Graceful

I am an extraordinarily klutzy individual. It started when I was a tiny child.  I expect that I fell on my head a lot as a toddler.  I have a report card from the end of my year in kindergarten that says, “Dorothea should work on her fine muscle coordination over the summer.”  I think that is teacher-speak for “Teach this hot mess of a child how to walk without injuring herself or any other unfortunate child who happens to be in her wake.”

I also took dance lessons when I was in kindergarten.  After kindergarten, we moved from New York to California.  Although I begged to continue dance lessons in California, my parents refused.  I was very disappointed, but I think my parents just saw the writing on the wall.

When I was about seven, I broke my right arm, in another predictable demonstration of my clumsiness.  I was trying to swing from one jungle gym bar to another.  I apparently did not understand that there should never be a time when both one’s hands are off both bars.  As far as anyone knew up to that time, I was right-handed.  The broken right arm required a cast and I could not use my supposedly preferred hand for some six weeks. I managed pretty well.  As uncoordinated as I was when I had the use of both arms, the bar was set pretty low.  I don’t think it surprised anyone that I struggled doing tasks with my left hand as much as I did with my right.

It was when the cast came off that we were all in for a surprise.  I was actually less adept at tasks using my right hand than I had been when I was forced to use my left.  My mother was very alarmed.  Let’s face it; there wasn’t much wiggle room in my manual dexterity to begin with.  Several visits to various medical specialists later, the consensus of opinion was that I had probably been born left-handed.  I had just adapted to a right-handed world because no one knew any better.  I guess this is a more common phenomenon than most people realize.  Many people become ambidextrous as a result.  In my case, I became ambiklutzious.  I could find a way to fall, drop things, twist myself into awkward angles, tangle my legs together, and sprain my own wrists equally well using either hemisphere of my brain.

I never grew out of my dexterity challenges.  In junior high school, I actually had a pair of tennis shoes embroidered with the words “right” and “left” on them so I could keep my feet straight. The only class I ever came close to failing in my life was Home Ec. Sewing was completely beyond my confused and uncoordinated central nervous system.  The art of positioning fabric, laying out a pattern, cutting material, and assembling pieces of cloth was way beyond my ability to cope. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say my problem bordered on a learning disability.  When the teacher told us to make a gathered skirt, I was as horrified as if she asked me to construct a nuclear bomb.

When I was training to be a midlevel manager, I had to attend a class that involved spending a day at a ropes course.  I am not particularly afraid of heights. However, as a person who regularly trips over lint, I was a little apprehensive about making a fool of myself due to my tendency to pratfall.  I managed to get through the first couple of exercises without hurting anyone.  Just as I was beginning to think I might make it through the day without incident, my group headed over to the zipline.  I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of trying a zipline. I was kind of excited to give it a whirl.  Since the point of the whole thing is to fall off a little tower and plummet towards the ground, I thought I might be pretty good at it.  I wasn’t afraid.

I should have been.  I ended up being the class injury.  I screamed as I stepped off the platform.  The instructors thought I was screaming from excitement or fear or just because people tend to scream automatically when shooting through the sky.  Actually, I was screaming because I was in pain.  Somehow, I had managed to come close to dislocating my shoulder.  The good news is that the ropes course was right across the street from a hospital.  Somebody knew I was coming.  I ended up on painkillers, with a huge, nasty, multi-colored bruise that covered most of my back for the next several weeks.

I met Max at a dance.  All I can say is that it is a good thing he was drinking at the time.  We might not have made a life together otherwise. If he had been completely sober, I am sure he would have taken one look at my graceless dance moves and decided that dating me would be hazardous to his health.

I may be the only woman in Florida who does not wear flip-flops.  I gave them up years ago.  Max calls them my “fall down” shoes because…. you guessed…. I fall down when I wear them.  I love the look of flip-flops, but I have tripped over the front of them and fallen off the back of them more times than I care to admit.  I am not talking about stumbling, either.  I am talking about full-on, hazardous, land-in-a-prone-position kind of falling down.

Recently, I hit a new nadir in my clumsiness.  I was blow-drying my hair and walloped myself in the head with the hairdryer.  I actually saw stars and raised a lump the size of a sugar cube on the back of my head.  I thought my hair and I had come to an understanding, but I guess it was just lying in wait before forming an alliance with the hairdryer to try to take me out.  It almost worked.  I did not straighten my hair that day.

As I sat at the kitchen table holding a bag of frozen peas to my scalp, I felt a bit woebegone and sorry for myself.  Why do I have to be so klutzy and graceless?  Don’t I have enough unattractive qualities without being an accident constantly waiting to happen?

