17 August 2006

Mark your calendars for August 26th - Living with "The Katie Effect"

[You may click on the photos to bring up the "fine print".]

I know that I should be accustomed to being the mother, to live in the knowledge that I brought forth a celebrity, to understand that I was part of greatness by sheer virtue of having given birth to a legend, on August 26th, 1983. But how could I know, fathom, possibly understand that when Katie finally made her way into this world, taking her own sweet time and arriving on "her schedule", that she would evolve into a force of nature the likes of which this world has never seen? But to be confronted by the sort of "unrest" and "chaos" that is going on in the world this past week, and to know that I was but a miniscule part of a much larger picture, humbles me when I "Stumble Upon", photos like the one I found on the Internet, a mere few minutes ago.

Sure, I knew within days after bringing her home and reconciling myself to the fact that there was no "hospital mix-up" that she was, how shall I say, "different". However, a global impact never truly crossed my mind. Well, so much for my lack of forward thinking! I should have known, should have expected, that it was never a question of would she assimilate in Manhattan, but the more pointed query should have been, "Would Manhattan survive Katie?". Obviously, the proverbial jury is still out on that one. Manhattan's probably a little confused. Welcome to my world!
As we lesser mortals might expect, though I can't speak from personal experience - having never been a national treasure - I can speak as someone who raised one and as the humble mother of a prodigy, it's not all fun and games. Though even I can't know the pressure that goes with assuming a "mantle of greatness" as Katie has had to deal with pretty much since she finally decided to take her first breath. Now that I think about it, that must have been the reason behind her hesitancy to breathe the way babies are supposed to in that delivery room, long, long, long, long ago, back in Charleston, West Virginia - CAMC Memorial Division Hospital. Even as a newborn, she had to have some sort of inkling that there was a spotlight just waiting for her to step into, already ready and waiting - with her name on it: Katie...not Katherine, Kathleen or Kathy...this was a real Katie. I wanted to keep it simple in case she had issues with spelling. When you think about what was lying in wait for her, it almost makes the rest of us feel thankful for our mere mediocrity.

Suddenly, it occurs to me, "Am I now responsible for world peace?" Everywhere I walk, protesters, seemingly out of nowhere, - protesting what I can't tell you - approach me with glaring looks - "Have you bought her a present yet? It's only six days until...you know...THE DAY!", and they don't look at me with kindness in their eyes or ask if I need an extra $1000 to make the right gift choice. It's apparent to me that if it feels as if I have the weight of the world on my shoulders it's probably because, well, I have the weight of the world on my shoulders and do you know how hard it is to sleep with that kind of pressure? Yeah, thank God for chamomile tea, only I don't have time to give slumber any more than a passing consideration. Not all of those tree-hugging protesters are as harmless as they appear and while I love tomatoes in a salad, and what would spaghetti be without them, I don't like wearing them! What happened to pacifists?

When I finally got home, I flipped on the news and found this photo flashed on Katie's favorite (not!) news station, "Fox News"...apparently these three servicemen had sent a humanitarian appeal, in the form of a telegram, to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, not to send greetings to their families or girlfriends or the last women they met in whatever port they had just sailed from, but as an "official" greeting to their icon, the woman that gives them the courage to rise each morning and fight sand fleas, rough seas and really bad food. You can imagine how stunned I was to see this photo...

So it was no surprise when the Commander-in-Chief himself somehow found my E-mail address and threatened to draft me if I didn't post his own special salutations...Here you go George, I know she'll just be thrilled beyond words. I would venture to type her expected response, but my father reads this blog and he frowns on profanity, but you get the "picture". Katie, I am just the messenger, take a deep breath and curb your enthusiasm...

I still have a little birthday shopping to do, but I'm not sure I can top GWB's greeting...knowing what this will mean to my daughter, anything more I could do feels so anti-climatic.

Katie, I have August 26th marked on my calendar - I'll see if I can get something together in honor of your special day. I'm sure you'll have enough fanfare without something from your hard-working, simple, boring mother, but I'll do the best I can.

