Come Monday

I spent all weekend at a conference and I started what I consider a very important blog last night but I have simply run out of physical energy. My body’s recovering from childbirth and I don’t have my usual stamina.

I apologize but I want to do my very best and I’m just not at the top of my game right now. That and I really want to watch The Next Iron Chef tonight.

I plan to work on the post tomorrow morning, Pacific time, and should post by tomorrow afternoon. Until then, please take the opportunity to peruse my previous posts and enjoy them.

Again I apologize but I’m damn grateful that you’re on my page and I hope the body of work here can entertain you until I can post.

Oh, I should plug my new story in ParentMap magazine. This month features “When Good Parents Snap.”

Maria Bellos Fisher


Book Excerpt: Heirlooms

I cannot describe the longing I have for garden tomatoes. For me, they define the summer and the lesson we learn about having patience to wait for the good things in life. This year I planted 10 plants, hoping to be lousy with tomatoes by this time of the year. We’ve harvested a few but I’m still waiting. Since I don’t know any sun dances I’m posting this in the hopes that we’ll get some ripe tomatoes this year. And if anyone knows how to speed the process, please let me know!

The plants grew along the back and side of the house, to get the southern and western sun. We grew tomatoes and zucchini every year in back. Sometimes we planted green peppers, eggplant, cucumbers or string beans. The side garden held tomato overflow and every summer I would plant the bottoms of some scallions at the end, near the chimney, after we’d eaten the tops. The mint patch abutted the side garden, but it never encroached on the tomatoes.

Beginning in August, I’d survey the garden daily, looking for precious patches of orange, then pink, more pink, darker pink, and finally red. “Mommy!” I’d scream, yanking open the wood screen door and rounding the corner to the kitchen, “We have tomatoes!”

“Really?” She’d follow me outside. “Where?”

“Right there, Mommy!” I pointed.

“Where? Oh yeeaah, there it is. It’s red, all right.”

“Can I pick it?”

“Are you sure it’s ripe? Could get redder, you know.”

“Please, can I pick it?”

“Go ahead, Honey.”

I ran to the patio and bent the stake at the end of the chicken-wire fence, squeezed behind it, and tiptoed around the plants to get to the right one. “Here it is, Mommy!”

“Go ahead. Pick it.” I wrapped my hand around its warm skin, feeling its delicate heft, and plucked it from the vine.

“Got it! Can I make a sandwich?”

“You can do whatever you want, Honey,” Mom said.

I went inside and pulled out two slices of white bread. “Cut it for me, please!” I said. My mom ran it under the sink and cut out the stem part in a little cone with the little knife she used for everything. I got the mayonnaise out of the fridge. She cut the tomato into round slices.

“Be right back!” I said, running out the back door.” I headed to the side garden and pinched off two scallions, then ran back inside, clutching them in my fist. At the table, I laid out both slices of bread, spread them with mayonnaise and ripped the scallions to fit the sandwich, laying them on the left-hand slice. Mom brought over the tomato slices and I laid two slices on top of the scallions, decided the sandwich could take one more and added it. I topped it with the other slice of bread and took a bite. The soft bread, the warm sweet and sour of the tomato, the creamy mayonnaise and the tang of the scallions combined into the sweet, lazy flavor of summer.

We also made tomato salads. My current favorite recipe is one ripe heirloom tomato, cut in small 1/8 wedges, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, heavily salt, lightly pepper and add fresh oregano. Oriste!


We are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Please stand by. Remember that?

Seriously, Google Chrome had some issues getting onto my site today so I was unable to post. I should post Monday, provided I finish this week’s entry and the browser works then. Thanks for your patience. I did just give birth.


