Bits and Whatnots

The Vacation that Wasn’t.


Let me tell you a story about how I’ve been living in a hotel for two weeks.

I’m not currently homeless, so don’t worry about that. I have a home, I just can’t go there.

A few weeks ago in the process of moving a file cabinet in our bedroom, we found mold. We called our insurance, who sent out a guy, who sent out a different guy, and then we heard nothing at all for several days. And then one Friday about three in the afternoon, they called and said we had to go, they had People coming out to Do Mold Removal Things.

While it’s probably typically not a hard thing to find a hotel room to stay in, our adjuster had a bit of a problem because our family is larger than what is allowed by law to stay in one room because of fire code hazards, so they had to find a place with two adjoining rooms.

And we needed a place that allowed dogs, because I’ve got two of them.

After much back and forth, the insurance found us a couple rooms at a Holiday Inn Express about a half an hour away from our home. It’s a nice enough place, don’t get me wrong, but the glamour of living in a hotel rubs off pretty quick when you’ve got six people and two dogs in an enclosed space for a long length of time. It’s not that my kids don’t love each other.

It’s that having to share beds and breathe air in the same room together for so many days in a row is turning them into zombies who crave the brains of their siblings.

The additional drive time whenever someone needs to go to school or work is draining our gas money in an insanely fast manner, and while at first it was kind of fun to eat dinner out every night, after two weeks I think we are all craving some of my own spectacular home cooked Burnt Food, or maybe just some cheap spaghetti that I make way too much of and cook way too long.

As a writer and human being who spends probably an unhealthy amount of time in my house and alone, it’s painful to be trapped in a hotel with strangers who want to start random conversations with me. I take my dogs to go out for a pee, someone strikes up some small talk. I sit in a dark corner alone in the morning for breakfast, people bring their conversations over to me and try to pull me in. It’s really a ridiculous amount of talking, to be honest. Like, in the hallways at 7:30 a.m. people smile at me and yell GOOD MORNING like they are some particularly horrible kind of monsters. One early morning as I was sitting alone, eating a biscuit and reading a Stephen King novel, some strange man in Very Ironed Clothes suddenly stuck his face in mine and yelled HAVE A NICE DAY! for no good reason at all. How am I supposed to respond to that kind of nonsense?

It’s a very clean hotel and housekeeping must come in every couple of days to make sure we haven’t trashed the place like the drunken rock stars we are, so every time I get things settled into some semblance of comfortable chaos, they come and straighten and fiddle and scrub until everything is back in order again. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty awful. I cannot create while trapped in this stark, overly organized space. And can we talk about how horrifying it is when housekeeping actually comes in to clean? The night before, my husband and I take out the trash and pick up and try to make like we are halfway decent human beings. Then when the lady does come in to clean, I sit or stand here awkwardly because it feels bizarre to have someone else cleaning up my mess but if I offer to help or give her, I don’t know, a pudding cup or a muffin or something she looks at me weird.  Today when I answered the door, the housekeeper lady asked me if I was going to let my dogs bite her.

Yesterday, the toilet backed up. I waited nearly an hour before I amped up the courage to call the front desk (because hello, it’s more talking to strangers) and then the maintenance guy came and I had to talk more to someone else I don’t know and apologize for making him do this Terrible Thing.

Not one to dwell on doom and gloom, I will admit there are perks:

There is a swimming pool.

The complimentary breakfast is delightful. I’m not certain the eggs are really eggs, but the biscuits taste like they were stolen from the kitchen at KFC, which is not an entirely impossible notion, as there’s a KFC across the parking lot here.

I haven’t had to wash dishes in two weeks.

But I find the idea that I don’t know when I can go home makes me feel really stressed. People keep telling me to treat this like a vacation, but I think those people have likely never been abruptly stuffed into a hotel room with six people and two dogs for an extended period of time.

Last week, my son got really sick and had to spend some time in the ER. He’s doing better now, but I felt I had to ask the universe what bad thing was coming next, because I think we all know that Bad Things come in threes and I like to be prepared.

That was right about when we found out my daughter’s cosmetology school closed, three weeks into her first semester, with no warning. Just a post on the school’s Facebook page stating they were very sorry, don’t come to class tomorrow, they were closing down all 79 campuses. Of course, she’s distraught and we are left trying to find her a new school and deal with her loans and in general, it’s an entirely unpleasant experience.


It got worse.

When my husband went to pick up dinner last night, we found out that Little Caesar’s is discontinuing their cream cheese dip.

I know. I KNOW. It’s okay, I cried a little bit, too.

I have been working, though. In addition to my regular freelance writing, I’ve gotten a few thousand more words on my current novel, and the other day fiddled around a little bit with a New Shiny Idea, which seasoned writers advise we shouldn’t do when we are writing a novel already, but I don’t understand how to get the voices out of my head if I don’t get them out on the page.

We had a meeting with the contractor a couple of days ago, who cheerfully announced it would likely be another two weeks before we can go home, and that’s barring any problems.

I’m beginning to feel a bit like Bilbo Baggins. This little adventure has been nice and all, but I really just want to go home where I have all my books and my yarn and mountains of dirty dishes in the sink.

By the way, does anybody have a pair of ruby slippers I could borrow?

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s…

See what this nightmare has done to me? I’m already mixing up fictional characters. I’ll be utterly daft by the time I get to go home.

Probably not the worst things that could happen. I hear all the best writers have lost their minds.


Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Kiss of Pavement


Last year, you might recall we took the kids camping for a few weeks and ended up living through our own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. There was a terrible sunburn for me, weeks of miserable hives (also for me), and among other things, a myriad of parts that broke on our trailer. We also found a leak that invited bugs under the floor in one area, and had to cut that piece of linoleum out. Given that, it may seem bizarre we’ve decided to do it again, but we are.

I may be mildly (okay, horrifically) bad luck prone, and my sense of coordination has never been the sort that made athletics a smart idea, but still, we were excited to pack up and travel that ten minutes from home to the campground. Campfire pizza pies and s’mores called to us. Thoughts of swimming, kayaking, and family picnics drew us in. Ever optimistic, I took precautions so I wouldn’t burn and break out in full body hives like the freak of nature that I am. SPF 70 is surprisingly difficult to find, but I hunted until we located a couple bottles of it. I have a thin, silky jacket to help protect me from the sun. Picked up a couple large and ridiculously gaudy sun hats. Two different types of antihistamines.

We brought only our oldest son with us to help set up, since we were close enough to home to run back once we were finished. Found a nice site with nothing but woods behind us, which is more peaceful than when your rig is surround by others, and what we prefer when camping. Lady Luck, it appeared, was on our side. I knew this trip was going to be great. I even had a new swimsuit I was looking forward to trying out. After we set up the trailer, we went home to finish getting the kids’ things together, and as they were all complaining about their imminent death by starvation, we ordered a couple of pizzas, ate at the house, then left the kids and dogs home while we ran up to buy some groceries.

We’d gotten a rather late start that first day, so we didn’t make it to the grocery store until around 10 p.m., but we were full of adrenaline and happily making plans for cooking out over the weekend. Everything was working out perfectly for us. Even the weather forecast was on our side.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.


We were back to our house by 11, and it was pitch dark outside. We had purchased some extra food to leave at the house, and our plan was to just drop that off, pick up the kids and the dogs, and get back to the trailer. I hopped out of the car, thought my husband was likely getting exhausted from his long day of work, then setting up the campsite, then grocery shopping, so I decided I’d help him carry in the few groceries to the house.

That’s where it all went wrong.

I turned, rounded the driver’s side of the Yukon, felt a horrendous hot pain going from my right big toe and straight up my leg.

Next thing I knew, I was airborne.

I had forgotten about that part of our driveway that’s got an uneven spot, where some of the concrete has settled down lower than the rest. In the darkness, I didn’t see it.

