Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Because not EVERYthing is about my grief...

Thanks to The Oatmeal for making me laugh in a totally sick way this morning...

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Heaven's Amusement Park

Kiersten grabbed my hand and dragged me along the white hallway to where the roller coaster was loading up. "Hurry up!" She climbed into the only seat. "Watch me, Mama!"

I watched, smiling, as she went around the short track three, then four times. She laughed, her dark hair flying out behind her. As she got out of the car and ran around to re-enter the non-existent line, she yelled, "Come on with me this time!" I climbed in with her, then noticed she was not sitting in the seat, but floating next to me. She was in some sort of water slide, whooshing along on her back. Laughing, she grabbed my hand again. I felt so happy. Then I remembered.

"You're not real, are you?"

She looked at me briefly, "No Mama. I'm just in your dream."

"So you haven't come back?"

"No, Mama. But we can play for now."

"So I'll wake up and you won't be here."

She nodded. "Uh-huh."

Then she hugged me. I could feel her arms around me, could smell her hair. I felt her in my arms, whole and solid. My joy was transcendent.

"If I know it's a dream, why am I still here? Don't you have to go? Am I awake?"

"Not yet. Let's ride another ride."

Then my alarm went off.

Monday, December 28, 2009

4 lbs., 7 oz.

Kiersten's ashes came home the other day. We had ordered an urn awhile back, a wooden one. I guess we both wanted her to be in something warm -- something that was once alive. Neither of us was happy with what we ordered and we sent it back. S is going to work with his old woodworking mentor and they are going to make an urn together. His mentor is a master wood-turner and I'm certain it will be perfect, however it comes out. This is important to S; he wants to feel like he has a role to play here in making her comfortable.

In any event, the result in the short term is that she came home in a cardboard box. No; not a bag-lady-brown-corrugated-Amana box. It's actually a pretty nice little white box. It has -- wait for it -- a Certificate of Authenticity on the top of it. "Oh look, honey. She's bona-fide!"

It weighs exactly 4 lbs, 7 oz.

I was at once surprised both by how heavy and how light it was. K was a big kid -- just about 100 pounds and just under 5 feet tall. She was, to be honest, too big for my lap anymore, for all that she spent a lot of time there anyway. All that kid reduced to 4 lbs, 7 oz. An entire lifetime of memories in a white cardboard box with a Certificate of Authenticity on the top. Don't ask me why, but this morning I put the box in front of my stereo and played Alice's Restaurant. She loved that song, and there was something about the Certificate that made me think of "twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with the circles and the arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one." I put the song on and I sang along to the singing parts of it while I cleaned up the family room.

And then I put her under the Memory Tree.

4 lbs, 7 oz. Almost inconceivable.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Comfort, perhaps, if not joy.

There is so much I want to write about Christmas, but for a change I cannot find the words.

Christmas eve mass was beautiful and I was profoundly glad to have started my Christmas at the stroke of midnight with such joyful music. I was also glad for my dad and step-mom, who came with me. S was having a terribly hard day on Thursday and I would have gone to church alone if they hadn't driven out to go with me.

I understood why S was so sad. There were so many things that were part of our Christmas tradition that we did not do this year and probably will never do again. No mixing up magic reindeer food (oats, and my own special magic flying powder that looks remarkably like a combination of glitter and corn starch). No leaving out cookies for Santa. No sneaking downstairs after K went to bed to assemble her special "Santa" present. None of it. Just emptiness.

It about devoured S on Thursday. I ached for his hurt, but couldn't really find the words to comfort him. So I just hugged him and let him be for the day. I was all the more thankful for the distraction of midnight mass, however.

Christmas day was really very pleasant. My dad and step-mom, and my in-laws, came over. We made breakfast strata and fruit and muffins. Everyone brought a little of something. The mimosas were consumed in unheard-of quantities and the conversation was upbeat and careful. It was as happy a celebration as we probably could have hoped for. I got some pretty good swag, truth be told, including a totally awesome seedling cart that I can use to grow my herbs and to start all my seeds for spring planting. Daisy Mae made out like a bandit, with more clothing, art supplies, make-up, perfume, and video games than any kid needs or wants.

It's funny; I never understood why the parking lot at the movie theater was always full on Christmas day. Who on Earth would go to the movies when it was primo family time? And yet, there Daisy and I were, standing in line for the 4:50 showing of Sherlock Holmes. Good movie, by the way. I have found that movies do a good job of filling in empty spaces. I guess a lot of people have spaces to fill on Christmas, because the entire theater was packed. I saw two people ask for tickets for a movie, and when they found their choice sold out, they simply took a ticket for the next movie, whatever it was. Like I said, there are apparently a lot of empty spaces out there. I never knew.

The evening found the phone ringing, non-stop. I am again reminded of how blessed we are to be surrounded by so many friends and family who care about us and want to be sure we know we are loved. Incredible. I hope I never take them for granted.

Joy is pretty hard to come by these days. But for a few days there, we had comfort.

Well, lookee there. I guess I had a few words after all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Memory Tree

When you lose a child, the community mourns with you in ways you don't expect.

The phone rings, and on the other end is always a small voice.

So sorry if I'm disturbing you.

I have something for you. May I stop by?

There are tiny keepsakes from schoolchildren. Meals of rigatoni or chicken. Checks for one of Kiersten's causes.

For most of these things, it's easy to be gracious. I'm always grateful for the food. Never thought I'd be happy to have meals brought to my house, but I'm so exhausted all the time right now that a meal I don't have to cook is always a good meal. The checks allow me to focus on the work that Love-A-Stray and the zoo are doing.

Yesterday was different. Two families of Kiersten's classmates brought over dinner and Christmas cookies. But they also brought over two things I didn't expect. The first was a prayer quilt that their church had made. The second was a memory tree.

They had collected thoughts about Kiersten from each of her classmates, and had placed them on a large cut-out Christmas tree, with the pictures of each classmate who had written something.

I couldn't look at it while they were there. I had to fight to keep from crying. We talked about the dogs. I asked the girls about their letters to Santa (which earned me a nervous laugh, like they weren't sure if I actually knew -- you know -- about Santa). We talked about the zoo and the animal shelter and the church. I had to fight to stay on an even keel; to talk when I wanted to scream.

Then they left as Kiersten's friend, Serena, came over. She was K's best friend. We had made plans to make popcorn mix, like we have for the last three years. I also wanted to give Serena some of Kiersten's things that would be meaningful to Serena.

It was a great visit until it was time to go. Losing your child also means losing that child's friends -- children who used to fill your house with laughter and love. You're left with only echoes and memories.

Late last night, I looked at the memory tree. Fourth-graders are wonderful.

Ashley: Kiersten loved animals.

T.J.: Kiersten loved everybody!

Sarah: She was my first friend.

Hannah: She was my best friend.

Jillian: Kiersten was beautiful.

Maeve: Kiersten was courageous.

Jonathan: Kiersten was the most loveable person I've ever known.

Yes, Jonathon. Yes, she was.

I miss her so much.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dear Bug,

Dear Bug,

Today I actually went out and had some fun. I visited with Grandma Laura this morning; we went and did a bit of Christmas shopping. Then we went to Uncle Joe and Aunt Kate's house where we met Uncle Peter and Aunt Christy and we went to see Avatar. It was a totally awesome movie. I have to admit, though, that Daddy and I both felt a little bit guilty enjoying it -- you wanted to see that movie so much. I remember that, just before we left to go skating, you were watching the trailer for Avatar on my computer. Well, it was just as good as you thought it was going to be. I hope you got to see it, too.

It was good to be out with friends. It's kind of funny -- so many people have gotten to know each other better through their love of you. You were put here to make people love each other, I think. I just wish that you didn't have to go to make that happen.

Last night, I went back to the skating rink. I had to do it -- part of me was afraid that you were stuck there somehow, and I just had to be sure. But you weren't there. It was just a skating rink; it wasn't scary and I didn't feel sick or anything. I know it wasn't the rink's fault you left us there. But it was the last place I saw your beautiful smile and heard you laugh. It made me miss you so very much.

You would be so surprised and happy to see how many people sent in donations to Love-A-Stray for the kittehs and to the Zoo for the Gharial. Lots of them are from people we don't even know. But because they thought you were so special, they are making sure that you will be the gharial's mom for the next 20 years! And that's not all. Because of you, the people at love-a-stray will have enough money to take care of 25 extra cats this year. All because of you, Baby.

