Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You'll freeze your little butt off

Queen Teen chooses her own clothes to wear to school, as she should. A 14 year old girl knows what she wants, even if she won't tell you what it is. For the most part she has a good eye for fashion and color, and she refuses to wear anything too revealing. No hoochy-mama, MTV inspired outfits in her closet, thank goodness. I only have to step in occasionally, like when she tried to wear an orange t-shirt with purple polka dot pants. She wears a lot of interesting outfits, but that one I couldn't let her leave the house in.

I also step in when it comes to weather. One morning about three weeks ago, she insisted on wearing her Levi mini-skirt, even though it was 50 degrees that morning and wasn't expected to get warmer than 75. I told her to wear leggings which she could take off later in the afternoon, but she refused.

"Fine. But your little butt is going to freeze on those bus seats," I said.

She triumphantly got dressed and then walked out to the bus. When she sat down on that cold, plastic bus seat her eyes widened in surprise. Wrapping her arms around her, she tried to smile at me, but I knew she was freezing.

Told you!

This morning is even cooler and it's supposed to stay cool and cloudy all day. I saw the clothes she had picked out for herself (a blue top with glittery butterflies and a pair of checked shorts) and switched the shorts for a pair of jeans. When Queen Teen saw this, she was not pleased.

"I already picked out my clothes."

"I see, and they are very nice, but it's cold this morning and you need long pants."

"No I don't."

Refusing to take the bait, I said, "Open the front door and see for yourself."

She glanced out the window and saw the sun wasn't up yet, then stood. "Snap-snap" went the breaks on her walker as she released them and stomped out of her bedroom. I followed and helped her open the front door. Cold air rushed into the room, making us both shiver.

Queen Teen stood in that cold air for a moment, then she looked at me. "I need to wear long pants today."

"Good idea," I said.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Integrity Test

Queen Teen and I popped into the market yesterday for eggs and cooking oil. At the checkout I handed the cashier $10.00 for the $5.20 bill. She started to count my change. "That's $90..."

I said, "Wait. I gave you a ten, not a hundred."

The woman's eyes widened. "You did?"

"Yes. You're giving me too much change." I laughed. "I mean I'll take it if you're giving it away..."

"I can't believe I did that. Thank you!"

The man standing behind me in line said, "You just passed the integrity test."

"Pardon?" I said.

"You passed the integrity test by not taking that money. You will be showered with blessings now."

The cashier handed me the right change (four ones and some change, which looked a lot smaller after a handful of twenties) and nodded in agreement with the man. The woman behind him in line smiled and said, "You are blessed."

"Showered in blessings," the man reiterated.

I thanked them and left the store, but as I we walked home I pondered that. It hadn't occurred to me that I could keep the money. I told the cashier her mistake before that thought got a chance to whisper because I knew the cashier would get in a lot of trouble if her drawer was missing $94.00. And I didn't do it out of any desire for "blessings." That whole concept that if you do something good something good happens to you bothers me. Shouldn't you just do good because it's the right thing to do? And besides, if I believed in the theory that good works create good things for the person doing them I would have quit doing any good a long time ago. I have yet to see a single blessing from my sense of honor.

I told my husband what happened and he only half jokingly said, "I would have kept the money."


His tone changed and he said seriously, "We could really use that cash for groceries."

He's right. Now that he's unemployed we can barely make our mortgage and we are now frequent users of the food bank. $90.00 bucks would have payed a bill and would have lessened some of the fear in this house. No. I refuse to start stealing to make ends meet, which is what keeping that money would have been. Theft. The money wasn't ours, period.

But who knows... if things get bad enough maybe next time I'll keep the money. I imagine that we all have our tipping point, when things get so bad you get desperate and stupid.

