of celebration and service

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written here.  Months in fact.  I’m sure I’ll come up with some viable excuses at some point.  It isn’t that I don’t want to write or that I don’t have anything to write about.  I think about writing every day (pretty much).  Some days I even sit down and begin two or three different posts.  But for some reason I can’t seem to write more than a few sentences.  I go through periods where I feel, well, for lack of a better word, unqualified to write a blog about my life.  I know that may sound ridiculous.  Who is more qualified to write about my life than me?!  Maybe *unqualified* is the wrong word.  What seems to be preventing me from writing right now (and this feeling has happened in the past when I’ve gone long stretches without writing) is a pervasive feeling of insecurity that borders on self-enmity.  Stemming from a deep-seated fear of leaning toward a narcissism that might be hereditary.  I am so terrified of becoming the narcissistic blabbermouth that is my mother, I’d rather not write at all.  And even were it not to be considered narcissistic, pedantic people get on my nerves.  And goodness knows I don’t want to be one of them either.  As I find myself telling Nina frequently, “No one likes a know-it-all.”  And really, no one does.  Who do I think I am, some kind of life-expert, to be dispensing some kind of faux-fortune-cookie wisdom?!  I am so inexpert at living my own life it is laughable to think I should write about it or that anyone would want to read about it.  What could I possibly have to say about my own unskilled, in some ways rather pedestrian life that won’t make me cringe the next time I read it?  And if I’m writing for others, what is it about my bungling maladroit misadventures that is even compelling?!  I don’t know.  

Still I feel directed if not destined to write, and even with all that said, I begin again.  I’ve passed another *Kaleidoscope Life Anniversary*.  Which neatly coincides with another anniversary of my birth.  I may not be getting better at celebrating my birthday, but I am finding I’m getting better at being authentic about it, having a modicum of integrity with it.  As it turned out, my birthday this year fell the day after Yom Kippur, a day on which I work a blistering regiment of 7 hours of standing to lead religious services that are sometimes beautiful and sometimes excruciating and even sometimes soulful.  But no matter how meaningful the day is, I am exhausted at the end of it, wrung out and psychically threadbare.  For the first time in 20 years, I had the wherewithal to  follow the insight born of repeated failings, and take the next day off.  Which, as I have already said, was my birthday.

My only intention was to have a quiet calm day.  And to avoid being a big fat disappointment to my family (who always want to joyfully celebrate my birthday even though I always want to evade, deflect, ignore and reject any such offerings or suggestions).  More than that I didn’t plan.  I spent some of the day reading for pleasure and some of the day reading about bread baking.  I coerced Ursula (my sourdough starter) into making a few loaves of bread.  For my birthday, Emily bought me a marble slab specifically for kneading dough on, as well as a professional lame (a bread tool), to make those lovely decorative slashes on the outside of artisan loaves.  Engaging in the creative process was, as always, invigorating.  Like making soap, there is something in the chemistry (or is it alchemy?) of kneading dough that brings on a Zen-like state of being.  The knowledge that this day’s bake was entirely for charity seemed to nourish my soul and elevate my spirit even more.

The evening of my birthday I’d promised one of my besties that I’d help her out.  She’s one of those amazing, gifted teachers who teaches with her heart.  A kid in her class has deaf parents and it was their back-to-school night and my friend wanted to make sure her student’s parents could participate and engage and feel welcomed.  She asked if I’d help with communication.  Sure, why not?  Well, maybe because it’s your birthday and maybe you want to have a celebratory dinner with your beloved family?  I thought about that before I said yes.  And I was afraid Emily would be angry with me for choosing to be elsewhere on my birthday night.  It isn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with Emily and the kids.  And it wasn’t that I was simply avoiding celebrating my birthday (though I’m sure there was some of that involved).  I told Emily that we could have a lovely dinner the following night (which was a Friday and we generally have a lovely and relaxed family dinner for Shabbat anyway).  As it turned out, Emily was fine with my plans.  That night was Nina’s back-to-school picnic (something I can barely tolerate) and Emily felt like it was birthday gift enough to let me not attend.  I love how Emily really knows me 🙂  Anyway, I went and interpreted as best I could.  My rusty signs notwithstanding, the family was incredibly grateful to be able to talk with their daughter’s teachers and take part in the back-to-school night more fully.  Their joy at simply being included was contagious.  I felt buoyed by their happiness as they basked in pride over their daughter’s work-ethic and accomplishments.  All in all it was a perfect way to spend my birthday.  I fell asleep that night happy, trying to put into words the important life-lesson I felt I’d learned.  Something about not being put on this earth to celebrate ourselves, but being on this earth to journey with and be of service to others.  I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m feeling down.

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Posted in almost off the grid, blessings, everyday stuff, in the spiritual realm | 7 Comments

saw her standing there – another long one

My mother has lived 1500 miles away for over 20 years.  She comes to Boston once a year, a few weeks in the summer, and stays too far away to be convenient for visits.  Convenience being a relative term of course.  I think I saw her once two summers ago.  I’m not sure I saw her at all last summer – her visit having been interrupted by one of her tantrums, after a fight with the one friend she still had (an old high school boyfriend she likes to torment every so often), after which she ended up changing her flight (for an exorbitant amount of money) and flying home early.  Usually she flies, her husband and the dogs trailing behind in the car, arriving a few days after her.  This trip though she rode in the car, her husband deeming she was not quite fit to fly alone.

I have minimal contact with my mother for lots and lots and lots of reasons.  Since our 12 years of no contact, I’d say we now speak by phone once a month or so.  I have certainly pieced together in the last year and a half the fact that she is *not well*.  Though what that actually means in real life is harder to pin down than mercury.

In addition to having mental illness, my mother has always been a fairly creative and agile hypochondriac.  Her hypochondriasis has intensified in recent years as both her anxiety and her age have risen proportionately.  I have learned from a life lived with her to discount at least three quarters of her somatic complaints out of hand, knowing they are phantasms of one kind or another.  With the last quarter being exaggerated magnifications of microscopic ailments (papercuts being referred to as gaping wounds).  But I have no idea at this point what is real, what is imagined, what is fear or what is intentionally contrived for attention and dramatic effect.  Our last 3 or 4 phone calls have been strange, though not completely out of character.  She has simply cried inconsolably, babbling like an overtired child on her end of the phone as she recounts various calamities she has endured.  She claims to fall down whole flights of stairs, breaking ribs, toes and wrists, at least weekly.

What I do know for fact is that she sleeps.  A lot.  I know she cries a lot.  I know her husband has hired *caregivers* to be with her while he is at work.  I don’t know what these *caregivers* actually do or who they are.  She has referred to them as her babysitters.  She has referred to them as her friends.  She has also referred to them as her maids.  Without being in more frequent contact with her, I have no idea what is really going on.  And I’m not willing to be in more frequent contact with her.  As I’ve said, to nauseating extremes, contact with her is not for the weak.  Even texting with her is an exercise in frustration.  I am no longer surprised by text messages from her that are strings of indecipherable gibberish, a line of nonsense letters.  I stopped calling after receiving those texts because every time I did she swore she had no recollection of sending me a text.  When I would direct her to look at her phone (offering incontrovertible proof) she would burst into a stream of sobbing psychosis, claiming to have blacked out.

I received several of these nonsensical texts as they drove up the coast.  I ignored them.  She finally texted three days in, “Took an Uber home. Delirious.”  With an eye-rolling sigh, I texted her husband to ask what was up and if he and the dogs were ok.  Mother called me 25 seconds later.  “Why are you checking up on me with my husband?!” she chided.  When my response was a steely reference to her text, she sighed dramatically and said, “I was joking for Christ’s sake.  You have absolutely no sense of humor.  You never have.”  But then she launched into a discursive description about how she’d gotten a temporary crown on one of her teeth before leaving and how in the course of the 3 day car ride both that crown and another temporary bridge both broke, fell out, snapped in half, she swallowed one, half choked to death on the other and was now in excruciating pain and missing a good half the teeth in her mouth.  “Ok,” I said, “See you when you get here.”

I didn’t hear from her for several more days and when she finally did call she sounded groggy and drugged.  Again, not out of character, but.  She said she “desperately” wanted to see me, but explained that she took a “major fall” out of the car when they arrived and her “entire body was bloody and beaten and bruised.”  She also claimed to have knocked several teeth out in that fall.  “In addition to the broken crown and bridge?!” I asked incredulously.  She hesitated.  Clearly forgetting the details of the story she’d told me.  She decided to ignore the blip, telling me that she’d been in town a few days and had been sleeping since her arrival.  She asked what the children were dressing as for Halloween, bursting into tears when I pointed out that it was July.  And she ended the conversation by telling me how exhausted she was,  that she needed to sleep and that she’d call me in a few days when she felt better.