I struck that part with my right foot, and felt something crack. My first thought was that I had broken my big toe. I felt some kind of crack in the center of it.

My second thought was that I was about to land face first on the pavement.

There was nothing for me to grab on to so I could break my fall. I was too far away from the Yukon to catch hold of anything. My daughter had her back to me and was walking toward the house. My husband was behind the vehicle. No help from any direction.

I landed with a thud on the concrete. I felt the skin rip off my knee and the palm of my left hand.

A single inelegant and rather grunty-sounding word escaped my lips. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

My husband hurriedly came around the corner of the vehicle. He stared at me for a moment, then asked, “What are you doing?

(Kissing the pavement, it looked lonely) “Um, I fell.”

“You fell? Over what?”

I begin laughing like a hyena with a dime bag who has just gotten busted by the cops. “Um… think I broke my toe.”

He helped me up and into the house. Once we were in the light, I caught a visual of my mangled right big toe and immediately wished I hadn’t. I plunked down into the part of the couch that has the recliner in it, and put the leg rest up. Ow, ow, ow, ow. The kids crowded around me, worried.

My left hand and knee were scraped up pretty good and my knee was good and bloody. Those were things that hurt, but not terribly. My toe, however, was in an awful lot of pain. I was thinking back to times I have broken other toes, attempting to remember the exact feeling or what the signs and symptoms of a broken toe might be. I closed my eyes, trying to think, but doing so was difficult because, A: jolts of hot pain were biting up the nerves in my legs, causing me to shake, and 2: three of my kids were crowded around me, shouting at me things I guess I have said or maybe yelled at them over the years in the aftermath of an injury.

Kid 1: “I think we need to take her to the urgent care clinic.”

Kid 4: (patting my shoulder frantically) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay! It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, everything’s okay!”

Kid 3: (plunks his hand down on my thigh, affects a deep and manly voice) “Here, Mom, squeeze my hand. Put your pain into it. I can take it. Squeeze as hard as you can.”

Kid 1: “Get a wash cloth! Somebody get a wash cloth! We need to clean her up!”

Kid 4: “Does anybody know what kind of music she likes? Let’s put on Pandora! Mom, what Pandora do you like?”

Kid 3: “That’s stupid. Shut up. She doesn’t need music right now!”


Kid 1: “I don’t like the way she’s shaking. I think she’s going into shock.”

Husband: “Just go run her foot under some water, then dump peroxide on it. Kills the germs.”

Kid 1: “She can’t walk! We need to take her to a clinic!”

Me: “Clinics are closed, and I’m not going to ER for this. Just give me a minute here.”

Kid 4: “Parts of her toe are hanging off. Does she know that?”

Kid 3: “Squeeze my hand, Mom. Somebody get her some water! We need water over here!”

Kid 1: “She’s still shaking. I’m worried. Mom? Mom, can you hear me? We need to take her somewhere.”

Husband: “I don’t know. You wanna go somewhere? Your toe is pretty messed up. Needs to be cleaned… and uh, I can’t do that. Um, I think you ripped the nail off.”

Kid 4: (frantically patting my shoulder, my head, my leg) “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Kid 3: “Here, Mom. I got you some water. Can you sip it? That’s good, that’s good. I got her to take some water!”

Kid 1: “Could she be having a seizure? Did she hit her head?”

Me: “I’m not having a seizure. I just need a minute to calm back down.”

Kid 1: “Okay, I’m going to help you clean up your knee. There’s a lot of blood, but I’ll be very gentle, okay?”

Kid 3: “It’s gonna hurt, Mom. Go ahead, squeeze my hand hard, I can take it.”

Kid 1: “Somebody get a bowl of water to put her foot in. There could be dirt up under that nail.”

Husband: (brings enormous salad bowl full of water)

Me: (gingerly dips foot into water while trying not to look)

*phone rings*

*husband answers*

Apparently kid 2 and her boyfriend are sitting in the dark at the campground getting hassled by security because we thought we would be right over there, but we evidently aren’t, so they are sitting there at midnight with no key to the trailer and no membership card to prove they are actually supposed to be there.

Husband: “Just tell them to call my cell phone then! Oh my God! Why can’t anything ever just go right!”

Kid 4: “Cool. Look at all the blood in the bowl!”

Kid 3: “Shut UP! Don’t tell her there’s blood. It’s okay Mom. There’s hardly no blood. It’s fine, it’s fine.”

Husband: “What bowl do we need for the party tomorrow? For you to take that dessert in?”

Me: “Uh, the blue one. With the lid.”

Kid 1: “Mom can’t talk about making dessert right now! She’s INJURED!”

Kid 4: “Can I play Pokemon Go at the campground?”

Kid 3: “Step back, let me take care of this. I was a Boy Scout. I have first aid training!”

Someone has brought Band-aids and some gauze, so we dry off the mangled toe and hurriedly cover the mess. Once I don’t have to look at it, the pain begins to diminish. The shaking settles down. I’m running through a list in my mind of what medication I have on hand that might help. All I can think of is Motrin and some of the heavy-duty antihistamines, both back at the trailer.

We have three vehicles to get back to the campground, so I know I have to drive. After I get myself composed and my husband has gotten the rest of the stuff we need packed up, I hobble back out to my vehicle. We form a little caravan as we drive through the night. It takes me a little longer to get to the campground than usual, but finally we make it.

Eventually I sleep. I dream of meeting new people and all of them are missing a hand or a foot.

The next day was busy. We had a party to get to, and some shopping that still needed done. I clutched the cart through Wally World, thinking gratefully of the evening, when I could sit in my lawn chair with my throbbing foot up and work on a blanket I’m crocheting. My husband says, “Let’s go look at the bikes.”

Bikes. Sure.

Over the winter, we had been talking about buying new bikes for us. The last time we bought new bikes for ourselves, our 20-year-old daughter was 3 months old.

Sure, I said. Let’s go. I was thinking we could look quick before we left. What could it hurt? I was watching the time, though. I had promised the party host I would come back and help clean up.

Leaning against the cart, I shuffled around the corner to the bike aisle.

And that’s when I saw it.

The most glorious bike that ever happened.

Turquoise and bright yellow, with a matching basket on the front (obviousy to put my yorkie in), it said, “Margaritaville” down the middle bar, and had a small parrot on the handle that squeaked when pushed.

The seat was flowered.

“This one,” I said. “I want it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, wary. “Are you gonna fall off it and get hurt again?”

“No, no. I’m fine. Get this one. It’s beautiful.”

And it is.

I love it.

But I have to admit, with my history of poor luck and general clumsiness, I was a little worried when I took it for my first ride.

So far, so good.

And I don’t even need that big toe to balance on my bike.

I hope the rest of this trip is entirely uneventful.

Is there some sort of “Uneventful, boring trip” dance we could do, you know, like a rain dance, to keep things smooth and chill for a while? I mean, obviously I can’t do the dance, I’ve got a mangled big toe. But surely someone could be willing. My youngest son seems to suddenly have more energy than he knows what to do with.

If I withheld Pokemon  Go from him for a while, I could probably bribe him to do it.

If my luck suddenly turns around, you’ll know I’ve got an adolescent I’m forcing to dance for me like a little marionette, taunting him with promises of catching a Snorlax if he just dances for me one more time.

Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

Sixteen Tomorrow

I decided a while back to write a birth story for each of my four kids. I wrote one for each of my girls within the last couple of years and since tomorrow is my oldest son’s sixteenth birthday, today I’m writing his.


My due date was April 2nd, 2000 and I was already four days past that. My two little girls were two and a half and almost four and my husband worked third shift a couple of towns away from where we lived. We had planned to drop our daughters off at my sister’s house when I went into labor, but it felt like it had been so many years since I had passed my due date that we had sort of given up thinking that might ever happen. Clearly, I was just going to stay pregnant forever. And ever.

