A guy came to my front door yesterday to sell me pest control services. We’ve been in the new house right at one month and already have fire-ant mounds the size of, well, Texas, in the front yard. The last thing I want to do is unearth a bag of fire-ant killer and bomb those guys, so when a clean-cut, earnest, smiling young man offered his service, I gladly agreed.
As he was surveying my yard and pointing out the myriad ways in which those little bastards have already infiltrated my new kingdom, we chatted in the way one does with service providers: breezily and superficially. He inquired about our pets and got an earful when I told him about Piper Pig. He asked about my children’s ages and genders. He asked what line of work my husband is in, and then asked if the price of gas is going to continue to climb. I replied breezily and superficially, and as our conversation was running out of steam, he asked if I too am in the oil & gas industry. I paused before answering, knowing that what was to follow is a topic I have come to dread: the question of what I do for a living.
I mumbled something lame about how I “hang out here, taking care of the kids,” knowing full good and well just how lame that sounds. He recovered nicely, telling me that based on my outfit, he assumed I was a career girl who had just returned home from work. I laughed to myself at his good fortune in catching me in a skirt and t-shirt and sandals instead of the usual workout attire and tennis shoes. Most days I go to the gym, shower, then change into another workout outfit because that’s where I feel most comfortable. I have more workout clothes than “real” clothes, and the “active” section is the first section I head toward anytime I go into a clothing store. I boxed up many pairs of “regular” shoes to make room for my growing collection of athletic shoes. I refrained from telling the young pest-control salesman that the only reason he hadn’t caught me in workout clothes is that I had an appointment (more on that later) with a new health-care practitioner and I didn’t show up sweaty and smelly in my gym clothes.
In other words, I dress up — if a skirt, t-shirt, and sandals can be considered dressed up — for my first appointment with a newbie to my ever-expanding stable of health-care experts, but will quickly revert to my chosen uniform of Dry-Fit, spandex comfort.
Back to the dreaded “So, what do you do?” conundrum. Why do I always struggle with this one? Why do I feel feeble about my “job?” Why do I find it supercilious to say that I don’t work outside the home? Why do I cringe when people ask if I plan to go back to work someday. To say that I’m a housewife is ridiculous; I’m not married to my house. To say I’m a homemaker seems archaic, and truth be told, I didn’t make my home; the builder did. To say that I stay home with my kids seems deceitful as they are away at school for most of the day, and honestly, I don’t stay home all that much myself. To say that I am an at-home mom doesn’t ring true either, for reasons we just covered.
I have an old, wrinkled, faded copy of Newsweek magazine that apparently I lifted from Visible Changes hair salon many years ago. It’s dated February 21, 2005. I’ve kept it among my books all these years and found it the other day while organizing the study in our new house. How interesting that I found it just the other day, and ran up against the at-home mom conundrum a few days later. At the time I stole the magazine from the hair salon, my kids were aged 5 and 3 and my mom was dying from cancer–a stressful time, for sure. I don’t recall but suspect that the magazine spoke to me because I was coming to grips with the fact that perfection and motherhood don’t quite go together, even though my mom seemed perfect and set a very high bar.
In the article, author Judith Warner previewed her book Perfect Madness:Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety and got down & dirty about the real truth of motherhood. She asks “Why do so many otherwise competent and self-aware women lose themselves when they become mothers? Why has this generation of mothers, arguably the most liberated and privileged group of women America has ever seen, driven themselves crazy in the quest for perfect mommy-dom?”
Warner described women who “surrendered their better selves–and their sanity–to motherhood. Women who pulled all-nighters hand-painting paper plates for a class party.” She interviewed 150 women from across the country for her book, and heard women universally tell tales of “lives spent shuttling back and forth to more and more absurd-seeming, high-pressured, time-demanding, utterly exhausting kids’ activities.” She found that 70 percent of moms say that motherhood is “incredibly stressful” and that 30 percent of young mothers suffer from depression. More than 900 Texas women told researchers that taking care of their kids is “about as much fun as cleaning the house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching TV.” Yet mothers feel the need to “perform magical acts of perfect Mommy ministrations so their kids don’t fall through the cracks and end up as losers in our hard-driving winner-tale-all-society.”
