This time of year, part deux

It’s Christmastime.

And my mood swing on wheels has arrived.

My family made it from Oklahoma to Maryland.

I don’t think I understood how leaving ahead of them, being away just shy of eight weeks, would thrash at my heart. But it did! And it hurt! And it made me cry under my hood on trains among strangers and listen to podcasts about other peoples’ depression while I wondered if mine had returned with a vengeance, readying to crush me.

I’m not sure it did, now that they are here. I’m not sure I hate Christmastime as much as I just said I hated Christmastime roughly five minutes ago.

I think I have to accept that this time of year is going to make me sad and happy, every year.

And I’ll probably be leaning on my family and friends to get through it.

Like – my friends Megan and Will, for instance. Did I mention I have built-in friends who live a mile away? No, I neglected to mention that. Too busy wallowing.

A week ago Saturday they yanked me out of my cocoon of sadness. I’d planned to stay in it and make vegetable soup and cry tears into the pot as a salt substitute. They forced me to go see a Christmas light display. And it was, dare I say, fun. And Megan and I determined Georgetown was not so kid friendly. And that the perma-disdain on some neighborhood faces is pronounced to the point of unintentional comedy.

So, there have been literal bright spots in an otherwise gloomy season.

Somehow my family’s mood swings make my own tolerable.

My mood swing on wheels has returned to me and my children are not so sure about this house.

Our old space wasn’t huge  at 1,300 square feet. But now we’re down to 900. For four people.

“WHERE’S THE UPSTAIRS MOMMY?” Eli asked.

“There is none, buddy.”

“I DON’T LIKE THIS HOUSE MOMMY!”

He furrowed his brow and stomped around, flinging here and there a pair of keys.

“I GOTTA LOCK BOX MOMMY WHERE IS IT?

It is in a shipping container on its way to our new house, I told him.

He picked up the keys and threw them into a metal Lincoln Log container. It emitted a tinny clang. Unsatisfied, he kicked it for good measure. A deep gong rang throughout the tiny house.

Laila was no more impressed. She’d been nonchalant about the move.

But after walking into the house and giving it a cursory glimpse, she sat down on one of the few pieces of furniture scattered around – a gray midcentury rescue chair.

“I don’t have any friends,” she said. “I’m scared to start school.”

“You’ll make friends, sweetie. And we’ll go with you and show you your new school. I know its scary but we will help you get through it.”

I pulled her onto my lap and gave her a squeeze. Her tummy hurt, she said, frowning.

Then Mark and the kids agreed the kitchen smelled bad.

Which was weird- because I can’t smell anything at all in there, but vaguely remember thinking the same thing upon move-in.

Laila perked up. She put on a string of performances that included a rap about a Tic Tac, followed by a competition of dueling animal impersonations, followed by a game of beauty salon.

“Laila, you’re really handling the move like champ, but if you want to be sad, it’s OK. Mommy will always listen.”

“We’ve just got to move on, Mommy, she said. “Everyone we left behind, they’re in my heart.”

This morning the kids noticed our new house lacks a fireplace.

“Santa won’t find it,” Eli said.

We made one out of cardboard and poster paint. (Thx for the poster paint grandma and grandpa!)

“Are you sure he can get in there?”

“Yes, Eli, he’s going to turn it into a real fireplace like magic,” Laila answered, turning to me.

“Mommy,” Laila said, dropping her paint brush. “I feel sick. I’m gonna throw up: Can I throw up?”

“Sure – and you don’t need my permission.”

pitter … patter … hurl

This time of year will never be perfect. Maybe the problem is not this time of year at all, but what we expect it to be.

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This time of year

It’s that time of year.

Christmastime.

And it’s not for everyone! In fact, I’m writing this for people who don’t love Christmas.

I kinda do. And I kinda don’t.

And this year it’s more like – don’t.

I recently wrote about depression and anxiety. Then, I buttoned it up, information-wise.

I’ve been avoiding the topic, secretly wondering if my depression and anxiety have managed to return like magic with jazz hands. I haven’t felt like admitting that. Nor have I felt like writing a word, because depression saps me of creative energy while simultaneously and confoundingly energizing the negative voice that spurns every word I write, every move I make. And I know the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and those were adverbs, right? And I know I could do without it being dark by 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time! Just like I know depression and anxiety, above all else, make no fucking sense.

I quit journalism and moved to the Washington, DC ahead of my family, who was still back in Oklahoma City until just a few days ago, wrapping our lives up. Well, they’re all on the way to the DC area now, to start, yet again, anew. And it’s exciting. And my job is so cool, and I get to be a professional activist and my co-workers are just incredibly capable and kind.

So why t.f. am I sad?

And am I sad? Or am I depressed? I can’t tell the difference this time of year.

There’s so much change afoot. When I’m not working, when my mind is unoccupied, often on my lonesome commute, waves of sadness knock me over. Is this a natural reaction to stress?

Is it normal to always stand against a pillar and exercise situational awareness because you think you’re going to be pushed onto the metro tracks? Is it normal to wonder each day which white dude is gonna bust out an AK out of his trench on and mow us all down? Ummmm……

To make myself feel better I’ve been listening to a new podcast called the Hilarious World of Depression. There, depression is called Clinny D, a phrase I will immediately adopt, with credit to the podcast.

The podcast entails comedians and other artists talking about depression. All of these funny, successful people are suuuuuper fucking sad.

I don’t remember the part in my life where I picked up Clinny D in Oklahoma City and told it to come along in my luggage to Washington, DC. I thought I left that all behind.

Nope.

Not to live in the past, but I’ve totally been living in the past. Because without my children here to keep me busy, my mind is unoccupied and wild, and it wanders, sometimes traveling to its dark little nooks. If ruminating were an Olympic sport I’d have eclipsed Michael Phelps long, long ago!

After Eli was born, we were in the NICU for 30 days, including on Christmas.

My mind has wandered back  there in these last few days, revisiting extreme isolation and sadness. And I still remember taking breaks from the hospital to run errands, affronted by mother after mother with healthy baby after healthy baby after healthy baby ensconced in car seats perched on shopping carts.

I’d think of those healthy babies and lucky mothers while looking at my empty bassonet.

Would my son make it there, to the bassonet?

Or would he die an infant?

I didn’t know.

This time of year is when the phone rang and we learned Eli had a deadly illness.

This time of year I was in the NICU sitting next to my son in the incubator when the dumb fuck nurse loud-talked with the dumber-fuck lab tech and I overheard them say my baby had CF and his sweat test results were off the charts.

The lab tech sounded excited about how obvious my son’s CF was, and I still remember the sound of his scientifically satisfied chortle.

This time of year that nurse left the room and told me that, yep, Eli had CF, and then she didn’t call in a doctor.

A candy striper walked in and asked if she could take my son’s picture and I burst into tears, and I will never forget what she said next.

“Being here is traumatic, and they forget that.”

Yes they sure AF do.

She sprinted out the door and got a doctor to explain to me what the hell was going on.

God bless hospital volunteers.

Then m mind wandered to the present. I thought about other families in the NICU this time of year, how they must feel forgotten and sad and robbed of the life they thought they’d have, how their babies may never make it out of there.

I called my sister and informed her of my NICU flashbacks and empathy binges and she instantly diagnosed me with PTSD. She has no clinical background, but I fully accept this diagnosis.

This time of year I’d love to talk to my own mother about this. This time of year I feel her absence more than other times of year. This time of year I think of that time we had Christmas in August, because we all knew she was about to die.

What kept me afloat this week, because I’ve been too doomy gloomy to shop or partake in Christmas cheer / commercialism was to plot a little plot to stop my head from returning to the past.

My extended family donated the money we would have spent on each other to give seven foster children a Christmas morning. And, with what’s left over, I’m going to send hot meals to Ronald McDonald family rooms – the living room-style break rooms for families within children’s hospitals – in Oklahoma City and Washington, DC.

Not in December, but starting in February, when those in the hospital become even more invisible to the rest of us, who will have moved on to weight loss schemes and spring break plans.

This time of year I think back to my breaks in that hospital family room, to the little gifts and meals that made our hospital stay better. I went to write in that family room. I could breathe in there.

The other silver lining of this time of year is that we decided when Eli was hospitalized on Christmas to make every Christmas day like the end of “A Christmas Story,” and go get Chinese food.

