Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Days and First Days

I took this job before I thought I could hold down any kind of job, much less one that took both analytical skill and creativity. I would come here, sit at my desk and cry, especially in those first months. I would run off to the bathroom, sit in a stall and cry. I would go to the gym, shower and cry and walk back through the parking garage and cry. Leaving the house, leaving the living facsimile of my dead baby every day gave me the space to finally and fully (?) grieve. So I came here and soaked many tissues, napkins and shirt sleeves. It was what I needed.

Three years later, I am ready to move on. I feel as though I have outgrown this position and it's choking me. I am hungry for more. I am not afraid of anything except neglecting my family.

Four years ago today I was sitting in a hospital bed. Around this time of day, I would have been hooked up to the monitors for my morning NST. My girls were alive in me. Three years ago (almost to the day, I started on the 26th), I started working here. Today is my last day.

I am ready to kick some ass.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Masking Truth

In the early days of grief I felt that my forehead had been stamped with the words DEAD BABY. How strange to find that in a matter of weeks the feeling changed to its diametric opposite; I felt suffocated by the mask I felt I was almost always wearing in order to appear minimally functional. My face -- with its default impassive expression -- became a kind of scab to staunch the appearance of bleeding, but for a long time after, I was still actively bleeding just below the surface. Though I think the most acute despair of grief is behind me, I have been intermittently bleeding and picking at my scab ever since.

I started a new job 8 months into this altered reality and I had to try to pretend that it wasn't a huge mistake for my new employer to hire me. I was so afraid of who I had become or what my grief had reduced to me to that the job wasn't ideal and it certainly wasn't some great career move, but it got me out of the house and out of my head. I needed that desperately. Left to my own devices, I was digging deeper and deeper into despair, isolation and self-flagellation.

Now four years after that pregnancy that changed everything, I don't know what I am feeling. Stronger and ready to move on from this soft landing spot that has become quicksand in its turn. Grateful that in the time since then I have found people in whose company I feel understood. Sadder because I see now that the masks serve a purpose. Sometimes, without their benefit (that is, of my own mask and the ones others wear), I am overwhelmed by the pain everywhere all around, particularly in this online world where we lower our defenses more readily. I often lack the strength these days to bear necessary witness without succumbing to a paralyzing sorrow. It is one thing to know, even viscerally, that we each have a story. It is another thing to be able to read so many of them in their unvarnished states, even as they are unfolding in some cases. Perhaps this is one form of the collateral damage of the blogosphere and the sense of community it engenders and enables.

D and I watched The Stoning of Soraya M. a couple of nights ago. [This is not a "spoiler" kind of movie, but skip this paragraph if you do not wish to read about the film.] Despite the late hour, I couldn't hit the pause button and though D decidedly does not share my love of (obsession with?) morose foreign film, he couldn't turn away either. This movie left me a sobbing mess, but here's the rub. If anything, the movie flattened out Soraya's story to deal with how she came to one of the most unjust, horrific ends I can imagine. Understandably, it did not deal with other horrors she endured and about which I only later learned. It made no mention that her husband to whom she was bartered away by a father who both jettisoned her at 13 and disowned her on the day she died was a petty thief. The story version of her life reduced her brood to 4 children, from 9, and made no mention of her two stillbirths. It was tragic enough, to be sure, that she was stoned to death at 35 because her husband was a thug whose power over his wife was so complete that he could have her killed by a mob that included her two eldest sons on the breath of suspicion. I am not doing this story justice and it's really not the point of my post. I'm just flattened by the truth of this and am humbled and shamed by -- not simply the relative equality and respect I enjoy, but -- my undeserved privilege by comparison. It is not a story we don't already know. It is just that I have to meditate on it often. I have to remember when I am feeling unfulfilled by my career and at those times when my children are trying my limited patience. I have to both remember and yet somehow keep moving.

I think I am not alone in saying that sometimes I am more inspired to write than other times and there is no simple answer for why that is. So many topics have been swirling in my head that I don't feel able to or have the time to flesh out adequately, giving them their due. It is also true that sometimes I cannot read any more. I am sitting at my desk in my office where other people purportedly work and multiple times today I have switched to my reader to read a blog or an article only to leave with tears in my eyes. I can't do it again. I have to wear the mask sometimes not only to obscure my own pain but also the pain I read and see in the lives of others.

The strange mixture of love, empathy and loyalty that we feel for one another is the product of connection. You see sites everywhere that have little social networking icons and they cheerfully announce "We're social" or something along those lines like it's all song lists, likes and Farmville. I enjoy the entertainment. I really do. Sometimes it is just the thing. But more importantly, part of the reality of being "social" is interacting with people when they decide to take their masks off for a while. It is often sublime. It is stained with blood, too. What a responsibility we bear to each other. What an amazing opportunity it is to banish isolation, to practice compassion. I am so often in awe and I hope for those moments of strength when I can rise to meet this gift.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Took Me So Long

I have always loved photography. I have always enjoyed creative pursuits. Alas, I have never had the confidence or the risk tolerance to pursue these things professionally. I haven't even been willing to enter a lousy photography contest. Ever. The first time I shared anything creative that I made (outside of a classroom setting where it was required) was earlier this year on still life 365.

But I could only share pieces of mine because Angie started actively asking for work. As a part of her effort and for the success of this amazing project, I could put aside my own ego/insecurity/vanity and participate, but on my own, I  never could. I posted that first submitted piece, a sestina, on this blog months after I wrote it and then only because the blog was visible solely to me at the time. For some reason, on sl365, I don't see the work I submit as about me at all, but rather as a part of a dialog among people who share the experience of babyloss and who use a variety of media to work through that experience. At the same time, it is as though a switch was flipped and I can and want to do more creative stuff! In front of others (potentially)!

From where I sit now,  my earlier reticence seems awfully pathetic. Not because I am great at any of this stuff. I recently had a revelation that someone's greatest talent might not actually be that great in the grand scheme of things. We have such a hard on for fame and greatness in our culture that it is easy to lose sight of how truly rare those things are. If the thing I am best at is photography, well, I am keeping my day job.

But I have hampered my own progress along the continuum of mediocrity by not exposing myself to greater scrutiny. That is, until this week!  I recently joined the local photography club. One of my neighbors is a member and I like her a great deal. I started going to meetings with her early this year and last month, I joined. This month, I entered the competition. The theme was water.

This image was eliminated in the first round because it did not adhere closely enough to the theme. I wasn't surprised, but I thought I would take the chance. Still, it got a laugh, which was a very nice reaction. I was hoping for a bit more feedback from the judge, but the judge actually didn't do a lot of thoughtful critiquing in my opinion.

The second image, which you may recognize from my masthead is one I have played with -- cropping, adjusting the sharpness, exposure and contrast. This is the most recent incarnation of the shot. I think it is more powerful without the other boats. It got an honorable mention.



And I owe it all to the inspiration I have drawn from others in the community.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Flying Forks, Momentarily Dodged

I am sitting right now in the office of a cancer practice alone and I am about to shit a brick. Good thing I brought something to type on. I pound a virtual keyboard with great force.

Now I am in an exam room. I am thinking about forks, the kinds that are in roads, the roads that are metaphorical.

Th Kleenex box is within reach. This has the opposite of its [presumed] intended effect. The room is crammed with vomit- inducing upholstery in a sickly purple. The speckled tile alternate lavender and aqua. There's nothing worse than pastels when they get dingy.  Even the baseboard is eggplant and plastic.

Right now it's 50/50. I walk out okay or I don't, ultimately.  I know that all too well now.

I am here for something presumed to be benign. Four years ago, almost to the day, I went to the antenatal testing center for something we presumed to be benign also. I walked out of there a different person. So, right now, my face is burning and my hands are freezin

Later...

