Sunday, May 29, 2011

all my eggs in one basket, part 2

I used to obsess over procreation. I created many drawings and collages inspired by the topic. One of my favorite scultpures out there in the art world is the ironic/iconic beaded "bloody" tampon someone submitted for the annual juried show at the Women's Art Registry of MN. And I read widely on related subjects-- nothing self-help, not the Kama Sutra or those "home massage" how-to's -- but great volumes like the mid-19th century "Strange Sexual Practises" and other odd titles gleaned from the Books In Print catalogue. (I worked at a university medical book store for a while, which helped.) I knew homosexuality back when it was still listed in the DSM-III-R. I knew geishas seldom had relations with their clients. I knew swingers, married bisexuals and life-partnered lesbians. I knew about adolescent fertility rituals in Borneo, and I knew that someday, I'd marry and have a baby (or two), and my firstborn would be a boy. This urge to reproduce and the semi-conscious awareness of it dominated my motives far more than I knew then, though for a time I debated having a child without a long-term relational attachment to the father. None of this has crossed my mind in a long while.

I had heard late in my teens that I might have trouble conceiving due to some hormonal irregularities. And several years after that I was told that my spine was in such bad shape I'd probably spend a third of any pregnancy on bed rest. After years on the pill, my gynecologist assured me it could take months to purge the drugs from my system, and I shouldn't hope for a quick conception. And yet, after just a few weeks I was "sprogged up." Just like that. After many many long nights imagining it would never happen. 9 months (upright) plus one C-section later, I was a parent.

And my son is almost 8, now, an only child; yet somehow I remain attached to my fertility. Somehow, those primitive rituals and laws of attraction really do define us, even in this post-gender-role society. My viability is somehow part of my appeal to the opposite sex. It's well-known that a woman with a small waist, flat tummy and pronounced booty is attractive to most straight men precisely because her figure indicates she is ready to conceive. It's the ideal we're encouraged to strive for, as women, though the hourglass figure is in and out of style at least once per decade.

I read a short article in Newsweek last week, about the rising rate of divorce and remarriage in couples over 50. Longer life expectancies mean there's time for a second mid-life crisis before retirement, though hardly anyone can afford to retire early in this economy. If we work, we continue to receive medical care (that's the theory); we continue to look for meaningful engagement, to redefine ourselves, to seek diversions. We fall in love, or out of love, or make the decision to go it alone with occasional companionship. Notwithstanding the spectre of cancer, and other conditions more likely to develop with age; constantly reminded to take better care of ourselves, it's easy to believe we have choices. More exercise, better health, less fat; and a long middle age lets you forget a little that biological time only moves one way. Viagra, anti-depressants, yoga; triathalons for rank after rank of middle-aged born-again adolescents, it's the new American dream. We no longer have faith in the value of land, the hometown, find little use in putting down roots. We have our bodies, we tend them and fix them up as carefully and lovingly as we would our homes. Some of us.

The spectre of menopause is just another reminder, another opportunity to come to grips with loss. I dye my hair, ride my bike and walk as much as I can, work to keep my weight down. Make sure my husband knows he's not the only man who looks at me appreciatively. Try to define myself, for myself, again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All my eggs in one basket

It's been a trying week, physically. My period is two weeks late. My right hip is killing me.

I took a pregnancy test on Monday and it came back positive. I couldn't believe it. We use birth control. It seemed so unlikely that I took another test, and this one came back negative. Good grief. So I emailed the Gyn's office, thinking I would make an appointment for my annual, and if I still hadn't had my period by that time I'd ask for the blood test. But, things have changed since I gave birth to my seven-year-old -- they no longer invite you in for a blood test. The scheduling nurse emailed me back. "If you're pregnant, we need to make an OB appointment for you, but that's not until your 6th week." What? Okay, I tell the her the story of the conflicting tests. Next thing you know, I'm getting a phone call at work from Peg, the nurse practitioner. "So, what's going on? Is this a good time to talk?" I tell her the story, and she says "go get another test, and do it first thing in the morning. That will be the tie-breaker."

Which is what I do. I pee on the stick, again. And, nothing. Negative. So okay, I'm NOT pregnant. But why the positive test? Who knows. And why haven't I had my period? "Well," says the doctor, "you have been showing other signs of early menopause..."

I have long had names for our second child chosen -- girl names. And I have struggled at times with the desire to make another baby, but there are many reasons not to. I confess I was hopeful -- I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted it to be a surprise, an event that did not require a decision to be made. But no. And I have mixed feelings -- about aging, about giving up on the idea of also having a daughter. About what it means to add a child, when there are already days I find myself counting the years until my son turns 18, 21... and goes out on his own, that I might do the same. And our financial status is a little uncertain at this time, and I'm already working my ass off... it would be too much to be pregnant on top of all that. And yet, things would have to give, if I were. Something would change, of its own accord. It would be a little like waiting until you have a new boyfriend or girlfriend before you break up with the old one -- finding an excuse, the leverage for change, a way out that avoids accountability. More reasons not to get "pumped up."

In the midst of all this, the waiting, the wondering -- feeling freaked out by my body's forgetfulness, avoiding sex, struggling with the hormones and the emotional tide accompanying this episode -- my sciatica has been killing me. I'm not getting enough exercise, and need to do my PT. If I sit for more than ten minutes, I arise with a limp, and pain.

And I'm drinking too much wine, because it takes the edge off a lot of things -- another reason to be thankful I'm not with child. I'd have to stop drinking wine.

And might also have to stop taking antidepressants, a prospect that causes me some dread. So hey, hey, it's over right? Menopause? Well, as long as my hair doesn't start falling out, I can be grateful.

