Friday, September 30, 2011

Series #7 - Motherless Birthdays

My best birthdays, in the motherless desert since Mother died, have to do with having a husband who even in dating days never forgot my birthday, and his family hasn’t either – well, it helps that so many of them were born in October too. Worst of this category: when he thinks because we go out to eat, and he sometimes sends me flowers, he doesn’t need to buy me a card. What is it with guys and cards… One particular year, I was otherwise upset – actually it was the month before we got married and I was of course stressed with wedding plans, and didn’t want to lose my individual celebration, a whole other thing to be upset about – and I asked him to please go to the store and buy me a card, and guy-like he thought even that clear request was silly.

During my late single years, there was a bad birthday when I thought my boss was inviting me to meet him for surprise birthday drinks after work – he and his wife did nice things for my birthday, almost always (cheaper than giving me a raise, I see that now) – but it turned out that he really did just need the paperwork he had asked me to drop off – no party for me. Another year I kept waiting for my Dallas relatives to do something for me, which in a way they did – when I stopped by their house they said "Oh, it's your birthday, isn't it!" and gave me hugs. I then went to Tom Thumb and bought apple spice pound cake and vanilla ice cream to eat alone in my apartment.

These same relatives, who actually do always remember my birthday, had a surprise Sweet 16 party for me. It’s not their fault that during the event I was frozen with a horrid mix of introverted social anxiety and teenage embarrassment. I could not get past the shock of a dinner outing with my stepbrother turning into a house filled with out-of-town relatives. A lot of the embarrassment came from not having friends to be invited – that was a very awkward age, I had maybe 1.5 friends at school and my dad stated rightly when my aunt asked him about invitations, that they (or "it," one girl and some vague other quasi-friends) would not be comfortable at a family party. Steve had told me to dress up, so I had on my pleather platform boots and gaucho pants and vest – yes, I was in fashion for once, 1977 fashion. My aunt had remembered I liked yellow roses and there were a lot of those at the party. I still struggle to make peace with this party memory, I so much appreciated the effort, and the memory of family guests, including a great-aunt and great-uncle who many years ago left my life is poignant, but I still have shame at my inability to enjoy that moment. And now, at my inability to appreciate the memory.

IN CONTRAST: With a mother-ful birthday I woke up to presents and a homemade cake at my place at the breakfast table – I can’t remember for sure if I routinely sat at the end of the table opposite the stove, maybe the birthday person sat at that end (kind of the head) of the table. But this is a birthday memory, so I was queen. This rich tradition occurred every year through the beginning of my 12th. Always there, those items – food and gift-wrapped clothes and toys and books – they were ready before I walked into the room to see them. This was experienced as delicious trust and confidence of knowing it would be there, but there was always a surprise thrill too – the cake flavor, the frosting color, the gifts themselves were specially chosen by Mother. The decorating scheme was homemade – one year Mother arranged Barbie shoes in a shoe-store theme. Yes, by age 12 I was at the early part of the age of criticism, and maybe I wanted something more polished (i.e. storebought, which only as adults do we realize is not superior), but Mother was inspired not just from thriftiness but also from knowing Sarah.

With a motherful birthday, even on a preteen year when all of the 5 friends I invited to the zoo happened to be coincidentally not available (it really was not a conspiracy, they had various real conflicts and their mothers were very apologetic), I still had a good time going with my mother and little sister. Both the Houston weather and my sister were on good behavior, and Mother bought me an alligator charm for my bracelet – it was not a bad day. Best of all, with a motherful birthday – I could take the birthday efforts for granted. I could even have expectations, requests (can you buy me this? will you buy me this?) and complaints that even if unvoiced, felt inwardly justified – Mother should buy me this.

Back then I didn’t feel guilty about wanting or asking for things, or attention. I knew this person, above all others, celebrated my birth. I wish I could take that for granted – from any living person – ever again, but I don’t think I’ll be able to. Life, relationships, are complicated. I have had wonderful mother figures in my life, but I had only one mother.

P.S. Regarding the alligator charm – another relative had given me a couple of dozen sterling charms the previous Christmas. I know he meant it generously, and knowing his shopping habits, I know he had fun buying them. But it was too much – charm bracelets are supposed to be built up slowly, with charms for individual occasions. My mother knew me, and she knew that. I think I still have a box of loose charms that I never attached.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#6 - When someone dies, you can't take them for granted anymore.

(Feels weird to end a blog post subject with a period, but it's weird without the period too.)

I don’t have the perfect image (and I’m not sure what it would be) to use with this post, but I like this old photo, a group of cousins sitting on a porch at a family reunion – that’s Tim on the far right and me standing up (I was very cocky before I reached the age of self-criticism, which sadly occurred rather early). Tim was one of the older cousins and looks bored with the rest of us, LOL.

This title came from thinking about something that is such a cliché that you hate the cliché, but you hate the circumstance anyway. It kind of helps that other people have taken their deceased folks (for some reason I have been using the word "folks" a lot lately, what else would work here – significant others?, never mind...) for granted during life, so you are not unusual – hence, the cliché. But who wants to be part of the stupid herd, the majority.

I could have spent more time with Tim. I could have been more patient with his very-deliberate speech – he was a teacher, who prided himself on clear communication and always-rational thought – and his way of heavily processing info, and feelings, before he shared them with others. Maybe I got impatient with his objectivity toward feelings – although in other ways that was one of my favorite things about him, his objectivity – it made him accepting of and patient with others. Even if he didn’t show strong emotion, it was OK that other people did.

I counted on him, but that’s not the same thing as appreciating. I didn’t not appreciate him – even physically diminished to the point that even he had to focus on his health (mind over matter was barely working for him, despite his every effort), he had an important place in my life - not as a sick person, but as an older brother.

And it wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared for his death in many ways, I had gotten the message he wouldn’t live forever (even now it's hard, out of respect for him and how he wanted to protect us from his reality, to say I recognized his end was near), and I wanted his years of suffering to end – but he wouldn’t have used that word, let’s get closer to Tim-speak, his years of health challenges to end. Yes, to end. And then when it ends – you want a do-over. For them, for you.

Tim and I had the chance to be adult siblings, but I didn’t have the chance for an adult relationship with Mother. To extrapolate from history and our personalities – imaging to the future, like a computer-aged police sketch – takes that relationship out of reality. Our original Scholl family of 6 people was real. It’s long gone in many ways, but it was real. And – it never did have a lot of self-awareness, although we thought it did – being smart people doesn’t mean you know who and what you are, especially as a family – but for our culture (Texan/German/many other things), personalities, small town and decade – we were our closest approximation to real. So I’ll never be able to tolerate a projected, an imaged relationship with Mother that I would consider fake, silly – unreal.

Yes, I was an adult when Tim died, but in a way with his death I became frozen in a youthful sibling relationship. I have written about getting past the age that he was when he died, but he died as The Older Brother, and he gets to stay that way – it’s hard to think of him otherwise. He was always 4 years older. When he died I was still 1 ½ years away from finishing my degree, and I was several jobs ago (many professional lessons yet to be learned, not that I’m an expert now), and newer in my marriage…my 2005 self. We change in 6 years.

It makes me sad that the idea of reconnecting with my mother is the stuff of nightmares (I’ve had actual nightmares) – what age is she, what health does she have – is she younger than I knew her, is she recovering from cancer, is she a walking corpse or ___? I have had some dreams about Tim appearing after death but they are not scary – he utters calm words on a brief (and very unexpected!) phone call, or he appears briefly as part of an insignificant family activity (having dinner, sitting outside) and exudes…calm. Not intrusive.

Hmmm – maybe even in these dream visitations I take Tim’s contribution for granted.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Birthday Series #5 - Do I want Craig to get a bird for Christmas?

