Saturday, June 22, 2002

What I Heard

A few weeks ago I let a minor hearing loss in my right ear escalate to complete deafness and minor pain. "Hmmm," I pondered, "maybe it's time to have this checked out." The gravity of my situation paled in comparison with my firm desicion not to drive to my good reliable doctor in San Diego. Too far, especially in Friday traffic. So, aided with my trusty phone directory I procured an urgent care clinic. Good enough. Naturally there was a long waiting room delay and my three sons were dismayed to find that the television was permanently programmed on 'Health Watch TV." Two beautiful physicians dispensed thoughtful medical wisdom like; 'wear sunscreen everyday, bran is your colon's friend, look both ways before you cross, and feed your children.' Max tugged my shirt sleeve, "Did you feed me breakfast? How about lunch?" Once your children can count and speak, you can't get anything passed them. I promised them food after the appointment.

Other than being bored, it is only fair to credit the boys with exemplary doctor office behavior. They were sitting, reading and discussing good lunch options, when the doctor let herself in. I always extend my hand to introduce myself to anyone that proposes listening to my heart and knowing my weight. She hesitantly accepted my greeting, but all the while watching my boys, and then she gestured as though to indicate a litter, herd, or flock, she asked, "Are all of these yours?" Dang, lady. You'd think I had a dozen shoeless kids running around the examining table. I laughed, "ya, ALL of them." The rest of the visit was classic medical paternalistic wham bam, and then she let her medical assistant shove a prescription in my hand. I actually had to find the doctor in her office and request the diagnosis.

The pharmacy is well stocked with all the things you didn't know you needed, and toys, which three year olds are sure to remind you they 'very much need.' I made yet another futile attempt to find the ideal moisturizer. It has to have spf, anti-aging, and be nongreasy, good smelling, inexpensive, but not cheap. I like the ones that don't do animal testing, clog pores or have ingredients that once were animals. And I really enjoy that rush of social activist empowerment that comes from buying "All Organic." I may have been close, but my hope of ever having a beauty regimen was foiled again.

I was dragged to the toy aisle. "Let the negotiations begin!" Alex, our accountant, reasoned that he could buy a toy with his own money. Fair enough. William has learned to reason that there isn't much point in settling for a toy you don't really want and he chose to refrain from spending the last of his cash. Excellent. Max would take it all. He barely laid his eyes on the first toy he embraced, and moments later cast aside for "the one I actually want." Initially Max comes off as greedy as any child his age, but he is equally as easy to satisfy with the smallest token. I knew we could count on stickers to delight him. The sticker rack was a visual feast of color and graphics. He grabbed Darth Maul, saber poised, and glaring viciously. I offered Blues' Clues. He considered thoughtfully and replied, "Star Wars is cool." No sooner were the words out of his mouth, when he dropped Darth and reached for baskets of kittens and puppies. "Aren't dey soo cute?" he cooed. Very nice.

Back at the pharmacist's counter, with the boys in tow and reminding me that I still haven't fed them, the clerk is checking on my prescription.
I was tired, hungry and frustrated that every sound came as though through a wall of yogurt. The children were hungrier and quickly losing orbit. I had more errands to run. My husband would be working through the weekend, again. The kitten needed booster shots. And then the clerk uttered the words that inspired this very anecdote; "Wait here. She'll be here to counsel you in a moment." In the smallest fraction of a second my brain construed a couch and me lying on it, in a room of tasteful and reassuring decor. There may have been music, soflty playing. And the psychologist, wise and kind, understanding my challenges and emotional scars, began to dispense her counsel. She would sympathize and have marvelous, genuine solutions, remedies and encouragement. She would unravel the mysteries of my psyche and reveal the intricate and infinite hidden talents, long suppressed by life's mundane burdens. "Counseling, " I marveled to myself, "what a relief." My revelry was interrupted by a voice, "Have you ever used ear drops before? Be sure to use them for the full ten days, and if you aren't better, you might want to try something else."

My health insurance copay is ten dollars, and I think that is a small fee to pay for a good laugh, which is why I think I will borrow some of my friend's children and go back to that doctor at urgent care with at least half a dozen kids in tow. I'll be sure they're real hungry, and proudly claim, "They are all mine."

Thursday, June 20, 2002

When Whining is Fun

It ought to be as easy to rejoice as it is to complain. Complaining and 'suffering' are frequently played like social sports; I have seen myself and others compare burdens, and measure stressors against our peers'. A neighbor with a terrible plumber, can barely finish his tale of woe, before we are at the starting line to share a tale of even greater injustice.

Most often I enjoy hearing and sharing anecdotes about bad traffic, rude waiters, unexpected delays, and the occasional 'awful flu,' but only if, in the end, I can laugh, even just a little. Incessant whining does not count. One of our worst vacations ever included a flooded hotel room, 100 degree temperatures without air conditioning, stomach flu, a hurricane and closed bars because of elections in the town. This trip has provided me with 15 years of 'Olympic quality, competitive tales of suffering.' And as miserable as the trip was, (never do Baja in August) I love that I have those memories, and pitiful stories in my arsenal. They are an enormous source of humor for me, and even joy.

I pause to consider; how can suffering be part of joy? I think it is because, when we live to tell our stories and share our burdens we are able to overcome the initial source of stress and telling the tale is a modern day rite of passage, a declaration of personal triumph and a reason to rejoice. When I complain, I am, eventually, aware that I am about to learn something about myself or the world, or that I have at least lived to tell another tale of survival.

