Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jinx This

I know I am asking for trouble writing this, but the baby's sleeping better. As in, only getting up twice between eight pm and seven a.m.--hoorah! I am frisky as a mountain goat with all this four-hours-of-sequential-sleep stuff. OK, not frisky, because somehow the more I sleep the more I want to, but I'm not psychotic with exhaustion, so I consider the situation more than tenable. Yay, baby!

The improvement started ten days ago, when the usual hour-long routine of rocking and nursing and jouncing and singing to sleep failed to work. Nursing more failed to work. Bouncing with Daddy, usually the ultimate weapon, failed to work. The baby arched and wailed and generally made his misery known to us and the neighbors and the freshmen in the dorm across the street (though THEY deserved it: they're always playing basketball at midnight when they've drunk just enough to overwhelm their natural midwestern niceness and make them scream, "FUCK!" at the top of their lungs with every bounce of the ball). Finally I set the baby in his crib and told him I'd be back in ten minutes, after I'd had a nice, long scream myself.

He cried for eight minutes. EIGHT MINUTES. The Tall Doctor and I looked at each other and said, "We've been carefully avoiding the Let Cry solution for months, and all it would have taken was EIGHT MINUTES?" We felt stupid and exhilarated, even more so after the baby proceeded to sleep until 12:30 am, another new record. And since then, though he still has his bad nights when he pops up and down like an evil jack-in-the-box, he's pretty much got a new routine wherein he screams bloody murder when you put him down in his crib, then sticks his thumb in his mouth, sighs, and goes to sleep for a few glorious hours. Once or twice he's screamed bloody murder for up to fifteen minutes, then crashed just as we hit his door to rescue him. But usually it's just a shriek or two of protest (and I'm glad I can't decode what he's actually saying, because it sounds as if he inherited my four-letter vocabulary, which is rich, varied, and extensive). If it goes longer than that we intervene, because now we know that if he's full and comfy he'll go to sleep fast. Indeed,when the Tall Doctor offered him a bottle after twenty minutes of fuss the other night, he [the baby, thank you] chugged eight ounces in record time, belched like a stevedore, and passed out, snoring.

He also grows apace, that child. He has suddenly morphed from compact-baby-package to being-with-arms-and-legs, and when I hold him he's sort of all over my shoulder and torso, with appendages dangling hither and yon. Also he can move, though I do not know how. He can't crawl, not even the commando-crawl they do on their tummies. And he certainly can't walk. But if I leave him on one side of the sun room and go to the kitchen to get him his favorite snack of a still-frozen waffle (he crumbles them onto the carpet but gets a surprising amount into his mouth), I'll come back to find him on the other side of the room. Today his brother began weeping while I was in the kitchen, and when I sprinted in to see what was the matter he said, "The baby's on my train tracks." And indeed, the baby had managed to sit in the middle of the Thomas tracks we'd just laid out on the floor, and was busy trying to eat Salty the Dockyard Diesel.

Which he might have accomplished, because a) he has front teeth now, so can chew things like a chipmunk, and b) he eats everything, and I mean everything. Not just puts things in his mouth: EATS them. He's seven months old; he's supposed to be eating mushy squash from a jar, maybe some mashed banana, a little rice cereal, some applesauce. Not this kid. So far I have caught him eating bagels, waffles, Wheat Thins, bread, goldfish crackers, rice cakes, and marinated tofu. And when I say "caught," I mean I am not giving him this stuff. He does whatever action he does that allows him to move, then grabs whatever food is in reach, or else he leans over when I'm holding him and eats whatever's in my hand. I may just give up and serve him steak, except I'm vegetarian.

And while we're detailing the Urplet exhaustively, we should mention the acquisition of hobbies. Yes. He has several. The favorite is watching his big brother and trying to do whatever the brother does, but the others are (in no particular order): staring at the Ecuadorian pottery scenes hanging on the wall, wacking the tacky wolf windchime one of my Rez patients gave us, eating Newsweek, and pulling on the cat's tail to see if it's securely attached. Swinging is right up there too, as is eating sand while his brother builds railroads in the sandbox. Oh, and test-driving his voice: can't forget the teradactyl shrieks.

In other words, he's becoming a person. This blows my mind. This time last year he was a ghost in the ultrasound machine, and now he's here, solid in my arms in the middle of the night, grinning his odd little muppet-grin with the upper lip folded down over the lower and his cheeks bulged out. A person in his own right, with desires (boobs) and hopes (maybe today will be the day I figure out how this crawling thing works!) and plans (if I lean to the right hard enough maybe she'll figure out I want to follow the cat; that would be fun). He came from me, he looks like me, and yet he is so OTHER, so complete in himself. When I lift my head up from the diapers and hollering for a moment, it takes my breath away.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Suspense Resolved

So I got off the phone a few hours ago, and the verdict is, she likes it! She likes the structure and the themes and the characters and all that essential stuff, and she thinks we could "dip our collective toe in the water with this" if we need to. Yes, she chucked my baby under the chin and said it was cute!

