Thursday, April 29, 2010

No News Was Better Than The News

I didn't get the class scholarship. Rats. And despite what I wrote yesterday I do care mightily that I lost out. I thought the instructor would visit my blog, yes this very blog, and be blown away. Fact is, I don't think she even stopped by for a peak. Guess my wish for a fairygodmother/writing coach to appear and sweep me into publication heaven is a bit unrealistic.

Once I scoop my feelings up off the blogosphere I'm going to hunt up another class.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waiting for an Announcement

Waiting isn't something we choose to do. We wait because we can't get in to see a doctor, or we wait for a friend who is frequently late. I suppose if we continue to see someone we know is going to be late than you could say we choose to wait, but for the most part we are forced into waiting. How we handle it is totally up to us.

Today I've been waiting to hear if I won a scholarship to an online writing course. Thought it would be announced first thing in the morning. Nope. Waited until 10:00 before emailing the instructor for an estimation of when the announcement would occur; a girl needs to take a shower after all. "Sometime before the end of the day" was all I learned. When does the day end for you? Are we talking close-of-business day, early evening put-the-kids-to-bed day, or middle-of-the-night day? No clues were given. Right now it's 6:32 and there's no announcement. I know this because I check every few minutes.

I'm driving myself nuts. It's okay if I didn't win the scholarship.  I just want the waiting to be over.

I'd better sign off. I have to go check that website again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Come To Our House, We'll Bake You a Cake

Three of us are sitting at the kitchen table, doing our homework while the dog is chewing contentedly on a rawhide. One of us is in her 40s and blogging but hey, I feel youthful today and writing is what I consider homework. The peace of being together while engaged in separate activities defines family for me. As we grow in different directions we may find our only common bonds are family ones. If I work hard enough, these bonds may be enough to keep us tethered tight.

When I was a child, the bonds with my brother and sister were loose, and now I see how rapidly they unfurled once we reached the freedom of adulthood. Maybe I'm ready to step away at last from the remnants of my family of origin. A few nasty shoves from the nest have helped me reach this conclusion. But mostly it has been the creation of my own family that has shown me how to love and receive love, and to recognize when love is not present. We are a wise family.

At dinner tonight we resolved to throw open our doors and be welcoming to those who wish to visit us, no matter how chaotic our lives, messy our rooms or nutty our dog. Amen.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Shredding the Bowl (Or, Do You 'board?)

Wearing clothes I did not sleep in today. What a refreshing change! Think I dipped a little too deeply into the blues last week. The sun is out today and I'm fueled by coffee, children and hope.

I drew the lucky straw today and brought Danny to his skateboard class. I once owned a skateboard myself, and without benefit of lessons lost interest after nearly knocking myself out. These days Park & Rec departments are offering classes taught by awesome guys barely out of their teens. Danny's teacher is Mike Manidis, owner of Atlas Skateboarding in San Mateo. Mike is a natural teacher, the kind of guy you want teaching your kid any and everything. After the first lesson Danny was relaxed, moving and ready for  more. Now, after six lessons, he is begging to practice everyday and wants to bring his board on the trip to Chicago! Love to see that kind of confidence building in him.

We await with trepidation news from the University of California regarding a new round of layoffs. Joe would like to retire in a few years and being forced into an "early retirement" would be a disaster for us. Perhaps it would be wise to postpone travel; I know better than to put off the trip back home, though. Time skips along, and while the kids are still willing to be seen in our company we want them to experience a major city, revisit dear friends and see old haunts. I want to show them my old town, and see it through their eyes. Memories created at 8 and 10 last beyond childhood, I believe. Sometimes money is meant to be spent despite the caution of the times.

Having being so confident about spending this "money" I'd like to go on record as saying I'd really, really like a great job or book advance to drop into my lap about now!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Just Wondering

Are they pajamas if you wear your clothes to bed? And then wear them the next day?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

There's a Frisbee on the Roof

Unexpected visits send me into panic mode. If you've ever seen a mobile home park after a twister sets down you get the general idea of what our house looks like on a day-to-day basis. It's not that I don't try to contain the clutter. I do. It really is more powerful than I am. By the time I work my way down from the kitchen through the living room, past the 8-year-old's LegoLand/chemistry lab/lockerroom, into the hall bath, through the 10-year-old's fashion mall/distressed bedding room, there is nothing left. No energy, no time, no oomph.

Last week the new neighbors came over to say hello. I turned and looked at the living room with fresh eyes and saw a hip-high vinyl blue therapy ball abandoned in one corner, toss pillows tossed everywhere but on the sofa, three pairs of shoes staggering in odd directions, partially gnawed rawhide chews nestled in the unfolded laundry, and at least three days worth of unread newspapers scattered on the coffee table. The bright afternoon sunlight did its best to illuminate the shockingly thick layers of dust on the entertainment center and the fingerprints dotting the TV screen. Inviting it was not. The kitchen contained a bouncing fur-coated creature we affectionately consider a dog but secretly believe is an atomic-powered hybrid since surely no living being can jump so high for so long. The foyer was a safety zone, baby-gated from the dog/robot creature on the left but in full-on view of the living room and the boy's disaster area to the right. The only real choice for these unexpected guests was a prolonged and painful chat in the foyer or a hasty retreat to the front yard, my personal favorite but an as yet to be tried option. Wouldn't anyone rather sit outdoors on a glider? It wasn't even raining.

Part of the agony for me is the endless, thankless nature of the work. One more load of dishes, one more bundle of clothes and I know I'll retch. If the clothes or dishes remain unclean, no one who inhabits the house with the exception of myself ever really notices the difference. I know this because I've conducted painful experiments. Painful because I'm the only one who suffers, and when I can't take it anymore I'm the one who caves in and cleans like a banshee. There's the Dirty Sock in the Middle of the Hallway experiment (3 days, no one noticed); Book Left on the Sofa (okay, I could see how it might have looked like someone was returning but really, 4 days?); Cup of Cocoa in the Living Room (you don't want to know); and Pots in the Sink (still waiting). Or No Clean Clothes for a Week. Bathrooms Unscrubbed for Ten Disgusting Days. Just imagine the lack of response to a Really Clean House, and further imagine how quickly it disintegrates back into clutter.

Yesterday I found a frisbee in the garden and tossed it carelessly towards the front door. It landed on the roof. On the roof is where it now resides. No one has noticed it and I'm betting no one will until I point it out. We will soon be known as The Frisbee House.

Some things are normal, like the goldfish in the bathroom (what better place?) and the skateboard in the van (we're ever-ready for the skate park). You might question the portable massage table tucked away in the bedroom, the sewing machine in the living room, the laptop in the kitchen. Are we just confused about room function or seriously stressed for space? Am I a lazy homemaker or too busy to clean? Lazy and busy, I think.

Today I'm torn between putting all the rooms to rights and curling up in bed for a cozy nap. Instead, I'm drinking Peet's next to a dog who is napping while the laundry is chugging along. And I'm writing. Every day I'm writing. Let the house take care of itself, I say, I'm going to take care of the internal clutter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Testing, Testing, Do You Love Me?

The old familiar letdown is there all over again. It doesn't matter that I'm no longer the little sister who tagged along, unwelcome,  in our shared childhood, or the young adult excluded from their conversations. Now a mature women, I am ensconced with a family of my own, and the rejection is as sharp and deep.

I am Charlie Brown, ever eager to place-kick the football that Lucy pulls away at the last moment. Up to the T I march, hopeful and confident of my ability to punt the ball to my teammates, little guessing that those who should be most trusted are the ones least worthy of my faith. Who am I kidding?  I know that it will happen, the ball will elude me, because it always has.  That family team was never mine to claim, I never belonged. The last to join I was "one too many"  for the brother and sister who wished I would not have intruded.

Our kids had wanted to visit Chicago this summer, see their younger cousins a second time and perhaps meet the uncle, aunt and older cousins they had never seen. There were the other draws, too — of seeing a city bigger than San Francisco, reconnecting with their mom's best friends, who are more real to them than most blood relatives, and seeing places they've only heard about through a homesick mother — but they were really excited about the family ties. Who were these older cousins, and what about that Uncle Mike? They are just starting to piece together the jigsaw of their family and these were curiously missing pieces.

The sister/aunt and brother/uncle are very busy, of course. Both have job concerns, time constraints, and the youngest cousins are engaged in non-stop camp activities through the summer. There might be a moment here or there for a face-to-face encounter, a concession of "making ourselves available" but neither was willing, or enthusiastic, about coordinating or committing to it.  The message was unstated but heard very clearly.

"We cannot be bothered to care enough about you to see you, meet your children and spend time with your husband. You don't matter to us, never have;  certainly the family you have created does not matter." I feel this rejection as a profound sorrow and know that it is something I cannot undo. It exists. It is a shadow in my heart.

