Saturday, December 23, 2006

Storm Stories

The morning after the storm, I headed out with the dog to assess the damage in our little neighborhood. The sky was calm and the air was eerily warm, but the street was carpeted in evergreen boughs and it certainly smelled a lot like Christmas. I started to move the largest of the branches off to the side of the street and within minutes, my entire family was outside helping. Even my four year old had grabbed her child-size rake and was dragging the littlest bits of debris into piles. Half an hour later, sweating and panting with exertion, we stepped back and admired our handiwork. At least our little bit of heaven was restored.

My husband and I spent a few minutes talking to the girls about taking pride in our neighborhood and the importance of helping out where we could. Little did we know, the lessons would keep on coming for the next seven days or so.

The next day we were taken in, along with two other families, by my sister-in-law and her partner, no questions asked. In all, there were eight adults and eight children under the age of ten in the house and our seventy-five pound dog. I made a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches and some fruit salad for the kids, the adults dined on homemade gnocci and drank wine and we all agreed it felt like a "real" Christmas dinner. The kids spent the rest of the evening playing Xbox and doing holiday crafts and we all felt blessed to be sharing in the kindness of our hosts.

Across the street, our neighbors were fortunate enough to have a generator and when they went to drop off the gifts they had purchased for the family they had adopted for the holidays and discovered a single mother and her three children struggling to stay warm with no power, they decided to adopt them more formally. The family moved in to their house with them until the power was restored.

One day I took my girls downtown to enjoy the holiday spectacle and search for Santa Claus and I witnessed some unprecedented acts of kindness on the part of shopkeepers. One harried mother with two kids whose house had been hit by a falling tree mysteriously found herself exiting the grocery store with an extra bag of goodies. Another woman who patiently waited for the short-staffed shoe salesman to help her for over an hour while her displaced children tried on fancy shoes was given an extra discount for her troubles. Strangers were trading stories of storm damage and personal difficulty and those who were more fortunate were treating others to lunch or coffee and asking how they could provide more.

Although there are still two days until December 25th, I feel that my girls and I have been given the best Christmas gift of all. We have witnessed how the people around us care about others in times of crisis. We have used our energy to do something for the collective good, no matter how small it seems, and we have benefitted from the love and kindness of others. I hope that the momentum of these actions will carry us through the next week and beyond - giving us inspiration to continue sharing our talents and riches with those around us for a long time to come.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Northwest Christmas Carol

On the twelfth day of Christmas
Mother Nature gave to me (and a whole lot of other unsuspecting folks)
strong winds and seven days power-free.

Okay, okay, so it doesn't quite fit in with the tune of the original, but it's the best I can come up with on my first day back in my house after the ferocious storm that blew through here. Yup, those national (and international) news stories about the winter weather in the Pacific Northwest centered right here in our neck of the woods. We expected to lose power, so my youngest and I spent the morning of the storm filling the car with gas, my wallet with cash, and pirating batteries for the flashlights from every electronic kid-toy we have. (By the way, I'm not putting them back. In fact, I think life is much simpler and kinder without those toys for now...)

The first night without power was somewhat of an adventure, lighting candles, heating soup on the gas stove, going "potty" by flashlight. The following morning all of the neighbors congregated to share storm stories and I decided to walk the dog down to the woods to assess the damage. My poor dog, who was so terrified of the howling winds that he lost control of his bowels all over the carpet that night. Man, I've got to spend some time teaching him how to have accidents on the linoleum instead!

Anyway, the two of us stepped over massive fir trees (read: 50+ feet tall) that had been ripped from the ground, roots and all, and made our way down to the rushing creek. I lost sight of the dog for a moment and realized the retriever in him had taken over and called him to swim. I followed the thrashing sounds of a dog in water and found him trapped beneath a fallen tree, snout and eyes the only things showing above the rushing current of the freezing water. His eyes were wild and afraid, which jarred me because I've never seen him afraid of anything. I started to go in after him, but thought better of it and instead ran back to get help, not wanting to join him in the quicksand-like mud at the bottom of the creek.

