Category Archives: Laura’s Slices

Letter to myself

I am beginning to understand that, since I work pretty hard to keep a nice home and a good life, I feel threatened by the symptoms of alcoholism.  It is sinking in that it is a disease that can be arrested, but never cured. I am almost losing the ability to communicate with anyone about it openly.  So I write. 

Dear Mom,

I sat by your bed in the nursing home, smiled and said, “Mom, there isn’t any hard liquor in our house any more.  Your wine cabinet is intact,” I felt real hope when we talked yesterday, because we were talking kindly, and because you were realizing that, with your age and medical condition, it is best to outgrow martinis.  So you suggest gin and tonic. And today I wake up at 4 a.m. in a knot.

Your idea to substitute summer gin and tonics for the martinis sounded reasonable, since a G&T takes only one jigger.  However, that would mean bringing hard liquor into the house, which I just explained that I got rid of. I didn’t mean just for this week.  But I said, “We’ll see how it goes, Mom. Take it easy when you come home.”  There is such a thing as taking one day at a time. This morning,  I don’t have much trust in your G&T plan.  Zero, actually.

I feel: Tired of being an enabler.  I deserve healthy boundaries. I am not able to change or fix this.  But I can keep the worst temptation out of our way.  I don’t expect you to consider it love and a gift of care.  This is so hard to say, I have to write it down. 

Mom said, “I did a stupid thing because I was so mad at you.”

Translation:  I got drunk and fell down because you are so uncivil — it’s your fault.

I felt: Demeaned.  I must be a bad person. I am the problem. I should be guilty. So, if you’re not an alcoholic, then you might have a teensy anger management issue.  But I’ll refer to my late brother’s favorite saying, “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”

What if instead Mom had said: “I did a stupid thing because my brain is wired for alcohol. I’ve been fighting with you for weeks because you keep my gin in the basement and count out my Tramadol.”

What if Mom had said, “I got drunk and hurt myself because my brain craves gin.  My pain justifies my drinking.”  But she didn’t.  She blamed me.

I felt:  Wounded.  I did not cause this disease.  I cannot heal it. How can I do my best to take care of her when she sees me as the problem?  Sickened by the images of your bloody forehead, the blood coagulating on your amber pearls, the broken coco-cola glass under the bed.  Your screams as the paramedics sat you up.  None of which you remember, of course, with so much alcohol in your blood.

Mom said: Let’s be friends.

I fear this is the translation:  I’ll be nice to you so long as I am getting my way.

I felt:  Resentment. Yes, without realizing it, I have become resentful of you because it’s mostly about your pain, your drugs and your drink.  Childish of me to want anyone to think about my needs. As a child of an alcoholic family, I am expected not to have needs, right?

My hope: Let’s be friends. I wonder, can we be friends if I don’t drink with you?

What if:  I admit that I don’t enjoy drinking much anymore.  I am ambiguous even about drinking with my girl-friends at a restaurant.  It’s true. I no longer enjoy the effects of alcohol. And I certainly don’t enjoy watching your sharp mind and wit get altered when you’ve had too much.  But that – having too much– is your business, not mine. I can always go to my room.  However, can I plan a weekend away without worrying for your safety?

Consider: Let’s be friends.  That feels good.  I want that.  And then there’s the reality of let’s be mother and daughter, where the grown daughter has to take the role of the care giver. Tricky business.

I feel: Pressure to be perfect. I don’t stand up to you when you start complaining about tiny details of my performance.  How’s the food, here in the skilled nursing facility, Mom?  Looks way less than perfect.  How many days will you remain grateful to be home, I wonder?  I’m overwhelmed at times, but try to be brave. I am your full-time care taker.  I feed you, do your laundry, pay most of the bills, transport you, plan for recreation, and speak on your behalf in medical crises. Note, this is not the life you were living, Mom, when you retired.

And while I’m on retirement:  I need to be able to travel and do things beyond managing my house to suit your needs. I deserve it. I’m going to seek options.

Consider: I don’t want to enable alcohol abuse – drinking which exceeds your doctors’ orders.  Tough love, for your safety and my sanity.  When you come home, you will start doing more for yourself.  The things I do, like serve breakfast and dinner, will be around a normal, reasonable schedule.  Healthier for you and less stressful for me.  You will manage your drugs and your drinking in cooperation with your primary care, heart doctor and pain specialists.  You will pour your own wine, for example.  Monitor yourself, not me.

I realize you may fight me on this one when you feel stronger, and then you might hurt yourself again.  But, don’t blame me, blame the bottle.

