Archive for Life

Marriage Sucks and Then It Doesn’t

Marriage sucks sometimes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. marriage At points during our more than 20 years together (fifteen of them married) it’s been so hard, we’re pretty sure it must be over. That like all those other couples, Tim and I are done. 

The sucky times always turn out to be necessary. They have ultimately invigorated our relationship and made us love each other more deeply and honestly. This is the gift of hanging in there–not through the struggle, but through the pain of not knowing where the marriage is going. We show up and say what’s true for each of us, no matter what. 

Before we got married the Episcopalian priest who counseled us said marriages sometimes die. This and not literal death, was the ’til death do us part, part. Father Bradley had been divorced and had remarried. He wanted us to understand that while we were entering into a lifetime committment, there were exceptions. 

Tim and I went through a rough patch around our anniversary this month.  The details aren’t really important. On the surface, the struggle was related to finances. But really we were both struggling with change. Change in ourselves and consequently, change in how we see each other as partners, lovers, parents, and human beings.

Would these changes be  the death of our marriage?  Or were they simply part of the two of us growing up, and learning to be better people and partners?

We’ve come out the other side. It doesn’t suck right now. Not by a long shot. We’re closer. Standing on our own two feet more than ever. 

We found out that how we love each  in this moment is what matters. How can we do our best to see each other in a new light? How do we look for the humor, and not to sweat the small stuff even when it feels like big stuff? We’re figuring this out, and our marriage is stronger for it.  

The other morning, I walked Tim out to his car. The air had that cozy crisp smell of autumn; the fallen leaves were swirling in the street.

“It’s fall, sweetie,” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied, kissing me passionately. 

A few seconds later he came inside the house. He’d forgotten his keys. 

“Can we do that again?” he asked. 

I followed him outside again. The air still smelled wonderful, the leaves were still dancing. 

“It’s fall, sweetie.” 

“Yeah, it is.”

The kiss was twice as nice this time.


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Farewell to Elizabeth Banning

ebanningMy dear friend and writing colleague Elizabeth Banning died last week. She was a member of my writing group, and on the verge of publishing a fabulous historical fantasy novel about three matryed saints. Elizabeth had a two-year battle with cancer. During this time, she wrote profilically, had all of her stories published, completed one novel, and started another. She was also a brilliant editor who helped me and other writers sharpen their stories for submission to literary journals and agents. She never felt sorry for herself.  She just kept writing and living fully; through the treatments, the peaks and valleys of remission and recurrence. She was a remarkable woman and an exceptional writer.  A true professional.

Anytime I bitch about not wanting to write, revise or send a story out, I think of Elizabeth. She was tenacious, humble and exuded more grace than any other person I know.  I’ll miss her terribly.

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blossoms2Pink, white, and shades in between. The return of spring. It never fails. No matter what we know about climate change, she perseveres. And yet, in the back of my mind, I worry: Has spring come too early? What about the drought? Will we get enough rain?

“The whole world is opening up,” my daughter chirps from the back seat. We’re on our way to school. It’s raining again. At this rate the roses in our backyard will never get pruned. And yet I’m extremely grateful. California needs water.

My daughter doesn’t trouble herself about drought or the amount of rainfall. Not when there are blossoms to see, milkmaid flowers on the hillside to point out. There are moments when she’s very concerned about the polar bears, their melting homes, and the rising sea level. But this morning Spring is a happening of its own.

She is eight about to turn nine. In Waldorf education, they call this time the “nine-year change.” It’s the developmental phase when children realize they’re mortal and separate. The time fairies and gnomes and Santa gather for a final celebration. Then they’re gone, replaced by logic, reason, and a real sense of being alone. It is not bad phase just a necessary one.

My daughter isn’t quite there yet. The magic of early childhood still holds her in its hand–like a dandelion fluff waiting to be sent out into the world.

When I ask if she has any ideas for blog posts this week, she says, “Write about our neighborhood. Write about Jake (our cat). Write about…I know! Spring.”    

“How about this,” she says excitedly. “The woman in the sky is folding up her yellow wool sweater and putting it away.” I see her in my rearview mirror, smiling at her own brilliance. “Write that, Mom.”   

Ah, time. If only we had the power to stop the clock. But then we wouldn’t have blossoms, or yellow sweaters to put away, or nine-year-old birthdays to celebrate.

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Aha Moment

roadAt the risk of being morbid on this bright Monday morning, I want to share an aha moment. 

