Saturday, March 31, 2007

Medical Update


It’s not my decision. I don’t want to be responsible. I may know what I think I want him to decide, but I’m overcome with relief that I don’t have to choose myself.

The options: try a new medication or schedule surgery. There is a possibility that the new medication might stave off another attack. The surgery will remove the entire portion of his digestive system that is causing the problem.

The medication has no side effects (no, really – it’s basically a set of digestive enzymes designed to do the work for his pancreas so it doesn’t have to work so hard), but because none of the literature our doctors have seen notes anything like what S. is harboring in his gut, they can’t say it will work for sure.

The surgery will be four hours long, repeat the same 7-8 inch incision he had in September, require a week’s hospital stay and 8 weeks of recovery time at home. He’ll be on pain medications and suffer through the same healing process he did six months ago. Understandably, he’s not eager to go there again. Neither, I imagine, are his co-workers eager to have him gone for two months again so soon.

Purely selfishly, I am in favor of surgery. Assuming the medication prevents another attack for a few months, we get another prescription. Going month by month, stealing days and weeks feels like walking a tightrope above a swirling sea. I envision myself holding my breath and watching my husband vigilantly for any signs of impending doom, curling my toes around this rope and holding my arms out just so as if I could stop the fall once it starts. Thinking about him traveling overseas for work catches my breath in my throat. Waiting and watching, watching and waiting.

Surgery feels proactive. We haven’t escaped the raging sea, but we’ve built a raft. Perhaps we can make it to solid ground with this. I am no longer quite so interested in the biomechanical reasons for his illness. I just want to be done with this. Get me off of the high wire, already! Removal of the offending portions of S’s intestine will very likely prevent any more symptoms. At this point I am willing to remain mystified forever so long as we can solve the problem.

S. has opted to try the medication for a few months, if only to buy himself some time. He has a business trip scheduled in May. I will not attempt to influence him to have surgery at this point, respecting his right to make this difficult decision for himself. For now, we will wait and watch some more. And I will read Sue Monk Kidd’s book “When the Heart Waits” thanks to a recommendation from fellow writer Jenny Rough (http://www.jennyrough.com/) and hope to find some peace and balance up here on the rope…

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Two Cents

I am adding my voice to the chorus of women calling for an end to cyberbullying. Finding one's truth is difficult in many cases - walking barefoot on a scorching summer day. Writing about it scatters broken glass in that path. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by torturing these brave souls. There may be those who find some twist of pleasure in believing they have exerted some sort of power over another, but we will not stand for it. We will find a way to tell our truths regardless of your fears. We are struggling to overcome our own and have no need to burden ourselves with yours.

Thank you to all of the others who support the efforts of women in their endeavors to bring light and honesty to the world. We SHALL overcome.

http://www.crime-research.org/news/2004/01/Mess0801.html

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Acceptance

Many of the blogs I've been reading lately have addressed the issue of "mother guilt" to some degree. We are all afraid that we're not good enough parents or that we are making too many mistakes or that we're allowing ourselves to be too human by reacting in anger or frustration sometimes, or simply by accepting conventional wisdom without doing exhaustive research before making decisions.

I am sure that for an entire generation of women, the fact that their physicians offered them a medication (thalidomide) to curb their horrible morning sickness seemed like a miracle. I am just as certain that as their children were born with horrible birth defects they were horrified and angry and felt incredible remorse for having taken this medication. They couldn't have known. We all make decisions with the implements we have in our toolboxes at the time. Every mother's toolbox is different and they all come with some unique characteristics. I have a friend who vowed to let her children "be children" above all because she is afraid they will grow up too soon. Another friend is convinced that the sooner she can help her children become independent the less likely they will be to rely on the "wrong" person to make them happy or solve their problems. Neither of these approaches is wrong. Both of these mothers is devoted to her children and only wants what is best for them. Neither of these women would ever knowingly put their child in an unsafe or traumatic situation. Unfortunately, we don't always have that choice.

Some of my most recent posts have illustrated a few very difficult, traumatic events in my childhood and while writing about them has been a very slow and painful process, it has also been cathartic. I grew up not feeling as though these incidents were terribly real or worth worrying about simply because we didn't talk about them in my family. Nor would my parents ever have considered airing them outside the family. Writing about them, talking about them, and turning them over in my mind has not only given me some validation that they were, indeed, real, but that it is perfectly okay for me to have felt intense sadness and anger about them. I have also realized that many of these events helped shape me into the person I am and gave me some of the traits of which I am most proud. I am independent and capable. I can mow the lawn, change the oil in my car, single-parent for weeks at a time if I have to and remain calm in a crisis.

I have also learned, having become a mother and having had time and distance between me and many of these events, that my parents are simply people. They are human beings who did the best with the tools they possessed at the time. I truly believe that neither of them wished me any harm and, were they given a chance to go back and do some things different, they would choose to do so. I cannot speak for my siblings, nor can I speak for any other relationships my parents had, with each other or other people. My struggle is simply different. I know in my heart that my mother and father love me right now, in this moment, for who I am and the person I have become because of or despite certain events in my childhood. There is no going back. Should I choose to include them in my life today, and I do, I must learn to accept that they are (and were) human beings with faults and neuroses and fears just like me. My purpose in writing these memories is to share them with others who may have felt the same way and to facilitate my own processing of them so that I can give them their proper due and no more. I will not come from a place of fear anymore, now that light has been shed on these shadows. I do not wish to judge or harm anyone else with my recollections and I am truly sorry if that occurs as a by-product.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Joint Custody

‘The garage is a strange place to be doing this,’ I was distracted from the moment we were summoned here. Ever since Dad had moved out a few months ago he and Mom were careful not to spend even one minute in the same room as the other. Now they were sitting within five feet of each other and had called a family meeting. Our first one ever. Little moths nibbled at my stomach, fluttering and biting until I wanted to slide out of my folding chair onto the immaculate cement floor. You could eat off of this floor. The walls were lined with hooks holding sports equipment and yard tools. The pegboard that used to display my father’s tools sat empty now.

Dad’s half-ton wooden desk was an island and he sat behind it on his old swivel chair. I had sat in that relic more times than I could recall, turning slowly round and round until I thought I’d puke. I could feel the cold, thick vinyl against the backs of my knees, sticking there. I heard the peeling noise it made as I gingerly raised myself off of it in the summertime.

Mom sat off to the side of the desk, avoiding the very air Dad was breathing. Chris and Katy and I faced them in our card-table chairs like naughty schoolchildren at the principal’s office.

“Mmhmm,” Dad cleared his throat, his eyes shimmery and his nose a bit too pink for my liking. I’d never seen Dad cry before and I didn’t want to start today. Mom was sniffling and wiping her red-rimmed eyes. She’d been crying for months. We were okay with that.