She called a few days later asking if she could see me and the kids.  She still sounded a bit befuddled, but better than she had in the last phone call.  I told her directly but nicely that I was hesitant to let her see my children before I’d had the chance to spend time with her myself, explaining that her rather erratic and dramatic behaviors were not something I was comfortable exposing my children to.  She reluctantly acquiesced.

I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me.  Shuffling what appeared to be dropsy feet, she approached me as I got off the elevator.  Her skin seemed loose, wrinkled and grayish in pallor.  Even her hair and nails seemed straw-like, dry and brittle.  Could this be the fierce tornado-esque woman who ruled in chaos and spread fear in the hearts of those who knew her?  This certainly was the oldest 74 year old I had ever encountered.  Frail and fragile, she barely reached out to hug me as if afraid of unbalancing herself.  Her feet did not leave the carpet as she led me at a glacial pace down the hall to the apartment where she was staying.  She literally walked as if there was lead in her several-sizes-too-big shoes.  Her arms tucked in to her sides at the elbow, her hands held limply out in front of her.  “What’s with the walk?” I asked.  “I don’t know,” she said, “Jerry says I’m shuffling, but I don’t think I am.”

She screamed at her dogs as she opened the door, “Get the fuck away from me you son-of-a-bitching assholes!” She swatted at them with unsteady hands.  “Now that’s more like it,” I thought to myself.  She gingerly lowered herself onto the couch, telling me, without much affect, about her poor health, her falls, her visit with Peter.  There was very little emotion and even less liveliness in her being as she talked, in run-on non-stop sentences, without taking a breath.  She looked to me like she was mummified, corpse-like, rotting from the inside.

I spent less than an hour with her.  Thankfully her husband Jerry was there to take up the slack in the conversation.  For long periods she would space out, staring off blankly, devoid of even a hint of either intellectual functioning or vitality.  When she did join the conversation it was to ask for clarification, offer something totally random and irrelevant or to ask the most basic questions (my children’s names, ages, birthdays).  She apologized to Jerry for “missing his birthday” and promised to get him a gift soon.  His birthday, the same date as her beloved mother’s birthday, is in January.

I left with very mixed feelings.  It was so strange to see this once all-powerful emotional giant weakened, withered, wasted.  In moments I felt pity.  I also felt sadness.  For her, for me, for whom I wasn’t sure.  There were also, though I am ashamed to admit it, flashes of “what goes around comes around”, shrugging at the karmic consequences she has laid out for herself.  I felt somewhat disconnected, unaffected, like watching a faraway scene of impending expiration.

She slept for 3 more days before calling and asking if she could see my children.  I suggested a brief, early dinner at a restaurant and reminded her she needed to behave without antics or hysterics.

I only brought the older girls, leaving Emily home with Ruby.  Again I found her to be vacant and shuffling dully, zombie-like and lifeless.  She followed conversations with troubled eyes clouded by confusion.  She asked repeatedly if people – us, the waitress, people at other tables – were talking about or laughing at her.  She took only 2 small bites of her shrimp before crying out in pain and grabbing her mouth with both hands.  Through clenched jaw and gritted teeth she claimed to have broken (yet another) tooth.  She began to whimper pathetically, rocking in her chair and muttering to herself.  The girls looked to me for guidance.  “She’ll be fine” I said noncommittally.  With her teeth awkwardly clamped, making her look and sound like a caricature of Marlon Brando, she said, “Yesh, I’ll be fine.”  She sat quietly without eating through the rest of dinner.

I’m not sure what to make of it all.  I’m not sure how to feel.  Jerry called me to say that he thinks she has Alzheimer’s.  I’m leaning more toward either Parkinson’s or medication toxicity.  But that doesn’t address how I feel about watching the significant and pitiable decline of a once malicious and mean-spirited parent.  While I don’t feel obliged to get involved or help in any concrete way, I do feel compelled to be kind and gentle with her.  My anger seems to have evaporated over these many years I have spent creating my own life.  It will undoubtedly be interesting going as this plays out.  Glad I have you (readers) journeying with me.

Posted in family of origin, feelings | Leave a comment

half-hearted-half-measures

“Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  Do NOT hit the reply button.  Hali, just don’t.” the little voice whispers inside my head as I scroll through Facebook and see random Trump-sympathizers’ comments.  The cacoethes is familiar.  The urge to explain reality to a fabulist too reminiscent of attempting to argue with mother.  There are no facts.  There is no foundation on which to base anything.  The target is phantasmagoric, like trying to hold smoke between pinched fingers.  I am so weary of fighting the *good fight*.  I am tired, exhausted, by it actually.  I do not expect (or even want) everyone to believe and think as I do.  But I would like a civilized dialogue and a modicum of accountability for certain realities.

I heard back from our city’s LGBTQ liaison regarding the city pool.  She wrote to say that she’d met with the head of parks and rec and that they were, quote, totally up on the city and state ordinances.  She went on to say that she had plans to tour the pool herself and said she’d get back to me after that.  True to her word, she wrote back a few weeks later, happily reporting that she’d seen the facility, spoken with the manager and provided a training for the pool staff.  Aaannnd we’re all set, she said.  I can simply sign in at the front desk as usual and then use a side entrance – telling the people at the desk that I have “Tom’s permission” to do so.  Easy as pie.  Right?

Well, I guess so, I mean, er, I think, well, actually, ahem, um, “we” are not all that set though really.  I mean, it appears that “I” might be “all set” perhaps, but what about other people?  There must be others who do not fall so neatly into the gender binary, who don’t know that they have “Tom’s permission” (if in fact they do).  What about them? What should they do?  And how will they know what to do?  And well, not to be too dismissive or ungrateful, but what, exactly, has really changed?  I mean, other than the fact that I don’t have to explain myself in technicolor detail repeatedly?  I can simply use the password, “Tom sent me” or, “I’m a friend of Bill’s” or “abracadabara”.  At first glance here, I’m sorry to report that it doesn’t actually seem that the pool has gotten any more welcoming for *people like me*.  But perhaps once again or still I am asking for too much, going beyond the endurance of others’ tolerance, asking for more than I deserve.  Isn’t it enough to be permitted?!  Must I be acknowledged and welcomed as well?!

 

As it turns out, I actually went to the pool with my older girls recently.  It was a hot and sunny Tuesday (my day off) and they were both itching to cool off in the pool, so I sucked it up and took them.  I had no intention of swimming with them, glad to know they would entertain themselves and each other while I sat poolside looking pretty.  I hadn’t ever noticed before that there are rules for pool attire that are clearly stated: No street clothes. No t-shirts.  Appropriate swim attire (which is entirely subject to management discernment).  I felt reasonably comfortable with my prepared defense that I wouldn’t be actually swimming.  And I mostly doubted that I’d be called out for my shorts and t-shirt apparel.  I decided to skip the coded authorization and simply walk with the girls through the women’s side.  There was a gaggle of teenie-boppers behind the desk playfully posturing and romping in cheerful camaraderie.  I didn’t want to bring down the lighthearted mood.  Read that: I was too ashamed to call attention to myself or give them something to make fun of once I turned the corner to use my special side-entrance.

I walked quickly, head down, through the locker-room, leaving the girls to change into swimsuits, promising to scope out a bench.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d recalled from previous visits.  I felt, in all honesty, a bit dramatic for having complained.  I found a bench poolside in dappled sunlight and plopped myself down with the towels and goggles.  There was a woman at the end of the bench also wearing street clothes and I felt an affinity toward her.  She looked to be in her 30s, with a pleasant demeanor and air of joyful energy about her.  She wore fashionable shorts, a white cotton blouse and extra large sunglasses that made her look a bit anime and fun.  Her hair was thinning and her skin was a flawless coffee color.  Her jewelry was stunning and she had lots of it.  I’m an admitted chatty charlie, so of course I struck up a conversation with her.

We began talking about the weather and the heat, moving on to our mutual disinterest in public pool swimming – both confessing to be somewhat germaphobic and referring to the pool as a petri-dish.  She laughingly, self-consciously, referred to her rapidly thinning hair, jokingly blaming the responsibility of parenting rambunctious boys.

