Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Unfinished Business
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received came from The Philosopher just yesterday:

“Just ride it out, your tears are there for a reason so follow what you're learning wherever it leads . . . "

“It” was a wave of grief for my high school friend, Chris, lost in Iraq earlier this year. Though it was as real and tangible as the hot tears streaming down my cheeks, I felt selfish and undeserving when measuring it against the pain Chris’s wife, children, parents and siblings surely feel.

Precipitating the tears was my stumble onto a site run by a man who goes by the moniker “Q.” Q lives simply and follows his heart. Thus far, his heart has guided him to the memorial services of 71 fallen soldiers. A photographer, Q shoots several hundred photos at each service, quietly from the background. Some of his photos can be found on his site; a reminder our military men and women are not statistics. The remaining photos are given to the soldiers’ families.

Last January, Q photographed Chris’s memorial service. Last week, I discovered the photos. They were both a priceless gift and the provider of a reality I’ve struggled to wrap my mind around: that on a rainy Pacific Northwest day, my friend was laid to rest.

I wrote to Q, sharing a little about Chris and thanking him for bringing back memories – and bringing home realities. He wrote back, telling me he’d phoned Chris’s mother, read her my letter and would be mailing me a disk with an additional 400 photos. I was floored. And grateful.

In the last few days, I’ve poured over those photos and reconnected with the mother of my high school sweetheart, who I was finally able to thank for the best moments of my youth. Because of her graciousness, the time elapsed since my last goodbye with Chris seems just a little shorter.

It wouldn’t have happened had a man named “Q” not followed his heart and a soldier’s mother not opened hers.

Below is a video I put together using many of Q’s photos. It isn’t a political statement. It is just my way of following where my tears lead. And, this time, they’ve led to some pretty neat places and very good people.

Please watch it with Chris’s family in mind – and keep them in your thoughts.



Q's Site: iraqwarheroes.org

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Rhonda Ruminated at 2:16 AM | Permalink | 7 People Ruminated links to this post
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Oh Crap
Anyone reading here with regularity knows I am not a foo-foo girl. You also know that recently, necessity demanded I make an appointment at a beauty salon to have my hair “done.” I can count on one hand the number of times in my adult life I’ve visited a salon and equate the experience with going to the dentist.

I picked a random salon from the yellow pages, then grilled the receptionist about the stylists as if I was scheduling open-heart surgery. “Give me someone patient and empathic; someone not wild; someone who will listen to my concerns and not approach my head like a makeover show,” I requested, and then booked my appointment.

I have to digress here to discuss my daughter. Like her mother, she is, at heart, a tomboy. Through fourth and fifth grade, she hung out with a pack of boys. They were a neat group of kids who made it their mission to act as ambassadors for every new kid at school, greeting each one, inviting them into their group and teaching them how to navigate the playground and social circles of elementary school. The teachers began to depend on my daughter and her friends to ease the transition of newcomers. And, two years into the tradition, the kids began to realize they were doing something special.

The day Justin transferred to their school, they welcomed him into their group. My daughter happily relayed the days’ events, telling me all about the nervous new kid and how they’d put him at ease. I was a proud Mommy.

But the next day, my daughter came home completely distraught. “I sat alone on the playground today. My friends wouldn’t play with me,” she told me, tears streaming down her cheeks. I prodded for information: “Did you have a disagreement with the boys? Did someone do something mean?” Finally, she confessed. The new kid she’d welcomed into her group was horrified a pack of boys would welcome a girl into their midst. In one recess flat, he’d convinced my daughter’s friends to “ditch the chick,” that “cool boys don’t play with girls.” And, just as quick, the merry band of ambassadors permanently disbanded.

My daughter’s trauma might have ended there had this kid not shortly become the bane of her existence. He teased and tormented. He sat behind her on the school bus, making her ride an elementary school hell with his physical and emotional jabs.

I told my daughter that Justin would, by the time high school arrived, kick himself for treating her so dispassionately; that he’d eventually mature, look at my gorgeous girl and feel like a total shmuck for being such an asswipe. I instructed her to look forward to the day he might sheepishly ask her to a dance or game and she could look him in the eye and say, “Remember fifth grade? Bite me.”

