When Life Hands You Lemons… Be Thankful

Yellow Lemon in the handLike many of you, I’ve had a challenging year. A separation, a divorce, two moves, a sick child. A ‘new’ old house which makes me wish Bob Villa made house calls and I’d won the lottery.

My mother died.

Those of you who know me well see how these events have worn me down to my bones. My symptoms of grief and overwhelm include fatigue, irritability, apathy, anxiety bordering on panic’s edge, and (most concerning to me) difficulty in giving a damn—about anyone and anything that extends beyond my narrow perimeter of home and hearth.

I don’t like the new me.

I need a re-do.

This realization came to me last night (actually early this morning, as my neighbor’s car alarm blared through the dark) that I am a lucky person. A fortunate person. Yes, life’s been hard. Life IS hard. I’ve had my fair share of crap. But it’s all in the framing:

Lemon: I left my home and husband of many, many years. It was hard to move to a rental, deal with the landlord from Hell, make a home, not once but twice, for my kids.

Reframe: This was my choice. I learned a LOT. My kids call me home. I breathe easier, on so many levels.

Lemon: My child’s tick-borne illness. What more to say? Any parent with a sick child worries. And worries. And worries.

Reframe: She graduated from high school a year early, is at a nearby university, and she’s doing… good. She is growing, learning, creating her social family. She wears her new independence well, which is the most I want for my children.

Lemon: My new house, a 1900 row house perched on the edge of Federal Hill Park and the Inner Harbor, is a classic money-pit: new roof, rebuilt chimney, HVAC x 2, failed boiler, water damage. As soon as one thing gets fixed, another takes it’s place.

Reframe: I can afford this home and its repairs. Many do not have homes. Many cannot fix their leaking roofs or rotted floors or failed heating systems. Best of all, my son helps me with the physical and emotional demands of caring for this old house.

Lemon: My mother died.

Reframe: Still struggling with this reframe. I miss my mom, every day, especially around dinner time when we’d have our daily chat. I miss my father, too; their marriage was a model few couples achieve. But I’ve come to believe my anger and regret and ennui is grief, not yet manifested. And that is my challenge—to accept and express grief in my loss.

I’m tired of getting sucked down the vortex of negativity. Again, this has been my choice. my early New Year’s resolution: to face life’s challenges, accept them, and work to fix them, without the accompanying stink of pessimism.

So dear friends, please, when you hear me whining about crazy contractors and home-buying remorse, when I provide excuses about why I am not present in your life or haven’t done what I said I would do, when I remind you more of Eeyore than Winnie, please, please, please, whisper “lemon” in my ear. Ground me to gratitude. Because I have so much to be thankful for if only I remain present to my life.

And I’m happy to reciprocate. Because we sure could use a happier universe.

Happy Thanksgiving. And peace…

In Memory

ef7f00c0b73dafc9ef29c5d977e3c1b6IN MEMORY

What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met ~David Levithan

The day dawns in perfect blue,
shocking canvas of contrast: planes
fly black against far-flung heaven.
Even unbelieving prayer
muttered with quiet breaths
cannot foretell or forestall stains

that gouge ground, splinter sky, stain
steel, scuttle lives, exhale blue.
All implodes in hydraulic breaths
screaming through city and plain:
common words, sacred prayers
lip-synched by animals heaven

sent from hell to create their heaven
marked by a golden crescent—stain
of a singular god and prayer.
Cloaked in polyester blue,
costume of the West, they board planes
inhaling, exhaling, one breath

comingling with all breaths,
lifting as one to make heaven
on earth, to be done, in the plane.
It is foretold, on pages stained
sepia, older than time, blue
ink and red seeping on prayer.

Father, mother, children—pray
ancient songs with soft breaths.
But God cannot hear in this blue
twilight. Sing who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy love stained
by unseen portents. The plane

is a steel-bound casket, the plane
pulses with souls insistent, prey
trembling, flesh and smoke-stained,
metal-wrapped in dragon’s breath.
The meek, the blessed, to heaven
will float ashen to brilliant blue.

Blue sky trailed by white plane flumes
mark a heaven all pray exists;
God’s breath stained by metal and fire.

***

I wrote this sestina over a decade ago, and keep revising and tweaking, yet it remains a mere homage to this day I will never forget. We will never forget. Today, every day, do something positive in honor of all souls who have lost their lives to violence. Peace…

The tragedy of being a mother

rhubarb-pie-ck-630152-xlMother’s Day.

