Looking for the Silver Lining (or, is there such a thing as Viagra for my self-confidence)

Like many children of the 1980’s, my brother and I were latch-key kids. Every day after school we would let ourselves in the house, dutifully call our parents and let them know we made it home, then feed and entertain ourselves for a couple of hours until our parents made it home from work. We didn’t have cable, and back in those days we only had about four channels to choose from. And even though PBS had quality children’s programming, for some reason we watched a lot of divorce court.

I don’t know why this particular memory decided to surface today, but I remember so vividly this episode, this divorce. The wife had said the husband was impotent. I didn’t know what the word impotent meant, but I understood from the context that it was a bad thing. I remember so well Judge Keene’s scathing rebuke of the husband as he handed down his decision. “Not only are you physically impotent, but you are morally impotent…”

“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy,” thought my nine year old self. I still didn’t know what that word meant, but from the emotion surrounding the entire episode I figured that being impotent must be about the worst thing a person could be. I held fast to this new knowledge and waited until the time was right…

We were visiting my grandmother’s house. My brother and I were arguing and fighting, as we always did when we were together, and I decided to use my new weapon. I can still feel the sneer on my face as I growled through clenched teeth. “You’re IMPOTENT!!”

I couldn’t wait to see how my insult had wounded him. Instead I heard a sharp intake of air from my grandmother, and then shrieking. “WHAT DID YOU SAY??? WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT WORD??”

Wow. Judging from my grandmother’s reaction, this word must be more powerful than F. But it remained shrouded in mystery, no one would explain the meaning to me.

I eventually learned what it means to be impotent, and I think I understand why this memory came to me today. It’s because that’s the name of this feeling I’m experiencing.

I’m feeling impotent. Powerless.

I found some baby birds and I tried to save them but they died. Natural selection is a bitch.

My husband has been out of work for a couple of months and I can’t provide for my family on my salary. Music lessons? Sports camps? No, no, no. Why does everything have to cost so much money?

My sweet children are being corrupted by their peers and I can do nothing. There are some words I just don’t want to hear come out of my child’s mouth. I know these things happen, and I remember being this age and being fascinated by the world of adult language. I’m just not ready for this.

Every now and then we all feel overwhelmed by life, don’t we? My initial response is just to lie there flaccid and let the chaos consume me because who the hell thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of anything anyway. When I think of all the things I have to do, everything I am responsible for, and all the myriad ways I could screw it all up I get that sick feeling in my stomach like when you’re walking and you miss a step and for a half second or so you’re just free falling into the abyss.

Powerless. When it seems that everything is out of control it helps to remember that nothing is ever really under control anyway. Put the blinders on and focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T do. Your power lies in your response to what life throws at you.

I couldn’t save the baby birds, and while it was sad, it did introduce my children to the fact that death is a part of life. This is something they need to know, and I’m grateful they learned it from these birds first, before a beloved pet or close family member. Baby steps, you know.

My husband will find work again, and in the meantime we will just have to learn to live on less, another important lesson for our children. I’m grateful that even during this time of hardship, my children have never been hungry. All they know is that we can’t go to McDonald’s right now. Even at our lowest we have it so much better than so many. And the biggest blessing of this hardship is that it has made us more resourceful and forced us to lean on our friends and each other.  We truly are each other’s keepers and therefore we take care of each other.

As for my children being corrupted, well, it’s just time to step up and prepare my children for the path. And for all the punks and assholes they will likely meet on that path. This is perhaps my hardest task, because everything I want for them runs counter to what the world seems to expect from men. Having empathy and compassion for others, not wanting to take stupid risks, these things do not make you a pussy no matter what that kid down the street says. Don’t play with him. He is not your friend.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that my impotence is largely imagined. All I needed was some gentle coaxing and a few positive strokes, something we all need from time to time. We may be powerless to control life’s ups and downs, but we do have a choice as to how we handle the situations that we face, and how we handle each other in the face of those situations.

We are only impotent if we choose to be.

Dog Days

“Get a dog,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.

Actually no one ever said that to me.

We got a dog because my children were growing up and becoming more independent and for about 5 minutes one day nobody needed anything from me and it created a great void in my heart that I decided I had to fill with a dog. That, and I thought a dog would be great for the kids. You know, she would be their best good friend and they would learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy through the care and keeping of a pet. Looking back, I think that’s a pretty tall order for an animal. Also I sort of left myself out of the equation.

Molly came to live with us back in March of this year. We adopted her from a local pet rescue. She had been found wandering the streets, living off scraps and garbage. The lady from the pet rescue said we could keep her for two weeks on a “trial basis”, but we knew as soon as she was in our house she was ours. The kids wouldn’t let us give her back. So we welcomed Molly as a new family member, and thus began my journey to becoming a ‘dog person’.

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My first lesson was about dog food. I had researched and decided that I was going to feed my dog grain free dog food because it was supposed to be the best for them. In nature dogs don’t eat grains. However, I wasn’t prepared for how expensive grain free dog food actually was. The lady from the pet rescue said that Molly had been eating Fromm dog food, so I picked some up from the feed store. At the time I didn’t think $35 a bag was going to be a big deal. It was a big bag and it would last a while. But soon I noticed all the other things my dog would rather eat than her dog food. I couldn’t keep her out of the garbage or the cat’s litter box. She eats anything she can find, leaving her dog food untouched. We have pretty well solved the garbage problem, but the litter box is another story. I thought about a baby gate, but I don’t believe my fat, old cats would be able to make the leap every time they had to go. I also think it would be one more thing they would resent about the dog. They started crapping on the bathroom floor in protest as soon as she arrived. Ah, pet life. Never a dull moment.

My next lesson was what to do with her poop. We live in a zero lot neighborhood, so my tiny yard fills up with poop pretty quickly. I bought a scooper for the back yard, but the idea of scooping up biodegradable dog poop and putting it in a plastic bag in the dumpster just doesn’t sit well with me. If I leave the poop where it is, time and weather will work their magic and the poop will become part of the soil. If I put it in a plastic bag, it will sit in a landfill indefinitely. It makes no sense to me. I did some research and I learned that biodegradable poop bags are a thing, but that just irritated me. I understand at the dog park poop can become a problem. I mean, no one wants to step in it, and I sure don’t want my dog to roll in it, so I thought a nice compromise would be to bring a garden trowel and throw the poop over the fence. If I’m taking my dog for a walk and she poops on your nicely manicured lawn, I will pick up the poop, but understand that you and I can’t be friends, because our values are just too different.

The dog park has been another learning experience. I’m OK with dogs, it’s people I don’t like. When I take my dog to the park I like to let her run and sniff and play with other dogs while I read or catch up on school work, but occasionally I feel obligated to interact with the other people there. They do weird things like voice-over the dogs’ playing with one another. “Look! Barkley’s saying, ‘Let’s play!’, but Chopper’s like, ‘No! This human has treats!’ Ha ha ha!” I just stand there baffled, feeling like an outsider. My dog is better at communicating with people than I am. Dogs are so loving and accepting, which brings me to my last point. No one in the world loves me as much as my dog does.

From the moment Molly entered our lives, I felt that she wasn’t just looking at me, but through me. She can see into my soul. I had always heard about the friendship and loyalty of dogs, but the way this dog loves me is more than I deserve. I have a lot to learn about being a dog owner, and I may never be a full fledged ‘dog person’, but knowing that I have my dog’s unconditional love and acceptance makes the journey worthwhile. Now if I could only break her from eating cat turds…

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Snow Day

Sleeping sweetly, snuggled down

wrapped in blankets, safe and sound

through the window sunshine peeks

house is quiet, mommy sneaks

to ready coats and hats and gloves

and breakfast for her little loves

Outside the world is dressed in white

soft as clouds and sparkling bright

lying in wait, the coming day

brings lots of fun and snowy play

make a snowball, then another

throw them at your older brother

Grab a sled and climb the hill

roll and tumble, slip and spill

build a snowman, dress him up

pour hot chocolate in a cup

come inside, put on dry clothes

warm up frozen hands and toes

read a book on Mama’s lap

stretch and yawn and take a nap

wake up, bundle up, and then

go out and do it all again.

© Amy Porterfield 2015