Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monthly Love Letter, The... Where Was I?

Herself speaks:

My Beloved,

I have been negligent in writing my periodic letters to you. I am sorry.

It is hard, knowing that you do not have time to read the Blog, and that weeks, or even months, go by in between your visits here. 

I try as hard as I can.  I can only hope that my daily efforts are sufficient to remind you of my unwavering faith in you.

I am thinking of you. 

Now and always,

Friday, May 27, 2011

Epiphany: A Wall of Muffins

I wrote a bit about this topic in “Loneliness and the Gallbladder of Doom” over a year and a half ago.  Herself has spent some time of late ruminating on the subject, though, and has elaborated the story so that you may more fully comprehend the import of what transpired.  Why?  She says that to understand the moment described therein, is to understand Herself. 

Herself speaks:
One Friday morning in November of 2007, I huddled wretchedly at the edge of an exam table while a surgeon reviewed the results of an ultraound of my gallbladder.  When he entered the room, the first words out of his mouth were not, "Hello, I'm Dr. So-and-so," but rather, "How did your gallbladder get SO BAD?"  And bad it was.  I was scheduled for surgery at 5 PM that afternoon.

I went home to ensure that we had everything we needed for the Offspring and the pets, and to gather a few personal items to take to the hospital. I called my parents (who were thousands of miles away) and my mother-in-law (who was caring for my young niece and nephew) to let them know.  I e-mailed my telecommuting office to inform them I’d be out for a couple of days.  Finally, I telephoned my Beloved at work and provided him the schedule for fetching the Offspring after school.  There was no one else who could do so.

It was a complicated routine that year, with one in high school, one in middle school, and one still in grade school.  Release times were at half-hour intervals, and the last pickup was not until 4:15.  I mentally ran through the plan and determined that by the time my Beloved gathered them all and settled them in at home to look after themselves for a few hours, it would be unlikely that he would get to the hospital until quite close to 5 PM – and possibly not until after.

I took myself to the hospital at 3 PM as required.  Except for occasional brief ministrations by the pre-op staff, I had only my thoughts and the pain from my gallbladder for company.  The minutes crawled by as I watched the clock. 

Middle school gets out first.  Right now, my Beloved is probably picking up Offspring the second.  I opened my book, but I had too much discomfort to concentrate on reading.  No one was there to distract me with conversation, to agree that yes, IVs are yucky, or to poke fun at the traditionally dreadful hospital gown with me. 

Offspring the third, who will be most surprised and disturbed by the change in routine today, is getting out of school now.  I fiddled with my iPod, but the music was not helpful.  There were no reassurances that it would all be fine, that I would feel much better soon, or that another set of surgical scars did not matter.  

Finally, the high school bell is ringing, and Offspring the first will be walking to her pick-up spot.  Nobody to tell me that no, it was not likely that I’d wake up in the middle of the anesthesia, but yes, it was quite likely that I would in fact wake up without incident when it was all over.

Did the pickups go smoothly?  Are they all at home now?  Are the Offspring worried?  Will my Beloved make sure that they all know what to have for dinner?  Is he on his way here?  There was no hand to hold.  

The surgeon arrived at 4:45 and asked whether there was anyone to whom he should speak before we got started.  I could tell him only that my husband was on his way but was not there yet.  He rolled his eyes ever so slightly, I thought.  I did not want to annoy or inconvenience him or the staff by any delay, and I did not know exactly where my Beloved was en route, so I assured the surgeon that we did not need to wait for my husband.  He excused himself to scrub.  I watched the doorway.

At 4:55, I handed my glasses to the pre-op nurse at her request and as nonchalantly as possible asked her to say hello to my husband for me when he arrived.  Promptly at 5 PM, the OR technician appeared and asked, “Ready to go?”   He released the brake on the gurney and positioned it to be wheeled down the hall. 

As I had suspected but had fiercely hoped would not happen, I would have to go into this surgery without any goodbye.  My Beloved was not there.  The medical personnel were all strangers.  There was no one there to console me.  I was alone.