On April sixth, my husband left around ten p.m. for work and I waddled to bed to try and sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, and just about quarter after eleven realized I was having some contractions. For some idiotic reason I can’t even explain other than I read it somewhere in some magazine, I got up and decided to take a shower. This was a poor choice on my part, because this labor started out really fast and strong and within just a few minutes I was in so much pain I could no longer stand up. I was stuck in the shower and had nobody home to help me other than my little girls, who were sound asleep.

Eventually, I was able to crawl out of the tub and to the kitchen to the phone (remember, this was back before we all had a cell phone attached to us every second of every day). I called the factory where my husband worked at the time and gave a breathless message to the person in the office. Several minutes later, he called me back, listened to me shrieking for a minute or two, and headed home. It never crossed my mind to call my doctor. Again, I have no way to reason that out. It was dumb but I was tired and in a lot of pain. I very seriously thought I might have the baby on the living room floor, before my husband ever made it home.

Finally, he arrived and called our family doctor. She asked him to time my contractions, then listened to me screaming for a few minutes and told him they were WAY too close together for me to still be at home. Get going, she said. Go fast.

During a brief break between pains, I woke up my daughters and packed them a bag. Clearly out of my head with agony and excitement, I packed them a bunch of licorice. Can’t tell you why, only that in the moment, it seemed absolutely imperative. Then we called my sister, because that was our plan.

Problem was, she never picked up the phone. We called over and over again. No answer.

Instead, we drove the (very sleepy and confused and tightly gripping their licorice) girls to my husband’s parents’ house. At that point, I really, really thought I was not going to make it to the hospital in time.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was get some pain relief. I had had an emergency C-section with my first child, and my morphine line had a hole in it so I was in a lot of pain for a lot of hours after I woke up. With my second child, I requested an epidural, but it failed. This time, I was determined to get some wonderful pain meds, the kind I’d heard friends describe as “heaven”, which would reduce the hip-shattering agony I was currently experiencing to something along the lines of mild cramps. I thought about this all the way to the hospital.

When I shuffled in to the labor and delivery triage area at the hospital, I was breathless and barely able to talk. There was nobody at the desk, and I was certain that if I sat down in one of the chairs I would never get back up, so I just leaned forward on the desk, propping myself up with my elbows, and stood there. Shaking. After what seemed an eternity, a nurse found me and got me into a room.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“I want pain meds this time,” I replied.

She laughed. I didn’t.

After a quick check that told her I was already well past eight, she told me I was too far gone for any sort of substantial relief. Sorry, kid. That baby is coming too fast.

Things went pretty fast after that. I was moved down to a regular room, my doctor arrived, and so did my mom and siblings. My sister, as it turned out, had taken a few Tylenol PMs before bed and didn’t hear the phone ring when I called.

My first son was born at 2:52 a.m. on April 7th after just about three and a half hours of labor. He shares a birthday with my sister’s daughter, just fifteen years apart.

He was a big boy. Eight pounds, thirteen point two ounces.

My doctor looked up at me and said, “All right, Val, I need you to push again, get that placenta out.”

I looked back at her and replied, “I’m done. If you want anything else, you can go in and get it yourself.”

I wasn’t kidding. Fast labors are kind of cool but the thing about them is, you end up feeling a lot like you’ve been run over by a semi truck once everything is said and done.

We had considered naming him Andrew, but couldn’t decide on a middle name. My husband went out to the nurse’s station and borrowed a baby name book. He came across the name Donovan and asked what I thought of it.

Andrew Donovan.

We thought about that for a few minutes, and then turned it around.

Donovan Andrew.

It fit him perfectly.

And tomorrow he turns sixteen.



Bits and Whatnots, Writing

Failing NaNo in 5 Easy Steps



I decided earlier in the fall to try and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I had been a bit afraid to try it in the past, largely because the idea of setting such a short deadline on writing seemed like a great way to set off my anxiety.

Death by panic attack looked like a reasonable outcome, so I never tried it, though I watched with a little envy as my friends started their novels and posted their NaNo updates. I wanted to do it, but I was chicken, and that’s the pure truth.

So I had this idea for a new book and had a little bit of it going. I titled it “Maternal Consumption” and it was to be about this woman,  Samaria, who had a past filled with blank spots that she couldn’t remember, a dead mother, and grumbly tummy. As she begins to eat her mother, she consumes her mother’s memories, thereby filling in those missing pieces of her life. I got about five thousand something and something words in and that’s about it. I hit an absolute wall. Nothing was flowing, but sometimes that happens, right? I planned to just force some words out, but what ended up happening was just…plain nothing.

I thought of another idea, a new story. Sometimes if I’m stuck, writing something else gets the words and ideas going. So I started the new story, hoping it would unfreeze the ideas for Maternal Consumption.

Nope. Nada. Zilch.

Here we are, at the end of NaNoWriMo, and I have successfully failed on my first try. If you’d like to fail as I have, let me give you some advice. It can be daunting, I know, but if you really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

How to Fail At NaNoWriMo in Five Easy Steps:

  1. Is someone in your family terminally ill? This is a great time for their health to take a horrific downturn. Spending 5-12 hours a day at the hospital sucks the creativity right out of you. As an added bonus, ask your loved one’s physician to call you several times throughout the week and tell you to get to the hospital right away, the end is nigh. Of course, when you get there, nothing will happen. However, you will be afraid to leave again, just in case. If the doctor can spend some time talking to you about calling in Hospice, so much the better. This will feed your anxiety and send your stress level through the roof. Now you can utilize the time you would have spent writing to rearrange your parent’s (or other loved one’s) house to make space for the hospital bed. Things can get a little twisty at this point, but it helps if you get a call from out-of-state to let you know another family member is expected to die at any moment. The added worry of how to make it to that funeral while still remaining at your dying parent’s bedside will successfully stop you from ever sleeping, which of course, only solidifies your inability to write anything.
  2. See if you can’t start planning a funeral for your loved one ahead of time. Your laptop battery will likely die (the nature of the environment) once you get there, and anyway, you’ll feel conspicuous typing while you’re supposed to be picking out a casket. This is also a great time to be reminded of legal paperwork you need but have no idea where to find, and the panic of finding out even the most no-frills service you can plan will still cost upward  of six thousand dollars will make your mind completely blank. Bonus move: hunt beneath  couches and dog crates for any spare change. Count it up, and mentally calculate how much funeral money you still need once you subtract your newly acquired $3.26.
  3. If you haven’t already, start a new job. Make sure it is a job you love and can’t believe your luck in getting and that you really want to impress your new boss with your skills. Now make sure you are late for deadlines because of time spent at the hospital, and if you can pull off a couple of sixteen hour workdays to make up what you’ve been lacking, well friend, that’s just gravy. You can’t be blamed for not NaNo’ing when you are frantically trying to keep up with work. I mean, you’ve got to pay your mortgage and feed your kids, right?
  4. Get some teenagers. If you don’t own any personally, borrow some. These are helpful for a variety of reasons. Slamming doors, screaming, and refusing to help with chores when you’ve been at the hospital all day and then working half the night are just some of the bonus features of keeping teens in the house. If you can get at least one of them to develop a mysterious medical condition, such as passing out and having a possible seizure while at a music concert hours away, necessitating multiple doctor visits and extra medical tests, you’ve really got it made. Your mind will be so blank with worry and medical jargon you won’t even be able to remember what that story was going to be about, anyway. For additional anxiety power, see if the kid who is struggling can also have a complicated medical history, such as a rare chronic illness. This helps baffle both your mind and the physician’s. Writing? What writing? You won’t even be able to spell at this point, let alone attempt to think creatively.
  5. Stop doing any housework. Overflowing trash cans, stacks of dirty dishes, and mountains of laundry will only cement your status as a failure on every level. If you can manage to get every single glass dirty and then forget to pick up dish soap, you won’t even be able to pour yourself a cup of caffeine. Obviously, no caffeine, no writing, so there you go. Pro tip: Throw your back out. This makes everything you attempt to do nine thousand times more difficult, from taking a shower to treks through the hospital. You won’t be able to sit to write, as the pressure from back pain will make your legs numb.


And there you have it, kids. How to fail at NaNoWriMo in five easy steps. Of course, what worked for me may not work for you, and that’s just the nature of the creative beast. Sometimes you really have to play at life to see how best to mess up your own plans. If you truly take my advice to heart, you can get a jumpstart on how to fail at next year’s NaNo. Of course, there’s always the possibility that you may try to fail and still succeed, but keep that chin up, cupcake. If you really, really want to fail, you can do it. I believe in you!

P.S. If you like the way I write and want to dump some cash into the sorely lacking funeral services fund, please consider buying my books. I don’t do crowd funding, but we could really use some extra money right now. As my mother in law continues to fade away, the worry over how we will manage to pay for her final arrangements only gets more real. For those of you who continue to be supportive of my writing, thank you. You mean so much.


Bits and Whatnots

The Weekend.

Let me tell you about my weekend.

Friday night was our 22nd wedding anniversary. We did not make enormous plans, due to various things, like my mother-in-law being ill and in the hospital, other family stuff, and the lack of much actual cash money to do anything with.

So we made plans to go out for dinner and a movie, because CRIMSON PEAK, amiright?

Before I go any further, let me recap the last two years of our anniversary celebrations:

Two years ago:

Went to a casino. Got a call from the eldest child. She’d gone outside and when she came running up the cement porch steps, she fell and gouged a big chunk out of her leg. She thought she needed stitches. I called my mom, who drove over and checked it out, thought, yeah, maybe it might need stitches, so we left early and came home. I took her to the clinic and while it looked rather ghastly, no stitches were needed.

Last year:

Tried an overnight at the casino again. Told the kids, STAY HOME. Multiple texts between us and the kids cell phones showed nothing amiss. We came home the next morning and found, courtesy of the cops who came over to visit, that the children in fact DID NOT stay home, had instead gone out for chili cheese fries, which in itself is not generally arrestable behavior. But my daughter had just started driving, and *scraped* another car as she was backing out of the restaurant parking lot. She panicked, and bolted. So, the friendly neighborhood policemen came to serve her with papers about her little misdemeanor. THAT WAS CUTE.

This year, we were only leaving for a few hours. Just long enough to devour some delightful steakhouse food and watch Tom Hiddleston be amazingly dapper. NOT EVEN LONG ENOUGH FOR KIDS TO GET INTO TROUBLE.


Dinner was good. Quiet. I lamented eating too much as I continued to stuff my face. It was wonderful. And the steakhouse makes its servers do line dancing when certain country songs come on the radio, which was delightful (if kind of awkward for us…where do you look? do you look at the servers when they dance? Is that considered gawking? Look up at the ceiling to prevent accidental gawking? Just keep shoveling food in face? What’s the proper etiquette there?) and even the dainty eighty-something-year-old woman seated across from us got up to do the Boot Scoot-N-Boogie down the aisle.

And we were thinking, you know, this is nice. Nice to finally have kids old enough to leave alone for a few hours without being constantly harassed via text or phone call about silly little things. All those years of near death experiences with toddlers and young kids has been worth it. Now we’ve gotten to that easy part. HAHAHAHAHA.

We got our tickets for the Hiddleston Show, I mean, um, Crimson Peak, and a couple of drinks and a giant box of Junior Mints that we were kind of giddy about not having to share with extra greedy little hands. And the movie was getting  good, lovely and creepy and filled with gorgeous velvety looking costumes, and that’s about when our phones started to go off.

I ignored mine. My husband tried, but his kept going off, over and over. Finally he checked it and texted, “Can’t talk right now.”

Response: I need you to call me right now.


Husband gets up, out of the theater and out to the hall to call our daughter. Dad, she says, I came out to buy pizza and locked my keys in the running car. I don’t know what to do.

Of course, the only extra set of car keys we own was sitting there on my lap, in my purse.

Adamantly, we refuse to leave the movie theater. They are adults. They will have to figure something out. We’ve got an entire box of  Junior Mints still to eat.

Our phones go off again.

Okay, they’ve figured out for my younger daughter’s boyfriend to come and get the keys from us. But he has to first find a ride, so it might be a while.

Text: Are they there yet?

Text: Should we go ahead and get the pizza?

Text: Are they there yet?

Text: Did they get the keys?

Text: Dad? Dad? Dad?

Text: Are you sure they aren’t there yet? Did you check?

Text: They’re on their way!

Text: They’ll be there in a minute!

Text: Are they there yet?

Text: Sorry we ruined your anniversary again.

Text: Did the guys come to get the keys yet?

Finally, the guys DID come to get the keys and we were left to eat our Junior Mints in peace.

Yesterday morning, my 15-year-old son knocked on my bedroom door, shouting something about blood.

I leapt up, okay, I don’t much leap anymore, I’m forty, I slowly uncurled my frozen body from the bed and inched my way straight, rolled off the side of my bed and began to stagger, while shouting, I’m coming! Hang on!

Turned out to be an unfortunate bagel incident. Rather than microwave a frozen bagel and then cut and toast it, he decided to try cutting the solidly frozen bagel with a steak knife and plunged the serrated blade into the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. The blood was gushing, he said, and it went on my bagel but I just put butter over it and ate it. So I didn’t waste the bagel.

Well, I don’t know about you, but that was my main worry.

Anyway, three stitches later and a long time spent trying to come up with an acceptable battle story to tell the guys (I suggested chupacabra attack), that particular wound seems to be doing okay.

But the highlight of the weekend was going to be watching The Walking Dead last night, because WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO GLENN and COULD IT BE POSSIBLE THAT HE REALLY IS A TIME LORD AND THE DUMPSTER IS A TARDIS, so I ran to the store last night to get some Moose Tracks ice cream, because HELLO, zombies and ice cream are what really makes a Sunday holy, and lo and behold.

Our television froze, for no apparent reason, for thirty solid minutes.

So we missed TWD.

That was my weekend.

Bits and Whatnots

Ninety-Seven and Seventeen.


It was so desperately hot that summer.

1997. We were living in a double-wide modular home, in a park not far from where we live now. The heat seemed like a living thing, a second skin that slithered over me and nestled in for the long haul. Even the middle of the night brought no relief; it was sticky and hot and even a thin sheet seemed too much to bear. One hundred degree days were one after another, a record breaking heat wave that had television weather forecasters and radio DJs jabbering excitedly.

At the time, I was heavily pregnant with my second child, and had a one-year-old daughter, Olivia. Some days, I would pack the baby up in my old car and drive to the grocery store or Walmart just to walk around in the air conditioning. My hair was constantly damp against my head and I felt always out of breath, the humidity in the air seemed to steal any good oxygen I took in. We lived for the occasional thunderstorm, just to breathe some cooler air.

I was due October 11 and had an appointment with my doctor on October 7. He was concerned, he said, because my first baby had been an emergency C-section, and I had plans to deliver naturally this time. A family member of his had died and he needed to leave the country unexpectedly, and he was worried another physician wouldn’t pay enough attention to the possibility of uterine rupture. “You might die,” he told me. “You could lose the baby.” I was hot, gigantic, miserable and terrified, so when he said he wanted to induce my labor so he could attend the birth, I agreed. We made our plans: I would make arrangements for Olivia, finish readying the baby’s room, pack for my hospital stay and have my husband notify his work that he needed the time off. I went into action mode, making calls and settling my plans. My husband took me out to dinner and we grinned through the entire meal.

I was excited because the hospital was air conditioned.

We hadn’t found out the gender of the baby. I liked having it be a surprise, but everyone who had an opinion or a guess thought I was carrying a boy. We had a boy’s name picked out: Collin Phillip. My sister wanted me to name a boy Levi, and reminded me about it every time we hung out. If it turned out to be a girl, I knew I wanted the middle name to be Grace; my first daughter’s middle name was Faith. John’s choice for a girl name was Alyssa, and I liked it well enough, but at the time it was a hugely popular girl’s name, and a woman at our church had just named a her daughter Alyssa Grace. I wanted something a little bit different.

We showed up in the early evening to check in at the hospital. Everything seemed to be going dizzyingly fast, the meds and the IV and forms that needed signing and the nurses and doctors checking me. Contractions started quickly, and by the middle of the night were down to three minutes apart. I had a back labor and it felt like my hips were shattering every time a contraction hit. I cried and threw up several times, but I tried not to scream because I knew my family was just around the corner and had my daughter with them, and I didn’t want to scare Olivia. My nurse’s name was Devota. She was a night nurse, but stayed well past her shift so she could remain with me. Mom came in and rubbed circles on my back and kept my long hair out of my face. Dad came in, looked at me and promptly threw up. By mid-morning, I was confident the labor was never going to end, and I told Devota I had changed my mind and wanted to go home. She talked me into an epidural, and I waited for the relief to come and bring me rest, but it didn’t happen. The doctor came in and placed a second epidural, and again, I waited for the relief my friends had told me about. You won’t feel a thing, you can sleep until it’s time to push, they’d told me. Lies! It became evident I was in the miniscule percentage of women the epidural didn’t work for. The pain intensified, and I’d been hours with hard contractions two minutes apart. I wanted to scream, but instead I put my fist in my mouth and bit. I kept worrying Olivia would hear me and be frightened. John kept telling me to stop it, I was going to hurt myself. There came a point when – and I remember the moment with such clarity – my sister Charlotte was walking in to see how things were going, and as she came around the privacy curtain, I had just put my fist in my mouth again, biting hard against the contraction that enveloped me. John reached out and smacked my hand away from my mouth. “Quit doing that!” he scolded. And I reached right out and grabbed his arm and chomped down on it. Hard. “Ow!” he shouted and looked at my sister. “She bit me!” Charlotte’s mouth hung open for a minute, then she shrugged and told him he shouldn’t have done what he did.

I bit him because he had shoved my hand from my mouth, and also because he was eating a glazed donut.

The pain was so great, it felt like every nerve fiber within me was on fire. My skin hurt. My hair hurt. My eyelashes hurt. Devota and my doctor whispered near my bed about the possibility of another C-section. “No,” I told them. I wasn’t doing that again. The problem was that my baby was lying diagonally in my abdomen, and her head was slamming against my hip. The solution was to twist me into randomly and ever-increasingly uncomfortable positions until she straightened up.

And finally, after about 14 hours of labor, it was time to push. The marathon was nearly over.

It only took another two and a half hours to receive my prize.

Another daughter. I was relieved and elated and exhausted, so I burst into tears and started sobbing.

“But we don’t have a name for a girl!”

My husband shushed me, and said if I would only stop crying, I could name her whatever I wanted.

I named her Savannah Grace.

There was a little problem with her breathing, so they whisked her off to have her checked out, and I cried again because I wanted to hold her so much.

Once she was declared healthy and perfect (which I already knew), she was brought back to me and I held my little girl. I felt as if I was in some magical world where every good thing that ever could happen was happening, right then, to me.

My family came in then, and they took turns holding her and crying and laughing and rejoicing in the perfection of Savannah.

And today, at 3:37 p.m., my baby girl turns seventeen.

I cannot believe how quickly she has grown from my little baby girl who hated having clothes on, to a toddler who loved Tonka trucks and building blocks, to a young girl who loved crafts and music, and now to a musically inclined young woman with amazing creative talents. My daughter has become an admirable person who is compassionate, empathetic, and fiercely loyal. And of course, she is stunningly beautiful.

Every day, she makes me prouder than the day before.

Happy birthday, Savannah. I love you more than the stars in the sky.


Bits and Whatnots

For the Girls.


On the first day of kindergarten, my daughter was given a poem.

The poem’s rhyming ability rivaled Geisel, and it was filled with promises for the future, and how she would hold the world in her hands once she could count to 100 and learned to read.

I was given a poem as well, about her tiny fingerprints leaving smudges on clean windows, and how quickly time would fly and I’d be missing them when she was gone.

Thirteen years later, I still remember what she wore that day: a white, button-down shirt with red roses embroidered on it. Red buttons. Denim capris with matching red roses embroidered at the hem. Ruffly white socks. Navy blue Mary Janes.

I’d wanted to arrive at the school early on her first day, but was running behind because I’d been awake all night, worrying and vomiting. Vomiting and worrying. I was pale and sick and thin, and a few months along in my fourth pregnancy in five years. There was a PICC line in my arm and liquid nutrition in a backpack I carried continuously, my unwanted extra appendage.

Between the worrying and vomiting and little ones crying and making sure my daughter’s pink Barbie backpack contained every item she needed for lifelong success, I brushed her hip-length blonde hair and styled it into a ballerina bun atop her head.

It was a late August morning filled with sunshine. A bright promise. All the hope in the world for every great thing that ever could be, wrapped in a tiny pink pack on the back of my fifty pound little girl.

She was excited and happy and worried, because going to school meant she was big and she loved words and wanted to learn more of them, especially the kind with more than three letters.

She was worried because she was always worried. She worried about sickness and bad things and bad people and sad things and sad people. The sky falling and the earth opening and tornadoes and fluke blizzards and the gas tank running empty.

She held my hand as we walked to her classroom. The room was cheerful and filled with vibrant colors and letters on the walls and the incredibly loud echo of laughter and sobbing of both children and parents. We looked for the space at one of the tables with her name on it. Olivia. We found it. She sat in the tiny seat and stood back up again, quickly. She walked around the room, running her still-babyish hands along different objects. She paused at the elderly black piano and considered it, soberly.

Over and again we heard the shutter of cameras. Smile for Mommy! Isn’t this exciting?

I slipped out through the sea of people and waited in the hall, peeking in at my daughter through the door window every few minutes. She sat so still in her seat, hands folded on the table in front of her; white, ruffly-socked ankles crossed politely. Back impossibly straight. Eyes trained on the teacher.

I sat in the parking lot for several minutes, crying and worrying. What if she didn’t make any friends? What if I’d done the wrong thing by not sending her to preschool? What if she was behind and it was my fault? What if there was a bully in her class who made her cry? What if she forgot where the bathroom was and wet her pants?

My hands shook as I drove home. She seemed so small and fragile to leave on her own with a teacher we didn’t know and a classroom full of kids twice her size.

She’s like a little mother.

That’s what the kindergarten teacher said of my daughter that first week of school. She’d been tying shoes for kids who didn’t yet know how, opening tricky bags of animal crackers for friends, patting heads and whispering encouraging words to children who sat on the floor crying, missing their mamas.

~ *** ~

It was an early September morning filled with sunshine. A bright promise.

Her tanned legs appeared especially brown against her white denim shorts. She wore a navy blue tank sporting the familiar University of Michigan logo.

She’d just dyed her blonde hair to a dark auburn color, and wore it in a long braid that hung over her shoulder and down the left side of her chest.

Anxiously, she jangled her key ring. This was it then, her dream. Studying psychology at her top choice

One more time, we went over the rules:

Park near the doors in the parking ramp.

Stay with a buddy while walking on campus.

Remember where the blue emergency phones are, if you need to call security?

Request an escort to your car if you’re leaving at night.

She nods. She remembers the rules. We’ve discussed them several times over this summer.

I check her pink backpack to make sure she has sharpened pencils and a bottle of Ativan, just in case she needs it.

On the first day of college, my daughter was given a rape whistle.

Bits and Whatnots, Chronic Illness

Mother Love, Mother Guilt


This article originally appeared in “I.G. Living” magazine, August/September 2013 issue.

Somehow, it always comes down to the mother.

The first person a teacher asks to speak to when a problem arises. The first person a physician discusses a medical issue with. The person the other mothers – at soccer and baseball practice, at Scouts meetings – whisper about when she leaves the room.

That child is too thin!

That child is too heavy!

That child is too short!

Sad, shaking heads. Collective sighs. Satisfied hands clutch their Starbucks cups. Tiny sips of double mocha light foam cappuccinos.
And then….

What is she doing wrong? Why doesn’t she do something to fix this? Surely, she must see The Problem.


Surely, the mother sees the problem. She drops off her child with a smile and a wave, heads back to her SUV to rest her head on the steering wheel. She closes her eyes tight, unable to un-see the differences. The Problem. The fact that her child is unlike his peers; there are glaring discrepancies in the size of her child and the size of the others.

What have I done wrong?

Why can’t I fix this?

Surely, she sees what the other mothers see.

And she sees the other mothers. She notices the way they turn their heads – just slightly – when her child joins the group. Are they checking? Checking to make sure their children are still superior? That The Problem hasn’t somehow affected the perfection of their offspring?

She sees them catch one another’s eye; each in turn. A fraction of a second – barely that –but still.


She hears the artificial coating in the invitation that comes just a little too late; the unnecessary volume in the equally unnecessary reassurances: “He’s just a late bloomer” or “He’ll slim down, once he hits that growth spurt”.

She hears the words that are implied, but not stated out loud.

“He’ll be fine, as soon as you figure out where you went wrong, and fix it.”

Judge and jury.

They cannot understand how desperately she loves him. How completely she would sacrifice to be able to fix The Problem.

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

She knows something isn’t quite right. This isn’t her first child, she knows what is normal, average….and she just knows…something is off.

Not quite sure what it is. Just…something. But…how could that be? She was so careful. No drinking, no smoking. No caffeine. Forty weeks of carefully measured actions. Vegetables. Milk. No under-cooked meats. Never missed a prenatal appointment. No drugs during the birth.

She breastfed. They said that would be better. Safer.

Well-child check-ups are passed with flying colors. Hesitantly, she voices concern to the physician.
Her worries are blown off, like an insignificant kite detached from a string. All mothers worry. You’re just overly tired. All babies are different. Nothing is wrong.

Nothing is wrong.


Except…..she knows there is something. But she lies to herself. She convinces herself all is well. When the worry rears its head in her throat, lodging there like a child’s bouncy ball, too big to move either up or down, just…stuck – she busies her mind. Turns up the TV. Calls a friend to gossip about nothing. Furiously cleans. Invents extra errands.

Until The Event. The Dreaded Something that changes the minds of those who dismissed her initial concerns.

The day the doctor sits her down and speaks to her in slow, easy to understand words. Do you understand? Yes, she understands. She looks him in the eye, forces herself to listen. She listens, but the pain in her chest makes her hold her breath. Oddly, she remembers another time when she felt this way. When was it? She searches her memory.

First grade. On the playground, standing on the swing with daring. Clutching tight at the chains biting into her fingers, she calls fearlessly to her friends, “Underdog me!” and sails away, up, up, up into the sky.

She falls. Hits the ground with a sickening thwack. She lies there, so much pain in her chest and back she cannot breathe. She wants to cry out, but the air in her chest sits heavy as a block of ice. Unmoving. She is frozen.

This feels like that.

Labs. Tests. Appointments. Prescriptions. Journals. Journals! Logging every bite that passes the child’s lips; every new symptom; every night that passes without rest; every unusual behavior. Furiously, she scribbles into the journals…here, she is certain, the answer will appear. A pattern will emerge, and whatever it is that has caused the Dreaded Something will show itself. She will eliminate it, and everything will be okay again. She will be able to breathe again. She misses the way it used to feel, back when she could breathe without even thinking about it.

She cannot find the pattern. She cannot find the answer.

Sitting in the tiny exam room that has become far too familiar, she waits. The door creaks open, the physician enters and takes a seat on the little spinning stool. Small talk. She eyes the folder in his hand. She does not want to talk. She only wants the magical answer, the sword that will slay the Dreaded Something. She considers snatching the folder out of his hands. She smiles. She waits.

Finally, the answer comes. The block of ice in her chest somehow spreads to her shoulders, arms, head. She feels the slow freezing of her entire being. Her teeth begin to chatter.

It is her fault. The doctor says it jokingly. “Isn’t it always the mother’s fault?” He chuckles. It lingers in the air, like hot breath on a frigid day.

Here it is, then. The answer. She has done this to her child; her body, her genetics, have caused the Dreaded Something. She cannot take it away. She cannot fix it.

Doesn’t he see how much this hurts? He laughs and says he should create a Frequent Flyer parking spot just for her family. Does he understand she would willingly give her home, her arm, her leg – her life – anything, anything to fix this?

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

Sometimes at night, she hears the muffled strains of guitar strings being plucked and closes her eyes, listening, a smile on her lips. Her child has struggled so much; lost so much; grown so much. Still, her child finds beauty in small things; a brightly colored bead, an unusual sunset; a new song.

She hurries dinner in order to make it on time to school conferences. The teacher laughs as the report card is handed over, “If only I had a classroom of kids like this one, I’d be happy to come to work every day!” She feels a warmth, a melting in her icy chest. She straightens her shoulders and takes a deep breath.

Her heart constricts, her chest hurts as she watches the IV insertion. She rubs her child’s back, watches as his eyes follow the hands of the nurse. Alcohol rub, gauze pad, syringe, bandage. He knows the routine; he knows once every item is in its own place, the poke will come. He sits up tall; back and tiny shoulders straight. He does not blink or turn away. He watches with detached curiosity; he holds his breath, scrunches his nose – there, it’s over. All done. He smiles and cracks a joke, his nurse laughs. She kisses his little head and tells him he is brave. She thinks to herself he is stronger than most grown men.

A child is bullied on the playground. A new child, and something about him makes him stand out. Something isn’t quite right. He has a Problem. She watches as her child leaps in front of him, arms outstretched. Chin up, eyes blazing, her child protects him. The bullies back off. Arm slung about the new child’s shoulder, her son offers to play with him, introduce him to some nice kids. Her eyes water with liquid pride. He has endured great pain, but he is such a compassionate boy. The Champion of the Underdog….he will not stand for hateful words or unkind actions.

She looks at the children she is raising. Kind-hearted, compassionate children. Honest, cheerful. Funny. Creative. Loyal. These things are also her fault. She loves them with an intensity that burns the ice.

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

Bits and Whatnots, Chronic Illness



When my children were initially diagnosed with a chronic and potentially life threatening medical condition, I wanted there to be a reason.

I wanted to know it meant something.

I wanted purpose behind the pain.

I read. Researched. Read more.

I thought it was something I had done. Something, perhaps, unintentionally done while pregnant.

Something that happened during their births.

Something I had done wrong after I brought them home.

And I was almost okay with that.


I mean, at least it would have meant there was a reason. Some explanation.

Something concrete I could get my hands on, perhaps even fix.

Turned out, it wasn’t any of those things and I tried to accept that I may never really know the deeper meaning behind the diagnoses we were living with.

