Hello? (tap tap tap) Is this thing on?

Gracious heavens, y’all, it’s been nearly a year since I’ve updated. I’m so ashamed of myself. Last week I was going through an old notebook I found and found stuff I’d written about ten years ago — utterly banal stuff, like a tally of a yard sale a friend and I had in Chicago, a Christmas list, a list of books I found on Amazon that I wanted to check the library for — but it was FASCINATING to me because it was such a little snapshot of my life at that time. I KNOW I will miss knowing anything about the past year, ten years from now, but I have had a hard time working up the motivation to sit down and write. It’s been a difficult year. Let’s kick this post off with a State of the Union address.

The Good. 

These children are five years old. FIVE. How did that happen? We had a surprise birthday party for the fifth birthday. Probably not the best idea. This is what they looked like when they walked into the skating rink to find twenty of their family and friends yelling “surprise” at them:

Point taken: perhaps five years old is a little early for the surprise factor. They DID warm up to it seconds afterwards.

It was a GREAT party. The main reason we kept it a surprise was that we weren’t inviting their pre-school class — and I knew if we told them about the party, they would talk it up at school, and I didn’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt about not being invited. I’m just downright uncomfortable with those all-class parties for a variety of reasons, not the very least is my crippling social anxiety. So I wimped out and just did family and close friends.

They will be going into kindergarten in August, and I do not know what to think about it. Of course I’m thrilled at the prospect of all of that free time (although, of course, I will be searching diligently for a job, since the lack of daycare needs means I can consider lower-paying jobs than I could before) but I’m also surprised to find myself uneasy about the prospect of handing them off to someone else to take care of for seven hours a day, away from me, where I can’t monitor what’s being taught or said. I KNOW, RIGHT? I sound like a crazy person. I never expected to feel like this. Justin has already started feeling uneasy about the amount of “Pink is for girls” and “boys don’t do THAT” Jack has been bringing home lately, which we can only attribute to what’s going on at pre-school, since we’re both so careful not to categorize stuff like that. We’re really getting ready to move into the territory where what’s taught at home may be in opposition to what they’re hearing from teachers or kids at school, and it makes me nervous as crap. Skills-wise, though, we’re in good shape: Emme got tired of Jack getting all of the attention for reading early and she taught herself to read. Get this: she started turning on the subtitles when she watched TV — Justin is convinced this is how she learned. However she did it — sheer force of will or dark magic powers — she can read just about anything you put in front of her, as can Jack. I am REALLY proud of this fact, even though I try really, really hard not to act like I am, because I don’t want to be one of THOSE parents, so we didn’t really say anything to the pre-school teachers about it, although the lead teacher asked at the mid-school year conference if I knew Jack was reading some words and I said, oh, yes, he can read, then bit my tongue from saying anything else. One day, when I came to pick them up, the other teacher grabbed my arm in the hallway and said, “Emme can READ.” I said, yes, yes, I know, we’re thrilled, and she said, “NO. You don’t understand, she can READ. She read every word I put in front of her!” so I have figured out that when you tell someone your four-year-old can read, they think, oh, they’ve learned some sight words. But these kids are reading freaking chapter books and WHY YES I AM BRAGGING OKAY? This is really not that astonishing — Justin and I both read early (I read at 3, Justin claims he read in utero) and while their father is a certifiable genius, I am not that smart, so, eh, this could really go either way after this point so I AM TAKING THE WINS WHEN I CAN. They’re doing well with writing, as well, though we’re about to embark on some practice on a daily basis because they’re still having trouble writing on lines and keeping their words together/apart, depending on what’s required. They grasp concepts pretty quickly (tonight, Jack explained why the moon was red during an eclipse to me which, I didn’t know or had forgotten at some point along the way HEY I SEE YOU MAKING THAT FACE AT ME) and Justin has taught them A LOT. Emme seems particularly engaged in, and quick at, math, which thrills me, because I was (and am) worthless at math. They are getting speech therapy twice a week to correct a few issues they have with some sounds, and the therapists think they’ll be on track by the beginning of the summer. And Jack finally learned how to skip. In short, I am pretty at ease with their kindergarten readiness.

When they are not being whiny or stubborn or oppositional (so, say, 20% of the time???) they are hilarious little human beings who adore each other (tonight, I heard Emme scream from the bathroom, “Jack! I’m out of toilet paper!” and in runs Jack to save the day, after which, Emme said “You’re the sweetest boy EVER”) the majority of the time and abhor each other (fisticuffs, hair pulling, hiding each other’s toys) a small minority of the time. Emme is the boss, which is one reason we are not so broken up about the idea of them being separated in Kindergarten — Mr. Jack needs to start forging his own way and making his own decisions sooner rather than later.

They giggle — a lot. Today, at lunch, while I was checking my e-mail, I heard them talking about something that led to a bout of out-of-control giggling and when I asked, “hey, what are you guys talking about,” Emme answered, “it’s okay, Mommy, you don’t need to know.” !!!!!!!!!! That means mommy probably definitely, certainly needs to know.

I ran into my friend Kristie at the thrift store tonight, and she ran out to the car to give the kids (who were waiting with me with Justin) a quarter each. When we were walking into the house tonight, their quarters clasped in their sweaty little hands, Jack started listing all of the people who give them things: Shara, Kristie, Bailey, Ms. Parrot, Miss Mary Ann, Grandma, Nisi, Pop…he said, “we have a lot of people who give us things.” And Emme said, “some people don’t have anyone to give them things,” and I was like BINGO, please freeze this moment and promise me that she is being sincere and not just saying what she knows I want to hear. We’re working so hard to get them to be grateful and realize how lucky they are. It’s so hard, in this lily-white, fairly prosperous town, to explain to them that there are other people who don’t look like they do, or who believe different things about religion, or who come from different countries or cultural backgrounds, or who don’t have as much as we do, and our job in life is to realize we are all the same and we are only who we are (and where we are) out of pure luck and we need to offer help where we’re needed.

They went to their first play last weekend: we took them to the High School’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Justin’s drama teacher from high school was in it (he’s the chair of the department there) and he took us up on stage and introduced us to the cast after the show — the kids were in AWE. Emme ADORED the show and almost never lost focus, while Jack was a little more squirmy and a bit whiny about halfway though. I think we have enough evidence to say that Emme is prooooooooooooobably going to have a flair for the dramatic.

