Pruning My Way to Mental Health


Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

About fifteen years ago, we put a chain link fence around a section of our yard. We’d finally gotten ourselves a puppy, and it had taken no time at all for him to convince us that if we didn’t have a fence, we’d have a happy hound dog rambling around the neighborhood chasing every chipmunk in sight.

He was not going to stay in place unless we fenced him in.

So that’s exactly what we did.

It was a good move, puppy-wise, but that fence was less than attractive. I didn’t like the ugly steel look of the fence around what had once been our son’s baseball field.

So I did what any frugal gardeners would do. I looked at what plants were already thriving in our yard, hoping for some transplants. I planted a nice little row of forsythia babies along the fence. They were free. They were super easy to grow. Their deep roots kept the dog from digging out, and the yellow flowers and arching branches of the bushes gave a new level of beauty to our mostly wild yard.

For the first five years or so, I was able to completely ignore the bushes as they grew.

After that, I learned to prune them a bit each early summer, in an effort to keep them from becoming overgrown.

But the dog got older, and eventually crossed that rainbow bridge. The little pups that came after him enjoyed the fenced yard, and the forsythia grew by leaps and bounds.

My back got older, my bones got achier, and the once lovely arches of my forsythia grew through the fence, and sent ever taller branches up toward the sky.

My yard felt increasingly out of control.

This morning I looked out there, and felt my anxiety rising.

EVERYTHING in my life feels out of control these days. Literally everything. This was simply one more item that I could not tame.

For a few minutes, I stood gazing out the window. The news was on, the Sunday morning blathering causing my heartbeat to increase even more.

I couldn’t take it another minute.

I took a deep breath and a long drink of water, then headed outside to the yard. Clippers in hand, I approached the giant row of tangled limbs. I had to tilt my head all the way back just to see the top branches.

I reached into the middle of the first bush, and blindly started to cut. I snipped and pulled and wrangled, piling each chopped branch onto a growing pile.

I was not careful. I was not subtle, or thoughtful, or mindful as I hacked into the wall of tangled green.

My muscles hurt, and my back maintained a steady beat of complaint. But I felt GOOD.

I had taken control. This was MY yard, dammit, and these were MY plants. I could hack them right to the ground if I chose to.

As I clipped and cleared, it occurred to me that I had become the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, faced with a giant wall of overgrown roses and thorns.

Like the Prince in that old classic, I was wielding my sword against an overgrown and thickly tangled mass of vegetation. I felt that I was facing an enemy.

OK, I wasn’t fighting actual thorns, but my arms were definitely getting scratched by the branches. The deeply tangled limbs were doing their best to push me out.

And while I wasn’t in pursuit of a sleeping Princess, I was in search of a sense of empowerment. My Sleeping Beauty was my suddenly dormant sense of control over the key parts of my life.

So I hacked and I slashed and I chopped. I unwound branches from the coils of the fence. I piled more and more branches into the pile of brush that we hope to burn in the winter.

I sweated, and I cursed and I thought, “I am pruning you out of my life, stupid social media posts.” I thought about my constant need to monitor the news as I cut down a giant chunk of wood. “Take that, stupid CNN!” I said it out loud as the huge lump of brush fell at my feet. “Go away, idiot elected officials who think we’re all stupid!”

I may have shouted that last one as I clipped back one twisted limb. I was picturing the image of an actual elected Congressperson using a giant gun to blow up a car labeled “socialism”.

My rage grew as my clippers snipped.

I was panting and furious by the time I stepped back and surveyed the damage.

I felt good.

I felt strong.

I felt vindicated.

I know that next spring there will be no lovely yellow flowers surrounding my fence. I understand that it will take some time for these bushes to reform and reassert themselves along the fenceline.

Just as I know that my mind will soon be crowded once again with the annoying buzz of political lies, endless ‘spin’, self-serving opinions and all the rest.

I don’t care.

For now, my muscles and I feel both exhausted and exhilarated. We have seized control of at least one of our foes. We have asserted our power over one small piece of our chaotic world.

The forsythia will be back, but for now, they must bow to the woman with the clippers.

It might not be much, but it’s enough for me.

Adjusting My Focus


Photo by Matthieu PĂ©tiard on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling increasingly hopeless these days. I have been struggling with the realization that I have virtually no control over what will happen in my life in the next few years.

I can’t stop the climate crisis, no matter how many “plastic free” soaps I buy. I don’t have a way to slow or stop the Covid pandemic, other than wearing my mask and getting my shot. I can’t control the flow of lies that is sweeping the country, or the twisting of reality that I see every day on social media.

I can’t stop myself from aging. I can’t control the growth of the microscopic cancer cells in my breast. I can’t control the weather or the midterm elections or the price of gas or the supply chain.

I feel as if I am in the middle of a vortex of terrible outcomes, and that leaves me breathless with fear and sorrow.

So I am trying my best to adjust my focus. I am trying every day to look at life as if I were peering through the lens of an old 35 millimeter camera.

