To, Too, Two

I’m so lame. It seems that I too commit the very transgressions that I so disdain in others. I’m a snob. How two-faced of me. To the end that I might explain myself, I offer these thoughts…

These past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to try living in a more humane and loving way. I try to see things from alternate perspectives when it comes to daily life events – events that otherwise I might interpret as offensive. I try to live with forgiveness and not take life too personally. I try to just let things be. While I have achieved some small success in these areas, somehow I find it incredibly difficult to apply the same level of forgiveness when it comes to the simple, grammatical mistakes people make. The omission of an ‘o’ when the writing requires a ‘too’ (as in also) rather than a ‘to’ (as in towards). I see ‘by’ instead of ‘buy’ and I think ‘Pfft. Can you imagine they missed that?’ And yet, the permanence of the blogosphere will never let me forget my own mistake; my misuse of the word ‘by’ at the top of yesterday’s post will forever remain thus in some far-off servers, unreachable by my post-post correction. Ultimately, it’s not that important. But it does teach me a little lesson. Humility, Elizabeth, humility. See? It’s very easy to make such a mistake yourself. You must overlook the small mistakes of others as you would have them do for you. Or must I?

There is one error that gets me absolutely riled up every time I see it. It’s when folks say that they’ve ‘graduated high school’. I can almost hear my seventh grade LA teacher Mrs. GaNun explaining to us in her rich, deep voice while striding slowly, dramatically across the room in her long skirts and topknot bun, that ‘you cannot graduate a high school because graduate is an intransitive verb…’ In other words, you can no more graduate a school than you can sleep a bed. You can sleep in a bed, you can graduate from a school. Yet the best-educated among us continue to tell us that they ‘graduated college’…

Another one that gets me is the improper use of personal pronouns. This one is everywhere. Simply everywhere. People who really should know better make these mistakes. I shudder, I bite my tounge. There was a time when I’d correct gently; ‘did me and Bob go to the store or did Bob and I go to the store?’ Just removed ‘Bob’ and say it again. Me went to the store or I went to the store? Duh! How easy is that? And btw – the ‘other guy’ goes first (I always think of it as simple manners) – ‘Bob and I went…’ It aint just the Latinas from the hood making this mistake either. All across the country ‘me and him went’ or ‘me and Bob took the car’….

And the offense that most easily gets under my skin – one I’ve even seen more than a few times in the past twenty four hours – is the addition of an ‘apostrophe s’ in order to make something plural. Yeeks. (Or should I say ‘yeek’s..?). I’ll not say anything more on this one. !

I’ve wrestled with this whole subject for years. On one hand, these are basic mistakes, and they should be corrected.The ones who made the errors should be educated, enlightened, corrected. Or should they? I am very aware that language evolves. Mr. Shakespeare’s English was practically another language altogether. And when’s the last time you heard a construction like this: ‘the laundry having been folded, she washed the dishes’..? Yet I remember well that first sentence of my junior high Latin class; ‘the Gauls having been conquered, they returned home’. Correct, but would you speak like this? Not so much.

There’s what was once correct, what is technically correct, and then there is plain old what works. What gets the point across. What expresses. Granted, we need to share some of the same rules in order to communicate effectively, but man, the liberties we’re able to get away with now really do add to the complexity and nuance with which we can communicate. ‘WTF?’ is just what you need sometimes, right? The limitation of characters we’re allowed to use has forced some new craft into writing, and I think that’s exciting. And sometimes a colon with a right parenthesis just does what no words can (and yes, its overuse can also spoil the effect). I get a kick out of the changes I’ve seen in our language in the past few decades. I think it’s amazing, beautiful, artful and organic. I also feel lucky to have been born now. In my lifetime I have witnessed probably the largest leap the English language has ever taken in such a short amount of time. I fully appreciate the freedom the new world provides – I misuse quotation marks all the time. I actually choose to do so because I feel it imparts a different tone. (I realize a real-life editor might well feel differently about this.) I make considered mistakes as a means to further shape my writing. Yeah, I dig the changes and maybe I just gotta get with the mistakes that are now becoming accepted parts of our language.

Then again, there’s that little voice that tells me there is still a set of rules which we should all honor. The rules that we all learned in school. You know, the schools we graduated from. Wait, we’re not supposed to end sentences with a preposition, right? Sigh…

Golden Pheasant

“Holy shit, did I just buy myself a bird?”

I was too flabbergasted to edit my potty mouth before I’d shouted across the makeshift auditorium. I had just raised my hand, almost without thinking – it was more like a reaction, fired by the urgency of the moment and the pleading of my young son. We’d seen all the birds that were up for sale that night, and hadn’t seen anything much out of the ordinary. Elihu had been moping all night that he ‘wished we could have something more exotic’ than just chickens and guinea fowl. I’d been willing to go there, but aside from a cage of bedraggled-looking fantail pigeons, there just wasn’t anything else worth considering. But then out of nowhere, a rich, golden yellow emerged on the stage, and we both stared in disbelief. “Ten, now ten now ten now ten now ten” Oh-oh. A pheasant – crap, a friggin golden pheasant – like the kind we’d seen at the state fairs! Elihu can’t see things so well at a distance, and he doesn’t have the benefit of color to help him assess the scene; he thought he was seeing an alligator – at least he could tell it was something that had a very long tail. “Honey, that’s a golden pheasant. Go up and look”. He ran up to the stage to see for himself.

I began to do a lightening-quick assessment. Owning one wasn’t unheard of. We had a separate pen. We could. I guess. Yes, I guess we could. Geez, really? Elihu ran back and begged me to bid. “Twenty now twenty now twenty now twenty” the caller went on. ‘I can justify that’, I thought. ‘Twenty dollars, ok. We don’t eat out, I color my own hair…’ I raised my number. But then the price started going up fast. In seconds it was up to thirty dollars. I wasn’t so sure. I hesitated, card in my lap. Elihu was sitting beside me, dancing in his seat and getting frantic. He cried “Mommy, you gotta raise your hand high – like this” and he had raised his own small arm in the air, which in turn caught the attention of the dingy-looking men who stood in front of the auctioneer’s platform, scouring the crowd for bids. The auctioneer Moake himself, his hands-free headset digging into the soft, white flesh of his bald head pointed to me with a question on his face. Was I in? In that moment I grew even fonder of this place; if indeed I chose to pass on the creature up for bidding, I could, even if I had been the highest bidder. If I got cold feet, thankfully, here in this rural auction house I could simply shake my head ‘no’ and the next lowest bidder would walk with the prize. But when he pointed to me and ceased his auctioneer’s call, I nodded yes and held up the piece of yellow cardboard with my number on it. Moake recapped the sale across the p.a. system, “Item number 657 to 2764 for $32.50.” And that was that.

It’s been a while since Elihu and I have been to the Town and Country Auctions, in fact we hadn’t been yet this year, as I didn’t have a number on file in the system for 2011. (Once again, I have a current number on file. The folded piece of cardboard in my glovebox gives me the feeling that I’m not a poser and that I actually do belong here, buying livestock.) I can’t quite remember how I first learned of the place – maybe a bus driver at Elihu’s school, maybe someone at Tractor Supply offering an alternative source for live poultry. Anyway, discovering this micro-culture of domestic animal sales has propelled my son and me into our relatively new world of bird ownership.

Somehow, owning an animal, exotic or not-so exotic, just seems so much more doable when you’re at Moake’s auction house. Dozens of animals, from iguanas to miniature horses are lined up, side-by-side in cages, all of them there for the potential buyers to look over, to begin dreaming what it might be like to have such an animal in one’s own family… I’m never sure if folks there know what they’re doing, or if they’re on the quest for just the right critter to round out their menagerie. Will they be good, caring and responsible pet owners? Who the hell can tell? While it’s not always easy to spot folks’ motives, it does seem everyone there shares a certain outlook on life; all is possible, it’s not a big deal, and why not? I’ve seen folks carry off goats, shoving them into the holds of their CRVs… And I can’t help but wonder, do they really know what they’re getting into? Or does it matter? The beauty of this sort of animal purchase is that if you find it just ain’t working out, you can simply bring the creature back next Saturday and put it up for auction again.

And so, in this spirit of ‘Why not, what’s the worst that can happen?’, Elihu and I have embarked on a few bird-owning adventures. We learned about homing pigeons through our purchase of a robust flock, including personal favorites Lily and King Louis, members of our household for over a year, until a raccoon dined on Lily. Shortly after that, one fine October day as I called Louis to join us overhead for a brisk walk in the field, he was intercepted by a hawk and carried off through the forest to his death. Oh well. It was a good run, and we learned a lot. Enough to embolden us to then buy Magpie pigeons, and have Elihu join the National Pigeon Association and become the nation’s youngest member.

And the chickens. We learned about breeds. About Banties – short for Bantams – which are just genetically engineered, smaller versions of the standard size breeds. We’ve had the chance to see all manner of farmyard fowl up close; geese, turkeys, peafowl, guinea fowl, quail, ducks, chickens of all shapes and sizes. It’s a great place to learn, that’s for sure. And it gives the commoner an opportunity to dabble. That’s how we started, as tentative dabblers, gleaning whatever bits of knowledge we could from the folks who seemed to know what they were doing. The folks who could grab a 35-pound turkey and fight back the thundering wings to manhandle it into submission, and into a box. Those are the folks we ask questions of. The wisdom we’ve acquired! It’s always an adventure.

And so the adventure continues in the form of Timothy, our new Red Golden Pheasant. I’m glad to have had a teensy bit of experience with these birds. (Last summer we visited the NY State Pheasant re-population program in Ithaca, a stunningly huge operation where thousands of pheasants live under 6 acres of netting. We were allowed to roam through these vast, tented flocks – and I still have a scar from a scratch given to me by a powerful male.), Thanks to our visit with those animals, I wasn’t altogether surprised when I had my first taste of this guy’s power. They are muscley birds. They pack a punch. They’re fast, flighty and strong. Birds on the whole are stronger than you’d think – something you learn straight away when you have occasion to hold them as they struggle. Since his explosion from crate to pen we haven’t had occasion to touch Timothy again. And we will not touch him unless we have to. Now, the task ahead is to gain his trust. I have my doubts about this actually coming to fruition, as all game birds just seem so much flightier; they’re wilder than their barnyard cousins. However, our requisite Google mini-course has assured us that this breed ‘tames easily’ and can be gentle and docile. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Elihu has before him a personal quest, a mission that will test his self-discipline. He cannot rush in with this new bird if he is to reach a point one day where he can actually hold this bird on his arm, or pat its gorgeous feathers. He kinda blew it with a parrot we once had, moving too fast, too soon, eliciting bites and other bad behavior from the now-nervous bird. He wasn’t able to give our keets – baby guinea fowl – the slow, steady trust-building time needed to approach them without them fleeing. On the story goes. So now he is eight, and he is getting things, you know? He is beside himself with the new member of our family, and I pray this time the magic holds and that he can find it motivation enough to move gentle and slow. Just this morning – a school day – he was up extra early, dressed and on his way outside to the pen to spend some quiet time with Timothy. (Btw – one of the first names on the list was Buckingham, something his regal plumage supports quite well. I’m still not quite on board with Timothy. But Elihu feels it’s a gentle name, and he is a bird of gentle heart. We shall see…) To his credit, Elihu has already logged several hours in the pen with this fabulous bird in which he’s done nothing but sit and convey his feelings to the bird in song, low, soothing tones of conversation and hopeful transmissions of gentle and meditative thought. A good start.

A quick call to my mother from the auction brought me to my senses; we’d originally come for more laying hens, as our layers have been plucked off one by one over the past few months by the local wildlife, leaving Eggs of Hope unable to deliver on standing orders (let alone supply Elihu his daily ration). I saw a nice trio of laying hens – hardy and handsome Rhode Island reds – and easily bought them for another ten bucks. Money well spent. We put them in the coop when we returned home around midnight on Saturday, leaving our better inspection of them for the daylight hours. Daylight and a closer look at them showed one of our ‘layers’ to be an adolescent male. Argh. And he’s handsome, too. Oh man, I don’t need another over-sexed rooster! I need eggs! Crap. Now Elihu has named him (Einstein…?!) and soon he’ll be a member of our family too and we won’t be able to part with him. We’d have him butchered, but at $4 for the service and a 40-mile drive there and back it just doesn’t make sense. And we’d leave him out overnight for the fox that lives here, but something just won’t let us.

There is the option of selling him back again. That, and another option that serendipitously dropped in our path: it just so happens that there are only two big bird swaps in this area a year – one in March and one in October – and the next one is next Sunday! We’re advised to get there early – by 8 – if we’re to find a lady for our Red Golden Pheasant. And don’t overpay – like we did at the auction – we should only pay about $10 a head for a hen and not much more. And maybe get him two gals – that’s about right for his breed. How lucky are we? So next Sunday, I think Einstein might be coming with us to the big bird tailgate party and finding himself a new home, and hopefully we’ll be bringing home some hens for Timothy.

On it goes. New birds, new situations, new challenges. Soon comes winter, and by then I must have my new coop insulated, and must outfit Timothy’s pen with a heat lamp. Deep down I’m kinda excited, even mildly thrilled, for who knew that Elihu and I would be the owners of an exotic game bird? I consider briefly the life we might be living had we stayed in Illinois. No matter where we lived, above our Cafe in Dekalb, in an apartment in Rogers Park or Evanston, we could never, ever have had the wonderful experiences that we’ve had here if we’d lived in those places. And in those moments when I wonder at what we left behind, and what might have been (and in the moments when I miss the lake so) I just remind myself how lucky we are to have had all of these wonderful, unpredictable experiences.

