Sunday, September 15, 2019

Retirement, Version II

Cancer, mine, and that of those I love, has honed my desire to live the days I have. And so, I'm going to retire again next month. Nothing against the job I have now, but I no longer want to spend whatever days I am yet to be given looking at screens.

I turned in my notice last week, and instantly panicked. There is a part of my gut that's convinced retirement causes cancer. After all, that's what happened the last time. (as if somehow, if I only kept working, I'd live forever?)

The fear has been surprisingly strong. I've been ignoring it, to the point where my skin has broken out in rashes to make sure I understand the fear is there.

I understand.

But I've traveled a challenging road since I was first forced to take a detour on my camper van trip. I have learned fear will always be there - but to look beyond its dark whispering to see the beauty that Is, even on the darkest of days.

And so I'm retiring again, anyways.

My road has taken so many twists and turns while I was on my detour, I no longer know if there's another camper van trip on the map. (It'll have to wait at least a year if it's going to come back into the path of my journey.)

In the meantime, I'll be baby-watching through much of the winter; those days will fly quickly by. I have no definitive plans for my days once he moves on to regular day-care, and I've decided I don't necessarily them. I'm trying to pause in this liminal space. To listen and just be, instead of trying to plot the path ahead.

After all - when I jumped into the camper van the first time, I had no clear map of where I wanted to go. No plans, no agenda other than to try to refresh my weary mind, body and soul. My next destination was guided only a vague sense of the direction I was going, and by the desire to see more beautiful places. It worked well enough that I'm ready to try it again.

I have three weeks yet to work. Somewhere, underneath my fear, my long neglected inner two year-old is beginning to stir.

Free???  FREE!!!!! 

Soon, my dear, soon.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Class Reunion

My mumbletyth class reunion was this past weekend. As the date approached, I had sixty-three good reasons not to go. I was going to skip it this round, but then I looked at the list of people who'd already RSVP'd.

Sandy Kincaid's name jumped out at me.

For years, I've wondered what happened to her. In those first tentative days, back in 7th grade, we'd started to become friends. But then, she became the target of the class bullies. Her sin? Growing from four foot nothing to 5'8 in about six months, and developing a full woman's chest along the way.

I'm ashamed to say I backed away from her when the others started to torment her. I'd come out of a school where I was bullied myself, and had hoped to be able to get lost in the new school, which is a large, regional, junior high school.

And then - my memory blanks out. My mom died when I was in high school, and there's a large swath of time where I have few memories. Except for a few stutters, my memory paused shortly after the start of seventh grade, and picks up again partway through my senior year. (I presume it's a form of PTSD.)

Sandy has drifted in and out of my musings for years. I hoped I'd just backed away. Surely, I hadn't joined in the teasing, in a vain attempt to move the gaze of the bullies on from myself. Had I? (If I had joined in, trying to avoid her fate, it hadn't worked. Turned out they could pick on more than one kid at once.)

I've wanted to know the answer to that question for years, wanted to believe I had been kind. I'd even tried to track her down on Facebook once upon a time, but hadn't had any luck. Seeing her name on the reunion list, I added my own. It was time and past time to get my question answered.

I got to the event shortly after it started. Within five minutes, Sandy and her husband walked in the door. I hadn't seen her since graduation, but I knew her face in an instant; confirmed my knowledge with a glance at her name tag. (The event organizers created the name tags with their audience in mind - the font on the tags was big enough to read without having to pull out reading glasses. I wasn't the only one grateful to them for their foresight and thoughtfulness.)

I gathered my courage, walked up to her, and told her she was the main reason I'd come to the reunion. Much to my relief, she looked up, greeted me with a big smile, turned, and introduced me to her husband as a long-ago friend.

** whew **

We chatted of our current lives for a bit; where we live, numbers and ages of children, what we'd done in the world of work. I then turned the conversation to those long-ago days. I told her of the holes in my memory, I asked her how long the 'teasing' had continued. I asked her if I'd ever joined in the catcalls.

Much to my relief, she promptly said, "No. You never joined in. You were never one of them. They kept it up for a while, but I steadfastly ignored them, and they eventually tired of me and found other, more reactive, targets." Once she said that, the mental picture returned - I can see her striding purposefully down the hallway, face flaming, but head held high, ignoring the taunts as they deserved to be ignored. I remembered we never became good friends, but it was mostly because we didn't share many classes, not because I'd dropped her cold.

I can't tell you how much better that made me feel. I may not have had the fortitude to stand up to her tormentors with her, but at least my sin was one of omission - I'd not committed the sin of joining in. We talked a bit more, then were pulled apart by the dance of the crowd.

I enjoyed the rest of the evening more than I'd anticipated. Turns out I've become the kind of person I wished I was back in the days when I was being ignored by the cool girls, back when I carried my own 'bully me' target with me through the halls.

