This is Eli

A blog about Eli. A blog about survival – and by that, I mean life!

I am in an airport and I’ve fully turned into my mother. I am wearing pennyloafers. Mine happen to be silver. But still. Penny loafers. Is it 1994? I ate fries for breakfast. And a burger. I’m calling it brunch. Another Gayle move. It happened to be Smashburger and not a kamikaze mission into Mickey D’s. But still. I’m thinking a lot about my mom this week.

She died in 2010 of esophageal cancer. I read a post by a young man with CF yesterday about the ways having an illness makes you thankful. And I found myself thinking about the same thing. Here are 4 ways I’m feeling really thankful right here right now at the intersection of life and illness.

1. Eyes wide open to the present

Because there have been times I’ve experienced an overwhelming darkness, I appreciate the light a lot more. (Thanks, Wellbutrin!) Depression is like a screen that blots happiness from your brain. Anxiety is its shitty BFF, loading worry onto a conveyer belt twisting around your brain and heart. This is how I know I’m feeling all the feels but they aren’t pulling my strings. On Oct. 30 I left my family back in OKC and moved to Maryland ahead of the tribe to start a new job in a new field. I definitely got hit with waves of lonliness and sadness 10 days in as the excitement wore off (So I cried on the phone to my sister, WHATEVER).  But once I stopped being pathetic, because I let it all out and realized I had control of my emotional state, not the other way around, I forced myself out of the house to hang out with my pals in the area and meet new people. I also know myself well enough to know that if I don’ expel stress with exercise, I’m in trouble. I worked up the nerve to join an exercise bootcamp run by a former Marine. I have no name in that group other than “New Recruit.” And we had a lot of laughs and now all the muscle fibers in my thighs are torn apart from squats. THE END

2. Even with loss, you can think back to the good times

You have to train yourself to think this way or bitterness will consume you, but losing my mom forced me to look at what I had and what she continues to give me, not what I lost. Yes, I roll sans mother. I got her for a full 30 years. And after her diagnosis, we had a year and a half together. And her penny loafers are still making me smile. And her french fry obsession is still making me smile. And her propensity for being just a little bad – impulse silver penny loafer purchase here, french fries for breakfast there, is making me smile.

Gayle

Gayle, kickin’ it from the great beyond since 2010. She’s got your back 24/7.

3. Low, low standards

My standards for happiness are really low! I swear to you low standards really are the key to happiness. When something as heavy as disease is in the picture – Eli’s cystic fibrosis – what does it take to make us happy? Not much! Are we breathing? Roger that. Then we accomplished something big today. Am I wearing pants? BONUS. Mascara? Damn I look good. I mean DAMN. Are my kids fed and dressed and only five minutes late for school today? Oh my gawd we are on fire. The highlight of my day – maybe the month, maybe the year – is going to be surprising them at the airport in St. Louis, where I’m meeting my tribe and our extended family. We haven’t told them I’ll be there. In fact, I’ve been playing it up that I won’t be. MWAHAHAHAHA

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4. I don’t have time to overschedule the hell out of us

My son’s care is time consuming. So, poinsetta sale, kindly eff off.

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I’ve arrived in Washinton, DC, and it’s permanent.

And now it’s Saturday morning, 20 days after my plane landed.

My family isn’t here yet, technically, physically.

I carry them all around like magic.

lailaeli

Eli is with me right now, sitting on my heart playing choo choos, for instance.

But how did this all happen?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

To get here, in a little suburb right outside the nation’s capital, I had to land in Oklahoma first.

That was back in 2012. Shortly thereafter, Eli arrived. He was squishy and pink and perfect, with wise dark eyes. He fussed very little, even for a newborn.

His tummy began to swell. Nurses began to panic. They put him on ze chopper.

Ze chopper?

Was that necessary for a 10-minute drive across town? I still have the bill we got a week later, made out to my one-week old son, for $22,000. And I later found out the hospital where he was born offered to drive him in one of its ambulances across town. But in a decision I was not a part of, he was instead made to wait six hours for a helicopter transport from the hospital where we wanted him to be, the only children’s hospital in the state.

Eli in the beginning

The beginning

When I learned these facts later, about the travesty transport decision that put his life at risk, our finances at risk, and that I was not a part of, despite being a consumer for healthcare, one of the most expensive fucking things you can ever buy, it hit me square on my brain.

Your son has a target on his back. He is sick. And everyone wants a fucking piece of him.

Every entity that will save my son wants to rob him, too.

New hospital, after robbing us, saved my son’s life. His doctors diagnosed him with cystic fibrosis.

Side note: It’s stunning to be told a baby has a fatal illness. There really aren’t adequate words to describe what that felt like. A mack truck? A wildfire? I grieved for the life we wouldn’t get. One that was normal, like everyone else’s, at least from the outside.

But things got better as real Eli replaced fake Eli from my mind. Caring for him has become our honor. Sometimes he breaks our hearts, asking why he has an illness, or thrashing at us and scratching at us when it’s time to do the care that is keeping him alive. Other times he is docile and cozy, laying on our chests during hours of breathing treatments with cartoons or video games. He is frustrated, screaming in anger from a deep, primal place after his stupid shaking vest knocks over the wooden train track bridge he so carefully engineered, yet again. He is funny, playing pranks, like turning the lights off when we are in the room, and keeping running jokes going for days.

Every entity that wants to save him wants to rob him, too. It hit me again at our first drug denial. We couldn’t afford the RSV-preventative drug Synagis. That was a special kind of hell, knowing a drug existed to keep his lungs safe and that he wouldn’t get it.