I know that I am a nervous, high-strung, flawed individual. But I am trying to live a happy, healthy – peaceful retirement.  I wish we could be done with the drinking drama, but I have no control over what you do.  I can only learn to take care of me.  Today I owe you a big thank you, because taking on the responsibility for your care has caused me to take my own health seriously and change some of my habits.  I am in better shape, thanks to you!

I love you with all my heart. I promise to work on showing my love, on being patient with you and speaking in a friendly tone – and removing myself when I can’t. I’m not superhuman.

Have you considered?:  I have my addictions. My craving is for sugar, not alcohol.  I know that I can’t keep cookies and sweets in my cupboard because, once I start eating them, I’ll polish them off in a day and regret the effects.  They make me want more and more. And it’s a health risk! I can’t serve starchy meals because I won’t be able to stop eating the pasta, etc.  I have a sugar problem. That’s why I changed my pantry and cooking style to stay healthy and avoid the binges.

Translation: When things are too tempting it is best to not keep them around for weak moments, which happen like every other day. I do this because I am learning to love myself! Finally, after only 70 years.

In our house, there’s wine, a little for warming the heart – to drink in moderation. Period.  I understand you have pleasant associations with your evening wine. I avoid wine as a daily drink, largely because I view it as empty calories, and also because I don’t like so much the fuzzy feeling in my brain any more. I keep it for special occasions, when work is set aside and there’s a time to lighten up. My habits have changed over time with age and maybe a touch of wisdom.

That phrase “in my house.”  When you moved in you continually said, “It’s your house…” and you also said how grateful you were to have a daughter willing to give you a home. Over the years, you’ve come to act more as if you are in charge, like we used to joke about how you did at Gary’s. Well, I feel the need to gently remind you that it is my house.  Where I want you to be happy and, if possible, healthy.  Passing away peacefully in your sleep was always my best hope for you when you die; never was it picking you up off the floor holding a sopping towel full of blood against your split forehead and nose.  Not in an ICU with monitors and strangers.  Not with the shame and blame.

I’m sorry you hurt yourself, but I’m grateful you have healed well.  I’m glad we get more life.

Here’s my summation of this recent “stupid thing” you did, Mom. My heart is broken, but I am not. I forgive you and I forgive myself.  

Very sincerely your loving daughter,

L.

END MARCH

The TwoWritingTeachers.com March challenge to blog everyday and comment on other posts ends today. I did not post every single day, for various reasons, but I have enjoyed the reflective moment of doing a slightly revised free write in the evening.

Spring has warmed up and I can sit at my writing desk with my window open to the backyard so that Smoky can watch birds. I can look out with some satisfaction on a lantern bush that finally got planted in the ground after too long a stay in a pot.

Of historical note is that I moved my heritage strawberry plants out of the old fir drawer that has been their planter for — years.

When I separated them, and put them in fresh dirt inside the catio, there are 15 plants in the three clumps. Several are just beginning to bloom. The squirrels, birds, raccoons, possum, and rats will not be munching on them anymore.

It has been a good day of getting things done; buying paint, fixing banners, taking mom out to a coffee shop.

Writing about the insignificant, but with great gratitude.

Collage

A man hunches over a shopping cart

digging in the castoffs

by the freeway

My car zips by.

A boy hunched over an old table

working to read a book

by himself

My heart goes out.

I tugged on the huge multi-limb branch

the redwood tree dropped

by the garden

The saw chewed.

The cat dives up on the card table

over the jigsaw puzzle

by the window

My mom laughed.

The sun came up on time

diving toward noon

by the clouds

My day rolled by.

Check list

So says the blog button. Add a post. Say something. Compose

The thoughts inside my skull feel like the swish of rocks and water when you clean out an aquarium. Full day. What story? What thread? Settle down. Monday…

Ms. J’s 2nd grade classroom, where I volunteer two mornings a week before I scoot off to temporary gigs — reading groups and an after- school writing group.

Today we sat in a circle and Ms. J. handed each of us a copy of the first draft of a piece by one of her students. After S read the piece aloud, we could raise our hand to ask him questions to help him think about revision.

Backstory: The other day, Ms. J. was talking to her students about the writer’s checklist for opinion writing, when S had an idea. “If we use checklists for writing to make it better, what about policemen using checklists when they arrest someone?”

S. read his first draft checklist to us, which included things like “Watch before you shoot” and “Use electric gun to make the suspect idle.” There were ten thoughtful, careful points on the checklist. Here’s the final point:

“First, think if you were shooting your family,”

We asked questions and S. responded, taking most of the conversation as helpful for revision. Some students got so deeply involved in the topic that they formed a revision committee.

