madcap misadventures in infertility, pregnancy, and parenthood

05/05/2011

The Thursday assortment

Is it weird, I wonder, that I don't exactly know how the first part of Charlie's evaluation went?  Sure, we went in and met the evaluator, a pleasant guy with a disarming manner.  We answered his questions, filled out his forms, and laughed only a little hysterically when he asked whether there was anything unusual about Charlie's birth or infancy.  (This is a big step down in intensity from my normal response, which involves falling into a seizure of hilarity, lying on the floor and maybe kicking a little depending on how tough the room is, and then maybe shrieking, "That man stole my wallet!" if I feel the need to create a diversion.)

He took extensive notes and asked good questions, my favorite being "What's great about your kid?"  It felt good to be able to reel off six or seven things without missing a beat, which is ridiculous; any parent worthy of the name could do that.  Still, it seemed like a useful indicator of how beaten down we're actually not: "Charlie is funny, cheerful, inventive, affectionate, clever, curious, adventuresome" comes easily without a "...but."

And he explained in great detail the kind of one-on-one work he'd be doing with Charlie during the day. He was also going to meet with Charlie's teacher and spend time in the classroom observing not just Charlie, but Charlie in juxtaposition with a representative child, for the sake, I guess, of contrast.  All fine, all good, and when Charlie came home he said it was fine, and good: so I still don't know how it went.

Really, that's all he said, beyond showing me the toy he'd been allowed to keep, a water-filled glittery rubber mace.  (...What?)  And because it felt slightly absurd to grill him — "He had you repeat words back to him?  Which words?  Do you remember?  Try.  It's important." — that's pretty much all I got.  For the rest, we wait for the next phase of testing; then we wait for results.

So I think it went okay, but it does feel strange to know that someone somewhere is thinking about, tallying up, working on my kid, in a way I'm not currently privy to.

...

Ben cried in the car the other day, really wailed, fat tears rolling, button nose streaming.  Why was our toddler crying?  "Because I can't find my eyebrows."

...

Every year on the first Sunday in May, my town celebrates All Species Day.  It's exactly what it sounds like, a celebration of...everything.  People dress in elaborate costumes, salute various natural forces, dance around a drum circle, and generally get their grateful hippie on under the warm spring sun.

Raven-1First there's this guy in a raven suit.  Some call him Brother Raven.  I call him Brother Guy in a Raven Suit Wearing Red Danskos Crouching in a Giant Nest. Potato, potahto, I suppose.  


Raven-2 The suit itself is impressive — rather Acme Bat Man, actually — even though it's mended visibly in several places by what appears to be black electrical tape.  I thought about mentioning it and offering a fix but worried he'd peck out my liver.

Raven-3 Or sacrifice me on his altar, or at the very least give me bird lice.  Little girl nooooo don't goooooooooooo!  Your mom'll be combing that shit out for months.

Oh, and that burning thing there in the foreground?  It's a torch.  Made of a roll of toilet paper.  That's been soaked in biodiesel.  Happy flaming Beltane!

The costumes are generally fantastic, really inspired, and represent I don't know how many hours of effort.  (Unless you're me, whose creative zenith thus far has been a gray sweatsuit for Charlie supplemented by a long felt tail: "You're a mouse.  Or a rat. Or possibly a lemur.  Let's hang you from this branch and see."  This year I stuffed Ben into a too-small Elmo shirt and declared that my work here was done.  Elmo is too a species, pained-looking man whose kid just went apeshit.  I believe you when you say you don't have a TV; all I'm observing is that your toddler loves Elmo, too.  So stop glaring and blessed be.)

Lobster Anyway, there are lobsters and centipedes, hummingbirds and jellyfish, trout and birch trees and sunflowers.  There are guys dressed as Hobbits and forest gnomes, not so far from their usual look.  There are pregnant women in tie-dyed Spandex with their bellies exposed, giant and gleaming, blue-veined white in the sun.  There are babies dressed as larvae and one boy dressed as Pikachu.  

Geese There are two or three dozen white geese held aloft on poles, my favorites.  I squeal to see them every year.  They are carried nearly ten feet high, and appear, to my delight, at every parade this town ever has.  (Ours is a big puppet area. By which I mean both that we have a lot of them, and they are huge. And certainly not at all creepy. Nope!)

