TSUNAMIS and SPIDER BITES and CRAZY PEOPLE. OH, MY.

9 May

I love the internet. I really do. Anything you need, everyone you know, answers to anything, right at your fingertips. You can have all of these things just about anywhere, at any time. You can even do other stuff while you’re doing the internet – eat, watch tv, have sex- you’re really only limited by your imagination and whether you’re ambidextrous.

I was thinking today about how my life has changed since I discovered the world wide web.  I’ve become more productive and less productive. I communicate with more people now, but spend less real time with people. I have felt validated by the things I have in common with so many people, and have felt isolated at how different I realize I am. I have seen amazing things I would never have seen otherwise, and have seen many, many things I wish I had never seen. (Most recently, a picture of Willie Nelson in a bubble bath. Try unringing that bell.) I have learned more about what I believe, and have also learned a great deal about what not to believe. Most of these things seem to balance each other out, so it’s hard for me to state an emphatic “love” or “hate”, but either way, I’d give up a kidney before I give up my internet access.

But there is one thing I could live without: living in fear. Of everything. The best thing about the internet is that it’s a great source of information. The worst thing about the internet is that it’s a great source of information.

As a result, I am now afraid of global warming, and am thinking about moving inland a little bit. I can now identify a tsunami when it’s about to happen, so I can’t enjoy the ocean anymore because low tide freaks me out. I have done the math, and figured out how many generations my kids will produce before the end of the world (roughly, 3). I am afraid of dying in a global catastrophe, but more afraid of surviving one, because I am now very afraid of people. In general. Not just the mass murderers, white supremacists and gay-haters, but I am equally afraid of the everyday guy because you don’t know if or when, but sooner or later, something just might set him off. Everybody’s angry these days.

I am afraid of North Korea because they want to nuke us. I am afraid of China because they own us. I’m afraid of the Soviet Union and I don’t remember why. I am afraid of the never-ending conflict in the Middle East; world war three is sure to originate there, if the superstorms and hurricanes don’t get us first. I’m really afraid that by the time I get to visit the west coast, the part of California that hasn’t yet dropped into the San Andreas fault will be nothing more than smoldering embers. I am afraid of Texas.

I am afraid of an American economy that doesn’t belong to America. I am afraid of politicians, banks, corporate executives. I’m afraid of our laws, and terrified of a world without them. I’m afraid of zombies, swine flu, bird flu, and am also afraid of flu shots. And vaccines in general. But I’m also afraid of not getting vaccinated. And mostly I’m afraid of getting stuck between two moms having the vaccine/no vaccine argument, because, quite frankly, that can get vicious.

I’m afraid of genetically modified livestock, inhumane slaughterhouses and what must be done to dish up an excellent fois gras. I closely inspect my fast food burger for any trace of pink slime. I’m afraid to sip a can of coke or open a can of soup without full sterilization protocol because of mice poop. I have convinced myself that I can actually see the toxic leeching of plastic into my drinking water every time I see a water bottle on the dashboard of a car. I’m afraid of anything that comes in a can. Or a box. Or basically any food that I did not grow myself. I am also afraid of food I grow myself. The seeds were probably genetically modified. Truth be told, I don’t know the implications of genetically modified foods, but it’s all over facebook so it must be bad.

I’m afraid to go into my basement or sit on the toilet or sleep with my mouth open because SPIDERS. And where are the bees going? What does that MEAN?

I’m afraid of religious zealots, especially smart ones, but the atheists are gaining ground in the scary category. I’m afraid of right-wingers, left-wingers, and am really afraid of anyone who says they don’t care. I’m afraid of the people on top, the super-wealthy, and even more afraid of the people at the very bottom, the super-uneducated whose numbers appear to be growing by leaps and bounds. I’m afraid of people who let passion override common sense. I’m especially afraid of those who don’t have common sense.

I am afraid of pharmaceutical companies and the production of the pill-popping culture. I’m afraid of taking medicine, especially the medicine one has to take for being afraid, because one possible side effect is fear. For that, another prescription must be written, and that one is sure to rip a hole in the lining of your stomach and cause anal leakage or a prolapsed bladder. Don’t consider surgery to treat any of those, by the way, because an overworked doctor sometimes leaves surgical instruments IN YOU. This apparently happens with startling regularity, which I never would have guessed.

I’m afraid to touch a computer keyboard or eat a lemon in a restaurant. I’m afraid of microwaves and rollercoasters. I live in fear of 4 cellphones going off around my head at the same time because my head might explode like a kernel of popcorn. I’m afraid of internet predators, Nigerians and Craigslist. Match.com hasn’t had a killer yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time. I’m afraid to click on a link or open an email I don’t recognize because of HACKERS. I’m afraid of who might be tracking me online or using geolocators imbedded in my pictures to figure out where I am. I’m afraid to believe any pictures I see because they were probably photoshopped, or to believe any quotes I read because, as Abraham Lincoln cautioned, “One should not believe all that he reads on the internet.”

