Thursday, September 29, 2011

Of Memories And Editing (Babble)

I’ve been using most of my writing time lately to edit the manuscript I’m putting together.  I’m compiling my husband’s and my email correspondence during his first deployment back in  2006 and 2007.  A friend on the receiving end of both of our mass emails at the time said the juxtaposition of our stories would make a really interesting book.  On the chance other people think so too, I’m giving it a go.

It’s fascinating to put yourself mentally back in a place you used to be.  I’m shocked at just how much I’d forgotten, or possibly blocked out.

When Ian was deployed the first time we only had six days notice before he had to leave.  I was two months pregnant.  The girls were two and four.  I had so many responsibilities with work and teaching and performing that my life was not set up to work as a single parent and I was sent scrambling to figure out what to do.  It was a long fifteen months.
Ian’s stories are fascinating.  He was on a general’s staff dealing with information that gave him an overview of all of Iraq.  I’d forgotten just how upsetting some of his accounts were.  While sorting through and editing some of his own emails Ian actually became somewhat anxious and unhappy again.  I told him I would do the rest of it.  I shouldn’t have asked him to relive the war for my project, but I did need his help identifying what information may not be suitable for print because I don’t know what the army would approve of or not.  Now I only share with him the parts of the book about silly and funny things the kids did, which strangely mirrors the way I communicated with Ian back at the time.

I’m surprised, reading back, at just how difficult Mona was.  I remember her as being challenging, and I can still recount certain vivid moments and character traits, but she has mellowed so much that I’ve long since let most of those feelings of frustration go.  It’s strange to imagine her again as she used to be.  She didn’t really connect through talking for a long time, preferring to go through phases of only making puppy noises or quoting certain cartoons.  I had completely forgotten just how many lamps she broke.

I forgot just how much time both Aden and I spent crying.

Even if the book goes nowhere, I’m glad to be getting that crucial period of time in our family’s history down in some form for my kids to see later.  Only Aden may have vague memories of that first deployment, but it shaped so much of how we function as a family.
I wish so much I could convince my dad to write down what he remembers of his family history growing up, but he just kind of dismisses the idea when my brothers and I ask.  There have been small attempts to wrangle information out of him here or there, but nothing I could easily recount to my own kids if they asked.  My mom has created beautiful art books about my grandparents and great-grandparents, but I want to know her own story most of all.

One of the things we may sacrifice a bit as parents is a sense of our own story having much meaning after a while.  My life prior to my kids doesn’t seem as important somehow.  I enjoy focusing on my kids and the future.  But when I think how much I want to know my own parents as the people they were before I came along, I realize how much my own history may mean to my kids one day.  I don’t know what kind of time I’ll ever have to document much of my past for them, but at least this period of war and the blur of small children will be something they may find interesting.

I think especially when you have your own kids it makes you stop and reevaluate your parents not as parents but as people in a way few events do.  My children may be curious in the future how I juggled all of them with their dad away, and the ways in which their dad did his best to stay involved despite the distance and circumstances.

The one thing they may not see in the edited collection of emails is just how often their dad and I said we loved one another.  Most of my editing is removing emails that don’t advance any sort of narrative, and after the third little note that just says, “I love you” I’m sure readers would get the point.  It’s funny, though, editing out so much love and leaving in the trauma, because it’s the opposite of how I try to live my actual life.

In any case, this process of immersing myself in my own past for a bit has made me both laugh and cry, as well as make me thankful for my family all over again.  We’re in a better place today than we were five years ago.  Many things are easier, I’m doing more of the things that interest me, Ian is home, kids are growing up….  The one thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Quinn would be just as happy spending all of his time in my lap today as he was as a baby.  And his laugh still makes me melt.

(Kids of the past:)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aren't Roller Coasters Supposed to Be Fun? (Babble)

I’m hoping this is the last update about my father in the hospital.  I’m exhausted by the whole thing and I’m not even directly involved, so I can’t imagine how my mom is feeling at this point.

My dad has stage four cancer, and the only treatment possible was twelve weeks of chemo.  He did well with his treatment until the last round when they put him on a drug called Xeloda and it sent him into the emergency room.  He nearly died.

