There are a lot of words pinging around in that space inside my head -- sometimes they come together and make some kind of sense. When they do, I put them here, to make room for more.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Little Boy Growing

My son is trying to grow up.

He’s almost twelve, and he is spending his summer staring over the precipice of his teen years, trying to figure out just how to make that leap into adulthood. Deciding what to bring with him, and what to leave behind.

Yesterday he spent the day cleaning out his room, something I can tell you he never, ever does, working hard to turn it into a “bachelor pad”. His words. Into the pile of discards went the oodles of webkinz obsessively collected for their keys to the internet, the stuffed animals he bought with his own money and which then crowded his bed at night, the electronic toys he begged for at Christmas and birthday time and maybe played with half a dozen times. Bits and pieces of his little-boy self, filling bags to be taken – where? Who takes this stuff anymore?

And in their place he set up the mini pinball machine, the dartboard, the basketball hoop. He got rid of the magician’s kit but kept a deck of cards. If he had his way, there’d be a mini fridge and an ice cream maker there, too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

When they’re babies, everyone tells you to “cherish every moment; it goes by so fast”, but honestly, that time just crawls by. Minutes tick into hours, and days fold into weeks, and still they’re just babies. Every day seems like an endless cycle of feeding, naps and diaper changes, no end in sight. At least, it did to me.

But now time is like a train, gathering speed as it goes, and I can’t make it slow down, no matter how hard I try.

I can see him daily waffling between his little boy self and this older, taller version, navigating emotions he doesn’t understand, wanting to be cool but still needing the reassurance of an occasional hug. He carefully combs down his hair every morning, rebuffs my morning kiss, but still sleeps with one stuffed animal. He pays attention to what other kids are wearing and loads up his iPod with tunes from Ke$ha. But this morning he hesitated next to the big bag of discarded webkinz, and asked if it would be ok if he kept a couple. Just as mementos, he told me.

He is standing at that precipice, and it looks a little scary, and it helps to have a few friends.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading the obits

Ok, so one of my guilty pasttimes (can’t really call it a “pleasure”) is reading the obituaries. It’s a little sick, I know, but I also know I’m not the only one (you know who you are out there.) And I don’t know what it is that fascinates me so: is it finding the cause of death and thinking, phew, I don’t have that (yet)? Or consoling myself with the fact that they were really old and lived a good, happy life? Or maybe it’s seeing their list of accomplishments, measuring myself against that, and wondering how many more years I have to have fulfilled as much.

Whatever it is, I keep doing it, and I’m particularly drawn to the younger people, the ones who got less than what I think should have been their full share of life on this earth. Although my wise friend Michele once told me that “we don’t all get eighty years; for some of us, a far shorter time is still a full life.”

So of course a few days ago I read about a 40-year-old woman who “died suddenly, by accident, on Martha’s Vineyard”, and had to find out the rest of the story. It was awful, and tragic, and it happened as she was doing something we all could be doing: riding her bike with her family on a beautiful vacation day. A freak accident, where she lost control while riding on a sidewalk, and a tractor-trailer just happened to be right there, and she hit it and was killed instantly. Talk about bad timing, which of course sounds flippant, but what are the odds, really? And am I the only one who plays out these gruesome scenarios in her head when going about my mundane life? Planning for the tragedy that may never occur, but is always lurking there, as it was for this poor woman.

And then I also think about what she left behind: a devastated family and co-workers, people who adored her, who said she brought a smile to their faces, who described her as loving and vivacious. And, being narcissistic, it makes me wonder what people would say about me if the same were to happen. “She was nice, but kinda selfish.” “I think she yelled at her kids a lot.” “She was very impatient, especially while driving.”

I thought about this a few weeks ago when a friend called me because a coworker of hers was killed accidentally. The woman had been rushing to work, crossing the street, NOT in the crosswalk, when she was hit by a car. A mother of two who had a few hours before that, I have no doubt, been spreading peanut butter on bread, brushing hair into a pony tail, taking chicken out to defrost. I imagine her kissing her husband good-bye, while racing out the door to drop the kids at daycare, impatient to unload them so she could address the work issues awaiting her. Which, of course, she never got to address.

