Thursday, March 10, 2011

Grateful One: Irish

When I was in eighth grade, I gave up the holy grail of Lenten sacrifices for a thirteen year old: I gave up television. And I really did it. No one had explained to me at the time that Sundays are exempt from Lenten promises, so even on that most boring of days, I still didn't sit in front of the boob tube. I do remember sitting in a cedar chair in the kitchen, my back to the wall of the family room listening to the laugh tracks on shows and getting bored very quickly. Surely a book was better entertainment than listening to the television like an old time radio show. It was the biggest thing I have ever given up for Lent, excepting the years I gave up all meat, all the time. First I did this one year, and then my family followed suit. My youngest brother insisted lamb wasn't red meat and I remember he contacted the lamb lobbyists or consortium of lambers and they divested him of this belief very quickly. It's been years since I gave up anything for Lent, first because of indifference (honestly) and then in later years because I have consciously rejected this idea of God, preferring a more active approach.

So this year I have copied a friend and I am engaging in a practice of gratitude,naming one thing very consciously that I am grateful for in my life and writing about it in a public forum, either here, Facebook, or Twitter.

As I sat in the crowded church for Ash Wednesday, I started to think about things I was grateful for, and I'm happy to say that the list came flowing quickly, which is probably the most profound blessing, and when I thought about my friend Irish, who I have referenced on this blog before, I felt profound peace come over me.

I met Irish at the Gaelic League in Detroit-- I'd seen her come into the ceili dancing before, a tall dark haired girl in killer heels. She'd sit in the corner, surrounded by school work. She looked exactly like the girls in Dublin that I was completely and utterly intimated by: stylish, aloof, confident. One night when I was down for the ceili dancing, we were doing the 16 Hand Reel, my favorite of all the dances, and when I finished, a man beckoned me over to him and his wife. I went over, breathless from the dance, smiled and sat down in the seat he pulled out for me. I looked askance. "When did you come over?" he asked in that lilting accent.

"Sorry?" I said, confused.

"When did you get here? We've never seen ye yet."

"Oh!" The penny dropped. "I'm from here, America like. I'm from Michigan."

"Ye never are, those red cheeks, surely you're just off the boat. Go on," he said to me.

I laughed and the argument continued for a few minutes and then he said, "Here's me daughter Debbie coming, let's fool her." So I put on my best Irish accent and we had Debbie convinced and all had a good giggle when I told her the truth. Then I saw Irish coming toward the table, and she was introduced as another daughter. We talked a little and then I went back out to dance. In the early days, I probably saw Irish's parents more than her. They took me out with them to get strawberry pie and told the waitresses I was their eleventh (!!) child and no one doubted it. I drank in the details of their family and the back and forth exoduses from Ireland (with ten kids!) and eventually Irish and I were everywhere together. Such different people: I was enrolled in a PhD program and Irish had a GED, but is still one of the smartest people I know. She challenged my ideas of what it meant to be intelligent and it didn't mean having a degree or letters after your name. She was open, flirty, a character, quick with a laugh, and I knew she'd do anything for me and I'd do the same for her. She came into my life after I'd moved home from London and felt lonely and lost and was just getting my feet under me. She planted them deeper for me. We'd call each other on rainy sad days and talk about moving "home" to Ireland. We'd spill all the details of our love lives to each other. She sent me on rugby tour (with the men's team) with a little book of questions and answers for me to consult when she wouldn't be there. If I had a safety deposit box, I'd put that book in there because I still have it today. When I got married, it was easy to know that Irish would stand up next to me. And now some sixteen or seventeen years later, I still know that I can call Irish and cry or laugh and it's like coming home. It's like I really am the eleventh child-- and I've found my best sister ever. It's why I can close my eyes, take a deep breath in the middle of an over-crowded church, think of her, and feel the peace come down all over me: Thank God for Irish.