His journey within the hospital, as I explained it to my kids the other night, was that:  He started in the ICU, improved enough to move to the oncology ward, improved further and got to move to rehab, then a blood infection sent him back to the ICU, and now he’s working his way back up to rehab.  It has been a nightmarish few weeks watching my dad roll up and down from a sleepy and delusional state to seeming like himself, from pain to relative comfort, from people saying we should prepare to let him go to him reading the New York Times again and drawing in his sketchbook.  The news when they rushed him back into the ICU was so dire that I packed my car and made arrangements to drive out to Detroit, but my brother kind of beat me to it.  He flew in from New York and we decided it made more sense to tag team if possible.  He emailed photos of dad’s rapid improvement, and promised to call if he honestly thought I needed to go there.

The most recent picture I’ve seen of dad he was sitting up and smiling, sketchbook in hand, somehow managing to bring a touch of dignity to his silly looking hospital gown.  He looks like my dad again.  That wasn’t true when I was out there a few weeks ago. The hope at this point is he goes back to rehab where they will make sure he is strong enough to return home.  If I don’t write otherwise, just assume that’s the case.

I’m sick of this roller coaster and I’m glad to get off for a while.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eating Our Words at Book Club (Babble)

I love our mom/kid book club.  This weekend was our smallest meeting yet, since one of the boys and his mom couldn’t make it, but we got to discuss one of my all time favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  If you’ve never read it, go find it.  It’s fun for little kids even if they don’t understand much of it, perfect for upper elementary kids who will learn a lot, and frankly, it always leaves me inspired.  Every time I read that book I get excited about the idea of doing everything, even math problems.  (And trust me, I’m not normally a fan of math problems, so that’s some effective writing.)

For anyone not familiar with the book, basically it’s about a boy named Milo who wastes his time and finds nothing interesting until he comes home from school one day to discover a mysterious tollbooth in his room.  He travels through the tollbooth into a strange new world where he finds companions and embarks on a mission to rescue a pair of princesses.  The whole book is designed around clever word play with the larger goal of making learning exciting.  Milo visits Dictionopolis (the land of words), and Digitopolis (the land of numbers), and many unexpected places in between.  The princesses he’s trying to rescue are Rhyme and Reason, who have been banished into the Mountains of Ignorance, and nothing has gone well in the land since they left.

The kids all asked great questions about the book: What was your favorite place in it? Was it all in Milo’s imagination or not? Which demon was the scariest?  And one girl made a big list of all the expressions she didn’t understand which turned out to be a lot of fun to explain, such as “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” and “Make hay while the sun shines.”

The funny part about hosting book club, though, is that I end up reading the book with a different sort of attention.  When you have to come up with a snack and a craft related to the book, any mention of food becomes important.  There is a character in the book who passes around a box of sugar coated punctuation marks at one point, and Aden and I looked at each other and said, “Hey!  Snack!”  We made ours out of chocolate shortbread.  Periods and commas were the easiest, Aden did the exclamation points, and I reshaped dough cut from a ‘5’ cookie cutter that we happened to have into question marks.
The other obvious snack was the half-baked ideas served at a Dictionopolis banquet.  Those were pastries with phrases written on them like “The World is Flat” (which, as the book says, people swallowed for years).  I picked up some long doughnuts with white icing on them from our local bakery and let the kids write their own words on them.  In Dictionopolis people must think about what they say because they have to eat their words.
My kids had other elaborate ideas for food, like subtraction stew and all the letters of the alphabet made from different foods starting with each of those letters, but there’s a limit.

For the craft we decided to make rocks to chip apart.  In the book people get numbers by mining for them.  They also tend to find jewels as they dig, but those just get tossed onto a big pile.  So I went to Home Depot and asked someone there what the worst and weakest plaster-like compound was that they carry, because encasing numbers inside plaster of Paris could take the kids forever to chip out.  I was directed toward some drywall compound that sets in five minutes and that worked great.  Aden and I mixed some up in disposable cups and added in handfuls of fake jewels and a few plastic numbers (which we found in the clock-making section of a craft store), and then the next morning cut away the cups.
It was more of a destructive craft than a constructive one, but the kids enjoyed it.  And the funny thing was since they were intent on finding the few numbers hidden in their rocks they wound up dismissively tossing the little jewels off to the side as they chiseled away, just the way the characters in the book did.

