Monday, March 26, 2012


I’m having trouble writing this essay because I can’t sit still. I don’t have ADHD. I haven’t drunk too much coffee. I’m not overly energized in any way. I’m anxious.

The cause of this day’s anxiety is pretty typical for me. I can’t sit still today because I’m worried a mouse will run across my feet as my attention is focused on my laptop screen.

Musophobia. Even typing the word mouse gives me the creeps. I have such a severe phobia of mice that I once spent an entire summer locked in my hot bedroom, refusing to come out during the day while I was home alone when my parents both worked. We had just moved into our temporary home when I thought I saw a little brown furry thing dart across our living room floor. I froze and when I began to thaw I went to my room and shut the door. It was the summer after sixth grade, before seventh grade, where I’d enroll in a new school, where I’d be totally lonely among an abundance of kids I didn’t know.

My dad had decided he wanted to live closer to his new job, so he moved us from the home we had lived in since one-month after first grade started for me. My youngest sibling Jenny, eight years older than me and a full-grown adult, had recently moved out and was making plans to get married. As the youngest child, it was just me, Mom, Dad, and their deteriorating marriage. It felt like the foundation of our family was crumbling around me. Making cracks, letting the mice in.

I was born into a large family that had been well established long before I came around. I am the product, the only child, of both of my parent’s second marriages. My dad had married a woman named Shirley. They had one child, my paternal half-sister, Glenda. Then they divorced. My dad remarried my mom, Beverly. They had one child, me.

While Dad was married to his first wife, my mom had married a man named Jim. They had four children, my maternal half-siblings, Jay, Kit, Pat, and Jenny. Then they divorced. My mom remarried my dad, Glen. They had one child, me.

They brought me home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. When I was a kid I resented sharing my birthday with this day of feasting on food that is far from my favorite. But as I’ve aged I’ve stopped minding. It’s a nice day to get together with family, and an even better evening to get to go home with the smaller branch you’ve chosen as your own among the limbs of your family tree.

In many ways I feel like both an only child and the youngest sibling of a big family. I spent the first twelve years of my life pretty much feeling like the latter, and the next six or so feeling like the former. And the next twenty-three feeling like both.

Now I’m a mother myself. And it looks like Katie’s going to be an only child. I got a message from the second adoption agency we’ve consulted informing us that we don’t quite qualify for their services. I mean we do, we would, if we changed our criteria. But we don’t want to adopt an infant. We’ve done the diaper changes and we’re done. Plus, we want to give a bigger kid a break. Aren’t they harder to adopt?

Well, evidently not until they are nine years or older. Or medically fragile. Or one of a sibling group.

We just want one more child. Katie and one adopted child, preferably a girl, preferably younger than Katie, so age 3-5. I guess we’re too picky.

We could foster a child and have a 70% chance of adopting her. But that also means we’d have a 30% chance of losing our relationship with that child if it was determined that she should go back to her biological family.

I don’t want that kind of trauma for Katie. I don’t want her to know what it’s like to have a sister and then lose her. I don’t want her to feel the foundation of our family crumbling beneath her.

I want her phobia-free.

So we won’t be adopting anytime soon. Until Katie’s at least ten, probably.

And I doubt if I’ll get pregnant again. I have PCOS. It took a fertility specialist’s help for us to conceive Katie, and that was back when I was thirty-five, not forty-one. They considered me of “advanced maternal age” back then, so I’m sure they’d consider me to be just plain fucking old now.

My hands, in front of me as I type this, have tiny lines on them. Lines that were not there when I was a youngest child or when I was an only child. They have emerged with every passing year, long into my own adulthood. Unlike many American women, I am proud of each wrinkle on my hands.

Sometimes at work there’s a paper jam in the photocopier. I have to open trays and pull out paper to clear the misfeed. Then, to test it, I make a photocopy of the back of my hand.

The security guard and I were joking yesterday that I should have kept a folder of all the copies of my hand over the years. I’ve worked for the library for nineteen years. I have made many photocopies of the back of my hand. It would be cool to see how it has changed over the years. Smoother then. A wedding ring now.

