“Just” a mom

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. 2010-10-26Newsweek22031It’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.

 

 

 

 

 


Resilience? Not so much.

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.


World Cancer Day

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.

Not knowing exactly what to make of this day, I’ll focus on this:ConquerMountain

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.


New house, vol 3

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).unnamed

Brown carpet to hopefully hide all the dirt that will inevitably tracked into this loveliness.
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Another shot of my favorite feature — the curvy banister. The dark wood compliments the Kilim Beige paint and the brown carpet just as I’d hoped.unnamed

An aerial shot of the downstairs tile, now that it’s uncovered. I’ve no idea what the black tubing on the left is; if anyone knows, tell me.

Guys were installing the side fencing as took these photos yesterday.

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Hopefully the fence will contain this naughtiness.unnamed

Big job,that.unnamed

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.unnamed

One more feature almost finished: the seat in the shower. Cute, huh?unnamed

The much-anticipated kitchen appliances are in! Hooray!unnamed

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.
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Something tells me we will see more of this flour-coated pig in the new kitchen:unnamed

Come on, February 14th! We can’t wait!

 


Winter wonderland

We don’t see this much in Houston –

Ice!

Our birdbath was frozen.unnamed

Our plants were frozen.unnamed

The camellias were brave in the face of ice.

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unnamedThe pansies were sunny despite the freezing temps.

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The aloe vera has seen better days.unnamed

A few icicles clung to the pine tree.unnamed

Beads of ice dotted the other pine.unnamed

The lime tree is probably wishing it had a coat — not a coat of ice.unnamed

The windshield was covered, too. unnamed

School is out, the kids are thrilled, and we’re awaiting the thaw.

 


new house, vol 2

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.

Without further ado…the staircase. We’ve been very eager to see the wrought iron. Love it!unnamed

The curvy balcony is my favorite part of the house. unnamed

The downstairs tile is looking good!unnamed

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.unnamed

Kitchen cabinets are hung and the backsplash is in. Oh, and the countertops, too. unnamed

Close-up shot of the cabinets. Love that cocoa glaze.unnamed

Here’s where the stove and microwave will go. unnamed

The island before the countertops went in. unnamed

Love that rope detail on the cabinets.unnamed

Countertops in the master bath. unnamed

Bricking the entry.unnamed

Bricking the sides.unnamed

The frame for the driveway and walkway. unnamed

Very exciting!


What doesn’t kill you…

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.

It makes me mad. what-doesnt-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-funny-quotes

It makes me crazy. Screen Shot 2013-02-19 at 4.43.07 PM

It makes me sad.imgres

It makes me quite unpleasant to be around. imgres

It makes me question the karmic justice.imagesPardon the language, but it’s true.

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thank you, google images.

 


Swaying palms

Today in yoga class, my instructor had us do the Swaying Palm Tree pose. It’s not one of my favorites because it’s not very challenging for me, but I appreciate what it brings to the table: it strengthens joints; stretches ligaments, side abdominal muscles, back and spine; improves balance; and increases mental focus.

tumblr.com

tumblr.com

My instructor usually has something to say about each pose, and often mentions during the Swaying Palms pose that we can learn to sway and bend without being broken. Today she said she wanted to focus on forgiveness. Uh oh. That’s something I’m not so great at. Once I get mad, I stay mad — sometimes for years. I have been unforgiving about a certain issue with certain people for a long time, and thanks to my know-it-all yoga instructor, it’s time to change that.

Ms Know-It-All said that when we don’t forgive or sway or bend, we can become brittle and hard, and that we can sway without becoming uprooted and we can bend without foregoing our principles. Great. I can’t argue with that. It became clear that I needed to pay attention. I needed to listen to what the universe was telling me, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear. One of my favorite things about yoga is that it makes me think about things I don’t want to think about and it makes me hear things I don’t want to hear. The Bhagavad Gita said, “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”

I definitely did not want to think about forgiveness today, but the yoga gods had other ideas.

My instructor cautioned us againstthinking that forgiveness means forgetting. She said that few people can go from suffering an injustice, whatever that may be, to forgiving and forgetting easily. It’s a process. A journey. A journey through the self, in my case.

She then asked us to consider the price we pay for holding a grudge, for refusing to forgive.

It’s big. Holding a grudge can cause stress and toxins to accumulate in our bodies. It can raise blood pressure, impair the immune system, encourage stress hormones, and increase inflammation. It can also contribute to anxiety and depression.

The last thing I need is more stress, toxins, and inflammation in my life. Perhaps it’s time.

