The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Hope Burning March 3, 2015

I’m trying to imagine how everything might look right now if I knew I were dying.

Tonight the moon is out, and from every window in my house I see a gentle, rural scene. Beyond my kitchen window to the north I can see a thinly wooded forest through which the moonlight passes, leaving slender shadows in the sparkling snow. To the right of that there is a deep swath of open yard which stretches up and over the rise; it’s defined at the far end by a stone wall and row of trees beyond which lies another large field. I can also see the lights from my neighbor’s homes in the distance, and it feels nice to know they’re not right upon us, but still, just close enough. I like knowing that. Through my living room window to the east I see the ridge of the horizon, and lights twinkle from the hills beyond the Hudson River. There are people living out there, under those twinkling lights, and I like knowing this, too.

It’s a modest house for sure, but it’s cozy, it’s comfortable, and I think that most of the people in this world would be happy to call this place home. For just a second or two I’m able to conjure the feeling that I’m looking at it for one of the very last times, and for however many times I’ve so deeply missed the homes I’ve lived in before this one, for however many times I’ve lamented ending up here, alone at the end of a long, country driveway – now, in this moment, this place feels like the most important place of my whole life. Tonight, this place is my only home. It’s where I want to be. And until recently, it’s where I’ve always felt safe from the world.

Less than an hour ago I heard that a friend, who’d discovered her breast cancer in what she’d thought to be its earliest stages, had learned through her recent surgery that it was worse than previously thought. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. A diagnosis I’ve heard many, many times in the past decade of my life… It doesn’t always end the same way, but it’s a long, difficult road to travel no matter the severity of the disease, and I don’t envy those who’ve had no choice but to take up the charge. I’ve seen friends fight tenacious cancers, some triumphing after incredibly brave battles, some succumbing after equally courageous campaigns. And in the end, who in hell knows why some people make it, and some people don’t? No one, of course, deserves to get cancer. And no one deserves to die of it either. But when the patient is either the parent of a young family or a practitioner of the healing arts, it somehow seems all the more unacceptable.

Last night, Elihu and I had dinner with a neighbor, who brought up the subject of another town resident who was, although putting up a kick-ass fight, dealing with a lethal cancer. His mother had died of it, and he himself hadn’t even discovered it until it until quite recently – when it was already stage four. He was a relatively young guy, and with three young children he had a lot to live for, but still, it didn’t look good. Truthfully, it looked bad. But in spite of how imminent his death appeared, my heart lightened to hear a new tone in our hostess’s voice as she offered rather brightly that of course he still had a chance. (Funny how one latches on to hope – however small or unlikely it promises to manifest.) I myself had only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks back – after, I’d seen him in a local liquor store and given him some grief about his newly launched vodka business. He’d cited some local lore on his product label about which I questioned his firsthand experience. But he sure showed me; he’d known more about it than I’d thought he would, and even had the class to acquiesce about a point on which he may have put something of a romantic spin for the sake of salesmanship.

After my needless challenge of his new product line had concluded, he cheerfully asked after Elihu, remembering his charismatic performance at the Greenfield Elementary Talent Show a few years back. Our kids had ridden the bus together for a few years, and Elihu, whether this man knew it or not, had fairly idolized his namesake son. Maybe I should have told him? I wasn’t sure how relevant it was at this point. Just as well I didn’t go on…. In hindsight, I so wished I’d have stopped babbling sooner, and just played it a bit cooler. I had remembered to congratulate him on the new business, but still, I guess I just feel as if I’d been a bit foolish, a bit trivial spewing all that ridiculous banter to fill the space. I know it’s the common, everyday stuff that matters – it’s banter mostly that keeps the world turning – I just wish I’d been a little less enthusiastic in my pursuit of it. After all, there was some serious courage on display right in front of my eyes, and here I was chattering on as if it was a day like any other. Of course it was a day like any other – and when you’re sick, don’t you wish for your life to go one all around you as if it truly were business as usual? But then clearly, it is not just another day. A confusing mix of realities.

Both my parents have had cancer. My cousin’s been undergoing repeated rounds of chemo over the past several years in an effort to keep her colon cancer at bay. Our grandmother died of colon cancer. I myself, for the second time in as many years, have pre-cancerous polyps growing inside of me which need to be removed. The office gal at the gastroenterology group is nonplussed at my status; it’ll be months yet before I can even get in for a first appointment, much less get the things lopped off. “They’re slow growing” the gal on the other end of the phone tells me in a near monotone, the subtext being “We know what we’re doing. Don’t freak out here.” In past years it’s been another thing to tick of the to-do list, this year it’s something that begins to really frighten me. I mean, what if? What’s to say it shouldn’t be me too? There is no fucking justice in the assignment of disease. I am just as human as the dad down the road with the young family, or my friend and acupuncturist with the breast cancer. I am just as unsafe as they are from a surprise diagnosis. Nothing saved my old college beau from dying of Leukemia before he turned forty, or my dear musician friend dying from esophageal cancer shortly after that, or my old childhood pal passing from lung cancer before fifty. None of those jovial, loving and spirited young men deserved to go, nor did their loved ones deserve to lose them. From my earth-bound perspective these good souls deserved none of the shitty hands they were dealt.

In spite of the cheery demeanor that goes out before me in the world, I live my life in an ever-present, low-grade state of fear. And lately, I’m more keenly aware of just why. Making my way through life feels like I’m walking through a field of land mines. And now that I’m past that fifty mark, people in my life have begun to leave at an increasing rate. Right and left I hear stories, I learn that ‘so-and-so is gone’, or ‘didn’t I hear that she had only months to live?’ or ‘it was so sudden, and then he was gone’… It almost doesn’t shake me quite so much – at least not as much as it did say a couple of years ago. And also because many of my friends who have died have been out of my immediate, day-to-day world, their deaths have seemed somewhat unreal and distant. But the frightening reality of death has settled in all around me now, and I find that I’m even giving my eleven year old son simple directives should it be learned that I too have something possibly terminal. I’m not sure how comprehensive Medicaid is, but I am surely at its mercy. If a treatment isn’t covered, it isn’t going to happen. I feel a growing pressure to archive the work of my life, to get it organized clearly – so clearly that someone other than me could go through the mementos and understand their context and stories. I want my footprint to be tidy and identifiable, even if I know it will only eventually recede back into the rolling sea.

We passed a house today that I’ve always liked; it was a small cottage nestled into the side of a mountain, part of it was made of local stone, the rest a deep gray clapboard with white trim and tidy black shutters. Many were the daydreams I’d had about what life might look like if I myself lived there… Today I saw that it had recently suffered a fire. Gutted. It was black with soot, and dusted with the flurries that had started to fall again. I know most people’s first hope would have been that the residents got out safe. Somehow, I always take that as a given. Instead, my first thought is usually I hope they were able to save a few favorite things. But this time, after a moment’s more thought on the matter, I changed my mind. No, that wasn’t what I hoped for this time. This time I really did hope that they’d made it out safely, and hadn’t dawdled on account of the memento box.

My arthritic hands have started to make playing the piano painful; they’re beginning to twist in different directions and ache all day long. My vanity had already given up, but this new physical challenge of simply playing – of doing the only thing in the world that I’m truly qualified to do – is breaking my heart. It’s making me fear for the shape my fingers will be in ten years from now if they continue at this rate. But then, I remember my friends and what they face. And as with everything in life, when the road gets harder than you could have ever imagined in your worst dreams, the unimportant stuff somehow falls away. It’s not about living so much pain-free as it is about just plain living. It’s not so much about grabbing a box of mementos on the way out. It’s about steeling yourself, gathering your courage and getting the hell out of harm’s way.

Tonight I’ll be thinking of my friends – all of those who face deeply frightening health challenges at this time – and I’ll be sending them as much love as the airwaves can hold. I’m surprised to find I’m not quite out of hope yet, in fact I’m turning up the dial now, and I’m emitting as much hope out into the world as best I can… I pray they receive it, and like some sort of beacon, it will help them find their way out of the burning house in time…

 

Panic 1-1-1 September 7, 2014

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It’s the infinite possibility that gets me. The unfathomable, unknowable vastness of situations that exist – the organic events going on, right now, in the very spot of grass beneath my feet, the goings on of people and commerce in my town, across the whole state, the whole country, and at the same time all the like going on in other towns, in other countries, even on other continents… It’s the weather systems that surround our globe and the super-heated action taking place miles below our feet… and then of course some similar sort of activity also taking place on some other planet so far away that you could never even begin to comprehend how far away it is, much less come to understand and know all that goes on there, too. Oh, and then there’s the microscopic, unseen world that supports and makes up the world that we do see; events of commonplace chemistry and basic physics taking place that have unto themselves limitless interactions, relationships and morphing outcomes ceaselessly going on – no matter whether you’re paying attention or not. The whole bloody lot is always moving, reacting, growing, decaying…. Life always moves. And life is e-normous. Limitless, in fact, many would agree.

Which of course is fine, and all is as it should be, I suppose. Everything nests somehow into everything else, and therein lies the beauty of it all, the Godliness of it all. It’s just that it’s so much. And perhaps I’m short-circuiting or something, but lately I’m highly inclined to want to get a grip on how all of it works. Now I realize how silly that sounds, honestly, I do. But that’s the thing with problems that arise from your thinking process; they can be downright illogical. And no matter how illogical, the thinking still appears to be real to the thinker. And so that hyper-awareness of the largeness, the unknowability of it all then helps to tip me into that most unpleasant state of panic once again. I hate it, but can’t seem to stop it. I’m walking a fine line here, even in the wake of Robin William’s depression-related suicide – because I do not relish the idea of people thinking I’m crazy. But having panic attacks is in of itself is a kind of crazy – as is depression, or being manic. And so many of us suffer in some way during our lifetimes from some kind of mental health issue. So many of us have lived our own kind of crazy at one time or another. Really, how in hell can you live on this planet and not lose it from time to time?

These days, in addition to the run-of-the-mill panic attacks which come on through obviously stress-induced and rather specific situations, I’ve been finding that unremarkable events are also acting as triggers for my panic. Because, as I’ve just pointed out, nothing is really all that unremarkable when you think about it. I even find that glancing at clouds can frighten me, because I realize how big they themselves are, and how high up they are too, and I begin to experience a mild fear of heights even at that line of contemplation. Sort of a sympathetic vertigo, you might say. Conversely, when I try to pull my awareness back into my immediate sphere of experience (as a means of calming myself), I cannot help but then become acutely aware of the activity all about me – the activity of cells, the movement of insects (they by themselves spin me off into a world of disbelief and wonder – how in hell can something so tiny have all those systems packed inside? And don’t get me started on nano technology – the subject can literally make me light-headed and slightly dizzy. Really.). So my challenge then becomes how to tame this mental mess. And believe me, I’m working on it.

Sometimes, when my life’s a wreck or I can’t pull myself out of an undesirable situation, I try to imagine what advice I would give myself if I were somebody else. An objective outsider. Because as we all know it’s much easier to tell someone else how to change their life than to actually make those changes for yourself. ! Using that tactic, I find it’s easy to coach myself. And so I make a list of categories which might benefit from a little assessment: Financial, Professional, Physical, Spiritual.

Ok, number one: there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead, what with the Studio, the lack of a real job and income – and so it’s easy to understand how I might be panicking just a little. So what can I do? What action can I take to mitigate the financial stress? Cut down (on what?!, the cynical voice inside me bitches) on expenses, be frugal with all food, drive as little as possible, take extra piano students as I can. Ok. Not much, but something. And The Studio? I’m doing what I can; bought my first rolls of insulation, watched some YouTube vids, consulted a few pros and have assembled my tools. I’ll begin installing it this afternoon. The new electric lines are in, and the heating units go in next week. There’s networking to be done, so I need to meet with a couple of folks over the next month. I’m still a bit overwhelmed, but what more can I do right now? (If I began to contemplate the legal issues ahead I’d feel as if I were back to square one. Maybe the lesson here is ‘one step at a time’). At least I’m doing something, and the situation’s in hand.

Next is of course, are the health issues. The arthritis in my fingers has accelerated rapidly over the past month, and where before it was merely unsightly, now my knobby distal knuckles are warm and painful nearly all the time. I’m only responsible for playing three classes at school this year, but even so, with my fingers getting stuck in between the black notes and aching as they do, I wonder how it’ll work out. I’m back on the glucosamine regimen, plus have added some Chinese herbal supplements, topical applications of essential oils, I’ve begun acupuncture again and will shortly try a few rounds of electromagnetic therapy. I’m not sure how I’ll sustain such treatments on such a tight budget, but at least I’m underway. Doing what I can.

Also, I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past few months, and I’m a little frightened by it. So, again, what action should I take? I know, join the Y. Check. Joined at a discount, no less, thanks to the scholarship program (some red tape and hoops to jump through, but I’ve come to understand that being poor is in of itself a part-time job.) Ok. Done. Now, what to wear? I donned my old sports bra the other day, but I’m so much larger than I was the last time I wore it, the damn thing ripped in two when I tried it on. Ich. Ok. Just gotta replace it. An unforeseen expense, but as my local health-nut and excavator friend Al said to me this morning (on his cell phone in the middle of a 20 mile bike ride) “Just get a new one and keep going. Keep going.” Mom’s underwriting my new Weight Watchers membership – and that starts Monday. I simply cannot imagine going back to such an austere diet. I once lost 55 pounds on WW, after the birth of my son, so I know the culture well. (Atkins is more fun, but WW is more realistic and its success longer-lasting.) But honestly, it comes with hunger pangs and an undeniable lack of satisfaction. I suppose the loss of extra fat on my frame and improved numbers (bp and cholesterol) should make up for the near-constant feelings of hunger… that’s the idea I guess. And hopefully, after I’ve made movement a part of my routine, I’ll just plain feel better. I know it’s true, I’ve experienced it before, but it seems ridiculous to me from where I stand right now. Life without a few glasses of wine each day? Life with portions a mere quarter of the size I’m accustomed to? Sheesh. It’s but a day off, yet I still don’t believe it’s coming. I don’t suppose anyone is ever ready for major change. Just gotta jump in. (Or as my buddy Al would say, “pull the trigger”.)

