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Buddha and the dictionary

27 Nov

IMG_1136For the past two years, I’ve written a Thanksgiving post. Both of them have been on the cranky side.

One explored the idea that if our own life situation was better than someone else’s—say we have a job we don’t like, but someone we know doesn’t have a job—we had no right to complain about our shitty job. In fact, instead of complaining, we should thank our lucky stars, or chosen deity, and be grateful we have a job. I wrote then and still believe that the rush to gratitude leaves too much else unexplored and unmourned. Glossing over the crap in our lives doesn’t make it stink less. If we are to truly feel gratitude, we need to honor what keeps us from being grateful and let it go.

Last year’s gratitude post focused on the idea that the proper response to “Thank you” is “Thank you.” The proper response, I wrote, is “You’re welcome.” Welcoming others to what we’ve offered is a far more generous gesture to my mind. One of my greatest pleasures at the holidays is welcoming as many people as possible to share in our celebrations. Adding to the guest list, even an hour before dinner, increases my pleasure far more than my workload.

Those posts were written spontaneously. This year, I started pondering what I’d write early in the month. I wasn’t sure I had much more to say about gratitude.Whenever I’ve written about gratitude, though, I’ve felt I missed something essential, the nub of my inability to cuddle into the comfort of unbridled gratitude.

When I was a child, we would bow our heads and clasp our hands in prayer before dinner while my father recited:

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts,

which we are about to receive, from thy bounty,

through Christ, Our Lord. Amen

I always had a problem with the prayer, other than confusion over whom we were praying to given that there were two “Lords” in there and it didn’t really feel like they were the same person.

My biggest problem was that what we were about to receive didn’t seem to just be a gift from God’s bounty. My father had worked pretty hard to earn the money to pay for the bounty and my mother, who hated to cook, had worked to turn the bounty into dinner. Frankly, my mom had earned at least part of the money, as well. Where did they fit in the pre-dinner picture?

Though the sentiment wasn’t overt, the Prayer Before Meals was clearly presented as an expression of gratitude. To my mind, while God had had a hand in creating the world, food, etc., I didn’t really see the need to thank him for something he did a long time ago and not really for my personal benefit anyway. Turns out, I was a Buddhist before I became a Buddhist.

Naturally, I researched gratitude before writing this post. I’d turned to Buddha to help my dad and me through his passing, so turning to Buddha in this dilemma was a no-brainer.

Buddha had a lot to say about gratitude. I found some of it in a teaching by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (aka Geoffrey DeGraff, abbot of San Diego County’s Metta Forest Monastery). Than Geoff (as he’s affectionately known—I feel affection toward him for pointing out the nub of my gratitude problem) wrote:

the Buddha always discusses gratitude as a response to kindness, and doesn’t equate it with appreciation in general. It’s a special kind of appreciation, inspiring a more demanding response. 

Gratitude is due to people, particularly people who have done us a kindness that benefitted us, have done it from motives we trust, and have gone out of their way to do it. What is due to the feeling of sun warm on our skin, the smell of a freshly brewed pot of coffee, the lighting of a butterfly on our shoulder is appreciation.

I realize appreciation is a pallid word compared to gratitude and that the two are nearly synonymous, but there is a distinction that resonates for me.

Appreciation is defined as a recognition of the value of what we appreciate. When I run in the songbird sanctuary near my home, I am frequently overwhelmed by its beauty. I feel a peacefulness I don’t experience anywhere else. I so value the beauty and peacefulness that I leave it as I found it, hoping others appreciate it as I do.

If I followed another spiritual path, I might give thanks to God for the beauty of the sanctuary; I mean no disrespect to those who would. But I have always felt hollow thanking things for their existence, though I have never taken their existence for granted.

The songbird sanctuary was not created for me. It has no motives in existing. It did not go out of its way for my benefit. While I love its presence, I do not owe it thanks.

This Thanksgiving, I will give thanks but it will be to people rather than for things. I owe thanks to my sister for carrying the greatest share of caring for our father and her understanding of my need to care for my family. I owe thanks to my husband for his generosity and constancy. I owe thanks to my father for planning for his own and my futures. I owe thanks to my brother for continually helping to repair my home.  And I will run in the prairie, thankful that I take care of my body so that I can continue to appreciate it.

IMG_0086, springbrook prairie, snide reply blog

Happy Thanksgiving

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7000 words

19 Jun

A little more than a month ago, I couldn’t think of anything big to write about, so I wrote about details. In 6000 words, I showed you pictures of little things in my garden that gave me joy that day. Today, I’m back in the garden to catch up on the cherry and apple trees, the red oak, the columbines, the imaginary campfire and the resurrected peony. I’ve also added a picture of a new little thing that gives me great joy.

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The world in a grain of sand? How about your soul in an atom of hydrogen?

14 Sep

My son has a new girlfriend.

The young lady is lovely, though my son initially described her as a Smurf. She’s tiny, except in certain places where tiny is less than desirable, and she has blue hair. Well, not completely blue, but the Farrah Faucet-y bits around her face are definitely blue.

But before he described his lady love’s appearance, our son told us, “She’s an atheist.” I didn’t realize how important his religious stance was to him, though, until he started preparing us to meet Girl Friend for the first time. He repeated the “she’s an atheist” bit and then said, “I told her you guys are atheists, too, and she thinks that awesome.”

“You told her what?” I asked.

“That you guys are atheists.”

“But we’re not,” I said.

“Dad’s an atheist and you’re a Buddhist. That’s the same as being an atheist. You told me yourself, ‘Buddha’s not a god’.”

Now, I can tell the kid to start the oven for the pizza, or move the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, or bring our entire collection of drinking glasses down from his room and he forgets within minutes. I have no idea how he hung onto “Buddha isn’t a god” but I was definitely wishing he hadn’t. Some days you want to help your kids with the big ideas and some days you don’t.

I took a deep breath.

“Ok, you’re right. Buddha isn’t a god, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an atheist.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“You mean white guy on a cloud god? No.”

“Then you’re an atheist.”

I sighed.

“Yes,” I said, “I suppose you’re right.” He smiled the smile of those who believe they’ve won the argument and the subject is closed, so he didn’t really hear, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a spiritual life, that I don’t have a soul.”

But the subject isn’t closed. Not by a long shot. Since that conversation, I’ve mulled the idea of soul and spirituality on a daily basis. I now have a headache.

I’ve thought about soul on my runs, which has led me—consistently—to finish them singing, “R, E, S, P, E, C, T!” Not a bad way to end a run, but not the resolution I’d hoped for.

So, I asked other bloggers what they thought about soul. The G’nat at G’nat’s Eye View is an existentialist. His response made me realize that there are some seriously deep people in my virtual world. G’nat said:

I don’t think there is a difference between the soul and the self. Purpose? Purpose is our creation. Life is a blank canvas, and the self (or soul) holds both the paint and the brushes. The self (soul) not only has the freedom, but also has the responsibility to paint its own purpose.

I took philosophy in college. I really liked it, back when I had a lot of time and a young brain. I’m not saying I’ve gotten slow, but I had to read G’nat’s very thoughtful response a few times before I really understood his view. I think there’s a reason I read mainly trashy fantasy novels these days.

But the G’nat doesn’t get at the spiritual component of soul that nags at me. I’m not the only mom prodded to address religious issues because of her kids. Dinnerversions, who happens to publish a pretty wonderful food blog, said:

My own feeling is that our ‘soul’ is the energy within us. Neurons firing, chemical messengers moving across a gradient, the electrical potential between the cells of a heartbeat, the positive or negative charge of an amino acid….All of that is energy and when we die, that energy leaves us. That’s about as deep as I get.

I think that’s pretty deep. And she seems to be on to something. Hello Sailor has a similar view:

I believe everything has a soul and a soul is a type of energy, or a life force. Logically my brain wants it to know that it is just neurons and chemical messages, but in my heart there is something mystical about it, because where did that energy come from in the first place and where does it go when we are finished?

Maybe the energy gets recycled? Nevercontrary believes in reincarnation. I’ve tried; I’m not sure I don’t. It certainly explains having an immediate and intense reaction to someone, as I’ve had on meeting several people in my life. Mad Queen Linda at The Magic Bus Stop, equates the soul with consciousness and I like that, seeing as how it leaves room for lower and higher levels of consciousness. My cat, for instance, is on the same level as, say, Adolf Hitler and is likely just as irredeemable.

A few bloggers thought I was over thinking, which is really nothing new. Racing thoughts of all sorts kind of go with the bipolar territory. (Am I doubly bipolar if my thoughts are racing while I run? Does that make me quadripolar? Are my thoughts racing right now?)

Courtney Hosny of oneweektocrazy considered her immortal soul and decided whatever is at the end is at the end and figured the point of soul-searching was moot. Societyred once had a discussion about whether or not a rock has a soul. My kind of guy! He gave me a lightbulb moment with his retort to someone asking if he cared where we spend eternity: “I told him I had too much to think about in the here and now. Isn’t this time part of eternity?”

This time is, indeed, part of eternity. Certainly, some things feel like they take an eternity, like pre-school Christmas holiday pageants.

In the end, I believe that there is something beyond our physical bodies that makes us wonder about things like, is there something beyond our physical bodies. Areyoufinishedyet offered an explanation for the “something beyond” that she promised would blow my mind. It did.

Our bodies are made up of about 50% hydrogen atoms. When the universe was born, ALL of the hydrogen and helium atoms were formed. And since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that means the hydrogen half of you is 13.7 billion years old. I think that definitely speaks to the idea of soul, and the continuity of the soul. Maybe the soul is the collective experience of those hydrogen atoms. We are imprinting our own story on the atoms inside our body as we live and breathe, and that story will be taken with those atoms once our bodies are gone, transformed into something else.

I would like to thank everyone who so thoughtfully responded to my call for input on the idea of “soul.” They all certainly have it.

Bad Buddhist! No Nirvana for you!

17 May

I am just an angry middle-aged mom. Or is it I’m a bitter old woman. Either one has more than a grain of truth to it, but I didn’t come up with these descriptions. No, these proclamations came from my son, an angry, young man or a bitter (older) teenager. Whichever way you want to look at it, there’s a grain of truth there, too.

My son didn’t say these things in anger; if he were angry, there would have been lots of vile, disgusting words followed by a good, solid grounding. I’d also take away his wireless mouse and keyboard. Technology makes it so easy to remove technology privileges from a young man’s cave now. My son said these things quite calmly, in the middle of the snack aisle at Target, after telling me I am no kind of Buddhist.

Lest you think my son is prone to blurting unflattering statements about me in the aisles at Target . . .wait . . .he is. Ok, he blurts. This time, I probably deserved a good blurting. My daughter had just walked up to me with four packages of candy that she proposed to buy. These were not the cute little one-person servings of candy that I bought with a quarter when I was nine. These were the big honking Halloween bags of candy. I said the first thing that popped into my head: “You’re high if you think I’m going to let you buy that much candy.”

Apparently a good Buddhist wouldn’t say, “You’re high” to her nine-year old anywhere, any time, let alone in Target within earshot of all the other discriminating shoppers. I’m thinking it might be ok at Walmart, but I don’t shop there, so I can’t be sure.

My son is constantly telling me I’m the world’s worst Buddhist and I will give him that, frequently, I am a bad Buddhist. The worst? Nah, but bad a fair amount of time. When I’m feeling particularly charitable, I can convince myself that in recognizing I am a bad Buddhist, I am being a good Buddhist. But then I realize that I am congratulating myself for being a good Buddhist, which certainly makes me a bad Buddhist. Then I realize that I am self-flagellating and I might as well go back to being a Catholic.

I am an especially bad Buddhist behind the wheel. It’s not that my driving is aggressive, but that I don’t have a particularly peaceful attitude toward other drivers. If I don’t like the way you’re driving, I’ll tell you while also calling you a nasty name. Holding up traffic so you can turn left in the “no left turn” lane? I’ll be saying something like, “Oh! I get it! The rules don’t apply to you, asshole!” Of course, you won’t hear me but my son will and he’ll say, “You’re a terrible Buddhist.”

If my son were a Buddhist I could have nailed him with his badness the other day. He just got his driver’s permit so he’s been driving us around on our afternoon errands. Recently, a driver pulled into his lane unannounced. His response? “Nice turn signal, asshole.” I didn’t know if I should be proud or appalled.

I was a better Buddhist before I had kids. I had time to meditate. I was actually pretty good at it. I could drop into a meditative state just about anywhere, even on the bus to work. I read Buddhist teachings. I went to a Buddhist conference.

When children entered my life, meditation time became scarce. My practice moved from meditation to mindfulness. It’s so much easier to parent when you let go of trying to have your own way. Of course, being in the moment can mean sitting on the floor in the aisle of a certain not-Walmart retailer with a two-year old’s face cradled in your hands calmly explaining why screaming “I hate you” is not a constructive way to get one’s needs met.

Lots of mediation instructors tell beginning meditators to focus on the breath. Count one. Breathe in. Count two. Breathe out. Some have you count one for the whole breath cycle, but you get the idea. The trick is to not let your mind wander as you count to ten. Any mental misstep gets you back to one. So, when I started meditating it would go something like this: count one; breathe in; think about cute shoes I saw at Field’s. Back to one. Count one; breathe in; think about what to have for dinner. Count one; wonder if I’ll ever get to ten. Count one. Realize I forgot to breathe on the last one. Breathe. Count one. Count one again to get back in the “count one, breathe” sequence.

Lately, being a Buddhist has been more about staving off panic than finding any sort of peace. My son is failing history but no need to panic; the semester isn’t over today. My father is dying but he’s not dead today.  Money is an ongoing concern, but we’re not broke today. Ok, maybe we’re broke today but we’re not broke broke. It’s a constant struggle to not add the “yet” and slide into that place in my head where everything is crap and we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

I’ve been trying to focus on my breath again, but more often than not, it comes out in a sigh. I don’t even try to do the counting thing. If being a Buddhist means anything to me, it means cutting myself enough slack to allow one breath to be enough. It’s what a bad Buddhist—and Buddha—would do.

Death Becomes Dad

19 Apr

It’s the middle of the night. My dad is up from his bed, again. He does this every night, getting out of the bed for any of a number of reasons. Sometimes he just needs to pee. Sometimes something about his bed is bothering him.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I’ll ask. “Nothing,” he says. “I just have to get away from that bad environment.” I have no idea what it is about his bed that makes it a bad environment. It adjusts to make him as comfortable as possible. He can sleep with his head elevated. He can sleep with his feet elevated. He can sleep with his head and feel elevated so much that he’s almost in a fetal position.

Tonight, though, is different. Tonight, he’s not getting away from something. Tonight, he’s getting ready to go somewhere. He walks into the bathroom and washes his face then carefully combs his hair, the things he does every morning. But it’s 2 a.m., about four hours before he usually does these things. So, I ask, “What’s going on, Dad?”

“I’m getting ready,” he says.

“What are you getting ready for, Dad?”

“A meeting. I’ve got a big meeting with an architect.”

“Where are you meeting an architect, Dad?”

“Downtown,” he says, clearly agitated. Of course, the meeting is downtown. He went downtown to his office everyday for years. I should know this, he seems to be saying as he glowers at me. In his world, I’m the delusional one.

“There’s a meeting tomorrow, Dad. But it’s with your doctor. It’s Sunday, Dad.”

“Okay,” he says in a tone that indicates what I’ve said is clearly not ok. He throws his hands up in frustration.

Fast-forward two months. Dad’s in a nursing home now. His cancer is in remission. The medical kick in the teeth, though, is that he’s dying. Somehow, the chemo, the radiation, the nights my sibs and I spent tending him weren’t enough. He has dementia, pneumonia, urinary retention, leaking heart valves. He might as well have the cancer back.

I know my dad is dying because someone told me. I couldn’t figure this out on my own. That makes me feel stupid. Dying is huge; how can I have missed this? But I am a rational human. When the palliative care professionals tell us that Dad is not likely to get better than he is right now, I believe them.  At least, I believe them enough to tell them I believe them. Then I go home and do what I always do: I google “dying.”

