Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Boxing it Up

She handed me a familiar, sealed, white cardboard box across the counter. The absolute first thing that went through my mind was, "How can a cat's ashes possibly weigh more than a baby's?" And the second thing was, there is no better way to handle this transaction, is there.

We put Kirby down a few weeks ago.

He had been in decline over the past few years: He's 15, with a chronic heart problem, and a thyroid problem. And none of those unto themselves are anything to fret over really, but together they seemed to finally start taking a toll. Along with what I suspect was senility. Can cats go senile? I honestly have no idea. I'll spare you a lengthy cat behavior post because this could easily turn into that, but the one example that had us both wincing was when Mr. ABF walked down to the basement where we kept the cat food (so the dogs wouldn't get it) and found a mouse eating out of a cat bowl a mere foot or so away from Kirby who was also having a snack. There was the shaking, the holing up in Bella's closet for weeks while snuggled in his own damp pee stain, the vomiting accompanied by screaming and a loss of bladder control, and in the final weeks, a pattern that took him from the tree in our room to the second floor landing outside our door which he decided was a suitable litterbox, and then back again.

It was time.

We both miss him terribly; it's funny how I walked into the basement less than a week later, inhaled realizing how my house no longer stank of pee, and promptly burst into tears. We got him when he was a mere 8-10 weeks old, and in our cold Chicago apartment he used to curl up on the back of our old gas stove which was always a bit warm. Most of you would sense the danger in this and bring it to a stop, but he looked so damn cute curled up next to the tea kettle that I began calling him my little loaf.

I tore open the little white box when I walked in the door. The reason for the extra weight was not that he was big, although at 7-8 lbs he still beat Maddy. It was that they placed his ashes in a trim little wood box with his name etched in a plate on the top. His box is also currently residing on the family room bookshelf, a few shelves down from Maddy's, waiting for us to decide what to do with them.

I suppose one day we'll just know.


We put Kirby down the Thursday before the Candlelight Ceremony that we go to every year at Children's, and hence, there was no post from me, no collection of names. And I felt low about it, and guilty as shit, because I always do that, and I like doing that, and I know there are people who look forward to it and new people for whom it would be meaningful and ugh. But off we went, bundled up, thrilled to arrive and see that finally! it was to be held outside in the winter chill with real candles, and not in a cramped and warm conference suite that smelled of sterilization where glow sticks hardly take the edge off the ambiance. I was so excited for the beauty of the evening, and Ale, apparently, was not. I'm sure he was warm enough save for his hands, which were little finger-cicles before long, but he decided the evening was ripe for yelling. (There are a lot of times ripe for yelling in his day.) Not wanting to disturb anyone else's evening, we whisked him to the back of the crowd where he could run around and jabber, but it meant no standing together as a family, and no paying firm attention to other people's dead children. I did manage to keep my candle lit the entire time, and keep my eye on the screen, plus Mr. ABF spelled me for a bit in the middle and took Ale off for a diaper change, but it was . . . . difficult.

At first I was frustrated. Deeply. Eye-roll-y frustrated. But as more names and pictures that filtered past, the frustration melted and I looked at my hot mess of a child, yelling while looking like he was making snow angels but in a grassy lawn, and realized I was lucky. I was so, so fucking lucky. We rode on the elevator in the parking garage after the event with a couple with no children with them. I felt embarrassed, standing there amid my jewels and riches.

This was my fifth service -- five services ago, I thought myself one of the most unlucky shmucks on the planet. This year, I scooped up my cold, yelly overtired treasures and basked. Fucking luck.

But perhaps very good that I didn't have your names with me, because I would've felt as guilty as all get out, wandering around as I was, distracted and not paying very close attention.

Maybe I can find another moment.


There is a post, sitting here in edit, much like my holiday card -- which is sitting in edit on a card site, I suppose now waiting for a sale to hit because they're going to be late anyway -- catching up, explaining a bit of my crazy blogless fall. Hopefully I can throw that up here in the not too distant future, before it all becomes a moot point. If it's not already.

I hope you're all well. Happy holidays, whatever day or days or reasons you celebrate. I hope you can find some peace in there.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where I save myself an hour and a C-note otherwise spent at my therapist's office

I will be the better, the bigger person.

I will overcome.

I will forgive.

I will channel the general happiness and goodness that I feel most days into feeling better about these people.

These people.

His family. Our family.

I will forgive.

I will find a way to sit with them, to be with them, to converse with them, without harboring ill will, without remembering all the insane ludicrous shit they've done to us, without remembering how they treated us like utter assholes.

I will forget it all, wipe the slate clean, and forgive.

I will forgive them, all of them, every last motherfucking one of them, for things they don't even know they did. For things they have no idea were wrong. For things they thought were the right things. For things they're probably silently or maybe vocally proud of doing.

For keeping information from us, for not talking to us, for ignoring it. For ignoring her. For ignoring our daughter, you know the one.

I will forgive.

I will find peace with this. I will let this wash over.

Until the next time.

I will forgive.

But oh, ohmygod, how it hurts. It makes my stomach clench, my blood pressure rise, and my eyes bleed. My fingernails dig ruts into my palms, my jaw aches, my face breaks out. I hate the feeling of hate, and I'm toeing that line. I want what's right, I want justice, I want everyone to recycle and I want peace in the Middle East. I want a middle daughter born without fatal birth defects. I want everything to be as it was, even those superficial cursory relationships that weren't horribly meaningful, but weren't horrible, either. I want to resist. I want to fight.

I am out of fight.

I will do this for him, for my husband, because he's tired of my aching jaw and steely eyes and silent demeanor in the car. I will do this because I love him. I will do this for my kids, who I guess deserve to know their family, for better and worse. Especially the worse, I'm afraid they'll come to learn in the not-distant future.

I will forgive.


Somewhere in the vicinity of late college-early graduate school, I made the philosophical decision to forgo hate. This wasn't so much a statement for positive thinking as much as it was for time management. I just didn't have the mental or physical space to hate. I was busy -- I had work, and school, and music, and sports, and a boyfriend, and friends -- and there was no time at the end of the day to busy my head with voodoo dolls and revenge. I saw the hate inevitably bestowed by academia tear up relationships and erode intellectual capacity and thought, dude, why? For the record, I still carry this philosophy today. I simply flat-out do not get those wackos who travel (on planes! and by car! for days!) to protest . . . well, I'm still trying to comprehend the rationale no matter how many articles I read: to protest people who are gay? At military funerals? This hate has clearly begun to diminish their linear thinking IMO, but my god, the time. Who are these people to have this space and time to travel and hate as much as they do when I don't have time to shower or do a crossword or run a load of laundry? If I had that time, those open days, I would paint my toenails and whisk my family to the beach and make elaborate cocktails for my neighbors. I'd harvest and pickle my rotting garden and weed and have a yard sale.

I would love. Even if that love were sand in my bathing suit and ears, and pickled beets and clean sheets, I would love with that time.

And here I am, loathing the idea of giving in, of caving, of forgiving. I have never held a grudge, I have never sought revenge (though I might on my husband who left me alone with two children during the first half of the Women's World Cup final while he went and had a beer with his softball team, goddammit). And the thought of forgiving this group of people makes me seethe.

So I wonder why. Why can't I let it go? Why can't I forgive?

I am, I think, at the core, a patient person. A person who takes criticism well. Someone who doesn't take things personally. I know when my daughter throws a tantrum every night the week she has hockey camp it's because she's exhausted, not because she hates me, "worst mommy in the world." So I am patient, and I quietly shepherd her to bed. I am not proud. I am not vain.

Even about my kids. Face it, my kids are loud. The one interrupts, the other yells. (The other, alas, is dead.) I am not one to defend my children in the face of criticism, because usually, I realize, it's true. I'm the one who walks into the parent/teacher conference and braces myself against the tiny desk for the onslaught of "Not listening!" and "Disruptive!" and "No focus!" and am met with a pleasant smile and an intro of, "This will be easy, she's a wonderful human being." And then I interrupt and hold up my hand and inform them that we're BELLA'S parents. You know, 1:15? Bella? And they nod and smile and I realize this crazy age-appropriate inappropriate behavior is saved for us, for testing us, in the comfort of our own home. I am not ashamed to admit this to the teacher, that my child is not an angel when she gets off the bus.

So why do I care what they think of Maddy?

I have boiled down the behavior: the telling us to hurry up and get over it already; the getting mad at us for not bubbling with joy at new babies; for not traveling to see new babies (and missing school in the process, just saying); for wrecking family plans involving fat grandbabies (not like we had plans or anything, just saying); for not going to the first memorial service with us because "it might rain;" for not returning calls, or not picking up the phone, and ignoring us when they didn't like when we pointed out this behavior; for continuing not to speak to us about Maddy, ever; for not sending me gifts at Christmas; for everyone not telling us a brother was expecting a baby -- until the baby was born because they "thought we knew," or "didn't know how" to tell us, even when everyone was here, in my house, drinking my wine and eating my food the week before said birth; for not communicating to us for years to even know that telling us about this birth wouldn't bother us; for assuming they knew how we felt (angry and bitter for years, apparently) without having the nuts to simply ask us how we were feeling. . . .

and it comes down to this: Maddy was an inconvenience to them. She busted plans and made people roll their eyes and have to watch what they say. Boo hoo. Maddy says, my bad.

But really, who cares? Why do I care?

Is my husband right, that they just didn't know what to say, or were too stupid to know what to do or say, or thought they were being nice by not bringing things up? This is hard business, it's hard to know what to say, it's hard to know what to say to the neighbor who just told us she's separated from her husband, or the cousin whose wife just found out she had breast cancer. Maybe we should cut them a break, maybe I should ease up.

Maybe it's because she's dead. Maybe it's because she can't speak for herself, she can't contradict the claim that she's either an angel or a demanding brat. Maybe it's because after the moment is past, I can't hold her and know tomorrow is another day, another exhausting day at camp where she'll laugh and joke and fall and laugh some more and come home in a mess and cry that she can't wait to go back the next day.

Maybe it's because other people knew exactly what to do, what to say. We didn't speak to a lot of people, and a lot of them gave us time and then circled back around and knew exactly how to re-enter the conversation. Many other friends got pregnant and told us and the sun didn't implode and our friendships are still intact. Many other family members talk about Maddy now without stammering or halting. How can some people get it so wrong when others get it so right?

Maybe it's because it's family, and I have this stupid notion that family should know better. That family should be there for you, that family should shoulder you and prop you up, and pack you in a cute tote and carry you until you can walk by yourself. As if family was ever all that to anyone. As if families were anything but places where children were procreated and where you lived until you went to college. So what that my family wasn't perfect, but treats me pretty damn well now. My husband says we need to forgive because they're family. I can't forgive, because they're family?

Maybe I can't because I need something to channel my anger toward and this is it. Because there is no other channel, because otherwise there is just sadness.

Maybe I am wasting valuable nail-polish and vegetable-jarring time sitting here spewing about this. I should just stop with the introspection and spit out the hairball of hate and forgive.

I will forgive.

I can do this.


Friday, July 29, 2011

I am Six(tween), Going on Seven(tween)

This pretty much sums it up:

A week or so ago, I took Bella to a great sale for Fall clothing. Included in our purchases were a pair of boots (black, her choice), a very cute fall jacket (sort of softly military style), and a black tunic thing that she liked and I thought was ingenious because it could be worn as a dress, with leggings, with jeans, with a shirt under it, etc. I never intended these items to be put together apparently, because when she came home and did a fashion show for Mr. ABF and put them all on along with the impulse-buy zebra rimmed sunglasses, she suddenly looked like she was heading out for an evening with Selena and The Bieber.

"Are they too old for her? I didn't think they were when I bought them," I whispered to Mr. ABF, biting my lip.
"No, not separately, but together like that . . . "

And then not 48 hours later, she modeled her self-directed outfit for her week at my aunt's farm: Denim overalls with a short-sleeved red and white checkered shirt avec peter pan collar. Suddenly she looked Rockwell-esque, the likely recipient of Opie's first small crush.

She is growing up quickly, now stuck in that no-(wo)man's land between girl and GIRL. Not quite a tween, but too old, too big for the little girl's tastes and toys and music and activities. Not quite old enough for mom to allow painted fingernails and carte blanche downloading of Katy Perry tunes. Too old for picture books, onto chapters, but not quite ready to leave Eloise behind. Because she has always been verbally mature I find I often have to remind myself, "She's only six. She's only six."

Until this week.


Bella has chosen to spend the last week of her seventh year at my aunt's farm, on a sleep-away camp adventure. She has been begging to do this since she was three, and we both thought this year the time was ripe. She is learning to ride with reins (she has been on a horse since she was 2.5; but always led), she is milking cows and will help take them to the county fair. She is mucking stalls, making smores, and sleeping in my aunt's guest room by herself. It is the first time Bella has been away from us like this, for this long, and it is odd. She is clearly over the moon and having the time of her life evidenced by the pictures and phone calls, so it's hard to be sad really, and yet.

(Yes, she did that herself, and yes, the horse's hair DOES in fact look more well-groomed than her own. This surprises you, why?)

She was practically bursting at the seems in the car on the way out, every time I checked the rear-view she was in a giddy grin of anticipation. And suddenly, halfway there, right in the middle of a pop tune that I was trying to bond with her with by singing at the top of my lungs ("'I smell like a minibar. . . ' Goodgravyonabiscuit, WHAT IN GOD'S NAME ARE WE LISTENING TO?"), she burst into tears.

"Honey, what's wrong?"
"I forgot Hobbes and Kaleo."

Her favorite stuffies, the ones she sleeps with every night (one for three years running), the ones I didn't even put on the checklist because I assumed they'd be in her sweaty hands on the way to the car.

Oof. Too late to turn around, now. I thought for a few seconds, and realized at this age, I too slept with something -- my blanket. My beaten and soft pastel hand-made blanket that I put between me and my pillow every night, through camps, until college. It's in my son's room now, folded on a window seat. I realized if it 'twere me, I would spend the entire day stressed out that I wouldn't be able to fall asleep that night. I knew she was going to be on a horse that afternoon, and did not want her remotely distracted. So it took about twenty seconds of silence from me and snuffling from the backseat:

"I'll drive them back out this afternoon. They'll be there by bedtime."
"Thanks, mom."

We join her today, on her birthday, for a family attended barbecue that she drew the menu up for, and a cake decorated with dogs that she designed. She will eat too much sugar, she will not want to come home.

She will be seven.


Coincidentally, at my Aunt's farm, we will also be at the very spot where 11 years ago today Mr. ABF and I got married. Right there, under the tree in the meadow. It was beautiful, and more importantly, the food was outrageous. Little did we know.

I had this strange moment recently driving by the local IvyU on the freeway, where the touchline on the soccer field practically abuts the right shoulder. I drive by here all the time, but I had Bella in the car and we were en route to her first pro soccer game so it compelled me to say, "Bella, I played soccer there once. Right there, on that field." And I looked up and realized only then that the field is in the shadow of Children's. To think I played there, as a young woman, in the shade of a building that would someday come to house the most absurd and tragic moment. With that guy I was dating. It's these moments of hindsight foreshadowing that sometimes make me catch my breath: I mean obviously it wasn't, who knew, it was just fucking luck. Like the luck that conspired to place me and my future husband together at the same place, and the luck that held off the rainstorm right at 5:30 p.m. on the afternoon of our wedding (when it poured a mere two miles north). Just luck, good, bad, indifferent. Sometimes you can't even know when you're in it.

