Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Against the Odds. . .

He came into this world, a world that wasn’t quite prepared for him yet and that he wasn’t prepared for either. Almost 2 months early, every breath was a struggle, his little body “pulling”, tensing and contracting to get every breath. As I watched him, my heart would beat wildly, trying to will energy and air into him.

Anyone who has ever had a preemie in their family understands the fear and uncertainty of this. Your life revolves around scrubbing your self carefully so you won’t contaminate the fragile little life that is struggling so hard to just be here in this world.

Like most preemies, he had his share of troubles, although fewer than many. The trips to the neo-natal unit of the hospital were heart-rending. So many babies tenuously hanging on to life, with every type of complication and condition imaginable. As hard as it was to see this, it was harder still to walk by an isolet and see it empty. Sometimes you smiled with joy which warmed your heart and your faith, knowing that the little one had went home with its parents. But sometimes, there was no joy in the walk. The baby hadn’t made it, had surrendered its precarious hold on life, the exertion of living simply too much for its little spirit. Into Gods gracious arms and gentle embrace, warm and comforted at last, a soul at peace.

But after almost 4 weeks, our precious little guy made his journey home. He had been through so much, and yet he was such a contented little guy, good natured, so easy to love and cuddle. As I had with his two older brothers I sang the Indian gambling song to him. Indians figured that life was the biggest gamble of all, so they sang to their babies, to ask the Great Spirit for protection and luck for the new life.

Hey nicatay, hey wah nah
Hey nicatay, hey wah nah.
Ock tay mana hey wah nah
Ock tay mana hey wah nah.

He’s five now. Still a little small, but other wise a normal kindergartner, full of exuberance and curiosity, trying the boundaries and patience of everything and everyone around him. Thank the Great Spirit. . .
The Cancer. . .

The news was devastating. My 28 year old daughter has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This isn’t my mom or grandma or someone older. That’s what we expect you know, that cancer is something that happens to someone older, who has had a chance at life, lived it to the max. It’s not supposed to happen to our kids, or grandkids, our little sisters or the kid next door.

And yet it does. It strikes illogically, without prejudice, without caring about the unspeakable effects it has on the families it invades. It cares not about age, race, gender, sexual orientation. It’s the ultimate equal opportunity disease, reaching out with greedy arms and grappling fingers to snag the next victim.

I see it as the invader, I truly do; the insidious visitor who comes to attack, sometimes on the sly, sometimes charging boldly forward. It is a bully, belligerently forceful, its goal—another life.

You will not have this life cancer, you will not take my lovely daughter from me, her husband and babies. We will fight you on your own terms, aggressively, using any means available to us. Yes cancer, we will meet you where you live, hiding away in the breast of my baby. You do not stand a chance you know. You will surrender. . .

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Grandma C. . .

My Grandma C died in 1958 of cancer of the kidneys. I was 10 months old, so I don’t remember her, but my mom and my aunts told so many stories about her when I was a child that she was a big part of my life.

I loved the stories about Grandma C, they were exciting and made me want to be just like her. Can we have a role model who has already passed through this life? I tried so hard to emulate her when I was a kid. Nothing made me happier than to have my mom say that I reminded her of her mom. She wasn’t afraid to fight for what she thought was right, which was saying a lot for women of her era, who usually tried to stay under the radar. Oh yes, ladies, much like children were meant to be seen and not heard. Grandma loved life and enveloped those people in her life in a rich tapestry of love, arms and heart sheltering them when they were in need.

One of my favorite stories about her happened when she was 17, in 1915. She and my great aunt worked at a laundry downtown and they walked home every evening through a park. There was a man who would watch them and he finally started exposing himself to them. Grandma was outraged about this so she made a plan. She took a 1 x 4 board that was a foot and a half or so long and nailed long nails through it, so the nails stuck out an inch or so. Then, as she and my great aunt walked through the park the next evening, she had the board hidden in the voluminous folds of her skirt. When the man, true to form, unbuttoned his pants to show himself, Grandma started swinging. She took several pieces of him with her on the board!

