March 19, 2014

Marsha Has a Different Area Code

I receive calls for "Marsha" from time to time.

Marsha is a pharmaceutical rep one area code over from me. She drives a Mercedes and the calls that come in for her are from impatient people who think I'm very rude to dare have Marsha's telephone number but in a different area code. A small majority of the people aren't snobby, but are instead very confused. A drunk male was particularly frustrated that his "honey-babe" had a very different voice all of a sudden. The Mercedes repairman called several times throughout one interesting day even though I corrected him several times. When he said the car was all paid and ready to pick up, it was sure tempting to just go get it where he said it would be.

The majority of the calls happened several years ago. That was the same time that our home number was erroneously published as a medical marijuana dispensary. So, the home phone would ring with dazed people looking for drugs, and then my mobile line would ring with haughty people looking for drugs.

Yesterday afternoon, I could pretty much hear the man roll his eyes when I told him, "No, Marsha's area code is ###" Some people hang up on me immediately. Some people apologize. Some people question my intel. And some people demand that I transfer them to her. (Um, how?) This man was simply silent. After a few seconds, I hung up. Because, I'm not going to apologize for him punching in the wrong area code.

February 18, 2014

Fishing for Friends

My independent high school had these cool cardboard tubes that served as our "mailboxes." This, of course, was before e-mail.

In elementary school it was rare that someone would leave a note on our desks, and in middle school the only writing that happened in my locker was when someone broke in to deface it. ("Pig Dahlen stuffs her bra!") So, having a little cardboard tube mailbox at my new school seemed pretty cool.

I was really excited to go to this school. I cannot say enough positive things about my alma mater. It means more to me than my college or grad school do, hands down.

One of the first things I did when I was a freshman was to write to the others in my class. This seemed innocent enough. I was excited about attending this new school. I was thrilled that we had little "mailboxes." And, I had always adored having "pen pals," so writing a little "welcome" introductory note seemed like a fun idea.

I remembered back at my public junior high school how the popular kids reigned. Valentine's Day consisted of the beautiful people getting carnations and candy from each other. Us nerds got nothing; or, if we did get a bloom or a sweet, the snickers could be heard miles away: "I bet her dad bought it for her!"

I didn't want to exclude anyone at my new school. I wanted to write to everyone. I wanted everyone to have mail in their little cardboard cubby. And so, I carefully wrote out notes to my 80 classmates, and happily delivered them.

A couple days later, my mom told me that she had received a call from a mother of one of my new classmates. "Kari is fishing for friends." Apparently, my attempt at inclusion and friendliness was instead taken as a desperate plea to make friends.

I was seen as pathetic.

I wanted to be nice to my classmates. I was NOT trying to become "popular." My motivation in writing the notes came from a place of being excluded in my previous school -and wanting others not to feel that pain- not from some nefarious attempt at power.

It is so frustrating to think that my attempt at a kind gesture was twisted into something that created strikes against me.

Thankfully, in time, I found plenty of great people to hang out with at my new school. People weren't "mean" in the way I had experienced back in middle school. But, over 20 years later, I still remember how my attempt at being friendly backfired.

February 6, 2014

Gratitude. Times a Million.

I was in the middle of filing a claim for medical reimbursement when the phone rang. My youngest son had been so proud of his nice white shirt, tie, and black pants for his first ever violin concert today. But, he tripped in a puddle and splattered his shirt. The school secretary whispered into the phone that the shirt looked absolutely fine. She said she could barely tell that any muddy water had touched it.

But my son was embarrassed, and wanted to change.

It was frustrating to be pulled away from what I was doing, but my son wanted to look sparkly white for the concert; the slightly-visible dirty brown marks from the puddle just wouldn't do. And so, I drove to the school with another shirt (slightly wrinkled - no time to iron it!) and a few extra ties from which he could choose in case his current one had been affected.

While he changed in the nurse's office, I saw the huge posters of those kids who require serious medical intervention. These are mainly peanut allergies, although there are others on their "urgent" board as well. I whispered a little prayer under my breath, glad that my sons aren't on that board. I get knots in my stomach when I think about how another mom at preschool refused to stop packing PB&J sandwiches for her child because she figured the peanut-allergic kids could "just wash their hands." I am so thankful that my sons don't have a life-threatening allergy. (My oldest had some food sensitivities when he was younger; and dealing with "other parent" opinions on that was tough enough. I cannot imagine handling a situation in which the irritant in question is a fatal allergen.)

Back at home, I continued work on the "supporting documentation" for a medical claim that had initially been rejected. The target services were performed back in 2005-2007, so I'm dredging up receipts from the past. (The opportunity for reimbursement was unexpected, so my records weren't as clean as if I had anticipated this possibility.) I no longer have checkbook registers from that time, my online banking doesn't go back that far, and most things were done via paper not online, so it isn't easy to just "find" what I need.

