Sunday, December 28, 2014

Curiosity, Mars and Mammograms

By Mahlia Lindquist

I read that NASA's Curiosity recently discovered evidence of life on Mars. Wow! Extraterrestrials on Mars are even more monumental than a bald British Royal and his hat wearing wife’s first visit to NYCYet, I scanned the article with only mild interest.

 I want to be interested in this astounding discovery. We are talking cosmic consequences here. Perhaps a review of mistakes made when Columbus “discovered” America is in order.  A discussion of the precautionary principal and whether it should be considered in the context of Mars. Or at least, a brief pause to marvel over the spectacular scientific achievements that have allowed man to go from cave dweller to Mars tourist in just 200,000 years.

But the truth is, the prospect of life on Mars did not rock my world. The only topic I am even less curious about is British royalty.

While I can live with my indifference to Prince William and Kate, my indifference to life on Mars is worrisome. That's because one of my core values is curiosity about things that matter. Like Mars. Also, I enjoy the company of bright, curious people and believe curiosity is key to longevity and happiness. 

This got me to thinking about what, if anything, rouses my curiosity these days. Nothing came to mind. Just a big fat blank.

"I must be curious about something," I thought, as I searched my web search history for clues: 
Easy recipes for vegan butternut squash soup
Iphone 6 cracked screen
80s dance workout music
Romantic comedies on Netflix
Mammograms and dense breasts
Argh. Rather than exploring life’s big questions, I am occupied with drivel -- soup, phones, bad 80s music, bad movies and breasts.

Especially breasts.

The breast thing was brought on by my annual mammogram, always a painful, degrading, yet fascinating experience. When I say fascinating, I mean in the way of a huge whitehead pimple, or say... the  human Barbi. A morbid fascination, if you will.

Most medical exams allow for a semblance of dignity. The nurse provides a paper gown and steps out while the patient changes. Next, the doctor politely knocks, and during the exam pushes the gown up, over and around sensitive areas.

Not so with my mammogram.  I was herded into a cold room dominated by a looming contraption manned by a portly technician. Without looking up from her paperwork, the technician commanded that I strip from the waist up. She did not bother with niceties such as an introduction, nor did she discretely step out while I disrobed.

After giving birth twice, decades of PAP smears and a pelvic ultrasound, I’ve lost all sense of modesty. However, this exchange seemed particularly barbaric. I shudder at the memory of the ultrasound, from which I still suffer  PTSD, but at least that technician said hello before probing my insides.  

Determined to inject a sliver of of humanity into our exchange, I asked this one her name as I went about the business of baring my breasts.  She looked up at my chest briefly muttered “Carmen,” then mumbled something about “medium” while taking notes.

Medium? Now this peaked my curiosity.

It also triggered an irrational, bizarro wish for Carmen to say something like, "wow, you have great tits." Coming from her, a bona fide expert in the field, it would have meant a lot.

I casually asked Carmen if medium referred to size. Ignoring my question, she scrutinized my chest and asked if I had implants. Perhaps she hadn't heard the question, and so  I persisted. "Are you suggesting it looks like I've had implants?"

Carmen was having none of it. She looked back to her notes and snapped, “I am not suggesting anything sweetheart, I am just asking if you have had implants.” 

"No," I sheepishly replied.

Now, I am vain, shameless and, as previously discussed, perhaps a tad crazy.  However, I am not completely daft. I get that, like radiologists who ask even withered crones if they are pregnant, and bouncers who demand ID from the most obviously ancient bar patrons, Carmen’s question was no testament to my youthful appearance. So even if she was the type to dish out false compliments and said, “honey, you look as pert as a swimsuit model,” I wouldn’t have believed her.

But still... a sweet gesture as I stood there exposed under the harsh light in all my middle-aged droopiness would have been nice. 

Carmen led me to the monster machine and adjusted the height. Without warning, she roughly lifted my right breast onto a plate and lowered a second plate to flatten it. The breast flattened and spread beyond the boundaries of the two plates. Frowning, Carmen raised the upper plate a fraction and shoved my wayward parts into compliance.

Her bedside manner brought to mind a butcher handling a piece of meat.

Fascinated, I disassociated from my breasts and looked down at them with wonder. They were separate beings. Shape changing aliens from a horror show, now the shape, thickness and color of pancakes.

I asked Carmen about her work. For a moment she lit up, actually looked at my face, and said she loves her job. As a person who has never liked a job, I am always interested (and envious) when others do. Even more interesting was someone who loves a profession that entails smashing breasts beyond recognition while the attached person winces and looks on in horror.

As I waited to speak with the radiologist, I did the numbers. For over 20 years, Carmen has done 30 mammograms a day, five days a week. This means she has seen and smashed over 100,000 sets and 200,000 individual breasts. This also means that more than 100,000 women have greeted Carmen with the enthusiasm of a dog for the groomer.

Looking at the math and specifics of Carmen's work, her sustained enthusiasm for mammography is truly a portrait of either a saint or a sadist. 