Cows There are marching cows of virtue: Wisdom.  Justice. Compassion. ...Vocational Training.  You know, the traditional virtues.  (Funding for the Arts cow wanted me to tell you that Alternative Energy cow headed back to his car for a minute.  No, wait, shit, I mean his bike.  His recumbent bike, if you really must know, made entirely from free-trade organic...bicycle parts...and why are we even discussing this, anyway? What have you got against Peace, Tolerance, and Adult Literacy?  What are you so afraid of?)

From the fire circle in the park to the leisurely parade down the hill, the whole thing culminates on the state house lawn downtown.  There are musicians.  A maypole.  A flutter of dancers in white.  Charlie and Ben tangled on the grass, half-wrestling and half-napping.

I love this day.  I love this town.  Days later, I'm still smiling, even though I'm also still itching from what I think were probably wood ticks.

State-house

...

Today volunteers from all over the country are in Washington, DC as part of RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. They're asking for a tax credit for infertility treatment costs; for Congress and the CDC to reinvigorate the National Action Plan for Infertility; and for greater awareness of the impact of infertility and the current barriers to care.  Thank you to everyone who's there, to everyone who's meeting with their legislators locally, and to RESOLVE for channeling our energy and frustration into meaningful action.

Posted by Julie at 02:57 PM | Comments (32)

04/29/2011

Colonoscobees

I just had this epiphany.  This morning I read a piece of celebrity news that irked me.  Or rather it wasn't the news itself -- producer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi, formerly of American Idol, is trying to conceive -- but the way it was reported.

At a book signing for DioGuardi's recent memoir, Access Hollywood asked her what she hopes to accomplish next.  "I’d like to have a baby," she said. "I don’t know, I've been having a lot of sex, but it's not working. I'd like to succeed at that, if my damn body would get with the program."

Yeah, if only; in this memoir, DioGuardi reveals that she's undergone three unsuccessful IVFs so far.  So naturally the story about her attempts to get pregnant begins...

"Kara DioGuardi appears to be having a good time while she and her husband try to grow their family!"

Yeah, boy, Access Hollywood, you sure picked up on the salient point there. Infertility sex is a blast. Nothing more frolicsome than getting it on by the calendar, and sometimes even the clock, and if you're really far gone, the stopwatch.  What a romp it is, gazing lovingly into your partner's eyes and whispering throatily, "I know you're tired and need to get up early and have that thing going on with your neck, so you can just lie there while I do all the work"!  I mean, what could be better than doing it solely because not doing it is going to make you cry?

NotthatitwaslikethatforanyoneIknow.Okay!Movingon!

My point is, it's hard to think of anything less fun than the sex associated with hardcore infertility, as compulsorily frequent as it is.  I don't know, a colonscopy?  Performed by a swarm of live bees?  While listening to Jack Johnson?

NotthatIhaveanythingagainstbees!AlthoughplentyagainstJackJohnson!

Yet that's what Access Hollywood takes away from it: She sure is hitting it regular.  Woooo!

And I was fuming about this when it suddenly hit me.  I've been frustrated in the past when celebrities were, oh, let's say less than forthcoming about the fertility challenges they might have faced.  (I totally said might, y'all. Progress!)  Let me be clear: I don't think anyone has some automatic sacred right to know about anyone else's personal business.  When anyone does share, I think it's a gift, so that's not what I'm suggesting.  No, what's disappointed me in the past was rather the missed opportunity, the actively declined opportunity, to do a very specific kind of good in the world, one that I know has enormous benefits to people I care about: Be open. Fight the stigma. Disprove the myths, simply by being who you are and owning it.

I don't think we're owed it, but I still wish people would do it, and for that I thank Kara DioGuardi, Carefree Avid Sex-Haver.  But reading that article this morning, something new occurred to me, and it gave me an enhanced compassion for people in the public eye who deal with infertility.  It was this:

For every one person who says something stupid to one of us plain old normals, there are fifty saying it to the famous.  On camera and in print, with headlines like, "Kara DioGuardi Having a Lot of Sex in Hopes of Getting Pregnant."  Today for the first time I was moved to imagine what it would be like to open a magazine and read, "Julie Robichaux, After Three Failed IVFs, Is Having the Goddamn Time of Her Life."

That...that's not such a pleasing thought, and inspires in me a new understanding for why some public figures stay quiet.  Because it's one thing to hear it from your dumb brother-in-law -- "We want a baby, but we're having trouble." "Well, at least you get to have fun trying," complete with a waggle of the eyebrows and a leer that makes me want to slap him, God, I mean, I'm sorry, I don't care how much money he's loaned you; I've always hated your brother-in-law -- and another thing entirely, I suspect, to hear it from UsStarPeopleToday.com. Plus your brother-in-law.  And probably Jack Johnson.  And bees.

...


Bust-a-myth-badge3 I didn't exactly bust a myth here (and may even have promulgated one myself, since surely there are couples who do somehow manage to stay matrimonially freeea-kaaay during a long slog through infertility, although, ahem, video or it didn't happen), but in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week a bunch of other brilliant bloggers have.  If you're not in the know about infertility, why not find out more?

 

Posted by Julie at 11:42 AM | Comments (26)

04/15/2011

A crowbar

This week we signed the papers to initiate an evaluation.  "For autism," said the special educator, making an X near the signature line on one particular form.  As we signed I wondered how many parents hear that word so baldly stated and want to correct him.  No, no, I think you made a mistake.  You don't mean autism.  You mean Asperger's.  Or "something on the spectrum."  Or...I know what: quirky.  How about you just write quirky? And put in "delightfully" if there's room.

This is not a new idea, that something's going on with Charlie more complex than "doesn't feel like listening" or "harmless goofballing" or "overindulgent parents, Jesus, did you hear them?" even though any of those might be concomitant. Autism? ADHD? ODD? NVLD? OMGSRSLY? Yeah, sure, maybe, I guess.  Throw 'em on the stack, whatever consonants you have, and let's just please find out.

And "Let's just please find out" is not a new request. He's seen his pediatrician, two OTs, and a neurologist; the school counselor, the support specialist, the special educators.  In fact, for the last six months the school has been doing its due diligence to determine whether the lower-level interventions they provide as a matter of course might be sufficient. While it could have been stopped at any point if the smile charts and sensory breaks and social coaching had shown much promise, the process has been in motion for some time now. This is simply its culmination.

So we are accustomed to the idea that there's something, whatever it'll ultimately be called.  (I call it "I just want my kid to make it through the school day in the company of his classmates having learned something without an outburst." The eventual DSM-VI is going to be all over that shit.)  We know we need some help.

And yet there's something about signing, about taking the pen in hand and making that mechanical squiggle, saying, "Yes, please classify my child," that feels like standing over Pandora's Box, reading the packing list carefully, and then asking for a crowbar. Like we're setting something big and possibly dangerous in motion without knowing how it works. Simultaneously like we're doing absolutely the right thing for our child, and like we're selling him down the river.

Posted by Julie at 09:27 AM in Charles in charge | Comments (111)

04/12/2011

If you're not kind of totally freaked out, you haven't been paying attention

A brief selection of images from the bookshelves of my children:

Jackbuilt

"Wait, wait, Ben, why are you crying? I thought you liked dogs."

 

Moto-dog

"Shhh. Shhhhhhh. Don't cry, bunny. Does this one make you feel better?"

 

Color-kittens

Criteria to consider when selecting a children's book:
Does it make me think of cat nipples?

 

Underpants

...or that?  (Still, it could be worse. It could be scratch 'n' sniff.)

 

Wonderpets

Can you look at that picture without thinking of Boogie Nights?
...Bet you can't now.

 

Scarry

To exorcise that vision, please enjoy...a piglet...hungrily eyeing...the meat case. Yes. That's much, much better.

Posted by Julie at 11:12 AM in I am full of good ideas | Comments (54)

04/07/2011

An update as quick as the call was

I saw the principal again at pickup yesterday. From down the block he saw me coming and made that "telephone" hand gesture.  I shrugged extravagantly, palms up, in the universal signal for, "Dude. WHAT."  As I got nearer he nodded ruefully, the very picture of regret.  I widened my eyes all crazy-like, and may have bared a fang.  "I'll call you," he said, as I moved into earshot.  "Please," I said, and passed.

And he called, beginning with a litany of reasons he hadn't called sooner.  I listened, hoping any of those reasons would seem relevant -- pertaining directly to my child -- or urgent -- involving a hungry live tiger on the loose during school hours.  But no; I think he was trying to placate me.