They are lovely, loving, bright little balls of energy.

The Bad.

They have been in a phase for about the last year that is particularly wearing on my patience: they’re definitely pushing the envelope every chance they get, especially Emme, who seems to be acting a part in a play going on inside her head a lot of the time. (Things are going along fine. You say, Emme, go wash your hands, dinner is almost ready, and she SCREAMS back “I DON’T WANT TO WASH MY HANDS” and stamps her feet like one of the bad girl orphans in a stage production of Annie.) Jack continues to have periods of hyperactivity where it’s difficult to reason him back to normalcy — these are linked to periods when he’s particularly tired, and we did have him evaluated at the place they’re getting their speech therapy, and it all check out normal, so I’m assuming this is just…how a five-year-old boy acts, I guess? The quality they both share that I am the MOST grateful for is that, if one is acting out on a particular day, the other one reigns it in and is a model child. As long as they continue to do that, I’ll be okay.

This has been a bad season for sickness — they’ve both been sick, repeatedly, and even missed a lot of school. Emme, in particular, seems prone to upper respiratory ailments and holds on to a cough for very long periods of time. Justin feels sure that she’s got his allergies and I’m starting to agree, since her cough seems worse when Justin’s having trouble and she doesn’t really ever get sicker, and there’s no fever associated with the cough. Bless her heart, some nights she’ll cough for an hour or longer and the only thing we can do is lie there and listen.

Emme is still doing that thing where she makes mean faces at kids that she arbitrarily passes like, at the library, or in the grocery store. Her first instinct seems to be animosity. She has a lot of anger in her, I’m afraid, which makes me anxious, because I’m scared she’s picked it up from me, after this year-long episode with depression I’ve been experiencing. She’s still not being very nice to her niece, who is younger than she is, despite the lectures and timeouts after examples of bad behavior. The other day, when we were visiting our friend Mrs. Parrot on our Meals on Wheels Route, I was talking to the caregiver while keeping an eye on Emme across the room, who was trying to tell Mrs. Parrot a joke. Emme was asking, “why did the chicken cross the road” but Mrs. Parrot, who is hard of hearing, didn’t understand it was a joke, and instead of answering back, “I don’t know, why?” as Emme was clearly expecting her to, she just smiled at Emme and turned her head. Emme’s face: murderous. I was worried her feelings would be hurt but no, she was FURIOUS. I explained to her in the car that the problem was that older people sometimes have trouble hearing but it really bothered me that it made her so angry. She’s only five. I know it could be just a stage. Still, Jack seems softer, and more empathetic, and notices a lot when people are sad or upset. He also has more anxiety than she does, and is scared of odd things, like the shapes shadows make on his bedroom wall and places with very high ceilings (where did this one come from??). Of course, it seems clear to me that I have royally screwed both of our children up, which brings us to…

The Ugly.

(Thus follows a long, dramatic passage full of navel-gazing about the past year. Feel free to skip!)

I am on what I’m pretty sure is the tail end of a pretty significant depressive episode that has lasted about eight months. I think it’s the tail end because 1. I’m actually having conversations with my husband again after months of not wanting to talk to anyone and 2. Getting out of bed has become much easier and 3. I feel as though there is a chance things might get better, eventually and 4. I was actually motivated enough to sit down and write this post.

There is no surprise to the fact that I ended up in a hole the way I did — there are plenty of factors.

  • My dad died. (DUH.) This is, of course, the most significant factor, and the one, I think, that was the catalyst for pulling me down as far as I was. But before that…
  • I left a job I loved and moved to a place where, it has become increasingly clear, I probably won’t find a comparable job doing the same thing. I am an incredibly anxious person, and a large part of my anxiety stems from the fact that there are terrible things that happen to people in this world that I can do nothing about. Working at a school where the poverty rate was 95%+, where I was helping kids get through high school and go on to college, helped mitigate that part of my anxiety because I felt like I was, at least, doing what I could do to make things better. Then, suddenly, I wasn’t.
  • I moved to a place where I had no social network and no new job in which I would find a readily-available, pre-formed social network. Instead, my co-workers were two two-year-olds (who were routinely dissatisfied with my job performance) and there were many, many days when my husband was the first adult I talked to when he walked through the door at 5:30. That has slowly changed over the years as I became closer to my friend Shara (who I truly would be lost without) and have semi-daily phone calls with my friend Kristie (who can make me laugh on the darkest days) and made other junking friends, as well as when I made contacts via Facebook after becoming active in some community activism, but I am still fairly isolated on a daily basis.
  • I am not good at stay-at-home-momming. I’m just not. In perfect circumstances, it would be a challenge for me — but depressed? I’m a horrible parent. And it’s an endless, vicious cycle, as the depression makes me impatient and aloof and angry, which I can see affects the kids, which makes me feel guilty and horrible, which makes me feel more depressed, which makes me impatient and aloof and angry…rinse, repeat.
  • The reason I moved away from a city, job, and friends I loved never really materialized: the initial deal had been that my parents were going to move to Fayetteville (where my brother and his family also live) in the year after Justin and I did. My family moved far away from our extended family shortly after I was born, and never lived closer than within twelve hours of them until my parents moved back to Arkansas when I graduated from high school. I adored my grandparents and hated that I only saw them once a year. When we had the kids, the idea that they could grow up in the same town with their grandparents, uncles, and cousins, something that I had wanted so badly when I was a child, was irresistible. Unfortunately, my parents changed their plans, and though my father tried desperately to finalize the move shortly before he died, there just wasn’t enough time. We probably saw him more often than we would have had we stayed in Chicago, but it was not the close relationship that I had dreamed about — and the finality of his loss and how it related to the loss of this wish was devastating.  There are a variety of reasons why, but this move did not give me the result I was expecting. I’m still grateful that I was here for his last year, but it has been difficult for me to let go of the (probably unrealistic) dream of what living in the same town with family members would look like.
  • My Dad’s last weeks were excruciating. I am still having terrible flashes where I will remember him trying to tell me something, over and over, that I couldn’t understand because of the oxygen mask, or that awful night when the itching was bothering him so badly, or the even worse night where his pain was so horrible and there was nothing to do but stand beside him and cry. Will these go away? They seem to only get more and more intense, as though the months immediately following his death offered a sort of numbness and shock that protected me from the harshness of the memories. When they hit, I second-guess all of my choices, all of my reactions, and wonder and worry that there was something else I could have done to make him more comfortable or to ease his pain.

Y’all, I’m telling you, it’s been a straight-up horror show up here in my head, for a while now.

A brief presentation on how this depression has manifested itself:

  • Once the kids demonstrated they could they could get up by themselves, get breakfast, and occupy themselves without killing each other, my reason for getting out of bed first thing in the morning was gone and it became increasingly difficult to get out of bed at all. Guilt was about the only thing that motivated me to drag myself up.
  • I could meet the day with the best of intentions only to wilt at the first sign of argument or opposition from one of the kids, and whatever plan I had initially — to practice hand-writing, or go to the library — flew out the window and I decided it would be a “movie day” where we do nothing but watch movies and eat popcorn.
  • I couldn’t talk. Like, at all. Particularly dark periods would find me saying only the words that were necessary to the kids and a handful of words to my husband.
  • Many days I just wanted to sit and stare. Impossible, with two five-year-olds. Which made me irritable and angry. But then again, everything made me irritable and angry.
  • I have a crippling social anxiety that I have never had before. I have never been entirely at ease in situations where I was meeting new people but these days it sends me into paroxysms of terror. In January, I decided that getting out of the house was what I needed to do and, in a fit of manic energy one day, signed up to be on a committee for the local school system and volunteered to tutor middle school kids twice a week. I quit them both within a month because being around other people, especially people I didn’t know, was making me miserable.
  • I have no energy. None. No motivation. The only reason I’ve been able to keep up with the booths for the last eight months is because I feel an obligation to the folks that own the stores they’re in.
  • I’ve gained about 15 pounds and nothing I’m doing is helping solve that problem. I joined a gym, both for the weight issue and also because I know exercise can be helpful to combat depression, and managed to go on a fairly regular basis for about a month. We went up to Little Rock to help mom pack up her kitchen for four days and I haven’t been back to the gym since. I know the bigger issue is diet, but, man, it’s really, really hard to eat well when you’re bummed out a majority of the time.
  • The guilt of how I’ve let this mood disorder dictate my life and deprive my kids of an involved, attentive, fully-loving parent for the last eight months and the guilt of how I’ve left Justin standing on the sidelines, helpless and hurting and wondering how to help me  is killing me and perpetuating the cycle of depression.

Over the past month, I’ve started to have strings of good days, rather than one good day here and there. I wake up and see blue skies, which makes the mornings where I wake up and see the hovering grey clouds all the more frustrating, because I’ve had a taste of the sunshine, I know it’s there, and I can’t figure out how to access it again. I know enough to know that my depression is primarily situational, borne out of the events of the last three years, but I know that it’s also the result of a hormonal or chemical imbalance because 1. this runs in my family 2. I’ve experienced it before and 3. there is probably some degree of perimenopausal depression going on here because, hey, I’m of that age. Now that I’m starting to feel more energized and motivated, I’m going to schedule an appointment for some blood work and Justin is talking to some contacts from work to get the names of some counselors I can choose from. I want to start going back to the gym, and if I can manage that (they have a little kids’ area that the kids really like), and I can start talking to someone on a regular basis, and make sure there’s nothing in the blood work that requires medication, I THINK I will be back on the path to blue skies the majority of the time. And the fact that I can even type that sentence tells me that I have made progress, hoo boy, have I made progress, because even a month ago that was not my outlook on life.

As I said, I have gone through depression before, long before I had kids, and it was horrible, but it is so much worse now that I have two little people of whom I am the sole person in charge. The weight of that crushes me on the bad days. But let me be clear: I am LUCKY. I have a nice house, plenty of food to eat, a husband who does everything within his power to support me, I am safe, my kids are safe. I can’t stop thinking of people going through this who are struggling financially, or who have serious health issues, or whose spouses have serious health issues, or…the list is endless. I’m focusing on the positive. I’m glad I’m to a place where I am able to focus on the positive.

I hope this isn’t too personal and too dark of information to put on here — but I felt an explanation was needed for what the past year has held and once I started writing it kind of just came out. I hope that things are on an uptick and there will be much more about the kids and much less about me from this point forward! My goal is to start updating regularly, so now that I’m over the hurdle of the first post in a year, I’ll try to make that happen.

As always, thanks for reading. Especially if you made it this far. 🙂


Summer in the….not-City.

We had a weird spring here in Arkansas. It was cool until very late in the season — more like a Chicago spring than a Fayetteville spring — and then it rained every day and every night for forty days. Well, not quite, but it seemed as though it did. I am very relieved that we are finally into summer although, in true Arkansas fashion, we went straight from temps in the 70s to temps in the high 80s and low 90s. Oh, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but my children are apparently vampires. That’s the only explanation I can offer for why, when they exit the house into the sunlight, they both scream and cover their faces. Okay, it’s not as bad as it used to be (and Jack was the main offender) but in the past, getting them outside was a hard sell…it’s gotten a little bit better this year, thank goodness, because there’s nothing like shoving them out the back door and getting some house cleaning done. Yes, I have become that mother who makes their children go outside and won’t let them back in for a prescribed amount of time. I’m sure the neighbors have a lot to talk about as they listen to my children wail “Mommy! Please open the door and let us in!” five minutes after they’ve gone outside.

I have a confession to make, which will surprise no one who either knows me or has been reading this blog for any amount of time: I have been partaking of particularly crap parenting lately. When I got back after Dad’s funeral I had three major projects to bury my head in: the expansion of my Fayetteville booth, finishing some big furniture pieces for my Prairie Grove booth, and getting ready for the Junk Ranch, a huge flea market I had signed on to be a vendor for. That pretty much took up all my attention for two weeks and then, once all of that was over, I kind of crashed and burned. I have discovered that they do okay in the mornings by themselves as long as they’re given their breakfast and the TV remote so I have been lolling about in bed later than usual — not really sleeping, because it’s impossible to do with the four-year-old circus they conduct each morning that they’re in the living room by themselves, but rather, putting off the start of the day as long as possible. Some days it has been particularly hard to get up and get going. And I’ve been putting them in front of the TV and sending them out to the backyard more than I should, avoiding interaction with them, because a sad fact of my personality is that, though the emotions in my head are sadness and grief, the emotions that come out are irritation and anger. (Also, if the emotion inside my head is fear? Comes out irritation and anger. If the emotion inside my head is anxiety? Comes out irritation and anger. I’m just like my father that way. It took me until well into my adulthood to understand that he was the same and it explained a lot of my childhood.) And on a good day I find their constant squabbling, screaming, and tattling on each other difficult to maintain patience with…and these aren’t particularly good days. So I know I need to shake it off (cue Emme’s Taylor Swift dance, which is adorable, I need to get video of it for you guys) and try to get back to being the mediocre parent I once was as soon as possible.

I did buy them a slip and slide last week, which was hugely disappointing to me but, which they — despite the fact that it ended up being, basically, a sheet of plastic upon which they army-crawled on their elbows and knees down to a pitiful, shallow pool at the end until they, and the plastic, were covered in mud and grass clippings — enjoyed hugely. I mean, when I was a kid (cliche alert), we just hauled out the biggest piece of plastic we could find, laid it in the back yard, and put the hose at the top of it and just went for it. This new-fangled thing purports to have these sprayers all the way down it to keep the plastic wet but none of the spouts would aim properly at the plastic so they were useless. But if I unhooked the hose to use it at the top in the old fashioned way, the little pool at the end of the plastic — the kids’ favorite part of the whole shebang — would empty. So I had to keep it hooked up to the useless sprayers AND pull the other hose from the side of the house to put at the top of the slide to try and keep the plastic wet. WHAT’S THAT YOU SAY? CALIFORNIA’S GOING THROUGH A DROUGHT? To hell with that, mama needs a little peace and quiet. (No, seriously, it made me feel horrible to be using that much water which is why I haven’t pulled it back out again, despite their pleading.) Additionally, they include two of these cheap blow-up raft-like things that you’re supposed to use to slide on — you know, like you hold them to your chest, run, and slide with the raft in-between you and the plastic. Well, these didn’t work AT ALL. The kids couldn’t really grasp running and sliding on their stomachs, and the rafts just complicated issues. Oh, but my kids are definitely their father’s children — if something came with the slip and slide, well then, they MUST learn how to use it with the slip and slide! It took me twenty minutes to convince them there was going to be no slipping OR sliding if they insisted on using their rafts. I guess they finally realized I was telling the truth because they dropped the rafts and just started throwing themselves down onto the plastic, sliding for about four inches, then crawling the rest of the way until they got to the little pool and then face planting in the water.

It looked utterly boring and painful to me but let me tell you, they loved it.

Oh, the little munchkins. They’re so adorable. Because it’s 8:38 and they’re both asleep. JUST KIDDING. They really are super cute.

I left them outside by themselves for about a half-hour (LORD DO I LOVE OUR FENCED-IN YARD) while I cleaned and fixed lunch, and when I came out I found them crouched in the yard, Jack with his swim trunks all the way off and Emme with her suit down around her ankles. PEEING in the back yard. Like little feral children whose parents had abandoned them in the woods. In their swim suits. I was like WHAT ARE YOU DOING, and they both looked over their shoulders and nonchalantly said “Peeing.” You know. Like you do. Out in the yard. In full view of the neighbors. So a stern discussion was had about the appropriateness of public nudity and urination which DEFINITELY seemed to work because on Sunday I caught Jack peeing against a tree IN THE FRONT YARD. On the LORD’S DAY.

It’s just a good thing we don’t have a POA.

On Grief.

Gracious heavens above, it’s been a year and a half since I wrote. That makes me so sad, after reading the last post I did — there’s so much rich detail in it about our day-to-day lives! I love reading it. That sounds ridiculously pompous, doesn’t it? I don’t love reading it because it’s a WORK OF ART or anything, believe me — but I forget so much about what goes on around here, almost as soon as it happens…this has always meant to be a diary for us to read when the kids grew up and I hate that I’ve dropped the chain. I am moved to do better and will really try.

Much has happened in the past 18 or so months and I will try to sum up the highlights in a subsequent post. The most important news I have to report is the death of my father on May 11th.

(What follows is a detailed account of Dad’s last month. If you’re not up to it, feel free to skip to the TL; DR at the end. 🙂 )

It is as fresh to me today, on June 3rd, as it was the day it happened. Actually, more fresh now that the shock of the event has worn off. I started crying when I typed the last sentence of the previous paragraph. When does the crying stop, I wonder? Three weeks out is too soon to hope for that, I suppose.

My Dad was 73 on the day he died, would have been 74 on June 27th. We should have been able to expect 15 more years out of him, were he to follow the pattern of his own father, who only died seven years ago himself, well into his 90s, and active (and living on his own) until the last three or four of those years. A few things shortened my Dad’s life: he smoked for most of his 73 years — only quitting maybe five or so years ago? — despite a heart attack 25 years ago when he was told if he continued to smoke, he was destined for more heart trouble. Though he never had the subsequent heart attacks that his doctor had predicted, three years ago, after a routine exam, it was discovered that he had heart blockages. His doctor ordered immediate bypass surgery. Dad started doing research and decided that he was not going to be able to survive an open heart surgery (his last hip replacement was the year before, and it literally almost killed him: his lungs were in such terrible shape and he had been diagnosed with COPD a few years before) and decided against surgical intervention. I cannot tell you how much this decision terrified me. For a month after his decision I lay awake at nights, waiting, and dreading, the phone call that I knew was to come at any moment, telling me that he had suffered a massive heart attack. But my Dad continued to do research, and put himself on a strict vegan diet. This lifestyle change was ENORMOUS for him. This was a man who loved his steak and potatoes and bourbon and now he was limited to beans and grains and vegetables. He stayed on this diet for over three years, with negligible cheating, and dropped over 60 pounds. And for all of that time he had no heart issues. When that man put his mind to something, it was done.

Despite the change of diet, his heart was not in good shape. He managed his condition with clean eating but of course he did not heal it.

