breast cancer, Covid-19, Health, hope, uncertainty

Eighteen days to Brenda

I went in August 24 for a diagnostic mammogram. My radiologist suggested I go ahead and get one instead of waiting until October as my gynecologist planned. The mammogram at this hospital presented stark differences. The robes you change into aren’t a screaming, Pepto-Bismol pink, but a white soft cottony waffle weave accented with subtle thin pink piping. They’re stacked neatly waiting on you in a warming box. Divine. Here I found few deep Southern accents, but more Brooklyn, and simple pastel beach scenes or botanical wall art; you’re not coddled as much either, which surprisingly I liked. Besides, the last place brought bad news, and I am so over bad news, so I  needed a new place.

When you’ve had what I’ve had (yes, I now get to check the “history of breast cancer” box), for future mammograms, instead of going home to wait on your letter in the mail, your results are on-the-spot. It was a long wait, and after looking each other up and down for a few minutes, a woman across from me and I eventually broke our masked silence with a “What are you in for?” dialogue. Me: “I’m Stage II, 100% ER positive, post lumpectomy, chemo and radiation.” You? “I’m triple negative.” Even though no one in our predicament can determine exactly how we ended up here, we each tried our best to reveal what might have contributed, with a Forgive me for I have sinned confessional to each other. She: “I used to eat ice cream every single night.” Me: “I’ve stopped red meat and now only occasionally enjoy a glass of wine.” 

A nurse calls her, and she gets up to go hear her results. Next a man, I presume the radiologist, got me for mine. Immediately I assumed since I got the doctor, the news seemed more complicated, and complicated could spell trouble. We went to a room that was far too nice for doling out good results. He made small talk before he dove in, admitting if he didn’t know better, that I’d had a lumpectomy, my scans might have raised a red flag. Lots of them as it’s a mess in there. Not his words exactly, but with all the pins, scar tissue and density obscuring things, he seemed exhausted from wading through the scans, as if he’d just returned from war. 

I knew my left breast was a mess when back in 2000 I began breast feeding my first baby. I knew there was milk in there but, damn, quite the struggle to get it out! Always a poor producer and the plumbing seemed faulty every time I pumped or breast fed my babies. But you have to get it out of there or you’ve got a painful situation on your hands! After his initial comments about such chaotic density, the radiologist said everything looks fine. Gosh, did we really need to sit in that private room for all this? I got up and left, happy to dodge this scare. The woman who’d led me to the dressing room asked a man at the checkout desk to schedule an MRI. I asked why an MRI, since my mammogram was fine, and she mumbled something about high risk. Wait, me? I ignored my confusion and instead requested the first available appointment and to get on the cancellation list. I snagged the only one they had, four days later at 6:45am. 

I had an MRI before back when all this breast drama started up in November of 2019, but experiencing how particularly thorough this new place was gave me a reassuring level of comfort, that this hospital is sparing no detail, turning over every stone so I’ll continue to turn up “normal.” Friday came and I was up at 5 to leave by 6. It was quiet in the lobby except for a few patients waiting for their own scans. Wonder what they’re in for? Since MRIs are loud, you get headphones and your choice of music. I went for my old standby, classical. No sooner did they slide the headphones on than Pachelbel’s Canon in D began. Always floods me back to my twilight wedding, walking down that beautiful outdoor aisle passing smiling friends and luminaries along my way. The technicians worked efficiently, and I was heading home in 45 minutes. 

Busy in my kitchen later that afternoon, I got a call from my radiation oncologist. She asked, had the radiologist already called me? Uh oh, I’ve heard this kind of call before. Cut to the chase please, I thought impatiently. “Ms. Greco, the radiologist saw some areas of concern on your MRI and wants to schedule a biopsy.” First off, my brain is screaming, area(s) PLURAL? You have got to be &#$@-ing kidding me?! And then it moves on to the OF CONCERN part, concerning it its own right. I had noticed a little pea sized nodule during my daily breast massage but assumed it was just knots left behind from surgery and radiation. After radiation ended in April, the radiologist had suggested I daily massage the tissue to keep it from forming too much scar tissue, which I’ve done.

Alas, this was no dream and I was told they’d be calling soon to schedule my return for another MRI + biopsy + mammogram. Great way to start the long weekend. Ugh. I got scheduled for that following Friday, a 7am appointment, with arrival at 6:30. Another early morning, but nothing like getting it out of the way. 

Thankfully between our house renovation and chats and visits with my boys and my own endless internet research on breast nodules four months post radiation, fat necrosis, and any other topic which resembled my situation, the week ticked along fairly quickly. 

Up early again for the MRI and arrived to find another handful of people socially distanced in the waiting room. I got registered, my hospital bracelet, etc. and was escorted to the dressing room. As with the previous MRI, I had an IV inserted in my arm so they could inject a contrast dye, which improves image quality. I got my choice of music again and this time I thought, let’s change it up. I asked for something calming but not classical, and the nurse suggested nature sounds, so nature sounds it was.

