Friday, June 28, 2013

Measuring Time in the Year of the Cicada

In this year of the Cicada, 2013, I am marking time of great significance.  Waves of moments flood my vision.  Events, celebrations, beginnings, ends, milestones and tender remembrances aroused through similar familiarities, the scent of lavender and sage, the curl of a tendril, on a small child holding fast to her father’s hand.  The energy and electric charged glow in the beaming smiles of my three now grown children when they are together even briefly in the same space fill my eyes with gladness. The constant flow of the river just beyond my porch, the sunrise and sunset of each new day.

When the cicadas emerged and first made their sound heard, I was recovering from cancer and several rounds of surgery to remove it.  Limited to rest and restrictive movement, time passed slowly in a protected state of reclamation, obscure and measured.  I was surrounded by support and love and nurturance, time-keepers, friends, blanketed from the stress of hours spent in constant motion.  The tympanic lull of the cicada song beat softly in the distance.  My youngest son was rapidly marking time of his own.  He turned 18, emerging as an adult after a lumbering stumble through the awkward push and pull and tug of infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence to begin, a man.  Seventeen and one year has passed for him in my constant care.  He is ready to go, now.

We celebrated this event and passage of time one year passed the last cicada emergence, by going out to dinner.  The restaurant, a twenty minute drive was my first outing beyond mandatory doctors visits and travel by foot to the nearby Hudson River.  I had been sequestered in a city-block square of time and place, unchanging.  When we ventured out, I felt free and a bit unsteady at the rush of sound, and color and life, after my first two weeks held captive in healing.  It was my first experience of the cicadas in this green and verdant valley.   In spite of the fact that I am old enough to have experienced 2.94 cicada periods, I have not lived in the midst of this festival of life and death and rebirth of the Magicicada septendecim, the 17 year cicada.  

As we drove through the wooded landscape that lines the Hudson it was my first time hearing the roar.   The cicadas, barely audible from the safety of my porch, screamed of life.  I smiled widely, my son taken aback, surprised, and then realizing I had been restrained and wrapped in the silence of renewal and repair, smiled in response.  We were sharing these cicadas equally, newly; I had no prior experience or parental leverage.  We had our first shared experience, in innocence, as two adults separated by 32 years.  We spoke of cicadas, and life, and his day, turning 18.  We thought back to where we were 17 years ago, far away and long ago where ordinary cicadas come without such significance, pomp and circumstance, or drumming reverberation.   

We have come far in this time of the cicadas.  And crossed many miles.  Our family structure has changed, broken and rebuilt, his siblings have grown and gone on before him.  His turn is coming, in this year of the cicadas.  As we drive, the roar screams and calms and refrains again.  I smile at the song, the calling out, the demand for more, for Now!  Time, short for these cicadas.  Time, fast, for my son. 

I turned 50 in this year of the cicadas.  How could that be?  I only just grew my own new skin, an adult, emerging from too long a sleep.  My body, hiding cancer, fighting it, recovering from it.  My body changing, ending cycles of time, and cycles of life-giving potential.  Becoming more fragile and stronger, too.  With menopause marking time, roaring and calming, and quieting the hormonal chaos that leads me into the next phase of time.

In this brief moment of time, I have learned to love deeply in many directions.  I have been cared for and loved in ways never before imagined.  I have shed my old skin, and am growing a new layer that fits, smoothly.  In this year of the cicada I have heard the tympanic rhythm of life and death, of love and friendship, of healing and forgiveness.  I have watched the emergence of my three small children, newly born adults set free in the world adrift and apart but held tight by the roar of my heart and the threads of my love, tightly woven into lace, strong as the branches of the oak, light as the wings of the cicada. 

Time measured by healing, and growth, and the roar of life calling from beyond my safe front porch, in this year of the cicada, we will all journey ahead. Safely and loved deeply.

Friday, June 14, 2013

That Great Big Joker In The Sky: Thanking God

There is the belief about God having a sense of humor....And it makes me certain that this God is Irish, because this sense of humor of his shall we say, is dark, perhaps teetering just at sadistic.  Much like Frank McCourt’s humor, these God-given moments can provide tear jerking laughs, the laughs that come so hard you cry in the depth of the darkest times.  Anyone familiar with Angela’s Ashes knows it was not a comedy, but there were times throughout reading that I never laughed so hard at the careful turning of words, and frozen moments in time that were otherwise tragic, except for the glint and devil in the eye of the storyteller and his gift to seize the comedy of life, and death, and all that comes between through careful manipulation of words and tricks of the light that shines upon them.

