Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Getting What You Wish For

So, after a lifetime of wishing, yearning, praying, scheming, planning for, and hardly ever getting some time to myself, I suddenly have it and in spades.
The baby is off to college. The husband is at work. I have no "real" job as my resume has read "housewife" for many years now. I am trained and licensed as a nurse, but it's been so long since I worked at anything remotely involved in nursing that only a desperate fool would hire me to do anything that involved a "patient". Except to perhaps make a bed or bring in a tray of food. Something like that.
Something, in fact, a housewife might do.
Back in the olden days, when I had assorted children around, some of them still hanging like monkeys on my hip, some of them needing transportation to various lessons, all of them needing breakfast, lunch, dinner and clean clothes, I somehow managed to write a novel. I thought it was a decent novel and I still do. I sent it around and got an actual agent. She thought it was good. She tried to sell it. She didn't. I haven't heard from her in several years now.
This is so depressing that I don't even want to talk about it.
But now I have time to write, right? I have at least four other novels on various back burners, some of them with hundreds of pages in them, a few with actual plots.
So now it's time to get off my ass (or, more accurately, it's time to get ON my ass) and do some real writing. The problem is...
Oh Lord. The problems are so vast as to render me in full writer's block.
My main problem is that even though the children are gone, I am still a housewife. The good, old fashioned kind of a housewife that hangs clothes on the line and sweeps daily and washes dogs and works in the garden and the yard and cooks from scratch and has no dishwasher. And even though I could and SHOULD let some of this go, I have over three decades of conditioning and training in the field and it just feels so wrong to sit down to write when there are dirty dishes in the sink or if the beans haven't been soaked or if the dog hair in the hallway is thick enough to knit a nice peasant-y sweater out of if I'd just collect it, clean it, card it, dye it and spin it into yarn.
Okay. I'm not that crazy. But almost.
And I think I'm afraid. What if, after all that whining about not having the time to write that I needed to do it RIGHT- what if I get the time, use the time, and find out I SUCK?! Huh? What then? Because if that happens, my dearest, deepest non-family related, completely selfish and life-sustaining dream will have been a lie. A pretty little lie I told myself for all those years when I should have been working part time as a nurse so I could make good use of my time now that the children are grown.

Ah me. Ah dear me.

I suppose, since the baby has been gone for less than a week, I need to give myself a little time to settle into this new reality. I need to realize that it's not wasting time to sit out here in my office, dogs scattered around under my feet and in front of the fan, to try and spin words into worlds.

And besides, it's only two thirty in the afternoon and I've already done the laundry, put it away, made up the bed with clean sheets, washed the dogs, done a little sweeping, a little yard work, got the beans and collard greens half-cooked for tonight's supper and taken a walk.
So. It's time.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Haul Water, Chop Wood, Breathe Deeply

The moon must be in the house of Deep Emotion right now. Either that or...

Oh yeah, many life changes are happening here at home.

The last baby left the nest yesterday. After thirty-one years of being a mother with children in the house, my youngest took off to move into a dorm at FSU where she'll be starting school next Monday. Okay. It's not like she's moved to California; she's only a few miles down the road and honestly, she packed like she was going to camp. There must be at least six pairs of her shoes on the back porch alone. And the library is filled with her school papers from last year, her sheet music and I don't know what all. Hell, she still has laundry in the laundry room. She'll be back.
But even if her move is as much symbolic as real, it's still a symbol of the fact that all of my children have, in fact, grown up.


And here I was, thinking that if they really loved me, they'd stick around the house forever.

That's a joke. Sort of. I have a feeling that at least half of them would indeed move back if I gave them the nod. And I'm having a little struggle with myself not to because darn it! I spent all these years learning how to be a mother and then all of a sudden (all of a SUDDEN I tell you!), they don't need me anymore.
Well, they still need me, but not like they used to.

And it's been ever thus. I can change diapers (the real cloth kind with duckie diaper pins) in my sleep in the dark. Literally. And they've all been potty trained for quite some time now. Breastfeeding? I am the Queen of Lactation and yet, not a one of them cares to nurse anymore, the ungrateful wretches.

