Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sub Notes: When Garbage Pales

It was the smell of death. And it was in the classroom. So I discretely looked around so as not to frighten the children—teenagers, they were. The scariest part was that it was so close to them, somewhere around the trash can. The closer I got, the more disgusting it became. It was a horrifying, gangrenous smell—the smell of rot and decay. I figured a mouse must have gotten in there and died.

I glanced in. Wrappers. Plastic drink bottles. And nothing else. Nothing. Was I missing it somehow? It was a little hard to see in the trash, because there was a kid who had his feet resting on the trash can.

That was the first time it occurred to me. Sure, I’ve smelled stinky shoes before. Heck, I’ve even had a teenaged son. I remember discussing horrible smells that came out of our teenaged boys’ rooms with a friend who has three of her own. I would never forget her very serious warning. “Whatever you do,” she had said, “don’t ever smell the shoes.”

But this. This wasn’t human. It wasn’t alive. It was sickening, horrifying, vile.

Could it be…? And then the bell rang, and the smell walked out the door. No wonder so many teachers keep air fresheners in the classroom. I hope that boy’s mother knows about my friend’s warning.

Now scientists call this disease bromidrosis
(that's right!)
And well they should
Even napoleon knows that
But us regular folks
Who might wear a tennis shoe
Or an occasional python boot
Know this exquisite little inconvenience by the name of:
Stink foot
~lyrics from Frank Zappa, “Stink Foot”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Improper Poll: Dis-Tressed

Recently I was having a deep discussion with a friend, and she revealed—get this—she doesn’t shampoo, rinse, and repeat. She only shampoos and rinses! I’m pretty sure that “shampoo, rinse and repeat” was originally found etched into Middle Eastern papyrus scrolls thousands of years ago, so I was stunned that my friend was flouting the sacred rules. Since then I discovered that the shampoo rules have changed. Changed! I didn’t know this because I can no longer hope to read shampoo instructions, plus I figure that since I’ve probably washed my hair some 17,000+ times (I did valuable research on this one by consulting my calculator), I possibly had it down by now. Not so.

In fact, thanks to other valuable research, this time implementing my trusty Old-People-Magnifier-Plus-Light-Apparatus-Sold-in-Drugstores-to-Keep-People-Like-Me-From-Overdosing, I discovered fully half of my shampoos do not require the repeat. The madness!
I also discovered another interesting fact: some of my shampoos have clothing in them. One, for example, claims it has silk in it, and the other has pearls. One is wearing cashmere. I find it depressing that my shampoo dresses way better than I do. Where is the shampoo wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a taco sauce stain, or maybe with fleece and scuffed Reeboks in it?

I also discovered I have a lot of shampoos. There’s the one that makes my hair smell like my grandma’s house, if my grandma had lived in a spa in the South of France. Never mind that it makes my hair look like Grandmamma Addams and is insanely expensive—it gives a whole new component to the idea of personal fragrance, so I am willing to make the trade-off at times. Then there’s the one I got using a coupon. I don’t like it very much, but I’m so proud that I managed to remember the coupon—an actual unexpired one—that I just can’t throw it out. Then there’s the one I bought because it was supposed to do something wonderful for me, but since I can’t remember what that was, I hang onto it in case it comes to me. And then of course there’s the one I really use.

How many shampoos are in your shower? And The Most Important Valuable Research Question of all: do you still repeat?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Learning to Walk

Every mother eventually learns about those first tottering steps: the unsteadiness, the reaching, the need to pull back so as to allow for that budding independence. But these are my steps I’m talking about. Now that my children are nearly grown, I must learn how to maneuver around them again, and like all the steps in motherhood, it isn’t easy.

I’ve noticed that fathers are so different. They will automatically pull back as soon as the children are grown, while some women seem to cling to that mother role for the rest of their lives. And of course I understand why. We mother with our souls. It becomes such a fundamental part of our identity, giving it up means giving up a big part of who we are. But I’ve never wanted to be one of those rigid mothers who can’t give up the Alpha Mom role, who wants to direct her children’s choices and behavior for the rest of her life. So now that my children are older, I’m trying—in my own wavering way—to find where I should rightfully stand and walk that line.

And it’s tough. It’s the line where I try to compliment my son...while making sure the weight loss was intentional. It’s the one where, when he asks me what he should do involving a major life decision, I tell him it’s not up to me and ask him questions I hope will get him to figure it out for himself. And then I try to support his decision.

