Saturday, November 29, 2008

Color by Numbers

4: Number of sides people brought. THAT NEEDED COOKED FROM SCRATCH. (Note to self: it is actually easier to prepare everything than it is to lose control of timing due to everyone's side dishes. Even if your kitchen is only 70% complete. Even though you now have two ovens and a warming drawer. Either do it yourself next time, or make sure what is contributed is already cooked.)

60: minutes that my turkey finished ahead of schedule. Unfrozen free range always cooks faster, but this one was so effin' big -- even I was surprised. And then side dish hilarity ensued.

16: Guests.

12: Obama voters. (4 guests under the age of 18.) No political outbursts. Phew.

2: Awkward moments at dinner. Midway through dinner, a good 2.5 hours into the afternoon, one guest finally realizes who the fuck my FIL is and why he's there. D'oh. Mr. ABF swore he did that introduction. Bella passes out plastic bees from her new game, and my grandmother mistakes it for a candy and damn near chews and swallows it before I realize what's going on.

1: Fight. Between my aunt and my mother. I just put my head down and listened to the bullets fly.

5: Hours of sleep Thursday night thanks to Bella's cough attack.

2: number of times Bella has thrown up since Wednesday from coughing so hard.

Infinite: number of times I have cursed the passing of Robitussin as a viable pharmaceutical option since Wednesday.

8: dollars per person paid to enter Christmas fair, which we then walked out of 10 minutes later when Bella threatened to throw up while coughing, again.

Thousands: leaves in my yard that need raked. Right now.

4: number of times Mr. ABF swore he had the phone in his hand to call his mom Thursday morning, but always got distracted and busy. She freaked out that he didn't call (he reminded her that she could've called him, to which she replied, "I can't call you").

0: seconds following Mr. ABF asking if his mother would like to come for Christmas before she responded, "No."

2: relatives who asked, without prompting, if they could attend the candlelight service at Children's next month with us.

363: number of children whose names will be read at this year's service.

15: days until the service. Some people count down days 'til Christmas; some . . . don't. Check it out in the side bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Figment of My Imagination

It feels extremely hollow and completely disingenuous to say that blogging about my dead baby has had some lovely moments and benefits. But I have met all of you, and you have invited me in to share with me the names and brief lives of your children, and that has been truly wonderful if not humbling.

One odd bloggy circumstance led to another, and shazam, in a supreme moment of Deadbaby Serendipity, I had the opportunity to interview Elizabeth McCracken about her memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

We discuss a smattering of stillbirth and doctors, grief and guilt, online and bloggy, and of course Pudding, and Gus, and the action of writing. And we cuss and swear and really, it was a rather good time.

Join us over at Glow in the Woods.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Everybody Loves the Sound of a Train in the Distance

I read Cecily all to infrequently anymore, but got caught up lately in some of her brilliant election stuff, and her Phillies euphoria (woot!). So I flitted by the other day and she had up what for her I'm assuming was a rather innocuous post on living in chaos.

Cecily spoke of how even in her decade-plus state of sobriety she still creates and craves the chaos that used to mark her addicted life: she described making herself late for things, and driving maniacally; and how her home and carpeting had disintigrated into a war zone (though not quite approaching Katrina people, so lighten up). And how she's going to work on fixing this situation stat because she simply can't live like this anymore, especially with her daughter.

And my internal air raid siren went off, and I stared slack-jawed at my screen.

I realized, I too, live in a state of chaos, mostly of my own making. Here's how it goes:

I live in two week increments.

I don't plan anything further out than two weeks, and if something goes on the calendar further out than that, I just turn the page back quickly, with a heavy sigh, knowing full well I'm going to have to move something around once I get there. 99 times out of 100, the thing that far in advance has to do with Bella.

I don't think about anything more than two weeks in my future. I don't fantasize, dream, wish, plan. If it's something that's going to have to happen more than two weeks out, I usually just stop thinking about it, or drop it altogether. (See: dentist appointment.)