Now to the spiritual part of the equation. Got much of that down I think; I spend a lot of time in nature, I express gratitude all over the place and I’m always reaching out to people and spreading kindness and love where I can. But I can’t lie; I’m still dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger towards my ex husband – I’m still upset that he doesn’t support us better, that our poverty is just fine with him and his parents. It still angers and frustrates me that I don’t have a partner, a spouse, someone to take up the slack every now and then, help with homework, maybe even vacuum or make dinner once in a while… And I know, as a student of basic spiritual concepts, that ultimately that shit comes back to me. But still, it’s on my plate, and six years later it’s a larger issue than I’d like to admit. And in addition to the forgiveness thing, maybe some mental silence might serve me too. I think I could muster ten minutes a day concentrating on nothing but my breathing. Twenty, probably not. But ten, yeah. And perhaps in the realm of intention, a little more controlled thought also might serve me well… That is to say, replacing the doom and gloom imaginings with lovely visions of what the Studio might look and feel like when it’s up and running and inhabited by happy folk. Ok. Begin minimal meditation practice. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Good. Sounds doable.

The list seems so short when I see it here, so why does it feel so daunting? And good Lord, it seems I’ve been through all this before. How have I not made more progress, I wonder? I remind myself that if I could just live panic-free and enjoy both mental and physical fitness, life might be a lot more enjoyable. Cuz right now, it’s only minimally so (hence the comfort of food and wine. We all know that drill). As I watch people go through the activities of their day, I often wonder: what is life like on the inside for them? What are their demons, their challenges? To what degree would they consider themselves to be content… happy? One cannot judge a book by its cover; I’m fairly sure no one is quite as put-together and problem-free as they might seem. But then again, maybe there is a sweet spot on the other side of all this self-improvement. Maybe one can be happy, content. Fit. All at the same time. At least one hopes.

Yesterday I saw a man riding his bicycle down our road. He was loaded down with stuff – a bedroll, bags, pieces of cloth, a crazy-looking horn, baskets brimming… Clearly, he was not out for a day ride. Unable to forget the cyclist, I turned around a couple of miles into my commute and doubled back in time to see him tackling the great cemetery hill – a hill which even as a healthy young child I would walk my bike up, rather than ride. I carefully passed him, pulled over to the side of the road and waited. I watched as he rode up the steep incline in a serpentine fashion. Interesting technique, I thought. He was actually making it up the hill – and with a full load, too. This person was impressive, and I had to meet him. He might be just the inspiration I needed.

As soon as he’d come down the other side of the hill, the man pulled into a church parking lot and disappeared around a corner. I walked around to the back, and announced myself first, lest the poor rider be seeking a bit of privacy to relieve himself perhaps… As I entered the church’s back yard, I saw this slender, tanned man sitting in the cool of the shade at a picnic table, a veritable banquet spread out before him. He was digging into some bread and hummus when I joined him. I learned that he was from Oakland, California, and had left the day after Christmas, last year. He’d made it to the Canadian east coast, and was now heading back. Altogether, he was very unaffected and matter-of-fact about his journey; when I asked him questions he answered them directly, and for the most part he didn’t seem aloof or coy, just possessed of a quieter nature, and perhaps exercising just the tiniest bit of caution in the face of my enthusiasm. I had so many questions for him, and had I not needed to get Elihu’s bass delivered to him in time for orchestra, I might have been a bit more focused with my inquiry.

Among the many things I wondered, the most prominent question was: what occupies your thoughts as you ride? He admitted to a certain incessant, repetitive nature to his thoughts, and offered that it was in fact, one of his main challenges. What criteria did he use to choose his route? How could he afford to do this? What had he done before? He was a little cryptic with some of his answers, but I sensed he was the sort of fellow who would have declined to answer if he felt it beyond his comfort. He told me that he’d just turned 65, so there “was no job to go back to now” as he was officially retired, but that he had worked in the flower industry. Still so enigmatic. As a day laborer? As the CEO of a company? In what way had he worked? He said he was “used to being outside” with his work. Ok. That narrowed it down some. But so many more questions burned, and as we got off into tangential topics of getting fit, perhaps having a dog to inspire daily activity, what programs might exist to help pay for the cost of a dog if I did get one, how different regions of the country dealt with recycling and such, I got further away from my informal interview and settled instead for a gentle, enjoyable conversation. How I had come to live here, how Chicago had been so brutally cold when he’d ridden through it last March… There wasn’t enough time to learn from him what I’d hoped. But I suppose there is no possible way to truly understand such an enormous undertaking unless you, well, undertake it. And perhaps that was the most important lesson here.

I gave him my card and encouraged him to stay in touch by email when he checked in with the world at his next library stop. I hoped so dearly that he would, but even if he didn’t, no matter. Phil had added to the quality and fullness of my life just through this simple meeting, and if I never heard from him again, this would have to be enough. It certainly was a dose of inspiration come to me at a time of need. Maybe that itself was more than enough.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of ones popping up during my days – and my nighttimes, too. And while I’ve made an effort not to get too terribly esoteric in my writing here, nor to explore in-depth some ideas that have long been a part of my life – for fear of turning some folks off for good – I will admit a completely open mind when it comes to matters that our mainstream culture still doesn’t treat as legitimate. Like ghosts. Or apparitions that appear to people who are dying, and unexplained experiences like music in the air, or the scent of flowers – just as real as the real thing – arising from nowhere. Or like repeating numbers. I won’t go and tell you that I think God is directly communicating with me and offering me a personally targeted message in my time of introspection and need, but I will say that something is happening to me these days. I’ve seen the number 111 pop up in all sorts of places, and finally, it’s caught my attention. In fact, I’ve seen the number 111 appear so frequently over the past week, that I’ve taken to photographing it. I awoke last night at 1:11 and grabbed my camera. I am not nuts. It’s happening. A quick Google search helps fill things in, but still, I almost don’t even believe my own story. Have I been seeing what I want to see? Have I been exaggerating the truth? Am I just looking for help, in any form at all? Am I leading the witness?

