Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from Little Warrior

Champagne wishes and lollipop dreams for 2010. Little Warrior, Lizard Eater, and all the rest wish you a Happy, HEALTHY, New Year.

Goodbye 2009 and Thanks for All the Gifts!

For many, 2009 has been a rough year. Goodbye and Good Riddance, they say. I've had those years myself.

For us, 2009 has been great. Fabulous. Superlative.

Good stuff out the yin-yang. Wish trip to Disney. I got to meet my "twin." Trip with my family to New Mexico. Amped up my schooling. I said "Yes" to a lot. Wonderful things happened. Trip to New Orleans. Front row seats at the Nutcracker. Clear scans. Clear scans. Clear scans. And a need for glasses.

Of course, there were bad things, too. My mom had a heart attack, but she's fine now. I lost my godfather. Joy and woe are woven together fine.

As much as don't want cancer to define Little Warrior, or us, or our lives ... it has succeeded in defining the years since it appeared at our house.

2005: LW born. Great year.
2006: First diagnosis. Bad year.
2007: Clear scans. Back to school. Good year.
2008: Recurrence. Bad year.
2009: Clear Scans. Good stuff. Great year.

Little Warrior goes to play school two days a week. There, she's mastered patterns. Red tile, blue tile, red tile, blue tile. What comes next? we ask. "Red tile," she says.

It is difficult not to see a pattern in these years, difficult not to ask, "What comes next?"

Silly, of course. Nonsensical. Life is not that even, not that balanced. And there was good stuff in the bad years, too.

Yet part of me wants to hold on, kicking and screaming, like a 3 year old to his mommy's leg, to 2009. "Don't go! Don't go!"

And to 2010, the interloper, I look at it, wary. "I don't want to change things, I just want to be your friend," it says. "Yeah, prove it," I think inside.

Instead, I take a deep breath and say, "Goodbye 2009. You were wonderful and it's hard to see you go."

I take a deep breath and with what I hope is a warm smile, I turn to the new guest. "Hello 2010 and welcome ... looking forward to all the wonderful things you'll bring!"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

7 days

The Husband and I haven't had that much of a Christmas, nor Thanksgiving either, of our own choosing. In early November, we talked with the children about the gifts they received last year, many of which had been disappointing. We have a large playroom, with stained carpet, that seemed to be a perpetual mess. "What if," we proposed, "this year, our gift to you was a new playroom. A new floor, and we'd find a way to organize it so it was easier to keep neat. And maybe you could even ask Santa for his help with it."

Amazingly, they agreed to what was little more than a promise for a new floor and some cubbys. With enthusiasm, they each asked Santa for one small toy, and for him to help Mom and Dad with some things for a new playroom.

The Husband and I put a lock on the door before Thanksgiving, and began working our hearts out. Laminate on the floor, purged all the broken and unplayed-with toys, old game boards up as decoration on the walls, new game boards in a cabinet. (Once you realize that there's really no value in keeping the boxes, and you can instead put game pieces in baggies in a bin, and file game boards like books, it's amazing how many games can fit in a small cabinet.) Every evening, while the children watched Rudolph and Frosty downstairs, we worked.

December 23, we both realized something. Little Warrior's eyes were crossing. Almost immediately, we each had another realization. That it is rare, but Wilms' Tumor can relapse in the brain.

"It's subtle, not dramatic. I think we should wait until after Christmas. Give them a good Christmas. In case."

Somberly, The Husband said that he agreed completely.

7:30 am Dec. 25, we staggered out our bedroom as the children tumbled down the stairs. Santa came! Their stockings were stuffed and each had a couple of presents from Santa! Hmm. Perhaps Santa had decided not to help with the game room?

After ransacking our stockings, we went upstairs. The tv, about 15 years old, was outside the door. What the ... ?

We opened the door. In addition to all of our work, Santa had been there. He left a new tv. And Beatles Rock Band. And some videos and games.

I expected the children to be jumping up and down. Nope. Silently, barely breathing, they walked slowly around the room. For the first time ever, my children were speechless. "I'm overwhelmed," The Boy said.

And then ... Little Warrior sat down at the craft table. Bo Peep at the desk. And The Boy and The Princess sat down at what used to be their grandfather's chess table, and began playing.

Temporary insanity?