I guess, like everything else, we all just have to sort through the information for ourselves, take what is good (a thousand uses for an old pallet) and throw away the rest (mice poop and spider bites). Personally, I try to balance every scary thing I see or read with a comparable uplifting story, a funny meme, or the old standby – kitten pictures. And if that stops working…well, maybe it’s time to rethink my internet connection.

Yeah, right.

Walking Through A Sandstorm

7 Mar

Grief is overwhelming, encompassing, immutable

Stretches of numbing calm, broken savagely, unexpectedly by surging waves of pain

It’s knowing that everything you believed to be true yesterday will never again be true

The sudden realization that the only tangible thing left of the person is pictures, written down words, and the burning hole they left inside of you

It’s the last words they ever said to you, and exactly how they sounded, etched into your heart and mind forever

It’s things you didn’t say, but meant to.

Grief is crying so hard and so much that you don’t look the same anymore

The skin on your face red, bruised, brittle and stinging, as if you were walking through a sandstorm

and there isn’t a tissue in the whole world soft enough

A giant boulder blocking your road to tomorrow, and the only thing that can wear it down is the excruciatingly slow passage of time

Grief is knowing how good it would feel to give up, to lay down forever, and forcing yourself to go on anyway

Knowing there will be a day when the tears stop coming, the waves recede and the things you remember don’t paralyze you when you least expect it

Grief isn’t giving up…it’s going on

One breath after another

Pushing yourself up and out of bed

One foot in front of the other

One long day after another

One unbidden memory after another

And it is the voice you will never forget

Walking through a sandstorm.

 

A Letter To My Grown-And-Living-At-Home Children

26 Feb

My dear children, I have enjoyed being your mother for over twenty years. It has been my greatest challenge and most fulfilling joy. Watching you grow from clumsy, questioning toddlers to awkward, spirited teenagers, and ultimately strong, independent young adults has been the most rewarding undertaking of my life, and I thank you every day, in small and sometimes silent ways.

For the two of you, I learned to be confident. I learned to be strong. I learned how to have my heart broken and keep on loving with fervor. I learned how to be proud of another’s accomplishments, and to share in their failures without judgment. Put another way, I learned to love…wholly, completely, and without conditions.

Over the last twenty-something years, my role as your mother often required that I assume many other titles as well: Chef, Housekeeper, Chauffeur, Nurse, Event Planner, Plumber, Trainer, Cheerleader, Arbitrator, Carpenter, Therapist, Repairman and Translator. I have also had the pleasure of serving in such capacities as Walking Encyclopedia, Provider of Unwanted Grammar Corrections, Protector of Chastity, Abolitionist, Funeral Director for Defunct Pets, and The One Who Kisses Boo-Boos.

I want you to know how much these titles have meant to me over the years, and to reassure you that I will always be here for you both, cheering you on, supporting you in your separate endeavors, and loving you always. It doesn’t bother me in the least that you are both over eighteen and living at home; in fact, I love having you here with me. You are my life.

But after much thought, I have decided that it is time for you both to begin acting in an adult manner. To accomplish this, I must relinquish some of the beloved titles I have held for so long, and allow you the opportunity to fly, to soar out into the world as well-rounded, mature, responsible people.

So, from this point forward, and with much sadness, I give up the following responsibilities, and turn them over to you. It will be really hard not to be there for you in these roles any longer, but somehow, because I love you both so much, I will find a way to manage…..

The Only One In The House Who Realizes The Dishes Won’t Wash Themselves

The Person You Wake From A Sound Sleep To Ask “Can I Go To My Friend’s House Next Week?”

The One Who Turns Cruddy, Stiff, Disgustingly Dirty Socks Right-side-out For Washing

The Person You Blame For Your Lack of Money/Lack of Social Life/Abundance of Boredom

The Person You Wake From A Sound Sleep To Ask “Have You Seen My Phone Charger?”

Banker (Loan Department)

The One Who Gets Your Whites White, Your Colors Clean, and Doesn’t Shrink Anything

The Person You Wake From A Sound Sleep To Ask “Can You Take Me To WalMart?”

The Only Person Who Knows That Pencils Will Not Go Quietly Into A Vacuum Cleaner

The Only One Who Knows How To Clean A Toilet

The Only One Who Knows How To Clean A Litterbox

The Person You Wake From A Sound Sleep To Ask, “Is There Anything To Eat?”

It’s up to you now.
Fly, little ones.
Fly.

What I Learned From A Snake

17 Feb

At the age of 24, I was a Jersey transplant in North Carolina, attempting a new life for me and my three-year-old daughter. I had worked my way up to running my own restaurant franchise and was feeling awfully proud of myself. I found a place to rent in a small, picturesque and friendly town, an old trailer near a horse farm. It was ugly as can be, but the rent was perfect for a struggling single mother, and I knew I had found a place to put down some roots. I was at the threshold of adulthood, when it finally starts hitting you that you’re really on your own, and you have to take care of everything yourself. And no matter how many teenage years you spent longing for true independence, it is a scary rite of passage, with much to learn along the way.

The first week or so in my new digs was busy, as I scrubbed and repaired and painted, transforming the trailer from dilapidated nightmare to comfortable home. I loved this kind of restorative work, and it felt great to finally be living completely on my own, taking care of my little family all by myself. Before long, the musty, dirty place was aired out and sparkling…well, as much as an old trailer can sparkle.

One sunny afternoon I was home, waiting for my friend Andy to come over and help me with more repairs. I was busy watching something on tv when I heard him pull in the driveway, and my eyes never left the television set as I stepped into the open kitchen area and reached up to grab two coffee cups from the cabinet. I spotted it in my peripheral vision at the same time my fingers brushed across its moist, scaly skin – a large black snake, lounging on top of my kitchen cabinets. When I say “large”, I mean gargantuan. Like almost 6 feet long, and easily 5 inches thick at its midsection. LARGE. HUGE. Of course I handled it like a champ. I screamed and broke into a record-setting fly/sprint down the hall and out the back door, where I fell, shaking and stuttering, into Andy’s arms.

I’d like to explain my inherently female thought process at that exact moment; it’s actually not hard to understand. I was a woman with a snake in my kitchen, and Andy was a man. It was really that simple. He would fix this. He would save me. I mean, not only was he a man, but he grew up in that town, so if anyone would know which indigenous snakes were poisonous, he certainly would! Plus, he was an outdoorsy type who lived on a horse ranch! He could probably wrangle the damn thing! Oh, yes, in that very second, I was so grateful that there was a man at my door!

(Now, I don’t quite know why this figures into the story, and I certainly hope I don’t offend anyone by saying so, but in the spirit of complete literary disclosure, I must tell you that Andy was gay. And not in a subtle “gee, why doesn’t he ever have a girlfriend” kind of way, but in an unabashedly open “yeah, I am – what’s it to you?” in-your-face kind of way. Now consider that this was back in the day when being a young homosexual was not as common and fashionable as it is today. His more-than-slightly-effeminate Southern twang was, in my opinion, delightfully at odds with his imposing, masculine appearance. He was a tall, well-built, handsome good old boy with a taste for anything metrosexual – music, cars, home décor, clothes and jewelry – living in a time that wasn’t ready to accept anyone peculiar, and a place that bled country music and the holy bible. And he was a terrific person, gregarious and open-minded and fun, and we became fast friends the day we met. I just want you, the reader, to keep this fun fact in mind as the rest of the story unfolds.)

So there I was, outside my back door in Andy’s strong arms, terrified and unable to coherently tell him what unspeakable horror I had just witnessed. His immediate thought was that something terrible had happened to my daughter, so terrible that all I could do was hyperventilate and point back into the trailer. He instantly rushed in ahead of me and ran down the very narrow hallway toward the kitchen, ready to rescue my little girl and call the paramedics. I followed closely and grabbed his shirt to stop him before he entered the kitchen. I stood behind him, silently, and pointed up at the enormous reptile, utterly confident that he would know EXACTLY what to do.

What happened next will be forever imprinted in my memory, and retold for decades at dinner parties. Andy did the fastest 180 known to man, and put both hands out in front of him as he swung around, pushed me down roughly to the floor of the cramped hallway and JUMPED OVER ME to run out the back door as fast as his legs would carry him. His screams were louder and higher-pitched than mine. As if in a horror movie, where the poor victim can never seem to move fast enough, I was also screaming so loudly that it impaired my ability to stand up and run, so all I could manage was to scramble down the hallway like Gollum, falling out the back door to safety. That’s where I found Andy, bent over at the waist and hyperventilating , and to this day I still feel a little badly about beating him on the head with my clenched fists. Served him right, for saving his own ass by throwing me under the bus and leaving me to become dinner for a man-eating snake.

After we had both calmed down a bit, we realized we had to do something. Calling a professional of some sort would probably have been the right road to take, but we went with the mop and broom approach; he wielded the broom, and I armed myself with the mop. I do not know what we were thinking we might accomplish other than giving the snake a buff and shine, but there we were, creeping down the hallway into the kitchen like a couple of malcontent Merry Maids, brandishing our plastic cleaning implements. To this day, I’ll bet that snake tells this story every year at Christmas.

Despite our best efforts to shepherd the giant reptile with the mop and broom, all we managed to do was make it angry. At least I think that’s what the coiling and hissing was about. After ten minutes of parrying and screaming, the snake slithered behind the refridgerator. We called it quits at this point. He told me there was no way I was going to sleep in that trailer that night, and I did not argue. I grabbed my daughter and a change of clothes, and we spent the night at Andy’s.

The next day I called the exterminator. I was safely at work and far away from the evil serpent invading my home. After he was finished at my house, he called me back, and the conversation went as follows: (please be sure to mentally add the thick Southern drawl and the inbred Southern male condescension toward intelligent women)

Me: “Did you find the snake?”

