Elephant

My daughter got the elephant in the mail yesterday.

She called me, very happy with it. “It has a TAIL! It matches the pillowcase. I love the fishy fabric.”

The back story is that when she was a baby, her father’s mother made her a pillow. It had two pockets. In the pockets were four small stuffed toys. Her older brother has one too. The toys were not exactly the same. Hers had an elephant.

When she got sick earlier this year, I start sending her care packages. I send the pillow with three of the stuffed toys. However, I don’t find the elephant.

She loves it but asks, “Where’s the elephant?”

“I’m still looking.” The elephant is pink, with fabric ears that are different from the body. I find it! She is coming here for a month, so I don’t mail it. She is very pleased with the elephant.

It goes AWOL before she flies back to work. “Check the tent, mom.” She stayed in the tent in the back yard with two of her friends. I take the tent apart. No elephant. I check the sleeping bags. I sweep under her bed and search the house. As my daughter says, my house has a lot of hiding places and the cats like the elephant too. No elephant.

So for her birthday I make one. I remember how it looks and I make it while watching some continuing medical education. It’s easier to hand stitch than to get out the machine. I have to buy a large bag of stuffing, because the store downtown only has one size. Never mind, maybe I will make more elephants.

I made her a pillowcase last year, with the whale/mermaid fabric and the fish. So the elephant matches.

And she likes it! Hooray!

_______________

My daughter says I can’t make clothes for her, but pillowcases and elephants are great! A breakthrough!

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: breakthrough.

Arty’s warning

Trigger warning: non graphic mention of child abuse.

_____________________________

I don’t notice that things are frozen at first, because the cats aren’t frozen. I do notice the light. Also I notice the change in sounds. The car outside in the street is not moving nor making sound. Uh-oh.

I go to the front door. Might as well if everything is frozen. I just finished putting on make up, which always means a dangerous mood.

She lands first, on a white flying horse. Who smiles at me, showing fangs. Smoke is coming out of the Pegavamp’s nostrils. Eeeee.

Arty herself is in silver and black today. Silver cloth with black embroidery that seems to be writing a little.

“Good morning, Goddess.” I say, bowing. The other horses and dragons and flying motorcycles and pterodactyls are landing as well. Sol Duc is in the window. Elwha has gone to hide, quite sensibly, I think.

Arty stomps her staff on the ground. “I am really pissed.” she says.

“They named a rocket after you.”

“That penis toy? That is supposed to please me while they are killing virgins who refuse to tent their heads?”

“Sorry.” I hang my head.

“And do you know how much the smoke is going to shorten the lives of my birds and stags?”

“A lot, I think.”

“Do you all want to starve in the dark?’

I look up at her then. “No. I want grandchildren and a healthy earth.”

“Work harder.” she snarls. The rest of the dangerous crowd is muttering and snarling and the local cats have come out. They are sitting very respectfully at a distance. Rooftops. The ridge above my house three blocks up. The tree tops are frozen too.

“Do you need prescriptions again?” I ask. “I see that there have been a lot more rapists jailed. Thank you, Goddess.”

She looks tired for a moment. “We are hunting them everywhere: cities, countryside, hovels, palaces, movie sets, where ever.”

“You don’t turn them into stags any more?”

“Yes, sometimes. My hounds love to tear them apart. But sometimes prison is slower and crueler and a better punishment.”

I kneel. “What service can I do, Goddess?”

She touches me with the staff. I feel a hard bright shock, pain that roars through me and is gone.

“Write this. Write my warning. If this continues, it is death in the cold dark of nuclear winter and we will begin again.”

“Is that the only choice?”

“Oh, no, we are all being very creative. One suggestion has been the sperm banks. There is nothing that says they can’t be used to make one gender only. The one that rapes less and doesn’t kill young girls for what they wear.”

“Thank you for your warning.”

“Stand up.” she says. “You and every abused child, male or female, are under my protection. Yet the cycle must be broken and the abused must not become abusers. Write this.”

The Pegavamp drops one knee and she steps up easily. The other riders start to roar and shout and howl. Her winged creature jumps in the air and the whole group follows. There is a snap and they are gone.

