Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Perfect Storm

As the East Coast prepares for “Frankenstorm”, I find myself fascinated by one description of the storm that has really caught on. “The total effect will be greater than the sum of all its parts”.  I have heard this phrase before, often to describe good things. Great things. Times of bringing together many people to create positive social change. Times when the power of something seems to multiply on an exponential scale as more energy joins a cause.

But the phrase is capturing my attention in a different way this time.  I tend to explain my world in terms of metaphor and analogy.  I find it helpful.  This “Frankenstorm” is the result of many different severe weather systems colliding in space and time. Extreme temperatures, rain, hail, high pressure, low pressure, hurricane force winds…the forecasters have new descriptors every day.
Now I could use this as an analogy for MS.  Or many other serious illnesses for that matter.  However, what came to mind last night, is moods.  My moods.  I am a person of extreme weather systems.  Even as a young child I was this way. The weather can change quickly in my part of the world.  A sunny outlook shifting to a thunderstorm in what some people may deem the blink of an eye.  Admittedly the wind is often moving very fast, but if someone is paying attention they will see a few clouds start to roll in.  They will see the clouds moving faster and turning slightly darker before the first crack of thunder.
There are certainly others among you with quickly shifting weather systems.  But are there others among you that have “Frankenstorms”?  I do.  Less now than in my 20’s and 30’s, but they do still occur.  Maybe we could refer to things as “The storm of 2003” or “The winter of 2006”?  I always feel badly about Frankenstorms. There is always damage to deal with later; feelings to repair, relationships to rebuild.  I have struggled to understand them. 
I may be aware of hurricane force winds of stress. A low-pressure system of MS fatigue hovering in the East. The icy bits of neurological hail pattering on my brain, activating the Migraine Alert System. The rumbling thunder of low blood sugar. Each of these events are regular occurrences and so they don’t raise my level of concern too terribly high.  Thankfully they don’t usually all occur at once.  But sometimes they do.  Throw in a heat-wave (literally…do not let me overheat, heaven help us) and maybe a deluge of noise, especially the electronic kind…and there you have it!  Frankenstorm!
And truly, the result is much greater than the sum of all the parts.  I find it tremendously helpful to think of it this way.  It isn’t logical math.  It’s mystery.  It’s an unpredictable scientific rarity. Don’t worry kids, this too shall pass, it’s Just Only Judy.
I carry earthquake insurance on my house, but not flood or hurricane insurance.  When I lived in the Midwest we had tornado insurance.  I can’t buy insurance to cover the cost of cleanup after one of my ‘perfect storms’.  What I can do is be loving, kind, generous, receptive and calm, as much as possible during the good weather.  I can bolster the foundations of my relationships so that even if the roof blows off, we can still rebuild. I suppose I can buy some insurance with hugs, cookies and listening. I can make sure to enjoy sunny days with friends and family. I can be willing to play when it’s only raining. I can try to divert some of the weather systems to avoid collision of many, and thus a ‘perfect storm’. Of course, as I said in a previous post, communication is important as well.  Thanks to “Frankenstorm”, I now have a new analogy in my toolbox as I talk my way through a post-storm cleanup.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


“You must know that you can swim through every tide and change of time,” so says my tea bag message for the day. 
I have spent some time this weekend with my youngest son, watching home videos from his first year on this earth.  It is amazing that in the last 14 years he has grown into the 5’10” young man that still tries to curl up next to me on the couch.  I say, no less than four times in this particular video, that I am tired.  It makes me sad when I watch the video, to hear the fatigue and flatness in my voice.  But then I remind myself that my father had died not even a month before the video was made.  10 days before Christmas 1998.   That time is such a blur for me. 

I think we all carried on as best we could, but I can recall the feeling I got when I went out into the world, around other people.  Surreal.  I did not want to chat about the weather, the holidays, the price of fuel.  I wanted to say, “My father just died.  I am sad.” I remember wishing I could wear a black armband, something so that people would know when they saw me.  Know that I was sad.  Not just tired. 

