Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Today you are five!


Dear India,

This is you this morning. Today you are FIVE!

You are so five. Going on 15. You do this celebrity pose that you surely learned on Barbie--one hip stuck out to the side with your hand on it, elbow crooked. You roll your eyes. You sometimes have A Tone.

I put together this stroller last night because your dad is gone this week. Initially I had two extra pieces and both wheels kept falling off. And then one of my friends helped me on the phone, and now only one wheel falls off.

I think it's because the metal rod is supposed to have grooves on each end instead of just one end. Your dad thinks that it has something to do with the extra pieces, which incidentally are still extra. I keep telling him that I think he needs to saw a groove into the other end when he comes home.

If it were just me, I'd glue the thing on. However. I'm willing to wait for him to check it out.

For the time being, you're strollering very gently.
You're so full of energy and enthusiasm and certainty. You rush full speed at everything you want to do. You love exuberantly. Sometimes you drive your brother insane, but you love the tar out of him.

The other day you were so determined to do the monkey bars. You got up and fell down over and over until you could get to the third rung.

I admire you.

One of your teachers was endlessly impressed by the fact that on a stormy day you said the sky looked "ominous". She must've made a big deal of it, because now you regularly ask for words that most four-year-olds don't know.

Obstreperous is a word I've suggested. Because boy howdy are you.

And yet, you're extremely kind. You're gentle with younger kids. Your teachers told us that there's a child in your class with delays, and you're unfailingly patient and sweet with him.

Speaking of school, you recently told some of the kids in your class that for time out, we send you to the bathroom after your daddy poops. I had to tell your teacher this is absolutely not true. She laughed and told me that one of the boys was all, "Wow, I thought I had it bad!"

I was, I must admit, impressed with your creativity.

We've recently been discussing body hair and puberty and menstruation. I can only imagine what you've shared with your class in this regard.

You call yourself a fashionista. Your dad rolls his eyes at our shared enthusiasm for clothing and footwear. Some of your outfits are truly surprising but also incredibly refreshing. You love to put on my boots and prance around.

I deliberately don't talk about size and weight, instead emphasizing strength. You see me work out regularly, and sometimes you join me. You talk about how strong you are, about the physical things you can do. I hope this continues.

You hate food lately. Meals are generally torture. Despite this, you consistently like broccoli and you've become a huge fan of asparagus. You also like figs, which I'm kind of fixated on right now myself.

Sometimes I look at you think, how did I get so lucky? I say this to you. How am I so lucky that I get to be your Mama?

We are on spring break and we have had a lot of together time. Last night I hit my limit, and I said I needed a time out. You started to cry and followed me. So I invited you to join my in my time out. We snuggled in the chair in the back room. Because Jordan called it the "background" when he was very young, we still call it the background and I don't think we're ever going to stop.

You pronounce the fourth floor the floh floh. I'll be sad when that goes away.

And you still say, "It's glad that..." I'm so charmed by this that I never say "I'm glad" to model the correct form. I just agree with you.

You are wonderful company. I love spending time with you. I love when you put your small hand into mine.

I so often stroke your cheek and tell you that you are my joy, my treasure. Sometimes in the morning you do the same back to me.

Sometimes you come up to me and kiss me on the cheek over and over. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss.

These things crack my heart wide open.

It's getting harder and harder to pick you up, but I will keep doing it as long as I can. You wrap your legs around my waist and your arms around my neck. You put your head on my shoulder, and I can feel your soft skin against my neck. Sometimes I feel your eyelashes flutter.

This is one of the unexpected pleasures of being your mother, something I have come to love most. One day you will be too big to fit or too old to want to. I hope it takes a long, long time.

I love you love you love you,

Mama

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to cause a commotion on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour

Perhaps you were on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour yesterday and you had to drive around a broken-down car in the middle lane, inside which was a nicely dressed woman sobbing hysterically?

That was me.

I will admit that with regard to vehicles, I fit the worst female stereotypes. It is terrible, I know. I lived alone for six years, owned my own place, took care of all my bills and what-have-yous.

And still, when my muffler broke, I called my dad. When my dad offered to get my oil changed, I was delighted.

I take my car to the DMV inspection, and to get it fixed, and all that. But I find all these car things stressful. Maybe I make them worse than they have to be.

Remember when I broke my wheel and then rolled into that parking lot full of convicts?

