It's technically still Sunday

I have 33 minutes to still make it a Sunday post.  It’s summer and a year ago I would have just bagged it, but this year I’m reluctant to let a week go. Though this is from a tired girl, I’ll still make an attempt. I won’t be able to sleep otherwise.

Two weeks after leaving the job I’m starting to wonder how I ever had time to work in the first place. It seems the days are going faster than ever and I still have not caught up all on the stuff I need to get done. Yes, it’s summer and I am occasionally taking a moment here and there to sit and read in the hammock, but those are really very few.  My garden is the most neglected it has ever been. Thankfully it rained this week as watering is completely off my radar.  What has happened to me?  How did I raise five kids, work full time, and still have a garden and a house to care for? Is  it just getting older and less efficient? It’s a little freaky.

It’s been the music festival this week and musicians are staying here, concerts are happening every night, out-of-town guests are visiting, restaurants are open, lectures are happening–––it’s social bulimia. Gorge in the summer, purge in the winter. Toss in a new relationship and there aren’t enough hours in the day.

This morning we left early for a trek south on an errand to collect my granddaughter for the week. Visits to relatives in the area were added to this itinerary, trying to be efficient and attend to the many invitations I have not been able to accept in the past year. Okay, I admit, I also wanted to show off my man, as there are still some who think I made this whole thing up.  All good.  It’s real. He’s real.  And a very good sport I might add; today was not for the feint-hearted.

We collected my darling who has been potty trained at the tender age of two.  A miracle of sorts until one finds themselves on a lengthy car ride with a call for the potty every half hour or so. That added some logistics and contortions and let’s say, creativity. Arrived just in time to hit the final concert of the festival, which, with a Bach violin concerto, was simply not to be missed.  My darling grandchild, after a long day, to the amazement of the rest of the audience, was captivated and quiet…for the first movement.  Confused that no one was clapping, she did a round of applause with her tiny delicate hands, looked around in bewilderment, and just as the conductor raised his baton, said, “More!”  Precocious, I thought, but wasn’t sure about the rest of the audience, so I scooped her up and we listened to the rest from the lobby, in between trips to the potty.

Home to a cuddle and bed for her, a final visit with the string section, a meal of leftovers, and a quick blog before bed.

Better job next week. Ahh, made it with four minutes to spare.

Sunday Morning~Exiting Gracefully

Leaving my job has been difficult, which, is a ridiculous understatement. The job itself was difficult, and though I loved my work, love the women I cared for, and the women I worked with, I was becoming angry and resentful and did not want to start taking that out on my patients. It was bad enough I was starting to take it out on the staff. When I was a new grad and working at Yale, I saw older doctors, burned out and resentful, and hoped I’d have the grace to retire before I got to that point. Not really ready to retire, I could no longer bear being part of a system that treats women as it does. I was enabling.

Years ago, I believed that working within that system would help change things, and it has. Midwives set an example for improving care and have influenced residency programs, making a difference for women lost in an over-medicalized specialty. But at some point when you see things going backward, you just get tired of pushing everything uphill. There has to be a new way of making a difference.

On my last day of work I was interviewed by a Bangor news station for a human interest story about  leaving my job.  I was thrilled and excited that they would be interested in a midwife.  I figured it must be a slow news week or something, but jumped at the opportunity.  They interviewed me for over an hour and, having just gotten back from Washington D.C. and hyped about all our issues, was nailing the points I wanted to make:  how nurse-midwives are fighting for women in a system that abuses them, how services are disappearing in rural communities, how compromised women don’t have the resources to advocate for themselves, etc. etc.  Well, it was only a two minute story not a documentary, so most of that got cut.  Actually, all of it got cut, so I spent this week writing an op-ed piece addressing those points and we’ll see if it gets printed anywhere. I feel like being a mouthpiece or a loud mouth. Let’s see how far I get.

My good-bye party was this week and it was overwhelming. It was done beautifully, in the big community room.  The one little drawback was we couldn’t have alcohol (a bit of bubbly would have been nice), but I think insurance for the place doesn’t allow it or something. I have no idea why,  but that’s what we’ve been told.

