Category Archives: parenting / family

Flash fiction found cleaning up today


Crossing the parking lot closest to the barber’s, Marianne walked through walls of smell. Non-natural. What was it – Desitin? So definite and remembered, nothing comparable — a chalky scent with overtones of cherry life saver. Couldn’t be, could it?

The heat of the three previous days had subsided but not the mugginess. A mass of grey cloud signaled rain, but so far, it held off. The traffic at the corner was obscene — a re-vamped right of way gone amuck. People were up in arms, zinging emails through neighborhoods and sponsoring data collection after the fact. The mayor was gonna have his head handed to him.

In the crosswalk, Marianne looked up to see the clouds spreading out. Or were they gathering other clouds into their mass? Church bells peeled. There was a sense of drama.

Was it just 24 hours earlier — her face crumpled in grief, the vet kneeling in sympathy — that she’d received the news about Ursula’s cancer? Even overwhelmed with the kind of unmitigated sorrow we can only feel for our animals, Marianne recalled her sister’s aggressive question from the day before, “What makes YOU cry?”

Marianne had been tightly unresponsive knowing that any answer would’ve been employed in the undeserved campaign to prove her failings. But she’d also been unable to recall a single instance of recent tears.

“Probably Stage IV,” the vet was saying.

“THIS makes me cry,” Marianne thought, “this.”

Just a few minutes into the wave of uncensored grief came the discomforting certainty that, to put it simply, cost would be a factor.

After hearing the price for chemo, Marianne wailed, “We have two kids to put through college!” The two vehicles in need of repair were not mentioned. The vet continued to kneel and nodded without judgment while Ursula sat between them in a quiet sphinx-like pose. Was the dog merely relieved the muzzle was off and the prodding over or did that posture now include a dignified toleration of pain?

The next day Marianne headed back to the van and wondered how long Sam’s haircut would take. Some days they took you in five minutes. Other days, thirty. That was the summer she coached the boys to say, “I want to wait for Sal.” No one should get a terrible haircut out of polite deferral to the random order in a barber shop.

The rain started its slow pelting after Marianne reached the mini-van. The heat being what it was, she sat with the windows open, letting the splatting drops moisten her shoulder and the window berm.

“What makes YOU cry?”

School had ended, finally, last week. Sam took himself to the barber routinely now, so why was Marianne offering rides and waiting, as if he were twelve? “The spiral of development,” her psychologist friend, Winnie, would chuckle. “Not just the kids regressing before transitions.”

Marianne rejiggered the bounds of dependence in both directions. ‘Here’s a credit card.’ ‘Let me pick you up.’ There was a haunting finality to those weeks between high school and college.

White clouds billowed above maple trees to the east, their curves almost precisely replicating the scalloped canopy below. Then the rain came down in sheets.

What would it be, then, this summer? The sad and inexorable cancer vigil, each night wondering if Ursula would still be breathing come morning? Indulging in trips to the beach, determined to make the summer worthwhile, unsettled by the knowledge that the dog was at home trying to breathe? What comfort could the crashing surf offer when the decision about euthanasia hung above the beach like a scythe and flashed in the summer glare?

They went to the White Mountains in July. Ursula’s last outing. The guys all hiked, while Marianne read a Franzen novel at the picnic table and fed Ursula chips of bacon. If it had been any other year, they would have boarded the dog. Now such a decision struck her as incomprehensible, just as how, at this distance, preschool seemed so radically unnecessary.

It killed Marianne that all those white haired women at the supermarket had proved to be right in the end. How she’d gritted her teeth hearing advice that was as predictable as it was intrusive: “Enjoy it while you can! It’s over before you know it!” Yeah, lady. I’m just trying to get through the next hour, she remembered thinking.

The next hour and the next hour adding up to an entire childhood. The penultimate haircut before college.

What makes you cry?

“The dog will let you know when it’s time,” the vet was saying. Marianne doubted her, but it turned out she was right. Ursula did let them know. The medication helped for six weeks and then it didn’t. Just like that.

