Still reaching for that elusive high

Ketosis continues to elude me, It was so easy the first time I tried the ketogenic approach to eating, shortly after Thanksgiving last year. I wasn’t concerned when Christmas derailed me – I figured that was to be expected – although it was annoying still to be derailed several weeks into the new year. But I figured okay, I’ll just get back into the whole low carb / medium protein / high fat thing, and in no time I’ll be buzzing along on a high, burning up flab and feeling fabulous.

Not so.

Instead, it seems, my vile body is on high alert, making every carb do double duty, hammering me with headaches, cravings and mood swings, rationing out my energy in tiny little packets that take me nowhere. After two weeks of faithfully consuming plenty of fat, not too horribly much protein, and lots and lots of dark green leaves, I needed some encouragement so I stepped on the scale … and the number was UP. It was up a whole damn pound!

Is it normal to feel that I’m at war with my own body? I’m ambushed by Easter eggs and bludgeoned by depression and that thing our mothers told us (not mine specifically, but mothers in general) – that “you have to suffer to be beautiful” – well, according to all the messages my crocodile brain is sending me, that’s just propaganda. I have suffered mightily, and I have brought suffering upon Himself, and I’ve even not been especially nice to the dogs, and I’m still bulging.

So what to do? Do I admit defeat, embrace despair, accept that I’m doomed to a (probably drastically shortened) life of being in pain, uncomfortable inside my own skin, never to accomplish any but the most banal, foundational items on my bucket list? Do I shrug off the hours I’ve spent researching this, and pretend that the fantastic sense of YES I experienced just before Christmas was a silly illusion? Do I, in a word … quit?

Fuck that

Completely off topic, but I have to insert a brief aside here. I’ve mentioned before how much I love modern technology. Do you know you can find literally anything on Google? Here I was, bashing out this post, and it occurred to me that I didn’t actually want to write the word “fuck” – I mean, not that I don’t say it when sufficiently deeply moved, but it makes for lazy and sloppy writing. On the other hand, no other phrase said what I wanted to say as well.

Clearly, this was a good outsourcing opportunity. So off I went to Google, and I typed in “fuck that”, and next thing I knew I was listening to this audio by someone called Skrillex. (Why??? I mean, why be called Skrillex? And also, why would anyone choose to listen to this? Either way, fuck me if I know.) So anyway, that wasn’t good, but then I remembered that I recently acquired new headphones and subscribed to Spotify (technology! Yeah!) and so I’m now reformatting my synapses with Mozart’s horn concertos – yes, all four of them. (And for some reason I felt it was necessary to google “ear synapses” and … my goodness. Amazing! No – come back – you can go look at it later. And everything else on Google. It’ll still be there when you’re done reading here!)

After plugging a Mozartian horn into each ear I went back to Google for another go at the “fuck that” question, and contemplating the answers kept me happily googling for almost long enough to forget this post entirely. Then I found the GIFs, and oh how I hate when bloggers plaster their posts with these beastly things that jiggle about and distract me from the words – but aren’t they just nifty? Take this one, for example … It lacks the succinctness I was looking for, which is why I decided not to use it, but I know exactly how the ferret feels, and also how does one resist the cuteness factor? There’s not a lot of cuteness happening on this blog, and maybe that’s an area that needs work.

Fuckity ferret

I was hung up for a bit deciding whether to let Snooki or Dave Grohl say “fuck that” on my behalf, but after I’d googled Dave I decided – without in any way being tempted to switch from Mozart to Nirvana – that I’d rather be represented by him than by some skinny bint on a “reality” show that I have no intention of ever watching. Apart from anything else, he looks more like me – not quite as pudgy but still with not a lot in the way of cheekbones. And the beard is yummy – on him, anyway; I tend to give my own chin hairs short shrift. Ha ha – you think I’m joking, younger-female-followers-of-this-blog? Just wait – menopause will get you too!

Which brings me back to my original point: the war between Me and My Bod. Thus endeth this aside…

Nope, I am not quitting. Rather, I am reviewing my options, revising my strategies, and reinforcing my range of tools.

First, the strategy …

Number 1: Love Myself. This is hard! Maybe I’ll settle for just not hating myself… and forgiving me my trespasses…

In a spirit of Moving On, I am also forgiving myself for this ... although some may not forgive as easily. But that's a topic for another day. Right now all I'll say is that it didn't even taste good, and it left me feeling sick, although I'm not sure whether that was due to changes wrought by weeks of cutting carbs, or by my awakened conscience.
In a spirit of Moving On, I am forgiving myself for this most recent failure, especially as  it didn’t even taste good, and it left me feeling sick, although I’m not sure whether that was due to changes wrought by weeks of cutting carbs, or by my awakened conscience.

I also betook myself to Catherine’s yesterday and restocked my wardrobe … for the first time in about two years. Yes, it’s been two years since I bought clothes – because every time I think of doing so I think, “Well, but I can’t stand to keep buying things in that huge size! So I’ll lose weight and then I can go shopping.” Comes a point, however, when your underwear is disintegrating and the seats of your jeans have worn through and the holes in your tee-shirts are too large and too numerous to ignore (what causes those stupid holes? Moths? Fabric-chewing planned-obsolescence nanobots?) and you just have to say stuff it and go back to the damn Fat Lady Shop (because all appearances to the contrary I am SO NOT a Wal-Mart Person) and try stuff on and look at yourself in a three-way mirror and buy at least three of whatever fits so long as it’s on sale because you really don’t want to have to come back again too soon. And actually I found out that I had dropped a size – yah boo thumb-my-nose at the bathroom scale! Which meant that this morning, when I was getting dressed, I didn’t have to put on any of the scary new doesn’t-feel-like-me stuff sitting in shopping bags in my closet; instead I could fit into a pair of shabby-and-bleach-stained-but-not-actually-disintegrating jeans that I hadn’t tried on for a while. And then I hung up the new stuff, mixing it in with the older stuff so that I could get used to seeing it there and forget that it’s new.

So much for nurturing a sense of self-worth … Let’s focus on food.

Apparently I am exceptionally sensitive to carbs – so I’m cutting them out altogether, except for celery. Even my imagination isn’t wild enough to conceive of a situation where celery can be fattening. But I read a comment on a ketogenic lifestyle blog recently from someone who said she was, and I quote, “kicked out of ketosis by kale”, and here I’ve been glomming the stuff down in bunches. So I’m cutting out vegetables entirely, even avocado and the dark green leafy ones. I’m not doing this forever, of course; just for as long as it takes to get into ketosis – at which point I’ll gradually start reintroducing vegetables to see just how much carbohydrate I can tolerate. I’m also cutting out nuts, milk (alackaday – no more lattes!), and the delicious gravy Himself wraps around stews and pot roasts. (Yes, girls – I’m married to a King Of The Kitchen! It took me a while to get over my indignation at his contempt for my own kitchenly efforts, or to acknowledge how very much I dislike cooking – but I can now confess that I’m greatly blessed among wifekind!)

I am gritting my teeth, ignoring years of anti-fat programming, and keeping my fat intake high. Jimmy Moore’s book Keto Clarity contains several recipes for high fat treats … so, ugh, I guess that means I’ll be pulling kitchen duty after all. The benefit is that it doesn’t take a lot of high-fat snacking to leave one feeling quite satisfied – compared with sugary snacks that invariably seem to trigger a craving for more.

I’m also cutting back on protein, big time. No more protein in snacks, only two protein meals a day, and I’ll weigh the damn stuff if necessary to ensure I don’t take more than 30 grams at a time. Apparently if you eat more protein than your body needs it turns into sugar – and the amount you need is directly related to the amount you exercise. Because my overloaded feet and ankles hurt and my energy is still lacking, I’m not exercising a whole lot.

So that’s also got to change – which brings me to …

Second, the tools …

I really didn’t want to spend a lot of money, mainly because we don’t have it, but when I realized that getting into ketosis was going to be a challenge for me I bought the tool that everyone recommends: a meter to track my ketone production. There are three ways to measure ketones.

  • Ketostix pee strips measure the ketones in urine. By all accounts these are pretty useless, because they measure only the ketones you eliminate as waste. As your body adapts to running on ketones rather than sugar, you stop eliminating them – so the more keto-adapted you are, the less they have to measure, leading to a false negative.
  • Blood ketone meters are highly accurate, but they’re expensive and the strips cost around $5 apiece for the Precision Xtra meter, which is the one that gives readings at a level that are relevant to nutritional ketosis
  • Breath ketone meters are new technology, but several experts, including Jimmy Moore, say Ketonix is accurate and reliable. That’s the option I chose, because although the meter cost a little over $100, it’s a once-off investment – no expensive disposable strips. I bought mine on Amazon but have just learned that it’s no longer listed there. A word of warning: delivery is SLOW. I ordered mine on February 21 and I could wait until mid-April for it to arrive – presumably because the developer is battling to keep up with demand. But the reviews were good, so it seemed worthwhile.