Bubba: “Well, I looked purty good for it, and I didn’t see no snake, but I’m sure you probally did see somethin’. But whatever it was is sherley not there no more.”

Me: (reaching inside myself for a small amount of patience, because I knew he probably didn’t even look for the snake in the first place) “Okayy….well, what am I supposed to do if he shows up in my house again?”

Bubba: “Oh, missy, y’all don’t have to worry ’bout that. See, there’s a chemical we use, and it’s a special one, and it has sulphur in it, and snakes don’t like it. It burns their skin, see, so they will not cross it. I put a thick layer of that all around the perimeter of your trailer. You don’t have to worry at all, he ain’t comin’ back!” (Bubba sounded quite pleased with himself.)

Me: (reaching deeper for patience, and finding none….so resorting to deep breath and counting to ten, then talking very, very slowly…) “So…..let me get this straight…..you put a perimeter around my trailer and you guarantee the snake will not cross it to get back in…right?”

Bubba: (growing impatient with my obvious simple-minded stupidity) “Yes, ma’am.”

Me: (longer pause, buying time to collect myself so that I wouldn’t reach through the phone line and strangle this idiot with his own phone cord) “ So….what you are saying is that…..if you are wrong, and the enormous, quite possibly poisonous snake has NOT left the building…,.then…..that means…. HE…IS…NEVER…GOING…TO…LEAVE?????????”

(The choice words that followed aren’t even worth mentioning here. I’m sure I did not begin changing the world one redneck at a time that day, but my effort was worth mentioning.)

They say there are moments in life that define you. This was one of mine. Because by the third day of being scared to go back into my own home, I finally got mad. Mad at the snake. And mad at myself for being afraid, and allowing that fear to dominate and seriously affect my life. I had just moved in! Was I really going to let a big old snake scare me out of my house??

(Okay, I admit I did spend two days looking for another place to live. It was a very big, big snake.)

But by day three, when my fear was replaced with anger, I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to take control of the situation. My daughter depended on me. I had no choice. I had to be strong.

After work that day, I went to Wal-Mart and bought the biggest butcher knife they had and went home. Throwing open the back door, I yelled out for that snake, laying down the law and telling him that if he showed his ugly face again, I was going to cut his head off and chop the rest of him into little pieces. I searched every inch of that trailer, knife poised and ready, hollering the whole time…and I truly had no doubt that if I saw him again, I really would cut him up. I WANTED TO. I wanted to kill it, destroy it, to get close enough to sever its terrifying head from its enormous body. I was a mad woman, and determined to take my life back. Fear made me angry, and anger made me strong.

I never did see that snake again. I kept my daughter at the neighbor’s for a few more nights, and then she slept in my bed for a few weeks after that. The butcher knife stayed under my pillow. As time passed, the fear subsided completely, replaced with a brand new certainty – that I was strong enough to do whatever was necessary. I was strong enough to protect my daughter. Because, let’s face it, if you are badass enough to fantasize about chopping a six-foot snake into little pieces, you are pretty much badass enough to handle whatever life throws at you. And I have. Ever since.

“Mom, Can We Keep Him? Please??”

26 Jun

The kids came to me yesterday with a tiny black kitten, a wild stray that couldn’t have been more than four weeks old. His trembling little head peeked out from my son’s cupped hands and he looked fearfully at all of us with beautiful, malachite eyes. I knew what was coming. “Mom, can we keep him?”

(SIGH.) It was supposed to be a carefree afternoon of summer fun, swimming with the kids, but all of a sudden I was thrust into the unenviable dark side of motherhood. I had to be the voice of reason. I had to be the one to say, “NO.”

Twenty years ago – ten, even – my heart would have instantly melted at the sight of a homeless kitten, and I would have said “Yes” without hesitation. But now I view things from a different perspective. Now I see things as a parent, a bona fide grown-up. And I think about every time that I pestered my own parents with “Can we keep him? Please?” Oh, I totally get it now.

Imagine, if you will, an ordinary Saturday morning. You’re running errands with the kids, laughing, happily singing songs in the car. Then, right in front of the grocery store, somebody has a box of puppies…and now your whole harmonious morning is about to end in disappointment and tears of betrayal, because YOU have to be the bad guy. YOU have to tell your children, “NO.” One minute your kids think you’re the greatest thing since peanut butter because you promised them a pack of gum; the next, they’re crying and angry, looking at you like they finally understand the meaning of neo-fascist dictator. At that moment you’ve never hated anyone as much as the selfish woman who brought that box of puppies to the supermarket. Whatever happened to solidarity? Mothers are supposed to stick together!

