Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Essentials

Before my daughter gave birth in March to Mabel, I accompanied her to Buy Buy Baby. Out of the newborn business since 1994, it was like stepping off the plane into a foreign country where the language, customs, and terrain were something hinted at in a book I once read but which now only vaguely resembled what I recalled.

I wandered the aisles of that baby megastore in amazement.  A humidifier in the shape of an elephant that blew a cool mist from its trunk, strollers in every shape and size (with a price point equal to the down payment we put on our last car), a warmer for baby wipes, diaper bags with a built-in changing pad, a motorized hammock that played music to lull bambino to sleep, a breathing monitor to clip on to the baby's diaper, a camera that mounts to the crib to watch the baby sleep.

I found myself saying, "I don't think you need that" over and over.  Me, the expert on baby essentials - a product of the 50s before even the most basic car seat had been invented.  While this seems ludicrous and dangerous now (because it was), most homes only had one car that Dad drove to work.  When Mom was home with the kids, Mom was home with the kids.  On those rare occasions when she did finally get to go out she made sure to leave her offspring at home with their father, and while he stood at his workbench in the garage organizing screws and washers into baby food jars, his kids kept busy by shoving things into outlets until they shocked themselves.

Things had changed drastically by the time my firstborn came along which, like me, amazed my mother.  Disposable diapers?  A box of wipes just for cleaning the baby after a diaper change?  A listening device to put in the baby's room so you can hear her while in another room?  What was this? The Jetsons?

In the work of bringing up baby things change fast, and I bet my daughter will feel whip-sawed by the available new breed of baby products in a few short years.  Despite the pressure and heavy marketing, most of the extras - used for a few months over a few years - will be sold for pennies on the dollar at the neighborhood garage sale.  Just as thrilling as it was to unpack the newest gadget to try out on baby, it is just as thrilling to unload it from the basement or garage.

And while all of those things make raising a baby easier the essentials are -

  • A wildly optimistic sense of adventure and humor
  • The ability to roll with the unpredictable
  • A standing agreement with your spouse that being on time for anything ever again is a ridiculous endeavor
  • The steadfast belief that you and your baby (even on your most challenging days) will grow alongside of each other in every way

Everything else ~ like wisdom ~ will get passed on.


Me:  You need to take a long nap this afternoon because Grandma was up too late last night watching videos on YouTube.


Me:  We'll nap together, bambino!


Me:  Mabel, are you listening?


Me:  Listen, kiddo, I promise you that your activity chair will still be there when we wake up from our, you know, nap.

Mabel:  *big smile*

Me:  Oh geez, Mae, let's skip the nap.  That thing does look pretty fun so I'll just keep staring at you until your mom gets home and thank all the baby stars in the sky that I get to watch you grow.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Hot Zone

Two years ago Mark and I took a road trip to Montana.  He was attending a meeting in Hamilton, where nestled in a small town in the Bitterroot Valley is the Rocky Mountain Laboratories.  Highly secure from the general public, it is where diseases, like salmonella, anti-resistant bacterial infections, MRSA, and Lyme are studied. Included in the research done at that facility is bio-terror threats.

Every night there were social events with the conference attendees and their significant others and we met scientists from all over the world.  On the patio of a French restaurant we ate dinner with a Canadian researcher whose team regularly travels back and forth to small African villages to collect samples when there is an outbreak of the Ebola virus.

After the conference was over we began to make our way north to Glacier National Park.  Our first stop was Missoula.  Maybe it was our inner cowboy/cowgirl bubbling to the surface, but it didn't take us long to start imagining ourselves living there one day.  With a farmer's market and summer fair in full swing that Saturday morning, we were smitten.  We parked the car and started hunting for a place to eat breakfast. When we stopped to look at the menu posted in the window of a coffee shop, a guy sitting at a table on the patio said, "If you're looking for the best breakfast in town you've arrived at the right place."  We stayed and he was right.

When we finished eating we wandered into the shops and art galleries and bookstores.  We wanted to stay longer but we had many miles to cover to make it to Glacier by dinnertime and so we headed back to where our car was parked.

