Sunday, June 24, 2007

Excuse Me While I Melt The Sky

If you don't care to read about the trials and tribulations of late-middle-aged womanhood, skip this.

Shall we proceed?

I think I have less estrogen in my body these days than Arnold Schwarzenegger. He certainly has bigger breasts than I do, although that's not a medically-recognized test for estrogen levels.

Having hot flashes is, however, a general indication that those womanly hormones are running low. I've been having hot flashes for about seven years now. Seven years. Maybe longer. I'm not sure because another one of the side effects of menopause is memory loss.

Yes, there. I've said it. The "M" word. I hear that back in the old days (like three years ago or something), polite women didn't mention menopause. They went through it, they suffered in silence, or they went to the doctor, they got on hormones and all was well. Prescription estrogen made from the urine of pregnant mares flowed through their systems, bringing them relief from hot flashes, hair loss, memory loss, and so forth. Eternal youth thanks to pregnant horse piss!

Then they did a study which showed the women on these hormones suffered high rates of heart disease. Women were taken off hormones in droves. Some women (like me) never got on them. As anyone who's read my blog knows, I am not one to embrace technological answers to life's passages. I had three of my four kids at home. Now, if there had been some sort of complication in my pregnancies and births, I would have been in the hospital quicker than you can say internal fetal monitoring. However, there wasn't, and so I didn't go to the hospital and I was very happy with that decision. So when the "change" started to occur, I decided to just go with it. Let nature take her course. How bad could it be? My own mother never had a hot flash in her life. Probably all in the head, and all of that.

Yeah. Right.

I must take after my father's side of the family because as I said, I've been having hot flashes for over seven years now. Not the horrible ones that make you have to change your sheets at night, but they are certainly bad enough to wake me up sometimes as often as ten to twelve times a night to throw off my covers and lie there sweating, which I think is highly unfair, having finally gotten to the point where my kids (ages 18 to 31) all sleep through the night on their own, thank you very much. I also get them during the day. All day. I get them in yoga class, while I'm cooking, while I'm walking, while I'm eating, watching TV, writing, reading, driving in the car, taking a shower, talking to people...okay. You get the point. They frequently come during emotionally intense situations as well as in physically intense situations.

If you've never had a hot flash, they're hard to describe. Sort of like someone suddenly set your internal thermostat at 1098.6 rather than 98.6. But first, before the temperature change, I get a sudden feeling of complete and overwhelming despair and anxiety. What is wrong with me? I think. I must be going crazy! Or maybe the world is ending! Then I become insanely thirsty while at the same time I have a sudden urge to pee. A bad one. Sometimes I also feel as if I don't eat something right that second, I'll die. My stomach clutches in emptiness and that blood-sugar-hittin'-the-floor feeling comes over me. And THEN, I start to feel as if someone had thrust me into a blast oven.
Oh yeah, I think. I'm having a hot flash.

You'd think after seven years of this, I'd have a clue when I get the feeling of despair, but no, it always comes as a shock, the whole entire sequence of events.
It's just the weirdest darn thing.

So I've tried all the "natural" remedies. Soy, plant estrogens, Chinese herbs, exercise, flax seed, thinking cooling thoughts, etc. Alcohol and caffeine are supposed to exacerbate the situation but I don't generally drink during the week and have noticed no relief Monday through Thursday and I will probably never give up caffeine so let's not even discuss that.

Honestly, nothing seems to help except hand fans, which I keep stashed in every room of the house, the car and in my purse. There's a certain sound I make when I'm about to have a hot flash. My family knows this sound and, bless their hearts, start immediately searching for the nearest fan to hand me. Then I flail the fan as fast as I can while simultaneously ripping whatever clothing I can spare off my body. Pretty sight. Also, my skin turns red, especially in the upper areas and sweat begins to pour off my body.

