Weekend Morning

I set the alarm for 5:15 so I could at least lie in the bed for a few minutes before our visiting little-guys woke; it went off and I was wide awake, all too aware that they were sleeping just on the other side of our bedroom wall. “This is good!” I thought. “I can think my own thoughts, stretch, do bound-angle pose and even change that darn dressing on my incision before they wake at 6!”

That’s when I heard a small sound as a hand-scrawled note came sliding under the door. “Can we get up now TT? it said.

They were already awake!  At quarter past five in the morning!  And had evidently been awake long enough for the older one to have found paper and pencil and composed a full sentence.

Then the bedroom door opened and in they rushed us. They got right in the bed, with us, turned on the TV and for 45 minutes lay on their tummies watching the jazzy pre-teen lingo and fast moving graphics on Disney HD.

I won’t lie: I lay on my tummy watching too. In fact we all watched except for Old Dave. “Papa can sleep through anything!” said the little brother. That he can, and always could, from way back when he looked like this, my sister has called him “Lying Down Man.” 

After the pancakes and bacon, the juice and the mangoes,  the brushing of the teeth and the inspecting of TT’s green toenail polish we manned our battle stations to give those lights sabers a work out as promised.

I sigh happily remembering it even as I yearn for a nap here. Besides engaging in a little sword play what’s nicer on a weekend morning than lying in bed with friends?

Tonight Tonight

Our kitchen has three fruit bowls on the counter, all brimming, all constantly being refilled. The washing machine goes day and night. If Person Five comes back today to clean out her stuff there’ll be six people in the house.

This is all just temporary. Person Six was born here but he’s just visiting for the weekend. Person Five is moving to a new apartment to begin her real life in the area and Persons Three and Four have begun taking boxes over to their own new place that they’ve been waiting for since they first saw it in May.

That will leave only Persons One and Two, Who brought their own boxes to this place over 30 years ago with a 26-month-old, then welcomed another baby a month later and a final baby a few turns of the moon after that.

(the big ones are Persons One and Two – that’s me in my 80’s hair )

It’s a big old house, with a long curving upstairs hallway around which we walked many nights holding this or that crying baby or toddler, BUT: It won’t feel big tonight when those two little guys come for their sleepover.

Their parents tell us they wake fighting and fight the day through- in a manly way fisticuffs, wrestling moves, choke-holds. It’s what boys do, everybody says.

Attempting to go with that I bought them both Star Wars Light Sabers for tonight’s fun – plus one for me. We tested them out last weekend.

“Are you out of your MIND?” said Old Dave, regarding this arsenal. He thinks the bigger child will deal the little one a mighty blow and in the process all three Light Sabers will spontaneously shatter.He doesn’t understand the delicacy of Jedi swordplay. We three do because we watched the 15 minute video that comes with our new toys.

Anyway there’s this: Person Number Four took these two children to camp and to Magic Garden three mornings this week and recorded these moments as they said their goodbyes. Now does this look like fighting to you?

Me I think it’s going to be a feast of hugs and kisses around here in the next 23 hours (with maybe some thudding feet at 5am around that upstairs hallway.)

And if things take a more warlike turn I’ll just channel my own inner Yoda 🙂

anyway we look a lit alike

“Lust” I Lisped

That Dick and Jane series I referenced yesterday wasn’t the reading book I had as a tyke. I had the John, Jean and Judy series made expressly for Catholic school kids and chock full of what the publisher called “religious elements”. I had so many religious elements in my life as it was it’s no wonder I thought I was having religious visions when I fainted in church. Even in our house we had holy water fonts, statues of Jesus, outfits for the statues of Jesus and on and on, all sold to us by those excellent businesswomen the nuns.

Then every night for homework and every fear-filled day at school we had…. The Baltimore Catechism.

Catholic school kids learned to memorize, I’ll say that. We could recite both the answers AND the questions from that little blue book, waking or sleeping, forward or back, ornate language and all. Even today I can give it to you: “Question: What are the sins against hope?” “Answer: The sins against hope are presumption and despair.”

I was in Second Grade when I learned that one. and didn’t my mother wince when in front of a roomful of company I dished up the Seven Deadly Sins: “ Pride, Covetousness,  Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth” I whispered sweetly. “And … and what is that other one Nan?”