A few blocks from the main drag we stood at an intersection waiting for the light to change and I noticed a guy (not much older than high school) standing on the other side of the street waiting to cross.  It looked like he was wearing a uniform and I assumed he was a security guard on his way to work.  When the light changed and we got closer we saw much more - a gun holstered on each hip and the brown uniform of a neo-Nazi.  Mark and I said nothing and walked quickly to the car where we locked the doors and looked at each other with a holy-shit-was-that-what-I-think-it-was-and-where-was-he-going look.

Amid the memories of that trip with its breathtaking landscape and the dozens of scientists committed to eradicating or preventing deadly infectious diseases, was the lone figure of that kid we passed who was no older than my own son.  In beauty and dedication the former should far outweigh the latter and most of the time it does. Sometimes, though, I go back to that crosswalk in Missoula and wonder how somebody gets up in the morning, puts on a uniform associated with Hitler, straps a gun onto each hip and heads towards the Saturday morning farmer's market.

How hard the good and the holy in this world have to work day after day to atone for the destructive.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Old Guard

About this time last year we got a save-the-date card for a wedding the following May.  I had no idea who these people were.  There was no return address and only the first names of the couple were on the postcard.  I showed it to Mark and together we studied it for a good long while.  "I got nothing on this one," he said.  It took some digging and with the help of one of Mark's coworkers (who got the same card and was equally perplexed) we found it was the grandson of someone Mark has worked with for years.

The grandson Have we ever met this kid?

This spring the wedding invite came and I balked.  To be present to celebrate the nuptials of two people we didn't know seemed crazy to me.  Mark disagreed.  "This is important to Allen and his family and we should be there." I balked some more.  "You do know we have to get a gift, right?  We have to buy a wedding gift." Mark dug his heels in and since he rarely does that I mailed back the response card saying we would be more than happy to attend.

There we found ourselves with a table full of strangers in one of the loveliest event spaces in Kansas City.  We mingled and said our hellos to Allen and his wife.  Mark's previous boss and his wife, now retired, were there and when he saw his former roofer turned assistant professor hire from 24 years ago he said to me  "Shouldn't your old man be out fixing somebody's roof this summer?"

The food was fabulous, the bride and groom young, gorgeous, happy, and clearly crazy in love.  "What's your connection to the bride and groom?" was the round robin question around our table.  "Actually we don't know either of them but Mark works with his grandfather," I said, and then added, "but they sure seem adorable." If nothing else you can plop Mark and I in with a table of strangers and we can yak our way through the awkwardness.  We got up and danced when Stevie Wonder started playing, ate too many M & Ms off the candy table and had a great time.  Allen thanked us twice for coming and his kind eyes have always conveyed far more than he says.  Before he left, Mark's old boss stopped by our table and asked where Mark had gone off to.  "The bathroom I think."

"And he left you here alone?  That shithead."

These two are but a host of many key players in the early years of Mark's career and our first resources in navigating a new life in Kansas City.  They are brilliant, funny (oh so funny), still crazy about their spouses and their kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades, and proud of their contributions to science.

A few weeks later Allen retired and there was a party in his honor.  We have been to a few of these and often they have a funeral feel to them.  Mark put an end to that when he did a power point presentation that was hilarious and the highlight of the night.  I got a glimpse of the energy he brings to his workplace on a daily basis.

We were one of the last ones to leave the party which gave us a chance to talk to the grandson whose wedding we had just been to a few weeks earlier.  It was apparent how much he admires his grandfather and how much he resembles him in mannerisms and quiet strength.

With Allen retiring the old guard that has shepherded my husband through the trials, tribulations, and politics of a career in academia are mostly gone now.  Though it hardly seems possible Mark is now the old guard and I see in him some of the same traits as his mentors - brilliant, funny, crazy about his spouse and kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades and proud of his own contributions to science.

