The celebratory and the reflective

My neighbor and the pet mama of my favorite little dog, Sobaka, had a birthday yesterday and her 700th Peleton ride. Another friend had a birthday Thursday and by happenstance I had that podiatrist appointment in her town and stopped to see her. She insisted I had to have done it on purpose, but I am terrible with birthdays. I know they are coming. I make plans days in advance but somehow, they slip by without me recognizing them.

The Teenager decided to take the bull by the horns and go shopping for our neighbor’s birthday and collected all of her favorites: Diet Coke in 20 ounce bottles, Cheez-Its and various flavors and sizes of M&M chocolates. It’s something the teenager learned from the maternal side of our family, because when my mother runs out of ideas for what to buy someone she either finds something completely ridiculous (like the whole chicken in a can that she bought my husband for Christmas one year) or stocks up on their everyday favorites. (The chicken in a can stemmed from my husband’s love of chocolate pudding in a can. Things escalated from there.) It’s like a care package, but more festive.

Now Sobaka turned eight this week so The Teenager also bought a corresponding gift bag for the dog. With extra tissue paper as Baki loves tissue paper, some treats and some little stuffed toys Baki will probably ignore because she’s too hoity toity to play.

My family has lived in this neighborhood for 20 years. Some of my neighbors have lived here their whole lives, like Little Dog’s Birthday Girl Mom and my neighbor to the right who cuts my lawn every time he cuts his. Most of my neighbors have been here as long as I have, and so we have adopted an informal mascot of the Flamingo and have the occasional girls night.

The Teenager is very excited to be old enough to attend. Last night was the Flamingo Birthday party. I was very very much looking forward to it, and very excited to share the slow progression of my service dog application with my neighbors. Very excited also to see what cocktails would be served as this particular host does not disappoint. (I ended up with a Jack Daniels canned cocktail of lemonade and honey whiskey, delicious.)

I suspected this was a recipe for disaster, but was so looking forward to relaxing with neighbors and laughing after a hard week. I had been up since 3 a.m., worked almost a full day with odd results on my metrics, went to the gym at 5 p.m. and inadvertently skipped dinner. The party started at 7, but I opted to wait for The Teenager to get home from work at 7:30 pm.

I’m skipping around chronology here, but my brain was doing this same jumps for much of the day, fatigue leaving me not quite here nor there. When I left for the gym at 4:40 — it’s about a 10 minute walk — I discovered a package from my stepmother’s business.

How honest should I be? This package struck fear into my heart. I didn’t want to open it. But I had to open it. I haven’t heard from anyone in my family for months and it seems like some people in it are getting harder to get a hold of, but I know rationally it’s a busy time of year and we’re all still recovering from the loss of our patriarch and trying to figure out how to fill that void. So of course I open the large but light box.

There is a beautiful card inside with a thoughtful inscription from my stepmother. She had a quilt made for me of my dad’s things. I cried. Because this week has been hard for me and I’ve been trying to hide just how hard and wishing I had my dad to listen and make me laugh. And not many people other than my mother and I would care, but Tuesday was my parents’ wedding anniversary.

I almost carried the bulky blanket with me to the gym because I didn’t want to put it down. Luckily, the Teenager got home in the knick of time to take it away from me.

We did a fantastic upper body workout at the gym, with some core exercises that used the legs which I very much needed. I had skipped Wednesday’s workout not knowing the source of the nerve pain. The workout pushed my arms and stretched out my extended person, who was very stiff.

Once I made it to the party, I sat by the fire pit in the yard (wearing the Teenager’s Stitch Fix mock leather jacket because I didn’t want to fight the kittens in my room to get my very stylish jean jacket) sipping my cocktail. I had rejected my first seat because the Adirondack chair made my back and hip very uncomfortable. All day my right lower back muscle had been straining oddly, and I thought maybe the cortisone shot in my foot had caused me to move my body differently.

We moved into the house for ring bologna, cheese, pretzels and chocolate-on-chocolate cake. If you are looking for me in the photo, I am second from the left with the Teenager beside me. My exhaustion kicked in high gear. The Teenager had to leave for work at 8:45 p.m., another overnight dog-owning client, so I thought it best to follow her home. Which, for the record, is across the street.

Now, I attend these parties barefoot as long as the weather allows. The Teenager and I leave the house, descend the front stairs, and reach the sidewalk. I think I took two steps on the old sidewalk and I lost my balance. Badly. Tried to regain my footing and couldn’t. I fell onto the Teenager who allowed me to ricochet off her without budging. Like a mighty tree.

And then she looked down and said, “You okay? You getting up or are you dead?”

If you don’t live with someone clumsy or someone with a condition like cerebral palsy prone to these kind of incidents, you might find that cold and cruel. It’s not. It’s practical and allows me to retain some dignity as I collect myself. My daughter knows I don’t need fuss, that I’ll let you know when it’s time to panic. It might be a little later than it should be, but eventually I’ll let you know. We might stop at the Chinese Buffet with a broken ankle, but eventually I’ll end up at Urgent Care when I need it.

I knew I stubbed my toes and my palms and my elbow was screaming, but I was praising whatever entity was watching over me that I had the heavy jacket to protect my arms. My glasses were still on my face. My face never hit the cement. We were good. I just hoped the jacket had survived.

“It will make it look cooler,” the Teenager said.

I crossed the street and took inventory. My elbow was bleeding and was very tender to the touch. My other scrapes were inconsequential. I checked my phone for clues as to what might be happening.

Holy shit.

Let me just start my saying that even with the explanations offered by Apple and Google, I don’t understand exactly how to analyze double support time, walking steadiness and walking asymmetry as recorded by my phone. I look for patterns. I know my phone does not consider me a fall risk, so I rule that algorithm-based tool out as useless for me.

I know, in general, that when my asymmetry reaches 10% or more I tend to fall. This shows two spikes, one at 53% on the walk to the gym, and another at 58% on the way to my neighbor’s house. As best I understand, this means one foot is walking faster than the other. Did the cortisone shot make it so I can’t feel my foot enough to use it? Is this foot unable to keep up with the other? This idea terrifies me.

I cleaned up as best I could and collapsed in bed struggling to get comfortable with my elbow bothering me and my back hurting worse. My brain was calculating and worrying and fighting the downward spiral.

That’s where I’m at. Except I’m cuddled on the couch in my dad blanket.

The notion of emotional support and work in American society

Yesterday left me thinking a lot about the notion of friendship and emotional support. As I continue to navigate the death of my father, the gestures I see from those around me touch my broken heart in ways I never imagined possible.

And recent events, from how Stitch Fix handled the recent shift change to how they handled my father’s death, shows me that successful businesses— even American ones with an international presence and millions of clients— don’t have to be jerks.

The dog and I were sitting on the sunporch yesterday waiting for one of my crazy cat lady friends to stop by. She wanted copies of my novels to give to her sisters for Christmas (and I need more fans) and she once cared for Mars and Minerva while they were on their pet store tour.

(Speaking of Mars— he has the prettiest purr. Check it out here. And maybe adopt him. Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab.)

While Bean and I were waiting, an older man pulled up in front of my house and starting rooting around in the hatch/cargo area of his SUV. And he gets out a big bouquet of flowers.

Did someone send me flowers? Who do I know who is fancy enough to send flowers?

They came in a big glass vase with white roses and baby’s breath, and these lovely periwinkle filler flowers that I know I should know the name of because I did take high school horticulture.

I struggle to unfold the card. And I discover it’s from Stitch Fix. So I know I have a warehouse job. I know I fold clothes with everybody else. I am considered an unskilled worker, over educated for my position.

But I feel like Stitch Fix is the first company I’ve worked for to treat everyone of us like we are people, and not just interchangeable bodies in a process.

My warehouse job has paid the same amount of money as my last professional job— and removed so much stress and feelings of inadequacy from my life.

Professional positions or even common retail positions have controlled my life— constantly making it clear that “they” feel it is my privilege to work for them.

When my cat Opie had cancer I went into the computer system and requested to use some of my accrued paid time off so I could be at home after he got his leg amputated. I was working for Target at the time, about 36 hours a week so of course I didn’t qualify for medical benefits or anything because I was “part-time.” I had worked for Target for almost a decade.

They didn’t know it, but I had already accepted a professional position at a local non profit, but because of Opie’s surgery and other home circumstances, I had asked to start on the first day of the next month.

Now, after Christmas a few months prior, a guest had called the store and accused me of a racist act the day prior. This person of color had gathered all of the remaining food from the cafe, set it aside for 20 minutes, and not paid for it. She spent the entire time on the phone. I finally asked her if she was ready to pay for it and she left the store angry. Her husband called the next day. She never went to a supervisor, never said anything to me, just went home.

And the investigation determined that because I talk with my hands, I was angry and threatening with her. Despite witnesses saying the contrary. Despite almost ten years with the company.

So I got written up. This means if I did anything else wrong in the next year they could fire me. This meant I couldn’t apply for any promotions (despite the fact that my supervisor had left and I had been running my department during fourth quarter).

This is why I finally had enough and looked for a new job. And my marriage was in trouble and I needed to make more than $12 an hour.

I mention this because one of my Target friends just got fired for a similar incident where a customer was clearly out of line, and Target took their side. Even though this employee had been with the company since 2009. Just boom— fired.

And do you know what happened when I requested off? My manager denied it. I was too important to take time off.

But not important enough to pay a living wage.

But not important enough to defend when a customer was out of line.

But not important enough to provide medical insurance.

I went back to the computer and gave my two weeks notice. Except the store manager begged me not to go. And we agreed I could have the time off and I would work Saturdays to help train my new supervisor. Who turned out to have no interest in our department, ignored our breaks and wouldn’t listen to anyone but herself.

And when I called her out on it, because my peers wouldn’t do it because they needed the job, the same manager that denied my time off tried to fire me.

It didn’t work, but I never worked another day at Target, so they “got their way.”

And don’t even get me started on my experiences in “professional” employment.

If you have a job where you like going to work and your boss is a human, treasure it. It’s getting rarer.

So, yes, even though Stitch Fix is metrics driven and can be physically taxing, I have felt more like a person in their employment than I have in years.


More to come on the definition of “friend” later. So many generous acts have happened since my father’s death.

My daughter saying farewell

My daughter saying farewell

I apologize if this image offends anyone. But I find it beautiful and I wanted to share.

My husband’s 94-year-old grandmother died last week after a long battle with cancer. For the first year-and-a-half she did well, a round of radiation with my mother-in-law as her live-in caregiver and nurse. After her birthday this year (July 4), she retired to her bed and did not leave her bedroom again.

With the help of hospice nurses, my mother-in-law cared for her as if she were a newborn baby. I wish I could say it was peaceful as her obituary claimed, but the last two weeks were not. I will spare the gruesome details and say only that I now understand how zombie legends started. Apparently, my grandmother-in-law’s heart kept going even when her body had begun serious decomposition.

Nana died at home. This was the third and final great-grandparent that my daughter had. The first passed away when she was five or so and we brought her to the viewing with one brief glance into the casket. The second followed a year or two later, and this time my daughter heard more about the choices that had to be made about end of life care and “pulling the plug.”

This time, my daughter, at nine, helped care for her dying great grandmother and attended the whole funeral– riding in the limo with her grandparents, attending the whole viewing and funeral, and even going graveside. (My daughter sat beside the grave with her grandparents and boisterously asked, “Are they going to drop her into that hole?” The pastor laughed.)

My mother-in-law had asked for three pink roses tucked into Nana’s hand– one for each of her three great-grandchildren (all girls, the other two are in their twenties). The funeral director knew Nana well and slipped a peppermint into her fingers as he remembered her always having a hard candy to share.

I found so much beauty in that day. The sun-drenched October day turned out perfect, sandwiched between cold, rainy days. My daughter did such sweet things, like helping her aunt arrange the blankets around Nana before they closed the casket.

But this photo summarizes it for me: My darling baby, kneeling before her great-grandmother for a farewell, using those quiet moments before the public calling hours. Yes, you can see the body, but it’s almost indistinguishable. Bathed in light with color from the flowers. It was a peaceful moment.

Photography: A Child Says Adieu (Nana’s funeral, 2013)