“We wanted to talk to you kids,” Dad said, eyes inspecting the heavy grain of the oak desktop. His forearms rested on the surface as he leaned toward us. Talk to us? They didn’t talk to us. We didn’t ask questions. Chris and I had gotten good at huddling up to piece together the information we’d gleaned, like crows with shiny bits of treasure. Nobody “talked” to us when Cameron was taken away suddenly. Disappearing after a year as our brother without so much as a warning or a word of explanation. It was as if he had never been there. Some imaginary friend our damaged psyches had dreamed up and then eliminated spontaneously. We weren’t privy to the discussion about Mom and Dad separating – he just moved out one day and rented a big white house a few blocks away. They wanted to talk to us now? The moths turned into pteradactyls in my gut.

“Your father has taken a job in Wyoming,” Mom spoke so softly I could barely hear her over the gnawing of the beasts in my stomach.

“We have decided we don’t want to put you kids through an ugly court battle. We’ve agreed to joint custody,” Dad used his official voice, the one we heard when he answered the telephone or on the soccer field or at his office. Joint custody? What’s that? I was only eight years old. I couldn’t breathe.

“Joint custody means we have agreed to share you kids. You get to decide who you want to live with. We won’t decide for you. Think about it and let us know,” he explained. Who you want to live with not where you want to live. This was a contest. Another contest. How could I choose between my parents? Mom was so sad and fragile and she lived to be a MOM. How could I leave her? But Dad was the one I’d been busting my hump to please my entire life. Not choosing him might mean he’d never love me the way I wanted him to. And what if Chris and Katy didn’t agree with me? I couldn’t lose them, too. I couldn’t protect them if they lived without me. I hadn’t protected Cameron and he was taken away. I couldn’t let Chris and Katy get taken away. The pteradactyls were having a feast.

Monday, March 26, 2007

What to Do Today...







I have two very insistent loves. Neither of them gives a sh*t about the dishes or the dog hair on the floor or the meals that need to be made. Every morning as I return home from dropping my girls off at school I know I have two and a half hours that are mine. What to do with that time is solely my decision. There is nobody looking over my shoulder giving orders or making requests or wagging their judgemental finger at me. Nobody but me, that is.

He is waiting at the door, fleece toy in his mouth, entire back half of his body wagging, barely contained. He looks as though his hind legs might levitate at any instant. It is impossible not to love him. It is all I can do to put my keys down before I cradle his soft black cheeks in my hands and kiss the top of his head, laughing. It is the same every day. He wants to play. If I don't indulge him now, he will follow me everywhere I go this morning, tripping me up and smiling up at me quietly. If I wait too long, he will start to whimper and look at me from the tops of his eye sockets to remind me how important this is to him. It is so hard to resist him.

As soon as I put my shoes on and grab a few treats from the cupboard, he is heading for the door, long nails scritching across the hardwood as he tries to gain a foothold to get there fast, faster, faster. His 85 pound body squeezes through a ridiculously small crack in the door - he can't wait for it to open all the way before he runs out. Please, please, please, don't change your mind or answer the phone or grab your keys instead, Mom!

I throw the tennis ball and his enthusiasm is released from the fur and skin in which it is trapped, sailing up into the air like a helium balloon some child has let go of. He is off, a greyhound at the track. He always comes back, lime green ball wedged between his jaws, eyes alight. The first few times he gives the ball up easily, eager for more play, moremoremore. If we stop now, he will continue to follow me around the house - not sated. If we continue, he is more and more reluctant to release his prize no matter what treat I offer. He could go on like this for hours, with only small periods of rest and sloppy drinks of water.

My other companion is invisible, but just as insistent and always with me. She is my writing. She is never sated and, while she wants me to play with her, she doesn't always want to give up the ball. I try coaxing her with treats, but sometimes the most enticing treat is not reward enough. Still, she is not willing to go lie down and rest and let me be. I love her as dearly, but occasionally find her annoying. She is messy like the dog - he leaves hair and mud and drool across the floor, she leaves niggling doubts and worry and unfinished sentences. Neither of them understand my desire to go do the dishes, and I must say, I don't find cleaning the kitchen quite so satisfying anymore either.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Child Intuition


Five kid-sized steps inside the threshold of our room and then Leap the last few feet onto the first twin bed to avoid any monster hands waiting to wrap bony fingers around the ankles of little girls. Once Katy was safe on the yellow Holly Hobbie comforter, it was my turn. We wore matching flannel nightgowns and although they swirled around our legs, threatening to trip us up, this was how we got into our beds every night. Mine was closest to the doorway and big dark closet – hers was underneath the window.

Sometime after midnight my primitive intuition switched on, humming so gently I never woke up. Fourteen steep steps down to the second floor, turn and walk through the sewing room out to the hallway. Turn again and make my way down the sixteen steps to the daylight basement, never touching the rickety iron railing loosened from years of children gripping it for balance as we tore down the stairs. Surrounded by darkness and silence. Turn at the bottom of the stairs and walk around the corner into the room where Mommy and Daddy sleep. I stood at the foot of the bed like some character from a Stephen King novel. Nobody knows how long.

Eventually my presence chipped away at the bubble of sleep surrounding my parents and they awoke to find me standing there facing them. Asleep. My father carried me back upstairs to my bedroom like a new bride and tucked me in. Katy never woke up. My brothers’ sleep was not disturbed by my walkabout. Not even I could recall being out of my bed in the middle of the night, but my mother and father were awakened this way night after night for several months.

One evening during a nasty snowstorm my father awoke to the howling of bitter, frozen air swirling through the basement. The back door stood open and beyond, our backyard, buried under three feet of snow. He ran out into the night, panicky, calling for me, afraid that I had veered off course. Coming fully awake, he realized he could see no footsteps but his own and came back to the house. He pounded up both flights of stairs and stood huffing and puffing over my bed, unsure of what to do with the extra adrenaline coursing through him as he saw me tucked in safe and warm.

Soon after my night journeys began the house of cards began to collapse. The end of my sleepwalking came with complete and total disintegration of our family, such as it was.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Fourth, part 1



I was seven years old when he joined our family. I don't know what his name was or how long he had lived in the orphanage in the Phillippine Islands, but my parents decided to call him Cameron and arbitrarily settled on a birthday of February 28th. He was one year older than me and slightly taller. His left eye was cloudy and swamp-green as the result of an accident at the orphanage. He told us that he was with a group of boys playing "firefighter" when he ended up on the wrong end of the stick (firehose) one boy was using.

This boy radiated joy. The miracle of having been chosen to be part of a family at his advanced age was not lost on him and he bore none of the marks one would expect him to after the life he had lived so far. His smile had been drawn on with indelible ink and stretched from the sun to his soul. I was instantly infected with his enthusiasm and eagerness to learn everything there was to know about life in our family.

