Saturday, May 25, 2013

Working for Contentment

We went to see my parents and take my Mom out for lunch for Mother's Day. 

My Mom finished her chemo about three months ago.  Every time we talk to her on the phone or see them she says, "I finished my chemo..."  Her short term and recent memory is spotty.  She asked what the Wifey was doing now, she had forgotten she's been teaching second grade for two years.  On the other hand she told us more stories about her childhood that we hadn't heard before.

She was born out of wedlock and her mother had given her to her sister to be raised by her.

She was sent to China for a year with my great grandparents and her cousin/sister when she was six. They stayed with my great-great grandparents who had decided to not immigrate to America.

So, my Mom grew up thinking her Aunt was her mother and her mother was her aunt.  Until someone at her 11th birthday party got drunk and spilled the beans. Some time in her 40's she put a lot of family innuendos, pictures and pieces together and figured out that her uncle was really her biological father. Her "father" stayed with us when I was in high school for a few months after my step-grandmother died. My mom asked her "father" if he was her "real dad" and he just said, "Just let bygones be bygones". And that was that.

After she found out her "aunt" was her mother, she went to live with her for a while. It turned out she was a fairly well known prostitute around the Navy Base in Honolulu. My Mom would cook and clean and basically play house maid for my grandmother's "guests".  Popo (grandmother in Hawaiian) eventually married a sailor, my grandpa Willy who I still remember as being very handsome and dapper. While he was gone on sea duty, his friends would "visit". My mom would walk to school and the kids would taunt her, "Hey, how was business last night?"

My Mom woke up one night with Willy fondling her. She told him if he didn't get out right then she would scream.  Popo had a wicked temper (that my Mom got a part of) and both my Mom and Willy knew she would literally kill him if she knew that he had done that. He never bothered her again, but would tell her the only reason he married my grandmother was to be close to my Mom. He eventually paid her plane ticket to move to New York to get her away from her dysfunctional family and start a new life.

When she talks about her life she doesn't have an ounce of "poor me" nor a fatalistic resignation.  It is very matter of fact that it was screwed up, but it is something that has made her who she is. She knows she overcame, and struggled to do that in her marriage and in how she raised her children.  She has fought long and hard for contentment.  The past three years in her battle with cancer and various aging issues she has changed. She has lost a raw edge, especially toward my Dad, and both of them have a lightness and kindness and gentleness toward each other that is enviable.

I was getting into bed a few nights ago and the Wifey (who stays up late and grades papers) came to say goodnight.  She said, "You know, after everything we've been through, I just have this sense of contentment with you... I am so glad to be here."  A few months ago our daughter said to me, "You two just seem comfortable together", and a friend of my wife's from work at her office party said, "It is obvious you adore your wife."  I do, and I thought of the times neither of us were very adorable and the times the peace and contentment were a fog that would dissipate in the heat of a marital struggle.  Now, the contentment is a constant, kindness rules and gentleness reigns. It is a good place to be but a hard one to imagine can exist while struggling toward it.

These are the Mother's Day faces of contentment, won after a hard upbringing, struggling through marriages to ... well, men, raising families and earning perspective. There is nothing more beautiful than a happy Mother.

We are going to be grandparents again.  Our youngest daughter is due in July. She and her fiancee are walking away from their childhood and have just stepped onto the long path to contentment with another person.

They have fun, they have fights, they love each other.  Like all of us just starting out we mistake passion for love, lack of conflict for peace, admiration for respect and comfortableness for contentment.  As parents we wonder how our work will manifest itself in them. But we can only look back and say we did what we did, whether it was best, well intended but wrong, or just plain neglect of duty.  You never stop being a parent, but it is nice to be able to talk to your children as adults (for the most part, they are always "children" even when they're 60). But in the end I suppose there is a lot to be said to want to be something for them to look forward to being like and worth struggling for.

As we left my parents house on Mother's Day I pulled out of the driveway and looked back. They were sitting on the little park bench on their front porch together and waved goodbye to us.  Yes, I thought, that is worth fighting for.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Bikes, Wives and Body Parts

Old man porn is surfing Craigslist for a motorcycle.

