Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things I Think About

Toronto has recently converted some of its busiest downtown intersections to offer all-way pedestrian crossing. The traffic lights all turn red, the pedestrian signals all show the little walking guy, and you can cross the intersection diagonally if you wish. I always laugh to myself at these intersections, because I can't help expecting this to happen next: All pedestrians are signalled to stop, the traffic lights all turn green together, and all cars hit the gas simultanously. Then there is a terrific crash as several lanes of traffic from each direction pile up into a giant car pyramid in the middle of the road. Wouldn't that be great?

I was trying to fall asleep, and as I lay there in the dark, I devised a collection of Christmas gifts for the man or woman who has everything. I'm not talking about electric shoe buffers or other such old-news items. These are brand new things that no one has ever invented before.

1) Dish socks. These are rubber "foot gloves", with separate toe pockets, worn over one's feet in order to wash dishes. Anyone who does the dishes with their feet, due to a medical condition or personal preference (to protect an elaborate manicure, for example), can now be protected from the drying effects of hot water and detergent.

2) The shower cape. This is like a shower cap, but in reverse. If you desire to wash your hair in the shower without getting the rest of your body wet, you cover yourself from the neck down with a shower cape.

3) A matched set: tooth brush and tooth comb. You know, like a matching pen and pencil set, but for your teeth. What would be the functionality of the tooth comb? I haven't got that figured out yet, but I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Grandmother's Wisdom

I would tell you the story of what's going on with my eye today, except if I write any more posts with gross medical details I fear that LL Cool Joe will unsubscribe from my blog and furthermore never speak to me again. Suffice it to say that I'm not seeing very clearly at the moment so if there are spelling mistakes I'm blaming it on that. Also, Freaking Owie Ow Ow! Stupid eye.

Not to worry, I should be alright within a few days.

I went out for Chinese noodles with my 93-year-old grandmother on Saturday. Initially we were going to go to the Japanese restaurant in the mall, a 15-minute walk away. My grandmother had assured me that she can certainly walk 15 minutes, no problem. However, she has slowed down quite a lot since I last took a long walk with her. I soon realized that her 15-minute walk wouldn't take us as far as the mall. So we stopped at my favourite noodle restaurant instead.

On the way there we talked about the things she does to keep busy. She's very involved in all manner of activities at her senior's residence, including hosting groups of university students for discussions relating to aging and the perspective she has gained from her many years.

"Kids are so different these days," she said, referring to the students. "Everything is about sex. Everything has to be sexy."

Never one to miss an opening, I asked if she'd like to hear my favourite dirty joke. Yes, she would.

"What did the man with five penises say?"

She thought about this for quite some time. I had to laugh as I wondered what possibilities were running through her mind. Finally, she gave up. I delivered the punchline.

"My pants fit me like a glove!"

That got a laugh. I love that joke. It's not really sexual so much as anatomical, but it's funnier when I set it up as "dirty".

We enjoyed our lunch. My grandmother struggled a bit with her noodles, but she was determined to use her chopsticks, even though I'd asked our server to bring her a fork. I could see that she enjoyed the challenge. She often complains about the food that's served in the senior's residence, and I can guarantee that there are never chopsticks on the table.

We chatted about this and that. About how my mother's parents, my other set of grandparents, are being difficult and refusing to either move from their large house or accept any outside help, even though my zaidy is frail and blind, and my buby is not that much better off. They refuse to have groceries delivered, insisting instead that their three daughters chauffeur them to the stores several times per week. They refuse to have a cleaning lady to help them tidy the house. They're driving their daughters crazy. (Yes, there is enabling going on. That's a whole other can of worms.) My grandmother moved into her senior's residence voluntarily, after only slight prompting from her sons. She's a practical woman.

We discussed how my grandmother feels about my conversion to Christianity. Or rather, she told me how she feels and said that there's nothing I can say to change her mind. Basically she doesn't mind what I believe, but the fact that I got baptized feels to her like a betrayal. She and my grandfather suffered a lot from anti-semitism back in the day, and for this she blames "the church". As though there were one church with one opinion that can be held responsible for these past wrongs. I'm sorry that she feels this way, but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I told her she can tell me how she feels as much as she likes, so that this issue can come between us as little as possible.

Finally, we walked back to my place. On the way, we were passed by a young fellow who was wearing enormous trousers. You know the type - his pants were so low-slung that he had to swagger instead of walk, keeping his pants up with outward pressure from his thighs. Plus there was a huge, baggy crotch area that was down almost to his knees. My grandmother watched him walk ahead of us.

"Why do they wear pants like that?" she asked. I shrugged.

"I don't know," I told her.

