Twenty Hours After Surgery….

Following currently acceptable medical practice, after a serious surgery I was tossed out of the hospital just twenty hours after being wheeled out of the operating room. This was what I got for being a cooperative patient. (And to that, let me just say: Never Again.)

Overjoyed for a reason to have the catheter removed, I’d gotten up to walk the corridors with the nurse’s help, willingly choosing the “long route”, pushing my IV beside me, just twelve hours after the operation. Pleased to have the IV taken out of my aching hand, I’d cooperatively  slogged down water like the beverage was the latest trendy invention.  I trotted myself to the restroom multiple times (to the horror of the night tech, who hadn’t explained that I wasn’t permitted to do this on my own, without accompaniment).  I ate a small dinner and a big breakfast.  Everything that I was asked to do by the hospital staff, I did, in fact, do.  And my reward for this was to “get” to go home, pain prescription in hand, the following day, to endure possibly the worst night of my life. Undermedicated for pain; unable to walk up the stairwell to sleep in my own bed; barely able to rise from my couch to stumble to the bathroom, I felt as if every inch of my body had been beaten with baseball bats.

Let there be no mistake: hospitals are not fun places. IV alarms ring constantly.  Just when one has fallen into a sound sleep at last, in wheels the night tech, waking the patient to check vitals or administer a dose of some med or another.  People laugh, talk, argue and rush in corridors.  Noisy carts are pushed through halls.  Janitorial staff pop by to empty trashcans.  The sounds of people crying—or crying out in pain—filter through the walls.  One is poked, prodded, examined and stuck with needles.  Tape is pulled from sensitive parts of the body, leaving behind welts and rashes.  Responding to other, more urgent emergencies, no one answers the call bell.

But there are also advantages to lying in that hospital bed, not the least of which is the bed itself, which is adjustable and can be arranged into the best position for the comfort of the individual occupying it or trying to clamber in and out of it. Toilets are only a few steps away—not up a staircase or across the house—and showers are the walk-in variety.  Pain medications can be given by injection or IV, without waiting for the oral med to finally dissolve and work its way into the bloodstream.  But, most important of all, is the opportunity to ask someone knowledgeable, “Is this normal?  Should I be experiencing this?  Will this last?  Has something gone wrong?”

But, as mentioned, the cooperative patient is launched homeward as quickly as possible, to a place where there are no adjustable beds, where bathrooms are a long walk away and the only shower or bed may be up a flight of steps, where pain medications are oral, and where relatives and friends who’ve come to help are just as clueless as the patient. Preparing to leave the hospital that morning, I could not help but laugh when, as I fumbled to button my blouse, the nurse asked, “Do you have help at home?”  I am a divorced woman; I’ve lived alone for years. I wondered for a moment what she would have done had I answered, “No.”

Fortunately for me, family and friends stepped up to the plate, so that for the first two days and nights following surgery I was never left alone for a minute. I ignored the post-operative paperwork which stated that I was not to climb stairs for two weeks after my surgery and clambered, slowly and laboriously, up the stairwell to my shower on just my second day home.  That would certainly have been easier had I still been hospitalized, but the question, “Do you have a ground-floor bathroom?” was definitely never broached.

I suspect now that those unasked or belatedly asked questions were intentional. Negative answers would have meant red tape—a battle with the insurance company to cover another day, or even two, to ensure a safe recovery.  Medical staff are weary of the fight, and so cave to reality rather than the responsibility of protecting patients’ post-surgical health. Out of sight, out of mind, and the well-meant lie is uttered, “You’ll be more comfortable in your own home”.

There may be no place like home, but for the recovering patient, that just isn’t quite true. But the insurance companies and the almighty dollar, rather than common sense and medical safety, rule recovery in the modern health environment.

The Dance at My Daughter’s Wedding

The TV show Gilmore Girls began to run in 2000, and I missed the first few episodes. But I still smilingly  recall the evening I arrived home from some errand or engagement, and found my teenage daughter viewing an early episode.  Intrigued, I sat down with her to watch while she explained the premise of the show to me, and the interactions of the characters; the close mother-daughter relationship. Then she said something to me that I will take to my grave as the loveliest compliment my daughter has ever given me: “I think they’re a little bit like us.”

The force of the compliment struck me then, yes, but even more so later, as I began to watch every episode of the program with her. This was a production which portrayed  a mother and daughter who loved, cared, disagreed, fought, struggled, and laughed with one another. It was a tale of an extended family who made terrible mistakes in their treatment of each other, and yet somehow managed to at least pretend to get along, if not to  resolve their differences.  It was an on-going story about not just family, but friends who were more than family, and who, in the end, continually supported and appreciated one another, even when they disagreed.

“I think they’re a little bit like us.”

No mother could ask for higher praise.

By the end of the series, watching the show together had become a weekly ritual that we rarely missed, along with about half the female population of the United States. We laughed and cried and commiserated with the Lorelai and Rory, and their wacky, loveable, wish-it-were-real town of Stars Hollow.

But there was one thing my daughter and I did that was probably not a habit of many of the other viewers: at the end of each episode, we got up and danced together to the theme song. Laughing and making up steps as we went along, dipping and whirling and twirling,  week after week, we danced.  When she gave me the CD of the music from the show one Christmas, we danced to it again.

We danced. And it struck me once as we did so that, “Someday at your wedding, we need to have a mother-daughter dance!”

Why not? There is always a father-daughter dance on the reception floor.  But why not a mother-daughter dance?  Who, of anyone, but the mother of the bride has been involved in this whole shebang in the first place?  Who, in fact, created this wonderful young woman, this now-beautiful bride, out of the very essence of her own body?  Who more than Mom deserves the acknowledgement of a special moment on the dance floor?

A mother-daughter dance. It should, I realized, comprise a part of every wedding reception.

Dancing with my daughter at her wedding
Dancing with my daughter at her wedding

And so it happened that, at my daughter’s wedding, we danced. She and I, in fact, danced the very first dance, still giggling and whirling, and making up steps as we went along—no, not to the theme song of Gilmore Girls, but to ABBA’s “I Have a Dream”—the beautiful, meaningful words and the Greek-like melody so perfect for the wedding day dance of my daughter, who is one-quarter Greek in ancestry. Abba Dance Blog 1

Abba Dance Blog 2

Continue reading “The Dance at My Daughter’s Wedding”

Ah! It’s Good for You! Ah! It’s Bad for You!

I am so very tired of trying to figure out what actually constitutes wholesome and healthy eating, and I suspect I’m not the only person to feel this way. I think of what I’ve learned over a lifetime, and, frankly, little of it makes any sense.  Everything we “knew”, definitively and absolutely, a decade ago is now wrong.  Everything we knew the decade before that is also wrong…or is it?  Perhaps it was right after all.

I grew up in the 1960s. We drank cola and Kool-Aid daily. At breakfast we drank full-fat milk or orange juice or Tang.  A “Dieters Plate” at the local restaurant consisted of a burger without a bun and cottage cheese scooped onto a curl of lettuce.  We cooked bacon for breakfast and poured the fat from the skillet into a canister that we stored in the refrigerator to use later in frying our pork chops or eggs. If we chose to avoid sugar, we used cyclamates, a type of artificial sweetener.

But then came the 1970s, and health food, once only the province of hippies, went mainstream. Health-conscious individuals everywhere began to turn away from white bread and white sugar and bacon fat.  They ate whole wheat bread and used wheat germ.  They chose honey and raw sugar over refined. Cyclamates were banned as cancer-causing.  Those in the know surrendered popsicles in favor of homemade juice pops.  They chowed down on granola. Some became vegetarians while others just dished bean and alfalfa sprouts onto their plates at the salad bars which sprang up everywhere.

In rolled the 1980s, and we “knew better”. Raw honey and sugar?  Are you completely crazy?  You  need to use aspartame.  Granola?  Do you know how much fat there is in a bowl of granola?  Full-fat milk?  Sheer madness.  Use 1% or skim milk only.  Sprouts?  Haven’t you heard of the people who got botulism from sprouts?  Butter?  Are you insane?  Only margarine is good for you, and reduced-fat margarine, at that.  Eat an egg?  Eggs are orbs of death! Oats now – oat bran will lower your cholesterol.  Uh, no, there is no oat bran fairy.  Wait a minute – yes, it does work.  Eat that bowl of oatmeal in the heart-healthy portion.

We ditched everything we had been eating in favor of aspartame and low-fat milk and margarine. We chowed down on oats, and shunned granola and eggs and avocados, for fat was the devil.  Fat intake, and fat intake alone, caused cancer.