I managed to go all day today without crying. I feel a little bit guilty about that. But I still miss you every minute. It just doesn't hurt quite as bad today.

I love you and I miss you, Bug.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lift Up Your Voice

There are two means of refuge from the misery of life - music and cats.

~Albert Schweitzer

Last night, I went to choir practice at church for the first time in 20 years.

The first ten years, I missed because we hadn't found a church that made us feel at home. The second ten years, I missed because I didn't want to take time away from Kiersten.

It took about 15 seconds for the rest of the choir to figure out that I was "that" Mrs. Sump. You know; the one who just lost her little girl. Poor thing; I don't think I could be here. They welcomed me with hugs and assurances that I would do just fine, and whatever I could do, I could do, and don't worry; most of the rest of the altos don't know the parts for the Christmas Concert pieces either.

The compassion and pity was a bit overwhelming. It felt condescending. I thought I might have to leave. It was that hard to be there.

The reason I had come there in the first place was that I had made an agreement with Father Charlie. In a completely unconventional moment, he made a confession to me, while I was making my confession prior to Kiersten's funeral: "I've never done this before. I've been a priest for 30 years, and I've never had to bury a child like this before. And you can see grace here and I just see evil. I don't know how to do this." And then he started to cry. I had made him promise me, then and there, that he would not cry during Kiersten's eulogy. "I have to follow you up there, and if you cry, I'm going to cry and then I won't be able to talk, and we'll never get through this. So you can't cry up there." We pinkie-swore that we'd hold each other together.

He almost lost it. I heard his voice catch at the beginning of the eulogy, but he paused, calmed himself and rose to the occasion. It was a beautiful, heartfelt, uplifting tribute and I was extremely grateful for his words and his strength. I caught him afterward. "I thought I lost you for a minute there."

He smiled. "You owe me, now. You have to join the choir."

So there I was, promising the group that if I couldn't find my way well enough through the music, that I would not embarrass them by actually singing at the Christmas prelude. And then the actual rehearsal started and it was like riding a bicycle. All the music came back, and I found myself lifted up and comforted by the words, the technical points, the joining together of voices in praise. We floated through the Christmas portion of The Messiah and an adaptation of Greensleeves that was new to me but just lovely. Lots of traditional carols that I knew as well as my own name. I struggled with two a capella pieces, but I think I can master those in the next ten days. I found that I really hadn't forgotten how to do this, and for two hours, my heart was glad.

As we broke up, they all came and hugged me again, but differently this time. This time, it was in welcome. "That's a helluva set of pipes you have there, sister," The director winked at me. "I think this is going to be a good thing for us all."

I think so, too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And another farewell

My friend, Debbie, left this morning to drive down to Florida and start a new chapter of her life. It wasn't easy for either of us to say goodbye, especially given the circumstances of the last few weeks.

Debbie first came into our lives in October 2000, when we hired her to help with housecleaning. I was a first-time mom and working a lot of hours and made a decision that I just couldn't work and take care of a baby and keep my house clean. Having someone else clean my house felt like the most decadent luxury ever. It took about two weeks, however, to decide that paying someone to clean was the best money I spent every month. I felt like I had gained a big piece of sanity.

More importantly, however, in Debbie, we all gained a friend and a confidante. There is a bond you form with someone who knows where all your messes are hidden that transcends age or background. With Debbie, though, it was a different kind of bond. We quickly settled into a pattern of easy banter over the kitchen table, where she felt free to hand out parenting advice and we felt free to trade recipes and fitness tips.

Over time, Debbie stopped being someone we hired and started being a member of the family. She came over to help put the house together the day before Thanksgiving every year, staying after for sandwiches and drinks. We always invited her to join us for Thanksgiving dinner. She always said no, but she always showed up anyway, usually just after dinner, to hang out and drink coffee and nibble desserts.

She's been with us through all of our ups and downs, as well as her own. We've become "go to" people for each other. When my mom broke her leg and moved in two years ago, Debbie was there to be her friend when she was lonely and everyone else was at work or school. When Debbie had personal crises of her own, she would call and we'd be there for her. She shared my love of hard work, and valued wisdom, and she had proved to be one of the most trustworthy and honest people I've ever known.

In the last year, her sister and mother have moved down to Florida, however, and she's felt a bit adrift. About three months ago, she made the decision to join them. It was time, she decided, to move on and open a new chapter of her life. We've been dreading her leaving, sad to lose our friend and scared that we'd finally have to figure out how to clean this house! But we supported her and wished her well. And this year, on the last day my family as I knew it was still complete, Debbie finally joined us for Thanksgiving dinner. It is a day that will live in my heart forever.

In losing Kiersten, we all came to realize anew how very important Debbie was to us. She was there when Kiersten was born, and she helped up bury her when she died. She spent a lot of time with Kiersten. She was there to kibbitz with homework or to take time out to play Nintendo when K got bored. When Kiersten died, Deb was at the house at 8:00 the next morning, ready to do whatever we needed, even though her hurt ran almost as deeply as our own.

It was Debbie who ran interference with reporters when they arrived at my door unannounced. It was Debbie who sat up with me the second night when I thought I might never sleep again. It was Debbie who made sure the house was locked up and secure when we weren't there. I will be grateful to her forever for being there when I needed someone the most.

Our goodbye on Sunday was an exceptionally sad one. She almost tried to stay and I almost begged her to. I told her that, if she decided once she got down there that it wasn't the life she wanted, that she would always have a home with us. And I meant it. I doubt she'll ever come back; it's not in her nature. But I hope that someday we'll see her again.

Good luck Debbie. I'll miss you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Leaning into the pain

I read a website yesterday that suggested you should "lean into the pain" while grieving. I found it an interesting directive. But I think I like it.

I've had contacts from others, locally and nationally -- mostly other mothers -- who have lost their children. They have given me dates like 1996 and 2000 when their precious little ones left them. Their grief still seems fresh in their writing. I am devastated for them -- as my husband said the other day, "This is NOT a club anyone wants to belong to", and frankly I'm frightened for myself. As much as I will miss Kiersten with a big part of my heart forever, and as much as I am profoundly sad that I will not have her in my life anymore, the prospect of continuing to grieve in this paralyzing way for another 13 years is scaring the crap out of me.

It's easy to find escapes from pain; drugs, risk-taking behavior, games, even work -- but I think that failing to "lean into the pain", might keep us from conquering it, or at least co-existing with it. I think "leaning into it" means to feel it, not just on the surface, but to meld with it, make it part of us, and to find it a home where it can exist and not cause us ongoing damage. I think I mentioned in an earlier post once that stress, pain, exhaustion can soften us at times; make us more open to change, allow us to accept that things are not what they once were.

It hurts to lean into the pain. It makes me cry and rage and at times to struggle to stand perfectly still, like a captain trying to steer a ship through a buffeting hurricane. But each time I do it, each time I let the pain pass through me, it seems to change in a subtle way. Maybe in time, it will not hurt as much.

BHD said the other day, "This is not your story." The parents who stop living and continue to grieve for years stretching into decades are not my story. But I think it will take a continual "leaning into the pain" for awhile to make sure of it. I'm not looking forward to it. But I think this is what I will have to do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Act 2, scene 4

And we move on to anger...

Tonight there was a nation-wide ceremony to honor and remember children of all ages who are missed by parents, grandparents and siblings. At 7:00 pm, we were to light a candle and remember our lost loved ones.

So I lit a candle. And I put an electric candle in the Bug's window, where I intend to keep it until I finally accept that she's not coming home.

But no words would come. Mr. Bean and Daisy Mae couldn't talk either. We all just stood there and stared at the candle.

And then I got angry.

I went to K's room and just screamed at the walls. I grabbed at pillows and stuffed animals, trying to find some trace of her somewhere. I paced the room like a caged animal, desperate to find an escape hatch. I laid on her bed and raged and cried until I thought I would break open and melt into the sheets. I willed myself to shatter into a million pieces and blow away. Why, I screamed. Why, why, why did you make me love her so much, if you were just going to take her away?! I never wanted to have kids to begin with! I was totally ambivalent about parenting! Why did you teach me to love being a parent so much if you weren't going to let me keep doing it??? Why did you make her so good if she wasn't going to stay??? WHY???!!!!!

