Saturday, June 30, 2018

Until We Meet Again

"The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again." 
-Charles Dickens

One day last week, after I had completed our usual parting routine, 
my second-born took Gracie upstairs and let her watch out the window
 as I drove away.

Sweet little Gracie has a hard time with goodbyes. 

Which is understandable given that she passed through four homes in the first two and a half years of her life. By the time she arrived on our doorstep last July, my poor pup became quite unhinged when I went out, running in distress through the house as she frantically searched for me, whimpering and crying till I returned.

After the first couple days, we mapped out a different strategy. 

"Baby, I gotta go."

These are the magic words that now signal to Gracie that I'm going out and *sigh* she's not invited.

As soon as she hears me say that phrase in the mournful, exaggerated tone that I always use, she runs to the family room, hops up on her favorite couch, and settles herself in for the wait, her head comfortably slung across the arm, her eyes already half closed.. After collecting my bag and car keys, and sweeping the kitchen clear of anything remotely resembling food, because she will eat anything that isn't nailed down, I kiss her on the head and head out the garage door. 

Always the garage door. 

And when I come home, I always re-enter the house through the self-same garage door, which opens into the laundry room. And there I almost always find my devoted dog, sleeping on the rug where she knows I am almost guaranteed to trip over her when I come back.

We have our reunions right there in front of the dryer, with as much tail wagging and body wiggling and tongue lapping as Odysseus's dog most likely offered up on his master's return from the Trojan War.  

Gracie is always beside herself to have me back home. 

And the pain of parting is indeed nothing to the joy of meeting again.

Friday, June 29, 2018

An All-Summer-Long Birthday

Birthdays are meant to be celebrated. So on the twenty-fourth of June, my third-born's big day, we hung up the Streicher Family Official Birthday Banner, 

cooked her favorite dinner of chicken enchiladas, 

and enjoyed her favorite chocolate cake.

Meanwhile, the birthday girl herself was reveling in a South Korean celebration. She's been living in Seoul for sixteen months now, teaching English to kindergartners in bougie Gangnam, making friends, learning to speak Korean, and eating her way around the city. 

Never fear; my birthday gift was delivered by a visiting sister in May, along with half a homemade carrot cake. I also sent along some money with a secret message to her boyfriend to fund a birthday bouquet from mommy. And when she comes home for a visit in July, we will celebrate this birthday all over again. 

Interestingly, my daughter mentioned to me that South Koreans, much like the Vietnamese and presumably other Asian cultures, do not make a big fuss over birthdays. And I understand that. The typical American princess-for-the-day mentality is a tad indulgent and almost a cliche of our over-the-top culture.

But to me, a birthday is a celebration of life. And while they may not be the queens of the universe, I am profoundly grateful for my daughters' lives and that is why I am happy to celebrate my third-born's birthday all summer long.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Walk On The Wild Side

Her world is full of big adventures. 

It's a well-known fact that every afternoon, my good dog, Gracie, and I set off on an adventure around our neighborhood. We meet plenty of other humans and dogs on the busy suburban streets, and even get smiles and waves from the people in cars who pass by.

But besides people and their pets, lately my dog and I have been meeting up with an interesting variety of wildlife.

Take squirrels for example, An abundance of the little rascals frolic here and there along our route, dashing across the streets and scampering in the grass along the sidewalks. But it is back behind the high school, in our favorite and most secluded spot, that Gracie slows her pace into a stealthy stalk as she creeps up to Squirrel Headquarters. We silently approach the isolated dumpster at the edge of the forest, Gracie with her eyes riveted on the big green box and me tiptoeing behind. As we slip closer, the squirrels note our appearance and react, flashing across the paved lane, dashing into the undergrowth, or most rewardingly, popping out of  the dumpster lid, leaping into the nearby branches and scrambling off through the trees. Like the natural hunter that she is, Gracie stares in fascination while standing stock still, sometimes even assuming the classic "on point" position of a bird dog. The squirrels are not necessarily impressed but I am always proud of my clever girl.

