All I Want for Christmas

Posted: December 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Other Mothers, Scary Stuff | 11 Comments »

My friend Lily is having brain surgery today to remove a tumor. And if all goes well, ten days from now she’ll have a second, smaller brain tumor vaporized with a kind of turbo-charged super focused radiation.

Needless to say, this was not part of the plan.

Of course, cancer never is part of the plan, but Lily has already been down this hellish road. It started with breast cancer, which she soon found had made its way into other parts of her body. She slogged through a year of surgery, chemo, and radiation, and endless doctors appointments, tests, scans, and a host of other drugs.

And then one day she and her husband and kids hosted a huge ice cream social blow-out at their house because her treatments were finally over. Ding dong the wicked cancer was dead.

She spent the past 13 months cancer free. I’d get thrilling texts saying she’d just had a scan and it was completely and utterly negative. And we—her parents, her brother, her friends, her children, her neighbors who had delivered dinners and even cocktails—we all exhaled.

But recently she started having issues with her legs. When an hour-long walk had been a breeze weeks before, she was suddenly taxed after a 20-minute stroll. And when another scan blessedly showed her to still be cancer free, she got an MRI of her brain. And so here we are.

Or she is. Because as much as any of us want to go with her on this journey, share the pain, truly empathize, what makes me sob for my friend at times is the terrifying fear that must spike through her because this is all taking place in her body. Not even her husband who has no doubt felt immense terror, can know, can truly share, what it is she is feeling.

My mother had what I can only explain as a New Englander’s sensibility about misfortune. If someone we knew was gravely ill or if someone close to them had died Mom was a proponent of “not bothering them.” Sure she’d drop off a homecooked dinner on their front porch, but even a phone call she often felt was too intrusive.

And so, in the same way that I buy Tide laundry detergent and whole milk and vote Democratic because my mother did, I followed suit. Then when I was in my twenties my boyfriend, a long-term beau who I’d recently broken up with, died suddenly. And while I went through those first days in a miserable haze, people reached out to me—even when they said they didn’t know what to say (frankly, I didn’t know either) or all they could muster was the stiff, traditional “I’m sorry for your loss,” I was so so grateful. I could barely crawl out of bed but my answering machine was collecting all kinds of love and support and offers to “do anything—anything you need.” Even the calls I never managed to return helped me through an immensely bleak time.

So I changed my tune. I don’t worry about bothering people in their “time of need” any more.

The thing is that being the person reaching out can be awkward. Scary even. Even with a really close friend, through Lily’s rough patches I’ve struggled with wanting to say and do the perfectly appropriate thing, bring the right little indulgence to her, be the one she knew she could lean on in her darkest hour. And really, that all amounts to so much selfishness, right? It’s like wanting to get an A in friendship. It’s like making someone else’s problem all about you.

The thing is that I’ve learned so much about how to do all this stuff from Lily herself. She was a rock to me when my mom was sick. I don’t even remember the things she said or did but they were always so genuine and spot-on. When I’d be stupidly annoyed with other people, or when I’d act out and be inappropriate or too drunk or emotionally unstrung, Lily got it. Got me. Reeled me in. Helped me out. Was just there and unwavering. And so I want with everything, really everything I’ve got, I want to be that amazing friend for her. I want to find the magic lynchpin to set her free from all this.

And I’m so pissed off that The Big C has randomly struck her of all undeserving people.

Saturday as our kids decorated gingerbread houses in her dining room, devouring half the candy and gouging their fingers into the sugar frosting to even eat the “glue,” Lily and her husband and our friend Maureen talked in the kitchen. We got the in-person rundown on the treatment plan, on the decision about doctors and hospitals, on the wonderfully optimistic comments made by the surgeons and oncologists. And, true to form, Lily’s attitude about it all helped me. Even though all this crap is happening to her, she’s helping me get through it.

I haven’t seen her cry once during this. Not once has she pulled me aside to confess how terrified she is. She hasn’t vomited up an emotional tidal wave of fears about her wonderful young children and what their mother being sick is doing to them. And it’s not that I need to see that, but I worry about the things that happen when she’s not being positive and “we’ll get this because we have to” about it all.

She opened the door to her house yesterday wearing huge yellow foam Minnie Mouse slippers. They were utterly ridiculous, but totally perfect.

I hugged her hello and we both looked down at her feet. “We’ve got to have some levity around here, right?” she said.

Anyway, if you’re reading this I feel like I want to give you some assignment to help out somehow because I’m a huge believer of strength in numbers. What can you do? Send happy healing thoughts Lily’s way today. Or if you’ve got some extra anger and hatred on tap, send some of that energy towards those frickin’ tumors. Hung up on what to buy someone for the holidays? Consider a donation to an organization that’s funding cancer research. (Here’s one–and I’d love to hear of others that put money to good use.)

As for me, I’m going to do some version of praying my way through this day. And I’m crossing everything off my wish list. All I want for Christmas is for my dear friend Lily to be happy and whole and well.


Katie Couric in the House

Posted: August 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Mom, Other Mothers, Travel | 5 Comments »

On Sunday I got back from BlogHer, which was in New Yawk City this year. There were more than 5,000 attendees, nearly all gals. It’s a hen party extraordinaire. Picture men’s rooms reconfigured with curtains covering urinals, and hordes of card-swapping bloggers who probably all have synchronized periods now.

There’s also a lot of goofy dancing the parties, with women wearing unicorn horns, tiaras, and even McDonalds bags on their heads. It’s kinda like an eighth grade dance at a really big girls’ school where everyone wears name tags.

If you like that kinda thing.

After attending Erma and Mom 2.0 this spring, I realized was a bit maxed on standard blog conference fare. How many times can I hear how to increase site traffic while still never taking it to heart? The agenda felt like a menu packed with nothing I was in the mood to eat.

But you go to these events for the people. I bunked with Jill, and bowled with Tracey. It took a cross-country trip to lay eyes on five-and-dime homies Heather ‘n Whitney from Rookie Moms and 510 Families. I reconnected with sweet-as-can-be Jennifer from World Moms Blog. The Bearded Iris cheered me on when I got picked for the LTYM open mic (though instead of this I shoulda read the post I wrote for her). And I had great chats with some homeschoolin’ mamas, Daze of Adventure Jenn, joy-finding mother-of-seven Rachel, and queen bee Nicole. I’m hoping they can teach me math some day.

The keynotes were impressive too. This dude named Barack Obama addressed the conference via live video. Heard of him? With my great timing this took place while I was still on the train, cursing Amtrack’s crappy wi-fi.

Martha Stewart showed for lunch on Friday. She wore fab-u-LUSS orange platforms but otherwise didn’t set my heart a flutter. There was a lot of “we’ve made THOU-sands of products” and “thank GOD my driver was there” kinda talk. I think I prefer Prison Martha.