The people I love the most have always been happy to see me. They are the ones who called every week  during cancer treatment, who still call just to talk. They have seen me through the great times, the dark times, the mundane times without judgement. They love me back. That's it, isn't? They love me back.

A cancer survivor is always looking to the future with a cautious eye. Will there be uninterrupted health for another vacation, another reunion, another celebration? This is precious time and I promise myself I will spend it with the people who want to be with me and my family. No apologies, no regrets. At least, none from me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Than Survival

Let me lay it out for you. In the back of my mind (front and sides, too) I've been planning to write a book. Something about life as I know it as a forty-something mom trying for more than mere survival after the mack truck experience of cancer. Yeah, says the editor in me, it's already been done. And done again.  I don't want to write the Hallmark version. I'm thinking more about writing from the irreverent and somewhat agonized perspective of someone who questions the motivations of her doctors while praying they'll tell her what to do. A person who gathers her will in spurts and stops, musters her dreams amidst the cold frustration that the future may have passed her by, defeats her challenges as often as she is defeated by them.

Would someone want to read the ups and downs of hope and dread after initial treatment and "before" possible recurrence? Because that's the reality of the much-heralded survivor existence. Any publisher would cringe at the proposal. "What a downer," she'd say. There'd be no promise of a happy ending, or even a tragic resolution. Just limbo. And the daily goings on, pushing forward, dragging back, moving in the unknown. Every move is weighed in relation to the likelihood of a recurrence. Remodel the house? Maybe the money will be needed for treatment or childcare. Find a part-time job to pay the bills? Not if I can't get the stamina. Attempt a new career? Will I have the time? So much of this "new normal" as they call it is lived in the head. My head. Should I invite strangers in for a visit, allow them to witness the demise of my previous sanity and model the new? Would anyone pay for the privilege?

Until then, I blog.

And It's Your Business How?

She's not a friend, just someone whose life has intersected with mine through our children's nursery school, preschool and now elementary school careers. So there we were, sitting next to each other on the grass after the community theater play while the kids ate lunches, two moms chaperoning a field trip, and she lobbed this grenade my way: "How's that breast cancer thing going?"

Wow. Openness is my middle name, and I usually welcome cancer dialogue. Somehow this didn't qualify, coming as it did amidst playing children, mingling moms and roaming teachers. I  mean, odds are that my answer might be, "Oh, just learned I've got mets to the bone and brain and will be starting full-on treatment next week. How's the family?" Really, isn't there a middle ground when inquiring of an acquaintance as to their health status?

A little touchy, perhaps. An appointment has been made for a check-up with the Agent of Doom. The back pain may simply be back pain but it exceeds the two-week-get-it-checked cancer chick guideline. Considering this is National Cancer Control Month (Has someone discovered a way to control cancer? Do tell.) it seemed the right time to make the call.  It's just that the guy always makes me cry and I really hate to do that with people I don't respect.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hometown Chicago (or how I turn even a vacation into a cancer worry)

As if it wasn't boring enough around here the rain has begun again. Danny is at a rock climbing party (this is California, yes?) and the rest of the readers in my posse are scattered at home, delving into the paper, a leftover stash of library books and a guidebook to Chicago. Whenever I'm truly bored I begin to plan a trip.  Chicago won hands-down because of the draw of friends, who are family to us. The kids have been pestering me for years to visit the hometown area as if it is a mystical land of wonder and light. There's The Field Museum, the Art Institute, Navy Pier, the American Girl Store, Lake Michigan, the cemetery tour of beloved dead relatives, and of course the various home haunts of me, the mom. We'll make our "must see" list before leaving and compare notes.

With any luck we'll coordinate the visit with a few family members and allow the cousins to meet and mingle. Better now than later, or never. And there is the matter of my father's brother who has never met my children. Well, then, neither has my own brother. What's the appropriate greeting upon meeting up after a decade or more lapse — my, but time sure has flown? Where has the time gone? How many kids have you got there now? Hey, have you reproduced? Remember me?

No matter, we're quite excited to be venturing East. A theme is being tossed about. Perhaps "Trains, planes, automobiles, water taxis, buses..." or some other reference to modes of conveyance. We'll check them off as we go. Already I've put out the rule that everyone will have one roller bag, one backpack. C'est tout. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't come. I will have the most difficulty with this limitation. No one has to know that I plan to pack a collapsable bag for "take home" goodies.