I can sew cute little dresses, make baby quilts, teach children to tie their shoes, read stories with all the funny voices, answer questions on everything from "why is the sky blue" to "where do babies come from" in a professional manner appropriate to whatever age child has asked the question. I can make casseroles to fit four different types of dietary needs that will feed six with enough leftovers for lunches the next day. I can help with homework, accompany classes on field trips (how many times have YOU been to the Jr. Museum?), teach a child how to bake, make cupcakes for a class of thirty in an hour or less, know just what to do for many various childhood illness, and can charm a toddler into letting me wash her hair.

And all of that stuff I know and can do is rendered completely useless in the life it would appear I'm about to lead now.

When my husband met me, I already had two children so never in our lives have we been at home, alone, for any extended period of time. We've taken some great second, third, and so forth honeymoons but this is completely different. You can't stay drunk all the time, my friends! Well, you could, but I'm thinking it would not be prudent.
The only activity we've really come across that we can do together as a couple together for this new stage of life is....uh, cleaning behind the refrigerator.
We may be in trouble.

But the bottom line on all of this is... if I'm not a mother, then who am I? Oh sure, I'll always be a mother, but let's face it- when they've all moved out, it's just not the same. Should I now go get a job? Who would have me? I have a nursing degree but haven't practiced in about twenty years. I can garden, bake, cook, sew, clean, and just generally tend to the needs of others in many different situations but I don't want to be a nanny, waitress, or cook. I've done all that. And I'm too old.

I guess I have to figure this out. And I'm trying. I'm in a play, I'm taking yoga, I plan on spending all the time writing that I've never had before. Perhaps I can make my lifelong dream of being a "real" writer a reality now. I can be a better wife. I can spend more time doing whatever it is that I really want to do.
I just have to figure out what that is.

And I am so grateful to have this time, really, even though I wasn't quite ready to let that last one go. She never went through the mean, awful years that teens are famous for. In fact, she's too damn sweet by half, and funny, and fun to be with to want her to leave at all. I feel like I've been ripped in half, which doesn't say much for my parenting in this instance. A parent's job is to raise children to the point where they're ready to go out into the world without us. I know that, and I think she's ready. It's me I'm having the big doubts about.

But when I get weepy or worried about what I should be doing, or where I should be headed, or who I should be now I need to remember the lesson I've learned from yoga, which is that when a new position seems impossible and it doesn't seem as if I can stretch into it ever, ever, ever, all I have to do is breathe, and let my body do what it needs to do and before I know it, I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

I'm going to try to stretch my heart and my soul and my life now. It's probably going to feel awkward and strange and hard. But here I am, with breath and with will and a wonderful and loving man and with friends and yes, even with children who live right down the road, and I'm going to do this.
Whatever it is, I'm going to do it.

There may be a little down time. I honestly don't know right this second whether to sign up for an AARP tour of the world, have a drink, take one of those strip fitness classes, or just crawl under the covers for a few days. I swing from wanting to sob my guts out to having small sparks of excitement about what the future holds for me and my husband.

I guess right now I'll go put some brown rice on to cook. A small amount of brown rice. Just enough for two. I can tell you right now I need some smaller pots.

Which doesn't mean a smaller life, does it?
Not unless I make it that way. And I surely don't intend to.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Weeki Wachee- Real Florida Magic

Back when I was a child, back before the Rat ate my state, there were amazing places to visit in Florida and amazing things to see and do at those places. You could hardly throw a coconut patty without hitting a bird riding a bicycle on a tightrope, a bevy of beauties (as they were always advertised) being towed around a lake on water-skis, a monkey riding a unicycle, a Seminole rasstlin' a 'gator, or an orchid blooming fuchsia under a clear blue sky with hundreds of wide-eyed tourists looking on, eager to pay for the pleasure of seeing the unusual, the tropical, the exotic.

There were Stuckey's placed every fifty miles or so on all the main highways. Stuckey's had cool roofs and were great places to stop and pee, get a hamburger and an ice cream cone, buy a rubber alligator and stock up on pecan logs and saltwater taffy to tide you over until the next teal blue roof appeared on the horizon.