Eh.

A day that stems from commercialism—all those smarmy cards, the overpriced bouquets, the sold-out brunches. Although the sentiment is nice—celebrate our mothers. Celebrate motherhood. Celebrate the often thankless task that comes from being a human with the miraculous ability to procreate.

Here’s my take on motherhood. It’s an honor—a privilege—to care for another human being. My two children are the diamonds that flank my emerald. I would die—and kill—to insure their safety. My task as a mother changes as they age. Their birth entails their feeding and swaddling and changing and burping. By toddler-hood, we give them their first nudges from the nest: bikes with training wheels, kindergarten, play dates. We let them fall, then pick them up and reassure them although life is scary, they will survive.

To those newbie mothers of infants and toddlers, don’t believe anyone who says that children ‘get easier’ once they hit their teens. Yes, there are no dirty diapers and no strollers—teens can feed and clean themselves. But the heart gets involved in unfathomable ways, and your children will break that vessel again and again.

As my heart has broken.

Yet we are lucky, us mothers, because our hearts are as neuroplastic as our brains. Our heartbreaks mend, and sometimes those rents heal to make our hearts–and our relationships with our heartbreakers–ever stronger.

This day, my motherhood rests on a cusp. Both children live with me, both children will move with me to Baltimore. Both children are on the edge of jumping from their nests into college, serious relationships with others, jobs. I am less needed (though, I hope, not less loved).

From the day a child is born, the job of any mother—of any parent—is to move that child to independence. It is a tragedy to be a mother, because just as your child understands you and you understand your child, she is gone, being herself, perhaps being a mother.

So I watch my children from a slightly greater distance than a year ago. A distance that provides objectivity to observe my children as humans, and a distance that also protects my grieving heart.

Today is any other day. I will schlep my youngest child to various places, pick up another from the tire shop. I will grocery shop. I will walk my dog in the rain.

But I will mark this mother thing in one way–I will bake a rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is one thing I love, and that my mother loved (I’ve written about rhubarb and my mom here), and in making that pie I will commemorate myself and my mother for the love and heartache of our jobs.

Peace…

 

Home?

IMG_20190404_132057

My upcoming move to Baltimore overwhelms. There is the usual stress involved in wondering which items to bring, which to pitch, which will need to be purchased anew. There is excitement pondering the future of the garden, what will pop up from the soil, what needs to be pruned out and sawed away. There is the joy–and stress–of change, the excitement of a new palette to make mine. Color wheels and rugs and window coverings to contemplate.

And there is grief. Grief in packing up and leaving a town I’ve lived in for 18 years. The town where I raised both children, and the only town one child has ever known. Lea is filled with sadness; she feels unmoored, no familiar place for her to retreat to: her childhood home, her grandmother’s home, her Nana’s home, even her Aunt Diane’s home—all gone. Which makes me wonder—what is home?

Talking with Lea last night made me realize I also feel unanchored. Rootless. Too much change, especially uncertain change, makes me stressed and irritable. Like my daughter, I have no familiar place to return to, no place to plop my feet up on an ottoman and relax. We humans, like all mammals, have a need to nest. I want to surround myself with familiar comfort and I want that environment to happen instantly in the new house. I want it for my children, and I want it for me.

My mom’s recent death amplifies my sense of homelessness. I will never return to her house for Christmas or Easter. These were the times we traveled to North Carolina (this weekend, now, we should be in the car journeying South), the traffic between DC and Richmond filled with travelers commencing to family and the beach. But there is no family home to travel to, and my children are too old for Easter egg hunts with their cousins. So the grief also is of lost time, past time, of memories that will remain just that—memories.

Meditation helps me understand that home, like my thoughts, exists in past, present, and future. I cannot bring back my former homes except in memory, and I cannot know what my next home will be like next year, week, or day. And each time I find myself worrying and wondering about what home was and what home might be takes me away from what home IS now. This second. And this second.

So I will breathe, accept and let go, and try to embrace my home, whatever and wherever it is, now.

Peace…

POTS and Lyme: Sounds Like a Party

Except it isn’t. lime in a pot 3

In an earlier post, I listed the stressors that keep me from writing, sleeping, sometimes even breathing (because panic rises, a tangible smog, that chokes the space between lungs and throat). The worst is chronic illness. Not my illness, but that of my sweet, smart, talented, creative, and incredible daughter.