And I am finding that this shifting focus is both encouraging and enlightening.

Last night, at the end of a beautiful clear September day, I sat outside on my deck. I rested my head against the back of my chair, aware that we are in the waning days of summer. I lifted my eyes to the bright blue sky above me, and watched a line of clouds, beautiful and gentle, as they slowly drifted over our house.

And I started to think about the fact that those clouds look just exactly the same as the clouds that have drifted over my head for all of my 65 years. I have no doubt that they look just the same as the clouds that floated lightly over my parents and my grandparents and the grandparents who came before them.

No matter what wars rage below them, clouds continue to slip from west to east across this continent. In spite of the anger and fighting that goes on below them, clouds are formed and clouds are lifted and clouds are moved along the current of earth’s winds.

As my head rested on the back of my deck chair, I found myself comforted by the serene and distant movement of those clouds.

“When I die, ” I realized, “those clouds will not mourn. They will not react. They will continue to coalesce, and form and rise and float along the path that earth has created for them.”

I love that thought.

My focus had shifted, away from myself and my little life, to a wider and more expansive view, in which the survival of the earth seemed assured.

I was relieved and calmed by this wider focus.

This morning, after a night of intense thunderstorms and heavy rain, I went out onto my deck once again. I stood leaning on the bannister, a cup of hot coffee in one hand.

My yard is overgrown, slightly unkempt, and looking more like an emerging forest than a suburban garden.

It made me feel bad. It made me feel as if my world is out of control.

I stood there for a minute, feeling sad.

And then I noticed that one of my overgrown bushes was shaking. The branches were moving up and down, although there was no wind.

As I watched, a tiny chipmunk emerged from under the drooping leaves of a daylily. It’s nose was twitching rapidly, and it’s little hands were moving up and down. I leaned in a bit, to see what the little creature was doing.

I realized that as I stood watching, this bitty little animal was happily gorging on the berries of a sapling that I had considered to be a pest. I smiled a bit, and settled against the warm wood to watch.

As my eyes adjusted, I realized that most of the newly grown “forest” was shaking, and I saw chipmunks, squirrels and even one teensy mouse working swiftly and efficiently in my overgrown garden. They were gathering seeds, gathering berries, clearly feeling wonderful about life in general.

I had to smile.

My unrestrained and overgrown garden bed, which had seemed to me to be nothing more than an eyesore and a condemnation of my laziness, was actually a wonderfully stocked pantry for the many lives that share this bit of land with us.

My focus shifted again, from myself and other humans, to the tiny creatures with which we share our space.

So I am calmed. I am encouraged.

While I mourn for the struggles that we humans are enduring, my fear that life itself is meaningless has been assuaged.

I may be helpless to change the course of events around me, but the clouds will continue to float. The mice will continue to gather seeds.

Life beyond our reach will go on, and I find that to be enormously encouraging.

How We Can Stop Abortion


And still be decent human beings.

So I have to say, I have very strong feelings about abortion. I am the mother of three, and I spent several years desperately trying to have a baby.

As a fertility patient, I learned a lot about the desperation to reproduce that motivates so many of us. I shared that desperation. I have spent far too many hour gazing into my bathroom mirror and wondering, “why am I not worthy of becoming a mother?”

And I understand the power and importance of a brand-new pregnancy, and how profoundly it changes a woman. One of the saddest moments of my life was when I suffered the miscarriage of a 14 week baby who I had wanted and cherished, although I had not planned to create.

Like a lot of people who oppose abortion, I cringe at the thought of stopping a beating heart.

But here is where my ideas differ drastically from those who believe that demonizing and criminalizing the behavior of desperate women is the way to stop abortion.

I believe that if this country truly wanted to limit the number of aborted fetuses, it would turn its focus toward prevention of those unwanted pregnancies.

You know, sort of like the fact that if we really want to stop the Covid virus, we’ll focus on preventing illness rather than on treating it once it happens.

Stopping the out of control train us a lot better than standing in front of it as it hurtles toward us, right?

So.

If the people who support the draconian, authoritarian, backwards thinking law that just passed in Texas REALLY want to stop abortion, here is how they can do it without turning their neighbors into a bunch of vigilantes.

  1. Invest a shit load of money into developing safe, effective, easy to us contraceptives. I mean, seriously…..you want to stop unwanted pregnancies? Go out there and find a way to do that!!! One for men, one for women, and LOOKIE. No more babies that weren’t wanted.
  2. Make that contraception free, available, and easy to use. If you REALLY want to stop abortion, you’ll make contraception as easy to get as….oh, I don’t know….a GUN? Or a cup of coffee? Or a bottle of ibuprofen. Get that stuff out there, and get it into the hands of every fertile young thing on the ranch. Bam. Done.
  3. Provide health insurance to EVERYONE. You know, so that every single young woman and young man can go to a DOCTOR and ask the key questions about fertility. And so they can get their contraception, get fitted for that IUD, get the safest pill……Stop making a lack of insurance mean a lack of contraception.
  4. Hold. Men. Accountable. If your partner conceives, buddy, YOU are on the hook to provide economic support from the first day of the first missed period. No more “boys will be boys” crap here. If you shoot your gun, you own the result.
  5. Provide state funded support for prenatal care, perinatal care, childcare and aftercare and adoption support and counseling after giving birth. NOT kidding here: we can’t ask women to shoulder the emotional, physical and financial burdens of childbirth without offering every possible alternative to abortion. Not if we REALLY want to end abortion.

Between you and me, I would love to see a day when abortion was a very rare choice for pregnant woman. Between you and me, I would love to see a day when women are supported throughout their pregnancies with physical and mental health care. I would love to see a time when every woman had a choice about when to have a baby, and when every single baby was guaranteed health care, a safe place to live and a family with community support.

To do anything less than these simple steps is simply an attack on the autonomy and freedom of woman. To demand that women carry pregnancies to term, without the necessary supports, is a clear statement in support of government tyranny.

If you REALLY want to halt abortions, put aside your attacks on women, and start demanding decent universal healthcare that includes ALL parts of contraceptive and family planning.

“Hope is the Thing With Feathers”


Some people say that millennials are lazy. They say that this generation wants everything simply handed to them, that they lack a work ethic, that they are naive and irresponsible.

Every generation seems to look on the one before it as archaic and uninformed, and the one after it as somehow less worthy than their parents.

I’ve never understood this tendency, and have often shrugged it off as a natural human need to believe that “we” are better than “they” are. Just one more self serving attempt to feel good about ourselves by criticizing anyone who is not in our tribe.

But I’ll tell you something, dear boomer team, it is the next generation of young adults that is my lifeline to a sense of hope for humanity.

We spent this past weekend at our son’s wedding to his wonderful life partner. It was a glorious event, in every possible way. We have already loved and cherished our daughter-in-law for a decade, long before she and our son progressed from good friends to lovers. The wedding itself was like a magical dream, complete with delicious and abundant food, a gorgeous lawn setting and lots of loving family.

But it was the unique and uplifting presence of the community of young friends that has restored my badly damaged faith in the human species.

Like a lot of you, I find myself overwhelmed with frustration every time I read the news or look at social media. “How have humans managed to last for so long,” I keep asking myself. “And do we deserve to keep going?”

It feels like the End of Days.

So let me describe my impressions and interactions with these amazing young people. Because after this weekend, I don’t think we are quite yet on the edge of doom.

My first thought is this: in spite of the fact that these kids are well educated and highly creative, there doesn’t seem to be a giant ego anywhere to be found. ALL of them cheer each other’s successes and share in each other’s achievements. They mourn each other’s losses. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of jealousy or envy or begrudging among them. That astonishes me.

My second impression is that they have a self-confidence and assurance that our generation mostly lacked at that young age. Here’s what I mean; we have known most of these kids for about ten years. We’ve seen them go through college, move into the work force or start careers in the arts. We’ve been there at musical festivals with them, at barbecues, at various birthdays and holidays. From the very first, all of them have been completely welcoming and non-judgmental of the “old folks”. They have been open in a way that has always surprised and delighted me. They talk to us with great sincerity about their dreams and hopes and about their fears, too. They hug us with so much warmth, and they are all quick to say, “I love you, Mamma Shiebs!”

It takes a great deal of self awareness to do that in your twenties, especially with people you see only a few times a year. Nevertheless, as soon as we arrive at any place where they are gathered, we are immediately embraced and taken into the heart of the group. When I’m with them, I feel profoundly respected, profoundly cared for and immensely safe.

That is an indescribable gift, don’t you think?

But the most impressive and inspiring feeling about spending time with these people is that when I am with them, I am able to let go of my fear that humanity will never learn from its mistakes, and that we will continue on the dangerous path that has lead to such dark times.

I say that because I watch these kids work so. hard. every. day; but I watch them do it with a mindfulness that we older folks lack. Some of them have professional careers as teachers or therapists. Some run small local businesses. Many of them have launched careers as artists which they supplement with part time jobs.

Unlike us, they don’t seem to feel that their self-worth comes from a big paycheck. They don’t measure their success by the number of “things” they buy or by the cost of those “things.” They work to pay for their lives, which they live mindfully and frugally.

They ask for nothing. Seriously. Birthdays and Christmases are about small, homemade gifts of food, or music or plants or hand knit scarves. They are about warmly worded letters and shared meals and laughing. They don’t want things. What items they do need, they mostly get second hand, proud of the money saved, the trash prevented and the environmental damage avoided.

Unlike us, they value people above material things. They grow a lot of their own food, share what they have with each other and with the community, make things for themselves and fix what is broken.

I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to understand that life is precious and that it’s meant to be enjoyed. They know that it is as important to recharge as it is to charge onward. They keep journals, write songs, paint and sculpt their feelings. I can’t imagine any of them working 60 hours a week at jobs they hate while missing time with the families they love. They have more sense than we do!

