Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011

I had no great expectations for 2010. My goal was to stay alive, keep a roof over my head and hang on to my job. My wants were few. I wanted to be content if not joyous; I wanted my family to be happy and healthy. I wanted to write and hoped I would write something good enough to submit. I wanted to be there for everyone who needed me and more than anything, I wanted the boys I knew in Afghanistan, sons of my friends, to come home- alive.

I never promised myself to eat healthier, exercise, save money or try to have more tolerance for the unfortunate dimwits of the world. I fervently hoped to keep the chin level water from getting to my nose.  (Is that where the “chin up” phrase came from? ) Based on that criterion I was successful. 
I thought a lot about the world and the people in it; about bigotry, suppression, control, censorship, freedom and the lack thereof. I thought about politics in a different light, a global light and not just our little corner of the world. I read more books in the last six months of 2010 than I had in the last three years – books about different cultures and social issues. I weaned myself from frustration and censorship until the cord was severed clean and said good-bye to seven years of my online life. I thought about women in other countries who are murdered or maimed for looking at a man, or children who beg on the streets for food. 

I wondered why after eight years Iraq is still not on its feet and why after nine years Osama Bin Laden is still able to hide in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 
I stressed about social issues closer to home too. I worried about no health insurance and my own inability to afford even when I had two jobs. I worried about homeless people and wondered why it is we are so compassionless towards so many of them. I wondered a lot about a country divided along party lines and like sheep to the slaughter following the dictates of the left or the right no matter how thoughtlessly stupid. I worried about kids not learning to read or write or think for themselves because they are so busy learning to pass a national test so their teachers can keep their jobs.

Some things left me as perplexed as always. Why people beat and /or kill their children, why people are rude to one another, why the courts are jammed with frivolous lawsuits and why the mentally ill can’t get help. Why a city, county, or country doesn’t have to balance its budget like a business and why all accounting is done with smoke and mirrors. I wondered if the economy was going to get worse before it gets better and I wondered if I could eek a few more hours out of the day to get things that needed doing done or get second job if needed.

As always, I wondered about God. I wondered why so many of His believers are sure their version of His existence is the only one that is right and I wondered how he feels about people killing and maiming in His name.

The saddest thing that happened this year was that my old dog Smokie died. But he gave us thirteen great years and the most unconditional love. The best thing that happened is that my family and friends are in good health. Oh, we have had our ups and downs, bruises and bumps, but we’ve survived to tell the story. I never forget how lucky I am to have the family and friends I do.

This weekend I am cleaning house. I’m cleaning closets and drawers and tossing or donating old clothes, shoes and purses. I’m cleaning the kitchen cabinets and dumping old spices and last bits of anything. I’m going to tackle my office and go through all the bills and figure out who I can pay and who has to wait a while longer. I am going to comb through the Writer’s Market book and find a publisher who might like my work- then actually submit.

In 2010 I tread water for 365 days. 2011 will start out cleaner and with some expectation of success by my standards if not yours. Not only will I keep my head above water, I will swim upstream like the strongest salmon. It’s not about resolutions for me- more like a legacy. If I kick the bucket this year or next, I don’t want anyone to be able to say- she was okay with status quo. I don’t want anyone to think I ever gave up on anything or walked away defeated- If I ever walked away it was in victory. If I chip away at some years and steam roll others, I always do my best to make a difference and influence others to do the same.

Happy New Year to my family and friends, without whom– it would be no year at all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


This morning I had breakfast with two of my besties. We go back to what I lovingly refer to as the “Sausalito Days” when we were all adorable and skinny and slightly crazy.  We had lots of boyfriends or would pass the same ones around and around- it was a small town, after all. That no guy ever came between us is a small miracle and a testament to our bond and long lasting friendship.

We have taken to meeting at IHOP for breakfast this past year. Early Saturday or Sunday mornings (before the church crowd gets there on Sunday).  We used to eat at more trendy places- but as we get older and money seemingly tighter- and time harder to come by- this is where we have landed. I look around, see other sixty somethings- and think how did we ever get here?

Patti is married now, Liz and I, still single. I was in my early twenties when I met both of them in the early to mid 70’s. Of course I can’t be date specific because that was after all very heavy drinking and everything else days.  

As we chatted this morning, we realized we are indeed getting old. We are all dragging our butts after a workweek and for the most part would like nothing more than to curl up with a good book on our days off.  Patti stays busy- but pays the price by having bronchitis six times a year. Liz – a polio survivor who has never let her pain and polio complications stop her from anything- has slowed down considerably. I have babied myself for years. I don’t overbook, I rest up on weekends and still just recently became sick and lost time at work for the first time in I can’t remember how long.

We are all very different- with a few strands of commonality. Patti is the nurturer. She has the patience of Job and is the caretaker of the world. Sometimes I lose patience - on her behalf, because I’m sure she never will. She puts up with my rants of course, because she is probably the most patient with me. Patti will be the one to visit everyone in the old folk’s home- even though no one will know who she is anymore. She will talk to the patient like there is someone home upstairs- even when the lights are long out.  That is who she is.

Liz is all heart, strength and intelligence – sometimes short on patience when she hears people complain about every day ass aches-like they are dying, when she has walked around with a whole body ache without complaint for most of her sixty plus years. She still thinks and talks faster than I can hear or comprehend- and her wit is still as sharp as thirty years ago. Her body betrays her- but she perseveres.

Sometimes I think- I am a little bit of both of them. They both participated in taking care of me- raising me during the craziest years. I probably owe them both my life- for shelter and sustenance when I needed it most.

I’m not as caring or patient as Patti- but I love my family and my friends and try to make a difference when I can. And I still make a few people laugh- those that get my deadpan humor and gallows wit anyway.

We are all survivors. We have all survived the loss of family and loved ones over the years. We have survived our own illnesses, broken hearts and occasional loneliness. Today when we spoke Liz reminded us to be grateful for what we have. She is right. We still have our health, though not perfect; we are not bed ridden or dead. We still have our brains, our memories intact if somewhat scattered some days due to stress or busy lives but not dementia. Not dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We traded Christmas gifts, which we said we were not going to do this year. None of us has money, but it has been our tradition for a long time now.  As we were getting our coats on and bundled up to go out in the cold, it occurred to me how fortunate I have been to have the friends I have. How accepting they have been of my faults- my quick temper and unruly mouth.