I think I’m gonna re-up the effort to find a professional to sort it all out. And another one to keep tabs on my medication. Because, oops, I did that thing again where I pretended I could just take a pill and then sadness-or-is-it-depression-and-anxiety would go away and leave me alone forever. It didn’t

GUH. This time of year.

Dear little one, on your 5th birthday

Dear little one,

I am your mommy and I’m not prone to gushy outbursts like what will directly follow. No, I hide behind humor and sarcasm, much of the time. But today I’d like to make an exception.

For your birthday.

You are my 5-year-old boy today.

I can’t help but think back to your joyous (pain-free, drug-addled, thank you modern medicine) birth. I can’t help but think back to the chaos that followed exactly 14 hours later.

We didn’t know what was wrong. We didn’t know if you would live or if you would die. Nobody had answers. You were so small. They handed you the teeniest blanket of blue fleece and itty bitty circus animals and put you on the helicopter.

There were surgeries, and tubes and confusion. There were 30 days in luxurious accommodations, the NICU. Every breath from every baby in every moment held the promise of life or death.

There were absent mommies and daddies and lonely babies there. There was a woman singing a Native song to her dying baby son. You made it through when other babies weren’t as lucky.

We don’t care that you came with a little something extra, those misbehaving cells of yours. You are not that. You are you.

You are gap teeth and cheeky smiles and cuddles for days and pizza cravings and rough housing, not to mention a hug magnet. You are a bottomless well of empathy full of glittering, fresh, cool kindness to offer others because even this young you know what suffering is.

Your body is little but your heart is big and I’m proud to call you my little one, Eli. My little one. My buddy. My son.

Love, Juliana, your mom

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Kids like Eli lose in the GOP tax and budget bills: MAKE A PHONE CALL TODAY for #givingtuesday

Hello. This giving Tuesday, I am asking for your help on one thing on behalf of my son Eli, who has a fatal disease called cystic fibrosis. It’s not cash. It’s time for a pair of phone calls.

For giving Tuesday, please make a phone call to your senators on behalf of medically complex kids like Eli.

Call your senators TODAY 202-224-3121 and tell them GOP tax and budget bills will hurt children with complex medical needs like my son Eli in the following ways:

1. 13 million people will lose insurance coverage.

2. For millions with insurance, premiums will go up 10 percent a year.

3. It ends a deduction for high medical expenses.

4. Billions less in Medicaid spending with more than $1 trillion in cuts forecasted in the GOP budget. NOTE: Half of children with cystic fibrosis are on Medicaid.

There is no time to waste. The GOP is ramming its bills through and wants the Senate to vote this week.

Your calls are especially important in the following states, where GOP senators rightly have their doubts about the harfmul plans moving forward.

OKLAHOMA: (!!!! Eli’s home state!!!): James Lankford

TENNESSEE: Bob Corker

WISCONSIN: Ron Johnson and Steve Daines

MAINE: Susan Collins

ARIZONA:John McCain AND Jeff Flake

KANSAS: Jerry Moran

Have a heart for medically vulnerable children and make these calls.

Our son has a terminal illness and life is tough enough.

My family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts.

 

CALL NOW: 202-224-3121

elih

 

Eli, hug magnet

Eli loves school.

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WTF Just Happened? The week in review

WTF

It’s Monday, Aug. 28. Just getting caught up? Here is the news you can use:

WTF is happening in the world

I went into hibernation mode this weekend. I missed a lot, like:

Hurricane Harvey unleashes on Houston

Catastrophic flooding is expected through Wednesday

Surreal drone footage

When disaster strikes, con artists move in

Don’t get scammed in the wake of this disaster. (Consumerist)

Tons of people are helping in Houston, including lots of Oklahomans, who are kinda good at disaster response

People are crying out for help on social media

A reporter stopped reporting to help save a man

WTF is happening on this blog

I started writing about my own mental health.

Here is my mental manifesto.
I landed in the ER with a panic attack.

BTW switching meds is no joke.

I’m feeling much better after two weeks on Wellbutrin that followed six years on Zoloft and a whole lot of running.

I’m nobody’s guru, but I’m going to keep writing about my own experiences.

