Monday, June 30, 2008

The Road Not Taken

Ah, Irony, funny lady.

Yesterday my accident-prone child, for whom it now takes two hands to count the number of bloody noses she's had in her short life, pitched a fit in the "big pool" claiming she wanted to swim by herself. Fat chance. She was given the choice of a time out, or retreating to the kiddie pool. She chose B, where within seconds she had gashed her knee on a broken piece of pool tile.

(No problem, I'll wait. I laughed too, fate that little fucker.)

It was a long, deep cut in the fleshy part of the knee that didn't appear to be wanting to close itself. I did the best I could with skin and industrial band-aid provided by pool, and made the executive parental decision: I had no fucking clue if this warranted stitches or not and wanted someone with medical training to tell me if it did.

Off we trudged to the local Emergency Room in soggy clothes -- because we weren't staying long and presumably headed straight home for lunch.

(Of course I didn't pack dry clothes or snacks, what do you think I'm prepared for the unexpected? Bwah! Dude, put a plastic bin of dry clothes and snacks in your car right now. You'll thank me when Armageddon comes.)

Cut to the chase, at 5 p.m., exhausted and blinded by hunger, we emerged from the ER: Bella was thrilled that her mother's mad, latent EMT skillz had collected the bloody mess together under the temporary bandage so well that stitches were no longer necessary after a four hour wait. A butterfly band-aid was all we got for our time. Fuck me. Yay me.

Thus was an afternoon I'll never get back spent in the confines of my local ER.


One evening, when I was 14w pregnant, one week into my new house, still tripping over boxes and obviously without a new doctor yet, I felt what was a now-familiar gush of blood between my legs. I calmly prepared dinner, and then drove myself to the local emergency room knowing nothing better to do with myself.

Bleeding pregnant women are apparently high on the triage list because I didn't wait long at all, but long enough to decide that this particular hospital -- while extremely convenient -- was not quite the warm yet comforting clinical environment conducive to laboring a child. I'm not sure if it was the dilapidated ceiling tile, the snail's pace of bureaucracy, the sullen faces on the employees, or the fact that I had to wait 45 minutes for the OB ultrasound tech to drive in from home at 8 p.m. on a weeknight, but I decided I would need something a bit more homey and sterile and, well, prompt. If that combo was indeed possible.

The nurse who treated me was nothing short of a compassionate delight, and after regaling me with the trials of her problem pregnancy, recommended her OB.

Who became my OB.

The doctor, a young, attractive, and extremely attentive and concerned man, said something cagey to the effect of: "This is going to sound weird seeing as how I work here, but I would deliver at [another named hospital]. My wife is delivering there."

That recommendation became my delivery hospital.

At the end of that night I had some excellent, clear pictures of Maddy, the reassurance of spot-on measurements and a healthy heartbeat, and some group commiseration with the gaggle of nurses who came to share in the photos while I awaited my paperwork.

I also had a trajectory, of what would be. And a rather spooky shadow of what could've been.

I know without doubt that had Maddy been born at local hospital, she would've died within hours. Their NICU non-existent, she would've been transferred -- but to where? A larger NICU or directly to Children's? And with the snail's pace I saw, the lack of a fire for anyone with some need of urgency, it wouldn't have mattered. I'm convinced she would've died before or shortly after transfer.

And we would know nothing.

Which sounds odd, because we know nothing now, but at least now I have no doubts. No doubts to the medical care my new OB suggested, which in turn led to ultrasounds every 3-4 weeks, which turned up nothing indicating a problem in my uterus. I do not stay up at night wondering if someone missed a sign, and know there was nothing I could've done during my pregnancy to stop things from growing into a disaster. No doubts as to the care of the NICU at our lovely delivery hospital, who within minutes detected some serious issues, and began the long roller coaster descent into medical hell. Nothing short of awe for the compassionate head of the NICU who, as it turned out, was a former student of the head of genetics department at Children's, who with one call cleared our path for transfer there. No doubts as to the care at Children's, where they were simply trying to amass and ascertain as much information as possible before letting Maddy expire peacefully on our terms.

