Monday, October 07, 2013

I lost my sweet Maa last week.

I could go on about how wonderful she was (because she was), or how much she meant to me, but I have a terrible headache from crying already.  I wrote this to her actual children, actual as in biological.  I was one of their several adopted children.  I will miss her till my own parting, as I miss her husband and my Paa, Tank.  Rest in Peace my friends.

Dear POD and Sue

I hope the memorial was perfect - in the sense that so many people touched by your Mum were there, able to support each other, laugh together and be glad together for her long and amazing life.  I've spent the last week saying goodbye to Maa in ways that feel meaningful to me, from so far away.

I know that once you wrap up her accounts, it is likely that we will not have comms from that point on, so I wanted to say goodbye to you, too, older brother and sister I never had, or met.  I heard all about you as kids, romping through your home, going to events and on trips.  Your Dad was especially vocal about memories of you both, your friends and fun times.  Joanie was more about your moves, promotions, grandkids, both very proud parents!  It was wonderful getting to know you through them.

Losing first Tank and now Joan has been very hard; it was a lonely grief both times.  Your parents helped to form a part of my life which was very significant and meaningful to me.  They taught me so much about being connected and generosity, they were the first people to ever offer me unconditional love.  My husband met your folks, but he really never got to know them - we stayed at Down Place for a weekend so that they could meet him, and so that I could say goodbye to them on my way back to N. America.  I never did see either of them again.  I can still feel your daddy's giant hug goodbye, and maa's soft kisses.

I wanted to thank you both for sharing your family with me.  Tank was so big, and filled up so much space in my heart, and Joanie filled in every missing piece left burnt and raw by my selfish, crazy mother.  Your parents knew how to pick an orphan!  Lainey too had so much need of them, I am thinking a lot of her, these days, as well.  Tank and Joan both had hearts so big and generous, it's been an honor and a blessing to have been part of their world.  You are both super people, I wish you and both of your families all the very best in your futures.

If indeed you'd like to maintain comms, I'd be very happy to, though I imagine if you tried to maintain all your parents friendships, you'd have no time for your own!  So be well, both of you.

With love,

Andy Lee

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Sporting Chance

A sporting chance.

Holy crap - I just realized that I really REALLY want to win at Naniwrimo this year.  Like a LOT.  I want to write and post and keep up with people.  I want to finish my novel, I want to read it to people, I want to make it GREAT.  So ok, I go onto the website, my homepage website, on Nanowrimo, and realize that THIS blog is attached to THAT page.  Well well.  If that isn't a reason to come up with something interesting to say...

So of interest lately around these parts is: kids sports.

My son is 8.5 and reasonably athletic.  He doesn't get it from his mom, but he can lope, he can dance around a soccer ball and he loves it.  So we moved from rec soccer to travel soccer - mostly to play with other kids who REALLY like to play, and also because he can play more often.  2 times a week would have been sufficient.  But ok, 4 times a week is what this team does.  It's what ALL the not-rec teams do.  True also for baseball.  5 times a week for football (never EVER letting him play football).  We don't play baseball.  Too boring.  So there's this tournament, the kids have to win 3/3 to get to the NEXT stage, which is in the Spring.  The first three games are in the Fall.  They are all over the state.  We got super lucky - the first two games are home games, and the third is 3 hrs away.  Not too bad.  My kid made the "silver" team.  There's also a "gold" team.  He didn't make that.  As it turns out, the "gold" team has 2 games away, and only one home game.  So I'm pttttth'ing the golden children and their parents who will be driving a LOT of hours.  I admit I'm competitive when it comes to how awesome my kid is.  He's a really nice kid - kind and gentle (generally), grateful and remembers his pleases and thank yous.  Usually.  Anyway, their kids are too - that isn't the point - the point is that I LIKE being competitive.  His best bud is a golden child, and his mom and I can JOKE about how my kid didn't make the cut.  There's another family that got moved down (we got moved down too), and they're all pissy and won't discuss (let alone make fun of) what happened.  Shrug.  What can we do, make them feel better?  Explain to their kid that their daddy doesn't coach, so they don't deserve more than a nod to their unbelievable (not) talent and incredible hard work?  Not so much.  We can laugh about it and enjoy the sunshine in our eyes, giving us new eye crinkles, and the fresh air and allergic asthma of all that newly mown grass.

