Tag Archive: Family


Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?

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My Daughter is a Geek


I’m a geek.  So is my husband.  He gets to wear the supergeek badge because he’s a programmer.  I’m just a garden variety geek who’s into science.  Meteorology, microbiology, and geology are my pet subjects.  We both love a good map: we once spent $75 on a world atlas, and we’re often not sure what’s more fun, going on a trip or plotting it out.  We’re staunch supporters of critical thinking skills, and encourage our daughter to question everything.

We also like more entertaining geek things, like the holy trinity of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who.  We like cheesy sci-fi disaster movies, even if they’re completely ludicrous, like The Day After Tomorrow or The Core.  So it was with great pleasure that we gradually introduced these things to our daughter.  She cut her geeky teeth on Star Wars at first, then we moved her on to Star Trek when we thought she could keep up with it.  Gradually she discovered her own geeky things, Minecraft in particular.  She is an absolute master at  that game.

One day I stumbled across a Doctor Who episode (“42”) on PBS, and was hooked like a migrating salmon.  We all fell in love with The Doctor instantly and began fantasizing about the TARDIS dropping out of the sky onto our lawn (you bet your sweet ass I’d go with him!).  I got a sonic screwdriver for my 40th birthday, and we began collecting other bits of Doctor Who merchandise.  Our daughter demanded to dress like the 11th Doctor for Halloween, and later Comic Con.

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Our daughter gets her photo taken inside the TARDIS

Her passions didn’t come without a price, though.  See, it’s not much hipper to be a geek or a nerd today than it was when we were growing up, despite what popular media wants you to believe (just loving something a lot doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd).  And if you’re a girl geek, then Heaven help you.  Geekdom is a land still mostly inhabited by males, who staunchly believe that girls are too stupid or weak or whatever to be true geeks.  She’s not only excluded by greater society because she’s a geek, but also from within geek society, because she’s a girl.  She has a hard time making good friends with classmates because she’s interested in things that they are not, and vice versa.  She’s 11 now, and could give a furry crack of a rat’s ass about any of the things other girls her age are interested in, mostly clothes and makeup.  She sees a girl fretting about her appearance and thinks, “What’s wrong with you? You look just fine.”  I’m probably responsible for this attitude, as a woman who shuns makeup and typically wears shorts and a fandom t-shirt of some variety on a daily basis.

She has found some acceptance on the internet, but other times she’s bullied on the Minecraft servers because she’s a girl.  She’s refused to give in to the pressure as other girls have done, and keeps a username and a skin on her character that clearly identify her as a girl, or perhaps as gay (I’ve seen it, it’s very rainbow-y, as she also likes My Little Pony).  This gets her no end of shit on some of the servers, where she will often be called out on her appearance straightaway.  Other characters go out of their way to attack hers in order to get what she’s carrying, since everything you own drops to the ground when you die.  She gets jabs of, “You can’t play here, you’re a girl! Only “real gamers” can play here!”  I’ve seen her in tears more than once because she’s been bullied on a particularly mean server and had her character killed repeatedly.  When she complains to the sysop about unfair treatment, she gets excuses that are creepily reminiscent of the kind of victim-blaming women get when they’re raped, basically “you were asking for it”.  These things are run by people, and reflect the attitudes of their sysops.  Maybe that’s just how everyone gets treated on some of these servers, but she seems to get an awful lot of flak because of her sex.

All I can do when these things happen is to remind her of how awesome she is, to tell her to just avoid places where she knows she’ll get bullied (which makes her sad: some of these servers are very interesting places to play), explain why jerks are jerks (typically boiling down to the need to put others down to make themselves feel better because their own lives suck, and as such it’s sometimes best to pity people like that from afar), and do something else fun with her (like watch Doctor Who).  I encourage her to keep loving the things that make her happy, and show her things like this video:

and this one:

I feel bad about encouraging her to avoid places she likes in order to avoid being bullied, but when someone’s engaging in cyber-murder to keep you from playing, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it (no parents or school officials to go to), it seems fruitless to keep going there.  I’ve told her to stand her ground but to pick her battles, though not in those words.  She doesn’t really need to be told that, though: she does it naturally.  Thanks to Daddy, she now has her own Minecraft server, where she can make the rules.  We’ve given her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech (Spiderman) in the wake of a cyber-squabble on the server that ended a friendship because she had to ban a couple of people (the culprit: a bullying boy).  I’m going to encourage her to promote her server where she can as a safe place for other girl Minecraft players can come to play without fear of being bullied.  I’ve been really proud of her unwillingness to cave to humiliation and prejudice unless it gets so bad that she just can’t play.

