reap the whirlwind

Wednesday was the first day of school for the district I work in. It’s too damned early: too hot (it’s supposed to hit over 100 next week), AC never works properly in the classrooms, and I admit, it’s hard to be in school while the other districts are still on vacation. When I get in the car to drive to work, the kids in my neighborhood are still asleep. Their parents might be up, but the noticeable lack of children outside is evidence that summer vacation is still in force, at least until September 1 when the city district opens its schools.

I can’t decide if this is going to be a difficult school year. The special ed office assigned me to a morning kindergarten class for the fall. They assured me that they’d find an afternoon assignment for me, but so far, I’m working only 18 hours a week, which means the paychecks are going to be tiny wee things for awhile. I can’t help wondering if this is “punishment” for leaving in April to look after Younger Daughter. Not that I regret doing that one bit: but I noticed certain coworkers who got mediocre job reviews last spring received plum assignments, while my job reviews all had been marked “excellent.”

I’m still job hunting, but in the meantime I have to live on something, so I can’t just stomp out in a hissy fit. I’d never do that anyway, but it’s hard not to seethe a bit. I’ve noticed that in institutions that are bureaucracy-heavy, the better employees aren’t necessarily rewarded. Seniority is the primary basis for promotion and pay raises; with the new union rules, it’s virtually impossible for new people to get a permanent job within the district. It’s better for me to get out asap, which is easier said blah blah.

That said, it’s an admitted relief to get out early from work now. Last week also literally made my roots go gray. Tuesday I hired movers to get my stuff out of the haunted house and into a storage unit. I arrived there in the morning to tape up the remaining boxes before they got there (a friend and I had moved a lot of the smaller stuff the previous week) and discovered that someone had filled the locks on the front door with epoxy. I also noticed that the rusty, nonoperating pickup that had been parked in the driveway earlier was gone. I’m guessing Bro was there over the weekend, saw that I’d been there, and went into his usual teenaged boy mode. (He’s 56 now. Apparently the deaths of our parents haven’t matured him at all.)

I whipped out the iPhone and googled “locksmith near me” (thank you again Older Daughter and Son-in-Law for the eternally useful Christmas gift), then called the first person in the search results. After a couple of busy signals I finally got a kindly older male voice who said he would be there in a few minutes. It was more like 20, but I was ready to throw myself at his feet when he showed up. He was a Wilford Brimley sort who had this air of having seen everything. He looked at the keyholes and made “mm-hmm” noises before saying, “I might be able to get it all out so you don’t have to replace the locks. Unless you want to.” I told him I just wanted to get the door open so I could get my stuff out of the house. If anyone wanted to get in after me, they were welcome to take the whole damn place with him. He gave me a side look but said nothing. He opened his toolbox and took out what looked like a cross between an x-acto knife and a hex wrench, then dug into the keyholes and extracted these little dried pegs of gray stuff. “Not crazy glue,” he grunted. “Thank goodness, that stuff’ll destroy locks.”

The locksmith also pulled out some wood splinters. “Looks like whoever did this tried at first to stuff some wooden pegs or toothpicks in them. Maybe some kid?”

Nope, not a kid, I said. Just someone who acts like one. Though most of the kids I know are smarter than him.

“Huh.” I wasn’t sure if he was laughing or grunting, but he seemed sympathetic to my plight. In about five minutes he had the door opened. As he made out the receipt, he said he’d just charge me $85 for a house call. Which was a huge relief, since the movers were charging me $480, and I had already put down a $170 deposit on the storage unit. My credit card already was carrying a balance from my trip to New York, so it’s going to be a loooong time before I get that sucker paid off.

As he was getting ready to leave, the locksmith turned to me. “You know, where I’m from, we believe people who do others wrong reap the whirlwind.” I said I hoped he was right: but frankly, inside I was thinking this karma stuff was taking an awful long time to work. I really don’t care if I don’t get anything out of this except my sanity and my freedom, but jeeze, why was I saddled with such jerks for family? Did I do something in a previous life, or did someone put a hex on me ‘way back when?

The move was uneventful. The movers were three cheerful, muscular young guys who made wisecracks and whistled while carrying my life’s detritus into the sunshine and onto the truck. I was feeling glum at that point, so it was nice to be around happy people: but I began realizing I could have gotten rid of 75 percent of those things back in Minnesota and not have missed them one bit. I’ll have to sort through everything later and give away the things that could be used elsewhere. For instance, one box fell open and revealed my son’s old school supplies from high school. Why we kept them, I can’t recall. Maybe I didn’t want to leave anything behind: I was still feeling the pain of having sold my house back then. I was also feeling very sentimental at that point, since all of the kids had gone their separate ways. Older Daughter was in grad school in Pittsburgh, Younger Daughter was in art school in San Francisco, Son had just departed for college in the Northwest. I felt like all I had left were mementoes of the past, so I clung to them like a castaway clings to broken pieces of her ship.