Because of her POTS and Lyme (which is often not just one infection but a clusterF*#k of infections), she suffers fatigue so debilitating there are days when her greatest achievement is moving from her upstairs bedroom to the downstairs couch. Her muscles ache. Her brain fogs. She misses school. She misses friends. She misses… a lot.

I could write a book on the impact of illness on her life, but she is the better author of that story. Instead, I will write my story: being a parent to a chronically ill child.

Where to begin?

First, every day is an adventure. I don’t know how to plan my day because my child’s sickness plays a fickle game. Even across the day, fatigue and depression and pain and anxiety ebb and flow. Anxiety is my morning caffeine: is she going to school? Is she going in late? is she going in at all? In turn: am I going to work? Can I go in late? What do I absolutely need to accomplish today? What CAN I accomplish?

Second, helplessness is a new, unwelcome emotion. Friends, you know me–I’m the ‘can do’ girl who works hard to get what I want. Well, I want a healthy, happy, productive daughter. I work hard to make this happen: research, medical appointments, trials of medications and supplements and diets. Not including her primary care physician, she has three physicians. A phlebotomist comes to our home to draw blood for tests. Some symptoms improve, others worsen, new ones pop up.

And there are days when I feel an abject failure because I. Cannot. Fix. Her.

Third, worry thickens my brain. I cannot think. At work, many days I go through the motions. When my head clears, I research her conditions; I have become expert in traditional and alternative treatments for Lyme and POTS. Worry thickens my heart–I am not the friend and colleague and mentor I want to be. I cannot absorb other peoples’ problems, mine overfill my reservoirs. My inability to listen and hear others saddens and frustrates me, and adds to growing guilt I do not give enough. Worry and guilt wake me up too early every morning, and I lie in my bed until the roaring train in my head forces me out.

I write all this not for sympathy but for understanding. Why I am absent. Why I am not proactive in friendships. Why I am so quiet.

I need to do my work, because the only thing I can fix is my reaction to my now. Because I am a ‘can-do’ woman, I need to make sure my oxygen mask is in place so I can be there for both my children, my work and writing, all the people who grace my life. I have a toolbox, with lots of tools, which I have begun to haul out:

  • Exercise: I aim to get over 50,000 steps a week, but that’s not enough; hence, Planet Fitness (I hate to waste money, so I try to go at least once a week). I found a muscle in my upper arm, a real benefit.
  • Meditation: Every day, remember to breathe. Remember to come to my senses.
  • Yoga: Two birds (exercise AND meditation) with one stone.
  • Support: Yeah, I have a therapist. She listens to me vent, helps me strategize. But I need more, so I am looking for someone trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help me achieve radical acceptance of my every moment.
  • Medication: Nope. Don’t do antidepressants any more. But I do supplement my brain with GABA (for anxiety), and 5-HTP and l-theanine (for depression and sleep and brain fog).

I focus on my health so I can function. So I can live a better quality of life. So I can be compassionate to others, especially my daughter. To respond out of love and not fear, always.

Self-help is so important, even when we’re not challenged but larger-than-normal life. Tell me: what are your oxygen-mask facilitators?

Peace…

4 out of 10

stress-4Stress is ubiquitous. These days, perhaps, more than ever. My online friends’ posts have virtual worry lines; my in-the-flesh friends’ uniforms consist of pinched faces and slumped shoulders. Reasons for stress are major and minor, and some wear us down like a river makes a canyon with their constancy. Others are mere annoyances, gnats buzzing in our ears, but these are the stresses that often shoot us over the edge.

There are many ‘top stressor’ lists (when I googled ‘top life stressors’ I got 8.62 million hits), but one decent summary revealed these:

  • death of a loved one
  • separation or divorce
  • getting married
  • starting a new job
  • work place stressors
  • financial problems
  • moving to a new house
  • chronic illness or injury
  • retirement
  • transitioning to adulthood

Since May 1, I’ve been the lucky recipient of 4 of these challenges. Not to mention lots of lesser stressors (e.g., crazy landlord) and those wholly out of my control (e.g., #45 and his mayhem-making minions). No wonder my heart feels like it is pounding out of my chest, sleep is an elusive friend, and I cannot focus on things that typically bring me joy. Like writing.

So here are my bad boys—separation/divorce, work place problems, moving to a new house, and chronic illness. I’ll be writing about each major stressor, how it affects me, and what I’m trying to do to help myself cope, in subsequent posts. But meanwhile… how the heck are you? Which of the above (or add your own) stressful situations are you currently experiencing?