Writer Anna Quindlen bookended Warner’s article in Newsweek with one of her own, also about manic motherhood. Quindlen writes, “What the child-care guru D.W. Winnicott once called ‘the ordinary devoted mother’ is no longer good enough. Instead there is an uber-mom who bounces from soccer field to school fair to play date until she falls into bed at the end of the day, exhausted, her life somewhere between the Stations of the Cross and a decathlon.”
Sheesh. No wonder I feel weird about telling someone else that my “job” is being a mother.
I’ve long ago given up my position on the PTA board and planning classroom parties and organizing a birthday party for the teacher. I did my time chaperoning field trips and opening milk cartons and ketchup packets at lunchtime. I worked more than one shift reading aloud to my kids’ kindergarten classes, and I committed to mentoring struggling kids in other classes. I enjoyed it, but I don’t miss it. While I don’t remember feeling pressure — from myself or others — to be a perfect mom, I welcomed the opportunity to step away from such duties. The fact that it was a cancer diagnosis when my kids were in 5th and 2nd grades wasn’t the opportunity I was looking for, but it is what it is. Who knew that I would be trading one high-pressure, insanity-creating, incredibly stressful job for another. Being a mom and being a cancer patient have a lot of similarities, most notably that no matter how far we’ve come, there’s still a long way to go.
Today has been such a sad day.
My friend suffered a tragedy, and I can’t get it out of my head. He had to put his 10-year-old dog down a couple of months ago because she had cancer (stupid fucking cancer, can’t even leave our beloved dogs alone). Lady, his 3-year-old dog, was moping and lost without her companion, so my friend decided to get a puppy.
He did everything right: researched breeds and breeders, readied their home for the new arrival, and began training the pup the very day he arrived. My favorite girl and I had the honor of driving to the airport to pick up the new puppy while my friend worked (we have puppy fever…bad!). We bonded with that little darling in the car, and my girl picked out a squeaky toy a few days later for the pup. My friend and I discussed the pup at length, every day. We oohed and aahed over puppy pics and laughed at his antics. I’ve never seen my friend so elated and so happy.
When he got home from work yesterday, he noticed that Lady and the pup didn’t greet him at the gate. He went into the house and noticed that Lady and the pup weren’t wiggling in anticipation at the back door. When my friend went into the back yard, he found out why: the pup had drowned in their pool. He was floating belly-up in the cold, unforgiving water.
I’m so sad. My friend is devastated. Crushed. Beyond sad.
He and I texted back and forth 100 times today. He vented, and I murmured words, worthless and meaningless words. He expressed his anguish, and I texted back trite blobs of nothing. He admitted his guilt at having stayed late at work instead of rushing home to check on the pup, and I sent blah-blah-blah back to him. He confessed that he couldn’t stop crying, and I texted back virtual hugs. He raged at the unfairness of the situation, and I replied with “life’s not fair/there’s no meaning/nothing makes sense/it’s so cruel, etc etc etc.”
This man lost his father — to cancer, of course — nearly 25 years ago. He and I have an understanding about hard times and grief and the random cruelty of life. We can talk to each other in that way of members of the same club: stripped away, raw, honest, and brutal. We are both shameless animal lovers who have been accused, more than once, of liking critters more than humans. This is a terrible, terrible blow.
Beyond the text-a-thon, I felt helpless. My brain won’t stop returning to the terror that was the pup’s last moments of life. The startling plunge into the pool. The cold water. The frantic flailing. The fear and the struggle. The pain and the terror. The image of that lifeless pup floating in the pool has haunted me all day, and knowing just how anguished my friend is adds insult to injury. I did the only thing I know to do in the midst of loss and tragedy: I got in the kitchen and cooked. Chicken noodle soup, jalapeno cornbread, fruit salad, Greek-style green beans, and insanely fudgey brownies for the family, and sweet-potato dog biscuits for Lady. She needs a treat, too, after the senseless death of her new best friend.