Like many of Craig’s ideas it came to him at a party, yes one where alcohol was served. His friend Melanie has a bird named Birdie (maybe Bertie, LOL) who was fun to interact with, at least on a limited party basis. One of her other party guests was also a bird owner and he was talking about the joys of bird ownership. I don’t know how serious Craig was about all this or how serious I want him to be… I might prefer a bird to a fish tank – maybe…fish are something else he's expressed an idle interest in.

Before Craig moved in with me I had a female roommate who had a flea-infested dog (I didn’t realize back then that I liked dogs…wonder why…), fish who liked to turn nasty colors and float belly-up as soon as Linda went out of town (on one occasion I begged my uncle to come over and help scoop them out – I mean, I made him do the scooping), and a bird who never quieted even when his cage was covered, who had a great name (Beethoven) and would sit on your head without too much painful pecking but whose exit (he flew out the back door when Linda was spring cleaning) I didn’t lament too much. (Basically glad she couldn’t blame me, like she may have in the case of the fish.)

My parents used to have a decorative bird cage (yes, pink) in their 1950s-pink bathroom, and for some reason that I can’t quite remember it had a bird in it at one point – oh, I think Uncle Harvey had bought a decorative cage (larger than ours, white, nicer) for his Tomball house before he lived in it year-round, and it was too much hassle for us to keep walking over (3 whole small-town blocks) and feeding the birds in his cage so they were moved to our bathroom cage. There used to be 2 birds, then there was one, and on one sad day when he was out of the cage for some reason – had to be a cleaning, we didn’t think of recreation in those pre-Animal Planet days (nothing on our tiny black & white TV’s few channels addressed the un-socialized plight of pet birds) – my brother Dave stepped square on top of him. The bird was green & yellow, on a pink fluffy Polyester rug, but Dave is tall with large feet and while I don't think he had animosity, at that age he helplessly exhibited a teenage lack of awareness and clumsiness, so the outcome was sad and instantaneous. At my preteen age I found it ironically funny but I remember Dave feeling bad about what happened, so I know it was a pure accident, and I still feel bad for laughing (although I wasn’t sad I no longer had to clean that nasty cage).

Anyway, the Craig story – within 2 weeks of Craig’s friend’s party I had a weird synchronicity: when I stopped on the way home to buy dog food for Billie the customer in front of me, a little old lady with a brown wig that I knew wasn’t her hair (one of those crepe-y, cronelike old ladies who makes you worry about your own aging – sorry to interject this negativity, but it’s a birthday blog theme after all), was buying all manner of bird treats. The cashier, who had a name I thought I would remember but have already forgotten since I didn’t write it down (probably I could just ask for The Bird Man at Petco on Garland Road) gave her a lecture about caged birds really needing a lot of fresh fruit, plus pellets, and minimal other stuff. (“This is junk! You don’t need that unless you want to throw your money away.” He was hardly salesman of the year in terms of cash register receipts.) He was so gung-ho with bird info that he even followed her out to her car, talking. I thought , this could be a resource for Craig. (If I follow up on it for him.)

I don’t think Craig will bother to get a bird – research a bird, buy a bird – unless, yep, I follow up on it. So I could, should, just ignore the topic, given my mixed and mostly negative feelings. But the can-do part of me – and maybe part of the part that loves Craig – wants to nurture his desire for a bird. So I will probably bring it up again.

Craig has pointed at 3 different places in our house where he would put a bird cage – I would prefer the bird be in Craig’s pub – “his” room after all, and one I rarely walk through. But he’s right, the bird might prefer the more generous natural light that’s in the garden room (converted porch where we have a piano, wine rack and china cabinet – sometimes we call it The Grotto when we get bored with Garden Room). But that would mean the bird is right next to us when we sit in the den, watching TV. Maybe not ideal.

In Googling for a photo of Detective Baretta’s cockatoo (which I KNOW was part of Craig’s attraction to the idea) I also found a naughty image for Robert Blake’s “bird.” This kind of reflects my own mixed feelings on the subject.

Birthday Series #4 - Do I want a dog for Christmas?

Up and down and down and up on this question. Up up up when I look at available greyhounds on rescue sites and read the adorable posts from foster parents – these dogs are so sweet and smart and seem to settle in really well in loving homes, especially homes with no kids and no cats like ours. BUT one dog is so much easier, and Billie has adjusted so much better to being an only dog than we thought she would. Nobody to compete with, nobody to worry about (I could tell she was worrying about Marley, having to wake him up for meals, had to handle the threat of outside invaders herself after he went deaf). One dog is so much cheaper too – yes there is that – we are in a budget mode, better late than never, and I hope we can maintain. So does that make it wrong to be thinking about getting another dog? Other viewpoint is – rescuing a dog with no family is a virtuous thing, right? The money would go to a good cause. Hmmmm…

One of the worst psychic wounds is not as people might think, replacing Marley – because there’s no replacing Marley, no question of that – but my continued guilt over the Terror Rein of Bucho (our cousin's Chow-mix puppy). I loved Bucho and (don’t tell Craig), I still miss him, but while we had him Billie was so miserable. I’ll always question my motives for taking him in (he was a kind of foster), for keeping him the several months we did, and also my motives for giving him up.

Do I have too much guilt to be a dog parent?

Greyhounds are so adorable though. I have thought that since I saw one on camera on an Animal Planet show years ago, a lady was taking her other dog to do a nursing home visit and she said goodbye to the greyhound, “Will you miss us?, did you want to go too?” and the greyhound just stayed flopped on its comfy cushion, hardly batted a doggy eyelid.

People who don’t check out the rescue sites don’t realize what couch potatoes greyhounds are. They love to stretch and “roach” – on their back with those long legs folded in as best they will fold (like a dead cockroach – get it? – sorry to have to include that nasty association, but some people don’t get it). I was going to steal a photo example for this blog but they are all so adorable I had to get off the websites – and all so cute I couldn’t choose.

Instead I’m using a couple of photos I took when I dragged poor Billie to a greyhound rescue meet & greet last December. Billie was very nervous – we don’t take her out to public places a lot (I should feel guilty about that too, I think). She looked cute next to the greyhounds, but actually she looked less like a greyhound than I thought she would, next to the real thing – she is a mix of more dog breeds than I realized, greyhound is not necessarily dominant – other than her stride, her love of roaching, and her sweet sleepiness.

She needs to be our priority in this decision. Isn’t she lonely though? Wouldn’t she prefer a bigger pack – especially someone to hang out with her while we are at work all day?

She can’t speak English though. I think I know her well but this is hard to judge. And then there’s element of parenting, do what is best for them, even if they don’t want it. Wow – how would I know if this is such an example.

Maybe I’ll go back to the budget constraint. That is more clear-cut. But you know me and spending money…I obsess so hard about things I want that sometimes I violate budget principles to get them. Although that needs to end, as of 5 years ago (oops!)

Up and down, down and up…

Putting off the decision till Christmas is good – I’m trying to focus on that timing – because most years Craig and I are both around the house for a week or so before New Year’s. We’ll be broke though – with January bills coming up – and Billie will like having our full attention. So I don’t know…but a new home would be a great gift for a rescue greyhound (selfless of me!).

From December 2010: That's a sweet baby named Sweet Pea in the bandana - Billie didn't bond with her, obviously.

Billie remained on the fringes of things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Birthday Series #3 - not an easy one but an important one

Formerly announced title: "Now I really feel older than Mother and Tim"

Yep, in this post I have gone over my 2-3 paragraph plan, but in a way that doesn't count since almost all the words below spieled out of me yesterday while recharging in my building's downstairs restaurant with - yes - a Chardonnay. (I was not just recharging from the workday but gearing up for the long drive home, and worse, an expedition to Town East Mall in Mesquite! Amazing I accomplished that, plus writing, with just one Chardonnay.)