Then suddenly she was laughing. Breathless, she clapped one hand on my shoulder and giggled:

"Maybe he has five penises!"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day by Day

In the past week, my default feeling has been overwhelm. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, scared and sad; sometimes overwhelmed, yet happy and grateful. But always with the overwhelmingness. I find it difficult to sit down and craft a post in this condition. If I can't make all the pieces of my life come together and fit into a coherent picture for my own personal mental health, how can I do that in a piece of writing?

My coping mechanism is: I retreat into a smaller and smaller slice of the present time, and just deal with that, until I'm basically living one minute at a time, without thinking much about the last moment or the next. I can get by like this, although even things that I put in my calendar tend to take me by surprise, because I'm just not thinking that far ahead, even when the event in question is planned for tomorrow. Similarly, I'm having trouble remembering things. Oh well. How important are those things anyway? I mean, do I really need to buy toilet paper?*

*rhetorical question

The reason for all this mental AAAAAAUGH! *frantic jazz hands* is that there is a lot of change happening, or pending, at the moment. It's pretty much all good stuff, or at least neutral. But I don't deal well with change, even if it's the kind of change that's going to improve my life. I try. I say all the right things to myself. But if there are too many changes at once eventually my brain just blows a gasket. Blam.

In general all this change has to do with my workplace. We're moving to bigger premises and with that will come role changes and personnel changes. I am taking on more responsibilities. And also, there's the wee matter of me being in charge of upgrading our ENTIRE COMPUTER SYSTEM. It'll be a quantum leap from what it is now, but dang. It's ginormous project, and thoughts of the transition process are making me mightily nervous.

Every night I watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy before I go to bed, to relax. It's my new favourite show. Then I go to bed and dream that I'm designing blueprints for a new wing of the GA hospital, except it's real and I work there and it's all very stressful.

Well, that's life, isn't it.

Anyway, this weekend I'm looking forward to lunch with my 93-year-old grandmother. She's going to get a taxi to my house and then we'll walk to the mall together. While we were planning this I asked her if she would like to meet me at the restaurant, because it's a 15-minute walk from my place. She was indignant.

"I can walk for 15 minutes!"

And you know what? I'm sure that she can. Probably faster than me, and that's on shorter legs because the top of her head barely clears the underside of my chin when she hugs me. My grandmother is awesome. Maybe she'll provide some wisdom to help me get through.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vampires Got Me

I'm slightly feverish, but I couldn't resist writing a post to solicit sympathy. At this point there's nothing that I want more than to have as many people as possible go "Aw, poor you!" and send me hugs. There, I'm being up front about it. No sneaky manipulation on this blog.

It all started on Thursday, when I went to talk to my doctor about my blood test results. You know how when people say they "just want to talk" but it turns out they want more? Well... he can't get my anemia under control. Lots of iron going in, in the form of my daily "rust juice" supplement. Not too much iron coming out in any perceptible way. So it must be a problem with absorption or iron metabolism.

He pulled out a lab requisition and started writing a laundry list of all the tests he wanted done. To myself, I was all "Again? Dang, I just had blood drawn three weeks ago." But I didn't think much of it. As long as I lie down during the process I've always been fine to get it over with and go back to work after.

Apparently 3 weeks wasn't long enough for my blood to regenerate. I read online later that your blood pressure stabilizes within 24 hours with added water content, but all the cells that actually get the job done, like platelets and white cells, don't regenerate for 4 - 6 weeks depending on how much blood was lost. Oops. Add to that the fact that I'm small, 115 lbs, so relative to my overall blood volume each vial is a higher percentage of what I've got to work with.

I don't know how many vials they took, because I don't look. It was a fairly painless procedure. The lab tech had a very gentle touch with the needle and it was all over quickly. I didn't feel overly anxious. But I couldn't seem to get up off the examining table. Every time I swung my feet over the edge and levered myself up on one elbow I started seeing grey spots. I'd lie down and try again a few minutes later - same thing. Also, my teeth were chattering. I wasn't sure why.

Eventually they brought me some water to drink, and I ate an apple I had with me. That gave me enough energy to get up and travel back to work, but I really wasn't feeling very well. I thought I just needed a little more time to find my equilibrium.

I wasn't at work for very long before I realized I was feeling worse. I couldn't stand up for long without getting that horrible squeezing feeling in my back that I recognize as a prelude to blacking out. I could only walk at a shuffle. I kept feeling like I might start to cry.

I called Ken, who came and brought me home. I couldn't understand why I felt so horrible. This was unprecedented. Surely I'd have a lie down and feel back to myself by evening. But I had very little appetite for dinner. Then the aches and chills started. I got out a thermometer and found I was running a fever. What the heck? I guess my body got waaaaay stressed out from losing too much blood.

