Not Feelin’ It

Posted: October 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Clothing, Daddio, Doctors, Husbandry, Learning, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool, Sensory Defensiveness, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Halloween is like black licorice. You either love it or hate it.

Me? I loooooooove Halloween. It’s the attention-seeker’s favorite holiday. The one time of year when you can unapologetically dress to elicit attention. You get to be creative. Plus there’s candy. And jack-o-lanterns. And cinnamony, nutmeggy, pumpkiny foods.

And did I mention the attention part?

Junior year in college I lived with a family in France. The mother was in her forties. Super young-looking, fashionable, and pretty. And she was a maniac extrovert. When my friends would come over she’d run around opening wine (as if we needed encouragement), cranking music, and dragging the furniture to the side of the room to get us dancing.

Her teen-aged daughter would be cowering in the corner. She was painfully, hideously shy.

Our parenting days were light years away, but my friends said, “That is SO going to be you and your kid some day, Kristen.” (They called this up to me while I was dancing on the couch.)

Weirdly, neither of my girls has retreated like a threatened snail in the wake of their mother’s extroversion. In fact, Miss Kate, my oldest, holds her own quite well. She’s one of the youngest in her class, but as other parents have commented, “You’d never know it.” I think that’s code for, “She’s all  in your grill with the sass and spunk you’d expect from a much older kid.”

Or maybe they’re just referring to her mad reading skillz.

Anyway, it turns that I’m worried about Little Miss Self Esteem. On the one hand she’s so socially bulletproof. She went from camp to camp one summer without knowing a soul, and without batting an eyelash. She was the only girl in an animation class with 19 boys. And she was totally un-phased.

She’ll happily let anyone babysit for her. (I should take advantage of that and work a deal with some homeless folks.) She’s independent, confident, funny, and a good big sister—90% of the time.

She blew away her preschool teachers by asking if she could lead Circle Time. Apparently no kid’s ever done that, and her teachers ended up handing her the Circle Time reigns a bunch. (“Today,” she’d report, “I led the kids in some yoga poses and we sang a song about snowflakes.”)

These days as a big second-grader she volunteers at Paige’s preschool reading to the children and leading art projects that she comes up with on her own.

My Kate is the future Most Likely to Succeed.

And yet I’m fretting about all the things she isn’t doing. It’s not that I want her to do more. It’s not that she’s disappointing me in any way. It’s that there are things that I know she wants to do that she isn’t doing.

And it’s all because of clothes.

You may’ve seen me write about this here before. Kate hates clothes. She’s not a nudist, just a super-sensitive kid who can’t stand the feel of seams, stiff fabric, sewn-on decals, and zippers.

We’ve gone through phases with this. As a baby it seemed non-existent, but somewhere along the way she forsook pants for dresses. She whittled her wardrobe down to a handful of acceptable well-washed, worn out, super-soft cotton clothes.

She saw an OT a couple years ago and we brushed her and did some other exercises to desensitize her skin. It seemed to work. A bit, I mean. Even just learning other kids have this problem helped us all.

But it’s far from behind her. I’ll nearly forget about it, then she’ll need new shoes and I’ll realize how not-normal this behavior is that we’ve become so accustomed to.

So we started with another OT this fall. A well-respected woman who’s in walking distance of our house. She gave us some new insights and exercises, and already Kate seems to feel some things are easier. She recently wore a long-rejected shirt that Mark had bought her on a business trip. We nearly fainted when she walked into the kitchen with it on.

At school the other day I caught the end of her P.E. class. She was wearing a red vest along with her teammates. I was thrilled. We went shoe shopping a few days later and to my shock she picked out a pair of tall leather boots.

Things like these are victories. Totally unprecedented stuff.

So, what’s the problem? What I’m worried about is all the things she doesn’t want to do because of an outfit or uniform or some kind of gear.

She used to love ballet. Everyone else wore tutus and tights and slippers. Katie was in a baggy cotton dress, barefoot. This was fine with her teacher, but somewhere along the line from toddler to first-grader Kate decided ballet wasn’t her thing.

She adored choir until the performances last spring where I had to coax her into her uniform while drugging her with TV. This year she quit choir after one rehearsal.

She still has training wheels on her bike since she can’t tolerate a helmet.

And she’s expressed interest in horseback riding and theater, but admitted that the required clothes or costumes made those things a no-go.

I also think she’d love Halloween, but—in my mama brain at least—she sees it as a day when she’ll have to wear something other than her four soft-and-cozy skirts or her three approved cotton shirts. Dressing up is anxiety-provoking. What’s fun about that?

A few weeks ago I’d just about decided that we’d put her in therapy. In addition to the OT, I mean. Might as well come at this from every angle, right? My dad and I had a long phone conversation about this and he agreed it was a good idea. Let’s hit this thing with a hammer.

But a chat with her pediatrician later that day had me reconsidering.

“Is she doing okay socially?” he asked.

“Yeah, totally,” I said. No-brainer to that.

You’ll go through two or three years when she’ll say no to things, the doc said. But you have to trust that she’ll pull out of it. Eventually there’ll be something she wants to do badly enough that she’ll be willing to wear whatever she has to for it.

Putting her in therapy, he contended, will just solidify this as a big issue in her mind. It could make it even harder to shake.

I called my dad to discuss this new perspective. And we agreed that it made sense too.

Oy! What to do?

It’s hard to resist that modern-day reflex to throw as many resources and specialists at a problem as possible. Especially when that problem relates to your sweet young child. Isn’t being a good parent about removing whatever roadblocks prevent your kid from being their best selves?

I said that to a friend the other day who replied, “Or maybe it’s about letting them remove those barriers themselves.”

For now at least I’m back-burnering the therapy idea. Mark agrees. Let’s focus on OT now and see what comes of that.

So then, time to hone my maternal patience skills. Time to sit on my hands when I see Kate yearn to do something that she ultimately decides against because some part of it won’t feel good. Time to sit back and appreciate all the dazzling things that Kate IS doing, instead of fretting over what she’s not.

And time to go put the finishing touches on my own Halloween costume.

Happy Halloween, y’all.

A friend emailed me a link to this excellent short video. (Thank you, Melanie!)
My husband and I related to so so much of it. In fact, Mark said it made him cry.
Check it out, yo.

The Emperor’s New Onesie from Hillary Frank on Vimeo.


The Buzz Around Here

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Doctors, Firsts, Food, Milestones, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Paige has developed a bizarre and extreme fear of bees.

I have no idea what brought this on. Every time I ask her about it I get a different answer. “Luke at school likes bees.” Or, “No reason.” Or, “Because bees go buzz.” Or, “Can I watch Sesame Street?”

When you want to get to the bottom of something with an almost-four-year-old, they’re often the worst ones to ask about it. Mark and I refer to this as the “bad witness” syndrome. What your preschooler reports ain’t always what happened.

But I know for sure that she has not been stung by a bee, negatively interacted with a bee, or read any scary books or seen videos about bees. I have not punished her by saying, “If you hit your sister again I will stick your hand in a bee hive.” I swear I haven’t. Even if I’ve maybe sometimes wanted to.

