Sight

My eyesight has certainly softened in the last ten years. The march through drug store readers of increasing strength, from 1.25 to the current 2.50, began in my mid-forties, a smidge earlier than some of my peers. But since I’ve always been farsighted, the need for progressives held off until just a few years ago. Nothing irritates me more, now, than having to rummage through the drawers or my purse in search of my glasses.  I’ve tried to assert independence from my specs, but this has typically led to a flurry of minor mishaps: whole milk instead of 2% in the grocery cart, the wrong black down vest lifted from the communal coatroom at the studio, a nick here or there to my thumb or forefinger from chopping onions sans glasses.

I’ve been under a glaucoma watch since my early thirties, when I was given a tip-to-toe physical in order to qualify for an insurance policy. An eye exam was part of the deal. The doctor, who worked for the insurance company, looked at me with grave concern, telling me I might be blind by my forties. It turns out my retinas have an unusually deep shape that resembles the early stages of glaucoma. Opthalmologists over the years have held differing opinions as to whether this is cause for concern, or just an idiosyncrasy, a structural quirk I’ve had since birth, not to worry. I have dutifully undergone annual or semi-annual checkups and tests for decades now, which is a good thing, since a couple of years ago, a different glaucoma risk was identified having to do with the drainage angle of my eyes. My opthalmalogist at the time insisted I needed an iridotomy, pronto.  That’s a simple laser procedure in which the doctor burns a tiny hole in the iris to open up the drainage angle. In a minority of cases, the patient experiences some lasting issues with glare. I would be in that select group, but only for a few months while my brain figured out how to compensate.  (Neuroplasticity, yay!)  I can notice the glare if I go looking for it, but otherwise, my brain works around it.

I’ve since switched to a new ophthalmology practice that’s the best ever: they have an office ten minutes away, it’s attractive and efficiently-run with almost no wait time. My docs there are both extremely personable; it’s genuinely a pleasure to catch up with them. The glaucoma specialist, Dr. Fine, leans toward the opinion that the shape of my retina is “just you” —  not an indication of any progressive disease. Nonetheless, I get examined every six months; I take depth of field tests, have my pressures checked and my angles measured, read the bottom line on the chart, forwards, then backwards, with and without glasses. Today was just a prescription and pressure check. The doctor I see for that is also named Holly.  She has two boys, one twenty-six, the same age as Nate. Her younger son is autistic, and will be living with her “for life,” or until she and her husband can figure out a better setting for him than their home.  When she talks about him, I can see deep maternal love jockeying with something more complex: resignation, perhaps, or genuine befuddlement.  I wonder: if I ever lose my eyesight, will my perceptiveness about such things diminish?

She rolls her stool back from the equipment to make some notes on her computer.  “No significant change,” she tells me. My distance vision is still great. My pressure is unchanged. No need to get new lenses, she states, unless my current ones are scratched, or Warby Parker is having a sale and I want new frames.

“Take care,” she says. “See you in six months.”

Gratitude #16

Bed

Bedding_Main_Page_ImageI woke up in a good mood this morning.  And I went to bed in a good mood last night, in large part because I have a love affair with our bed. Some of my affection has to do with the setting. Our bedroom is on the third floor of the house.  It used to be the attic. Orange shag carpet ran up the stairs, the paneled walls and the gable ceilings, overstock put to work by the previous owner from his day job as a salesman at Carpet Carousel. When we had kittens, they liked to climb the walls up there. But when we decided we wanted to have another baby, our third, it meant reclaiming the attic for a master bedroom.  We jacked up the roof, slicing it off the ninety-year-old house like the top layer of a cake, the joists groaning and the walls undulating as nine decades of torque unspooled. The raised roof was high enough for an eight-foot-tall Palladian window at one end of the room.  From our bed, we look out through the treetops; the room takes on seasonal hues of yellow in fall, green in spring or summer, gray-blue in winter.

Our staircases are too narrow to thread even a queen size mattress through the twists and turns, but facing another pregnancy with two young children who tended to show up in the middle of the night and want to snuggle in, I was determined to get a king size bed up to our new room.  The mattress was delivered when the window was framed, before the glass unit was installed. The job foreman and two delivery guys hoisted it up and through the window with pulleys and rope. We had that mattress for almost two decades when two years ago we realized perhaps our nighttime tossing and morning aches had something to do with wear. Out with the old (literally, our neighbor Andy came over to help us lash it in half, then shove it out the window), in with the new:  a “bed-in-a-box” from internet retailer Nest Bedding.  We weren’t sure about buying a mattress online so we visited their brick and mortar SoHo showroom when we were down in New York; although they have a generous trial policy, we knew that once the thing bounced out of the box, like snakes out of a trick can, there was no turning back.

We got the “Hybrid” model: latex memory foam on a coil foundation, so it’s supple but firm, smooshy and body-conforming, yet bouncy.  It came in a box approximately the size of a tall dorm fridge – who’d have thought you could fit such comfort in a packing box?  When I wake up each day, I look out the window at the trees and sky as I float in our cloud bed, and I ponder how very I lucky I am to have a bed at all, let alone one with pillows galore and clean sheets, a plump duvet all cocooning me in a nurturing embrace. I remind myself that so many people don’t have the luxury of a comfortable night’s sleep – they rest on a hard, prison bunk or a swept dirt floor, on a woven fabric cot or a lumpy old mattress riddled with bed bugs.

And every night when I climb back into the Nest to read before falling asleep, I feel grateful all over again.

Gratitude #15

Strong Words

plumbbob_leadI love words. Finding the right one, precise, honed like a scalpel to slice sharply into the flesh of a sentence, gives me visceral pleasure. I abhor lazy diction, especially in prose.

When the kids were in high school, they would ask me to proofread their papers. We had an agreement that unless they indicated otherwise, their paper would get “the full mom.”  I’d give them feedback as if they were a peer, their drafts peppered with comments inserted in shorthand:  “awk,” (awkward), “vary w.c.,” (vary word choice), “m.s.” (more specific), “s.m.” (say more), “lazy,” (self-explanatory).  I don’t know whether this practice was good for our relationship, or made them better writers. I like to think they appreciated my honesty, affording them enough professional respect to give their work a tough read, having confidence in their ability to improve. Nate and I still laugh about one high school paper where he must have used the word “impotence” in every other sentence. “Have I taught you nothing about varying your diction?” I asked him, bemused. “Trust me, Mom,” he answered. “This is how this teacher wants it.” He was right. He got an A. Purely as piece of effective writing, it was a dud, though.

It’s hard to communicate how profoundly I feel words matter: they elevate conversation, unlock conflict, ignite our imaginations. It’s one of the reasons why the current presidency so pains me, the wanton disregard for language and its power to inspire, educate and uplift. I try to employ language as a surgeon uses his tools, for healing, painstakingly specific to the particular case in my care. DJT wields it like a cudgel, beating us down and dividing us with words, when his job is to elevate and unite. Words are free; they don’t belong to elites, and a broad, rich vocabulary– whether street, slang, regional or academic– is available to anyone willing to learn. Yet the prez sows mistrust for the worth of language in our culture and discourse.

This morning in church, the Old Testament reading was from the book of the prophet Amos. The verse uses a lovely, evocative metaphor: that our relationship with God is a “a plumb line,” a moral center against which we measure whether, like a builder’s wall, our lives are canted or straight, misaligned or solid.  I love the heavy, hanging truth of the image, the moral clarity of it, its plump mouthfeel. The Rector urged us to check in with our own plumb lines, to make sure we are hanging straight with God, to adjust if necessary.

My plumb line orients to Jesus’ radical teachings to care for the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised.  It falls straight to his practice of healing and honoring women, lepers, or society’s rejects (like the Samaritan, an immigrant.)  JC is certainly no fan of the ruling class of his day, the powerful Pharisees, those who observe the letter of law to the detriment of its spirit, or intent. But he loves sinners, and children, outcasts and neighbors. I do not see these priorities reflected in our current leadership.