Last month Renee,  my oldest bestie  (years known, not age) came to my rescue (and called me a stubborn ass I think) but I know I might have ended up in the hospital had she not come to take care of me and make me go to the doctor. She is right of course, I am a stubborn ass. Renee and I meet at IHOP  whenever we can too.

Liz said today our big mistake in life was not buying an IHOP franchise.  Now I can tell you of all my mistakes- if Liz thinks that is my big one- I’m good with that.

I started out today lying in bed playing a movie on the back of my eyelids as I do on Saturdays and Sundays when I can be awake and asleep at the same time. Sometimes the movie is good and sometimes it’s bad. If it’s very bad I get up. This morning was just an old movie that starred my family members no longer with us.  December is my eh… month. Johnny died, mom died, and the month just carries a lot of baggage for me in addition to being dark and dreary.  I told myself this morning as my movie was playing on the back of my eyelids; I was going to overcome the blues this December. I am going to walk my dogs-even in the rain, and I am going to take care of myself and be my usual happy self.  Having friends like mine- make it all so much easier.

I’m not blue at all this evening. I feel like December will be good and January even better. I guess sometimes we just need to remember the good stuff and put the rest away.

** One more thing to be happy about. Two of my “newer besties” (less than a decade) sons are home SAFE from Afghanistan. That is something to be happy about this December too.

On a facebook quiz, the other day one of the questions was “Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full?” and my reply was fuck the cup. I would like to amend that just for today- cup 100% full.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It's Not Always About Race

Anyone that knows me knows I am not a racist. I decided sometime last year that I would start calling bigots what they were- right to their faces. And I do so- without hesitation. I don’t care about age, gender or reasons why. A bigot is a bigot. But the same character trait that pulls at me to call these people out- is forcing me to call another issue the way I see it.
Not everything is about race.
 I used to work with an African American girl who thought no one liked her because she was black. She called me mom because I was always dispensing unsolicited life advice to her. “Try being polite” I would say.  “Get rid of that chip.” I would tell her. “Don’t drink so much, don’t date jerks, try to get to work on time, stop playing the race card!” 
“Okay Mom.”  She would reply.
She was really a sweet girl under all the bitterness and misplaced anger.
I recognized a lot of my young self in her. I recognized her poor choices in men and lifestyle: her reluctance to take responsibility for her own actions. It is always much easier to blame your parents, your school, the world in general, then to look at your own faults.
Natalya was angry about slavery.  She was from Atlanta, Georgia. And, yes Georgia had slaves, but not in her lifetime- or her mother’s lifetime or her grandmother’s lifetime. Natalya came from a middle class family just like me, went to good schools, (her mother was a teacher) she was not raised in the projects, and had never been beaten by white people.  In her lifetime, she had never been denied the right to vote and never had to sit in the back of the bus. Her anger was taught to her –somewhere along the line- someone said be angry…because life is not fair.
And yes- some people are bigots. Some men hate women, some women hate men, some people hate Chinese people, some people hate Mexican people some people hate African American people. Some people hate dogs some people hate cats. It’s not always based on anything substantial- just passed down from father and mother to son and daughter. Like the cancer gene.
So when Officer Johannes Mehserle was arrested and charged with the “murder” of  Oscar Grant, it turned into a race issue- because Oscar Grant was black and Johannes Mehserle is white. There was no question about it. It was a race thing.
The press went to work fast. Convicting the BART policeman in the press before he ever got to court. He was white- and a policeman- therefore it stands to reason he is prejudiced, and hates black people enough to shoot them in the back. It must have been planned- because they charged him with first-degree murder. What a crock.
Johannes Mehserle made a huge mistake. And in doing so- he took the life of another human being; of this, there is no doubt. Did he wake up that day and say to himself… “I’m going to shoot someone today”? Probably not.
Mehserle was responding to a call at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009. Whether confused by the melee or scared for his own life- because he thought Grant was going for a gun- Mehserle lost his bearings and grabbed his pistol instead of his taser and shot Grant in the back.
Any kind of murder charge would have been unjustified. The Judge in his case, (which was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles so Mehserle could get a fair trial)  found that he could be charged with involuntary manslaughter but not murder due to lack of evidence– involuntary manslaughter assumes that the death was unintended- still though, finds criminal negligence.  On top of that there was a special circumstance clause because a gun was used in the commission of a crime. But wait. Johannes Mehserle was  a policeman right? They are issued guns. It’s not like he was some street hood that had a gun in his hoodie sleeve. 

Citing the motion for bail – the police investigation report stated:
"Officer Pirone directed Officer Mehserle to arrest two of the individuals who had not been handcuffed. One of the individuals to be arrested was Oscar Grant, and Officer Pirone’s direction to Mehserle was overheard by Grant. Grant, upon hearing that he was under arrest, attempted to stand up, but was forced to the ground face first. Both Officer Mehserle and Officer Pirone attempted to restrain Mr. Grant and to seek his compliance by ordering him to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed, but Mr. Grant resisted and refused to submit to handcuffing. Officer Mehserle was pulling at Mr. Grant’s right hand and arm, which remained under his torso near his waistband. Mr. Grant had not been searched by any officer for weapons, either prior to his initial detention or after being seated near the wall."
The motion also states that the man sitting next to Grant also told police he heard Mehserle say "I'm going to taze him."
Mehserle then stood up, unholstered his gun, and fired a shot into Grant's back. Immediately after the shooting, Mehserle appeared surprised and raised his hands to his face; according to Michael Rains, Mehserle's criminal defense attorney, several eyewitnesses described Mehserle as looking stunned. Witnesses say Mehserle said "Oh my god!" several times after the shooting. and many saw him put his hands to his head.

