C what I mean?

by stevendepolo via creative commons

This post is brought to you by the LETTER C as in codeine, which stops the hacking long enough for me to talk and to sleep a bit and which wraps my world in a warm, fuzzy of blanket of calm.
C also stands for Christmas, the day on which my robot battery pack failed. After nearly two weeks of scrambling to shop, clean, keep up with everyday stuff, shop, attend holiday concerts and events, wrap, stress, shop, cook and stress some more, I gave in on the 25th.
C also stands for clammy sweating and chills. I faked it through the 23rd and 24th. I went roller skating on aching legs and ignored the creeping malaise. I pushed one of those ridiculous wonky carts through IKEA, past all those inviting couches and beds, whose siren songs had an almost irresistible pull. I sang Christmas carols at a candle light service on the 24th in spite of a raw throat and watery eyes. I skipped sleep one night to scrub my guest bathroom clean.
On the 25th we hosted dinner. So I downed some NyQuil, used some nasal spray and throat spray, put on extra makeup and a big smile and carried on.

“Are you sick?” one of my relatives asked post-dinner, when we were sipping tea and munching on home-baked cookies.

“Me? Oh, no… allergies, I think.”

Denial. Why the denial? There’s a family history.

By the 26th I was flat on my back. No more faking or denying. I missed two holiday parties. I missed an opportunity to go ice skating and sledding and to get together with friends over coffee.

C also stands for common sense, which is in short supply around here. I finally realized that practicing medicine without a license never ends well.  So I went to my awesome doctor, the one who treated me two years ago after I mixed the NyQuil/Benadryl/nasal spray/throat spray denial cocktail — along with real cocktails and outdoor swimming — on a trip to Las Vegas. I didn’t come home with a hangover. I came home with pneumonia in my left lung. My doctor is a swell guy, and he spared me a lecture this time around because this time I came in before I started coughing up blood. He just gave me the much-needed pills and cough medicine. He also gave me a copy of my chest X-ray on CD.

The good new is that my X-ray is clear. No scary dark spots. Just a bacterial infection of the respiratory system. That does not begin with C.


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Wǔ jiǎo xīng

“Mom, we should get a tree topper for our Christmas tree.”

Girl from the East and I were in the car, on our way to Target for household items.

Rather than fire off all the reasons why we didn’t need one, I considered that we actually might need a new tree topper. The old Father Christmas model with the burned-out candle light and yellowed fur trim was purchased when Girl from the West was a baby, when her father and I were newlyweds, trying to assemble a set of decorations and decide on a theme. We never did. (He wanted a monochromatic, modern tree. I wanted traditional pieces.)

Each year, without thought or question, we mounted old Father Christmas on the tree, making passing jokes that he had  a stick up his butt. Aside from a few Baby’s First Christmas ornaments from the early 1990s, everything on our tree reflected my new life with my second husband. Everything but the worn-out, stick-up-the-butt Santa. Yep, it was time to get a new tree topper.

Inside Target, Girl from the East and I made a beeline for the holiday decoration department. Thankfully there were a number of toppers available. I let her choose. She grabbed a box containing a sparkly red five point star — or a wǔ jiǎo xīng as we like to call it around here. It seemed kind of big and unwieldy. We bought it anyway.

At home, we unwrapped the star and placed it atop the tree. You know what? I love it. I love that my five-year-old came up with the idea and made the selection. It’s not something I would have picked. This is a wonderful thing. She is her own person. She is leaving her mark all around our house and in our hearts in so many ways. This is the upside, the amazing benefit of having children.

Children open your eyes and your heart to endless possibilities.

This one, she said.

The amazing topper and transformation

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Right now

MZ archives

Right now.

It’s all I have. It’s all you have, too.

So simple. So difficult.

If right now is on a sunny beach, with a gentle breeze caressing your cheeks and a cold beverage is parked nearby, now is a great place to be. If now is trapped in your car on the 402 in Ontario, now is a personal challenge. There are so many nows between those extremes, each with its own set of emotions and expectations.

On a recent right now, I gathered with a group of people I know and we talked about this whole idea. We’re working through some things together: Can we be happy where we are right now, even though we haven’t found the perfect mate, or landed the great-paying job, or made our mortgage payment for the second month in a row, or renovated our kitchen so that it’s on scale with all our friends and neighbors? Can we?

