The Presence of Absence – or, Bookends of BoDeans

…absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks … where he should be.

UPDATE

Well, it turns out there will probably never, ever be any reunion of Sam Llanas with the BoDeans, and it appears there’s a real good reason on top of the ones originally given – how sad – and how creepy, since this band once recorded a song with the lyric, “sweet little Mary was just 13, walking down the street she’d make a good man mean…”

Eeeeeewwww. I debated taking this post down when I heard about this, but the post reflects my experience before I heard of these accusations. Yet I didn’t think it would be right to leave this post as it is without acknowledging that I now know these accusations have been made. I wish I could unknow about them, but I can’t.

______________________________________________________________

Even if you knew it was coming, the death of a spouse or other family member creates an absence that feels physical; that heavy blank space over there is where he is not.

And it feels like that absence is a thing – a weighted blank thing that lurks in chairs where he should be sitting, over there on the rug where his hospital bed used to be, by the stove in the kitchen where he should be cooking.

I spent the last fourteen months managing that thing, first raging at it, crying and sobbing and panicked by it, hating it, feeling attacked by it, as if it would erase me or reduce me to a shadowy thing myself, some kind of half-being, ghosting around aimlessly. “I’m just a ghost in this house.”

Then I decided to engage it. I started talking to it, taking it out places with me. I created a sort of “memory tour,” attending concerts and events Mike would have enjoyed, trying and many times succeeding in feeling him with me in the car, in the box at the opera or the too-expensive seats at the hockey game.

And I went to see the BoDeans.

Years into our marriage, Mike and I discovered, in casual conversation, that before we met, we had been at the same BoDeans concert at the Riviera Theater in Chicago. I was there alone, he with whoever his then current girlfriend had been.

And Sam was there.

If you haven’t heard this band, go back in time to their earliest albums – Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams, Outside Looking In, Black and White, Home.

But you really should listen to their live compilation album, Joe Dirt Car.  The BoDeans are a kick-ass live band and put on a great live show.

And the lead vocal you hear on almost every song is Sammy – Sam Llanas.

I remember that show at the Riv as just that –  kick-ass rock’n’roll fun – singalongs, clapping, stomping, great time.

That was a long time ago – 1989.

I had put the albums (yes, vinyl) and CDs away years ago, and hadn’t thought about them until last year when I saw a poster around town announcing a BoDeans show – they were playing at a benefit at a community center very close by, and I couldn’t believe my luck at getting a chance to hear them again, and to take Mike’s “present absence” with me, and remember with the memory of Mike what fun it was, to dance and stomp and sing along with this band.

And I went and they put on a full-blown, burn-the-house-down rock-n-roll show with lights and fog and great sound at this recently rehabbed little theater that started life as an elementary school auditorium.

I had a great time there by myself with the crowd, as I had done so many years before.

But Sam wasn’t there.

Because something happened, years before, as often does in marriages, and in bands that have been together for a long time – Disagreement? Jealousy? Misunderstanding? Resentment? Exhaustion? Who knows.

But Sammy wasn’t there – Sam’s voice wasn’t there.

It didn’t really register with me too much last year at that event – the band seemed to stay away from the songs that really had to have Sam’s voice to make them what they were. Or maybe it was the crowd – a liquored-up, wealthy, charity-event attending crowd that knew how to party and was on their feet, dancing and singing along the whole show (so this is how rich people party? Oh, OK. Pretty cool. And for a good cause.)

And then this year, by accident again, I found that the BoDeans were playing within reasonable driving distance, almost exactly a year (less one day) from that show I went to in memory of Mike.

So I went, and this time I knew that Sam wouldn’t be there.

And his absence was very present for me this time.

Maybe it was the geriatric nature of the crowd – they just wouldn’t get up and dance, even with the bar open, until after the break, when several women of a certain age, dressed as if in memory of their younger years, got up to shake and bounce what they had, groupie-dancing down by the stage.