I have heard from lots of readers who have had similar experiences. A few said they felt a lot more ‘normal’ now that I owned up to my depression and anxiety history!

And I say – let’s keep making mental health conversations normal. Let’s defeat the stigma.

It’s literally killing us.

If you are hyaving 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.

Watching

Old Boy on Netflix. Woooooah.
oldboy

I’ve been working hard to avoid ‘Game of Thrones’ spoilers. They are. Literally. Everywhere. I’ve watched the first ep of the new season. It’s tough as I watch this one solo. Mark is not a fan!

Reading

agoodlaugh

Laila started a book club! We are half way through ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ with only a few days left to finish by our Sept. 1 deadline! aieee!

All was well, I was pumping out Little House memes, right up until the point Pa sang a racist song. WTF? Didn’t remember that from childhood.

I sent an SOS to the private FB group and got some good feedback. I’ll write later this week about how our club is handling old, offensive terms!

My lovely friend dropped off a copy of ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeanette Walls! I’m re-reading it as my book club got ambitious and selected two titles!

App-ing

Last week I had to take a moment and get my mental health in order. I got so many positive notes, calls, messages, texts and reassurances that I am not alone. It really shored up my battered heart. Thanks, everyone.

One of my other lovely wonderful friends suggested the guided meditation app Headspace.
(For iPhone and Android)

headspace

Thus far I truly enjoy it, having tried out the three and six minute meditations. The pleasant British voice is a bonus. I was immediately suckered into the subscription service.

I’d Googled guided meditations but the YouTube meditation voices are too much. LIKE TOO MUCH. Like Laila and I couldn’t stop laughing at one and that was not super meditative.

I used to think meditation was just a buncha woo woo, but finding even a few minutes to breathe and take stock of my thoughts and feelings has become a vital part of my existence.

I don’t remember when I started meditation, but it was some point around the time my children began holding me hostage at bedtime until they fell asleep.

That’s when I breathe in and breathe out, and focus on my breath.

It also helped me view the hostage-taking as benefit, not an annoyance. I’m a sucker for bonus cuddles.

SSR Bye: A panic attack

Through cold sweats and the brain zaps I was pretty sure I had the whole dropping my nearly six-year run with Zoloft for Wellbutrin thing handled. I had a goofy grin on my face all day yesterday, happy to be out amongst the people, my favorite place to be. Sure, an invisible vice squeezed my heart, and it became difficult to take a deep breath, but I had work to do. Work I enjoyed. I just needed to push through until deadline. So that’s what I did. Look at all the lovely things I documented whilst barely able to breathe yet smiling because I love science and people and the outdoors.

And 24 hours later I sat staring at what has to be the ugliest curtain ever made in the history of curtain-making. Did the designer take a photograph of a pile of puke, upload said photo, move the cursor just so, draw out the color hex and exclaim, “Yep, that’s the one. Right there, the beige with the pallor of death. Mark it.” And I was crying. And I couldn’t stop crying. I’d dropped Eli off to school late again. Late because his cough disappeared and then made a tiny resurgence, and I felt it was more important for him to rest than for us to drag him out of bed at 5 or 5:30 to start his physio/breathing treatments. Not until 10 a.m. did we get to school. And I didn’t feel right at all. The dull ache from yesterday was worse. My natural breathing pattern seemed shallow. I had to think about it and force my chest to move to get the oxygen. And I wondered if I should really go to work like this. And I started to cry. And I pulled into a parking lot, unable to stop crying. And my chest got tighter and it felt harder to breathe, which distressed me and I cried even more and harder. I felt humiliated even as I was alone, worried that someone would see this hysterical woman I did not recognize. I started texting my sisters. They thought I should call my doctor at least or go to the ER. Because I’m one week in to switching from 100 mg per day of sertraline ie Zoloft (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors ie SSRI) to 150 mg of buproprion ie Wellbutrin. I’d started off the week weepy, then seemed to improve. But then I turned into a dragon lady who has slammed so many doors in the last few days it’s a wonder we have all of our fingers. I called my doctor’s office and got irritating ‘on hold’ music. I drove to the ER.

