To Bill, for summer reading

 

Rolling Stones

Last night, for Mother's Day, my darling 13 year old high-school freshman agreed to accompany me to "Shine a Light" - Martin Scorsese's concert film of the Rolling Stones, at the IMAX. Ok, first, the sound system at the IMAX is amazing. And the view was like being in the front row of a concert. So that was great. But better was my adorable daughter rocking out. And afterwards, when we could both hear again, she noted that "Johnny Depp's dad" was her favorite. Oh my. But wait - "Mom, of course I know that's Keith Richards, and he's a better guitar player than I expected" and "Mom, how do you know he's not Johnny Depp's dad in real life? I mean, with his life, who knows...???"

This adolescent was raised on Motown, gospel, Tejano, Gilbert and Sullivan, Rogers and Hammerstein, Sinatra, the Beatles, and Buddy Holley. The Stones and the Who I've just introduced, and recently punk and new wave. She brought me Bowling for Soup ("post-punk meets pop culture"), Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, and Green Day. Our musical journey is remarkably collaborative - we share music, sync our iPods, wail together at the piano, and are teaching each other/ourselves the bass guitar. Because we really like that opening bass riff from Heart's "Crazy on you." Among others. Sometimes if her homework is done we head for Flipnotics on Thursday nights to catch Southpaw Jones (www.southpawjones.com) and Matt the Electrician (matttheelectrician.com), or down to Jovita's for Skinny Don and Tony Mazerati (Don Walser's bass player and a rock-a-billy wunderkind, together now and then...). We laugh until we snort at "Robin Sparkles - Let's go to the mall" from "How I Met Your Mother" (and I told her about Tiffany - I had to go to Wikipedia to prove I wasn't making it up). And we dance along with Dancing with the Stars. She's taking dance as her PE in public school, and is loving the hip-hop as much as the ballet.

We nerdy, techy women share some raucous diverse musical tastes. She may never forgive me for Aida in Verona on 2000-year-old stone seats at the Colosseum, but she has Aretha, Bette Midler, Joan Jett, and Grace Slick in her soul. Since she first tapped her tiny feet to the beat as mom serenaded her in her car seat.

05/12/08


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Medicare

 I rounded today at a new hospital. I'm back at in-patient care, after several years of ER. Very different - many more nurses, but sicker patients with longer illnesses. I'm afraid I won't get paid much, or any time soon. I just applied for new Medicare number (need a new one for this hospital) and was told it will be 60-120 days before I can send a bill.  Perhaps I'll change my practice name to Halliburton Medical Group. Maybe the feds will pay me for the work I've done more promptly.

05/14/07

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This is my life

My 12-year old is an eighth grader. She spent yesterday afternoon "shadowing" at the high school she'll attend in the fall. She attended a lovely, small public elementary (15 children in her first-fourth grade classes), then a tiny all-girls school (7 girls in her 7th grade class). This year she's at a Catholic school with boys, but only 32 children/class. After shadowing, as we discussed her experience, she noted that I was much more anxious than she about the transition between small private and big public schools (the high school has 1800 students!!!).

She's right. She's also noted that I "obsess" about her homework, while she simply does it. It occurs to me that she's been telling me for years that she's a separate person, a different person, and not a repeat of my own school-years experience. I'm seeing just now that I've been so jealous that she gets to have such rich opportunities, and I do obsess over her taking full advantage of her circumstances. But she may not need to take full advantage. I sucked everything I could out of my tiny, poor, back-woods high school, and still showed up at college unprepared. She's about to enter an amazing public school, with an international baccalaureate program, four years of four foreign languages, computer programming, drama, sports for women (yes, all school have these now, but I pre-date Title IX)- everything and more to prepare for college. Students from her high school get into Cornell, Princeton, Cal Tech, Emory....some of the highest average SAT's in Texas.

Perhaps it's ok if she doesn't do everything offered there. Perhaps she can take only requirements and a few electives she likes and still get into a good college. It's true, I obsess - because I was starved for knowledge until I got to college, and she's been eating at the all-you-can-eat buffet of schools her whole life.

She doesn't hunger for good grades, she just makes them. She doesn't anguish over getting into and paying for college. These will come to her; her mother had to scrape and claw. I worked 20 hours a week at Rice, gutted my way into med school, and worked my way through that as a waitress at a rough country bar outside of Dallas (we had to prove we could carry three full pitchers of beer in each hand, without spilling, to get the job). I want her to get a summer job, but chances are she'll spend summers touring Europe again, at an honors biology class in Hawaii, and at an exchange program at Oxford. I worked full time at an office job in the summers, lifeguarded on the weekends, babysat, mowed lawns, played the piano at church...whatever I could do for cash.