Crows forage here and there along our route, usually standing guard over the best castoff chicken bones, half-eaten hamburgers, and taco wrapperss to be found under the bushes along the way. Gracie eyes the scavengers with envy as I remind her, " We don't eat garbage."( I would love to hear her response to that concept.)  Osprey often circle overhead; they nest in the tops of the towering floodlights along the edges of the ball fields, and Gracie often tracks them as they deliver meals to their babes at home. I smile to watch her ardently gazing up at the sky and watching this happy scene unfold.

We've seen two rabbits in the last week. The first one froze up and huddled just off the path in apparent terror as I dragged my dog past her. Feet scrambling in all directions in a desperate attempt to override my authority, Gracie clearly wanted a closer look. She got her chance a few days later when we spied another bunny chilling under the shrubs on the back lawn of the secret building behind the high school. This little brown hopper dashed and my girl gave enthusiastic chase. Although Gracie was limited by her 45-foot leash, the bunny ran in a circular path around me so Gracie was able to gallop at full speed around the arc. Miraculously, the rabbit escaped into the forest, my arm was not yanked completely out of its socket, and we all enjoyed the exhilarating encounter. 

But the most exciting wildlife meet-up of our summer so far is the one that didn't quite happen. Seems that just the other week, our little patch of forest was visited by none other that a young black bear; he was treed by wildlife officials just a few feet off our well-worn trail. I cannot imagine the chaos that might have ensued if my little red teddy bear had met up with a proper ursus, but I am certainly glad we did not find out. 

Who knows what wildlife we might meet next. There are always raccoons lurking around in the deep brush along the street.  Opossums turn up from time to time. And my husband tells me that in the early mornings, when he's on his way to his bus stop, he's heard coyotes howling in the woods behind the school.

All I know for sure is that when I go out with Gracie, we are taking a walk on the wild side. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Six Weeks In

Six weeks ago today, I woke up with Bell's palsy. The left side of my face was temporarily yet completely paralyzed, and simple tasks like taking a sip of water, brushing my teeth, and even smiling, for heaven's sake, were nearly impossible. My speech was slurred; my misshapen mouth could not properly form Fs or Ps. My left eyebrow was frozen into place, the left side of my forehead didn't move, Botox style, and my left eye could not blink.

"Don't worry," said my doctor. "We caught it early and I expect you will be back to normal in ten days to two weeks."

Well. Welcome to Bell's Palsy Week Six.

Now I won't complain. I am starting to see signs of healing. Week Five was a game changer. My slurred speech has mostly cleared up, my left eyebrow is almost fully functional, and whether my left eyelid is now closing or my brain has learned to sleep with one eye open, I'm not entirely sure but I am getting a proper night's rest again. My mouth is still fairly deformed so I can't chew properly or drink without a straw, and I drool more than I care to admit.

But I am definitely getting better.

Now that I see a light at the end of the Ball's palsy tunnel and no longer fear living with this freak face forever, and I realize that I've learned some interesting things along the way.

* * * * *

During the first two weeks, I worked through the horror of looking into the mirror and seeing my own eyes in an alien, contorted face. Strangers stared. Friends stumbled to say that I look just fine, but that was not so. I knew I didn't look like myself and I found that I'm much more comfortable when we all just admit the truth.

* * * * *

When I was first diagnosed, I understood Bell's palsy to be simply a collection of physical inconveniences, and I figured that by ignoring them, I could quickly put the disease into the background of my life and carry on as normal. But I've learned that Bell's palsy affects more than just my face - it has thrown me off balance in a handful of subtle ways:

I drop things.
I can't find the words I'm looking for.
I get off at the wrong exit.
I put cheese in the freezer.
I forget what I'm doing.

And in facing this seemingly trivial but life-changing secondary symptoms, I've found more compassion for people who are sick in mind, body and spirit; who cannot simply will themselves to carry on as if life were normal.

* * * * *

This isn't the first time I've learned this lesson, but Bell's Palsy has taught me once again how important it is to receive from others. I readily admit that I much prefer to give to others, and typically, I feel awkward and out of balance when I am on the receiving end of compassion and care. But what a humbling and important experience it is to receive - to know that when I reach the limits of my own fortitude and strength, there are people in the world who will reach out and pull me along, contorted face and all. Family, friends, even perfect strangers have all helped me make it through these six weeks of Bell's palsy, and for their help and generosity, I am grateful

* * * * *

Here are all the stories about my Bell's Palsy, in order from start to, hopefully, finish: