Aleks owed me about $110 and I asked him to pay up.
"Tell ya what, Mom," says my almost-adult son, head cocked sideways, outstretched sales-guy hand, eyes looking directly into mine. "I have a stack of giftcards on my desk. Probably at least eight. I have no idea how much they're worth, but let's play a game, OK?"
I immediately have a flashback... a family game of Monopoly some years ago when Aleks was maybe seven. "Notice how often I roll doubles?" Aleks asked then. "Tell ya what, guys -- for $2 a roll, I'll roll your dice for you." My parents, husband and brother ALL took Aleks up on his offer! And, even crazier, it turned out to be a win/win for ALL of them! My family, because they did actually begin to see more double rolls (really), and Aleks because... well, I don't even need to go into it.
It started young and here we were again -- Carol and the Businessman.
"Are you offering me said gift cards in lieu of your debt?" I ask. "That is precisely what I'm doing, Carol!" says the Businessman. (The "Carol" instead of "Mom" was effective, I must admit.) "It's a risk for both of us, don't you think? A risk, but kind of exciting, too." I believed Aleks that he had no idea how much all his gift cards were worth, and there was a certain intrigue to the whole thing.
I made myself a deal: if there were more than two Starbucks cards in the lot, he had a deal.
"OK," I relented. "Get the cards and I'll take a look at them. But this action does NOT constitute agreement." Can't be to careful with this guy.
Aleks disappeared and came back with the following cards: three Starbucks cards (bingo!), three Borders cards, and two Target cards. I shuffled the cards in my hands, pondering Aleks' offer and intentionally stalling.
"I dunno... this might be too much of a risk on my part."
"Might be," he agreed, and reached for the cards.
"Then again," I added, pulling the cards back, "It might be a really stupid move on your part.
"Gotcha," he agreed.
(Yes, I do see him as either a bad used car salesman or a brilliant attorney and politician.)
"But I'll take the risk," I offered. "Ya got 'cherself a deal."
"Enjoy, Carol," Aleks says as he turned on his heels and walked off. I swear, I could see the smirk on his face even as he walked away from me.
The next day I just happened to be doing errands -- and there just happened to be a Target, a Starbucks (OK, probably more like SIX Starbucks...), and a Borders within a few blocks of my errands. I held my breath and decided to check my wager: Target cards: 1.): $20 and 2.) $3.81; Starbucks cards: 1.) $0 (oh great...), $8.32 and $25 (yes!); and Borders cards: 1.) $0 (this is not going well...) and 2.) .76 (not well at all!) and 3.) $20.
So I have a deal for y'all. He doesn't turn 18 till November, so I still have jurisdiction and can offer this:
Son for sale. Cheap.
(Just kidding. SOOOO kidding!! Hell, not only do I love this great kid, but I have a feeling I'll need him around for a while.)
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Aleks owed me about $110 and I asked him to pay up.
Friday, March 30, 2007
My dear friend and former manager, D and I have been having an e-mail conversation lately about being 50-year-old women, 50-year-old career women, and about the process of seeking fulfillment in either -- and both -- of those roles. This morning this was part of that conversation. Can any of you relate?
I've been having this really persistent feeling that something really cool is on the horizon but there's a danger of me not recognizing it -- that it's that simple, and that right... almost like it's so blended into ME that I don't even recognize that I can acknowledge it, and use it, and grow from it.
And make MONEY from it.
But damn -- what is "IT"?!
Does any of this make any sense at all? Weird connection, but I think of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the sense that, at 60-something, she just started writing about her life. Not to make money, but because it was something inside her that needed expression. She hardly had to even acknowledge it; she simply needed to heed her instincts and DO it. Am I not getting something? Am I missing something? Am I ignoring that voice? I know it's not technology-based; I am sure of that. It's much more personal than that.
But shit -- what IS it? I'm afraid that it's beckoning me and I'm just not listening! And I'm afraid it's going to pass me by... like there's a window of opportunity and if I don't nab it, it'll be gone. Almost a game with my own psyche, in a way!
I know what this thing isn't: It isn't signing invoices or initiating contracts. It isn't futzing with a gazillion online apps, marveling at their "coolness." It isn't picking apart the work of others. It isn't program management, though it might be product management. It isn't production management, but it might be production. I think the closet to it that I've come so far is FUEL and CHILL. Can I take that same spirit, that "righteous indignation" and teen passion and spunk and do something else with it? Or maybe it's taking that same spirit and applying it to my peers -- to women who are having these same feelings of "I-am-powerful-but-at-what?!" feelings... and somehow encouraging community. But how? What's the vehicle? And oh yeah -- where's the funding?
Do any of these thoughts nag YOU as you try to go about your day?!
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I went from working as a Program Manager in Microsoft's education department to working in a partnership with the Gates Foundation (I don't work for them, but 100% of our work is with them), so I have what might be considered a somewhat unique perspective on Gates-run companies.
I can't even begin to tell you how different Microsoft and the Gates Foundation are! This exemplifies that difference in a way that I could never explain more vividly:
We're working with the Gates Foundation in planning the launch of the website were producing for them. This will take place in July as part of a bigger conference for Gates Foundation grantees from around the world. In planning specifics, we were looking at various give-away options -- you know, the typical freebees you get at conference exhibit booths. We mentioned various options to the Foundation representative -- things spanning from pencils to jumpdrives.
The official Gates Foundation policy, it turns out, is that they frown on spending any money on silly trinkets and the like "when that money could go to vaccines."
I'm newly inspired... and just wish I could work more closely to the Foundation's actual mission. My day-to-day responsibilities are so far removed from the details of carrying out that mission! It's frustrating -- and yet I am grateful to be even this close to really helping to make a difference.
Look what Kat made for Elisabeth and me! The teapot is for Elisabeth, reminiscent of one of the girls' favorite childhood songs. Kat made it red because that's Elisabeth's "kitchen color." SWEET!
The tealight candle holder is for my office. Notice the etching of the Seattle skyline? That's the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center arches and the downtown skyscapers! It's apparently an early Mother's Day present.
I just love kid-made gifts!
And this book is what my big brother Michael bequethed upon me when I visited the Bay Area a few weeks ago. It's my childhood in pictures. And this is my "mean" (OK, not really!) big brother who just considered me a pesky little sister when we were growing up.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
What a day. God, what a day! (See photo...)
One of these days I'll write about it. ALL of it.
Suffice it to say that after a less than stellar day at work I had a definite need for a good, stiff drink -- and I'm really not normally much of a drinker.
I met up with a bunch of ex-co-workers from the job I held from '01 to '06 and we had a few good, stiff drinks together and laughed for a solid two hours!
It was much needed, much fun, and with people who are much missed.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
...Tom finally finished the remodel! (Or about 95% of it, anyway; the clear glass shower door is on order.)
Nice, eh? And the best part is that Tom surprised me with glow-in-the-dark grout in the shower! It's bright enough to light the shower with a grid of blue-glow in an otherwise dark room!
Tom would make a great contractor if time and perfection were no issue. He takes forever, but his work is absolute perfection! The only problem is, the shower drain seems to be leaking. Grrrr! We knew this because late one night we heard Kat call from her bedroom directly downstairs from the shower, "Daaaaaad, there's waaaaaater coming through my ceiling!"
Tom assures me that he'll fix the leak and that we won't have a repeat of the Flood of 2005 -- when said shower caused the entire downstairs to drown in water ankle deep! That was pre-blogging, but had I been writing then you would have been treated to about a years worth of photos of wall board replacement, tile installation, etc.
Next projects on the "honey-do" list:
*Landscape the front and back yards (we hardscaped last summer; this summer we'll softscape)
*Clean the moss forest off the roof
*Tile the entry way
*Rebuild the deck
*Remodel other upstairs bathroom
*GET kitchen remodeled (for this, we'll hire a contractor... I will NOT be without a kitchen for a year!)
*Re-carpet all bedrooms
And it's an important one. To my German blogging friends (and anyone/everyone else too), please take a look at my dad's blog and comment if you feel so inclined. He's looking for feedback regarding whether there's any interest in the book he plans to write.
As a "mischling" child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother during World War II, my dad has a unique perspective about how the war affected previously upper class German Jews during that time -- and especially about the stresses his mother endured in her role as a non-Jewish German who had to deal with the likelihood that her protective role for husband and children may be further limited or even taken away -- particularly since she was suffering from a mysterious and possibly fatal disease.
My aunt already translated the hundreds of pages of letters written by her and my father's mother from 1912 to 1944. My dad would further that effort and write an historical novel about their family's unique experiences.
I, for one, definitely encourage Dad to write the book! What do YOU think?
Monday, March 26, 2007
And speaking of old (I know what you were thinking!), Leeza Gibbons, another dancer this season, and I are the same age! Wow -- she either has a great surgeon, make-up artist AND personal trainer OR she has perfect genes. I'm betting it's the former (because it makes me feel better, of course).
Yes, in fact I AM shallow tonight! Hey, I'm entitled aren't I?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
When I was in 5th grade I had a pen pal named Kitty Rutledge who lived in a faraway land called Northridge, California. Kitty and I wrote letters to each other for five years, handwritten letters full of teeny-bopper musings: "I rode my bike to the grocery store today and hung out at the news stand, reading all about Davy Jones and Bobby Sherman in the new Tiger Beat magazine!" "Today I sat by the pool with mayonnaise and lemon juice in my hair and then I went to Farrells for ice cream with my friends..." Sometimes the letters were many pages long and sometimes they contained only a scrawled paragraph, but receiving a letter from Kitty was always the highlight of my day -- even the highlight of my week. I'd run home from the bus stop and throw open the mailbox, ripping open the letter as I made my way to the house, devouring every word of her letter as I devoured my after school snack. Eventually Kitty and I both discovered boys and dating and our frequent letters became shorter and more sporadic. I never met Kitty, through even to this day I sometimes think of her, wondering what kind of fifty-year-old she is now.
In college, long after Kitty and I lost touch, I had a new group of friends who I'd often meet on campus for lunch or with whom I'd venture into town, shopping the new fashions (which, oddly enough, like much like some of today's hippest fashions). When my friends and I wanted to meet up, we'd need to institute meticulous and methodical planning before parting ways in the morning. "Let's meet under the bell tower at noon. If anyone isn't there by 12:10, the rest of us will go to the dining commons for lunch. At 1:00, we'll head to the bus stop and get on the 1:12 bus #255..." If something came up that prevented someone from keeping to the plan, not only would everyone else end up waiting and wondering, but the missing person would, of course, miss out on the fun.
Fast-forward 15 years -- to a time when fast-forward has come to define young peoples' lives. My kids never had letter-writing pen pals, they have no idea what it's like to wait for a letter from a friend to appear in the mail box, and they have absolutely no understanding of the concept of non-instant personal connections. My kids, who are connected to their cell phones 24 hours a day, can't fathom the idea of planning a day with friends in the morning and sticking to those plans no matter what. My kids' social lives occur almost completely spontaneously, since plans can be made -- or broken -- instantaneously. The notion of only talking on the phone when both people are home and available (we didn't even have answering machines) is completely foreign to them.
A few years ago, Elisabeth ran in the Bay to Breakers marathon in the Bay Area. On the day of the race, we told her we'd pick her up in San Francisco and take her to lunch. What occurred that day would have made my head spin 25 years ago, but it was a perfectly natural and normal occurrence for this day and age: We headed into San Francisco having no idea exactly where Elisabeth was, so we called her as we approached the Bay Bridge. "I'm at Lyon and Bay!" she yelled into her phone, obviously surrounded by massive crowds. As the navigator, it was my job to lead us to Elisabeth. The first thing I did was program "Lyon and Bay" into our GPS system in our car and from there we given driving directions by a very pleasant-sounding woman (not a wife, obviously!) leading us right to Elisabeth's location. As we approached Lyon and Bay, fighting massive crowds, I called Elisabeth again, telling her to look out for our car, which she did... and we were able to practically swoop her up without stopping just seconds later!
Such a scene would have been a complete impossibility when I was Elisabeth's age. Surely there would have been some yelling and tears as my parents would have spent hours attempting to find me in the crowds, first at some agreed-upon location and then amid the crowds. It would most likely not have been fun. Yet, when we picked up Elisabeth, it was just a brief blip in the very enjoyable day!
All this occurred to me today when Elisabeth called me as I was walking out the door to do errands, first at Target, then at Costco. "Oh, I wanna go!" she beamed. "I'll call you when I get across the bridge and we can meet!" And we did meet -- right in the Costco parking lot, even parking practically next to each other! (We were going to meet at Target, but I finished early and plans were changed on the fly... thanks to cell phones.)
So this is my "in-my-day-we-walked-to-school-in-the-snow... uphill... BOTH-ways!" story. I can't help but wonder what stories Elisabeth will tell HER children about how much rougher things were when she was young!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
I have a major hankerin' for fresh pico de gallo and fish tacos about once a week -- and tonight was definitely one of those times! Mmmmmmm! And if you're thinking 'Ewwwww... FISH TACOS?!,' I dare you to just try one! Great stuff!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
...and my thoughts are with Elizabeth Edwards and her family.
Cancer is so limited.
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot quench the spirit.