My doctor, trying to be reassuring, told me that only fifteen percent of women have hot flashes into their eighties. This is reassuring? I mean, how many women make it into their eighties to begin with? I had no idea until she said this that there was even the vaguest possibility that these moments in hell could last forever. Now I know they can and IT DOESN'T HELP.

What I really wonder is how women managed to get through menopause without killing themselves, their husbands, children, or random strangers before air conditioning. I think about the women who lived in this house back in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and all the clothes they had to wear and all the work they had to do. I garden, but if I don't get a crop in, no one starves and I don't have to wear flannel underwear in August while I'm hoeing. I have water at the turn of a tap. I don't have to haul it or chop or haul wood. I don't have to milk the cows or take them out to the pasture. I don't have to make preserves or can food and if I do choose to, it's not over a fire and I can turn down the AC while I'm doing it. I don't have to make my own soap, walk to the store or wash my clothes by hand in water that I hauled, heated on a woodfire, and then poured into a washtub. I don't have fourteen children.
But women, back when this house was built, did.

Actually, I have a theory that women aren't supposed to go through menopause at all. We were supposed to die in childbirth with our seventeenth or eighteenth child. The women who survived having all those kids and who made it to their fifties were tough old birds. Tougher than John Wayne ever was, I'll tell you that. They didn't need no stinkin' hormones.

And speaking of hormones, I just heard that the most recent, recent study disproves the whole heart disease hormone connection. In fact, hormones may even protect the heart.

What the fuck???!!!

At this point, I think I'm just going to trust my instincts and try to tough it out like those women of old. So if you see a woman in the grocery store, turning scarlet and perspiring like she's just lifted a burning car off a child, it might be me. Or it might be some other woman who is going through menopause.

Be kind to her. And by be kind, I mean, ignore her. Try not to stare if she suddenly takes off her blouse in front of the canned vegetables or runs to the frozen foods section and sticks her head in the ice cream freezer. Just know that she is using more restraint than most of us will ever know in simply not screaming her lungs out in frustration.

I actually have another theory which is that all us baby boomer women having hot flashes is contributing in no small way to global warming. So maybe, if I went on hormones, I would actually be doing the planet a favor?

I'll think about that.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I had a yen to go Goodwill shopping yesterday. I love Goodwill and thrift stores in general and I take this as being driven by my god-given gathering gene and since it's thrift stores and not the mall, I only feel guilty about the time I'm wasting, not the money.

Lately, however, I've felt as if I honestly have everything in the world that I need. From yard implements to clothing to kitchen utensils to funky artwork- I'm pretty well stocked and my gathering needs are generally satisfied between Publix and my garden and a local U-Pick blueberry patch.

Still, though, every now and then I get the urge to go treasure hunting. Who doesn't? Don't we all dream of finding treasure in unlikely places? The mall is no good for this. When I go to the mall, it's with a specific item in mind to buy and I hope to find it quick and get the hell out of there. And if you go to Gap, you're only going to find Gap brand. If you go to a department store, you're still only going to have so many labels to chose from, but honey, thrift stores have ALL the brands.
Of course, you have to look to find the good ones, but there's just a real thrill in finding a dress that you know sold originally for $120, nestled in there with the Walmart crap, all of it going for the same low price. "Come to Mama!" is what a friend of mine says when she finds something like that and I tend to scream a silent SCORE myself.

There's a certain meditative peacefulness that comes with thrift store shopping. Goodwill employees never ask you if you need any help and the day I'm at the cash register with my goods and the girl behind the counter asks me if I've found everything I need is the day I quit going to Goodwill.

I always start out on the outlying areas of the store, breezing through the furniture and books and kitchen goods because you don't have to be in the zone to go through those things. But that's where I start getting concentrated, focused. And then, I move on into the clothing. I like Goodwill because they arrange the clothing by color. This makes things a lot easier. If you're not ever in your lifetime going to wear a hot-pink shirt, no matter how fine the fabric, no matter how high-faluting the label, you can just skip right over that color and get on into the crimsons. Frequently though, I find myself getting into a zone with it and go through the beige (life is too short for beige, folks) and hot-pink too.