Our conversation was interrupted by several shrieking whistles heralding a *pool announcement*.  The speakers crackled with the proclamation, “Sun-Camp swim is now over.  All campers please leave the pool and meet your counselors under the clock.  God bless America.”  For half a heartbeat I thought they said, “God bless America”.  That’s strange.  I must have been mistaken.  A bit jerkily, my new friend and I resumed our conversation.

 

Not even a half hour later the whistles blared again.  “Anyone wishing to take the ‘deep end’ swim test, please report to the ladder area. God bless America.”  There it was again.  I felt my face contort into something like a confused sneer.  I watched as others went about their business, conversing and moving about as if nothing odd had happened.  I cocked my head like the RCA dog and said out-loud but sort of to myself, “What’s up with the God bless America thing?”  Patricia (my new friend) said, “Yeah, creepy right?  But don’t ask me.  I’m new here.”

Bolstered by her agreement, I turned to ask the person on my other side if they always add the *tag-line* “God bless America” to every announcement and she said they did.  She shrugged her disapproval while saying it was a longstanding tradition at the pool and she had no idea why.  “But no one questions it?” I asked.  While one woman not too far away gave me the *stink-eye* as loudly as she could (we know on what side her opinions fall), someone walking by overhearing the disbelief in my voice piped in, “Yeah, it’s their ‘thing’. They always do it.  Kinda weird, but whatever.”  I.  Was.  Stunned.

Kinda weird but whatever!?  Am I living in a different country than these people?!  Do they not see the problem with this blind, weird, creepy, tag-line patriotism, given the current political climate in this country and the veritable war on immigrants declared by our quasi-fascist government on a daily basis?!  The children removed from their parents and placed in cages?!  Do they not have any concept of the required separation of church and state!?! The child of someone sitting near me came over to me and said, “Why do you think it’s stupid?”  To which stink-eye-lady gave me a smug, “HA! even a child can see you’re an idiot!” look.

I was still quite disturbed later that night after I’d gotten home.  I posted something about it on Facebook.  A dozen people responded pretty immediately that it was gross and not appropriate.  Even a republican friend (yes I have one) said it was out of line.  “Once a day I can see” he wrote, “Thank God no one drowned! God bless America! But after EVERY announcement?!”  A friend living in Georgia wrote that it would be “odd” even there in the conservative South.  She smartly suggested I write or call and simply be curious, asking what the history of saying, “God bless America” after every announcement was and how it came to be.  So I did that.

religious liberty

I got no response to my gentle curious email.  In the meantime, I visited the pool with the kids again.  I approached a teen-aged lifeguard on break.  I asked about the tag-line-prayer and she smiled enthusiastically as she told me it’s “just a thing” that they do.  As if it were some cute “May the force be with you” kind of jingle.  I asked if she knew when, where and how it originated and she didn’t.  She said something like, “Sweet right?”  And I couldn’t help but say no.  I explained that I found it problematic.  And before I could proceed I could see her tense.  I didn’t bother to explain myself.  She wasn’t listening.  And anyway, she was on break.  There were only 4 announcements that day.  And yes, they said it after each one.

A friend suggested I call City Hall, so I did.  Even though I was beginning to feel like an asshat for making such a big deal out of something so seemingly trivial.  The gentleman who answered the phone at city hall was lovely.  He sounded gay, if one can *sound* gay.  He was extremely receptive and clearly surprised.  He asked if I’d called parks and rec, telling me that while he will pass on my complaint, he would suggest I call them directly as this is in their purview.  Before I got off the phone with him, I tried to explain that I wasn’t simply complaining.  That I really was questioning, wanting to dialogue, wanting to hear and be heard.

I called parks and rec and got a much less amenable reception.  The woman who answered the phone could not understand, and therefore asked me repeatedly, WHAT the PROBLEM was.  I asked what the origin of the tradition was and she suggested I contact the pool manager directly myself.  I asked if she knew why they continued to add, “God bless America” after every single announcement and she said, “Because they’ve always done it.”  I tried to explain that “we’ve always done it” was an extremely poor argument.  She asked why, and I asked if her doctor still used leeches.  She put me through to her boss.

Her boss’ eyes rolled so loudly that I could hear them.  “What seems to be the problem” was the kindest opener she could muster.  She also used the “we’ve always done it” excuse.  But when I wasn’t having it, she changed to “The courts responded to the complaint we had last year and found that the recitation of the prayer was not in violation or infringement of anyone’s rights and therefore they are allowed to say it.”  I was so stunned I was speechless.  In my momentary silence she offered to send me a copy of the court documents, asked if there was anything else she could help(sic) me with, and said, “Have a nice day” as she hung up.

Well I’m glad we got that cleared up.  I sat, phone in hand, staring dumbly into space.  I know I am not alone in thinking this was creepy and not ok.  But am I the only one who thinks it heralds something more sinister?  Am I just a crazy apocalypse-prophesying hysteric?  Or is it truly one of those slippery slopes that begins by normalizing abnormal little things and before you know it you’re in full fascist mode?  Fintan O’Toole wrote an interesting article about this on a much larger scale.  I’ll leave you with his words.  I’m sure I’ll come back to this, but for now I am WAY over my self-imposed 1200 word limit.  Once again, thanks for reading.

Posted in everyday stuff, feelings, no man's land | Leave a comment

part of me

I’m sitting with some depression right now.  Sometimes I say I’m *struggling with*.  But in my current state, I am simply sitting with it, watching, observing it.  And I’m not completely sure whether it is dulling my mind or actually slowing it down enough to clarify.  I’m learning about myself (none too quickly I might add) that depression comes and goes.  It is simply a part of my makeup, who I am, who I have always been.  In whatever incarnation of me I’ve been, depression has always been there (alongside my other friend and constant companion, anxiety).  So I’m trying to just be with it rather than struggle against it.

I’m at an interesting point in my journey.  Somewhere between neither here nor there.  I’m surprised to admit that I actually feel just fine with that.  I’m appreciating, if not always enjoying, being in the moment more.  I’m ok with not rushing to be any specific person, place or thing.  Or however that saying might go in reference to me.

It’s too bad not everyone in my life is finding my current state quite as copacetic as I am.  Being on the in between side of neither here nor there seems to be disconcerting to some folks.  And I’m not quite sure how to respond to their discomfort.  Of course, part of me wishes to ease their distress.  That part of me wants to alleviate the suffering of those around me.  Especially the suffering seemingly caused by me.  That part of me wants to comfort and soothe, with context, explanation, confession and elucidation.  That part of me wonders what has taken me so long and what I am waiting for and why I haven’t already addressed the elephant in the room of *what is going on with me*.  Would it kill me to clue people in?  Share a little bit of myself?  Be more transparent?  Be more open?  Help calm everyone’s fucking nerves?

But then there is another part of me that feels like I don’t actually owe anyone anything.  This part of me, protective of me first, wonders why I have to explain myself as a way of comforting others’ discomfort with me.  Why should I feel the need to explain myself, as if having to make myself more palatable, to anyone?  This part of me wonders why it is my problem that others are uncomfortable with who I am or am not and why it is my responsibility to fix it.  This part of me doesn’t really give a fuck whether or not I fit into someone else’s boxes or, clearly narrow, limited and limiting definitions of who I am or can be.

But I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable.  I feel badly to be causing others unease.  I am ashamed to be such an antagonist, wreaking perplexity and discomfiture in my wake, anathema to people’s status quo.  I don’t want to cause people angst, leaving them feeling awkward.

But I’m not causing shit!  If people are incommoded by my being, that is their own narrow-mindedness.  These people need to get over themselves, if they can’t get over me.  My being is not offensive.  I am kind and considerate and well-groomed.

Oh for fuck’s sake.  Is this what it comes down to?!

Twice at work in the last month I have contended with or otherwise endured incidents of others’ distress – allegedly because of me.  One happened when the person thought I was out of earshot, when she said (what I considered snarkily and sarcastically), “Whatever gender we’re going with these days” to someone else.  That comment hurt.  It stung.  It was shaming.  And I felt ashamed.  Much later in the day, once I had gained a modicum of confidence back, when I’d shirked off the self-loathing to some extent, I asked (via text) for clarification of why she might have said such a thing.  She responded that she meant no harm, no hurt feelings.  She said she was simply acknowledging the fact that she wasn’t entirely sure what pronoun to use when referring to me and that she was trying to be respectful by addressing it head-on.  I didn’t exactly experience it as respectful as it turns out.  Nor have I ever asked her or anyone else to refer to me by any specific pronoun.  I’ve taken a *choose your own adventure* kind of posture when it comes to how others address or refer to me.  I have never requested nor have I corrected anyone’s pronoun reference to me – he, she, they or otherwise.  So this dilemma of hers was of her own making.  Not mine.  Part of me felt like her comment was uncalled for, simply mean.  Part of me wondered why the incident had happened at all.  Why was my gender orientation even in question to begin with?  But part of me understood the awkwardness of my current non-state of gender.  Why am I not providing some guidance for others so that they are not stuck in the not-knowing-discomfort?