Enter the 1990s, and the low-fat craze grew to the no-fat phase. Olive oil alone was permitted, and in the most minimal portions. Fat-free yogurts began to sprout on the grocery shelves; calcium, after all, was absolutely proven to help one lose weight.  But now articles about health were beginning to explore the evils of carbohydrates.  Never mind that the human race had subsisted for centuries upon wheat, corn, rice and potatoes and often little more; carbohydrates were Miniature Terminators, intent upon destroying the human body.  Additionally, we now knew that aspartame was not, as thought, a healthful substitute for sugar; no, no, we must use sucralose instead.  Some doubt was creeping in regarding the trans-fats present in margarine and other fat substitutes, though.  Might it just be that butter was, in fact, the wiser choice?

Then the century turned, and so did, right on its head, everything that we “knew” about healthful eating. Juice?  Juice is nothing but sugar in a bottle.  It isn’t fat that causes cancer – it’s sugar.  Refined sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup – it doesn’t matter. In fact, fruit is nothing but sugar and to be avoided – put down that bunch of grapes! All sugar is sheer poison – with the possible exception of coconut sugar.  Wheat germ, whole wheat bread?  Don’t touch the stuff – virtually everyone is allergic to gluten and suffers from Bran Brain.  Sucralose is just as bad for the body as aspartame.  Multiple countries have, however, found cyclamates to be safe, after all.  Low-fat and skim milk are the worst possible choices; use organic full-fat milk, instead, and preferably raw milk, unpasteurized. And vegetarianism? Passé; only vegans are truly health-conscious.

After a lifetime of dealing with this nonsense, I’ve decided that all the experts, worldwide, have less nutritional knowledge in their brains than I have in my little finger.  Despite the fact that I don’t always do it, I know that I need to eat as wide a variety of vegetables and fruits as I like and are available.  I need to eat fewer processed and refined and fast foods, because they contain too many additives which I can barely pronounce, far less comprehend their effect upon my body.  An occasional small glass of juice is delicious.  I like pure maple syrup on my oatmeal and in my coffee.  Eggs are not orbs of death.  I eat less meat all the time, but I still enjoy a grilled pork chop or even a hamburger.  Whole wheat noodles are probably the better choice, but I just don’t like them, and the kindest thing I can call lentil-flour pasta is “chewy”,  so it’s best for me to rarely eat pasta.  I prefer butter to margarine simply because it tastes better.

My final conclusion is this: I might as well enjoy what I eat, because everyone is terminal.  Nobody is getting outta Dodge alive!  If eating nutritiously can help me live my life feeling stronger and healthier, then I’m all for it.  But I am the final authority on what to put in my own body.

When I Wore Wings

I had to give up Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, but I refuse to give up the Loch Ness Monster. I  absolutely adore tales of Nessie, along with those of all other sea monsters.  I love the grainy, out-of-focus pictures and the videos that somehow never quite display the monster they purport to reveal. I’d prefer to believe in Big Foot, also, both in its North American incarnation, or as the Yeti.  I long to believe garden fairies, and mermaids, and dragons.

The simple truth is, I miss the overwhelming sense of wonder I had in childhood, when life was a series of endless, unimaginable possibilities; when daydreams were an alternate reality. I miss it all dreadfully. And that is why I long to, choose to, believe in the unbelievable: in lovely legends, and in miracles.

Children see the world using brains that are not yet imprisoned in the confines of an oft-unpalatable reality. As adults, we find their thought patterns difficult to follow, and invariably label those patterns as “wrong” or “undeveloped”.  “Magical thinking”, we call their unusual and curious view of cause-and-effect. But their thought patterns are neither wrong nor undeveloped; they are simply different.  (And, let’s be frank: as adults, it would be a touch frightening to admit that those childish thought patterns might, after all, be right.)

I recall an article I read once in which a woman, who as an adult was identified as having a mild form of brain disorder, described her first day of school as a child. Distracted by something, she sat down on the school steps and the principal, happening by, asked her if she did not know where she was supposed to be. She found his question bewildering.  Of course she knew where she was supposed to be: she was supposed to be in her body.  And she was.

Another adult told me of a friend’s small child who’d received a poor mark on an school paper.  The exercise was intended to determine if children could understand the difference between reality and fantasy.   The child had labeled the statement, “The little tan dog barked” as fantasy.  Why on earth, her mother scolded, would she say that was fantasy?  To which the upset child protested, “I didn’t know doggies could get a tan!”