Recently I wrote about the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve been thinking about this, too, today. As I drove to my friend’s house to deliver the food, I was struck by something: I would expect that having traveled down some rocky roads (my mom’s death 8 years ago, my own cancer “journey”), I would be steeled to tragedy. I would expect to be hardened to the shitty things life throws at us. I would expect to be stronger. Tougher. Better-equipped. But I’m not.
If anything, just the opposite is true. Hard times, ugly challenges, and crushing loss are harder, not easier, to handle.
Rest peacefully, sweet pup. We didn’t know you very long, but we loved you gigantic paws, your piercing blue eyes, your high-pitched howls, your feisty spirit, your stubborn streak, your easy-going personality, and your sweet, sweet self.
Today is World Cancer Day. This year’s theme is debunking myths and erasing stigmas attached to cancer. While I’m all for the debunking and erasing, I’m not at all sure how to feel about cancer having its own day. At first blush, I thought: Woohoo! A day to celebrate! I’m always up for that. But then I thought, Wait: what exactly am I celebrating? The fact that I survived? No; too much emphasis on survival makes me uncomfortable, as if I’m tempting fate. The fact that there’s so much awareness and dialogue about cancer nowadays? No; I’m sick of talking about it and even more sick of thinking about it. The fact that I persevered despite a devastating illness and an even more dangerous nosocomial infection? No; I would have rather skipped the whole experience. Especially the infection part.
There’s a poster at my gym with this quote from Sir Edmund Hillary. I’m assuming it’s in reference to Mt Everest. I look at the poster when I’m on the VersaClimber — a cardio machine that at first seemed like an instrument of torture but now is part of my routine. Most times I have to close my eyes to get through my VersaClimber intervals (it’s pretty bad!). But when I’m not closing my eyes, I look at the poster and read Hillary’s words, and realize that indeed, we do conquer ourselves. Including the cancer.
Things are really coming together, and the countdown is on!
We have a closing date of February 14. I can’t think of a better Valentine’s Day present than to be in our new house.
The latest progress: the air conditioning system, carpet, appliances, and fencing.
The AC isn’t too pretty, especially without the grass around it, but it is a necessity. It’s hard to imagine needing it right now, with the brutal “winter” we’ve had in Houston (yes, all you Northerners can laugh. I know we are winter wimps).
Guys were installing the side fencing as took these photos yesterday.
The back fence will be shorter and wrought iron, to give us a view of our bayou and woods. Once this brutal “winter” ends and the trees leaf out, we won’t be able to see the houses on the other side of the bayou.
My favorite girl, aka The Little Chef, was uber excited about the ovens, and in her excitement she didn’t realize that the blue color comes from the plastic shield covering the stainless steel. She thought we were getting blue ovens! That’s her, on the left, reflected in the ovens. She has already claimed this spot of the kitchen and will spend many hours baking up deliciousness.
Come on, February 14th! We can’t wait!
We don’t see this much in Houston –
The camellias were brave in the face of ice.
School is out, the kids are thrilled, and we’re awaiting the thaw.
New house update — finally!
I’ve been remiss in posting pictures but am remedying that now. Things look a lot different than they did in this post.
Aerial shot of the tile all covered up neatly. My favorite girl got nervous when I pulled up some of the paper to take a picture of the tile. I keep reminding her that this is our house and we’re allowed to do such things. She’s still nervous.
After blogging about Emma Keller’s article in The Guardian about Lisa Adams (read my thoughts here), I felt better. Reading the comments that came in response to that blog made me feel better still. But now I feel bad again. And mad. Really mad. As if Keller’s article wasn’t bad enough/mean enough/hateful enough/out-of-line enough, now her husband has gotten in on the hating.