Now, I feel the need to tell you that earlier in the day, I'd said my final goodbye to a dear family friend. I'd placed my hand on his forehead, silently wished him Godspeed, told him I loved him, asked him to say hi to my dad for me.

Grief, in the end, is all about us, isn't it?

So I had already been crying a good deal and was already an emotional wreck before my car broke down.

I called Nick (hands free, on speakerphone) from I-66 the second time that I put my foot on the gas but the car didn't respond. See, the first time it did that, it was brief. This little light that looks like a submarine but surely isn't, flashed on. And then my car went back to normal.

And then it happened again. And then went back to normal. He said to try and get home and then we would deal with it.

But then I got on Rock Creek, and traffic was so slow, stop and go. And at some point, my car stopped, and would not go, no matter what.

The submarine light, the battery light, and something else went on. But not the car.

At this point, I was maybe half a mile from home, in the middle lane.

I had this brief urge to get out of the car, get on the Rock Creek bike path I know so well, and go home. Car? What car?

People behind me started honking, because what kind of jerk just plain stops in the middle of Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour?

My windows were down, because even though my car had not been overheating, Nick kept asking, and it was a beautiful day and I figured why add extra stress to the unhappy engine by running the AC.

So my windows were all the way down when my car died. This detail matters because here's what I did next: I put on the hazards and started sobbing hysterically.

I mean, I was crying so loudly that people who passed me leaned out their windows to ask if I was OK. I could only nod because I couldn't actually breathe.

One woman very kindly said, "I hope your day gets better."

I called Nick, who very sternly told me to PULL IT TOGETHER AND BREATHE. This only made me cry harder, which I knew frustrated him and did nothing to calm me.

Anyway.

Once I was able to calm down a little, he said to call 911.

Which I did. The woman who spoke to me told me not to cry. But in a nice way.

Naturally, I continued to sob after hanging up.

And then two young and very fit guys came over to my window and said they were going to push my car to the side. They very kindly did.

Nick called again and said he'd organize the tow truck and call the car place, and where exactly was I and what had happened with the car?

So I said, "Well, I was driving, and then when I tried to accelerate it just went "Rrrrrrrrr!" and then the little light that looks like a submarine flashed and then it went back to normal but then it happened again and then..."

"You're going to have to explain to me what 'Rrrrrrrr!' means. And the light looks like a submarine?"

So I explained as best I could what the car had done and not done and that there is this light that looks like the Beatles' roundy Yellow Submarine with a periscope.

I think he said this may be the engine light. In any case, my explanation was enough to tell the car people and the tow truck.

And then he said to get out of the car, because cars often get hit from behind. Apparently this is a thing people know but I did not. Now I do.

At this point on the parkway, there was a small stretch of sidewalk and a low wall. So I sat on it, in my nice dress and wedge heels. But for the car with the hazards and hood, and I guess also the location, what with it being on a wall on the side of the road, I looked like I was waiting for a date to pick me up.

I wasn't crying anymore. But my phone battery was low. I put it on power save, and posted my status to Facebook.

Nick criticized me for this later, but I will tell you that I needed some support. And my friends are lovely. A couple of them so nicely offered to come get me.

I was wishing I'd brought a book. I should never go anywhere without a book. And phone power.

A number of police came by and asked if I had called 911 or had a tow truck on the way. One of them pulled over and gave me a flare and told me how to start it, in case it was dark by the time the truck came. He also helped me open my hood.

I can't tell you how many people looked over and asked if I was OK. Two cars pulled over and asked if I needed a ride.

They were either really kind or axe-murdery. You can't tell when you don't know people. But I'm going to go with kind.

By "going to go" I mean choosing to assume. I don't mean I would hop in the car with a stranger.

I will be honest and say that I did that kind of thing in my foolish youth and nothing bad every happened but I count myself lucky.

Eventually a tow truck pulled up behind my car. I waved and walked over.

Except that it was a random tow truck. I called Nick to ask him the name of the company, which turned out to not be this one. The guy said, "Cancel the other one. We're here now and we can take you."

I was tempted, because I was so tired of waiting, and starting to fret about it getting dark. In the dark, the nice guys who inquired about my welfare would start to seem threatening.

Nick wanted to speak to him, and after a brief conversation he said I would just wait for the truck we'd organized. Apparently the man said, "So you're just going to leave your wife on the side of the road?"

Ooh, manipulation.

And then, after another half hour or so, just as the sun was starting to sink and I was thinking I had to light the flare, a nice man named Max turned up in a very large tow truck with the correct company name on the side.

He asked what had happened and I didn't use the "Rrrrrrrrr" noise. He expressed sympathy for me sitting by the side of the road for that long.

And then I handed him my keys, thanked him, and walked off into the sunset.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

New additions to the fear list

Death by coconut
This is a thing. A friend of mine went to Panama, and at the hotel they gave her a list of things to watch out for.

Top of the list? Above scorpions? Falling coconuts. Hand to god.

"Although it sounds peculiar, the most dangerous thing in the Caribbean is having a coconut fall on your head." Direct quote. See below.
Proof!
So I Googled this, and there are a number of articles about how you are more likely to die from a falling coconut than a shark attack.

I think they were trying to reassure people, like listen, shark attacks aren't even as common as coconut attacks, but all I could think was, you're not safe in the water and you're not safe on the beach! Nature will kill you every time.

Listen to this: if a coconut falls out of a tree, it can hit you with 2,000 pounds of force. And then you die.

This happens!

I recommend wearing a sturdy but stylish pith helmet. Betty used to have a very cute one, although I cannot remember why, because if she knew about the coconut danger, she never shared it with us.

So, yah.
Death by being swallowed by a python
Last week I read about a 25-year-old Indonesian man who went out to harvest palm oil. And he never came home, so his family went out looking for him.

Do you know where they found him, two days later? In the stomach of a 23-foot long python.

Yes.

Pythons, they squeeze you to death. They're incredibly powerful, and they just crush the stuffing out of you. There you are, walking along, collecting your palm oil, and the next thing you know your whole body is being strangulated by a giant python.

Then they swallow you whole. Their jaws unhinge, or something like that, so they can open wide enough to swallow an entire grown man. With his boots on.

They do this, and then lie around in a ditch and wait for you to digest.

I'm not clear on what happens to the boots.

Apparently, they rarely eat humans. They typically eat small and medium sized mammals.

Also, I know what you're going to say: We don't have them in DC, Lisa, except in the form of shoes and handbags.

Listen, we also don't have hippos, and they are way high up on the list. I don't let little things like practicality or lack of proximity deter me.

Like, I also realize there's not going to be a shark in the bottom of the pond or the swimming pool. But if I can't see the bottom, or if it is deep and I am swimming alone, it doesn't keep me from panicking.

Jaws traumatized me for life.

Also, did I tell you that there are sharks in the Potomac?

You're welcome.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Scary monsters and super creeps

My brother and I were raised immersed in the religions of the cultures we lived in--Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Islam. We never attended church services, but grew up visiting temples and mosques and churches as cultural outings rather than religious ones.

Then, when I was 14, my parents got worried that eventually my brother and I would freak out about our lack of religious upbringing and run off and join the Moonies. So they started hauling us to Mass. But, for me anyway, it was too late for the ritual to appeal.

Despite my parents' fears, I've never sought out a cult, and as far as I know, my brother hasn't either.

Nick and I haven't raised our kids with any religion, although I'm starting to think we should at least offer them some religious education.

I can't remember if I told you that last year my daughter came home one day and said, "Mama, do you know who Jeez is?"

Right.

Now, Jordan knows a lot of bad words, but he also knows that kids shouldn't say them. And when I run my mouth when I'm driving, he will say things like, "Mama, maybe instead of using the asshole word, you could say he's a jerk."

I always thank him and say he's right.

And yesterday the kids were watching teens and adults play basketball at the park. Jordan later told me that he heard some very bad words. I said I expected that was true, and I trust him to know not to use them.

So recently at dinner Jordan said, "Mama, is 'hell' a bad word?"

Nick had bought Jordan a King Kong comic book. And apparently someone in it says, "Holy hell!"

I said it depends on how you use it. I went on to explain that Christians think hell is a place where bad people go after they die.

Fortunately, they didn't delve into this, because I don't have much more to say. The bulk of my knowledge of hell comes from Dante's Inferno.

Anyway, back to the hell at hand.

I said, "Talking about hell as a place is fine. But if you say something like, 'Oh, hell!' then it's a bad word."

"What if I said 'Holy hell' because a 50-foot-tall King Kong was chasing me?"

"Sweetheart, if any giant beast is chasing you, you go ahead and say whatever you want."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

For those of you who also love my Betty

Because I hate suspense, and cancer is very scary, I'm going to tell you up front that everything is OK.

And now I'm going to tell you about the past month.