But however I tried, I couldn’t quite swallow that. I continued to hold on to this uncomfortable feeling that I needed a reason. Would a reason really change anything? Would knowing WHY change our daily reality?


Even so. I wanted it. I knew it wouldn’t change anything, but I STILL wanted a reason.

Through the initiation of becoming a “chronic mom”, I began to shift my focus just a little, and perhaps in the wrong direction.

I still wanted a REASON, but I wanted the reason to change something.

I wanted the reason to be beneficial to someone. Maybe something good can come of this.

I wanted the reason to make my kids into something exciting. Maybe they will change the world because of this.

I wanted to know that because of their suffering and pain, something about the future of primary immunodeficiency would be altered, something that would make this journey worth it.

Worth it?

I was selfish.

This is our life. This is what we’ve been given, and spending precious time trying to force my family into some box of reason is just a waste of life minutes.

I have great kids. We have a normal family. School, work, dinner, laundry, dishes, dogs, homework.

Okay, so sometimes they don’t do their homework.

And sometimes I don’t so much cook dinner as I do pour cereal into bowls and pretend it’s dinner.

And the clean laundry piles up in the baskets that sit in the living room.

But I mean, still, a fairly normal life.

We aren’t special. Just because my family lives with chronic disease doesn’t mean my kids need to grow up to save the world. They don’t need to start a foundation. They don’t need a Nobel Prize.

Trying to push some magical reason into the reality of chronic disease just reinforces the idea that their differences make them…..well, different.

They didn’t choose this disease. Why should having it push them into being somebody they really aren’t, just so I can have my reason?

It shouldn’t.

And that is how I have been approaching things the last several years. My kids are normal kids who happen to have lots of acronyms scribbled in their medical charts. I have a normal – albeit messy – house, and our hutch happens to be decorated with medicine boxes. Monthly, the kids miss school for an infusion. Six days a week, my son gets an injection. We wash our hands a lot. We meet with a lot of physicians.

They watch cartoons I find downright stupid. They fight sometimes. They cry sometimes. They argue with friends, and fall in and out of teenage love, and try to create their own unique looks. They rise, they fall, they win, they fail, they do things I find pretty fantastic, and do things that piss me off.

And life goes on. Days go by. They are growing up, just like everyone else’s children. I was at peace with things. (That peace was hard-won, by the way. Lots of tears and questions and prayers and dismal thoughts. I fought for that peace and clutched it to my soul.)

Until The Phone Call.

One of our physicians was involved with a study. An exciting study! A study examining diseases that affect the immune system, particularly autoimmune and immunodeficiency diseases.

They were especially interested in our family, because all of my children have the same two biological parents, and we have four affected and two unaffected in our family.

This evidently makes us a novelty, or as my daughter would say, “freaks.”

Everyone we have met with regarding this study has been over the moon about this. The rarity of it! A family of such LARGE SIZE! And FOUR AFFECTED!

These physicians and researchers, they talk really, really FAST and their eyes light up and they can barely stop themselves from squealing.

They told me this study could potentially lead to a cure in my grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s lifetime.

In a year, I will get a printout of the information about the genes in our family and where they went wrong and maybe even find out what caused the immunodeficiency. Maybe.

I signed the forms and gave the blood – we all did – and I want to think I did it for all the right reasons.

I believe I was willing because it could benefit my children, and their children. Even me, since I am on the “affected” list.

But after it all was said and done, I started back to an old way of thinking.

I began thinking, “Maybe this is it! Maybe the reason we are stuck with this disease is so we can be right here, at this moment, involved in a study that could change the future of treatment for CVID.”

I thought I had beat that Reasoning Monster.

It appears that all along, it was just waiting for the right moment to pop back up in my thoughts.

There is a part of me that still just wants my reason. Something to make this all worth it.

Do you know what’s really worth it?

The last seventeen years I’ve been a parent, raising good kids in a world that is sometimes not so good.

Spilled juice. Broken toys. Baby teeth hidden under a pillow. Brightly wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Watching my children learn to read. Summer baseball games. Parent-Teacher conferences. Guitar and clarinet lessons. Halloween costumes. Choir concerts. Elementary school talent shows. Senior pictures.

I’m still glad we participated in the study. I believe a lot of good will come from it, and who knows? Maybe my grandkids won’t have to deal with monthly infusions because of the blood we gave this month. Maybe my children won’t have to watch their own kids fight illness after illness after illness because of this study.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Regardless, my brain divides and wars within itself.

I’ve had strange dreams about “Screening Protocol for Genetic Diseases of Lymphocyte Homeostasis and Programmed Cell Death.”

And I wake up, drenched in sweat and breathing hard.

I am simply left….


Bits and Whatnots


When I was 17 years old, I thought that I was fat. At just over 5’8” and 120 pounds, I was far from it, but still, that’s what girls did then. We talked about how fat we were as we ate Snickers and pizza flavored Combos at school for lunch, devised plans for being thinner, giggled about boys and made plans for the weekend. It’s just the way it was.

None of the girls I hung out with in high school were actually overweight. Some were tall, some were short, some had a petite frame and others were built with bigger frames, and some were just absolutely average.

But it seemed like the thing to do, bemoan our bodies. It’s what we heard our mothers talking about as they made plans for Weight Watchers meetings while sipping on a pink can of Tab cola, and ordered bizarre weight loss belt machines from catalogs.

It was a topic that cropped up in just about every conversation, because we understood it was really The Most Important Thing. We wanted to be thin so boys would like us and ask us out, we wanted to be thin so other girls would envy us, and we wanted to be thin so we would look totally rad with our tiny waists and gigantic hair and poofy sleeves in our high school dance pictures.

As a result, some of us would go days without food, some of us would use our babysitting money to buy boxes of little red and yellow Dexatrim pills, and some of us stuck our fingers down our throats after eating too much. That was okay, though, because it was the route some of us had to take in order to achieve The Most Important Thing. If that meant we occasionally felt shaky from lack of food, or passed out during cheer practice, so be it, and by the way, oh my gosh!, like isn’t Josh so cute in second hour? I think he likes me!

And it wasn’t every day we did these things, so it wasn’t like it was really bad, and in between the times we thought we were super obese we ate whatever we wanted so it all balanced out…..right?

Time went on, and I left my childhood home to marry my husband, and after a couple of years, we had our first child. I was thrilled to be pregnant, but was constantly cautioned by friends and family and even my physician to not let my weight gain get out of control. Upon learning our happy news, friends would hug me and say, “Congratulations!” followed by a whispered, “How much have you gained?”

It was a constant worry, even though hyperemesis meant I could barely keep down any food for the first several months. I was excited to become a mother but terrified of becoming fat, and every follow up at my OB/GYN’s office made me feel shaky and nervous to even get on the scale. “Yikes!” the nurse would say, and laugh. “You’re up by five pounds this month!” and I would feel somehow ashamed.

I weighed 150 pounds when my first child was born, and even though I had an emergency C-section AND a cholecystectomy at the same time, after a week in the hospital and with staples still in my belly, I went home and started trying to squeeze in time for sit-ups so I wouldn’t be one of those mothers who just let herself go.

Because really, beyond the health of my daughter, wasn’t getting back to my original weight The Most Important Thing?

I carried and gave birth to four children in six years, and my body changed. I could lose all the weight I wanted but the fact was that my hips were not quite the same and probably never would be, weight was carried in different ways and in different places and the truth of the matter was that I would never again have a 17-year-old body. I tried hard to accept those changes because life with three little ones and a baby was hectic, and I often felt run down and the house needed to be spotless and the children had so many needs, and I had to do every single thing just right so I wouldn’t somehow screw them up.

I poured over information in magazines about parenting because of course the people who wrote the magazines knew exactly what to do, how to make sure my children were not nutritionally deficient and that they were properly mentally stimulated and how to keep my husband happy and how to “have it all” and how to lose those last pounds of baby weight.