That’s right, her husband.
He too is a writer, for The New York Times, no less. He joined the fray, I can only assume in an attempt to defend his wife, for whom the fallout has not been kind. His article misses the mark as much as his wife’s article did, IMHO, and he makes a really lame comparison as the basis for his point.
He compares the way Lisa has handled and is handling her cancer to the way his father-in-law succumbed to his cancer. Lisa is in her 40s with three boys to raise. Bill Keller’s father-in-law was a few weeks shy of 80. Can we really compare the situation of a still-young mother to that of a man nearly 40 years her senior, who also faced kidney disease, diabetes, and dementia? I think not.
Mr Keller chooses to break the same rule his wife broke; the one rule that should remain forever unbroken in talking about a cancer patient and how s/he chooses to handle that cancer: don’t judge.
Mr Keller judges, right alongside his wife.
For example, he writes that “every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties.”
Like his wife, he wonders aloud, in his column, about the cost of Lisa’s treatment. Which is none. of. anyone’s. business. He even calls into question her partaking of Sloan-Kettering’s Caring Canines program, in which “patients get a playful cuddle iwth visiting dogs.” He whines about neither Lisa nor Sloan-Kettering not telling him how much “all this costs and whether it is covered by insurance.”
Really?? He begrudges a critically-ill woman’s choice to pet a dog and is pissy because he’s not privy to how much it’s costing her?
He characterizes his father-in-law’s choice to stop pursuing life-extending measures as “humane and honorable” and calm and enviable, while Lisa’s is the opposite, in which she is “constantly engaged in battlefield strategy with her medical team.”
Again, this is none.of. anyone’s.business.
Perhaps the worst part of Mr Keller’s piece is this: “Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.”
If Lisa Adams wants to be the standard-bearer for one-eyed-one-horned-flying-purple-people-eaters, it is none of Mr Keller’s damn business. If she wants to wave a flag, Braveheart-style, it is none of his concern. If she wants to depend on hope to endure the hell-on-Earth she’s currently living with, he is the last person who should be flapping his gums about it. If she considers herself a success for doing what she felt was best for her and her family in her particular situation, why would any of us take umbrage? Shame on both Kellers.
Doesn’t make you stronger. They lied.
Ok, maybe the first few times one encounters a non-fatal, strengthening adversity. Maybe it works then. But over and over and over? Time and again? Nope. It no longer makes you stronger. It chips away at pieces of your soul. It slowly yet painfully tugs at the very essence of who you are. Think gently pulling at a Band-Aid instead of just yanking it off. That tiny tug doesn’t seem like much in context, but really, each tug hurts — a lot.
That’s how it is with repeated adversity. A chipping. A tugging. It’s bullshit, for lack of a better word.
thank you, google images.
I’ve been totally remiss in posting about our new house. Building a house is a long, complicated process. Moving out of one’s house is a long, exhausting process. Moving out of the only home my kids have known was especially exhausting. Existing with most of our worldly goods in storage has been interesting and has been a study in “how much stuff do we really need?” Living in a temporary house, generously provided by our dearest friend Eddie (known for his wise comments on this blog), has been a challenge, but dare I say we’ve risen to that challenge and perhaps even thrived within it?
It’s been a long process. We signed the contract on the new house April 15th yet construction did not begin until July. A booming housing market and a shortage of skilled labor have created even more delays (gotta love the great state of Texas and its bustling economy!). Tired of waiting, we broke ground ourselves, unofficially. If you ever needed a contrast in my children’s personalities, here it is.
Our lot, all green and lush in the late spring. Seeing the house staked — at last — was very exciting!
The view out our front door. The Port-a-Potty will stay the whole time the house is being built, so it’s featured in a lot of photos. We’re working a deal to keep it, but on the side of the house, for the teenage boy who resides with us.
Once the outside of the house is done, they can start working on the inside, and that’s when the real fun begins. Stay tuned.