26 October 2008

Gluing the Pieces

Modern day homemaking hazards are different than 30 years ago. We have disposals. We have Cuisinart. We have glue guns.

I plugged in my 10 watt gun, purchased just minutes earlier- when I realized oh, shit! Boo at the Zoo is this weekend, I don't have all the evenings of next week to make a dog and a parrot!. The gun warmed while I gathered feathers, felt, googly eyes, and a foam visor. I began without a plan, but after the first miracles of hot glue marrying felt to foam and feather to fabric, the Way of the Parrot made itself clear. Shoot, press, shoot press, and I laid feathers like shingles, bottom to top. Two lines of hot glue here and a 3-D beak appeared.

I felt a little guilty and a lot thrilled to realize that what I would do in two hours would have taken my mother several evenings. No needles and thread. No lugging out the machine. And then I burned my finger. And I burned it again. Who knew the costume maker's modern tools would still make tender fingers?

With seared fingers, glue silk spun across the counter, feather fluff on the floor, I was awake later than advisable with nothing else "done." And I was completely happy. I arrived at a moment for which I had been waiting, this feeling of I CAN DO THIS. I am good at this job. I am happier providing for my kids' enjoyment than doing anything else. I imagined all of parenting was this way. Why else would people have children?! I am usually self-conscious when I meet the stranger or friend who answers "Great!" when I ask them how it's going with the family. Why isn't that my response? Do they have it easier somehow? What is their secret? They must be lying...

And then I made two Halloween costumes at the last minute without a plan or pattern. I wanted to read, felt compelled to clean, and needed to sleep, but I made the costumes because I wanted to. Because I didn't want to buy them. Because I promised I would. And in the cutting and gluing, I mended a piece of myself.

I don't even care that the parrot looks like a chicken and the dog is cow-like. Stella beamed with joy and Otto ran to put Rex's toy in his own mouth. I call that success.



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14 October 2008

Stolen Post... I couldn't resist

Not too long ago, I wrote about my friend Mage, who had breast cancer. She's 35 and recently had a mastectomy and four lymph nodes removed. She started a blog when she was diagnosed. Her entry from today, about getting a compression sleeve to prevent lymphoedema- and the revelation that came with the shopping trip- is here for you. Whenever I am stuck in my own high quality "problems," I unwind laughing and crying with her words. Enjoy.

Good Enough

Once in Boulder, I made a fitting appointment at Hangar Orthotics and Prosthetics.

Susan, the kind, competent and exceedingly petite woman who answers the phone and manages the front desk, took me into an exam room and measured my arm with a yellow tape. She asked me which kind of compression sleeve I was here for.

I had no idea, I didn't even know there was a choice. She shrugged and made a decision without my input. I like to think she made the right one.

She copied my insurance card and told me she'd call me when the sleeve arrived.

A week later, I was back in the office to pick it up. Susan wasn't there that day, so I sat alone in the waiting room until Angela, the CPO, had time to see me. I don't know what a CPO is, but I know she is one because there was an article about her stuck up on a bulliten board near the front door. I also learned that she plays the banjo.

After a few minutes of waiting, I decided to look for the bathroom. I didn't find it. I gave up after I accidentally opened a door to another exam room where a patient was waiting to be seen. I didn't see the man's face. He was sitting kind of behind the door. But, I could see his leg, propped up on a chair. I could also see that he didn't have any foot at the end of the leg.

Like most people would be, I was horribly embarrassed to have opened the door to someone else's exam room. I closed it immediately and went back to my chair.

I imagine I am also like most other intact-bodied people in that I am uncomfortable when confronted with missing body parts.

You know how it is, you don't want to avert your eyes, but you don't want to stare right at their stump either. You want to act like you didn't notice, but not like you are insensitive. You want to appear cool, when really you are just clueless.

I asked myself, "Why I am so on-edge around amputees?" Maybe looking at their altered bodies triggers my own fear of injury and loss? Maybe their difference from me sparks a physical curiosity that feels socially inappropriate? Maybe I am struggling not to feel pity for them?

I don't know exactly. It's a complex issue. But, as I've noticed before, I don't need to really understand my emotional hang-ups in order to move through them.

What shifted for me that day was my sense of "otherness." Here I was, sitting in a room decorated with advertisements for artificial limbs and posters celebrating differently-abled atheletes. I wasn't here with a friend. I wasn't here to sell something. I was here to be treated. I was one of these people.