These were simpler times and we simple folk were satisfied and even amazed at simpler attractions than people are today. We didn't require monster roller coasters or animatronics. Palm trees and blue water and all the really cool things you could find around them were enough for us. Hell, for most Yankees, the sight of an orange grove was enough to inspire a spate of postcard-writing.

Ah. Good times.

My favorite attraction, far and above all the rest, was Weeki Wachee Springs. My mother, little brother and I went there in the early sixties and that trip remains as one of the best times of my childhood. We stayed at the little mom-and-pop motel across the highway from the attraction and just staying in a motel was pretty exciting. They had air-conditioning!

But the park was amazing. There were gardens and an animal show and even an "authentic" Seminole Indian village with chickees and a little train that transported the tourists through the swamp to look at the village.

There was a terrific gift shop where my mother bought me one of those great necklaces that spelled out my name in golden wire and had a tiny diamond (and I'm sure it was real) dangling from it. Also, a 45-RPM record that played the Weeki Wachee song. "Weeki Wachee is the place to be..." went the tune, and I sang and danced along with that record for years.

But the best, the whole deal, the reason for the very existence of the Weeki Wachee attraction, were the mermaids. There was an underwater theater where the audience was seated and when the curtain was rolled up over the glass wall in front of us, the spring was revealed and in the spring, as the sun dappled the gently waving eel grass growing in the deep bowl of white sand, three unimaginably beautiful mermaids were suspended in the air-clear water, smiling and blowing gentle bubbles. They began to dance and twirl in the water, doing slow-motion, no-gravity ballet and my life was transformed. A lifelong obsession with mermaids began right there that day and I knew that not only were mermaids real, but that there was indeed real magic on this earth and that it all happened underwater. I yearned with all my heart to be a mermaid too, and practiced holding my breath and twirling underwater whenever I found myself in a pool.

I grew up and realized, finally, that I was never to be a mermaid myself. I became a mother instead, and there was magic in that, too. Part of the magic was knowing that I could take my own kids to Weeki Wachee Springs and I did. We must have made at least three pilgrimages over the years to the springs to worship the mermaids and enjoy the animal shows and the Dippin' Dots (The Ice Cream of the Future!). The Seminole village disappeared, as did the little train, but a water park sprang up right next to the theater and the kids loved that. It was always a terrific little vacation and every one of my children fell in love with mermaids and was as enchanted by them as I was when I was a kid.

Last weekend we all went down there together. All four kids, a soon-to-be-son-in-law, and my husband, too, who somehow had never been. We were meeting up with my old friends from nursing school with their kids and we were staying at the motel across Highway 19 from the attraction. The old mom-and-pop where I stayed is long gone. I think it was replaced by a Holiday Inn, which became a Best Western, and now is undergoing renovation by what appears to be an Indian family and I find that a nice, tidy little circle of goodness.

My kids (ages 31, 29, 21, and 18) were all terrifically excited to be going and I was too, although I was worried at what I'd find at the park. The last time I went, back about six years ago, I could see that things had definitely slid downhill and the fate of the park was then in question. It still is. NPR just ran a program about it and who owns it and how uncertain its future is.

It seemed to be holding its own. The gardens were nice, there were still Dippin' Dots (is it the future yet?) and there's a little river-boat cruise and an animal show and the water park seemed very popular.

But the best, as always, was the mermaid show. The magic of that has never faded for me. When the curtain (looking a bit worse for wear, I have to say) is rolled up over the glass and the mermaids are revealed, tears come to my eyes. In this world of high-tech everything, there is something so unbelievably and indescribably beautiful about seeing gorgeous young women, swimming and floating and dancing in the pure, sweet water, connected to life on earth only by an air hose that they sip from to stay alive, to stay breathing in that other world just a few feet away from us as we watch, enchanted. There are few cynics at the Weeki Wachee mermaid show. What is there to be cynical about? No one is trying to trick anyone. No one is making false claims. These women are indeed mermaids. Magical, mythical, beautiful, athletic, graceful, smiling mermaids who dance and twirl and even drink coca cola out of small glass bottles, just like they did when I was a kid.

