Walking to Nowhere

My father walked forty-five minutes a day. Whatever the weather, whatever kind of workday he had had, he headed out to do his exercise. Quintuple bypass surgery in the days when your chest was sawed open, scared him into obeying his doctor’s instructions. Walk or wake up one more time with tubes coming out of unexpected parts of your body. 

He didn’t have walking shoes, special clothes, a pedometer, sunscreen, tunes playing in his ears. Just good leather shoes, a hat, and a watch to keep him honest. He didn’t drive anywhere to change up the scenery. He just walked. For decades.

After a career of office work that meant little time on my feet and lots on my seat, I’ve joined the crowds walking daily to nowhere. I put some time in on asphalt streets and concrete walkways and some on a simple treadmill. I don’t know if special shoes are any better than his thick soled leather tie models. An athletic tracker on my wrist provides feedback that is nice about my heartbeat and steps. Podcasts fill my mind while I wander about. 

This is how many people in non-physical jobs today fight weight gain, arthritis, general aches, aging. It’s what we substitute for not using our bodies the way they are meant to be used. We walk around neighborhoods, on lake or park pathways, with our dog, maybe with another person. We feel good about piling up our miles and wearing down our shoes.

I’m behind for the day and kind of crabby about putting aside writing projects with due dates in order to do my steps. Curse the pandemic, I miss playing with my granddaughter, machines at the gym, sweating through a dance class and swimming. On the other hand, I’m alive and walking my way to vaccine and herd immunity and the opportunities to get back into an active community. Thanks for the lesson on resiliency, Dad.

I Killed Her Off

Rosie and Oreo

Now that Jody’s home safe and sound, I can tell you that I killed her off. I often do this. Jody went to India for work for a week. For a fleeting moment she died, in my mind. How did that look? How did I feel? How would I tell the kids? Probably go to their school and take them out, I thought. I mean, I did it for the cat.

I got a call at work from a person in the area who found Oreo, Crystel’s cat, in their back yard. It was a rainy miserable morning. I told her that I’d be right there. After calling Jody, I drove straight to the middle school. Juan showed up in the office first. I took him to a side room. With tears streaming down my face, I told him Oreo had died.

Perhaps the school thought Oreo was a cherished Aunt or Uncle as I ushered the children solemnly to the car. Juan and Crystel wrapped Oreo tenderly in a blanket, carried her to the car and sat with the cat on their shared lap. We had surmised Oreo got hit by a car and went in the person’s back yard and succumbed to her injuries.

Jody met us at home. The four us stood in the back yard, pointing to where our other animals were buried: 4 cats, a dog, and a hamster. Crystel chose Oreo’s resting spot. In the drizzling rain we shoveled a hole and had a proper burial. Crystel asked to take the rest of the day off. No, it’s just a cat, I thought. I bought her a Chai tea at Caribou and returned her to school. The school counselor was very supportive. I didn’t have the heart to tell her Oreo was a cat. I let the kids do that.

I once went to a therapist who told me that my house would never burn down so I didn’t need to worry when I was away on a trip. I had confessed that I found myself sneaking a look around the corner to my house whenever I returned from traveling. I quit seeing her. What she said wasn’t true. A house could burn down. A barn could burn down. I had experienced both traumas as a young child. Don’t tell me it won’t happen.

Out of curiosity, I did look up to see whether worker’s compensation would apply if Jody died while she was in India. It does.

Killing Jody off doesn’t have anything to do with how far she travels. When she and the kids traveled to Maplelag, four hours from home, for a Nordic ski weekend, I killed them all off. Just for a moment. In that moment, I had their funerals planned, felt their absence and wondered what I would do with my sudden free time.

All week while Jody was in India I felt her absence. I noticed how her absence changed Juan, Crystel and me. The house was quieter, we were quieter. Her energy was no longer visceral. Gone were the hundreds of kindnesses she does in a week such as making me breakfast before the kids get up on the weekends. Later in the morning, on request, making Juan pancakes with chocolate chips. Grocery shopping with Crystel. Making me a week full of salads. It was like the three of us were in a holding pattern waiting for her to return to start our engines. Everything stood still. Except when I opened the door to bring the kids their latest takeout.

Jody most likely doesn’t know how important she is to me, Juan and Crystel. To our household. To the two dogs and two cats that are still living. She is our engine, our heart. What makes our family work as a whole.

