The scattering of the tribe: Part I

We went camping this weekend and I was hoping that getting out of town in the woods would help my mind to settle. It’s been chewing on a lot of thoughts about mom, family history, about work, and travel and what to do next.

Mom used to say, “My mind is in a muddle,” and that described me to a tee. But all camping did was make me want to travel for the next six months.

We didn’t get out the door until 2 p.m. Saturday, but that was a major triumph considering all the work that went into getting the trailer ready. We bought this 20-foot trailer last summer and when we took it to Colorado for a wedding in October, we learned its quirks. For starters, the refrigerator and heater didn’t work.

Thanks to dear husband’s tenacity, instead of paying $500 for a new converter, he discovered a tiny thermostatic circuit breaker that cost $15.

Earlier in the month, he backed the car into the trailer (so glad it wasn’t me) and made a big dent on the corner of the trailer. Car was fine. He removed the trailer side door to get to the bent panel. In the process he put new weather stripping and caulking on the door.  Then he discovered the hot water heater was busted from last winter so we had to have it soldered.

We also removed the old mattress, under which was mountain dust from the previous owner’s hunting trips. We cleaned and had a four-inch foam mattress custom made to fit the space, three inches shy of a double. It’s amazingly sleepable for both of us, eliminating the need for me to make up a bed in the breakfast nook each time we travel.

We drove about an hour and a half and found a campsite in a campground that is always full. But just as we arrived, the 26-hour reservation window expired for an anonymous camper and we got their spot. It was a sweetheart of a site, right on the river, with trees and shrubs providing a buffer zone between our dog and our neighbors and gave us more privacy.

I read and cooked outside and sat by the river and told DH I needed to sit there for a couple of weeks, allowing my thoughts to tumble with the river without having to decide what I’m supposed to do next.

I think about mom often. But during husband time, it’s an intrusion for her to be in my thoughts as they were when she was alive and I felt responsible for her. The catch-22. Now that I’m no longer responsible, I’m left with the sense that there’s no one to return to, no one is missing me, wanting to know “how was camping?” and telling me the M’s lost again.

Her loss has also created a surprising vulnerability. After setting up camp and having something to eat, DH went fly fishing up the Bumping River leaving me and Taz to read a book by the river. I was content, but Taz was not, creating a to-do before she was finally banished to the kennel.

Then, after a couple of hours, I began to worry. The river was, after all, running fast. What if he fell in, drowned, and floated by me while my back was turned, absorbed in a book.

I got Taz and walked up the bank of the river, through the backyard of other campers, noticing anew the swift water, the rapids, the depth, the width, the savagery of this river I was only recently sitting by and thinking of my thoughts tumbling gently over the rocks. I always saw him fish in much calmer waters.

By the time I got to a footbridge that crossed the river I was near tears, telling myself over and over how silly I was being. Then, I spotted him, like in the movies, jaunty and content, sauntering across the bridge with the late evening sun on his face.  My heart went to my throat. I went to him and buried by face in his vest and wept. To say the least, he was as surprised as I was.

The next day as we came off the mountain and cell service returned, I thought, as I had many times before after being out of cell range that “I need to call mom.” It was as if a needle on an old record got off the track before I quickly moved the needle back in place.

But it’s not just mom I miss. The tribe has scattered again, this time no longer gathering at the feet of the great-grandmother, sitting around the table to eat dinner and laugh and talk and watch the great granddaughter play.

I knew it was going to happen, this scattering of the tribe, but that didn’t help the happening. And it didn’t just happen with mom’s passing. It has been happening in our tribe and assorted clans for the past 100 years.

As we got closer to home, my phone beeped that I had received a message. I saw that my brother had called earlier in the day. I smiled. It had only been two or three weeks, but I love the connection and his effort at keeping it open.

I called him back and told him about mom not letting go of her apartment and how the retirement home hasn’t had to buy so much sugar. We laughed together and I told him that I wondered if I was going to have to talk to her.

“Should I go to the apartment, or can I just talk to her, do you think?” I queried innocently.

“I think you can do it long distance,” he said.