We’re going to keep introducing her to geeky things.  She loves robots, even once keeping a blog about the life of a robot.  I look forward to when she’s older and I can introduce her to more adult geeky things, like Ghost in the Shell and other anime, movies, and games.  And I’ll keep telling her to explore new people, places, and things, even though she might get picked on, because sometimes she won’t be, and those will be the strong connections that will carry her through life.  In the meantime, we’ll keep on playing the games we love (Skyrim, Minecraft, D&D), watching the movies we love (The Matrix, X-Men, Lord of the Rings), and cultivating friendships with like-minded people.  Just because she’s in the minority doesn’t mean she has to be lonely.  She and the other girl geeks of the world will prevail, and we will all be better off from it.

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.

Appropriate


Two social hot-button issues have come to roost at our house: what music is appropriate for our daughter to listen to, and whether or not it’s okay for her to play violent video games.  The first has to do with exposure to depictions of sex, alcohol, and drugs, as well as possible degradation of women or other populations; the second has to do with exposure to an activity that may or may not lead to increased aggression of her own.  Both boil down to whether or not the influence of the parents can counteract the outside influence of things our children really want to participate in and enjoy.

Let’s address the first issue.  I’m having a really hard time with it largely because of my own personal baggage surrounding children and exposing them to sexual imagery and energies before they’re ready for it.  I suppose “ready for it” should be my guide here.  If she weren’t ready for it, she wouldn’t be so gung ho to listen to music singing about it, because otherwise, it would bother her.  And it’s not so horribly explicit, although there is one song that refers once to S&M that makes me raise my eyebrows.  Which raises the issue of whether or not it should be such a big deal to let kids listen to music singing about things they don’t understand in the first place: all they care about is the music itself.  If there’s something they don’t understand and they have a good relationship with you, they’ll ask you about it.  At least, our daughter does.  Which should ease my mind to at least some extent.  And pretty much any question a kid can ask can be answered in terms they can understand.  Even “What’s S&M?”

I mean, what are parents really afraid of when they don’t want their kids listening to music with sexual imagery? They don’t want their kids having sex too early, if at all for some parents.  I can combat that with education and openness.  Keeping her away from music that sings about sex won’t keep her from knowing there’s sex in the world, and if all of her friends are listening to the same music, she’ll find a way to listen to it anyway, and then we’ll just have a relationship built on deceit and mistrust.  I’d rather let her listen to what she wants to, make sure I know what she’s listening to and that she understands what she’s listening to, and arm her with the knowledge she’ll need to counteract anything negative she might have picked up from the social messages she got.  Which she’ll get anyway eventually regardless of what she’s listening to.

The same goes for anything else negative she might hear in her music, such as references to alcohol or drugs, although I draw the line at anything that degrades another group of people.  I haven’t heard anything like that yet though.  She doesn’t hang out with kids like that and has such a strong sense of justice and fairness that I know she would never tolerate that sort of thing in her music or from her friends.  I’ll have to keep an ear out for subtle put-downs, though: things she might not pick up on and wouldn’t realize are mean things to say about other people.  She’s still young enough to be learning those social rules and slang terms.  It’s a pity I have to be worried about such things being peppered into something as innocent as dance music.

She can’t listen to whatever she wants to unsupervised, though.  I have to know what she’s hearing if I’m going to be able to protect her from what’s negative or educate her about something.  She hates this, but that’s my job to oversee what goes into her head.