Pregnancy: It’s Not Pretty Part 3 – Labor Day

Labor Day

Day 259: Thanksgiving and I can eat as much as I want! Gluttony’s last hurrah.
Day 259, 3 p.m.: Dinner smells great. I have outdone myself. Just a quick pee break before dinner. Ow! “Honey, I may be having contractions, but let’s just eat and see.”
Day 259, 3:20 p.m.: OW! “Yep, Honey, I do believe I’m in labor, but it takes several hours for your first. Think I should warm up the pie?”
Day 259, 3:35 p.m.: OW!
Day 259, 3:50 p.m.: “What do you mean, where’s the doctor’s card? I thought YOU had it!”
Day 259, 4 p.m.: “Hello, Service? I think I’m in labor. Yes, I’ll wait for the call”
Day 259, 4:20 p.m.: “Hi, doc. About 10 minutes apart, yes. I was just about to lie down. The hospital? Now? I was going to take a nap.”
Day 259, 4:40 p.m.: “What do you mean; you don’t believe it’s real? This pain is pretty freakin’ real. What is WITH you people? First my husband thinks the pains ‘aren’t regular enough’ and now this.” It hurts so bad I may puke. “Yes, I’ll take a walk, but this baby’s coming out today. I will NOT do this again.”
Day 259, 6:30 p.m.: “I TOLD you so! Yes, I will gladly go to the labor room. Thank you, I would love a hot shower and an epidural.”
Day 259, 7 p.m.: Ow, OW! That’s a needle in my spine! Ahhhhh. Dentist numb.
Day 259, 7:20 p.m.: “That was a contraction? Really? I had no idea. This completely rocks. Oh, sure, go ahead and break my water. I’ll just lay here until we’re done.”
Day 259, 11:15 p.m.: “So what exactly is a practice push? Like a big poop, huh? Oooh.”
Day 260, 12 a.m.: “What do you mean, stop pushing? It feels like a turd the size of a thermos. We have to wait for the neonatal team? Why is it taking so long? Don’t you people do this all the time? You’d think you’d be faster at it.”
Day 260, 12:15 a.m.: Ow, ow, ow, sploosh. Holy crap it’s gone. Ahhh. “Waaaah!” Did that really come out of me? It’s alive. How weird is that?
Day 260, 12:20 a.m.: “Hi, baby, I’m your mommy and this is my boob.” Did that really come out of me? Hey, she’s not all pruney. Sure, let’s deliver the placenta. Whatever, I’m still numb. It’s gone? Coool. Now can we order pizza?
Day 260, 2 a.m.: Look at her! She’s beautiful and she’s perfect. And I’m not pregnant anymore. But you know what, Honey? Next time we’re getting a puppy.”

Epilogue

The new puppy arrived Sept. 13, 2010, at 3:10 p.m., after mama waited 4 hours for an epidural. He was born to the tune of “Roll with the Changes” by REO Speedwagon. Baby Boy Fisher weighed eight pounds, nine ounces. We brought him home and baby and mama are happy and healthy. Next time I really mean it: we’re getting a dog!


Sept. 12, 2001 vs. Sept. 12, 2010

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hate

“Crazy Train” — Ozzy Osbourne

No matter where we were, Americans shared a similar experience on September 11, 2001. We agreed the attack was tragic. We felt a new vulnerability and outrage. And for the first and sadly, last, time in decades, we came together as one nation, under God, whoever God was to us.

On September 12, 2001, under still skies, I awoke numb and disoriented. I lived two miles from the Pentagon and five from National Airport, so helicopters and planes provided the bass riffs to my soundtrack. The quiet disturbed me. I headed to the grocer and on the radio, the usually frenetic DJ spoke softly, slowly, introducing mellow songs. As I heard the first strains of John Lennon’s, “Imagine,” tears warmed my face. Without any effort I started to sob, there in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s.

How could this happen?

Last week I learned how. We had a young teen houseguest. His nonstop chatter spanned three subjects: video games, hate speech, and decades-old paranoia about “the government.”

A 13-year-old kid from the Deep South may hear bigoted comments from his friends, provided he has friends, but the paranoid Cold War-Era statements about the government had to come from another role model. Likely the same role model who sent our toddler a fat-bashing picture book.

This kid insulted Mexicans, the remainder of the Spanish-speaking world, immigrants, fat people, old people, foreigners and especially “fairies.” We strove to give him the attention he so desperately craved, but the hateful sentiments wore quickly. My husband took him to the Space Needle, where a transgender assistant facilitated their souvenir photo.

“You would have thought this guy was going to tie him down and rape him, the way he acted,” my husband reported. Somehow our budding bigot survived the photo experience intact.

One night as we showed vacation photos, I told my daughter, “The hula dancers loved you!”

“Don’t throw around the word ‘love,’” our young visitor countered.

This was a new one. “Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s a strong word and it’s not good to use all the time,” he said.

“What’s wrong with ‘love’?” I asked.

“I’m just sayin’,” he said.

Ok, so the values instilled in this kid are hate=good and love=danger. How does anyone think like that? Oddly enough, I was raised in a bigoted household and I still don’t understand those sentiments. Even though my parents strove for me to embrace their “values,” something in me rejected them. Maybe it helped that my beloved first-grade teacher was black. Maybe it helped that being adopted separated me from my parents in my mind. Maybe it’s because my heart just wasn’t built for bigotry.

A few months after 9/11 I saw some children of extremists interviewed on TV. I can’t remember where they lived – maybe Afghanistan or Iraq – but they told reporters that the U.S. attacks were a huge victory for the Arab world, and they literally jumped for joy to celebrate the thousands of American deaths that we mourned. Those boys were nine years old. They never had a chance. Neither did our young visitor.