I love getting into that zone. It's the meditative part of the process. It takes a few minutes to get there, but once you do, you can zip right through an entire rack of clothes, pausing only when you find something that might be interesting. I have to touch every garment. I know in this day and time of having to disinfect our poor skin every time we touch something that another human might have touched, this sounds nasty but I've not gotten sick yet and I won't buy any garment that doesn't feel good, so touch them all I must. Sometimes I'll stop and examine a garment because it's just so damn ugly I can't believe it and I shudder with shame for the human race. There are certain labels I see in every thrift store I shop in, although I'm not sure where they're originally sold, making me suspect you can only buy them in thrift stores. Here's another mystery: you will always find something that has an owl on it in thrift stores. It could be a macramed owl, it could be a laminated-on-a-board owl, or a plate, pillow or mug with an owl on it. You can bet your bottom dollar on this, which I find strange since I don't see that many owl-related items in real life.

So anyway, yesterday I went to that big Goodwill on Pensacola, which is way out of my way, but it's the biggest and I have found some tasty items there in the past. I found some nice cloth napkins, I found a great apron, I found a terrific cigar box still smelling of tobacco, wood and shellac. All of these went into the cart. Then I hit the clothing. It was sort of disappointing, although I did overhear a few interesting conversations, and this is another thing I love about thrift store shopping- eavesdropping. I heard a woman tell another woman that she was a "dead-on size six." I raised my eyes from the rack of dresses I was going through to look at her and I truly wanted to say, "On what planet would that be, lady?" but I did not as that would have been impolite and I try my hardest to be polite in most situations. I've heard some great conversations at Goodwill. Far, far better than anything you'll ever hear at Banana Republic, believe me. In fact, I think one of the things I like about thrift store shopping the most is that it's a great place to be around people without having to actually interact with them.

So I ended up yesterday with the napkins, the apron, the cigar box and a dress that I may have actually donated in the first place. I don't really think so but God, it seems so familiar and with my memory, it's quite possible. I was a bit depressed, not having found any real treasure, but then ducked into the Good Cents portion of that Goodwill where they sell things by the pound. Seriously. And what did I find? A pair of brand new men's cargo pants, exactly my size, and in a style that I know for certain is still in the Gap store. Ha! I love men's cargo pants. They're the ultimate pants for me, comfy and with lots of interesting buttons and fastenings and all those pockets on them. And I love how men's pants come in sizes determined by inches, not that fake women's sizing where one label's size six might actually have fit that self-deceiving woman I overheard and another label's size six that would be too small for Kate Moss. Okay, maybe not Kate Moss, but you know what I mean. No, a 28-inch waist is a 28-inch waist and that's reassuring somehow.

So I was happy with my pants and my other booty, too. It wasn't a great day at Goodwill, but it was a good one and it got my gathering ya-yas taken care of for probably another month, at least, leaving me free to stay at home and waste my time here, with the added benefit of spending absolutely nothing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Reality Check Please!

After those last few posts about child-bearing and how amazing and holy and wonderful it is to be a mother, I had a real reminder of what it's like to actually have a child (or children) around the house 24 hours a day and the experience sort of kicked my ass.

Let me just say that my youngest is eighteen so it's been quite a while since I was the actual mother of an actual baby or toddler. We can all do that math. And I remember it as being fairly difficult and thinking that if I didn't get some sleep pretty soon I might die. And I do remember having a very real fantasy, detailed and rich, about what I'd do if I could get away and spend a night all by myself in a hotel. I mean, I knew what the bed would look and feel like, I dreamed about those curtains that don't let one slip of light into a room, I even knew what the soap would smell like if I got oh, say 18 hours to myself to bathe in privacy and sleep an entire night.

I'd say this was strange, but I've heard other mothers report the same fantasy. Forget Brad Pitt, if most mothers of small children had the opportunity to spend the night in a hotel without their children, they'd opt for the time in sweet, sacred solitude.

So I know it's hard but like they say about childbirth- I had sort of forgotten the pain.

A friend of mine who has two children, however, stayed with me this past weekend while our men went off to the Father's Day fishing tournament and all of a sudden, the whole business of what it's like to have little ones came back to me with startling clarity. And let me just say this- it's harder than hell!

This friend is an amazing stay-at-home mom and her children are two-years old and five months old and boy, does she have her hands full. Her husband is out of town more than half the time with work and she is mostly alone with the children. Frankly, I don't know how she does it and weirder yet- I don't know how I did it.

Her children are darling and smart and cute and wonderful and I love them so much I could die, but the amount of care they take is positively mind-blowing. If the two-year old isn't crying because she needs a nap but thinks she wants to watch Shrek for the eighteenth time in three days, the baby is crying because he can't get his hands and mouth on everything within eyesight. And babies have really good eyes, let me just say. And a much longer reach than you could possibly imagine that anyone with six-inch arms could have.

Over the course of the weekend, we made about a thousand snacks, cleaned up about fifty spit-ups, cooked about thirty regular meals, did about twenty-two loads of laundry, got the dogs off one child or another (my dogs love babies) at least once every ten minutes, sang songs, read kid books, filled the kiddie pool, went blueberry picking, went to Lake Ella, experimented with what a five-month old could eat, watched the aforementioned Shrek over and over and over, and went to see a production of The Three Little Pigs in Monticello. And I was totally exhausted and the mama did at least ten times the amount of all of the above than I did, plus nursed the baby and changed the diapers. One or both of them would be in tears and she'd look at me and say, "Who knew?"

I think that's the thing- if anyone really knew what taking care of babies and young children was like, they'd say, "Uh, not for me. Thanks!" I mean, this friend knows what hard work is. She worked in the very real world for years before she had children and handled that fine. Now, however, she walks around from one crisis to another with a look of baffled exhaustion on her face, wondering how in the world she'll get to bedtime without jumping off a bridge. And yet, nothing in the world makes her as happy as the sight of one of her children smiling and she thinks (she thinks she thinks, anyway) that it's all quite worthwhile and she wouldn't trade a minute of it.

I kept telling her that it would all get easier and it does. Sort of. It gets different, anyway.

And as they grow up, you do get more sleep.

But the whole experience reminded me of why I prize my time alone so much and fight for it so fiercely. Why I am still exhausted. Why I can't always follow an entire thought through from start to finish. I mean, I had FOUR kids.

They left yesterday when the men got back from fishing, to go home to Tampa and my house is once again relatively quiet, the dishes are all washed, there are no bits of zwieback glued to my shirt, and once again I can be ignorant of the line-up on the Disney channel and can cook a meal without worrying about stepping on a baby playing on the kitchen floor. I miss those babies and I'm so glad I got to know them and hug them and love on them and be with them and their mama for a few days. It was a wonderfully chaotic and terrific few days.

But boy, am I glad I've been there and done that and that it's someone else's turn now.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Birth Day

It’s the thirty-first anniversary today of the day I became a mother. Which means, of course, that it’s my oldest child’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Hank! How in the world did you get so old?

My kids’ birthdays are very important days to me. In some ways, they are more profound than my own. I can’t remember the day I was born, so when I celebrate that, I am celebrating a rather fictional event. Of course I WAS born, and of course it did happen and I have heard tales (my grandmother was so excited on the day of my birth that she walked through a plate glass window and the woman never had a drink in her life as far as I know) but I have no memories of the event myself.