It was a great weekend. I loved seeing my old friends and getting to know their children and husbands a bit better. It was awesomely wonderful to go on a family vacation with all four of my babies and the man, as well. We visited, we ate, we drank, we swam, we laughed.

But the best, the very, very best, was the moment when we were all sitting, front and center in the underground theater when the curtain was pulled and once again we were able to all be children again, to gasp in wonder at the cold, clear water where three women floated as if by magic, while friendly turtles swam about, and the sun dappled their faces and the white sand, and the bubbles rose to the surface, and one of the mermaids dove deep into the bottomless cave below and we all held our breaths with her as she disappeared from view for what seemed like way too long, and then, like a childhood dream returned, swam back into our sight, alive and well, a smile on her face as her mermaid hair floated around her.

Grace. Grace-full.
You don't find much of that at Disney now do you?

No, for me, Weeki Wachee is the place to be.

Always and forever.
I sure hope we have that option.
What kind of a world would it be for my grandchildren-to-be if I can't take them there when they are old enough?
A very sad world. For me, anyway.
Go. Visit. See the City of Live Mermaids. It's straight down the road. Take a left at the Capitol and keep on going 'til you get there. You can't miss it.
You really can't miss it.

I'm reading a terrific book about Weeki Wachee by Lu Vickers and Sara Dionne. It has the whole wonderful, wild history of Weeki Wachee and I am discovering that the inception of that attraction has quite a few ties with our own beloved Wakulla Springs. And Johnny Weissmuller, too, my own first, best, and always crush.
See? Magic.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Terror In Our Times

I want to talk about terrorism. It's a word that our president certainly bandies about with great abandon on every occasion possible.

"It's a war," he says, with that slurry condescending voice of his, "You don't understand. It's a war on TERRORISM."

Yeah. We do understand, Pres. We remember when the towers came down and when the Pentagon was hit and we also remember you reading the My Pet Goat book looking confused, unsure and as idiotic as anyone on the planet. But hey! We were all confused, unsure and felt like big idiots- wondering what in the world we should be doing about this completely unimaginable event as we watched planes fly into the World Trade Center on live TV.

But oh yeah- we had the sense to stop what we were doing and watch the TV. Right?
But let's get past that.

Ever since that morning on 9/11, our president has used the term "terrorism" every time he wants to push any part of his right-wing, take-away-our-constitutional-freedoms agenda.

"Americans were killed," he says, and I know you can hear that voice of his, even as you read the words. "A-mar-i-kans." "So we need to be able to listen to your phone calls, read your e-mails, peer into your hearts to see if you are one of the evil-doers. To prevent more A-mar-i-kans from bein' killed by the terrorists."

Excuse me?

As if men from middle eastern countries with enough evil in their hearts to suicide bomb American targets with airplanes represented all the terror in the world.

How many Americans were killed in that attack?

Approximately 3,000.

And it was startling and it was unthinkable and I pray we never witness anything like that again.

But how many people have died since then in the so-called war against terrorism in Iraq? If you just count the Americans, that number would be a little over 3,700.
Iraqi casualty numbers are debated. One study showed that as many as 650,000 Iraqis have been killed as a result of the American led military intervention in Iraq. This number is highly disputed and could be as low as a tenth of that.

Still- at least 65,000 people are dead. We'll probably never know the true number. Our government refuses to keep track of Iraqi mortalities. Why?
Can I get a big ol' racist, jingoistic shrug here?

And that doesn't begin to list the numbers of all the other people killed, both Americans and other nationalities, since this whole war on so-called terror was begun. There are the coalition troops, the whole other war in Afganistan, the non-military "advisors" and suppliers and workers "over there" fighting this war on terror. So, just taken as pure numbers, I'd say that since we're the ones over there and we're the ones picking the fight, we're the terrorists.