"For better or worse . . . "

We glossed over those words, figuring we had sorta met both obligations when Bella was born on our anniversary four years later. But no, not even close. Not even in the same universe.

I try not to play the game anymore when I wonder what a moment foreshadows. It's altogether too frightening. I'd rather sing bad pop music and look at wedding photos when I was smaller and wildly innocent.


Today Janis is remembering Ferdinand from her new home. She is an entire country away from the place where Ferdinand left her, and came to her, and left her finally. (Although given the East coast heat wave, she may wonder how this is so different from the desert she left behind.) I had no way of knowing about Ferdinand four years ago today, when I struggled to keep my composure during a very thrown-together party for Bella. No way to know as sad as I was, scooping ice cream for hot children in bathing suits who would picturesquely strew themselves around my porch to eat, that someone else was sad, too. The deepest kind of sad. I couldn't have known, but now that I do, it seems obvious. Now I think of Janis and Ferdinand often on this day, while I flip through my own memory books of Bella growing bigger and us hinting at gray, because I know that story, too. Strangely enough, it fits right in with my life, perfectly.

Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, Us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Maybe Not So Much

I remember sitting in my first support group with a bunch of parents whose children had died at Children's, and played the little game in my head. Maddy was still fresh in my mind, it was maybe only two months out. I listened to each of these parents say a bit about their children and how they died and I began a slow burn.

"Here's a picture of her junior prom. I'll never see her senior prom." At least you got to see a prom at all!

"She was really weak, but she called over everyone in the room and told us something, just a sentence each." My god, your child SPOKE?

"He turned two in the hospital. We had a party in his room." You had a BIRTHDAY PARTY?!

Within 10 minutes I thought I was the lowest of the low, the saddest of the sad. Scrape me up and put me out why don't you, y'all have no idea.

But I went back again, and again, and listened. And my mindset, after a few months, had changed considerably.

No way would I have been able to handle a year or two or more at Children's. No. Way.

I know my child felt no pain, I have no idea on earth how you could stand and watch your child feel that way.

Funny, I know your child died at 19, but I really related to what you just said.

It was in one of these meetings, in fact, where I first uttered the name of this blog. A number of conversations and a lapse of silence later and a quiet mom whose thirteen-year-old had died of cancer turned to me and said, "What was that you said again? "Awful but functioning?" Can I borrow that?"


I know you've compared yourself to others before, it's human nature. It's ok. It's what you do with it and how the information changes with time that's important. I've got a post up today over on Glow in the Woods.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Right Where I Am: Four Years, Three Four Months

(But Who's Counting.)

It's hot as Hades. I'm standing by the grill, monitoring the meat, and I look up and see that Ale has crawled into the (rusted, dirty) Radio Flyer. Mr. ABF picks up the handle and slowly starts pulling him around the yard. They quickly get to the spot in the grass, the exact spot under the chestnut kinda by the fence, where exactly four years ago right about now Bella did something cute. I honestly can't remember what it was, she was not yet three. But I do know it was a bright day like today, and I remember the ensuing conversation as if it happened five minutes ago:

Mr. ABF looked at me with a gentle, slightly sly smile and said, "How could you not want another one?" And I immediately burst into tears and practically shouted, "How could I lose another one?"

And through these ghosts, a silent dad slowly pulls a red wagon loaded with a fat baby gripping onto the sides for dear life as if he's plummeting downward through the hairy s-curves of a rickety roller-coaster.

I grin widely. I realize I have tears brimming over the corners of my eyes.

Must be my allergies.


When I saw Angie was doing this project, I thought, "Great Idea!" That was a while ago. I absolutely couldn't think of what to write, how to say it.

Four-plus years out is . . . easy. No wait, it's complicated. It's . . . hard to explain. It's probably why I don't blog so much anymore truth be told -- it's just hard to find a metaphor or a story that encompasses how it is I feel about IT. I'm generally happy and go-lucky and "back to normal" (whateverthehell that is), and honestly I can go for some amount of time without even thinking about IT. (And this is while wearing a bracelet with her name on it. Duh people, I tell you.) I sat completely bewildered in front of the paper this week as I read about a three year old who drowned, and was so overwhelmed with sadness for the parents, and wondered how the younger sibling would grow up with this history, and it honestly took me a day or so to realize why this story was hitting me with the amount of detail that it was.

It's a part of me, it's in there, it's not "healed" or "done" or "closed." But nor is it open, bleeding, cutting, hurtful. It's just there. It happened.



I know subsequent kids aren't supposed to provide the salve that mends the wound but there is a significant way in which Ale's presence has changed my mindset.

Maddy was -- and is -- a medical mystery. No one knows what happened, only that it was on a grand scale and fatal and weird. We gave Children's our permission to send out her samples for testing and review whenever they saw fit, without having to notify us each individual time and only contacting us should they get a hit on something. I didn't see the point of the up/down endless stream of waiting by the phone, so other than the first round of information following her autopsy which included a run through the Genome project and slides sent to numerous specialists around the country and even the world, we have received no news. No news in this case is no news. (I know they still run tests; when I called to tell them I was considering getting pregnant in '09, my point person said, "Oh! We were just talking about Maddy. We're running two more tests at Baylor." Clearly, nothing came of them.)

In retrospect the radio silence consumed me. It's not that I needed a cause or something to blame, but I needed information in order to move forward. To accept that one of our family heritages contained something lethal. To let Bella know in due time. To wonder if we could now get pregnant and test for this killer DNA, or use donor gametes. Or, perhaps, it was infection/abruption -- for sure, less likely to happen again, a moment of terrible luck. While I knew deep down I would probably never know, it seemed cruel that so much of my life was tied up in the knowing.

When we decided to run with the specialists who were on the side of infection/abruption and get pregnant again, Maddy came to the fore: The medical conundrum, the fetus who showed no signs of trouble through 32 weeks. The girl who stayed in an extra week, most likely because my body was the only thing keeping her alive. Maddy's identity is largely medical because that's all she was when she was here, and for that year that I conceived and gestated her brother, she was on my lips constantly. Why I wasn't excited, why I needed that test, why I wasn't setting up a room, why I was seeing a high risk doctor. It felt good to speak of her so frequently, even though what I was talking about was liquefied white matter and fatal cardiovascular malformations. I recently read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and I got -- I mean, I really got -- how easy it is to anthropomorphize body parts after a person is dead. It's not that the family members are dumb or don't get that tissue doesn't feel pain, it's that that's all they know. It's why I catch myself saying, "Maddy's going back to Baylor," when really Maddy is dead and her ashes are on my bookcase and tissue from her leg is somehow flying in the mail to Texas.

But it's her, and I get to say her name, and this is how it is.

Ale was born, he came home, and suddenly . . . it was as if this entire chunk of Maddy's being ceased to matter. Do I want to know what happened? Well I suppose on some philosophical plane it might be interesting, but it no longer consumes me or glues me to the spot unable to think about tomorrow or ten years from now.

But because this was so much of how I thought about her, now I . . . think about her less. And when I do think about her, it tends to be other stuff -- how she looked, how soft her hair was, how little I was able to hold her.

I don't think that's a bad thing actually, it's a bit freeing really. And it doesn't mean I still don't get walloped occasionally by the grief stick. Some night in the past week I went in to check on Bella who was lying in perfect profile, so peacefully. Mr. ABF and I have recently commented that with the adult teeth coming in and this latest growth spurt that has her looking more tween than child, that her facial features are providing a glimpse of how she'll look in the future rather than that extension of the baby photos. And yet, in the quick moment that I took her in, just so, I was suddenly transported back to the night Maddy died, when I limped into the dark house and went immediately to Bella's room and crawled into bed with her. It remains one of my more visceral memories.


