Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Turning Grief into Action

I just got back from a funeral. Most funerals that I’ve been to have been sad, and the dead person has been mourned, but they’ve been the funerals of older people, and so there isn’t a feeling of surprise. And there hasn’t been the additional element of parental grief. Two that I’ve attended have had the last component: my husband’s cousin, who died in a snowboarding accident, and this one, an infant boy. There’s something sacred and horrific about watching parents bury their child.
I wonder if these deaths feel more tragic because we’re so sheltered from early childhood mortality. Not all of us, of course. Some friends I love lost their son to SIDS years ago, and my cousin died the same way. But over all, I expect that most of us see the possibility of the death of a child as remote, something that happens in Sudan or to our ancestors, but not something that we’re likely to experience. So we watch our kids, we make them wear bug spray and hold their hands when we cross the street. We warn them against strangers and drinking and smoking and unprotected sex. But we believe that medicine can help us prevent childhood illnesses, cure their diseases and ensure that they grow up reasonably healthy. We trust that our schools will prepare them to earn a living, that our churches will keep them out of jail, and that problems, mental, physical and emotional, can be fixed by medicine. So when a friend puts her no longer breathing infant into a white casket and lowers him into the ground, it throws my middle-class suburban world into a tail spin.
Now, I’m not stupid. I know that plenty of women in my own city watch their children die. They see them suffer from diseases that my children don’t have because we have all the insurance we can handle. They put them to bed without a full belly because there just isn’t a way to pay those bills and feed those children. Their schools will teach them less about earning a living than about getting around authority. I’m not ranting about designer clothes and ballet lessons. I’m thinking about people who work, or would work if they were allowed to, but who can’t provide vegetables every day, who can’t pay for insulin or eyeglasses or the chickenpox vaccine. I’m worried about families who can’t live together because they can’t survive at all that way. I’m thinking about the guys who used to pick my tomatoes, who built my house and who butchered the cow I ate for dinner. I know those people. We used to go to church together. And let me tell you, they aren’t running drugs, using up the welfare system or taking jobs my kids want. But my kids, and I, are sucking the life out of them because I don’t want to pay more than $1/lb for apples.
Fixing those problems wouldn’t have helped my friend, so maybe I should just keep my liberal mouth shut. Or, maybe I should quit moping and actually do something about the problems I can address.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thistle While You Work

You can’t let a single one live. If you let one live, it will feed the source and you’ll never be free. I’m talking about total, complete destruction. No matter how cute those babies are, how much you empathize with their struggle to survive, they won’t love you back. They only exist to destroy you, so in a Mano-a-Mano struggle, you’ve got to harden yourself. No mercy, baby.
And if you think you can kill them easily, you haven’t tried. They’re sneaky, wily, and when you’re done, you’ll swear they can move faster then a two year old headed for the ice cream truck. You’ve got to adopt a Zero Tolerance policy and you’ve got to devote 3 full weeks, no vacations, no days-off for good behavior, to the blood bath. If you’ve been infested already, you have to work hard at annihilation. I’ll tell you how I’m doing it, not because I care so much about your yard, but because I want to eradicate the stupid things. If everyone eliminated the thistles in their own yard, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about repeat infestations.
First, order large quantities of your favorite toxic chemical. 20% vinegar does the trick, but the whole area will smell like a pickle factory when you’re done. Industrial strength Round-up works, too, without the smell, but it will kill larger areas of grass. Whatever you choose, go outside in the heat of the day. The roots are more receptive to your noxious liquid during the hot part of the day—usually around 3:00 PM. Spray it everywhere a thistle has cropped up. Or where you think one might be growing. Or where one has grown in the past. You’ll end up spraying there anyway, and you might as well get a jump on things by spraying it now.
When you’ve done the first round, go inside, congratulate yourself, drink some ice water and wait 10 minutes. Go outside. Notice that you missed a bunch. Spray again. Repeat congratulations. Wait 10 minutes. See the cycle? It won’t take you long to realize that you haven’t missed them—the roots have sent up new runners. You’ve got to hand it to evolution: she created a masterpiece when she came up with the thistle. Fortunately for you, Mother Nature has a larger swath of ground to cover, so if you’re lucky and if you send enough money to your favorite Green Earth charities, you may just get rid of them before she turns her attention back to your yard. But don’t count on it.
I keep repeating to myself that at least the thistles aren’t giant tree roaches. Or fire ants. And at least the grass surrounding the thistles resembles the ground cover that most people would recognize as grass, unlike the St. Augustines that we put up with in our last abode. But all of that didn’t help 2 weeks ago when I had a mini-breakdown after researching thistles. It seems that most websites recommend placing large quantities of mulch or a black tarp over the entire area. For 2 years. Yah, that doesn’t work so well with my whole notion of “barefoot in the grass” experiences for my children. On the other hand, I’ve never heard of mowing a tarp, so there could be benefits. And, after all, I’ve got to provide fodder for my children’s therapy. “My mother wouldn’t even let us have grass! She was so hard-line…”