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.

October

“O Suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather….”

-Helen Hunt Jackson

“O Suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour

October’s bright blue weather….”

-Helen Hunt Jackson

This was one of my mother’s favorite poems, which she asked for every year as her memory of it faded – but she never forgot the “October’s bright blue weather” line, the essence of the poem and the month.

The daughter of a New England schoolteacher, Mom came from a generation and tradition for whom rote memorization of poetry was required. But this one wasn’t just a school assignment – this one was a labor of love.

Mike and I both loved (and I still love) “October’s bright blue weather.” There is nothing else like an October sky, at our latitude, anyway  – the depth and intensity of the blue against the blaze of yellow, orange, red and even purple leaves, the slant of light that comes only this time of year, before the dim gray of November and the sparkling cold dark night skies of December.

It only just occurred to me now, as I write about my Mother’s cache of memorized poems (a lot of Longfellow – she was from Portland, Maine, where his house still stands today – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and all that) that the only person I’ve ever met who had more poetry memorized than my Mom was my late husband, Mike. He captured me with a waterfall of poetry, recited effortlessly. A lot of Shakespeare, and many poets I hadn’t heard of before. Robert Duncan. HD. Gary Soto. Pablo Neruda (well, ok, I’d heard of him – but I wouldn’t be able to recite any of his poems.) John Ashbery.  Mom and Mike could have bonded over that, at least. A love of memorized, recited poetry. They didn’t.

His birthday was in October, and it is coming up soon. The second one without him.

How to commemorate? A graveside visit? A “fall excursion” with our child? Fall excursions were intended as fun, leaf-peeping, pumpkin-and-gourd, hay-bale and cornstalk-obtaining drives, down lazy country lanes lit by those October skies, bright with that blaze of leaves.

And the first decade of them were – songs in the car, let’s-go-this-way-just-to-see-what’s-down-there turns, unexpected discoveries of isolated farms, apples, pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks. With the occasional petting zoo thrown in.  Wisconsin.

But as the years went by and the countryside retreated – countryside that in my childhood took less than an hour by car to reach now took three – the excursions became more of an obligation, than an excursion of discovery.

And the last of them with him was truly an ordeal. I wanted to go to a particular town and it was a longer drive than I anticipated, and he didn’t feel well, and he hated my driving. And he was very, very sick – but we didn’t know that yet. We finally got there and he would only stay an hour, sitting in a park on a high hill, while our child played on the swings and I ran around down below, on an accelerated walking tour of the things I came there to see. I won’t be visiting that town again.

But if the prediction for next week is anything close to accurate, we’re due for several days of bright blue weather. And our child and I are going to try to recapture the fun of the fall excursion – and to remember the ones way back when, not the last one, when we didn’t know yet that we’d lose him less than two years later.

To remember, with love, and try to laugh with delight in October once again.

 

 

 

And what do we learn from this?

I changed the domain name of this blog.

Originally, I called it “nontoxicwoman.” Because I want to write about how I’m trying to be a nontoxic person. …. I decided hey, maybe I should Google it …And the first thing that came up was a site about tampons. Nontoxic ones, I guess. Oops.

I changed the domain name of this blog.

Originally, I called it “nontoxicwoman.” Because I really do want to write about how I’m trying to be a nontoxic person. Because caring for my husband during his terminal illness, and losing him at only 54, made me realize that time is precious, that love is the only thing that really matters and that I’ve wasted far too much of my life being judgmental, impatient, patronizing, superior, contemptuous and dismissive. Stressed-out and telegraphing that to everyone around me. Toxic. Yecch. Don’t want to be her anymore.

So I started out with “nontoxicwoman” because the domain was available and it seemed descriptive. And after I got it all set up, I decided hey, maybe I should Google it and see what happens!

And the first thing that came up was a site about tampons. Nontoxic ones, I guess.

Oops. Not really wanting my readers (all me of them) to associate this blog with tampons, I decided to change the name of it.

So I spent the money to buy another domain called “ridiculouswoman.” Because it was available, and because I’m trying to write a book in which I describe myself as a ridiculous woman, which I am, frequently. Sometimes even intentionally. But this time I Googled it first.

And discovered that there’s some kind of online movie in Spanish called “Ridicula” which is translated “Ridiculous Woman” and is something about how a woman defies expectations about what a woman her age can do. I didn’t watch it. I’m sure it’s fine and everything, but hey, they didn’t buy the domain.

So I bought it anyway.

The book I’m trying to write is about my marriage and how I behaved while caring for my dying husband and it is nowhere near finished yet, so we’ll leave that for another day. Because there are plenty of other ways I’m ridiculous, so for now I’ll write about those.

For example, chickens.

Backyard chickens.

Whatever possessed me?

 

 

 

 

 

Coffeemaker

What’s important is love. All the rest is noise.

I’m going to have to get a new coffeemaker.

Standing in the newly remodeled kitchen that he lived long enough to use, to make his last pot of chicken soup, his last vat of spaghetti sauce and his last signature mashed potatoes, I’m looking at the coffeemaker.

Why the hell do we have a 12-cup coffeemaker?

We never drank that much coffee, ever. We never have (no, wait, I mean “had”) anyone over for coffee. If I made four cups we’d still throw 2 away.

So I guess I’d better get a new coffeemaker.

A one-cup-at-at-time coffeemaker.

So I got one. And now I’m filling it three times every morning, drinking three cups of coffee. More than I ever did before. He died, I mean. Before he died.

Died, and now I’m a widow. And a middle-aged Mom to a young adult on the spectrum.

It’s been over a year now, and I’m trying to figure out how to live the rest of my life.  I’ve learned a lot from all this about what’s important.

And what’s important is love. All the rest of it is just noise.

So that’s what this is about – learning to live a life based on love after loss – getting to the other side of grief as a better person. I can’t do much (well, I can sing, and I can improvise and I hope we’ll decide that I can write, and I’m pretty good at making people laugh, sometimes even intentionally) but in the face of everything that has happened and especially the Things-Much-Bigger-Than-Me-That-I-Feel-Helpless-In-The-Face-Of, I started to think there wasn’t really anything I could do to make this world a better place.

But there is.

I can love. I can live a life where every day I try (and believe me, it takes a lot of effort for me – which you’ll see as we get to know each other better) to be someone who makes the choice, as my pastor says (and it is a choice, requiring conscious and continuous effort, for me, anyway) to live as a source of love in this world. And laughter. Maybe some of that, too,

So when I’m on my third cup of coffee in the morning, I’m asking myself, “how can I put some love into this world today?”

Let’s start by not putting not-love into it.

Meaning trying to be a nontoxic woman.

We’ll get to the ridiculous part next.