Friday, February 18, 2011

One Year, some days

I recently was rereading through this old neglected blog and looking at the breadth of my life that I have laid out here over the years. From a relationship that I thought was solid and would last forever to something that became bereft of love and hurtful, from a PhD in literature to a daily slog in the trenches of health care, from childless and longing to completely amazed that my own Cricket is now four. It strikes me that last year I was dreading February because of the huge changes that would happen and this year the only reason I had to dread February was February itself, the bitter cold, whipping winds and icy freeways. That's not to say that I still don't dread certain aspects of life: I still wake up at 2:00 am with a sharp breath, "The mortgage! Jesus!" I step gingerly into the basement and peer around the corner holding that same breath praying that pipe did not burst. But the concerns, the small anxieties, seem so much more manageable.

This week I went to my friend Lilith's house to be beautified-- and then lounged about her bedroom, prone on her bed in a pile of pillows. I told her how brave I thought her daughter was for thinking of moving out on her own, so young and with a child of her own. Lilith shrugged. I noted that we all have things that seem brave to us that don't phase the other. I know that when people hear stories from the ICU, a common response is "I could never do that" but I know they probably could. Just as I probably could have lived on my own much sooner than I did. I pointed out to Lilith that after Partner moved out, it was the first time I really lived on my own. That in and of itself made this past year revolutionary for me, and made me feel very very strong. Capable. The woman that people have always perceived me to me.

It's interesting how people's perceptions don't match our own and maybe we need to pay more attention to that. If the world perceives me as an intelligent, capable, beautiful woman, I need to listen. Likewise, when the world tells me I can be bossy, impatient, and proud, I probably need to hear this message as well. It appears I am just as unwilling to hear the positive things as the negative!

The blog is a good barometer for life and as much as I have said it before, I should probably write in it more. I can go back and read posts written and those unwritten and clearly see what direction my life was headed. Once I was talking to a writer who ran a nationally syndicated column about her life and she said after she got divorced, many of her readers commented they saw it coming before she did based on her writing. As writers, we often use words to clarify our feelings, but sometimes we aren't good meteorologists for our own lives.

In any case, life feels like a sunnier place in the past few months-- Not necessarily a flat plain, but I've always been bored by landscapes like that. I want oceans and mountains and deep forests. Good thing that's what I've always gotten. Funny what one year and few days will do.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beyond the Fence

A large part of my youth was spent wandering around outside. I rode my bike everywhere, my little white Raleigh. I rode to swim practice in the morning, around the neighborhood, to the library, downtown SmallTown I grew up in, to my grandmother's house and to friends' houses. We travelled through parks with (suburban) woods and rolled out pants legs up and searched in the shallows of the local river. Judging the history of this river, we are probably lucky our legs still aren't glowing. Certainly all my youth didn't have this bucolic nature, and it's really only after a day outside thinking of how different it will be for Cricket that I look back with these rose colored glasses.

I left the Cricket outside in the backyard while I was cooking. He was standing at the back fence, looking through the slats with some degree of longing for the long abandoned sand box, I am sure thinking that it was damn shame for a sandbox like that to be neglected. I literally nipped into the house for less than two minutes and when I came out, Cricket had disappeared. I scanned the perimeter fencing fast. No Cricket. He could have zipped around to the front yard-- He's three and he's fast. I called his name, sharp-like into the new spring air: "CRICKET!" and I heard his little voice call back, "What?" which was more assuring than anything. But the voice came from the fence, and he was not at the fence.

I called again, "Cricket!" and he called out, "Mommy!" in no distress. It was then that I looked beyond the fence and saw him on the other side. Of my six foot tall fence. Either my kid is part wolf or the fence could be breached. I didn't see any evidence of an opening. Cricket does have some alarmingly pointy canine teeth, so maybe...? I walked down to the fence.

"What are you doing? How did you get over there?"

"I just went through the fence," he said. Oh, so not a wolf, just the Holy Ghost.

"Where did you go through the fence? Get OVER here."