As they were finishing up, one of the movers asked about the house. I gave them a brief summary of my troubles, and they all offered up stories about their own problems with family disputes over inheritances. So Tolstoy was wrong! Unhappy families really aren’t all that unique; we just feel that way when we each go through our own separate hells. Anyway, they clucked and sympathized as I added details about my siblings and parents; you would’ve thought we were in a support group for dysfunctional families. The lead mover said something similar to the locksmith: “It all comes around, I believe. You do bad to others, it comes back to hit you.”

They waved to me as they left, diesel truck rumbling. “Everything will be okay, HG,” yelled the lead mover. “Don’t worry, it’ll all work out.”

I hope so.

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evening sky over new york

 

 

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postmortem

I got back two weeks ago from New York. It was fun to spend a week with the grandkids and my older daughter, even though the temperatures became hot and sauna-like.

View of Hells Gate Bridge tower from Astoria Park

Hell’s Gate Bridge tower over the Astoria Park pool

Unfortunately, right after I got home I got a call from my attorney: he had some new information regarding Dad’s estate. We made an appointment to meet, on what turned out to be a fry-eggs-on-the-sidewalk kind of afternoon. The AC in the Honda doesn’t do well on these sort of days, so the interior of the car didn’t cool off until I’d been driving for about a half hour. I didn’t bother wearing a suit—the attorney’s office is in a little farming town 25 miles away, and most of his clients are ranchers and small-town folks who think a pair of dress pants and a buttondown shirt are plenty dressed up—but the collar of my gauze shirt was stuck to the back of my neck, and my capris had the feel of a wet diaper (no, I did not have an “accident”). It was like driving an Easy-Bake Oven down the highway, and I was the burning chocolate chip cookie inside. (Or steamed dumpling. Humans are more like dumplings, right? A doughy skin stuffed with meat?)

EZ bake oven

a Honda Civic sort of looks like this, without the cookies

By the time I got there, I looked like a wet cat. My appearance had nothing on my spirit after hearing the news from the attorney, however. My brother and his slimy lawyer had our parents’ trust changed so that Bro is now the primary trustee. Dad signed off on it, as there was a clause that said he could appoint a new trustee. (Knowing him, I doubt if he even bothered to read what was on all those papers he placed his signature on.) My brother also had his name placed on my aunt’s haunted house, so he owns half of it. He controls everything now: and while I haven’t seen the new will, I assume he has also appointed himself the executor.

Some interesting things: by law I was supposed to get a copy of the new trust when it was made. Bro’s lawyer claims they didn’t have any contact information for me, but they had my email and phone number, which haven’t changed, even after I fled the house. In Dad’s pile of papers there was also my PO box address, though knowing both Dad and Bro, they never bothered to look through anything. (I do believe now Dad was semi-literate. He could read a newspaper, but any word with more than two syllables gave him fits.)

My attorney sent a terse letter informing Bro and his lawyer of this and demanded they submit a copy of the new trust. This was ten days ago, but so far, we haven’t heard anything from them. We’re wondering if they’re playing games, which would not be surprising. We’re also wondering if they’re plotting something evil, which also would not be surprising. My attorney said to be on high alert: I have to get my stuff out of the haunted house quickly, which is easier said than done since I’m broke, and all of the friends I have here in RL have bad knees and backs. (The curse of being old, and having old friends!) I also have to shut down my trustee duties, one of which was paying the utilities and garbage pickup on the haunted house. I need to go to city hall and have that switched over to the new trustee, who will be surprised when he gets the bill in the mail.

Bro hates responsibility, so he will be not be happy when he realizes that with the goods comes the legal and fiscal duties. I’m guessing too his douchebag lawyer is charging him a stiff fee for his malpractice. From what I’ve seen, he’s an ambulance chaser who’ll suck every red penny out of Dad’s estate and leave my brother and sister with nothing. (Sis is playing innocent and dumb now, but I’m sure she was in on all of it. Her name is on the checking account I opened for Dad when things were falling apart. Whatever money was left in there is now hers.)

And that leaves me…free. I have nothing, but it’s worth never having to see my brother and sister again. My attorney thought that I should consider putting several states between me and Bro, since, as far as we know, he still has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. I’m not ready to move quite that quickly, but the old hometown is beginning to look empty and pointless. One close friend is getting married and moving out of town, another has proven in my absence to be a frenemy; my current job isn’t really a job, and the Landlady has been acting erratic lately.