The hematologist/oncologist walked in as I pounded that last 'n' and we chit-chatted about myriad topics. Strange that in the course of 5 minutes we discussed technology, finance and the most private and profound losses I have experienced. For him, just another day at the office. For me, my heart ripped open, but my face blank and clinical. The grief and panic brain, which are one and the same, wanted so desperately to yell profanities. Still, chatting casually was better than waiting in that room alone.

I have an active fear of cancer. The absence of (much) family history or known risk factors does not assuage my fears. Something about its seeming ubiquity, the sheer numbers, has convinced me that someone close to me will soon be drafted. And perhaps, now that I know better than to believe in balance, I no longer think that I am off the hook, that I have paid my dues in suffering to the coffers of human existence. Quite the contrary, actually. I have seen loss beget loss and so I am attentive to its possibilities, wanting, above all, not to be surprised.

But this time, and for the moment, what was presumed to be benign seemingly still is. Which makes me wonder; do dues collectors charge interest?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Worst Efforts

For the past few months, I have been losing the battle of focusing on diet and health issues. I am sliding back into a pattern of emotional eating and am largely out of my exercise routine. These things have never been areas of strength for me and yet, it is vitally important to me to set a good example for my children. The truth is, however, that I am a fraud and a hypocrite, not to mention a closet eater. At least, I'm closeted to the kids. D is often my partner in late night snacking, as in everything else (everything, that is, except for exercise where I am a hopeless sloth and he is a disciplined runner).

So, unsurprisingly, I was not looking forward to our local Turkey Trot yesterday. I pretty much convinced myself in the days leading up to it that the fatigue I've been feeling so much lately would overtake me and I would be unable to run the full 5K. But I decided that come what may, I would keep up with my son.

That proved not to be difficult, actually. N made it about half a mile before the complaints started. And the full-throated, high-pitched whining was not too far behind. Now, he's only 6  (almost 7!) and 3 miles is not  easy for a 6 year old, but I was really surprised. He did worse than last year, when he at least managed to get close to the turn-around before really letting loose with the vitriol and hot fuss. We don't force races upon him. He ALWAYS expresses interest (and not in the mamby-pamby 1 milers, mind you). And of course, he NEVER paces himself. Despite all the soccer and running and cycling he's done since our last 5K, he was actually less ready, it would seem. Being my son, he had plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons for why he could not possibly finish the race: his leg hurt, we did not feed him before the race, he hates races, we force him to run, he neck hurt, his shoes weren't right, I was embarrassing him (I was running backwards facing him and singing Journey. I call it encouragement.), etc.

n was in the jogging stroller, except for the brief sprints she did. At one point she was outrunning N. Talk about adding insult to injury! He rallied, ever so briefly, if only to establish sibling dominance. He still whined even then. He complained that it wasn't fair that she was running faster than him. We tried to cut deals about alternating walking with running. Frustrated, we even offered him the jogging stroller. No, he preferred martyrdom and even through all the afflictions imposed by his cruel parents, he maintained a degree of vanity.

Finally, belatedly, and for N, begrudgingly, we made a final sprint for the finish line, after which he turned to me and said, "I finished ahead of you."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 16 - A Song that Makes You Cry

That is the prompt that called to me today (okay, yesterday, when I started the post). Although I like to think of my musical tastes as not too narrow, if there is one little corner of the music world that I go back to repeatedly, it is modern folk/alt-country, especially by women. When I really want to listen to music, that is often what I pick.

Patty Griffin is a brilliant storyteller of tragedies large and small. It's no wonder she and Emmylou Harris collaborate so well together. I could pick any number of her songs, some more subtle perhaps. But "Poor Man's House," from her first album, aptly named Living With Ghosts (recorded essentially as a demo) is spare and hard . It starts:
You know you've done enough
When ev'e'ry bone is sore
You know you've prayed enough
When you don't ask anymore
You know you're coming to some kind of 
understanding
When ev'e'ry dream you've dreamed is past
And you're still standing 
I could go on, but that last line... There aren't too many people I know who have to live with that kind of sorrow and defeat. "Every dream you've dreamed is past and you're still standing."  Why bother standing at all? Is it an act of courage or duty to do so? Or is it because if there is any glimmer of hope at all, it tends to shine. What is left of us if we have no dreams remaining, not even for someone we love?

I think that there was a time when I was so overwhelmed with grief that I had no dreams left. I remember telling my grief counselor that I had nothing to look forward to and that I had squandered my life -- that I would never be successful at anything again. I truly felt that at 34, there was nothing but downhill left. I guess that I had dreams for my children, but they seemed so remote that I couldn't focus on them. And yet, I was duty bound to them so I didn't consider suicide in anything more than a passive sense.

Daddy's been working too much 
For days and days and doesn't eat
He never says much 
But I think this time it's got him beat

I imagine that what kept him standing was his children, knowing that the alternative would only be worse for them.  The more I think about it, the more I think it was purely duty and not hope that kept him going.

Perspective....I got my ability to dream back over time. My ambitions eventually reignited, with a lot of help. And on the other side of that coin, I would go so far as to say that I have less fear now, less inhibition. A year ago this blog was visible only to me. I had never submitted anything I wrote or created (with one exception -- I did submit an essay to This I Believe) to a public forum. Writing and photography both help me work through grief and also give me a feeling of accomplishment. I'm not quitting my day job, but I am okay with that.

There is no video for this song that I could find, but this is the song put to images. At least you can hear it in Patty's voice, rather than a cover.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gettin' Her Parade On

Best part of the costume is really not part of the costume; they are her green Reebok high tops, natch!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 24 - Where You Live

I grew up in Northern New Jersey and when my immigrant parents pulled together enough money to move us out to the suburbs from their original landing place (a semi-permanent port of call for many), they bought an awkward house in a town that I am belatedly willing to admit is largely --like the cliche would have you believe-- just an exit, or rather, several exits, depending on which of the highways you're on. The town is what is left over after the highways have had their way with the land. With no sense of irony, we would ask each other which side of what highway the other person lived on. There is no main street to speak of. There is no community there that I could ever find. Maybe some people had a sense of community there, but I doubt it had anything to do with the town.

D and I moved to the DC area, where I went to college and where we had a decent number of friends, a couple of years out of school. Despite the vague idea that we'd go back to NJ someday, we have never left and I don't think we will. Even my mother has instructed us not to return. Home for me now, the home of my and D's making is in direct response to the good (mostly his) and bad (mostly mine) of our hometowns. We're in our third house together and our third city/town. I feel, this time, we may have gotten it right. Sure, we too capitulated and moved to the suburbs like so many middle class capitulators before us, fleeing the city at the first sign of procreation. And yes, most of our friends have now left that city, too. But, and I hope I'm not just making excuses here, we love this stinkin' town. We love that we can walk to the diner and the pediatrician and, most importantly, a Dairy Queen. We never really and truly loved our expensive-yet-still-oddly-transitional first neighborhood. Our second town was too remote and sprawly and that was the house of bad ju-ju, where the bad things happened (another post for another day). What we have now and what I am completely grateful for every time I drive or walk or bike around is a place where there are local businesses, great schools, an exercise trail, recreation/community centers, a main street and holy smokes, a camera club that I just joined (my first evah!). We've always had pretty nice neighbors, but we are in a tight-knit community now, something my parents haven't won in the 25 years they've lived in their house.

Tonight, one of our town's most important events is set to take place (rain or shine): the annual Halloween Parade! Of course, that exacerbates what I consider to be our biggest problem: traffic.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gripe List - AKA Day 27 - Your Worst Habit

I am the giant sucking sound at the tail end of this meme. But this is blogging and it's supposed to be fun, cathartic, or generally something other than obligatory. I bristle at obligation. It is one of my passive rebellions against my upbringing.