Of course there are benefits. I lived a long time on the “Mom to Children” side of the line, and it was exhausting. I was a single mother long before it was official, and life was considerably harder than I think anyone knew. Now I’m more than ready to kick back and relax a bit and focus on my own wants and needs.

Plus I’m finding that on the “Mother to Adults” side, there are these fun, pleasant people whose company I enjoy without all the work and responsibility. Just yesterday I spent some time in the car with one of them, and I found myself convinced once again that my soul has known their souls for all eternity, and they’ve just allowed me to play the mom this time. And what a precious gift. I try to cup it so gently in the palm of my hands so that they will always know how deeply I respected that—and them.

That’s life, I guess—a constant process of redrawing the line and then learning to dance around it. How lucky that drawing and dancing are two of life’s greatest joys.

Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive. ~Leslie M. McIntyre

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Lesser Known Monday Holiday

Tomorrow is…Melanoma Monday! Woo hoo, you say. I’m sure I can hear you say that. Some people will be wearing orange tomorrow, and possibly a black melanoma bracelet. I haven’t decided yet if I will participate only because I don’t own a lot of orange. It’s one of those cruel ironies that I do happen to look good in orange if I have a tan—and I really haven’t had much of a tan in years.

In honor of Melanoma Monday, I’ll tell you the story of getting mine diagnosed. I hear more woo-hooing, don’t I?

It’s pretty well known that it’s important to have “ugly duckling” moles checked out. But mine wasn’t terribly ugly. And it wasn’t what I’d call a mole. It was just a tiny, figure-eight-shaped spot that appeared several years ago and was different from everything else I have—and there’s a lot to choose from. It had two melanoma markers right off the bat, though: asymmetry and uneven color distribution.

What shook me awake—in more ways than one—was the nightmare. In it, I was sitting on the porch of an old college roommate on a warm summer evening in shorts when she very gently told me I had something that I needed to have a doctor look at. When I looked down, I had two, four-inch-long mushrooms sprouting from my leg in the shape of that figure eight.

It was the nightmare that spurred me to make an appointment to attend one of those free skin cancer checks sponsored by a local hospital.

The doctor took a quick glance and told me it was nothing.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Because it doesn’t look like anything else on my body, and clearly I have a lot on there. Do you mind looking again?”

She was probably in her late twenties. I know what it is to be young and not taken seriously by patronizing people over 40, so I’d tried to be very, very polite. But she let me know by not looking at the skin thing again that she was offended that I’d question her abilities. “Really,” she said. “It’s nothing.”

“But it’s asymmetrical,” I said. “And varying colors. And it just appeared and is getting bigger.”

She carefully explained, in a tone that let me know just what she thought of doddering middle aged laypeople with weird things on their legs, that discolorations such as mine can appear “even as we age,” and they are nothing. “It’s okay. Really.” Clearly I was overreacting.

Except I was reluctant to leave. It slipped out. “But…I had a nightmare.”

“Oh.” she said. “A nightmare! Well.” The look on her face let me know just what she thought of nutbags like me and our nightmares.

Over the years, doctors two, three, and four said something similar, though most weren’t quite as snide. 

So when I thrust my leg at Doctor #5 and she used the “M” word, I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. When I told her about the four other doctors, she said it probably wasn’t cancerous then. Apparently benign stuff can and does just become cancerous. I didn’t tell her that Doctor #4 was only a few months ago. I was afraid she thought I was being litigious or something. I wasn’t. It’s just been frustrating is all.

What I’ve learned is to tell, don’t ask, for a biopsy if something doesn’t look, feel, or seem right on your body.

So anyway, happy Melanoma Monday. Whether you wear orange or not, please do wear your sunscreen. And remember the melanoma markers are as simple as a, b, c, d, and e:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape.
  • B is for irregular border.
  • C is for changes in color.
  • D is for diameter (but don't wait until it's bigger than a pencil eraser if it's of concern to you—I think no one took mine seriously early on because it was so tiny, but obviously catching it early is what saves your life).
  • E is for evolving.

If you find out next week that you are terminally ill—and we’re all terminally ill on this bus—what will matter are memories of beauty, that people loved you, and that you loved them. ~Anne Lamott, Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith