Thursday, February 26, 2015

Congestive Heart Failure

My eighty-seven-year-old dad's in the hospital again. I spent the day with him. I'm glad I did because I got to talk to his doctors and nurses. He's going to be fine. They have him on a complex cocktail of medications and minerals and a low-sodium diet and they're shooting oxygen up his nose and doing all these healthful things to keep his heart beating as long as it can.

Dad has congestive heart failure. I was ignorant about what that is, exactly, until today. I thought having heart failure meant certain, sudden death. It does mean certain death--none of us will live forever--but it's not necessarily sudden. If well treated, someone can live quite well with the disease. Well, at least until something else kills ya.

When I'm stressed out and worried about things beyond my control, I enjoy doing research. I'm telling you: being a librarian has kept me out of Osawattomie.

This is a fantastic article that explains what congestive heart failure is in an easy-to-understand way.

All I know is, I chose the salad bar in the hospital cafeteria this afternoon. I always become overly concerned with my own health when my dad is sick. It's so weird. Our aging parents are so goddamn good at reminding us of our own mortality. Jerks. Thanks for giving us life, then making us worry about death.

So I sat there and munched on my lettuce leaves and beets and olives and tomatoes and onions and carrots and chick peas and green peas, and Parmesan cheese while I added "up my walking regime" to my mental to-do list. After lunch I went on a walk and made a mental grocery list that would read like food porn to the American Heart Association. More kale. More Brussels sprouts. More broccoli, cauliflower, olives, and whatever the-next-big-thing-in-the-produce-section is.

I know kale won't keep me from certain death, but I'm hoping it slows the pace down a bit. I want to prevent the pain and suffering that accompanies disease and death. But life does not exist to give me what I want. Life exists. No reason. And then it ends. Just like that. Without bothering to consult anyone about it. That is so scary. We need each other to get through it.

My dad is eighty-seven years old. I must face the fact that he's not going to live forever. My time with him is limited. It was weird to spend the day with him. It felt strange for him to defer the doctor's and nurse's questions to me, like I was the one in charge. My dad and I had such horrible fights when I was a teenager exactly because I wanted to be in charge of my own life and Dad was such an authoritarian back then. But not now. Today I helped my dad change into pajama pants.

Dad's simmered way down over the years and with the help of sertraline. He's this tiny old man with a huge survival instinct. He pays attention to his body and goes to the doctor when something seems not right. Like when he was gasping for air while sitting in front of the TV, not just while out on the dance floor with his single senior lady friends. Oh yeah, he dances. My eighty-seven-year-old dad is a dance fiend. I should dance more, too.

Dad takes great care of himself. He's been a great role model for me to witness ways to take care of myself. Perhaps I shouldn't see my concern for my own health as selfish. I'm taking care of myself, which teaches my daughter to care for herself. Survival of the family tree, long after individual branches have fallen to the ground.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sloth Mom

image by Stefan Laube (Tauchgurke) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I'm not a morning person, and I need more sleep than most people my age. My circadian rhythm is offbeat. After a quick google search, I have diagnosed myself with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which is a much nicer term than the one I grew up with: lazy bum.

I don't see it as a disorder, just a difference. However, over the years my teachers and bosses and friends who appreciate punctuality would disagree.

If I have no commitments, my body naturally prefers to sleep from about 2 a.m. til noon. I didn't fully consider this when I decided to have a child. The first few years weren't that big of a deal. I was blessed with a "good sleeper". Kate began sleeping through the night at four-months old, and she routinely slept around thirteen hours. So even if she fell asleep earlier than I did, say at 8 p.m., she wouldn't wake up until around 9 a.m., which is way better than the nightmarish stories I'd hear from friends with kids her age. Some of those little monsters would want to go to bed by 7 p.m. and arise by five or six in the morning. I can't even.

I was also blessed with a husband whose circadian rhythm is the yang to my yin, so on days when I simply could not haul my ass out of bed even by nine in the morning, he was there to help our daughter with her needs. And for those days when he had to be at work earlier than I could get out of bed, Will taught Kate how to push the button on the remote to activate our electronic babysitter. I'd wake up refreshed late in the morning and find our sweet girl sitting on the living room floor with her books and toys scattered around her and "It's a Big Big World" on the TV.

Some days I'd look at the screen and sigh. I wish I were a sloth like Snook, the protagonist on the PBS Kids show. Life would be so much easier if I'd been born a sloth instead of a human. Everyone accepts that sloths are slothful. It's just the way they are. Not as many people understand human slothfulness.

Luckily, Will understands, or even if he doesn't understand, he accepts. He's a workaholic, full of energy and drive, but he doesn't bug me to be more like him. Like a person gifted with a high IQ doesn't expect someone with a low IQ to understand complex thoughts, Will understands my need to sleep.

Will himself needs just five or six hours of sleep each night. He's one of those "early birds" who hops out of bed and flits around like it's going to be a great day or something. Once, when were were first dating, I went on a camping trip with Will and his parents. I was appalled at the entire family's morning chipperness. I'd stumble out of my tent with the sun high up in the sky, only to be greeted with such obnoxiously friendly comments as, "Good morning! Or should I say good afternoon!" and "Did you sleep well?" and "Would you like some eggs with your coffee?" The nerve. Who are these people? What kind of weirdo wakes up happy to start a new day? Oh, seemingly everybody but me? Well shit.