Of course the cells and DNA and autopsy and research and presentations at conferences and farming out of slides to medical ringers around the country have led no where meaningful for us, but at least I know it was done, the steps were taken, and we were given the absolute best care the whole way around that this city had to offer.

All because I landed in my shitty little local ER on a hot August night almost two years ago.

It was these thoughts that exhausted me yesterday, in the same place where at my last visit I saw Maddy flickering on a screen. Bella was beyond fine, chipper and feisty and hungry, and I had no fear of witnessing anything worse than I had trying to seam her knee together under a mass of tape a few hours earlier. The promise of ice cream at the end of it all kept us both within the limits of patience (no pun intended) in our damp clothes. What occupied my mind was the the horror of what could've been, in that sad little hospital with the bad wallpaper, where I would've undoubtedly been met with shrugged shoulders and doubt. And the shadows of the past, right down that hall, where I was given promise and a road map to follow.

A map which led me here, wiping tears away in the car en route to a much needed pizza dinner, with a smiling, bandaged, only child in the back seat.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mourning in Play

Came home from the pool today and flipped on my Tivo which had kindly recorded the Netherlands v. Russia game from Euro Cup. Thank God. What a game.

So a few seconds in, the play guy points out that the Dutch team is wearing black armbands (they're the ones in Orange)

and it turns out they're doing so because on Wednesday, their teammate Khalid Boulahrouz's baby daughter was born prematurely and died.

He played in today's game.

Now, at first I was floored. No way in hell could I have played soccer (read: gone to my job) days after my daughter's death. But then I thought:

What would your husband's first day of work been like if total strangers had shown up at the hospital to show their support?

If 10 of the guys he works with (plus 8-10 more from the next-door office) wore armbands as a visible sign of mourning? The significance being that they viewed this death as important and sad, your grief as valid and significant, wanted to let you know they were thinking of you, and furthermore were thus willing to do so in public and answer any questions from anyone else who might ask about them?

I'm not real up of the present administrative state of US Hockey and Baseball, but I can tell you there is NO WAY an individual team at the last minute would have been able to make this kind of dramatic statement for their bereaved teammate in the NFL or NBA. The leagues don't allow for marring of the all important Uni (which I'm here to tell you, any one of which probably doesn't sell as well worlwide as, say, van Nistelrooy's) and league-wide symbols and team honorifics demand a ream of advance warning and bureaucracy.

Anyway. I thought it was nice.

And then Russia completely outplayed the Dutch and won, and frankly I was ok with that because dang, did they deserve it.

But Mr. Boulharouz and your wife? I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm so sorry you need to do this in such a public forum. I'm so sorry it happened while you were away from your home, and I'm guessing your doctors. But I'm so thankful that your husband's teammates wore black for the loss of your daughter today, and thus brought international light on what for many of us is a very hidden, lonely, invalidated, unsupported, blown off, and ignored experience. You're in my thoughts.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Doll's House

Bella's somehow survived almost four years on (a superfluity of) stuffed animals and trains, but no dolls. Something must have flitted across her radar because in the past few months there have been some infrequent "look mom!"'s and plaintive, whiney desires for an assortment of plastic formed females. Some quite scary. I like to think I'm hip, but what the fuck is the with the oversized heads and eyes and heavily made-up figurines? I decided to do a preemptive strike and purchase her an age-appropriate doll of my choosing before the extended relatives got wind of the questionable wishes.

She quickly named her doll Maya? Mia? Well, it changes, and this is the age frankly where if she walked in today and announced that her doll was now to be referred to as "Word Girl," "Tucker -- 'cause he's my favorite cat," or "What's that guy's name again? Oh right, OABAMA," I wouldn't blink. She's much more into the pets this doll possesses than the doll itself, which I suppose is just fine with me. And the doll doesn't get a lot of play time, save for mornings and evenings when she gets dressed for the day/night. A lot of wardrobe decisions, and then Mia/Maya/Little Miss President gets parked while we swing, climb trees, and play Bingo.