Eventually we made our way back downstairs for homemade cinnamon rolls and the rest of the presents from other family members.

Christmas afternoon arrived, bringing it with Lala and Pop Pop, our "adopted" grandparents, as well as The Hysteric Cleric and Mrs. Hysteric. Tofurkey and dry-brined turkey, agave carrots and potato gnocci. Wonderful company to be with, a party all around. And more presents, of course, including a very special book passed on from the HC from his library to mine.

Christmas evening comes and we can settle down now, just the family, in our new game room. "Bo Peep, go get me a towel from the laundry room," I instructed her. She came back, her mouth agape. "There's ... there's more presents, in the laundry room." "What's she talking about?" asked The Husband. "Y'all go down and help her," he told her siblings. They ran out and we giggled.

For the previous two weeks, had run lightening deals on tons of games, selling them for 4.99. "I'm not getting anymore," I would inform the husband, and then they'd run another that was just too irresistible. We wrapped them all, and hid them in the laundry room, deciding on Christmas Eve that it would be more fun to wait until Christmas night to give them. We were right. "Monopoly!" "Clue!" "Guesstures!" "Trouble!"

We watched It's a Wonderful Life and cuddled with the children. And if we each hugged Little Warrior just a little harder and a little longer, it wasn't noticed by anyone.

Saturday, Sunday, holiday things and cleaning and leftovers. They wanted their friends to see the new playroom. Sunday night, The Boy could invite two friends to spend the night, then the next night The Princess, and so on. We dearly hoped.

Monday morning, woke up. Fears I had tried to basket up for the holiday were tumbled all around me now. I waited til the office would open, then called the pediatrician. She wouldn't be in all week, so I agreed to see the floating doctor. In the waiting room, in the tall high-rise, I noticed a ladybug crawling on the arm of LW's chair. A sign? A good sign? Or a sign to be strong? Superstitions are never clear in these cases. We were called back to see the Floater Doctor.

She gazed into LW's eyes. She didn't see anything, but one eye, she couldn't get the refraction she was looking for. Did I want her to call LW's oncologist or ... "I'll call," I said.

At home, I called to leave a message for Dr. Onc. "Hello," he answered, in person. I explained. "Before an MRI, let me have her see a special opthamologist who's here at the hospital." He promised to call right back. He did. "Tomorrow, 1 pm," he said, in his clipped, Indian accent. Half an hour later, he called back. "We were able to move things, so your appointment is now at 10 am." He didn't have to explain. I knew. If things went bad at the opthamologist, there would still be time for scans in the afternoon.

The Princess had her friend spent Monday night, after the friend's mom said it was fine that I would leave early in the morning, leaving them with The Boy. Make hay while the sun shines, thought I. The Husband came home. He had talked to his mother about when he had an eye patched, as a kid. "Maybe it's the same thing," he said hopefully.

Bo Peep wanted to invite her friend for Tuesday night. "Let's wait til after the doctor appointment," I said vaguely.

Woke up early. Made coffee. Fed LW, mentally calculating at what hour she could safely get anesthesia in case of MRI.

Drove to the hospital. Passed all the same things I have passed for the last three years. Got close. Got teary. Bitched at myself to suck it up, soldier. One message beat with my every heart beat: I do not want to be here again. I was not referring to physical location.

Wait wait wait for the doctor. Get teary. Get hyperventilatey. Pull out iPhone to look at anything. Check email ... perhaps there's a message from God letting me know everything will be fine? Got God's "out of the office" automatic responder. iPhone Air Hockey. Winner. Winner. Winner. Read waiting room books to LW. "Mama, you're holding me toooo tight!"

Our turn. Sitting in the patient chair, LW looks across the room. She correctly identifies what's on the screen. Covers the "good" eye. Can't read most of it. Hmm. Is that good or bad?

Old, experienced, kindly opthamologist comes in. He talked to our onc. He knows what is at stake. He examines her and turns to me. "I think it is an eye problem," he says. "Not a neurological problem." He smiles at me, but adds, "But I need to dilate her eyes, and then I will see you in half an hour."

Drops. Waiting. LW is bored. And then, it is our turn to go back. The Kindly Opthamologist looks and looks into each eye. He holds different things up to her eyes. "I am going to write some terms down for you," he explains. "You can google them when you get home." Apparently my reputation has preceded me.