Kate began foraging for her own food in the mornings at a young age. Occasionally she'd get a hankering for something she couldn't make on her own. Don't all three-year-olds request broccoli for breakfast? But usually she'd find something within reach on the counter to eat. I remember feeling so proud of her the day I awoke and discovered that Kate had figured out a way to get a banana out of its peel, despite not having the strength to twist the top off, by slicing the side of it with her fingernail.

Our morning routine worked fine until Kate started school. I was hoping she'd get assigned to afternoon kindergarten, not realizing that must have been a Seventies thing. Like playing hide and go seek with your friends until the street lights came on, and standing up in the back seat of your mom's Vega as she drives, arms outstretched, pretending to fly until--whack!--Mom has to brake for a stop sign and you go flying into the seat in front of you. Nowadays most kids go to all-day kindergarten, and even the ones who go a half-day only have the option of going in the morning. I was screwed.

Kate's in third grade now, which means I've been chronically sleep deprived for four years. I guess it's karmic payback for sleeping so soundly during Kate's newborn years when my friends' kids were turning their hair grey. Maybe I'll catch up on some sleep when Kate's a teenager.Yeah, I know. I doubt it, too.

8:10 a.m. That's what time Kate has to be at school. Which doesn't bother her at all. In fact, just this morning on the way to school she said to me, "I like mornings!" I tisk-tisked under my breath and told myself she can't be just like me. She's half-Will, too.

Plus, I couldn't exactly scold her for being so chipper in the morning after she let me sleep til 8:00. "Mom, it's time to get up," she said brightly while gently tapping my shoulder. When Kate was little I'd often awake with her lying next to me, face-to-face, staring into my eyes, saying, "Mama, ti' ta git uh now." It was mostly sweet and a tad creepy.

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry I slept so late," I said, looking at the clock. "Why didn't you wake me earlier? Do you need me to make you breakfast?" I swung my legs over the side of the bed and used my feet to find my slippers, trying to rub my eyes awake.

"Nope. I made it myself," Kate said, cheery and bright.

"Good," I said. I coughed up some nighttime phlegm and rose from bed. "I'll pack your lunch in a minute. I gotta pee," I said, walking toward the bathroom.

"You don't need to pack my lunch," Kate said, following behind me.

"Oh, are you gonna eat the school lunch?" I asked.


"Well, Honey, you can't go without lunch. You'll be too hungry--"

"I packed my own lunch," Katie explained.

For a moment it was as if time stood still, we were in no rush to get to school on time, no alarm clocks beeping in our ears. Just my daughter and me, standing there in the hallway.

"Look at you! Big kid," I said, poking Kate in her soft belly.

Her smile was proud, confident, strong. She needs me to take care of her less and less each day. Which makes me feel both happy and sad. It seems only yesterday I still had to tie her shoes and remind her to brush her hair. Now I'm standing here looking at this bright girl, hair neatly pulled back in her butterfly hair clip, dressed in clean clothes, sneakers tied, ready to greet the new dawn.

We made it to school on time. No tardy slips today.

"Have a great day, Punky," I called out as Kate headed toward the front doors.

"You have a great day, too, Mom," she briefly turned and waved, then stepped inside her school.

On the way home I had a sudden burst of energy, as if I took Katie's words as an order. HAVE. A. GREAT. DAY! I began planning all the things I'd get done today. Dishes, laundry, dusting, sweeping, mopping, bathing the dogs, cooking dinner, writing, reading, walking. So many things to do. Oh, and I need to go to the grocery store, and email the basketball team I coach, and call my mom, and pay our credit card, and oh, what's that last thing I'm forgetting?

By the time I got home, I was so exhausted just thinking of my "to do" list I immediately headed to bed and enjoyed a nice, long nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This is what democracy looks like!

Will, Kate, and I joined the rally at the Kansas State Capitol today. It was great to see so many people show up to stand for love. You can see us in the crowd toward the end of this video clip!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Normal has changed over the years

I was talking to two co-workers about the time my friends and I got chased out of Godfather's Pizza by a group of homophobic jocks back in 1988. They both gave me this look like "I'm so sorry that happened to you" and "that's awful". I kept rambling on, telling them the story, which I had always thought of as a funny story since it shows what an awful driver I am in a car chase, but I could tell that, to them, it was a sad story of being the victim of bullying and hatred and homophobia.

Homophobia was just a given when I was growing up. It wasn't even called homophobia. It was called normal. It's amazing how much normal has changed over the years.

I got to thinking, "You know, this would be a good blog post."

So on my day off, I opened my blog and began to write the story. Then a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispered a reminder to make sure I hadn't already written about this incident.

Sure enough, I had. I wrote it nearly one year ago and I had forgotten. Our memories are so tricky. How is it I can remember so vividly the incident of getting chased out of Godfather's twenty-seven years ago, but I can barely remember having written about it just one year ago?

You know how you read so many books that sometimes you get through a few pages before you realize you've already read that one? I've been blogging for over three years now, so much so, I sometimes forget that I've already told a certain story.