Did I swim through that tide and change of time?  No.  I can’t even say that I managed a dog paddle or a float.  My sadness was so great that even a swim noodle may not have kept my head out of the water.  In this case, when I could not swim, I had friends and family to forge a raft, a lifeboat, to carry me across.  Cards, letters, food, warm socks, journals and books, surprising gifts of comfort made up my lifeboat.  Some solace came in the fact that I was not alone.  It was not my husband and kids with me, but my siblings.  Living in three different states, yet all in the same boat.  I did a lot of writing. In one of my poems I say:

I am antisocial.  Who can really understand?
And those that are there,
My siblings;
In our rocking boat together,
We can only talk about it in halted words.
Our combined grief would be too great.

Thirteen years later there are still things that cause my eyes to well up unexpectedly as a memory is triggered. I try not to stay in a sad place long.  My dad was the funniest person I have ever known.  That man had so much silly and so much laughter. I’ve always been more of a moody soul, with a hint of melancholy.  It is delightful when my silly comes out, it reminds me of my dad. Surprisingly, there are moments of laughter in the video.  When we bundle up Hunter in his Christmas snowsuit and take him outside because it has ‘warmed up’ to –4 degrees!  He lays in the sled, unable to move even an arm. Big brother Andrew pulls the sled around and round, coming perilously close to some steep and icy hills, but holding on tight to the rope. The little powder blue bundle just lays there and stares up into the bright sky and camera with curious eyes.  Indoors he was in constant motion, never wanting to slow down for long.  It makes us laugh to see him trapped in his snowsuit, content and trusting.  Little blue eyes full of thoughts we cannot know, staring up at us.
As the years have gone by, I have had more than one friend or family member go through the loss of a loved one.  I know the need to be wrapped up in kind words, thoughts, warm socks or a cozy snowsuit. The gratitude that is felt when someone gives you a lifeboat. The time for contemplation when someone else steers the sled.  The relief that comes when you can just be still.  We don’t have to swim through every tide.  It is okay to be carried through.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Perhaps I was carrying too much?

I have missed a Sunday post- my apologies.  A nasty cold started at the beginning of last week. I took three days off work with lots of tea, chicken soup and supplements.  Certainly three days was enough for my body to heal itself from a common cold.  I hopped my hacking self back in the saddle and life got back to normal for two days.  Or at least I tried to fake it. Then my body said “Enough”!

Hello new friend…
You’ve come to pay me for my sins,
Your wicked virus, it wa-as creeping…
Into my voicebox while I was sleeping,
With the bronchitis… that you planted in my chest,
I get no rest,
Within the sound…of silence.

A lot of Simon and Garfunkel growing up.  And on that note, being a bit tuckered out to write much, I am posting below an essay that I wrote for my mother.  We are a family of women who often try to do too much.  Take on more than we can carry and don’t put ourselves first often enough.  As I try to sleep upright on my red couch for the 4th night in a row, legs stretched out across the ottoman, I shall tell myself this story.  And remind myself to be careful how much I carry. A body will find one way or another to crack under the strain.

Essay for Mums

If one pictures a woman carrying too many things on her back, causing her to stoop slightly forward, and then one pictures all manner and sort of thing (I see cats, luggage, books, food, papers, etc) falling from the sky- well those items are going to get stuck and heaped upon the things already on her back, causing her bend forward more and thus create even more surface for things to begin collecting on, as her back becomes horizontal to the earth.

Now envision a woman strolling along with a tidy handbag or small satchel at her side, holding just enough and not too much. Standing all proper straight and Mary Poppins like...perhaps even wearing a black raincoat and holding an umbrella (for which to open upon her head when things begin to fall from the sky!).  Well, then when crap starts falling, as it will, it's not going to get stuck on her! It’s logical, it’s physics. And if she's quick with the umbrella then things won't even hit her in the head ;) 

So these are the options- we can continue to collect too much crap on our backs until it causes our schnoz to hit the floor.  At which point everything will come sliding off anyhow, but we'll be a bit bent and battered and worse for the wear.  Or one can carry only what is proper and not too much, stand straight and tall, and keep one's umbrella and rain coat at the ready! 

 Of course a particularly heavy object, say a davenport, could fall directly on us and squash us, regardless.  It is those moments that friends and family are needed to assist in the removal of the sofa and helping you to right yourself.  In the meantime I say to you, "Shake any unnecessary crap off of your back, stand straight and let it fall to the floor if it must...if it's important to someone else, they will pick it up.  Carry only what you can fit into your Mary Poppins satchel.  Chin up, jacket on, umbrella ready!"