I looked at the most recent copy of my hand for a moment before I threw it into the recycle bin. I hadn’t saved the younger hands, why should I start saving them now? While looking at the copier-induced dark lines across my hands, it occurred to me: I’m a grownup. I’m well into being a grownup. I’ve been a grownup now longer than I was ever a child.

And the most surprising thing of all: I think I’ve got a handle on this life thing.

Each of those lines on my hands has been earned by surviving this life. And here I am, not just surviving. Actually enjoying my life. It’s kind of amazing.

Sometimes I feel silly patting myself on the back for surviving life. My life has not been nearly as hard as some peoples’ lives have been, I scold myself.

“Count your blessings,” Mom would say, standing at the doorway of my bedroom. “There are many people in this world who have far less than you.”

It was true. I was a middle-class, white, suburban girl living in one of the most affluent suburbs in the country. I had my own bedroom to hide in. I no longer had to share a room with my sisters.

On that first Thanksgiving, after they brought me home and passed me around and I pooped on my frilly pink outfit, I was cleaned and set down for a nap inside my crib, which Mom had put in Dad’s and her bedroom. A few weeks later, after my dad complained about the noise, Mom moved my crib into my sisters’ bedroom. I spent the next two years sharing their room, waking them up in the middle of the night. Jenny, the younger, nearly eight years older than me, would get to go right back to sleep. Kitty, the older, nearly eleven years older than me, got up, got me a bottle, changed my diaper, and brought me to bed with her where we would both quickly fall back asleep.

This pattern occurred every night of my life until we moved to a newer, bigger house when I was two. Kitty got her own bedroom. Jenny and I shared a room. And yet still, every night, I’d wake up, cross the hallway, enter Kit’s room and crawl into bed with her. I never remember her once denying me a snuggle.

This pattern occurred every night of my life until I was six and Dad’s new job led him to move half of our family to a house sixty miles away. Jay, Kitty, and Pat were left in our hometown. Glenda was away at college. I had never lived with her anyway since she lived with her mom after Dad left them. I always enjoyed seeing my sister Glenda, but I never missed never having lived with her because I never did. What you don’t know you’re missing you don’t miss. Dad, Mom, Jenny, and I moved to our new house, in the suburbs of a bigger city. I lost my midnight snuggles with Kitty. She was left in the care of my aunt, her step-aunt, as she finished her senior year of high school.

In the new house I had my own bedroom. I’d still wake in the middle of the night, but without Kitty around I’d go crawl into bed with my mom and dad. I’d climb into my mom’s side of the bed and squish her into the middle. This lasted a few times before she politely informed me that she couldn’t sleep smashed between my father and me. I tried for a while to crawl into bed with Jenny, but she was often not in her own bed, being a night-owl teenager in love.

Jenny moved out her senior year of high school, when I was nine. For some reason it was decided that I would take Jenny’s former bedroom and my mom converted my bedroom into her sewing and craft room. Jenny moved back in with us at the end of her senior year. When she did we decided to just go back to sharing a room, which both of us enjoyed. On nights when she wasn't out with her boyfriend, we'd lie in the dark together, talking, giggling, seeing who could go the longest without making a sound. My anorexic tummy would rumble and then Jenny's would rumble too, and we'd break into laughter at how our stomachs were sharing a conversation late at night. Jenny's the one who convinced our mom to take me to a therapist when I was losing too much weight. She lived with us for a couple years until she finally moved out when I was twelve. From there on, I had to learn how to sleep through the night by myself.