Then, I looked out the window at the view in my backyard.  The sun dappled through the large oak trees.  Two squirrels were chasing each other along a branch.  I could hear sandhill cranes yodeling.  I saw the blooms on the bushes out in the wetlands behind the house. I noticed there was a sound roof over my head and a refrigerator filled with food.  As I looked around the living room, I saw the beautiful picture of my book cover signed by my wonderful, supportive friends.  Max wandered in and kissed the sugar cube on my head to make it well.  When I looked up at him, I noticed a Bible verse I have on the wall from Psalm 84:1- How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord almighty!

Never mind about the clumsiness.  It doesn’t matter.  I have a more excellent kind of grace!

Are you graceful? How can you tell?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  

I hope you find some grace today!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

 

Fathering

As Father’s Day is approaching, I wanted to write a post honoring fatherhood.  Two years ago, I posted a piece in tribute to my own father.  You can read it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/06/the-first-man-i-remember/.  In light of how much time I have spent on the concept of motherhood in the past, two years seems an inordinately long time to go without discussing fatherhood.  Still, I seem to have way more difficult a time opining on the virtues of fathers than I do the virtues of mothers.

It isn’t that I think fathers are less important than mothers.  I absolutely DON’T think that.  All you have to do is read my June 2016 blog piece about my own father to know the value I place on dads.  In fact, one of the reasons I am not a mother today is that my child would not have had a father in his/her life.  When I was contemplating adopting a child, one of the reasons I decided against it was that I firmly believe that the optimum condition for raising a happy, healthy child includes having a loving mother and loving father.  While a lot of people are great single parents and do a phenomenal job raising wonderful human beings, I think the odds are better when there are two people giving their all to the parenting process. I didn’t think I was strong enough to start out being a strike behind the count.

Maybe my difficulty in capturing the qualities of daddyhood has to do with the fact that I am a woman and my closest friends are also women. Parenting is such an intimate activity.  I’m not sure I’ve ever have had enough “up-close-and-personal” opportunity to observe men being parents to define what made them good fathers.  I just know that they are.

I don’t think I am the only one that has a hard time identifying the unique qualities of good dads.  It isn’t fair, but I think we might tend to undervalue our fathers when compared to mothers.  Even the language of parenthood is different, depending on gender.  When we say the verb “mothering,” most of us visualize a lifetime of coziness and support… sometimes, even to a fault. Someone who “mothers” us is there over the long haul. “Fathering,” however, has a different connotation.  Someone who “fathers” a child is there for the conception.

If I make a deliberate effort to identify what does make a good father, I think it comes down to action and service. Good fathers walk the walk of love.  They fix things.  They take care of their families.  They do things for their families, even when that means sacrifice.  The thing is, a really great father almost doesn’t think of it as a sacrifice because the pleasure they get from doing something to make their kids happy is more satisfying than the personal pleasure he gave up.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my paternal grandfather, but the ones I do have are burned in my very soul. He was an excellent purveyor of serving acts.  He helped build an extension on the house where my parents lived so my maternal grandmother could move in with us.  He made me a beautiful purple crib for my Christmas baby doll.  My favorite color was purple and this was a time when people just didn’t make things in colors like purple.   I remember a time when I was having a meltdown at age four because my best friend had flowers after a dance recital and I did not.  No one could comfort me.  The hugs and the kisses and the soft words were all very nice, but they did not address the problem.  My grandpa fixed everything by taking me into his backyard garden, instructing me to take any of the flowers that I wanted. He followed in my wake, patiently clipping away at his carefully cultivated blooms as I identified the ones I wanted.   He even found me a length of ribbon when I pointed out that Kathleen Murray’s bouquet had streamers on it.

My grandfather also raised a father with similar traits. My father was also a service action kind of guy.   I do have some memories of touching conversations with my father, but I remember much more the things he did to keep me safe and happy.  He worked hard physically so I could make a living with my brains instead of my back.  His job was the way he paid for his life with his family and he took a lot of pleasure from the knowledge that he provided well for us.  He taught me to ride a bike.  He taught me to swing on the rings at the school playground.  He taught me to drive a car.  He refinished a lawyer friend’s dining room set as payment in barter for handling my divorce.

I know other great dads who embody those twin qualities of “action” and “service.” I know one father who built a skateboard half-pipe for his son in their relatively small backyard.  I know one stepfather who transports his stepdaughter to bowling every week.  That may not sound like a particularly noteworthy contribution, but it helps to know that the stepdaughter is over 40 years old and has a cognitive disability.  The bowling and other activities to which her stepfather drives her provide her with social connection, confidence, and pleasure in a world that would be otherwise very limited for her.  I know another father who goes to his daughter’s apartment when she is at work to take her puppy for a run every day so his daughter does not have to come home to a wildly energetic, out-of-control terrier.  There are few things in life less relaxing than a wildly energetic, out-of-control terrier.