Last night I was getting onto Highway 101, heading home from a meeting with friends. It was pouring rain. A scruffy terrier-mix ran across the freeway and into the onramp lane. I braked and pulled over. The dog continued frantically up the shoulder. A few other cars slowed down or pulled over. Traffic whizzed by. 

I suspect we were all asking ourselves, “Now, what?” The shoulder was narrow. Getting out of the car would be suicide. And the terrier was probably too freaked out to come to a stranger.

In horror, we watched the dog scamper blindly across the freeway in the opposite direction, towards the center divider. Cars were braking, trying to dodge him. Seconds later, the terrier lay in the fast lane, motionless.

It one of those moments. The realization of a simple, bare truth: Death happens. Sometimes in the blink of an eye. There are no words for this. And yet, we try.

Have you had an experience where the truth became so clear  there was nothing you could say? That an explanation or past association seemed like grasping at straws?

Your aha moment doesn’t have to  be about death. It can be anything you’ve been through or witnessed–in a relationship, job, creative endeavor, while traveling; at a party, on a bus, or all by your lonesome. A happy aha or a sobering one.

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Chickenshit Mom

chickenI must admit I felt a bit queasy myself. I hadn’t even had my tea and yet there I was carving up a whole chicken for the Crock Pot, when my daughter stumbled into the kitchen still wearing her PJ’s.

“What is that?” She grimaced the way she does when we enter a smelly public restroom.

I blame the seven a.m. butchering on the recipe, a curry dish.  I’m cutting from memory, too sleepy to look up the instructions in Joy of Cooking.  Consequently I’m mutilating the bird.

My daughter stares at my handiwork, says, “Well, I’m not eating it,” and  marches upstairs to make her bed.  

“I don’t blame you,” I mutter to myself, tossing the wings into the Crock Pot.  I’ve contemplated becoming a vegetarian. But I’m lazy, and I love steak. 

A few minutes later my daughter comes downstairs, fuming.

“How would you like to be that chicken?” she asks defiantly and on the verge of tears.

I don’t dare interfere. She needs to be heard.

“It’s not fair, Mom,” she continues. “Animals can’t communicate with us.”    

“You’re right, sweetheart,” I say, wondering if it’s possible to reconcile eating critters with her Waldorf education, which reveres nature. 

We’ve had the eating meat conversation before. I’ve justified our carnivorous practices by explaining the chickens and cows are “raised to be eaten.” Not unlike Christmas trees, whose fate my daughter also laments. 

But this time, she’s not buying my weak logic.  “I bet if you ask that chicken if it wanted to die, it would’ve have said ‘No.’ I  bet every one of them and all the cows would say ‘No.'”

“I bet you’re right,” I think. I tell her that her feelings are justified; in fact many vegetarians feel the same way. 

I offer us both an out, however, and tell her she’s too young to become a vegetarian, still growing, needs the protein yada yada yada.

It’s a chickenshit response, and I suspect a temporary one. We’ll swing round to the topic again, the next time I pull a chicken out of the freezer. 

The next  morning she reports that she “loves” the chicken burritos she gets for lunch at school. I breathe a sigh of relief, grateful the eight-year-old mind is like the weather; ever changing, always in the moment.

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Down at the creek

cheetos2On Martin Luther King’s Birthday, (also the first national day of community service) and with a fair degree of grumbling, my daughter and I put on our rattiest clothes, grabbed a large Hefty garbage bag and two pair of gloves, and headed for the nearest creek; a three-minute drive from our home. (Yes, we could have walked.)

Just outside two bone-dry culverts, amid the creek grasses and cattails there was a miscellany of trash: water bottles, candy wrappers, tennis balls, softballs (there’s a school nearby), a flip-flop and a Strawberry Shortcake sandal, and enough plastic bags to choke an industrial-size trash compactor.

“Hey, Mom!” my daughter called from across the creek bed. “Let’s fill the bag to the brim and then we’ll be done.” 

Like me, she was already wondering how much community service was enough. She had a new book to read–her first long chapter book–and I was recovering from gum surgery. 

“Sounds good, sweetie,”  I said, dropping an Almond Joy wrapper into the Hefty bag. 

My daughter found it inconceivable that people just toss their trash to the wind.  “Just imagine,” she said, pointing to a mound of algae-speckled water bottles. “There’s an island of those floating in the ocean.” 

