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Consider this a proposed addendum to the traditional vows of your choice rather than a replacement.  Avoiding incrimination, insinuation or further qualification, I submit the following:

  • I promise to ignore your passive aggressive behavior as you ignore mine, taking neither personally, as we encourage each other in healthy ways to communicate.
  • I promise to tell you the truth in the kindest way possible when it’s vital to your growth or to our continuing intimacy.
  • I promise to tolerate the truth and not complain about it when there is nothing either of us can do to change it.
  • I promise to smooth over the truth when it promotes growth and confidence and it hurts no one.
  • I promise not to turn a blind eye when you are making huge parenting mistakes (see vow #2).
  • I promise to assert my role in our children’s lives to insure that my influence is as vital as yours.
  • I promise to protect our children from physical and emotional harm even if it means protecting them from you.  I will protect the child rather than myself; protect the innocent rather than secure or promote my position with you.
  • I promise to remember that we married for love and friendship, and I will not treat you like the enemy (when the real war is going on inside me).
  • I promise not to hang on to my resentment when I realize how different the parenting roles really are and the many ways these roles permanently change us.
  • I promise to get the damn counseling if you want the damn counseling, even if a loved one urges us to get the damn counseling, and I promise to give it my best shot.
  • I promise to be a partner not a dependent.
  • I promise not to assume you are “taking care of it.”
  • I promise to create my own joy and fulfillment and not to hold you responsible for it.
  • I promise to be thankful for your good qualities every day, especially on the bad days.
  • I promise not to tell you my “really interesting dream” unless you are actually in it and doing something truly interesting.”
  • I promise to keep your secrets (the legal ones).
  • I promise to side with you in a disagreement with your parents (and tell you you’re wrong in private.)
  • I promise to care for myself so I’m able to care for you when the occasion arises.
  • I promise to do my part to keep our life interesting.
  • I promise to promote you in the eyes of the children and not to bare your flaws to them.  In the case that you turn out to be an appalling jackass, I promise to promote you right out the door with blessings for a happy and prosperous future, from which point I will continue to promote your relationship with your kids for as long as you continue to behave as a rational, law-abiding human, and they feel happy and safe being around you.

**Kiss or handshake optional

Author and husband, October 21, 2006

Morning Pages

In the late 1990s I was introduced to a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  It was born out of her workshops to help blocked writers, but it has become an inspiration to many kinds of artists.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is frustrated with the creative within, whether you want to unleash the artist you know is in there but has been oppressed, or you’d like to explore the outrageous possibility that you could make a living out of your art (and even more outrageous, that you deserve such a thing), or if you just want more creativity in your life.  One of the practices the course is built on is a thing Julia calls Morning Pages.  Get a notebook, and as soon as you’ve crawled out of bed in the morning, write three pages longhand from off the top of your head, unedited, never to be critiqued and not to be looked back on for some period of time.  For most people, the first week or so begins as so much gibberish, but for some, their Morning Pages have turned into books.  I’ve been doing this exercise on and off since I first read The Artist’s Way, and this morning I had the urge to start it up again.  The following is a slightly edited version of what I wrote:

Today is my daughter’s sixteenth birthday.  There is so much I can say about that.  The first thing that comes to mind is that I began the experiment of Morning Pages when she was three-and-a-half years old; therefore I’ve been writing morning pages on and off for over twelve years.  It is odd to be in the place in life where twelve years has flown by as if it were three or four.  I keep getting older — nothing I’ve done to try and stop the clock has worked yet  —  and I feel like I don’t know how to get old, like I’m unprepared, it has come so fast.  As usual, I remind myself I’m not alone in this:  It’s the universal experience.  We all talk about the weather and how fast time flies because those are the things we have no control over.  We are in awe.  And maybe we are comforted in the camaraderie we have in this realization, even though banding together as a race does nothing, really, to increase our power against these forces.

I observe younger people in various phases of life, and I think, I was just there yesterday, experiencing the ups and downs of that stage, the undeniable power that comes with that particular period of youth as well as the disadvantage of still needing more valuable perspective, and then, We all have our moments, and those folks will be in this one I’m in before it seems they’ve batted their eyes.

It’s sobering how quickly moments race by in a blur when we’ve had to be, or more often, chosen to be distracted by stress, disappointment, loss, battles against others.  If my kids have learned anything from Mama’s journey over the last decade it has been to cherish the time you’ve been given, to understand time in its context, not fear or fight it but revere it as it bulldozes by without mercy.

