Afraid to rock a precariously tiny boat on very troubled seas.
A friend recently suggested I “Woman up” or, in essence, to stop being a coward.
So here goes:
I am truly terrified of COVID-19. Everything I’ve read convinces me this is a plague of biblical proportions. And that’s saying something coming from an agnostic!
But even more than a highly contagious disease, I am afraid to lose friendships because of COVID-19. So afraid, that I have not asked people to wear masks when I’m in close proximity. Even though I have worn mine in my yard…while by myself…while weeding.
I desperately cling to friendships, even when the cling-ee isn’t that keen on tolerating the stranglehold I have on them. I have lost friendships before. I will likely lose friendships again. Possibly over this. And I truly hate the thought.
I have been a coward; and I’m going to try very hard to stop. But even contemplating telling my friends my position, I’m feeling a welling, choking sensation I haven’t felt for years.
TIME TRAVEL SEGUE–NO, NOT THAT KIND OF SEGUE—ABACK TO THE PAST KIND:
I had a job once at a place we’ll aptly refer to as “DeepHell University.” It was in the fundraising department. I had a very challenging boss who, in her defense, had a very weird secretary. Me. I was the secretary.
(TRUE CONFESSION: I accidentally read a highly personal email from one of her friends when the I.T. guys accidentally linked my new email to my boss’s mail system–and I read it…and replied to it…at length…because I literally did not understand what the internet was and how it differed from emails.) This happened the very first day I worked there, but the boss forgave me. Kind of.
We managed a rocky half-year of an increasingly challenging relationship. This boss made me nervous. Like cat-on-a-hot-plate-in-a-room-full-of-rabid-pit-bulls, nervous. I took everything she said as criticism or complaints. I felt stupid, clumsy, and unsuited to the job. Everything I heard sounded like blame and hostility. I became so nervous I would plot a course around the entire department in hopes of avoiding seeing her. (Her office was right next to me, but around a corner.) It got so bad, I started doing a thing. A thing I did NOT know I was doing. I started holding my breath. I passed out several times before finally wising up and seeking professional help. I’m lucky I didn’t give myself permanent brain damage via concussion or oxygen deprivation. I have never been so grateful to be fired from a job in my life.
BACK TO THE FUTURE…MEANING THE CURRENT OR PRESENT DAY:
So, if you see me, and I keep a six foot distance from you while you are unmasked, do not be surprised and try not to take offense. Please understand, I am not judging anyone. I am not trying to make any kind of political statement. I’m just trying to make the best choice I can in a very bad time in our world.
I’m supposed to see family tomorrow. They prefer to go maskless. (Apparently they didn’t have the same fantasies about becoming Zorro I did as a child.) I really want to see them but I’m also a ticking time bomb of terror–albeit one with a love of alliteration. It tears my heart in two when I’m faced with this dilemma. I don’t want to be considered a nagging worrywart. And yet, if the wart fits…
So I’m asking them to move the get together into the backyard. And crossing my fingers that I am not dropped from future invitations of this kind–especially seeing as I organized this one. But my family has forgiven flakier behavior than this. [More on this topic in another blog post. I’ve confessed enough for one day. It’s best to spread the crazy out a little bit at a time.]
I’d like to think someday we’ll be safer and these extreme measures won’t be necessary. But that future isn’t here yet. (I’m feeling an overwhelming need to throw in another Back to the Future reference, but I’m coming up blank. You’ll just have to picture me driving a Deloreann and wearing a white, fright wig.)
And for those of you too young to get that reference, here’s a YouTube clip. (Proving I am slightly more technologically capable than my younger self.)
Back to The Future Present Tense–Plague Edition
Do you hate me now?
If you knew that, by catching COVID-19 there is no one who can watch my son, would that make a difference? Any sign of even a cold nowadays, and I lose all the help that comes into my home throughout the week. Help that keeps me from going bat-guano crazy. If I really caught COVID, I would be on my own, struggling to take care of a special needs child and afraid to ask anyone to help because I just couldn’t risk exposing somebody else to the disease.
So I will wear a mask. I will try to stay a six foot distance away. And I will not hold my breath waiting for others to understand. I am scared. For all of us!
In parting, I ask you, my viewing audience:
What would you do if you had to choose between friends…and safety?
What would you choose?
…a question that tempts me to include the following:
I used to scream bloody murder when I was a child. I would shriek so loud, so long, that eventually I would go hoarse. I even developed nodes–tightened knots on my vocal chords. When I finally figured out screaming wasn’t helping me I stopped. This allowed my vocal chords to relax and I discovered I had a deeper register. (As a result, I sing somewhere between contralto and tenor with a hiccup in my falsetto.)
What I couldn’t have told you, even if you had asked, was why. Why did I devolve into a nightmare child shuddering in hysterics? I couldn’t tell you then, but I might be able to tell you now.
As my favorite tv show—The Big Bang Theory—comes to an end, it wrestled recently with a surprisingly feminist sub-plot: whether or not a woman should want to have children and what it means if she doesn’t. The series frequently pokes fun at parenting including the ambivalence surrounding having kids. Perhaps I have laughed a little too hard at some of these jokes, or maybe I appreciate that someone had raised a question that bothers me in my own struggles with motherhood*.
She didn’t know you would be so clingy, so demanding.
Such a total leech.
Sucking the life out of me.
But when you started in on my kid, that was it.
It was time for you to go.
It wasn’t easy.
You didn’t want to leave.
It was clear.
You had to die.
Stuck home on a snow day, I’m Googling ways to end you.
It wasn’t enough to get rid of you.
I had to totally erase your existence.
Clean anything you’d touched like a literal plague.
Boiling all the sheets was easy enough.
But trying to get a kid to sit still, while I tore your influence away one painstaking strand at a time?
Everything had to be examined.
All the lies and denials.
It was a total nit-picking nightmare.
I went to a specialist.
We went over everything.
Talked about how you wouldn’t let go.
How I just wanted to cut you out of my life so badly I was willing to get rid of anything you held dear.
“Just do it.” I told her. “Quick, like a band-aid. I’ll close my eyes and think of Sinead, Sean, and Shaquille. They’ve made it work for them.”
She talked me down from the nuclear option.
Getting your hair done is usually a calm, soothing experience.*
But getting rid of you was not.
With every stroke, it felt like I was being pulled in two.
As she scorched my tresses in thirty-second blasts, I visualized you frying until your little head popped.
I imagined your tiny death rattle.
And then I went home and cleaned like a woman possessed.
If you’d touched it, into the garbage, laundry, or freezer it went.
And then, I tackled my child.
It wasn’t pretty.
It wasn’t fun.
But it had to be done.
And if you ever come back into my life, I will totally do it again.
Breaking up is hard to do.
But in eleven days, after a repeat cathartic cleansing, it’ll be over.
I’ll finally be rid of you.**
Happy Lousy Valentine’s Day, you creep.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I’ve never paid so much to have my hair done only to leave a ‘stylist’ looking more like a train wreck. Except for the time I went to high-end salon and they gave me (without my permission) some godawful cut called a ‘Rachel.’ Looking back, even this experience wasn’t that bad!
**Don’t visit us for at least two weeks to be safe.
You read this far bonus:
I found a weirdly appropriate book in French while searching for Google images to accompany this post. I couldn’t quite fit it into the above text but wanted to share it with you.
Her blond, twisted curls were fixed and her little pink-and-white gingham dress was stiff and yellowed with age. By the time she finally became mine, she was twenty-seven years old. Pretty ancient for a doll. And, by ten, I was old enough to know she wasn’t to be played with.
So, until I reached my first decade, I enacted my primal childhood dramas on my Barbie and baby dolls instead.*
There was one other doll who bore the brunt of little girl adventures in our extended family: Grandma Laura’s walking doll.
This doll was an antique, but, she was never treated like one. Built with a stiff cardboard body with wooden limbs, she was meant to be played with.
If she ever had a name, I never knew it. She was just called ‘the walking doll’ because she had creaky hinges at her knees which caused the leg to swing back and then forward as you walked behind her.
She sat in a chair in my grandparents’ living room, waiting for one of the grandchildren to come play with her. She was much loved and it showed.
The walking doll’s hands were worn to indistinct nubs and the plastic along her arms was cracked or missing. At one point, someone loved all the hair off of her.
My grandmother must have cut down a wig to cover her bald head. The walking doll’s new style was choppy, black speckled with grey, and in no way resembled a typical baby doll. I never knew she had any other hair color.
Until I took her to the doll hospital that is.
It was always my intention to take good care of my bequests, but time, family expansion and inattention takes a toll on the mechanics of people and toys.
Many years ago, Amy’s rubber band broke, leaving her looking much like an extra special victim from a crime drama.**
I found Patricia Buckert after a quick search online and contacted her to see if she could recover my long-time companions from the benign neglect of thirty-some years in storage.
A professional with certification through the Doll Artisan Guild, Patricia studied at Seeley’s in Canada and traveled to West Virginia to learn advanced secrets of doll restoration. Patti Ann’s Teddy Bears and Dollies provides a rare service—not just doll repair—it’s more like finding doll nirvana.
When she talks about the dolls she’s made—with kiln baked porcelain crafted and painted by hand—you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.
Her doll hospital is located in Oshtemo, MI along Stadium Drive in a small, green house.
Even with the big white sign out front, you might miss it. But once you’ve entered, you’d never forget it.
The front room is overflowing with dolls, prams, strollers, a crib filled with wide-eyed babydolls, and shelves where lady-like figures pose, en deshabille, with porcelain-dipped lace to trace their décolletage. Nearby, a wire carousel houses miniature accessories: shoes, socks, and delicate unmentionables with froths of lace enough to choke a Clydesdale.
This dolly sanctum sanctorum is a veritable paradise for your inner child.
When I show her Amy, Patricia immediately recognizes her as one of the series of Little Women dolls created by Madame Alexander. But she’s entirely surprised by her second patient.
“I’ve never seen a doll quite like this before.” Patricia says, as I place the doll on her counter.
“She’s been in the family for a long time. She first belonged to my grandmother.” I explain.
As I remove the doll’s outer garments, her poor condition is revealed. A spring falls off her leg as I remove her bloomers.***
We also learn that originally, she was a redhead, similar to my grandmother’s brunette shade…that she kept in a bottle under her bathroom vanity.
“I’ll see if I can find anything in my records to help identify her.” Patricia promises.
“Look what I found! As I was going over your doll I found the Babs marking. This helped me identify it.”
According to the site linked, the Babs Walking Doll was made between 1917 and 1921 by the Babs Manufacturing Corp. Since my grandmother was born in 1909, she was between eight and ten years of age when she was given her. Knowing my doll is over a hundred years old, makes me treasurer her even more. But, she was in pretty sad shape.
I asked Patricia to do what she could to recover her lost charms. This no doubt destroyed whatever value the doll might have possessed, but, I would never sell her and I felt that she deserved her own personal make-over.
It took a lot longer than I would have imagined. But I suspect you don’t undo a century of aging in a day.
Amy came home first.
You can’t see it in this photo, but she now has two satin shoes covering her feet. The mar on her cheek is gone and, with restringing and repairs to the dress, she looks as good as new.
I asked my mom if each of her sisters had their own doll from the series.
She seemed surprised to learn there were other dolls.
Mary, age 8 or 9, in her Beer Barrel Polka outfit.
“Oh, yes. She is one of the daughters from the March family, from the book Little Women?” I tell her. “Did you read it?”
“Oh, well, I’ve seen the movie.” Mom says. “But no, I was the only one who got a doll like this.”
“I thought, because you were one of four sisters and the book is about four sisters, maybe you each got one to represent your relationships.” I say. “But you were the oldest, and that would make you the ‘Meg’ doll instead of ‘Amy’ who is the youngest of the March sisters.”
“I really don’t remember that much about the story.” Mom admits. “But I had blond hair like this as a girl.”
It is always a shock to find someone doesn’t cherish the same books you do. I love Little Women. But if I were to pick a March sister, I would be Jo. Brave, adventurous Jo who writes and dramatizes her life. That, and the fact she has brown hair, just like me.
I finally got to pick up Grandma Laura’s walking doll this fall. I then learned that PattiAnn’s is closing; after so many years spent learning the art of doll craft, Patricia is retiring.
“Is this because people aren’t buying dolls as much?” I ask.
“Yes, partly. Children just don’t play with dolls the way they used to, not with the invention of iPads and electronic games.” Patricia sighs.