My nature music started with water sounds and soon my brain went to our recent plumbing situation with camellia roots wrapped around our pipes and toilet and adjacent tub filling with water. After the plumbing fiasco (which we resolved) I moved on to stiller waters and imagined my sister and me canoeing on Lake Lanier, like we did as teenagers. Our oars cut the glassy water as we maneuvered into coves, the mature adventurers we were, now out of view from our parents we’d left behind on our sailboat docked in its slip. As I lay masked on my stomach, the doctors slid me in and out of this machine, instructing me over and over to stay completely still. I’m guessing they felt they must repeat the instruction given how much I talked at the outset, thinking surely this motor mouth wouldn’t put a lid on it and stop moving in order for them to get their work done. But as the kind nurse told me afterwards, I was a real trooper. It must have been nearly an hour that I was on that table and somehow, I didn’t move at all.

After my water music segued into crickets and other summer night insects, I noticed a little half moon shaped light below near the floor or maybe on the table I was on. It looked like the Morton salt girl’s umbrella, complete with curved J shape below for its handle. As I was wheeled in and out of this machine never knowing when they’d move it out or back in, I was reminded of one of my favorite Six Flags rides, Mo Mo the monster, when the guy working the ride spun me around extra times since I was the birthday girl. I decided getting zoomed in and out of this machine was instead a fun ride, plus I had the benefit of summer bugs and the Morton salt girl for company.

Once the biopsy began, the nice nurse – the one who gave me the warm robe and told me I was a trooper — began holding my hand. I remember when a nurse at an earlier biopsy last year began lovingly stroking my calves. This nurse held on to my hands and I realized how good that felt, especially these days when we don’t get to hug anyone except those we live with. I needed that touch so badly and while my left hand was holding on to the emergency ball they give you to squeeze in case you need them to stop, I found a few fingers on my left hand joining her hand with my right to communicate an extra, this is so nice and I feel loved, message. Because I had been numbed, I didn’t feel them jostling and twisting to get this suspicious mass during this core needle biopsy, yet I could tell it wasn’t simply a pulling on a syringe but a turning motion as if wrangling a cork out with a corkscrew. Weeee! I got wheeled back in again and more loud MRI knocking noises harmonized with the summer bug sounds, and I was back out. A final jostling to insert a pin, another marker to light the way for the next person doing my scan, and in and out several more times, and it was done.

Next on the menu was a mammogram. Freshly bandaged, I was promised this mammogram was of the gentle variety. Having not had one since my initial diagnosis in November (and since subsequent surgery and radiation), I didn’t realize how much it was going to hurt since the former surgical site was terribly tender. Picture your ear lobe after you pierce it, forever left with a knot. My knot hurt getting flattened onto the machine, especially fresh from the biopsy. As I was pressed into a pancake again, the blood started coming, smearing the glass. My wandering mind went to a hilarious sketch years ago with Dan Aykroyd channeling Julia Child  boning a chicken, blood spurting up and down onto the bird. Instead of high-pitched Julia gasps, this technician was calm and simply wiped it away. But my poor breast, how much more was it going to endure? A few more images from a few more angles and I was left to wait while she met with the doctor down the hall. She returned with news he was pleased with the images, and off I went to check out.

The nice nurse who’d held my hand handed me off to a gentleman at the exit desk, telling him I’d had a biopsy. He couldn’t hear her, so he whispered, as if trying to simply mouthe it, “She had a b i o p s y ?” lest the folks in the waiting area learn my situation. I felt this strange cloud of shame and sadness waft over me. He told me in a quiet sympathetic voice to enjoy the holiday weekend. I uttered a “You, too,” and got the hell out of there. Once home I had to take it easy which for most people means lie in bed and rest. I had to realize that paperwork, dishes, laundry and dog walks could wait and that I could actually lie in bed and rest, which is exactly what I did, icing the area 15 minutes every hour on the hour until bedtime. The biopsy site stung so that kept me still and thankfully my 13-year-old dog was content to stay put on the kitchen floor, slinking in and out of sleep.

The doctors told me I’d hear results by Tuesday or Wednesday, and it was an interminable five days. Wednesday came and went and nothing. I had decided it’s ludicrous that I would be the one with that unfortunate case of a recurrence a mere four months post radiation. No matter the new diet, ridiculously slight alcohol intake, stepped up exercise, mine was an aggressive little bugger that could withstand chemo and radiation and emerge with a renewed, Please ma’am may I have another? annoying verve. My sister tried to convince me I’m not special that way. I felt a bit like a criminal, like I was being punished yet couldn’t understand my crime. I figured I had a 50/50 chance and felt like over the weekend they’d rustle up a public defender – a la My Cousin Vinny – and the next week hopefully I’d have some semblance of a case ready.

Now it’s today, Thursday, and I couldn’t stand the silent house any longer, so I left for the hardware store, where I tinker from time to time, just like my dad used to. I love it there because it’s small, there’s plenty of interesting merchandise, and people are ready to help you find what you need, answer any questions you might have (except the What do you think will come of my biopsy? variety). Found some flowers on clearance to replace my tired zinnias and was loading them in the car when the phone rang. An unknown exchange, certainly not my doctor’s office, but I answered it anyway. On the other end of the phone was a smiling Brenda’s voice, which exclaimed: “Hi Mrs. Greco, I have good news for you, as I know you’ve been waiting. We got your results in and it’s only scar tissue. So we won’t need to see you for six months.” I literally said, “God Bless You” and thanked her profusely. If you can hug through the phone, then that is what I did. It was heartfelt and I’m certain Brenda felt it. I love that Brenda. 