Maybe for a growth experience I should type this with the draft markings - a few question marks and blanks - left on. Yeah! Maybe. Except I will have to check the reference years - can't stand to be sloppy with that.


Mother died at 48, Tim at 47. I had to look up those dates again - maybe the dates don't matter - but when I turned 48 (Mother) and 47 (Tim) (and also 49, since my math got vague, especially when them not living/dying in neat year increments but half years too, 48 1/2 etc.), it felt like it mattered.

Tim always looked calendar-year (ageless?) young to me, his only aging came from 6? years of cancer treatment. David, now 52, has some gray and a slightly receding hairline. (Not that we talk slang to each other, but - sorry, bro.) Dave has kids - Tim and I don't. Maybe that's a connection to the aged look?, or so friends with kids tell me.

Turning Mother's age of death literally? (should I edit this to, metaphorically?) felt like passing through a doorway.

So having experienced that, it surprises me that facing the 50 doorway, I feel - really far away from Tim and Mother.

My dad turns 86 the week after I turn 50. I can't make the stretch of feeling an age connection with him, although in terms of longevity there certainly could be one - shared genetics, even some shared mindset, the kind of cynicism that I think I've read some studies show can affect longevity. Expecting to be disappointed at least some of the time, not going into as deep a trough as some people might when bad news hits. Now, compared to my "grew up poor and didn't know it" dad I am a vastly spoiled princess, but there is still a link somewhere, to do with rolling your eyes at life. So with my dad on the 80-plus end of the age continuum, I still feel closer to - two dead people. They were older than me in life, but in death we have arrived at a ____?

I have enough imagination to think what a mother who died in 1974 might be like in 2011, but I am way too critical of my attempts. She liked the TV show "Maude" - would she have continued this liberal trend? (I am so glad I remember that - it's not a flimsy memory and it sustains my liberal self - for really pithy episodes she shut the living room door on us and watched it in private - yes, maybe I'm proud of that too.) Or would she have stayed near or gone even closer to her small-town, preacher's daughter ___?

Over the years I have done some info-gathering with relatives and friends who I had thought were close to her, but - from my (data-hungry) perspective, none of the sources provided much. She was a private person, and sometimes after dialogues? (interviews, such as they were) I was left with the sense that I actually knew her better than a lot of others - but the problem is/was, I was a 12 year old girl. Tim, who of course? is also gone, seemed to think he was an expert on Mother. As mature a brain as he had, I didn't think his 16 year old male self was the best resource so I never really grilled him in depth. And now - again, obviously - he's gone as a resource.

My dad struggles to answer specific questions - we stopped talking about Mother soon after she died, there was such a culture? of pragmatism in the family? - she's not coming back. My dad struggles to access such old data. In his writing about his past (his childhood, his early working years) there is a gap between his few mentions of Mother in their dating years and his stories of the last few decades that start out, unquestionably referring to my stepmother, "My wife and I." As a former therapist once said (quoted?) to me, in rueful truth, women grieve, and men replace. Yes, I know this is simplistic but I believe there's truth in it. It relates to healing, survival - but in my case, it relates to loss.

(A faded image of Mother, taken in Uncle Harvey's living room, as she was starting to fade - this was a few years before she died - it's only in this year of MY life that when I regard the image, she looks to be in not-bad shape - a vibrant wife, sister, daughter and mother, maybe just prematurely gray, maybe just busy with her life.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Birthday Series #2 - Birthday Jewelry

"Free Shipping - Buy 2 Get 1 Free - FIFTY the ULTIMATE F-WORD - Handmade Recycled Glass Image Pendant Includes a Free 24 inch Ball Chain"

(A milestone birthday commercialized...)

Two years ago I ordered what I called the S bling - an oversized, heavy sterling "S" pendant on a sturdy chain. It was delayed in delivery and I had almost given up on it arriving during birthday week, but then the package came to my office right on my birthday!

That same year, a month or so before, I bought a Libra necklace - disappointingly cheaper-looking than pictured online, a thing thing with a muddy-colored "opal" birthstone and a small silver charm. But I still think of it as my October necklace and it feels good to get it out in late September and start wearing it.

This year, I started looking early for a special 50 pendant, but so many things looked kind of cheesy. One pendant, that I can no longer find online, was a mini speed limit sign, available in 30, 50, 60, etc. I wanted to like that one but somehow I didn't. (Maybe it was the association with limitations...?)

Not a huge 50th birthday selection even on Etsy, mostly things like this that looked like disposable party decorations:

I liked the title of this pendant ("Is She the Grownup Yet?"), but really, it was just another party decor item.

But, and, despite my multiple jewelry boxes of wonderful items, I was determined to buy something specially for this year.

I ended up ordering a custom-made silver item that arrived looking much skimpier? (nicer word: more delicate?) than the online illustration. It looks like a ripoff in its cotton-lined box but when I tried it on the artist was right, it is a delicate, classy necklace for someone who doesn't want to hide her age but doesn't want to squawk it out loud either.

I'll post a photo of that close to my actual birthday. If I don't buy something better before, really, just kidding.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Do I have to do this topic? WEIGHT ON DISPLAY


UGH! This is a hard one...

My husband's family likes surprises and he gave me a surprise party for my 40th. Thus, I need to prepare for something broadly social during the month of my 50th.

Is it important that I am now a weight I never thought I would be? (Not a terrible weight in terms of our obese-trending society, even I admit that, but a very high weight for moi...I am Texan, not French, so pardon the foreign language, but I like to think I have high aesthetic standards...) As a person of petite height and for many years, obsessive dieting to maintain weight...evolving into my almost-50 self that now ranks other aspects of life (i.e. hunger and stress-ameliorated-by-food) as more important than poundage...I find myself in an odd place. A place I never imagined I would be. Overweight and, most of the time, not despising myself. But on my birthday, there is a new equation of self assessment.

In October there will likely be a social, public, event. I will NOT likely lose 50 pounds in the next month. So - I will be overweight on this big birthday. Will a tasteful (affordable for fashion but taking money out of my art budget, damn it) new outfit from Chico's or Lane Bryant cheer me up? Can I look at whatever party photos are taken and have the perspective of, "What a great party!" and not - hahahahaha, but not really laughing - who is that fat cow with glasses.........

I saw two very wise friends this Saturday who reminded me, in a broader context, People are not looking at YOU. And I knew this was meant in the nicest way.

I hope I can follow in their vein. Not sure I can. BUT - I will show up for my birthday surprise. And I will probably eat. And at some point, I will make make peace with the photos that are taken :)

Kick Start the Blog Series

RULES (from a non-rule person...)

Pick topics in advance and post them - mostly stick to them ;)

Aim for 2-3 paragraphs and probably force a stop after 3 - can split to a new topic - because otherwise my perfectionism will make things too cumbersome to do the speed and volume I want.

Difficult topics - nearing 50 - but my topics are always difficult...

1. Weight on display

2. Birthday jewelry

3. Now I really feel older than Mother and Tim

4. Do I want a dog for Christmas?

5. Do I want Craig to get a bird for Christmas?

6. When someone dies you can't take them for granted anymore.

7. Motherless birthdays

8. Continuation of 7 - birthdays with a father

9. 600+ Facebook friends (Facebook birthday)

10. October can be too warm for sweaters and too cool for tee shirts

11. No alien tattoo (I don't think...)

12. Birth date on a ring - or a tattoo or - ... (identity theft...?)

13. Three family Libras (are we?)

14. I am a presents-at-breakfast person

15. Should I - will I - work on my birthday?