Posted by Carol at 9:08 PM
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I just realized -- with the help of Tom pointing it out -- that I tend to hyper-focus in my life... sometimes to the exclusion of other important things, people (especially?!), tasks or experiences. This can be a good thing when it comes to deadlines or major milestones, but when it's a constant thing it can be destructive.
When I was in college, I was hyper-focused so I could get into a great graduate school. I went to college on the BEACH in Santa Barbara (UCSB), fergoodness-sake, but I spent 100 times the amount of hours in the library that I spent at the beach! Why? So I could go further. "Further" turned out to be Stanford graduate school, but when I was there, I hyper-focused so I could get a great job in educational media... which turned out to be Disney.. And when I was at Disney -- well, yeah.
Somewhere in there I got married and had four kids within five years -- which was, fortunately, its own hyper-focus because I took seven years out of my career to do so -- and I threw myself completely into that, too. Hopefully, that focus has stayed with me through it all. I mean, I AM aware that there's nothing more important than family. I DO feel that down to my core and deep in my heart.
But Tom's right: I tend to get REALLY into whatever it is I'm into.
When I was making FUEL and CHILL, I was hyper-focused because... well, because it was necessary to get those videos produced, but also because I tend to pour myself into my projects. I tried to explain away my distance by insisting that such time and energy was critical to the project. While I'm sure those videos are better products because of my dedication, I'm not sure such total focus was necessary.
And now I'm doing it again. This job is demanding, in terms of day-to-day duties, but also with some unexpected issues that take extra time and energy... so here I go again. And this time it's made me physically ill. I need to learn how to dedicate myself to my career without being obsessed with or overcome by it. I need to learn how to put in a good eight-hour day and then leave -- physically and emotionally. I need to learn how to shut off my career-woman brain and turn on my wife-and-family heart -- every single day. Too often I keep both running full-speed -- to the detriment of either being done well.
I need to learn to breathe. I think the fact that I now have bronchitis (yet went to work today...) and have a hard time breathing is poignant and telling.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Peter did it. He bought another motorcycle. Is that a "lookie-my-baby!" look on his face, or WHAT?!
When he sold his big red shiny "crotch rocket" a few weeks ago (that's him, in his leather jacket, on his old -- too big -- bike), I was thrilled. It's not that I don't want him to have fun; I do! It's that it seems to me that riding one of these made-for-speed, fast-and-sleek machines is just asking for it. Eventually a 20-year-old testosterone-laden guy won't be able to help himself and he'll push the limits of sanity and common sense all the way to the hospital -- where people who drive these things are called "organ donors."
These machines scare mothers to death -- probably because 20-year-old sons have no sense of the same concept. But what can I do other than insist that he take the state-sponsored riding class (he did), that he have all the best safety gear (he does), that he not ride in rain (he doesn't), and that he promise not to be stupid (he did). Still, every time he comes back from a ride, I thank his guardian angel for greasin' up her wings and keeping up.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Yeah I know. I thought the same thing!
So we've been trying to find an antique-looking cabinet to go above the new toilet in our newly renovated bathroom, but we've had one helluva time finding the right thing.
So we went to Snohomish, the "antique capital of the Pacific Northwest." We didn't get there until about 3:00 this afternoon and the town shuts down at precisely 5:00 on Saturdays, so we unfortunately had to hurry through the antiques shops.
Now that's just wrong!
The sensory experience of wandering through antique stores is intense. It didn't used to be, because there was no familiarity to what I saw and smelled and felt. But it's different now because as I wandered (OK, zipped... unfortunately) around many a corner, I was greeted by vague, but distinct smells that teased my senses, urging an unknown nudging to emerge from the depths of my childhood memories. Occasionally I'd see an item that was completely familiar, and instead of nudging an unknown memory, it crystallized one. I saw my mother's sewing chest that had two hinged panels that opened on opposite sides. I saw the football-shaped copper-colored scalloped Jello mold and the heavy metal meat grinder that Mom used to crank onto the metal kitchen table. I looked for Mom's Kathe Krusse doll that now sits on my dresser and for the wooden German egg cup characters with different colored knit caps that I remember so well and wish Mom had saved. But I didn't see them. Tom saw his mother's "Desert Rose" dinner dishes and his silver rocket piggy bank.
But we didn't find the perfect bathroom cabinet.
Do you see anything you recognize from your own childhood?