“Lust” said my big sister, who was all of nine.

“Lust”  I lisped with my toothless little-kid smile.

Turns out this sin-drenched curriculum didn’t just belong to the  Catholics. The New England Primer was a textbook used by students in English settlements in North America from the time of its publication is 1690 until at least halfway through the 19th century. Over five million copies were sold. As the source I just read says it combined the traditional alphabet study with Biblical precepts. “Emphasis was placed on fear of sin, God’s punishment and the fact that all people would have to face death.” Cheerful!

Take these few examples from early in the alphabet: For the letter A, “In Adam’s Fall We sinned all”, for B, “Thy Life to Mend This Book Attend, for I “The Idle Fool Is Whipt at School.”

Shake my head as they say.  Just kinda makes ya wonder what we’ll be teaching the poor kids next.

And the Livin’ is Easy

Yesterday fat white clouds drifted all stately across a sky that looked like something out of those old-time Dick and Jane books with Spot and Puff and Mother in her pretty checkered dress with the belling skirt and Father slim as Fred Astaire in his natty light grey suit. 

It was a picture-book summer day in other words and people weren’t exactly working hard as far as I could tell.

At CVS the kid at the register was in such a fog he greeted me, thanked me and bade me goodbye without interrupting his open-eyed nap for so much as a second. I could have been wearing a clown wig and he wouldn’t have noticed.

Work was the last thing on his mind.

The last thing on my mind too.

I knocked off early to go for my first massage in over two years’ time and after it  felt so relaxed I missed the step on my way out of the building and had to execute several super-fast Salsa steps to keep from pitching forward onto the sidewalk.

I then went out for an early dinner, missed my mouth not once but twice, came back home for a quick nap, answered three emails, fell asleep watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad of all the impossible feats and went to bed for real at 10.

I swear: there are tensed-up stomach muscles that don’t really let go until right now, in this fully flowered, children’s-book-beautiful stretch of high-summer weeks.

Fun for Me on the Old DL

What a huge thing to be forbidden trips to the Y, though I have devised this home workout you see on the left. (Yup that’s me in the red fur and sure the knots were a little hard to get right but it all works great now.) And wow are the days deliciously long with no Y-trip to schedule into the old workday! Plus it’s really quieted me down to be sittin’ on the bench here with an incision that looks like what you see stitched into a football, only uglier; a wound you have to tend every day, unwrap and air out and poke with a Vaseline-daubed Q-tip and all.

And so much for shorts and skirts with a dressing on my leg the size of a dinner napkin. I’m in so many pairs of jeans and long hippie dresses it feels like the 70s again. 🙂

Also I’m catching up on my sleep. I was in the bed ‘til ‘til 7:30 yesterday morning, a record for me. I did get up at 4am and make a quick tour of the house making improvements but that’s only because the leg hurts just enough to keep me in light-sleep mode.

I figure I might try eating less since I can’t exercise. When I was on the table and the surgeon was  wrapping my leg with a super-tight Ace bandage I said “I heard when you have liposuction they put you in this all-over bandage for a whole month while your tissues get over the shock of being Hoovered half to death, did you know that?”

She glanced up from her bandage winding to give me a bland noncommittal look. “I did know that. We do that here.”

Only then did realize I was actually ON the cosmetic surgery floor of this famous hospital just because everybody just assumes the sky will fall if they they have a regular scar, even on their lower leg where no one is ever going to notice it. Who knew I’d be  in the cosmetic surgery unit? I mean it’s not like I’m Tina Fey after having her cheek slashed by some crazy guy that’s for sure.

So I’m thinking hmmm …. Diet and exercise? Or the sucky thing and the body bandage after?  Diet and exercise or the sucky thing? It’s tempting to go with the latter but I figure with my home workout here and a little of what Jennifer Hudson and my WW pals call tracking I‘ll be ready for my close-up in no time  – from the knees up anyway. 

Better Than Abby

I was once giving a young man a bit of advice, something I didn’t realize I was doing until he suddenly held up his hand. “No, see I don’t want your advice; all I want from you is your encouragement and support.”