I’m so glad she’s home.

Paying It Forward . . . And Back

Blue weavingThis past October, my 92-year-old mother and my Aunt Corinne, her 88-year-old sister, both needed to be moved. Mom was moving from the house in Ohio where she’d lived for more than 30 years to a seniors’ apartment. After breaking several vertebrae, Aunt Corinne has been in a rehab center for months. It’s unlikely she’ll be able to return to her costly assisted living apartment, so her belongings had to be packed up and put in storage.

Each move involved some emotional upheaval. And there was the usual packing process—coordinating with the movers, wrapping precious items in bubble wrap, and figuring out what to do with quasi-useful stuff (Is this worth keeping? Will she ever use this again?).

Since both moves had to happen within a week of each other, my siblings and I divided up the work. I organized Mom’s move from her house while my sister and brothers emptied out Aunt Corinne’s apartment.

We’re hardly unique. Many middle-aged people are called on to help elders, often while still raising children. We feel the pull of threads woven when we were still children—unaware of how we mattered to our family.

When my siblings and I were kids, Aunt Corinne and Uncle Bob were fun to visit. He owned a vending machine business, and they always gave my sister, two brothers and me candy, pop, and snacks from the supplies stored in the basement. Although they didn’t have children, they knew what kids liked, and they always remembered our birthdays with nice gifts. Thank goodness they had a poodle to play with, because we quickly grew bored and squirmy when the grownups talked in the living room. Aunt Corinne had a beautiful flower garden but never fussed if the ball or the dog got into it. So when poor health got the best of Aunt Corinne, we stepped in to help.

Similarly, my husband, his sisters, and brother began helping their uncle manage his affairs this year. He is fiercely independent, never married, generous to a fault, and blind since he was 40. He finally agreed to move into a nursing home after his last fall and hospital stay. At 92, he has Parkinson’s, cancer and a failing memory—too many issues for him to continue going it alone. When my husband was a teen, his uncle gave him a job in the cafeteria he managed. Since they have that history, he was better able to accept my husband’s suggestion that living alone was no longer a good idea.

From the vantage point of middle age, I can now see how we weave each generation into the sturdy cloth we call family.

A nephew on my husband’s side of the family recently got married. He’s a chef, so preparing wonderful food for the wedding was his gift to the guests. Unfortunately, at the last minute, some of the people he had counted on to help weren’t able to come. So his parents, grandmother, my husband and I, along with a handful of others, helped him and his fiancée pull together the many details of the wedding. We cooked, washed up, ran errands, and made decorations. The main entrée was a whole pig that needed to roast all night and most of the day. Our sons agreed to monitor the roasting pig during the middle of the night. That way, their cousin was able to grab a few hours of sleep the night before he got married. His parents rested easier, too.

Through their willingness to help, our sons deepened their relationships with their aunt, uncle, cousin and his bride. John and I reinforced our ties with our nephew and new niece.

But more than that, our help affirmed how families pay it forward . . . and back. Giving and receiving are the warp and weft that create the enduring fabric of family.

“Your Moms Can Get Married Now.”

Dsc00218I imagine someone at school saying that to Antonio and Crystel and them responding, “Huh?”

As far as they are concerned, we are already married, and Crystel, much to her chagrin, wasn’t a part of the wedding that we had before she and Antonio came home from Guatemala. She can hardly believe that we had a life before them.

Our wedding was 11 years ago this August. Some folks would ask us, “Is it legal?”

It was to us. Still we had our personal wills drawn up. We weren’t leaving our children, our money, or our belongings to chance.

Jody and I aren’t political or activists. We live our life the best that we can and hope that people will figure out that we are pretty normal. I think we have the neighbors convinced. We hold the yearly Neighborhood Night Out gathering in our backyard. We have come to think of them as normal, too. That’s what sharing a pan of brownies will do.

DSC00234On May 13, 2013, I got a text from Jody saying, “It passed.” I was confused and sent a text back, saying, “What passed?”

A kidney stone, a car, a semi, what??? It took an hour before it came to me.

Since she was the one who asked me to marry her eleven years ago, I figured I better man up.

I sent her a text, “Will you marry me? August 10, 2014?”

Aunt Jo, Our Unity Minister.

Aunt Jo, Our Unity Minister.

