Monthly Archives: May 2012

fuzzy edges

A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor for what I thought was an eye infection. She suspected something different and within a couple of days, I was in front of an opthamalogist/eye surgeon who was telling me that I had contracted an upper respiratory infection and transferred it to my eyes, probably while crying so much when mourning my aunt’s passing last month. Anyway, the nasty virus had damaged my eyes pretty seriously. I was ordered out of my contacts and all eye make-up or creams for at least two weeks  (later extended to at least 4 weeks). Steroid eyedrops were prescribed for the searing pain, but I was glumly told that the other symptoms would likely persist for maybe 6 months, possibly up to 2 years.


This is definitely not the news you want to hear. But at the same time, I was enormously relieved and grateful that the damage was not likely permanent, and that the doctor could relieve my pain with his little prescription pad.

I left his office, removed my contact lens, and embarked on a journey into another world.

In this world, nothing is crisp or clear like it was with my contacts for the last 20 years. My vision is good enough that I can almost get away with not wearing my glasses at all, and the prescription is only right for a certain distance (basically the distance from the front seat of my car to a stop sign I’m approaching), so I have been foregoing them quite a bit. (Except when I’m driving. It hardly seems fair to imperil everyone else in town just because I hate my glasses…)

The world without my contacts or glasses is a fuzzy one. Soft edges. Less intense colors. Kind of like one, giant Monet painting. I have trouble discerning facial expressions from more than 3 or 4 feet away, so I’ve turned into something of a “Rainman” character in that I don’t see nor respond to other people’s frustration or grief or anger or humor until they are right upon me. To me, everyone wears the same expression.

My children read signs for me and locate grocery store prices. My colleagues whisper to alert me to whom is waiting for me at the counter so that I don’t inadvertently offend anyone with the wrong name. My boss has grown accustomed to pointing out the mistakes that spellcheck doesn’t catch and I can’t properly see.

I went to yoga last week and fell out of nearly every balancing pose I tried, not having the ability to focus on a point in the distance to hold my balance. Staring at my computer screen is a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes – like tonight – I can see the letters fine as I type them. Other times, when my eyes are more tired or the light is too bright, I can’t, and the result is something resembling an ancient Cyrillic language.

Small items or things at a great distance run the high risk of being completely mistaken for something else altogether. I plucked a black widow spider out of my shower the other morning, just as it was making a run for my foot. To me, it looked like black fuzz from the sweater I’d been wearing; I thought it had fallen from my hair into the water and was being washed toward the drain. Only when I dropped the spider in the toilet and saw the distinctive orange marking did I realize what it was.

A few evenings ago, I nearly allowed my little dog to “make friends” with a raccoon I’d mistaken for a fat, fluffy canine, and tonight, while on my villa balcony in Cancun, I saw a man on the plaza below looking up at me with his arm raised. I looked around and saw no one. So I waved back. He held his posture, so I snuck inside, retrieved my glasses, and discovered that I’d just waved at a statue.

Being sight-impaired for the short- to medium-term is something of an inconvenience and, occasionally, funny. But it’s also opened my mind to things I hadn’t seen before. I’ve discovered that I listen better and more clearly. Without being able to read the nuances of facial expressions and body language, I react less quickly and take offense far less. I am slower, more deliberate in everything I do, because it’s awfully hard to rush around when you might crash headlong into something if you do. Nothing is black and white; my entire world is a grey area. There are no absolutes. I am perpetually vulnerable and unable to pretend otherwise. It is a humbling and amazing place to be. A surreal world with fuzzy edges.

The limitations on my ability to read and gauge others’ feelings and thoughts has also caused me to rely more strongly on my own. When you can’t tell if the person sitting across from you is saying something that they don’t really believe just to be nice, you have to take them at their word and decide for yourself what you think. When you have blonde eyelashes but can’t wear a lick of eye make-up, you have to set vanity aside and decide that it’s up to them to see the inner beauty of your happiness. And when you wake-up every morning able to still see your children’s faces, you remember gratitude for what is still clear, rather than cursing what is fuzzy.

My eye damage has been the classic blessing in disguise. I am not sure why the universe chose this particular means of reminding me of so many valuable lessons, but I am grateful for them nonetheless. When my eyes are healed and I return from the land of Mr. Magoo, I will be relieved to have my sight fully restored, but I’ll also miss some of the softness and gentle realness of this world, too.



Filed under general musings, personal growth

my guilty pleasure…

As a former Catholic girl, I am accustomed to making confessions.  Not sure how many Our Fathers and Hail Marys this one will cost me, but here goes:

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have been seduced by a reality television show.

Ugh!  I am so ashamed!

First, let me declare that, on the whole, I detest reality TV.  Honestly.  My girls and I don’t even watch American Idol or Dancing with the Stars (although I don’t actually have anything against either of those programs).  I have, on occasion, when feeling low and vulnerable, succumbed to the high-calorie delicious wickedness that is The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or (gasp!) Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  But I always felt dirty and small afterward, as if I, too, was a bitchy rich girl with nothing to do but complain all day and change my shoes.

But then I found Jennie.  And I’m hooked.  I admit it.  I’m a Jennie Garth:  A Little Bit Country junkie.

I know, I know…. time to hand in my membership in the well-educated, erudite, PBS-watching Women Who Are Too Good For Reality TV Club.

But, seriously, I’m writing this because I actually want to encourage you all to check it out.  Yes, it’s Jennie Garth of Beverly Hills 90210 fame, and yes, she’s still prettier than a 40-year-old mother of three has any right to be, but she’s not perfect. And there’s something touchingly endearing about her that I think will resonate with many of you.

Her husband of 11 years (and partner of 17), actor Peter Facinelli, left her earlier this year, and she moved from LA to a ranch in Central California with her three daughters.  Now she struggles to make a new life for herself, with all the same problems and fears and feelings that we’ve all had when a serious relationship ends.

Okay, okay, so what’s new, right?  Another completely self-absorbed celebrity baring it all for the camera in order to make a buck, right?

Maybe  so, but there’s an authenticity here that has me in its grasp.  The show isn’t scintillating or sexy.  It’s just sweet and funny and unpretentious.

In all the important ways, she’s a lot like me and/or many of my readers.  She has her family and her friends, and they’re not all Beautiful People.  She’s still in love with her soon-to-be ex, and can’t imagine being with anyone else.  She’s struggling with feeling rejected and lonely and trying to be a strong role model for her kids.  I have to admit that I’m surprised and impressed by her grace and her humor, and I think it’s fantastically brave of her to try to do all of this in front of a camera….  I mean, a computer screen is one thing, but a camera???  Yikes.  I wish I had had her show when I was going through those feelings.

Instead, I watch it now and cheer her on.  I can’t help it.  I know it’s sentimental and I know it’s silly, but I do.

And, I suspect, if you drink the Jennie Garth Kool-Aid, you’ll be hooked, too.  But if you’re not, that’s fine with me.  Just don’t judge, because I know you’re secretly a huge Jersey Shore fan….

Blogger’s Note:  You can catch the episodes on CMT, or watch them online, here.


Filed under general musings, love, relationships, single mom

mother’s day memories

Having been adopted as an infant, my definition of “family” is necessarily fluid.  I have the parents who adopted me.  The step-father who assumed the daddy role 13 years after my adoptive dad died before I reached my first birthday.  The birth-mother I found at 28.  The birth-father I never met but have a thick investigative file on.  My ex-step-father’s current wife.  Ex-step-brothers and sisters that came and went in my life.  Half-brothers and sisters never met.  A huge, extended adoptive family that I hardly resemble in appearance or personality but mostly love nonetheless.  Friends who have carried more than their share of my pain and happiness through the years.

