I heard a lot about mammograms before I ever got to experience one. Between the comments from friends about the pain, the comics with women portrayed with flattened boobies, and the funny stories about the exam itself, I had no idea what to think. Honestly, by the time my gynecologist ordered my first mammogram when I turned 40, I was intrigued. I was finally going to be initiated and be able to join the conversation. It was oddly sort of exciting.
Today marked my fifth mammogram. Of my previous four mammograms, three came back with normal results. One did not. There is no way to describe my internal panic when that third mammogram came back with questionable spots that required further investigation. I know now that this is a common event, especially among women with smaller breasts and denser breast tissue. At the time, however, I freaked out. I remember going through all the worst case scenarios, mentally imagining myself purchasing a wig to replace the hair I had spent so long growing out and that now chemotherapy would take. In the end it was nothing, but it sure did make me think about how much time we spend worrying about things that never pan out and how many times we don’t see something until it’s too late.
As I stood there today, positioned in that bizarro machine with my breasts alternately being served up on a radiation platter, I was reminded that life is a crap shoot. And, I suppose that is what makes it so interesting, the way it can change (for good or bad) at a moment’s notice. Sometimes you get a sign that change is on the horizon, just like I did when that third mammogram came back with sketchy results, but then amazingly it doesn’t. Other times it just goes along without incident, and you find yourself wishing for some excitement. No matter what, though, you just never know.
That one false reading on the Big Squish did something positive for me. It reminded me that life can change in an instant. It’s best not to take anything for granted.
I am not a huge fan of the holiday season. I often tell people that I just try to get from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day unscathed. It’s not that Christmas isn’t wonderful. It is. There is true magic in it. It’s merely exhausting. And, it’s not right that it comes at the very end of the year when I’m already worn out from the adventures of the previous eleven months. It just makes the holiday season that much more tiring. I know. I know. Bah humbug.
Today is my favorite day post-Christmas. It is the day when all the decorations get put away, and the house goes back to what I like to call (quoting my Catholic memories) “ordinary time.” There is something so ludicrously satisfying in carefully packing away Christmas and knowing I won’t have to see it again for another eleven months. I get to reward myself for surviving another holiday season without beating someone at the mall or losing a finger sawing down the Christmas tree. As entertaining as it is to put up the trees each year, it is twice as fulfilling to take them down. When the last box is tossed into the crawl space for storage and the last pine needle is in the Dyson, I am at peace again.
I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences this readiness to get back to normal life after a season of tumult and restlessness. The boys start vacation asking me how many actual days of school will be missed. Normally, I recount that number with maximum chagrin, imagining how much I am going to miss yoga and 6 hours a day of quiet. But, this year was different because my boys are at an age when they’re honestly fun to be with. We had an amazing time together. We played games, cuddled on the couch, and did puzzles. Most of the 11.5 days they were home, they were a joy to have around. Two days ago, I was honestly sad that their vacation was coming to an end. This morning, however, the bickering began. It started with a mild disagreement at breakfast and culminated in an actual fight by late afternoon. I pondered then if two smallish boys with mouths duct-taped could be placed in a large box and picked up by a charity for donation. Is it too much to imagine they would be quiet and stay still enough for that?
It is a blessing that they start fighting right when it’s time to get back to school and a normal routine. It proves that they too are ready for life to go on. They need to get back to the business of living their separate lives. E.M. Forster was right when he wrote, “Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate.” It does, however, give us what we need when we need it, if only we’re willing to recognize it.
New Year’s Resolutions traditionally mean way too much work for me. Lose weight. Exercise more. Keep a cleaner house. Be nicer to people. Blah. Blah. Blah. Such a lot of effort. So, I’ve been carefully contemplating a way to make resolutions that work for me without requiring me to do any work. I’m a smart gal. Certainly there has to be a way to make positive changes in my life without having to do a bunch of extra work that, let’s face it, I don’t really have time for. If I did, I’d have been living that way all last year and would have no resolutions to make this year.
Then this morning, I happened upon the perfect solution to my resolution conundrum. It happened like this. Hubby was in the bathroom dancing around. Why? I don’t know. There was no music. I rolled my eyes at him.
“You’re a goof,” I said.
“You should try harder to be more accepting of me,” was his reply.
“Ummm….I do accept you for who you are. I’d just prefer it if you were slightly less goofy.”
He considered this for a moment. Then he said, “I have a New Year’s Resolution for you. How about if you resolve to be nicer and more accepting?”
“Ugh. That’s so much work.” That’s when it hit me. “What if I didn’t have to be nicer because I had no need to? I don’t have to resolve to be more accepting if you just resolve to be more acceptable.” He rolled his eyes at me and left the room.
(Oh, okay. I did come up with “real” resolutions too, but I decided to keep it simple. I resolve to improve my life in one hour a day: 15 minutes of reading from a book, 15 minutes walking my dog, 15 minutes cleaning or organizing something small that has been neglected, and 15 minutes either learning something new or trying something new. But..I still think my other idea has real potential.)
I’ve had some friends ask me over the past couple days what goals or resolutions I am setting for 2012. Funny how when that question comes up at this time every year I am caught off guard. Apparently I’m behind the curve. I’m still recovering from Christmas. My house is a pit. I haven’t yet put away all the gifts, much less finished writing thank you notes for them. I’m not even 100% sure about my plans for New Year’s Eve…and it’s tonight! But, I’m supposed to analyze my life for deficiencies and then devise ways to overcome them in the next 366 days all before January 1st? Holy hell. Perhaps one of my resolutions should be to start working on resolutions for 2013 before next Thanksgiving?
Before I can decide what to improve upon next year, I thought it might be good to revisit 2011 to see what made my highlight reel.
1) Polar Plunge – 364 days later and I’m still smiling about this event. I never thought I would jump into 38 degree water in the first place, much less emerge and say I’d be willing to do it again. Starting the New Year with 20 seconds of feeling truly alive (wet and cold, but viscerally alive) was so powerful. I left that reservoir feeling like I could do anything. Apparently, it’s healthy to take temporary leave of your sanity, shock your system, and wipe the slate clean.
2) My Father-in-Law’s Surprise 80th Birthday Party – A man doesn’t turn 80 every day. So, in April we flew to Coeur d’Alene to celebrate Jim’s momentous occasion. It wasn’t so much the perfectly executed surprise party or the time spent with family that made the trip special for me. It was something much more personal. I took an emotional risk that was long overdue. I know that life is short. Don’t go too long without telling someone important what they mean to you, no matter how hard it is for you to do it.
3) Camping in the Black Hills – We took a family camping trip to South Dakota with good friends this summer. I will be honest that I wasn’t super excited about the destination because I’d been there before and because I’d originally wanted to go somewhere else. But, we had an amazing time with our friends, exploring caves, hiking, communing with nature, and eating honest to goodness rhubarb pie in a purple store. Sometimes the simple things, the ones that aren’t shiny or exotic, are a true treasure.
4) Hot Air Balloon Ride – We did this ride, honestly, because I got a great deal. It’s easy to justify not doing something that’s truly an extravagance, which is why we hadn’t done a hot air balloon ride before, but ascending in that balloon with my family of men was the best thing I’ve done in a long time. It made me realize that we make excuses far too often, excuses that keep us from things that will broaden our horizons and enrich our lives in ways we never dreamed possible. If there’s something you’ve wanted to try and haven’t because of the cost, find a way to make it happen. You might be shocked to discover it was worth so much more than what you paid.
5) Warrior Dash – I registered for the Warrior Dash for the furry, bison hat and the excuse to crawl through the mud. I willingly admit that I did not train for the 3 mile run at 9,000 feet in elevation. I goofed around with training for the obstacles but that’s as far as it went. Still, on August 20th I somehow managed to get through the entire course and have a blast. So what if there were folks decades older than me that clocked (by over a half an hour) a better finish time than I did? I had an unbelievable time with our friends and I got good and muddy. I leaped over fire…twice. I cleaned myself off in a cold, mountain creek. Afterward, I drank a huge beer in a gorgeous setting and wore that furry hat with the pride that comes from getting off your couch and doing something just to say you’ve done it. I learned the best lesson that day. It’s good to be competitive and strive to be your best. But, sometimes it’s more fun when you draw out an experience and milk it for all its worth.
I’ve been told I’m negative. I’m too self-critical. I need to cultivate a better attitude. I need to stop taking myself so seriously. So, I’m going to work on a fresh, new, more positive and healthy attitude, especially with regard to my appearance. Starting right now.
