Tag Archives: marriage

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies


They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.


When Love Walks In….


Valentine’s Day was a blast when I was little: school parties, cupcakes, chocolate, candy, feeling warm despite the cold of February in Buffalo, N.Y.

When I moved to Virginia, it was in the midst of the ubiquitous “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign designed to boost tourism.

Being from New York state, I took offense to that because I felt 1) that Virginia was stealing the super-popular “I ❤ N.Y.” campaign, and 2) that Virginia was for traitors to the Union.

It was those Virginia Februarys in which I learned about the “ice line” and how disappointing winters here can be: cold as fuck (certainly not Montana cold), but no snow. Just dry, gray, bitter bone cold.

After I moved to Virginia, I didn’t like Valentine’s Day much.

For my first Valentine’s Day in Virginia, I was 14 (oy vey, I do NOT miss that time) wondering what love is all about and witnessing a fair amount of discord in my parents’ marriage due to various disappointments in my mother and my dad trying to find his social niche after the move.

So I went looking. Not in a hopeless way, but as a true wonderer in doubt of the point of it all and thinking that it really didn’t exist in an obvious way; that the movies and TV shows were wildly exaggerating. That didn’t stop me from wondering if a small percentage of it were possible, somehere, in a distant land or maybe in the house next door: this perfect love, a love which was as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians waxed, “it does not boast, and is patient” (I’m loosely paraphrasing) and that “it endures all things.”

I would add that to me, love also meant that it showed up when it said it would, that it would follow through on a promise or even a threat, that it would inspire silence when criticism would be waiting at the ready, finger on the trigger; and that it would simply wait until I softened.

I had to wait a long time before that kind of love stepped into my life, and when it did, I still was suspicious of it.

Before all that, and even in the midst of it, I lost enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day, especially as a mother. But I will admit that I am turning around. What I object to is the capitalization of the day, and the necessity for jewelers and Best Buy to get in the act. It’s the IN YOUR FACE, mandatory YOU MUST SHOW YOUR LOVE bullshit that turns me off, and has for at least 10 years.

The kids don’t bring home their handmade valentines anymore; my youngest is 11. Dan and I held each other this morning when Jackson Browne sang “Sky Blue and Black” on Pandora. The boys ask us about Valentine’s Day, expecting us to go on a hot date with chocolates and flowers, but that’s not how we roll. Especially with the kids now. Love isn’t dampened, it’s just more reserved. Maybe that’s a bummer. Diamonds don’t tell me how much my husband loves me, his being here day in and day out, helping me with everything and me helping him is what tells me he loves me.

I was chatting with some online friends and we agreed that Valentine’s Day is about family right now. I followed one of my friends’ leads and I’ll break out the china, crystal and sterling tonight for dinner. We will use the dining room.

My sons are good to me though. Thing 3 made me coffee this morning, just how I like it. Thing 2 kissed me on the forehead, he’s almost taller than I am now, and told me he loved me. I could feel his razor stubble from his upper lip. My heart leapt and sank because he’s so big. Thing 1, a master of satire, said “this Valentine’s Day, my 16th, I am still single. I will spend the evening in the basement crying, as I have all the years before.” Yesterday was Murphy’s seventh birthday; his face is whitening and he’s a little slower on the uptake yet he brims with love every time he torpedos my crotch. Charlie is Charlie, chewing on something, pulling on Murphy’s mane.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I went with my husband to see “American Sniper” two weeks ago. The first show we tried to see was sold out. So we went to an early dinner instead. Over our coincidental orders of warm goat cheese and spiced pecan salads we started talking about my parents’ relationship and his parents’ relationship and how hard it must be to be our remaining parents, because he lost his father just last summer and I lost my mother nine months before that.

We also started talking about us, naturally, and I had to ask him, “Why? Why did you marry me?” I wasn’t seeking bullshit and “because you’re the best…” answers. I really wanted to know, because in my estimation, I am a giant pain in the ass. And when we met, I was a total hardass: I was funny, but rigid in my standards and I was jaded.

He simply said, “Because you are strong and you made me laugh, like no one else I know. I loved you very much and I knew, that as we got older and I might need you more than ever, that you would take care of me, you would have my back.”

Oh boy… is he in for a surprise.

