I flashed the woman behind the counter at Walgreens one warm spring day in 2002.
When I say I “flashed” her, I mean that I lifted my shirt and revealed my torso, bra and all. And when I say “the woman behind the counter at Walgreens,” I mean the pharmacist. And I remember that it was a spring day in 2002 because I was very pregnant with my first child, and I remember that it was warm because the heat was aggravating the very rash for which I was trying, desperately, to get a tube of prescription steroid ointment.
Earlier that month, I’d been having lunch with friends of mine when one of them asked me, “So, why are you rubbing your belly like that all the time? Is the baby kicking?”
I looked down and realized that I’d been rubbing steadily, absentmindedly, at a patch of my 7-months-pregnant belly. When I thought about it, that patch was kind of itchy, and I told him so.
“I bet it’s crazy when your skin gets stretched like that,” he said.
I went home that night and noticed that the stretch marks on my belly were looking strange. They were 3-D now, little valleys on the landscape of my body, and in the area I’d been scratching, a few of them were now home to tiny red dots. I rubbed some cocoa butter into them and went to bed.
Over the course of the next week or two, the red dots spread. I tried more cocoa butter, but it didn’t work. I made sure I moisturized my belly several times a day, but that didn’t help either. It kept getting worse. After a few weeks, I went to see my midwife. She took one look at my abdomen and bit her lower lip.
The house was quiet last Friday night after an evening of happy chaos. My children tucked into bed, I faced the kitchen with resolute attention.
On the stove, a nearly-empty pot of lentil stew was developing a crust. Next to it, the picked-clean brownie pan shone with spray-grease, and a cutting board with the shreds of peeled carrot and the ends of a cucumber was topped with my best chopping knife, visibly dirty. The sink was empty, but clean dishes dripped on a towel on the counter above my humming, hardworking dishwasher. Every measuring cup and spoon in the house awaited me.
I put on some quiet music and hatched a plan. First, set the oven to pre-heat. Get the next set of ingredients ready before you tackle the pots on the stove. Make some tea.
Every moment saved is vital to a mission of importance. I learned this in the years I followed this same set of late-night tactics to feed my family under a set of ridiculous dietary restrictions. In the evenings, I often made snacks, planned the next night’s meal or the next morning’s breakfast. I tried to clean my kitchen every night too, so that even I could start fresh the next morning.
It didn’t change my daughter’s diagnosis if I stayed on top of meal planning and dishes, but it contributed in a different way. When I didn’t do these things, I woke to a set of daunting tasks that kept me from pursuing the bigger issues of my daughter’s health care. If the day started with me unprepared, I played catch-up and my family absorbed that energy, too. Giving my family some sense of normality in what seemed like totally abnormal circumstances meant more work for me, but the results were worth it. As we dealt with a new set of daily routines and limited access to our previous life, whatever I could do to lengthen the fuses of my family had value.
I had to feed my family through that crisis. And now, I’m trying to feed my larger family through what’s to come. Continue Reading…
Holding hands with my eleven-year-old daughter, Sammi, as we walked along the sidewalk earlier this week, my husband and older daughter just ahead of us, I saw bright colored paintings in the window of an art gallery ahead. The Atlantic Ocean to our left going dark and choppy under a setting sun, I called ahead, “Hey, look! Can we go in there and check it out?”
Sammi scampered in ahead of me and immediately said, “Woah!” The gallery was full of the bright colors of several painters working in primary palettes. Big multi-hued dogs and other animals covered one wall, and my daughters immediately spread around the space to look more closely. I started on one side, wandered, admired, turned around, and brought myself back to a particular wall covered by paintings and prints by one particular artist named Fabio Napoleoni. I was drawn to a series with a small mummy-like character — equal parts maudlin and endearing, and always holding a red, misshapen heart. That little character had many small adventures, all involving that heart:
I have spent most of the last two weeks in the grips of a terrible asthma flare, brought on by whatever powerful viral misery has a hold on the country right now. Though I’m not immune to illness — I get what I assume is the average number of colds each year — this one was particularly frightening for me, and I am convinced that it sent cosmic signals out into my community, since three separate friends left bottles of juice on my porch and ran like heck. As I curled under an enormous down blanket and drowned my tickling throat — which threatened constantly to send me into another bizarre, high-pitched coughing fit reminiscent of someone stepping on a puppy — I did little more than watch hours of television and poke half-heartedly at my phone from time to time.
This is not my normal position in the world. My normal life since children has been a patchwork of several kinds of activity: my part-time business in web site design and development (hire me!), childrearing, and housewifery. In the two weeks I spent on hiatus nursing my lungs along, I was able to pull a laptop onto the couch from time to time to douse the fires of my business, and my children managed to handle their own rearing at their ripe ages of 14 and 11. The housewifery, however, fell into the crevices between couch cushions, where it waited, growing funky and fuzzy with neglect.
Of course, I have a partner, a fantastic husband who is always ready to help — and he did. The dishes got done and the lizard got fed; children were driven where they needed to go when I could not summon the strength. However, there were several administrative tasks that I had intended to manage before the end of the year, and they began to weigh as heavily on my chest as the infection I was fighting. When I finally felt up to tackling them, I found it was literally The Last Minute, which, of course, is the most productive minute of any project. The most pressing of these tasks was the one billing-related job I’ve managed in our marriage since our younger daughter, Sammi, was born. This task, coincidentally, was born with her. Continue Reading…
Every day, there’s something new happening that scares me.
In fact, every day, there are multiple things — here in the US, and other places in the world. It feels to me like we are balanced on a saucer held on the index finger of someone walking barefoot across a sea of marbles, and — moment by moment — people are plummeting over the edge. I wake up from my spot nearer to the middle of that saucer than 90% of the people on this planet, and I look at the news and try to decide where I will throw my tiny threads of possibility today.
It feels desperate. On the worst days, it feels ridiculous.
As this year ends, I am reminded of the years that my friends and family made contributions to causes that would likely never, ever affect them. Though I tried not to be a broken record, I did occasionally reach out to friends and family via social media and other means to support the charities working on research, advocacy and support for the conditions with which my daughter suffered. When her primary diagnosis was eosinophilic esophagitis, I asked for support for APFED, The American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders. After she had her second cardiac surgery, we suggested people make donations to Mended Little Hearts. These were good causes — they are good causes, and I’ll continue to support them even though my daughter’s health is no longer affected by these conditions — but the people we asked to contribute or share stories or raise awareness were likely largely oblivious to their existence before my daughter’s diagnosis awakened them.
In the last few weeks, the pitched voices of a number of needs in the wider world and in my community seem to have amplified. Part of that is due to #GivingTuesday, a campaign to encourage charitable giving after the materialistic trifecta of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Part of the onslaught of need has also come out of the recent US presidential election, which has given rise to a level of societal panic I can’t remember seeing ever before in my adult life. Causes about which I care deeply — civil rights, women’s health, the social safety net, immigration and international diplomacy among others — seem to need support more than ever. I find my personal politics pinpointed perfectly as my friends add me to Facebook groups daily, my email inbox fills with requests, and every news story seems to offer me an action item.
This holiday season, there are so many bigger needs than those that affect my family. This holiday season, the needs affect my whole world.
I’m doing a few things differently this season, and while I don’t dare tell anyone reading this that my plan should be theirs, I’m finding it useful to think about what I can do to help in three ways: