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I find claustrophobia annoying.
I find claustrophobia annoying.

My brand new claustrophobia

This summer has been an interesting one. My husband started grad school, my band had its very first gig and, somewhere along the way, I picked up a mental illness.

Well, OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration because I haven't completely fallen off my rocker. However, I have become somewhat claustrophobic for the first time in my life.

It started in June, at a car wash. My kid likes the gas station car washes -- where you get to stay in the car for the sudsy process -- and normally I don’t think twice about the experience. This time, however, as soon as the big garage door closed, I started to feel edgy, and after about 30 seconds, I actually thought to myself, "I have to get out of here."

Obviously, that was completely unrealistic because I was enclosed in the stall and couldn’t drive out. Plus, the thought of jumping out of the car, only to freak out my kids, was enough to jump start a New Age inner-dialogue between Sane Me and Crazy Me.

"Deep breath. You’re fine. It’s all good," I said to myself. The cleansing breaths helped but, really, I felt a lot better once I got out my iPhone and started checking my e-mail. Some might say my e-mail addiction is a more serious sickness than my claustrophobia, but sometimes technology saves, kids.

Later in the summer, I experienced more claustro-moments: once on an elevator and one more time in an East Coast freeway tunnel. It’s not like I need to put my head between my knees or breathe into a bag or anything drastic like that, but I wonder if this thing is going to get worse. Don’t older people get quirkier and quirkier with time? Is claustrophia going to be my Old Lady Affliction? Am I going to need to live outdoors at some point because the very sight of an interior wall makes me growl like a rabid dog?

At this point, I am determined to shake this weirdness. I am trying to figure out the source of this annoying manifestation of anxiety because I enjoy a lot of small spaces, like…

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Hamsters have a two-year lifespan.
Hamsters have a two-year lifespan.

Processing a death

I got a text from my husband while I was in Boston this week that simply read, "Ginger died."

He was referring to my son’s hamster who lived in his purple plastic cage for less than a year. This was the third hamster that croaked on us in the past three years, but that’s not surprising considering they have a two-year lifespan.

Consequently, from this point on, we’re switching to gerbils. At least they have a five-year lifespan.

The first time one of our hamsters died  -- she was the first of three that my son named "Lavender" -- I thought it was a positive experience. We buried Lavvy in the garden, next to the bleeding heart bush, and later watched an episode of "Harold and The Purple Crayon" in which Harold’s goldfish dies.

A year later, Lavender 2 died, followed six months later by Lavender 3. And each time, we talked a little more about death, and he started to understand in a practical, non-emotional way. "I’m glad you’re not dead," my son said to my father after one of our talks. "Me too," my father said.

But this time, with the death of Ginger (I am not sure why she wasn’t named Lavender 4), my son, who is now 7, reacted differently. He understands the concept of death more now, and that even though I once told him -- yes, lied to him -- that he didn’t have to worry about me dying, that I would be alive until he was a grown-up man, he knows this isn’t necessarily true.

Last month, my mother-in-law bought my son a digital camera for his birthday, and he makes little videos with it all day long. Most of them are close-ups of his brother’s mouth or footage of slot cars racing around and around the track. But after Ginger’s death, he made a series of videos documenting his emotional process. One is called "Mad," one is called "Sad" and one is called "I Want A Bird."

I am both pleased and surprised by this. I never taught him to process pain and anger through art, but he did. I am happy for him that h…

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"Drinking fountain?" I don't think so.
"Drinking fountain?" I don't think so.

Bostonians say "bubbler," too

Earlier this week, I was in Boston -- for the first time in my life -- doing research for an upcoming OnMilwaukee.com article in conjunction with the Recession Buster Getaway contest.

Overall, I felt Boston and Milwaukee are very different cities, but I found a few things we have in common: weather patterns, endearing / annoying accents and use of the word "bubbler."

I was under the ASSumption that "bubbler" was a term signature to Brew City, but no. My friend, former Milwaukeean and fab painter Amy O’Neill, enlightened me to this fact. Later, I learned through Wikipedia that "bubbler" is used in Portland, too.

I’m slightly disappointed this word isn’t strictly Milwaukee, but at least we still have "viaduck."

Crime happens everywhere. Stay alert and trust your gut.
Crime happens everywhere. Stay alert and trust your gut.

Listening to intuition

I was at a popular Milwaukee bar this week, sitting on the patio with friends and enjoying a Mojito when I saw three men walking towards us. Immediately, I got an unsettled feeling, so I looked at their faces and body language. I thought it was strange that they were not saying a word to one another. They were glancing at all of the tables. Plus, one guy had on a bulky hooded sweatshirt despite the fact it was a warm evening.

Casually, I moved my purse from the back of my chair to my lap. One of my friends saw me do this, and for a second, I felt a little embarrassed. I didn’t want her to think I was being ageist based on the appearance of the three guys.

"I got a bad feeling from them," I said quickly. "I am trying to trust my intuition more."

She nodded. I wasn't sure what she thought, but I felt like I did the right thing. I took a sip of my drink and thought about the fine line between intuitively sensing that something is not right and letting fear take over your thoughts. Before I could think about it any further, one of the young men grabbed the purse of the woman sitting at a table next to me.

Her purse, like mine had been, was slung over the back of her chair. If I had not moved my purse, they probably would have grabbed my purse because they walked past me first.

The bag snatchers booked down the street while the woman yelled, "They stole my purse!"  My friend turned to me and said, "You called it."

I wanted to say, "I felt it," but I didn't. That's a bit much to declare aloud, even though it was true. But maybe, finally, I am realizing that I truly know what's best for myself and that my gut is telling me what to do all the time. I just need to keep listening.