I have assured Paige that bees don’t come into the house. I’ve told her that if you don’t bother bees, they won’t bother you. I have remarked that in wintertime, bees aren’t even around because of the cold. (Though this is a bit of a hard sell with our NoCal winter this year. It’s been sunny and in the 60s for most of December and January.) I even said that if you DO get stung by a bee, it hurts for a little while, then goes away. No. Big. Thing.

But for a few weeks now she will wake up in the middle of the night and ask questions like, “Are there any bees in my room?”

Come morning she’ll drop her cereal bowl into the sink and troop off to her room to get dressed announcing, “I’m not wearing anything black today.” This because Kate’s preschool teacher told her FOUR YEARS AGO that the color black attracts bees. A fact that Kate has cleaved to, out of scientific interest more than fear. Therefore any time we come anywhere near a bee or perhaps the kind of flower a bee might like Kate does an inventory of all the clothing we’re wearing to ascertain whether any of us is in imminent danger.

It’s a shame too, since black looks so fab on Paige with her blond hair.

Last week I took Paigey to a pediatric allergist. She’s had some puffy-lip/barfy reactions to walnuts and I wanted to see if there was a legit issue at hand. The allergist was one of those super-goofy-friendly docs who works with kids and could probably make so much more money gruffly caring for adults, but is just too kindhearted and caring and gooberish. Thank God for folks like him, I guess.

Anyway, he was so desperately hell-bent on connecting with Paige I nearly had a diabetic seizure from his saccharine-sweet “Your lovey looks like a wonderful friend” and “Baba… what a nice name for a stuffed sheep” banter.

Paige was even a bit leery of the dude.

He went on to remark that if Paige was three she must be learning how to read, and started quizzing her on what letter makes the sound “rrrr” and, “What is the sound the letter ‘e’ makes?” Hell, I’m not even sure what sound the letter ‘e’ makes. Is it eeee or eh? Anyways, I don’t know what preschool HIS kids go to, but Paige comes home from school with paper plates that have colored cotton balls glued to them and with glitter ground into her scalp. And I don’t think it’s from rigorous academic sessions.

Anyway, Mr. Overly Nice Guy ended up balancing out Paige’s perception of him when he pricked up and down her back with tinctures of various allergens. It was not only pokey and painful, but many of the spots turned into itchy burning pits that she could neither reach nor scratch.

And worse than that the nurse wrote numbers on her back in red pen to indicate what each allergen was. On the car ride home between sobs she relayed to Mark on the phone, “They wrote numbers on my baaaaack!!! In PEN! I want to go home and take a baaaaath!!!”

Turns out she is allergic to walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts. This prompted me to tell Goofy Allergist Doc, “I guess I’ve got to get her off that hazelnut coffee in the morning.”

To which he looked at my blankly and said, “Really? She drinks that?”

I assured him she does not drink hazelnut coffee (while sounding out the words in The Wall Street Journal). She’s more a double-espresso kinda gal.

When, oh when, will the rest of the world understand my sense of humor?

Anyway, now we’re one of those families who carry epi pens with them everywhere and have the preschool stock-piled with various meds. We have a kiddie rainbow-beaded Medic Alert bracelet on order. And I’m an even-more-avid food label reader. Were nuts processed in the same facility where this granola bar was manufactured? Was there “shared equipment?” Does this fruit chew possibly contain “trace elements” of nuts?

Doc Smiley told me that if the equipment in question is used to process almonds—no problem! Paige is not allergic to almonds. So he told me to just call the different companies to find those details out.

For real?

Me: “Hello, Nabisco? It’s Kristen. I’m wondering about the machines you got goin’ there. What nuts are we talking about?”

This does not seem like a call I’m likely to ever make. Not that I want to put Paigey in any jeopardy, God knows. But REALLY? Call the food manufacturer? I mean, who the frick do you ask to speak to? How many hours are you thrashing about in that corporate phone-tree quicksand before you eventually find an administrative assistant who is sitting in a cubical in St. Louis 2,000 miles from any actual food-makin’ “equipment” and really just wants to get you off the phone so she can get back on Facebook who gives you a vague, “Uh… I’m not sure” answer? Or worse, she lies just so she can return to her online solitaire game then update her status that the chicken salad she just ate for lunch was gross.

I’m supposed to trust her?

I think I’ll just be steering away from processed foods—as I try to do anyway.

And blessedly, Paige’s allergies are apparently mild. Not like some kids who see a picture of a peanut and break into hives. Benadryl will likely do the trick if Paige is ever exposed to something. The epi pens are for unusual, hopefully rare reactions. And, I think, just so I’m required to cram one more thing in my already unwieldy mom purse. I can’t get feelin’ all freed up now that I don’t have to carry diapers any more.

The allergist wants us to come back in a month just to check in. After this “lifestyle change” he said people often have many questions. Though I wonder how it is we’ve gone for nearly four years never knowing Paige had a tree nut allergy. (And is it just me, or are you also unclear about which nuts grow on trees? We didn’t have that unit in my science classes…) I mean, if we can just continue to do what we were doing up until now, seems like she should be okay.

Despite Paige’s tormented screams and wailing about her itchy-owie back, interspersed with rants about the numbers drawn on her—”Why numbers? WHY, Mama??”—I did manage to summon some rational thought to ask the doctor some questions, and one was about bee stings. In my mind bee stings and epi pens go hand in hand.

“Is she is more likely to be allergic to bees because she has a nut allergy?” I bellowed over the din.

And the answer it turned out is—no! There’s no relation to the nut and the bee thing.

Well, she may not have a physical allergy to bees, but she certainly seems to have a psychological one. I’ve just got to figure out what the antidote to it is. If any of you have successfully wrangled with similar sorts of preschoolers’ fears, I’m all ears.

I now also know to never write numbers on Paige’s back in red pen. And thankfully, that’s a lifestyle change I can easily accommodate.

No Comments »

On Safari

Posted: September 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, My Body, My Temple | 2 Comments »

I now have an Infectious Disease Specialist. I feel extremely exotic and special.

At my first appointment I wasn’t sure what to expect. Aside from a possibly long wait. You know, typical doctor’s office stuff. Yet, the moment I signed in and turned to my waiting room comrades—a dreary, quiet group whose infectious diseases I couldn’t help but wonder about—I realized that I’d forgotten my Kindle. Damn it.

My book group has ambitiously taken on Anna Karenina, so I try to get a page or two under my belt at every possible free minute. It gives me some hope of finishing the book by 2015.

Annoyed that I wouldn’t make any Anna progress, I turned to the magazine rack to find bleak reading prospects. Diabetes Today, the AARP magazine, and some clinically-upbeat periodical called Empower.

While pondering whether diabetes was “infectious” and what that word reflected about my own presence in that office—Was it that I’d gotten something infectious or that others could get something from me? Wait—that’s contagious. So I guess I’m The Infected, not The Infector, which is mildly reassuring… Anyway, while sorting through these thoughts a nurse came to the doorway and called me in.