"I went through right there. I stepped through. And no"

I pushed on the fence, yes, the panel gave way and it was easy to see how a Cricket could fit through the hole. A Cricket, yes. A Mommy, no way in hell. And he just did his first very defiant no to me, safe on the other side of a fence. "I mean it, Cricket. Get over here right now. I'm going to count." Counting. The stupidest parent trick ever and it works every single time with my child. "One," I started.

"No," he said, bending down to pick up a blue shovel that no one had probably played with for ten years.

"Two!" I continued. And he said again, "NO!" at which point I realized that my stupid counting trick didn't work when he clearly knew I could not get through the fence to get him. "There's going to be a consequence," I began. Crap. Here it came: bribing my kid with food. I have not wanted to do this, but he knew a peanut butter cup was waiting for him. And this child knew what the consequence was without even saying it. He was at that fence so fast. And I was pulling him back through. "March right inside, Mister" I said fiercely.

Here's the thing I realized. Cricket was right on the other side of a fence that I can see through, but when I came outside, I didn't see him. We are trained, for the most part, to only look so far and no further. We think we are looking at everything, but in reality we only look as far as we expect to see. It's my challenge to continue to look beyond the fence. In the past few weeks, I have either realized on my own or with help from friends how I only look to the fence. I might see everything at the fence, or around the fence, on the way to the fence, the looking beyond is a challenge. I know I need to prove myself against this since I am the very one who put up the fences where they are. I'm tired of fences. I want a wide open vista to view, but in order to get there I need to keep training my mind's eye.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stealing from Eavan (again)

I swear, if I have another child-- on my own-- and it's a girl, the name Eavan is on the short list. Eavan, Brigid, Aoife, Bernadette. But mostly I want a little Kit, named for her great-grandmother, who I feel giving me a lot of strength these days. Kit was my grandmother's hockey nickname. She wasn't a Catherine, as I am, since Kit is a common nickname for Catherine. She was like a "cat" on the ice when she lived in the Soo, so the nickname stuck. That should give more than an adequate idea of how feisty she was. She also became a single parent when my mother was six, although because of a tragic accident. Although one might argue this is a tragic accident too. Hers was different though: her husband, an esteemed general surgeon, was killed by two drunk teenagers who ran a stop sign. He was thrown from the car and the car landed on top of him. 1956. But still, she had to buck up some strength and she spent a lot of her life with me showing me how to do that CAPABLE thing. She's watching me now.

So, tonight I read some Eavan Boland, the poet who has spoken so closely to me. Last night I listened to her read on my way home from the Pistons game. It was breathtaking, so tonight I'm back to her work. I know going from the brief synopsis of my grandmother's life to this poem seems like a non sequitur, there is a strand-- See if you might spot it.

The New Pastoral

The first man had flint to spark. He had a wheel
to read his world.

I'm in the dark.

I'm a lost, last inhabitant--
displaced person
in a pastoral chaos.

All day I listen to
the loud distress, the switch and tick of
new herds.

But I'm no shepherdess.

Can I unbruise these sprouts or cleanse this mud flesh
till it roots again?
Can I make whole
this lamb's knuckle, butchered from its last crooked suckling?

I could be happy year,
I could be something more than a refugee

were it not for this lamb unsuckled, for the nonstop
switch and tick
telling me

there was a past
there was a pastoral,
and these chance sights

are little more than
amnesias of a rite

I danced once on a frieze.

--Eavan Boland


I've felt pretty steady for the past few weeks, making decisions more or less rationally and thinking through things. I thought I wasn't ready to get involved in relationships of the romantic sort. Recently though I have called this into question. Maybe it's a good thing. I have re-read the blog from the past year and a half. I have been ignoring something I've felt. Maybe it's time to stop ignoring that. I hope it's not too late.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Blessing

It's become part of my thing at work that I regularly write "inspiring" quotes up on the central dry erase board. Most people I work with don't know it's me that writes the quotes, but I hear a lot of chatter about how they like the quotes. This week I may have given myself away by putting up an Irish blessing. I am the "Irish" nurse. Here's the blessing for you too:

May those who love us, love us.
And may those who don't love us,
may God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
may He turn their ankles
so we will know them by their limping.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Not an Exciting Post, but Hey! At Least I'm Writing!

I'm sitting in my car while the wee man naps behind me. It's time wake up him up, but I am so full of peace right now, the windows to our car down, the breeze blowing through the car and Mendelssohn playing on the iPod. Occasionally the big wind chimes will make a move, the sound of dripping water as the snow melts.

It's a good moment. I have decided I need a focus for my yoga practice, something to meditate on while I am pushing my body, something more for my soul. I know there are mantras already made up for me, but right now I want to listen to what my body is telling me. Yesterday at the end of yoga as I was supine on the floor in Savasana, this is what I heard: "Let me feel the joy in the quotidian and the joy in the joyful." Every in and out breath, I thought this and tried to let it fill me. Then last night I went to a good friend's house who plied me with Rose wine, let me sit in her sauna alone, and then fed me. I feel asleep on her couch. I drove home almost in a dream, and finally when I slipped under the covers, I felt so supple, so alive, I knew something about that meditation in Savasana worked for me. And it's working right now too. I'm going to stay with this intention all week. Joy is something I have been missing for awhile. I think about Kahil Gibran said, "He who has not looked on Sorrow will never see Joy." The sorrow will still come-- the first time Cricket is gone from this house to his new house-- I will feel the sorrow in that, painfully I am sure.

For now, let me feel the joy in the quotidian and the joy in the joy. Like right now, the promise of spring and green and sunlight all over me again. Just being here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


I've been trying to circle my life in lately, but I can't help but wonder when I feel like the highlight of my Sunday is to wear my new workout bra to yoga if I've been circling in too far?

It also strikes me that I keep coming back here and writing, "I promise, I'm going to write more" and I get all sorts of support and then I don't write. In my effort to circle in, I have lost touch with the one thing that I have always done-- I mean literally-- I have been keeping a journal since I was seven years old but in the past few years, the really toughest years ever, I stopped writing. I wonder how I think this serves me?

In approximately a week, Partner (who will remain named such on the blog because she is my partner in raising Cricket), will be moving out and into her own place. A few weeks after that, Cricket will begin to spend 50% of his time with her. Not in my house. Not sleeping in the bedroom next to mine. We've been talking to him about this change, but yesterday we both sat down together with him and told him what was happening. Well, I told him with Partner there. She cried and I kept it together, thanks in large part I believe to the Zoloft I started taking.

Remember that girl from last year's blog? The sad girl watching the moon in the branches? That girl was so sad and lost and she finally took herself to her PCP (a month and a half ago) and said "I think I'm really really depressed and I think I have been since the Cricket was born, and maybe even before and I don't think I can feel like this for much longer." The PCP agreed wholeheartedly and the girl, me, was given a low dose of Zoloft. I hated in some degree that I was taking it, but I can't deny it's helped even me out, and look! I'm here! I'm writing!

That writing has to be important again. A few weeks ago two friends of mine came over impromptu with wine and chocolate (I have some good friends) and we sat and talked into the night sitting at my new kitchen table, candles burning, Cricket sleeping away in the next room. Somehow my writing came up and these astute friends asked when was the last time I wrote something. I felt my gut rise up; how long?

So I need to write. I thought about writing a password protected blog-- an appealing thought-- I thought about starting a new blog. After all, this blog was about my/our journey to have Cricket. But it's about more than that, even though that was our central focus for so long. This blog is just about me, my life. I'm always maybe expectant-- expecting good or bad, worry or joy. It's all there and so hopefully as I move forward into this next phase of life, I will come back here, write more. Write through, write even though... I will probably try to focus on the what is happening instead of the what happened, but that may happen. If you don't like what I am writing, my honest soul-exposing-writing that I hopefully engage in again, just close the page. No one forces you to read. Look for the soft spot of your own soul and think about how it feels to open yourself up and let people probe that spot. I always feel better showing people who I really am. I've circled in just far enough now (I think) to be centered again, and it's time to let the circle spiral out now.

Here I am.