And then a clear thought. The tribe may be scattered, but perhaps, like the cell phone losing connection in the mountains, maybe it’s possible to reestablish connection once we are out of the proverbial woods of grief and loss. Maybe we can begin to undue the scattering of the tribe.

But I can’t do it alone. I will do my best and do my part to keep the connection open. That’s all I’m responsible for.


It’s good to talk about Sybil

I decided to stop by Orchard Park today, where mom lived for 18 years. It was the first time since April because each time I approached the long drive, I would cry and drive on by. Today I it was a hurdle I wanted to overcome. There are people there I care about, those who were in the orbit around mom with me.

When I walked in the sales manager gave me a hug. Mom’s former housekeeper came up and gave me a hug and then said, “I have to get back to work.” Duane, the manager, gave me a brief hug on his way to the office. I said hello to the manicurist, busy with a pedicure. A resident I knew gave me hug. Everyone was busy. Life goes on. Where we once orbited around mom, they now have jobs to do, orbiting around others. Mom’s time there is over. But it felt good to say hello and overcome that emotional high vault.

The sales manager took a few minutes to talk to me, though, telling me that she had been thinking about mom just last night and had laughed thinking about something mom had said.

“And then you come today,” she said. “The kitchen staff remarked a few days ago that they weren’t ordering as much sugar. That’s because Sybil is gone, I told them.”

It was good to hear mom’s name spoken aloud.

“Your mom still has a strong presence here,” she said. “She doesn’t want to let go of her apartment. I’ve had it rented three times and each time they’ve backed out.”

I told my husband later, who laughed and said, “That sounds just like mom.”

It was good to talk about Sybil today.

A fine balance

I’m fairly certain that our garden is the earwig capital of the world. It’s a giant hatchery, delivering baby earwigs, well, if not to the world, into my rows of carrots, kale, and broccoli, which, btw, no longer exist. This is a new thing for me.

I’ve had bountiful gardens…and earwigs. They do some damage, but this,… this is an earwig tsunami.

Everyone knows earwigs, right? The tiny bastards are horrid looking, with pincers on either end, scaly brown-black bodies, and they slither. Although I like snakes, I don’t like anything that slithers. There is something evil about them. And their name. What’s up with that? Yuk.

So why, I ask, are they in my garden? My beautiful garden that was supposed to be my sanctuary and place of solace this year.

By this time last year I had rich foliage and undergrowth to satisfy the most voracious earwig craving. It was a fine balance. But this year, I’m told our wet cold spring contributed to an over-hatch of earwigs. The sprouting of my greens and carrots and broccoli coincided with a half a million babies needing sustenance.

Then, to make matters more dicey, last week my dear husband innocently said, “Are you sure you don’t want to use a pesticide.” Speaking of tsunamis.

“Don’t you even know me?” I asked, shocked.

We’ve been married for five years and he knows I garden organically. But after calming down, I understood. I had complained. He wanted to fix it.

I explained calmly that, No, I don’t want to use a pesticide. Dear. They can mow the garden flat before I will use a pesticide. Dear.

It’s an ongoing scientific experiment, I said, appealing to his inner scientist. Gardens are like that. There are so many variables. Part of the fun is figuring it all out instead of spraying a pesticide that kills not only the harmful insects, but the beneficials as well.

The frustrating part is doing all the right things, and still getting bad results. And not impressing anyone, including my husband.

I understand our farmer’s dilemma. Insects can ravage a crop in no time flat. But I think each home gardener can do their part to produce healthy foods for the family, have fun doing it (if you call battling earwigs fun), and at the same time, with a little effort, lower the use of pesticides.

Sounds good, anyway.

Even the neighbors know I don’t spray and somewhat condescendingly, but kindly, discuss behind my back WITH MY HUSBAND that they try to be careful when they are spraying Round-Up on the fence line next to my garden!!!

Husband also sprays Round-Up but I insist he stay away from the garden. He, the ex-orchardist, engineer, and very bright man, is convinced that Round-Up is not as harmful as I think it is. I suspect our opinions fall somewhere in between.

Back to the earwigs who have razed my garden. Well, not quite. I have shredded beet greens and lacy-leaved potato plants. I have cantaloupe and cucumber and squash plants struggling for survival against earwigs and squash bugs.

Friends told me to do the Squash Bug Boogie. The frenetic dance to drums or music is supposed to scare the insects away, but would most certainly scare the neighbors. Those same friends told us to place a bottle of wine out for the Little People and to have an inviting campfire. We did both. In the morning, not only did the Little People not drink the wine, there was one bloated earwig in the bottle.

I digress. Badly. If you’re wondering why we actually did this, that’s the topic of another post. Maybe.

But the tomato plants are blossoming. There’s still lettuce and peas. Yesterday my dog enjoyed eating peas out of my produce basket. I didn’t care. They are her peas, too. Really, I don’t mind sharing with dogs–or earwigs–as long as they leave enough for us.

There’s a product I just read about on Plant Health Solutions out of Australia that talks about “starting over.” I think it’s an organic spray that gets rid of all the bugs, including beneficials, to prepare a clean slate. I’ll have to explore this option. After turning my compost pile this morning, I discovered another hatchery. They love compost. But it shouldn’t be like this and this is partly my fault. I haven’t tended the compost as I should, turning it and watering it and adding grass or leaves, which means it hasn’t heated to a temperature sufficient to kill the earwigs.

Earwig compost anyone?

Independence Day

July 4 marked four months since mom died. I thought it a perfect day–America’s Independence Day–to declare my independence from Taking Care of Mom. The paperwork is nearly done. My grieving has lost its hard edge, although it sneaks up on me, surprising me with a swift kick to the gut. A neighbor told me yesterday that his wife still misses her mom who died in 1995. I expect similar. I miss my dad who died when I was a baby.

But it feels like time for a shift, a change in direction, an alteration. Time to claim a life.

I spent some time exploring the idea of creating a brand new blog with a new name. I looked at new WordPress themes, which may be an option. But in the end, I have settled for now, on “Life After … Taking Care of Mom. Reflections.” It may keep morphing. The reason I adopted the URL I have is because I knew this moment was inevitable. If the blog title changed, I wanted readers to still find me.

Yesterday I came across a blog, written by Aurora, an Englishwoman of my age, claiming a new life after 43 years of marriage to a “philanderer, a liar and a cheat.” Besides writing about her ex and how hard it has been to lose her beloved home of decades, surrounded with her “quintessential English garden,” she also talks about her daughters (one of whom has a blog voted among the “100 Best in the World”) and her beloved dogs who keep her company as she forges a single life.

The title of her blog is one I might have claimed had she not already taken it–A Life Reclaimed. Although our reasons for reclaiming our lives are different, we are doing the same thing. And like her, reclaiming one’s life doesn’t happen without the back story. Aurora processes her marriage and the nasty divorce, and by doing so clears the slate for her to move forward. In the process, she tells interesting stories.

It is not a blank slate upon which we design a new life. The journey with her husband shaped Aurora, just as my journey with my mother shaped me in a myriad of ways. I honor her by acknowledging that. I honor myself by acknowledging that.

It’s as if I’ve written a book. I’m not about to throw away the book just because we’ve all read it. It will simply sit on the shelf for those who happen upon “Life After,” and want to know what the “Taking Care of Mom,” was about.

Mom and I were bound together by a mutual need for healing and forgiveness, for sustenance and care. We needed to be the center of each other’s lives for a while. It was an essential part of the journey for me to be able to reclaim my life now. It was a long haul, but worth it.

It was never a simple story, this mother/daughter drama. Love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, and the classic story of rebirth, as one reader commented, defined our relationship.

I cannot walk away from that story any more than I can change the color of my eyes.

But I am moving on. This blog is no longer centered on the story of taking care of mom. It is now centered on life after taking care of mom. How that unfolds I have not a clue.

Yesterday I wrote about my teeth and wondered who would be interested in that sad tale of woe. But for people who have had teeth karma, they will relate. And the fact that my orthodontist was about to abandon my teeth–just as my dad did–was really weird.

I write because I love stories. I read the stories of people across the world–Flamingo Dancer in Australia, Maggie Mae in Southern California, Aurora in England, Wendy in Washington, Pithy Pants in Chicago, Sydney in Northern California, Hermiston Rain in Oregon….and others. They tell their stories. I laugh, I cry, I say aha!! Hopefully what I write will elicit some of the same reactions.

Teeth karma

I had my braces put back on last week–for the fourth time. Well, the first time was when I was 17, but because I wasn’t about to wear the big black rubber retainer as a newlywed 18-year-old my teeth returned to their wandering ways. My orthodontist hadn’t warned me to be extra careful about teeth hygiene while the braces were on. Those were the days when brackets enclosed the tooth front and back and it was extra difficult to clean.

In the years since I’ve had cavities, root canals, crowns and a lot of pain. In 2008, I lost a tooth and needed an implant. I talked with the periodontist about having braces first to improve my bite to ensure keeping the teeth longer and to also bring one especially wayward tooth forward with its mates instead of lurking forever in the shadows.

The orthodontist I was referred to said it would take 18 months to two years to get my teeth where they should be. They were actually in worse shape than I thought, by the sounds of it. Everyone–dentist, periodontist, orthodontist–were on board with what a positive step I was taking.

The day I got the braces on I went to the bank and some lady said, “Aren’t you a little old to have braces.” Want to lose your teeth, I wanted to ask?

Eight months later the orthodontist said, “Well, I think we can take the braces off in September.” What happened to 18 months to two years, I thought. That was only a few months away. By September, it was clear to both of us that I was nowhere near ready to have them off. But why the rush, I wondered. Why even mention it. It was the first of a number of bizarre events.

Another year later, the braces came off and he gave me a retainer.  But within a few months I kept hitting my front teeth on my lower teeth, something I had never done before, causing TMJ like jaw pain. When I told the orthodontist he said, “Well, there’s nothing I can do for you.”

Fortunately, I stayed calm. You are going to get these teeth right, I insisted, through gritted teeth.  I had paid him a LOT of money. He agreed to put the braces back on and came up with a plan.

“We’ll move these front teeth out, create a gap here and here (on either side of the four front teeth) and then you can have restorations done.” Really? The reason for this, he explained, was that when the bottom teeth were straightened they came forward and now he had to accommodate the front teeth. I was curious why he didn’t do this a year ago.

I wore the braces another four or five months. When they came off, he gave me more retainers to wear until the dentist could do the restorations. No problem, no hurry.

But there was. He sat in front of me last week and said, “It got away from me.” You think?

He said, “I’m retiring, but I want you to feel good and I want to go out on a good note.” I absolutely want to do that for you, I thought.

Braces went back on (the top teeth). And for some reason, he “accidentally” moved them too far back right off the frickin’ bat.

When I saw him this morning and told him he had closed up what gap he had originally created and moved them backward, he said, “That wasn’t what I intended.”

This said after a weekend of me gumming my food and crying because I kept banging my front teeth.

Today in my typically cheerful accommodating mood when I’m sitting powerless in his chair, I told him that I had warned him early on that I had “teeth karma.” Little did he know.

My dad was a dentist, I told him. But he died when I was a baby, I said. How things might have worked out, I thought. What kind of life–and teeth–would I have had growing up in Los Angeles in the 50s and 60s, the daughter of a father who loved me AND a dentist and a beautiful mom, with property in Pacific Palisades,–a beautiful enclave overlooking the Pacific–and a sailboat.

My current orthodontist assures me he won’t abandon me, although that’s not the word he uses. “I’ll be here Monday and then I’ll be back August 11.” Sounds like a version of abandonment to me.

The day the braces come off, I’ll go to the dentist for the restorations that will supposedly keep the teeth from moving. And then we’ll adhere a wire to the back of my teeth to further ensure that my teeth are locked in place.

For good, I hope. I’m thinking I’d like to resolve my teeth karma and move on–from all of it.