Notice how I didn’t say “a male nurse.” Why is it that male nurses are always “male nurses” and not just nurses? I’m fighting for the rights of this maligned group right here and now. Just so you know.

So while he was taking my vital signs, the I’m-not-mentioning-he-was-male nurse brought up the fact that he has diabetes. Not sure how it is that we got on that topic, but he was clearly trying to take attention away from infected patients like myself by A) being male and a nurse, and B) prattling on to me about his illness.

Though he did seem like a kind man. And he thankfully managed to take my temperature and blood pressure without getting all low blood sugar on me, or slipping into a diabetic coma.

And before I knew it my brand new infectious disease specialist swept in to start our appointment. To hopefully diagnose the mysterious set of symptoms that had sent two other less exotic and less special doctors off scratching their heads.

So he sat down and started earnestly asking questions and scribbling down notes in what appeared to be utterly illegible script. Which somehow validated that he was a real doctor. Maybe even a good doctor. The other thing that made me certain he’d get to the bottom of this—aside from his outpouring of questions, “What animals have you been around? Have you traveled out of the country? Eaten raw fish or meat?—the other thing that got me was his clothes.

Yes, I’m not sure how YOUR infectious disease specialist dresses, but mine wears a safari suit. Or more specifically, khaki pants and a matching khaki shirt. It’s very evocative of the kinds of ensembles one might wear in the kinds of places one might acquire an infectious disease. (Even though I got mine—if I actually even have one—in the wilds of small-town New England.)

He stepped out to get my records and I half-expected him to re-enter the room wearing a mosquito net over a pith helmet. I pictured him jumping into an open-sided Jeep, bumping over scrub brush and dirt to get to the nurse’s station. I imagined him hopping out at a dense jungle outcropping and using a machete to bushwhack his way through dense foliage towards the computer that housed my lab results.

No wonder he’s got male nurses, I thought. They’re probably trained to keep the wild animals at bay.

Anyway, he returned from his “getting my chart” adventure seemingly unscathed. And our appointment continued devoid of any thrilling aha moments or the appearance of monkeys. In fact, his summary of what’s been happening to me was about as milk toast as they come.

Essentially he mirrored what the other docs had said. It could be Lyme Disease, so take the antibiotics. Get tested in two weeks to see if you got a false negative the first time. But by the time you take that second test, you’ll have been on the meds for so long, you might not test positive then. Even if you had it.

So? So? So? So, that’s IT?! That is the finale of all these weeks of blood tests, MRIs, and “sorry but this will be uncomfortable” nerve testing?

I may never know what caused my limbs to go numb, my muscles to ache, and my joints to throb with pain. I may never know if I ever even had what they’re guessing it mighta been. And as a consolation prize I get to take 30-days worth of stomach-churning antibiotics. Hooray!

Call me demanding, but this is one lame-ass final act.

“Be happy you feel better,” he said. And faster than a hyena running up a tree, he was gone.

I’ve definitely learned a thing or two from this whole experience. Having an infectious disease specialist isn’t anywhere near as cool as you think it’ll be. And AARP Magazine is nothing to look forward to.


Opening Windows

Posted: August 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, Little Rhody, Mama Posse, Misc Neuroses, Mom | 2 Comments »

Was it just me, or did everyone adore their pediatrician when they were little?

I mean, not love love. Not like in any Electra Complex sorta way. It’s just that for me going to the doctor was always a super happy event. Even when I had to get shots.

I’ll call him Dr. Unger. And what I remember about the guy was this: He had pictures of his patients covering one wall of his office. Even though I wasn’t in any of them (something I never dreamed of—as a fourth child, photos of me were rare), there was something so free-spirited and fabulous about the collage. To my kid brain, at least. No adult I knew dared to decorate this way.

Of course, as a mother now myself I now know nearly every pediatrician does this, at least at the holidays with photo cards. But at the time it was one more thing that made Dr. Unger so dazzling.

For some reason I always thought he looked like a handsome version of—get this—Jerry Lewis. Ha! Absurd, right? I’m not sure where I got that idea, but I remember thinking I was pretty cool for coming up with it. I mean, this was the age of Tab and Fresca people. I’m no spring chicken. So, along with thinking that shag carpets were an acceptable floor covering and Pacers were cool-looking cars, we we clearly devoid of handsome celebs—leaving me to have to summon in my youthful imagination what Jerry Lewis mighta looked like if he didn’t look the way he did.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m an over-achiever. And you’re absolutely right.

Anyway, Dr. Unger had this nurse (or was she a secretary?) who was ancient, and crisp white uniformed, and super old school. She ran that office like a Swiss train. Or a Swiss clock. Something Swiss. (But not cheese.)

She was a mighty force, but her air of authority was never off-putting. She made it clear the place would fall to ruins without her, yet managed to be all smiles and winks. And she had a very chummy, insider-ish way of talking to my mom. As if we were a special family she was truly happy to see.

She probably made everyone feel that way. And good for her, if she did.

“Oh that Dr. Unger,” my mother would say admiringly, as we walked down the floating staircase (very mod at the time) to the parking lot, and she lit up a brown More cigarette. Mom adored Dr. Unger as much as I did. In that “he’s SO good at his job” kinda way. Though, who knows? Maybe she had a thing for Jerry Lewis too.

Whatever the case, there was a real sense of us feeling lucky that he was our doctor. I mean, we’d drive a half-hour to get to his office. This is halfway ‘cross the state when you consider we were in Rhode Island. But mom was resolute that he was “the best” so she’d dress us up for an outing to “the city” for every little check-up and sniffle. (Shorts, for your information, were an unacceptable clothing option for the city according to Mom. She stopped just short of making us wear gloves and bonnets.)

Aside from an allergy test where he pricked different parts of my arm with a short four-pronged needle, and aside from getting to pick out a lollipop after getting a shot, for all my admiration for Dr. Unger, I don’t remember any specific interactions I had with the guy. But I do remember one thing he told my mother once. He said, “The best thing you can do for a child is to keep their window open when they sleep.”

And so, all these years later I can’t help but think of Dr. Unger when I tuck my girls in at night. Unless it’s super cold out, I try to at least keep one window in their rooms cracked.

It’s such a little thing, but when I do it I feel like I’m tapping into some old world wisdom. Like I’m channeling some simple maternal legacy, since it was something my mother did with us. Because, of course, Dr. Unger’s word was gospel. Mom wouldn’t dare go up against doctor’s orders. And she always prided herself on the fact that my sisters and I never got sick. Something I’ve gotta admit, I love about my kids too. (Though now that I’ve said that I’m sure they’ll be plagued with an endless stream of sniffles, sore throats, and all-night puking sessions.)

Anyway, more often than not old clashes with new. And this small window thing is no exception.

Because one day, in a stream of chatter about everything and nothing at all (my favorite kind of conversation), my Mama Posse friend Maggie mentioned that she always closes her kids’ bedroom windows at night. And locks them. “Even,” she added, “if it’s, like, 100 degrees out.” (Though, blessedly, the Bar Area never gets near that hot.) Ever since the Polly Klaas thing, she said she’s not taking any chances.