So, while I hope to circle back around at some of the other topics about which I may have something to say, I have decided to cut to the chase. Here it is, warts and all  -- or perhaps, just the warts.

I think I would have said, up until last week, that my worst habit is consuming sweetie treaties after the children have gone to bed. You see how I have tried to gamely deflect from the awfulness of my habit by giving it a cutesie name? Oh, the shame!

But the truth, laid plain by my husband last week, is even worse. We were in the car, on our shared commute (#11 from the "20 Things" post) when D mentioned someone and I replied that while I liked the person (I think it was one of the kid's teachers), I had a reservation. Apparently, I always have, sitting attentively in the front row of my consciousness, a short, but pointed list of the concerns I have about an unsightly proportion of the people that I meet each day. Worse still, I can recall these infractions at a moment's notice. This is precious, precious real estate that might have better served its purpose in learning to balance equations, speak properly in my mother tongue, or win me just one game of Trivial Pursuit in my lifetime. But no, instead, I have a petty yet encyclopedic knowledge of all the ways in which I have disagreed quietly with people I know. Hello, my name is Audrey and I have a gripe list.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kinship

It is a very old vinyl bag in caramel brown with about the same capacity as a kid's backpack. It's dusty and there is nothing ergonomic about the strap. I didn't know that it existed or that I would be its new owner until after it all happened.

We have visited D's grandmother twice in the past month. We went last month in a harried trip for grandpa's funeral and this time for a celebration of grandma's hard won achievement -- becoming a Bat Mitzvah in her mid-80s. Since most of the family was there, and those who were not were represented by their proxies, many of grandpa's personal things were distributed.

This was a strange new experience for me, having never met my maternal grandparents who died when my mother was a teenager (and for whom Eva is named, actually) and being an ocean and a half away from my paternal grandparents when they died (I was a small child anyway when my paternal grandfather passed away). Even if I had been there, I am fairly certain that the scene would have unfolded very differently. I imagine that there would have been small precious things (but, what?) unwrapped from small pouches or pieces of fabric or very thin paper. It would have taken place in dimly-lit room. The lighting was never very good in their apartment. I can't help but think that objects would have been pressed deliberately into palms following the unspoken but unwavering boundaries of obligation and tradition. It is all a mystery to me, I'm afraid. My people don't really talk openly about such things. But, I know this much; there would have been no display and no choices in the matter.

They were from another time and place; time was not as generous in allowing people to accumulate their treasures and people simply didn't have very much that was tangible. I never could understand how my grandparents had so many kids in that apartment. I will have to ask my father about that.

In the apartment D's grandparents shared for a quarter century, neither one of us was entirely comfortable with a brightly-lit dining room table and people handling and claiming his things. But this family is more fortunate and there was more than enough to go around. Here there were no obligations and little hierarchy. People could just take what appealed to them, what they felt connected to. In the end, when the most favored of the watches and cufflinks (Grandpa's whole career aside from WWII was about timepieces and jewelry) were claimed, it was the box that held them that I received. And that felt right to me.

Later that morning, I think the luncheon at temple the day before caught up to me and I just wanted to get home. Under the circumstances, there were no goodbyes, let alone time for things to be pressed into palms. Instead, I ended up acting out one of those drunken puking out the car scenes, something I have never done before. So, yeah, I'm all for new experiences. D drove and I tried to be still until, strangely, the whole episode just passed and I felt fine. I think it was then that D told me about the bag.

I didn't want to open the bag right away. I knew it was a camera bag, but until I dragged the zipper's pull from one side to the other, it could have been anything -- a Hasselblad [swoon], a Leica [gasp], a Brownie [a solid nod], anything. Inside were two 35 mm cameras  (a Konica and a Minolta) and a third lens -- a telephoto zoom. But what surprised me was that Grandpa had a teleconverter (used to multiply the focal length of a lens, thereby simulating a longer telephoto) and a set of close-up lenses, basically convex glass filters that allow you to focus in closer than you could otherwise, a cheap alternative to a true macro lens and well before such business could be accomplished simply by turning a dial.

I have owned both of those items, but what caught my eye was the set of close-up filters. Just two nights before, I had used one to take this photo of the engraved plate on grandpa's box before I had opened  the bag. The Grandpa I knew was a devoted painter. Now I see that at least for a time, he used more than brushes to create. I'll have to dig some film out of the fridge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Day 7 - A Photo That Makes You Happy

Friends, this was a simpler time. Determined to be an active father, D started running during my first pregnancy. This photo was taken on the day of his first race and we entered as a family, he in the 5K and my son and I in the "fun run." Not satisfied with his stroller-based experience, N took off on a run of his own at one point. I love that his tail is aflutter. Because you must also see the front view to fully appreciate this costume, here's another:

I bought this Halloween costume online and was utterly shocked (heh...) to find that the costume lacked a certain authenticity. So, we created our own, ehem, authenticity. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 6 - 20 Things

1. Cooking with wine on a Sunday afternoon (in a glass, not in the food)
2. Writing with a fountain pen
3. Singing along
4. Crisp Fall Days
5. Deep breaths, when I remember to take them
6. A clean house
7. Crossing things off the list
8. Holding them deeply
9. Walking downstairs after putting them to bed
10. Reassurance
11. Sharing the commute
12. The view from the mountains
13. Poetry (or really, anything) read aloud
14. Dark chocolate
15. The moment after the pan has been lifted from a cake, assuming it is intact
16. Girls with guitars
17. My silkie
18. Blowing glass (back in the day)
19. Warm Spring days
20. Acceptance

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Day 3 - TV

Flight of the Conchords was just so much fun to watch. I think that first season was such a surprise, both in that it was as good as it was and in that we were able to enjoy something. Amid all the documentaries, this show was respite. Yes, we bought the album.

The Wire. Simply put, this show is either the best show I've ever seen or a close second to Six Feet Under.  I actually think it edges out Six Feet Under because it was, in my opinion, more consistent. The first season started a little slow.  But if you give it a chance, this show gains steam. It is just phenomenal.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Day 1 - Song

Everything on VH1's tiny rotation during the time I was in the hospital (Dec 06 to March 07) brings me right back to that place of uncertainty, that feeling of free fall, particularly "Read My Mind" by The Killers. It is one of the few songs, paradoxically, that I grew to like, though. Even after, we sang that one to cheer ourselves up. My son, 3 at the time, always sang along. I am so grateful for those impromptu karaoke dance parties.


For me, it is generally snippets of songs, or rather it is the longing in so many songs. Every other longing, despite the fact that is usually of the romantic kind, is the longing I feel. 


It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me, but my darling when I think of thee.
From "Leaving of Liverpool" No idea who wrote it


When I was sure you'd follow through,
My world was turned to blue.

When you'd hide
your songs would die,
so I'd hide yours with mine. 



From "Fair" by Remy Zero


Birds may be singing
In my eyes this day;
Sweet flowers may blossom when i smile;
My soul is stormy
And my heart blows wild;
My sweet heart rides a ship at sea.

From "Birds and Ships" Lyrics by Woody Guthrie. Sung by Natalie Merchant on Mermaid Avenue

But THE song is Amen Omen by Ben Harper. It is the song I used when I made a montage for Eva.

Can I find a place within to live my life without you? 

Gah! That line alone gets me. Crap. Can't I just go back to telling embarrassing stories about myself?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Day 2 - Movie

Yes, I am coming to this late, and starting out of sequence. Can I just pass that off as charming and whimsical instead of what it really is -- disorganized and lazy?