Eventually, a harried woman in a white coat came in and hurriedly explained that my mammogram doesn’t show cancer. Before I had time to be relieved, she also said  I have "dense breasts" and recommended a follow up ultrasound.

Now, I have been called dense before, but no one has ever accused me of having dense breasts. Before I could ask what that even means, the radiologist had moved on to the next patient.  

No matter, a quick Google search revealed a plethora of fascinating information. 

To wit:
  • 40% of women have dense breast tissue
  • those with high density are four to six times more likely to get breast cancer
  • mammograms miss 50% of cancers in dense breasts
And these are just a few of the many dense breast fun facts now at my fingertips.

While slightly disturbed about my own dense situation, I am pleased to have my curiosity mojo back I am officially ready for the next dinner party. I may not care about Mars, William or Kate, but if you want to talk dense breasts, come sit next to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In a Relationship

By Mahlia Lindquist

Stop the presses! Just in, an important notice via Facebook: another friend is “In a Relationship.”  

My first reaction is a positively mean-spirited, "well la dee da, isn’t that special!"

Pardon, that's the jaded me talking. As previously disclosed, I have the darnest time tamping down that cynical, bitchy edge, despite my best efforts. 

Once that passes, the sincerely curious me just has a question. What does "In a Relationship" even mean?  I get the implications of being engaged, married or pregnant. But, being in an official Relationship? Not so much. 

Call me literal, but at any given moment all of us are in relationship with a wide array of others. 

Is the main point that, opposed to relationships with friends, pets, God, ex-spouses, and spouses, parties to a Facebook relationship are enjoying sex with each other on a regular basis? That each agrees to exchange gifts for the holidays? To live together? To share electronic passwords? To ask permission before getting a tattoo?

Of course, an actual conversation would clarify much of the ambiguity around expectations. However, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, texts, and email,  conversation is quaintly old-fashioned. Communication about squishy things like "feelings" is practically bad manners. Even as a member of the supposedly more communicative sex, I squirm when a romantic interest says, "can we talk?"  

Personally, if inclined toward a Facebook relationship, I would be tickled if it meant I could expect airport rides upon request. I also would like the perogative of unapologetically vetoing unsightly and itchy facial hair. But that's just me.

It would probably avoid untold misunderstandings on a global scale if we all included our little preferences and idiosyncrasies on our Facebook profile.

Then there’s the mystery of why, why, why?! An even bigger WHY for people over the age of, um, 16 want to share the good news with 500 Facebook friends.

I suspect that one does not shout “In a Relationship” from the rooftops of Facebook to actually inform friends. Rather, the purpose is to reassure a special someone that the aforementioned sex is to the exclusion of all others.  A public admonishment for other interested parties to back off. At least for for the moment.

From a romantic perspective, posting "In A Relationship," for all the world to see, is a grand gesture for those not inclined to “’till death do us part.” From a practical standpoint, it might put an end to well meaning friends and family who insist on asking, "so, are you seeing anyone?" within 5 minutes of any and every conversation.

One convenient aspect of  a "married" or "engaged" status is that a specific protocol exists, which in the free world involves an element of mutuality. Not necessarily so with the the Facebook "In a Relationship."  I’ve personally experienced a situation where someone unilaterally changed his status to “in a relationship with Mahlia Lindquist.”

Yikes! Or, as they say here in Miami, super awkward. Also, super disturbing.

I was utterly mortified. The silver lining was I got real clear that anyone with whom I would actually want a relationship, would be equally mortified by the prospect of posting such on Facebook.

For me, Facebook is for posting photos of my kids and blog. From others, I enjoy photos of cute animals, friends and family, music, inspirational Buddhist quotes, and political messages (but only if consistent with my pre-existing, intractable liberal leanings.)  And, oh yes, I like to wish friends a happy birthday without going to the trouble of actually doing something as thoughtful or radical as calling or sending a card via the US postal service.

While awkward to unilaterally declare being in a relationship, it is just as ungainly to ask someone: “hey babe, wanna be In a Relationship with me? ” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “will you marry me? or even “want to go steady?”

Another consideration is what happens when the romance winds down.  Statistically speaking, it's bound to happen.  Eventually, someone prefers to no longer be "In a Relationship." Unfortunately, many of us are wusses and avoid the  unequivocal break-up until someone indiscreetly strays. The result is a scene and general unpleasantness. 

To the extent "They Say That Breaking Up is Hard to Do" (doo wop, doo wop,) Facebook makes life easier. Changing a status from "In a Relationship" to "Single," does the trick without resorting to unnecessary and uncomfortable conversation.

Sort of like breaking up via text, but even more crass and with less maturity.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Giving Thanks to Oprah and Her Kindred Spirits

By Mahlia Lindquist

Certain people have a gift for making others feel good and inspired to do good.  They bring out the best in the rest of us. These rare souls are the opposite of douche bags (a particular brand of unpleasant person touched on in my last post.)