(That’s as nice a word as I can manage now. While i was in San Diego she used up a gallon jug of detergent I bought just before I left, then claimed it was hers. Yes, I showed her the receipt from the store, but that just made her angry. She’s also lost my rent checks, forcing me to call the bank and put a stop-payment on them at $15 a pop. She’s paid for the fees, but it’s a pain to have to stop checks, then write new ones or send electronic payments to her account, which take several days to clear.)

I’m also feeling restless. Part of it admittedly is due to the weather: the Central Valley has horrible summers, unless you enjoy dry, desert-like temperatures, which I don’t. It’s mainly due however to another bout of depression, this one being deeper and harder to cope with than usual. I get through the days okay, but I can’t sleep, or have trouble staying asleep, and my mind runs and runs a hundred thoughts an hour. I’m avoiding junk food and alcohol, my two favorite methods for coping, but I’m also avoiding my old therapist, who wasn’t very helpful the last time I saw him. (We had a “discussion” about payments and health insurance, which said in essence our sessions were done.) I belong to an HMO that’s notorious for denying its members access to mental health care, even under the ACA, and the city I live in is not known for low-cost therapy clinics, which is another argument for getting out of here.

I’m still thinking, not really planning yet. I have some practical tasks to finish, but again, there is a strange kind of freedom in slamming the door on your past and all your attachments to it.

I’ll write about my trip to New York in the next post, but I can honestly say I’m enjoying the best revenge.

 

 

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Dad

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August 2013

I got word yesterday that my father died last Wednesday. He would have been 95 on August 25 this year.

The way I learned about it was strange. My cousin found out about it after she badgered my sister for news about Dad, who had been in failing health since April. He’d been hospitalized for a number of problems: the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, except that he was extremely malnourished and dehydrated. They told my siblings they needed to make sure Dad at least ate small meals every other hour. My sister complained she couldn’t get him to eat (she hadn’t seen him since Christmas, so that seems like an “I’m covering my ass” kind of excuse), and my brother said he couldn’t look after Dad because he had a bad back, a mysterious affliction that appeared whenever he didn’t feel like working. After a month of repeated hospitalizations, it was decided to place Dad in a nursing home. My sister said she had to get back to her very important job as a camping permit issuer at a state park and couldn’t possibly look after Dad any longer. Bro had made things worse by giving Dad a marijuana supplement that sent him into a three-day slumber, which required yet another trip to the hospital.

Dad of course fought going into a nursing home, but by that point he was in a wheelchair and unable to put up much resistance. After a day there, they tried to load him into a medical transport van for a doctor’s appointment. He apparently had some sort of seizure and died on the spot.

I find it profoundly ironic that Bro and Sis put Dad in long-term care. One of the reasons why Bro hired a lawyer to have my power of attorney revoked was because he was afraid I would place Dad in a nursing home and sell the house out from under him. Except for a very brief time, Bro has lived with our parents, rent-free and with very little effort put into contributing to the maintenance of the house or their well-being. I can’t imagine what’s going through his head right now. By California probate law, the house has to be sold and the funds divided up among the three heirs, or Bro has to buy my sister and I out of our shares if he wants to continue living there.

Anyway, I haven’t heard a word from my siblings about Dad’s death, or the funeral, or the estate. Everything has been conveyed to me via forwarded emails from my cousins. It sounds like my sister and brother have already made plans with the funeral home and the Buddhist temple for Dad’s service. I’m grateful for my cousin’s efforts to keep me in the loop, though behind their emails is a tone of reproach: Aren’t you going to do something? Don’t you feel bad about your father and the way he died?

Yes, and no. I feel sad at the moment, but I also feel this is what Dad’s own actions led up to. He said he didn’t want me “interfering” with his right to control the house, the finances, and his healthcare; he said he preferred my brother and sister to me because they stood back and knew their place, unlike the older daughter he scorned for being “overeducated” and not subservient enough.

I also have to say, Dad and I never got along. As many of you who’ve been following my blog for awhile know, he and I fought a lot while I was looking after Mom during her final illness, and even while we were planning her funeral. It wasn’t affectionate bickering either: it was mean-spirited, nasty, and frustrating, done more out of spite than out of any desire to do what was right for Mom. It was like Dad couldn’t do enough to make my life or Mom’s miserable.

I don’t think I will go to the funeral. I essentially said goodbye to Dad the day I left his house on Thanksgiving 2013. Deep in my heart, I’d hoped that someday, maybe, we would reconcile, but I also knew it wasn’t realistic. Also, there’s enough tension surrounding the service, as the extended family is upset that they weren’t told about Dad’s health or his being moved into a nursing home. Knowing my siblings, they’d use my presence to distract everyone from being angry at them. If I’m not there, they’ll have to stew in the broth made by their own choices.