I'm glad for the noisy rain's awfully quiet around here when I can't talk!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Grandma is doing what?!

One summer that feels like both yesterday and a lifetime ago, when Hunter was about three years old, I splurged and bought a large inflatable wading pool.  It was grand! Double layers of inflatable plastic, two giant aquamarine donuts stacked on top of each other so that the water could be two feet deep! At 10 feet in diameter, I considered it a preschool equivalent of an Olympic size pool!  I just knew he and Andrew were going to love it!  Poor Andrew, being six and half years older than his little brother, has often been caught up in my delusions of age-appropriate activities.  It often works out somewhere in the middle.  So when Hunter was three and Andrew was nine, I pretty much functioned as though I had two 6 year olds.  Pros and cons to that approach.
In this particular case, I believe Andrew was a bit under-whelmed by the grand purchase.  So I worked on building Hunter’s excitement.  While my mom was outside with the foot pump (best grandma award!) trying to inflate the beauty, I was inside boiling many pots of water.  In Washington it is a rare day that gets hot enough to warm two feet of water from the hose.  You have to add some hose water, then some boiling water, hose water, boiling water, stir three times, check with your elbow, then your toe…then you are good to go.  The boys, with swim trunks on, plastic dinosaurs and power rangers ready, were watching Grandma Georgie out the back window. 
“When wiw it be ready?” asked Hunter.  That’s not a typo, he couldn’t say the letter ‘l’, it came out like ‘w’.  And a ‘th’ was an ‘s’ or ‘d’.  Remember that so you can follow our dialogue from here.  “It takes a while sweetie, gramma needs to blow it up and it’s a big pool”.  Phshhhshhh, phshhhshhh, the steady sound of Grandma G on the foot pump came through the open window. Andrew wandered off, but Hunter stayed to watch.  “Why did we have to get a new poow?” he asked.  “Oh, because this one is sooo much bigger, you are going to have lots of fun,” I answered.  “But I just want to use da udder poow,” replied a slightly higher pitched voice.  I thought he was just being impatient.  Hunter was never, and still is not, a person that cares to wait on things. “Hunter, you just have to wait a little bit longer until gramma is done blowing it up! Let’s go out and see how she’s doing,” I suggested.  Phshhhhshhh, phshhhshhh. He followed me slowly toward the slider door and stopped just inside. I turned to see those big, blue, serious eyes in that little face welling up with tears. I dropped down to my knee, “Honey, what’s the matter?”  “Weww (well),” he said. He dropped his towel and put both hands up in a questioning gesture. “Weww, is it gonna espwode or somesing?!” His little shoulders hunched, a tear rolled down a cheek.

Remember- both boys were about six years old in my activity planning. One of our latest fun finds had been the old Godzilla movies.  You know, the dubbed English ones from my childhood.  Mothra, Ghidra, Megalon and more.  This little three year old had seen them all. Lots of things ‘blowing up’ and exploding thanks to Godzilla and friends! The poor baby. I'm sure he thought grandma and I had lost our minds!

Weww… we recovered that day. A big hug, some muffled laughter, a lengthy explanation of ‘inflatable’, many apologies and careful introduction of the new pool, it all worked out.  I do think he may have looked at Grandma Georgie a little differently after that day.  But that may have worked in her favor as he grew into a teenager.

I’m sure there’s a parenting lesson or two in there.  But I like to focus on communication.  Do you have little ones in your life, or even medium ones?  Don’t dumb it down for them.  They can handle the big words and the big truths. Happy or sad, good or bad.  If you don’t take the time to carefully and honestly explain their world, they will come up with an explanation and interpretation on their own.  That’s not necessarily bad, so long as you remember to ask them what they are thinking.  Come to think of it, it’s not a bad thing to do with everyone that we communicate with.  Ask what they are thinking, repeat what you think you heard (as Hunter wisely did), clarify. And when there are miscommunications, the same tricks might just work- hugs, laughter, explanation, apologies and a more careful approach.  It seems so simple. And maybe it is.