Monday, March 30, 2015


"I can't accept this," she said as we both looked at the piece of paper on her desk.


It was this time last year that I was in preparation a panic for the Kansas City version of Listen To Your Mother - the wildly popular show that started in the Midwest and spread like wildlife - where selected writers would read an essay they wrote about motherhood before a very large audience.

Public speaking isn't my jam.  On any number of previous occasions when I'd have to introduce myself to a few people my heart would pound.  I would state my name in a shaky voice and relate some fascinating tidbit about myself to an audience who smiled back mostly in pity.

Friends, not-yet-friends, dearly beloved.....I am about to have a heart attack.  Can you hear that pounding?  If I drop dead here tell my husband and kids I love them and this was probably not at all how I thought I would go. Scratch that.  This is exactly how I thought I would go in the same nightmare over and over.

But I decided that telling this story was worth the risk and so I submitted my work, auditioned and made the 2014 cast.  For weeks before the big day I watched youtube videos on how to publicly speak, how to calm your nerves before publicly speaking, how to successfully speak before an audience without humiliating yourself.  Some videos were so dumb that I spent mere seconds listening before I moved on to the next, but every night I diligently did my homework assignment. Even with all that information when I dared to imagine myself on stage I would dive headfirst into a full-blown panic attack.

You cannot pull this off I told myself a thousand times.

"You'll be great," my husband said.  The husband who has spent a career publicly speaking about what he does.

The morning of the show I practiced at home once again.  There was one part I choked up at every time.  This time a new part caught in my throat and three paragraphs in I flung the pages of my story across the room and wondered why I thought challenging myself like this was ever a good idea.

And then a funny thing happened.  Hours before showtime we all arrived at the venue and I was the calmest I'd been in weeks.  I did another practice on stage with the microphone and I didn't fumble, lose my place or get emotional.

I was ready.  I had spent plenty of time practicing and when my turn came I stood firmly at the podium, shushed my loudly pounding heart and read my story.


"We're going to send you home with some pain killers and instructions to get rid of that kidney stone," the ER doctor said.  "But what is more concerning is the mass we see.  You need to get that checked out."

"Mass?  I have a mass?"

"Yes, on your kidney.  It could be a cyst but you need to see a urologist about that."


"Your Dad decided to end his treatment.  I'll put him on the phone so you can talk to him, okay?"


"I'm gay, Mom."


"Honey, can you tell Mark?  I can't do it.  I can't tell him."


"She seems to have come out of it okay but you'll have to watch her closely.  Wake her up every couple of hours and ask her some questions.  If it's a concussion you'll know.  She'll be confused and then you need to bring her back in.  Don't wait."


"Terry's procedure went fine.  Now it's a wait and see to find out if his heart is going to go back to a normal rhythm."


"You can wait in the car while I look.  I'll just be a minute."


"Mom, I've been in an accident."


"I can't accept this," she said as we both looked at my resignation letter on her desk.

There were many things I wasn't sure of in that moment.  How much the accountant was going to tell us we owed in taxes.  How long we could go without my paycheck that covered living expenses for the last kid in college. Whether state budget cuts were going to affect the only stable salary in the house.  What in the hell was Plan B.

But I did know that I could stand before hundreds of people and tell my story, that the cyst was benign, Dad died but not before I told him how proud I was of him, my daughter had no lasting effects from being knocked unconscious after a fall on the ice, my son is gay, that I did break the news to my husband that his dad had suddenly died, that the brother were all crazy about would need two procedures before his heart would beat normally, that I could stuff down a paralyzing fear of heights to get out of the car and look out onto Glacier National Park, that the sight of the crushed driver's side of our youngest daughter's car would make me gasp, and that despite a lot of "what ifs" I was ready to leave a job that was no longer healthy for me.

"You're going to have to," I said.

Then I adjusted the velcro under my chin, fluffed my cape and did what I have done every time I've been afraid.

I put my faith in the wind and jumped off the edge.

Monday, March 9, 2015


When Mark was still a graduate student, we were invited to his boss' wedding on the campus of Notre Dame.  It was a little over a three hour drive from where our apartment was and we left in plenty of time so we wouldn't be late.  Who wants to show up late for the boss on his big day?

