Saturday, August 2, 2008

Her 19th Century Hysteric

Ah, summer camp --that pubescent, fetid pool where middle-class memories are made! Children and horses! There is campfire singing and mess hall eating. A parallel universe unfolds for a week, a world with its own rules, social hierarchies, politics and policies. A world free from parents, television and the dreaded Household Chore.

Fun! Arc the bow, pull the trigger and explore all things Outdoor, generally speaking.

Who wouldn't want to go?

Now, regular readers of this blog know exactly who: Scarlett.

But, hot damn if the Matron's generous sister (with no children of her own to suck away each last cent and spare brain cell) is paying for Stryker and Scarlett to attend YMCA Camp Olson, together. The Matron didn't even consider saying no! She dubbed the offer a no-brainer.

Here is the Matron completing her lengthy, thoughtfully constructed speech (she reread some Freud, Rank and Jung in the process) in which she introduces Scarlett to the concept of Camp. Mind you, she is at the end.

Matron: "And just in case the camp store, the horses, archery, jewelry making, swimming, new friends, clothes-we're-going-to-buy-for-you, boating, fishing and even acting isn't enough to make camp perfect -- like the most fun you've had in your entire life!---just in case you need more, not only will your big brother be going, but your best friend! Yes! Caitlin is going to camp with you! How's that! Your Mama made sure that your brother, his friend Josh who will watch over you like a hawk AND Caitlin will all accompany you to camp. Scarlett, you will have an entourage. Secret Service, at your finger tips! Okay?"


With that, she fell screaming to the floor, where she did a damn fine imitation of Regan in The Exorcist.

Yes, that went about as well as expected.

The Matron's only daughter is not a timid person. Indeed, when in a show at the Guthrie, her most pressing question was this: "How many people will watch me every night?"

Matron: "I think 800."

Scarlett: "That's all? Phooey."

But cast this child toward Nature, with its threats of dirt and discomfort . . . well, she becomes her mother's daughter. This is a child who understands bees as an individual insult from the heavens. Watch the sunset? Excuse me, is that her own face on the horizon? If not, never mind. Then there's weather. Scarlett cannot tolerate weather of any sort. Temperate summer day? She's dying, inside by the air conditioner, gulping and gasping. Rain? Might as well be a tornado. The thought of prancing about outside in weather, is enough to do her in.

The nail on the coffin? She is thrust into all this discomfort without her mother.


That subtle mantra started about ten days ago. Since then, every time the Matron sits down at her computer, her little barnacle wraps herself into the lap and says: "Watcha reading?"

Scarlett has occupied the parental bed for several days. Then there's the spectacular litany of ailments.

"Mama? My side hurts, here, right below a rib. That's a rib, right? It's a jabbing pain that happens only when I eat fruit. Should I see a doctor?"

"Mom? See this toe? Don't you think it's moving oddly? I can barely lift it. See how it wobbles? It doesn't really hurt, but I think it's not looking normal."

"Mom! Do I have a fever?"

"Mama. Do you see this strange dot on my wrist? Maybe I'm finally getting chicken pox. I think it's the chicken pox."

"Omigod, Mom! I have the worst headache! My whole head is practically exploding. Do we have ice packs?"

"Mama! Come into the bathroom, quick. I'm constipated and have diarrhea all at the same time!"

Camp. The Matron and her family pull out of home base about 8:30 am tomorrow. It's 10:09 pm. And Scarlett?

She is in her bedroom, putting the final touches on her Last Will and Testament.

Friends, the Matron wishes she were making this stuff up. Not tonight, unfortunately . . . pop! goes the wine cork.

Friday, August 1, 2008


The Matron has a dear friend (a wee bit older and more ribald, but they stand toe to toe in their appreciation of the male body) who knows his way around chemicals.

Fourteen years ago, when the Matron was still a Youngish Miss, she was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Girlfriend, she could not be two minutes from a bathroom! Now, Youngish Miss was deep in the black hole of graduate school and also gearing up for her wedding, which meant understanding the food chain that is her husband's family -- there are 75 first cousins and she's not kidding.