And I was shakin’ it in the aisle, dressed in my own recently-achieved too-tight jeans and shirt, trying to remember the fun, but hearing that live album, Joe Dirt Car, in my head, and missing Mike, and missing Sam.

There were some fun moments – a Tom Petty tribute inserted in the middle of the show, some amusing musical quotes of other artists, and the sing-along songs that depended more on the crowd than on Sammy’s voice. And although geriatric, the crowd at least managed some singing along.

And then the band did a song called “Naked.”

I can think of a lot of BoDeans songs, “Black, White and Blood Red” or “Going Home,” or “Far, Far Away from My Heart” or “Misery” that require Sammy’s voice, but none more than “Naked.”

It’s about sharing your secrets, committing to not holding back in a relationship – at least that’s what I hear in it – “I’ll stand naked with you, you’ll stand naked with me too.”

And when Sammy sang it, there was a raw, raspy desperation in the sound, like he really was tearing himself open.

You just can’t sing it without that – without Sam.

So you have a choice – don’t sing it.

Or forgive, forget and ask Sammy to come back.

Because he can. He’s right there in Wisconsin. It would have been a few hours drive, no more.

Mike can’t come back.  He can’t come with me to a BoDeans concert, ever. In fact, after our child was born, we never went to a rock show together. He’d go to shows he wanted to go to, and I’d go to mine, and whoever wasn’t going was staying home with our child because we didn’t use sitters, not with our special needs child – our beautiful, vulnerable amazing child.

So we switched off, took turns – called it a “shift change,” when I got home from work, and he, exhausted from a day of cooking, cleaning, playing, shopping and chauffeuring, retreated upstairs to read and relax.

No shift changes for me anymore. Adult child is far less vulnerable now, and I’m doing the best I can at my job of enabling greater independence, but each day there’s still, “A day without Dad. You ok Mom? You’re here in this world, the first world, with me? Right? You’re not going, you’re here. You’re good.”

Yes, my lovies, for as long as I possibly can be. I’m here right now, for you.

But Mike can’t be here for me, or for our child, anymore.

Life is short. Forgiveness is worth it.

I have to wait until the end of my life for a reunion, but you guys don’t.

And I find now that the presence of Sam’s absence in that band means I just can’t see them again. And listening to Joe Dirt Car just makes me sad now, thinking about the permanent presence of absence.

Because Mike’s not here for me, and he can’t be, and he can’t be here for our adult child either, and the best I can say is “remember what Dad told you? Dad’s love never ends.”

And it doesn’t, but it is so hard even for a neurotypical person to understand that, and to feel the abstraction of love from the next world.  How can I help an autistic person understand that?

My year of dating Mike’s shadow, his present absence, is over, and I’ll have to find something new, a new band to follow or maybe a new person to love, to be a presence for the two of us, now.

But I’ve been honest with our child – we’re never going to stop missing Mike, or stop feeling incomplete, without him. That is a present absence we will just have to absorb, and carry, within and around us, every day. We can’t add anything or anyone that will take that absence away. We can only try to love what we carry – memory and hope and whispers of love in songs we hear in this world as Mike’s messages from the next.

Middle-aged Woman Rules

I do not intend to act my age. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life…and put as much love as I can back into it.

There is nothing like widowhood to make you feel your age.

But I am determined to “defy it,” as that make-up ad with Melanie Griffith from a few decades ago – “don’t lie about your age, DEFY IT!”

I noticed that ad a few DECADES ago. So much for lying about my age!

But the “defying” thing suddenly became important to me when Mike got sick.

I wanted him to see me at my best, or at least the best I could be, before he went. So I started the “defying” thing. And it amused him, and we laughed about it before he died, and I like to think that he did see in me again the younger woman he had pursued years before, when all he had to do was hug me and I would glow – “I’m all shiny!” I would say – and though he didn’t have the strength to hug me anymore, I wanted him to see he could still make me shine.