Of course, I see this clearly now, but I do remember being on the kid side of that fence. I remember wanting to bring home every stray, abandoned or otherwise found creature. If my parents had been reasonable people, my childhood would have included about 14 dogs, at least 30 cats, wild rescued birds and store-bought parrots and canaries, a huge fish tank full of piranhas, hamsters in a room-sized tunnel kingdon, bunnies in every imaginable color, a couple of ponies and a three-legged deer. Alas, my parents were not that reasonable, and more than once I tearfully vowed that when I was a grown-up – when it was MY turn to make the RULES – I would never EVER turn away an animal who needed a home, who needed my love. NEVER.

For the most part, I kept my word. I was barely an adult when I had my children, and my heart wasn’t calloused yet. When they would come to me, cupping yet another breathing thing in their hopeful hands, pleading, “Mom, can we keep him? Please?” I always gave in. Cute and hungry guaranteed a home with us. Not to mention that fantastic feeling I would get when I said “Yes, we can keep him” and my kids thought I was the GREATEST.

Subsequently, for the last twenty years, I have been the one walking the dogs, changing the litter, shampooing the carpets, shampooing the animals, buying the food, serving the food, paying vet bills, making sure they don’t run away, making sure they don’t run into traffic, cleaning out guinea pig, hamster cages and fish tanks, ridding the house of animal smells, endlessly vacuuming pet hair, crying over ruined furniture and rugs, only to eventually get the pleasure of paying expensive euthanization and cremation bills, or even better – digging holes in the woods – and comforting sad children as they once again confront death. Because of all this, it has become much easier to say “NO.” I am not cold-hearted – I am TIRED. New pets bring more love and laughter into a house, but they also bring more WORK, and I do not need more WORK. I have plenty TO DO. And as much as I have loved nearly every two-, three-, and four-legged creature that graced our home over the years, I am ready for a house that is void of pet hair, litterboxes and animal smells. Really…it’s time.

Which brings me back to yesterday. When the kids came to me with that itty bitty kitten, I realized (since the “children” are 22 and 17 years of age) that it was time they understood the harsh reality of being a responsible grown-up. This was a teaching moment, an opportunity to remind them that impulsive choices have lasting consequences. Somewhere deep in my heart I felt a sad farewell happening to the optimistic child I once was, as I confirmed myself to be a rule-abiding, sensible adult. But it was right, and it was necessary.

My kids – who had already named the kitten at this point -gave it their best, of course. “But Moooooom, look at him! He is soooo cute! He needs us! He won’t survive on his own! Look – he likes us already! Come on, Mom…please? Can we keep him??”

“NO.” I put my foot down. “We are not having another animal. He does NOT have a name, and we are NOT taking him home, and that is FINAL!” I know they thought I was being unreasonable, and that hurt a little bit, but I DID have my reasons, and I was NOT backing down, no matter how much they pleaded. I took the tiny black furball from my son and paced around, stroking his head while I decided between letting him go free again, to live an uncertain life foraging for food and shelter in the wild, or taking him to the nearest humane society, where he might hopefully be adopted by a loving family.

I walked around for an eternity, weighing those options, and looking down at this fragile little life that was, quite literally, in my hands. He was quiet, content to be held and petted, looking back up at me patiently, trustingly, expectantly, with sad, knowing green eyes (pretty much the same way the kids were looking at me) and I knew what had to be done.

J.D. (that’s what the kids named him) spent his first night in his new home in a cardboard box at the foot of my bed. He’s adjusting to his new home very well. I just added cat food to the shopping list.

And my kids think I’m the GREATEST.

S.C.A.R.E. (SPIDER’S CASUAL APPEARANCE REPRESENTS EMERGENCY)

18 Jun

What to do in the event of a SCARE (Spider’s Casual Appearance Represents Emergency)

1. Scream. This is the precursor to initiating Standard Spider Defense Protocol.

2. Initiate Standard Spider Defense Protocol by jumping high up into the air and backward 3 feet. This is usually difficult, but surprisingly easy to do in the presence of an 8-legged monster.

3. Quickly procure a trapping device. When inverted, it should trap the spider underneath; therefore, it must be hollow inside. A perfectly flat device, such as a book or the bottom of your shoe, will surely squash the spider, producing gobs of gory grey matter and a loud popping, squishing sound that will follow you into your dreams. To survive a SCARE without damaging your psyche, it is imperative that your trapping device will merely trap the spider, not kill him.

4. Approach the spider carefully. Watch him for sudden movements that may imply a higher level of intelligence. This is important. Most spiders will try to run at this point, and some might freeze in fear, but there is always the chance that your unwelcome guest has a thought process and malevolent will. You must move quickly, trapping the spider completely underneath the device with one swift movement, because if the spider senses what you are about to do, he will surely jump out of harm’s way, grab your wrist with his scary fangs and bite down hard, killing you instantly.

5. Before running to get help, take a few moments to observe the spider in his holding cell. It might be a good idea to place a heavy object on top of the trapping device so the spider won’t be able to drag it across the floor looking for an escape route. The only thing worse than a dead spider is an escapee, who will undoubtedly run and report your murderous intentions to the entire spider community. (NOTE: If this does happen, leave the house immediately and contact a realtor.)

