Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Flossed Flankage
“Mom, math was horrible today!” my daughter, a middle-schooler, announced as she blew through the front door, tossing her back- pack aside. She looked completely exasperated; almost traumatized.

Was it a test?


An assignment?


Is that snobby girl picking on you again?

No! It wasn’t anything like that!

Then what?!

Mrs. Smith dropped her eraser.

Uh-huh? And?

And bent over to pick it up.

Yes, and?

And we all saw her THONG! It was HORRIBLE!

She had my sympathy. I carry a few traumatizing teacher moments from middle school in my own psyche. My assigned front and center seat in Mrs. Thorp’s math class kept me at eye level with her ample cleavage for an entire year. Mrs. T’s cleavage didn’t just accidentally pop out and wave at the class once in a while. She wore swoop-neck tee shirts designed to show it off. In fact, she wore the same tee shirt, in a different color, everyday. Show it off to whom, you ask? The pubescent boys in her class? I don’t know. Maybe she was trying to teach us girls with our perky “new” breasts the laws of gravity and importance of wearing a good support bra.

The new generation of middle-schoolers has much worse than old cleavage to contend with. They have the visible thong. The problem isn’t that people – or even teachers – wear them, it’s that they wear them above low-cut jeans designed to show them and, sometimes, even have tattoos designed to emphasize them, just in case you failed to notice their acreage of flossed flankage the first time they bend down to pick up a strategically dropped item. Seeing your teacher’s thong is about as disturbing as stumbling across your pastor’s porno collection. It simply shouldn’t happen.

Ladies, butt cracks have never, ever been in fashion. Your plumber wouldn’t be less disgusting if he tried to conceal his with forty-weight fishing line and your aren’t faring much better. Slapping lace on a butt-crack is like putting lipstick on a pig. And, before I am accused of just being a jealous middle-aged woman, wishing I too could show off my post-partum posterior with unabashed confidence, let me assure you, my concern isn’t personal – it is concern for all womankind. The visible thong has ruined the feminine mystique. If this fashion trend continues, will we soon be expected to wear our bras over our sweaters?

As for my traumatized daughter? Parents everywhere, heed my words:

D.A.R.E. to keep thongs off teachers!

Rhonda Ruminated at 10:13 PM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Addicted to Crime

True Crime, that is.

The last sitcoms I watched with regularity were Home Improvement and Married with Children (back when the content of the latter was considered “daring” television entertainment.)

This dates my television viewing days to the early ‘90s. I didn’t swear off television. I wasn’t making a statement. Perhaps my fading fascination with the boob tube had more to do with raising young children during the Barney era. The large, purple androgynous dancing dinosaur annoyed me into permanently misplacing the remote control – for a decade.

I have never seen “Reality TV.” I don’t care what people dropped off on remote islands are doing. I think it’s insane anyone has won a cash prize for eating pig snouts and leeches (where exactly does that fit on a resume, anyway?). Is anyone truly surprised by what happens when “seven perfect” (young, attractive, college-drop-out) “strangers” move into a house together and “start getting real?” Hint: they start getting real drunk and, later, they start having sex. Sorry for the spoiler.

One can only hope our satellite images are not being intercepted by space aliens conducting a study of life on Earth. Or maybe reality teevee is life on Earth. If so, don’t be surprised when those aliens hand us a bucket of pig snouts and pitcher of kamikazes as an intergalactic olive branch.

We do have television in our home. We have television because America has football and I live with a football fan. We have a television because Disney and Discovery are, sometimes, the answer to “Mo-oooo-o-oo-m, I’m BORED.” But, until a year ago, I resisted.

In preparation for my recovery from ACL reconstruction, I stocked my bedside with books, my laptop and art supplies. I planned to catch up on writing, re-discover my flare for drawing and study philosophy, economics and psychology. Thrown in for entertainment were some true crime and thriller books and a few DVDs.

Then, it happened. Painkillers made me cross-eyed, so reading, writing and drawing quickly fell off the to-do list. I watched all the DVDs during the first two days of recovery. So, one morning, I gimped into the living room, grabbed the remote control and (gasp!) channel surfed.

If prime-time reality TV somehow tickles the psyche of the average American, satellite TV must have been designed for the average American adoptee. Perhaps we are all touched with a bit of Adopted Child Syndrome. Those of us who don’t pick up a knife or flamethrower, can pick up our remotes and live vicariously via the world of the macabre beamed down from satellite into the comfort of our living rooms.

