On To Off * Another Tragedy * A New Wrinkle * Tradition and Heritage * Requests and Success * Damn Freud * Same Old Same Old * "Thanks for Coming In" * When I Was a Child * Staying Grounded * The Young Crowd
To read A Mother's Diary from the beginning, click on the June 2017 archives in the right hand column and read "Before: Scenes from the Trenches."
JANUARY 26, 2014: ON TO OFF
What a mix of a day. It began pulsating with possibilities.
I've located a writer's group in the Sacramento area. The group is sponsoring a six-week writing course for $60. This is doable. The hitch is the class is in the evening and about 45 minutes away. I no longer like to drive in the dark. I'm hoping Pat might want to join me. He could drive my car and tap into his inner poet. I've invited him for dinner. I'll ask him.
Pat arrives at 10 minutes to six with Lexi in tow. I'm slicing a small loaf of sourdough to make garlic bread. I leave the kitchen briefly and, when I return, several slices are missing. Where's Lexi? She's cowering on the sofa. Pat drags her into the kitchen and shows her the bread.
"Bad dog, Lexi. Bad dog."
"Did you feed Lexi her dinner, yet?"
"I don't remember. I'll check her dish when I get home."
I'm preparing chicken cacciatore. The kitchen throbs with the aroma of chicken simmering in tomato sauce, onion, garlic, mushrooms, and red wine. We sit down to eat.
"So Pat, how was your day?"
"How was the gospel singer at the church service this morning?"
"Were many people there?"
"How many?" This takes a few moments. "Fifty? One hundred?"
The conversation is one way. No questions or comments are coming back at me. Pat's affect is flat. He's not interested in the writing workshop. "I've done enough of those."
"When I was in college."
"Okay. Well, think about it. I'd pay for it and I'd enjoy your company." I don't ask, "What are you up to tomorrow?" I know the answer. "Not much."
"Would you like some ice cream?"
"I have chocolate sauce."
"Do you want to take the leftovers home?"
I pack up an unopened box of spaghetti, the remaining garlic bread, and the chicken and sauce. "Don't let Lexi get it," I warn.
"I won't. Come on Lexi, let's go home. Thanks for dinner, Mom."
"Thanks for coming, Pat."
Pat hugs me and I hug him back. My son and his dog disappear down the sidewalk into the dark night. I close the front door. I stare at the dirty dishes on the kitchen counter. The pot that was filled with lusty sauce is empty. I feel like an electric candle that someone's switched from on to off.
JANUARY 28, 2014: ANOTHER TRAGEDY
A woman from the support group calls to tell me about her friend's son. On January 19, this 20-year-old man jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. His mother had tried everything to get help for her son's mental illness.
On a balmy San Francisco day, another unserved youth decided he couldn't go on and tossed himself into the bay. How does a mother bear it?
JANUARY 29, 2014: A NEW WRINKLE
Pat has a job. He's delivering automotive parts for a business in Auburn. They'll pay him eight dollars per hour plus four dollars per hour reimbursement for gas. He stops by to tell me about his first day. There's a catch. He doesn't get paid for two weeks. This means he's covering gas costs for this business in advance. He's putting wear and tear on his car.
"Can you front me five hundred dollars until my first paycheck?"
"Why do you need five hundred dollars?"
"To cover gas and pay for lunches."
"Pat, I can't do this. Take your lunch. Most working people don't buy lunch every day. Five dollars per day amounts to one hundred dollars per month. That's money to buy Lexi's dog food and pay for other expenses. This employer shouldn't ask you to cover gas costs the first two weeks. They know you've been out of work."
"Mom, I haven't had work in seven years. I don't want to rock the boat and jeopardize this job."
"Pat, what if they renege? What if they're not reliable? I can't afford to lose five hundred dollars."
I give Pat a check for $40 for gas. "What would you do if I weren't around to help you?"
"I wouldn't be able to take this job."
Pat leaves. He has to get home and check on Lexi who's been in her crate all day. That's another issue. This poor dog cannot be locked up for eight hours every day. I sit down and take a deep breath. With Pat, there's always a new wrinkle.
JANUARY 30, 2014: TRADITION AND HERITAGE
I'm immersing myself in an author I've recently discovered. David Mas Masumoto is an organic peach and grape farmer in Del Rey, California - the Central Valley. In the introduction to his book, Heirlooms: Letters from a Peach Farmer, he says, "I try to choose my words carefully, and write stories with conviction. I journey with words and hope my stories travel beyond our valley. Yet in the end, I believe life is simply about loving. And loving words."
In a later chapter he writes, "Here's my two-generation theory about family. How many remember our father's and mother's first names? Probably most of us. How about our grandfather and grandmother? Still, most likely, many of us. But how about our great-grandparents? Most have two generation knowledge of our heritage and, within a short time, you and I will probably be forgotten. It's pretty easy to die with insignificance, and that sounds tragic to me."
Mas says the things he values include tradition, slow trucks, the culture of fog, home, delayed gratification, memories, thinking, reflection and stories. "I mean what I write. I live with the haunting thought that my words can stay with the reader for a while and may remain with me forever."
Thank you, Mas. I'll try to follow your example. I'll think about tradition and heritage. I'll mean what I write. I'll choose my words carefully.
JANUARY 31, 2014: REQUESTS AND SUCCESS
Lincoln Hills Foundation
P.O. Box 220
Lincoln, CA 95648
Jan 31, 2014
Dear Grants Committee:
Thank you for the invitation to submit a grant request.
I organized this new group - Lincoln Hills Family Mental Illness Support Group - in February 2013. We've had monthly meetings since then.
This is a support group for SCLH family members who have loved ones coping with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others.
In many cases, the public mental health system has failed to serve our ill family members, providing inadequate care and poor outcomes. Many in the group, like myself, are the only reason a son, daughter, mother, father, sibling or adult grandchild is not homeless and on the street. Some of us have ill loved ones in prison, unemployed, and in other challenging circumstances. Our family situations can be unpredictable, chaotic, and heavy financial burdens. Stress levels are high.
Stigma surrounding mental illness is prevalent. Therefore, we meet in the conference room at Raley's. This gives a modicum of privacy removed from SCLH and a safe haven. Our monthly meeting gives us a chance to vent and know that others in the group will understand without judging. We offer support, an exchange of information about resources, and the important knowledge that we are not alone.
To date, we have about 35 members on the group email list. On average, eight to ten attend each meeting. I've promised the group that there will always be a meeting on the second Friday of the month no matter how many are in attendance. They need to be able to count on the meeting routinely taking place.
With a grant, we could purchase books for the group and bring in speakers. Honorariums and speaking fees would determine the number of speakers we could engage in a year's time. With no previous history as a guideline, I'm requesting $1,000 in funding for this coming year. We'll keep you apprised as to the use of this funding and will adjust funding requests, as appropriate, going forward.
Please call me if you need further information. Thank you again for your consideration.
Support Group Moderator.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: After over seven years of unemployment and walking a very precarious financial tightrope which I fell from several times, I started a full-time job on Tuesday as a delivery driver for Millennium Transportation delivering auto parts to mechanics and repair shops. For the first time in a long time I won't be spending my days scouring the classified ads for work. It may be premature to announce this position as I'm finding it hard to believe I actually have a job and hope it lasts but, as of now, I am officially employed full time.
Donna: I am so happy for you Patrick!
Meridith: Yeah Patrick!! Congratulations!!!
Amy R.: Good for you! New year, new adventures.
Lara: Way to go!
Cara: Pat, as someone who has also suffered during this crappy economic time, I am so happy to hear this. No one can truly understand the difficulty of submitting thousands of resumes, and going to countless interviews. I am so happy for you and so proud of you for keeping your focus. Congratulations!!!
Amy P.: Congrats Patrick Ranahan. This is wonderful for you!!!
Shannon: Happy for you Pat. I knew you were going to get something soon!
Brandi: That's wonderful!! Congrats!
Pam: Happy driving Patrick!!
Ed: Go Pat Go!!!!
FEBRUARY 1, 2014: DAMN FREUD
While I'm walking home from duplicate bridge this afternoon, a neighbor pulls up and idles her car to say hello. She says, "Weren't those hands difficult today?"
I agree. They were a challenge.
"Something's happened with my fifty-four-year-old son."
Ah. The real reason for her stopping in the street.
"He's in the hospital."
"Is this good news or bad news?"
"Well, he's beginning to recognize when he needs help. His new psychiatrist took him off his medication for schizophrenia and his symptoms came back."
This sounds familiar.
