touch and go…

Another pet will probably be leaving us soon.

IMG_4985Sitka…who thinks he’s a lap dog…not a “leave me to my own devices” feline. If he could attach himself to my body…or anyone’s for that matter…he would. His life is intricately intertwined with his humans. He doesn’t want to be anywhere except with us. If he could curl up around our necks and live there, only uncurling himself to eat and do “his business,” he would.

Sitka’s nearly 14…a long life in cat years. Not long enough for him, I’m sure. He’ll always be young at heart, living the carefree life of the youngster he most assuredly thinks he is. Always reaching up the length of my body to be carried…to be snuggled…to be loved like a child. 

Sitka, who could never get enough love it seems. Makes me wonder what his life before 8 weeks had been like. I adopted him, and his sibling Juneau, from the local animal shelter around that time. It was the day after 9/11. They were my own personal homage to lives lost on that horrific day. Diagnosed as having “worms,” I had to keep them apart from my two other cats so they wouldn’t contract the disease.

IMG_2145For a month Sitka and Juneau lived in our downstairs bathroom, much to their dislike. Every day I had to scrub down the floors, counter tops, toilet, shower stall and sink with disinfectant so that the cats would not reinfect themselves with those nasty little buggers. Every day I had to spend quality time with them closed off from the rest of the family, assuring my little boys that they were loved. Every day they tried to rip the door off its hinges…literally…in an effort to escape solitary confinement. Once my husband even had to take the door off its hinges. The boys had pulled out a drawer of the cabinet so that we couldn’t even open the door. Funny now. Sheer pandemonium then.

When we moved to Washington in 1998, we brought along 2 cats…sisters, Fudgie and Sunkist. After 9/11, Sitka and Juneau joined the family. A few years later our dear Mocha ruled the roost as the only dog. They all figured out how to make the most of their living arrangements.

Being the least inclined to follow anyone’s lead, Sunkist was the grand dame. Fudgie seemed to shrink from contact, preferring to hover nearby instead. Sitka, the friendliest of the bunch, wanted to be pals all around. Juneau preferred to body-slam his affection, especially with Mocha who tolerated, sometimes even tussling with his unlikely opponent. Once we had to reprimand Mocha for dragging Juneau a few inches by the scruff of his neck, as well as scold Juneau for making a nuisance of himself with Mocha.IMG_5213

IMG_4990When grandkitty Misha came home with his mom, our daughter, to vacation or, on occasion, to spend several months…or a year, the house would be in an uproar. Misha usually flounced his weight around, gaining the upper paw by sheer magnetism and charisma. He is one cat who doesn’t cotton to occupying the lower rung on any ladder, animal or human. As with the others, he soon learned that grammy…me…was the predominant alpha. Once he learned that golden rule…Misha settled in just fine with the others. Oh, he still drove me up the walls…splashing water all over the place in an effort to clean himself off while drinking water. We went through several innovative concoctions, not to mention types of water bowls, to save the wood floors from being drenched and eventually warping. Now that he’s happily settled in with his mom again, she has that headache with which to contend. And I can return to carrying on about what a cute, little grandkitty he is…from 3,000 miles away. Although I do love him as much as my own boys.

Sitka’s blood platelet count has been descending rapidly…for some unknown reason, it seems. The vet, a compassionate man who has doctored to Sitka’s needs since he was 8 weeks old, suspects cancer. In an effort to stabilize and even elevate his blood count, the doctor is trying every and all medication he can think of to turn things around for our little fella. In the end, however, it is about quality of life. I never want any of our pets to suffer for our sake. Once we become aware that they are struggling to hang on…it’s time to let go…and remember them during the best of times.

By the end of the week our little man might be gone…joining siblings Sunkist, Fudgie, Mocha and even earlier family members, Sushi our Shitsu and Bandit our Persian,(and many others before that for there was never a time I was without pets.)

I still have all their ashes…in little, floral tins provided by the crematoriums. One day I will spread them out in the garden so that they will be remembered year round as I wander about…among the flowers…the fallen leaves…the light dusting of snow.

…remembering those who love us…unconditionally.

………hugmamma.

(Move your cursor over each photo to read captions.)

