Saturday, September 1, 2012

Farewell to another loved one

My friend, Jean Orr, passed away last night. I found out via Facebook, a way which seems terribly impersonal and yet I'm not sure I would have wanted anyone outside of my family to see me melt into tears the way that I did.

Jean was a member of my church, and for the past three years, she and her husband, Floyd, were the leaders of the shepherd group I belonged to. It is the way of our church to rotate shepherd groups, so I've not been part of theirs for a few months. That didn't stop Jean from checking up on me.

Jean had a way about her that few people possess. She was simultaneously no-nonsense and almost psychic in her recognition of pain. This meant that she could spot a false "fine" from a mile off.  When she asked, "How are you?" she genuinely wanted to know, and if you gave a non-answer, she'd call you out with a warm, half-smile that encouraged confidence and enough life experience to really offer answers.

Jean saw us through the loss of Mark, my husband's younger brother. She helped me through the birth of Ducky, and she was the first friendly face I saw in the hospital after my car accident. Jean became a part of our lives and she was there one-hundred percent, available at a moment's notice to help because she looked on everyone as family.

When this final chapter of her life descended, her family asked that friends not visit. She had so little energy and so little time left, that she needed to save it for immediate family. I can imagine how hard that was for her.  Probably Floyd and her children had to beg her to save her energy.  So, the last time I was able to spend much time with Jean was in May.  Pumpkin had STAR testing then, and I had just suffered a seizure, so I wasn't driving. It happened that his STAR testing took place at the church across the street from her home, and I had called to ask if I could spend the time with her and then take the bus home when he was done. There is a bus stop across from her home. But she'd have none of it. She told me she'd drive us home, so for three days, Ducky and I spent mornings with her waiting for the call from the proctors and then she drove us home. In that time we spent, I learned she was getting ready for surgery, to remove some growths that had been found. Getting ready meant rearranging, cleaning, and basically preparing everything so that she would leave things as easy for Floyd as possible. That's just the type of person she was.

Those three days seem such a blessing now. Each morning, we'd take a walk in the field across from her house. Ducky picked up colored rocks and pointed to plants, and she answered endless questions. Meanwhile Jean and I talked about everything: her marriages, her courage to take her kids and leave when the first marriage really bombed out, sewing for money when work was hard to find, the incredible love she had for Floyd, her admiration for Floyd, her love for her children, and her fears for the surgery.

After the walk each day, we'd rearrange furniture, clean out things, and prepare. She wanted meals ahead and she wanted her bedroom rearranged so that she could convalesce easily. Her house was already immaculate by my estimation, but she managed to find things to take out and dust bunnies in places most people would never think about.  It was then that she gave me a home-made shopping bag full of old magazines.  I used that shopping bag today and thought how it is always going to be a reminder to me of my wonderful friend. I can imagine her clever hands making it. And while some people might prefer a photograph of a loved one, it seems perfect. I picture her face each time I use it, her knowing half-smile, her perfectly groomed hair, a little bit of color in her cheeks from walking, clothing that seemed never to get the slightest bit of dust on it. This very practical bag somehow brings her voice back to me too, the way she'd laugh lightly, or give advice that I didn't even know I was seeking, until she'd said it. "Take a step back, honey. Love them, but don't let them hurt you.
Love can be at a safe distance until it is time to come closer." And Jean would like it that something useful reminded me of her. She was very practical. Despite the fact that she was beautiful and possessed that rare ability to never be touched by dirt or baby handprints, she was not frivolous. She was so practical that she even thought to put pockets in the heavy-duty bag she built.

Jean, I loved you. You meant more to me than you can ever know now. I know we did not know each other long. God knows I would have liked to have you in my life longer. When you reached out to me and my family, you reached out with your whole being, nothing held back whatsoever. That's what I want to be like. In three years, your impact on my life was so great that I am forever changed, and for the better. That's a skill, lady. Maybe the best there is. Sleep well. You've earned it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Common Denominators

You probably remember this term from elementary mathematics. It came up around the time you studied fractions in detail.  When asked to add 3/8 and 1/4, you learned to adjust the fractions so they had a common denominator (in other words, the same one). Once you did that, you were able to discern the total. Ta da.