LW is far-sighted. When her eyes try to focus, she looks cross-eyed. Some cute glasses, and she should be good as new. He'll see her again in a month.

I can't hide my tears of happiness, relief, gratitude. "Am I your only patient's mother to be so thrilled her daughter needs glasses?" He chuckles. "Oh, even parents who haven't gone through what you have, if they see crossed eyes, they think, 'brain tumor.'"

I had not told anyone. Not my parents, not the BFF-DRE nor the Hysteric Cleric, no Facebook, no blogging. Too many people are invested in my little girl. No need to make them worry.

Now, I let them all know. Now, like my mother, even though she hadn't known to be worried, she and they can feel relief.

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Things That Matter to Me, Christmas Edition

This tree.

It is made of propofol bottles. When she was getting radiation, we met a gruff anesthesiologist in his 80s. He had retired, but came out of retirement to do anesthesiology for the radiation patients. See, the only people who need anesthesiology for radiation are those under the age of about 5. So every morning, he comes in and works a few hours, for those “special” patients who are all scheduled first thing in the morning.

The most common anesthesia is propofol. His nurse explained that he takes all the empty propofol bottles, cleans them, runs them through the sterilizer, then takes them home. He and his wife glue them together with special glass glue, stuff them with tinsel and Christmas lights, back the whole thing with a special Christmas Tree shaped piece of felt, and give the trees he’s made all year to the pediatric patients he sees in December.

Little Warrior was treated in May. But she got one anyway.

You can keep your Fitz and Floyd, your Spode. This glass tree holds a place of honor in our household.

This crèche.

The BFF-DRE’s father made this for me, at her request. Each piece hand-carved, carefully put together. Each piece came in one of Dad’s old socks, gathered by the BFF-DRE’s mom, to keep them unscratched.

But see, that’s how the BFF-DRE’s family is. My house is full of mouthless teddy bears (so you can tell them anything when your sister is going through chemo, and they’ll never tell a soul), heating pads, baby blankets and other goodies, all made by the BFF-DRE’s mom. There’s one reason the BFF-DRE feels called to serve the world. Did I mention that the BFF-DRE’s father “retired” … and stays busy busy busy with Habitat for Humanity? Apple.Tree. Not far.


It’s taken different sizes through the years, but I am not ashamed to say that it’s also a big part of our Christmas season. Poor kitchen table, during December, it sees us only at breakfast time or when we’re cooling cookies. The rest of the time, we’re in the living room for meals. Meet Me in St. Louis, Christmas Vacation, It’s a Wonderful Life, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Only one is my Moby Dick, and that is the original of A Christmas Memory, with Truman Capote doing the voice-over. (Reportedly slowed-down, because his natural voice was so so high. Apparently the master tapes have been lost. So sad.

But there are others to fill the gap. Polar Express, Elf, The Grinch (the original), A Christmas Story. Rudolph. Frosty. sigh. Home Alone. The Husband likes his humor of the Three Stooges type.
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. You don’t want some Razzleberry Gravy? REALLY?

So I'm not ashamed to say it. This time of year, I'm thankful for our TV.

A Christmas Feast

Not a meal, it's a book, long since lost its cover. My mother gave it to me Christmas of 1979 and it's filled with all the familiar Christmas stories to thrill a little girl's heart. "Yes Virginia," and "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," and Gift of the Magi and A Christmas Carol in Prose and "Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy AND a penny. There had never been such a Christmas." And some other, less familiar, but no less wonderful stories, like Agatha Christie's "The Water Bus." Oh, it's so wonderful. Read it, please. And "The Peterkins' Christmas Tree." A family who gets a Christmas tree and it's taller than the ceiling ... so they cut a hole in the ceiling! Fancy that!

Every December, I crack it open again to read a couple of these familiar friends.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The "Hollywood Ending" of Job

I have learned so much from my calls-himself-a-conservative-Christian-but-acts-like-a-liberal-theologian professor in my Old Testament class this year. “Comfortable with the ambiguity” is a phrase he uses about himself. Love it. I did not have to leave logic or reason at the door.

Upon one thing, however, we are in profound disagreement. And it is not so much a theological difference as a philosophical one.


Specifically, the ending of Job. We’re both fans of the book. He, however, sees the ending of Job as a Hollywood ending, tacked on, that negates the rest of the book.

Boy, do I disagree. I think it’s real, and not Hollywood. I think it gives hope, yes, but legitimate hope.

So, Job has gone through all his pain and catastrophe. He has sat on a garbage heap, scratching his sores with broken pottery. What a picture.

He survived his asshat friends asking him what he did wrong.

He has even survived the wrath of God for daring to ask God, “Why me???”

And his life takes another turn. He has more children. He has wealth. He has friends who come and love him. He lives to be old. I think it fair to say that he finds joy again.

Does that mean he doesn’t continue to mourn the children he has lost? Does that mean he doesn’t struggle with the knowledge that it can all be taken away again? I think not.

But he lives life again.

I don’t think this is a Hollywood ending. I think this is life, or it can be.

So many times, we have a wonderful phase of life. And then we have an excruciatingly bad time. Catastrophe. We feel like Job. We feel everything has been stripped away.

I do not count myself in this group. Little Warrior is alive and playing in another room. I have lost innocence, sure. I have lost time. But I have not lost everything, not even remotely close.

But I have seen my parents go through it. I have seen other friends, including my dear friend L who lost a son to leukemia years ago and was an angel sent to help me during LW’s first bout with the beast.

They’ve gone through feeling that life was not worth living, and never would be again. And yet … life returned. Joy returned.

As my friend L said to me, at one of the very worst moments, “You will get through this.”

I have seen others go through catastrophe – having to leave a partner who had mentally changed into someone else – and never quite recover. Losing a life they built. They say to themselves, “I have had my great joy. And now it is over. It will not come again.” They do not allow themselves to fully live again.

Job refutes that. The book of Job says, you can get through this. And life can be good again.

But you have to get through it. You have to say, I am not going to live the rest of my life in the shadow. I’m going to grab life and find meaning again.

I believe that happy endings are possible. But I also believe they take us making the choice, to say, “Yes. I will live. And I will live fully. Intentionally. And I will honor the gift of life by embracing it.” With all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.


Friday, December 18, 2009

The Right Way to Do Christmas

Lotsa talk about the “right” way to do Christmas – how to sing the songs, what kind of cards to send, what to buy, what to eat, what to do.

I come from a long line of “doing it wrong” Christmases, so these things don’t bother me. Plus, I actually make fruitcake* some years, and always send out a printed holiday letter. We’ve been sending out photo cards for 15 years, back before kids, when it was just us and two cats we’d affixed antlers to. You gotta have thick skin to do those subversive things. (Thick skin helps with putting antlers on a cat, too.)

One of my favorite memories is from the Christmas I was pregnant with The Boy. The Husband and I were in our little Austin house, my sister had just moved there, and The Husband’s younger sister had come for the holiday.

We knew that the next day was going to be a challenge. I won’t get into all the details, other than to say family members were coming in, and there was an affair everyone knew about, and a mean grandmother and …. well, you get the picture.

But Christmas Eve, it was just the 4 of us. At some point, we decided to go downtown and take a carriage ride up and down Congress Ave. What fun! We were singing some of our favorite holiday songs – Merry Christmas from the Family, Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas, and others of that ilk.

Our carriage driver was not pleased. “Look at the other carriages!” she hissed at us. “They’re singing things like ‘Silent Night.’”

See. We were doing it wrong. And having a blast.

Back home about 10:30 pm. I remember the time, because I pulled out my guitar and we began singing more songs. For some reason, about 11:15, I started improv-ing a song about the next day’s festivities. It was bad. REALLY bad. Have I mentioned that the affair-person’s name was Rick? Which very conveniently rhymes with what we thought of him that year.

To quote Arlo Guthrie – “Hey, I knew it wasn’t the best song I’d ever wrote.”

They kept goading me on. At some point, they decided that it would be real cool if I continued riffing until midnight. My fingertips have never quite been the same.

The next day happened and it was, indeed, stilted, stiff, and not great.

But that Christmas Eve was fabulous.

On the “right” way to do Christmas, I just laugh. Because I have my things, too. Thank goodness both The Husband and I came from families that opened presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. That might have been a deal breaker, there. There are certain things that really matter to me. But that’s a post for another day.