Enjoy more pet shares at
https://hopethehappyhugger.wordpress.com/michelles-weekly-pet-challenge/

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best gift…ever!

Twenty-five years ago today, my husband and I were blest with the perfect gift, our daughter. Without child for 16 years, we’ve counted our blessings every day since her miracle birth. Because of her we know the joy of celebrating holidays, especially Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Because of her we know what it means to love without conditions, and to sacrifice without expectations. Because of her we’ve come to accept who we are, with our own idiosyncrasies and human failings. And because of her, my husband and I have found a deeper love for one another.

Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus

Image via Wikipedia

Life isn’t perfect, it wasn’t meant to be. But being gifted with a child surely put us on a direct path to God, not always an easy one. On-the-job training, trial and error, challenges, compromises, and blending individual personalities into one smoothe-running household, was probably not even easy for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family. But look where they are. Sitting at the right-hand of God.

But I don’t need to look that far ahead to know that I wouldn’t trade being a mom for any other gift in the universe. My precious daughter has brought me to where I belong…to my own, true self. Twenty-five years ago, today, I began my journey “home”…

and i owe it all to my daughter…hugmamma.

fathers cast “long shadows”

Never knowing my father, has surely influenced the course of my life, for better or worse. Not that I grew up dwelling on my loss, because I knew no better. Life with my mom was, what it was. However years of observing father-child relationships, including my husband’s and daughter’s, and being privy to others telling or writing, of their own experiences,  made me realize that being fatherless probably impacted my life in a major way. I’m certain I sought a replacement in every relationship thereafter, looking for the security and safe haven every father is thought to inherently possess. I’m positive I looked for him in every male I encountered. But I would have been just as happy, perhaps, if a woman filled the bill since my mom was preoccupied on so many fronts. My older siblings knew my father as children. So I can’t identify with their loss when he died, although I’m sure it was devastating. What we had in common, was being emotionally bereft of both parents.

As society’s traditional head of the household, a father seems to define a child’s psyche. If he’s present and a positive influence, the child flourishes. If he’s present and a negative influence, the child diminishes. If he’s “missing in action,” the child flounders, and “crashes,” or picks himself up by the proverbial “bootstraps,” and becomes a better man for having suffered. If a child is fatherless, he searches far and wide for his identity. These scenarios don’t preclude a child’s own life experiences with its accompanying peaks and valleys. However, how he celebrates or copes is affected by the presence or absence, positivism or negativism, of his father.

Does a father know the power he has over his children? Too concerned with providing material sustenance, I don’t think he ponders the question. If he did, he might run for the nearest “exit.” What man in his right mind would want the responsibility of playing God? Having to walk the fine line between “His Benevolence” and sergeant-major, while allowing his children the luxury of exercising their own free will in all matters. In my estimation, a man walks into fatherhood “blindfolded.” What he does when the blinders come off, determines whether he’s a good father, or one who sucks, on a scale from 1 to 10. I don’t think I know any 10’s. Even my fabulous husband, probably comes in at a 9 1/2, but my daughter might override me with a resounding “10!”She’d win; after all, he’s her father.       

So much has been said about Michael Jackson’s father who abused his sons, mentally and physically,  in attempting to garner a better life for his family. One oft told anecdote involved Tito playing his father’s guitar, something forbidden by Joseph.

…one day Tito broke a string on the guitar. ‘I knew I was in trouble,’ Tito recalled. ‘We were all in trouble. Our father was strict and we were scared of him. So I put the guitar back in the closet and hoped he wouldn’t figure out what had happened. But he did, and he whooped me. Even though my mother lied and said she had given me permission to play the guitar, he tore me up.’ When Tito tells the story, his words tumble out and he gets tongue-tied. So many years later, one can still sense his anxiety about it. ‘She just didn’t want to see me get whipped,’ he said, sadly. ‘Not again.

J. Randy Taraborelli also writes the following in his biography Michael Jackson – The Magic, the Madness, The Whole Story.

Joseph believed in the value and impact of brute force as a disciplinary tool. ‘Either you’re a winner in this life, or a loser,’ he liked to say. ‘And none of my kids are gonna be losers.’ To be sure of that, he would smack his kids without giving it a second thought in order to keep them on the right track to being ‘winners’. Shoving them into walls was not unusual behaviour for him, especially the boys. Michael, however, was the one boy in the family who would attempt to fight back when provoked by his father. Once, when he was just three, Joseph spanked him for something he had done. Crying, Michael then took off one of his shoes and hurled it at his father. Joseph ducked; the shoe missed him.

‘Are you crazy?’ Joseph screamed at him. ‘Boy you just signed your own death warrant. Get over here.’

Infuriated, Joseph grabbed Michael and, according to Marlon, held him upside down by one leg, and pummelled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks. Soon, Michael was crying and screaming so loudly it seemed as if he was trying to summon the entire neighborhood to his aid.

‘Put him down, Joseph,’ Katherine hollered. ‘You’re gonna kill him! You’re gonna kill him!

When Joseph released the boy, he ran to his room, sobbing, ‘I hate you.’ Those were fighting words for Joseph. He followed Michael into the bedroom, slammed the door and then let him have it.

‘Joseph once locked Michael in a closet for hours,’ said a friend of the Jackson family’s. ‘That was traumatizing, horrible for him.’

 Suzanne Finstad’s Child Bride – The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, reveals that she  inadvertently discovered her mother’s closely guarded secret of Priscilla’s real father’s identity.   

Priscilla nearly collapsed under the strain of her sacred pact of silence with her mother. Ann Beaulieu had placed an enormous burden on a thirteen-year-old child by asking her daughter to keep her paternity a secret, even from her siblings and from the man she now knew was not her real father. 

…She  told no one about the discovery of her true identity, not even Pam. As time passed, she became conflicted about wearing the locket containing the picture of her real father. ‘I felt guilty, because I felt now that I was betraying my stepfather, who was so good to me. Because now it’s like I was hiding something from him.’

The trauma of her mother’s betrayal and her own suppression of the truth affected Priscilla’s behavior. Her grades dropped, eliminating her from eigth-grade cheerleading tryouts, ‘and it was a big blow to her,’ …’She went through a real change of personality,’…

Knowing nothing about him, Priscilla fantasized that her long-lost father died a great war hero. ‘In times of emotional pain and loneliness,’ she said, ‘he would become my guardian angel.’

Finstad’s book also sheds light upon the father-daughter relationship between Elvis and his daughter with Priscilla, Lisa Marie Presley.

Lisa’s self-image as the princess of rock, spoiled utterly by a superstar father, with a staff at Graceland at her command at the age of six, continued even after Elvis died. She was imperious even with Dana, the one close friend she had. ‘It was always very clear that whatever Lisa wanted to do,…she had to have her way.’ In later years, Dana attributed this trait to Lisa’s unexpressed anger over losing her father.

Lisa’s marriage to Michael Jackson, continues the author, may have been deeply rooted in the unconditional love she and Elvis shared.  His sudden death left her feeling helpless, since at age 6, Lisa was incapable of saving him from a self-destructive lifestyle.

Lisa had wed, by an obvious Freudian motive, the nineties equivalent of her staggeringly successful superstar father. Elvis was the King of Rock; Michael was the King of Pop. Both singers, oddly, had pet chimpanzees at one time; both shared an interest in UFOs. Elvis lived in semiseclusion at an estate called Graceland. Michael lived a reclusive life at Neverland. Elvis often rented amusement parks, one of his favorite forms of entertainment; Michael had re-created Disneyland on the grounds of his estate and took Lisa, incognito, to the California theme park on their honeymoon. Both men had married to avoid scandal in their careers: Elvis to erase the stigma of his live-in relationship with a seventeen-year-old girl, or to avoid the Beaulieus’ revelation of their illicit arrangement for Priscilla; Michael to rehabilitate his shattered image following the molestation charges. Michael and Elvis entertained small groups of fourteen-year-olds in their bedrooms for slumber parties. The two music legends were notorious eccentrics trapped in an arrested adolescence, existing on unorthodox diets.

Lisa, some of her friends surmised, had married Michael–on a subconscious level at least–to ‘save’ the father she had loved and lost. By restoring Michael to his former position of glory, by elevating him from the ruin of his molestation scandal, she might, in her mind, redeem and perhaps resurrect her father.

I’m currently reading In My Father’s Shadow – A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder. A third of the way into it, I’ve felt a pervasive sadness throughout. Despite her unquenchable longing to always be with her father, Christopher, the name chosen by her dad, joyously celebrated what precious little time she shared with him. And in her own words, she explained that while her new stepfather successfully brainwashed her mother in behavior becoming the proper wife of a British Major, Orson Welles’ daughter would never succumb.

During our first year in South Africa, my mother changed from the open-minded American woman who had treated African-Americans as her equals, the woman who had loudly cheered and danced around the living room with Charlie Lederer (her second husband) when we heard on the radio that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected to a fourth term. She became a female clone of Jack Pringle, and the two of them teamed up against me, because I refused to change my essential self and blend in seamlessly with my surroundings. I was not a chameleon like my mother. And, strangely, the absence of my father made me realize how much he had already shaped me and that his power did not depend on his presence. I was Orson’s kid–not Virginia’s and certainly not Jackie’s–now and forever.

Thinking that Orson had forgotten her twelfth birthday, Chrissie, aka Christopher, complained to her mother, who responded ‘Instead of sitting there feeling so sorry for yourself, why don’t you think about all the birthdays he did remember?’ After a brief pout, Chrissie contemplated what her mother had said “Then, as though she had flung open the doors of an old toy cupboard, I suddenly saw the doll my father had given me on my fifth birthday–the most beautiful doll…pretty blue eyes that opened and closed when I rocked her in my arms. …the stack of Land of Oz books; the recordings of Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker Suite,…the fluffy, pink bedroom slippers… One by one, they came back in a joyful parade, all the birthday gifts from my father. Gifts that were always exactly what I wanted.” But the gift that left its greatest impression upon Orson’s daughter was the one he bestowed on her seventh birthday. During his half-hour radio evening program, This Is My Best series, he announced ” ‘Good evening, this is Orson Welles. …My eldest daughter, Christopher, is seven years old today, and like most ladies and gentlemen of her age, Christopher likes her father to tell her a story. Well, I don’t know of a better one than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ …” Orson’s 7-year-old was overjoyed that Orson remembered her favorite story. Reflecting back, Chrissie speaks of that special occasion.

For a long time after the program ended, I had sat by the radio, lost in a magic world of poisoned apples and happy endings. Five years had elapsed since then, but no one–not even Jack Pringle–could take that memory away from me.

So now I knew what I had to do. Whenever being without my father began to hurt too much,  I would come and sit quietly in my room, close my eyes and remember.

My daughter remembers that in the very early years of her childhood, she wished she could have seen more of my husband. He commuted to work in NYC from Connecticut, a 4 hour round trip which he gladly made, so that we could raise our only child in the idyllic town of Redding. The only concession he asked was that her curfew be 9:30 p.m. He wanted time to play with our daughter each evening, and read her a bedtime story. This was a small request for the sacrifice of time and energy my husband made, so she could be nurtured in the small town environment which we favored.

The better part of our daughter’s memory is filled with wonderful remembrances of a father who was actively present in her life. Unlike childhood friends whose fathers only exacted discipline, or were absent from mealtimes, or dancer friends whose fathers are never seen at performances. My husband has allowed his toddler daughter to dress him in hat, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and fur boa when they played her favorite game, “Pretty, Pretty Princess.” Against his natural instincts that she attend college, he allowed his 16-year-old aspiring ballerina to move to another state in pursuit of a dance career. And after a summer caring for her cat while our daughter was away dancing, her father escorted Misha back to his “mom” en route to a business trip in a nearby state. It was a supreme act of love, since my husband has been on meds for years, as an asthmatic with allergies. Going through airport security, he wore gloves when removing the cat from his crate which went through the scanner, while Misha and “grampy” walked through the screening gate.

All fathers are human, bringing personal “baggage” to the job. Most intend to do well by their offspring, whether they have a plan or “fly by the seat of their pants.” Gazing upon the innocent faces in the pediatric ward, new dads quickly pledge the “moon” to these tiny infants. They never question their ability to “deliver.” That comes later, as reality and responsibility seep into their overtaxed brains. Some walk away; some commit long-term; others remain undecided, going through the motions, until something triggers a decision one way or the other.

