Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

June 18, 2009

Macaroni and Soy Sauce

My brother and I were discussing the scuffling economy the other day.  We were recalling the other down periods during our lifetimes when, as a nation, we’ve struggled.  Those years when there were long lines at the gas station, so many people out of work, empty store shelves and families struggling just to put food on the table.

I remember when I was a kid and my Dad, so many nights, eating macaroni and soy sauce or macaroni and ketchup.  I thought he really really liked it.  I cry about that now.  I didn’t know.

We never wanted for anything, my brothers and me.  We enjoyed a hot breakfast every morning and a hot meal together every night.  We ate meat at every meal.  Salad.  Homemade baked bread.  My dad ate macaroni and soy sauce while I complained about having to eat the roast beef with carrots and potatoes again.

I didn’t know.

Sure I saw coverage of the long lines at the gas stations on TV back then.  I heard unemployment figures and inflation numbers.  I didn’t appreciate them.  Didn’t know to apply them.  I didn’t understand when my dad would ask the neighborhood pharmacist to, “hold a check until next Tuesday”.  I didn’t pay notice when he wore the same two pairs of winged tips for fifteen years, taking care to shine them at the bottom of the stairs.

They let us get the new shoes.  They let us get the new school clothes and go to the sports camps and out with our friends.  They let us get the baseball gloves and guitars and roller skates and hockey sticks.  They struggled together in silence so that we wouldn’t have to.  So that we wouldn’t know.  So that we wouldn’t suffer or stress or struggle.  We used to joke that all our mom seemed to eat was bread and all our dad seemed to eat was macaroni with soy sauce.

I weep for that tonight.  I didn’t know.

Seems all kids, at some point, consider their parents to be embarrassing nerds.  They are mortified that their parents wear what they consider to be outdated clothes with outdated hairstyles and tired shoes.  Most kids don’t realize it’s because they get the new hair cut and highlights before prom.  Mom has four inches of new growth and faded highlights from 13 months ago.  They get the new shoes for the first day of school and the next sports season.  Dad shines his old winged tips at the bottom of the stairs…

I used to think it was kind of lame that the biggest thing we do for our moms and dads on Mother’s and Father’s Day is to treat them to dinner.  Now I realize that a good steak dinner or shrimp or whatever they wanted that day meant a lot more than I ever imagined.

I guess I just want to say thank you to all you parents out there who, like mine, struggled through the worst of the 70s and 80s in order to afford us such a wealthy childhood.  A childhood rich with games and giggles.  Carefree summers of pool hopping and baseball games.  Exciting nights in tents in the backyard.  Chasing the ice cream truck and Red Rover on the front lawn.  Daydreams of infinite possibilities.

In today’s recession, for today’s moms in bad hair with dark roots and bedraggled bathrobes and three-year-old mascara and bras that have no elastic anymore, bless your huge, generous hearts. 

And thank you to all you fathers out there eating macaroni and soy sauce today.  Shining your shoes.  Covering that thin, stretched-out tee shirt with a snarky old dress shirt and a limping tie.  Thank you for letting your boys chase toads and eat dirt and dream of playing major league baseball and trade baseball cards and sharpen popsicle sticks on the cement.  Thank you for allowing your girls to sing into a hair brush and wobble in her mom’s shoes and name her stuffed animals and knock tennis balls against the house, believing she’s going to one day win Wimbledon.

You’re heroes to me, you are.   Every precious one of you.

Happy Father’s Day.

June 1, 2009

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet

I cried a little for GM today.  It wasn’t because I believe GM, or Ford or Chrysler for that matter, to be the innocent victim of some unforeseen catastrophe.  I don’t.  And it wasn’t because I don’t believe they can emerge from this painful low and again stake their place in a competitive auto industry.  I do.

No, I cried a little for GM today because it’s all we’ve known.  Growing up in Warren, MI, just outside of Detroit, most of our neighbors and friends and classmates were from auto industry families.  They worked the lines and drove the brands and there was a real sense of pride hailing from the Motor City.  It was drilled into our heads from the time we were little, “If you get in with the Big Three, you’re set for life.”  And for all my life that has been true.