After the antique stores closed at the stroke of 5:00, we drove around the charming town and snapped photos of the Victorian style, beautifully restored homes considering the what-ifs of moving the 15 miles (but worlds away) to Snohomish. Could we buy an old Victorian home and fix it up? No, we decided -- we've spent so much time and energy (and money) fixing up our own mundane 1977 less-than-perfect split-level home home over the years and it's finally feeling like ours (though this pig's ear never a purse will make!), we could never start all over again!
Next time we buy a home, if we ever do, we're looking for "move-in condition!"
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
Spent the day with extended family yesterday. SUCH fun!! In attendance were all three of my brothers (Chris:black t-shirt; Michael: beard, Stephan: glasses), all their kids (my dad's grandchildren range from Nikki, 26 -- in braids -- to TJ, barely 2, held by his mom, LuJia) and Kristin (in pic below with my brothers), along with her husband, John -- the photographer.
Don't have much time to write today because I am gonna head into the mostly-wireless town of Santa Cruz and find myself an oceanfront sidewalk cafe so I can sit in this glorious sunshine (it's eighty-frikkin-five degrees here at 6 PM!) and do some work to prepare for this "brown-bag lunch" tomorrow. My presentation is entitled Of Mice and Magic: Designing Effective and Inspirational Learning Software. Wish me luck; I'm nervous! I'm just gonna take the same approach that I take to everything -- talk about what I know, and about my experiences and hope that they're valuable to someone... rather than pretending to be some know-it-all expert.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
I generally like to travel, but today I’m really not feeling up for this trip. Whatever this affliction is, it’s getting worse. For the past few weeks, I feel like I can’t get a full breath, I have a deep chest cough that won’t go away, and I’m tired – bone-tired. Fortunately, SeaTac Airport is as dead as I’ve ever seen it, so people are relaxed and friendly, which really makes the whole process easier. The shuttle picked me up this morning at 6:30 – which was really 5:30 because we “sprung forward” last night, an earlier-than-normal switch to daylight savings time. I think such a change is a good idea… good for the environment and good for the psyche. Well, except for my psyche on this particular early morning!
I’m leaving rainy Seattle (we’re currently experiencing a “pineapple express” – warm, heavy rains) for sunny Santa Cruz, California for five jam-packed days of training and schmozing, and a company-wide brown-bag lunch in which I’ll be the featured speaker (yikes!), addressing educational media – in particular educational computer games and videos. I still don’t know if this will be a formal presentation or a casual, collaborative event. I’m hoping for the latter… because I'm much better at casual than formal, and because I certainly haven’t prepared for anything formal!
Work starts in Monday morning, but today's schedule is all play. My three brothers and their families and I will be getting together! Why is it that my three brothers, all of whom live within 30 miles of each other, only see each other when I come to visit, and when I arrange it?! We’ll get together, along with nieces and nephews, at the home of a dear, dear friend of ours in Berkeley. Kristin, who lived with us for a year in the 60’s when she was a student at Cal, was diagnosed three years ago with pancreatic cancer. She went through hell that first year, paying out-of-pocket for a surgery that Kaiser refused to provide… or at least refused to provide quickly enough to save her life. Pancreatic cancer has a survival rate if about 1 - 5%, so for Kristin to still be alive, and even feeling fabulous, with no current sign of the disease, is such a huge gift! But this is Kristin, the most positive, loving, happy person on the face of the earth… so it stands to reason that she’d still be here. She willed it!
So it’ll be a busy day, filled with happy kidlets and grateful adults. And then tonight I need to get into a work mentality.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Next comes the shower head(s!), the shower door, and the toilet... and maybe, by the time I return from California next Friday, he'll have added the fun stuff, like towel racks and decorative towels and the teak "sink accessories."
I complain a lot about the mess Tom makes when he works on a home project and about what a perfectionist he is , and how long things take him... but ultimately he does REALLY nice work!
I have a feeling I'll be spending a lot of time in the bathroom!
OK, I admit it: I watch the "popular bloggers," the ones who draw gazillions of readers to their site daily, and I wish I could somehow be like them. If I get 35 readers per day, I'm satisfied; 40, and I'm bordering on ecstatic. Granted, I write about nothing of substance -- but geeze, neither do they!
I've decided that the difference is in the branding. Maybe my blog isn't "branded correctly." Maybe I'm not marketing myself effectively. After all, I don't have ads running up and down the edges and I haven't registered my blog on all the blog searching sites out there.
Which prompts the question -- do I really care? I mean, who do I write my blog for? Ultimately, I write it for myself, simply because I want to write, simply because I (think I) have something to say. Actually -- the fact that more than a few people find my blog of any interest at all, and the fact that I have readers from more than a few countries, is pretty mind-boggling.