Yes, they're Catholic.

So was/is (it's in her DNA) the Matron so she gets to make that remark.

Youngish Miss's doctor gave her this very fine, fabulous, miracle pill for her IBS. God, how she loved those pills. Youngish Miss took the FULL DOSAGE, every single day. This pill made the sun shine and birds sing. Colors were brighter, strawberries didn't just taste good but burst onto her tongue, and the gods smiled. The IBS didn't just disappear: a new, tranquil spirit possessed the previously high strung Youngish Miss. Stuck in traffic? Why, that's just the right time to listen to the radio and hum along! She was that sanguine.

So the Youngish Miss had lunch with her chemically savy friend.

Youngish Miss: "Oh my God. I love these pills for my IBS. The problem is totally gone! I feel great! They're amazing. All of my problems are gone, poof!"

Friend: "What are you taking?"

Youngish Miss (first looks in her purse because she is that stupid and cannot be one second away from the next hit): "Uh. . . . some kind of stomach relaxer or bowel suppressor. . . let's see, I'm sure it works on the muscles . . Phenobarbital. It says I can take up to four a day. I do. Religiously."

Friend (gripping table): "Mary! You idiot! That's no muscle relaxant! That's a barbiturate. It's the housewife drug of the sixties. You're drugged. Sedated! No doubt, Sylvia Plath found it highly effective. You're an addict. Stop taking that pill, right now!"

Youngish Miss: "Oh that's horrible! I will miss them soooo!!" And she did.

But she tossed them out, found another doctor and tried yoga. It worked. Her friend? He volunteered to take her leftover Phenobarbital. Years later, after one of the Matron's dental surgeries left her with a steady supply of Vicodin, he offered to take those off her hands, as well.

The Matron struggled to quit smoking for many years. Finally, she knocked that monkey off her back, but only with the help of nicorette gum, which she chewed for THREE YEARS! She will never forget offering her whiskey-swilling, pill-popping, irreverent friend a piece of Nicorette gum, her personal junk, the goods she needed nearly every hour. Want some?

Friend: "Darling. Even I have my limits."

Happy anniversary, Camel Lights. Forever the addict, she misses you.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Shelf, Filling

This is one of the Matron's earliest posts, before she completely morphed into her third person self:


My mother and stepfather in-law are 75 and 82. They go to a funeral every week. Memorials and wakes are their primary social junket. After the service, they eat ham or egg-salad sandwiches and sip coffee. These gatherings exist in a unique temporal dimension: conversation shifts seamlessly between past and present, potent and trivial. They gossip. They decry the cost of gas and talk about whose grandchild appears headed down the worst road. They fall back fifty years to wedding nights, births, and communions. Disappointment and betrayals get yet another look. Really, I can't imagine (fill in the blank) is gone. Who makes the better rhubarb crisp? Then they pick up their plates and go home.

Today I put our sweet dog, Thurston's, ashes in their new box and set them on the long smooth shelf next to my father's. I watch both boxes and think about my shelf, filling up.


The Matron's stepfather-in-law is in a hospital, facing his own death from today's diagnosis of bile duct cancer -- a day, a week, a few months. He is yellow like a dandelion.

Stepfather-in-Law: "You know, doc, what I want?"

Matron: "I love how you always call me doc. What?"

SFIL: "To sit on my glass porch and watch the rain. Just one more time. Wow. All that time sure went fast, doc."

The Matron and Rainy just had a similar conversation. Now, you may also remember that the Matron had a recent funk-- all projectile Fruedian and cursing the publishing gods for skipping over her when they handed out those prizes, etc., etc. etc. Wanting more out of life, feeling competitive, all that.

Driving home from the hospital, half of her was with her mother/father-in-law, fretting about the distinct fears and complexities they will each be facing. But! The other half of the Matronly mind was, of course, centered on HER and how she's handling whatever life span she herself has been given.

She was trying to find some key, some common thread in the lives of those she admires and, sadly, sometimes envies and covets: the surgeon friend, the successful writer, the mother of five who homeschools the greatest kids and is happy, to boot. The vocation doesn't matter, it's how successfully (and with what passion) the endeavor unfolds.