"The hospital's got him stabilized. How can a doctor undo forty-five years of medical history? Where are my son's records?"
Good questions. Serious mental illness is the most challenging illness of this century. Mental illness is the least understood and most devastating illness of this century. Mothers know this. Those same mothers that Freud blames for everything. "Something wrong with your kid? It's your fault."
When will we outgrow Freud and see mothers (and fathers) as mental health allies instead of enemies? When will we move into a compassionate future? A future that will care enough to do research to find answers about our brains and how they can go awry?
That's why my friend and I play bridge. It takes focus. And focus takes our minds off problems that, so far, seem to have no resolution.
FEBRUARY 2, 2014: SAME OLD SAME OLD
Article in today's paper:
"Mental health hospitalizations of California's youngest residents, 21 and under, increased 39 percent between 2007 and 2012, jumping from 33,000 to 46,000.
"The number of emergency room visits involving suicide attempts among children and teenagers increased more than 20 percent between 2007-2012.
"Some mental health professionals believe that once their young patients commit a crime, they'll enter the juvenile justice system and have much better access to mental health treatments."
Stories and statistics about the failure of our mental health system make the news regularly. That's about it. Nothing changes or gets better. I hope that in 2114 this is no longer true. But, if history is predictive, 100 years may not be enough time to make a difference. Mental health care's been in the Dark Ages forever.
FEBRUARY 4, 2014: "THANKS FOR COMING IN"
I'm working at Snap it Up thrift shop and, as usual, a parade is coming through the door. All clothes are $1 today. The first customer is buying twelve pair of men's jeans. I ask who they're for.
"I'm buying them for prisoners at the jail who are being released. Often, they have only the clothes they wore in. I help stock a closet where they can get a warm jacket or an extra pair of pants to wear out on the street."
Another woman asks me, "Are you having a good day?"
"Yes, are you having a good day?"
"I'm having a very happy day."
Do I leave this statement alone or do I go further? "Why are you having a very happy day?"
"Because my ten-year-old son got placed in a group home and I know he's safe for the moment." This turns into a long story. "My adopted son's real mother was a meth addict when she was pregnant with him. Meth's in his cellular structure and he's always hyperactive. He's on meds for ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder but they don't have his meds right. He gets violent. He busted through steel doors at the hospital when he saw me on the other side.
"The doctors say his frontal cortex, which is the brain's center for impulse control, isn't developing as it should. If the cortex doesn't begin to catch up in the next two years, he'll probably have to be conserved to a group home permanently."
She continues. "I had serious surgery recently and I'm still recovering. I'm trying to get well and take care of my son. I feel like i'm not setting goals but my counselor reassures me that I do have goals — to survive and to help my son survive."
This woman has a lot on her plate. I tell her about NAMI. I tell her about the support group.
"Can I join your support group?"
She doesn't live in Sun City. I always try to think about why someone has crossed my path. I'll run this by the group. I get the woman's name and phone number. I'll get back to her.
More clothes are moving out the door. Some with a caucasian woman for her disabled roommate. Some with a black woman who takes the bus to get to the shop. Some with a hispanic woman who comes in every week.
I'm working in a thrift shop that could be in Anytown, USA. I like being here when customers find something they need at a great price. I smile, look them in the eyes, and give them an opening. More often than not, they start to tell a story. They're eager to have someone listen. That's all I can do. Listen and be humbled.
I say, "Enjoy that blouse. It looks beautiful on you."
FEBRUARY 5, 2014: WHEN I WAS A CHILD
In preparation for Grandparents' Day, I write a letter for Regan's second grade social studies class.
Thank you for asking me to write about my life when I was a child. Time goes by so fast. It seems like yesterday when I was seven — like you.
In second grade, my teacher was Mrs. Quimet. I remember her as I'm about to turn 70 years old. Our teachers are important to us. Somewhere around this time, my father, Pop, surprised us with a black and white television. We were the first family on our block to get one. It was like magic. I raced home from school every day to watch The Mickey Mouse Club. My favorite Mouseketeer was Darlene. I liked that she had long pigtails and often played the part of a tomboy. I also watched Sky King and Howdy Doody.
Our family lived in a very small house in San Jose, California. I had to share a bedroom with my little brother, James. I hated the arrangement. I liked dolls and he liked trains. I pushed a dresser into the middle of the room to divide it in two, but this only helped a little. I knew that James was still on the other side of the furniture.
