Does anyone else talk to trees?
On the trail where I walk the dog every morning after I take the grandchild to school, there’s a tree I like. I always say hello and ask how she’s doing. Her name is Sarah, and I find comfort in knowing she will be there each day.
The other day Junior was playing with his ball on a little rise above the trail. A parent and PTA colleague, walking home with her pre-schooler in a stroller, stopped in front of Sarah. After a moment her little boy got out and stood near the tree, then hugged it.
I went over to her and said, “This is so weird. Do you talk to this tree as well?” She said she was teaching her son about appreciating the Earth and nature, and they always visited with the tree, which she referred to as “him.” I told her I talked to “Sarah.”
Junior dropped his ball into the creek below us. He carefully made his way down the rocks and into the water, retrieving the ball and then retracing his steps all the way up the bank. Then he dropped it again. I could see it would be easier to reach it from the other side, so we walked along to a bridge and doubled back to a little “beach,” where I could almost get the ball without going into the water. I tried a branch, but it wasn’t long enough. One of my dog-walking friends on the other side tossed me a perfect stick, with a claw-like structure on the end. I got the ball, thanked T., and put the ball away so Junior couldn’t lose it again.
When Chloe started third grade a year-and-a-half ago, I felt very out of place at school–a grandma among mostly parents, a new dog-owner in a park where everyone knew all the other dogs’ names and I didn’t even know the protocols for when Junior could be off-leash (it’s not an off-leash park). At pickup time I’d sit in the courtyard with Junior, using the school’s wi-fi to check email or Facebook on my phone.
Now, every morning after Chloe goes in I’m saying hello to K. and her dog Patches, who loves Junior; R., the former PTA president; E., the current president; various teachers, principals and other staff; and random parents. Then at the park Junior romps with Tucker, Dixon, Izzie, Marley, Reya, Etta, Brodie, Ace, and especially Pierre, whose mom, L., I’ve become quite good friends with, and V. and her sweet little chiweenie, Coco, who also adores Junior.
My husband has had three rounds of surgery recently (he should be fine). We scheduled the first one during winter break so I could ship the kid and the dog off to family. The other two were unavoidable; the second I managed with trips between hospital, school, and home, and it was exhausting, especially in Austin’s perennial rush-hour traffic. So for the latest procedure I asked a friend (also Sarah), who has a child at our school. She not only picked Chloe up but they went to our house for Junior. We were at the hospital from noon till nearly 7, so it was such a relief having them with someone I could trust, and Chloe had a blast.
You’re probably wondering why this piece started with thoughts about talking to trees. I think that tree represents the wonderful community I have become a part of–parents, other grandparents, teachers, the principal and assistant principal, extended family, dog-owners, other walkers, swimmers at Stacy Pool. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice it, until one day I found myself having so many conversations in the courtyard while waiting for school to let out I didn’t even look at my phone, and that’s how it is every day now.
We thought 2016 was bad.
I try not to whine and complain. I’m a grownup and I do what needs to be done. But this is ridiculous. The state of the world and the country is absolutely terrifying, and I feel obligated to call my representatives daily, and if asked what issue I’m calling about I’m like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Bunch”: “Wadda you got?” Today it’s the crazy immigration policy, last week it was the inauguration of the most unqualified, certifiably insane substitute-for-human ever to occupy the White House. Tomorrow it will be the Supreme Court nominee, and every day it’s women’s issues, education, the environment and climate change–and on and on.
But to add to the misery, I am stretched to the limit. Not to share too much, my husband and granddaughter both need a lot of care and attention right now. My therapist said I sound like a harried mom. I told her I am, except it didn’t seem this hard 40 years ago. Of course I was 40 years younger!
Everywhere I turn there is something that needs doing. Appointments to be made, prescriptions to refill, a messy yard, laundry, clutter, meals, errands. The garage door opener quit and needs replacing. I wanted a haircut two weeks ago, couldn’t get in so let it go, and now I kind of like it longer, except for the bangs. (I usually trim them myself but I keep thinking I’ll get an appointment soon.)
I consider a long pee to be a break. Meditation is when I walk the dog, except when I’m trying to call my Congresspeople. I have “Art Day” popups on my phone calendar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they mock me. My to-read pile beckons, as do all my unfinished knitting projects. I made a pink hat for the march, but didn’t quite finish in time to wear it. But I did march!