My darling husband (now mostly recovered from his latest visit to the hospital) shot like a cannonball down to the creek and made his way across the tree to the dog as I talked calmly to him. In the end, all three of us were soaked but safe and I collapsed in tears almost instantly as our feet touched dry ground.

The next morning we packed up and moved to my sister-in-law's house, dog in tow. She and her partner opened their home and their hearts to us and for the next four days, we were treated with love and care. They fed us, gave us a warm place to sleep and play, and asked us to treat the house as if it were our own. I feel so incredibly lucky to have such loving people in our lives. My daughters got to know their auntie a lot better and we all crafted a more trusting relationship that may not have come about without this storm.

I apologize for the disjointed nature of this post. We finally got power to our house yesterday afternoon and today has been set aside for cleaning up and getting ready for Christmas, not for writing. I have so many wonderful stories of families and friends who reached out to others in this difficult time and I promise I will share all of them with you. I have recently been reminded of what Christmas is all about, trite as that may sound.

I hope you are all well and enjoying the company of loved ones.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What do I do with this?


It sits in the top of my chest, a bubble with a thick skin that causes the intake of air to be shallow and quick, the exhalations to be short and incomplete. It won't dissolve with forced attention to slower, deeper breathing, and I picture it sitting there, red and solid. Its name is anger.



It wants me to roar. A mother lion who has lost her cubs. It will not float free with any deliberate, quiet choice. I try to envision it like a balloon on a string and I cut the string, hoping it will float free of its moorings up into the sky. I don't want to make a sound or alert anyone to its presence because it feels wrong to be angry. There is nobody to blame, no mishandling or intentional action that put us here. Anger is not productive or helpful, but I know instinctively that it will not go away until I punch something, throw something, pitch a fit. As soon as I open my mouth to shriek and mobilize my arms and legs to flail wildly it will shatter and release its toxic brew. The contents will burn out like Fourth of July fireworks in the dark sky. I have to find a place where nobody will witness this and be frightened or contrite.


I am angry that he is sick again. I am angry that I had to rush him to the hospital twice last week and watch him suffer. I am angry that neighbors and friends had to be called upon to help my daughters at a moment's notice. I am angry that Eve thinks I'm lying when I say he will get better. I am angry that Lola won't sleep in her own bed anymore and I am awakened multiple times every night to soothe her and put her back to sleep. I am angry that the doctors aren't working on his case tirelessly. I resent having to tell this story over and over again, hoping that some detail will stand out this time and we will find some answers.


I hate that my house is a mess, loads of laundry folded and stacked along the backs of the couches in the living room because I am too tired to put them away. I hate that instead of playing Crazy Eights with my daughters after school I turn on the TV for them so I can collapse on the couch for an hour's nap. I hate the phone calls from family every night, checking on him and asking for some new development. I hate the voice mail I get for the medical assistant every time I call to talk to the physician. I hate that I know what time each of his doctors' offices open and all the receptionists' names. I hate the phrase, "...when Daddy feels better..." I hate that I can't fall into a deep sleep for fear that I might miss a telltale groan from his side of the bed. I hate that I'm angry and resentful and tired. I want to be happy and thankful and full of joy.


I know that the anger is a natural response to all of this, but I worry that it is destructive. I have managed to fend it off until now and know that it would make Bubba feel guilty and my children confused and frightened. I have to find a place to release it where I can give it its due. I want to acknowledge the fear and fatigue that caused it and its right to exist, but I don't want to unleash its hurtful power anywhere near others. I want to let it go. I want to make it go.


Friday, December 08, 2006

This is What Sleep Deprivation Sounds Like...

Shit, check the clock. Okay we have 45 minutes. "Girls, what do you want for breakfast?"No answer. Typical. Peek around the corner, yup, they're still in their pajamas playing with Eve's birthday gifts. Okay, breathe, give them a few minutes to play, and then start nagging.
Breathe.
Shit, gotta pack a lunch, and I promised Lola we'd find the perfect Xmas tree this morning. Check the clock. Forty minutes. "Girls, please go get dressed for school. I'll put couple of bowls of cereal on the table for you.Grilled cheese in your lunchbox okay today?" No answer again. Screw it, I'm making grilled cheese and throwing some other crap in there. She won't die if she doesn't have a well-rounded lunch today.
Okay, we need groceries before Mom shows up today, and I've got to get to the hospital to visit Bubba. Food for myself would be a good idea, but the latte will have to be done on the fly. How about cereal for me, too? Ooh, I think there's a brand new box of my favorite stuff in the pantry.