And the same is going to have to go for the video games.  She and Daddy got new video games for Christmas.  Daddy gets to play games rated ‘M’, and it really chaps our daughter’s ass, not to put too fine a point on it.  I can’t say I blame her: all the really cool games are rated ‘M’.  What kid doesn’t want to kill zombies?  Resident Evil is deemed too violent for the under 17 crowd, though.  And I can’t say I blame the game raters, either: there’s a lot of gunfire and gore.  Other games, I’m unclear as to why they got an ‘M’ rating and not a ‘T’ rating, since there’s killing in ‘T’ games as well.  The whole ratings thing makes me wonder, why is it okay for teens to engage in video game killing in hand-to-hand combat (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) but not stab monsters with a sword (Skyrim)?  The husband’s only been playing Skyrim for a few days, so maybe there’s more in the game further in that makes it clearer as to why it has a higher rating.

My daughter’s begging made me pull up “video game violence and kids” on Google and do some research on the subject.  Unsurprisingly, there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that violent video games make kids more violent or even aggressive.  In fact, as video game sales have skyrocketed in recent years, juvenile violent crime has gone down (as has crime overall, if I’m not mistaken, even though the news would have you believe otherwise).  Much like every other new invention that hits humanity, video games have been decried as the new harbinger of the decline of society, though that tends not to be the case (I’m sure you could find those would argue to the contrary, though: television, automobiles, computers, etc.).  I’m much more concerned with how changes in economic policy over the last few decades have caused a whole host of maladies that now afflict our society than with television or video games.

So is it okay to let her play whatever she wants as long as she knows games are games and not real life?  It’s really hard to get around certain gut reactions, particularly in the wake of the recent elementary school shooting, which has many people vilifying anything having to do with guns.  Unfortunately, we’re a very black-and-white society and are very poor at navigating the gray areas.  They’re just too messy.  We like clear cut answers, and there just aren’t any when it comes to the really big societal issues.  Like guns and violence.  We’d really like a convenient scapegoat to blame, like video games.  It would be so easy, and would give closure to the awful gaping wound.  I don’t think it’s that simple, though.

So what’s acceptable violence in a video game for a kid?  Is it okay to involve a person as long as you’re not killing them?  Or is person-on-person violence always straight out?  Is all killing not okay, or is it okay to kill as long as you’re killing monsters?  Is it okay to kill a person as long as it’s not using a gun?  Is all violence okay because it’s not real and you’re supposed to be educating your kid about these things anyway?  Is all violence not okay because it’s not okay to depict violence?  Are all of these things defined only by our societal morals and nothing else?  I have very wise friends who say that they are.  I have equally wise friends who say they are not.  My Buddhist morals tell me that what I put into my head directly correlates to what comes out of it.  It also seems paradoxical to tell a kid that it’s not okay to hurt other people and then let them play a game that allows them to do just that.

What am I, and all parents, really afraid of when we have these discussions about video game violence and our kids?  We’re afraid of our own kids having aggression problems at school, and deep down, we’re afraid of them turning into Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine High School shooters).  Or Adam Lanza.  Statistics tell me these fears are patently ridiculous.  At least, the last one is.  The first one is only mildly possible, if the research is to be believed.  Like so many ‘scientific’ studies, most of the ones that say there is a correlation between violent video games and aggression in kids have severe methodological problems that, once adjusted for, negate their results.  Still, I have a really hard time getting around my gut reaction when I think about my kid playing a game involving building an arsenal of semi-automatic and automatic weapons intended to kill as many enemies as possible, even if they aren’t human.  Maybe if they were all plasma rifles or something, it wouldn’t bother me.

On the other hand, we’re huge Mythbusters fans, and boy do the Mythbusters like their guns.  Always under safe circumstances, of course.  We’ve seen them shoot a huge array of firearms over the years and have gained an appreciation for the engineering of guns, as well as the fact that it’s plainly enjoyable to shoot them, just as it’s fun to blow shit up.  No, that doesn’t mean that the Mythbusters are condoning acts of terrorism or violence because they like explosives and firearms, and I don’t think it means our daughter is in danger of becoming a violent person because she is exposed to these things through their show.  It does raise the question: what’s the difference between the Mythbusters blowing up an effigy of a person in the name of busting a myth and someone shooting a representation of a person in a game?  Both end in the same result: a dead un-person (though it’s admittedly a lot funnier to watch Buster get blown up than it is to watch a zombie get its head blown off, but maybe that’s a matter of opinion).

