Tuesday, May 23, 2006
It's in the Details
It wasn’t my first trip to this small Midwest town, once the biggest city west of St. Louis. Then, it was steeped in the riches of farmers and manufacturers. Now, the ghosts of the Battle of Lexington haunt the intricate porches of its Victorian mansions. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the echoes of a thousand footsteps upon its 150-year-old cobblestone sidewalks. This place is American history.

Six months ago, upon my first trip here, I didn’t notice. I saw only a long, windy road dividing cornfields that stretched into the horizon. The quaintness of the town escaped my radar. I hadn’t come as a tourist. I didn’t want to be here at all. As we headed towards the military academy, as old as the town itself and assembled on its outskirts, my heart and mind were too fatigued by the months of stress leading us here to notice the details.

The boy in the passenger side of the car, my son, wasn’t having fun either. At that moment, the two of us had more in common than he would ever believe. As his protests reached a fevered pitch, I struggled to stay in the present, to remain an adult, a parent. While he saw his mother sitting next to him, determined to complete this journey and, hopefully, steer his life back on track, I was reliving the singularly largest trauma of my own teenage-hood – and having a hard time keeping my perspective.

Am I doing the right thing? Will this lead to the preservation of our family or forever damage us all? Will he, one day, reflect on this moment with understanding or will this break his spirit?

The answers to these questions were certain a day before. But the moment that long, winding road came into view, I became, again, the teenaged girl being escorted by an apologetic and empathic police officer to a foster home in the middle of nowhere – at the end of a long, windy road dividing acres of cornfields.

Logic demanded the circumstances here were different. My adoptive mother sent me back to the state while her boyfriend sat in handcuffs in the local jailhouse, an abuse charge hovering over him. He couldn’t return home if I were to stay, so she chose to return me to state care. Reason said I was parenting my son as she hadn’t parented me. But when your head fills with the sights and sounds of past trauma, the voice of reason can become nothing more than an annoying whisper.

It’s hard to see details when ugly memories bubble to the surface, when the voices of the past – those that told you what a disappointment you were, what a failure you’d be, what a mistake it had been to bring you into a family – distort your adult decisions. Those voices can undermine a lifetime of soul searching, growth, learning and understanding in an instant, if you don’t turn around and face them.

What my son didn’t know, as he cursed my decision to send him to a military academy, was that my past traveled with us on this journey. He was, in essence, sitting beside a teenaged girl who had just lost her entire world as his mother struggled to remember the details of their present lives. He didn’t know I fell to pieces when we said goodbye.

The six ensuing months brought perspective. The details of our present life came back into focus. Last weekend, I returned to the town. This time, the long, winding road welcomed me into a place of American history. I wandered the cobblestone walks. I appreciated and absorbed the details of the grand historical homes. I sat on the lawn of city hall, wondering how many civil war soldiers had fallen nearby. I marveled at the intricate molding on the Victorian homes and buildings. I saw all the details I’d missed before.

And then I attended my son’s dismissal ceremonies. His dress blues proudly displayed his new rank of “Private” as he stood at attention on the parade grounds amidst a sea of cadets. When the General ordered “Dismissed!” and the cannon fired, sounding the end of the school year, the 126th Corp of cadets threw their hats in the air and ran from the field, towards their parents – and home.

Our drive home was our best moment in recent years. The difficult months leading up to this decision seemed a million miles away as he shared his school adventures, boasted of his new rank and beamed with pride over his accomplishments. We talked about how difficult our drive to this place had been – and I told him about the teenaged girl and her ride to a foster home.

“You made the right decision, Mom,” he said. And, I knew he was right.

--------------------
[you can visit the weekend's photos here]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:21 AM | Permalink | 23 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
How Much is that Doggy . . .
Nervous, scrawny, obedience school flunky. Does not play well with others. Cannot wag tail. Requires medication (canine prozac). Allergic. Flea-bitten. LOVES cats. Rarely responsive to affection. VERY vocal–barks and whines all day. ATHLETIC – Can climb, jump, dig under or otherwise squeeze through any make or model fence. Dependable – will always let you know the location of nearest cat. Almost housetrained! Requires muzzle.