And then there is exercise equipment. Given that it’s too cold to swim, it hurts too much to run/jog/skip/jump/walk, and my horse will either break or kill me if I heave my bulk onto his ancient and saggy back, I’ve decided to focus on muscle-building exercises. Apparently muscles burn more calories (i.e., fat) than flab, even when you’re not using them. Also, supposedly, if you have muscles you have more energy. To this end I have bought a yoga mat and an exercise ball … and we have resistance bands from the time I needed physical therapy – I just need to dig them out of wherever they’re hiding. I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll have to do more than pile this stuff up in our bedroom to see any benefit. Argh. Well, I’ll keep you posted … maybe.

Third, just quickly, supplements …

Although my experience may not encourage you to try the ketogenic lifestyle, just in case you do, you will probably need supplements at least while you’re adjusting to the new way of nourishing your body. I found this link helpful.

  • Extra salt is key. You can add it to your food, but comes a point that just doesn’t taste good and I’m not sure it’s healthy. I take one Thermotab every morning – because if I forget, I feel washed out and weak by noon. It’s cheap and readily available, but there are side-effects so do your research. Most importantly, you must drink plenty of water when you take one.
  • Green tea capsules seem to improve my energy levels. I’ve been buying them from Costco but it looks like they’re a lot cheaper online. I’m not sure whether it would be better just to drink green tea – haven’t had time to research this – but for the time being I’m taking two every morning.
  • I take a daily multivitamin, although in time I hope to meet my needs from actual food.
  • Potassium and magnesium are two essential minerals, and if you run short of them you’re likely to feel spacey, tired and ill. I’m taking supplements while I restrict my intake of vegetables.

And, of course, drink water. Just glug it down – it improves your energy, mental acuity and general bodily processes.

So is anyone else out there struggling to love and nurture themselves into a state of good health? Does your body repeatedly sabotage you? What works for you? Also, do you think I need to inject more cuteness into this blog?

Forever home

When I met Mr. Eebs he was chained to a broken down doghouse inside a jury-rigged run in an untidy backyard. His two brothers lived in similar conditions, but where Eebs was merely defensive, they had turned dangerous. Inside the house were two more stiff-legged, hackled-up dogs, and a large litter of puppies had taken over the kitchen.

I heard about this situation from a neighbor. She had adopted one of Eebs’ sisters several months previously, on an impulse that she later regretted, so she called our little rescue group to ask for help. When I went to pick up the neurotic mess that was her dog, she told me about the over-population problem next door. Being a sucker for punishment I asked her to give her neighbor my card, and a couple days later I got a call. This was a pleasant surprise; it’s sad how bitterly people can resent an offer of help.

I liked the woman who called. I like to think that if we hadn’t both been drowning when we met – I in dogs, she in being the single mother of three angry teenagers – we might have become friends. This is not to deny that her situation was bad. The three dogs in the backyard were hungry, scared and miserable, and I later learned that one of the kids was beating them. There was poop on the kitchen floor. The puppies had fleas, and all the dogs were stressed and skinny. It would have been so easy to set myself up as judge, jury and executioner – as she clearly expected.

Instead I asked, “What happened?” and the story spilled out. She’d started out with one dog – a beautiful big pitbull. Money was tight so she put off neutering him, but it was okay because he was the only dog. Then a stray turned up on her front porch – a scared female, dumped by some loser. (Let’s be clear on this: I don’t care what your “reason” is or what hardship you’re going through – if you dump an animal, You Are A Loser, and I do judge you, and if I ever catch you there is no limit to how far I will go to make your life hideous.)

So anyway, not long after that there were puppies. Most of them found homes, but Eebs and his brothers weren’t chosen. The best she could do was throw up ramshackle runs to keep them off the street (there was, of course, no money to fence the yard), feed and shelter them (sort of), and try to prevent them from killing each other (because, as often happens with litter-mates, rivalry between the two big boys was fierce, and they both grabbed any opportunity to beat up on poor, scared little Eebs).

Mr. Eebs
Mr. Eebs

Seven or eight months later more puppies came, and they were already weaned and rambunctious by the time I wandered into the picture. The first part of helping out was easy – we brought in food, dewormed and vaccinated everyone, got the mama dog spayed, and rehomed the puppies (who were also all sterilized, of course). Then we hit a wall. The three boys in the backyard couldn’t safely be adopted out – they were all too unpredictable. Himself and I had 12 or 15 or 20 dogs already in our care and no room for another – especially not one (or three) with aggression issues. No one else in our group could take on dogs like these either. So … we had them neutered, and they stayed on their chains, and every time I took food over I wondered what we were going to do about them.

The thing about rescue is, how much you can do is defined by how much actual, practical help you receive. Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned that I “burned out” last year. Burnout is a bit like what happens when you make an engine carry a load that’s way beyond its design capacity. And you don’t give it oil. And maybe you throw some grit into the works. In rescue, burnout happens when you are all there is between an unstoppable stream of creatures in desperate need and an array of ugly options, and you are maxed out and running on empty, and you look for support but your supporters are all off doing other things, and you…just…can’t. And what happens next is all your fault.

One day one of Eebs’ brothers got loose and went into attack mode. After that Animal Control took all three of them away, and scheduled each of them a date with the needle.

Here’s another thing about rescue: No matter how many you help, the guilt over each one you fail lodges in your gut and consumes you from the inside out.

I knew I couldn’t help the two aggressive boys. Maybe I should have acknowledged this from the start, but they were so young, and I’d turned around a few tough cases over the years, and I kept thinking that, if only we could reduce the number of other dogs in our care – in other words, if only we could find more foster homes – I might be able to take them home and pull off some kind of miracle. Well, so much for “if only”. Those two dogs were out of time and there was nothing I could do about it.

But Eebs was still salvageable, and he deserved a chance. I called the animal control officer and told him so.

The ACO was new on the job – in fact, new in town – and had never heard of me or our rescue organization. He told me Eebs was as crazy as his brothers, and releasing him to us was a liability the city couldn’t take on.

I begged. I name-dropped our town’s top vets and trainers, and I promised him the sun, moon and stars if he’d just let me try to save that one dog. Eebs got his miracle – the ACO said yes. And then another miracle – I brought him home and incorporated him into the pack, and the dogs taught him how not to be afraid. And at last the biggest miracle – he went home to people who love, love, love him, even though he’s still neurotic and freaky.

Yes, I’m aware that I’m being overly free with the word “miracle”. But in the context of this dog’s life, what else would you call it?

All this happened more than a year ago, and in the meantime there have been a lot of dogs, and burnout, and my withdrawal from rescue work. But Mr. Eebs is on my mind because I saw him a few days ago. He didn’t recognize me at first and he wasn’t especially friendly, but I didn’t care because really all I wanted to do was introduce him to Cookie.

Cookie, the day we took her in.
Cookie, the day we took her in.

I don’t have a lot to tell you about Cookie. She’s just one more half-grown pup, past the cuddly-puppy stage and well into the if-you-don’t-teach-me-manners-I-will-jump-on-you-with-muddy-paws-and-then-maybe-eat-your-house stage. Just one more pup dumped in our neighborhood by a Loser.

(Seriously, what do people think when they drive out into the country and dump a dog? Do they really think “Someone here will take care of it because farmers always have room for an extra dog”? Because, hello, farmers shoot stray dogs. Maybe they think the dog will enjoy being “set free” … because who wouldn’t enjoy being lost and cold and hungry and then shot or hit by a car or torn apart by coyotes?)

Luckily for Cookie, our neighbors [don’t] know that Himself and I [no longer] do the Rescue Thing, so she came to stay with us for a few weeks, and we hooked her up with the rescue group we started, which is under new management and still going strong. And that’s how Mr. Eebs’ people found out about her – because they had been looking for a friend for him. So that’s why, on a bitterly cold morning last week, we met in a lonely field outside a small town. She was so thrilled to meet him, and immediately rushed up to make friends. He was shy at first and needed reassurance – to be expected in a dog who has been bullied – but then he remembered how to play.

And this the real reason I wrote this blog post. I mean, I’ve been wanting to talk about rescue, and I’m sure I’ll do so again. I want you to know that this is something you can do, or at least help others do, and if you do that you will in fact help make the world a better place. But mainly I just wanted to share this video, which Himself shot on his cell phone.