The night was miserable. I can't take Aspirin, Tylenol or any of that clique of fever-busting drugs. I tossed and turned and moaned and groaned. Finally at 3 am I remembered that I had a homeopathic remedy at the back of the bathroom cabinet, and dug it out. I'd never tried it before, but Hallelujah, it made me feel well enough to sleep.

This stuff works almost like magic.

Long story short, I'm still at home recuperating. Still keeping the fever down with doses of Oscillococcinum. (Sheesh - could they not have picked a name that's a little easier to spell?) Still feeling frustratingly weak. The annoying thing is that this was totally avoidable. I wish my doctor and/or the lab would have counted the days since my last blood tests and advised me to wait. You can bet that I'll be careful in the future.

So, sadly, I've been on the phone, progressively cancelling more and more of my weekend plans. I was supposed to be out right how having dinner with a friend. Tomorrow I'm missing singing practice (I'd be a fool to believe that I could stand up for 2 hours). And who knows about Sunday? If I'm not better by then I'll be missing two birthday parties. Super bummer.

Anyone out there want to give me a transfusion?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Busy Busy Week

I have beautiful moles. So says the dermatologist who checked me out last Thursday. She had an intern with her, a timid girl who hadn't yet developed the confident, impersonal touch of health care professionals. I perched on the examining table, waxy paper crinkling under my butt. The intern gingerly picked up each of my bare feet in turn to check the soles. She spread my toes apart apologetically, as if she wasn't sure she had my permission to do so, glancing up at me to make sure I wasn't getting upset. I was fine and dandy. The dermatologist is my favourite doctor, because there is no poking, proding, injections, or other sharp instrumentation. The best part was when the doctor started quizzing the intern on mole facts. I felt like an extra on Grey's Anatomy. I love that show.

I spent an hour on Saturday pretending to be a car. Vroom vroom! I got down on the floor and scooted around with my friends' two-year-old. When I crashed, he was my toe truck. He grabbed me by my toes and dragged me to the service station. Then we ran around in circles until we were dizzy. At one point while I was sitting on the floor, he spontaneously rushed over and hugged my head, which totally made my whole week. This was at a birthday party with old friends. The rest of the time we sat around eating spaghetti Bolognese and laughing ourselves silly.

I stepped over the threshold into my new workplace for the first time. We won't be moving in for months. Right now, the space is still part of a health club. There's a pool, which will be filled in for us. My staff has been lobbying for a swim-up reception desk, but I maintain that they would prune very badly by the end of an eight-hour shift. There's also a wrestling ring, which I thought we should keep as a Conflict Resolution Area. Disagreement at a board meeting? Let's settle this with a piledriver competition! It was amazing to be introduced to this space, where I will spend the vast majority of my waking hours for the next five to ten years. The best part is there's a cafeteria in the building, so I'll be able to buy lunch without bundling up and trudging through snow in the winter.

And I helped a friend, who is feeling very depressed, to make some headway on her issues, and to feel a little hopeful. And I sang at a practice with my church group, feeling my heart swell and lift up on the wings of the spirit. And I went out with another good friend to see the movie Amreeka, which was very touching and thought-provoking. And and and... so much more. I had enough material to write a post every day, but not enough time.

My life is full, in the best possible sense of the word. I am full.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In which I blame everything on my mother

Who here has or had a perfect relationship with their mother? Show of hands? Anyone? Bueller?

My relationship with my mother is in transition right now. It's actually getting better. After my step-dad announced that he was divorcing her to reunite with his university sweetheart things were rough all around for couple of years. We're finally past the worst of it.

My mum is finally ready to admit that she's better off without him. She's getting a financial settlement that will allow her to live out the rest of her years in worry-free comfort. And she doesn't have to wash his socks anymore, or deal with any of the big and small habits of his that drove her crazy.

For example, when they went out to eat at a restaurant, unless there was a "Please Wait to be Seated" sign, he would always chose to sit at a table that hadn't been cleared yet from the previous diners. If there were plates on the table, he would eat french fries or other leftovers off those strangers' plates. Or if it was a coffee shop with just an empty cup and napkin on the table, he would lick the tip of his index finger and use that to pick up crumbs from the table. And eat them. Despite the fact that he never got sick from this habit, it drove my mother to distraction.

She doesn't have to deal with his many eccentricities anymore, but she still gets to enjoy his money. She has a full schedule with volunteer work and socializing. It's a pretty good deal.

Living alone has been good for her. She's independent, and seems much less inclined to cast herself in the role of "victim" in her life story, something she used to constantly.

