Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.

people being people

There is a fascinating essay on the site everything2.com, titled Online Community Dynamics. I keep thinking about it. It inspires today’s poem.

people being people

people being people
they are often scared
huddle
in groups
it’s safest if a leader
identifies an enemy
so that everyone can come together
in hate

the leader
tells the group
who to hate
and why
whether it is true or not

I started out writing
under the title
mean stupid people

but that isn’t right
and anyhow I’d rather find a way
to forgive
again
and again
and again

so I started again
with the title
people being people

maybe we will mature as a species
some day

who do you hate?

now look in the mirror
and ask

who have you forgiven
today?

Adverse Childhood Experiences 12: welcome to the dark

Welcome to the dark, everyone.

When you think about it, all the children in the world are adding at least one Adverse Childhood Experience score and possibly more, because of Covid-19. Some will add more than one: domestic violence is up with stress, addiction is up, behavioral health problems are up, some parents get sick and die, and then some children are starving.

From the CDC Ace website:

“Overview:Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. ACEs can include violence, abuse, and growing
up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress from ACEs can change brain development and affect how the body responds to
stress. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. However, ACEs can be prevented.”

Well, can they be prevented? Could Covid-19 be prevented? I question that one.

I have a slightly different viewpoint. I have an ACE Score of 5 and am not dead and don’t have heart disease. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about ACE scores and that it’s framed as kids’ brains are damaged.

I would argue that this is survival wiring. When I have a patient where I suspect a high ACE score, I bring it up, show them the CDC web site and say that I think of it as “crisis wiring” not “damaged”. I say, “You survived your childhood. Good job! The low ACE score people do not understand us and I may be able to help you let go of some of the automatic survival reactions and fit in with the people who had a nice childhood more easily.”

It doesn’t seem useful to me to say “We have to prevent ACE scores.” Um. Tsunamis, hurricanes, Covid-19, wars… it seems to me that the ACE score wiring is adaptive. If your country is at war and you are a kid and your family sets out to sea to escape, well, you need to survive. If that means you are guarded, untrusting, suspicious and wary of everyone, yeah, ok. You need to survive. One of my high ACE Score veterans said that the military loved him because he could go from zero to 60 in one minute. Yeah, me too. I’ve worked on my temper since I was a child. Now it appears that my initial ACE insult was my mother having tuberculosis, so in the womb. Attacked by antibodies, while the tuberculosis bacillus cannot cross the placenta, luckily for me. And luckily for me she coughed blood at 8 months pregnant and then thought she had lung cancer and was going to die at age 22. Hmmm, think of what those hormones did to my wiring.

So if we can’t prevent all ACE Scores, what do we do? We change the focus. We need to understand crisis wiring, support it and help people to let go of the hair trigger that got them through whatever horrid things they grew up with. 16% of Americans have a score of 4 or more BEFORE Covid-19. We now have a 20 or 25 year cohort that will have higher scores. Let’s not label them doomed or damaged. Let’s talk about it and help people to understand.

I read a definition of misery memoirs today. I don’t scorn them. I don’t like the fake ones. I don’t read them, though I did read Angela’s Ashes. What I thought was amazing about Angela’s Ashes is that for me he captures the child attitude of accepting what is happening: when his sibling is dying and they see a dog get killed and he associates the two. And when he writes about moving and how their father would not carry anything, because it was shameful for a man to do that. He takes it all for granted when he is little because that is what he knows. One book that I know of that makes a really difficult childhood quite amazing is Precious Bane, by Mary Webb. Here is a visible disability that marks her negatively and yet she thrives.

A friend met at a conference is working with traumatic brain injury folks. They were starting a study to measure ACE scores and watch them heal, because they were noticing the high ACE score people seem to recover faster. I can see that: I would just say, another miserable thing and how am I going to work through it. Meanwhile a friend tells me on the phone that it’s “not fair” that her son’s senior year of college is spoiled by Covid-19. I think to myself, uh, yes but he’s not in a war zone nor starving nor hit by a tsunami and everyone is affected by this and he’s been vaccinated. I think he is very lucky. What percentage of the world has gotten vaccinated? He isn’t on a ventilator. Right now, that falls under doing well and also lucky in my book. And maybe that is what the high ACE score people have to teach the low ACE score people: really, things could be a lot worse. No, I don’t trust easily and I am no longer feeling sorry about it. I have had a successful career in spite of my ACE score, I ran a clinic in the way that felt ethical to me, I have friends who stick with me even through PANDAS and my children are doing well. And I am not addicted to anything except I’d get a caffeine headache for a day if I had none.

For the people with the good childhood, the traumatic brain injury could be their first terrible experience. They go through the stages of grief. The high ACE score people do too, but we’ve done it before, we are familiar with it, it’s old territory, yeah ok jungle again, get the machete out and move on. As the world gets through Covid-19, with me still thinking that this winter looks pretty dark, maybe we can all learn about ACE scores and support each other and try to be kind, even to the scary looking veteran.

Take care.

Katy B.’s fruit torte

Katherine White Burling was my maternal grandmother, and this recipe is attributed to her. I still have the small three ring binder that my mother gave me when I was in high school, explaining that my sister and I had to do some of the cooking. We told her what we wanted to make and she would write the recipe in our book and help us. I wrote this recipe out in the 1970s.

preheat the oven to 350 F

cream: 1 C sugar
1/2 C butter

while the butter is softening enough to cream, cut up fruit: apples, pears, peaches, rhubarb, or use berries…

Add to the creamed butter:
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt
2 eggs

Spread in in a buttered, floured pan. Cover with chopped fruit: apples, pears, peaches. This one was local plums and blueberries.

Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice
Dot with butter on top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven.
Cook until browned a little in the part that rises around the fruit, and when a toothpick comes out clean.

I am submitting this to today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: Kaleidoscope, because the torte reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

I have seen the frogs

I have seen the frogs
in the northwest

all you have to do is be quiet
near the puddles
or a pond

walk there very very quietly

in the spring they are singing
to each other
calling
a symphony of longing and joy
and they don’t hear me
when I walk very quietly
at the end of the world

as a child my father teaches me
to catch frogs

very quietly
approach the pond
or puddle

if the frog hears you
it will duck under water
you will only see a ripple
spreading out

or it will hop
into the woods
and hide

my father
would occasionally use frogs
as bait
to catch northern pike
a live frog on a hook
frogs scream
when you stick a hook through their back

I hope they go into shock then
and don’t feel much

one we’d seen this
my cousins and my sister and I
when my father got his fishing rod
we’d run through the woods
yelling “Hide the frogs, hide the frogs!”
and we would catch any frog
that was dumb enough not to hide
and quickly set it in the woods
to hide it from my father

we would check the puddles, too
feeling in the brownish muck
to make sure no frog was hidden
in the shallow puddle
come out, you must go in the woods
to survive

to catch the smart ones
normally
we would tiptoe to the puddle
hoping a frog was facing the other way
if they saw us, they were gone

slowly bend down, hand out
behind the frog
reach gently
grab just above the back legs
not too hard, don’t squish it

I was under ten
on a canoe trip
when I run to my father
“A frog! A frog! The biggest frog I’ve seen!
Papa, come help!”
My father comes.
An enormous frog is beside the canoe.
“Catch it.” says my father.
“Please! You catch it!” I beg.
My father creeps up on the frog.
His hand moves out slowly.
He grabs the frog, who tries to jump
and croaks, a bass, huge mouth.
“It’s a young bullfrog,” says my father.
“It will get even bigger.”
He hands it to me.
I take it carefully, shaking a little.
“We could eat it’s legs.”
“NO!” I say. I just want to hold it for a minute.
I turn it over and gently stroke it’s throat.
The frog goes limp, mesmerized.
I set it down gently, right side up,
near the water.
I squat by the frog and wait.
I am waiting for it to wake up.
The frog is so beautiful.
I wait until it wakes up
and returns home.

even if

even if

I never see you again
you never speak to me again
you never love your bearish parts
you never let yourself get angry
you never let yourself get sad
you never let yourself feel
you tell yourself you are happy
you tell yourself everything is the way it should be

even if

I never see you again

I still love you
I still forgive you

I still love you

I hope that you truly do

find happiness