All that said, I admit I cried a little after getting the news. Nothing reminds you more about how alone you are, or how old you are, than when you’ve lost both your parents.

 

 

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punk rockers and kittens

moon over palm tree, san diego

moon over palm tree, san diego

I’ve been back from San Diego for a week now: it has been soooo forking hot here. The temperatures in San Diego were so cool I would put on a sweatshirt after getting up in the mornings. Here in the Central Valley, the temps have topped 100 degrees F. It hardly seems worth getting dressed at all: as soon as you go outside and do anything resembling physical effort, your clothes are soaked in sweat.

Younger Daughter is okay. Leaving her was hard—it’s always hard, no matter how many times I do it—but she’s well into recovery now. She’s in physical therapy, stretching those unused muscles and scar tissue (ouch) and is driving herself to work and around town. She doesn’t need Mom to look after her anymore, which was the goal of my being there in the first place.

(I couldn’t believe how long I was there. When I got home, my wall calendar was still on April. I had to flip past a blank May page and go straight on to June.)

I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing, but once Younger Daughter was feeling better, she wanted to get out of the house and get some fresh air. She showed me the Gaslamp District where conventioneers, college students and tourists go to party.

Gaslamp district pedicab

party pedicab

Two towers San Diego

twin towers by the convention center

It was noisy and full of 20-somethings partying when we visited. I was probably the oldest person there (well maybe not: there was an older couple, looking like Grandpa and Grandma visiting the kids, wandering the streets very lost and not particularly happy). It definitely wasn’t my scene. While we were there, Younger Daughter and I had dinner at an overpriced Indian restaurant with a Bollywood interior. The food was just okay (it’s not promising when the best dish on your table is the black lentil dal, a simple home dish in India) and the mango margarita was flavorless: but we were paying for the ambience and the neighborhood, not the food.

I liked Seaport Village, San Diego’s version of Fisherman’s Wharf, but like its San Francisco counterpart, it was a massive tourist trap. The best thing there was the Maritime Museum and its display of tall ships. We didn’t go aboard as the museum staff warned us that there were lots of stairs, no elevators, and Younger Daughter’s knee was still immobilized. There was also a strong breeze coming off of the bay and the ships were creaking and rocking ominously. I have a stronger stomach than most, but I didn’t want to chance standing on a rolling deck when I have knee issues of my own.

Pirates of the Caribbean ship

we were told this was the ship used for the movie pirates of the caribbean

Tall ship sails

mast of the star of india

I think my favorite moment was when I went to see my son play with his band, Dyke Drama, at the Casbah. The club is in San Diego’s Little Italy, which is also right under the flight path of jets coming into the airport. I was told people like that the airport is right there in the city, “right next to everything:” but sitting outside, trying to enjoy an outdoor meal in a cafe patio, made me wish the city had located the airport out in the damn desert. Of course, once the band started playing, you couldn’t hear the lousy jets.

My kiddo is playing backup guitar right of Sadie Switchblade, the lead singer/guitar. Sadie, Samuel (bass) and Catherine (drums) were so nice, I wanted to call the people who made negative comments about the news my son was playing in a punk band and scream at them, “Are your kid’s friends nice to you? I DON’T THINK SO!”

I did have to wear earplugs (available at the bar) in order to stand next to the stage. The amps were so loud that at times I felt like I was getting punched in the ribs by the bass. But IT WAS SO FUN! I hadn’t gone to a club in years; listening to live music again had me thinking about my lost youth and ‘why did I stop doing this?’

I missed out on the other warmup acts, Potty Mouth and California (the latter being a big deal because the guitarist was from Green Day and the drummer was formerly from Jawbreaker), and the headliner act Beach Slang, which reminds me a lot of The Replacements back in their Minneapolis-First Avenue days. Son wanted to see his sister, who was waiting at her studio for her wayward mother to come home. We took an Uber home (I left the car because I didn’t want to hunt for parking in a strange town); he visited for about an hour and a half and we got to catch up, which was a rare treat, since we are such a far-flung family. He then had to run back and catch up with his bandmates, who had booked into a downtown hotel. It was hard saying good night, but I was happy for him, happy he has such great friends.

diana and chris san diego beach slang tour

diana & chris convo online

My second to favorite moment was looking after the kittens my daughter’s landlady was fostering for the local shelter.  It was hard not to get attached to the little monsters: I don’t know how the landlady could give them back to the shelter after caring for them for two to three weeks. She said it was hard, but she had to accept that she can’t keep every cat who comes through her door, and all of the kittens she fostered found homes within a few days of returning to the shelter.

