WE Are NOT Pregnant!

I just heard, for the umpteenth time, the statement, “We’re pregnant!” I gnashed my teeth.  I wanted to scream.

WE are not pregnant. SHE is pregnant. HE is expecting.  THEY are going to have a baby.  She is a pregnant mother-to-be.  He is an expectant father.

I am reminded of an old episode of Bewitched—the one in which Darrin claimed to know everything Samantha was experiencing in her first pregnancy.  Endora took great offense to his remark (well, when didn’t she take great offense to anything Darrin said?) and decided to place a spell on him so that he would, actually, physically, experience what Samantha was going through.

I think of that episode every time I hear the misbegotten phrase, “We’re pregnant”, and heartily wish that there existed an army of Endoras with no job except that of zapping fathers-to-be with just such a spell.

If “we” are pregnant, then how come he’s not losing his figure? Being awakened throughout the night by a kicking fetus? Why is he not throwing up? Why is he not having to purchase a new wardrobe to accommodate his swelling abdomen?  Why are his feet not swelling to three times their former size (and, by the way, never quite returning to their pre-pregnancy proportions, necessitating a farewell to many a beloved pair of shoes).  Why are his back and pelvis not in agony as they struggle to carry the extra 40 or so pounds packed onto his abdomen?  Why is he not spending hours in painful labor, or having a doctor’s whole hand shoved up his inner parts to check dilation?

While I understand the concept of wanting one’s partner to share in the wondrous creation of a new human life which is occurring, to be appreciated for a (minor) role in having begun that new life, the whole phrase, “We are pregnant” seems to me just one more instance of males trying to lay unwonted claim to a whole lot more than their fair share. Already, most women still relinquish their names (and therefore a personal part of their identity) upon marriage.  Their children, even their female children, generally bear the last name of their presumed male parent.  (And, let’s talk turkey here: Guys, short of a DNA test, you are always the presumed male parent.)

But, for the love of heaven, do men also have to lay claim to pregnancy, too? And, if they do, should they not have to actually experience labor and birth?  Should some tech wiz female not be inventing a sci-fi apparatus that would allow a “We’re pregnant” partner to share in each and every labor pain for eight or ten or twenty hours?  To know the exquisitely unpleasant experience of pushing an object the size of a football out of an opening the size of a golf ball?  Or perhaps males should be hooked up to that machine following an emergency C-section, so that they know what it is to have been sliced and diced, had multiple organs moved out of the way, and then to be unable to fold in the middle: to have to clamber out of bed by rolling off the side, kneeling and then pushing oneself up by elbows on the mattress, only to attempt caring for a sobbing, soggy newborn after stumbling through the house with a gaping wound from hip to hip.

No, no matter how popular and fashionable the phrase, I simply cannot reconcile myself to ridiculous statement, “We are pregnant”, for “we” are not. She is a pregnant woman, a mother-to-be, someone undergoing the rigors of creating a new human life.  He may, perhaps, be a supportive husband or partner, but he is not physically pregnant. Like clueless Darrin, he is physically incapable of understanding her experience. He is an expectant father.  And that’s simply all there is to it.

Pennies, Headlights and Bubonic Plague

When I was a child playing Ring Around the Rosie, we always chanted the final line as, “One Two Three, we all fall down!” It wasn’t many years later that I learned different versions of that final line: “Ashes, ashes” , or “A tissue!  A tissue!”  By that time, I’d also discovered the macabre origins of the game as a reference to bubonic plague, so I tend to think of the “one two three” of my own childhood game a sort of cultural evolution.

That was my introduction into the way common sayings transform as the generations pass. Another of these is found pennies.  I remember once finding a penny and hearing for the first time that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it face down.  I looked at the companion who’d told me this and said, “Huh?”  She, younger than I, repeated that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it lying face down.  I looked at her and chanted: “See a penny pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck; see a penny, leave it lie and you’ll have bad luck by and by.”  My friend’s expression was just as “Huh?” as mine had been; she’d never before heard that rhyme.  The lucky penny tale that she had grown up with said that, to be lucky, a penny must be found face up, and then put in her right shoe.  (Why a penny in one’s shoe should be particularly lucky I’ve never quite figured out; it always just sounds uncomfortable to me.)  However, she was pleased with my version of lucky pennies —  they’re all pennies from heaven, no matter how you find them – and asked me to repeat the rhyme so she wouldn’t forget it.