The first dinner I remember having with him taught us all a little about what life must have been like for him in a third-world orphanage. Mom was a fantastic cook and made everything from scratch in those days. Dinners were always a family affair, with all of us ramrod straight in our chairs, napkins in laps, no elbows on the table, absolute silence while Dad said grace. Speak only when you were spoken to, no slouching, and eat what was put in front of you. That was easy enough to do since Mom could make magic with simple ingredients, but as we all wound down, appetites sated and restless to be excused so we could go play, we realized Cameron had cleaned his plate. Thoroughly. His eyes drifted toward the last piece of french bread on Mom's plate and his smile dimmed a bit. As she handed him her bread, he took it politely and the 75-watt grin came back out. When he had polished that off, his gaze traveled to each of our plates, respectively, and we gladly handed out our few last morsels of food for him to devour. We had never seen anyone so hungry. We had never even contemplated being hungry before, at least not like that.

Cameron became my brother within minutes of his arrival in our house. He shared a bedroom with my older brother, right across the hall from me and Katy, and just knowing he was there settled my heart a bit in it's cage. We were so similar in age and size, I felt as though I had been given a twin. He was not little and frail, like my sister, and not older and cool like Chris. He didn't need to be protected or worshipped - he was my equal. He could just be my friend. I had a companion, a soulmate, a partner in crime although both of us were too eager to please to engage in anything we thought was wrong. I was so proud to accompany him to school and introduce him to everyone as "my brother". As a bit of a stand-out in our clan, I finally had someone to belong with.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

We Interrupt The Current Program...

because the memories I have of the one of us who was "lost" are so fuzzy and riddled with holes and so completely able to bring me to my knees that I can't go there yet. So in the meantime, I've been "tagged" by my friend Miss Devylish (http://www.missdevylish.blogspot.com/) on the following:


Finish this statement 5 times: It's ok _____
  • to not know the answer and admit it
  • to cry
  • to be human
  • to indulge your impulse to sing when you absolutely have to, even if you can’t carry a tune to save your life
  • to love with your entire self and not worry how it will work out in the end.
First Times:
The first time I realized there was someone in my life I would run into a burning building for was: when someone placed my two-month old sister in my lap in a rocking chair in our living room. I had never before felt such complete and total love for anything or anyone. I was three years old.
The first time I realized I didn't have to have a good reason to say no to someone or something was: I don’t think I can recall an actual moment when this happened. Rather, it was a gradual awareness over time that my upbringing had been entirely too polite and I had spent the vast majority of my life anticipating the needs of others and disregarding my own. I do know that I was older than I wish I had been and I’m working desperately to help my daughters learn this as children.
The first time I scared the bejeesus out of myself and loved it was: when I started to date a 24-year old chef I worked with. He was incredibly sexy and funny and a hoot to be around, but I was only 16 and terrifically na├»ve and had spent my entire life being a “good girl”. We broke up several weeks later when I discovered he had lied to me and the empowerment I felt at ending the relationship as the younger one despite his apologies and entreaties to give him one more chance was intoxicating.
The first time I walked away from someone or something I finally realized was bad for me was: when I broke up with my boyfriend in college. I had “rescued” him from a rotten family situation in high school and allowed him to perfect the victim role to my savior. With him, I finally learned how overrated being the knight in shining armor is.
When I was younger I used to be: a ballerina. I went to a grueling ballet studio with an ex-Russian ballet dancer who worked us like dogs. I had a perfect turnout and performed in many stage productions and loved every minute of it!
And now I'm: still very flexible, but not at all toned like I used to be Which makes me: long to find a ballet studio where I can dance like an adult but not look like a complete doofus.
An insecurity I've never been able to shake: (but am working on) is that if I can’t do something perfectly, I have no business doing it at all.

Something I find completely disgusting: Eye surgery and belly buttons. I am not squeamish at all and spent several years as an OR nurse, assisting with all sorts of surgeries which I found fascinating. But there is something about cutting into an eyeball that freaks me out – I can’t explain it. Also, the first time I assisted a plastic surgeon during a tummy tuck and he injected local anesthesia right into a woman’s belly button, I almost passed out. My husband and children have no such issues, and can touch their own belly buttons and even clean them out with a Q-tip but just the thought makes me dizzy. My best friend’s daughter actually succeeded in untying her own belly button when she was a toddler (I am not joking, here) and I swear I had nightmares for weeks.

Leaving the Northwest




Moving to Green River, Wyoming from Oregon was culture shock to say the least. I left a place where I was surrounded by evergreens, flowering fruit trees, mountains, established neighborhoods with swingsets and lush green lawns (and one lucky family with their own swimming pool), and landed on the moon.

Driving from Salt Lake City to Green River was a three hour lesson in shades of brown. We sat in the back of my dad’s Chevy Blazer, the floorboards six inches below our butts. I had to be in the middle because that’s who I was – the middle kid. My older brother didn’t warrant messing with and, besides, I worshipped him. He sat on the driver’s side, Walkman clamped over his ears uselessly because the volume was turned up so high that everyone in the car could clearly hear Ozzy Osbourne wailing and shrieking his way through each and every song. My brother’s legs were so long he had to sit diagonally, his head propped against the window and his limbs splayed out across me to the other side of the car.

My little sister got the other window seat because she got carsick. She had to be able to look out the window or we would all be marinating in the contents of her stomach within fifteen minutes. I was fairly well practiced at alerting Dad to pull over as soon as her tawny brown face began to morph into something that looked more like the Incredible Hulk. Dad was a fast driver. Not a crazy driver, but fast, and the highway between Salt Lake City and Green River, Wyoming was the perfect playground for him. Few cars, flat road, straightaway as far as the eye could see.

The back rest was too short for me to lay my head against, but I desperately wanted to fall asleep on the way to our new house. I knew that if my head lolled to Chris’ side and landed on his shoulder he would shove me away in disgust. Leaning on Katy was out of the question, too. She was a wisp of a thing, all bony shoulders and long silky hair that always found its way in to my mouth.


I imagined myself the hub of this group, the midpoint, the axis. We operated as one, but in case either of the edges started to pull away, I would anchor us and work to pull us back together. Each of them was in their own sphere, my brother filling his head with the loudest, most unrelenting music he could find and my sister desperately trying to envision herself somewhere else, anywhere else. I existed to hold this together. Without them I was nothing - an axis without wheels. I had already lost one of this clan and I wasn't about to fail again. My new mission was to bond us together and never get complacent. I had to be on the lookout for any breach that might tear us apart because I couldn't afford to lose another member of this tribe. Whether they chose to go to the moon or Hell's gate itself, I would follow. If only to keep the remains of us together.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Two Giggles and an "Awww"

My youngest daughter was two years old the summer she truly discovered popsicles. She was one of those kids who had to have the wrapper entirely removed so she could hold the wooden stick in her hand and let the drips roll down to her elbows, streaking technicolor rivers that would take days to wash off. One particularly hot day as she sat on the kitchen counter enjoying a cherry popsicle, my mother came into the house and grabbed one from the freezer for herself.