S. plans to let Ms. J. type up his final checklist and maybe share it with local police officers.

This young writer and this classroom and this teacher. This is what writing is about.

Weeds

My knuckles and finger joints have had a workout. The nails on my keyboard send signals of tenderness just by typing. The generous rains have supported multitudinous seeds sprouting riotously, filling in between shrubs and every open space with grass and weedy plant cousins.

My hips and lower back are stretched and flexed too. I’ve stooped to pull grasses, bent to spade out clods, and sat in the dirt for hand-to-root combat. I have filled wheelbarrows and lugged them out to the street for the green pickup.

While I was sitting on the front wall, grabbing fistfuls of oxalis with long yellow blossoms, and lobbing them at the parked wheelbarrow, a man and his grown son walked by.

“Your yard is very pretty,” he said pausing by the wheelbarrow. I peered at him from under the funky crocheted hat my friend Sheryl made. The compliment felt nice, but I had to step back, figuratively, and look at the yard from his point of view.

“Oh, thank you,” I replied and stopped pulling greens to smile at him.

“And this years abundance of rain have made lots of weeds,” he observed. The obvious, but said with just a touch of compassion.

“Yes. Well, I don’t need a membership at the gym with all this,” I laughed, waving my hand across the front yard. His son pulled on the golf bag full of clubs and we said goodbyes.

I liked how the man’s simple greeting shifted my view from all-the-work-that-needs-to-be-done to enjoying and appreciating my front yard again.

And yes, I kept at the labor, the stretching, pulling, lifting, and twisting at obstinate roots. The soil was getting dryer in the late afternoon and so not letting go of plants readily. My hands began to ache. It was time to go in and make a thermos of hibiscus tea.

Pre-waking state

I noticed that this morning and last, before my alarm went off, I was dreaming in language, not pictures. Writing in my sleep. I know it is writing because I get through a passage and then re-dream it to revise it.

I was working on word choice, tone and general readability for these pieces which I cannot remember after I awoke. The topics escaped me.

I wonder if this phenomenon comes from finally getting into writing something daily? Paying attention to writing. Perhaps it will propel me into writing longer than a blog post.

The other thing I find interesting about this is that I am a visual artist and usually my dreams are vivid, movie-like scenes or dramas. This author voice-over mode is new.

I wonder, do others dream in words, dream they are writing?

Best laid plans…

While my carpenter and I adapt my sketched plans to the reality of the backyard site and materials, the cat has watched our progress from the window.

Smoky is a rescue and acquainted with street life. When we took him for vaccinations recently, he tested positive for kitty aids. So, immuno-suppressed, he should not go outdoors because he could get very sick. He must remain inside also to not spread the virus to other cats should he be provoked to scratch.

Hence the catio. Here in the bay area, we are feeling spring and I’ve become weary of the relentless pestering of my feline to go out. I am also delighted at the prospect of getting my strawberries in the ground in a protected place. So this project seemed like a good idea…

However, at 4:38 this morning I woke up to the insistent crying — meow, meow, meow — of said cat. As I became conscious, I had no doubt whose voice it was, but it seemed like it was outside, under my window. I sprang for my flip-flops and headed for the back door, opening to rain. Cold, windy rain.

One soggy gray cat came in, hesitantly, meowing weakly. I got a towel and started drying him. He went for some cat food, but quickly climbed up on the blankets on my bed. More toweling

“Well this is just great,” I muttered to no one in particular. “Here we are going to all this trouble to create a safe outdoor space for the cat and he sneaks out (how?) and gets himself a roaring cold. Terrific. A catio and a dead cat.”

This morning Smoky stayed in bed when I left. He stayed on the blankets all day, my mom reports. This evening he got up for awhile but he’s definitely low key. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll perk up.

He has snoozed beside me while I type. And curled back up in a new sleep position. Looks like he’s planning to get better. After all, we have such great plans…

Update: After two days of serious cat sleeping, Smoky was underfoot this evening, watching birds out the window, and acting quite normal.

Pink Slime, etc.

In the morning there was a poem, Crows, which reminded me I heard them on my morning walk, so they’re back. They rule the tall hood trees in summertime.

There was a belated present, my ancient marble collection, put in a drawstring bag I gave a second-grade friend. Never thought I’d say, “Google ‘how to play marbles.'”

Then assisting my fancy friend, a girl in that class, as she wrote to a new penpal in Alaska, I found out I’d just missed her birthday.