The pillows, the walls, the stuffed animals, the Pokemon posters -- all, predictably, said nothing. The candle continued to flicker, silently and patiently, on the table. The cat regarded me with crooked-headed curiosity.

My rage melted into exhaustion.

So this is anger.

And it's ALL small stuff.

I've learned some important lessons over the last two weeks. One of them is this: No matter how hard you try, you can't control for everything.

I say this, because I have a very dear friend who is really experiencing some hard times, due to the owners of the adjoining property having installed a natural gas well quite near to her property line. Here in Ohio, there is a tremendous natural gas field in the shale about 100 feet down. It's not easy to extract: they have to use a process called "fracking", which pumps a lot of water into the shale to let the gas out.

But the point of this is not about the gas extraction process; rather, it's about her reaction to it. It's been negative, to say the least, and with good cause. She's become an activist. She's undertaken an aggressive lobbying campaign at the state level, has written editorials and given interviews about the violation of property rights and some of the perceived dangers involved in this drilling process. All good, positive, absolutely understandable reactions to what really is an unfair situation. But she's also declared her home "uninhabitable", and has moved her family out, and is trying to sell it very quickly for what will undoubtedly be a fire sale price.

I'm not insensitive to her concerns. To be fair, there have been a small number of adverse events over the past several years associated with these gas wells, and there is a potential for some release of toxic run-off from these wells. That's a given. But she perceives the risk to her children as immediate and extreme. The stress she's created around this is ruining her health and will doubtless ruin all of them financially.

I want to take her by the hand and tell her that yes, there is clearly some risk involved in having these gas wells on the adjacent property. And yes, if she doesn't like it, she should work to sell her property. But there are risks in everything that we expose our kids to: driving in the car with us, going to school, eating food. And that, no matter how hard we try to keep our children safe from harm, at the end of the day, we may lose them to something immediate and completely outside our control.

I want to tell her to relax; of course she should work toward selling the house if she's uncomfortable, but that she needs to put her risks in perspective and not create more strife and upheaval than the situation warrants. They can live in the house. They can celebrate the holidays. They can still live their lives with joy.

I don't know; maybe my perspective is skewed right now. I think losing your child to a condition that is as common as being struck by lightning might do that to you. But I believe our lives are too short and too precious to waste days, or hours, or even minutes, to worry.

I love her a lot and I need to figure out how to help her find some peace.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Undone by the Giant Eagle

Note: Despite my stated need to step away from the keyboard, I'm still compulsively communicating. If you want happy-peppy, it ain't here.

I have a confession to make. I’m a control freak.

My husband will tell you that I have a need to control nearly every variable of my life. I don’t think it’s that extreme, but I do insist on being in control of my conduct and my emotions. My mother has always been stoic to a fault, and I have inherited her tendency toward carefully measuring my reactions to situations. I’m not always successful, and I’m always angry with myself when my emotions get the best of me.

As you might expect, I’m struggling with the grieving process.

I will admit to being largely unfamiliar with grief until now. I have lost all four of my grandparents, and the parents of several friends over the years, but these deaths were expected and my ability to cope with them was orderly and predictable. Sadness was intense for a short while, to be certain, but was for the most part confined to the traditional period of mourning. I have missed my grandfather rather acutely at times, and I have had periods of grief over several miscarriages over the years. But these periods were short-lived and I bounced back pretty quickly.

The struggle I am currently having is new territory for me. I keep thinking that I can reason my way through this – set aside a good chunk of time each day to cry and miss the Bug and indulge my need to grieve without courage, and then function the rest of the day. Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? It’s not that I can’t or won’t let myself go through this process. It’s just that I am desperate to start to move on in at least part of my life. I know that my grieving won’t bring Kiersten back. And I still have things I have to do on a daily basis.

My mind, body and heart are not sticking with this program, however. I fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I would sleep now, if I could get horizontal. I can’t concentrate on even the smallest of things. I leave pans on the stove. I forget people’s names. I find myself unable to add simple numbers or spell third grade vocabulary words.

But what I mostly do is cry at completely nonsensical, inopportune times. It’s just that everything, everything, everything reminds me of Kiersten. She lurks behind every corner. I hear her name in every song. Night before last, I came across one of her jackets. In a moment of desperation, I grabbed it out of the closet and buried my face in it, hoping beyond hope that I would be able to smell her in the fabric. I couldn’t, of course. And I was just devastated.

I can accept some of this. I expect to find her in the house. I expect to see a hundred little reminders a day, as I pass her room, or find her toys under the couch. I can accept this. What I wasn’t prepared to accept was the emotional reactions I would have to public places.

Today, it was the grocery store. S and I went to the grocery store today to pick up a few things. Today was a bad day to begin with, and he thought the fresh air would help me. And in fairness, he warned me that the grocery store was a tough place to be. I just didn’t believe him.

Walking through the door and being faced with the produce section, I understood why he had warned me. The Bug loved vegetables. Each time we went in, she would rush to check out the red peppers, the cucumbers, the asparagus. Trips to the store were always fun when we were together and feeling how much she was not there was overwhelming. I spent the entire shopping trip in tears. She was missing from every inch of the store. I almost ran out. It didn’t make sense at first. Why the grocery store, of all places?

Why, indeed? The Dalai Lama once said, “Sometimes, the simple act of bringing food to another person is the most profound act of love we can express.” Nowhere is this more evident than when we feed our children. As a mother, it is the very first thing we do for our newborn babies. Their first moments of life are spent against our breasts, and there is not a day that goes by thereafter when we do not concern ourselves with the act of bringing them food. So I guess it makes sense that the grocery store would be a place to miss her acutely. It just surprised me so much at the time.

It was enheartening to have a day yesterday that gave me a glimpse of what the “good” days will be like. And it was equally disheartening to have today be so bad in contrast. I’m just afraid of how many more of these places I will encounter, and how often the simplest things will leave me undone.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

I almost feel like me.

I lasted about 4 hours at work yesterday. I'm probably only going to last 4 hours today. I get exhausted easily.

But I actually feel OK, for the first time since we lost the Bug. I'm getting some work done, I managed to crack a joke or two with my co-workers, I accepted a speaking engagement for Ireland in June. I even talked S into accompanying me down to Florida for a conference I need to attend in January.

Last night, while we were picking out urns for K's ashes (talk about a morbid activity), we took note of these little mini urns, they call "keepsakes". This disturbed me for some reason. Are these supposed to be travel sized? I wondered aloud if we should put some of K's ashes in there and take it with us wherever we went, so we could take pictures of her in all these different places. "You know, like the Stanley Cup."

First, I was horrified that I'd made the joke.

Then I laughed.

I feel like myself again today. At least for today. Tomorrow might be different.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The new normal

I'm going back to work, at least for a few hours, today. There is just too much piling up there.

Step one in figuring out what our new "normal" will look like from here on in, I guess. Going to take it as slow and as part-time as I can, for now.

Yesterday was a tough day. The world hasn't slowed down; Christmas is on the minds of most everyone. I just can't get there right now. It's just too hard.

I've said elsewhere on the web that I need to transition from a public and shared mourning period to a less public time of grieving. Grief is not a spectator sport, so it may be pretty quiet here for awhile. It needs to be that way.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Today is Saturday

Daisy Mae's birthday was a celebration. We needed, for just a few hours, to remember that life is still worth celebrating, even if there is a hole in your heart. As has been a constant over the last eight days, we were surrounded by friends and family. Joe and Kate and their girls. Heidi and Bill. Christy and Peter. Joyce. Laurie and Bill, and their beautiful kids. I had a 4-year-old on my lap for awhile last night. I hope I get more of those moments. They help.

Without these friends, I would never have survived to this point. I know I wouldn't have. My family, and Steve's, have also been a constant and I am deeply grateful for them. But your friends are your friends. They choose you, and they choose to stand beside you. And I am so very, very deeply blessed to have them in my life.

Today I will see my sister. I've written about her before. She has come back, at least for now, and she is also a solace and a blessing. There have been a small number of genuinely good things to have come from losing my Bug, and that is one of them. I will not look into the future and tell you what is to come; but for today, I have a sister again, and that makes me happy.