RESPONDS TO THE FOLLOWING COMMANDS:

“Run”, “Don’t stop”, “Lick the cat”, “Chase the cat”, “Eat the cat”, “Pee on my favorite throw rug”, “Roll over and play neurotic”

IF YOU PURCHASE THIS TREASURE, WE'LL INCLUDE AS AN ADDED BONUS:

Enormous veterinarian and pharmacy bills!; Her favorite chew toys(what remains of our couch, socks, shoes, bedspread and plastic tableware.); Certified vaccination and quarantine history; Registration with the AKC/WCTDA(AKC Won’t Claim This Dog Association); Muzzl; County permits authorizing the harboring of dangerous and/or stupid animals; Whatever remains of our bottle of tranquilizers (for you, not the dog.); Earplugs(see: VOCAL, above); My favorite throw rug.

 
Rhonda Ruminated at 6:50 PM | Permalink | 17 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Remembering . . .
Charlie wrote two soul-stirring pieces about the consequence of trauma upon the human soul. They carried my mind to a thousand places. I visited my own traumas, sitting a while with the child in me who can still feel abandoned and unloved, the walls of a foster home closing in upon her and the words of her abusers echoing in her mind until her very being accepts them as truths.

His essays took me to the heart of each of the combat veterans I know and love; To Mitchell, my traveling friend who wanders the globe, looking for a way to love himself; To each of The Crawfish, warriors of soul-battles and slayers of personal demons; To Carrie, the daughter of a vet living with her alcoholic mother while struggling through college and self-acceptance. Without words passing between us, I know all about the screaming, tyrannical words echoing in her mind.

They took me to my high school friend, a 101st Airborne Combat Team soldier, killed by an explosive device in Iraq on New Year’s Day, 2006. At this place, I lingered a while. I thought of his wife, who will face her first Mother’s Day without the presence of the father of her children. I thought of the teenaged boy I knew – and the difference I saw in his eyes in the photos displayed beneath newspaper headlines. Those eyes witnessed the killing fields of Bosnia. Those eyes witnessed the atrocities all human beings are capable of committing. Those eyes gave passageway to a soul battered by the horrors of war. And I finally understood why he returned, after an eleven-year hiatus from the military, to lead a team of soldiers through the desert of Iraq. It wasn’t about love of country. It wasn’t about patriotism. It was about his desire to spare his charges the horrors he had seen, to simultaneously face his own demons and return his men, undamaged, to their families. And in that act, he became a both patriot and lover of his countrymen.

Charlie’s words took me to the second story bedroom of a nondescript house in a quiet Wisconsin neighborhood, painted in the illegal offerings of a black market baby ring, to the birth of my soulmate whose life changed forever when an exchange of dollars was made for a baby – for him. His war wasn’t fought with M-16s or mortars, but it was a war just the same. And he’s fought it with courage and conviction few people possess.

And then, strangely enough, Charlie’s essays took me to Mother’s Day. To every mother, left with no place to visit her child but memories and war memorials. And to every young woman who vowed her children would never experience the pain she suffered – and kept that promise. To my own mothers, who are absent from my life but rarely removed from my experience of life. Remembering helps me keep my promises.

And, finally, to my own children, who I hope and pray will never have to question the meaning of their childhoods.

[for my friend, Charlie, with thanks for the ruminations]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 6:38 PM | Permalink | 9 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, May 13, 2006
The Key to a Good Relationship
When I began blogging a few months ago, I kept the endeavor to myself. I wanted to get my feet wet, to see if my efforts would catch momentum and morph into a new pastime before embarrassing myself by promoting something that died before going to press.

Around my thirtieth or so post, it became clear I’d crossed the barrier between fading interest and enthusiasm. I’d personalized my page, linked to my photography and even bought myself a small digital camera – for those moments one just has to capture in effort to write the perfect essay.

I adore the dialogue in my comments section and the sense of community this format provides. I’ve connected with some incredible people, feeling so grateful our paths have crossed. After leaving my job teaching art, I’ve discovered an outlet for my creativity – the lack of which has been gnawing on my psyche since my cross-country move. And, I’ve regained a passageway to understanding myself in relation to the world. Starting this blog has been a good thing for me, in the spiritually fulfilling sense.

But the one thing missing was the presence of The Philosopher.

I began dropping casual hints: “What did you do today?” he’d ask.

“Wrote an article for my blog,” I’d answer, waiting for him to ask how he might find his way here. Silence. Hmm.

I tried luring him in with flattery: “That’s the most clever thing you’ve ever said, I think I’ll steal it and put it in my blog.” Silence. Again.

I tempted him with the brilliance of others, telling him about the comedians, the thinkers, the activists and all other brands of fabulous writers I’ve encountered. No bite. Not even a nibble.