The politics of kids sports is ridiculous, but it's part of the game.  Don't get pissed at it, mamas and papas.  Get in the game.  Get your head in the game.  If your kid is a huge risk taker - aggressive and a big mental player - expect that some coaches will not like that.  If you are not coaching your kid, expect him to get placed wherever the coach places him.  And for the love of pete - don't take it out on the sport!  Baseball is just baseball.  A diamond with a hump in the middle and a chain link fence around two sides.  That's it.  Bats and balls are optional.  Bases are optional.  Even the chain link is optional (but recommended, especially with those hard little balls the boys play with).  But a sense of humor (and a cushion for the aluminum bench) is highly recommended.  Bring your camera if you must.  Bring your beer/vodka/wine/whatever it is you need to be mellow and have fun.  Keep your head on and your mouth shut.  I have so enjoyed the seasons on the field, indoor and outside, but it is hard to get too wrapped up in the politics.  I just want my kid to be the best (he can be - politically correct, correct?), and to kick ass out there.  Because it's all about kicking ass.  Someone else's.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Fur Freak

Animals never judge.  They don’t care what jeans I wear, whether I have a nasty pimple, or if my hair is flattering to my face shape.  They care about being warm and loved, and so do I.  They care about being curious and having fun, and so do I.  They care about food and shelter and playing and moving around, and so do I.  As a kid, I felt misunderstood by, well, everybody.  I got those notes sent home, things like “She is clearly not living up to her potential” and “Her squirrely behavior is disruptive and prevents her from focusing on the task at hand”, only to be given punishments and abuse by my parents, who were sure that would cure me of the behavior issues, and then ignored or worse by my siblings, who were pissed because now mom was in a bad mood and cooked crappy food for dinner.  So animals (later animals and music, and even later, animals, music and drugs) became my refuge.  Strays, baby birds, turtles, frogs, ants and crickets that I caught in the yard and kept in jars with twigs and leaves, the family dog, they were all part of my empathic experience.  I admit here that insects were not, in general, part of this empathesystem, as I call this little world of comfort, but there was always room for ants and crickets.  No elaboration. 

So how strange does it seem that the first dog I ever took responsibility for outside of the bounds of childhood, was found at City College of SF, where the cops had her tied up with a thick orange nylon rope, feeding her plates of spaghetti Bolognese.  She was a lovely golden mix, with a soft white stripe down her snout and eyes the color of roasted hazlenuts, about 6 weeks old.  They’d found her on the streets near the campus, and were hoping some softie would bring her home.  I promptly complied.  She rode the MUNI 43 home with me, her black nose and curious eyes poking out of my backpack, as I carried my books.  She had the softest ears of any creature I’d ever met.  Softer than the silk baby blanket I’d sent to my friend Jennifer for her new baby.  Softer than pussywillow buds.  I fell deeply in love with her.  She shat on my carpet for 2 days, until the diarrhea passed, and then I took her to the vet.  They ran cultures on her blood and stool, poked her with thermometers, jabbed her with vaccines, and pronounced her fit for adoption.  She still had no name, I had several favorites that I was trying out - Layla (Clapton fan), Bertha (Deadhead days), and Gertie (Gertrude Stein - big heroine) were the top contenders.  The next morning, before I made it out the door, the phone rang.  The vet, pronouncing that the puppy’s blood showed signs of cocaine.  I swore up and down that it wasn’t me, and they told me what to be aware of (diarrhea, nipping, fever), because she would be going through withdrawal for a few more days.  She was obviously Casey Jones, and like the next decade of life, we got through it together.    She (and I) graduated from Berkeley, enjoyed countless collegiate parties, was known far and wide along Telegraph Ave, throughout the Haight, and most of my of the classrooms by students and professors alike, who all enjoyed her company until they forgot she was even there. We hiked the Long Trail together, and many mountains, shared blankets and burgers.  My dad finally had to put her to sleep when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a ripe old lady of 88.5 human years.