Several weeks later, another member of the Mama Posse (we don’t have matching tattoos or embroidered satin jackets, I swear) was showing us the new extension they’d put on her house. Their fab-u-luss new master suite is pretty removed from their kids’ rooms. And so then she mentioned something about locking the kids’ bedroom windows at night.

And so, I took pause. (It’s such an odd expression, “took pause,” but I’d like to use it here, if y’all don’t mind.)

Because my Mama Posse mamas are women I’ve known since I used the word “latching” several times a day, and my C-section scar was still an incision. Back when a wrap-around nursing pillow was a regular accessory on my couch, and I hadn’t yet mastered breastfeeding while waiting in line at Trader Joe’s. In other words, I’ve know them since the infancy of my motherhood.

And we have talked about it ALL, these women and I. If my mama friends had told me that slathering my baby in mayo was an effective cure for colic, or way get her to sleep, or to take a bottle,  I’d be scooping the stuff out of a jar with my bare hands and lubing that baby right up—no questions asked—even though I’m pretty much phobic about the stuff.

I seek and trust and respect their opinions on all things motherly above and beyond Dr. Spock even. But above Dr. Unger? And my own Mama?

I was perplexed.

So hearing their stance on window openage got me thinking. Am I acting irresponsibly? Am I playing with fire, all for the sake of some fresh air? Does old school wisdom not translate so well into the modern day?

Our nice neighborhoods aside, the fact is, we live in the fourth most dangerous city in the U.S. At least, that’s what my sister told me she read on AOL once. It’s not like we’re in the little Mayberry-like town that I grew up in.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, the fearful “someone’s going to break in and take her” feeling I had about both my girls when they moved out of our bed-side bassinet and into their own rooms seems to have dissipated. Not that I’m concerned about their safety any less. But now that they walk and talk and wear friendship bracelets and request “alone time” and know the lyrics to Justin Beiber songs, I have a whole new host of concerns that have apparently put kidnapping low on the list.

Or maybe it’s that I could imagine someone wanting to steal an angelic sleeping baby, but can’t fathom the desire to make off with a child who has a 20-minute screaming tantrum because I won’t give her a cookie three minutes after she’s had an ice cream cone.

Besides, the way our house is set up, our first floor windows are super high up. Definitely un-attainable by even the tallest thief or kidnapper.

And the place is hardly vast. If either girl sneezes in their room, we can pretty much hear it from ours. I always said the baby monitors we used were vanity items.

Last summer my neighbor started letting her third-grader walk the couple blocks to our local library. This seemed kind of wild to me at the time—who knows what could happen in that short distance, even with the most careful and responsible child? But I’m coming around to understanding what she allowed it. It’s no Mayberry here, but it IS a sweet little neighborhood we’re in. And if we can’t relax and enjoy it—if we can’t give our kids small tastes of independence, bite by bite—then we’re just letting the terrorist win. Or someone who we don’t want to win.

Who knows what I’ll be allowing my girls to do a few years from now. I hope I have some of that “let them out of the nest” courage my friend next door has with her kids. More likely I’ll be jumping out of the bushes when they’re in college to walk them across the quad at night.

In the meantime, I’m taking what feels like a small but valiant stance on the windows. Barring any large-ladder wielding weirdos, I think we’re safe having them open.

After dredging up all these memories of Dr. Unger, I just Googled the guy. I was half-scared I’d get an obit. In that clueless kid-like way, I have no idea how old he was when I was his patient. (Though I know I was wedging my college-aged ass into a kiddie chair in his waiting room when I last saw him, and he gently referred me to a grown-up doctor.) Thrillingly, I found a listing for him. He is alive and well—and still even in practice! Those kids who’s pics are in the collage on the wall of his office today are lucky little patients.

After more prowling around The Internets I found one of those doctor directory websites, which had this line on him: “Years since graduating from medical school: 57.” My math’s not good, but I think that takes him to a ripe old age.

Good for him. Must be all those nights sleeping with his window open that’ve kept him going.


Paging Dr. House

Posted: August 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Daddio, Doctors, Friends and Strangers, My Body, My Temple, Scary Stuff | 5 Comments »

Should I start with the good news or the bad news? Okay, since I can’t hear you very well, I guess I’ll pick.

So, the good news is: All my blood tests have come back negative.

The bad news is: I have no idea what the hell is wrong with me.

If you haven’t been riveted by this story and following along from home, here’s the sweetened condensed version: I came down with some mystery illness after our East Coast vacation. It started with numbness, then achyness, then I threw in some jarring joint pain, just to keep things lively. I’ve had MRIs (and drugs for MRIs), been poked, prodded, and questioned, and had enough blood taken for a gang of vampires to binge for days.

Somewhere along the line my dad emailed me a guess at what I had—to keep those two-bit docs on their toes. Lyme Disease, he said.

I was giddy. Like, all hand clappy excited. Convinced my lawyer father outwitted the doctors. And they did agree that Dad had something there. (I had forgotten to tell them I got a weird bite in Rhode Island.) But then the Lyme test came back negative.

Which was when my first freak-out about WTF I do have ensued.

Thankfully, my dad isn’t the only un-qualified yahoo out there who’s been willing to float a diagnosis my way. Well-meaning friends have wondered (aloud) if what I’m experiencing is a by-product of bottled up anger, an energy blockage, or everyone’s favorite malady du jour—gluten intolerance.

Now, you might say that I’m asking for this, living in California as I do. But what I want to tell those people is, “Yes! You are right. I do have pent up rage. I do have energy log jams. But those things aren’t why I feel like I do. I have them because I feel like I do and no one knows why.”

As for gluten intolerance? Puh-leez. Gluten is my friend, people. In fact, I’m going to go and eat a big gooey glob of gluten right now and process it like a champion. Gluten is my wheat grass, California.

And while everyone else has a theory on what’s plaguing me, my doctors remain utterly baffled. Having a case they can’t crack  seems bad for business, like unsolved murders in the police department. So in a valiant effort to move down the path to some resolution, my doc started me on antibiotics—the Lyme Disease treatment—even though that test came back neg-o.

They say there can be false-negatives in the early stage of infection. It’s like I filled out one answer on the SAT in the wrong column then got everything totally wrong by accident. So I’ll take the test again in two weeks, with the happy hopes it’ll come back positive. “Lyme Disease! Yay!” Then the doctors can finally get back to their golf games, and I can assure my veins they’ll no longer be tapped for blood like a tree for maple sap.

But until all that happens, my work husband has enthusiastically claimed dibs on performing my eulogy. I have no doubt it’ll be fabulous. He assures me he can “fake cry with the best of ‘em,” which I find wonderfully supportive. He’s gone so far as to make recommendations on good dates for me to expire. His mom passed on 9/9/99, so he fancies himself an expert in this area. I’m lucky to have style-conscious friends with a flair for event planning who are stepping up at this time.

And, as long as I keep laughing I convince myself that when they do figure out what this weird numb, tingly, achy, joint painy so-you-can’t-sleep thing is, it’ll be something itty bitty and easy to eradicate.

