Monday, November 30, 2009

Missing a C

Today Rocky presented his agenda to be signed before he went to school.

On Monday of last week, the teacher had written "Rocky got a B on his science test."

How nice, I thought. On closer inspection, I found that the B was written in pencil and the page under the B was apparently erased numerous times. Okay, so one of three things had happened: Rocky's teacher had issues with remembering his real grade; Rocky retook the test five or six times, obviously getting a better grade each time; or Rocky changed the teacher's note.


I said, "Rocky, what was the real grade on the test?"

"A C?" he asked me.

"I doubt your teacher would write me a note about a C," I told him.

"A C minus?"

"Nice try." So I wrote a note to the teachers, describing my discovery and asking for the "real" grade. I put the note in a bright orange envelope and handed it to Rocky. "I told your teachers to email me later," I said. "If I don't get an email, I will be in the school tomorrow morning to follow up."

"You'd go to the office?" he asked, aghast.

"For a start," I assured him. "And then I'll come to your class..." His eye started to twitch.

I am somewhat relieved that he's so poor at forging--it makes it easy for me to catch on to him. This reminds me of the time in first grade when his teacher took me into the classroom to show me the toothbrush he decorated for the class's dental hygiene project. His two-foot-long toothbrush was inscribed with the mother of all cuss words, now three letters long because he spelled it without a C. I was aghast.

"Should I take some comfort in the fact that he misspelled it?" I finally managed to ask her.

Same thing with the forgery. Is this a sign of things to come, or is it something which he tried and will now forego because he is so unskilled at it?

Time will tell.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Duck, Duck, Goose

Yesterday we took Dirty Harry and Penny the Impetuous to the park for a walk. The main path is paved and makes a lovely 1/3 mile loop around a little lake which is populated with fish and waterfowl as well as transients who stop by. Once we saw a great blue heron wading in the reeds on the shore, and every year we are treated to a new batch of ducklings, whose progress we follow carefully, noting how the moms care for the babies, which makes a wonderful learning situation for kids who have attachment issues.

People feed the ducks, which makes them unafraid of people and most likely unhealthy little beggars.

Anyway, when we got to the bridge which spans the spillway to the outgoing stream, I let Penny wade in the water. A lone mallard duck approached us, hoping for a snack of Froot Loops or Cheezits. Penny suddenly reverted to instinct and attempted to go after the duck, who obviously needed to be retrieved despite being hale and hearty.

"Leave it," I said. However, Labs are bred to make judgement calls about their human's lack of sense about retrieving, so she scrabbled on the concrete spillway and got one foot in the lake.

"Leave it!" I told her. She maneuvered herself, putting both back feet on the vertical ledge of the spillway and shoving with all her strength. I braced myself, and we pushed/pulled against one another for a few seconds. The duck, thinking Doritos might me in order, cruised closer.

Penny started to yap. "LEAVE IT!" I said. Some woman, walking with a little girl with an annoying voice obviously sharpened by a few years of use, as she never shut up, came racing over to see the show. The child started to laugh hysterically. "Gaaahk!" Penny said.

"LEAVE IT!" I repeated, feeling a little desperate that I was going to join the duck.

"What's the dog's name?" The child asked, still laughing in an eardrum piercing manner. I didn't respond, as all my energy was now devoted to keeping myself out of the drink. The duck, apparently reassessing the situation, had decided that he might be the snack and started to paddle furiously away. "GWAHRK!" Penny gagged, lunging after the departing vessel as if she was missing a trip to the new world.

"What's the doggie's name? What's the doggie's name? Lady! What's the doggie's name. WHAT IS THE DOGGIE'S NAME?" the annoying child kept asking, coming closer each time. If I had experienced any slack in the leash whatsoever, I would have whipped it around her body a few times and let go. No such luck.

Finally the duck sailed behind some reeds, and Penny, whose oxygen level was at an all time low, allowed me to reel her back in. "Sit!" She did. "Wait!" I said. She did, obviously thinking I had Plan B for bird recovery in mind so still scanning the lake. The annoying child kept up a running commentary which neither Penny nor I acknowledged, as she had no oxygen going to her brain and I had too much.