I can walk into a room where I don't recognize anyone, introduce myself, start a conversation, and enjoy the interaction. I know which clothes are the right ones to wear - not too much, not too casual, and I know to pick comfortable outfits. Perhaps more importantly, I am comfortable in my own skin.

I talked to anyone whose name sounded vaguely familiar, and as the evening wore on, I found some of my memories returning. I caught up on the joys and sorrows of several old friends, I found smiles and welcome every way I turned. There were a few of those bullies there - I walked right past them, taking inordinate glee in noting they really had not aged well.

As the evening grew late, and my feet grew sore, I realized the conversations had soothed some raw spots I didn't know existed in my soul. As I said my goodbyes, I turned to look for Sandy one more time, but she'd already slipped out.

I am glad to know she's made a good life, found love, raised a great group of children.
I am greatly relieved to know I was one of the good spots in her life during those tough years.

Sixty-three good reasons not to go - I'm glad I listened to the voice telling me there was one good reason to show up.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Wait, Nana, Wait!

I'm trying so hard to be patient.

Baby Joe is still a NICU rockstar.

His IV is out, he's now getting all his nourishment from his feeding tube and the bottle.  (He's working on learning how to breastfeed - he's almost got the concept down, but doesn't have enough energy to sustain the feeding. All in good time...) He's still in the incubator, but each day, he does better at regulating his body temperature. He's graduated to wearing itty-bitty clothes.

I still haven't seen him again. I ALMOST made it out there last week while I was in the area for another appointment, but my stupid boss scheduled a stupid meeting, and so I had to run home. And then, and then! I got back to work to find he'd pushed the meeting back an hour. I had time to stop by the hospital after all! major disappointment.

But that's OK - I'll see him this weekend; there's plenty of room in my days to be able to spend some time with him. Even if I can't hold him - at the rate he's growing, it won't be too much longer. Another week or so. I can wait.

In the meantime, summer is moving on.

Already, the mornings are dark, the sun is gone by eight in the evening. We'll have a few more days of heat, but according to the forecast, cooler weather will be ours by the middle of next week.

I see the early signs of fall. The mint blooms are past, the stalks already turning a dusky green. In the last two weeks, I've started to see Monarchs on the bright orange and yellow flowers of the volunteer plants around the edges of the yard - the ones who are supposed to be in the butterfly garden, but have decided to, instead, grow where they want. The trees have not yet begun to turn colors, but I know it won't be long.

I am restless, as I have been each year since 2011, the fall of my camper van journey. My heart remembers, and yearns for the freedom of those unforgettable six months. (though, it can do without repeating the way it ended. I'm not ready to face cancer again; not sure I ever will be.)

But still.

My days are good. I love being able to work from home most days. With the time and frustration of my commute out of the picture, I actually have some energy at the end of my workday, and have slowly started to catch up on my household todo list.

OK - some days I work around the house. Some days, I sit on my porch swing and contemplate the state of my mini-kingdom, aka: the back yard.

I enjoy the beauty of the flowers; watch for the hummingbird who lives nearby to fly by for dinner. I review my day, try to suss out my plans for the day when my days will again be mine to schedule as I wish. I stop for a minute, remember to breathe.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.

I don't have to be in the camper van to remember the beauty of that lesson.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Grow, Baby, Grow!

Welcome, baby Joe!
19"  4 lbs  15 oz
The baby waited through Monday, but by Tuesday morning, it was clear he wasn't going to wait any longer. Rita's labor pains became steady, the baby was on his way!

They called me at noon to let me know they'd moved down the hall to the labor and delivery rooms. I was at work when they called, on my way down to lunch.  I reversed direction, packed up my toys and went home. Now I think back on it, I didn't even officially let the office know I was leaving.  Oh, well.

After a quick stop at home to grab my toothbrush, I was at the hospital by one.

I walked into the hospital room to find Rita looking tense, green. It seemed odd to me that she'd be in so much pain, since she wasn't that far along in labor, but I didn't spend much time on it - all labors are different. Shortly after I got there, they gave her an epidural to help with the pain, then checked to see how she was progressing. Fortunately for her pain levels, they didn't do it in the other order. If they had, she wouldn't have been given the epidural; she was too far along. She'd gone from 5 to 10 in just a couple of hours.

I wasn't going to need that toothbrush after all.

She gave me permission to stand where I could see all that was going on. I wish I could fix the next two hours as a detailed film in my permanent memory. As she pushed, I could see the baby's head crowning, then disappearing back inside. After about thirty minutes, she managed to push that little head past her pubic bone, the next few minutes were going to see that baby born.

At this point, we were still alone in the room with Taylor, the amazing and empathetic labor and delivery nurse. Her voice went up a good octave as she told Rita to stop pushing for now, and got on the phone to request the doctor and neonatal team in the room, stat.