I'm a middle-aged (oh my god, I just saw that sentence on the screen... scary!) career woman and mother of grown kids. That's pretty much it! I don't write about my most profound feelings or my deep dark secrets; I just write about my day. So 28 readers is about right, and I am so grateful for the faithful friends -- and I do consider you friends -- among that small, select (ha ha!) group: Vailain, Blackcrag, DixiePeach, Lilly, Christina, Peter, and Jen, and others too numerous to mention. (Note sarcasm.)
I've thought about going the route of registering on every blogging site in existence and doing the whole GoogleAds thing... but WHY?! So more people can read about my Tupperware, or my management philosophy or about the day when I finally used chopsticks all the way through a meal? How stupid is that?!
I'll ponder that question while I do a gazillian loads of laundry and clean the house on my one free day between an emotionally exhausting week at work (which I better not write about) and a week-long business trip that will begin tomorrow.
(*Crowd painting -- isn't it cool?! -- courtesy of Gordon.)
Thursday, March 08, 2007
I received a gift today from my dad. He's taking a writing class from a woman who journaled her mother's battle with ovarian cancer, from diagnosis to death -- just like I'd done with my own mother's journey with the same illness. Difference being, of course, that her journal became a book and mine still sits in my lavender "Omi box," a gift from Mom's Hospice worker.
Fayegail Bisaccia, the author of Dancing in My Mother's Slippers signed her book for me at my dad's request and I can hardly wait to read it! Just flipping through the pages, I know that many of our experiences through the love and grief of a mother's death are similar -- and even before opening the book past Fayegail's note to me ("For Carol, who has walked a similar path"), I felt a kinship with her and I can hardly wait until I can delve into the pages during my business trip to Santa Cruz next week.
Omi's box has been sitting on my dresser since the day I came home after Mom's death. I just can't move it from my dresser. I rarely open the silk ties on the box, but tonight I did. When you untie the two flaps, they open out to display pictures of me with Mom -- one when I was about 11 and one taken just a few days before her death. Also contained in the box are pictures of the immediate and extended family at Mom's memorial, Mom's obituary in the newspaper, the program from her memorial, and a journal, written TO Mom (until, interestingly, she began to slip away; that's when I wrote "her" instead of "you"), in which I chronicled her last four years.
In April, 2001, as Mom lay in a hospital bed in Portland, Oregon recuperating from a long surgery to remove her cancer-ridden ovaries, I bought the spiral-bound notebook that became my vehicle for writing to and about Mom. On the front of the bright red notebook is an embossed tea kettle with the words "A woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water." There seemed to be plenty of pages in the book for me to record Mom's journey and my feelings about it, but four years almost to the day after I bought the book, as Mom lay dying, sharing -- with great effort -- her last few words with us, I squeezed the last possible words onto the last page and grabbed more loose pages from Dad's office so I could record just a few more days, a few more feelings, a few more memories.
Maybe someday I'll record the entire four-year journal electronically, but here's what I squeezed onto those last few pages during Mom's last few days:
April 6, 2004 (Yes, that’s a four!)
I thought I had filled up this journal to you – this journal that had far too few pages to document your journey – long ago. But there are two more pages left, and if I write really small…
I was here last week with Nikki, drove home on Saturday because we thought it would be a while. Spent Sunday with my family, got ready for work on Monday, and on the way out the door, Dad called: “You might want to be here sooner rather than later.” So my brothers and I are all in Ashland now because… it’s time. After almost exactly four years, it’s time. The Hospice nurses now predict “a few days.” You aren’t you: not controlling, not in charge, not loud. Not walking alone, not eating, not talking. In diapers – which you hate. This is so hard to watch, but it must be harder to experience. You are aware of everything, but can’t express yourself. If you try to talk you risk a coughing fit – and that is excruciating for you and so scary for us. Your words – what few there are – are jumbled and confused, but I don’t think your thoughts are. You know perfectly well what’s happening. Last week you said you were scared, but this seems different. I don’t think you’re scared anymore – but I am. I need to know – as Elisabeth says – that you’re there…somehow. Tom says Papa’s presence – even if just in his thoughts – is comforting. Elisabeth and I have chosen to believe that somehow you’ll be present. How could YOU, of all people, be otherwise?
April 7, 2004 4 AM
Soon. You always fight everything. You fight this too. Let go, Mom. Be at peace. It’s OK. It’s OK to go now. The words – when they find their way out – are barely comprehensible. In the past hour: “Oh God!” twice. “Where’s Michael?” “Where am I?” “S’Geht nicht gut.”
Why do you keep getting up to pee? There’s no pee left. Relax, Mom. Let go. You don’t want to be here like this.
I will miss you every single day. But I’ll miss who you’ve been in your life, not who I see at your death. It’s so hard to see you like this – like a baby… so compliant, so naïve, so NOT Edith. The last thing you said before I left you with dad tonight was, “Thank you, Carol.” You’re so very welcome, Mom.
4/7/04 10 AM
It’s hard to get used to: the slightest noise will rouse you and you can show with a grunt that you’re mentally here (at least to some extent), but if someone didn’t know that you’re aware, they’d think you checked out already. Your mouth and eyes are at partially open positions. You seem unresponsive… but you are quite alert under it all. You asked Michael last night, “Am I dying?” He said, “I don’t know.” But you are. This is the process of dying.
4/7/04 6 PM
Just words, barely comprehensible, but important: “Phi Beta Kappa,” “Downhill” (skiing?)
4/8/04 8 AM
You are fighting death with the same fervor and defiance with which you fought the disease. Your oh-no-you-don’t attitude is still strong – even without the ability to speak more than a garbled word or two… or eat… or stand. Oh-no-you-don’t keep that catheter in me. Oh-no-you-don’t give me meds that I don’t want (is it because you’re not in pain? Or because you want a “pure” experience?). Oh-no-you-don’t. You’re STILL in control.
What is a “dignified death,” anyway? Is it one that one orchestrates him/herself? Is it what the Hopsice workers call “a conscious death”? I know for sure what it’s NOT. It’s NOT a death that takes place in a hospital, surrounded by tubes and strangers. I’m sure of that. And as hard as it is to watch you helpless in so many ways, you are surrounded by the people who love you the most, and you are not “hooked up” and we DO listen to you and often know what you feel and need (which I’m sure doesn’t happen in the hospital). And our primary concern is your comfort (what comfort there can be…) and letting you know how much we love you. Maybe death, in itself, simply isn’t dignified. But maybe a death when Nature brings it, surrounded by love and compassion, is the most dignified it can be. I believe that there’s important work going on as you transition, and for the first time in my life I’m pretty sure that there even IS a “transition” and that there even IS another side. That work that you’re doing – whatever it is – is what makes this death, one that occurs in its own time, dignified. That’s what I’m choosing to believe, maybe selfishly, maybe not. But it’s the best I can do… and as “correct” a belief as anything else.
4/8/04 12:30 PM
Incredible. You absolutely insisted on having everything OFF – catheter, diaper, nightgown, even blankets. Everything! For a while, we couldn’t figure it out, but it became apparent that you were determined to lie flat on the bed, in the light shining from the skylight, stark naked.
Then you shared where you are with us:
Almost singing: “Where I’m gooooing!”
Helicopter (Hawaii? Alaska? Dad knew and he and Mom agreed…)
“Elisabeth ferien” (about their trip to Germany when Elisabeth was 13! This one made me sob, and I told Omi that Elisabeth is sooo much like her, it means I get to KEEP Omi through Elisabeth. She grimaced and “sobbed,” without a sound, a tear running down her cheek…)
“Floating in there.”
“She’ll be there.”
“Will (we’ll?) be ready.”
“_____ (name?) will be there.”
“I want to geh.” (Trying to get up and go with entire body… legs in cycling or hiking motion.)
And then, she did something she hadn’t done in two days: she opened her eyes and focused – on Dad – and said to him, clear as a bell, “Can you carry me over?”
4/9/04 4 AM
She’s no longer responsive to our questioning. Her eyes are almost always closed. And yet, she continues to insist on getting up (but she’s like a rag doll; it takes three or four of us to make it happen) to pee every few hours.
Difficult effort to communicate. Voice no longer reliable; must look at tongue, lips, throat. Very difficult to discern. MUCH guessing. The place was likely a lake (“Wahlsee?”) and the memory was obviously NOT a happy one. Now looks asleep, except one eye very slightly open – still… always.
Deep sleep since noon. Very regular breathing. Strong.
Mom is almost totally unresponsive. No muscle tone whatsoever. Eyes shut, except a slit in the left eye. Opaque sheath over her eyeball (can she see?). And yet, she STILL insists on getting up (it takes three of us!) to sit on the commode and pee – and she does pee!
She said to me, “My mother.” I said, “Your mother? Let me tell you about MY mother!” And I did.