A few years later my own daughter received that same paper, and, while passing the tan doggie question correctly, marked “The whale sounded and moved to the surface”, as fantasy. Just as that other mother had done, I scolded, and received a wailing protest, “But whales are under water! They can’t talk!  The Little Mermaid is PRETEND, Mommy!!”

I want a child’s brain like that. I am tired of seeing the world in black and white and sepia and grey.  I want to see it in brilliant technicolor.  I want a brain which denies that doggies can get a tan, or that doesn’t yet know a thing about whale song, so that it comes as a brilliant surprise.  I want a brain that understands that I’m supposed to be in my body.  I want a mind that sees wonders and marvels and sensations everywhere. I want existence as it once was, as in the poem I wrote decades ago:

When I Wore Wings

When I wore wings and gowns of green and jewel-dusted robes,
I danced on clouds and rainbowed paths, and sported crowns of gold.
I flitted soft from wood to sea, and rested on the stars;
vacationed in the silent spheres—on Venus, and on Mars.

But then, as creatures of my sort, it seems, must always do,
I traded up my crowns and robes for less enticing truths.
I placed my dreams on dusty shelves with labels (“Childhood Days”)
and took as recompense a drear allotment underpaid.

Yet, somehow she lives on in me, that creature lost in time,
for sometimes, when I least expect, her eyes look out through mine,
to glimpse the pixies dancing ‘mid the roots of giant trees,
or light from secret cities at the bottom of the sea.

Prom Night

As women will do when gathered together day after day, when I worked in an office, we often found time to switch into “chat and gossip” mode. On one particular day in my memory, I recall that a supervisor had proudly displayed to a group of us ladies the prom photos taken of his oldest daughter. That sparked a discussion of school dances in general, and prom gowns specifically.

Each of the women present took turns describing her beloved senior or junior prom gowns and favorite dance dresses. I stayed on the periphery of this conversation, volunteering nothing, and fortunately each of the women was too wrapped up in fond memories of her own Cinderella moments to note my reticence.  My relief was enormous; I didn’t know what I would have said if they had turned to ask me about my dance dresses.  Made something up, perhaps – probably – because admitting the truth would have been humiliating: that I had never had a prom gown, nor even a dance dress.  I never wore one because I never went to a dance or a prom.  I did not go because I was not asked.  Without a date, a young woman of my generation didn’t have the opportunity to attend her own school prom.  She did not dare walk alone through the door onto the dance floor.

All of the women involved in the conversation that day were fifteen to twenty years younger than I. I knew that they could not possibly understand.  Contemporary young women would likely reel in disbelief and shock if faced with the restrictions we girls lived under in the late 1960s and early 70s.  If one did not have a date for a dance or a prom, one simply didn’t get to go.  I seriously doubt that a single girl would have been sold a ticket for her own prom—or, having wrangled a ticket, would not have been allowed to walk in alone. We, the overflow of plain young women without boyfriends or dates, simply bowed to the reality of the situation: we would not be asked, we would not attend. If we chafed under the restrictions, we were told that there was absolutely no point in railing against the situation.  It was just the things way were.

But somehow, at some point, it stopped being the way things were. The daughters of  “women’s libbers” and “hippies”, imbued with a sense of combativeness and personal worth that had been sadly absent in earlier generations, struck out on their own and refused to be tied to some male just in order to gain admission to their own school dances.  Happily single, they demanded tickets.  They bought their own corsages, slipped on their lovely gowns, tucked their feet into brand-new dancing shoes, and off they went.  Even if asked by a boyfriend to be their prom date, these brave young innovators sometimes refused to be coupled to one person and instead attended in groups of girlfriends, free to dance (or not) with whomever they pleased.

I not only admired those young women, but I was fiercely glad for them.

When my daughter and I went to a showing of the Disney movie Cinderella, I found myself biting my lip and blinking hard against tears when the title character is barred by her stepmother and sisters from attending the ball.  Later, as we left the theatre, I told my daughter, “That’s what it felt like, on the night of my senior prom.  That’s how I felt.”  Her own eyes sought mine in compassion and she squeezed my hand.