Tonight when I put on my favorite, garish, sulphur-yellow sweatpants from J. Crew, I noticed that they fit. Yes. They fit. Sweatpants are meant to be baggy, aren’t they? Yet, this happens year after year at this time. Just before New Year’s, I realize that all those buttery cookies and glasses of wine, combined with my complete cessation of exercise, have turned me squishy again. Normally, this is enough to send me into a downward spiral of self-loathing and bitterness. I find myself paging through Us magazine, drawing Sharpie mustaches on that skinny, miso-broth swilling Gwyneth Paltrow. I seriously contemplate the diet benefits of chain smoking and calorie-free soda. I stop showering and wearing make up because, well…why bother? Then I curl up in bed with my laptop and order some bigger sweatpants so the tight waistband on my current sweatpants stops causing me reflux after the big old tamale dinners I can’t stop ingesting.
Well….that’s what the old me would do. The new me, the one with the positive, healthy body image is simply thrilled about my softness and the new fit for my sweatpants. It means that I’m comfortable in my skin and know it’s okay to go through phases, just like the moon. I realize I am the only one who notices the extra plump on my frame, and that it’s not as bad as I imagine it to be. I will not use the word “fat” to describe myself because I truly am not overweight by any measurement. And, I’m just going to go ahead and remove the drawstring from my sweatpants. It mocks with with its superfluousness. I no longer need it, so I’m just gonna pull that puppy right out and repurpose it. Maybe I can use it as a hair tie? I could put it in the camping first aid kit in case someone creates a need for a tourniquet while chopping firewood. Better yet, I’ll give it to my son, Luke. He likes to tie things up. I’m sure he’ll find good use for it in Barbie torture.
My current roundness is nothing to fret over. It’s just a temporary condition brought on by a season filled with yummy cookies and fudge and too little time to hit the gym. In a month, my midriff roll will be greatly diminished and my pants will all be slightly loose again. I’m just going to repeat this mantra to myself over and over again: “Even that skinny Gwyneth Paltrow had cellulite in The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
Okay. Maybe old habits die hard. Might have to take this one day at a time.
Okay. So my last post was a bit sappy and showcased my deeper, more intellectual side. Rereading it this morning, I realized that I sometimes present myself as a caring, open-minded, tolerant, and hopeful person. And, I am those things occasionally…when the sky is lovely or I’ve had a glass or two of really good Cabernet. Right after I reread my blog, though, I hopped onto a web site to sign hubby and I up for a wine school class in January, and the regular catty me returned. Why? Because lo and behold, what do I find right there in the first line of text about the class? A misspelled word. Gasp!!!
I’d love to give the wine school owners the benefit of the doubt and tell you that it was simply a typo. But, it was most certainly not a typo. They spelled “quintessential” like this —–> “quintecential.” I had to look at it several times to figure out what it was exactly I was looking at. It’s probably a common error with that word…mistaking the “sent” part of the word as “cent” without realizing that the essential part of the word is actually the entire word “essential.” I mean, quintessential means “the pure and essential essence of something.” (See. Some of us know how to use a dictionary.) Come on, people. You run a business. Certainly you can flip on spell check or hire someone to review your site before you go live. I understand you’re a wine school and not a grammar school and perhaps you were a bit tipsy while creating the site, but this is basic good business sense. If you’re not good with numbers, you hire an accountant. If you’re not great with spelling or proofreading, hire someone to do it for you or else your wine school might end up being the subject of someone’s blog post because of poor spelling and not great wine. 😉
My kids are a lot like their mother. They talk too much. They prove to me daily that my mother’s comment that she hoped I had children just like me was actually a curse. To top it off, they are also deep thinkers (well, at lease one of them is), just like their mother. Today as we were driving to and from appointments we spent about an hour and a half in the car. Car time is my favorite time to converse with them. We talk about life, listen to each others’ joys and concerns, and find out what we each think. I love that we have uninterrupted time to bounce ideas off each other. It’s hard to catch my kids for a conversation on a normal day, but in the car they’re trapped. And, I’m in control of the radio and our destination. There’s not much they can do. When they’re teenagers I am certain they will threaten to jump from my moving car on the highway if I don’t stop talking to them, but we’ll fall off that bridge when we come to it.
Most of today’s topics of conversation came straight out of a couple episodes of Little House on the Prairie. (I mentioned that show is under our skin right now.) Courtesy of an episode about a blizzard, we talked about frostbite and hypothermia, touched on faith and hope, and then danced over guilt and regret and the dreaded “what if” question. Then we skipped topics and talked about their view of their relationships with their grandparents. Later on we talked about my friend Gretchen, who is hospitalized right now, and how fragile yet resilient the human body is, how humans can incredibly withstand so much while still remaining so delicate. Soon after, we contemplated how wonderful our planet is and how intricately interwoven we are with it, in it, and with other persons and creatures.
