Ordinary Thoughts, Essays and Short Stories

Month: September 2022

It’s Now or Never, Part Two

When our girls were still living at home, they each were assigned certain household chores. They didn’t like doing them, but they were somewhat coercible…most of the time. Our biggest battle was always the issue of maintaining their bedrooms. I use the word “maintaining” loosely because it was an expectation that rarely translated into reality. When it came to the girls’ rooms, daily maintenance was sort of a pie-in-the-sky parental dream. They see things differently now that they’re grown but, back then, they simply didn’t buy into the idea that straightening their rooms every day would prevent them from having to move mountains later. In their defense, though, genetics probably played an integral role in that. When I was a kid, my room was usually a dump, too.

Still, we pushed them to tackle their rooms at least once a week. We wanted to keep weekends free for whatever might come up, so we designated every Thursday as Cleaning Day. My husband and I had our own chores, too, so it’s not like we were treating the girls as soot-covered Cinderellas. But you’d never have known that by their protests. One of their favorite fraught-with-angst mantras was, “I hate Thursdays!”  When my husband suggested changing our cleaning day to Wednesdays, they lamented, “That won’t help! Then I’ll hate Wednesdays!”  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess…I pretty much hated Thursdays, too. Obviously, though, it really wasn’t the day of the week that offended us. It was the cleaning itself.

After the girls moved out on their own, my husband and I stopped observing an official weekly cleaning day. We just do what needs to be done when it needs it. Since I can’t stand living in a messy environment, I do make a concerted effort to stay on top of things…even though it’s generally under duress.  Manual labor and I have never been friends and, until recently, the only upshot I could find to cleaning was the end result.

Lately, however, there’s been a subtle shift in my attitude towards housework. I recently came to the outlandish conclusion that there are actually some chores that can have a positive effect while I’m doing them…not just after I’m done. Crazy, I know! It was another one of those living-in-the-moment discoveries that took me by pleasant surprise.

To see what I mean, click the button below and read Dust Bunnies in the Wind.

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Dust Bunnies in the Wind

After I retired, I struggled with the absence of the routines and deadlines I’d grown accustomed to in my job. Without the benefit of a real schedule, I found myself becoming one with the sofa while motivation was reduced to nothing more than a word in the dictionary. I had all the time in the world to devote to a boatload of interests, yet I didn’t possess an ounce of enthusiasm.

About six months into retirement, I set my sites on becoming a productive human being again, and I put together a monthly task calendar. Each day had at least one household chore or “To Do” task assigned to it. I purposely didn’t expect a whole lot from myself – I am retired, after all – but I wanted to end every day with the knowledge that I had accomplished at least one thing of substance. It could be as minor as changing the sheets or as major as clearing out a bloody ton of old emails (and believe me…that one was major).

A lot of those “To Do” tasks were things I’d allowed to pile up while I was working, like cleaning out closets, reorganizing my room in the garage and finally dealing with my late parents’ and brother’s possessions. Over time, I’ve whittled things down to where my monthly calendars consist mainly of routine household chores and whatever projects I want to sink my teeth into. As mentioned in a previous post, a fair amount of my time lately has been dedicated to driving my husband to medical appointments so, of course, those are noted on the calendar, too.

It was during one of those medical trips when I realized I was wasting precious time by focusing only on the mechanics of driving. There was beauty all around us so, that very day, I began to truly appreciate the amazing scenery. And I didn’t let that living-in-the-moment practice stop with the trees along the roadways. A couple of weeks ago, while entrenched in one of my least favorite household chores, I made myself really notice what I was doing rather than simply trudging through the job until it was done.

That chore was dusting. I swear, it’s one of the most tedious and time-consuming activities I can think of, and it’s never, ever truly done. But this time, as I contorted my way through bending and reaching and squatting to reach all those places that accumulate dusty bits, I paid close attention. Not to the process but to the dusty items themselves. Instead of begrudging the task at hand, I mentally took in each piece of furniture or décor and appreciated it for what it was.

Throughout the house are many items that hold special meaning for me…like the framed button tree on the wall by the front door. My eldest daughter made it for me using buttons that had belonged to my late mother, and it’s more than just a pretty piece of art. It’s a piece of my mom.