During Ursula’s final moments, Marianne fed her nearly a pound of bacon. Her husband choked back tears. The sweet-faced Corgi was lying on a towel the vet had given them in case the dog emptied her bowels at death. Ursula was eager for pork one second and gone the next. Just like that. They wrapped her and the towel in a large swath of red silk. Then the vet showed them a private exit through the lab as a courtesy.

Her husband buried Ursula under the pin cherry out back. They used half of a broken paver stone Marianne and the boys had made ages ago for a marker. The shards of crockery and marbles had been stuck into concrete not quite mixed to last.

And here came Sam at last, looking dapper and ready to meet the world, impervious to the rain.

* * * * * * *

 Note: This is a little too long to be flash fiction.

On another note, I consolidated the plot map into one board. Turns out, it was hard to read over two panels and too much light was being blocked.
And, I did finally manage to download a countdown app. The home screen icon (lower right) gets a red number, as noticeable as the number for unread emails.

If I click on the icon, I see this:

(Those are slave cabins at McCloud Plantation). I still can’t really tell if this is a do-able amount of time to finish. Truly. But it seems to be helping me stay focused, so I won’t dicker with it.

After being called into service to help my sister supply the Salem housing authority with a bunch of documentation on Monday, I worried I might have to move the deadline. Fortunately, the task was a lot easier than expected. When and if she gets subsidized housing, I’ll let my brother pay for movers.

Next up. I plan to break the sections on the board into four chunks. Each will then get roughly twenty five days.

A little get away goes a long way

img_3729One hour south & a lifetime away! A seventh annual gathering. I knew this’d be a tribal exercise — all of us women of a certain age, many lawyers, all engaged & smart sharing an exuberant relationship to food. I didn’t expect to find more profound tribal bonds in the realm of heart ache. Without getting into the details, let me just say: what a lot of familial misery between the nine of us!

I went to the first gathering and missed the intervening six. It was useful to acknowledge what prevented attendance in those years, but listening to others describe challenges and interventions for sons, siblings, & parents, I couldn’t help but wonder what I might’ve learned or employed to good effect had I managed to show up.

Put that wonderment in the category of ‘parental hand-wringing.’ Reflexive regret doesn’t get a free pass around here, just so you know. I’m working on it.

I should have handled it differently. Is that true? Not sure. Not definitively. When I think, “I should have handled it differently” I feel bad and there’s no good reason to hang onto the thought. If I turn it around here’s what I get: I handled it just right.


I don’t beat myself up for being an introvert anymore, but I live so privately these days that I have the luxury of forgetting how my style of communicating comes across. It’s not that I forget how interruptive, easily excited, and opinionated I am. It’s that I forget that for some, this is off-putting.

(“I’d rather need modulating than feel compelled to shush people,” is something I would never say.) 

Anyway, it was no big deal. And one guest informed me in her quiet way in the kitchen yesterday that she appreciates ‘direct people’. . . likes ‘knowing where she stands’. It was nice to hear, but also just weird to even be thinking about: ‘I’m this. I’m that.’

I’m glad to be home, that’s for sure, nice as it was, even though it is cold and rainy again. I have the heat on. Just a little. No apology. 


The doctor’s office called. The test was negative for shingles but probably is shingles given the presentation. My brother seems pretty sure that the reason it doesn’t hurt is because of the recent vaccination. Maybe that foiled the test, too.

Whatever else this diagnosis says about my stress-level, chocolate consumption, or immune system, it feels appropriate that my cheek is weeping. Weep, weep, weep. I keep wishing I could go somewhere and cry but I can’t or won’t, so maybe this’ll have to do.

If it weren’t for a phone call with my sister, I would say that today is a very good day and even with a phone call from my sister, the day rounds into new territory. Less hostile, that is. Calmer. Rain or no rain: mine. Blame and vitriol or none: mine. Weeping blisters or none: coming ’round the bend.

I always think I’ll be back sooner than I am, so in case I’m not — will you watch the Comey hearing on Thursday? I will and in real time, with friends.