There was no fucking grant program. There was no fucking charity. He didn’t get the fucking drug, and then he was fucking hospitalized for five days, where there are fucking superbugs fucking roaming the halls waiting for a set of lungs like his to destroy.

Fuck that.

I shall say it again in all caps FUCK THAT.

Luckily I have pleasant distractions in my life that prevent bitterness from settling in.

Since I’ve moved to DC, Eli and Laila have remained in cahoots, attempting to trick me every single phone call, saying it’s night when it’s morning, morning when it’s night, as if they are now half way around the world.

Back to Oklahoma. Right after Eli’s birth.

I met an inspiring group of people with our local Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (Love you, Celia), and they invited me to Washington, DC for a volunteer leadership conference.

The event was incredible, and it left me wanting to do more. Later, I would, locking down about $70k in grants for drug research for the foundation over the next three years.

But at the event,  at this big forum in a conference room, my son having just been denied a drug, I sent a big, obvious question up to the front of the room about drug costs. It was along the lines of – so we’re giving you all this money, where is the guarantee we will be able to afford the drugs?

The CF Foundation leaders totally ignored my question.

It pissed me off.

Back in Oklahoma, I’d made a friend named Brianna. She has two littles. She is really smart. Her ideas are really fucking good. She is also a reporter. She is a boss

She did this smart thing, walking down one of Oklahoma City’s arterial roads. it is really difficult to walk anywhere in Oklahoma City. There are no sidewalks. She walked anyway and talked to people along the way, and then she wrote about it, and then she gave a speech about the walk, which I found inspiring.

Also, there was free wine.

The group putting on the speech was looking for speakers to talk about what inspired them. I had too much free wine and I signed up for the next round.

The speech was to be about something I was passionate about. But anger is passion, and I had lingering anger about the cost of the drug Eli couldn’t get.

Looking around, I didn’t see anyone in the cystic fibrosis commiunity raising the alarm about the cost of our latest drugs, which were a lot more pricey than Synagis.

The most exciting and groundbreaking drug, from the Boston-based company Vertex, Kalydeco, approved in 2012, gave all of us in the CF community hope. It had been announced at 376k per year, which stunned me. I mean – the CF community had paid for this drug. The company had used tax incentives for orphan drugs to create it. Where do they get off putting that kind of price tag on our drug?

The phrase that comes to mind is “Drinking from both sides of the trough.”

Where do they get off threatening my hope?

What’s shitty is – we’re all desperate for our children to stay alive. We would do anything, pay anything. We are busy as hell, too. CF care takes at minimum 2 hours a day for Eli.

We are occupied and desperate, myself included.

We are beinge extorted. And it’s easy to extort us.

On principal, I objected.

I gave the speech. A petition I designed to go along with the speech took off, eventually gaining 130,000 signatures.

What good is a petition on the internet? It’s yelling in an echo chamber. So what?

I wanted to give it to the company. I wanted a sit down.

They oblidged.

Vertex first offered to come to Oklahoma. I told them no. I’ll come to you.

I didn’t want them to spend money on me. I didn’t want a steak. I didn’t want to be pals.

I sold T-shirts instead so I could take Eli and deliver it, without taking their money or gifts.

We put our petition in a yoga mat and got on a plane. I put Eli in a Hamilton costume.

Shameless:

elih

Our visit – futile and frustrating as it was – got a little media coverage.

I got a phone call.

His name was David M. I googled him. He was an ‘M’ in a mysterious DC firm named for first letters of the partners. He divulged he’d be retiring soon. He told me he had  terminal cancer. He told me $450,000 worth of drugs had pumped through him to stay alive.

He told me he knew patients who weren’t so fortunate as he, that were dying because they couldn’t get a hold of the drug Revlimid, or others. They couldn’t afford it. So they died. Quietly and in the shadows.

You hear from the sick in the shadows sometimes. GoFundMe is like their last gasp of fucking air.

He was starting something new and calling it Patients for Affordable Drugs. And he wouldn’t take money from drug companies, or any other industry, in going about this activism, which no one else was doing, because everyone takes pharma money. Everyone is, therefore, muzzled.

No one is truly speaking for patients in the ongoing drug cost tragedy.

We were same page, David and I.

I helped them launch and gave them advice for eight months on a volunteer basis.

I was really down after that first stupid, futile meeting with Vertex. My smart friend Brianna with all the ideas told me to buy stock in the company and become a shareholder activist.

So I did.

My new friends at the patient group even flew me back to Vertex so I could finally get facetime with the CEO, in the boardroom.

He gave me more runaround.

A job opened up at P4AD and David hired me.

I put some stuff in some suitcases and got on a plane. I’m in DC now.

My family is still in Oklahoma, but they are here, traveling with me by way of my heart.

I’m glad to be here, because greed keeps trying to kill my son. Not just along the lines of drug costs.

The GOP tax plan is a greedy hot mess that will hurt the sick. If it were a plan from the Dems that hurt the sick, I’d say the same thing. It happens to be from the right. And I’m opposed to it because it’s wrong to do things like take away deductions for medical equipment from families whose children have incredibly complex medical needs.

littlelobbyists

I’m connecting with other activists now who are independent and who want to work with both sidea of the aisle on drug costs.

My group may be small, but we are good at making connections with others who refuse to be owned and muzzled. We are good at telling stories.

And little people have big stories to tell. They maybe just need someone to listen. Someone to deliver the messages to the right places and to the right people.

That’s what I’m trying to do now.

I’m here trying to occupy the space between yelling on the internet and getting something done.

And what I’ve found in a few short weeks is that getting something done is going to be infinitely harder than yelling on the internet. My brain needs to catch up to my loud mouth. I’m humbled by how little I actually know. I’m humbled by the people I meet who know so much more.