They are natural teachers, and they share their gentle wisdom with old folks like me, who learn from every interaction.

They are kind. When I am ranting about my personal or political opinions, they are quick to point out that everyone is allowed their own point of view. They listen to each other, and to everyone else, even when it’s hard. They speak up, even when it feels risky.

They are humble, and they remind us to be that way, too.

They have come of age in a time of war, a time of global climate crisis, a time of pandemics and racism and increasing poverty. They have come of age at a time in history when it is clear that the generation before them has failed to light the way. They are unlikely to find the level of financial security that many of us have, but instead of letting that lead them to despair, it has lead them to view life differently.

They give me such hope!

Last week I thought that humankind had run its course, and that we’d soon be descending into chaos.

This week I have hope that if they are given just the slightest chance, the next generation will provide the reset that our species so desperately needs.

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul……”

Thank you, young friends from North Adams, Massachusetts! You are the hope that my soul needed so much.

We Have Offended An Evil Genie


I’m sure of it.

Somewhere, somehow, in the past few months, Paul and I have definitely offended some seriously evil force in the universe.

If you saw my last post, where I said “It could be worse“, you know that my usually reliable good luck has kind of evaporated. What with the return of Covid, my strange blood issues and upcoming cancer surgery, a big old hurricane coming along….it’s beginning to feel like this might be a good time to huddle on the bed in the pile of bubble wrap.

Because, you know what?

Stuff just got worse.

Yup.

Last evening it was starting to seem as if things were getting better. Hurricane Henri had slipped to the west of us, and our power had stayed on. All of our kids were safe at their homes, and there wasn’t any damage to the venue where our son’s wedding is set to take place.

So around 7 pm, after cleaning up dinner, I told Paul that I was really, really, REALLY in need of a night of sleep. My pattern for the previous two weeks had been to sleep from about 10 to 12 and then to lie awake like a rigid, frantic, panic stricken heart attack victim until around 4AM, when I’d doze for two more hours.

I was tired.

As in: I was so tired that there were moments when I was starting to wonder if I was real or if I was a badly drawn avatar making my way through a pretend universe.

Yup.

Wicked tired.

But it was Sunday night, with nothing on the agenda for Monday. No pressing issues, no incoming storm surge, nothing. So I decided to take matters into my own aging yet hip hands. Now that I had finally weaned off of the loathesome prednisone, I’d knock myself into sweet, sweet oblivion and FINALLY get a few hours of decent rest.

I scooped up a lovely 1/2 teaspoon of what we lovingly refer to as “Kelly’s Magic Butter”. A tasty, herbal butter loaded with the fabulous weed grown by our dear friends.

Now, I have to explain that I have a medical marijuana card from the state of Massachusetts, and I regularly use a few cannabis gummies to help me to manage pain and insomnia. But over the course of two weeks on prednisone, I had found that my nice little indica candies were doing NOTHING.

It was time for the big guns. The big, non-narcotic, safe, tasty sleepy guns. Kelly’s Butter. Yum. I made my toast, I ate my butter, I felt all relaxed and happy. I went to bed at about 8 with a good book and cup of herb tea. Paul was reading in the living room, happy, well fed and untroubled.

I can’t begin to describe how peaceful and happy I felt as the magic butter did it’s work on my achy muscles. I closed my book, curled up with a sigh of pleasure, and I FELL ASLEEP.

Hahahahahaha.

Yeah.

Roughly 40 minutes after my descent into oblivion, my poor hubby gently shook me awake. “Honey, I need help.”

Poor Paul had spent the past hour and a half fighting an increasing bout of abdominal pain. He had gone from “oh, oh, indigestion” to “I think I’m dying” without ever even bothering me.

A fact which is illustrative on two points. A) the man is a saint and B) when I’m on prednisone, you better be facing imminent death before you bother me.

I tried to rouse, I really did. I got out of the bed. I washed my face. I asked a couple of questions about symptoms. I think. I mean, I tried to ask them.

Maybe I just frowned and mumbled something about getting some rest. I’m not sure. All I know is that I was desperately trying to figure out if I was real, to identify the source of the funny music I was hearing in my left ear and to appear supportive of my clearly suffering beloved partner.

In between his bouts of moaning and vomiting, I got myself into a cold shower. I drank about a gallon of water, and I thought I was thinking clearly.

I wasn’t.

I grabbed my purse and told Paul that I’d get him into the car and drive him the 10 minutes to the emergency room.

Luckily, in spite of his pain and suffering, he knew the sight of a kite-high old woman and overrode my suggestion.

We called our son-in-law, who came by to take us to the hospital.

So.

Things got worse, right? M’hm.

Paul spent last night going through diagnostic testing in our local ER. I was there beside him, in a recliner, with a pillow and blanket. Trying to stay remotely coherent.

Luckily, it’s 2021, and I fessed up to the medical staff.

“I have been having some bad insomnia….blah, blah….prednisone….blah, blah…..medical card…….”