So this is why hunting for the common denominator has become synonymous with sorting out what issues have in common. This is a double-edged sword because all of my problems have one thing in common no matter which problems we're talking about. Me. I'm always the common denominator.

My life has a recurring theme. People come into my life. I come to love them. I come to count on them. Then, poof! they're gone. Usually that exodus leaves me in a lurch of some sort. Almost always that exodus leaves me a sobbing, sodden mess. It hurts so much that long ago I looked for a common denominator to these painful leavings. Always, the only thing I could find was me.

While sobbing over the latest friend to inexplicably leave my life, I told another friend that I was tired of doing things that scared off people I love and that I wished they'd just tell me what it is that I've done so I could fix it. I can't fix something if I don't know what it is. My friend asked why on earth I should think there is something wrong with me. I told her that I was the common denominator and it turned into some strange conversation where I couldn't quite explain the thinking that got me there.

Honestly, though, this is not crazy talk. There has been once in my life when someone who was giving me the silent treatment actually decided to speak up and tell me she hated that I was always correcting her. I was able to apologize and make an effort to change it. (Cyndi, how I miss you.) She is just one of the many, many people who grew silent and sullen, then disappeared, leaving a giant hole I couldn't quite fill. (Well, in all honesty, Cyndi didn't leave. She did come back around to tell me to shape up. She never quite treated me as warmly though. At least she gave me a reason why.) Sometimes the people involved were even more important than friends. Family members have "dissed" me in favor of friends who eventually betrayed them. In the most painful of those moments, I eventually reasoned out that the friend delivered an ultimatum because we conflicted over something. This is hard for me to understand because if someone delivers an ultimatum to me, I'm contrary enough to bend the other way. "Never speak to Jane again or else we're through" will almost always earn a "bye-bye" from me as I hurry to hang with Jane.

What do I know about myself? I am sometimes abrasive. I don't mean to be but it is there. I've been called a know-it-all enough in my life to understand that knowledgeable is not desirable, unless expertise is specifically requested or unless you are a teammate in Trivial Pursuit. Helping your friends squash other friends in "You Don't Know Jack" is good. Correcting your buddy on his misuse of the word "ironic" is not good.

In my worst moments, I have a terrible temper. I'm only mean if I'm actually scared. Oddly, I can't point to a moment of mean leading to a friend leaving. That would be to easy.

Otherwise, I think I'm generally a decent person. I'm loyal. I'm loving. I don't gossip. I'm creative. I'm reliable. I'm pretty generous. I'm honest to a fault. If I say I'll be somewhere, I will. If some unforeseen act of God bars me from showing up, you will get a call with as much notice as I can possibly provide.

I'm a pretty good listener and I have a fantastic memory, which means that if you tell me that your nephew Joey keeps bugging you for money when you're barely making the rent, I will still know who Joey is a month later when you refer to him as the family sponge. But I won't refer to him that way if I meet him. I'll just help you keep an eye on the silver while he's in the building.

All in all, I think that makes me a pretty good person. So why does this issue keep popping up in my life? Why am I the only common denominator? What is it about me that makes people leave me so easily? And am I inflicting my unknown social failing on my unsuspecting children? Couldn't someone just fill me in?

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm Missing Something

We've hit that time of year again. For us, the real money drain always starts about now -- shortly before Pumpkin's birthday. We've stretched out the tax refund as far as we could (it would have gone farther if not for the plumbing troubles that still aren't fixed) and something abruptly changes at Hubby's work (just like last year). For the curious, he's going to days, which means a lower hourly rate and his location has changed back to Irvine, which is a long drive. We looked at our budget and the new income less the cost of Hubby's commute, then we gasped and realized that it's going to be a struggle. Last October, we had the additional stress of an accident that added a car payment to the load and a dental bill that's crazy huge and must be paid in installments. If the settlement from that accident ever comes through things might get better. I'm afraid to hope.