Shove a bite in and check the sandwich to make sure it's not burning. God, this cereal tastes like crap. Maybe they burned this batch or something. Ugh. Oh well, it's fuel. Sandwich is okay, check the clock. Thirty minutes. "Girls, please go get dressed and feed the animals their breakfast. Make sure you're taking bites of your own breakfast as you play." No answer.
Breathe.
Better jot down a few grocery items so I don't forget them. Lunchbox almost done. Christ! What is that smell? Shove in another bite of cereal before checking. Ohhhh, this is what I needed. The cat had diarrhea on the carpet. Like I have time for this? Quick, clean it up before the dog decides it's sweet-smelling lotion. Shit, the dog. He probably really needs to pee. "Has anyone let the dog out this morning?" No answer.
Let the dog out, clean up the cat shit, CHECK THE SANDWICH! DONT BURN IT!
Breathe.
Sandwich is fine, cut it into triangles. Check the clock. Twenty minutes. "Girls, I mean it - get dressed and pick up your toys so the dog doesn't eat them while we're out today. Are you eating your cereal?" Speaking of...shove another bite in. Man, this stuff tastes vile this morning. What is the matter?
Okay, a few more grocery items, make sure the dog has water, clean out the litter box, fill Eve's water bottle for school. Make sure Lola isn't wearing her Christmas dress since it's muddy at the tree farm. Call Bubba's brother and sister to let them know he's in the hospital again and I'll call again later with more information. Call Bubba's boss and fill him in.
Finally, they're dressed. "Make sure your hair and teeth are brushed, please. We're leaving in ten minutes." Finish the cereal. Gulp, chew. Gulp, chew. Oh God. I can't believe it. Open the fridge and check the milk carton. I'm such an idiot. The expiration date is November 28th. It wasn't the cereal, stupid, it was the sour milk you poured over the top of it. I just ate an entire bowl of cereal with sour milk and didn't know it. Ugh. Okay, move on.
"Can someone put the dog in his crate for me? Lola, you need sneakers or boots on to get the tree. Eve, don't forget your school bag, okay?"
Lock the back door, make sure the dishes are in the sink.Check the clock. Shit, two minutes. "How come nobody ate their cereal? And the Barbie dolls are all over the floor? Please clean them up, guys! We need to leave now and the house is a mess. Gram's coming today."
Why is Eve looking at me like that? "What?!"
She opens her mouth and looks up at me with hooded eyes, "You are not dropping me off like THAT, Mom."
Check self. Hmmm, bare feet, bird's nest hair, pajamas still on, and no bra. "You're right. Guess I forgot to get dressed. You guys get in the car, I'm running upstairs to get dressed and find a baseball cap."
Breathe.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I'm Breathing As Slowly As I Can...

Been away for a while, likely to be away for a bit longer. I really want to come back and write, but recent events have conspired to keep me away. As if the holidays weren't crazy enough, Eve turned seven yesterday (Happy Birthday, sweet angel!), and Bubba recently returned from his first business trip post-surgery. Crap.

Seems the surgery (the $40,000.00 one that took four hours and eight weeks of recovery, you know the one, right?) didn't do the trick. Not only is he sick again, it's worse than before. So at this point we're back at square one, visiting Emergency Rooms, frightening our children, calling on the resources of friends and family to help out, and pleading with medical professionals to help us figure this damn thing out! I'm researching mercury poisoning, naturopathic physicians - hell, I'll even pay a faith healer at this point if they have something to offer.

So, needless to say, I'm a little busy right now. Hoping to write more coherently soon, but at this point any free moments I have are for meditating and sleeping.
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