There were no fairy godmothers for the Cinderellas of my generation. And I had not the needed courage, perhaps, to change the sad state of my own affairs. But I have nothing but admiration for contemporary young women who neither need nor want fairy godmothers, nor pumpkin coaches, nor glass slippers—who reach out with no magic wands but that of their own self-assuredness and hard work to create the lives they want. And I hope every one of them dances, like the twelve dancing princesses of another fairy tale, long past midnight and until their shoes are worn through.

Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity)

I became popular in my 50s.

This may sound incredibly silly and shallow; unlikely, even. But there you have it.  I, who was the most unpopular teenager imaginable (and very little is more important to a teenager than popularity), achieved and gloried in the popularity that I achieved in my 50s—the liking, the appreciation, the respect, the “known name”—all at the office where I worked.

I was at that time, and had been for many years, an administrative assistant for a large office. At its height, the office consisted of 105 workers, both permanent and temporary.  There were considerably fewer employees at the point when I retired, but I was still responsible for tending to the daily requirements of a large number of people of varied ranks and classifications, who were quartered in two separate rooms.  Along with this came responsibility for all the attendant office machinery, supplies, and even office social activities.  Additionally, I was frequently co-opted to assist with work for the human resources office, which had no assistant.  Suffice it to say that I was incredibly busy.  But there is no better personality fit for an administrative assistant job than that of a caretaker personality with OCD tendencies, and so the work suited me to a tee.

And I did a bang-up job. I can say that without qualification, especially as I know how badly I was missed following my retirement (as attested by the many desperate e-mails, phone calls and texts I received assuring me of that fact.)

But what the work also gave me was the aforementioned popularity. Because I took care of the needs of so many individuals, from ordering them that exactly-right mechanical pencil to knowing whom to call for every minor or major disaster, I was both widely known throughout the agency, and greatly appreciated.  The copy machine jammed?  I knew how to clear it. Someone needed a database programmed?  I was the go-to person. The restroom next door to our quarters overflowed beneath the wall and disgustingly soaked the carpet?  I knew how to get help.    We needed to arrange an employee baby shower?  Talk to me, I’d get the ball rolling.

People, I learned, are genuinely grateful for and thankful to the person who helps them out of a jam, who smooths the path along the daily grind, who pulls their behinds out of the fire, who says, “Yes, I’ll help”, or who knows (when the answer is unknown) how to find information. They value a smile, a helping hand, a pat on the shoulder, a kind word of encouragement when they are slumping over in despair.  They respond positively to the person who makes their job easier–or at least bearable.

In the 37 years of my career at that office, there were very few people with whom I could say I failed to get along or who did not like me; perhaps a half-dozen, in all. In most of those cases, it was because I called them out on inefficiency or downright slacking: the woman who gummed up a brand-new copy machine because she failed to take the cap off the fresh bottle of toner when installing it; the employee who sat in another employee’s cubicle, knitting, instead of doing her work.  Those people despised me, and I wasn’t too fond of them, either.  Happily, I can say that I outlasted each and every one of them, and achieved something which none of them had when they left our office:  Popularity.  Appreciation.  Approval.  Friendship. Respect.

Karma is a bitch, the saying goes, but (returning action for action) karma can also be a kind and caring mistress. The popularity, the liking, the acceptance that escaped me in my teens was bequeathed me in my 50s.  And I was, and am, incredibly grateful for that brief and shining moment in the sun.

Wishing a happy and fun Administrative Professionals Day to all of my compatriots in that field!  May you be truly appreciated!


Age Is the Great Leveler

When I was in my 30s and early 40s, I was still moderately invested in reading those “how to look your best” articles in women’s magazines. One of these I’ve never forgotten, chiefly because I never made it past the first few paragraphs.  The writer described an interview with a young woman who, having been to the gym, hopped out of the pool and was strolling back to the lockers when, as she described it, she noticed a young man “checking her out”.  This circumstance occurred a few more times as she wended her way to the locker room, and she was mightily pleased with herself until the changing room mirrors provided her the truth: she’d forgotten to wear waterproof mascara, and the evidence was streaming in two great, black runnels from her raccoon eyes.

Those young men had been staring all right – but not in approbation.

I was dumbfounded, not at the young woman’s mascara mistake, but at the confidence that led her to believe she was proving interesting to several young men. In her place, at her age, being glanced at repeatedly by anyone, man or woman, would have sent me scurrying as fast as I could to that locker room to find out what was wrong.