I felt even more pressure when my oldest child started school, because then on top of everything else, I had to make sure I was regularly volunteering in her classroom and was available for every field trip and made the best cookies for every program and took an appropriate amount of pictures of every single thing she did so she could grow up and have good memories and of course make sure she was not only keeping up with the other kids in class but also staying at the top of her class so she would be accepted into a good college later on and (take a breath!) still manage to devote the right amount of time to my 4-year-old because they are only little once and this time needs to be cherished and I mustn’t miss a moment and my toddler needed to be potty trained but not with too much pressure because that could cause problems later in life and we have to be so careful what we do when they are so little and also stopping every two hours to breastfeed the baby because everybody knows that what’s best and check his growth daily because he seems so much smaller than the other kids did at this age and why isn’t he crawling yet and sleep? Who has time for sleep? Not me, I can tell you that much.

As it turned out, there were also some medical issues with my children that hadn’t yet been diagnosed, and these issues for my sons included difficulty breathing due to asthma (doctors don’t like to diagnose it until after the age of two!), and an underdeveloped trachea and larynx and for my youngest boy an underdeveloped left lung. At first, because of his size, they thought it was cystic fibrosis but it turned out that it wasn’t, and once that had been ruled out nobody really had any good ideas about what to do so they sort of threw their hands in the air and sent us off to specialist after specialist until finally we found someone who could diagnose the multiple underlying reasons why my sons were turning blue and randomly unable to breathe.

Of course, once this mess all started, my worries about my weight took a backseat, although through days and nights spent in emergency rooms and pediatric hospital beds I would eat from a vending machine because I didn’t want to walk too far from my child’s sick room and even as I ate the Snickers bars I felt shame and guilt and worry in my gut that I would pile all the “baby weight” back on, but promised myself that if I did, I would lose it all again once things settled down.

Things didn’t settle down, and we had some rough years as the children were being diagnosed and going through more testing and getting sicker and more doctors deciding more things might be wrong and the more testing was done the more issues were found until we finally had some good, solid answers.

And there came a time the weight kept falling off my body without my even trying, and I put it down to stress or whatever and didn’t really care about the why of it all, so long as I looked good and my jeans size kept going down.

Now that my children are older and life is a bit more settled, I can look back at these times and wonder what in the world I was doing. I put such a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to do every single thing exactly right, I’m surprised I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.

Perfectionism comes at a steep price.

I can look back at pictures of myself as a mom of four young kids and a steady weight of 140 pounds, and think DAYUM, I looked good!

I can also see a lot in those pictures that most people wouldn’t.

I see the rings under my eyes from sleepless nights, worrying over whether or not the slight sniffle I heard from the boys’ bedroom two hours before means somebody is getting sick, and should I get the nebulizer ready just in case, and is there enough gas in the vehicle to get to the ER if we need to go?

I see my ghostly white skin even in summer pictures, because I didn’t know I was anemic, and I thought every mom felt this tired and like my mother always taught, you have to push, push, PUSH yourself.

I see a woman whose hands shook almost constantly throughout the day, and who, when faced with any extended amount of time sitting down would fidget and bounce her legs with anxiety.

I see a young woman trying so incredibly hard to be everything for everyone, she wasn’t taking care of herself at all.

I see a young mother who was at her physician’s office at least every other month, receiving steroid shots for the hives she constantly was breaking out in, as a result of stress.

I see a woman who was probably so thin because she didn’t take time to eat breakfast, or lunch, or sometimes even dinner, and who often experienced such a violent crashing together of migraines and anxiety she would spend the night vomiting and crying.

I see pictures of ME, but a different me. I see myself not having a voice, because at that time in my life, every minute of every day was spent swallowed up in the goings on around me.

Over the last eight years or so, so much has changed in my life. There have been some heavy blows. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been strong. And I’ve begun to remember the person inside, the person who was sometimes lost in living for everyone else. As those things have changed, so has my body. I have gained weight. I have lost it. I have gained it back.

I have realized that I cannot teach my children to chase their dreams, if I don’t make an effort to chase my own.

And I have realized the things I once thought so important…..just aren’t.

Nobody dies if my house is messy.

Nothing really changes if my kids don’t make an A on every single project or report card.

It’s good for them to learn to lose as gracefully as they have learned to win.

I can’t be every single thing for every single person.

I matter.

I cannot change their medical conditions, so I cannot allow the stress of chronic illness overrun my life.

When life is slower, I enjoy more.

My weight is not The Most Important Thing.

My weight is a part of my life, yes. My weight matters, yes.

There are a lot of things in my life that matter. I cannot focus solely on my weight.

I feel like once I realized this, I felt as though I could give myself permission to let go of some of the other things that once seemed so important.

The unhappiest people I know seem to take one thing and focus their entire life around that.

But life is so much more than just one thing.

There is grief. There is sorrow. There is pain. There is weeping. There is hardship.

There is laughter. There is love. There is music. There is beauty. There is faith.

There is not just one Most Important Thing.

I decided quite some time ago that I needed to remove some of the plates I was trying to juggle and really focus on what was Most Important.

My marriage. I cherish my marriage, and a solid one does not come easily. It’s work. It deserves my attention.

My children. I cherish their individuality, and the time I have with them. I need to focus on being present, because the time they will be living
at home is becoming shorter by the day. They deserve my attention: not the attention that is left over after pleasing everyone else. Not what’s left after a difficult day. They deserve my full and focused attention.

Healing. In the last four years, I’ve lost my father and my sister. It’s okay to grieve. Grieving takes time. Healing takes time.

Relationships. Focusing on the ones that matter, and releasing the ones that hurt me. I don’t have to always be the person who kept hanging on. I can be the one that lets go.

Deciding to not constantly worry about my weight sometimes still makes me feel guilty. It’s just something that has been such a constant in my life, it seems odd to let it go.

Do I realize I need to lose weight? Yes. I am aware. Do I make effort toward this goal? Yes, I do.

I sit here and consider my life and my joys and my talents and my deficits and my hurts and those things that really make me, ME….the uncontrollably curly hair, the freckles, the fact that nobody will ever believe my dyed hair is any natural color because I can never just stick with one choice, that I love to read and find magic in writing words, that I love costuming and designing creative projects that challenge me, that I love Renaissance Festivals and loud, bouncy music, that I surprised myself by becoming so attached to my two dogs that I didn’t really want in the first place, that I fail at math, the joy vibrant colors bring to me, how much I enjoy the different seasons in Michigan, a deep and abiding fascination with all things Johnny Depp, the love for my family that is sometimes so overpowering it catches my breath.

Do you know, none of those things have ever changed when my weight fluctuated? Despite the number on the tag of my jeans, my core, my soul, has remained the same.

My weight is only one part of my life, and there are so, so many others.

I think about life as if it’s a box I found in my grandmother’s attic. Pull off the top….feel excited to see what’s inside.

An old journal. A handful of marbles. Ribbons. Old coins. Love letters. Discarded buttons. An odd earring or three.

Each item has worth. Each item has a story. Each item has a reason it is there.

But at different times, I might be more interested in the love letters, or the old coins. I might completely bypass the marbles, and twenty years later realize they had a fantastic story behind them.

Each item is not The Most Important Thing.

The Most Important Thing is the whole.

My weight is NOT the whole. It’s one of many valuable parts of my life.

And now I feel like I laugh more. I feel more content. I take time to really listen to the stories my children tell me about their day. I hold my husband’s hand more often. The opinions of others matter less and less to me as years go by.

There are things that are important to ME, and it’s okay if I spend time doing those things.

And if there is one thing I know for certain, it’s that my daughters will never have a memory of me jiggling in an olive green weight loss belt machine, so help me God.