Category Archives: Musing

Same Dilemmas, Bigger Price Tags

When I first made the decision to move back to California, into the house that I had left behind five long years ago, there were so many emotions to face. How long until the walls closed in on me? Would I be able to stick it out long enough to get my book written? Who was I when I wasn’t a Peregrine – wandering from place to place collecting stories and life experiences? Would I be ordinary?

After a mad dash from Colorado, where all of our belongings were stored for two years, to California in record time to meet the over-caffeinated driver of the moving truck,  Stewart and I arrived in Walnut Creek, exhausted on a Thursday night.  We realized that our garage, which was built in the early 1970’s, was too low for us to park 7’3″ Peregrine inside. The homeowners association doesn’t allow any campers or trailer to be parked on the street – and makes no exceptions for celebrities – we had nowhere to sleep, and nowhere to park. Fortunately, Stewart was thinking faster than me, and dragged the cushions and memory foam into the empty house. A quick call to the local police department, and we found a street where we could park Peregrine for three days undisturbed.

When the guys were unloading the truck, all I kept thinking was, “What is in all those boxes?”, and “Where is all my furniture?”. When we made the decision to hit the open road, I gave away or sold most of my furniture. The only things that I kept were things with sentimental and collectible value. Beds, gone. Kitchen table and chairs, gone. Living room sofa, gone. Desk and book shelves, gone. The main problem with my method was with no furniture, there is nowhere to actually put anything. Those several dozen books that I just couldn’t let go of, are now stuck in their boxes until I once again accumulate a piece of furniture to house them. It’s a vicious circle.  This was not my first time doing this, so I write from experience. In the ’90s  I did the same thing with all of my belongings when I moved to Ireland. This purging of personal belongings is cathartic, but can also be quite expensive.

While I was unpacking a box marked “Mara’s Bathroom”, I came across a lovely green and black alabaster round canister.  I love interesting boxes, so in the past, whenever a loved one was faced with that inevitable question, “What should I get Mara for her birthday?” it was easily answered by searching for a unique box. When I removed the lid and looked inside, there were a pile of cotton balls squeezed together. Cotton balls. My first reaction was, “Do I have any polish remover?”. While living in Peregrine, space was at such a high premium that I had to decide early on which it was going to be – cotton swabs or cotton balls. Cotton swabs have more practical applications, and take up less space, so it was au revoir little puffy clouds of softness.

Now I have been back in my house for two months. Stewart and I welcomed a horde of darling trick o’ treaters. We have entertained two sets of out of town guests (I hope more will come soon). We celebrated Thanksgiving dinner complete with all the accompanying fanfare. The house is looking more like a home each day thanks to the hard work that both of us have put into it nonstop since we have been back. Much of my time each day has been spent replacing items previously given away or sold at bargain-basement prices.

With each chair, each rug I add to my home, it feels as though the tether tightens. How did this happen when I worked so hard to free myself from this just two short years ago? My favorite purchase of all is an old farmhouse table that looks like it has so many stories of its own to tell. This will be my desk while I write. As long as I keep focused on why I am here, I can breathe. Please pass the cotton balls.

Low Dose Aspirin

When one of my sisters brought home whatever was going around the school, my mother had a theory that it was best to get it over with, and have us all get it at once. This included chicken pox, mumps, measles, and so many bouts of the flu that I’d be hard pressed to recall exactly how many. As the youngest, I had most of these childhood diseases before reaching school age, so though I suffered the misery of swollen glands and head-to-toe rashes, I rarely got to miss a day of school.

The treatments in those days were very different, too. The doctor offered the choice between your left or right butt cheek before he injected you with the miracle drug, penicillin. And, if you required a prescription, the pills came in tablet form. Period. No liquid version in grape or sour apple flavor. No chewables. Instead, moms and dads everywhere were faced with the task of getting their sick children to swollow bitter tablets, or crush them (the tablets, not the children), and hide the powdery lumps in whatever mixture their children were least likely to refuse. In my case, applesauce. At age 12, it was still applesauce. Yes, twelve.

I had already begun the right of passage and summer ritual of every preteen in my circle of friends – babysitting for neighbors’ kids.  I  spent as much of my spare time that wasn’t committed to sleepovers and pure heat induced comas squirreling away the money I earned for a one way ticket to Miami. My parents promised to pay for the return fare. As much as I pestered them that summer, counting and recounting my money, my father often threatened to forget to buy it.  Even at the ripe old age of twelve, I was filled with wanderlust. But, that’s another story.

One of the families I sat for that summer had an only child, and 8 year old girl who was being treated for brain cancer. Her head appeared as a minefield to me, filled with freshly scarred over holes. She didn’t want to play very much, but was happy to just hang out together in her living room. I was a bit frightened by her, and the responsibility I had while her mother was gone. This was the only time I would admit to myself I was glad I was only babysitting in the next building.  What if she got sick? There were so many bottle of pills. How would I know which ones to give her? Should I give her two chewable baby aspirin if she got a headache?

Chewable baby aspirin. There they were right in front of me. A bottle of St. Joseph’s chewable baby aspirin. The little girl was frail, and needed to take a nap. Her mother wasn’t scheduled to be home for at least another two hours. There was plenty of time. If ever I was going to overcome my fear, and learn how to swallow a pill, it was then.

After making sure my charge was fast asleep, I took a full glass of water into the bathroom along with the bottle of baby aspirin. I locked the door just in case. Out came the little orange tablets onto the counter lined up in a row. First, I tried doing it like I had watched the people on TV – put the pill in my mouth, then take a sip of water. All that happened was the pill began to melt on my tongue. I used a tissue to wipe that one off, and began again. This time, I put the pill further back on my tongue, but gagged, so that didn’t work. Finally after numerous combinations, I took a sip of water, held it, slipped the baby aspirin in, and swallowed. Success! I had managed to complete the process. I had swallowed my first whole tablet. If my blood had been drawn at that point, it likely would have been as thin as someone on Coumadin.  I didn’t care. No more crushed tablets in apple sauce for me. I had found the winning combination.

Those baby aspirin turned out to be invaluable for many people, including me. Since the ripe old age of twelve, I have ingested far too many pills to recall, however last November I had blood clots in both lungs. the treatment was Coumadin for six months after I was released from the hospital. Initially, the doctor wanted me to take an aspirin a day, but it turned out full dose was too strong for me, so she now has me on a baby aspirin a day. This miracle drug is now used by millions of middle aged and elderly people to prevent cardiovascular disease. In fact, the demand from the aging population has increased so greatly, that the drug manufacturers have astutely repackaged the 81 mg dose baby aspirin as “low dose aspirin”. At 51, I prefer the nostalgia of baby aspirin. Each night when I take my now handful of pills, I resist the temptation to lock myself in the bathroom.

My Dollar Hoop Earrings

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Santa Cruz and Capitola for a “Girls’ Getaway”. While there, I splurged on a pair of $1 hoop earrings. Usually, I wear small, practical earrings; more placeholders than jewelry, but with my sassy new ‘do, I figured, what the heck?!

Since I’ve been wearing my new hoops, I’ve added my old bottom eyeliner, too. This has given me that edgier look that I had “back in the day”, whenever that was. As I leaned into the mirror to apply a flawless line, then quickly backed up to bring my face back into focus, I wondered how I was supposed to do this without a 10x power magnification.

I returned back to the salon where I’d gotten my hair cut, and said, “Jessica, take it shorter”. She was resistent at first, but when she saw my new hoops, she gave me a super pixie.

Now, when I go places, the young men who previously ignored me, flirt and fawn. At Pep Boys earlier today, two cuties were both on the ground competing to be the one to explain the difference between a shock and a strut, and why I didn’t need any. I saw another straining to see if I was married. On one stop today, I was asked if I was 35, when I said 51, he said, “Wow, you must work out a lot”. I just smiled and replied that it was good genetics.