So I’m sitting there in this godawful  blue vinyl chair trying to stifle my weeping and a sympathetic nurse took note of the things I’d just experienced. The main thing was “Do you want to harm yourself or others.” No, I answered.

 

Moments later in walked a doctor.  I spoke through tears. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t stop. Is there anything else going on, he asked. My son has an illness, I said. What illness, he asked. Cystic fibrosis, I said.

And he tried to comfort me and say that they’re getting people to live to 60 these days.

Things are getting better. But a lot of people die young or require lung transplants in their 20s. The median age of death is 29. Most die between 22 and 39. The median age of survival, 42. And none of that defines Eli.

Even so I can’t help but feel my little boy’s cough is going to morph into a worse infection and lead to a hospitalization that leads to a blood infection, a superbug, a hospital mistake that leads to a coma that leads to death. That may not be rational. But I live with this worst-case scenario and many others on low boil in the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel like explaining that to the doctor, nor did I really understand what set me off. I’d dropped him off at school. I was late for work. His school is lovely. I’d make up the time.I don’t want any tests, I told him. I’d had every kind of test run last week.EKG, Thyroid. Iron. On and on. Everything was normal. On paper.

I heard again from my friend Pam, who I spoke with on the phone in the ER right after learning that Eli had CF. She told me the plain and simple truth then, things like,  “You’re going to fight with stupid people.” She wrote to me on Monday kind words about my mental health story.

We  are fixers and we can’t fix this.

She encouraged me to find a therapist and never stop talking.

Whatever this just was interrupted that plan.

The discharge paperwork said “panic attack.”

I got home and called my dad again, tearfully confessing the most terrible thing I had said. Eli had been screaming at me, again and again over his shaking vest. “I don’t want to do my Vest! I don’t want to do my vest! Why do I have to do my vest!”

I have all kinds of inconsistent strategies for his anger. We throw pillows at each other. We play ‘crazy baby,’ a game during which I pretend to have found an adorable baby only to have him look at me with insane crazy eyes. I don’t know why this never gets old, but it never gets old. I let Eli beat the shit out of me while I strapped him in once, right in front of my sister, niece and nephew.  I’m fairly sure she was horrified, but I didn’t have the energy to respond in that moment. I give him choices of snacks and TV shows. I run and find a lollipop. I run and find a juice box.

“Why do I have to do my vest?”

“Because it’s keeping you alive!”

The voice that seemed to come from some other person, not me, because I would never say such a thing to my sweet baby boy.

And he went so quiet, I told my dad. And it broke my heart. And these past few weeks he keeps telling me he’s worried about dying, and I think that’s my fault.

But I have to call my physician now, I said. And a therapist, like I had planned to do, before I had a panic attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-mortem: The bodies, the battles, the stories, the summer, the week, the mornings, the school lunches, the date, the everything

I first learned about the the post-mortem, in the way the term applies to being better next time around, not doing an autopsy, while working a temp job at an academic hospital in downtown Chicago. When someone dies, there is apparently this big conference. At my hospital they called it M&M, which is a creepily cutesy nickname for Morbidity and Mortality. At the M&M, everyone talks about what they did wrong and what they did right on the case in order to improve. “It’s like we’re doing a post-mortem, not on a body but on the procedures,” my supervisor explained.

It came up again when I was a reporter doing a story on some deploying National Guardsmen.

Version 2

They did a post-morts on whatever training exercise they’d just completed.  I hopped out of the humvee to take some notes in the middle of this battle exercise in the Michigan woods, and they fired shots at the threats, but then jumped back into the humvee and left me behind, which I found hilarious, because I thought they all hated me. Then afterward, I was really moved that they were all down on themselves. Like, if this was Afghanistan, where they were headed, and they had an embed, they’d just left her in the dust. “It’s really OK fellas this is just pretend.” No, it wasn’t, according to them. They vowed to do better. They did a post-mort on the exercise.  One guy got down in a humble,  one-knee stance in the middle of a soldier circle as a higher-up told him how he’d screwed up. It was incredible and touching to see. They all just wanted to keep each other alive. Even me, an outsider, some reporter chick nobody trusted. And so, taking direction strewn with f-bombs, each vowed to do better. They even let me shoot a grenade launcher and an M4 later. Best. Day. Ever.