It took them about three minutes to get there, and they got there none too soon. The next contraction after the doctor came into the room, his head popped out, followed immediately by the rest of his body.

He came out blue, but quickly started breathing and turned a healthy pink. They laid him on Rita's stomach just long enough to let Joe cut the cord, then whisked him away to the waiting baby warmer for evaluation. It wasn't long before the team over there started laughing and talking easily, dropping from high alert mode to routine care. He was breathing well on his own (not always a given for 32 week babies), and needed no supplemental oxygen. He was holding a decent core temperature. He was going to be just fine. They let Rita hold him for just a few minutes before taking him up to the NICU with his dad to do the rest of their tests.

Rita came home after two days, and is bouncing back quickly from the trials of the week, but baby Joe is still there. It'll be several weeks before he's big enough to come home. He currently knows how to suck, to swallow, and to breathe, but is still learning how to do all three at once.

It's Nana torture. I could go up there to see him, but I can't hold him until he graduates from the incubator to a crib. Which means, if he started crying when I was there, I'd have to stand there and just watch until the nurses found a moment to comfort him. I'm not strong enough for that. I'm not. I understand the reasons behind the rules, and agree with them, but will stay away until I can hold him in my arms. It's easier on my heart. It won't be too long - he's a NICU rock star, growing and learning and eating more each day.

I wish I could find better words to describe the wonder and beauty of the experience. It was an honor, a joy, a privilege to witness a liminal moment in the circle of life. For a moment - after he came out, and before he started breathing - I swear the Universe paused with us, sending him encouragement and warmth.

Grow, baby Joe, grow!!!!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wait, Baby, Wait!

It's been a busy few weeks, and I've been away from home for the past three weekends in a row, but this past weekend promised a reprieve. I went to bed Friday night reveling in the thought of my blank weekend calendar, looking forward to having some time to catch up on my household chores.

Somewhere, the gods were laughing.

My phone rang before seven on Saturday morning. It was my son Joe. He and his wife, Rita-Marie, were at the hospital; her water had broken. He was shaken, and rightly so. It's too soon - she is just 32 weeks along. The first hospital gave her the first of two steroid shots, then immediately transferred her to a larger, regional hospital - one with a team of specialized pre-term baby doctors.

I quickly got dressed, and hopped in the car to join them at the hospital. The doctor came into the room shortly after I got there, took some measurements of the baby with a portable ultrasound machine - and looked pleased. He said, given the givens, baby Joe's chances of coming out all right are excellent. ** major sigh of relief **  Rita-Marie's job now is to stay still and get bored.

And so we started the waiting game.

The first goal was to make it 48 hours, so the steroid shots could work their magic, and give little Joe a boost up the baby development timeline. I spent all day Saturday there at the hospital, waiting with Rita. (We sent Joe off to work on the projects he'd had slated to finish before the baby came. He really, really needed to move; to work off some of his nervous energy.)

The day passed uneventfully. We talked of everything and nothing. We looked up baby names (no middle name has been decided upon yet). We tried not to worry - willing a whole lot of 'stay put' energy towards the baby.

I called my family members who had delivered premature babies - how far along were they when the babies were born? Turns out I have two nephews and one niece who were born at 32 weeks gestation. They've turned out just fine; have suffered no long-term effects from their early arrivals. This news helped me to breathe more easily.

I went home, exhausted, around 7, when Joe arrived back to spend the night. (I find hospitals exhausting, but am not sure why this is so. How can I get so tired when all I've done is sit all day??)

Sunday morning, I got up, did the required minimum of my chores, and went back to join them shortly after noon. We waited and waited some more. Since things were quiet, we sent Joe off again, for the sake of everyone's sanity. I waited for him to get back around dinnertime before I left - we'd followed the doctor's orders, and had had a second uneventful afternoon.  (Who knew I'd be so happy to sit around, a bit bored???)

I woke this morning and checked my phone as soon as I rolled over - there were no messages, which meant we'd made it to the magic 48 hour mark.  (Way to wait, baby Joe!)

The day is gone, night is here, and she has not yet started labor. Each day, each hour, even, is a chance for him to develop further, for his lungs to mature, for his brain to finish developing.

Wait, Baby Joe, Wait!!!!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Family Reunion

blurry, but better than nothing
As I came to the Minnesota border on my way to the family reunion in Minneapolis last week, I could see a storm system building ahead. It was in my line of vision as I drove - the best hour and a bit of cloud-watching I've had in eons. I got to watch the cloud tower form, then flatten out into a classic anvil shape. The clouds were sidelit by the setting sun, beautiful pinks, oranges, reds. I was driving by myself, and though I pulled off twice to try to take a picture, the terrain did not cooperate - by the time I reached a spot where I could safely take the shot, the view was obscured by clouds.  **sigh**  I'm just going to have to remember it in my head. Fortunately for the integrity of the body of my car, I never did catch up with the storm - it skirted just north of the Twin Cities with its hail and strong winds.