This was the year I was going to pull it all together.  Stand up after a divorce fashioned not by God, but some much darker being.  This was the year I was going to take stock in what I had, give gratitude, leave a few kind gestures at the altar of survival, perhaps a lamb chop or two, a few sprigs of black cohosh,  maybe a few family photos, from a family I barely recognize anymore, or the fender of my minivan.  Maybe I’ll leave a joke from a friend who hails from Mexico, all in the timing, delivery, thank you Mr. Garcia!....  Gracias........DeNada!   Each time he says this he laughs heartily.  “Thanks”  (ever so sweetly stated, followed by a long pause)  “For Nothing” (loudly growled).   Delivered any other way, “Thanks, It was nothing."

I was going to look forward, only.  I had spent way too long in a place I never wanted to see again.  I was running like those long ago, forever engraved last images of children and families running from Cambodia as the last U.S. servicemen and civilians left, long ago on the news channels of my youth.  Did they look back?  I imagine not for a very long time.  Survival is like that.  Looking back may cause you to perish, misstep, lose your space on that helicopter toward freedom. 

I ran until I could slow my step, catch my breath, take a few long strides and start to walk. I had to correct a few stumbles and stops, in calm and comfort, and look around, you know, smell the roses, breathe in the fresh air, and take stock in where I am, who I am spending time with, and where I want to be headed.  Deep full cleansing breaths.  Smiles.  First one or two, now many, often, frequently.  Get my footing...SLAM! Smack! POW!  Right into the brick wall of....What?  How???  psssst...cancer...psst don’t look now but you’ve been growing yourself a well nourished batch of it right there smack dab in the middle of your face!  Two different types of patches as a matter of fact.  Seems my internal being, neglected to get the message across loudly and swiftly.  What with all that new breathing and smiling and oodles of warm friends that were growing all around me.  And thank God for warm friends!

This slam to the schnozola reminds me that God is a regular old joker.  That I can pretend to think I have some control over my life, over what I wish to see and not see, but he’s got the last say, or the first say, or some long list of obstacles and hurdles with my name stamped in big BOLD writing waiting to unfold and reveal themselves to me.   It reminds me of those catchy little phrases that we hold on to, to push us through these times, “God only gives you what you can handle”.  UNCLE!  I give!  I’m not really that tough, it’s an act, an Irish thing I have going with stoic aplomb.  It’s all Blarney!  Do I start honing my hidden damsel in distress?  Do I even have one?  Is it near my inner child?  It couldn’t be, my inner child is taking up a great deal of space skipping and leaping and twirling myself right out of cancer, and all the other struggles that have presented themselves of late.   “When one door closes, a window opens”, or something like that.  I always mutter to my smart ass self, don’t let the screen door hit you in the center of your big, smart I can’t always see the window that opened and I don’t know why I now need to crawl out of it or into it, I much prefer the front door with a big brass knocker, alerting you to my arrival.  Pour me a tall one!  I’m going to sit for a spell!

Fortunately, and I say that with a shit eating grin, because only I and my Irish forebears, (and everyone else that rallies themselves out of these very larger than life-sized struggles), can see them somehow as fortunate manifestations of a God with a sadistic sense of humor.  I remember watching the footage post Katrina when some survivors in New Orleans, lost everything and said earnestly, Thank God we’re alive!  No one thanked God for Katrina, or cancer, or other dark disturbances that abound.  It may sound as though my faith and my fury are somehow ready to duke it out, but, fortunately, ahem, my faith is bigger than my fury. It is a faith made from eclectic gatherings of twigs and strings and spiritual flotsam collected in and out of traditional religious teachings, universal energy, the transformative power of love, good friends, a sunset, or a hot bowl of chicken soup.  It is strong nonetheless.

So fortunately, my skin cancer was extensive enough to remove the tip of my nose.  And I don’t mean the tip, like an itty bitty felt tip marker sized tip, but the tip, like the entire front end.  And the fortunate part is, I was able to have my forehead repurposed into a nose.  In a three part surgery that took place over 5 weeks, start to finish.  My nose was removed or at least the front end, a 1 x 3 inch wide slice of my forehead was partially removed and made into a trunk, while the remaining parts were stretched and stitched back together, providing another fortunate bonus, forehead wrinkle removal.  The flap was gently rolled like a nice piece of ham at a family luncheon, and one end was sewn on to the remaining parts of my nose at the flaring nostrils.   So, fortunately, my nose was removed, but was refashioned and regrown anew.  And well fortunately, the cancer was stopped from spreading any further, for now.