I bet a lot of this has to do with perspective, as well.  Would I feel differently about video games involving guns if we were a family that regularly went to the shooting range? Or lived on a farm and had grown up with guns?  Or lived in a country like Switzerland or Israel where a high percentage of the population owns a gun?  Or lived in a place like Newtown, CT?

As with the music, I will probably let our daughter play what she wants to, but with supervision, and within certain limits.  Each game will likely be evaluated individually.  I learned she had been playing Call of Duty at a friend’s house after she came home and talked about how much fun it was to fire off an AK-47.  I made a polite phone call and requested the games with gunfire not be played when she comes to visit.  In retrospect, it wasn’t so much because of the guns, but because that game is all about hunting down and shooting people, which is something I will never be okay with.  The more distanced it is from real life, the less I mind it.  And isn’t that what video games are supposed to be about?  A break from reality?

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂


Last Wednesday, we adopted a new cat.  His name at the shelter was Bucky, but we named him Alex.  We used a local non-profit animal rescue group that makes a big deal out of adopting healthy animals that have been thoroughly checked out, neutered, and microchipped.  They were even having a special in order to move as many cats out of the shelter as possible, so he wasn’t expensive.  It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

Well, they were in a negative alignment, it seems.  The first day, we noticed he made an odd cough and that he seemed warm.  Just in case, we separated him from the rest of the house so he couldn’t infect our existing cat.  The second day, he coughed a couple more times, more severely, like a wet bronchial cough.  The third day he had his wellness check at the vet, where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and to bring him back in a couple of weeks if he wasn’t better.  The next day he was listless and his breathing had become bubbly.  The next day he was worse and I called the shelter where we had gotten him.  They scheduled a vet visit for the next day.

We took him in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia.  After a brief inner debate as to whether he should be hospitalized, the vet decided to send him home with me along with a number of treatments: antibiotics, appetite stimulants, subcutaneous fluids, a nebulizer, and a syringe for force feeding him if necessary.  I steeled myself for ten days of cat nursing.

The first day went fine.  At his fourth nebulizing treatment I noticed that the inside of his carrier was getting wet and musty, which  they didn’t tell me to watch out for (they didn’t give me any instructions at all, really), so I got it all cleaned out.  His breathing went back and forth between improving and getting bubbly again.  He still wouldn’t eat, so we had to syringe feed him.  He didn’t like it, of course, but we managed to get a syringe full of food into him.

He spent that entire night moving around the entire room about once every half hour.  It reminded me of Yin-Yang before he died, who just couldn’t get comfortable and kept moving around.  I couldn’t sleep for the sound of his bubbly breathing: it was awful.  He was laying in weird places, too, as well as laying very limply.  He may have already been on his way out.

The next morning, it was time for more antibiotics, food, and nebulizing.  He had trouble with his pill and I had to try twice to get him to take it, and I’m not sure if he ever swallowed it properly. Then we tried to feed him, which was much more difficult than it had been the night before.  I took his resistance as a sign that he was feeling better so we burritoed him in a towel like we had seen on the internet.  I knew to keep him in a sitting position much like he’d be in if he were eating normally so he wouldn’t choke, but this feeding was not going nearly as smoothly as the one the night before.  Whenever he appeared to be having trouble, I’d stop and let him settle, then try again.

Then towards the end of the feeding, he opened his mouth wide, arched his back, and went limp.  We laid him down, he exhaled, and he didn’t inhale again.  It was horrifying.  I’ve never seen anything die in front of me before, and I still can’t help but think that it was my fault somehow.  Everyone tells me that it’s not, especially since he should never have been sent home with us in the first place, but still.  I feel so terrible.  I was trying to help this poor creature get better, and now he’s dead from that very treatment, even if I was merely hastening the inevitable.  I just wish that his last few moments hadn’t been so tortured.  That’s what I feel the worst about, that I may have inadvertently caused this poor creature agony in his last moments.  I didn’t mean to, and I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry Alex.