I look around and have to ask, “What will happen to all of this?”
“I’ll be selling it off as I close-up. You can check my Facebook website for details of the upcoming sales.”
I have my camera with me and I ask her if I might take a picture of her with a doll, “Which is your favorite?”
“Oh, all my real favorites are back at home, packed up for the move.”She looks around for a bit and then picks up a laughing babydoll. “But, I made this one for my mother before she passed away. So, I’ll be keeping her.”
We keep what matters to us. I don’t know if I would have a doll collection if it had not been for the one’s given to me. I have quite a few. My first years of independence during my tour in the Army were incongruously spent collecting dolls while stationed overseas. But those tales will have to wait for another day.
For now, I will be grateful I got my dolls repaired by someone qualified in a craft that is dying out.
And for those of you who are interested in the results, here is my walking doll, in her new dress cut down from a dress my mother made me:
I think you will agree, you wouldn’t recognize her from her former self!
I travel for a purpose. Generally, that purpose is to get to a destination. Sometimes, however, for my son’s sake, I travel for distance. For pleasure. To lose myself in the rolling roads dividing the countryside into rows of waving cornstalks and fields of bucolic cows chewing endless mouthfuls of grass. Usually there is an Aaron Copland sound track playing in my imagination.*
Recently, however, I had this experience backfire…and go hilariously bad. The tale ends up with a life-saving intervention from the Michigan DNR and a ‘Hail Mary’ airport pick-up. Join us for the missed-flight entertainment, if you dare, on the adventure I am calling:
F*ck the Road Less Traveled
It all begins with meeting a friend from afar.
Like most heroic quests, ‘Jay’ comes a long way to meet me. (Okay…technically she is visiting family, but still, meeting me is the added cherry on the trip-from-Japan Sundae.) Unlike most of my ‘internet friends’ who are likely market-research algorithms with questionable profile pics, Jay is a real live person.
Jay is so terribly cool, she met up with me at the nearby Panera for an hour of lovely conversation–despite juggling jet lag, a toddler, and the joys of accommodating myriad family obligations to meet up with someone she only knows in the digital sense from Nanowrimo.**
I was geeked. Her dad joined the venture–mostly because he was her chauffeur–but he was an engaging story teller who kept the conversation rolling. When our time together ran out, he invited me to come up to the family reunion scheduled for Saturday next.
“Sure.” I say. “But I’ll have to leave in time to get my mother-in-law from the airport.”
“I live in the woods, so, when you get up there, just call me and I’ll meet you so you can follow me back to the house.” He assures me.
“Oh, I have GPS. I’ve been up in that area before. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
Saturday rolls around and I cram my kid in the car and we’re off winding the back roads of beyond because I haven’t yet figured out that my car’s GPS has been avoiding highways on purpose. We arrive with only a few rural/off-map detours. (Okay…we got lost three times finding the house. But for me, that’s ONLY three times.) This makes me unbelievably cocky. If you don’t know me well, know this…if anyone can get lost going someplace, it’s me. But, I’ve come to rely on my son’s innate desire to travel to get us where we want to go.
Jay is warm, her daughter is adorable, and her father is welcoming. A yard full of strangers don’t question me or my giant son’s right to be there. The picnic is a nice, if brief, interlude at someone else’s family reunion. Before long, it’s time for us to leave to meet a plane. I tender our regrets clutching the scrawled map Jay’s father painstakingly wrote out for me to follow back to civilization. Upon leaving, I immediately take a wrong turn and don’t figure it out until it is far, far too late. Much to my son’s delight.
If you have never been to Fremont, Michigan, I highly recommend you visit. Especially if you want to become part of the witness protection program. Because, I promise you, once you move there, no one will find you again. Ever.
We are in the car, driving in the wrong direction, down a dirt path and I’m alternately swerving to avoid trees that are apparently just growing in the middle of the track we are following and I’m questioning whether the map is wrong or I am.***
It’s when we finally hit tarmac that I make my worst mistake of the day. There is an option to turn left or right. A quick glance at my dashboard GPS is of no help. So, with my son as the designated navigator we turn left. The most mistaken 50-50 shot of all.
This is where the paved road ends…
When asked whether we should turn around or keep going, my son’s intrepid response?