Today it is in the fifties and sunny. Perhaps we will do it again.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The party you have reached...

My father died three years ago, and yet we still receive mail for him. The most annoying offender was a hearing aid company which repeatedly sent mailings, despite me calling them and telling them he was deceased. After the fourth time around the mulberry bush with this company apologizing for their error, yet another mailing came. "Are you hard of hearing?" it said. I called and told them that Dad was, indeed, hard of hearing, and there was NOTHING they could do to help him at this point. A fifth apology and promise to remove him from "the list." Yeah, right.

Within three weeks, guess what, another mailing. "Are you hard of hearing?" it asked. Kiki took a pen and wrote, "No, are you? We have told you five times he is dead." She put the mailing into the postage-paid return envelope and sent it back to the company.

The mailings stopped.

Mom died this summer. A month after her death, a mailing came which read, "Here's the second chance you've been waiting for!" Remarkable. And here I thought that resurrection was pretty close to the time of death and was done by God, not Mutual of Omaha. I sent the mailing back with a note telling them Mom was dead. Last week, another second chance came. I was irritated and sent the mailing back with a forwarding address for mom: Eastlawn Memory Gardens.

So, last week, when the phone rang on Sunday afternoon, and the person on the other end said, "Mrs. P?", the kids alerted. I replied, "She died last summer."

"Oh," he said, thinking fast on his feet, "the name I really have here is Mr. P."

"He died three years ago." The kids went off into gales of laughter in the background. Flustered, the caller hung up.

And I was just about to give him the phone number for the cemetery.


Yesterday was hard. It was the first year we did not have my parents, so EG made arrangements with the partner of my sister's brother-in-law to have a big family Thanksgiving at one of the houses. F, the partner, then invited his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, as well as my sister and her two adult children.

Then F called my sister and said so many guests might be too overwhelming for the brother-in-law, B, whose mother was in rehab for a broken hip and whose father was now obviously declining from dementia. He asked my sister if she thought we would mind if he backed out of the invitation. She said we would most likely understand, and when I heard, I called and said, "We get it--we will back out of the invitation."

However, when my sister tried to back out, she was told her invitation still stood, as did the invites for the rest of the guest list. When my sister called and refused my invitation, saying she was still going to F and B's, I expressed to her that we didn't understand why we weren't included and everyone else still was; my sister said, "You aren't family."

Ouch. Apparently not. Imagine my reaction when I found out that niece's boyfried of two months was added to the guest list at the last minute.

So we stayed home. We watched the dog show, as we always do, stared out at the clouds, and we ate our turkey and stuffing and tamales and rice and beans. And I was sad all day. My sister called later, telling me how hard the day was, and never once asking how we were doing. Kiki started crying and wanted to go to bed at six o'clock. Finally, Nita marched into the room, bearing my yellowed deck of Uno cards, and started playing with Rocky, of course making up rules which suited her plan of whipping his behind at the game. I refereed, and eventually she said, "We all should play." I faked enthusiasm, convinced EG (another enthusiasm faker) to join us, and rather forcefully made Kiki participate as well. Pretty soon we were all hitting EG with "draw four" and "draw two" cards, laughing at his exaggerated reaction of dismay, and I realized that we weren't faking the fun anymore. We were sad, yes, but we were enjoying what we had.

And we were hopeful that things might be better.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I once took an online quiz which told me that, deep down inside me somewhere in the sub-basement, lived a Buddhist. So I started reading about Buddhism, as I would like to acknowledge my neighbors.

One aspect of Buddhism which I find fascinating is mindfulness, being fully aware of the moment and relishing simple tasks like cutting vegetables, sweeping the floor, looking at a sunset, or showering.

Unfortunately, I tend to be more mindless than mindful. First, much of what happens in my life requires ignoring, not embracing. This morning, I decided to have a cup of coffee and some toast. Of course, since I love homemade bread, I put a slice in the toaster, and part of the crust fell off and ignited in the heating elements, which in turn caused the smoke detector to do its job and jolt us into awareness. Then Kiki decided to get up and make toast as well, followed by Rocky, who blundered around in the refrigerator, knocking items off the shelves onto the floor, and then rather ineffectually wrangling the enthusiastic dogs away from the butter. He then sat and shoveled cereal into his mouth, taking huge bites, much of which fell back out into the bowl. Meanwhile, Kiki read the sports pages out loud, complete with commentary, and rubbed the jam on her toast with her fingertips, wiping them on her sweatpants.

I have difficulty with the concept that I should relish these moments. If I were mindful, I would most likely end up in the happy home.

Second, I need to live in the future, or unpleasant things would happen, like no supper on the table, bills wouldn't get paid, or we would run out of toilet paper. Then I would be relishing in my family's whining, collection calls, and other unpleasant things I would rather not think about.

Plus, in my rare times of solitude, which are in the car for my 45 minute commute, I am mindful, but it is more in the interest of self-preservation than self-reflection.

However, there may be something to this mindfulness--yesterday I left work and walked to a neighboring business, operating at my normal rate one level above warp speed. When I arrived at my destination, my heart was racing. I thought, "Am I having a heart attack?" No, I just got there at a fast rate of speed, scuttled across the street like a game of Frogger, and zoomed up the sidewalk despite being so out of shape. Of course I was out of breath. As I said, mindless.

So, on the way back to work, I strolled, aware that this was the end of November and the weather was so mild there was no need for a coat, admiring the red bushes in the parking lot, and breathing in the fresh air. It was a few minutes of peace.

I think this would be more effective if everyone in the house would be more mindful. But since I live with the uninformed, perhaps the more mindless the better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I didn't grieve for my dad because I immediately started caring for my mother, moving her out of her house and into an apartment, then moving us from our house to her house, then moving her from the assisted living apartment to the nursing home. I then visited almost every day, except for days when I Just Couldn't Handle It. I did grieve her progression through Alzheimer's, though, thinking at each phase, "Well, at least she doesn't . . . chant, flail, babble, need to be fed, wet herself, whatever" only to have "whatever" be the next phase we went through.

I didn't grieve for my brother-in-law because my mother was at the end of life. I didn't grieve my mother because by then I was overwhelmed caring for the kids and in graduate school, and by then, it was easier to stay really, really busy and not face this elephant in the room, an elephant which had procreated to be an entire, rampaging herd.

So, I started having panic attacks. When I would sit in a chair, I was really aware of my heart beating. I was anxious. And, on Sunday, someone said something about forgiveness, and I started to cry. I realized that I needed to forgive myself. Despite all that I did for my mom, at the end, what I did was not enough to prevent her suffering, her agitation, and the poor care or lack of care which she received at times. I was upset with myself for not being able to do enough to make the end of life peaceful for her. And I realized that I had done all that I could, given the circumstances, and I needed to let go of the guilt.

It was like there was a big knot just below my lungs, and it started to unravel. I have been sleeping well, and the anxiety I felt all the time was greatly reduced. Then I found out that "being aware of your heartbeat" was "normal" in people who were experiencing anxiety, and I found out that anxiety was a "normal" part of grieving for some people.

Wow. The vicious cycle of anxiety breeding more anxiety, breeding even more anxiety was broken.

I work with hospice, and I had no idea what some symptoms of grief were--priests are too busy anymore to counself parishioners, and people who think that they are dying may not necessarily think the symptoms are from grief.

Death is a natural part of life, and yet we as a society sterilize it and make it something which happens in a vacuum. We need to celebrate the person's life, and yet make space for their loss to be acknowledged and accepted. Then we can get on with our own living.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who is this?

I got a call the other day while I was sitting at the kitchen table.

"Hello?" I said.

There was a pause with some breathing. "I didn't get my agenda signed."

"Excuse me?"

Another pause. "I didn't get my agenda signed."

"Who is this? Is this Rocky?"

Pause. I was beginning to suspect this was a trans-Atlantic call. "Um, yes."

"And you forgot to get your agenda signed?" Which I knew.

Pause. More pause. "Yes."

"And what am I suppposed to do about this?"

Long pause. "Nothing."

"So why are you calling me?"