We went though the tollbooth and a large school clock hung in the window.  It was an hour ahead of us.  "That's weird," I said.  "Why do they have a clock with the wrong time hanging there."

That's when the "oh shit" got heard around the world.  In every communication that was sent, guests were reminded that certain parts of Indiana don't change to daylight savings time and that included South Bend.  Instead of arriving in plenty of time we arrived an hour late.  Into the church we tip-toed and the giant wood door thudded closed behind us causing the seated guests to turn around to see who arrived so unfashionably late.

"What the heck?" I said later on the drive to the reception.  "The whole country changes time except a pocket of Indiana.  That's the dumbest thing I ever heard of."

That was 28 years ago.  Now I think this changing of time twice a year is the dumbest thing I ever heard of. 

It knocks me out.  I can't get my act together.  I'm in a constant daze from lack of sleep.  My body clock doesn't know why it's been slapped upside the head.

I woke on Sunday - groggy and sluggish from too short of a night.  "It's okay," I told myself.  "You don't have to work.  You don't have to do anything."  And I didn't.  I puttered.  I surfed the computer.  I put Visine in to counter the red, watery eyes.  I finished one book and started another.  I dozed off.  I watched The Good Wife, took a bath and went to bed.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m.  Which was really three.  Or maybe five.  Or not enough.  I tried to go back to sleep but got up an hour later to start the coffee and feed the cats. 

I fed the dog.  Was I imaging things or was there a lot more food in his container than yesterday?  Weird.   And then the craziest thing happened.  That dog didn't eat his food.  That dog that eats so fast he makes prisoners look like retirees at an all-you-can-eat-buffet walked away from a bowl of food.

Tired as I was things started connecting real fast.  The day before a missing container of cat food showed up on the kitchen counter.  "Where's that been?" I asked The Big Daddy.  "Oh, I found it under the sink in the basement."

"Well, that's good," I said.  "It's easier to pour from that," and I went about my business of doing nothing because of the D.S.T.  Awhile later it was empty. 

It was empty all right.  Emptied into the dog food container.

I ran up the stairs.








And The Big Daddy jumped out of bed and said, "I thought he would like it.  What dog doesn't eat whatever you give it?"

"The same kind of pet as the cats who wouldn't eat that crap when you bought it months ago."

"Huh," he said back.  "I guess my experiment didn't work."

"Huh," I sneered back.  Maybe I should experiment with putting birdseed in your meat loaf?"

I got dressed and went to work where I moved papers from one side of my desk to the other.  I drank coffee and tried to look alert and pretend that I knew what I was doing or what was a priority.  I couldn't.  My only focus was my exhaustion and what will here on out be referred to as The Dog/Cat Food Experimental Incident Of The Greatest Magnitude.

Later in the day during a moment of clear thinking it occurred to me that I may have had over-reacting issues in regards to the matter. 

And then I snapped out of that nonsense.

I'm going to go with post-traumatic-stress-disorder secondary to daylight-savings-time. 

It sounds more legit than Stark-Raving-Bitch-Syndrome.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Waiting In The Wings

We got to see our Mallie Bee dance in the Senior Recitals this week.  This is the annual show that features solos by each of the seniors as well as choreographed pieces that they teach to their fellow dancers.

The first year Mal auditioned she wasn't chosen for as many dances as she would have liked.   As a freshman her style and work were a mystery to that year's seniors, and running to see the cast list for every piece she tried out for she would be let down more than not.  "Be patient," I said, "you're time will come."   

How she got to be such a passionate, beautiful dancer is a mystery to us.  When I was growing up I wasn't even aware you could take dance lessons let alone know anyone who did.  Like her sister before her, though, I enrolled Mal in dance because someone else's mom suggested it to me so we could carpool.  It seemed better than standing on the sidelines of a soccer field (although there were years of that, too), and so I'd take my turn driving and write a check at the beginning of each month. When recital or competition time came the checks would have more zeros after it and I would often question just how long we could keep this expense up.

