Wednesday, May 04, 2016

One year later, remembering how it all went down

My father died on May 4th, one year ago today. It only took me a year to write this options trading malaysia.

"Dad's not breathing," my sister Nancy's voice, splintered with fear, came through the phone.

"What do you mean?" I asked, scurrying down the stairs and hopefully out of ear shot of both my daughters, one of whom was long since asleep, the other just starting her turn at hosting the merciless stomach bug that had been plaguing our home, like a serial sadist, for weeks.

"Cindy just called me. He's not breathing. The ambulance is on the way."

Nancy, my dad's primary care giver, at this moment hours away from where this was all going down, was crying. Now I was crying too. No matter how much you are expecting to get a call like this one day, which, considering the circumstances, I was... it still blindsides you when it comes binary option malaysia.

"What should I do? Should I go there now?"

"I don't know."

"I'll hang up and call the house."


I heard the sound of Esther, 13, throwing up into a basin, upstairs. Oh my poor child. Knowing Ian, my husband, was taking care of her, I stayed downstairs and called my parents' house. My brother answered the phone.

"What's happening?" I asked.

"I don't know. I just got here."

"Is the ambulance there?"


"I better let you go, then. Please call me when you know something."

I paced the living room manically. Back and forth. "What do I do? What can I do?"

It was nearly 11 o'clock. We would have normally all been sound asleep if it weren't for this stomach bug. I was aching, every fiber, to go to my family, my first family. But I didn't have the heart to explain to Esther why I was disappearing. My child needed her mother. I needed mine. 

The phone rang.

“Daddy’s gone,” my brother’s voice over the phone floated into my ear.
“Daddy’s gone,” he said again.

“What do we do now. What do we do?” I asked, not sure, entirely unrehearsed in the act, the art, the language of letting go of a loved one.

"What do we do?"

What an odd question and one that most often comes to people's lips in times like these. What do we do? The real question is, how do we be? And the answer is not what anyone wants to hear. There is nothing we can do, but be, and feel the crush of it. Face the loss, the dark hole, the sucking vacuum, that now appears each time you try to conjure up your father.

I’m a grown woman. A mother of two. And my father is the first person who was close to me, so close as to be a part of me, me a part of him, to die.

I am lucky. Blessed. Spoiled. Inexperienced. Lost.

With Esther so sick upstairs, I was paralyzed with maternal ambivalence. What do I do? I cannot tell this poor retching teen that her favorite Papa, the only Papa she got to meet, died just minutes ago.

Ian came downstairs and I told him, with my blubbering face pushed into his neck, my father was dead, that he had stopped breathing, then his heart had just stopped. Just like that, he was gone. We heard sounds of Esther throwing up again. Ian went upstairs.

I paced some more, then went upstairs and sneaked into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed, my bed, where Esther lay. I put my hand on her back as she moaned. This particular stomach bug doesn't quit until it's turned you inside out and wrung your guts dry.  I looked at Ian, my eyes searching for a clue how to handle this, how to be the consoling mom at the same time I was being the heartbroken daughter, the baby.

"She knows," Ian mouthed to me. Esther had guessed what happened, not one to miss any nuance, and he confirmed it.

Freed from the confines of pretense and normalcy, I gathered a few things -- a sleeping bag, some extra clothes-- how long would I be gone?--and drove off into the balmy spring night.

It was 11 o'clock. The night was black, warm and breezy. Rain spattered on the windshield and I thought about something Esther had said just recently, about the way it's always raining in movies when something bad happens. We both love the rain and don't like to see it get a bad rap. The rain that fell on my windshield and blackened the road before me wasn’t ominous. It was gentle and soothing.

The road stretched, relentless and dark, before my headlights. I drove slowly. Fragile. Insecure in my new world. I was shaking. Adrenalin galloped through my veins. My heart was rushing, but my mind was not. I was wary, unsure of what I would find on the other side of my journey. I was not convinced the physical reality of my lifeless father was something I wanted or needed to rush to.

I played the radio loud. Every song seemed good and cathartic, fitting. I tried to cry, but my eyes stayed dry.

