Tuesday, June 28, 2016

That room

There is one particular room at the University of Kentucky Hospital, the triage room for the obstretics unit.

We have put in time there over the last 14 years. Every year, I think of that room at this hot moment of summer as we get ready to celebrate Eleanor's birth.

Our first visit there was for our too early Eleanor. It was my first encounter with the systems of American hospitalization as an adult. I learned that going to the hospital is about telling your story over to ever slightly older and ever slightly more powerful professionals. You start with a first year medical student. Eventually, you see a doctor. You start with a nursing student. Eventually, you tell your story to someone who can start an IV in your arm, to someone who can catheterize you. That room was the first place where someone told us that a thirty-two week baby was going to be just fine, that the baby would be born ready for college if we could just get her to thirty-four weeks. We got her within two days of thirty-two weeks, and I held on to what we had been told for the next two years as we waited for Elly to catch up.

In that room, I learned that being in the hospital is another way of being. Nothing moves quickly. It is meditation and repetition.  

Unless things do move quickly and you learn that speed is not what you wanted after all.nIf the tempo picks up in a hospital, that means things are not going well. That room, two years later, was the only place and time that I've ever been afraid of my immediate -- it is coming for me right now -- death. Another baby, but much earlier and the heart had stopped. I was never really in danger of dying, but I defy anyone to hear blood rushing out of their body and not fear for it. If you can hear the blood leaving your body, can hear it like rain or like water rushing through a storm sewer, there is no response but fear.  

So when last year, Chris found ourselves in that little room again, we laughed. So we laughed? We laughed hysterically. We were surprised in midlife by pregnancy, like Dante on that road in the dark wood. And I was rattled for weeks, knowing the ins and outs of how a heart beats within you and how sometimes it stops, knowing that this time there was no heart to stop. I knew that, no matter how many sticks someone had me dip into my urine, no matter how many vials of blood drawn,  no matter how many professionals told me that I was definitely pregnant. I knew that something was wrong. So after weeks of bleeding, we found ourselves in that little room yet again, and we laughed hysterically. Because what do you when time keeps returning you, bloody, to this one little square, this one table and gown?

You laugh and you scare the nurses, because you have to. This is not in any way a tale of tragedy.  This is the story that has happened sometime to most of the women you know. This is just another difficult part of the human condition, and repetition is a cross of the female condition. So what is there to do, but to embrace your history through hysteria and a laugh?  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Manner of speaking

During the last election cycle, Paul then age 4 was worried that Mitt Romney was going to stop giving money to Big Bird.  This time around, aged 8, he's afraid that the presumptive Republican nominee is going to personally stab Americans in our homes  if he LOSES. How the world has changed.

There's an automatic adult response of chuckling:  Of course, Donald Trump neither wants to nor is able to stab us all. No matter how terrifying he may seem, the American democracy is not at risk of a coup if he loses. Candidates don't have standing armies, and the standing U.S. Army is not likely to get behind any kind of stabbing plan. 

But behind the moment of "oh, aren't kids so droll?" and the life lesson of "maybe a little less NPR in the car when the boy is there," there's a hint of truth.

Paul doesn't have the knowledge of the ins and outs of republic and democracy to understand why his specific fears are unrealistic.What he is capable of understanding is the tone of Donald Trump's speeches. He may not understand much of what Trump says, but he understands that he is hearing hate and bigotry. Paul is right that fear is appropriate response of a child to hearing that kind of venom spewed by a smiling, bragging man.  

It's hard for me, at age 43, not to be overcome by terror and fear when I hear Donald Trump call for a ban on Muslim immigration, for a block on the Washington Post, for the dismissal of a Mexican-American judge, and for "congrats"  and doubled-down bombing in the aftermath of a mass shooting.

For myself, parenthood has always lent me courage. For the most part, it's been courage in the face of being the only adult in a creaky, old house in the middle of the night. But I find parenthood is lighting a lamp in the face of Donald Trump's hopes for facism. Having responsiblity for my children extends my circle of bravery.

Both children ask what will happen if Trump is elected.  Here is what I tell them:

First, we are going to do everything possible to make sure that he is not elected.  We are going to work our guts out to make sure that we won't need to face a world with a Trump president.  Next, if he is elected, we will use whatever power we have to stop him from doing terrible things.  We are Americans, too, and we will not allow him to hurt the immigrants in our Berea family.  We will keep our friends and honorary daughters safe.  On the surface, we look like people that Donald Trump would like (I don't mention the fact that only one of us -- the young and beautiful one -- looks like someone Donald Trump would approve of.  No need to terrify her further).  If Donald Trump is elected, it becomes our new job to use our invisilbity to protect the people who Trump longs to hurt. We will not allow it.

In reality, they should find that speech more immediately scary than anything, but it seems to be helping.  It's helping me, too.

But America, let's just all be better in the first place. Let's not invite a fight with fascism and xenophobia. Let's just not elect him in the first place.  We can do it.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Lost Art of Saying Sorry for Everything

Saying sorry is not cool anymore.  We aren't supposed to be sorry for everything all the time anymore.  We're supposed to reserve the word "sorry" for truly terrible misdeeds and maybe the board game.  But I grew up in the church, in the Midwest, and in a small town.  I went to college for a while in Britain.  I love saying sorry for almost everything.  I love saying sorry when people bump into me. I love saying sorry when people are griping about their day. I love saying sorry about the weather.  I love saying sorry when my friend says sorry because she thinks some baked goods might be too stale to eat.  That last one happened yesterday.  I love good manners and modesty and being self-deprecating.  The 21st American century will pry "sorry" from my cold, dead mouth.  I may be Donald Trump's worst nightmare.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to say sorry for a few things this Friday, in the time honored way. I'm not saying sorry so that I can spend time with my family; I'm not saying sorry to avoid a scandal and penitentiary time.  I'm saying sorry to be a little bit ridiculous, a little bit silly, a little bit fun. Think of Jimmy Fallon's Thank You Notes, except I'm saying sorry.

  • I'm sorry to all those people who use sensitive toothpaste.  I'm sorry for holding onto a childhood misconception about what sensitive toothpaste is.  Only last month, upon getting a crown and needing to begin using specialized toothpaste myself, did I realize that sensitive toothpaste is NOT for people who find the very act of brushing their teeth too painful to bear. 
  • Similarly, I'm sorry to the entire field of dermatology for not realizing sooner that there is not a subspecialty of medicine called "wart doctoring."  As in, "Mom, please don't make me go to the wart doctor and get my warts burnt off!" I now realize that those doctors were dermatologists and that you save lives, not just burn off a five year olds' hand warts.
  • I'm sorry to all you Bernie Bros and the fact that I have zero time for your nonsense.  Twenty years ago, I would have had time.  Twenty years ago, I would have dated you.  Now, I'm forty- three and I have no minutes available for anti-pragmatism.
  • Similarly, I'm sorry to all sixtysomethings.  I took the SAT.  I know that Bernie Bro: Jenny :: Jenny: Retiree.  I don't even know what nonsense I'm spouting, but I have faith that I am. Maybe the constant apologizing.  I hope we'll both be around in 20 years for me to apologize about the specifics.
  • I'm sorry to the Honda Corporation for the fact that I'm still holding onto a 2001 Accord and that you, therefore, had to fix a faulty steering wheel piece.  
  • I'm sorry to everyone who has to see my hold my phone two inches from my face to read it, because I'm waiting until the new insurance year kicks to get new bifocals.  I'm sorry for the privilege of having insurance.
  • I'm sorry for how much I love texting as opposed to talking on the phone. I'm sorry that I never answer my phone if I don't know the number. I'm sorry that it's so many more of you now that my phone has decided to start semi-randomly hiding my contacts.
  • I'm sorry that I'm never the one to take out the compost, even though I use all of the glorious dirt. 
  • I'm sorry that it's Friday.  Thank god it is though.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

I love this life: Girl power

A Berea mama wrote to me yesterday about her gratitude for Elly's babysitting.   I'm grateful, too, because I am super cheap and I'm a happier mama when the teenager has her own money.  I figured that the babysittee parents are happy because they like to leave their houses without their children from time to time.

But this mama wrote to remind me that one of the perks of having Elly for a babysitter is having a musical, artistic, feminist, kind role model for her daughters.

And that got me to thinking about our beloved Jordan Bean.

Jordan started babysitting for Elly when we moved to West Virginia in 2004.  Elly was two and Jordan was just out of middle school.  I remember when her mom brought a tiny, quiet young girl over to our house to meet Elly, and I had no idea what a wonderful relationship was getting ready to begin.  I just knew that I needed to get my work done for UK and University of South Florida, and there was no way that I was going to do it without babysitting help.

During our time in Huntington, we watched Jordan and Elly grow up together.  Jordan took Elly swimming and painting and taught her how to stand up for girls.  When Elly was five, Jordan decided to dip her toes in our local community theater, and we went to see her in "Hello Dolly" in the old Huntington High.  All of a sudden, Elly was also all about the theater and singing.

Luckily for us, Jordan went to college right there in Huntington, and Elly and Jordan continued to see each other.  Elly got to see Jordan act as an actor and as an activist for women, organizing around pro-choice issues on Marshall's campus. She got to see Jordan take her first professional acting jobs in summer stock theater.