Several years ago when my daughter was still a “tween,” I had the privilege of hearing her say, “Mom, you were right, time really does go by faster the older you get.”  Of course, hearing the first four words of that sentence is enough to satisfy any parent, but I also realize she has developed a keen sense of the passage of time, and I know she’s a kindred spirit in this journey.

This is the same child who observed while in fifth grade, “I just realized Chris Brown has been around a long time now, because I remember when his songs were first coming out when I was in third grade.”

Today I’ll text her at school at exactly 12:15, to give her an official Happy Birthday wish, because as most mothers tend to do, I have the time of her birth, down to the very minute, carved into stone in my memory.

Greetings, Good Friends.

This will be relatively brief.  I felt like an update would be good today.  I don’t intend to back off on the blog — it has been a wonderful addition to my life this year — but I’ve had to move over and make room for Life this week.  I’m sure you can relate:  You’ve got this fine week planned out, one with few outside interruptions beyond the usual, so you make plans for several things you want to accomplish with “your” time…then Life interrupts.

I realize you all represent varied views on “the meaning of life, the universe and everything” (to borrow a line from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  —  the answer, of course, is “42”).  I am learning something that is so true, so valuable, so dangerous to human nature:  Life is easier lived without fear and complaint.

The one thing we have control over is our ability to choose — our will (if you will).  We are employing it whenever something “happens to” us.  When we fight against the apparent hijacks of our day, our schedule, our mood, our expectations, we are missing an opportunity to learn and be blessed.  How will we see the good things that might be coming to us through a perceived “bad” experience, the important lesson to be learned, if we’re rebelling like children against Change, complaining, wailing loudly, pounding our fists against an imaginary chest?

I’ll loosely quote a line from a Martha Beck article I read a few days ago, “Some people believe pessimism is a virtue.”  I know some very religious people who live as if this is so.  Turns out, they believe in a god, just not one who can be trusted.

I’m not trying to shake your chosen paradigm, not its whole, anyway, just the part that says “what’s against me is greater than what’s for me,” the part that truly believes in Murphy’s Law.

I’m learning happiness and peace really are a choice.  The reason I dare to say “I am learning” this is because I’m actually starting to put it into practice, to exercise the muscle.  At the onset of this week’s shake-up, my knee-jerk was to panic, question and complain.  Then the wiser part of me reminded the child in me of the questions I’ve learned to ask in all things I initially perceive to be bad:  Where is the gift in this particular moment?  Where is the lesson?  — keeping my eyes and ears open for the answer, taking a deep breath, reminding myself that I’m alive and that everything else in my life is evidence of abundant blessing, that this moment, just by virtue of its presence, is to be cherished.  Embraced.  Not rejected, not rebelled against, not criticized, not regarded as an enemy.

When we rebel against change and upset we are expressing unwillingness to accept life on any terms but our own, that we are sure there is no way we can have joy but inside the parameters of our own prescription.  When you think about it, that might actually be the most dangerous way to live life.

Every breath is a gift.

Selah

Phil 4:11 & 12; I Thess 5:18; Luke 12:27; Phil 4:6

I almost always look at things from some distance before engaging.  There are few things that reel me in unwittingly, few things I do impulsively.  There are a number of reasons for this, most of which I’ve identified and looked at with exasperatingly tedious analysis. But I won’t get into all that today.

With that said I will abuse you with my thoughts about American Idol and shows of its kind.  First, I’m thankful for their part in turning the trend away from record companies monopolizing the music market and dictating what merits our consumption.  The existence of a show in which the public can evaluate talent and pick favorites provides a fairer outlet for great performers to be recognized and their music to be enjoyed.  When I say “fairer,” I don’t mean ultimately fair.  American Idol has been an amazingly popular channel for exposing talent to the planet, but it is not the only option.

I have a problem with American Idol‘s theme song (which is repeated ad nauseam in commercial bumpers and every other way the producers find to use it).  From a musical science standpoint, it is blatantly manipulative, created to build tension and suspense.  But I’ve always avoided most game shows and the like with their characteristic “noises.”  I am aurally sensitive, if you will.  A less intrusive way for me to pick new musical favorites is listening to new submissions on iTunes and other sites.  I can also go to Pandora, type in examples of my favorite music, and Pandora will play for hours artist after artist, new and old, known and unknown, from which I can pick favorites.  Did you know you can submit your music to Pandora?  It does actually have to be good  — please, for all of our sakes — in which case it will be picked up, dropped into Pandora’s music genome and played along with other selections that match it.  And it pays royalties.  Of course, there’s not the hype, publicity and financial backing that comes with making it into the top group on Idol.  But that takes us back to the power mongers, doesn’t it?