But I’ve gotta say, the longer this lingers and leaves the docs scratching their heads, the intermittent moments when I do worry become more and more mittent. If ya know what I mean.

In the meantime I’ve managed to make my father sick from all this. It’s the craziest thing. The man is some supremely empathetic illness conductor. Like, when Paigey was a baby and was lizard-like with eczema, my 80-year-old dad who’d never had so much as a rash was suddenly covered with the stuff himself. A year later, Paige’s walking delays required x-rays of her hips. Then Dad called to report his hip was giving out, and he’d need a new one. And now? Just yesterday I call home and what do I hear? Dad is on antibiotics—for Lyme Disease.

It’s madness! The man is nothing short of a copy cat. I mean, when my father says he feels your pain, he’s serious.

When I was at BlogHer I experienced the bliss of bad hotel TV. I watched crappy shows I never normally watch, on a huge TV at the foot of my bed. Alone. It was a simple but profound indulgence. And I saw that show House, about the ornery-but-lovable doctor who’s the Sherlock Holmes of sickness. Every patient who comes to his hospital seems to be near death with bizarre symptoms that Dr. House eventually, handily diagnoses—and cures. Like, the girl who was becoming paralyzed from the legs up? In a creeping, oh-no-it’s-stopped-her-lungs-now fashion? She eventually gets discharged and heads off to school the next day.

Oh, it’s good stuff.

As I rubbed my numb feet together under the starchy hotel sheets I considered climbing into the TV and sitting myself down in House’s office, hopeful that he was in-network. But who knew how long the wait would be without an appointment. And I was tired anyway. So instead I rolled over and snapped off the lamp, put my faith back into my real-world docs, and drifted off to sleep.


Now Hear This: My Father is a Genius

Posted: August 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Little Rhody | 2 Comments »

If you’ve been following along from home you’ve read all about my latest mystery affliction: numbness.

And if you aren’t up to speed here’s the “Recently on Kristen’s Life” summary: Weird mild numbness in my arms, hands, and feet. Gone to the neurologist, gotten two MRIs, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe it’s a migraine, maybe carpal tunnel, maybe I’m just cuh-razy.

Okay, so now you’re all caught up.

So last night I go out to dinner with my friend Rick. Rick, my gay work husband. A heartfelt, hilarious, and also delicious dinner, throughout which Rick intermittently checked on the state of my numb-itude, and proffered several diagnoses which I’ll refrain from sharing. (Suffice it to say, in the mind of a gay man—or in his mind at least—all illnesses stem somehow from the girl parts. Or, as he likes to say, “la vagine.”)

It’s wonderful to be the recipient of all this concern. Truly. I’m touched by all the emails and phone calls and tweets. But I’m still somehow convinced that what’s plaguing me ain’t dire.

So after my dinner last night I got an email from my father. Tell the doctor to do a blood test, he says. You got that weird bug bite when you were home. You’ve got symptoms of Lyme Disease.

Can I tell you right now that I’ll bet you one U.S. dollar and my best blue-green marble that I THINK THE MAN IS RIGHT.

I’ve already ranted on the evils of the ferocious, disease-borne East Coast tick. Nearly everyone in those parts has a dramatic tale of when and how their Lyme Disease was diagnosed. It’s like cell phones. Everyone’s got one.

And when I was in Little Rhody I did get a gruesome bite from an indeterminate bug, and developed a weird, red, sundress-unfriendly rash on my back. And like a good hypochondriac I was convinced I had Lyme Disease.

But the thing with being certain that you have every possible disease and affliction listed on WebMD is that you stop believing yourself. It’s like you’ve cried wolf to yourself too many times.

So eventually the rash subsided, the bite turned all dark and bruisey, then finally faded away. And I forgot about it.

If it wasn’t 11PM when I got that email from my dad, I’d a been careening in my car up on two wheels all Dukes of Hazzard style over to my doctor’s office—the most excited person ever to demand a blood test. (Though there probably are some needle fetishists who get pretty fired up about those procedures.)

It’s still early here. My neurologist’s office hasn’t opened yet. But I CAN’T WAIT to call her when it does and tell her that I think my dad has cracked the case.


All Clear

Posted: August 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Doctors, My Body, My Temple, Scary Stuff | 3 Comments »

Well the results of my brain MRI are in, and I’m thrilled to report that it revealed no pennies, Polly Pockets purses, or other organic free-range scary kindsa things you don’t want growing in your head.

And although I had a hunch it’d be okay, I’d still like to release a huge, resounding PHEW. Because I don’t know about you, but when I see a police car, even when I know I’m not speeding, I slam on the brakes. I somehow have that inner guilty-until-proven-innocent default setting. (Maybe on accounta my Catholic upbringing?)

At any rate, if you’ve been wondering where that tube of Sephora lip gloss you liked so much has gone, I can tell you with 100% confidence that it’s not in my brain. Check under the seats of your car. Or in your other purse. Or under your kid’s bed, because God knows lots of other stuff that’s gone missing lately is probably there too.

Now that my weird numbness is not accountable to any bad-bad in my brain, the complex migraine diagnosis is the front runner. But “just to be really thorough” my doctor wants to do ANOTHER MRI of my cervical spine. Which is to say, that I will have to go back into that Godforsaken claustrophobic loud clackety-ass machine from hell. And although it may not be apparent, I’m really NOT looking forward to that.

I used nice beachy thoughts to get me through the one last week, but I’m thinking that was a one-off. If there’s any hope of getting me back in there I’m almost certainly going to need drugs.

This, by the way, is nearly identical to my experience with childbirth. Whoever said you forget the pain of childbirth was probably a man. Because by the end of my second pregnancy ALL I could think of was the miserable excruciating world-rocking pain I went through the first time around. That first time I was naively gung-ho to go drug-free (and I did for a loooong while), but by Baby #2 I walked into the hospital bellowing to anyone who would listen for an epidural.

My doctor had given me some kinda Valium-esque pill for my first MRI. But when I read the label (this is a warning to others to NEVER read the label) it said all in big letters “do not drive after taking this medication.”

So like a dope, I didn’t take it. Because I was going to have to drive to work after. And because I’m a rule follower.

But here’s the thing. If you’re not supposed to drive on Valium-like meds, how do you explain the entire city of L.A.? Hmmm??? There’s a reason there’s so much traffic there, people. It’s all the disoriented drug-induced driving. And I really don’t think all those folks are on their way home from getting MRIs.

Anyway, my left-side numbness has taken a turn. And it’s not a political shift to the right (thank God). Now it’s just in my arms and hands—but on both sides. Granted, the OCD in me appreciates the symmetry of it, but I’d have preferred the numbness to just depart my body altogether.

So it turns out the doctor also wants me to have carpal tunnel testing. (Like, maybe I have that, and also had a complex migraine?) She explained the carpal tunnel test involves “a series of needle pricks up and down your arms,” which she confessed “is not terribly comfortable.”


When I went to the front desk to schedule the test, I was informed that it would take 90 minutes. 90 minutes?!? Of NEEDLE pricks?

Twenty minutes doped-up in an MRI machine is starting to looking better all the time.


Comfortably Numb

Posted: July 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Doctors, Firsts, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Summer | 6 Comments »

I’ve gone numb.

Unfortunately I mean this quite literally.

It started innocuously enough the other morning on my left arm. It wasn’t tingly or anything—not like pins and needles—just a little numb feeling. Since I sleep on that side, I chalked it up to a snooze-induced injury. Something that by the time I showered, fed the kids, and walked out the door I’d have totally forgotten.

And that day I kinda did.

But the next day, it seemed to have spread. Toweling off after my shower I thought my left leg and foot were a bit numb too. Not a close-my-eyes-and-I-won’t-know-you’re-pinching-me lack of sensation. It was more like Numb Lite. And it was only on my left side. Enough to make me think I’d gone half mad.

By the time I got in to see a doctor, the left side of my head and neck had joined the fun.

Oddly, I wasn’t freaked out.

And blessedly, I didn’t need to be. Because, the good doctor explained, that as someone who’s got a history of migraines, this kind of crazy thing can happen. I didn’t even had a headache (though I did have a stressful day Sunday), but some kind of neurological episode—called a complex migraine—was apparently making all this happen.

“These kinds of migraines,” she said, “can bring about symptoms that imitate stroke.”


But, she went on to explain, I hadn’t had a stroke. And this wasn’t something to indicate I was about to. (Phew.) My numbness was likely to fade away as un-dramatically as it had appeared. (And actually, today, it’s barely discernible.)

But, to be on the safe side, the doc wanted me to get an MRI. Of my brain. She didn’t expect to find “anything unusual.”

Any hypochondriac worth her weight in worry would immediately conjure some horrible citrus-fruit shaped tumor. But for some reason I thought of that scene in Jaws, when they finally catch the shark and cut him open. Inside they find stuff like an old boot, a Sony Walkman, and a New Jersey license plate. I pictured those miniscule Polly Pocket doll shoes that Kate loses nearly immediately, and all the socks that went into the wash as a pair and came out alone—I imagined all those things (plus some other random lost items) showing up on my brain scan.

Considering this is where my mind went, I guess I’m not really worried.

We’ve been back from vacation for a few days now. And in what I imagine was an attempt to condense commentary on a three-week trip, several friends have asked what the highlights were of our time in Rhode Island. I tend to have trouble answering any superlative questions (favorite food, favorite movie, favorite band). There’s so much to love, I hate picking one thing. But that’s not why I couldn’t answer their question.

Was it a good vacation? Yes, an excellent one.

Were there better parts than others? Of course.

But in general, what was wonderful about our trip was all the small happy moments that made up our days. Watching my dad teach Kate card tricks. Early morning runs with my old friend Ellen. Dinners outside in dad’s big yard, where the girls tiptoed around looking for bunnies, played “fairies” in the flower beds, and wrestled giddily in the grass while the dog barked, desperate to join in.

And the beach. The beach, the beach, the beach.

We spent so many days at the beach—mostly in Newport, but also on Cape Cod, and one day at Coney Island. And even with one cold foggy day, the beach never let us down.

Kate spent the entire time in the water. She’d be alone squealing with laughter and jumping around as each wave came at her. Paige was content packing wet sand into buckets, smoothing the tops with the palms of her hands, then anointing the center of each one with a single decorative shell. (That’s my girl. She knows less is more.)

I presided in my low-slung beach chair, tattered sea-sprayed novel in hand, keeping an eye on the contented kids and getting in a paragraph or two here and there. All this and a sun-warmed peanut butter and jelly sandwich was just about bliss.

There was no time we had to arrive at the beach. And, forsaking Paige’s naps as we did, no time we needed to leave. Most days there was no one to meet up with. And like many of the activities in our usual world—school plays, or ballet classes, or preschool potlucks—no compulsion to record it all with photos or videos. Our camera doesn’t mix well with sand and sea air. No choice but to live in the moment.

And that was fine, because somehow I knew that a video—the mental Super 8 of our time there—was being recorded directly onto all of our memories. In the same way that I can play back the happy beach days of my youth. A truly transcendent beach day has that unique ability to time travel—combining nostalgia for the past, imprinting a future memory, and soaking it all up right then and there.

And so yesterday, when the technician slid the tray I was lying on deep into the MRI machine, delivering me into a claustrophobic metal tunnel where I was ordered to remain still for 20 minutes, I kept my eyes closed tight and went to the beach.

I tried to block out the loud clacking noises the machine made as it xeroxed my brain by picturing Kate jumping over waves, her blond hair hanging in slick wet ropes. I imagined Paigey clinging to my side like a koala as we edged tentatively into the water. Later my mind had us all head in towards the blanket, where I dug my wallet out of the tote bag and we walked down the beach for lemonade. (I was unable to imagine making any headway on my novel. I was only in the machine for 20 minutes, after all.)

I managed to survive the entire MRI without any heightened panic setting in. Never came even close to squeezing the rubber “panic” bulb they’d set in my hand.

Now I just need to find a way to retain that sense of calm while I wait for the test results.


The Princess and the Pea

Posted: February 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Doctors, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Parenting | 10 Comments »

Kate wore a leotard, tights, and a tutu to ballet class this week. This might seem un-spectacular to you. I mean, she looked just like all the other girls. But to me—or rather, for Kate? Well, suffice it to say, it blew my mind.

It’s not that Kate’s a tom boy. She’s actually (unfortunately) quite smitten with princesses, ballerinas, and all things girly.

And it’s not that by refusing to wear ballet clothes in the past she was trying to stand out, or make some kinda of fashion statement.

It’s not even that she’s a nudist. Though God knows the nudist lifestyle would be sheer bliss for the girl.

The thing with Kate is that she hates clothes. The way some kids hate the monster under their bed, or getting a shot at the doctor’s, or having their nails clipped. Kate’s biggest enemy, fear, and anxiety-provoking thing is clothing.

And I only wish I were kidding. For Kate clothes are tight. They are itchy. They are binding and clingy and uncomfortable. Sometimes they even feel like they’re choking her.

So in that way that you adapt as a parent—when you, say, know that your kid will only drink milk if it’s chocolate milk and even though it’s embarrassing to admit around other parents, you know you need to get milk into your kid so you relent—in that kinda way I’ve flexed to Kate’s clothing issues. Which is to say she owns nothing with a zipper or buttons. Nothing with an iron-on decal or sewn-on applique. And if it once had a tag in it, you can bet it no longer does. (Paige is the heir to Kate’s vast wardrobe, much of it never worn. Unfortunately the size of each garment is an utter mystery.)

If Kate has shown willingness to wear a certain kind of shirt, I go to back to the store and buy five more. When she finds an acceptable pair of shoes she wears them every day, for months. (Despite the fact that her closet teems with other options.) Once I asked my mother-in-law to buy more of a certain kind of socks she’d given Kate, and mail them to us from in Ohio. When we find success with something, we lay in supplies.

But sometimes even those things don’t work. A previously approved t-shirt will go through the laundry and come out shrunken, or wrinkled, or the seams will suddenly expose themselves like Medusa’s snakes, slithering along the sensitive surface of Kate’s skin.

As you might imagine, this makes mornings ’round here especially stressful. I long for the standard-issue manic mornings other families wrangle with. I wish packing a lunch and getting everyone’s teeth brushed were the pressure points Chez McClusky. (This Motherboard story made me jealous of how easy everyone else’s bad mornings would seem to us.)

Inevitably breakfast ends, and as we lower the oatmeal bowls into the sink we utter the emotionally-charged sentence, “Time to get dressed, Kate.” And by “we” I mean Mark.

Because when Outfit #3 is rejected, when the contents of her closet and drawers are on the floor, and we’ve got only five minutes left to get to school and Kate is in a full-bore melter, I don’t perform well. Mark has better luck coaching an acceptable dress onto Kate’s back, and then, miraculously, not one but TWO socks (why were we plagued as bi-peds?), and on top of those, as if for extra credit, shoes.

For a long while Mark insisted Kate’s morning clothing meltdowns were power plays. Attempts to gum up the works when we were so close to getting somewhere on time. Mark tried tough love. We set up sticker charts with long-term toy incentives. And, as shameful as it is to admit, in moments of abject frustration, I even broke down, begging Kate to please please tell me what it was. Why couldn’t she just get dressed like other kids?

Is it crazy to say that you can go on like this for a while? That you can be aware of a problem, be tortured by it, but also just live with it?

But slowly flags started getting raised. I imagined what a house guest of ours was thinking as she observed our ritualistic morning dance around Kate getting dressed. This is so not normal, I thought. And my maternal neuroses were mounting around sending her to school in skimpy sundresses on cold days, rain boots on sunny days, and baggy dresses and bare feet for ballet.

My friend Mary told me, “No one’s looking at your kid as much as you are. I’m sure people don’t even notice.” So true.

But still, I worried about how this childhood issue could solidify in Kate’s psyche. Or grow worse. I envisioned a lifetime of Kate being out of step. I imagined her wearing bunny slippers on her prom night, and a muumuu on her wedding day.

And her love of ballet and gymnastics was already being threatened by her anxiety about the clothing they required. Dozens of times the getting dressed pre-class stress brought about a defeated “I don’t even want to go.” And the couple times I recklessly threatened to take her out of those classes, she’d be so upset she’d just say “Good.”

Then one morning, finally dressed, coat and backpack on, but still weepy standing by the front door, Kate looked at me and said, “You and Daddy just don’t understand.”

Which, as you can imagine, broke my heart into a million billion pieces.

So I called the doctor. Was Mark right? Did Kate need some tough love? Was I right? Was something really wrong with her?

Maybe, he said, we were both kinda right. (Or both wrong, depending on how you look at it.) Kate’s getting-dressed dramas could be 50% power play and 50% Something Else. Or 30/70 or 90/10. But to determine what that Something Else could be, we’d need a specialist. So he referred me to an Occupational Therapist.

I gave her the run-down on Kate’s Great Clothing Freak-Outs over the phone. And for every question she asked me that I answered “no” to, I was thrilled. There’s nothing better than realizing things could be worse. Much worse.

The therapist thought Kate might have a mild case of something called Sensory Defensiveness. (It’s not the bigger, scarier Sensory Integration thing I’ve heard about. Phew.) She described it this way: When people with Sensory Defensiveness are touched by something that doesn’t feel good, instead of saying, “This is itchy, I’ll take it off now,” they go into a sudden full-bore panic. They have an extreme emotional reaction. It’s like they have to claw it off their body.

Why yes. Sounds like Kate.

This defensiveness can extend to other things, like not being able to be touched or hugged or washed. Or freaking out at the feeling of rain on your skin. And it can extend to other senses too. But blessedly, the OT’s long line of questions showed that what Kate’s got is pretty limited in scope.

What ensued was an in-person assessment at this woman’s office. She played little games with Kate. She blindfolded her then poked her with the sharp and dull end of a paperclip, seeing if she could tell the difference. She tested Kate’s core strength, and asked whether she could make out letters that were drawn on her back.

And then she gave us a brush. A little yellow thing that’s actually used to clean the silk off of corn cobs.

She taught me how to brush Kate’s skin a certain way. I also had to do these weird joint compressions. Hold her thigh with one hand and her shin with the other and kinda press them together towards her knees. But do it on her shoulders, arms, and ankles too.

Kate didn’t seem to mind it. I think the brush part actually felt like a little massage. Which was good seeing as we’d have to do this to Kate every two hours. Waking hours, that is. For two weeks.

The OT’s other directive was that firmer touch was better. Firm hugs. Firmly drying Kate off after baths, wrapping her up tight in her towel. No light, gentle ticklish touch.

Walking to the car, I felt optimistic. But I also felt sorry for myself. Selfish, I know. But I was staring down the barrel at our Christmas vacation. Two weeks at home in Oakland. Two weeks brushing Kate every two hours.

It didn’t sound like fun. But I was holding out hope that this little damn corn silk brush could be our—or rather, Kate’s—salvation. And we were willing to try anything.

We brushed. Unsurprisingly there were no immediate results. But even going to the OT, even knowing that other kids had struggles like Kate did, seemed to help us all. Finally Mark and I had something to channel our parenting energy towards, instead of spinning and fuming and disagreeing on how to handle it.

Getting dressed over vacation got easier. Mark was off work too. He drew upon a wellspring of paternal patience and went into Kate’s room with her every morning to help her get dressed. He was so focused on making mornings more successful he was like a yogi doing some kind of heart-rate-slowing breathing. He was Houdini, hell-bent on helping Kate get into her shackles (or rather, her clothes) tear and stress-free.

After two weeks I called the OT. Did the brushing help? I wasn’t sure. She was getting dressed with less drama. But I’d also taken a ton of the clothes that I know set her off out of her room. Was it just that we didn’t need to bust ass during vacation to get out of the house? Or that we all knew this was a problem we were working to solve? Or did the brush really de-sensitize or reprogram her nerve endings somehow? I reported that Mark seemed to think things were better.

But I was too fearful to admit any degree of success.

She said to reduce the brushing and joint compression to three times a day. Which at first I did, but then somehow we fell off the wagon. Today the brush is sitting on Kate’s bureau, essentially forgotten.

And now enough weeks have gone by without morning dramas that I’m finally waking up to our new reality. I’m such a jinxy scaredy-cat parent that I was fearful to even utter the words. But last night sitting on the couch after the kids went to bed I turned to Mark. “Kate, and the clothes thing…” I didn’t even finish the sentence.

“I know!” he said. “I know.”

And then we both reached toward the coffee table to knock wood.


Hit the Road, Angel of Death

Posted: November 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Earthquakes, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff, Sisters | No Comments »

When I left Paigey’s preschool one morning a couple weeks ago, I noticed a klatch of women—other Mamas from the school—standing on the lawn. They were dabbing at the corners of their eyes with Kleenex.