And then as we were leaving West Virginia for Berea, Jordan was also leaving for New York. Today, Jordan works with Dark Matter Production and the Tectonic Theater Project.  She's making her way in the Big City as an artist and an activist.  Her good example to a young artist travels across hundreds of miles on Instagram and the internet.

I'm so grateful that Jordan's mom approached us a decade ago about getting her some babysitting experience for her daughter. So many of the decisions Elly has made and the passions she's pursued have been because of her fiery, fierce role model who also liked to play, go sledding, and swim in the wave pool.

Now Elly's babysitting, and she's inspiring little girls.  She's got her "I solemnly swear to smash the patriarchy" tshirt and her passion for the theater.  She plays and she dances with them.  She talks to them about school.  Who knows that these little girls will be doing in a decade? Who know what Elly will be doing?

It all makes me want to break out in showtunes myself.

It's been a rough time for women for the last thousands of years. I don't expect it to stop. Yes, we've got a female nominee, AND her staff and volunteers are being endlessly harassed.  Yes, we've got survivors speaking out against violence in unprecedented ways, and their rapists are still not being punished for their crimes.  Yes, we have magnificently increased access to healthcare in the US, and reproductive health care remains maddeningly elusive.   The male nominee thinks that women in the 21st century should be punished for having abortions.

And yet, still we've got all these tough and lovely girls.  They are teaching each other how to be tougher and lovelier.  They make me love this world and love this life beyond any tough times.

Thank you, Jordan.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just around the corner

I was born a worrying woman. Well, a baby. I was a born worrying baby. And now I'm a worrying forty something. Something in my deep lizard, primal brain prompts me to fret, and I don't expect to stop.

I will keep trying to make peace with the part of my brain that prompts me to ask, "Why NOT worry?"  I plan to continue trying to rodeo with the galloping terror that seizes me in the night from time to time. I'm not going to give up trying to rein in that horse.

I may not be able to excise the part of my identity that tells me to worry, but I do take new lessons every year. At forty, after all, I am no longer scared of pink  insulation, and I assure you that the monstrous pink fiber was a prime worry of my fifth year. I am scared of cancer and freak accidents, two appropriate worries for the mother in midlife. I may not be able to stop being a worrier, but I am at least now concerned about things that are legitimately scary.


Last week, I took the old car into the dealer for a recall on the airbag. It's part of the massive nationwide recall on an older airbag inflator. Annoying, scary, upsetting, but not a big deal, I thought. It was supposed to take an hour.

When the mechanics opened up the steering wheel, they discovered that a screw which holds the airbag and steering wheel was missing. It was just gone or had never been there in the first place. In the 14 years I've owned the car, it has never once occurred to me to worry that a vital part of my steering wheel might be missing, an accident ready to happen but which never did.

So all along, there has been something wrong with my car, something that I never even thought about and wouldn't have even known to worry about it in the first place. I suppose that one lesson might be that terrors lurk everywhere, unknown. Constant vigilance!

That's not how I'm taking the lesson though. There's something so absurd about being a hypervigilant fretter and yet holding enhanced danger in my hands every day in the form of a faulty steering wheel. Here I have been worried about trees falling, drugs, guns everywhere, and illness while my car has been faulty without my knowledge or anyone's knowledge. "Do NOT think about it," I said to my fellow worrier Paul when the dealer brought us the news.  "There is no point in thinking about it. They are going to put in a new screw, and that's that."

That's that. It's like a thump upside the head, a reminder that worrying makes nothing happen in the world. Worrying does not make things come true or make unknown true dangers go away. I'm not going to be able to stop, not for good, but there's a lesson in being reminded that while worries happen inside one's head, that's the only place where they do things. And that reminder may let me go back to sleep at three in the morning.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bracketology: The unsporty person's guide to March Madness

Here it is.   It's time for the big dance, the March Madness,  the time of year that we pretend a group of unpaid professionals are actually scrappy amateurs. It's time for the NCAA men's championship. Here at Casa Hobson's Choice, we understand next to nothing about sports, but we do understand that a game attitude matters.  And so if you, like us, haven't seen a game all year, it's time to brush up on the rules of March Madness for the Uncoordinated.

(1) Play along.  If your family has a bracket, then you should fill out a bracket.  I don't care if you don't plan to watch more than 5 minutes of actual game time.  If your family has a bracket, you do a bracket.  Are your parents going to be alive forever? Your siblings?  No.  So join the fun.  Live in the damn now.  Have a bracket.

(2) Be true to your school.   If your team is in the NCAA, you have to put them at least into the second round.  Your school is only in the game because every member of last year's final four teams came down with mono in February?  I don't care. You're tired of receiving monthly appeals from your alma mater's development office?  I don't care.  Be true to your school.  Besides, as we folks from Indiana know from our sacred text, the 1986 film Hoosiers, David does sometimes beat Goliath (AKA Indianapolis).  I believe that story may be in some other sacred books, too.

(3) Within reason-- Nothing is more pitiful than the person who puts their number 15 seed in the final game against Kansas.  Be reasonable.  It's March Madness, but you can still have a little dignity.

(4) Don't bet real money on anything  -- Remember, you're not sporty.  You only know about fantasy sports from NPR and Judd Apatow movies.  Don't bet real money.

(5) No one wants to hear your thoughts on traveling -- If you haven't watched a game since 1985 and you decide to watch a game this year, you may be in for some surprises.  But trust me, no one wants to hear your opinions about traveling.  The world has moved on.  Just be grateful that you still recognize what game is being played.

(6) Remember that people's feelings get hurt over sports  -- Be gentle with the losers the day after.  Really gentle.  If your team beats your office mate's team, maybe you should both take sick days.

(7) Have fun with alternate brackets -- Remember, without the NCAA, we wouldn't have Fug Madness, the Pop Culture Disappointment Bracket, Lent Madness, Star Wars brackets, and Tournament Earth from NASA.  And of course, Book Madness at Berea Community Schools, the ultimate in book fun.

One final bit of advice:   you may not want to watch any games, but it never hurts to rescreen Hoosiers.  It may not matter to you who wins in real world, but you know that you want to watch Dennis Hopper and cry.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Weep Fest 2016

This Sunday, at the very beginning of a sermon about the Prodigal Son, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a personal weep fest, the scope of which has not been seen since the infamous "Charlotte's Web" at the Summer Movies Incident of 2007. I know what you're thinking.   Charlotte the spider dies in that movie; it's okay to cry. The folks sitting around me that day would beg to differ. There's crying and then there's what happened when I went to the movies, heavily and riskily pregnant, and Charlotte the spider died.

I'm relieved to say that, in part thanks to Union Church's thoughtful provision of pew tissues, I didn't reach the level of Def Con: Spider Death.  There was no open sobbing, no untoward snorting of snot, no gasping for breath.   We embarked as a congregation on the passage from Luke at 11 AM, and then I slowly leaked from the tear ducts for the better part of half an hour.

The Story of the Prodigal Son never seemed like a sob story before.  In the past, like most good church kids of the 1980s, I found myself identifying with the older brother.  It was one of those Bible stories that, as a teenager, I  liked to pretend didn't exist.  So far as I could see, the message was that bad behavior is rewarded; good behavior is spun by Jesus as obnoxious and boring. I mainly wanted to roll my eyes.  I got it.  Everyone from Ferris Bueller to the Prodigal Son was more interesting than I was.  The end.

I supposed that there might be some mysterious future in which I might become debauched and cool like the Prodigal Son, but I didn't really see it happening.

So I became an adult and never thought about the Prodigal Son again.

Until this Sunday, when suddenly, I found myself reading from the viewpoint of a character I hadn't paid much attention to before:  the father.  When I was a teenager, the behavior of the two boys was at the front of my reading.  Now, at age 42, the story brought me up short.  All I could think of was that father's heartbreak at losing his son and then his joy at finding him again.  As a child, I coudn't understand why the father didn't behave rationally, letting natural consequences fall where they may, and having firm boundaries and being consistent, the hallmark good behaviors of every parenting book out there.

Now, I saw through the eyes of the parent.  Horrible thoughts came to me of my own children eating husks with the pigs or refusing to come to the banquet because I hadn't appreciated their virtues.  I pictured my own children lost and then found.  I pictured the news stories I see every week of another bright Kentucky child lost to addiction and to their families.  

When we came to this verse,while was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him," I recognized that parent immediately.  Of course, he ran to his son.  Of course, he bathed and clothed and fed him. As he says, "this son of mine was dead and is alive again." 

Everyone tells you how overwhelming your love will become when you become a parent. Everyone tells you that you've signed up for a world of worry.  So did the Biblical father. I know it's a parable, and I'm supposed to be able to tie this story back into a greater metaphor.  The father is God.  We are the sons.  But sometimes when art moves you, just the surface brings you tears.  This Sunday, I didn't need the father to be God.  I just needed to be overwhelmed by the realities of parental love, and I needed to see a story in a new light.  What I saw in that story when I was teen was all that I could see.  I believed then that it was all there was to see.  Fast forward twenty years, and I'm a different person in the story and outside it.

As I grow, I find that I inhabit different positions within the old, old stories that I've known since I was a toddler.  And sometimes that makes me blub for the better part of a Sunday morning, for reasons that I don't particularly understand yet. For now, I think that's okay.

11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became an adult, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  -- I Corinthians 13: 11-12