That made me think of the bridal rhyme: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” That was all I had learned, yet my mother’s version had included a final line saying, “…and a penny in your shoe.”  (Again, uncomfortable!)  Another friend was from Britain; her version of the bridal rhyme stated, “…and a sixpence in your shoe”.  (Ouch again.)  Well, I’d had the penny and she the sixpence, and for neither of us, we concluded, did the charm bring any luck to our disastrous marriages.

Other cultural transformations, though, are less benign than children’s rhymes. To me the most frightening metamorphosis of all is the alteration, still unknown to so many older people, in what is meant when the car driving behind them quickly flashes its headlights.  To contemporary drivers, that gesture indicates the demand, “ You are driving too slowly. Get out of my way.  Pull over.  Pull into another lane.”

To an older generation, however, the quick blink of headlights behind them has always meant, “I’m going to pass you; don’t speed up.”   Actually, we were specifically taught that information in my Driver’s Education classes, lo! those many years ago.  If the car following us blinked its headlights, we were to lift our foot from the accelerator to slow our own vehicle ever so slightly, allowing the over-eager car pass us.  Today, though, that misunderstood courtesy of marginally slowing down so that the other car can pass simply infuriates young drivers.  It’s resulted in many an incident of road rage.

It’s odd, sometimes, to look at these cultural mutations and transformations, but, more than that, it’s remarkable and sometimes even startling to consider what they indicate about the behavior of various generations. A child’s game is no longer a macabre reenactment of bubonic plague; a penny from heaven becomes unlucky just because of the way it landed; a courteous gesture becomes an incitement to rage by someone already discourteous.

Things change. And while usually that give me hope, it sometimes saddens me.

Rah-Shar!

The other evening I poured myself a glass of sparkling, barely-alcoholic blush moscato wine, using one of my lovely pink Depression glass stemware pieces. I held the glass up to the light and admired the bubbles of rosy wine sparkling within the equally-pink glass, and then sat down to sip my treat as I relaxed with a book.

It didn’t quite work out as I had planned.

Having perched myself on the corner of the couch, I set my glass down on the wooden arm and picked up my Kindle. A moment later, reaching for the stemware, I knocked the glass right off the arm of the couch, splattering wine everywhere and smashing the glass into a thousand shards and fragments as it hit the wall.

Whereupon I exclaimed, “Rah-Shar!”

You see, years earlier, my Chosative (Chosen Relative: for an explanation of that term, see my 12/18/17 blog post) had told me of a magazine article she’d once read, which explained an especially lovely concept: When some beloved, treasured item breaks, it is essentially taking the hit for a loved one—taking harm upon itself, so that the person or people you care about will not be harmed. Consequently, instead of regretting the loss of something unique or cherished, one should acknowledge the event by exclaiming the word which embodied this concept.

We both loved this idea. Unfortunately, my Chosative hadn’t written down the foreign word and was quite unable to recall it.  The two of us spent the next few years searching for the word across the vast reaches of cyberspace, to no avail.  We even each separately contacted one of those of  public radio shows that explores the delightful concepts of language, but they failed to respond.  Perhaps they couldn’t find the word, either.

And then one day, while desultorily once more searching for the word as she waited for a repairman, there it was. Algerian.  The concept was part of the consciousness of several Eastern countries, but the word itself, the single word embodying the concept, was Algerian.

“Rah-Shar!”

The listing was far down under the thread following a question, “What do you say when you break a glass?” There were many answers, ranging from the downright silly to the rude, but a number of Eastern countries seemed to have assimilated this concept that a broken treasure was protective; that to break something beloved or cherished was actually lucky, for it meant a family member or friend was now safe, the broken object having taken upon itself the harm that would have otherwise befallen them.

“Rah-Shar!”

Considering this concept, I compared it to what I had once written in this very blog in November of 2017: that we should never refrain from using our beautiful or special things, never save anything “for good”, for our good is right now; that as much as our guests deserve to be served upon our fine china, with our costly glassware or silver—even as they deserve to dry their hands upon those lovely embroidered guest towels, or to enjoy the scent of our expensive perfume–so do we deserve it, also. We are, always, every day, deserving of our own best.

In the same vein, then, we should never hesitate to use our lovely things: our glassware or silver or china, our best perfume, our embroidered towel—even the favorite toy still kept in the box and never played with. For if these precious things do shatter or tear, if they break irreparably, they are serving a much greater purpose than that of merely providing us pleasure: they are protecting those we love.

As I cleaned up the fragments of my once-lovely pink Depression glass, I murmured a thank-you to the wreckage. And as I placed the remains in the trash bin, I said quietly once more, “Rah-Shar!”

To Wash or Not To Wash: No Question!

(Warning: This post may be dangerous to your gag reflex!)

The other day I was at my daughter’s home, and she commented that “Puppy” (a full-grown, 80-pound Husky) was in need of  “a spa day pretty soon; she smells like a dog”.

Now, I lost much of my sense of smell to a sinus disorder many years ago, so I could not comment on the problem, despite the fact that my granddog was dancing in front of me, performing her “I have not seen you in at least two days and you’re my favorite person on the planet” act. She might not have smelled like roses, but Puppy’s doggy-odor hadn’t reached offensive levels, I thought.  However, the comment on smell jogged my memory regarding an article I’d read a few months earlier.

The author of the article was a proponent of infrequent bathing. His essay discussed the natural biome of the skin which was, he claimed, destroyed by too-frequent bathing (which, he seemed to indicate, was basically any form of bathing at all).  The author explained that he no longer showered or bathed, contenting himself with occasionally rinsing off excess sweat, something made easy in the summer months by merely standing beneath the garden hose—especially to rinse off his genital area.

After I finished retching (and wondering just how active this joker’s sex life wasn’t!), I continued reading to his conclusion that, instead of soap, he “smelled like people”.

As I clicked off the article, I wondered to myself if smelling like people might be equivalent to smelling like a dog—especially after the garden hose trick. Despite my weak sense of smell, wet dog is not one of my favorite scents.  I’m pretty certain that wet, unwashed people smell pretty similar to that.  And I was absolutely certain that the male author of the “don’t wash” essay had never been a menstruating woman on a hot summer day.

I’ve always equated not bathing with, oh, say, body lice and bubonic plague. I’ll take the sheer, unmatched pleasure of soaking in a hot bath with lavender salts, or a steamy shower with scented soap on a body puff—yeah, I’ll take that any day over any amount of “natural biome”.  And don’t even get me started on the “no-poo” non-hair-washing crusaders.  No-poo-schmoo-poo—my hair gets washed every other day, and on the rare occasions that I must wait to wash it until the third day, it feels gross and looks dull and anyone trying to restrain me from the hot water and shampoo had best be armed!  I use a nail brush to scrub beneath my fingernails every morning, too, all the while wondering to myself just what frightening “natural biome” lurks beneath those lovely gel-manicured fake nails I see on every second pair of female hands.

I still wonder how the author of the “don’t bathe” article felt about the CDCs recommendations for handwashing during the flu season. And that causes me to recall another article that I read, this one long before the marvels of instantly available knowledge on the Web.  That article discussed the age-old scourge of the disease trachoma, a bacterial eye inflammation that causes granulations to form beneath the eyelids. The disease is progressive, eventually causing the eyeball itself to harden and blinding the sufferers. Trachoma is a common cause of blindness in third-world countries.  But the researchers had discovered a simple way to reduce the spread of trachoma and prevent re-infection of those receiving treatment.

They simply had the people, either infected or at risk, wash their faces every day.

Natural biomes are not necessarily benign. Queen Elizabeth the First may have bathed monthly “whether she needed it or not”, but I’ll stick to my daily schedule, thank you very much. And enjoy every blessed minute of rearranging the natural biome of my skin.