I wish that they had kept him for hospitalizing on Monday instead of sending him home with me.  I wish that they had realized last week that he was sick and not adopted him to me in the first place.  I wish that I had said no, I don’t want a cat with a history of an upper respiratory infection when they told me he’d had one while in the shelter, even though he’d been treated for it (not well enough apparently).  I wish that they had given me better instructions for how to care for this obviously very, very ill cat.  I wish that I had more experience in caring for sick cats and doing things like syringe feeding.  I wish that I had stopped the instant he looked like he wasn’t digging the feeding and just called the shelter again, but I had never done it before and didn’t know what to watch out for and he really needed to eat.  I mean, you’re force-feeding a cat: there’s going to be mess and unpleasantness.  I wish for so many things that might have changed what happened yesterday morning.

Even though he was only with us for a week, he was still part of the family, and we treated him as such.  He got the same treatment Yin-Yang and Babalon did when they died: I wrapped him up, smudged his body and his grave, and we said some words over him before burying him with his head towards the West.  He’s next to Yin-Yang, who will hopefully help him on his way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky.

As for us, we’ve spent the last 24 hours sanitizing as much as we can so the other cats don’t get infected.  To a certain extent all we can do is pray, because he was out and about for a while before we knew he was sick.  God only knows what he touched with his face.  I can only take comfort in the fact that the germs will die by themselves in a few days, and within 24 hours if they get hit with proper cleansing and some Lysol.  I’ve done probably a dozen loads of laundry to clean every single thing in the room he was in, vacuumed the carpet with germicidal baking soda, Lysol’d the areas he spent the most time in, and am fumigating  the air with more germicidal oils.  Anything that can’t be washed has been sprayed with Lysol and left out in the Sun.  And I’ve done similarly to the whole house since his disease may have been airborne (in which case the horse is out of the barn anyway).

It would be bad enough if our own cat, Samadhi, gets ill because of Alex.  It would be even worse if the two kittens we are fostering got sick because of him.  I would be up the ass and down the throat of the shelter who gave us to him in the first place to make these kittens well.  So far everyone has been healthy, and it’s been about a week since anyone was exposed to anything Alex might have breathed on or touched, so hopefully we’re in the clear.  I won’t stop holding my breath for at least another week, though, when I know it’s been two weeks, which is how long the shelter tells people to isolate pets to ensure health.  If nothing is wrong within two weeks, everything should be okay.

And they’d better be, because we like these kittens and are thinking of adopting them.  We were a house of three cats, and we’d like to be so again.

*shakes head*  It’s just not right, but I’m going to try and make it right.  This summer can just kiss my flabby white butt.

Ghost Feet


They say the fog moves in on little cat feet.  So do ghosts.  Mine do, anyway.  When I was a child, I had a cat who would jump onto the foot of my bed every night after I went to bed.  He’d nose open my bedroom door and *poomp* onto the bed he’d go.  So it went for a few years until he got sick and we had to put him to sleep due to a urinary blockage (something that is thankfully treatable these days).  I was in the third grade and absolutely heartbroken.  Sam was my best friend.  He died on the first day of school, which I always thought was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

In the days following his death, I swore up and down that I could still hear my door creak open at night and feel his feet hit the foot of my bed just like they used to.  Fortunately my mother was a fairly mystical creature and was open-minded to the notion that her daughter was being visited by the ghost of our dead cat, so she didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

It hasn’t been since then, 1979, that my life has been such that I’ve been able to pay attention to such forces.  Not that I haven’t had pets die in that time period, but other energies have been in the way.  There was a Sam II, a lovely black-and-white critter who came with us from Michigan, and who was also my buddy.  He just up and disappeared in 1986, again breaking my heart.  There was no time or space to detect the subtle nuance of any spiritual return on his part, though: that was the year things began to go truly and horribly wrong at my house, and they would never be right again.  Then there as Bizarre, yet another beautiful creature who was all white with bi-colored eyes like David Bowie.  I gave her to friends when I went travelling, and she was regrettably hit by a car in my absence.  Since I was gone and she wasn’t really mine anymore, I didn’t get any visits from her that I noticed.