On the other such occasion, a member of our team sought out and asked someone from another department, who happens to be an acquaintance of mine, whether I was taking hormones.  This co-worker said she’d noticed a difference in the tenor of my voice and thought that might be the case.  When my acquaintance-friend demurred, shrugging and saying she had no idea, this person persisted.  Three times did she ask whether this other person knew if I was taking hormones.  Three times did the person have to say, “I dunno”.  This friend-colleague-acquaintance came to me shaken and upset.  She wanted to know if I wanted her to go to human resources to report the person.  I sighed heavily.  Having added two more to the list of angst-ridden wounded on my account.

Part of me wanted to go find the questioner and just tell her myself.  What does it matter who knows what?  Part of me does understand that as I change, people are curious about what is going on.  Sometimes because they care and sometimes because they are curious.  Part of me also understands that not everyone is questioning my status because they are mean or nosey jerks.  Perhaps people want to know what’s going on so that they can simply support me and be on the same page and not make mistakes that might cause me distress.  But the other part of me doesn’t understand why I have to explain anything.  I’m not asking people to change the way they interact with me.  I’m not asking for additional support.  I’m not asking anyone to use different pronouns, to be or say or do anything differently or out of the ordinary.

The understanding part of me understands the well-meaning behind noticing changes.  Lots of people notice haircuts or new styles, new clothing or accessories.  Many people comment when they notice a change in someone’s weight (loss mostly, because commenting on someone’s weight gain is considered rude in polite society).  People notice changes in people they care about.

But some *noticing* and commenting is intrusive.  Can you imagine asking someone how much money they earn?  Or what they spend their money on?  How about these:  How often do you have sex?  Do you masturbate?  How often do you move your bowels?  Do you fold or scrunch your toilet paper before using it?

I’ve hit my 1200ish word limit, so I’ll stop for now.  I’m still not at all sure what to do about well-meaning curious folks who are feeling awkward as they notice changes in me.  I’m not up for, nor have I ever been interested in, being other people’s window of opportunity for learning.  I’m no poster-child.  Part of me wants to ignore it altogether and go on living my life.  Let folks have their concerns, questions, queries and discomfort.  I am under no obligation to explain myself.  The other part of me wants to address the curiosity directly by acknowledging people’s inquisitiveness (bordering on intrusiveness) and stating clearly (albeit gently) that it is none of their actual business.  And a third (though much smaller) part of me does feel obligated to explain something.  No guys, you are not going crazy.  I’m not sure which part of me will win out.

 

 

Posted in feelings, no man's land | Leave a comment

brotherly space

The latest installment of *The Peter Chronicles*:

I haven’t had contact with my brother for several months now.  As much my doing as his.  Sometimes I just need a break from the insanity.  Sometimes I just can’t tolerate hearing the gory and stupefying details of what passes for his life.  I just need distance.  I can’t listen to him and his nonsense, his excuses and his absurd aspirations, his delusional dreams and pathetic plans.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  I feel like a bad person.  But I can’t.  I’m all about helping those in need, meeting folks where they are, less judgment, journeying with others and all that happy haughtiness.  It pains me that I can’t be there for my own brother.  But I’ve needed this break.

When last I’d heard from him he was waiting for his windfall of cash and his teeth to come in.  That last conversation being the proverbial straw that severed what was left of my longanimity with his absurdity.

Not long after that I heard from his only steadfast friend, a lovely and simple young woman with a clearly compromised intellect, who has been in love with him since forever.  She called to tell me that Peter was in jail again.  {shocking, I know}  He only calls her when he needs something, usually money.  But she doesn’t see it quite the way I do.  She sees his calls as him turning to her in his times of need, the one person he can be vulnerable with, his rock.  Or something like that.  Anyway, this time he called her (collect) from jail asking for her to post bail.  To the tune of several hundred dollars.  She had about one-seventh of it.  She was asking me if I had any money I wanted to chip in.  As if I work two jobs so that I have an extra few hundred dollars to literally throw away.

She tried to persuade me by telling me that Peter had cried on the phone and it broke her heart.  Bless her.  If he didn’t come up with the bail money he was going to have to spend weeks in jail waiting for his court date (because he has a history of not showing up to court dates) and God only knew what that would do to his fragile personage.  It wasn’t his fault.  He didn’t do anything.  He was picked up accidentally, out of the blue, a case of mistaken identity, on a warrant or some such thing, for unpaid parking tickets or the like, from the year 1999.  Really.  Honestly.  He is an oppressed victim of the system.  I cut her off.  Yes yes, I know.  Poor, pitiful, Peter.  Always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Doing nothing whatsoever.  Just bad luck.  And all that sort of rot.  As for the money, sorry, I don’t have an extra few hundred.  She pushed me, “not even one hundred?”  Sigh.  If I had extra money I wouldn’t have to tell my children we can’t afford the fancy individually-packaged yogurt that changes color when you stir it.  (note: I’d still tell them that, because that shit is gross and loaded with chemicals.  But I wouldn’t have to).

Anyway, Peter spent the two plus weeks doing whatever one does in jail while Jen used what little money she had to make sure he still had a room at the sober house and keeping his*canteen* funded so he could buy himself flip-flops for the shower – those prison showers put the *fun* in fungus.  She ran around, making phone calls, ensuring that his *benefits* would not be interrupted by his unavoidable hiatus from life.  And the time passed.

I heard from mother.  She was, all at once, hysterical, depressed, angry and outraged at the system for so mistreating her child.  As well as outraged and angry that she had a child who merited jail time.  He called her as often as they allowed, through the prison-collect-call system (I believe they charge some outlandish price for those calls, with most of the inmates calling their mommies, who pay the 12 bucks a minute to hear about the poor treatment and the misunderstood misery of good boys falsely accused).  She bought his fictions hook-line-and-sinker, believing that some over-eager clerk trying to move up the career ladder found Peter’s unpaid parking ticket from 1999 and convinced the lieutenant that the interest on those charges could buy the station its own Keurig.  They dispatched a squad car and found Peter sitting home weaving lap blankets for the local nursing home.  They hated to bring him in, but, you know, the siren-call of fresh-brewed coffee.

If I sound irritated, It’s because I am.  It’s very frustrating (at least for me) to care about someone who doesn’t help himself.  Someone who takes no responsibility for his own life.  Someone who cannot seem to stay one hairsbreadth on the right side of non-criminal behavior.  I mean, for the love of God, how difficult is it to simply not get arrested?!  As you can see, I’ve seriously scaled back my expectations.

Peter’s interregnum of incarceration gave me a much-needed break, but clearly not long enough.  He didn’t even try to contact me after he got out.  According to Jen he got off with “time served”, which means supposedly those pesky parking tickets are all paid off by his taxpayer funded furlough.  I hope the cops enjoy their Keurig.

I guess Pete felt as if he’d let enough time pass that he could fairly safely call me without too much threat of a lecture.  He texted a one-liner, “Hey sis” and called a few times.  He left one or two messages, also brief.  When I didn’t answer or call back after a few tries, he left me an angry message.  He didn’t need a house to fall on him to know I was ignoring him.  How dare I ignore him!!?  Well fuck me!  Sigh.

 

Posted in brother's keeper, feelings | 2 Comments

conundrum: having my cake and eating it too

I got a call recently from the coach/captain of a local hockey team asking me if I’d be interested in playing goal for them.  Now, to be clear, this isn’t just any team.  I have been jonesing to play for this particular team for several years now.  Really, since I started playing hockey.  If I were a skater, I’d like to think I might have been considered before now.  But there is only one goalie spot on each team and their’s was filled with K, an awesome goalie and all-around sweetheart of a person.  K decided to move up a division and the team was asking me to be K’s permanent replacement.  I was positively delirious and intoxicated at the prospect of playing with them.  This team is a well-known, cohesive, strong and solid D level recreational hockey team.  They win games, but more than that, they are a charismatic, tenacious team whose camaraderie is palpable and whose spirit is indomitable.  They have fun, genuinely like one another and love hockey.  It is also a women’s team in a women’s league. {cue screeching tires}

What?!  What the… Shut the front door!  What happened to not identifying as a woman?!  What happened to the whole *trans* thing?!  I’m taking testosterone for crying out loud!  I quit playing in women’s leagues over a year ago.  I’ve only been playing on men’s teams since then.  What am I thinking?!  How could I even consider playing for this, a women’s, team?  What the hell was I thinking?!