Stay Out of the Kitchen

Since I review every book I finish (and even a few that I do not), I’ve learned to speak my piece to my own peril.  State the truth—that this author should be barred not only from a keyboard, but possibly from pens, pencils and paper, as well—and one risks incurring the wrath of the Beta Readers.  These are the half-dozen or more reviewers, probably drawn from the author’s own family and friends, who have written gushingly positive appraisals of the book.  Contradict them to your own dire jeopardy,  I’ve discovered.

I particularly recall a review I wrote of an especially trite novel. I had plowed my way gamely through about three chapters of this book (which included, god help me, talking pets!) centered around a retired schoolteacher turned amateur detective.  Unfortunately for the reader, punctuation, as well as plotting, was hardly the author’s forte.  After the umpteenth incorrect use of quotation marks, I gave up on the book, which was growing increasingly more clichéd.

I included all of these criticisms in my review of the story, awarding it only one star. Bam!  In fewer than 24 hours, I received a comment on my review, one furiously criticizing my own grammar.  From the tone of the comment, one could almost visualize the incensed tears through which it had been written.

I sighed and forbore to ask the Commenter if she was the friend, daughter, granddaughter or other relation of the author—or even the author herself–and merely asked that she specify exactly which rules of grammar I myself had broken.

There was no reply to my question from the Commenter, although some days later another person joined the discussion, to quibble over whether or not a period should always be enclosed in quotation marks. We got into a very lively debate on the subject, courtesy of the grammar lessons as I had once been taught based on the definitive work,  The King’s English, in which this question was determined by whether the period punctuated the entire sentence, or the quote only. But that discussion is neither here nor there.

Writing a book–even a lighthearted novel–is, as I have pointed out previously,  a serious business, and should not be undertaken by those unequipped for the job. But, having committed to the work, writers must be prepared for the simple reality that not everyone is going to like what they’ve written.

Three of my own favorite novels, Katherine, by Anya Seton, Desirée, (in the original translation only) by Annemarie Selinko, and Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, have literally hundreds of reviews on-line.  These are books that I first read at about the age of 17, and have re-read dozens of times since.  I can quote entire passages from each of these novels.  I’m absolutely passionate about them.  And the very age of the books makes them fall into the “Classics” category.

But, according to the on-line reviews,  many people hate each of those novels with a loathing just as strong as that I bear for Moby Dick and Lord of the Flies.    I despise both of those books, and not just because I was forced to read them in high school.  I have nothing good to say about those books—nothing at all.  If I were to be required to write a review of each of them, it would not be pretty.  Yet these are classic novels, about which professors and the educated rave.

It doesn’t matter. I simply can’t stand them.

And so it is with lesser literature: the books written merely to entertain and to garner a living for the authors. Some people will like them.  Some will enjoy them, dreadful grammar and punctuation notwithstanding.  And others of us will totally despise the books the authors had such fun writing–and we won’t refrain from saying so.

Yes, writing is hard work; witness these essays.  Each post takes me a minimum of an hour to write. Hours more work go into rewriting multiple drafts and editing.  Yet still, I miss many of my own errors; hell is well-paved with my best of intentions.  And sometimes people don’t like what I’ve written.  They don’t like it at all.

But, if I can’t stand the heat, I should stay out of the kitchen. And so it is with book authors.  If they dislike negative reviews, they should not be writing.  And they certainly should not respond with vitriol and reproach when their work is criticized.

The End of the Story

I wish that every media outlet had a special feature daily titled, “The End of the Story”. Because I want to know. I want to know the end of the story.

I’m a foolishly demanding person in this respect. A lover of the “cozy” mystery genre, I have been known on more than one occasion–usually those when I’m certain I’ve pinpointed the murderer–to peek at the last few pages of a novel and see if I’m right in my suppositions.  This tendency has been greatly enhanced by the advent of the e-reader, since I can bookmark the page I’m on, swipe swiftly to locate the denouement scene, and verify my deduction.  (And, no, knowing the end of the story in no way diminishes my pleasure in the novel as I return to my bookmark and read the rest of the book.  In fact, it just gives me greater appreciation in examining the ways in which the author builds clues, especially if I’ve guessed the wrong murderer.)

So, as I say, I am demanding in this respect: I want to know the end of the story. One news story which I never saw finished was that of the Bus Push Jogger in England.  Each morning as I log on to read—not watch, but read–the news, I turn first to the BBC.  (That is because I trust the British to provide the most balanced version of what the heck is actually happening in the world-gone-mad US.)  Doing this means, of course, that I also read a lot of incidental British news, and the London Bus Push Jogger story caught me in its web.  Contrary to my usual behavior, having read the story, I watched the video—several times, in fact—as a jogger intentionally pushed a woman passerby out of his way and into the path of an oncoming bus.  Happily, she was rescued.  By day’s end, the video had gone viral, but the jogger had not yet been identified.  I checked back any number of times, and never found a news story indicating that the jogger had been recognized.  Eventually, there were no new links, no new leads, to the identity of the jogger.  The story just whispered away.

This drove me absolutely nuts. I wanted to know the end of this story—even if the end was, “Someone must know who this man is, but no one has the integrity to come forth and finger the jogger”.

A similar news story was one in a Western state in which a young woman had been the victim of road rage. An angry driver had stormed over to her stopped car and smashed his fist into the side mirror, breaking it.  She had videoed the whole thing on her phone, and it was presented on the local and then national news.  Yet, despite the fact that the man’s face was clearly visible in the video, again, days later, he had not been identified.  Again, the links to the story simply dissipated.  Again, I gnashed my teeth.

I suppose my propensity for longing to know the story’s end began when I was (as I’ve discussed in earlier posts) a “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” junkie. Now, 50-some years later, I’ve not forgotten a letter written to the columnist about the possibly-separated twins.

The letter was written by a man who explained that, six years earlier, his wife had given birth to boy/girl twins. Their infant girl had died a few hours after birth.  Fast forward six years, and the man’s wife had passed away, also.  His little son had begun first grade, and come home one day, desperately excited, because a little girl in his classroom shared his birthday.  Later, meeting the little girl’s parents at a school function, he learned that, not only did the children share a birthdate, but both had been born at the same hospital, and resembled one another to a startling degree.

They might have been twins.

The man’s suspicions were aroused. What more likely than some well-intentioned nurse, paving the road to hell with energy, had switched his living daughter with the dead child of the other couple, consoling herself that this way each couple would have a living child?

At the time of his letter, DNA testing was the stuff of science fiction; only blood tests and an extensive investigation into the hospital’s ID practices would shed any light on the possibility that the little girl was his own child. The man wondered if he should proceed.  Abbey or Ann (I forget which) advised him not to open this can of worms.

The man never wrote again, or, if he did, the letter was not published.  Or perhaps I just missed it.  But the mystery of the possibly switched-at-birth twins has (obviously, since I’ve never forgotten it) bothered me ever since I read that long-ago letter.  And I still want to know the end of the story.

I found myself considering about this odd little facet of my personality—thinking of it a lot—while I was ill earlier this year.  From the day of my initial symptoms, until I received the news that I did not carry the dreaded Lynch syndrome (a hereditary cancer-causing genetic defect), I wondered constantly about the end, possibly soon, of my own story.

This time, at least, it was not to be. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering.  For I want to know.  I want to know the end of my own story.

The Dishwashing Analogy

I don’t wash my dishes every day.

This horrifies a one or two of my acquaintances. Oh, they might accept it if I at least loaded the dirty dishes into the dishwasher, awaiting a full load to run it.  But I live alone, and it sometimes takes me nearly a week to complete a full load in the dishwasher, especially when I’m in sandwich-a-day-mode.  Besides, I actually enjoy washing dishes—I find it peaceful and meditative.  So I carefully scrape and lightly rinse my used dinnerware and stack it neatly in the sink, until, after two or perhaps three days, I have a sinkful.  Then I wash them.

I guess there is something less offensive about having dirty dishes hidden out of sight in a closed dishwasher, for, as I say, some of my acquaintances find this practice appalling. But then, I am just as revolted to think of the mounds of bacteria growing and odors accumulating on a full week’s worth of dirty dishes piling up slowly in the dishwasher.