In the end, who really knows? No one. It’s just one more event taking place in this endless maelstrom of life. And happily, it doesn’t make me panic. Instead, it gives me a tiny seed of hope. And that’s something I need to cultivate these days. So who cares where it comes from? I’m going to take it as a little knowing wink from the universe telling me that things are going to work out just fine, and I’m going to keep on moving forward into this worldly adventure, taking each moment one by one… by one.

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Scare January 10, 2014

“What happened to your fingers?” one of the eighth grade girls asked me today as we stood chatting and waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was more than the uncensored nature of youth that allowed her to ask me without first editing her thoughts (or her surprised tone) – I’d spent some time with this class accompanying them at several performances, so by now they felt pretty familiar with me. While her question initially stopped me in my tracks (I kept my cool in spite of it), I appreciated the candor of her question, because it confirmed for me that it wasn’t all in my head… I’d known it was bad, or at least not good, for a while now. In fact I’d even heard slight gasps from my adult students in class last year when showing them the hands that had just demonstrated something intricate on the piano. There had been a slight pause in the room as people began to reconcile the music they’d just heard with the hands they now saw before them…

The nodes on the distal joints of my fingers can’t be ignored anymore – certainly not be me, nor by folks I meet for the first time. They are large, they are painful, they get stuck in between the black notes – and they are not getting any smaller. Just this past week I had a painful day of great sensitivity on the fourth finger of my left hand, and the next day there it was: a fresh, new node. A newly deposited growth of bone, I suppose, from what I’ve seen and researched online. Just about a year ago I’d gone to an orthopedic doc, before it had gotten terribly bad, and I was more than disappointed to hear him tell me there was basically nothing I could do about it. There were some drugs I might take, but they had a lot of potential side effects which probably weren’t worth it, he advised. I’d been prepared to hear something like this, but it was quite disappointing even still. I mean, come on. Everybody and his brother has arthritis and has for as long as we can remember – and I still have so few options? Seriously??

As a young adult I can remember looking at my mother’s hands and thinking that the distortion in her fingers was almost unbelievable. As if she certainly must have done something to have earned them. Knuckles don’t just blow up like that unprovoked, do they? Well, no matter who or what was responsible, a fate like this was certainly this poor woman’s cross to bear, but thank goodness, I’d think confidently to myself, that’s not my future. I’d even had such smug thoughts knowing damn well that while I do get my musical talent from my father, I look not a thing like him. No. Rather, I look like my mom. So here I am, at the start of my fifties and my own beloved hands are blowing up like those of an old peasant granny. For heaven’s sake. This is so not me! Come on guys! I beg my hands. I love you guys! I appreciate you guys! Why are you doing this? Why? I plead with them, even kissing them like a mother would her child. But onward they go, their shapes morphing almost as I watch; the minute, intermittent stabbing sensations and dull, hot pain confirming for me that things are, in this very minute, continuing to get worse. I’ve cut out wine. I’ve cut out acidic foods. Dairy. Salt. I read, I Google, try something else. I drink water. I try to think positively. But my fingers respond to nothing. My disease is progressing without my consent, and I am sad. Scared, too.

It’s a dull, ever-present sort of scared, it’s one I can live with. But there are other insidious types of fear that I find have been making headway into my life of late, and I don’t like it. I might be able to live with them too, but I sure as hell don’t want to. I may strike people as a strong woman – and some days I might agree – but I can feel that it’s becoming a bigger challenge these days to keep it together. Panic has resurfaced over the past year, chronic concerns over money feel even more real as my own aged years loom closer (and I have not a penny saved), and then of course there is always the concern for my son. His vision, his ability to participate as fully as he can in the world, and of late, I worry about his having contracted Lyme disease. We’ve begun his treatment, and docs assure me that in a young and vigorous kid like him, he’ll have no worries later on. It helps, but angry emails from his father telling me that I “need to take this seriously” as if somehow I do not, and telling me I might have been more vigilant when I in fact had been worried but hadn’t had him checked yet, this all makes it much worse. I don’t know how my ex still has such power to hurt and frighten me…. I summon my focus and I stand up to him. Right after, I beg my son in my heart to forgive me for not knowing, for not doing something sooner…

Tonight Elihu asked me to please stay and read to him. He said he was feeling ‘needy’. I hadn’t given him a lot of one-on-one time lately as I’d had too much life to deal with. Music to learn, house to clean, food to fix and such. Tonight, we agreed on a trade. If he’d let me just organize the mess in the kitchen – get it squared away just a bit – then I’d come in and read to him. I did, and shortly after I began to read we both started to drop off. I turned off the light and soon fell deeply asleep. The next thing I know Elihu is feeling for me in the dark and muttering something. He, like me, is a sleep-talker. He can even hold some conversations in this state, so at first I wasn’t concerned. But this was different. He reached out to me with outstretched arms, which I took for a hug, but he shook his head. “Machine” he said, pointing to his nebulizer. Can you imagine the shot of adrenaline that flashed through my body? I immediately got a packet of medicine, poured it in and gave him the mouthpiece. He looked drunk. After a few puffs he laid back down. I yelled his name and shook him – “Are you ok?” He waited for a moment, then nodded no. “This is different” he said through closed eyes.  “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” I asked. He nodded yes. “Yes, emergency room” he said, again his head drooping to the side. Holy fucking shit. White hot fear coursed through me and my heart began immediately to beat as if I’d run a race…. I thought back to a panic attack I’d experienced earlier that day. It was a close second, for sure, but man, these stakes were mind-bendingly high… I ran through the house, pulling on clothes, locating his rescue inhaler, my boots, keys, a blanket to wrap him in…. I came back and tried to tug a sweatshirt over his head, but he fell limply to the side. Holy shit, holy shit, keep moving… I was thankful that the ER was just about five miles away, and we could be there in less than ten minutes. Lucky…. “Elihu!” I yelled at him. “What?” he finally responded. Then a look overtook him, and he sat up, eyes fully open, as I tugged the sweatshirt down around his neck. “What are you doing, Mommy?” he asked. “We’re going to the hospital – to the emergency room! You said you needed to! Can you breathe now? Are you ok??” He shook his head and fell back down on the pillow. “No, I wasn’t waiting to go to the emergency room. I just wanted a more comfortable pillow.” He lifted his head up and I inserted the down pillow underneath him. He plopped back down onto it. “Honey, are you ok? He nodded. My heart was still pumping loudly, and I wasn’t convinced. But I realized that he was still deeply asleep, and that while he may have needed help with his breathing, it wasn’t as dire as his sleep-talking self had said. Oh my God, I kept thinking over and over again, the prospect of a life without my beloved son flashing uncontrollably, nauseatingly, through my mind. My God, I think, and I my face sinks into my hands. Holy shit.