Well, nevermind, on with the show. I went through a heavy Why Does Africa Get Crapped On So Much phase in the first few months. It was decidedly not normal and possibly not healthy. I think my husband put up with it as one of my quirks or part of my grieving process, but needless to say I watched many of these films and countless online episodes of Frontline alone.

Blood Diamond, The Last King of Scotland, Lost Boys of Sudan, Hotel Rwanda, Sometimes in April (which was great and crushing, by the way), Lumumba, The Battle of Algiers, and probably others.

In retrospect, I think I was trying to put my loss in the context of more widespread and senseless tragedies. Call it the "it could have been worse" technique.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post Script

I checked my phone this morning and found that I had two new voicemails. The first was from a ranger at the park of perdition. His message was, "I understand you need some directions. Call us back if you still do."

Thanks. For. Nothing.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

I promised adventure.

      
I have been neglecting writing for a variety of reasons, but this experience begged to be recorded. I wrote it to share with some friends IRL, but I wanted to share it here also. Here's what I've been up to.

We have undertaken a remodeling project. We gutted our kitchen, as well as a small laundry room and butler’s pantry. My FIL built our cabinets and we did most of the work ourselves, with his help. To answer the FAQs on the project up front:

A.      Yes, we are still married
B.      Yes, we have a functional kitchen and laundry room
C.      No, we’re nowhere near done.


.     Despite the enormous pile of 30+ year old kitchen detritus sitting at our curb, we did not tear down any walls. We just replaced what was there, though we did take down the old soffits and replace our pantry closet with a cabinet. (You know, our neighbors have been a little nosier than we expected.)

We started demolishing the existing kitchen a few weeks (a month maybe?) ago. D flew to his parents'  2 Fridays ago and drove a U-Haul full of tools and cabinetry up with his dad, while dragging his dad’s van on a trailer behind, which was also full of tools and assorted buildy stuff. Despite some tense moments, things went relatively smoothly. After all, they finished the demo and got us back to a working kitchen with only 6 days of work. On day 2, we used a service to find someone to help carry some of the heavier cabinetry into the house. The person who showed up was about 5 feet tall and weighed 105 lbs. He was working the extra job to make money to buy back the Glock (?!?!?) his ex-girlfriend made him sell for some reason that I couldn’t begin to imagine!

In addition to the short timeframe, we had certain scheduled appointments/deliveries that required us to meet a couple of tight deadlines. We had an appointment Wednesday morning to have final measurements taken for our countertops. That meant the base cabinets had to be in on Day 1 (which should have been work Day 2, but D’s dad was behind schedule: see "tense moments" above). We also had to have our laundry room floor put in on Wednesday in order to get the room ready for the washer/dryer delivery. The counters and floors were what we were relying on contractors to do, and you all know how that goes. After using my “mom voice” with the flooring people, we were able to get the floor in the day they had committed to in the first place. Interestingly, the floor for the laundry room was a remnant from a large commercial job they had done and despite asking about 27 times, it was only on the day of the installation that I got a confirmation on the exact color of the floor. It’s name: Blue.

But none of that is the real point of my story. With all the work going on, I tried to keep the kids busy. Our routine was all hosed and we’re all about routine. I tried to cast our predicament in the light of ADVENTURE! We tried a bunch of new things and some not so new things including, swimming, bowling, mini golf, parks, etc. On Monday, the kids and I had breakfast at IHOP (which N, the elder, called IHOOP) and then drove out to Shenandoah National Park. We went to Skyline Caverns and for $16 all three of us got a 1 hour tour of the caves. We then paid $10 to go into a “dragon maze” that took us about 3 minutes to figure out. Then we went to the park, drove up Skyline Drive, stopped a couple of times before deciding to go on a hike. I thought we would walk for 30-60 minutes and then stop for a late lunch before heading home. I figured the kids might even nap in the car for a bit. We had audio books and the weather was beautiful.  As we were heading southbound on Skyline Drive, we passed by hikers and each time we did, N would remind me that we were supposed to be hiking. So I pulled off the next time I saw I parking space. It was a completely random choice.

There were two directions we could go from where we parked. We opted to climb uphill so we could climb down on the way back in case I had to carry n, the younger. We climbed well. n, the younger, had no trouble. We came upon some rocks and decided to go for it. We climbed up the rocks and got a great view of the valley below. I took a couple of pictures and thought that it would be wonderful to share them with D. I was so proud of us!

But, it was too hard to climb down the way we came, so we tried to work our way back a different way.  We walked for a while and I started to worry that the trail no longer seemed familiar, but eventually, we started a descent and I felt better. The only problem is that we descended for a loooong time. Too long. Well, it turns out that we jumped trails and we got ourselves lost. We had seen one couple on the way up, before our rock climb and 1 man after our rock climb. That was it, but when we saw him, I still felt reasonably certain we’d find our way. After some time (and my sense of time is completely screwy throughout this whole ADVENTURE), I started to worry. Wait, make that panic. I started to panic. We stopped walking. I started barking at the kids. I stopped barking at the kids long enough to call 911 and while I could hear the dispatcher clearly, she could not hear me well. And of course, I couldn’t tell her exactly where we were. She told me to stay put and we did. For hours.  At one point, we started to walk further down the path we’d been heading, but we didn’t see anything familiar or civilized, so we headed back to what we possessively started to call “our rock.” Later still, we back-tracked a bit, saw nothing and returned again to “our rock” – the object of our own personal Stockholm Syndrome. Around dinnertime, eager to bring normalcy to our day, I gave each of the kids exactly 4 Skittles, an artifact of a more successful adventure more than a week earlier (ehem, to an outlet mall, which I am obviously more qualified to explore than the actual woods). After the Skittles, which I was carefully rationing (obviously!), n asked me what I was serving for dessert.

Most of this time we were okay, though N was very worried and told me he wanted to cry and that it was the worst day of his life. He started apportioning blame. He graciously accepted some, acknowledging that he had come up with the hike idea in the first place, but he also pointed out that as the adult, I should have known better than to get us lost. Conversely, n was completely nonplussed. Every so often we yelled for help, which merely served to annoy n, and we did a lot of singing and told stories to keep our spirits up. The kids were WAY better at this than I was.  Our recent work in 80’s arena rock served us well in this regard, as did such classics as The Hokey Pokey. Suffice it to say that our voices carried, but not far enough. Eventually, it started to get dark and I had to face the prospect of sleeping under a glorious velvet carpet of stars and I hated every last one. I rued the day. 

Nevertheless, I positioned us right under a small break in the canopy so we could see the stars, but mostly in the completely insane hope that there were helicopters out looking for us. I regretted every time I’ve ever judged anyone for anything, but especially real adventurers who’d gotten into trouble and had to be rescued using what I had always assumed were vast amounts of taxpayer dollars. Now I fantasized about a helicopter rescue, logistics and deficit spending be damned. I also thought a lot about Into the Wild. That poor schmuck was now me and I'd brought my kids to ruin along with me for my completely naive and gratuitous desire to "experience life!" We settled in. I was stretched out across the Appalachian Trail, such as it is in that forsaken place. My daughter was sleeping on top of me and my son was in the crook of my left arm.  They slept, snoring softly. I figured that sleeping gave them some relief from worry and would help them pass the time more quickly. Me, I worried about the “predators” N had earlier described.