Luckily for the cashier, I haven't reached that line yet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gravity Check Number 561

Last night, Queen Teen stood up from the kitchen table and then promptly fell, her knee twisting under her, sending her crashing against the metal garbage can and smacking her foot on the side of the hard, wooden kitchen table. Of course I was on the other side of the kitchen with my back turned, so there was no way I could break her fall. She immediately started to cry, her body shaking so hard her teeth chattered. I dashed to her and started to look for obvious injuries. Did she smack her head? Was there any bleeding? Anything broken? Her knee was still tucked underneath her so I slowly helped her untangle her legs, relieved that her knee seemed fine because there wasn't any pain as she straightened it out. But then I saw her foot, which was bright red and already starting to swell.

Rick got her off the floor and carried her to her bed while I grabbed the ice pack. We got her as comfy as we could, then put the ice pack on her foot, which made Queen Teen shout, "That's cold!"

"I know," Rick said. "It's supposed to be. But you need to keep it on so your foot doesn't get too sore."

She sighed and then looked at me, her lips in a pout and big tears rolling down her face. "He's right, honey."

I sat with her while Rick ran to the drug store for kid strength Ibuprofin (ever notice no one will get hurt UNTIL you run out of it?). Her entire body shook from the cold pack on her foot, so I wrapped her up in the blue blanket Aunt Tama had made and held her close. She was shaking so badly it was like we'd set her entire body on ice. I guess this is her wonky neurology reacting to the presence of cold; it can't differentiate a little ice on one part of her body from a lot of ice on her entire body.

Rick returned with the medicine and we dosed her up, then took a look at her foot. Thankfully, it didn't look broken, just badly bruised.

I let her sleep in this morning to see how she was feeling before sending her to school. Her foot seemed a lot better and she could put weight on it, but her heart was still aching. While eating her breakfast she softly said, "I hate my ataxia." Then she started weeping, big, racking sobs that made me want to burst into tears too.

We sat together quietly, my arms holding her tight, while she cried. Sometimes a girl needs a moment to feel sorry for herself.

When she calmed down I gave her a donut to go with her eggs, but I knew she was really depressed when she only ate half of it. She talked to me about how much she wishes she'd never been born with ataxia, how she wishes she was more like the other kids, how she's the only one who falls down all the time and has to use a walker. "No body else in my class has this."

"You're right, but they all have other things they have to deal with." I told her how some of the kids in her class have trouble learning, trouble controlling themselves, and trouble taking care of themselves. Some of the kids can't run very well or throw a ball or jump rope because their coordination is poor. They may not use a walker, but they struggle with disabilities just like she does.

"Really?" She wiped the snot off her face.

"Yep. And so do I. Remember how I can't see out of this eye very well?" I pointed to my left eye.


"Because I can't see very well, I'm always running into things on this side of my body and getting banged up. It's annoying! And I tend to trip over things more than other people because my vision doesn't work as well as others. I hate it."

She frowned. "Me too."

"Everybody has something they have to deal with, honey. You just have more to deal with than most. I know it's frustrating and depressing and I'm so sorry I can't do something to make it better. But I'm so proud of you for hanging in there and trying so hard. I think some people would just give, but not you."

"I wish somebody could make my ataxia go away!"

"Me too sweety."

She curled up in my arms and cried more. After a while, she pulled herself together and I asked if she was ready to go to school. "Yes," she said.

At school the kids greeted her with cheers. "Queen Teen is here!" Her best friend raced up to her and gave her a big hug. One of the students told her how he fell down two days ago and he got hurt too. When I left, Queen Teen was at her desk, visually wobbly, but smiling again.

Her ataxia becomes more and more of an issue for her, especially now that's she's 14 and intentionally compares herself to others. She cares what people think of her, how she looks, how she's different. No 14 year old girl wants to be "weird."

I have absolutely no idea how to help her with this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What the Hell happened to my House?

I can tell I'm feeling better because suddenly I can't stand my house. It is a WRECK!!!!!!!! Cobwebs in every corner; dust covering everything, including my sunglasses; the floor sticky with God knows what; the bathroom close to uninhabitable; and zombie flies crawling on the ground. I call them zombie flies because they are big and lumbering and really hard to kill.

