Monday, January 29, 2007

Post-traumatic stress or just plain old life?

In the way of that old Chinese saying, "May you never live in interesting times," it's interesting living with someone with a serious health condition. Kirk was out of town for work weekend before last and came down with a violent stomach bug. Now four years ago, after weeks of him telling me to stop worrying, Kirk was in the ICU because of massive clots around his stomach, liver, spleen, and intestines combined with internal bleeding. They couldn't treat one problem without exaserbating the other. They were getting ready to sign him up for multi-organ transplant. They were telling me he could die. I've been the canary in his coal mine ever since, fretting every time he gets a headache (could be an aneurism!), looks overtired, has a stomach ache, sneezes.....

So when he called me Saturday morning to say he'd been throwing up, etc. all night I didn't flip out; I turned immediately back into Elizabeth of the ICU days -- calm, detached, and unstoppably determined to get him safe, make sure he was OK. And after many phone calls and the great kindness of a cousin I haven't seen in years, Kirk was delivered into safe keeping. And when he got home I fell apart.

Four years ago, he came home from the hospital after an experimental surgery that probably saved his life. And having seen him safely through all that, I fell apart. I was tired beyond anything I'd ever known. I was so tired, I couldn't read anymore (after having spent all my life as an addictive reader). Each day, after taking care of my family's basic needs, all I could do was collapse into the Lazyboy and watch TV -- CSI, Law and Order, shows where the world falls violently apart and get put right again.

That lasted intensely for a bout a year. A psychologist friend said I had "secondary post-traumatic stress disorder." It's diminished slowly ever since. I do read now, though not as much as I did before, and I watch less TV. But whenever anything is really wrong with Kirk, after it's over I take a little trip back to PTS land; I collapse onto the sofa when the kids are in bed and, with a pint of Hagen Daz frozen yogurt at my side for medicinal purposes only, I watch passively while those mini TV world fall apart and get put back together.

So I wonder -- giving something like this a name like PTS is extraordinarily comforting. It makes it a syndrome, and in our medicalized society with its model of disease and cure, it makes it seem more limited, in control, treatable perhaps. But I realize now that whatever we call it, this will never end for me. It might be called PTS, but it's also called the reality of my life (and I'm so thankful for THIS reality, rather than the others Kirk and I were facing four years ago). I can never unknow that the man who is my best friend and the pillar that holds up my sky, is compromised and fragile. Just as, after my two miscarriages, after Charlotte was diagnosed as autistic, I could never forget that bad things happen to our beloved babies. It's the nature of growing up and going on, isn't it? We keep ourselves open to what has happened, is going to happen, and carry it with us as we try to move forward with deeper knowledge, with more compassion, with love. And some days, in order to do that, we have to retreat to the couch with a bucket of icecream and watch Gil Grissom sort it all out without us.

Lots of love to you all, E

Friday, January 19, 2007

My newest creation

Taking a break from the peculiar lives of teenagers (who sit at their computers typing LOL, LOL, all day, yet never actually laughing out loud....) to get back to art. This lamp was an experiment and a departure for me. Since the base is wood I used earth tones instead of my usual turquoises. And since all sufaces on the lamp are curved I had to use tiny little pieces, instead of my big, bold window pieces. But it came out well (she said, surprised), don't you think? It's got a nice arts and crafts feel to it. I want to make more, with different vines twining around. (Will, if you're reading this, I'm thinking of making a lamp like this, but possibly with a grape vine twining around it, as a wedding present for you and Nikki. What do you think?)

So it's something to remember-- it's good to push ourselves beyond the limits of where we think our joys end. Because then we find pleasure in absolutely unexpected places and so our sense of happiness grows that much larger. And maybe that much easier to find next time we have need of it.

As always, Love E

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My teenage daughter and her first-ever (the horror, the horror) boyfriend.

Thanks, Anna Rae, for your steadying words. I really do need to take that step back, that focus-on-the-present-moment breath. Maybe that will help my mind stop ricocheting back and forth like a pinball; it starts at the Scylla of Rose's nonexistent (but possible!) future of STDs, AIDs, rape, and totally idiotic teenage boys and bounces over to the Charybdis of my own past of lots of really stupid choices and, well, idiotic teenage boys. Fear and projection-- a disfunctional combo plate to serve yourself, if ever there was one. And I'm being flooded by so many weird memories...

