Archive for July, 2011

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Garden bits

July 25, 2011

I spent a good part of yesterday in my flower bed, digging and weeding and mulching and starting at the spots of very dry grass while wishing I watered more often. I’m not much of a gardener, but I’ve been slowly working on this flower bed, adding a little to it, trying to focus on flowers that don’t immediately die if I forget to water them when I should because I often forget to water things.

Every flower has a story. The garden (it’s really just a flower bed, but I tend to call it a garden) is Teddy’s even though I’ve never really called it “Teddy’s Garden” out loud. There are no markers there that bear his name or snatches of poetry, no angels or teardrops or forget-me-nots. I’m always on the lookout for something to set there that marks this space as his, but nothing right has presented itself to me so far. Except the plants themselves.

There is a peony that was growing there when we moved in. In the spring, there are tulips with petals that begin all bright yellow and then edge to crimson as they unfurl. I have some wild roses, peeking up wherever they choose, and some rather cheeky daisies doing the same. There are some onions, too, most of which I finally pulled up because, mysterious and quirky charm aside, they just never seemed to belong there. I’ve added, over the last couple years, some anemones and snowdrops, three lavender plants, an evening primrose, a pot of basil and a blessedly still-living clematis.

Most of the flowers’ stories aren’t obvious. Roses, to me, always remind me of Portland and the two weeks I spent there in hopes that Teddy might live. Lavender is for comfort – a mourning color, but a few steps away from straightforward black, and it also reminds me of the lotion my mom rubbed on my feet in that hospital room. Peonies are linked through mythology to healing – named after a very talented medical student, who made the god of healing so jealous that Zeus changed poor Paean into a flower out of mercy. I get dark pleasure from this story because who knew the god of healing was such a petty bastard? Oh, that’s right. I did.

And now, temporarily pretending to be another lavender plant, is my more-obvious rosemary, with a story most of us know thanks to Shakespeare and poor Ophelia. There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. There it sits, my tiny rosemary plant, its roots covered by dirt and cedar mulch, it’s small, piney arms stretching up to the sun. I’m hopeful for it. How can the patron plant of remembrance not take root here?

 

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Brunch

July 22, 2011

N and I used to go to brunch together almost every weekend when we lived in Chicago.  Possibly because we both really like breakfast but don’t like getting up early, or possibly because our first date was a brunch date and it went really, really well, and now every time we have brunch together some of that lingering first-date glow still manages to find us and put smiles on our faces.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a first date where you think it might go really well but you’re still nervous, and then he orders the Viking Breakfast while you order Swedish pancakes and then he makes fun of himself for ordering the Viking Breakfast (trust me, it deserves both capital letters), which puts you completely at ease. As you sit and talk you realize that you are incredibly comfortable and happy while also noticing that this person sitting across from you is extremely attractive on some sort of deep molecular level that makes you spend too long staring at his mouth because you can’t help thinking how delicious it would be to kiss him.* If you have had that kind of date (Swedish breakfast place optional), then I’m really glad for you. It’s one of those moments in my life that makes me realize how lucky I am, in spite of the unlucky bits of my life.

We haven’t been to brunch together for years, though, which sometimes makes me a little sad and sometimes makes me feel like brunch is part of our happier and more innocent days, now left behind as we enter a grimmer, more adult phase of life. But today, since it’s my birthday** and we couldn’t find a sitter for tonight or the weekend, N took me on a brunch date.  I wore a dress. We laughed and talked and talked and made the baby sitting at the booth next to us laugh, too. And then we picked up cake pops for Dot’s teachers and dropped them off at her daycare. As N drove me back to work, we were still laughing and he remarked that I was in a very good mood and clearly we needed to do brunch more often, and suddenly I realized that he was absolutely right and in more ways than he knew at the time. So I told him, emphatically, that he was absolutely right (something he doesn’t hate hearing), and that we’d better have brunch together again soon.

It seems like everywhere I look someone is pointing out that relationships take work. “Duh,” I respond. “Everyone knows that.” What seems to be less common are people talking about the kind of work you need to do. It often sounds so extreme, or so hard, or – somehow – so onerous that it’s no wonder so many couples (very few of us being stupid) have a hard time doing this “work.” Today I had a glimpse of what it  means for us – connecting, remembering who we are, reclaiming some of that old glow. I don’t need candlelight and dinner and flowers, but I’m only now starting to realize how very much I need some more frequent one-on-one time, some good conversation, some points of connection. It’s powerful and heady stuff to re-realize so strongly that not only do I love N, I really, really like him.

I tell you, brunch. Best birthday present ever.

 

*I didn’t kiss him (On the first date? What kind of girl would he think I was?), but oh, how I wished I had. I did, however, talk to him on the phone that night and mention that I wished I’d kissed him, which helped to make our second date a very fine one, too.

**How old am I? 37. Again. I mistakenly thought I turned 37 last year. I even blogged about being 37! However, according to accurate math, which was never one of my strong suits even before 2008 when I suddenly felt  I’d aged 30 years all at once, I was only 36. I only realized this last month. So today I’m one year younger than I thought I’d be. My brother is making fun of me, but I’m enjoying 37 not feeling like a big deal, so hurray bad math!

 

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Summer, again

July 18, 2011

All around me, people have been complaining about our late summer, about the rain and the cool weather.

I listened, smiled, nodded. I didn’t completely disagree with them, either. When your child is extremely active and her favorite activity is climbing things, it’s immensely helpful to be able to take her to the park, where she can climb things that aren’t bookshelves, dinner tables, or kitchen counters. But even as I was hoping to get an afternoon romp in with Dot, even as I was smiling and nodding, I was thanking my lucky (well, sometimes lucky) stars for the cool weather.

Now, it’s here. The sunshine, the heat, the smells. I find myself hiding again, shoring up my strength, focusing on making it through. Just making it through.

Summer used to be many things to me. I’ve never liked the heat, but I’ve loved so much of what goes with it. It still carries the scents of years of birthday parties, of running around at the farm with my brother, of camping trips in Glacier Park, of my summer job as a bible camp counselor, of skinny dipping and learning to drink and smoke at the bible camp. Sometimes, a warm day makes me crave a clove cigarette. Sometimes, I hear a five-guitar chorus off in the distance playing “Rocky Mountain High” or catch a hint of the evening air at the farm, full of hay and dust and frog song.

But the warmer it gets, the more I realize that, for now, summer is still mostly about Teddy, about missing him and remembering him, and remembering those hard weeks before his arrival and how they were filled with hope and love and the sort of prayer that you engage in when you don’t really think anything will come of it, but you’re too desperate not to pray.

Summer is hearing that my son has a life-threatening condition while my mother sits with us in the ultrasound room. Summer is listening to my dad and N put a ceiling fan up in the bedroom and knowing that Dad is glad to be doing this because there’s so little else he can do. Summer is driving back and forth from the nearest big city where specialists tell us that things look serious but that we won’t know the outcome until Teddy is born. Summer is non-stress test after non-stress test where Teddy won’t stay on the monitor (my wiggly little man) and so we end up in the damned L&D rooms forever. Summer is the fear in the hospital staffs’ voices when they tell me that I need to call right away if there’s any hint of pre-term labor. Summer is lying on the futon, drinking water and trying to send my mind away by reading and by watching junk television. Summer is those two wonderful, hope-filled weeks in Portland where I bought a baby sling and actually thought I might get to use it, where I sat and drank coffee with other parents at the Ronald McDonald House and felt comforted by the presence of people who knew what it is like to fear for your child. Summer is a too-long induction, a fever, an emergency caesarean, four doctors standing in my hospital room in the morning asking me how I’d like the world to end. Summer is too brief a time holding my baby. Summer is letting him go.

And I wouldn’t give any of this up, not one moment with Teddy, even the hard ones. I’m not sure I’d even give up the strangely vivid remembering that comes with this season of warmth and light.

But between you, me, and the lamp-post, I wish summer were still about the clove cigarettes and the skinny dipping.

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All-Star Game mish-mosh

July 13, 2011

I never thought I’d cry at the beginning of a baseball game, but yesterday, as the All-Star Game opened (Go, National League!), they honored Christina Taylor-Green, her family, and other victims of the January 8 shooting in Tucson. N was sitting on the futon with his lemonade and chips, and Dot was climbing on the dining room chairs, saying, “Climbing, climbing, climbing,” which is one of her new favorite words. And I was struck by how much I love them both and by how fragile and precious our happiness is and by how awful it is that anybody at all should mourn their child. And I cried. Not for long, but there were tears running down my face as I turned to extricate Dot from her latest climbing triumph.

Later in the game, they had a “Stand Up to Cancer” moment, and I was, well, suddenly cranky.

It’s not that I think people shouldn’t stand up to cancer. My grandfather died of a brain tumor. I’ve had friends go through cancer treatments that threatened their lives far too young. Cancer is scary and the fight against it is a noble thing. A noble, comparatively well-funded thing.

I realize that not many people even know what a congenital diaphragmatic hernia is, and that, compared to cancer, it affects a very small number of people. But cancer research has Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, and more celebrities than you can shake a stick at fighting against it, and powerful corporate sponsorships and many really moving and beautifully visual public service announcements like the one above. Every year I contribute to the “Walk for the Cure,” buy pink things, donate to prostate and breast cancer research at the local grocery story, and hope that cancer is cured in my lifetime.

But my son is dead, from a not terribly uncommon condition that is being investigated by only a few dedicated researchers whose work isn’t promoted or cheered on by celebrities or funded by Major League Baseball. Like stillbirth, placenta previa, and numerous other life-and-death medical conditions that affect babies, CDH seldom makes its way into the popular consciousness. A YouTube search on CDH brings up individual stories, some medical videos on diagnoses and treatment, and a few videos put out there by CHERUBS, the main active group attempting to promote CDH awareness. CHERUBS is very grass-roots, which is a strength, but a visit to their website makes it clear that they are operating on a very different level of funding than standup2cancer.org. They are made up of good people fighting the good fight with limited resources and not much professional help. I vote for their causes on face.book to help them get funding, and I root them on, and I wish they had more resources.

So I try to focus my own limited resources on charities that contribute to decreasing fetal and neonatal death of all kinds, who focus on increasing maternal and fetal health. There don’t seem to be many of these that are highly visible, either. I’m pretty sure there will never be a major public awareness campaign against the condition that caused Teddy’s death, and I can accept that. There are a lot of bad reasons for this – a cure to CDH would never bring in a fraction of the money as a cure for male pattern baldness (looking at you, Big Pharma). But there are also some more acceptable reasons: we (the human race) have cancers to cure, polio and malaria and hunger and hatred to banish from the globe, an imperative to start managing our resources and environment more responsibly. There’s a lot on our plate, and a limited amount of time. I get that. I can accept it and understand. I’m not even writing pleading letters to the MLB or my beloved Cubs or to Tilda Swinton.

And yet…

I would never want to take attention away from cancer research, but my son died before he even had a chance to live, and almost 150 babies like him are born into this world every day, and about half of those babies die, and I can’t help wishing more people knew that, cared about it, and fought against it.

Because these bits of happiness in our life are precious and fragile and important, and because it’s awful that anyone should mourn their child.

(Also, bald men can be hawt. Once we accept that, maybe we can push for some serious reallocation of resources. Anyone famous want to start a movement of head-shaving? Anyone?)

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Kittens

July 11, 2011

The people who live across the street from us have a wonderful little black and white cat named Marilyn, who is frequently in our yard.

She’s about two years old. She was a kitten, playing in our flower bed, during the first days of spring in 2010. I remember smiling at her antics when I took Dot outside to look at the flowers and experience the outdoors in small bits. Perhaps because I associate Marilyn with these memories, I’m very fond of her.

She is skinny as a rail, even when she’s pregnant. They’ve told us they feed her, but I’ve seen her eat and there is nothing wrong with that appetite. Mama cats shouldn’t be that skinny, especially when they supposedly belong to people.

She has now brought two litters of kittens over to live in our shed/garage. We have fed them, and became especially attached to this last litter of three. We defended them from roving raccoons (ever see a large family of raccoons out after dark? They’re damned scary buggers), played with them, and (heaven help me) named them Luna, Lilah, and Linus. We’ve been watching as their mama started to teach them to hunt, and had started to ask around to find homes for them. I’ve also been investigating places to get not-cripplingly-expensive vaccines and spaying and neutering services.

Last week, three of the kids who sometimes live across the street came into our yard, grabbed the kittens, and took them, squirming and clawing, back to their house. We haven’t seen them since. With the last litter, they gave two of the kittens away when they were just a few weeks old, and then they tried to separate Marilyn from her remaining kitten (named Pitch) while still letting the kitten roam the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, little Pitch disappeared.