A few, like Oprah, do it on a grand scale, and only a committed contrarian is not in awe of her. 

Oprah has achieved monumental success as an entertainer and is one of the most influential people on Planet Earth.
She is also one of the wealthiest and most generous. Not only does she give away millions of dollars, she lends her humongous influence to help others succeed.  

All this, despite being a black woman, raised in rural poverty, raped at age nine, and getting pregnant at 14.

Oprah has never married. She is overweight, middle-aged, and not beautiful by cover girl standards. Yet, every month she rocks the cover of her own best selling magazine. Even though she defies convention and is staggeringly successful, Oprah seems to be one of us. In word, deed, nor attitude, does Oprah lord her superiority over the rest of us peasants. 

Indeed, like the Buddha who taught that we all have Buddha potential, Oprah assures us with convincing sincerity that we all have Oprah potential. 

Others go about the business of being an inspiration on a micro level.

My friend Meesh is one of those people. In the 20+ years we've been friends, I have made confessions to her that, if public knowledge, would prompt a visit from social services and possibly even arrest for child abuse. Yet, I always leave our confessionals feeling like mom of the year with resolve to do better next time.

Sara is a more recent friend who shines a warm, lovely light on those she touches. She came to Miami with a rare cancer, because the hospital here is one of the only places to get the four-organ transplant she needed to survive long term. No, that is not a typo, four organs.

Sara left her family in Minneapolis, for what she thought would be a one month wait in Miami for a transplant. The month turned into a year-long marathon. 
During that year, Sara missed precious family milestones, like her older daughter's prom, graduation, and freshman year college drop-off. She also suffered the heartbreaking disappointments of receiving calls about potential matches, rushing to the hospital, and after hours of waiting, being told "not this time."  The tortuous year in Miami doesn't  take into account other hardships from before we met, like heart surgery, a monumental battle with her insurance company, and simply living with a deadly disease.

It was in the gut wrenching Miami waiting phase that I got to know Sara. But, the thing is, it never seemed gut wrenching when I was with her. Not really. Yes, Sara desperately missed her family. Yes, she often felt sick or tired. Yes, sometimes she was sad and afraid. Yes, my heart hurt for what she was going through. 
Sara, left, with me pre-op

And yet, I always left our time together feeling uplifted. 

Part of the reason was because Sara was positive and courageous. However, the bigger reason was that Sara was never about her illness. She was more about spreading the love.

Whenever we got together we discussed Sara's health. But Sara also wanted to know all about my recent trip. She worried about my injured shoulder. When my dog died, she brought flowers and chocolate and commiserated with me. When I berated myself for being reckless and immature, she assured me that I am actually just free-spirited.

I am ecstatic to report that Sara got her transplant two weeks ago. Although the speed of her recovery has been miraculous, it has also been arduous. She has feeding tubes that go through her nose and down her throat.  She is chronically wet, can't sleep, is barely mobile, and then there's the pain. When discharged, she will have to stay in Miami for months. She will be at risk of infection, have to take medication and adhere to a strict diet for far into the foreseeable future. In other words, she still has a long road to haul.

When I first saw Sara, just two days after her 12-hour surgery, she was radiant. She remarked that seeing me was like a ray of sunshine, and urged me to call her chiropractor about my shoulder. She asked about how my youngest was doing with the class that had been giving her trouble. We marveled together over a photo of her diseased liver, scrutinized her stitches, and laughed.  
Sara, left, with Starr post-op

Hospital visits usually leave me feeling depleted. This time, even though I worried about how much Sara was still suffering, I left with a sense of euphoria.

Sara, Meesh and Oprah seem to have little in common. However, on a fundamental level they are kindred spirits. They honestly see the good in others and want good for others. 

It's not just me, my kids have both observed they experience the same sense of well being after spending time with Meesh and Sara, and they think Oprah is cool.

One of the many reasons I am a fan of all three is that while they are kind and generous, they are not sweet in the passive, bland, insipid way that too often passes for "nice." When interviewing John Edward's mistress, Rielle Hunter, Oprah made clear she viewed Ms.Hunter's explanations as lame. Meesh is one of the most aggressive drivers who ever sported a mini-van and is a cutthroat wench when it comes to charades. Sara has her opinions and doesn't mince words.

These women are fabulous, but not perfect and have no interest in seeming so. They bear witness to the pain of others and share their own suffering and shortcomings without being self-absorbed. These amazing women are real

In honor of Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for Oprah and her kindred spirits:  Meesh, Sara, Jackie, Starr, Traci, Lisa, Kathy, Julie, Jodi, Bob, Mom, Dylan, Zoe, Carolyn, Dawn, Dave, Emily, Deb, Kim, Whitney,  the Korean Tai Kwon Do master I met on a flight from NYC, and all the other special souls who have  endowed me with an enhanced view of humanity and myself. 