She's a princess. One of those girls I hated at Rice. The ones who were pretty, thin, smart, and had enough family support, love, and money to be able to spend their time studying and dating, not in a panic about whether she'll be able to afford another semester, to graduate, then to earn enough to support herself after school. So I'm jealous. Perhaps that's why I obsess about her grades. Fortunately, she's funny, sensible, and thinks sororities are absurd. Whew!  After we talked yesterday and she laughed about how I worried more about high school than she did, I mentioned that it's better this way than the opposite. That I'd be glad to do the worrying so she could enjoy school. She thought that sounded like a reasonable plan.

When she was 16 months old, she looked up at me in the kitchen one afternoon and announced, "Mommy, I'm me!"  Then, at age three, she got a wistful look in her eye one day while we were in her playroom, an almost teary, sentimental gaze, and cooed, "Mommy, this is my life!."  

I still struggle some with this fundamental concept at 49. She's teaching it to me. Sometimes she asks me to get a life so I'll quit worrying about her so much. I can't truthfully answer "I'm me!" if asked who I am. I can't truly exclaim "this is my life" with any conviction. Sometimes I feel like I'm in preparation for life - still in school, still trying to separate from my family (and my ex-), trying to learn what I need so I can live. I think I am giving my daughter the foundation, the tools, the preparation she needed. I think she'll do just fine in high school, and that she does already know who she is. I'm going to try to be an actual adult by the time she goes to college. I'm hoping to actually live before I die, and stop preparing for it instead.

It occurs to me today, as I mulled this over, that I'm part of the legendary "sandwich" generation. My parents are in their 70's, and will be around another few years. They grew up in the depression, didn't reach very far out of their small towns, and were scrambling for financial survival until I was in high school. Now they're doing ok in retirement with good pensions. They had a rough childhood and early adulthood, but are comfortable now. My generation had much better childhoods, but may not retire unless disabled.  My daughter is growing up more than comfortable, and I think always will be.  I have never stopped feeling impoverished. Never lost the fear of failure, never stopped feeling like I must carry the burden of my parents, and still try to carry my daughter more than she needs. I’m working on it.

 March 10th, 2007

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Legends and Lore 

In the late '90's I traveled with a delegation from the state health department to a Hopi IHS hospital near Gallup, New Mexico, ostensibly to teach the doctors and nurses there a seminar on lactation management.  Not arrogant enough to try to tell women who carried generations of mothering wisdom what to do, I listened more than I talked that week.  During a dinner in our honor, an ancient tribal matriarch stared at me long enough to make me sweat, then announced to the table that my spirit animal was a dolphin, telling the story of how dolphin carried my healer spirit through the water.  I thanked her, bowing reverently.

Later, in private, I asked her how Hopi lore came to include a dolphin tale, since Gallup is a bit inland.  She looked me straight in the eyes, grinned, and pronounced, "Ya'll are both just mammals, honey." 

March 2, 2007

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Second childhood

I'm going back to school. In a single week I was laid off, got braces, got accepted (back) to grad school, was offered a flexible part-time job and snuggled in on an icy Austin day with my daughter (recently become a World of Warcraft aficionado).

The braces are the only really odd thing in the mix. The rest of it - surprises, odd twists and turns on the career path, technology - all are recurrent themes. I had those clear invisible clip-on braces, but they weren't moving teeth and were giving me jaw pain, so the orthodontist promised six months of metal. It HURTS. A lot more than I remembered from the teenage years.

So I'm on a liquid diet. Soup and margaritas. Ok, and the occasional latte. 

First things first: earn enough to pay the bills, put a little in retirement/savings (much less than last year, but still, it's important to me to save something every week), give 10% to charity. Offspring's college is in the bank, all bills currently paid. And, as much as it sticks in my craw, try not to piss off my ex-husband so he won't feel a need to take me back to court.

Second: be home (and in the bleachers) for my 8th grader - be available for the 10 minutes a week (every other week) that she says she needs me, and be present all the other time that she's at my house. This one conflicts a bit with grad school - my parents have kindly agreed to drive down from Dallas every other week to care for her on Tuesday evenings when I'm in school. She says she's up for it, and doesn't look sad or neglected when I talk about it. "Mom, we can get take-out Indian or Chinese when we both have papers due!" She's a little more freaked out about the braces - she gets hers in May. At which point we'll go back to the liquid diet - soup and virgin daquiris. And, with the new flexible schedule, we can take a vacation this summer if there's money.