As she looked at her own self with ferocious honesty -- the kind of honesty that death brings -- she understood that the people she admired were using their gifts at 100% capacity. They were nearly always the best they could be, in all ways, all the time. Nearly.

And the Matron? You guessed it. Ferocious honesty requires: she isn't really using her gifts. Not by a long shot. Not yet.

Thankfully, there is no end to her optimism (one gift she makes full use of), which makes life -- that precious and terminal condition -- exciting.

Are you using your gifts? Do you even know what they are? This isn't necessarily a comment prod, but something she hopes you take away as encouragement and hope, for yourself and your own lifespan.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not That She's a Blazing Leftie

Well, of course, she is! But you love her anyway.

She thinks even her more middle of the road friends will appreciate the Walker Art Center's yard sign contest! Considering politics doesn't feel like politics as usual, and considering that the Republican National Convention is coming to St. Paul, the Walker asked ordinary folk to create political lawn signs to welcome them thar Republicans.

You can check out the winners, here.

Even better! The Matron lives in a neighborhood that looks down upon the convention! Why, she could even throw spitballs or toss roses (you see how diplomatic she's being!) depending upon her inclination. You decide.

Anyway, the Matron's neighborhood was chosen by the city as one of the spots to litter with these lawn signs, for free! She signed up for a lawn sign faster than you can say: "Why don't you and your brother stop this ineffective constant yelling and use your fists instead so you can beat each other bloody?"

Not that she actually would say that (again).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not That She's Counting

Today, the Matron took a keen, arm-length's look at her 12 year old son--who is currently modeling the popular and appealing combination of ringworm and warts -- as he sat in clutter of his own creation, beside the milk carton he is incapable of putting away, while informing his mother of just how little she knew about, well, about everything.

Given her children's age range, she realized, at this pivotal and life-altering moment, that, starting on July 17th, 2009, she will be living with teenagers for 15 consecutive years. And six months.

Takes One To Know One

About a year ago, every time Stryker picked up his pace, he started complaining about an inability to breathe. Run around the block or frolic on the playground?

Stryker, clutching his chest and staggering: "I. Can't. Catch. My. Breath."

No wheezing, no coughing and he looked damn fine to the Matron.

Matron: "That's not asthma. That's exertion."

Still, she took her son to the doctor, who referred her to the pediatric pulmonologist, who had Stryker breath into a variety of machines and do a few hand stands, all of which provided empirical evidence of stellar, A+ airways.

She assumed this was the end of the story, that strong regular breathing and all, but then the doctor said this: "Let's just treat him for asthma anyway."

Say what! Thought the Matron.

Then Dr. Pulmonologist launched into a lengthy explanation about how tricky, how cunning, how darn-right difficult to discern, exercise-induced asthma can be. How dangerous! Why, her child could collapse, right after a hard turn on the monkey bars.

So they left with an inhaler, a prescription for Claritin, and an asthma notebook for charting symptoms. The first week, Stryker used that inhaler every time he walked upstairs.

Stryker: "This stuff is eery, Mom. Makes me light-headed."

Her little junkie! Anyway, after that week of walkin' on the wild side, Stryker put down that inhaler and never snorted the goods again.

But! Even so, every time he ran or played, he fell to the side, complaining about his asthma!

Stryker (clutching chest and gasping): "I. Can't. Breathe."

Matron: "That's exertion."

Because the complaints continued, the Matron took Stryker for the one year follow up, during which it was discovered (at her request) that her son had ZERO allergies and--after an hour in which exercise was induced (they put the potential asthma victim on a treadmill set for a steep steep hill ) -- it was determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that Stryker did not have asthma. Indeed, he has Olympian lung power.

Now, the end of the story? That would be too normal. Remember, this is the Matron talking!
Dr. Pulmonologist had a new diagnosis. "Vocal Cord Dysfunction."

The Matron thought perhaps she was his new play thing: Let's String This One Along.

Of course, it turns out any body part can dysfunction! Vocal cord collapse. Who knew?!