Then I pulled out the big guns and began firing off threats: “If you don’t stop that right now, Mister, I’ll blog about it! Ten million people could discover what you just did!” No tremble or cower. Not even a whimper.

Finally, I came right out and said it (who says women are hard to figure out?): “I am waiting for you to ask to see my blog.” Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. My feelings were hurt. I didn’t understand his disinterest. I began obsessing about it. Had our relationship reached an impasse – I mean, when your beloved doesn’t want to see your blog, doesn’t that mean something . . . something bad?

I distracted myself by writing a piece about The Philosopher’s basketball games. And then I waited, as women do, for those three little words they need to hear when feeling insecure, unworthy or both. Just a little affirmation was all I needed. And finally, those three words passed his lips . . .

“Where’s your blog?”

Be still, my heart! I sent him a link and he dove right in. He loved it. He loved the layout, the photos, the writing. Redemption! He told his friends and co-workers. My stat meter was soon registering hits from his office. Shortly thereafter, he presented me with my dream camera, saying the three words I really wanted to hear:

“Love your blog.” Awww.

So, of course I asked, “How come you didn’t want to see it before?”

He told me he thought I’d been spending my hours in a chat room or message board. “I had no idea what a blog was,” he said.

Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:46 AM | Permalink | 12 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
The Menagerie
If there is such a thing as parallel Universes and life after death, when I die I want to return as one of our pets. The hounds, spoiled to their rotten cores, sleep on memory foam beds when they choose not to crowd us from our own. Car rides usually include a stop for ice cream – for them. Their grocery bill is larger than our own and they see a doctor more frequently than any of us. The Philosopher complains they are better fed than him. And he’s right.


As long as I can remember, I’ve been bringing home strays and orphans. As a child, it wasn’t easy. My mother had a nose for anything out of place in her home and usually found whatever critter I’d smuggled into my bedroom. The end result was usually the humane society. It followed suit that as soon as I found myself free from her rules, I’d begin building my own private menagerie. In addition to pulling dogs from their death row quarters at the pound, over the years we’ve rehabilitated baby birds, rabbits, turtles and even squirrels.

My children have followed in their mother’s footsteps, though my son prefers bringing home slithery things and my daughter has perfected the sad, pleading-eyed pet shop beg. Our basement has hosted tanks full of all sorts of critters who are brought back to health then returned to their natural habitats, including the hungry duck my son rescued from a storm drain last summer. When my daughter’s guinea pig failed to land a dismount from his own personal jungle gym, he was rushed to the vet, x-rayed and put in an itty-bitty traction device. And our bearded dragon is about to move into a condominium fit for reptile royalty.

Lately, things have been quiet in our little animal kingdom. Turtle Town has no new inhabitants. The basement rehab tanks are empty. Even the dim-witted robins, who insist on building a much too small nest on our front windowsill every year, then squawk in disgruntled screeches when their naked little offspring fall from it, have moved to more suitable dwellings. Though I’m sure our acreage is bustling with the new life spring brings, thus far none have needed our assistance. That is a very good thing. Wild animals fare better without human intervention.

Sunday, I mounted The Beast and headed toward the pasture for an afternoon of mowing. The Beast is the Hummer of lawnmowers; a churning, grinding machine able to pulverize a grassy field at 10mph. It is the perfect solution for people like me, who have lost the will to do manual labor. I compensate for the fact it is about as delicate as a bulldozer in the rainforest by making sure its cutting deck is well above rabbit nest level and paying careful attention when I’m in areas that may harbor critters.

I’d nearly finished when the rain started. I decided to call it a day – after just one more sweep. I rounded the corner of the pasture, got ready for the straightaway and, suddenly, up from the grass burst a female mallard duck. She hobbled off a ways, looking sick and broken. Having no idea ducks play possum to distract predators from their nests, I burst into tears, apologizing to her while rushing to her aid. She made an immediate, miraculous recovery and flew off. Then I saw her nest. Inside were 11, oval white eggs, warm to the touch and still in tact.

We spent the rest of the afternoon scouring the internet, trying to determine if she’d return to her nest and what to do if she didn’t. We found no Disney movie endings. Incubating, hatching and raising the ducklings wouldn’t pose a problem, but they need momma duck to teach them predator avoidance. Being nearly the last remaining oasis of acreage in our corner of suburbia, our wooded area is crawling with predators and our pond serves as their feeding ground. In short, our potential ducklings were doomed, and my conscience heavy with guilt. We returned to the nest, constructed tall walls of cut grass around its edges and camoflaged it with branches and weeds, hoping momma duck would return.