I’ll concede: Perhaps Johannes Mehserle was not great cop material. Perhaps his own fear got the best of him that day.  Perhaps he had the jitters because earlier that day two guns had been recovered in separate incidents along the rail line. Immediately before he arrived at the Fruitvale Station , Mehserle was involved in an incident at the West Oakland station where a teenage boy with a semi-automatic pistol had fled from police and jumped off the station platform, breaking several bones.
Mehserle had a spotless record prior to this incident. Grant however did not. He had been convicted of several felonies and had served two terms in state prison. One of those incidents he was carrying a gun. He had been out of jail a mere three months prior to this BART incident. Mehserle would have no knowledge of this information,  however- a good cop usually has a sixth sense- and maybe the hair on the back of Mehserle’s neck stood up when Grant tried to reach into his pocket while being arrested.
Oakland police work very hard for their money. And while BART Police are not Oakland police they work in the same crime ridden city where guns, thugs, drugs and shootings are commonplace. Parts of Oakland on any day are not safe- and on New Year’s Day- when morons like to shoot guns- it’s even less so.  Three months and twenty-one days after the New Year’s Day incident- four Oakland City Police were killed in the line of duty- by gunfire. The assailant in that case was a 26 year old who had spent most of his life in prison. After a brief shoot out with police- he was killed.  People tried to make him a hero. The police are hated in Oakland.
This was never about race- until the press made it so. This was about fear. Fear on both sides- no doubt. Grant afraid he would be arrested or perhaps killed for something he did or didn’t do, Mehserle afraid he would be shot and killed when he had a new baby on the way.  This was about lack of training, lack of education and lack of communication.
The riots that followed the incident did nothing to help the black cause. It was teenagers looting, breaking windows and stealing anything they could get their hands on. It was not about race or rights. Black leaders half-heartedly asked for peace- but in my opinion did not do enough to show young people how to get there.
This week the sentencing of Mehserle, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter was announced. He is to serve two years with credit for time served.  He will for the rest of his life, live with his mistake.
More riots followed the sentencing and over 100 arrests were made. Cars were smashed, windows broken and fires started.
 Oscar Grant’s family is unhappy they wanted a murder conviction and maximum sentencing. Of course, their pain will last forever. Losing a child is a pain that never goes away.
Perhaps someday the press will find a way to tell the truth. This was never about race. This was about fear. Until people are ready to have an open dialogue with each other, this will continue to be a problem. Crime is a problem- no matter what color you are.
Prejudice isn’t a one way street. Stop waiting for the government to fix everything, get off your butts, and start confronting your fears. Don’t be a Mesherle or an Oscar Grant. Don’t be a victim.  Lose the chip on your shoulder. Lose your knee-jerk reactions. And start telling the truth no matter how ugly it is- because that is the open door to all communication. 

Sources cited::

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mom is Here

It’s a sure bet- that if my mom were alive today- my sisters and I would be fighting over whose turn it was to take care of her.  "You take her."  "No you take her." It would be nice to think that at our ages, this would not be true; that the lessons life taught us would make us value our mother more, but nothing really teaches you that lesson as much as losing someone.

Mom 13 Years old!
When my mom died, we had her cremated. I think the original thought was to sprinkle her ashes with my brother’s ashes up at Two Rock, but for whatever reason – instead, my sisters chose a beautiful urn, with an Asian style motif my mother would have loved, and deposited her remains therein.

She died in December of 1984, and because I was pregnant with Nick, my two sisters decided I should keep mom the first year. We decided together, that every New Year’s Day we would get together and we would hand her off to the next sister. We joked about fighting over who gets to have mom- knowing this would have never been the case were she still with us.

I can’t remember why I had my mom’s ashes in the car with me the day I was crossing Geneva Ave. in my mom’s old Cougar when a Cadillac ran a red light on Mission and plowed into my right front.  The baby was about three weeks old. I grabbed the baby and ran to my Aunt and Uncle’s drug store a half- block away, shaking like a leaf. By coincidence, my dad (step) happened to be there too and when I told him what happened he took the baby so I could deal with the woman that ran the light. She had been on her way to pick up her grand daughter from kindergarten, she said. She was late. 
Mom with her Godson Peter Scanlon

My baby was okay and I was too, and I attributed that to my mom watching out for us more than the solid build of the ‘67 Cougar. We believe what we want.

It’s not death, but time, which gives us the sorely needed perception to understand the departed. I have no illusions about my mom. I have not remade her into a person without faults or human frailties.  Some of things I hated about my mom when I was fifteen I love about her now. I just needed time to understand them.

1964 34 years old in her Roaring 20's makeup
When I was about twelve my mom worked as a cocktail waitress at a place called “The Roaring Twenties”.  She wore fishnet stockings, and a sequined costume that looked more like a strapless bathing suit. I used to love watching her get ready for work. She would apply her make-up with Hollywood precision. To my eye, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Sometimes, because I was a day sleeper not a night sleeper, I would be awake at 3AM when she got home still looking perfect and she would let me count her tips that she kept in a sequin bag. Her happiness was fleeting-but for a short time in 1964 
I can remember her laughing and lighting up any room she was in.

When lives are cut short- we are always left to wonder… what if?  I like to think if my mom were alive, she would marvel at her legacy. She would be so happy that we grabbed onto the good and left the bad behind. That we took the demons she lived with all her life- and sent them straight back to hell.  That we each in our own ways worked through our own fears, trials and tribulations and came out right side up. I like to think too- that she is watching over all of us; children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  That she sees a little bit of her son in Joanna and her children and a little bit of herself in all her grandkids and great grandkids. I sure see it.

Mom approx. 52
Somewhere along the line the ritual of sharing our mother on New Years Day got left behind. My four years in North Carolina and just life in general seemed to get away from all of us. When I came home from North Carolina I kept thinking I need to go get mom- but then when I was at my sister Linda’s house I would forget. Out of sight out of mind, they say.

Last week Linda brought mom to me. And I feel like it’s good timing.  I’ll put her on my bookshelf (next to Smokie’s ashes now) and I’ll talk to her when I need someone to listen but not answer.

It’s hard to not wonder what mom would be like now. Would all these grandchildren and great grand-children have filled up the hole my brothers’ death left in her heart?

The passage of time has given me the gift of perception.  
Each year that passes without my mom- I realize something new about her. 

I'm glad she is here with me now. I won't argue or be defiant. I'll try to remember the wise things she told me when my hearing was sharp but my ears heard nothing. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

It's More Than Cooking

I realized yesterday- yep just yesterday, that the most important life lessons I have taught my son- I taught him in the kitchen. Long before the Marine Corps taught him to adapt and overcome- I had him adapting recipes to overcome our sometimes-wanting food bins.

He learned in my kitchen- my philosophy on compromise. Those of you who know me- know I take issue with compromise just for the sake of making people happy. Well- it’s the same with cooking and baking. If the recipe calls for butter- use butter. Period. Margarine should not even be in the house. If you are broke-or have a broken hip and can’t make it to the store – and you have to have mashed potatoes- and you only have margarine- well maybe you can use it then (although you will ruin your mashed potatoes). Never – never use it in cookies- unless you are making some sort of special margarine flavored cookies I don’t know about.

I taught him about the importance of generosity in our kitchen. No matter how broke I have ever been- I will have enough food for anyone that happens to come by. I can make three dinners out of one chicken breast, a little pasta and a can of peas. No peas? Corn will work, or spinach or green beans. No matter how little food we had- we always had enough to feed another person or two. I see him do the same now. He will give away his last dollar, his last cigarette, his last breath if need be.

He learned the importance of having good tools- and making due with the next best thing if those tools were not available. A sharp knife is the most important tool in the kitchen.

It’s in the kitchen that we shared the most stories and the most fun. Family recipes always have stories attached to them. Stories of survival, ingenuity, mistakes… and successes. It’s easy to talk when you are busy doing other things... it’s less intense- more casual. Even the sad tales of being broke and eating spaghetti 10 days in a row don’t seem so sad when you are cooking and telling how you perfected the sauce. For those of us who push emotions away and try to keep an even keel- talking while cooking is the answer. You can cry while chopping onions.

I think the most important thing he learned from me in the kitchen is to have passion in what you do and it will always make it better. I know I am always more animated, more alive, more fun- when I am cooking or baking. I love food- and I love to make people happy with food. There is a reason why all of our celebrations have food. It’s a peace offering, it’s love, it’s friendship, it’s sharing, it’s family. (blood and otherwise)

When Nick was born his dad and I were no longer together. We agreed though- that he (Jon) could be in charge of his left brain-because he is über smart and I could be in charge of his right brain as a default prize.

Now- I am glad it worked out that way. I realize now all the left-brain things one needs to learn in life- are taught through right brain activities. Funny how that all works out.Cooking is both a left and right brain activity- but the ingenious part, the thing that makes my cookies better than someone else's is all right brain stuff. (and butter)

Yesterday, when I went to San Francisco to bring my son some of his mama’s lasagna, he was outside in front of his friends’ house and they were BBQ’ing tritip & crab legs. His melting pot of friends all contributing some how to the celebration of food were all smiling and full of life. The twenty somethings realizing what many sixty somethings never do- that life is really all about friends, family and what we can do for other people.

So many older people think young people are self-absorbed. But I saw sharing and friendship and a large dose of ingenuity in their little street feast. They taught me something in their outdoor kitchen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two Steps Forward

Lately, I have been watching as my Marine Parents friends post about their Marines EAS’ing. (End of Active Service) All of them are joyous about this event. Some of them may be skeptical about how things will work out- and rightly so. Our sons left as boys and came back men. Men with scars.

In our group, my son was one of the first to get out. In October 2007, I quietly seized my magnifying glass and started watching his every move. When his three-year marriage fell apart after 6 months out of the Marine’s and he came to stay with me, my scrutiny increased. Oh, I was cool. I practice what I preach. I didn’t tell him what he should or shouldn’t do. I never said pick up your room (I didn’t need to) and his bathroom was always spotless. He smoked but respectfully, outside and away from my sensitive lungs. He drank some beers and sometimes gin. I said nothing. Well- I probably gave him some looks. Those of you who know me… know I would have to give some looks. It was great to have him around- but we both knew- it wouldn’t last long. He needed his privacy. He had been on his own a long time.

I tried not to talk about his time in Iraq. If he mentioned it, I listened. I knew of a few horrific incidents and I didn’t need to know much more than that to understand that he would need time to heal.

He signed up for classes and didn’t care about them at all. He took filler classes in order to get his GI BILL money. He moved to San Francisco to a trendy part of town where he could hang out with other people who like to read, write and solve problems. He found a bar he could go to where no one bugs him. An old people’s bar he says, where they have trivia games and good beer.

I saw some slipping and sliding. He had some bad days. He tried his hardest to be Zen. But, you know, people always mess that up. If I was trying to gauge if he needed help I asked him abstractly. “What do you think Vets need right now?” He knew what I was doing, but somehow it made it easier to talk. He told me what they needed. He said upon their exit, they should be given orders to report to their civilian job in 2 weeks, or a month… and that their civilian job should be sensitive to the needs of a Vet. (VA days, PTSD etc.) (The jobs could be mostly Gov’t jobs at civic centers, state, city, forestry or park & rec. etc. and temporary so people could rotate in/out.) They need to get normal fast.

Nick found the whole job hunting experience demeaning. His infantry training, Security Force training and leadership training didn’t mean anything to the places he thought he should apply. Borders Books didn’t even want to know about his military experience. Preferring he left those four years blank. (At his request, I did get involved in that and they ended up rewriting their applications after I battered them for a year.) “Can you run a cash register?” one of them asked. He pivoted and left. They were too stupid.

Now- August 2010. Almost three years later. I see healing. Oh, I know he may still have bad days from time to time. But a couple of weeks ago he text me to tell me that he was in a crappy mood, he didn’t want to talk to anyone, but was thinking about me, and wanted me to know that he loves me. I already know that- but the progressive part of this was he was letting me know he was going underground for a day or two- so I wouldn’t have to worry. That was good.

Tonight he called and said that he was listening to a Willie Nelson album and thinking of me. I told him I blasted Willie Nelson to him while I was pregnant with him, but he remembered it from later when I drove my old ‘78 Nova back and forth to his Dad’s to get him and bring him the 50 miles back to my house- and we listened to Willie Nelson & Leon Redbone full blast -all the time. (Maybe this is how I lost my hearing? )

He told me that got signed up for his classes at San Francisco State University. He got the classes he wanted and he sounded happy. Now happy is what I have been waiting for. I’m happy now too. He also said he was getting organized- with an actual organizer. Wow, I said. Maybe you could help me get organized.

Sometimes life is two steps forward and three back. But, I have a feeling my kid has actually turned some corner here. The only thing that will make me happier is when the rest of my friends can say- Welcome Home Marine- put your civilian clothes on and just take your time unwinding.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What to Say to Military Families

There are two kinds of people you should never mess with in this world. The first would be a nursing mother and the second would be the mother of a deployed Marine, soldier, sailor or airmen. Actually- make that mother or father and include any stage of service then double it if they are deployed, and triple it if they are deployed Marines.

I was a nursing mother. I remember tug-o-wars with the baby and his paternal grandmother when it came time to feed him she would pull him close to her and say, “Ill feed him.” I would have to put my arms around him and gently pry him back, “No that’s okay, I’m breastfeeding him remember?” Inside I would be boiling over. What was wrong with her? Did she not realize this is something only a mother can do?

If you are not the parent/loved one of someone in the military - then I am going to refer to you as a civilian. Please do not be offended, it’s the only way I can differentiate the people who have been introduced to the military world via their children- and the people who have not.

I stopped or limited talking to more than a few good friends and family when my son joined the Marine Corps. No one understood what it was like. The swelling pride was never stronger than the relentless fear. My friends and family tried to understand- but they didn’t.

“I missed my daughter when she went to college too, you’ll get used to it.” One gal said.
Oh really? Were they shooting at her in that school?

I found a website where I could relate to people. They didn’t think I was over the top in either pride or fear. As the years went by, I realized a common theme among us. Civilians just did not “get it.”

Stupid comments from unknowing loved ones, friends and strangers could bring us to our knees. How could they not understand- that at night most of us were lying in bed thinking about how we would survive if anything happened to our kids in a war that so few of us (if any) understood? And if we were lucky enough to sleep- our very first thought, before our eyes even opened, every single day was please don’t let anything happen to my child.

“I don’t want my tax dollars going to this war.” I was once told. Really? Because your tax dollars are going to help buy the equipment, my son and all his buddies need you piece of crap.

“I don’t believe in this war- Bush is sending all these kids to die for oil.” Even if this was true- it is NOT something you should ever say to a deployed parent.

“Is he somewhere safe?” No, like I said- he is in Iraq.
“You should just stay busy- then you won’t have so much time to worry.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“This war is all about money and everyone is dying for greed.”
“I heard the Marines are killing women and children.”
“He’ll just be there for a couple of months, right?”

Like nursing mothers, we are protective and ready to strike anyone that means to harm our children. Stupid words are like swords to the heart. For me the very worst was when someone I worked with told me if my son were to die in Iraq, he would not go to heaven because he was not saved (born again). I used a year’s worth of tolerance on that one statement. I cried for days- and I never went back to work. It didn’t matter that my son calls himself Buddhist, it only mattered that someone I called a friend was so thoughtless.

Keep your politics to yourself. I don’t care if someone has 30 flags on their car and 30 Semper Fi stickers- don’t say I hope they kill all those Muslim bastards. Because the person you are talking to just might be Muslim. Muslims are serving too- alongside my Buddhist, and Jewish and Christians. Don’t make it about your hang-ups and prejudices. And really- parents do not want to hear about their kids having to kill anyone. Fact or not… it’s not up for discussion with civilians.

So what should you say to a parent of someone in the military?

You must be so proud.
Please, thank him for his service.
Good for him/her.
I know you will worry- so if there is anything you every need- here is my number- call anytime.
What does he/she need?
What can I send?
Can I write to him/her?
I’ll keep him/her in my prayers.
I was in Nam, if he ever needs anything here is my number.

My fellow Marine Parents were all I could really talk to for a few years. They knew that some days we would be crazy and other days depressed. It was a very manic four years. Either pulling the covers over my head and waiting for the anxiety attacks to go away or going 100 MPH cleaning house or baking cookies to ship oversees.

Many of the friends I made from the website turned out to be dear friends. I will never forget the kindness of people I had never met, who sent me cyber hugs and long emails just checking in. Some are friends who I ended up meeting in person and who I love dearly. And even a few I still have not met in person but I have a strong connection to- I call my friends. Fortunately, my old friends –are still my dear friends too.

There were civilians who gathered care packages for Nick’s unit, who baked for him and his brother’s in arms, people who never talked about the politics of war- just the human element- the one we all already knew. War is unbearable for parents and loved ones. Some of these people I knew and some I didn’t, but they all have my gratitude.

Right now I have a few friends whose son’s are deployed to Afghanistan. I hope I can hold them up as well as they held me up when Nick was deployed. We are all war weary now. Deployment fatigued and oohrah’ed out, gray hair and weight gain our battle scars. It’s for them that I sat to write this today because I know how they feel. Don’t talk to me unless you have been in my shoes is what we think in our heads. That is how we all feel, though we try to not broadcast it. We don’t mean to exclude people who love us, but honestly- it’s like the nursing mother syndrome. Hormonally unbalanced due to fear, and hyper vigilant in our protection- our minds will not accept anything that may harm our child- even words. Don't mess with us.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Reform- Bill Passes

Most of my friends and at least 75% of my family think the Health Care Reform bill is socialist Obamaism. Well- okay.

Here is how I see it.

Pronunciation: \ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm\
Function: noun
Date: 1837
1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Social Security is socialistic (check out that name)
Disability is socialistic
Unemployment Insurance- Socialistic
The Military is a socialistic society.

I don’t see anyone giving back their SS checks, disability checks, unemployment checks or condemning the military (for that reason anyway).