For the most part, I’d say I’m a glass half-full gal. Might not always have been, but I am now. Only I’m not sure if I could remain so if I were to lose my son. For that matter, how will I feel about that glass when I can no longer play the piano? Many times I have thanked the universe for all that I’ve been blessed with. Even the unexpected divorce and all the unforseen events that followed. It’s all been one unpredictable adventure from which I’ve learned so much more than I ever would have otherwise. If I hadn’t once been scared shitless, I wouldn’t be here now. I remind myself that fear has its place. But truly, I don’t think I need any more. I’m good. I don’t want to have to find out if I do or do not have it in me to live through a tragedy. Please, universe, don’t try me. I’m good with things the way they are. And I aim to make things better, too. I aim to get my son tinted contacts this year. I aim to teach him how to ride a bike, to make dinner on his own. We still have so much more to do, I have so much more to teach him. Let’s just get through this night, please, I beg anyone who might be listening. My right index finger hurts, my head hurts. I am emotionally weak just thinking of yesterday’s new run-in with panic. I am scared. But I remind myself: I might be scared, but I am strong too. Posturing though it might be in this moment, as the adrenaline begins finally to subside, I challenge my fear. I tell it we’re done for the night. Running in to check on my son every few minutes as I write this middle-of-the-night post and finding him in a comfortable sleep, breathing nice, even and deep breaths, I begin to take back what power I can. I tell fear to leave us alone.

Soon I think I’ll get to bed myself. One more check on Elihu, one more set of good, deep breaths and I’ll lie down.Man, I sure could use a rest after all of this… And I’m pretty sure being brave may well require a good night’s sleep.

 

Surprise January 3, 2014

This week has felt surreal, and on top of the sorrow my family’s currently working through, other little mishaps have been taking place. My toilet has broken (plastic parts and hard water do not mix), my drains have plugged up, my windows have been stuck, the doors to the coop must be coaxed to close and lastly, we had to kill Lefty Lucy after the flock tore into her mercilessly one night and left her near dead. The poor hen had recovered fairly well in the kitchen over the past week. so I returned her to her roost one night to find her covered in blood and far worse only the next morning. When I realized how the flock had treated her as a compromised bird (she retained a limp after an injury last week) I knew what had to be done. She did not face a life of any quality, so it was time to put her down. When I told my mom that I was simply keeping her comfortable until she was able to die, she remarked ‘kinda like your dad’. Yeah, I guess. So our friend neighbor Zac came over with his axe, and obliged us by chopping off her head on a nearby stump. Elihu tossed her out to the edge of the woods, and by the next morning she was gone.

Plus there’s this strange new twitch in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve been feeling some tension – for no reason I can even figure – in my right shoulder lately, and I surmise that it’s related. Some nerve thing. Just a few months ago I’d experienced some ongoing and very annoying electrical tingling feelings in my left hand, and also a few in my left foot – but that was an easy self-diagnosis. Years ago I broke my neck – C6 and C7 (which later fused, giving me a C13!) as well as my left shoulder. I just figured time and gravity had come to roost and were now compressing on my nerves. I’d figured that being structural, the only fix would be yoga and a general improvement of my overall fitness. I went to an acupuncturist with few hopes, but after four visits the annoying electrical feeling was completely gone. Completely. And so, while it’s yet another unforeseen expense of life, I must find a way to carve something out of my budget to have a few more sessions. I have never in my life had any bad experience – or major injury – to my right side, so I can’t imagine what in hell is ultimately responsible for it. But a moment’s reflection and I needn’t look much further for reasons, because I realize that it is true: I am getting old. Well, at least older. And now a physical body of evidence is beginning to show itself. Crap. I still can’t believe I’m here. That I now know what it is to have a parent die. That I now know what it is to have aches and pains for no good reason. Crap.

Santa was good to Elihu this year, bringing him an Ergo electric bass and amp (hours logged on it already) and a couple of battling robotic spiders, but more surprisingly, Santa was good to me too, and brought me a Wii fit board (love the used game place – next-to-nothing prices for year-old products) and a Wii fit game. He musta known my health needed a little rescuing. Hopefully, in spite of a heavier work load and mom duties ongoing, I’ll be able to spend a little time with my cyber coach. I have plans to join Weight Watchers with mom, too. While it might be frustrating that I’m here again, this year I mean to do more than the Band-Aid approach to weight loss (and fitness). I’ve done the Atkins thing a few times now, and while it always works, it never feels right. I can’t help but feel it’s counter-intuitive to see an apple as an enemy. I will, however, take with me the conservative approach to eating carbohydrates. That is the beneficial ‘take-away’ from those experiences. I’m not a carb craver, so that’s not so hard for me. What I do find exceptionally challenging is simply eating less. Ich. More honestly speaking, what I find challenging is the challenge.

Now yet another challenge… I just received an email that had my body flushed with cold. I thought that I’d just been through all the extremes I could handle in losing my father this past week, but this was horrible in a new way. I hated this feeling, and what’s more, I hated that there was no good outcome from it that I could see. No relief, no ultimate fix, no happy ending. Elihu’s beloved teacher at the Waldorf School was leaving after the end of fifth grade. How many times had we thanked God to have found her? How many times had we exclaimed that she was the best thing ever to have happened to Elihu? How many times had Elihu himself told us how much he loved her, how he loved her way of teaching, of being? So many times we’ve thought how lucky we were, how amazingly lucky… This news has me wanting to cry, but I feel cried out. I feel the dull throbbing in my right shoulder and begin to feel like things are all pressing in on me. I’m almost scared, but more than that, I feel defeated. My son has been a joyful child due much in part to his teacher. How will my son remain joyful now? I know that whomever replaces her will be a gift too, I know that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Waldorf teacher that’s not pretty spectacular. But still. I sit with this new information for a bit. How will I tell my son? I know he’ll cry. His heart will break at this news, I just know it. I look outside at the mounds of new, white snow. It’s a gray, snow-covered morning. Beautiful, serene, unaware that all this human drama continues on…

Yesterday we removed the ornaments from the tree. It had begun to dry so terribly that many were now falling off. One ornament, the one that we’d gotten just after I learned I was pregnant (the ornament was made in Italy, and so was Elihu) had fallen to the floor, but interestingly had not broken. I heard it fall, and was rather amazed to see the delicate glass globe in the middle of the floor, intact. I had been given a second chance, now it was time to remove them before they all fell and broke. Good thing I had no time to anticipate the taking down of the tree, what with all this nostalgia and sentiment flying around these days it woulda been hard on my heart. Even so, it was a poignant afternoon yesterday as ancient and sad Christmas music played and years of memories, in the form of ornaments, were each recounted and packed away. I kept torturing myself by thinking that I’d put the tree up while dad was here, and now I was taking it down after he had died. He was here, now he’s not. This gorgeous tree was here and beautiful one day, simply gone the next. After about an hour of recorders, lutes and lots of D minor Elihu called from his room and asked if we couldn’t have something ‘less sad’. That kid always keeps me level, I swear. Time and place for everything. Yeah, I suppose you’re right kid, enough of the sad.