In fact, the entire call was about placating me, but in the briefest, ten-foot-pole-est of ways -- so maybe not about placating me, but in fact about shutting me up, presumably so he could go ward off an outbreak of ebola or quash a rising junta or something.  I hear he is a very busy man.

The takeaway from the conversation is that Charlie is back on the bus; I made it known that Paul and I are not happy with the way the situation was handled; and that velociraptors must have been tearing through the corridor eating children, library books, and test scores left and right, because, damn, did that principal get off the phone fast.

(I kid because I love...being put off for days.)

Deeply unsatisfying, but not the end of this particular conversation.  We have the luxury of a planned conference next week, during which I'll bring this up, maybe even without crying.  Thank you so much for all your suggestions and encouragement.  I'm learning a lot -- some of it depressing, but all of it useful, and every bit gratefully received.

...

In an abrupt change of subject, because I do occasionally look up from my navel for a minute, if only to say, "Oooh, linty," I want to point out Keiko Zoll's fantastic multipart rant about PETA, which is giving away a free vasectomy...to encourage people to spay or neuter their pets..."in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week."

In case that pissed you off, why not channel your anger into action?  Consider this your yearly reminder about RESOLVE's Advocacy Day, when we formally ask our congressional representatives to -- stay with me, this is crazy -- represent us with meaningful action. Either in Washington or in your home state, you can officially make your voice heard about infertility, and RESOLVE will help.

And in case that pissed you off, here is a toddler paintingsome bread I baked, and a manifesto in the making.

 

Posted by Julie at 12:36 PM in Charles in charge, Jane, you ignorant slut | Comments (29)

04/06/2011

The bus

I've been perseverating on this for what feels like a week now but has only been two days, wearing away at it like the metal-gnawing rodents we discussed at breakfast this morning.  (Rodents came after monkeys; monkeys came after horses.  "I like to eat horses," Ben cheerfully said.  Hush and finish your Wilbur.)

I've told everyone I normally talk to, and when I ran out of people I unloaded on the cat.  (He eyed the flecks of spittle in the corners of my mouth, judged my mood to a nicety, and backed away slowly from my crazy-eyed self.)  Having talked all my friends into catatonia, I still need to say it some more.  It's all I can think about so I'll post it here: Charlie's been banned from the school bus.

About three weeks ago, we were called to pick him up from school.  He'd had some classroom outbursts and hit a couple of other kids.  (Oh, the sinking in my stomach as I type that — not only that he did it, but at what it means to say on the Internet, Sometimes my kid hits.)  As a bonus, apparently there'd been an issue with a kid on the bus.

So we picked him up, brought him home, and attempted to talk it all out.  The classroom behavior was of much greater concern, particularly since he was in agreement that things had gone badly there.  The bus incident, on the other hand, seemed to be a question of roughhousing gone too far.  "M. and I like to sit together and punch ourselves" — not each other — "and pretend to knock ourselves out."  M., it seems, amid this play had hit her head on the window pretty hard.

With larger matters to worry about — oh, God, sometimes my kid hits — we resolved the bus situation, we thought, by warning Charlie that he needed to avoid the appearance of violence as well as the violence itself, that that kind of play was likely to lead to trouble, and that he shouldn't sit with M. anymore. 

This Monday, a few weeks later now, Paul took a call from the principal.  Something had happened on the bus.  M.'s mother had gone to the school, incensed.  The upshot was that Charlie was not to ride the bus anymore "until we work out a solution."

On hearing this after school hours, I had a million questions: Did something new happen that we didn't know about?  What?  Why was this the first solution the school proposed?  Did it occur to the school to simply separate the kids, have them sit in different seats?  Did no one ask Charlie his side of the story?

Sort of seems like not.

Without telling Charlie what was up, I asked him casually about the bus.  He seemed entirely unaware that anything alarming might have happened; his only perception that something was out of the ordinary was that when he tried to sit with M. on Monday morning, she told him, "My mom will get mad if I sit with you."  As far as he understands it, M. is his friend and they like to goof around together.

For a variety of reasons I believe him, that he didn't do anything mean-spirited or out of anger.  He is always perfectly willing to cop to it when that's been the case, "I didn't mean to" being his version of an iron-clad defense, like, whoa, there, Clarence Darrow, your legal kung fu confounds me.  I acknowledge Charlie's difficulties in that area, but I think this is a different matter entirely: this is pretty much the definition of everything being all fun and games until someone loses an eye.

(Oh, God, y'all, no: she still has both of her eyes.)

Now, one thing I need you to know about the principal is that at our last meeting, I really felt he heard our concern that Charlie's enthusiasm for school is fast diminishing.  He instructed the team — the classroom teacher, the counselor, the support specialist, the occupational therapist — to do what they could to set him up for success, to make school fun for him.  He didn't come right out and say, "Go easy on him," but he might as well have, as that was the implication.  He did say, "Let's make it our project to keep that light shining."

So the most urgent question I had for the principal was whether it had occurred to anyone to attempt a resolution that didn't summarily take away one of the very few things my kid enjoys about his school experience.

I left a message for the principal at 8:30 yesterday morning.  I left another at 1:30.  And when I went to pick Charlie up yesterday afternoon, I found him on the steps of the school, presiding over pickup.  "I'll call you," he said.

And…nothing.

So this is me, perseverating.  I cannot let this go.  I'm anxious and furious and, on and off, kind of teary. I'm a little twitchy right now, truth be told, keyed up and angry and all too ready to say things I'll surely regret.  (As mad as I am that no one has called, I wouldn't want to talk to me, either.  I appreciate that the school's first priority is to guarantee the safety of students.  But having acknowledged that, I'm still feeling pretty snarly.)

It's only a bus, I tell myself.  (The cat agrees from his hiding place, wishing I'd stop hyperventilating. It's harshing his nut-licking mellow.)  But it's also something more.  It's the suggestion that my kid may be seen as a problem to be solved instead of a child to be understood and met where he is right now. It's the worry that, huh, maybe the school isn't going to go to bat for him when he needs it. And it's the dawning awareness that there may be lots of battles just like this one, simultaneously small and big, to be fought and, God help me, won.

...

Awkward to tack this on, I know, but I wanted to let you know that among about 60 donors, you gave $2130 for relief efforts in Japan.  That's…a lot of money, y'all.  The winner of the quilt is Susan, from comment number 33. Susan, it's on its way.

It feels weird to thank you, because I know you didn't do it for me — you do so much for me already, just by being here — but I do want to let you know how grateful I am to you for being part of something big with me.  Thank you.

Posted by Julie at 08:42 AM in Charles in charge | Comments (91)

03/28/2011

Two minutes' self-indulgence

Happens every time: I can take bad news with great aplomb, as long as no one is kind.  Tell me hard facts, and I sit up straighter, but use that tone and I crumple.  That was me on Thursday, sitting in a meeting about Charlie — not the hitting meeting, which was five minutes in the principal's office, only long enough for me to think, I wore my Confederate flag bikini for this? but another, an hour and a half, all about our boy and the trouble he's having in school.

I was fine as long as we stuck to plans and procedures.  I nodded intelligently through percentiles and programs.  I remained detached during a recitation of Charlie's less amusing idiosyncrasies.  (I won't reduce him to a list of behaviors, so let's just say he has some.)  I was fine until I brought up my most urgent concern, that the problems Charlie's having in the classroom are dampening his enthusiasm for being there and reducing what little engagement he has.  I was fine until the principal agreed, saying, "Some of Charlie's light is going out."

Speakspell Said so kindly it made me cry, silently like I do, but still.  If you're going to say shit like that, Mr. Awesome Empathic Principal, ditch the tone of concern and hire a robot to do it for you.  Or maybe a Speak and Spell.  Because I cannot be a badass with tears dripping off my nose.

The upshot, the short version — because typing even that much has a tear wobbling on the edge of my eyelid — is that Charlie is being evaluated to see if he qualifies for special education.  I will be shocked if he doesn't.

Don't mistake me: That's not the problem.  I mean, we all have something, right?  Getting picked last for sports teams or not having dates in high school or needing Xanax to get on an airplane or looking in the mirror and not liking what we see: Whatever it is, we are all, in some way, irregular.  I've known too many families of every stripe — happy families, successful families, regardless of their challenges — to assign it any stigma.

The problem for me is me.  I am finding it really hard to shake an ugly idea: that we should somehow be exempt.  That because we had it hard early on, now we're due for unremarkable-ever-after.  That, Jesus, hasn't that all been enough?