These were the perfect segue into fall AND they’re yellow. (win win)
Decision 2020, hope, Patriotism, White House

Show, Don’t Tell

Several years ago while working with a PR firm, I wrote an article for a client’s E-newsletter. My boss wasn’t as in love with it as I hoped he’d be, and advised reworking it slightly, employing the Show Don’t Tell writing tenet. Since then I can’t say my writing has consistently championed this rule, but I have given it more thought and realize it applies to our relationships, motivations, leadership, too  – basically, everything.

“We are at a crossroads of broadening or narrowing what we can be.”

Jon Meacham, American writer and presidential biographer.

Meacham’s recent research and writing has focused on one of our nation’s fallen leaders in His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, where he examines the choices of light vs. darkness before us. He talks of Lewis’ sacrifices to his own body and dignity, his march for voting rights which paved the way for so many. Lewis showed us what moral, racial and national responsibility looks like. In contrast, Meacham says Trump thinks of us not as a country but as an audience. He tells us what we should be focusing on, all he’s done, is doing and will do for the American people.

There are those precious times you come away from time spent with a group with that feeling that you’re aligned with kindred souls and it feels like home. I felt that way a few years ago at a writer’s workshop, surrounded by people who, like me, could obsess all day over which adjective would best paint the picture in their minds and onto their easels, laptops in this case. It was easy to respect those in this group who bravely revealed their vulnerability, sharing their stories, however early in their creation, and cultivate an affinity for the lack of affectation, and a connection with everyday people you identify with, root for and want to succeed.

The Democratic National Convention gave me a similar feeling as I witnessed straightforward speakers each casting a different light on these times, sharing their own experiences, and delivering insightful reactions on the Democratic nominee. I felt proud and excited as I tuned in every night, hopeful about the possibilities for change, a chance to restore decency, dignity and reinstall intellect and fairness to our collective futures. And to be fair, I also watched the Republican National Convention, though struggled to savor it all in the same way. It felt more like droning in the background and I couldn’t latch on to the messages from these presenters — sometimes screaming, sometimes preaching, always scripted — as they read the teleprompters and consistently piled on praise for this man who continues to hold so many and so much hostage.

They talked of Keeping America America, if that makes any sense (it doesn’t). Vice President Pence even vowed to “Keep American Great Again. Again.” Please, not another round. They spoke in words similarly loyal to their Law and Order president, a self-assigned wartime hero. (I don’t believe wartime heroes typically assign themselves this designation?) As with the DNC, the RNC produced loads of people at the lectern, including Kayleigh McEnany, the current press secretary (his fourth filling the role three and a half years in). McEnany told of breast cancer in her family and with welled up eyes, revealed she was forever beholden to “her” president because thanks to him she could get a preventive mastectomy — and not only that, he even called to check on her after surgery, better explained by the fact she’s a close friend of his daughter, Ivanka’s. Let’s get this straight: She wouldn’t qualify for this same surgery were Joe Biden president? I believe fact checking would reveal another fabrication designed to tug at your heartstrings, planting the seed that the other side wouldn’t help you, and would instead leave you to suffer, sick and alone, which simply is not true. I’ve recently undergone my own necessary breast conserving surgery (lumpectomy), so I do not consider these matters lightly.

As the nights wore on, between presenters an ominous “historic” music (think Gunsmoke theme song) seeped into the show, and B-roll panned to sacrosanct monuments of yesteryear, each sprung from hallowed ground, and on to the home of that resolute desk, the White House, glowing and sexy and cloaked (and nearly choked) in American flags, dramatically lit up at night. On script, our president reminded us of our great American patriots, that “we” built great ships, raised up the skyscrapers. And let’s not forget Annie Oakley and Davie Crockett. I do wonder just as our current Postmaster General admits he doesn’t know how much it costs to mail a postcard, does Donald Trump even understand his own notion of patriotism? Interesting to see how each party looks at this concept. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/03/how-views-patriotism-vary-by-party/

One of several African-American presenters, former NFL player Jack Brewer among other things petitioned for bringing back the nuclear family. Did it actually leave, or did we instead simply open the doors to other types of families that don’t resemble the Cleaver household? The thing is you don’t need to feel scared if today’s families don’t look like they used to; you can instead choose how your family looks. Similarly, if Black Lives do in fact matter, it doesn’t mean other lives don’t; the movement was never created in that spirit, so who, why and when did they irresponsibly start suggesting it? If you want your family to mimic a 1950s mentality, the man as the breadwinner, his wife in an apron in the kitchen and children in their Sunday best week after week, you can do that. This is America. If someone else wants to live with their lesbian or gay lover and adopt a black or brown child, they can do that. Still, we all want and deserve the same things, right? 

During RNC week I heard many speakers remind us how Donald J. Trump is fighting for this and fighting for that. And by the way, what is this new emphasis on the “J.” ? I can’t help but recall Tiny Fey’s hilarious sketch and if, like me, you need a serving of humor in these troubled times, please do grab a fork and dive in. Maybe the emphasis on the “J” is so we don’t confuse the Donald with his namesake, Donald, Jr., which by extension could remind us of his shrieking, excessively lip-lined girlfriend. Donald J. has spent much of his time in office angrily Tweeting, defensive, curt, ready for a fight. We keep hearing he is Fighting for America. Must it be a fight, though, and is there not a way we can just get along? 

Incensed about the fighting and looting of late, he’s promising us if he gets four more years our world won’t look like this, yet he says the violence will continue if Biden wins. The thing is, and as Biden has already underscored, this guy is President now and yet still, there’s fighting and looting happening, all on his watch. Can you assign blame for today’s hostility to a presidential candidate before he is elected? Indeed you can in Trump’s world until it seeps under every MAGA cap and into those fine supporters’ heads, including even one recent underage gun-toting crusader and rally attendee, Kyle Rittenhouse. In addition, even after ten days in, we still haven’t heard Trump mention Jacob Blake’s name. 

Between the Gunsmoke theme song alternating with an awards show style musical score, the RNC brought folks from the mountains to the prairies over red carpeted paths to the lectern, their performances resembling a nostalgic cross between a soap opera, Sunday school and a binge watching week of Little House on the Prairie and Andy Griffith. Eventually, though, you come up for air, and when you do, you realize after those simpler times, you know, when America was America, that we snuck in a few things: we now are afforded the benefits of modern medicine, science, the Internet, and hard-fought freedoms for so many different kinds of people, black, brown, gay, straight and everyone in between. 

Next came the fireworks. I’ve seen loads in my 57 years, the best probably during a visit to Disney World a decade ago. They went on forever and as I looked up into the night sky there was magic and hope and what felt like no expense sparred which of course there wasn’t. And then it was over and by the time we got to our hotel, the magic had faded.

In lieu of the convention tapering down to a folksy scene – picture an upright piano playing Jesus Loves Me as the Sunday School program ends with waxy Solo cups and Nilla Wafers crumbs underfoot – instead we witnessed an operatic Ave Maria serenading this extended first family. But we did get to watch, so maybe he was serenading us, too? 

At RNC, they opened the curtain for us to get a glimpse, for us to watch them in their house at their party. Toward the end of the last night, POTUS, smirk on his face, turned his head to look at the White House behind him, and remarked, “The fact is, I’m here,” he said, a broad smile across his face. “What’s the name of that building?” he asked as the crowd cheered. Turning back to the crowd, he was even more blunt: “But I’ll say it differently. The fact is we’re here, and they’re not.” It’s shameful to taunt this partisan prop, The People’s House, holding what’s clearly a partisan event on government property. 

That week of the RNC felt like watching a first-class airline cabin from a close distance, watching it yet not even getting the benefit of walking through it. Surely you know the feeling: You get on a plane and pass First-Class where everyone is head down, nose in a book or pecking away on laptops, Wall Street journals in their lap, half downed cocktail by their side. They briefly greet you looking up, uninterested yet mildly curious, surprised even, that you’d have the gall to crash their private flight which was about to begin before the throngs of you harried and hurried passengers climbed on board. Like you’re late for the private screening of the film, an event that somehow leaked down to the likes of you, and they’re certainly not going to catch you up on the plot. An exhausted mule with saddle bags, you barely fit in the aisle, jacket in a wad under your sweaty armpit. Their pressed jackets were hung up hours ago in a roomy compartment up front. You’re both late to the party but you don’t get to go to the party. You’re holding them up.

I found it interesting but not exactly surprising that so many of these speakers are from the South, the Bible Belt where God is good, God is great and God is feared, and from the American plains, where those amber waves of grain grow. Cue more Gunsmoke music, and we see a young Caucasian crew-cut boy running through a cornfield in his backyard flying the model airplane his daddy helped him make. Ahhh, remember those days? I’m all for working with dad on a project, but what about all those other boys, the ones whose stomachs are grumbling from hunger, who have no Aunt Bea making pies for them in the kitchen, or who’ve got marks on their legs from their own Pa’s beating them, and who can only dream of holding a model airplane in their own hands much less having access to a wide open space in which to fly it? Where in this American Dream do they fit in exactly? Couldn’t this crew cut boy at least be depicted as sharing the fun with a black friend? Again, help me understand, am I missing something? Can’t we all be friends?

Much talk went to this land, our liberties and those who defend it. We were told that the foundation of freedom is faith. What about those who don’t believe in God? Or Jesus? Then what? Are they lesser? Surely, we can all agree with the promise that a society should be built upon love of people and service to others? The RNC message is, “Where Joe Biden sees American darkness, we see American greatness.” Joe may have pointed out some dark times still in our midst –- and to be sure there are many extraordinary challenges with which we must reckon and I prefer a leader to be honest about our nation’s challenges — but is it a fair statement to suggest he also can’t see the greatness? I find it a theatrical stretch at best.

By the end, it all felt like watching a party we’re not invited to. This “genteel” suits and high heels crowd, rallying around their leader, acknowledging that he means what he says and says what he means, even though (hee hee) he says whatever is on his mind. Am I the only one who doesn’t find this charming? What about those “African nation shithole countries” of which he previously spoke, and his proud admission of how “When you’re a star, they (women) let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Are these the family values, that nuclear family purity we’re attempting to resurrect? I don’t think it’s working.

Watching them all, a chorus line bedazzled by the fireworks display above their hallowed grounds, their White House, it felt like the circle was closed off to just these Trumpians, and instead we at home were given limited clearance to merely watch their event. In contrast, watching Joe Biden’s family at the end of the DNC, the circle felt open and I felt invited inside, like I was one of them, and the circle would stay open for me always.

