Friday, January 30, 2015

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Life

Regrets, I have so few

My mother was a busy, determined, no-nonsense woman who understood the value of multitasking. 

When it was time for her to explain sex, she did it while I was trapped in the car . . .  on the way to church. 

It was a brilliant maneuver. She could look straight ahead, I could look straight ahead, and it was over in 12 miles. 

Granted, one congregation member, glancing at my ashen face, asked if I was getting the flu, but at least I had that hour to pray for the salvation of a species which thought THAT was better than watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a Saturday night. 

Car talks are still valuable. My daughter, Molly, and I have many meaningful discussions riding along in my Ford Flex. Recently I talked with her about my regrets. I don’t have many, at least I don’t have many small regrets.

I certainly understand the philosophy behind regrets and why some people find them useful. Right about now Tom Brady, for example, is likely rueing the day he picked up a football instead of becoming a press secretary, or perhaps not. But the past is the one part of my life I try not to pick apart. 

When I was 19, my journalism professor, Dr. Schram asked to speak with me in the hall after class. He’d attended Northwestern University and knew some people. He thought he could get me a scholarship to the respected journalism program.

“Thank you, so much,” I told him, with the bravado possible only in 19-year-olds and presidential hopefuls. “But my boyfriend is here in East Lansing.”

My boyfriend became my husband, my husband became my daughter’s father and we built the beautiful, flawed life we have today. No regrets.

I’m embarrassed about the perm I had from 1986 until 1990, but I don’t regret it, it simply makes me appreciate the Brazilian blowouts I get today; though the makers of that product should probably regret the name. 

The only true, big regrets I have are the five individuals I’ve harmed or had a part in harming in my life. I know there are exactly five because I mentally pre-write my blogs while sitting in the bathtub and for some self-flagellating reason decided to tally them the other day. 

It’s not something I would advise. 

My big, small regret

If I was forced to choose a small regret, however, there would be this: the great Arizona highway incident of 2005.

We’ve had fabulous vacations in our marriage, but we’ve also experienced what must be more than the average number of terrible trips, mostly because a loved one became critically ill and we were forced to come home early or manage medical care from afar. This happened at least four times in the span of seven years; our relaxing on a beach seemed intrinsically tied to someone we cared about being loaded into an ambulance. Making vacation plans became traumatic and relatives begged us not to go anywhere if they felt the stirrings of a heavy cold.

Our absolute worst vacation was spring break of our daughter’s sixth grade year. Jim’s parents spent each winter in Arizona and asked us to visit; apparently not understanding our jinx. Two days before leaving, Jim threw out his back, necessitating daily trips to a chiropractor once we landed and red-lining all the horseback riding, tennis and hikes on our agenda. I injured my hand on a big water slide at our resort. Molly lost her glasses on the lazy river, which judging from the scratches across each lens when we finally retrieved them, wasn’t so lazy at all. 

Jim and I fought daily over these seemingly minor incidents and our fights led me to stomp away sobbing and Jim to wince and clutch his lower back.

Then we hit the highway. 

Jim’s father, Fred, was an adventure seeker. A veteran, former pilot and police officer he was also an avid traveler and he loved showcasing the beauty of places he and his wife, Doris, discovered. 

He wanted to show us the cliff dwellings at Tonto National Forest, so we piled into his van, with at least two of us -- Molly because she was young and me because I was apparently very stupid -- not realizing just how HIGH cliff dwellings are located.

The trip up was long and winding and grueling. We were all happy when Fred said we could go back the shorter way.

Once we were on the road, however, he turned around and said: “I should have told you. It’s shorter but it’s a bit steeper.”

It was more than a bit steeper. It was sphincter-clenching, sweat-inducing, terrifyingly steep. It was two lane, no guardrail, gravel edged, make one false move and plummet-to-your painful-death-on-jagged-rocks steep. 

The vista was potentially also the most beautiful thing we have ever seen. Fred pointed it out, repeatedly, gazing into the distance, showing us  the sun and the shadows on the ochre mountains.

What we knew we should do, during that terrifying ride, was focus our attention outside ourselves and the death van and appreciate the majestic “wish you were here” views. 
What we did, instead, was scream.
“DAD Would you please watch the road?” Jim, shouted. 

“PLEASE?” I echoed. 
Molly simply gave a little yelp and flung herself face first onto the back seat of the van. 
Fred laughed, but seemed puzzled. I worry he thought we would have felt more comfortable with a younger driver, he was in his 70s at the time. I worry we hurt his feelings and made him begin to question whether with the passage of time he was not the same man in the eyes of those he loved. 

So, that’s my big, small regret. I wish I would have thought to say this:

“It’s not you. It’s not your age. We know you have been a brave man and you are very capable. Our reaction is based on the fact that we are damaged physically at this moment and because our physical bodies hurt we are emotional and are over-reacting . . . though frankly it wouldn’t be a bad idea for ANYONE to keep a bit more of an eye glued to the road ahead in these conditions. Still, we want you to know we trust you . . . and those cliff dwellings were just marvelous.”

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Wife

Standing on the corner, watching all the squirrels float by

This is what is probably important to understand: I’m afraid of many things. Every plane I am on . . . going to crash. Every snotty-nosed store clerk with a cough . . .  obviously there to give me the flu, which will, ultimately, kill me as well.
It’s possible that I could blame this on my mother, because she was also a bit paranoid. Except, I’m pretty sure it was me who caused her to be that way.

Standing in my bedroom at eight-years-old, packing my little pink and white suitcase for a (car) trip to Arizona on spring break, I burst into tears and sunk to my bed with a dramatic sob. 

Mom (rushing in, dish towel in hand): “What in the WORLD is going on?”

Me: “I don’t understand why we have to LEAVE our home and drive across the entire COUNTRY to see Uncle Fred and Aunt Nina! We’re all probably going to die in a car accident and then who will feed the horses and the dog and the barn cats?”

Mom: “Oh, for goodness sakes. You’re such a silly goose. Honestly!”

But, I could see her look of concern when she left my room.

Mom always told me it is never the things we worry about that do us in. Ergo, I’ve made it my life’s mission to worry about everything

It’s a lesson the squirrels could have used to their advantage. 

You can probably read about this on-line, if you’re inclined. Just search something like: “Butt loads of squirrels found floating down the Grand River.” 

It happened ten years ago or so. My husband, Jim, and I were walking along the Grand Haven boardwalk which runs along a lovely channel which leads to Lake Michigan, admiring the gorgeous night, when three or four squirrels floated by.

“What the hell?” Jim asked. 

“There’s more,” I said, pointing. 

And there were. Lots more. The boardwalk is two miles long and for it’s entire length, squirrels floated and swirled by us in a macabre water dance. It was, disturbingly, fascinating. 

I’m not sure anyone ever figured out exactly what happened to the squirrels. Theories were bandied around about pesticides and electrical currents, but the thing that stuck with me was that those squirrels probably woke up that morning, scratched their furry squirrel crotches and thought something like: “What a beautiful day. I just can’t WAIT to eat a nice acorn and maybe take a walk by the river.”

There has been a full moon this week, a full “super” harvest moon actually, and because it was so lovely and big and impressive and orange I gave it a lot of compliments on my Facebook page, which it apparently didn’t like because it has paid me back with a whole bucket filled with crud. 

And not just me, pretty much everyone I know has had a tough week; some with small problems, others with huge, heartbreaking, life changing issues. 

Which is what always brings me back to reality: the problems of others. 

Possibly the strongest person I’ve ever known died a year ago today. Her courage in the face of tremendous physical discomfort and pain was a thing to behold. She greeted each day with a grin and marveled at the tiniest moments of beauty. There was never a time when I asked her how she was feeling when she did not say: “Other people have it much, much worse.”

It’s a philosophy I’m going to try to adopt in her honor. Because, really, until the day I’m in the same position as those squirrels, I’ve got it awfully good. 

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Friday, February 7, 2014

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's wife

For my mother and father, Millie and Jim Eddington, who would have celebrated 68 years of marriage on February 9. 

“A little bit . . . around the whiskers”

One of the most touching books I ever read is “My Mom!,” by novice author Molly Eddington Moore. 

At six pages it is charming and  -- in my opinion -- very well-reasoned: “I love my Mom, she is so beautiful! I love her! She is good at her work she is realy good at her job.”

There is also a hot pink illustration of a serpent of some sort and the following: “She loves anmazes. She dose not like snaks.”

Since I have always enjoyed snacks, I was confused until I realized my little daughter was writing about my affection for animals, but not snakes. 

Her book solidified something my veterinarian husband, Jim, and I have often discussed, that parents pass along the value they place, or do not, on animals to their children at an early age. 

My own parents were both animal lovers, but they came about it in very different ways. 

Dad grew up on a farm and walked a mile each day to class with his buddies -- a smudge-faced, dungaree-attired, little bunch. Dad’s faithful mutt waited patiently outside the one-room school during the day and romped back along the country road with the boys each afternoon. 

If it all sounds a bit Tom and Huck, that’s what I envision as well. 

One fall day, as they neared his house, Dad spotted one of his family’s pigs in the pasture and, being youthful, naive, and naughty, goaded his dog to: “Sic ‘em.” 

The race around the field that followed was slap-knee hilarious to Dad’s little posse of ragamuffin buddies. Until, that is, the pig keeled over, apparently from a heart attack and they all slunk home. 

The really big problem ensued when my father went about his after-school chores and homework but didn’t tell his financially strapped family, who might have been able to use the pork, had the poor animal not been left in the field the better part of the unseasonably warm afternoon and evening. 

That night, Dad listened as his father talked to a neighbor who, hearing of the event called and screamed through the (newfangled) telephone: “Ed, why don’t you just knock that darn fool up side the head. He’s never going to amount to a damn thing!”

Dad, the kindest man I’ve ever known other than my husband, always laughed a little sadly, when he told that story. I know his sadness was more about what he’d done to the poor pig than the neighbor’s assessment of his own future. 

Conversely, my mom grew up in downtown Detroit. The unlikely pair met during WWII when they were both working at an ammo plant in Plymouth, Michigan -- my father had been labeled 4F due to a severe speech impediment --  married and moved back to dad’s hometown in 1950.

It must have been quite a sight, my mother with her red lipstick, fancy manicures, platform shoes and peplum suits moving from the big city to a town of only a few hundred people. But, always pragmatic, she happily ditched the suits for denim coveralls and began raising chickens and collecting barn cats and scruffy dogs.

She’d had a Fox Terrier named Brownie when she was in her ‘20s. Brownie, the way she described him, was sort of a forerunner to the little dogs celebrities carry in their purses today; she pampered him, groomed him, and carried him everywhere with her. 

She took him on vacation to a friend’s cabin once and when the hostess served up heavy, wet pancakes fried in bacon grease and floating in syrup she managed to sneak hers off the plate when the woman turned around and hold it under the table for Brownie who rushed up, took a whiff and ran away yelping, just as the lady returned, leaving mom holding the dripping pancake.

Despite his treachery, Brownie was the dog all others were judged against. If  Mom liked a dog, it was because she felt it bore at least some small resemblance to her old pal.

“Kelly is very cute,” she told Jim when we adopted our first pet from the Humane Society a few years after we were married. “She must have a bit of Fox Terrier in her.”

“Mom, I don’t think so. She’s a doberman,” Jim told her.

“Yes, but I can see it, a little bit . . . around the whiskers.”

Kelly has been gone a long time now and her Frisbee-chasing successor Sophie Zenkman, as well. And, Molly’s pet chinchilla, Priscilla, to whom my mother would bring dried cherries and ziplock bags of Cheerios; she passed away last September. 

Our family dog these days is a goofy greyhound named Gabbana Huffington. Gabbi was one of my father’s best buddies in the final years of his life -- his banana sharing, hand nuzzling pal -- but my mother never met her. 

Still, we know Mom would have loved Gabbi from the start. She would have tilted her head to the side to get just the right angle and said: “Yes, but I can see it,  a little bit . . . 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Wife

Getting chummy with Sinatra and the gift my aunt gave me

I’ve never had a bucket list. 

That’s a little surprising as I make "to do” lists for an ordinary day that include bullet points like: “get groceries, mow grass, clean soul sucking cat box and . . . get chummy with Sinatra.”

I always put the ‘Sinatra’ thing on because it’s a joke my husband and I share and, sometimes, he reads the stuff I write.

Once I achieve each bullet point, I cross it off with a huge flourish. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. 

If I do something that’s not on my list, for example get the oil changed by the knuckle dragging, surly mechanics down the street, I always put  it on my list -- “dealt with the mean-spirited Quaker Oil jerks again, which is why I should have watched when Dad tried to teach me to how to do it myself in ’78” -- simply so I can cross it off.

If I had a bucket list, I would have already drawn a line through “travel in Ireland, dance on a stage, write a book, marry the love of my life and raise a wonderful child.” 

Still on the list would be: “travel in Italy, publish a book and figure out a way to temper the horrific effect of gravity on the body of a middle-age woman.

Nowhere on my list would it say: “give eulogy for one of the people you have loved most in the world without turning into an emotional basket case.”

But now I’ve done that, also.

My Aunt Dorothy -- who loved the Red Wings, the Tigers, Pepsi Cola and her family --  died a week ago, today. When discussing end of life issues she apparently asked that I be among those to speak. I recoiled when I heard that, but now I consider it among the best gifts I’ve ever received. 

Pretty much everything I’d want people to know about Aunt Dorothy is in the text that I delivered last Friday, and I’ve included below so, perhaps, even more people can benefit from her amazing spirit and absolute refusal to indulge in self-pity.

I know she’d like that. 

What I should mention, however, is something everyone at the service knew but you probably won’t and that is for the last many years of her life, my beloved aunt walked at a 90 degree angle because of severe skeletal issues and many, many surgeries. 

Yet, 14 days before she died, she walked her grandson down the aisle at his wedding, smiling broadly, exuding joy. 

That walk was breathtaking. So was she. 

I will miss her terribly, but am grateful to share why she was such an important force in the lives of all who knew her. I hope you are also touched by her strength and courage.

Eulogy for Dorothy Schlief/Sept. 13, 2013

I was blessed with the opportunity to read Ted’s beautiful message as well as the lovely words you will hear in a few minutes from Cheryl and I was reminded of one of the first and most important rules I learned in journalism school: When a story is really important be sure to get it confirmed by at least two sources. 

Well, this is a very important story. You’re getting it from three.

When I was in sixth grade, I was playing on the schoolyard swing set with a little girl named Stacie, who I had never played with before. 

“You know,” Stacie said, when we stopped swinging to drag our Keds in the dust. “You’re really nice.”

“Thanks!” I said. “You’re really nice, too!”

“It’s really fun to play with you.”

“It’s really fun to play with you, too!” 

“I can’t figure out why my mother said I should never play with you,” she said.

I was stunned: “Well . . . Why would she say that?” 

“I’m not really sure,” she said. “She just said you were an orphan and you don’t live with your real family.”

Today, of course, from the vantage point of all these years I would have a different response than I did then. I would tell her that, from my experience, a “real” family has nothing to do with biology . . .  and everything to do with love.

But . . . I was 11. So, what I actually said was something like:  “Yuh-huh. Do too!

I am Dorothy’s niece and Goddaughter. And, while she was not was not my biological aunt she was certainly my real aunt.  

My real aunt taught me to read. I was staying with her family for a few days and had brought along my little board book: “Sally Squirrel Gets a New Hat.” 

“She’s only four, but she can already read that,” my mother told her, proudly.

But, Aunt Dorothy knew better; I couldn’t read that. 

I could memorize the words and flip through the pages at the appropriate time. But I couldn’t read that.

So Aunt Dorothy sat with me and showed me the words and had me sound them out and taught me to read that. It is one of my first memories.

Good readers become writers. I eventually became a writer. 

It was also during that visit that Aunt Dorothy put me down for a nap. Instead of sleeping that day, I’m told I redecorated her bedroom by peeling the wallpaper from her walls. 

She never scolded me. Probably because, in her world, it was a minor infraction 

One of my cousins had already set fire to her house the year before. 

I asked her recently if she was upset by the wallpaper incident and the fire and she told me: “Oh, no. You were just children. Plus . . . it gave me an opportunity to remodel the house.”

I was a guest at Aunt Dorothy’s home at that time because my mother was hospitalized. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing a mastectomy. 

What I didn’t realize until recently, was that in the three or four month period prior to my visit, Aunt Dorothy had also lost her own mother as well as her husband, the father of her three children. She was only in her 30s. 

Yet, she welcomed me in with open arms, taught me to read and ignored the whole wallpaper thing.

When I was 19 I told my Aunt Dorothy that my, stingy, uptight, college roommate wouldn’t let me turn up the heat in our apartment or hang any pictures on our walls. Shortly after, I got a care package from her in the mail, it contained a dear little print in a frame, to put at my bedside, and footie pajamas, so I could keep warm.

On Tuesday, a few hours before she died, I held Aunt Dorothy’s hand and she was obviously trying to communicate something to me. I lifted the oxygen mask from her face and apologized: “Aunt Dorothy, I’m sorry, I can’t quite understand what you’re saying.” She looked me in the eye -- a little sternly I thought -- concentrated very hard and said: “PEPSI!”

“Pepsi! She wants Pepsi!,” The cry went up as a dozen people - daughters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, scurried around madly. You’ve never seen a group of people move so fast; and one of us is a marathon runner. It took awhile, but we found the Pepsi and she seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. It was her last meal.

She gave me a lot of gifts. But, perhaps the best gift my Aunt Dorothy gave me was this: 

Though she was often in physical discomfort, there was never a time when I called her or came to visit that she wouldn’t reply to my, “how are you feeling Aunt Dorothy?” with: “Well, my foot hurts a little bit or my back hurts a bit, but I look around and there is always someone worse off than myself.”

Grace under pressure. Courage. Selflessness. Aunt Dorothy. 

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Wife

(((Warning: for people who care about this sort of thing:  

The following blog has NOTHING to do with being a veterinarian’s wife. It has little to do with being a wife at all and EVERYTHING to do with being a woman, an aging woman and a large-breasted woman. 

It should probably not be read by people like my daughter’s boyfriend, my aunt, and those who wish they had larger breasts. 

It also uses the word “breast” an awful lot. 

You have been advised. )))

Don’t be a boob or I’ll bat you with my lashes

A few months ago, I was putting on mascara, missed and stabbed myself in the cornea.
Amazingly, at 53, I still have fairly good eyesight (thank you Lasik surgery) so my vision wasn’t the culprit. 

The problem, I realized -- as I danced around like a profane whooping crane --  was that, to put on mascara you actually need a couple of eyelashes.
So, I went to the dermatologist and got some Latisse.

“Well, that’s just absolutely the dumbest thing I’ve heard,” said a (nutty) woman I (barely) know. “That @#$% is what they give people who have glaucoma. Are you crazy?”

Crazy? Yes, A little bit. 

Vain? Sure, a whole bunch. 

Willing to shell out the bucks to have flutter-able lashes in my senior years? Yep. 

Amazingly the “@#$%” actually worked. Recently, I accidentally plucked an eyelash that had grown to close to my eyebrow

“Mom,” my gorgeous -- and long-lashed -- 20-year-old daughter, said to me last week: “The Latisse is really working. But . . . I’m sorry, you’re beginning to look bit a little like a ‘Who. You know, from Dr. Seuss?’”

Latisse works. 

Dysport -- the infant sibling of Botox -- works. 

Crest Whitestrips, are amazing. 

Self tanners work. 

Exercise, when you do it regularly, works. 

NOT drinking Maker’s Mark every time you want to, works; or I think it would if I ever really tried that. 

The more I age, the more I try not to look like I am aging. I am, sadly, fallible. 

Which is why, a couple weeks ago, I broached the subject I’d been thinking about for many months to my husband: 

“You know,” I said. “I think, maybe, I might, possibly, like to consider, ultimately . . . . breast reduction surgery.”

He looked at me. Then he said, exactly NOT what I imagined, which was: “Honey, you are beautiful just the way you are.” 

What he actually said was: “Well, if that is what you would like.”

I was horrified, because . . . I didn’t really mean it. 

There is a photo of me at 15. I am standing, in a pink lace gown, fresh-faced, with a pixie haircut and no bra. It is the last time I remember being truly happy with my chest. I was happy with my chest because I wasn’t thinking about my chest. It may actually have been the last time I didn’t think about my chest. 

I became conscious that I owned breasts at 17 when I got in trouble over an article I wrote for my junior college newspaper and I overheard someone ask: “Is she the writer of that article?” The answer was “Yeah, the one with the big boobs.”

I was a size 36 B. 

Time. Weight gain. Weight loss. Hormones. Breastfeeding. It all happened. Today, I shop in the “minimizer” section of the lingerie department.

I don’t like that because, aside from my family and writing, dancing is what I love most in the world. Since college, I have taken a multitude of dance classes; ballet, jazz, modern, tap, aerobic. And frankly, the girls just get in my way. 

To add to the “under the knife” siren call, I have three friends who have had reduction surgery. And, they are, to a one, now pert and perky and gorgeous. 

They were led to it because of back pain, shoulder pain, emotional pain and divots dug deep into their slender shoulders. 

And there is (one of) the rubs. 

I am not in pain. I do not have slender shoulders. 