The next cat I got was Babalon, and if you’ve been reading in recent weeks, you should know her story by now, and of her kids.  I’ve missed their presence so.  The house is empty.  Babalon had a big personality despite being just a regular-sized cat, and YinYang had a personality twice the size of his massive body.  Samadhi is still here, but she was always overshadowed by the other two.  We love her of course, but she’s not her mother or brother, and I realize it’s not fair to compare her to the other two.  I can’t help it, though.  I miss them so much.

I’ve been “looking” for their presence in the house.  I remembered my experience with Sam, and I’ve desperately wanted something like that.  Well I think I have.  A couple of times the last week or so, I could have sworn I’ve heard Babalon’s faint yowling like she did before she died.  She’d just sit in an empty room and make these plaintive yowls like she wanted someone or something.  I’d always come to her and pet her and tell her everything was okay, and she’d lay back down.  And this morning, after I had awoken but before I had gotten up, just like with Sam, I felt the light footfall of two paws hitting the bed, just as Babalon would do in the morning when she had heard my alarm had gone off.

The only time I’ve felt YinYang’s presence was a couple of weeks ago when I was having a particularly hard sobbing fit of guilt and regret over having not recognized his illness sooner, and I had the distinct sensation of him by my feet walking around in a circle with the message of, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, I love you!”

I was glad for the message of reassurance, even if it might only be coming from my own subconscious, but it didn’t do anything to ease my missing him.  I suppose that’s one of those things that really is only healed by time.  I’ve learned in the last month and a half that grief comes in waves, like the ocean.  It washes over you until you think you might drown, and then it rolls back out so you can heave with breath on the shore.  They come slower and smaller over time, though.  I imagine at some point they’ll just be little waves lapping at my toes as I sit on the shore enjoying the shells of my memories.

Settling In


We’re trying to settle into our one-cat routine around here. The last month has just sucked giant donkey balls. Every little thing reminds us that we only have one cat now, like washing the food bowls. Samadhi’s perfectly happy to munch on her dry food, so there’s not much call for the other bowls any more. The last two or three that we used for Babalon last week got washed Monday, and I cleaned a couple more out of the fridge yesterday. All remnants from my attempts to get her to eat whatever I could. I knew it was a losing battle, but I was going to give it all I could for as long as I could. And so was she, little trooper. I put out so much tuna fish that even Samadhi is sick of it now.

I washed the last few rags and blankets related to Babalon’s last days as well, although I couldn’t bring myself to wash the blue-and-green blanket she slept on. I put it underneath the black shawl Samadhi likes to sleep on: maybe she’ll like having something that smells like her mama. She plainly misses her. The two of them slept together pretty much every single day, and even washed each other. Actually, it was rare for a day to go by that Babalon didn’t wash Samadhi. When I come home, she often yowls at me as if to tell me that the others are missing. I can only imagine how she must feel. If it’s anything like how we feel, it must be terrible.

I imagine this is the plight of the grieving everywhere, but I am trying desperately to keep my mental face pointed forward instead of getting mired down in hindsight and regret. Part of me keeps trying to get really angry at the vet tech who essentially ruined our experience with Babalon at the vet last week when she failed to take her to the back to be cleaned and to have her pawprints taken, but the rest of me is trying to take the experience in as a whole and remember all of the circumstances that created it. It wasn’t her fault: it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a shitty set of circumstances piled on top of an already shitty situation, and there’s nothing to be done about it. It just sucks, and I can’t do anything about it except feel bad. And in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything, and not having that set of pawprints doesn’t make me miss her more or anything like that. My expectations that were set with YinYang’s death weren’t met, and that’s all.

Then there’s all of the things that I’m noticing now that they’re gone, mostly related to how much water they were drinking. I’ve never had cats with kidney disease so these aren’t things that I could have known or noticed, but now that I AM noticing them, I still feel bad. YinYang had been sucking down huge amounts of water for years, and I thought it was just because he was staying indoors more. So had Babalon. Now that it’s just Samadhi, she’s drinking what I now remember as being what a single healthy cat drinks in a day, which really isn’t all that much. The water bowl we’ve been using looks gargantuan compared to what she actually needs. And the catbox looks similarly gargantuan now that there’s just one cat using it and there aren’t massive balls of urine clumped up in it.

