Sitting around the sticky table of a local frozen custard shop are my daughters and husband, each of them with a mountain of gooey dessert: piles of custard under clouds of whipped cream and rivers of fudge. My younger daughter, aged 5, is grinning ear-to-ear. I’m snapping pictures like the mother of a baby trying solid food for the first time. At one point, I step outside to breathe the fresh air of a world restored.
For the ten months prior to today, my little girl has been on a path to discovery, she and her team of doctors searching for the food protein that’s causing the strange patches of white blood cells in her esophagus, the patches that were keeping her from swallowing well. For ten months, she’s been avoiding a list of common allergens — dairy, soy, egg, nuts, and wheat — and undergoing tests to see if the culprit could be found. Earlier today, we got the news that only one food was left to be added, since all the others had seemed to cause her no ill. Adding that last food — dairy — means that she can eat out at any restaurant she liked. It means that, for the first time in ten months, we can travel without worrying about her food.
We leave the frozen custard shop and embark immediately on a road trip. We feed her everything she’s been missing: restaurant pancakes with butter and syrup, cheese popcorn, candy bars, pizza, string cheese and yogurt. For the first time in nearly a year, I don’t carry a big insulated bag full of food for her. We rejoice, but under the rejoicing is the knowledge that this is just another food trial. It’s both a first meal and a last — this is the last food trial, and everyone expects it to be a failure.
Many years ago, before I had children, I joined the staff of a large nonprofit organization as what I thought would be a relatively insignificant cog in a mighty machine. Instead, I was surprised when my new boss put me in charge of a committee to plan a big redesign of the organization’s enormous web site. I’d never sat on a committee or even attended a committee meeting before, but my boss said it wasn’t hard. I trusted her.
What followed were were months of meetings and planning sessions. We interviewed vendors, discussed budgets, and were deliberate in our choices. We began the nearly inconceivable task of moving tens of thousands of pages of content from one system into another, page by page, which took hundreds and hundreds of hours. For the unappreciated staff members who were responsible for their departments’ pages, I threw “parties” in our training room and fed them cookies while answering their technical questions. During that time, I went home each night to my first baby, who was born in the early stages of the project’s conception and who turned one just before the new site launched.
The launch was an unmitigated disaster.
The staff was thrilled to have it complete, but we had missed a major consideration. Though we had been thorough amongst ourselves, the organization for which we dozens of staff members worked was a professional association. Our members used this web site for their work — for reference, for activism and advocacy, and for their own teaching tools. They were our most important stakeholders — and we hadn’t asked them a thing about the site before it launched, a fact which they — appropriately — did not take well. After an onslaught of angry emails, the director of the organization flew several board members and a dozen other influential general members to our office on a Saturday. I kissed my baby girl and my husband goodbye and went into the office.
I was 28 years old. I had never met a member of this organization before. I had never been to a board meeting. Continue Reading…
I’ve been thinking about resolution and falling action, lately.
In any compelling story, there is a natural building of intensity that leads, as we all know, to a climax. A couple searches for each other, meets, falls in love, and commits or separates, and they’re left different, marked by their experiences. Or: a world is beset by confrontation and battle, factions emerge, one side is victorious or decimated, and a new world is born. Or: a child is born to a yearning mother, grows sick, struggles, stumbles, regains her footing, and is cured, revealing mother and child older, changed, and almost unrecognizable.
That’s the resolution. What happens next? What is in the falling action of my story, the third story, the one with a once-sick now-well daughter, and a once-frightened now-what mother?
My daughter is eleven now, almost three years past her final surgery, two-and-a-half years past the time she first began eating well, two years past her dismissal from all her specialists, two years past the first major gains in height and weight she’d had since her babyhood. I haven’t had reason — real reason, justifiable reason — to worry about her health in the last two school years.
When my daughters were little — five and two, perhaps — and past the age of napping, I sometimes found myself desperate for any way at all that I could get even a little bit of mid-day sleep. I cleared the lunch plates of their detritus of blueberries, macaroni, and blobs of yogurt, feeling the lethargy settle on me and press my eyelids down even as I heard the first gleefully-shouted requests to go to the park. No way, I thought. No park. I can’t even imagine it. The coats alone…no.
In this, I’m sure I was no different than millions of other at-home moms who begin their day at 5am and race through it until they collapse, bleary-eyed, into their beds at night. These other mothers almost certainly have their own strategies for recharging mid-day; I have friends who used anything from “quiet time in your room” to a walk toward the nearest coffeeshop. I tried some of these things but nothing really worked. If I insisted they stay in their rooms, the constant squealing, questions about “how much longer?” and requests for snacks kept my frustration at a low boil — not very restorative. If we went to the park or out in search of an afternoon treat, I was worn down further by the process of getting everyone ready and out the door and of keeping my squirmy running toddler out of the street.
February is American Heart Month. My social media feed is currently split between political postings and photographs of babies and children with scars I recognize all too well — across the shoulder blade in back or right down the middle in front. Parents and grandparents I’ve met online through our shared journey are posting information about their children’s experiences, their families’ grief or triumph, and ways that their communities can contribute toward better outcomes for anyone born with a congenital heart defect, like my vibrant, finally-healthy daughter Sammi.
These images are unrelenting. They drag me back, every time, away from the image of the grinning, singing girl I kissed goodbye this morning and closer to the sick baby covered in wires and tubes. I negotiate the difference in leaps, then think back on what to say to the parents still in the thick of it. How will they make it to my present-day?
Of course, the other half of my social media feeds are the political posts — assaults on freedom and confusing conflicts everywhere I turn. Truth is under attack there just as it was when I fought for Sammi’s care. Out of the mess tangling over and over itself in the news, however, came a surprise rallying cry intended to shut down a woman’s resolute message. To anyone who has followed US politics, the censure of Senator Elizabeth Warren by Senator Mitch McConnell is likely memorized by now, but for emphasis and clarity, it’s worth repeating:
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
It’s easy to turn this into a rallying cry for women, in general. So often, this is our only path to success, whether we’re discussing the fight for suffrage, land ownership, birth control, or just a seat at the board room table. What many women don’t know, however, is that infuriating as those indignities are, when what is at stake is our children’s lives, persisting is not a choice. It is an instinct. Continue Reading…