And that, I realized, is the difference in consciousness between a pretty, confident young woman and one such as myself, who was always plain. Plain women – plain people – do not expect anyone to glance at them with immediate approval.  Ever aware of our physical defects, we know that the first, assessing glance when we encounter someone new will almost always slide over us quickly and then look away, finding us wanting.

Although terribly painful to endure in one’s early youth, this unintentional disregard isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least not once one comes to terms with it. Confidence steeps into the soul in a number of other ways; true self-esteem is slowly built not on a sliding scale of personal appearance, but on a sense of individual competence and effort, self-knowledge and personal evolution. The bricks of pride are slowly mortared  into place with a firm certainty that worth is based not on individual appearance, but one’s behavior; that kindness and courtesy and compassion are worth a thousand times more than a pretty face which will, after all, eventually fade.

And in that lies the next basic truth: Age is the great leveler. No matter how many face lifts and tummy tucks one has, no matter the beauty creams and Botox shots – we all age. Those of us who began the race plain have very little to lose, and so slip comfortably into old age. Sometimes middle and old age even provide us with a presence and dignity that we never had in youth.  But I cannot even imagine the angst of a once-beautiful person who sees that beauty slipping away each time they glance into a mirror. Sometimes (although certainly not always) they have spent most of their youth concentrated upon that reflection in the glass, and haven’t even begun to take the time for building personal pride from the genuine components of self-worth.  Doing so can be a difficult task when begun too late in life.

Having little beauty to lose can be a blessing.

Not that any of this means I’ve given up caring for my personal appearance – far from it. Loreal is my friend; monthly, I fight every strand of my whitening hair. I dab lotions on the lines around my eyes to lessen their appearance; I still put on (waterproof) mascara and lipstick and eyeliner and, occasionally, a few other cosmetics when I want to look my best.  But I am always aware that the face and body reflecting back at me as I dress and make up are just a shell.  I am enhancing the “me” that others will see at first glance only in the hope that they might take the time to know the person who lies beneath.  I acknowledge the somewhat sad reality that everyone, myself included, makes an immediate judgment about a person based on that initial glance.  (And if you do not believe this, take note of your own reaction the next time you see a homeless person on the street.)

If being plain has not been a blessing, it has also not been the curse that I thought it in my teenage years.

Yet I will always wonder what it might have felt like to be the woman who believed each young man she passed thought her lovely.

Who or Whom? That Is The Question!

I bless the easy availability of internet grammar sites whenever I have to decide whether to use who or whom in writing.  That’s because, despite knowing that if the word to is included in my sentence, whom is the form that should follow, well, that’s the only situation in which I can be confident I’m using the correct form of the word.  It doesn’t matter if I rearrange the sentence and substitute the pronouns her or him, she or he, as an aid in figuring out the problem. I’m still unsure about the correct form of the word.

Certainly I can’t be the only person who, despite a passable ability with writing, is confused by the sheer insanity of word forms such as these in the English language. Sit, set and sat.  Lie and lay.  Those verbs confuse almost everyone.  Irregular verbs are even worse; is it dreamt, or dreamed?  Awakened, waked, awoke, woke, awoken?  Shined or shone? Weaved or wove?  Inevitably, reading these words in novels, I find myself arguing with the author’s selection and punching out from my e-book to a grammar site.  (Ah, yes, and for that I also bless e-books.)  Happily, I often find out that I am, yes, I AM CORRECT.  I break my own arm patting myself on the back.  Much less happily, I find that the grammar in most direct-to-e-book novels is execrable. Worse, even edited books contain an astonishing number of grammatical errors these days – subject/verb disagreements seeming to top the charts.  Are students no longer taught that “might” is the past tense of “may”?!

Even worse than books, though, I find, are the voice-overs of TV commercials. I was delighted when the commercial for a large medical center spoke of “a list of insurance programs with which we’ve worked”.  Dear heaven, it’s a miracle.  The prepositional phrase correctly spoken.

Unfortunately, in its next incarnation, the phrase returned to “insurance companies we’ve worked with.” Despite Winston Churchill’s famous (but probably misattributed) declaration that, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”, most prepositions should not fall at the end of the sentence.  That’s the way it was drilled into my recalcitrant student head, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Period.  End of discussion.

Except that I both speak it and write it incorrectly most of the time.