It’s not that it’s great video, or that these are exceptional dogs, or that their stories are unusual. But the thing about rescue – the one key thing – the thing that keeps us coming back again and again for just one more dog – is that it transforms hopeless situations into moments of joy, like these.

Thank you for reading. Now it’s your turn … Please tell me what you think.

Checking in

I don’t really have anything to say.

No, that’s not true. I have lots to say. LOTS. It’s piling up in notes on scraps of paper, and emails to myself, and half-written drafts. I am standing in an autumn storm of ideas – bright leaves swirling about my head, making me dizzy. Which one to grab next? Oops – grabbed two – let go, two is too many, grab another – no, not that one, how about that one? – No, too big for right now.

That’s how it is. Until I turn away, drift over to the Reader, drown myself in the words written by others – so talented, such interesting lives / ideas / problems, so dedicated and so damn disciplined about meeting deadlines – what can I possibly say that’s worth hearing inside of all that?

I cut back my Prozac dose. Sick of depending on drugs to function. So am I depressed?

Prozac makes you fat. There have to be better ways to deal with depression.

So what have I actually done just lately? I have read a lot of books. Most of them were pretty bad, but there were a few good reads and a couple of real gems.

I have spent time with my friend, keeping her company as she continues to take step after slow, steady step into the Valley of the Shadow. It looks like she will still be with us for Thanksgiving, but Christmas? Hard to say. I hope that the end, when it comes, is in keeping with the gentle dignity of her spirit. For now, she says the pain isn’t bad. She enjoys and actively participates in the life she still has. I helped her rescue a cat the other day – a sweet, skinny stray who managed to spend a few days in our guest bathroom without getting eaten, before I could hand her off to a rescue.

Himself brought home another stray dog, and we’re fostering her for the rescue we founded. Apart from that, I am maintaining my Retired From Rescue status. Burnout is a bitch, and although it’s been most of a year I’m still not ready to get back into that particular frying pan!

Koeitjie
Koeitjie – “Little cow”. She is an absolute sweetheart, and just a pup, who has clearly been well loved. How does a dog like this end up dumped?

Work continues on the veggie garden. Most of the effort lately has been by Himself and a helper, but I am the Inspirational Driving Force, plus when Himself finishes doing one last tractorly sweep of the area I will start building raised beds. Maybe next year I will actually succeed in producing the cornucopia of produce that dances across my dreams every spring! (No, I don’t know whether cornucopias dance, but probably they don’t. Yes, I’m aware that, in that case, that’s a mixed metaphor. I don’t care.)

I have been doing a lot of thinking about God and the Bible and Stuff, and my thoughts are finally coalescing into something I can write about.

Right now I am gearing up for NaNo. Because, when you are struggling to get moving, the best thing to do is to attach a rocket to your arse. So, three days to countdown, and them BOOM! … I hope.

Your turn! Please talk to me.
Do you ever find yourself stuck and overwhelmed by too many choices? How do you get traction? Are you doing NaNo this year?

“It’s positive,” he said…

… and my life changed direction.

Dr Gough was a kind man with a rumpled face and baggy clothes, and everyone in that small university town knew he would give you an abortion if you needed one. I already knew I was pregnant – I felt the winning spermatozoon drive into my ovum like a comet plunging into the sun, and soon after that the morning sickness began. I’d roamed Grahamstown’s quiet streets by night, breathing fog into the chilly air, cuddling my tender breasts beneath my baggy sweater and thinking through my options. So although his announcement was a shock, it was no surprise. I had made my decision.

“When am I due?” I asked, and watched as the pools of sad expectation evaporated from his eyes and a smile spread across his face. I loved him for being happy for me, for not thinking I should kill my baby.

* * *

I’d had no idea the heart would beat so fast. It was like holding a tiny bird in my belly. Every time I visited Dr Gough, he turned on a speaker so that I could listen to it with him. Later, after I moved away to the unmarried mother’s home in Cape Town and started going to a big state teaching maternity hospital for checkups, the doctors were discouraged from doing anything that would help us bond with our babies. The pressure to give them up for adoption was huge, and relentless.

Nowadays expectant parents always share their ultrasound pictures, and every time I see one I’m a little sad that no one ever showed me ours. But then I remember the eager hummingbird beat of her new-formed heart, I remember the quivering excitement of the moment I felt her begin to dance, and I know my memories are complete.