Today is Saturday. Eight days. They seem like a blink and a lifetime, all at once. I guess that's what it's supposed to be like.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Today is Friday

Yesterday, we sent our beautiful little girl off for her next adventure. We were surrounded by friends and family, and held aloft by their love, for her and for us.

It was strange; the night before, I got a text message. It was being propagated through the schools, asking people to dress in pink for Kiersten yesterday. It was fitting for her, and I was touched.

It also made me realize that the service we had planned for Kiersten really didn't reflect who she was. I made a decision to try to fix that. I found a passage from Cats that she loved, and read that as a reflection. I think she would have liked it.

We were also pleased and honored to have many friends from across the country come to honor Kes. Gosh, it was a lot of driving for all of them. I was so grateful for their love and support. I wish it had been for a better reason and that we had had more time to talk.

Several friends and family members came back to the house, and drank and shared fun stories. It was a huge comfort.

I'm tired now. The exhaustion is setting in. But today is H's birthday and we need to try to restore some normalcy to her life.

Today is Friday. And after that, we'll decide what comes after that.

Enjoy the ride, little Bug. You were the greatest blessing any parent could ask for.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Today is Tuesday.

Today is Tuesday. The news people stayed away today, although we were told that Thursday might be a bit tough in that regard. Visitation this evening. Three hours felt like a lifetime, but we got through it.

Seeing her in the casket was not as terrible as I thought, and she was surrounded by her stuffed animals at the beginning of the evening, supplemented by tiny toys and thoughts from her friends by the end. She looked beautiful, even if she wasn't in that body anymore.

I didn't cry tonight. Oddly, I didn't even want to. My job was to comfort all the hundreds of people who came through, and that job, in itself, gave me comfort. There were quite a few of her classmates who came through, most of them wondering what happened to her. We were lucky enough to have a cardiologist friend explain her death to us in a way that makes sense to tell a fourth grader. We will plant a tree at the school in the spring, to help them have a place to go to talk with her. It was good to have that to tell them. I think it helped, in a small way.

Services are all planned for Thursday; everything is arranged. All that is left is tomorrow's marathon. Gosh, tonight we had more than 200 people in 3 hours. Tomorrow night will be twice that. I'm going to need a conveyor belt.

I talked with Kes tonight after everyone left. I told her she'd be touched by all the people who were here tonight. Her friends were very brave and her family focused on her incredibly bright spirit. A dear friend told me the other night that firecrackers can't burn forever, and he's right. But the bang Kiersten is leaving behind will last a long time I think.

It is late. Tomorrow will be a tough day. Time for sleep.

Monday, November 30, 2009


The human mind is a curious thing. In times of extreme stress, we can block out all but the necessities. We can become "comfortably numb" as Pink Floyd would tell us.

That's where I am today.

This morning dawned cruelly sunny and bright again today, and it took my breath away as I walked the dogs. As I have several times over the years, I found the morning walk in the woods was my time to grieve acutely, and the tears flowed without courage.

The rest of the day has been taken up with a thousand plans and preparations, tasks, diversions, phone calls. We had to pick out Kiersten's casket, the calling cards, the photos for the funeral home, the tiny pieces of jewelry where we will keep minute bits of her ashes. There was a news crew in our driveway when we arrived home. Part of the "new normal" for now, I guess. There were news crews in the driveways at my in-laws home and my father's home as well.

I was angry about that at first, but the media has, for a change, treated a tragedy with some respect. In a very odd way, this intrusion into our lives, this public grieving, has brought us some comfort.

But now, when the house is once again too quiet, I am feeling calm. Strangely so. Tomorrow, we will begin the marathon process of visiting hours, then the funeral. I expect it all to be a blur. This numbness will carry me for the time being.

God, I miss her. I miss her so much.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I have, for years, seen accounts in the paper about children who have died, suddenly and tragically. These stories have always touched me deeply, and I have always found my heart breaking for the parents of these little angels. How can a parent endure this loss?

Yesterday, as I sat with the funeral director in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. My friend, Debbie, told me that there was a reporter from the local paper there. My first reaction was anger, "Why do I have vampires in my house???". But she said she was there to tell Kiersten's story. She asked if we would let her do that.

She did a lovely job. I couldn't have asked for anyone to have treated the memory of my little girl with more respect or more caring.

This morning I went to the grocery store at the corner and picked up 15 papers. As I went to the check-out, my favorite cashier was at the counter. She looked up at me and said, "what's with all the papers?" Then she froze, and looked at the front page and back to me. "Oh my God, that's your girl!" She started to cry, and hugged me, and told me to take the papers.

So now we have gone from a private tragedy to a news item. It's the most surreal thing I've ever experienced.

The outpouring of love and caring we have received from my friends in the blogosphere, my friends on Radio Paradise, and our friends on Facebook, as well as the wonderful and rich friendships in person, has been overwhelming. You never know how many friends you have until something tragic happens.

The next few days will be a whirlwind; I'm counting on the activity to keep me numb. I don't know what we will do from there.

But I thank you all for your wishes and kind words. They will remain a comfort to me as we move through this.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My soul dies with you.

Kiersten Elise Sump (my Bug) died last night at 10:22 pm at Elyria Memorial Hospital. Officially.

Unofficially, she died in my arms at 8:55 pm at North Rec skating rink in Elyria.

Her heart just stopped beating; as much as this hurts, we probably won't ever know why.

She knew no pain, and no fear. She was gone before she hit the ice last night.

Kiersten was 9 years old. She was the best, brightest thing in my life and bringing her into this world was best thing I have ever done. I will never, ever stop missing her.

There have been times in the last 24 hours when I have wanted to join her in body, because she already has my soul with her.

We were able to donate her heart valves for transplant, so maybe someone else won't have to go through this heartache.

I need until Monday to set this up, but rather than sending flowers, please support one of the two things that Kes really cared about.

Love a stray is a no-kill shelter for cats in Avon Ohio. They place cats at PetSmart for adoption and every time Kiersten went into PetSmart, she stopped to visit the kitties. They made her smile.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
has an adopt an animal program. Kiersten's favorite animal was the gharial. Only my Bug would love a gharial. But you can make an adopt-an-animal pledge in Kiersten's memory. They'll pool the donations and put her name on the parent's list every year.

Thank you for all the wishes and prayers. They mean a lot today. They'll mean more after all the people leave and my house is quiet.


Ain't no sunshine when she's gone.

My daughter, Kiersten, is dead.

There may be sunshine in the world, but not here

Not for me.

Not ever again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Amazingly enough, we have survived another Thanksgiving Day Massa-cree here in the land of Bean. 15 for dinner. No second wave for dessert this year. (can i say yippee to that?) Daisy Mae was uncommonly kind to the Bug today, treating her to a make-over and letting her borrow Daisy's favorite suede boots.

My dad, finishing his second week of chemo, arrived early and, while he did have to take a short break for a nap after dinner, ate well and laughed much. One of our guests, Ann, who is now pushing 80, agreed to let us drive her home rather than risk a nighttime drive after 2 glasses of wine.

There were no disasters this year. In past years, we have had dishes catch fire in the oven, dishes accidentally left for dead on the back porch, things over-cook, under-cook and sometimes, despite best efforts, just come out terrible. I have had my entire family come down with Norwalk virus 1 hour before guests arrives. I have had my dishwasher break down, (totalpieceofcrapBoschdishwasherthatIpaid $650forTENYEARSAGOandthatI'vepaidthatmuchinrepairsforsincethenOMGIhateit), my sink back up and my toilet clog. I have done Thanksgiving dishes in the bathtub twice in the last ten years.

This year? Nothin'. No disasters. No fights. No bonzai run to Walgreen's for Liquid Plumr. No unexpected wave of 10pm drop-in guests after I put on my pajamas. No trips to the Emergency Room.

It almost feels like I've forgotten something.

So now it's 11:30 and the dishes are done, the food is put away, the tablecloths are in the washer and the house is utterly quiet. And cleaner than it has been in a couple of years, I think.

And I feel...Thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

I am a big fan of Free-Range Kids, a blog hosted by Lenore Skenazy, who reminds us that children have been self-sufficient and inquisitive since the beginning of time. They are also much more capable than we usually give them credit for.

Anyway, despite my fondness for her anecdotes, and despite how much her descriptions of hysterical, stranger-danger-addled do-gooders sound suspiciously like my mother-in-law, I have always thought that the aforementioned addled ones were outliers, or at least confined to my parent's generation.

Not so. I was at a party on Saturday, where one of the guests was discussing having driven past his old house, and how shocked he was to see a three-year-old child walk out the front door, grab a ball and head toward his back yard.

"Would YOU let your little kid walk out the front door without standing there watching him???"

I mentioned that it sounded like the child wasn't in any danger: the street was not heavily traveled, the front yard was sufficiently large that there was probably not imminent danger he'd wander into the street. He had grabbed a ball and headed for the back yard. I thought that, for a few minutes, it was probably OK.

One of the other guests piped up: "But someone could have snatched him! Kids get snatched all the time now! Perverts are everywhere!"

I casually mentioned that the incidence of child abductions by strangers was at its lowest level in 50 years. My husband, the History and Urban Studies scholar, concurred. "Besides," I said, "if you've ever had a three-year-old, you sure as hell don't want to take on someone else's !!"
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OK, Mom! I'll have fun!

"Yeah," said my husband, "we've been leaving K parked out front with the keys in her ignition for almost five years, and nobody's ever taken HER."

This, predictably, had the effect of making everyone in the room scoot their chairs about six inches away from us both.

In any event, having been regarded like I was insane, I actually started to wonder if I might be. But I don't think so. I think of all the hours that K hung out in our front yard, playing in the leaves and picking flowers, kicking her ball and riding her tricycle up and down the driveway, while I was shuttling back and forth inside and outside, keeping half an eye on her, but not sharp-eyed on her every move.

I think that our children will end up victims, most likely, because we raise them to be victims. Because we don't ever trust them to do the right thing. Because we hover and watch and make them afraid. Because we don't let them take risks and get dirty.

I just hope they treat our grandchildren with more respect.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A big, crowded couch

Well, folks, it looks like I just wasn't cut out for the NaBloPoMo. Missed a few posts in there. I'm not too broken up about it, to be honest. It's grant season, and my Superwoman cape is at the cleaners. Life goes on.

Twenty years ago, we met a couple, Joyce and Mike, who have become very close and wonderful friends. Their marriage is a bit unconventional: She is divorced once and 10 years his senior. It's a very strong marriage, however, and it's one that I admire.

Before they were married, they took the unusual step of seeing a marriage counselor for several sessions. At the time I had met them, I thought this was, frankly, weird. Why on earth would anyone spend a bunch of time pre-hashing a bunch of yet-to-be-acquired baggage, when they were in that “lovey-dovey-let’s-get-married” phase of this relationship? It just seemed like asking for trouble that just wasn’t there yet. Paying a toll for a bridge that might never be crossed

In retrospect, their strategy was brilliant. They’ve just celebrated their 25th anniversary, and really, the road here hasn’t been easy. But laying that foundation – learning what was in-bounds and what was out-of-bounds in arguments, learning how best to be supportive when times were tough, establishing the communication – has helped them come through the good times and the bad with flying colors.

With this in mind, we started family therapy on Tuesday. The kids were a bit puzzled by this, but not so much as you might think. There was the question of, “Well, but we’re not even officially a family yet. How can we be screwed up already?” To which I answered with a look that said, “Do you even have to ask that question?”

I was particularly concerned about Daisy seeing this as her “fault”. I explained to her that, yes; we were doing this because she was joining our family on a permanent basis. However, the motivation for this was not because of any shortcoming on her – or anyone’s – part.

Disclaimer: it's not all peaches and cream, however; to be completely candid, these first few months have been marked by a lot more conflict that I imaged when we started down this road.

We are doing this because we each have spent the last 15 years living very different lives. Our experiences are different. Our expectations are different. Our communication styles are different. And now we’re talking about bringing us all together, forever. It’s not too different from being in an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages can be loveless, or even violent. It’s not always like that – some arranged marriages are very happy. But the unhappily-ever-after story is common enough to give us all pause. So we’re spending some time with our version of the marriage counselor now.

I was really encouraged by Tuesday’s session. Our therapist is pragmatic, yet upbeat. She tells it like it is. Her first question was to ask each of us what the best and worst things were about our family. Interestingly, we all were pretty well-aligned about both the best and the worst. So we have a common set of expectations to start from.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this journey takes us

Monday, November 16, 2009 burn

Oh the shame! I missed two days in a row.

OK, I'm not ashamed. I was crushed with these grants. But they're done now, so that's behind me.

But I'm fried now. I'll have more to say tomorrow...

Thursday, November 12, 2009



So sometimes, despite best efforts, you just can't control even the things that you think you can control.

I have these three really big grants that must be submitted next week. And despite weeks of preparation and prodding, they're both running late. I'm working on my second night of late-night writing.

I have to find a way to get these people under control. No matter how prepared I am, I can't stand on others and make them complete their assignments in a timely fashion. So the result is that I'm perpetually pulling these grants together at the last minute. It's exhausting.

I get a lot of compliments from my colleagues: "Boy, if you weren't here, we would be sunk!" "Wow! As long as we needs to raise funds, you have job security!" "Thank God you're not the type to spazz over these things!"

But to tell you the truth, I'd rather not be revered quite so much by my colleagues and get to have dinner at home on nights like this.

Next time I come up for air, somebody get me a cup of coffee, will ya?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I got nothin'

No existential crises. No victories. No defeats. No new linoleum.

I was neither praised nor shat upon today. I did not discover the cure for cancer, the secret to teleportation, or the crabby patty recipe. I did not go swimming in the deep end of the pool. Had I not shown up today, i think only my dogs would have missed me.

It was just a day.

Hopefully, tomorrow will provide us more fodder.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Daisy Mae has been here for about five months now. We have been through the Honeymoon period, where everyone made 24/7 happy noises. We went through the first post-honeymoon period, where we had lots of slamming doors and books thrown at walls, and she called me everything but a Child of God. Plenty of tears were shed by all four of us.

We have each, in turn, threatened to throw in the towel.

"You'll never be my mother!"

"I want to call her my daughter, but not if it means destroying my family."

"This wasn't the sister I wanted. She hates me!"

"I hate it here. It's like like living in a prison."

"I can't do this. It's too hard. We're never going to be a real family."

It was scary, for awhile. I found myself thinking of that old curse: "Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it."

The last few weeks, though, we've started to achieve some normalcy. The girls fight, but it's about normal sister things, like who gets the front seat and who is touching what in whose room. Chores are getting done. Homework is getting done. Dinners are completed without anyone bursting into tears, chairs being knocked over, food thrown in the sink or stereos blasting from far corners of the house. We're back to evenings spent with a movie on the couch, discussions of hair colors and shoes, planning for spring sports, dinner at Subway on the way to the dojo.

It's like normal life.

I think we can do this.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

There, but for the grace of God...

I was over at the Drug Mart this evening, picking up all the last minute, "Mom, I need this for school this week!" stuff, when I saw a notice on the board.

Taken, from my car, in this parking lot Thursday around 7:20: My laptop case, containing a Dell laptop, all my school binders, my wallet, my house keys, my insurance card, my kids' birth certificates, their school pictures from this year. Please; you can keep the laptop and the money, if that's what you want, but I cannot replace these other things and they are no use to you. Please. I need them back. I'm a struggling single mom. Cut me a little slack, will you?

Then, a name and a phone number.

When I gave birth to my daughter, K, I had a terrible time with post-partum depression. It took me by surprise, really. I'm not the depressive type. However, hormones can do some seriously crazy stuff sometimes. I remember my OB, Jeff, (a good friend and still a close colleague) said something that has stuck with me ever since.

"At least you're not alone. Can you imagine if you were single and having to go through this? Christ, I get girls come through here and I see them...I know when they leave the hospital, they have that look in their eyes, like, 'Oh my God, how am I going to do this?' And I worry about them; I really do. I have nothing but admiration for single mothers."

I remember at the time, I thought Jeff wasn't really being all that helpful for me. But PPD is short-lived in those of us who are lucky, and the lesson has given me perspective I wouldn't have had otherwise. Part of that still resonates with Jeff's words, especially tonight.

Gayle. Her name was Gayle. I sort of want to call the number and just get her address and send her some money. Just to help. I wonder if she'd accept it from me or if she'd think it was a scam of some sort. In any event, I'm feeling lucky as hell this evening. My life could have been different. I could have made one different choice or could have met a few different people, and I could be raising my kids in a crappy little apartment over by the Drug Mart, and I could be alone and struggling and being robbed of the few things I have. I could be leaving desperate notes on the bulletin board.

There but for the grace of God, go I.

I'm going to say a little prayer for Gayle this evening.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Today was a beautiful day here on the North Coast. Mid-60's sunny, breezy. Fabulous. Started the day with a 4 mile hike. Then, we finished the rest of the yard work -- leaves up, beds cleaned out, screens finally repaired from the destruction wrought by Buddy, the stray dog we took in last month.

It's great to have everything put away, but every muscle in my body hurts. Every one of them. Even my arches hurt.

But I did pull myself together long enough to make an awesome white shrimp and artichoke pizza for dinner. I'd post a picture, but it's gone already. You'll just have to used your imaginations.

Friday, November 06, 2009


They opened a sushi place next to the Drug Mart, five minutes from the house.

And it's pretty good.

Yep, we're pretty darned thrilled over here.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tales of Tough Love from the Dojo

I *heart* my daughters’ karate teachers.

They are a husband and wife team – the dojo is perhaps a 10-minute drive from the house. The girls take karate on Tuesday and Thursday nights; S will be back at it on Monday and Wednesday as soon as he takes care of a couple of medical things, and I take kick-boxing on Monday and Wednesday night. We spend a lot of time at the dojo, and have gotten to know the directors (Senseis) very well. They both are in their mid-30’s and both are black belts: he a 6th degree; she a 2nd degree. They have about a dozen black belt students who help out with classes and techniques.

These people are so focused on the overall health (physical, emotional, school/grades, home and family) of their students that I just want to hug them both most days. It is like a big family there, with the more experienced students teaching and encouraging the less experienced students, a mandate to teach and learn each day, an unequivocal attention to discipline and respect and a focus on self-assurance. I wouldn’t call it “tough love” but rather “firm love”.

The Bug, who has ever been a sensitive old soul, walked into the dojo frightened of being yelled at and disciplined. Last night, she took 4 dozen falls, and got up each and every time. She performed her kata (a dance-like set of compulsory movements for each level) with strength and determination. She did 40 push-ups. On her knuckles. Her Sensei instructed her to teach her sister (Daisy Mae) the new kata, and instructed Daisy to accept her teaching with gratitude and humility. He routinely will send 7 and 8-year-old green belts (intermediate students) to “teach lessons” to teen-aged white belts who have shown too much attitude and not enough humility, as a reminder that toughness comes from the inside, and that our teachers can be found everywhere.

And Mrs Sensei kicks my butt twice a week in the mommy class.

This is a good thing.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lots of stuff banging around in my head today.

I am deeply disappointed in the voters of Ohio. That's all I'll say about it.

My father got positive confirmation yesterday that he has multiple myeloma. I'm cautiously optimistic -- they've caught it as early as humanly possible and the treatments are nothing like they were even five years ago. His prognosis is excellent, even if the next several months will be very hard for him.

This means, of course, that I have to tell my sister. It'll be interesting to see if she just refuses to call me back or if she does as she did when my mom broke her leg -- call long enough to ascertain that he isn't dead, then not speak to anyone again. My dad is hoping to hear from his youngest daughter. Not looking forward to telling him, "Well, I called and told her..."

Daisy Mae has walking pneumonia. I swear, this child has the constitution of a fruit fly. We have her on antibiotics, however, so she should be OK by Monday.

As I once again got to take the big dogs out on leash today, only to have them encounter a herd of deer in the back yard, I began to understand why old people keep pocket dogs.

It's going down to 29 degrees tonight. The furnace won't be fixed until tomorrow. Brr.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ohio Issue 3: Don't gamble with our constitution's another Ohio political post. But the election is today, so hopefully I can go back to kvetching about my life again here very soon.

There's this frightening trend nation-wide for special interests to try to bypass the regular legislative processes of states by proposing to write their programs as amendments to state constitutions.

No where has this practice been more abused than here in Ohio.

This is how Ohio ended up with the most Draconian and dangerous marriage law in the nation.

Now, special interests want us to amend the constitution to allow exactly 4 casinos, all owned by the same out-of-state-developer, to be built in Ohio. This is a state that has voted down casino gambling not once, but three times, in the past. The developers have essentially "bought off" the public interests that opposed them in earlier referenda. The terms for the developers are some of the most generous in the country: the gambling licenses here are being issued for as little as 10% of what the licenses are garnering in other states. There is no guarantee that Ohioans will be hired for the purported 34,000 jobs that proponents claim will be generated by these casinos. And anyone who isn't "in the club" -- cities like Lorain and Youngstown -- don't have a chance to come back later and ask the voters for their own casinos.

But this isn't about casino gambling. And this really isn't about the number or placement or ownership of casinos.

This is a bad idea for two reasons: When programs, policy and practice become part of the state constitution, they become very difficult to modify -- a 3/5th majority of the legislature must approve such a measure. They also cannot cannot be reviewed for constitutionality. When a policy becomes part of the constitution, it's constitutionality cannot be challenged, except at the Federal level. But more importantly, it's about cheapening the constitution. This document defines what is most important to the people in this state about how they are to be governed.

It shouldn't be about ensuring that a small number of people make an obscene amount of money.

So, for the same reasons that I am voting no on Issue 2 (below), I am also voting NO on Issue 3. Nearly every major newspaper in the state has come out against it, as have both of our US senators. I urge you to do the same.

Monday, November 02, 2009

National Blog Posting Month

I have several hard-core blogging friends who are doing NaBloPoMo this year -- an abbreviation that, by turns, causes me to either envision Mushmouth from the Cosby Kids or a Hawaiian Trigger Fish.

So the deal is this. I have to write something -- anything -- once a day for the month of November. I am going to give this a try this year, mostly because the pressures of job and home have caused me to stop writing almost entirely for the last six months or so. And I miss it. So hopefully this will force me to start using that part of my brain again.

Yeah, I know; I already missed Sunday. So sue me.

And away we go....

If you haven't already tuned in from looking at my Facebook page, please check out Michael Ruhlman's post about why he's not voting for Issue 2 here in Ohio. Tomorrow, I'll tell you why you shouldn't vote for Issue 3 either. (hint: the theme is eerily similar)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chinese Algebra

It's finally happened.

I watched my mother go through it, as she struggled over my homework papers in fifth grade, with numbers stacked neatly over an upside-down division symbol. I thought she was quaint, and perhaps a little crazy, as she cursed under her breathe over "that cockamamie stuff they are teaching you kids".

Now, bent over Daisy's pre-algebra homework, I'm encountering it for myself.

The New Math.

I had thought that my generation was a solitary recipient of the New Math. Perhaps, as with Vatican II, the New Math was one of the progressive offspring of the 60's cultural revolution that brought us phonics and Palo Alto readers, and destined to be the norm until the time of the next cultural revolution.

I see now that this is not so -- every generation has their own New Math. Like popular music and slang, the objective of the New Math is to isolate the previous generation, to distinguish them as out of touch and out of step with contemporary culture and learning.

Last night, the object of the exercise was "isolate the variable". 1/5t = 9. I carefully and dutifully explained about the use of the inverse of the modifier -- in this case, 5 -- on both sides of the equation. Daisy watched, frowned, and then howled, in frustration.

"That's not how we're supposed to do it! We're supposed to use the odey-podey!"

"The what-the-foozits?"

She demonstrated, using a combination of fractions above and below the line, with several arcs, leading around the equation and rendering the entire thing unreadable. She also got the wrong answer.

"Look, this isn't a bloomin' art project, it's an equation. Multiply both sides by the inverse of the modifier. See? Then you reduce the modifier in front of the variable to 1 and get the right answer."

She frowned again. "That's not how we're supposed to do it."

"OK, well YOUR way is giving you the wrong answer."

She drew a frown-y face next to my equation. She then announced that she would stop in to see her teacher in the morning about it, and stalked off to her room.

This morning, darling hubby talked with her math teacher, explaining the encounter from last night.

"Oh," she said, "you're using reciprocals. I don't teach reciprocals."