Within the glow of Oprah's kindred spirits we are all smarter, kinder, more attractive, more lovable and the world seems like a better place. 

Tai Kwon Do Master

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Douche Bag," A Necessary Evil

By Mahlia Lindquist

Scarcely any words are taboo these days. With "WTF" being as common as "have a nice day," few are scandalized by phrases society used to consider obscene. As individuals, however, we each have particular expressions that make us squirm. 

My daughter's friend, Maya,  for example, cannot abide the word “moist.” Just the mention of a delicious moist brownie makes her gag. 

For me, it's “fiancé.”  For reasons  I cannot fathom, but which probably relate to an as of yet undiagnosed personality disorder, fiancé sounds pretentious, contrived and ridiculous all at the same time. Even when I had one, I could not bring myself to say, “I am going to dinner with my fiancé. ” 

Another problem word is “like.” It should only be used as a simile or to express affinity for a person, place or thing. Every utterance of, like, something, like this is, like, akin to nails on a chalkboard. 

I also cannot stand “wiener.” My aversion to “wiener”  is so extreme that when I was in 7th grade, I went steady with a boy at camp named Mark and broke up with him a week later upon learning that  his last name was Weiner. This, despite the fact that Mark was the cutest, sweetest boy with the bluest eyes who ever lived. To this day, I recoil when someone refers to a dachshund as a wiener dog. 

When it comes to profanity and words for intercourse, my reactions are just as irrational.  “Shit” is okay, but “poop,” “crap” and “piss” seem vulgar. “Sex” is permissible and  “fuck,” has a positively satisfying ring to it, but I blush at “making love." “Bitch” and "asshole" are practically terms of endearment, compared to the “C” word, which I can't even type without wincing. 

Douche bag used to be right up there with “C” at the top of  my list of cringe worthy words, so I was devastated when it became a part of Dylan and Zoe's everyday lexicon. My cynical teenagers, formerly known as sweet, adorable, innocent little girls, started saying things such as, “there’s this kid in my class and he is, like, a total douche bag.” 

Every time I heard "douche bag" and "like" from my offspring in the same sentence, I died a little inside and questioned where I went wrong as a parent. 

After much pleading and haranguing on my part, they agreed to stop using “like.” To my dismay, the girls dug in their heals with douche bag (or douche for short.) When I suggested alternatives, they claimed that jerk and asshole simply do not do justice to a certain type of contemptible and obnoxious male.  They needed to use douche bag in order to effectively communicate with their peers. 

In the spirit of picking my battles, I acquiesced. However, no matter how Dylan and Zoe explained it, I didn't get why douche bag was so necessary.

But then I met Frank.

It was at a party that perfectly encapsulated all that I adore about Miami. I was there with my friend Jackie. It was at a luxurious penthouse on the 32nd floor, and the guests included beautiful women in  tight dresses and handsome FBI agents in tight t-shirts. In addition to being attractive, everyone was friendly, interesting and charming.

Everyone, that is, except Frank. 

Frank and I crossed paths as I stood on the balcony admiring the glorious view. Frank was a bald, paunched, not particularly well-preserved middle-aged man. After introducing ourselves, the conversation consisted of Frank talking at me. He informed me that he is an attorney and works in finance. He also sought to enlighten me as to the depth and breadth of his knowledge and wisdom on a wide array of topics. 

Then the conversation took a turn from tedious to offensive:
Meet Frank (left)
Frank: so honey, where do you live (brushing his hand against my hip) 
Me: Coconut Grove (flinching and stepping back) 
Frank: Coconut Grove?! There’s nothing there except a bunch of college kids throwing up. 
Me: Umm, well I kinda like living there, I’ve not noticed the college kids.  
Frank: Well, that’s what’s there, you must not get out much.
At this point, Frank’s friend joins the conversation:
Frank’s friend: Nothing wrong with college kids 
Frank: Oh yeah, true, especially college girls. 
Frank’s Friend: Not too young for you? 
Frank:  No way, 22 is just right. I do quite well with them. Can't stand women anywhere near 40. 
By this point, I was no longer in the conversation, just a stunned bystander. Although I later thought of  retorts that would be so clever, scathing, and yet compassionate that Frank would change his obnoxious ways forever, nothing came to mind at the time.

There was nothing to do but walk away.

When I rejoined Jackie inside, she asked who I had been talking to. I replied, "this guy, Frank, he's a real..."

Hesitating, several words went through my head ...  asshole? jerk? bastard? None seemed to capture the essence of Frank. But then, I remembered what my ever practical children had to say about a certain class of boorish males.

Without flinching, I continued, ... "he's a real douche bag."

Jackie nodded her head knowingly. She understood exactly what I meant.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On Buddhism and Being a Bitch

By Mahlia Lindquist

Every morning I do a short meditation and set an intention for the day. The intention is always the same: Mahlia, don't be such a bitch.