I tried to convince myself that I was fine, to remind myself that this was not a life-or-death situation, to tell myself that I was brave and strong and merely wanted - but did not need – someone familiar to be there with me.  Half-formed thoughts scattered as an icicle of despair blossomed within my core and swiftly enveloped me entirely.  I was too stricken for tears to flow; they seemed to freeze into the corners of my eyes.  I could find no words to help myself.  I was bereft. Without hope.  Lost.

The anesthesiologist accompanying my gurney down the hall noticed my distress.  In his infinite mercy, he said kindly, “Let me give you something to help you relax.”  He pushed a needle into my IV, and I remembered nothing more until I woke up in post-op.  

The horror of being so alone still haunts me.


Reflecting afterwards, I had to acknowledge that responsibility for those terrible moments rested solely on my shoulders.  I had deliberately avoided becoming close to other people besides my Beloved, and had reaped what I had sown – a terrible isolation at the moment when I most needed a companion.  I had to take steps to try to ensure that I would not face such a situation again.  I had to find some friends. 

I therefore crawled out of my shell and began tentative efforts at establishing friendships.  It was quite tricky at first.  My difficulties with reading other people and understanding their motivations generated occasional frustrating and uncomfortable moments.  Awkwardness.  Insecurity.  Mental fatigue.  It was so hard. Nevertheless, I persevered.  I was motivated for the first time to try to build the types of human bonds that I had essentially shunned for over a decade. 

The Universe must have recognized my Herculean efforts, for it smiled upon me and delivered to me a very small handful of exquisitely wonderful people who have become my friends. 

Now, while there is still a chance that I may face some terrible future moment alone, that possibility does not frighten me as much as it once did.  I have had joy in the company of my friends that serves both as counterbalance against isolation, and also as warmth when the chill of despair threatens to take root.  I have confidence that if I have the courage to call upon my friends in a time of need, that they will be there for me.  This is miraculous to me.

It is a remarkable happiness to have these friends.  They have taught me so much about themselves, about myself, and about humanity in general.  Because of them, I have learned that there are much larger things at stake, far beyond and much more important than my own tiny crisis on the way to the OR over three years ago.  

I understand now:  that horrific loneliness can happen to any of us. 

Yet I know now too: I can make a difference. 

I try my very hardest to be readily available to these people who are so important to me.  I try to keep an eye on them; I try to look after their well-being.  The minutiae of daily life are at times just as wearying as sudden larger difficulties, and I want my friends to know that regardless of whether things are big or small, I am here for them, and it is my pleasure to help in any way that I can.  They are not alone.

On each occasion that I interact with my friends, and with every small service that I am able to perform for them, I feel as though I am warding off the beast of loneliness -- not only for myself, but for them as well.  I am building a protective wall of baked goods around my friends, one muffin at a time.  And that bulwark shelters me, too. 

If I can prevent even one of them from ever feeling as alone as I felt in my moment of despair, then my time on this planet has been well served.  This is my wish, and this my prayer.  


Thursday, May 26, 2011

They live!

Day four -- Sunday being day zero -- after planting, and all of the flowers are still alive.  Huzzah!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joys of Biology

(Those squeamish about girl things should look away now.)

Dialog, overheard:

Ovaries (enthusiastically):  Look, here's an egg, go make a baby!

Everything else (ruefully):  So sorry, but ever since the hysterectomy, there's nowhere to put a fetus.

Ovaries (petulantly):  Oh, OUR BAD.  :: sulking sullenly in pelvis ::

Everything else (consolingly): Don't fret, there's always PMS - we can be simultaneously weepy and hostile!

Ovaries (warming to the idea):   It'll be a challenge to everyone around us - we'll need to be hugged yet no one will want to be anywhere near us!

Everything else (encouragingly):  Indubitably!

Ovaries (with longing): Can we overeat, too?

Everything else (gleefully):  Of course!

:: tromping off to kitchen ::

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Aloe Vera

Ah, Spring!  Let's enjoy the fresh air and assess the yard.  Sadly, many of the shrubs did not survive the record-breaking cold spell this winter.  Now that the weather is lovely, it is time to take stock, remove the deceased foliage, and install new plant life.