In the guest room, as I dust the black and white prints purchased many years ago in the French Quarter, I’m reminded of the beauty of Christ Church Cathedral, the warm beignets at Café du Monde and the unexpected talent from the street performers. While dusting in that same room, I get the pleasure of lovingly handling the photo of my two beautiful daughters, my parents’ graduation pictures and the portrait of my mom with her family when she was just a teenager.

In the living room, I linger over the cover of The Beatles, a coffee table book. It conjures up the deep affection that was spawned by the Fab Four’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was nine. As I dust the barrister bookcase, my eyes wander over the book titles, and I relish the feeling of being tempted by all the stories waiting to be read or read again. And while dusting the mantle on the stone fireplace, I marvel at the hard work my dad put into building the cabin that he and my mom loved so much.

More thoughts of my mom bubble up when I dust the Hoosier cabinet in the dining area. She’d found it at some antique place in town and was quite pleased with the result after she’d stripped off the layers of paint and brought it back to its natural wood finish. It’s a charming old piece that’s more than just useful. It’s a memory inducer.

Dusting the rocker in the TV room elicits memories that aren’t even my own. It was built by a man I never met…my maternal grandfather. He was a minister and used to sit in that rocker to compose his sermons. His Bible, pen and notebook would be laid out on a writing board he’d also crafted that fit perfectly upon the arms of the rocker. Mom talked about him often, and I came to feel a real kinship with him through her stories. She absolutely adored her father and was devastated when he died. She was only 19 at the time.

In my room out in the garage, I continue to travel down memory lane while dusting a multitude of framed photos of my family. Thoughts of my dad are particularly in the forefront as I dust the TV cabinet, bookcase, guitar stand and rolltop desk…all pieces he created in his workshop. I even use the old florescent lamp that he’d had on his desk as far back as I can remember. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot older than I am so, of course, I had its brittle wiring replaced. I may be sentimental, but I’m not stupid.

It’s clearly been established that I’m not one to go overboard when it comes to housecleaning, but I do dust once a week…whether warranted or not. (Ha-ha.) Yes, yes, I know there are those who dust every day, but that will never be my jam. That being said, now that I’ve made a point to use that particular chore as a reminder of the countless treasures that make up my life, I don’t really consider it a “chore” at all. It’s a weekly opportunity to participate in an activity that’s brimming with wonderful thoughts and memories.

And before you accuse me of dwelling on the past instead of living in the moment, let me be clear…that’s not what this is at all. It’s simply me embracing what was while enjoying what is.

Will I ever be able to look at cleaning the bathrooms with that same sentiment? I strongly doubt it. Will I even try? I strongly doubt that, too.

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Busting Free

A week from today, my baby will celebrate her 48th birthday. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I’m old enough to have a child that age. It’s even harder to believe I have another one who’s older than that. Of course, I was a very young mom…in the beginning, that is. But that’s a story for another time.

Jennifer came into this world much, much earlier than she was supposed to. Apparently, her first personality trait was impatience. And that was immediately followed by stubborn determination (which actually came in quite handy during her first several weeks). I think it’s safe to say she still identifies with both of those, but there are other traits that are much more prevalent. She’s kind and loving and tenderhearted. And, unlike her mom, she seems the happiest when she’s on the go and surrounded by people. Maybe that’s why she was in such a hurry to make her grand debut. She’d had enough of being confined and wanted to see what was happening out there in the real world.

In the beginning, there were times we feared she might not survive, but that itty-bitty nugget of a human thrived and developed into the fabulous daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother and friend that she is today.

As an early birthday gift, I decided to post an essay about Jennifer’s entrance into the world. She already knows the story, but you may not. To read When the Womb Lets Go, just click the button below.

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When the Womb Lets Go

[Warning: Some material may not be suitable for delicate constitutions.]


September 11, 1974

My husband and I stood at the nursery window and stared at the incubator on the other side of the room. Our new baby was lying on a flattened diaper – a preemie diaper that was too large to fasten around her tiny body. The skin stretched so thinly over her closed eyes that she looked like a baby bird. She was frighteningly small.