I know- We need to take responsibility for our own lives... right?

Well – I work. It’s a little job that doesn’t pay enough but it’s something. I have always worked- sometimes 3 jobs. But I have had some very lean years too. The last few- have kicked my butt. If it were not for a more than generous family, I would be living in my car… no wait- I wouldn’t have a car. I would be under a bridge with my 2 dogs. I wouldn’t have Smokie- he would be dead. No money for his meds. Well Maybe I would be dead too. One cold night under the bridge- pneumonia in my already compromised lungs… no insurance. Or, maybe just so depressed I would take that big dive off the Golden Gate. Yeah- I would be dead.

Fortunately – my family has been able to help me. But if something catastrophic were to happen- no one in my family could take that on. I wouldn’t want them to.

I am 58 and single. I guess it’s my fault I’m single- and that I would not marry or live with someone just to have some financial security. I would not compromise my belief that people should get married because they are in love- not because there is a social security check or pension in the future. So yes- I guess I am responsible for that decision. I don’t think I am responsible for the economy though. The lack of jobs, the sky rocketing insurance rates, my pre-existing conditions which I have had since I was 4 years old. No- I don’t believe I am. I have paid taxes all my life too. Well except for the past couple of years since I didn’t make enough to worry about it.

Now I do not begrudge the people for whom my tax dollars paid their disability payments or their social security payments. I do not call them names or berate them for not being responsible people. Actually- I am always glad I still have my health and I can work. I am grateful for this.

What I don’t understand is the refusal of some people to actually understand what socialism is and what it isn’t. Having a government run medical reform in the United States will not make us a socialist country- just like having capitalism in China will not make them democratic.

I am not a wing nut. I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. This is not about politics for me. This is about life. The quality of life. We live in the United States of America and we can’t afford health insurance unless we get it through our job- if we are lucky enough to have them offer it. If we are lucky enough to have a job. More than 14.9 MILLION people are currently without jobs.

Harvard just released a study that says 45,000 people die in the United States a year in because they have no health insurance. I just don’t understand how that could happen in a country with our assets. This is not a 3rd world country.

Anyway. I know at least half the country is PO’d because this bill passed. But I’m okay with it. And will I still be okay when it comes time to pay some taxes? Yes- I will. I will think of it as helping some other 58-year-old woman who lives alone with her dogs and would rather not have to live under a bridge or go over one if she gets sick.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Old Dog Wisdom- from Smokie

When you’re as old as I am you will find that life offers certain privileges. Of course, it takes away a few too.

When I was very young, someone hurt me. I had nightmares for a long time. I was afraid of many things- until my people adopted me. They made me feel safe.

When I look back now I realize they had great patience with me. Sitting up at night with me while I howled from nightmares, and letting me sleep on their bed while they pet me back to sleep. It’s no wonder now how I have lived so long.

I was insane for a short time. But the patience and love they showed me helped me heal. Then later when I was depressed, my people got me my own dog-my life-long companion, Mac.

I used to be able to run like the wind. No one could catch me. Everyone tried. I ran the football field when my boy was at practice. I ran after the birds until I was so tired and hot I would lie in the mud to cool off. I could see where the ball landed no matter how far off you threw it and I could smell anyone coming a mile away. I could climb trees. My memory was outstanding. I never forgot a face, a smell or a place. If I could have driven a car- I would have known how to drive to Auntie Pound Cake’s house, or Boys’ Dad’s house, or Dr. Millers or all the way back to California. One of my favorite things was riding in the car with my lady.

My teeth were sharp and strong and I could rip meat apart or gnaw a bone for hours.I could sit in the hot sun or the snow, it didn’t matter. As long as I was with my people, I was happy.

We used to walk around a lake all the time and went to parks where I played and chased and ran after balls. People would stop my lady and say how handsome I was. And I was. My coat was black and shiny. They would ask her what she did to get it so shiny. And she would tell them, baths, olive oil, eggs. I have to admit I was the best smelling dog in the neighborhood.

When my boy went away, I was very sad. It didn’t help that everyone else was sad too. I stayed strong for my lady- but it was hard. And then when we moved I was sad. I’m ashamed to admit I whined all the way to North Carolina. And Boy’s dad was so nice to me-and stopped the car a lot so I could walk and smell things. But I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t see my boy again.

I liked our new home; it was an adventure -I will never forget. There were more squirrels than I could chase in a lifetime; possum, raccoons, deer, and every bird known to animal-kind. One raccoon tried to trespass to my territory and I killed him. Then later another came and I wounded him but my faithful friend Mac finished him off when I got tired.

Our boy came to see us. And brought a puppy and his lady. I admit I was jealous. It was petty I know. But my boy was great- he took time to be with just me. He sat on the floor and we just talked. Just like old times. I remembered his lady and was happy to see her. We all seemed happy for a few days-but I was getting sick then and didn’t have much energy.

When I got sick I tried to tell my lady- but she didn’t understand me. Under normal circumstances, she would have- but boy was in something called war and she was not thinking very clearly.

We went to see Dr. Miller and he gave me some medicine. My lady had to give me shots twice a day. I was brave though. I only whined a few times while she was learning.

Then we got another puppy. I can’t say I was happy about this although I have learned to love him. Not as much as I love Mac though.

When our boy came back from war- we all got to go back to California. Boy’s Dad came and drove with us. I have always loved him because he pets me best. He never misses a spot. And- he buys us cheese burgers.

I did not whine all the way home. It was a hard trip though. I had to be lifted in and out of the car- it was demoralizing. I was stiff and sore and I could tell my lady and Boy’s Dad were worried about me.

So now I am back in California. I see my boy often and nothing could make me happier. Well I can’t see him- but I hear him and smell him,. I am blind, but that’s okay. I get around pretty well still.

And those privileges that I have now? Well let’s just say I can do no wrong. I don’t get yelled at-no matter what. I have had some accidents- but they just say it’s okay and clean it up quick. No one is allowed to bother me including the puppy. I get to lie where I want, when I want for however long I want. I am not forced to stay outside for hours (although I never was) and I get extra blankets when it’s cold. Last week I found a tennis ball and played with it for a few minutes. I knew it belonged to the puppy but I didn’t care. I remembered when I used to run after tennis balls and loved running so much I would just keep going and not bring them back. That was the good old days.