But now this. I was ready for the empty living room, I knew dad was going. And even the bird, I knew we’d have to do her in. But Elihu’s teacher? I had no preparation for this. I gotta keep it together, I’ve got to expect that surprise, wonderful, yet-unseen outcome. Life is full of surprises for which we can never fully prepare. I hear that Elihu’s up now. When to tell him? Fist we’ll have breakfast, tend to the chickens and fill the table feeder outside our window. Even there we have our little surprises – just a few days ago we were visited by a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker for the very first time in our five years here. So there are some good surprises to be had too. I know that. I’m ready for just about anything to happen next, I guess.

So go ahead, life, bring it on. Surprise me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: Careful what you ask for… Moments after I wrote this post, when I went out to the coop I found Lefty’s ‘twin’ sister, Righty, lying dead (identical and petite white leghorns, each had a comb that hung over on a different side, hcnce the names Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey). Looked like she’d died recently. A victim, like her sister, of hen-pecking. She was featherless on one wing and covered in blood. When I picked her up by her legs and turned to check the boxes for eggs, goose Max started violently pecking at her. Many times I’d seen him take a bite at a bird’s back end, but it was never more than a territorial nip. This was strange and different behavior. I scolded him soundly then walked out with the dead hen. I walked her out to the edge of the woods where we’d left her sister. I kissed her cheek and told her how sorry I was. Then I left her. What a nice surprise that’ll be for a hungry fox.

When I got inside I found Elihu talking on his new IPad (left by Santa in Illinois) to his father and sister in England. Soon after he was playing his bass for her. And just now when I peeked in again, I saw Elihu explaining to her how he wove his silly bands into jewelry. Wow. Here in our little country home was an open window into another home halfway across the globe – and in real time, too. Call me old-fashioned, buy I still marvel at technology. My mind is still blown to think that my first cell phone was the size of a brick and got too hot to touch within minutes, and here my kid is chatting away without a second thought to the visual image of his dad and sister, thousands of miles away. (A bit mind-blowing too is the fact that my son has a sister his own age. Even though I’m at peace with it, and understand she’s an important part of Elihu’s family, I still can’t quite integrate that into my thinking.) Yup, surprises are everywhere.

A final Post Script: Surprise! My comments feature on this particular post has become disabled somehow, and in spite of my best efforts to reverse this, I cannot figure it out. Never happened before…

 

Low Gear September 13, 2013

After awaking from a scant five hours of sleep this morning, I wondered how it was that I’d make it through the day. Elihu had a classmate coming home from school with him today, his bass needed to be picked up at the music store, and I desperately needed various necessities, from chicken feed to toilet paper. Plus I still had to put in my shift at school. Man, I didn’t see how I was going to get all of it done. We’d been plowing through our first full week of school and my new schedule in high-energy mode. And now, after last night’s outing at the school, it just seemed that there wasn’t anything left. Yet on came life, to-do lists and playdates, without pause. After putting the kettle on I laid down on the couch and closed my eyes, trying to glean some refreshment from twenty seconds of rest. I took a couple of breaths, then got up to resume the morning.

Elihu had awakened on his own – a surprise to me after all that late-night rabble rousing. (He’d even jumped on the trampoline for another ten minutes after we got home last night in order to ‘get out the last of his energy’. Seems all my energy stays on in whirling eddies of endless thought… Wish I had a mental trampoline to expend all of that before bedtime. Might help with my chronic difficulty sleeping.) This morning he was cheerful and our breakfast was a lovely start to the day. We let the chickens out, got in the car and headed off to school. On the way we passed several neighbors out jogging. We waved to each other as we usually do. A few minutes passed, then Elihu said from the back seat “Mama, I’d like you to be in as good shape as Mr. Stewart.” The sixth grade teacher was known to all the younger kids as being the only grownup who joined the kids in their play – making Thursdays extra special by playing tag with them. I thought about the quick movements, the sprinting involved and did a quick assessment of my current condition. I remembered as a kid, hell, as a young adult even, thinking that only wimps – people who’d lazily given in to age – lost their speed and agility. While I’d never been a particularly fast or agile kid, I was able to move in certain ways that I just don’t think I’m able to right now. “No one’s in as good shape as Mr. Stewart” I retorted, trying to dodge the real issue. I thought about it for a minute. “But I know what you mean. I do. I know, sweetie, I need to move.” A bit more quiet passed, then Elihu suggested “Just walk up to the Brown’s. That’s not far. It won’t seem like a big deal at all. Just do that today.” I did a little scan of my body, of my mental fortitude, and felt I could easily do that to get things going. I agreed. He had his homework each day – not a bad idea that I might have a little challenge on my plate too.

These past few years I’ve been feeling just too overwhelmed and busy to find time to move. I tell myself that my situation is exceptional, that I have every reason not to exercise. And maybe I do. But so too do the other folks that I see jogging down Braim Road. Yeah, in fact they’ve likely got more responsibilities than I do; work loads involving people and paper and rules – stuff that I’ve spent a lifetime deftly avoiding – and they’ve likely got more stress in their lives than I do. Ok, so maybe they’re not single-parenting a young child, but they’ve got other work, other issues. And somehow they make time. Every time I see one of them passing on the road, I have to ignore a tiny voice deep inside that scolds me for not at least trying. So today, as soon as I got home from driving Elihu to school, I went for a walk.

I was grateful for my new hiking boots – they’d give me some needed stability. (I had bought them in anticipation of a long-awaited trek we’d planned for this fall that would involve steep grades and would wind its way to an off-the-trail site deep in the woods known locally as Devil’s Den. Maybe not a big deal to the me of twenty years ago, these days I felt I needed correct footwear before endeavoring to make the hike.) Thankfully, the annoying bugs of summer were mostly gone – in spite of recent tropical heat. It was finally cool out, and sunny too. I simply could not have hoped for a better day. The conditions had stripped me of every excuse. It was time.

I set out, crunching my way down the new driveway. The scent of the woods hit me. I could smell the ferns, the damp of the forest floor, the turning leaves, the cool, ancient stones. The road is always different when you’re moving slow, and I marveled at the things I could see now that I was moving at a walking pace. I found several dead frogs, a few different species of em (and I told them each I was sorry for their tragic end and said a little blessing for them as I passed). I saw a mourning dove on the wire above me. Frightened at my approach, she would fly to a spot only a few feet further down the line to escape. Silly bird, she continued thusly for a good part of my walk. While I sometimes see the crimson males swooping over the road as I drive (strangely, we don’t get cardinals at our feeders) I was happily surprised to see a female cardinal above my head on the wire, flicking her tail. Came upon the now decomposed remains of a porcupine and a raccoon that had both been hit sometime mid summer. They were now mostly skeletons – only quills, whiskers and rubbery noses remained. I gathered up the jawbone and some teeth of the raccoon and put it in my shirt pocket to bring home for Elihu.

While I slowed to notice the creatures in my path, I was always mindful of keeping my pace. And on the way back I began to feel it; the grade in our area is deceptive – hills are gradual and hardly noticeable – especially when you’re going down. But the way back was all a slow increase in grade, and I began to feel it in my body. I felt my muscles warm up, my feet grip the road, my whole body engage to support my progress. I hadn’t felt my body in a long time, and I was surprised to find I was glad of it. The brief walk down the hill to the garden and back up again was the extent to my workout routine these days. This slight increase in grade wasn’t terribly hard, so therefore I was able to give myself to it. To push into it and become aware of my body. It felt good. But would I manage to do this again? Every day even? I decided not to worry about it, but rather be glad that I’d finally done it at all. The driveway was still going uphill. I felt my butt muscles working, my thighs, my arms swung to assist and I swear that even my back got in on the act. Clearly, I was starting all over with this moving thing. Years ago I regularly participated in races – 5Ks and 10Ks – up and down hills far steeper than this… I felt a bit wimpy about celebrating such a thing as walking up my driveway.

But hey, everything has to start small. And to get into high gear, you gotta put in low gear first. So wish me luck.

 

Age Appropriate June 9, 2013

Years ago, when I lived in Chicago and rode the train nearly everywhere, I’d always make sure to get a seat that allowed me to put my feet up and rest them on a bench perpendicular to me. If I couldn’t find that sweet spot, at the very least I’d hunker down and prop my knees up on the back of the seat ahead of me. I remember getting on the train with Elihu once, when he was still tiny and in his stroller, and very naturally doing the same thing as I always had. And this surprised me. Why? Because I’d always just known that one day I’d become a real grown up. And how would I know that day had come? When I no longer put my feet up on the seat in front of me, of course! Surely real grown ups don’t behave like that, right? Honestly, I just thought that one day I would ride the train in the normal way, feet planted on the floor. And in that rite-of-passage moment, it would finally become clear to me that I was a fully-fledged, responsible, clear-headed adult. But yet here I was, married, living in the suburbs and shuttling a baby around – and clearly, I still hadn’t made that leap to maturity. That moment surprised me. It had me pausing to reflect more deeply on what it meant to grow up. I’d ticked a bunch of the boxes for sure, but this ‘feet on the seat’ thing had me.

I went back to Chicago year before last. Easily put my feet up on the first available seat I could find. Made myself comfortable. I remembered my self-imposed ‘real grown up’ test of years past and checked back in with myself. Did this feel correct? Did it feel silly? Might I look silly to others doing it? Happily, I felt just fine with my feet up. Still didn’t feel it to look suspicious or titilating on any fronts. I’m going to Chicago in two weeks’ time… I’m a bit curious as to how it’ll feel now. I do look a little older, so maybe it’ll be different. But I’ll be with a ten year old boy – and I think it would look entirely natural to see mom and young son sitting together in the same way. Buddies riding the train. Enjoying childhood and it’s casual freedoms. Fast forward ten years and remove the kid. Then would it still look ok for a sixty year old woman to ride the train in such a posture? Or will I simply be too stiff to sit like that?! (I often wonder if it’s not just physical limitations which dictate what behaviors seem appropriate.) I once watched an eighty year old lady run uphill back to a restaurant to retrieve her purse. I offered to go for her, but she waved me off and started to trot… I was impressed. Had a peer of mine done the same thing, not so much. But go Shirley! Highlights the different standards we hold for each other at different times of our lives. Interesting, huh?

I work at my son’s school in the recess yard. My job is just to keep an eye on the kids, be there in case somebody gets hurt, settle minor disputes, make sure everyone gets a fair turn on the swings. And I do all this just fine, only I can’t help but wonder if I’m not crossing that invisible line that I see most teachers – and adults in general – keeping firmly in place between themselves and littler people. I can’t put a finger on it, but I respond and interact with kids a bit more as if I were a kid myself. I don’t always feel like a teacher or a mom, and my feeling is that the children sense this too. When I was younger, I was known to many as ‘the cool babysitter’. Not sure if that’s cuz I arrived on a motorcycle, because I was in bands, or because I just hung with the kids almost as if a peer. I can’t impress em with a bike these days, but I still enjoy a really good relationship with all of the kids in my life. It’s with no small amount of pride that I can report I’ve been told by several that I’m a ‘cool mom’. (Don’t worry, my kid reminds me I’m not that cool. !) So I have to admit to some mixed feelings about acting as a role model. Somehow a tiny voice inside me wonders if they’d really have me in this post if they knew how much of an ‘un grown-up’ I was. It’s not a real concern though; I do my job and follow the rules. And I know quite definitely that I’m not a kid myself… only I don’t think I’m a grown up either. Hanging out somewhere in between.

When I worked as a jazz singer in my twenties, I lamented that audiences didn’t quite get me. I had this feeling when performing that they just didn’t believe what I was singing. Can’t describe it any better than that, but it was my experience many times over – I wasn’t just pulling the observation out of thin air. It seemed I was too young to be a reliable narrator. The songs conveyed stories of an older, more seasoned and experienced woman than I perhaps appeared. Then some ten years later, as a woman in her mid and late thirties, something changed, and audiences became more accepting, more yeilding. I just felt that they finally believed what it was I was singing about. And I think it had everything to do with my age. Finally, my personage matched the material. How can a twenty four year old girl sing about all the loves she’s lost – or wax sentimental about her years-gone-by love and be taken entirely seriously? If one’s being honest about it, it doesn’t really work. But take a gal who’s been around the block a time or two, and you’re more apt to lend an ear. Oh, how well-seasoned I am now! Somebody, get me a gig! Oh how I’d like to sink my teeth into “Ah the Apple Trees” or “Where Are You” now! Ha! Not a dry eye in the house… For me, I suppose this particular phenomenon is a real marker for aging. While as a sixty year old I might raise eyebrows if I were to put my feet up on a seat in the train – if I instead donned a gown, some false eyelashes and a sparkly cocktail ring and started singing about all the loves I’ve lost – I’d have  a roomful of adults nodding their agreement. Crazy. The dos and don’ts, the things that work and the things we think are taboo.