Just kidding.

But sort of not, because who knows? Who knows how I will be when that time comes. Maybe I will be incapacited. I would hate to do that to him. But this is the gamble, isn’t it?

My husband is one of the kindest, gentlest, sincerest, effective, patient people I will EVER meet. This is my version of Dan:


om-nom from “Cut the Rope” — he’s one of the sweetest little creatures there is.

And he married me. This is who I think I am compared to him:


This is how I feel about myself from time-to-time. (I didn’t draw this; not in a million years. But I wish I could find the source for it.)

But he walked into my life and now he’s stuck with me.

I had a very small request of Dan when he proposed to me. I said “yes” obviously, but I said to him, no lie, “You must promise me that we will always pay the utility bills. If you can’t promise me that we will never lose power, or water or heat in our home, then I can’t marry you.”

Quickly nodding and with an understandably quizzical expression, he said “Sure.”

He never asked why, but over time I explained and he gets it. I didn’t have that kind of reliability growing up.

And here we are.

People, especially newlyweds and those intending on matrimony need to get this very basic understanding not just clear, but deeply knitted into their psyches: marriage and love is more than living together and playing house. It’s beyond the toothpaste cap being left off and piles of receipts and baseboards that need painting. It’s terribly loud, and unnervingly quiet. It’s about nasal hair and laundry duty; missing tools and body odors; it’s about running the sink for no reason and silently wondering when it will be turned off; it’s about turn-signal neglect and sore throats; about rescue dogs and emotional transferrence; it’s about too many pens and junk drawers; debt and stupid purchases; expensive dinners you regret but paying for; biting your tongue; it’s about endless sports or Bravo TV; about careers derailing and supporting anyway; it’s about saying stupid things and begging for and allowing clarification; it’s about hair in the shower drain and stubble in the sink; about buying the wrong thing and being cool about it; it’s about fears, secrets and shames hemorrhaging in unexpected ways; about psychotherapy and patience during unexpected growth patterns; about miscommunication and apology; about false praise backfiring when you really should’ve been honest; about parents dying and not knowing how to deal; about expensive hobbies and foolish ideas; about driver’s seats not being restored to the primary position and obvious domestic inertia when you walk through the door; about excessive amounts of exercise equipment when a simple daily walk will do; about crazy in-laws and amazing in-laws; it’s about conspiratorially watching an inappropriate YouTube* video away from your children’s ear shot and dark chocolate because it’s healthy; it’s about ratty t-shirts and health changes; sharing your interest despite a prejudice; mood swings and confusion, a cup of tea showing up just because; asking for advice and taking it; bad food choices and nocturnal flatulence; blanket thievery and tulips by surprise and so much more and maybe less… the one thing we do know about love is that we don’t know all about it.

When children are added to the mix, it’s especially essential that if you haven’t already, that you get your head out of your ass and put their needs ahead of your wants. I recently read that Pope Francis said that people who choose to not have children are selfish. I am digressing, but just for a sentence: No, no they are not selfish; what’s selfish is having kids and then treating them like garbage.

I’m back.

Valentine’s Day isn’t a gimmick to me anymore, the way I see it, we should do what we can not just celebrate love, but to recognize it in all its imperfect perfection.

*Gilbert Gottfried reading “50 Shades of Gray”

So on this day, of all days, thanks for reading. You’re good eggs. Here’s a Valentine doodle I sincerely totally made for you:


Thank you.

Budweiser from the Can, Red Beemer in the Driveway, Buoy in the Storm, 20 years


My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary last week. The time has flown. We were talking during our dinner date about the day I first met my eventual parents-in-law.

It was a sunny late August afternoon in 1990. They had recently returned from a month or so at their summer house on the Indian River inlet in Delaware. A little town called “Dagsboro” to be exact. For the first 10 of my 18 years visiting that retreat, I’d not known that locality’s name. I just liked the people there.

I drove my beat-up 1981 silver Honda Civic hatchback (the car my parents let me and my brother destroy share) up the long driveway to the house. I parked far away from the feisty and red BMW 325i convertible gleaming in the sun and entered the house through French doors leading to the deck held open by my then-boyfriend.