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In my newsroom, especially after big stories or news weeks, we post-mort stories, sitting around chatting about how we could have done a better job. No one takes it personally. We all need the time to reflect.

I bring all of this up because I follow a writer named KJ Dell Antonia , who for a while ran the New York Times blog Motherlode, which was renamed Well Family to be more about all parents and not just moms. She’s on a break from editing but she’s got a newsletter that I subscribe to.

She did a post-mort on her summer, and I thought that sounded like a brilliant idea.

Then I got to thinking that I want to post-mort, like, everything.

Mark and I achieved the goal of getting out last night.

Let’s post-mort our summer. What did you like? What did you not like? What could we have done better? Did we travel too much? Not enough? I wanted to try to swing a little cabin getaway for our family next year at the least, a trip to a new national park in best-case scenario. He wanted the kids to have more of a daycare option, because by the end, Mark, a teacher, found himself on the edge of madness.  He had a personal project that he never got to because accomplishing anything other than putting on pants with our kids at home is a friggin’ pipe dream.

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Over ramen and a glorious saki sangria for me and beer for him at a charming, new OKC establishment called Goro, we next did a post mort on the week–namely, our shit-show mornings.

They were frickin crazy and disorganized. We switched mornings on doing Eli’s care. I’m on the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule. I don’t mind as I’m more the morning person anyway. I did mind that Eli screamed at me every single morning. “I don’t want to do my vest! Why do I have to do my vest?!” One morning was particularly awful. He kicked and punched  at me as I tried to get him in the damn thing. “Don’t hit, Eli. If you want to hit, hit the pillow.” He beat the shit out of that thing. I kept trying to soothe him, give him choices. Do you want a juice or a milk? Do you want to watch YouTube or a cartoon? “MOMMY STOP TALKING TO ME YOU’RE MAKING MY THROAT CLOSE!” So I lay there on the couch, did some meditative breathing, tried not to cry and let him be angry and beat the stuffing out of the pillow. He finally covered himself with a blanket, stopped beating m his pillow whipping boy and, vibrating in his machine, went to sleep for the next 20 minutes. Understatement: We aren’t use to this 5 a.m. wake-up call yet.

I thought it’d be grand to try to do the vest AND breathing treatments at once. That did not go over well, as you can imagine. Mark had the genius idea of putting Eli on his breathing treatments before he even woke up. Of course, Mark got away with it, but on Friday morning, when I tried, Eli, asleep, swatted the mask away, rolled over and yelled at me. “STOP IT MOMMY!” He shot out of bed and said he wanted to move to the couch to do the breathing treatments and he did not want my help. “NO! I CAN DO IT MYSELF MOMMY!” So there’s that. And that’s what we did.

Each and every morning felt rushed and upsetting. I swear to you I could taste the cortisol. We were late to school at least twice.

And don’t even get me started on my genius idea to pack lunches this year. I mean, we’d save sooo much money, right? For two kids a school lunch is $6.50 a day. It all adds up. Ya know what else adds up? Packing lunches that THEY DON’T EAT. The time it takes TO THOUGHTFULLY SHOP FOR AND THEN PACK LUNCHES THAT THEY DON’T EAT. Da fuq, kids? How about you buy your lunches, moving forward. They are a little pricey, but that’s because they are actually nutritious n good n square, too.

Now I can’t stop post-morting. Literally we gave a post-mort to our date on the way home.

I was like – that dinner was expensive. I liked the part where we walked by historic homes and judged the ones with crap siding and fantasized about owning the good ones, and zillowed the neighborhood, and fawned over gardens and laughed at tacky lawn ornaments and got too sweaty and so we sat in the plaza eavesdropping. Like, the walking part. The house-gazing, people-watching parts. Not the freaking out b/c we just spend almost $70 on drinks and dinner part and we need to start buying school lunches so that ain’t gonna ride. Let’s hire a sitter and just walk and look at shit next week!!!!!

Anyhow, I like thoughts and phrases that start with the phrase, “Moving forward….”

It’s a healthy way to be. Learn from those mistakes, let them go, charge ahead.

I feel better already.

Ooooh what else can I post-mort?!?