Third: have some fun. I haven't done this so much lately. Making a break from routine, I took the 8th grader to Belize in December and actually did not worry or fret or whine. I just sat back and enjoyed. I expect to have some fun in class (a PhD program in health policy - comparative national health care systems, especially information technology in mature versus developing systems, and the use of IT in disaster planning/recovery), and intend to play a little tennis, hike with my iPod,, avoid American football, see a movie or two, eat well, and drink good wine at least weekly.

It's a plan. I've often made plans, but for 8 years I've been struggling against my ex-, a man whose personal strength is unfathomable to me. I tried (metaphorically) boxing (went down for the count), running (too dangerous with a child in tow), Akido (slipped away but it just pissed him off).  I don't know what this method is - will he see it as another antagonism, and start another fight? Will he see it as an admission of defeat? If so, will that lead to more or less aggression?

I don't know what will happen. I only know that the plan is consistent with my values. Live simply, pursue meaningful scholarship, raise a daughter with kindness, courage, laughter, wisdom. It's missing something. Other people. Six years of subpoenas and cross-examination drives even the most loyal friends away.  But, values first. Then maybe I'll meet some more people who share the values, and the relationships will follow. We'll see.

 1/15/07

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 Thanksgiving Day ER Parade


Today I worked an ER shift at a rural hospital, bickering with hopeless people demanding narcotics, snipping at clueless 16 year old mothers who stuff juice bottles into their wheezing two-year old's mouths, trying not to laugh at the deep-fried-turkey-misadventures stories. One patient showed up with symptoms just like mine, but younger and less likely to have anything worrisome (a trigger point injection fixed her; I have trigeminal neuralgia, but it’s easy to control).  To them I believe that I'm two-dimensional, the bouncer out front of Studio 54 - if I'd just let them in they could party all night and never have pain, illness, or fat. But they believe, it seems, that I won't give them the magic pill that apparently doctors hoard and refuse to prescribe.  A t-shirt from an ER meeting sports the slogan "ER docs - lifeguards in the shallow end of the gene pool." 

11/25/06
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 Tuscany

 

It’s Saturday evening, and I’m home, alone, watching a movie on television. “Under the Tuscan Sun.” A woman gets divorced and her friends send her to Tuscany for a vacation. She buys an old villa and repairs it, turns it into a home. Then she finds romance, and loses it, then, perhaps, finds love. And she finds some peace, in unexpected ways.

Just after I was divorced, I bought a house in Clarksville, in central Austin, down the street from a tiny Black church, it seems like a hundred years and a million tears ago. And I tore down the old sheds, tore out walls and pulled up floor, and hammered, nailed, sawed, and painted. And reconnected with my parents.  I walked my little daughter to school in the mornings, sat on the front porch with a beer and the newspaper in the afternoons, mowed the lawn, shot baskets on the court in the park across the street, dug up beds and planted the herb garden, cut down trees, cleaned the house, decorated, re-arranged, chased the dogs, cooked on the copper counters  I thought it would be the house that I would raise my little girl in, squabble with my ex-husband and his new wife from in, do yoga on its bamboo floor, take long baths in the Jacuzzi tub, endure until she finished school, and then I would sell it and move somewhere exotic, perhaps the Caribbean, and get another little house to live out, write out, read out, drink out my days in.

Then my job at the state health department evaporated, another round of custody litigation consumed my bank account, and I took the opportunity to escape, be safe, and to work some for the Army in Germany.

And that house became less important, and I knew that it was time for me to see something other than Clarksville, my computer screen, and the inside of a book. And I took some real risks. More risks than I’d even thought I could take. Bought tickets, rode planes and trains, hiked, biked, camped, swam, skied, laughed, cried, screamed, made a fool of myself.

I went on a drive through Tuscany. Through San Gimignano, and Florence, and Siena. Then east to Ravenna and Venice. In the summer, in the sun, with the golden hills and golden light, rosemary and apricots, towers, marble, wine, basil. I still sense it - see it, smell it, taste it. It's still scored with music such as that in the movie. I go back in dreams, in reverie.

During those European summers I lived my peak experiences thus far. The list is long and wondrous. Also, some valleys. Too often, I let go of my dignity and my kindness. I lost focus and balance. I still feel unsteady when I walk through life. Not sure where to put my foot for the next step, afraid of falling, but bolder than I was before.

Drawn back by knots I could not untie or cut, I am back in Austin. The colors are flatter, the light duller. The rosemary is tougher, the sounds harsher. I look for beauty here, but it eludes me yet.

I will dream on, that I will hear the music and bathe in the light of Tuscany again someday. That I will do the work of life, some day, some time, some circumstance, surrounded by love. Like the beauty of the hills, the rhythm of the waves off Cinque Terre, I am drawn to Tuscany. Drawn to a time when golden light and luscious scents filled my heart with a richness I look for, long for, every day.

 8/19/06

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Karaoke Church

Growing up in the First Christian Church of Lancaster, Texas, I played the piano some at evening services and sang in the choir on Sunday mornings. I was allowed in the adult choir during junior high, and was the first to volunteer for solos, duets, and other special music. Singing in front of the congregation got me over stage-fright and gave me confidence I still lean on. Easter and Christmas cantatas were prizes - long, dramatic sets, an entire church service in music. Our church had an electric organ, and the hymns were always accompanied by this organ. I refused to learn to play the stops and pedals - I hate the artificial sound (even a great pipe organ is only ok with me), and lobbied for years for a change to piano.   I played the piano for evening services and sometimes the early morning ones, but never the 11:00 am. 

A few years ago I lived in old Clarksville, in central Austin, down the street from the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist church, from which flowed the sounds of Sunday service. Two hours of tinkly upright-piano accompanying singing, preaching, praying, in continuous waves. Most Sundays there were two or three white people in the 50 member congregation. I never had to open the hymnal. There were my beloved hymns, with doxology progression, standard chord changes, but pushed and syncopated rhythms, upswinging scales into chords, improvised harmonies over three octaves, swaying beauties in fine hats and white gloves, eyes closed, music circling through and among us, accompanying the sermon with hushed humming, swelling up for amens. Real church music, real people, with real prayers for real needs.

I lived in Munich on and off for a couple of years;  while there I attended a great old Catholic church in the downtown Marienplatz, rebuilt from the rubble left by Allied bombings, tended by black-robed, somber Jesuits. The Munich Opera Orchestra were seated in the balcony, wafting ethereal Mozart and Bach over the sturdy descendants of the German masters' contemporary audiences. The intricate harmonies, counterpoint, the incense, chanting priests, contrasted with the Muencheners in sensible shoes, coats, hats, a throwback to 1930's grainy black and white photos. But the hymns, familiar in their English translations, with predictable, reassuring, chord progressions and diatonic intervals, sound better in their original German, the words more fitting for the plodding melodies and ponderous harmonies for the stoic, dutiful Bavarians, pausing from their relentless pursuit of progress to refresh their souls with the music from the muses of their forefathers.

Last Sunday my daughter was confirmed at her dad's church at the early 8:45 am service. Stiff, white presbyterians, her pompous, appearances-obsessed dad among the perfectly-manicured junior leaguers carrying Vuitton purses and the insurance agents wearing $800 business suits, wave their hands timidly in the air during a scripted prayer response, then stumble through contemporary music (electric guitar, drums) and KARAOKE! The words to the songs are projected onto the wall of the sanctuary, and the songs are not in any self-respecting hymnal. My daughter attends this early church service with her dad on the first, third, and fifth weekends of every month. The 11:00 service at this church has traditional music from a standard hymnal, and a 100 year old pipe organ. She won't sit through many hours of this old ritual, though, won't grow up with hymns in her bones, won't flip through the hymnals humming the alto part during the sermon, but will instead hear drums and electric guitar in her memories of church.

Last week she and I saw "Saved!" - Mandy Moore over the top as a self-absorbed zealot at a contemporary Christian high school. At assembly, the school's principal (Pastor Skip) dashes out onto the gym stage to rock music and urges the students "Let's kick it Jesus style." My daughter and I have been giggling about that for days (on the way to school the next day she remarked "props for satire, Mom"). But then when I heard her alternate Sunday morning music, I realized that we had been mocking her own church experience.

If we had been at the 11:00 service, I would have slid right in to the comfort of the familiar wooden pew, thumbed through the hymnal, hummed the alto part, then looked up and sung from memory. Instead, I sang karaoke Christian rock. Hoping to show my little girl that loving the music and the ritual doesn't mean she must swallow the rest of the Presbyterian pablum and plastic, and to show her which of her parents really knows what to do in church, I wailed on soprano rifts on the choruses. Just another karaoke performance on American Sunday Idol, in a typical American church, in the typical American charade of being polite to the ex and his new wife, with my typical American child of divorce.