What does it mean, not to be able to reproduce anymore? Vasectomies are reversible, whereas aging eggs are just a liability. And my fears awake in the night -- ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancies and the like. But they don't want to see me again at the doctor's office until June. I am filled with uncertainty, and fear, and sorrow.

But this is it, the one life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

nula para obsequiar - zero to give away

It's a phrase I can't trace to any life experience - I'm not a Spanish speaker. And it just pops into my head once in a while. In principle, it's not a feeling or thought I have often. Rarely, in fact, is it the case. So why does the phrase rattle around in my head the way it does?

Yesterday's sermon titled "Never Enough?" made me feel somehow shamed, just the same. Am I hard to satisfy? Am I obsessed with my own hunger? Instinctively I answer, Yes.

And I know I've been a little self-centered lately, maybe more than usual. More confident lately too, and somehow confidence seems to point more to my self-centered thinking, though whether that's causal or just clear-mindedness I don't know. Sometimes, I just want a break from being "in relationship" with others. That's a part of the self-involvement I imagine, though it's also manifestation of my basically introverted nature. I have a very public lifestyle. Doesn't speak to my hunger though -

and while yesterday's sermon seemed to focus on fear of scarcity, it didn't dwell much on the metaphysical scarcity I sometimes give in to. My hunger is, not just spiritual, but also relational -- oddly, conversely. And so much is packed into that statement. And if I continue to pursue more and more the satisfactions of the relational, will I end up with nula para obsequiar?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Well. As my friend JMB reported, 200 hits on the bin Laden post. Lucky me, I'm topical once in a while. Fortunately people are responding privately and via Facebook, and I appreciate the feedback. The positive, and the negative.
Let's try to remember something though folks: If I don't mention you by name, I certainly haven't committed any slander. The people who know you will understand your point of view; and you don't have to care about the people who don't know you as well.  

I compared notes with another friend today about how we talk to our kids when events of universal importance occur. His children, same general age group as mine, heard about bin Laden right away yesterday morning. "Something happened last night that you ought to know about." I respect that. It may not be wise to always strive to protect my own kid from the world as it is. And knowing the news is important.

I found myself uncomfortable with the dialogue as it was reported to me, though, mainly because I'm not sure the socio-political nuances of this particular event are available to the average seven-year-old. And the for-Dummies version of such events, already a specialty of the mainstream media, creates a kind of credulity in the minds of kids and grown adults alike that perpetuates all the other myths we seem to suffer from as a society.Was bin Laden akin to the evil Emperor of the Star Wars movies? As my friend pointed out, the Darth Vader comparison doesn't really work because Vader turned out to be a little bit good in the end. Did I cheer when the Emperor bought it in "Return of the Jedi?" Maybe. It seems likely. And why not? In the movies, the wars end, and everyone lives happily ever after.

I recently asked another friend about a private relational situation, and the answer I got was "It's very complicated, and talking about it wouldn't be useful." I think that's an interesting question to ask oneself: is this line of conversation useful?

My bin Laden Rant

The kids in my son's first grade class wanted to talk about Osama bin Laden yesterday. Who was he? Why did he die? The teachers determined this wasn't a good classroom topic, and asked all the kids to talk to their parents if they had questions about the news. My son's classroom is very diverse, and several of his playmates are probably Muslim. Likewise several of them are probably being raised by atheists. My son did not come home with any questions last night -- I received an email from his teacher with this information, as did the other parents. My son did not come home with questions, and I didn't bring it up myself. When the news about the "death parties" appeared on prime time last night, I snapped off the TV.  My son looked at me, but said nothing, and went back to his book.

In a sense I'm just avoiding the discussion, it's true. It's not appropriate to tell my sensitive, anxious child about the jet planes that destroyed thousands of lives and two monumental buildings. Every time I see a jet passing over the skyline, I think about that day, 9-11. Every time. And I don't think it's appropriate to tell my child about the war we started overseas as a result, or about the thousands and thousands of combatants and civilians, women and children, suicide bombers, killed in the past decade. He'll internalize our society's perpetuation of violence soon enough, without help from me.

This morning on Facebook I saw an image posted by one of my relatives: a picture of the Statue of Liberty, torch upraised, with bin Laden's severed head dangling from the Statue's fist in place of the torch, and a caption beneath that reads "GAME OVER." Right. It's just a game, and we win. So all the dead will be resurrected now, and the lives ruined will be restored; the two towers will reappear new and sparkling on the Manhattan skyline, and the scoreboard will be erased. Two of the world's great civilizations will turn their swords into plowshares, and all the babies will be wanted and cared for and well-fed and loved. RIGHT????

Get your heads out of your asses, people. Seriously.

I know grown adults who are celebrating because bin Laden "got what was coming to him." But God help us, if we all "got what was coming to us." Was bin Laden a bad man? Sure, all evidence presented points to him being a bad man. And now he's dead. But his life, his one biological entity, his arms and legs, his heart, his head, weighed out, cannot equal the lives of thousands, the dead and injured on both sides. His life, his one soul, is not price enough to pay for the souls of thousands of others -- because souls cannot be bought and sold. Not really. And because life is a gift, we can take life or give life, but we never own it. A man is dead. Let those who survive the ones killed in the Towers, the ones killed on the front, take the death of bin Laden as some comfort for their grief, if they believe they are helped by the death of one more. Surely that's easier than confronting the violent nature of humankind and the crimes committed by society against society that have never been justified. 

If those children don't understand, it's just as well, because to understand they would first have to be taught about religious prejudice, about mortification of the flesh, about evil and love and the battles between too complex and overwhelming to be understood at times. Let them be innocent a little longer.