"Whew!" she said, unwrapping her own to reveal another cherry one. "It's hot work out there pushing kids on swings!" She poked the end of the popsicle into her mouth and bit the end off.

L's eyes grew as she saw the sheared off tip of the popsicle. She had never seen anyone bite a popsicle before - she and her sister slurped at them until they melted away and turned their tongues rainbow colors.

"Hey," she yelled at my mom, "Your popsicle bites! Mine just sucks."

--

Yesterday after school L. was in rare form, teasing me at every turn. Every time I put down my pen, she'd snatch it up and put it out of my reach. If I turned away for a second, she would wrap both hands around my water glass and greedily slurp up the remainder of its contents and giggle. Just as I started to cut the tags off of the gift she'd bought for her father's birthday so we could wrap it, she hollered, "STOP! Don't do that yet!!!"

I dropped the scissors and backed away from the gift, "What? What's wrong?"

"Just kidding," she grinned and laughed hysterically, quite pleased with herself.

"You snot, are you like this at school?" I asked, tickling her under the chin.

"No way!"

"Why not?"

"I don't want to get in trouble at school!"

"Hmm, but you don't worry about that at home?" I asked, mocking her.

"Nah, I'm always in trouble at home, so I'm used to it," she shrugged and smiled at me.

--

Last night, E. had a choir concert. She invited as many people as she could think of - neighbors, friends, and her teachers from school. S. left work early to be there on time, her aunt came to listen, and our very best friends were there as well. We filled an entire pew in the church where the concert was held and as the group filed out to take their places on stage, E. looked so pleased to see us all there for her. Just as her group finished their brilliant performance and we were welcomed to take photos of the choir I noticed one more important person sitting a few rows behind us. One of E's first grade teachers had come to see her sing. Mrs. H. was there and as I approached her she shook her head in awe.

"They sound so angelic! They are so young, I can't believe it. Their voices are so wonderful. I am amazed," she echoed every reaction I've had since this choir group began last September. As E. came to find us in the audience, Mrs. H. offered her a bouquet of pink roses and a card from all of her teachers. We were all blown away by this simple act of support. E. floated through the rest of the evening, so proud that one of her teachers had taken time out of her own life to attend a concert for one of her many students and honor her work. This extended family we are building continues to warm my soul every day in more ways than I ever could have imagined. We are truly a community that knows no bounds. What a blessing!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Don't Go Unless You Can Go Big!

Medical mystery man (aka SuperMegaPancreas Man) strikes again! It seems that the one mass we thought was contained in his small intestine/stomach is actually three. This blows my theory that my husband is unwillingly harboring Osama Bin Laden in his gut. Although perhaps Ayman al Zawahiri and Amin al-Haq are the other two hiding in there with him...


In any case, biopsies have been obtained (32 of them - my husband has a difficult time doing anything on a small scale - have we talked about his barbecues?) so that we can indeed determine whether these tumors are as evil as they appear to be. Unfortunately, this will entail more waiting, and we all know how I feel about that.


For now, Osama and his colleagues appear to be lying low. They have chosen a particularly good place to live, given that they cannot be extricated from their hiding places without the entire removal of my husband's duodenum, but perhaps that will be the next step. If we do opt for another surgery and the evil demons are indeed removed, I'll make sure to take photos to send to the National Enquirer just in case we can see the evil Al Qaida operatives' faces in them. Might as well collect the reward while we're at it...

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Waiting Room

I hate waiting for information. I'm okay waiting in line at the checkout counter. I'm okay waiting for the airplane to take off. I'm even okay waiting in traffic, so long as I can hear the traffic report and I know why I'm stuck. But waiting without knowing is not for me. So today is hard. S. is in the OR and I am in the waiting room, waiting. It could be one hour, it could be four or five. They could find something, or not. If they find something, they may be able to do something about it, or not. If they do something about it, there may be complications, or not. Depending on what they choose to do, he may have to spend the night in the hospital, or not.

There are more branches to this tree than Henry VIII's family tree. So I wait.

Yesterday my oldest daughter had a fit about her new jacket. She couldn't decide in the store whether she wanted tan or denim so I waited. Forty-five minutes spent trying both on, debating the relative merits of each, and finally a choice. Tan. Five minutes later, buyer's remorse. She hated it - had to go back and exchange it. The sleeves were too long, she looked "funny", the denim one would go with more stuff... Within fifteen minutes she was screaming and throwing the jacket across the room. Two minutes later I stood watching her thread her little fingers through the silky black hair of the dog's floppy ears, him licking the tears from her cheeks.

I patted the couch, "C'mere. Let's figure out what's really going on here, okay?"

"MAYBE I'M REALLY UPSET BECAUSE DADDY'S GOING BACK TO THE HOSPITAL AND I KNOW IT!!" she shrieked. Oh. Now we get down to it.

This morning she wanted to color before I took her to the neighbors' house to wait for school. She chose a color-by-number page. No imagination or fantasy this morning. Tell me what colors to put in which places and I'll do it. Stay inside the lines today.

So, I wait.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Inspiration from Shel Silverstein


"Listen to the MUSTN'T, child,

Listen to the DON'Ts

Listen to the SHOULDN'Ts

The IMPOSSIBLES,

the WON'Ts

Listen to the NEVER HAVEs

Then listen close to me--

Anything can happen, child,

ANYTHING can be."

Shel Silverstein


Today, I am reminding myself to speak to myself and my children with only affirmative words. Forget the mustn'ts, don'ts, shouldn'ts, won'ts. What CAN I do? What WILL I do? What do I WANT to do and be and think? How can we focus on what we already have? How can we discover happiness and fulfillment in our lives right now, today? Today, I don't need more than I have. Today I don't want more than I can be. Today, I will not fall short because I will be realistic about what I can do and what I truly want to do to create simple joy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

FIGHT! Screw Flight.

Patience is not one of my virtues. I have accepted that, and am, in most cases, not really even bothered by it. There have been many instances in my life where my impatience has served me well. The other times, well, those are other stories.

My frustration level rises (and my frustration tolerance dips alarmingly) when my impatience clashes with my inability to take control of a situation. But first, let me rewind…

Wispy images groove and bend at the edges of my memory. There are great black holes in time where I have no recollection of anything – any positive or negative occurrences, no intelligible timeline for how old I might have been when something specific happened. I can remember odd details – my phone number and street address from second grade, the first name of one or two friends and the exact layout of their houses, what it felt like to get pegged point-blank in the shins with a racquetball in our backyard, and the dark blue smear it left in place of a bruise.

I know that I fell victim to the sexual powerlust of a teenage boy over and over again while his mother babysat my sister and me. I know this because my sister revealed it several years later, not because I had any conscious memory of it myself. In fact, it was another decade after her brutal disclosure before I realized I, too, shared her shameful history. Still, I cannot say that the images of that time have been colored in for me. I have placed myself in that house, in that bedroom. At first hesitantly and full of fear, and as time passed, more boldly and face-forward. I can see his bedroom with absolute clarity, I recall the names of his siblings and his mother. I know where they lived and what the front stoop looked like. I cannot remember the actual physical contact, nor do I know where my sister was when it happened.

I want to know. I am uncertain why I feel this compulsion to investigate every sordid detail and be able to replay it in my mind. I cannot tell you the reason it is important to me to fit the film strip into its slot and play it from beginning to end in excruciating entirety. I want to know how old I was when I walked in to that house. I want to know what my bookbag looked like, what was rattling around inside my lunchbox. I want to know where my brother was and what my little sister was doing. I want to know if I reacted by crying or fighting or simply lying there and waiting until it was over. I want to know why my sister never forgot and my mind has done so much to erase it all.

My therapist has assured me that when I am ready for the memories to come, they will. I am ready. I want to know, but I don’t know why. Shouldn’t it be enough to know what he did? Why would I torture myself with details that may not be so easily expunged once they are brought to the surface? Is this a Pandora’s box that I only think I want to open? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I only know that I have some unquenchable thirst to let the dirt and grime see the light of day, if only so that I can call it what it is and clean it up. I don’t want to be haunted by what I cannot see any longer. I want the wisps to come in to the light of the circle and away from the shadows. I know that this circle is strong and full of love and can vanquish the most heinous evils with time and honesty. I just can’t convince them to move forward.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tick Tock

Week 13 and counting. It has been thirteen weeks since our last trip to the Emergency Room, adrenaline pumping, kids safely shepherded across the street to the neighbors' house. Thirteen weeks since we moved through the automatic double doors as quickly as possible, my husband shuffling and leaning on me, my heart racing as I tried not to telegraph my fear.

Every 12-15 weeks for the past three years we have partnered up for this dance. Twice we've called an ambulance, one time we aborted a trip to the ER by making the car do an about-face and heading for the nearest fire station instead. We've visited hospitals in big cities, small cities, foreign countries. Five endoscopies, double-digit CT scans, blood draws to fill a gallon bucket, enough IV solution for a small African country, eleven hospitalizations and a major abdominal surgery later we know only what the diagnosis isn't. So here we are.

Week 13. So far, so good. No reason to think it won't happen again, so we're trying to move forward in spite of it. Another test is scheduled for Monday. The beginning of week 14. I'm home alone with the kids this week. He is working furiously on a major project at work for which he's been preparing for months. It's exciting that it's finally here, frightening that the stress might send him into another cycle. We check in at least twice a day, making small talk... 'Eve lost another tooth...The opening ceremony went well...Lola might have a sinus infection...Got another dinner meeting tonight.' As the conversation winds down, "How do you feel?"

"I'm going to get to bed early. I'm drinking lots of water, trying to get some fresh air every day. I'll call you later. Love you."

Sigh. He wouldn't lie. Not any more. Denial was powerful in those early months, but there have been enough heart-stopping moments and prescriptions for narcotics to fix that. We're both bargaining with the gods to give us one more week. Let the new doctor run his tests and find something, anything. Or not. Just let him get through this week without incident...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

So You Wanna Be a Superhero...


I don’t know where they came from, but we all had them. Wonder Woman for my little sister, Superman for my brother. I’m sure mine were cool, too, but for the life of me I can’t recall what they looked like. “Underoos. The underwear that’s fun to wear” went the jingle. Put them on and you were instantly transformed into a superhero. No matter that they were hidden by your every day clothes. That was part of the mystique – just like Batman, nobody knew who you were by day. Nobody except you, that is.

They were the fad. The fashion of the day. The one thing every kid between the ages of four and nine had to have in their underwear drawer. A perfect Christmas or birthday gift for anyone on your list. Underoos, the underwear that’s fun to wear. Why be without them?

My sister was obsessed. She had that singlemindedness that only a five-year-old can possess. That kid who wears their cowboy costume to school and the grocery store every day for weeks after Halloween is over. The parents who have to sneak quietly into the room and retrieve the crumpled clothing after their child is asleep in order to launder it and have it back before dawn – if you haven’t been one you know one. Unfortunately for my mother, Underoos were underwear. That meant my sister refused to take them off. At all.

We were young enough that bathing together was still fun until Wonder Woman showed up. After a few consecutive days of wear, she stunk. She smelled like little kid sweat and pee and I didn’t want to get in the tub with her. The one time my sister dared to remove her Underoos she was horrified at how long it took to get them back. In the 70s washing machines were slow. In a family with four kids, laundry took time and you had to wait in the queue. She actually snatched them between the washer and the dryer and tried to wear them, but the cold damp nylon against her naked bottom was too much to stand. Temper tantrum is too tame a phrase for what happened next. There was hair pulling (her own), crystal-shattering shrieks, floor flailing, and despair. She couldn’t wait another hour to be Wonder Woman.

My chest ached for her. This little girl who needed so desperately to be something other than who she was. I understood and worked as quickly as I could to fix it. Fix it. Fix it. Grab the hairdryer and turn it on full force, the blast filling the bottoms like a sail and ripping it from my eight-year-old hands. She sat on the floor, tears skidding down her cheeks. Watching me with timid hope. I waved my magic wand back and forth, frantic to dry them enough for her to put them on and silently longing for success.

After that, she refused to take them off for anything.

We lived two blocks from school. Across the street, through an alley, across another street to the brick building that took up an entire block. Up seven steps to the double doors and downstairs to Kindergarten where I dropped her off at the door each morning. She was usually reluctant to hang her backpack and coat on the low-hanging hooks outside the door and leave me outside the bright classroom. It was the cheeriest room in the school – artwork hanging everywhere and small round tables with boxes of scissors and crayons in the middle. A huge rug at the front of the room waited for the children to gather in a circle and sing. I wanted to stay there. Instead I left her with a hug and a kiss on the top of her head and walked back down the long hall to my 3rd grade classroom. Rows of desks faced the chalkboard, orderly and precise.

“Have a good day, girls!” Mom stood in the doorway and watched us crunch through the snow across the front lawn. Our brother had run up ahead to walk with his friends – too cool to be seen with us. He was in sixth grade – the Kings of the School. We were just babies.

I took my sister’s hand and we tromped across the street in our moon boots, warm beneath layers of clothes and puffy coats. Mom stayed in the open door until we got into the wide alley and then we couldn’t see her anymore. Halfway down the alley, K. pulled her glove free of mine and swung her backpack off her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” I stopped and looked at her, a half step behind me. She didn’t answer, instead bending over her pack and shedding her gloves to unzip it. Her silky black hair fell forward, shrouding her face.

Her coat came off and she struggled to stuff the puffy mass in to her backpack. She kicked the heels of her moon boots on the ground, loosening them enough to slip them off.

“What are you doing?” I repeated in a shrill voice. “You’re going to freeze and we’ll be late for school!” She peeked up at me from under her hair as she fought to undo the button on the waistband of her corduroy pants. She gave me a half-smile and refocused.

Oh crap. She was wearing the damn Underoos. Peeling layer after layer from her small frame, she slowly began her transformation into Wonder Woman. The yellow stars that adorned the panties glowed like neon signs and I imagined that their radiance could be seen by the airplanes passing up above. I grabbed her coat and fumbled with it to pull the sleeves right-side-out and cloak her in it. She was too big for me to carry to school, but at least I could wrap her up. Surprisingly, she let me, and grabbed the straps of her backpack as I shuffled her farther into the alley toward school. At some point I realized we had left her boots behind. She was barefoot in the snow and hadn’t made a peep. I blew a sigh out from between my lips and let go of her to run back for the boots, but first I stole a glance at her face. She was radiant. Her black hair shone in the sunlight, her olive skin was smooth and velvety, without a trace of goosebumps. She stood straight, empty arms of her coat hanging down at her sides. I hesitated. She really had been altered. I scooped up her boots, managed to shove her little feet into them and somehow we made it the rest of the way to school before the bell rang. I knew the teachers would think we were nuts, but I wasn’t about to make her change. I understood her need to be invincible. I wish I had put mine on that morning, too.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Snack Time!


As latchkey kids, my brother and I were always looking for some novel after-school nosh. Our lunches were the same every day - white bread and mayonnaise with one paper thin slice of prepackaged "turkey" and american cheese, a package of some Frito-Lay lunch size bag of chips from the variety pack, a carton of milk and an apple. After school, we were starving and since mom had gone back to work we were free to raid the pantry for something to tide us over until she could get home and make dinner.


At first, the cookie jar was always stocked, but after about a month of working full time, Mom couldn't muster the energy to keep that up. No problem, we had granola bars and tons of fruit. My cool older brother was sick of healthy snacks, though, so he put his thinking cap on.




Before Dad moved out, one of our favorite summertime adventures was camping in our pop-up trailer. We would drive to Central Oregon, find an isolated spot and set up for the weekend. Fishing, hiking, and wearing chicken-pox-like spots of Calamine lotion to cover the mosquito bites were all part of the fun. Oh, and making s'mores over a campfire.


One afternoon as we headed straight for the kitchen after school, my brother shoved a bar stool over to the pantry and climbed on.


"What are you doing? There's nothing up there but camping food." I watched with rapt attention. My brother was sometimes a little nuts, but mostly he was absolutely brilliant. I knew something good was coming.


"Yup, you're right, Kar," came the muffled voice as his head disappeared into the cupboard. When he emerged, a smug look occupied his face and he leaped off the stool, arms cradling a package of marshmallows and some Hershey bars.


He reached out and grabbed a box of graham crackers to complete the setup and sauntered over to the microwave. This being the 1970s, our microwave was more of a megawave - one of the first models that had a turn-crank on/off switch and a capacity nearly large enough to fit our five-year-old sister inside.


"What the heck?" I laughed as he tore into the Jet Puff package.


"You can't melt the chocolate unless the marshmallows are warm, dork!"


I stood frozen as he set a marshmallow inside the microwave. Just before he clicked the door closed, he thought better of it and decided to put a plate underneath it. Turning the dial, he set the microwave for one minute (way too long, but it wasn't exactly simple to set it with precision) and let 'er rip.


"Whoa! You've gotta come see this! It's so radical!" I jerked to attention and tripped over to where he was standing, peering in through the window in the microwave door. The marshmallow was growing. It was puffing up like an air mattress.


"Stop it!" I yelled dramatically. He jerked the door open and the marshmallow immediately began to deflate. He laid a graham cracker square down on the counter, covered it with four rectangles of Hershey's chocolate and pulled out the plate from the microwave. Burning his fingers, he yelped as he pulled it off the plate and set it on top of the chocolate. I put the final graham cracker on top while he blew on his fingers, then watched the melty smoothness ooze out from between the crackers, my stomach growling.


We must have made half a dozen of these, devouring them like castaways on a desert island. I knew he was a genius. I was sticking with my brother from now on! Of course, as these things go, once we were sick to our stomachs from the volume of sugar we had just ingested, we decided it would be cool to see just how big one of those marshmallows could get in the microwave. We set one inside, as close to the middle as we could approximate, set the dial for two minutes and shut the heavy door. Our heads rested together as we watched through the window. Bigger, bigger, bigger it grew. We held our breath, each wondering if it would touch the sides or the top of the oven and then PFFFFT - it blew. Stalactites of sugary goo stretched down from the roof, hardening almost instantly. Chris fell on the floor, holding his sides and shrieking in laughter. My face burned - what had we done? We could never clean this up - we'd be in so much trouble!


"That was awesome! Did you see that explode? Wait 'til I tell all the guys at school!"


I flung open the door and watched as the slight breeze it created deflated the last few poofy bits and hardened them into icicles of crazy glue. Life was never dull with my brother...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rubbing Salt in the Wound

"C'mon!" I hollered as I turned my head to find my sister behind me. She took five-year-old steps through the gravelly alley, her backpack bumping along behind her. I was skipping home today. Mommy had been so sad and tired lately and I knew just how to cheer her up. I had a plan and I couldn't wait to get inside and get to work.

Although she didn't respond to my urgings, I wasn't mad at my sister. I skipped back toward her and tried to take her hand in mine, thinking that some of my excitement could make the leap from my fingers to hers and she would hurry with me. We had plenty of time. Mom was working at the bank until at least 5, but I still couldn't wait.

Tugging at the piece of yarn around my neck, I pulled the house key out from under my sweatshirt. I was so eager to get inside that it took me a few tries to get the key in the right way. My sister had abandoned her pack on the porch and was peeling the thick grey paint off of the concrete steps in chunks, flicking at a loose edge with her fingernail until she could slide one thin finger between the paint and the step and then gently easing it off. There was a mound of discarded chunks growing on our front walk. One of these days we'd have to repaint.

"You staying out here?" I asked her. She nodded, her black hair shiny in the sunlight. I knew how warm it would feel if I put my hand there. I was jealous of her silky hair and the fact that it absorbed all of the warmth of the sun. My hair was mousy brown and never did what I wanted it to.

I bounced inside and dropped my schoolbag on the floor in the hall. I'd deal with that later. Clambering up on to the counter in the kitchen, I pulled down a book of recipes my mother liked to use. As I cracked the spine I imagined I could already smell the gooey chocolate chip cookies cooling on the stovetop. Mmmm, my mouth watered.

"Hee!" a sigh of glee escaped as my stomach jumped. Mom would get home from work and walk in exhausted and she would smell fresh-baked cookies. She would be so surprised!

I found a big bowl and the measuring cups and began: 2 cups flour. Scoop, plop, poof. 1 cup sugar. I loved watching the tiny grains cascade out of the plastic measuring cup and land on the dusty flour. Brown sugar, pack it in. Sticky fingers, but that sand castle shape in the middle of the bowl was so cool! Eggs, butter, baking powder, salt. Hmm, where's the salt? I went hunting for the big blue cardboard Morton's salt container. There wasn't enough in the shaker. Ah, found it. Measure out the salt, pour it in. It cascades in like the sugar. Cool. Chocolate chips. A few for the bowl, a few for me. A cup for the bowl, a few more for me. I was stirring and humming. Wait until Mom sees this! Better let my brother and sister have a few before she came home. It's not fair to make someone wait to have a cookie when you can smell them baking. Besides, there's nothing better than a cold glass of milk and a warm cookie, especially after a day at school.

Stirring, stirring, man this was hard work. Would those yellow streaks of yolk ever blend in with the rest? Dang! I forgot to preheat the oven. I glanced at the clock, completely unaware of whether I had been doing this for moments or hours. Whew! It was only 4:00 - I had plenty of time. Okay, preheat the oven, mix some more. The dough looks a little grainy, guess I'd better taste it to make sure it tastes right.

Ugh! Grainy! Salty. Salty like the ocean. Mix more. I know! Get out the electric mixer. I was a little worried that it might pulverize the chocolate chips, but I knew I needed to mix the salt in better or the cookies would taste awful. Okay, here goes.

As I lifted the beaters out of the bowl and dove in for one more taste test it hit me. Salt. I had been so fixed on using the measuring cup that I had measured out a cup of salt instead of a teaspoon. Everything but my heart stopped. I couldn't breathe. I had screwed up big time. Plop. A huge tear landed in the cookie batter. Well, at least it wouldn't make it any more salty. I'd done that already.

I lifted the phone receiver off the wall and looked up the number we were only supposed to use for emergencies. I dialed my mom's number at the bank. My heart was beating in my throat and fingers and I had to sit on the bar stool to stop shaking.

"Mom," I blurted out as she came on the line "I'm so sorry. I really messed up. I decided to come home and make you some cookies as a surprise but I didn't pay enough attention to the recipe and I put a cup of salt in instead of a teaspoon. I wasted two entire eggs and a whole lot of flour and sugar and the chocolate chips are already mixed in and there aren't any more, so I can't make any cookies and I know we don't have very much money right now and I'm so sorry that I wasted all that food and I swear I'll make it right if you just tell me how to. I'll clean up the mess before you get home but I feel really bad about having to throw away the whole thing of batter. I tasted it, though, and it's awful, really, really awful and I'm so sorry I wasted all that food." I finally took a breath. There, I had said it all.

"Um," came the reply and a deep breath. "It's okay, sweetie. It was a mistake. You are so sweet to do that for me. Just clean it up and we'll talk when I get home, okay?" She let out a chuckle.

"Okay, Mom. I'm so sorry," my tears were unstoppable now. I couldn't see anything in front of my face and my shirt collar was getting soaked. I was deflated. Good intentions were not enough. I couldn't fix everything. Yet.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sister, Savior


Screams cut through the air. Barely muted by the closed bedroom door, they were the shrieks of torment and fear. I struggled to get up from the waterbed, propping my calves against the wood frame and pushing my hands down by my sides. My hands shoved down farther until they hit bottom, the wood below the mattress – damn, there must be another leak. As I tilted forward onto my feet I felt Mom standing in my doorway, hand raised as if to knock on my half-open door. She looked tired, wasted from the effort of simply breathing, and her cheeks sagged in defeat. My eyes met her flat, clouded ones and she quickly looked away, ashamed that she had been caught trying to decide whether to ask for help. I said nothing as I walked behind her, but smoothed my hand lightly across her linen shirt on my way by. I’d take care of it.

The cheap doorknob, brass paint chipping off in my hand, turned easily and rattled loosely as I cracked the door open. Although it was a bright spring day outside, this room was a cave. The shades drawn, the floor strewn with clothes and journals and stuffed animals. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I took shallow breaths through my nose, trying not to smell the familiar scent of fear, sweat, unwashed little girl. I scanned the shadowy piles of bedclothes and dirty laundry and my eyes did a double-take and jerked back to the corner.

She sat slumped on a sour-smelling heap, her toes protruding slightly from underneath her Strawberry Shortcake nightgown. Her unruly black hair fell on either side of her face, fixed in knots like wild blackberry brambles. There was no indication that she knew I had come in – no break in the deafening reverberations that saturated the room. She had some lungs, that one.

I dropped my hand from the knob and picked my way through to her, squatting down in front of her nest.

“Shhh, shhh, baby. I’m here.” I whispered. I knew better than to touch her at this stage. She would recoil as if from an electric shock and let her anger fly at me, a cobra’s defense.

“Shhh, shhh, baby. I’m here.” My mantra repeated over and over again. As the words began to breach the barrier she had thrown up, the screaming turned a corner and became guttural. I continued to whisper, the cadence of my voice never changing and within minutes she was taking great hiccoughing breaths, sucking in the sour air of this place. She would not look at me still hiding in her rounded ball. Shock waves radiated from her, an earthquake that kept shuddering and traumatizing the ground around it for miles. Tears soaked the hem of her favorite nightgown, dripping steadily from her lower jaw as she began to rock. That was my cue.

I sat down cross-legged, something sharp underneath my right leg poked through my jeans. Shifting, I pulled her into my lap, settling her small frame into the hole created in my lap. She fit perfectly. She remained tightly curled, a frightened potato bug unsure that it was safe to come out yet. We rocked back and forth, my arms encircling this defenseless creature as I continued to chant, “I’m here, sweetie. I’m here.” I wouldn’t say the words ‘it’s okay’ because we both knew it was not. I wouldn’t patronize her with those words.

Slowly her back uncurled like a fern frond. We had been there for hours or maybe just minutes. Time was of no consequence in this room. We would do what had to be done to complete the cycle. I breathed slowly and deeply. This was right.

The first time I had held her like this she weighed less than a puppy. Two months old, she had measles and a tapeworm and had just been evacuated from an orphanage in Vietnam. Her shock of cornsilk hair stood up tall and black from the top of her head – an exclamation point. Here I am, it yelled. I was three years old, settled way in to the back of the wooden rocking chair, feet barely dangling over the edge of the seat. Someone had placed this bundle of blankets into my expectant lap and she hardly made a dent. Her flannel cocoon was warm and her smooth brown cheeks lay nestled in a makeshift hood.

“What do you think?” my father asked.

“I love this baby. She’s mine. I’m going to keep her,” I said matter-of-factly. I had a big brother and a baby doll named David, but this warm little creature was real and perfect and a girl.

Today, I couldn’t help but recall that first impression. She was mine. Mine to care for and protect. I couldn’t fail her. She filled the hole. I could fix this. Her rounded chin lifted just slightly and the hair fell away from her face. Her hot chocolate eyes looked up at me, large and questioning. Her body was eight years old, but she was my baby. The left side of my mouth curled up and I nodded my chin at her. Slowly unclenching one fist, she lodged her thumb in her mouth.

“Hey,” I murmured softly, “get that nasty thing out of there! You’re too big for that, silly.”

She smiled around her thumb, a gentle glow in her eyes. I gripped her wrist and tugged lightly as her bicep strained against the force. A small giggle escaped from the corner of her lips and I increased the pressure. We played this little game of tug-of-war silently until she relented and let me win. Her wrinkly thumb popped out and a silver string of spit hung like a spider’s silk, a bridge back to her full bottom lip.

“Whew! Got it out,” I smiled gently.

Another giggle erupted as she slid her thumb back in.

“Oh, no! Not again.” We were the only players in this drama, the choreography had been worked out meticulously. A few more minutes and she would be ready to stand up and brush off the crumbs of this morning’s trauma. No discussion. No explanation. Play your role and move on. She didn’t want to talk and I didn’t want to know. By this afternoon she would be raiding my closet like a pesky younger sister and tagging along after me and my friends. No telling when we would be called to the stage again, but if I had to admit it, I was happy to be the one to do this. It was my job. I wanted to save her. Kari to the rescue.

Equal Time


There is another child in my life, I'll call her Princess Jasmine, who fills my heart with love and laughter. She is Max's older sister and I've known her since she was three weeks old. She and my eldest daughter were each other's first playmates and they could not be more different. Despite that, their mutual adoration is clear and constant.


Where my oldest was a very serious child with dark hair and olive skin, determined to size up every situation observing it quietly until she is sure she has it figured out, Princess Jasmine is the poster child for adventure and openness. Her white-blond hair and fair skin invite light and experience. She was the one who tasted all manner of playthings - sculpting dough and crayons. Every time she was presented with a bucket of beads to string, her first act was to stick a chubby hand in, fill it to overflowing and promptly pack the bright colors into her mouth. Art classes were more about painting herself and mixing colors than putting anything to paper.


Running full tilt in to every new situation, Princess Jasmine fully immerses herself in her surroundings, smelling, touching, listening, taking her shoes off in the wet grass, smiling with a fullness I didn't realize was possible. She truly eschews all "impossibilities", preferring instead to find a creative way to get around obstacles in her path. Her mother recognizes Jasmine's need to spread her imagination into every corner of life and has allowed her to grow in every direction, blossoming like a rose.


Over the years, my daughter has come to appreciate Jasmine's perspective on life. When they are together they laugh hysterically and concoct outlandish spy scenarios, put on elaborate performances, and build "nests" for themselves. Jasmine's infectious spirit has spread to both of my daughters, prompting them to test their own boundaries and imaginations, and her honest and complete affections are lavished on our family without end. She truly illuminates any room she enters and I am terrifically grateful for the light she has shone into my life.


I know it's not your birthday, Princess, but I wanted to make sure you know how much we love you, too.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, Love


Four years ago yesterday I was blessed with a little boy. Max is not my child, but was born prematurely to my best friend, my honorary sister. He emerged early, frightening us all and spurring friends and family to action. Although his mother and I had been good friends for several years, his birth allowed me the perfect opening to help. I do helping. I love helping. I love to cook for others, pitch in to straighten up and make life easier.


"No, you rest. Take care of yourself. I'll find my way around the kitchen/laundry room/bathroom."


Max was born little and powerful. He had the longest, most beautiful feet of anyone I've ever seen. This child will never falter.


I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life on the floor building Lincoln Log cabins and Lego structures with this magical little boy. When he is near me I have to sit on my hands to keep them from scooping him up and tickling him. His laughter is explosive, erupting from the soles of his very large feet and bubbling up to the surface. It is one of my favorite sounds.


Max loves everything. He is polite and silly, always on the hunt for chocolate, and when he finds some, always shares it with me. I love the way his bare feet slap on the wood floor as he chases after the big girls, eager to join their game. Seeing him come around the corner, pirate hat and inflatable sword in place, jumping out to scare me but not being able to keep a straight face, delights me every time. This will never get old.


Friday afternoon my phone rang. It was Max, calling to tell me that it was only "one more sleep" until his birthday. My heart sang. We chatted about cupcakes and birthday songs and special breakfasts. Although it was his birthday, I am the one who has been given a gift. Thank you, special boy, for sharing your life with me!

Friday, March 02, 2007

What's in a Name?

The Atlantic Theater in the Jacksonville, Fla., suburb of Atlantic Beach planned to stage several dramas this winter, including Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," but following an undisclosed number of complaints from parents who said they were uncomfortable seeing that title, management changed its marquee to "The Hoohaa Monologues." (The change lasted one day, until management realized it was barred by contract from calling the play by another name.) [WJXT-TV (Jacksonville), 2-6-07, 2-8-07]

So I ask you: does changing the name on the marquee make it seem all that different? Vagina is actually the correct anatomical name, is it not? By calling it a "hoohaa" were they helping the parents any? Imagine the scenario: a family is driving down the street, children in the back seat and all of a sudden Dad hears some tittering coming from behind him. Either he has seen or heard about the marquee before and he instinctively knows what the fuss is about, or he remains blissfully ignorant. No self-respecting pre-adolescent or teenager I know is going to confess that they were laughing because they just saw the word 'vagina' in lights. Alternately, the child(ren) are comfortable enough discussing tricky issues with their parents that they inquire as to the substance of the show itself. Big deal.

Now, for those children who haven't yet discovered the slang word 'hoohaa', wouldn't it be more embarrassing for the parents to have to explain what kind of show "The Hoohaa Monologues" might be? Honestly!

Eve was two and a half when she noticed her vagina in the tub and thought to ask what it was. I will admit I was a bit taken aback and surrendered to many cycles of wild-firing neurons in my brain before I decided the simplest answer was best.

"That's called a vagina." She didn't ask any follow up questions and I was pleased that I hadn't inundated her with too much information. I also felt good to have given her the actual scientific name for that part of her body. God knows she'll learn all of the strange nicknames it has someday, but for now I wanted to avoid confusion.

The following morning we were off to her toddler group. As we drove through the wet streets, Eve bounced in her car seat behind me, hardly able to stand the wait. She loved the art and music portions of the class best and was hoping to get there early enough to find a seat next to her friend Alexander.

As we entered the building her head swiveled back and forth, searching. At last, she saw him in the back of the room washing his hands. There were small groups of mothers and their children between her and the sink, and she took off running toward Alex.

"Hey, Alex!" she was using her outside voice in her excitement. "Guess what?  I have a hergina! Do you have one, too?" Glad I didn't call it something else...
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