But that's not really what I wanted to discuss. I wanted to discuss what terror really is. Okay, sure, it's terrifying when giant buildings are felled by planes. We all get that.

But it's also terrifying to get a bad medical diagnosis. Can there be any four more terrifying words than "the lump is malignant"? Or how about "your child has leukemia"? And what if the person hearing those words has no health insurance?

And there's the sort of terror that no one but a homeless woman with children can know. There's the terror a woman feels who is being beaten secretly and consistently by her spouse. Or the terror of a child who is being sexually abused by a family member. Or how about the terror someone might feel when they're driving over a bridge and it collapses? There's the terror of being raped, the terror of getting a phone call that tells you your child has been in a car wreck.

Terror. It doesn't just come dressed in a turban, armed with a box cutter. No, to be human is to know terror at some point in our lives.

And some of it is preventable and some of it just is not.

And I don't care what our president says, you can't possibly hunt out terror and destroy it. Even if you spend over 450,000,000 (that's just so far, folks!) dollars on one little war in one little country and we're not even going to discuss that fact that that country had nothing to do with the terror Americans experienced on 9/11.

But that amount of money would go a long way towards ensuring that every American has health care so that if they do get that terrible diagnosis, they are not left with nowhere to turn for treatment.

It would go quite a ways towards dealing with the aging infrastructure in this country. It would certainly help out with making sure that all our kids get a decent education and so have a way to support themselves, a way to get out of poverty and to avoid all the different ways poverty can be terrible.

That money could go for programs to help children and women who have been abused. It could go for research to help find cures for the diseases that create terror in those who have them. It could help feed the hungry, it could help find solutions for this vast problem of global warming that if we don't deal with RIGHT NOW could very well result in the end of life as we know it.

How's that for a terrifying prospect?

Frankly, the thought that evil-doers are going to bomb us doesn't strike nearly as much fear in my heart as does the worry that one of my children or my husband will fall ill and we won't have the funds to pay for the very best health care we can find. Nor do these evil-doers make me nearly as frightened as is a friend of mine whose son is about to go over to Iraq as a Marine.

"We must fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." So says GW. I keep wondering if the terrorists are going to stow away in our (inadequately armored) humvees when we bring them home, planning to spring out with (stolen from us) weapons in their hands, spraying death and destruction.

I think that our president has led such a sheltered, protected life that he doesn't truly know a damn thing about terror. He thinks it's all about box cutters and planes and evil-doers.

We here in the real world know a lot more. And by God, why in the world we and our congress keep letting this man spend our money and chip away at our freedoms, and sacrifice our children's lives and the lives of countless others, is so vastly beyond me that I can't even begin to verbalize it.

All I can say is that having that man in charge of the free world feels a lot like...terror.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sour Lass