But I can certainly remember my own children’s births. The cliché of I can remember it like it was yesterday is not a cliché here. It’s only the simple truth. My first memory of after Hank was born is of the doctor holding up my child after my 28 hours of labor and me, understandably, reaching for this miracle I’d produced while the doctor screamed, “Don’t touch me! I’m sterile!” Of course he wasn’t. You can’t actually sterilize a birth field, but he was pretty convinced that if I touched his rubber glove, something awful would happen. I did touch him, trying to grab my baby, and he swore a bit and had to change gloves after he handed Hank not to me, but to a nurse.

Bah! No wonder I had the rest of my children at home.

I took that baby home just a few hours after the birth, which was unheard of in 1976. They brought the head of the nursery in to dissuade me from such a foolish and irresponsible decision. She leaned over my bedrails and said sternly, “Now listen. You’re fine. You could go home right this second, but we need to keep watch over your baby. A lot of things can go wrong in the first twenty four hours.”
“I know,” I said. “But we’re going home.”

Next my OB came in. “Now listen,” he said gravely, “That baby is strong and fine and could go home right now. But I’m worried about you. You bled more than you should have. You need to be watched closely for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Whatever,” I said. “We’re going home.”

And we did.
And I didn’t bleed to death and friends came over to meet this new baby of mine and Hank actually laughed outloud when the young daughter of a friend of mine tickled him and talked to him in kid-speak.

All was well.

It was a beautiful day, that day. Every day that I gave birth was a remarkably beautiful, holy day and I remember every one of them and I like to celebrate them. I’ve made a lot of birthday cakes for these celebrations. By my estimation, I’ve made well over eighty, just for the four kids. And that’s one way to celebrate.

But I like to celebrate by myself some, too. I like to dress up, put on some pretty jewelry, spray on a little perfume, honor myself for bringing a life into the world. I remember well the feeling of being reborn myself after each child’s birth- a most amazing feeling, as if I’d come back from a perilous and hazy place to find myself whole and safe with a precious new life that I’d retrieved from that place.

Today I’ve found myself with a few moments alone, which hasn’t happened much recently, but something that I prize immensely. I’ve hung the clothes on the line and done a little yoga. I’ve read a bit of a magazine and had fresh blueberries on my cereal. I haven’t taken a shower yet or made the cake or started the bread for the birthday supper, but I have time. Just sitting here in my office, writing this with the doors open and the fan on, my dogs napping on the rug behind me- that’s a luxury and a joy, albeit common ones and giving birth is the most common thing in the world. We all got here when our mamas had us. Duh. But it’s like I always thought when I was in labor- how can the regular, normal world be going on it’s normal, regular way when this, this, is happening? This unbelievably painful, powerful process?

And yet it does. The world is going about its business right this second as thousands and thousands of women all over the world, in city hospitals and in mud huts and in jungle clinics and in European bedrooms and in boats, in beds and on floors, on straw and on fine linen, awake, unconscious, in pain, in bliss, in joy, in fear, in complete awareness and in complete ignorance, struggle and breath and bleed and labor to give birth.

Right this second, there is a cry and a woman is reaching out for her baby.

I would wish for her that whoever is holding that baby smiles at her and hands her the child so that she can feel him, smell her, welcome her with kisses and with sweet milk and loving gazes to the planet.

I honor that woman and her child, just as I honor myself and Hank and I say, Welcome to the world, newest life on the planet! Let it all begin again. Birth for the baby, rebirth for the mother.
I celebrate you. I celebrate us all, each and every one of us the most common, prosaic, amazing miracles you'll ever see.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Baby Birds