Even more painful was a commercial for a cleaning product, in which the announcer declared that it “works so good”.  So good?  So good?!  Arrrggghhh. Well. The correct word is WELL.

And then there are songs. I can’t bear listening to Rod Stewart’s voice, which reminds me of a dying frog with laryngitis.  Even if another singer had performed “Tonight’s the Night”, though, I would never have liked the song.  But even had I enjoyed both Stewart’s voice and the song, I would still be driven to violence by the line, “….just let your inhibitions run wild”.  Uh, if one’s inhibitions are running wild, one is EXTREMELY INHIBITED.  Not doing anything.  Inclinations.  The correct word for that line should be inclinations.

I readily confess that I am incredibly picky about matters of grammar. For instance, I sat through the entire movie Inception arguing to myself that those little objects the characters used—the ones that were supposed to determine if they were in reality rather than a dream– should have been called talismans, not totems.  I knew that this was a matter of semantics only, but it irked me.

But, returning to the question of who and whom, I have developed a standard three-part rule for dealing with this situation.  First, if the word follows to, it is whom.  Second, I should try rearranging the sentence and substituting pronouns; if the pronoun is she or he, the word is who; if the pronoun is her or him, the word to be used is whom.  And, finally, if I still can’t figure out the darned mess, I will use whom.  For, you see, almost no one else will be certain of the correct word form, either.  But because whom is generally used only by those truly conversant with the complex rules of grammar, my readers will be certain that I’m not only correct, but am really smart!

In The Moment

Hoding newborn Amanda

After my daughter’s visit to her obstetrician, I hurried over to see the pictures from the sonogram of my first grandchild. As she and her husband, John, told me about the wonder of hearing the baby’s heartbeat, I exclaimed, “Oh!  You ought to have recorded it.”

“I should have thought of that!” John responded. “But I was totally caught up in the moment.”

And that, as I assured him, was perfectly okay. In fact, it was exactly as it ought to be.

There have been too few times in my life when I was totally “in” the moment, totally present for exactly what was happening, but I treasure those memories. One of those moments was the day that my own daughter was born.  In that less-empathetic era, the nurses attendant at her birth began rushing through their own procedures without first handing my newly-born daughter to me.   I could see my child on a gurney to my side, but could not touch her until her father, saying, “I think Mommy  wants to touch her baby!”  yanked my own gurney over that precious extra inch so that I could reach her. Never, never in my lifetime will I forget that moment–electrifying, incredible, impossible–of touching just the tip of my finger to the tiny body of my newborn daughter.  Never, never more than in that moment have I felt completely cognizant of what was happening, yet, conversely, more totally part of the universe, and of the heart of God.

And that is what “being in the moment” does for us. It reconciles our humanness with our divine being.  For one incredible second, we are at one with all that we truly are.  We are, for that moment, not merely spiritual beings having a human experience: we are expanded, total, whole.

I would like to say that I have had other such moments, too numerous to count, in the passage of 64 years walking this planet. I would like to say that, but I can’t.  Like the fictional inhabitants of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, few of us truly understand the value of life while we are living it. Those rare moments of communion with all that life is are infrequent, at best.  But the fleeting seconds of recognition should be recalled and celebrated.

I’m truly glad that my son-in-law was so caught up in the moment of first hearing his child’s heartbeat that he forgot to record it. No recording could ever take the place of his wonder and awe at that moment.

Sometimes, though, it is something far more insignificant and seemingly less earth-shattering that, for one brief second, brings us to recognition of the miracle of life. I recall one such moment as an adolescent,  when, having gone for a walk in the cool weather of late fall, I arrived back home just as the sun began to set.  The sky was a maze of varied electric and shining colors.  I stood transfixed in wonder at the beauty of it, all awareness of my surroundings forgotten, elated and exalted.  For just that one, mere second, I found myself totally at peace; completely at one with the world.

Also while still young, I used to lie on the cool grass, wet with dew, on late summer nights, and stare upward at the stars lighting the sky. That sense of peace, of oneness, totally enveloped me, as I lay there on the ground, running my hands over the dew-wet grass and gazing at the heavens, feeling the inescapable, undeniable knowledge that, “I came from there.”

