Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hardest Thing You've Ever Done

I'm reading a memoir written by a woman about her experiences hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. (More about the book in a post to come.) One of her reminiscences is of saying to herself, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done."

That statement made me think about things I've done, and how difficult or easy they seemed at the time. For me, completing law school and receiving my Juris Doctor degree was my greatest accomplishment. In my memory, it seems I wanted to quit each and every day. I had a friend whom I met the first day of orientation before law school began; she was my age and we bolstered each other's courage throughout the years in school.

During the four years I was in law school, I endured my second divorce, my older son being sent home from college for a semester to "learn how to study," and gaining custody of my younger son. In my third and fourth years, I worked a full-time and two part-time jobs to keep tuition and rent paid and food on the table. Now, over 20 years later, I can't imagine having the strength and energy to accomplish all that, but I did. It was the hardest and most important thing I had ever done.

Ten years earlier, I had gotten my first divorce. At that time, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I had been miserable for the entire 10 years, married to a man who was incredibly selfish and emotionally abusive. By the time I walked out, I had twice swallowed a handful of pills, hoping for release from the months-long migraine that the situation caused. People told me I was courageous. I felt like a failure.

Five years after my law school graduation, I was newly and blissfully happily married to a unique man who understood the aches of my soul. Six months into our marriage, he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. Walking beside him for 21 months as he battled cancer was hard, but selfless. All I had to do was stay incredibly organized and focused on easing his pain. The most precious note I remember from him during this time said, "Thank you for caring for me."

Those hard times had a payoff: a sense that there was nothing I couldn't do.

I could start over and start over and start over. My mulligans were endless. And with each starting over again, I survived.

Is that what goes together—accomplishing incredibly hard tasks and surviving?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What is it that you do?

You go to a party. You meet interesting people, attractive people. What's the first thing you ask after you learn their names? "What do you do?" or "What line of work are you in?"

I hate that question. I don't know what I do. I do lots of things, to which my two-page résumé attests.

In formulating this post, I started writing down the various jobs I've had, but quickly became bored and didn't want to inflict that upon you.

So I'll just put it in a list:
promotion and public service writer for CBS affiliate
church pianist
staff accompanist
Dickens Caroler at Walt Disney World
ballet and modern dance accompanist
musical director for theatre
temporary secretary ("temp")
technical writer
lounge pianist
database application developer
market support representative
Nordstrom pianist
legal technical editor
legal assistant editor
help desk rep for a cable firm
legal index editor
marketing technical writer
Lotus Notes developer and administrator
Lotus Notes instructor
database manager
IT coordinator
Web editor-in-chief
Web content writer and editor
Web page coder

(And, just for the record, almost all of those occurred more than once.)

What do I do now? I update clients' Web pages using HTML or Drupal or Wordpress; I accompany the Young Artists of the Opera Western Reserve in their Fun With Opera presentations, I volunteer as a singer with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, I assist in the caretaking for my two precious grandchildren, and I provide a lovely home environment for my sweetheart.

It's a mouthful, but [to me] it doesn't sound like much. I was proudest in Tucson when I could say, "I'm the editor-in-chief of the website for the IBM Storage division."

I liked being associated with large, highly respected firms. The only friend from my IBM days with whom I still communicate has been in his job for 35+ years, I believe. He was a programmer, then he was a manager. End of list. I'm jealous.

But I think that—just like I can't pick an art/craft form that I prefer, whether it be knitting, dyeing fabric, sewing, quilting, pottery, stained glass, … —I seem to get bored easily with jobs. I think that in all matters I am a generalist.

And it appears my children are like me, and my grandchildren are turning out the same. Both sons are musicians and computer professionals and have many other interests (although not like each other's interests). The grandchildren do well in their schoolwork, but also at ballet and modern dance and tap and hip-hop and karate and piano and …. You get the idea.

I think one of the side-effects of this generalism—for me—is that I never fully learn anything. I work daily with the content management system known as Wordpress. But when something in the format of a page or site has to be changed, I have to call upon a specialist to make the change. He has specialized knowledge that I just can't seem to grasp, no matter how hard I try. (Let's not even discuss the fact, please, that this may have something to do with the age of my brain!!)

Honestly, the older I get, the less motivated I am to acquire new skills. I'm treading water, biding time until the ripples in my financial situation flatten and I can just not work any more. I understand all my friends who frequently compare notes about how soon they'll be able to retire.

Would I feel differently had I been of the mindset to stick with a single career path, like my IBM friend? I have no way of knowing. My generalism is my life. It's all I know.

But I'm not proud of it.

Ho hum.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Toothpaste Snails

We all have idiosyncrasies. And sometimes our idiosyncrasies bother those around us. It's a very simple fact of life. You've heard it said: If we were all alike, the world would be a very boring place.

The Jazzman comes home from his 12-hour-days on the railroad smelling of diesel fuel. He walks into our bedroom, to his side of the bed, drops his clothes on the floor, and then gets into a hot shower where he washes the hard day away.

And I don't mind.

I remember husband #1 complaining—a year or two into our miserable marriage—about picking my clothes up off the floor. (Hey, Mister, here's a news flash. You didn't have to pick them up. I would have gotten to them when I saw them.)

I was disabled; I grew up with in a household with a maid who came every day to take care of things like laundry and bed-making and house-cleaning. I never learned to do that stuff.

It bothered me (and still does, quite frankly) that I had this idiosyncrasy that bothered him so much. And it bothered me that he couldn't or wouldn't talk to me about it. When I look back, it's probably a miracle that the marriage lasted as long as it did (10 years).

So when I see the Jazzman's pile of clothes on the floor when I'm making the bed in the morning, I smile as I pick them up and carry them across the house to the laundry hamper.

I smile. I feel waves of gratitude. I dance a little jig.

After many years of being alone and lonely (or, alternatively, in a relationship and lonely), I have a wonderful, caring, loving, thoughtful man who snores beside me each night. I'm—quite possibly—the luckiest 61-year-old woman in the universe.

Did I say "snores beside me"? I read all the Facebook posts of friends and acquaintances who are complaining about their lack of sleep for their partners' snoring. I love it. "Why?", you gasp. I'll tell you.

I adored my daddy. For the first, oh, twenty years of my life, my daddy was the only person who made me feel there was any worth or value inside me. He worked very long days, usually leaving the house at 6:00 a.m. and returning around 11:00 p.m. I adored him and saw very little of him. But if I woke in the middle of the night and heard snoring coming from the next bedroom, I knew he was home, and I could continue my sleep in peace and security. (To type this today, many years later, brings tears to my eyes.)

When I hear the Jazzman's snores, I snuggle down a little deeper in our comfortable bed and count my blessings. How could I complain about such a wonderful sound?

My Good Husband (#4 - finally got it right) would complain about my leaving "toothpaste snails" in the sink. It was something I'd never been aware of before beginning to cohabit with him. Ever since, I've noticed them and always made sure to clean up after myself after brushing my teeth.

Now—in this life—I walk into the bathroom and notice toothpaste snails in the sink. Did I leave them? Did the Jazzman?

We're both aging. We can neither see nor hear as we once did. Or remember a damned thing. How'd that medicine cabinet door get opened and stay opened? Didn't I close it. Who can remember?!

So what do I do? Do I assume he left the snails and say something? Not on your life!! I probably left them and can't remember. And besides, if I didn't, and he actually left them, what are the alternatives? I can give him a hard time about it (probably in error) and possibly damage his feelings about me or about living with me. Or I can just scrub them off, while smiling and thinking how lucky I am that I've got a handsome man who still has all his teeth and cares enough about them to brush, floss and visit the dentist on a regular basis.

(But visiting the dentist on a regular basis—or not—is the subject of another relationship gone wrong, best told another time!)

I'll say it again. I'm the luckiest 61-year-old woman in the universe. Or maybe the luckiest woman of any age!!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Generations of Comfort

In 1981, I became a noncustodial mother. That label is hard to say, hard to bear. When you state that fact, people look at you and you sense they're thinking, "What egregious thing did you do to lose your kids?" My egregious act was to divorce a husband who said one thing and did something else, and who worked very hard during the divorce process and afterwards to hurt me (in return, I suppose, for how I had hurt him during the marriage).