Nevertheless, I have sympathy for my friends’ reaction, since I myself once had a male acquaintance who strewed his dirty dishes, unrinsed and unscraped, carelessly across every countertop in the kitchen until he finally got around to washing them—and by “finally”, I mean after 8 or 10 days. The kitchen looked like the garbage can had exploded onto the dish cabinets.  There was nowhere to prepare food, either, since every horizontal surface was covered in dirty pots, pans, plates, and silverware, crusted with drying food and smelling like a landfill. And, yes, sometimes ants and worse insects discovered the unrinsed tableware and began to picnic on his leavings.  Needless to say, I never ate at his home!

Of course, this same man claimed that he could thoroughly clean his two-bedroom apartment weekly in just 20 minutes. It would have taken me that long just to scrape and rinse the dishes, but I didn’t argue the point.  It was, after all, his home, not mine, and I didn’t expect him to follow my personal rules on housekeeping—even if I did cringe and gag once when reaching for the toilet paper roll in his bathroom and seeing the porcelain holder covered in a paste of grey dust and god-knows-what.

But this makes me puzzle, then, as to why my own acquaintances feel it appropriate to criticize my personal dish-washing rules—especially as, if I know that guests are expected, I get all the dirty dishes washed and my well-kept home into a state even more immaculate than it usually is. The only people who have ever encountered my sink half-filled with rinsed dishes awaiting washing are those who dropped by unexpectedly.  What business might it be of theirs, I wonder, how I manage this household chore, and why ever do they feel  such a need to debate it?

And therein lies the real conundrum: that we expect others to do things our way.  Because, after all, our way is the right way, the correct way, the appropriate way.  It would be a perfect world if everyone just did things as we do them: thought as we think; believe as we believed.  (Possibly this explains the fact that there exist hundreds of “one true way” approaches to spirituality.)

Considering the dishwashing conundrum, I’ve decided that it might truly be a more perfect world if we criticized less and accepted more; if we shrugged and said, “Well, that’s not the way I do it, but if it works for you….” If we picked our battles and insisted upon being heard only when speaking about a genuinely serious matter—and, if, even then, we realized that so long as no other human being or helpless animal was being harmed by another’s decision, we should make our peace with that.

The Dishwashing Analogy might be a poor one…but it works for me.

 

 

My Blue Willow Tea Set

A few years ago, I gave a young relative a china tea set for Christmas. It was a darling thing, with holly-bespattered cups and plates, and even tiny cloth napkins.  And when I saw her later on New Year’s Eve, I told her this story.

As I grew up, I gave away all my childhood toys. They were nice toys and dolls,  well-maintained; in our family, we were expected to take good care of our playthings.  I was never allowed to drag dolls about, unclothed, with rooted hair pulled out, or to leave my toys out in our backyard, exposed to weather and wind.  Toys were picked up every evening and put in their proper places in my room.

I had some lovely dolls—Amosandra, of whom I’ve spoken in a previous blog post, and Lisa, my realistic baby doll. I had an heirloom doll crib that had been my own mother’s toy, and a gorgeous ballerina doll.  Being raised Roman Catholic, I even had a nun doll in full habit, with a rosary dangling from her fingertips.

But of all my toys, one of my favorites was my Blue Willow tea set. A dark wooden hutch held tiny china cups, plates and saucers, tea pot and sugar bowl and creamer, all in the well-known Blue Willow pattern.  The little plates and saucers stood balanced in rims along the shelves, while the cups depended from tiny hooks; there was a little drawer at the bottom of the hutch, and there I stored the tea bags my mother allowed me to have.

I played with that tea set constantly. I brewed tea using hot water from the kitchen faucet and drank it laden with sugar stirred into the cups.  I snuck a can of chicken rice soup from the pantry and took it down to our basement play area and served it to myself, cold, in the little cups, using a baby spoon that I liberated from the silverware drawer. I placed unwrapped Hershey’s kisses on the plates as canapes.  My playmates being older, they were uninterested in tea parties, but I gathered my dolls about me and played hostess to them.  Only once did I ever break a plate in the set, and my father carefully glued the two split halves together again, warning me to always be careful with it.  That plate sat always to one side on the hutch, unused.

And then I grew up.