It’s a remark I’ve never forgotten but what did it really mean? Do people really NOT want a word of counsel, preferring instead to blunder blindly forward on their own? And if they won’t take advice from someone they know, will they take it from someone they’ve never met?

Well, if they’re smart they will, and if that someone is Jeanne Phillips also known as Abigail Van Buren, who now writes the feature her mother Pauline first brought to the world in 1956. Now, as then, ‘Abby’’ gives it to you straight. Take this recent response to a woman vexed with her husband who thinks it’s fine to read over his wife’s shoulder.

“I have tried explaining that I think it’s rude, but he says I’m rude for asking him not to do it. He thinks I have something to hide if I tell him to stop. What say you?” Abby’s reply: “I say you married a man who is insecure and suspicious, and you have my sympathy.”

Or take this exchange, with a woman so desperate to maintain ties with a former boyfriend that she buys him a bottle of his favorite wine, even though “he is making no effort to hang out” even to accept the gift. “At what point do I put the bottle to better use and drink it myself?” she asks. Abby’s reply:  “How about tonight?”

She’s equally frank with a man agonizing about his girlfriend who has three children from three different fathers and a male ‘friend’ who she has the children addressing as Daddy. “She says she loves me and wants us to be married, but I’m having a hard time accepting that all of these children’s fathers will be part of our life — as well as the ‘friend.’ Can a psychologist help me get past this?” Abby’s response: “I don’t know. But before you take this relationship further, you should definitely see one.”

Yes she says more in saying less.But what I ‘ve noticed is that sometimes saying nothing at all can also work pretty well in directing people toward good choices.

In my second year teaching, I was assigned Girls Room duty, which meant spending every lunch hour on a bench in a basement lavatory where one day a student from my sixth period class sat down beside me.

Her father had died the year before and she was just plain mad at the world. When she came to class at all she just sat scowling out the window. At quiz-time she would say she hadn’t done the reading and I should just give her the F.

Yet now here she was every day on my bench, where, as the months passed, she slowly began talking about things, including the extralegal bits of mischief she had cooked up the night before.

I just listened – until the day when she came to the end of this Daily Crime Report, paused, and blurted, “But I’m stopping all that now.”

“Why?” was all I could ask.

“Because I can tell that you think I should.”

She knew this not because I said so but because I didn’t and there was the revelation of a truth I have never forgotten: Namely that true attention makes a space in which the person speaking can truly hear and truly see himself – and then make a good decision on his own.

This is What You Shall Do

“This is what you shall do,” wrote Walt Whitman in the preface to the second edition of Leaves of Grass,the collection of verse that shook the literary establishment clear down to its knickers.

I keep the whole passage in a frame on my desk and have read it so many times that it has entered me by now. I hear his voice in so many places I visit.

I certainly heard it at sunset the other day when I drove to the stretch of city shoreline known as Revere Beach.

Let me set down the whole of what Whitman says and you will maybe see why he sang to me here. He tells us,

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals; despise riches; give alms to everyone that asks; stand up for the stupid and the crazy; argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward the people; go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the Mothers of families; dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency, not  only in words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the  lashes of your eyes and in every last joint and motion of your body…

Whenever I need to feel better I reread this and then I go out to where the people are. ‘Stand up for the stupid and the crazy,’ he says and I know that one day I will very likely be what the world calls stupid. As for crazy, my sister thinks I’m that already .

It’s fine if I am. It doesn’t matter. I went to this beach and was smiled at by every single person I gave a smile to.

We were all just there together. We walked or sat or stood, right where we should be: where God first put us and where He can find us again, here in His light, in His glorious late day-light.

Post Op

“Will this hurt when the drug wears off?” I asked David an hour or two after my surgery.

“Nah,” said the former football star. “It’s just a cut. Cuts don’t hurt.”

Actually it  hurts like a mothuh as the saying goes. So I turned to the boyfriend  of my girl Annie. He’s a firefighter/medic.  

“John, am I supposed to call the doctor? This really hurts.”

“Of course it hurts! They took a three-inch chunk out of your leg!”

We’re with John and Annie right now and in a few hours our other girl Carrie will arrive with her Chris and their two little ninja-boys. In this calm-before-the-storm-time I’m studying the post-op lit which says to take Tylenol, which I never do, relying instead on my best friend Excedrin, and occasionally going over to Advil because Dave takes Advil before playing golf…. BUT! you can’t take Excedrin or Advil in these first few days so here I am downing my two capsules of Tylenol every four to six hours. 