In fact, I found a faint memory of those nights triggered in me one dark morning in early spring as I waited for my bus. I looked down at the dewy grass next to the sidewalk, seeing the crystalline sparkle of every jewel-like dewdrop sparkling beneath the rising sun.  I reached down to the glimmering beauty, glittering there in the crepuscular light of the barely-begun morning, and knelt to run my fingertips over the blades of grass.  Feeling the cold, wet dew upon my fingers, I completely lost track of time and place until the bus pulled up, startling me out of my concentration.

I gathered up my purse and boarded, slipping my fare into the waiting maw of the cash box, and my regular driver asked me why I had been kneeling. Had I dropped something there on the grass? Did I need to go back and look for it?

“No,” I told him, smiling. “I was just admiring the beauty of the dewdrops there on the grass.”

He shook his head at me and started up the bus.

“You,” he said, rolling his eyes, “really need a vacation.”

Happy Birthday, Amanda Desireé.


Just Jeans That Fit!

As an adolescent reading “improving” Catholic youth literature, I recall reading a story about two young women anxiously preparing for a school dance. In this stuffy little tale, the girls confided their worries ( no, of course, not to their mothers) to a kindhearted neighbor.  They discussed their concerns about waistlines too wide, complexion breakouts, and smiles marred by teeth not white enough.  The kindly neighbor gave them such helpful advice as brushing with baking soda and peroxide to whiten their teeth and patting witch hazel onto their zits.  (Trust me on that witch hazel thing: totally worthless advice, but something I kept trying for years, since it was also endorsed by my Grandmother.)  Girl #1 confided that she had been “slipping into my older sister’s girdle” to get her waistline into shape, and was told by Helpful Neighbor to do isometric exercises because, “All a girdle does is push flesh into other places where you don’t want it.”

Darn, I wish today’s manufacturers of women’s jeans had read that article!

If there is one factor that is constant and consistent throughout the entire United States of America, it is that there is no such thing as a pair of women’s jeans that fits correctly. Talk to any woman who wears a size above 2, and you’ll hear kvetching, moaning, and complaints about having to try on thirty pairs of jeans to find just one that fits correctly.  Even two different pairs in supposedly the same size and created by the same manufacturer will fail to fit one’s body in the same way.  How is that even possible?!

If a pair of jeans fits through waist and hip, miles of cloth will be flapping about one’s thigh. If thigh and hip fit correctly, the waist will either be gapping hugely or so snug that the button can’t be closed or the jeans zipped. If the jeans fit through waist, hip and thigh, they will be miles too long, even in the supposedly “petite” length – or will fall across the ankles at the high water mark. Skinny jeans, appropriate only for the aforesaid Size Two (may Audrey Hepburn rot in hell), are still unaccountably manufactured, and finding anything flattering to a more common figure is virtually impossible, even when spending a small fortune for what should be casual wear.

But of all the jeans foisted on a long-suffering female populace, the Spandex-enhanced, “stomach panel” jeans are truly the invention of the Devil. In keeping with the Hollywood ideal of a female body straight out of the rigors of Dachau or Auschwitz, the normal, slightly-rounded stomach of a woman who is of appropriate weight for her height is, for some unknown reason, supposed to be as unrealistically flat as an ironing board, if not concave.  But (as so perfectly described in that decades-ago improving literature for young women), all that darned constricting panel does is push flesh up into other places where it isn’t wanted, creating the notorious muffin top.  Rolls of flesh that puff up under one’s shirt.  Yep, so flattering!

Worse is the dichotomy between men’s pants and women’s. Stroll down the rows of men’s jeans sitting snug on their store shelves, and one will find nicely delineated increments of waist and length. Short and slim?  There’s a pair sized for that.  Tall but chunky?  Ditto.  Long-legged?  There’s a pair of jeans manufactured for guys built like a stork.

And none of them have a stomach panel.

I remember reading the excellent novel The Color Purple, and marveling that the main character, at the conclusion of the novel, had created her own small business called People’s Pants. She knew that women wanted a pair of pants created for their bodies — not for the body of some sub-male.  Not for the body of a “you aren’t a man so you don’t need a good fit”.  I thought at the time that it was one helluva business opportunity and someone who knew a bit about fabric and fits and stitching clothing should actually do it.

I will never puzzle out why women’s clothing is based on the tradition of “one-size fits all even if it doesn’t and you’ve just got to live with it”, but it’s tiresome and frustrating, and long past due for a change.

But I would genuinely settle for just being able to find one lousy pair of jeans that fit.