I only know now that compassion is going to win. Greed is threatening the livelihoods, lives and liberty of the sick.

Here is a good place to be. Here is a good place to fight.

Eli is sitting on my heart and his little fists are up. He’s ready. Me too.

 

 

 

Eli loves school.

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He brings his teacher random presents: zinnia heads (always missing the stem) from the garden. Paper-duct tape-popsicle stick sculptures. He brings us stories: About his new best friend Hank, mixing it up on the playground. He comes home on occasion with his school shirt covered in red dirt. He’s not supposed to dig, but manages to evade the playground monitors like some hole-digging ninja.

His schoolmates, in turn, love him back. When we went to the fall festival, Mark and I noticed that something kept happening. Tiny people kept ambushing Eli, yelling “EYI!” moments before aggressively bear hugging him, and zipping away. He was getting hug bombed.

And yes, it was just about the cutest thing I’d ever witnessed.

This week we made his “All about me” poster for school.

We pasted pictures of the family on our various adventures: Digging for crystals in the salt flats, us at the Grand Canyon, in front of a “cabinet” (kid speak for cabin) in Medicine Park, Okla. (a real frontier town!). His current career goal: Builder. His favorite color: green. His favorite food: chicken noodle soup. Chicken noodle soup, really Eli? It was the last thing he ate.

I wondered: Do we include a couple of photos of the care we do every day?

Do we put cystic fibrosis on the poster?

I asked him.

He said it would be OK.

I pasted the photos in the lower left hand corner. A part of him, but not centerstage.

Under dislikes, I put a photo of him receiving a haircut from daddy. He wore a concerned glance. I kinda put the photo of him in his vest near the dislikes, too. As of late, Eli has declared war on his vest machine.

Some mornings he is docile, but others he wakes up, angry. A jarring, childhood awake-asleep anger that can’t be assuaged. So imagine putting a kid on a medical device in the middle of a fit like that. That’s what we did.

It was 6:15 a.m Wednesday.

It took both Mark and I to get him in the thing. He was screaming at us and scratching at us, punching at us and kicking at us. And I just let him.

Eli is strong. I had to hug him from behind, like a human arm and leg clamp, and try to white noise him off his ledge.

Shh Shh Shh. It’s OK, buddy. Shh shhhh.

NO IT’S NOT MOMMY! he screamed, writhing and vibrating and occasionally coughing.

He’s started to cough again, about three days ago now.

All of us have a small cold, but I can sense his getting worse, not better.

The vest moves that shit outta there. Otherwise the gunk would sit in his lungs and draw or worsen an infection.

Then I said something stupid.

“I’m sorry Eli. It’s not my fault, Eli.”

YES IT IS MOMMY.

He was right. It’s a genetic disease. I gave it to him.

And my heart broke, again.

But, Human clamp lady needed to move on to a new tactic: distraction.

“Do you want a TV show buddy? You Tube?” I whispered in his ear. “Netflix? How about a video game on mommy’s phone? Video game? Which one?”

We went on like this for what seemed like an hour but couldn’t have been more than three minutes.

Finally, I hit the jackpot.

“Cookie. Do you want a cookie?”

His whole body relaxed. I unclamped.

He scooted up to the corner of the couch, wiping his tears.

He paused, looked at me.

“Two cookies, mommy,” he said in a small, but determined voice.

“Two cookies. You got it buddy.”

This is not the story I would tell his class the next day, when I stopped in for Eli’s “All about me” week to read a book to the class.

May I just pause and compliment the teacher, Mrs. S.

Naturally, I was running late. And I do mean running. I work down the street, a few blocks from the school. I was running in heels. I sent a desperate text.

“Be there in five!”

I walked breathlessly into the class, and there that group of pre-K students sat, perfectly still, completely quiet and attentive, on the rug, waiting for me. Incredible work, Mrs. S. Anyone who has ever tried to wrangle a group of young children needs to pause and take a moment and be in awe of that not insignificant accomplishment.

Eli hugged me. He sat down with the group and put his head down and covered his ears.

He told me I could read the book “All about me,” which is about a day in the life of a girl named Patti with cystic fibrosis. The book is mostly about regular kid stuff, with treatment and hand washing and extra calories thrown into the mix. It’s a really sweet book.

Now Eli seemed embarrassed. Had I made a mistake?

Too late to turn back now.

The ABC rug full of cross-legged littles and their wide-eyed faces before me needed a story.

I read the book.

“Any questions?” I asked this well-behaved crowd.

About ten hands shot up.

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The first boy forgot his question, or never had one. I think he just wanted to put his hand in the air.

Another boy asked about hand washing.

“Why does it get rid of germs.”

I told him that soap makes the germs slide off hands. Hand washing is the best thing to do to stay well. And it helps Eli extra, too. When he gets sick, it’s a little different, so we wash hands a lot.

I called a girl who just wanted to tell me she was Eli’s friend.

More hands shot into the air.

“I’m Eli’s friend.”

“I’m Eli’s friend, too.”

“Me too.”

“I’m Eli’s friend too!”

“I do breathing treatments, too!” a girl told me shyly.

“That’s really good,” I said. “Eli, did you hear? She does them too!”

He buried his face in my side.

It was time for me to go.

Mrs. S. asked me if anything had been wrong lately. Yesterday, Eli was sad all day.

“Well,” I said. “I am moving. I got a new job. The family’s moving in December, but I’m leaving Monday, and I think he’s upset. I’m sorry I hadn’t mentioned that yet. I really should have mentioned that.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” she said. “He did just say, ‘I’m moving,’ but didn’t explain. He’s going to be missed here. He’s really popular.”

