Friday, September 26, 2008

Channelling Helen Reddy

"If I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman." From the song, "I am Woman" lyrics by Helen Reddy, released in 1972.

This song was released when I was 9 years old. I always liked the song, but I don't think I had a real appreciation of the meaning of the lyrics until recently. The last couple of weeks, I've been singing the song out loud to motivate myself. You see, for the last few weeks, I've been in home reno hell in preparation for a visit from my cousins on October 7th.

My husband is a procrastinator. He has big plans...lots of them...they are still plans. Any home reno project we've undertaken has happened because I start them. I changed our master bedroom by reaching about his head one morning and starting to peel the wallpaper off the walls. We painted the living room when I started pulling the furniture into the middle of the floor, spreading newspaper and then carrying the all-ready purchased paint from the basement. When I get the project in motion, he pitches in full force.

We had been talking about replacing the wallpaper in the hallways and stairwells for 10 years. It was old. It was formal. It was falling off the wall on the landing. We had a couple of challenges. The landing is 1.5 stories, and I'm afraid of heights. We also didn't have a ladder tall enough to reach the ceiling. More daunting, the people who had the house before us were wallpaper morons. They didn't prep the walls properly, they lapped the wallpaper from one room UNDER the wallpaper to another and since we'd already stripped a number of the rooms ,we knew what we were in for. We were cowards...but now we were cowards with a deadline because I wanted it fixed before my cousins come. There's nothing like out of town guests to motivate home reno projects.

Our daughter had already pulled bits off the wall. On a rainy day when I was at a loss about how to entertain our fractious and bored 3 year old, I decided it was time. I got my wall patch thingie, told Vampira we were going to make a big mess...and started to pull the wallpaper off the walls. I pulled the wallpaper off as far as I could, and then let Vampira do the bottom part. She had a ball and we got quite a bit done. We were taking a break mid-afternoon when I heard the front door open and my husband calling "hello" and then there was dead silence...I had forgotten it was his split shift. Vampira and I stripped all of the wallpaper that we could reach, and then we let my husband and father in law do the top bits. A couple of days later, I armed Vampira with a spray bottle full of fabric softener and water and we attacked the backing. (it really works! We've tried everything in this house to get the wallpaper off without destroying the walls and this concoction does the best job.) She sprayed the low bits and I worked on the high bits and we stripped the walls and then turned it over to the men for the unreachable places.

That same weekend, I headed upstairs with a prybar, a garbage bag and my wall patch thingie. My husband followed me, a nervous and quizzical expression on his face. When I started attacking the floor in the bathroom, all his questions were answered. We had butt ugly peel and stick tile that was not sticking anymore. We'd bought a replacement; I was replacing it. When I discovered that my husband and father in law had peeled and stuck over an existing floor, the job doubled in size, and the first chorus of Helen Reddy sprang to my lips. As I pulled at the floor, I kept singing "I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman." My husband pitched in and we got the old floors up in record time. Later, my daughter sat on my lap peeling the backing off the new floor as my father in law measured and laid it. After all, floor tile are much bigger than stickers and easier to pull off.

When my husband went back to work, I was left with the task of continuing to patch the walls. The men had done quite a bit, but there was a great deal more to do. I couldn't get to the good stuff until the patching and sanding was done...and time was ticking. I swallowed my fear and climbed the newly purchased ladder, patcher thingie and bucket of patch in hand. I did all but the last foot nearest the ceiling because I simply could not climb another rung up the ladder, and, as some people had pointed out, climbing a ladder that high with only Vampira in the house was not the safest thing I've done in my life. I also sprained my foot 15 feet up in the air and had to gingerly ease my way back down. The patching got done around Vampira, but it got done.

I'm now into priming the walls, and I've been humming Helen again. My daughter now goes to pre-school two mornings a week, and I paint like a madwoman while she's there. My foot still hurts, so I've been staying lower down the ladder, but the ceilings haven't lowered. I was a fan of McGyver, and the edging at the ceiling had to be done. I taped a paintbrush to a stick, climbed a little way up the ladder, put the roller on a long pole and primed the wall from Hades.