And as unsettling as that whole scenario was, it wasn’t the thing that so undid my friend. When she read the obituary, it was clear this woman had been a paragon of virtue: not just because she volunteered in all the little ways many of us women do, but she had gone so far as to implement a program in her local hospital. She had taken an idea and fleshed it out and given it life, and now her community was a better place.

“She has a legacy!” my friend moaned. “If I were to die tomorrow, what would they say about me?? That I showed up for work every day??”

Which is really what it comes down to for me: am I living a life I would be happy to see written up in an obituary? Because you just never know when the grim reaper could come for you.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The cost of a good deed

I recently did something I thought was a good deed: I registered my bone marrow. I had been meaning to do it for awhile, and was walking through the mall when I saw a table, with nice people collecting cheek samples. So convenient, and so simple, really. Especially since they can now do it with saliva, instead of the far less enticing blood sample.

Did you know only 30% of people needing bone marrow can find a match from among their relatives? That leaves a whopping 70% to look to the rest of us for their chance at life. So it really did seem like something I ought to do.

The nice-looking young woman behind the counter had me fill out some forms, then instructed me on the correct way to swab the cells from inside my cheek, and in a matter of minutes I was done. And for my trouble they gave me a lovely synthetic tote bag with the obligatory t-shirt inside. I left feeling I had done a good thing.

But a few weeks later I received an email from this particular bone marrow registry, informing me that "if a testing laboratory has billed your insurance company for the testing of your sample you may receive an Explanation of Benefits advising you of these charges." And the following day, I did indeed receive an EOB, and found to my surprise that the amount they charged for tissue-typing my cheek swab was a whopping $4000.

Shocking, especially when you consider that the average cost for this type of test is $52. I wonder what the other $3948 went to?

When I called the bone marrow registry to express my astonishment, they rushed to assure me that this wouldn't actually cost ME anything, and if it did, they would cover those costs for me. They apparently have donations for that. And they claimed they had told me they would be charging my insurance company, and it turned out they were accurate here: they had placed a postcard in the bottom of that "gift" bag. However, nowhere on that card does it say $4000, or, in fact, ANY amount they might be charging. And as I informed them, I don't generally spend $4000 without knowing about it, and without at least enjoying the experience.

What the postcard did tell me was that "legislators in several states...have passed laws that make it mandatory for most insurance cover HLA testing costs for its members who volunteer to join a national donor panel...The insurance company will reimburse the laboratory at a contracted rate." A contracted rate. I find it hard to believe that my insurance company, so quick to discount any other medical service I receive by half or more, would pay almost 90 times the cost of simple tissue typing. It just doesn't add up.

And while I know that, right now, I didn't have to take a dollar out of my own wallet to pay for this, it's exactly this kind of inflated pricing that makes all of our insurance rates go up. And that's what really gets me. They like to say "this won't cost you a thing", as if there's a mountain somewhere with a big pile of money in it, and they're just making sure they get their piece of it. But that big pile of money comes, of course, from you and me, and when someone else takes more than their share, that is less for the rest of us, and we all have to pay more to replace it.

This bone marrow donor registry raped my insurance company, and me, and has now left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. And sadly, I will now think twice before doing another good deed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time it was

I was thinking about when the internet first became a thing -- scary that I actually remember that. The IT guy at work was tricking out my computer to give me access, and I remember him looking at me as he did it, and saying, "You won't believe what a time-suck this will be!" He had no idea. This was well before YouTube and Facebook and Twitter. Heck, it might even have been before Google, though I'm not sure I remember a time before Google.

At the time I thought I just didn't have any extra time to waste: I was there to get my work done so I could leave on time and get home to my brand-spanking new baby. This work/life balance thing was already straining my limits; I really didn't have more to give. How wrong I was.

I recently spent an hour updating my LinkedIn profile page, fine-tuning it to be attractive to employ-mates. I obsessively check my email account to make sure I'm keeping up with the flood of messages that pile in from friends, coworkers, school, as well as all the businesses spamming me with the latest sales and deals they have to offer. I regularly drop into my Facebook page to check the status updates of my 437 "friends" that scroll incessantly down my "wall". And I just spent forty-five minutes navigating Twitter, searching for interesting people/groups/things to follow, and learning how to manage my account.