Now Stryker has a new appointment, in another hospital with a whole bunch of new doctors to waste her time for a problem he probably doesn't have. Indeed, she will bet his non-existent college fund (that's another story), that her little apple swings a wee bit toward the hypochondria end of the sanity spectrum.

Just like his Mama.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Firefly Life: Here, Gone

Tonight, the Matron stepped outside at dusk to chat with her elderly next-door neighbor, Rainy (from Lorraine). Rainy is tiptoeing toward eighty, a number her husband has already visited. They have a healthy -- uh, obsessive - relationship with all the neighborhood feral cats.

Matron: "Just thought I'd say good-night!"

Rene (big smile): "Mary! Do you know what time it is?"

Matron: "Um. . . about 9:00?"

Rene: "No. It's about that time when Merrick doesn't want to be left alone. He wants someone to lay down next to him. Listen!"

And they both stop talking. In that moment between day and darkness, the Matron looked at her house. It was ablaze in light and sound. She heard Stryker and Scarlett running through the house, literally-- footsteps on stairs and flashes in the window. Scarlett's voice shoot out: "Mom? Can I have a cookie? Mom! Where are you?"

There was Stryker, calling Satan's Familiar for a cuddle. The dogs barked, a radio played.


Oh my goodness! The Matron's house sounded like a juke box, a giant wind-up toy, all those bells and whistles.

Rainy: "Mary, next thing, Stryker gets mad about something -- a book, the computer, a store he didn't get to go to. We hear it every night."

Mortified Matron: "Oh my God. I'm SO sorry! We'll tone it down!"

Rene: "Oh no! Mary, don't be sorry. We love it so much. Really. It's the best part of our night. You know, Ed and I got married late, 38 and 40. That was really late for those days! We prayed and prayed we would be blessed with children, but it never happened. We weren't so lucky. Oh, we wanted children!"

Here, the Matron once again regroups, searching for those right words. Before she can find them, Rainy grabs her arm. She's crying. Not the big dry heaves or anything, but full, wet eyes and a voice shaking with the emotion and wisdom of eight decades.

Rainy: "It happens so fast, you know. You think the world is ahead of you, anything is possible. And it is! But then one day, your life is nearly over and you know it. There's really nothing other than the day-in, day-out, ahead, forever. One day it all ends and you have wishes, thoughts about what you didn't get or how those dreams died or sort of just got left behind somewhere. That's where I am, Mary. At the end--sort of sad about what I missed out on."

So the Matron and Rainy held hands for awhile and listened to the great big bountiful life coming from the house next door, all those children and so much future--both women, one in her forties and the other nearly twice that age, sitting for a minute, remembering what they've lost or given up on. You don't have to be 80 to see your life unfold.

The Matron still has some future ahead. She'll remember tonight and Rainy, each time she takes a dream off the shelf, dusts it off and tries, again.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More on the High-End Offspring She's Producing

At his behest, Stryker's siblings tied and duct-taped him to a chair. They left his mouth free--again, at Stryker's bidding--so that he could call out and provide commentary and wit to passers by. Which he did.

He stayed there for about two hours, all tied up.

Now, back story: soon after Stryker's birth, one of the Matron's gay friends pulled her aside and queried: "Honey! You do know about Jeff Stryker? The biggest dick on the planet?"

Well, hold those horses! Zip that fly! The Matron did not! Never knew such a man existed. But now Stryker has a list of Jeff Stryker's 'adult' films in his baby book. Yes indeed. She's that kind of a mama. (But she thinks 'adult' is a misnomer. Try something more stupid)

Given his name's legacy and the hours he spent hog-tied, the Matron allowed herself one speckled bump of imagination into Stryker's future adult sex life. Then she fled, screaming, and poured some more chocolate milk and set out cookies.

Until she went back outside and found this:

The Matron is dialing a therapist.

Speaking of which -- and not that she's pimping her BLOG - but Friday's post is a thriller (if she doesn't say so herself). The weekend brings fewer readers, but she is telling you: Friday is not only worth it but you don't want to miss it. Because there's a sequel.