Peace…

 

Why I Marched

March_DC_3024-18_3

Because I am sickened by the violence in our nation.

Because my first reaction going to a theater is: how close am I to an exit?

Because I want to support the future of our world–our young people–who need our help to better their world.

Because last Thursday Jaelynn Willey was taken off life-support after a fellow student shot her with a semi-automatic Glock in Great Mills High School not too far from where I live.

Because I want to be part of the change.

Because violence physically, emotionally, and spiritually kills everyone who is a victim–and everyone who knows a victim.

Because those who commit violence suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Because guns should not be easier to obtain than an animal from a shelter.

Because my daughter asked me to.

Because children can no longer be valued less than the right to bear arms, especially since the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to protect.

Because there are better ways to resolve conflict than violence.

Because people are dying.

Because people are afraid.

Because my daughter is afraid.

Because I am afraid.

Because.

Because.

Because.

 

Free Associations

inline-The-Company-Chaos-You-Dont-Know-Youre-CreatingDriving through Maryland horse country about midnight, spring peepers wailed their song loud enough to drown out Marina and the Diamonds.

Same road, five miles later, a dead fox by the road side, its cub caught in our head beams; my daughter said it was eating its mother, I said it was crying.

Two movies to watch back-to-back: Darkest Hour and Dunkirk.

I hate Hitler.

Number 45 reminds me of Hitler in many ways, though I don’t think 45 is a leader as much as a puppet.

I wonder who really is pulling his strings.

Manipulation comes in so many forms. The most dangerous? Emotional manipulation. A master can blind-side you.

I no longer care about politics in the Ivory Tower. People who play games do so out of insecurity–and fear.

Sometimes I worry about the future, usually at 2 or 3 in the morning. Then I remember–can’t do a damn thing about something that may or may not every happen–and go back to sleep.

Spanakopita tastes better after it’s rested a day.

Phyllo dough is miraculous.

So is Mr. Robot. A freaking brilliant show. I love Rami Malek, those eyes brooding from under his hoody. Scary stuff, though it’s probably not so far from reality as we might hope.

The price for Wellbutrin XL (the brand version) has skyrocketed over the past year to over $1,250 per month. Pharmacist’s tip of the day: switch to Wellbutrin IR (the brand version of immediate release) and you will save $1,000 or more. Pharmacist’s tip of the year: Most of the extended-release generic versions of psychiatric meds are crap. If you have to do generic, go with immediate-release. And if you can, always go with brand.

So there’s a vent. What’s on your mind?

Peace, Linda

Resolutions?

candlesI don’t do resolutions–they’re as ethereal as lit candles on a birthday cake. Or wishes on a shooting star. But I do like the idea of starting anew, which is why I do spend time reflecting on the last year: what worked, what didn’t, what I could have done better.

What did work was listening to others, mostly my kids. Not giving my children my ‘fix’ helped improve our relationships. As my daughter says, “Mom, sometimes I just need to vent, not get therapy.” Sure, sometimes their words hurt, but not taking their stuff personally was the #2 thing I achieved this year. It’s tough having a Velcro exterior that captures anxieties and fears and hurts, then instantly morphs into armor. The third thing that worked was spending time by myself traipsing around Baltimore neighborhoods and checking out independent coffee shops where I could write. Becoming comfy with myself.

What didn’t work was my sloth vibe. Even my doc expressed concern about my sedentary ways. I’ve ordered a standing desk for work, and I’m sure the ‘it’s a new year and a new you’ gym specials will fill my mailbox tomorrow. And I’ve joined the Instant Pot Nation, so healthy, home-cooked meals are a button-push away. What also didn’t work was worrying about work. Work is work, and only work–it’s not me or my life, just a place I go and do what I need to do to get the money to pay the bills. Actually, I love my job, but this past year I let politics and pettiness rule my enjoyment of the people and process. So, yeah, better balance is required.

Lots I could have done better. But why beat myself up? Live and learn, my son says. I think I’ll listen to his wisdom.

How are you greeting the new year?

Peace…

The Loneliest Tree

fir treeOnce, high on a golden hill, lived the littlest fir tree. His older brothers and sisters often sent him special gifts: a spider trailing on a silken thread, milkweed spores drifting on a summer breeze, soft pollen that painted him yellow. These presents made the small fir tree tremble with joy. But when the spider lifted away, the downy milkweed fluttered to the field, and the wind dusted off the pollen, the little fir tree felt lonelier than ever.

In the Spring, a wren chose to nest in the fir tree. Mornings, the baby birds chortled as their mother searched for grubs and worms. One afternoon, as the littlest fir tree and the baby wrens drowsed in the wan sun, the wren squawked loudly, rousting her family from the tree. A man and a boy, both clad in overalls, walked through the orchard, throwing fertilizer around the trees.

“There, there.” The boy tossed pellets under the littlest fir tree’s boughs. “Grow strong and green.” He squinted up at the nest perched in the littlest tree, his Red Sox cap on backwards. His fingers stroked the needles and the tree shivered.

“So soft, papa,” the boy said. “Like a kitten’s tail.”

“Yup,” said the man. “He’s the youngun here – just like you.”

***

That summer, the wind smelled of sweet hay. Buzzing bees filled the air with song. The farmer and his son came to the hill almost every day, watering the trees when the sun withered their needles. The boy panted and groaned as he hauled the full pails up the hill, but he always watered the littlest fir tree. After, he collapsed in the cool shade cast by the fir tree and made up stories about the puffy cloud creatures scudding across the sky.

One morning, the farmer came with a machine that whirred and twirled. The smallest fir tree watched the farmer trim his brothers and sisters into triangle shapes. The other trees danced in the breeze, happy with their new look, but the buzzing tool scared the smallest fir tree.

“This won’t hurt,” the boy said. He didn’t wear a cap, and the sun shone on his shiny head. “See, I don’t have my hair anymore, either.”

And it didn’t, the tool tickled. The fir tree shivered with delight.

***

The leaves of the forest maples flamed red. Shadows stretched long across the meadow. The boy didn’t come to the orchard very often, and when he did, his father often carried him to  the littlest fir tree, and the boy slept in the warm autumn sun.

On the first hard frost, the hill sparkled with diamonds. The man walked the orchard alone, pulling long red and white and yellow ribbons from a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He tied a ribbon on each tree and the ribbons fluttered like flags in the brisk wind. The littlest fir tree wondered what color ribbon the farmer would tie on him. But when the man reached the hilltop, he paused before the littlest tree and sighed a deep sigh, then walked back down the hill.

The sun dropped behind the forest ridge. The fir tree shivered, sending needles to the ground.

***

The first flakes of snow fell. The ground rumbled. Cars and trucks filled the bottom field. Shouts of children filled the air.

“There! This tree!”

“No, this one!”

The children swarmed around the small fir tree, sometimes even saying “This one!”

But the fathers said, “This tree is too puny. Besides, it has no ribbon,” and strode past, saws and axes thrown over their shoulders. The littlest fir tree trembled as his brothers and sisters groaned and fell to the ground.

***

Snow dusted the stump-stubbled hill. Without the protection of his family, the northeast gusted hard and cold, coating the trembling fir tree in ice. The mockingbird trilled as the wagon, pulled by the man, bumped and creaked up the hill. When the man reached the top, he pulled off his wool hat and wiped his sweat-shined forehead. In the wagon, the bundle of blankets moved; the small boy, pale and drawn, poked out his head. He smiled at the littlest tree, but the smile seemed as big an effort as lugging pails of water.

“This one?” the man asked the boy. “You’re sure?”

The little boy nodded and closed his eyes. The man gazed at the boy for a long moment, then turned away, a tear frozen on his cheek.

The fir tree looked down the hill at the stumps of his family one last time. Then he pulled his limbs tight and waited for the ax’s blow. But the man plunged a shovel into the frozen earth. He chipped a circle, deeper and deeper, around the tree, loosening the dirt around the fir tree’s roots.

The man pulled the tree tight to his chest; more than anything, the littlest tree wanted to stay in his embrace. But the man tugged hard, yanking the tree from the cold ground. The boy clapped his hands, his laugh sounded like birdsong.

“Your little tree will grow strong in the front yard,” the man said. “There, we can see him from the kitchen.”

“And I can visit him in the spring?” the boy whispered.

“Yes.” The man wiped at his shiny cheek. “Yes, you can.”

The man wrapped the trembling tree in burlap and nestled him in the wagon beside the boy. The boy snuggled into the littlest fir tree all the way down the hill and across the bumpy field. When the wagon stopped, the farmer unfurled the littlest fir tree from the cloth and propped him in a large hole. Shovels of dirt and snow covered his roots. The boy clambered from the wagon, falling twice in the deep snow. When he hugged the littlest fir tree, icicles tinkled to the ground.

***

I wish you health

I wish you joy

I wish you peace…