Of course, the Kubler Ross stuff came up, but that’s not what I needed to know. Anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. I know where the anger is going: straight to my husband who gets to deal with me railing against whatever I am railing against at the moment. It’s never that my dad is dying. People die. Getting mad about Dad dying seems ridiculous; getting mad because my son did something bone-headed and my husband let him get away with it makes perfect sense.

I’m down with the denial, too. Dad’s not dying; he’s got pneumonia and he’ll get better. He’s got dementia but at least he thinks I’m my cousin, who has a vague resemblance to me even with that New Jersey accent. His cancer is in remission. It’s a beautiful day. Nobody dies on beautiful spring days, never mind that Mom died on a beautiful summer day.

Bargaining? Does promising myself to call more often count? Does taking the kids out of school to visit Grandpa count?

Acceptance? Getting there . . . and part of getting there is getting to know what it is I’m accepting. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I would mysteriously become paralyzingly depressed. Then, just as mysteriously, I would feel better. A lot better. Then, out of the blue, I’d be blue. A diagnosis isn’t a cure, but at least I know what I’m dealing with now. I’m not making it up when I can’t get out of bed. I’m not a stress monkey when I can’t get to sleep. The cycles make sense and the medication makes it easier.

Getting to know death—at least what constitutes dying—has me ticking off the items on the Diagnosis: Death checklist.  Eating less. Check. Sleeping more. Check. Seeing friends and family who aren’t there. Check. Pneumonia. Check. Getting ready to go somewhere important. Check.

I’ve read that many dying people believe there is something very important they must do. Not like, “Oh, I have to apologize to the neighbor for calling him a son of a bitch for years.” Not that kind of thing. Here is how Ulla Mentzel, of A Good Dying, describes it:

A man who loves to sail might ask us to get the map. The all important map. Don’t you know? It’s in the drawer over there.

A soccer player might draw a playing field with an arrow pointing outside the field. Getting ready to leave the playing field.

A farmer might tell you that she has to take the cows into a different field. The one over the hill. It is very important to take them. Soon.

I’ve said more than once that I’d rather be shot in the head than live the way my father is now. “If I can’t walk, can’t remember who you are, drool, wet my pants, poop in my pants, forget to put on my pants,” I said, “put me out of my misery.”

I realize I am a coward and I should have known it. I call myself a Buddhist but I don’t meditate regularly and I am frequently not in the moment. Still, I know that dying is part of living. I place flowers on an altar every week or so. They bloom, they fragrance the house. I leave them in the vase. Their petals droop, then fall until there is nothing on the stem but a flower head. I leave them on the altar. Finally, when they are dry, I take them out of the vase. The cleaning lady admires them when they are fresh, then advocates their removal when they die. But I know, now, that they were dying all along.

Gratitude, Schmatitude

21 Nov

Some years ago, I asked my children what they wanted for Christmas. Actually, I ask them what they want for Christmas every year, but I’m talking about a specific year. Money was tight, tighter than it had been in years just prior. The children asked for myriad things that we couldn’t afford. I used their lists for inspiration but bought things I could afford. So, instead of the My Little Pony Magical Castle with running water and a hot tub, I got my daughter a smaller MLP play set and some MLP bubble bath.

Christmas morning came and the children woke early, begging to go downstairs. I went with them, anticipating their whoops of joy and excitement. When she got to the tree and saw her gifts arrayed under it, my daughter said, “I didn’t ask for these things. These must be someone else’s toys.” Then she started crying, wondering where Santa had left the things she ordered.

My children have since been instructed in the ways of Santa. Even when they still believed that their stuff came down the chimney, they knew that Mom and Dad had to pay Santa for the toys. “Why?” they wanted to know. “Because the world is over-populated,” I told them, “and Santa couldn’t possibly make all the toys for all the children in the world.” I think I fed them a line about the elves only making wooden toys; “Santa has to buy all the branded stuff,” I explained.

My son has graduated from wanting really expensive game systems to wanting really expensive musical instruments. We’ve taken to giving him money or gift cards that he can combine with gift cards from family to purchase what he desires. Giving cash and gift cards is so boring, though.

One Christmas, my mother gave my siblings and me really nice fleece sweaters from Land’s End. Each sweater had a surprise in the pocket…a crisp large denomination bill. I decided to use my mom’s idea for my son. I found a cozy shearling-lined hoodie that I knew he’d like. I put a large denomination gift card in the pocket. I put it under the tree. He loved it. He looked for other presents. There were none. “That’s it?” he asked, “a hoodie?”

“It’s nice hoodie,” I said.

“It’s a hoodie,” he said. “I got a hoodie.”

“Put it on,” I said.

“Mom, it’s a hoodie. It’ll fit.”

“Just put it on. It was expensive. I want to see if it looks good on you.”

“Fine,” he said. I figured he’d put his hands in the pockets, the way everyone does when they try on a hoodie. He stood in front of me, arms limp at his sides, disappointment draining from his pores.

“There,” he said. “It’s on. It’s a hoodie.”

“Look in the freaking pockets,” I said.

He looked in the pockets, pulled out the gift card and looked sheepish. But did he say thank you? No.

I’m not freaking out about his apparent lack of gratitude, though. Frankly, I’m a little burnt out on gratitude. There are gratitude societies, gratitude experiments and any number of gratitude websites. Gratitude has replaced grace as the favored state.

All this emphasis on gratitude leaves me feeling like an ingrate. It’s not that I’m not grateful for the good things in my life. I’m just getting really tired of apologizing for expressing disappointment, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, resentment and the range of other emotions we’re told are negative and will eat our souls if we let them.

My sister is an artist and teacher. She’s tenured and has two advanced degrees in her field. Until this year, she had a job she loved teaching the art topics she loves to students who loved them. That’s all changed because of budgeting concerns in her district. She now splits her time between two campuses, traveling between them daily. Her student and class loads have been changed so that she’s teaching students who don’t want to be in school, let alone art.

She’s angry, frustrated and sad. She’s embarrassed to talk to me about it because I don’t have a teaching job. She’s in a crappy situation. Even though I’ve told her it’s more than ok to complain to me about it, I can tell she thinks she doesn’t have that right. At least she has a job, she reasons.

My mother died three years ago. Hers was a long, slowly-progressing illness that every year took more and more of her freedom. At the end, she was on just about every kind of support a life can need and it still wasn’t enough. We chose to end it. Her suffering ended and, for that, we are all grateful. But she’s still dead and it still sucks. And every day that I remember she’s dead, it sucks all over again.

I’ve been a runner long enough now to know it is in repairing the tiny tears running creates that my muscles grow. I am grateful that there is benefit in the training I’m doing. But, I’ve got to do the damage first. Ice and ibuprofen help ease the pain, but only time makes the permanent changes possible.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh instructs his followers to be where they are. If you are happy, be happy. If you are angry, be angry. If you are frustrated, be frustrated. If you are sad, be sad. Tell yourself, “This is me being sad.”

When my mother died, there were days I could hardly tell you who I was. There were days I expected to be swallowed whole by sadness. I told myself, “This is me afraid I will be swallowed by sadness.” When I missed her terribly? “This is me missing my mother.”

I will not rush to gratitude through the challenges in my life. I will sit with them; I will honor them. Then I can give myself completely to thanks.

Happy Anniversary To Me

26 Sep

“Dear husband,” I said, “it’s been a year.”

“No!” he answered. “Really?”

“Yes. A whole year at the end of this month,” I said.

“But what about that time our daughter had a sleep over and our son didn’t come out of his cave for hours?”

“Oh. My. God,” I said. “It hasn’t been a year for THAT! And don’t tell me it feels like it!”

“Well, then I’m at a loss,” he said.

Normally, I’m the one who forgets anniversaries, particularly my wedding anniversary. I got married on either the 16th or 17th of October. Never can remember which. So, whenever anyone asks me when I got married, I say, “Saturday. It was a Saturday.” My husband has the PhD in History. He remembers the date and rolls his eyes when I don’t.