He looked at her, puzzled. "Then how on Earth do you isolate variables??"

"Oh, we use the odey-podey."

It appears we're doomed to that realm of quaint insanity, where my parents, and their parents before them, have dwelt since time immemorial. I'll bring my Supertramp albums to pass the time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saying NO to big Agribusiness

So, every now and again, my unexpected political side comes out. I think I’m just getting feistier as I get older; either that or the boots to the head just don’t hurt as bad. This is one of those times. If you don’t live in Ohio, you can pretty much ignore this

– or not. It’s likely to pop up in a state ballot near you, soon…

Issue 2 is on the ballot here, in the land that’s round on the ends and hi in the middle, and it goes something like this:

If you keep food animals, regardless of the size of your farm, the regulations for keeping those animals will be decided upon by a 13-member Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, made up primarily of “farmers” (emphasis mine), with minority representation from veterinarians, animal welfare advocates, and consumers. This Board will make the recommendations to the State Department of Agriculture and will take the place of the state legislature and state referendum process, with regard to animal care.

Sounds pretty innocuous – even animal-friendly – on the surface, doesn’t it? We let the farmers -- who depend on our food animals for their livelihood – decide how best to care for their animals, and we keep the potential charismatic wingnuts and the special interest groups out of the mix. I have to admit, on first read, I sort of liked the idea myself.

Until I read the language more carefully.

The advocates for this Board are asking to amend the State Constitution to create it. There are only two Boards dictated by our constitution at present: the Board of Education and the Board of Worker’s Compensation. What this means is, in the event that this Board isn’t actually looking after the best interests of the animals that make up our food supply – and by extension the people who eat food in this state – we can’t revise or abolish it without changing the state constitution.

Whoa. That’s a lotta faith to put in a new idea, and I think it poses a serious threat, not only to the care of our food animals, but to the process by which we keep an eye on industrial agriculture in this state.

If “Industrial Agriculture” sounds like “Beanie’s just being a knee-jerk liberal again”, it isn’t. In a recent radio station interview, Jack Fisher, the EVP of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, insisted that this issue was intended to help “family farms”. Well, lookee there. It's Mom and Apple Pie. When questioned about how big a “family farm” is, however, his answer was, “Well, some families are pretty big, you know?” While Issue 2 talks about “family farms”, the definition of “family” is pretty darned broad. If a Confined Animal Feedlot Operation (CAFO) is privately owned, it’s considered a family farm. Even if it has 500 employees and a million animals.

Does this look like a “family farm” to you? Is it something you’d like to have a say about, before it moves into your back yard? Or would you at least like to have some say about the population density, waste disposal or noise regulations associated with it? If we pass Issue 2, you won’t have that say. And neither will your congress people.

This isn’t a rant against eating meat. We’re omnivores. We eat meat. And it isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the Humane Society, which can have its own agenda sometimes. But it IS an indictment of those who would hold the citizens of this state hostage to the interests of large agri-business firms, with only the most onerous of recourse if we find ourselves unhappy with any potentially self-interested behavior on their part. There’s a better way to do this. Every major newspaper in the state is opposing this Issue. I plan to, as well.

Vote NO on Issue 2.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


There's that commercial that says 'Life comes at you fast." I'm kinda feeling that this week. Got multiple deadlines looming for work, a close friend lost his father, very suddenly, yesterday morning, we're struggling through the conclusion of the "honeymoon period" with Daisy, the Bug's birthday party is Saturday. I have a "to do" list as long as my arm. Literally.

So what am I doing? Sitting here. Blogging. Because I can't figure out where to focus first. Zoiks.

I wonder if I can condense 90 minutes of Hatha yoga into 15 seconds, so I can breathe again?

Photo: DHD Multimedia Image Gallery

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Remedial Parenting

One of my favorite new blog reads is The Momma Rocks, a continuing saga of motherhood written by a local rebbetzin. She's just a couple miles from me at work, and I swear I'm going to take her to lunch one of these days.

She is one of the most "hands-off-make-your-kids-accountable" parents I know and I admire her approach. Today's rant is about getting local school teachers and administrators to understand that her kids need to suffer natural consequences at school for not having their act together.

And I am envious of her success with her approach to parenting, mostly because I'm not sure I will ever be able to take it. I have struggled for awhile with The Bug, who has had some behavioral and neurological difficulties from birth that make it devilishly hard for her to self-organize. She has made great strides, to be certain, but I'm probably a lot more hands on with her than I want to be -- or would be otherwise.

And now, we have an additional struggle with Daisy Mae. Without going into detail, she's arrived in the house, at the age of 14, without ever really having been taught accountability. This is a bit counter-intuitive, given how much she had to -- literally -- survive on her own for awhile. But as under-parented children often do, she has become a pro at deflecting blame and responsibility. She does not think her actions through and then she steadfastly refuses to see her role in any failure. As you might expect, this set of habits and behaviors has run head-long against her desire to be more independent (which I heartily support).

So I'm left with this dilemma: How much do we manage her, and help her manage herself? She is desperate for us to have a "hand-off" approach to her right now, but she truly lacks the skills to keep herself organized and on-track. I am tempted to let her fall on her nose a couple of times so we can use those times as teachable moments, and yet, the ramifications of allowing her to suffer the natural consequences of her deficits in this regard can be catastrophic for her at this point. I need to figure out how far we can let her fall before we catch her, and still ensure that she learns real lessons and real natural consequences.

I need to spend some time consulting with some of my friends who teach high school. They're stuck in the same position I am -- they have to take students and prepare them to go out into the world, without the benefit of having been involved in their early training.

But I'll toss it out there to some of you. Those of you who've parented or taught "special needs" teens: how do you go back and teach some of these kids (the ones who are missing fundamentals) accountability and self-reliance without letting them fall on their faces TOO hard?
Image courtesy of the Fail Blog

Thursday, September 10, 2009


OK, so sometimes I check my stats, because, well, I want to know who stopped by. I mostly see the 3 or so of you who actually read this thing, but I also get a lot of "one-hit wonders", who end up here because of some search term combination.

I generally get a giggle out of the search terms that bring some people here. Some of you will remember the spate of "bifurcated uvula" fans, for instance. Lately, it's been a lot of Betty Boop picture fans.

This morning, however, I checked my stat counter and had not one, but three separate Google hits on "tween boys in bras and panties", who hit on my post awhile back about buying my daughter's first training bras.

And I wonder what the heck triggered three different fans of underage cross-dressers to search on that yesterday. And also I feel an urge to send each of them a note that says, "What the frack?? That's seriously effed up."

Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against cross-dressers. Or those who find them attractive. I think it's that whole gender-bending-kiddie-pron combo that's kinda giving me the oogies inside.

So my word for today is, "Ew."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Ooh that rackin' frackin'..

I was all set to fire off a post about how absolutely steaming angry I am at the muddle-headed parents out there who have checked their sanity at the door and pulled their kids out of school rather than have them listen to a speech from our president about the importance of education.

Luckily, you all are spared my Yosemite Sam impression, and instead you can read this post by Lisse over at @ Home in the World, who says what I would have said, but better and without quite so much gnashing of teeth.

But I'm still amazed, confused and offended that there are Americans in this country with their minds clamped so securely shut.

photo credit:

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tales from the back seat of my car...

One of our new experiences with having two children now is back seat conversations. The Bug has always been one to sing and chatter while she was in the car, but now we have a new dynamic as Bug and Daisy share space behind my head.

Daisy: Bug, why are you sitting on my cheese again???
Bug: Why is your cheese under my butt again??


Daisy: Starbucks! Mom, can we stop at Starbuck's for coffee?
Bug (not looking up from her book): Starbucks is full of greedy capitalist pigs...why don't you top it off with a trip to Wal-Mart?
Daisy: What? Good gravy, Bug, can't you speak English for a change??
Bug (still not looking up from her book): Keep yellin', there, Miss Anti-Fair-Trade.
Daisy: Arrrrgh! You're not a nine-year-old! You're an alien!


Bug: Mom, can you make me an Arwen costume for Halloween?
Daisy: Mom, can you make me a queen costume, so I can make Bug one of my peasants?
Bug: Don't make me Earth-bend you. Again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Stuff that makes my day

Listening to my almost 9-year-old come home from school, saying, "Mom, 4th grade is SO AWESOME!"