And I wondered about that on my walk back to work.

Eli’s got a little something different going on.

Do these little people somehow instinctively know that?

Do they love him a little extra, care for him a little more, because he is a little different?

Or is he perhaps extra kind, a caring friend, because he has had his share of hardships for 4? Or is Eli just Eli, a gap-toothed kid who likes to build, mix it up in the dirt and play pranks, and their fondness for him has nothing to do with illness?

I don’t know.

But I’m so glad he loves school, and that his classmates love him, too.

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WTFinGRAY

WTF Just Happened? The week in review (a day late).

WTF is happening in the world?

Please do this ASAP do not delay!

Please call your lawmakers ASAP and tell them to oppose the utter shit Graham/Cassidy bill. It does not support people with cystic fibrosis or sick people or the elderly. Sixteen patient and provider groups oppose the bill, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It would institute lifetime caps, which could kill Eli. His latest drugs cost more than $200K/year people! Half of children with CF are on Medicaid. This bill limits Medicaid. And if you think the poor don’t deserve coverage may I suggest launching a search for your humanity? Include search dogs. And flashlights. Because that is cruel as hell. People with illness are often unable to work and have to rely on these programs to stay alive.

Go to CommonCause.org to find your elected officials. Please read the position statement and call for Eli’s sake.

 

Lawd.

I don’t do awards shows.

I did catch some after-tweets. Look at how sweet and classy the kids from Stranger Things were at the Emmy’s!

Amber Tamblyn says no one believes victims. She’s right. (NY Times)

A botched surgery left a barber with erectile dysfuntion. Decades later, he takes his revenge. (The Washington Post)

Who are the Rohingya? (Al Jazeera)

Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis explained(Bloomberg)

Houston church to Jewish lesbian volunteer: ‘You’re fired’ (Newsweek)

More than 80 arrested after protest violence in downtown St. Louis (SL Post Dispatch)

Maria pounds Dominica (CNN)

Live Maria updates (The Guardian)

WTF is happening on this blog?

I wrote about our trip to the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon, Chasm of Death, Part 1. I sell words to get my family to the Grand Canyon. The Texas Panhandle disappoints us all.

I need to re-do my blog categories. I’m going to make a new one, called Adventure, which is all encompassing for our adventures, big and small. Much how the rich turned ‘summer’ and ‘summering’ into a verb ala “Buffy, where will you summer this year?” “Why, Mah-rtin, in Mah-ta’s Vinyaaayd ofcaaahs.” I have turned adventure or adventuring into our action word for poor people/middle class/livin’-on-the-edge people activities.

WTF are we watching on Netflix

First they killed my Father.

Holy. Motha. Well-told, poingnant and from the eyes of a child, Angelina Jolie’s movie based on the book is gonna bowl ya over.

It’s sad as hell. Be prepared.

To counterbalance, I started watching Portlandia again. At first Portlandia annoyed me. Now I can’t stop laughing. Go fig.

I started planning our trip to the Grand Canyon with the following Google search:

“How to die at the Grand Canyon.”

Oh. Dear. Me.

There are so many ways to die at the Grand Canyon!

I did not want to die, nor my did I want my family members to die. Thus, I was merely cheating death by finding out how we could all die!

Seven hundred seventy people have died at the Grand Canyon since 1869!

There’s even an incredible interactive map about ways to die at the Grand Canyon. Like you can wear 3D glasses and look at it. And it’s based on a book! Tourists fall off the rim! People are murdered! And a mule even fell on one unlucky soul!

Should I read the book? No I should not.

Thirty six hours and 17 minutes and 3 seconds later I emerged from the interactive map.

Somehow I still wanted to go to the Grand Canyon. With a toddler. Who had a darting problem.

We’ll just have to put Eli on a leash, I thought.

Word spread among the family about where we were headed.

It was February 2016.

We received a letter in the mail from our nephew, Alex.

Alex lives in Milwaukee and along with most of my niece and nephews and family sprinkled all over the Midwest, we don’t get to visit Alex more than once a year, which I feel like shit about, all year long!

Mark opened this delightful little envelope to a hand-written note explaining a real big  problem.

Alex had been flattened by a bulletin board. He’d slipped himself into a paper envelope and hoped to go with us on our upcoming trip to the Grand Canyon. Ya know, like the story, Flat Stanley, which his class happened to be reading.

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I may not be the greatest auntie, one to remember birthdays and attend ball games —  but this, this I could help do.

Look at that dear heartfelt sweet adorable wonderful handwritten note. Alex you are about to get a mothafuggin A+. It. Is. Written.

When I get an idea in my head, such as, but not limited to, “Our family should see the Grand Canyon,” and “Alex is getting a mothafuggin A+,” soon after arrives a glint in my eye. We were going to go see the damn Grand Canyon and Flat Alex was going to rise to the top of his class. So help me God, Flat Alex, you shall beat all the other flat children!

Travel is so first world it’s not even funny. It’s sick, really. Even “budget” travel. Ha. Hahaha. The  ambitious trips we go on come in around $2K. To some, pocket change, but a lot for us. That’s a lot for most Americans. Too much.

I hereby rename travel ‘adventure.’ Because you, poor and/or middle-class person (ie us) can have an adventure at the park rather than going ‘traveling’ and saying irritating things like ‘travel feeds my soul…”   on  Instagram whilst refusing to acknowledge class privilege. You know what feeds my soul? The 40 percent off coupons at Michael’s.

WTF ever tangent, how were we going to pay for this? I’m not going to sit here and pretend that piece was easy to figure out.

There’s an underlying reason I try so hard to get a good adventure in wherever we can stick one. Eli has cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening wild card of a disease. I wanted us to go to the the ocean. Check, by 1.5 he’d been there.

In January 2016 he’d been hospitalized for the third time in three years.

But that was behind us. He was well now. It was time for the Grand Canyon.

Easy peasy not easy I needed to sell something.

My soul? Hmmm…

My body? Nah….

How about some words? Settled.

When Al Jazeera America existed, it paid well for me to go do off-the-radar stories.

I arrived in Duncan, Okla.

“Al Jazeera…America?” a local mulled it over. He asked if I was in the Muslim Brotherhood.

“No, I’m not in the Muslim Brotherhood.”

With that established, the source I met in a neighborhood where the private wells were contaminated by Halliburton, one of the most powerful entities in the state and fuggetabout this little town, drove me around and told me everything I needed to know.

At one point we pulled up to a home that Halliburton bought because it contaminated the groundwater. A security guy rolled up and parked, and this gent I was with floored it in his Jeep. Rapid shifted us on outta there.

“See, see what I mean?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking the security guard was actually probably just on his phone.

The guy with the Jeep never made the story. But he made the story.

I got out alive in the town that Halliburton owned.

 

I wrote.

In came the check and off we went.

We packed a bunch of stuff into the car, including Flat Alex. He played with Laila and Eli for a while before I slipped him into a side pocket of my messenger bag. No problem, buddy. So far Alex proved himself a quiet and agreeable little chap. Laila and Eli –  needed to take note.

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We loaded up the family truckster and hopped on Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City, heading West. Our destination for the first leg of this Grand Canyon-bound sojourn: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

En route, Mark got a grand idea. Thirty years ago, at age 5, he’d been on a road trip with his parents and three sisters. Outside of Amarillo, Texas, at a Route 66 roadside attraction, the family stopped at so-called Cadillac Ranch, a line of half-buried Caddies in the Texas dirt. We decided to do the same thing.

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Roughly 32 mood swings (none from Alex) , four hours and 260 miles later, we arrived in Amarillo. West of town, there they were, in a pasture, beyond a barbed wire fence, those half-buried Cadillacs jutting up from the earth that Mark remembered. Lots of people had the same idea we did, to get out of the car on this bright and sunny day and check out this tourist trap/art installation.

As we approached, Mark noticed things had changed in 30 years.

He did remember, at 5, seeing the cars. He didn’t remember so many people. Fifty or 75 milled around. There wasn’t spray paint back then either. A lot of people bought spray paint from a little girl and her dad out of the back of a pickup at the entrance. Word on the street was she was saving for a trip to Six Flags.

Man, was it dusty out in that field. The combination of wind, dust and aersosol paint did not make for a pleasant experience.

I immediately freaked out about Eli’s lungs.

We shouldn’t be here, in the dust and the fumes. This was ludicrous.

Who were these yahoos who thought it was an awesome idea to spray aerosol paint in the wind? These idiots next threw their empty spray cans on the ground. WTF?!?!

And guess what Eli wanted to do – Pick up every half empty paint can he could find and see how it worked, of course! When I 86’d that little initiative, he dissed the spray cans for the colored lids, which made convenient shovels with which to mess around with the sticky, red, dusty dirt.

Ughghghghhg.

It was then I discovered Alex had a social conscience:

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We snapped a few photos, including one in which I pretended this place was awesome.

Total lie.

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I worried not only about Eli’s lungs but that dear Alex would fall victim to a Texas panhandle wind gust.

Every time we took Flat Alex out, we so worried for his safety. There were toddler hands. There was wind.

We exited and piled back into the car post haste, vowing never to return.

Hey, Laila – did you like it the Cadillac Ranch?

“No, I didn’t like it.”

Eli-how about you?

“No.”

Right.

Next stop: Santa Fe.

In attempt at vacation cost control, we booked a campsite in the middle of Santa Fe at Los Suenos RV Park & Campground. We don’t have an RV – we have a tent. The Trip Advisor reviews seemed solid and staff were super friendly on the phone.

Texas hills had opened up into scrubby plains-mesa, where we saw antelope crossing signs, but no antelopes, jack rabbits and wild turkeys. We drove through a small dust storm. As we rolled along I-40 and into New Mexico, our elevation hit more than 7000 feet compared to just 1200 feet in Oklahoma, which was once the bottom of an ocean. Rolling

Then a snow storm hit.

Wait, what? Cuz we were camping and I didn’t pack for snow and cold temps?

Like we really didn’t have enough blankets for a snowstorm. What is this the Oregon Trail?

Oh dear God, night was falling.

What were we going to do?

And would we even survive?

 

 

 

 

WTF

It’s Monday, Sept. 11. Just getting caught up? Here is the news you can use:

WTF is happening in the world

Irma. Lord, Irma.

It’s Sept. 11 again. Here’s a column about that grim morning’s first victim more than a decade and a half ago.

WTF is happening on this blog

I’m still writing about my mental health. It is something I’ve been weighing since I started this blog five days after Eli was born, nearly five years ago, because stuff was happening that I did’t understand, to him, to us.

I hate mom blogs. They’re so predatory. Parents with ill children who blog about their children are probably the worst of the worst.

BTW, look at my adorable click bait!

My point is, it felt increasingly gross and insincere writing about our lives and especially my son, when I was experiencing an illness also. One I pretended wasn’t there.

Now that I’ve acknowledged my ongoing mental health battles and upkeep, I find myself in the midst of some kind of creative surge. I’m rolling with it. My heart is open to it.

I’m finding inspo here, there and everywhere, from conversations with friends old and new to rather canned places like my ‘inspiration quote of the day’ setting in Google Allo.