I arrived on Cottage Street, my childhood home, to find two police cars in front of the house. I parked across the street, grabbed my things, and walked slowly past one of the policemen--why was he there? up the front walk. Light spilled out of every window. The front screen door was ajar. Even though it was early May, it felt like summer. Finally. The winter my dad had cursed for the past six months, had officially ended.

The window shade in my parents' new downstairs bedroom was pulled two thirds of the way down. The window was open. I could see his bed and the shape of his body lying in it, through the screen.

I walked into the front hall, put my things down on the floor and turned the corner into the bedroom hall. I saw my oldest sister standing over my father at the edge of the bed. Another sister standing beside her, and my brother in a chair at the foot of the bed. My mother was in a chair next to the far side of the bed.

Averting my eyes from the sight of my father, lying, mouth open and so still, I went straight to my mother, leaned over, buried my head into her neck, and cried. I felt self conscious doing this, as if I was asking my mother for comfort and sympathy, when it was she who was suffering one of the biggest losses of her life. Father. Husband of almost 60 years. Can we quantify?

I don't remember what I or anyone said. I remember my oldest sister crying and kissing my father's forehead. I remember my sisters working together to put my father's pajama pants on. The atmosphere in that room was surreal. Like being encased in a fish bowl filled with water.

And we stayed in that tiny fish bowl for most of the night. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we planned, we waited for my sister Nancy, my father's loyal companion for the past three years, to arrive. She was three hours away. She had left my father's side to go back to work, at our urging, for the first time in over a year.

In hindsight, it makes sense that Dad had to wait for Nancy to go away before he went.

My brother went outside to tell the police and the funeral director to stop hovering and go home. No one was taking our father's body anywhere until all of us had said our goodbyes.

We made Mom go lie down on the couch. 

Nancy finally came screeching in around 2 a.m., playing Chuck Mangione's Feel So Good, one of dad's favorite songs, on her iPhone. We could hear her talking to mom in the living room before she came into the bedroom.

"Did you drive too fast?" my mother asked her. "Like a fucking rocket," she responded.

We all laughed. Dad would have laughed too. He appreciated a well-timed F-bomb. 

She came to Dad's bedside and put the iPhone, still playing his song, up to his ear.

"You won, Dad," she said. "You beat the Alzheimer's and you beat the cancer. You won."

No one's eyes were dry.

He's gone.
My father.

We kept him all night. We put mom to bed. Andy went home. Sally and Cindy slept on the couch, and Nancy and I slept on the floor of the bedroom where he died and still lay. As weird as it felt to spend the night in that room with my dead father, I couldn't leave him. Not yet.

The next morning, I watched the men slide him from the bed where he died onto a gurney.
I watched the men carry the gurney out of the house, carefully zipping the forest-green bag all the way closed only just before they slid him into the back of the long black car. Then they closed the door and drove away with him.

But I know it wasn't really my father. It was only a shell. An old tree trunk which had been hollowed out from the inside, its bark thin, no longer being renewed from within.

The sapwood and heartwood, what had been inside, the part of my father I could touch and feel and know, had already left in the night. I swear I felt it pass over my head as I lay in a sleeping bag on the floor of his room.

The windows were open and it had been calm all night. Except for that moment when I was snapped awake by a banging sound. A whoosh of air came through the room, strong enough to send the notebook--open and resting on the radiator in front of the east-facing window-- fluttering open like birds wings.

Then it was calm again. (The next morning Nancy confirmed she saw, felt, heard it too.)

Having heard, felt and witnessed what seemed like a departure, I felt kind of numb seeing my father's body taken away in a bag. "He's not really in there," I thought to myself. "That's not really my father."

But having him gone, spirit and body, means a hole has been left behind. A hole big enough and deep enough I can hear my own voice, and often his, echoing inside it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The extraordinary will take care of itself: Confessions of a competing-sheep mom

“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself."
William Martin,  The Parent's Tao te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents 

I started my 2016 journal with this quote from a Tao of Parenting book because it speaks to me. It speaks to me because I'm guilty of striving for the extraordinary. I am guilty of even thinking you can strive for the extraordinary.

And I am an idiot. Because everything about my experience of life so far has proven that this is not true--that embracing the ordinary and giving yourself space to discover what it is you want and need to do, is the only honest and meaningful way to live your life. And any moment of my life that may be labeled extraordinary was only stumbled upon.

I planned to write a letter to my children in at the start of  2016. I never did. But maybe that is what this is. I want to tell them that sometimes I get lost and scared in raising them, and that fear leads me to say stupid, even mean, things. That fear blinds me to what is really important in life.

I want to tell them how proud I am and how pleased I am and how lucky I am to be their mother. I want to tell them that sometimes I look into their eyes and am bowled over by the beauty and openness and kindness and wisdom I see there. I want to tell them that sometimes I cannot believe I am their mother. I cannot believe I grew them inside me and brought them into this world without really knowing, without truly grasping, what on earth I was doing. (Hello, stumbling upon the extraordinary.)

Anyone can imagine the concept of raising a child. But you can’t imagine the reality until you are living it.

And this is why I feel the need to explain to them,  that no matter how proud and filled with gratitude I am for this chance to be their mother, sometimes the extras, the unimportant stuff, the extraneous, gets in and clouds my vision and I become a competing-sheep mom. And I turn my focus on what isn’t, rather than what is. The violin in the corner isn’t being played. The math problems aren’t being practiced enough. The soccer ball isn’t seeing enough touches. The art supplies are gathering dust, why don’t you use them anymore? What happened to my little artists? I fill their lives up with noise and busyness, then ask them why they are never still...?

I turn the "what isn't" goggles on myself frequently. Our house isn’t stylish or tidy enough. I’m not being a good enough friend. I’m not being a good enough mother. I’m not being a good enough daughter. I’m not being a good enough employee. There’s not enough money in our savings accounts. Why didn’t I bring Isla to that play audition? Why won’t Esther join the math club. And why did she opt out of that exclusive invitation to be one of the few 8th graders in her school to attend the Model UN? Doesn’t she realize, the way I realize, what an opportunity that is? I thought she loved ski racing. How could she so casually give it up now at such a crucial point in her life?

And all these things my daughter is opting out of, are the very things that have the potential to make our lives absolutely crazy overscheduled, to the point of insanity. And to what end? To prove my children are extraordinary? To prove my life is perfect?

And all those negative thoughts are driven by some pervasive source of fear. Something that is trying to eat my confidence and tell me I’m doing motherhood all wrong. Something that makes me forget to honor the children I have, rather than trying to shape those children into what I want, what I think they are supposed to be, maybe even the child I was? 

And if ever I notice another mother doing this same thing with their own child, I see so clearly that she is missing the point. That she is so caught up in the trees she can’t see the beauty of the forest. Setting herself and that child up for a fall. Why isn’t she seeing all the good and unique in that child? Why is she only focusing on what that child is doing or not doing, rather than on who that child is, how that child is "being" in this world.

How can she forget the enormous empathy that child shows for every living creature on this planet. How can she not see how happy that child is when we are doing something so simple as taking a family walk. How can she ignore the bravery of that child sitting in front of the policy committee at her middle school and telling them how uncomfortable she is seeing students with confederate flags on their notebooks, iPhones and t-shirts. How can she not take pride in how well big sister takes care of little sister.

So much good. So much learned. So much progress towards becoming happy, kind, loving little humans. Is there anything more extraordinary than that? 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Gone are the days when...

It’s our 19th anniversary. I’m sitting at the dinner table with my husband and two daughters. I’m on my second glass of Prosecco, a dainty, champagne flute if you have to know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a pleasant, giggly buzz thing happening.

 We are listening to Pandora. Isla is trying to do her homework. Esther is sitting at the table being irreverent and teenagerish, but in a pleasant way that makes me laugh. At least when I’m drinking champagne laced with creme de cassis. Pretty much everything is pleasant, unexpectedly so, about this scene.

Isla’s homework involves looking up the definition of her spelling words in the dictionary and writing them down.

I get her our giant Oxford dictionary and thesaurus, a book that Ian determined with his handy dandy kitchen weight-- yes, my Brit husband uses a kitchen weight because he only cooks with British cookbooks, finding ours inferior, apparently-- weighs 4 pounds minimum and is bigger than Isla’s head by far.