I wish I had known what I was looking at. I know it’s not my fault and that I took really really good care of those cats and that they lived for a really really long time despite being ill. I still wish I had known, and I still really, really miss my cats. My house seems empty without them. It was sad to cook chicken last night and not be bothered by Babalon.

I know this will happen a lot, and probably without warning. Being struck by sadness. And then there will be the things that I know will make me sad, like eating yogurt. Scraping the sides of a yogurt container will always remind me of YinYang and the way he waited for the last spoonful. Chicken and raw meat in general will always remind me of Babalon. That green-and-blue blanket. Sitting down to visit in the yoga room. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say that the ones we love never really leave us.

Wrung Out


I feel very wrung out today.  There is, of course, the trauma of burying the cat yesterday on top of having to bury the other cat just a month ago.  There was also the dredging up of any bad feelings that might have existed regarding the other cat’s death.  His decline in health was so sudden that I still feel a great deal of guilt in missing the signs, even though we couldn’t have afforded to remedy them even if we had noticed.  It’s just hindsight kicking me in the ass.  I bet if I researched grief, it’s something everyone does.

There were also bad feelings surrounding Mama’s death that didn’t fully bother me until today.  YinYang’s death was handled so gracefully by the vet’s office.  Death is a messy business, and what is in typically comes out, shall we say.  They were nice enough to take him away and get him cleaned up before I took him home.  That didn’t happen yesterday.  Once Mama had passed, the doctor had to run off to tend to a dog that was having seizures, and they were short staffed due to people calling in sick so the vet tech that was assisting didn’t have any help.  And she really needed it because she had only been there a couple of months and wasn’t very experienced, particularly not in that kind of situation.  She just kind of stood there awkwardly while we tried to bundle our cat into the carrier.  She didn’t offer to clean her up, and no one took her pawprints (they took YinYang’s pawprints in clay and sent them to us a couple of weeks later, which we very touched by).  We felt hurried and uncared for and wondered if it was because we hadn’t been in and out of the clinic in the days before her death, spending hundreds of dollars the way we had been with YinYang.  After a sad letter to the vet, we were very apologetically assured that was not the case and the circumstances were explained to us.

I feel better after their kind response to my letter, but it was an unpleasant contrast to our prior experience with the other cat.  I know that from a physical standpoint, the mess is insignificant.  It is merely part of the cycle of life and death.  And I have many ways of remembering Mama other than having her pawprints.  I  just wish that we had not been left with those bad feelings, particularly with something like this.  I also know that I would feel terrible no matter what.  I will take that knowledge along with the vet’s sincere apologies and move forward, but I am still very tired in the soul today.

And Then There Was One


We took our sweet MamaKitty to the vet this morning to be put to sleep.  In much the same way as her son YinYang, she had greatly degraded in health in recent weeks.  Just more slowly.  By the time we decided that today was to be her last day with us, she was having trouble walking, was eating and drinking less and less, and hadn’t purred in days or weeks.  It was obviously her time to go.

The only thing that made me doubt our decision in the slightest, and then only fleetingly, was that she still wanted to be with us.  But she had always wanted to be with us.  She had always shown the highest gratitude for the life we had given her.  New Year’s Eve, 1996, I finally let her freezing, pregnant self into my kitchen to eat tuna fish.  I got tired of seeing her huddled next to the steam vent on my furnace outside when she had a perfectly good home next door that was neglecting her.  She was one of a pack of mostly and completely feral cats that roamed the block, and she was the only one friendly enough to let me touch her.  In fact, she was very friendly and would let me pick her up.  That’s how I discovered she was pregnant.

Our landlord had given tentative permission to have a cat but only with further discussion.  Further discussion be damned, I let the poor thing in.  She was starving, and let me know just how much by the plaintive wail and platter-sized eyes she displayed when I started opening the can of tuna fish.  She scarfed an entire family sized can of tuna in less than twenty minutes.  I left the back door open so she could do as she wished.  Within a couple of hours, she was curled up on my couch.  And so Babalon came to live with us.