The car in the street is moving and the treetops as well. The cats stand and move away.

I keep writing.

___________________

October 22, 2022

My mom loved me

I struggled after my mother died of ovarian cancer in 2000. She was 61 and our love was complicated. Two years after she died I hit an emotional wall and had to go find help. My marriage was showing cracks too. I have written about Adverse Childhood Experiences, but there can be love too, even in a difficult household. I wrote this poem during that time.

My mom loved me

It’s herself she didn’t love
She didn’t love her anger
She didn’t love her fear
She didn’t love her sorrow
She didn’t love her shadows

She packed all her troubles in her saddlebags
and rode forth singing

When I was angry
she felt her anger
When I was scared
she felt her fear
When I was sad
she felt her sorrow
When I felt my shadows
she felt hers
I hid my shadows

I hid my shadows for many years
and then my saddlebags were full
They called me

I dove in the sea
I rescued my anger
I rescued my fear
I rescued my sorrows
I rescued my shadows

At first I couldn’t love them
My mom didn’t; how could I?

But I loved my mom
I loved all of her
Her anger
Her fear
Her sorrow
Her shadows
Her singing and courage

I thought if I could love her shadows
I could love my own

It was hard
It took months
I looked in the mirror at my own face
And slowly I was able to have
Compassion for myself

I am sad that my mom is not
where I can touch her warmth
and tell her I love all of her

I tell her anyway

I’m finding many things as I surface from my dive
Sometimes I feel the presence of angels
I was looking for something else
I found a valentine
that she made me
No date
Many hearts cut out and glued
to red paper

I am so surprised

My mom loves me
shadows and all
now and forever.

__________________________

My mother used to quote “Pack all your troubles in your saddlebags and ride forth singing.” Does anyone know where this if from? I have not found the source. It could be her mother or her mother’s parents.

The photograph is my father, the year my sister died of cancer, 2012. He died in 2013.

Finish?

“Get rid of him. Send a letter. Never speak to him again.” Male friend one.

“You need to read He’s Just Not That Into You.” Male friend two.

“There are other fish in the sea.” Brother.

“Men are too high maintenance.” Female mentor twenty years older than me.

But but but.

A poem circles in her head. “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very very good. When she was bad she was horrid.”

We are like the poem. We bring out each other’s small child, two to four years old, who was hidden and traumatized. We laugh like hyenas. We play with words. We compare childhoods, each sometimes terrible, each full of scars. And when we disagree, we are also like four year olds. We want to stomp our feet and sulk. He wins the sulking award though. I worked through an awful lot of it with my sister and much effort, over 40 years. My sister was as smart as me or smarter intellectually. It’s the emotional part that is so hard to heal. Will you or won’t you, will you or won’t you, will you or won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

I don’t think he will.

But, but, but.

The small bird of hope sings happily and says he will, he will, he will…

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: finish.

The photograph is me and my daughter years ago. Her expression is very thoughtful because I think this is the first time she is seated in an adult chair. She is thinking about it. I am not sure who took the photograph.

Epilogue.

Songs to Raise Girls: The Humpty Dumpty Blues

This is Malcolm K. Ottaway, my father, singing the Humpty Dumpty Blues in 2009.

He made them up when I was two. Here are the two stories that my mother would tell and that I finally linked.

In the early 1960s my parents married at age 21 and were both going to the University of Tennessee. They married in June and I was born the next March. In a tuberculosis sanatorium, because my mother started coughing blood at 8 months pregnant. She thought she was going to die. She didn’t die, but after I was born she did not hold me again until I was nine months old. I was suspicious of adults by then, because they kept giving me away.

My parents had music parties, where my father played guitar. My mother had a prodigious memory and would remember every verse, so she was the last one singing. My mother said, “At one party you wanted your father to play Humpty Dumpty. He wouldn’t. You were the only child there. You kept asking. Finally he made up the Humpty Dumpty Blues. You were so angry at him that you stomped your feet at him and everyone laughed.”

And the second story: “One morning after a party, your father picked up his guitar. It RATTLED. It had 17 beer bottle caps in it. We checked and not one person had seen you pick up a beer bottle cap or put it through the strings. It took your father hours to slide the bottle caps out from under the strings with a butter knife.”

Well, that will teach him to not sing a song for the two year old. At any rate, he sang the Humpty Dumpty Blues my whole life. I don’t remember the original party or sliding bottle caps through the strings. I must have done it after the party was over, right? Did I go during the party and pick up every cap I could find, or did I already have a hidden stash? Two year olds can be sneaky, apparently.

At any rate, I am very happy to have the recording now, even though the original made me stomp my feet.

The photograph is of me, in about 1963 or 64. I don’t know who took it, but it was taken at Lake Matinenda, in Ontario, Canada.

Autoimmune OCD and my daughter shops my closet

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4

The article is a proposal for diagnostic criteria for autoimmune obsessive compulsive disorder, a relatively rare version of OCD. Important because the treatment has to include searching for infection that triggers the antibody response, which in turn attacks the brain. Antibiotics to treat a “psychiatric” disorder. Mind and body connection, right?

The ironic thing about this new proposed diagnosis is that I do not have obivious OCD in any way, shape or form. It is masked by packrat. Also, my OCD is focused. When I was working, it was focused on patients. My clinic charts were thorough, 100% of the time. I was brutally thorough and wouldn’t skip anything. The result was that I got a reputation for being an amazing diagnostician. Usually it was because I wanted ALL the puzzle pieces and the ones that don’t fit are the ones that interested me. They have to all fit. Either the patient is lying or the diagnosis is not as simple as it appears. Occam’s Razor be damned, people can have more than one illness.

In fact, an article 20 years ago looked at average patient panels and said that the average primary care patient has 4-5 chronic illnesses. Hypertension, diabetes, emphysema, tobacco overuse disorder, alcohol overuse disorder, well, yeah. And then the complex ones had 9 or more complex illnesses. You can’t see the person for one thing, because if the diabetic has a toe infection, you’d better look at their kidney function because the antibiotic dose can kill their kidneys if you don’t adjust it. So do not tell me to see the patient for one thing. Malpractice on the hoof. Completely crazy and evil that administrators tell doctors to do that.

No one looking at my house would ever think I have any OCD. I am not a hoarder (ok, books) but the packrat force is strong in me. My daughter did not inherit that gene. She is a minimalist. However, she has come to appreciate the packrat a little.

This summer she said that her purse is wearing out. As a minimalist she has one purse. I ask, “Would you like to see if I have one that you like?” It so happens that as I was trying to recover from pneumonia, a local garage sale had 20+ year old designer purses for $3 each, because the house was going on the market. Got to get rid of the stuff.

“Yes, please.” says my daughter.

I start with the weird ones that I know she will not want. I get eye rolls. But I am progressing towards the purses that are close to the one she has. At last I produce a small leather purse, the right size, in good shape, and she sits up. “Let me see that one.” Like Eeyore with his popped balloon, putting it in a jar and taking it out, she tries putting her phone and wallet in the purse and taking it out. “Yes, I like this!” She calls it “Shopping mom’s closet.” I think it is delightfully comic. The benefits of a packrat mother.

Back to the Nature article and OCD. The diagnostic criteria are gaining steam. Having watched a conference this summer about Pandas and Pans, mine is mild. Some young people have a version where killer T cells invade the brain and kill neurons. I had a moment of panic when the conference was discussing a case, but then I thought, if I had the neuron killing kind I would be dead or demented by now.

Instead, I’m just a little neurologically unusual.

Unexpected hero

When I first think about divorce, I call my sister.

I say, “I am thinking about a divorce.”

She replies, “YOU don’t want to be a single mom.”

I think, well, crap, that is true. Me: “I AM a single mom. It’s just that one of them is FIFTY.”

My sister proceeds to tell me how difficult it is to be a single mother.

I have to self examine my OWN prejudices against single mothers.

Then I wade in, to solo and couples counseling, for a year. My ex fires our couples counselor after a YEAR. He says the counselor is on my side. “We have been talking to him for a year!” I protest.

“I want a new one,” says my then husband.

I find a new one. I am filling out the paperwork. It asks, what is your goal?