6. Once you are certain the spider isn’t going anywhere, leave the room and immediately seek the nearest person with a Y chromosome. Y chromosome people have hundreds of years of inbred skills dealing with arachnids, and will know what to do. Be prepared to tell him exactly what he is dealing with in there, using descriptive words and phrases like “enormous spider”, “he came after me”, and “he looks ANGRY”. Lead him to the door, and wait outside until it is over.

7. After the deed is done, and he comes back out the door, refrain from asking, “Did you get him?” This question always results in the Y chromosome person shoving the spider dangerously close to your face, laughing hysterically as you claw the air in an attempt to break the land-speed record for getting away. It is probably best not to be anywhere near him when he comes out with the spider, so he won’t be tempted to play with it. Go shopping or something.

8. When the coast is totally clear, put on rubber gloves and douse a rag with bleach, and clean any surface the spider may have contacted. Throw away the trapping device. There is a possibility that the spider’s defense mechanism was to excrete a poison so powerful that you need only touch it and you will instantly die. Better to be safe.

If you follow these steps, you will get through your SCARE. For the rest of the day you may exhibit minor signs of SCARE-related PTSD – the heebie jeebies, the creepy-crawlies, glancing over your shoulder, and checking under the toilet seat before you sit down. These are all normal, and should pass quickly all by themselves. If your spider’s leg span was larger than an inch and a half, then you might have a harder time getting over your SCARE. Usually the best cure for those type of symptoms is found in the yellow pages under PEST CONTROL.

A Single Mother’s Perspective on Father’s Day

16 Jun

This holiday is scrupulously avoided in my house, and that makes me sad, though not for me. For my children.

Happy wishes to all the caring, involved fathers…the ones who appreciate what a gift it is to have a child. You may never fully appreciate the impact you have just by being there.

Hugs to my friends who are missing their fathers.

And a swift, hard kick in the gonads to every man who thought he could just walk away – no responsibility, no accountability, no thought whatsoever to the emotional impact of that on his children, leaving the mothers to deal with the questions, the pain, the nights of children sobbing in their arms. I still don’t understand.  Relationships between men and women sometimes do not work out, and we can say goodbye to one another and move on…but how do you create a human being and never wonder what he is like, or how she is doing, or wonder if your child even looks like you? How do you go food shopping and never wonder if your own children have enough to eat? How do you pay your rent month after month, for years and years, and never wonder if your kids have a roof over their heads? How do you father a child…and just…walk away?

To all the good dads out there – hug your kids extra hard and give yourselves a pat on the back. You are making the world a better place for all of us. To the rest of you, and on behalf of exhausted women everywhere, I say thank you. You gave us the only worthwhile and lasting part of you…and we love our gifts. Our non-disposable children.

If There IS a Day After Tomorrow…

21 Dec

According to loose interpretations of ancient Mayan prophecy, today is the last day before the end of the world. Doomsday Eve. Everybody is talking about it, and most are taking it in stride, laughing in the face of doom by throwing “end of the world” parties and hugging everybody as if they will never see them again (all in fun, of course).

Now…I’m not saying I believe any of this apocalyptic horsepucky, but perhaps I should have stopped at Walmart on my way home to stock up on toilet paper and matches. Just in case. Oh, sure, there are many items on a survivalist shopping list, but how many times have you left the store and smacked yourself in the forehead two hours later because you forgot the toilet paper? MHM. Exactly. And with my luck, I wouldn’t realize my mistake until the earthquakes start. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly HOW I’d realize that I had forgotten the toilet paper.)

So no, I haven’t been stockpiling food, medical supplies, flashlights, Snickers bars, my yet unread copy of 50 Shades. But now that I think about it, I may have subconsciously been preparing for the end of the world for weeks…without even realizing it.  I didn’t clean my house…so I guess I won’t have that awkward moment when you know an asteroid is coming and you look around and think, “Really? I finally vacuumed behind the television, and…really? Really??”

It’s probably serendipitous that I also did not get the tank filled with heating oil, since that would prove unnecessary if we end up hurtling toward the sun.

I haven’t paid my rent yet. If the world ends tomorrow, I’ll have some money to clutch in my hand, and can pretend I’m not dying penniless.

I didn’t schedule that appointment with my doctor, either, to save her office the trouble of robocalling me. “We’re calling from Dr. NNN’s office to cancel Susan’s appointment for tomorrow; Dr. NNN will be out of the office forever. We thought you should know that your test results will not be in until day after tomorrow. We are sorry for any inconvenience, and have a nice day.” (Oh, yes. My doctor’s office is THAT efficient.)

I did not buy any Christmas presents. If we make it to next Tuesday, my kids are going to be pissed.

Now that I think about it, I really haven’t done anything productive lately. So if Saturday rolls around, my “To-Do”  list is going to be pure evil. I will be busy.

