala was not possible. Or, as Fernando explained to me: "Think of it as Chinese. That's how far it is from Spanish. But, I've picked a few dialects up here and there."

What concerns me is that he is still grieving for his wife. This became evident to me as the three of us passed him around for training. It was agreed that I would talk to him about office protocol and expected hours, etc. As we sat talking in our conference room, I told him that he was not required to wear a suit and tie every day, that business casual was okay with us unless we had to testify in a court case. He smiled and nodded and then said that he would probably wear his suit because it was where he kept his wife's old pink cell phone. He drew it out of his pocket and showed it to me and then promptly burst into tears.

Oh. Dear.

I am not good with tears. And I was very cognizant of the fact that we were in a conference room with the door closed. I did not want to do any sort of embracing of him, etc. So, I gently patted his hand once and then once again. Told him that I was so sorry for his loss.

He began talking, almost incoherently.

It's just that I got what I wanted, Miss Maria. I can FEEL my Irene in this building. I walk down the halls and I know that she worked on the floor above me and I can feel her presence everywhere. She LOVED her job. When she was so sick during those last few months, all she wanted to do was to visit her old co-workers, to say goodbye. I was able to do that for her, although they did visit her often in the hospital. I am just so....LONELY without her. She's been gone for almost three months and I feel like a marble in a shoe box in my house. The house used to smell of her, her scent and now, slowly, I am losing that. I feel so sad!

I asked him if he had children. No, he said, they hadn't been blessed. That it had been his fault, he was ashamed, a low sperm count, not manly at all! But, Irene had told him that it was no matter, that she had her children that she taught every day. That she had plenty of love around her.

I found a box of tissues and handed them to him. He took them and wiped at his sopping face. I was intensely uncomfortable and now pretty certain that we had made a big mistake in hiring Fernando. We could not risk him breaking down in front of our patients. As badly as I felt for him, this was a place of business and it was very obvious that he was not ready to be back in the working force. Not yet.

I tried to imagine what I would be like if Bing had been dead since June 20th, the day of his wife's death.

God, I would be a basket case! This poor man!

But, he rallied and then stood up and asked to be excused for a moment. I said of course. He returned ten minutes later with an apology and said that he would try not to let this happen again. I was gentle with him. I told him that I was sure it would happen again and that this was perfectly natural, but he would need to be sure not frighten the children that we see, etc. He agreed.

And he has proven to be fine every since. He is a formal man and that is hard to get used to but I kind of like it. Whenever I come into his office, he immediately stands. He stands when any woman enters. And since our office is ALL women, he does a lot of bobbing up and down all day. I have told him that it isn't necessary to stand but he does it anyway. He also does a lot of bowing to me, which is a little unnerving. He bows when I hand him paperwork to translate, thanks me for the opportunity to serve. So far, he seems to do fine translating for our families. It is obvious that he is not used to being around children, but he treats everyone around him with great respect.

This is very different from our previous translator who used to casually saunter in 45 minutes late, chew gum constantly, wear Nicki Minaj clothes and had fingernails that were so long and painted so garishly that she scared little children.

But, still...I dunno. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he shouldn't be working in our office since he is only here to feel his wife's presence. Even though, he IS doing a very good job so far.

What do YOU think?

So, now...we just need to hire a new office manager. The next hurdle. How to find someone to fill Betsy's shoes. A feat. No pun intended.

And tomorrow, Bing, Liv and I will put the garden officially to bed. We will dig and hoe, turning the soil over to rest over the Winter, hoping that next Summer will prove more fruitful.

We are always looking to the future, yes? Fernando looks toward the future, hoping for a release from his pain. Liv dreams about a future with a large family. I just want to BE here, full force, next Summer. Back to my old self. Stronger.

I look at my fading rose bushes. It is getting colder fast here on the prairie. Last night it got down to 39 degrees. We brought in all the house plants that have been living outside. Our house is all....green again. But, I can't bring my roses in. Instead, I look at them sitting shell shocked on their branches. Shocked that the balmy Summer nights have suddenly slammed into cold, rainy, shivery ones.

But, they will be reborn when their cycle begins again.

The future just keeps coming. Hopefully, Fernando will be able to stop weeping, Liv will find a mate who wants a large family or is independently wealthy and can stay home while she works! And me? I just want to be strong enough to garden next Summer.

Hope is that thing with wings, right Emily?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Thanksgiving to give thanks for...

Tonight, I was sitting in the bleachers with our next door neighbor, Lindsay. She is the Mother of Sven. If you've kept up with my blog for a while, you know Sven. He was the kid who came in with his Mother to bring us brownies on our first night in the house.

He was 11. Liv was 1. He asked me if I had any kids with such a hopeful look on his face. I pointed to Liv in her playpen or baby jail as I called it back then since Liv HATED being in there and as soon as I started to set her down in it, would bunch her legs up, trying to get them around my waist to prevent this.