Since we had just finished a candlelight supper and I really do like the way I look in candlelight, as well as the sparkly ambience candlelight creates, I didn’t want to spoil things by turning on the light.

No one could read the dictionary in that light, so I told her I would look up the words for her on my laptop as I sit here fiddling with Pandora.

Kick: To extend your leg away from the body.

Take: To get into one’s hands.

“What was that one,” Ian asked, in that way that said, 'I am the expert in the English language around here, what is that rubbish.'

So, I repeated myself. “Take: 'To get into one’s hands,'” I said, as I simultaneously took another sip of my Kir Royale and, catching Ian catching me enjoying my anniversary champagne he had bought without my even asking, raised an eyebrow up and down at him.

Big mistake.

“Mom,” Esther said.

“What?” I said. Thinking she was going to call me out on enjoying my champagne a bit too much, which is exactly what I was doing.

“You have no idea how wrong that just looked.”

“What?” I said, feigning innocence in the most inept way.

“I saw that,” she said. “Did you hear what you just said?

“What?” I said.

You said, “'To get into one’s hands', then you made that weird face at Daddy. That’s just creepy and wrong.”

Man. Gone are the days of surreptitious flirting right under your oblivious and naive children’s nose.

Gone are the days.

Esther is taking selfies. and sending them via Snapchat. Her iPod died so she has snatched my iPhone. Ian is acting disapproving at the way Essie is acting, and using my phone, and giggling wildly at some video her friend just sent her. He doesn’t have a clue what she is doing.

Disapproving is kind of his job around here. I think he's jealous of her youth. I know I am.

He's now helping, teaching, Isla how to use the dictionary. And I am here typing, and Esther is raucously "communicating" with her childhood friend, the girl who lives just two minutes away as a crow flies.

And I'm sitting here recording it all, and not feeling remotely put out by the minor detail that Ian and I are not on a romantic adult date. Because what better way to celebrate 19 years together than to be sitting right here in the middle of this imperfect, unfinished kitchen, giggling with my entire family and making fun of Ian in his reading glasses, which look always askew since one of his ears is lower than the other.

How is it I've never noticed that before?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I don't want to give my children Back to School

We have run away, as we so often do when the butterscotch light of August comes lurking into our windows just past supper time. Run away. Run away! My  M.O. for most of my life. Run away.

First we picked Essie up from Logan airport, where she came in on a flight from London Heathrow-- this kid is beyond lucky spoiled lucky blessed--after having spent an entire month with her cousins England, with a side visit to France and Scotland. The big-sister/little-sister reunion was as sweet as I had imagined, though I am kicking myself for not having the camera ready for the part where Isla leaped into her big sister's arms and wrapped her stretched-in-the-night, almost-10-year-old legs around her waist, nearly knocking her over.

We swept off to a secret lair in East Boston to let Essie recover. Rather than resting, we trolled the streets of East Boston, found the coolest dollar store, ever, spent an absurd amount of time trying on shoes in a Payless Shoe store,

and delighted in the fact that the store mannequins all over the town have, get this, real live bottoms. No skinny, tidy and pert baby buns, but bubble butts, muscle butts, real butts. And thighs too...

Please excuse us our superficiality and possibly even blatant sexism and or discrimination, but this, in our minds and our sore eyes, was a cause for celebration. Aside from the impossibly perky breasts, these mannequins were our people.

We liked the art, and the message of the art, and the parking lots, as well. But the path we followed just as the sun began its nostalgic August descent in the Western sky, led us to one of the most stunning scenes of all: Boston. From a vantage point we'd never seen before.

We woke up early the next morning and drove to catch the ferry to a secret island I've been sworn not to call by name. Why? Maybe because it's the kind of place where neighbors check on each other with telescopes. Where there are no cars and no golf courses or amusement parks or fancy restaurants or boutique shops, or alcohol for sale, or ATM machines. Where, if you time it just right, you might see a beautiful woman with a gray pony tail walking down the hill, past the white picket fence, on one of the few paved streets to the island store, in her apron--perhaps to get some butter, sugar, or flour, as if the day was any other day and her town was any other town, surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic ocean.

Sorry, I don't have a picture of that woman. But I do have these...