A pair of Carolina wrens makes a nest and raises a brood in a plant on my back porch every year. I guess it's the same pair. I can't really tell. They enter and exit the porch through a tiny dog door and of course it's an event every year for us to watch them making the nest, sitting on the eggs, then feeding the babies when they hatch.
But the biggest, most fun day is when the babies leave the nest. And today is that day. Luckily, I saw what was happening and closed off the porch to the dogs because they've been known to scarf a baby wren if given the chance.
So right now I have three babies, clustered up next to the dog door, although I have opened the big screen doors wide to allow them easy exit. There were four, but one has already figured it out and has flown off into the big wide world. The parents are still bringing the other three tender bugs and are trying their best to coax them on outside.
It's a process.
And one that I, as a parent, certainly recognize. I keep wondering if all of this is making the mother anxious. Does she worry that at least one of them will refuse to leave? Does she secretly wish that all of them would stay right there where they're safe and where she can continue to ensure their good health and nutritional well-being with tasty bugs? Does she worry about their safety once they leave the porch and thus, her ability to watch over them and care for them?
Or is she thinking, Damn, I wish these kids would come on and figure it out. I'm ready for a stiff drink and a long nap?
Oh wait, those are all my thoughts when my babies are trembling on the verge of leaving the nest.
It's exciting and it's stressful. For all concerned.
And it can be extremely entertaining to watch.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Crazy or Not? Talk Amongst Yourselves

I have always been a home-body. I am happiest at home and that’s all there is to it and I have a home that’s worth loving and easy to be happy with. It's almost 150 years old, built of the kind of wood you can’t find anymore, and my feet love its floors and my eyes love its lines and my soul loves its porches where I sit and ponder the ancient oak trees that certainly fulfill my need to be in the presence of something holy; something far older and bigger and more important than I am. I also have my yard and my garden and I like to walk the roads around the neighborhood and through the woods. I see deer and I’ve seen foxes, hawks, Mississippi Kites, rabbits, snakes, and possums.

I like my neighbors, the ones I know and the ones I just sort of recognize. We all smile and wave here, in this little village. Smile and wave and say a “how-you-doin’?” “Good, me too.”

Really, this is just about all I need for entertainment and lately, it’s been harder and harder to leave home and go out into the world. Sometimes when I do go out, I get a little anxious, wishing I could be back home, surrounded by the things I love. Of course, I still do go out into the world. I shop, I go to parties occasionally, I meet my kids for lunch, I go out to supper with my husband, I go to yoga, I go to the library.

But I'm just so content, right here, that I’ve been wondering if I’m suffering from a sort of agoraphobia or if I’ve just become enlightened and realize that everything I need is truly right here at home.

I don’t know. Have I allowed my life to get too small, too bordered by my walls, too protected by my trees? I think life is all about balance and I don’t want to get too out of whack. I don’t want to be that crazy old woman who never leaves her property. I want to see friends and be in plays and go visit Wakulla Springs and Dog Island, and maybe go shoot pool with my kids or at least play the jukebox and drink a beer while they shoot pool.

And I’d like to visit other countries and other cities with my husband. We’ve had those dreams for a long time and I need to hold on to them.

But Lord, it’s hard for me to leave this place. I sit on the porch and listen to the wind in the pecan trees and the owl hoots from somewhere in the yard of the church next door and I'm just so happy.

I guess the best thing is to go off once in a while, to have adventures in strange and beautiful places, to meet new and interesting people, then come home again where I am most comfortable, where the spirits of all the people who have lived here keep me company as I go about the life I've made here.

There's nothing wrong with that. I just have to remember that the going away makes the coming back even more precious.

And then go.

So I can come home again.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

My God, it finally happened. It's really rained. I haven't heard the stats yet, but I'm guessing an inch or two, which is wonderful. It took a tropical storm, or perhaps a depression, but that's all right. I'm thinking that in a day or two it's going to look like a newer, greener, world. And in the meantime, it's cool, it's damp, and the sound of rain falling on the tin roof is music to my ears.

My greatest wish is that we can stop making rain (or the lack of it) the main focus of our lives and find something else to talk about. But in the meantime, while it's still a huge and delightful novelty to have water falling from the sky, let me just say that none of us should ever take "normal" rain patterns for granted and yes, this could be a metaphor for much of what we experience in life.