“Straight!” He barks from the back seat.
I eyeball my GPS doubtfully, tap the screen and gauge how far it is through the unmarked green area to the road it depicts on the other side.
“Well, it doesn’t look like it’s too far…about half an inch.” I think to myself. “How far could that be?”
Those of you who have ever taken a snowmobile trail are probably laughing your heads off at this point. I, however, haven’t a clue.
And into the woods we go…
Need I mention it is a one-lane track?
And that we need to hit Highway 31 pretty darned quick if we are going to have a chance to make the forty-some odd miles back to the airport in G.R.?
Pretty soon, things get a bit desperate. We’ve been in the woods for at least half an hour. We are definitely going to miss the flight we were scheduled to meet!
Who do you call when, at fifty-one years of age, you are lost and need assistance?
*Gets cell phone*
BEEP.. BEEP.. BOOP.. BEEP.. BOOP…
After a frantic conversation in which I fear signal loss almost as much as I fear the drones of mosquitoes following our car like we are to-go container they are trying to figure how to open, Mom comes to the rescue…
Insert appropriate theme song here
…of my mother-in-law anyway.
“I’ll go.” Mom promises. “But you owe me! I was already in my pajamas for the night!”
We keep driving. The huddling clouds overhead limit what visibility we do have beneath the canopy of the old growth forest we are traversing.
I’m not exactly panicking…yet.
But I’m thinking about it.
When along comes the cavalry…
I have to unroll my window in order to ask for directions.
The mosquitoes, at least, were deliriously happy.
The nice young men from the DNR—wait…doesn’t that mean Do Not Resuscitate?—correction, the Forest Service Department of Agriculture (it says it right on the door, Kiri) give me some directions on how to get out of the woods.
“You’re gonna come up on a fork in a bit, take it to the left…then you follow the road until you see the exit to Highway 31. It’s not that much farther.”
I thank them, and slap at mosquitoes trying for a second pint of blood, before I hastily close the window to depart.
Our vehicles squeeze past each other like fat ladies wearing hoop skirts moving through a narrow hall.
And then we are back on the trail, slightly more confident that we will make it home.
There’s the fork…
And more trees than you can shake a stick at.
And then we come to what looks like another choice…
This turns out to be a random opening in the forest.
“What the actual hell?” I am cursing young men who think they gave detailed directions but obviously skipped a few steps.
If I knew how to use Google Earth, I’d check to see if our little blue Prius was captured in the center somewhere.
While it is possible to go left, that way seems certain doom based on the quantity of wild flowers and stumps in the way.
We veer right and hold on to a waning hope.
The GPS is now openly mocking me.
It dances in circles around and around but never moves toward Highway 31 and freedom.
We pass the dusty roundabout, heading right.
Pretty soon, we see a verdant meadow, puffy clouds, and dream of escaping this wildness nightmare.
But those fantasies are dashed by what looks like the burial site for other lost travelers cleverly disguised as a “Coastal Plain Marsh.”
Leaving the erstwhile, granite grave markers in our rearview mirror, I can’t help but feel like the forest is trying to tell us something.
But what could it be saying?
Apparently, it’s telling us it is time to go home.
There, in the distance, it beckons us.
The way out!
Ahhhh….civilization…or as close as it comes in rural Michigan.
As we drove home…we admired the sights we thought we’d never see again…
Even traffic cones were a welcome sight!
We passed the bakery with the oddest name ever for a location smack in the middle of an alluvial plain.
And then, like the plains of Africa in the song by Toto, the rains came.
Bedraggled and drained, we make it home in time for dinner.
And it’s going to take a lot to drag me back to Fremont unless I’m giving a guided tour, perhaps by a team of strapping forest preserve on-call rescuers? For emergency purposes only, of course.
Until then, I grow restless, longing for some solitary company…and a song to sing me home.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I mistakenly Googled Erin Copeland and got a completely unsuitable track the first time. #NOT MY MUSIC.
**If you do not know what NANOWRIMO is, we are apparently not as close as my imaginary internet friends.
Thank you for joining me for a retrospective of the Mother’s Day bonsai bonanza at Meijer Gardens. I highly recommend you attend the special exhibits like these, or, failing that, stopping by to enjoy my obsessive photography habit.