I grew up in the South. I went to church every Sunday. And then I left for college where it was time to look around and see what else existed. I met so many different types of people and despite our varying backgrounds, I found we all wanted the same things. Can’t we all have a piece of the pie? Is it not as delicious if we are all sharing it? I say cut it in slimmer slices and pass the plates. Surely, that’ll show us far more than telling us that we will all get a taste. 

Covid-19, Encouragement, Grace, hope, Nature

Sunday Service

My grandparents moved down to Vero Beach, Fla. years ago, leaving behind their lives as New Englanders to become Floridians. My grandmother’s tanned wrinkly knees, breezy summer shifts with a Kleenex tucked in one sleeve, and her wide brimmed straw beach hat are as clear to me today as they were each year we visited. She and my grandfather walked the beach many Sunday mornings after their strong and stout black coffee, sectioned Indian River grapefruit halves and English muffins spread with butter and apple jelly, and of course after breakfast was cleared and the dishwasher loaded. I don’t know if they chose to walk left or right, left toward the big pier that extended way out into the water or right toward the swimming hole with the big step down that rose up to a sandbar where the water suddenly was ankle deep. Either way, they found their rhythm of how they wanted their Sundays to go and they kept to it religiously.

Some days I don’t know what I’ll get, what mood I’ll be in, how I’ll perceive the day ahead, but as my sister and I mused, you just wake up and walk into whatever is waiting. Yesterday was a collision of too much: a toxic mix of worry, restlessness and overwhelm, and the only fix was to get out of the house. These days nowhere feels safe, not even home.

You just wake up and walk into whatever is waiting

My son who today was supposed to move into his college dorm recently tested positive for Covid. He’d spent some time with a friend who later learned he had it, and so my son got it too. Thankfully he had just three days of mild headaches after which his symptoms disappeared. His doctor said per CDC Guidelines he can end his quarantine ten days after his first symptoms appeared, which will be Thursday of next week, so thankfully he can move into his dorm then in time for classes, two thirds of them virtual, which begin the following Monday. On Friday, my husband and I drove in separate cars the 45-60 minute drive to Newnan, Ga. where we both took drive-by rapid Covid tests and learned we’re each negative. Despite these positive negative results, you can still analyze symptoms, phantom and otherwise, to death and believe me, we have. Joe thought maybe his throat felt heavy and I decided my sense of smell was fading, waking each morning to sniff the vanilla extract, perfume spray bottle or jar of peanut butter, the latter rather unpleasant pre-coffee. In reality, we don’t have symptoms and each day we wake up without them is in anyone’s book a small victory.

Thank God for large drafty houses. We are living in separate rooms and I’ve chosen to be on an air mattress in our parlor, and am noticing that the early light breaking through these 1880s bay windows is heavenly. I’ve taken over the downstairs bathroom and after eleven years here have finally broken in its enormous claw foot tub. Those quiet morning baths, that southwest facing bathroom, with dappled light streaming through its two windows, has become church for me. There’s a fireplace opposite the tub and when we’re through renovating this glorious place, when these miserable Covid times are behind us, we’ll enjoy decadent fireside soaks.

The early light breaking through these 1880s bay windows is heavenly.

For months now the world has been consumed with this virus, and knowing it’s here in my house walking around inside in the form of my son has left me itching to stay away, unnatural for a mother to self-assign to home’s far recesses or even further, outside them. It’s both ironic and unfortunate that these last few days with him home I’m having to stay more separate than ever. Maybe like quickly ripping off a Band-aid in lieu of its slow painful removal, the universe is making our separation easier by having it abruptly start now? Certainly not intending to make him feel like a leper – and he doesn’t –  I can’t cut any corners, not when doctors look at me with their knowing eyes and tell me that early results show that cancer survivors don’t seem to fare well with Covid. Excuse me? Not even trying to define “well,” just trying to stay alive. We all are.

It’s unnatural for a mother to self-assign to home’s far recesses.

No circle in these concentric circles in my inside world and outside it feels exactly safe, yet home I am realizing is where I am. I feel strong and can move and walk miles and miles. Yesterday I left and with mask in hand and on face whenever there was anyone in sight, and with no particular destination in mind, wandered all around Decatur – through the cemetery, residential neighborhoods and downtown. Walked four miles and some change and with AirPods tucked inside my ears, strutted straight out of a ‘70s music video, moving through the entire Billy Joel’s Turnstiles album and on into ELO’s greatest hits, finding comfort in something familiar from a simpler more predictable time.

Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls is one of my favorites. Fast flitting piano juxtaposed with a ribbon of melodic rambling vocals felt perfect. He wrote it after he’d returned to New York after many years away when he was living outside the city near, you guessed it, Highland Falls. The song speaks to the highs and lows of life, it’s either sadness or euphoria. We are always what our situations hand us. Perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies. We stand upon the ledges of our lives with our respective similarities.

 It’s Sunday and as I lie here on my air mattress, now slightly lumpy from hours of air slowly seeping out, I clutch my Target mug, strangely comforting albeit mass-produced, with its colorful floral “S” initial and shiny gold handle, filled with that sacred first and only cup of coffee. I’m soaking it all in, this day, this life, the changes that are coming. This moment feels like my church, and it’s offering lessons and bringing comfort. With so many unable to return to their own churches, I am wondering where or how are you finding your church, your soothing Sundays?

