Friday, August 31, 2012

“Only Human”

        I find it difficult to admit that I found myself yelling at my mother, in total frustration, “Stop spitting out your food!”
         I actually had to leave the room. I stood by the kitchen sink and screamed, shook my fists at Fate, and started crying. Then I swiped my tears with a paper towel, inhaled half-a-dozen shaky breaths, and returned to my mother where, with a fa├žade of calmness, I continued spooning lunch into her mouth, apologizing profusely for losing my temper.
As much as I want my mother’s days to pass with as little stress as possible, I know that my temper may bubble up when she dumps her Coke on the carpet. I know that when she insists that she wants to get out of bed, Mom may end up yanking her feet in the opposite direction and pull back against me in unexpectedly forceful resistance as I try to lever her into her wheelchair. I know she may tell me she’s hungry, and then refuse to eat. I know she may squirrel her medications in her cheeks and spit them out into her napkin.
I cannot take on guilt for my failings. The weight I carry as a caregiver taxes me enough. I don’t need to add to the load by picking up bricks of self-reproach because I’m not perfect. I know a professional caregiver would never raise her voice at my mother, but I’m not a professional caregiver.
No one modeled the best way to clip my mother’s finger and toe nails as she pulls away her hand or foot in uncontrollable movement. No one showed me how to bathe her, or wash her hair, or comb it to keep the tangles out. No one modeled the best way to feed her to avoid choking. No one prepared me for how to help her move her bowels. No one trained me for ten to twelve hours shifts often spent in near isolation.
            When other family members offer to give me a break, I never think twice about accepting their help. My husband and son, my sister and brother, have all taken up the duties of a caregiver. They each step into my world and provide the relief I desperately need by the end of a long day or week.
                So if I find myself yelling at my mother, I’m not going to flagellate myself for being less than perfect. I will apologize to her, and I will remind myself that I am only human.

Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Punch Line"

          I have a sense of humor. Sometimes the serious aspects of life take over, and it’s the warped humor rippling through my veins that keeps me sane. My friends and family have learned not to tell jokes if I’m drinking or eating. Nothing burns like Coke squirting out the nose! I’ll roll helplessly on the couch weeping copiously at The Ghostbusters. I love puns, satires, riddles, and even knock-knock jokes.
          I have a sense of humor, and I cannot tell a joke.
          It’s a horrible thing to admit. I admire those people who can memorize and recite long passages from poetry or plays. I have in-laws who watch a movie once and replay dialogue word-for-word. I’m lucky if I can remember the title once I’ve left the theater! Jokes? They seem so simple. A few lines, the right intonation, and then the punch line. No matter how much I try to remember it all, it gets jumbled and botched.
          My mother always told me to leave the house with a little extra time and money. But I arm myself with my joke, too. Over the years, I’ve managed to refine the telling of one specific joke. I carry it prepared in case I’m in a social situation where a joke becomes necessary. “Better safe than sorry” really describes my up-bringing.

The Joke

Several teachers were driving between Austin and San Antonio one day when they saw the sign for the town Buda. They began arguing about how to pronounce the town’s name. One person insisted the pronunciation was “Booda”. The other claimed it rhymed with “You da.” Finally, the driver in the car decided to settle the argument. She pulled into the local Dairy Queen and drove up to the take-out window.
           “Excuse me,” she said politely when the young girl asked for her order. “I need to ask you, how do you pronounce the name of this place?”
           The girl looked puzzled for a moment, and then she said very slowly and distinctly, “Dare—ree—Queeeen!”

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Flight At Night"

           The scorching sun’s rays baked the dry earth, and every animal sought the comfort of shade. Every shadowed spot sheltered a fury creature. Every overhang protected beasts, large and small, from the blaze. Only with the setting of the sun did the animals find relief. Only when Apollo guided his chariot toward the western horizon did any dare to move. The drought dragged on day after day, and eventually the protecting leaves curled and dried.
           Two small creatures, who loved the sun’s gentler warmth from before the drought, spent each evening and night on a quest for Mount Olympus. They toiled through the darkness even though they couldn’t see clearly. They traveled under moonlight using the stars as their guides. For these creatures, the night became a friend.
           Eventually, the fury animals climbed onto the highest point of Mount Olympus. They went straight to Demeter, goddess of grains and crops.
           “Demeter?” one of the diminutive creatures clicked in its tiny voice. “Why have you allowed Apollo to ride his chariot so closely to the earth? All of the animals and plants suffer under the hot beams of the sun’s rays.”
          Demeter looked sadly upon the pocket-sized mammals. “I miss my daughter, Persephone. I may only visit her once a year, so I miss her with all my heart.”
           “But Demeter, all the animals and plants count upon you to keep the earth growing green! We suffer cruelly under this drought. You are a mighty goddess. Can you not set aside your feelings for a while and take care of us? We, too, are your children.”
           Now Demeter felt guilty when she realized she’d let her own grief cause harm to the plants and animals under her care. But she also resented the two little creatures that came to her. They had no right to tell her how to do her duties!
           “I will go to Apollo and tell him he travels too closely to the earth,” Demeter said, and then she continued sternly, “but I am upset that you two creatures believe you can tell me, a goddess, how to do my job! Such insolence cannot go unpunished!” Demeter glared at the two little animals with passion. “Your punishment will be never to see the sun again! You will scurry through the night like lost children.” With a wave of her hand, she dismissed the tiny fur balls.
           The small animals’ eyes welled with tears, for they truly loved the soft sunshine when it caressed their fur. They know the moonlight and stars had befriended them on their journey, but their eyes strained in the dimness. They knew night contained unseen predators, so fear filled their hearts.
           Aphrodite and Dionysus sensed their despair. They took pity upon these creatures and appeared before them as they scurried away from Mount Olympus.

by David Chapman
          Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, reached the animals first. “Friends,” she said softly,” it is not fair that you should be punished because you wanted to help all of the animals and plants. I cannot undo what Demeter has set into motion. I can ease your sorrow, though.”
          Aphrodite leaned down and picked up the two animals, cupping them gently in her hands. She caressed their front legs, and they turned into skin-covered wings! She blew softly into their ears, and their ears grew sensitive sound collectors.
          “With these wings,” Aphrodite explained, “you can soar through the night. You can dance from star to star. With these ears you can hear the smallest sound. You can locate food and sense danger.”
          Aphrodite handed the animals to the god, Dionysus. His jolly smile warmed the animals’ hearts. They knew they were safe in his hands. He grinned broadly and announced for all the gods t hear, “These creatures of the night will fly from flower to flower. They will pollinate my grapes to help me create the best of wines. They will feed upon insects that harm the crops. They will become the friends of all that grow and bloom.”
           Dionysus gently tossed the creatures into the air. They stretched their skin-covered wings in experimentation and began their first flight. They flitted through the night air with a feeling of exuberance because the hands of the other gods had softened Demeter’s punishment.
           So now, when the sun sets in the west, and evenings’ glow begins to descend, when the cooling breeze caresses the earth, the descendants of these two animals fill the sky like black fluttering clouds. They pollinate flowers; they protect crops by eating harmful insects; they sing in high pitched clicks only their sensitive ears hear; and they dance in the moonlight under the stars.

Copyright 2007 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Seventh graders love Greek mythology. When I challenged my students to create their own myths, I decided to write my own as well.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"The Tree"

I can’t recall when I first slid under the fallen tree branches. I do remember a gentle breeze lifting my hair as I gazed at the early yellow-green buds on the roughened tree limbs. The tree, once tall and majestic, had split down its center trunk back in the winder. Layers of ice had encased every twig and branch within cold hardness and weighed the tree down until it ripped in two. During the winter months, the tree appeared barren. Desolate. Dead. But with the coming of warmer weather, the tree resurrected itself.
I remember sitting in the soft spring sunshine and running my hand along the splintered scar where the trunk had split. Tree sap coated the exposed whitened flesh. Like blood, it felt sticky and wet. Later, it hardened into glossy amber, a scab on the trunk. The tree healed itself.
        I remember shinnying along one side of the halved trunk, scratching the bark away on the smaller branches and seeing with delight the green under bark. Life. The buds, little bumpy caterpillar legs on each thin twig, felt like Braille messages under my fingertips. I longed to decipher this code of rebirth.
           Days slipped by unnoticed by my childish concept of time. The dense green canopy evolved. It changed as life unfurled its sails into the warming scented winds. The long, lazy summer days found me beneath the sheltering tree branches, hidden from prying sibling eyes and the cacophony of friends at play. The grass under the branches receded, and I eventually wore a hollow into a patch of loamy earth where I played for hours. The musty aromas of summer wafted through the air, filtering through the interwoven leaves along with the soundless sunlight.
          I quietly nestled among those protective branches, a bird in its next, and lazily spent my days lost in Nancy Drew mysteries while the world rushed on around me. The tree cradled me in dapples of cool shadow and darts of warm sunshine. This green haven cocooned me within its tranquility.

Copyright 1995 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

“The Tree”

            Tall and Majestic
            Split and Torn
                                    layers of ice—
                                              cold hardness
                        Sap healing the whitened flesh
                                    a glossy amber
                                                green under bark
                                                                        Caterpillar legs
                        And a hidden message of
                        a secret code of
                        Life unfurling its sails
                                    into warm scented winds
                        Sheltering me
                                    in a canopy of green
                        Interwoven leaves
                                    Nestling me
                                    within soundless sunlight
                        Cradling me
                                    in dapples of shadow
                                    and darts of sunshine 
                        Cocooning me
                                    within Tranquility

 Copyright 1995 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

This prose and poetry pair modeled for my students the fact that both types of writing rely upon the same elements. I often encouraged my students to take their reflective prose pieces and convert them into poetry.