His mom was in the kitchen, putting away the deli meats and cheeses from the lunchtime sandwich station. She offered me a drink or a bite to eat. I took her up on the cup of water but I demurred on the sandwich. For me, I had decided I would try to just be … friendly and unassuming and friendly (did I already say that? I can feel the nervousness all over again!). But not overly friendly, because parents can see right through that crap. While I’m incapable of Eddie Haskell-like obsequiousness, I also tend to clam up if I’m not entirely comfortable. A cup of water would give me something to hold, but a sandwich: I could choke on a sandwich. She joined her husband at the table with her red Solo cup of water, “MOM” emblazoned on it in black Sharpie. Her hair was a super cute pixie cut: short and blonde, like Shirley Jones’s when she was in “The Partridge Family.”

His dad was sitting at his kitchen nook’s table beneath the room’s skylights in a ladder-back chair reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal’s Money & Investing section. His hair, a thready version of a balding-man’s delusional “combo-over” was silvery and gold, both reflecting and accentuating his golf course tan. Tortoise-shell reading glasses perched on his slightly puggish nose, I remember him in his red polo cut shirt, buttercream yellow shorts, cordovan Sperry topsiders and navy / red D-ring grosgrain belt. He was the image of every dad I’d ever encountered at the numerous country clubs and yacht clubs I’d frequented as a kid. His mom was wearing pearl stud earrings, a pink blouse with lace trim covering a modest v-shaped cut-out on the front, light blue twill bermuda shorts and white keds. She was also tan; I don’t tan. I splotch. The ceiling fan slowly whirred, wafting a lace table cloth on the table below.

His dad’s smile was wide and eager, his dark brown eyes twinkling with mirth and not a little bit of impish appeal betraying any sense that this was going to be an important and serious meeting. His son and I had been dating for about three weeks. I guess it was time we all met one another. His mom on the other hand was more reserved; her sky-blue eyes more diplomatic. She was pleasant and polite but … y’know … who is this girl? -about things. Dad might’ve been totally charming about it all, but she was no flibberty-jibbot. Now that I’m a mother of three boys, I totally get it.

His dad stood up to greet me and pulled out a chair for me to sit in. When he folded his copy of Money & Investing and placed it on the table beside him, I saw a sweaty can of Budweiser next to a dish with some potato chips left over from his sandwich. Despite the fact that my father-in-law is a man who does not eat off of paper plates if he can at all avoid it (a habit his sisters and wife have lovingly referred to as a remnant of his “snobbish” upbringing from his hard-won Georgetown Prep, and Georgetown University days), he drank his beer from the can. He always has.

I can’t recall much of the conversations we shared that day, but I remember we all four talked for about an hour or two, or long enough for me to drink a second cup of water. (I dislike straight water… did I ever share that? It has to have something in it.) I know we spoke about where I am from, what I was up to, who my parents were, where I lived and probably why was I still in college. There were no Nicholas Sparks-esque “Well, I love your son very much and I hope to marry him…” professions; I think they were just genuinely curious about the gal who’d kept their son out so late so often and if I was up to snuff.

I do recall we hit it off, his dad and I especially. They had a Hobie cat boat, I had sailed for years as a child. I was preppy, he was preppy. I was a rower, that was preppy. Somehow we started talking about swing and big-band music which was experiencing an updated renaissance in those days with the release of the movie “Swingers” and the Brian Setzer orchestra. Maybe a Benny Goodman tune piped in from the stereo in the other room… that commonality set off a string of conversations about that music, the gorgeous fabrics and glamorous style of those days. I remember my mother-in-law talking about Andrew Lloyd Weber and then Roger Whitaker and her favorite music too. Sadly, I’ve never been a Roger Whitaker aficionada, but I could talk a good bit about “Phantom of the Opera” … just not the musical until a few years later. She loves her Andrew Lloyd Weber. I think I ended up staying for dinner: she made pepper steak on rice. It was tasty. It was a world I was unaccustomed to: people sat at a table and spoke together as they ate a meal.