Time to let go of the anger and injustice. Time to move away from heartache and toward happiness.

Noted ethicist and theologian Lewis B. Smedes was an expert on forgiveness. He asked, “Will we let our pain hang on to our hearts where it will eat away our joy?” He’s the expert, and according to him, we don’t need to excuse the wrong, or even stop feeling angry about it, to forgive the wrongdoer. We just need to change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.

Like the Buddha said, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  There are plenty of things I like to drink; poison is not one of them. I’m setting it aside and beginning the process.


Screw you, Lulu

Lululemon and founder Chip Wilson can suck it.

Instead of the peace and zen that should emanate from a yoga-clothing supplier, Wilson is spewing hate and showing his ignorance. If his company’s damn clothes weren’t so damn overpriced, I’d be tempted to burn my Lulu outfits in the front yard.

I will admit I like Lulu’s clothes, despite the crazy-high prices: they’re cute, different, and stylish (says the woman who started playing tennis because she liked the outfits). They’re made from fabrics that stand up to a real workout (except for that one batch of see-through yoga pants, that is).

In attempting to explain the problem with the recalled yoga pants, Wilson created a couple of new yoga poses, which I don’t expect to see in my yoga class: Foot In Mouth and Flaming Douchebag. During an interview with Bloomberg TV, instead of taking responsibility for the faulty pants, Wilson blamed the women who wear them — and shell out $98 for each pair — for being too fat.

Yes, you read that right.

Wilson blames his customer base for being too fat.

“Some women’s bodies just don’t work for it.” I’m assuming the “it” he so uneloquently refers to is the pants. I would expect someone with a net worth of nearly $3 billion to be a bit more articulate, but I am picky that way.

When  pressed  to elaborate on the women’s bodies that “just don’t work,” Wilson added, “They don’t work for some women’s bodies. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time.”

What???

In an effort to clarify this insane suggestion, the Bloomberg TV reporter asked Wilson if Lululemon yoga pants are something that every woman, regardless of size, can wear. He said, “I think they can, I just think it’s how you use them.”

Wait — how we use them? How we use the yoga pants? Maybe like, for yoga?

The yoga pants are see-through — even though they cost 100 clams a pair — and this jackass is blaming the customer? And trying to throw up a loophole that questions how we might “use” yoga pants? Come on, man.

googleimages.com

googleimages.com

It gets better. Or worse, actually.

As part of his raving lunacy, Wilson offered this:

“Breast cancer also came into prominence in the 1990s. Ultimately,  I suggest this was due to the number of cigarette-smoking power women who were on the pill (initial concentrations of hormones in the pill were very high) and taking on the stress previously left to men in the working world.”

What???

While he clearly has a history of blaming the victim, Wilson can’t be serious about the causes of breast cancer. I can’t get past his choice of words describing breast cancer as something that “came into prominence.” Sadly, breast cancer is not like a desperate celebrity seeking its 15 minutes of fame; it’s here for the long haul. And it’s been around a lot longer than the 1990s. Idiot.

On the Lululemon blog, Wilson wrote a post elaborating his ass-hatty ideas and blathering on in moronic fashion, then summarizes by dropping this little gem: “lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time.  lululemon saw the opportunity to make the best technologically advanced components for [this] market in the 1990s.”

Sooooo, this genius created Lululemon because of women’s education, breast cancer, sports/fitness, and wanting to look pretty? Like a perfect storm, these mythical female elements of the universe converged to form a $10 billion company, and Wilson has women — fat, power-hungry, cigarette-smoking, birth-control-popping, breast-cancer having, vain women — to thank for his fame & fortune. Except, instead of thanking us, he somehow manages to blame and alienate us.

Screw you, Lululemon. I’m going to the Athleta store; I need some new yoga pants.


Lou

My friend David sent me this passage from Laurie Anderson, upon her husband Lou Reed’s death:
“I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn’t afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love. At the moment, I have only the greatest happiness and I am so proud of the way he lived and died, of his incredible power and grace.
I’m sure he will come to me in my dreams and will seem to be alive again. And I am suddenly standing here by myself stunned and grateful. How strange, exciting and miraculous that we can change each other so much, love each other so much through our words and music and our real lives.”
“Life — so beautiful, painful and dazzling.”
While I wish the death experience were so lovely and peaceful for everyone, I know first-hand that it is not. Nonetheless, I am glad it was lovely and peaceful for Lou Reed and that Laurie Anderson was kind enough to share that experience with us. Powerful words and moving sentiment to carry into the weekend.
rollingstone.com

rollingstone.com


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