At some point during the week after Maddy died, Mr. ABF told me something (now VP) Joe Biden once said. He was on Meet the Press, and the subject of his first wife's and young daughter's deaths in a car accident came up. Tim Russert (may he RIP) asked if this was a "defining moment" in his life and Biden said defiantly (and I'm paraphrasing), "No. It was the worst time of my life to be sure, but it did not define me."

And we decided, Mr. ABF and I, that we wanted to get there, to be that, to believe that. To be able to tell people and have them say, "Ah, now I understand how you made it through," rather than, "Ah, now I understand you." (When I explained this to my therapist, it was more, "Ah, now I understand how you made it through," rather than, "Ah, now I get why you're holding that martini.") I did not want to become a parody for lost children, a bereft, emotionally unsound, alcoholic, vacant excuse for a mother like that dumb-ass caricature of a (still) grieving mother in The Time Traveler's Wife. I wanted to remember Maddy to be sure, but somehow do it without breaking down, without resorting to morbidity, without disturbing those around me. I didn't want to deny, but I wanted to memorialize.

And yet I didn't want it to define me. I wanted it to be a bad moment, but not shape my existence.

I had no fucking clue how.

I still don't. But I'm a lot closer to that idea than I ever in a million years thought I would be. I tell people now who don't know but know me a bit and they're surprised; they ask great questions, I don't fall apart, it's filed away in the "life is sometimes really fucking shitty" drawer. And we continue our conversation about the book of the month, or our kid's hockey practice, or why on earth spring seemed to last two minutes this year. To them I'm a mother (now I suppose of three), a historian, a reader, a sports fan, an old-house nut, a gardener, a baker, a cook, a gal who likes a good beer, who needs a new vet, a runner, a wife, a politically cynical harpy who loves a good sale.

It happened. And I'm still functioning.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Pessimist is Never Disappointed

Well, um, maybe sometimes.

I'm writing about optimism/pessimism, positive/negative thinking, and finding that silver lining in the shit storm. Today, over on Glow in the Woods.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


If there's one thing that reading around in this corner of the net taught me, it's that having a subsequent child after your loss doesn't mend your broken heart and make the sunhine come out. Since for the longest time I thought anyone who wanted another baby after a horrific loss was a bit wackadoo, it was kinda nice to see that I wasn't missing out on some big wonder drug. I wasn't jealous of the babies really, but I was a bit envious of everyone's decision making power. That drive everyone seemed to have -- must have another baby! -- was totally lacking in me. Figured it was some evolutionary maternal instinct thing that got dropped along the way with the Easter Bunny (we don't do that. I refuse.) and my penchance for swearing during televised sporting events in front of impressionable ears. I would make a poor wild animal mum having to teach my three week old to hunt and defend ("I'll get it later. Look! Shiny thing! Muthafuckin' shiny thing!").

But, well, eventually I did make that decision, and here I am a whole year later.

It's been . . . odd. Truly joyful, but odd.

Having spent the entirety of my pregnancy with Muffin Man not bonding (why bother?), I've spent the entirety of the last twelve months doing so. It's a long ramp up. It's a good ramp up, don't get me wrong, and I've never felt angst-y or depressed or even anxious, more a sense of sheer amazement that he's here. That it worked. And that this isn't some bizarro nightmare like the last time, where I'll wake up and realize it was a dream. But it's not. I put my feet on the floor in the morning -- usually, way, way too early in the morning -- and am hit with the sudden realization that I have a son. Two daughters, and a son.

So I can't really say things like "well it feels like he's been here forever!" because I think I'm still getting used to the idea. I like it. So far.

Bella is also still getting used to the idea. We didn't do much in the way of preparation because we honestly didn't know what to prepare her for: do we buy her a nice doll to dress up and burp, or a box of kleenex and another childhood tome on death? So she's ramping up too, and it too has been a slow haul. She's been forthright with her displeasure at the lack of immediate attention ("It's always in a minute, or not now, or I'm busy") and I think purposefully doesn't whisper when we ask her to. You can almost smell the slow burn when a stranger stops to chirp how cute the baby is. She's cute, too. No one seems to notice her anymore, poor invisible thing in the corner. Having said that, she knows full well that he doesn't smile at just anyone, and he reserves an outright full-blown squinty-eyed cheshire grin when she enters the kitchen first thing in the morning. (Not surprisingly, "Bella!" came very shortly after "dog" and "mom.") She pushes him around in his car, and picked out -- without assistance -- two really solid birthday gifts for him. The night she was chatting with us in his room before bathtime and he spider crawled his diapered self over to her with "Go Dog, Go!" in an outstretched hand, smiling and frantically jabbering "Da! Da!", about reduced me to a puddle.

I've also never been one to muse on "Well if x hadn't have happened, than y wouldn't have either." I'm not big into math like that. Not to mention, with the gaps between my problems, these chances of fate aren't really. There was a nineteen month spread between my miscarriage and just conceiving Bella, so I never really stopped to think about one working out and the other not happening. As far as I was concerned, one was an unfortunate lost opportunity, and the other a stroke of luck. And here with three plus years between Maddy and her brother -- not to mention the relative ridiculous ease with which he was conceived compared to his sisters -- it's not hard to think about an alternate universe where she's here, and he's here too. Or, conversely, she's not, and neither is he. Because so much time had elapsed after Maddy that we had gotten very used to our family of three, and the breeziness of a four/five year old (so easy to travel with! And find a sitter for!) and so it was a real honest-to-god fresh decision about whether to have another child or not.

In sum, he's not my replacement toaster. Not that any of your children are replacement appliances, but I'm now grateful for my own crummy circumstances. The silver lining in waiting around for some medical bombshell that never appeared was that time flowed under the bridge and allowed me to get to a new place. I was already moving forward again when the idea of him came into being. I may be an old fart, but I was ready. Really ready.

As for Ale-One: He's turned into quite the eater. Apparently dissing the pears wasn't so much dissing the pears (which he now loves on an adult portion of oatmeal with a bit of yogurt), but just saying no to mushy baby food. And bibs, and little cups, and high chairs, and baby utensils. Which for a while left me wondering what on earth to feed him, and then at a holiday party after he sailed through the cocktail-flauta, pumpkin bread, and crudite with dip food groups within a 20 minute span, I decided to just up and feed him our food. And it worked out fine. We started with fish tacos on the floor sans utensils or pretenses, and went from there. He so loves his father's Sicilian chicken with orzo (his birthday dinner) that I'm thinking when we potty train I could probably make that the reward instead of m&ms.

He's quiet and observational and laughs on a dime . . . unless he's pissed. And then he's LOUD. I mean, scary hold him away from your head loud. His first comprehensible babbles were "dog" and "cat" and they've progressed so now there's a hilarious "Kirby!" yelled from his room (think "kuhbeeeeee") when the cat isn't in his assigned chair in the corner. Just recently we've even added what sounds like an occasional "good" in front of "dog." A few more months and he'll have "Asshole!" down, I'm sure.

Today he's getting a big ol' slice of Applesauce cake, because wouldn't you know -- the kid who will eat Soba Noodles with Salmon and Beef Tortellini in Brodo spits out Banana. Hates it. Huh. Funny, I will eat pretty much anything and I don't care for banana much, either.

He's definitely mine. He's definitely here, at least for the moment. Does he bring me joy? You betcha. Sometimes it's tough to discern joy from tangible relief -- the exhale and smile are similar -- but I think it's there. I've been told by a few neighbors, "You've never looked this good!" and I don't want him to be known as "he who turned your mother around." Because 1) Bella? Hello? and 2) like he needs that set of luggage to drag around. He's not the reason for the joy although it must look that way from the outside -- I think after four years I had this coming, anyway. I'm just glad he's the willing producer and recipient. I'm glad this isn't all on him, and he's a victim of good timing. In the end, I guess I knew that all coming in. And it's all ok.