I can thank the drump for making me an activist! I’m more engaged than I was during the Viet Nam protests.
However, I will close with gratitude:
- clear starry skies when I walk the dog at 5:45 a.m., sunny afternoons and beautiful parks
- my relatively good health, and abatement of sinus headaches (partly, I believe, thanks to a month of acupuncture treatments)
- despite many challenges, granddaughter is mostly doing well in school
- my sweet soft dog curling up against me when I nap
- enough: we are not rich, but we have a comfortable home, enough to eat and a nice life
- health insurance and good medical care
- my being able to take care of those who need it right now
- pedicures: I took my husband along yesterday because his back prevents him from cutting his toenails. He’s a convert!
- friends and family to back me up if I need help, and a loving church community
- living in a city with liberal values that cares about immigrants and minorities (to quote former governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, Austin is the “blueberry in the tomato soup.”)
I realize that I live a life of middle-class privilege. But I’m still exhausted.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to pee, walk the dog and try to call my senators and congressman.
… and by excellent grammar.
Having a November birthday means Chloe is flush with cash in December. She had wanted an Elf on the Shelf for a while. At 10, she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.
I think the Elf is a scam, and at $30 each I would never buy one, but she had the money and wore me down until I agreed to take her shopping (after trying to talk her into ordering one online). We planned for a weekend, but by Tuesday she was so anxious about missing the “deadline” for the Elf to arrive that I took her after school, after first calling the nearest Walmart, where, I was assured, they had them.
They lied. The next stop, Target, was out. At this point we went back home for further research. The J.C. Penney at the mall assured me that they did indeed have them in stock. By this time it was nearing 5, but we were on a mission. The traffic to and from the mall was blessedly manageable despite my worst fears.
We snagged the last boy elf. Chloe didn’t like the girl because she was too tarted up (my word). The plain blue-eyed boy suited her.
If you know nothing about this scam, um, kids’ delight, here’s the story: someone started a family tradition of having an elf appear in the house as a “scout” for Santa, since he can’t watch everyone. Every night the elf would fly off to the North Pole, return and land in a different location. It couldn’t be touched by humans; doing so would nullify the magic.
These very smart people marketed their little game, wrote a kids’ book to go with it and put it all in a glossy box, pretty much selling out every Christmas (after which they probably spent New Year’s in Tahiti).
Chloe named her elf “Max” and wrote his name on the “adoption certificate” included with the book. Using tongs, she immediately dropped him, catching him by the foot. The “treatment” for regaining magic was for him to lie on a red plate dusted with cinnamon.
My nightmare began. Chloe left Max notes and little treats. Each night, before I could go to bed, I’d write a reply; eat, hide or dispose of the treat; and find a new secure spot for him. (One night I stupidly put him within the dog’s reach, but he left Max alone.)
Writing notes and finding new locations continued nightly until December 18. I was careful to use a printing style completely different from mine, and like Marigold in the comic “Phoebe and her Unicorn,” Max wrote rather formally and never used contractions. He also answered questions vaguely (did he know certain other elves? Did he remember her friends from her old neighborhood?). Chloe showed some skepticism, asking me repeatedly if I was moving Max, if I was writing the notes. I was as evasive as Max, but basically denying everything.
As I was driving us home from church on the 18th, she kept at me, insisting I tell her the truth, and I spilled. Of course she was devastated and felt betrayed, and of course I felt horrible. She asked me about Santa as well, and I told her we weren’t having any more conversations about it.
We were invited to a Solstice party that afternoon, and I insisted we go even though she was heartbroken. I told a friend, a very smart, warm-hearted grandmother, who said some reassuring words to Chloe. On the way home she brightened, telling me she was kind of relieved and had guessed it was me because “Max” didn’t know the answers to some of her questions.
And she knew it had to be me because Max used such excellent grammar.
She still believes in Santa. By next Christmas she’ll be 11 and we’ll deal with it before then, but for now the subject is off-limits.
People tell me I’m a hero, or even a saint, for taking on the responsibility of raising a grandchild.