Harrison Browne made history in 2016 when he came out as transgender, becoming the first openly transgender person to play in the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League).  He knew he was trans long before he came out publicly.  His plan was to transition after college.  But then the NWHL was created, and with that, the opportunity for Brownie (as he is referred to by teammates and friends) to play hockey professionally.  An opportunity he couldn’t pass up.  The opportunity of a lifetime.  So he delayed medically transitioning (read that: taking testosterone) so he could be a pro hockey player.  He worked with the league and the league worked with him, helping him socially transition, creating rules and navigating this new terrain with thoughtful open-mindedness, adroitness and respect.  I followed his story closely.  He changed his name, though not legally (more for visa reasons than anything).  And sportscasters and color-commentators referred to him with male pronouns and his preferred name, Harrison, while calling the games.  There were certainly some slip ups, but they were gently corrected and it was, all in all, pretty seamless.  At the ripe age of 25 he retired as a player, so he could move on with his life as the man he knows himself to be.

Several years ago now, as I was coming to my own realizations, I was friendly with a young trans guy who was light years ahead of me in terms of his acceptance and understanding of what it meant to be transgender.  I was twice his age, but he was my role model in many ways.  He was smart and steady and thoughtful (about everything in life, not just trans issues).  And then he was inducted into a private, elite, society of Jewish women.  He not only accepted membership in the group, I learned that he had negotiated his way to the invitation (private, elite and by invite only).  It sort of rocked me and I found myself angry and unable to understand how he could reconcile what to me were clear conflicts of identifying as male and being a member of a specifically and intentionally female-only group.  I sharply confronted him, calling him an opportunist among other things (it being an elite coterie where he would have access to a privileged and exclusive cast of Jewish society).  He didn’t see any problem with his membership, or the fact that joining would give him a leg up in the Jewish world.  His life views were/are simply more expansive and less rigidly binary than mine.  It was not the first time I have been accused of rigidity.  We grew apart after that and I’m not sure if this issue wasn’t partly the reason.  I heard his arguments and tried to understand his more fluid world-view, but I’m not sure I ever really came around.

Am I not doing the same thing considering playing for this women’s hockey team in this women’s league?  The debate in my head grew uncomfortably louder and louder.

I have played on co-ed teams with two of the players on this potential hockey team and we have become more than acquaintances even while we are less than actual friends.  I currently play hockey on a men’s team with the husband of one of them.  Both these women, L and M, texted and reached out to me after the team’s meeting and decision to recruit me.  I decided on a whim to ask them to meet with me.  What I was hoping for or planning I had no idea.

We met at a local pub and before our asses even hit the vinyl-booth-seat they were both reaching for my arm and asking, “So, are you gonna do it?! Are you going to play with us!?!”  And before I could answer, they’d each launched into cogent compelling snippets and stories about how wonderful it is to play on this team, peppering me with inveigling heartwarming stories of individual characters and kindnesses shared and strong connections made.  It took me a minute to realize they were both trying to convince me to join the team, assuming I was having doubts.  I sat back and smiled.  They had their own anxiety.

I interrupted about 15 minutes in (having let myself bask in the warmth of recruitment).  I explained that the desire to play for them was 100% there.  That wasn’t the problem.  “What is the problem then!?” M asked, “So you’ll join, right?”  “Well it isn’t quite so simple”, I said as I took a deep breath.

I realized yet again how difficult it is to simply say, “I’m transgender”.  In addition to the fear of rejection and scorn (which I didn’t actually have so much with these two women), there is always the fear of disbelief.  As if anyone jokes about this kind of thing.  Still, the immediate impulse to laugh, tease or treat the announcement as if it were an ice-breaking witticism seems prevalent.  I didn’t want to have to deal with the possibility of having to elucidate awkwardly in the face of either of them thinking I was joking.

“So, the thing is,” I said calmly and seriously, “I identify as transgender.”  I let that sit in the air, wondering to myself about my choice of phrasing, watching their reactions.  They were both looking at me so earnestly I almost laughed.  Eyebrows went from upraised in anticipation to narrowed in consideration.  They were both like, “Ok, thanks for letting us know.”   “What’s the problem?”  M spoke first, “So you want us to refer to you with different pronouns? Done.  Is that it?”  They both seemed relieved and like, “what-evs, no big deal”  They each mentioned or referenced Harrison Browne as they talked over one another, clearly relieved at the triviality of what I had told them.  I had to explain that yes, the NWHL let Brownie play in the league but he was not taking testosterone.  And I am.

That brought them up a bit short.  And we sat quietly for a minute or so.  M was the first to speak,”Why does anyone need to know?”  L agreed, “Well yeah. It isn’t like either M or I noticed anything different about you.  I had no idea.”  I felt a mild twinge at that.  Of course part of me is glad that on my slow and controlled journey, where I’m not ready to navigate more outness, there is nothing outwardly noticeable.  While simultaneously I felt a sliver of sadness that my inner changes have not manifest in outward ways at all.

After some thoughtful conscientious conversation about it, they agreed and concluded that I should play for the team.  Their reasoning was well-constructed and intentional, considering each aspect of my situation.  They discounted Harrison Browne’s situation almost out of hand, for several reasons, not the least of which being that the NWHL is a professional league and he is a skater not a goalie.  A recreational league has a lot more leeway to bend and expand rules than does a professional league.  There is exactly nothing at stake by my playing in the rec league.  There aren’t even playoffs or trophies, never mind payment for playing.  I could also understand their reasoning about me being a goalie as opposed to a skater.  If the testosterone has any effect on my strength (which is minimal if not completely aspirant at this point), as a skater I would be able to shoot harder and farther.  Testosterone is not going to effect my play as a goaltender.  Even Harrison Browne wrestled with this issue, and said the following:

I believe that if there’s no physical advantage, it shouldn’t matter what your background is, or whether you’re transgender or not. I think people should take a step back when they think about trans athletes in sports. If hormone levels don’t confer an advantage, there’s no reason to bar anyone from participating.

I agree with that as I agreed with much of what M and L were saying.  But still, something wasn’t sitting right with me.  I think the heart of the matter has to do with my own issues around deserving, entitlement and shame.  The tyrannical trifecta that has plagued me all my life.  And the reality here is that I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary (no shocker there).  The reality is that I was always told that getting what I wanted was the equivalent of being spoiled.  And the word spoiled was generally associated by hyphenation with the word brat.

I do want to join and play for this team.  Not because I do or don’t deserve to get what I want.  And not because I benefit in any way that I (or anyone) shouldn’t.  I want to play with them because I yearn to belong and because I love hockey.  If I wait to join a team until I find a team that is *just like me*, a team I *fit in*, I am going to be waiting a very long time.  Like, forever.  This team offers me camaraderie and acceptance, a different kind of belonging than other teams I am playing for currently.  This team offers me a level of play that is commensurate with my own ability, with humans approximately my size, which allows for a certain safety.  And even though I may not identify as a woman, that isn’t the point of this team or league.  The point of this team and league is hockey.  And I do identify as a hockey player.

Posted in no man's land | 3 Comments

not a hater

Someone made a comment recently that took me aback.  After reading something in my blog he said, “Wow, sounds like you really hate your mother.”  It bothered me, for a few reasons.  Number one, that simple summary somehow trivializes the years of lived experience down to a singularly defensive emotion.  It isn’t quite that simple my friend.  My feelings, or how I portray them in my writing, didn’t come to be in a proverbial vacuum.  The fact is, I’m not sure how I feel about my mother.  I’m not at all sure I would use the word hate in any event.  Especially now, since she is currently a ghost of the being she once was.  But I’ll get to that.