By morning, the storm had passed, and we had a lovely afternoon for the 35th annual gathering of my dad's family. Sadly, the group gets smaller every year. My uncles are getting older (though all three who can still travel were there), my cousins have scattered to the winds. Our days of overflowing a picnic shelter are over.

But thinking about it, there was still a good representation of cousins. It was the children and their children who were underrepresented. There wasn't a baby in sight. Young adults, busy with their own lives - I can see why most of them don't have time to take a summer afternoon to hang out with a bunch of old relatives.

We still had about fifty people there. In some ways, I like the smaller gatherings better - they leave room for better conversations. We are a diverse group and try to respect each other's differences. Thus, politics were avoided by one and all - unless, of course, whatever small group I was part of agreed with me on the state of the country, in which case, we touched on the topic for solidarity's sake. And yes, I do know who is in which camp, so the strategy worked well for me.

It was good for me to be with family on a no-stress occasion. Pack up your favorite pot-luck dish, show up for lunch, talk for a few hours, and head out again by mid-afternoon. Spend time with cousins, catch up on their lives. Reminisce about childhood days, compare memories of gatherings past. Gather stories from the uncles while they still are willing to share them.

In some ways, it's a long way to drive for a short occasion, but I try to get up there at least every other year. These are the people who knew me when, who share my memories of Libby and Maria, of Mom and of Dad, of Grandma and Grandpa John.  They share my sense of disbelief at the passing of time. (Could so many years really have passed already??) They are an important part of my roots.

I'm glad the gathering is still held.
I'm glad I was able to make it there.
And, I got to watch the clouds.
It was all good.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Wall Repair IV

There's no tired like smug-happy-tired. It only FELT like the project that would never end. In reality, plugging away at tuck pointing the wall had the expected result - I finished my project last Tuesday evening after work.

A week ago Saturday, we had some brutally hot temps. I got up early, and was working by 6:30. (AM, that is!) Good thing, because the temps were already in the 90s when I knocked off around 10:30. Sunday it rained, putting a damper (literally) on my plans to finish up that morning, but there was a hidden blessing in the weather.

Monday and Tuesday were downright temperate, which gave me all the motivation I needed to get outside and finish up those last sections of wall in the evenings, even though I was tired after work. I was surprised to find myself a bit wistful when I got to the end. The project was hot, dusty, involved lots of hauling heavy objects around, and required me to get up early on the weekends. What's to miss?

As I was finishing up, I was pondering the nature of the things I was taught were 'women's work' vs. 'men's work'; i.e. 'The Way Things Are Supposed To Be Done'.

Outside of raising children, the women's tasks were transitory; needing to be done again and again.
Clean the house, it gets dirty, repeat.
Cook the meal, it gets eaten, repeat.
Wash, dry and fold the clothes, repeat.

The men's tasks more often involved lasting results.
Paint the house, and it was good for 5-10 years.
Repair the wall, at least 20 years, if done right.
Remodel the kitchen - that's usually good for 20-30 years.
(OK, raise the crops, feed the livestock, mow the lawn, and shovel the snow are in the 'do and repeat' category, so this isn't a perfect analogy.)

I wonder why this is.
Why do the men get assigned the tasks that they can point to years later, and say, 'I did this'?

My gut tells me the difference ties back to the children. Once I gave birth to the growing, changing miracles I call my children, my mark in the world had been set. Those precious bits of eating, sleeping, pooping life were my gift to the world. I could only hope the world would share in my wonder at the miracle of their presence.

Men don't get to have such an outlet. Their place in creating children is at the very beginning, and even though the good ones would happily share in the burden of pregnancy and childbirth, that choice is not an option for them. The kind of man I like picks up a decent share of the work as soon as the baby arrives, but it still leaves me to wonder how much of the lasting nature of men's work ties back to a basic need to leave a mark in this world; an 'I was here' sticker.

Maybe that's part of my wistfulness. My children are grown - for better or for worse, my part of those 'projects' is mostly done. My role is no longer to raise and to shape, but rather, when asked (or not...), to offer advice, and allow them to take or leave it as they see fit, without further comment on my part. (a challenging task, if I do say so myself.)

The wall was my way of saying 'I am still here!'; I can still contribute something of lasting value to the world. The work was not grand. It will be seen by few, appreciated by fewer. But my work means I will never need to worry about my fence falling into the neighbor's yard. (By the time the tuck pointing needs to be done again, it will not be mine to worry about.)

I know it's there, and I know the work is good.
I am still here.