I’ve been doing this on and off since I started attending workshops at the Shambhala Center in Boulder over ten years ago. The workshops all have similar themes, such as the value of mindfulness, acceptance, non-attachment, generosity, kindness, compassion, and contentment. 

The basic message is that the world is a better place when we all play nice. In Buddhist talk it’s called “non-aggression.” 

Another Buddhist tenet is Karma. According to the law of Karma what we think and do will come back to us in this or another life. Gawd, I hope not.

While skeptical about Karma, I agree wholeheartedly that non-aggression is a good thing. Unfortunately, it's a challenge for me because I’m pretty sure non-aggression precludes being bitchy.

Due to my natural disposition, combined with the ravages of menopause, I am no more able to go through an entire day without being a bitch than endure a day without coffee and wine. The only difference being that whilst I don't see the point to a caffeine/alcohol free day, I am curious what it feels like to be sweet for an entire 24 hour period. 

Yet, after ten long years of starting the morning with an intention of sweetness, I can’t get it right. I think my many years of failure has something to do with the fact that most humans are basically jerks.

(See? I can’t even manage to keep my blog posts bitch-free.)

Other than the human race, nothing makes me crankier than meditation retreats. The workshops are sort of like the gym, dull. However, in both cases, showing up takes the edge off my edge, and so I show up.

The theme of my first retreat was “Basic Goodness.” Like most Shambhala workshops, this one involved a lot of sitting and breathing. At some point over these weekends, the teacher meets with each student privately to see how things are going. But, the teachers don’t actually ask the question right off.  They beat around the bush, like one of those maddening Zen koans (you know, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”)

When it was my turn, an assistant led me into the “sanctuary”  (a fancy Buddhist term for the type of room common folk refer to as an “office.”) The teacher, Walter, motioned for me to sit down and then ... absolutely nothing. Nary a word. He just looked at me expectantly.

Conversation being one of my few core competencies, I normally help out in these ackward situations, but after sitting around all weekend I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, something about this dude’s attitude struck me as aggressive. 

And so I just stared back, my face a mask of blank but roiling with annoyance inside.  Each minute felt like an hour. 

During those eternal moments, my thoughts took a violent turn: Could I whack Walter over the head with the marble Buddha head on the desk and make my escape? If caught, would Shambhala notions of forgiveness mean Walter wouldn’t press charges?  Maybe it would knock some sense in to him so that he would act normal?

So far, my propensity for crazy bitchiness has been limited to ugly thoughts and tough talk, so I did not actually bitch slap Walter. I just stared back as my mind carried on like an episode of Criminal Minds.  

Suddenly, a voice outside the ones in my head: “So, how’s it going?”

Walter spoke!

Gratefully abandoning my criminal mind, I considered the question. The truth was that “it” wasn’t “going” anywhere. After sitting around and basically examining my belly button all weekend, I expected a wondrous epiphany. I had paid my $90 by god, and I wanted my enlightenment. 

I didn’t experience an epiphany or feel enlightened. I just felt bitchy. 

I tried to explain to Walter,  
Well, crossing the street today, a Hummer passed in front of me, and my first thought was, ‘asshole,’ so things are pretty much status quo from when I started sitting around and breathing at the Shambhala Center two days ago. In short, this whole weekend seems like a colossal waste of time and money.

A few more moments of our mute stand-off. Then Walter smiled broadly and said, “Yes, exactly! People who buy hummers are real assholes. Now we’re getting somewhere! " He looked at his watch, "Mahlia, it was lovely to chat with you, but our time is up. Will you please send in the next student?”

What in the hell Walter was talking about? Was he talking about buddhism, karma and/or being a bitch? I still don't know.

What I do know, is that on the off chance that Karma is a thing, for me it is going to be a bitch. Just to cover my bases, tomorrow my sincere intention is not to be such a bitch.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Backpack is Butch

By Mahlia Lindquist


Lopsided relationships. One party gives time, energy, love and affection without expecting anything in return.  The best the other half can muster is to perhaps graciously receive that which is freely given.  

These types of relationships bring to mind a teeter-totter, with the large jowled class bully sitting on one end, huge rump firmly planted on the ground. His scrawny, oppressed counterpart hanging in the air at the bully's mercy. 

I was never interested in this type of unbalanced relationship. Both the giver and receiver strike me as pathetic in their own way. Yet, here I am, in a relationship where I adoringly look down the see-saw at someone who looks up at me with mild indifference. 

Answering calls or texts in the company of others is rude, and so I generally don’t do it. However, if my special person graces me with a call or message, my response in instantaneous.  I send texts, leave loving messages, and imagine all experiences would be enhanced if we were together. 

For every 10 thoughtful gestures I make, I receive one response.  Yet, even the most cursory acknowledgment arouses a warm, fuzzy feeling of delight.

At the same time, I am plagued with angst and desire for approval: 
Darling, what do you think of my new haircut?  I just read this book, I’d love your opinion. Did you get a chance to read the blog post I wrote last week? Of course, I understand that you are very busy, but if you get a chance...
I am talking here about my daughters, ages 20 and 17.  