Herself is notoriously unsuccessful at caring for plants.  They seem to wilt almost immediately upon sensing her presence, and no amount of tender loving care, or even blatant inattention, can prolong their inevitable demise.  Her sole vegetal achievement, a large and proud aloe vera that was many years old, was one of the saddest losses during the freeze.

This year, though, she feels optimistic.  She and her Beloved purchased flowers, tomato plants, and a few herbs, and Herself carefully ensconced them in the pots in the front yard.  We will see what transpires.  Think good thoughts for our green and leafy friends!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Deja Vu

Herself has been so thoroughly out of sorts lately that people are beginning to look at her askance.  Although she is still quite volatile, this morning I think it may be safe to say that the worst has passed.  Hopefully she will regain her equilibrium soon.

She has been here before.  She will get through.  In the meanwhile, though, she is grateful for your patience.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fly Away

I dream
Of flying away

I will alight and unfold
In the afterlight of the desert

I will feel the silence
And listen to the stars

I will be unfettered
And there will be peace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Without delving into detail, I'll simply say that Herself was having A Very Bad Day yesterday.  Nothing particularly dramatic, terrible or untoward had occurred; it was just the blunt beaks of a million metaphorical ducks pecking at her.  The squashing of her shoulder in taekwondo class was the very last straw, and it pushed her far beyond the typical CrankyPants.  Anger, frustration, and sadness were all knit into one unified Garment of Despair. 

And her friends came to her rescue. Her pea-in-a-pod friend, as well as the pea-in-a-pod's spouse and youngest child, were there for her.  Her cherished friend was there for her.  And she felt better.

She is still sometimes surprised by her friends.  Somehow, they know exactly what to do to help her.  How do they know?  She does not know.

She is even more surprised that they do help her.  Not surprised that they help - for they are truly magnanimous people - but rather, surprised that they help her.  What has she ever done to deserve the graces and kindnesses they bestow on her?  She does not know. 

There aren't enough words in the Universe to explain how grateful she is that they care.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I was contemplating about what I should write, when a picture on my dresser inspired me to tell you a bit about some of the various pets we have had over the years.  Today, I present:  Tobby.

Tobby was not the first guinea pig to grace the household.  He was one of many successive cavies:  Beach Boy, Harry Potter, Skittles, Rupert, Tobby, James and Moose have all graced us with their presence, in various combinations at differing times. Tobby, however, was unique, even among guinea pigs. 

Tobby came to us from an Arizona guinea pig rescue, who had cared for him since his birth a year before because of his special physical and medical needs.  Tobby was a lethal white, a genetic mutation from the crossing of two Roan parents.  The constellation of defects varies for each lethal white; Tobby was micropthalmic, blind, and deaf, and later had digestive issues that required medication three times daily.  He also had issues with his mouth when he was older due to deformed teeth and elongated roots.  Despite his problems, he lived far longer than expected for a lethal white - several years, in fact.  We were lucky.

Tobby had glorious long fur.  It was coarse, thick, straight and completely white, and would fan out around him as he tromped through his habitat.  He looked a bit like a dustmop.  We would occasionally have to trim the fur around his nether regions to help him maintain good hygiene.  He tolerated his haircuts with dignity.

One might have expected a blind and deaf creature to be skittish.  Not so.  Tobby ruled the guinea pig habitat, clearly dominating Rupert, his aged companion, and making numerous attempts to befriend Harry Potter as well.  He mastered the ramp to the second floor of his habitat quite easily, and would scuttle up and down, his fur flowing in the tiny breeze generated by his movements. 

Tobby liked his vegetables just as much as any other guinea pig.  Oddly, though, he would eschew the pink juicy bits of the watermelon, choosing to consume only the rind.

We trained Tobby to be aware of our presence with the help of scent.  We kept a small jar of cloves on the top of his habitat.  If we needed to handle Tobby, we would first wave the cloves before him.  Once he paused to sniff the air, indicating that he had smelled the cloves, we would then pick him up. It worked quite well and helped keep him from panicking at an unexpected touch.

 Since neither noise nor unusual motions in the environment would bother him in the least, Tobby would go about his guinea pig business regardless of any hubbub in the household. When he would settle down to sleep, he had the amusing habit of flattening himself significantly.  One moment, he would be standing up; the next, he would yawn and then pancake himself on a blanket.  Only then would we realize how very small he truly was.

Occasionally extended family members would poke fun at Herself for adopting such an obviously deficient, malformed and needy pet.  We did not listen, though, for Tobby taught everyone valuable lessons in patience, gentleness, and caring.  We were blessed with the warmth of good karma to be able to provide a comfortable life for this tiny and most humble creature among us. In exchange, Tobby exuded a sense of wisdom and serenity far beyond what one would expect from such a diminutive cavy.  His very presence was soothing.  He was a good boy indeed.

He has been gone for a few years now, but he will never be forgotten.  Rest in peace, Tobby.

Monday, May 16, 2011

On the Ivy

This post was originally published May 12; due to issues with Blogger, it was deleted, necessitating its reposting.  There may be slight differences from the original, as the final draft was not saved by Blogger. My apologies.  Without further ado: 

Herself and I were recently reading a column in SalonCary Tennis, a marvelous writer with sage advice, presented a letter from an individual who despaired at not having gone to an Ivy League School.  The individual felt that only Ivy Leaguers are truly happy people, and envied them their interesting jobs, their fabulous friends, their extensive travels, their wit, money, confidence, and their certain je-ne-sais-quoi that he felt could be attributed to their Ivy League educations.  The individual longed to be friends with the Ivy Leaguers, wanted other people to find him intelligent, and feared automatic dismissal when others found out he did not attend an Ivy League school.

Herself was struck quite deeply by the letter, and found Cary's advice to be both sound and poetic.  Although she could not possibly contribute any substance to Cary's response, she nevertheless has asked permission to use the blog to offer herein her own viewpoint on the long-term impact of an Ivy League education.

She writes:

I have an Ivy-League education – both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded to me based upon my education.  Nevertheless, in the more than two decades since I received my first diploma in front of an ivy-covered building, one thing has become abundantly clear:  an Ivy-League education is not a panacea for the ordinary ails of the human condition.  

I work hard.  My Beloved works extremely hard.  Some months, we have just scraped by.  Some days, our jobs are satisfying; other times, they fill us with despair, and we lie in bed at night talking wistfully about what we would do if we won the lottery.   We do occasionally travel – but by camper-trailer in the US, not all over the world, and we stay in trailer parks along with all the other RV campers.   Those are some of our happiest times. 

There are days when I am eaten with self-doubt.  Have I made the right choices?  Should I have done things differently?  The “what-ifs” are just as present in my mind as they are in the minds of any other person.  The secret of life is just as much a mystery to me as well. 

I do have fabulous friends.  I have two absolutely marvelous friends who are balm to my soul.  One attended a state school, and the other attended a college whose name I had never heard before we met. Their alma maters are of no import in my relationships with them.  They are intelligent and caring, and they provide more thought-provoking conversation over a quiet lunch than I ever had in the dorms at my ivy-clad institution.  

And my Offspring:  it is assumed by everyone that the Offspring will attend the same college as my Beloved and I did.  “They are legacies, they will be assured admission,” people say.  Not so.  Given the varied academic performances of my Offspring, it is not necessarily likely that any of them will attend any Ivy League school.  That does not matter, I tell them.  I want them to find the college where they can pursue what they love, where they can grow and be happy.  Will they be “average” without the brand-name diploma?   They are tenderhearted, kind, good and wise, even in their youth.  To me, that makes them extraordinary already.  

It is always hard to know how to tell people where I went to college.  Assumptions are made based on the school’s name alone:  I must be wealthy, erudite,  snooty; a privileged member of a secret glowing society.   Reality is, I am boringly, bluntly, clumsily human.  I awkwardly make small talk with the person in front of me in line at the Post Office.  I debate whether to purchase my favorite fruit off-season, even though my mouth waters for it, because  it is so much more expensive.  I understand so little about so many things.  I yearn for more, even as I try to be content with what I have.