The lovely nurse gave a little chuckle, handed me a big pitcher of ice water and left the room.

So it was a lonnnnnnnnnnnnng night of dozing for ten minutes at a time in a plastic recliner, jerking awake every time the door opened or the lights came on or I dreamed that I was being attacked by a giant polar bear.

I couldn’t relax because my hubs was in pain, because my dogs were outside in the remaining hurricane winds, and my mouth was so dry I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pry my tongue off my palate.

Finally, the sun came up, and I called my daughter for a ride home. Paul was headed for surgery, and I was free to collapse.

Except that when I got home, I was too wound up to sleep. I let the dogs in, fed them, sent a few emails out to let people know what was happening. I managed to doze off around 7.

And the texts started coming in at 7:10.

So I was up for the day by 8, and was too anxious, too wound up and way too tired to know what to do with myself.

Given the past month of medical bullshit, I decided that it would be a good idea to “change the energy” in the house.

Yup.

I cleaned the upholstery, vacuumed the entire upstairs, rearranged the living room furniture, changed all the knicknacks on several shelves and burned sage. At the time, I thought that it made sense to make myself as physically tired as possible. Because…..you know…..sleep.

By around 1pm, I was finished with everything. I had cleaned and organized. I had cancelled Paul’s clients for the next two days, spoken to all the key family and friends and I was waiting for a call from the surgeon.

And I waited. Awake.

And I waited some more.

Finally at about 1:30, I called the hospital to check in on my patient.

“Good news” said the cheery nurse. “He did great! He can come home tonight!”

WHAT?!

My heart beat ramped up to about 220, and my head started to pound.

I explained the situation to the nice nurse. I tried to convey the fact that I am an old lady with a bad temper who has slept for about 15 seconds in the past week. “I can’t do it, ” I tried to tell her. “I can’t take care of him. It won’t be safe for either of us.”

Pshaw.

They assured me I’d be fine. They had great faith in me!!!

“Come get him in an hour!”

So. I hung up the phone.

I sobbed. I cried. I swore a little bit.

I put the dogs out so I could get Paul in the house safely. I washed my face. I put some ice cubes in my armpits. I drank some Tulsi tea.

Then I sat down to wait for the call from the hospital, telling me that the patient was ready for the world’s oldest, crabbiest, most exhausted nurse to come get him.

I only had a couple of minutes to feel sorry for myself. Then my phone sent out a shriek, and the TV started to bleat out an alarm.

“A tornado warning has been issued for our area.”

Are.

You.

Kidding.

Me.

I don’t know when or how it happened, but there it is.

We have rather obviously offended a very evil genie.

It Could Be Worse


My Mom is an inspiration.

She is 91 years old, and increasingly frail. She is experiencing dementia. She has been widowed for more than a dozen years.

But in spite of her increasing discomfort and confusion, her frequent comment is “Could be worse!”

It’s kind of funny, and definitely sweet.

And it’s been my mantra for the past few weeks….months….well, you know, about a year and half. I keep trying to hold onto that thought, as each new stressor comes rolling along.

Covid appeared and life came to a crashing halt.

“Could be worse.” I held on, and we kinda got through it.

The election got pretty heated up, and I had the joyful experience of watching the vicious attack on the Capital as it played out on national TV.

“Could be worse.” I might have had to mutter it under my breath a few times, but it got me through.

Scary times, but after all, it wasn’t the worst.

As time rolled by, and the summer of 2021 came along, I realized there were a couple of small medical issues going on in this old body. So I slowly, agonizingly, weaned off of a pain-reducing anti-depressant that I’d been on for years.

Hahahahaha! So. Many. Tears. So. Much. Irritability.

But, I knew that it “Could be worse.” I didn’t lose my mind totally.

Yay, me!

Then came the news that I have a very early, very treatable breast cancer. “Could be worse.” Truly. Could be a LOT worse!

But the biopsy and surgery have both be hugely complicated by an unexplained lack of platelets in my blood. My stress level, unaided by the missing anti-depressant, kicked up a few notches. There’ve been blood infusions, blood tests, arguments with a soon-to-be-replaced hematologist, warnings about surgery risks and a huge, honking hematoma.

I have taken in enough deep breaths to inflate a good sized hot-air balloon. I have whispered “Could be worse” at least 1000 times.

I hung on, more or less, if you don’t count the moment when I almost slammed a carving knife into my new granite counter. I hung on, clutching my yummy gummies and my glass of wine.

It’s all good.

Sorta.

Because the last two weeks, up to and including this very moment, are really, really stretching my ability to be as serene as my Momma.

Here’s the scenario, OK?

Covid 19 is RAGING again. Schools are about to reopen, and more and more kids are getting sick. My beautiful little granddaughter is about to start first grade. There is no state mask mandate. My daughter is a teacher. I have a good friend who is sick with a break through infection, and he is both fully vaxxed and super careful.

“Could be worse.”

I guess.

But humans are acting as if it’s the year 550 AD. Like science has never happened. They are screaming in rage about being offered a free vaccine. They are physically fighting over being asked to wear a 2 ounce piece of cloth while they’re shopping. They won’t give up their “freedom” to get sick, to use up all the ICU beds and to spread the joy to the rest of us.

So the virus just keeps on mutating, and it seems like only a matter of weeks before a more deadly, more contagious version rears its ugly little spikey head.

My stress re: Covid is right back to where it was in February of 2020. I’m more than a little worried that increased cases at our local hospital will push my surgery back or postpone it indefinitely.

Of course, there are all the wider, more chronic world issues adding to our sense of doom, too. Wildfires are sweeping the world, including the Western US. Climate change is accelerating just about to the point of no return. The Afghan government just collapsed and violence and terrorism are once again threatening us.

“Could be worse.”

By now my teeth are clenched as I repeat these words. It. Could. Be. Worse.

Sigh.

My serenity is being tested. Big time.

I’m also on week two of a pretty high prednisone dose, which means that I have slept approximately 2.2 hours in the past week. My eyes hurt, my heart won’t stop pounding, I feel like I’m have the big one all day every day.

And the mood swings. Oi, vey!

By “swings”, what I actually mean is that for two weeks I have been “swinging” between rage and RAGE. With the occasional moment of helpless sobbing thrown in just for fun.

Good times.

“Could be worse.”

So I’m sitting here today, worried that my surgery won’t happen. Worried that I’ll never sleep again. Worried that the human race is too stupid to survive. Worried about school reopening. Worrying about Mom’s increasing frailty.

And watching a hurricane as it barrels up the East Coast of the US and heads right at us. And right at the place where my son and his fiance are planning to be married next weekend.

At a lovely outdoor wedding that was already postponed for a year by stupid Covid.

“Could be worse.”

I guess.

And it might be worse.

Cuz the power might go out and might not come back in time for the wedding. The roads might wash out, like they did in Hurricane Irene. The farm venue might be damaged, the hotels might be damaged.

“Could be worse.”

Seriously?

This is kind of feeling a bit apocalyptic, to be honest.

Maybe I should go outside and double check for murder hornets, huh?

Aging in Place?


My mother is 91 years old. She is still happily living in the house she and my Dad bought in 1962.

She is dealing with dementia, some small health issues and increasing frailty.

But she is safe at home. In her chair, on her porch, surrounded by the walls that held our family of 8 for so many years.

In many ways she is incredibly lucky. I think that many people of her generation have always planned to “age in place”. To live and die in their one beloved home.

I understand that urge. I understand my Mom’s attachment to this place, to her anchor, to her best memories.

But as I make may way through this house, the place where I was raised and from which I launched my own life, I am swept with sadness.

I see images of my 5 siblings gathered around the kitchen table. I remember our arguments, our jokes, our little annoyances and our small joys. I see my Dad, so happy and proud, grinning at Mom as she served dinner to the brood.

My heart hurts.

And I wonder.

Is it really the best thing to stay in place until the end?

I ask this question as I find myself moving through my own house today. The house that my husband and I bought 31 years ago. The house where we raised our own three children into adulthood. A house, a home, filled with so many memories.

I love it here. I look out into my garden and remember that when we moved in here, there were no gardens. I am the one who planted the day lilies, the forsythia, the coreopsis and coneflower and phlox and lilac.

But.

Walking around this yard fills my heart with memories. And it makes me sad.

I walk by the backyard, now filled with blueberry bushes. I remember walking here with my baby boy, the first year that I ever planted my own tomatoes. That little guy, nearly a year old, loved to pick a fresh, warm tomato and bite into it as he stood there barefoot in the grass. I can still see him.

He turned 31 years old today, and I struggle to let go of the image of his golden haired smiling baby self.

I move around to the side of the house, remembering my baby child, my last born. I can see him throwing a baseball against the wall. I can hear myself yelling at him, complaining that he and his friends were cracking the siding.

I remember pets that are long gone.

I remember a sweet, tender, heartbreaking little boy from next door and I remember his shocking death at the tender age of 25.

So many sweet things happened here.

When I walk our dogs around the block, there are ghosts all around me. Ghosts of Halloweens past and birthday parties and giant storms. Ghosts of neighbors long gone, and children now grown.

Ghosts of young adults falling in love, and the tears that came with those experiences. Shadows of lessons learned and echoes of lessons lost.

Now my house is also filled with the memories of my grandchildren, who have spent so many days here in my care as their parents have gone to work. Another layer of ghosts pulling at my aging heart.

And I am beginning to wonder if I really want to “age in place.”

Paul and I have friends who have managed this part of life with more grace. Some have moved to new and excited places where they are creating their “next phase” lives on islands and in exotic foreign lands.

I watch them packing up their middle aged lives and moving on with joy.

And I am envious, and a little jealous and aware of the fact that if I had it to do over again, I would have sold this nice little house right after our children left it. I would have moved to a new place, to start a new life, to find my next steps.