Dead air for fifteen seconds. The phone is set down. Then I hear him ask, "Why am I calling her?" I hear the teacher say something in the background. "Because I didn't get my agenda signed."

"Okay, so whose responsibility is it?"

Breathing. "Mine."

"So why are you calling ME? If it is your responsibility to get your agenda signed, and you don't, why are you calling me? What's next? Detention?"

Immediate reply, "Yes."

"So, you know the rule: you get detention, it is 25 dollars to pay me back for my time and gas money at 25 cents a mile. Your choice."

I hear classroom noises in the background. "Okay. Goodbye."

Two days later, I am out in the yard raking leaves, when I happen upon a smile pile of shredded yellow carbonless copy paper directly under Rocky's bedroom window. "Rocky!" I shriek.

"Uh-oh," the girls say, recognizing that tone of voice.

"What is this?"

"I don't know..."

"Before I spend an hour assembling this, and before I get really crabby when I figure out that I wasted an hour on something which you can identify, do you want to tell me what this is?"

"Oh, now I remember." Remarkable how his memory kicked in. "It's a detention which I got for not having my agenda signed after I called you and I didn't have to have it signed so I threw it away." Right. Out the bedroom window.

So I had him pick up all the pieces, bring it into the house, and put the pieces into a pretty pastel pink envelope. The next day I wrote a note which said:

Dear Ms. R

I found this torn into tiny pieces outside Rocky's bedroom window. Rocky reported it was a demerit which did not need to be signed. However, being a fabulous mom, I don't want to be remiss in any responsibilities which I may have for signing any paperwork. Will you please email me and let me know if I need to sign this form?

I then handed Rocky the embarrassingly pink envelope and said, "This goes to your teacher. There is a note in there asking her to email me back TODAY, to make sure she gets it."

Rocky's teacher emailed back, amused that I sent her the pieces, complete with the dead grass Rocky picked up, and assured me that I didn't need to sign the form. Rocky reported to me at supper that evening, "All my teachers say you are funny." Then after a few seconds, he said, "Are you going to tell them everything I do?"

No, I assured him, just the ones which relate to school.

That will be enough.

All I see is trees

Years ago, I worked for a campus bus service, a full fleet of transit vehicles driven only by college students.

We had hired a driver, one who wasn't overly bright, who ended up lost on a route that ran a straight line on a main road, from the stadium to the campus student center and back. She called in and reported she was lost. We asked where she was. "I don't KNOW," she wailed.

Okay, so what do you SEE? "All I see is TREES," came the reply. Okay, then.

Eventually, since she was in a fairly urban area, she happened upon some landmark which we recognized, about four miles off her regular two-mile loop route. To this day, I have no idea how many turns and reversals she must have made on a non-turn route to get to where she was.

So, when I get overwhelmed and exhausted, I say to myself, "All I see is TREES" a nod to the old forest/trees analogy as well as the young lady who made a series of unwise and not thought out choices to get where she was.

The other day, I was on a website which had an advertisement for the on-line university where I am working on my Ph.D. (Notice the semantics here--I used to say "getting" my Ph.D., but right now all I see is trees, so I am working on it.) "Education for the working adult!" it proclaimed in cheerful, bright lettering. Okay, how about the working adult who is overwhelmed with her job right now, has three kids, two with special needs, and a house to take care of? Or is "working adult" a euphemism for all that? If so, you need to choose someone other than that well-groomed, well-rested, fashionably dressed, manicured, smiling model to picture on the web page--someone who doesn't use a crockpot at least three times a week, forget where she put her cell phone, run out of peanut butter, receive sign up sheets for school conferences after the date, and apply makeup at the school bus stop, finishing only one eye and not realizing it until three in the afternoon when in the rest room at work.

No wonder people were squinching up their face like Popeye when they talked to me.

Anyway, I finish the coursework in June, do the competencies this summer, and start the dissertation in the fall. By this time next year, I might be applying eye makeup to my chin.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Panic attacks

I was talking to my sister today, and I told her I couldn't figure out why I have panic attacks.