She also said she thinks there's layers I could add and depths I could plumb (well, depths of character and such, though I trust that if left to my own devices I could also navigate the Marianis Trench of bad writing) which would be well served by yet another round of edits on my part. And she was tactful enough to phrase it as, did I think I was interested in doing more, or did I feel I'd done all I could/wanted to. Well of course, when you put it that way...I mean, I'm from New England! I'm a Puritan! My forefathers were dour Scottish Presbyterians! I can work forever, and delayed gratification is my middle name. Hell, yeah, I can do some more!

Seriously, I can and I will, because otherwise what's the point? I have this other profession precisely so that I DON'T have to live off my writing, (see, I really planned to live off my husband all along) which means I can swan around and be all perfectionist about my writing and get things as close to literate as possible before I release them from my hot little clutches, or at least before I press "PRINT." And while I'd love to sell this puppy tomorrow for six figures (oh, come on, a girl's entitled to her chateaux en Espagne), I would love even more to get it right, to get as close to the novel-it's-supposed-to-be as I can. Stephen King (yes!) has a great analogy about writing a novel being like digging a ship out of the sand, the trick of course being to get it out intact. Right now, my own ship has a rudder and a mainmast, but one side's partly stove in and the hull is barnacled. Got to do some chipping and some hammering to get it so that it's not only seaworthy but enchanting, with white sails reflecting sunlight and decks sparkling with brass fittings. And a big old bare-breasted figurehead, of course.

So wish me luck; it's back to the boatyard for another few months. I wish I could write all day, every day, and get it done in three weeks, but we'll have to settle for three days a week until Christmas or some such thing. Never mind. Trollope wrote before breakfast.

And SPEAKING of writing, my father, whose initials are Thomas Howard, has a beautiful, beautiful book on T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets coming out next year from Ignatius. It's called Dove Descending, and it's extraordinary. I'm not kidding. I was lucky enough to read it in manuscript, and it's phenomenally clear, compelling, moving, and access-granting. Plus he writes heartbreakingly good prose. Angelic prose. Lucid doesn't begin to describe it, nor does gorgeous, nor intelligent, nor any other adjective I can summon. So buy it when you see it. Buy ten and give them to friends. You won't regret it, and you'll actually be able to understand Eliot, so really, there's no downside.

Rabbit this morning at playgroup, to another mother who was holding Urplet: "You have to give back [my long and complicated first name, that I didn't even know he knew]'s baby!"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

This Is Entirely By Way Of Creating Suspense

So, a few weeks ago I wrote that I'd finished a fourth (yes, that's fourth, as in writing the whole bloody thing four times; not so quick on the uptake, me) draft of my novel and sent it off to my agent. I was happy about it; I felt like I was getting significantly closer to the novel I was supposed to be writing, and I had some good feedback from a few readers I trust. Even my agent sent me an email when she started it, saying she'd only just begun but it felt good so far. So I was starting to get a little excited. I mean, I've worked on this for a long time--four years, though with breaks to have the boys and travel, it's actually been about two and a half--and I've always known I'm not a short story writer, so if I'm going to publish any fiction, it's going to have to be a novel, which are actually easier to sell.

But last Wednesday I got a one-line email from my agent, saying she'd finished the book and was ready to talk, and would 3 on Monday be OK. That was it. And I know what that means, because I've worked with her for eighteen months now and I know her style: it means she doesn't like it.

I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, because of course I COULD be wrong, and she could just have been rushed when she wrote. But I don't think so, for a number of reasons much too boring to go into. And if it's true and she really doesn't like it, that will have a number of consequences, most of which are ALSO too boring to go into. And yes, I know I just ended two sentences with prepositions: probably I should never publish anything anyway, because my syntax is clearly not up to the challenge.

So obviously, I've been pondering a lot since Wednesday, though the navel-gazing has fortunately been interrupted by a number of good things, like an ER shift on Friday so busy it threw me outside myself for a healthy ten hours while I thought of nothing but placing the next suture or finding the next specialist, and dinner with wonderful friends yesterday, and giving a lecture Saturday morning to the most beautiful, self-possessed, well-read and enthusiastic group of sixty-ish women I ever hope to meet. And there's those boys, of course, who have a disconcerting way of not knowing when I need them to fade into the background for couple days so I can think and wallow--they're just oddly insensitive that way. I mean, it's so like men not to notice that I need a little down time. When Mom's down, do they say, "Hey, sweetie, let me run you a hot bath and bring you a glass of wine, and you know what? We can just skip the breastfeeding for the next 24 hours," ? Nope, with these guys it's, "Hey babe, while you're up, get me a fresh diaper, would you?" and "Yo, LADY, we need some teething biscuits here!" and "Listen, could you give me a ride to playgroup, and while you're at it, stop at the store for a six-pack of juice boxes." Really, that Y chromosome.

