Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some Day, Late July

7/29/00: Mr. ABF and I, after almost 13 years of "dating," get married, in the meadow on my aunt's farm, ceremony began at 5:30 p.m.

7/29/04: Bella is born, coincidentally, shortly after 5:30 p.m.

7/29/06: We are homeless -- our house closed on Friday, 7/28, and we don't move into our new house until Monday, 7/31. On 7/29, we celebrate Bella's birthday with family at my aunt's farm. As part of the celebration, we announce our pregnancy.

7/29/07: We are without one of our children now, in our new home. I loathe to celebrate one child's birthday because it reminds me so painfully of the one I cannot celebrate at all. I can't bear to have a party at my aunt's, surrounded by the ghosts of last year, and so we have it at our house, surrounded by neighbors. That night, in lieu of sitting alone and crying into a glass of something, I invite 30 neighbors over to celebrate our anniversary with us. The crowd, cake, and champagne blur the memories considerably.

7/29/08: Bella turns four; Mr. ABF and I celebrate eight years of marriage and, well, everything else, together.


On one of the first days of "Statistics (for Poets)," a required course en route to my PhD, the professor (who I adored) walked us through the "Birthday Problem" using our class -- about 100 people if not more. Of course we were all stunned that two people in the class did indeed have the same birthday, even though he had just explained (moments earlier) the probability of that occurrence was, according to the formula, fairly high.

The odds that Bella's birthday would fall on our anniversary, according to the formula, are a bit more slim. I suppose if we bump up the variable on birthdays to include not only those (2, ours) but anniversaries (1) to 3, than it creeps up a notch. But in the end, as we all well know about probability, it happened, so the formula is rather moot. And as the stats guy sez, "the sum of the probability that an event will happen and the probability that the event won't happen is always 1. (In other words, the chance that anything might or might not happen is always 100%.)" Ain't that the truth.

I have had numerous occasions to think of this parlor trick over the past year and a half as days have become increasingly significant to me. And I guess if we -- all of us here in this corner of blogland -- were to plug all of our respective important dates into the formula, the probability that there would be an overlap is high. Only 365 days, a whole smattering of us, and a plethora of important dates. Somewhere, someones' important days would collide.

But knowing this didn't prepare me. Earlier this year, someone pointed me toward Janis. And one night I sat and read and cried through her archives. And discovered, on a sharp intake of breath, that Ferdinand's birthday is also July 29.

Dates on the calendar are just meaningless jibberish to me that I use to ink up the occasional paper check I still write, unless they're dates. Dates of significance. I was never much of a Christmas person, or a birthday person for that matter, so having a child on some high, holy occasion like that never gave me the willies. But two days in advance of our fourth anniversary, a week before my due date, suddenly feeling what seemed to my untrained eye and body a gush of water from my nether-regions, I knew my child would become the center of my attention from second one by usurping my one cheerful holiday that I could persumably count on for a small gift or at the very least, a good dinner out. No more.

Now, these birthaversaries are a jumble of frenetic planning amidst a undercurrent of sadness, remembering the daughter who lacks such attention, who lacks friends and goody bags and meaningless plastic crap from far-flung relatives. The anniversary which will always now stress the "for better or way worse than we ever imagined" part. The ghost of what could be.

And it comes to my attention, when I start to feel that glow inside -- not quite joy yet, but the inner smile that instinctively and surprisingly comes when I watch Bella propel herself around the block on her bike -- that days are like this: one person's joyous day is someone else's hell. One person's red-penned-heart around a number on the calendar is the day someone else would like to erase and go through comatose. The Norman-Rockwell-esque holiday, replete with dad carving the turkey in front of the snow-framed window for one person, is paralleled by someone else receiving the worst news of their lives. On days we remember the living, I now find it difficult not to remember the dead.

There would be a touch of joy and a touch of sadness today, without knowledge of Ferdinand. There will always be a ghost at our celebrations now, a missing person who should be staring in wonder at the cake, a child we don't get to leave at home with the babysitter. Our marriage will forever be marked by glorious adventures, a marvelous birth, and a trip through the inferno. As such, I will never forget the day Ferdinand was brought into this world, birthed by his mother while I undoubtedly sulked around a tray of cupcakes hoping I didn't look too depressed. I will never forget his birthday, because it is now woven into the magic of dates that guides my life: July 29.

Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, us.

One day. One measly 24-hour day, a number. Packed with so very much of then, now, and never.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


It's rather amazing how 100+ years of an edifice that has been reconfigured, revamped, refloored, and otherwise reconstructed, can disappear in the course of three days, contained within three dumpsters. Something that took so long to build, with so many layers, laid to waste within hours.

I'm sure you see the metaphor. And the ghosts that are exposed are stunning.

I've got a post up at GITW today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vanilla Yogurt

I've written here before about how supportive my mother has been during the past year and a half. Surprisingly supportive. And how much I appreciate this, given that my husband's parents have really fumbled the ball.

And so I find myself this week in a bit of a conundrum: all the old, parental baggage that I despise so incredibly, nauseatingly (Is that a word? Mind if I use it anyway?) much, is rising up in my gut, and I'm trying my best to reconcile the clumps of our relationship that I can't stand with the stuff I cherish.

You see, my mother is a wonderful, smart, articulate, well-read, politically astute, food-savvy, culturally literate woman whom I love to chat with until the wee hours. On the phone. While she's in another state. Because when she starts inching closer, suddenly the ol' martyrdom, passive-aggressive, travel-incompetence rears it's ugly head.

Not only are my parents coming to visit, but we're then traveling with them. To the Outer Banks. To spend some time with my uncle (my Dad's brother) and his family, which includes my favorite cousin and her son who is Bella's age.

So, there is "Yay! Beach for a week with peers and cocktail hour! Woot!" And then there is this:

Are there stores there?

I can't believe I'm leaving the dessert to go to the beach for a week.

What will we need to bring? Will your dad be able to get his yogurt?

I was just telling my co-worker how insane it is that it's 112 here, and I'm going to the beach for my vacation.

No, he needs Danon, vanilla. Do you think they sell Danon? Can we find out?

Will we need to bring dishtowels?

Do you know how hot it will be?

What about eggs? We eat a lot of eggs, now.

I'm going to send you a list of food we normally eat to see what you think we need to shop for in advance and what we might be able to get there.*

I hate traveling with books. Do you think you have anything I could borrow?

Damn, it's going to be hot, isn't it. What do they eat there?

Could you pick up a book for me?

Huh. Well. I wouldn't know about Orzo salad. We don't do pasta anymore. Do you think they eat cucumbers? Do you think they sell cucumbers there?

So I don't need a hoodie or anything, right? It's going to be hot? It was 110 today. 110.

I think you can see where this is going. To sum up quickly: Mom doesn't want to go to the beach. I think in part because, quite frankly, she doesn't want to go to the beach, but I also detect an undercurrent of "We're going to spend an entire week with your Dad's family and I'm PISSED as hell about it." Also? Getting fussy in the waning years of mid-life. (Seriously, must it be DANON? For a fucking WEEK he couldn't eat another brand?) I'm slightly amused, I must say, by the thought that she equates the Outer Banks with Mars when it comes to conveniences (and in her defense, we go pretty far south of the golf-courses and Vera Bradly handbags), and that my family eats tv dinners slathered with cheez-whiz, drowned with sanka avec non-dairy powdered creamer. (Does she remember who I am?)

Also? I'm going to go out of my mind once they arrive Wednesday trying to prepare my family to go by 5 a.m. Saturday morning. I already detect multiple trips to the grocery store, passive-aggressive dietary criticism on my choice of side-dish preparations (for a fucking vacation! Can South Beach take a hike for a night? Because I'm having a Smore. So there.), getting extremely sidetracked while discussing, ad nauseum, that yes, I have ordered linens to be there waiting for us so we do NOT need to pack EXTRA washcloths. Thank you.

So you'd think my mom would maybe want to spend time with her family while back East, but apparently not so much. I'm sparing you (well, no I'm not, here it is:) an interesting sub-story, which is that my mother's sister, my aunt, who lives west of us in the country, is the primary caretaker of their ailing parents, my grandparents. My aunt drives them to appointments, invites them to 98% of all gatherings at her house, makes phone calls for them, helps them with day-to-day jazz. But sometimes, you know, my aunt gets tired. Sometimes, like on the 4th of July, my aunt decided that she really didn't want to be responsible for shuttling parents back to their homes after dark, before fireworks, and instead, wanted to get ripped on frozen Mojitos. So she didn't invite them. And my mom, from a million miles away, called this "immature."

Now, as it turns out, my 91 year old grandfather is having a small cancerous tumor removed (one they discovered, incidentally, a decade ago, that they thought would outlive him) the night before we go to the shore, and his doctors have expressed that even though this is "outpatient," he should have someone stay the night with him at his house (my grandparents are divorced). My aunt apparently has plans that night, even though she's driving him to and from his surgery. And so my mother, who will be on her "vacation" (I always get around this by calling it "going East/West" because usually the trip to see family in either direction hardly resembles what one might call a "vacation") is going to stay this night at his house. But not without a WHOLE helluva lot of interjections.

I guess I have to do it. (Heavy sigh.) [Aunt] says she's busy.

I guess we'll stay. We'll leave for the shore Saturday or early Sunday.

I don't know who else can stay with him. He needs someone there. [Aunt]'s just gonna drop him off, like she always does.

Could you get us a map?

Did I tell you we decided to stay with [Grandpa] that night? [Aunt] claims she has plans, or something.

Not a fuck of a lot of sympathy coming from me. One night? 12 hours? In the grand scheme of his care? Your turn, honey.

So I will be at the shore, drink most likely in hand, awaiting my parents' arrival late Saturday/Early Sunday, most likely late, presumably lost along the way, complaining about our car they'll be borrowing, hoping on all that's holy that the week will get better once we're actually there.

So where's this store? Can we go tonight?

God, it's hot.

* And I quote: "Hanson's Sugar Free Ginger Ale, Non-fat cottage cheese, Dannon Lo-fat vanilla yogurt, Granola (I usually eat x, but anything you use is fine), Half and Half AND fat-free Half and Half, eggs, cheese, bread, olive oil, cucumbers, lemon, feta, Dill, melon, fruit, tea, veggies for roasting.

109 Today."


Not to give mom the last word: This marks my 100th post. I am not quite as prolific as some of you (I started blogging last September), but like many, have found this to be most therapeutic, supportive, and helpful. I thank you for obliging. And abiding. Enjoy your weeks.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Awful Cloud


Thank you, Kymberli, for the link to Wordle!

I'm stunned that there are no profanities in this cloud, which leads me to believe there is a filter involved. Hmph.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Alpha Bits

I mentioned to my therapist at the last session that I seem to have a very short fuse of late. My patience is wafer thin. Little things make me explode. And I realized I had a discernable problem when

1) Bella told me it made her "sad" when I "yelled at the dogs," and
2) I caught Bella roaming around the kitchen saying "Fuck" over and over.

Yeah. That would be MY cheery (sea-faring) disposition she's channeling, thank you very much. Please spell my name correctly when you submit that mother-of-the-year award.

Ostensibly, this has zero to do with grief and everything to do with my life as it is currently. Except for the fact that I was never a short-tempered person. I was told by many that I had the patience of a saint, sometimes to my detriment ("Why on EARTH did you wait around that long?! Don't you realize we're going to be LATE now? I would've said something!")

I once wrote that the deadbaby thing had caused me to undergo the following change: Big things slide off my back like water off a whale. Little things freak me the fuck out.


We're renovating the kitchen. Which is a short way of staying, altering four staircases, blowing through a wall, moving a fire-box, and getting some new appliances and flooring while we're at it. And our architect and contractor have gone out of their way to tell us that we're by far the easiest people they've worked with in a while. We make decisions quickly. We're clear-headed and grasp changes. We put up with a lot of hassle (strange guys running through my house, a big smelly dumpster parked outside my back door, noise a go-go, using a wee kitchen on the third floor until Halloween at the least) with aplomb.

And then my dog eats a block of Manchengo, and I dissolve into tears cleaning up shit-sour-cheese barf off my floor, while I call him all sorts of things I think I heard in a Sopranos episode.

Gaping holes with 10-foot drops under my staircase? Whatever, we'll work around it. Dog puke on my rug? Madly scramble for my therapist's email.


We never trained Buddy properly when he got here seeing as I was in a state of shock, and Buddy was hardly able to right himself -- what with the two metal plates in his leg and the umpteen screws holding them in and the hip that never went back in the socket. But we decided a few months ago it would behoove us all if Buddy knew some basic commands, most especially "leave it" (he lives to chase and bark at neighbors down the fenceline) and staying off the counters. Mr. ABF called a dog trainer who had successfully turned a couple of high-wired dogs we knew into docile, obedient pups, and one morning we were all introduced to The Dog Whisperer.

This trainer is into the whole pack mentality thang, where you -- owner -- are the Alpha. There was a lot of chatter about wolves which I found somewhat fascinating, but honestly was fairly distracted by considering whether to blog about the dream-catcher I saw affixed to her auto's rear-view mirror. She lay down some rules and scenarios, I tried my best not to giggle. And Buddy actually responded. For 2-3 days there, I thought she was onto something.

The real plus to this method of training is that she doesn't want any negative reinforcement. In fact, she wants no speaking whatsoever. She wants all of the initial alpha-induction to be done with body language -- posture, eye movements, heavy sighing. And so I suddenly found myself not yelling at my dog. Which was nice for everyone. It was actually a significant blood pressure reducer to know that when I caught Buddy on the counter gulping down the cat food, that I didn't need to dream up some other combination of "fucking asshole," that I could simply grab him by the collar and give him a time-out for a few before letting him back in the room and ignoring him. That's pretty much how I try and treat my husband when I'm mad at him anyway, so I thought I'd be pretty good at it. I began to worry less about catching Bella chastising a poor stuffed Clifford in her room: "You Motherfucker!"

But I think we all missed a critical component here: As it turns out, I cannot be an Alpha. I dare Runs-with-Dogs-Woman to find a pack of wolves where the Alpha is interrupted from food allocation to tend to finding a roll of toilet paper for a whining pup two caves over. I'm willing to bet I can find a National Geographic episode that clearly demonstrates some strong yet complaint female wolf off the side, exhale deeply and mutter "Don't worry, I'LL get it," while stalking off. If anything, the counter-surfing problem has become worse since we instituted this program. Buddy now hangs around while I cook dinner, knowing full well that somewhere in there a scream will emanate from Bella's room or the bathroom -- "MOM! HELP! NOW!" -- that I must tend to immediately, and in the 12 seconds I'm around the corner making sure I don't need police assistance, Buddy eats dinner. And now knows all he's getting in return is silent, solitary confinement. He actually snarls a tad when I go for his collar now. According to Dances-with-Canines, Alphas are to enter the room with authority, and not look at their underlings until peace is assured. Well! She shoulda seen me enter the room after finding out Jamie Lynn Spears named her daughter "Maddie." Shoulders drooping, in search of coffee, needing 30 minutes to steel myself with space gazing before moving onto something else constructive, Buddy read the signs and aimed for the stale pastry I had left sitting next to my mug. I didn't even bother.

And I knew I was in trouble at my aunt's when I went to correct him and he gave me what can only be described as a "HaHa, you think you can handle THIS?" look. I turned to my husband and said:

"I am his bitch."

Buddy has figured this all out. He was never Alpha to begin with -- that was Max ("Like HELL it was," snots Tucker Cat, chortling over my keyboard) -- but I really think this whole programme has elevated his status. Our little den experiment here has shattered any authority I may have had over my dog, and clarified for me that I really don't give a shit about the process, I want the end result. I'm devoid of patience, and lack the time. I no longer yell, which is good, but now when he eats the loaf of bread through the wrapper while I'm inconveniently poking my head around the corner to tell Bella to please leave the clothes dryer alone, I mutter not-so-much under my breath: "g'damn it, shithead." He smiles. Bella takes note. This has not been good for the reduction in bad language. Not so very much.

I have made it rather clear that while I see how this method can work, that it is probably not for us. I would much prefer getting the electric fence guys to come into my new kitchen and mining the counter so that Buddy gets a rude awakening the next time he goes to see if Bella left any cereal in her bowl. I figure one or two of those and he'll get the message. I may not be Alpha, but mama is no fool.


There's a lot more to the patience-thinning-swearing-uptick in my life that has to do with my overwhelming "To-Do" lists and the fact that I can't seem to break out of the fire drill status that takes over my day beginning with "Mom! My clock says it's 7:00! Yours does too!" I'm also not so vapid to understand that there is most likely some subconscious reason for not straying too far in advance of the present, and not prioritizing things like "Call RE" and "Make mammogram appointment" and "Fix Up Bella's playroom" on the list because they are psychologically fraught. They all involve discussions, ghosts, disturbing locations, medical technology I now find deeply suspect and rather pointless, future appointments, decisions, moving forward. Much easier to fill the days with insurmountable tasks like ordering goody-bag favors.

I told Mr. ABF when he announced he had an appointment set up with She-Who-Communicates-by-Barking (on a rare Bella-free morning near the onset of summer) that I didn't consider this a priority. Sure, Buddy was a bit of a headache, but a nothing a good loud stream of profanity couldn't fix (at least in my psyche). I poke fun, but really I believe her methods are valid and work. I've seen her with Buddy, and he is an entirely different animal around her. But not around me. I'm not an Alpha. I have never wanted to lead, I have never wanted to shoulder the responsibility for the entire pack. I like sharing and getting welcomed immediately at the door. I just like my dinner where I left it 10 seconds ago. And so, we may revert to methods that cause the DogHealer to shudder through her dream-catcher and pick up the phone to the ASPCA. I'd like to use shock-treatment to get us quickly to the end-game. In more ways than one.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ex Libris

I belong to a real, live, actual people involved, book club. I know! How outwardly social of me. There was one in the 'hood that was comprised of all the young single women, but apparently it kinda devolved into everyone passing the buck on whose house they were meeting at, and not reading the book, but showing up for the wine and discussing the movie version. I joined at the tail end of this version 1.0, and co-conspired with a member who wanted to make it a wee bit more serious, and we (sadly, perhaps) lost some of the old people, but attracted numerous new ones. And now we have this real organized group 2.0 that meets monthly for dinner (or brunch, if schedules fail) and everyone reads (at least most of it) and everyone talks. And I like it very much.

There are some oddities though, that I'm finding out about reading since the big divide took place in my life. For starts, it never really hit me how many ficitonal books involve themes of motherhood (and all the concomitant yearning, suceeding, failing, losing thereof) and loss (marriage, money, life). And I guess it makes sense to some degree, because what the hell are we going to write about that's remotely interesting? And so all books it seems to some degree hurt a bit.