But more so, the pain in going through my old files is reminding myself of past struggles I'd rather forget. At the same time, I'm grateful for the resolution. The difficulties we had back then have evaporated. And, if this claim is approved, I might even recoup some of the major cash that we spent seeking medical care beyond what our HMO was willing to provide. But what is important is that our problem was solved. And for that, I am grateful. Beyond grateful.

Soon, it was back to the school to actually watch my son's concert. How exciting!

Climbing the bleachers, my back did a little "ping!" I hate it when people ask me "How's your back?" because the answer is usually a mumbled, "Uh... okay?" because I don't want to tell them that the spinal surgery I had didn't solve the original pain, and actually gave me some additional places of discomfort. It may be that the surgery prevented some additional things from going wrong, but it isn't super-clear to me that I made the right decision to agree to the surgery. I miss being able to move without fear of pain.

Two years ago, another mother (I'll call her "Joan") was mentioning how she was going in for her monthly cortisone injection to deal with major back pain. I hadn't yet tried an injection, but when I did it was clear it wasn't going to do anything for me. The various professionals told me that my particular spinal arrangement didn't respond to traditional treatment.

I saw "Joan" with a cane later that year, and overheard her tell people that her back was really driving her crazy.

Then last year, I was absent for the initial chunk of the school year. I couldn't drive post-surgery, and even so, I had enough pain that I didn't particularly want to show up at school often to volunteer. I wasn't allowed to lift things, so I could no longer be a library helper.

I didn't see "Joan" that year, but didn't really think anything of it, because I wasn't really "present" either.

Back to the concert today: the chorus sang, the strings played, and the band performed. I enjoyed watching these kids that I've known since Kindergarten. I looked around the auditorium, finding familiar faces.

And then I saw "Joan."

In a high-backed wheelchair.

When her daughter performed, she lifted a couple fingers off her lap to "clap" but it appeared that she has very little movement in her arms.

I was stunned.

I know nothing of her particular condition, course of treatment, or anything of that nature. I had only met her a couple times, and knew she was experiencing back pain. That's it. So, I don't know whether her paralysis was "expected" or not.

Two years ago, I thought we were very similar. But as I sat on the bleachers, suddenly my discomfort went away. I climbed the bleachers. My back pain is nothing in comparison to not having actual mobility. It was quite the reminder that although I am frustrated with my physical body, it could be much, much worse.

I am grateful.

February 4, 2014

My Grandmother's Prayers

My grandma had pretty powerful prayers.

That's not to say that others' words aren't heard, but there was just something about having my grandma on your side.

When I struggle, I try to envision my grandmother caring, and, by extension, a lot of other people. Not in the nosy, in-your-business way, but rather with caring compassion. This assistance was not condescension, but instead a respectful understanding that sometimes people need a little boost.

I typically don't talk religion in this space (or any other space, frankly, since I believe spirituality to be a personal thing) but I wanted to share one thought that stuck with me after church on Sunday: "God is greater than that."

(Feel free to replace the word "God" with "humanity" or "morality" or whatever other word or concept might indicate an understanding of an "ideal" in your particular belief system.)

When the controversy over the Coke ad followed Sunday afternoon, I thought to myself, "God is greater than that."

All too often, people are fearful of others who are different than they are. They believe themselves to be "chosen" to be superior. But, isn't God greater than that? Why would God direct hate towards a good chunk of the population? It is hogwash to think that any one race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc. is in God's favor while the others are expected to simply rot.

I'm very blessed, and yet I have worries, disappointments, and failures. I've felt shame often - not by anything I've knowingly done "wrong" but simply that who I am is "wrong" in some people's eyes. If I - a white person in an affluent area - feel this way at times, I cannot even grasp the feelings of despair for those who are most often targets of criticism, prejudice, and fear.

I realize that sometimes people want to push others down to elevate themselves, but it simply doesn't work that way. I really wish my grandma were here to remind me that it is OK to be imperfect, but it is even better to show others that it is safe for them to be imperfect, too. It isn't necessary to harm others or hate others. It is just not. God is greater than that. Much greater.


Update: Just as I pushed "publish" on this post, a neighbor wrote in to our "watch system" to indicate an attempted burglary. She described the men, saying they were clearly not from our neighborhood. This reminds me of about six months ago when one neighbor wrote that she felt we were all being quite paranoid about recent robberies because her white ("Englishman") husband had been questioned by a different neighbor for being out super late at night. She implored us to "Have some common sense!"

January 30, 2014

The Golden Rule

I try to think of what others have been through. I promise, I do. I give people second, and third, and tenth chances. And yet, there are some experiences in which I cannot possibly grasp what could have prompted a person to act a certain way.

A friend and I started having a rather benign conversation the other day, and it segued to me retelling a story about a rather unbelievable mother and her super-prince son.(You know the type. Nothing His Majesty does is ever wrong, and He is so Superior that I receive text messages when His Highness Precious-Pants does something Particularly Amazing.) And that led to the story of the completely whack-a-doodle divorcing couple, both of whom wanted me on "their side" for the custody battle. (But I wanted to check the "neither" box.)

The stories were funny. And true, even if it really could seem that I was exaggerating in the retelling. But of course I felt a bit naughty for speaking of others in that way. And, I didn't want to be a major Gossiping Gladys.

After all, there is someone out there telling her friend about This One Chick Kari Who is So Incredibly Insane.

Everyone has their own burden. Everyone has experiences that shape the way they will live their lives. But somehow, it can get pretty twisted sometimes. I'm glad that many of the bizarre and hurtful things that have happened to me are far enough in the past that they've now become rather hilarious. I no longer feel sick to my stomach when I think of various moments of conflict. Instead, I roll my eyes with the absurdity of it all.

But, there are disagreeable people lurking in the wings. ("Oh, don't catastrophize!" my mother would say. But I'd like to think that I'm being preemptively cautious.)

I try to remember that they are only human. They are trying to promote themselves. It isn't that they want to hurt me, but rather that they want to elevate themselves. Still, I'm stunned with some folks' selfishness sometimes.

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.

I don't want to expect the worst, because that's just sad. (Yet, the hot dog incident three years ago showed me people simply don't care.) But perhaps I need to be a bit more "realistic" that The Golden Rule isn't really en vogue these days.

January 24, 2014

Avoiding the Accidental Spokesperson

I read Stranger Here by Jen Larsen a few days ago. It is about a gal who undergoes weight loss surgery. And of course, it is about the difference between shifting and permanent identity during and after transformation.

Something that immediately caught me was how Larsen described how some members of the weight loss surgery community were active on a message board years after their own procedures. For many people, the life-changing surgery essentially became their life.

I pondered the other ways in which a condition or experience that we seek resolution for ends up becoming our existence. And, how for some people, it is the very last thing that they want to think about.

The irony is that those who "fit in" the best after such an experience are the best equipped to counsel others; and yet, because they want to reclaim their new lives, they aren't sticking around their former community.

I participated in a local school email group when my kids were young. There were some parents with older children who were still involved. They told horror stories about the various schools' administrations and other problems their families were encountering. It was very sobering, until I remembered that those families having a positive experience wouldn't be on the email help group anymore. Sure, some may stay behind to be magnanimous and help others going through the system, but for most people, they want to put everything behind them. I was looking at a skewed sample size. And often, that is the case. The content don't have reason to complain, by definition. (So it is no surprise that I left that email group many years ago, once my particular situation was resolved.)

I know people who have undergone major transformations such as Larson's. Whether it is a dramatic cosmetic surgery, a major illness, a trauma, or something like a sex-reassignment surgery, the experience defines them in some ways, but in many cases the healthiest route is to look forward. This is tricky for people in front of the big change, because they'd desperately want someone "on the other side" to counsel them. But, the vary definition of success is that you've reached the other side, and don't want to glance backwards.

You don't want to be forever Cancer Girl. You are now Healthy Girl, who would like to live her life without always being asked about cancer.

You don't want to be known as Used-to-be-Fat Girl. You are simply A Regular-Sized Person who doesn't want to constantly bring out the "before" picture for people's surprised (horrified?) reactions.

If you can "pass" as a neurotypical person, you don't want to "out" yourself as being autistic. Suddenly people's perspectives about the validity of your opinions change. Better to just be "normal."

If you can "pass" as a male, you don't want to reveal that your sexual organs used to be female. After all, you want to just be you, who is a male.

Certainly some people glide into the spokesperson or counselor role very well. They stick around the message boards, participate in treatment groups as a "success story" and otherwise embrace their challenge as being part of their new identity.

But for a huge number of people, the very fact that they are successful means they'd rather stay anonymous. They don't want to advocate for their difference because they want to minimize it in reference to themselves.

This is not a sponsored post. Larsen's book simply reminded me that I've often thought about how the very people who might be able to help those struggling are those who don't want to look behind them.

January 21, 2014

What Fine Young Kids

I had to restrain myself from writing, "She is a delightful young woman" on an interview form just now. I pictured myself: white hair and cane, and realized just how ageist I was being, Nonetheless, I chose a different, less cliched phrase, to describe a perspective college applicant who truly knocked my socks off.

If you are one of my interviewees this year, I bet you think this post is about you.

And it is.

All of you: whether you are a delightful young woman or such a sweet young man.

I started interviewing for my alma mater right after I graduated. It was fun to interview students who were only five years younger than I was. It was comfortable, and I had very current information on the campus climate. I remember being delighted that many of these students treated me as an adult, even though we were nearly the same age. I remember they'd dress up well for our interview. They were nervous. They called me "Mrs." even though I wasn't.

At some point, the politeness declined. The kids started immediately calling me "Kari." They no longer offered to pay for my drink. They no longer wrote me "thank you" notes.

During one jaw-dropping interview, a perspective student essentially told me that it didn't matter what I thought of him because he was going to get in to the school anyway to play football (or baseball, or something.) Even if that were true, being rude is not cool. (And, it turned out that he did not get in.)

And then there is the time that a young man leaned in to me and whispered, "I really don't want to go to Brown. My mom wants me to, though." His mom was hiding behind the dumpster near our table at the coffee establishment, attempting to send her son signals to prompt him to say who-knows-what. I appreciated his honesty.

For several years many of the interviews were strained. The students were pretty full of themselves and acted as though I was wasting their time.

This year, the courtesy came back.

The applicants I interviewed the past couple months were respectful and thanked me after the interview. They didn't come into the interview with "attitude." Of course I cannot give details, but suffice to say that I'm really impressed with the quality of students applying this year. The downside - of course - is that not everyone can get in, even if everyone is perfect. That's the sad part about really appreciating the applicants.

But something else hit me this year: many of these kids were born the year I graduated.

It amazes me that my oldest son - who became a teenager last Friday - is a mere five years away from applying to college, and I'm 18 years out. My itty baby isn't so itty, and is much closer in age to these amazing high school seniors than I am.

It blows my mind.

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!


December 10, 2013

Just be Prepared. Or not.

During this hectic holiday season, I have many undone things. We all do. I know, we all do. But, when I do something, I like to really make sure it is done right.

That's why I was kicking myself when I realized I had miscounted when ordering a certain gift for several recipients. (And, it is too late to order that same gift for the nth person.)

But then, I was kicking myself for being "too" prepared yesterday.

Let me back up a bit...

So, that dog we fostered over Thanksgiving hasn't yet been adopted. Thankfully, there are some people interested (yay!) and I am crossing my fingers.

This past weekend, I brought him from the kennel to the adoption fair. It was heartbreaking to see how scared he was at the kennel. Thankfully he remembered me just a few minutes later, but then he was so enthusiastic to see me that he knocked jewelry off my wrist (which I didn't notice until it was too late), nipped my lip, and sent my sunglasses flying. He enjoyed meeting other people, but only if I was nearby. I took one little trip to Starbucks, and apparently he was crying for me the whole time I was gone. A family wanted to meet him, but he wouldn't pay attention to them because his eyes were stuck on Starbucks.

I know he'll glue on to whoever becomes his forever family, but for now I'm crushed that he's so happy when he's with me, even though I cannot be his owner. I am so eager for him to find the love and companionship that he deserves. And, having experienced that devotion from him, I'm eager to find a dog that will click with me and the rest of my family.

Continue reading "Just be Prepared. Or not." »

December 1, 2013

Trying to do Good

My youngest son and I have been volunteering for a dog rescue organization with the idea that someday we'll adopt a dog ourselves. For the last month and a half, I've assisted at adoption fairs, loving the time I spend with the animals, and being envious of the smiling families who got to bring home a new furry family member.

I was elated with the possibility of us fostering a dog over the Thanksgiving break. The dog in question was one which my son had absolutely fallen in love with. We figured the vacation week would be a good trial for us. If it worked out, maybe we could keep her?

Well, she was adopted before we had a chance to try her out in our family, but I agreed to take a different dog.

This new dog is a sweet soul who was clearly mistreated before coming into rescue.

He loves everyone in our neighborhood except my husband. He loves the mailman. He adores my sons. He is thankful for the man next door who gives him plenty of affectionate scratches. He thought the solar panel delivery salesman was a fine chap, even though I wished he would have helped me get rid of him. (Darn persistent salespeople!) He was happy with my father on Thanksgiving, and got along swell with a potential adopter (who unfortunately decided it wasn't a strong enough match, even though his girlfriend adored the dog.)

But he hates my husband.

The dog loves me. He whines if I go to the bathroom, or go outside quickly to get the mail. He cuddles with me at night, and sleeps at my feet when I'm at the computer. I can see why people can't live without their dogs. I can see how a dog can bring love into a home.

Yet, I can also see how a dog can completely turn a household upside-down.

This past week has been emotionally trying. It breaks my heart to see how frightened the dog is of my husband, even though my husband has been patient, calm, and affectionate to the dog. I hate that my particular household is not equipped to deal with this dog's particular needs.

I wanted to do good.

I know that taking this dog into my home for the past week has been something. The dog has had comfort and snuggles with me. I'd like to think that I've made a difference for him. And yet, because he is so attached to me, I hate to give him up.

I hope he becomes attached to someone else pretty quickly. I wish for him to find an amazing adopter that will give him the love he deserves.

But until he finds that "fur-ever" home, I'm crushed.