I can't do the paint colour with a paint brush on a stick, so my husband will have to run the paint gauntlet at the ceiling. I can do the rest.

Moms find out fast that our job doesn't end if we're sick or tired. I've taken Vampira to the park when I had bronchitis so severe I could barely walk. I've been stripping wallpaper and priming walls around my daughter. I know how to work with her. I've got some medical things going on right now that might mean a hysterectomy down the road. Right now, I'm anemic. I'm tired...really tired but I keep going. (a healthy dose of stubborn doesn't hurt!) I have to keep going or things don't get done.

So I finally understand all the words to Helen Reddy's song. "I am strong. I am invincible. I am Woman." I will make it happen. It's what women do.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I remember...

September 11th will be my generation's John F. Kennedy assassination, or V-day or John Lennon's Assassination or Elvis dying. We all remember where we were when the planes hit the twin towers.

I was on the phone with my mother while I was at work. She is a senior citizen and lives alone and I had made it a habit to check in with her every morning. She is the one that told me about the first plane...and was on the phone with me when the second plane hit. I have no idea what the rest of the conversation that day was.

I worked in an insurance company that had recently installed large televisions that ran Report on Business Television...except that day, when every eye of the world was turned to New York City. A large gathering of employees stood in shock in front of the television, some of us standing, some of us sitting. We joined the worldwide vigil, joined the worldwide grief as the towers collapsed, and joined the worldwide vigil for survivors. I would watch for awhile, then walk back to my desk, only to be drawn back to the television again. I was a compliance consultant, and somehow, legislation just didn't matter that day. Unfortunately, one of the senior managers happened to walk by both times I was transfixed in horror, in almost exactly the same spot. She didn't know that I had only recently returned and assumed that I was "wasting my day" in front of the television. As far as she was concerned, it should be business as usual. My husband, who worked in the same company, worked his whole day. There was nothing "usual" about that day, and I was incapable of usual work. It became one of the last nails in my professional coffin...

I have always been very empathetic, and I've never understood mean. I was overwhelmed by the feelings of fear and terror that must have covered the innocents on the planes. I was dumbfounded by a hatred so powerful that the lives of other human beings became meaningless. And I was paralyzed with the "mean" that it would take to kill thousands of innocent people. I couldn't understand how anyone could do something so horrible. I was numb, I was devastated and I was emotionally incapacitated.

I remember the frantic attempts of one of my coworkers to reach her son, who was in New York on business. Cell phone reception was nil. She finally reached her daughter in law, who had just received word that her son was safe. My relief was as great as hers, but it magnified what was going on in thousands of homes all over the world.

Over the next few days, I kept vigil with the world as the search for survivors continued. I felt guilty when I finally turned off the television and watched an animal show with horses and agility dogs competing at the same time. I had to smile at the dogs, and then felt like I was turning my back on the victims because I had turned the channel. I had chosen to watch something else and I felt like a traitor to the vigil.I have a picture of the World Trade Centre from a trip to New York City in 1984. The first thing I did when I got home the night of the tragedy was go looking for the picture...I needed to ground myself in reality in a surreal day.

Years pass. The memorials are less, although I suspect the 10th anniversary will be different. The site has changed from Ground Zero to a construction zone as the towers are rebuilt. I don't agree with re-building on the site of so many deaths, but I've always believed in ghosts and I have always been very sensitive to the spatial energy around us. I don't want to visit the place of so much fear, sadness and pain.

I still don't understand the motivation. I don't judge it, because I don't know enough about the underlying fundamentalist thought to fairly assess it. Fundamentalist anyone make me nervous, whether it is political, religious, sexual or even food. I tend to be fairly accepting and moderate, but I also think that "agree to disagree" is a good philosophy. I don't think that anyone has the right to force his/her opinions down anyone else's throat. I don't think that all followers of Islam were responsible for September 11 anymore than I, as a Roman Catholic am responsible for the Crusades, or I, with Irish in my blood, am responsible for the Troubles. Individuals chose to act and the whole should not be held accountable for the actions of the few.

So on this September 11, I pause to remember and to offer a prayer for anyone touched by the day the Towers came down. I remember...