That first meeting went well enough for my eventual husband and I to tie the knot four years later. In the breadth of that time, now 24 years since we first met, I’ve been welcomed by this family and its commanders-in-chief with broad arms, big hugs, and tender, free-flowing, vulnerable love. I’ve been to costume parties where we dressed in the garb from the roaring 20s (complete with violin cases and feather boas), thinly veiled volleyball tournaments and horseshoe challenges which were actually summer-house close-down weekends (where legendary family stories were born), Georgetown Hoyas games, Redskins games, and corporate Christmas parties replete with recording booths and family Christmas parties where the children and adults dress up to perform a family Christmas pageant, complete with songs and scripture readings. (When I first attended the family event, I was told that I had to sing “Feliz Navidad” or I’d never be allowed back. I sang it. It’s been a long-running joke and only the coolest people fall for it…)

My father-in-law has been the one to read from the Bible during the Christmas party; it’s been his shtick for years. To say that he has a lot of energy is an understatement. Everyone knows however that a man like that can’t possibly exist well however without a buoy in the storm. That buoy, his wife, has become a sympathetic soul for me. She’s a tender and clever woman I’ve affectionately referred to as “Mamacita” … (I borrowed the moniker on our first married Christmas when the 60s hit “Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus” by Augie Rios played on the radio). When we first married, she invited me to call her “Mom” but I could never completely take that on so I’ve flipped between Mamacita and Mom. Either way, she’s a centering gem. Since my own mother’s death, I have absolutely cherished the ability to call her “Mom.”

Both of my in-laws’ patience seems ever flowing. I’ve seen them gravely serious, but never in a foul mood. I didn’t grow up with them as their child and so I am aware of the tendency to glaze over the peaks and valleys of our relationships with our parents. This couple, however, has never given me cause to ever doubt their kindness and generosity of heart, or of spirit. If ever there were a want or a need, and they could satisfy it, it would be done. My father-in-law has shown me what a gentleman is; my mother-in-law has shown me what steadiness and generosity are; neither of them have ever been reactive in my presence. They inhabit and demonstrate a gorgeous emotional control and pacing the likes of which I’ve never seen in my own parents. The age of our relationship has tipped the scales: I’ve been blessed to have them in my life longer than out of it.

It pains me to say that my father-in-law is unwell. This man, who was once a trim and fit 5′ 10″ and a robust, keenly competitive athlete, this impish, elfish man whose aura has been as broad as the sky and as bright as the sun, is in the throes of pancreatic cancer. It has metastasized. The last time I saw him, about two weeks ago, was likely the final time he would be cogent in my presence. We had heard, as a family, that the cancer was a threat about four weeks ago. The doctors reports have been very frustrating, but all the data indicates this will be his undoing.

My cousin is a physician and I called him as soon as I could once I saw the results of a PET scan. My cousin said to me, “Don’t think in terms of ‘how much longer?’ Think in terms of getting him to the next goal. Getting him to see the World Cup, getting him to the vacation at the beach in July … getting him to the Masters … and when he has had enough of the goals, he will know and then he will let you all know… but the goal is to get him — and all of you — to think of goals and comfort. Not of making ‘this go away,’ but of keeping him — and all of you — comfortable.”

This whole thing is really hard for me to write about. I’ve been dancing around it in my head for weeks, obviously. I don’t want to betray my family-in-law’s privacy, but I also know that I have my own relationship with my father-in-law. Enough time has passed though that I feel I’m ok in expressing myself here. 

When I saw him, about two weeks ago, I took a moment to tell him what he meant to me. I told him that he showed me what a man could be. That he graced me with my fantastically stable and loving husband who has blessed me with three beautiful and mostly predictable, loving and fiercely loyal sons. I told him that he is a model to me of fearlessness — not in the brawn and bravado that so many men confuse with courage —  because he seeks and speaks from his heart; he has never been afraid to shed a tear from a schmaltzy and openly manipulative Hallmark card. He showed me that when you connect with people, you fully live.

Naturally and true to form, he blushed and smiled and said I was too kind. He said he was unworthy of the praise and that he was just the dad and he also could not suppress his loyalty to his beautiful wife, “Without whom, I am nothing,” he said as he looked over at her. She quietly sat there and let it all wash over her. “She’s the boss; she keeps me going,” he added, with a little tap on her hand, to lighten the mood. I get what he means, and he’s right. My brother has always gently joked and likely not without some awe and envy about my in-laws’ creation of a dynasty. They have six kids: girl, girl, boy, boy, girl, boy and they all have at least two kids. The grandsons vastly outnumber the granddaughters by 2:1.

