September 27, 2011

Shana Tova!

DD on her first Rosh Hashanah, with an apple as big as her head!
Shana Tova, my lovely readers!

(That's pronounced Sha-NAH to-VAH, and it means "Happy New Year!")

Tomorrow is the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  We'll be welcoming the year 5772.  Yes, the Jewish people have been counting years for a very, very long time.

The Jewish New Year isn't very much like the American New Year.  It isn't a bacchanal of drinking and revelry.  Yes, there's a lot of joy and merriment, but it's the start of the High Holy Days, the most important time of the Jewish year.  You see, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, God decides who is going to be written into the book of life for another year.

You spend those ten days in contemplation.  What did you do right?  What did you do wrong?  Instead of announcing your New Year's Resolutions as the ball drops, you apologize for your wrongs.  You make atonement.

This all culminates with Yom Kippur.  It is a day of fasting, and of quiet repentance.

So how does one celebrate Rosh Hashanah?  With an extremely ancient tradition- food!

On Rosh Hashanah, you eat one of the earth's most perfect snacks- apples.  Dipped in honey.

It's that simple.  You reflect of the wonder and the bounty of the earth, you thank God for all of His creation (including yourself), and you have a simple and delicious snack.

This year, I've gathered a veritable smorgasbord of apples and honey.  Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Mackintosh, and Asian Pears.  We'll be dipping them in whipped blueberry honey, in lime honey, and in simple clover honey.

...all of which is organic, and all of our apples are local.

Next year we'll be bringing our children with the synagogue group to go apple picking the weekend before Rosh Hashanah.  This year, I thought they were still too little.

We also celebrate by blowing the Shofar- a ram's horn.  Disclaimer- this is LOUD.  And it is HARD.  (And we here in the Windy City are very proud of our Shofar prodigies.)  Aunt Genocide isn't so bad at the Shofar, either.

An aside, on Jewish culture...

The girls' birthday is on Saturday.  Smack dab in the middle of the high holy days.  Lucky them, it's not on Yom Kippur!  It is considered a special blessing to be born or to die during holidays in the Jewish culture.  God is paying particular attention to you, to your actions, and to your life.  There is a belief that if you die on the eve of a holiday, as my grandfather did six years ago, you essentially get a free pass for many of your misdeeds in life.  You get to go straight into heaven. 

Last weekend we celebrated the Simchat Bat of a good friend's daughter.  (You may remember Jenni from this post...)  Next weekend, we celebrate the anniversary of our own children's birth.  And in between, I reflect.  On what I did wrong, on what I can improve, on what I want from the year to come.  And I pray that again God will write my name in the Book of Life for another year.

L' shana tova, my lovely readers!  Happy New Year, a wonderful 5772, and may you all be inscribed in the book of life for another year!

September 26, 2011

Some Day My Prince Will Come (and Things Will Just Get Worse)

DD and SI in pretty dresses
Recently, my cousin LaLa brought the girls a big back full of Disney Princess movies.  SI promptly fell head over heels with Cinderella.  It is her new favorite movie.  A washcloth that LaLa brought with Cinderella's image on it is her new favorite toy.  She wants to watch it, on a loop, all day.  Every day.

I love cousin LaLa.  I appreciate how much she loves the girls and that she wants to make them happy, and I understand why she brought Cinderella into our house.  That said...

I despise Princesses.  I hate Disney Princesses in particular.  I understand them for the most part, which is to say I appreciate the appeal that they have for little girls, but I can't watch a Disney Princess movie without wanting to throw bricks through my TV so that it never shills that crap again.

Allow me to explain.

As I have previously pointed out, children are constantly learning.  Constantly.  They learn from everything that we do.  From every experience.  From every dumb cartoon.

So let's examine the lessons of two Disney Princesses I've spent the most time with these last few weeks.  Cinderella and Belle.

Cinderella has a crappy lot in life.  She's essentially the slave of her wicked stepmother and spoiled brats of stepsisters.
She could be getting paid for this.

That said, she's a complete nincompoop.

Cinderella has SKILLS, seriously.  She can sew itsy bitsy mouse clothes.  She can balance trays loaded with full pots of hot tea on her head.  Surely, she could have found a job- a paid job, as a maid in a much more wealthy household.  One where she'd be treated with a modicum of respect.  The fact that she continues to live with her horrible family is evidence only of her complete lack of imagination.

She relies on the assistance of a handful of, most likely, brain damaged mice.  She seems to suffer from some chronic amnesia that makes her forget her family are underhanded, manipulative jerks.

What are Cinderella's assets?  She's pretty.  That's the most important.  She can sing, that makes her even more appealing.  She's meek.  She never complains to her horrible family.  She's obedient.  She knows how to cook and clean and sew.  These skills make her an ideal bride.

Yes, she's very kind.  That's the best thing she has going for her.  In fact, the moral is intended to be that if you ARE very kind, things will work out for you.  But they don't.

Thanks to her kindness, one can assume, she acquires a Fairy Godmother.  The fairy godmother is another paragon of feminine virtue- she's asexual, she's also very kind, and she is crafty.

Now, I have nothing against craftiness.  I'm crafty.  But this is absolutely the best thing that any woman in this movie has going for her.  The women in this movie, from the Fairy Godmother at best to the evil stepsisters at worst, are awful.

Not just because the evil stepmother is an emotionally abusive, manipulative, cruel jerk.  Which she is.

But because, as in all Disney Princess movies, they all despise each other.  All except the fairy godmother, who's willing to help Cinderella out with a trivial party but not with the misery of her daily existence.
The Grand Duke fears for his life.

Even the stepsisters are always at each others throats.

Male characters can have male friends and sidekicks, female characters can have male friends and sidekicks, but there are no female friends, no female sidekicks.  Because every woman is out for herself.  There is no sisterhood in Disney.  The only female characters in ANY Disney movie that seem to actually like each other are the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty... and they're always bickering with each other, they keep Briar Rose captive, and they're completely desexualized.  Any woman in a Disney movie with any kind of sexual identity is automatically at war with every other woman who might be a sexual competitor.  But I digress.

What does the Fairy Godmother do for Cinderella?  Does she free her from her awful, manipulative, underhanded stepmother?  No, she just helps Cinderella move from one abusive situation to another.  From a matriarch with a knack for inflicting emotional pain to the home of the king- a homicidal maniac who constantly tries to behead his best allies.

...and that's the happy ending.  The happy ending is that Cinderella can use her sewing, cleaning, and hot-teapot-balancing skills to please her new husband and his maniac of a father.  Joy of joys.

Now, let's talk about Belle.

Unlike Cinderella, Belle is supposed to be smart.  You know this because she likes books.  All girls who like books are smart.  But that's not what's most important.  What's most important is that she's the biggest egotist in the movie.

In a movie that seems, on the surface, to be about how egoism is bad.

Date rape is the stuff of Disney comedy.
After all, the Beast is a beast because he doesn't know how to love anyone but himself.  And Gaston is a villain because he doesn't know how to love anyone but himself.

Belle shows her true colors after Gaston's frankly terrifying attempt to all but rape Belle in her father's house.  After all the inappropriate sexual advances, after physically intimidating her, disrespecting her, and letting her know exactly where he thinks her PLACE is, what is Belle's response?

Does she decry his sexism?  His sexual inappropriateness?  His threats of violence?

No.  She merely expresses her outrage that somebody as dumb as that could think that she, SHE, could DEMEAN herself by marrying him.  Because she is SO much better.

In short, her ego leaves no room for his ego.

There's a bonus moral in that movie- love doesn't count unless you say it out loud.  One can presume that Belle loved the Beast before confessing when she believed he was dead.  But the magic spell could only be broken once she went ahead and told his cold, lifeless body.  So our emotions have no validity unless we share them.  Or, at least, until a man can tell us that he accepts our feelings as meaningful.

DD playing dress up
Those aren't lessons I want my daughters to learn.  I don't want them to think that the most valuable skills they can have are an ability to overlook outright violence and hostility, and a meticulous ability to scrub a foyer.

That said, I'm not stopping them from watching those stupid movies.  As horrible as those lessons are, I don't think they're actually hurting my children.  Yet.

...part of that has to do with the commentary that comes from Mommy while Cinderella pleads with her stepmother to let her out and marry the prince.  (Cinderella says, "Oh you can't!  You just can't!"  Becoming SuperMommy says, "Not going to bargain?  Not going to offer her fabulous wealth once you're the queen?  Not going to start SCREAMING OUT THE WINDOW?  Isn't there an officer of the law RIGHT OUTSIDE?")

As I said, and you no doubt don't believe, I get it.  I get why little girls are into Princesses.  They have pretty dresses, they get to dance and sing, everybody loves them (except the bad guys).  They get rescued, they fall in love, they live happily ever after.  There's dress up, there's magic, there's attention.

Aside from that, there are absolutely no redeeming qualities.

But I'm letting my girls have their stupid Princesses for now, because I can control the saturation.  And more importantly, I can introduce them to other outlets for those impulses that don't involve simply being the prettiest, most well dressed girl in the room.

There's historical fiction.  100 years ago, women and girls wore pretty dresses every day.  I remember reading the Little House books, and wanting to go get my OWN calico, and make my OWN pretty dresses.  There are the old American Girl books, with girls in pretty dresses riding horses, and sneaking off to play with other children, and getting into trouble.  That's an excuse for most Princess things, with the added bonus of kind of being educations.  And not nearly so self aggrandizing.

SI playing dress up at snack time
And then there are character building activities.  Dance classes, theater, music lessons.  These are excuses to ACTUALLY dress up, to ACTUALLY be the center of attention.  And I believe that it is a much healthier thing for any child to learn that you get to be the center of attention if you earn it, that you are not entitled to it.

And Princesses are all about a sense of entitlement.

So I'm gritting my teeth, and watching Cinderella on a regular basis.  SI gets her week or so of total obsession (and to be fair, she's been very sick and sort of living on the couch with her sinus infection and croup), and then we'll move on to other things.  Healthier things.

But you can bet your ass there will be no Disney Princesses sheets, paper plates, or themed parties in my house.  At least until my children are able to buy that schlock with their own allowances.

I just want to say, there are exceptions to the Princess tripe.  Princess Fiona is top of the list of Princesses that don't make me want to vomit.  But again... that's not Disney.

September 21, 2011

Pouring My Heart Out

There's something I've been meaning to write about for a long time, but I haven't known how to say it.

And, for a not-quite-as-long time, I've been reading some posts from Pour Your Heart Out with Things I Can't Say.  The idea is to just let it out.  Say all those things.  Or, at least, write them.  So... here it goes...

People never seem to know how to react to the information about my husband's medical history.  It comes up fairly frequently when meeting new people, because of the standard litany of questions that people ask.  It comes up a lot at the beginning of a semester.  It comes up a lot when you see somebody you've known for a while, but only vaguely or professionally.

I feel like I have this rehearsed speech, "Hello, my name is Lea, and my husband is recovering from brain cancer.  No, it's not in remission, it's not the sort of cancer that goes into remission, but it's essentially gone.  They haven't been treating this kind of cancer successfully for long enough to know what 'cured' means.  He's doing fine.  He's doing great.  It's a miracle."

And so on.

And as people get to know me, or us, they start to ask questions... questions that people who knew us before would never ask.  Questions that are just plain ridiculous, but people want to know.

When you meet somebody, there's just a big question mark for their entire lives before the day you met.  You don't know how they've changed, what they used to do, how they used to act.  And when you hear that something BIG happened to them, it must be hard to simply assume that before they were pretty much exactly the same as they are now.

And so, once in a while, somebody asks me a question like... "If you had known that M had brain cancer, would you still have gotten engaged to him?"



M and I got engaged about 16 hours before the events that led to his diagnosis.  I had known that I wanted to marry him ever since we started dating.  It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but he knew it, I knew it, and most everyone who knew both of us knew it.

Something as stupid as cancer wouldn't have made any difference.

I say that now, with the full hindsight of knowing that he survived.  That he is surviving.  Knowing that he got through it.  That he's come out the other end fundamentally the same person.

So far.

There are still questions.  We had been told at the very beginning of treatment that there would be side effects.  You can't irradiate somebody's brain and not expect some... well.... brain damage.  And we'd been told how long it would take to see it.

Well, now we can see it.  It's little things.  A bit of short term memory loss, fatigue, tiny changes that don't change who he is, but when you know somebody inside and out you notice.  Like no matter how many times I tell him what we're doing this weekend, he's still going to forget what we're doing this weekend.  Tiny little things that don't seem important, his brain is willing to just let go of.

And, as they told us four years ago, the long term side effects are completely unknown.

They hadn't been curing people of malignant brain tumors for very long.

Uncle Mouse and I had a talk about this.  We were in the car, I was bringing him to the airport to propose to his (now) fiancee, and he asked about M's short term memory.  And what the future looked like.  And if I was scared.

He's the one person who can get away with asking me the questions that came next.  He was on his way to propose, and the same summer that M was diagnosed with brain cancer, he was diagnosed with a bizarre and (so they said) fatal condition of his own.  He had a calcium deposit growing inside his spinal column, and the doctors had estimated he had two years before it completely severed his spinal cord.

And after all his own experimental treatments, after all the turns his own life had taken, he was about to propose to the girl who had been by his side throughout the ordeal.  While the choices M and I made involved me quitting my job and having kids right away, the choices that Uncle Mouse made were about his own career goals- a person who becomes randomly paralyzed can't very well become a fire fighter.  He had been through depression, addiction, and so much pain....

He had the right to ask what it's like to marry somebody when you don't know they're going to live.

I told him that if somebody had told me that he would die six months after our wedding, I would still have married M.

That if somebody had told me that they KNEW the long term consequences, that in ten years my husband would begin to lose all of his long term memories.  I would still have married him.

That if somebody told me that he would have a resurgence of the cancer in five years, that we'd have to go through it all again (if we were lucky), I would still have married him.

That maybe I'm young and stupid, or I was young and stupid, but that I thought that marriage was about taking care of somebody in sickness and health.  And as far as I'm concerned, promising to promise to do something is the same as promising to do it.  Which means that the moment I told M that he had two months to pop the question or I was going to do it first, in my own mind I'd already walked down the aisle.

I have no idea what the future holds.  Nobody does.  When you're in love, and especially when you're young, you have this idea that you're going to live happily ever after once you get married, but that's just not true.  Once you get married, you live.  And sometimes that means you get sick.  And inevitably, it means that you will die.  Someday.  Somehow.  It's not something that most of us ever want to think about, but there it is.

Could M's cancer come back?  Yeah, it could.
And he could also develop Alzheimer's.  And he could go blind.  And he could become a diabetic.  And he could get in a car accident.

And I could get in a car accident.  Or I could get breast cancer.  Or I could have a heart attack.

Or something could happen to our children.

Or our house could be hit by lightning with all of us inside and we could burn to death in minutes.

That's the nature of the future.  You just don't know.  No matter what has happened in the past, you can't extrapolate the future.

I married a man with brain cancer,  believing with every fiber of my being that he would get better.  And he did.  I suppose he just as possibly could have not.  And that would have changed nothing.  Except that instead of an ache in my heart where the ideas of life without him live, I would have a much bigger pain, an unimaginable pain, of having lost him.

But it would never change my love for him.

September 19, 2011

Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans

I am a big believer in the non-traditional family.

Growing up, I knew some kids who lived with only one parent.  I had an aunt who raised her sons with her longtime girlfriend.  My parents welcomed other children into their home, constantly.

And I didn't have a whole lot of faith in the institution of marriage.  My parents were happily married, extremely well matched, and genuinely in love with each other.  I knew from a very young age that they were not typical.

I was used to my friends going through the divorce of their own parents.
I wasn't surprised by absentee parents, by adopted siblings, by deep dark family secrets.
I saw friends get pregnant and get into bad marriages, or not get married and raise a child on their own.  Or not get married, and live happily with the father of their children for years and years, never "making it official."

I fully expected that I would never get married.

Instead, I pictured a life where I and my best friends would live together in a cabin in the woods.  With our children.  With a veritable rainbow of adopted children.  All of us misfits, oddballs, weirdos.  We wouldn't need much, just some land to work.  Just a little bit of money to keep us going through the winters.  We would farm, we'd keep some goats, we'd collectively home school.  It was my idea of being the kind of grown-up I wanted to be.

That all changed when I met M.  I, quite obviously, got married.  And now we've built a family.  But I haven't let go of part of that dream.

Even when I was a very little kid, I only ever wanted to be two things when I grew up- a teacher and a mommy.  I loved the idea of always being surrounded by children.  Of always caring for children.  Of keeping my heart and my home open to any child that needed me.

My friends used to refer to my apartment as, "Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans."  I was always putting up homeless teenagers and completely broke art students and musicians.

Things change.  With M's diagnosis, a lot of my priorities changed.  I wasn't the most important person in my future anymore.  Since that day, it has never been about me.  It's been about him, or us, or our family.  And our family is a real, tangible thing.  It's not just an idea.  Not just a theoretical gaggle of children, merrily eating lentils and rice around the table before the whole family plays a game.  It's actual people that I know, that I care for, that won't eat half the food I put in front of them on any given day.

And so I had let go of that dream of my gaggle of children.  For the time being.

Recently, we went to a friend's wedding.  And for some reason or other, I had forgotten that I am a child magnet.  And a photographer snapped a bunch of pictures of me, sitting in the grass, surrounded by a gaggle of little girls.

Each time I look at those pictures, my heart breaks a little bit.  Because that's always how I had pictured myself as an adult.  That's the grown-up I wanted to be.

M is, as ever, stoic and practical.  He keeps me grounded, reminds me that we're in no position to care for three, or four, or five more children.  For now.  That we need to wait until we're stable, until we're ready.

But there is something inside of me that needs to care for children.  To be always kissing boo-boos, and teaching the alphabet, and singing silly songs.  There's something inside of me that doesn't believe there's ever not enough to share, that there's no way to spread the soup a little farther, or squeeze in another bed.  There's part of me that just wants to throw open our doors and say, "Children!  Come in and be loved!"

I believe that love is like the void of space, practically endless.  And each person only has a heart with which to love, a heart that they can refill over and over each time it is emptied.  And there will always be more love, because no matter how many hearts fill themselves and empty themselves, if every person on earth were to spend one day only loving until their heart was empty, refilling it, and loving again, it wouldn't pull the ends of that space one inch closer.  There is always room in my heart to love one more person.  One more friend, one more child, one more memory.

I will never be able to exhaust my ability to love.  Of that, I am nearly certain.  And love is the most important thing that any person, and particularly, any child needs.

I'm holding back... for now.  While M is in school, while I'm in school, while things are so chaotic and stressful.  But once we're through, once we're down to only doing four hundred things at once...


Someday I'm going to open those doors.  Let the lost children inside.  Feed them a nice big meal.  And tuck them into bed with a kiss goodnight.

Someday my home will feel like one big community of people, helping and caring and growing together.

Someday I'll get to watch my children playing together, learning from each other, and becoming more and more shaped by each other than by me.


Many thanks to the friends and family of the Streeters for these pictures.

September 16, 2011

Flexing Your Creative Muscles

Photo by Brigid Marz

Hello, lovely readers!

I'm guest blogging again today, over at Hannah Explains It All (kudos to all you fellow Snick fans who love the MJH reference!) on the subject of creativity.

How do you stay creative?  What is creativity?  Why does it matter?

For the answer to all of those questions and a box of crayons, head over to read the post!


Occasionally, creativity is exhausting.

September 15, 2011

Family Resemblances

...this one is for you, Dad.
My Grandpa (right) and my Great-Granddaddy (center), two people that DD strongly resembles

My grandfather was deeply humiliating.  Seriously.  Don't get me wrong, I loved him dearly.  In fact, just about anyone who ever met him thought he was just wonderful.  He gave some of the best first impressions known to man.  He did some really amazing things during his life.  We was, fundamentally, a really good man.

He was devastatingly embarrassing.

Just ask my uncle, who as a teenager had to hide from the entire movie theater when his father stood in his seat next to him to sing along to the Internationale.  My grandfather was, in fact, completely and utterly tone deaf.

My grandfather, about to pull a quarter from my friend's ear
Yesterday, my sweet, charming, adorable daughter reminded me of him vividly.

You see, one of my favorite stories of my grandfather in his later years was the time he wandered off from his house because he's lost his belt.  Or his sweater.  Or something.  I must assume that at the time, he was actually simply bored.

At any rate, Grandpa was living with Bev (my emergency auxiliary back-up mom).  She came home one day to find him missing.  Not only missing, but having left a few very mysterious messages on various family members' voice mail.

He needed a sweater, and it was very cold.
Or the heat wasn't working (which I'm sure it was).
Or that he was just thinking about something that happened at the library.
Or that the pea soup in the freezer was... well... frozen.

In any case, he decided the thing to do was to stop in and see the neighbors.  Who didn't have whatever he was looking for.  So he went back out the door.  And he just kept walking.  He kept walking until he wandered in to a senior center a few blocks away.  And he sat there reading the paper, cracking jokes with the residents and desk staff, and generally charming everyone.

...while Bev ran around in a panic trying to locate her lost ward.

Eventually, somebody from the community center called her.  This person informed her that my Grandpa "couldn't stand up."  Naturally, she was extremely concerned, and came running.

To a small child, his magic tricks WERE magical
He was sitting in a chair, holding his papers, and looking very sheepish.  He was surrounded by very concerned looking little old ladies.

"You want to come back with me. Stan?" she asked.
"Yes, but I have something to tell you, and I don't want anyone else to hear."

She came close so he could whisper in her ear, and he shared the very secret information.

His pants were falling down.

In fact, that was the only reason he'd gone in there in the first place.  He needed a place to sit down before his pants fell around his ankles.

Why couldn't he pull up his pants?
Why, his hands were full.  That's why.

So Bev stoically held onto his handful of papers, while he made an enormous show of standing up and hoisting his trousers back around his waist.  And then with a cheerful farewell to the crowd that had gathered around him, he followed Bev back home again.


Yesterday morning, I failed to retrieve our latest bag of clean diapers from the basement before heading off the class.  That meant that our sitter was unable to put the girls in cloth diapers.  That meant they had to wear disposable diapers.

Disposable diapers are much slimmer.

"My pants fell off!"
So you can imagine the instant mirth and hilarity I experienced when, as I scarfed down a little late breakfast, I heard a little whimper off to my right... and who should be there but DD, clutching her blanket and frog in both hands, unable to pull up the pants that had slipped down over her disposable-diapered bottom.

She looked so forlorn, so lost, so utterly disturbed at the slipping of her pants.  And she had no idea what to do about it.

As she looked plaintively up at me, I saw generations of my family in her face, in her olive skin and her curly hair, and I just plain lost it.  I laughed and I laughed, trying as hard as I could to show her that it was good natured laughter.  That I wasn't laughing AT her, but that she was just a part in a generational joke that was playing out around her.  And as she slowly, tentatively shuffled towards me, and her pants dropped to her ankles, she couldn't help but smile a bit too.

Because it was ridiculous.

Any her great-Grandpa totally would have understood.

September 14, 2011

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

M during treatment - taken by Aunt Genocide
As you are probably aware, my husband is a survivor of astrocytoma- a very aggressive form of brain cancer.

What you probably don't know, and I what I didn't know when my husband was first diagnosed, is that astrocytoma is the most common kind of childhood brain tumor.

The fact of the matter is that he probably developed the tumors as an adolescent.  He thinks he can pin down the year he began having symptoms- while he was a junior in college.  And if that's the case, he most likely already had some growth before then.

Now, there is nothing that anybody could have done to diagnose him when he was a teenager.  He was fortunate, the tumors were located in places that just plain didn't affect his daily life.  But had they been elsewhere, he might have shown symptoms.

I think about that a lot.  I've talked to so many of his doctors, to our pediatrician, asking the same question, "How likely is it there there is a genetic predisposition to this kind of cancer?"

They all say the same thing. "Probably not very likely."

Photo by Aunt Genocide
And I hate that answer.  It does nothing to ease the worry.

What does ease the worry are the remarkable strides being made in cancer research- particularly in brain cancer research.  What makes me feel a little better is that I am aware, that if I start having any real concerns, seeing any real symptoms, I will be able to advocate for my children and get them the care that they need.

That doesn't make cancer any less scary, particularly childhood cancer, but it is a little peace of mind that I can carry with me.

In that way, I suppose I'm lucky.  I know what to look for, how to keep my eyes open.  I've seen M survive his cancer.  It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fun, but he did.  And for that reason I'm confident that if my children are ever diagnosed, we'll all get through that too.

Not everybody has that confidence.  And most importantly, not everybody knows even the smallest amounts about childhood cancers.

Over 12,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year.  And there are things that you can do to help.

Photo by Aunt Genocide
First of all, get on the bone marrow donor registry.  Blood cancers are among the most common childhood cancers.  You can save the life of a child, and the registry is always in need of donors.

Second of all, educate yourself about cancer.  We're all so terrified of cancer, nobody seems to go out and seek information.  But the more you know, the more likely you are to catch it before it's too late.  Early detection is crucial- the sooner you get it, the better off you are.  My husband didn't catch his cancer until it had reached stage four, and was essentially inoperable.  His survival is a miracle for which we are grateful every day, but you should never count on chance.  You should be prepared, be aware, and be ready to be strong for your families.

Don't start looking for cancer everywhere, that's not what I'm saying.  But if you DO see something, if you start to worry that something is wrong, investigate.  Personally, I'd rather be out the trouble and money to be sure that my child was fine than to find later that they have a progressed cancer.  Don't bury your head in the sand and tell yourself that things will work themselves out.

Photo by Aunt Genocide
As for me, if my children one day start exhibiting minor neurological symptoms, slight weakness on one side or the other, severe or frequent headaches, or sudden changes in their mood... you can bet I'm marching them to their doctor and demanding an MRI.  Just in case.

Because the sooner you catch it, the better the chance of survival.

So educate yourself.  Learn about common childhood cancers.  Don't be afraid of cancer.  Be afraid of missing cancer.  Cancer is treatable, if you catch it.

Catch it.

And if you can, donate to cancer research.  Join the bone marrow registry.  Visit the pediatric oncology ward at your local hospital.  Children with cancer are still children.  They're scared, and they're isolated.  There are some excellent organizations dedicated to this particular need, including Quilts for Kids.

I doubt there will ever be a future without cancer, but I do see a future with a cure.  Where getting cancer is as serious as getting a nasty flu.  We will beat this awful thing.  It just takes all of us coming together.

Thank you.

SuperMommy's Dolmades

See pictures of delicious dolmades at Vegging for Health today!

The night before my husband started chemotherapy, we had a family feast.  My parents, my in-laws, M's aunts and uncles and cousins, and lots of friends came to our little apartment and we feasted.  After all, chemo is supposed to kill your appetite, cause horrific nausea, and in all other ways destroy your enjoyment of food, right?

Well, as it turned out, M's experience with chemo wasn't that bad.  But that feast was epic.  Granda made one of M's childhood favorites- beef stroganoff.  And I made dolmades- the same dish I cooked for M on our first date.

Ever since, M's extended family have remembered those dolmades.  I get asked for the recipe constantly.  When a friend of M's had her end-of-chemo party to celebrate beating her lymphoma, I made another batch for that party.  They're an institution around here.

And now, you can enjoy the delicious grape leaf love.

My recipe for dolmades is up at Vegging for Health!

A SuperMommy Tradition

September 13, 2011

Interview at Vegging for Health!

Phonetically- "Sh-ef"
Hello lovely readers!  I'm happy to say I'm not here today- in fact, I'm over at Vegging for Health!

Head on over and check out my interview!  And check out the whole interview series- Jasmine is talking with a variety of people who are vegetarians for different reasons and in different ways, getting a holistic view on a fascinating set of lifestyle choices!

I hope you enjoy it!

September 11, 2011

Watching History- 9/11 and Ten Years of Hindsight

I remember when I was in fifth grade, learning about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  I had known that he had been killed, I had known that he had been president, and I had known that many people had loved him.  I hadn't even come close to understanding what sort of national tragedy it was until that day.  Our teacher, an African American woman some years older than my own parents, was nearly in tears as she told us that all of our parents would know where they were that day.  That she had been a freshman in college, and that she had huddled around a small television with her friends and watched the news.  I understood that what had happened that day was history.

I never expected there to be such a day for me.  And yes, I remember where I was.

That summer had been the best of my life.  For my birthday (which is in April), my parents had given me the coolest present any teenager could possibly want.  They had given me the keys to the minivan, a few hundred dollars in traveler's checks, a loaner easel and set of paints, and permission to take off at the end of the school year and just hit the road.  I had planned out the whole trip- I mostly visited friends and family all across the east coast.  I started out in Michigan, drove through Ohio and Pennsylvania, and went visiting all on my own from Pittsburgh. PA (where I spent the first part of my life) to Smith's Falls (home to a now closed Hershey factory), Ontario, to Washington, D.C. (where my uncle,an AP reporter lives).  I went to the National Holocaust Museum all by myself, an experience I knew as it was happening I would never forget.  I got robbed in Cape Cod, and made my way to family friends in New Hampshire by making my very first art sale.  I stayed at my grandparents' house while they were in Spain, befriending a friend of theirs and spending a week in their guest room, writing a dreadful screenplay.  For over two months I drove around, singing along to Madonna and Lisa Loeb, flirting with cute boys in Providence and sketching crows in the Finger Lakes.

I had one week left in my trip.  I was in New Jersey.  I'd already visited my uncle and aunt in Manhattan (they were so cool- they had me push their baby in a stroller into bars so I wouldn't get carded when they bought me margaritas), but I'd taken the train rather than drive in.  I called home and my sister mentioned some party where all my friends would be, and for the first time I was suddenly homesick.  I suddenly wanted to blow off the last week of my trip, and just head home.  As I headed towards the west, I realized I hadn't gotten a look at the New York skyline.  Taking the train, I'd missed the view.  I had a moment of hesitation, and then I decided.  The New York City skyline wasn't going anywhere.  I'd be back.  But if I hurried and drove through the night, I could make it to that party.  I decided not to go to the bay and look, and instead I turned towards Pennsylvania.

That was in the August of 2001.

A few short weeks later, school had started up.  I was taking a biology class that started at 9am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  As usual, I was running a little late.  As my sister and I headed out the door, Bev- who's birthday it was- popped her head out of the kitchen door.  "It's Grandpa on the phone- he says a plane just flew into Eliot's building!"  (Eliot was my uncle in NYC.)

Knowing that Eliot worked at NYU, and lived in a NYC high rise, I figured one of two things had happened. The first was that a probably drunk celebrity in a private plane had crashed into a random high rise in Manhattan, or that my Grandpa had his information skewed.  Probably both.

When I got to campus, I got on the elevator to my lab.  A girl in the elevator was telling her friend, "TWO planes hit the World Trade Center!"  I looked over my shoulder and said, "My grandfather heard that one, too.  Sounds like a hoax."

But class was cancelled.  And all the televisions on campus had been turned to the news.  I started watching, standing in the hallway outside of my art class, as the third plane hit the Pentagon.  I went into shock.  I knew that my uncle didn't work in the World Trade Center, but he lived just blocks away.  Manhattan is a tiny island.  In fact, he was standing in the park with his son in a stroller, expressing shock and horror with every other New Yorker- stopped in his track.  His wife, on the other hand, was stuck in train under the city.  She would be there for most of the day.

I started running to the cafeteria, where there would be pay phones.  I needed to know that not only Eliot and his family, but also my family in D.C. were okay.  Of course, nobody could reach anybody.  Eventually it became clear that at least Eliot and his baby son were alright, but nobody knew about my aunt.  And my uncle Seth in D.C. had done what any reporter worth his salt would do- he had run out of his office to the Pentagon to begin interviewing people.

Around the time I got all that information, the first tower collapsed.

I began walking.  Just to do something.  I walked back to the art room, and stood in front of the first television I had encountered.  There, a friend of mine found me.  We were both watching, shocked, when the second tower fell.

She and I had a moment of anger- not at whoever had caused this disaster, but because there were people in the crowd behind us who began talking about building Arabic internment camps.  I was ready to kick him in the shins with my steel toe combat boots.  We decided we just needed to leave.

She took me to a friend's apartment.  As we passed the Red Cross, we got stuck in a gigantic traffic jam.  Already the roads were flooded with people trying to donate blood.

We sat in her friend's apartment, chain smoking and watching the news.  There were what seemed like hours of film from a doctor with a video camera- he had gone running with his hand held camera into the dust, looking for injured people to help.  I don't know his name.  He's still the first person I think of when I think about heroes.

We sat there and smoked and smoked, and cried, and just kept saying over and over, "I can't believe it."

Eventually, I went home.  My family, some friends, all sorts of people were gathered around our television.  I don't remember how long we stayed there.  But I do remember the occasional phone calls, letting us know our family out east were all right.

And somehow... the day ended.  That I don't remember.  That part seems to be a blur.   I don't remember how late we sat in front of the television.  I don't remember what we ate for dinner.  I don't remember what words my parents spoke.  I don't remember whether I slept on the couch or went to bed.

But I will never forget that day.  I will never forget the fear, and the confusion, but more than anything the shock.

And there are images that are forever burned into my mind.  People jumping out of windows.  That one shot of the first plane hitting the building.  Over.  And over.  And over.

The man with that video camera,his hand probing through an impenetrable cloud of dust and his voice shouting out, "I'm a doctor- does anybody need help?  Can I help?  Does anybody need help?"

Ten years later, I don't think we're really any safer.  I don't think we've really come to understand what it meant to be attacked that way- because we're still clinging to the same ideas of safety.  The idea that something bad happened, and we won't let THAT happen again.

I think the truth is that someday, we WILL be attacked again.  And again, it will be like something out of a movie.  Something that we never imagined,  Something that we didn't expect.  Not a trick out of the book of terrorist plots.

I'm a writer.  I have ideas, nightmares if you will, of what it might be.  The sort of thing that would make a great movie.  That nobody would believe would ever happen.

But there is one thing that came out of that day that I feel HAS strengthened us.  That has made us better.  And that is the sense of community.  Of wanting to help each other.  Of wanting to work together to make ourselves whole again.

I think about that traffic jam outside of the Red Cross, and I cry.  Because we didn't know who the enemy was, we didn't know the toll.  We didn't know ANYTHING, except that there were people- probably MANY people- who were hurt.  And that we were going to help.

And for any group of people, be they a country or a town or just a random collection of strangers, to head not to the many churches to pray, or to the gas stations to fill their tanks, or to run mad through the streets, but to go to the one place where they knew they could help...

That gives me hope.

That gives me hope every day.  Because I have seen that there is truly a best possibility for all of us.  And while it might have taken a horrific tragedy to show me that, I am grateful to know that it's there.  That despite all political differences or ideological clashing, when it comes down to it... we really just want to help.

We're all calling out, while rushing into an impenetrable cloud, "Can I help?  Does anybody need help?"

So when we do, as I fear we someday probably will, there will be arms in that darkness to hold us, and lead us back into the light.

September 9, 2011

Children and Families in a Post 9/11 World

We're only beginning to understand how wide spread the impact of that day was.  We're only beginning to really feel the weight of history having been made.  We're only beginning to learn to exist in a post-9/11 world.

That's the world my children live in.  It's the world most children live in.  There is a distinct line between those who remember that day and understand anything about it and those for whom it is only the vaguest of memories, or who have no memory of it at all.

I think about the Shoa Foundation, who have made it their mission to record video testimonies of Holocaust survivors, so that once they have all passed away we will remember what that time was.  How I, through the dedication and effort of an entire community of Jewish people who I never have and never will meet, have a visceral and personal cultural memory of Kristalnacht and train cars to Auschwitz.

I think about children who ask questions like, "If Osama bin Laden flew the plane into the World Trade Center, how did he escape to get all the way to Afghanistan to be killed ten years later?"  We haven't really begun to explore how we explain this event, so different from any other attack in history, that so altered the landscapes of our lives.  There is so much we take for granted about what we know, simply by being there when it happened.  How do you explain the twin towers?  How do you convey the sense of the invulnerability of the Pentagon?  How do you explain how, in a world where camera phones didn't exist, where there was no Twitter, where even digital cameras weren't ubiquitous, that as something momentous and horrifying occurred, it was still shrouded in mystery and confusion.

Nobody in the towers posted Twitpics of coworkers jumping out of windows.
Nobody on the streets uploaded video to YouTube showing that they were okay.
Nobody on Facebook created groups for people stuck in airports.

Nothing like it had ever happened before.  Nothing like it can ever happen again.

And our children's lives will be shaped by what we've done to and for the world since that day.

The attacks of September 11th changed the lives of uncountable American families.  I was fortunate enough to have a friend share the story of her family- her husband enlisted one month before the attacks.  This isn't a story about September 11th, but it is a story of a family that was built, in a way, from September 11th.  With September 11th as a personal connection to why and how their family came to be the way it is.  Just as my family came to be the way that it is because of our personal connection to brain cancer.

Abby blogs over at The Half Heart Chronicles.  Please show her some love, and welcome her to the blogosphere.

Half My Heart (Our Story)

My daughter is eight months old this week.  Sweet Baby Vrai is rolling all over the place, babbling fairly constantly, and working hard on filling her ready smile with sharp little teeth.  She is the spitting image of me at her age, with round cheeks and a little turned up nose.  However, she’s painted with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes that are foreign to my bloodline but familiar to me, as they come straight from her daddy... who is 6,781 miles away.

Her daddy is my lover, and my husband, of approaching 6 years.  We have known each other since we were basically kids and over time we grew to be best friends.  We were very communicative about our hopes and dreams and all that good stuff.  We were planners.  And we were unprepared for what life had in store for us.  But really, who is?

DOMC (or the Daddy Of My Child) was the first born of four siblings, a real role model and all around responsible guy.  He was determined to go to the private college where his father went, that in four years would wrack up $100,000 in tuition, room and board, and fees.  DOMC knew that with three siblings besides himself to put through college, he couldn’t expect his parents to foot the bill.  He went out and got himself scholarships (he’s very smart) and did the one thing that would alter the course of our life many times over.

In August 2001, he enlisted in the Army.

Let’s do the math people, what happened one month later on September 11th, 2001?  Shortly thereafter, DOMC was recruited to join ROTC and become an officer in the United States Army National Guard.   They needed good people and DOMC was ‘Good People.’

Our relationship grew over time and a few years in we were madly in love and ready to get married.  He proposed to me the winter before his graduation from college and commissioning into the military.  After graduation he would head out for the late summer and fall to Officer Basic….stuff…  We would come back together for six weeks to celebrate the holidays, hold our January wedding, and generally prepare for life as a young married couple.

Meanwhile, the aftermath of September 11th was still churning away and the world was changing in many ways.  The Minnesota National Guard was pledged by the Governor to help “protect freedom”.  That meant that a huge number of soldiers from the MN National Guard were called up to go overseas.  My not quite yet husband was called to war.

I remember where I was when he called me from his Kentucky training.   I was standing in my closet in the house that some rugby teammates and I rented in college.  As he was telling me that yes he was called up to go to Iraq, and yes he was due to leave around early December, and no, we could not have the wedding we planned.   I think I neatly re-folded all my sweatshirts and t-shirts during that conversation, in some numb way trying to bring order from chaos.  We were not on our carefully planned life timeline anymore.  We were young and had to grow up fast.

We were not allowed to spend the first two years of our marriage together.  He did his work in Iraq and I went to school.  I built a small business and a new social network without him.  I learned to be an adult without my partner and I built the appropriate defenses to facilitate that.

When DOMC returned from deployment, we had a difficult year.  He was his own person and so was I, but we were dropped back into what was supposed to be a two year old marriage.   We had to start all over again in a lot of departments.  Reintegration is in many ways harder than the separation is.   3 years into our marriage, and we were working hard just to make it normal.

Things moved forward.  We continued to heal as a couple and life fell into a gentle rhythm.   We had saved up to finally go on a belated honeymoon to Mexico.  We both had steady jobs and fulfilling hobbies so we decided to start trying for a child.  We would gaze gooey eyed at each other and talk about names and aspirations for parenthood, and, of course, have lots of sex.  We bought a 100 year old house in the city, worked on being healthy, and continued to try for a child.   Wouldn’t you know it that as soon as we moved to a new house with a long, long list of projects and responsibilities, we got knocked up.

When Mother’s Day came that year, we were 12 weeks pregnant.  We told everyone the news.  We also got an adorable black lab puppy that would grow to 100lbs of slobbery sweetness.  We christened him Yoshi, after our love of all things Super Mario Brothers.  I planted a veggie garden; we took a Bradley Method birth class, and moved along in a fairly gentle pregnancy filled with wonder and awe.

In the back of my mind I worried how long we would have with DOMC before he would be whisked away again.  As you may have noticed, the war is still going on.  I prayed that the “draw down” of troops would mean that DOMC may escape the deployment cycle.  We would get to have this baby together, raise it as a team, and we would be good at it.

I don’t know if it was new mother’s intuition, but it was not a complete shock when DOMC called me to tell me the news.   I was in the bathroom, as pregnant women often are, and I answered my phone and just stayed in there as he told me that the deployment had been announced.   He gave me the approximate timeline and I did some mental math and soothed myself with the fact that DOMC would be home for the birth.   He could be with me in pregnancy and birth and we would have the first half of a year with our baby and we would get to be a family.

Time has a way of going slow and fast at the same time.  We waited impatiently for the baby to decide to be born, and when the day finally arrived and Sweet Baby Vrai came stubbornly into the world at a sturdy 10lbs 3oz, my heart ached, along with most of the rest of me.  Our little family was together, whole, and time sped mercilessly up.

1…3…5 months blurred by in a way that time does when you are anticipating something awful, while experiencing something wonderful, though hopefully not many of you out there will ever experience that particular phenomenon.  Baby Vrai was beautiful, strong, and good natured.  We got over hurdles like cloth diapers and nursing, as a team.  DOMC would walk Baby Vrai to sooth her before going to sleep, letting her listen to the beating of his heart.  He would strap her in a baby carrier and work on preparing our dinner while I would rest or do chores.  Our house wasn’t that organized, but it was full of love and food, and only the occasional tumbleweed made of dog hair and baby drool.  We were sleep deprived, but happy.  Each day moved into the next and then slid silently into the past, to become mere photos and videos and memories.

At the time I am writing this, we are now two months into DOMC’s deployment to Kuwait.  I am going to skip going into details about the actual days surrounding his departure from our home, because that’s what I do in my head.  DOMC and I each did our best to make the transition easier for the other.  We did not skimp on the comforts of takeout food, expensive co-op cheese, or the occasional family nap.  Lists were made, resources were checked, and the babe was excessively cuddled.  Then one day, he was gone.  It wasn’t a surprise, but that didn’t make it suck less.

I’m not quite sure the best way to articulate it, but each day is new, because it has to be.  Sweet Baby Vrai and I have to meet the morning, each morning and we have to figure it out.  I know there are single moms out there who do this every day of their children’s lives, and I applaud them.  I know there are other military families out there who have both parents deployed or are under financial hardship due to the deployment, and I feel for them and wish them better.  But my world is small and under the gravity of this tiny human DOMC and I made together. I can’t look at her and not see him.  I can’t wake in the middle of the night and not want him to take a turn with a wet diaper or a walk up and down the hallway, for his heartbeat to soothe all of us to sleep.  I can’t help feeling physical pain when Sweet Baby Vrai rolls over or makes a funny face or tries zucchini for the first time.  I can’t believe he’s missing this.

It’s not all a sob story, this situation we are in. Wonderful family and friends have stepped up to help out with babysitting so I can go to a dance class, or clean the house occasionally.  People have actually volunteered to walk the dogs with me, (yes, now there are 2…) or have agreed to come to our house to visit so I can get the baby to sleep in her own crib.  My younger sister is living with me so that this house that is a great size for a family, doesn’t feel so cavernous with just me and Sweet Baby Vrai.

Life moves on, one day at a time.  I miss the Daddy of My Child every day.  Some days I feel like heading for the hills, pulling tufts of hair from my head.  There have been occasions when I call my own mommy, weeping about my lack of sleep or the little nail marks on my face or the giant muddy hole the dogs worked as a team to dig in the yard.  And there are some days when I feel downright super. Some days, I have a babe that sleeps through the night.  Some days, I get to our destination with a happy baby and realize we have not forgotten one single thing.  I am finding new strength in places I never knew I could make strong.  Like my ability to go with less sleep and my ability to handle being burped up on many times a day with patience, and maybe even a little grace.  I also am becoming somewhat of an accomplished archivist with a small flip video, and then have become just tech savvy enough to upload the videos and move them to the right place for DOMC to retrieve them overseas.  Small victories, I keep telling myself.

I actively count my blessings.  I actively curse our government.  I actively love my baby and her daddy who is so far away.  I kiss her twice each night.  And after I put her to bed, I check my email as the little light on the baby monitor blinks away, and I allow myself a peek at the countdown clock I have placed in the corner of the computer screen.

9 months, 26 days, 6 hours and 15 minutes.

It’s an approximation, I know.  But it keeps me moving forward.  And it keeps DOMC moving towards home.

Originally posted here:

September 8, 2011

Best Of!

Hello, lovely readers!

As you probably haven't noticed, I've added a new little feature to the blog.  It's a "Best Of" tab.

Right now, it has my own personal favorite posts on it.

But, if you know what parenthood is like, the last few years just kind of blur together at this point.  I have a hard time remembering things like where I left my keys (answer: vegetable strainer full of tomatoes), or why I called my husband on my way to the grocery store, or whether or not I put a clean diaper on my kid ten minutes ago.

So I would LOVE somebody else's nominations.

What stands out in your memory?  What did you enjoy?

After all, I'm still building this blog.  I'm still learning where it fits in the greater universe of cyberspace, IF it fits into that place, and pleased and surprised that somebody out there is reading and enjoying it.

Many thanks, for that.  :)

Who knows?  Maybe the "Best Of" tab will give me a jumping off point for a book.  You know, because I have all this free time to fill with writing a Becoming SuperMommy book.  :)

Best of!  Let me know what you think!

September 7, 2011

Teacher's Helper, or Childcare Disaster Zone

My very distracting children
We have, up until extremely recently, been very very lucky when it comes to our childcare.

Don't get me wrong, all things considered we're still pretty lucky.  But not as lucky as I'd like.

You see, we have virtually no family in the area.  And the family that we DO have in the area is pretty far away, all told.  (We're on the far south side of the city, my mother's cousin is in the near north suburbs.)  Add to that our extreme financial constraints... we basically just plain can't afford childcare.  And yet, somehow I must get to class on a regular basis in order to finish my degree.

For much of the first year, M was unemployed.  That is one of the reasons that we couldn't afford childcare.  But, that also made him available to watch the girls while I went to class.

Then we found Our Mary Poppins.  Our magical, wonderful, perfect part time nanny.  What made her so perfect?  First, she LOVES the girls.  LOVES them.  And they absolutely adore her.  Next, and also wonderful, she lives in the neighborhood.  In the event of an emergency, she can usually be here in less than twenty minutes.

But the biggest, best-est thing that made her the second most important adult in my life, was her availability.  She's an art student.

I used to be an art student.

I know how good art students can be on living on virtually nothing.

She was willing to live on virtually nothing.

Best of all?  Every semester, I would register first.  Then, she would register for classes around my class schedule.  And thus, she was always available when I needed her, she always had enough money to get by, and we had babysitting that we could BARELY afford.  We've been paying more for our childcare each month than for our mortgage.  And this month our insurance premiums went up.  Again.

It was a freakin' steal.  We knew it, and we were grateful.  So grateful that whenever she was running low at the end of the month, or had some extra expenses (wisdom teeth, etc.) we were happy to help her out.  As much as we possibly could.  Because we had become completely symbiotic.  Codependent, if you will.  And we had become friends.

Cut to this semester.

DD is cute enough to make me forget what happened next.
Thanks to the horrific, inhumane, and sadistic language requirements of my school, I have to be at class for one hour every single day.

She had almost managed to make that work.  Almost.  But then her advisor started shifting her classes around.  Other classes were canceled, rescheduled, or otherwise made to change their nature.

Suddenly, Our Mary Poppins couldn't come over anymore.  This was the start of my second week of classes.  I began missing my classes.

I started calling anyone, ANYONE who might help me.

I talked to a dozen day care providers.

First of all, places that can take my kids at 7:15am when I need to drop them off?  Not exactly a dime a dozen.  They're happy to take them at 8am.  You know, the minute my 50 minute long class starts.  That doesn't work.

Or, they're happy to take them at 7:15am when I need to drop them off.  You know, for $20 apiece for each hour.  Making two days of childcare for the absolute minimum I could require cost more than one whole week of our previous arrangement.

Or, they can come to me.  But only for twice Our Mary Poppins' rate, and only if I promise them twice as many hours as I need.

I tried Sitter City.  But to check any of the responses to my listing, I need to pay them $140.  That wasn't happening.

I tried a few local parent networks.  The one that seems the most likely still hasn't gotten back to me, but needs me to pay them an application fee and membership dues before they'll give me any real info.

The University provides childcare for free.  IF your kids are potty-trained (I'll MAKE them learn in a week, if that's what it takes!), and IF they're 2 years and 7 months old.  Which they'll be... five days before I graduate.  Screw you, University childcare!

So I finally found a situation that might work.  Two days a week (for the time being) Our Mary Poppins will continue to come to our home.  Until she finds something tha makes her enough money to actually live.

SI thinks something sounds unlikely...
One day a week, a friend of mine will come and sit with the girls while she works on her novel.

And last of all, I would drop my girls off twice a week before class with my friend Hella Mystical on the north side of the city, then drive back into the center of the city for classes.

Can you see the flaw in the plan yet?

Here's a hint- Chicago was recently named one of the top three worst cities in the country for traffic congestion.

I did the math.  Given typical traffic, I would have to get my girls into the car and on the way to Sage's place around 6am.  Then, I would have to leave her place by about 7:15 to make it to my class on time.

That's during typical traffic.

Today was the test day.  I don't just mean that I was trying out my ability to traverse three quarters of Chicago geography, either.  Today was my first Spanish exam.  Something I absolutely cannot make up later.  And that counts for a significant portion of my grade.

I had to make it to class.

Unfortunately, getting up is not my forté.  I slept in by about twenty minutes (I had stayed up until midnight studying), resulting in what would have been exactly a 20 minute delay in our departure.  Unfortunately, DD decided that the shoes I put her in were not acceptable.  She refused to walk down the stairs in them.  This slowed us down another half an hour.

We got into the car at 6:57.

And then we were off!  Took the back way up to LSD, like a ninja.  Hopped off of LSD onto the Eisenhower like a pro- traffic averted!  And then, the radio announced the worst few words I could imagine hearing.  Possibly ever.

"...and today, Chicago welcomes SUPERMAN!"

That's right, Superman started filming in MY city today.  Downtown.  Resulting in... lane closures, exits shut down, and of course- gaggles of Superman fanatics hoping to find their way to the filming location and snap some pictures of the Man of Steel.

I had to make a decision.  My kids were hungry and angry, but it was going to take me more than half an hour to get to Sage's, and God knows how long to get back.  And I couldn't miss my freakin' exam.

I turned the car around.  I took my children with me to school.

First, we walked into the student center.  DD stumbled and fell in the crosswalk to the building, and was genuinely freaked out when a nice lady helped her up.  I managed to calm her with the promise of a muffin.
DD's pout isn't nearly as cute when she means it.

We got to the coffee shop in the student center.  Thankfully open.  And possessing of muffins.

I started to grab some muffins, and my heart skipped a beat.  Only two varieties of muffin.  Cranberry, which my kids won't eat for some reason, and chocolate chip.

Chocolate chip.  I was going to have to buzz my kids on chocolate to come with me to class.  Well, it was this or nothing.  So, chocolate it was.

I tried to explain that they had to wait for the muffin until we got to the classroom.  DD didn't care, she wanted her muffin then.  Desperately.  It was the last morsel of food on the planet.  She wailed for half the walk to the building (the second farthest building on campus, I might add), occasionally throwing herself onto the sidewalk and sobbing.

We made it to the classroom.  With ten minutes to spare.  The girls sat down peacefully, quietly, happily, and ate their muffins.  As they ate their muffins, I noticed DD's face.  Her black eye was yellowing grossly, and on top of that she'd given herself a huge knock on the head last night when she fell down running after me as I ran to get a phone call.  I looked at SI, she needs her fingernails trimmed and had scratches on her nose.  They hadn't bathed last night.  They were covered in crumbs and chocolate.  My children were a gigantic mess.  They were going to make this impossible.

I thought things through quickly.  During the test, all the grown-ups would be sitting down, writing on a piece of paper and not talking.  I had paper.  I had pens.  The girls could do the same.

As more people filed into the room, the girls got antsy.  I gave them their pens and paper.  No problem.

And then la profesora arrived.  And she began to teach.

DD was okay.  She was happy to draw and write all morning as far as I could tell.  Not SI.  La profesora was obviously very important.  SI got up and began to follow her around.  She tried to crawl through her legs.  She tried to tickle her tummy.  She didn't quite want to reach.  This left her fidgeting with la profesora's fly and belt.

My daughter was trying to molest the professor, who was remarkably unfazed.  And my other daughter was sitting at my feet, trying to show the heart she had managed to draw with pride beaming from every pore.  I wasn't taking in a word of the lecture.

This child groped my Spanish professor.
I just kept thinking, "Just hand out the test!  Please, just pass out the damn test!"

SI grabbed her pen, and tried to write on the board like la profesora.  The screech was horrific.  La profesora kindly gave her a piece of chalk, and SI spent much of the rest of class drawing on the chalk board, following la profesora.  She occasionally tried to steal some of the students' pens.  Each time I would run after her, grab her, apologize quickly and quietly, and force her into the seat with me.  From which she would cheerfully jump to follow la profesora.

During the last ten minutes, all she wanted was for la profesora to carry her.  Which, amazingly, she did without any form of complaint.  Until SI sneezed on her face.

DD was a champ.  She drew on her paper, drew on the chalkboard a bit (with chalk), and ran in little circles giggling for a while.  She was distracting, but nothing could have beaten SI for being a chaos machine for that hour.

And the worst part of all?  Because I had been out of the house so early, I had missed an email from la profesora.

!No examen hoy!

It's still too early to start drinking, isn't it?

September 6, 2011

DD's Shiner

DD's Shiner
It's always a wonderful thing when you go to a friend's wedding.

Especially the wedding of an old and dear friend.

You get to see all the people you love and miss from years gone by, you spend a wonderful night catching up, you witness the vows of wonderful people, you wish them nothing but joy for the rest of their lives.

And... these days... you show off your kids.

"He was so cute during the ceremony!"
"Look at their curls!  Wonder where they got those?"
"He looks JUST LIKE YOU!"
DD in back-up clothes after spilling juice on her dress
"Is she sleeping through the night?"
"That doesn't look like an allergy or... did she get in a fight?"
"Guess we should see the other kid, huh?"

Wait- what?

You read that right.  I brought my sweet, curly-topped moppet to one of my best friends' weddings with a black eye.

A real beaut, too.

Grandmommy and Poppa, God bless them, had one again offered to watch the girls overnight while M and I stayed at a hotel (no gigantic iPod this time, though).  When we arrived in the morning of the wedding day, DD was so excited to see us walk through the door that she climbed on Aunt Genocide's couch and started to jump.

And jumped.

And jumped.

And before I could stop her and make her stop jumping on the couch, which she knows perfectly well is NOT allowed, she had begun to fall.  In slow motion.

It took ages.  First, the look of surprise.  Her feet weren't landing where she thought they would- how odd!

Then, the moment of paralyzing realization.  She was falling, falling, oh crap she's falling.

"Show me your mean face!"

The impact- DEAR GOD WAS THAT HER EYE??????


And finally, the finale.  THUD.

I already had her in my arms when the tears started, but good lord was she one lucky girl.  The sharp corner of the table missed her eyeball by less than half an inch.  She has a bruise stretching across her entire face between her eye and her ear, and the corner only broke through her skin a little bit.  The swelling has even started to go down already.

You ever tried to put ice on the eye of a screaming toddler?  Doesn't work so well.

So eventually, she calmed down.  And eventually, she ate a bit of breakfast.  And eventually, she took a very short nap.

But when I tried to leave her with her Daddy for a few moments so I could deliver a toast to the happy couple?

Oh, woe betide the mommy who tries THAT stunt.

For a bit of comparison, here is my daughter before her terrible ordeal:
She's saying, "Draw me a heart please!"

And here she is now:
It puts the block onto the tower or else it gets the hose again.
...and one more shot, from the wedding itself:
"Hey Mommy, this little lady botherin' you?"



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