Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No, That Really is Just How I Roll...

A couple weeks ago I was telling a girlfriend how relieved I was to have a free weekend coming up. I closed my eyes and sported a Zen smile as I reported, "Yep, all we have to do is visit my brother in law in the hospital because he had his right leg amputated after complications with diabetes." All we had to do? Seriously. My friend gave me one of those compassionate/pitiful smiles in response, her expression telling me how not relaxing it would be to visit a family member in a long-term rehab unit after losing a limb. Apparently, she forgot that's how I roll.

Over the past year while I should have been blogging, I was dealing with some pretty messed up stuff. Why the sophomoric lingo, you ask? Well, that could be my new-found dialect from spending 5 months with my 17-year-old goddaughter J. I thought it would be cool to have her visit the midwest for the summer, giving her a change of scenery from the small-town drug scene I thought she'd only dabbled in before her senior year. When I greeted her tweaked-out self at the airport, however, I quickly determined that the change of scenery would not involve sweet corn and summer matinees, but rather an in-patient drug and alcohol rehabilitation center about 3o miles from my house. She was less than thrilled at my idea of summer camp, as you can imagine. But, as she quickly learned, that's how I roll.

And, while frantically arranging drug assessments, in-patient care, insurance verification, faxing stuff back and forth with my sister in Oregon to let the healing begin, I failed to return a call from my primary care doctor who wanted to discuss test results from an exam I had in May. The doctor's office called repeatedly, leaving messages, to which I thought, "Um, it's a Pap Smear, not liver failure; I'll call you back after I take care of aforementioned addict godchild in crisis." But, this particular doctor was like a dog with bone, that one. She called my emergency contact/neighbor to have her find me on a Friday afternoon to summon me to her office that day. Seriously? I called and told her politely that I would contact her office on Monday, after finishing my homework, painting another coat of stain on my deck, throwing my husband's 40th Birthday party and dropping off my niece at rehab at 1:30. My doctor replied that no, I would come in that day, in one hour, and she would wait for me. Cause that's how she rolls.

Apparently cervical cancer is just as critical as 40th Birthday parties, a well-protected deck, and confronting adolescent drug addiction. Suddenly, I was playing out a scene I'd seen on television and in movies--the one where the doctor comes over and sits beside you, looking with compassion as the C-word sinks in. It was also a bit like an AT&T phone call--the words cutting in and out, hearing bits and pieces: "Carcinoma...Stage 1...surgical...consultation on you have children?...hysterectomy" That last bit came in loud and clear as my brain finally walked bravely up to C-word, stuck out its hand and said, "Hey There!"

I drove home and said the word out loud to my husband, whom I'd not bothered to call until I was at the doctor's office in a last-ditch effort at denial. We stood in the kitchen, slices of late afternoon sun coming through the window as we stared at each other simultaneously thinking, "Are you kidding me?" as little A tugged at our legs and sweet J looked on from the couch. I took a few deep breaths and shifted gears as quickly as possible. That 40th party wasn't going to throw itself!

Fast-forward a month of so: J. had a month of rehab under her belt and I finished my summer dissertation-writing course. K and I were coming to terms with the possibility that little A might be our one and only. I had a procedure done the next month, called a "cold knife scrape"--clearly named by a man, who'd never had a knife all up in 'em, much less a "cold" one. Fortunately, my surgeon, Dr. M., was a kick-ass pregnant woman approaching her third trimester as she scrubbed in and held my hand when the tears came, just before the anesthesiologist put me to sleep.

As summer came to an end, we learned the good news that there was no new cancer and we could consider having another little one if doctors kept tabs on my cervix. We were settled into a visitation routine with J, who earned overnight visits to our house on the weekends. She and K played a fun game called, "You're not the boss of me" and I spent Saturday nights parked outside her AA meetings. We were finding our way into a new kind of normal but K was dealing with the fallout of a cancer scare with a loved one by experiencing anxiety and sleepless nights while I dealt with it in classic, stoic, Edvalson fashion: repress and move forward.

Now, a few months later, with J graduated from rehab and back at home in Oregon, I spend my weekends working on the dissertation while K chases Baby A (who, as it turns out, is not such a baby anymore). We ponder big questions like Baby #2 (or not), spend a few hours a month in therapy to process all the crap, and know that whatever happens we have each other's back. Cause, yeah, you guessed it, that's how we roll.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Memories of Holiday (Follies) Past

As I sit in my cozy house in Iowa on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles away from my childhood home, I am awash with nostalgia of Christmases past. Counting the presents under the tree in a neurotic quest to make sure that all four siblings got an equal distribution of Christmas cheer, the picture of humility and gratitude. Tromping through the snow-covered parking lot to the annual school Christmas program where the reward for not falling off the shaky particle board choir bleachers was a paper bag full of creme-filled chocolates, nuts and oranges from Santa himself.

And then there was Christmas Eve and the annual Waffle Feed at my Aunt Eileen's house. Yes, we await the birth of our savior Mormon family-style, complete with buttermilk waffles, eggs, sausage, and a full complement of syrups, whipped cream and berries. And when I say feed, I mean my Aunt would open her doors and feed. At least fifty extended family members, along with neighbors, friends, and people with no other place to get a hot meal on a holiday's eve. They even arranged for a Jolly Ole St. Nick look-alike to appear each year, handing out candy canes and holiday greetings to the wide-eyed children, faces aglow with syrup and Christmas wonder. Later in the evening, the cousins would have a gift exchange and a talent show. And then, just before 9:00, we would head home so my Catholic sisters and mom and I could head to Midnight Mass while my Mormon dad chilled in his Laz-y Boy, visions of waffles dancing in his head (and a chance to watch whatever he wanted on television for one blessed hour of estrogen-free living).

Those are the sweetest memories. And then there are the stories of Christmas injuries past. And those are perhaps the most poignant of all. Tromping again through a snow-covered parking lot, this time to attend the annual Church Bazaar and raffle, complete with pinata and games. On one particularly magic Christmas, my nine-year old self could hardly stand the anticipation of possibly winning the beautiful doll with extra hand-made outfits and baby high chair in the annual raffle. The pinata looked fun too, but my over-protective father would have none of that. He tolerated the Catholic church bazaar long enough to score a piece of pie. But he would not stand by while his daughters stood in close range of the broom handle that the teenage boys decided would make a good pinata bat. So, while all the other kids and their thrill-seeking parents gathered around the swinging, candy-filled donkey, I stood in the opposite corner of the gym.

What happened next was what I would look back fondly upon as my first exposure to irony, as one of the Riley brothers decided to take a swing and the broom handle broke off, ricocheted across the gym and whacked me in the eye. It happened so fast, the broom handle hitting me in the face, my hand flying up to catch the blood pouring out of my nose, and my father lunging across the room Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon style to rescue me. "Did she lose her eye?" "Is she ok?" mingled with the sounds of crazed kids rushing the now broken pinata, not knowing that they had nearly lost one of their own to friendly fire. I was able to open one swollen eye long enough to take one last look at the doll that, despite the best-ever sympathy vote, would not go home with me. went home with a black eye and my friend Jenny won the doll.

This, however, was not the closest one of us girls came to death by church contraption. No, that honor is reserved for my youngest sister M. On this particular Christmas pageant, little M. was dressed in a cloak and donned a wooden cane to make her shepherd look complete. My dad accompanied his little Catholic cherubs to this service to see his youngest daughter's performance. The little Mary, Joseph and assorted shepherds and wise men joined the priest in the opening procession and took their places on the altar, giving life to the wooden nativity during the gospel with minimal shuffling and distraction. My sister, whose childhood nickname was "the silent one" because she was so quiet (masking a wicked instigator-tactic that she would use to wield power over her siblings), was well-behaved on the altar, but grew tired as the sermon wore on. We're not exactly sure how long she suffered in silence, but all at once her blue eyes grew wider and wider as a murmur started throughout the congregation, sounding something like, "the cane..." "she's got the cane in her mouth..." "stuck in her mouth." And once again, my dad's wild cat-like reflexes kicked in and within seconds he was on the altar, prying the curved end of the cane out of my sister's mouth. Hark! The herald angels' voices were drowned out by the sound of the young shepherd gagging.

I suffered another head injury at church a few years later when high winds blew the side door open to the chapel and, just as I was leaving, the metal door jamb fell on my head and my dad took me home, on concussion-watch, while my mom and sisters ate at the annual Christmas dinner. He's too nice, and respects my mom too much to say it out loud, but I wouldn't be surprised if my dad adds all of these on-location Catholic holiday follies up in his head as further proof of the errors of the Catholic faith.

My in-laws invited me to attend Christmas Eve services at the local Lutheran Church. I am respectfully declining, choosing instead to stay inside, out of harm's holiday way. So, from snowy Iowa, I wish all of my family and friends the merriest of Christmases. And I say, in the spirit of the season, WATCH YOUR STEP!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

He's Making a List...

As I watch television and read trashy magazines this holiday season (because who better to get you in the Christmas spirit than John and Kate?), I can't help but think about Jolly Old Saint Nick making his list. Mr. Claus, if you're reading this, here are my suggestions for the naughty list:

1. Tareq and Michaele Salahi. There isn't a pretty dress, blonde dye-job, or fancy name that can explain this one. You are so naughty. And busted.

2. Rep. Joe Wilson. It's naughty to interrupt, Joe. Especially when your boss is speaking. And doubly so when your boss is the President of the United States.

3. Kanye West. Again with the interrupting (Santa senses a theme among the naughty boys on his North American route this year).

4. Wall Street. All of Wall Street gets coal for being greedy. You already got a present from the President and it wasn't enough? Tsk. Tsk.

5. Jon Gosselin. Seriously dude, you're a father of eight. It's naughty to think you can chain smoke and chase the ladies.

6. Balloon Boy's parents. I don't even know where to start.

7. Levi Johnston. Giving a tell-all interview in Vanity Fair about your baby mama's mama is just rude. I'm no Sarah Palin fan, but who seriously believes that she would call her baby a "retard"? Santa wants to remind you that Sarah Palin is your son's grandma. Naughty!

8. Tiger Woods. You should know that the media is much like this little stuffed elf that my mom had perched on our clock in the living room of my childhood home, always watching, all-knowing.

9. Notre Dame Athletics and Alumni, for spending $18 million to get rid of Head Football Coach Charlie Weiss, money that could go for, oh, I don't know, scholarships for deserving students? Santa wants to remind you that you aren't even in a conference. Get over yourselves.

10. Dick Cheney. I'm sure you've done something to annoy the big guy this year. Even out of office.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanksgiving Dinner is over, dishes washed, pies eaten, and the Cowboys are playing on television. Seems a good time to give thanks!

I'm thankful for food on the table--for the Reynold's Cooking Bag, for holidays that warrant eating two kinds of potatoes at the same meal, and for family-recipe pies and hot rolls that make my new house smell like my childhood home

I'm thankful for Baby A--beautiful, healthy, and so worth waiting for.

I'm thankful for Big K (not the store)--my husband, my best friend, the love of my life.

I'm thankful for my family--across all time zones. It's not a cliche--you are the best family anyone could ask for. I love you all and wish you were here.

I'm thankful for my girlfriends, old and new. I wish we were all at the table giving thanks together today--complete with wine and laughing!

I just realized that all of the "things" I'm thankful for are people (except for the food on the table, which is just a reason to bring people together) and I think that's just the way it should be.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Desperately Seeking Sherri: A Semi-Year in Review

So. Sometimes a couple of months go by and I'm nowhere to be found. Such is the story of my life. The difference (for those of you out there who have known me for a long time), is that nowadays, when I drop from the blogosphere, you don't need to call mom and dad to stage an intervention because I may be lying in a pile of my own slobber whilst my unopened mail piles up around me. Now when I have a lapse in the blogosphere, it's because I'm out and about. I come and go, all the while carrying tons of blog-fodder in my head. But for the past six months, I've actually had some momentous stuff happen in my life and I didn't even stop for one minute to blog it down.

But I miss you, dear blog, so here's a short list of what I will call "Desperately Seeking Sherri: A Semi-Year in Review."

May 2009:
Finished spring semester. It wasn't pretty, but I did it with little sleep, a lot of coffee and a stellar support team with husband K. as captain. K's big moment as team captain came at the end of the semester when I got my grades and burst into tears because I got a B+ in one of my classes. I also got three A's, but, as per my usual "let's be really, really hard on myself for not being perfect even though I missed two classes because I gave birth," I honed in on the B+. At first, K looked at me like I had grown two heads when I told him what I was crying about. "I know, I know," I cried, "tons of starving kids in India would be happy to eat my B+, but I still didn't want it." But he knows me, so he just stroked my hair and told me to get a grip and be happy. Crisis averted.

July 2009:
Baby A's first airplane ride when I flew with her to Oregon to meet all the cousins. Words cannot adequately describe the blog-fodder contained in those ten days. Suffice it to say that any conflict that occurred (think kitchen stand-off between me and the family matriarch) paled when compared to the pure joy of seeing all the cousins running around in the yard where we used to play, having a slumber party with my sisters, eating the best hamburgers, fries, and soft-serve cones at the Cove Drive-In, staying in the kitchy-paradise of the Historic Union Hotel, and being with my mom and dad in my childhood home. It was My Big Fat Happy Reunion.

August 2009:
Moved to a new house just around the corner from our townhouse. K and I decided to sell our townhouse and take the no-shared-walls plunge into a single family home with our own yard and all. We also decided to open our walk-out basement to K's parents. They are in their late-70s and were living in a condo in town after selling their home a few years after retiring. Your first reaction to this is, "What? living with the in-laws?" I know, crazy. But I tell you, they are wonderful. Won.Der.Ful. Maybe it's the fact that they are older, or the fact that they are just as down to earth as my parents--which I didn't think was possible to find. But it works.

They do their own thing, and when they're not doing their own thing, they're cleaning my bathroom, showing us how to save 30% of our laundry soap by reducing the amount measured per load, or keeping a weekly log of the electric meter reading out back to make sure that the newfangled digital meter reading system is accurate. You can't make this stuff up. It's straight from The Great Depression, which happens to be when they were raised. And most of all, they are taking care of baby A while K and I work and go to school. You cannot imagine what it feels like to take A down the stairs in the morning before I go to school, knowing that she is loved, safe, and cared for while I'm away. I also, much to Grandma J's dismay, hired a college student who comes over twice a week to babysit. We did not want the grandparents to watch her full- time. Baby A is a lot of work and recently became mobile, which makes for exhausting days. They of course see this as an "unnecessary expense" (see above Great Depression reference), but it makes me feel better.

September 2009:
I took my comprehensive exams, which is the culmination of three years of Ph.D. coursework and serves as the "bridge" between doctoral student and doctoral candidate. Kind of like going from Brownie to Girl Scout, but without the cool candle ceremony and s'mores. Studying for and taking comprehensive exams was quite possibly the most mentally-exhausting thing I've ever done. Including going through labor and having a baby. Plus, there's no epidural. But, having "passed" all of the written questions and my oral exam coming up on November 4th, it's nearly over. For all you moms out there, the oral exam is like the pushing is over, the baby is born, and now it's just that nasty placenta. Oh, and here's another way that it's worse than labor: I didn't look back at the piles of paper when it was over and think, "oh, honey, let's do it again..."

Which brings me to October, where I sit at my computer with the crisp fall breeze coming in my new home-office window and a steaming cup of coffee nearby. I can hear the sounds of baby A's lullabies through the wall as she takes her morning nap, and the clamor of Grandpa and Grandma downstairs. I'm still desperately seeking Sherri, but I think she's close-by.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Luck Be My Mother Tonight

My mom and dad are two of the most wholesome, decent, and down-to-earth people I know. It is these qualities that make their visits such a pleasure. They just left after a two-week visit where they met Baby A and doted on her and gave K and I some much-needed relief and support. My parents are also very "low-maintenance" guests--it really doesn't take much to entertain them. Cook a great meal, take a drive to the local DQ and spend the other 22 hours a day holding their new granddaughter and they are set. Well, at least that was the case for my dad. My mom, however, yearned for something more.

I live 20 minutes away from a casino, and my mom could smell it the moment she got off the plane. This facet of my mom's character comes as a bit of a surprise. You wouldn't expect my mom jean wearin' mom to have a lust for luck. This is, after all, a 63 year-old woman who just bought her first pair of black underwear six months ago on a "crazy" shopping impulse with her daughters. She showed me said underwear as she unpacked her suitcase, noting that she didn't wear them on the plane. God forbid something would happen and the emergency room staff would wonder what kind of whore-granny wears black underwear? This is also the same woman who had to be medicated to relax enough to drink out of the same glass as her kids because you never know what kind of infections her dirty little spawns carry around in their mouths. This is not a woman who leaves things to chance. And yet, she loves to play the slots. The penny slots, mind you, but a gambler all the same.

We were not 2 miles from the airport before my mom caught my eye in the rearview mirror and mouthed the words, "Are we going to the casino?" with a huge grin on her face. She had to mouth it because she knew she was taking a bigger risk than "put it all on black" by mentioning this pernicious activity in my dad's presence when they were supposed to be here to see their grandchild. My mom's love of gambling is a source of tension in their marriage. Not because she has ever bet the farm (she literally plays the penny slots), but because they have morally disparate views on games of chance. My dad's faith frowns on playing any games of chance--cards, gambling, the lottery--because of his church's doctrine on the value of work and the idea that you should not speculate on getting something for nothing. But, in the game of love that landed him married to a casino-loving Catholic, "Love thy wife" trumps their disagreement over gambling. So, on any trip where they are within an hour's drive of a casino, my dad follows my mom around the non-smoking slot machine area, standing just behind her like a Mafia heavy, counting the minutes until he can lure her to the buffet.

We made her wait a whole week before our first trip so she practically ran across the parking lot when we finally pulled up to the gaming resort. My dad rolled his eyes and settled in beside her for an afternoon of stoic loyalty. She took her $30 plus another $20 that she swindled from Dad and set to work milking the machines for all the pennies they were worth. Three hours later, she was up $40 after paying her bookie-husband back the $20 loan and had her fix for the moment. The next week was spent helping me spring clean, organize my kitchen cabinets washing baby clothes, and spending time with the baby. To the outside world she looked like an industrious grandma, puttering around and doing all the little things that would make life easier for her grad-student daughter. But I could sense her inner struggle. All the busy work was just like a smoker wearing the patch--it was helping her cope with her casino craving until the next trip.

It was mid-week before she began asking if it would be possible to go again, and I really wanted to make time to take her again because she had done an awful lot and really doesn't ask for much. As I looked at my calendar, however, it was hard to see where I would have time. She peered over my shoulder as I scanned my planner, thinking outloud,

"Let's see...I have class all morning Thursday, an all-day commitment Saturday....hmm...maybe Friday afternoon?"
(she was literally holding her breath at this point)
"No, darn it, Baby A's vaccinations are scheduled for that day."

And then it happened. I turned around and looked my mother in the eye. I knew what she was thinking. Her eyes were begging me to do what her mouth could not utter. I said, "Mom, you want me to reschedule my daughter's vaccinations from potentially life-threatining viruses so you can go to a casino?" She emphatically said, "No! No!" and then paused while we locked eyes for another second and I said, "I'll see what I can do but you know I already told Dad about the doctor's appointment." Fear registered in her eyes as she calculated the odds of looking like a bad granny. Calling upon my years of codependent behavior, I told her I would take care of it. I made a call and rescheduled the vaccination appointment for the following week, arranged a babysitter, and then casually mentioned to dad that I had rescheduled Baby A's shots for after they were gone so they wouldn't have to spend their last days with her being fussy and possibly sick.

That Friday, my mom and I hopped in the car, just the two of us, while K was at work and my dad stayed behind to do his laundry and begin packing for their departure two days later. I dropped her off at the slot machines and then settled in at the snack bar with my own addiction--a vente latte--to wait until she had another fix.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ready or Not

I should have known the difference between wetting my bed and my water breaking, but I'm a first time mom, so bear with me on this one...

So, here I was, in the eighth month of my pregnancy, when I awoke with a start, feeling a gush of something hit the sheets. My first thought was, "Oh, great, now not only do I wet myself when I laugh or sneeze, but I am going to start wetting my bed?" Indeed, this little one inside of me had put such pressure on my bladder that I found myself answering with emphatic "YES" responses to the Flomax commercial on television just two days earlier:
"Do you urinate often?" Yes.
"Do you find yourself stopping and starting?" Yes.
"Does your need to urinate wake you up at night?" Yes!
I got excited, thinking that the pharmaceutical companies had finally come up with a magical cure for prenatal bladder pressure, when the voice over said, "...then you may be suffering from an enlarged prostate." Oh. So, back to my story...

I got up and made it to the toilet with what I thought was urine running down my leg. And then it hit me. This could be something else. I turned on the bathroom light, which woke up my husband and started the chain of events that would culminate in the birth of our daughter. But I was still in denial as K. said, "Are you ok?" Um...I think I wet the bed? K sat up in bed, asking frantically, "You wet the bed?" "Well, um...I'm not really sure..." to which he replied, "Oh, here we go..." I came back to bed, still wetting myself, when Kyle suggested that we call the hospital to find out what to do about this overactive bladder. I decided to go back to the bathroom while he scrambled for the phone number. The nurse listened to my story as I explained that I was 36 weeks pregnant and suffering from adult onset bed-wetting. She explained that this sounded like my water breaking and that I should come in. I scrambled to take a shower, wash my hair and shave my legs while K. packed a bag since we had not bothered to do that yet. He gathered a hodge-podge of mis-matched shirts and sweats, underwear, toothbrushes and the digital camera while I blow-styled my hair because you just never know who you might run into.

On the 15-minute drive to the hospital, K and I decided that we would take this "false alarm" to heart and really get serious about having a baby when we returned home. We would take stock of the nursery after my shower on the 1st and buy any remaining items we would need. We would pack our bag for real, with a focal point object, chap stick, soothing music...all the items the baby books suggested. And then, the doctor checked me and confirmed that this was not adult-onset bed wetting, but rather my water had broken and I needed to settle in. I responded the way any mother would when told that she was having a baby after just two hours of sleep and having eaten nothing more than popcorn for dinner the night before: I burst into tears.

Fortunately, I would have the next 25 hours to wrap my brain around the idea of motherhood and K. would embrace impending fatherhood by standing watch over his family with ice chips, popsicles, and juice, offering back rubs and encouragement in between catching a few moments of sleep. He was a trooper, only complaining once of his "aching back," from attempting to sleep on the hard sofa bed before I stopped him, pointing out that if you have a penis in a labor and delivery ward, you don't get to complain of an aching back.

As I mentioned before, we forgot to pack a focal point object, but it turned out that I obsessed over Kyle's mismatched outfit instead. Why was he wearing a powder blue tee shirt with paint stains and black sweatpants? Couldn't he call his mother to bring him a clean shirt? How about a white tee shirt? Why don't you go change your shirt before it's time to push? Wouldn't you be more comfortable in a matching shirt? And it worked! Nagging my husband about his shirt served to distract me for a good six hours before giving in and asking for an epidural.

Finally, as the clock struck midnight, the doctor informed me that it was finally time to push. A team of nurses, OB/GYNs, and pediatricians assembled to welcome little A into the world. The nurse asked me if I wanted a mirror to see the action but I politely declined, explaining how I fainted at the vet's office when my dog had to have his blood drawn, so I was not at all keen on seeing what I overheard a resident calling, "trauma to my bottom." And so I pushed blindly, holding K's hand and working harder than I ever thought possible to see that little face. And my Mormon-Catholic hybrid child-bearing roots did not fail me; it wasn't long before I pushed one last time, heard a shrill cry, and met my little girl. This was followed by a wave of nausea as I lost all those popsicles and jello at once.

K stayed with little A while the doctors worked on repairing the aforementioned trauma to my bottom. Seeing my daughter's face for the first time was beautiful, surreal, and exciting all at once. I will never forget the moment I added "mother" to my identity. Stay tuned for what it all means!