Because I just joined Twitter, and now I'm trying to figure out how this latest time-suck fits into my life. I can't imagine what exactly I need to say in 140 characters or less, much less who might want to listen to it. And if I decide to only use it to follow other people, I have to ask myself, who or what is so important that I need to hear from them multiple times a day in tiny little spurts? (Besides my spouse, that is. Goes without saying.)

No wonder I'm so anxious all the time: there's too much information to process, every minute of every day. I heard noted women's doctor Christiane Northrup speak a few years ago; she was saying that our psyches are built to process all the information of our village. But now that village has expanded, beyond the confines of our neighborhood, our town, our state, even our country. We have the news of the whole world at our fingertips, and our poor psyches are completely overwhelmed. I don't recall what she said we could do about it. I'm not sure she even had an answer.

But I remember when the blinking light of the answering machine, indicating at least one unanswered voicemail message, seemed like a lot to have to deal with. And that was for the one phone on my one desk. And somehow, I've managed to fold that time-suck, the internet, into my daily life. I just wonder what other meaningful things have gotten lost in the meantime. Because time only expands so much.

Monday, May 3, 2010

No news

I really want to cancel my newspaper subscription.

Seriously, how hard is it to get it here in time for me to read it with my breakfast? Apparently very hard. Which is really a shame, because it's not as if the news is breaking: it's already more than 12 hours old by the time the printed word hits my driveway. In fact, if I've watched the news the night before, I've already seen the major stories, and can find anything else I want to know on either the ever-resourceful internet or the morning news shows.

And with the incredible shrinking size of the daily newspaper, one might ask why I bother at all with the printed word. The short answer: I like to read. I like to peruse the headlines, find the stories that interest me, then read until I've read enough. I like time to process what I'm reading, instead of having the news flung at me by a reader in real-time, when they don't always know the extent of the story. I like articles that have been thoughtfully researched, have a beginning, middle and end, and offer a complete picture.

I like to be in control of which stories I read and which I skip entirely, instead of having to listen to everything and tune out what I don't like. I want to learn about what's happening in far-off places, or not. I want to relish the advice column, play with the crossword, and amuse myself with the comics. I want to start with the front page and read my way, front to back, through the entire thing, even if I'm running late and racing through it at record speed. Although if it got here when it's supposed to, I wouldn't have to rush.

So even though I'm frustrated with the lack of timely delivery of an outmoded news delivery system, I'm not quite ready to give it up completely. Especially since, every morning, I have the satisfaction of watching my children devour it as well, developing their own relationship with the printed word. And I just can't deprive them of that.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

For a mother

We are mothers.
We get up.
We wake up.
We make breakfast.
We pack the lunches.
We fight over clothes.
We make suggestions.
We hold our tongues.
We grit our teeth.
We take a breath.
We find missing books.
We shout in frustration.
We rush around.
We close the door.
We breathe.
We make the plans.
We make the beds.
We buy the groceries.
We drop off the dry cleaning.
We repair the bike.
We help out in the library.
We go to the committee meeting.
We sneak in a workout.
We call the other mothers.
We bake the treats.
We walk the dog.
We clean the toilets.
We breathe.
We drive to the school.
We drive to the sports field.
We drive to piano.
We drive to ballet.
We drive to the library.
We drive home.
We supervise the homework.
We ask the questions.
We raise our voices.
We try to listen.
We chop the veggies.
We make remarks.
We criticize.
We wipe the table.
We load the dishwasher.
We feed the dog.
We argue over homework.
We get exasperated.
We hold our tongues.
We say goodnight.
We say I love you.
We give the hugs.
We shut off the lights.
We hope it’s enough.
We breathe.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Another milestone

We sold the swingset today. The one we bought eleven years ago, when my son was a newborn and my daughter an energetic 3-year-old. She was so excited to see it in the store, then watch her dad and friends assemble it in the back of the yard, strategically positioned in the shade. Such a great distraction, to have a playset outside, providing me respite from entertaining them for awhile.