That is the moment I decide: I write “Amicable divorce.”

The two years before that moment, I am not sure. I am trying very very hard to see if it can be fixed. But it takes two to tango and my then husband will not tango. Not one step.

We were each attracted to something specific in the other person. My then husband did not want to work at any sort of traditional job. His father would come home angry from work for years. I loved working, always.

I was a terribly serious child, growing up in an alcoholic family, and I have food insecurity. That is, at some deep level, I always worry about whether there will be food. When I meet my then husband he says that his goal is “To have fun every day.”

This slays me. Have fun? And he WAS fun. Biking, jitterbug dancing, he was a tennis and golf pro, he was smart, well read, divorced from a marriage of convenience to a lesbian to cover so she could be a small town librarian. Really? Yes, really. I demanded to see the divorce papers before we got married. My then husband thought I was very very funny and I thought he was too.

When we divorce, people tell me he will never pay child support. He won’t stay in contact with the kids. There are a lot of opinions.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. My ex returns to school, gets a “displaced homemaker scholarship” because he was a househusband (yeah, I said he was smart). He goes to nursing school and gets an RN. “You’ve yammered about medicine at me for fourteen years, I might as well.”

He gave me hell about us living in an “old person’s” town. Then in nursing school he calls. “Hey, I’m doing a rotation. Guess what it is.”

“Don’t know, what?”

“Nursing home.”

I laugh.

“I LOVE these OLD PEOPLE.” he says. And he DOES. He is wonderful with them. He works in a nursing home for years. He gives scholarships to the medical assistants when they leave for nursing school. He brings coffee to his medical assistants and the other staff. He drives by on his day off because one elderly woman will only take her medicine if he gives it to her. He gets pianos for the nursing homes. He does memory loss concerts, where he tries to engage memory loss folks. We store music as entire songs, or entire albums, so if someone starts a song, they can often go through the whole thing. He can sometimes get someone singing who no longer can string a sentence together. Families love it.

Early in covid he calls me. “I have covid.”

“Sh-t.” I say. “Are you ok?”

“Oh, yeah. Everyone at the facility has it. Two staff didn’t so we sent them home. We are working sick because there isn’t anyone else.”

“Holy crap.”

“Yeah, it’s a little depressing. My memory loss folks can look ok at the start of the shift and are dead by the end.”

A quarter of the patients die. This is before the vaccine. My ex sails through covid, says he doesn’t feel bad, for him it’s just a cold. He says, “I miss some of them.” Yeah, holy crap.

So another hero. And he paid the child support every single month and stayed in touch with his kids in his own odd way. “Mom, he tells me about his golf shots,” says my daughter. I laugh, “Yeah. Well, he loves you.” “I don’t care about golf.” she says. “I know, me either,” I say.

The photograph was taken with my camera by my friend Amelia in 2014, I think. It is me and my ex, seven years after the divorce was final.

I read this to my ex prior to posting. Posted with his approval.

Juneteenth and Father’s Day

Juneteenth and Father’s Day, I am celebrating and thinking of both, and missing my father and my grandfathers. Yesterday was a delayed memorial for my ex mother-in-law. I loved her and we stayed in touch and I continued to visit her and also loved her second husband. He was another grandfather to my children. We had six grandparents, with my ex’s parents divorcing a year after he and I married. Now we have one living. My paternal aunts and uncle have stepped in as the parents and grandparents that are missing for me and my children.

The pressman is my paternal grandfather Kenyon Charles Ottaway. Or Charles Kenyon? Now I need to ask my Aunts. I do not know what year that was taken. He was head pressman in Knoxville Tennessee in the early 1960s. He went by Ken. My Aunt Pat adds that he was nicknamed “Inky” and that the above photograph was taken in Bridgeport, CT. On the back it says ’45, so our guess is 1945.

My father, me, and my sister Chris.

The second photograph is my father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, and me and my sister. My father went by Mac.

Jubilee for freedom and for both father’s day and Juneteenth. I miss my parents and my grandparents, love to all of them. Hooray for Sweet Honey in the Rock, too.

Sending love and peace.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: jubilee.