Anyway, late afternoon into early evening, many women came with their children, whose births I had attended. The oldest was 21 and the youngest was a few months.  What a sweet experience.  I wish there was a way to have a photograph with them all. My colleagues said beautiful things, wrote and sang a song, gave me flowers and a spectacular necklace they’d had custom made with sea glass they had found. I felt completely unprepared for expressing the gratitude I have for the camaraderie, career, and community.

The original staff of the Women’s Center consisted of five powerful women, embarking on a new and controversial endeavor. Many of the old boys in the medical system were very skeptical about whether we needed a Women’s Center in the first place. After all, they argued, they took very good care of women in the system that already existed, and why shouldn’t there be a Men’s Center as well? We were either naive, bold, crazy, dedicated, or lucky, but we put our heads down, plowed forward and did a good job. We weathered the controversy by standing firm, sticking to our philosophy that the center was needed and deserved, and created a vast number of well cared-for women, who were not shy when vocalizing their satisfaction.

We did all this while supporting each other: raising families, witnessing the births, and sadly, deaths of our children. We gave baby showers, bridal showers, and birthday parties for each other. We catered each other’s events. We survived struggles with teenagers, despair of failed marriages, difficulties of caring for aging parents, all the while advocating for a safe environment in which to practice. We bucked the system a lot, spent more time making our case than seemed warranted, and had time-consuming fund-raisers that produced paltry amounts so we could provide educational programs for women and families. We’d often look at each other afterward and say, “Why didn’t we each just write a check for a hundred bucks? It would have been so much easier!”

It has been such an honor to work with these women.  I have learned so much from them, gained strength when I had none left, and consider them all my family. I felt like I should be the one giving them a party.

Sunday Morning~It's real.

I used to watch my Aunt Ulca and Uncle Judd dance together and dream about having someone sweeping me across the dance floor. As a little girl, family functions seemed regal, extravagant, elegant, opulent, and fun.  Adults were beautifully dressed, happy, graceful, laughing.  They all seemed to have charmed lives at those celebrations: a 25th anniversary party, wedding, or retirement dinner.  There was always dancing, and in my lower middle class family, they were held in simple settings like the VFW hall, the back room of an Italian restaurant, or a church basement. But to me, it was the Plaza Suite.

There was a child’s table where my siblings and cousins were cordoned off during dinner. The waitstaff would serve us and, in my memory at least, we conducted ourselves as miniature adults, sitting through the courses and speeches and joke among ourselves.  Yes, we had speeches at family functions.  My father was often the emcee and I would be confused by the adoration of him.  The beaming relatives of this youngest son, who worked hard for an education and successful career, laughed as if he were Johnny Carson. As immigrants for whom English was a second language, he was the one who had achieved the American dream. It was a different perspective from the one I had formed as offspring, and allowed me a glimpse of the complexity of his persona.

Well fed and regaled, the dancing would start. Was there a band? There must have been, otherwise where would the music have come from?  It was way before DJs, and I can’t remember any piped-in music. The band must have been small, possibly just a man with an accordion, but the dancing captivated me. Couples that seemed to hate each other that afternoon (read, my parents) would be transformed into movie stars, gliding with their feet in synch, little twirls and flairs, a head tossed back with laughter as some new step was introduced––it was charmed. At some point the men would take the kids to the floor and, depending on age and height, sweep us around with our feet atop their’s so we could learn the steps. It was all magical to me, but I could not take my eyes off Ulca and Judd.

Judd was very tall and Ulca was tiny; there had to be a two foot height difference. In fact, when Judd sat down and Ulca stood next to him, they were almost face to face. When they danced, her arms were reaching up to his shoulders fully extended above her head.  It seemed impossible they could be graceful together, but their movements were perfect and seductive and she’d glance over her shoulder in a provocative way that was completely uncharacteristic of the woman I knew. I desperately wanted to grow old dancing with someone like that. Though others were equally beautiful on the dance floor, Ulca and Judd also loved each other.  That was a novelty in my family.