Happy Birthday, little guy. We're all so happy -- phew! -- that you're here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trade Winds

I keep thinking I'm going to sit down and write. In fact, I *did* sit for a few brief moments somewhere in the vicinity of the 18th/19th of last month and started my annual birthday handwringing post, but my birthday (42, if you're keeping score) was a maelstrom of packing for a week's vacation beginning the next day. For the record, I got a potholder, two paperbacks, and a sandwich. No, I mean a sandwich. Clearly a banner year, 42.

Then I thought eh, I'll just type a quick birthday/post vacation summary when I get home. And then Ale-puke got a stomach bug on the second to last day of vacation, which found yours truly violently ill the last night of vacation. And let me tell you, there's nothing worse than a Norowhathaveyou bug making it's way through a family --- than if that family is sharing a v. small room. Wait, it could be worse: Small family-shared room plus the fact that departure was on the hottest day of the week in a tiny tin shed that passes for a Caribbean airport full of oversold planeloads of humanity. I decided not to eat to spare myself getting ill on the plane, which left me feeling close to passing out, holding a limpid baby who had ingested nothing other than pedialyte for the past 36 hours in an unairconditioned terminal. We made a nice looking family. Especially to the security guard who espied us half on the floor and herded us out of line and right to the front. Mr. ABF got a mild version, Bella kindly waited until Tuesday at 4 a.m., safely in our own home.

I'm sure with some distance I'll fondly remember the much-needed warmth, and the bright tropical colors, and the clear blue ocean.

The trip was actually timed extremely well; arriving guests would spot one of the kid's Philly's Jerseys or Mr. ABF's Flyer's cap and notify us -- usually while we were in the middle of re-applying sunscreen and deciding whose turn it was to run and get a bunch of frozen fruity drinks -- that they just left that morning and there were snow flurries. Our depressed bones warmed. There was snorkeling, there was someone else preparing food and cleaning it up, there was an extremely friendly stray cat, there were kid's activities, and there was even a space of nothing to do while the baby napped. Imagine! Reading or (gasp) napping while the baby naps. Children were good on the plane (Bella was nothing short of a dream traveller even during airport hell -- she was duly rewarded), Ale even kept his nap schedule and slept decently at night. Until the plague hit.

I may never leave the house again. I may even check into grocery delivery.


The place where we stayed had photographers who would run around and follow you and your kids and then invite you to go purchase their pictures for some absurd price. But they also scheduled times to take pictures of families. And after being asked if we wanted this, and glimpsing a family decked out to the nines trudging off to the beach one evening with a photographer in tow, the idea took hold and I couldn't shake it. I'm not sure if it was a need to celebrate my family, or more of a need to cling to it -- to grab hold of this moment so in the future I can look back and remind myself that I wasn't crazy, we were all there, we were all (modestly, mostly) happy. In the middle of this photo shoot I realized we hadn't taken "family" photos since Bella was 9 months old. We skipped a few years of photographing altogether, and only recently slowly have gotten back in the habit of trying to keep the camera battery charged. There are only pictures of kids though -- it's as if the parents disappeared, like in a fantasy novel where the six year old must now charter the waters, un-gently tending to her infant brother, through a sea of picnics and zoo trips and Christmas mornings, sometimes with an anonymous adult hand or arm. We are slowly awakening to being parents again, not just older responsible humans along for the ride. We lost our jobs, and were rehired, and we're older now, and the cobwebs are thick and the job has changed a bit.

It's a bit funky, this family. But there we are.


Did I mention I'm 42? My whole life, since my hair changed from blonde to dishwater brown around age four, the hair around my face goes blonde, especially in the summer. I've been charged with having faux highlights (one hairdresser was rather adamant that I give up my secret, not believing there was none to be had), and they're a saving grace on an otherwise tiresome flat and uninspiring head of hair. I noticed on vacation they no longer go blonde, they go bright silver. There are few but brilliant sharp silver ribbons running through the brown framing my face. There will be a decision this year whether to vainly reach for a bottle and have things as they once were, or let it go. People with infants should'nt have gray hairs, I've decided. A mindset that is obviously pointing me in a certain direction to try grimly to hang onto a former life. Good luck with that.


The baby, he's eleven months. Bella's first year was an eternity it seemed, a endlessly stretching horizon of sleeplessness and unrequited love. (I really don't like that about babies. At least puppies lick you and wag their tails. I mean sure, he smiles at me and says mama, but he smiles when he poops, and smiles when Bella makes fart noises, and smiles when he sees his sister has jammed her barbie headfirst into his car garage.) This year has tracked very similarly to Bella's when it comes to sleep -- there was none, and there was a lot, and then it slowly whittled away and devolved until it was hell, and then boom, there was sleep again and now we're fine (except that he naps too where she didn't, which is such a bonus).

So it would seem that I would feel similarly at the end of this year (e.g., awakening from a coma) . . . except I don't. I feel pretty great. I feel, well, um, how to say this, happy. More or less content. Sure I could be getting more sleep (for some reason we were up at 4:00, then 5:00, and finally settled on 6:00 this morning), my midsection could be tightening up a bit more, I could have more hours for yard work, my floors could be mopped. But I'm ok. I feel rather lucky, which is a strange thing to feel anymore.


I hope you are well.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pat on the Back

I caught snippets of a discussion the other day on self-pity and self-compassion. 'Twas interesting, and made me think not only of Japan, but all of us. Me. This community. And that maybe this woman had a point about self-compassion and not feeling quite so alone. I have a post up on Glow in the Woods.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Makena: Or, How to Make-na Some Bucks from Women Who Have Already Paid the Highest Price

So I'm putting today's soggy, largely unread newspaper (Good Lord, this suspended priest issue is upsetting) in the recycling bin this evening when a headline catches my eye:

"Cost of Drug Preventing Preterm Labor to Soar."

Oh, like I needed that kick in the crotch.

Here's the situation as I understand it having surfed around and found a few more articles:

Apparently there's a synthetic-progesterone-based injection that doctors have prescribed for years in order to prevent pre-term labor. It's generally given from about week 16 through the end of the pregnancy, and has shown to be quite effective. Generally, a pharmacy can mix up this concoction and charges somewhere in the neighborhood of $15-20 per dose. In sum, people know how to make it, it works, it's very cheap. Yay babies not being born early!

Then Big Pharm company KV Pharmaceutical comes along and requests FDA approval of this drug they're calling Makena. It's the same fucking thing as before, but now probably in fancy packaging. (I'm guessing a lovely gender neutral purple.) Zero dollars were spent doing R&D because everybody and their mother already knew about it and how to make it, but I'm sure some bucks went into marketing. The FDA approved it, which means KV has a lock on it for the next number of years, they're going to make pharmacies cease and desist making it, and they're going to charge . . . .

$1,500 per dose. Which comes out to about $30,000 per pregnancy.


Obviously the doctors and insurance companies are beyond alarmed. One doctor in the article is outraged, another "breathless." Everyone is worried sick that women who lack insurance, or whose insurance refuses to pay it (pre-existing condition anyone? Because obviously you need to experience a pre-labor catastrophe in order to conclude that you have a problem, and may need this drug), or who get government-assistance (the government is a bit cash strapped of late, in case you've been preoccupied) will not get it. (The company claims it will offer assistance. I'm not sure where that leaves people who are independently insured but whose insurance companies don't cover pregnancy. Like mine.) Insurance companies are dry-heaving because of course they want to cover this, but now they'll have to (big surprise) raise rates across the board in order to cover this. One Aetna rep in one of the articles I perused claimed that she knows of 1,000 people or so who get this drug per year in her system.