People who buy single-use water bottles and Cheetos are the real litterbugs. The occasional ball is forgiveable, lost shoes accidental: a child chucks her sandal into the creek to prove she’s really in charge,  a mother fails to notice one of her flip-flops has fallen out of her backpack on her way home from the swimming pool. 

While we’re working, a man in an official looking truck drove across the bridge over the culverts. We saw him again, coming the other way and looking at us. Suspecting he worked for the city, I imagined him calling the local paper to tell a reporter about the mom and daughter doing a good deed for the planet. A picture of us on the front page, with the caption “Do-gooders clean up the creek.”  I laughed at myself for wanting credit for keeping my own community clean. 

My daughter had a different reaction to the man in the truck.  “Are we going to get in trouble?” We were doing something out of the ordinary, standing in a dry creek and (actually) having fun. We must have been breaking some law.

By the time we’d filled the bag, most of that part of the creek bed was clean. I wished we had another bag; leaving even a little bit of trash felt wrong.

And because nothing is simple these days, we faced a dilemma: What to do with all those recyclable plastic bottles? Do I sift through the dirty diapers (okay, there was only one), styrofoam toys, and grimy shreds of plastic? 

In the interest of transparency, I must tell you I took the lazy man’s way out. Dumped the whole bag in an empty dumpster.  Felt guilty, then let it go because on that day it was the best I could do. Then we headed home to curl up in bed, and read.

“That was fun, Mom,” my daughter said as we were getting into the car.

“Yeah, honey, it was.”

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Or cut bait

fishingtoolsIt’s Monday morning. I’m attempting to bond with my periodontist, the man who’s about to make my mouth his personal construction site. He answers that he’s Persian. A couple of years after the Shah fell, his family fled Iran for Canada. He and his brother were teenagers; their father wanted to keep them out of military service during the bloody war between Iran and Iraq. The periodontist doesn’t volunteer this information–I inquire. He’s a man of few words.

When I ask him why he decided to go into periodontics, he says he liked the idea of being able to take tissue from one place and put it somewhere else. He’s referring to the “harvest,” which is followed by the graft. The former process requires multiple injections of novacaine after the good periodontist’s chatty assistant has swabbed the area with a local.

The assistant has three kids and is about to begin nursing school. A hard working gal who’s grown weary of disloding blood-blackened gauze and suctioning spit.  Fortunately for me, she’s still good at her job.

I’m a tough patient. Tiny mouth, ultra senstive. I warn the doc and assistant of this. They’re unfazed; I’m one of many, a patient among patients, perhaps with more than your average amount of gum recession.

I ask the doc if he has kids.

“Just cats and dogs,” he says. 

They will do four areas of my mouth. Donor tissue will be used (don’t think about it), and palate tissue the doctor harvests with precision. I’ve been through this before. The periodonist looked like a lean George Clooney (small consolation) and used a technique passed down from the Middle Ages. My current guy,  who’s rounder in face and physique and has a softer touch, cuts a flap of skin and removes tissue underneath, then stitches up the flap. Healing, he promises,will be easier than with the old method.

He gets the tissue he needs from my palate.  I see one piece, dangling like bait from a curved needle and an off-white piece of thread. While he stitches the bait to my gums, the assistant chats away. This morning she took down the Christmas tree, her youngest one is clingy and driving her crazy.  The periodonist ignores her.

When he’s done one part, more injections. The disgusting metallic taste of novacaine in my throat makes me gag. Another graft in another area, then another with donor tissue. 

All the while, tools poke from my mouth like the utensils from the pottery jar on my kitchen counter. The assistant suctions, and suctions some more. My jaw is locked open, permanently. 

The assistant’s assistant comes into the room to tell the assistant she left her a voicemail this weekend. She wanted company to the outlet mall in Petaluma. The assistant sounds noncommital about the idea, as though she’s glad she didn’t pick up the phone. Maybe she’s not keen on fraternizing with coworkers.   

The bib I’m wearing is blood-speckled, and my mouth feels like a very busy construction site. James Frey in A Million Little Pieces has nothin’ on me.

While the doc sees another patient down the hall, I take a pee break, avoid looking in the mirror. I can’t help myself. I look like me, but with a slack mouth and an overall pained expression.  I want it to be next month, next year.

When I return to the chair the doc says he has one more graft to do.

“Could I take the Ibuprofin and Vicadin now?” I ask meekly.

The assistant hands over the requested drugs, which go down like warm maple syrup. I resettle into the chair, open my mouth. The doc puts bait to hook.

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