This all serves to remind me to acknowledge those wonderful times when there is reason to rejoice without having to hassle with setbacks or frustration. Today the landscaper took the blame for a Home Depot errand I messed up. He needed 90 degree clean sweep elbows, in gray 3/4" PVC and I brought him 45 degree elbows. He offered that he should have been 'more specific,' and his kind remark led me to offer, "Let's agree to share the credit for the good ideas as well as the bad ones." Mission Pools is shining today as well. They are here 1 week earlier than projected and putting in the rebar.

So, while they have all amused and annoyed me at times, I must say that, the contractors and crew have been hard working, kind spoken and a reason to rejoice. I rejoice in our health, and in the nearly infinite choices we are blessed to enjoy. I rejoice in the diesel, dirt, noise, and decisions, the dust, boulders, suggestions, criticisms and trenches. All of this, the good and the bad, the dusty and the muddy, and all of us working together, will result in a beautiful yard, with grass, flowers and fruit, children swimming, shade and really good stories to share for years to come.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Like My Prayers

Yesterday, my Grandmother and I sat at the back porch, looking east. The heat of the day had passed, and there was a sweet breeze moving the air around our legs. Most evenings, spring through late fall, hundreds of crows migrate across the valley and sometimes even settle in our pasture. Their flight path is as wide and long as a road and almost as black. They are sleek, so black they shine blue, and they gossip loudly, carelessly. Did you know a group of crows is not a 'flock,' but a 'murder?' Sometimes they do seem fairly sinister.

When the sun is setting, we enjoy the light that is played on the eastern hills and distant mountains. Houses too distant to distinguish during the day, reflect little beacons of gold from the light of the setting sun. There is no clock to count the minutes by, the phone may ring, but that's what answering machines are for. Only the gentle, gradual change in light and color marks the closing of day. All is cast in the breeziest rose petal pink, then, in a breath, time that passes unaccounted, the hills are a purple haze, as though dusted by a veil of grace.

Sometimes the very air around us is like a prayer. It sustains us, and it carries the voices of the trees that sway in its breeze, the voices of children and chickens. It is constant, but sometimes so entwined with our busy lives that we fail to hear its softest supplications, feel its healing caress. Last night the air was humble, yet generous. Grandmother recalled the stories she dreamed of as a child, Max danced and sang for us, Grandpa laughed. William and Alex ran and played, and lived in an unconscious state that marks the very sweetest part of childhood. The air was like my prayers; full of laughter, gratitude, play, and memories, it carried earthly voices and was aglow in purple.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Dust and Diesel

Contractors and work crews. Dust, diesel, PVC and trenches. They have us surrounded. In a courageous attempt to conquer our yard we have hired Mission pools, Leon Landscaping, and Absolutely Accurate-demolition. They each demonstrate astounding confidence in their own skills, knowledge, strength, wisdom and ability to do anything better than the 'other guy.' Evidently my own understanding of flora, design and general survival skills are somewhat lacking. They take great pride in contradicting my choices and opinions. Geoff is not immune either; apparently most of what he knows is 'a nuisance, trivial or plain ignorant.' They even laughed at our tractor.

I want a yard that is low maintenance and drought tolerant, but they show me gardenias, rhododendrons and topiaries. I have enough trouble finding time to get my own haircut, shower and take vitamins; I don't want plants with needs more pressing than my own. When I call a plant by its common name, they correct me and offer the Latin name. Likewise when I throw out the Latin name they give me a pregnant pause and a patronizing grin, "oh, you mean daisies?" I just told the pool salesman that I want to contract the deck work with our landscaper, rather than him, and he insists that was his suggestion from the beginning. My memory is challenged by his remark, because I recall that from the very start he wanted to do all the concrete work. He made quite a presentation promoting himself as the best candidate to finish the pool deck, as well as redoing all the existing patio. Now that he knows I have found a better deal, he can't help pleading a case for my failure to heed his 'actual advice.' If this is confusing, just remember: 'if it is a good idea, it is theirs, and if it is a bad idea, it came from me.'

For twenty years Geoff and I have been the 'Dynamic Duo' of do it yourself projects. He has a vast capacity for learning new skills and executing professional level jobs. What I lack in ability, I make up for in perseverance, hot glue and really good chile rellenos. It has worked for us. Now we are stepping aside and letting the experts step in. We have to remind ourselves that our help is mostly not needed. I sign checks and Geoff wistfully watches the heavy equipment and digital surveying gadgets. All in all, the process is almost as entertaining as it is stressful, and I do manage to find opportunity to laugh quite a bit. We have all been riveted by the challenge of removing the 50 ton boulder from the middle of the pool. Again, each man has been supremely confident that either he could get that s.o.b. out, or that the 'other guy' could not. In the end it took 3 different approaches, and we got half of it removed. Now we will have a bench constructed around the remaining shelf of granite. Sometimes God makes design choices for us. Geoff came home from the office to watch the big Caterpillar dig out the remaining rock pieces, and I'll be signing an addendum check for extra gunite, rebar and deliniation tile.

The chickens are bigger and more boisterous. The boys are healthy, riding bicycles, making movies, drawing tractors and growing. I drove the tractor down to the pasture, scooped a bucket of soil and brough it up to fill my whiskey barrels. Now I have planted zinnias, basil, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini and Anaheim peppers. When the yard is finished, I will grill chiles outside and fix my husband and friends a platter of chile rellenos. Life is so very sweet.