And in public, this brings about a bit of the awkward. I've noticed at times when we're discussing what to read next, and I say "So! What's the deal with 'Memory Keeper's Daughter!' What's that about?" and there's this really, long pause when someone finally gets brave and starts, "Well, it's about this woman who has two children, but one has Down's, so her husband takes that one away and tells her that the baby died . . . " And again this horrible huge silence where everyone's wishing that the big screeching vulture would swoop down and devour the chirping crickets giving us something else to talk about. And I feel it's my social duty to step into the breech, usually with a (sarcastic) joke, "Well, that sounds cheery!" to let them know I'm ok talking about it. I once discovered that two people in club had a small private conversation about a book a couple nights before we met, and my first thought was, "How great is that!" and my second, conspiratorial thought was, "Jeebus, I bet they were wondering how I'd react to the book -- whether I'd just crumple at the table."

That book was Amy Bloom's "Away" (a gripping story about child-loss of another sort entirely), which I loved. But it brings me to my next personal epiphany: I read books differently than I did before. I suppose that's rather frying-pan-to-the-head obvious, but it really didn't dawn on me until I read Julia's review of Handmaid's Tale (which I read over a decade ago, long before I really contemplated having children) that books might strike me differently now that I'm on this side of infertility, miscarriage, and neonatal death. I recently read "The Other Bolelyn Girl," and found myself running to the bookshelf to cross-ref Alison Wier's awesome "Wives of Henry VIII" so many times, that I'm now rereading it. And talk about infertility, miscarriage, and neonatal death. These were subjects that I glossed over for the politics during the first read through about 8 years ago, that I'm now swimming in, in fascination, horror, and disbelief. During my 40th week of pregnancy with Maddy I read Gregory Maguire's "Wicked," and I'd love to reread it now, knowing what I do about genetics and offspring and siblings.

Stories on loss get met with a very critical eye now. Does the person get it? Months ago, the NY'er had a short story about a guy who faked his young child's death in order to take some time off work. Instead of being completely insulted by the premise, I was instead rolling my eyes in disbelief at the weak research the author used: a completely supportive workplace that would phone the wife to express condolences in person? Fiction indeed.


Bookclub is now into summer reading, and this month's selection seemed a safe bet: David Sedaris', "When You Are Englulfed in Flames," a compilation of short stories by the ever-so-clever and amusing wit. Until I hit the end of the very first story which ostensibly dealt with parasites, but of course, ended with dead children humor:

Did you know that every year five thousand children are startled to death?


"Those poor children," Maw Hamrick said.

"And the parents!" Lisa added. "Can you imagine?"

Both groups are tragic, but I was wondering about the surviving children, or, even worse, the replacements, raised in an atmosphere of preventive sobriety.

"All right, now, Caitlin Two, when we get home a great many people are going to jump out from behind the furniture and yell 'Happy Birthday!' I'm telling you now because I don't want you to get too worked up about it."

No surprises, no practical jokes, nothing unexpected, but a parent can't control everything, and there's still the outside world to contend with, a world of backfiring cars and their human equivalents.

Had one of you written this, I would probably be on the floor, trying desperately not to wet myself. ("REPLACEMENTS! BWAH!") But from what I know, he is not one of us. So the lines struck me cold and extremely unfunny, I closed the book, and haven't picked it up in two weeks. I know I need to, and that the subsequent stories are probably hilarious, but continuing to pursue this book has been difficult since we clearly got off on the wrong foot. It is the same reaction I have to people who run on for minutes about how great "Juno" was. It's funny if I (or you) make it funny, but really pregnancy and birth and death will never be humorous again.

Last year at the beach I brought trash -- Tina Brown's "Diana" -- which included the story of Diana's mother giving birth to a stillborn child that the attendants would not allow her to view. This year on my island vacation I picked up a thriller (Laurie King's "A Darker Place") -- known author, completely unknown story -- and it turns out the protagonist was driven by the death of her young daughter. It seems almost impossible for me now to pick up a book and not search for it, or get beat over the head with it. Either babydeath is more recognized than I assumed, or it spins a damn good yarn.

Someone tell me this Sedaris thing gets better, please.