So here’s my question: how do you really know what is the “right thing”? How can you be sure?
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where “the right thing” feels obvious to us. Help someone we love. Give to someone in need. Reach out to somebody who seems alone.
It seems so clear, doesn’t it?
But here’s the problem: we can never really know what other people are thinking. Even people we’ve known their entire lives. Even people we consider to be our closest, most trusted, most loved allies.
Even then, we can sometimes take an action that feels so clearly “good” to us, but which is met with anger, resentment and dismay.
What do we do then?
For me, having done something wrong out of a desire to do something right, I am at a complete loss. How do you apologize for what you felt, deeply and honestly, was a giving action? How do you get past the rage and resentment to explain what it was that you intended?
I don’t know.
What I do know, what I have come to believe, is that I have to trust my own intentions. I have to trust my knowledge about myself and about those around me.
Someone way smarter than me told me recently, “We can’t control how our messages are received. We can only control how they are sent.”
I watch too much news. I read too much of it. I listen to it on and off all day. NPR, Sirius XM, CNN, Reuters, AP, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe.
I check Facebook and Twitter, too.
I. Need. To. Stop.
Sure, it’s good to stay informed and it’s important to know what is happening outside of these four walls.
But holy disaster movie, Batman, it is really terrifying out there!
There are black holes swallowing parts of the galaxy, giant meteors hurtling this way, hundreds of species facing imminent extinction right here on our own little blue planet.
And that’s only the beginning.
Democracy is crumbling around us. Our country is being run by a paranoid narcissist and his evil minions. War drums are beating around the world. Children are dying in their classrooms almost every day.
Measles are back. Superbugs are emerging. Scientists are predicting another flu pandemic.
Oh, and the planet is a decade away from becoming uninhabitable.
I’ve taken a light tone in this piece, but the truth is far more serious. Like most people I know, I am walking around every single day with a vague sense of impending doom.
Sometimes I look at my beautiful grandchildren and my heart hurts. Will they have a future? What will life be like for their children?
I find myself in need of hope. I need reassurances that humans can truly rise above our worst instincts. I seek out proof that the human spirit is resilient and that good does outlast evil.
For me, hope and reassurance are often found in books. Lately, though, I’ve been struggling to find books that feel real and true. I don’t want a romanticized view of war, where all of the “good guys” are beautiful and loyal and kind, and all the “bad guys” are evil. I want some reality, but I want it to lift me up.
I found a book like that last week, completely by accident. I follow a blog called “The Cricket Pages“. It’s author, Rachel Mankowitz, has a book published on Amazon. It looked interesting, and I try to support other bloggers. So I bought “Yeshiva Girl.”
And I fell into a story that grabbed me by the heart. It’s one of those books that is written with a spare, elegant style that doesn’t waste a word. The main character, a girl named Izzy, is in pain throughout the book. The mood is somber and anxious, but she never gives in completely.
When the book ended, I was sad that there wasn’t more to read. I fell asleep thinking about Izzy, wondering what happened to her next. And I realized that whatever it was, I was sure that Izzy would be alright.
I felt stronger.
We need more books like Yeshiva Girl! Thank you, Rachel Mankewitz!
I remember a time when I was very young, one of six children clamoring around my Mom. I remember her barking at us all, “Stop yelling “Mom”! Stop, you’re making me crazy!!!! I’m gonna change my name and not tell you what the new one is!”
At the time, afraid that my Mom was about to disappear on us, my siblings and I cried and moaned and tried to guess her new name. It was pretty harrowing.
Of course, I now realize that the entire time as we were crying and guessing her new name, we were all yelling, “Mom? Momma? Mommy! Ma! Mom! MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!”
Still, I thought she was being just a tiny bit heartless.
While I have no clear recollection of feeling the same way about my own children, I now fully understand my Mother’s frustration at hearing her name called out roughly 987,675 times a day.
And this is where the whole grandparent thing gets weird.
I will never ever ever forget the first time that my sweet Ellie looked up at me with those melting brown eyes and said, “Na. Na ee.” My heart rate jumped right up to about 300 and I almost stopped breathing. “She said ‘Nonni!!!’ She said it! She said ‘Nonni”!!!”
Thrilled is way way way way way too weak a word for the joy that coursed through my bloodstream! Huzzah!!! She KNEW me! She recognized the key and unforgettable role that I was playing in her life! We were bonded forever, me and my girl! Oh happy, happy day!!!!!