Last night I was walking her through her (Bella's, people) bedtime routine out-loud as I am wont when I suspect a bit of lollygagging: praised her for the exhibition of oral hygiene, reminded her of the next step of selecting her own nighttime wardrobe, and skipping ahead yet another step in the process, looked around her room and said,

Now where's Maddy?

Yes. I did. I did slip and call a plastic inanimate fresh-faced girl doll by my deadbaby's name. Um hmm.

And I don't think I've ever seen Bella dumbstruck, but damn if she wasn't. Eyes wide, mouth agape, staring at me, the silence of those milliseconds hanging over us like a cloud with it's own barometric pressure reading. "SILLY MOMMY!" I said in that horrified/self-deprecating tone one takes when we fuck up slightly in front of our children, "MAYA/MIA! Here you are! Time for bed!"

Which got me thinking . . . . Do I talk about Maddy enough?


I've been trying for, well, months really, to start and finish a post on Bella and this grief business. Because I read things like this and this and think, wow, Bella would never do that. Not in a million years. And then I remind myself that she's younger than these kids, and tra-la-la my way over to Wonkette, and then am suddenly alerted that no, actually, kids younger than Bella speak of their dead siblings, even kids who weren't alive yet. And then I read stuff like this and figure I'm really making a mess of things.

We don't have a gravestone to visit around which to elicit such conversation, and I guess when I think about it, I don't talk about Maddy that much in the course of my daily grind. Except, you know, here. I'm not one to wander into a room and sigh and say out loud, "Ahh. I'm missing Maddy right now. Should we draw the blinds, put on some ambient music, sit down and close our eyes and contemplate her for a few?" Really not my style. But should it be?

Work-friends of Mr. ABF planted a tree for Maddy in a nearby park. I used to run over there to visit, but obviously haven't been running in quite some time, and our daily traffic patterns don't take us over there. But one day, rather out of the blue, I said to Bella on the way home from school, "let's go drive by Maddy's tree and see how it's doing." And that was it, we never left the car, I pointed it out, and then moved on to some lawn sculpture that Bella's fond of. Now that this cube of ice is broken, I do this trip a bit more frequently. But I guess I don't often initiate the Maddy-speak, I usually enter it in response to something already said. And if Mr. ABF and I have a discussion in front of Bella, it's usually about "it" not "her" (as in, "Can you believe they're already planning for the December candlelight service?" or "YOUR FATHER SAID WHAT??").

So I start these posts in my head about how this is unhealthy and terrible and then mid-mental-sentence-forming, Bella, out of the blue, brings her up -- like Murphy's Law. A week or so ago there was the instance of watering Maddy's Lilac, and just a few nights ago, with zero prompting, she turned to me and said, "Maddy's name is on your bracelet, right? Can I see it?" And we talked through spelling her name, and what a "nickname" is. We went over why I wear it all the time, and that yes, Daddy wears his (blue plastic) bracelet with her name on it all the time, too.

I tend to let Bella lead in this ongoing conversation. If she asks me to read her one of her "I'm a Big Sister!" books, I do. But I don't push anything on her at the end. I figure if she asks, I'll tell. Ditto with her death books. I guess I do blurt out Maddy's name here and there subconsciously (whoops), and I'm stupid to think she doesn't pick up on it or won't remember.

I don't want to shape her grief, I don't want to have a sit down with a four year old (who will barely sit down long enough to put on her shoes in the morning) about her sister, but I don't want to ignore it, either. I walk some fine line here, that sometimes feels like I'm doing a disservice, and other times surprises me with a reward. When I read Marita's piece at GITW, my first reaction was "crap, I bet Bella's ALREADY scared to ask me these things, that's she's already made the association between the spoken word 'Maddy' and a complete sobbing collapse on my part." But I think we're both improving a bit. Bella brings her up with a bit more frequency, and hopefully I'm responding with a bit less of the dumbstruck, deer-in-the-headlights look myself.

Now, any advice on what to do if Bella proclaims her doll to be named "Maddy?" Because you just know that's coming.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


The immaterial kind. CDE of Once in a Lifetime guest wrote the Father's Day post for Glow In The Woods today. Check it out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Dime

Not only was I hit with the 10 year meme (thanks Coggy! And, um, I think a few others I'm spacing out on), but seems to be a theme going around these parts, anyway, what with Bon writing this poignant piece and then this one. So this will probably be a short reiteration of my comments to those, but here goes:

1) 10 years ago, I was 29 (gulp), living outside Chicago, in sin with Mr. ABF (who was then, boyfriend). We had a lovely prewar apartment, and our two cats. I was finishing up research for the diss, starting the writing process, working at the nearby university's Dean's Office as an assistant. I was training for the marathon (fall of '98). I was avidly watching World Cup '98 and painted my toenails weekly in the colors of the teams I was following at that moment. (This also served as a weak attempt to make my poor beat-up feet look and feel better.) It was a freakin' hot summer. I felt, truly, like I had my entire life ahead of me, and while not a pollyanna (it was clear to me by this point that my chosen profession was headed straight into the toilet and I'd probably be looking for jobs elsewhere despite my degree), I was quite optimistic that everything would turn out lovely.

I would give up my billion dollars (see question 4), my left tit, drop-kick a puppy, any other completely inappropriate metaphor you can think of to insert here, to go back and just savor in this summer for a few hours. Relish in my body, my entertainment, my mind, my dreams. I don't think I'd do anything differently, nor would I really want to relive the following 10 years ('99, for example, was a bit rough), but just to be: free. Comfortable. Happy.


2) 5 things on to-do list today:

-- bake bluebery bars for book club tonight
-- go to gym
-- write dog trainer email and tell her how it's going (surprisingly well)
-- ask neighbor if she still has divided Iris that are alive and able to be planted in my yard
-- go to book club and hate on McEwan's "Saturday" over a nice frozen cocktail

3) Good for me snacks: cashews, pistachios, peanut butter and apples, pretty much any kind of cheese. Bad for me snacks I could eat until I burst: chips and sour cream dip, chocolate anything, anything baked. I live for a midmorning sweet thing with coffee.

4) Billion Dollars: I'm going to spare you the warm and fuzzy donations and whatnot -- right now I feel like starting my own invasion of Zimbabwe. On the completely material side I'd:

-- buy a second home (beach? mountains? Italy?)
-- move out and reno my entire house at once so the entire thing would be done by Christmas
-- swap out my husband's car for a hybrid
-- buy hybrids for my entire family
-- buy up some local properties that are falling apart and fix 'em up
-- travel, travel, travel

5) Places I've lived
-- born in midwest city, lived there until six months old.
-- Tempe, AZ
-- Mainz, Germany
-- Pasadena, California
-- NY, NY
-- Madison, WI
-- Evanston, IL
-- VA, suburb of DC
-- Philly region

6) Jobs

-- babysitter
-- quartet (violin)
-- semi-pro orchestra
-- teaching precocious high school kids to write
-- lab assistant
-- department assistant
-- music librarian
-- library assistant
-- assistant in Trust Administration at College
-- bartender
-- planned parenthood
-- word processor for a church
-- various political campaigns
-- assistant in Dean's Office at local University
-- teaching college kids history

I think everyone's done this by now. If you haven't yet, fess up, yo.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Post up at Glow in the Woods on mind altering drugs. No, really!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Raising Daughters

I took advantage of a beautiful late afternoon to deadhead my salvia. I've always just let it go to pot, but read somewhere that if I do this, it will bloom more fully again -- and possibly even again after that. I was a bit reluctant; there was still a tinge of purple at the top of the spears and a honeybee madly yammering at me to leave it the hell alone, but I saw tiny buds below and knew that in 72 hours from now it would be 95 degrees, the spears would look barbecued, and I would have no interest in being outside whatsoever.

Bella had been playing in the hose, turned it on herself and soaked her clothes, and decided to run in the house and change into a swimsuit. She emerged a few moments later wearing board shorts, and nothing more. "Let it go," I told Mr. ABF, "she's fine."