And so, from a distance, back to school continues to beckon. You can smell it. You can taste it in the salty ocean spray. You can feel the slight tension, anxiety, the sense of dwindling magic time, the end of something that cannot be contained, on the breeze.

Well, maybe I'm projecting. Just a little bit.

Monday, June 08, 2015

My heart is squeezed by my own hand

The demands never stop
my heart is squeezed by my own hand
milking it
palpating it
waking it up
reminding it that life is good
and wonderful
and worth the pain

Judging life during the ebb
and forgetting all about the flow
 is a mistake

I've been stuck in ebb mode
caught up in an endless circling eddy
for week upon week

 I don’t like it but am at a loss to escape it
 at a loss to figure out how
to muster the courage to break through
the transparent wall of the bottomless whirlpool
and take a lateral leap
out into the flowing fresh water

This constant round and round leaves me dizzy
and filled with what feels like depression
but is probably grief
I’m heavy

If I were a cow
I’d be lowing in a distant meadow
head hanging
jowls jiggling in the breeze

Staring at the magnificent green clover
 but having little desire to eat it
 Not one bite

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The last time I wrote about my father, alive

It’s Wednesday night and I'm on "nightwatch" at Mom and Dad's.

My dog Birdie is snoozing, stretched across the living room rug, an Oriental to match all the other rugs in this house. The rugs are a fitting accent to the shelves filled with old books, and all those things that remind me of my childhood surrounded by pretty, pre-Ikea, inherited things.

I just put my dad to bed: A practice in patience, of finagling him out of his clothes and into his "overnight underpants" and his pajamas. The trick is to catch him before he buttons all the buttons you just unbuttoned on his shirt, and unbuttons all the buttons you just fastened on his pajama top.

I took him into the bathroom and helped him brush his teeth, put his dentures into their overnight Efferdent "bath." He brushes what's left of his teeth for minute after minute, taking solace in one of the few things he remembers well how to do. How many times has he brushed those teeth? He brushes and brushes and brushes, each time remembering and forgetting how long he has been doing it. Was it just a few strokes ago, or 100 strokes?

He sits on the edge of his bed and  I take off his slippers and his glasses. He smooths his hand over and over the sheets, approving of how warm it feels where the electric blanket has done its work. I have to cajole him into lying down.

“Put your head down, Dad. Don’t you want to lie down in that cozy bed and go to sleep."
“Yes, I do,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

He finally does lay down, curling his knees into his torso,  rolling away from me and onto his right side. I lift the blanket to ease his feet under.

He looks so much like a child, his head on the pillow, the covers pulled up to his chin. I can’t help but pet him. I put my hand on his forehead like I do with my children. I stroke his hair a bit. All the while, I'm fearing he might call me out for treating him like a baby. But he doesn't.

“Nighty night,” I say; the exact words my mother used with me the countless times she put me to bed.

“Have a nice sleep,” I say, turning off the light then leaning over to stroke and kiss his forehead one last time. I’ve never had the urge to touch my father so much as I do now.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” he says.
“It’s my pleasure,” Dad, “I like taking care of you.”
“And it’s my pleasure to be taken care of by you,” he says.

The arrangement works. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to see my father this way.

In the Bromley bar a while back, after Esther’s final ski race of the year, he went mute as he so often does in noisy places. He just sat there, back erect and awkward, smiling and staring. Not following the conversation, not leading it either. Just being.

And when he's like this, I wonder if he's uncomfortable. Is he confused to the point of feeling anxiety that he can't remember how to express? I imagine he’s experiencing that feeling of being close to succumbing to sleep, when your mind starts to scatter and split into shards, too many thought snippets headed in too many different directions to keep track of. When you find yourself thinking and sometimes saying words aloud you don’t even know the meaning of, and you cannot keep hold of one simple, unshiftable thought for long enough to feel it in your hand, or on your tongue, or nestled safely between your temporal lobes.

Just the other night, while I was trying to fall asleep again in the middle of the night --an angst- ridden time when my mind is unguarded and the demons tend to prowl -- I thought of the divine poetry that is my father having Alzheimer's and my mother remaining lucid.