My girls used to look to me for advice and approval. They painted pictures, wrote poetry, and blessed me with thousands of unsolicited hugs. I was the person they most loved, admired and wanted to be with on the planet. 

I don’t recall when things changed, but now the girls are each at the bottom of the teeter- totter, in control, while I dangle up above, an ever shrinking dot in their consciousness.

It’s the same for my friends with young adult children. The first thing we discuss over lunch is what the kids are up to, with other interests taking a distant second in terms of  favorite topics of conversation. My friend, Meesh, observed that while our children will forever be the center of our universe, the day comes for all parents when we are no long the sun around which our offspring orbit.

As it should be. 

But still, it’s hard. Especially for someone who finds it excruciating to be on the high end of the teeter-totter.


The role reversal between me and my daughters puts me on edge. It's gotten so bad that I even feel anxious about my taste in backpacks. 

My younger daughter, Zoe, needs one. The timing is perfect, as I bought a new pack on my summer trip to Boulder after having left my old one in Miami.  I didn’t mind buying an extra, because I figured Zoe would use one of them for school once we were back in Miami. 

As I went about choosing the new backpack, I looked for one I imagined would meet with my sweet girl's approval. I decided on a sleek basic black model at REI made by Patagonia.*  “Functional, yet hip,” I thought, and smiled with anticipation over my impending slam dunk. I mean, how could I get a backpack wrong?

Readers who have parented a teenager already know the ending to this story, and it's a sad one.

I was wrong about not being wrong. 

Because I am oblivious and because Zoe didn’t have the heart to say, “mom, the backpack sucks,” it took awhile to comprehend how pitiful my aspirations. I had to learn the hard way that I would never know the pleasure of seeing my beloved carry the sleek basic black Patagonia backpack. Something I chose for her with every ounce of love and devotion in my soul.

The truth revealed itself at the glitzy, cheesy and crass Fountainbleau Hotel, on Miami Beach. The guests there are a veritable zoo of humanity, including hookers, convention goers, tourists from Iowa, drug dealers and, as I have previously recounted, many women with Brazilian Butt Lifts. We walked in, me with a small black rolling suitcase and seemingly innocuous backpack, Zoe with her “my mom is so embarrassing” expression. 

Even after years of being the unwitting cause of my kids’ humiliation, it still pains me to be that parent. I have indulged in many delusions over the years, including one that I am so wise, fun and cool I would avoid the fate of legions of other parents. My girls would never roll their eyes after hearing one of my stories for the 100th time. They would never lock themselves in the bedroom, headphones in, to tune me out. They would never be embarrassed to be seen with me. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

But still, I try.

That's why, at the Founainbleau I did a quick scan to see if I had committed any of my usual cringe-worthy faux pas: nondescript attire; no ponytail; no loud talking; no dumb jokes or unnecessary conversation with hotel staff. No obvious violations. 

 Yet, I sensed something amiss.

As we walked across the enormous bling ladened lobby of the Fountainbleau, Zoe lagged behind. Even a person on the up end of the see-saw has her limits, so I lashed out, “what is your problem?” Zoe replied, “well, um, it’s the backpack, it’s sort of embarrassing.”  I nodded toward a guy with a backpack passing us that very moment, and suggested that a backpack is a common and convenient way to carry personal items for a weekend getaway. 

Although it clearly pained her, Zoe explained that the actual problem wasn’t backpacks in general, but mine in particular.  I resorted to teenage talk: “Wait, what? WTF?” She hesitated, but after having tactfully avoided the backpack issue for a couple of months, she could hold back no longer, “sorry mom, but your backpack is butch.”
Me: Butch? What does that even mean? Please say you aren't turning into a homophobe. Oh, woe is me, where did I go wrong? 
Her: Geez mom, please don't cry or call me a homophobe. I just don't want a freaking butch backpack.
Zoe's current backpack is a squat grey one purchased at Target. Despite the lunacy of her opinion, like a battered wife, I actually tried to figure out where I went wrong. What was it that made my backpack butch, and hers hetero?

I may as well have tried to understand the meaning of life, why reasonable people listen to Rush Limbaugh ... or why some of us willingly hang-out on the high end of the teeter-totter. 

Not Butch

*Astonishing fact for Boulderites: Miamians are unimpressed by a Patagonia label. Indeed, most people here have never heard of Patagonia or REI. I know, inconceivable.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Annie and the Angel of Doggie Death

 By Mahlia Lindquist

Our dog Annie, a Bichon Frise, died last week. Named after the Little Orphan, she was 16.  At the time Annie came into our lives, I was getting divorced, Dylan and Zoe were 5 and 2, and it was 3 months before we left our life in Miami to start anew in Colorado. 