Unfortunately, seat assignments for the middle school bus again placed Asswipe directly behind her and the tormenting continued. My daughter kept it to herself until she could take no more and, finally, asked for my assistance. By this time, I’d lost all compassion for the little twerp and was ready to throttle him. I promised to call the school and report him first thing Monday.

Then, I headed to my appointment at the beauty salon.

As I sat squirming through my “beauty consultation,” I had Asswipe on my mind. I visualized ratting him out to the authorities. I imagined a confrontation with his mother, upon which I’d tell her what a little shit she’d raised. My new perky hairdresser, immune to my mood, animatedly waved her scissors in the air, proclaiming she was about to perform a fabulous transformation. I relented, handing over all authority for the outcome (hey, she was holding scissors!) She began whacking, chopping and chitchatting as I busied myself with fantasies of revenge for the actions of my daughter’s bully.

“So, where ‘bouts do you live?” she asked. Whack. Whack. Whack. I told her the name of our road. “Wow! Me too,” she proclaimed, “Small world!” She shared she and her family had relocated from out of state the prior year, how difficult the adjustment had been for her terribly sensitive and sweet son. Whack. Whack. Whack. I shared our relocation story. We noted our kids were the same age and attended the same school. “I bet they’re on the same bus route,” she suggested, as suddenly, thing began clicking in my mind.

Oh, crap.

“Hmm, probably,” I responded, “what’s your son’s name?”

“Asswipe,” she said.

Okay, she didn’t say “Asswipe,” but she said HIS name, that little twerp, the bane of my daughter’s existence. And she said it as she brandished a lock of my hair and a snapping pair of scissors above my head.

Oh crap! Whack. Whack. Whack. Should I say something? Whack. Whack. Whack.

But I wanted neither short nor technicolored hair. “How long’s this color-thing going to take?” I asked, hoping I could escape without incident.

“About four hours.”

Oh CRAP.

So for four hours, I sat in that chair, at her mercy, staring at the framed photo of Asswipe proudly displayed on her workstation. My fantasies of confrontation (which isn’t my style and would have never come to fruition anyway) faded into acceptance of the fact my appearance had become forever dependent upon a positive relationship with this woman, my stylist.

Once home, I reported my dilemma to my daughter, who reacted with an unmitigated glee that confused me. “Ha! Wait ‘till I tell him his Mom and my Mom are FRIENDS!” she announced.

The next day, she reported his reaction:

“OH. CRAP!”

Sometimes, things have a way of working themselves out.
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 2:48 PM | Permalink | 15 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Father's Day
I’ve never sent a Father’s Day card.

I was never the kindergartener drawing thick, shaky, waxy-rainbow letters on cheap construction paper; never an 8-year-old hovering above a block of wood, jar of decoupage and pile of magazine clippings trying to create the perfect Father’s Day collage. I was never an 11-year-old placing a handpicked treasure from the tie rack upon the gift-wrap counter at J.C. Penny’s. I’ve never poured through Hallmark’s seasonal section, looking for the perfect prose to express gratitude for my childhood.

I remember the projects. I remember the look of pity from teachers as they coaxed me through an “alternative” project. I remember being the only child-of-divorce in my classroom and how the absence of a father in my life was easy fodder for teasing. I recall a sense of deep shame about the secret I kept from my classmates. I was screwed up, but not stupid. I wasn’t about to tell them the father whose absence they teased about wasn’t really my father and that my real father had never even seen my face.

So, I’ve never sent a father’s day card or wrapped a handmade gift in delicate tissue paper, sealing it up with awkward chunks of shiny scotch tape. For me, those childhood rituals went the way of father/daughter dances and games of catch in the front yard. Like having a strong shoulder to cry on upon my first heartbreak, a fierce protector when I felt threatened, or a stern, loving voice when I needed reeling in, these things have never been part of my experience. But, I coveted them. And, at the age of 38, sometimes still do.