And I’m sure I will be busy. Because I absolutely do not believe the world is going to end tomorrow. But I will confess that for a few moments tonight, I did let my mind wander to other things left unfinished…things I’ve always wanted to do, and haven’t. Yet…

I haven’t written a book.

I haven’t recorded an album.

I haven’t travelled out of the country. (Alabama does not count.)

I haven’t seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I haven’t found the perfect sticky bun recipe.

I haven’t achieved financial solvency for more than six hours.

I haven’t touched an elephant.

I haven’t seen the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

I haven’t loved and been loved in return.

I haven’t been in a hot air balloon.

I haven’t gone to the Glass Skywalk at the Grand Canyon. (Oh, I’d chicken out after two steps, but that’s not the point.)

I’ve never had all my ducks in a row.

I’ve never kissed at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

So I guess what I’m saying is, there’s no time like the end of the world to make you think about all the things that are still on your “To-Do” list. And to be grateful that you still have the desire, and more time, to work on that list. And to resolve to get them done…someday…somehow.

And if I’m wrong –  if it turns out that there is no “day after tomorrow”…at least I can say that I died just how I always lived – with a whole lot of crap left to do.

Love Is Stronger Than Bullets

15 Dec

Today…another mass shooting. This time, 20 children and seven adults were murdered before the gunman turned the gun on himself.

Children. Kids. Happy, innocent, joyful children full of life and spirit and energy. Little kids. Which elevates this horrible thing from merely unbelievable to utterly incomprehensible.

That’s the key word here – comprehend. We can’t. We’re watching the news, looking for new information that will help us relegate this senseless thing to a place in our minds where we can somehow call it “sensible”. Not to justify it, of course, but for our own sanity and sense of safety in this world, we need to find and attach a reason to this.

Because it is happening more. A lot more. And the first time it happened, we said one time was too many, but then it happened again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and again…and then again today. That is way too many “agains”.

At this late hour, more than 12 hours after their lives were taken, the victims are still in the school, laying on cold floors, pending final official identification. The little town of Newtown, Connecticut is in shock, and life for all of them has come to a screeching, horrific stop. The rest of the nation is reeling with a sorrow that is sadly reminiscent of the days and weeks following September 11, 2001. Shared grief. Crying that comes in waves. And always…always…the question…WHY?

Tonight, we will cry. Tomorrow, we will argue about the answer to that question.

Gun control advocates will say that we should regulate the sales of weapons better. We will argue about that.

Second amendment disciples will say that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. We will argue about that too.

Religionists will say that this is a symptom of a godless society. We will argue the hell out of that.

Mental health professionals will say that we need to catch these disturbed people before they can act on their troubled urges. We will agree with the general idea, but we will argue about how to document crazy.

The media will excoriate this shooter’s family life, looking for clues, and even if there doesn’t seem to be concrete proof of childhood abuse or neglect, we’ll probably have a silent trial in the back of our minds, and find a way to blame his parents. Messy divorce, not enough structure, overly permissive…whatever. And then we will argue about nature vs. nurture, and the role of parents in an increasingly aggressive and difficult world.

Communities across the country will reevaluate school security measures, and put in budget requests for things like metal detectors and bullet proof classroom doors and additional guards on campuses. They will hope that these things not only prevent another attack, but also give parents, students and faculty a sense of security. We will argue whether this money is well-spent or utterly wasted.

The reason I know what is going to happen next, and why we’re going to argue? Because that is what we have done after every one of the last eleven school shootings, as well as other public mass shootings. We get sad, we get angry, we argue about the best solution…and then we get bogged down by the hopelessness of it all…until it happens again, putting the discussion back on the front burner.

Believe me, I’m not judging. It’s how life is. We DO care – very much – but we have a million things to care about, and do, and support, and argue…it’s understandable that we will slowly lose interest in trying to solve something that, quite frankly, has no real solution. It’s like trying to put together a thousand-piece puzzle when you only have half the pieces; it was hard enough in the first place, but now you see that it’s just impossible to solve. Sure, fewer guns would help, but it won’t stop every crazy person. More people carrying guns might make us feel safer from the crazies, but that poses more danger to a greater number of people. You could give every person in the country a mental health screening once a month, but dangerous people are still going to slip through the cracks. You could put God back into schools, but even if you converted everyone on the planet, faith is a measure of comfort, historically not a measure of violence prevention. You could enforce laws that protect children from parental neglect or abuse, but not all deranged killers come from broken families. You can take every safety precaution imaginable – in our homes, in our schools, in any public gathering place – but tragedy will still find its way in. All you’re likely to do is lose your humanity as you lock yourself away. Surprisingly, we all agree on this. So why do we argue? Because expressing anger is the second most empowering thing we can do when we are rocked once again by the sudden realization that we are helpless…we are vulnerable…and that none of us are ever truly safe in this world.

As I said, anger is the second thing we can do in the face of inexplicable tragedy.

The first, most empowering thing we can do is to love one another.

Openly, freely, loud, hard, and always.

Love is stronger than bullets. Really.