I am grateful to the newest member of our family, Timothy, our beautiful Red Golden Pheasant, for ushering in a new chapter of the ongoing adventure….


I begin to awake. I am aware my dream was just that, but I try to remain there, my waking conscious mind trying to reel the scenario back, to elaborate on it, to discover what might had happened had sleep continued… Oh, oh, oh, here I am again, when I was just there… I can hear the rooster through my foam-stuffed ear. I open my eyes and peer out over my tiny, disheveled house – when just moments ago there was possibility, allure, potential…

I’d designed a beautiful reunion event, and while no one had showed thus far, the room looked good. Ready. A few folks came to investigate, and they complemented me on my success. Satisfied, I left to go peruse the other peoples’ parties – for this is what it was, a day of many events, one atop the other in multi-leveled rooms, down large hallways, on top of dramatic cantilevered staircases, spread across large shallow pools with floating cups of light… And I simply wandered in and out of them, faintly hoping to meet someone I knew, meeting only distant acquaintances of acquaintances… Once again I was thin, once again I was young, once again my dress was elegant, once again this was simply the way I existed in the world…

I recall another chapter from my night. There was a man from my dream named Steven, with whom my friendship promised warmly and in good humor to develop into something more intimate, now that he had bought the new townhome… I picture the home in my head, the street view, the neighborhood (for my dreams are usually more about place and the feeling of place than anything else) and I wonder if it really would have been better to live out my life there. Things would not have lingered in that buzzing, hopeful mood forever, would they have? Laundry, at some point, along with a myriad of other toilsome things would eventually need to be done. Right? Or not? Oh, to live in that suspended state of promise…

I simply cannot draw the dreams out any further. I muse on the few familiar faces I did see, and try to recall their names, and from where I know them in my waking life. Kathy from camp. We loved each other, we were the outsiders. What was her name? She was there in my dream – yet I wasn’t able to reach her, too many bodies in between. Then a mousey, dancer girl I knew in High School – how on earth did she get there? And the chubby black guy holding an infant like a football – what was that about? There will be no answers, just perhaps a frantic search in the damp basement for the box that contains my senior class yearbook so that I might find that dancer girl… Maybe a meditative moment of concentration to bring back Kathy’s last name followed by a search on Facebook… The dream is done. The day can no longer be avoided. I remain quiet. My son is still sleeping, my world is still private. I’m left with a slight residue of sorrowful back-looking and what-ifs coloring my first waking moments.

The rooster has been quarantined in the garage. Last night was his first apart from his flock, and I can no longer lay in bed, coaxing enlightenment from the vapors of my dreams as his discomfort is descending on my conscience… I get up, shuffle to the mudroom and don my flopping, unzipped winter boots, to make the wet trek to the coop. I open up the interior door to the run, then attend to the de-throned king in his tiny apartment. He is perched, his dignity maintained surprisingly well, atop an old metal shelf cast on its side for just this purpose. Poor guy. I open the outside door and he pushes past me. He has never been apart from his ladies like this. Does this bother him? (As much as a chicken can be bothered.) He paces back and forth along the fence of his private enclosure, strutting and scratching at the dirt, indicating he ‘means business’. The hens’ backs are missing feathers and raw on the shoulders due to the non-stop sex life of this rooster. Finally, the poor girls have a break. You’re welcome.

Yesterday we’d entertained a four year old boy for the day and had pulled out Elihu’s old tricycle for him to ride around.  I trudged over to remove it from the middle of the driveway. It is blue and shiny. Elihu had always called it ‘Mongey’ – with a hard g – because the name of the bike was ‘Mongoose’. We took Mongey with us a lot of places. Like when Fareed would have a long rehearsal, or we’d be visiting a childless household with time to kill. In the rainy day gray of the morning I stare down at the little blue tricycle, my wakefulness tinged with the sense of longing that the dreams have left behind.

I picture the year when Elihu was four, when he himself decorated his little tricycle with a glass ball ornament on each handlebar. Colorblind, he couldn’t have known it, and perhaps I had had a hand in it, I don’t remember, but he ended up with one red, one green. An image flashes in my mind: a tiny boy with hair gently curling at his neck, pedaling madly, his knees flying up towards his ears, the glass ball ornaments dangling… He is riding away down the long hall of the practice rooms at Northwestern University. It is also gray outside. The light is even, neither light nor dark. I can’t tell if it’s day or evening. I feel suspended in time and space. Fareed had just told me of his pregnant girlfriend a few days before. I am sick. I am trying to understand how to live, how to exist, to react, behave. How to breathe. I am stunned, I am looking at our son, the comical image of his mad pedaling, and realizing that I cannot share this moment with my husband as my heart yearns to; with our arms around each other as we look on in love at the child we have created together.