As it happens Annie is under the weather today too with a cough and bad sore throat and just now said, “I want to take some Tylenol too but John says I shouldn’t if  I want to have wine tonight.”

‘What?” I said. “Wha-a-a-a-t?”

“Yeah, it’s too much for your liver when you have both.”

“Seriously?” I said. “Last night  I couldn’t sleep between the pain and a racing brain and I finally got up at 3am, tossed back two Tylenols and half a Trazadone from an ’06 prescription and downed a couple of quick fingers of VO.”

“Then what did you do, smooth it all down with a hit of meth?”

These kids: wiseguys all of ’em. They’re bossing me pretty good right now but it actually feels kind of good to me, weak and wounded and ill-informed as I am. Plus I think all this self-moody absorption is kind of fun. Next up: hair-twirling and thumb-sucking. 


The Sisterhood

I don’t mean to make light of it; I can’t think of anything scarier than being told you have real cancer, not like the basal cell kind that doesn’t have the sense to move but just kinda sits there. That’s all I have – or had anyway, until Thursday when the nicest surgeon in the world, serene and cool in a sleeveless dove-grey silk dress, cut a three-inch long slit in my leg and took it out. (Giant dressing! who knew?)

I didn’t actually ‘get it’ that I wouldn’t be able to swim for two weeks, or shower. Or allow the area even to get even a little bit wet for 48 hours; that I wouldn’t be able do Zumba or Pilates or yoga, never mind jump on the treadmill or that funny Wave machine that makes you look like a roller-skating baby elephant.

She and the nurse made me lie down flat, Then they draped the area with enough bunting for a Fourth of July bandstand. Then in went the Lidocaine

“How come people don’t bleed more during surgery?”

“Oh there’s some epinephrine in there with the Lidocaine. It constricts bloodflow.”

Subtly tied down or not I did a quick sit-up so I could take a look. Bleedin’ pretty good actually! (this is after all the cleanup.)

I flopped back down fast but not so fast that she didn’t see the look on my face.

“So what would you be doing on a day like this if you weren’t coming here?” she asked cheerily, to distract me from the business at hand.

My answer made reference to the fact that even now in America it is almost exclusively we women who act as caregivers to our elderly. “So much for equality there!” I said.

“I hear that! she cried. “I almost lost my mind over the fact that before we were married my man couldn’t manage a simple RSVP !”

I sighed happily and lay back on the table. There’s nothing that relaxes us women more than a nice little session complaining about our husbands. I mean heck, cancers come and go but the sisterhood you have with you always. 🙂

Cool Yourself

They say it’s gonna be another hot one and you can already tell that they’re right. Maybe today the candlesticks will give up the ghost again and wilt onto the dining room table like they did that crazy-hot summer in the 90s. Maybe my skin will actually slide off my face.

I don’t love air conditioning but I’d’ve been a goner without it this week. I step from our refrigerated box of a bedroom into the upstairs hall and it’s like an actual furnace, even at 5am.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to sleep on the third floor like the two family members living with us while waiting for their apartment to be ready. They refuse to let us get a little AC unit.

They moved here from Florida so they’re tougher than we are.

Some years ago, when the guy of the couple was a lad of 19 working toward the old Bachelor’s degree at RPI, he spent the whole month of July painting the trim in the upstairs study I use as my office, taking numerous breaks to hang out with our kids and their pals, natch. What’s summer for if not for hanging out with a fun crowd?

 (a typical day that summer . Painting-Man third from left)

Then, by night he climbed the stairs to that same hot room under the roof, turned on the two standing fans he had up there, stretched out in front of them both and sprayed himself at ten minute intervals with a plant mister.  

He always swore there was no nicer a feeling in the world and he kept it up all night long. I’ve just now tried the same trick down here on the screened porch where it’s already 85 degrees, just after sun-up or not and do you know what?

He’s right.

It’s almost as good as the cooling methods of yore. 🙂

I especially like the Baby Jesus rays coming out of the seated kid’s head. Catholic school memories!