The fact is, my mother is and has always been mentally ill.  From the time she was an infant who supposedly held her breath until she passed out when she was angry, frustrated or afraid (as the family legend tells) to the teen who defied her parents and left high school just shy of graduation, and married a boy (who was not Jewish) from the wrong side of the tracks, to the woman who had affairs with much younger men and ran away to another state with a guy she met country-western line dancing.  I’m pretty sure she wasn’t actually, technically, medically diagnosed until adulthood.  Even then, I’m not sure what her diagnosis was.  And not to put too fine a point on it, but just because she wasn’t diagnosed by a medical professional until she was an adult doesn’t mean she wasn’t mentally ill her entire life before that.  She was.   At any rate, they treated her and medicated her as if her diagnosis was *hysterical female*.  She took Lithium, Valium and other “mood stabilizers” popular in the 70s like they were candy, self-dispensing when and how much she deemed she needed at any given moment, throughout my entire childhood.  She was labile despite the dosing of prescription medication and would fly off into a rage or sobbing hysteria with very little provocation (at least as far as I could see).  If something didn’t go her way, if something didn’t go as she wanted/expected or if something even remotely displeased her she would scream, hit, throw things, break things, cry and call names.  I believe the technical term is: Tantrum.  These temper hemorrhages were not once in a proverbial blue moon or even once in a while.  They were Every. Single. Day.  Often many times on any given day.  And they were not for the faint of heart I can tell you.

She should never have had children.  She shouldn’t have been entrusted to care for a pet rock, never mind a tiny, helpless, human being.  But again, that is neither here nor there I guess.  What’s done is done.  The bottom line reality is that growing up with her as a mother was no bed of roses.  Or whatever the appropriate saying would be.

As a child I’m not entirely sure how I felt.  Scared and confused for sure.  When I wasn’t entertaining some fantasy of being some kind of changeling from another galaxy,  I sort of  assumed the crazy that took place in my home was taking place in every other home too.  In my teens and certainly early 20s I did hate her.  As I experienced and saw more of the world, specifically how other people and other families functioned, I felt livid at all the ridiculous unnecessary derangement I had had to put up with.  Other mothers didn’t throw things, break things, call their children horrible names or threaten unspeakable acts.

One of the things my mother always prided herself on was her ability to be mean.  She always relished and reveled in the role of bully.  In her young adulthood she would describe herself as “a force to be reckoned with”.  Small of stature, she was always quick to remind people that “dynamite comes in small packages” too.  She loved to regale us with (no doubt embellished versions of) stories of how she had insulted, threatened, intimidated or upset someone she didn’t like.

One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell was about when she bumped into an old friend of my grandmother’s in the supermarket.  This friend and my grandmother had had a falling out, and so were not *friends* when my grandmother died unexpectedly.  To start off with, my mother forbade this particular friend of my grandmother’s from attending her funeral.  We all disagreed with that decision, but as usual there was no reasoning with her.  In her state of heightened grief, she was even less reasonable.  The singular meanness of this demand was profound.  This poor woman, no youngster herself, was not allowed to attend the funeral of one of her decades-long dear friends.  If that wasn’t bad enough, months (maybe even years) later, my mother saw this woman alone in a grocery store.  According to her, she rammed her shopping cart into that woman’s shopping cart, glaring at her maliciously and saying something to the effect of, “I see you’re still alive.  Too bad.”  I remember the first time my mother told that story (when the version was that she’d only crashed the shopping cart once…. in later versions she repeatedly slammed her shopping cart into the other woman’s).  Chills went through me.  I felt abhorrence and disgust envisioning the scene, watching my mother’s gleeful expression as she recounted the incident.

At any rate, my mother, once an evil legend in her own mind, has become a sniveling, slobbering, gibbering, feeble (both in mind and in body) shell of a person.  Her hypochondria has taken on a life of its own.  In addition to her lifelong bouts of dizziness, tinnitus and what she calls her “crying-jags”, she claims to have extensive and incurable skin cancer all over her body (for which she has repeated surgeries) as well as a new and never-before-encountered glaucoma that leaves her completely blind one day and with near 20/20 vision the next (which also requires frequent surgical procedures).  She is frequently, as in all the time, fighting colds, flu, viral infections, stomach inflammation  and other ailments, diseases and indispositions.  The doctors have never seen the likes of her medical maladies before, she tells me over and over.  She is also constantly *injured*.  She either falls, trips, slips, tumbles, bumps into things; closes doors, windows, boxes or lids on herself; gets scratched or bitten by her or someone else’s pets; twists her ankle, the list is endless.  Her infirmities, debilities and general ill-health are her only topics of conversation.  She has not one friend (with a communication repertoire like that one can understand why).  She rarely leaves her home these days, in part because life is so exhausting for her that she needs frequent naps throughout the day.  Fretful unease has become her baseline, afraid of everything from rabid animals to errant meteors (the sky is falling).  And let’s not forget the recent school shooting which took place a mile from her home that she is still recovering from and quite shaken by.  She only leaves the house for her multitudinous medical appointments or to sometimes engage in her only hobby – shopping.  But she can never go far or for too long.  Because all the disquiet in her life and mind is tiring and she needs a nap.

She is constantly contradicting herself, denying whatever she said just moments before (which doesn’t work quite as well as it used to before things like texting, facebook or email).  Sometimes she adamantly denies having said whatever she said.  Other times (like when presented with her own text or email) she bursts into tears literally pleading insanity.  She maintains that she is paralyzed by the fear that she has dementia.  Her husband has hired caregivers to be with her several days a week because of her frequent assertions that contradict reality, her recurrent bouts of hysteria, as well as her more and more delusional behaviors.  More than one of these private-pay aides have quit within days because of her constant drama.  A fact that she has reported to me herself.  I can only imagine the hell she has wreaked upon these poor hapless Florence Nightingales who think they are being hired to care for a  young Sophia from the Golden Girls.  At the same time, she claims to have no idea what they’re talking about, maintaining no knowledge whatsoever of anything that even remotely could be considered drama in her life.  And so it goes.  Her life is a quagmire of insanity.  I work with people in their late 90s who have more energy, ability and definitely more on the ball mentally than she has.  She is 73.  And make  no mistake, my mother has not changed overmuch.  She has simply become more of herself.  She is less able to hide her mental disorders from others.  But trust me, this is who she has always been.

But no, I don’t hate her.  Neither do I like her very much.  There isn’t very much to like or to connect with to be perfectly honest.  The person she once was wasn’t very likable to begin with.  The person she is now is a mere shell of a human being, quite frankly, pathetic.  And one might think that rather than feeling indifferent (which is pretty much how I feel), I’d have some sympathy for who she has become.  The fact is that she spent her lifetime spewing her own anger, pain, hate and meanness on everyone and everything she came into contact with without offering a shred of anything even remotely positive to the Universe.  She did nothing to help herself, or make her life any better.  Never mind the fact that she did nothing to enhance anyone else’s life.  So no, I don’t even pity her.  In many ways, she has made the bed in which she currently lies (double-entendre intended).  Perhaps she had her own demons that drove her.  I shrug.  We all do.  While some of us are driven by our demons to reach out and help others, offer compassion and caring and kindness, others choose to lash out with malicious spite and cruelty, in an attempt to make those around them as unhappy as they are.  I see it as a choice.  And again I could be wrong.  I chose differently is all I’m saying.

 

Posted in family of origin, feelings | 1 Comment

the cat is out of the bag

Well, well, well.  All the best-laid-plans and well-kept-secrets.  I believe there is a Yiddish expression that sums it up nicely – “man tracht un Gott lacht” – “man plans, and God laughs”-  meaning, “Despite our most careful planning, the road of life is unpredictable”.  It doesn’t get much truer than that.  I have been quite controlled (no surprise there) about with whom, and when, and whether I have or have not shared my trans-journey.  My intended path one of self-selected privacy bordering on secrecy.  I do realize how antithetical it is to maintain a public blog while simultaneously keeping something so monumental secret in real-time daily life.  But that is how I have chosen to do things.  For better or for worse.

Just like I don’t plan on doing a big *gender reveal* at work, I have never spoken with my family (with the exception of telling my mother) about being transgender.  No one in Emily’s family knows and no one in my family of origin knows.  This has been intentional on my part.  Perhaps I’m wrong (I have been known to be on more than one occasion), but I can’t imagine any of them really understanding.  And while I have no doubt they would accept me and continue to love me, I feel like they would simply *humor me*, dealing with me as if I were addled and unscrewed rather than attempting or being able to get it on any real level.  I have no wish to charter that course at any rate.  Nor do I have a wish to attempt to convince them otherwise.  It has seemed easier to me to maintain a *don’t ask don’t tell* sort of policy and keep a low profile.