The current animosity’s not limited to bigotry or ignorance, though. Since the recession took hold, I’ve noticed that people exhibit more anger and hostility in public. All of my evidence is anecdotal but we seem to be enveloped in a cloud of anger. Just last week, as I shopped in my borrowed handicapped scooter, I bumped into a display and I apologized to the clerk. My condition is new and temporary and I said, “I’m sorry, I’m not very good at this.”

A random stranger walking by growled, “Then why aren’t you walking?”

Shocked, I turned around to see a white man in his 60s walking away. Stunned, I thought about catching up and slapping his face, but the scooter didn’t have the horsepower and I couldn’t walk, which was why was in it in the first place. To top it off, I was very obviously pregnant – nine months along, to be exact. The hormones took over and impotent to resist, I cried for the next 40 minutes as I shopped. I used to work in psychiatric hospitals with bona-fide sociopaths and that’s the meanest thing anyone outside my family has ever said to me.

I couldn’t let it go. What was this guy’s problem? He was a complete stranger. Why would he even care if I was in a scooter? Why would he bother to expend the extra effort to assume I was faking? Why would anybody need to spew venom like that at all? And then I thought some more. My psych background told me this guy had seen some serious pain, and if, at age 60, his life included verbally harassing pregnant strangers in the supermarket, he must have been experiencing much more pain than I was. In the moment, I wanted nothing more than to add to his pain, but it was probably good that I couldn’t. We do breed serial killers in the Northwest, so we have to be careful who we mess with, but the bottom line is that while I could assure myself that my pain would go away, I knew his wouldn’t.

When I worked in the hospitals, the patients on the inside tried to get well. What scared me were all the inpatient candidates in the outside world, the ones who didn’t want to get well, whose path of emotional destruction would go on and on.

I never let negative vibes bother me before, because it always seemed that optimism would prevail. But now I’m not so sure. From what I’ve seen and heard lately, it seems that the Dark Side’s winning. Our society’s always included some social deviants, but thanks in part to the glorification of nastiness, via “entertainment” like “Bridezillas” and “Real Housewives,” mean people are losing their inhibitions and letting loose on anyone and everyone they meet.

Here’s a new development. I can’t trace its origins directly, but it’s a good example of rampant malice. We heard about a couple who endured a random attack on their marriage. The police told them that these attacks are part of a new trend, and it seems to be “regular people,” not professional con artists, that initiate them. A stranger will call a husband or wife, claiming the victim’s spouse is cheating. The internet-savvy attacker’s done his or her homework, and injects just enough details into the story to make it believable. The attacker’s objective? A “divorce sale” on the couple’s house, so that the attacker can get sellers to reduce their asking price.

These so-called “regular people” would destroy strangers’ lives for money? How can anyone think like that? Keep in mind that these people are already in a position to buy a house, so they already have money. They’re doing it to SAVE money. As the child of a classic Scrooge, I can relate to thriftiness but I save money by shopping sales and using coupons. Shoot, when we bought a house, we just bid low if we wanted the price to come down. Our low bids were rejected, but at least we didn’t destroy any lives in the process. And we bought a house we love. Fair and square.

What drives someone to become that mean and destructive just in the course of buying a house? What world convinces them that it’s ok to do it? In the wake of our tolerance of bad behavior, our glorification of hostility, and the negativity we practice ourselves, we have to take some responsibility.

Humans have always experienced anger. When we were cavemen, anger was constructive. We used it as a survival tactic. It’s natural and we can’t live our lives in the absence of it. But anger used to have its place. It was ok to blow up once in a while, but if you did it at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or with the wrong person, you suffered consequences. Abusive people got arrested, or thrown out of the bar, or slapped. But over the years and through tough times, we’ve learned to tolerate public abuse.

Times are tough, we say. He’s just blowing off steam, we rationalize. Don’t say anything, we warn, she could be a complete psycho. When we learned tolerance, it was about peace. Lessons of tolerance focused on accepting people, not unacceptable behavior. But it seems now the definition of “acceptable behavior” has expanded.

Is this the world we want to live in? Are tough times really an excuse for demonstrating hostility and disrespect? Where does it end? If we condone mean behavior, won’t we, as a society, just get meaner? It just makes me wonder, what do we think this will accomplish?

But how do we stop it? I can’t claim I have the solution, but what comes to mind is the success of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s zero tolerance policy to reduce crime. By refusing to tolerate small crimes, like littering and spitting on the sidewalk, Giuliani built the anti-crime initiative into a comprehensive policy that turned New York around.

I propose that we institute a “let it begin with me” policy, where we focus on our own positive behavior and refuse to tolerate negative behavior in others. We can start by consciously spreading kindness. Next time you’re in line somewhere, say something nice to the person in front of you. If you see someone drop something, pick it up for them. Let someone ahead of you in traffic. Keep kindness on your mind. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. If nothing else, consciously practicing kindness can never hurt. If you don’t think it’s worth it, ask yourself, as things stand right now, what have we got to lose?