I wanted to find the exact Bible passage, so I went down the Google rabbit hole, finding instead an LA Times article by Laureane Keane.  She, too, was interested in the plumb line image. She reports:

          …I located a sermon online, “What’s your plumb line?” written by the Rev. Joseph J.
          Clifford, in which he writes, “By what do we measure our lives and our community?
          What tells us that things are aligned, that life is where it needs to be?”

            He also asks, “How do our plumb lines compare to God’s?”

            God’s plumb line “has a lot to do with the poor. It has a lot to do with
righteousness 
that is living in right relationship with God and neighbor. It has a lot
to do with justice.”

 Strong words, ones to live by.

Gratitude #14

Grace notes

GREEN_BEAN_NICOISE_SALAD_091It’s 10:20 p.m., and I’m tired, so I don’t know how this piece will turn out.  But I committed to daily posting, so I don’t want to turn out the light on the day without expressing my gratitude for its fullness in little things.  It’s not like I was so busy with anything outstanding: I subbed a class, I went to the market, I got my hair cut.  I walked the dogs and cooked dinner for friends.  Nothing special.  Yet all of it was flourished with little grace notes.  The class began oddly, when the janitor didn’t show up to move fifteen spin cycles and mop sweat off the studio floor. The club manager got snippy with me when I came down to ask for help. The towels we used to swab the sweat turned a deep grungy gray; this floor must not get mopped too often. Ick. But the students were warm-hearted and so welcoming.  I’m hard pressed to recall a group of students who smiled more enthusiastically, or expressed greater appreciation after class.

I try to avoid the Cambridge Whole Foods on Saturdays because the parking lot is mobbed. Checkout lines sometimes snake halfway down the food aisles. Today, I found a parking spot easily. As I was getting my bags out of the Prius, I heard a whistle, and looked up to see my friend Kira parked the next aisle over.  She lives in Cambridge and I don’t get to see her often enough. We walked in to the store together, stopping in front of a sweet-smelling display of cherries, where we gabbed for about ten minutes. She’s one of those friends who always gets to the heart of things; I admire her courage, love her vulnerability, groove to her intelligence. It was good to see her.

My hairdresser Katie is due to have a baby in just two weeks. She’s been cutting my hair for at least ten years, reluctantly escorting me through the gnarly transition from chemical brown to natural gray. She co-owns the salon with her friend Gina. Gina has had a few kids over the years, but Katie, who is thirty-six and single, thought children probably weren’t in the cards for her. Then bam! She and her boyfriend found themselves expecting a baby, a little girl. They like the name Vanessa, or maybe Danica. Katie looks radiant, rounded and softened, as she rolls around me on a stool to cut my hair.  She’s traded out her usual high-heels for bedazzled Birkenstocks; it’s so endearing how motherhood changes us. Katie has big blue eyes and dimples. I hope Vanessa/Danica inherits those traits.

The dinner I prepared tonight was not elaborate: grilled salmon and a niçoise-y platter of steamed new potatoes and green beans, hard boiled eggs, and olives, a green salad on the side. Yet it fit the bill—elegant in its simplicity, satisfying enough for our friends, who between them had biked over a hundred miles this afternoon and needed to refuel. The conversation was fun and thought-provoking and effortless.

And: there were no bugs out on the trails today when I walked the dogs. It’s deerfly season, and the little buggers usually swarm Westley’s drool-y jaw, dive-bomb my eyes, get stuck in my hair.  But today, they were absent, and we could walk in peace, no constant swatting at the air in front of my face.

A day full of many small blessings.

Gratitude #13

Doe, a Deer

doe___a_deer___a_female_deer_by_bydandphotography-d54pqn5-1I had a stirring experience out walking the dogs at lunchtime on the trails behind our house. Cordelia bounded off into the underbrush on the scent of some varmint or other.  She loves to find chipmunk hidey-holes, digging down until they are deep enough that she can stick her entire head underground and sniff. She looks headless, butt and tail high in the air, snout submerged. Meanwhile, Westley rumbled out of sight on the trail ahead, as he does on the homeward leg of our walks. I thought he might be investigating a loud, squawking bird in the distance.  I often find myself in this position, suspended between two dogs with different instincts, one a homebody, the other a hunter.

I sat on a log on the uphill side of the trail to wait for Cordelia to get bored and catch up. A steep incline rose behind my back, its crest perhaps forty yards above.  Down below, I could see the brushy growth of an old cranberry bog long overcome by a thicket of invasive shrubbery. I didn’t mind the wait. I enjoy the sounds of the woods, the sussurus of leaves, scrabbling sounds of small rodents, birdsong. But today there was this NOISY SQUAWKING BIRD caterwalling down in the bog. It sounded like a duck, or maybe a baby. I was near the back of my neighbor’s property—could this be their toddler kicking up a fuss?  She had been a colicky infant, with an insistent, piercing cry. Up over my shoulder, on the ridge, I heard a loud rustling in the leaves.  Cordelia, I suspected, and turned to call her. But Westley came barreling down the hill, juking off to the right as if he were running from something.  Seconds later, a doe bounded over the ridge; simultaneously, the squawking in the bog grew more insistent.  The doe bolted down the hillside towards me, cutting wildly to one side when she saw me, tearing back uphill and racing back and forth along the ridge.  Every few seconds, she’d stop and make an agonized, chuffing sound. She was frantic. Recognition dawned: the wailing from the bog must be her fawn, trapped in the thicket or the oozy mud. I stood between her and her baby, not a great place to be. A kick in the head from a deer would be fatal. The desperate call and response between the separated mother and her child continued, the deer streaking along the ridgeline, grunting feverishly, the baby crying out.  I felt paralyzed.  Cordelia appeared on the path, running to my side, spooked.  The deer stood still on the hill, looking at us, ears twitching, her breath coming hard. The fawn screeched out from the bog, then fell silent.  “I’m so sorry, mama.”  I said to her mother. “We’ll get out of your way.”  The doe looked at me, her chest heaving, as we retreated. And then she exploded down the hill towards the bog.

In that brief second, we understood each other: there is nothing more excruciating for a mother and her child than a forced separation.  I hope her baby was okay.  It’s late afternoon now, and the woods are silent.

Gratitude #12

Girls Night Out

women-bavarian-pub-eating-food-dinner-schnitzel-pretzel-67600745Need I say more? I think it’s even better in my forties and fifties than when I was twenty, perhaps because I don’t take my friends for granted the way I did when I was younger. At every age, I’ve had a few epic evenings out with my friends:

Like with Kimberly and Laura in Chicago, in the 1980’s. We regularly ate dinners at Turbot’s or PJ Clarkes in the Gold Coast, cupping warm, fresh baked rolls in our palms and ordering white wine with our salads. When Kimberly turned thirty, we spent an unforgettable night fending off guys and overindulging in peach schnapps (!) on North Avenue. I was 26.  When I came home that night, I kicked off my shoes in the hall outside the apartment and left them there overnight, lined up by the door as if this were my closet. I hung my stockings on the refrigerator door handle and left my clothes in a trail across the living room. The next day was rough.  I took the train back uptown to Laura’s, and we sat around groaning, nursing our hangovers with McDonald’s french fries. Kimberly’s still in Chicago, and after a few moves, Laura has landed in New Orleans. They both lived in St. Louis for awhile and I was envious, but also happy to know they could easily get together. We message each other with occasional callouts for a reunion in the Big Easy. It’s on my bucket list, for sure.  Without the schnapps.

Another particularly memorable GNO was with “the Broads,” a dozen fellow singers in the a cappella group BroadBand, at the old Watch City Brewery in Waltham. At the time, Waltham was still one of the few towns in the suburbs west of Boston to retain its gritty, working class identity (during the nineteenth century, it was the premier watch making city in the U.S., and it has a deep history in the twentieth century labor movement), although recently, millennial professionals looking for more affordable housing have started started to hipster it up.  We arrived en masse for dinner after a performance at the nearby Watch Museum, seating ourselves loudly in the front window.  We wore “cocktail attire:” Our gig uniform that night was black formal. We certainly stood out among the Boston brewery-goers in their Patriots jerseys and Red Sox hats. Another diner leaned over and asked politely, “Excuse me, but why are you ladies all wearing black?” “We’re a coven,” someone shot back, to the gentleman’s bemusement. And then we laughed and told him we were a singing group, and somehow we wound up on our feet performing for the tables around us, the servers leaning against the wall laughing, fellow patrons smiling and clapping, asking if we took requests.  Thereafter, we self-identified as “the coven,” casting spells to help various group members find love, or work, or get pregnant. We haven’t failed yet.

Tonight, I had dinner with my Nia sisters in Concord before a seven p.m. dance class:  Maria, Amy, Lisa and I. We had a little over an hour to spend together and we didn’t talk about anything particularly earth-shattering. (Although, Maria: we are totally serious that we want you to lead a Dance Spell retreat in Thailand in 2020. Let’s manifest that!) We didn’t get drunk or dance on the table or laugh so hard we snorted water out our nostrils; it wasn’t a Judd Apatow movie moment. We no longer need those, if we ever did. Yet it felt luxurious to spend time with these goddesses, sipping club soda through our cold steel straws, picking tortilla strips out of our salads, checking in on everyone’s well-being. Your women friends hold you in a different embrace than your partner or spouse, at least if that person is a man…not better, but with a distinct quality that’s nourishing and liberating and absolutely necessary.

 Ok, ladies, you’re in my calendar for August 9.

Gratitude #11

Weightwatchers

177633548That’s right, I’m ba-ack. The ten pounds I gained, lost and regained in my childbearing years turned into twenty as I trundled through menopause. Last year, I ladled on another five, like hot fudge on a sundae. That simile sounds cavalier, but I actually made a choice, out of self-care, not to go crazy worrying about eating when I had many other pressures to juggle. If your relationship with food is disordered, as mine has been off and on since girlhood, there are a million traps to fall into: food is solace, it’s reward, it’s excitement, catharsis, fun and shame—everything other than what it actually is: flavored fuel.

It’s not the number on the scale that concerns me, or how I look. As a fitness teacher, I spend at least four hours a week time watching myself in the mirror, and I love how I move. I feel profoundly beautiful, every inch, when I’m dancing. My motivation is that the rest of the time, I’m not physically comfortable in my skin. Clothes pull, sweat gathers in a recently acquired roll at my waist, my feet hurt. I wish I was one of those people who could avoid gaining weight by trusting innate body wisdom. But if I leave things up to my intuition, I’ll eat too much sugar and drink too much wine, because those substances are addictive for me. It’s hard to increase my exercise level; I’m already so active. And any program that’s too restrictive is out of the question – if I have to deprive myself of all of the pleasures of eating, forgeddaboutit.  I’ll cave in, usually spectacularly, as if the best reward for two weeks without bread is two loaves tonight.  Weightwatchers is the only approach I’ve ever been able to sustain.

It takes guts to walk into a meeting. My armor is to feel that I’m somehow better than this person or that since I’ve fewer pounds to lose. Snotty, right? Whether you are ten pounds overweight, or a hundred, you show up with your best intentions in one hand and your shame in the other. The room is full of lively women and a handful of men who daily face down the judgment and insensitivity of people who have no idea of their struggles: backhanded compliments (“You’ve lost forty-five pounds? You must’ve been big as a house!”), implied criticism from co-workers (“You’re eating that?”),  superior sideways glances of airplane seat mates. These folks wear their hearts on their sleeves, sharing stories about sneak eating subs parked behind the dumpster in a mall parking lot, or hiding “evidence” of a binge—candy wrappers, ice cream or Chinese food cartons, pistachio shells—in their kitchen garbage or the trash bin of the company across the hall. Every day is a battle for my Weightwatchers colleagues, against their own impulses, and the humiliating ways our culture treats them. Every meeting I go to, I learn something from them about vulnerability, courage, comraderie.

Gratitude #10