When I met my husband, I gained … gosh … a whole bunch of built-in friends! His daughters, and my other SILs, are these pillars of panache and strength and love and his other sons are truly brothers to me. We were joking the other night when I last saw my in-laws that we don’t need any outside friends in a family this large because we already have them built in with the marriages. That’s what I want for my sons: built-in friends.  The family has been treaded by the relentless acceleration of the disease and the marked drop in Daddy-O’s (that’s what I call him, a little nod to the big band days) health. Right now, my husband is camping with our youngest with his cub scout pack. Life goes on.

The symptoms of the ravage started the day before Easter after Daddy-O played a round of golf with his own sons. They went to the grill for lunch and he just wasn’t feeling well, hadn’t been feeling well for several days. He complained of an upset stomach and indigestion. As time marched on, the indigestion continued which created what we thought was a psychological food aversion / fear cycle, but which led to weight loss and then more stomach upset and then tests and more tests and the ominous results. Then some complications from the disease and further stays in the hospital. That’s where he is right now.

The liver biopsies have been inconclusive, but the tumor marker tests have been very conclusive. Because the biopsies came back “benign” the doctors can’t treat it. But because of his age, the doctors can’t treat it. And because there is no coming back from pancreatic cancer, the doctors can’t treat it. So while I know that it’s there, I’m sort of saying it’s not because … well, it’s untreatable, so why give energy to something that can’t benefit from it? It’s all a lie. My personal screwed up coping tool.

I believe pancreatic cancer ultimately took my Alshee, my great aunt who was like my grandmother. It’s an aggressive disease and the more advanced in age you are, the more persistent the journey. I haven’t read Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, and I don’t know if I’m about to at any point in the near future, but I did look up some quotes, and I think this one best personifies my father-in-law:

“When we’re connected to others, we become better people.”
― Randy PauschThe Last Lecture

I guess I’m writing about this now because it has been on my mind for weeks and I love Daddy-O. I respect him, his privacy, his beloved wife of almost 59 years, his fortress-like children and his legacy. I want to shout from the rooftops about what an amazing man he is and what an amazing couple he and his wife have modeled for me; how he is quietly humble but makes things happen anyway. How he is gracious and sweet and flawed like the rest of us. How he forgives us our trespasses. How he loves and lives fearlessly. How he means so much to me, “Good Golly, Miss Molly!”

So this is my rooftop. This is my shout.

Ora! (“Pray!” in Latin.)

Thank you, Daddy-O and Thank You, Mamacita.

Regeneration, Anniversaries and Magnolias


I have been struggling to write of late.

It’s not that I don’t have things to say; I have plenty. It’s that some subjects are ones that I’d really like to kick to the curb (like the bullying thing we dealt with) and another subject is too overwhelming to share, so it’s been blocking me from saying anything at all.

It was shown to me this morning though, as I went out to visit my “little gem magnolia” tree that I bought for my husband for a wedding anniversary / father’s day gift a few years ago, that life is about tending to ourselves and loving as best we can and that its moments — the good and the bad — are evanescent.

We had the tree in the front (north) corner of our home. I love to garden, but I hate the technicalities of “needs full sun” or “partial shade.” I can’t be bothered with those details. So when I planted the tree a few years ago in that corner, beneath  an eventual canopy of oaks, weeping willow and shade from houses, I sort of knew but denied that the tree was doomed.

I didn’t have the heart to plug it into our backyard, which I knew was shaded once the oak, birch, cherry and poplar leaves filled in.

So a couple years later, I moved it to a southern corner of our house which gets a fair amount of morning sun. It thrived there. The only problem was that it was just beneath an eave, so it was a matter of time: either the tree or the roof.

I loved that tree. My husband loves Magnolias. I knew that a Great Southern Magnolia tree on our property was out of the question as they are massive and well, dirty. But on the day we were wed, twenty years ago tomorrow, the magnolia blooms were abundant outside our little Georgetown church.

So I moved the tree again this spring. We took the slide off our playground set (why any of us buys swing sets is beyond me… the kids just want to be with the parents, our boys have outgrown it. Little kids who visit always end up migrating to the front of our house where the action is) so the tree is now taking up permanent residence in a nice spot which gets at least six hours of sun every day.

