rivka: (for god's sake)
Michael is in Memphis this weekend, visiting his father. The impetus for the visit is that Michael's father's doctors took him off chemo and recommended hospice care. The kids and I are here. He's not supposed to be exposed to children, and besides, it's good for them to have a chance to talk uninterrupted.

Those of you who have been following my journal for a while know that Michael's father has been very sick for a very long time. He was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in August of 2004, just after I learned that I was pregnant with Alex. For a while, we doubted that he would live to see her born. He had chemo, radiation, a recurrence, more chemo. Then the tumor was just... gone. But his lungs were horribly scarred from the radiation, and he had a variety of other serious health problems. We were sure he was dying in the summer of 2008 - so sure that I put Michael on a plane with two hours' notice. Again he recovered.

Now he has what's known as a secondary malignancy. His bone marrow was damaged by the chemo and radiation for his lung cancer, and he can't produce proper blood cells. He's been requiring blood transfusions more and more frequently, as often as once a week. He's in and out of the hospital. Michael went out and bought a conservative charcoal-colored suit.

We feel as though we're approaching the end. We have felt that way before. We have felt that way a lot of times. It's very complicated at the end, isn't it?
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
We got home from Memphis last night. I'm in the office - the only day I'm coming in this week - and I must admit I'm kind of enjoying the peace and quiet.

I finally snapped at Michael's stepmother. As we were packing up to go she kept very persistently trying to get me to take Michael's bronzed baby shoes. I smiled and said nice things the first several times. "Oh, we'll definitely want them eventually, but I don't want to take them away from Bill." "Yes, but I really think Bill likes to have a reminder of Michael's babyhood around." She kept insisting: "Oh, don't worry about that. We've got plenty of reminders of Michael around." (Like the picture she hung back behind a cabinet, I guess.)

So finally I just looked at her without smiling and said flatly: "Betty, if you want them out of the house, then yes, we will take them."

So of course she backpedalled. And had the nerve to try this one out: "You just insulted me, saying that I want them out of the house." Uh huh.

Michael's father came in to talk with us about it. He said that he wouldn't take any amount of money for those baby shoes, but that we could have them if we wanted them. Although he would worry about them getting broken in transit. Anyway, he just wanted to make sure that we understood that they weren't trying to get rid of them. I felt bad because I really try not to put him in the middle, but.

Our flights home were beautifully uneventful. There didn't seem to be any increase in security at the main screening lines, and when I got pulled for secondary screening (I always do, because my artificial hip sets of the metal detector) the TSA who screened me seemed perfectly relaxed and easygoing. They had a TSA at the gate pulling some people aside for random pat-downs, but it was the most ludicrous security theater imaginable: he only stopped men, didn't stop anyone who had a ton of stuff to carry (presumably so he wouldn't inconvenience them too much), and only patted them down above the waist. He would've found someone carrying a gun in a shoulder holster, but that's about it.

Our kids are beautiful travelers. When I see other people dealing with screaming tantrums on a plane, I feel very lucky.

I did learn an important lesson about Colin and traveling, though. (Did I know this when Alex was his age and then I forgot it? Maybe so.) Yesterday I gave him solid food for breakfast at my in-laws' house, and then I nursed him throughout the day as we traveled home. He got frantically unhappy in the car on the way home from the airport; I nursed him again and he cheered up, so I decided to give him some solids even though it was already 8pm. And that boy ate: a full slice of deli cheese, three handfuls of Cheerios, a jar of baby food (chicken-apple compote, one of the higher-calorie options), and at least a quarter-cup of mango bits. He was starving. I think of solids as being kind of optional to his diet, replaceable by nursing, but it's now obvious to me that at this point they really aren't.

I have a big important meeting in an hour and a half, and I am nervous. To give you an idea of how important a meeting it is, I am wearing a blazer to work - something I do about twice a year. Some of you will be coming along in the form of a silver otter pin which you chipped in to give me at alt.polycon 12, so, thanks. It's nice to feel like my friends will be with me.

Now that I have a webcam on my work computer, I can show you what I look like when I'm trying to appear professional! Here I am:

me@work
rivka: (her majesty)
Michael's stepmother... Jesus Christ.

One of the first things I noticed is that the big framed picture of an infant Michael which has been in his father's bedroom as long as I've known him has been moved to a rarely-used back room, where it hangs in a place which is blocked from most points in the room by a cabinet.

Then in the course of our first 24 hours visiting, she:

- Tried to convince me to take Michael's bronzed baby shoes home, because God forbid there be any memories of his childhood on display.
- Asked me when I was going to wean.
- Said in the snottiest voice imaginable, "Don't you teach him 'no'?" when I moved several small glass-framed photographs off a floor-level shelf. She never put anything out of her babies' or grandbabies' reach.
- Went on two different diatribes about how awful Obama is. Not to mention Michelle, who buys all those expensive clothes while being BLACK, so it's totally not like any other First Lady ever. She seems very disappointed that we're not rising to the bait.

It's only a four-day visit. I can make it, right?

Right?
rivka: (panda pile)
My parents are visiting this weekend. They came down for two reasons: Colin had his child dedication service at our church this morning, and on Friday my father had an appointment at the National Federation of the Blind to learn about screenreading software from Michael's old colleagues.