The drug company? They defend the outrageous price hike with the following statement:

KV Pharmaceutical chief executive Gregory J. Divis Jr. said the cost was justified to avoid the mental and physical disabilities that can come with very premature births. The cost of care for a preemie is estimated at $51,000 in the first year alone.

"Makena can help offset some of those costs," Divis said. "These moms deserve the opportunity to have the benefits of an FDA-approved Makena."

Let me get this straight. You're going to charge mothers $30,000 to offset a potential $51,000, thus saving the health care system $21,000 per child.

Aren't you so fucking sweet. Because until you came along, the cost of the drug per pregnancy was $400, making the savings $50,700.

And those are the "lucky" ones (not) (not remotely) whose children are born outrageously early who live. Who suffer some really awful consequences and life-long disabilities.

I guess the ones who die, since they don't cost $51,000 the first year, aren't costing the system anything. Which means KV is making $30,000 in pure profit, essentially putting a price on a live child (because we? were all wondering).

To employ new math: It's not about the OFFSET you asshole, it's about taking a child to term. It's about HAVING A CHILD WHO LIVES. These moms don't deserve some fancy-ass package that your marketing team spent precious power point time dreaming up, they deserve a chance at a full-term pregnancy. THEY DESERVE A BABY WHO LIVES. Regardless of their income, or their insurance situation.

And that's not factoring in what I anticipate to be a rise in premature labor in lower income groups and those with government or private insurance because they won't be able to afford the same-old-drug in your fancy ass box. You aren't offsetting, you're going to cost. You're going to cost a lot. According to the March of Dimes,

Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in the first month of life in the United States. The preterm birth rate has increased about 20 percent since 1990, and costs the nation more than $26 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine report issued in July 2006.

I'm honestly apoplectic and don't know where to dump this other than here. You can read more about this decision to screw pregnant women over on NPR and numerous blogs, such as Bizmology and Contentenique.

Reaching KV is more difficult; if you feel this is an "investor Relations" issue, you can email them at investorrelations@kvpharmaceutical.com. I'd be more inclined to see this as "an adverse event or side effect" in which case you can email them at drugsafety@kvph.com.

Show some outrage, if you have a few moments. Women who have gone into labor prematurely and lost children -- or are living with the consequences of a child born way, way too early -- have already paid enough, a few lifetimes over. They don't owe big pharm jack squat.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Ale woke me up on the 14th, and I went through the usual paces of getting him out of his crib and trudging downstairs to the couch for our morning feed. On the staircase landing I glanced out the east-facing window and was awestruck by the most unbelievable sunrise. The sky was audaciously pink and orange, mixed with small shards of the most electric turquoise. It was not the stuff of poetry and postcards, but Vegas. Four years ago, at approximately this very hour, my daughter's heart failed and I was informed shortly thereafter that "we're there now." "There," the point of not saving, not doing heroic measures, but slowly somehow allowing her to die. Bizarre doesn't do justice to how I felt now, staring at this incredible jumble of color while holding a fat, hungry infant.

On the 18th, around 5:30 p.m., there was a small space of time between whatever and dinner, and so I went out in the yard with a baby on my hip to kick a soccer ball around with Bella. Who was in shorts. It was in the 60s.

Our game was interrupted by two over-the-fence conversations: One with the UPS guy about why he decided not to wear shorts, and one with a neighbor who was out walking the dog. From all corners lilted the sounds of children -- laughing, playing, whining and crying, no doubt because it couldn't possibly be time to go in for dinner yet, and no, I don't want to wear a jacket tonight, mommy, thank you.

Maddy is February, and February is Maddy, and both are marked by white (ranging from blinding to dirty) arctic chill. The morning her heart stopped framed by the horizontal sleet; the night we finally left Children's empty handed, exiting through the swishing doors into the dark frigid blast. The days following were clear but wretched, my Southwestern-based family wondering how to deal with single-digit windchill. Hell, hath frozen.

This? Outside my window this February? Was May.

It was as if the Universe was testing me, taunting me, daring me to remember -- daring me to conceive of a time and place so incredibly horrific and inextricably bound to the weather. It couldn't possibly have happened like that, it couldn't have been that cold, did it snow? Am I remembering this right? Did it happen at all? It couldn't possibly have, on a night bright enough to play soccer in the evening, warm enough that my neighbors set up tiki torches in the front yard in anticipation of the monthly party.

Bella and Mr. ABF went to the party, I put the baby to bed, lit Maddy's candle and huddled on the couch. And the winds came. The front came through carrying with it hurricane gales, extinguishing the tiki torches and driving the party inside. The next day, the gales continued, tree branches fell like rain, and the 45 degrees felt decidedly worse given the stinging wind.

She was here, after all.

I'm pretty sure of it.


Midnight the 14th, possibly early early on the 15th we were awakened by . . . well, I believe now we were awakened by a crash and woke to the sound of an alarm, but as it was, we heard a deafening-close car alarm. Mr. ABF jumped out of bed, determined it wasn't our car, notified me that there were some people across the street but everyone seemed to have their cars sorted out, and we went back to sleep.

The next morning, at the same picture window where 24 hours earlier I stopped to gape at a sunrise, I was greeted by the sight of my neighbors' two cars, both smashed into awkward twisted shapes, one assuredly totaled. (Drunk driver. Thankfully, he got stuck on the second one allowing the police to get there and arrest him on the spot instead of driving off and killing someone.) I let loose a stream of profanity, followed quickly by a hosanna of thanks for our off-street parking, and then in wonderment, Wait, isn't this sort of shit supposed to happen to us this month?

February has not left us unscathed -- in the waning hours, Ale and I have succumbed to some horrible cold virus avec fever which dropped me in the fetal position, unable to breathe, shaking from chills, wondering about that promise I made to myself about not being a breast-feeding martyr this time around. (I could just go chug a mugfull of cold-n-flu with a chaser of sudafed, rim-lined with crushed painkiller!) Neither of us has slept in days, but the fevers have broken so now I presume comes the discharge of snot and the hope that it will not fell Bella and Mr. ABF. At least quite as badly.

In like a Lion? The Lion, she's been lurking here all along. Waiting, waiting, blowing my nose impatiently, for March.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Matter of Taste

When I was deep in mourning, I often felt I was mourning far more than my daughter. I lost so, so much it seemed. Near the top of the list, probably because it was so mind-blowingly obvious to me, was my sense of taste. I lost the ability to taste my food.

I have a post up at Glow in the Woods. Won't you come let us know what else you lost and if you've found it yet?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Birth Day, IV

There's something so bizarre about four years. It's close enough that it's surprising -- I'm startled by how much I remember about that week. The smells, the food left on trays, the name of the nice nurse at delivery hospital whose name I remembered because she was a character in Little Women. The ice machine, the sound of jackhammers outside my window (what could they have possibly been working on in a snow storm?), the un-smart phone I was using in those days. I remember how to buzz into the back at Children's, the freezer where I banked my milk, the out-of-the-way restroom that the nurse pointed out to me, the cafeteria bowl of oatmeal I ate for breakfast the day she died. I don't know whether to be thankful or not for these memories; mostly not, truth be known, because it's like reliving a nightmare. The memories still have a way of making me feel as though someone just punched me in the solar plexus. I still pine for a lobotomy, a way to forget those six days and the nine months prior and the whole mess frankly. A way to look at my family and my life without the bright orange traffic cone warning everyone of the chasm that lies beneath ready to swallow you whole should you veer too close.