I’m sure there are many examples of fathers who act and serve.  Sometimes, I think we take fathers for granted because these actions of service are often not dramatic or emotion-packed. Schmaltzy movies often depict parenthood as fraught with crucial conversations.  These heart-to-heart talks are often filled with angst and life-changing declarations.  I don’t know about everyone, but, if I had those kinds of experiences at all, they were with my mother and not my father.  Yet, I can’t imagine how pallid and fractured my life would have been without my father.

Maybe fathers help us to do stuff rather than help us get through stuff.  Or maybe, they help us get through stuff BY helping us do stuff!

What qualities do you think it takes to be a good father?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  I am aware that my posts about mothering and fathering tend to reflect gender stereotypes and that kind of bothers me, but I can only report on my own experiences and my own experiences of parenthood have tended to fall out along fairly traditional gender lines.  I would love to hear from all of you and would be especially interested in hearing from folks whose experiences have shown them a different side of fatherhood than what I’ve experienced.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER: You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Underbelly Of Sweetness

I have always thought I was a pretty unobjectionable person. I mean, I may not be anything special but I also don’t really piss anyone off, either. In all humility, I don’t think there is anything too much to actually dislike about me. I’m kind of like vanilla ice cream. Some people really like vanilla ice cream. In general, though, people don’t travel from miles around to buy vanilla ice cream. However, if it is the only flavor in the freezer, people will eat it. I am not exotic or interesting or glamorous. I am just simple, familiar, and comforting to have around in case you get the munchies after the fancy gelato shop is closed.

Something else that vanilla ice cream and I have in common is sweetness. I think most people (except for those who have encountered me when I am in desperate need of a snack) would describe me as sweet. I don’t mind being called sweet. I think I would prefer kind, just because it might sound a little less feeble than sweet. That, however, is sort of splitting sprinkles on the ice cream. Years ago, someone asked me how I would like to be remembered after I died. I replied that I’d like people to say that I was a kind, Christian woman of great integrity. That is the stretch goal. I’m actually quite happy with sweet.

Or I was happy with sweet until a few weeks ago. I think I’ve now discovered the unsavory side of being sweet. I attended a church service on Thursday evening and stopped to chat with some folks when the service ended. I wasn’t really out in the garden that long. I would say that I lingered amongst the azaleas, in all my vanilla sweetness, for half an hour at most. By the next day, my legs were a swollen, itchy, furious, uncomfortable mess. Apparently, mosquitos are pretty fond of vanilla ice cream. Or, at least, fond of me. I paid the consequences of tasting as sweet as vanilla ice cream for more than a week. I slathered myself with the anti-itch cream I had left over from Rudolph the Rash. I sprayed calamine lotion all over my lower extremities. I iced my legs down every evening. I took ibuprofen to decrease the swelling. All of this helped, but I find it amazing that I was still itching two weeks later. After three or four days, the swelling decreased enough so that I could start identifying the individual bites. I counted no less than 52 separate welts on my legs and feet. It is like someone posted a sign around my neck- “Mosquito Café- All You Can Buffet.”

It is ironic because I was talking to someone from California a few days before and he asked how I was handling the bugs in Florida. I told him, truthfully, that we really didn’t have much of an issue with bugs. Insects were one of those things that we thought we’d have to face when moving to Florida, but we haven’t noticed a problem after three-and-a-half years of living here. We attributed our good fortune to the fact that we avoid getting too close to standing water. Since there was no standing water in the church garden, that theory is now sort of shot to heaven.

Upon reflection, I think the reason we have not noticed mosquitos much is less about water and more about daylight. Max and I are rarely outside after dark. Still, no one else chatting in the garden had mosquitos pursuing every square inch of uncovered flesh. I chalk it up to the sweetness. You know how they say you can attract more flies with honey? Apparently, you can attract more mosquitos with vanilla ice cream. So, lesson learned. Now I know better than to go out bare-legged after sunset. The mosquitos just can’t resist something sweet during happy hour!

Okay, I’ve racked my brain to come up with a provocative question for this blog post, but I’ve come up empty!  So how about this?  What question would YOU ask to stimulate conversation about this post?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. 

Have a sweet day… without the itching!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

REMEMBER:  You can order your copy of Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In Retirement by visiting: https://secure.mybookorders.com/orderpage/2076