I’m soaking it all in, this day, this life, the changes that are coming.

Growing up, we were required to attend church every Sunday, and unlike my grandparents, my parents didn’t stray from that traditional script and wander into nature on Sundays for nourishment. I think we need to wander there in order to return right back home, back to ourselves.

Stay safe and look for love and comfort wherever you can. It’s still there under all the rubble, which increasingly will clear away. I’m leaving you with music from a Sunday I will always keep close to my heart. I was in New York with a dear girlfriend and as we walked through Central Park, this haunting celestial music pulled us in, blanketing us all and moving me to tears. Amazing Grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty nester, Family, Love, Parenting

Bed, Bath & Beyond

On mornings when she drove carpool, sometimes my mother would let me know I had crumbs around my mouth. Before I could wipe them away, she’d already licked her own fingers like you would if collating papers, and gone about dabbing the corners of my mouth. I’d like to say this happened before picking up the other kids, but it was random and often we had an audience.

My carpool memories are of us crammed into my dad’s white 1969 Mustang convertible with burgundy interior. Not sure why she sometimes drove his three-speed manual steering drafty child carriage instead of her station wagon, but maybe our Ford Country Squire wasn’t the dependable family ride its faux wood siding conjured. The Mustang steering was so tight she’d ask for help from whomever was in front, my sister or me, and we’d lean in to move the stubborn wheel.

IMG_0724
Where did the time go?

We didn’t have any carpools with my kids but I do recall that moment when the ride to school changed, probably as early as third or maybe it was fourth grade, when the school drop off necessitated omitting any form of motherly affection. I still wanted to hug them goodbye and sometimes I’d look around and when the coast was clear, remind them no one was looking and we could get in a quick hug. It was a rushed hug, but a hug nonetheless. Of course, as years passed those drop off hugs all but disappeared.

We started biking to school and then my boys would walk themselves and later on, drive. I’m glad to have had the schools that we did, with great teachers, close by and with a wide variety of people. A slice of real life in an urban enough setting, but still with plenty of green spaces to roam. I’m still getting newsletters from our high school and occasionally I’ll scan them for details on the postponed graduation festivities, but mostly they’re full of the usual back-to-school information, complicated further by this pandemic, information now intended for other families. I wonder how long it will take me to voluntarily opt off this list. Or how many Augusts I will see school buses pass by and remember all these years. I’m swollen with gratitude and memories.

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Georgia Tech bound from an early age

This weekend my younger son leaves for college. I remember the first college drop off two years ago and its 13-hour drive. This younger son is moving just 10 miles away, yet the mental preparations feel the same. He seems relaxed and understandably ready to leave behind the drone of his mother’s voice and nonstop questions which land like a spray of bullets: Should we get two sets of sheets? Which of these comforters do you prefer? Will you take a look at these shower caddies? Certain he’s asking his own: Will she ever stop?

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Back to school Covid era

Last weekend we shopped Bed Bath and Beyond for dorm essentials. I hoped to get in and out quickly as pandemic shopping doesn’t afford the luxury of over-analyzing mattress toppers. Besides, he has no interest in a new comforter or towels and washcloths since, budget-minded like his dad, he’s decided to raid our linen closet instead. I remind myself I have boys and unlike my sister’s and my own college preparations, there will be no room theme or patterned comforter. It’s all business and boys’ nests need minimal fuss. I hope he’ll carry good memories in lieu of the current parental annoyances he and I assume most college-bound teens about to leave the nest seem to experience. It was a great shopping trip, the store wasn’t crowded, and we found it all. He’s excited to test out his coffee maker  and try out the mattress topper too, a simulation of life to come.

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Ready for move-in

I think sometimes you must take the lead your child gives you. If he needs a second set of sheets, he reminds me he can simply drive himself to Target. “Let go, woman,” I believe is the message. I’m trying. Really, I am. I joined his college’s parent Facebook group to share information with other freshman parents. One mom’s son is boarding a plane from Singapore and she’s expressing gratitude for other parents who’ve offered to be her son’s in case of emergency, his home away from home. Her vulnerability in letting her only child go is palpable and instantly I’m imagining my own. The wistfulness is coming and I feel it hovering just behind my eyelids.

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His buddy Bo especially will miss him.

After he leaves, I expect we’ll walk by his room and his brother’s and notice the picked over state of things – a lamp gone, pillows and clothes, also gone. Like my friend Carol, herself a mother of two college-aged boys, shared when I mentioned how shocking the empty room was two years ago when my first left: “The empty room is the worst. I do the same – going in there, afraid to vacuum up a single bit of DNA in case he needs to be reconstructed somehow…”

Evan, I want you to find your way and in many ways you have. These last few days together likely won’t be a celebration of family moments, but instead a rush to pack you up, even when I might instead want to hold you tight. Just when I’m feeling strong and mighty, I feel those tears waiting in the wings, asking, is it show time yet? Are you ready for us? Just as our children will, these tears also will come and go, and neither’s timing is something we can predict.

