A fit, followed by a fit of optimism

At right, from Mama’s cellphone camera: Sister lords it over the brother at the YMCA’s Kindergym.

First the bad news: I cannot report on it today, because I missed yesterday’s symposium on the 21st Century Family, hosted by Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. I could blame myself, but I’d rather blame a cascading series of mishaps that were (it goes without saying) beyond my control.

That cascading series of mishaps were (honestly) triggered by an unholy combination of the following: the addition of a second child to the delicate balance of our household childcare ecosystem; which imbalance is magnified in turn, at least for the time being, by the fact that this childcare ecosystem is managed by two people who both want to (a) pursue meaningful employment outside the for-profit world, ideally in community-based arts and social justice organizations, yet still (b) give meaningful energy to parenthood at the same time, which is not an impossible undertaking, perhaps, except that we find this idealistic path littered with snares and potholes and such by the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My hometown, I might add resentfully, which was at one point marginally affordable. Now not so much. And did I mention the ravages of The Menopause? That’s got to factor in somewhere. Particularly when things are going awry, which they are wont to do, even under the best of circumstances. For those of you not The Menopause-savvy, the equation goes like this: Things Go Awry leads to Hot Flash leads to Things Going Awryer. Plus also my dog died. Who cares if it’s seven months ago (tomorrow). She marked time with me and unconditionally accepted me for some fourteen years, so she might as well have slipped away yesterday, especially when Things Are Going Awry. That’s when you need your dog. I mean, it’s not like stuff like that doesn’t drag behind a gal like a garland of so many spent dog food cans, a kind of mournful variation on the “Just Married” car decoration.

Oh, the garlands we all drag behind us, sorrow and joy and hardship and perseverance. This is why people weep at beautiful music. The music may have a depth, but if it is done right, what it touches is deeper still. I learned this when I was moved to tears, against my will, while listening to gospel music at a Redwood Records Music Festival, oh, twenty five years ago. That was after my first loss. Each one, at the time, felt like an amputation — love here, love there, then love again — and then I realized they were all rehearsals for the big one, which was my mother’s death. And then, unthinkably, about a dozen years after that, my sister and I discovered that our mother’s death was itself rehearsal for my sister’s son’s death. Not in our worst nightmare would we have imagined such a thing.

The good news? Well, the symposium I missed yesterday was videotaped, I learned from the kindly Executive Director of the Greater Good Science Center as we talked in the emptying hall (it’s not like I didn’t haul my sorry arse over there even when I knew I’d just see people filing out of the room: it was an accomplishment simply to get to the room). Of course the director was kindly. Would you expect any less from a think tank with a name like that? I’ll post the link to their video, which they’ll be posting to their website.

The rest of the good news is that I did not miss the symposium because I was with my daughter in the hospital, which a friend was all this week. The Good Book says that “all things work together for good” (to them that love God, is the rest of the phrase). Well I don’t know about god (that makes me an agnostic, which works just fine with the Buddhism), but I do love people, and I hope all things work together for good for my friend and his daughter in New Jersey, and I hope the best for my sister’s family thirty miles south of me; hell, I even hope the best for my various lost loves, wherever they may be. I can say that my first love and I refound one another as friends, and she was there with us on the eve of my mother’s death, and my nephew’s. If love works like I think it does – like equilibrium — you never really do lose it. You just misplace it for a while.

12 thoughts on “A fit, followed by a fit of optimism”

  1. Friend, I am sorry that you are having a rough time. I hope this particular one is not too long, and that all that wonderful juicy love that surrounds you helps make it easier.

  2. Dear LD,

    I have been reading your site for months, even though I am not a parent and, now happily married to a man, am not even much of a lesbian these days. I could gush on and on about the delight I take in the pictures, the intellect, and the damn good writing — not to mention the judicious heartfelt references to love and peace. It does my heart and brain good. Always, the mentions of your dog make me cry, right here at my office desk. I first realized you had lost a beloved four-footed one (not to be confused, of course) when I saw the picture with the collar in the back window. Just over four months ago, my dearest and I helped our almost-sixteen-year-old boy out of this world and into the next. He was wise and powerful and taught me many things. Rather quickly, we took on a year-old puppy, and I’m taking the liberty here of urging you to consider a new pup, who will not be wise (yet) but who will be joyous. Surely you do not need any new duties around the house, but I am one who was brought up to believe that my dogs cared for and watched over me as a child, as I’m sure the next one — however long from now he or she joins your household — will do for the lil monkey and peanut. In the meantime, good luck with The Menapause and The Meaningful Professional Work and The Parenting and The Photographing and all else, and thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing so much with all of us procrastinating workers out here.