The house we lived in, the one my dad had moved us to in the act that felt like it split me apart from my sister Kit, my foundation, was infested with mice. We’d be sitting in the living room, my dad shoveling popcorn into his face, dropping pieces of it on the carpet, watching “ Three’s Company” when—snap!—one of the mice traps would go off. I remember one afternoon when I was home alone, after school but before my parents got home from work and I was old enough not to need a babysitter anymore, hearing that eerie—snap! I went to investigate, behind the TV in our living room, and I saw a struggling hugely pregnant mama mouse being strangled by the metal trap. I immediately felt like throwing up. Ever sense that moment, whenever I see a mouse, and sometimes if I’m just thinking of seeing a mouse, I immediately either feel like I’m going to puke or like I’m suffocating, like someone is stuffing rodents down my throat and I can’t breathe. Like that poor mama mouse I saw behind our TV.

A couple weeks ago I had to call in sick to work because I was in the middle of having a panic attack. Let me tell you this: it’s very difficult to compose yourself well enough to call your boss, and the lead librarian, to let them know you can’t come to work because you’re stuck on top of your kitchen table, sobbing, because you’ve just discovered your cat with his paw on a furry brown clump of fuzz—wait it’s moving! Oh shit! It’s not a clump of dog hair! It’s a fucking mouse!!!!!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

There, I just had to get up to get a drink of water. Can’t sit still. I’m freaking myself out thinking about it again. Trying to avoid taking a clonazepam pill because they are slightly amnesic and I don’t want to forget these memories for now. I want to write about them, get them outside my head, open the windows, pull the cord on the attic fan and let the spring air freshen the musty, mousey smell in the house. If I don’t expose these memories I’ll still be stuck in my hot bedroom that summer, afraid to be alone in the house with a mouse, and not in any fun, Seussical way.

But I managed to call my boss and tell her I’d be away for the day, having a panic attack. My crying head was full of snot so I must have sounded like I had a head cold when I talked to the librarian and said simply, “I can’t make it in today. I’m sick.”

It was the most productive sickness I’ve ever had, though. Yes, I had a panic attack. I sobbed for hours and then fell into a deep, long slumber. I couldn’t eat well for days. I ended the week even coming down with an actual bug, the kind that gives you a fever, makes you feel achy and exhausted and forces you back into bed.

But I’m better now. Still a little jumpy when out of the corner of my eye I see a clump of actual dog hair drift across the hardwood floor. But I can live with twitchy. I can function at work twitchy. And how did I get here, dry eyes, out of bed?

I called a freaking exterminator. I took care of the problem myself. I made it through the night like a big girl.

Why didn’t my parents ever do that? Call the professionals. When the foundation of their marriage was crumbling they could have called a marriage counselor. When the foundation of our house was letting in varmints, why didn’t they just call an exterminator?

Now, hear me out. I don’t want the poor little critters dead. I just don’t want them entering my house uninvited. It’s nothing personal against them. But it's MY house, and I'm in control now. The family I have built for myself has a firm foundation, Will, Katie, and me. So if the sight of mice triggers that empty pit of loneliness I felt the day I was home alone and watched that poor mama mouse suffocate in our crumbling house, they've gotta go.

Damn I feel better knowing I can take care of the problem myself, with the help of professionals. Shrinks, exterminators, and me. It's a good formula for a phobic-free me.

When I get to work I’m gonna dig that photocopy of my hand out of the recycle bin. It’s not too late to start some kind of self-reflective folder to keep documentation of my personal growth. Grandma Layton didn’t start her self-portraiture-as-psychotherapy career until she was even older than I am. I can keep track of the lines on my hands to remind myself that each one means I made it. The lines on my hands show that my body probably can’t produce any more children, but they can produce words and sentences and essays that come from my creation.

The other day Katie was working on this word puzzle on a restaurant menu. The answer was, “When I read a book I can never be lonely.”

I thought to myself, bullshit. There are lots of lonely protagonists inside lonely stories. But so what? It’s still delightful to get to join them on their journey, to share their loneliness.

I can’t give my child another sibling right now, but I can bring her books home from the library. She won’t never be lonely, but at night she can drift off to sleep while reading these stories that assure her it’s ok and she’ll survive. And if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she can cross the hallway and climb into bed with Will and me anytime she likes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I'm Late

I’m late. I meant to post at least one blog entry during my daughter’s spring break so my writing muscles wouldn’t get too flabby. Now I’m sitting here at the keyboard like 99% of the members at the community center gym on January 2, waiting for their turn on the elliptical machine.