I’m the same 35 lbs overweight I was two weeks ago, and just as cellulite-ridden. It’s how I’m carrying myself. Somehow I’ve got my mojo working.  All because of my $1 hoop earrings.

\”Got My Mojo Working\” Muddy Waters and Friends

When a Mother Stops Being Mom

When I was a little girl, my mother and I used to stay up very late most Friday nights to watch what were then referred to as horror films. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi would come out from behind the curtain dripping with chocolate syrup. By today’s standards they were pretty tame, with the exception of the Hitchock films that were sure to frighten me with their realism. Even now, when I see birds gathered on a wire, I shudder.

Our other shared passion was musicals. Songs from South Pacific were sung to my own daughter during bath time. Maria, as a modern day Juliet, was so beautiful and tragic in West Side Story. And, the ultimate for me, Fiddler on the Roof. I knew every word to every song, complete with dialogue spoken mid-song. In retrospect, I’m not sure if, as the youngest child, I developed my love for this American artform because it gave me a chance to spend time with my mother, Regardless, it continues until this day. I’ve been known to break out into song on more than one occasion if the appropriate song pops into my head. However, this I get from my father. Unfortunately, I don’t sing nearly as well as those around me wish I did.

I bring all of this up because during these formative movie-watching years there was one song in one film that made a particularly strong impression on me. The first time I remember seeing White Christmas, I was about eight years old. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Irving Berlin, were a trinity for great entertainment. The song that the plot is really built around, is “What Can You Do With A General” Two army buddies end up in Vermont to see two young ladies, only to find that their former commander, who is the innkeeper, is about to go bankrupt.

What Can You Do With a General?

This song has played over and over in my head through the years, and I’ve often applied its principle to other roles and situations. Just as the General found he was no longer of value once his role in the war was through, what do we do with mothers when they are no longer moms?

There are many reasons why a mother may lose her children. We’re fighting two wars at the moment, and young men and women die on the battlefield leaving behind grieving mothers. The streets of many US cities may as well be behind enemy lines with gang warfare taking the lives of approximately 15,000 people each year. There are young people playing Russian Roulette with drugs and alcohol, and their luck simply runs out.Then there are the horrible accidents and diseases that take children and young adults, leaving behind mothers devastated by their loss. These mothers experience a grief that only another who has gone through it can fully understand, yet they are still mothers, respected by the world as moms.

And, then there is the loss that hurts in a way that few can understand. There is no Hallmark card for it. There is no date to mark on a calendar, or grave to set flowers. There is the grief of estrangement. For these mothers, whose children have turned away from them, it is an entirely different sort of pain because there is no societal role for them. Much as the General was unemployable after the war, what do you do with a mother whose child doesn’t want her to be a mom? Who has fired her?

When I was twenty years old, my husband died, leaving me and our ten week old baby. People assumed I was either an unwed mother or divorced. It was a natural mistake considering my young age. However, it was very important to me that people understood that I had done it right. I had gotten married, then pregnant. That my husband had not chosen to leave me, but that circumstances beyond his control – death – had separated him from me and our daughter. Over the years, friends who were going through difficult divorces would tell me that I had it easier than them because my husband hadn’t rejected me, nor had our marriage been a failure, but simply fate had interfered with our happily ever after.

This is very much how I view the mothers of estranged children. They are in the throes of messy divorces, with all the baggage that’s carried along with them. But, they are still mothers, and this is where the similarity ends. From the research I have done, most have agreed that nothing would make them happier than to once again be engaged in their children’s lives. Maybe the roles would be slightly different, and the rules would change, but they long to hear in a familiar voice “Mom”.

For those of you who are struggling with this, there are resources out there. Mark Hundley, a therapist who specializes in grief and loss, has recently released the second edition to his book, Awaken to Good Mourning, which deals with the loss of a loved one, that can be applied in this situation very well. Also, here are a few online support groups that may be helpful. If you know of others, I ask that you please add them to the comments below.