After he died, after all the widow duties were done, after the stone was finally laid and the cold empty absence of him became so present all the time, I panicked, and then I got mad, and then I got determined.

I don’t have very many good woman years left, I thought, and dammit I refuse to believe that they are all already gone. Mike wouldn’t want me to mope around alone, I’m sure. (Although when one of the last two of our wedding-present stemware broke, flew out of the cupboard as if someone had grabbed it and flung it down, he did observe, “that means there’s only one left now,” as if he thought that was right – there will be only you to use those glasses now. But I still don’t think he’d want me to be alone. He fell in love with me, he said, partly because he could see how badly I needed to be loved, and how easily my heart could sing, or cry.)

So I am going to make the most what I have left. Life is short. Love matters.

And so does lipstick.

Allow me to explain.

The Middle Aged Woman Rules began before Mike died, but intensified after. I took a good look in the mirror, began the heavy use of skin products, and established these Rules, which are as follows, in reverse order of importance (and I reserve the right to add to this list, ad infinitum if necessary!:

  • dress like you are expecting someone and waft perfume lightly
  • manage hair wherever it occurs
  • floss
  • smile, and
  • NEVER BE SEEN WITHOUT LIPSTICK

Because the first thing I noticed when I looked in that mirror was how washed out and ghastly I look without lipstick.

So I wear lipstick even when the only person who is going to see me is me. (See, “dress like you’re expecting someone, etc., above.)

Now, on the “dress like you’re expecting someone” rule?

Did I buy nice middle-aged lady clothes, with high shawl collars to cover my neck? And below-the-knee middle-aged librarian looking wool skirts?

Um, no.

The first thing I did (ridiculous woman, remember?) was buy a black peignoir set. Yep, sexy nightie. As if I was expecting someone. Ha!

Then I bought tight jeans, v-neck t-shirts and sweaters and five or six really cute 1950’s style dresses with tight bodices and flared skirts that you wear a crinoline under.

And related infrastructure of naughty underwear.

And I started going out, on a sort of “memory tour” of things Mike and I would have done together if he was still here.

And the first time I wore one of those crinoline dresses out? Several burly, very short-haired women remarked on how attractive it was, that I wore it well.

Oh well. Sorry, ladies, I play for the other team, but I appreciate the compliment, I really do!

And when I took adult child downtown for our annual holiday excursion, I didn’t notice until I headed to the ladies’ that the lipstick I required myself to wear had formed two little “Chuckie” lines (you know, Chuckie? That creepy horror movie doll?) on either side of my mouth, probably as a result of residue on a glass from a too-hasty pre-game snootful of something because I had splurged on a limo and wouldn’t be driving. Uncharacteristically I didn’t check my look in the car, so I was “Chuckie” all the way to the table in the restaurant.

But the kicker was when I went out to an event, smiling!! really trying to smile! and noticed a very tall, nice looking man staring at me, near the bar. I mean staring.

So I’m thinking, this pencil skirt and silk blouse are really working for me! OK!

And he kept staring so I just said, hello, I’m Anne. And he told me his name but I forgot. If adult child was with me I would never forget names, or birthdays, for that matter.

So I went and sat next to someone I knew and tall guy comes and sits on the other side of the someone I knew, and I hear him saying to his wife, “Doesn’t she remind you of Jill?”

And I’m curious so I say, “is Jill a good thing to be reminded of?”

And he turns to me and says, “Oh, yes! Jill was…Jill was brilliant! She was my best friend from high school’s mother! She passed away….”

So after all the skin products, hair management and the accurate application of lipstick, I end up being compared to a middle-aged man’s best friend’s dead mother.

So much for defying my age.

But I still do not intend to act it. My age, I mean. Not until I have squeezed everything out of what’s left of this life that I can and have done my best to put as much love as I can back into it.

