What you fear is what you get.

My husband had a poignant encounter with a fearsome beast, and a little girl wise beyond her years.  A few years ago Frank had a surveying job at a farm outside the city where we live. He finished, and was walking from the fenced-in pasture toward the farmhouse to let the owner know he was leaving, when he heard thumping behind him .

He looked back to see a very large cow approaching him. Alarmed, he started to walk faster. So did the cow. Then he started to jog, and the cow did too. It was catching up. Pretty soon Frank was running as fast as he could, his breath coming in spurts, his heart thumping.

The cow was nearly touching him when Frank finally reached the chain-link fence and scrambled up. He looked down to see the cow looking up at him. It mooed. Frank hoisted his legs and then the rest of him over the top of the fence, climbed down on the farmhouse side, and stood there catching his breath.

Pretty soon a small freckle-faced girl with a cowlick came marching up to him indignantly from the farmhouse. She had seen the whole thing. She stopped in front of Frank and looked up at him, her jaw set, her blue eyes boring into his soul.

“Rose just wanted to be petted, Mister,” she said fiercely.

Isn’t this what goes on between human beings so many times? So often a person just wants to be friends or get to know someone, or even just have a friendly conversation, and we misinterpret things, or we’re misinterpreted. We’re afraid to approach, to get close. We run fences like Linda Ronstadt’s Desperado, we scramble away like Frank from sweet affectionate Rose, we climb out of reach. We miss opportunities to connect. Rose just wanted to say Namaste, the divine in me greets the divine in you, bovine style. She wanted to be acknowledged in her tactile, animal way. It all went right over Frank’s head, but the little freckle-faced girl understood. If we were all more like children and cows, the world would be a better place. And that’s the truth, Mister.

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Deepak Chopra, where were you?

Meditation wasn’t invented 30 years ago, when I was a single working parent. I know that’s not true, of course. It was invented, but instruction and information about it wasn’t nearly as available as it is today. Now it’s taught at gyms and studios and community centers, on YouTube, on TV, in countless books, everywhere.

Things might have gone much more smoothly if I had had the tool of meditation when Michele was a kid. Especially in junior high and high school. There would have been less anger and frustration, more calm communication, far fewer tantrums. My tantrums, I’m talking about. I was the one who had tantrums and got frustrated and bounced off the walls. Michele was pretty calm.

Here I am before I started meditating. (The Scream, Munch)

Well, I can’t do the past over but I can start from now. These days I meditate every morning for 30 minutes, and for an hour at my church on Wednesdays. I’ve been at it for a while, and I haven’t had a single tantrum for a long time. I’m a calmer, more patient and understanding person because of people like Deepak Chopra…Amma…Sri Sri…Nancy Guarnera, meditation guru at my church…. Thank you all.

Where were you guys 30 years ago?

The real question is, where was I? Too busy being a frazzled single working parent, I guess. Now I’m a more serene senior. Better late than never.

I survived single working parenthood!

Trust me, if I survived it, anyone can. If you’re a working parent, or a single parent, or both rolled into one, I have some great tips for you. The challenges I faced 30 years ago weren’t so different from what they are today. 

Compared to single working parents, skydivers are wusses.

There was the familiar eternal struggle on workday mornings, trying to get Michele to her elementary school and myself to work on time.  My boss was totally unreasonable and inflexible. She demanded consistent punctuality, imagine. And I had to come through because I needed that job so I could buy food and pay rent and get medical insurance. And pay for Happy Meals at McDonald’s, and for Saturday nights at the local pizza place where they had Pac-Man, and for My Little Pony videos. I couldn’t afford a DVD player, but my employer lent me an extra one from the conference room.  That was the real reason why I needed the job.  

Weekday mornings were brutal as we struggled over what to eat, what to wear, finding the homework….  I put my problem-solving skills to work, starting with getting Michele dressed. I decided she would choose the outfit she wanted to wear the night before, and made it clear that there was NO MIND CHANGING in the morning. Her decision was final.

I had her figure out what she wanted for breakfast the night before too, and we saved time with a little advance set up. If she wanted cereal she poured it into the bowl in the evening and covered it with plastic wrap, and put a piece of whatever fruit she wanted next to the milk so no time was wasted hunting for it in the morning. She poured her apple or orange or whatever juice she wanted into a plastic glass that had a lid. Every minute counted!

One evening I had a flash of brilliance. Why not have her EAT breakfast the night before? That would really save some time. The only hitch was making sure she ate breakfast AFTER dinner. And she could get dressed the night before, too. Alas, I couldn’t figure out a way for her to sleep and not get wrinkled. As innovative as these brainstorms seemed, they were nonstarters. Something that did work was a firm rule, and I mean FIRM, that if she waffled in the morning about wearing what she had picked out the night before, there would be no McDonald’s Happy Meal on Saturday. It worked like a charm. The thought of not having the Papa Bear figure from the latest Berenstein Bears set, or missing Gobo in the Fraggle Rock collection, was a powerful motivator. 

I’ve got more helpful hints about single working parenthood and I guarantee they’re as effective as they were back in the olden days of the eighties. Stay tuned. 

Message from Beyond

One summer I signed up for six weeks of guided meditation. During the third-week session, I went deeper and deeper into the plumbless depths of my subconscious and became a bird. It was quite a shock. To top it off, I received instructions for living from another bird.

The bird made its instructions perfectly clear.

This all took place while I listened to music with delta waves, which are thought to bring on the deepest levels of sleep, relaxation and peace of mind during meditation. As I went deeper into my meditative state under the influence of the guide’s words and the delta waves, I found my befeathered self sitting in a tree that borders a fence in our backyard. Across from me, staring at me relentlessly, eyes boring into me, was a confident young bird also perched in a tree.

I was riveted by the power of our eye contact and telepathic connection across the yard from each other. The young bird then spoke to me. It was a profound, mystical, spiritual message: 

 “Back off, Mom.”

It was clear the young bird was my then 20-year-old daughter, Michele. She and I had relationship problems, largely because in my chronic anxiety I was always fearing for her safety. At the time, I was unconscious of it. But after this experience, I realized I did her no favors with my overprotectiveness and anxious hovering.

What her eloquent message relayed was that, emotionally and spiritually, she had her own tree separate from mine, and that I was to stay in my tree, and visit hers only when invited.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that.


“Love is patient and kind….It does not insist on its own way….”-1 Corinthians 13.4-7

Good always prevails.

The suspect

Hope was missing. My daughter had found her under a bush, a baseball-size mound of downy fur peeping like a baby bird. An abandoned kitten. Michele brought her home and we all fell in love. I took her to the vet where I dropped a pretty penny for medicine, and bought kitten feeding supplies. Over the next few weeks we took turns nursing her to health. Even my husband, Frank, pitched in.

Hope thrived. Then when she was a year old she left our yard one morning as usual and never came home. We walked the neighborhood day and night calling and calling her, knocked on doors to hand out flyers, called shelters, did everything else we could think of to find her. 

A week went by. We were losing hope, and beyond sad. Then the phone rang. “I think your cat is under our house,” a woman’s voice said. She lived around the corner. She had seen her dog, Summer, pacing excitedly in front of a vent in the backyard that opened to the crawl space under the house. It had no screen. Summer’s owner, Jean, peered down and saw a little cat shape.

We rushed over, and Jean led us to the floor-opening in her closet that led to the under-house space. She lifted the lid and two bright eyes shined up at us like searchlights. It was Hope, tail wagging and vibrating crazily, her entire body wiggling. Frank lifted her out and put her in her carrier, and we took her home for a joyous reunion. She was healthy. There must have been mice, and moisture from several heavy rains, in her underground world.

Next day I brought a gift basket to Jean, including some very expensive gourmet dog treats for our hero, Summer. I did that even though I was certain Summer was also the beast who scared Hope under the house in the first place. No other animals hung out in Jean’s backyard, at least no animals that would be likely to chase a cat. I knew, in my heart, that Summer was both persecutor and savior.

Summer knew I knew. I gave her a treat and while she was gulping it down like there was no tomorrow, she sneaked a couple of sheepish looks at me. Doggish looks, I should say. She was lucky that I believe every being who sins, and then repents, is deserving of forgiveness—and a made-from-scratch gourmet Pup Tart.  

If anyone sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them. Luke 17:3-4

A beauty goes missing.

“It was just here! Where the heck did it go?! Oh, there it is….”

Was I in a Stephen King novel, I wondered?  I was walking by the plants along our backyard fence when a single leaf moved. Only one. Spooky. The day was perfectly still, no wind.

I tiptoed up for a closer look. The moving “leaf” was slightly lighter than the dark green leaves that surrounded it. It was a praying mantis. I was certain, even though I know zip about entomology and I had never seen one. But I recognized the elegant and poignant beauty I’d seen in pictures—the elongated body, the small head (like E.T.’s) on the long skinny neck, the tall antennae, and most of all the spiky, folding forelimbs. It was a 2-inch-long work of art.

The exotic creature was moving very slowly. Eventually I went inside and when I went back a little later I looked everywhere but it was nowhere. Of course it was somewhere, I just couldn’t see it.

It looked so fragile, but the mantis is equipped with ingenious survival skills, mainly the mighty defense of camouflage, and strong front legs lined with spikes for gripping prey. And an inner guidance system for locating nutrients that brought it to our insect-rich yard. My husband grew up in Hawaii, where insects are accepted, and uses pesticides very sparingly. Our yard was no doubt a tasty smorgasbord for our visitor.

I didn’t see it for a few weeks, then one day a small piece of greenery moved on a fern in the shade. If it hadn’t moved I would have never noticed it, it blended in so perfectly. All summer I would see its loveliness now and then, unexpectedly, when a leaf twitched or greenery moved.

A little while after summer ended, so did my glimpses of the mantis. I’ve learned that a year is its average life span.

It was a mystical, magical summer of playing Where’s Waldo? It was always a thrill to see the mantis in the rose bushes, among the ferns, nestled in the geranium leaves.  I miss my strange, beautiful, exotic Waldo.

Layoff with a positive spin

They told me I was a great asset and it was nothing to do with me or my work, and then they laid me off. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. It’s real hard to view something as impersonal when it concerns yourself.  

I was also scared. It was the 1990s and jobs weren’t growing on trees. I was getting older—mid-forties—and I felt undesirable in the workplace compared to younger people. On top of that, writing and graphic design were becoming computerized fast, and I wasn’t. Training to get up to date was expensive, not to mention the cost of a computer.

I had trouble getting up the motivation and gumption to look for work. I hid at home. I was depressed.

So I was drawing unemployment and floundering…and then I casually picked up a brochure one day in the unemployment office about the State of California’s retraining program. I perked up as I read. Miraculously I qualified because I was, as I found out, what they called a displaced worker. I had done writing and graphic design for years but all manually, and I was displaced by growing computer publications technology. It was racing along and leaving me in the dust.

I completed the course at a state-approved school that had great instructors, and leading-edge computers for students to use. I got $5,000 worth of training free. I could go in outside of class hours and use any computer that was free and practice with exercise books I bought.  

After graduating I started over in my career, at the bottom because I was new, not at graphic design but at computer graphic design. Soon I found a better job and then a better one yet. And pretty soon I was doing well, working in biotechnology communications with a good salary, to-die-for benefits, stock options, and great work environment. 

What did I learn? That what seems like an end can be a new beginning.