Help I'm squished!

black and white one is only two weeks old and always seemed cold

black kitten san diego

tiny black imp: this one was always clawing my foot 

The landlady asked us to watch the kittens while she visited her boyfriend over the weekend. It wasn’t overly complicated, though the tiny black and white guy wasn’t eating solid food and had to be given formula every other hour, like a human baby. Someone had taken him from his mother ‘way too early: occasionally, someone will find a kitten while its mother has gone off to find food and assume it’s been abandoned; so they bring it to the shelter, where they have to bottle feed it or get it to take solid food quickly. Itty Bitty, as I had started to call him, could barely walk properly, let alone eat minced canned food.

itty bitty kitten drinking milk

itty bitty eating dinner

At one point his foster mom had to take him to the vet to give him IV fluids, he was so malnourished. She also took the black kitten back to the shelter, as it had gotten in the habit of eating all of Itty Bitty’s food before he could finish it. (I know, Black Kitty was too cute for words, but he was also too aggressive and would bite and knock over the other kittens while playing with them.)

Itty Bitty is staying with my daughter now while he continues to gain weight and get bigger. He might be ready for adoption in July. *sigh*

 

 

 

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mama bear

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As some of you know, I haven’t been home in awhile. Back in late April, Younger Daughter fell while trying to catch a train in London and ended up shattering her kneecap into three pieces. (She did make the train to Gatwick Airport and caught her flight to Stockholm, where she spent three days limping about until she finally went to the ER at a Swedish hospital. I would have quit right there in London, but she is made of tougher stuff than me.) Her appearance in New York—on crutches, brace on her left leg, struggling to get out of the cab with a carryon suitcase—so alarmed her sister and brother-in-law, they called me and said I needed to fly to San Diego asap to look after her.

There was still a month left in the school year, and I was working at a school that I’m hoping I’ll be assigned to permanently. (Someday.) I didn’t think twice about it, however: I told my supervisor and coworkers I had to leave the next day, then went home and packed, and asked the Landlady to look after Sunny. I took a two-hour nap before calling the airport shuttle, and within four hours I was in San Diego at Younger Daughter’s place.

It was kinda grim that first week. I’ll spare you the grief YD had with her health insurance provider over a billing/”we dropped you from our rolls” error. (Why does anyone in the federal government, or for that matter, the entire US, think that having health coverage with a private insurer is better than a single-payer/Medicare-style program?) Or the hoops she had to jump through in order to see an orthopedic specialist, who delivered the news that she really, REALLY needed surgery to repair her knee. But it ended with her checking into the medical center Friday morning for outpatient surgery and me killing time for five hours while waiting for the surgical team to call.

It felt surreal: on the one hand, my stomach was roiling with anxiety; it was hard to keep my mind from thinking of all the horror stories I’ve heard about Surgeries Gone Wrong. On the other hand, the volunteers in the waiting area were puppy perky and made sure the families of the patients were comfortable and kept informed of their loved one’s progress. For lunch, they directed me to the cafeteria where I had a so-so egg salad and a huge iced tea while watching the medical staff come down in their blue scrubs and footie shoe covers to get ice cream and coffee. (The surgeons seemed to have a thing for Klondike and Nestle Crunch bars. I wondered if they crave carbs after a long surgery.)

Back in the waiting room, I chatted with a very sweet older woman from LA and her son-in-law, who were waiting for her daughter who was undergoing a biopsy for breast cancer. The woman, who said she was 92 and had come o the US as a refugee from Romania, was herself a cancer survivor. She was upbeat about her daughter’s condition even while she worried. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is to meet someone like that when you’re worried yourself: she didn’t deny how serious the situation was, but something about her said, ‘Everything will be okay.’

(We exchanged numbers and occasionally text each other. Her daughter is in chemo and doing all right. I wished E. and her daughter a Happy Mother’s Day last month: all moms should high five each other now and again.)

 

When one of the volunteers finally called me to see my daughter, who was awake and sipping juice from a snack pack, it was already rush hour on the highways. I was anxious; she was anxious, and the nurse, who’d just come on duty, didn’t give her the pain meds she was supposed to take before leaving postop. “If I do, you’ll have to stay for another hour to make sure you don’t get nauseous after taking the pills,” he said, almost like a threat. “And I already checked you out on the computer,” he snarked. So I went down to get the car, which I had valet parked because I couldn’t find any goddamn spaces in the general lot. Only, the valets had gone home for the day, so I had to look for a security guard to get the car keys. By the time I got the keys and the car, they already had my daughter in a wheelchair parked on the curb.