Eighteen months post-divorce, I moved from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to Washington, DC, to marry a fellow IBMer whom I had met through work. I went from seeing my sons every other weekend and all summer to only seeing them in the summers and on alternate holidays. You take what you can get.

To set the scene for today's post: At a baby shower given by our church while I was pregnant with Tyler (son #2), I received a beautiful bunting (like a sack you slip the baby into, if you're unfamiliar with the term) that unzipped to make a blanket. The blanket was white flannel on the inside and a silky white printed with yellow ducks on the outside. Tyler had stomach problems and a lot of discomfort as an infant, and that blanket became a source of great comfort to him. After we moved to Ft. Worth, when he was about 4, the blanket came in contact with an oil-fueled space heater and one end of the silky fabric melted. I took the blanket apart and remade it into a pillow, which he then loved for several years to come until it totally wore out and disintegrated.

On one of his visits to Washington shortly after my relocation, Tyler asked me if I could make him another blanket like the one he no longer had. A mother doesn't refuse or ignore such a request!! Before his next visit, I went to the local fabric store and got flannel for the front, nylon tricot for the back, and quilt batting for the inside. I made a blanket the size of a twin bed top, and he used it on every Washington stay. When he turned 14 and I finally regained custody and he went away to arts high school, the blanket was tucked away with extra linens where it stayed for many years and marriages to come.

Fast forward to 2001. Beautiful grandson Boston was born. We were all living in Tucson. I was not working and spent lots and lots of quality time with Boston. We bonded early and strong. During one of my Scottsdale Nordstrom shopping trips before he was born, I got him a Barefoot Dreams Receiving Blanket. These blankets, which are now very hard to find, was flannel on one side and silky on the other. Oh, did he fall in love with this blanket! I also got him the travel size and his parents dared not get into the car without packing the travel blanket.

Two years later, my life situation changed and I bought a house a mile away from Boston and his parents and, now, baby sister Ridley. During that move, I uncovered Tyler's 30-year-old race car blanket. We had lots of sleepovers, and I would cover Boston with his daddy's old blanket.

Then the parents had an epiphany about their lifestyle, and prepared to move back to Youngstown. Sleepovers became more frequent as the babies and I steeled ourselves for the separation. About three weeks before they were to leave, Boston—now five years old—asked, "Grandma, can I take Daddy's blanket with me to Ohio?" Of course, I said yes. I'm not very good at denying these darlings anything!

Then he told me he wanted me to make a label to put on the blanket. When I asked him, what he wanted it to say, he dictated:
Boston's Sleepover with Grandma
This was Daddy's blanket when he was a little boy.

If you look at the photo above, you'll see that's exactly what I did.

Fast forward again. It's 2012. He's been in his new home and life in Youngstown for five years. He [still] sleeps with this blanket (and several others!) every night. But this is the one that always goes next to his body. He loves the silky fabric, just like his daddy did—so much so that he's worn a hole in it and the fabric has ripped.

Once again, Grandma comes to the rescue. Last night when I babysat, the blanket transferred hands, with its owner's hopes that it would return quickly. While waiting for the parents to get home from a movie, I cybersearched and cybershopped to order white nylon tricot yardage. While I wait for the fabric to arrive, I'll remove the torn backing, carefully remove and preserve the label, then replace the backing and the label.

And again be a hero to my offspring and off-offspring. Aren't I lucky?!

I'll finish with a little family lore. Tyler's blanket was referred to as his blanket. To Jaci, a blanket was a woobie - which is, I guess, a midwestern term. When Boston started talking, he translated "woobie" into ah-boo, which we wrote as "obu". He also translated "mama" into "rara", and—even today—she is known as Rara. And handsome, smart, and talented 10yo Boston will ask, at bedtime, "Rara, where's my obu?"

Makes you wonder what his kids will call their blankies, huh?