She was very thin and fattened up so much over the next couple of weeks that you couldn’t tell she was pregnant any more, but that changed after another couple of weeks.  Before long, she looked like she had a large cantaloupe in her belly.  She slowly grew unable to lay on her belly, and then her side, and was eventually only able to sleep mostly on her back, partly propped up by her belly undulating with baby kittens.  She grew very insistent about asking for her food in the morning.

I knew that cats like to hole up somewhere private to have their babies, so I made a nice spot for her out of a large cardboard box once home to a stereo.  I taped up the bottom flap so it had a protective wall and propped the upper flap up on the sides so it had a bit of a protective roof, and put it in the corner of the bedroom.  One evening she kept coming up to me with an anxious expression on her face and repeatedly walked back to her box.  I walked back with her and encouraged her to hop into the box, which she did.  I walked away, and she followed me.  We repeated the dance a few times.  Finally I brought the box out next to the computer where I sat every evening.  Happy, she jumped in and laid down.

A while later she issued a single loud growl, and didn’t make a single sound for the rest of the night except to brace her paws against the sides of the box to push.  Her first baby was born at 12:45 am, Valentine’s Day, 1997.  That was YinYang, her only son, who died last month.  The rest were all girls, each one born about 45 minutes apart.  The last one was the runt, who I only knew was the runt because Mama tried to ignore her by laying on her rather than putting her with the others to nurse.  An awful squalling came from the box.  I quickly looked in to see what was wrong, saw the kitten underneath Mama’s back, and carefully picked it up and put it with its siblings.  She eyeballed me warily but didn’t object.  She would try to abandon that kitten twice more over the next week, but I would have none of it.  She gave up after the third try.  That would be Samadhi, now our last surviving cat, ironically.

The other kittens found homes and eventually we had our happy little trinity of cats.  Babalon became our shadow.  We lived a block or two from a convenience store and went there frequently for smokes, beer, and the like.  She always followed us to the corner, waited in the bushes of the house there, and followed us back home, or walked in front of us.  She was a beautiful cat, a tabby point Siamese, and as such the bottoms of her feet were black, so it looked like she was floating if you walked behind her at night.  When I was pregnant and we frequently walked up the hill to the local university, she also followed us.  She followed us so far one night that she exhausted herself and we had to make her stay home after that.  She waited for us, though, right where we had left her when she couldn’t follow us any more.  She must have walked through a dozen other cats’ territories, but she was going to stick with us.

She was an awesome mother, too.  Not just to her own children, but also to mine.  When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, she looked at her very oddly, but in a special way that I suppose Mother Nature reserves between all mothers and children.  As if to say, “Ah! You made another one!”  Our daughter was a fairly demanding baby and cried a lot.  If she had been crying for too long or too loudly, even if we were right there with her, Babalon would come up to us and plaintively meow and look at us as if to notify us that we really needed to be tending to this problem now, it was important.  As our daughter grew older and got to the tail-grabbing stage, she was very patient with her and didn’t get the claws out until it was really necessary, and even then she looked very sheepish and apologetic about it.  “Sorry, I didn’t mean to!”

I’ve never had such a beautiful cat, either.  She had a very long tail with beautiful rings of black and brown, and the combination of the tabby stripes and Siamese coloration gave her the most gorgeous face and markings.  She was every color of brown from the lightest to the darkest.  It was a privilege to have been graced by such a creature for so long.  She was nearly 17 at the time of her death, almost precisely four weeks to the minute after her son died.

There are now two small mounds in the back of our yard.  The cat statue stands between them, on guard.  We have had quite enough of death at our house for a while.  My husband would very much like to not have to dig any more small graves, and I would like to not have to cut any more death shrouds.  We are now a one-cat house.  It will seem very quiet, at least when she’s not yelling at us (Samadhi definitely got the Siamese vocal cords in the cat family).  We will do our very best to relish our time with her.

Fair sailing to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky, Babalon.

Beautiful Babalon

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