I must be feeling guilty about it since I had a dream last night I was running around this huge movie theater that resembled an airport, trying to find my movie date. I’d arrive at what I thought was our agreed upon time and destination only to find I was late, or in the wrong theater, or on the wrong day. These events kept playing over and over with what felt like everyone I’ve ever known in the role of my movie date.

If only “Groundhog Day” were playing on the screen each time, but alas, my dreams are just anxious and not clever.

I’m sorry. I’m late. It’s all I can say.

Yesterday I went back to work and found this amusing bit of trivia in my inbox from my boss’s boss:

“On this day, way back in 1883, Standard Time was implemented by railway leaders across the nation. Prior to that, each locality used solar time - which basically means looking up at the sun and determining what time it is. You can imagine how tricky scheduling used to be.”

I immediately longed for the days prior to 1883 when my fellow humans would be more apt to respond to my question, “Have you got the time?” by looking up at the sky and saying “about two-ish” rather than grumpily mumbling, “Two fifty-three” and glaring at me like I’m a hobo for not wearing a watch or owning a cell phone.

“Have you got the time?” What a weird way to ask someone what time it is. I don’t have the time. And I certainly don’t get time. I’m always late. People buy me watches. I lose them. I’m too cheap to buy a cell phone. I’d end up losing it anyway. The exact time and I are just not friends. Never have been, never will be. Through time ad infinitum.

I remember as a kid my dad was always ready to go anywhere early. He’d sit at the kitchen table clipping his fingernails, humming a tune which got more up tempo as more of his fingernails flew to the kitchen floor like crazy wee conductors. The car would be running in the garage. Warming up. Even in August when it was so hot and sticky out I had trouble peeling my sweaty body from the covers of my bed as I’d awaken to my dad’s voice in the kitchen booming, “It’s 8:03 and already 98 degrees!”

I always assumed my dad was the early bird in our family, but after my mom divorced him I realized she likes to be early too. I assumed Dad had influenced her hurry-upedness, but without him waiting around for us to get ready, she still manages to show up anywhere early. She’s retired now so she’s on her own time. We make plans to meet somewhere at noon. She shows up at midnight the day before and I show up at midnight the day after. Thank God we have Facebook to chat whenever it suits us best.

What’s weird is all of my mom’s five kids are slow pokes. Especially my brother Pat. Even before he died over a year ago. It was always iffy whether or not he’d show up to family gatherings. Now it depends if someone remembers to bring the beer stein urn in which his ashes reside. But none of us ever got too mad at him. We figured if he didn’t show up one Christmas but managed to the next year it wasn’t that he’d missed the first gathering. He was just 365 days late.

It was nice having Pat around to be the least reliable among us. Now that’s my job. I thought cutting back to part time at work would help, but I’ve just found more things to get sidetracked by during those extra sixteen hours a week. My therapist suggests “living in the moment” as a way to deal with my posttraumatic stress disorder. I wish she’d write me an excuse to carry around and show people when they tisk tisk me for showing up late. Eh, I’d probably lose the note anyway.

I’m not proposing we as a society go back to solar time on my account. Solar time wouldn’t work any better than standard time for me anyway. My body often isn’t fully awake until the sun’s about to go down. How about lunar time? That sounds nice.

No, I don’t expect everyone to change their schedule to suit me. I just wish my friends and loved ones who are sitting around waiting for my ass to show up would quit worrying about me and understand that the old line “it’s not you, it’s me” really does apply here. I’m not late because I disrespect you or think little of the time we share. I’m late because I’m late. Asking me to pay attention to the clock is like asking the sun to pay attention to train schedules.

Sorry for the hastily written post-Spring Break post. I’d spend more time on it but I’ve gotta jump in the shower. I’m running late for work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012

Please take thirty minutes out of your busy life to watch this amazing video about the ongoing hunt for the world's worst criminal, then share it with as many people as you know. We must catch Kony THIS year!

What an inspirational video by kids helping kids!

"KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.

Join TRI or Donate to Invisible Children.
Purchase KONY 2012 products.
Sign the Pledge."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: When Big Government is Good

The old saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

It might be free for you, but someone, somewhere has to pay for it. An example is a program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture that provides free meals to children during the summer. It is only free to those eating the meals. Someone has to pay for it, namely, taxpayers.

My husband and I paid 15% of our income last year to the Feds. I’m often annoyed with how my tax dollars are spent. As a pacifist, it makes me sick to think I’m partially financing those drone attacks that kill civilians across the planet. But every now and then, our federal government gets it right.

I was very pleased to find in our mailbox the current issue of our school district’s newsletter informing us of the upcoming “Summer Lunch Bunch” program. The United States Department of Agriculture will provide a hot meal served at four local elementary schools in the district, Monday through Friday, throughout the summer. The program is free for all children ages 1-18.

Thank you, USDA. Hooray for big government! I proudly support this program with my federal tax dollars.

If you’d like to get involved, it’s not just public schools that are hosting this federal program. Here are tips for how your church or non-profit organization could become a feeding site as well.

“Become a Sponsor: Being a sponsor requires the highest level of commitment. Sponsoring means acting as the organizer for the Summer Food Service Program sites. Public or private non-profit schools, local, municipal, county, tribal or state government, private non-profits, public or private non-profit camps, and private or non-profit universities or colleges are examples of local organizations that often serve as Summer Food Service Program sponsors. Sponsors must be able to provide a capable staff, managerial skills, and food service capabilities. A sponsor may provide its own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or contract for meals with a food vendor. Be sure to register your summer feeding sites for the National Hunger Hotline.”

“Open a Feeding Site: The Summer Food Service Program reaches only a fraction of the children in need. The primary reason for the limited access to the program is that there are not enough feeding sites. Your community building or place of faith could become a feeding site. Sites are the physical locations were food is served. Each site location must work with a Summer Food Service Program sponsor that is financially and administratively responsible for the meal service at the site. You can also help by coordinating site participation with other youth activity programs in your area. Be sure to register your summer feeding sites with the National Hunger Hotline.”

“Volunteer: While feeding children is the top priority of the Summer Food Service Program, programming is what keeps children coming back. This takes volunteers – and LOTS of them – especially in June, July and August. Volunteers can help with basics like transporting food, setting up or cleaning up a site—they also plan and do educational or recreational activities with the children. We encourage Summer Food Service Program sponsors and sites to register their volunteer opportunities. This website allows volunteer opportunities to be posted, as well as allows volunteers to search for opportunities. Click here to post or search for opportunities today!”

“Share: Tell others how the Summer Food Service Program helps feed hungry children and discuss how they or their organization can help. The more people know about the issues, the more likely they are to take action to help end hunger or know how to help their own children.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley

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Now that everyone’s back to complaining about the high price of gasoline, I’m back to wondering what happened to public transportation?

Debating the cause of our currently high gas prices, I pointed out that if our urban and suburban communities had better public transportation like we did in the good ole days we wouldn't need to bother having this conversation. Once again, it's the result of greedy corporations and laissez faire capitalism.

"In the good ole days." See, I have a conservative side too.

A friend pointed out that some people need to haul around equipment for their work, so public transportation wouldn’t suit them. That's true. But wouldn't it be wonderful to drive down the street with fewer automobiles and crazy drivers on it? Wouldn't it be nice to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner out without having to worry about who's the designated driver?

Speaking of the good ole days, who doesn't love a good rendition of "The Trolley Song" from The Judy Garland Show?

I say bring back the trolley! Only something more up-to-date for modern users. Kinda like this rendition of "The Trolley Song":

Jim Bailey as Judy Garland singing "The Trolley Song"