Then, as if trying to provide proof of its shock-and-awe power, the universe offered us a stunning, orange and blue Colorado sunset. The sky, while mostly clear, was highlighted in spots with alto cumulus clouds that reflected the setting sun brilliantly. I pointed it out to the kids who wisely agreed that it was beautiful. We oohed and ahhed over the scene, and I reminded them what a gift life is and how we should appreciate each and every moment that we have on earth as if its the last one we will ever have. I told them again that I love them and that they are great boys. And, then I dropped them off at their aunt’s house for a visit and drove away filled with gratitude for my chattering little monkeys.
I am inordinately lucky to have the children I have. Despite our struggles, we teach each other more than I ever imagined we would. I know we’re never guaranteed tomorrow, so I’m just going to sit here for a few minutes right now and be glad I had today with them.
My husband is extremely reliable and consistent, especially when it comes to safety. He is always looking out for me and the kids. If it were practical to pad our boys in bubble wrap and secure them with duct tape, he would do it. Me? I’m not as vigilant as he is. While I’m not quite encouraging them to juggle knives or anything, they might find time to get to it while I am busy watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and ironing.
In conversation over dinner a few months ago, the severity of his cautious behavior became painfully apparent to him.
“Mr. Andrew is funny. He’s a fun dad,” came Luke’s innocent comment.
Steve paused to consider this. “Aren’t I a fun dad?” he inquired.
“Sort of,” said Joe. “Mostly you are Safety Dad.”
“Safety Dad?” Steve sounded entirely confused. I could tell he was disappointed by the moniker. And, just denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, he continued. “I don’t think I’m Safety Dad.”
Then, with perfect timing, Joe and Luke started proving to him exactly how he is Safety Dad by throwing his words right back at him.
“Look both ways before crossing the street.” Joe quipped.
“Wear your bike helmet,” Luke chimed in.
“Watch out for rattlesnakes,” Joe continued.
“Get those Legos out of your mouth before you choke,” Luke remembered.
It was both hysterical and horrifying at the same time. They had him pegged. I was simultaneously impressed with their observations and heartbroken for my husband. He wants to be Fun Dad, but strong with the Safety he is.
I point all this out because yesterday Safety Dad had a brain freeze when it came to his own safety. Steve was going snow shoeing with a friend. He told me they were going up Bergen Peak in Evergreen. Sounded like a fine plan to me. It was a nice enough winter day and Bergen Peak, although 9700 feet in elevation, is well traveled.
He left at 6:40 a.m. to get breakfast and head to Jeff’s house to pick him up. With total reliability, at 6:58 he texted me from Starbucks: Love you sweets. Perfect. He was on his way. I figured that, given his plans, he should be home early in the afternoon.
His next text, received at 9:22 a.m., confused me. Just got to Echo Lake. Echo Lake? Echo Lake sits at the foot of Mt. Evans (elevation 14,240 feet). While it’s sort of near to Evergreen, it’s not exactly in Evergreen. I texted for clarification about his plans but he was apparently out of cell phone range already. I went back to my laundry.
Round about 1 p.m. I started to wonder what he was up to. I knew he hadn’t packed much food and, although it was sunny, it was bound to be cold and windy where he was. At 2:02, I finally got another text from him. It was a photo of a rocky ridge with some snow on it. What the hell? He was supposed to be on snow shoes. At 2:15, I got this message: Getting gas in Evergreen. We went up Mt. Evans Road. No coverage. Sorry sweets. The road up Mt. Evans (the highest paved road in North America) is closed to car traffic from the first snow until Memorial Day due to inclement weather conditions and heavy snowfall. I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life and I know all too well that people die in the Colorado high country every winter due to exposure, avalanches, falls from icy precipices, and general lack of preparedness.
Steve and his friends had decided to trek up snowy Mt. Evans with no real knowledge of the area, no maps, no emergency supplies, no phone coverage, and little food, all without telling anyone exactly where they would be. What kind of idiot was I married to? Had Safety Dad taken temporary leave of his senses? I know that if our sons ever did what he had just done he would have lost it.
When he finally called me, I told him (for several long and surely insufferable minutes) what a stupid move that was. Then, I took a long, hot shower to calm down before recounting for my children their father’s entire adventure, making sure to let them know I would expect better judgment from them someday.