My mother can handle old age. She's self forgiving. Grace is within her grasp at all times, so hammered into her as the only way to be-- graceful, gracious, pleasant, patient-- and can therefore experience the losses, the failures and flaws of old age without raging against them.

My father, on the other hand, has never relented in his expectations of human perfection. If he were fully present, able to experience what's happening to his mind and his body-- the loss of memory, muscle tone, balance, coordination, continence-- in a lucid state, he would be in a constant state of self-directed rage and inner tantrum.

I know this because I can imagine this. I know this because I am my father’s daughter and I have mini inner tantrums, sometimes daily, brought on by my own perceived flaws: My inability to glide seamlessly through life and part the seas without making mistake after seeming mistake.

Back at my father's bedside once again, after hearing him muttering, "sonofabitch!" and shifting restlessly in his bed, I began the game of coaxing him into the bathroom. After getting him to swing his legs over and sit upright, I took his still-strong hands and pulled him to standing. 

"Where did you come from," he said.
"You," I answered. "I'm Doug Shaw's daughter."
"You are?" he said, surprise in his voice and wonder in his eyes.
"But you're so big and strong."

Friday, March 20, 2015

I'll have this scar on my chin forever

I have this scar on my chin.

It tells the story of a childhood played out against a backdrop of cold, white snow and ice and hills and mountains. 

I was 3 when it happened. At least that's what I remember being told. Too bad my mom didn't have a blog.

I was sledding with my older sisters and some neighborhood kids and our beagle mutt, Victor, in a meadow behind our house. I don't know what month it was. Was it cold or mild? I am guessing it was cold, after a thaw, because the snow was crusty and aggressive. The kind of snow that growls and fights back when you step on it, and bites and cuts at any bare skin.

Victor used to get excited at the sight of small children flying down the hill. Funny, our former dog, Ruby, did this and our current dog, Birdie, does this as well. It must be instinct. The instinct to protect, to herd. But maybe they are just confused about our sudden, seemingly-magic propulsion. Confused or jealous.

Victor chased us, barking wildly, and bit at our clothes with manic, snapping jaws--often grabbing hold of snow-caked woolen mittens and pulling them off. I'm not sure if I remember it happening, or if my memory is stolen from my siblings retelling of the story, but, Victor got hold of my sleeve as I was moving down the hill and pulled me out of my cold, aluminum flying saucer.

I lurched, face first, into the crust-- face plant-- and emerged-- or did my sister's pluck me out--crying and bloody. The fun ruined, we marched-- a trail of tears-- back across the meadow toward home. This is the part I feel I do remember. In my mind's eye, I see myself--snot-nosed from blubbering, and bleeding-- walking across that endless field to find my mother.

I ended up in the blue clapboard home/office of our family doctor, Doc Harwood. Doc Harwood pulled me and all five of my siblings into this world. Doc Harwood drove with my parents to the hospital each time my mother went into labor. Dad in the driver's seat. Doc Harwood in the passenger seat. My mother in the back, laboring quietly, while Dad and Doc discussed sports and politics, and ignored her.

Doc Harwood and his unforgettable, bristly-caterpillar eyebrows and grinding-gear voice, cleaned and stitched the wound on my chin. Thankfully, I have no recollection of that.

Joe Markey, my father's best friend, joked that Doc Harwood might have used a backhoe to do the stitching job. The scar he left behind is not pretty--it looks rumpled where it straddles my jaw bone-- but it's mine.
Ever tried to take a flattering selfie of your chin? #startingtofeelbadaboutmyneck

My childhood boyfriend had a striking, far more impressive than mine, scar on his cheek near his jawline. I used to think the fact that we both had facial scars, acquired in early childhood, connected and protected us somehow.

I have no problem with the flaw of my scar. Many people don't even see it. But I love it when someone does notice. Because then I get to tell the story, my story, of my "big" sledding accident. I'm proud of my adventurous childhood in the snow and ice.

Isla, 9,  said the same thing about her scar recently. I told her that when she was finished growing, plastic surgeons from Shriners Hospital could make her burn scars less visible. Having been a patient, she is considered a member of the "Shriners family" until she is 21.

"I don't want them to make my scars look better, she said. I like my scars.  I like when people ask me about my scars. It makes me feel special."