The gal who did have me swooning was Saturday’s keynote, the incomparably cute Katie Couric. You just wanted to go home with her to do pedicures and oatmeal facials, and to raid her closet. She’s like your old college roommate who hit the big time. During her talk Marinka tweeted, “It’s impossible not to adore her.” True dat.

Since I’ve been too busy hobnobbing with bloggers to actually blog, I’m sharing a post I wrote in June 2006, when Katie was leaving the Today show.

Read it and weep, peeps.

*  *  *

Farewell, Katie

Katie Couric, that is. For those sub-stone dwellers, Wednesday was Katie Couric’s last day after a 15-year stint on the Today show. And uncool as it is to admit, it kills me that she’s leaving. This is right up there with my despair over Judging Amy going off the air, though the Katie Couric thing is probably remotely more socially-acceptable to admit.

The thing is, I didn’t even watch the Today show very often. Still, it was somehow comforting knowing it was there. I’m one of those can’t-have-the-TV-on-when-it’s-sunny-out types. Or at least, I’m assuming there are others like me, and that collectively we make up a type. So the last time I really indulged in the show was during The Rains.

There’s truly something down-to-earth and likeable about Katie Couric. She’s articulate and all, but can be really goofy too. She shares a good deal of personal stuff on the show that makes her seem all normal, not like some rich celebrity. Not that I didn’t already know everything that there was to know about Katie from my mother.

My mother was a world-class Katie Couric fan. Aside from the more largely known facts of her husband’s death from colon cancer, my mother knew that Katie was one of four girls, and the youngest. (Starting to sound familiar?) She was the celeb daughter my mother never had. For all her accomplishments, my mother was bursting with maternal pride. She’d ruefully express concern over Katie’s bad haircuts or love-life exploits. It seemed that despite the fact that Mom was one of millions of other fans, my mother saw herself as having a unique connection to Katie Couric. I guess that’s the secret to her success.

For the record, my mother also adored Matt Lauer. “He got his start in Rhode Island, you know!” For anyone who might have thought he cut his teeth in some other market, my mother had a grass-roots campaign going to ensure she spread the word that he started on Evening Magazine in Providence—back when he even had hair!

So, once in an unusual twist of Bruno-family geo-positioning, my sister Ellen, my mother, and I were all in New York City at the same time. Mom was watching Ellen’s kids while she attended some film thing, and I was passing through to visit Mike and Lorin before a trip home to Bristol. The gods would never smile on us this way again, I thought. My mother was hardly one for jaunting off to NYC at the drop of a hat. I suggested I pick her up at a painfully early hour at her hotel, and we make ourselves part of the nuisance that gathers outside the Today show studio. My mother was thrilled with the idea. I think she got plenty of mileage out of the adventure before we even went.

Of course, that morning I woke up with the after-affects of a few glasses of wine throbbing through my skull. But I felt like a parent who’d promised an excited child something. I dragged myself awake and managed to shower and get from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Tragically, Katie Couric was out that day. We were peering into the studio and didn’t see her. I thought my mother would be crushed, but she brushed it off and focused her attention on the dashing Matt Lauer. “Look at the cut of his suit. Those pants!”

Mark Tivoed the show that day, and in a pan of the crowd you can see Mom and I waving along with all the other camera-hungry fans. And I have some good photos too. Mom was wearing a blue scarf on her head babushka-style.

When she was sick she told me that day was one of her “highlights.” And in the days that I was home taking care of her, we would wake up every morning and tune into the show on the old kitchen TV with the rabbit-ears antenna. Even when she was in an ornery sick-of-being-sick mood, or I was stressed because she wasn’t eating the eggs I’d cooked her, we’d sit in front of the Today show and let the light and chipper mood of it all wash over us.

Of course, half the fun was making fun of things. “Celine Dion. What a puke,” she’d say. Or we’d ravage the culinary merits of the meal a guest chef had prepared.

So last night I finally tuned into my recording of Katie’s final show, and had a good bawl. With Mom gone, the show had provided me with some connection, some continuation with her. And not only does it kill me that she wasn’t around to call when the announcement was made that Katie was leaving, it just sucks that for me here now it won’t be the same any more.

As my sister Marie pointed out, Mom would’ve been happy at least that Meredith Viera was stepping in. She went to the Lincoln School in Providence, you know.


Little Miss Death

Posted: July 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, California, Cancer, Death, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 2 Comments »

While your daughters’ minds are filled with unicorns, rainbows, and kitty cats, my kid’s current obsession is death. And I only wish I was kidding.

We’re in Rhode Island for our epic summer visit. Apparently the humidity has clouded my writing brain. Or maybe it’s the gin. At any rate, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. To make up for it I’ve been putting on fireworks shows around the country to keep you entertained. Hope you’ve been enjoying them.

But Paigey’s fascination with death started in California. It’s been several weeks now. She asks me things like, “Who is the first person what died?” and “When you die where do your thinkings go?” These are all excellent questions that make me certain she’s the next Nietzsche.

I never know what to say to her other than, “That’s a good question, Paige.” Because really, who WAS the first person to die? And how much did that have to freak out his roommate?

Of course, as with most of the embarrassing things kids do, Paige likes to broadcast her perverse interest to others. On a recent playdate she walked into the kitchen to inform her friend’s mom, “You’re going to die some day. Everyone dies some day.” Then, “Can I have some milk—in a sippy cup?”

And if her big sister ever gives her a marble, a dried-up Chapstick, or some other worthless trinket, Paige invariably will ask, “Can I keep this? For real? Until I die?”

At the rate all this to-her-grave crap collecting is going, Paige will be on Hoarders by age seven.

At least Little Miss Goth tends to be more easy-breezy than macabre. So I haven’t been speed-dialing therapists (yet). Like, a few weeks ago, while sitting in traffic in Berkeley she looked out the window from her car seat and softly crooned, “Puppies die… Kitty cats die…” I can’t remember the other lyrics, but all in all for a spontaneously generated song it wasn’t half bad. Kinda Joan Baez meets Joy Division.

When I do worry is when she says something like, “I wish I was a baby. That way I would have a long long time until I die.” Those comments make me panic. I don’t want anyone in my family thinking about returning to the diaper-wearing days. We are PAST that, kid. Okay?

Friends recently visited us in Oakland from Chicago. By day we wrangled our girls around town and by night we wrangled cocktails on our front porch. At one point, as I delivered a tray of whiskey sours, it struck me that the woman from the couple is a preschool teacher. So I inquired about our Mini Morticia. Should we be concerned?

Turns out our friend—a child development expert, no less—said P’s morbid mania is actually age-appropriate behavior. (She’s four.) At least, after a glass of wine, one gin and tonic, and half a whiskey sour, that’s what she said. And I’m choosing to believe it.

Especially since the girl isn’t ALL hell and brimstone. She’s a smiley little thing, and friendly as a puppy. Paige has other interests besides death, like orphans, hats, homeless people, the San Francisco Giants, and the blue-eyed boy Jonathan from her preschool. She’s a surprisingly well-rounded little weirdo.