I hope that someday, the letter-writer will come to understand that most Ivy League graduates are no different from himself:  we all, as human beings, try, fail, and try again, every day.  The origin of that diploma does not alter the basic human quest for knowledge, for experience, for happiness, and for connection with other people.  I hope he finds the contentment that has eluded him - and I hope he writes again to tell us all so.  That would be a joyful story indeed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Resolution, Setback

This past New Year's Eve, Herself made several resolutions.  Self-improvement goals!  So quickly they fall by the wayside.  One, however, she has kept to date:  she resolved not to step on the scale for an entire year.

Like many women, Herself has a complex relationship with food.  Eating serves not only as a survival mechanism, but also as a consolation, as stress relief, as a pleasure. Complicating matters are the many foods which trigger headache or migraine; preparing an appropriate, non-toxic, non-fattening, and satisfying meal is quite tricky at times. Yet her weight, her body image, and her self-confidence are all intertwined and must be balanced against her eating habits.  This year, she decided to focus on eating more nutritious food, exercising regularly, and assessing herself based on how she feels and looks rather than the number on the scale.  She tries to eat well and to work out; she occasionally lapses, but consistently picks up and tries again.  So far, so good.

There are many times she has been tempted -- particularly when she is feeling self-conscious -- to just step on the scale, to verify the number, to see whether she is within her mental "acceptable" range or in the "unacceptable" range.  (Sadly, there is the slimmest of margins between the two ranges.)  She knows that this is the precise thinking that she is trying to counteract by NOT weighing herself, however, and so she has abstained from doing so.  She even consciously averted her eyes from the scale during any doctor's appointments, so as to keep her resolution.

And now, a single off-the-cuff comment has nearly defeated her.

Thursday morning, the Physician's Assistant breezed into the dreary little examination room, apologizing brusquely for the wait, and reviewed the salient points of the routine visit  in her grating voice.  She flipped casually backwards and forwards through the chart, looking at a year ago - "down seven pounds from the year before", to the current information - "up six", and then discussed the thyroid hormone levels that were the purpose of the visit. 

Fortunately, all relevant lab results were acceptable, so Herself could tune out the Physician's Assistant as she vocalized the writing out of the standard prescription and filled out the paperwork.  Herself instead fretted internally:  UP six? What was it last year?  Was that when she was borderline too thin (down seven?) when recuperating from surgery? No, that was months later.  Does she remember how much was it then - and can she calculate how much it is now?  Is the number now in the "unacceptable" zone?  Was that why her jeans seemed a hair tight yesterday, or was it because they were fresh out of the dryer?  Why is it she thinks she can get away with poor eating habits and not show the consequences?  Why is she not working harder to work out more faithfully?  How does she really look?  She berates herself for lacking the willpower to eat better, for being too lazy to exercise more. 

She sighs, and her self-esteem sits dejectedly in the corner, longing for a cookie.

So frustrating.  Although she dutifully kept her New Year's resolution, the casual comment by the Physician's Assistant has metaphorically put her back on the scale, where she unhappily imagines a number she does not like.  The battle to find the right mindset, to try harder, and to redraw her self-confidence, begins all over again. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


The telephone rang.  "Hello?"  It was the doctor's office.  "I'm calling with the results of your mammogram."

At that precise moment, the dogs commenced barking at a passer-by outside of the house.  Herself had to move to another room and shut the door to hear properly.  An interminable ten seconds, during which Herself could speculate regarding why she was unusually receiving a phone call instead of the standard "all's well" postcard in the mail.  A world of possibilities, none of them good.


"Everything's normal."

Phew.  Next time, please just send the postcard? Thanks everso.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I am dreaming about a log cabin in the wilderness.  There, I will sit and write, in solitude and in peace.  It will be marvelous.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

When the Offspring were tiny, Mother's Day was a festival of carefully arranged arts-and-crafts:  tiny painted handprints on innumerable items; lovingly scrawled, misspelled missives on construction paper. It sometimes included strange attempts at making breakfast and always encompassed crushing hugs by surprisingly strong little arms.  There were Mother's Day songs at preschool and grade school assemblies, where all the moms in the audience, Herself included, would smile through their fatigue and alternately be moved and secretly annoyed by both the off-key warblings and the cries of the youngest infants.   