Oh- and I still go for walks sometimes. They are short- but that is fine.

I walked to the Dr. today. I stayed there all day. I miss Dr. Miller – but they were nice to me and even gave me some treats. Then my lady picked me up in the car- and that was great. It was a short ride but a nice ride.

I’m home tonight- I’ll sleep on the floor next to my lady- like I do every night. I’m still watching over her- even though I am old and blind and can’t run- I will protect her.

If I have any advise to give you young dogs it would be this. Be patient with your people. And let them know you love them. And don't over eat- you'll be sorry for that later.

I am 82 years old. That’s very old for a German Shepherd. The Dr. said I am doing well. My medication needing adjusting but otherwise she said, “He’s pretty sharp still!

Yes I am.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What is your best thing?

In a recent interview I was asked, “What do you do best?” And what is your worst thing? And -What is the hardest thing you have ever done?”

When I was in 2nd grade and went to my first holy communion, I made up sins… because at 6-7 years old I had yet to really have a sin- but since we were ALL SINNERS I decided I better tell them what they want to hear. Apparently, I was a quick study of human nature. So- I said I lied to my parents. I had yet to lie to my parents; I was still a good little girl then. I think I said some other “sin” too- like saying a cuss word or hating my sister or brother.

So when presented with the question now- what is my best thing- I know I have to give them an answer that will make me sound good.

My best thing: I can think of a few… and depending on the needs of the employer, I will toss one out there. I like myself a lot. I have forgiven myself almost all my faults. I know that sounds crazy but it’s true. I am 58 I have learned to love myself after all these years. It’s hard to look at myself objectively anymore and say- well my best thing is… communication. (Some folks would argue that) or my best thing is fixing whatever needs fixing. My best thing is taking the worst possible situation and finding a solution or hope. My best thing is creating teams when there is dissention. (Maybe I should join the senate or congress). My best thing is telling the truth or my best thing is being a mom, baking, cooking, or taking care of my dogs. Maybe it’s my sense of humor or writing or napping. Empathy, compassion… the Heimlich maneuver.

Then -what is my worst thing- and here is where I struggle- not because I don’t have a worst thing, I surely do. But because I hate shooting myself in the foot. So, I try to think of something that is a little bad, but not so bad a human being would hold it against me.

“I hate to file.” I say, or “my desk gets messy” Or “ I can never say no when asked to stay late.” I can’t really say my worst thing is answering stupid questions, can I? My worst things are lack of tolerance for stupidity, mostly; lack of patience sometimes. I hate the phone- I prefer email because it’s concise.

I usually just say: I’m not fond of filing. It’s a significant understatement, yet not a lie. It’s what they want to hear. They really don’t want you to say- I can’t prioritize very well. (I can)

What’s the hardest thing you have ever done as a manager?” They ask. And here is where I always tell the truth. If for no other reason maybe, just maybe they will never ask another poor soul this question.

I give them one of two answers- unless the first one didn’t seem to sink in- then they get both.

The hardest thing I ever did as a manager was at Corporate Express when I had to walk Patricia to the door- knowing her husband was on the other side and he was going to tell her their 15-year-old son had been shot and killed. That was the longest walk I ever took- and the hardest hug I ever gave an employee. My own son was 16 at the time and Patricia had been training him.

The other one was even more personal. While working at my Dad’s restaurant- when the theater crowd had just lined up halfway down the block, I received a call from my 27 year old brother’s Dr., letting me know he had pneumonia and asking me if he should treat him or not. My brother was in an irreversible coma and I was his custodian. I was 30 years old- and I was carving sandwiches for customers while the Dr. spoke.

I asked. “Will he be in pain?”

“No.” he said.

“I’ll have an open-faced Turkey on whole wheat.” The customer shouted out as I stood holding my finger up- wait just a second please.

“When I hung up the phone, my eyes were burning from holding back the tears but I carved the turkey and scooped up the mashed potatoes.

“Gravy?” I asked.

I don’t remember the rest of the day after I walked Patricia to that door- or the rest of the evening after I carved that one turkey sandwich. In both cases, I know I stayed at work and did what I had to do.

I recently had 3 interviews- the one I did the best in was the one I was the most honest with. “I hate interviewing.” I told them. I liked them most because they didn’t ask me one dumb ass question. They didn’t delve into my psyche and try to figure me out. They wanted to know if I could do the job and if they could get along with me. I didn’t get the job- but I came close- and will keep bugging them- because they have what I want. And they liked me.

But all this leaves me thinking what do I do best? What is my gift?

I have no real answer for that.

I guess maybe my gift is just doing whatever needs to be done- no matter what.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Sad Perspective

In recent days I have been pulled from the mire of my own personal woes – money and job related- into the reality of the cost of war and the loss of many young lives. People’s children are dying. Since the beginning of February, we have lost at least 25 US troops.

I signed up for the press releases from the DOD years ago- and year after year, I have watched the bad news slip into my email. I open each one- I read the name of every life lost. I think about their family and loved ones- their short life, snuffed out.

I used to reply to the condolence threads on the Marine Parents message board and then one day I realized that many of us, moms especially, had become obsessive – and living in constant fear that the condolences would be addressed to us someday. I had to stop. I continued to read the DOD releases and spend a moment in silence for the fallen and their loved ones. I know I’ll never forget- yet somehow- we move on. We have to. We have to because the living are depending on us.

In recent weeks I have read posting by parents regarding their sloppy, beer swilling, disrespectful Marines. Many of them blame the Marine Corps. I keep defending the smelly, mouthy, reprobates because they are after all-at least most of them, going to war.

They are scared and can’t really show it or they have come to terms with their possible demise and the fact that this may be their last chance to party, get lucky, get crazy- get lost in some fun. I’m not sure why they become disrespectful. Maybe it’s easier to leave your folks mad than sad. I’m also a firm believer that respect is earned- not a God given right given to parents. Generally- you get what you give. (I know there are exceptions)

So I look at all these press releases announcing the death of a Marine or soldier or sailor and I have to ask myself- how can these folks fight with their kids about anything when they are going to deploy to a war zone. A brutal warzone.