Out of all of this, there is one constant:  my mom.  The woman who adopted me and raised me and has stood solidly (some might say stubbornly) by my side since they first placed me in her arms.   I have never been confused about who my “real mom” is; even when I can’t be in the same room with her, she is still my mom.

When I was a kid, my mom wasn’t like other moms.  Having been widowed at 30, she was tossed back into the dating world when most other moms were settling into comfortable routines and packing on the wifely weight of their generation.  Not my mom.  She had waist-length dark brown hair, bright green eyes, and a tan to rival a Native American.  Long red fingernails and a body that caused men in the street to whistle and turn around.  A zest for life and fun that drew people to her and held them, in spite of her hair-trigger temper.  She laughed loudly and often and flirted madly.  Some children weren’t allowed to play at my house and some of the other moms seemed to avoid her, but she didn’t care.  Fiercely independent and almost as naive, she played through life with a sweet abandon that only irritated them more, I think.

Our home wasn’t large, or fancy by any means, but it was always clean and tidy and welcoming.  Rarely did I come home from school without finding one or more of her friends lounging around our octagonal, formica-topped kitchen table.  There was always laughter and music; you’d hear it from the walk as you approached the house.  When I came in, she always shifted her attention.  I was the center of her world and she made no effort to conceal it.  Later, it became a burden, but as a child, it was a warm security blanket to a child eager to please and be noticed.

When the weather was nice, all the curtains would be pulled and the windows thrown wide.  Even with sweltering summers, my mom wasn’t a fan of air conditioning.  The heat didn’t bother her, and besides, “Fresh air is good for you!”  She tended a big vegetable garden on the side of the house — it must have been about 10′ x 20′ and produced some of the best tomatoes I’ve tasted to this day.  She landscaped and cared for our yard, approximately 1/3 of an acre of grass, shrubs, flowers and trees.  I have vivid memories of swinging on my swingset and watching her push the lawnmower back and forth in the summer heat and humidity, sweat dripping from her arms.   Our house had a big patio for eating and relaxing, with a wooden picnic table and plastic woven lawnchairs and recliners.  Almost every summer evening, we’d be on that patio…. she’d coax the tiny Hibachi charcoal grill to cook some hamburgers or hot dogs or fish.  Wholesome, plain, nutritious food.  I’d have lemonade and she’d have a cold beer.  And, more often than not a friend or two would share the table.  Dessert was fresh strawberries dipped in sugar or, her favorite, ice cream cones.

Between the yard, her part-time teaching job, and parenting me, my mom always made time for her own interests.  Free from the guilt of Perfection Parenting we see now, she confidently assumed she was doing a good enough job and was entitled to time of her own, too.   She played tennis well, and often.  Sunday afternoons were usually passed on the tennis court, followed by long stretches of iced tea and conversation with friends in our kitchen or on our patio.  She dated handsome men who arrived in fancy cars to take her out, often bringing along a small gift that I quickly realized were bribes and disdained.  She loved to get dressed up, and when she did, she was positively stunning.  I have a photo of her heading out in a body-hugging gold lame full-length dress, dark hair pulled up on the sides and hanging long down her back.  She looked like a model, and my pale-skinned, freckly-faced self was in awe of her beauty.

Money was extraordinarily tight, but mom had grown up with less and knew how to stretch her wallet.  There were periods we didn’t eat out — not even fast food — without a coupon.  New clothes came from the K-Mart sales rack, or, just as often, from her sewing machine.  When we wanted anything stylish, it was a trip to the fabric store, where she spent hours pouring through pattern books while I sat on the stool next to her, coloring in my coloring books.  Then it was back home to spread the fabric out in the living room and carefully cut out the patterns, followed by hours in her basement laundry room, at a sewing machine tucked in the corner.  Eventually, a pretty, stylish dress or pantsuit or shorts would be revealed.  She relished in dressing us alike, much to my dismay as I moved through elementary school.