As for me, I'm considering life as a brunette and, should that not work out, I may look into the Witness Protection Program.

We love you, Katie! I hope you have a wonderful birthday week. :-)



13 August 2006

The truth about cats, dogs, iPods and adjusting one's sails...

"My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am."

I have a confession to make: I am jealous of Cassie's ability to grow blond hair. Cassie is a natural blond...and let's...just leave it at that. But she IS gorgeous and barks (scoffs) at the idea that blonds are of very little brain. She's just as sweet as she is beautiful and I try not to hold it against her that she doesn't have to have her roots touched up every 6 weeks or so. Personally, I do subscribe to the theory that blonds have more fun...I know two, at least, who do.

I don't know if too many people happened to read it, but a couple of weeks ago I read a news report, courtesy of a link on another site, which went into great detail, in words and pictures, of how Chinese officials in one particular province decided to handle a rabies "epidemic". I was stunned at the barbaric treatment of these dogs and wondered how a country, from which many of our possessions are made, could find their actions acceptable. Residents were offered 63 cents for each dog they turned in to be destroyed, but neighborhoods were canvassed and if a dog was found, even if that dog was attached to a leash and was being walked by it's young owner, it was seized and beat to death on the spot. Nevermind that it appeared healthy and in fine condition. No waiting around for those efficient government officials - they beat and bludgeoned the dogs to death. The photos were difficult to look at, and it certainly didn't give me a warm feeling with regard to the Chinese government, not that I ever had one, but who ARE these people? Thanks to my buddy Keith for the link, hard as it was to read and look at the accompanying photos, it's important to know what's going on out there and, I must admit, whenever I see something I own or pick up with the words, "Made in China", I want to bludgeon it.

Starry, starry sky...

A light rain fell for the better part of Saturday until around 6:00 and then the clouds parted and out came the sun. Things looked hopeful for the Perseids, I thought. I went to an incredible meeting Saturday Night and was warmly "Welcomed" with many hugs and lots of catching up with people I haven't seen in almost a year. It was fantastic to see so many friends I've been away from for much too long. It felt like going home and, in a way, it was exactly that. After an incredible hour and many touching moments, an old (in a good way!), dear, wonderful, friend took me to The Oceanic for some dinner and possible star-gazing.

Even though it was 10:30 at night, I had never seen the pier of The Oceanic lit up so brightly - wouldn't you just know they installed high-beam, illuminating lamps which are great if you dropped a contact or decided to look for sharks teeth, but a little overpowering if your desire is to scan the sky for shooting stars. However, I can't complain, because just before we took our seats, there was this gorgeous, amber-tinged moon which looked as if it was climbing right out of the ocean. It was breath-taking and it made up for the fact that we couldn't get past the ambient lighting to catch a dark patch of the sky. Every few minutes, we'd glance toward the ocean and the light dancing off the waves looked as if a path was being uncovered, giving the illusion that you could walk right out to the horizon.

The other noteworthy item, besides an amazing dinner, was that the wind was kicking up a cool, cool breeze and there we were, almost shivering in mid-August. How strange. When we got in the car after dinner, my friend reflexively turned the heat on in his SUV and looked at me and said, "Am I really turning the heat on and it's August?". Strange, indeed.

We headed for my house and obviously, we needed to warm up which could only mean I had to fire up the coffee pot! In exchange for a pot of coffee, the iPod I was so graciously presented with a few weeks ago, but was clueless to program, was magically brought to life, along with new songs that had been sent to me courtesy of an iTunes gift certificate - so now I can (legally) listen to Sting and look cool doing it. Amazing! I also had a very detailed lesson on how to download songs but I'm not sure I could do it without technical supervision. There is something about an Apple product which feels foreign to me. I think maybe it's the fact that the instructions are too easy and I try to make them much too complicated, having been aligned with Microsoft for much of my computing life.