You get the picture.
And it has only been the past month or so that little Johnny has started to use my name. He, for reasons that nobody can explain, talks like a little old Italian man. Like more than one of my old uncles, in fact. When he wants a snack, he asks for “cheese-a”. To answer the question “Who wants a snack?” he answers “Me-a!”
So of course, he calls me Nonna. With the long ‘nnn’ that marks a good Italian accent.
Si, that’s me! La Nonna!
Picture the same heart stopping joy and delusional beliefs of eternal love that I felt when Ellie first called out to me.
Happy, happy old Nonni/Nonna. Happy and joyful me-a!
Sure. For the first nine million times.
The problem is this: Ellie has learned to use the phrase, “But, Nonni….” to open every single comment. If she is asking me a question, it’s “But, Nonni, what part of our body helps us to chew?” If she needs something, she says, “But, Nonni, can I have milk?” To tell me about her weekend, “But, Nonni, we had so much fun with Grammy and Grampy.”
“But, Nonni……?” Over and over and over again. All day. Every day. ALL WEEK.
Even if I’m looking right at her, and we are the only two humans awake in the room. Even if I just said to her, “Honey, maybe we can do some art.” Even then, her first words are, “But, Nonni……….”
There are moments when I am sure that my head will explode.
Then sweet little Johnny, our man of few words, reaches out his arms to me. “Nonna?” He’ll ask, “Up? Arms?”
And I melt again.
Mom, I’m sorry for making you pretend that your name was Rumplestiltskin. I had no idea.
Like most young people, my kids have no interest in taking any of my hand-me-downs.
In the first place, all three of them are the minimalist type. Why own more than you need, they ask? Why fill up our space with things we’ll hardly use?
They don’t want the old dishes, the curtains that went out of style in 1978, the beat up tools or the heirloom, dusty books.
No thanks, they say. We appreciate the offer, but nope.
And the good Lord knows that we don’t have any real valuables to leave them. I was never one for expensive jewelry, so there are no diamonds or gold to pass on. There are no antique desks to leave, not that anyone would want them.
So what will I leave to my kids when I take that trip over the old river and into the woods?
The only thing I truly want one of them to have is my old hammered aluminum sauce pan.
My Mom got this pan, I believe, back in 1950. I think it was a wedding gift. She used it for most of my childhood to make big pots of soup, or sometimes a stew.
Mostly though, it was used to make the sauce.
You brown the meatballs in the bottom of the big heavy pan, then take them out while you add the tomatoes, the spices, the garlic and onion and bay leaves. You add a splash or three of red wine. Put the meat back in and let the whole thing simmer for hours.
My mother taught me how to do it just like she did. I learned that the right way to taste it is to dip in a piece of Italian bread and eat it with the sauce. I learned that if it wasn’t sweet enough, you put in more basil and more wine.
Sunday dinners were most often those meatballs, sometimes some sausage, and that thick, rich, comforting sauce ladled over pasta.
At some point in my life, the heat proof handle of the pot broke off, and my Dad replaced it with a temporary one. It was always hard not to get a burn when lifting the lid after that.
When my parents had been married for decades, and finances were beginning to ease, my Mother bought herself a set of beautiful new cookware. Revere ware, I think it was. The new sauce pans were smooth, and shiny and heat proof and excellent.
The old hammered aluminum went into the basement.
And there is tayed until I got married in 1978. I asked my Mom if I could have it, as Paul and I were just starting out in life, and were mostly using hand-me-down items.
She happily agreed.
And so the tradition continued. I made the meatballs and browned the sausages in that same old pan, broken cover and all. I simmered the sauce and ladled it over the pasta for my three kids, and for their friends and ours.
Over my own decades of marriage, I’ve also invested in some good cookware. I even have a beautiful cast iron dutch oven that is theoretically perfect for making sauce.
But you know what?
It just doesn’t taste the same when I make it in any other pan than the old hammered aluminum, with it’s age darkened bottom and outdated wire handle.
Today I cooked for my sons, who are coming tomorrow to help us with some heavy lifting as we clean out the garage and basement. It’s time to let a lot of old items go. Old furniture, old tools, old bedding. Out it will go with the help of youthful muscles.
And then we’ll all come inside and eat big plates of pasta, with meatballs and sauce that I made in the old hammered aluminum pan.
When I go, as go I must one of these fine days, I just want one of my three kids to take home the old pan. I want them to make the meatballs and sauce just the way I taught them, using the recipe that I got from my Mom, and that she got from hers.