When I was eight, Pop built a hamburger restaurant adjacent to his real estate office. He called it Burgertown. McDonald's didn't exist yet. Most days, after school, I went to Burgertown while Pop and GG cooked hamburgers and waited on tables. Sometimes I peeled potatoes or stocked the candy cabinet with Milky Ways, Snickers, M & M's, and Mounds Bars. I had hamburgers, fries, chocolate milk shakes, and hot fudge sundaes for dinner. It was heaven.
As I got a little older, I discovered that I liked to write poems. I wrote this poem one night while I was in bed.
The Moon Fairy
As I lay awake one night beside the window sill,
I raised the shade and took a peek while everything was still.
The moon shone on the house next door, made sparkles in the creek,
And where the purple violets grew, it left a silver streak.
There below my window sill upon a feathery fern,
I saw a wee wee fairy dance about and turn.
He frolicked there the whole night long and when the moon began to fade,
He looked up and saw me there below the window shade.
He spun around and disappeared into the frosty air,
And many times have I looked in hopes to find him there.
Sometimes when the moon is high and sparkles in the creek,
I raise the shade a tiny bit just to take a peek.
I never see the fairy there who played upon a tune,
But I can hear him playing, still, under the silvery moon.
I'd love to tell you more about when I was child if you want to know more. I wish for you a happy childhood. Don't grow up too fast. Otherwise, you'll soon be 70 years old like me. I love you Regan. I love you lots.
FEBRUARY 6, 2014: STAYING GROUNDED
Finally, It's raining.
I'm at a mentoring session for duplicate bridge. Volunteer mentors coach us on various bridge conventions. Today, we're learning about New Minor Forcing. I read that, except for one or two, no top player has learned to play bridge after the age of 20. There go my chances for the big time.
Meanwhile, two friends died, unexpectedly, this week. One died from the flu. One day my friend was fine and three days later she was deceased. There's been a higher numbers of deaths in our area this flu season. The victims include healthy people who didn't get flu shots. This flu strain trips the body's immune response to the point that it overreacts and the sick person drowns in excess lung fluids.
My second friend died from cancer diagnosed a short time ago. Another healthy person felled.
I'm leaving bridge class, walking outside, and letting the rain splash on my face. I'm placing one foot in front of the other, mindful of firm ground. I'm giving thanks for another day. Especially for another wet, rainy day.
PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I'm posting abstract art by Wassily Kandinsky. Nice! Leave a comment and I will give you an artist to post. The idea is to occupy Facebook with art, breaking the monotony of photos of lunch, selfies and sport. I will assign the name of an artist to whomever likes this post, and you have to publish a piece by that artist with text like this: I was given Rembrandt. Here is his painting - Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Shawn: Great choice Patrick Ranahan
Patrick: Lisa, you get Wassily Kandinsky.
Patrick: Nick, you get Willem de Kooning.
FEBRUARY 7, 2014: THE YOUNG CROWD
Priceless notes from Utah in the mail today.
Thank you so much for the birthday and Christmas money! I spent some money on a video game and I'm saving some. I hope you come visit us this year!
Thank you so much for the Christmas money! I decided to spend the money on books for my Kindle! I bought and read a lot of books with the money! Thank you so much. I can't wait to see you this summer!
I'm working out with Deanne. She says, "I can tell you're getting stronger. You're doing this at the right time. Some people say, 'I'm old' and think it's too late. But really, you're getting your body in shape for the next 20 years."
Deanne is gracious.
She hands me ten-pound weights. "I want you to sit, extend your arms down with the palms of your hands facing upward holding the weights. Keep your elbows in. Raise the weights to shoulder height."
She's got to be kidding. My right arm goes up — kind of. But my left arm's a total loser. It can't get the weight past my waist.
"You can do this," she says. "Try for four."
I try. I fail. Deanne switches me to three-pound weights. I can lift three pounds, but I have a ten-pound goal. Now, I know what's expected.
Please share my blog/book with "other wayfarers who might catch a resonating echo while wandering in my woods." Thanks.
COMING UP THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2018
February 8, 2014 - February 21, 2014: Life and Umbrellas * Stalling * Love This Place * A Very Good Day * Happy Valentine's Day * Getting Organized * Stuff * Conflict * Interview * Missing
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