Because of that incident, I think she was very cognizant of sexual predators, although of course that isn’t what they called them in those days. They were just good old-fashioned perverts.

When my mom was about 15 she had a job at a theater downtown. One evening she missed the last bus home and was forced to walk home, which was about 9 blocks. Considering this was 1949, it really wasn’t as perilous as it would be now, but was still frightening for her.

As she walked, about half-way home she realized there was someone behind her, sort of keeping pace, but not really gaining on her. Of course, she was scared to death, and speeded up her pace. She was all but running the last block, still hearing the footsteps behind her, but by then, they were quickening and starting to get closer.

Grandma was worried when mom didn’t get off the bus and had been sitting on the porch watching for her, knowing that mom would be walking. Grandma sit there on that old porch, in a white nightgown that probably covered more of her than her dresses did, but still she sat in the shadows of the porch because for heavens sake she didn’t want the neighbors to see! When she saw mom come running down the street, she knew something was wrong and went charging down the steps to meet my mom on the sidewalk.

Mom was crying by this time and pointing behind her at the man following her. Grandma told mom to get on up to the house, which she did. Mom stood there and watched as the man came up face to face with Grandma, who was a tigress defending her cub. Let me correct that—a raging, howling tigress.

Right up to his face Grandma went, finger stabbing the air in outrage. “How dare you follow a young girl like that, scaring her to death” she yelled. By that time, between mom’s crying and Grandma’s yelling, the neighbors, many of whom were sitting on their own porches, were starting to gather around Grandma and the man on the sidewalk.

“You get the hell out of here, because if I ever see you around here again, it will be the last time you ever scare anyone!” Grandma told him, this time her voice calm, almost deadly calm mom told me.

That was the one and only time she ever heard her mother use a curse word, but she, and everyone else standing there on the sidewalk that night, under a warm and starry summer sky knew that Grandma meant business. The man pulled away and ran off into the night, amidst a hail of rocks being thrown by kids who were out there with their parents. The neighbors were all circled around Grandma and mom, offering shelter and protection, but everyone there knew that Grandma had it all under control!

Grandma, I love you so much and wish I could remember you. But your legacy has lived on, through the stories our family tell of the of your spirited journey through this life.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Heart of a Woman

What makes us who we are? Is it our upbringing? Our parents, friends, our religion or education? To me it’s everything, from my Grandmother who fought for what she believed in to a bad marriage and my struggle to simply survive it.

My heart is vulnerable, fragile and yet made of something stronger than steel. It loves unconditionally, openly and with trust and that is amazing to me since it has been broken practically as many times as it has loved.

Even those who we love in our daily lives, children, parents, and friends break our hearts. And yet that very heart keeps on beating, hopeful that tomorrow will be better, will bring another shot at love; a chance to feel the joy and buoyancy, of laughter bursting from us because of the simple act of love. I’m an optimist, I can’t imagine life without love, both giving and receiving.

My heart looks for different things in those I love; from my daughter I look for validation of the unending love I feel for her, for it is the buttress of my very foundation. She is the best part of me and her dad, a bright shining star I adore. What would my life be like without her? I can’t imagine how bleak it would be, how colorless and depressing without her in my life. Yes, we can argue like two wild cats fighting over the same piece of meat, but we never stop loving one another.

The woman she is, is in fact partly due to me as her mother. I can’t and won’t take all the credit for her, because like me, she has been shaped and influenced by many things, many people. I hope that I instilled a sense of love and loving in her, that she knows that she is precious and beautiful and capable of anything she sets her mind to. I told her stories of the strong women of our family and how they stood up for what they believed and protected what was theirs. I see the ferocious fighter in her and it makes me feel so proud that I could have a hand in making that wonderful young woman.

This journey is for you Boo Bear. I love you with all my heart.