It's been a joy of a visit, without the emotional stress that's hung over my relationships with my family for a while. They're just hanging out, enjoying the kids, helping, being good company. The kids adore them. My father has taken Alex to the park two days running now - it's a great partnership; Alex has vision and he has good judgment, so they help each other across the streets.

Colin's child dedication was just beautiful. When Alex was dedicated, our ministers gave us a big booklet of potential liturgy elements and let us choose what to have. This was our new minister's first dedication, so we didn't know what to expect. The only input we had into the ceremony content was asking for Alex to be included, and asking that he not use his favorite child dedication hymn because I hate it. He and [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb put together a lovely service. I'll share the text of the ceremony, and the pictures our friend Adrian took, if/when I can get them.

He was a preturnaturally good baby for the service, too. Saturday he was cranky all day and cried a lot, and I worried that his dedication would be a nightmare. But he went perfectly happily into the minister's arms to be blessed and paraded up and down the church aisles, and afterward he crawled happily around on the floor of the sanctuary, and after that he entertained himself happily for an hour and a half while we entertained a few close friends for his dedication lunch. What a good boy.
rivka: (her majesty)
Rough day at work. But I came home and my whole family met me at the door, singing "happy birthday." They presented me with a Dance Dance Revolution game for the Wii, which is what I really wanted. Alex asked for paper and an envelope so that she could write out, laboriously, consulting us on every letter, "From Alex to Mama I hope you have a very happy birthday."

Michael took a brief nap because he's still recovering from the flu. We packed up the family, intending to head out for a festive sushi dinner. And then Alex climbed up into her carseat and abruptly, without a work of complaint or warning, threw up.

I helped her back out of the car and the next couple of rounds hit the sidewalk. We all trooped back inside. Alex is now ensconced on the couch with a basin and a video, but she seems to feel okay nowand she just threw up again. Argh.

When she goes to bed, we'll order sushi to be delivered. And sometime around my own bedtime I may actually get to have a piece of the birthday cake I made myself (because Michael = flu).

Oh, and Colin + congestion from a cold + his first erupted tooth = Bitey McBiterson. Ow.
rivka: (travel)
We spent most of last Saturday packing for SUUSI. Things got seriously derailed when I LOST MY PACKING LIST, which still hasn't resurfaced, and spent too long looking for it instead of just starting over with a new list. But eventually we got the car loaded up with stuff and kids and headed out around 8:15.

Our entertainment for the first part of the drive was driving through downtown Baltimore right past the Otakon hotel. (Alex: "When I grow up, I want to be an Otakon person.") Then we drove off into the sunset, west around DC and out I-66. The kids dropped off somewhere around Fairfax. My hope had been that they'd sleep solidly until we got to Radford, but instead they took turns waking a little and whimpering. I discovered that I can actually nurse Colin in the carseat without taking off my seatbelt, but it's not what you would call "comfortable."

By the time we hit Roanoke, just before 1am, we figured we'd gone as far as was practical. We checked into a Days Inn. Of course once the car stopped both kids woke up and cried in earnest, but they settled down quickly once we were in the motel room. In the morning we drove the rest of the way to SUUSI, arriving at 10:30. Wow is check-in simpler when you get there that early. We flew on through, paid the balance of our bill, got our pictures taken for the Mugbook, signed in with youth programming and the childcare co-op, and managed not to notice the workshop leaders' sign-in table. Oops. We unloaded the car and got our room put to rights fairly quickly, had a really bad dining hall lunch because they hadn't switched over to their SUUSI menus yet, and just hung out with the kids and our friends, being mellow. Laura, Michael's birthmother, showed up in midafternoon and Michael helped her get settled in.

This year, for the first time, Alex was really old enough to run with the pack of SUUSI kids. Any time we were in our room she wanted to go out in the hall or outside in the quad, where she'd run around and play with a big mob of other 3- to 7-year-olds. Several times, she and her friends even established "kids' tables" in the dining hall where they ate separately from us. It was really fun to see her dive into a peer group like that, with no shyness or drama.

We went to dinner with Laura (an official SUUSI meal, so the quality was 1000% improved) and then got our banner for Ingathering. Laura made herself a "First Unitarian Church of Oakland" sign on posterboard. The banner parade was organized to loop around the campus in an inefficient pattern, I guess so that there would be more of a march. It was tiring. As always, I loved the part where, after everyone was seated in the auditorium, the banner carriers paraded in accompanied by drums. I ditched Ingathering early because Alex got tired and cranky and Colin kept startling every time there was applause, so I can't really comment on the program content.

Afterward came Opening Circle. The thousand-odd SUUSIgoers formed two giant rings, facing each other. The circles were broken at one place and the inner and outer rings joined at the break, so that as we circled around we passed from the outer to the inner ring and came face-to-face with every other attendee. It was fun to see folks we hadn't seen in a year.

Then I took the kids back to the dorm for bedtime. It was late, and when we'd gotten our room together beforehand we hadn't fixed the beds. (Radford has unnaturally high beds, and I wanted my mattress on the floor so that I could co-sleep with Colin, which meant putting my bedframe on top of Michael's bedframe to get it out of the way.) I waited and waited for Michael to come back to the room. It turns out that a person who has never raised kids or had much to do with them (i.e., Laura) has very little idea of the powder-keg nature of a delayed bedtime; she had recruited Michael to do some stuff for her, and it took a long time. Fortunately, once he returned, he and the Wild Women had our beds set up properly in about ten seconds.

The best thing about parenting at SUUSI this year is that Alex never protested being put to bed. She stayed up very late looking at books most of the nights, but she didn't come out of our room and rarely called us, so I didn't mind. Michael and I just hung out on camp chairs in the hallway, drinking wine and chatting with our friends. Colin nursed like a nursing thing, got passed around for admiration, and eventually fell asleep in my lap.

All in all, the first day at SUUSI was much, much more pleasant than it usually is. I think we're going to try to drive the night before from now on.
rivka: (phrenological head)
I don't remember ever being punished for swearing. My mother responded to even mild profanity with a calm, but firm, "I don't like that kind of language." My recollection is she said this instead of, not in addition to, responding to the content of what we were upset or complaining about, so eventually we figured out that swearing can derail communication.

My father used mild profanity in front of us, and did not object to hearing it when my mother or other potentially offendable people weren't around. Lesson #2 learned: different language for different contexts.

But there are two incidents in my childhood that really stand out, in which my parents taught me extremely valuable lessons about swearing.

Incident #1: We were on vacation. My father took my 11-year-old brother and another boy out on our little Day Sailer, and without warning the mast snapped. When they got back to the dock, the boys reported, awed, that when the mast broke my father uttered only two words: "Oh, dear."

Lesson learned: Sometimes the most impressive thing is the profanity you don't use.

Incident #2: One year my father absent-mindedly forgot to sign up at work for his vacation weeks. This was a huuuge deal, because we had already reserved and put a deposit on a rental cottage, and there was a chance that we'd just miss our vacation, while paying the deposit fee, if Dad didn't secure the right to take the proper weeks off. (Turns had to be taken, so he couldn't take just any week.)

My mother, who never swore and never tolerated the use of words like "hell" in her presence, discovered Dad's lapse in the middle of family dinner. There was a silence. Then she turned to him and said, "You asshole!"

I remember nothing that happened after that, because the moment itself was so apocalyptic in my mind. But I'll bet you that every single member of my family remembers when she said it, and why. And you damn betcha my father fixed the vacation thing and never ever repeated that mistake. I have never heard her utter another curse word ever again.

Lesson learned: If you are known to never swear, people will pay attention if you do. If you swear regularly, the words don't have that power.
rivka: (foodie)
This time I'll tackle the food questions.

[livejournal.com profile] ailbhe and [livejournal.com profile] minnehaha K: Your dinner.

Tonight we had baked chicken thighs, Southern-style biscuits with butter, and carrot sticks, and ice cream for dessert. Dinner was cooked by Michael, who is getting to be a better cook every day. (Usually the cooking is my responsibility.) The chicken skin wasn't as crispy as I like it (my fault, not Michael's, because he was following my directions) - we probably should've upped the oven temperature. But overall, it was very good.

[livejournal.com profile] hobbitbabe: Do you have any kitchen appliances for mixing stuff up, and what do you make with them and should I buy one or more of them? (giant immovable mixer, food processor, immersion blender, old-style blender, etc).

I have a Kitchenaid stand mixer, a generous gift from [livejournal.com profile] wcg a few years back. It is, as you say, giant and immovable. Unfortunately, it has to live in the pantry and be carried out every time I want to bake.

I use it to make cakes, cookies, and other desserts. It replaced an ancient underpowered hand mixer. The difference is most notable with stiff batters like cookie dough. I made pumpkin cranberry bars to give as Christmas gifts this year, another very thick-battered recipe, and found that my mixer could easily handle double batches. It's also excellent for things that need to be really, really, seriously, impressively well-beaten, like this gingerbread cake roll.

Oh, and the other difference I almost forgot about: because it has a paddle that is cleverly positioned in the bowl, rather than beaters, you almost never have to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl when you're mixing. Which is very nice. Should you have one? If you bake regularly, yeah, you probably should.

[livejournal.com profile] bcholmes: You seem to have a lot of things to say about food: different recipes, liking exotic vegetables, eschewing chef-boy-ar-dee. What kind of relationship did you have with food growing up?

It was uncomplicated, for which I am extremely grateful. My mother was a good cook in what I think of as the classic home-cooking style of the northern U.S.; her meals were simple (usually meat-starch-veg)
but well-prepared and tasty. Food was never in short supply, and we had free rein to help ourselves except for the hour before dinner, which was known as "starving time." I don't remember negative comments about people eating too much or too little or the wrong things, except in the context of taking more than your fair share of a scarce resource like leftover cake. We did have to accept on our plate at least a "no-thank-you helping" of everything served at dinner, and we were expected to at least taste some of everything on our plate. Oh, and we were required to have milk at dinner, but I loved milk so I didn't mind.

We had family dinner together every night. My mother would start watching out the kitchen window for my father's car at 5:55 every night, and the minute his car pulled into the garage she'd call us to the table. We rarely went out to dinner and almost never had fast food - not as a whole family, anyway. Just if we were traveling somewhere.

I ate a lot of junk food as a kid, and was really skinny anyway. I used to spend my school lunch money (65 cents a day, as I recall) on candy at the 7-11. I'd split it with [livejournal.com profile] kcobweb, and in turn she'd share the dessert from her packed lunch with me. That horrifies me today, but obviously I survived it and was reasonably healthy. My mother didn't buy tons of junk food - mostly for budgetary reasons, I think - but we always had cookies, chips, and ice cream in the house and it wasn't rationed. I remember being surprised to go to friends' houses and be told "you can have two cookies."

I have a lot of happy childhood memories about food. Holiday dinners, church potlucks, cookouts and picnics at the lake, standing on a chair to help my mother bake.

Grandma Susan: Given that there is so much conflicting information about nutrition and health, how do you decide what to believe and/or what to feed your family?

Honestly? I spend very little time thinking about nutrition and health. My impression is that this is an area where a lot of people, including health professionals, have very strong opinions - yet the data backing up those opinions is often weak. I think the whole food-as-medicine thing is hugely oversold in American culture. So I decide what to feed my family based primarily on considerations of taste. I try to avoid language about "good" and "bad" foods. I strive vaguely for balanced inclusion of a broad range of foods - proteins, carbs, veggies and fruits - but I don't worry about fat, carbs, sugar, etc. I wouldn't eat pork rinds 24/7 because it would make me feel like crap, but I'm not going to worry about the components of my reasonably balanced and varied diet.

I do try to feed organic foods to babies (Ack! We've veered into parenting territory!) based on the vague idea that pesticides may be more of an issue when concentrated into a very small form, but it's even more heavily based on the fact that Earth's Best organic baby foods taste so much better than Gerber. Oh, and I was careful about introducing potential food allergens into Alex's diet because of our strong family history of food allergies, and I'll probably do the same with Colin.
rivka: (rosie with baby)
milk_smile

Yes, I am going to spam you with pictures for a while. Sorry.

Michael is back to work this week, and my mother is here. As many of you know, our relationship has been rather strained in the last couple of years - but she's good at this, and it's working well. She cooks and cleans, and keeps me company through the extreme tedium that is life with a newborn, and reassures me when I get neurotic, and does puzzles on the floor with Alex, and reminds me to drink water, and says things like, "I'm done eating, so why don't I take him while you have a second helping of dinner? After all, it's your job to make good milk."

Apparently, her sister-in-law just came back from a four-day visit with a new grandchild in which she was only permitted to hold the baby twice. So I get to feel like, when I hand Colin off in the morning so that I can shower and eat breakfast, I'm doing her a favor.

On the "second helping of dinner" front, today I am back in my prepregnancy jeans. Holy cow. I guess all this cluster nursing is having an effect.

I'm starting to feel like crawling out of my den. We went to church on Sunday, which was really enjoyable - a young man in our congregation who is a composer did a special service in which several of his pieces were performed, with solos by an opera singer friend of his who has an amazing voice. He also gave a compelling sermon about how he has come to terms with Christianity after growing up as a gay man in the rural South. I haven't really been enjoying the sermons of our interim minister, so it was great to have such an interesting service to come back to.

In the next few days, I am hoping to continue this crazy exciting series of outings with a shopping trip, a whole-family visit to Dorian's art opening, and perhaps even a walk or two. It's 36 degrees here, which seems too cold to take a Maryland baby outside in the stroller, but I know that Minnesota babies must leave the house when it's much, much colder than this. Fortunately it's planning to warm up over the next few days, into the upper 40s and lower 50s. But it sure would be nice to get out of the house today. We'll see.

Oh, and I should say: I am hopelessly not keeping up with LJ, so if there's anything you want me to know, you should probably drop me a note or leave a pointer in comments. Sorry.
rivka: (Rosie the riveter)
My grandfather, my mother's father, was the son and grandson of coal miners. He went to college and graduate school and became a professor of mining engineering at Pennsylvania State University.

It was the custom of his department to send a letter to every young man who was the valedictorian of a Pennsylvania high school, offering a scholarship to Penn State to study mining engineering. One year - this would've been in the 1950s or early 1960s - the responsibility of sending those letters fell to my grandfather.

My grandfather did not know that there was a difference between the name "Francis" and the name "Frances." And so he inadvertently sent a letter offering an engineering scholarship to a young woman, and she wrote back accepting it.

The general feeling in the department was that the scholarship offer had been made in error, and should be withdrawn. But my grandfather dug in his heels. It had never occurred to him that a woman might like to be a mining engineer, but now that the evidence proved him wrong, he was going to stand by her.

Frances came to Penn State, was mentored by my grandfather, did well, and graduated. Over the years he mentored other female students, and in his will he established a scholarship for women in mineral engineering.

I like this story because it reminds me that sometimes it's possible to blunder into doing a good thing, as long as you keep your eyes and your mind open.
rivka: (family)
This afternoon we went to visit some good friends who just had a baby two weeks ago. And... whoa. I had honestly forgotten that they start out so small. I really had. He's not a shrimp of a baby, comparatively - he's up to eight pounds now - but holy cow, he is tiny. Was Alex really ever that small? Is Niblet really going to be that small? I just... I just forgot.

(I was putting away baby clothes the other day and found myself wondering whether the 3-6mo onesies had shrunk in the wash. Because surely he won't be that small after actual months have passed, right? Right? ...Needless to say, they hadn't shrunk.)

It was wonderful to see and hold the baby. I got to snuggle him for a long time while he was sleeping. Alex got to pet him and hold him and help burp him. But it was when Michael took him and soothed him after a feed, cradling and rocking and bouncing and murmuring to him - that's when my overloaded pregnancy hormones hit hard and I got a bit teary. For me, especially now, I think there is very little that's as attractive as a man who is a good father.

After visiting our friends, we had a wonderful late lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant we'd never been to before. Alex proved that it is actually possible to make a meal of plain unseasoned rice noodles in a rice-paper wrapper; Michael and I ate things that had actual flavor. Among other things, we ordered a dish that came as a platter of separate items: the aforementioned rice noodles, crispy seasoned strips of pork, pickled vegetables, plain raw vegetables, lemongrass sauce, and rice paper wrappers. You wrapped your choice of ingredients into a sort of a burrito. It was YUM. I haven't had Vietnamese food in too long.

Then we went to Daedalus Books & Music, a discount bookstore, and spent a fair amount of time and money. After we'd already checked out, I noticed that they had big laminated maps packaged at 3/$10: a U.S. map, a world map, and what turned out to be sort of a lame third map that shows flags of the world on one side and flags of the U.S. on the other. We couldn't resist them.

So this evening I've been collecting pictures of our various family members, and book covers of books we've read that have definite settings (most children's books don't, of course), and pictures of places we've been together like SUUSI and Montreal and Williamsburg, and a few extra pictures like our house and the sphinx (Alex is fascinated for some reason) and the Obama family. I'm going to print them all out as small images and cut them out, and then we'll fasten them to the maps.

Alex has started to show some interest in geography lately, but of course concepts like the vast size of the world and where places are in relation to each other are pretty hard to understand when you're three. I think this will help start to sort it out in her mind. And I like that this is a project we can keep adding on to when the spirit moves us, but it's not something where we would feel bad if it never progressed any further. However far it goes, it will be fun.
rivka: (travel)
So, on Christmas afternoon we flew to Memphis to spend the long weekend with Michael's father. That had always been in the plan. Somehow what didn't make it into my mental picture of the plan was that we would have essentially zero time on Christmas to do anything other than family presents and then making the trip happen. Like, for example, answering people's e-mails, or warning anyone that we were going to be away and out of contact, or any of those kinds of things. So: sorry that we dropped off the face of the earth like that.

It was a pretty hard visit. Michael's stepmother was in the hospital when we arrived, with diverticulitis, and wasn't released until Saturday. Michael's father isn't doing very well either, although I suppose he's doing better than one might expect given all that happened last August, when we thought Michael was potentially rushing to a deathbed. He's very weak and tired. His blood count keeps dropping inexplicably; he had a transfusion of two units of blood the week before Christmas, and told us that was the only thing keeping him on his feet.

I cooked some monster Southern-style breakfasts and tried, mostly fruitlessly, to keep Michael's father (and his stepmother, when she got home) from exerting themselves on household responsibilities. I tried to create and protect opportunities for Michael and his dad to be together. Alex was much more open and friendly with her Poppy than she has been before, which was nice to see, and I did what I could to promote that. I did a lot of playing with Alex's Christmas toys. I did get a fair amount of rest, at least. Michael's father and stepfather typically went to bed at the same time as Alex, so our evenings were very quiet and relaxed.

I tried to make more allowances than usual for Michael's stepmother, because she was ill and tired and in pain. But really she just seemed like her typically unpleasant self. For the record, in case anyone around here is unclear: it is not okay to predict that a pregnant woman is about to go into labor prematurely. It is even less okay to harp on it to the extent that it begins to prey on the pregnant woman's hormonally-fragile peace of mind even though she knows that she shouldn't pay any attention to you. And when you know that the pregnant woman's last pregnancy ended in disaster? It is really absolutely even less okay, if that's possible.

I'm just saying.

So we're home, later than expected because of some baggage snarls at the airport. The house is a disaster area because we didn't have time to pick up before we left. Alex didn't get to bed until almost 11 - who knows when she'll be up tomorrow. And I got home to a stack of increasingly upset e-mails and phone messages from Lydia, who apparently forgot that (a) I was going to be out of town until Monday, and (b) she had previously expressed no problems with my travel plans and, indeed, had not seemed particularly concerned about whether I was going to be in this week at all.

So, you know, I think tomorrow's going to be a bit of a mess. But it's going to be okay. We have great plans for later in the week, including friend-visiting and dinner-date-with-babysitting and, potentially, couch-buying.

Home!!

Aug. 28th, 2008 10:19 am
rivka: (trust beyond reason)
Michael is coming home today!! He's coming in on a 5:55pm plane. You just wouldn't believe how much rejoicing there is.

His father seems to be stable-ish, for now. There was an unfortunate incident yesterday. On Tuesday it appeared to have been established that they would give physical therapy 24-48 hours to work, and then discuss surgery. But yesterday at lunchtime, before the physical therapist had even come by, the surgeon came in and announced that he had scheduled surgery for today. Because, apparently, he has a funeral to go to tomorrow, and then it will be the holiday weekend. (I'm not sure how nakedly these scheduling difficulties were presented.)

The long and the short of it is that Michael's father refused to consent to surgery, and the surgeon got angry, and they had an argument. Now we are waiting for a second surgical opinion. In the meantime, Michael's father has been up and walking with a walker, and appears to be doing better. But either way, unless a dire emergency develops there won't be any surgery earlier than next week. So Michael is coming home.

At some point yesterday, Michael's father's internist pulled Michael out into the hall and told him that his father's heart is not doing well at all. His ejection fraction - the ability of his heart to pump out blood - is down to 20%. (Normal is about 60%). There doesn't seem to be much that they can do about this. It definitely makes any further surgery questionable - and that's on top of his already-compromised lungs, which suffered radiation damage during lung cancer treatment.

I'm so glad that Michael went down to Memphis. I'm glad that he got a chance to see his father and spend time with him while his father was conscious and aware, because with the next health crisis - and there will inevitably be one - there may not be that opportunity.

And I'm so, so glad that he's coming home now.
rivka: (Rivka and Misha)
Michael called me this morning and said that his father was having some final tests preparatory to being moved to a regular room. If all continued to go well, then maybe Michael would come home tomorrow. He asked me to look into flights.

This afternoon, he called again. The surgeon had been by. Apparently, one of the problems that led to one of the emergency surgeries was that a piece of Michael's father's bowel was caught up in a hernia. They thought that was what was causing an intestinal blockage. But they fixed the hernia, and the blockage is still there.

They're going to try physical therapy, in hopes that things will become unblocked if Michael's father gets up and moves around. Apparently sometimes that happens. The surgeon is willing to give that 24 to 48 hours to work. If it doesn't? Major abdominal surgery, opening the whole belly.

I know from my research assistant's experience that trying to unblock the intestines is often a multistep, multisurgery problem. Because things that have been operated on tend to adhere together, and adhesions can re-block what was just opened up.

So Michael won't be coming home tomorrow unless a miracle occurs. The best-case scenario is that he'll stay another couple of days until the physical therapy can be proven to have worked. Alternatively...

...let's just focus on the best-case scenario for now.

You know, Michael and I have been married for nine years, together for eleven. And lately I've thought of our relationship as... very comfortable, and kind of mundane. Domestic, loving, friendly. But now it occurs to me: fish probably describe water as comfortable, mundane, domestic, and friendly, too. And the absolute essentiality of it probably isn't evident until it's gone.

I miss Michael so much. I'm coping fine with what needs to be done, but I feel like something's been amputated. And he sounds so tired and stretched on the phone. We need each other.
rivka: (her majesty)
This morning Michael sounded confident, and said that he could see improvement and that his father might be moved to a regular hospital room in the afternoon.

This evening he sounded tired, and said that his father was going to spend another night in the ICU; his condition had deteriorated somewhat as the day went on. But it doesn't sound like there were any dramatics.

Single-parenting a three-year-old is a lot easier than single-parenting a 15-month-old - which was the last time Michael was gone for any significant period of time. We cheated and had "breakfast for dinner" tonight: bacon, eggs, fruit, milk. It's easier than real cooking. But in general, she's a helpful and cooperative kid, and the burden is not too tremendous. She doesn't, for example, mind playing on her own while I wash dishes or take a shower.

Of course, check with me after another couple of days. Nursery school is closed, and Alex and I are going to be together 24/7 without respite until it reopens Thursday morning. It's possible that we'll be a little tired of each other by then.

We both miss Michael so much. My bed feels very empty at night.

In other news, I went back to the midwife this evening because I suspected that my infection had not totally cleared up. Which it hadn't. But the bonus was that she got out the Doppler and found a perfect little heartbeat lurking behind the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of my own blood flowing through the placenta. I tell you, it's the best sound in the world.

Update.

Aug. 25th, 2008 08:11 am
rivka: (Rivka and Misha)
Michael got in to see his father last night. He apparently looks like hell, and is continuing to run fevers they're not fully able to control, but he was conscious and in his right mind. And very, very surprised to see Michael walk into the room.

In an exceedingly typical Michael's-father move, he suggested that Michael should have waited a few days to visit, so he'd be back on his feet and able to do things. Uh huh.

So he's not dead, which is what both of us had been thinking during the long stretch of no news. But he's still pretty sick.

This is a different hospital from the last one where we visited Michael's father in the ICU. They apparently have liberalized visiting rules, so Michael will be able to see a fair amount of his father today. Yay.

Alex and I are doing fine. She painted a get-well picture for her Poppy, and another one that's a coming-home picture for Michael.
rivka: (for god's sake)
Everything changes so fast.

I put Michael on an airplane to Memphis this afternoon. Bought his plane ticket at 1pm for a 3pm flight. He started a load of laundry that he didn't have time to finish. Now Alex and I are alone and waiting for news.

His father has been sick for a while. He had a blockage in an artery in his leg. They tried to go in with a minimally invasive procedure - no luck. They scheduled him for surgery a week and a half ago. When they went in, they were able to clean out the artery and place a stent, but they found another blockage in an artery to his kidney, which they couldn't fix properly. He lost a lot of blood and needed transfusions. Last Sunday, he went home.