Of course, at first I was part of the play at the swingset: I was required to push the swing and supervise the sliding. Drag them down, in turn, from the ladder at the side that connected to the top. But as they got older, they mastered more of it on their own, turning parts of it into a fort and other parts into a "horse" stable.

But in the last few years, it has sat unused back there, collecting sap and dirt, no longer necessary for swinging or climbing or pretend play. And now, thanks to craigslist, some other small children will get the chance to slide and climb and pretend.

And as I watch these new people load and tie down the set, I try to muster nostalgia and regret at the passing of time, the aging of my children and, of course, me. But honestly, I am so damn happy to get that eyesore out of here and reclaim the back of the yard. Oh, and the money doesn't hurt either :)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Coming around again

A few years ago I went shopping for a new skirt -- I needed one for a special occasion -- and the nice lady at J. Jill picked out a few for me to try on. Imagine my surprise when I tried one on that was EXACTLY THE SAME as one I had owned in 1979! Yes, it was the same circle cut, pseudo-suede, dirndl-waisted skirt, right down to the russet color. I was surprised it looked so good after all this time -- and how had it found it's way back from Goodwill, I wondered. But of course, it wasn't the exact skirt, just fashion's way of reinventing itself. Again.

Then this year the flat-heeled boot came into vogue, the kind you tuck your pants into, and I wanted a pair. And when I went shopping at Marshalls to find them, I knew them at first glance: they looked EXACTLY like a pair I had owned in the '80's. Which of course made me realize, I should never have gotten rid of them in the first place. And now I see that ballet flats are all the rage; yes, the same ballet flats I gave away ten years ago in favor of the kitten heels that had come into vogue.

All of which makes me wonder, why DO I keep getting rid of these things? Because there is nothing more annoying than buying the same article of clothing over and over again. If I hadn't tossed them in the first place, I could smugly pull them out of my closet now, looking very fashion-forward and feeling virtuous for having saved all kinds of money. Instead, I listened to the organizer people who counseled me to purge my closet of any item I hadn't worn in the previous twelve months. It seemed prudent advice, given that my closet is not that big, and that I persist in buying new clothing. And of course, it's impossible for me to predict which exact items I will need for my future fashionable self.

So it looks like I will continue to prune my wearable items, and continue the cycle of re-buying what I've already owned once. If only I had saved those stirrup leggings; I have no doubt they'll be back soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oh my eyes!

So I've noticed, since I began needing reading glasses, oh, about three minutes after turning 40, that my eyes have been getting progressively worse. This is really depressing. Especially since my grandmother, who is 96, has only just STARTED needing glasses to read. What's up with that?? I comfort myself by attributing my own diminishing eyesight to all those years spent reading in dim light -- while hearing my mother admonish me that doing so would "ruin your eyesight." Guess she was right on that one.

It wasn't so bad at first: I bought a pair of inexpensive readers at the local dollar store, and pulled them out whenever I needed to read the small print on the medicine bottle. The part that tells you the dosage. That progressed to needing them to read the newspaper, then the computer screen, till really they pretty much spend the whole day sitting on top of my head, waiting for me to need to read ANYTHING.

The dilemma, of course, is that I don't need them for anything BUT reading. Which makes following printed directions while driving especially challenging. I put them on to glance at the directions, whip them off to peer through the windshield, back on to check the directions -- well, you get the picture. And even worse is the tiny screen on my cell phone: I flip it open, click to the contact list, then squint and try to make out the names. Scrolling through the list, I think I can just see the letters enough to identify the name, choose the number, and press "send", praying that I'm calling the actual person I need to talk to. It's like phone roulette. Seriously, it's hard to look cool using your cell phone if you first need to root around in your handbag for the reading glasses that have migrated to the bottom. It's hard to look cool any time you have to perch glasses on the end of your nose and peer through to read the screen that your teenage daughter can see in dim light.

Of course, it's even less cool to ask said daughter to read the screen FOR you. I guess it may finally be time to get those bifocals...sigh.