But I am sneaky about my pondering and manage to get it in anyway, usually when I'm doing the 30 minute commute to work through the breathtakingly dull countryside around Cedar Rapids. (Aside: on Friday I was held up by a traffic jam which turned out to be due to an accident. When I got to work, I was gratified to discover they'd brought us the not-very-injured accident-ees, and then was amused and horrified by my own gratification. It really plays to your worst nature, being able to walk into your job and say, "Hey, what was that MVA on 385 all about?" and get an answer.) Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about what if this novel goes nowhere, and where am I with the writing anyway, and isn't it about time SOMETHING happened, if it's going to happen, because I'm not really in the Young Author category anymore, and haven't been for a while. It's a combination of factors, really. There's the self-doubt that any decent writer has--at least, I haven't met any without it--which says, "This has all been done before, so why bother, and anyway, obviously you're not very good at it." Then there's the other voice, the one which keeps you writing, which says, "You're good, you know you are, and it gives you joy and it's what you can do, so just do it, it's your job, and quit worrying about anything else." There's the Geez-Everyone-Else-Is-More-Successful-Than-Me hang-up too, which starts happening when your friends begin to win major prizes (and kudos to Yi-yun Li who just won the Frank O'Connor Short Story Prize, which is the biggest prize for short story collections there is! Hoorah, lady!!) and mentions in anthologies. Which is a bullshit hangup, actually, because more success for them doesn't mean less for you, and anyway, you've read them and they deserve it, they're amazing writers.

Then there's the family factor. For the last three years, I have been earning very little money, and I have also been having children. Despite these facts, I have been writing every afternoon as though it's my job, because I have been supported by the Tall Doctor Working His Ass Off In Clinic Every Day fellowship, and I have left the kids with the Gorgeous Babysitter. This spring, I decided I'd had enough time doing that, which led to my getting the ER job I now have, and which I love, and which pays for the babysitting and half the mortgage. It still leaves me time to write, but not as much, and it must be faced: I can't just keep on spending family money and leaving the kids with a babysitter forever while I try to be a writer. At some point I have to suck it up and do it on my own time (which would be 1-3 am I guess) because I can't play the starving artist game forever. The Tall Doctor couldn't be more supportive--none of this is coming from him--but I feel strongly that I have a lot of other responsibilities now and I should factor them into my decisions about my writing.

There's also the nonfiction card. Maybe I just am not a fiction writer. I can write nonfiction well--anything I know about it I learned from my father, who has published something in the neighborhood of fifteen books, all nonfiction--and I enjoy it. The older I get, the more I enjoy it. Also, writing fiction is like pulling teeth, but writing articles takes me no time. AND, I can sell them. I have. I do. That's fun. Maybe I should just pack in the novel stuff and take aim at the Anne Lamott type of writing. Not that I'm comparing myself to her--just thinking about how much I've enjoyed her nonfiction.

SO--that. Yeah. And tomorrow I talk to my agent, and we'll see what she says. Of course, I may be completely bassackwards here, but I don't think so, and thinking aloud here has been helpful. It's hard to know when to be persistent and just keep at it and hope I'm Grandma Moses, and when to say hey, this isn't happening, let's look at what IS on the table. I don't want to be wimpy, but I don't want to be stupid either. Then again, maybe I should just sit back and be both? That might be more fun.

[Hey you! Yeah, you in the Mama-pajamas! We need some more breasts over here, and I mean NOW!]

OK, well, my path for the next twenty minutes is clear, at least. I'll let you know what happens tomorrow.

All Over the Place

Well, I just wrote a long, luxurious post about our whole week: Internal Medicine Department picnic, Music Together class, busy ER shifts, a lecture I gave on Saturday morning, dinner with friends and their three kids under five on Saturday night, the Tall Doctor's weekend rounds--I detailed it all lovingly, and was screamingly funny besides. Whereupon the computer gobbled it up. I have tried every trick I know to retrieve it, with no luck. So the week is going to have to float off gently into cyberspace, because I do not have the energy to recreate the post, and I am trying to, if not dance, then at least sashay with what life hands me. Perhaps this is some minor cyberdeity's way of telling me to stop writing, already, and go take a nap. To which I say, quoting my father (with the pronouns changed), "I like to write the way other [women] like martinis." So there.

But, for your delectation, an interchange between Rabbit and The Gorgeous Babysitter (which she, being perfect as well as gorgeous, wrote down for me):

GB: "Rabbit, are you pooping?"
R: "No, GB, I'm empty. I'm just empty."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Do All the Naked, Sauna-ing Scandinavian Families Hear Stuff Like This Every Day?

The weather here has been so disgustingly hot and sticky (and I am afronted, because it's the middle of September, hello, where are the crisp leaves?) that I've taken to climbing in the bathtub with the boys at the end of the day. We just all pile in and cool off; it's crowded but soothing, except for the splashing, which could give the Cataract of Lodor a run for its money.

Yesterday as I dried off, Rabbit observed, "Mama looks like a peach."

Well, gee.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


One of my favorite things about my job is that sometimes I can get people out of pain. Sometimes I can just order a shot of Demerol, or an IV with a nice headache-fixing mix of Reglan, Benadryl, and Toradol, or a house specialty called a GI Cocktail (Mylanta, Lidocaine, and Donnatol), and make somebody who was feeling rotten feel better. They come in barfing and miserable, or unable to walk with back pain, or so photophobic they can't tolerate the exam room lights (which, granted, couldn't be harsher or more depressingly fluorescent--but you can always tell you're about to see a migraine patient when you approach the exam room and see the lights are out)--they come in like that, and they leave all shiny and happy. Oh, it's great. It's as good as giving Tylenol to a feverish kid who looks glassy-eyed, limp, and completely pathetic, and coming back half an hour later to find said kid making truck noises and driving the tongue depressors around the sink. We love them thar drugs.

Except when we don't. Because one of my LEAST favorite things about my job is figuring out who's eating their narcotics with a spoon (or selling them on the street) and coming back for more, and who's just really in pain and needs more and better medication.

It's not the obvious fraud which is hard to deal with. When a twenty-five year old guy comes in and complains of nebulous back pain which (he says) renders him immobile, then nearly jumps out of his chair when I palpate his paraspinal muscles, I take notice. When he goes on to ask for "That medicine they gave me last time, I forget the name but it started with P and ended in "cet"" I take more notice. When I look up his records and discover he's been in five times in three weeks asking for meds, I don't have to think too hard to figure out what's going on. When the same person comes back, and back, and BACK to my office, asking for more, and more, and MORE drugs, that's pretty hard to miss too. When the pharmacy calls me and says, "Did you really mean to prescribe 1000 Percocet for Mrs. X?" when I wrote for 10 pills, I tend to jump to the conclusion that Mrs. X altered the scrip. (True story, by the way). When Patient Y informs me that she just met Patient Z selling Dilaudid pills to all comers on her block, and then two days later Patient K tells me the same thing about Patient Z, I am apt to cut off Patient Z's prescriptions. (True story again). That's the easy stuff: it's straightforward, and can be dealt with bluntly.

Thing is, it's not often that obvious who's in real pain, who's faking it, and who may have started out in pain but now is addicted to the medicine. There are ways of investigating whether someone's eating drugs with a spoon, of course. Over the years I've learned, from other providers and from lame experience, so many things to look for. Certain complaints which can't be verified empirically, tend to be popular: back pain, headache, and abdominal pain are the top players. Histories which don't match physical exams, symptoms which follow no known pattern of anything, encyclopedic knowledge of drugs and doses (on the patient's part), long telltale medical records, and physical findings inconsistent with any diagnosis known to medicine except malingering are all red flags (And yes, there's all kinds of tests you can do to figure out if someone's faking certain kinds of pain or weakness. I'd tell you what they are, but then I'd have to kill you). Of course, any of these can be perfectly legit, but taken together, they can give you a little jab, say, "Watch it; you're about to be had."

Problem is, there are so many complicating factors. Physiologic addiction, for instance, which occurs with anyone on long-term narcotics. It's like any relationship: at first you get all excited to see each other and run towards each other in slow motion, hair blowing in the wind, but after a while, it's all grunts and grocery lists and peeing with the door open. So it is with brain receptors and narcotics, and the only thing you can do to liven up the relationship is let them see other people, or at least MORE people. Then there's psychological addiction, which occurs when someone starts to use the medicine for buzz rather than pain relief--but which doesn't mean they're not using it for pain relief as well, which makes things complicated. And there are lifestyle and personality issues, too. Some people don't want to feel anything much at all, some people want you to help them help them help them as long as they don't have to make any changes themselves, (I myself of course am never like that about anything, oh no, not me), and some people become so invested in being sick that they don't remember how to be well, and even the prospect is frightning. Then you mix in the issues and attitudes of the health care providers and the ER staff, which can range from hard-boiled distrust of anyone who says he's in pain, to disastrous naivite, to brusque indifference, to old-fashioned reluctance to treat real pain aggressively, and you really have a stew.

And then, with all that, you have someone sitting in front of you who says she's in pain. And she may very well be, even if she sends up a red flag or two. And you don't know her. And you have no way of KNOWING what she feels. And maybe you've had a couple patients like this today, so you and the rest of the staff are feeling a little gunshy, a little cranky, a little distrustful. You don't want it to factor into your decision making, but you know the doctor who's in today will give you grief if he thinks you're being too trusting in an iffy situation. And on top of it all, you're a nice little white girl who wants everyone to like her, and there's just no way to make that happen here. So what do you do?

Well, if you're me, you tend to give the patient the benefit of the doubt until she proves to you that she's not trustworthy. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. And the problem, of course, is that if she DOES prove to be abusing drugs, then you've got to stop prescribing for her, or modify your prescribing, and that's going to piss her off something fierce, leading to screaming in the halls and positive arias of abuse directed at you, the cowering but determined provider (true again). But honestly, I'd rather treat a few people who aren't in pain by mistake, than not treat someone who really is. When it comes down to it, it's so great to be able to get someone out of pain when she really needs to be that I think it's worth the risk that you as a provider might get embroiled with a nightmare drug-seeking patient for the next however many years. There's a lot of pain out there. Easing just a little, even sometimes, has got to be A Good Thing. At least, I hope so.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Looking For Guilt In All The Wrong Places

This morning the nasty, white-sky, sullen, might-thunder Iowa humidity LIFTED, and there was blue-sky fall, all golden and crisp and invigorating like some beautiful apple. So after the Urplet's nap, I took the boys out for a run in the double jogging stroller. Now, this is a ridiculous sight if ever there was one: in a world full of refugees and hungry people, here's Suburban Girl in her little Title Nine outfit and running hat and Nikes, pushing her kids in an enormous, expensive contraption so she can stay fit 'n trim. I pondered the ridiculousness of same while I ran, and felt guilty, and while I was at it I felt guilty about Urplet's legs sticking out from the sun cover into the sunshine, thus putting him at risk for sunburn. Then we passed a woman roller-blading, and the Rabbit said, "Can we follow her?" and I said no, she was going the other way, then felt guilty that I put my exercise agenda/park plans ahead of his interests. Inflexible mother: bad! bad!

When we got to the park, it was deserted, except for calling crows, sunny stretches of grass, and flowing river. I unpacked the boys, and while the Rabbit climbed contentedly on a jungle gym, Urp sat contendedly in the sand, eating it by the handful. I climbed on the jungle gym too, and there ensued one of those half-hours of peace which can descend like needed spring rain, gentle and misty and essential to survival and hope. I basked like a lizard, Urp ate sand, Rabbit played. The sun shone. No one else was around. We were happy.

Then I realized that the whole time, I'd been fighting a niggling voice which was calling out, "You should talk more! Make it more fun for the boys! Get into it! Make games up instead of just sitting here in the sun watching them!" I recognized that voice. It's the same nonsensical voice I fight off all the time (and no, it's not my mother; she's awesome and un-guilt-inspiring and thinks I'm great); it's the one which says I should steam broccoli, you idiot, what are you doing with that PB&J? It's the one which insists we should be doing more adventurous fun stuff with the kids (who, mind you, are still tiny and could care less). It's the one which says I should present my kids with organic, sit-down meals three times a day, and should have more play dates organized/more family time/more peace and quiet/less television/better borders on the backyard lawn/shinier silver/more medical knowledge/longer runs/more sex/fewer acorns on the driveway. You know that voice. If you have two X chromosomes, I'm betting you have it too.

So today, as I sat in the sun, I called the voice out. Voice, I said, my boys are happy. I am trying--TRYING--to be in the proverbial/cliched moment here. I am trying to recognize when they are happy on their terms, and let them be, and be with them. I am trying to say hey, it's OK to run only twenty minutes today because I'm tired and short on time. I'm trying to say,I may not be hot shit in the ER now, but at least I'm back in there trying to learn again. I'm trying to keep some balance here, Voice, so begone!

The Voice cleared its throat and laughed. Ha, it said. Are you sure you want to lose me? Think of the perspective you'll lose. Think of my cousin voices you'll lose! For instance, you'll lose Productive Guilt/Goading Voice. You'll get satisfied with life here in Iowa and forget there are places you want to go, things you want to do, exhilarations you want to share with your children. In drowning your nonsensical-guilt voice, you'll drown the jabbing reminders which actually make you uncomfortable enough to enact changes which DO need to happen--getting that job, say, or realizing that it really is time to pay more attention to the two year old's diet, or understanding that it you don't go running for a week you'll be hell on wheels to live with. And you might drown another voice too: the voice of Worthy Guilt. That's the voice which reminds you to go to Mass and pray and apologize when you wrong your children or husband, or makes you feel bad when you are nasty to people you love, because you SHOULD feel bad enough about that not to want to do it again.

Well gee, said I to the Voice. That's all true. I don't want to lose the fire that makes me change things which are lackluster or lame or pathetic in my life, or which allows me to go after appropriate or timely change. And I don't want to lose my conscience either. But you know what? Now that you've pointed them out to me, I can see they're different from you, so OFF WITH YOUR HEAD! And I watched triumphantly as the Voice did a Wicked-Witch kind of melt to the floor.

Then the Rabbit, whom I hadn't been watching closely enough, fell two feet off the monkey bars and banged his foot and wept copiously, and I felt guilty for not watching him.

Sic transit gloria I don't even know what.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Rap Polka

We went swimming both days this weekend, at a lake behind a dam. The sand feels as though they trucked in a bunch of it from far away and dumped it atop pre-existing mud--it's sort of gritty and slimy at the same time--and the water beyond the swimming barrier is clangorous (did I just invent a word?) with jet skis and cigarette boats, and there's an exciting view of the back of the dam and some shrubs, but it's water, lovely cool water, with sand next to it, and the Rabbit wasn't complaining.

Neither was I. We schlepped kids and towels and buckets and diaper bags and snacks and sippy cups and flip-flops and little sand-castle molds from Target down to the water--the Tall Doctor had to remind me that we didn't have to park it above the tide line, since hello, there is no tide--and Rabbit and I charged in. I just wanted to wade wimpily in up to my white mom-thighs, but the offspring's intrepid plunging made me feel guilty, so I sank down with shouts of alarm, to his great delight, and we did the float-and-bob that you see all the moms and toddlers doing. ( I even have the navy blue one-piece and the cellulite, and he has the crew cut and the life jacket; we are the complete package.) His little lips turned violet with cold, but he shrieked with happiness when I swished him around, floated him on my arms, and even ventured in up to my neck, with him clinging to my shoulders like a remora in a Nemo swim diaper. When we got too cold we scrambled up onto the beach and I showed him how to make drip castles, the way my father used to make them for me. And the Rabbit took to it; I turned around once and he'd made his own castle, dropping tiny fistfuls of sand one atop the other, and it was gorgeous. There are those moments, you know?

Urplet, however, didn't join in the fun. He's still sick--low-grade temperature, grey around the gills, not much given to his usual wide-mouth-frog grins and his flirtations with that delicious new discovery, the consonant. We took him to the doctor Friday, but they said virus, so we're waiting for him to return to form, and refusing to run differential diagnoses in our heads. Anyway, the little dude curled up like a fat shrimp against his Daddy's chest and dozed most of the afternoon; sometimes he woke up, observed the Rabbit seriously for a while, then rested his spectacular breastfeeding jowls wearily against his Daddy's shoulder and dozed off again. Poor little guy.

Though he doesn't actually seem uncomfortable--he's not whiny or irritable or sleepless. In fact, last night he slept for FIVE HOURS STRAIGHT!!! He never does that!! I didn't know what to do with myself; kept awakening and waiting for the call, but it didn't come. This morning was astonishing; while still tired, I did actually feel as though there had been something of a hiatus between today and the day before it, instead of one continuous flow of baby.

Who, by the way, likes salsa. Music, that is. We were in the parking lot at the lake and a picnicking group had some blaring from their car, and I swear the baby began to vibrate. In time. With a little hip-wiggle thing going on. The Tall Doctor admired his son's rhythm, then said, "What's up with the music? What is that stuff? I didn't know they made rap polka."

Did you?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Avoiding the Text

Doesn't that sound like the title of an English paper on Derrida or something? Actually, it refers to the fact that while I was reading to the Rabbit tonight, I realized that I don't look enough at the pictures in his books. I mean, I appreciate them in a general way, enjoying Beatrix Potter's cozy English landscapes or Richard Scarry's exuberant vision of traffic (along with the neatly labeled fire engines and taxis in his word books, you're liable to find something called a "violet bug car," which is, yes, a tiny purple car driven by a bug, or a "pickle car" which is exactly what it sounds like and really, don't you think everyone should have one?). And I do love the books like "Hush" or "Kidogo" which are just works of art and you'd like to frame every page. But in general, when I'm working my way through the naptime or nighttime reading, I focus on the words, especially since I've seen the pictures about a thousand times before. And hey, when you've got a plot as gripping as "Owl Babies," who needs pictures anyway?

But tonight, as we were working our way through "Home for a Bunny," Rabbit pointed that the baby birds were wearing eggshell hats, and I realized that he sees these books in a whole different way. He doesn't just look at the words--I don't know if he looks at them at all, though occasionally he'll point and announce, "K!" or "B!" (accurately, thank you) like he's just discovered gold in them thar letters. No, he looks at the whole page, and finds his favorite bugs or cars or mice, and then finds something new he's never seen before, or asks about where the raccoons came from, or traces the border with his finger, or elaborates on the story. I charge along, the same way every time, knowing where I'm going and how to get there, and doing it the same way I always do. The Rabbit wanders and looks around and takes in the view, takes in every tiny nuance.

I remember doing that myself. I open a book from my childhood and the 360 engagement which I used to have with books rushes back: the smell of the pages, the color of the tutus in "The Little Ballerina," (I particularly liked the blue one), the perfect peace of Ferdinand the Bull in his field beneath his cork tree. I remember when the world both between and outisde book covers came to me in primary colors, not in words. I'd almost forgotten, but watching the Rabbit take it in--books, songs, Thomas the Ubiquitous Tank Engine--has reminded me.

And in a complete non-sequitor: we were driving to the lake to swim today and we passed an ice cream shack with a sign shaped like a fish. "That's a shark," the Rabbit announced. "What's HIS name?" "Oh, said I, "that must be Ralph." Rabbit thought for a while, then said, "No, I don't think so. That's not quite right for a shark. Ralph's a pig."

You know, I think he's right.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Miss Iowa

Our little cat Miss Iowa died quietly yesterday. It wasn't a surprise: she'd been hit by a car about eighteen months ago and ruptured her diaphragm, and it was a matter of time before she just ran out of room for her internal organs, which had migrated into her chest. And lest you think we're heartless monsters, we did work through whether to do surgery ($3000, high-risk, in Ames) or put her down or just let her go along until this inevitable happened. Since she was happy, purry, eating, sleeping, catching chipmunks, and pretty much doing her cat thang even WITH the diaphragm issue, we let her just live out her cat life. We had noticed this week, though, that she was lying around more, and I'd started to think about bringing her to the vet to see if this was it.

And it was. She came in yesterday morning just fine, gobbled her breakfast and half the butter in the house, and hung around on the porch watching the little boys, whom she considered her kittens. But yesterday afternoon I came home at five and found her apparently asleep behind a door in the cellar. She was dead.

She didn't look as though she'd had a hard death; her paws were still relaxed and I actually thought she was asleep when I saw her. I hope it was quick and not too frightening for her. The bravery of animals astonishes me, the way they just TAKE IT, no matter what it is, and don't complain. I hope she didn't have to take anything too much.

We buried her in the back yard by flashlight after the boys had gone to bed. We got her fixed up in a nice box, with a can of her favorite food, and the Tall Doctor dug a grave under a tree in the back yard. We did our usual burial service, which we've had lots of time to refine since we've killed off six cats in the five years we've been married (Seriously! We have! Two to panleucopenia right after we adopted them from the shelters, two to a next-door neighbor's shit of a Rottweiler on the Rez, one to car accident [Miss Iowa] and one to the vet's needle after he [the cat, not the vet] literally lost his tiny mind). So we talked about Miss Iowa over her grave, had a last tearful viewing, put her in the earth, read some of Psalm 104 over her, and said a prayer. Then we covered her up and planted a violet on the grave.

Now, here's where I was going to put in a self-deprecating comment about being sentimental, and maybe another ironic little remark about praying for felines, just so's you'd know I'm aware that I'm having a funeral for a CAT while New Orleans is drowning. And I do hold that contrast in my mind. But now that I think of it, why do I want to apologize for grieving a beloved pet, and taking her death seriously? If I didn't take hers seriously, would I take any others? I'm Christian, so as far as I'm concerned every sparrow counts, and when one falls in my back yard I mourn it, even while I remember that tens of thousands of other, bigger sparrows are falling elsewhere at the same time. I don't know any other way to be about mortality.

And then, of course, I had to decide what to tell the Rabbit this morning when Miss Iowa didn't show up for breakfast, which she usually demanded vociferously. I hadn't involved Rabbit in the burial-of-stiff-cold-beloved-dead-pet routine, because he seems a little young for that, and we'll get to that particular agony in a few years (plus, Mama crying freaks him out). But I didn't want to pawn him off with excuses and baloney either because here he is, in this world full of sucky mortality, and it's real. So finally I told him that she had gotten sick and died, which meant we wouldn't see her any more. When he at once set off to look for her, we had a little conversation about being dead meaning you weren't available to be found, and he pondered that for a while. "Miss Iowa broke," he announced. "She's not here." I agreed with both statements. "So where is she?" he asked. I thought. "In heaven, which is a good place to be because it's where God lives," I said finally, though I worried that would sound like some 19th century sentimental skirting of the issue. (You know, that "Don't cry Little Girl, Mama's gone to be with the angels..." sort of bullshit). But hey, I DO believe that's where she is, so there. Anyway, the Rabbit pondered that for a while, then said, "Will I go to heaven?" Yowzer, thought I: if I wrote this in a story it would go over like a lead balloon. But I said yes he would, some day, not today. "OK," he said, apparently satisfied, and went about his business with Thomas the Tank Engine. But at intervals all morning he's been stopping whatever he's doing to announce, "Miss Iowa broke." So mortality's churning around in that little brain of his.