Lately, she's not demanding, and only asks me for help with a few things here and there, like fixing her computer. She likes me to be there as a second opinion for big decisions, like buying a new stove. Other than that, she's self-sufficient. We can talk now almost like friends. I don't feel that she's babying me or asking me to do too much for her. It's really great.

And yet, I'm having trouble accepting this new way of relating. I don't trust her quite yet. And I'm not ready to let go of my grudges. It's all too new, too weird, and too difficult to believe that we have truly arrived here.

When I was a kid, my mum did her best for me. She really did. She gave 200%. Unfortunately, in the context of her life, giving 200% meant that she didn't become an addict or attempt suicide. She barely had the emotional resources to remain gainfully employed and cope with everything life had to throw at her. I had clothes on my back, a warm place to sleep, and three healthy meals a day. She even cooked a hot breakfast every morning when she was working full-time.

I know that she loved me, her only child. Every year she made me two birthday parties. There was one for the kids, with games, loot bags, and Hamburger Men* for lunch. Then there was one for the family. She baked a cake from scratch for each party. That meant a lot.

*Hamburger Man recipe: One hamburger patty face; pickle slices for eyes; a ketchup smile; mashed potato afro hair; carrot sticks for the body and limbs. Dang, I can't remember the last time I ate Hamburger Man. I should do that for my next birthday.

On special occasions and emergencies, she always came through for me. She pushed through and made it happen. But most of the time, she just couldn't. Couldn't cope, couldn't smile, couldn't be there for me. She was depressed. She was easily enraged. She and my step-dad and I fought in an endless triangle for years.

Sometimes, if the fighting got too bad, she went into an altered mental state. It was like someone hit a switch, and her eyes changed. Pushed past her limit, she was frightening. Her eyes were intense and blank at the same time. Sometimes she looked at me like she wished I were dead. That happened a lot.

She blamed me for things that weren't my fault. For example, I recall one time when I was a teenager, and finally had realized that I could stand up for myself. She wanted me to come out for the afternoon with her and my step-dad, but I said I'd rather stay home. I told her that there wasn't any point to going out with them because they just fought all the time and it was never fun, or even remotely pleasant. She said:

"Maybe the reason why we have such a bad marriage is because you refuse to be a part of this family."

I looked directly at her and said "It's not my fault that you two don't get along. You can't blame me."

That was the first time I didn't accept the blame that she tried to heap on me. And it was good. But when you grow up in a sick house where the grownups you're counting on for your survival feed you this kind of crap, it's not like you can suddenly get over it just because you intellectually finally understand what's going on. Years of messages along those lines wired my brain badly, and re-wiring has been a struggle. It's still a work in progress.

Once I moved out, we didn't spend a lot of time together. I showed up for all the obligatory family gatherings, but I rarely went over just to hang out. She almost never called me, unless it was to remind me of a family birthday or invite me to a Jewish holiday dinner. When I got divorced it was my step-mum and sister who showed up to help me move into my new apartment.

After my step-dad left, I figured I'd better help my mum. Like I said, she's had a rough life and doesn't have a lot of emotional resources. I didn't want her to go irretrievably over the edge. So I called a lot to check in on her; I sent her little encouraging cards in the mail; and Ken and I went over there every Sunday for months to help her pack all my step-dad's stuff into boxes. I gave a lot, timewise, physically, and emotionally.

It wasn't easy. In fact, it was one of the most difficult and draining things I've ever had to do. And when I finally had what pretty much amounted to a breakdown, during which I got sick for 6 weeks and couldn't handle spending any more time with her, she complained that she felt abandonned by me. At the time I was also a new church-goer. Church was where I fueled up on good vibes before going over to my freaked-out mum to help her with everything. But she resented that too. She said that my conversion made her feel like she had lost me. I had never been there for her more, and she was still complaining.

She's always expected a lot from me. Even when she was giving me the evil eye in private, she was always happy to show off my report cards to everyone who would look at them. She wanted me to be her perfect little princess, wearing pink and pearls. Ever since I became an adult, she's liked to marvel at how I "raised myself", since she couldn't really do the job. I think that she thinks it came naturally to me, this "raising myself". She thinks it shows that I'm a stronger person than her, and ever since I grew up she wanted to lean on me. I'm the strong one, the wise one, supposedly. Now I'm a resource for her when she needs help.

Honestly? I'm not ready yet to forgive the past and be her good friend. Every time we get together, I put on my best smile and try to be both compassionate and honest, so that our relationship will improve. But there's a part of me that's still really angry, that says I don't owe her anything, and doesn't want to try.

But, I'll try anyway. Because she did the best she could with the resources she had. Because forgiveness is a choice and an act of will, not a feeling. Or at least, the choice comes first, and hopefully the feeling comes later.