Which I kind of take issue with. Because about 90 percent of the quotes are from men.

But one did speak to me.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”-Mahatma Gandhi.

I’d heard it before.

But I thought about it in light of my new openness about mental health here.

I’d like to live in a world where people aren’t ashamed of mental illness.

In that world, individuals wouldn’t turn to alcohol and drugs and addiction over admitting mental illness.

There is a wide spectrum of ruin that results because of shame, up to the destruction of families and suicide. The damage addiction inflicts can last generations.

To change that we – this generation – need to start talking about mental health. A lot. Within our own families and to our own friends and in the world at large. The stigma needs to die, and we need to kill it. Stigma, I cut you.

And while I’m on this bender, I’m going to add that I’d like to live in a world where the lives of the sick aren’t turned to ruin by the rigged system that both saves and  destroys them.

We can do better by the sick. They deserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, too. Their stories matter. Are real. Are happening. I’m going to try to tell those stories more often.

So there’s that.

I am trying meditation as a way to deal with my new best friend anxiety.

Wow is it hard to find 10 interrupted minutes.

Laila read to Charley the dog, and you couldn’t have punched the smile off of my face.

Eli painted the county lock up. About ten times.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-TALK (8255).

If you have questions about mental illness, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness help line: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org

The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET.

This is now

I finished reading “Little House in the Big Woods” to Laila.

“This is now.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote those lovely, simple words. and I thought them to myself today whilst lazing around on the couch with Laila, Eli and Mark, chatting, watching the tele and having a cozy nap.

“This is now…now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

“MOMMY LOOK!”

“Nice building, Eli! What is it!”

“JAIL!”


“Oh yes, Oklahoma County jail! The orange and black, I see it now! Why…jail?”

“I SEE IT IN THE CAR EVERY DAY MOMMY”

“Painting another one, are you?”

“MOMMY GET THE TAPE!”


“And another one?”

“MOMMY HANG IT UP!”

“Want to paint another building?”

“NO I LIKE JAIL”

I’m trying my hand at meditation.

This is unlike me. I don’t have patience for such woo woo things, things like stopping and breathing.

I began to see a therapist this week. I arrived 20 minutes late.

It stressed me out. Which is the opposite of the point of therapy.

I noted that unlike seven years ago, when I tried a few sessions out for the first time,I did not feel shame walking through the door, which was not in a giant academic hospital satellite, emblazoned with the announcement ‘Depression Center ‘- sheesh why not just put it in neon? – but in a one-room office embedded deep in an 80s office building maze.

I wasn’t sure where to begin my navel gazing, so I sat down on a cushy white love seat embroidered with a white sateen brocade – not my style- and told her about my medication switching that I suspected ran afoul, and caused my panic attack.

Nothing had upset me the day of the panic attack, during which I could not stop crying or seemingly breathe. My son starting at a new school could be ma trigga, I said. He has an illness. Growing up is getting sicker, and even as we focus on the happiness and beauty and joy Eli (and of course buddy Laila ) bring our way, and that living with illness close at hand  snaps into sharp focus, milestones are bittersweet. I told her I burst out sobbing to a school administrator a week or two before the panic attack, airing a fear that other kids would tell him he would die. Would make fun of him if he coughed. If I tried to put him in a hospital mask during the winter which I had at his last school, where no one batted an eyelash, because most kids there were there because they had health needs, often much more serious than Eli’s.

I told her I tried to shove depression and anxiety into a secret closet, where I fed it a pill through a slot each day and otherwise ignored it, even as seven years back it tried to kill me. I told her that shoving it into a dark locked closet wasn’t working out so hot for me. I told her about my heart palpitations amd insomnia and hands gone numb and dizzy spells. I reported that those all went away with Wellbutrin, though my chest has felt occasionally tight heading into Week 4 and I suspected SSRI withdrawl after seven years on Zoloft, the last three at 100 mg a day, had been behind my panic attack.

She told me that was a high dose.

Really? I asked. Because when my doctor doubled it three years ago when I told him my depression symptoms were returning he’d said it was a low dose, that he had patients in it for decades, some of them at 300 mg, which made me think NBD. Until I quit cold turkey, at his advice, while starting Wellbutrin, and experienced what I imagined was like a low-boil speed freak out that lasted a week. Except for those moments when it went high boil.

She took notes and told me she is a solution-oriented type of therapist. I told her good, because I’m a solution-oriented type of girl. She told me three times a day I should find time to take ten deep breaths, and showed me how to do this, from the belly.

I told her this is how we were trained to breathe in choir, but it had been a long time since I had the time to sing. Three times a day? When? Before I get out of bed, that should be No. 1, she told me.  That worked. I’ve been deep breathing before work in my car, after I park and steal time to put on makeup and listen to the radio. I’ve also already been taking deep breaths at night when my children hold me hostage while they go to sleep.

1,2,3, badda bing badda boom.

I told her I have refused to afford myself any intellectual curiosity whatsoever regarding my depression and anxiety, which I pretended not to have, until a few weeks ago, when my husband sent me an email with a single line in the body, a link to a PBS documentary on the depression epidemic, which I watched.

I felt both enlightened and disappointed, because while the documentary illuminated the subject and especially the stigma, those they picked to feature could not have been more damn gloomy, which depressed me. I mean those motherfuckers were gloomy. DoomyMcFugginGloomy.

I told her the next link YouTube suggested was a TedTalk featuring the psychologist and author Andrew Solomon called “Depression, the secret we share.”

I hadn’t heard of him, but his book “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” which he spoke of, sounded fascinating.

I decided to give his book a chance, even though he started the talk with a super depressing and dramatic reading of an Emily Dickinson poem.