The project of getting ready for the trip, going on the trip, returning home from the trip should keep one corner of my peabrain occupied for a couple of months. I do need to decide whether to get the recurrent back pain checked out before the trip. If it is bad news I'll have to start treatment and perhaps postpone the trip; good news I can go worry free.  Suppose I'll procrastinate another week and make a decision then. After all, maybe the recent weight gain is contributing to the pain. Or, says the Cancer Squirrel, maybe the cause of the pain is somehow contributing to the recent weight gain. Oh, damn the rodent.  I'm going to starve the Cancer Squirrel by denying it any thought at all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where is the War?

President Obama has my full respect. He's my President and that's my punctuation, thank you. The man is intelligent, courageous, a visionary. He is one of the only leaders in my lifetime I'd be willing to follow into a war. Then why isn't he banging the drum about the two wars we are in?

I grew up with the Vietnam war as a nightly dinner guest, courtesy of parental news junkies who kept a tiny television on the kitchen table. We don't have TVs in our bedrooms and never will, but the first order of business when we bought this house was to outfit the kitchen with a television. We gather around it, all 13 inches of it, much like early viewers must have done in the 50s when the first devices graced living rooms. And so I'd know if the wars were making the airwaves the way they should. I'd know if we were hearing everything we need to hear about the soldiers far from home, or the families waiting for their return. I'd know if they were being suitably cared for upon their return. I'd know. And I don't.

Where is the war?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm an Embarrassment

That's right. The 10-year-old has made several indications of late that my appearance is an embarrassment to her. Yesterday it was a hat I was wearing, today the way I tucked my t-shirt into my sweats. Just imagine hearing your daughter pleading with you not to wear your clothes that way, or snatching the hat off your head in desperation when her pleas to remove it failed. Ugh. When did I cease being perfect, or at least acceptable, in her eyes? Now I'm the dreaded Mother uttered in contempt, complete with italics and pre-teen eyerolleze. Double Ugh. Like I needed this blow to the self-image.

The past four weeks have been awful. Somehow I have fallen into the post-menopause, chubby breast cancer survivors group. Ever since my diagnosis I've taken foolish but delighted pride in being thin. Really thin, like Size 4 and feeling fine thin. A month ago I weighed 13 lbs less than I do today. A couple of months ago I weighed even less than that. What's happening to me? Those sweats are starting to be a necessary part of my attire. No wonder the daughter is starting to cringe at the sight of me.

The metabolism is skewed in some evil direction. There's no excuse not to hit the Y except all the usual busyness. Perhaps now that the rain has ceased I can keep those walk dates with the goofy canine, expand into the gym a few days a week and gobble those fruits and veggies I'm supposed to be eating. Funny, I'm not really eating high-calorie food, or anything different from the rest of the family.  Although why I'm the only one swelling up like a big ox is beyond me. Here I am on record as saying this is as non-thin as I get. No more sweats, tucked or untucked, unless I'm at the gym. Tomorrow, it's the healthy road for this patootie.

Friday, April 2, 2010

End of Break

Spring break is finally at an end. We didn't have anything planned this time and I suffered mightily for it. Kids need plans or they want to watch tv. When they watch tv their brains turn to jelly. Jelly brains are nasty creatures to live with 24/7, let me tell you. Next year we'll do something, anything, for spring break. And it won't rain, either.

The saga of the retaining wall/fence may finally be moving along. The engineer has completed the design and the contractor is picking it up tonight. What's next? A written estimate, I hope, and a check from New Neighbor for half the cost of the patio support wall. I've been dreaming of a completed wall, fence and enough dough left over to install a simple patio and place a few new trees and plants along said fence. After removing the privacy screen trees we're sitting bare naked in full view of the New Neighbors, and their behemoth of a house is not a lovely piece of architecture. Probably serve me right for having a bad attitude if I can't replace the screen for years and have to stare at the behemoth all that time.

Several weeks of low back pain have had me googling "back mets" and "back bone pain" late at night. It's the four year anniversary of my diagnosis and suddenly all around me women are having recurrences. Not me, not me. My medical go-to person is an acupuncturist, and twice now she's reassured me by relieving the pain quickly. She also is encouraging me to check in with the Agent of Doom (it is that time) but I'm reluctant. He just makes me cry. I need to find a new doc, someone who really has a heart and mind for this cancer work. Now the game is recurrence prevention and I'm in need of a team leader.  This taking care of me stuff is really hard work.