A parent is expected to multi-task. Raising children is added to the “to do” list of chores, walk the dog, empty the trash, gas and wash the car, mow the lawn, clean the gutters, power-wash the driveway and roof, refill the bird feeders. Of course children should be top priority, but sometimes life can overwhelm, especially when an unexpected glitch occurs disrupting the fine balance. A parent loses a job, is diagnosed with cancer, is divorced, must care for a parent with Alzheimer’s, suffers the irreparable loss of a child. Where does a parent seek relief? It’s not inconceivable that duty to one’s child slips, eventually occupying the lowermost rung on life’s ladder. In that eventuality, I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t feel like shit. Sorry, but I know that’s exactly how I’d feel. 

Parents don’t get a reprieve. We don’t get to pick and choose which jobs we want to relinquish to someonelse, while we tend to our children. We’re expected to do it all simultaneously. We should show ourselves compassion for trying to do it all, remembering, however, that children are not a commodity, but rather smaller versions of ourselves. They deserve the same respect we desire for ourselves.

Fathers cast “long shadows” over the lives of their children. Their influence is long-lasting, if not permanent. Dads are imbued with the power of “life and death,” physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are the kings of their castles. Succession to their “thrones” is dependent upon how thoughtfully they rule over the lives of their children.

for all fathers, huge hugs…hugmamma.

unconditional love and support

Just learned that someone I’d known a number of years ago has Alzheimer’s. She’s the sister of a dear friend with whom I’ve reconnected through my blog. What’s impressive about this case is that the afflicted person was born with Down’s Syndrome. Now middle-aged, she is suffering a new health challenge,  perhaps more devastating than the one with which she was born. Is it true that God levels upon us only what he thinks we can handle? It may be.

The woman in question lived her life as though she weren’t handicapped.  Living in a home with others having special needs, she shared in  household chores, perhaps with some assistance. I’m not certain. She worked at a local market. She socialized. She even had a special male friend. I was always amazed at how normal her life seemed.

Then, just as now, a support system was in place to make this woman’s life as effortless as possible, emphasis on “as possible.” My girlfriend and her mom are to be lauded for their tireless efforts in helping their sister and daughter to live an independent life. They did not encourage a vegetative life, and knowing the woman she’d not have settled for that anyway. Their mom has since passed away, leaving her daughter in the care of my girlfriend and another sister.

Even with Alzheimer’s the woman is living in her community of handicapped friends. But her sisters bring her to their home on weekends. They make sure to keep her active, for outside stimuli is known to help in fighting the disease. That along with medication delays the onset.

My girlfriend is a special woman, having always placed others’ needs before hers. I am forever grateful that she created the first playgroup in our rural town. I’m certain it helped the moms as much as the toddlers. Building a network of friends probably saved the women from postpartum depression, and served as the cornerstone of socialization for our children.

Working for the good of children was always first and foremost on my friend’s agenda. A school teacher, she assumed the director’s position at a preschool once held by her mom, who succumbed to ovarian cancer. Having advanced to a better situation elsewhere, my girlfriend continues to share her special talent for making childrens’ lives better.

I always admired my friend’s parenting style, not that I ever dreamt of adopting it as my own. My strengths were different from hers. She was less controlling, more open to suggestions from her daughter and others. I knew I could only succeed if I trusted my own instincts, and did what I thought best. Vaccilation would undermine my confidence, thereby leaving my daughter without the guidelines I felt she needed.

Traveling very different paths, my friend’s daughter is training to be a big animal veterinarian, while my daughter is a professional dancer. So although their upbringing was as dissimilar as could be, they are both upstanding adults.

Unconditional love and support are potent allies for the handicapped, the diseased, new moms, young toddlers, growing daughters, and best friends. My girlfriend and I have remained supportive of each other throughout the years. I celebrate her successes; she congratulates me on mine. We’ve never shared a cross word, never passed judgment and always spoke well of each other’s children. We have been as close as sisters, whether in touch or not. But there was never pressure to correspond with, speak to or see one another. She and I were content knowing we cared, and would always care. My only concern was not knowing if she were still healthy and happy. If she ever passed, I would want to be told. I would want to pause to remember her for the extraordinary person she has always been.

now’s as good a time as any, to thank her…hugmamma