She was in tears. Because driving steel screws into your knee joint freaking hurts. The orderly, who acted like he was on pain killers, was zero help as I tried to get her into the backseat of the car without hurting her any farther; he was mostly interested in taking the wheelchair back to the floor. Thank dog for Google Maps, which directed me back to Younger Daughter’s house on an unfamiliar freeway system, and for a relatively traffic-free road. Getting her out of the car and inside was a greater problem, but she slowly and silently made her way on crutches. Like I said, that kid has grit to spare.

She took her first pain pill, but it didn’t work. I checked the discharge instructions to see if it said she could take an additional pill, then noticed: “Before discharge, patient should take first dose of pain medication.” Which the nurse clearly did not give her, since he was in such a hurry to get us out of the room.

It was a bad night, which segued into a bad morning. I called the outpatient nurse line because, dammit Jim, I’m not a doctor and there is only so much practical nursing and an ice pack can do. The nurse first talked to me, then to YD, who described her pain on a scale of 1-10 as a “9,” worst she’d ever felt, short of unbearable. The nurse then told me I’d have to go back to the hospital and pick up a supplementary opioid medication because “the pain has spiraled out of control” and no longer could be held in check by the usual Vicodin dosage.

By then I wanted to throttle the discharge nurse; it was a really good thing I didn’t run into him at the hospital. I was courteous to the medical staff and the pharmacist, but I was transforming into Mama Bear mode: mad, bad, and ready to rip the head off of anyone who hurt my kids. It’s not a pleasant place to be in: I’ve seen plenty of Mama Bears go ugly at a parent-teacher conference because the teacher criticized their children, no matter how valid it was. (And I can vouch for the teachers: a lot of kids aren’t learning anything because they’re more interested in throwing spitballs or drawing all over their math book covers.) I try to keep my inner bear in check, but it’s a primal thing that comes with motherhood. Nobody messes with your DNA. Nobody.

Unfortunately Mama Bears aren’t very sociable and don’t have much of a sense of humor. I’ve had to work on regaining that, especially as a number of things went on back at home that put me into tear-your-face-off mode. I won’t go into it now, but it’s made me wonder about the people I’ve thought of as my friends, and how maybe I should get out of Dodge altogether.

After a few days the new cocktail of pills took effect. Now my daughter doesn’t even need them. Recovery has been slow but steady. The orthopedic nurse removed the protective brace and staples two weeks after surgery: the sutured wound looked like something out of a horror movie, but it’s healing well and with luck won’t scar too badly. Today my daughter went to work without her crutches, which is a huge deal. She’s going to physical therapy in another two weeks. She won’t be able to run or jump for a year, but Mama Bear doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.🙂

It’s been a long two months, however. Lots has happened—an earthquake that hit last night (there were aftershocks shaking the desk as I wrote this), the state primary, an anti-Trump protest that turned violent, my daughter’s birthday, a visit from some foster kittens, my son’s band stopping by on tour. (Oh yeah, I’ll write a post just about that night! Woohoo!)  It’s been quite an adventure, but I’m about ready to return home.

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strawberry tiramisu birthday cake

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kittens!

 

 

 

 

 

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60

Happy Birthday Me

Cards from Younger Daughter (far left, she made it herself), Older Daughter (center), Aussie Emjay (top) and my friend Sheila from MN (right)

It actually happened Wednesday, but I was too busy and too broke to observe it. This was also not a birthday I was looking forward to. Sixty is a strange age, at least in the US: you’re too young to retire, too young for senior discounts (though I’m offered them all the time by young cashiers trying to be helpful). Yet you’re regarded by hiring managers, marketing execs, and advertisers as being “old,” i.e. worthless and sick. Online I’m seeing ads for arthritis and cholesterol meds, and on a couple of occasions, handmade hardwood coffins built by Trappist monks. Memento mori!  I need to switch to a browser that doesn’t collect data about my age.

(Re hiring: no, I didn’t get the job at the college. They did indeed have an internal candidate for the job since November, according to the friend of a friend who works as an English adjunct there. The interview was just a dog and pony show for HR. Needless to say, I won’t be applying for a job there again.)

In Japan, 60 is considered an auspicious age because the person has lived through five cycles of the lunar calendar and thus, it is believed, s/he has begun life anew. Men celebrate it with the kanreki, a big party where the birthday boy wears a red hat and vest. I’m not sure if nowadays Japanese women also celebrate kanreki. No one threw a party for my mother when she turned 60, but Dad got a banquet at his favorite Chinese restaurant and was presented with a red cap and sports jacket. I didn’t attend—I was living in Minnesota back then, and nobody sent me an invitation, which was interesting—but it’s probably good I didn’t. I would have ruined the day with snarky comments. I do not hold well with old Japanese traditions, including the feting of males while dismissing the value of females. And don’t get me started about the worth (or lack thereof) of old men. I’ve found most of them to be whiny, incompetent, and a general pain in the ass.

I found this awesome article on The Huffington Post about turning 60. Most online advice/inspirational articles don’t do much for me (if I see another article about how to work more productively, I will hunt down the author and smash her Pomodoro), but this one struck me as true. I understand myself a lot better now than when I was 20 or even 30 or 40. I dress comfortably but well, and fashion can go fuck itself. I take care of my health, not because I “have to”—there’s no Mommy or Daddy to tell me to brush my teeth and eat my veggies—but because I want to. I do things for myself, not because somebody else, especially somebody else on social media, will think I’m cool.

I also have less patience for friends who suck the life out of me. I’m a little ashamed to say this, because I realize many of them need help: they’re depressed, stuck in emotionally abusive relationships, or struggling to stay afloat financially and emotionally. They have, however, a tendency to call me as soon as they’re down or troubled, but never when they’re happy or having a great time. (“Oops, sorry, I forgot to invite you to my party. We can have coffee later and I’ll let you know how it went!”) I’ve also stopped making plans with these people: they tend to cancel or not show up anyway, because of one excuse or another. Mostly, I suspect they’re passive aggressive: I didn’t show them enough sympathy over the phone, or I remind them of their mother, or they want me to drive to their home, knock on their door, and rescue them from ODing on pills and liquor. I had one episode like this two weeks ago: I won’t go into it here, but it angered and upset me enough that I won’t take this person’s calls anymore. It sounds harsh, but putting a friend through something like that is ugly and selfish. This person is smart, with plenty of resources and who knows how to get help. (He sees a therapist.) Instead, he tried to put me through a guilt trip: tried, but I didn’t take the bait. He ended up on tubes in an ER and is now under suicide watch in a psych ward. I understand what it’s like to feel as if your life is in the toilet: but you don’t drag others down, especially the people who care about you.

Anyway, I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks, which has given me the excuse to baby myself a little. Instead of running errands after work, I go home, change into pajamas, eat a light supper, then go to bed and read or watch a little Hulu. Older Daughter sent me a Harry & David gift tower, and I’ve been slowly savoring my way through the treats. The only conflict I have is with Sunny, who likes to sleep in the middle of the bed and slowly nudge me off of the mattress.

Sunny hogs the covers

 

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on safari

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children

It’s spring break here, but in my typical lucky fashion I came down with a virus. The student I worked with this month coughed in my face all last week: so I had a feeling I was going to get sick.

It’s an odd situation, because her IEP doesn’t stipulate that she needs an aide. She has diabetes, which requires that a nurse come in twice a day to check her blood sugar level: but she also has another life-threatening condition (which no one will disclose to me) which caused her to miss two years of school. As a result, this third grader can’t read or write, let alone do grade-level math and spelling. I asked the teacher why she wasn’t held back; the teacher gave me a brittle smile and said, “We don’t do that anymore.” Instead, whoever makes these decisions chose to toss the student into a regular third grade classroom, where she struggles just to copy words from the whiteboard. I just sit at her elbow and enable guide her when I can, but trying to make up for her having missed first and second grade is not within my abilities. I just do what I can, knowing that in April I’ll be moved to yet another school and student.

Before all this—before this student, before the interview—I was in San Diego. Earlier, my younger daughter asked if I wanted to go on a whale watching cruise, or go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. (We went to the San Diego Zoo the last time I was in town; the Safari Park is located in Escondido, a half hour’s drive outside of the city.)  One of my coworkers at the time told me about her horrific experience during a whale watching tour in Monterey, where the waves were so rough she became seasick and passed out after throwing up over the side of the boat. California has been experiencing extremely high surf levels this winter, so much so there have been almost weekly warnings for people to stay away from the beaches. I don’t know if that contributes to a choppy ocean surface, but my last bout with seasickness left me with no desire to repeat it: so I voted for the Safari Park.

We went on a Saturday, which is not a great day to visit any theme park, especially if you’re an adult. The place was packed with families, some with very small babies who, depending on their level of discomfort/disinterest, either slept through the exhibits or screamed bloody murder. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the sun was fierce. My daughter had offered to lend me a sunhat, but after trying on a couple, vanity took the place of good sense and I said, “Nah.” I did slather on sunscreen, and the park had strategically placed patio misters that sprayed cool water while you were waiting in line for exhibits or tickets. Having just come from an area where it’d been raining and the highs were in the low 60s however, I was overdressed. Not that I wanted to wear a spaghetti strap tank top and short shorts, the off duty uniform of young women in SoCal: but I caught myself staring enviously at the older women wearing long, loose sundresses and big floppy hats. I need to embrace my oldie self and choose comfort over misplaced dignity.