Out and about

A trip to upstate New York. Hours spent in the rehab wing of a nursing home to visit my father in law. Thoughts about care: his, my sister’s. Unavoidably depressing.


The weekend also featured a 60th bday concert (for my brother in law, who’s in the band). Pretty amazing to get out on a Sat. night and well worth the effort. It was really fun.

More generally, drab weather has conspired with the news in maintaining a grim outlook. Day after grey day of clouds and rain and cold. Day after day of astonishingly bad news.

But! While sweeping out leaves and dirt from the garage on Sunday (because making decisions about STUFF was beyond me and because I needed a job with tangible results), I listened to a freakonomics podcast about the psychology of gratitude. Take away: we tend to notice headwinds more often and more readily than we notice tailwinds. So, notice the tailwinds. Interestingly enough, it’s not the same as cataloging things one is grateful for. Try it. The practice dovetails with attending to white privilege, if that’s something you’re thinking about.

And there was this, too: sitting next to my father in law in his wheel chair, watching the AHCA go down in flames (yeah!), knowing he hates Trump as much as I do (yeah!). And yesterday, there was the morale-boosting weekly teleconference call with my small Indivisible group. We offer each other accountability and support.

The free form appliqué experiment (“keeping to the original idea”) has turned surprisingly disappointing. Turning over the question, ‘why?’

I pinned up two little house quilts last night that may be reactionary. They offer straight lines and recognizable forms — pleasing, even if trite and familiar (or maybe because they’re trite, familiar?).

It’s all a process. I’m curious and engaged.

Could really use a day of sun.

Pick any three

How three become a story.

This morning I found a big pile of finished Soul Collage cards in my studio (what can I say? And also, aren’t there more somewhere? And what happened to the two dozen plus color copies ready to be trimmed and mounted? — This is what ADD looks like).

Years of Tarot reading (and now Soul Collage card pulling) have taught me that while within every single card there is a story to be found, with three cards, the story tells itself.

These three narrate a tale of parenting. Happening right now. There’s the young man being launched! Into the mountains, specifically.

After a bit of a fall (Humpty Dumpty) and emergency care (doctors have more skill than all the King’s horsemen).

Now the three of us huddle close, two holding up the third for the moment. Fluid, shared creativity will outsmart that horned and hulking bully. Bye bye big reptile guy!

(Fluid creativity is also what ADD looks like, PS).

The meaning of the dance photo is heightened by the fact that the image came from a glossy Vail resort magazine that I clipped years ago. We were at the resort while both boys were still in high school. It was a really special, once in a life time kind of get away (courtesy of my brother). D. fell in love with the Rockies during that trip.

There are a lot of “launch” cards in my deck. That I picked the one with a snowy mountain range demonstrates how synchronicity informs the process.

‘Nuff said. Much still up in the air. There and here. I have tons of pictures from our wonderful trip to Charleston and need to figure out how to share them. Reconsidering Flickr: yahoo keeps getting hacked.

It’s fifty degrees here. Hotter, I’m told, in Boulder.

Festive salad and Salem visit

Lost my mojo. In fact, the campaign and election were disturbing enough to convert me from a “woman who yells” to one who cries. I still feel off, but miss my blog peeps, so here I am with a modest offering of food. This delicious winter salad has four ingredients: romaine, slivered radicchio, thin-sliced red onion, and pomegranate seeds. Topped with a mustard/garlic vinaigrette on the tangy side. The red bits look festive, don’t you think?

Good thing it was tasty because for some reason the frittata bombed. Came out like a rubber mat with inclusions of goat cheese. Seriously.

C acted the good sport and came to Salem with me today. Removed a cruddy rug. Got the AC unit down to the basement. Moved the bed and the exercise machine. We shopped for food and wine. Pictures were hung, curtains put up, and a few decorations fetched from storage.

This was AFTER C. bagged up another five bags of leaves for the neighbor who hired him, making a total of 28. Whew! It was the last leaf pick up in our town. On our side of the fence, it went pretty painlessly. The guy I thought I hired never showed and I’m glad because being outside and raking was one of the sanest and most grounding activities of the last few weeks.