* It’s a dried apple cake soaked in brandy and it’s fabulous, too.

Singing ... for non-singers

Unapologetic product plug ahead, but bigger questions/issues to follow. Do you know anything about singing meditaton?

I've kind of used the "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace ..." as a singing meditation, especially with my children. Then a friend brought my attention to a book she has out now.

You can also listen to some of the clips.

Listening to the clips, it felt very familiar. I was in a "goddess group" (we jokingly called ourselves the "Chocolotta Coven") some years ago. It was pretty laid back -- we'd sit in comfy chairs around a coffee table/altar, nothing High-Pagan about this, no robes, rarely a planned-out ritual. One of the things we'd do was chant and sing. No rhyme or reason -- one person would start with one, we'd sing that for a while, then another would begin a different one. I never felt self-conscious or weird -- we were all there because we wanted to be. And it was laid-back and comfortable.

Anyway, the chants/songs definitely enhanced the experience. I have to admit, I have a low comfort level for ... oh, what would I call it? Well, mentally, I call it "frolicking," based on a time many years ago, when those leading a spring church service announced, "Okay, now we're going to go out into the parking lot for a Spring Frolic!" There are people who can do that sort of thing with no inhibitions, no self-consciousness. I am not one.

I think it holds me back in some ways, and I'm working on that. Not so that I can frolic in the parking lot. But so that I don't let the outer "woo woo" trappings close me off from experimenting with things that may enhance my own spiritual practice and development. I mean, the thing I love most at church right now is our "Deep Listening" group. It took a little time to feel comfortable in the silence.

So I think I'm going to have to check this singing meditation out. Seems like a great idea for a covenant group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Posole and Conversation

I am getting more and more like my father as I get older. It would probably be better for me if I were instead getting more like my mother -- she is genteel, dignified, and never leaves the house without a perfectly accessorized outfit and a list of errands and items needed. But instead, I leave the house to take LW to playschool, intending on returning straight home, only to get a thought of this or that and then find myself at Fiesta, looking for posole, clad in a velour jogging suit.

My father has a habit of getting into conversations with strangers, which makes my mother roll her eyes, and used to embarrass me. Well, now I am the one in those conversations. Now, sometimes, it's not my fault. People just come up and talk to me. The Husband swears this never happens to him. He is, however, 75% deaf, and thinks that I talk to him far less that I actually do. So it's possible there are many people wondering about that cute man who completely ignored them in the grocery store.

Anyway, so I am in our local Mexican grocery, looking for fresh posole, when a very nicely dressed lady addressed me. "They don't have the After Eight mints. Isn't that crazy? This is the time you need them!" We chatted a bit about After Eight mints. See now, I didn't initiate that one.

But I am completely culpable for the next. I was on a different aisle, loading up on Ibarra Mexican drinking chocolate tablets and picking up another molinillo, when I overheard a nice white lady asking a store employee about an enchilada sauce. "It's not a red sauce. We can't eat red sauce anymore. But it's on enchiladas."

The employee, confused, was directing her towards some instant mixes. I couldn't help myself. I spoke up. "What you want is 'chili gravy.' You can find a recipe for it online." I added, "If you don't find what you want in the mixes." She won't. There's no such thing as a chili gravy mix.

The lady responded, "It's not red sauce." She looked at me suspiciously, the way any normal person would look at a red headed white woman in a black velour jogging suit, who thought she knew better than the Mexican employee.

"Yes," I answered. "But are you looking for a brown sauce? That goes on Tex-Mex enchiladas?"

"Yes," she said.

"It's called 'chili gravy.' There's no meat in it, but that's what it's called. You start like you're making a regular gravy ..." She and I discussed the details.

I continued filling up my basket -- stuff for a Texas care package for the California relatives, some Zatarain's for our Christmas shrimp cocktail, a cream cheese empanada for me, since I forgot to eat breakfast, as I didn't know I was going to be running errands this morning.

I ran into the white lady a few rows later. She was looking at the mixes. "I'm going to look for that recipe," she promised me, guiltily.

Well, she will or she won't. There are those of us who get our answers from strangers in the grocery store, and those who don't.

I never did find that posole.

Robb Walsh's Chili Gravy Recipe, via Homesick Texan