American Idol turns away thousands of incredibly talented people every year.  I know singers who could go toe-to-toe with any of the past top fives who did not even make it past the producers at the cattle call.  It is a TV show more than it is a competition; its producers know what gets ratings; they are looking for drama, quirks and controversy to keep you interested to the final night.  You may be wowed by what you see once the competition starts, but don’t fool yourself into thinking  you are evaluating the best singers that auditioned in all those cities.  I’ve heard friends say they think this year’s group has been the most impressive collection of talent in the history of the show.  But the fact that a show of its billing ever showcased a top 12 of questionable caliber is proof that it was never all about vocal competition.  I suspect the producers knew they were throwing the public a lot of changes this year, so they made sure the talent was dazzling.

Still, there’s the problem of the voting public.  American Idol continues to appeal to a wide age demographic, yet its voting majority obviously has become “tween” and teenage girls.  Teenagers are still ahead of their parents in technology and may always be.  If you want to be an armchair judge but don’t bother to vote, then why express shock at the outcome?  Unless parents and grandparents start voting or AI comes up with a more geriatric-friendly form of voting, you can be sure you’ll continue to be “shocked.”  What was Einstein’s definition of insanity again?

Despite the show’s appeal to the musician in me, I feel I’m being played, and I never like that.  Whenever I sense my baser instincts are being appealed to, I get wary.  (Believe me, this is no indication that I’ve not succumbed to my baser instincts. Oh, the days and days I could spend blogging.)  What I’m referring to is our need to elevate ourselves by playing judge, by evaluating others:  We’ll jump at the chance to evaluate and score others even in arenas that are not our expertise.  American Idol has banked on that human response.  It’s the way of Rome.

The water cooler conversations I have heard, the vehement opinions expressed . . . so tiring.  And it’s all subjective anyway.  It’s about what appeals to us and all the reasons it does, not about which singer is best.  I suppose I feel too much empathy for the contestants to enjoy the game, even knowing they have thrown themselves into the ring.  And that’s a reflection of my own issues.  To be continued. . . .

This is a slow work week for me.  It’s one of those times I’ve described before when I have the opportunity to catch up on all the things that have been waiting for me while work has been busy.  When I say all the things, I mean every single category in my life.  It’s one of those Mondays when someone with a compulsive, over-achieving, perfectionist personality like mine can have trouble getting focused.

There are those two children I gave birth to and try to homeschool who are spending time at their father’s place in another state; they will need to be looked in on by Skype to make sure they are on track with their work.  (Can we take just a moment for a ‘hollah’ to Skype?  Life changing.)  There is that proposal I’m working on that needs to go in the mail today which could lead to some more income.  There is the house — almost every room, both floors, including garage — that is under a film of dust and clutter.  The latter is a mega-category.  I best not get into the detail.  I need to order another microphone.  I need to call the insurance company.  We all know I could be into that for an hour, maybe two.  I should get in three good workouts before the weekend.  (There is a chance I’ll do a video of Steve and me working with kettlebells.)  There are several stacks — these accumulate for me because I hate paperwork — stacks of mail and bills that need to be attended to, things that need filing, things that need calling about.  It’s not that I can’t or won’t do it well — it’s that once I begin, I will need to be meticulous with it.  I need a PA.  I lust for a PA.  Oh, you don’t think I could give up that much control?  Try me.

Captain, Border Terrier/German Shepherd mix. Hilarious and smart -- on the way to his new home

On Friday I put a great dog on a transport to his new home in Boston.  His name is Captain, and he was only with us a few days.  He was the most interesting combination breed I’ve seen in a long time — Border Terrier and German Shepherd.  Unbelievably smart and sweet.  He will make his new family very happy.  On Saturday I picked up Cactus, an Australian Retriever — a crossbreed of Australian Shepherd and Golden Retriever.  He is magnificent and beautiful and looks so much like our Huxley (same breed) that we think they might have been litter mates.  Ah, yes, that’s another thing to do this week: take Cactus back to the shelter to be microchipped and inquire about his origin.

Cactus, Australian Retriever, 9-12 months old, available for adoption

I’m not unaware that all these things are evidence of my choices, the life I’ve created.  I wouldn’t change it.  Most of us wouldn’t.  Or we would, wouldn’t we?

Except for the millions of dollars part.  I would change that in a heartbeat — and maybe I will….