- I'm 14 and my best friend, Annemarie, has just come back from a make-out session (with and Italian boy named Giovanni) on the ball field. She's calling me excitedly and pointing to her jean leg saying, "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Look, my first sperm! I'm going to cut it out and frame it!!"

-I'm 15 and at a dance. A boy I had previously had a crush on comes up and asks me if I know where the girl who currently has a crush on him is. I say no. He's clearly drunk. He wanders off, wobbly, disconsolate, and horney. Later he finds me again and asks me if I want to go out the the field. We all know what happens in the field, though it's never happened to me before. I say, "OK." We leave the dance and he waits to hold my hand until we're beyond the lights of the party, so no one can see. We make out and, never having done it before, I do it badly. It's boring and awkward for me. At one point he says insistently, "Bite me, bite me," and I have no idea what or where I should bite.

And there's no way we can protect them from these clumsy , is there? I'm guessing, also, that this is hardest the first time around. Probably by the time Eliza (now 8) tells me she's dating I'll be entirely blase about the whole thing; 'OK honey, here's some birth-control pills and some condoms. Have fun!'

As further middle-aged mom laugh therapy, anyone who wants to can leave a pitiful, humiliating, or funny (not dirty or gross, please) teenage memory for me to laugh at.
As always, lots of love, Elizabeth

Friday, January 12, 2007

I'm utterly freaked

Oh no, I'm so not ready for this. One of the twins, I wasn't paying attention (can you hear the curses echoing through cyberspace?) has some variety of a boyfriend!!!!!! I was picking them up from the movies and, as most of the kids walked toward the car, one of the girls stayed behind and she and a boy lingered and then embraced. Not just a pal-type hug. An embrace.

Five seconds ago Rose and Sara were fat, spikey haired babies who needed me to hold them if the wind blew too loudly. Two seconds ago Sara announced to me, "I'm never wearing a dress again, I never want to have a baby, and I never want to have breasts." And now they're making off with my makeup and plucking their eyebrows.

I haven't had the specifics-of-birth-control talk with them -- 'here are the different kinds and, oh, by the way, do you need it?' I thought I had time.... I wanted to believe I had time.

So any advice those of you who've passed this way before can give me would be of use.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


So, because of misdiagnosed appendicitis (it burst) and the resulting pesky scar tissue, we didn't have our kids till later than we wanted. So here I am, just turned 50 and I have newly minted teenagers. Rose and Sara, 13, lovely and teetering on the edge of the nest looking out hungrily at the sky (while all I see is the sheer drop). Four years ago, doctors were telling me that my husband could die. Two years ago my father died. I am so full of the understanding of mortality now -- my mortality and, more worrisome, the mortality of those I love -- and all I want to do is reach out and hold on tighter than ever to everything I love. Which, as far as the 13 year olds go (and I do remember how being 13 goes all too embarrassingly well) is precisely the wrong thing to be doing right now. Ah well.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

So for those of you who haven't been in close touch with me and seen my art lately, here it is. Ever since I left Asia, I've been struggling to find a way to incorporate my asian childhood (and all those years worshipping some of the world's great paintings in Taiwan's Palace Museum) into my own art work. I studied brush painting, and honestly, that's one incredibly hard art form to do well. I gave up on that and studied western art. But I was never quite satisfied. A few years ago, a friend introduced me to stained-glass mosaic and, for some reason, that was where my answer lay. I've been doing these Asian-themed pieces, but in a Western medium and with Western color. It makes me incredibly happy.

Asian moonlight window (after John Lafarge)

Lotus window

Monday, January 8, 2007

Just a girl trying to stay in touch in the digital age

So, it happened. One of my ex-boyfriends just died. His obit was in the New York times (Dr. Richard Newton, for those of you who want to know who I was dating 25 years ago....) and this means I'm going to start scanning the obituaries now. And I thought getting that AARP notice was bad.

Anyway, turning 50, scanning the obits, nephew getting married, daughters becoming teenagers and no longer thinking the sun rises and sets over me ..... It all makes me want to pull everyone in my whole life close to me, hug them hard, and tell them all how much I love them, how much richness they've given me. And this strange nonplace in the ether is, apparently, how we do it in the 21st century.

Here's my thought for today:

"When it's over I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement." Mary Oliver