As different as my children are so are their college experiences. One moved six states away, and the other will move one county over. One walked New York City blocks to class and the other, at least in the beginning, will attend most classes online from his dorm’s XL twin bed. This pandemic finds the class of 2020 in an unusual situation. Face masks and hand sanitizer will become their closest companions, and finding a way to socialize while masked will hopefully in a few months become a distant memory. Please, vaccine, please come soon.

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Taking it all in during fall’s campus visits

I can’t wait for so much of it. That feeling of newness and excitement he’ll have as he navigates college life. The intensity of the classes on topics that intrigue him –goodbye French classes! – that pushes him out of his comfort zone and into better ways of thinking, new ways of connecting the dots. He will soak it all in and when I see him again, there will be stories to share.

I look back at life with both our boys and can’t help but smile. What a ride this has been and still is, for all of us! So much is still ahead. I hope when they look back in their own rearview mirrors, that their memories are even a fraction as sweet.

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cooking, Covid-19, Family, Health, renovation, uncertainty

Is it OCD, ADD, or DT?

MONDAY: I was texting with a friend who asked, “How’s your Monday been?” and I thought to myself, I could respond with an upbeat “Pretty good” or “Ok” or “Good, you?” or just cut to the chase. I chose the latter: “The damn cat woke me up last night with his throwing up.”

Louie had a long walk earlier in the yard with the boys, walks more about munching grass than walking on it. He over-indulged again, his system expelling the remarkably intact blades at a most inconvenient 2:45 am hour. The horrible sound of a cat bellowing as his body expands and contracts instantly wakes me and no doubt my husband too, yet we both lay there just like we used to with nighttime baby cries, waiting it out to see who’s going to get up. I rose quickly hoping to avoid it underfoot, whispering the mantra in my mind, “Please don’t go on the rug, please don’t go on the rug.” Thankfully the cat found a spot in the hall on the heart pine floor in plain sight which I could clean up before someone walked on it or the dog took care of it, the more vulgar of the two possibilities. I climbed back into bed trying to convince my mind that I hadn’t just disrupted our peaceful sleep when Louie continued droning for some two hours until he either gave up or I slipped back into sleep and lost track. Can’t determine how many hours I got, but the sum total was crappy sleep, which sends one’s brain, what’s left of it, into hopeless places.

Now up, I tried doubling up on coffee thinking I could snap out of it and feel awake, but that either works well and you’re wired much of the day accomplishing loads or it has the opposite effect, like melatonin got stirred in. I got the latter. Scrolling social media didn’t help support any semblance of a new-day can-do cheerful mood. More articles shared about college openings and mask wearing. It’s worrisome. Like many others, my son’s college is not requiring masks worn in classrooms despite professors rallying together revolting, some 700 signing a letter. Will our governor budge and put in this mandate that will trickle down to the University System and the individual schools? How long is it going to take? Some states have moved their mask wearing needle from “optional” to “suggested.” I guess we should be happy for small victories, but how about we hop over the “suggested” stepping stone and just land on “required?” Seems with this pandemic we’re going to have to get there anyway, so why the snail’s pace which allows so much sickness to take hold and pushes hospitals beyond their limits?

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Sad stick.

All this together time and some days stupid stuff grates on my nerves. I went to butter my toast and there was this. Who does this? My mother never let us maul our butter. We had to cut individual pats, put them on our plates and then it was our choice how to apply it to things more complicated than toast, like corn for instance: horizontally rotate the cob with buttered knife overhead or spear the butter and apply it to a diagonally rotating cob, hoping each kernel gets some before it melts onto the plate. I wanted us to be that family that rolled our corn onto a brand spankin’ new stick of butter, the contented cob twirling like a pig reveling in mud, and then watch the stick soften and mold into a sway back. But we never did it that way which is why it’s now unsettling to find diagonal hurried jabs disfiguring what was a perfectly fine stick of butter.

And the eggs too. No one’s fault here, but on a day when I’ve gotten little sleep, the carton needs to be symmetrically organized or else I’m finding my brain resorts to arrive at a workable configuration, and when no possibility presents, a plan for that surplus egg.

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Ahhh, we’ve got balance.

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Which egg will be the extra?

 

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Sexy planks await.

It may seem like we’re standing still but things are moving. The long-awaited lumber delivery happened so our porch renovation is closer still. After weeks, make that months of delay, Carolina Lumber came through and it made me so happy I could sing! Not sure if it all actually came from Carolina, but I went there in my mind. Enormous structural beams wait for when the larger-than-what-was-earlier-expected crew arrives to hoist them into place. Maybe even as soon as tomorrow!

The porch is going to be another place to go, delivering all the benefits of outside – sights, sounds and smells – with all the comforts of inside – no mosquitos, roof overhead, adjacent to the kitchen and bath. Not to mention the talented architect on-site who’s beautifully drawn it all and will ensure it gets built to its glorious specifications. The pets also will be in heaven.

 

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Evan’s bench has a reclaimed wood top, leftovers from our renovated garden shed.

More lumber, new and reclaimed, put to good use. May I present the bench that Evan made (with Joe’s design help). Sturdy for plants or people, and as it now stands, perfectly positioned for social distancing on our porch too.

TUESDAY: Some good news! As I’d wished for yesterday, mask wearing will now be required on our state’s college campuses. Seems jumping to “required” didn’t take as long as I thought. A seemingly simple step which will afford far better outcomes for students and faculty returning to campus. While I’m at it, I wish for good news in November’s election. Just putting it out there.