Speaking of computer-related products, did you realize that yesterday was (August 12th) was the 25th anniversary of IBM presenting the first home personal computer? I can't honestly remember not having at least one, and usually more, computers in the house. How quickly they became a standard feature in most of our lives, both working and personal. And, while most of us have come to embrace computers as part of our lives during both work and non-work hours, interestingly enough, IBM recently sold off the division that makes PC's to a Chinese company. Kind of ironic.

Today was a lot of fun as well. I went to see "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Bobby Ricky". It was very funny - and there's no way you can't love Will Ferrell, but I'm not sure I loved it more than "Anchorman". My daughter and I may be debating this for some time. I did, however, laugh a lot and it felt so great.

While Will Ferrell & company were completely entertaining, Mayfaire Cinema was followed by a sumptuous dinner at Bluewater, sitting outside, watching the boats stream past on the ICW, and really great prime rib was topped off with coffee and a gorgeous sunset. No chill bumps this evening - the sun was almost back to its normal self, and it couldn't have been a nicer. I did bring home leftover tuna stuffed with spinach and goat cheese and Cassie was most grateful. I had a few bites of it at dinner, in exchange for sharing my prime rib, and it was almost too delectable to eat.

I've been tenatively offered the chance to sign on as first mate (think Gilligan) if a friend of mine decides to move his sailboat down from Oriental to a slip at Carolina Beach State Park marina. The funny thing is, he put his name on a waiting list in October 2003 and this past Friday he received a call out of the blue that his name had popped up. Not that Oriental isn't a perfectly beautiful spot, cell phone reception is spotty at best, and there's not a heckuva lot going on other than beautiful scenery (and some blood-thirsty mosquitoes) at that particular point on the Pamlico Sound. So, it looks as if a sailboat relocation may be coming up.

Now, I was very forthright and admitted the obvious, that my sailing credentials were basically nonexistent. I'm sure I could only cause problems on a beautiful boat, even a really well-equipped vessel who goes by the name of "Victoria" and who's dingy is named "Secret"...clever, huh? Those crazy globe-trotting computer geeks. But hey, if someone is silly enough to think I can take direction and orders, even after watching several episodes of "Gilligan's Island", who am I to argue? Some people just have to learn the hard way. :-)

Personally, I think the obvious lack of judgment in asking me to even step on a beautiful sailboat may be due to brain damage. Though it's rarely discussed openly, I can't help but wonder if some people suffer serious neurological deficits after spending way too much time in Australia and hanging out with Koalas and Kiwis, but I googled it and there's no real hard data or a study that's been done which might support or refute my theory. I wonder if it has anything to do with the exposure of watching water circle the WRONG WAY as it escapes through a drain? That's got to mess with your mind even more than people driving in the wrong lanes. Oh I know, I know...it's beautiful, yada, yada, yada...Whatever.

In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends. ~ John Churton Collins

The past few weekends, whether enjoying the beach in the middle of the day, walking around downtown after a late dinner, or getting back on track in other areas of my life, it has almost felt as if I drew a "get out of jail free" card in a repetitive round of Monopoly - you know, when you're in the middle of that game and you start to get the feeling it will never end and it just goes on and on and on and you arrive at a point where you just want to SCREAM?

My summer started out feeling that way, but after some tough choices, life began looking better. Although with the recent infusion of energy and new activities my Sudoku game has probably suffered, I most certainly haven't and I savor these days - in ways I could never have appreciated had I not had a tough few months leading up to this point. Don't get me wrong, I still love Sudoku, but for a time, while hiding away in my office to avoid conflict and because I generally had nothing else to do, I played more Sudoku than one might normally play in a couple of years, just to keep my mind focused on something other than the sheer insanity of a difficult situation so, clearly, it had it's place and I'm grateful for those mind-bending puzzles, but just now, when I see the familiar grid in Newsweek or USA Today or the NY Times, I get a strange flashback and I usually opt for something else. I'm sure that will dissipate and improve with time. Most things do.

And in a final note to Miss Katie, Sylvester and Cassie wanted you to know that they, along with Felix and Princess (wherever they are), wish you a happy birthday MONTH because, as we know in the Parker/Cook family, we don't simply celebrate the "day" of our birthdays but, in fact, the entire month. So when you look at these photos of Cassie and Sylvester, just know they were thinking..."HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! THANKS FOR ABANDONING US!!!!"....ooopps, they told me not to write that last part, but again, I don't tend to listen.

It's going to be a crazy week, but it's been an exceptionally relaxing and fun weekend and for that, I am most grateful. Life is fun again and new adventures are springing up all over the place.

It is friends, both old and new, that make these days so much easier than they might otherwise be. Unexpected daisies, movies, iPods that suddenly appear in my life, crazy text messages from special daughters (who are aging at alarming speed!), and a family that smoothes out the occasional rough patches with love and kindness, somehow knowing when I need those things the most.

One final footnote in the form of a serious request:

I don't mean to be combative or rude, but to the person, and you know who you are, constantly sending me text-messages and e-mails and making attempts to sign my guestbook, knowing those messages will find themselves deleted, I would appreciate it very much if you could make good on your promise to please cease any attempts at trying to communicate with me. Surely you must have better things to do and, if you don't, perhaps this might be a good time to find some better ways to fill up your time and direct your energy toward a pursuit that is healthy and doesn't border on stalking. I realize this is a difficult transition for you, and I know it will require a period of readjustment, but you will get to where you need to be sooner, if you simply let this go. Thank you in advance - I know you must truly want to "do the next right thing". Your life really is waiting on you to step into it, and I wish you the very best - it's time to move forward.

Ok, I'm done for today - grateful for yesterday and looking forward to tomorrow! Enjoy these summer days and squeeze everything you can out of them. Time is flying by at an incredible rate!

07 August 2006

Sunny, not-so-sentimental, Sunday

"I watch the western sky,
the sun is sinking.
The geese are flying south,
It sets me thinking...
I did not miss you much,
I did not suffer.
What did not kill me,
Just made me tougher..." ~ Sting
Sunday was a beach day which, literally translated means, Sunday could only be wonderful. Anytime I find myself with a clear view of the ocean, feeling warm waves lapping at my ankles, tasting salt in the air and being able to look out and see what resembles forever to me, it is a good day. Sunday was a good day, indeed. It was a beautiful thing.

The beach has figured prominently in my life this summer. I live a mere ten minutes away from the ocean, but I didn't see it once in May or June, except for one lunch on Wrightsville Beach with my son and that wasn't so much fun because I kept getting unwelcome and randomly bizarre text messages every five minutes or so, each one more inane and pointless until it reached the point where I simply turned my phone off. It is curious how much time we waste on annoyances and interruptions, until we realize that there is a power switch. This summer, I found my power switch in more ways than one. I also learned how to use it.

Today when I was staring hypnotically at the horizon, I thought about all that had transpired this summer. To say that things were crazy this past year, would be an understatement. I sat there running through an emotional inventory and I guess that was completely understandable given where I was standing, and remembering events of just over a year ago. It was the first time I'd been back to that spot of sand in months.

On the way there today, I wondered if I would be met by a flood of memories - would I feel sad? Would the sight of the gazebo bring a torrent of emotional regret, triggering painful memories and wondering if I had done the right thing or made a huge mistake? I also took the liberty of giving myself permission to feel whatever it was I might soon feel. After all, this particular beach was a prominent fixture and landmark of what had been. Go ahead, I said to myself, be prepared to feel some sadness, let the tears fall if they threaten, it's good to allow these emotions to run their course. It would be unhealthy not to, I reasoned.

There was no torrent of tears, and oddly enough, no flashback of memories from the past two years. I have no real explanation for that, but it felt so empowering to be savoring my present, with no distractions of the past. It was almost as if the whole of the past two years had been washed away with the tide and really, it made an interesting sort of sense. I came to the realization that the foundation of it all was no more stable or substantial than a sand castle, so why wouldn't the tide take it away? It stands to reason if you think about in those terms, and those are the terms I choose to use.