Thursday we got a call that he was back in the hospital, throwing up blood. They found that he had an abdominal obstruction, and the hernia he's had for a while had also started impinging on something serious. Plus a raging infection requiring IV antibiotics. Friday he had surgery again.

Yesterday the hospital phones weren't working properly all day, and we couldn't be connected to his room. No one answered his cell phone. No one called us.

Michael called the hospital after church today. Someone else answered the phone in his patient room. The hospital switchboard told us that he was in the ICU. We called and talked to Michael's stepmother's son, who told us that my father-in-law had spiked a high fever which didn't come down even when they packed him in ice. He was in surgery again. They'd call when they knew something. (They still haven't called.)

I bought Michael a one-way ticket on Southwest, to Nashville. While I was online trying to book the 5:30pm flight, it sold out. So we had to rush to get Michael on the 3:05pm flight instead, which is what led to the abandoned laundry. He'll need to make do with whatever he had that was clean. He'll rent a car in Nashville and drive to Memphis. Who knows what he'll find when he gets there.

In the car on the way to the airport, after a little silence, Michael said, "I didn't pack a suit, because."

"If it comes to that, Alex and I will be coming down anyway," I said. "We'll bring you a suit."

I kept focusing, in the dumb way that you do, on making all the practical arrangements. "Call me when you get to Nashville, and I'll tell you where I was able to reserve a car. Do you have your boss's number? Did you pack your toothbrush? If you get there after the last ICU visiting hour, go ahead and try to get them to let you see him anyway. The worst they can do is say no. Here's a slip of paper with all your flight arrangements on it."

I know Michael knows me well enough to be able to translate all of that: I love you so much. I am really worried. I wish I could go with you and take care of you. I love you.

I'm waiting for him to call and tell me that he's landed in Nashville. In the meantime? I am fretting. And in the midst of all of this heavy planning/organization/arrangement work, our fucking internet connection keeps going down without warning. And Alex is behaving in the classic manner of a preschooler whose world has been suddenly disrupted - alternately clingy, whiny, and incredibly poorly behaved.

I need to try to figure out contact resources for spiritual support for Michael. Our ministers retired in June, and were explicit about the fact that they don't make exceptions for counseling or special events for former parishioners. I understand that they have to do that, because it could prevent the church from moving on and bonding with new ministers. But our new minister doesn't start until Sep. 7th. I don't have her number, but I can get it. And, uh, we've met a UU minister from Memphis once before, at SUUSI. I could dig up his number. And, um, maybe the number of our old ministerial intern. She and Michael had a really great bond.

See what I mean? My mind is running in circles like a mouse in the bottom of a jar, trying to find something that I can do that will be useful. Because I love you so much and I'm so worried and I wish I could go with you to take care of you. And I can't. I have to stay here and take care of Alex and go to work and hold down the fort at home.
rivka: (alex pensive)
Alex is talking about death a lot these days.

I posted a few weeks ago about having to explain to her why we can't send a letter to someone who has died. Since then, she's continued to raise the topic several times a week. I'm not sure why.

I think the topic initially came up because she was asking lots of questions about relatives. She likes working out the details of relationships: Grandma is her grandmother, and she's my mother. That led, inevitably, to questions like, "Who is your grandmother, Mama?" And I would answer something like: "I had two grandmothers - Grandma's mother, and Grandpa's mother. Their mothers were my grandmothers. But I don't have any grandmothers anymore because they died."

Once she absorbed the idea that she had a grandmother who died - Michael's mother, who died in 1997 and who we call "Grandma Nancy" when we talk to Alex - she kept returning and returning to the topic. "Grandma Nancy died," she'll inform me at random times. Sometimes she'll add, "Papa was so sad. He cried and cried." (I think that was initially something I told her.) And once: "I'm so sad that Grandma Nancy died, because I want to play with her."

She's constructed a logical story about Michael's family relationships: "Grandma Nancy was Papa's mother, but she died. And then Gran was Papa's new mother." I can see where she got there, and in the chronology of Michael's experience she's not entirely wrong. Gran is Laura, Michael's birthmother; Grandma Nancy was his adoptive mother. We didn't meet Laura until after Michael's mother died. (We haven't tried to explain adoption yet.)

Death talk is not limited to Grandma Nancy. She held up one of her Little Einstein dolls and informed me sadly, "Annie's mother died and her father died. She doesn't have any parents." The other day she said casually, "When my doctor dies, I'll get a new doctor."

Death, death, death.

"A child's mother and father usually don't die," I told her once.

"But Grandma Nancy died." She didn't sound especially distressed, just thoughtful.

"She died when Papa was a grownup. She stayed alive and took care of him the whole time he was a child."

"Oh."

I want to promise her that we won't die, but I haven't. I can't. Fortunately, she hasn't asked. She doesn't seem to worry about that, and she doesn't seem to worry about dying herself. She mostly seems to be trying to figure out death-the-concept: what the heck is up with death?

[livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb - and let me say right here that all children should have an [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb in their lives - helped us find some books to read to Alex. There are quite a few picture books about death out there, but most of them fall into the category of "books to buy when someone significant in your preschooler's life has just died." Very few people seem to write "indulge your preschooler's philosophical curiosity about death" books. We wound up with two.

We've already gotten the first one from the library: When Dinosaurs Die, a comic book-format guide to basic questions about death. ("What does alive mean? Why does someone die? What does dead mean?") The text is general; the focus in the pictures and speech bubbles shifts back and forth from a dead bird some children find in the park to beloved pets to unconnected people (a soldier, an accident victim) to close relatives. I skip over a lot of the intense details about grieving when I read it to her. She loves it.

During tonight's reading - and OMG I am going straight to Parent Hell for reading a book about death and dying as a bedtime story, but she specifically requested it even after I suggested it was Not Quite The Thing - she came out with a couple of new comments: "Goodbye, Grandma Nancy" (said in a sad voice), and "I want to light a candle for Grandma Nancy." So she's obviously taking in quite a bit from the book, and reorganizing the way she thinks about having a dead relative.

The other book I ordered is called Lifetimes. From the Amazon reviews, it seems to focus on death as a natural process, a shared characteristic of all living things. That seems like it might be even more to the point, if her interest really is mostly philosophical.

It's hard to figure out where the line is between meeting your child's sincerely expressed interest in information about death and encouraging her to be weirdly, precociously morbid. I don't think a preoccupation with death is particularly normal for a three-year-old. And yet, if she's thinking about it and asking about it, obviously we can't cut her off completely. I'm hoping that these books will help settle her mind on the issue, and we can go back to her plans to become a veterinarian by age ten. ("Ten is old," she has informed us.)
rivka: (for god's sake)
Not when accepting sympathy from horrified people who've just found out.

Not when explaining to Alex again that there isn't a baby.

Not even when sorting and packing up some baby clothes for the move.

But without warning, this morning, while waiting for the elevator to take me to the hospital blood lab for a quantitative HCG follow-up, I completely lost my composure and started to cry. Half an hour later, I'm still feeling incredibly fragile. No idea why.

I would feel less broken right now if my reactions were easier to understand. In a way, it would make more sense if I were crying all day or unable to get out of bed. Instead, 90% of the time I feel totally normal and functional. And then: not.

The other thing that set me off without warning was hearing my father-in-law's voice, when we called him to make sure they'd escaped the tornadoes that slammed through Memphis on Tuesday.

Until recently, I had never really thought about the fact that the reason Michael was adopted is that his mother had several miscarriages, ultimately ending in a hysterectomy. Michael's father has never said a word to me about it. But somehow the kindness in his voice when he says "Hi, honey" connects me to this pain of his, more than forty years old but still present.

Michael's father is aware of, and solicitous of, Michael's pain and grief in a way that no one else seems to be. (I love Michael dearly, but I am ashamed to say that my grief is pretty self-centered right now.) I'm so glad that there is someone who sees his primary job as taking care of Michael. And yet what an awful, awful connection for a father and son to share.
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
We decided to go ahead and make the trip. It seems clear that we won't get out of here on Sunday - the storm is supposed to start tonight and last through the day tomorrow. My only remaining question is whether the roads will be okay on Monday. This is supposed to be a pretty slow storm. We'll see.

It's a nice visit so far. We've only had one brief opportunity to visit with my sister Judy and her family, because it's such a crazy booked-up time of year. But the brief visit was nice. We exchanged Christmas presents. The almost-11-year-old immediately spread her Sculpey kit across the restaurant table to examine all the pieces, giving a running commentary on what she was going to make and how far away her siblings would need to stay. The 13-year-old kept lovingly fondling his new Scott Westerfeld books. Alex got promptly and deeply to work with the wooden sushi set they gave her. And my sister delighted me with a reprint of the American Girls' Handy Book, a sort of a craft-adventure-advice book for 19th century girls.

It was very, very cold this morning (17 degrees F), but we went out to play in the snow anyway. It was Alex's first encounter with deep-ish snow (we've got about 6 inches on the ground), and she loved it. Climbed, crawled, rolled (!), got Grandpa to pull her all around the yard (which my poor urban child calls "the park") on a sled, and finally took several sled runs down an extremely gentle hill. It was wonderful.

I introduced my father to the singer-songwriter Peter Meyer, and also (I may at some point regret this) to Jonathan Coulton's "Mandelbrot Set." He's listening to it again and again, trying to figure out all the words. (He doesn't see well enough to use lyrics sites.)

For Christmas, along with some smaller things, my folks gave me the most amazing picnic set. It's a backpack. The front compartment holds a complete set of picnic tableware: dishes, polycarbonate glasses, metal silverware, mini salt and pepper shakers, a cheese board and cheese knife, a corkscrew. The rear compartment is heavily insulated to keep food hot or cold, and has a completely removable liner for easy washing. There's a separate small front compartment that's insulated as well, so you could have a hot-food section and a cold-food section. And strapped to the sides: an insulated sleeve for a wine or water bottle, and a large picnic blanket that's flannel on one side and waterproof nylon on the other. O. M. G. This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

So all is well, even if we may be a tiny bit marooned for the next couple of days. At least we have plenty of goodies to play with.

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