It is February second, and I am in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

I'm a sucker for stained glass and achingly high ceilings.

My dad was Catholic, and when I'm in a church, I light a candle for him. So I am wandering around St. Patrick's, wondering which saint would be the best one for my dad's candle.

I look for Saint Michael, because that's my dad's name, but then Michael was an  archangel, right? How does that work? Does he get a niche with candles?

Before I can examine all the saint options, my phone rings. It's my mother's doctor. I answer quietly. Are you allowed to talk on a phone in a church?

She tells me that my mom's CT scan revealed a mass in her lung. And that she needs a further scan to determine what it might be.

I am too well aware of the fact that Mom has smoked for 60 years.

I start to cry while we are talking, and in the end, I can only whisper, because otherwise, I will wail.

And then I feel so lucky to be in a church. I sit on a pew and sob. I know I'm an adult with children of my own, but I am not ready to let go of my mama. I am not ready for my children to lose their Nana, one of their biggest cheerleaders, reading companions, night-time snugglers.

As I cry, I pray, which is what I do in crisis. I did this every time my dad attempted suicide and went missing. Every time he wound up in the hospital and I held his hand and stared at the monitors.

I beg, and I tell God that I know that I really suck in that I only pray when I need something and it is true that I am not religious and don't go to church and am not going to start. But please, please let my mama be OK. Please.

Unable to stop crying, but with a train to catch, I find the nearest saint, and light a candle for my mom. I figure the living need it more than the dead.

There is a gift shop near the door, and I stop in. I buy a St. Patrick key chain.

Because I am also a sucker for colorful stuff with saints.

The following week, Betty has a PET CT scan. They have her drink glucose and put her in a lead-lined room. She'll be radioactive, so she has to stay in there alone. She can't be around babies or pregnant women for 24 hours.

The technician explains that cancer uses glucose at a faster rate than normal cells. So this test will show if her mass is using glucose, and how much.

Her mass shows up as using glucose. This means it is growing, although not rapidly.

We are fortunately able to get an appointment with a recommended pulmonologist within the week.

The nurse takes her vitals and tests her breathing, which shows that she has reduced capacity for her age. The doctor shows us the scans of this new, growing mass, which wasn't present three years prior. He says removal would be the preferred option, but her reduced lung capacity makes that very risky.

He says he needs to consult with the radiologist to see if he can get to it for a needle biopsy, so they can know what they are dealing with. If not, and they deem surgery too risky, they would consider radiator or chemotherapy.

I ask if it could be an infection, and he says yes, there is a remote possibility. But this is not the kind of thing where he'd give antibiotics and wait to see what happened. We need to start treating this ASAP.

He calls me to say the radiologist can do it.

Betty has the biopsy.

I call to get results, and am told we have to meet with the doctor. The first appointment he has available is 4:40 pm the following Monday.

As in yesterday.

Betty spends the month letting go of things she loves. You like this? Take it. Here, have this. I should sell my Indian paintings. They're valuable.

At some point I realize what's going on and I say, "Mama. You're not planning on dying, are you?"

She denies it, but I don't believe it.

Finally, finally, the Monday that was yesterday arrives. We drive to Sibley, and finally, finally sit  down in the room with the pulmonologist. Who we like, and who, incidentally, has a nice head of hair.

He shakes our hands, sits down and says, "It is not malignant. It is an infection. You dodged a bullet."

I start to cry. I exhale all of the breath that I have been holding for the entire month.

He explains that it takes six weeks for the culture to grow, but they think it is a kind of nontuberculous mycobacteria. This means it's a wee bacteria that's like TB, but not. And it is not contagious.

It's around us, in the air and the soil and what have you. But this one has now set up camp in Betty's lung.

Older women are the population that this typically happens to, turns out. Them and people with compromised immune systems.

He writes down a lot of complicated names, all of which are possibilities. These require 18 months of triple antibiotic. They are, as the treatment suggests and my google research confirms, very hard to kill.

But for now, we wait. They monitor her with another CT scan in May.

It is not cancer. This is the most important thing. It is NOT CANCER!

My mom says, "What should I do now?"

The doctor respons, "Go home and celebrate. And buy a Powerball ticket."

Later Betty says to me, "I'm not going to die."

And that, my friends, was our month.

It was an amazing reminder to me to hold my loved ones tight. To be kind. To appreciate the people I have while I have them.

To love big, with the realization that nothing is forever.

That was our month, and I'm so grateful to be on this side of it.