Thursday, December 17, 2009

Afternoon Silliness Inspired By My Alderman, A Coyote And Muggers

Here is an excerpt from the poorly written email I just received from my alderman:

"People living near the river are reminded to keep an eye on their small pets while they are outside as a coyote has been spotted near Kedzie and Belle Plaine last Saturday.

Finally, everyone is reminded to be alert as you transport any holiday packages in and out of your residences. There have been reports of muggings in the area so be extra careful this holiday season."

Which am I supposed to be more afraid of, the coyote or the muggers? And how do I get a job writing emails for aldermen? Also, what if I have an enormous pet, like a giraffe? Do I still need to keep an eye on it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dear Tall, Smart and Handsome Teenage Manchild Who Resides With Me:

You will notice that the microwave no longer resembles a 2.5 x 1.5 petri dish. I am not sure whether you will be made happy by; made sad by; or feel apathetic about this recent development, but nevertheless, I would like to ensure that the microwave stays in its current state for more than one week. This can be achieved with a small amount of effort on your part.

Immediately to the right of the microwave, you will notice an apparatus which holds a large white roll of something (similar to what you have hopefully found immediately to your right when you are seated on the toilet). These are paper towels (next to the toilet is toilet paper--if you aren't clear on this, let's discuss). The paper towels (and the toilet paper) are perforated at regular intervals, allowing you to easily tear off an amount appropriate for various purposes. You can cover the plate or bowl you put in the microwave (with a paper towel, not toilet paper) and this will prevent splatters and spills, thus allowing the microwave to remain fairly sanitary for quite some time. In the event that you forget to do this, you can also use one of these paper towels to wipe up any mess that is generated during the preparation of your numerous snacks. Should you have any specific questions regarding these procedures and products, please direct them to me. I'll gladly assist you in becoming proficient in these tasks.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

Friends of Pea?

...aaaaaannnnnnd we're back! Can I just summarize the reasons for my absence with 'I've been really, really busy'? With what, you ask? Well, for one I've been dealing with some health issues. You see, I have a cardiac arrhythmia. I've had it since I was in my teens, but it's never been captured on any sort of monitoring device until recently. My electrophysiologist ordered another 21 day monitor, but thanks to the magic of HMO, I had to see my primary care physician in order to get the test ordered. While I was there, I decided to get my annual girlie exam out of the way. So, my fabulous doctor is doing her thing, feeling the girls, chatting away, and suddenly she says, "Wait what's that?"

"What's what?"

"Have you felt this before?"

She takes my hand and puts it on my right breast, just over the lump she found. I say the F-word and a few other unprintables.

"Are you okay? Do you need a minute?"

"I'm fine."

She goes over to the other side of the table to check my left breast. She's making the familiar concentric circles and my mind is suddenly on Jupiter. And then she takes my hand and puts it on the lump she found in my left breast. More F-words and a tear or two. How much do you suppose tears weigh on Jupiter?

"You need to have a mammogram as soon as possible. And an ultrasound."


She leaves the room so I can get dressed and comes back in with my referrals, one for the heart monitor, one for a pelvic ultrasound (to confirm suspected uterine fibroids), and one for my mammogram and ultrasound. I honestly don't remember what I did when I left her office. I don't know if I called anyone--I assume I did, I just don't remember.

I do remember some things. I remember it was Friday afternoon and I couldn't make any of my appointments until Monday. I remember getting ready to go out and looking in the mirror and thinking I might be very, very sick and wondering what business I had going out and painting the town. And I remember thinking, if I am sick, I'll be angry that I didn't go out and enjoy myself while I could, so on went the lip gloss, the silver hoop earrings and the show.

And that's pretty much how it went until the night before I got my mammogram results. Then I paced. I got that awful cold, clammy, chest collapsing, pins and needles feeling whenever I would let my mind get lazy and drift. I felt sad every time I looked at my son and wondered how much of his life I'd actually get to see. I felt worse when I thought about getting so sick I needed his help and being a burden and a major downer when he is supposed to be having the time of his life.

Well, that was all for nothing. I think. It turns out, what my doctor felt in my left breast was absolutely nothing--fibrocistic breast tissue. It also turns out I have a pea-sized tumor in my right breast. The doctors that read the mammogram and ultrasound believe it is a benign mass. I have taken to calling it Little Pea when I discuss it with others. It's an affectionate term--I'm grateful to it for not being cancer and I'm hoping that if I make peace with it, it won't ever become cancer. I have to get another mammogram and ultrasound in 6 months. If the mammogram and ultrasound show any changes, or if I feel any changes while I'm doing my monthly breast self exam (which admittedly, I hadn't been doing), then it's time to discuss further testing.