It has taken me this long to recognize that Mark believes that showing up on a Saturday night is part of his job, and that being present for the personal celebrations of the people who put their faith in him is dotted with fondness, gratitude and respect.  I will pick out a party dress, buy a gift for the young and darling who are madly in love, splash on some perfume, and stop complaining.

And I will remember to glance over my shoulder now and then to take note that his career has been paved with the gold of friendship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ordinary Summer Days

                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so slow**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat go so fast**
                                               ** Motor boat motor boat step on the gas**

In the summer when the kids were little I took them to the public pool every afternoon.  If the day's forecast was hot and sunny (but hot and overcast was never a deal breaker) I'd plow through the housework and laundry at a breakneck speed.  My wee ones would would scurry around picking up their toys under the threat of "We're not going to the pool unless you do your chores."

Who was I kidding?  The pool was as much for me as it was for them.  One time I ran into another mom who said her kids would just as soon not go to the pool and I thought "Not go to the pool?  Then what in the world are you supposed to do with them every day?"

It seemed that just when one Fisher kid graduated from the toddler pool to the main pool another pregnancy would send me and the newest bambino back a grade.  I learned from another mom that freedom for the older kid would come only after finding and buying the brightest colored swimsuit so that you could easily spot them from the confines of the baby pool.  When I was pregnant with Mallory, I befriended another pregnant mom that summer - her with baby #4 on the way to my #3.  Every afternoon we'd talk while entertaining our toddlers while simultaneously telling our older kids "No you absolutely can not have anything from the snack bar and didn't we talk about this before we left."  I wondered if she'd had her baby when a few days had gone by without seeing her.  A week later she was back with her newborn in a stroller parked in the shade.  By the end of July I'd follow her to labor and delivery and by early August my baby was parked next to hers. After that summer I never saw her again until twenty years later when I ran into her at a restaurant. "You probably don't remember me," she said.  "We were friends one summer at the pool."  Who forgets who they shared the foxhole of a summer pregnancy with?

Through those summers I bounced my babies in their floppy hats up and down in the water, held onto chubby toddler fingers saying "kick kick kick" while they proudly wiggled their legs back and forth, caught kids jumping off the side into my arms, heard "Mom watch this" a thousand times, tossed quarters from the side so they could dive for them, was Marco to their Polo, grabbed them when they came up choking on water, and played Motor Boat - twirling them round and round, faster and faster, until they motor boated right out of my hands.

"Again," they'd say over and over.

When it was time to leave we'd pack up our wet towels, sunscreen, and empty baggies of goldfish and drive home in a stifling hot car - bloodshot eyes and a trail of chlorine wafting behind us.  Exhausted from the sun and swimming, the three of them would flop on the floor and watch cartoons - too tired to argue over whose turn it was to pick.

Sometimes we'd go twice in one day - our standing afternoon date and then again after dinner when their dad could come along. He would play monster or dinosaur, chasing them, grabbing a hold of them and flinging them in the air. "Not so high," I would say. "Higher," they'd say and he could motor boat those slippery, little, squealing kids right into the deep end.  Swimming their way back to him they'd tap him and say, "Do it again, Dad."

One by one they peeled away from me and our trips to the pool  What kid in middle school wants to be seen anywhere with their mom and siblings?  My daily appointment with three kids got reduced to two and then one until eventually we stopped going all together.  You would think such a momentous occasion as the last trip to our favorite summertime place would be something I remembered but I don't.  The end came like many ends do - quietly and without a proper farewell.

I went back once more - by myself this time to the adult pool where the grass wasn't nearly as green as I had been led to believe. From where I sat I could see a new group of moms bouncing babies in floppy hats, pulling a toddler by their chubby fingers reminding them to "kick kick kick", all while keeping a watchful eye on the older ones who were step by step inching their brave toes into the deep end.

Take a snapshot, Mama, of these ordinary summer days I was tempted to say.  You don't know it yet but time is the fastest motor boat of all.

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Band of Mothers

"We have to be aware that there are people out there that would kill him for who he is."