Here is a picture of how it’s dealing with its move:

I know it's common for these guys to shed, but this is about 50% of its foliage.

I know it’s common for these guys to shed, but this is about 50% of its foliage.

I’ve been very concerned about it. So I’ve taken, in the last three weeks, to giving it one gallon of water every morning; “slow and steady wins the race” as they say and while I’ve been slightly frightened of the dropped leaves, I have been absolutely amazed by the ability of this tree to get its crap together and rally.

Socrates said it best:

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

It’s like us. If we concentrate on what needs to happen, if we stop thinking about what happened to us and remember our goal: thrive and grow and learn and bloom, then we will be ok too. I’ve been so distracted by the bully stuff and old patterns in my behavior that I’ve forgotten the point of all of it: to rally to learn and to stick to myself.

The action of “mewling and puking” as Mom used to say about our past troubles is what gives them life. If we just see them for what they are: feelings about an action, instead of the action or result, then we’re ok.

To wit, Eckhart Tolle:

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”

Every Single Person In Our Lives is a teacher.

I don’t care if it’s your spouse or your parent or your sibling or your best friend. Every single one of those people is here to teach you and to teach me — in fact maybe I’m supposed to learn something from you if you comment — how to live better. How to improve and to grow and to face fear and move on. Not shove crap deep away in some hole in our souls, to “man up” or crap like that, but to face it, own it, deal with it and learn — with great humility — from it.

In the case of the things that are bothering me, it’s not the results. It’s the feelings. The results are what needed to happen: self-advocacy, self-assurance, family solidarity, self growth. What the other people do with those situations I can’t be bothered with. It my attachment to an outcome or an expectation of an incident that gets me in trouble.

So back to the tree…

It's doing better.

It’s doing better. You can see the new growth at the “12 o’clock” position at the top of the tree. New stuff is coming in! It’s so exciting!

And so, we don’t have to think that growth can take a long time. For humans, it can be instantaneous and just as promising as that tree above. The tree would definitely not do as well if it weren’t for my intervention. It would get along and grow, but it would take a while.

For humans, it’s the same: we need each other. Even in the shitty, hard experiences, we need each other — to learn. To learn how to be more patient, to learn how to SEE THE OTHER PERSON, to learn how to deal with our own mucky crap, to learn how to press on and chin up and as Scarlett O’Hara did at that party Melanie threw after she was caught kissing Ashley (“oh! Ashhhlaay!”) we can hold our heads up high because why?

Because we are still here. And we must learn to go on.

So of course because it’s a plant, plants (trees, whatever) grow mostly at the top. I wasn’t sure of how the magnolia was going to respond to all those dropped leaves. But I do now…

Check that out! New buds are coming in where the old buds fell off... and soon, this tree will be unstoppable.

Check that out! New buds are coming in where the old buds fell off… and soon, this tree will be unstoppable.

I apologize for the out-of-focus nature of this picture. If you’re feeling nauseated, blame me. If you think you’ve had too much to drink this morning, blame the photo.

I’m so thrilled about this tree. I’ve made my husband come out at look at it at least once a week. He’s usually like this:

Oh cute >pat pat pat< honey, you’ve made a plant grow. >pat pat pat< I’m going to be over here doing something important.

Just kidding. He’s actually pretty into me.

But now these days, he’s totally excited because he knows how much this tree means to me that it means so much to him.

Look, our kids will be out of here in 20,000 years. We will be all alone. With the dogs. And the cats. But the tree will be here and we will have it to gaze upon while our kids are off being fantastic and ignoring us.

So remember what I said about tomorrow being our anniversary and that on the day we wed, the magnolia blossoms were abundant on the trees flanking our church?



Look who’s got some blossoms now y’all!

This tree has shown me: grow where you are planted. Grow any way you can. When you are planted in the best possible circumstances: light, sun, water and some dog poop to boot, you will do well. The dog poop, is not just a literal thing; it’s a metaphor as well: we only grow best when we see, accept and deal with the shit we are standing in.

Think of the shit you’ve had to stand in and deal with and muck through as your manure. Your manure to help turn you into the most amazing person. Because you are.

Thank you.