Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hissy Fit

Sunday morning we noticed something was missing.  It was the sound of claws pattering across linoleum and insistent squeaks as I poured myself my first cup of joe.  The cat was not following routine.  Her food from yesterday sat in her dish, uneaten. 

I left for my run, driven by denial but taking my phone along, as I feared what husband and daughters would find while I was gone.  Though she doesn't look it, Koshka is old.  Almost fourteen. 

Armed with flashlights, bait, and determination, my search-and-rescue team found our angry hunger-striking feline under the wardrobe in our bedroom.  When I got home and peered beneath the armoire, she hissed at me.  She's not the friendliest cat, but something wasn't right. 

I eschewed analysis and went straight to action, sensing that our little family needed to err on the side of caution as it relates to mortality of loved ones right now.  I borrowed a cat carrier from a friend, managed to wrestle the cat inside, and headed off to the money pit emergency vet. 

"Make sure she doesn't die," admonished Big Sis as I drove away. 

The vets were kind and knowledgeable. Koshka was probably dehydrated.  She might have pancreatitis.  She could have heart failure.  Perhaps she was constipated.  They would check her, both inside and out.  For an extra $300 I could get blood work results back in an hour.  I went for immediate IV fluids and slow lab analysis.  The vet promised to return shortly with an estimate. 

Alone in the exam room adorned with photo tributes to passed pets, I prepared myself.  A thousand bucks, I thought.  I'll plan on a thousand, so the $500 they come back with won't sound bad.  I gulped, and waited.

Thirteen hundred dollars would be the known amount, I was informed, with an upper end of four hundred smacks more, depending, you know, on possible other stuff*.  I signed on the line, doing the math in my head that our up-till-now healthy cat was really only costing us a hundred dollars per year of her life.  Worth it, I sighed, and headed home, trying not to equate that amount with mortgage payments, plane tickets, and the cost of replacing our broken clothes dryer. 

But you can't quantify how badly you want your pets to live forever. 

We missed our cat all day.  So we went back for a visit in the afternoon, as we were invited to do.  "Ahh, yes, Koshka..." The woman at the front desk raised her eyebrows.  "She's not being very nice to us."

They took us to "the back," where the vet pointed out our wide-eyed and wrathful cat, outfitted with an IV and cone around her head.  She crouched in her cage, which was emblazoned with orange stickers warning "Caution:  Will Bite."  A quick look around the room suggested she was an outlier on the aggression spectrum.  She allowed us to pet her and scratch her behind the ears, but she wouldn't look at us.  We left her to stay overnight for more fluids and observation. 

"That's mean, Mom," Big Sis frowned as we walked to the car.  "'Caution:  Will Bite'," she scoffed.  "It's Koshka!"

"Yeah," chimed in Little Sis.  "She didn't bite us!"

"Hmm, let's think about this for a moment.  I wonder what the doctors write on your charts about how you behave when you're getting shots?"  I nodded at Little Sis, recalling one harrowing well-child visit when she turned five. 

"Caution:  Will Scream," offered Big Sis ruefully. 

"Yeah, and that's before we even went into the exam room!"  We laughed.

The vet called that evening to say that one of her electrolytes was off; they were supplementing it. Final word yesterday morning was that they couldn't find anything wrong with her; husband could pick her up.  He waited an extra hour and invested a supplemental *$55 for sedation because our 6-lb. hellcat wouldn't let the vets take her IV out.  I think they told her not to let the door hit her in her perfectly unconstipated rear as we escorted her out. 

Guess who bounded up the couch, purring, to greet me at the door when I came home from work? 

That Darn Cat. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Case You Don't Recall

My book club's pick this month was S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, a novel in which the main character, Christine, suffers a form of amnesia in which she wakes each morning remembering nothing of her prior life.  As she gathers information about herself she begins to keep a journal she can consult every morning and add to every day, before she forgets it all again as she sleeps.  The novel is a page turner; one morning she discovers she has written to herself, "Don't trust Ben [her husband]." 

My fellow book club members and I engaged in an intriguing discussion about the arbitrary nature of memory (why have I held on to the characteristics of drumlins from 9th grade geography class, but can't remember the name of a student who graduated last year?), about the importance of perspective in recalling the facts of an occurrence (five siblings' recollections of a singular family event are a fascinating case study), and the strengths and weaknesses of our own abilities to remember (I can conjure details--even outfits I wore--from when I was eight years old, but not many from when I was 34?).  It's clear that my memory has muddied; I rely more and more on notes, lists, and calendars (and a daily fear of flaking).  I suspect, however, that my life, now that I manage my own as well as my children's schedules, has grown more complex than it was even ten years ago. 

Also, there are more passwords. 

The question arose at our meeting, "What would you write down today if you knew when you woke up tomorrow you would have no prior knowledge of yourself?"  Our minds turned at once to cherished memories that would beg recording.  Reminders of people important to us, near and distant, living and passed.  Explanations for how things came to be, decisions that were made, and key influences on our character. 

But I began wondering, what could I convince myself of, under the circumstances of having no memory, that I would otherwise know better?  What might I delude myself into believing?  What should I warn myself about (while I am thinking of it--allergy to shellfish!)?  About which aspects of my life would I be tempted to gently persuade myself, or steer myself clear? 

How could I change the course of my life by carefully considering the way I talk to myself?

So I decided to try writing to myself, thinking that more important than telling myself about my life would be to tell myself about me

Dear Fer,

You're confused, I know.  It's like the confusion you feel when you wake up in an unfamiliar place and for a few moments wonder where the heck you are and how you got there.  Except you're also wondering who the heck you are. Read on, because I am going to help you [ed.:  And there, I've already forgotten to try and impress myself with witty or deeply insightful writing...].  

You'll understand the basics soon enough--that you have a husband and two daughters, and lots of extended family...I'll save those revelations for the characters who will inevitably show up (if they haven't already!  Is it past 6 AM?) and prove themselves to you.  My job is to let you know some of the things others might not tell you.  Maybe even some of the things they don't know.  You're going to have to be patient and refer to that magnet on the fridge which reads, "What if we just acted like everything was easy?"  You aspire to do this everyday, with varied results. 

It's tempting to tell you that you're more than capable of things you've considered or attempted:  publishing your writing, having a third child, moving your family abroad, taking on a new leadership role, feeling good about your contributions to the world, friends, family.  But you'd see through me soon enough, recognize the insecurities.  It might be that the nagging doubts keep you balanced and realistic.  Perhaps they also help you identify what you're truly passionate about. 

I'll start with what's easy for you, Fer:  Making a meal with whatever is in the house.  Getting ready to go in the morning.  Coming up with ideas.  Proofreading.  Going for a run.  Managing a lot on your plate (both digestively and figuratively).  Worrying.  Working with children.  Teaching.  Talking.  Traveling. Crying.  Apologizing.  Being goofy.  Feeling guilty.  Getting on board.  Spending money at TargetMaking piles of papers.  Giving yourself permission.  Being vulnerable.  Putting up with broken stuff.  Contemplating change.

Here's what's tougher for you, Fer:  Putting your clothes away.  Remembering to let go and relax sometimes.  Not interrupting.  Driving long distances.  Managing a lot on your plate (figuratively).  Tolerating chaos.  Eating less cheese.  Climbing things.  Discussing tough family or relationship issues with the loved one in question. Being vulnerable. Fixing household items without making them broken in a new way.  Experiencing change. 

As for parenting, it belongs in each category at different moments.  No other role you've assumed can make you feel as wonderful and as low.  Perhaps it's best to approach it with a fresh outlook each day. You've got that going for you!

Maybe you're just like anyone else in this regard, but your best memories are of deep conversations and revelations in both simple and exotic places. Stargazing with your husband in Belize. Sleeping on the train with your daughters. Long runs with good friends. Family meals. Moments of mutual admiration and appreciation.

Now for some advice.  Go easy on your husband, who is an incredible father and partner and often the brunt of your bad moods. 

Big Sis is old enough now to hold up a reasonableness meter to your responses and reactions, and for now, she does it politely.  Listen to her; she's going to help the whole team with her gentle guidance.

There isn't too much time or attention you can bestow upon your family.  You've understood this all along, but you really get it now

Finally, you're always working on the balance, on the feeling good about your time and attention to family and friends, to work, and to yourself, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  The neverending adjustments are, well, neverending, so I can't help you settle the deal for once and for all.  But Fer, you're good at the checks and balances.  You know when something is off.  Trust yourself. 

Maybe that's the most important wisdom for me to pass on to you...me.  Trust yourself; I trust you. 

See you in the morning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Beyoncé a Wonderful Mom, Pals Say"

Dear Beyoncé,

Congratulations on your new baby! I am wishing you deep sleeps, lots of family snuggle time, and some moments for yourself, too.

And to be granted space from prying eyes and cameras. I recall so many long afternoons with nothing to do but just be with baby Big Sis. We'd lie on the living room rug and chat and play and sing to the new Sarah McLachlan album. I'd watch the shadows lengthen across the room and neighborhood folks come home from work and think about how my days were different now.

But goodness did that headline about you on CNN.com fire me up for a whole day before I clicked on it for details. Partly it was the suggestion that we were all waiting to hear if you could hack your new role. I am trying to relate to your situation, while understanding that the news media is generally uninterested in my children and parenting. So I imagine a scenario in which my friends are prompted by Facebook to rate my mothering, with the verdict of (phew) "good." Thanks, guys.

I think.

It's the notion that parenting is black and white, good or bad--or that there is even a spectrum including "wonderful" that we exist on--that chafes and makes me want to reach out and reassure you. For one thing, that designation can feel like a big pile of pressure to maintain some level of parenting awesomeness.  What's the rubric for mothering, anyway, and who created it? How do I know a wonderful mom when I see her, particularly when she has a brand-new infant? Do wonderful moms smile all the time? Do they breastfeed? Do we measure a mom's wonderfulness by her ability to hold it all together? By her claims that she really, really loves every part of this whole game-changing, irrevocably life-altering, amazing but scary-ass gig?

In defense of your friends Kelly and Michelle, who are just trying to be wonderful pals, it's the news media I want to scream at to SHUT IT ALREADY, particularly when they drop analytical gems like, "motherhood...is as natural for the pop star as dancing in stilettos and a leotard."

Wow. Deep breath.

You do rock the stilettos and leotard. But I have to wonder if that's like me rocking my safety vest and emergency backpack as a vice principal on a fire drill. It's part of my work uniform, and by far not the most natural or wonderful thing about me and the job that I love.

But let's examine natural. Natural moms I know cry a whole lot--or not, feed their babies in the best way they can, need help, are a little scared a lot of the time, trust their instincts, second-guess themselves, rely on others' wisdom, try and fail and attempt something else, feel frustrated and triumphant, and bask in times that feel good.

Natural mothers sometimes experience post-partum depression. Kids of natural moms may need daycare. Mothers who are naturals might allow their children to jump on the couch or forbid their kids to watch network TV, because natural parents do what feels right and comfortable for their families. So go with what works for you. And sometimes you find out what works for you actually doesn't, because parenting is a heck of a tough career, and all the important learning happens on the job.

The good news is that there are no Billboards charts for parenting or record sales to top. There's just you and your little family, making do and doing your best in your own way.

To be the very best parent you can be, you need to take good enough care of yourself to take good care of your children. And put your children's health and safety above all others'. Parents check their priorities from time to time, recalibrate, make adjustments. And even get help when they're losing it. Don't be afraid of that; be afraid of being dishonest with yourself and with the people who love you.

I hope you feel wonderful, Mama. And when you don't, that's okay, too. We get it. Kelly and Michelle will get it, too, as they support you on this new journey.

Surround yourself with loving friends and family, and go easy on yourself. No matter what kind of mom you feel like, or the media declares you are, you're some kind of wonderful, for certain.



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mommy, I Went to the Nurse's Office Today

"Oh, really? What was wrong?"

"My forehead hurt."

"So, what happened?"

"I stayed there a while. I drank some water."


"And then I remembered we were having a Popsicle Party, so I asked if I could go back to my class."

"How are you feeling now?"

"Pretty good. Can I have some chocolate cake?"

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Here is our fridge:

It is resembling a vertical form of the Pile of Denial

Help me, 2012!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cupcake on a Plate

On Black Friday in November we were invited to the home of some friends who host a "Make Something" Day in lieu of "buy something."  The girls and I baked an apple tart to contribute, and spent the better part of the afternoon gabbing and creating in the company of lovely friends.  The girls drew, cut and glued, and painted on canvas.  Big Sis made a painting for Grandma Shirley, and we hung it in her room at the care facility and then on her sideboard when she returned home

Yesterday we brought home some boxes of Grandma's things, possessions she had designated for us and for the girls, and other items family members thought we would appreciate having.   Nestled in the boxes were Christmas gifts our niece chose for the girls, gifts Grandma would have endorsed. 

We inherited much of Grandma's Beanie Baby collection, including outfits, and when I returned home from stepping out with a friend for a glass of wine, they were lined up on the couch, tucked under a blanket. 

Photo albums Grandma kept of Husband and our family were among the books and treasures to remind us of her:  a ship on driftwood, a mermaid figurine, a porcelain clown.  A beautiful cookbook self-published by her cousin, an artist, caught my attention.  This morning, I reflexively reached for my phone to call Shirley and tell her how much I love it. 

Grandma kept lists of the gifts she'd been given over the years, with directions to return them to the givers someday.  That day was yesterday for us, and we found drawings and jewelry and framed photos once selected or created for her.  Big Sis discovered the painting she made for Grandma, "Cupcake on a Plate." 

"Mom, this is Grandma's!  It's supposed to stay in her house."  She looked puzzled.

"Oh, honey; she's not living there anymore.  They're cleaning everything out..."

"It's not going to be her house anymore?  Ever?"

I shook my head.  "No, it's not...someone else will live there."

Big Sis clutched the painting. "But, Mom, this was supposed to be with her forever--it was for her."  Her eyes welled up.  "It's not ours.  Why didn't they just burn it up with her?" 

I gulped.  "I hear that you want it to be with her always, honey.  You don't want it back, do you?" 

She shook her head.

"We can burn it, sweetie."

"And can we put it with her, when we spread her ashes in the water?"

"Sure, honey.  Sure.  We can do that."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's Tribute: My Husband

In the spirit of artists honoring the role of their patrons in the form of a New Year's gift, I offer my annual New Year's Tribute to a man who has made my life's work possible:  my husband. 

Being a working parent is difficult.  Being a parent and a self is difficult.  Being a working parent and a self and a partner and friend is also difficult, but my husband takes it all in stride.  He makes those roles easier for me to balance, too.

When I met my mate and we decided to marry, we didn't forecast how our careers would mesh; we didn't consider the logistics of raising children.  We were in love, and the rest would work itself out.  We had a teacher's salary and a sailing coach's pay, yet we felt rich.  We'd already bought a house, hey!

And what do you know, the rest has worked itself out, in large part because of my husband's patience, clear eyes, and can-do attitude.  We didn't know then I'd become a vice principal shortly after giving birth to our second daughter, and I'd trade weekend grading for Friday night football games and weeknight meetings.  Husband's weekends coaching regattas mean he's often away, but our work lives mesh well; though we often pass the kids like batons in a frenzied relay, more often than not, we eat dinner as a family.   What's the best part of your day? we ask one another.  This, I say.  Having this. 

My husband's gift to us is uncomplicating things--or not complicating them in the first place.  For every sense of overwhelm I conjure or fall prey to, Husband walks into the house with a happy sigh and smile to remind me it's all good.  "We need to not worry," he suggests.  "We need to have fun," he reminds me. 

And there's the confidence I have that he's behind me no matter what.  I could quit my job, run for President, or move us to Africa, and he'd have few queries before he got with the new program.  He never questions my need to go running, attend Book Club, fly off for a writing retreat, see friends, take a break.  All that, and he even sets the coffee maker each evening, makes breakfast and wrangles the girls through their morning routine, attends doctors' appointments, and vacuums while I am out jogging. 

Thank you, honey, for making not only the day-to-days but the dreams possible, too.  I sense the winds of change blowing in 2012, but feel good knowing you'll make it all seem easy, somehow.