We weren’t allowed to hold her in the beginning, and even the nurses kept their handling of her to a minimum. She was simply too fragile. All we could do was stand at that window and gaze at her inside the plastic capsule that would be her home for who knew how long. We’d watch the nurses work around her, adjusting things and checking vitals. They would periodically turn her from her stomach to her back and move her head from one side to the other. When they did that, the top of her little ear would sometimes be folded down from where she’d been lying on it. Her dad always panicked when that happened because he was afraid it would stay that way. He’d tap on the window to get the nurse’s attention and motion for her to smooth our daughter’s ear back into place. And the nurse would always comply. My guess is we weren’t the first parents to obsess over their preemie’s condition…even if it was something as trivial as bent ear cartilage.

The events that led us to that place were swift and unexpected. I was six months pregnant and had experienced no physical trauma or unusual health issues. I simply woke up during the night, went to the bathroom and began bleeding profusely.

We’d moved to a new state the week before and I didn’t yet have a doctor. My husband was in the military, so he rushed me to the hospital on base. Prior to this, my only experience as a hospital patient was when I had our first child, and that was at a military hospital in our home state. Everyone I interacted with during my time there treated me with great care and respect. When we arrived at the emergency room at this hospital, I expected the same type of treatment. I soon discovered that those expectations were much too high.

To say I received less than stellar care would be an understatement. While I have no recollection of the person who checked me in, I do remember that when it came to most of the orderlies and nurses, I felt like I was imposing on their time. It’s not that they were blatantly rude – with the exception of the obstetrician – but there was a general air of detachment. I was clearly worried about the state of my pregnancy, yet no one made any effort to ease my fears.

The initial assumption was that I was experiencing placenta previa, a condition where the placenta covers the opening of the cervix, but an ultrasound showed no evidence of that. After running a couple of other tests, they still didn’t have any answers, but they told me I was free to go. I sat up on the examining table and began gushing blood again, so the ER doc said I should probably stay a bit longer for further observation. Had I been as snarky then as I am now, I undoubtedly would have deadpanned, “Good call.”

They kept me lying flat and the bleeding lessened, but I continued to pass large clots. A nurse would closely examine those and when I finally gathered the courage to ask what she was looking for, she matter-of-factly said, “Fetal tissue.” I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just kept my horror to myself.

Before they had a chance to try and ship me off again, I began having contractions. In an effort to stop them, they hooked me up to an alcohol IV. I don’t know how long I was on that drip, but I do remember hearing a woman in another room screaming with labor pains. An orderly came in to see how I was feeling, and I drunkenly told him I felt great. I then happily suggested they give the woman down the hall the same thing I was getting. I have to confess…that alcohol drip was the highlight of my time as a patient there.

That course of treatment was only temporary, and the contractions started up again the next day. When a nurse came by to check on me, I told her I was in labor and she pooh-poohed the idea, saying it was nothing more than Braxton Hicks. I told her I’d already had one baby and knew labor pains when I felt them. She continued to ignore the situation until it became obvious that the contractions were more severe and much too frequent to be anything but active labor.

It didn’t last long, though. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even make it from the gurney to the delivery table. When the orderlies started to lift me, I made them stop. And when they asked why, I clenched my teeth and said, “I’m having the baby.”

They looked under the sheet and, sure enough, there she was. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know whether I’d had a girl or a boy. I didn’t find that out until after I was transferred to the delivery table for the removal of the afterbirth. And I wouldn’t have known it then had I not made a point of asking one of the nurses. All I got in return was a perfunctory, “Oh, it’s a girl,” as they whisked her away. I remember lying there after that, feeling cold and alone and very, very scared.

A few days later, I was standing at the nursery window when a man came up beside me to admire his own newborn. He pointed his baby out to me and asked about mine. I told him how early she was, that she weighed less than 2.5 pounds when she was born and that I had no idea how long she’d have to remain in the hospital. I also told him I hadn’t been allowed to feed her yet because she was too weak to nurse and had to be given formula through a tube. I was taken aback when he asked if I was planning to breastfeed her once she was able. Right after her birth, a nurse gave me a shot to dry up my milk. I told him this, and he sadly shook his head saying I could have expressed the milk myself until she was stronger. I remember looking away, embarrassed by my own ignorance. They never discussed options with me, and they certainly didn’t ask permission to give me the shot. They just did it. I would have liked to have breastfed her, but I never had the chance.