This has, like any decision, had repercussions.  I see my family in person less than I used to in order to avoid questions about my changing appearance, demeanor and being.  I do sometimes play hockey with one of my cousins and of course we share a locker-room.  Whether she notices changes or not, we don’t engage in conversation about it.  She doesn’t ask.  I don’t tell.  And I have no idea if I am a topic of conversation between her and the rest of the family (though I highly doubt it given that this part of my family is not gossipy at all).  Once in a blue moon my uncle will call me and say, “Hey! Long time no see!” or I will send him or my aunt a text saying hi.  We talk of getting together more, but we all lead busy lives and have a lot on our individual plates, and with one thing or another it never comes to be.  And that is the extent of it.

On a whim, I recently invited my aunt and uncle to one of Joita’s final basketball games.  I realized that one of the last games of the season (and Joita’s senior year in high school) was going to take place in their neck of the woods.  So without thinking too much about it, I sent them a text inviting them.  They were thrilled to have been invited and happily accepted.  I got there early and coincidentally so did my aunt, and we parked side by side.  She motioned for me to join her in her car and I did.  We were both aware we had time to kill and we hadn’t seen one another in ages.

After brief pleasantries and check ins, my aunt said, “Guess who your uncle and I had dinner with the other night?”  I swear, time stopped.  In one part of my brain I had no idea (nor did I particularly care), unable to even guess who they had dinner with.  But in another part of my brain (clearly the part where guilt and anxiety resides) I felt the whoosh and pounding of my heart, blocking my ears and making my breath catch in my throat.  Red flashing warning lights coupled with the computer voice of the robot from Lost In Space shouting, “Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!”  Her tone of voice said it all.  I’d been caught out at something. When she said their names I knew the jig was up.  They were old family friends.  Friends of my parents actually.  And though our families grew apart and have not had contact in probably 30 years, I know one of them follows this blog.

Before I could respond, my aunt’s body shifted so that she was facing the windshield, away from looking at me, and she launched into, “You wouldn’t believe the things he had to say about you!  Crazy, ridiculous stuff!  Something about you having a blog (said with eye-rolling mockery)?!  And… HORmones (mockery crossing the line between dismay, disbelief or derision)??? And trans-whatever?!  Just crazy talking shit.  And he was very judgmental about it I’ll have you know.  And I told him, I said, ‘I don’t think so. Because I think I know my niece better than that.’  And really I just got very defensive.”

The silent pause that followed as she trailed off and I sat without comment was the sound of a glacial mass shattering, like a canon going off in my face in slow-motion.  Deafeningly the longest 7 seconds I have known.  I found that I, too, was sitting facing forward, avoiding eye-contact without the awareness of having moved.  “I guess he didn’t mention my bread baking?” I offered awkwardly.

I think she was as grateful as I was for the non-sequitur.  “No,” she said, “But he did say how much you hate your mother.  And I told him, ‘You know something, she has every right to hate that woman.  That woman is pure evil’ is what I said.”  Back on less shaky, more common ground, I jumped at the chance to change the subject.  We talked for a minute or two about the latest news on my mother and brother (who was back in jail).  Still, the conversation (if you could call it that) was stilted and awkward.  We both were a bit shaken.  She would have bet her life that not one iota of it was true.  And she expected me to immediately and loudly jump in, interrupt and join her in her derisive persiflage of disbelief.  But how could I?  Every iota of it is true.

I can only imagine the drive home after dinner that night.  My aunt and uncle unnerved and unsettled by the evening’s revelations as they fought to reconcile what they thought they knew of me and what they had heard.  And of course I can all too easily imagine the flood and progression of their emotions.  I felt guilty sitting there in my aunt’s car.  I expect she and my uncle were baffled and confused.  Closely followed by hurt.  It’s isn’t like we haven’t been close or that we don’t have a lot of love between us.  How could they not have been hurt by my refusal to share something so important with them?

Sitting in the car with my aunt, we both stammered, stuttered and stumbled through cotton-filled mouths gone suddenly dry, the windows steaming in the cold evening air by our anxiety-infused breathing.  It was like having a conversation with a time delay.  She would start a sentence and I would interrupt and talk over her and apologize and she would interrupt me and apologize and no real words were spoken.  No complete sentences were formed.  After several fits and stops, there was another uneasy silence. “So…. should we head in?” I said as nonchalantly as I could muster.

My uncle joined us as we entered the school building.  We sat uncomfortably in the bleachers (which everyone knows are uncomfortable to begin with) and attended scrupulously to the game neither my aunt or I actually followed.  After the game we walked back out to our cars, not lingering in the chilly night air.  We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

I paused in the parking lot and watched them drive away.  “Well that went well I think” I said to myself.

 

Posted in family of origin, feelings, no man's land | 1 Comment

adulting

I like the word *adulting* as a verb.  I know some people do not.  But unlike the sometimes forced morphing of verb status onto nouns or adjectives, a process called (obviously) *verbing*, the nature of *adulting* just strikes a chord with me.  We spend our childhoods waiting for the opportunity to *adult*.  All the supposed perks adults have, seen through the eyes of children, seem so glamorous and thrilling, or at least filled with self-determination and a side of Dunkin’ Donuts any time you please.  And then, if you’re like me, you spend your adulthood avoiding it.  Why?  Because *adulting* is hard.  It is boring and tedious and irritating and extremely un-fun.  Even with the occasional side of Dunkin. Whenever I do it though, I admit I feel pretty stoked, super pumped, like “where’s my cape?” super-hero status.  That sense of accomplishment after having completed an odious task can be a real rush.  But most days I just fucking hate adulting and avoid it at all costs.  This week I have adulted pretty hard.  I’m exhausted.  And it’s only Tuesday.

Last summer I gave up one of my favorite sitting areas, our second floor porch, because of the swarms of what I believe were wasps gathering around one of the pillars holding up the porch.  I could see where they went in, but I couldn’t reach it without climbing over the rail, standing on a stool and reaching up (in other words, I couldn’t reach it without risking my life).  So I did what I do best.  I went inside, closed the door and ignored it.

Whenever it was that I wrote about how our front doorknob fell off and I took apart the entire door-latch and lock was all well and good.  But the fucker fell off again.  Despite the fact that the locksmith told me it wouldn’t last, and that I should save up for a new lock system, I clearly did not believe him.  I tried taking apart the mechanisms again, but the main spindle’s threading was worn down and stripped, making it non-functional.  After several frustrating and failed attempts to jimmy-rig it, I slapped some duct tape across the latch and drilled a drawer handle onto the door, calling it a day.  Another form of avoidance, if not outright negligent adulting.

I used fancy duct tape at least

This week I called and spoke with a pest control company about the wasps.  I haven’t seen any.  Yet.  But why wait until the weather gets warm enough for them to wake up and swarm the porch again?  I did learn that wasps don’t hibernate, by the way, and that it is likely they will not return to the nest in the column of my porch, never mind waking from their hypothetical slumber to take ownership of my own preferred perch.  I also have dealt with three different plumbing companies in an effort to identify and take care of a plumbing problem that has been literally plaguing our house for several months.  This adulting is exhausting.

For the last few years I have whined here on this blog and with any friends who would listen about our city’s public pool and how the only way to access the pool area is to go through either the men’s locker/changing/shower-rooms or the women’s locker/changing/shower-rooms.  My children are basically part fish and would go daily to the public pool.  And I would love to take them.  It is literally a half mile from our house.  I just can’t deal with the painfully shaming awkwardness of having to navigate the inner sanctums of either gender’s facilities.

So in the midst of my newfound proclivity for adulting this week, I crafted an email to our city’s LGBTQ liaison.  Let me pause here to say how very grateful I am to live in a community that can even conceive of the need for such a position.  Never mind the fact that the person in this role is a trans-woman who has been in public service since graduating from high school in the early 70s.

I outlined the problems, in case she wasn’t aware.  I also shared my understanding for the need to have a check-in place and a way to comply with what I assume is some kind of law requiring swimmers in public pools to “rinse off” before entering the pool.  Not that people do rinse off mind you.  They simply walk the catacombs of the locker-shower-changing tunnels and emerge at the pool anhydrously unmoistened.  But my point was that I do understand that we are navigating more than meets the eye here.

In addition to my own needs, I also wondered in the email about parents and children of different genders.  Are male parents bringing 5 to 7 year old daughters to the pool expected to bring their little girls through the men’s locker/changing/shower rooms?  Or are the little girls sent off by themselves to navigate the women’s areas while the dad goes his own way and they just hope to meet up at the pool?  Or does the pool staff make an exception and allow the man to bring his girls through the ladies’ area??  My guess is that there are several extenuating circumstances that allow people to circumvent having to navigate the gendered grottos of the unclothed masses.  There must be a more direct route to the pool anyway.  But that would require having a (probably lengthy) conversation slash explanation with the check in desk people in order to explain one’s qualifications for extenuation.  Which poses its own set of problems for me.  Number one, the people staffing that check in area are generally teenagers.  These are summer jobs meant to keep them out of trouble, not career choices they wish to deeply engage their minds with.  And even if these were woke teens with a modicum of maturity, they are not given the authority to make decisions of this nature without having to consult someone else.  Not to mention the fact that these conversations/explanations would inevitably take place at the desk, as in, in public, in front of whomever else is in line and whoever might be milling about.

Don’t get me wrong, I would happily explain myself.  Privately.  Once.  Maybe even twice.  But to have to go through the gauntlet every time I go to the pool is asking too much.  There has to be an easier way.  In my email to the liaison I offered to be part of figuring out a viable solution.

She wrote back quickly, thanking me for reaching out and accepting my offer to join her and the pool folks in a brainstorming session.  It was such an enthusiastic, encouraging and positive response it made me feel like I might just have a handle on this adulting thing.  So I went to Dunkies for my adulting reward and smugly ordered myself a coffee.  Because, you know, I can any time I want to, as an adult.  It wasn’t until I was driving away, self-satisfiedly sipping on my iced coffee that I realized I’d ripped open and upended into my coffee, white packets that were salt, not sugar. {cue sad trombone}.  Adulting is still hard.

 

Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land | 1 Comment

update on baking for good

It’s a little weird to be writing about bread from within the forced bread abstinence of Passover.  But perhaps it is only in absence where one might find perspective.  When last I wrote about my baking for good it was just an idea forming in my head, a wish to do something positive, to put out some good in the world.  This small effort germinated from my need to combat both within me and around me the negative impact of the shit show that is the current state of our world.

I’ve got pretty thin skin.  I am, sometimes overly, sensitive.  The world feels so hard, so damaged and damaging, so mean right now.  There are so many people suffering.  I want very badly to help, to do something to make things better.  But I get stuck, not knowing what I can do that would make any difference.  And then I get paralyzed by the fact that I can do so precious little.  But recently something shifted.  Right there in the midst of feeling raw and overwhelmed by sadness and despair, I started to bake bread for a few friends in addition to the bread I bake for our family.  It felt good to be doing something (even something so small) for someone other than myself.  And the friends who were getting the bread were so happy.  When they offered to pay me I felt stuck because while the ingredients cost me money, it felt almost petty to charge for the ingredients alone.  Some said I should charge for my time.  But using and focusing my time on something positive and good is what I wanted to (needed to) do, that was my whole point.  Plus, how can you actually put a price on time when you are doing something altruistic, something productive, something that you love to do and that is so much fun?  That’s when I came up with the buy one give one idea.  What if I baked two loaves for every one loaf I sold?  The second loaf I would donate to a shelter. 

Apparently this is not such an innovatory concept to people other than me.  Apparently there are companies doing this regularly, who have been doing so for a while.  Who knew.  Anyway, I asked on Facebook what people would pay for a homemade loaf of bread if they knew another loaf was going to a shelter or other place of need.  Many people responded, and I was shocked that so many suggested 10 dollars.  To me that’s pretty steep for a loaf of bread.  Keeping in mind they are relatively small loaves baked by someone who is learning how to bake bread.  In other words, experimenting on them.  Also, turning a profit was not my intention.

After doing a bit of considering along with some research, I settled on 5 dollars a loaf/pair.  Presupposing that was not a financial burden to the families buying the bread and estimating that it would cover my ingredient costs.  I didn’t have to spend much time looking for a recipient of the bread because when I wrote that blog post I received a quick response from a friend who gave me a suggestion for a likely recipient of such donations.  Her church sponsors a *Friday Cafe* that offers nourishment in several varieties to those in need of a warm, loving, low-key, judgement-free community and space.  It sounded perfect to me.  So, I started with the two families I had already been baking for.  Whole wheat, whole grain bread for one, and sometimes that and sometimes cinnamon swirl for the other.  They seemed super happy to be engaging in my little do-gooder scheme.  I wasn’t certain that two skimpy loaves of bread were going to make any real difference at the Friday Cafe, but then I got a photo from my friend – a beautiful picture of my bread made into healthy nourishing sandwiches.  The following week she wrote:

Your bread was much appreciated today.  We fed 222 hungry guests!

Obviously not just with my bread.  And,

We put your bread out next to the three tureens of soup.  One of the people said, “this the same home-made bread from your friend?”  Both loaves were gobbled up in 10 minutes!

My heart swelled and sang.  I don’t know why I was so overwhelmed, but I really was.  I’m not solving any of the myriad of the world’s problems.  But I’m not doing nothing either.  And the good I was doing felt really really good.  I can’t even describe how happy I was.  I was beyond delighted, bordering on delirious.  And a third family asked about “getting in on the deal”.

 

 

 

 

I’m having some small distance from the baking this week because of Passover.  And from within this bubble of abstinence, I can perlustrate without the pressure of production.

 

Baking for others is in some ways glorious.  Baking something delicious and sharing it with others, watching them taste it and enjoy it begets a feeling all its own.  The more I’ve been baking, the more I’ve been experimenting, trying new recipes and stretching my culinary creativity.  I’ve also been bringing delicious trials and treats to my friends at work.  I’ve gotten rave reviews (particularly of the cinnamon bread and my escapade into lavash crackers) and some insightful and helpful feedback on my sandwich loaves.  And I have to mention the chocolate babka!  It has made me happy in the extreme to share the spoils (so to speak) with friends.  On the other hand, there is now a new level of responsibility that accompanies my baking.  Other families are depending on my bread.  I can’t just play in the kitchen, attempting to create fun interesting things.  I have to produce something specific.  And it has to be edible.  There was a week when something went wrong and the dough didn’t rise.  I ended up with small brick-like loaves that would have served better doorstops than sandwiches.  I had to hastily make more loaves.  And anyone even remotely familiar with bread baking knows that it is anything but hasty.  What happens when something like that goes wrong?  What is my backup plan?  I work two jobs, have 3 kids and a dog… and don’t forget hockey several nights a week.  There won’t always be time for a do-over.  In addition to potential dough downfalls, there has also arisen the issue of delivery.

When I was just baking for my family I didn’t worry a lot about timing.  If a loaf didn’t finish baking until early evening I had no compunction about leaving it out on the counter overnight before cutting and bagging it the next morning (it cuts more easily when it is completely cool).  I didn’t think twice about it then being technically day-old bread.  We freeze our sandwich bread anyway to maintain freshness.  But when the bread is for another family, one that may not want to freeze their bread, taking a day of freshness away might be a big deal.  In theory delivering a fresh loaf of bread around the corner is a piece of cake.  But too many times that bread sat, sliced so nicely, in its bag on my counter for more than a day or two before I cajoled my 8-year old into running it down the street.  It wasn’t just that I tend toward sloth-like laze.  I had to make sure the recipients were home, that it was a good time for them as well as me.  I didn’t want to leave a bag of bread sitting outside on the steps exposed to animals and the elements (even in a plastic bag).

There certainly are more *incidentals* to contend with than I had originally considered.  Though nothing daunting enough to stop me.  In the meantime, I have a week to plan, prepare and fantasize.

Also in the meantime, I’ve met a new employee at work.  By day (at work) she is a speech pathologist.  At heart she is a baker, not unlike me, but way more advanced.  She is a very funky, cool, observant Jew and she and I are fantasizing about doing a baking show together some day.  We want to call it, “Challah if you bake!” or “Challah if you’re cooking!”  And incidentally, one of her career interests and goals is to work with the trans community, helping with vocal transitioning.  The Universe is some amazing place.

*Also incidentally, I received an email from BU’s alumni association telling me about a few different volunteer opportunities for their “days of giving”.  And one of the places BU alum are volunteering turns out to be the *Friday Cafe* at First Church in Cambridge where I’m passing along my bread.  Are there really any coincidences?

 

Posted in almost off the grid, blessings, everyday stuff, Uncategorized | 7 Comments