He lulled me back with the follow-up point that spoke to me: “Half of art is suffering.”

I’d put it at about 85 percent, Mr. Solomon.

The therapist gave me a few more YouTubes to check out. Another author to try, one specifically who addresses stigma around mental health.

I decided a few weeks ago to give this breathing business she had suggested a try.

Yes, I am already top of your class of one,therapist. Haha!

I downloaded the app Headspace, and tonight completed my first 10-minute unguided breathing.

Thus far, I gathered that while you shouldn’t try to suppress wandering thoughts, you should ‘touch them like a feather to fine crystal,’ which is a visual deserving of all the mockery.

I settled in nevertheless and attempted to deep breathe in my room whilst lying down, my children shrieking outside my door, playing games with dutiful Mark.

A sampling of my wandering thoughts included: Is this app voice Moss from the IT crowd? I love Moss from IT crowd. Seriously is this him? *reenacts IT Crowd Moss-isms in head* Christmas shopping – should I get it underway? Oh, here comes the memory of our trip to The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, considered by Mark a hellscape, but it did allow me to start Christmas shopping in early August. Monarch butterfly eggs- are they in my garden and should I go looking for them with the kids? Does meditation have some overarching point? I’m a whore for goals, so what’s my goal here? Should I stop setting goals. Yes, I probably should. Oh shit, I better focus on my breath.

You get the picture. In between those thoughts, tickled with my feather to fine crystal (or not, but acknowledged), I did think about breath, of my cozy blanket, the screeching children, the cacophonous cicadas, my breath. There may have been microseconds of a fairly clear mind in there. Maybe.

Just breathing is harder than it sounds.

I’m a goal whore. Look how much breathing and nothing else I’ve done!

“Quiet, Mommy, I’m havin’ a day dream,” Laila said to me. I was driving. She wore a back-to-school motorcycle jacket kindly sent our way that had just arrived via UPS.

“I’m dreaming I’m on my motorcycle,” she said. “And I’ve just arrived at Target. I’m going to buy a toy now.”

“OK, sweetie. Dream on! Don’t let me disturb ya!”

It was an evening like any other.

Except we were going to the library. She was going to “read to dogs.”

We arrived and found one dog, named Charley; Charley’s minder, a man with silver hair and kind eyes; and a narrow, glass-walled room full of children.

That made Laila very nervous.

I’d told her we’d be attending “read to dogs,” not “read to a dog in front of an audience crammed into a tiny space.”

My heart sank a little because I’d really wanted her to give it a go, and now I wasn’t so sure she’d go through with it. We headed to the shelves full of ‘learning to read’ books.

“Amelia Bedelia?” I asked. The title made me nostalgic.

She started thumbing through reader after reader, shaking her head.

“No, not this one. No, not that one.”

Laila told me recently she didn’t like second grade, “because it was hard.” That broke my heart. She also told me she’s convinced everyone is staring at her and she’s afraid to ask questions.

I rocketed off a panicked e-mail to the school administrator. She’d fallen woefully behind in Grade 1, per the multi-colored bars and numbers of a standardized test. We arranged for her to see a reading specialist last year named Mrs. G., and under Mrs. G.’s tutelage and M&M rewards, Laila jumped up five reading levels, the bars and numbers informed us. Then the Title I funding ran out, and with it left Mrs. G and her M&Ms. Could we call a meeting? I wrote the administrator. Could we see if she’s falling behind again? Is she asking for help when she needs it? I messaged her teacher a similar panicky note on the app we parents use to tap out our stream of consciousness concerns and questions at literally any hour. Poor teachers.

Her teacher messaged back that Laila was keeping up well with everyone and also doing a good job asking for help.

We’ve had training sessions, Laila and I, working out how she should stop and ask a question if a teacher got too far ahead during instruction.

“You’ve got to speak up for yourself,” I told her. “Don’t worry about what other kids say or do.”

I’m often the idiot in the room asking the most obvious question. It’s taken my entire life to get used to it. To be brave enough to admit, time and time again – nope, I don’t get it. Why don’t you back up and explain that one more time.

“There is nothing wrong in asking for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” I’ve told Laila again and again.

Do as I say, not as I do, I thought as I let that last piece of advice air, which was totally something my mother would have said. I’m comfortable demanding explanations I’m piss poor at asking for actual aid.

Laila thumbed through a good ten readers.  Indeed. Stalling. I picked the easiest level reader for her, because we had never done this before, so I didn’t want to make it too hard.

I wondered – is she struggling to read, or is she struggling to try knowing that she could mess it up at any moment, because she’s not great at it yet. So does she have a reading problem or a self-confidence problem? Or maybe she has both problems.

Either way I’m obviously responsible! I’m a parenting failure!

Not true, asshole who lives in my head, but it’s easy to go down that road.

Another easy road to travel is called: What are we doing wrong here?

Ha, don’t answer that.

I’m a journalist. Mark is an English teacher. Why can’t our daughter read well yet? BTW I was writing full sentences in kindergarten. OK, the same two sentences, over and over again. My mom kept my kindergarten journal. In it I wrote: “Is the TV on? Yes the TV is on,” roughly 45.8 times. I totally busted my mom.

The TV was so on!

Obvis I was watching Care Bears. Did parents freak out like this in the 80s? I’d actually like to know. As I recall, when the TV was off, my mother just sent us loose to run about the neighborhood while she went about her business. Sure, sometimes there were tasks to attend to, such as, but not limited to, piling us into the back of a station wagon, where we didn’t wear seatbelts or sit in car seats, and driving to the salon, where I received my quarterly bowl cut. It’s a look I like to call ‘The long bowl of ’84.’ And maybe on the way back home she’d crack a window and spark a cig, because, 1984.