Ha! Just call me Mame. Or Vera Simpson.

Or defiantly ridiculous woman.

A Journey with Journey: Fall Excursion, Part 3

Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again. Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

Unexpectedly, the forecast is for some sun, one last time before Halloween.

Carpe this freakin’ diem, for sure.

We didn’t have a trail ride scheduled, so we got going early, and I had actually planned a route that could intersect with several “rustic roads,” and a few more days had passed for more leaves to turn, so this, I was sure, would finally be the day for the perfect fall excursion.

And the rustic roads did not disappoint. Out by Lake Geneva, then west and north, back east and north, hills, ponds, bowers of boughs over strips of smooth asphalt, like ribbons through the moraine. Hawks circling, big red barns, horses, cows and the occasional llama.

We stumbled upon a pristine local park right when we needed a bathroom, and although as usual the “bathroom” was an outhouse, it was the cleanest, freshest outhouse I’d ever had to use.

And the road signs were there, this way and that, to lead us down those rustic lanes and give me what I needed from October’s bright blue weather – a stress-free, no-anger, no-pain, no-yelling fall excursion.

And I want to believe he was with us, enjoying it along with us, this time, free from pain.

Our child has taken to repeating wistfully, “a day without Dad.” He’s been gone 14 months, but on the spectrum, processing time is individual, and often long.

And I say, “every day for the rest of our lives on this earth will be a day without Dad, sweetie, but never without his love. You remember what he said to you?”

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s right. And I believe he’s here with us and he sends us little messages from the next world – the monarch butterflies, the Journey songs.”

Yes, Journey songs. Mike could sing just like Steve Perry – Really, high notes and all.  And it was mostly a running joke for us three, whenever it came on the radio – “just a small town boy, livin’ in South Detroit….” But it was damn fun to sing along with, and they’re actually really good songs. And despite the haircut (c’mon, it was the ’70s), Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again.

Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

And our child has an uncanny knack of changing the radio station to land directly on a Journey song, repeatedly, during the day.

I know, I know, Journey has been resurfacing constantly since “Don’t Stop Believin'” but who cares why? To us, the impulse to change the radio station right now is a little signal from him, from the next world – change it now, you’ll get a little hello from me.

Faithfully. Separate Ways. Open Arms. “O-pen Ah-AHHH-Ahms!”

“It’s Dad!”

Yes, sweetie – a little message from Dad from the next world.

Up toward Waukesha, found the road with the farms. Pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds.

And this time, we ate at Taco Bell.

And it was good. Back on the road in plenty of time to enjoy the last of October’s bright blue weather, singing along to Journey, and with Mike.

Fall Excursion, Part 2

…hopes for some local cafe with soups and sandwiches and pie. I end up with grey, greasy burgers and torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

It started out great – a beautiful trail ride in a state park I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago. We rode through a savanah with a marsh in the middle of it, saw and heard (incredibly loud!) sandhill cranes, I think, and wended our way up and down ravine-like terrain populated with huge, beautiful old, gnarled burr oaks. The sun was shining, the dappled leaves were changing, and adult child was happy.

Next goal, winding roads, pumpkins and lunch.

We found an odd, small little farm that billed itself as a winery, mostly, but sold decent looking pumpkins and what’s called “Indian corn,” which I like to hang on my door this time of year. Pumpkins accomplished.

Winding roads of fall color? A little, and following my nose and the compass embedded in the mirror of my car, found the town with the store that has the chicken feed we needed.

But first, lunch.

A likely place, menu looked OK, even a bit sophisticated for a rural town. The place is mostly empty, which I put down to the hour of the day, not the quality of the food or service. Which was my first mistake.

So, I thought, OK, not crowded, great! Will get adult child fed and happy and be on our way in a jif.

Not.

I should know by now, through years of fall excursions, that I am particularly cursed at choosing lunch places. I always harbor hopes for some quaint out-of-the-way find, a local cafe with great soups and sandwiches and maybe some pie.

