Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.

The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.

The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.

By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.

Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.

Premeditated Kindness

About 15 years ago, the Big Guy had an infection at the base of his very long windpipe that nearly cost him his life. For a week, the ICU doctors and nurses worked to find a drug that was strong enough to help him without killing him at the dosages he needed. Anyone who has come close to losing a loved knows that those moments of worry are when you take stock of how important a person is. What I didn’t understand at the time, is how those moments can implant the fear of loss like a scar on your psyche.

Before the Big Guy, I was very closed off. I had had miserable experiences with men, driven by bipolar-shaped misperceptions and memories of sexual assault with which I had not yet come to terms. But, as anyone who knows my husband, a six-foot-six premeditated act of kindness (my 6 PAK — go ahead, groan), it is impossible to stay closed off for very long after you get to know him.

The problem with opening up, of course, is that you make yourself vulnerable. With most people, being vulnerable means being open to the possibility that they will hurt you. With the Big Guy, however, the most likely danger is that a foot gets stepped on or that you are in firing range of a post-diner breakfast burp. I don’t mean that we never have serious differences or that he’s perfect, but in the 25 years that I have known him, I have never known him to say something intentionally hurtful to anyone. I wish I could say that about myself.

When he got that sick, however, I realized there was one way he could really hurt me, and that was to leave. And, unintentionally, I started doing what I had always done best. I started closing parts of myself off.

In the name of making sure I could support Thing1 (then the only little Thing in our lives) on my own, I ditched an attempt at a creative career (I was doing wedding photography for a while) and went back to more conventional, technical work that offered stable benefits. I began looking at all the things in our life at home that I needed to learn how to do for myself. I began making sure I didn’t need to lean on the Big Guy.

The problem with working so hard not to lean on someone logistically is that you also begin to stop leaning on them emotionally, and, in a marriage, you’re supposed to lean on each other. When you stop letting yourself be vulnerable, it becomes harder to accept and easier be annoyed by the other person’s vulnerabilities. I have been keenly aware of those moments over the years, and, even though I have felt guilty, fear of losing him has often kept me completely opening up again.

Yesterday on that most romantic of holidays, I had to lean on the Big Guy in a big way.

I had foot surgery yesterday morning. The Big Guy did what he always does. I woke up to bedside-table sized flowers and candy to come home to. He had prepped the car so I could drive one last time for the next week. He made sure crutches were in the car for the walk back into the house later. He was one gigantic Premeditated Act of Kindness.

I try to make sure that I am giving the Big Guy what he needs logistically and emotionally. I try to make sure he has a safety net with me. As I watched him yesterday, however, trying to keep my focus on the details of the pre-surgery to do list, I felt my heart really beginning to lean again. As the sedatives kicked in, I became very conscious that I need to fully open up again in a premeditated way because there’s nothing random about real love.

The first sparks may be serendipity, but the long, slow burn of true love is fueled by a lifetime of premeditated kindness and caretaking. And he deserves that.

Living in Lessons

Tree of the Knowledge of Good

I don’t tend to be a mourner. I shed a few tears, maybe a sob here and there, and then the person I love lives on in my memories and, if I’m lucky, in the lessons I’ve absorbed from them.

I’m blessed to have been born with a small army of Great Aunts. I don’t mean that  they were a generation removed from mine. I mean that they were and truly are great – awesome. They adventure. They dive into learning. They are helpers and nurturers. They have always been what I want to be when I (eventually) grow up. Kind. Brave. Extraordinary.

One of my League of Extraordinary Women passed away on Sunday night. She was a prominent fixture in our lives when Thing1 was born, helping us navigate the German healthcare system (where he was born). A counselor and mother, she helped me learn to trust myself and my love of Thing1 when I was getting my parenting sea legs.

I am thinking of her even more intensely this evening as I take a break from writing IEPs to absorb Thing1’s news from his latest visit to Dartmouth Hitchcock where he spent a good part of his senior year and what should have been his freshman year of college. We are learning, yet again, that having a chronic illness means that he has, what his doctor once warned was, a permanent diagnosis, inspite of having had a colectomy.  Now, instead of thinking about summer jobs, he is faced with another, riskier surgery or the very real possibility of cancer by the time he’s in his thirties.

He always seems to take the news in stride, but I know he’s frustrated and a little frightened. Hidden in my office where he can’t see me, I give into a few sobs before acting on the lessons my very awesome aunt taught me everyday.

I know if she were here, she would offer a hug and tell me to trust my love for Thing1 as we help him over this next hurdle. She would remind us that we have the strength to get through this together and that it’s okay to cry. And, as she showed us everyday of her life, even when her own child faced a debilitating illness, she would remind us to care for others around us. She would show us how not let fear steal the happiness we do have with each other.

I will sob for a few more minutes before I get back to writing IEPs, and then I’m going to remember her by living her lessons.

 

Used Art

Fun fact, when you buy art off of my site, you’re getting used art. Most of the time when I do a painting, the piece ends up on my bookshelf until it’s time to go to a show or fair. When show season ends, however, the painting doesn’t, and, having a fairly small studio/office, I hang the surplus art in our halls and rooms, and it lives there until Etsy makes the little cash register sound on my phone.

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for my husband. Sure, plenty of wives come up with redecorating ideas here and there, but living with an artist, he often comes home or wakes up to a new house. On good days, it becomes a rotating art gallery, and every bit of wall space is fair game. On the more chaotic days, there may be plans brewing for a better way to use that guestroom at the end of the hall (a bigger studio? or maybe not).

Whether the chaos is a small rotation or a major room organization, my husband’s defining goodnatured smile will appear, reminding me of my mom’s observation, “You found yourself a good man.”

I’m guessing that next to a lot of productive artists is someone with a good natured smile.

From Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthday

For Mac on the Occasion of his 17th Birthdayweb

 

Wanting to protect him in his formative years, I’ve never written Thing1’s name on this blog. On the occasion of his 17th birthday last week, however, Thing1 went on a walk-about up the back of Mount Equinox, the highest peak of the Taconics. It was from the top of the Equinox, about 4PM, that he sent me the photo that inspired this painting.

Mac – short for MacLean is as independent-minded as you’d think someone with a name like his might be, but he’s also something I’ve never been.  

He’s brave. Not fearless – but brave.

On the way up the mountain, he texted a few photos and the occasional weather report –  ‘a storm is passing and it’s so cool – don’t worry, Mom’.  His phone ran out of battery before he could text about the bear that crossed his path on the way down the mountain, but neither a lack of communications or a close encounter of the furry kind sent him scurrying to our doorstep.  The only thing that brought him off the mountain seemed to be the acknowledgement that, as it got darker out, his mother would be doing what mothers do best – worrying.

When he got back, he showed us the pictures he’d taken and told us of everything he’d seen — the abandoned farm, the gates of the monastery that sits midway up the mountain and the animals that had crossed his path.  He ended his story with plans for a next hike and an invitation to join him on a future adventure, and I realized we’d received the best possible birthday present from Mac on his 17th birthday.

We heard a kid who could acknowledge the reality of unexpected dangers on a hike while refusing to let fear keep him from the path.  And I knew his invitation wasn’t a cry for help but an encouragement to join him on a new adventure.

In It Together

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My sons are the center of my life.  They are the center of my husband’s life. 

Today, Congress began changing the future drastically for my eldest son by endangering his ability to obtain insurance when he is an adult. 

Today Congress rolled back Obamacare, and with it, protection for millions of people with pre-existing conditions (replaced with high risk pools).  My son is one of those people. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder (a lifetime diagnosis) that requires medications that would be unattainable for us without insurance. 

He’ll be a man soon, and, again – through no fault of his own –  he may find it more difficult to get coverage or possibly even job, since he will have to evaluate the laws in each state and not every employer will want to cover hires in his situation. It will  Even so, he’s lucky compared to the millions of Americans who will lose insurance outright. He’s still on our insurance plan, and we’ll keep him there as long as the law allows.

Jimmy Kimmel hinted at some of this the other night in his emotional monologue. He briefly touched on the fact that, prior to the ACA, a child like his would have reached his lifetime insurance cap before he left the NICU. If that child had appendicitis, or a broken bone, or cancer, that cap would have left many parents bankrupt at best or burying their child at worst — even if they had insurance.  

I have thought a lot about those other parents in the months since our son was diagnosed. When we get our meds, I silently thank our company for making it possible and then shake my head that anyone in a country as rich as ours might have to watch their child suffer or even die.  I shake it when I wonder how many people die prematurely because they don’t have access to the same healthcare we do, and I wonder how we benefit as a society from treating children and poor people like disposable objects. 

I call my representatives. I donate. And I shake my head. But today I’m done shaking my head.  I’ve thought about moving our family back to a country with stronger healthcare, but I’d still be shaking my head at the drugstore, wondering how people back home were managing without access.  

So now I’m still calling my representatives and donating, but I’m also looking for new ways to show solidarity with my son and with all the other people who are being pushed out in the cold. Because, as Jimmy Kimmel so beautifully stated, “We need to take care of each other.”  

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Yours, Mine, Ours

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For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

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