I didn’t hear from her for a while and wondered if she was re-evaluating our relationship.

But then came the “Yes!”

Later with Antonio and Crystel around the dining room table, I said, “You know a law passed and your moms can get married now.”

Antonio said, “Yeah, I know what that is. It’s the … what’s that called … same …” He was stumbling on the word “sex” and I came to his rescue. “That’s right,” I said. “It means two moms and two dads can get married.”

“I asked Mama Jody to marry me and what do you think she said?”

Crystel laughed leaned conspiratorially over to Jody and said, “She said, “No.” If drama is to be had, Crystel is there.



“No, I did not,” Jody said, “I said “Yes.” Crystel you can be our flower girl. You always wanted to be a flower girl in a wedding.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “She and Antonio will have to give us away.”

In one year, twelve years from the date of our first wedding, we will be married again. This gives us plenty of time to work out the details. Save the date.

Rings. It’s more than just a Ring.

“Do you like me better than you like Antonio?” Crystel asks last night at bedtime. I laugh. She laughs. I shake my head back and forth. She knows that I won’t answer that question. She’s asked before. “There is an abundance of love,” I tell her.

Sometimes as parents we are asked to put into practice what we say.

Last May, Crystel, Antonio, and I designed a ring for Jody’s 50th birthday. The children were very cognizant that their individual birthstone represented their ten-year-old self and jockeyed to have their stone be the closest to Jody’s birthstone.

One evening, after Jody received her ring, Crystel and I were lounging on the couch together. She told me that she wanted to create a ring like we did for Mama Jody with her and her birthparents stones on it. To clarify, I asked, “Just you, your birthmom, and your birthdad?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I felt a twinge. Why not one with Mama Beth, Mama Jody, and Crystel?

Then I was touched that she felt safe enough to tell me what she wanted and that she wasn’t worried about my response. There is an abundance of love. Right, Mama?

I got my laptop. We went to Jared’s website to design the ring that she wanted. First, she picked the design. Second, she took the laptop from me and put it on her lap. Third, she moved her birthstone to be in the middle, her mom’s next to her, and then stopped.

“What should I use for my dad’s birthstone?” she asked.

“For now, you can guess,” I said. “We will ask your mom when your dad’s birthday is. She is the one who will know. For right now, pick the one that you think it is.”

Her mom’s birthday is in September the same as hers. So, in her mind, since her dad was probably older, because all dads are older, it must be October, November, or December. She picked November.

Looking at the cost of the ring, Crystel saw that it would take her life savings. And, she still wouldn’t have enough money. It would take six more months for her to have a total of $225.00.

The ring for Jody was a symbol of her family always being with her and of our love for her. Crystel designed her ring with this same sentiment. Her mom and dad would always be with her. She was loved.

I felt proud of her for taking care of a want that she had. She wanted a representation of being loved by her mom and dad. She wanted them to be real to her. She wanted them always with her. Her ring was a way of her taking charge of her story. Yes, she was adopted. Yes, she had a family in Guatemala. Yes, she was thee Crystel.

She was living out the adage … don’t wait for someone to buy you flowers …. bless yourself.

Crystel was going to do for herself instead of waiting for something that would never ever happen. That could never ever happen. She wasn’t going to be bitter about it. She wasn’t going to be angry. She wasn’t going to be depressed. She was going to design a ring, put herself in the middle of her birthparents and be cradled by the universal belief that she was loved.

In June, during our visit with her mom, I asked the birthdate of Crystel’s dad and jotted down February in the small notebook I carried.

Crystel continued to save her money.

$225.00 dollars later, Jody, Antonio, and I accompanied Crystel to Jared’s to place her order. The person who was helping us suggested that the purple stone (Amethyst) be in the middle of the two blue stones (Sapphire). That would be more aesthetically pleasing, he said. I looked at Crystel. She shook her head.  I understood. She wanted to be held in her parent’s arms. She needed the middle spot.

“No,” I said. “Blue (mom), blue (Crystel), and Purple (dad). Just like she wants them.”

There was much discussion about the sizing of the ring. Which finger would be best as she grew from being a 10-year-old to a young adult. We determined that her middle finger was the correct size and as she grew she could move it to another finger. Jody and I talked to her about how we never take our rings off and that she didn’t need to either. She could always have her birthparents with her.

There is an abundance of love.