IMG_9902These days at home together may be different than what we’re used to, but they offer the same cast of characters and rather predictable if not comical commentary. Take tonight for instance. Joe walks in the kitchen as NBC Nightly News is interviewing an adjacent state to the south’s governor, and all he can do is lean into the TV, get the gist of the story, utter “douche bag” and walk away. This is where we are.

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Not picking up.

At least twice a week timed late in the afternoon, I reach for the phone and nearly pick up until – whoa! – don’t touch that handset! Please DT, don’t call me.

WEDNESDAY: Ben is busy making garments and new patterns arrive, and I can hear the hum of the sewing machine churning out a jacket, a turtleneck for his girlfriend or in the case of today, pants. Evan has been helping Joe make railings for the new screened porch and both boys are learning more about woodworking, captivated by possibilities. They’ve each dealt with these strange times with grace and patience and resilience and despite not being able to stray too far from this home we’re quarantined inside, they’ve managed to fill their days rotating through simple pastimes – biking, frisbee, wiffle ball – or taking a drive to the mountains, just the two of them.

Joe returned yesterday from the store, as if just in from a hunt, hauling the kill stuffed in white Publix bags over his shoulder – pork ribs and ground beef (and ground turkey thrown in for my sake). Somehow, we managed to rearrange the fridge and freezer again to fit it all – a favorable problem in these times.

A simple burger normally eaten alone for dinner or with some chips or carrots now needs to be elevated – maybe baked beans on the side, green salad with veggies and homemade dressing, and what about for dessert? We are all relying on something to look forward to, each equally vested in turning these monochromatic evenings into something colorful, and food is the logical start. The days ramp up to dinnertime and you hope it’s all you hoped for and then you digest and clean up and begin sketching out the next sit down.

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Patterns and toes.

At least once a week there’s an Amazon Prime truck parked in front of our house. I run to the door wondering, have my vitamins arrived? Or maybe its that cord I lost and reordered for my external hard drive? Ben rushes to the door too, considering his own package, has my zipper come? He’s been sewing and ordering fabrics and now is waiting on an Etsy zipper to complete a jacket he’s begun. It’s as if Santa’s sleigh is out front and those few minutes he spends sorting out packages nearly kills us as we wait and wonder. Surely, we were good this year, good enough for one of these to be ours?

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Divine especially with salted butter and honey.

I’ve stayed busy baking, perfecting various favorites of mine, even taste testing on a few friends. Maybe this little hobby will grow, and I can start another little business. Obviously we must eat if we’re going to live, but if we can infuse the experience with memorable taste and texture and depth and light, I think we’ve accomplished something important. The days can be hard, but the meals don’t have to be. They offer chances to unwind and savor something satisfying. Might as well make them extraordinary. I’m working on it.

Today at least has gotten more interesting. As I sat on my bed to write, I noticed my vision increasingly strange, my lens now a watery veil, with bubbly visual noise in the corners. This being a pandemic coupled with my recent health “thing,” I was on the phone with my oncologist and eye doctor immediately. Seems I had an ocular migraine. They tell me they’re not cause for worry, yet their origins aren’t completely understood. I had one ten years ago during a particularly stressful event, details I won’t bore you with. So is it stress? Very likely the culprit. I know discord, tumult, or too much uncertainty make me uncomfortable. I was that girl when overhearing her parents argue who would make them kiss and make up. They used to make my siblings and me do that, so I figured why not them too? Besides, I hated hearing them argue. Ultimately, they’d oblige and offer up a disgruntled peck on the cheek at best, and I always stood my ground until they did. They would go on to divorce. Damn.

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Normally a nearby busy park in summer, this scene typifies life now.

Today we’ve got the perfect storm on our hands with all that’s going on in the world and in our own homes. Even though it changes by the hour, consistently the news hasn’t been good. I feel scared leaving my bubble, and so like others, I rarely do. I’ve heard friends announce before that they can’t watch the news, but I’ve been fine with it on all these many years. However these days I think it is finally getting to me and manifesting on a physical level, as with today’s migraine. I realize good nutrition, exercise and rest have absolutely got to remain in place but a little more fun needs to find its way in, too. On the peace-of-mind upside, as with colleges and universities, Atlanta will soon have a required mask mandate in place. That’s a start.

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Nice to sit next to someone for a change. Robert Frost with me in Agnes Scott’s fountain courtyard.

Despite its continued efforts, my brain can’t wrap itself around the layer upon layer of difficulties in our world that you can never fully unwrap. It almost seems shallow tackling insignificant household minutiae when there’s this enormous elephant in the room trying with all its might to get out, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Or a better analogy would be there’s a massive tornado, with a tail the likes of which you’ve never seen, and it’s coming to a neighborhood near you. Except when? Where? Have you battened down the hatches sufficiently? There is no perfect solution. Except there is that life-saving trifecta, our own part we each can and should do: Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands.

Finally, I asked my family to sum up in three words what living together during this pandemic has been like, and our different perspectives are interesting:

Susan: Togetherness, nourishing, unpredictable

Evan: Uncertainty, boredom, projects

Ben: Free time, productivity, relaxation

Joe: Surreal, enjoyable, virtual

 

(Stealing from Garrison Keillor)… Be well and keep in touch.

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