We talked, had lunch, and then helped one of the group members paint their new home. It was a cathartic afternoon.

In that right now:

I shared a real laugh, like I haven’t in some time, that came from deep within and released so much stress and sorrow.

I cringed as I realized I still have work to do in the self-editing department.

I felt the warm embrace of a community.

I got a little light-headed on paint fumes.

The wistful face of the little girl who would occupy the room I was slathering in liquid lilac looked up at me balanced on the ladder with both impatience and excitement. I heard her unspoken: When will you be done?

Never, I thought to myself. I need to keep painting.

Outside the sturdy old walls of this home, the world was a cottony blur as a major winter storm pounded the landscape. The arctic winds slapped around the heavy snow, sending it screaming through window cracks. I felt its icy tendrils wrap around my neck and ankles as I moved around the drafty room. On the obliterated walkways, dark figures trudged through the deepening drifts.  Did they have a warm place to call home? A bubbling pot of stew on the stove waiting to fill their empty bellies? Did they have a community on which they could heap their problems, both real and trivial?

Right now: I feel like I’m up to my neck in quicksand. Some days. Not all.

Don’t flail about, I’m told. Just sit still. Look at that quicksand. How big is it, really? How much of it did I truck in on my own vehicle of pitiful embellishment?

Maybe, upon quiet examination, the sea of quicksand is really a puddle. Maybe I can look at it this way:

Right now, it’s OK.

It’s OK that my mother will find fault with everything I do, with how I’m raising my daughters, with how I’m celebrating Christmas, with how I choose to spend my free time.

It’s OK that I get angry at my children for pushing my buttons.

It’s OK that my life isn’t as lavish and exciting as some of my friends’ lives. It’s OK that I have a warm home, a refrigerator full of food, a cozy bed, and all my utility bills paid while some families huddle in shelters.

It’s OK that I’ve painted outside the lines.

Right now, having the right people around is everything.

Thirteen questions

Life is moving at warp speed. I find myself with very little free time to do anything that requires deep concentration. It’s a phase. This September, I lost my Wednesday free day to myself. It has profoundly affected my weekly routine. In three months’ time, I’ve watched my home office and my somewhat organized life scatter like autumn leaves in an updraft. Also, Girl from the East turned five this week. What does this mean? Next September I get some of my life back again. I’ll also relinquish my last child to the public education system. Many, many mixed feelings.  Meanwhile, my drafts folder is stretched to the seams with unfinished posts. TeacherMommy, who also finds herself in similar blogging straits, passed this meme to me. Thank you, TM. Here we go:

1. The best investment you ever made:

Any gym membership I’ve ever had. The physical and mental health benefits totally justify the cost.  The gym is the one place where I can truly hide and relax.

2.  If you could’ve written any book, directed any movie, and composed any song, which three would you pick:
OK. I hate this question and it’s the reason I’ve procrastinated posting this meme. But, if I must produce an answer, here it is:

  • Book: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood. I could name any number of her other works, including “Alias Grace” and “Oryx and Crake” as well. Atwood’s storytelling craft leaves me breathless.
  • Movie: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I never tire of this movie or its message.
  • Song: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division. Or, any of these 10 by Radiohead, because someone bothered to make  a list.

3. Weirdest quirk:

I am a chronic lock checker, which is a manifestation of my mild OCD. Everything that should be closed/locked needs to be closed and/or locked — doors, windows, car doors, closets, and cabinets. I’ll check and check again and then check just one more time just to make sure I wasn’t imagining the previous checks. Get it?

4. One wish immediately granted:

I wish that humans came with a built-in kill switch that could fully disarm them before anger, frustration, sadness, some real or perceived shortcoming, or the need for revenge compelled them to hurt a child.

5. Most expensive hobby:

A tie between camping and cycling. I love riding my bike. I always want to do more off-path, long-distance riding, but the cost of things such as bike racks for my car, ride fees, tune-ups and all that gear get in the way for now. Same goes with camping. I need a new tent.  Oh, and I want all that rugged mountain gear, too. Someday …

6. An inexhaustible gift card at which store:

IKEA, so that I could redecorate my house from top to bottom with cool, funky stuff. Of particular interest is my kitchen.  IKEA has such great ideas for small spaces.