The mosquitoes were biting and the last light was fading when I saw the bluish lights of LEDs approaching from the direction in which we’d been walking.  Accustomed as my eyes had grown to the darkness, they were like beacons! What a sight for my sore eyes! I bolted upright and blurted something. I don’t know exactly what, but it was intended to convey the idea that we were lost and needed their help and possibly some comfort. I might have levitated, I was so relieved. The hikers were brothers from Ohio on their annual camping trip. They’d gotten a late start that morning after being dropped off by their parents. It was their first day and they were trying to make up some time. I jostled the kids in my eagerness not to sleep on the ground in the woods with the predators. n was disoriented and promptly threw up all down my right side. Doesn't that scream, "YAY! We're saved!"? The brothers opened their packs to us. Wipes for me, a little food and bug spray for the kids, a jacket for N to wear. They also let us use their phone, which strangely had reception in spots. My phone was on very little battery and had no reception. It was love on our end. We didn’t care where they were going. We were going with them. They had head lamps and that’s all I needed to know. I think the kids agreed because neither one would shut up for a single second. N, who wasn't holding anyone's hand, kept falling and popping back up like the most cheerful weeble. n was holding my hand whether she wanted to or not and all the while told one of the brothers literally every story she knows – not linearly, mind you.  After walking with them for about 45 minutes (I’m guessing) – with both kids chattering and stumbling the entire time – we finally made it back to our car. But, the kids were not done telling their stories, so after offering profuse thanks (I had to resist the urge to hug them given my eau de bile and Skittles, though they didn’t really smell much better and it was only their first day!), taking a couple of pictures and getting our rescuers’ address, I dragged the kids away to start our journey home. We called D to let him know we were alive, if not entirely well. I turned the audio book back on (Judy Blume is not appropriate for young kids, by the way. Too much name-calling.), got some heartburn hot dogs from 7-11 and drove home.

The next morning, I called the park’s emergency line to let them know we got out alive (no thanks to them! How are my taxpayer dollars being spent anyway?!? hrrrumph). The person on the phone indicated that there were rangers in the area looking out for cars “and whatnot” but his tone suggested that no helicopter rescue was forthcoming.

Now that some time has passed, I have been thinking that maybe we need to go camping this fall. I think it is important that we not let this past experience define us. Back in the saddle, I say! And by saddle, I mean of course, a well-appointed cabin in a well-lit, accessible spot that happens to have trees in view, but no rocks. Definitely no rocks.

On edit:
D tells me the story is not complete without the inclusion of one additional fact .... about er, the measures one sometimes must take when one is "functioning" under duress and yet is lacking facilities for conventionally handling those needs. Ehem. I think you get my drift.  Good thing I almost always carry a crumpled napkin or tissue in my pocket. It was stressful, people!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lighten Up

Some time after my last post, I started a post called "Rainbows and Puppies" but couldn't think of a thing to say on those topics.

It occurred to me this weekend...no, let me restate that. I had an epiphany this weekend. I was talking to a mother of another child at my daughter's school. We were at a birthday party for a third child in the same class. Completely unprovoked, I was spouting off on the following:

  • how commercialism is undermining the relationships between parents and children! 
  • how D and I do not buy our children stuff (nay, GARBAGE!) that is branded with characters (with rare exceptions for PBS characters, which we're begrudgingly willing to support)! 
  • how I am doing my best to vanquish or at least resist the dreaded princess phase! 
  • how more enlightened countries have banned advertising to children
  • how screen time must be limited! 
All of this, mind you, was in response to a simple question about the doll my daughter was carrying around (not hers, I don't much care for dolls).  This defenseless woman, subjected to my ravings, merely asked something about some pink alien-looking doll being loved with abandon by my child (who surely knew the end was nigh). I actually don't remember or perhaps I never heard what this perfectly pleasant woman said because I was deafened by the sound of my own righteous indignation ringing in my ears as I clambered up to my soapbox to deliver my soliloquy.

Ever watch Lost? You know those highly unstable sticks of dynamite that were on that ship that was marooned in the middle of the island or whatever (As an aside to this aside -- don't expect accuracy of recall or even the dimmest understanding of  Lost from me. I watched every damn episode of that forsaken show and I'm still clueless)? Conversations with me can be like that. Woe to the person who jostles me even slightly.

On the drive home after the party, I had a few minutes to reflect, not only on this conversation, which I've admittedly exaggerated for effect (hopefully of the comic variety), but also on my disposition more generally. I am playing the defensive disposition, in case it wasn't completely apparent.

I've come to the consideration (not conclusion, necessarily) that maybe I need to lighten up. My son's not getting a DS any time soon, mind you, but maybe I should work harder to keep my opinions to myself. Mustn't...scare off...other... humans...

As an act of good faith, here's a photo of a normal, happy, fun time that we had watching fireworks on the 4th. I am capable of normal happy fun time with other members of the species. Occasionally.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

...but you can call me Cerberus

I moderate a message forum for people who've experienced loss in a mono.chorionic mono.amniotic pregnancy. But we also get people on our site who were misdiagnosed and later found to be carrying mono.chorionic di.amniotic twins.  The biggest risk in a Mo.Mo pregnancy is cord accident. The biggest risk in a Di.Mo  (or Mo.Di) pregnancy is TT.TS -- twin-to-twin trans.fusion syndrome. It is a disease of the placenta wherein blood and nutrients are unevenly distributed between the twins. It can come on suddenly and severely and it can kill one or both twins. 


TT.TS can be caught with vigilant monitoring. Laser surgery can slow its effects, enabling the pregnancy to go to full term or very near. One of the leading experts on TT.TS, Dr. Julian DeLia, advocates drinking 3 cans of a protein drink like Ensure per day and his research suggests that TT.TS may be linked to hypoproteinemia and anemia, particularly in mid-pregnancy. And there are outward signs that the mother can be attuned to, if she knows what to look for.


Recently, I did my daily Loss Forum check in on the Mo.Mo site and found a post by a woman who lost a twin to TT.TS. Her other twin is in the NICU with suspected significant brain damage. In her post she indicated that she had not been to the site much because she didn't want to be scared by sad stories. I understand the need to shut out negative possibilities and just survive. I didn't want to think about the scary stuff when I was pregnant either. I knew I was carrying a ticking time bomb of a pregnancy. The closer I got to the time of delivery the more I felt my grip on the cliff side of sanity loosening. Between that abject fear and the religious tone of the boards, I didn't feel as though I had a place there.  But there's something doubly tragic in the idea that maybe had she stuck around and known what to look for, she might have recognized the signs. She might have taken the advice to consume more protein. It wasn't hard to find. It might have helped.

And too, I realize that I am one of those scary stories and it's odd to think of oneself that way.


Really? Me? My life is the tragedy you're trying to avoid? 
Well, maybe not your whole life, just this one particularly unenviable situation. 

I just found it unnerving to have someone spell it out like that, in the Loss Forum (MY TURF!!). With no hint of irony! Can you believe that?

In our corner of the site, down toward the bottom of the list, there is a family of us. I got all my sisters and me. A sad, sad welcome to you, newcomer.


It seems that despite avoiding the site until well after Eva was gone, I now have a place there. I guard the gates of hell. I welcome each new entrant with a deflated, toothless smile. There's a look of pity in my eyes that I can't help. Because I know.
     I know she didn't really believe it would happen to her.
     I know what she's in for -- at least its general outline.
     I know it is agony.

And she
is about
to find out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What She Said

"I have a sister and she's in my heart."

The woman to whom my daughter innocently, even buoyantly, spoke these words looked at me, confused. I stammered apologetically, "she's a twin..." That's as far as I got before she was up, seemingly launched like a rocket from her seat on the low playground equipment. For someone less than a week postpartum, that woman had hustle! She picked up the infant seat holding her six-day old baby, walked over to her other son, and attempted to flee. She didn't make eye contact with me. Her flight was arduous with two in tow and awkward with us trailing behind. Not surprisingly, we were parked in adjacent spaces and there was no pretense of politeness. She pulled that car out as fast as the line of traffic behind her allowed. In the interminable moments of negotiating car seats "cheek-to-cheek", my mind churned and roiled. I had no idea how to interpret the situation clearly and react in a way that would lead to an outcome less shitty -- for either of us. Well into the next day, I'm trying not to think about it, with stunning success as you can see!

If there is any hope of letting it go, I have to write it out. Hey, at least my daughter got off without emotional damage, right? (please agree...) She clearly doesn't understand yet. She has asked me if I am happy that Eva is in my heart. She is fond of telling me that she loves Eva and that Eva is always with her in her heart. Because there are a couple of new babies in our lives, she often mentions wanting to give them baby things and occasionally will add Eva to the list of babies to whom she would like to bequeath some outgrown item. So, no, she doesn't really know what she's lost.

She still has her own hell to pay someday and I dread it like nothing else.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Toward a More Perfect Thirst

If your eyes are not deceived by the mirage
Do not be proud of the sharpness of your understanding;
It may be your freedom from this optical illusion
Is due to the imperfectness of your thirst.

                                                                   -Sohrawardi

I feel I am consigned to an exhaustion of thirsts.

So imperfect was my thirst once that I scarcely knew the difference between one emotion and the next -- thought, in fact, that the shadows they cast were interchangeable. Maybe it is because the emotions I excelled at were of the indifferent kind. Maybe they were interchangeable; my 20s were sloppily oozing ennui, despondency, malaise... meh.

Now there is nothing so passive as that. I am never so detached and clinical. I have a kind of clarity that I lacked before, but I am so deeply deceived by mirages. I will them into truth. I have a very full secret life of secret friendships (Bless your heart! You're there!) and hallucinations of the ghost of a 4 pound baby. A flash of light. She is always a flash of light, reflections of glass, blinking LEDs in my peripheral vision. Momentarily, I am deceived and it is not the deception I despise, but the evaporation of the mirage just as I'm getting close.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reading List

I finally finished Elizabeth McCracken's secret plan to enable Kleenex to dominate the planet (aka memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir). I have had the book for I-don't-know-how-long. As in, I have an unedited proof loaned to me by a dear friend who got it from I-don't-know-who-in-the-biz-with-access-to-such-inner-circle-treasures. For vast lengths of time, I couldn't even pick up the book. Nay, I could not even look at the book. I had it hidden in a drawer of my bedside table, buried under potty-training stickers, the useless receipts I can't seem to throw away, and other mangled assorted  bits of  my life's shrapnel.

Though I wish I were just being poetic or flourishy in saying this, it is no exaggeration to confess that every single time I picked up the book, I cried. I might have read a chapter or a page or a paragraph, but I cried every damn time. I don't think I have always been this blubbering a fool, but what the hell, I am now. So it might not have been the best choice to bring the book on a work trip. It was ill-advised to open the book on a plane shared by 3 coworkers. I narrowly escaped their curious glares by being tucked into a window seat far from them, however, and their view of my weepy mess was further obscured by a matched pair of grandparents (and by matched I mean, the same butter yellow sweaters, white polo shirts and pressed khakis). There is something about McCracken's stoicism that brought me to my knees. I felt like we were partners in this story, the way my husband and I balance out each other's moods and weaknesses. I suspect the strength of her writing and her narrative gave me permission? space? to express what we tend to regard as weakness, the betrayal of those tears.

I know I'm not alone in saying that, Pudding, you are missed. You are loved. And you are remembered by so many.

Now I'm reading KuKd. Who knows where all this reading might lead? In a few years I might be ready for Dr. Davis.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Eva Destruction

D and I watched Whip It Sunday night. It made me laugh out loud and want to knock people down, but I am decidedly not the type. One of the characters had the roller derby name "Eva Destruction" and while I managed to enjoy the movie rather than consider the myriad entendre, I slept fitfully. Friends visited with their twins earlier in the day. I love their girls and know them and their complicated history, so I do not regard them as I might the nameless enviable twins that just appear out of nowhere all the time. I used to look at those twins wistfully. I try not to look at all anymore.

But I have no explanation for what I am feeling and why. I am tired of feeling like liquid, like all my structure has left me and I am a puddle. Sunday was a beautiful day and usually that is enough. We went to the playground along with every other family in our town (it seemed). The boy scout troop, ever helpful, offered the rest of their brownies to us. It being pre-dinner, we were responsible and politely declined.

While at the park, I was spotted by the wife of a friend of D's. Last year when we first moved to our small town, we all went out to dinner together. It was an unmitigated disaster. Okay, so it wasn't a catastrophic oil spill, but it sucked nonetheless. We didn't know the place had video games and we do our best to avoid them. So my son went a bit haywire at the sight of electronic games. I think we ultimately had to carry him out while he frothed at the mouth. But his behavior was perhaps more tolerable than mine. Imagine, friends, our first "date" (because really, that's what it was; a date to see if we are compatible as family friends, fit for playdates and birthday parties). The other lady was heavily pregnant and I blurted out our whole sad tale. I felt strongly that to know me you must know this fact about me. I felt that there was little more to know than the fact of babyloss. And she very nearly ready to explode! Suffice it to say, our husbands get together every so often for beers at the local dive. And I hate  feel embarrassed and resentful towards them, begrudge them their normalcy and all the assumptions I have made about their reasons for quietly, politely avoiding keeping me at arm's length.

There's no winning, it seems. I might tell someone and Eva's story is either received appropriately? warmly? but swept aside or the other person runs for the door. You know the desperate trapped animal look a dead baby story can elicit. Either way, I feel alienated. Alternately, I can stay silent and in some situations I have -- either because the context is too "light" or too many people are around (such as the neighborhood gatherings, of which there are many). In those cases, I agonize over the how and when and what of telling. She's not a secret. She's my baby and talking is the closest thing I have to holding. I guess that is why this place is so important to me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pick Up and Drop Off

My daughter and I have a 2.5 mile drive together from her preschool to our home. Lately on that drive, she has been telling me, every day, only when we are alone, that she is so sad that Eva can't come back. Every day. She said that Eva is her best friend and that she wants her sister. All I can do is validate and agree with her feelings and try not to drive off the road.

Her grief is new in a way. It is expanding and taking shape as her understanding of what she has lost is just beginning to dawn. As knowledge and understanding have spread their weight over me and become a general pall rather than an acute agony, I have grown accustomed to its constant presence. Certain muscles have been conditioned to bear the load, even as others have atrophied. But this three year old wonder of mine is just awakening to the twin she'll never see. She is just starting to map her life knowing that she should be going to the park and playdates and to bed at night with her other half. And my validation is a pity. It's meaningless and feeble, just as my mother's "no one ever said that life was fair," was such a poor substitute for wisdom or comfort.

My grief is new in a way. I have long known that Eva's death would be experienced by each of us in a way unique to us. I knew that the time would come when my twinless twin would really mourn. My grief for her loss and her sadness is like stirring a great cauldron, raising those bits that had sunk to the bottom of the pot and started to burn, nearly but not entirely, forgotten.

Monday, April 26, 2010

And Back Down Again

(Wherein I expose some of the fetid thoughts in my brain. Consider yourself warned.)

Were you ever told that if you made a silly face, it would stay that way? I wonder if emotions might function in a similar manner.

I have sought to downplay my birthday since I was a child. My birthday was frequently a disappointment to me. Whether that disappointment is justified or not is beside the point I am trying to make. If I was disappointed, it is no doubt because my expectations surpassed the capacity of my parents or whoever is around me to make it whatever it was I secretly wanted. I think I am doomed to this worst of both worlds - not wanting to make it a *thing* and being disappointed that something about it sucked (and suckage seems like an inevitability).

Yesterday was my birthday. Saturday night, the adults went out for a swanky dinner and I had the best meal of my life. It was a long time coming. I am really trying to hold onto that. Really, I am. But this year, what I wanted was a peaceful, pleasant birthday.

As for the actual day ... let's just say that the cake went uneaten and I went to bed at 8 p.m. The kids were uncooperative and D was sick so there was a lot of refereeing and lots of redirection and lots of talking in a slow, deliberate and stern tone of voice. "Look me in the eye. Do    You   Understand?" And I may have torn up the over-sized birthday card from my coworkers out of frustration when the hellions, er, kids, were fighting over it while I was trying to prepare dinner. Because by then, I. was. done. and counting down to bedtime.

But you know, the truth is that my birthday came downstream of some news with which I am struggling. My kids were probably acting out because they always seem to do so when I am stressed and sad and have little capacity for shenanigans. And too, I overreact and see profound implications in a cup of carelessly spilled milk, like I am reading the proteins for further signs of irreversible disaster. He pees on the toilet seat! A future sociopath! Because I know what we know -- that everything may not, in fact, be alright. May never be alright. With apologies to Leibniz-by-way-of-Voltaire, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.

My son was diagnosed with AD.HD a few days ago and I am just in that place where I have to integrate this knowledge and I wish I could say I am bouncing right back, but I am not. Intellectually, I know that this diagnosis does not change the fact of who my son is, and in fact, is a positive development in that we will take what are hopefully the right steps to help him. He will finally and as expeditiously as possible get what he needs. But...
This is heaped on top of a  pre-existing  anxiety condition -- his and mine -- which confounds us and complicates him. Now I can no longer hope that his behavior is normal or a phase or even fallout from my long hospitalization and Eva's death. I can't pretend that the weekly therapy and sticker charts and activities and positive reinforcement and all the accommodations we have already made to our lives to fit his needs are enough. It is time to pay the piper. It's time for a formal plan with his school and for adding a psychiatrist to our growing network of support and [gasp] for the possibility of medication if worse comes to worse. It's time to face one of my greatest fears, that things will go horribly wrong for my remaining children.

So, yesterday I felt beleaguered by their inattention and poor choices. Being an incorrigible brooder, I read into my daughter's defiance and decided that she's probably got the dreaded "it," too. I see hopes dashed and potential squandered. I am, in short, totally wigging out.

But writing helps. Today is my day for wigging. Tomorrow, we start making appointments.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out of [My] Sight, Out of [Her] Mind

This is not a post about separation anxiety, although we have had some of that lately, especially at night.

No, this is a post about my daughter who is coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs! She is a charmer, a delight, a curly-headed clown who can cross her eyes at will. She's a committed thumbsucker (and I thought binkies were bad!) and weirder still, she likes to play with her navel. When she's doing both, we call it "double dipping." She has the laugh of a diabolical genius. She may be a diabolical genius.

She breaks my heart every time I look deeply into her eyes of improbable, uncategorizable color. I feel this incomprehensible, indescribable tangle of sorrow and joy that there is probably a word for in another, more emotional language than ours. I swell. I celebrate and mourn for who she is and for the possibilities lost for who she represents. Shared DNA. Shared amnion. But not the life they should be sharing still and beyond.

In utero, she was sedate and impassive, the buddha of the womb. Eva was the tiny wild woman -- twin-climbing, kicking, administering "noogies," practicing rope tricks with her umbilical cord. But Twin A was named for her demeanor at the time, my beautiful, gentle baby. She was meant to be the easy baby my mother promised (eh... not so much, actually).

She is not so gentle anymore. Even (perhaps, especially) in her role as little sister, she gives as good as she gets.  I am guessing that this might be part of Eva's legacy. Eva means "giver of life." Okay... but don't go too far with that. I just mean that Eva might have left some of her bad-assedness behind, not that she fulfilled her purpose or anything, 'k? I'm just saying, I am not there yet. And maybe, like the mothers of intact twins on the momo message boards say, they just switch up their personalities. It is probably that simple.

So, last night, we were eating chocolate cake. Cuz screw it. We like chocolate cake and sometimes that is reason enough. And yes, I am having to wear my fat clothes today...thank you for noticing.  This child asked me for some of my frosting. Friends, I never thought I would utter these words under any circumstances that did not involve the threat of bodily harm, but I gave her some of my frosting and damned if that isn't pure love. She looked up at me,  having just smeared herself silly with chocolate buttercream and breathlessly said, "I lufff you, Mommy."

She has stripped me of all my defenses.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Exercising Diplomacy

A few weeks ago, I acquired via Craigs.list what is currently my prized possession, an Adams Trail-a-Bike, for a mere $70. Making the deal sweeter still was the fact that I was buying it from Bikes for the World. A few days later, the weather was right to go for a spin and my son, who does not ride a two-wheeler independently yet, did very well. The trail-a-bike has given him confidence, improved his balance, and has made it possible for us to go on longer rides than we could otherwise accomplish -- 8 miles or so before the complaints become deafening. I feel better because I can get some exercise with my son while our daughter naps and at the same time, D can get his run in on the treadmill. It is also a way for our active boy to stay out of trouble and for us to wear him out in order to try to keep him out of trouble (a post, or a book, for another day)!

On our ride this past Saturday, my son made an observation from his perch. You see, he likes to talk during our rides. Apparently, (and unlike me) he has the breath to do so, probably because he's not pedaling. Come to think of it, that might be the cause of the bemused grins I get from other adults while we ride (and here I thought we were somehow charming). I have, in fact, caught him with his head down on the handlebars, resting. Anyway.
He noticed, he [loudly] informed me, "that some adults have large butts."
"Ohhh?" I asked. "Like whom? Whose butts, pray tell, have you been observing lately?" The boy is sitting right behind me.
He starts.
"Like..."
Abrupt stop. Even while we ride, I can practically hear the gears in his head grinding laboriously, trying to divine the correct response. He chooses to be prudent.
"Like Dad. He has a big butt and it is hairy, so that means that when I am big, I will have a big, hairy butt too."
Ever the diplomat.
For the record, D's butt is not big. Ehem.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

This is the Day. Let us Rejoice.

[Regarding the title: What can I say? I did my stint in Catholic school.]
Sometimes peace seems as attainable as my goal weight, which is to say (need I say it?) not very. But there are times -- and I don't know it's coming until it's upon me -- that my chest is lighter and more open. My breath is a little fuller and deeper. There it is for a fleeting moment -- the feeling that all  90% is right with the world. 90% is my maximum capacity for joy and rightness, but what I've lost in joy, I have more than recovered in other capacities, which is a paradox of loss, but one that has taken me 3 years to understand.  90% is as good as it gets, but it is more than welcome when it arrives. I am always surprised to feel "rightness," but I didn't chase it off this time. Instead, I let D drive the car. I let the kids eat as many Munchkins as they could stuff into their faces. I  looked up through the moon roof and smiled back to the tree limbs that swayed at me in greeting.
We spent Eva's day in the mountains, closer to the sky and to her. In quiet. In the muted browns of the woods before Spring arrives at that elevation. We saw Red Buds throughout the day. Eva's tree is a Red Bud. Seeing so many of them, those violet buds set to unfurl... sigh... I want to imbue that experience with some forced spirituality and meaning. But we picked a native tree quite deliberately, so it is no wonder that we would find this tree in our native land. And anyway, it's not necessary. It is good enough that we were all together. It is better still that everyone was peaceful. It was enough.