It was clear something happened to someone at the school. And somehow I knew it was about a pregnancy.

In the crosswalk I caught up with a woman I knew. A mother of one of Paigey’s classmates. Tugging at her elbow, I implored without greeting her, “Okay, so what happened?”

And damn damn damn my intuition. I was right. A mom from the school whose due date was that very day, had a kicking healthy baby just the day before. But when she went to the hospital that morning, she found out that her baby had died.

So sickeningly sad. Someone said later it was strangled by its own umbilical chord. What brutal live-giveth-and-taketh-away irony.

“Oh God, oh God,” I said, wrapping my arms around my stomach on the sidewalk. “Do you know her name?” Because, as it turned out, I know a pregnant woman—someone I’ve worked with and like a great deal—whose son goes to the preschool. From her Facebook posts, I was pretty sure her due date was that day.

It turned out it was NOT my friend. That in that tiny school there were actually two women with the same due date. And although it didn’t diminish the tragedy of the whole thing, I still felt like I’d dodged a kind of bullet. If only by association.

Do you ever go through phases where your computer monitor fizzles and goes black, your car’s transmission gives out, and you drop your cell phone in the toilet? All in the same week? It’s as if there’s some mechanical technological curse on you. If you touch it, it will cease to function—invariably days after its warranty expired.

I feel like I’m currently in that mode, but with people.

Not long ago my sweet Uncle Adolph (no relation to the Nazi) passed away. It was his time. I mean, he was very old, and had been wrangling with Alzheimer’s. But those things make it no easier to grapple with the fact that someone who you knew is suddenly just not here any more.

Uncle Adolph was married to one of my mom’s favorite sisters, Scottie. I think her real name was Sophie, but I never once heard her called that. The two of them were known as “Scottie and Ade.” How much does that rock?

They lived in a small house on a big piece of land on the outskirts of mom’s home town. And what I remember of him is this: Uncle Adolph had a huge garden. In his day job, he was something else. A custodian of some sort, I think. But in his heart, he was a gardener.

We’d pick things from his garden in the evenings, right before dinnertime. He called cucumbers ‘cukes’ which was weird and cool to me. He didn’t talk much, but he’d wipe dirt off a big yellow squash or an eggplant or a strawberry and say, “Now THAT’S a good one,” then hand it to me.

We lived two hours away, so I didn’t see him often or know him very well. But it always felt special being welcomed as an insider into his garden world.

In fact, whenever I conjure a vegetable garden in my mind’s eye I see Uncle Adolph’s garden. I think of him most of the time I’m chopping up cukes too.

Early last week I got a sister-wide email. The four of us mass communicate this way sometimes. But the contents of this one were a bummer. Dad’s long-time neighbor and best friend Eddie had died. A man in his mid-80s, who you’d have sworn wasn’t a day over 65.

Dad and Eddie did projects. Built birdhouses, step-stools for grandchildren, and did all the standard house maintenance stuff. Eddie had a few years on my father, but was vivacious as all get out, and handy as hell. Dad would ask Eddie to help him do something like bring the AC units from the garage to the upstairs bedrooms. And I can’t say this for sure, but I picture Dad acting in more of a ‘supervisory’ role, while Eddie did the actual (and proverbial) heavy lifting. It wouldn’t be weird to see Eddie dangling from a tree in dad’s yard, sawing off a rotting branch.

Regardless of who did what, or whose tools they used, there was no score-keeping between those two. They were a good team.

Eddie’s wife passed away a couple months ago. He was understandably sad, but hanging in. Back to his projects and puttering, and eating occasional dinners at Dad’s. But then, per my sister’s email, the lights were on in the house when they shouldn’t have been, or something like that, which made Dad concerned. Especially when Eddie didn’t answer the phone.

So Dad let himself in with his key, and found his dear friend sitting slumped over the dinner table. Quietly, suddenly, gone.

Eddie will be sorely missed.

I spent a long time hiding death from Kate. Even if I was doing something like throwing away brown neglected house plants, if she asked me why I was doing it I’d avoid saying they “died.” Silly, I know, but I feared the domino effect of her busy mind. If a plant could die, then couldn’t a person? And if a person could die, then didn’t that mean me or her Dad—or other people she loves—could? Or even her?

I felt utterly unequipped to navigate those conversations. I hate thinking about all that stuff myself. So why not extend her innocence for as long as possible?

Around that time I came across an old book of mine that Kate nearly-instantly love love loved. Oh, and me too. It’s called Koko’s Kitten, and it’s about that gorilla, Koko, who learned to communicate using sign language. And if that wasn’t cute enough, she also became friends with a kitten.

Big tough gorilla. Wee wittle kitten. Lots of pictures of them snuggling. Name one thing better.

I read the book dozens of times to Kate, always avoiding the part where the kitty cat, All Ball, gets killed. Yes, this amazing story of cross-species friendship takes a sudden tragic turn when All Ball gets offed by a car. A brutal plot twist even for us grown-ups. Thankfully, with a pre-literate toddler it’s fairly easy to bluff your way through the sad parts.

I guess one of the reasons I hid death from Kate for so long has to do with my own childhood experience of coming to understand death. I remember it so clearly. I was in the car with my mom, driving by Almacs grocery store, and I suddenly pieced together the fact that “old people die” and my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was old.

I was sobbing. Struck with panic over the unfairness of it. Heartbroken by the thought of Bopchi being gone.

My mother, ever the realist, responded to my fearful questions by saying something like, “Well, yes, she probably will die soon.”

Note: This did not make me feel better.

This is why, after the devastation in Haiti, when Kate nervously asked if we have earthquakes in San Francisco, I paused for a beat then said, “Noooooooo. Earthquakes HERE? Never happen.”

But Kate’s a world-weary kindergartener now. Today’s five-year-olds seem like the third-graders of my youth. Which is to say, she’s hip to death. Our friends’ pets have died. Kate knows my mom died before she was born. And, thanks to my NPR habit, she’s heard on the car radio about soldiers, bomb victims, and others dying. (Try as I do, turning down the volume after something unsavory is broadcast never seems to work.)

Sometimes weighty news like the death of her great grandpa barely registers with Kate. I’ve actually wanted her to feel sadder. (Guess I’ve come a long from the days of throwing out house plants that “weren’t happy anymore.”) Then Kate surprises me by sobbing on her bed and drawing ‘I Miss You’ cards for a neighborhood cat we barely knew.

It must be her way of regulating only what she can manage to process. I should have trusted Nature to have built into her something that helps her do that.

As for me, the day of the sad drop-off at Paige’s school I saw my still-prego friend Margot at afternoon pick-up. I was so thrilled, so very relieved to see her in her healthy baby-filled state, I nearly took a running leap to straddle her belly in a full-body hug.

But I was even happier to hear that nearly two weeks after she was scheduled to make her appearance, her cute-as-the-dickens long-lashed baby girl was born. Hooray! Mother and baby are all aglow and love-drenched and healthy (if not a bit frustrated by all the waiting).

Take that, Angel of Death.

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