And yet. It is at the same time so out of body, so other-worldly at this point, that I often wonder if it indeed happened to me at all. At times I can take out the whole week like a foggy movie in a crystal ball, and just stare at it in wonderment that such shit actually occurs to anyone. Maybe it was just something I read in the New Yorker.


I've had a few nightmares and dayscares this week -- of horrible, lethal things happening to the two living children under my roof. Wayward knives, shallow diving boards, rip tides, broadsides . . . the words "be careful" are uttered more frequently than profanity -- which says a lot. I understand why; why the anxiety ratchets up this week when my brain is sated with images of tubes and wires and oxygen meters and those cataclismic conversations about removing my baby from life support. I know exactly why these feelings are here, and I know they'll ebb once the week is past. It doesn't make it much easier, though.


When I went into labor last May, in addition to spending (apparently too much) time folding laundry and packing Bella a lunch, I meticulously removed my Maddy bracelet and put on in it's stead the blue plastic one. I worried it would get caught on an IV drip, or snagged on bedding, or someone would tell me to take it off -- and people, that bracelet doesn't come off -- or lost or stolen or wouldn't feel terrific while holding a newborn (should it come to pass) or otherwise get in the way.

Crazy how sometimes life hands you the metaphor, huh.

I had realized around 30w that I was quickly approaching a place where I could no longer wear my wedding ring. Which drove me up a tree. Rather on a whim I decided to order tiny id tags from here for Bella and Maddy and wear them on a chain with my wedding ring. Dead or alive, I'd add another tag in a few weeks I figured. I had a choice as to whether to put hands or feet on one side of the tag, and I opted for hands for Bella, feet for Maddy. When Ale showed up I got him a tag with hands on it as well.

I can wear my ring again, but since I'm still carting around and feeding a baby I've kept on the rubber bracelet and only wear the other one if I'm going out. I wear the necklace with the tags on occasion, and more often, more recently.

The other night Bella was looking at it and reading everyone's statistics and turned them all over.

"Why did you put hands on mine and Ale's?" she asked.

"Because I can touch you," I replied, and burst into tears.


I realize now that remembering and missing are really two different things for me. Remembering comes with a host of ugliness and terror. Remembering comes at a cost; remembering makes me want desperately to forget.

Missing though, is something else. Because underneath the strata of hospital smells and medical personnel and the the cruel twist of fate that today will always signify for me followed by years of profound grief lies, quite literally, the most beautiful little girl. It's hard to say I miss her because it means I must miss all that other bullshit, but I don't. I don't want to go back there. You couldn't pay me enough to go back. I want only today to miss the being at the center of the medical mystery, her wispy hair, her button nose, her clenched fist. I've known four years now that her fist is a sign of seizure, and I still decide to view it as a sign of defiance. Now that I'm plodding through the infant stage(s) and phase(s) again, I miss that -- I miss not feeding her, not holding her nearly enough, not bathing her except right before she died. I miss having another girl. I miss the middle of my family where puddles still form. I miss saying her name. I miss her.

Somewhere in this nightmare was a small girl who was mine, and I was hers, and we were all we had.

I love you so incredibly much Maddy, and always, always will.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Walking in My Shoes

It sounds extremely sacrilegious to start a grief post with a good, nail-biting super sale story, but, um, er, I'm gonna go there.

Buckle up.

A neighbor and I and Ale-Crawl bundled up last Saturday and ventured out to a "clearance" "tent" "sale" (please add your own word that expresses "Really fucking cheap! Practically Free! Throwing these out unless you take them!") thingy for a catalog company that I don't want to print out here because I get enough spam as it is. Let's just say, super cute, a bit wacky, British, caters to women and kids, and if you're like me, you rarely buy unless you can get a sale. odenBay for my friends who speak fluent BaconLatin.

In any event, the kids selection was massively picked over by the time we got there (sadness), but there were still deals to be had in women's -- if you fit into their clothes. (Those Brits are NARROW! I tried on a shirt that I couldn't fit my shoulders into. Ah well, try the next size up, I'm not proud: just as narrow, but with more fabric from front to back. Huh? Do they simply grow potbellies and boobies as they grow taller? Am I really that wide?) I found a couple steals, neighbor had a pile of cute things to try on, so I told her I'd meet her by shoes.

And there they were.

The color grabbed me first: bright green. Bright green, knee-high boots. In my size. I picked them up and all but wept, surprised that the buttery leather didn't melt away in my warm grubby paws. Tried them on, perfect. Perfect! And I stood there thinking, "Oh my god, bright green boots, HOW FUN! How alarmingly FUN! Whee!" I may have clapped. It may have been the baby. A stranger walked by me with her stash and said, "I paid retail for those. They're my favorite pair of shoes, and I get compliments every time I wear them." I smiled at her and I think managed to get out a coherent sentence, the upshot of which was "FUN!" I was so getting those boots. And then I looked at the table again and . . .

there they were.

The same exact creamy, beautiful, use-as-a-pillow soft pair of boots . . . in purple. Also in my size.

Now I had a decision to make. They were extremely well-priced ($50) but not so well priced that I felt like taking them both. Which color? Fun and safe-r, or FUN? The kids sitting against the wall bored out of their minds weighed in: it was a tie. The stranger woman passed me again and said, "Green." Another woman chimed in "that purple would go with anything." Ale was grabbing at the purple. I set off to find my neighbor and showed them to her. And midway through our debate she noticed something: the purple pair? Was marked $25.

We made sure the zippers worked and they were the size as posted and turned them all over and they were perfect. "If you don't get both for yourself, I'm buying you the purple pair for your birthday," said my neighbor.

I came home with two pairs of boots, both fun, one FUN. (My crazy-ass neighbor managed to jam $25 into the side of my bag when I wasn't looking, so I need to do a reverse pickpocket and deposit the cash back in her possession.) I mentally put together a few outfits (lord knows, no creamy dreamy leather of mine is going out in 15" of melty dirty ice-shellacked snow) and went to bed.

At some point the next day, I wandered into the closet to check out my Fun! boots. And it hit me like a dropped piano:

I just did something because I thought it would be fun. Fun. Because they made me smile. Because the outfits I envisioned, on me, made me smile. I haven't bought or frankly thought fun in . . . years. I haven't wanted to look happy or fun because god knows I wasn't feeling it (see: closet full of black and gray clothing). What on earth possessed me to do this? Am I ready for this?

Perhaps it's like the rule of yuk: You know how after the bad shit happened that Big Bad Things rolled off your back and tiny bullshit problems made you rock and cry and tear your hair out? Maybe there's a Joy Corollary? That it's hard to wrap your arms around one big ball of joy (say, a holiday) and really feel it, but the little things kinda work their way in under the sill and make you giggle? And possibly even clap? And before you realize what it is you're smelling, you're feeling pretty awesome?

Want to clap more? These retailed in the ballpark of $270. Joy Indeed.


I suppose my new found sense of Fun! was surprising not only in the aggregate, but because well hey looky here, it's February. It's cold. There's some mix of snowy rainy sleety shit blowing sideways out my window every five days or so. Tomorrow's to-do list includes "order flowers," which I do every year for her and me. Her name gets dropped a bit more frequently, my jaw gets clenched for long periods of time. There's a little tension ache right in the center of my back and my shoulders feel the weight of world. That could be because the Steelers' center is out with a broken ankle for the Super Bowl, but I kinda doubt it.

I'm on the verge of four . . . four! years and as Julia so simply and succinctly put it, four years ago today I was just another pregnant woman. Green shoes on deep discount probably would've made my heart go pitty pat, but I certainly wouldn't have had the introspective couch session with myself afterwards. I would be nonplussed to feel joy and express it through footwear. I suppose if anything marks four it's that crazy sense that I'm ok in that crazy sort of way, tinged with the disbelief that those flashbacks still appear and sting as much and as clearly as they do. There's more oscillating I suppose, because the highs are getting a bit higher -- which all things considered is better than the alternative of stumbling a few inches off the curb and straight into hell which is where I felt I was just a few years back.

It does get better, I realize now. I will have fun (sorry, Fun!) again. I will also still feel pretty down come February. And I suppose the truth is in reconciling those emotions and realizing that's ok. That's just how it is.

We'll call it: Mourning, with Fun Boots.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

Have some pent-up rage? Or maybe just festering incivility? Simmering uncomfortable-ness? Wish you could address that person in a letter?

I often do. I often just put the "Wish I had the stones to send this" missive here on my blog so we can all have a laugh about it. I'm talking about words we wish we could write to others (and apparently, some of you do! Good for you!) today on Glow In The Woods.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2010 Wrap Up

I didn't mean to leave you hanging. December is notoriously crazy, a swirl of emotions and etail as it were, and this one no different, really.

It starts the second Sunday, with the candlelight ceremony. This year: a chilly pouring rain, and putting the lot of us in yet another new venue, this time the lobby of the brand new research center at Children's. In some respects, this was the best of indoor services we attended -- it was large so we didn't feel crowded and hence overly-warmish and claustraphobic. The bad news was we were divided by partitions (which I think could have been moved? Like for a conference? But were weren't? Why?) so the live part was taking place a few sections over and our sound wasn't the best so our room decided to get up and leave once the names had been read which really isn't the end of the ceremony. Bug. The good news was the one on the far left had no seats set up in it so the people with strollers and kids tended to go in there and plop on the floor. We sat next to a gaggle of tweens who were there to remember someone ("Do you think you'll cry?"), and were extraordinarily well behaved, and I remember at one point hearing them gasp and one say, "He only lived one day." A rough lesson to be learned on top of their reason for being there, I'm sure.

I have a missive in my head about how Ale-drool chewed on the memory book, and Bella didn't want to go but then behaved like it was second nature, which is both refreshing and depressing as shit. Every year there is something about the ceremony that grabs me, and this year it was the pictures of kids who looked . . . perfect. Healthy. Like my live ones. And I wondered in dumfounded curious silence what on earth struck them down -- the eight year old in the soccer uniform, the two teen brothers standing by a car (with different birth and death dates), the cherubic smiling one year old. The kids with no hair and tubes and wires and physical deformaties all get me too, believe me, mine is among them. But I suppose I could see those and figure the parents knew by the time the picture was taken that something was up, no matter how surprising the time right before the picture had been. But these other kids? I wanted to know what happened -- was it meningitis? house fire? Unknown heart defects? Were the two brothers felled by something genetic or something external? Gun fire? Car crash? Cancer?

I'm tired of surprises, in this month of nothing but whispers and lists and sly glances. I looked around the room and realized nothing was surprising to anyone, perhaps save the tweens next to us, and even them -- I imagined- had received a bad one last calendar year.

Your names came with, and thought of them all along with the beautiful children and babies on the screen ahead of me. None of us alone. All of them remembered.


I feel like I have a ton of stuff to write about and no time to do it. Take this picture for example. I came downstairs one morning in December to find this mack-out on my end table:

Once I picked myself off the floor and took a picture, I waited until Bella was in the room and asked her, "Soooo, does Barbie have a new boyfriend?" and she turned a delicious shade of purple and stammered, "Mommy, I was just acting out the Nutcracker!"

"Hmm, I don't remember that part," I said eyeing the two still liplocked in the midst of my Nutcracker Tableau. But really, I should: The Nutcracker is, let's face it, the coming of age story of a girl who gets a crush at a Christmas party, ingests way too much sugar, and has some fantastic sugar-high hallucinations that night in dreamland. If anything, someone needs to sex up that ballet and take it where it really needs to go. Though maybe not in my living room.


The second Sunday is followed in extraordinarily quick succession by the third Friday, where we host the annual neighborhood holiday party. This is our fifth one, and irregardless of my physical condition (pregnant, depressed, pregnant) the week prior is the same: I am a stress monkey leading up to the party, manage to enjoy myself immeasurably, wake up Saturday and announce: "That was great! Let's do it again!" It's a week of ignoring Christmas while I clean and clean and decorate and clean some more and run errands (and this year spending precious me time churning out some writing for something else I signed up for that came due that week, gah). On Friday, in the midst of errand running, setting out wine and cocktail glasses for 100, and a baby who wouldn't nap, I turned to my husband, looked at my watch and said, "Bella's school Christmas program sing-a-long thingy starts in 10 minutes. I'm going." And hustled off with the baby to go sing carols next to my daughter. It was the best thing I could have done.

The party was great, the baby wouldn't go to sleep and stayed up until 1:00 a.m., there was left-over cake for breakfast.

And then I started in on Christmas, with a week to go, madly pouring through lists and finding shipping deals in my inbox.

All of this while Bella and the baby went through what had to be congestion/cough round five (V) since November 1. I am so tired of snot. Tired. You'd think we'd be immune to whatever it is that keeps creeping up in here. Caveat: One top tooth poked through a day or two after Christmas, ergo for one child some of the snot may not be cold-related. But it hardly matters when the kid can't sleep.

I took Bella to the Nutcracker (the G-rated version), and then we ran pel-mel into Christmas week which ended with me up late, wrapping furiously to the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir while Mr. ABF held a snotty draining baby upright who couldn't lie down. I left my husband with a pile of presents and instructions to "go stage that!" and grabbed the baby -- without a shower or toothbrush -- and went and lay down with him propped up in the crook of my arm, desperate for sugarplum fairies and hopes that St. Nick would soon be here.

And now the crazy is over, and I'm boxing everything up again for next year and it's hitting me that the next major thing on the calendar is: Maddy. Maddy's birthday, Maddy's week. It's out there, looming, crowding my wintery fireside snuggling and blizzard waffle breakfasts with grisly flashbacks.


I'm never one for ruminating on the past year (with the exception of 2007, which I think I unceremoniously took the curb, kicked a few times while screaming profanity, then gave the finger before walking away) or hoping the next year will be better, because . . . . you just never know. I've come a long way, but I'm still hesitant to expect anything or god forbid, plan anything (resolutions, shmesolutions). Why set myself up like that? I realize while sitting on the verge of a new calendar that years have stopped being "Bella's 7th" or "My 40-somethingthholdycrap" and never were "Baby's First": they're always counted up from '07, hence four -- four years since. Four years since something completely horrible happened, four years of healing, four years of remembering, four years without. Out of nowhere during Christmas week Bella announced, "If Maddy were alive, she'd be three right now." It's hard to entertain that notion, the idea of having an almost four year old running around the house -- especially since I never really climbed on board that whole "if she had lived" train. It's almost as hard as imagining she was ever here at all.


Like I said, so much to write about, so little time. Did you know that Bella had stitches in her elbow at some point this fall? No? See? Three stitches. It's long gone, the moment's over, she's playing ice hockey now. All the baby milestones are funny and word-worthy: crawling, eating (or not, or only eating what's on mom's plate as the case may be because high chairs, bibs, and baby food is apparently for babies), the devolution of sleep habits, baby-proofing a 100-year old house (people, the baby has a fireplace in his room. We decided the safest way to "proof" was to set up a series of jails; a holding cell in the kitchen, Gitmo in the family room), his slowly evolving mental abilities which I find hilarious. They are also, all rife with metaphor I'm realizing -- all making me wonder if what I'm feeling and how I'm reacting is "normal" and normal in what capacity. Normal for the second child in the house? Normal for the second child in the house who's really my third? What is normal anyway and who needs it?

But they'll all have to wait until I have two seconds to rub together. Because right now I need my two seconds to pour another cuppa and run through the shower. I hope you all are well. And warm.