I need not lament this sad moment in my past story, for this morning is filled with my son’s declarations of his love for me. Is this not truly the pinnacle of a mother’s existence? He is happily cleaning up after our young visitor yesterday, at my coaching putting ‘like with like’, sorting airplanes from cars, dinosaurs from gum wrappers, singing all the while, telling me how happy he is and how much he loves me, and I am here, in the beginnings of a good mood, purging myself of the morning’s emotional residue in the form of a new post.

Half-remembered dreams leave me with longing. And while longing can be good fodder for creation and progress, longing can also be a disheartening feeling to live with. These past few years I’ve had to deal with many bouts of longing head-on. And for me, the best cure for that frustratingly diffuse ‘what-if’ game starts with a tidy house. There are those (my ex included) for whom this might seem a distraction in of itself – a condition that I’ve mandated for myself that obscures the work or challenge at hand. Perhaps. If so, so be it. For me, an orderly house brings a great sense of control, of peace. I’m not naive enough to think I actually do have control, but I’m human enough to still want the illusion.

And so right now I will turn to the tidying of my home. The aligning of things on shelves, the straightening of piles, the putting away of things with like things, these are the actions I can take today that will bring me a sense of certitude, of conclusion. At the very least, I can know where I stand in relationship to the artifacts I share my life with. My waking to-do list may never dwindle, and I may never again see my old friend Kathy but for my dreams, but I know that I love my son, I know he loves me, and I know that everything in my home will soon be neatly tucked away in its place for now.

Begin the Burn…

Tonight, as we stood in line at the brightly lit local convenient store, Elihu asked me if it was ‘technically still summer’. I guess I’d been thinking this recent coldish air was just a passing thing; somewhere on board I still had last-minute summer-ish plans for us. There must be another spell of heat coming again…right? His question had me take immediate stock; just what was the date today? The 19th? ‘I guess fall officially starts tomorrow’ I answered. No one corrected me. Later, at home, when I googled for accuracy, I learned that it actually starts on the 23rd – a number that puzzles me as I don’t ever remember anything but the 20th heralding a new season. (Just me? Who knows. Like my son, I feel like I miss half of what every other earth citizen seems to have an inbred knowledge of.) Aah well. No matter, in a few days it will indeed be fall.

The morning temps in our small house are dipping into the 50s now, and I find myself wondering when exactly do ‘most’ folks turn on their furnaces? Until this present country life all I knew was that I adjusted the thermostat and the house became more comfortable. Now, knowing that the oil in our tank is an emergency delivery from the state delivered last spring, and one which will not allow us another fill-up for months, I am not close to engaging the furnace. Rather, we use the small electric heaters to take the edge off of certain spots in the early morning; Elihu’s bedroom (mine dips down to the mid 50s – but I’m back to long underwear so it’s bearable) then the kitchen, if we eat there at all. Sometimes it’s just easier to eat in his bedroom, huddled around the heater at his little desk. Not so bleak as it sounds – it’s actually kinda cozy. I’m apprehensive however as to how it will look on our bill. It’s been awhile since we’ve used these little juice suckers.

Elihu played his first ever game of soccer today – his first ever day of a shared sport of any kind except for at gym (this warrants an entire post of its own) and I felt the chill closing in as soon as the sun sank below the tree line. All the other kids were wearing only T shirts, but my kid, I’d put him in three layers in anticipation of just such a drop in temperature. At first I’d felt guilty as so many kids had sweat-plastered hair on their brows, but by the end of the game I felt better about my choice. He too felt the cold and was glad for the extra layers.

When I step outside I can now smell the scent of firewood in the air – a sure sign my neighbors have begun the long winter’s burn of those carefully stacked cords of wood. The blue plastic tarps have been peeled back, the plywood lean-tos no longer filled quite to the top… Summer has a few days left, yet already the burn has begun.

Week’s End

It’s been a week. I got a cold. Got myself an IUD, got a temporary crown on a broken molar. The crown broke off after I got home, so a few days later I got another one put on. Got my materials for my fall piano class together and met my son’s third grade teacher. Been woken up by the crazy pain of this silly tooth nearly every night now and the cold lingers, juicy. Elihu spills into the car after school yesterday all in tears over the chaotic, energetic maelstrom that is the first week of school. He can hardly understand all the procedures, all the rules, the subtleties of it all. I understand. I don’t try to fix it, I just get in the back seat with him and let him cry, his head in my lap. His tummy’s been off too. Today’s income is gone as my student calls this morning to cancel; she’s heard I’ve been sick. Oh, and I stepped on my glasses and Elihu lost a tooth. It’s been a week.

Today the sun is shining, the air is crisp and I have come home from the store with a gallon of semi-transparent stain in barn red. After hoping to give the new chicken coop a demure coat of dark gray, in hopes of achieving the look of elegantly weathered cedar, I have finally given in to my color blind son’s request that we please paint it barn red instead.

Tomorrow is Saturday, and the weather promises to be just fine for painting.

Almost Done

I’ve been getting my period for 36 years. I remember the exact day when it first came because it was April 17th, my friend Kathy S’s birthday, and I was twelve. It was after school, when shafts of late afternoon sunlight streamed across the 6th green of the Evanston golf course and into our front hall.  I’d just come home from school and had run upstairs to use the bathroom. I remember noticing just a few dots of blood, not much, but it didn’t seem like it could have been anything else. I checked as best I could, because I was really hoping it might not be what I suspected. I sat there, stunned, unable to move for a minute as a profound reality descended on my my bright, girl world. Perhaps I felt some excitement, that I don’t remember, but I do remember disappointment. It was over. My childhood, my innocence. Technically, I was old enough to have a baby. Culturally, I was on the hook now. Still not one hundred percent sure, I dabbed some blood onto a piece of toilet paper and ran downstairs to show my mom.

The kitchen, on the east side of the house, was in shadow that time of day. I remember pausing as I entered the room. I remember showing her the spot, I remember her smiling, then laughing in excitement for us both. I however, at her confirmation, began to weep. There we were, in the dark kitchen, she laughing, me crying. It was over, I told her. Everything was going to change now. I would have to make plans around my period, cancel plans because of my period, begin to live a new, furtive existence all because of this unwelcome change. I thought of the exotic-seeming college girls who used to babysit us when we were young. They’d seemed so grown-up, so womanly. It occurred to me that I was somehow entering their mysterious world. Tears wouldn’t stop my period from coming. I couldn’t fight it. I would simply have to buck up and figure out how to lessen its restrictive claim on me.

Skip ahead nearly four decades – past the eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C. where the class went swimming and girls tried to instruct me how to use a tampon from the other side of the bathroom door (with no success) so that I could join them in the pool – past the rainy nights boyfriends made tampon runs to the 24 hour grocery on my behalf – past all the near misses and the accidents and the timely assistance from anonymous and helpful women everywhere who dug around the bottoms of their purses, saying they ‘thought they might have something’ when I found myself stranded – past that merciless period caring not a whit that the toilet paper dispenser was empty – skip ahead to September, 2011. To the day before last, when it occurred to me, that based on the plans I’d hoped would come to pass these next few days, this would be my last period, ever.

After my initially tearful reception of my menstruation (btw – I cannot fathom how people still insist on pronouncing that silly ‘u’ after the ‘r’ – reminds me of vintage health videos and stuffy health professionals who seem completely clueless, especially in matters of sexual relations) I had come to actually welcome it each month. For me, perhaps because of a tilted uterus, perhaps for other unknown and unimportant reasons, I would begin to feel it coming on in my lower back. The other night I lay in bed and tried to concentrate on that feeling, to memorize it. It had been with me for most of my life, and in the not too distant future it would be just a memory. I have only found one or two women who feel as I do about their periods. Most just complain and enjoy the camaraderie of their shared pains. When I began to feel that low-grade, dull ache, something of a mix of intestinal distress but not, muscle pain but not, I actually welcomed it. Before the back ache though, I’d know my period was coming because something would set me off. Something – which in the moment really seemed to matter – would send me into an explosion of tears; a good, physical, sobbing jag. Fareed, my near ex, might ask me if I expected my period soon (as my cycle was a steady 28 days for decades) and when he was right, it would cause me to start laughing hysterically before the tears were dry on my face. Sheesh. It never ceased to entertain me. When you’re in it, you’re in it – you can’t see that the tears don’t match the offense – but thankfully, when pulled out of it, I was able to marvel at this crazy hormonal reaction, and I always found it amusing. I even enjoyed the dull, burning ache in my lower back. There were times it required some pain relief, but never much. I’m well aware that for many women this is a really painful and dreaded time of the month – a real waste of precious time – but thankfully it wasn’t that for me. I was free to enjoy it to some degree. Each month I enjoyed the feeling of connectedness it gave me; I saw it as proof that I was linked to the earth, nature, the women I shared my world with. I saw it as evidence that I too was equipped for the job of becoming a mother one day. And when I actually got pregnant in July of 2002 – precisely when I’d planned – once again I was in awe of how it all worked. Amazing. How lucky was I to be a woman, to experience this myself? Lucky.

A couple of years ago my periods began to appear every 24 days, instead of every 28. Again, they were like clockwork, but something had begun to change in my body. Each month, when I’d feel the tug of one ovary or the other – I’d secretly think to myself , ‘Wow, I could still have a baby. I could still get pregnant’. But the gap is too wide for Elihu to enjoy a playmate in any baby born now, my financial situation couldn’t handle it, and besides, insane as it sounds, if I were to ever have had another child, I would have wanted it to be with my son’s father, my husband. On principal, that is. In some crazy, twisted way. I would never consider it, but the irrational thought lingers. Therein I am conflicted about this upcoming change of menopause. I’ve had my child – my body works – what’s the problem? I can’t answer this. I’m just a little sentimental. I guess it’s because a familiar part of my life is coming to an end. There are women who will leap for joy when they no longer have to buy tampons and pads, for whom the new freedom won’t have them looking back for a second. Maybe I’ll join them one day, but for the moment I have a little letting go to do.

At the same time my cycle shortened, my period changed. (For those of you who may find any of this post on the verge of poor taste, I bid you look away now.) I began to have what I have called ‘mini-miscarriages’. I would lose so much blood that I wondered if I shouldn’t worry. Might I become anemic? And if I were, how would I know, anyway? I find myself canceling students, moving appointments, staying home. I can’t leave for more than fifteen minutes at a time as the flow is non-stop. Clots come too, it just doesn’t stop. And after a few inconvenient years of this, just a few months ago, another change. My period comes every two weeks. Seriously? It’s as if mother nature herself is slapping me in the face to snap me out of it: don’t be such an emotional pansy – your body is changing, get over it! Unable to continue the loss of income – the huge expense of pads and tampons and just the overall annoyance of the situation – I began to search for a solution. Then it came, in the form of a casual comment made to me by a gradeschool classmate who is now herself an OB/GYN doc. “Get a Mirena” she said. “Your period will probably stop.” Just like that. “Just make sure that whoever puts it in has done hundreds of em.” I must not have looked convinced. “I’ll take it out if you don’t like it”. Well then. My next move, as a still-married, still-insured woman, was to look into coverage, and damned if that piece of over-priced, hormone-infused plastic wasn’t covered. Green light.

One of my friends here in town, and the mother of a former piano student, is herself a doc who does just such IUD ‘installations’ by the hundreds. And so, as if decreed by the speedy hand of destiny, she is inserting mine today. I pay $100 after the insurance. Heck, I’ll make up that loss soon enough. As with any endeavor in life one seems to pick up so much more information on the subject when it’s spinning around in your consciousness – I’ve heard lots of anecdotal advice in the few weeks that have passed since I made the decision to do this. I may spot for months. Many months. I may cramp. It might seem I’ve made a mistake – but no, wait it out. And I will. This IUD will remain inside me for the next five years. By the time I have it taken out, I should be on ‘the other side’ of this transition. Today I have my natural period, tomorrow I spot on account of medical manipulation. When I am fifty-three (seriously, I’ll be fifty-three??) and the device is removed, I will be a woman in her menopausal years.

I’ve never been a fan of change, and adjusting is tricky for me. Thankfully, I’ll have five years to make the transition. See you on the other side…

Not Quite Here

Been up an hour or more. Elihu awoke feeling a little sick, but I cajoled him into going to school. I reassured him that I was just a phone call away if he felt it was too much. I offered a little Mr. Creosote on You Tube to get him chuckling. His mood was light and his brow didn’t feel hot, so I saw him off on the bus.

I myself have had a summer cold the past few days and today am tired even after a good night’s sleep. I had a very welcome dream this morning, and in my sort of sick, lowered state of energy I buzz through the light of day still very much in the mood of my dream. I dreamt of a boy that I had pined for as an adolescent girl. He, as an adult, along with a boy whom I took to be his son, joined Elihu and me at Christmastime inside a fine home with lovely mill work, darkly lit and with a large, stately Christmas tree in the living room The feeling was gentle, it was one of long-lost friends meeting for the first time as adults, as people. It was surprising; I hadn’t thought but a handful of times of this man in the decades since he exited my life, yet from this darkly lit dream, his quiet and smiling presence carried into my waking day. I am compelled to look him up once more on Facebook and see his face, so that I might confirm the image in my mind. I notice that his children are grown. Are we so old? Ahh, it’s just that I started so late….

I’m a little whistful. I miss having a crush. I miss that feeling of hope, of longing. In my very routine day – a day that will see me doing laundry, paying bills and catching up on the dishes – I will float through these everyday tasks my spirit lifted ever so softly by the happy, hopeful feeling that still lingers from my dream.


Man I just lost it. It’s past 9:30. I’ve allowed my son to talk with his father far later than I should have, although it once again puts him way past a healthy bedtime. I ask Elihu – as I have so many, many times – please not to play with the ceiling light, as he will break it if he continues. Please, do not jump from the couch and try to grab the cord. Please don’t. Please. So tonite was that night. The night when, talking to his father on the phone, he absentmindedly jumped and grabbed. The night when the cord to the light snapped, when it became one more thing on my list of things to fix, to attend to, to spend money on. I lost it. I grabbed the phone from him, hung up on his father – who had made the topic of their conversation what Elihu should give his toddler half-brother for his second birthday – and I begin my descent into my ‘I’ve-had-it-rage’.

I try to stop myself from doing something I’ll regret. I walk Elihu into his bedroom, assemble his nightwear on the bed, tell him one final time to please brush his teeth, get changed and into bed. Good Lord, sometimes I cannot fathom how a kid who can share a philosophical conversation with me over dinner can become so thick-headed and disconnected from his world just minutes later. He sobs, of course, and I’m sorry that what was almost a perfect night has turned so sour, and mostly because of my reaction. It’s just that he knows better, I’ve cautioned him many times… My ego has taken over and for the moment I’m feeling every bit the single mother. Maybe also because I have some important dental work to be done tomorrow, and without my still-husband’s updated insurance info it’s no go. I hate relying on him still, and I’m so afraid of the life that awaits post-divorce: no more trips to the doctor or the dentist. It simply won’t be an option. I will join the leagues of good people for whom a pap smear or a tooth cleaning – let alone a root canal – will be simply unaffordable. Maybe that’s also contributing to my dark mood right now.

Elihu told me that the energy in the gym was way too much at indoor recess today, so he did what I told him, he took three deep breaths. Only instead of three, he made it six. And he made the exhalations as long as he could. “It made it much better” he told me. At the supper table we breathed six times in, and six times out before we ate. A very good thing to do. Maybe that’s what I need to do right now.

I can hear that Elihu is singing to himself now. Maybe Fareed has emailed the insurance info by now as he said he would. I sure hope so. Breathe. If the worst of it all is a broken ceiling fan, then I guess all is ok. It’s not so bad, and right now, I’m fine. I have my son, my health, my house, and the electricity is still on.

First I need to take a few good, deep breaths, then I’ll set things right with Elihu. He did something stupid, and so did I. Ok. Here I go. In… out….

Eve of Third Grade

Elihu has not gone to bed before 11 pm since, oh, hmm, let’s just say – since school was out last June. ! So tomorrow is his first day of school – his teacher is Mrs. Huggins (he can’t help giggling and referencing Mrs. Huh-wiggins of the Carol Burnett show, a favorite retro You Tube treat.) Ideally he should be up by 8. That sounds civilized, I know, yet consider the context. One a.m. bedtimes (some precluded by performing at the Greenmill in Chicago with dad) and 11 a.m. mornings… more like a teenager than a third grader. I’m sure I’m not alone. I know there are other kids out there who have lived the entire summer in a different time zone. I just wonder if they’re somehow a  bit more emotionally prepared for the reality of an early morning than my son is. I know I’m not.

I think back on third grade. It was the first year I was aware of romantic longing. It was the year Trixie wrote four letter words on the bathroom wall and I was publicly blamed for it. Until Mrs. Field had written the offending words on the blackboard for the class, hoping the guilty party would admit to the crime, I had never even been aware of having heard them. (As a striking contrast to that, my son uses the same words sparingly and colorfully, and with my permission.) It was the year that social orders became a painful reality of my world. A strange mixture of things happened that year; in some ways I can say it was the end of my true childhood. My son still believes in Santa, in the Easter bunny. He knows enough to put social discrimination at school into context, forgiving his trespassers on account of their own lack – and not his. He is both trusting and childlike as well as savvy and discerning. He has an awareness of his world that I didn’t have until I’d graduated from High School. What will third grade be for him? His first real crush? Or simply his times tables? The end of Santa? The start of true peer pressure??

When Elihu awoke this morning he said “I wish I were in school already!” Whatever he’s in for, he almost there…