Of course I’m neither. I’m doing what a grandmother does if she’s able. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, it’s tear-my-hair-out sometimes. Some challenges are so great I don’t know how to manage them, but it has also brought more laughter and joy into my life. There are support systems for the challenges, and if we didn’t have Chloe we wouldn’t have Junior, so it’s also brought the sweetest dog ever into my life.
Mostly, as I said, it’s what you do. I wake up earlier than I ever thought I’d need to in retirement and just put one foot in front of the other.
A 10-year-old girl can be mean, even cruel. But I hope by this time in life I’ve developed enough confidence in my abilities and a thick enough skin to laugh most of it off. And sometimes cry. Walking the dog is usually for thinking and meditating, but sometimes it’s my private crying time.
Another thing that keeps me humble is reminding myself of all the things I’m bad at. I’m a decent cook, fairly intelligent, good at taking care of myself and others. But there are some things I simply have not mastered, so just for today let’s celebrate the incompetent and mediocre:
Things at which I am terrible:
- I am lousy at parking. It’s become a joke with Chloe when I take her to school. I park on both a slight slope and a curve so I end up either on the curb or three feet away. As I get out I say, “Ace job of parking, if I say so myself.” She of course rolls her eyes.
- Inflating tires and using a gauge to check pressure. I’m more likely to deflate the tires.
- Can’t do separating zippers, especially on a child. I have to get behind her and do it as if I’m zipping my own jacket.
- Battery enclosures or anything you have to match up little slots and snap different parts together. Vacuum cleaner cover, air purifier cover, various appliances that come apart, require three hands.
- As an artist I would think I could decorate cakes, but I can’t. Even three hands wouldn’t help. Chloe is way better with a pastry tube and fondant than I am.
- Flower arranging: well I don’t arrange flowers. I trim the leaves and stems and jam them in a vase to arrange themselves.
- Understanding handicap in golf. My husband has explained it to me several times and it won’t stick. My brain cells just won’t accept it.
- Gardening, sadly. I’d love to have flowers and vegetables, but one reason we live in a condo is because neither of us has a green thumb.
That’s probably enough self-criticism for now. I am pretty good at self-care: healthy eating, massages, pedicures, exercise, regular medical care and plenty of sleep. Making time for music, art, knitting and reading. Travel when we can get away.
And I am really good at tenacity, determination, and love.
More than one person is wondering, if not saying aloud, why did I wait so long to go to the doctor after two weeks of coughing?
The short and easy answer is I kept thinking it would be better the next day. Magical thinking. It was just a tickly drainage cough and I didn’t really feel bad, except for interrupted sleep.
It’s not about money. Medicare and our Humana Medicare Advantage Plan (thank you, Government, for working well) mean that’s not an issue.
The other reason, as I told someone in an apology email after twiddling around with an RSVP for much too long: Grandmas just soldier on. It’s not conscious self-sacrifice; it’s just what we do.
Mostly, it’s time. Every day seems to get eaten up with errands, appointments, meal prep, shopping, child care, and my one essential nap. If I have one activity in the morning, it breaks up the day sufficiently that I don’t get to my own things: art, writing, knitting, reading. It’s more efficient to use those broken-up moments do a load of laundry, unload the dishwasher or walk the dog.
I should have gone to the doctor late last week, after a week of coughing. My Friday was totally open, but I just couldn’t give up my only free day that week. So I enjoyed a day of painting and futzing around doing what I wanted.
A few days ago I wrote:
If I am not the shepherd of my hours,
the Wolf of Time will steal them like helpless lambs.
By Monday I decided I needed to see a doctor, and the earliest appointment with the ENT was Thursday. I could have tried my primary doc, but again that magical thinking had me believing I’d be better by then and I could cancel the appointment.I ended up seeing a P.A. She did a thorough exam and workup and prescribed a steroid, antibiotic and cough relief.
What started as a tickly drainage cough morphed into a respiratory infection. I skipped allergy shots for this week, which the P.A. agreed was probably a good idea.
After a year and a half of shots I’m wondering when this will get better in this sopping, humid, never-gets-cold-enough-to-kill-off-the-allergens environment. A move to the desert? But I’m English! I couldn’t live in the desert. Last time I was in New Mexico, the mountains outside Albuquerque were on fire, the humidity was in the single digits and I woke up every morning with a nosebleed.
I’m having a recurring fantasy: a cabin or cottage on a lake, river, stream, creek or beach, even an island. Provisioned with staple foods, firewood and household needs. No internet, phone for emergencies only.
I’d pack up food for simple meals, a couple of bottles of wine, art supplies, a laptop, comfortable clothes and shoes, and disappear for a few days. I’d probably take the dog for company, since he can’t talk. Four or five days, a week at most, would be enough for me to come back refreshed, missing the daily hubbub. At least I would intend to come back. Hee hee.
I’m not unique and I’ll bet everyone overwhelmed with parenting experiences something similar. Rabbi Evan Moffic’s blog expresses similar feelings but concludes that life is for being with people. He quotes Mary Oliver’s “A Dream of Trees”
There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere…
I would that it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?
Easy for you to say, Mary. This grandparenting/parenting gig is hard. It’s getting better, certainly. Chloe’s behavior has improved immensely. Every school day last year began with yelling and arriving late. This year I don’t even have to wake her or remind her to get ready; we get out the door with no yelling and haven’t been late once. She’s doing well academically and seems to enjoy her teachers and classmates. She loves art and does wonderfully imaginative drawings. She told me the other day she probably would have quit art a long time ago if it wasn’t for me. I asked why. She said “Because you encourage me and let me have lots of art supplies.”
She’s almost 10. We’re on the bridge between Santa Claus and puberty. She spends too much time playing online games and watching videos. Her favorite radio station in the car is KISS-FM, with its breathy, sugary, romantic cotton-candy pop music. But she’s teachable: we talk about the songs that are all about codependence and neediness versus the ones about girls’ empowerment. She’s getting the message.
My therapist reminds me that my age and relative lack of stamina and energy–despite my being in pretty good physical condition–make it tougher to handle parenting. But I told her what I lack in stamina I make up in GRIT, determination, tenacity–whatever you want to call it.
I’m in for the long haul, wherever that takes us with this challenging, interesting young woman-to-be. No retreat.
Our granddaughter moved in with us in August of last year. In early October, I was browsing Facebook and saw this picture, posted by my daughter (Chloe’s mom):
Since we had Chloe I was considering getting a dog, and after this brief exchange
I agreed to take him, and he joined us a few days later, on October 11.
Cori knew he had been abandoned and, when she opened her car door one day, he jumped in. He was brown when she got him, and she cleaned him up. He’s obviously a blue-heeler (Australian cattle dog), and so sweet and well-behaved I cannot imagine why anyone would abandon him. He was sleeping on a dirty mattress and living off the land. He did have a slightly outdated rabies tag, and when I called the clinic in Lampasas they told me it had been a walk-in rabies clinic and they had no other information. But the date was August, 2014, which leads me to believe he was born in early 2014.
When I took him to the vet soon after we got him, I learned he had heartworm. By then I was in love and, nearly $1,000’s worth of treatment later, he tested negative and was put on medicine. The doc told us you can’t be sure how much heart damage has been done and to keep him as quiet as possible for several months. Hah. He has been lively and active and seems very healthy. The vet guessed he was about two, so I arbitrarily set today as his birthday.
I’ve had some sweet and wonderful dogs in my life, but he’s the best:
- He was perfectly house-trained.
- He rarely barks.
- He loves to play and be around other dogs.
- When I take Chloe to school and pick her up, kids gather around him and pet him and he’s always calm and friendly.
- He is affectionate and wonderful company. He loves visitors (he’s a terrible watchdog!) but if the noise level gets too much he retreats into a bedroom.
- Because of him I get plenty of exercise (One day I had 16,000 steps on my phone!), and find dog-walking to be my meditation time.
- He’s a warm nap companion, but when it’s both of us in bed he sleeps under the bed. (When Gary’s away he sleeps in the bed.)
Gary was out of town when I agreed to take Junior; when he came home I had an “oops” moment when I had to tell him it was a done deal. He was a little taken aback, but now he loves to play frisbee with Junior, and you ought to hear him cooing and baby-talking and belly-stroking. He even does clean-up!
Happy birthday to my sweet boy. Best doggie ever.