I’m not looking for advice about Laila. Unless I ask for it.  Which I’m not. Unless someone can put me in touch with my now-deceased mother. I read to Laila every day. We practiced the sight word notecards all summer. I’m not getting her evaluated by the experts. She’s friggin’ 7.  The only thing I’m considering is getting her eyes checked, as children sometimes have trouble tracking words on the page due to vision problems that aren’t always super obvious, like weak eye muscles. Even though her teacher thinks she’s doing OK, I may call a meeting and see what’s what and how we can help without going Tiger mom on anyone’s ass.

Right. Back to the library.

The book Laila picked for reading to the dog called Charley was about Fancy Nancy’s sister, JoJo, who was just trying to do some magic tricks with different combination of sticks, towels and magic sayings, to the horror of her sister, Fancy Nancy, who was being a total hater. I never liked that Fancy Nancy anyway, JoJo!

We went through the book, Laila and I, in a corner of the library. I read a line, she read the same line. Then she practiced it on her own. But words like “Bippity Boppity,” “Magic,” etc. tripped her up.

As did the thought about reading to this dog Charley in front of a bunch of kids.

Laila hushed me if I dared speak in anything other than a conspiratorial whisper.

“I should have brought ‘Holiday Helper,'” she whispered, her s’s hissing through her adorably absent front teeth.

“Oh dear Lord Laila. You memorized that book. That wouldn’t be fair. Charley’s not going to care if you have to stop and sound out a word or ask for help.”

“ssssSHHHH MOMMY ssssSHHHHHH.”

We pitter pattered over to the little room where Charley sat by his kind-eyed minder who sat in a rocking chair.

Most of the kids had cleared out.

THANKFULLY.

The remaining  audience of three sat on a padded bench across from Charley and his minder, including a woman by herself with a ‘library regular’ vibe,  a grandmotherly type and girl who looked 9. I sat on the floor. A confident and husky child of about 10 finished up her tale and hopped along to her mother, satisfied.

It was Laila’s turn, said the man in the rocking chair.

She walked, sat down next to Charley, crossed her ankles and cracked open her reader.

I could tell she was nervous. That made me nervous. Her voice was tiny.

But as she started to read, I beamed.

When the first word stumped her, she looked up at me.

I told her it was OK to ask the man, so she did.

Here and there she had to stop and ask him to help her with a word.

And every time she got through a sentence all right, the dear man said something affirmative, like “Excellent.”

She cast a few smiles at the dog, Charley.

Her voice grew louder.

She got through the whole book.

We all clapped. Charley panted. She hopped off the bench and smiled. I gave Laila a hug.

“I want to do that again, mommy. But I was nervous! Did you take photo and video??”

“Well, just a picture,” I said. “I just wanted to watch you, just me.”

We went to check out her reader, and another one. A level up.

And I thought as we walked out the library doors and to the playground that I should aspire to be more like Charley.

Calm and quiet and satisfied, listening to the voice of a child who is learning to read.


 

 

 

Energy, it’s been awhile. I’d toootally forgotten what you look like.

I’ve finally adjusted to Wellbutrin after an initial 14 days of extreme ups and downs.

The vain me is relieved that a non-weight gaining stimulant appears to jive with my brain chemistry.

I’m way less hungry, which is different, because one of my nicknames is Snacks.

I usually gain five pounds after even looking at a damn piece of chocolate cake. Thus, I’ve been a serial MyFitnessPal user for years. I quit during my mini-meltdown /med transition phase these last few weeks. Now I’m back at it and get this – making sure I eat enough. WHO AM I?

I weaned totally off of the 25 mg of Zoloft I’d been taking to kill the Wellbutrin edge. The obnoxious SSRI withdrawl brain zaps are much less extreme and infrequent, almost gone. I’m not taking BuSpar, the anti -nxiety drug my doctor gave me, either, because the tight feeling I had in my chest disappeared. Since I have a new friend called energy, I began my exercise regimen this week after almost a month of not doing jack squat. I even, like, baked. I baked muffins for my kids. Then I baked a frittata. WHO AM I?

It’s alarming how good I feel. Not manic or invincible. Not robotic or snappish. I am calm and yet still able to feel a range of feels without any one getting out of hand. Yes, I felt annoyed at my children for moving like slugs when we were already late for school this morning. I deposited them, hussled a scoop, pulled an assist and scribbled a ‘splainer online on account of a disaster that is pulling resources from this region of the land and thus increasing the workload of those who write about what’s going on. And I felt glad to do it, because it’s nice to be even a little useful in the middle of a national disaster.  I felt gratitude that a friend gave Laila school dresses and that we got to chat for a few moments after school. I felt sad a few moments ago when I did a little meditative breathing exercise with Eli, who told me it feels bad for him to breathe. We kept breathing. He held my hand here in the dark. And he drifted off to sleep.  I felt so happy that I am his mommy, and with Mark and a very capable team of doctors who care for him, we will together get to the bottom of what hurts his lungs, and help him feel better. It is an honor, little one, to care for you.

And after I plunk these words out on my mobile whilst lying in the dark next to Eli, I’ll have to go pack some lunches, and de-gross the kitchen. A few weeks I’d have given up and gone to sleep, because a few weeks ago I was so tired I could hardly function. By evening? Fughettaboutit. Done. My body sent me some alarming signals and I finally listened. I decided to start tending to my mind in the way I tend to the needs of others. I don’t feel crushed by life today. Tired? Check. But I am also invigorated by the prospect of tomorrow.


Good night.

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