  3. Thanks, Liza. The juicy love is what keeps us getting up in the morning all right, and I am infinitely grateful both for its presence in our lives, and its health (in fact, it was only just now crawling all over us and singing silly songs). I find inspiration to go on from one of the greatest films of all time, Young Frankenstein:

    (Scene: Igor and Freddy Frankenstein — Victor’s grandson — are at a graveyard, exuming some sorry corpse for their human animation scheme.)

    Freddy: What a filthy job!

    Igor: Could be worse!

    Freddy: How?

    Igor: Could be raining!

    (Thunder cracks, and it commences to rain in sheets.)

    [Proof of the international appeal of the film, I was able to find my favorite scene, plus the Igor image, from some Italian law student (or professor?), if my one semester of college Italian serves. Grazie agli Italiani!]

  4. And eliza: geez. Thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for the kind words, and the thought that this mental detritus is of benefit (especially to the procrastinators of the world! Unite! We have nothing to lose but our productivity!). I’m very sorry for the loss of your sixteen-year-old dog friend, am cheered by the bright hopeful words about puppy love. Our daughter, when she brings stuffed animals to us in some imaginary story line, almost always includes the descriptior “And they never die.” Seriously. What can we say to her? They do. But a new puppy would fill some of the hole in all our hearts, and show her that even if they die, others are born, and so on and so on, and if we’re all connected, which we are, then it is part of the same gushing stream.

    Thank you.

  5. I don’t think it is true that “you can’t have it all”. I think we just can’t have it all at the same time. You just do the best you can to balance work, kids, etc. Sometimes, it goes better than others. Most of the time, I find myself quite lucky despite Things Going Awyer (mine are always beyond Awry as well).

  6. Had to chime in with some here and there comments.

    We too, lost our beloved “first born” dog, Maty, in April. Really I was her step-Mom, but, it has been surprisingly rough. Just a couple of weeks ago I started crying because I realized we didn’t have to be concerned anymore about the kid’s becoming human lint brushes full of her hair when they wear polarfleece. It made me sad. Something I always complained about, now, I wanted back. We’ve even moved since we had her put down. I’m sure it’s helped some, but it doesn’t seem like it. A few last reminders of her, we’re unwilling to let go of. I’m not talking pictures here, I’m talking about “poop”-bags in the stroller basket. Alas, we still grieve.

    The picture and caption ring so true in both our lives, as our children’s ages are similar as well as the age between our children. Let me forshadow for you, it gets even more interesting! Our youngest, now 16 months, is really beginning to assert himself, which is not always well-recieved by the 3.5 master. Which brings me to my next comment.

    I am still s-l-o-w-l-y reading Unconditional Parenting. I have to admit, it can sure leave me feeling like a, pardon me, crappy parent. And this is only into the 3rd chapter! I HAD to skip ahead to the -this is the way we parent our children- (yes sung in the toddler-tune fashion) part of the book. Listening to their needs, giving kids choices, involving them in decisions(real decisions, not the ones where you really have determined the outcome by limiting the options(all of which you can live with)). Yeah, sounds great. I feel like I do this. Picture this, pick up time, Max is in classroom listening to “story tapes.” I approach, knowing he loves them. He tells me he wants to listen to story tapes, I say ok, let’s listen to one. He says two, I say ok, and establish that after the two stories, we will leave. Problem, he doesn’t leave or want to leave after the two story tapes. So now what? I feel like AK has completely explained the why–which I understand– but not the how to– (ok, could be that I haven’t finished the book). Monday when I went to pick Max up at school he was on the playground. Playing. I have always had the opinion that if I felt it was rude for someone to just come to me and interupt what I was doing and expect me to leave like that, I shouldn’t expect or treat my children as such. So I don’t. However, it’s not like we can stay there forever! That day on the playground, I felt frozen. I felt like, I don’t have any clue what to do. I think to the book. I can think of everything I shouldn’t do, but I feel like I have nothing in my parenting toolbox TO DO.

    Wow. Sorry about this. No need to respond, or to post.

  7. “If love works like I think it does – like equilibrium — you never really do lose it. You just misplace it for a while.”

    It’s lines like this that not only keep me coming back for more but touch my soul and make me think all at the same time. Thank you for writing them down. I get so much from your writing. I am recently divorced. So recent in fact I still wake up and look for him next to me. I lost my 15 year friend Zachary (a very strange beagle) almost 2 years ago. It doesn’t happen every day, but I sometimes wake up and look for him too. Lately, I’m finding it uncomfortable to lose loved ones and not lose the love I feel for them. Reading this makes me realize I am grateful for all these mixed feelings and I hope that some part of me will always wake up and look for all the “misplaced” love in my life.
    Thanks again.