It’s all there, between channels 220 and 300: serial killers, homicide detectives, love triangles, forensic labs, bounty hunters, medical examiners and the world of abnormal psychology.

I can no longer proclaim myself a television snob. I now own my own Universal Remote. I have even been known to waltz into the living room, armed with my remote and zap off Disney saying “Sorry, but it’s time for Cold Case Files.” The only thing slowing me down is football season – but I’m working on that.

For the reader questioning my pathological makeup: Don’t worry.

I can quit any time.

I can.

Rhonda Ruminated at 10:52 AM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Relinquishing Renee
Originally appeared here.

She lay, legs spread and draped in paper, staring at the ceiling while the doctor did his work. She didn't want to think so she distracted herself with the song she'd heard on the radio on her way to this dreaded appointment. Hell, she was nearly forty and should be used to these exams by now, but this one was different. Hugely different.

Just walk away Renee, you wont see me follow you back home . . .

She couldn't remember the whole song, so sang the first lines of the chorus over and over in her mind.

Just walk away Renee . . .

The snap of rubber gloves popping from his hands as he stood over the garbage with a satisfied grin. “Congratulations! You’re going to be a mother again!” When the announcement was met with confusing silence, he filled it by sharing he believed she was having a girl. After all, he’d accurately predicted the sex of her first three children and though fourteen years had passed since the birth of the last boy, it was time for a girl.

Just walk away . . .

“What’ll you name her?” he asked.

Still staring at the ceiling, “I think I’ll call her Renee,” she said.

It came as no surprise. She’d already done the math. Counting backwards from this moment to New Years Eve, 1966, added up to baby. The song played twice more on her drive home. She cursed herself; a middle-aged divorcee widow with a baby due days before she’d welcome her first grandchild into the world. She ran scenarios through her head. Get married? To that she heard her orthodox mother, yelling in broken English about the shame of three marriages. Don’t get married and keep Renee? To that, her mother abandoned English and ranted in her native Ukrainian.

Her thoughts shifted to her children. Two weeks prior, her pregnant nineteen-year-old daughter climbed from her bedroom window in the middle of the night to elope with the baby’s father. Her sixteen-year-old son already had a criminal record and she worried her fourteen year old would follow suit. She’d done her best with her kids, but right now best wasn’t looking so good.

She tried to envision the baby . . . Renee . . . but all she could see was another difficult teenager. She decided on adoption before reaching her house.

The next day, she put her beauty salon on the market. For her friends, family and Renee’s father, Robert, she concocted a story about an irresistible job offer on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. A month later, she filled her 54 Chevy Belair with suitcases and boxes and set off to make the round of goodbyes. She saved the hardest for last. Renee’s father leaned through the opened driver’s side window. Without any idea the weight of his words he asked, “Grace, will you stay if I ask you to marry me?”

When she said she couldn’t and drove off to the life of pretend she’d live the next six months, he had no idea she was taking his baby with her.

The apartment was furnished in 1960s cheer: turquoise walls, yellow kitchen, shag carpet and orange vinyl furniture perched upon chunky wooden legs. It came furnished, the pictures on the wall not even belonging to her. That was just as well. She wasn’t here to make memories. She was here to forget.

Towards the end of her fourth month, she slipped on her light blue Capri’s; realizing the struggle it was now to fasten them. Soon, she’d be showing. The ring of the doorbell surprised her. Had she forgotten another appointment with the social worker?

But instead stood Renee’s father. A full foot taller than her, he was nothing but muscle and skin highlighted by the roundest, bluest eyes she’d ever seen. No one would describe him as handsome. His features were too large for his lean frame. But there was something about his quiet reserve, something mysterious, and perhaps sad, behind his liquid eyes. He kept so much to himself she felt honored by his interest in her.

In his hand was a bouquet of Skagit valley tulips, reminding her life on the other side of the mountains continued without her. He’d made the six hour drive unsure if she even wanted to see him again, but determined to at least let her know he loved her and was waiting. She did love him, was crazy about him in fact, and hoped he’d still be interested when she told him about Renee and the plan for her future.

They spent the next few days deep in conversation, snuggled together on the orange vinyl couch. They chain-smoked and drank too much, but it helped the conversation flow. She told him about Renee. He told her about the son he’d surrendered rights to eighteen years prior. In the end, they were on the same page. Her fear of raising another child and his guilt for not raising his first combined to seal Renee’s fate.