My mom believed, as I do, that getting to know your children’s friends is vital to staying plugged in, so my friends were always welcome at our house.  Sometimes they would arrive on Friday afternoon and not leave until Sunday evening.  My friends all liked her as well as feared her temper.  Her outbursts would send us scurrying to my room or out to the yard, but her good humor was quickly restored and we kids learned to roll with it.

When my mom married my step-father, everything changed.  They remodeled the house.  Gone was the formica kitchen table and, with it, most of her friends.  The sewing machine was mostly retired in favor of my step-dad’s healthy paycheck.  Dinners became fancier, and less fun.  Our loud, open, friendly house became quiet and proper.  My parents’ marriage deteriorated almost as soon as it began, as they were simply poorly matched, but it dragged throughout my teenage years, and I watched my mom become a shadow of her former self.

Their divorce ultimately revived her inner freespirit, but it came at a cost, and our relationship was never the same.  Her grief and anger at my dad caused her to lash out at those of us who were left.  I tolerated it for many years, finally drawing the line when she ruined my wedding reception with a big, public tantrum.  I spent 5 of 7 days of my honeymoon vomiting and suffering stomach cramps from the anxiety and humiliation.  I begged her to get therapy and she resisted.  We didn’t speak for over two years.

In the years since, we have mended our relationship and negotiated a healthier way of being with each other.  I can see in her glimpses of the woman I knew as a child.  I can focus on her strengths and appreciate her intense and pure devotion to me.  She has saved me and propped me up and supported more than I’d like to admit, and I remember that when my own children are testing my limits.  She taught me how to mother, how not to mother, and how to protect my own individuality, at any cost.

In the seeming randomness that is adoption, I somehow landed in the arms of this particular woman.  And in the luck that is the love lottery, I won the jackpot.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.


Filed under general musings, love, parenthood, relationships, single mom

first crush

Yesterday afternoon my 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, returned from three days of wilderness camp with the 5th-grade.  She perched on the Tiffany-blue stool in my bathroom as I sprawled on the floor, tools in hand, replacing the guts of my toilet tank.  I expected a play-by-play rundown about camp, but she answered my questions obliquely and distractedly.

And then it was revealed that something else entirely was on her mind.

A boy.

Turns out my little girl arrived at her dad’s a week ago to discover that a boy she likes, whom we’ll call “Justin,” had called a day or two earlier to ask her to play tennis. They take tennis lessons together each week and have known each other distantly since they were toddlers.  Since she’d been at my house that week and her dad was clueless that this boy was anything special, he’d  simply asked Jay to call back another time.  Which he didn’t.  And poor Sabrina was beside herself today, a week later, when she returned to my house.   I struggled with the wrench as Sabrina laid out for me her worries.

Sabrina: Mom, what if he doesn’t really like me and he was just bored?  And what if, since I didn’t call him back, he asked the new girl in our class to play instead and now he likes her?! (She is kinda pretty….)  Or what if he does like me but he thinks I don’t like him because I didn’t call back right away and so he’s given up on me?  Ugh!!!

Poor Sabrina is in the throes of her first real crush.  We talked about Jay and what it is that she likes about him (“he’s smart and goofy and funny”), and what she wants with him (“just to hang out with him and be his friend and maybe later when we’re older, he can be my boyfriend”).

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her rocking back and forth on the stool, face anxious, brow furrowed.  And I was struck by how our wants and our fears never really change.  No matter the age, we basically just want to be near that person — to share space with them and know more about them and feel the warmth of their attention on us.  And we worry about the unknowns —  Does he love me?  Does he love someone else more?  Will he love me tomorrow?  Does he know I love him?

So we tackled her concerns one at a time:  1) He wouldn’t have called to spend time with her if he didn’t like her; 5th grade boys don’t spend time with girls that they don’t like.  2) When we really like someone, we don’t change our mind in the span of a week, even at that age, and even if he did play tennis with the new girl, he might not end up liking her nearly as much as he likes Sabrina, because finding someone we really like is never easy.  3)  He probably does think that she’s not particularly interested in seeing him outside of tennis class, and I explained that it was her turn to call him back, acknowledge his phone call and see if he’d still like to play.  She visibly blanched at the idea, but I reminded her that she wasn’t having to ask him cold — he’d already taken the first step toward her and indicated that he’d like to be her friend.  She hesitantly agreed to the logic of that.   And then —

S — Maybe I should just ask him if he likes me.

Me — No, you won’t have to.  If he likes you, he’ll want to keep spending time with you.  You’ll know soon enough.  What he tells you won’t reveal nearly as much as how he behaves. He might not even know how to answer that.  He’s only 11.

S — But I just. want. to.!

Me — <sighing>  I know sweetie.  Boy, do I know.

I withheld the obligatory and unhelpful lecture about how that feeling never changes and how she will be saddled with those uncertainties for the duration of her dating career, but I couldn’t help but wonder at how many variations on this precise conversation I’ve probably had in my life.  How much effort and energy do we expend toward trying to figure out the heart of another?

I also found that I was providing her with the same advice that I give myself (with varying degrees of success):  You can’t worry about that other girl or how he sees her; you can only be the best version of you and if he can’t see how amazing that is, or if it’s not what he wants, then that’s only his problem.   She received this advice with the same skepticism I sometimes feel when staring into the black hole of insecurity.  In fact, as she rolled her eyes, I couldn’t help but sympathize.

In the end, we agreed to obtain Jay’s phone number from her dad’s tennis club directory and Sabrina will call him for a friendly game of tennis.  I promised her I would help script her proposal so that she wouldn’t flub it.  She seemed satisfied with that resolution, but I could tell that it still sat heavily with her through dinner.

And she wasn’t alone.  I felt the heaviness of a different kind:  the realization that we had crossed yet another threshold on this journey to adulthood.  Somewhere in our shared future, she will revel in the soaring, overwhelming buoyancy of first love and the stunning, scintillating experience of sex.  She will discover new facets to herself and see her strengths and failings reflected back in the eyes of someone she wants to think her perfect.  And she will also suffer rejection and a broken heart and the disillusionment of the end of a fairytale.  All of these things are inevitable.  All of these things are life.

At this point, I am grateful that she so freely confides in me and allows me some entry into the affairs of her small, innocent heart.  I hope that this is always the case, but I know that in all likelihood, it will not be.  For now, though, I will do my very best to guide her, and protect her, and catch her, as she moves headlong toward the discovery of why crushes are called crushes.


Filed under general musings, love, parenthood, relationships, single mom

perfect little miracles

Blogger’s Note:  This is the first in a new series of posts that I’ll be doing occasionally recounting some small bit of a miracle that comes along in my life.  You see, I happen to believe in divine intervention… how the universe sometimes steps in and makes a micro-adjustment to your life in a way that is startling and unexpected and leaves you feeling cared for and comforted.  You might think of these moments as quaint coincidences, or maybe as a collision of free wills, or maybe the literal hand of God, and I’m okay with any of that; you needn’t believe what I believe to take something that you need from these stories.  I simply know that these perfect little miracles give me hope and inspiration and faith that things are just as they should be and will turn out okay.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Road crews work to break up rocks in canyon rockslide. Credit: KDVR, Denver.

On Monday, I was late going into work after a doctor appointment.  It was an overcast, rainy day, unusual for Colorado, and all I really wanted was to go home and crawl back into bed with my sweet little dog and listen to the rain on the roof.  But instead, I steered my car toward the canyon for my 20 mile “drive up the hill” to my job.

Most days, I love my drive through the canyon.  The meandering twists and turns of the road are very soothing to me, and I know them so well I can nearly do it without thinking.  The 3,000 foot elevation gain means that I can sometimes pass from one weather system to another, which is pretty amazing to behold, and the seasons happen at different rates at the top and bottom of the canyon, too.  The quiet meditative drive through that canyon has been my constant companion for two years now.  No cell phone reception and minimal radio reception means isolation and contemplation.  Sometimes I put on my iPhone and sing along at the top of my lungs, but just as often I allow my thoughts to wander like the road before me.  That car time is like my re-set button going to and from work….

The canyon I drive each day hugs a creek the whole way up the mountain, and in some parts it’s open to high mountain meadows with wildflowers in the summer and elk in the fall.  Other parts of it — aptly nicknamed “The Narrows” — are closed in by sheer mountain cliffs, where souls braver than me scale nearly vertical rocks just because they can.  At the top of my drive, the road opens onto a beautiful reservoir with snowy tops of the Indian Peaks far in the distance.

On Monday morning, my peaceful drive was interrupted shortly after I entered the canyon.  My car started making a funny noise, a loud squealing sound that was like nails on a chalkboard, amplified 100-fold.  It was horrible and I had no idea what it was.  It sounded like it was emanating from one or both of my back wheels.  It didn’t sound like the car was breaking down, and I was already so late for work that I decided to push on.  If it was still having problems at the top of the mountain, I reasoned, I would take it to one of the local mechanics there. I turned my music on, trying to drown out the nightmarish sound and ploughed forward.

As I squealed along, I noticed that when I stepped on the gas, the noise subsided.  Hmmm…. But when I eased off, it resumed.  So, I did what any reasonable person who is averse to nails-on-the-chalkboard does:  I gunned it.  All the way up the canyon.  On a road slick from our first rain in many, many weeks.  I know the road and I know my sturdy, all-wheel-drive Volvo, and I went just fast enough to keep the God-awful sound at bay.  Fortunately I encountered nary a soul on the road that morning, and no one at all in my lane.  Nonetheless, it was fairly ridiculous to be careening up the canyon at 50mph in a rainstorm.  But there I was.

I passed through the Narrows, and as I was reaching the end of it, where the road opens wide again, I heard a sound — above my music even! — that at first I thought was coming from my car again.  It was a terrific scraping sound… but it ended with a boom.  I kept driving, grateful that it wasn’t my car, and dismissing it immediately with the assumption that someone, somewhere in the mountains was dynamiting.  I turned my focus back to keep my speeding car on the narrow mountain road.

By the time I eased off my accelerator and pulled into the mountain town where I work, the noise in my car was gone.  Amazed and relieved, I parked and went inside, fixed myself a cup of tea and logged onto my computer.

And what I saw gave me chills.

The Twitter feed was blowing up with breaking news of a rock slide in the canyon — the same canyon I had just traveled through.  Emergency dispatch was describing the largest rock as “as big as VW bus” (its weight was later estimated at 15 tons).  It had sheered off one of the cliffs in the Narrows and crashed to the road below, pulling dozens of smaller (relatively) rocks with it and blocking one lane of traffic (the lane in which I’d been traveling).   Emergency personnel were racing to the scene but were already crediting the poor weather for the light traffic in the canyon and the absence of any vehicular damage or casualties.

I sat for a moment, the steam from my tea warming my face, and wondered…. what if I hadn’t had the car trouble that caused me to speed up?  How far back might I have been if I’d been traveling at a normal speed?  Far enough to have been caught in the rock slide?  Or what would have happened if I had hit the canyon a few minutes later and come flying around that blind bend at 50 or 60 mph and encountered 15-ton rock in my lane and the creek on the other side of my car?  What then?

Intellectually I know that life is about little hits and little misses and they probably happen all the time.  But sometimes, the miss is so huge and so unmistakable that it gives me a moment’s pause.  And in that moment, I appreciate whatever set of circumstances caused me to be the lucky recipient of that miss. So I said a little prayer of gratitude, just in case someone is listening, and then I stood up and went to meet with my boss.  And my life went on as if there’d never been a rock slide in the canyon that morning.

Just as it should.

Just as it’s meant to.


Filed under perfect little miracles