“What would you like for a present?” I asked. She could have asked for anything.

She lit up. “Pink slime. One time I saw it and my mom said it cost too much…” I have no idea where one buys pink slime, but I’m on it.

Midday, there were readers, unpacking portfolios and talking about books. It amazes me how quickly they can say yes or no to a book. It is like food. You don’t have to hold cauliflower in front of me long before I say, “Yes, please.” And visa versa with dead cow.

More poems later afternoon. I read aloud from Jacqueline Woodson. The writing club reads some poems. Then they had a go at some free verse. Line breaks and writing for sound and rhythm is new to those trained in complete sentences and paragraphs.

“Well, if you downloaded the lyrics to your favorite song, what do you think it would look like?”

“Oh, I get it,” one smiled.

Over the phone I held my youngest who was in tearful exhaustion, still recovering from the flood. She recounted how her discarded trunk of journals had been returned causing her to have to look again at all her writing of 30+ years. Some pages completely tie-dye ink smears, some clear, perfect penmanship. She wept telling me an entry at 10 years old, sitting on a dock wanting to die. She loves her life! She wept explaining that she bagged them all up again – this time not in a trunk – in white garbage bags and let them go again. She wanted my love and I gave it with phone hugs and listening.

Late afternoon I walked the surprisingly hot neighborhood. Mom asked for “a stiff martini” [limit one] so I went to the basement for the hidden gin. Store bought, not bathtub.

My neighbor came over and agreed to the new fence between our properties. This one will face my yard: he hardly sees the fence with all the giant clay sculptures on his side.

My long-lost handyman showed up after dinner to go over plans and materials for the catio. Clever ways to install the cat tunnel. Fence posts in the morning. Yippee.

And the sky got dark so now I’m thinking my day was like a poem. It was poemish, at least. Topped off with frozen dark sweet cherries.

Relief

The implant my mom had two weeks ago has created a bit of space between her L4 and L5 vertebrae and so the pressure on the nerves stretching down her left thigh is lessened. Her pain has gone from a 9 to a 3 on the 10 scale, most of the time. The first week after the procedure when I brought her coffee in she said, “My thigh hurts, but it isn’t ON FIRE.”

And the better news is that in the next two to three months she should feel better as the nerves began to heal after being compressed for several years.

If she needs it, in three months, then there’s the option to put one more Superion implant – I’m calling them spacers — in at L3-L4, I think.

I have held this intention for over a year, after three different pain doctors and 3 years of ineffectual treatment. My intention, thought during my yoga in the morning, and said aloud at my meditation table was “Relief from pain for D.”

If D. hadn’t gone off her kidney transplant anti-rejection medications, her doctor may not have referred her to another pain specialist. D.’s thinking was, “My kidney has been fine for 10 years, but due to interactions, I’m not allowed to take pain meds that reduce inflammation.”

I knew the new doctor referral was it.

This week D. has daily gone to the end of the block, rested on a wall, and walked back using her 3-wheel “sports cars” as she terms her walker. She walks around the house now without her cane. She isn’t pain free and still takes an opioid, but it is so much more manageable.

The main benefit is that she is mobile. This will bring back muscle strength and allow her to not be so isolated. I know it is a great relief for her. And for me it is a big, huge sigh.

Whewww! Holding my intention for the next three months. But breathing easier.

coffee house

I am sipping rose petal tea lemonade waiting for a friend to arrive at my favorite coffee house. I’m in Saturday mode: I’ve walked two miles, got a large load of laundry into the dryer, cleaned the kitchen, and started organizing things in the basement that have been in disarray since my last painting project.

I soaked in the fresh air and sunshine as I drove across downtown with the top down. This is a day I could have pulled the bicycle out of the garage.

But here I am, in the acoustically raucous Crema. The barristas call out over the machinery and some people are talking at their tables. Others have ear buds and laptops. The chairs out front are filled.

I like coffee houses because they are so clearly about time to think, to talk, to hang out, to read…to study and to meet.

They serve good coffee, although that’s lost on me, a tea drinker gone off caffeine. Still I like the smell of coffee and the bean roasting and grinding. It is a warm social ritual.

I’m meeting a friend who is an instructional coach and librarian who wants to talk about livening up writing in here school. This will be interesting. I have rehearsed one thing, to avoid going into my spiel from years of working this very topic in many school settings.

First I am going to research. I’m going to ask questions. I want to know how the teachers feel about writing? What they do for reading? Why writing? What is the strongest value in your school?

I like coffee houses. I think my friend is here.