They thought it was for the best. They rationalized that a 44 year old WWII vet with no parenting experience and a forty year old burnt out mother of teenagers couldn’t do the job as well as a young couple with a desperate desire for a family. The social worker, a woman in her late 50s, was the best in the field and she’d promised a perfect match for Renee; so perfect, in fact, she’d never miss the two of them.

She went into labor on Renee’s due date. Eight hours later, weighing only five pounds, Renee entered the world with neither incident nor celebration. She was whisked off to the nursery, cleaned, swaddled and placed in a bassinet in the back of the room – away from the glass through which aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents welcomed their family members into the world.

Unmarried mothers recovered together in a room as far from the nursery as possible. Hospital staff meant to assure they didn’t hear the cry of newborns or the gushing of visiting family. Here, they were un-mothered. They were given drugs to dull their senses and drugs to stop mother’s milk from filling their breasts. Their only visitors were social workers and attorneys, who arrived with paperwork and accolades.

Sister Mary Agnes was on nursery duty that morning. She couldn’t take her eyes off the petite newborn in the rear of the nursery – or the words “ADOPTION” written on the chart hanging from her bassinet. Relinquished newborns were not uncommon. She was used to praying for these orphans and the frightened young girls who brought them into the world. But, this morning she prayed for herself; for forgiveness for the rules she was about to break. This baby’s mother looked like the typical American housewife and, somehow, she couldn’t fathom why she was relinquishing. She scooped the baby up and headed towards the un-mothering room, hoping to change fate.

She lay the baby in the crook of her mother’s arm. Grace spent the next five minutes staring at her perfect, tiny baby girl. Her left arm; the one that should have naturally risen from the bed covers to unswaddle Renee, count her fingers and toes, then pull her into a loving embrace, stayed at her side. She willed it to stay there, rejecting nature’s design.

By the time Sister Mary Agnes returned to the room, chaos had erupted. The social worker had arrived. Grace’s roommate, having watched Grace hold her baby, demanded to see her own child. The social worker shot Sister Mary Agnes a scathing look and handed her Renee. She looked at Grace, trying to determine if her moments with Renee succeeded in changing the course of this baby’s life. She saw no hope, but God works in mysterious ways. By the end of the day, the other mother from the un-mothering room refused to sign relinquishment papers and checked herself out of the hospital with her baby.

Renee left with the social worker; taken to the foster home she’d reside at until a suitable placement was arranged. Three months later, the file of a farming couple crossed her desk. There were home visits and interviews. The match was perfect – this family shared a Norwegian heritage with the baby. Had the social worker delved further, she might have discovered the adoptive father was also the town drunk.

While Renee’s adoptive fate was sealed by the Department of Public Health, across town her father sat in the courthouse parking lot. It was finalization day and he’d driven Grace to meet with the judge. He stared at the ashtray full of cigarette butts, collected since Grace left the car. He’d never laid eyes on his baby girl; his name would not be placed on her birth certificate and he would never quite forgive himself for this decision. There was time to stop it all – walk into the courtroom, announce his presence – but he couldn’t move a muscle. Grace now wore his ring on her finger. There was a wedding to plan and it just seemed too late to take it all back now.

Just walk away Renee, you won't see me follow you back home . . .

He turned the radio off when the song came on . . .

It was Renee’s father who would wake each year on September 22nd and ask Grace, “Do you know what day it is?” she’d reply a quiet “yes, I do,” and he’d return to the bedroom for the rest of the day. Shortly following Renee’s thirteenth birthday, long after Renee’s adoptive father disappeared from her life, he’d succumb to cancer.

Just nine years later, Renee would learn this on the day she thought she found him. Later, with her mother by her side, she’d place a single rose upon his grave, saying goodbye forever to the chance of saying hello.

Lyrics from Walk Away Renee:

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

From deep inside the tears I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain I chose to hide

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

Your name and mine
Inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me
Though they're so small

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

Just walk away Renee
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:47 AM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post
Monday, February 20, 2006
Dropping the Ball -- A Vent

Pet owners who find themselves in the waiting room of the University of Missouri-Columbia Small Animal Clinic are die-hard animal lovers. They have traveled across state lines, cashed in stock to pay their bills and set up temporary residence in hotel rooms. They probably can’t tell you the late-breaking National news story, but can site every back-issue article of Pet-Fancy from the waiting-room magazine rack.