When I married, I begged my husband to take ballroom dancing.  He refused, with the argument that he was already “a very good dancer.” Ok, he could get out there and move to the Beatles, sure, but I wanted to dance the fox trot. I wanted to really waltz, not just do the bear hug and sway back and forth (though that was better than not dancing at all.) I wanted to be Ulca and Judd. I formed a team with a girlfriend, who also wanted a husband who could dance, and with a little subterfuge (“Jim said he’d go if you went!”) we got the four of us signed up. It was fun!  We were good!  We were well on our way to checking off that childhood dream of mine, and then he left.

Family functions now rarely include dancing. Weddings seem to be the only time that happens, and those are few and far between. There are no couples that transform into Fred and Ginger before my eyes. The era of the weekly weekend community dance is long gone and that romance eludes me.  I wonder again why I was born into the wrong century.

On the train to Sacramento, this kind and attractive man asked me what I missed most about being married. I had known him for all of one hour, and the question seemed deep and intimate. Perhaps it was his voice or his intensity, or that I was already falling in love, but no one had ever asked me that before and I had to catch my breath. There was so much I missed about being married but it was all jumbled into one packet labeled: That Was Then. I had to think. What did I miss the most? Not what I missed about the man who deserted me, but what I missed about being married.  Much different.  Three things tumbled out of my mouth and “Dancing” was one of them.

Later, when the train had deposited us late at our destination and he had disappeared into the crowd, I thought, “I don’t have to be married to dance!  Why did I say that?”  In fact, none of the three on my list required marriage as a prerequisite.  I wondered what he thought of my list, never thinking I’d have a chance to ask him. I wondered what he missed about being married and why I hadn’t asked him? That train ride was too short! I thought I’d never see him again.

I realize now that it’s not just the dancing I miss, it’s dancing with the one I love. That stranger on the train is the one I see myself dancing with now. No begging, no pleading, no power struggle, no trickery. Just a simple question of what makes us happy. How bright and sparkly the future appears.  I feel dear Ulca smiling down on me. I hear her raspy voice telling me it was worth the wait.


Sunday Morning~ Lessons from a Two-Year Old

My two-year old grand daughter just left. This child is the love of my life and her every milestone is miraculous to me. I don’t see her as often as I’d like, maybe every couple of months, so the changes I see in her are remarkable. She has started talking a lot and mimicking constantly.  I find this endlessly amusing. I’m also struck by how hard she has to work to communicate. Some of her words are not distinguishable and there is a temptation to gloss over them and distract her but I find myself unable to do that.  Fascinated by her earnestness when a word is correctly identified, I often find I’d had it all wrong. I see her frustration when we can’t understand what she wants and can’t distinguish her words.  I feel that frustration myself at times.

She makes me think about the world a lot.  I wonder what it will be like when she is my age.  I wonder if I’ll still be physically able to keep up with her when she’s an adult and might want to do some of the things I love to do. Last night, walking back from the fireworks, she was between me and my daughter holding our hands, and I had a fantasy of us all crossing a finish line together like that.  Not sure which one, maybe a marathon relay? Though I’d probably be the one in the middle with them holding me up. I wonder if it would mean as much to her as it would to me.

But it was her language that most captivated me this visit. I found myself wondering if I work this hard to understand everyone in my life? How often, when we speak the same language, do we judge when we’ve really got the meaning all wrong?  When we assume we’ve heard correctly, but the essence is completely different?  When I thought my angel was saying she wanted supper but she really wanted her slippers, I realized what a cascade of frustration could have ensued if I hadn’t persevered. I can’t remember pondering this when my kids were small. I do, however, remember having big fights with my ex about him not understanding what I was saying IN PLAIN ENGLISH! I wonder how many patients get treatments they don’t need because their health care providers don’t have time to find out what they are really complaining about.

I took her to church with me this morning while her parents slept in.  On the way home we stopped at the grocery store to get a few things.  She was happily sitting in the shopping cart pointing out things she recognized. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time and we started talking for a bit longer than I’d planned. I was conscious of the limited patience of a toddler but she seemed intrigued by our conversation. After several minutes, however, she placed both her hands on my cheeks, turned my face toward hers and said clearly, “Home”. And she said it with a smile.

I have a lot to learn from this kid.