I couldn't help but notice that I didn't feel quite as embarrassed to walk in on that man as I would have before my surgery. Yes, I was still a stranger barging in on his private space. But we had something in common too. We were both patients in this place. We were both missing pieces of our bodies and here to be helped with the resulting health complications. We were on the same team; in the same club.

Yesterday I rode the bus from Boulder to Denver. A man whose left arm ended at the elbow was sitting behind me. I didn't pull out my usual cool-but-clueless routine. Instead, I threw him a goofy grin with an upward nod. I'm sure he thought I was some kind of weirdo, but for me it felt like a secret handshake. I wanted him to know that I'm like him...we are the same in one small way.

Now, I am not trying to compare loosing a breast with loosing an entire limb. Physically, I am able to do almost everything I could do before. Socially, my loss is nearly invisible. Obviously, there's a big difference between my story and that of the guy in the bus or the man in the exam room. But, we share something that most people don't, and I can't help but want to acknowledge that.

I think that's normal. The world is so big and we are so small. It's just nice to be able to separate the giant mass of humans into smaller groups. It's comforting to know what group you belong to, and to connect with others in the same group. At parties, we light up when we meet someone who loves the same music, plays the same sport, or collects the same kind of hand-painted Moroccan pottery as we do.

This urge to identify and reveal ourselves to other members of our various sub-cultures is even stronger when the group we belong to has a history of being riduculed, persecuted or pitied by the larger population. I think the urge is stronger because we feel safe with each other in a way that we don't feel safe with others.

I think that's what I was trying to say to the guy on the bus. I wanted him to know he was safe with me. I wasn't going to pity him or think he was strange because his hand was gone. How could I? I am missing pieces too.

But, I couldn't say it outloud. I couldn't say it outloud for the same reason the urge to connect is stonger than if we shared a hobby or a hometown. I couldn't say it outloud because we belong to a group that has a history of being riduculed, persecuted or pitied.

Thinking about it this way, it is suddenly clear why I've always felt uncomfortable around people with missing body parts. I feel like I'm put on the spot. I feel like I'm being tested. I know I belong to the group of people with a history of persecuting, riduculing and pitying. I feel like I'm being measured against that legacy and that the situation pre-disposes me to being found guilty.

But now that I've turned in my perfect-body membership card, I feel relieved of such judgement. Even if other people don't know that I'm permenantly excused, I know. They can give me any grade from F to A+, and it's not going to affect me. I didn't even sign up for this class.

This is just one more place where cancer has taught me something I should have known already.

I'm not just good, I'm good enough.

Whew. What a relief.

08 October 2008

Things That Make Me Happy Today

1.The dentist's office calling after I've left work to tell me that they're running behind, would I mind rescheduling? Would I? You bet! Time to stop at the grocery store and get a few things done before I need to get the kids- that's so much better than sitting in a hygenist's chair.

2.Multiple packs of size 4 diapers. There is a boom of babies my son's size. Ever since he was born the store is regularly out of the size he currently wears- and only that size.

3.Pupusas! Again, the Whole Foods is regularly out of them.

4.Coming home to scrubbed toilets, shiny floors, and fresh beds. Twice a month cleaning is being truly blessed.

5. MY POEMS PUBLISHED by mamazine! Woo Hoo!

06 October 2008

We're Getting Older in Many Ways

Breakfast in bed was brought by Augusto and then shared with my two pigeons. They followed with a rollicking, off-tune, and round-like Happy Birthday and Parabéns. The tradition in Stella's school is to follow the song with, "Are you 1? Are you 2? Are you 3?" and so on. She learned to count to 39 today.

And then I hung out at the DMV for an hour because I like the Oakland diversity smashed into one space full of many pleasant and some very impatient people... and I needed to get a new license photo and fingerprint before today's expiration. It was worth it to be able to say my height and weight hadn't changed from 13 years ago.

In other news, last week I learned something new when Stella locked herself and Otto in the bathroom. She often takes him in and locks the door. Even though she can unlock it, we usually discourage the behavior. This last time, she decided to poop and was up on the toilet, so she didn't want to/ couldn't unlock the door. Otto was happily washing his hands in the sink. I nearly went for the special little pin key, until I suddenly realized that with both of then locked in the bathroom, I could actually eat my breakfast and read the paper in peace. Which I did.


Stella: "My wrist hurts."
Me: "Why?"
Stella: "There's a pain in it."
Me: "Well that certainly explains why it hurts."
Stella: "Huh?"