"I know that but I am his mother.  If I dwell on that I'd never be able to get out of bed every day."

When our son told us he was gay I held on to that information for quite awhile.  I had to kick it around in my head and come to terms with what that meant for my plans for him.  Eventually, I realized that my plans had nothing to do with any of my kids and that their lives and futures were for them to dream.  Sure I could participate but being Head Planner was never my job. A few years ago I wrote something about that time in my life that got a bit of attention.  His coming out seems like eons ago so I tend to forget about it until I am jolted out of the ordinariness of having a gay kid.

I occasionally get calls from mothers asking for advice on coming to terms with the news they're processing that they have a gay son or daughter.  My first reaction is to cry for them because I know how hard those days are.  I might take it for granted for myself that this is not that big of a deal any more, but that day only came after a bucket of my own tears.  I listen to these moms with their worry and their fear and I get it.  Oh my God do I get it.  But after they've purged all that I tell them something else. 

I tell them that having a gay kid will be the best thing that ever happened to them. 

That this kid that's causing all this anguish at the moment will be the one that will open their eyes to a world that they could never have seen before.  I tell them that this son or daughter will point a very bright light on their preconceived notions about love, about faith, about commitment.  This child, I say, will show you in a thousand different ways how closed-minded you have been about a lot of people.  How quickly you judge, the faint smile of dismissal we are prone to give to someone we just don't care to know, the eye rolls and the heavy sighs because we don't approve.  You will be shocked, I tell them, at the regularity in which you do that, but when it's your own kid that could easily be the subject of that kind of behavior you start to pay attention to how you interact with everyone.  It will shove you so far out of your comfort zone you will think you're on another planet.  And then you will begin to change in ways that will one day make you proud of how far you have come.

Through a comment I made once on a blog, a teenage girl found me and what I had written about my son and started emailing me.  "I saw what you wrote.  Do you really think I can like girls and not go to hell?  My mother asked me once if I liked girls and when I didn't answer no fast enough she slapped me across the face."

"Oh dearie, I promise you that you will not go to hell.  I don't believe that's how this all works."

"I locked myself in my room to read what you wrote about your son and I cried so much.  I wish you were my mom."

We emailed a lot for awhile and then it stopped.  I will never stop wondering what happened to her.  Did her mom find out?  Did she get kicked out of the house?  Is she okay?

I will never know the answers to any of those questions.  I only know how I have chosen to live my life.  I understand the prayers of mothers in the beginning to not have anyone know their kid is gay.  I also know that this sends missed signals because I was guilty of that myself.  "I love you but for the love of God don't tell anyone."

There are some things I would do differently now with my own kid if only I could rewind. With the screw ups, though, comes the learning.  Recently a mom asked me, "How did you handle it with your friends and family? How did you tell them and not succumb to their disapproval?"

"Here's the thing about me:  I think I give off this vibe that I will not put up with that shit with my kid.  It has never been intentional but it's there.  I know it and so nobody has ever given me a hard time or tried to convince me that my kid made a choice that he can get bible-thumped out of.  I do not go there with anyone.  Ever.  My advice would be to do the same.  Don't ever entertain a conversation that isn't completely supportive of your kid.  You betray him when you do and that seems to me to be an especially ugly thing to live with."

The body count in Orlando stands now at 49.  That means forty-nine mothers got the worse news of their life.  Maybe they accepted their kid without hesitation, maybe they slapped them in the face when they didn't renounce their attraction to the same sex fast enough, maybe they didn't even know their kid would go to a gay bar.

The world for mothers in this club just got a lot more dangerous and that is a terrorizing thought to live with. When my son is going out with friends I always say "Please be careful." I say this to my girls, too, but when I say it to him it is code for "Please, please be aware of where you are and who is around you.  Don't get yourself into a place you can't get out of easily."  In other words, be very careful about how gay you are when you are in public.  Chalk that up to another mixed message and a dose of reality.

Will living his life, freely and safely, will always be a worry for his dad and me.  I have learned to live with that fear most of the time.  In Orlando there will be decisions for forty-nine mothers to make.  Funeral homes, pall bearers, the clothes to pick out for their kid to be laid to rest in.

It's not difficult for me to imagine being in their shoes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm Not Your Girl

Before I got married I worked in Chicago processing insurance claims for a utility company.  There were four of us out front and we were referred to as "the girls."  We literally had stacks and stacks of bills rubber-banded by day on top of the filing cabinets.  If we could get through a couple of days a week we were doing okay but by the end of the year we were bombarded.  December, January and February were all six day work weeks.  On Monday, the boss would come in and say, "How'd you girls do Saturday?  Did you get a lot done?"  The girls pushed thousands and thousands of dollars in claims out the door every day.

When Mark was in graduate school I was the breadwinner and worked in a bank.  I'm sure I got the job because I waited two hours for the interview.  I was desperately seeking employment without much luck and had nowhere else to go that day.  I think they hired me out of guilt.  Whatever the reason I would stay there for four years until we moved to Maryland.

When I started I processed auto loans and would later move to mortgage loans.  Over on the mortgage side I would work for a real go-getter.  A young loan officer out to prove himself meant I was piled with an incredible amount of work to balance, type, copy and prepare for closing.  It was during that time that I got pregnant and my first trimester was a doozy.  Every day between 10-10:30 you could find me on the bathroom floor dry-heaving until I finally barfed into the toilet.  It was like clockwork every damn morning.  One time, Mr. Go-Getter knocked on the bathroom door, stuck his head in and said, "Are you almost done?  I need you."  When I came back to my desk he said, "I hope you're using that time for your break."

For two years I was the treasurer/VP of finance for the PTA.  Thousands of dollars passed through my hands from fundraisers to carnivals to the annual auction.  It was at the auction when we were closing out and trying to get everybody settled on what they owed that one of the dads said to me, "Let me take over here, honey.  I think I know money a little better than you do."

At my last job all money in and out came through my desk.  Thousands of dollars every day were my responsibility. I paid every contract and bill from the heating to the toilet paper for four buildings. I reconciled thirteen staff credit cards every month.  Every check for a donation, grant, membership renewal, or rebate from the electric company for switching to LED lights was my responsibility. When someone new joined the staff and my boss was taking her around to meet everyone, she said about me and my supervisor, "These are my girls."  I was 57 years old.

I have been a one-person crusader in my home these last few months for Hillary Clinton.  I argued with every person in my family on her behalf.  They wouldn't budge and neither would I.  You would think five against one would sway me (and maybe make me feel the bern) but it didn't so last night when she sealed the deal and gave her speech I was a weepy mess.  When she said, "This is because of you," I knew exactly what she meant. This was for the young woman on her first real job working six days a week shoving paper through a hopelessly clogged system.  For the puking mom-to-be trying to get through morning sickness and hold onto her paycheck nearly thirty years ago. For the volunteer treasurer being pushed out of the way by the man who knew money better than she did. For the woman who has worked for decades but was stunned into silence when introduced as "my girl."

That are many uncertainties in this election going forward but I think one thing has been settled.

We're nobody's girl.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Under Pressure

"If I die and wake up in the middle of a meeting in a room with florescent lights I will know that I am in hell." ~Fr. Matt

"I highly doubt that's going to happen but preach on, Padre." ~A Speckled Trout

Every Tuesday morning I have to go to the weekly staff meeting.  Since I mostly push paper and am not a decision maker of anything more than when I should take my lunch break most everything doesn't apply to me.  My presence, however, is required.  The beginning of each meeting starts with everybody sharing their highs and lows.  This was confusing to me during that first week of employment as I had nothing to report.  A comfy chair and an office Keurig could be a high, I suppose, and so I decided that would be my response when it was my turn.  Imagine my surprise when this was not business highs and lows but rather personal ones.

This exercise instantly got better because now I could learn a little something about my new coworkers and they about me and my exciting life.  Normally one to prefer to not speak up and have all eyes on me, I instead embraced this opportunity to tell everyone what was going on outside of my office life.  A daughter having a baby, another one about to graduate college, the Listen To Your Mother show in May....  I could go on and on with the highlight reel of my life, and being a team player I mostly kept it all high.

Driving to work every Tuesday I would mentally go over my weekend and think about what I was going to say to charm and entertain during my five minutes of highs and lows.  When I was two-timing and also doing my retail job over the holidays my coworkers loved my stories of crazy customers - especially the one who insisted to me that angels were not religious.  Sometimes it felt like I was doing stand-up for a new career path and maybe I was.  So imagine my surprise one Tuesday morning when instead of being asked to relate our highs and lows it was decided to switch things up and inquire....



Going first one of my coworkers said, "At night when I get to go to bed.  I am not joking."  She totally took what I was going to say as the first thought of many mornings is calculating how many hours of adulting I have to fake before I can call it good and climb back into that tempur-pedic.  I was in a pickle.  The high and low I had practiced had to be trashed and I was under pressure to come up with something different and so I said, "It would have to be the morning.  First thing when I wake up and the birds are singing.  They have so much to say so early!  Secondly, would be the first slug of coffee and how it courses through my veins like a blood transfusion from the American Red Cross.   Lastly, my flower garden that is right outside the front door that I pass on the way to the car to get to work.  All of a sudden it has sprung to life."

My coworkers smiled and nodded.  "Oh that's good," they said.  "Especially the coffee part."

And I smiled back and thought, "That might have been the biggest line of bullshit I've ever said out loud."  I hate the mornings.  If the birds wake me up I want to yell at them to PIPE DOWN.  If they don't beat the alarm in waking me up I want to throw that beeping thing that practically gives me a heart attack every morning out the window - quite possibly at the chattering birds.  The coffee part was true.  The garden?  That was an unnecessary flourish to a mostly false answer.

I dreaded the next meeting and what was suddenly going to be asked in the getting-to-know-you-question-of-the-week.  Fortunately we u-turned back to our regular routine and I was in my comfort zone.  "My high was a relaxed weekend puttering around the house, getting caught up on laundry and grocery shopping.  I do have a low this time, though.  The Good Wife ended and that has been my Sunday night ritual for years."

Cue the sad, pouty face.  I was back in the high/low business.

The next week we had our regular staff meeting - smaller in attendance and in a different conference room and I was ready.  "My high?  Going to my mother-in-law's 85th birthday party where we saw people we hadn't seen since we got married over thirty years ago.  My low?  You guys, the security line at Midway Airport in Chicago.  It snaked clear to the parking garage and it was at the crack of daylight on a Sunday morning."  They might ask me a few questions about TSA and my mini-trauma and then we'd move on to my right and another employee with their own set of highs and lows.

Imagine my surprise when once again the script was thrown overboard.


Who is reading the HR manual all of a sudden?

I s.c.r.a.m.b.l.e.d.  "I would have to say that I am most looking forward to the sun since it's been so cloudy and rainy lately and the heat.  Definitely the sun and some good 'ol summertime heat."

It was an out-of-body experience this big, fat lie of mine.  It sounded like it was coming from the deepest recesses of a lying heart that resembles you-know-who-Trump.

I hate summer.  The sweat, the frizz, the relentless droning of the air conditioner, the stinky sandals. But mostly I hate summer because so many women seem to pull it off so well with their sundresses, casual ponytails, sun-kissed skin and perfectly minimal makeup.  Why do they taunt me and my beady sweat 'stache with their coolness?

"Huh," a coworker said,  "I wouldn't have guessed you to be a summer person."

This would be true because on every other day of the year I am neither a summer person nor a morning person - just a working girl whose only decision is when to eat the salad she brought from home and the big, fat lie she's going to pull out of her pocket when the highs and lows are no longer a priority on Tuesday morning.

"If I die and wake up in the middle of a meeting in a room with fluorescent lights I will know that I am in hell." ~Fr.  Matt

"I make shit up." ~A Speckled Trout