I remember quite clearly arriving back home in the hot Arizona desert after spending a year in Germany. I was seven. I walked around my house for the first time in a year, saw my bike, and decided to take a spin around the ol' block. Because it was 10,000 degrees out, and because I had spent a year of my life in a place where all the boys and girls changed for gym together in the same room and used the same toilets and no one thought twice about it, I took off for my ride topless. Somewhere in the trip around the block a neighbor yelled at me to put on a shirt.

It's sad that at some point in our culture girls -- females -- become sexualized. And from that point forward we as mothers and they as emerging women need to take care of chests in public. And it never really stops -- the questions around bras, bikinis, implants, breast-feeding in public. I want so desperately to hold Bella in this place and let her just feel the sun on her skin and not feel embarrassed but simply comfortable. It will come soon enough, the cultural significance of the boobies.

I remembered also visiting Norway after my senior year in high school. And in some now-forgotten town on what I gather was a rare sunny day, in a public park, women sunbathed topless. Oddly, I did not feel uncomfortable, for me or my boyfriend at my side (who I think gamely tried to maturely write the whole thing off for my sake) but jealous. I wanted to join them. I wanted simply to lie on the grass and feel the sun on my skin. But I had been tainted by the whole bullshit of bad which mocked my small boobs and simultaneously told me to please support them and keep them modestly covered at all times. It was too late to turn back and enjoy.

I wish now I had said "hell with it" and chucked my shirt and sat in the sun for a few minutes, because it was probably the last possible opportunity to do so when I felt remotely comfortable with the concept. I breast-fed in public, never caring, but let's face it: six years of (in)fertility has wreaked havoc on my body and my mental status toward it. The good feminist in me tells me I'm more, much more, than the sum of my boobs and my uterus. The other, more vapid and superficial part who wistfully looks at the new Boden catalog wishing I had my '05 body back hates this body -- hates the sags, the pooches, the crags, the bags, the dark spots, and especially the foot that makes it near impossible to improve the rest of it. And most of this, I understand quite clearly, is a result of trying to have children, and most of THAT, a result the Maddy's pregnancy which left me without a will to exercise, an overturned stomach that won't go away despite the sit-ups, and a foot that gave up when I tried to hurry my imagined journey back to the old, firm me.

This part of raising the daughter? The body image part? Scares the crap out of me. It didn't always, but wow does it now. Because I have no love for mine. I must somehow find a way to tell her to enjoy hers, while she has the time and space and opportunity. I've been so hung up lately on whether I'm doing a satisfactory job on raising a big sister whose little sister isn't that I feel I've been letting some other life lessons slide by.

"Mom," announced Bella turning the hose on the lilac,

"I'm going to water Maddy's tree for her."

I almost drop my clippers in shock.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Black Tagliatelle with Peas and Parmigiano
Tocai Friulano

An old friend of ours lost a bet with Mr. ABF and as a result, agreed to treat us to a tasting menu (each course paired with a wine) at this restaurant in Manhattan on Saturday night. With Bella deposited at a kind friend's house (hopefully not bossing around her child), the three of us embarked on a culinary experience the likes of which I haven't had in . . . well, years. Year before last I wasn't drinking because I was pregnant (fuck, what a waste of potential Brunello imbibement '06 was). Last year I couldn't taste. I simply lost my desire and ability to discern one food from another, one wine from another. I really didn't care. Not to mention we lost valuable babysitting karma with Bella leaving her alone for the week of Maddy's life and then again every Tuesday evening in April and May so we could attend a support group. It was hell on us all, leaving the house and her in someone else's hands, during a time when we all needed to just be together, eating cold cereal for dinner.

"Casunzei" with Poppy Seeds
Südtiroler Sylvaner

A whiff of the first wine, one I'm familiar with but not that exact appellation, confirms that much is coming back to me. The second wine swims under my nose and -- although not my favorite -- I'm able to rattle off the butter and apricot tendencies, and the dryness yet the more structured body underneath in order to compliment my favorite pasta of the evening filled with beets and topped with a heavenly grating of smoked ricotta salata. I sit and simply inhale the smoke for a few minutes and wonder if I'm really back.

