Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Long Does True Love Last?

True love lasts a lifetime, and even beyond death -- if some metaphysicians have it right. Not to mention Patrick Swayze's character in the movie Ghost. I personally believe that when love runs deep enough, you leave some of yours behind for others and take some of theirs with you. This is the way I love my family, and most likely the way you love yours.

It's also the way I have loved John Denver, as everyone who knows me, knows. Not just his songs, not just his stage presence, not just his philosophy, not just his public image. I've done my homework well enough to know that he was more than all that. And yes, he was a man of many moods, some of which may have been a bit ugly. If ugly moods affect the love you feel for someone, it isn't love. That's what I say. True love is not for candy asses, as Clint Eastwood would so eloquently put it.

Last night I went to yet another New Christy Minstrels performance. There's no tiring of it, this experience gets better each time. I feel fortunate and blessed to call Jennifer Lind a friend, and through her I met Randy Sparks last summer, the man who helped John Denver make it to the top. It was a pivotal point in my life. Last night I met John's Uncle Dave, who sings with the group. To others it may have seemed I was shaking his hand at that moment, but I wasn't shaking it. I was holding it. I held it as long and as best I could without being silly about it. I hope.

Traditional Yoga teaches that pranic energy (life-force) is absorbed, emitted, and exchanged through the pores of our skin, and primarily through the palms of our hands. I was taking in as much of Dave Deutschendorf's pranic energy as I could, and hoping to leave some of mine with him. No, not just because he is John's uncle, but because he seems a gentle person, modest, a sweet man I'll bet, without being wimpy about it. I looked him in the eye and said to him, "You are the reason I'm here." I then felt compelled to add, "And you have a beautiful voice." A true statement and a simple compliment well deserved.

But wait, there's more. This man was a teacher and student counselor for 38 years. What's not to love? A good teacher doesn't just teach, a good teacher can save lives. Good teachers saved mine

Uncle Dave's voice is nothing like John's. It is his own. Deep and resonant. Warming in its touch. His physical resemblance to John may be subtle to some, but was obvious to me. To have looked into that face that hints of John, to have heard him sing in a voice that John must have grown up hearing, to have held the hand that John must have held countless times... what a thrill for me.

As for the New Christy Minstrels, they're not entertaining an audience. They are touching lives. Every person in that packed house left personally transformed to varying degree. The NCM had us laughing, they had us misting up, they had us chiming in on many olden, golden, familiar favorites. Now, on a personal note, I suppose I can say not only that I met John's Uncle Dave. I sang with him. LOL.

Yes, I got his autograph, but not for myself. I'll give it to my son-in-law who also loves to play the guitar and sing (mostly in the privacy of his own home), and who shares my appreciation of John Denver. What I'm keeping for myself is the memory of what I saw, what I heard, and what I felt last night at the Gallo Theater in Modesto. Another magical evening in the life of one who loves deeply.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Little Look at My Life as a Landlady

When our daughter was in her teens, she brought home kids the way many caring souls bring home stray kittens. The kids were her friends in high school who were either homeless, moving around to stay at one person's house awhile and then another's and another's, or in homes that provided less than desirable environments. It started with Louis, whom she met at running camp, brought home on my 50th birthday, and said, "Isn't he cute? Can we keep him?" We did.

His mother was in prison (drugs) and his father was dead (drugs and alcohol). He was being kicked out of his ninth foster home. He had serious issues going on as a result of abuse and abandonment. It was a rough row to hoe because he was anything but a pleasant person, and introduced an element of toxicity into our lives. Our conflict was in exposing our daughter at such close range to someone so volatile, but she was as invested in "saving" him as we were, and although we paid a price, in the long run, to his credit, Louis became stable in his adulthood, a good husband, loving father, and productive member of the community. His mother has found God, is trying sincerely to bring Louis into the fold, and their relationship is actually functional, at long last.

But "back when," Louis brought home Bruce, his best friend. Bruce didn't need us the way Louis did, but Louis needed Bruce, and Bruce brought home Lisa, a friend from Salinas. Our daughter then brought home her best friend, another Jennifer whom we called "Little Jenn" because she was skinny as a rail. All the kids called us Mom and Dad. There were lots of hugs and lots of problems that we tackled during family meetings, which we all hated but damn, they worked.

Little Jenn had her own issues from childhood, which she was addressing in therapy, and although she came to live with us she often visited her little brothers to keep an eye on them. She brought them home one time with tears in her eyes, saying they hadn't eaten and their mother (with substance abuse issues) was not to be found. I made beef stroganoff in my pressure cooker and fed the two boys at my table.

Halfway through the meal their mother showed up, went to the table and proceeded to pick pieces of meat off her sons' plates which she hastily ate. Something like that, you don't forget. To her credit, that was a long time ago and I believe she has cleaned up her act. Has she become a name on my favorite persons list? Uhhh.... no. But more recently when I lost weight and had literally a closet full of clothes that hung on me, guess who I gave them to. Little Jenn, to pass along to her mother, who was divorced, homeless, and not working.

In recent years my daughter lived in Sparks, Nevada, and Little Jenn would occasionally come to visit me. We established a "Mother/Daughter Day" that consisted of watching a movie together, with chips and dip, heartfelt talks, some laughter and some tears. I suppose I was filling in as a mother figure and she was filling in as a daughter figure, but over time events occurred that resulted in miscommunication and a falling out. Although I offered to talk things out and mend that fence, she was not interested and I let it (and her) go.

Back track now to when we were still at the height of our friendship. My mother's house became vacant and Little Jenn's brother and his wife rented it, against my better judgement. I told them I didn't think they could afford it (even though I dropped the rent $50 for them and did not ask for the last month's rent in advance, or a security deposit). I told them the place was old, needed work, and the huge yard required a LOT of maintenance. They LOVED yard work, they told me, and couldn't wait to get started. They also agreed to clean and paint indoors, which they did. There was a huge pile of trash in the back yard which they agreed to dispose of. They took two loads to the dump, and not only left the rest but contributed to it over a period of two years, during which time they did nothing but complain about the house being old and the yard being too big to take care of. Payment of rent was sporadic. Two, three weeks late, half now, half later, etc. In our dealings with them they became so rude and disrespectful that even my husband (with unlimited patience and great people skills) gave up, and we asked our son to take over management so we could remove ourselves from the situation.

The meat eating mother had worked many years in property management and so was well versed in how to live in a house without paying rent, milking the system that looks out for renters, not owners. Knowing this in advance, while Little Jenn and I were still what I thought was close, I expressed my concern that her brother would, in the end, not treat us honorably. She looked me in the eye, her hands on my shoulders, and said, "Mom, I PROMISE you I will not let that happen."

When the time came that it did happen, word came back to me through our daughter that her best friend had long since washed her hands of her brother and his wife, therefore she felt no responsibility to intercede when they lived in the rental without paying their garbage bill for a year (which cost us several hundred dollars), and without paying rent for two months, which cost us a couple of thousand dollars. Interesting thing about promises. They only last until you decide to break them. But, lesson learned.

Now the house is empty, we're working like crazy to do improvements we couldn't do when the tenants were, uhhh... such crappy tenants... because (1) we avoided them as best we could and (2) they didn't communicate with us once they planned to bilk us so we had no way of knowing the sprinklers didn't work, some tile was missing in the kitchen, and the roof needed replacing, not patching. They've moved out, we're dealing with all the junk they've left behind, and on one unexpected encounter with him, when the tenant made a fist and would have hit me if Frank hadn't gotten between us, and threatened, "Wait till you see what I do next," we called the sheriff. A roofer was there at the time to witness this, and there's a report on file. So we'll see where this goes from here.

Bottom line, in a weird way I'm enjoying the process of spiffing up the old place, but my heart hurts when I allow myself to explore the old fashioned, outdated attributes of honesty, integrity, and loyalty. Let alone appreciation. And just when I was recently spiralling downward emotionally, Louis stopped by with a big smile, a warm hug, and a reminder to me that in all bad there is good. Who would have thought that the one kid of all our kids, who gave us the most problems, would end up giving us the most reassurance that it was, indeed worth it. When Louis says on occasion, "I love you," he means it, and I feel it. It feels good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

On Caring, Worrying, and Letting Go

I don't remember living with my mother until I was six years old, when she married my stepfather and retrieved my sister and me from our grandmother's house. Looking back, my perception is that she never worried about anything except missing one of her soap operas, or spilling a drink. In fact she prided herself on not worrying. Not caring, for that matter. She took great personal satisfaction in being a "tough broad."

I, on the other hand, worry about everything, and care too much. Overcompensation, of course. Basic psychology. However, realizing that at some point I chose to worry and to care, so as not to be like her, gives me the ability to investigate the choice I made when I was young, and rethink it. I understand, for example, that I learned to worry from a woman named Mary, who seemed to me to be a very loving person who worried about everyone she loved. I, therefore, equated love with worry, and preferred Mary's example to my mother's.

At the same time I met Mary, my high school English teacher (the first male role model in my life who was not mean spirited and abusive), introduced to our class the concept of complacency. He spoke out against it of course, and because he was a hero in my eyes, my decision to care/worry was compounded. I chose to worry about not only those I knew and cared about personally, but about the state of the world in its entirety... all matters animate and inanimate. I developed the skill that, at the time, seemed an honorable and appropriate attribute.

Now it drives me nuts, and I've come to realize that I can care without worrying. Furthermore, I can care without being obsessive about it. Wow! Insight! Realization itself, however, isn't what gets the job done. Would that it were that simple. What it takes is vigilance and consistent practice. This means I now notice myself worrying needlessly or caring too much, and I make a concentrated effort to rein myself in. I do it with -- borrowing from psychobabble -- self-talk.