It's enough to make this woman want to burn her house down and start over somewhere else, preferably Hawaii.

My husband does his best to keep things clean, but his definition of clean obviously differs from my own. And in all fairness, he's been slam busy with school, work and child care. Neither of us has had much time to be domestic, and I've been too tired to care. So while I've been resting and recovering from surgery, the house has slowly declined into chaos.

The other problem is that our house is very small, only about 1000 sq ft. Three humans and one dog live here. Two of those humans have hobbies and work that require room, especially my husband. Unfortunately, he doesn't have work space. His computer parts and other equipment take up the entire garage, the barn, 3/4 of the deck, the largest bedroom in the house, half of the kitchen table and part of the floor of the living room. He makes money, so I can't yell at him too much. Somehow this thought doesn't stop me from wanting to toss every piece of his "crap" out onto the street with a big "FREE" sign on it.

That's how I know I'm feeling better. Gone is the post-surgery haze and exhaustion. In its place is a scowling, clutter hating, dust defying, toss-it-if-you-haven't-used-it-in-six-months force of cleaning nature.

My poor family is trying to stay out of my way.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dirty Dancing

I just finished watching Dirty Dancing for the thousandth time and cried through most of it. I can't believe Patrick Swayze is gone. He was only 57. It was too soon for him to go, too soon for him to stop dancing.

Another icon from my childhood has vanished: Micheal Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, John Hughes, and now Patrick Swayze. All of these people had a big influence on my life, but none more than Patrick Swayze. I saw Dirty Dancing five times in a week and a half when it was at the theater, all just to watch him leap off that stage. I wanted to dance, too.

That was the era of the dance movies: Flashdance, Fame, Dirty Dancing, Staying Alive... and I was an aspiring dancer. I once got in a argument with my step-father when I was 17 about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

"I'm going to be a dancer," I said.

"What the hell are you going to do dancing?"

The Solid Gold Dancers were on TV and I pointed at the television and said, "That."

My step-father burst out laughing, which only made me more determined.
"I can dance on TV, and in the movies."

He shook his head and walked away, mumbling about how I was out of my mind.

"You'll see!" I yelled.

I didn't factor in to my future plans that I'd never taken a dance class in my life (there weren't any classes in Kelseyville, where I grew up). But I was determined. Armed with how-to-do-ballet books and a subscription to Dance magazine, I practiced every move I saw, from the ending scene in Flashdance to the merengue in Dirty Dancing. Luckily I was a natural dancer and when I moved away to college my dream came true when I made it into the Humboldt State Dance troupe. I performed in several shows and even choreographed one. But I could never leap high enough or get my untrained legs to turn out enough. I was competing with students who'd been dancing since they were five years old, while I took my first class at age 19. I wasn't stupid. No amount of determination could make up for lack of training.

So I hung up my dancing shoes and focused on acting.

20 years later, I'm a mom and a writer. Funny how life turns out. But the thrill of dancing never went away. I studied belly dancing for a while and fell in love with ballroom dance. When I'm finished with grad school I have plans to take up Flamenco. And every time I hear the theme song from Fame or Flashdance I get a tingly, move my hips feeling. "What a feeling...Take your passion... And make it happen..."

Patrick Swayze did. He wasn't the greatest actor in town, but boy could that man move.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I am terrible at relaxing

I had minor surgery on Tuesday and have been lying on the couch watching old movies and drinking tea for four days. You'd think I'd be in heaven. What mom wouldn't love to spend four days lounging on the couch while other people do the laundry, the dishes, the housework, the childcare, the shopping and the bills? Unfortunately, I suck at relaxing.

I can't do it. Lying here, I think about the thousands of things that need to be done, like homework and editing and refilling the hummingbird feeder. I worry that Queen Teen is feeling stressed out by my incapacity and I feel guilty because my husband is having to do everything. He races from room to room, helping Queen Teen, doing the housework, answering the phone, running to the pharmacy, while trying to work on computers. My mom came one day to help, my friend Jane came the next. My sister-in-law stopped by with a Starbucks latte and some scrap booking magazines. All of these people came to help and support me while I recover.

I hate it.

I am the one who takes care of people. The one who waits on people. Not the other way around. So getting all of this attention is disturbing. Which forces me to ask: do I really think I don't deserve the help?

Why can't I allow myself to relax, say thank you when help is offered, let go of any guilt at watching the Thin Man in the middle of the afternoon, and stop worrying that Queen Teen will be damaged by my four days on the couch? Are all moms like this, or just me?

My family is struggling, but managing. Queen Teen has done a good job taking care of herself and my husband has dealt with all the extra responsibility without entirely losing his mind (mostly). They aren't the happiest people in the world though, and I see clearly how my energy keeps this family and our home running smoothly. But no one has died from my incapacity, not even the fish.

Perhaps I just need more practice letting go and relaxing. Although next time, I'll go on vacation and skip surgery.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Saying Goobye to Grandma C

My grandmother died last week at the age of 91. It's hard to believe she's actually gone this time because she's supposedly had six months to live for the last three years. But she's always been a determined woman. "Six months to live? Hah! I'll show you!" And she did, baffling doctors who said there was no logical reason this woman's heart should still be beating on just one, tiny vessel.

She lived in her own little house on my brother's property and I think she lived so long because of that. She was showered with love and care. My brother had coffee with her every morning, my sister-in-law cared for her around the clock and my niece and nephew were always barging in to her house to tell her about school, soccer and their friends. She spent her days sitting on the couch watching Cops and Giants baseball games, chatting with family and friends who'd stop by, and occasionally going along for the ride when my sister-in-law ran errands. Being a part of the family kept her heart beating when it should have stopped three years ago.

But even Grandma had to stop eventually, and last week she had a stroke. She fell into a coma and passed away peacefully surrounded by family. I was one of the people sitting with her at the hospital, listening to her breath, holding her hand, talking to her about the sunshine and the blue sky outside and how it was okay for her to go now. She'd proved her point; the doctors were wrong.

I told Queen Teen that Grandma C had died. She got very quiet and looked away from me.

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

She looked at me. "Not really."

"Grandma C's heart stopped beating because she was very old. That means her body has died." I decided to keep things tangible and not get into metaphysics. Queen Teen has a hard enough time understanding how things are.

She nodded.

I continued. "There will be a funeral on Monday when we'll all say goodbye to Grandma. Do you know what a funeral is?"

She shook her head. I explained that Grandma C's body would be in a lovely coffin at the cemetery and that lots of people would be there to say goodbye. My brother would say something about Grandma C and then her body would be buried. We would all go to my brother's house afterward for a party to celebrate Grandma's life. Then I told her it wold be like the party they had when her Grandma M died several years ago. "Do you remember that?"

"Yeah." Then she shrugged and giggled. I stopped talking and hugged her instead.

The funeral was indeed lovely. Short and sweet without a lot of show, just the way Grandma C would want it. Queen Teen wore a pretty dress and sat with Rick, not really comprehending what was happening but understanding it was important that she be quiet. At the celebration later she ate two cookies and hung out with her cousins. I was proud of how mature she was. She neither demanded attention or declared boredom, instead she gave people hugs and responded shyly when someone talked to her. The concept of death is hard to grasp, but the knowledge that it is something to respect did sink in.

Grandma C was always kind to Queen Teen. We would visit once a month and the two would sit on the sofa together and compare clothes.

"Oh, look at those pretty butterflies on your pants! Aren't those nice?" Grandma C would say.

"You have a pretty shirt," Queen Teen replied.

They would look at Grandma C's elephant and teddy bears and then Queen Teen would draw her a picture.

Before we left the party, I went over to Grandma C's little house. There was her cane and lap robe on the sofa where she usually sat, but the television was silent. Her oxygen machine didn't hum: it was unplugged and put away. Her bed was neatly made and her little pink robe was draped across it. Everything was just as she left it, but she wasn't there anymore.

I will miss Grandma C so much.