My tea set sat, untouched, in the corner of my room as I moved from ballerina and baby dolls to Barbies, and then away from dolls entirely, to teen magazines and Monkee records and teen-heartthrob posters and lip gloss and all the paraphernalia of adolescence. Finally, embarrassed to have such childish things in my room, where they might be seen by my friends and mocked, I gathered together all my remaining dolls and toys and distributed them to the little girls in my neighborhood, or handed them over to be taken by my father and stored in the attic.

And one day after school, I gave my Blue Willow tea set to the little girl who lived in the house behind ours.

This, then, is the story I told my little relative on that New Year’s Eve a few years ago. Mimicking the look and voice of a young teen,  I told her how I became “too big for a silly tea set!”  I described how I gave away my beautiful Blue Willow china, to be played with by another little girl.  And then, feeling the tears gathering behind my eyes, I offered her the advice–words to which she probably did not listen at all, but which I felt it necessary to say:  “So, when the day comes that you are ‘too big’ for your holly tea set, don’t give it away!  Keep it.  Put it away someplace safe.  Because now I am an old woman, and I would give anything, anything at all, to have my Blue Willow tea set once more.”

I have seen Blue Willow tea sets many times since on sales sites like e-Bay and Etsy, but never the full set in the dark wooden hutch, and always at prices far beyond my reach. Sometimes I wish that I could find one just like my own lost set.  It would never be quite the same, of course; it would not be the set I played with; it would not have one carefully-glued, broken plate.  But perhaps,  just perhaps, I could touch those tiny cups and plates and saucers, gracefully lift and pretend to pour from the tiny teapot, and thereby recapture just a little bit of the woman-child who I once was, playing hostess with watery, sugary tea and soup; serving up dreams  of a future filled with grace and elegance and charm.

Our Daily Gifts

Until recently, I had experienced only one major surgery, having my gallbladder removed. Most gallbladder removal patients are sent home the same day, but because I was a single parent with only a minor daughter at home, I’d been kept in the hospital overnight.  That extra night made the whole matter of recuperating easier, for when I arrived home, I was already through the worst of the post-operative period for what is, these days, a fairly simple surgery.

So I was a little unprepared for my recovery from a far more complicated surgery, a complete hysterectomy due to uterine cancer.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I found myself essentially tossed out of the hospital only 20 hours after they wheeled me out of the operating room minus six organs—a cervix, a uterus, two fallopian tubes and two ovaries. I got to spend the most dreadful hours of the post-operative period in the “comfort” of my own home.  But even after overcoming the worst of the post-operative pain and bleeding and generalized misery, I was still unprepared for the series of  “firsts” that comprised complete recovery. I have new understanding now, and a much deeper respect for anyone recovering from major surgery, and especially for those who have undergone procedures a hundred times more serious than mine.

Life as I lived it was completely disrupted. I had to depend on others for the simplest things: food preparation, housework, errands–even medication reminders.  And, as a caretaker personality, such dependence did come not easily to me.

Consequently, everything—every simple daily activity–became a series of firsts. The first time I walked up my own stairwell, slept in my own bed, took a shower without someone standing guard. The first time I could do more with my hair than just run a brush through it. The first time I felt up to putting in my contacts, or dabbing on lip gloss and a swipe of mascara.

I literally celebrated the afternoon that I was able to wash my dishes, or the day I realized I could put down my cats’ food bowls by bending instead of carefully and slowly squatting. I was thrilled when I could finally make my own bed.  I exalted when I found myself able to get out of a gown and robe and into loose exercise pants—or when, after weeks, I was finally able to pull on jeans without too much discomfort from my sutures.  I texted everyone I knew when I was finally able to drive without pain. I had never, I exclaimed, realized how much simple pleasure was involved in just being able to run a quick errand to the bank or the grocery.

Finally given just a faint glimpse of what those with physical challenges—often mere children– must endure every day, I had a new appreciation of just how much of daily existence I had simply take for granted. Intellectually, I’d always known this, but living it was, I found, an alternate reality.  And, sadly, I also know that my memory of those challenging days will fade, leaving me with less and less awareness of and gratitude for the many things I do daily without really thinking.