9/12

I was meeting with a fellow landscape-volunteer for the elementary school when her husband called. “Turn on the TV. Turn on the TV.” The friend said, “it’s Osama bin Laden”. Believe it or not, that was the first time I’d heard that name (an unthinkable state of ignorance now, with FB, twitter, etc.). We watched the towers go down in real time.K was sent home from work, the office closed. There was the fear of more planes, more death.

Because the boys were young (7 and 5), we didn’t watch the endless replays. We had a camping trip planned for the weekend and were glad to have a reason to interrupt routines, but actually drove down into North Adams at one point to buy a newspaper. A couple of times while the kids bombed around on their bicycles, K and I turned on the van engine and listened to the radio in a state of shock. I remember feeling a sense of kinship with our grandparent’s generation, listening for news about the war, huddled around a radio.

I remember how startlingly blue the sky was on 9/11. A perfect fall day. I remember reading an email from the school saying, “we have not told them.” I remember calling a friend over before I walked over to pick up the boys, embracing her and crying, “what kind of world are they growing up in?”

On Facebook yesterday (it’s 9/12 now), I watched a video clip of tolling church bells on the campus of UMass/Amherst. Not only was it a haunting sound, but the comments rolling underneath gave me chills, especially the ones saying things like, “my son was in kindergarten that day and now he’s a junior at UMass”. And then there were comments simply saying what they were doing that day. Where they were or who they lost. We will all remember.

It took days to find out if my brother was okay. He had been scheduled to fly from somewhere in Europe into D.C. to give a lecture. All the other doctors (sensibly) cancelled, but he was adamant about showing up. He first flew to somewhere in the Caribbean and next to Canada where he rented a car.

My brother, like my son, went to McGill and had crossed that border many, many times without incident. But this was post 9/11. Because he was coming from Europe, he had multiple currencies on his person — suspect. It was a one-way car rental — suspect. And then there was the Irish surname — also suspect given the long and troubled history with bombs (my sister maintains we’re related to Timothy McVeigh, but never mind that).

The police at the U.S./Canadian border thoroughly took apart the car. I don’t mean pulled him over to inspect the trunk and open a few suitcases — I mean, unbolting door panels, ripping up floor mats, lifting seat cushions.

I may have gotten some of those details wrong, but you get the gist.

What I don’t remember — is what we said to our sons, our young and impressionable and fairly innocent sons. What did I say?

 

P.S. That’s a SoulCollage card referring directly to the attacks of 9/11 and also referring indirectly to my maternal grandfather (using magazine images), who came to NYC in 1923, spent decades working in the bowels of ships while raising a family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before moving up to Newburgh, NY.

P.P.S. The creepiest local connection was that the Boston hijackers spent their final night on this earth in a hotel less than a mile down the road. The place has since been razed and an apartment building sits there now.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine move to Battery Park sometime later and when we visited her, we went to Ground Zero. It was awful. One of the worst things? Looking at the dust on nearby building knowing that it had DNA in it.

Blessed be

Blessed be the infernal yard crew that inspires me to put Angelique Kidjo on full blast and DANCE for 20 minutes.

Blessed be the achy, arthritic hips that still like to move and blessed be the feeling of bare feet sliding across the floor in an ecstasy of rhythm.

Blessed be the gloaming and the rain that falls during the night.
Blessed be Blue Ribbon Barbeque! And a weight loss plan that lets me eat this plate load with gusto and still be on track (Weight Watchers; down 6 pounds).

Blessed be the child that is learning to listen to his gut (even if it requires a trip to the ER for fluids).

Blessed be SoulCollage for making the obvious obvious.


Blessed be the mothers that outwait, outlisten, outhope, and outflex the children in distress, even if it takes a strenuous chanting practice and a ridiculous amount of pacing.

Blessed be the husbands who know how to use chop saws and mitre saws and can measure properly and fix things: rotting things, leaking things, peeling things, essential things.

Blessed be the guardians, seen and unseen.

Blessed be the places we find joy.