Ergo, I live in a fire-drill. I wake up, and run pell-mell through my day, with my only goal being to make it to bedtime. Phew. And then I crash, wake up, and do it all over again. I'm insanely busy -- and things always interrupt my plans, and fuck up my daily schedules -- something happens with the kitchen which slams my morning, and my afternoon is already full so shopping moves to tomorrow, dinner plans get dialed back, and on.

This all started, I believe, last fall with the foot issue. I was so intent and focussed on losing the pregnancy weight, that when my schedule became consumed with physical therapy, podiatry, and orthopedic appointments, I refused to schedule anything else lest it interfere with my recovery. Any other doctor's appointment or event might just stand in the way of the shedding of 15 pounds, and hell if I'm letting that happen. So I just filled up two weeks at a time with appointments, declared my schedule full, and plowed through.

It continues to this day, even though I no longer have those appointments, and my weight shedding schedule is limited to an early morning gym trip or forest path run.

This is not to say I don't enjoy myself, but it's last minute -- Mr. ABF will ask me on Wednesday if we should call a babysitter for Saturday night, and I hem and haw, and fret that if I feel like I do now, I'll fall asleep before she arrives, and we end up going out and having a delightful time and I say something like "We should make this a standing date!" But we don't.

My house is tidy, I arrive to appointments in a timely fashion. I shower most days, and keep on top of laundry and meals and bills and house stuff. But I don't plan.

I never have those falling-asleep fantasies anymore about holidays or vacations or what my family will look like in 5-10 years, or visualizations about where Bella might go to school next year, or full-throated wonderments about renting a house in Italy for some distant December. A month or so ago, Mr. ABF and I began discussing an end-of-February vacation (we decided it's a nice bit of rope to gently pull us through the ugliness), we hopped online for a few days, and then the bottom came out of the stock market. Oddly, I wasn't that upset, but nor did I search for less expensive outings. I just folded up the mental manilla folder and filed it away, thankful to have that space in my day to do something else.

Of course, this behavior is begging the obvious: I'm also unable, totally, completely, to think about a child-bearing future. I've been told to try and visualize my future, "try a few scenarios on for size," and believe me I try. I lie in bed, nicely sated by the crossword, and consciously wonder about a sibling for Bella -- or not. A child of our making. An AIDS orphan from Africa. A tidy, efficient family of three with an enormous rambling house where everyone gets their own office.

But I can't. I try and project what it would feel like to have another set of feet in the house, but my consciousness gets stuck on that 7-letter word for 8-across. And then I realize the blinking light in my peripheral vision is a phone message. Which reminds me I never called someone back, need to do that tomorrow. Along with the application I've now put off for three days. And Cinnamon! Must remember to put that on the grocery list. Do I have stuff in the dryer? Will I have time for a load of laundry tomorrow? No, I can't call the RE. Maybe when the kitchen's done. I just don't have the time.

There are a number of reasons for this way of living:

I'm scared to death. I'm positively frozen about what terrible horrible things my future might hold. Bella might die in her teens, my husband might divorce me. We could lose our house to fire, our city could come to resemble the dystopia in "Robocop." A very typical conversation goes like this:

Me: I need a haircut.
Mr. ABF: When are you going to schedule your mammogram?
Me: (Bursts into tears, runs from room.)

But these terrible, horrible, no good very bad things will never happen in the next two weeks! Why, if I only think two weeks in advance, nothing bad will ever happen! And of course you may have a toke from my hookah eminating the florescent cartoon flowers and the sweet aromatic smell of denial!

Diminishing returns. If I only plan things two weeks in advance, and they don't happen, I don't feel so badly. Hell, if I say on Friday that I want to do something Sunday, and suddenly wake up Monday morning realizing I totally spaced out on that thing on Sunday? Eh. Oh well. Because we all know the less time we have to grow attached to an idea, the less it will hurt if it doesn't come to fruition. Right? What? Pass the bong again? Here ya go.

Time of year. This happened last fall, and I'm just noticing it in full force again now. Wonder why? Hmm. Lessee: on my horizon, starting about 7 weeks from now and going forward: Christmas. New Years. February. My 40th birthday. Now who the fuck wants to plan around that shit? I don't want to do any of it. I don't want any of it to even arrive. I want to crawl in a cave and have someone wake me up next April with a two week schedule that involves baking and travel.

My reproductive state. I'm supposed to be thinking about this. I'm supposed to be doing something before I hit the big 4-0 and my eggs mutate and my ovaries rust over. And I can't think about it, because thinking about it involves envisioning a future -- a possible pregnancy, a child of someone's creation, and concomitantly, a tragedy, and a death. If I never start, I'll never have to push out my horizon. And it's comfortable here, where nothing bad ever happens.

So what to do.

I'd actually like to change this. I'm tired of being stuck in the now. I realize I'm exhausted from functioning, from existing, but I'm not really living.

It's more than just getting brave, picking up the pen, flipping the calendar to the end of January and writing something down be it an event, an appointment, or simply a date with my husband.

It's somehow changing my mindset to once again accept the possibility of a future. And the idea that good, fun, entertaining stuff might happen there -- along with the inevitable calamity and tragedy. That my expectations will undoubtedly be dashed again, but that happens, and occasionally, something will in all probability occur as it should. That dreaming is simply that -- dreaming. No more, no less. And it's a fun exercise (or it used to be) regardless of whether I ever take action and start looking at Tuscan real estate sites. People will let me down, like clockwork, at the holidays when I'm especially low. So maybe I need to reach out there a bit, and plan an alternative activity -- buy tickets to something for the family? -- something that will cheer my husband and daughter when a relative doesn't show with presents and comfort. When relatives fail to remember why it is that we're so miserable.

I've written in many many comments that my life lacks a horizon. And I've only recently come to see how completely debilitating and depressing this is. The big question now is how do I paint one back in?


Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance
Everybody thinks it’s true
What is the point of this story
What information pertains
The thought that life could be better
Is woven indelibly
Into our hearts
And our brains

--- Paul Simon

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fill in the Blanks

NAME: Bella

ADDRESS: You mean when she's not guest lecturing at Harvard? Why, right here!

MOTHER'S OCCUPATION: Woo boy. Hmmm. I'll get back to you on that one.

CURRENT SCHOOL: Yes. Thank goodness.

SIBLINGS (Please attach separate sheet if necessary): Oh for fuck's sake . . .


We're currently going through the stress of applying to schools for Bella. It's very much like college with interviews, and testing, and visits, and short essay questions. Except that unlike college, we're responsible for the future of this sweet little four-year old, not ourselves. And the alternative is not a decent state school, it's . . . well. I'll leave that discussion for another post. But it's not good.

The forms include a space, multiple lines in fact, for listing siblings. The reason is this: if you attend a very good private school, your sibling is pretty much guaranteed a space when they are ready. No matter if sibling one is Einstein incarnate, and sibling two is a box-of-rocks exhibiting 8 of the 13 signs of a serial killer, one highly sought after place (sans knives, I presume) will be reserved (as it is for legacy children) for them. And I've now attended multiple workshops where I've learned all about "leveraging the sibling, even the younger ones!" Which helps me not in the least. Thank you.

A few months ago we would've left this part blank. But we decided after a bit of back and forth to fill in Maddy's name, followed by "Deceased" and her dates because another portion of this application hell is the interview/playdate. That would be with the child. Where they ask the child all sorts of questions (like "how many bunnies" (11, in case you were curious), and to spell their name, and oh, do you have any brothers and sisters?) and I'm just not sure how Bella answers that any more. And god forbid she answers in the affirmative: I want the person asking to know that answer is a possibility, and not go slack-jawed and drool on her perfectly styled little hair-do, and comment inappropriately on her wild yet peculiarly macabre imagination.

Around the house, Bella can hold two distinct narratives in her head: I don't have a sister. And, seconds later pointing to a picture, that's my sister, and she's dead. And both make complete sense, and I can see how they do, and frankly most days I keep these separate narratives in my head and voice as well.

But there are times when the disconnect is heartbreaking. Our parent-teacher conference last week was a cheerful discussion filled with "only child" syndrome behaviors, none of which her teachers found remotely troubling or problematic, but clearly indicative. At one point her teacher said when she asked Bella if she had any siblings, her response was "No! I'm the one and only." Which made me laugh, sincerely, but also turned on my internal rainstorm.

You would think that this school application business was stressful enough, but we can't seem to escape Maddy at any turn. Last Wednesday, at the very end of a parent-interview, the admissions lady asked me and Mr. ABF, "Is there anything else? Anything else I should know?" And we sat in silence, smiling at each other, thinking we had covered everything awesome there was to know, and damn this bitch, she followed up. I can't remember her exact words, but they were pointed and left us no wiggle room: "Any crises? Family traumas? Calamities? Casualties? Things that would effect your child emotionally that we should know about?" And since we had already printed "Deceased" on the form we handed in 45 minutes earlier (which she didn't read, because she doesn't need our address for the interview and who puts "deceased" down as an answer to that?), we told her. And for three painful minutes, I tried to clarify that we were in touch with professionals and knew what we were doing, and that Bella was acting completely normally and was not a loaded bomb. I have no idea what kind of flag this warrants on her folder. And seriously, what if any responses does she usually get to that question? Cancer diagnoses? Lost jobs? Death of pets or grandparents? Divorce?

Mr. ABF who is not often given the opportunity to discuss Maddy was a bit disturbed and bummed out for the rest of the day; I was far more panicked by the following discussion on how few openings their kindergarten will have next year due to legacy kids and especially, for some freaky reason this year, SIBLINGS.


In my panic, I went to see the director of Bella's preschool who talked me off the ledge, and suggested yet one more place I might apply to, just to cover my bases. I went to visit this last school on Saturday, and drove into the wrong parking lot. As did another quiet-mannered woman. The signage was set for the other correct lot, so we got ridiculously lost together en route to registration. So when we walked in and were asked, "So! Did you find us ok?" we both launched into our story of the wrong lot, finishing each other's sentences about walking into the wrong building, and the arrows seemingly pointed in the wrong direction. And because of this, and because we both wrote a big "K" down as our interest in today's tour, someone assumed we were together. As in, a couple. Which we explained, um, no, we're not. We just met in the parking lot.

We, this woman and I, were placed on a tour with a couple and their twins, and THEY were interested in the PreSchool. But every time our guide entered a room and introduced the bunch of us, it was, "I have a family interested in PreK and two Kindergarteners," and then the twins ran in, and everyone assumed THEY were the Kindergarteners and WE (parking lot woman and I) were the family interested in PreSchool.

I'm touched and pleased to report that this school is very, very welcoming of lesbian families, as my life partner and I were treated with a casual respect with questions addressed to the both of us about our "child," singular. And then we clarified, eventually with some joking, that we were not, and our poor tour guide got more and more flustered as the afternoon wore on.

On the way back to the parking lot, while chatting with my lover about where her child was presently and where she lived (complicated relationship, this), we walked through a small graveyard next to the campus church. The graves were all sunken, sprinkled haphazardly, tilted askew, and difficult to read given the worn etching in white stone. And yet, like a laser, my eyes suddenly focussed on a random stone, with a now illegible name, and underneath in capital letters where numbered dates should've been, "[illegible] Days." It was a word longer than "six" -- seven? eleven? Something in the teens? -- but it was, from over a century ago, a marker of a life measured in days. I desperately wanted to take out my phone and try and get a picture in the now-descending darkness of the four o'clock hour, but didn't want to explain to or creep out the kind lady with whom I shared a life with, if only for an afternoon.

She follows me, this ghost, no matter what it is I'm doing, or stressing over. Her name finds her way on forms, and she inserts itself into discussions. Her presence seeps in the corners of my conversations, even the ones that are making me smile, even when I'm not looking. She's completely, irrepressibly present. And totally, achingly not.