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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10 reasons why we have children

  1. Years ago we were eating dinner and I glanced at my 10-year-old daughter’s plate. “Eat your vegetables, Michele,” I said, and she replied “Corn is a grain, Mom.” When we have children we get to be humbled and corrected by pint-sized authorities.
  2. We get to have primitive hand-drawn artwork to affix to our refrigerators with magnets.
  3. We acquire a collection of crude, primary-color ceramics to hold our keys and loose change.
  4. We support the magnet industry. (see #2 above)
  5. We learn what Hell is like, in time to change our ways so we don’t have to experience eternity at Chuck E. Cheese.
  6. We get to experience premature graying and recurring nightmares teaching a 16-year-old to drive.
  7. We learn humility. When Michele was in high school I told her, “If you do your homework and get a good education you’ll get a great job that pays good money.” To this priceless wisdom, she replied “Oh duh, Mom.” Mothers everywhere were hearing “Oh duh, Mom.”
  8. We learn that we are not as smart as we think we are. That in fact we’re not smart at all. After we struggle and click everywhere for hours when our computer misbehaves, our kid comes in, turns it off, unplugs the modem for a minute, plugs it back in and it works like a charm.
  9. We get to go to movies we secretly long to see when we go with our children. I loved the Goonies, swear words and all. My daughter is 35, and doesn’t have kids. I wish she did, I really want to see Captain Underpants.
  10. We learn how to qualify for the Indy 500 when we speed like Mario Andretti, scanning 360 degrees for cops as we race to pick up our kids at the daycare before it closes. At six they start charging $10 a minute. I exaggerate but only slightly.
  11. Yes, I know I said 10 reasons but I had forgotten the most important one. We learn that life is not fair. You’re diligent for a long, long time and then you forget about your birth control one time. Just ONE. That’s all it takes, and your life is changed forever. And when the fruit of your lapse is born, you fall more hopelessly and completely in love than you ever dreamed it was possible, for the rest of your life, which by the way is no longer yours.

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.

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

The Sensuous Art of Plum Picking

Plums from our backyard tree are incredibly sweet and juicy. I take them to church and put them in the kitchen, where we munch. If you stand outside the room you’d think they’re having an orgy in there. “Oooooh…ummmm…OMG this is sweet…ahhhhhh…just one more… ”

I wait for the Magic Moment.

It sounds like they’re making love, but they’re just in the kitchen eating plums I hand picked. Actually, “pick” is too crude a word. I don’t just pick them, I caress them. I fondle them. I squeeze each one very gently and if there is a softness, I tug it ever so slightly, tenderly, away from the branch. If it doesn’t come off with this gentle grope, I leave it on the tree. It is not ripe.

My husband is annoyed by all this. Frank is a no-nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy. He goes out with his bag and just indiscriminately grabs every plum he sees hanging. He pulls them forcibly, with lightning speed. “You’re coming with me!” I can almost hear him say. He’s done in a jiffy, and comes in the house with a big bag of hard, slightly green plums.

It’s easy to tell whether people are eating plums that Frank picked or that I picked. When they’re eating Frank’s, it doesn’t sound like there’s an orgy going on.  

Fifty Shades of Meow

You’d be shocked to know what seethes under this cool exterior.

Cat experts nowadays say that cats can form at least 50 different meows that express a wide range of emotions: love, fear, bliss, distress, loneliness, surprise, shock…and more. It’s been discovered, evidently, that cats produce both consonants and vowels, and this enables complex expression. 

Okay, I lied. The real number of meows according to experts is 30. My title tweak was just too tempting to resist.

I’m pretty skeptical about this. My beloved, now-departed Buttercup had only one meow. It never varied but it meant different things depending on where she was standing. If she was standing by her food bowl and meowed, it meant she was hungry, so I fed her. If she was standing by the patio door and meowed, it meant she wanted to go outside and I let her out. Those were the only two things she ever wanted that I’m aware of. Well, she wanted to sit on my lap a lot but she just jumped up on it and settled in without asking. 

Actually, she did have a second meow, a sort of abrupt, short snarl when she was irritated: for instance, when she wanted more wet food and I didn’t give it to her. She got only a half can of wet food daily, and no more, vet’s orders. After that it was kibble. She did live to twenty, so I think her sensible diet was in her best interests.

I guess, if the experts say so, there must be cats that have a wide repertoire of expression and emotion. But Buttercup wasn’t one of them.  

I miss Buttercup, and her one meow, and even her little snarl. I really miss her cuddling on my lap. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist but I know she loved me. She was just quiet about it.

Father-daughter flashback

I watched Oklahoma on TV the other night. It was a time machine that brought me back to 1966 when my father took me to see the play. What I recalled most vividly was Daddy hallucinating while John Raitt belted out a song.

My father had been mentally ill for years, since before I was born. While Raitt sang, Daddy muttered loudly to someone in his head and twitched in his seat, and people around us began to complain. Sounds of sshhhhhh!! and quiet!! surrounded me. I don’t remember what happened, whether we were asked to leave or Daddy settled down and we stayed to the end.

I was 20, in the glow of youth and blooming sexuality and glittering hopes and dreams. And I was mortified. Before Daddy’s meltdown, I had loved the way I dressed and secretly admired myself in the mirror, silk-blend suit and high heels and all. I felt I looked perfect for the Circle Star, then a classy theater venue in the Bay Area.

But I was edgy beneath all the excitement, because my father’s behavior was unpredictable. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

How differently I see that day now, and my father. Back then I was just growing into womanhood, half confident, half painfully self-conscious. I wondered why I couldn’t have a “normal” father I could be proud of, instead of Daddy with his rumpled clothes, nicotine-stained fingers and Thorazine-induced trembling hands. Subconsciously I was angry at him for being an embarrassment, a failure, a constant worry.

He committed suicide a year after we saw Oklahoma, at 50. I’ve survived well enough, had a career, friends, raised my daughter through college, but I really never recovered from the trauma. I drank alcoholically—though functionally—until my daughter was three and have ongoing anxiety disorder. I made many mistakes with my daughter that alienated her. We are now estranged, to my great sadness.

I’ve blamed and punished and judged myself for years. But since remembering Daddy and Oklahoma, I see things in a different light. I’m no longer a 20-year-old with expectations of Daddy, wanting to go to a glamorous play with a suave and handsome father. Now I understand that for some unknown reason Daddy couldn’t help it. He had a profound problem he was unable to overcome. But he did the best he could. He tried so hard to give his little-girl-turning-woman a special gala evening. Having made my own mistakes and unintentionally hurt people I love, I don’t blame Daddy now. And I’m working on not blaming myself. Daddy’s little girl is growing up.