4/10/04 5:45 PM:
And that was the last thing she ever said to me. After that, she went into a semi-comatose state. She still flailed and wanted to sit up, but only one last time, early this morning. Since the she’s been completely limp and non-responsive.
At noon, the Hospice nurse came. Mom was in distress: pulse 105, respiration 25. Working too hard. Until she could calm down and stop fighting physically, she wouldn’t let go, the nurse said. At 3:30 we (Dad, Chris, Michael and me; Stephan had to go home) tried to give her a full cc of Morphine and ½ cc of Adavin. But she couldn’t swallow anymore and she choked – the loudest, scariest, most god-awful terrified (and terrifying) sound I’ve heard in a long time. I didn’t know it was choking; I thought it was the sound of death! I called, “Mommy!” and ran out of the room, covering my ears. I couldn’t handle it. But it wasn’t death. It was her body working – still working – to live. After that, we turned her on her side, and that’s where she is now, breathing slow, shallow, regular breaths @ 12 per minute. God, she is so incredibly tenacious – in life, and, it seems, in death… or at least in the process of it.
She’s not my mother. My mother left after she shared her “transition” with us on Wednesday. She doesn’t look anything like my mother. She looks like a skeleton. No character, no spirit, no personality. Now we’re just caring for her body until it gives out – likely within hours.
I had a thought/dream (not sure which; I’m hardly sleeping at all!) in the middle of the night: Miss Saum, my kindergarten teacher, used to pin “notes to go home” on our clothes. I dreamed that I pinned a picture of Mom at her most beautiful to her body so the mortician could see how beautiful she was before he cremated her. I wanted those who would care for her body to know that she was SO not just another skeletal cancer patient.
Just before dawn on Easter Sunday, as the half-moon rose over the horizon, Mom drifted peacefully and quietly from this life. (Dad held my hand as we walked down the hall and as we approached Mom he said, “If you’re very quiet, you can hear how peaceful death is.”)
Her breaths were like a tiny, delicate little bird’s: very shallow, very regular, and very soft, with a faint rhythmic “click” to each breath. She looked totally relaxed. But she didn’t look like my mother. Mom had taken leave two days before. That was so obvious to me as we helped “usher” Mom’s body across as she’d asked. Over the period of an hour, she drifted so sweetly and peacefully away, surrounded by her family, and within the glimmer of a Bavarian candle.
After she died, Dad went outside and picked a dogwood flower and placed it on Mom. He commented to me that dogwood flowers only stay totally white for a short time. He was right: in a matter of minutes, dark spots appeared on the tip of each flower. Then we all sat with her. No one cried. It was simply too serene and beautiful, too “holy” even, to cry. Michael and Dad even took a few pictures. Mom looked beautiful in her white lace gown, under the white lace sheet, with the white dogwood flower on Easter morning as the sun rose.
About two hours after Mom died, a Funeral Alternative couple came to get her. A husband/wife team, they gently told us what would happen. State law requires gloves and a plastic sheet and that she be covered and encased. Previously, I’d thought I couldn’t stay for such a thing, but I would have never considered leaving at that point. They handed me the dogwood while they wrapped her and placed her on the gurney. Then they “zipped her in,” forgetting to replace the flower – which I wanted with her. So I found my way to her, unwrapping her, and placed the flower on her chest. Then I gave her a kiss and said, “Schlafy, schlafy (my family’s “sleep tight”) one last time.
I am so honored, so blessed, to have shared Mom’s life, and death, in the past three weeks… and four years… and forty-seven years. So incredibly blessed. And I have Mom to thanks for showing me how peaceful death can be. I love you, Mom. Thanks for being such a wonderful mom. And sister. And even daughter. You will always be with me – as all three.
Isn’t it fitting? Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote to you as we flew amid turbulence in the tiny LifeFlight plane to OHSU, promising you we’d fight your battle together. And today I’m in a plane again, making my way back to my family after spending three weeks with you. I know that, although we lost the fight, we did fight it together. I did keep my promise to you.
Be peaceful where you are, Mom.
I came home yesterday to this voicemail:
"Hello, this is (Joe Schmoe) from the United States Army recruiting office in (Your Town), Washington. This call is for Laura. Laura, we'd like to talk with you about the wonderful opportunities that await you in the United States Army..."
Laura is the foreign exchange student who lived with us in 2005 - 2006! It looks like Bush is having a bit of trouble finding his 20,000 troops among American citizens -- and is now going after German exchange students!