I usually end up with grey, greasy burgers and persons with whom I dare not converse lest the subject turn to politics, arrayed on torn barstools erupting with ancient, stained foam.

But this place looked much more promising.  Tin ceiling, nice old bar, highboys and regular tables, tile floor, interesting historic thingamabobs all over.

Adult child was very hungry, so I thought, OK, bruschetta – how hard can that be? Essentially some toast with tomatoes, basil and a little cheese.  That will be fast and take the edge off.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. Breathe. Head in hands, pulling at my hair. One waitress, only two other parties in the place.

Breathe.

Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetie, just trying to stay calm.

Thirty minutes, at last, the bruschetta.  Ice cold. As if it had been defrosting. And coated with something that was supposed to be balsamic but looked more like chocolate sauce.

Thirty minutes for a COLD appetizer.

Breathe, head in hands, Mom, are you OK?

Yes, sweetheart, just trying to stay calm.

Thank God the burger and fries came immediately after, as if the lone inexperienced waitress figured out that I was about to lose it if my child didn’t get something edible RIGHT NOW. Adult child likes the fries, at least, but tells me the burger was fried. As in, fried in oil, or worse, butter, which adult child on the spectrum can’t stand.

My salmon salad was pretty good, but I realized it too had been fried, not broiled.

OK, whatever, we ate. I admit to myself that I have zero skill in stumbling upon the one cute “supper club” or diner in town that actually might be worth trying, where they actually might have some retro comfort thing for my child to eat (big old shake in one of those tall, heavy ice cream glasses? No whipped cream, that is even worse than butter. Mac and cheese? Too many carbs. Tomato soup! Why can’t I just find a damn bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich? In friggin’  WISCONSIN???)

So what do we learn from this? Fast food next time. Don’t even try. Go somewhere generic, cookie cutter, where you know exactly what to expect, and quit trying to make lunch any significant part of fall excursion.

On to feed store. No time for any more winding roads.

Will there be any more of October’s bright blue weather? Please?

Ah, God is great. Yes, yes there will. And the third time’s a charm.

Grief and Grace

Grief consumes memories … And in Grace lies the hope to be, or to become, free of regret.

“Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

-Leo Tolstoy

Mike actually read Tolstoy. War and Peace, long before we were married. After he got sick he asked me to buy him several classic books, things he could read through the hours of infusions.  Anna Karenina was one of them, along with Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. He made it through five of the six volumes of the latter before he lost the strength to read anymore. I haven’t yet tried to take up either or any of those.

He was an exceptional reader – but he very rarely dove into novels like those classics. If he wasn’t reading chess books or poetry, he was reading literary criticism, or politics or history. Dense tomes that I found, at best, uninteresting; at worst, impossible – I was exhausted just looking at some of the books he read.

There are so many things I admired about Mike, and so few times I told him that. He didn’t like expressions of gratitude or appreciation. No matter how genuine or heartfelt, he seemed to believe these offerings were fundamentally insincere. I don’t know why.

Substitute the word “marriage” in the Tolstoy quote above, and you will reveal a truth that grief consumes – the memories of the petty battles and the major ruptures that occur in any long marriage that are unique to that marriage. But in grief, the weight of those things evaporates to reveal the longstanding love beneath. And in grace lies the hope to be, or to become, free of regret.

In the large and varied autism community there is a saying: “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Every individual on the spectrum is different from every other. Unique. There is no “generic” way to understand an autistic person.

Likewise widows. I’ve started reading other widows’ blogs, and the thing that hits me of the few I’ve seen so far is how very different each experience of widowhood is from mine. Not just the widow’s age, or the manner in which the spouse was lost, or the length of the marriage, but the many ways a widow’s life changes and the new challenges she faces.