So, as the incomparable Morrissey sang, "stop me if you think you've heard this one before". Here's the story I wrote last year about getting chased out of Godfather's by a group of homophobic bullies:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is Governor Sam Brownback Bizarro Robin Hood?

Kansas is broke. Governor Sam Brownback lowered taxes on the wealthiest Kansans a couple of years ago, hoping it would stimulate our economy. It didn't work. Now our state has a huge budget deficit. Governor Brownback has another great idea. He announced yesterday that he will cut education spending. Big shock. 

Go after the kids. They don't vote. Those bums just mooch off the state. They don't have jobs. They don't contribute to society. They just take and take and take and take, and what do they give back to the state?

Well, how about this, Governor Brownback? Kids give our state its future. Or are you too short-sighted to see it? I don't understand someone who robs from the poor and gives to the rich. It's as if our governor is Bizarro Robin Hood.

When my eight-year-old, Kate, was sick a couple of weeks ago, she woke up one morning and announced that she wished she could send her germs to her enemy, our governor, Sam Brownback. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. "We don't wish illness upon our enemies, Sweetie," I said. I felt like we were back at the playground, learning how to get along with bratty kids. My parental advice has evolved from "we don't hit other people" to "we don't practice germ warfare" as Kate grows and experiences unfair attacks. 

Kate's been mad at Governor Brownback ever since he won re-election in November. She hears her father and me complain about his policies which aid the wealthiest citizens and ignore the neediest. She becomes righteously indignant. She needs help channeling her anger for good. 

"Try to remember Ruby Bridges," I tell Kate. Last year she binge read books about that brave little girl who was the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. "Remember what her mom told her to do: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I admit, though, it's hard to pray when you're angry. I certainly didn't feel very loving toward our governor when I read the news yesterday.

I find that when I don't know what to do, when I feel helpless and powerless and voiceless, when it feels like my prayers go unanswered and my love isn't strong enough to pierce my enemies' hardened hearts, the best thing I can do it write.

Here is the letter I sent to Governor Brownback this morning:

My daughter is a third grade student at a public school in Overland Park, KS. Her school needs more funding, as do all the public school across our great state. We need to prepare these young minds to be competitive in a global marketplace. We need to give public school students the opportunity to learn and increase their brain power so they can come up with solutions to the many problems we will face in the future. These students will be in charge some day. They will be taking care of us when we are old. I want them to be fully prepared to lead, and to come up with innovative ways to strengthen our communities. The best way to prepare a child for the future is to provide her with an excellent education. Excellent public schools need funding to operate. If you cut funding to already under-funded classrooms, our future leaders and innovators will not receive the education they need to do their future jobs. I understand that our state needs to balance its budget. To alleviate the financial crisis, please raise taxes on our state's wealthiest citizens to the levels they were before you took office, rather than raiding the institutions that serve our most vulnerable citizens: public school children.

Feel free to use my letter as an example when crafting your own letter to Governor Brownback. You can email him here. Maybe if enough of us contact him he'll start to listen. After all, he asked for it. This is the response I received after submitting my letter to Governor Brownback:

It is an honor and a privilege to represent you the citizens of Kansas as Governor, and in order to help our great state continue to move forward I want to be responsive to your needs and concerns.  Please help by contacting my office and sharing your views and concerns about those issues facing our great state. Thank you for contacting my office to express your views and concerns. I always enjoy hearing from my fellow Kansans, for there is no better guide to decision making. --Governor Sam Brownback

Let's see if he keeps his word and uses it as a "guide to decision making".

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mom, Dad, and Kate

"Mom, I want to tell you something that you're probably not going to like. About your parenting."

So began our discussion last night as I tucked our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, into bed.

"Eight-and-a-half," she would correct me if she saw what I just wrote. Why are children in such a hurry to grow up?

I couldn't help but smile. Not that I'm a masochist or anything. I hate being criticized for anything, especially my parenting. But I love how Katie exudes calm confidence when advocating for herself. I was raised to think that children should not "talk back" to adults. Adults know what's best and kids should be quiet and listen and not argue.

It never occurred to me to question this power struggle until I was a teenager. My dad and I screamed at each other so much during my young adulthood that it eroded our relationship. It's only been in the last decade or so, after both Dad and I were prescribed at separate times by separate doctors the anti-anxiety medication, sertraline, that we've been able to pick up a few crumbled pieces of our relationship and build another foundation.

I still struggle with self-advocating my needs, but each year gets better. It's difficult to unlearn destructive habits such as ignoring your personal needs until you feel like you're going to explode and so you default to screaming at someone rather than calmly stating how you feel. But if I want a kid who calmly talks to me about how she feels and not some screaming banshee running loose in the house, I've got to set an example.

Stay calm. Listen to what she has to say before jumping to conclusions, I told myself. "What do you want to tell me?" I asked Katie.

"Well," she said from under three layers of covers, all of which have chew holes from the dog. "I want to tell you to quit calling Dad 'Daddy' when you're talking about him," Katie explained.

"What? Why?" I asked. I totally wasn't expecting that response.

"Because I like to call him Dad now. Like how I like to call you Mom," she explained.

"Oh, so you want me to call him what you call him?" I asked.

"I just don't want to feel like a baby," she said, lowering her eyes.

"I understand," I said, sitting on the edge of her full size futon. When I was a baby, I shared a bedroom with two of my older sisters. Our only child has her own room and her own bunk bed. With its full size futon as the bottom bunk, it sleeps three people even though she only needs a bed for one. We wanted her to have something for sleepovers. We need her friends to feel comfortable, to like us and stick around and be there for our daughter in the way the sibling we can't provide her would do. In the same way Will always goes out for donuts the morning after a sleepover. Bribery. As long as you stay loyal to our daughter you will always have access to a comfy bed and donuts the next day.

"I remember I was in third grade, too, when I decided to start calling my dad Dad instead of Daddy. 

"What made you decide?" Katie asked. She loves to hear stories of what it was like when her dad and I were kids. I think it reassures her that we really do understand what it's like. We've been there. We know how much it can suck to be a small person in a big person's world.

"My sister Glenda came over to visit," I explained. "You know, she's fifteen years older than I am, so she was a grown up when I was in third grade."

Katie nodded.

"She kept calling our dad Dad. Not Daddy. I thought that sounded very big. I wanted to sound big too, so I stopped calling our dad Daddy," I said.

"Yeah, that's why I want to stop calling Dad Daddy," Katie said. "I don't like it when people treat me like a baby."

"Well, just so you know, lots of people still call their fathers Daddy throughout their life. My mom still called my grandpa Daddy when he came to live with us the last few weeks before he died. She was in her fifties and she still called him Daddy."

"Yeah, but no one in my class still calls their Dads Daddy," Katie said.

"No one? How do you know."

"Because when they talk about their dads they say Dad," Katie said, like duh, Mom. "And when their moms drop them off at school, they don't say things like, Daddy will be here to pick you up this afternoon." Katie raised her voice in an artificially sweet version of my own voice. I felt the sting of that shot.

"Oh, I see," I said. "OK. I get it. I'll try to stop calling him Daddy. Give me some slack, though. It's hard to change what you've been calling someone for eight years," I said.

"Eight-and-a-half, Mom."

I sighed. "Well, goodnight, Katie--hey, wait a minute. If we have to start calling each other Mom and Dad, not Mommy and Daddy, that means we get to start calling you Kate, not Katie!"

I figured Katie would immediately protest. When she was four, she began insisting that we call her Katie, not Kate. When Will and I decided to name our child Katherine after my sister and great-grandmother, we decided on the nickname Kate to eliminate confusion. My sister's nickname is Kit or Kitty, which is the same nickname our great-grandmother had. I wanted my daughter to have her own nickname.

Will and I both love the name Kate. Will said, "It seems like all the pretty girls at school were named Kate." I said, "Kate Carleton sounds presidential."

But when Baby Kate turned four and began forming her own opinions, she informed us that from there on out she would be known as Katie, not Kate.

I admit, I was disappointed at first. Katie Carleton sounds like a great babysitter, or cheerleader, or romance novelist. Katie Carleton does not sound presidential. But I also understand that the best way to raise a kid who has the confidence to lead a nation is by letting them make important decisions when they are little bitty. So I caved and started calling her Katie.

Over the years I've slipped up a few times and accidentally called her Kate. Each time she has corrected me. "It's Katie," she'd insist.

But this time was different. This time, when I pointed out to her that if she gets to call us the more mature versions of our nicknames, then it's only fair that we get to do the same with her nickname.

"OK," she said. "You can call me Kate again."

"Hooray!" I shouted. "I've always loved the name Kate."

"I know, Mom." Kate smiled. A little too maturely for my taste.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let Assholes Be Assholes

I was in the right lane, driving 60 in a 65mph zone. It's snowy and the wind is blowing hard, so I had slowed down to be safe. Then the car behind me starts following way too close. I don't speed up because, you know, hazardous driving conditions.

After a few seconds the car behind me jerks around and starts to pass on the left. I heard a honk as the driver flew by me. At first I thought someone else was honking at this unsafe driver, but then I realized the unsafe driver was honking at ME.

I stayed calm. My pride is not worth a car wreck. Then suddenly I had to brake. The unsafe driver had pulled right in front of me, and in doing so fishtailed and had to slow down so the car didn't spin. Because I was driving slower than usual and paying close attention to the road, I did not slam into the unsafe driver's car.

I *did* think very bad thoughts about the unsafe driver. I might have even, if only for a split second, thought I hope that asshole gets in a wreck up ahead. Immediately, I felt bad. But come on. Nobody's perfect. I'm not Jesus. I mean, it's not like I wanted the asshole to wreck into someone else's car. Just a nice little slip off the road and into the guard rail would suffice. Air bag would get deployed. No one would get hurt. Just, you know, teach 'em a lesson.

There's this German word, schadenfreude. I love the word schadenfreude. It basically translates to English as "feeling good about another person's misfortunes." Schadenfreude is what was going on when I momentarily wished a car wreck upon that stupid driver.

But you know what? The good feeling didn't last long. As soon as I pictured the car crashed into the guard rail, it felt like I'm the one who'd become the asshole, not the unsafe driver. I don't want to be that person. I want to be better than that. It's human to experience feelings of schadenfreude from time to time, but is it right?

I thought about all this while I kept driving. I made my exit and then realized where I was going. I was on my way to drop Katie off at church for choir practice.

Wait a minute? Is this guilt I'm feeling? Do I feel bad for hoping that asshole wrecks because of all this time I've been spending at church? What the hell?

I don't know about all that. I don't believe a person has to go to church to know how to be a good person. But it made me think. If Jesus were alive today, I wonder if he'd have road rage? Probably not. If Jesus ever got in a car wreck he'd turn around so the other car could slam into the other side. Sometimes Jesus seems like a show off. He's such a golden boy.

But Jesus is right. I feel better about myself when I don't wish bad things upon other people. Let assholes be assholes. Don't let them turn you into one, too. That's a quote from the Bible, right?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dicks and dinner conversations

The three of us had just sat down to dinner when Katie asked, "Do you know what the biggest city in Kansas is?"

Will and I replied simultaneously, "Wichita."

Katie opened her mouth in a smile that was half proud-my-parents-are-smart, and half aww-shucks-I-wanted-to-trick-them.

"Yeah, I know, right? It's weird to think that the biggest city in Kansas isn't Kansas City, isn't it? But most of Kansas City is in Missouri," I said. I dipped my grilled cheese sandwich into my bowl of tomato soup and took a bite. After over a decade of marriage I've finally become quite the domestic goddess. I used to struggle making canned tomato soup, but after years of practice I now know the precise water-to-milk ratio to add to make it taste the best. In another ten years I might have discovered the perfect amount of time to microwave peas.

"Yeah," Katie smiled as if she agreed, but then she caught herself and said, "Actually, I thought Topeka was the biggest city in Kansas. I got that question wrong on our test today."

"Oh yeah, it's easy to think that since it's our state capitol. It's big in politics but not population," I said.

"Yeah, Wichita has the most people," Will said.

I needed to let Will do more of the talking. He had already eaten most of his grilled cheese and I'd only taken one bite of mine. I have a tendency to get lost talking and forget to eat, which is a terrible thing to do at the dinner table. There is nothing worse than a cold grilled cheese sandwich. And a conversation hog.

"Did you know Grandpa Carleton is from a town close to Wichita?" I asked, hoping that would spark a discussion between Will and Katie about his side of the family so I could focus on the hot, buttery crunch of my grilled cheese.

Will told Katie the story of how his dad's family moved from Missouri to New Mexico back to Missouri and then to a small town near Wichita.

"Why did they move?" Katie asked.

"I think they moved to Kansas because of Grandpa Dick's job," Will said.

"Grandpa Dick?" Katie asked, scrunching her nose.

"Yeah, good ole Grandpa Dick," Will said, louder and with a mischievous grin.

Katie could not control the giggles that had erupted within her.

I giggled too. Then I started to wonder if she got the joke. I said, "Katie, do you know what a 'dick' is?"

Katie rolled her eyes and smiled. She looked embarrassed, like she didn't want to say it in front of her parents. "You know," she said, pointing toward her crotch. "It's a bad word for a boy's--"

When she didn't say the word after a few moments, I helped her out. "A boy's penis."

Katie looked back down and across the table at me and smiled like thanks, Mom. "Yeah. A boy's penis."

Will and I smiled at her. Let her know we're cool with it.

"Now, you know not to say 'dick' at school, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, Mom, I know," she said like duh.

"Hey, how did you know that 'dick' is another word for 'penis'?" I asked.

Without missing a beat our sweet little eight-year-old girl said, "Mom, I'm kinda an expert in the Cuss language."

"The 'Cuss' language? Oh my gosh, that's a good one," I laughed. "I gotta write that one on the calendar so I remember to post it on Facebook!" I said, rising from the table to grab a pen.

"Yeah, I'm full of good jokes tonight!" Katie boasted.

When I sat back down at the table I took my last bite of grilled cheese. I could talk now. "Dick is a nickname for Richard," I explained.

Katie looked at me like she was trying to assess whether or not I was pulling her leg. "Dick is a nickname for Richard?" she asked.

Will laughed and looked at me, then looked at Katie and said, "Yep."

"Why?" Katie asked, still giggling.

"I don't know. It used to be a really common nickname for Richard," I said.

"You mean like Richard Nixon?!" Katie exclaimed.

Don't worry. She's less of a precocious political junkie and more of a precocious "Futurama" watcher. President Nixon's head plays a big part in that animated TV show which is really for adults, but Katie loves it, even if she doesn't get all the jokes.

"Yep, like Richard Nixon," I said.

"Well I know why he didn't go by Dick Nixon," Katie said out of the side of her mouth like she was some sort of silent movie comedian. I expected her to wiggle her eyebrows and ash her cigar.

Will and I burst out laughing, then Katie's giggles evolved into guffaws. Then Will had to throw us over the edge by shouting out, "Tricky Dick!"

"Yeah, that's right," I said. "Tricky Dick was one of his nicknames, wasn't it?"

"I know why he was called Tricky Dick," Katie announced.

"Oh yeah?"

"Because he was a very bad president!" Katie shouted.

Then, in the next moment, Katie immediately stopped laughing and looked at us both like she wanted to make sure she had said the right thing. Richard Nixon's the bad one, right?

Try as I might to raise her to have a mind of her own, at eight-years-old Katie is still quite malleable and often just goes along with whatever Will or I say. Even though we're not super bossy parents, she often says and does what she thinks we'll like simply because she admires us. It's super flattering, but a tad bit scary since I'm often uncertain myself. Being a parent is wonderful and nerve-wracking. It's best to prepare to flex your leadership skills, even if you feel like more of a coach than a micro-manager. During countless parenting fails over the years I've caught myself thinking, "Who put me in charge?"

"Richard Nixon was not a great president, but he wasn't the worst president either," I said.

"Who was the worst president?" Katie asked.

Will and I looked at each other and shrugged. "It's hard to say."

"Well who do YOU think is the worst president?" she pressed.

"Oh, I dunno. There have been many presidents who have made bad decisions and done stupid things, but I can't say one of them was worse than any of the others--"

Katie cut me off, clearly annoyed with my ambivalence, "Well who do YOU think were SOME of the worst presidents?"

Will and I looked at each other and started rattling off names, talking over each other. "Oh, you know, Bush, Nixon, Hoover, some of the ones at the beginning of the 19th century, some of the ones at the end of the 19th century--"

We grew silent for a moment, figuring we'd covered our bases when Will blurted out, "Ronald Reagan!"

"Oh! Oh!" I shouted as if we were teammates in a game. "Yes! Ronald Reagan! I can't believe I didn't think of HIM!"

"Why was Ronald Reagan so bad?" Katie asked.

I mentioned Star Wars and Iran-Contra and other defense shenanigans.

"He was super militaristic," Will said.

"Super paranoid," I said. "But you know what I think is the worst thing about Reagan's presidency?"

"What?" Katie asked, eyes wide. She's a kid. She still loves stories of good vs. evil. She hasn't caught on yet that the world doesn't work that way. It's not that simple. Now that I think of it, Ronald Reagan's presidency was kinda like having an eight-year-old child in charge.

"The worst thing I think is how he ignored a horrible public health crisis that started when he was president," I explained. "You see there was this virus that broke out. It's called HIV. And it causes a horrible sickness called AIDS, which you can die from. And President Reagan did virtually nothing the whole time he was president to help these people who were sick and dying. And do you know why?"


"Because the disease was first discovered in gay men. And President Reagan was just like, "What? It's just gay men. Who cares?"

Katie could not hold back any longer. Her face full of righteous indignation, she shouted, "But I love gay men! They started the YMCA, right?!"

"Well, sorta," I laughed, looking at Will.

"They started the song," Will offered.

"Yeah, that song was popular when I was your age. I loved to roller skate to it at skate parties," I said.

"Oh it's still fun to skate to 'YMCA'" Will said. "Who doesn't love to skate to 'YMCA?'"

I smiled and kept my mouth shut. I came *this* close to saying, "Ronald Reagan," but I was tired of talking politics with our eight-year-old and let the conversation carry us in a different direction.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Basketball All-Star

In my defense, I was on drugs.

Not the fun kind. The kind my doctor tells me to take when I have a headache: over-the-counter, generic Excedrin Migraine, which is basically a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. I took it before basketball practice, after I got up from a nap. This migraine that's been following me around all week pops up out of nowhere, makes me feel nauseous and cranky. The kind of cranky that comes from feeling like someone stabbed you in the head with a hatchet. I find that taking my meds and lying in bed with the lights turned off, surrounded by no sound, is the only thing that helps.

Mom tells me to wait it out. It's a thing some women experience in their forties. It'll pass once my hormones get themselves straighted out. Then I can look forward to developing osteoporosis and growing coarse grey hair out of the moles that will make an appearance after my fiftieth birthday. Ah, isn't aging fun? It's fan-freaking-tastic compared to the alternative.

So I had a headache and took some drugs and drove to the school for our scheduled practice time. I'd been feeling dizzy and pukey off and on all day, but once I stepped into the gym and started chatting with these girls I coach--this poor sad sack team that was so desperate for a coach they accepted me for the job--I forgot about my headache.

Three girls were out sick and others had other obligations, so we didn't have enough players for a decent game of scrimmage. Without thinking, I offered to play.

Let me remind you: I'm a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. I break a sweat when I take a brisk walk around the park during my breaks at work. My favorite "activities" are reading and writing. When it's time to cast my biopic, Kathy Bates and Roseanne will have to fight over the lead role.

And I'm fine with all that. I have no desire to work out three hours a day or pass on the dessert tray. I wasted too many years hating my body--from the time I was sent to Weight Watchers in third grade til I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at age eleven til I finally gave up dieting in my early forties. Guess what finally changed my mind? A book. Sitting my ass down in a chair and reading my life story written by a doctor I'd never met but who saved my life. After I finished reading Dr. Linda Bacon's triumphant book, Health at Every Size, I vowed to give up dieting, move my body in pleasurable ways, and love myself.

Not only do I feel healthier and satisfied with myself, I've become a good role model for my eight-year-old daughter. I want Katie to love her body, to take care of herself, to avoid developing an eating disorder or an exorbitant need to follow fads and please others. It's a tough job raising a self-confident girl in our society. The only way I know how is to work on my own confidence.