As I age, though, those challenges will return. Just as I now remember, regretfully, when my muscle strength was such that I could rise from a sitting position without levering myself up, so the ability to run my own errands, clean my own house—care for myself—will (should I live long enough) eventually be lost.  Like the child I once was, like the recovering patient I have been, I will be dependent once more upon others to do these things for me.

I do not look forward to that time.   And so it is that I try to remember and appreciate each day—as I climb my stairwell; as I bathe and dress myself; as I prepare my dinner—the infinitesimal and yet vast gifts that I am bequeathed, moment by moment, and movement by movement.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Two years ago I discovered an app for my Kindle that allows me to scroll through a list of free books on the topics of my choice and decide which, if any, are those I’d like to read. Many of these novels are the initial efforts of a brand-new author; others are first books in what is to be a series.  A few are older books that the author chooses to promote in hopes of garnering new readership.

For someone who reads constantly, as I do, this should be (and often is) a great boon. It provides me the opportunity to discover authors whom I’ve never before encountered, and to enjoy reading without the worry and hassle of returning books on time to the library.  I am able to satisfy my voracious reading habits without incurring the national debt to satisfy my addiction.  In theory, then, this app provides me wonderful benefits.

In practice…not so much.

Make no mistake: I use care in selecting the books I download.  After finding a novel listed on the app, I thoroughly investigate it. I glance swiftly through the plot description, deciding if the story even sounds like something that interests me.  This can be tricky, as anyone who wants to select a good book knows.  In any case, I am persnickety. I enjoy light mysteries, but I don’t want too much blood and gore; “thriller” is not, to me, a leisure-time activity.  I’m a nervous person by nature, so I don’t need highly suspenseful novels to provoke an anxiety attack!  I also prefer that my books not be drenched in romance; heaving chests and tight buttocks and kissable lips are irritating, not titillating, and I find the romance-novel style names (Chance, Promise, Lark, Wolfe…) utterly laughable.  Nor do I want blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex act.  In my view, sex is something best done, not described.

Should a novel pass the sniff test in all these areas, I then read both the best review (the gushingly-favorable 5-Star review that was probably written by a family member or best friend) and at least two or more of the worst reviews. Those are usually the deciding factor.  If the poor reviews contain any complaints about the writing—grammar, spelling, punctuation or editing—the book is a no-go. (Disclaimer: Never doubt that I realize my own writing is hardly error-free; of that I’m  all too sadly aware.  But I am not asking a weary public to pay hard-earned money for what I’ve written.)

If a novel that I’m considering passes all my onerous qualifications, I finally take the plunge and download it.

Despite my care in selecting each book, though, I’m often disappointed. And so it is that, all too frequently, I’m reminded of the time my mother had chosen a novel at the library on one of her favorite subjects, the early American settlers.  Using just as careful a selection process as I, she nevertheless found one book to be so bad–so utterly, terribly, reprehensibly, abysmally awful–that the only thing she could possibly do was read some of the more unintentionally-hilarious passages aloud to us kids.  My mother read aloud very well: expressively, and with perfect diction.  Delivered in her faultless and precise voice, the dreadful passages of that appalling book were so unbearably funny that we literally collapsed on the floor, clutching our sides as we laughed until we hurt.

I still laugh just remembering it.  Such a comically cruel thing to do to the minds of young people!  Some of the more painfully bad sentences from that book are burned into my memory to this day.

Too late, Mom and I discovered the words “Vanity Publisher?!” penciled lightly on the flyleaf of that appalling novel. It is notable that the librarians had not erased the words.

In the world of e-books, half the novels today are essentially vanity publishing specimens. Many of these so-called authors should have their keyboards smashed and their fingers broken for the atrocities they commit in the name of literature.  More terrifying yet is the fact that a reading public swallows these works, hook, line, and sinker.

Writing a book is hard work, and those unequipped to undertake the job should not be doing it (and I include myself in that assessment). But if they insist on doing so, those authors should at the very least have the intelligence and grace to haunt the halls of their local college, find some starving graduate student aiming for a Masters in literature, and offer her or him a few paltry bucks to edit their “masterpieces”.

The rest of us might have fewer laughs that way, but we’d sure as hell burns be hitting the “Delete!” button less.