It’s not true any longer. 

It’s hard to lose all that you’ve known of something.  Painful and disorienting to lose the comfort, familiarity and security of that constant.  It’s hard to lose an identity.

I cried a little for GM today because I know what it’s like to suffer that moment when you realize nothing will ever be the same.  I’m sure each of the decision makers and board members and VIPs and employees from GM had their one moment when it became apparant that they weren’t going to resolve this problem and hold on to all they’d built and all they’d known.

It’s a tough moment.

My moment came not long after I was injured.  I didn’t tell anyone but I knew.  Until then I had denied the looks I had caught between family, friends and co-workers.  Between therapists and doctors.  I had denied the voices taunting  in my head between pledges of hope and untired determination.  Denied the mounting evidence. 

I didn’t speak those words.  Wasn’t ready yet.  I kept quiet even when my eyes were screaming in the mirror.   My heart breaking with disappointment.  Even when I continued to tell myself, prod myself… if I try harder, wait longer, believe more strongly…

And then one night when no one was around, it came.  My moment.  Lonely in the middle of the night.  Like the first frost.  Things were dead then.  I knew my life was turning fast to winter and there was no more denying that the sun wasn’t staying as long or burning as brightly anymore.

It’s a tough moment when you realize that the only life you’ve ever known has already died.  It’s already gone.  You just didn’t want to say good bye.

When a door locks behind us and we no longer have the key, it takes a little while before we stop pounding and jimmying the knob and kicking it and cursing.  We simply don’t want it be closed for good.

But if we are blessed enough to see a day that holds only what we are no longer, then we are equally blessed with the opportunity to use that day to start becoming what we wish one day to be.

Like GM, those of us who suffer life-altering events will keep those bittersweet memories of easier times and top-of-the-mountain moments when the choices we made and the paths we walked brought success, reward and satisfaction.

But there is much work ahead if we are going to become more than simply what used to be.  If we are going to revamp and retool and redesign our present into a future we can again stand proudly aside, then what is lost is best left to the ruins. 

The time comes in all of our lives when we must finally toss out that favorite old coat, now full of holes and moths and smelling of disappointment.   

The time comes to all of us when we have to determine a second chance to be all that we need.  To re-evaluate and to see if the dreams we once clung so tightly to even make our hearts swoon anymore. 

Sometimes we believe something simply because we have always believed it.   Because our parents told us to.  Or because our friends did.  We eat something cooked a certain way because we have always eaten it that way.  We don’t even wonder if maybe something else could be better.  Or we don’t even pay attention to whether it even tastes good anymore.

I once heard a story of a man who had always dreamed of owning his own boat.  He had dreamed of it and pictured it and planned it and told everyone over the years.  He would buy that boat when he retired and sail around the world.  It was the dream he lived by.  The dream he was known for.

But over the years he had been in the Navy when his ship was bombed severely in WW2.  He had almost drowned on a family vacation in the ocean.  His knees were horribly warped and painful from arthritis. 

So when he retired, he bought that boat.  But the memories of those bombings and his fear of the water after almost drowning and his limited mobility from the angry knees made it impossible for him to fit into that old dream.  He never even sailed it before he died.

If tomorrow is simply another  yesterday, they wouldn’t call it tomorrow.  If tomorrow were only yesterday, we’d be going backwards.  But we’re not. 

We’re going forwards.

New dreams that haven’t been realized yet are better than old dreams that no longer can be.   Tomorrow is better than yesterday because we can still change tomorrow.  We can still shape our dreams to fit our actual desires, abilities and needs. 

It’s OK to cry a little bit when the first frost comes and the future feels horribly cold and dark and the soft warm light of summer has long faded.  But in a moment comes Spring and that is worth every wait. 

Let’s get going now.  Our lives have been patiently waiting.

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