Then, while I was finishing a paper, EG came into the room and said, "Do we have lunch meat?"

"In the freezer," I replied. He went downstairs and came back up, reporting we had none.

"There is too lunchmeat in the freezer. It is in a blue bag on the right side. I know it is there because I bought it Tuesday and froze it."

He went back downstairs. "There is no lunchmeat. I can't find it, so we don't have any."

I sent Nita downstairs for lunchmeat. She was back in less than a minute with two packages.

Then he got into the refrigerator. "Nita, where's the mayonnaise? Where's the mustard. We're out of mustard."

"No, we have two kinds of mustard in there. I just bought some."

"We don't have any, or I would have found it."


Just now, Kiki started shrieking that someone stole her twenty dollar bill. This is highly unlikely, as no one would be able to find anything much in her room, which I refuse to enter without a hazmat suit. Her dad went upstairs (I am not certain if he thought he would find the twenty--perhaps he has more luck with non-food items). Shortly afterward, Kiki was bawling, her dad was yelling in Spanish, and Rocky was sent for trash bags. Plural.

So then Rocky, who is the trash removal coordinator, went into the kitchen and bumbled around in the cupboard. Kiki joined him, and started shrieking that there were no more trash bags. Rocky finally said, "We may be out." Drama ensued for about three minutes. Finally, when I could be heard, I said, "Why didn't you TELL me we were out of trash bags."


"Okay," I said, "go out to the kitchen and find the grocery list and add trash bags." Off he went.

Meanwhile, Nita came to me and reported that she had mildew growing on the walls of her room. This is quite common this time of year, as the furnace doesn't run much, and we forget to turn the dehumidifier on. I said, "Is it a little bit or a lot?" Nita says, "It is a LOT." EG retorts, "No, it's not." Nita screams, "No one ever believes me. And I didn't take the twenty dollar bill!" I ask, "Is the mildew spot bigger than a piece of paper?" They both tell me no. I send Nita up with some cleaner and a rag and locate the extension cord for EG to start the dehumifier.

I sit back down and try to focus on my conclusion. For five minutes, Rocky is rustling around in the kitchen. "What are you DOING in there?" I ask. "Looking for the grocery list," he replies reasonably.

"In the DARK?"

"Well, I can see a little." I direct him to turn ON the light, find a clean piece of paper, write "trash bags, soy milk, light bulbs" on it, and hang it on the refrigerator. When I go out there, I see he has inscribed the shopping list on a two inch wide post-it note in wide magic marker.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

The dog ate my dissertation

When I got home from colloquium, I left my briefcase on the living room floor. Harry chewed through the side and ate my dissertation notes.

I wonder if he was trying to tell me something...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bird Dog of Alcatraz

Harry came from the pound, where he ended up after what was apparently a long time running loose.

He has food issues. If we don't give him a Kong toy stuffed with a biscuit, his little doggy brain will tell him that he is going to perish here from lack of sustenance, and he will obsess and raid the cupboards while we are gone, tasting and consuming everything from cereal to teabags to a tube of toothpaste which was on the kitchen table.

The other issue is that, when his stomach is upset, which is regularly due to his tendency to eat something first and ask questions later, he thinks he is hungry and will fuss about looking for something, anything to eat.

The other night, Harry was moving about the kitchen, his little doggy toenails click click clicking on the floor. I woke up and said, "What is he into?" EG muttered and walked out to the kitchen without his glasses and told Harry, "Go to bed." Harry complied. I wondered at the time, as Harry usually goes to bed about nine and sleeps all night, waking about five to lie down outside our bedroom door and wait for bathroom and breakfast.

Shortly afterward, I woke up to a tink-tink-tink sound of metal on glass and said, "What is that light?" EG, by now annoyed, headed back out to the kitchen. There was some doggy toenail scrambling noise, followed by some serious fast gulping, and EG scolding in Spanish. The refrigerator slammed shut, and a chair scraped across the kitchen floor to block access to the appliances.

I was reading this blog post from Ministry and Parenting about anniversary dates in adopted kids, and I realized that this was the time of year when Harry was loose and hungry. And I wonder if he is having his own memories of that time.