And she did. With any luck at all, we’ll soon witness her escorting her ducklings to the pond.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 3:10 PM | Permalink | 16 People Ruminated links to this post
Saturday, May 06, 2006
At the Park
If the park is void of either ice or 120-degree heat indexes, Friday afternoons it hosts the friendliest basketball game in town.

It’s a welcoming place, the trees bowing over the court protectively, shading its occupants. When they drop their leaves in preparation for winter, they offer a view of the Mississippi River as an apology for their nakedness. And in the spring, they welcome us back with random blossoms, as if anticipating our arrival.

Rows of unkempt little houses grace the park’s sidelines, but rarely do their occupants visit. It’s as if they’ve grown so accustomed to it’s presence they overlook its beckoning changes in the same way one fails to notice the aging of their beloved dog or the baby fat disappearing from their child’s cheeks.

It began three years ago, the result of an unlikely pairing. A doctor and his client reminisced about their high school basketball days. A week later, one brought a ball and they spent the lunch hour at the local gym. The following week, one led the other to this little park, its aged court and welcoming trees. They liked it so much they decided to meet each Friday for a friendly game of one-on-one and the journey back in time to high school.

Others soon joined. They brought friends. Wives and children arrived to cheer, but instead joined the game. Soon, the weekly event drew spectators, who spend their time on the sidelines in companionship with their dogs.

At the park, everyone is welcome, no matter if you’ve never held a ball or if you scored the winning goal of your high school championship. Everyone gets a jersey. Everyone gets to play.

The view from the nearby homes might suggest a group of old buddies, trying to reclaim their youth, but the experience of each person on the court tells a different story. A common thread connects these people: a war fought thirty-some years ago, one they didn’t leave behind. They’ve fought their war in different ways, in different places, throughout the decades. Some were workaholics; some have seen the innards of a prison cell. Some lost years sheathed in a fog of addiction. Others passed as untouched until the dam broke, releasing the memories and pain. They are CEOs, business owners, farmers, salesmen and long-haul truckers. They are husbands and fathers. And every week for an hour or so, they are friends.

Their war created feelings of comradery they’ve not been able to replicate in civilian life. And it generated warrior instincts rarely proper in this world. Each player experiences the court – this game – differently. For some, it bridges the gap between the mind of a 16 year old and the body’s evolution, taking them back in time to a place filled with the memories and music of their youth. For others, it is the practice ground for understanding themselves and their interactions with the world; a taste of the comradery they long for. For me, it is the chance to observe and to spend a moment in the past of the man I love – a place I wish I’d been, but wasn’t. For all of us, it’s about winning private battles, not literal basketball games.

They could have named themselves after a ferocious jungle dweller. They could wear jerseys emblazoned with the moniker of “Warriors” because, each of them, no matter their history, has battled demons of one kind or another. But, they didn’t.

They named the team after a creature that tends to its own business and the daily responsibilities of its own survival; a creature that doesn’t display its inborn weapons of defense until backed into an inescapable corner. They chose this creature because it represents who they are striving to become.

They call themselves The Crawfish.

For all of us, there is an unspoken magic created in this park – something words cannot capture in the same way one cannot describe with adequacy the patterns on a butterfly’s wings or the feelings generated by a favorite song. It follows us home, churning around in our minds until it is silenced by the rigors of daily life.

And so we return, week after week, hoping to recapture it.

-----------------------------------

(This one's for The Philosopher)
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 12:37 PM | Permalink | 10 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, May 04, 2006
The Joy of Self-Employment
I’m in the second phase of my working life: the one where I walk away from teaching to pursue a dream of a home-based business, void of everything staff related. No more staff: meetings, luncheons, picnics, parties, in-services, appreciations or, god forbid, “strategy planning retreats.” In this phase of life, I will work without meetings, make decisions without administrators, set my own schedule and achieve financial independence, still with plenty of free time to nourish my spirit with writing. What could be better?

I fulfilled all the obligatory requirements of starting one’s own business: license, investments in tools of the trade and portfolio building. Things are coming to fruition. Soon, I will knock some poor IRS agent right off his chair when he reads a number higher than zero on my tax returns.

I’d like to share a day of my bliss with you. Perhaps it will inspire you to break away from the corporate world and bask in the glory and fulfillment of self-employment. Yesterday is a good example . . .

