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Archive for the ‘Surviving’ Category

Always Ok

Here it is December, and while I set a goal of writing one post per month in 2014 and even decided to try my hand at 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in November, I can say with fervor that I failed those goals.  I can’t even find the time to write one article per month for our local monthly publication which has generously offered to publish anything and everything I decide to write, as long as it fits into their word count needs for the month.  In 2014, they only published one article of mine, because that’s all I managed to submit.

So much has happened.  I got married in June (whoa!!) and 6 days later, so did my ex.  They’ve since had a baby, a little girl who is now three weeks old and I got to hold her and smell her lovely baby smells at less than 24 hours old.  My mom mentioned later than when she heard how much time I spent holding this sweet little girl who is the half-sister of my daughters and yet, technically, nothing to me, she worried that maybe it hurt me, somewhere inside.

Maybe it should have?  Perhaps when I held her, I should have searched for similarities between my daughters and this little baby and felt bitter about my ex-husband having another child with his new wife while I’m left unable to bear more children.  But I didn’t feel that way.  In the moment, I felt so grateful that they welcomed me into their hospital room and allowed me to be a part of this monumental moment in their lives.  I felt so much love for that little life, the sister that my daughters will grow to love and cherish.  And then, weeks into having her home, I had to smile as I listened to my ex describe sleepless nights and be thankful that it’s him and not me.

Sometimes, I worry that my military upbringing has taught me too well that when we move on, we move on in every aspect – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Should I be happy holding my ex-husband’s baby without any angst?  Is that normal?

This past Monday, we had to put our Dobie boy down.  His name was Hank.  I’ve written so rarely that I don’t even know if I’ve properly expressed how much he has meant to me, the last two years.  Over the past week, we’ve talked about how we shouldn’t be so upset, because he’s “just a dog”.  But he wasn’t just a dog.

How can I tell you how soft and velvety his ears were?  Dobies almost always have their ears cropped, but none of the 4 homes who adopted our Hank before us cropped his ears, and I was so thankful.  He had the biggest, dopiest smile.  He was such a love.  We had him in our tasting room every Saturday, and most Fridays, and even those who disliked big dogs,  or Dobies in particular, fell in love.

He loved to run the vineyards and his nose detected even the faintest hint of deterioration in the wines we had in barrel.

He was more than a dog.  He was the child we could not have together.

But over the past few months, his behavior had gotten to be questionable, at best.  We hired a dog behavior specialist (something you should consider being, if you want to make lots of money – seriously) and he said that with 50 years of experience, he had never encountered a dog like ours.  Not terribly promising, I must say.

He used to love playing with other dogs and then suddenly, he couldn’t.  He used to sleep through the night and then without warning, he wouldn’t.  Instead, he would just pace and poke us as we slept.  Finally, a friend mentioned that a dog he’d had in his youth had had a stroke and displayed similar symptoms, and so we made an appointment just days before our (delayed) honeymoon to get Hank’s brain scanned.

He had a tumor on his frontal lobe.  It was growing rapidly, which explained his discomfort and how unpredictable his behavior had become.

So, we put him down and I’m OK.

I’m Ok and I feel guilty for feeling Ok, because no one else in our family is Ok.  Hank was such a part of our daily lives.  He was the one who kept me from pressing “snooze” every morning; the one who chased down rogue balls on the golf course; the one who taught us to accept his adoration and love as though we deserved it.

I don’t know how to mourn properly.  I have lost so many in my lifetime.  I only know how to celebrate today, and those who occupy my mind even years after saying good-bye inspire me to reach out and make contact, but I’m always Ok.

I’m always Ok.  Is that Ok in the grand scheme of things?

Second Chances

When a caterpillar wraps itself up in a cocoon and the world goes dark and still around it, does it know what the future holds? 

How does it feel to lie there, completely alone, and sense yourself changing into something you’ve never been, while still yourself on the inside?  Fondly remembering the past, the only life you’ve ever known, but accepting the inherent truth that you no longer belong there.  The light must be blinding, when it’s time to come out and show your new self to the world.  How rapidly your heart must beat as you cling to the wood beneath your feet and feel the wind rustle your fragile wings for the very first time.  How long does it take you to build up enough courage to trust those beautiful wings to carry you to worlds you’ve never imagined?  I wonder, lovely creature, will you ever truly realize your fantastic beauty and all that you are now capable of, or will you spend your life believing that you are nothing more than a caterpillar?

—–

I had the rare opportunity to witness a butterfly emerging from its cocoon this past weekend, amidst the fervent beating of hummingbird wings.  It was incredible, especially when, as we checked its progress over time, we realized that the fuzzy thing still inside the cocoon was actually a new caterpillar, who emerged from the other end over the course of the day.  I didn’t know they did that!  New life, from both ends of a cozy cocoon.

My mom told me recently, without me having mentioned the butterfly to her, that it’s time to lift my head.  When my former life fell apart, I spun myself a cocoon and shut out the rest of the world.  I didn’t know who I was, or who I was going to be.  I didn’t know how to explain why I needed everything to change without causing hurt, so I just didn’t say anything.  I hid myself inside that cocoon and began my transformation, not knowing what form I would take, or how long I would need. I just knew it was necessary to my survival.

The funny thing is, I emerged from that cocoon some time ago, experiencing the world close around me, but refusing to fly away from my safe and cozy place.  Had I witnessed that newborn butterfly trying to crawl back into its empty cocoon, I may have said, “Silly butterfly, you can’t fit back in there, now.  It’s of no use, you’re no longer a caterpillar.”  But there’s no telling exactly how long it takes a butterfly to realize what it has become.

I have such a wonderful, amazing new life.  One I never could have dreamed for myself.  I have experienced so much joy, growth, contentment and peace as I transitioned. 

But there was a part of me, possibly several parts of me, that were terrified to take flight.  I have these beautiful wings and the world is opening up before me, but what if I’m just a caterpillar?  What if these lovely adornments on my back are only an illusion?  Or worse, what if they are real, but I’m not worthy of them?

I have only mentioned him here once, the man I share my life with.  In a way, I’ve also weaved a cocoon around my love for him in some effort to protect it.  His name is Nathan.  He’s been there, patiently waiting for me, from the moment we met three years ago.  He has never minded that I move at the pace of a caterpillar carrying wings on its back.  But as I took each step, he told me stories of the way my wings dazzled in the sunlight and fluttered in the breeze.  He believed I could fly, long before I’d even thought it was possible, but he never pushed me to take flight.  In time, he helped me to not only see myself as he does, but to finally take a good hard look at my own reflection and accept all that I have been, all that I am, and the possibilities of all the things I may one day become.

I took my mom’s advice and lifted my head.  And you know what I realized?  I was already soaring above the ground.  But I was clinging to the remnants of my cocoon, carrying it with me, letting it weigh me down and keeping me from fully embracing my life and all of those who are in it.

So I let it fall to the earth below and flew freely, utterly and completely, for the very first time.

In Memory of our Beloved Snowstorm

Ali asked me a question about her toddlerhood recently and I looked at the archives here on the ol’ blog in order to reference exactly when the incident she was curious about occurred.  That resulted in me getting lost in my archives, reading about things that I know happened, but didn’t remember very clearly until I read what I had written about them.  That made me realize how important this space is – not to social media, or to other people who may or may not want to read what’s written here, but to me, and to my girls.

I’ve had a hard time writing over the last couple (few??) years.  I think it’s because I’m just not sure about my voice, about what’s ok to discuss in a public forum, about whether or not people I would prefer didn’t read my words are coming here in order to read what I have to say and hold it against me.

I want to preserve my memories.  The words I use to describe them don’t have to be particularly eloquent or creative.  My voice doesn’t have to be sure and seasoned.  And if those who would choose to use my words against me come here to read, I have to believe that my true character will always shine through, and that I have nothing to apologize for.

So.

———-

I want to write about Snowstorm, because I don’t ever want to forget.  At this point in time I tend to think that’s not possible, but reading through my archives and realizing how much slips through the gaps of my memory, I need to put this experience into words.

If you are squeamish, I apologize.  This is for me – graphic detail about what I experienced, so that years from now, when Blythe asks me what happened and I feel she can handle it, I will share my memories with her.  Or maybe not, I guess we’ll just have to see.

In the summer of 2010, shortly after Blythe turned 3 and was still in the throes of her myriad medical issues, she was in the habit of waking up at ungodly hours, unable – or unwilling, it would sometimes seem – to go back to sleep.  On a warm day in July of that year, she woke up before the sun.  I decided to lay down with her in her bed in hopes that she would (please god just let her, just this once) go back to sleep.  But eventually she heard her father stirring around the house.  We owned a construction company whose shop was on our property, and with the summer heat we had the crew starting just after sunrise.   Darling little Blythe heard her dad leave the house and was intent on taking a walk down to the shop to wish him a good morning.

Just to be clear, while the child regularly woke up – and stayed up – during the night, she had never requested that we walk down the dirt road to the shop when it was barely light outside.  This was an isolated incident, one that was never repeated, so it’s especially significant that we happened to walk along the road that day.

On our short walk between our house and the shop, we saw something white in the middle of the dirt road.  At first we thought one of our crew had dropped a t-shirt or a rag, but upon closer inspection we discovered a tiny little white kitten.  His eyes and nose were so thickly coated with crusted mucous that he couldn’t open his eyes to see, nor could he smell.  For all intents and purposes, the tiny little helpless kitten had laid down in the road to die, and the ants and fleas had already started to treat him as a corpse.  Had we not taken a walk at that particular time on that specific day, he would have been run over by one of our crew heading out to work.

Blythe got to him first, and begged me to save him.  A lover of animals, I had rescued many a cat in my time.  I quickly sprung into action.  I took off my sweatshirt and wrapped him up in it, rushing him back to the house where I cleaned the bugs and mucous off of him the best I could with warm water.  He never made a sound, never fought me.  I thought for sure he would die.

A few hours later, our veterinarian gave me somber news.  The kitten was infested with pretty much every parasite known to felines and would have to be quarantined for a minimum of three months.  He was severely dehydrated and malnourished, and had an eye/ear/nose/throat infection that was so severe that it indicated a permanent, incurable condition was present.  I would have to give him subcutaneous saline injections, and if he wouldn’t eat – which was pretty likely since he couldn’t smell – I would have to force feed him and hope that he would eventually eat willingly on his own.  The prognosis was not good.

I can’t begin to explain to you about the rapid rate at which Blythe’s health, behavioral and emotional issues were gaining momentum at that particular time.  It was as though every moment of therapy that brought improvement in certain areas gave birth to new issues, new problems, new hurdles.  Her sensory processing disorder, which seemed to be getting better in so many ways, was simultaneously getting worse in new, stranger ways.  Her behavior and emotions – ruled by her innate feeling of being on fire inside – were at times overwhelming, for both of us.  To be perfectly honest, I was afraid.  Afraid that I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t help her, that we were losing ground faster than we were gaining it and that the daily battles we were fighting were going to result in a lost war.  Not to mention that my marriage was spiraling crazily out of control and my husband was behaving like a paranoid delusional lunatic, but I digress.

The magic that happened between Snowstorm and Blythe is indescribable.  His soft, gentle spirit calmed her inner fire.  His fragility, his need to be saved brought out in her a side I’d never seen.  She was willing to endure whatever sensory discomfort was necessary in order to help him.  He was so close to death, and she chose – at three years old, this child chose – to put his needs above her own, every day.

To be sure, we saved his life – she saved his life – but he saved her, too.  He was the most amazing, sweet, tolerant, loving cat I’ve ever known and while he loved the rest of the family, too, the bond between Snowstorm and Blythe was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We saved him from certain death in the middle of our gravel driveway in July of 2010 and so, when I found him in the middle of yet another gravel driveway of a different home in January of 2014, I couldn’t help but think to myself, later, that some force in the universe must have made it so.  We were granted his presense in our lives for that short period of time, but it was a fluke.

I replay that day in my head so often.  The cats are only allowed outside during the day and we open the bathroom window because it has a slit in the screen for them to go in and out.  It had been cold, and a little rainy, so the cats hadn’t wanted to go out.  We were on our way out the door for school and Snowstorm had planted himself in the middle of the doorway.  “Do I want to be in or out?” he seemed to wonder, as he looked up at me.  We were running about 3 minutes behind schedule.  I nudged him out the door and hustled the kids into the car.  As we got buckled we laughed about how he always rolled around in the dirt right where Hank, our dog, peed when we let him out in the morning.

January is a busy month for me, and I admit that when I got back home an hour later, I didn’t even think about the fact that Snowstorm was outside.  I didn’t call for him, and I didn’t open the bathroom window.  I just came home and got to work.  Before I knew it, my alarm was going off and it was time to pick up the kids.  Nathan had left for the winery, which is just down the road from our house, an hour or so before.  Usually he and Hank walk, but this time he drove, because he had to haul some equipment over.

Whether Snowstorm got caught up in his truck then, or whether he wandered over to the winery and got caught up in there later, we’ll never know.  But when the girls got home from school and couldn’t find him, all three of us were in a panic.  We called and called him – yes, we have trained our cats to come when called – and he didn’t come  home.  Nathan said later that he could hear us calling for Snowstorm from the winery and wondered what was going on.

A short while later, Nathan left the house for wrestling practice about five minutes before us.  Normally, we all drove together, but we’d been having some trouble with Blythe’s enthusiasm for wrestling and our compromise to get her to see the season through was that I’d take her to wrestling, but we didn’t have to stay for the second session for older kids.  Nathan was the coach for both sessions, and wrestling nights often had us at practice for three full hours.

Snowstorm was lying in the middle of the road, still as can be.  My headlights found him and I was the first to see that there was something white in the road.  I told the girls to stay in the car and went to him.

He was still alive.  One of his back legs was badly mangled, and the side of his skull that laid against the ground was crushed.  His breathing was labored and as I petted his soft, silky fur, his tail moved.  I had been trying to block him from the kids’ view, but they saw the swish of tail and knew he was alive.  I didn’t want them to see him this way – so very near the brink of death, with blood and bits of brain matter soaking into the gravel beneath his head.  I didn’t know what to do.  Here he was, this wonderful member of my family fatally injured and yet not able to die, and my kids watching from the car.

Not knowing what else to do, I tried to strangle him to put him out of his misery.  In the movies and on television, strangling looks so easy – he was so small compared to me, and so near to death, I thought for sure I could do it.  But he wouldn’t die.  His broken body struggled for breath and I could not end his life.  I could hear Ali and Blythe crying and screaming from the car.  Ali was yelling, “Do something!!” and at the time I thought she was talking to me, but she explained later that she was talking to God.  In the lessons they’ve learned at the church their dad and his girlfriend take them to, God will answer your prayers if you’re pure of heart and deserving.

They haven’t yet forgiven “God” for finding them and dear, sweet Snowstorm, undeserving.

The girls called Nathan from my phone, which was in the car, and he came back.  By the time he arrived, I had wrapped Snowstorm in a towel to transport him back home and on the short ride, he passed away.  I held him in my arms, swaddled like the sweet angel baby he was, while Nathan dug a hole in the backyard.

He is not the first cat I’ve had to say good-bye to.  But his death was by far the hardest one I’ve had to deal with.  I feel so terribly responsible.  I neglected him on that day, the only day I’ve ever neglected him, and he died.  He died a horrible, tragic death and all we can figure is that he crawled up inside the drive train of Nathan’s truck to try and stay warm and got stuck.

Blythe cries for him all the time.  Our kitten, Zeus, who was supposed to be mine since my cat, Eema, passed away a year ago, has gone out of his way to be sweet to Blythe.  I told her that Zeus could be her cat, and she’s thankful, but he isn’t Snowstorm.  No one ever will be.

He was her knight in shining armor.  He saved her when nothing I, or her counselors or doctors or specialists did seemed to work.  He was kind and sweet and loving and gentle and now he’s gone.  So terribly, tragically, permanently gone.

And our hearts just can’t seem to heal.

In the Here and Now

I miss writing.  It’s funny that something that came so naturally for me, for the majority of my life, now feels so foreign.  I’ve been trying to write here and there, but I always end up abandoning it for some reason or another.  My goal is to write one post a month, just to get myself used to stringing words together.  Here we go…

————

One of the hardest, but most important, lessons I learned in those years when Blythe was ill, and our family was falling apart, was to live in the here and now.  It can sometimes be an annoyingly overused phrase in parenting circles, but it is so very true: Happiness exists in living in the moment.

I wasn’t able to do that, before.  Things needed to be planned, structured and organized at all times.  And when, inevitably, things didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, I went through feelings of stress, anxiety and sometimes, if my expectations were high enough, I’d find myself grieving the loss of something that never existed anywhere but in my mind.

Let’s say expectations, hopes and dreams are differently sized helium balloons, and in my former life there were so very many that I couldn’t ever find solid ground.  I clung to them, and they lifted me ever higher so that I had to focus all of my attention on what was ahead, making sure nothing escaped my grasp.  I had this perception that holding on to them was what put me in control of my life, but in reality, my thoughts and emotions were ruled by the wind and its whims.

Years ago, I struggled to hold on even as those balloons slipped from my fingers, each more rapidly than the last, because I felt as though letting go would cause me to crash to the Earth and be shattered and broken.  But then, as the future I planned disappeared into the clouds, I realized how good it felt to have my feet on the ground for the first time in years.  Sure, I was a little battered and bruised, but stronger and wiser.  The few balloons that remained were no longer a burden that needed my constant attention, yanking me this way and that.  They just lightened my steps and gave me something pretty to look at.

If I were an artist, I’d paint hopes as the smallest and most understatedly beautiful balloons, dreams a bit bigger and more dazzling, and expectations as gigantic, garish balloons that are hard to maneuver around.  Seeing them for what they are, I have learned to live without expectations because they’re not worth the trouble.

I am happy in a way I never knew was possible.  With no expectations about how things will turn out, disappointment is impossible.  Each new experience is much like a small child’s delight in a game of peek-a-boo, and as a result I find joy in the smallest of things.  This past summer, I watched clouds create themselves out of tiny little wisps of nothing, gain momentum, and go off to join thunder boomers in the higher mountains.  Have you ever witnessed a cloud being born?  In my whole life I’d never experienced such a thing, and it was truly amazing.  Something I not only wouldn’t have taken the time to do, but probably wouldn’t have appreciated, in my former life.

The goals I’ve set are so much more realistic and rewarding, because I keep them in the form of hopes and work my way toward them, accepting changes as they come.  It’s crazy how opportunities present themselves in the smallest of ways, and when I’m paying attention I can see them for what they are.

I find myself in want of nothing, and in need of little.  I live a simple, modest life in a small home with few possessions, but my life is far richer than it has ever been.  I’m surrounded by beauty in every direction.  I am fascinated by my work and that makes me feel like I’m not even working.  The relationships I have with my daughters are better than I ever could have imagined, and I am so proud of who they are.  We share our little life with a very special man, who values in me the things I value most in myself, and that is a wonderful feeling.  We have the best dog, and three mildly annoying but affectionate cats.  As a family, the little moments we share each day bring us so much joy, and the hopes we have for our future are bright and clear.

My feet are planted firmly on the ground, where they belong, and I am living a life I never would have thought to dream for myself.  Looking back, I can see that letting go was the best thing I’ve ever done.

What Matters

There seems to be so much less beauty in the world during the winter months.  The leaves, once so lush and dazzling, have fallen and turned to mush on the wet ground.  All that remains where they once thrived is brown or gray, the branches seeming lost and forlorn without their adornments.  Looking day after day at the bare and harsh landscape can threaten to become a reflection of what lies within, rather than what surrounds, if we’re not careful.  But the sun, though it prefers to hide in winter, also teases its presence.

I cherish the sun on the days when it shines, promising to thaw the chill in my bones.  Walking through the woods, where the light is pale and thin, I brace myself against a gust of wind that tries to bully, determined to convince me that coldness is in charge, and I do not belong, there is nothing to see here.

And yet.  Without the lush and full foliage, I am able to see so much more clearly the things that are usually hidden away.  The roots of a fallen tree, weaving intricate patterns among thousands of towering Oaks, have become home to an entire eco-system of moss and I am reminded that “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”*.  This is the season of change.  Of ending one year and putting it behind us, striving to be better, stronger, and more true to ourselves in the year to come.

The hardest thing about change, though, is letting go of what was and having faith in what will be, if we will only allow ourselves the opportunity.  Wanting tomorrow to be safe and sure, we often shy away from following in nature’s footsteps by cutting back to the bare roots of ourselves to see what will sprout.  To take that leap, we must mourn the loss of things that have ended and look forward, also, to what will begin.

Now is the time to discover what hides in plain view right in front of us when there is too much color, too much other life surrounding it, to notice in other seasons.  To find beauty when it seems there is none to be found.  I am reminded of a dreary winter evening years ago, in another place, in a different life.

Overwhelmed and feeling like Atlas, with the weight of the world on my shoulders, my daughter climbed into my lap and took my face in her chubby little toddler hands.  Trying to ask me what was the matter, she looked deeply into my eyes with more care and concern than I thought her capable of, and asked, “What matters, Mama?”.   In that moment, my perspective forever changed, and the weight I had carried for far too long floated away, as if the world of Atlas were filled with helium.

There are five simple rules of life that I now live by.

First, don’t take things personally without a damn good reason.

Second, a quote from Maya Angelou, “When people show you who they are, believe them”.  Inherently, people are who they are.  It is better to accept that and plan accordingly, than to be repeatedly blindsided by disappointment.

Third, be kind and respectful.  In turn, be someone worth respecting.

Fourth, live a life you can be proud of, right now.

And fifth, remember that you are not the author of your life’s story, but you can certainly choose to turn the pages.

 

*Lyrics quote courtesy of Semisonic’s “Closing Time”

I’ve got a regular gig writing for a local monthly newspaper, and since that’s pretty much the only writing I’m doing these days, I figured I should post those articles here as well.  I won’t have an article in February’s issue, but other than that you can usually find me in the Calaveras Chronicle (formerly the Mountain Chronicle) if you’d like to follow along.

What Matters was originally published in the Calaveras Chronicle’s January issue, page 15.