I was 30 when my daughter was born, a chattery little creature with curls and sticky-outty ears.  Before she was one, we had decided on a house to buy and a town to live in, but my life still felt, well, there was a hole in it that neither husband nor child could fill.  He was undemanding, yet there were many times that I felt judged, and pronounced lacking, though he would argue that furiously.  She was growing into toddlerhood so quickly, and I wanted for her, as I’d had, that refuge of unconditional love that an animal offers.  I could see it already; though I would never repeat all of my mother’s mistakes, this little daughter of mine was going to rub and push me until we both bled.  We both needed a dog.  The week we moved out of our rental and into our new (to us) home, I went and picked up a dog.  He was a mix breed, marled, tri colored, soft eared and doe eyed.  He and the baby grew up together, but - as I knew he would - he stopped growing after a few months, while she continued to grow and change.  They always had each other, licking, pushing, playing, fighting over balls and squeaky toys for the first few years, later over the window seat and steak.  He was her pal and confidant, and he was mine too.  He never chose, he shared himself equally between all three of us, really, and when our son was born (and the dog was now quite mature), he gave that boy as much of himself as he had to offer.  He nipped his heels to keep him in the yard.  He fetched balls long after running made his arthritis throb.  He chased neighborhood cats out of the backyard sandbox and ate every scrap of food thrown (to him, across the room, didn’t matter).  This dog too accompanied us on river trips and woodland hikes.  He came on boats, road trips, and long neighborhood walks.  His downfall was his instinct to hunt little animals, which consistently broke my heart, as well as the heart of a brave little ten year old girl, whose rabbit he ate while we bunny sat their furbaby.  Not a good situation.  But he also did something profound and powerful with kids we knew.  He brought them out of fear and into love. 

We were part of a babysitting coop, a brilliant idea wherein we dropped our kid(s) off at someone’s house, prearranged, and traded them beads for their time.  It also meant that the same happened at our house.  One day, a fat baby girl of about nine months and her big brother, about five years old, came over to ‘play’.  It was a beautiful Summer day, warm and bright.  The bigger kids were outside in the backyard, playing on the tire swing, and my friend left, her baby snug in my arms, bag full of baby accoutrements over my shoulder, and a kiss for her well-occupied son, to return newly coiffed in an hour.  Scratch scratch at the screen door told me that the dog wanted in on the action. I brought the baby up on the deck, plopped her bag onto a chair, and opened the door for the dog.  As Zami ran out, I brought the baby inside and laid her on a blanket on the floor with baby toys to explore.  Suddenly, from outside, I heard a high pitched scream, the kind of scream that all mothers dread and respond to, regardless of the child of emanation, the kind that indicates evisceration, appendicitis, or possible missile attack.  I ran back outside, slamming through the door, my bare feet hardly touching the floor.  Into the yard, across the field of acorns (many of them broken open by squirrels), leaving blood in my wake as the acorn shards cut my feet to ribbons.  There, under the old Oak, was my daughter, looking at the boy she had just been happily playing with, who stood stock still, screaming as if staring into a nightmare.  And there sat the dog, directly in front of him.  The dog raised with kids, soft black ears pricked, gentle eyes waiting for this he child to do something smart with that ball, and stop all the racket.  I picked up the boy, who squirmed as high up on my shoulder as he could get, and talked him back into the relative calm that comes with hiccups and heaves.  

I pointed out the ball.  I pointed to the dog.  I asked my daughter to bring the ball to me.  I handed it up to the boy.  And here, just before he chucked it like Cy Young, something profound happened.  This boy loved balls, and so did this dog.  Around this concept, the two bonded so firmly that within a few months, they had a dog of their own.  Once the two boys were happily throwing and fetching, I went back inside to the baby, who was gurgling happily, collected her and her toys, and went back outside to call Mom and fill her in. “Oh,” she said when I’d told her what happened.  “Yeah, I might’ve forgotten to mention he’s deadly afraid of dogs.  His daddy’s family live in an area with ferrel dogs, so the fear of the devil is put into all the kids there to stay away from dogs.”  Ah.  Right.  “Well, he’s enjoying the dog play now, so just be prepared for whatever fall out may occur, no need to rush back.” 

This happened with other kids too.  Zami (short for Zamboni) was so kind, and enjoyed playing so much, that he broke down barriers for kids who were truly afraid of dogs.  And then he got sick.  His arthritis got so bad he could hardly walk.  Every winter, we assumed it would be his last.  That lasted for 5 winters.  At some point, we put him on meds that helped control inflamation and pain.  Another newer med at some point, and added another later on.  By the end, he was over 100 human years, deaf, mostly blind, and could hardly walk, stand, sit, or play.  It was time.  Losing him, for me, has meant losing a friend, a child, and a therapist, all in one swoop of death.  For my kids, it means losing a brother, pal, and confidante.  All the trite sayings apply - he is missed, he is remembered with every tennis ball, each time we walk in, or out, of the kitchen, see the empty little two-seater couch we bought for him from a garage sale (to save our own couch), or go for a ride to the river, knowing he will not swim out to fetch sticks.  It’s disarming, crying for what seems like no reason.  Except that my daughter, now a teenager, is also crying tears that means she was in love, that her friend meant more to her than her own happiness, and that she will surely, one day, open her heart again to the love of a furry friend.  Thank god.