7. In another lifetime, you’d be:

Tall and thin and super smart and rich. Or maybe a giraffe.

8. The most famous/interesting member of your family tree:

I am a descendent of the surgeon who traveled from France with Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. I know, right? So exciting. All that means is my family has been stuck here for more than 300 years. It also means they’ve helped form and influence this area in countless small ways. Not that it’s anything to brag about outside our inner circle.  Also, there are a few former TV personalities/anchors in the clan.

9.What would you say to your teenaged self?

Today’s mountains are tomorrow’s mole hills.

10.What do you want to be when you grow up?

I don’t think I’ll ever grow up.

11. Proudest moment?

The day I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start a new life outside of my toxic first marriage. I don’t know where I gathered such strength and determination, but I did it. I need some of that mojo back to find a new career.

12. Best decision ever made?

See above.  Also, going to China to get daughter No. 2 rather than continue the legal battle with my former employer.

13. What is the one thing you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t (yet) summoned the courage?

Skydive. Just once. I have it on schedule for my 50th birthday. I know the first jump is a tandem one, which is just enough information to give me the guts (I think) to do it. I’m also recruiting anyone else who wants to do this, too. Are you in?

The rules for this meme:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.

2. Paste these rules on your blog post.

3. Respond to the following prompts (in bold).

4. Add a prompt of your own and answer it.

5. Tag a few other bloggers at the bottom of the post.*

6. Leave “Tagged You” notices on their blog/Facebook.

7. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve written the post.

*Are you short on time? Feeling a bit constipated in the blog? Holiday stress getting to you? Grab this meme and use it as a post. Think of it as the Chia Pet of blog posts. You’re welcome.

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Empty chairs and envelopes

One of my favorite holiday rituals is dusting off Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” CD and putting it in the musical rotation. Guaraldi’s nimble hands dance on the keyboard in “Linus and Lucy” and before long I’m toe-tapping, shoulder-shrugging and head-bobbing my way around the hardwoods.

The classic recording serves up a combo platter of emotions: generous portions of cool jazz, sprinkles of childhood joy, all swimming in a thick soup of  nostalgia.  I’m reminded of what the holidays are really about. I’m reminded of what I like about the season and what breaks my heart.

What kills me are the empty chairs. Consider my holiday ruminations: It is often lonely to be married to an only child of divorced parents who live far away. It is also lonely to be the daughter of one living parent and the sister of an unmarried, childless sibling who almost never comes home for the holidays. It’s a little heartbreaking to be the parent of one child whom I must relinquish each Thanksgiving as dictated by custody agreement. It’s frustrating to be the parent of another child who cannot understand what a custody agreement is and why she can’t see her sister. This past weekend had mental moments reminiscent of Ebenezer Scrooge slurping cold gruel in his drafty apartment.  I longed for a brightly lit room filled with laughing children. I longed for the Ghost of Christmas Present.

In the midst of this contradictory state of dancing and moping, two envelopes — not two ghosts — came into my life.

The first, a white business-sized envelope slipped to me at a holiday party,  contained a set of reprinted photographs from Independence Day weekend and other events from the mid-1970s. Back then, my brother and I were scrappy kids with bony knees and gapped teeth. My parents were a young couple, both smooth-faced and seemingly joyful. My dad had a mostly full head of auburn hair and huge sideburns. My mother’s long locks reached halfway down her back.

The pictures stirred long-buried memories and a deeper understanding of the swift passage of time and its sweeping changes. I admitted out loud that I missed my father, or at least the concept of having one around. He was both the party giver and the life of the party. He had a way of gathering a crowd while he spun one of his hyperbolic tales of work and life. He loved Christmas, singing Christmas carols off-key, getting into character, and lots and lots of crazy dancing. Christmases have never been the same since he died.

The second envelope arrived in the mail, a card of thanks and encouragement from an unexpected source.

I’ve learned a lot from this person in the last two years, made a lot of mistakes and probably went over the top in an effort to prove myself. I never knew if any of it registered. I figured my journey is mine alone and it’s not about the accolades. So, to get  a pat on the back like that out of the blue? Well, it was better than a double serving of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Way better than cold gruel.

Dance like the Peanuts gang, my friends. Dance every day.

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