I hope that they sit at the table together, dipping good bread into their sauce, and remembering mealtimes at my table.
Ok, fine. I am not really one of those “awards show” people. I mean, I haven’t ever seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture. I don’t know most of the Emmy nominees.
And as for the Grammys? Puh. Leeze. I am far too cool and hip and groovy to follow those pop stars.
But I suddenly find myself with the overwhelming desire to create a new category of award winners.
Because I spend WAY too much of my life ordering stuff online, and because I am also a dedicated environmentalist, I find myself enraged at plastic.
I go to my local grocery store once a week with my canvas bags. I put my veggies in mesh bags instead of plastic. I carefully choose milk and juice in cardboard cartons, detergents in biodegradable packages, and snacks in cardboard.
I use compostable trash bags, bamboo sandwich bags and metal water bottles that I fill myself.
I am a good doobie. I love this earth! I don’t want to kill her or her gorgeous oceans!
I am VERY careful about plastic.
Until I order on Amazon.
Then I lose my teeny tiny little mind. Because no matter what I buy, it comes in plastic.
No. Matter. What. It. Is.
For example, I was shopping for my grandchildren just before Easter. I saw cute little plastic eggs filled with pastel playdough. I decided to order them in spite of the plastic, thinking that I’d be able to reuse the eggs for years.
Then they arrived.
Four cute little plastic eggs. Each one wrapped in five or six layers of plastic shrink wrap, then carefully vacuum sealed within a hard plastic case.
It was FREAKIN’ PLAYDOUGH! It wasn’t going to rot. Or mold. Or degrade. The four ounces of pink and blue goop came enclosed in THREE layers of plastic.
Three layers of plastic that will remain intact for about 10 bazillion years.
Holy stupidity, humans.
Here I am. I am proposing a group endeavor. I’d like everyone who is reading this to nominate some company or item for our “BAD PLASTICS” Award.
I nominate the Playdough Easter eggs, but I could just as easily have brought up the plastic measuring spoons that came wrapped in plastic, the potting soil (aka, “dirt’) that came wrapped in plastic, or the eco friendly bamboo toilet paper that came wrapped in (you guessed it) plastic.
What have you got, fellow environmentalists? Let’s start our own “Awards Show”.
Sometimes I think I’m a tiny bit psychic. I might suddenly think about one of my kids and have that child text me right then. I sometimes know what song is coming next. I’ve had dreams about things that actually happened while I was sleeping.
I’ve had a few experiences where someone who had recently died came to me in a vivid dream to say “Please pass on a message to my family. I’m fine and I don’t want them to be upset!”
Still. I am no true psychic.
I just wish that I was!
I wish that I could understand messages from those who have passed on into the next reality.
Because sometimes I can feel my Dad.
Sometimes, like right now, I KNOW that he’s here. I feel his warmth, I hear his breath. He’s talking, but I can’t understand him.
There is veil between our worlds. It’s so thin that it seems beyond ridiculous that I can’t just pull it aside and ask, “What’s up, Dad? What are you telling me?”
He comes when I’m sad. When I’m confused. He comes at times when I question my own self worth, and second guess every single thing I’ve done or said in the past.
He comes then. And sometimes I am able to see him shaking his head, and smiling just a little. I see his brown eyes and the shape of his cheek. I see/feel/remember the smell of him as he held me to his chest. Old Spice, warm sweat, Dad. And I KNOW that he’s here. Sometimes I can make out the general shape of his thoughts, “I love you. I miss you. I see you with those kids. I’m proud of you.”
Sometimes I know that I’m just making it up, that I hear what I want to hear.
Right this very minute, as I sit in my glider in my living room, looking out at the cool grey afternoon, I feel him so insistently beside me. He wants to me know something, to understand or to do something, but I can’t hear him. I can’t see him through that veil of smoke that drifts between us.
I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep myself open and try to hear what it is that he is telling me. I feel his love, and his support. I feel his gentle humor. Whatever it is that Dad is telling me right now, it is something that will comfort me. Of that I am sure.
I just need to be a better interpreter of the next world. I need to learn how to pull that curtain aside, if only for a minute.
So. Some of you read my post about having my sleep study. Some of you even asked me to update you on the results.
You know what they say, right?
Denial is more than a river in Egypt.
They were right.
