Sally McBurger-flipper

I should say this is in response to the clever rant I have seen on facebook a few too many times. Google sally mcburgerflipper if you want to read it in all it’s mean-spirited, false-choiced, poor-against-poor glory.

 

 

I get it.

I do.

When you get on a rant against something, and the words come pouring out in a way that is biting and bitter, alliterative and clever, it’s fun. It feels good. It’s intoxicating and self-stroking. Writing and reading those rants is fun. I get it. It’s like all sorts of sins, you get so wrapped up in the wave of feeling good that you forget about the people you’re hurting. You forget your manners. You forget that you’re writing and sharing about real people.

I’m not going to try to change your mind about minimum wage. But I’m also not going to sit quietly while otherwise good people trash, disrespect and condemn people they don’t know. Because I know Sally McBurger-flipper.

My mom worked for minimum wage or close to it until she got too sick to work. She was a real person, a good person. She wasn’t some anonymous, ignorant bad-decision-maker who deserved nothing better than to be poor and struggle. She was a real woman who took care of her kids and grandkids. She looked after her neighbors. She taught her kids to check in on old people and shovel a mailman path.

I know other Sallies as well. They are hard working people doing their best to help their families make ends meet. Battered women trying to start fresh after moving out of a shelter. Older adults who lost their houses to foreclosure or their husbands to cancer and have to go back to work, or work outside the home for the first time. They’re young, single women who have decided abortion is wrong and are trying to raise their child and finish school.

These are real people. Not some convenient, faceless caricature for you to throw under the bus while you throw your lot in with the top 5%. It’s not them or you. It’s them and you.

Those military salaries you found so clever to cite in order to justify minimum wage staying low? What do you think the moms and dads of those young men and women are doing? Some of them are certainly working minimum wage jobs. They’re real people with real troubles. Granted, some of them have made bad decisions. Some make repeated bad decisions. Some struggle with mental health issues.

But why on earth do you feel like it’s ok to speak about them as if they are some sort of faceless parasite? What kind of values system says it’s ok to look down on the working poor as if they’re not humans deserving of consideration?

Why on earth is it ok to pay them less than a living wage for a hard day’s work? These jobs aren’t “designed” for high school kids anymore than agricultural work is “designed” for migrant labor. They’re designed to make money for the business. It is entirely possible to pay a living wage for hard work AND make money for the business and its owners.

There is enough money in this economy for everyone if more of it flows down after it flows up. The problem is people and businesses hoarding cash and relying on government assistance to help their low level employees make ends meet.

Please, try to remember that the people you look down on are somebody’s mom or grandma or grandpa. They’re real, complicated humans who deserve better.

The Headstone

Here is the final product. I’m pleased with it, except that when we go there lately, there is a picture of a guy. I don’t know who he is, but he is always stuck on a little wire sign, facing my mom’s grave. This is the kind of thing that would drive my mom crazy if it were done to her when she were alive, but tickle her to death if she thought of doing it to someone else. What she would call a Petty Torment.
grave-127.jpg

grave-128.jpg

Latest

Here is what we have so far:

headstone front

headstone back

It’s hard to imagine in granite, and in three dimensions. The letters look a little funky to me, but they only have two fonts and one is arial-ish and this is the other one. It looks classic in real life. Even if it looks like college football team lettering in the sketch.

I guess it’s hard to go wrong with tombstones. It will feel good to have it done. AS soon as I get the OK from all my siblings, it’s a go.

After

While my mom was sick, we were operating in crisis mode. Day to day, worry to worry. It’s hard work, dying. And not just for the sick person. It’s hard work. Lots of hours. Hours on the road, hours in the hospital. In hospital rooms, in hospital halls, waiting rooms, elevators and parking ramps. Hours at her house instead of mine. Much of it is just stupid. But we had a mission, and we were on it.
The stupidest thing I think we had to do was plug the parking meter while we were visiting my mom. Visiting isn’t even a good word. We were being with her. Hours and hours every day. But the meter doesn’t care how important my presence is. I suppose it was a good break, a reason to go outside. But sometimes looking for a goddamned quarter is the last straw on a very heavy and precarious load.

But I digress. The caring time was drudgery. It was work and it kept us all busy. But after my mom died. After all the trying, and thinking and working was over; there was something else waiting. And it wasn’t something better than work and exhaustion and sadness. It was fear. I can’t remember exactly when it was in the saga of this part of my life that I started to be afraid.