So here's the thing. We don't buy alcohol: no beer, no wine, no wine coolers, no zima or whatever is the current craze. Neither of us smoke. We don't go out: no date night, no movies, no beer after work with the buds. We rarely eat out. I don't get manicures, pedicures, or even have my hair cut -- I cut it myself with sewing scissors. I also trim Hubby's hair and the boys' hair. We haven't taken a vacation in a very long time. We don't have the dog shaved or fluffed. Our car is washed in our driveway. House maintenance is done by us or just gets put off out of desperation. I don't even spend money on make-up, and Hubby and I use the same shampoo, soap and toothpaste. We do have some challenging diets that can be expensive. And I'm sure the $250 electric bill I just paid did not help any.  But there are plenty of people around us who make less and do all these things. How?

I don't get it. We carefully budget. We do what we can to pay our bills. We do have some credit card debt, but it's not nearly as bad as the national average. Our house payment here is less than at our old house, though I admit it would still make my mom's mouth drop open.  The car payment is $156 a month. That's really not awful, particularly when so many of the people I'm thinking about have car payments in the three-hundred range. What are we doing wrong? How do these people do all these things: go places, have vacations in cool places or have weekend barbecues with all their friends over? How do they afford to have their hair cut at $20 a pop or more? How? What am I missing?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Swear They're Not Always This Loud

What is it about that last hour before bedtime that brings out the little monster in my children? My husband is a day sleeper, and we manage to spend the whole day here, home-schooling, playing, doing chores (or not doing chores) with a minimum of reminders. But in that last hour, after dinner, but before bed time routine, you’d swear I have ten children rather than two. And the older one is definitely the trouble maker.  They haul out the noisy toys (or toys I never imagined could be noisy toys), they bang things, they laugh and clomp down the hallway. Don’t get me wrong, I want there to be laughter in my house. I want them to experience joy and think back on times together that were absolutely wonderful. I’d prefer if those memories weren’t punctuated by constant time-outs and reminders to “KEEP IT DOWN” which always gets shouted, totally doing the opposite of what I want them to do. Damn it, if I didn’t shout, there’s no way they’d hear me through all the noise.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It Won't Leap in Your Hand

For several years now, my hubby has been part of lecturing our son P on how he doesn't "look" for things when he looks for things. For most of that time and a little before, I had always called hubby "the finder" because, when he wants to, he's perfectly capable of finding nearly anything lost. Lately, though, he seems to think items should jump into his hand. He will stand in the kitchen, staring at the messy island (made messy by everybody shifting things around) and say, "I can't find [fill in the blank]." Today, P lectured his daddy on how things won't leap into his hand, and I nearly busted something trying not to laugh.

I admit that when we're hunting for D's sippy, I will go around the house saying, "Baba? Oh, baba?" I don't really expect it to answer -- that's my way of keeping the baby focused on the task of looking for it. If it did leap into my hand, I think I'd flee the house, screaming my head off.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back Pain

I've spent the day in excruciating pain. I went to the chirpractor, got temporarily fixed, and put it out again fifteen minutes later by capturing the baby and wrangling him into his car seat.  My friend C has it much worse than I. She also had a car accident -- years ago. Her back was actually fractured and not fixed properly. She's spent seven years being fed pills instead of having any sort of actual treatment.  So me whining about my aching back proves that I am a wimp. Somehow knowing that doesn't make me feel any more like doing the rhumba or cleaning my house.  So now I'm a wimp with a messy house. Tsk, tsk.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Alas, No Pot of Gold

Yesterday, I saw something I'd never seen before -- the end of a rainbow. I was driving home from Target in the rain. This storm has been moving east, and that was the direction I was facing. Behind me the sunshine had emerged, and in front of me the rain was still falling, creating the perfect conditions for a rainbow. But the way it fell, the rainbow dropped right to the pavement and I could see the whole length.

Rainbows, while beautiful, have never looked solid. I found myself wondering, as I drove home, how anyone ever imagined you could slide on one, touch one or dig beneath one. Did they know the stories they created would inspire children's imaginations for centuries? Did they know the stories and the legends that sprung from them would be the bane of every little person with red hair?