I have been denying the obvious for a lot of years now. I mean, I’ve told you, I could NOT get my mind around the idea that I might be suffering from a sleep disorder that I associated with overweight men. Honestly, I was too embarrassed to even entertain the thought that I might be snoring, snorting, gasping, stopping my breathing and endangering my life every time I went to bed.
I am the daughter of a woman who is pretty much totally healthy at 89. Her Mom died at 99 and a precious half, but only because her parts wore out. She was healthy as a horse until she died.
I did NOT want to be sick. In any way.
Then I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I tried to ignore that one for a while, too. Until I couldn’t. Then I decided to accept the medication, but not the limitations.
I mean, here’s the truth that I know about me. I am not stoic. I am not strong and brave. I do not shake off pain.
In fact, if I must be honest, I am a wicked big baby. I gripe, I moan, I complain.
I have always assumed that when/if I get a terrible diagnosis, I will be the worst patient ever. I don’t see myself as having the grace that my Dad had as he navigated the last few weeks of his life.
But here I am. Not exactly going into that “dark night”. But sort of forced to accept some facts.
One: I have fibromyalgia. I can’t rake the entire garden in one day and expect to walk the next.
Two: I have wicked wicked bad sleep apnea. Holy crap. I read and reread my sleep study report.
I am in deep trouble.
I seem to stop breathing more than 80 times per hour. My blood pressure and my pulse rate jump around like crazy all night long.
According to my sleep study report, I have “SEVERE sleep disordered breathing.” Yikes.
It also says that I snore (are you ready for this????) 42% of the night.
And that (ahem) 35% of the night my snoring is “extremely loud.”
My husband is a freakin’ saint. He still sleeps with me. And he says, “Once I fall asleep, I don’t hear a thing.”
I suspect that he’s lying, because he knows that I feel completely faked out about this whole thing.
I am now awaiting the home delivery of my CPap machine. I hate the whole idea of sleeping with a mask on my face.
But I do like the idea of living for a while longer. And I really love the idea of letting my poor husband get some decent sleep for a change.
Better living through modern medicine. I am more than willing to embrace this new part of my life.
Maybe I’ll be shocked at how good I feel after sleeping with a plastic mask over my face…..
Sometimes the world is just a big pile of quicksand. You think you are on solid ground, and suddenly everything liquifies. Your footing shifts, your balance overturns, you find yourself sinking into that pit of quicksand.
I saw a movie once, when I was about ten. A man was chasing someone, and he stepped into quicksand. I can still picture it; the black and white image of the hero, slowly sinking into the sand that silently came up to claim him.
I don’t remember if the hero ever escaped. I only remember how horrified I was at the idea of sinking, sinking, sinking into death.
Now that I’m a grown assed adult, I feel like I have more secure footing. I don’t often fear the quicksand.
Because now I know what it is to be “grounded”. I know that I have roots that go deep deep deep into those parts of life that give us a sense of being anchored.
I have three adult children who love me, love my husband and truly love each other. What a secure anchor.
I have two beautiful grandchildren who love and depend on their parents. Who trust the love and support of those parents.
And who love and trust me almost as much.
What a truly deep and secure anchor.
I have siblings who love me and support me, even when we get on each others’ last nerve. And I have a Mom who tells me she loves me every time we see each other. And who shares stories of things I’ve done that have made her proud.
I am anchored.
I am secure.
I am married to my first true love. We met in (ahem) seventh grade, and fell in love by listening to each other’s stories and struggles. He’s been by my side every step of the way, through college, and grad school and infertility and babies and kids and teens and the empty nest.
He is “Papa!” to our best beloved grand kids.
I am grounded.
I am grounded because now, at last, after all this time….now I trust myself. I must be doing a pretty good job, because so many people I admire and love have told me so.
I am grounded.
In my garden, where I look at trees I planted two decades ago. When I look at the daffodils still blooming after all these many years.When I look at the new little walk that I crafted two years ago, and at the baby lilacs that line it’s way.
I am grounded.
My feet are firmly on this earth. My heart is firmly held by my love for those who still walk here. My soul feels the roots of the plants I’ve put in, reaching into the very heart of my soil to find life.
If you were here, having coffee in my living room, you’d notice that the air is warm and moist. Almost tropic feeling this morning. Outside my door, daffodils and crocus have opened, and my little squill bulbs have pushed up their tiny blue blossoms.
You would think I’d be happy, wouldn’t you? There are two cuddly dogs asleep at our feet and the coffee that I’ve brewed for us is hot and rich. We have slices of banana bread balanced on our knees, too, and the cinnamon smell is wonderful.