Normal parents- or parents of non-military children are also missing the point. I once wrote about a day I was missing my son terribly and I went to the Laundromat to wash my clothes. A mom came in with her two kids. She looked harried and unhappy; I imagined a fight with her husband or recent divorce. Or maybe the thought of doing 9 loads of laundry on a Sunday afternoon was the cause of her long face and tight mouth. Her older son who was probably 17, helped his mom bring her baskets of laundry in the door, and then I guess he was going to do whatever he had to do. He put his arm around her and sort of rubbed her shoulder for a minute and what just killed me is that she never acknowledged his loving gesture. It really disturbed me because I was longing to see my own son and touch his face and would have done anything to feel his bear hug – surely, I would have hugged my boy back.

My son joining the Marine Corps only exacerbated my fear that I would lose him someday. I was scared when I was pregnant, I was scared when he learned to cross the street and ride a bike and oh, the fear I felt when he went on a plane without me was crippling. When he started to drive and didn’t get home on time- I was calling the Highway Patrol and driving up and down the freeway looking for him. I don’t think I ever told him.

My great- grandmother told me the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent is to have their child die before them- and then when my brother died at 27 years old, I saw my parents disintegrate into zombie like shells of their former selves. What I really learned is – any mothers son, any father’s daughter can die anytime. Shouldn’t we love them as much as possible? Unconditionally? I have a few friends that practice this and always have. (Admittedly it’s not always easy)

I have a friend whose son is in Afghanistan right now- he just lost one of his best buddies and his mom, my friend, is so distressed, so worried and scared. My son’s old unit is there too- and one of his friends and brother in arms was just injured. I have more friends whose kids will be going to Afghanistan shortly. The perspective of the parents I know is in tact. They know the only thing that matters right now is that their kids stay alive. Even losing an arm or leg is an acceptable option over death.

My point- and I know I always take the long way around… is that none of us ever know. We really need to be kind to our kids – all of our loved ones yes- but especially our kids. Even the messy, beer swilling, pot smoking, mouthy little shits would leave an irreplaceable hole in our hearts if we lost them.

Try to remember that next time you get so mad at your kid you say something you can’t take back, because guilt on top of grief is a deadly combination.

My thoughts tonight go out to the families of the past and recent troops killed in action. Their sacrifices not forgotten- their gift of perspective, I cannot repay.

And to all my friends whose loved ones are in harms way- here at home or deployed…

I can only keep you all in my thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Invasion of Haiti

I guess I will always be a Marine Mom… try as I might to move on.

Today- I was talking to some co-workers about Haiti when one of them said something about our military occupying Haiti…

“What?” I said. “Occupying?”

My blood boiled.

I know our military is not perfect- and our country isn’t perfect either. But to call a humanitarian effort an occupation- was a slap across the face, to my country- and to my son, a former Marine. It was rude- and insensitive- because she knew damn well my son had served in the Marine Corps.

Without knowing any facts, she continued to repeat what she heard on the radio about our military not letting the Doctors Without Borders people land at the airport. I heard that too but the conclusion I jumped to was that they were trying to make sure people landed safely- not that they were taking over the country.

They (US Military) have temporarily taken over the logistics of airport traffic because they are expert at logistics and because Haiti’s own people are not capable of handling such a disaster. On Haiti’s best day, they were a mess of a country.

I am going to take a leap here and assume that the President of Haiti asked the President of the United States for help. I’m just guessing, the man who is ill equipped when things are going smoothly is overwhelmed. Our President sent the Marines, the Army, the Air Force and when I got home tonight, I saw on the news we are further “occupying” by anchoring the USS Comfort off the coast of Port au Prince. The USS Comfort is a floating hospital with 12 operating rooms and 1000 hospital beds. The Navy is there too.

The American Free Press reported a few hours ago, the following:

A senior US military official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said priorities on which aircraft could land were set by the Haitian government and the United Nations, with the United States playing only an enabling role.

"There will be times when folks are unhappy, when they have things that they want to get in and need to get in," the official said. "And it's a sheer issue of physics and geometry; you just can't get them all in there."

"There are great people on the ground, working very, very hard to try and get as much in as they can as fast as they can, and try and keep everybody impressed that we are there to support them.

"But there are some people that (are) just not going to be happy because we can't get it all," the official said.

With only a 9,600 foot runway (2,926 meters), the Port-au-Prince airport has been choked with aid flights since the January 12 earthquake that caused massive death and destruction throughout much of the Haitian capital.

Some aircraft were coming in to Haiti without the proper clearances and were then diverted to other airports, according to the official.

But he said about 130 flights a day were now flowing into the airport, up from an initial 30 to 40 flights a day. (AFP)

Now I know the young lady who said these words today is basically a nice girl. She is idealistic and not very wise to the way the world works. (Although, I am sure she thinks she is). She is inclined to think along socialistic lines as long as the government is doing something for her, but not so much when the military is involved.

She didn’t understand that you can’t just go to a country like Haiti- in a catastrophic state of affairs- and hand out food. You will get trampled to death by the very people you are trying to help. Yes, they are desperate. Yes, they need food and water, but there has to be controlled issue of these articles.

She didn’t understand we will probably have troops lose their lives down there- while helping Haitians survive. It never occurred to her I might be friends with some of the parents of Marine’s or even some of the Marine’s themselves that are there to help.

She is young- and naïve and I need to get past what she said and not harbor the resentment that I still feel 8 hours later.

A good friend of mine just reminded me of my own son’s wise words to me when he first became a Marine and someone said something hurtful and ignorant. I asked him then. “What should I say to these people?”

“I do not address ignorance.” He replied.

So, I guess I’ll let it go and spend my energy doing something that fills me up instead of something that drains me. But watch out if you cross my path and mumble words of disrespect to those who serve and their families that pray for their safety. I may not heed my son's advise next time.