One wrote about having to do things she hadn’t had to cope with before – buying a car, fixing things around the house, etc. Nope, I always had that role. Mike was a stay-at-home Dad, and a fantastic one; just the right guy to raise a child with autism. He was a great cook, a genius at finding free, entertaining things to do with a child who needed special care, and a music lover always discovering new, interesting bands and artists and sharing that music with a child who never forgets a lyric or who sings it.

But he was not what you’d call a “handy” guy.  If it required set-up, assembly or repair it was usually me who handled that, unless brute strength was called for (with the notable exception of an incredibly complicated model roller coaster I bought years ago for our child for Christmas – he set that thing up in a marathon session, and when he was done and it worked, he said, with triumph and glee, “didn’t think I could do it, did ya?” He also took charge of the Christmas train at the base of the tree. I haven’t tried to set that up without him). I set up the computers and the router, fixed the toilets and figured out how to program the remote. Maintenance Mom. He was Fun Dad.

And Fun Husband, too. We laughed together a lot – sitting together in our little library room listening to Mozart or Bach, we’d read aloud to each other, passages we thought were hilarious. I’d read snippets of Patrick O’Brian to him, he’d read John Ashbery poems to me.

Another widow wrote about coping with family members or friends who had objections to how the widow was performing her widowhood. There are Expectations and people who feel entitled to impose them on the widow.

Not for me. It was, pretty much, all on me. There were four people at the burial – myself, our adult child, the hospice chaplain and my regular pastor. I made all the arrangements and all the decisions, alone.

That’s a long story – too long for a blog and wrong for a blog that is about learning to live a daily life of love and laughter. I’m working on telling that long story in a book. A book that I hope will inspire laughter with the pain. A book that will certainly establish my bona fides as a ridiculous woman.

But when I write about my Mike here, I want to remember and honor the Mike I knew at the beginning of our relationship and the end – both before we were married and when the weight of years of marriage evaporated – on the day he decided to accept hospice care.

That day happened to be my birthday.

And the hospice care was at home. Visiting nurses.

The doctor told him he had three to six months. Mike optimistically chose to hear the six month part.

The nurse told me that based on her experience and how he looked, he had, maybe, six weeks.

He died at home just short of eight weeks later.

But those eight weeks were the best eight weeks of our marriage, where, as he described it when he had the energy to write, the bubble of tension between us burst, and the love was there, revealed, still glowing, and we knew that even though it was weird to believe this, the cancer was at least in this way, a gift.

On my side, our relationship and my return to church, started as an expression of gratitude. I went back to church because I was grateful that I had met Mike. That there was, it turned out, finally going to be a guy for me.

And our relationship ended in gratitude, for the chance to remember how we loved each other, out from under all the crap that builds up over the years, all the day-to-day squabbles and the year-to-year strains. Gratitude, forgiveness and love.

It shouldn’t have taken losing Mike to bring these back to the surface of who I am. And it shouldn’t take so much work to keep them there. But that’s what grace is for. I’m counting on that.

The briefcase maneuver

More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

There was a specific moment in time when I finally understood, after decades of confusion and bewilderment, why, even though I think of myself as funny, self-effacing, engaging, and enjoyable to be around, my late husband got so frustrated and yes, furious with me.

And kept saying I was my Mom (oh, yes, my “professionally dissatisfied” Mom).

It was a fight about housekeeping, when after he had meticulously completed a difficult cleaning task I’d asked him to do, I said “hey, that looks great! It would be even better if you also…..” (This is described as “the incident of the cobwebs” in the book I’m writing. I’ll post excerpts when I’m ready.)

Essentially, ‘thanks for that, but now do more, better.’ And he knew that the list of things yet to do, and do better and faster, would be never ending. More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t just at home. At work, whenever there were tasks to complete or goals to reach, especially if they were “time bound” (Oh, just take that SMART goal crap and shove it, OK?) I paid much more attention to the work than the worker; cared more about the productivity than the people and persistently telegraphed my anxiety and irritation that things weren’t moving FASTER. Geez, didn’t everyone feel this way? How come everyone who I work with eventually starts avoiding me? Tink-tink, is this thing on?