I have felt so devoid of feelings in the time since this relationship ended, and I couldn't help but wonder if, on some level, I had been compartmentalizing my emotions in order to deal with the work at hand, meet my deadlines, hit my marks, until I found a time when it would be safe to process all of the feelings I feared might be waiting to unfold. The oddest thing, something I don't even truly understand, is that there was nothing to compartmentalize - nothing to divide which, in an odd sort of way, resembles the reality of the relationship that is no more.

The good news is, that by virtue of the "nothingness", this couldn't be a messy break-up in terms of who gets what, because nothing was shared. Things were lopsided from the beginning and in terms of material possessions, a home, furniture - the "remains of the day", remain in place, and remain with me. And in some way that really is a metaphor for the entire 11 months and one week - we retained what we put into the union - and I still have everything I did before, with the added bonus of a little more wisdom and a lot more gratitude. In hindsight, it could only go one way, and if it was destined to go there, I'm glad for both of us that more time wasn't wasted.

It is so surreal to look back on something and view it almost as if it never was. I almost wish it hurt, that I felt a heart-tugging absence, an emptiness, a missing piece - and in reality, I know that by all rights, I should feel those things; I don't think I mourn the relationship as much as I mourn the reality that there never truly was a viable relationship. I guess you can't honestly miss what was never truly there, and I am sad to say that I believe we must have been "missing in action". Maybe we were never present. How unfortunate for both of us and yet, no longer enough to elicit a tear. I never would have imagined that the real pain isn't the pain of something lost, but the pain of something that never was.

I thought about that for a time, and then I caught sight of a magnificent flock of pelicans skimming over the water, perfectly aligned in a V-formation. And with those pelicans, so went my thoughts, and then the present came clearly into view before me. I am so grateful to have my "now", to be present in the "present".

After our walk on the beach, Stephanie and I headed for The Artisan Cafe at Mayfaire. We had a sumptuous dinner, sitting outside and watching the sunset, finishing things off with the decadence of a dessert called "The PMS Brownie" and it took chocolate to a whole other dimension. I'm going to revisit that place very soon and skip the entree and head straight for the dessert.

This is an important week and I hope to find myself back on the beach in a few days. The Perseid Meteor Shower is slated to peak on the 12th and 13th and I love searching the sky for shooting stars. I now know I can safely go back to Fort Fisher and sit on the beach and look up at the sky without staring back into the past. When I looked toward the past today, there wasn't really anything there, and that's almost more disturbing than if there were lingering, bittersweet memories - but it is what it is. I guess that means the coast is clear and it might be a good time to look into making some new ones.

I never pass up the chance to wish on shooting stars; I made them two years ago and I will make them again but I will bear in mind that it is good advice to "be careful what you wish for", however, the experience wasn't so disturbing that I would be remotely afraid to make new wishes. I'm much too obnoxiously optimistic to give up an enchanted evening of star-gazing and forfeit the chance to make a wish. Maybe 2004 was just a bad year for shooting stars. This year looks, and feels, so much better. There is hope and, a few months ago, it would appear there was nothing. If it's all the same to you, I'll take the hope.

I can see clearly now. I think the vision was always clear, perhaps my eyes simply needed time to adjust. Regardless, I am so greatful for the clarity. I don't even mind the hindsight.

It was such a gorgeous day to be near the ocean, not a menacing cloud in the sky, but lots of puffy white nonthreatening ones, and I just breathed it all in, watching little squiggly creatures diving into the sand in the wake of each gentle wave. Everything looked so bright, so shiny, so completely unspoiled! I wanted to walk along the shore for something like forever. I felt very much as I did when I was small, afraid that someone would call my name and tell me, "don't go too far, it's almost time to go!" Fortunately, no admonition was forthcoming; I was charting my own course.

The only regret I felt, was that it had been much too long since I had seen the sea, and I made a promise to myself not to go so long between visits. It makes no sense not to be there more often. I always feel as if I have had my batteries recharged following a coastal communion, trying to take it all in, and knowing that it's just not possible to do so. It feels so free.

So do I.