I would love to be able to say: “Today is just another day.” But, if that were true, it wouldn’t occur to me proclaim it so. I’ve learned it is better for me to steer into the empty places in my life than to try to fill them with replacements or distractions.

I have a father. I need only to hold the dozen or so photographs of him to know this with certainty. I have his face: his crooked smile, blue eyes, dimpled cheek and slightly weak chin. But that is as close as the two of us, father and daughter, will ever be: a pile of photographs and an unrealized dream.
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Related Posts from the Past: Relinquishing Renee, Ghosts of my Fathers, The Box
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Rhonda Ruminated at 11:03 AM | Permalink | 11 People Ruminated links to this post
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Rescue Me, Again
There are three words that, when strung together in a sentence, grate on my every nerve: “Mom, I’m bored.”

My daughter, twelve-going-on-twenty, has learned to avoid the use of this phrase, not because she is particularly mindful about the state of my nerves, but because she’d rather spare herself my reaction; a reaction so predictable she can recite it herself: “I’ve never been bored a day in my life. When I was your age, I was working at the . . . “

She has spent the beginnings of summer break with a phone attached to her ear and video game controller fused to her hand. I was beginning to worry we’d have to consult a surgeon for removal of both. I braced myself for the inevitable “Mom, I’m bored,” while resisting the temptation to launch pre-emptive suggestions as to how she might entertain herself. As any parent of a ‘tweenager knows, the only good ideas come from the ‘tween herself and any suggestion coming from a parent automatically qualifies as a bad idea, born of the stone age and totally uncool.

Finally, she approached me and asked, “Mom, do you think the pet shop would let me volunteer?”

I think we were in the car and half way to the pet shop before she finished the question. I was thrilled she came up with her own solution, even more thrilled it involved actual work and, of course, proud she chose work involving animals. We met with the owner, arranged a schedule and she became an official volunteer.

Yesterday was her first day. I expected she’d phone for a ride home after two or three hours. She happily stayed six. However, she did phone home halfway through the workday. “Mom, some guy just came in asking how to save baby bunnies. He left his phone number and wants you to call . . . “

The second cardinal rule of ‘tweenhood; the one following “No parental idea is a cool idea,” is “Never let on when you are completely excited about something that thrills your mother.” I picked up my little volunteer, who diligently attempted to hide her enthusiasm about the day’s events. She did, however, let it slip that her new boss proclaimed she worked harder and faster than any of his paid employees. I saw her sideways glance as she covertly studied my face for signs of pride. Rest assured, she found what she was looking for.

“So, are we going to help the bunnies?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know the answer. We picked them up from the home of rather intimidating looking tattooed man who was absolutely beside himself with worry for the tiny little creatures found in his yard when their nest was disturbed. His rough exterior all but disappeared as he described his dusk to dawn vigil for a mother rabbit who never appeared.

These babies wont be with us long. Despite their tiny size, they are near the age their mother lets them fend for themselves. But, they were dehydrated and lethargic, so we will rehab them until they gain their strength. After only a few hours, they are looking bright-eyed and perky, thanks to an animal-loving tattooed man and my daughter, who facilitated their rescue.

Did I mention I’m proud of that kid?
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 11:56 PM | Permalink | 14 People Ruminated links to this post
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Rescue Me
Explaining my absence is simple. Summer “break” provides moms with lots of summer and little “break.” And my workload reached a fevered pitch as an eight-month project reached fruition last week. I could leave it at that, but it wouldn’t embrace the entire truth.

Two weeks ago, I locked and loaded a touching animal rescue story into my upload window, the guts of the tale inspired by my anticipation of a little one being delivered all the way from Indiana. The article simply awaited an ending; an ending, I figured, the tiny six-week-old raccoon – and my camera – would provide, without a whole lot of effort from me.

Rehabbing an orphaned wild animal is an enormous task involving ‘round-the-clock feedings, cleanings and medical attention. With a raccoon, one also has to teach him to forage for food in the wild to prepare him for his eventual release. Beyond the physical demands and commitment of time, a rehabber faces the constant pull on her heartstrings as she tries to resist the temptation to totally domesticate whatever needy animal is temporarily under her charge.

Still, I imagined me and my little ‘coon spending hours at the pond and in the creek bed playing hide-and-seek with fish, nuts and berries as I acclimated him to his natural habitat. And, I hoped and prayed I would, eventually, experience the satisfaction rehabbers know when they encounter “their” animal in the wild and it looks at them without familiarity, going about it’s business as a wild animal. There is something both satisfying and magical about seeing first hand that, even when nature’s course is interrupted by the stupidity of human beings, it can be restored.

Human stupidity is what brought this little critter to me. A speeding motorist hit his mother and five siblings on Memorial Day weekend. The only survivor, he might not have made it at all had someone not witnessed the accident, scooped him up and brought him to me.

I fell in love the moment I peeked into the cardboard box in which he’d been delivered, the moment he scrambled into my arms, purring like a kitten. Unfortunately, upon inspection, it was cleared he’d not been spared contact with the speeding car and wouldn’t survive his injuries. We spent five hours together. I kept him warm and hydrated and he purred in my arms until his last breath. When he lost his struggle, I felt crushed. And mad: mad at human beings, so busy with their weekend plans, they could neither slow down nor stop for a mother raccoon crossing the road with her babies. And, however irrational, mad at myself for my inability to stop the acceleration of death.

A few days later, still carrying the feeling of disappointment with both humanity, and myself, I awoke to two stray golden retrievers romping through our yard. I corralled them into our fenced area. They were big, sweet dogs. But, they stunk to high heaven, their fur was matted and filthy and their collars dug dangerously into their necks. Their tags directed me to animal control, which steered me towards their owner. He didn’t pick up his phone, so I drove to his house where I discovered the dogs’ dwelling – a fenced back yard they’d dug out of so many times I stopped counting the holes after 30 or so. I left a note on his door telling him where he could find his dogs.

Again, I was in no position to help these creatures. Their owner broke no laws. They were licensed, vaccinated and well fed. They were neglected by my standards, but not animal control’s. Just as I was preparing to bathe and groom them, their relieved owner arrived to fetch them. It was clear he loved his dogs, but felt overwhelmed by their needs. He said he was taking them to be groomed and trying to address his fence issue. I had no choice but to return them. But, again, I felt I’d failed.

So, these two failed rescue attempts left me both in a funk and in conflict about how to process them. I could blog about my disgust with most of humanity, but I worried it would appear insulting to my readers – all of whom, I assume, are of the human variety.

I could fault myself for being moved by the plight of animals more so than people, but I’ve too long accepted it as one of my eccentricities – and, frankly, it is something I am proud of. So, I’ve been waiting: waiting for a positive rescue experience to come along and reduce the sting of the last two or for a solution to my sense of failure to present itself.

Then yesterday, driving home from the park, both options occurred almost simultaneously. On a busy boulevard near our home, a mother duck attempted to marshal her eight babies through 40 mph traffic and into a nearby pond. We stopped and provided an escort. They reached the pond unscathed.

Not a block away, we happened upon several baby rabbits engaged in a similar journey. We blocked traffic until they made it safely across the road. My daughter and I wondered aloud whether we’d encounter yet another bunch of critters in need of assistance before pulling into our driveway. Fortunately, we didn’t, though we joked about encountering two litters of critters in a row seeming a little Twilight Zone-ish.

Once home, I made contact with a non-profit animal rehab center. The philosopher and I registered our country property with them as an official wildlife release site, promising to keep our forested area in its natural state and even feed transitioning wildlife when need be. I suspect my relationship with this organization will continue in other ways. I’m excited about the prospect – and have lost a bit of the helplessness remaining from my experience with our little raccoon.

[Note: The raccoon photo is not of “my” raccoon, but looks just like him. I took the duck and rabbit photos following their journey through suburbia.]
 
Rhonda Ruminated at 2:18 PM | Permalink | 12 People Ruminated links to this post