The ones I seem to talk to myself about most are my kids. Using the term kids loosely, since they range in age from 32 to almost 50. I worry about things that challenge them and scare me, mostly involving their physical and emotional safety. I worry about not being able to protect them and. realizing it's no longer my role to do so, I worry that I somehow fell short during the earlier stage of our relationship when it was my role. Enter the ugly monster... guilt.

So I talk to myself about caring, worrying, and feeling guilty. Makes for quite a conversation but at least it isn't about soap operas and whiskey and soda with a twist. I tell myself what I would tell a client, or a close friend, coming to me for advice... an effective communication technique. I tell myself, "You've done the best you could. Give yourself credit for what you did well. Stop berating yourself for falling short of perfection, since no human can be perfect. Your kids are smart and sound and finding their own way in life. You pointed them in the right direction, but you don't get to choose their path or lead the way. Let them go. It's your turn now to focus on your own path, which grows shorter every day."

I've learned that letting go is a process, less like dropping an object and more like trying to get gum off your shoe. So I work at it, and try not to work so hard that it monopolizes my life. Humor helps, so I finish my self talk with a phrase one of my yoga students shared with me years ago. She learned it from her mother in German, but the English translation is: Go with God. But go.

I've also learned that letting go leaves one not empty handed, but free. A wonderful reward for the ongoing effort required. Freedom -- you gotta work at it. And you gotta love it. Without it our lives weigh heavy on the scale of universal balance.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Doctors Deliver the Goods

I read something interesting on FaceBook recently -- a chiropractor speaking out against the medical field. He wrote, among other things, that women have been “brainwashed” into believing they have to be in a hospital to give birth. He favors home deliveries. My first reaction was to wonder how many times he has given birth, either at home or in a hospital! But I didn't go there. Instead I responded by telling him that two out of three of my children would not be here today if I had not been in the hospital at the time they were born.

My first son weighed 9 lbs 6 ounces which, 50 years ago, was saying a lot -- especially considering my normal weight was 110. The nursing staff called him "the big guy." We delivered his head, but his shoulders were too broad. The doctor had to decide between breaking the baby's clavicle and then resetting it, or giving me an episiotomy that was twice the normal length. He chose the latter, and I'm glad. Then he used forceps, which folded one tiny ear and left a mark on one little cheek, but both were temporary; and thank goodness I was in the hospital!

My second son was more cooperative, and provided no battle stories to tell.

Sixteen years later, however, when my membranes broke and amniotic fluid rushed out, my daughter settled on the umbilical chord and cut off her supply of oxygen. By this time fetal monitors were in use, and we could see that her heartbeat doubled. The fetus was in distress. Emergency c-section -- with an infant resuscitation specialist on hand! I then required a transfusion of three pints of blood, and was comatose for nearly 24 hours. Thank goodness I was in the hospital!

But back to FaceBook. The chiropractor stated that, although most births in the US are in the hospital, our U.S.A. birth mortality rate is "one of the highest in the world." Rather than continue the debate, I chose not to respond by pointing out that, in some parts of the world, birth mortality is so common that many cases are likely not even reported. These are births that take place apart from a medical setting --but not by choice. Not everyone is as fortunate as we are to have opportunities other than “squat, push, and pray,” the third being optional.

Granted, in the majority of cases home deliveries go smoothly, and thank goodness for that. Thank goodness, also, for midwives and doulas, who are trained in assisting. However… let’s not malign the medical doctors whose expertise and hands-on experience, and state-of-the-art equipment qualifiy them to handle unpredictable emergencies that can be life threatening.

I do not agree that women have been “brainwashed” to believe they must be in a hospital to give birth. I believe in this day and age, in this country, most women are well ware of their options, and grateful to have so many of them. Based on my own experience, however, I say “better safe than sorry.” Hospitals aren't my favorite places, but if I'm in labor, that's exactly where I'm heading. Without delay. Other women are welcome to decide for themselves based on their own criteria -- mine is life or death.

In any event, medical professionals looked down their noses at chiropractic for many decades. Now they've come a long way and MD’s and DC’s refer back-and-forth. It disturbed me to see a DC putting down the medical profession. AND I AM A PROPONENT OF CHIROPRACTIC! I feel a wiser strategy would have been to build up the perceived advantages of home births, rather than to tear down the perceived disadvantages of hospital deliveries. And all this opining came from a man... which gave me pause.

This also gives me an opportunity to share, as I have many times, one of my favorite things that my husband has ever said to me. Back when our daughter was born, fathers weren't allowed to attend c-section deliveries. I was brokenhearted. Frank asked me why I was crying and I told him I felt I'd let him down. He said, "Silly. You've just given me a million dollars, and you're crying because you dropped a dime."

And that's just one reason I've kept him these 35 years!