So when the league emailed the parents asking for a volunteer to coach Katie's team, instead of rolling my eyes and deleting it, which was my knee-jerk reaction, I thought about it. I could coach a youth basketball team? Me?

Baller Becky, 7th grade

The question sounded less weird the more I thought about it. I used to play basketball. I was good. Really good. It was my game. I was on the all-star team two years in a row, and in seventh grade I won the layup contest at school by making 24 out of 25 layups. Then my boobs got too big and my bra didn't fit right and it became painful to run down the court. And it was so embarrassing. I was the guard, so it was my job to dribble down the court and either pass to an open teammate or score by going for the layup. I could feel my boobs bouncing, which made them sore, but it was nothing like the agony of feeling all eyes in the auditorium on my gargantuan boobs. I quit after seventh grade and never played again.

I grew up, my boobs got even bigger, and I forgot about playing basketball. I didn't miss it. I found many more obsessions to occupy my time. Thirty years flew by and my daughter needed a coach.

"I'll do it if you can't find anyone else," I wrote back to the league. Within five minutes they replied, offering me the job.

I have no clue what I'm doing, but I like to think it adds to my charm. The first step is showing up. I haven't missed a practice or a game all season. If a parent complains about my coaching ability, all I have to say is, "You wanna coach? Be my guest. If you think you know what's best, why didn't you offer to coach when they needed one? Now they don't. They've got me."

I've only had one girl's parents pull her from the team. At first two girls left, but suddenly, after we won our first game, the second girl started showing up to practices and games. We haven't won any more games since she came back, but so far she's sticking it out with me.

It's been a few months now. Other coaches might be better at teaching their girls the rules of the game and the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't get myself to care. I'm finally feeling more comfortable in my ability to teach these girls to love the game, and, if I'm lucky, to teach these girls to love themselves. That's not the goal of the league. That's my own personal goal.

"I'll be the guard on this team," I announced, pointing toward Katie and one other girl. Katie's by far the least skilled player on the team. She can shoot as long as no one is within ten feet of her to break her concentration. In other words, not at games, not at scrimmages. The other girl is a great ball handler and knows when to pass, but when it comes to making baskets she's not quite as skilled as the other two girls who were playing against them. I decided to get out on the court and help them out. Show the girls, especially my girl, some moves.

"Yeah! Coach is playing!" they all shouted. These girls are in third grade. They're just barely not babies anymore. They don't seem to care what we do as long as we do it together. I'm constantly amazed at parents who buy their children expensive gadgets to keep them occupied when so often kiddos would be just as happy if everyone just set down their devices for a bit and played a round of HORSE together.

"OK, girls! Watch out! The coach is IN THE GAME!" I shouted and smiled like a crazy person. The girls squealed with delight.

I manged to stay in the game for about five minutes, just long enough that I was starting to feel pleased with myself. I was thirteen again. The sweat tricked down my body and captured the breeze as I flew down the court, spinning around to avoid the other girls with their greedy hands. This ball is mine. This is my shot! I'm a star!

That's when I lost control of the ball. I could feel it all happening in slow motion. Just like last month when I twirled down a snowy slope as we made our way to our car after a ballet performance. I could feel myself falling, but I couldn't stop it. Is this going to be something else I get to look forward to in my forties, along with headaches? Am I going to need to start wearing a bracelet that pegs me as a "fall risk"?

Just before I fell, I knew I was running too fast, as if my inner momentum was saying yes, go forward but my outward body was saying nope, time to stop! My shoe caught funny against the carpeted gym floor. I fell down. Hard.  

My immediate thought was to place the blame on someone else. Who the hell puts carpet on gym floors? It's the carpet-layers' fault, not mine. But then I laid there for a moment, staring at the ceiling. Nope, I just got too cocky and it was time for my inner dork to sub into the game. I started to laugh.

"I'm okay! I'm okay!" I shouted from the floor. I heaved myself up, smiled and announced, "OK! Now, that was a demonstration on how NOT to do a layup."

We all broke into hysterics. It took several minutes for the girls to stop giggling. We're lucky no one peed on the floor.

I got back up and into the game. We played a few minutes more, and then it was time to go home. Katie and I were the last to leave. As we walked out the gym doors and into the hallway and headed toward the doors to the parking lot, I felt alive. I felt good. I could feel the blood pumping through my entire body and my headache was completely gone. In fact, despite my fall, I felt euphoric.

I'd missed it so much, that feeling you get after a good game of basketball. Like runners get their highs and lovers get their blissful drowsiness. If this isn't moving my body in pleasurable ways, I don't know what is.

The euphoria lasted all night til I woke up the next morning stiff and creaky and in pain. Oh yeah. I really am a short, fat, middle-aged librarian. No longer a basketball all-star.

But you know, so what? I'm not gonna quit this time. Get the ice packs and Ibuprofen and get back to bed! I slept like a teenager for the rest of the day, ignoring my responsibilities except for one: resting up for the next game like an all-star.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yusuf Islam's on my shit list?

“It is the most ambitious and driven among us who are the most sorely in need of having our reckless hopes dampened through immersive dousings in the darkness which religions have explored. This is a particular priority for secular Americans, perhaps the most anxious and disappointed people on earth, for their nation infuses them with the most extreme hopes about what they may be able to achieve in their working lives and relationships.” 

― Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion

Crap. I forgot about the boycott. I forgot I'm supposed to be mad at Yusuf Islam for jumping off his peace train. Deserter. Traitor. Hopping onto my shit list. Back when I was in my early adulthood, when I was nice and crazy, trying to find my way in the world, this asshole Yusuf Islam who had once been someone whose voice soothed me through the radio of my youth, made comments suggesting he agreed with the fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. When the singer I thought of as Cat Stevens jumped into the hot mess of a war between the Ayatollah Khomeini and author Salman Rushdie, I decided to bail. I mean, I like Cat Stevens' songs, but not as much as I dislike any beliefs that promote killing.  My brilliant friend Rachel reminded me this morning:

Yusuf Islam's comments in support of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie put him on the side of the violent Islamists, not any kind of Peace Train rider I want to ride with.

Oh yeah. I forgot.

It's hard to remember all the people who've pissed me off over the years. It's an embarrassingly large group. I'm pretty judgy about judgmental people. I like to think I'm righteously indignant, like Jesus, but if I'm honest with myself even I can see I'm simply hysterical. And not the good kind of hysterical. Not funny. Well, yeah, funny, but in a neurotic way. Like Woody Allen.

Oh, speaking of people who've pissed me off. This amazing filmmaker has the audacity to make one of my all-time favorite movies, "Annie Hall," and then he goes and gets accused of sexually abusing his daughter, who, to this day, insists she's telling the truth. How can I in good conscience, as a sexual abuse survivor, not side with Allen's daughter? For a long time after she first publicly accused him, I still went to see his movies. He's an artistic genius. Too bad he's a jerk, too. I can't do it anymore. I've boycotted his last several works.

That's the thing. We're so disappointing, humans. Our imperfection. Our proclivity toward fucking up. Oh, Dear God, we drive me crazy. That's why I love Jesus. It's easy to follow the advice of someone who never fucks up. "Love God. Love yourself. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!" Well, thanks, Jesus. It's easier said than done. You're the only one in the history of humanity who has not, in some way, disappointed me. You and maybe Fred Rodgers. It's easy to adore someone who has never disappointed you.

If I stop and think about it, I have a long list of people whose lives fill me with both adoration and disappointment. Some more than others. I'm number one on the list. Let me rattle off a few more off the top of my head, including a list of grievances.

Woody Allen (accused by his daughter of sexual abuse)
Bill Maher (Islamaphobic, intolerant of religious expression, misogynist)
President Obama (drone attacks that kill innocent people across the globe)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (lead the Civil Rights Movement while cheating on his wife)
My dad (narcissist)
My brother Pat (secrets, sexual abuse)
John Lennon (wife beater)
Anne Lamott (fat phobic)

Sorry, Anne Lamott. I had to throw a woman on the list. I had trouble thinking of women I admire who have disappointed me enough to go on my list. I mean, I could list all my ex-girlfriends, but my name would be on their list too, so why not call a truce? Am I not fazed as much by my disappointment in women because, as a woman myself, I understand them more?

Or maybe it's because I can't get past myself. I'm the quintessential disappointment. No other woman in the world could possibly disappoint more than I can! Game over.

I know one time I fucked up, a long time ago, but I still feel bad about it. My friend Rachel, the very one who reminded me that I was disappointed in Yusuf Islam, was getting married. I didn't like the guy she picked to marry. I thought he was smart, but show-offy. And not terribly kind. I mean, don't get me wrong. I like smart people. But if I had to pick between hanging out with a jerk with a high IQ or hanging out with a sweetie with a low IQ, I'd pick the sweetie. Every once in a while I'll meet someone who is both brilliant and kind, my friend Rachel, for example. That's what I've always admired about her the most. Brilliant and kind is such a rare combination of personality traits.

But I never said anything to Rachel about my disappointment in her choice of a spouse. Instead, I passively aggressively ditched Rachel at the gown fittings and only later, when she called to see where I was, admitted that I didn't want to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. And then I chickened out about my reason why:

No, it's not that I don't want to be in YOUR wedding. I don't want to be in anyone's wedding. I just don't like the idea of marriage, not yours specifically...

Rachel knows all this now. I finally grew up. Fessed up. I said I was sorry. We're good.

I think I'll take the advice of my brilliant and kind friend, Rachel. After reminding me of our long-ago falling out with Yusuf Islam, she said this:

I stopped boycotting Cat Stevens's music a few years ago -- dammit, I just love his music so much! I still boycott Yusuf Islam's music, and yes, I realize that the defunct Cat Stevens's royalties go to the new man, Yusuf Islam. But . . . I decided I couldn't go the rest of my life without listening to this, one of the most perfect songs ever, I think. 

Perhaps it's time I lifted my boycott on Cat Stevens' music, since I'd forgotten about it anyway. I've found it's easy to forgive and forget if you're forgetful.

It's too bad that Yusuf Islam, someone I think of as a peaceful brother, could favor following violent rules over peaceful intuition. Oh, but I could say that about so many people. Everyone I admire except maybe John Lennon, the wife-beater peace hero, would be on that list.