So I went to get new glasses today. I have been wearing corrective lenses since the Lion's Club came to my school when I was in the third grade to test our vision and it was discovered that I could not see the largest E on the chart.
"Which way is the biggest E pointing?" asked the Lions Club Guy.
"What E?" I asked.
"Oh my," they said. "You might need glasses."
Well, in the third grade, I thought glasses were the coolest things in the world. Especially when I got some (blue plastic frames, quite stylish in 1963) and could see the individual leaves on the trees! Wowzer!
Of course in high school I got contact lenses, the better to be beautiful, and I put up with all that saline solution shit for many years, but eventually decided that I was lazier than I was vain, and went back to glasses. Having children had a lot to do with that decision. Mainly the fact that when the opportunity for a quick nap arose, I did not want to have to get up and go take my contacts out, wash them and put them in saline in their clever little holder. Etc.
So anyway, today's new glasses were the latest in a long, long line of new glasses experience for me and I think they're going to work out. It's not a new prescription. I didn't think I was going to get new glasses, just my old ones fixed, but when I went to the optical place (which I shall not name), they said that I could just get a whole new pair! Again- Wowzer! I could have fixed the glasses myself with a spot of super glue, but offered brand new ones, I felt I should take them. I never liked the broken ones that much anyway. And getting them had been a major hassle. Between doctor prescription mistakes and optical technician mistakes, it took me about three weeks and over half a dozen visits to get things straighted out to where I could actually see.
Now, my eyes are old. I have nearsightedness I have farsightedness and I have an astigmatism. So I can see why things might go awry in the glasses-making process. And go awry they did. Over and over and over.
Which would have been fine if the people at the optical place had apologized or taken responsibility for their mistakes.
But no. They did not.
I kept having to deal with this one chick. And maybe it's just our chemistry or something, but she and I were like oil and water. No, that's way too tame. We were like fire and gasoline. Yeah, that's more like it. She evoked an anger in me that was more powerful than the burning surface of the sun. She kept insinuating that there was nothing at all wrong with the way the lenses were being made, but that it was my particularly picky attitude about my vision that was at fault.
"It's hard to get used to progressive lenses," she kept saying. "You have to give it time."
"But it's been a week," I said, "And besides, this is like my third pair of glasses with progressive lenses."
"Hmmph," she'd say, flicking her blonde hair over her skeletal shoulder. This is a chick who (and there is no doubt about this) aspires to be Paris Hilton's twin. She does pretty well at that, too. Except she is about half as fat as Paris and does not have Paris's winning smile or so obvious charm.
And it goes without saying that I got my first pair of bifocals when Paris Lite was still learning that pee goes in the potty.
Anyway, after much struggle and a whole lot of restraint on my part, I got glasses that finally were okay. Not great, but I just could not face going back in that place again. I got used to them.
And I had remembered the difficulties that I went through, getting those glasses, but I had completely forgotten (blocked?) all about the girl who had raised my ire to the point of spontaneous combustion.
Until I went back in today and dealt with her again for about forty seconds.
This optical place has more than one branch and the one I'd gone into for the repair has nice people. Very nice people. And they were the ones who looked up my records and told me I could just pick out a new pair of frames if I wanted and get a whole new pair of glasses. For free! Now they didn't have any frames in the brand that I needed that I liked, so I went to the other branch. Which is where the Sour Lass works. And of course, she was the one who waited on me.
"Name?" she asked, sitting at the computer. I gave her the pertinent information and told her what they'd said at the nice location and she said, "Hmmph," and flipped her blond hair over her skeletal shoulder. "Let me call my manager."
Which she did. And kept saying "Well, she's here wanting a brand new pair of glasses." As if I had come in and demanded a brand new pair of glasses when all I thought I was asking for originally was a spot of glue or something. I mean, those people at the other location were the ones who offered the glasses to me! I kept trying to tell Paris Lite this while she was talking to her manager and she kept giving me the "Hmmph" look.
The manager okayed the new glasses, which I personally think pissed off P.L. "If you take them," she said, "You will be forfeiting any more repairs on this contract."
"When does the contract end?" I asked.
"September," she said.
Since it's August, I didn't think that was such a bad thing. What the hell?
So I picked out new frames and she kept asking if I was sure I liked them and reminded me that it's hard to get used to progressives and just generally annoyed me so damn much that I wanted to pop her head off. This is exactly what I was seeing in my mind's eye. Me popping her head off.
I also wanted to say to her, "Why in God's name would I listen to what you're saying about my vision when you obviously are so dense that you think people can't see where your real lip line is?"
But I didn't say this and I didn't pop her head off. I swear though, I came way too close for comfort. I had two of my daughters with me and by the time our exchange was over, they were cringing and people were starting to stare. And I'm not usually like this. I don't send food back in restaurants, I don't take things back to stores for ridiculous reasons, and I generally try to be as polite and gracious a human being as is possible.
But this girl...
It's weird to feel that sort of self-righteous indignation to the point where it's almost enjoyable. It makes me feel powerful in a twisted sort of way. I can feel myself getting to the point where I am going to start screaming. Doing what I've never done in my life- creating a real scene.
I really didn't know I had it in me until I met this one girl with very blond hair wearing a black pantsuit and pink lipstick that went way past her lips.
And I don't really have a point here. Just...wowzer.
And I'd say "Bless her heart," but frankly, for once, I just don't have it in me.