Perspective is everything, regardless of what brand of spirituality you subscribe to.  I know people who claim to have access to a “peace that passes all understanding” and live lives of constant drama and worry.  Making an effort to be in the beauty of a single moment, to be aware of your blessings, to take responsibility for your choices and how they are currently playing out in your life, to be grateful to be alive and breathing and have people and things in your life to love and be passionate about — this is the truest form of worship I’ve ever experienced.  It is a shortcut to joy.

“For every person who has ever lived there has come, at last, a spring he will never see. Glory then in the springs that are yours.”  Pam Brown

Even the rainy ones.  Have a great week!

Huxley, our Aussie Retriever, and his almost twin, Cactus, who is available for adoption

When Parents Need More

On Saturday we moved hubby’s mother into an assisted living center here in Franklin.  She had been living in his brother’s home in the northern Virginia area for close to two years.  The move was a big deal for all involved.  My brother-in-law, a lawyer who has been managing his mother’s affairs since their father passed away spring of 2006, didn’t want to appear eager to push his mother out of his home.  But the situation had become less than best for everyone involved: his mother was spending hours in their home staring at a full-time caregiver she was never quite happy with, and when her son and daughter-in-law were home from work, they were dealing with all sorts of stressful issues including rushing her to the hospital on occasion.

The majority of her extended family lives in the NoVa area, so leaving that concentration of family was an obstacle for her.  When she visited a few weeks ago to check out a facility we had found, things got off to a shaky start, and we weren’t sure it would work out the way we had all hoped.  The events that turned things around are what make you thankful for certain kinds of people.

There are people who sense your need just in time and say just the right encouraging words, like the angel named Lisa who knew my mother-in-law needed to hear how happy Lisa’s mother was in this place and how many interesting things were going on all the time, who looked her in the eye and paid her special attention, who told us to call on her any time.  There are people like my parents who hosted my mother-in-law in their easy-to-navigate, one-story home and threw an impromptu sing-along in their living room when they sensed it would be a treat for her.  A treat it was.  She wept and sang and wept some more. There are daughters like my missy-prissy, who are shy but unafraid to make strong eye-contact, smile a sincere smile and hug an elderly woman who’s only been her step-grandmother for a few years and make her feel like she is part of the family.  There are adorable and clever grandbabies, like our little angel, who learned her step-great-grandmother’s nickname, “Mor” (Swedish for “mother”), and called her that more than once.

Two weeks later Mor’s necessities were packed in the car, and BIL and SIL were driving her back to Tennessee to live; another big weekend for us all, needless to say.  Each of us had his focus:  Hubby distracting his mother with constant interaction once she touched down while she fussed repeatedly over not having all of her things at her fingertips for a period of less than 24 hours, BIL & SIL managing the packing and moving of all her clothing and personal items that could be fit into the trunk and half the back seat area of their car and wrapping up business details with the facility, Mom & Dad hosting MIL again for a night before the move-in, including serving dinner, and me collecting furniture and decor items from our place, Mom’s place and a wonderful thrift center called Graceworks, loading it all in two vans with the help of my son and his friends and getting it all set up before she walked in.  The latter is the kind of thing I enjoy doing, pulling together a cohesive design with odds & ends, like those TV shows that decorate a whole room with flea market finds.  It was a fun task for me, certainly tiring on its own, but not in the way the emotional impact of such a weekend is on everyone.

So far so good.  She continues to find her way and appears to be generally delighted with the things she’s discovering.  There are, of course, some new pet peeves we’ll be hearing about each day, “People here don’t talk enough,” “Aerobics here just aren’t worth the time — all they do is sit in the chair and go (swirls hands around in silly motions) — I can do that right here watching TV,” added to the ones already in place, “Getting old isn’t for sissies,” “I never sleep,” and “I just want to go be with Jesus and Bob.”  Hubby is a gem of a son: gentle, patient and generous, reading to her because she can no longer make sense of words on a page due to a series of small strokes.  It will be an interesting journey for us all.

I am in awe that BIL and SIL had her all this time in their home.  They were loving and dutiful children and deserve some peace and rest.  And loving, dutiful parents deserve to be honored.  I feel thankful once again that we will have so much help with this, for the people who work there and make it such a pleasant place not only because you are paying good money for it to be so, but because they have a special gift, and they choose to be there.

Life is not boring here at Wedan Hall.