They talk to each other like incarcerated criminals: “What’re you in for?”

“German Shepherd. Cancer. MRI. CSCAN, you?”

“Lame Labrador. Ultrasound. Myelogram.”

“How long you been in?”

“Three 12 hour days, but might be getting out soon. Waiting for word from the main ward.”

Few enter this place voluntarily – doing so would be like making an appointment at the Mayo Cancer Center for a sliver. People come for the state-of-the art technology, groundbreaking research and the possibility of a medical miracle. In exchange, they get a lesson in the bureaucracy of a teaching hospital. Every procedure occurs on University time i.e., if it should take two hours, plan on ten and be grateful for seven. You’ll get an update on your pet if “your student” isn’t in class, on rounds, observing a surgery or having a bad hair day. Don’t piss off the secretary, who can make your life miserable by adding hours to your wait and be nice to the lady in the financial office. Very nice. Oh, and don’t expect to meet your veterinarian. They don’t always make an appearance.

Our Australian Cattle Dog was paroled two weeks ago, following surgery and time in ICU. Hemangiosarcoma – an aggressive and almost always terminal cancer - was our ticket in. But, compared to my battle-weary comrades in the waiting room, I was fortunate. Our veterinarian was Dr. Wonderful, a man who imbued compassion. He’d arrive at work early, just for a pre-operative snuggle with Scout, answer calls within the hour and e-mails late into the evening. He didn’t stick to a 9-5 schedule. If I was there for twelve hours, so was he. He was honest, dedicated and worthy of trust. Without him on board, we might not have made the series of difficult decisions allowing Scout’s last biopsies to come back negative. When we first arrived at the clinic – with a very bad diagnoses and a lot of uncertainty as to whether we were doing the right thing – the man grabbed the ball and didn’t let go.

So, when faced with the choice of where to bring Scout for chemotherapy, the answer was obvious. I wanted her under the watchful eye of Dr. Wonderful. He made University bureaucracy tolerable, if only because it annoyed him as much as his patients. But, during Scout’s recovery from surgery, Dr. Wonderful left clinical practice and entered a research project. No worries, he was still on campus.

I should have run when I met our new student – a pretty, petite woman with the personality of plywood. Our new oncologist couldn’t be bothered with introductions.

About the time I should have been getting the call that Scout was starting treatment, Ms. Plywood called to tell me she was sure Scout’s feeding tube had become infected – and that she could die. “Her abdomen is very painful, she screamed in pain when I picked her up.”

I reflected on the number of times I’d picked Scout up that morning, without a whimper; the daily incision inspections; the cleanings. “How’d you pick her up?!” I asked.

“With two arms, fully supporting her stomach.”

“Um, did you forget her incision from the still-healing spleenectomy?” When she called with the test results (negative for infection, of course) there was no sense of humility regarding the prior phone call, and in a quick attempt to minimize her mistake, she mentioned Scout’s drastic weight loss (with the implication, of course, we’d slacked off on her aftercare and round the clock tube feedings.) That, of course, was straightened out once it was realized she’d forgotten to translate her weight from kilograms to pounds, recording her as half her actual poundage.

Paging Dr. Wonderful! Help!

The secretary fended off my requests to consult with Dr. Wonderful. Dr. Wonderful failed to return my calls and our new oncologist couldn’t be persuaded to consult with us.

Ball. Dropped.

The next call came from the ever-illusive new oncologist. “We need permission to anesthetize Scout,” she proclaimed.

Huh? We were there for a feeding tube removal (Easy. Pull it out. We’d been told several times by several different vets it was an easier procedure than trimming toenails) and a chemo treatment. “Anesthesia for what?”

Evidently, a surgeon had been called in to remove Scout’s feeding tub via her esophagus. I didn’t buy the explanation, as it had never even been presented as a remote possibility. Logic dictated her tube had been lost inside her in the effort to remove it.

Ball. Dropped. Again.

Finally, ten hours from our arrival, Ms. Plywood escorted Scout into the waiting room. She was heavily drugged. She didn’t recognize me. And, when I went to put her in the car, she screamed, snarled and attempted to take a piece out of my arm as a souvenir for the day’s trauma.

Ms. Plywood informed me “Sometimes morphine has that effect on them.”

Morphine? Scout cannot have morphine. Scout has a warning in her chart not to administer morphine. MORPHINE?