 5/3/06

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Aging Leaders 

 

Dick Cheney turned 65 this week. GW Bush is 60, as is Bill Clinton. What a difference. Dick Cheney seems 25 years older than Clinton, even though they both have similar hearts (actually, Cheney's ejection fraction of 30% is associated with an 80% 5 year mortality). And Bush - ageless as most idiots. The new House Majority leader (why do they need one when there is a speaker?...) is a Gingrich clone. So no better than Delay, and this one's a chain smoker.  It just keeps getting worse up there.

I lived in Houston during the Republican convention there in 1992 (Bush 1's nomination for his failed re-election run).  Bob Dole had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and sponsored free rectal exams/screenings in a booth at the George R. Brown convention center.  Which may explain Pat Buchanan's speech.  

Barbara Bush gave a prime-time address, and she told a story that resonates poignantly today.  She relayed that when George W. was a boy in Midland, Texas, he hit a baseball through the upstairs window of a neighbor's house.  Matron Barbara told GW he would have to wait for his dad to get home that evening to learn of his punishment and restitution.  She then called oilman George HW to tell the story, allowing him time to come up with a suitable sentence.  Instead, 41 exclaimed, "That's a really great hit, to get all the way up to that window!"  Hmmm.

2/2/06

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Single parenting 101

 

What does a single doctor-mom make for dinner? Reservations (brm-mm-pum).

Despite possessing the knowledge and skills requisite to healthy shopping and cooking, we do sometimes resort to take-out.  Just a few tips:  Marie Calendar's, in October and February, sells a whole pie for $6. Blueberry pie makes a delicious and nutritious breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime snack. Feeds two for one day for only $6. Cream pies add calcium and protein.  Thai, Chinese, Indian, and pizza can be ordered on-line or programmed into a speed dial. Tip - order Indian. Save enough mango lassee for breakfast the next day. Save enough biryiani for school lunch.

Last year I got a little stomach flu, and the daughter was worried. "Mom, we need to call someone to come and take care of you, and take me to school tomorrow." I said I'd call later if necessary, went back to sleep, and woke up with my ex- at the door. She'd called him for help. Then, he fished into my black bag, found a syringe and a vial of Phenergan, and gave me an IM injection. While writhing, it occurred to me how sensible she was, and how bizarre it is to share custody. Then, I slunk back into the bathroom, to lie on the cool tile, the most comfortable place in the house, until morning.

 1/12/06

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 I inspire, I enchant, I perplex, und ich spreche Deutsch, usw

current mood: whimsical
current song: Aretha

 

Today, in Mr. Smarty Pants, in the Austin Chronicle, there I am. Well, not me personally, but my fun fact. Yes, Germans say "pro nase" instead of "per capita." I used that scintillating bit of conversation on a date, with said Smarty Pants. Ha. So even though it didn't work out between us, he was so inspired that....I'M IN THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE. Indirectly.

 1/5/06

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Ad initium blogus

Waiting for the UT/USC Rose Bowl game to start, enjoying the Trojans/ Longhorns/Brokeback Mountain jokes and Matthew McConahey's (sp) tailgating picture...I just saw an interview with him on Ellen (while on the elliptical machine at the apartment's [lame] gym) in which he praises Penelope Cruz's adorable (sic) mangling of English ("she sees me in an old t-shirt and says 'I will fix the hole in your broken shirt'").

I dropped the daughter off at school today in her Longhorn's t-shirt, chosen because the headmistress ended an administrative email with "Hook-em," and of course that child has learned from her politician dad how to ingratiate. Fortunately, however, she's "thinking about Oxford. The one in England, not Mississippi." This summer we visited England and had lunch at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford - at the table where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had lunch each Tuesday for 20 years, talking about, I imagine, myriad topics in addition to their work. And, we took photos in the dining hall at Christ Church (site of Harry Potter movie) and the "Bridge of Sighs."  Perhaps I'll show them to her subliminally, if she ever talks about A&M or Baylor. Imagining an expatriate daughter, since perhaps I'll join that club when she finishes high school, perhaps in Belize, perhaps in Italy, or Greece...who knows. Maybe I'll even get brave enough to try Thailand, or Bali. So, back to work, saving pennies for that day in 5.5 years, when she finishes high school, and I'm out of jail. Saving pennies for travel, writing, adventure, and hoping to the Goddesses that my joints and bones and the rest of the flesh will hold up to the relentless pursuit of the unknown I think I'd like. So, here's my first actual Blog. Here's to planning, and dreaming, and investigating possibilities and logistics, for the next 5.5.  This last three year's attempt at jail break failed, but my sentence will someday be up, or commuted early if I'm lucky, and I want to be ready. To fly, or swim, away, and I hope, towards, somewhere. Immersed, in dreams, for now,

 Julie

 1/4/06