And he had perpetual hip problems, stemming from a car accident he had before he married my Mom, where he was thrown from a car that subsequently rolled over his hip. He eschewed the physical therapy he was ordered to do at the time, which may be partly why he ended up with a series of  hip replacements that started about fifteen or so years ago. The last hip part he had put in ended up being recalled, as it was leaching cobalt into his bloodstream. Having this heavy metal in his bloodstream would, eventually, fatally poison him. He had to have it replaced or face dying a painful, terrible death. But the surgeon and anesthesiologist refused to do the surgery with his heart in the shape that it was. The control was taken out of his hands and he was forced to have the bypass surgery he had done so much to avoid.  This bothers me so much about his eventual death — that it came as a result of someone and something making him undergo a surgery he had previously decided not to have done.

This is a lot of detail to go into, but it’s important to me, because I’m so angry that he was forced into having this heart surgery by a mistake made by the manufacturers of the hip part he was given. I’m so angry that the control was taken away from him, because it was so important to him that he make these decisions for himself and he was so proud of his progress on that very, very difficult diet he was on for so long.

His heart surgery was done in July of last year, and as we all could have predicted, it took him weeks and weeks to even get to the point of recovery where he could be released from the hospital. Even after that, his lung capacity was so greatly diminished that, as the days went by, he was relying on higher levels of supplemental oxygen for longer periods of time. And ancillary health problems started causing more trouble: a hernia, an aneurysm…issues snowballed. His last hospitalization was in April, and it was the third time he was hospitalized after his surgery in July. This last time, his blood oxygen levels had dropped precipitously, he had lost the ability to walk by himself (or, really, at all), and he had had a few dangerous falls that had done some significant damage. His doctors admitted him to the ICU. I drove to Arkansas on the third day he was in the ICU, and when I walked in the room, he was sitting up in his bed, the TV on, with a newspaper open in front of him. “Hi, Hon!” he greeted me, cheerfully. That was a month before he died. Everyday in the ICU, his lungs got a little worse, and the oxygen supply system got a little more intense. He started out with a nasal cannula, the little tube that hooks into your nose, which doesn’t obstruct your speaking at all. When he left, he was on a BiPAP machine, a continuous oxygen mask that basically breathes for you — it’s one step up from being ventilated. It’s loud, and horrible, and dried his poor throat and mouth out horribly, and he had trouble communicating with us while wearing it. At the beginning, we could still understand him — he might have to repeat something several times, but we would always be able to understand what he was asking for.

He was in the ICU for three weeks. He seemed to be making progress for a bit, and they even moved him out of the ICU one night — it was one of the nights I was staying with him, and it was a terrible night. Something about the move prompted a steep decline in whatever progress he had been making and he had a scary time in the early morning hours where his oxygen dropped significantly and they could not get it back up to the safe region. By 9 am, they had moved him back down to the ICU. I think that was the turning point. He would have a good day here and there after that that would get our hopes up but about a week later, the palliative doctor met with us and told us that hospice was our only option at that point. Even then, I did not believe her. All I could think was, you do not know my father. You have no idea what he is capable of. Regardless, there was nothing more they could do for him at the hospital, and we made arrangements to take him home.

[Side bar: he had a terrible nurse the day we met with the palliative doctor. I had asked her if we had an option for an air mattress, because I had read it was better for avoiding bed sores, and she impatiently replied “I don’t know. We don’t usually get requests like that for patients that are in your dad’s condition,” and after she heard me talking to the social worker about Dad having a good day the day before and how hopeful it made me she came in and said, “I don’t want you to think that just because a patient has a good day his condition isn’t serious.” I politely ignored her on both occasions. When we got back from talking to the palliative doctor, my eyes were red and swollen, and Dad asked where we had been. I stupidly answered that we had gone down to the cafeteria for coffee. Mom wanted to speak with his personal doctors before talking to him about what the palliative doctor had told us (we had never met with her before, had no previous experience with her, and wanted to verify the information she was giving us). He behaved oddly after that and, finally, told us that the nurse had told him, after we left the room, that there was nothing to be done for him, that we were meeting with hospice to discuss end of life decisions. To my Dad, it seemed like this was all being done behind his back and that information was being kept from him. It was a horrible, horrible moment for all of us — but mostly for him, because he felt betrayed. To this day I cannot fathom what would make a person behave so meanly. I still need to sit down and write a letter to the hospital. It wasn’t enough that he was dying — she chose the one moment he was alone in the three weeks he was in the hospital to tell him he was dying. It still fills me with rage.]

For the three weeks he was hospitalized, my brother and I traded visits back and forth to make sure he was never alone in the ICU. The nights were very hard; you averaged an hour or two of sleep per night, and it was just too much for mom to do that more than once a week. I feel so grateful that we were able to do that, and so appreciative especially of Andy, who has a very important, very stressful job that he took much time off of in order to be present for Dad. And of course grateful to Justin, who shouldered so much while I was gone and also took off a ton of time when I needed him with me. I got back to Little Rock the Monday that Dad was brought back home, and walked in on him as he was settling in to the hospital bed in the living room. He wanted me to push the giant hospital bed out of the living room, down the hallway, and into the den, where water damage to the wall had been repaired while he was hospitalized! I had to explain that I didn’t think I would be able to maneuver that, which made him surly, but I went and took a video of the wall to appease him. He was very alert, though communicating was getting increasingly difficult. I can’t quite put into words how stressful it was to have him trying to tell me something, ask me something, or ask me to do something for him, when I couldn’t understand him. I have never felt that level of stress before. I wanted so badly to get what he was saying and every time I had to ask him to repeat it one more time the frustration and despair on his face would increase. More and more, he would just give up, his shoulders slumping as he waved me away. It killed me. KILLED me. Those were some of the worst moments of my life.

He kept us busy all week, and we slowly figured out some food that he showed an appetite for — some of those fruit purees in the fancy baby food section of Target. He could only eat and drink thick liquids, which made it difficult to find things that were palatable. He developed a craving for Coke — mixed with the ThickIt mixture to make it thick enough so he would not aspirate. I had never seen him drink Coke before, but he was guzzling it down. I think it probably felt really good on his poor, dry throat. His appetite for liquids and food slowly diminished as we neared the end of the week. Still, when the hospice nurse came to see us on Thursday, Dad was grilling her on when he could get a motorized wheelchair and later that day, tried to talk me into helping him sit up on the edge of the bed. “If someone can stay alive using sheer will power,” I said to Mom, “then he is going to outlive us all.”

There were signals that his oxygen intake was getting worse and worse. One night, when we had an aide staying the night to give me a chance to try and get some sleep, he sent her up to wake me up twice. The first time he told me he thought the oxygen machine was broken. I checked all the connectors, confirmed it was working, and went back to sleep. The second time, it was around 4 am, and when I came down to see what he needed, he just stared at me mutely. I jokingly said, “Did you just want to see my pretty face?”  and he nodded his head and said, “stay.” I think he was starting to get scared because breathing was starting to become a real struggle, even with the mask. At that point we decided to stop having the nurses stay overnight so we could be there with him.

Thursday night he had terrible pain, shooting up from his back into his shoulder and neck. They were almost spaced like labor pains — they would strike and he would moan and yell, then they would subside. This went on for about an hour as Mom and I gave him one dose of pain medicine then, just an hour later, another dose, twice as much (as instructed on the label). Finally, after another half-hour had passed, he slipped into a restless sleep, but the pain seemed to have subsided.

Andy came down to Little Rock that Friday to spend the weekend, as did his girls, and Justin and the kids came as well. Saturday was a terrible day. I don’t know what happened, but I suspect it was related to a precipitous drop in Dad’s oxygen levels — I checked it several times over the course of the day and it was reading between 50% and 60%, which seemed impossible, because I don’t know that he would have even been able to be conscious at that level. But he almost wasn’t: he was having terrible muscle spasms that sent his arms flying out violently, to the point that we had to stand by his bed for hours, holding his arms tight. He was talking, underneath the mask, not the careful, over-enunciated words he used when he was trying to communicate with us — he was saying whole sentences, whole paragraphs, talking rapidly, sometimes making eye contact with us, sometimes not. I was tortured with the thought that he was trying to tell us that he had had enough: the hospice nurse had spoken to him just days before about the option of taking off the mask and letting go of the struggle; he had seemed, at the time, to vehemently reject that option, but what if the pain of the night before and whatever he was going through now had changed his mind?  Andy felt, strongly, that wasn’t the case. I tried to ask Dad, flat out, if that’s what he was saying, and though he seemed to listen to my question, when he responded, it was with the same fast delivery that I had no hope of understanding. Eventually, the pain meds kicked in, and he fell into an exhausted sleep.

Sunday, he was like a different person. He was alert, had no pain, and was responding to all of us. At one point, he took my hand in his and brought it up to his oxygen mask. Astonished, I said, “are you kissing my hand?” And he nodded his head. Before Andy left to go back to Fayetteville, he repeated the gesture with him. I was left shaking my head, thinking, boy, and I thought we were about at the end of the road yesterday. What a difference a day makes.

Later that evening, Dad started scratching about his head, face, and neck. It was obvious that he was experiencing itching underneath the mask, especially, and it was so hard to watch his hands fly up to the mask in his sleep, meet the plastic of the mask, and fall, dejectedly, back at his side, only to have the futile gesture repeat itself again and again. I racked my brain, trying to figure out what could be causing the itching. We had changed the pad between his nose and the mask — could he be allergic to that? I changed it back to a plain band-aid, no change. I was ashamed we had made no attempt to shave him up to that point — maybe his beard was causing the itching? Finally, I called the hospice nurse and asked if I could give him some Benadryl. I had read that the Oxycodone he was taking could be causing the itching and Benadryl was suggested as a remedy. She expressed doubt that it would do much good, but I was desperate to give him some relief, so I ran to Target to get the liquid form (he couldn’t take pills at that point). As it turns out, Dad hated the bubblegum flavor of the Benadryl and I wasn’t able to get much of into him, so it did absolutely no good…finally, after watching him struggle for another hour, I gave him another dose of the pain killer (within the prescribed limit) and finally, his arms stayed still at his side as he finally got some sleep. (After he died, I told the Hospice nurse about the itching. She said it is often a sign of renal failure. His urine was terribly dark that morning, so dark that at first the aide thought it was blood. It seems that renal failure might have been what was happening that night.) It was not a restful night for him. When he would fall into a deep slumber, his mouth would go slack, and would slip beneath the seal of the oxygen mask, setting off the alarm on the machine. This happened every 15 minutes throughout the night, and I would have to get up and re-attach the mask, which would startle him; his hands would fly up and fend me off until I whispered “Dad, it’s Lara, I’m just fixing your mask.” There were a few times I thought maybe he was trying to ask me something but I just patted him and crawled off to bed, and he would go back to sleep. This haunts me. Was he asking for water? Was he worried about breathing? Honestly, I feel pretty sure that he was so under the influence of the pain killers that he was not lucid enough to ask for something, but what if he was? Every other night, I wouldn’t have gone back to the couch before I made sure he didn’t need anything, but this night, I was so tired, and so tired of not being able to understand what he was saying, that I took the easy way out.

Monday morning, Mom came down at about 8 am, and I crawled back up to bed to try and catch another hour of sleep. I woke up around 9:30, took a shower, came downstairs, and ate breakfast. I didn’t spend any time with him at all; both the hospice nurse and the aide that we had hired to help us had shown up, and they were in the living room, giving Dad a bath and changing his sheets. I had just started a text to Andy to tell him about the difficult night when the hospice nurse came in to ask if our main hospice nurse, Dede, was on her way over. I told her she said she would be by sometime that morning, and the nurse told me to call her to come right now. “What’s wrong?” I asked, immediately terrified, and she told me that his gaze was fixed, breathing shallow. I ran into the living room to see Dad staring to the right, as though he was looking out the window. I wish I had run to him and grabbed his hand at that moment. I have a horrible suspicion that he was already slipping away, and that was my last chance to whisper how much I love him in his ear. But instead I went back in the kitchen to call Dede; I had the absurd thought that I didn’t want to worry him by having him overhear me telling Dede to come RIGHT NOW. Mom was crying in the kitchen and I said, come in, let’s be with him, and she and I went and held his hand. She was overcome, and was having a hard time standing up, and I told her that we needed to talk to him, that he might still be able to hear us. And I told him how much I loved him; that I was so lucky and happy he was my father; that his mother and brother and son were waiting for him; that he had fought so hard, but he was tired, and it was time for him to go, and we understood that. His eyes were closed at this point. I called Mom’s sisters, who all came over. Dede had still not arrived. The nurse continued to take his pulse, and said she could get a pulse in his neck but not his wrist. I suspect she was not getting a pulse in his neck but I don’t think she was allowed to tell us he had died so she fudged a bit on that. The oxygen pumping into him made it difficult to see whether he was breathing at all anymore. We still stood around his bed, prayed, and sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” his favorite church hymn. Dede arrived, listened to his chest, and gently confirmed he was gone.

I don’t know how something can be completely expected and an utter shock at the same time. He had half convinced me he wasn’t actually dying. He was very effective that way. And, after all, doctors had been wrong about him many times before.

I wonder if it’s easier or harder to deal with this situation when the ill person acknowledges that he is dying? I would have liked to have had a conversation with him where I told him how much I loved and appreciated and admired him, all my life, but it felt like a betrayal to have that conversation, given his adamant refusal to admit he was dying. It seemed like to talk that way would have not been supportive of his idea that he could make it through this rough patch. And now I’m left with all of these things that I have to just trust that he already knew. I’ve decided that this is the way it should work: a person dies, and in about three days, you get fifteen minutes with them to say all of the things that you realize are important.

TL; DR: my Dad died on May 11th. I’m pretty sad about it. I’ll probably write more on this subject as the days go by because it’s in the forefront of my mind right now. Feel free to skip if it bums you out.

There’s a lot to say about the kids, too, of course; a year and a half is a third of their life at this point! But I needed to get this post written before going on to other things.

If you’re reading this, thank you. It was good to get it off my chest. See you soon.



Thursdays are tough for me. I’m not quite to my breaking point on Wednesdays and Fridays have the promise of my day off to soften the blow of the end-of-the-week madness but Thursdays are tough. I cleaned today, not just straightened but cleaned, which includes all the laundry in the house as well, and any time I try and do that with the kids underfoot, chaos ensues. It’s quite frustrating, actually, as they pull crap out as fast as I can put it up and it ends up feeling like you’re having one of those nightmares where you’re trying to make a phone call but you just can’t get your fingers in the right number holes on the dial (dating myself, there). For part of the morning they played outside, which was nice, as I can keep close watch on them no matter which room I’m working in, but by lunchtime we were getting pretty testy with each other. It didn’t help that Jack barely slept an hour at nap and Emme didn’t fall asleep for nap until almost 4 (she went down at 1:30, and there were many false claims of necessary potty use in between). My friends Kristie and Bailey came over around 4:15, so that was a lovely respite from yelling at the kids and having them yell back at me.

Good gracious, but the weather has been kind to us lately. It was in the mid-to high-70s today, with sunny, blue skies, and was the same yesterday.  Justin needed some warmer workout gear now that the days are getting cooler (he’s doing long bike rides after the kids are in bed) and I used that as an excuse to do a little thrift store shopping on Wednesday. When we were pulling out of the driveway, my friend Barb called and said she was at a great yard sale and that I should stop by, so we put that as number one on our agenda. I think this is the first time I actually took the kids in to a yard sale — normally, they stay in the car (as long as I can pull into the driveway) with the air conditioner running and the DVD playing. For this yard sale, I had to park too far away from the house to make me comfortable leaving them, so in they came. Just my luck, this sale was lousy with toys and stuffed animals. They thought they were in heaven. “Wow, wow, wow,” Emme kept saying. I let them pick a few things. Jack picked a pair of pink mules with feathers and rhinestones on them and this princess cat.

And now, a word about Jack. God love him. I have the distinct impression that Jack is going to be someone who sort of goes against the flow of convention. He will be our outlier. His behavior and his choices are often unexpected. He wants to be Minnie Mouse for Halloween. He gets fixated and obsessed with a particular kind of book. He fluctuates quickly between a child who will give you a mean head butt and one who is trying to kiss you to make up for the pain he just inflicted. These things that might be deemed simply quirky were he an only child become a little more odd against the stark relief of his sister, who, while not exactly conventional and certainly not predictable, at least follows a sort of pattern that is more easily understood. I get the distinct impression that she will not go with the flow — she will, instead, SET the flow that others will follow. See, this has been a problem since they were born, and, now that I’m thinking about it, may be the chief downfall of parents of twins: the impulse to compare the two and find one more “normal” or more “on track” and wonder if the other is okay. We’ve done it all along with the two of them and their developmental milestones — Emme crawled sooner, walked faster, and talked more clearly early on. Even now, Emme’s verbal skills continue to outpace his to the extent that we sometimes ask her to interpret his words for us.

This slow verbal development used to drive me to distraction, but I’ve gotten a bit more chill about it these days; I’m pretty sure he’s going to need some speech therapy, but I figure we’ll cross that bridge when he hits three years old. After all, by the time we had moved through all the red tape of getting him in the Early Intervention program two years ago, he had achieved the milestones he had been found wanting on three months before. He could easily do the same with his verbal skills. And as far as the other quirks to his personality: I’m going to be honest and admit to you that I always wanted a weird child, because I was a weird child. I was never conventional, and I was okay with it. I never cared if people made fun of me, or, maybe, I didn’t notice. I always felt comfortable in my own skin and if someone didn’t like that, they could just move on. I don’t know what made me this way, or protected me from being insecure or bullied, but I wish I did, because then I would be closer to making sure Jack is like that as well. The idea that someone will make fun of him or make him feel less than who he is makes me crazy. I look ahead at all the years we will have to live through their successes and disappointments, their first loves, their first heartaches, their betrayals by “best” friends, all of the rejections and sadness that ordinary, day-to-day life hands all of us…and I want to crawl into a hole and never come out. Can’t they both have charmed lives where nothing ever goes wrong? Please?

By the way, the cat is battery-operated, and purrs in a disturbing manner, and sometimes says “press my paw and I will tell you a secret” and that secret is sometimes “kiss me on the nose” and every. single. time. my sweet boy leans down and gives the kitty a careful kiss on her nose.

Okay, I owe nine things to be grateful for because I forgot on Tuesday and didn’t write on Wednesday.

1. I am grateful for my friends Kristie and Bailey and their visit this afternoon. This gig gets lonely, people. An hour and a half visit on a Thursday can be the difference between hiding in a closet and…not hiding in a closet.  (BTW, I took Jack out to the driveway to say goodbye to them and he was petting their car, saying over and over again, “Niiiiiiiiice car! Niiiiiice car!” like a smarmy used car salesman!)

2. I finally did something I’ve been meaning to do and went for a walk down Country Club hill — a half mile? three-quarter mile? I dunno — which, I swear, is on about a 70 degree incline. BURNING BUNS AND THIGHS. If I could do that every other day, I swear, I would have the infamous BUNS OF STEEL.

3. The weather has been so, so pretty and we haven’t had to run the heater or the air conditioner all week. The windows have been open and the house smells delicious.

4. The nice upholsterer who was recommended to me gave us a really reasonable quote on having the couch and two chair re-covered and it’s ALMOST possible that we might be able to get that done! Slowly. Over time. But still, it wasn’t out of the question.

5. My nail gun came today! Now, can someone come over to my house and teach me to use it? IT SCARES ME.

6. Emme has taken to thanking me for cleaning up the house. “Mommy, thank you for cleaning up the bathroom!” she said today when she went down for her nap. How sweet is that?

7. My sister-in-law Michelle brought her kids by yesterday afternoon and we got to catch up a little. The twins absolutely adore those kids.

8. Candles are one of those things that I used to buy routinely when we were a two-salary family but only sparingly nowadays. I went and splurged on three of them over the weekend, using a gift card, and thought I didn’t like them but after burning a few days, have decided I love them. Thank you, candle, for not wasting nearly thirteen of my hard-earned dollars!

9. My friend Barb went by my booth today and said that it looked like some signs have sold and like I have some empty space in half of the booth…which means I must have made some money over the week! So yay for that!


Move II: Coda.


[So much for solemn oaths. Oh well. The following is a piece I started two months ago, the third and final post on our second move. Here’s to better timeliness in the future.]

Since they came home from the NICU in the last few days of 2010, the twins had never been very far from us at night. In the first weeks, they were snuggled into the co-sleeper that ran along one side of our bed. When Emmeline developed her habit of making odd grunting sounds while she slept, we pulled one of the cribs into our room and planted her in it so that she would stop waking up Jack. Seemingly in protest, Emme’s nocturnal hullabaloo got even louder, so we had to send her into the nursery to sleep without her brother (though not without her father, who camped out for many weeks on an air mattress jammed between the two cribs). Eventually, Emme cut out the ruckus and the twins were reunited in their room. Even then, the nursery and our bedroom shared a wall, so we were always steps away.

So it was quite the adjustment when we moved to Fayetteville and found that our bedroom and the nursery were on completely different sides of the rental house. Lara and I were very uncomfortable with it at first. Even though we had our trusty monitor as always, it felt like anything could happen to the two of them while they were so far away. I would still be able to hear the crazed, knife-wielding intruder or conniving, soulless babynapper break the glass of their window, but it would all be over by the time I sped down the master bedroom hallway, through the kitchen, into the dining room, past the living room, and opened the two doors to the nursery.

Eventually, the unease faded as the new normal of the rental house settled in. It has always been my job to tend to the children at night, and I soon became accustomed to sprinting this mini-marathon. Poor Lara, however, has never become accustomed to the way I explode out of bed whenever I hear real urgency in the voice coming through the monitor. Thankfully, though, such incidents, such as sudden illness or a particularly bad dream, were relatively few and far between.

Until the last couple of months before our second move.

It was then that Jack developed a fear of shadows, namely the ones cast by the setting sun in the nursery. In the first, wintry months since our arrival, this had never been a problem because night fell hours before bedtime. But in the weeks following the “spring forward” of Daylight Savings Time, there was plenty of light to creep through the top and sides of the blackout curtains in the nursery to create dark bands on the walls and ceiling next to the window. Where Jack’s crib also happened to be.

“Da!” Jack would cry, frantically pointing and softly keening in a way that broke my heart.

“They’re just shadows, and shadows are your friends,” I would say, making a mental note to revise this guidance by the time Jack was old enough to be walking near alleyways by himself.

Jack would have none of it. He would continue to point at the darkness, even after we had turned out the light and the entire room was engulfed with it. It was actually kind of creepy, watching him point at invisible boogeymen.

But that was nothing compared to the creepiness of his outbursts in the middle of the night. Post-midnight fits of screaming became regular occurrences in our last weeks in the rental house. There would be no ramping up; just immediate, full-on freak outs that would scare the hell out of me. What was worse, though, was going into the nursery. The harsh shaft of light from the hallway would illuminate his small frame sitting at the foot of his crib, legs dangling through the bars, staring straight out and sobbing. No matter how quickly I ran, he would be in that position by the time I got to him, even when it took me no longer than three seconds.

As I gave him a hug and comforted him, I would ask him what was wrong. He would emphatically point at the wall above the head of his crib, and say, “Un! Un! Un!” This began to get unnerving after the first few times, and I began to wonder if he was actually seeing something that I was not.

During the move, various folks pitched in to watch the kids while Lara and I did all the backbreaking labor. Therefore, there wasn’t much shuttling of Jack and Emme between the rental house and the new house; they stayed at the former until their rooms were ready at the latter. Which is why we thought it would be a special treat to take them back to the rental house one more time before we turned in the keys. We had been in the new house a few days, but we needed to take care of a few final items. We thought they’d get a kick out of seeing the place almost completely empty, like it had been when we first came to Fayetteville six months before.

But as we pulled into the driveway of the rental house—amidst Emmeline’s jaunty chant of “Old house! Old house!”—a loud cry came from the back seat of the car. Jack had taken one look at our former home and burst into tears. He was not only upset; he was terrified. He didn’t calm down until Lara and I had explained several times that we were only visiting and would stay at the new house from now on.

We’ll never know what it was that set him off like that. But my mind instantly leapt to those nighttime sprints of the previous weeks, Jack’s strange position in his crib, and his urgent warnings about the shadowed plaster above his bed. Maybe being forced to move wasn’t such a bad thing after all.