Garganelli with "Funghi Trifolati"
Pinot Nero "Mazzon"

By now I'm considerably relieved that I still have the ability to taste. I continue to impress our dinner partner with the smells of our turn to red wine (a lighter one, to compliment the earthiness of the fresh mushrooms in the dish). This course turns out not to be my favorite separately in wine or food, but by far my favorite pairing. Each does the other so many favors. Our dinner companion is slowly, course by course, talking us through some work related politics, the other tables are clearly happy, and I may be developing a crush on our sommelier.

Domingo's Pyramids with Passato di Pomodoro
Montefalco Rosso

Because by this point I feel the need to insert myself in this conversation about online business and prove that I have some sort of clue (and probably because by now I've had a fair amount to drink) I out myself to dinner tab-picker-upper that I blog -- on not one but TWO blogs. He's genuinely surprised and happy and asks how it's going. I not only impress him but myself with my knowledge of this particular wine -- I knew two of the grapes in this blend, but not the third, and what I'm picking up in unfamiliarity is with the third grape. I confirm this with the sommelier and pat myself and taste buds on the back.

Pappardelle Bolognese

Fuck it's nice being in a dress and heels, drinking wine knowing that my child is being tended to. And this is a big wine, obviously, to go with the meat. I begin to ponder if it's time we think about going out to nice restaurants at home. I'm all a twitter thinking about our wine cellar nearing completion and our holding being delivered in a few short weeks. It hits me that when we packed up our wine, I wasn't drinking it. I was pregnant. Swill a bit more.

"Frittelle di Caprino" with "Uve Moscato"
Colli di Scandiano Malvasia "Daphne"

I'm readily approaching the point of saying basta. This course does nothing for me, it's a bit . . .gratuitous. Nothing about it grabs me. I've even tasted better honey. Wondering if we've hit saturation on the evening, and maybe I'm overselling the whole going-out thing. This dress is tight. My foot hurts. I hope Bella is ok. I check my phone for messages and note the late hour.

Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with Licorice
Vin Santo di Chianti Classico

Wait. Vin Santo. My favorite dessert wine. And maybe I'm completely creamed by this point not to mention sitting over my (thankfully small) thimbleful of chocolate, but I detect chocolate in this bouquet of usually honey and nut with a hint of citrus. I finish my glass, and our friend who doesn't like Vin Santo gives me his. I don't drink it, I'm getting sated, but I sit and occasionally just put my nose over the glass. I tell the waiter not to take it even though I'm fairly sure I'm not going to drink it.

Chocolate Chestnut Budino with Chestnut Gelato (Plus two additional desserts, one different for each diner)

Uncomfortably full. Ready to go. I lick my spoon, but pass my dessert off to the men, and barely sip the last wine, which is delightful. It's too much. The rest of weekend is a blur of hangover, Bella tripping the next morning and getting a bloody nose, driving home in silence. I haven't eaten much of anything since Saturday night, not so much from penance but because I haven't been hungry.

And while delightful to know that my senses are returning, and I can enjoy food and wine again, there's always the uncomfortable grumble letting you know that what you were (a late-thirties mom) and what you are (a late thirties mom) sometimes ain't all that. Being gone for 48 hours means I come home to 48 x 10n unread things in my reader. Of the first six random blogs I click on, two are by people already pregnant; one paints a scene that reminds me of "those crazy kids" while I was in grad school but takes one commenter back to the summer she was 15; and the remaining three I randomly click announce pregnancies.

Niobe once wrote "for some reason or for no reason at all, someone else's good news has tasted bitter, has burnt acrid in my lungs." To be honest, I'm not sure why I'm feeling so melancholy about it all this Monday. I'm not trying. I'm not even thinking. I know this won't take away grief, because you can't replace a child. When I read these things, quite frankly, they scare me. When people tell me, "envision yourself in the future. What do you see?" I can't. I can't go there. My mind puts up a steel curtain, and I can't see myself there, with or without. I get this overwhelming feeling that I'm in over my head, and maybe I'm just too old for all of this shit -- staying out drinking until midnight, getting nose blood out of the weekend's laundry, running with people young enough to consider music of my fifteenth summer "oldies." Maybe I regret not having the drive or desire.

Maybe I just miss having the hunger.