 

 

 

“Mommy, is the world going to end?”

“Mommy, is the world going to end?” Laila asked on the way to school this week. 

She is 7, brudda Eli 4, and their minds are churning, ears listening, all the time.


“Well, yeah, some day , it’s likely,” I said. “Probably not today, though! What’s got you thinkin like that boo boo?”

“H. Said that,” she said of one of her little friends.

Was H. referring to escalating tensions with N Korea? Some other apocalyptic prediction? 

H.  is quite strict about her religion. 

“My God doesn’t let me celebrate birthdays or holidays,” she told Laila once, probably after giving Laila one in a stream of numerous gifts – a tiny purple painted bird house with a carefully fashioned cursive ‘L,’ Spanish baby books with simple words and pictures.

We were listening to NPR on our way to school.

“Ah, right. Sweetie, it’s not off the table, but unlikely North Korea is has the capability to fire a nuke that would hit us. World War 3 probably won’t start today. Just go to school and learn and mommy’ll let you know if something changes.”

Kids aren’t dumb. Laila has been asking about death, Syria, the police shooting scene we drive by once on the way to Saturday morning ballet, the police search choppers we hear, the homeless woman who lives in the doorway near her school, for years now.  With rare exception I give it to her straight. 

I only lied once, about the police shooting scene we drove by. She was really little then, 3 or 4. 

“Oooh it must be a parade!” I lied. There were blinking lights and bright yellow tape. 

Other than that I’ve been as honest as I can be.

 It seems this world-ending talk is coursing through the playground. 

A few nights later, Eli and I were hanging around. I was lying sideways on the bed and he was popping in and out of a wicker basket, chatting with me. 

He popped up and slayed me out of nowhere with:

“Mommy, I’m worried about dying.”

Eli has a life-threatening illness. I wasn’t ready for this.  I attempted to locate the source of his worry.

“What makes you feel that way, buddy?”

“I dunno,” he said. I probed more.

He finally mentioned A., Laila’s buddy, had on the playground been talking about dying, ala, “We’re all gonna die!”

“Do young people die?” Eli asked. 

“Yes, sometimes they do,” I said. 

He seemed to accept that. 

“Everybody is born,” I added. “Everybody dies. So every day, we try our best to have a great day.”

That was the best I could do in that moment. 

Later, I started googling ‘How to talk to kids about the news.’ One parent watched news with his kids at night. 

“No way!” Mark said when I asked if we should do the same.

“You’re right,” I said. “Way too scary before bedtime.”

Another column I found advised putting off the topics, if they pop up at night, with a phrase like, “let’s talk about that in the morning.”

I agreed there. Be honest…just not right before bed. 

It may not be the philosophy for everyone. 

Almost all of my relatives are raising kids in posh suburban enclaves. They aren’t confronted with the issues plain as day in front of us – homelessness, mental illness, police choppers, and yes, even death.

Draws did drop when on a visit north, Laila blurted out: “I probably shouldn’t tell you this…But we think the house next door is selling drugs!”

Darling, did you not get the memo? Snitches get stitches (and snitches who are bitches wind up in ditches)?

We live in the same neighborhood in which Mark teaches. He broke up his first fight of the year last week. Kinda early for the 12-year-olds to start swinging. Just some srsly weak punches and chest locking, though, nothing serious. Some of his students’  parents have walked out of their lives; teachers have adopted them. Some students’ parents are imprisoned. Some of the children are in foster care and dream of a stable family. One child wished that, in adulthood, she could get just into jail to make a family there. 

In poverty and through complicated and stressful lives, though, the children he teaches are often bright beacons of hope. The little guy whose dad and mom abandoned him is in high school, plays soccer and dreams of joining the Army.

Those children to me, are proof of a a young person’s resilience. We will keep listening to NPR on the way to school. I’ll keep answering Laila and Eli’s questions. I’d rather they get it from me than the playground rumor mill.

Tomorrow I anticipate questions about hate crime in Charlottesville. 

As Walter Kronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.”

So this is the miracle that I’ve been dreaming of. This. Is. Love….

The most romantic thing happened to me. 

This:

Continue reading So this is the miracle that I’ve been dreaming of. This. Is. Love….