I thought he was part of my dream. Then I felt him bump into my end of the bed and double over. “What are you doing?”
I can’t remember his response. He turned around and walked smack into the antique dressing table, his head making contact with the wall.
“Steve, what are you doing?”
“Trying to find the bathroom.”
I switched on the lamp at my night stand. The clock read 12:37 am. We’d been in bed close to two hours. He saw the bathroom door and walked through it. I could hear him in there, standing, nothing happening. I still wasn’t sure. This one was starting differently, and I needed to wake up. He came back to bed, and when his answers to all my questions were, “I don’t know, I’m sorry,” I got up and got the glucose tabs from his bathroom sink. The dilated, glassy, vacant look in the eyes is also an important sign.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to use the glucagon pen this time. Since he wasn’t convulsing and was propped up on pillows at the headboard, he was able to chew the large tablets without difficulty. With the third or fourth tab, I think, the convulsions started.

This is where quick judgment is necessary. He’s already got glucose in his system, and you don’t know how much more he needs if any; you don’t take the time to test his blood sugar, and anyway you know with this violent a reaction it’s probably in the teens. Most important is to administer glucose in some form and keep him contained until the convulsions subside and he regains full consciousness.

Once convulsions have begun, juice is not an option. He may try his best, but as much will end up on clothes and sheets as will inside him. If the reaction begins with convulsions (or you’ve not detected it until the convulsions begin), you’ve got to grab the glucagon emergency kit. This is dicey in the wee hours of the morning. It involves a syringe full of fluid and a vial with powdered glucagon in it. You must shoot the fluid into the vial, shake the vial to mix the solution, then draw the solution back out of the vial with the syringe and inject the convulsing human with it. And the human does not cease the convulsing for you while all this must be done.

The hardest thing for me is the point when I know everything’s been done that’s to be done, and the symptoms haven’t subsided yet. In 2009, because he was learning to trust the technology on his new insulin pump and kept mismanaging it, we went through this at least a half dozen times in a six month period.  Once when we were in New York City, it happened twice in one night, and I was up walking the streets of the city that never sleeps at 2:30 a.m. to buy him some food to make sure his body’s glucose stores would be replenished.

The first time he woke up convulsing I called my parents in a panic, kept Mom on speaker phone while Dad drove over and I called 911. The paramedics gave me a crash course in dealing with this kind of reaction. I had tried the glucagon pen in the interim and had done it wrong. It was the first time I’d ever stuck anyone with a needle. Now, I’m just, bam. Done.

But this one was different. And we hadn’t dealt with one in a while. The convulsions started later, and I could tell things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.

Then he decided to take a walk. Not much I can do about it from my side of the bed. Five-foot-eight, 190 lbs packed with muscle hops up and starts walking, the only things in the room that are going to stop him are gravity and furniture. Mercifully, he stumbled into the rocker only a few feet away, hit the wall and folded down to a sit, knees bent, feet off to one side, still convulsing while his forearm repeatedly banged against one of the legs of the rocker. I sat with him, tried to deal with the arm, fed him one more glucose and talked to him to see if I could wake him up.

What he’s going through at this point is horrific: He has the same dream almost every time, that the surface beneath him is breaking into pieces and falling away, revealing a fathomless pit into which he is starting to fall. There is no convincing him otherwise, and it is the reason for his desire to move from wherever he is.

After another minute of him banging his arm on the chair, staring into space and grabbing hold of electrical cables, I got up on my knees and pinned him against the end of the bed with my torso. He would intermittently hold me tightly for a few seconds, and then the convulsions would take over again. I knew he was coming back, just not quickly enough for either of us.

The front of my pajamas was getting drenched with his sweat. During this period he successfully chewed one more glucose tab. I ordered him to keep chewing, afraid some might still be in his mouth, and he answered, “I am. There’s nothing more to chew.”  And then I knew he was returning.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry to put you through this again.” Ninety percent back. Five minutes later he was in the shower washing off the sweat, putting on clean, dry clothes and crawling back into bed. Now he sleeps, exhausted, and I write it all down as my heart slows back to its resting rate.

Steve has been a Type 1 Diabetic since age 13. It is an auto-immune disease with no known cure. Type 2 Diabetes is genetic, has the same symptoms as Type 1 but can be prevented or controlled with lifestyle changes. Steve has been meticulous in his self-care over the years except for one period in his adulthood, and for that brief period of negligence he paid with heart surgery in 1997; still he has fared far better than most Type Ones of his generation. If you are borderline Type 2 and have the privilege of making choices to improve your health before you become insulin dependent, do it before there’s no going back.

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