The other day Paigey circled my desk like a shark as I checked email. “What’s the sick you can die from?” she asked while combing the ends of my hair with a small pink My Pretty Pony brush.

Me, distracted. “Cancer?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. And a minute or so later, “How do you make a C again?”

I tore my eyes from my screen and outlined a C on a pile of papers with my finger.

Paige took the handle end of her plastic brush and traced a C on my upper arm.

“What’s the next letter?” she asked.

Me, engrossed in the contents of my computer: “The next letter in what, honey?”

“In cancer!” she yelped, with the handle of her brush poised intently near my arm.

I snapped my attention away from my screen and looked at Paige. “Whaaat? Please don’t write cancer on me, Paigey. Even if it’s not with a real pen.”

Her eyes grew wide, “No, Mama!” she wailed. “NOT to have! I make for you not to have!”

The girl was administering some shamanistic death immunization with a My Pretty Pony hairbrush. And given all she knows about the subject, I probably should have let her finish.

Instead I closed the lid of my laptop and said, “How ’bout we get some ice cream?”


Tears of a Non-Football Fan

Posted: March 4th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Little Rhody, Mom, Moods | 4 Comments »

About a month ago I cried about the New England Patriots. This took place the night before the Super Bowl, mind you. And it had nothing to do with the team, their ensuing game, or giving a rat’s ass about football whatsoever. It had to do with the last time they won the Super Bowl. Or at least, what was happening in my life at that time.

For some reason I thought about this as I was brushing my teeth to go to bed. As I thought of our next day’s plans—going to a friend’s house to watch the game—a distinct image popped into my mind, and started me bawling.

It was of a long table that was set up as you entered the cafeteria at Rhode Island Hospital. It was 2004 and the Patriots had just won the Super Bowl. And three adult goofballs dressed top to bottom in Patriots-branded, -logoed, and -colored clothing, were selling t-shirts. Or giving away memorabilia. Or something. The women were wearing plastic dangly football helmet earrings, the man some sort of over-sized foam hat.

They were assaultingly upbeat, overly-chatty, and blindingly bright. If Saturday Night Live were to do a parody of three football fans who were manning a table selling sports schwag, this would be what they’d look like.

I half-expected Will Ferrell to jump out from behind the rack of cafeteria trays and start doing a Patriots cheer.

My mother and I managed to make our way past the Patriots posse without becoming ensnared in their boosterism. To call Mom and I football fans would be an outrageous, imprisonable lie. Neither of us had ever really watched a game, nor did we understand the most fundamental rules of play. And, as with all things we personally didn’t care for, we felt compelled to mock those who did.

I have no idea what it was my mother muttered under her breath to me that day, but I’ve no doubt it was brutal and hilarious.

So then, it was that little flash of a memory that got me teary. Okay, so maybe it was closer to sobby.

Thinking of that dumb table of dumb people was like a time machine blast back to the days when my mom and I were no stranger to that hospital. In fact, we had little routines set up—bunches of them. I’d drop her at the curb, park the car, meet her in the waiting room. I’d have my needlepoint, she’d have her crossword puzzle books. Between appointments we’d moon over how sweet her oncologist was, and we’d walk the long mural-lined hallways to the cafeteria where we’d both get the soup we’d decided “wasn’t half-bad.”

We came to know nurses. We smiled at receptionists. We complimented cheerful hot pink cardigans. And every new doctor my mother met she’d insist was “about 14 years old.”

The telling of it makes it seem nearly pleasant, and in some ways we made it so. Mom was a pro at pretending none of it was happening—so I had a good mentor. She’d shop at her small-town grocery store weighing 90 pounds and wearing a wig, but lecture my sisters and I to not tell anyone she was sick. Everyone just played along.

Minus her intermittently nauseous chemo days, or the bad-news doctor’s appointments, or the moments when she seemed to be vying for Most Ornery Patient (for which she was a worthy contender) we maintained a sort of emotional equilibrium.

But this veneer of pleasantness came with a persistent low-grade stomach ache. Mine that is. Little breaks in the day—counting out a fist-full of pills and marking them off on the refrigerator spreadsheet—reminded me that my days having a mother were a limited time engagement.

An undercurrent of heartache was lurking inside me, waiting for any chance it could get to rise up from the strict diet of denial that my mother had put us all on.

Thinking of that damn Patriots table was like an express train to that slice of time. A stretch I rarely harken back to now. There’s not much reason to, really. Most memories skip over that period to all the pre-cancer days. And in a numbers game kind of way, there are simply many more of those for me to draw from. Thank God.

But here’s what’s weird. As I sobbed with my foamy toothbrush sticking out of my mouth, it somehow felt kinda good to feel so bad. To connect with such a raw emotion about my mom again. All these years have diluted that heart-wrenching time for me. Now I’m used to her not being here. I’ve nearly lost the urge to pick up the phone and call her (unless I hear interesting news about a childhood friend). I can even think of her now and feel happy.

Tapping into this bygone sorrow got me thinking I should go back to the hospital on my upcoming trip to Rhode Island. I was even thinking I’d take the girls.

I’m not sure why this seemed like a good idea, or what I was intending to do there. Trust me, the chicken soup wasn’t that good. I guess I hoped wandering through one of our last stomping grounds might make me feel closer to my mom—even if it was in a sad way.

Or maybe I was hoping some nurse would recognize me—seven years later. You always want to think you were memorable. That you were their favorites, right?

I got back from Rhode Island last week, and while I was there I never made it to the hospital. By the time I touched down—hell, by the time I woke up the day after my tooth brushing tear-fest—I was in a totally different space. In fact, when I thought again about the table of goofball football fans I realized something about that moment. As my mother and I were walking past and secretly mocking them, they were looking at us and seeing a somewhat shell-shocked woman guiding along her older, very sick mother.

Interesting to put yourself in the foam Patriots hat sometime.

Anyway, those poor chumps were no doubt just trying to bring some cheer to people’s days. Distract folks from their current states of mind. And that day—and again the other night—in a twisted way, they certainly did.


Mewy Cwistmas!

Posted: December 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I asked a mom at Kate’s school a casual question. And I’ve been feeling bad about her answer ever since.

It was at morning drop-off. I’d hustled Kate into her classroom on time. Phew! I was dashing down the school’s front steps, dragging Paige by the hand with the frazzled determination of a working mom with one more kid to ditch before fighting commuter traffic into the city. And I saw a mom I kinda know standing there. She was waiting to lead a tour.

“How’re you surviving the holidays?” I called over my shoulder. This, I later realized, is my go-to seasonal greeting to other mothers.

“Eh,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders. “I’ll be happy when it’s over. This isn’t my favorite time of year.”

It was not one of those eye-rolling oh-life-is-hectic-but-I’m-getting-it-all-done kinda responses. The reaction I realized I’d come to expect. My off-the-cuff question was the kind of quick check-in mamas often do at the holidays, back to school time, birthdays—when we’re feeling particularly taxed. These passing exchanges are sympathetic nods to each other. Our way of saying, I hear your life is crazy now, hang in there sister.

But this woman was clearly not referring to having too much shopping to do. She wasn’t feeling harried about having to juggle cookie-baking parties or get everyone packed for a ski trip. She wasn’t begrudging the maternal mayhem that’s often the necessary underpinning of busy, fun family times.

I’m not sure what makes her want the holidays to just be over—and that morning on the school steps wasn’t the time to find out. But several times since our brief exchange I’ve thought about her.

In fact, the next day we went to the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. It’s become a tradition between my sister, my niece, Kate, and me. And this year for the first time Paigey was old enough to come too.

Getting there was painful. Kate argued about wearing a dress. She refused to wear tights. She sat on the floor of her room crying, wailing, and miserable. I finally consented to letting her wear yellow and gray striped socks—the only ones she deemed comfortable. (Not a great look with a red dress and black flats.) We scrambled into the car late and tear-strewn, with me threatening to not take Kate in future years if she couldn’t get dressed. I’m guessing this isn’t the best way to manage a child with sensory issues around clothing.

But our fashion meltdown wore off somewhere between Oakland and San Francisco. The local all-Christmas radio station plus the pretzel snacks I’d grabbed took hold. And as we walked up the grand steps of the SF Ballet, fake snow flurries pumping out over the sidewalk, I got a deep hit of just how lucky we were to be there. That we live in this amazing cosmopolitan place. That we can afford this beautiful magical experience each year. That we are happy, healthy, and together, and spiffed up in our best winter coats—even if Kate’s socks were all wrong.

The thought of the mother at Kate’s school zipped through my head, and I took a big breath and exhaled before walking in. We are here, I thought, and this is so amazing. It was like the Ghost of Christmas Present came and tapped me on the shoulder. “Be here now,” she said. “Hug your daughters. Drink it in. Not everyone gets to do this.”

Message received.

A few nights later my sister had a Christmas party. Her huge Victorian was packed with adults, kids, food, dogs, a roaring fire in the fireplace. At one point Mark gave Paige a bite of the cookie he was eating. One of those Magic Cookie Bars with the graham cracker base, a mid-layer of chocolate, and walnuts on top. They scream of the the Bruno house circa 1979. And I love that my sister still makes them.

Within minutes Paige was in a crying fit. She was thrashing on the couch, yelling that her tongue felt funny and that she wanted water. I somehow attributed her behavior to the late hour and the crowd. But then I realized it was the nuts. Weeks earlier she’d had an encounter with walnut oil and her lip swelled up. D’oh!

Before swallowing the full dose of Benadryl, she barfed everywhere. And I had a full dose of maternal guilt for having ignored the earlier warning sign.

Poor lamb. I’d call her doctor first thing in the morning to schedule allergy testing.

In the meantime I took note of my visit from the Ghost of Christmas Puke. Seems impossible to get through the holidays without him stopping by.

On Wednesday we went to my friend Lily’s house to make gingerbread houses. It was super fun and the holiday huts turned out swell. I even managed to not micro-manage the girls’ design choices! And the kids didn’t slip into diabetes-induced comas from all the candy they horked down while decorating (eat one, stick one to the house, eat two…). We took this as a small victory.

But the biggest victory no one even talked about was that Lily just had her last radiation treatment. After a brutal year of surgery, chemo, radiation, and endless doctor visits, she is DONE. Officially out of the woods. Yee-ha!

I’d sent her flowers with a note that said, “Thank freaking God that’s over.” It was one of those embarassing-to-recite-to-the-florist messages, but one that needed sayin’.

As I watched Lily help her kids shellack their house’s roof with frosting—rocking her fabulous wig with the style and beauty only she could—I noticed The Ghost of Christmas Past stroll behind her, then slip out the door, taking Lily’s crappy year with him. I’ve never been happier to see someone go.

Let’s keep that cancer stuff in the past, shall we? On to a happy and healthy new year.

In fact, we’ve had our own health scare around here. A close family member went through a series of tests that all seemed to be pointing in a very bad direction. But suddenly, the last most rottenly invasive—but decisive—test came back negative. Clean. Nada, zip, zilch.

Perhaps you heard me letting out an all-body phew when I got that call?

Can I say THAT really knocks things into perspective? Your shopping may not be done, and the star on your tree might be missing, but someone called and said “the test came back negative.”

That’s all the gifts I need, thanks. The garland on my mantle may be a bit bedraggled, but the things that matter in life are a-okay.

And really, my garland is actually quite perfect.

But thank you, thank you, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, for that mega-dose of things-could-be-worse. But they are thrillingly, blessedly, not. In fact, they are most excellent, with clear sailing ahead.

Knock wood.

It’s nearly dinnertime on Christmas day. After an abundant morning of gift-opening, we headed out with the girls and Mark’s parents for a hike in the Redwood forest. And my geek-chef husband is about to remove our free-range, organic, fancy-pants turkey breast from the immersion circulator. (Ah yes, just like mom used to make.)

I am not someone who’ll be happy when the holidays are over. For that I am eternally grateful.

Throughout these past couple weeks I’ve been sending out little wishes to that mama I talked to on the steps of Kate’s school. Here’s to hoping she enjoyed the holidays more than she thought she would this year.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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Keeping it Real

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Manners, Miss Kate, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

I am a Nazi about thank you cards. Sending them, that is.

And like all people with militant beliefs, I work hard to instill them in my children. Call me old school, uptight, or etiquette-bound, but I want writing thank you notes to become second nature to my kids.

As it turns out, I have no need to worry. At least with my oldest child, Kate, who is a great maker of cards. A tremendous and relentless maker of cards. It’s somehow just in her genes, I guess. And I know that my mother—an ardent disciple of Emily Post—would approve.

Not all Kate’s cards are thank yous. No, she whips up cards for birthdays, sick friends, Valentine’s Day, the death of a pet. When she learned that Paige’s teacher broke his foot last year, she immediately dashed off a card. She made another to bid adieu to our dear gaybors the night before they moved. (Just a few blocks away, but we’re all still sick about it.)

The heart-shaped card she enclosed when we mailed Halloween candy to the troops said, “Dear soldiers, thak you for protecting the U.S.A. Soldiers rok! p.s. My name is Kate.”

(P.P. S. I told her how to spell ‘soldiers.’)

Kate made a card to welcome her pet fish, Karen. It’s hanging by the fishbowl in a spot, I assume, where Karen can easily read it. It says, “Dear Karen I hop you like your noo hom! Your onr Kate.”

The “your onr” line still slays Mark.

I admit, Kate’s thank you note routine has been a bit trying at times. Now that she can write—albeit with her school-condoned “creative spelling”—she’s not just doodling on the sea of notes that I churn out. She labors over each one. I’ll have a list of 20-plus gift-givers to get through and Kate will get hung up on one card for 15 minutes, cutting an elaborate snowflake decoration to enclose with it. I don’t want to stifle her creativity, but I do want to get the birthday thank yous out before we get snowed with the Christmas ones.

The contents of Kate’s notes range from the fascinating non sequitur variety—”Thanks for the book. I just had hot choklit!!”—to the brutally basic. To her great grandmother she recently wrote, “I put the muny in my banc akont.”

There are also the times when Kate’s spelling is inadvertently inappropriate. There was the series of cards that said, “Thak you for cuming to my party.”


She wrote a thank you note to a neighbor who gave her magic markers. The pens, it turned out, were permanent ink. Mark and I discovered this after an art sesh left indelible marks on our dining room table.

The first draft of that note went something like, “Thank you for the magic markers. My mother took them away from me.”

I certainly want to encourage honesty, but I asked for a do-over on that one.

Today we were invited to an ice cream party. My friend Lily was celebrating the end of her chemotherapy (yay!), so she invited 60 friends, relatives, kids, and neighbors to her house for an old school ice cream social. It was the perfect fun lighthearted celebration to mark the end of a truly trying and terrible year.

Now, as you may know, I tend to be a rosy sunshiny, hide-the-bad-details-from-the-kids kinda mom. I’m the one who has assured a worried child there are no robbers in Oakland. I’ve gone so far as to brush off the notion that earthquakes could ever take place in the Bay Area. (“Here? Pishaw!”)

But when Lily got sick I didn’t sugarcoat it for my kids. They’d seen me sniffle and weep after bad-news phone calls, so they knew something was up. But that wasn’t why I was so unlike-me honest about it. The situation was so real and raw, I couldn’t fathom pretending it was something else. Something not so bad.

They knew Lily was sick. And I told them she had to take a kind of strong medicine that would make her hair fall out. And that the kind of sickness she had could be really scary and bad, which is why I cried about it sometimes—because I was scared. Because some people die from it.

So this morning as we got ready to go to the end-of-chemo ice cream party, Kate asked if she could make Lily a card. And I said, “Of course. She would love that.”

Then I got really curious to see what she would write. I half-expected the card to say, “Dear Lily, I’m happy you didn’t die.”

But my concerns were unfounded.

The card said:
“Dear Lily: I am igsided thet you dot hef to tace metsin eney mor!!!!!!!! love Kate!!!!”

Of course, I bawled when I saw it. I bawled about three different times before the party, and at least once more on the way home. I bawled because I think that in getting ready to celebrate this bad hard part being over, in giving into relief, I opened some door inside myself and big blasts of how scared I’ve been snuck out too.

I was totally projecting when I thought of what Kate’s card to Lily might say. The thing that I wanted to say if I weren’t an adult and didn’t know better that it was too bracingly honest: “Please please please kick this cancer in keister. I love you so much my dear, and I really don’t want you to die.”

Because the fact is, she’s not totally out of the woods. Today’s party was like a milestone pit stop. A celebration that the end of the woods are now at least in sight.

It was a glorious sunshiny day. There was a Mickey Mouse jumpy house in full swing in the back yard. We arrived early, but before we knew it their big home was buzzing with friends chatting and laughing, kids running past our legs holding cups of ice cream.

Amidst all those people and all their talking I’m nearly certain no one actually said aloud that they’re relieved that Lily is here and alive and nearly almost altogether well. We didn’t have to. Today what we had to do was eat ice cream.

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Unfinished Business

Posted: August 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Cancer, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 3 Comments »

There was one thing my sister Ellen and I both wanted of my mother’s after she died. It wasn’t an Oriental carpet or a strand of pearls. It was a little piece of scratch paper Mom had pinned to a bulletin board. In her cramped, scrawly handwriting it said: “A well kept house is the sign of a misspent life.”

This, as it turns out, was my mother’s credo.

She wasn’t a total slob, but… how can I put this? She sometimes prioritized other things over cleaning.

I can imagine her glee stumbling across that quote one day, finding it the perfect validation for the dust bunnies under our beds and our sink full of dishes. Lesser, boring people would have their sink sparkling—but not her! She had better things to do.

I’m pretty sure that things like this skip a generation. My mother was an expert procrastinator. I grew up to be a militant project manager. She was a master of disorganization, always puttering around muttering things like, “I remember thinking I’d put that in a really good place. But where was it?” Me? I pride myself on an OCD-level of organization. And in terms of cleanliness and clutter, let’s put it this way—before I ever leave the house, I tidy up and wipe everything down as if I’ll bump into the Queen at Safeway and invite her straight home for a cup of tea.

Yes, I am NOT my mother’s daughter when it comes to housekeeping. But man, I still wanted that little hand-written note of hers. Precisely because it was so her. (Turns out, my sister kept the original and gave me a xerox copy. Which was just fine by me.)

God knows some of my less stellar parenting moments have erupted in those times of frantic leaving-the-house cleaning. I’ll have just finished picking up Cinderella playing cards littered all the way down the hall, and will walk into the living room to see that Paige has pulled every DVD off the shelf, opened the boxes, and is flinging the discs around like Frisbees. It’s that hair-pulling one step forward, two steps back thing. You finally think you’re ready to leave the house, and the baby poops. It’s inevitable.

Of course, all these leads me to the conclusion that my girls will grow up to keep towering piles of magazines around like my mother did. It will be their rebellion for having weathered my uptight neat-freakishness.

And really, if that’s the case it’d be fine by me. (As long as they let me clean when I go to their houses.) If they come by some bad habits on their own, I’m fine with that. We’re all human. But if they’re bad at something because I am? Well, that’s a different matter altogether. As a parent I want to try to breed the bad parts of me out of them.

Which is why I’ve been serving up a lot of Parental Lecture #239 lately. Which is to say, “Finish what you start.”

The thing is, I’ve been finding scores of inch-long, unfinished friendship bracelets all over the house. Someone comes to visit, Kate interrogates them about their favorite colors, and furiously starts knotting and braiding away. But inevitably something else catches her attention. She’s off with the sidewalk chalk or reading to her dolls in a fort, and that orange, black, and gray bracelet that was our friend Mike’s personal palette, is left unfinished.

She’ll start making a birthday card, then wander into the kitchen to find a snack. She’s excited about a new library book, but after two nights and two chapters, would rather we “please please pleeeez” read Ivy & Bean instead.

Now, you may be thinking that the girl is only five years old. (Or perhaps you’re wondering how old she is. Better yet, you may not give a rat’s ass.) Whatever the case, she turns six next month. So really, this kind of behavior is pretty typical kid stuff. And I get that. I certainly don’t want her goose-stepping around the house, finishing each drawing/game/activity with clinical precision, then hitting a stop watch and logging it into a book. But I do want her to understand the benefit of sticking with something. I want her to feel the satisfaction of hard work paying off. And I don’t want her to grow up to be someone who starts things and never finishes them. Like, uh… like sometimes I do.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I have a kinda mental list of all the things I’ve taken on that somehow never got off the ground. Things that excited me and inspired me and I’d even told my friends about when they asked me, “What’s new?”

And what’s funny is, I’m the last person you’d think of as a slacker. In the Enneagram—this interesting personality-mapping system that you should really buy a book about the next time you go to a ski house for a weekend with some friends—I’m a #3. The Achiever. Still somehow, I house this mild frustration within myself about all the projects I bailed on. And I guess if this is something fixable—something I can somehow deter my kids from doing—then, by gum, I’m going to try.

On New Year’s Day last year our Oakland posse came over for brunch. And we did this thing where we took the things about the prior year that we wanted to forget, or not carry into the new year, or just get over, and we wrote them on little scraps of paper. (Aren’t we SO California groovy? You probably just ate egg casserole and drank off your hang-over at your New Year’s brunch.)  Initially we stuck the papers in a little plastic doll potty I found in one of the girls’ rooms. It seemed like a good metaphor to flush those things away. But later in the day, once we had a fire in the fireplace—and a few mimosas in our systems—we started reading them aloud and tossing them into the flames.

It was good therapy. (Though I still sometimes do lose my temper with the kids.)

Anyway I wonder if, in the same vein, I can list the unfinished projects that gnaw at me here. And by virtue of enumerating and accepting them perhaps I can exorcise them from my mind.

Hell, I figure it’s worth a try.

Things I Started and Never Finished:

  • Scrapbooking. I spent HUNDREDS of dollars on papers, stickers, scalloped scissors, and flower-shaped hole punchers. I painstakingly produced a few pages–maybe six—and found I was psychotically hell-bent on making each one a creative masterpiece worthy of the Scrapbook Hall of Fame (which I think is in Cleveland somewhere near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). I got through Kate’s first five weeks of life then quit, utterly spent. Continuing at that rate would have been a 90-plus hour a week job. And that was before Paige with all her scrap-worthy moments was even born.
  • Compiling photo albums—actual book ones with pages you can turn. I can’t help but think that by the time my kids are adults the internet will be like an 8-track tape. “Photos of your first birthday? I have them right here! Don’t you worry, we just need to spark up the old internet to get them. Stand back now! This can get loud—and smokey!”
  • Hell, I’d be happy to have up-to-date photos on our Fickr account posted. Or even just downloaded onto my computer. Our digital camera is like 20 old rolls of film that have never been dropped off at MotoPhoto.
  • The marathon I attended an inspirational Team in Training meeting for 9 years ago, then gave up on after my knee got jenky after just two training runs.
  • The needlepoint of a bunny (what was I thinking?) that I worked on during endless doctor appointments, and chemo and radiation sessions with my mother. I would get SO engrossed in it, that after sitting in a stiff gray waiting room chair for an entire day, my mother would finally be ready to go and I’d beg, “Can we just stay a little longer so I can finish all the red flower petals?”
  • And that damn needlepoint reminds me of the owl hook rug I started as a kid. I had big plans for that acrylic throw rug. Big plans. I think my mom kept that unfinished masterpiece in the attic for decades after I’d abandoned it. She apparently had faith in my ability to some day complete that project. The fool.
  • There’s that book about the orchid thief, and one about a Parisian piano shop, and many many other books I started and never finished even though I always claim to be someone who “can’t start a new book ’til I finish the one I’m reading, even if I hate it.” If I ever use that line on you, know that it’s a lie. (Even though I still like to think it’s true.)
  • And of course, the biggest ugliest most brutal unfinished project—my book. Yes, my book idea that I was so impassioned and inspired and determined about, the research material for which is now sitting pitifully in a box on our basement floor. I’m not sure if my energy for it petered out because I stopped believing in my idea, or if I stopped believing in my idea because I never put enough energy into getting it rolling. If I could only get back the money I spent on childcare while trying to finish that damn proposal. It’d probably amount to the proceeds I’d have made on the book if I ever got it published.

Oh, I’m sure there are more more more things on this list. I have boxes of fabric and pillow stuffing and yarn—the vestiges of  creative undertakings that died on the vine. I have vintage buttons I planned to sew on cardigans. Growth charts for both girls devoid of hash marks for each year’s passage.

Some of this is maybe just life—you’re bound to find yourself in the not-yet-completed part of some undertaking. But at times, in the middle of the night, these things can weigh on me. My Achiever personality frets over what I’ve failed to do, instead of reveling in my accomplishments.

Last summer we vacationed with friends who have four boys. If her offspring wasn’t time-sucking enough, in her off-mama hours the woman is an E.R. doc. And a triathlete. Her husband commandeers a fairly new, wildly successful craft brewery which struggles to keep pace with the demand for their product. They’ve got one of those big white boards in their kitchen that outlines everyone’s schedule for the week. Take it from me, these people are BUSY.

But I was blown away but how thoughtfully they manage their lives on a minute by minute basis. Like how, whenever one of the boys pulls on the mom’s arm and asks, “Can you read to me? Can we play Zingo? Do you want to play freeze tag?” More often than not, her answer is Yes.

It made me realize how often my answer is No. I can’t read because I’m cooking dinner. I can’t pretend I’m your baby, I’m sending a work email. No, no no. When really, doing any of these things takes just a few minutes. (Except, of course, a hellishly endless game of Chutes and Ladders.)

But really, will the world fall apart if I play a couple hot rounds of Go Fish, instead of emptying the dishwasher right away?

When the girls want to know some day why they don’t have baby books—why I can’t remember the exact date they took their first steps, or can’t put my fingers on a photo of their kindergarten play—I hope I’ll be able to remind them of that huge hopscotch we drew along the length of our block’s sidewalk. And I hope that that will somehow be enough.

As for that book proposal? I think I just need to get off my ass.

What have you started that you never finished?


Welcome to the Team

Posted: August 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting | 7 Comments »

I have a public service announcement.

The next time you find yourself about to tell someone, “I don’t know how you do it!” please hit your internal Pause button. And while the world is freeze-framed, ask yourself whether whatever it is that the person is doing that’s wowing you so much is even something they want to be doing. Or ever imagined they’d have to do.

Then, before hitting Play and returning to live-action life, decide whether or not to open your trap.

Like, right after my mom died. Amidst effusions of sympathy (that I truly did appreciate) people would say things like, “Personally? I just couldn’t deal with losing my mother.” Or, “You and your sisters caring for your mom like you did. I just don’t know how you did it.”

The thing is, it wasn’t like we signed up for a maternal cancer crisis like you do for the NFL football package on DirectTV.

How do you do it? I don’t know. You just do it because you suddenly find yourself in the shit-sucking situation of having to.

So Saturday. Footloose and giddy with a sitter home with the kids, Mark and I skipped up to Napa to celebrate Surh-Luchtel Cellars’ ten year anniversary. An occasion which, as you might imagine, requires one to drink excessively so as to not hurt the winemaker-hosts’ feelings.

At one point in the party, a point where I’d amply soaked in the fine Surh-Luchtel product, I met the First Lady of the winery’s local Mama friends. And all loose and boozy as I was—though God knows my social skids need no greasin’—I blathered and fawned over one woman’s great haircut.

It was super short and fabulous. One of those styles that the topography of my head and the girth of my schnoz would prevent me from wearing. A look few women go for, and fewer pull off well.

Me: “Blah blah blah known Shelley for 17 years, blah blah blah perfect day for this party [panting boozy wine breath], blah blah blah I just love your hair!”

Her: “Oh, thanks. My six-year-old’s getting chemo, so I decided to shave my head when she started going bald.”

You’ll be happy to know that, even in my wine-saturated state, I didn’t start weeping, throw my arms around her neck, and sob and snot on her dress. I mean, it was the last thing I was expecting to hear on that carefree (and did I mention wine-laden?) day. But I just loved the straight-shootin’ matter-of-fact way she told me.

And I immediately wanted to shave my head too.

Tousling her hair she said it’d been growing out, and was actually fairly long at that point. She told me it’s the third time she’s shaved it. The first time, she and her husband threw a party and pledged a donation to a leukemia charity for every person who shaved their head. And forty of their friends did.

At this point, I was casing the catering table for a plastic knife so I could start lopping off my own locks.

I wanted to be her best friend. I wanted to imagine that I could handle the unthinkable misery of a child with cancer with the same degree of spunk and love and strength. All that and her hand bag was really fabulous too.

Our conversation continued with me rambling on about life and cancer and dealing the hand you get and the infinite wellspring of a Mama’s love that brings you to places of being-able-to-deal that you couldn’t imagine you could ever get to, but hey look, there you are.

I wanted her to see me as someone who got it. One of the cool people. Not one of the folks who I’m assuming react to her story with fear and discomfort, stammering out awkward apologies and aw-that’s-awfuls.

But really, she probably just thought I was drunk.

Whatever the case, before I left we exchanged blog URLs. And I found out where she got her purse. (Though, damn it, they only have the tote left.)

I’m sober now and all I can say is, MY GOD, I have no idea how she does it. And I hope hope hope I never have to find out.

It’s comforting knowing a good knee surgeon, a defense attorney, a locksmith—even though you hope you’ll never have to use their services. And now, without even looking, I found myself a model for amazing maternal behavior in the face of heartbreak. Someone who I’d be thrilled to be even one-third as impressive as, given the same situation. A most excellent addition to my team of experts.

Rock on, sister. My heart—and maybe even my hair someday—goes out to you.


Poppin’ Fresh

Posted: June 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Daddio, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 1 Comment »

How can it be that yesterday, after the Baby Trio left, Mark and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, picked up Paigey Wiggle, and had a group hug like some back-stage reality show contestants. But today I’m stressed out and sad all over again.

Damn it. Why can’t I just stay in the happy, relieved place?

First off, the three professionals who came here could not have been any nicer. I set a tray with a pitcher of ice water and glasses in front of them, and the physical therapist reacted with such gratitude and appreciation you’d think I served watercress sandwiches fit for a queen.

And you people were so worried!

And Miss Paige. Was. A. Dream. I mean, there’s always that chance that your otherwise good-natured child will act uncharacteristically satanic. Usually during dinners at the homes of childless people. Or, I feared, when she is being OBSERVED.

And nothing feels worse than finding yourself saying, “She never does this. I’ve never seen her act this way!” While laughing nervously. And muttering apologies. And dragging your kid and bags into the car before dessert’s served.

But here’s the thing. Paige had taken a solid three-hour nap that’d make even Marc Weissbluth thump her on the back with praise. She woke up pink-cheeked and chipper. And preceded to perform acts of staggering cuteness—peering up over the coffee table to play peek-a-boo with the case manager. Putting a blankie over her doll and kissing it good night to the delight of the physical therapist. Even, eventually, getting the puzzle pieces in the right places for the child dev expert, and causing Mark and I to beam proudly at each other, and discreetly text MIT we have a live one for them.

She giggled. She clapped. She preformed her butt-scooting crawl just when the PT needed to see it. And she ran through her full course of baby “tricks” all on cue, even though Mark and I realized shamefully that in prompting her do them we were angling for extra credit points.

Be that as it may, our audience took the bait. Paige was a crowd-pleaser. She was Paige. At her best.

At less than an hour in, the PT proclaimed she had a verdict. So to speak.

“It’s not her hip or knee,” she’d said earlier on. “I want to see a few more things, but I suspect it’s something more global.”

My mind made that ahhh-ROOO? noise Scooby does when he’s surprised or confused. But before I could panic, she kindly added, “But nothing-to-worry-about global. By global, I don’t mean huge.”

And breathe!

What it appears Paigey’s wrangling with is a mild case of Benign Congenital Hypotonia. Which in non-doc talk is called Low Tone, and refers to her muscle tone. She’s not walking yet because, as the PT put it, her muscles aren’t strong enough. “Just by feeling her legs I can tell. They’re soft and doughy. More than they should be for a child her age.”

This explains why I’ve always thought of Paige as a dumpling. She really is doughy. And delicious. And sweet enough to eat.

Now a professional’s even said it.

“She will walk. She will run,” the nice lady assured us. “But she’ll always have this. So, I tell parents to lower their expectations. She’ll be able to participate in sports, but she could tire out faster. She probably won’t be a star athlete.”

Thankfully, work with a physical therapist—one hour a week, to be exact—will get her strong enough to walk.

No surgery? No leg braces? And after the ensuing hour-long assessment by the child development gal, no concerns about her smarts, cognitive milestones, social prowess, yadda yadda yadda. This tone thing can be a symptom of some more serious conditions, but, blessedly, Paigey’s is not. Hence the “benign.”

Bonus factoid: If she never crawls, no biggie. Turns out there’s no scientific link to that and learning issues, or anything else wrong or ugly. Yippee!

We were relieved. We were hopeful. We were proud of Paige’s angelic behavior through two hours of testing. We were utterly exhausted.

But today, after a good night’s sleep and a hectic morning including a dance recital, a potluck at the park, and Kate and my tandem meltdowns, well, today different thoughts are whirling through my head.

For one, I recalled that at one point yesterday, one of the therapists referred to Paige as a toddler. A term I’ve never used for her because, well, she doesn’t toddle. I mean, if that alone doesn’t underscore that she’s not doing what she’d supposed to right now—what all the other kids her age are—what does?

During Kate’s dance performance, Paige nearly jumped out of my lap desperate to take part in the Big Girl action. After the show, a grandparent walked past me and remarked, “Looks like it’s time to enroll her in a class.” I could barely muster a courteous smile, as I kissed Paigey’s head and wondered how long it’ll be before she busts a move of her own.

At the picnic, when I relayed the findings to the dance class moms—friendly folks who I don’t know very well—they reacted in a way I hated. Am I just tired and emotionally thrashed, or did they suddenly look at Paige, as she sat a blanket gnawing the rind of a watermelon wedge, with some sorta tragic pity? Like she was all different or something.

One thing the PT lady had said was, once Paigey is up and walking, she might always be less coordinated than some kids, but no one’d ever know that she has this Low Tone thing. She said, Mark and I will only notice it because we know.

Packing up from the picnic, Kate pantie-less after unsuccessfully peeing in the grass and screaming that she didn’t want to leave, I thought of my mother. By now, the impulse to call her has sadly left me altogether. Instead of wanting to talk to her—which now that I think of it is what I want more than anything—I was thinking about how closely she guarded her cancer secret. Even when she weighed 90 pounds and wore a wig that made her look like Nancy Reagan, she’d go to the grocery store and tell me she’d bumped into some old friend and chatted with her but “didn’t tell her.”

We never had the heart to tell Mom that the old friend knew, by just looking at her.

What I know she was avoiding, prideful gal that she was, was people’s sympathy. Their pity. Them treating her differently. And even though I wanted her to be open and honest with her friends about what she was going through—and to attend one of the support groups we littered her house with flyers for—I got that. Even then.

Of course, Paigey’s pudgy muscles hardly warrant the same caliber of pity production. Thank God. And since our Dream Paige Team assured us that after some therapy, no one’ll be the wiser to her tone thing, I think I may take a cue from my mom and not broadcast this to people down the road.

Instead, today at least, I’m going to focus on getting back to that positive place we were at yesterday as we sunk into our group hug. I’m going to keep my eyes on the prize that this little dumpling will walk one day. And you are cordially invited to the blow-out party we’re throwing soon thereafter. (I’ve no doubt my Dad’ll spring for some good champagne.)

Seems these sweet legs were made for walkin’ after all.


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Your Coffee Table Needs to Meet this Cookbook

Posted: October 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry | 1 Comment »

I’d just like to say that I’m prouder than the mother of an honor roll student. Proud of my husband Mark, that is.

Back when Kate was a few months old, she and I tagged along with him on a work trip to Chicago. Maybe I have some Nordic blood I’m not aware of. Something that drove me to bring my wee tender infant to Chicago on a winter weekend that served up record cold. As if thrusting this defenseless small thing out into blasting bitter winds and inhuman sub-zero temps was some cultural rite of passage that if she managed to survive would result in her being given a secret name from a tribe elder.

But really I think it was just me wanting to get out of the house.

Yeah, so anyway, we went there and it was chilly. And we stayed in a schmancy hotel. And the first night Kate arcanely (and cruelly) managed to wake up every hour at the same exact time (3:14AM, 4:14AM, 5:14AM) forcing me to stick a boob in her mouth to quiet her down because Mark had to wake up the next day with some hopes of having slept enough to be an intelligent functional journalist. Those few nights comprised perhaps the most miserable ones of my infant mothering.

But all that aside, Mark and I did go out one night to an amazing restaurant called Alinea to eat the most decadent, fascinating, and theatrical meal of our lives. All 25 or so courses. Not to mention the 15 wine pairings. (But really, after the eleventh glass of wine, who can keep count?)

In fact, the business behind Mark’s trip to Chi-town was that he was interviewing that restaruant’s chef, a guy in his early thirties named Grant Achatz who’s a disciple of His Holiness Thomas Keller, and a frontiersman in the realm of molecular gastronomy. That scientifically-alchemized and post-modernistically presented haute gourmet food utterly unlike anything your mom used to make. And food that many moms–from my mother’s generation at least–might never appreciate the staggering artistic and experiential merits of. (I can hear my mother now: “You’ve got to be kidding me! For the price of that coo coo meal you could’ve put a down payment on a perfectly good house!”)

So, after that trip Mark wrote a story for Wired about Grant. They stayed in touch. Gourmet named Alinea the best Restaurant in America. Grant was named the Best Chef in the U.S. by The James Beard Foundation. Grant got cancer. He started work on a cookbook. He asked Mark to write an essay for the book. Grant also asked Geoffrey Steingarten and Michael Ruhlman to contribute. (This, by the way, is like being invited to play golf with Tiger Woods and, well, some other really amazingly super good and well-known golfer.) Grant’s cancer, blessedly, went into remission. The book, Alinea, went on sale over a week ago and I believe is now in its fourth printing. I’ll resist the cookbook/selling/hotcakes metaphor-pun.

I can’t imagine people are snatching it up because they’re in a rut about what they’ve been serving for dinner and want to mix things up a bit and wow the kids with some Surf Clam with Nasturtium Leaf and Flower with Shallot Marmelade. Or maybe have the neighbors over for Sunday football and some Foie Gras with Spice Cinnamon Puff and Apple Candy.

The book has a “How To Use this Book” intro, and it actually says that they do want you to venture to produce some of its recipes. But it’s unlikely that any non-professionals (aside from one blogger with a lot of time, patience, and ambition) would do so. Hence the brilliant term “coffee table cookbook.” Aside from the complexity of the number of components and steps and even the staggering grocery gathering that’d be required, you’d also need a kitchen stocked with a madman’s array of chemicals plus state of the art hi-tech equipment that can do things like turn fresh parsley into powder or make Gob Stopper shaped spheres filled with unexpected innards, like say, curry sauce. Or Concord grape. Or, heck, both.

Not that that’s a recipe mind you, but this book is packed with similarly mind blowing match-ups that you could never in your most drug-induced Suessian dreams conjure. And if you ever have the very very good fortune to eat at Alinea–something you really should try to do before you take all your foods up through a straw–you won’t believe you’re actually eating these sublime things all together or that you love how they taste.

And for God’s sake if you do eat there, be sure not to go with your mother or your brother-in-law or whoever it is who’ll be too freaked out by the food’s novelty or who’s an unadventurous eater or is even just an old school party pooper. Or maybe on the other hand, bring them along! Require them to just shut up and eat, and watch as the kitchen and the front-of-the-house staff knock their damn socks off! I promise you the next day they’ll quit their 17-year run at the accounting firm, hop a flight to Fiji and take up kite surfing.

But oh, where was I? The book. The book. I’m telling you, it’s like that. It’s not just like flipping through the utterly comprehensive and practical yet curveball-less Joy of Cooking. It takes you places. This is not a cookbook that you buy for your friend who likes to cook, although he certainly will love it. Buy it for someone whose culinary specialty is a toasted bagel and know there will be something that will floor and amaze even her–not to mention the people who come across it on her coffee table.

There’s science! There’s art! There’s technology! There’s food! There’s stunning photography! And there’s my husband’s name. Right there on the cover page.

So recently I suggested you make a contribution to help fund breast cancer research. Today I’m advising you to go out or go online and buy this book. Not because I want to help sales for Grant or for Mark, though they are nice guys and God knows Grant is a fascinating and crazy hard-working genius. But because this book could boost your cool quotient exponentially. Not to mention the effect it could have on many of the folks on your holiday shopping list.

Help cure cancer, save your soul, then impress your friends. You can thank me later.

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