But I remember what it felt like. I remember waking up gasping and terrified. Abject horror and doom prickled my skin and made me sweat. I just woke up scared. The kind of scared I haven’t been since I was a kid. But when I was a kid, there was usually a bad dream preceding the scary feeling. And if I yelled loud enough, my mom came down and I felt safe.

This scared was new. There was nothing solid to hang it on, no dream to talk myself out of. Not to mention no mom to holler for. Sometimes when I was in bed and feeling really scared, I’d just reach out a hand or a foot and touch Andy. Just touch him. And it made me a little less terrified. Until I fell asleep and woke up scared again.

Maybe a month after my mom died, I got sick. I had had a nagging sort of pain in my side for months. My doctor said it was not a big deal. But it worried me. I do lean towards hypochondria. But all of a sudden I was really sick, projectile vomiting so hard I wet myself. I couldn’t keep a couple sips of water down without being sick. I think I went a night and half the next day without eating or drinking.

I was dehydrated and miserable. Dehydration is one of the worst feelings in the world. Everything feels bad and wrong. My head hurt, my joints hurt, I couldn’t stand up without feeling nauseated and dizzy.

I was terrified. Looking back, I had the flu. But I was certain I was dying. I was sure that what I had was related to the pain in my side. And the fact that my mom was dead. Funny leap there, isn’t it? But I made it. In my defense, all my mom’s sickness started with a pain in her side that woke her up in the night. She went into the hospital and 7 monthes later she died.

I insisted that Andy call my doctor’s office and get me in. They told him I probably had the flu and to keep trying fluids. I laid on the floor and cried. I told him to keep calling, call another clinic. We found somewhere that would see me. I imagine I looked like a sad, sad puppy. I couldn’t keep my head up. I shuffled and I carried a barf bag.

When the nurse brought us into a room, she was very nice to me. She asked if I wanted the lights off. I did. I wanted them so off. And she turned them off and wrote by a little nursey-light. But when she asked meif I’d like the lights off, I almost wept. And as she asked me about my symptoms, I answered her questions, but the thing I wanted to tell her was, “My mom just died. She seemed fine. But something inside her was killing her and we didn’t know. She didn’t know. It’s killing me now. Please understand me, I’m not crazy. I’m not whining. I’m scared and sick and I need you to help me.”

The thought had ricocheted around in my head that what I was afraid of for the last weeks was death. But everyone (except Kwai Chang Caine) is afraid of death. I wasn’t prepared for how toothy, ugly, lurking and real death becomes when it takes a real person from you. I imagine it’s different when someone dies young like my mom. When they seem OK, and then they just aren’t. It made me scared for myself.

If someone dies after a lingering illness or a few close calls, I imagine you get fear, maybe even abject terror in the night. But I also imagine it takes a different iteration; less sneaky and toothy and more deteriorating and haunting. But I don’t know. I only know how it was for me.

Like I said, I had the flu. I (with the blessing of my doctor) took one of the leftover cancer anti-nausea pills and started to be able to hold liquids down. I recovered.

But I had the side pain checked out again and found out I had a cyst on one of my ovaries. It’s funny, but although it worried me (only a couple months after my my mom died from “metastatic adenocarcinoma of the ovary”), it wasn’t as scary as when I just had the flu.

I should say, I still have some lingering fear that I’ll die young. But that “doom feeling” has faded. The night terror has abated. I’m getting to a new normal and it’s OK. It didn’t last forever.

Fetlock

I think I wrote something very similar before (https://manythingsdonotfly.wordpress.com/tag/my-mom/). Maybe you can tell me what the best parts of each one are and I can combine them.

What kind of person was my mom? My mom was the kind of person who people relied on. Anyone falling on hard times ended up at our house. If hard times came to you, Susie might show up, watch the kids, clean the house from stem to stern and bring dinner made from scratch.

My gramma used to say, “Susie can clean a room in the time it takes other people to think about cleaning it.” Don’t get me wrong; she was no Susie Homemaker at home, but she knew how to help in a crisis.

She was the kind of person who inspired loyalty. A peculiar and fierce kind of loyalty that, as far as I can tell, comes from having an unpredictable depth of or breadth of emotional responses. People loved her best not because she was so good, but because they knew she could be so good. If only she weren’t hounded by so many demons.

If only she weren’t so emotionally volatile. The kind of love and loyalty that always comes with a fear both of a person and for them. I guess for a while the way to describe the kind of relationships people had with my mom was to say they were co-dependent. I found that to be too limiting, too simplistic and judgmental to describe anything so real and complex.

Most of the time she was the kind of person who scared little kids for the first ten minutes and then won them over with her sheer uninhibited goofiness. She was like an alternative, anti-Mary Poppins. Sure she read your kids a story, but she’d also cut up her own clothes without hesitation to make a Zorro costume. Then she’d drill them on the different parts of a sword, or types of knives. My preschool kids came home and sprinkled daily conversation with words like scimitar and scabbard.

She’d take them on treasure hunts and send them home with a wicked grin and a bag of the most bizarre and worthless crap. The kind of stuff kids loved, but most adults would have thrown away. Broken watches, animal teeth and bones, ribbons, buttons, plastic swords and drink umbrellas.

My mom could usually out-gross any kid. She was the kind of gramma who would chide a kid for picking his nose by telling him, “Don’t wipe that on your pants. If you’re not going to eat it, give it to me!” This won over both my boys, but she couldn’t always turn the crass off, and sometimes it got embarrassing.

On a good day my mom would call up and without any introduction say, “The hairy patch on the rear leg of a horse!” to which the proper response was, “fetlock!” She’d say, “Thanks, Bye” And you might not hear from her again that day. Calling your kids was not cheating on the crossword.

On a bad day she might call and say, again without niceties, “I sure don’t know why you’re punishing me, but I think we’d better talk about it.” Sometimes I knew what she was talking about, sometimes I didn’t. It didn’t matter. The only way to avoid a long angry spell would be first, admit that you were punishing her. Pleading ignorance would only get you in deeper.

Secondly, you needed to tell her why you were doing it. That admission, to be fully valid, needed to entail why either a deep character flaw in you, or deep relationship problem (husbands preferred) caused you to mistakenly take it out on her. If you cried, which wouldn’t be hard, because she had a gift for making people cry- If you cried and followed all the above guidelines, you might get a call the next day like nothing happened. If you didn’t, her anger could last for months.

And that’s the thing. Life with my mom was messy. Sometimes it was fun, sometimes it was icky, but it was intense and imperfect. When she got sick, it didn’t fit in with the rest of her life. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with her at all except that while she was sitting at a green light waiting to make some weird or wonderful left turn; while she was daydreaming about the crossword or how mad she was at somebody; while she was being herself, cancer blew through a red and none of that stuff mattered.

January 5th Uninspired

January 5th 2007

The stupidest thing I saw today. I got a copy a list of classroom adaptations for my younger boy. It said he would be allowed to “utilize consolidated classroom techniques”. What the hell is that?

The stupidest thing I did today. I wasn’t too stupid today.
The nicest thing I saw to day.
The nicest thing I did today. Guess I wasn’t too nice, either.

Something that made me cry. Ha! I didn’t even cry once today!

Something I wanted today but couldn’t have.

Something I ate today but shouldn’t have. Why oh why? Because god is punishing me. God is big on punishment.

Or as I like to call it when it happens to my kids, “divine retribution”. Yesterday I ate the stupidest thing. It was a waste of my life, the calories and the cottage cheese of my thighs. The thing is, it all comes from greed. Greed is the bane of my existence. But I started with good intentions.

My mom used to do stocking for us kids, then the grandkids. And she did it weird, but cool and fun. We alwalys got some small junk food, which for us was the little boxes of cereal. That was ‘junk’ because it wasn’t plain Cheerios or Wheaties or Cornflakes. Pretty much that’s what we ate for breakfast. No candy-coated-sugar-bombs for us.

Remember back about 30 years? When you could cut open the little cereal box and pour the milk right into the box and eat it? It seemed like such a technological innovation to me at the time. They don’t encourage that anymore. One too many kids drove the steak knife into their thigh while cutting the box open, I guess.

Anyway, we always got little cereals, pineapple juice in little cans, a gigantic red delicious apple, a gigantic navel orange, candy canes and some silly small present. Usually something practical, but special because it was for only us. Like one year we all got shampoo. Our own shampoo. Laugh if you want, but I was enthralled. I think my brother got green apple, one of my sisters got strawberry and I got a very grown up golden bottle of Flax Enriched something.

I read the back and was awed by its promise to “heal and strengthen the hair shaft”. It had protein for strength and shine. It had jojoba oil for bounce and luster. I was going to have the most strong, lustrous, bouncy and shiny 12 year old hair in the world.

Another year we got jars of olives or packages of pepperoni. All to ourselves. Or entire packages of gum, like the 10 pack strips of Wrigleys.

Well since my mom died, I’ve tried to take on the torch of the stocking stuffing. My sisters helped me out t his year. One brought packs of gum, the other brought little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pies and Marshmallow Murders. I found one of the cream pies yesterday while I was cleaning up the shrapnel of Christmas.

Before I knew what I was doing I had eaten it. What is wrong with me? It was greasy and dry. It was so sweet it hurt my teeth. I should have stopped after one bite, but I didn’t. I ate it. I think they used to be better. Or I used to be hungrier, because, yeeeuch, it was icky.

Moments of Gastronomical Excellence… Right.

Missed opportunity.
Goose bumps.

Food horrors.

What Is This?

Look, you might as well know this, because it’s true and I’m sick of carrying it alone. Me, Ramon, my sisters, my brother, my whole family in a way, even people who you’d think wouldn’t have any business in this deal. We’re all still hampered. Does that go away? After a traumatic passage through sickness and death?

When will I stop wanting to explain to people that my mom died young and in front of us. When will my whole family stop feeling battered? When will the raw spot toughen up? It’s fading. That, I can tell. But I still feel like I walk with a limp, or I favor one arm and people can tell. I’ve still got the running monologue in my head, trying to make it all make sense, and coming up empty handed. Because it doesn’t make sense.

I had to have the conversation with my kids about euthanizing Yikes, the geriatric cat in the house. And in my defense, it’s time. She keeps us up all night scratching at the wall near our heads, yowling randomly and walking circles around our heads. Sometimes she stops to rest, draping herself across my neck or my head. I can sleep with her on my head, on my shoulder, even on my neck. But when she starts to lick me, which she always does at some point, I have to shove her away. Then she starts scratching at the wall near my head.

After a couple nights of sleep deprivation, I stopped loving her. If we lock her out, she’ll yowl and wake up the whole house. She’s just gone dotty. She sits staring at her feet. Misses her jumps, loses her footing… She isn’t the same cat. Lately she has seemed very unhappy, like she knows she’s not right, or she doesn’t feel good. The last two vet visits have found her healthy (for an 18 year old cat). They’ve also cost about a hundred fifty bucks each.

It shouldn’t be about the money, but it is. I don’t feel good spending hundreds of dollars on a very old unhappy animal, when I could send a whole flock of ducks to a family in Tibet for less than that. So I decide it ‘s time to prepare the children. Zach is understanding, Jasper’s not. The first time I bring it up he loses his mind and storms upstairs in tears.

When I go to his room to talk him down from the ledge, he is sobbing, face down on the bed. I sit down, rub his back and tell him I think she’s not feeling good because she’s crying a lot, and that she’s acting like she sees things, and she seems scared. I tell him that she’s very old for a cat and everything has to die. Our job, I explain, is to try do the best we can to make sure she doesn’t suffer.

After he cries for what seems like an hour, but is probably more like a mere fifty minutes, I try to talk to him again. This time he tells me, “It’s too soon mom. It’s too soon after Gramma died” He dissolves again. Yeah, it’s too soon.

It isn’t about my mom, it isn’t about the cat, and it is. Everywhere I go, when things get hard, or when they get good, or just at random times, I want to yell, “My mom is dead! We tried to take care of her, we did research, we bought vitamins, we lost sleep, lost weight, lost the battle, lost Susie. We tried really, really hard to be smarter and better than other families, listened to the doctors, questioned the doctors, followed our orders, tried harder than we’d ever tried before and SHE STILL DIED. And I still dream I’m trying to figure out how to make her better, and I feel the relief and sinking sadness that it doesn’t matter anymore as I start to wake up. And we’re still trying to figure out how to be a real family without her. We’ll probably never be whole again. Do you hear me?”

At the doctor’s office, at a basketball game, in meetings, at home… I feel like I need to tell everyone so they understand. Like it matters. Like they’re not carrying around their own traumas that they want to shout at me.

When is it no longer going to be an asterisk alongside everything I do, every interaction I have? Millions of normal people live to see their parents die. How do they get on with their lives? I haven’t been through war, torture, rape or a whole host of the unnatural horrors available on the menu of life. My mom got sick and died. And the whole world changed, and the whole world stayed the same. When do I get to move on?