The Fighter Still Remains

The Fighter Still Remains
The Fighter Still Remains

Back when my maternal grandfather was still here and the last of my living grandparents, I wrote, The Fighter Still Remains. With diabetes and heart problems, his health was poor and his morale was even worse. On the way home from seeing him, The Boxer, by Paul Simon was echoing in my head.

I was driving back from visiting and caring for him. The thirty-minutes of travel was enough for me to mull over his life, our generations, what the future holds, and by the time I was halfway home, I was sobbing.

When I got home, it came pouring out of me in the only way I know how to cope effectively. I wrote this essay. It’s been edited, but it’s not far off from that first, emotion-laden waterfall of words.

That was five years ago. I’ve just now entered “The Fighter Still Remains,” in an essay contest. Winning entries are based on writing quality and votes/likes/comments. Please read and like or comment if you enjoy the essay and don’t hesitate to share it with others. Thanks for your support, friends.

My Two Grandmothers

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(not my actual grandmothers)

Every time I make up a bed, I think of my grandmother, June. She’s the one who taught me the secrets of fitted sheets. First, do the hardest corner, then its diagonal. She schooled me in their folding as well. Because of Grammy June, I don’t share the rest of the world’s fitted-sheet angst.

It seems like a trivial thing to remember, but with the memory of learning to wrangle sheets comes a feeling of zenlike order. Grammy June was a calm and soothing person, a creature of routine, and with the sheets and everything else she did, she taught me the peaceful feeling that can come with a task well-done, efficiently accomplished.

Grammy June baked and read us stories and did water aerobics. Dinner was served at the stroke of six in the evening, and no one ever ate more than one piece of pie for dessert. Grammy June, for her calm demeanor, was loved by every baby and every dog she ever met. She giggled a little “tee hee” when she laughed; she was the quintessential grandmother.

Granny Sue was not. Granny Sue was loud. She stayed up until the wee hours of the morning arguing about politics, and she was a bit overwhelming. At Granny Sue’s, you got to eat a whole can of vanilla frosting while sitting in front of the TV.

Granny Sue worked outside her home at a time when most women didn’t. She was a writer and a poet. She was fiery. She ran hot and cold and was hard to get along with sometimes, but she was a force to be reckoned with. She was a friend to all lost souls, welcoming them into her home like family.  Her car sported a bumper sticker: Well-behaved women rarely make history.

Granny Sue taught me to say the uncomfortable things when they need to be said. She taught me to stand up for myself, and the last thing she said to me was, “keep writing.”

My two grandmothers were diametrical opposites. They got along okay on family vacations, but Grammy June sometimes discreetly turned down her hearing aids when Granny Sue ranted on too long and too loud.

I feel a little of each of them in me — Grammy June’s calmness when I feel overwhelmed, her sense of peace, order, and comfort. Granny Sue is there, cheering me on when I write something controversial and am afraid to hit “publish.” She tells me it’s okay that I feel like a mess sometimes.

It’s a thing people say, that people live on in those who remember them, and it is only now that I realize it’s true — how often I think of them, how I can feel them at different moments, two very different women. Sometimes I feel like two different people, and that can be confusing. But I loved Grammy June, and I loved Granny Sue, so I guess I can love them both in me.

This is Not What I Expected

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Photo Credit: Catherine George

Yesterday, I was wading through old photos on my computer looking for one I could use for an article when I happened upon some pictures of myself, roughly eight years ago. I’m feeding baby Gage with a bottle and looking over at toddler Jack, smiling. I totally look like I have my shit together in those photos. I totally did not.

I often wonder, when I see parents at the grocery store toting two young children along, parents who look like they also have their shit together, are they really that chill? Or is it like that photo of me — only calm on the outside? Is everyone kind of a wreck when they have little kids? I wonder this because I have…let’s say a history behind my quest to have children. That history gave me an unusual level of anxiety once I had them.

I always wanted kids. I have introspected on that desire a lot, and I’m pretty sure it was a biological/emotional urge that originated with me and not societal norms. So in college, I mapped it out in my head. This may seem weird, but I know of at least one other person who did this, so it’s a thing. I wanted to be done having kids by the time I was 30. To space them out by at least two years, I needed to be pregnant with the first one by the time I was 26. I wanted to be married for at least two years before having them, so that meant a wedding by the time I was 24. I wanted to date at least two years before getting married, so that meant meeting Mr. Right by the time I was 22. And, since I figured this out when I was 21, I panicked.

This absurd logic is what prompted me to get married, just slightly off my timeline, at 25. This doesn’t mean I was a heartless asshole who didn’t marry for love. I was deeply in love with my first husband. We were great friends, we were okay dating partners, we were shitty at marriage together. (Not that anyone knew it, not even us. We were delusional.)

I was the catalyst for all of this. I don’t think he was quite ready to get married, and I think he was even less ready when I suggested going off birth control when I was 27, but he went along with it because he loved me and he did want kids at some point.

I got pregnant. We celebrated. We told everyone. I gave my grandmother a birthday card from her great-grandchild, and it brought tears to her eyes. Then, I miscarried. It was awful, and we had to tell everyone what happened, which was a lot shittier than telling them I was pregnant. I was devastated. Then, I had three more miscarriages, and I was a wreck. I was profoundly depressed and panicked that I might not ever carry a baby to term. My timeline was all fucked up now. He said, “I’m afraid you’ll never get over this.” I said, point blank, “I won’t.”

He went back to school to change careers, and we decided to take a break from trying to conceive. That’s when I realized how unhappy I was. I’d been distracted by the baby thing, and taking a step back, I noticed how dysfunctional our marriage was. I knew it, but I didn’t do anything about it. I let it fester, the childish part of me pushing it down and ignoring it, despite the more adult part of my brain knowing that wasn’t going to work long term. We got divorced.

At that point, I was 30, and I finally stopped clinging to my stupid timeline, stopped adjusting it and projecting forward with the ridiculous notion I had control over the matter. I decided, in my dogged way, I would have children. If I had to beg, borrow, steal, or adopt them, if I had to raise them by myself in the woods amongst the wolves, it was going to happen sooner or later. So when Jason and I got married, I had no ulterior baby motive.

I got pregnant on our honeymoon. Nine months later, we had Jack. Two years later, I had another miscarriage. I got pregnant with Gage when I was 34, and gave birth to him when I was 35. During my last pregnancy, I had to talk myself out of a panic attack repeatedly; my uterus hadn’t magically expired on my 35th birthday. Then, there was a measure of relief. Procreation, which had dominated my thoughts for over a decade, seven pregnancies later, was complete. I could stop worrying about baby-making sex and relax. But I didn’t. Because after all that time, I couldn’t believe it was real. I couldn’t fathom that “they” (I have no idea who “they” are) were going to let me keep my children.

When they were infants, I worried about SIDS, I worried about whooping cough and the flu, I worried about BPA in baby bottles and pesticides on lawns. If it existed as even a remote threat to my babies, I worried about it. Something in my brain could not wrap itself around the idea that they weren’t going to be yanked away from me. The saga I’d gone through to have children made their existence feel fragile to me.

Thankfully, I grew out of that. I’m pretty free-rangy as a parent these days, and it would be hard to know I was ever so anxious about their safety. Those close to me back then knew — my parents, Jason’s parents, and certainly Jason. But not the people in the park or the people in the grocery store. They saw what I see in that old photo — a calm, smiling, competent parent. More and more these days, I am that mom, but I still have my moments.

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Photo Credit: Catherine George

Absence Makes the Heart…

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Jason and the boys at Chuy’s

Jason’s out of town this week. He doesn’t travel often, so it’s weird having him gone. There are logistical things. I had to take both kids to a dentist appointment for one of them because no one was home to watch the younger one. We have two soccer games, two birthday parties, and a school thing this weekend — events that overlap, so I’m trying to finagle rides, decide which I’m going to and which ones my kids can do without me. The real difference, though, is less obvious.

While most of us introverts love a chance to have the house to ourselves and watch whatever we want to on TV, I find myself feeling lonely this week. I am enjoying the alone time some, but it’s taking a backseat to how much I miss Jason. I get a lot of my adult social interaction from him. We both work from home, and though we don’t spend a lot of time talking to each other, we run the occasional errand or grab lunch together sometimes. We share the little things with each other — a funny meme, a ridiculous email, allergies or a back muscle that’s acting up.

True, I’ve been going to bed on time more often this week, because I’m not tempted to stay up and watch Game of Thrones and drink wine with Jason, but that doesn’t feel like an improvement in my life; it feels like something’s missing. The TV isn’t on as much, because he’s not here in the evening to watch whatever the sport du jour is. It’s kind of nice; I like quiet. But it’s also kind of lonely.

The kids miss their dad, too. Jack needs him to commiserate over sports with him, and Gage needs those silly interactions they always have. It’s clear to me, our family is not whole without him. I give my kids a lot, but I don’t have everything they need, and I would not want to do this parenting job by myself.

Right now, Jason’s in Scotland, playing the Old Course at St. Andrews. He is having the time of his life, as I can tell by the texts with multiple exclamation marks and the gorgeous photos. It makes me smile to think of him having so much fun. He really is my best friend — the kind of best friend you sometimes fight with, sometimes roll your eyes at, sometimes storm off from — but you know you’ll always be friends because no one knows you better. He knows what that look on my face means, and I know what his heavy sighs indicate about his mood.

We get on each other’s nerves sometimes, just like any two people who share a household, a relationship, and children, but right now, I just miss him. I know it’s silly, but I’m having a hard time working, I miss him so much. His absence is palpable. He’s oceans away, and it’s like I can feel it. I can feel that he’s all the way across the Atlantic and not just on the other side of town or in Houston.

This feels like a good thing — anything that makes you appreciate how much your partner contributes to your life. Day in and day out, it’s easy to focus on the little annoyances — toilet paper not on the roll, the television on too loud* — but when all of that is gone for a while, you start to see all you’ve taken for granted. I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Or if it doesn’t, you’ve got bigger problems than rogue toilet tissue.

Part of me wants to delete this because it’s so sappy and I find it a little embarrassing, but that would be counter to my personal mission to keep it real in the emotional realm. So there you have it. I love him. With all of my heart and soul. He’s not perfect, but it’s a good thing because neither am I.

 

*That’s not to say that these aren’t valid complaints that deserve to be addressed and made into memes, just that there’s a lot of good stuff too.

That April Person is AMAZING

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April the awesome, performing yoga in her game room
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April the slug, taking a nap in the middle of a weekday

I’m in one of those slug phases, where I can get distracted from work tasks by just about anything. Today, this led me to scrolling through my own Facebook page. I relived summer vacations with the kids, enjoyed my photos of hikes, re-read some articles I posted and loved them all over again. Several hours went by. I got sucked in.

As I scrolled, though, I thought wow, this person has a cool life! She hikes, she goes on great family vacations, she writes, she does fun things with friends and family, she has thoughtful sociopolitical opinions. Who the hell is this person?

I bet SHE doesn’t get sucked into Facebook for hours at a time. I bet SHE never yells at her kids or feels bored and unfulfilled. I bet SHE never spends a whole weekend on the couch binge-reading the entire Divergent series and ignoring everyone.

Oh, wait…she does. She has kids who are creative, active and funny….and also sometimes inconsiderate, out-of-control and irritating. She has a spouse who is warm, witty and introspective, who also is obsessed with a video game and doesn’t hear the kids when they’re talking to him. She is creative, kind and transparent and also, sometimes a slug that doesn’t accomplish anything she set out to do that day.

So folks, the lesson here: social media is just the cover photo of the very long, winding, complex novels we humans are. There are no bad guys, no good guys, just people, doing their best, being awesome sometimes and sometimes fucking things up. We all do it; cut yourself some slack. And don’t judge.

Grumpy Old Friends

 

Two Senior Women Relaxing at the Outdoor Table
Photo by Bela Hoche

God, I’m tired. I woke up in a pissy mood. I got dressed up today because I had a meeting at school, I’m getting my hair cut, and I hate looking at myself all drab in the mirror at the salon.

 

I’m getting older. My body is changing. My face is a little droopy. I have a belly where I never had one before. My boobs are a cup size bigger than they were three years ago. Most of the time, I’m okay with it. Today, though, I just feel shitty — unattractive and lumpy. It’s partly society’s expectation we all stay young and beautiful. We lie about our ages and spend endless amounts of money on botox and tummy tucks. We’ll try the latest fast, the latest supplement, the latest whatever in an impossible quest to stop time.

Not that I’d go back to my 20’s. I am much wiser than I used to be. I am a better, more giving person. I wouldn’t trade all I’ve learned over the past two decades for anything, but it’s still hard to watch my body change. Change is inevitable; it’s a normal part of this world, and it is always happening. On a good day, this makes me smile and I can embrace it. On a bad day, it pisses me off. It’s like puberty only more depressing. It irritates me that I can’t operate on six hours of sleep the way I used to. It vexes me I don’t have the energy to accomplish what I once did. It makes me feel insecure that my memory isn’t quite as good as it once was. 

I’ve tried a lot of things to “optimize my life,” to fight these subtle yet distressing signs of aging.  I’ve changed my diet, I’ve fasted, I’ve cut carbs, taken supplements, engaged in high-intensity exercise to the point of folly and sampled enumerable therapies. There are a lot of them these days — cryotherapy, halotherapy, alphabiotics, chiropractic adjustment, essential oils, massage therapy…It is a long, long list.

I know people who have been helped by alternative therapies; I’m just not one of them. I mean sure, I come out of the halotherapy room feeling relaxed, I leave cryotherapy feeling invigorated, and every time I get a massage I think Why don’t I do this more often? It’s just at some point, it becomes one more thing I have to do, one more thing I have to pay for, regardless of how much I love the people there.

Here’s my theory: Any therapy might be a godsend for a particular individual, especially if they have an acute or significant chronic problem. If you’re a high-performance athlete, you might really need some of these to help you recover. If you’re injured, you can take advantage of them to get back to one hundred percent. If you are affected by something like arthritis or osteopenia, you might benefit from some of the new discoveries in therapy.

But what if you’re me? I don’t want to win marathons. I don’t have any physical injuries or significant pain. I am not afflicted by any degenerative or chronic illness (yet). Is it really worth my time and money to avail myself of the dizzying array of therapies now available? Because whatever their benefits, no therapy is going to stop me from getting older.

What I mostly love about therapy is the people. The proprietors, the ones I’ve visited anyway, truly want to help you. They are friendly, engaging and honest. They are not hardcore salespeople; they want to help you feel better. What I need is friends therapy — something I can get for free and something I would have the time and energy to cultivate if I weren’t so busy investigating new therapies and playing Wordscapes.

I’m not telling you not to try stuff. If you have significant ongoing pain, looking into alternative ways to treat it is a good idea. But if you don’t, or if you’ve tried and the therapy itself didn’t make a significant difference, let it go. Consider that maybe what you need instead of ice or heat or salt or your chakras aligned is better social interactions — real friends with whom you can relax and be your true self.

I have a friend who lives in a retirement community nearby. She’s ninety years old and recently told me of a 97-year-old man who began taking her art class. He was depressed, having lost his wife recently. Slowly he realized, at 97, he likes to paint. Now he sits in the common room, painting, while others around him read or play games. They comment on his work, and sometimes he asks for opinions. Sure the painting itself is probably therapy, but would he have found it if he hadn’t lived in a tight-knit community that makes it easy to be social and seek out new hobbies?

That community has social gatherings all the time, and if you attend one, you’ll find the residents drinking a few glasses of wine and good-naturedly harassing each other — being weird, grumpy, silly, friendly. Being themselves. Yes, they are old; there is no denying it. The inevitable march of time is apparent in the herd of walkers parked outside the door of every event. But they have easy access to an important thing: quality social interaction — not just superficial gatherings of bodies but real, comfortable relationships in which they can relax. The shared component of most therapy is relaxation and a little bit of quality social interaction. What if that’s all we need? 

Welcome to My Brain

fullsizeoutput_4440Sometimes I have the urge to write but not about any particular topic. It’s like when I was little and would say to my mom, “Let’s talk about.” She’d ask, “Talk about what?” Me: “Things!” I was in the mood for conversation about nothing specific.

Here I sit, typing away, stream-of-consciousness style. When I do this, sometimes something brilliant comes out. Sometimes it’s rambly drivel. Most often, though, it’s one or the other, I’m just not sure which.

Sometimes when I’m editing my own writing, I read it for so long, I lose sight of what is great and what is crap. I cease to be able to tell the difference. It makes sense, really, since it’s all subjective, and my moods can at times be less like a rollercoaster and more like the heart monitor line for a particularly erratic patient.

It’s cold outside right now. It’s early November in Austin, and it is like 30 degrees — highly unusual. Of course, Texas weather by nature is unpredictable, just like my moods or that suffering heart patient, so really “highly unusual” isn’t highly unusual at all. In two days, it could be 85 degrees, and we’d all be like, “yeah, pretty much.”

Our heat isn’t on yet, partially because of the aforementioned possibility of imminent summer weather and partly because when we turn it on for the first time each season, it smells musty, dries the air and clogs all of our sinuses. So I’m sitting here, cross-legged in my office chair, bundled in my robe and a scarf, drinking ginger tea mostly for the warmth of it.

I can see a gerbera daisy blooming outside my window. That’s how ridiculous the weather here is. A few days ago, it was warm enough for flowers to poke their heads up and bask in the sun. Now it’s cold enough to kill them.

There’s a squirrel sitting up in the tree over the shivering red daisy. It’s very still (for a squirrel), huddled for warmth, maybe munching one of the millions of acorns that cover our yard and driveway and force me to wear shoes so I don’t impale my feet.

So this is why I bother to free-write like this. I’ve just realized the metaphor between my ephemeral mood swings and the Texas weather — can’t believe I didn’t see it before.

I recently applied to a program that helps authors write, publish and promote their books. Some of the questions on the application asked what my motivation was for wanting to publish a book. The application was completed and submitted over a week ago, but it’s caused me to ponder the intricacies of my relationship with writing.

One of my favorite things is when someone tells me they read a post of mine and they connected with it. They thank me for writing it because it cheered them knowing other people have the same struggles as they do. Or just knowing that other people struggle at all. With social media, sometimes you feel like you’re the only one not going on fabulous vacations and getting your shit together.

That’s what I want. I want to connect people. I want people to realize they don’t have to play perfect; we can like and respect each other, warts and all. No matter our backgrounds or how different we may seem at a distance, up close we all have fears, weaknesses, confusion. And that’s not a negative thing; it’s part of life. What makes life good is that we can share our problems with others and find support and sympathy instead of judgment. That interconnectedness is what bolsters us to pick ourselves up and move forward after a fall.

No one is an island…or rather, no one thrives as an island. It’s not about our ability to make a lot of friends. Whether you have one close friend or twenty, it’s more about our ability to view other people as nuanced humans instead of one-dimensional labels. Woman, Liberal, Republican, Gay, Catholic, Transgendered. Those are infinitesimal pieces of an identity.

We are all humans who laugh and cry and worry and meander through daily existence no matter where we live. When we can see that human-ness in the forefront, before we see the labels, we can truly work together towards common goals that will make this world better for all of us. See, I told you this stream-of-consciousness thing turns out well sometimes.

I considered editing out all of the free-associative stuff at the beginning of this post, since the meat of it doesn’t start till halfway down the page, but I decided I kind of like it. It reminds me of writing a letter to a friend, where you touch on topics from the mundane to the mystical. I’m all about being real and real isn’t always a neat little post with nice transitions and perfectly-related sentences. My real brain is much messier than most of my writing. Don’t worry, though. I won’t let it go to my head.