Baby Bad Ass

I started calling her that shortly after she was born.  It still fits.

Last week I wrote about my granddaughter having heart surgery on September 27.  She did and after a rough first 24 hours, she improves each day.  Today, Sunday, she moved out of ICU, her parents could finally hold her and she is able to nurse on demand.  Last I heard, she was sleeping in her mama’s arms.

Once again, I am amazed at the toll emotional stress takes on my body.  So I rested and napped and read the paper today.  Tomorrow I hope to hold my brave and strong granddaughter.  And her mom and dad.

We are so very grateful for family, friends, medical professionals and medical insurance.  We feel surrounded by all that is good.  Thank God.

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Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

(Here is why I haven’t written much lately for this blog.  And why it may be a while before I post again.)

My younger daughter (with her husband, 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 5 month old son) has been moving from our town to the next town over, 30 minutes away, for the last 2 weeks.  Their leases overlap so everything didn’t go at once.  Maybe not a good thing for a couple who are organization-challenged and procrastination-inclined.  (She didn’t get those traits from her daddy.)

The retired man I live with has helped A LOT.  My job has been to watch and care for and amuse the children.  The toddler still takes a good nap.  That helps.  The 5-month-old is still totally nursing, will take a bottle of pumped milk and can go about an hour or 2 before Mommy-withdrawal sets in.  One day we drove to the new house to get his mom–we couldn’t settle him down.  After that, my child care and his mom stayed together.

My older daughter’s 8-month-old baby is having heart surgery on Thursday, 9/27.  Her abnormality was diagnosed the day after she was born and she has grown and developed well since then.  The surgery is necessary to guarantee a normal life as she grows into adolescence and adulthood.

We know a couple of grown women who had the surgery 30-40 years ago.  Each has lived with no restrictions ever since.  We have confidence that all will go well for the baby.  Our concern is mostly for our daughter and son-in-law.  When one of our children hurts, we hurt.

Our mantra these days is right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. (Thank you Anne Lamott.)  We know that love and prayer and support always help.  We are surrounded by many friends who are praying.  We feel it.  And we are all grateful.

Oh Say Can You See–From Below?

Crowds are hard for me.  I have a mild claustrophobia–I need to know I can get out, get to an exit.  I’m short and can’t stand on my tiptoes anymore, so I can’t ever see much beyond my body space.

When we went to Washington, DC, in January, 1993, for Bill Clinton’s Pre-Inauguration, I upset my family when I refused to push up into the crowd to get closer to the concert and speeches.  I told them to go ahead and I would wait by the big tree and they could find me afterward.  My daughters, 12 and 14, started walking off.  (Surprise.) My husband called them back, asking me if I was sure I couldn’t go closer.  He told them we all needed to stay together.  The girls glared at me.  We could kind of see everything on one of the big screens.

My friend Sarah asked me to go see Michelle Obama at UNC-Greensboro.  She lives within walking distance (for her not me) of Fleming Gym.  After some discussion of my limitations, (we needed to walk about 5 blocks and then stand for several hours) she offered to push me in a wheelchair.  She offered because she wanted me to go.  I was humbled by her generosity.  I really wanted to go so I swallowed my pride and said yes.

Sarah and I started on our Michelle Obama adventure.  The doors opened at 11:00, we got there at 11:10 (she was to speak at 1:15) and got into the line for disabled people.  They let all of us in first and guided us to a section to the right of the stage.  The other line stretched for blocks in the hot sun. Sarah and I ended up in the front row. She sat in a chair beside my wheelchair.  A railing, 10 feet of floor and a (female!) Secret Service agent separated us from the stage.  All the people outside our “fence” had to stand crowded together and many couldn’t see well.

I felt guilty.  I knew I couldn’t walk 5 blocks and then stand on my own for several hours. But I don’t usually think of myself as disabled so I felt like a cheater.  Until the end.

After her speech, Michelle Obama came down from the stage and started working her way around, shaking hands with the volunteers who had special tickets to be up close.  When people figured out she was headed for our section, they slipped under the little barrier and filled in the small open space in front of the wheelchairs.  Four rows of people slid in front of me.

I felt my mild claustrophobia stirring– I sat in my wheelchair, completely surrounded by standing people.  They stepped over my foot rests (almost falling on me) and rarely even looked down at me or spoke.  A few said “I’m sorry” but they still stood in front of me.  Rude.  I saw the top of Michelle Obama’s hair and her bald Secret Service agent’s head.

Ride in a wheelchair sometime in a public place.  You’ll see our world in a very different way–from below.  You will be invisible to many other people.

I learned curb cuts and level sidewalks and automatic door openers matter.  A lot.

So do compassion and courtesy and genuine concern for others.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Girl Power

  • Thank you, Suzanne Blievernicht!
  • At a class given at Stanford, the last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.
  • At first everyone laughed, but he was serious. Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities.  They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going.  Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes.
  • But their feelings? Rarely.
  • Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health.
    He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym. There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising”, we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged—not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!
  • So every time you hang out to schmooze with a girlfriend, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health!
Published in: on February 21, 2012 at 8:49 pm  Comments (9)  
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Today Is World Aids Day (Dec. 1, 2011)

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(This is the same post I wrote a year ago.  It’s all still true.)

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm  Comments (4)  
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Write To Soul (a workshop/retreat)

Nobody knew everybody.  Some didn’t know anybody.  One is 20.  One is soon to be 40.  A couple are almost 50.  Two will soon be 60.  There were two more: one who admits to being in her mid-70’s and her friend who never did share her age but looks cool even in velcro sneakers.  (They had great hats!)

We are complex, vibrant, funny, spiritual women.

We are writers.

And we came together for a weekend in the mountains.  We wrote about a time we felt free and alive and then used some of those words to create a poem.  We made a timeline of the “teachers” in our lives and then wrote about one we left out.  Sometimes we just wrote randomly whatever came to mind and sometimes we answered a question like “What mountain do you need to come down from?”

We shared our writing and learned how our words touched the others.  We were gentle and supportive and we listened.  Some words painted pictures, some phrases sang a song and some stories made us laugh.  We wrote about our pasts (how do you not?), our nows, our dreams and our fears.

We worked hard, we ate well, and we became friends.

We savored a weekend of writing in the mountains.

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm  Comments (8)  
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Closet Radical

My first date with my husband was a protest march in 1972.  I was against the war in Vietnam, but I mostly remember sitting on his lap in the back seat of Gary Ulicny’s VW bug.

When my girls were little, I was a group leader in La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group.  We advocated for what is now called “attachment parenting” and wondered whether stay-at-home moms could be feminists.  We felt pretty radical at the time, with our Snuglis and our homemade baby food.

In 1995, I was part of the “Mothers’ Bar Brigade”, sponsored by the local AIDS Service Agency.  We took baskets of condoms in multi-colored wrappers into the bars of Greensboro the night before Mother’s Day. We went to gay bars and we went to another bar that had so many strobe lights I went temporarily blind. It was way past my bedtime.

At one bar,  I handed one of my colorful condoms to my daughter’s friend and said, “Your mother would want you to use this.”  I’m sure I ruined his evening.  The next morning, Mother’s Day, a reporter who had followed us around for a while quoted me in the newspaper.  Monday, I think my kids bragged about their cool mom.

I’m reading a book called Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America (why do books have such long titles these days?).  In 2010, more than 2000 people, mostly women, attended a BlogHer convention in NYC.  That is too many women to ignore.  The more I learn about the world of blogging—“The Blogosphere”—the more I feel kind of radical again.  I want to go to a BlogHer convention.

I started this blog so my grandchildren would know me.  Of course I hope to influence their values and beliefs.  And maybe make them laugh.

I hope they’re proud of me.  And I hope they’re a bit radical, too.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm  Comments (8)  
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My Trainers

I changed gyms and paid for one-on-one hours with a trainer.  I got Jodi.  She’s 25 (sigh) and kind.  She challenges me, but she listens when I describe how my body works.

I’ve written before about having rheumatoid arthritis (click on Rheumatoid Arthritis in the cloud of words down below on the right).  Life can be a challenge some days.

So can an 18-month-old granddaughter.  Someone asked me yesterday if she’s walking.  I said, “No, she runs.”  She’s not chubby anymore, but she is solid.  And sometimes squirmy.

So Jodi helps me strengthen my upper body and core.  And we do cardio stuff.  Ever try an elliptical machine?  I am awed by people who do it for a long time.  An hour?? My goal is to move beyond 5 minutes.

Humility and a sense of humor go to the gym with me.  (There’s a fine line between humor and self-denigration.)  I am grateful for all my body can do.  Jodi pushes me past stopping just because I want to.

I led a writing group at a drop-in center for people who are HIV-positive yesterday.  The prompt was a quote from an article by Nancy Copeland-Payton in Presence (the journal of Spiritual Directors International.)

It’s a roller coaster.  I didn’t buy a ticket, never wanted a ride…the illness will keep recurring and I will die of it.

Who am I…?  I’m no longer the person who used to be in control, who had energy to take care of tasks and other people.  Rather, I’m the one who needs care.  I’m the one who is vulnerable.  This is not an identity I choose.  Buried inside are losses that need to be cried out.  This is a long mourning process.

I finally let go of my control and let myself be vulnerable and cared for by others.  When I learn to receive their care with profound gratitude, I receive the greatest gift.  I realize how much I am loved.  It’s extraordinary.  This love lets me be even more vulnerable.

While we wrote I played a Kenny G CD (they like soft jazz).  As we finished, we listened to the music and rested.

I wrote a whiny page about not liking roller coasters and not wanting to be vulnerable.  They wrote and shared about God’s love and how their disease saved them from drugs and a wasted life and changed them for the better.  I didn’t want to share mine.

The last song we listened to (not planned by me) was Louis Armstrong singing “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  They sang along and smiled when it ended.

Amazing grace, again.

A Woman’s Place

by singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen

(click here for YouTube link)

I am a woman, and my place is in the home
And my home is the whole wide world
We are world shapers, we are change makers
We are potters spinning clay, we are dreamers of a new day

We are asking questions, we are opening up the door
We are searching, finding answers,
We are wisdom seeking more
Rabbi, singer, teacher, professor, poet, preacher
Driving buses, styling hair
We are everywhere

We are women
We are sweeping the hearth
We are dreaming in the dark
We are weaving at the loom
We are the rhythms of the moon
We are world shapers, we are change makers
We are tenders of the earth, we are women giving birth

We are packing lunches,
We are sewing the clothes you wear
We are sleeping on park benches,
We are kneeling down in prayer
Doctor, dancer, scientist, carpenter and journalist
Telling stories, rocking chairs
We are everywhere

We are women
We are stirring the pot
We are keeping the fire hot
We are holding a child’s hand
We are the rhythms of the land
We are world shapers, we are change makers
We are potters spinning clay, we are dreamers of a new day

We are laughing, crying, we are taking the time to play
We are singing, we are sighing,
We are making our own way
Politician, volunteer, refugee, and engineer
In the streets and on the air
We are everywhere

We are world shapers, we are change makers
We are potters spinning clay, we are dreamers of a new day
We are rule breakers, we are home makers
We are healers of the earth
We are mid-wives at the birth

We are women, and our place is in the home
And our home is the whole wide world

(c) 2006 Sara Thomsen
(from her Everything Changes CD)

Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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