I’m such a “A” type that I get visibly, rudely frustrated when things don’t move FAST. Everything from how you move your body through space to how you move your thoughts through your mind and out your mouth.

I think I’ve only met one or two people in my life who talk faster than I do. And I’ve met people a foot and a half taller than me who don’t walk as fast as I do.

When I worked downtown, I even came up with a strategy to get around people who weren’t walking fast enough for me. I called it “the briefcase maneuver.” If there were two or three people strolling abreast down the sidewalk, there almost always would be just not-enough room to barge between them and keep barreling on down the street.

So I’d swing my briefcase up in the not-quite-wide-enough gap between them, pretending that I just always walked that way, swinging along with my briefcase, and they’d instinctively look back, flinch away from said swinging briefcase and separate, and through the gap I’d motor.

Sweet, huh?

Now, in my defense, when I telegraphed my frustration it was usually on behalf of my husband and child, when I thought they were becoming frustrated, or bored or anxious that the food wasn’t coming fast enough or the line was too long to get in to the museum, or whatever. But it only made our child more anxious and my husband angrier.

As a parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum, a young adult who used to be an infant, then a toddler, a tween and and then a teen, I’ve had a lot of practice with patience. And I’ve always tried to quell that zippety quickness with persons who have differences or physical disabilities. And I never cease to be amazed at my child’s ability to bounce back, to forgive, to persevere and to keep trying and keep learning.  Even if it took 45 minutes to button one button, or six months to learn how to tie a shoe. And now that I’m on my own as a parent, I marvel at my late husband’s stamina in raising our child, as a stay-at-home-Dad, to adulthood.

When Mike entered hospice, I thought that A-type briefcase-barreling, busy-bee, more, faster, better, get-outa-my-way person, was gone for good.

And for the most part, she is. I’m able to slow down, allow others to go first, to breathe and wait patiently, to smile more and remind myself that every person deserves respect, has their own “stuff,” which may include hidden tragedies, disabilities or disease, and every person should be approached from a kind and loving perspective.

Sounds great. But in practice, on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult and exhausting. For me, anyway.

Case in point: the fall excursion, part one.

I thought the orchard closed at 3. We had things to do in the morning, but we headed out there at 1. On a Monday.

And it was mobbed. C’mon, it’s Monday! A school day! I thought we’d have time to sit and eat lunch, and a nice pleasant stroll to pick some apples.

Not.

Twenty minute wait for a table, but there are hot dogs over there. And you can buy your apple-picking bags right over there.

Right over there in that line that isn’t moving.

And the slowest moving human I have ever seen (at least it seemed like that at the time) behind the counter.

I am unable to process the idea of a working person who has no sense of urgency, ever, even when there is a line wrapping all the way around her counter.

Oh boy. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Adult child is fine, looking around at all the kitsch. Adorable kid in front of us is well behaved and patient unlike the two other kids in front of him.

And the counter person with the truck-stop hairdo (wait, too critical, excise that thought, toxic, toxic thought, she can wear her hair any way she wants to) is moving at a snail’s pace, wrapping soooommmee dooooonuuuttss forrr the fiiiirrst personnnnn in liiiieeeen.

God, help me. Patience, breathe, smile.

Ten minutes later, our turn.

And in response to my question she tells me the orchard is open until 5, not 3.

Whew.

OK, hot dogs. Adult child is very hungry, it is almost 2.

Another line.

And another extremely slow moving human with no apparent sense of urgency.

Breathe.

10 minutes later, two hot dogs. OK, adult child is fed.

And we made it on the haywagon and we had a great ride around the orchard and we picked more than enough apples for a pie.

And those very slow moving people were polite, even though they could tell I was working hard to quell my inner zippety-bitch, and we had plenty of time left over for the big slide, which adult child loves. And I love to watch the happiness and glee.