And that bit about ‘age being just a number’. Yeah, right. I know what the phrase is intended to mean. Yeah, I get that on the inside one feels much the same way all throughout life. Ok. But then one day, in a split second it kinda hits you, that is, if you’re old enough, and you realize that the number of years you’ve been on the planet sounds a lot longer than actually it feels. You do some really easy math and see quite clearly that you’re closer to the far end than you are to the the beginning. But you know that your spirit is still just as bright these days (if not even brighter) and then you think that hey, that’s really too bad, because that stupid number marks you in this culture as diminishing in value, when you know damn well that’s not true! So you comfort yourself by saying, ah phooey, who cares. And maybe you really don’t. If not, you have my deepest respect; you are much closer to your God-self than I! Myself, I know that your age isn’t really ‘just a number’. Your age is a number that helps define you to the world, and to yourself. It’s a quantity, yes, but in our culture it speaks to a certain quality of your life too. Sure, some things improve with age, but let’s be downright honest here. Our bodies certainly don’t. Aging is tricky on a human being. On the knees, the ticker, the skin… the ego. And your number is very much a part of that equation. Alright, so maybe you look and feel pretty good for your number. Enjoy yourself! It aint gonna last forever…

I apologize if I sound dark about this whole aging thing. Just working it out, like everybody else. I am confident that I am not the first person to think any of the thoughts I’ve expressed here. Maybe just the one brave enough to say it all out loud. But just for the record – I’m not entirely bummed with this new chapter. I feel good these days. Granted, I should get yoga back into my life. I should walk a half an hour a day. I should meditate regularly. But on the whole, I’m feeling good about things, gray hairs and all. It’s kinda nice to relax a bit. Not to sweat looking killer every time I go out. Looking good is good enough. And at the end of the day, looking good and feeling good are always age appropriate.

 

Mid Century Mama May 5, 2013

Folks that know me – or knew me in the life that preceded this current one – will know me to be a most enthusiastic fan of all things mid century. I cherish the Eames chair in my living room (although I admit it’s a vinyl knockoff – but it’s still gorgeous), and I lament the loss of that stunning, five level ranch home in South Evanston that some may remember from those once-famous Christmas parties. I still have a few mid century things in my life, in fact I’ve created a rather pleasant look in my home here by mixing early American with modern pieces. What I have satisfies my desire for beauty – it still ‘scratches the itch’, as my ex and I used to say. But day after tomorrow, mid century will come to mean something entirely different in my world. Finally, after much ambivalent anticipation I myself will be ‘mid century’. !

Honestly, that’s not a big deal. The bulk of my friends are already past that landmark. I’ve done enough rumination on it to be able to move on. Or have I? Ok. So maybe it is a big deal. There are still a couple of things on my mind at the doorstep of this birthday: I’m alive, many of my dear friends are not. My parents are alive, many of my friend’s parents are not. I’m healthy, many of my friends are not. I have my beloved son with me every day. Many parents do not have their children with them. So – there’s the half-full glass take on it. And that’s my overall, bottom-line assessment of this landmark. However, in the spirit of complete honesty, I feel the need to vent just a teeny bit (I am secure in the knowledge that I am putting a voice to the feelings of many in this forthcoming mini-rant…)

Here goes: Not happy with the funky neck skin (which literally seemed to appear over goddam night just a few months ago), nor the crazy new chin hairs (some white!), nor the now full-time creases around my eyes, nor the deeper lines from my nose to my mouth (when acting in high school  plays I’d pencil in these lines to appear older – the way I look now!), nor the way the arthritis in my hands is causing the joints to become grotesquely oversized, nor the strange way in which the skin on my thighs and butt is more crinkly than seems fitting for my age, nor the way I just can’t lose those last ten pounds, nor the way I now need readers or glasses – no longer can I blow off the glasses when heading out… While not a one of these things came on all at once, and certainly no one thing just up and happened in my fiftieth year specifically, I can say that I didn’t really notice any of this age-related activity in my forty-eighth year. I can honestly say that a whole bunch of stuff really came to the fore just this past year. All of a sudden I had a head of silver when just a year ago it was hardly noticeable. My neck? Just fine and dandy – til recently. I’m sure all these changes happened incrementally, but they seemed to hit a critical mass of sorts this past year. When in my mid forties I still felt I looked pretty good – I didn’t really see what all this crap about aging was about. Didn’t need readers, hell, didn’t really need my glasses so much either. Yeah, physically speaking, my forties were fine (except for a little divorce-related weight gain). But all of a sudden I really feel that I look my age. The jig is up, the charade is over, the cards are on the table. So I’d better quit my bitchin and proceed with a little class and composure. I don’t need to go on and on about the disappointments of growing old when Nora Ephron, bless her soul, so eloquently expressed all of her aging-related predicaments in “I Feel Bad About My Neck”. If you’re a peer of mine or older, read it. She brings such humor and humanity to the experience.

I remember a moment once, when a new awareness washed over me – clarity and perspective came to me in a flash. I can remember being in my bedroom in my beloved Evanston home, looking through the branches of our backyard tree towards the afternoon sun… I was contemplating what it meant to be turning 42… I considered that if I had a life expectancy of 84, that I was now halfway there. That I was, more accurately, on the downslope of my life: I had passed all those years of youth, and before me was nothing but the process of aging… In that moment I realized that I’d had a general sense of hope and expectancy that had been present with me all my life and had been driving me forward… to that next moment of satisfaction, then the next one, and then the next… yet where was the destination? What was that ultimate, one experience that I still ‘hoped’ for? Cold fear grabbed my chest – had I been on a fruitless, vain search for something I’d never find? Or had I already found it – and didn’t know that I’d found it? I’d enjoyed my life – all of it, as best I could, I’d always been aware of my good fortune, and yet, there was always a tiny nudging from inside to move toward something not yet achieved… As endless as the process had always seemed, a certain end was, in fact, coming. To me.

In that moment, I understood – in a way that even evades me now – that I was going to die. Not sure how else to explain it. But I got it for a second. I also got that nothing was to be taken for granted, I got that I was somehow not exempt; that I too, if all went well, would one day be an old woman. That’s mighty hard to truly get when your skin is smooth, your joints flexible, your eyesight perfect… but I got it. For a few moments I think I not only came to know that I was going to be old one day, but in some way I made peace with it. But then life overtook me, vanity returned, the sense of being somehow immune to fate – all of that settled back in and had me forgetting again; living as if things would always be thus. But these days, now that the physical evidence is mounting, I am beginning to learn a little humility. And man, I’m not very good at it. Yet. My aim is to age with humor and dignity. I need to do this well, if for no other reason than as an example for my son. I’ve got to find a way to sink into this new body without that nagging sense of sorrow and loss. I know I enjoyed my youth – I surely did. So I have no regrets – and that should free me up to really embrace this new chapter. It’s liberating not to care so much about the trappings of vanity. I like that my priorities have changed. I’m looking forward to learning things now in a way I never had the time or interest to before. So while I might continue to bitch and moan about stuff, truly I’m coming from the half-full place. Just might not always behave like it. As I’ve said before, it’s a balancing act.

My paternal grandma and my maternal great aunt both lived to be a hundred. So, if I’m to live as long as Bessie or Helen, then I’m right smack in the middle. And I’m ok with that. After all, I’m a mid century mama.