No, it is not "mid-life crisis".  I had my mid-life red Bugatti twenty five years ago.
It is almost painful to admit my life was such a cliche. (Probably still is, but I'll figure that out in retrospect yet again if I live long enough and don't end up with dementia.)

The Wifey says The Bike is my second childhood.  She's right, of course.  My last bike was 44 years ago. I paid $625.00 for it brand new.  A Yamaha two stroke twin.  I couldn't afford the "Widow Maker" Kawasaki triple. I still can't because now they are ten times the price they were in 1969.

I found a killer deal on a Suzuki 650 single.  Low maintenance, cheap to fix, easy to remodel. I've done a little chopping and cutting on it already.

It is hard to look "hard" in a blue pinstriped shirt, Dockers and a backpack with oatmeal cookies and a peanut butter sandwich in it. 

Hell's Orthodox? Maybe I should wear my "Neo" cassock. Better that than tight leathers at my age.  (Yes, I do wear a helmet, it is under my arm with the 3-bar cross on the back of it... I couldn't resist.)  I've thought about getting a "My Little Pony" or "Rainbow Bright" backpack to wear while I'm riding but they don't make them in adult sizes.  Oh well.

So, in other news, the Wifey and I celebrated our twenty year anniversary this week. She's still a beauty, and mellows nicely with only one Long Island Iced Tea.  In spite of how I've treated her over the years and all the things she's discovered about me that weren't so clear in the beginning, she still loves me.  I'm a blessed man.
I've been married now 40 years, but not in a row.  I still wrestle with guilt and "what-ifs" for the divorce.  It is a hard trade off to know your own happiness and contentment caused so much grief and pain to others. I know intellectually I couldn't forsee all the consequences.  I know intellectually neither can I prognosticate the outcome of a different decision. Life's threads can't be that easily unraveled and rewoven in retrospect. Joy and pain get magnified by years as the incomprehensible consequences continually manifest themselves.  And yet, intellectually, who does not live so regardless of any decision we've made?

This is where I start sounding like my parents.

My one year "pre-existing condition clause" on my school insurance expired this year, so I've begun getting all my aches and pains of 30 years of construction work checked out.   So far:

Sleep study done to find out why I fall asleep in 30 seconds, at the wheel on the freeway, at stop lights, and during sermons.  It would be nice to email all those preachers and tell them, "It wasn't you..." though I think it was.  (I get the results next week).

Heart stress test done.  After 30 years of fast food for breakfast and lunch, 250+ cholesterol count, high blood pressure and a red meat, bratwurst and pulled pork diet my heart is clear.  Physical labor and the miracle of red wine, I suppose.

Speaking of hard labor.  The podiatrist walked into the exam room and stood at the door and said, "I bet those hurt... you don't need to be a podiatrist to know your feet are messed up."
My big toes are fused from arthritis.  That changes how you walk and causes knee, hip and lower back problems. Duh.  I will need joint replacements in both my big toes.

I went to an orthopedist to check out my knee, neck and shoulders.  I need a right knee replacement.  It has been "bone on bone" for quite a while he says, and is riddled with arthritis.  My neck has arthritis that causes the upper back pain, but can be managed with cortisone shots.  My shoulders have arthritis and possibly rotator cuff damage. An MRI next week will confirm.  The doctor said he will probably have to snip some tendons on my biceps to relieve some of the stress on the front of my shoulders.

Basically, I will be in a boot, in a wheelchair, on crutches, or in a sling for the next three to four months. 

They always ask, "Why didn't you get this checked out when you hurt yourself or noticed the pain?"

Well, I suppose the true "Art of Manliness" is, if you don't have insurance, are the sole income feeding a wife and six children, and can't take 2-3 months off to rehab, you take six ibuprofen, drink two beers and go to bed.  Yeah, it was hard. But, even if it was my own damn fault, even if I would have had to work and feed someone regardless of a divorce or not, I can look back and say "I manned my post."  No brag. But no regrets, at least in that arena.

At 60, there's something to be said for that.