I have pictures to illustrate this post ... in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it's buried.
I have pictures to illustrate this post … in a large green plastic tub, waiting to be sorted. The tub might be in the spare bedroom, but if so it’s buried under all the other stuff waiting to be sorted.

* * *

I’d had a bit of a meltdown the year before I got pregnant. Someone I loved, in a complicated sort of way, died unexpectedly, and I had a car accident, and various other things happened and, to cut a long story short, I’d always been a bit of a basket case but all this shit pretty much filled up the basket that I lived in, suspended above reality by my beautiful balloon, and I fell out and plummeted to earth. So I was seeing a shrink, who liked me to tell him my dreams. I had been reading Freud, so my dreams were pretty interesting, until I found out he was a Jungian. I didn’t know anything about Jung so after that I didn’t know what to dream any more and our sessions became rather dull.

Anyway. When I told him I was pregnant, he said I had done it to get back at my father. I was pretty sure my father hadn’t crossed my mind at the time the getting pregnant was happening, but I didn’t argue. (I was a student, he was head of the Department of Psychology. Arguing about what was happening inside my head wasn’t an option.) Then he offered to put together the paperwork to get me a legal abortion. (Back then in South Africa, if a sufficient number of specialists concurred that you were sufficiently a nutcase, you didn’t have to give birth.)

So I stopped seeing him. Which was a bummer for him, because it turns out that pregnancy hormones give you the most extraordinary dreams.

* * *

When various well-meaning people finally quit trying to get me to give up the baby, they started in on my dog. “If you must have this baby, then for goodness sake get rid of the dog!” they said.

I told them not to be ridiculous. “She’s my first kid. I just hope I can love this new one as much as I love her,” I told them.

I really, really did love my dog. But it turned out I had vastly underestimated my capacity for loving.

I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can't find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower - a room that we inserted under the roof while building this house. We haven't yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I'm scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get, for now.
I have a watercolor the Girl Child made of Shebie, our dog, but I can’t find it in the spare bedroom. It must be in my ivory tower – a room that we inserted under the roof as an afterthought while building this house. We haven’t yet figured out where the stairs should go, and I’m scared of ladders, so this picture is as close as I can get to it, for now.

* * *

I had a teeny little crush on Dr Alperstein. He was in his final year of med school, or maybe it was his first year after qualifying, but he was a little older than the other students in his year. He was stocky and pale with a beaming round face, and the head of obstetrics was tall and sallow with a long, serious face. The girls from the unmarried mothers home were all state patients, so they used us as teaching aids for the med students.

I lay on one of the examination couches behind flimsy curtains until the professor and his gaggle of students pushed them aside and clustered around me. “Open wide,” the professor always said, and as I let my knees flop apart I’d look for Dr Alperstein. He always focused on my eyes, with a nod and a smile and a “Good girl.” I felt as though he thought I was good because, of all the girls who were due when I was, I was the only one planning to keep my baby.

* * *

I glared at the med student. “I don’t know why you have to induce me. I’m not overdue,” I groused.

“There’s a big golf tournament starting tomorrow. Nobody wants to miss their game because you come into labor,” he said.

“Well can’t you wait a couple hours before starting? I really wanted a leap year baby.”

He snickered. “Don’t worry. You’ll have your leap year baby.” It was 6.00PM on February 28th.

He waited while the nurse strapped my feet into the stirrups, then leaned forward between my legs with a look of cold disinterest. Something bright flashed in his hand, there was a moment of invasion and not-quite-pain and a gush of fluid, then he stepped back and watched the nurse adjust the flow of medication through my drip. He glanced at me. “So how come a nice girl like you is so fat?” he asked.

I had no idea how to answer him, but it didn’t matter because at that moment the pain roared through me like a locomotive and carried me away. He chuckled, nodded to the nurse to undo the stirrups, and slapped my butt. “I’ll check on you in time for leap year,” he said, and strolled out through the swing doors. He was in a good mood. There were four of us there from the home, and he needed to catch just four more babies to be done with his obstetrics rotation.

I had gone from wondering what the fuss was about to hard labor in the space of a few minutes. I couldn’t remember how to breathe. It was too bright, the fabric of my gown was too coarse, and everything stank of antiseptic. The nurse turned out the lights, but would not open the window or let me remove my clothes. And then, after an endless time that took no time at all, a great hand took hold of me and squeezed. I opened my eyes and I was alone. “Nurse!” I called. “Nurse!” It was dark, and I had no idea where the call switch was.