So, after weeks and weeks of watching to make sure all three of this current litter were accounted for every morning, after running out in the dark to help Marilyn defend the garage, after watching Dot play with them by wiggling long pieces of grass at them until they pounce, I’m worried, and cranky. And, since Marilyn isn’t ours in any legal sense, I don’t have much recourse except to wait for a chance to ask one of the parents across the street what is up. I’ve seen Marilyn around, but unfortunately I don’t speak cat fluently enough to ask her if her kittens are still together and okay.

I am biding my time to catch little Marilyn and get her fixed and vaccinated. I know it’s ethically sketchy – she’s not my cat – but pets aren’t disposable. You don’t just replace one summer’s cute kitten with the next summer’s cute kitten. (I once ended a friendship because my friend abandoned a cat. Do I take sort of thing too seriously? Maybe.) And little mama needs a break. But my biggest motivation right now is that I’m more emotionally exhausted than I should be from trying to make sure that no more babies (yes, I know) die on my watch.

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Fairy Tales

July 7, 2011

It’s not as easy as singing duets with mice or talking crabs while having perfect hair, you know.

It’s not just the housework, the manual labor. It’s the death, the destruction of family.

First your mother or father has to die and your brothers and sisters either turn on you or find themselves cursed. Usually you’re cursed, too.

Sometimes your father is having a hard day when he meets the devil in the woods. Sometimes your remaining parent cuts of your hands, or your arms. Sometimes they take your tongue, too.

Sometimes, in order to gain back a part of what you’ve lost, you must weave stinging nettles into shirts.

It’s making mistakes that change everything, forever. It’s the guilt you carry, after.

I just shone my lamp on his sleeping face for a minute, and now he must marry a troll on the other side of the world while I am left alone in my nightgown, in the snow, where I can’t even cry without the tears freezing my eyes closed.

I was rude to the old woman at the well, and now every time I speak, a snake slithers from my lips; my mother can’t even look at my face any more, even though I was her favorite.

I never should have married that handsome stranger, listened to my sisters, lingered in the woods, opened that door.

It’s the isolation and loneliness that can make you feel mad.

Sometimes you are sent alone into a strange country where your identity is stolen and your only friend, never mind that he’s a horse, is beheaded, and you are left singing to the wind and talking to a desiccating horse head hung up over the town gate.

Sometimes you are sent back into the wilderness, armless, your infant strapped to your back wailing and crying and you with no way to comfort the child except by singing until your throat is raw and by begging passing strangers to help you nurse. Sometimes the well-coiffed witch who is also your mother-in-law steals your babies and smears your mouth with blood while you are sleeping, and, because you must remain mute, those who love and trust you stare at you in horror and you can’t do what you most need to do in that moment, which is run from person to person in a panic, screaming “Where are they?”

It’s the bargaining from a place of desperation.

If you save my life I’ll give you anything, even my child. If you save my child, I’ll give you anything, even my life. If I could only have a child I wouldn’t care if he were a hedgehog, or a snake.

In order to marry the handsome knight, I’d drown my sister in the briny, briny sea. In order to walk on land, I’ll bear the pain of knives slicing into my feet with every step. In order to turn my brothers back into human men, I won’t talk until I’ve finished weaving these stinging nettles into shirts. Never mind that my mother died before she could teach me how to sew.

Please let my dead wife return to me – I won’t look back. I promise.

It’s the betrayal.

Don’t eat me – my brother is much bigger and tastier. She taught me my alphabet; I can’t believe she drowned me in the sea. I know I promised you my firstborn, but that’s not the sort of promise I can keep, no matter what I said, no matter what you did in order to save my life. How could my father do that to me? How could everyone standing around us let him?

She was both mother and father to me, and now that I need her most and am most confused, she’s shaved my head and thrown my out of my tower. After he impregnated me and I woke up, he said I was the love of his life, but he’s married. To a cannibalistic ogre who wants to kill me and eat my children.

Just so I’m clear about this, you were going to cut out my heart and bring it back to her in a box?

And, after all of this, what endings are truly happy enough?

They lived happily ever after. And they lived happily together for the rest of their days. And all was restored to her.  Really? Please tell me how. Because even in stories where magic is real, these seems impossible.

Well, what about this one?

And life was more bitter than she’d known it could be, though parts of it were sweeter. She remembered how to laugh. They remembered how to talk to each other again, and, when they passed into song and story, the people who loved them gifted them with the happiest ending they could, because part of what is important in storytelling is what we want to be true.

Well, maybe.