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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Happy Chanukah

 

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Happy Chanukah!

 

Chanukah, from what the rabbis tell me, means Dedication, as in the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after misuse, when one night’s worth of oil lasted for eight nights. The dogs rededicated themselves by going for their pre-holiday haircuts (and kerchiefing), and Mom started a new tradition of sewing her holiday cards instead of buying or printing them. I’ve decided that I’m going to rededicate myself to joy, and love, and fun. It’s so much easier to dedicate myself to work, or exercise, or obligations, because the internal and external pressures towards those goals are enormous. But fun? The dogs think I have lost too much of my oomph in this area, and I agree.

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Cricket before her haircut,

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and after.

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Butterfly before

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and after.

 

When I was little, my mom used to make scavenger hunts for me and my brother, for each night of Chanukah, as a way to make up for how small our presents were. One night, we split a package of dimes from the bank; one night my father came home with a used VCR for the whole family that someone else was giving away; we got packages of plastic combs, and socks, and small bags of candy. But we didn’t care, because it was the time and care Mom put into those scavenger hunts that was magical to us. She’d write clues on index cards and hide them throughout the house, one card leading to the next, until we found the ultimate prize.

My brother was convinced that the size of our presents meant that we were poor, even thought we had a nice house, and two family cars, and we both went to private school (on scholarships). But really, Mom was so careful with money, because our father was profligate. He put a lot away for retirement, and bought himself presents, and liked to give gifts to other people. He didn’t understand why I would need regular shoes and sneakers. He was especially angry when my feet grew so fast that I needed a second pair of shoes in less than a year.

My brother chose to ignore the profligacy, and focus on the poverty, and aimed for a good upper middle class career in his adult life. I focused on the unfairness, and the confusion, and ended up as a writer and a fledgling social worker.

But both of us love the play time of Chanukah, and being able to remind ourselves of the joy of running through the house looking for those hidden index cards in Mom’s handwriting, letting us know that we were the most important people in the world to her.

The dogs like to think of every day as a scavenger hunt for treats that will magically fall from the sky just for them. They’re pretty sure that every day should be a holiday, full of treats, and love and joy.

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“The treats are coming! The treats are coming!”

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“The treats are hiding under the snow, Mommy.”

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“Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!”

 

 

Christmas Movies, Again

 

Mom is getting VERY tired of Christmas movies. I try to tell her that it’s either a Christmas movie or another two hours of watching the news, or, we can watch repeats of Law & Order for the tenth time each. She acts like I’m purposely making her suffer through Twee Season (see what I did there? Twee for Tree?), and blocking all of the sensible shows from the TV.

This is not my fault. Actually, there have been more than a few Christmas movies this season that I had to stop watching early on. Usually I like the sugary sweet love stories, and the magical touches that make everything turn out alright, but sometimes the acting is too unbelievable, even for me.

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“Am I sugary sweet, Mommy?”

Poor Mom is stuck, because she doesn’t like the too sweet movies, and she doesn’t like the edge-of-your-seat-the-world-is-ending movies (or news), and there’s not much left in between right now.

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“The world is ending, Grandma!”

This is the time of year when I wish I could forget the plot lines of all of the shows I love, and then I could watch the repeats for hours on end, in pure bliss. But, damn it, my memory is too good. If I try to watch the reruns, I get impatient with my favorite characters for making the same mistakes they made the last time I watched this damn episode.

And I still haven’t given in and joined Netflix, or whatever it is you do with Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I still borrow DVD’s from the library when I want to catch up on episodes of Miss Marple or Foyle’s War (not kidding).

It helps to have something relaxing on TV while I’m doing my schoolwork at the computer, because if I paid too much attention to the darkness and despair we read and write about in my social work classes, my head would explode. Instead, I listen to Christmas movie dialogue, and reach down to scratch Butterfly’s head, and look over at Cricket’s enigmatic face every once in a while, for reassurance that we haven’t all gone to hell in a handbasket.

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Ideally, all Christmas movies would star Jimmy Stewart, or Tom Hanks, and be directed by Frank Capra or Nora Ephron, and I could just relax my critical mind and let them take me on a floating journey. I could listen to Louis Armstrong singing about a wonderful world, and watch snow fall on the screen, while I sit in my warm, cozy living room, and believe, for a few hours, that everything will be okay.

 

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

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“Yeah!!!!!!!!!”

Physical Exhaustion

 

The level of exhaustion I can reach is hard to explain to people. Sometimes I seem fine. I can dress up and go out into the world and function well. The adrenaline gets me through, but then I go home and collapse, and I can barely imagine doing it all again, until I do. But each time, the exhaustion gets worse and the recovery time takes longer. Other people my age have three, four, even five times the schedule I have, and they would look at my life and think I was the luckiest person in the world, with so much downtime. I know that people, even those close to me, believe that I am overstating the problem, and that when I have to work five days a week I will be able to do it. But I’m really scared that they are wrong.

The other day, I saw a performance of a tap dancing troupe called The Red Hot Mamas, made up of women from age 59 to 87, and instead of being inspired, I felt like a loser. I would fall on my head if I tried one of the dance routines they were doing, with such obvious energy and enthusiasm. I used to love my tap classes (when I was four years old), and the sound of the taps when they hit the hard floor. None of these women were breathing hard or struggling for balance, but I would have fallen off the stage in the middle of my first high kick.

I feel guilty for being unwell, without even a diagnosis to name what’s wrong with me. I feel like I’m being lazy, and melodramatic, and should just get up off my ass and join a tap dance group. And I don’t really understand why I can’t.

I am jealous of Cricket’s great joy in running, and sniffing, and playing, as if every trip outside is her first. And I am in awe of Butterfly’s stubbornness. When she thinks a task is beyond her abilities, or wishes, she just stops. She doesn’t go along just because I want her to. She says, no, I’m tired, I’ll wait for you here. When it’s raining, she says, I don’t need to walk all the way down the block just because that’s what Cricket wants to do. I’ll stand here under the awning.

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“Nope, Mommy. You can’t make me do anything.”

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“Superpuppy!!!!!”

I wish I could do what the dogs do and nap between every activity. But when I take a nap, I wake up disoriented and still exhausted, and they wake up ready for adventure, or at least for snacks. Cricket generously tries to share her enthusiasm with me, however misguided her methods may be (scratching my face and blocking my airway are not pleasant ways to wake me up, Cricket).

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“It could be worse, Mommy. I could wake you up with my gardening toys.”

The fact is, the adrenaline that gets me through the day takes forever to leave my system, and until then I feel exhausted and hyper all at once, and constantly afraid that I won’t get my work done in time. I barely finish my school work for one week, when I’m already two days behind for the next week’s assignments. Unfortunately, working my fingers to the bone with typing, and note-taking, and revising, does not burn many calories. This is very disappointing.

I need a break. I want to read a novel. Heck, I want to write a novel. I want to bake, or go food shopping without a list. But there are all of these deadlines to meet, and expectations and obligations to live up to. I feel like someone has pushed me off a cliff, thinking I would fly, but all I can do is fall. And those crash landings really hurt.

Maybe what I need to do is to follow the dogs’ lead and cover my body with a coat of fluff, so at least the landings would be a little bit softer. That could work, or I could just cover myself with my cozy winter blanket and take a long nap with the puppies by my side, and hope that when I wake up, I’ll start to feel better.

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“Sleep well, Mommy.”

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Fingers and paws crossed.

Cultural Competence

 

I seem to have developed a growl reflex. It started a few weeks ago. At first, I thought I had a cough, or some kind of breathing disorder that would kill me at any moment. Butterfly looked at me with a wait-a-minute stare, as if I had finally spoken in her language, but it was my Mom who noticed that it only happened when the news was on.

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“You finally learned my language!”

There’s something dissonant about studying to become a social worker, with all of the inherent multi-culturalism and looking out for the vulnerable and oppressed that comes with that, and then turning on the news and being told that all of these values are passé. There’s a free-for-all feeling to the news in America since the election, as if no one’s quite sure how to cover the President-elect and still be “objective.” Every day is unpredictable.

For a long time now, we’ve lived in a country where white supremacy and neo-Nazi propaganda was beyond the pale, and now, not only is it main stream news, TV news people are tying themselves up in knots trying to discuss these people and their beliefs “objectively” and “without prejudice.”

Note the irony.

Since when did objectivity require the removal of your backbone and integrity? When did this mass surgical procedure take place, and can it be reversed?

I’m trying to find out when we as a society decided that talking about racism became “identity politics,” and therefore something to be avoided. There seems to be a consensus in the main stream media that the Democrats lost the presidency because they were too focused on identity politics – aka the needs and issues of minorities and oppressed and vulnerable groups within our society. The solution offered seems to be that we should not think in terms of groups and differences at all, but only of society as a whole.

This, pardon me, is nonsense. We come together in groups when we have shared issues that need to be addressed, and know that the larger our group, the louder we can be, and the better chance we have of being heard. If we can’t come together and speak as a group, we are effectively being silenced.

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The lessons people keep trying to take from this election are bizarre: it’s Hillary’s fault, because she wasn’t likable enough; it’s “identity politics” fault, because it made white people feel left out; or, it’s Black Lives Matter’s fault (a group which, by the way, has become invisible on the news since the election, though I can’t imagine that unfair treatment of black and brown people at the hands of the police has suddenly vanished in the warm glow of the anticipated Trump presidency).

The backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement may be as realistic an explanation for the election of Donald Trump as any, because while some Americans woke up to the reality of unfair treatment of minorities by the police and criminal justice system, because they could finally see the video evidence with their own eyes, many other Americans saw the resulting protests as a threat to peace and safety, and they wanted to shut it down.

The media has decided to take Trump’s election as a mandate to stop covering certain issues, and to stop advocating certain values, that had seemed to be universal in America. The media also seems to have decided to take Trump’s word for it that Steve Bannon, despite being the voice of the Alt-right, in his own words, is really not a racist, misogynist, anti-Semite. No, he’s just misunderstood.

My only consolation is that I have the loudest, most aggressive protester in the world living in my own household. Her name is Cricket, and she is a fourteen pound bundle of fluffy outrage. If things continue to get worse, I may have to pack Cricket into the car and bring her to Washington, DC to have her voice heard. I’ll just put her at the front of whichever march is underway at the moment: the women’s march (she is female, after all), or the rights of immigrants march (as far as I know, there is no such thing as legal citizen ship for canines, so her outrage would be real). She’d be willing to fight for a lot of different groups.

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“I have something to say!”

But watch out KKK. Cricket may be a white dog, but she does not like bed sheets. You have been warned!

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