It has been a year since I started writing and publishing Snide Reply. At the risk of sounding like a Holiday Letter, I thought I’d go through some of my old posts and update you on some of the more popular. For those who jumped on the Snide wagon later in its run, I’m including links to the original posts.

I started running just a couple of months before I started blogging. At that time, I could run about 3 miles. I am writing this having run 9 miles this afternoon. Of course, I can barely get out of my chair to hobble to the kitchen and refill my teacup.

I still don’t have an attractive website. I have a really cool domain name and I have a website. The two shall not meet in my lifetime. See, the website is totally lame. I built it myself when I had no idea where my life was going. That happens when you make plans and life does that mice and men thing with them.

I have a better idea where my life is going these days so maybe it’s time to re-tackle the website. To my endless stupefaction and glee, I am now a parent columnist. Me! The self-admitted queen of parental immaturity. Ok, so it’s only been a couple of weeks, but a girl has to start somewhere. Look at Jenny McCarthy! Her parenting qualifications are . . .what?  Oh, yeah, she posed naked and had a baby. Do you think T. Berry Brazelton ever posed naked?

The worst I’ve done is go commando thought the pharmacist who knows has moved on to Wal-Mart. Actually, I may be going commando again soon. And my husband had to skip the briefs at least once. Laundry used to be his responsibility and lawn mowing was mine. We tried to get our son to do the lawn-mowing thing because he hated doing the litter box thing. He wanted nothing to do with the lawn because it was, as he said, “outside.”

“Look,” I said. “you either mow the lawn or you do the laundry.” Ha! I thought, now I have him.

“Cool!” he said. “I love laundry! Laundry smells awesome!”

So, now my husband mows the lawn and my son does the laundry. We have realized, though, that having a teenage boy with ADHD responsible for keeping us in clean undies was probably not our best parenting move. Many is the time a load made it into the washer and stayed there . . .and stayed there . . .and stayed there. Our son has learned that laundry only smells awesome if it makes it from the washer to the dryer in fewer than 24 hours.

The portal to hell is still outside our front door. The dog is still insane. The cat is on a diet. So far, so good. He hasn’t broken anything out of spite. He may have taken a nibble or two out of the fish, though, which is looking rather ragged of late. The end is likely near, as evidenced by his tendency to swim sideways. I predict he’ll go to the great toilet bowl in the sky before the end of the year.

I’m still a pretty bad Buddhist, according to my kids. My son pointed out to me just a few days ago that a good Buddhist probably wouldn’t call the driver who cut her off a “freaking idiot.” I’m better about the cyclists who fly past me on the prairie trail. I no longer mumble obscenities at them. I am saving my obscenities for the people who are treating the prairie as their personal cutting garden these days. My daughter suggested I try out a nearby trail that runs through an equestrian center. I’m pretty sure even Buddha couldn’t keep his cool running behind horses, but then again, it would definitely keep me mindful and aware.

As my episodes on the prairie illustrate, I still have anger issues. I still hate liver, read crap and get jealous, too. But, I haven’t taken a serious trip to Funky Town in a while. My son is ok with “Spithead” and no one has puked around here lately. My kids are still pikers when it comes to sibling rivalry.

I am overjoyed to report that the shed never went up. The cosmos aligned in a gigantic “I told you so,” when my neighbor hired someone to survey the property line. I left the hot pink flagging tape which proved the line did, indeed, fall exactly where I said it did as long as possible. We found, in fact, that we have a lot more property than we thought we did. My neighbor and I have entered a sort of cold war, though. He no longer speaks to me and his children run like rabbits whenever I come out of the house. I’m thinking it just needs a little more time and a lot more of me being the nicest, most cheerful person I know how to be. Stop laughing; I can be very cheerful.

I’ve made lots of people laugh in the past year. I think I’ve made some cry. I know I’ve hurt feelings, unintentionally of course. Still, I’m more careful about what I write and how I phrase things. There are certain things I’ll never write, at least not here and not as non-fiction. But I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for a truly wonderful year.

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