Having performed my rituals of love and memory, I was and for now remain, at peace. Now, I just need to hit the gym.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Eva's Day

I want to mark this day in some way. I want to parent her, so these rituals are a proxy for holding her, raising her. I had wanted to have this finished last year, but couldn't. I fell to pieces each time I tried. This year, I could face this project and finally finish it, though seeing the picture of my husband reading Goodnight Moon to Eva just about guts me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Knowing

Tomorrow will be the anniversary, not of Eva's death, but of her first operation. On this day, three years ago at right about this time of day, I sat by her isolette, crying. Those tears came as a surprise, but once they started, I couldn't stop them for a long time. I didn't know why I was crying at the time, and I have only scarcely a clue now. I think it was just nerves, the mounting pressure, postpartum hormones and the sheer effort of having held my breath in anticipation and fear for those many months. I remember that I was sitting next to a woman who seemed kind and chipper. She was with her eighth child, I believe, a boy who had been in the NICU for months and months. I felt self-conscious crying next to this woman, and weak, while from her phone she doled out chores to her older children with pleasant efficiency and matter-of-factness.  The other possibility for why I was crying is that somehow I knew that rather than being at the nadir of this road, as I had consciously believed, some part of my being suspected that I had not yet learned what a nadir truly was.

On this evening three years ago, I held my daughter. Her head was in the crook of my left arm. The cords were draped over my forearm. She was a heavy 4lb 9oz baby (though by then she probably was a little less). I was surprised at how she seemed to sink into me when I held her. I was smiling, beaming really. I was confident. She was holding her stats steady, so I was allowed to continue to hold her as the doctors stood over us and informed us that her surgery would take place the next morning, first case. They would be doing a less invasive surgery because they, too, were confident about her chances. We were relieved and excited. We would finally start our climb to higher ground and put the nightmare behind us.

We never believed in anything other than a full recovery for Eva. We fantasized about bringing her home. It was all we fantasized about. I've never felt complete conviction like that before and I probably never will again.

Last night, our carefree Pro.ject Run.way viewing was interrupted by a commercial that rehashed the well-worn "fighter" conceit. You know how it goes. We're fighters, so we win. We beat [choose your disaster]. We conquer [fill in the calamity]. It reminded me of how one of Eva's doctors in the PICU called her that -- a fighter-- said he'd never seen a baby so small fight so hard.  And that word and that commercial became a trap door that I fell through last night, because calling her a fighter meant fuck all in the end. In the meantime, here, all around us, are fighters who did win/conquer/succeed/overcome. I am attacked by those stories of gut-listening, those gloating successes that pose as cautionary tales and I want to do violence, but of course, I am not enough of a fighter. I just didn't need any further reminders.

The dark clouds brewing within think that all the fighting and listening and advocating are probably unrelated or at best only tangentially related to one's outcome. The universe is random and cruel.  Faith is a waste of time and energy. We have no control and we do not understand. I have no control and I do not understand. In this case, with this child, we did not conquer. We were conquered. All that remains is what we do now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fun and its Antithesis

Parenting's best moments are the carefree ones. Unbridled joy, discovery and wonder. Being childlike. Existing in a pure moment. That purity means a kind of blindness to larger patterns, themes, realities, reactions, obligations, consequences, histories. Just a moment and an emotion without regard for what came before and what it might mean for the future.

I am so hung up on sorting, organizing, connecting, understanding, that I am not so good at childlike. My response, pathetically, is to want to work at it. I am earnest if nothing else, but I think it might be hopeless.

I can watch, though, and I can try to record it and I can try in my cerebral and impotent way to let go. I can, as my husband says, try to be more duck-like.

File under progress: We survived the tea party. But really, actually, and somewhat surprisingly, it went well. I might go so far as to say that it was a success. No, they did not let me finish my forensics-style reading of Perfectly Arugula, which was the inspiration for this event. And mostly they just ran in a crazed, locomotive procession of 2 and 3 year-old girls (led by one 6 year-old boy) in a loud and tireless loop through the main floor of the house. But I think everyone was happy. Food was eaten, crafts were made. Eager not to drink alone, I plied the ladies with wine.  Silently, a candle was burning for Eva on the family room mantel.   When the candle wicks stopped smoldering and the insulin was cresting in the children's bloodstreams, we said our relieved and pleasant goodbyes.

Waddaya know, it would appear that the third time was the charm.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Response To Death (and kate)

My mother lives
in another state.
She does not want me
to move there.
It lacks quality of life
she says.
She is right
about that.

My mother stays
in that state.
She is held there
by my brother.
Her grief
is in that man
who lives
but not well.

That is a death
that does not quit dying.
She hates blood
But prefers it
to 36 years
of limbo. She said
Eva's death is better
than my brother's life.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Rant Time

I waste time. Every damn day, I waste time. But you know what, I do it on my own terms. I waste time on things in which I am or could potentially be interested. I don't have any spare time, therefore, to donate to hopeless causes about which I care not a whit.

I donate my time willingly and dutifully to children because there's hope for them.

I do not like to give my time to trifling people over the age of say, 22. I believe that if you are over 22 and your mind is still trifling, then well, go in peace, but not with me.

So, you can imagine my outrage at have just spent 10 perfectly good minutes of my life discussing with a coworker the optimal number of beverage cans that should be cooling in our community fridge at any one time. Let's pause while this thought washes over you. Consider how hair was falling out, cells were dying and synapses became permanently disconnected, collapsing in a withered heap within my cranium while this conversation took place.

Oh, it would be one thing if we were having a light-hearted, enjoyable conversation, punctuated with a knowing shrug, a giggle, a roll of the eyes, maybe. But that was not the case. It was, rather, the kind of stultifying diatribe of beleaguered martyrdom that affects your lifespan, or at least your precious, irreplaceable today.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Charm?

My first and second attempts at throwing birthday parties for our daughter were frantic affairs utterly lacking in the qualities that are supposed to define a party -- you know, like fun, for example. If one were to witness these exhausted, cooped-up, late winter birthday parties at our house, one would feel rather sorry for the child being, "celebrated." And one might suggest prescription meds to the host.

But you can cue the Rocky theme music because this year will be different! I have been baking and I have been shopping and I have been planning.

There will be a tea party.

There will be crafts
and scones
and cucumber sandwiches
and hats!

And if those aren't the ingredients in the recipe for three year-old fun, I don't know what is! Gentle reader, does "scone" not equal "fun" in your world?

I'm not fooling anyone, am I?

Do I know what I'm doing? Hell, no. But I am going to feign some confidence, even as I second-guess my every choice and decision:

Am I sending the wrong message to my daughter about gender roles? Will the girls sit still and do a craft? What do I do for Eva? What happens when someone asks about Eva's pictures? Where will I find the watermelon tea that the birthday girl requested? How can I make a handle for the teacup cake I've imagined? 
Mainly:

Will I hold it together or will I be deported back to Angstganistan from whence I came never to return to HappyPartyFunLand again?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Missing

My daughter woke up today screaming, "I miss my sister. I need my sister."
I figured that she had had a nightmare and I figured this was a long time coming.

My living children have made more frequent mention recently of their dead sibling. This day was bound to come. In some ways I have willed it here because I want Eva to be a part of our family, not just my private thoughts and fantasies.

Recently, my older daughter (well, by a minute, anyway and just now I realize how strange an idea that really is) came running, exclaiming, "I found Eva! I FOUND EVA!" and brought with her a doll with no face dressed in a hospital gown. The social workers gave our son two of these dolls to prepare him for his twin sisters' birth and NICU stay (the other doll is in Eva's box).

My son, ever-obsessed with and taunted by villains in his cut and dried world of good vs. evil recently chided his sister because he does not like to talk about real death, which makes him sad. Last month, we resurfaced his worry dolls and he told them that he wanted them to help him not think about "villains, sharks, Eva and death."

But then my daughter, who is not yet 3, told me that she wants to die so that she can cuddle her twin. I have no response for her. I am utterly bereft.

And my son told me that he wants to find a scientist who can turn him into a wizard so he can bring her back, and that one kind of made me smile.

All this was scrolling through my mind as I walked down the hall to my daughter where I found her, "looking everywhere" for her ... slipper.