True, I am a 40D, but I also have the shoulders and broad back that would make a Manning brother envious. I am blessed with white teeth, a (generally) nice personality and the physique of a linebacker. 

There is something else, also. An important something; my mother. She also had breast reduction surgery, way back in the early 1960s. But, her reduction was lopsided. 

Her mastectomy, was unilateral. 
I’ve been thinking a lot about her -- and my breasts, and breasts in general -- this week, because I just got back from working on the “Susan G. Komen 3•Day for a Cure” walk in Novi, Michigan. 

There were a lot of women there who had a few issues with their breasts, also. Size seemed to be the least of their worries. HAVING breasts seemed to be low on the list, also. 

Continuing to live seemed to be the thing that was most important to them. 

So, I’ve been weighing these issues. Do I think I would look better with a smaller chest? Absolutely. 

Am I, like my friends, in physical agony over my oversized chest . . .no, dammit. 

Will I continue to try to look the best that I can by eating well, lengthening my lashes, whitening my teeth, un-crinkling my wrinkled brow and upper lip, dancing on and on, for as long as I possibly can? Of course.

Will I stop drinking Maker’s Mark? Hell no. I have to have SOME sort of vice (with apologies to my liver).

What I have decided to do, for the time being is, in my amazing husband’s nomenclature: “hold and roll.” I am going to try to remember to stop, once in awhile, to remember that this life, and this body, are a gift I have been given. 

Neither is perfect. 

Still . . . both are wonderful. 

(In loving memory of Millie and for the one of every eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime).

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Monday, July 8, 2013

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Wife

An open letter to my husband, on the eve of another sleepless night

Dear Jim:

I think everything is ready for the 25th anniversary party for your clinic. 

I’ve been planning and organizing for quite awhile so I should feel confident. But, I’m sure I’ll be tossing and turning tonight, wondering if our little party will go well; if people will come, if the champagne will be cold enough, if the chocolates might melt. 

I think you might be a little restless, also. 

We’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights in 32 years, haven’t we?

January 19, 1993, comes to mind. You, curled up on the leather couch at your brother’s apartment, staring into the erie light of his aquarium, marveling at how much our lives were about to change. Me, in a hospital bed, a few miles away wishing for morning to come, for our daughter, Molly, to be born and for life to get back to “normal.” It never happened, but the new normal was so much better.

There was also that horrible night when you were rushed into surgery, wracked in pain from your ruptured appendix. I sat in the harshly lit waiting room and tried not to imagine a life without you. You always wonder why I hate bright lighting; that’s why. 

Years later, when the same thing happened to Molly, we sat together through that endless night of blood tests and CT scans. Our fear and worry made it impossible to speak. Sitting on those hard stools and waiting for the surgeon, holding our daughter’s head as she was sick. Praying. Terrified.

The loss of a young person is such a horrific thing. We knew, because a year earlier, we lay, fully clothed, on top of our bed through a torturous night, holding hands and crying, mourning the loss of our neighbor and “mayor,” the golden child who packed more into 15 years than most people pack into 80.

You tried to rest for a bit the night I lost my mother. But you rushed back to the hospital through the ugly, frigid darkness when you woke, abruptly, at just the time I was sobbing to the nurse: “My mother is dying and I don’t want to be alone.”

And, while you couldn’t be there the night of my father’s passing, I was comforted by the vision of you crouching at his side that morning, giving him a shave, your tears dropping into the menthol shaving cream. 

There have been countless other sleepless nights, hundreds probably, when you have left my side to take care of animals. There have also been many when I have crawled from under the cozy covers to go with you. 

Blessedly, though, there have also been many times when the lack of sleep came because of our joy; we were moving into a new home, reveling in the accomplishments of our beautiful child, leaving on a vacation.

I don’t remember if we slept much 25 years ago this week, knowing we were about to fulfill your dream. I suspect our rest was fitful, at best. I’m sure we worried and fretted about the decision, as we always do.

Yet, just like the rest of our lives, while it hasn’t always been easy -- it has hardly ever been easy -- it has all worked out.

Congratulations, Jim. You are a wonderful veterinarian and a talented, brilliant, and kind person. 

I don't have a big present to give you in honor of this amazing anniversary but, tonight, I’m making a special wish: I wish that all of the sleepless nights in your future are because you are anticipating a beautiful dawn. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Life and (Sometimes Strange) Times of a Veterinarian's Wife

The beauty of “giving up”

It’s been quite a few years since small, dimpled hands brought me sweet crayon and marker creations, lovingly signed “MOLLY,” with two backward Ls. 

I miss the drawings, but I can’t say I mind having a tidy refrigerator door. 

These days, the only adornment is a small, square black magnet with an admonishment from Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

I bought it on a whim, when I decided it was time to take a leap of faith and try to “find an agent.”

Finding an agent is the necessary step taken by the majority of those authors of the books you see at Barnes & Noble. There are so many of those books, that wannabe authors think it must be a pretty easy task. 

What we don’t know, initially, is that for each of those books on the B&N shelf, probably a hundred other authors have tried to get one there.

For years, as I slogged through my wonderfully rewarding, yet terribly paid, career as a journalist and corporate writer, people urged me to write a book. 

But, raising a child, doing what I could to help my aging parents, and trying to maintain my happy marriage seemed like plenty on the plate.

Then, I took a seminar taught by a wonderful man and incredible writer. We worked at the same magazine and I loved his writing ability and sense of humor. He was successful in publishing some wonderful memoirs and was so down-to-earth and delighted with the experience, I let his enthusiasm wash over me.

So I wrote a book. That’s really the buried lead of this blog:  I wrote a book and I’m really happy about that. 

My mother told me a story once about my lovely Aunt Liz. My father’s sister, she married young, became a nurse and in fairly rapid succession the mother to six children. Money was tight, but one year she allowed herself the luxury of a new holiday dress. She loved it and I imagine that before emerging from her room at the annual family Christmas party she may have looked in the mirror, smiled and felt beautiful. 

But, at the gathering, another relative looked at her and said: “Oh, Liz, don’t you know you should never wear horizontal stripes?”

My book and I have begun to feel a bit like Aunt Liz and her dress. When we’re together we’re happy. It’s when others become involved that things get murky. 
I told a lot of people about my project, which turned out to be a mistake. Because, as little as wannabe authors know about the world of book publishing, the general public knows even less. 
“When will your book be published?” people began to ask. 

If I replied that it was not a when but an if, I got quite a few pitying: “Gee, your book must not be very good. Have you seen how many are on the shelves at Barnes and Noble?” looks. 

I hired a former editor of mine as a proofreader last year. My hand was shaking as I turned my manuscript over because this guy -- nice as he is-- is tough. A couple weeks later he called me: “I’ve got your book done,” he said. That was all.

“He hated it,” I told my husband, Jim, as I headed off to meet the editor.

But, he didn’t hate it. He liked it. He thought, in fact, he might be interested in proofing work for other potential authors. “Except, I’m worried I might not like their stuff as much as I liked yours,” he said.

I pretty much floated out of the brew-pub where we met. 

That’s the last time I was excited about the possibility of my book being published. 

I have not -- as I told everyone I would -- approached “every agent on the face of the earth” with my memoir. 

I approached four agents. Two of them didn’t respond. The two who got back to me were amazingly kind. These are agents for big time, bestselling authors. Without a doubt, you have heard of the authors they represent.

They were sweet and encouraging and hoped I wouldn’t quit looking for representation. What they were really saying is . . . “there isn’t a chance in hell this particular book is going to get published -- at least, right now.” Memoir is overdone. I have no platform (i.e. I’m not famous). The economy sucks. That’s what they were really saying and I believe them. 
So I have two choices. I can keep trying, and perhaps ultimately lose faith in my own ability and the book that I am so happy I wrote. Or I can bide my time. Perhaps someday memoir will be a sought-after genre again. Perhaps I’ll create more of a platform through my blog.
The beauty part is, my story will always be my story. It will undoubtedly just get richer as I age. 

So I’ve decided I’m going to go against Churchill’s advice. I’m going to be calm, listen to the only voice in this that ultimately matters and, just for now, “give up” -- which to me simply means liberating myself for awhile to pursue another dream I have. One I will share when it actually does happen. 

Our family has experienced a lot of loss and sadness the last few years and I certainly have been thinking of my own mortality and the things that are of real importance to me. If something were to happen to me tomorrow, I hope you will say this:
“She was a good mother, a wife who always adored her husband and a devoted daughter. She loved to dance and throw parties. She wrote a lot of interesting stories about other people’s lives and, oh yeah, one time she wrote a pretty darn good one about her own.”

That’s more than enough. And it's plenty for me. 

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