Ball. Dropped. For the last time.

With quiet thanks to Dr. Wonderful for his previous care and roaring indignation to our next set of oncology team members, we left the parking lot vowing never to return. Ultimately, Scout is none the worse for wear. She is currently cancer-free and receiving chemo treatment locally.
Rhonda Ruminated at 2:07 PM | Permalink | 0 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Sometimes, a Picture Says it All
Rhonda Ruminated at 9:21 AM | Permalink | 0 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, February 02, 2006
My Old Friend
I stared at the unfamiliar address in my e-mail in box, cursor hovering over the delete button. But before making a fatal error, the right synapses fired and the fragmented name @ somethingdotcom connected to my past. I clicked “read.”

The e-mail contained a link to my hometown paper.

“Soldier who grew up in Washington killed in Iraq.” I knew who it was before his picture loaded. It was news I’d feared since hearing, almost twenty-years before, he’d joined the service. But the passage of two decades met with logic – he couldn’t possibly still be in the military, right? Desert Storm, and smaller conflicts across the globe, had come and gone, without his name appearing on our high school memorial wall. At the onset of the Iraq War, a google search told me he’d found a career in the civil service; a safe, nine-to-five, career.

He was the first war casualty of 2006, his armored vehicle meeting an improvised explosive device in As Sinia, Iraq. In 100 words or less, the paper described a soldier, father, son and husband; a man who, after an eleven year break from the military, re-enlisted and joined the troops in Iraq.

As the hometown headline blurred beneath tears, I watched snapshots of my teen years from a memory projector in my mind, switched on by grief. I couldn’t find the off button.

We were fifteen-going-on-sixteen. It was summer. And, we had just given in to two years of drama-club and football field flirtation. It was that magical, transitional time of life when teens leave behind childhood and take a big gulp of autonomy, still oblivious to the realities of adulthood.

Each morning, I’d lay awake in bed, waiting for the sound of my mother leaving for work. I’d be dressed by the time the wheels of her civic crunched into the gravel driveway and riding off to the transit center on my blue schwinn ten-speed before she made it to the stop sign at the bottom of our street. I’d board the Metro bus with the reader board flashing “Beaux Arts,” walk the short distance to his house, and our day would begin.

When I saw the news video of his grieving parents, I realized I’d probably never seen his mother wearing anything but a floral nightgown. I wondered why, after the passage of twenty years, his parents looked exactly as I remembered them, although I am now the age they were when I’d arrive at breakfast hour each morning. Time has a funny way of collapsing like that.

Beaux Arts is a waterfront community on Lake Washington. We spent our days with friends, cruising about the lake on his speedboat and our evenings in front of a bonfire. Chris and I would inevitably sneak away from the group, find a Douglas fir to lean against, hold hands and talk about life. Like me, Chris was an adoptee. Adoption probably provided the basis of our connection, our lakeside sunsets bearing witness to the first time either of us verbalized our feelings about being adopted, wondered out loud where our natural families were and questioned why we were given up. Together, we each scratched the surface, for the very first time, of thoughts and feelings bottled up since our relinquishments.

Beaux Arts Beach is viewable as one crosses the Mercer Island Floating bridge. Many times in my adult life, I would steal a mid-commute glance at the beach, remembering those talks, that summer and first love. It was the final summer of my childhood. The growing dysfunction in my home-life disrupted the remainder of my teen years, leaving me to cherish my time with Chris all the more.

Like most teen loves, the relationship didn’t last. My mother was leery of two adoptees sharing a romance and viewed the intensity of the relationship as a symbol of bad things – things perhaps only reserved for teenagers from unknown origins – about to happen. I’ve always said Chris broke my heart. But, in reality, expecting him to do otherwise was too much to ask of a teenaged boy.

The last time I saw Chris was graduation day. We sat together, apropos, on the drama-room stairs. We made amends, said apologies for the hurt our breakup caused one another and signed each other’s yearbooks. We shared a hug and promised to keep in touch. That never happened. I wish it had.

Hindsight can be cruel. I’d give anything for one more beachside sunset; to catch up on two decades, share pictures of our children and families, and talk about life. We’d probably share a laugh over learning both of our birth families resided in the same town, only a few cities away – after all that fantasizing of them off in foreign lands. And, I would probably thank him, for something he never knew he provided: the last summer of my childhood.
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:05 PM | Permalink | 2 People Ruminated links to this post