It all put me in mind of a conversation I had after Cat Number 2 (or was it 3?) died, soon after the Tall Doctor and I were married. We were at the in-laws for Thanksgiving, and had just buried this particularly beloved little creature, and were sad. My mother-in-law, who you have to understand has farmed all her life, was bemused when we told her we'd had a burial service and prayed. "You don't think God listens to prayers like THAT," she said, amused and actually kind of scornful. "I think He listens if any of His creatures are in distress," I said, "and if he doesn't care when one of His creatures dies, then I'm not interested in Him." Then I brought up that eternal sparrow again (which of course skirts the issue of why any sparrows anywhere are falling if He's a good God, because where did evil come from, blah blah blah and if you think I'm going there in a blog you're nuts, because where's to go?) She sort of sniffed and left the subject, but I'm convinced she thinks I'm a pinko-wacko-lefty-liberal now. Not that she'd be so far wrong at that.

So anyway, RIP Miss Iowa, you furry little Waftant (long story). You were loved and will be missed. We'll see you in the library on Friday night (another story). So long.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Would the Right Title Be?

To write about Katrina, that is. It dawns on me that, while I have spent as much time as everyone else watching TV, clicking endless donation buttons online, fuming, and praying, I haven't said anything here about the destruction of a city.

That's because what do you say? Like everyone else who's not in New Orleans and environs, I sit here writing checks and bearing witness, and nobody needs to hear about that.
  • EarthGoat
  • and
  • Dooce
  • have good lists of places to donate, and I'm sure you know of many others.

    I'm not sure how to post a moment of silence, but if I could, I would.

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    Bites and Reductions and Claw Hammers

    So I survived my first two days of work, and I DID get to wear scrubs after all, hoorah! And if you're (justifiably) wondering why I'm so eager to wear what is possibly the least flattering type of clothing known to man, I'll enlighten you: I don't have enough "real" work clothes, and the ones I have, I don't want to get covered in blood, etc. Plus with scrubs you can wear sneakers or clogs, so your feet and back don't die during a ten hour shift during which you sit down approximately twice.

    Of course, this being my first week and all, I wanted to blow everyone away with my marvy competence and grace under pressure, and equally of course, I did not. My very first patient had a dislocated pinky finger, and while I did manage to get her digital block done nicely so that she was numb, I completely did NOT manage to reduce the dislocation. So I had to go trailing miserably out to the main ER and get one of the (terrific) doctors, who just buzzed back and popped that puppy back in so fast the patient literally didn't know he'd done it. Cue the "She Feels Like a Total Loser" music....though actually, I've done this long enough to be used to riding out the necessary humiliation involved in learning something new, even though I don't enjoy it. And I did learn a useful new trick to doing this kind of reduction, so there. But still...I'm supposed to be easing the workload in the ER, not contributing to it, so oy.

    Other than that, the evening was stressful in the way that learning the computer and paperwork and personalities and culture associated with a new job is always stressful, and in the way that making fast decisions about people's health every ten minutes is stressful, but also rather enlivening in the way that using your head and remembering information you thought you'd forgotten and interacting with all kinds of people you'd never ordinarily meet can be. Wow, what a badly written sentence. Moving righ along...the medics and nurses and doctors and secretaries were wonderful, and did a lot of my job for me and did not utter disparaging remarks in my hearing, for which I was grateful. And oh dear, the Urplet's piping up again. He can't sleep post-immunizations: I'm going to have to get him and tuck him under my arm for the night, because otherwise there will be no rest for the weary, I mean NONE.

    But because you're wondering about the bites and the claw hammers, I will say that the former was on the abdomen and occasioned a lengthy squaredance with the Blood and Body Fluids Exposure protocols (you have to find out what the "source" has been exposed to/has, and what the "target" has been exposed to/has, and then decide which vaccines to give whom and for what, and which meds, if any, and let me tell you, the medic I worked with gets a medal for tracking down said source). The latter had been removed from an elbow which had now started looking infected. I did not ask how claw hammer bits get into an elbow. I never ask how things get anywhere, in this job.

    So, bloodied but unbowed, I'll head back for another round next week. It will be good to get my hand skills back, and even better to be learning again. As for the chaos factor...the ER has nothing on two boys under three. OK, it has a little something, but I still find it easier to be doing one thing (being Nurse Practitioner Me) than five (which is somehow what I feel like I'm doing when I'm Mama Me). On the other hand, my kids think I'm the bomb no matter what I do....