Ian took Mona and Quinn off to Bug Day at the local nature center during Aden’s book club, but we saved them a couple of Digitopolis rocks:
I’m glad our book club is still running.  It’s hard to make time for ongoing events like that, but it makes me so happy to see my daughter and her friends excited about books.  Aden’s not an avid reader the way I was at her age, but the book club creates such a positive association with reading and books in general that I think it helps.

It’s so good, in fact, we’ve decided to start a book club for Mona now.  She’s been worming her way into the last few meetings with Aden’s group, much to Aden’s chagrin, so I asked Mona if we should invite some of her own friends over to talk about books and she was thrilled.   She’s already decided on “How to Train Your Dragon” for our first read so I need to start talking with some other parents soon.  I love Mona’s enthusiasm.

Now if I can just find a book club for ME.  I don’t even need a craft and a snack!  I just miss serious reading and discussions.  I’ve been making myself find time to just sit quietly and read again like I did before I had children and I’m glad I have.  Because there is no other satisfaction quite like that of a good book.  I’m glad my kids are learning that, too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On the Mend (Babble)

Thanks again to everyone who expressed kind thoughts about my dad in the hospital.  He’s still there, but he’s doing better.

When he was originally rushed to the emergency room they only gave him a 50-50 chance of surviving the weekend.  Now he’s on the mend.

My dad is an interesting man.  He’s gentle, educated, and kind-hearted.  He loves art, his books, his newspapers, and most of all his family.  It’s been painful to watch him suffer the indignities of an extended hospital stay.

However, he’s now in the rehab section, trying to put on some weight and gain enough strength to go home.  He is done with chemo.  With luck it bought us a few years of time, but my mom has decided she doesn’t want to take him back to the hospital again.  Living with stage four cancer is hard enough without the added trauma of that environment.  I for one don’t ever want to see the inside of that hospital again.

So now we wait, and hope, and figure out what life is like now with whatever new limitations dad may have based on his health.  I have my fingers crossed that maybe we can still eke out a trip to Paris if dad is up to it at some point.  Or even just a visit to finally see our new home in Milwaukee.  Either sounds grand to me.

And he just might make enough of a recovery for that.  Because my dad is tougher than one would guess.  He survived both a broken wrist and broken leg in India a dozen years ago, and had to fly home with a cast on his arm but without any treatment to the leg other than a few pain killers.  And every time I’ve seen him in the hospital since then his determination to simply get home is almost tangible.  Even in his most drug and pain induced haze I could see him fighting.  It’s not the kind of fighting people who don’t know him would easily recognize, but my mom and my brothers and I could.  There is nothing he wants more in this world than to be at home with my mom, among his books, working on a drawing in his sketch pad, and hoping one of his children may come by.  I can’t wait until he’s returned to that place.

In the meantime, my old neighborhood has power again, and the dozens of tree removal trucks have been working non-stop to remove evidence of the storm.  My mom sent me some of her pictures of the aftermath from the weekend I was there (still can’t believe I forgot my own camera), so if anyone is curious to see some wind shear destruction, here’s a little slide show:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

30 Days (Babble)

I’ve been doing a food experiment for the past 30 days.

I’ve wanted to get a better handle on how I approach food and I’ve found that trying to do something sensible like eating in moderation doesn’t work for me.  I find it hard to make good decisions about food when my schedule is full and I’m rushing between work and kids and rehearsals.  In order to pay attention to what I was eating I needed to shake things up and try something extreme.  I did a little hunting around online and came across something called ‘Whole30.’

This is not an endorsement of that specific program or whatever it sells because I didn’t go into it that deeply.  It denies it’s part of the ‘paleo’ movement, but as far as I can tell that’s what it is.  There is apparently a school of thought that from an evolutionary standpoint our bodies aren’t really designed to process things that have only been added to the human diet in the past few thousand years.  So Whole30 suggests you cut out dairy, grains, all sweeteners, legumes, and any kind of processed foods.

I was intrigued.  I wanted to see if I could do it.  But the part that inspired me was something in the pitch that said no one can make you eat something you don’t want to.  It shouldn’t matter if you are at a party or your aunt’s house or in any of the myriad of situations where you think you have to eat things you probably shouldn’t.  No one can force you to have the cake, or the pizza.  That’s always been a problem of mine, that situational eating.  If it’s a special occasion, or even just a typical social occasion, it’s easy to rationalize and hard to say no.

The other thing was that it suggested getting those elements out of your system could change how you crave things and how you view food.  That would be nice.  Refusing cake would be simpler if I actually didn’t want the cake.

But could I really do it?

Not without help I couldn’t.  I asked Ian if he would take over all the meals for the kids for one month.  He does most of the cooking anyway, but if I didn’t have to be in the kitchen at all and handling foods that might tempt me, it would make my experiment easier.  Ian said he was happy to help.

The first couple of days was hard.  I missed bread.  I missed cheese.  Ian made waffles for the kids and I had to stay upstairs until the leftovers were wrapped up and put in the fridge before I dared come down.  I love cereal, and chocolate, and rice, and thought about them a lot.

For about a week it was all just a matter of will.  I know if I were diabetic, or had allergies, or the doctor told me a bite of cheese would kill me, then I could cut the things out of my diet that I needed to and not think too hard about it.  I’d simply do it.  I’m not sure why with a more nebulous problem like being overweight it’s harder for me to make the right choices, but it always has been.  It’s easy to feel like a failure when something as basic and important as maintaining a healthy body seems out of your control.  I’m tired of feeling like a failure.

So I got through the whole 30 days without cheating.  Without licking marshmallow goo off my fingers when I made rice crispie treats for a party, or taking a bite of the kids’ leftover grilled cheese.  I survived the State Fair where I watched the kids eat funnel cake, baked banana bread to give away without sampling it, enjoyed a neighborhood cookout where no one cared if I had any chips or not, and even found something to eat in the hospital cafeteria (which wasn’t easy).

The one place I was most worried about was my parents’ house because my mom is an excellent cook and food is one of the ways she likes to express her love, and I didn’t want her to think I was being silly or picky.  But I shouldn’t have worried.  My mom is great and she was curious about my experiment and let me do the cooking and ate with me.  She was impressed with my stir fry of chopped Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, and steak with a salad on the side.  My mom even suggested my experiment was making me a better cook because limitations force you to be more creative.

People’s food quirks can start to look like a religion in some cases.  I’ve listened to people preach Atkins and testify about veganism and I’m just not interested.  There is no one-size-fits-all diet because people are too different.  I would personally like to not have to think about food very hard.  I love to eat, I enjoy cooking, but I don’t want to elevate the role of food in my life to a degree that gives it more prominence than it deserves.  It has a place and it can be wonderful, but talking about Weight Watcher’s Points even when I was doing it was boring.  I didn’t mention my food experiment to more than a few people, and then it was more out of necessity because it looks suspicious to serve food to guests and then make yourself something else.

I did discuss it in a vague way with Aden, mostly because she made a weird batch of cookies she invented using bananas and chocolate chips and I was relieved to have an excuse to turn them down.  She was concerned I was denying myself things, because I had started eating dinner at the table with them again, but having just the salad and the vegetables and the fruit.  I told her I liked my salad.  I didn’t want the spaghetti.  I don’t force my children to eat things they don’t want, and I said it worked both ways.  Just because they were having French toast didn’t mean I couldn’t make myself an egg.  I wanted their company at the table, not everything that was on their plates.  I want to be an example to my kids about good choices.  I waited to join them at dinner until I was past being mopey about what I couldn’t have, and honestly happy about what I was having.  I hope my girls in particular are able to see this as something positive I’m doing, and not draw their attention to body image issues in an unhealthy way.  I tell them I’m trying to eat food that is delicious and good for me and avoid things I know my body doesn’t need right now.  If that also brings me down to a weight that is healthier, that’s a bonus, not a goal.  I figure the better I get this under control today, the better I will be able to guide my kids by example.  That should be enough incentive to keep it up right there.

So what were the results?  Weight-wise I did lose somewhere between five and ten pounds (depending on what time of day I get on the scale and if I have shoes on, etc.), so that’s nice.  But the really nice thing is I feel like I have the power to say no to food when I want to.  I really can.  And it helps that I’m not as hungry as before.  I used to be hungry all the time, and now I’m not.

There are other results I’m still analyzing.  For instance, cutting out sugar and other sweeteners for a month has changed the flavor of things.  I’m far more sensitive to sweet things than I used to be.  A grape can now seem almost painfully sweet.  I can taste sweetness in things I didn’t used to perceive as sweet, such as walnuts and coconut.  Mona offered me a cookie at one point, and I turned it down, and I realized I genuinely didn’t want it.  I could imagine it in my mouth and the sensation in my mind was that sort of super-sugary-makes-your-teeth-cringe-it’s-so-sweet-it-hurts kind of feeling, and it was easy to say no.  I’m sure I will eat cookies again one day, but not soon.  I’ve probably had my lifetime quota of cookies anyway, so I’m not in a hurry to re-acclimate to them.

Another thing is my headaches appear to be gone.  I was having problems with something somewhere between mild migraines and severe headaches a few times a week.  I talked to the doctor about it, and did seem to notice a pattern related to my cycles, but my period also affected what I ate.  I wanted chocolate when I was crampy and I felt entitled to it because I was in pain.  After the first week, though, no headaches, no matter where I am in my cycle.  No headaches despite stress, lack of sleep, and other things that I thought were related and may not have been.  It could have been sugar.  (Or dairy, or grains….)  Not sure.  I’m just glad not to be popping ibuprofen like they were tic-tacs anymore.

I still miss cheese.  I still miss bread.  But my plan is to integrate those back into my diet a bit.  A burger with a bun is just better, and BLT night with the kids looks stupid when I’m eating it all deconstructed on my plate.  I’m going to stick with the vegetables and some meat as my main staples for a while, but I don’t want to eat that way forever.  I am going to make a conscious effort to avoid sugar, though.  Not completely, but I don’t think I want to be eating it daily anymore, and when you start reading labels you realize sugar of some type is in nearly everything.  So that will be a challenge, but I’d rather have a headache-free life than a cupcake.

My general food goal is to find balance.  I want to be able to go to someone’s home and simply eat what I’m served.  I think it’s rude to hold an arbitrary food standard higher than a person’s hospitality.  In those cases I will just pay attention to portion size.  Because I want to enjoy food.  I don’t want it to seem like the enemy or medicine.  I want to be in control of what I eat.  My 30 day food experiment gives me hope that maybe I can find that, and with luck next year at this time I will be a healthier version of myself.  It’s worth a try.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Whirlwind (Babble)

How was your Labor Day weekend?  Mine was surreal.

I drove out to Detroit and back to visit my dad in the hospital for a couple of days.  My dad didn’t resemble himself, hospitals are strange, I think a tornado touched down in my parents’ neighborhood (even though the weather people there kept calling it a wind shear but I don’t think I buy that), the power was (and still is) out so we came back every night to a dark house, dozens of hundred year old trees upended pieces of sidewalk and smashed garages and punctured roofs making the whole area look like a tree-seeking bomb hit it.  (What a time to forget my camera.)

So.  That was a lot of stuff.  And now I’m home and trying to process it all.

I started my trip in our twelve-year-old Hyundai, minus the radio that was stolen out of it last week.  (That’s the third time.  People keep asking if we lock the doors to the car, but I’d rather lose the radio than have the window smashed and lose the radio, so no, we don’t lock the doors.  I guess with the newest one we’ll bring the radio’s faceplate indoors each time.)  I brought along an iPod and listened to various podcasts on the insanely boring drive that is the trip from Milwaukee to Detroit.

I stopped in Chicago on the way to say goodbye to my brother and his girlfriend before they moved to Germany.  It was too short a visit.  I don’t see them enough, and I don’t realize until I’m with them again how much there is to say.  I wish we’d had more time, but for some things there is never enough time.

I arrived in my hometown of Pleasant Ridge, MI to find dozens of downed trees.  My mom called to warn me ahead of time that there had been a severe storm and there was no power, so I came armed with my favorite flashlight and a headlamp.  It took me a while to find a path to the house.  The normal route was blocked by fallen power lines and trees, as were several alternate routes, but eventually I found my way.  I think our specific block and a couple on either side of it got the worst of the damage.  It’s both impressive and sad.  I dropped off my things and headed to the hospital around dinnertime.

My dad was awake when I arrived, and glad to see me, but he wasn’t awake for very long.  He’s weak and thin.  Swallowing anything causes him enormous pain.  He fades in and out.  He winces in his sleep which is hard to watch.  He’s disoriented.  He just wants to go home.

The main thing I was able to provide for my dad in the hospital was music.  It was too hard to read to him or carry on a conversation because he was seldom conscious for more than half a minute at a time.  I put a mute on my instrument to keep the volume lower and played a lot of Bach.  My dad loves Bach.  There were times I was sure he was sound asleep and I kept playing, only to hear him say without opening his eyes, “Very nice” when I got to the end of a piece.  I don’t think there is any applause this season that will mean as much as those quiet words.

There are several good things about playing live music for someone in the hospital; it blocks out all the beeping and chatter that is a constant part of life there, you can sleep to it or actively listen and it’s all fine, and I think it help set my dad apart as a patient.  Everyone in the oncology ward said they liked hearing the music, and I would see people pause in the doorway as I played.  (One nurse was even proud to have figured out I was playing a viola, not a violin.)  I think anything that draws attention to the fact that my dad is loved and adored gives him an advantage in an environment that is dehumanizing, and now even the people who don’t deal with him directly know he’s the man whose daughter plays music for him.  He’s not just some old man hooked up to a million tubes.  He’s special.  He’s my dad.

Mom and I didn’t stay until the very end of visiting hours each night because it helped to get back to the house while there was still some natural light.  Having the power out at home was such a strange added twist to the trip.  We walked around the house in headlamps and never got over the habit of flicking the light switches when we walked into certain rooms.  We could still use the stove top if we lit the gas ourselves with a match, but cooking in the dark is weird.  My first night home it was warm enough we went for a long walk.  (The temperature dropped by about thirty degrees not long after I arrived and I hadn’t packed for that.  Mom gave me a jacket but for the most part I was really cold in Michigan.)

It’s hard to describe what the storm did to my old neighborhood.  No one was hurt, and most of the houses were spared, but the few that got whomped by trees really got whomped.  Several garages were crushed, as were a few cars.  My parents’ property was spared, which is good because I don’t know how they could handle one more thing.  With luck insurance will do what insurance is supposed to, and I’m hoping nothing too personal was lost by any of the people who experienced damage to their property.  It’s a lot of expense and inconvenience but probably not the end of the world for most of the neighbors.  The thing that has changed is the general look and character of the street.  The trees that came down were about a century old, most of them on personal property, not city trees.  (Although the ones by the street that came down ripped up the sidewalks, which was something to see.)  There is a lot of light suddenly where no one is used to seeing it.  Everyone’s view has changed.

I’m glad I was able to be there with my mom at such a strange and trying time.  It felt good to make her laugh.  I made her go with me into the chapel at the hospital and I taught her how to play Heart and Soul.  The place was empty, and my mom looked alarmed when I sat down at the piano because she thought we were being disrespectful.  But to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, all music is sacred.  And music makes things better so I didn’t feel for a moment we were doing anything wrong.  I bossed mom around on the keyboard until she was able to poke out enough of a bass line to play along with, and she laughed and wiped at her eyes.  It was worth the drive to Michigan just for that.

My dad was doing well enough when I left late on Tuesday that I felt it was okay for me to go home.  The medication that sent him to the ICU (Xeloda) had horrible effects on his body and he nearly died, but the ever encouraging and kind Dr. Pearlman said we’re past the hump and dad was improving.  I trust him.  All the nurses were excellent, and I am forever impressed at how caring yet firm the physical therapy people are.

On the downside, some people in hospitals need to remember that discussions about life and death are not casual events for many of us.  One well-meaning young doctor rattled my mother badly in the hall when she stopped us on the way to lunch to ask if we had orders in place about whether or not to revive my dad if he got suddenly worse.  She saw a frail man with stage four cancer and was calling things as she saw them based on her everyday experiences, but she doesn’t know how hard my dad wants to fight.  She just kept saying, “Because he’s really very sick, and if you’re not here we need to know whether you want us to let him go if his heart stops.”  My mom was flustered as she explained that at this point in time we’re quite sure my dad would want to be revived if possible and of course she’d signed papers to that effect. 

It was not appropriate to approach us in that way.  We had been feeling okay on our way to lunch, and that doctor destroyed our equanimity for the day.  There was also a palliative specialist who talked to my mom only in terms of dad never leaving the hospital and how to go about pulling the plug.  I hope we never see either of those doctors again.  I know there is a time and a place for those important discussions, but they shouldn’t have been sprung on us when what we needed was reassurance.
On the drive back to Milwaukee I thought about the trees of my childhood.  When I was little, Pleasant Ridge was filled with huge, majestic elms with limbs that spread out like fountains shading all the streets.  When I was nine, our neighborhood, like much of the nation, was struck by Dutch elm disease.  We lost all of those trees.  The neighborhood seemed unbearably bright for a long time.  But the truth is that there were many smaller trees in the neighborhood that could suddenly reach for the light.  I looked around my old street before I left, past the endless rows of tree removal trucks and wood chippers, the debris in the streets, and damaged maples with what was left of their splintery limbs poking at the sky while awaiting chainsaws and cranes coming to take them down.  I saw the new generation of smaller trees, some of which had grown up leaning odd directions just to find some sun.  The neighborhood will be different, and for a while it will be unbearably bright.  But now the new trees have a chance to grow into new roles. 

It won’t be the same, this new view, but for some it will be the view they grow up with.  The new view will become home.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Optimism (Babble)

First of all, thanks to everyone for their kind thoughts about my father.  His condition was described as being in a grey zone for a while, which was scary.  My brother, Barrett, has been at the hospital every day since dad was admitted, providing the rest of the family with updates.  I hate being so far away, but it makes more sense to stagger our visits if dad is getting better instead of worse, and luckily he does seem to be improving.

My dad is out of the ICU.  He will need rehab to gain strength before heading home.  The consensus is that he had a severe reaction to the last round of chemotherapy and the resulting dehydration caused a myriad of problems.  Now when specialists look at my dad and give him about two years it’s still frightening, but it seems like a gift compared to where we were just days ago.

Here in Milwaukee it was the first day of school for my girls.  They were so happy and excited!
Aden was up at five in the morning to get her backpack out of the washing machine and to make herself some alphabet soup.  (She has a new little lunch container especially for soup that comes with a tiny spoon, and she was determined to bring it on her first day back in the lunchroom.)  Mona saved a special sparkly shirt just for today.  Ian made everyone French toast.  I put Aden’s hair in a braid last night so we could sidestep the usual unpleasantness about detangling her before we leave the house.  The only thing that slowed us down was shoes.  Aden hunted high and low before realizing her shoes were in the car, and Mona simply came outside in her socks, then ran back inside when she realized she’d need shoes too.  (When Ian was deployed I had a rule for a while about no one getting to eat breakfast unless they were already wearing shoes.  Shoes are the Waterloo of our morning routine.)

The lovely thing about watching both of my girls at the start of school is their confidence.  Aden is so poised.  She always has been.  And lately she just seems so grown up, and tall, and ready to face the world in a way that’s new and independent.  I walked her up to her new classroom so I could introduce myself to the teacher and get a peek at her new space.  She has friends in her new room already.  She’s hoping they still do show and tell in fourth grade.

Mona’s new teacher seemed very sweet.  I liked that he greeted each child in the doorway while crouched down at their eye level.  He interviewed the kids one at a time, asking for a name and checking his list, and finding out if they take the bus or get picked up at the end of the day.  Mona has a large messenger-style bag instead of a backpack this year because she wanted lots of room for her paper creations.  She has a jaunty kind of look about her when she wears it.  When it was her turn at the front of the line she announced her name with pride.  She loves school and she was glad to be back.  There was no hesitation in Mona this morning.

I’m sure I was never even half as cool as either of my girls.  I was always nervous and worried.  I’m still nervous and worried but I hide it better.  I love how bold both Aden and Mona are in their own ways, marching into a new situation and believing it will be great.  Because they are optimists.  They have experienced good things and imagine more good things ahead.

And in a hospital bed the next state over, my dad is fighting to go home.  Because he knows a bit about good things, too, and believes there is more like it ahead as well.  I want him to be right.  Nervous and worried has limited utility.  I think I’m better off throwing in my lot with the optimists.