I guess I should cut Steve some slack. Safety Dad had taken an afternoon off. Isn’t that what I always hoped for? I guess I was simply disappointed to learn that when Safety Dad has a brain freeze, Safety Mom has a meltdown.
Joe has never been great with surprises. From the days when he was very young, changes in his routine or in what he expected have puzzled and upset him. I remember once when he was three I was driving him to preschool and, preoccupied, I accidentally altered our route. Immediately he recognized my error and started worrying.
“This is the wrong way!” he shouted from the back seat.
“Oops. You’re right. It’s okay. We’ll just go a different way this morning, Joe.”
“I’m going to be late. I’m going to get in trouble. It’s not my fault.”
“It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll still get there. We’re just going a different route. There are dozens of ways to get to your school. We’ll still end up there.”
“But, I’ll be late.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured him. “I made a mistake. It happens. When you get to school you can tell your teacher it’s your mom’s fault that you’re late.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what my charming and exceedingly conscientious three year old did. He walked into class a few minutes late and announced to everyone that I had made a mistake and gotten on the highway and that’s why he was late. Eeesh.
Joe had a rough 1st grade year so when his summer birthday rolled around we thought it might be fun to invite all his classmates for a surprise party. I guess we weren’t thinking when we planned the “surprise” part of that equation. Joe arrived at his party and when his friends shouted Happy Birthday, instead of being excited to see them, he ran into the corner of the yard and hid behind some bushes. He was so overwhelmed by the unexpected that he shut down. It took about ten minutes to convince him to rejoin his party guests. I still wonder if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of that surprise.
We’ve spent years trying to convince Joe that change is okay and that, sometimes, it is not only necessary but positive. We routinely put him in situations where we throw the unexpected at him, both positive and negative, and guide him in dealing with it.
When the iPad2 came out, Joe mentioned that he would like one. Ha! Wouldn’t we all? We told him to forget it. We mentioned the Kindle Fire, and that is what he expected to open on Christmas morning. Instead, Santa had a little surprise up his sleeve. Santa had a $250 Visa gift card burning a hole in his pocket, so Santa splurged on the iPad2 after all. I watched Joe with great anticipation as he opened his gift. I’m always waiting for him to freak out, so seeing him happily, calmly surprised like he was on Christmas morning makes me proud.
Experts advise parents of ADHD children to routinize their lives as much as possible. I see the validity in that. Joe does need structure and routine to keep him on track at school and with chores around the house. But, as much as those things help him function more like the rest of us, the truth is that life is messy. Routines get interrupted. Schedules get pushed forward and back without warning. Because it’s difficult for Joe to deal with change, it’s even more important that we give him opportunities to do just that.
Okay. So giving Joe an iPad2 instead of a Kindle Fire wasn’t exactly a stressful surprise or unpleasant change. But, I need justification for purchasing that expensive, electronic gadget that my son really wanted. So, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 😉
Every family has holiday traditions in place. Most of our traditions come straight from our parents (and still occur within their four walls). Some of them are unique to our household and are recently added. Most of them are welcome. Some of them not so much. But, as a whole they make Christmas feel like Christmas to me and the three men in my life. I thought I’d share them with you today, if only to prove to you that every family is special and nutty in its own way.
Christmas would not be Christmas without…
– pierogies, Polish sausage and the annual horseradish challenge where we see who can handle the most of that stuff without being reduced to tears.
– someone (most recently Joe) reading from the Bible, Luke 2:1-20.
– Steve and I telling the kids that there can be no gift opening on Christmas morning until after the lattes are made.
– the conundrum of trying to find a decent outfit to wear to the in-laws’ house that fits after an entire month of cookies, fudge, and libations. This closet event makes all the buying, baking, wrapping, and cleaning pale by comparison on the stress meter.
– the Candy Cane Cocktail with my family…Godiva white chocolate liquer, peppermint schnapps, and vanilla rum topped off with a candy cane.
– a friendly go-round on some type of board game that turns into a contentious argument over cheating, being too competitive, or exhibiting poor sportsmanship. My sister’s comment yesterday: “It’s all fun and games until we play the games.”
– the annual Tisser (sister) Christmas photo.
– the Caipiroska with Steve’s family (vodka, limes, sugar, and ice).
– Luke knowing exactly what he’s getting and being unbelievably, graciously thrilled by it all the same.
– hearing the same stories we hear year after year from our parents and smiling to each other about them again.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a joyous Festivus, or simply a pleasant day off from work!