A uterine infection kept me in the hospital for a week. The day I was released, instead of nestling a baby to my heart, I went home empty-handed.

Within 48 hours, I was back in the emergency room with itchy welts from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. The doctor attributed it to the penicillin I’d received and said I wasn’t to take it again in any form. I told him I’d never before had an allergic reaction to this drug, and I suggested perhaps the breakout was due to nerves. It had, after all, been a very stressful week. My baby was premature, I still hadn’t had a chance to hold her and, while I was still on the delivery table, the stern obstetrician had brusquely informed me my daughter’s chances of survival were slim to none.

The ER doctor either didn’t hear or didn’t care. He simply prescribed an alternate antibiotic and sent me on my way.

The obstetrician told us our daughter’s early birth was due to placental abruption, but he didn’t bother to explain what that meant. After I got home from the hospital, I looked it up in my trusty instruction manual…pretty sure the book was Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. The condition was described as the placenta tearing away from the inside of the uterus and it sounded brutal. The book also said this occurred most often in women over 40 who had experienced four or more pregnancies. This was just my second and I was only 19.

Our other daughter couldn’t understand why her little sister didn’t come home from the hospital with me. She’d been excited to meet her brand new, homegrown playmate and wasn’t the least bit happy with the fact that there was still no baby in the bassinet.

Neither was I. But I wasn’t quite ready to deal with having our tiny girl home yet. I agonized over all the things that could go wrong. And there was one particularly irrational fear that always wrestled its way to the forefront. What if, when we brought the baby home, her sister decided she didn’t want her after all?  What if she snuck her into the bathroom and flushed her down the toilet? I examined the opening in the bottom of the bowl and convinced myself her little body would fit. My husband found the whole thing comical and, looking back, I have it admit it was pretty funny. But at the time, the very idea terrified me.

The people working in the neonatal intensive care unit were the polar opposite of those I’d experienced in the OB ward. The level of care I received was subpar at best, but the treatment our baby received was phenomenal. The NICU staff was friendly, attentive and compassionate. And because she really did resemble a baby bird, they lovingly nicknamed our daughter “Tweety.”

Shortly after I was released, we were cleared to go into the nursery to be closer to our baby and we visited every day. We had to gown up, put on surgical masks and scrub to our elbows with soaped pads that felt like sandpaper. It was a cumbersome affair, but it was always worth it.

When I finally held our daughter for the first time, I was unprepared for how weightless she was…and how perfect. A baby boy slept in another incubator nearby, and he had tubes and monitor wires connected all over his body. Our little one had arrived three months too soon and her doctor was cautiously optimistic, but that little guy was full term, and his prognosis was grim. No one could have predicted such a thing, and my heart broke for his parents when he passed not long after.

Our phone rang a few weeks later and, as soon as the caller identified herself as one of the NICU nurses, I felt my knees start to buckle. I was sure she was calling to say they had done all they could but that my baby was just too tiny and weak. I was convinced we had lost our little girl. But that wasn’t what the nurse said at all.  Instead, she dragged me from my morbid reverie by telling me they had just removed our daughter from the “Serious” list, and she was improving rapidly. We should be able to bring her home in a few weeks.

For just an instant, anger choked my relief. I visited every day. If the nurse had waited until I arrived at the hospital that afternoon, she could have given me the good news in person. By then my eyes would have already witnessed that my daughter was still alive. Still breathing. Still here. But, instead, I nearly drowned in those few seconds of fear. It took a moment before I managed to appreciate what the nurse was actually telling me, and then all I could do was thank her over and over.


November 11, 1974

Exactly two months after her birth – and one month before she was even due to enter this world – little Jennifer Rae came home.

She did so well in the hospital that, instead of waiting until she reached the usual 5-lb weight requirement, they released her at only 4 ½ lbs. All the newborn clothes we had were still too big, so I made a doll-sized dress for her to wear on Thanksgiving. And we definitely had much to be thankful for. The care she received in the NICU was outstanding. She battled valiantly to survive. And her big sister did not flush her down the toilet.

Miracle of miracles…she lived.

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