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my sensible daughter and her clueless mom

The Safari Park takes up 1800 acres, and while not all of it is accessible to the public, it’s smart to wear sensible walking shoes and bring water. The map the park provides for visitors isn’t very good: it wasn’t clear how to get from the entrance to the actual Safari Park where you have to line up for as much as an hour to board one of the guided shuttles to see the animals on a open plain. Daughter and I wasted time getting lost in the “Safari Outfitters” mall and “Nairobi Village” where all the gift shops and overpriced cafes and concession stands were. I thought, cynically, that the park designers probably planned it that way, given the number of children wailing to their trapped parents, “I want that! Mommy, Daddy, want that!” In spite of the $50 admission fee (this was with a AAA discount; I was horrified, but Daughter paid for all of it), the park constantly throws in your path snares to capture your money. At a number of the exhibits a “host” grabs you and makes you pose in front of a backdrop for a photo like the one above; she then shows the end result to you and asks for $30 for a copy. We didn’t buy one: the photo you see was a screenshot grabbed by Daughter from the park’s photo website. We were reminded however that all the money spent there went to caring for the animals, which undoubtedly was expensive.

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lemur tails

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I said, no photos!

Two features that were almost worth the money were the ring-tailed lemur and rainbow lorikeet enclosures, where you actually go into the cages with the animals. For the lorikeets, you can buy little cups of fruit nectar; if you hold them quietly and with an extended arm (kids had a very hard time understanding the former concept), the lorikeets will land on your wrist and drink the nectar. I’d never seen birds so unafraid of humans: they would come down and check you out as you entered the cage to see if you had a cup for them. If not, pfff: they would disdainfully hop away and go to the next guileless human.

To enter the lemur’s enclosure, you were warned not to bring any food or drink inside, unless you wanted to get mugged by a gang of lemurs. Visitors were also warned to stay upright and not crouch down to the lemurs’ level unless you wanted a lemur to jump your head. Ring-tailed lemurs are primates; they’re extremely curious, nimble and smart. They can do basic math functions. They have hands, and they like to hang out in social groups. So you’re forewarned.

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By Diana Grande, All rights reserved

The lemurs aren’t afraid to check out the humans walking through their ‘hood. This guy hopped down from his perch to sun himself right in front of a large family who had just entered the enclosure. One man crouched down to take a photo, and the docent yelled at him to “stay on your feet!” The lemurs have been known to snatch baseball caps, baby bottles, smartphones, and very expensive camera gear, just because they can.

From the lemurs’ enclosure we rushed to the Safari section to secure a place in line. The park closed at 5 p.m. and we were warned that the shuttles stopped taking passengers at 4, even if you’d been standing in line forever. The shuttles drive down a narrow road enclosed in a long fence while the animals live on an “open” but manicured plain. It’s still a zoo: the animals aren’t free to roam wherever they like and the humans are in no danger of being attacked or even touched by any of the animals. There are signs everywhere warning you to keep your hands and body inside the car, but most of the animals were napping in the afternoon sun. If anyone was hoping for an action shot of a rhino charging the shuttle, he was sorely disappointed that day.

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white rhinos: the guy in the front just took a mud bath, so not so white

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this landscape reminded me of the lorax and the truffula trees

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oryx

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local deer

This deer made me and some of the other passengers laugh. Just by being there, the Safari Park has created a kind of wildlife refuge for the local animals. The guide said deer often come into the enclosure to eat the hay left out for the rhinos and other herbivores; the rhinos will take exception and try to chase the deer out. I wondered if the zoo didn’t worry about the deer bringing in parasites and disease and infecting the African animals—Minnesota dairy farmers worry about it happening to their cows all the time—but what do I know?

As it got closer to evening, we saw more napping animals.

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Malaysian tiger so done with you

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fennec fox, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved

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fruit bat, by Diana Grande, all rights reserved

Daughter and I got frozen lemonades at $8 a cup (yes, they’re the same kind you can get at a 7-11 for three bucks) and inspected our photos and mulled over what we had seen vs. the cost. Daughter with her DSLR camera and lenses got the far better photos, though the iPhone didn’t do a bad job either. We had a full, fun day, but Daughter scoffed that “nothing is worth $50!” I had to disagree a little, but then she was the good hostess and paid for everything.

We didn’t have to pay for the view of another San Diego sunset, however.

Sunset San Diego

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