I want to be filled with joyful spring feelings, but I’m struggling today.
No matter how hard I try, I can’t bring myself to understand how my government has become so totally corrupt.
I used to be a fifth grade teacher. I loved teaching the kids about the formation of the government. I taught them about the “great experiment” in the US, in which a people’s government would be saved from corruption through it’s system of checks and balances.
We don’t seem to have either checks of balances. Mueller’s report shows us that our President got help in the campaign from the Russians. Might not have been his idea (is anything?) but he surely benefitted and welcomed that help. Then he tried to get in the way of the investigation into that help.
He did everything he could to thwart it. He lied in public. He fired the head of the FBI. He hinted at pardons for the multitude of friends, hirelings and administration officials who’ve been indicted. He threatened those who thought of testifying.
So where’s the check on this?
The House of Representatives, according to it’s overly pragmatic leader, won’t impeach the President. Oh, sure, he’s committed all kinds of inappropriate and possibly illegal actions. But the Senate is in the hands of the Republics, so impeachment would fail to bring a conviction. So we won’t bother.
What do teachers tell kids now?
“There is a system of checks and balances but it’s really only about the two big parties. A corrupt President will be just fine as long as he’s protected by a corrupt Congress.”
I need more coffee.
I found this little weekend coffee klatch through Eclectic Alli. Check it out. Most people were more upbeat than me this week.
I know. Snoring means that you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea means that you’re gonna die. Real soon.
I finally gave in to the gentle hints from my husband, the shrewd observations from friends who’ve been forced to sleep in the same room with me, and the evidence from my own tired self.
I talked to my doctor and I was scheduled for a sleep study.
I was not a happy old lady, but I went ahead anyway. I went to the appointment with the very, very, very sincere hope that I will not be diagnosed with apnea.
I don’t want to have chubby older man disease. How humiliating that would be!!
I am, after all, a chubby older WOMAN. I believe I should be immune to this particular problem.
A CPAP machine is my least favorite wish for my aging self.
But, I went ahead. I drove to the sleep study place. I met with the chubby older man in his scrubs, and filled out the questionnaire about my sleep. I listened as he carefully described how to put on the torture device/sleep study machine. I took notes.
That night, I got ready for bed. Paul and I had decided that I should sleep all by myself in the guest room. No chance of the talking torture device waking up him up. No chance of the dogs deciding to chew up the plastic tubes or plastic headset or plastic chest wrap.
Because I am a very good girl, and because I would rather drop dead tomorrow than do this again, I carefully followed all directions. I placed the forehead sensor on my forehead. Eager to be a good patient, I tightened the shit out of it. There were plastic sensors embedded into my temples. I let them stay.
Next, I stuck the nasal cannula way up into my nostrils, then carefully tightened it so it wouldn’t fall out and ruin the whole study.
As for the chest strap…..gentlemen, please look away. Ladies, picture this: You have to sleep in a sports bra, only its been rolled up above your breasts so you feel it all night long. There’s a lovely plastic clasp in the back that will dig into your ribs, your vertebrae and your neck (what the hell…) all night long.
The next step in this lovely adventure involved pushing a tiny button on the top of my headset. A woman’s voice instructed me about what to do. “The Unicorder has been turned on. Lie on your back, look at the ceiling and DO NOT MOVE.” Beep…beep….beepie beeples….. You may now go to sleep.”
I laid on my back, but the squeezie rolled up bra device dug into my spine. I rolled to my left side, but the head set was on so tight that my left temple started to throb.
Try the right side. Ouch.
Try the stomach. OUCH! Bring back my nose, please……
Left side. Ouch again.
This went on for quite a while, but eventually my old body won out and I fell asleep. All was well until at some point….somewhere between midnight and 4 AM….I woke up to hear the same calm woman scolding me: “Adjust your forehead sensor. Adjust your forehead sensor. Adjust your forehead sensor.”
Holy bitch. “I did!” I snapped. I adjusted. Everything still hurt like hell, so I figured that all was well.
I dozed. Had nightmares. Tossed. Turned.
I might have snored, but who knows?
Eventually, I woke up. Filled with relief that I’d managed to wrangle with the torture device and still get some sleep, I reached up to turn off the recorder.
And this is what I heard:
“”The Unicorder has been turned on. Lie on your back, look at the ceiling and DO NOT MOVE.”