Sven took a look at her and then carefully put a finger inside the bars. Liv took it in her hands and drew it into her mouth for a long healthy bite. He winced and laughed and once he got free of her, said, "She'll do. What's her name?"

And a brother/sister relationship was forged. Sven helped to teach her to ride a bike, pushed her on her swing for hours at at time and swung her around holding her armpits, her legs arcing out in front of her.

He babysat her (usually with a girlfriend in tow) whenever we needed a night to ourselves when he was a teenager and when she got a new tree house when she was 6, Sven was the one who found the perfect flag to grace the top of it.

When he left for college on a football scholarship to the West Coast when Liv was 8, she burst into tears telling him goodbye and sat alone up in her tree house for hours after he left. For his first two years of college, she sent him letters and boxes of homemade cookies, pictures she drew. Stories she wrote.

And then the dark days came as Sven succumbed to drug addiction. He lost his scholarship and we lost him for many years. He has slowly come back with a few missteps and stumbles. He'd be stone cold sober for months and then succumb again to the lure of oxycontin and whiskey.

He's been sober for almost two years now. The longest ever. And very slowly, very cautiously, Liv has allowed him back into her life. He's had to earn her trust again after a few betrayals. She's still careful, loves him, but is not naive as she was the first two times that he went clean. She is watchful. Cautious.

They've been texting and emailing more than ever in the past few months. Tinton, Liv's Father, tells me this started over the Summer. That he noticed that she was sending lots of pics to him and texting daily and that he was answering.

I text him too. And email. I believe that he is clean. He and I share a love of this television show:

And Stephen King. We both ADORE Stephen King and can talk for hours comparing The Shining and The Stand. He says there is nothing to top the first one. I beg to differ. I think that The Stand is the best horror novel ever written.

Sven no longer tries to evade talking about his addiction. He speaks of it in the first person, refuses to act as if it no longer holds him. He knows that it will hold him forever, this craving for that drug, this drink. He just realizes that if he wants to be alive, he has to refuse to give into it. So, he attends step meetings but isn't what I call a stepper. He doesn't talk much of making amends or one day at a time. He just lives it, does it. His amending letter to me is in my box of keepsakes. Liv has one too. And Bing. Even Socks has one. Liv read it to him aloud and Socks listened and then forgot about it as if to say, "I'm a dog, dudes. I don't hold grudges." When Sven comes home now (which is only about once a year at best), Socks never remembers that Sven kicked him, he remembers that Sven gives good belly rubs.

Lindsay, Sven's Mother, has suffered the most. She is a nurse, works the 3-11 shift at the hospital as she always has. When Sven was younger, he would come to our house after school and a hired college student would pick him up at 5, make him dinner, help him with homework, make sure he got a shower,  and put him to bed.  When he was 13, he started staying home alone.

When he left for college, Lindsay said that she felt like her house echoed for months without his footsteps to clang through. When he started drifting away, she tried everything possible to help him until she finally realized that he didn't want her help. This was pretty much after he moved and didn't tell her where he was. She went for months not knowing if he was dead or alive. Always a slight woman, her face became more pinched, grayer by the day.

He came skulking home once when she was at work and went straight to her drawer where she kept her sock of saved money and stole every dime. On his way out the door, he ran into Bing and Socks who were out for a walk. Socks ran to him and Sven gave him a swift kick before jumping into the waiting cab. Bing and I had the heartbreaking task of calling Lindsay at work. She came home, found the missing money, but refused to call the police. She sat on her sofa with me next to her, trying to hug her stiff, aching body, anything to help her. She finally looked at me with so much pain in her face that I winced and said, "He's my SON, Maria! I can't turn him in. I just can't, okay?"

I said sure. Okay.

Years went by. Liv vowed never to forgive him.

He got sober and she relented. He relapsed and she stiffened her resolve.

This time, it has taken him many moons to get back into Liv's heart, back into all of our hearts except his Mothers. She could never turn him away.

And now, it looks as if he just may be okay. I say this with just a little bit of terror. I want it to be true more than anything.

Liv is jaded, but still somehow hopeful.

"We'll see," she has told him and us.

So, when Lindsay turned to me at Liv's game and said, with trepidation, "Sven is coming home for Thanksgiving this year. Says he will stay a week. Would you, Bing and Liv join us or do you have plans made already?", I immediately accepted. We had no huge plans other than to eat at my Sister's house as we always do and we always say on the way home that we really must find a different way to spend Thanksgiving every year.

So, this year...I say with great hope and deep tenderness that we will be bringing pumpkin pie to Lindsay's house for Thanksgiving dinner.

And we will see Sven. Our Sven. Our family.

We all have such hope.