  8. Thank you both.

    You know, MaMaMia, I heard this same kind of critique of A. Kohn from another parent friend recently (Ayelet, who doesn’t update her blog near enough for her stateside fan club). I am overdue on a reread of his book. I read some chapters in their entirety and skimmed the rest, and have since forgotten all but the gist lo these many months out. It seems like with many things, it’s a lot easier to know what not to do than to know what to do. To critique is human, but to construct a workable, compassionate alternative is divine. Whenever I get to the thorough re-read of him (or whenever I find more about the practical alternatives he proposes) I will most definitely write on it. Or stick the essay in that multi-essay holding pattern above my head.

    And dimplecheek. “Lately, I’m finding it uncomfortable to lose loved ones and not lose the love I feel for them. ” So beautifully said.

    This discomfort, needless to say, is the powerful motivation for denial, repression, transferrance, you name it. Staying with that discomfort — Miss Billie Holiday would say, “Good morning heartache, sit down” — is a lot harder than covering it over, but I totally believe that (whenever we have the strength to do this) it is the only way to a better place. Have you read the American Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times? If not, let me suggest it. Here’s the Google page on it, if you’d like to peruse it.

  9. Dearest LD,

    Sitting here at my second of two jobs, which is indeed in the social justice arena doing something meaningful and important even though I got it because I needed the extra dough. Anyhoo, sitting here, dabbing at the eyes, thinking of something profound yet witty to respond with because this post really touched me. I haven’t been able to achieve much coherence, but I give you three chunks.

    Firstly. I can certainly relate to how life/love/all of it comes upon us both all scattered and in pieces and also all at once like a big salty wave and I mostly just wanted to reach out and say: Yes, it’s like that and no, you aren’t alone in your experience of that.

    Not so profound or witty, I guess.. but yeah. Look to both sides as you bob up after that wave knocks you over, look over and you’ll see all the rest of us, surfing along with you.

    Secondly, your column flashed me back to one of my most favorite ever from the great Twisty-verse of female wisdom. YOu’ve probably read it, but here’s the link anyway:


    Thirdly, my first ever “real” female lover was a woman who was a good, good friend and kindred spirit, also-and here’s the “really bad idea” part- a coworker. Long story short, it did NOT work out. In a big colossal way that seemed like the end of the world at the time. MEssy in the extreme, and a lot of it was really my fault. Boy did I have some earned guilt and shame from that. After months had passed, we eventually patched over the worst of it, enough to make polite conversation when we ran into each other, but the friendship was over, it seemed like for forever. Years passed, lives diverged. I moved to NYC, I heard she’d married and later, had a child. A year or so later, suddenly, I began to recieve emails from her. Her husband had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Their daughter was three. She needed to talk. From that, the relationship was reborn and I was able to give her a great deal of support during the year and a half as her husband declined. I don’t know for certain why it was me she reached out to, but I do know that all the shit we had gone through earlier, and the friendship that had been lost because of it, was all part of the foundation for the friendship to pick up again in her time of need. We knew each other in a dark time, maybe it was that simple. And in the reconnection, she got much-needed support and I got a chance for redemption, to make a real amends. That was over a decade ago and we are still close, in that “may not talk to each other for months at a time, but can pick right back up in an instant” way. In fact, during this last dark year of my own, she’s been trying to get me to come visit her and her daughter, has even offered to fly me there. We have each other’s back in a big way.

    So to sum up, in my blah blah kind of way, it’s waves again. Over and over, often when we least expect it.

  10. LD,

    My goodness what a pleasure it is to read your blog. Perhaps the melancholy bug is going around, because I too have caught it. I recently told a friend that I can’t seem to find my ‘up’beat.

    Here’s to you, your beautiful family, and the rest of us spinning on this crazy marble called Earth. Thank you for making this day a little less alone for your readers. Visiting your blog is often like walking into a warm embrace with an old friend, and I thank you for allowing me, as a stranger, to peek into your life and your soul.

  11. Thank you so, Studying Stones. What else can we do but keep one another company? Mebbe it’s the change of the seasons. (Hell, for me, mebbe it’s The Change o’ Life!) Funny you should mention that about old friends. I stuck an ode to an old friend up today, maybe out of a sense that every down beat needs an up beat (with out the other, neither one would actually be itself, no?). Or at least I owe it to myself and anyone that’s reading to remind us about the whole of the arc.

    And VTex: thank you for sharing. Wheew. The thing about waves, man: the same thing that can knock you flat, when it hits you the wrong way, can carry you on a transcendent ride. Heckuva thing.

    By an Aussie chap who likes to surf, courtesy the blogging rights on his Flickr stream. I think his photographs are so beautiful that they ought to have bragging rights attached to them, too, but that’s another matter.

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