“NURSE!” as the swing doors parted and she wandered through with a cup of tea. “The baby’s coming!” I yelled.

Her teacup smashed to the floor. “No! No! You mustn’t! It’s too soon!” she shouted, and scurried off to get help. (I think she must have been a student too.)

She came back with a midwife, and 20 minutes later we were done. It was 10.20PM on February 28th, not yet leap year day, and I didn’t mind at all. By the time the med student came back from his supper break he was too late even to catch the afterbirth. I smiled sweetly at him. “I guess you might just have to miss your golf game,” I said.

* * *

Lynn was a writer known for her acerbic wit. She was not the maternal type, so it was quite a surprise when she appeared abruptly at the foot of my hospital bed. In retrospect, she had probably taken me under her wing – one of several people to do so. In their different ways they fussed over me and fed me and wondered what on earth I was thinking, to insist on raising a child on my own, with no savings and no job.

The girl child was two days old, and I was surrounded by three or four women, all cooing and oohing and aahing, and passing her around between them. Lynn looked at them with a worried expression, sighed, and fetched herself a chair. She leaned forward to peer into the baby’s face.

“Would you like to hold her?” one of the ladies offered.

“Good God, no!” Lynn exclaimed, rearing back. They stared at her disapprovingly, and she looked embarrassed. “So. Um. What have you called it?” she asked me.

I told her, and one of the ladies gushed, “Isn’t it pretty? She’s named after the Greek goddess of joy!”

Lynn, however, roared with laughter. “Larissa?” she guffawed. “That’s the name of a dirty little railway junction in the middle of Greece. I’ve been there.” She never did get a foothold in the conversation after that. Moving as one, the ladies turned their backs and froze her out, and she left after a few more minutes. I was sorry to see her go … I was feeling a little scared, and she always made me laugh.

We have YouTube now so I checked it out online. Looks like they’ve cleaned it up since Lynn was there.

Your turn! Have you ever stood by a decision, and been glad that you resisted well-intentioned efforts to change your mind? Do you thing being pregnant is a reason to give up your dog? Have you ever been to Greece?

There’s a hole in my bucket

I’ve been pondering mortality quite a lot lately. The remorseless, inescapable advance of that final deadline.

I don’t mind dying so much. Sometimes I’ve even wish I could just get on and be done with it – turn my back on disappointment, loss, failure … get out of the way of those who might make better use of the space I take up. This whole business of being human … I just don’t seem to be very good at it.

But the thought of dying without having fully lived … now that bites. When I was a teenager I wrote a poem … I don’t remember how it went (it’s tucked away in a brown plastic file with all my other juvenile outpourings, I have no idea where) but I clearly remember how I felt when writing it. We were living in a little old house in a suburb outside Johannesburg, and my parents spent their days slaving away at rebuilding that house into their dream home, while also establishing their own business from home. They were busy and stressed, and they bickered constantly. And I looked at their lives, and shuddered at their boring middle-classness, and wrote something that began “I shall never fall to this / The final degradation”.

And … kyk hoe lyk sy nou.

So I’ve been sort of flailing about, in between moments of pondering, which themselves are interspersed with long periods of staring into space, in between tunneling through books like an express train, and somewhere in the course of all this I stumbled upon David Cain‘s blogs about bucket lists.

old wooden well

I have always LOVED making lists. You can spend hours sorting them and organizing them and updating them. Sometimes you even get to cross things off them, although usually, having been written and organized and color-coded, the list is then filed away and forgotten. BUT you get to feel really good about having made it. It feels almost as good as actually doing something.

Anyway, I decided to make a bucket list. For the past week, the only item actually on the bucket list was “Write a bucket list”. This morning I quit pondering and wrote down the rest of it. And frankly I’m perturbed.

It is so very short. And so largely mundane. What happened to the girl who wanted to go everywhere, know something about everything, have adventures, take on the world, and never get tied down? I could make the list longer, of course, just by adding a whole lot of cool stuff. But I while I was writing it, I was asking myself, “When I’m dying, will I care whether or not I achieved this? And do I actually believe I CAN achieve it?”

Well, it appears that I’ve morphed into someone who really and truly would rather get caught up on filing than walk the streets of Samarkand.

I need to know … is this what it means to “grow up”? Or to give up?