Many times, after sitting in darkened auditoriums for hours at a time in order to see five minutes of Mal dance, I could have easily traded places with the soccer mom for some sunlight, fresh air and a checkbook with a better bottom line.

It has been a long time since we sat through those frequent recitals and competitions.  If you told me then that I would miss it I would have laughed.  Now our only opportunity to see her dance is the annual show for seniors and this group did not disappoint. Talented, beautiful and provocative, each dancer plied, arabesqued and piroutted their hearts out.  A parting gift to the school that has taught them the art of dance for the past four years.

Mal and some friends stood in the wings and watched their friend perform for the last time.  A small sob at the end of the performance would be mistaken as coming from the dancer herself, but rather it was from the friends off-stage.

On the way out to the parking lot we would pass one of the senior male dancers whose performance gave me chills. Scraping the snow and ice from his windshield, he was a solitary man on a cold night after what must have been the highlight of his life thus far.

"You were incredible," I wanted to shout but didn't because that kind of thing has a way of embarrassing my introverted dance child.  Instead I asked the universe to give him a very big life and career, one where the wings were far too small of a place for all he had to offer.

It is the same request I make over and over for our Tiny Dancer whose time has come in so many ways.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Passing of Curmudgeons

One night we were sitting at home finishing dinner and heard sirens.  This always makes my stomach drop, and even more so as it got closer and then down our street.

We looked out the window and saw that the police, fire department and ambulance were just a few doors down from our house.  An older couple has lived there for decades, and a lifetime of smoking had taken its toll on both of them these last few years.  Friendly neighbors who often took time to chat became more housebound.  They rarely seemed to move from the living room where the t.v. was on day and night, and even waving seemed to be an effort of late.

B. was the second person I met when we moved in and he seemed nice.  Enough.  When the house next door to him was sold,  an older man and his disabled wife moved in and almost from the beginning he and B. didn't get along.  In an effort to drain water away from his foundation that would flood his basement, the new neighbor started digging a trench in the front yard.  This was an eyesore for B. and his wife and the feud escalated to frequent yelling matches.  They wanted the neighbors to sign a petition to put a stop to this that they intended to submit to the city for some kind of fine or code enforcement.

Some of us were uncertain if this trench was really going to do much to solve a flooding problem that our end of the street has dealt with on a regular basis.  Rather, it seemed to be the daily, harmless work of a retired guy with too much time on his hands.

B. and his wife went door-to-door to collect signatures.  When they presented their case (which I already knew in great detail), I said that I would not sign it.  "Who would buy a house in this neighborhood with that mess in the front yard?' they asked. All of this had already caused a major rift on this street.  It was my impression that this new neighbor had gotten off to the wrong start with many people due to his sometimes abrasive personality, but when Maggie fell off her bike and badly hurt her elbow he stopped his digging, picked her up and carried her home.  "Mom, make sure you clean all that gravel out of her cut before you bandage her up," he said.  I was grateful he came to her aid and thought most of his problems were due to loneliness exacerbated by neighbors who wished he had never set foot here.

As B. and his wife stood at my front door unable to sway me to their side, his parting shot was, "I guess you don't care about your property values.  Or ours."

Shortly thereafter, the neighbor and his wife abruptly moved to assisted living. For some it was a cause for celebration, for others a waving of the white flag.


Mark was dealing with his own set of conflicts at work.  A longtime colleague who was moved out of his space to make room for the new guy was not happy.  His tactics were more overt, and sandwiched between the two, Mark tried to keep the peace - usually in vain. Any snide remark or put down his senior coworker could come up with was said with abandon and it was a difficult environment to maneuver each day.


Mark's former colleague died this fall.

B. was gone before the ambulance even got here.


When I would be out in the neighborhood, B.'s wife would make a point to stop me and say, "You guys have worked so hard on your yard. I love to look over and see what you're planting next."

When Mark went to the memorial service for his colleague his wife said, "You know you were his favorite, don't you?"

Two women who became adept at scooping the debris left from their spouses verbal land mines, and couldn't we all use someone like that when we fail to recognize our own bullying?