One of the many books I scoured on how to help kids through divorce suggested a puppy.  Due to what can only be attributed to mid-divorce psycho syndrome, a puppy actually sounded more reasonable than, say, a gerbil or therapy.  So I busied myself finding the perfect non-allergenic puppy* to compensate my children for what was suddenly a way less than perfect family.**

Even in my addled state, I knew I should get a rescue dog. Though wrong and irrational, at the time a rescue dog represented damaged goods. If my kids couldn’t have a perfect family life, I would at least see to it that they had a perfect, undamaged puppy. Cuddly, adorable and non-shedding, Annie seemed to fit the bill.

My sisters and I wrapped the tiny fluff ball that was Annie in silks and presented her in a ribbon laced wicker basket to Dylan on her 5th birthday. It was a magical moment the kids still remember. What the girls don’t recall is the hell I endured with that dog.

Like our fractured family, Annie was not the model puppy.

She was a yapper and biter from the get go. She snapped at every outstretched hand, especially children who could not resist reaching for what resembled a cute stuffed animal. Annie also launched into high pitched barking tantrums and hurled herself at the fence for every passing pedestrian. I was constantly in fear of getting sued by furious parents and we were the bane of our new neighborhood.

Our puppy was also a housebreaking nightmare, the white carpet in our rental a tapestry of yellow stains. The dog trainer suggested more walks. I was used to Miami weather where kids only needed to wear sunscreen and bug spray; in Colorado, counting the time it took to get the kids into coats, gloves and hats, walking the dog became a full time job. Inexplicably, whenever we returned from a walk, Annie added another stain to the carpet. The trainer insisted the problem was me and the puppy was not to blame. 

The verdict was in: in addition to a failed marriage, I was also a failed dog owner.

I complained bitterly that what the divorce books should have said is: the last thing you f*cking need when going through a divorce … when you weep every day … when you are moving across the country with a toddler and kindergartner … when you can’t wait to get the kids to bed so you can drink copious amounts of wine … the very last thing you need is a puppy. 

At least that’s I thought at the time.

What I think now, is that Annie was exactly what all of us needed. Her cranky disposition toward strangers never extended to the girls, even when they treated her like a rag doll. They dressed her in bonnets, booties and dresses, stood her up to dance, subjected her to tea parties, and strapped her into strollers. She endured all with stoic patience and even
devotion.  When the kids fell asleep and she had the opportunity to escape their clutches, Annie slept by their side. 

Annie was a salve during a painful time.

That’s why, despite not being a dog person (as confessed in a previous post,) I loved Annie. It’s also why, when she died, I wailed in sorrow.  Why, though she was 16, deaf, blind, and suffering, I was not ready for her to go.

When I discovered Annie had died, I called my ex-husband, Paul, who said all of the right things and insisted on leaving work to grieve with me.  As I waited for Paul, I fretted over what to do with Annie’s body.  With a quick google search, “dead/dogs/freaking out/what to do,” I found my answer.  Humane Dog Disposal, Inc.

I called and sobbed into the phone. The woman on the other end kindly explained my options. The least expensive was immediate removal followed by disposal in an “unmarked” grave, which unfortunately included roadkill.  The second option, significantly more expensive she apologized, was removal followed by “private” cremation.  Payable by cash or credit card. 

Annie, our princess, laid to rest with a bunch of squashed raccoons and possums?! Never. She was going out with dignity. 

When I pictured dignified, I did not envision Mark. He was 6’3” and arrived to remove Annie in a bright hawaiian shirt, bermuda shorts and flip-flops. Mark was our Doggie Angel of Death.

Despite his cheerful attire, Mark cried as he carried Annie away.  His tears gave mine pause. While I appreciated his empathy, Mark’s display of emotion felt an infringement on my own heartache. No longer thinking about Annie, I wondered if Mark cried all day as he escorted deceased pets to the “other side.” Weird.

Then it got more weird. Mark felt moved to mournfully recount the day his family dog died….

The extended family were all present. Mom held the dog on her lap as she was euthanized, unconcerned about warnings the dog would poo as she died. Afterward, before even cleaning herself, mom gently washed her dog because “no dog of hers was going to the grave dirty.” Then she informed the family the burial would not be until the following day, because she wanted to sleep with her beloved dog one last time. Dad would have to sleep on the couch. 

I was stupefied. My own grief forgotten.  All I could think of was how Mark’s story gave new meaning to the term “TMI.”

But wait! Mark hadn’t even gotten to the weird part, the point of his story. 

“The most amazing thing,” he said, “is that our dog was also a Bichon Frise and her name was Annie!”  The coincidence was not exactly a miracle, I thought,  considering the vast number of Bichons on the planet and the likelihood that many of them would be called Annie — an apt name for a small, adorable, curly-haired dog. 

Finally, Mark presented Annie’s death certificate. We could expect her ashes by mail in 2 weeks. Mark assured us it would be Annie’s ashes, not those of some random poodle or possum. He confided that his more unscrupulous competitors actually do not take care to return the correct ashes.  