Through our years of infertility, I was never really inclined to feel especially hard done by.  Oh, I hated it, but never did it feel like we were unjustly singled out by Fate, the universe, or God.  Where some would say, "Why me?" I was content with "Why not me?"  If infertility was the worst thing that had happened to me — and at the time, it was — I didn't have much to complain about.

The same is true now.  I haven't lost perspective entirely; this is not the worst thing that's happened, not by a long shot.  Charlie having trouble is, after all and more importantly, still Charlie, and, my God, how lucky am I?  And it's real, what he's experiencing, and it's hard for him and us, but I know it could be worse, so drop the melodrama, Julie.  Cut the crap and get on with it.  I know it's not that bad.  Nevertheless, I am furious, with the kind of anger that's made more frustrating by the fact that it has no target.  There is no one to be mad at.

It's the same old anger, I guess, but this time it's being fueled by a feeling that embarrasses me (which is why I'm sharing it here in the quiet with only two or three of my most intimate friends who can be counted on not to judge me for it).  That feeling is entitlement.  Oh, come on, I think, listening to the neurologist muse, or seeing the school's number on the caller ID.  Come on.  Do we really deserve this?

And I hate that feeling in myself, because of course the answer is no; of course it is.  Deserving's got nothing to do with it.  Better people than I have it worse than we ever will.  No one ever deserves this kind of difficulty.  Therefore, kind of, if you think about it, well, we all do.

Posted by Julie at 11:22 PM in Charles in charge | Comments (131)

03/23/2011

What not to wear

...to a meeting concerning your kindergarten son's hitting at school:

  1. Two words: Catholic schoolgirl.
  2. Two other words: Beer hat. (Via Twitter.)
  3. Arm in a sling, heavy eye makeup -- I favor Urban Decay eyeshadow in the Weeping Bruise palette -- and a few fake teeth to spit out casually during conversation.
  4. "The answer is nun. Nun more black."
  5. "I'm with Stupid --->" shirt, no matter how strategically you seat yourself in the principal's office.

(What I did wear: a matronly sweater and a shellshocked look, because oh em effing gee.)

Posted by Julie at 09:37 AM in Charles in charge | Comments (32)

03/19/2011

Tater tot

Due to an untimely move during high school, the second semester of my senior year found me in a health class designed for freshmen, necessary for graduation.  The curriculum purported to address general topics in health and hygiene, but in reality it was about eleven solid weeks of sex ed -- let us relive the magic -- and one solid week of The-Wonder-of-Me bullshit.  ("Make an album cover that sums up your personality!"  "...The answer is none. None more black.")

Now, by that time I had a good working knowledge of contraception, so it was with purest teenage scorn that I received an assignment intended to terrify my fourteen-year-old classmates into celibacy.  We were each issued a five-pound sack of potatoes and told to treat it as we would a real baby: to take it with us wherever we went unless we could find a babysitter; to budget for its care and feeding; and never, under any circumstances, to mash it with cream and butter.

At eighteen, I was pretty sure that anything I found stupid was worth doing very badly.  I subverted the assignment in every way I could think of.  Instead of pricing cribs at Sears, I insisted I'd empty a laundry basket.  While my classmates borrowed strollers and wheeled their babies to English, I toted mine like a football, a hold that appalled my teacher, but one my real babies loved.  I unsacked my baby and stuffed its tuberous parts into the sleeves and legs of a dingy romper from Goodwill.  I named it Headless.  I got a low grade.  And that was my training for parenthood.

Today outside the grocery store I saw a girl lugging a baby carrier.  She was young, thirteen or fourteen.  The sight of her alarmed me, and I looked around for her mother.  The carrier was too heavy for her; as she lurched, it jerked and swayed, but she didn't seem to care.

As I passed her I looked at the baby, expecting to see a freaked-out face gone green.  But of course it wasn't a baby, but a life-sized plastic doll.  My first reaction was relief: I'd been thirty seconds away from rushing right over and telling her to stop shaking that baby; demanding to know if she was breastfeeding; and making some inconsequential small talk about circumcision -- you know, just pleasant social chit-chat.  Oh, and cover that baby up!  It's 30 degrees out here!

My second reaction was laughter.  Because from the neck down the baby was covered…with a bag of Cheetos, a box of Hot Pockets, and a package of Rainbow Twizzlers, all tucked in very neatly next to her ersatz child.

But I still wanted to tell her she was doing it wrong.  For the sake of authenticity, she should have swapped the Twizzlers for Xanax.

Posted by Julie at 09:54 PM | Comments (35)

03/16/2011

In the midst

I didn't have what you'd call a religious upbringing, but for a while when I was a kid I did go to church every Sunday.  My older brother and I sang in the children's choir. 

Think about that for a second.

Yup.  It all just goes to show you...something...about...okay, I don't know what it goes to show, except that it's kind of a brilliant idea, really, for parents who want Sunday morning child care.

What, you don't think my parents actually attended that church, right?

Anyway, we'd get dropped off, and amid the sound of squealing tires as my parents made their getaway, we'd be there all bleating like snow white little lambs -- the snippets of hymns come back to me all the time -- and then we'd settle into our pews and pretend to listen to the rector as he conducted the talky parts of the service.  I have no recollection of those interludes, although since this was an Episcopalian church, it is safe to assume he was exhorting us all to commit adultery, overthrow the papacy, and have a gin and tonic, in that order.  What I do remember is that when the time came for us to read along from the Book of Common Prayer, I would flip to the appropriate section along with my choirmates, and as the rector droned I would drift.

Pretending to be casual, I'd flip the book's thin pages.  Naturally -- come on, like you wouldn't have -- I'd end up at the Order for the Burial of the Dead.  I never attended a funeral in childhood, never heard these words read aloud, but now, much later in life when I know more about what dying means, those phrases come back just like the hymns.  In the midst of life we are in death is what I keep hearing these days.

Last week my cousin died, 40 years old, in apparent good health, a slim, athletic man.  He left a wife and son, and I have been having flashes several times a day of what this must be like for them.  Even the poorest imaginings make me cry: how many horrible months lie ahead before everything stops feeling wrong?  And, my God, what will they have to go through until they're finally there?

I'm not writing this because I want condolences.  This isn't about me, and that's the point.  I have this indelible picture in my mind, and it's crazy but it persists.  I am thinking about Japan as one of those giant photo collages -- choose a view of the devastation; it doesn't matter which.  Now think of that picture as being composed of a billion smaller pictures: zoom out and you see a town swept away, a family scanning a notice board for news of lost loved ones.  Or a young man alone in his home, fallen over suddenly, while the phone rings and rings, unanswered -- his wife, to ask what the doctor said.  This is happening every day, to those we'll always love and those we'll never know.  Japan is a reminder, on a scale that's hard to assimilate.

So I do things with my children, and I think helplessly and gratefully, Life is going on.  Even my cousin's wife since that day has washed her five-year-old's hair, fixed him some sort of meal, comforted him or tried.  We go on, and it feels both wrong and right, simultaneously obscene and sacred.  Shouldn't the world stop turning? I think when I look at the pictures out of Japan.  No, and thank God it doesn't, I think when I check on Ben as he's sleeping, or soothe a crying Charlie when he swallows his first lost tooth. 

Forgive-me
In the midst of life we are in death, but it goes both ways, amen.

If I were a better person, I might be feeling, I don't know, different.  A surge of renewed gratitude for what I have.  The drive to make the world a better place in some practical, tangible way.  Or even a respectful solemnity.  I don't know.  None of that's really happening for me.  What I'm experiencing instead is a strengthening of my conviction that we're all connected, we're all in this together, and while nothing solves the problem, exactly -- you can't wish a town back into existence, or ease the loss of a husband and father -- doing something helps.  I know it helps the giver, and I hope it helps the recipients.

Inspired by much better quilters, I'm giving away a quilt.  Unlike their big beautiful offerings, though, mine's a little one, about 40" square, suitable for a baby or young child.

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It's made from a pattern by Elizabeth Hartmann and features a print called Bad Kitty:

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...and it's made of cotton fabric and batting, with a backing of soft polyester plush:

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To enter, just donate $10 or more to the American Red Cross's designated fund.  After donating, come back here and leave a comment with your tracking number.  For every $10 given you'll get one entry into the drawing, so please make it clear in your comment if you've donated more than that.  Please also leave a valid e-mail address in the appointed space so I can contact you if you win.  Next week I'll choose a winner.

Posted by Julie at 02:36 PM | Comments (62)