Loving the people that you love is what makes all the other arguments moot. Think of love as the ultimate violence preventer;  people who are loved…who feel loved…love themselves. And people who love themselves, truly, honestly, will not walk into a kindergarten classroom and gun down twenty beautiful little children. Not ever.

I know that sounds Utopian, and it is…but it is also the one very real thing that each of us can do, right now, every day, to help create a world where things like this happen less frequently. We have very little control over national violence prevention, but we have all the power in the world to fold our children in our arms several times a day and tell them that we love them. To reach out to people we know who are having a hard time, and letting them know we care. To just…love the people in our lives, as much as we can, while they are still here, and connected to us. These little stitches of love are exactly what we need to mend the holes in society’s broken fabric. And no, that might not be foolproof, but it’s a start, and it’s something we can all pitch in and do. What have we got to lose by trying?

At the very least, if it turns out there isn’t enough love to combat the anger and hatred in this world, I know that love does heal. When it can’t stop the bad thing from happening, it sees you through. For each of us, there will come a day when love won’t stop a bullet. Tragedy finds us all in different ways – different bullets. So love…openly, freely, loud, hard, and always.

I can think of twenty sets of parents tonight who will cherish the feel of last night’s bedtime kisses, and this morning’s hurried before-school hugs, for the rest of their lives.

And those memories…that’s how love is stronger than bullets.

How to REALLY Hug A Veteran!

11 Nov

There are so many warm, heartfelt wishes going out to all of our veterans today, as we celebrate our soldiers past and present. Many of you know by now I’m a doer…I see a poster of a returning Marine hugging his little daughter and I tear up a bit, just like you do, but then I ask myself, “What can I DO?”

Our veterans need so much. They perform sometimes unspeakable jobs, but the legacy of that job is far from over once they return home. Calling them heroes and raising flags in their honor a few days a year is nice, but it isn’t enough. If, like me, you feel helpless, there are several organizations you can find to donate money or time or resources.

And if you’d like to participate in a more lasting effort to help our veterans, here’s another idea.

In September 2012, Senate Republicans filibustered the Veterans Jobs Bill, which would have provided $1 billion over the next five years in veteran’s services and to help them find work upon returning home. In defense of those Republicans who blocked it (as there were many who voted in favor of it), it may have been a bill that was hastily designed more for political purposes than for actual aid to veterans. There is reasonable argument to suggest that. Also, the funding for this bill was not clear, and exceeded the spending amount set by a former piece of legislation, thereby making this bill’s billion dollar amount unconstitutional. So technically, they did have grounds to block this bill, even though you’d think most people would agree that if ANYONE was going to be the recipient of excessive spending, our veterans should be at the top of the list.

But there’s good news…a portion of that bill survived. It’s called the Hire At Home Act. (H.R. #4115) It focuses on one specific problem faced by many of our returning vets – that the military training they receive does not often translate to civilian requirements for employment. You may have driven trucks or tanks in the military, but you do not have the licensing required for civilian employment. You may have saved a few hundred lives, caring for wounded personnel in substandard conditions, but you can’t get a job here as a paramedic without going through two years of redundant (and expensive) training, because you don’t have the required paperwork. Somehow there hasn’t been enough communication between the Department of Defense and the states when it comes to finding a way to translate military experience to civilian job requirements.

The Hire At Home Act requires states, if they want certain federal funding, to show proof that they are, basically, fixing this problem. That they are working with the DOD, and actively putting veterans to work by resolving this technical issue. It isn’t an all-encompassing giant leap for veterans, but it is a solid start; a workable, reasonable solution that will help our veterans find work when they return home. It is currently sitting in committee, and has been swept aside for a couple months while the election took front page news, but it is still there, and needs our support.

So what can you do? Contact your representatives. Go to their websites, and see if you can find any information about whether they sponsored/voted for/support H.R. #4115. Or, just email them or call and ask them. Tell them you want this bill out of committee, and voted upon in the next session of Congress. Tell them you support it. Get your friends to do the same.

If this is unfamiliar to you, take heart! It’s really easy to do! Start by googling the Hire At Home Act, and read a few links to understand what it’s about, to decide if you support it. Then, if you do, and want to contact your representatives, but you don’t know how…well, google that too. Type in the search box something like, “Who are my state representatives?” or “How do I contact my representatives?” The answers are easy to find, and easy to use. If you can share a picture on facebook, you have all the skills necessary to email your rep.

And if you’re a little daunted by what to say, or are uncomfortable writing, you are welcome to copy and paste the following into your email text:

I support H.R. #4115. Our returning veterans deserve all the support we can give them. At the very least, it is OUR duty to the people who serve our country to make sure any obstacles to civilian employment are removed. I am your constituent, and I am asking you to get this bill back in front of Congress, and I am asking you to either support it, or explain your reasons for non-support. Thank you.

Those are my practical thoughts for today, folks. Go hug a veteran…then take a few minutes to help change their lives. Peace…