After Mark left, Paul and I shared a moment of stunned silence. We agreed that Mark was crazy and speculated whether he tearfully recounted the story of his Annie to every Bichon owner who crossed his path. 

I was recently in Boulder for a weekend of meditation where I thought a lot about our Annie. I thought about how she was a hiker/guard dog/playmate/coyote fighter/lapdog extraordinaire, and felt grateful she had been part of our family. I also thought about how we let the groomer put ridiculous looking ribbons on her ears, purely for our amusement, even though Annie hated them and hung her head in shame. I felt guilty about those ribbons, along with other transgressions I can't bear to put to paper.

During a break from the mediation workshop I passed a man walking a Bichon. Unbelievable! She looked exactly like Annie. I stopped to pet her and asked the dog’s name. “Abby,” replied the man. Impossible! Practically the same name. Voice cracking, tears streaming, I recounted the day Annie died. I asked the man if he didn’t think it a miraculous coincidence that my dog looked exactly like Abby and their names were were so similar. 

The man looked at me like I was crazy, took Abby’s leash, and slowly backed away.


*Note to parents with asthmatic, allergy prone children such as my otherwise perfect Dylan, there is no such thing as a hypo-allergenic dog. Dylan wheezed and sniffed her way through childhood, though she has always insisted Annie was worth the misery.

**Note to new parents who, like I was, are smug with the certainly that their children will always eat organic, non sugary foods in a TV free, plastic free, anger free house and otherwise experience a perfect family life — good luck with that.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My One Night Stand With A Personal Trainer

By Mahlia Lindquist

Talk about traumatic. I just experienced my first one night stand, and am scarred for life. 

I met my husband at 18 and had never been the type to stray. Turns out he was. Hovering around the grief at the time, however, was curiosity about one night stands.

Almost everyone I know has had one. They had never been my thing, but I figured there must be something to recommend them considering their popularity. When I divorced I was determined to experiment.

My  first attempt was a bust. I met what I intended to be my first anonymous liaison on a flight to San Francisco. However, my intended became a boyfriend I had to ditch when, shortly after meeting, he started making plans for us to live together. ...  In retrospect, I wonder if he was lesbian.

Though I have no judgment about one night stands (unless one of the parties is married to a charming and, admittedly, often sarcastic woman with 2 small girls,) I quickly decided I don’t have the stomach or aptitude for it.

The one thing I thought I did have an aptitude for was staying in shape. Over the years I exercised consistently and was game for all of the crazy fitness trends. Heck, I even wore the thong leotards with shiny pink spandex tights in style around 1990 (or was that just Miami?) Anyway, the point is, exercise was one of my few core competencies and the only thing I have done with any consistency or discipline. 

My current gym, offers “free” private training sessions, which I usually politely decline because, hey, I know what I’m doing. Plus, free means feeling obligated to hire the trainer afterward.

In a weak moment, I said yes to one of the friendlier, persistent and handsome trainers, Alberto. I warned him, “I am absolutely, definitely, no way, no how, ever going to pay for personal training.” I didn’t want to lead him on and hated to waste his time. He promised, "free means free, no pressure, no guilt."

To be sure I made my point, I suggested he think of our session as a one night stand. There would be no expectations, no relationship and no exchange of money for services. Alberto agreed. No strings attached. No way, no how. He wasn't even thinking about it.

The "complimentary" session started with Alberto using plastic pliers to grab fat on my arms, hips and stomach, which he explained was to determine my body mass index and fat to muscle ratio. After weighing me, he busily made several calculations. The process seemed impressively scientific.

Alberto explained the four categories of fitness.  I confidently assumed I’d be in the top super-fit level for my age and Alberto would see why he and I had no future. 

Finally, the verdict was in.

What? I was not the middle-aged physical fitness maven I imagined myself to be. In fact, I was at the bottom level, unhealthy, not fit, repulsive. 

Alberto circled around, observing and taking notes, as he had me do a few squats and planks. “Yep, just as I thought,” he said. “You have weak glutes.” I was confused.  “Glutes? Do you mean there’s something wrong with my ass?”  Then I experienced a momentary glimmer of appreciation for the Brazilian Butt Lift I so unkindly mocked in my last blog post.

Alberto also used words like deficient, unstable, off balance, asymmetric, interior, anterior and various other legit sounding anatomy terms. While I didn’t understand the specifics, the gist of it was this: the fact I work out on my own daily actually made me less fit than if I sat on the couch eating chips all day.  

The gist of it was, I needed Alberto. For ever and ever, starting immediately. Yep, there was no arguing with science. 

Sadly, I was not meant to experience the pleasure or depravity of a one night stand.  

The silver lining was that Alberto was running a special personal training package for just $279.99, good for one day only. Such a deal. 

"Darn," I told him, "my wallet is at home and I have to hustle off to a meeting. “No problem,” Alberto assured me. "You can pay later. Just give me a call."

“Yes, definitely,” I told him.  “I will call later. I promise.”