For me, the idea of “aging in place” has lost a lot of its charms and now feels like an anchor that is holding me down.

Photo by Devon MacKay on Unsplash

Sitting on the Deck on a Summer Night


I am sitting outside, on our deck. The sun is slowly sinking behind the pine trees. The sky has gone from pale blue to a deep and peaceful navy.

I tilt my head back, breathing in the summer smells of pine needle and grass. A hermit thrush is singing in the oak tree right behind me.

This is a peaceful moment. A calm and gentle pause in the panic that has become our reality. I want to embrace it, to hold it against my stuttering heart, to use these smells and these sounds as a buffer against my fear.

But as hard as I try to block out the world, my memory jumps up and ambushes me. I find myself sitting on this quiet deck, with my eyes closed, fighting against the flood of tears.

I remember Paul and I sitting out here, a couple of months after we’d moved in. We were a young couple then, with a baby girl and a boy on the way. This was our first and only home. We sat outside on a beautiful summer night and we looked up at the stars. Every promise, every hope, every dream was right there in front of us. With our arms around each other, we we secure that our future would be joyful.

And I remember lying out here on this deck with my three young children, gazing up at the Perseid meteor showers, watching the magic as it appeared above us.

I remember parties and dinners out here on this deck. I remember my first collection of potted herbs, arranged carefully in the corner, catching the rain and filling the air with their nurturing fragrance.

I remember our first dog. I remember when that dog ate a pair of expensive hockey gloves. And I remember when he was too feeble to walk up and down the stairs of the deck into the yard we had so lovingly fenced in just for him.

I sit quietly on this deck, with the summer air hot and wet around me.

My mind wants to hold onto this moment, but it keeps wandering back to other summer days.

I remember how excited and happy we were to put a hot tub on this deck, and how many wonderful ice cold evenings were soothed in it’s hot embrace.

I remember.

The old hound dog is gone now, no longer in pain as he made his tender way down these steps. The hot tub is gone, it’s inner workings lost to a leak and the ravages of New England winters.

And those children are grown, up and out and on their own.

So I sit here, looking up sadly at the branches of the oak tree that has sprung up like magic in the place where my favorite white pine used to be. I look into the woods, and see that the clearing where I used to watch the hawks circling is now completely closed off by the branches of maples and birch.

It is a beautiful summer evening. I still have this sturdy deck and these lovely trees. I reach out with all my soul, looking for some peace and a sense of security.

I try.

But, missing the past, and the false sense of security that it gave me, I give up and go back inside.

Maybe the fall will bring me a better feeling of hope.

Time to Stop Blaming Myself


I grew up in an Italian Catholic family, which means that guilt is my middle name. I grew up feeling guilty for an unmade bed, a missed homework assignment, and a mean comment tossed out to one of my siblings.

I grew up feeling guilty for being a terrible athlete, even though I was a decent musician and writer. I grew up feeling that my testy moods were my fault, although I understood that the hormones of adolescence were the likely culprits.

As I grew into adulthood, I shifted my guilt feelings just a bit. I learned to feel bad about myself if I ate an ice cream cone, knowing that I might get fat (guilt) and not look as lovely as I was expected to look. I learned to feel a deep sense of guilt for every mistake, every emotional outburst and every weak moment experienced by my kids.

Guilt, a feeling of deep unworthiness, was my defining characteristic.

But you know what? I sort of got over that feeling, for the most part. At some point in my 50 year relationship with my husband, I realized that he wasn’t actually upset with me for gaining a pound, missing a bill, having a bad day. He accepted me. He didn’t expect perfection from me, and I slowly, slowly learned to let go of the same expectation of myself.

And being a mother changed my view of my worthiness, too. My kids were great. They were happy, healthy, loving and secure. They were far from perfect, but for some reason, that was OK with me. In return, my own lack of perfection as their mother didn’t make any of them look at me as if I was a bug under a shoe. Instead, they taught me to laugh at my cranky moments, to embrace my human mommy self and to accept the fact that life has some pretty rough edges.

I have been evolving for about 6 decades. You’d think I would be pretty secure by now, right?

Enter the thought of physical frailty, and I am right back in my most guilt wracked days of self-loathing.

You see, when I was growing up, we all admired those older folks who remained hale and hearty. My uncle, who cut down a giant oak tree in his yard at the age of 70, was a family hero. My Nana, who lived on her own until the age of 99, and who took no medications, was a superhero.

I thought, for some reason, that my own aging experience would be just like theirs. I keep active. I eat well. I am always learning and thinking.

I thought that would do it.

But when I found myself struggling with ongoing pain and fatigue, and eventually was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I immediately asked, “What did I do wrong to cause this?” It felt like my fault, although I have no idea why that is true.

In the past few years, I’ve added a minor heart issue and two unrelated blood disorders to my medical records. I am smart enough, and informed enough, to know that having an inherited blood disorder can’t be my fault. I understand that having a condition labelled “idiopathic” means that even the highly trained doctors I meet with have no idea why this has hit me.

I still feel responsible. Deep in my heart, I constantly ask myself, “If I had just gone to a pilates class, would this have happened?”

Now I find myself on the scary edge of the cancer world. I have a very early, well contained, breast cancer. I need a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. It’s fine. It’s not like, “real” cancer. It just has to be dealt with.

My treatment is slightly complicated by my blood issues, meaning that before I can be treated by the surgeon and sent on to the oncologist, I need to meet again with the hematologist. There will be some extra blood tests and some platelets transfused.

Not a biggie.

I’m not scared (although I’m not happy, either).

But I do feel guilty.

I know it’s stupid. I know it.

But as I lie awake at night, pondering the next few months, I find my thoughts running along a familiar track. “If you had just worked out more……” “if you didn’t drink alcohol……” “Why didn’t you become a vegan?”

I don’t understand this thinking at all.

When my family and friends run into health issues, I never, ever, ever blame them for their bad luck. I don’t.

So why do I blame me?

I don’t know.

But I do know that I need you guys to respond, and to tell me that at 65 years old, stuff happens. People get sick. They get injured.

It’s life.

It’s not my fault.

Right?

It’s Time For a Divorce.


Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

Dear United States Congresspeople,

We have a request.

Could you guys please, please, please just stop screaming at each other for five minutes? Please?

Democrats, we understand. You are really upset because the Republicans won’t participate fairly in your investigations of all the terrible things the Republicans have been doing for the past decade or so. We get it.

Republicans, we know how you feel. Those mean Democrats keep trying to make you look bad and demanding that you self-incriminate. We know. 

We hear you, loudly and clearly. “WE want bipartisanship! But not if it means we have to work with you guys!” 

We hear you. 

But guess what?

We are tired. Tired of trying to keep track of all the ways you are investigating each other. Tired of hearing you accuse each other of destroying our democracy. Tired of the bickering, the name-calling, the finger-pointing, and the constant rage.

Because when you get right down to it, none of what you are doing has anything at all to do with governing. None of it is about democracy.

We hired you guys to do a job. 

According to the Constitution of this nation, that job is pretty specific and pretty limited. You’re supposed to make the laws that govern us. You’re supposed to control the budget.

You’re supposed to work together to get both of those things done.

We are pretty sure that the job description does NOT include running an endless string of investigations on each other. You aren’t the freaking FBI (we pay their salaries, too. We want them to handle the investigations.) And the job description doesn’t include constantly monitoring each other, censoring each other, taking positions away from each other, or tweeting about each other.

We remember the Whitewater investigation. We rolled our eyes through one Benghazi investigation after another. 

At this very moment, we are watching you fight like snarling dogs over a planned investigation into the horrific events of January 6th. Yes, we know. SOMEBODY needs to be digging into what happened that day.

But the FBI is doing that already. DC police are doing it. Arrests have been made, trials are scheduled, a few people are headed for jail. Good.

Why do you feel like YOU have to dig into it yourselves? For justice, you say? For transparency, you declare. 

But we wonder if there’s another reason. 

We wonder if you have all simply come to enjoy the constant limelight? Maybe it’s become kind of fun to see yourselves on TV every ten minutes hurling accusations at each other? 

We wonder if perhaps you hope to raise as many millions of our dollars as possible by convincing us that the other side is trying to “dismantle our system of government” and “end our way of life”? 

Honestly, we are beginning to feel like children caught up in the world’s most dysfunctional family battle. We feel like kids who are constantly being pressured to choose between Mommy and Daddy as they fight all day. We can see that Daddy can be a bully sometimes. We know that Mommy isn’t as supportive as she should be. We get it. Mommy and Daddy are very very unhappy. We feel bad for them.

Meanwhile, though, we need to know that someone is taking care of things. We need our parents to stop screaming long enough to pay the bills so we don’t end up on the street. We need them to work together to keep food on the table. 

In a deeply troubled family, it is often in the best interests of everyone for the parents to get a divorce. To step away from the heat, away from the rage, away from the self-serving focus on the sins of their partner. 

Dear Congress, 

We wish you’d get a divorce. We wish you’d stop playing tug o’ war with our lives long enough to pass some laws.

Seriously.

We’re kind of in a crisis here. We need a REAL plan to deal with the climate disaster. We need a unified approach to stopping this horrifying pandemic. We need the people with the power to make the difficult decisions that will keep us afloat.

We need clean water. We need safe streets. We need healthy, safe school buildings. We need to have our roads and bridges fixed and the pipes under our cities updated. We need access to fresh food. We need healthcare, for the love of God.

We are paying you to do those things. You are living off of OUR MONEY.

So stop talking about arresting doctors. Stop calling each other Nazis. Enough with the threats to lock each other up, kick each other out of office, impeach each other, and shoot each other.

Just STOP.

Honestly.

We’re pretty sure that if you can’t shut up and start doing your jobs, we might need to bring in a third party to mediate this whole mess.