OK! Fall Excursion part two should be much easier!

Wrong.

Fear and Chickens

It was a conscious decision to do something that scared me a little. To try something a little wacky. And to not let fear (of breaking rules, or germs, or chicken poop, for that matter) get in the way.

Ok, chickens.

Mike and I had talked about it, but I knew we’d never really get around to doing it.

But this summer, I did.

I told a young friend (my millenial boss, actually, at the time) who was way into vegetable gardening and knowing where his food came from, which I sort of am too, that I was serious about trying backyard chickens. I checked the local regulations and by my calculations my yard is big enough, and the coop would be far away enough from any neighbor’s house.

But it was more than just wanting to try it.

It was a conscious decision to do something that scared me a little. To try something a little wacky. And to not let fear (of breaking rules, or germs, or chicken poop, for that matter) get in the way.

Because far too many of my decisions in life have been based in fear.

Fear of disappointing my parents, primarily.  Which guided many of my decisions until I got married, when I finally realized that there was no way not to disappoint my Mom. She was professionally dissatisfied. Don’t try this at home.

When I was about 17 she whinged and whined at me for months about my hair – “oh, you can’t go out like that! Do something about that! Get it cut!”

So I did.

And when I came home from my haircut, literally the moment I walked through the door, she wailed, “Oh, your hair!” Not in a “what a great cut” kind of way. But a “oh my God what have you done” kind of way.

When I started a graduate program that I thought would help me advance in my job, she wailed “oh, but what about your singing? You won’t have time!”

So I quit the graduate program and found a voice teacher.

Whereupon she wailed, “but what about the masters degree?”

So, you get the picture.

Disappointing my Dad was a different matter. The only thing I could do that would really disappoint him was to do something stupid when I knew better. Which I did, with some frequency. And his silent, withering disapproval while he helped me extract myself from whatever muddle I’d made was enough to ensure I’d never try anything like THAT again, whatever it was.

Follow the fear,  I was taught that as an improvisor (oh and BTW, at some point or another, if you are between 15 and 75 years old and live anywhere near Chicago, you will have had at least one improv class. Or like me, completed several of the famous improv training experiences and performed improv regularly for a while).

Because fear leads you to the truth, to what’s real, to what is worth exploring. Forces you to get out and try, fail, try again. To live fully.

And losing Mike made me really want to throw away the fear and live, dammit – which will include, I hope someday soon, trying to find a new relationship. But let’s start slow.

Which brings me back to the chickens.

I said I was serious about it, and I was kind of expecting it to take several months to get it together, but by the end of the following week, I had a coop in my backyard, and three weeks after that, mail-order chickens. Pullets, to be exact – because incubating cute little baby chicks really was too much for me.

So, presenting Blueberry, Cookies’n’Cream and Oreo Cookie, my Barred Plymouth Rocks, (aptly named by my young adult on the spectrum) and Rosie, Rusty and Rosalind, my Rhode Island Reds, named by me. Blurry, I know, but they’re fast when they get their evening romp.chickensfree

Rosie is the runt – the smallest, the feistiest and the first to start laying eggs. Now they’re all in the act, and I’m getting somewhere between two and three dozen eggs A WEEK.

I cannot eat three dozen eggs a week.

So I share them with the young man who built the coop, and I spend a portion of each morning shop-vacuuming chicken poop out of the coop and replacing pine shavings, dressed in my own improvised haz-mat outfit – because it turns out chickens naturally shed salmonella, and I’m still a bit of a germ freak. So gloves, mask and apron. Hand sanitizer and a shower after.

I think Mike would have gotten a kick out of this, but I also know he would not have participated in the maintenance – the cleaning of the coop, the feeding, the water.

So I’m as ridiculously on my own with this as I would have been if he were still here with me.

But don’t think Dad would have been disappointed.