Not that long ago, Herself was deep in the trenches of nursing, diapers, tantrums, and innumerable plastic toys.  Then, as now, the constant balancing act of work and home was frequently frustrating, and sometimes numbing.  So difficult to keep everyone satisfied, happy and peaceful. It seemed there was hardly a moment's rest.  The days crawled, and the years flew.

As the Offspring have grown, the physical demands of Motherhood have lessened proportionately to the increase in emotional demands.  Though Herself need no longer carry limp and exhausted children up the stairs to bed, or tuck a flailing and screeching toddler under her arm as she calmly hurries through a public arena, there are nevertheless equally exhausting moments with teen and pre-teen Offspring.  No mother of a newborn imagines that in the blink of an eye she will be listening to teenage angst, counseling regarding cruelty of classmates, providing information about navigating the treacherous waters of young love, or describing the mysteries of human biology and reproduction.    

And throughout it all, there are emergency school supplies to procure, a million cupcakes to bake, feverish foreheads to moisten and millions of tears to dry.

Motherhood has been hard: Herself is eternally challenged.  She tries. She fails.  She tries again.  She makes mistakes, and attempts her hardest to rectify them.  She rejoices and despairs. Her name has so often been lost behind the epithet of "Mom," that she has felt in danger of losing herself - living solely in relation to the Offspring as a mother, rather than existing in her own right as an individual.  Yet in those moments, she looks at her Offspring, and her heart is full.  She cannot imagine her life any other way. 

Thank you, Offspring, for helping to make Herself into the person she is today.   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Breathe Me

Breathe Me

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
I'm needy
Warm me up
And breathe me

- Sia

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Shhh, the baby's sleeping

Although we were all skeptical about having such a wee little dog, the latest addition to the family has turned out to be quite an enjoyable pet.  She is fiesty, sweet, and entertaining, and she travels very well.  She particularly likes sleeping wedged behind someone's neck while in the car.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

That Went Fine. Sort Of.

Herself trudged dutifully off to her mammogram appointment this morning.  The mammogram itself does not bother her.  Yes, it's a wee bit uncomfortable to have her tender parts squashed, but it's certainly nothing particularly troublesome.  She is at low risk for any kind of breast cancer, and so she does not worry about the outcome, either.  Not a big deal at all.

This year, because the facility she has used in previous years was booked far into the summer, Herself visited a different location for her mammogram - one of the local hospitals.  It was an ordinary hospital, with the usual warren of echoing hallways, cool and darkened rooms with mysterious medical machinery, and the scent of cleaning supplies. There was the traditional paperwork with blank-faced, impassive registration personnel; the paper bracelet with her information upon it; the small wistful waiting room with aged magazines and frayed pink-edged posters upon the walls; and the busy, formal, and efficient technician.  She was in and out of the facility within half an hour.

It wasn't until she got into her car afterwards that Herself realized she was breathing far too quickly for such an ordinary, uneventful occasion. 

Herself has a history of various medical issues, several of which have required surgical intervention and other invasive procedures.  She has always been quite stoic and has plowed through what has needed to be done with as little fuss as possible. Herself knows that she is currently mercifully relatively healthy, and is grateful to be so; nevertheless, she carries buried within her the memories of past events, and today her presence in a hospital, even for just a routine matter, triggered a recollection of the helplessness, pain, fear and desperate loneliness that accompanied so many other hospital visits.  Terrible.

She wishes she could have just a few moments, sheltered in the arms of someone who loves her, to safely let those memories and emotions surface and dissipate.  But she is a grownup, and there is no time for such neediness.  She has work to do, a house to clean, bills to pay and Offspring and a husband to care for.  It is, as always, time to man up and do what needs to be done. 

And so she shall.


Breasts: who doesn't love them?  They are functional.  They are decorative.  They are pleasant to behold. They have so many nicknames - some cute, some clever, some ever-so-slightly vulgar.  I'm rather partial to the terms "boobies" and "ta-tas," as well as to the singular reference of "rack".  Whatever they may be called, these body parts -- like so many other body parts -- require periodic attention. 

Yes, it's that time of year again.  Whether you have breasts yourself, or love someone who has breasts, remember that regular screening is critical to early detection of problems. Make sure that appointment for a mammogram is made.