During the recovery stage, and after Googling every bit of forehead flap reconstruction video and article, I learned a great deal.  I can’t say I tried to tap the truncated stalk which I learned would be felt on my forehead since the tissue was still alive and nourishing my new nose tip, but I had a rather odd experience of my own.  Because, well, God and I both have a twisted sense of humor and so here goes: it seemed, well.... rather, phallic.  I know, it’s odd, but it was made with fore (head) skin and it was stalk like, ending in a bulbous tip. And the bulbous tip, well, was a little loose fitting at first...I know, the inner child, the ridiculousness of it all.  I suppose God only gives you what you can manage and then he helps you manage it in ways that are bizarre and unlikely.  It’s definitely odd, but you have to laugh, right?  And well it was rather funny, or just plain old twisted.

I’m in the final stage of recovery.  My stalk has been removed, my nose is starting to nicely resemble my nose.  I don’t think I will be stopped for indecent exposure any time soon.  My forehead has been cleared of all wrinkles, and my stitches will be removed next week.  My restrictions post surgery are a bit funny too.  God just has his hand in everything doesn’t he! That great big joker in the sky!

These are my restrictions: 

Do Not Drive a car or operate machinery such as sewing machines, lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, stoves, bicycles, snowmobiles, motorcycles, and all terrain vehicles. 

OK lets go through this shall we?  Sewing Machines?  Really?  Who was on this committee meeting to determine these restrictions at the medical board?  The fashion police and representatives of the Duck Dynasty clan?  Sewing machines?  Why not?  Am I going to sew myself an ugly dress?  The likelihood of my nose getting caught in the threader seems impossible, even with the temporary swelling.    Stoves? What does that mean?  Is a stove considered operational machinery? Like turning the knobs?  I’m allowed to use my blender, and my washing machine has no restrictions.  Snow blowers and Snowmobiles? There’s no mention of the SkiDoo, but I don’t have one, yet.  There must be a restriction list for the spring or summer, or all destinations south.  I can apparently skateboard and operate the Tilt-o-Whirl, but I will be healed by the time the carnival rides come to town, another fortunate result of God scheduling in the skin cancer at this time I suppose.  So I won’t be carving a grizzly bear in any stumps in my front yard, I can’t collect the 8 pt. deer with my ATV, I suppose using firearms was not restricted, the NRA seems to have more power then God..., my Evel Knievel  jumps will have to wait a week or two, the weather does not hold out any hopes of snow and I won’t be able to mow my lawn for a bit.  Ah, I might as well sit back use my blender for some frozen daiquiris and toast to God Almighty and pray to the fashion police for saving me from sewing a dress or a nose covering snood.

I could further count my blessings that my post surgery medicine wasn't going to give me any 6 hour erections or cause small children to grow body hair and breasts if they came into contact with it, one commercial of late warns of a  mystery product for men that can cause symptoms of male features in a woman or child who comes into contact with the medication. Pleading with you to call your doctor if your female partner has male-pattern baldness, excessive body hair growth, increased acne, irregular menstrual periods, or any other signs of male characteristics.  I for one didn't realize men had irregular menstrual cycles, I always believed they didn't have any at all...go figure! And how unfortunate and ungodly!

I have one more week before I start training for the Warrior Dash.  A 5k run with obstacles aplenty to aim any bits of fury I have left in me and garner enough faith to carry me through.  Thank God for fire pits and Viking helmets!  And grace and speed in recovery.  Oh and Thank God for sunblock too. Put it on, frequently!  Take Care and Godspeed.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Things We Do For Love

Last night I was out with a group of friends.  Great, loving, supportive friends.  Strong, powerful, women, group of friends.  Mothers all.  We enjoyed dinner, and drinks, and ease of conversation.  And we laughed.  Hard and long.  We discussed current challenges, highlights, travel adventures and toasted to hopes and dreams.

We are all at this point in our lives when our children are all launched, or two months shy of complete acceleration, 10, 9, 8, 7.....3, 2, 1, Blast off! Undoubtedly our kids come up in conversations, the struggles, conflicts, celebrations, achievements, and everything in between. 

Somehow we started discussing Chuck E. Cheese and early birthday mayhem.  A communal experience of our time as parents in the trenches, of our children’s ages, of life in the suburban sprawl of ordinariness and shared childhood experience.  We, on the other hand all had transistor radios, Click-clacks, Barbie and banana seats on our bikes.  Our birthday parties meant a few friends came over and had cake and maybe pizza or tacos.  If we were going for upscale, it might have meant fondue, or finger foods.  Frozen egg rolls, piggy’s in the blanket, maybe ordering Chinese food.  Long before strip mall plazas featured structured environments of chaos or birthday events that began to set up the expectation of second mortgaged bar mitzvahs, or sweet sixteen events that rivaled reality shows that produced Hilton’s and Kardashian’s, and Osbourne’s.  How did this happen and why did we all go along with it?  Maybe the same reason we all had mood rings or pet rocks, or crushes on Donny Osmond, David Cassidy, Davey Jones, Bobby Sherman or Rex Smith.  That collective generational experience and need for belonging.

I admitted one of my children's first birthday was celebrated at Chuck E. Cheese.  The invitation promised small children a good time, and parents were promised beer.  That wellspring of birthday joy.  Needless to say my one year old had no need of a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, or anywhere outside the purview of our home.  I, on the other hand, was recently divorced, forging my way forward, in need of some semblance of family, or stand-in’s that could fill the void created by the recent divorce.  It worked, for me.  It worked for her older brother, 3 ½.  It worked for the parents who liked the free beer and tolerated the bad pizza, it worked for their children.  My one year old laughed and smiled and was adored by all. 

I haven’t second mortgaged any parties along the way.  I have gotten close for college payments, car insurance, tux rentals, and gas expenses in a mini-van made especially for emphasizing drudgery and domestic disdain.  I have however, suffered a few serious unpleasantries at Discovery Zone.  That was the place with the room full of balls and chutes and ladders that children drowned in, cried in, were stepped on in, and got lost in.  For reasons I can’t fathom, or forgive, on the two occasions I went because my children were invited to someone else’s birthday parties, disaster struck. These were the kind of parties that 40 other children are invited to.  The precursor to Facebook friend lists of 598 and counting.  Honestly, who has 40 close friends at 5 or 6 or 7?  I don’t have that many now, or at 35, or 40, or 45.  And let me tell you something else, on those two occasions that my children were part of some en masse birthday devastation, they didn’t have 40 close friends either. This is where the bubonic plague game was being developed, like some Jurassic Park sequel.  The place had to be shut down, while a small child caused the clearing of the ball pit due to terrorist germ warfare tactics or loose bowels.  Who was that kid?  Were they the 41st child that didn’t make the cut?  A junior rendition of Carrie?   

These are the times that we can now, en masse, look back on, raise our drinks and laugh loudly knowing we made it through.  How many of us haven’t been forced up the chute to retrieve one of our children, screaming in terror, willfully blocking other children from entering, or staring us down and refusing to leave?  I have a few unpleasant memories of wanting to go a wee bit postal in these communal pits of disaster and diarrhea enhancing ditches. 

I wish now I was a bit more grounded in myself back then to simply look at my children when they approached me with these invites and smiled through my white lying teeth, saying “Ooooohhhhh, sorry Momma’s little sugar, we have plans that night to test drive the van into the lake and see which one of you plums is the very best swimmer in the family”.  Maybe I could have said, “Oh Momma’s got a migraine that will last through your 25th birthdays.  Let’s see that puts us well into 2020, when did you say the party was?  Oooh sugars, go pull the shades, I feel the migraine aura coming on.”  I didn’t always say no when I knew better, I thought I could somehow remain calm and grounded in the feeding grounds of pandemic reaching disease sharing.  Or numerous other events that left me frazzled and foul feeling and even acting.  These precious children of mine didn’t always understand that I was somehow attempting, albeit misguidedly, to offer them opportunities for fun and friendship and overall happiness.  Instead I may have left them a little scarred and road wary and confused. 

I suppose, I didn’t appreciate or understand a great many things my parents did on my behalf or in seeming direct opposition to.  We try our best.  Sometimes we make the mark.  The lavender sugared pansy cupcakes are still talked about.  I hand dipped each pansy, while humming happily.  There were probably 24 cupcakes in all.  Enough for seconds, and for a brother or two.  At that sleepover no one had to be showered by HAZMAT officials.  And I didn’t scream once. 

I’m not alone in this.  I have several, strong, powerful, beautiful friends that are laughing themselves off their bar stools as we look back at the things we’ve done for love, when we were much better off doing them for sanity and self-preservation or out right selfishness.  I have a few stories from sporting events, and nightmare prom photo-shoots that rival the red carpet on Oscar night.  But honestly, it’s all behind me, and at some point my children will have children and realize I was perhaps really crazy, but not anymore so then they will be as they rescue their own precious loves from some diarrhea pit of parenting.   And by then I will be able to hug my very own grandbabies and give them handfuls of sugar.   And wave bye-bye as their bowels start to loosen from a days worth of cookies and fruit juice and maybe a couple of bowls of guilt free spoiling and anxiety free loving.