I left the doctor's office feeling relieved to the point of elation and the whole ordeal is starting to fall out of the forefront of my consciousness. A few days ago, a friend contacted me about Little Pea. She is a breast cancer survivor and she urged me to ask my doctor to remove Little Pea immediately. She had a Little Pea (only hers was named George) for 3 years before she was diagnosed with cancer. One day George got really big and my friend got really sick and she was afraid that would happen to me. Talking to her made me realize that I'm a teeny, tiny bit afraid that will happen to me. A few other people who are close to me have expressed concern over the seemingly lax attitude my doctors and I are taking about Little Pea and when they do, I get a little worried myself.

The decision I made was to trust my doctors and leave Little Pea where she is, nestled quietly in my mammary splendor. Of course I'll do monthly breast self exams and and get all of my follow up mammograms. If there are ever any changes, Little Pea is out. 99% of the time I am completely comfortable with this and the other 1% of the time I can redirect my thoughts to something less terrifying, like rabid, wild dogs.

So there you have it, my breast cancer scare. If you have any experiences you want to share, I encourage you to do so. Also, if you have ever named one of your own tumors, please chime in. I'm wondering if this is common or if my friend and I are complete weirdos. And finally, ladies, please cop a feel. Regularly.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Missed Her, Missed her, Now You Can't Kiss Her

I know some great women who are single and looking for love and I know some great men who are single and looking for love. A question I can't stop asking these days is: how come these great people keep missing each other? Why don't they end up together? Why do they keep finding the emotionally barren, the impossibly needy, or the bitterly angry women and men? Does this happen by accident, or is personal sabotage lurking even in our well-armored hearts? Is it commonplace? In any case, where do these great women and men find the energy to try again and again and again? I guess I have lots of questions. Lately I've taken a keen interest in how technology aids and abets these great women and men in their seemingly endless and often heartbreaking searching, finding, pairing and un-pairing. In a curious twist, I recently witnessed an instance in which a coupling was actually prevented by technology--or more accurately, by an error on the part of the imperfect, but well-meaning humans who tried to use technology to manifest a union.

David* is a great guy. He's 24, he's athletic, he's spiritual, he's a teacher (grade school, no less), he's generous, he's kind, he truly respects women and yes, Virginia, he is attractive. He's ready to open his heart, to let someone be special to him, and to share his intimate self with her.

Shaddah* and Olive* have been dating on and off for over 5 years. To say that their relationship has been tumultuous and volatile would be like saying that it rained a little bit in NOLA at the end of August in 2005. They're not dating right now, but they still talk frequently and get together socially.

A few days ago I sat with Shaddah as she told David about something that happened a few days prior. Shaddah and Olive were riding the train, coming home from a concert or something, and they saw a pretty girl in a summer dress and they both knew she was for David. Olive approached The Girl and told The Girl about David. She said she though The Girl would be perfect for him. Olive even showed The Girl a picture of David she had on her cell phone, saying, "This is what he looks like. He's attractive too", and The Girl agreed. The Girl seemed very excited and pretty much sold on David. She said she was new in town, so she didn't know very many people and that she would be very interested in connecting with David. So Olive gave The Girl David's email address and they talked until Shaddah and Olive got to their stop. Shadda and Olive were quite pleased with themselves and couldn't wait to tell David.

David grew more and more excited as Shaddah told the story, and when she finished he said, "You gave her my e-mail address? That's great!" "Yep!*!", Shaddah beamed.

"What? No! My email address is*"

We had a good chuckle and I suggested that David become a regular reader of Craig's List's 'Missed Connections'. As of the time of this posting, David has not heard from The Girl.

*Not their real names/e-mail addresses

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Brother Lives on a Hill in a Yellow Submarine

In 2006, I lost my brother, Andy, to AIDS. This year, I'm running in the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll AIDS Half Marathon to honor his memory and it's been a profound experience. Recently the group that I'm training with dedicated one of our long runs to my brother and I wrote to his mother and my half-sister to tell them about it. I thought I'd share with you as well. Here goes:

Dear J and A,

First, I want to thank you for your generous donation to my fundraising efforts. As you can see, I've bee working very hard at hitting that goal and your donation put me over the top.

I also want to tell you about a very special experience I had during my training. As part of our training, we run 2-3 miles twice during the week on our own and then we run longer runs on Saturdays along the lake. Our Saturday route takes us past the hill where we sprinkled Andy's ashes—it's one of the first things I see when I start my long runs, and one of the last things I see as I complete them and return to home base. It's both a signal of a long road ahead and of coming home. I feel powerfully connected to him and to his memory every time I pass the hill and I say a quiet prayer to honor him. Sometimes I cry a little. I've told my pace group about him and about our morning on the hill, when we returned him to a place he felt was sacred, and they frequently join me in saying hello to him when we pass.

One morning, I was running with one of the coaches and he shared with me the reason he became involved with the AIDS Marathon--he lost his uncle to AIDS. I told him that I was doing this for Andy. I told him about us three spreading his ashes on the hill. I told him what a sweet person Andy was and how much we loved and missed him. He told me that the coaches really liked to do dedication runs—to dedicate a long Saturday morning run to a loved one of one of the runners—and he asked me if we could dedicate the following week's run to Andy. Of course, I said yes.

The morning of the run, we gathered in a group of about one hundred, and the coaches did their Saturday morning thing--they read the news bulletin; they gave us a pep talk; and then they turned the floor over to me. Then I told everyone about my brother, the Beatles fan; the chess player; the math whiz; the guy who brought home all the toys and paper crowns from his job at Burger King because he thought I should have more toys than I could play with and crown for every day of the week. I reminded everybody that my pace group is known for singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” on our way into home base. I'm still not sure why we picked that song, but it happened early and it stuck. It started out as a test of our exertion level and quickly became our 'thing'. I told everyone that this time my group would sing 'Yellow Submarine' instead, and that they were invited to do so in solidarity as well. When I finished talking, as we got into our groups to take off, one of my group mates gave me a long hug and he sobbed. I knew he had lost someone he loved to AIDS too. We dried our faces and smiled at each other before joining our group at the start of our 9 mile run.

There are about 10 pace groups that run on Saturday morning, and though we all take off a few minutes apart and run at varying speeds, we often pass each other on the course and when we do, we cheer each other on. On this day, as I passed the other groups, someone from nearly every group said something like, “We're going to sing 'Yellow Submarine' for Andy” or “We ran up and down the hill for Andy”. I was immensely grateful to feel so supported by people I had met only weeks before and to know that Andy's memory was being honored in a way that he would have liked so much. The most moving moments were still to come.

After my group reached the half way point and turned around to head back, we unanimously decided that we would run up the hill and sing 'Yellow Submarine' at the top of the hill in addition to singing it as we finished our run. As we got closer to the end of the run and the hill came into site, I saw that it was dotted with yellow shirts worn by AIDS marathoners who joined me in honoring Andy that morning. From afar, they looked like little yellow balloons, floating up and down the big green hill. As we approached the hill, tired, sweaty and covered in our own salt, we began our ascent. Once we got to the top, we got into an informal circle and started to sing. Soon after the singing started, we began dancing as well, and the energy of our silly, carefree, irreverent singing and dancing mirrored that of my happiest memories of Andy. I hadn't known such an informal tribute would would be so deeply meaningful.

After we were finished singing and dancing, I walked around the top of the hill and gave a nod to the three ghosts of Two Years Ago Us and remembered the peace I felt up there with you two and the beauty of the way Andy's ashes floated in wisps on the wind as we offered them back to the earth. Then we descended the hill, got back on the trail and finished our run. We sang the chorus of 'Yellow Submarine' as we finished our run and were enthusiastically welcomed by the groups that finished before us. It was such a moving experience I felt I had to share it with you two. I wanted you to know how he was honored on that day.

I am so glad you will all be there on race day—that means so much to me. When I read your comment on my fundraising page, I had to close my office door and let more than a few tears fall--both because I had hit my fundraising goal and because you said you two would be there, on race day, with my nephews. This has been a profoundly therapeutic experience for me and I think you will feel likewise on race day. I can't wait to see you all again!

Much love,


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Doctor, you told me I was having a baby. This here's a grown man.

Every year by this time, I become so impatient with Summer, I would drag her out of her hiding place if I could. This year, I'm not in such a rush. Another chilly, drizzly day? Swell! It's only April, after all. Summer can take her sweet time this year. There's no hurry. You see, June 21st marks the first day of the summer before my only son's Senior year of high school. In just a few months, me and that boy who used to curl up on my lap for a story and a song will be checking out dorm rooms and campuses. Though he's been separating from me in small, healthy ways since his tweenhood, the idea that he is going to move out and start his own life is only now becoming real to me. My nest won't be empty for over a year, but I'm already starting to feel anxious and blue about this inevitable event.

I recently went online and immediately found lots of great suggestions of how to keep busy and ways to refocus. Jackie Burrell does a great job covering these in her post Empty Nest - 7 Ways to Help Parents Vanquish the Empty Nest Blues. As you might imagine, many parents feel useless after their children leave home. After focusing so sharply on such a monumental effort for nearly two decades, people find it difficult to have to refocus so drastically and so suddenly and even more difficult to find an outlet for all that energy. I'm sure I won't be untouched by this phenomena, but it's not among my biggest fears.

I'm worried that I won't be able to be happy in my new world where I don't get to see my son every day. I'm having a hard time seeing myself happy without frequently spending time with him. He makes me laugh; he makes me proud; he inspires me. And not just because he's my son--I'd adore and admire him no matter who he was to me, he's just that wonderful. Everyone tells me I'll find a way to stay happy, and I have to believe them, but I don't think this is going to be easy. I've known my son for almost half my life. He is a part of my childhood and now I'm letting go not only of his youth, but of my youth as well. I think letting go and missing him will be the two biggest challenges of my empty nest experience. I'm very young as empty nesters go--in fact, today many women my age are just starting their families, so it's difficult for me to find support, understanding and community within my age group. Though I'm fortunate and grateful to have friends outside my age group who are also becoming or have become empty nesters, it's a lonely place to be sometimes.

Too, this major event is a reminder of time's relentless march. It's just rolling along, seemingly gathering momentum, and I can't slow it down. We're born, we grow up, we raise kids, and we...move to Florida and take up golf? Wait that's not right. But I do sometimes feel like there's little left for me to accomplish in the cycle of life, other than to sit around and wait for the end--even though I'm only 36. In short, I'm becoming acutely aware that my youth is fading, and I don't like it. This milestone event reminds me that the 'Big D' is waiting for me at the end of the line and right now I'm struggling to see the remaining stops along the way. It's not a logical feeling, but feelings are not logical, especially during life events such as this one.

Under the guise of logical expression, I've lately been preoccupied with writing my own report card. While grading myself on my last 17 years or parenting, I ask myself all sorts of questions. Should I have done X more? Did I do Y too much? Did I teach him enough? Is he going to be alright on his own? Will he ever learn how to make Kool Aid? Does he know how much I love him? Did he have a happy childhood? His father and I got divorced when he was 9 and I wasn't able to give him my best for some time afterward. It has always seemed to me that he got a raw deal during that transition. I felt terribly about it for years.

Yesterday, on the car ride home from a Lacrosse tournament, everything changed. Out of the blue, we started talking very casually, yet very openly about our feelings on the subject. It just sort of happened. I was surprised because talking about feelings isn't one of his strong suits. He told me that, during those years I thought were so dark for him, he could tell I was very sad, but that he himself had never been sad more than momentarily about anything that happened and that he had always been a happy kid. He said that he really did enjoy his childhood. In sharing this with me, he gave me such a great gift. He let me look briefly through a window into his little boy world and it was nowhere near as bad as I'd been imagining it all these years. Until yesterday, I had given myself A-pluses for every year that I raised him except the three years after my divorce. For those I gave myself D-minuses--barely a passing grade--and I beat myself up mercilessly for all the should-haves and shouldn't-haves those years produced. Even with my tough grading policy, I averaged a B-plus, but I think if you asked my son, he'd give me straight A's and extra credit--and his grades are the only grades I care about.

I sometimes wish I could go back and change the way some things happened--make them perfect, how I always hoped they would be. But then I look at what I have today: a close relationship with my son, who is a happy, confident, kind, compassionate person, and I think things happened just the way they were supposed to happen. I guess I wouldn't change my imperfect parenting, since it would mean changing the results, which are perfect for my son and I.

Pretty deep, huh? Well, this isn't all Kleenex and Cabernet. This is actually a very exciting time. My son is young and free to discover himself and he has some very happy days waiting ahead of him. I'm excited for him, and I'm proud of him. I know the fact that he's going off to college, rather than playing Halo all day in my basement and making it smell like feet, is a sign that we did everything right. While it's sad that he's not going to be around as often, it would be a crying shame if he never went anywhere because he was afraid to or because he didn't know how.

I suppose I instinctively knew all along that this day would come, even though I'm only now outwardly acknowledging it. When I was 18 and I found out I was pregnant with my son, I immediately went out and bought him a welcome gift. It was a favorite story of mine, and it became a favorite story of his too--Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are". I bought it for him because I wanted him to know that no matter what he did, or where he went, he could always come home to a warm supper and a mother who loved him. The offer stands, always.

Time flies

The boy in my lap...

The man in the world...