The school bus pulled away from the driveway, carrying my youngest off to school. On the way back to the house, I noticed my clematis was in bloom, my hostas were coming up and the wisteria weaving itself through the porch rails looked prettier than ever before. I made my way into the house and towards the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee and settle in for the day’s work. 8:15: an early start.

To my horror and surprise, in my brief absence, my tile floors sprouted several large, canine-induced lakes of green bile. An urping, burping German shepherd stood in the center of her creation, her watery eyes peering up at me as if to say Well lady, don’t just stand there, get a mop and get busy.

I found the source of her discontent (a bag of molding duck bread), cleaned up her mess, inspected her for damage then handed her over to my other-half, who was enjoying a morning off. He claimed to be so engrossed in a new philosophy book he simply didn’t hear the dog redecorating the living room. Suspiciously, I returned to the coffee pot. 9:00: Still plenty of time left to get to work.

The phone rang – my daughter begging me to deliver a forgotten science book. I quickly tossed on the clothes piled atop my laundry hamper, threw my hair into a ponytail, grabbed the book and ran out the door. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the floor to ceiling windows of the school entrance, I realized I looked like every middle-schooler’s most embarrassing moment, right down to my bare footed Birkenstocks. Fortunately, she met me at the drop-off site without detection from her peers. I checked my watch. 9:45: I’m not too far behind.

A small hallway separates our bedroom (herein referred to as The Philosopher’s Chamber) from my office. Void of inhabitants when I left the house, the space now overflowed with bedspreads, sheets and blankets. Evidently, the shepherd was still blowing her breakfast. “I’ve fallen in love with Spinoza!” the philosopher proclaimed, waving his newest book in the air at me.

“That’s great honey,’ I answered, “Does he do laundry?” He questioned what bug crawled up my nether regions while I hauled his catch of the day to the laundry room. 10:30: The morning a complete waste.

As I reheated my stale coffee, I caught a strange odor, realizing it came from me. I not only looked like a vagrant, I now smelled like one. A warm, relaxing bath was out of the question with the washing machine sucking the life from the water heater. I did a quick cold-water dance in the shower, cursing the yurking dog and the laundry impaired Philosopher. 11:00: All is not lost.

Fresh, dressed and holding my thrice-heated coffee, I attempted to stealthily sneak past The Philosopher’s Chamber en route to my office. You see, when The Philosopher is high on Plato, Kant or his new love, Spinoza, he is also convinced his soulmate shares his eagerness, no matter her obligations. One glimpse of me and I’d be snared into an hour of philosophical alliteration. “Listen to this,” he announced as he waved me into The Chamber. Snagged. I’d be lucky to reach my desk before noon.

From the porch, I kissed him goodbye as he headed off to work. Dark clouds rolled in, thunder rumbled in the distance and a breeze kicked up, shaking the wisteria. Rejuvenated by the quiet of an empty house and my favorite weather, I fired up the computer and dove into my work. 1:35: Time to get a few hours in before evening.

The hours passed quickly. I reveled in my productivity while outside my window, the storm gained momentum. As I put the final touches on my project, a tremendous strike of lightening simultaneously flared and bellowed, immediately followed by the sound of power draining from the house. My computer monitor spit out a dying blip and my office went dark.

There I sat. No boss telling me to go home for the day. No tech guy on the phone assuring me he could recover my work. No emergency staff meeting called to announce things would be right by Monday. Not even a co-worker to bitch and complain to. 5:00 and I hadn’t accomplished a damn thing all day.

The Philosopher burst through the door enthusiastically. “How’s work?” he asked.

They tell me he’ll make a full recovery
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 6:56 PM | Permalink | 18 People Ruminated links to this post
On Writing
I hate the word "blog." It rolls of the tongue sounding suspiciously like the wretched noise my dogs make immediately before they decorate my bedspread with yesterday's kibble. And in any of its incantations (blogging, blogesphere, blogger, et al) it especially minimizes the beauty and creativity of some of the fabulous writing one can find in this little corner of the world wide web.

The last few days, I've stumbled across some of the most touching, inspiring and beautiful writing I have ever encountered. And, that's what it is: Writing. Good stuff. Brilliant stuff. Stuff that makes you feel and think.

So, rather than ruminate on something in my life today, I want to share the places I've been the last couple days. Please go visit. Pack a kleenex and an open mind. You'll be glad you did.

Charlie Callahan's Travelling Man | Clew's ANGEL | Mia's Blog Against Disablism essay
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 10:04 AM | Permalink | 6 People Ruminated links to this post