And seeing my 14-year-old beam, as she talked about how great it was to go back to school and have all her friends and teachers tell her how great she looked.

Life goes on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Futile Tears

Tonight I attended a wake for a friend and co-worker. Jeff was a 28-year-old technology development guy, whose easy smile, boyish good looks and absolutely scrupulous approach to his work made him enormously likeable and enormously respected.

Jeff had just gained a big promotion that included a title and a move to Florida, which was where his wife was Wednesday morning, looking for a new house, when she got the news that he'd died in his sleep.

I can't imagine the heartache that call must have caused, in part because it was not a surprise at some level. Jeff was a Type I Diabetic (sometimes called a Juvenile Diabetic).

I'll spare my usual diatribe about Type II Diabetes being a self-inflicted illness and instead just say that Type I Diabetes is a terribly unfair disease that takes too many young people far too soon. To live with Type I Diabetes is to obsess about food, about medicines, about exercise. Not enough? Too much? Do you have your glucose tabs? Your juice? An extra injection? What if they only have bagels at the breakfast meeting? For those who live with the Type I diabetic, every day brings the possibility of a mistake that can result in a trip to the hospital, or coma, or in some cases, even death. The disease takes a lot of teen and young adult victims.

Maintaining the right level of insulin for overnight is the toughest part of Type I. Almost anything can upset the careful balance: illness, stress, even changes in weather. Most of my single Type I friends have a "wing man" who calls them at 6:00 am to make sure they wake up and to call 911 if they don't. It was a hideous coincidence that one of the few mornings his wife wasn't there to check on him, Jeff's insulin went terribly out of balance and he quietly slipped away.

The line into the viewing tonight was an hour long. Jeff's family greeted every visitor with a polite grace underscored by a numb, blank-eyed exhaustion. In contrast to the gatherings that surround the passing of our eldest, where there is a natural discussion and banter that can border on light-hearted, there was little conversation in the room. At one point later in the evening, I saw his young widow, for a moment released from the receiving line, standing in the center of the room, utterly alone. She stared at the video screen, then projecting a photo of her and Jeff from a vacation, the disbelief on her face palpable and heartbreaking.

But not one tear. In fact, while every quiet conversation in the room was punctuated by broken voices, I saw no tears on any of the faces. Maybe some events need so many tears that it seems an utter futility to let the first one fall.

Sometimes, it seems that God calls the best of us home first. Perhaps it is to teach humility to the rest of us.

All I know is that Jeff was one of the good guys, and he left us far too soon. I'll miss him very much.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Perspective, Redux

Daisy and I crossed the paddock toward Kes, who had just finished a riding lesson. Kes had her arms around Hershey, a 6-year-old chestnut gelding thoroughbred.

"Oh, Hershey, I love you! You're just the best horse ever!"

Kes grabbed the bridle and walked back to the barn, talking a mile a minute to Hershey, whom she handed off to her instructor. "Mom! Mom, did you see me trot? Hershey's got a monster trot, doesn't he?" She continued to chatter away, skipping, and turning pirouettes in the tack room as she put Hershey's equipment away.

Daisy rolled her eyes. "Oh my god, does she ever shut up?"

"Daisy", I said, "give her a break. She's eight years old. It wasn't that long ago that you were eight years old."

Daisy stopped and regarded me with a mixture of sadness and disbelief, then turned her head out toward the paddock. Her eyes fixed on a point in the distance.

"I was never eight years old. At least, not like that." She turned back toward me. "When I was eight years old, my older sister and I were trying to figure out where to get food, and taking turns going to school, so someone would be home to watch my baby sister, Gina. There are days when I would give anything -- I mean it, anything -- to actually be eight years old. Just for a little while."

There are days when I am so involved in the activity of loving this child -- of giving her the life I think she wants and needs -- that I forget that she went through enough hell before she arrived here that she was removed from her home for her own safety. And at those times, I want to wrap her in my arms and protect her from all that is bad in this world. I want to find her birth mother and make her look me in the eye and tell me what on Earth she could have chosen over loving this child.

But I can't do that. All I can do is love her, and maybe...finally...give her a chance to be a child.

What I'm doing RIGHT NOW.

I'm listening to iTunes, working on a white paper for work, and wearing some of the fabulous swag I got today from Fitness Magazine, courtesy of Crabby McSlacker over at Cranky Fitness.

I have no idea if their magazine is going to be any good or not, as I haven't received my first issue yet. But if it's half as good as their swag, I'm all for it.

Thanks again, Crabby!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Coverage Mulling Exercise

I'm taking the Challenge that Justine put forth over at Justine's Housewreck today.

I'm supposed to list five things I like about my health coverage, and then five things i hate about my health coverage. Mine; not someone else's. Which is tough, because I have really, really wonderful health coverage through my husband's former employer. Which is going away in April. And so I am about to embark on changing health coverage for me and Mr. Bean and the Bug. I can't get coverage for Daisy Mae yet, as she remains a ward of the state for another six months or so and is covered by Medicaid. I add her on later.

So why is this hard? 1) Because I have nearly perfect health coverage. I mean, seriously. 2) I have $20 co-pays for routine office visits, which is very manageable. 3) I have $5 or $10 prescriptions. 4) I have vision and dental that is good enough that I get my teeth cleaned and whatever else they need twice a year and I usually don't pay much of anything, unless I make a cosmetic choice. 5) I get new glasses every other year, for about $50 a shot.

All the things I hate have to do with the fact that nobody else I know has coverage like this. I feel like this plan -- my plan -- is right and good and that every American needs to have something just as good. We don't need to be able to get everything at the drop of a hat, and we don't need it all for free. Some reasonable co-pay is OK and some reasonable waiting time is OK, and new glasses once every two years is often enough. And I actually think it's OK, that, if everyone has free basic coverage, that those who can afford it can buy supplemental coverage. Just because public education is free to all doesn't mean we have outlawed private schools. This is no different. So with that in mind:

1) I hate that I have friends, like Justine, who -- even with health coverage -- have thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. 2) I hate that there are good, hard-working people in this country who can't afford health coverage and don't qualify for Medicaid and so they just pray they don't get sick. Or they fake indigence and take cash-only jobs, so they can be on Medicaid. 3) I hate that we've designed hospital systems that won't pay for a midwife to deliver a low-risk pregnancy and give the mother 5 days in a birthing center, so instead we put new mothers in the hospital so they can have their delivery covered, but then boot them out on the street 24 hours later. And it ends up costing both the insurance and the family more than the midwife/birthing center option. 4) I hate that our current system discourages providers and payers from actually TALKING to each other, so it takes months or years to resolve billing issues. and 5) I hate that we have a payer system that believe that mental health is somehow less important or less expensive than "physical" health.

What about you? What do you think, when you take Justine's advice and mull it over a bit? What five things to you love about the coverage you currently have? And what five things just stick in your craw the worst about your coverage?

Be healthy.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Got a Song in My Tummy, and It Wants to Come Out

Last night, I updated my Facebook status to read: “I am dancing around my kitchen, singing the Sleeping Beauty Waltz, and eating fresh blackberries from the back yard. Just because.”

My friend Leslie remarked that I am seriously whack. Which may be the truth.

The truth is: I love to sing. Like, all the time. I sing in the shower. In the car. In the garden. I sing to the kids (if they’ll let me) before they go to sleep. I sing while I do the laundry. Stressing out at work? I have a show tune for that. I cannot pass by a karaoke machine.

I make up songs on the spot about life’s mishaps:

Please don’t you slam that ‘fridgerator door.
It makes the bread fall on the floor.

Or narrations about what the cat is doing… (Sang to the tune of POTUSA’s “Lump”)

Mudge sits alone on the kitchen chair,
stretchin’ rollin’ puts her belly in the air.

My kids regard me as though I were the weird old aunt who wears a tinfoil hat and purple rain boots. “Geez, Mom! Do you have to do that???” Sometimes, I make a point of singing stupid kids’ songs to their friends, just to embarrass them. My kids, not their friends. Their friends appear to like that I sing to them. “Your mom is hilarious!”

My husband has learned to live with my ongoing self-styled soundtrack, with only the occasional, “that’s not your best key, dear”, to interrupt my serenades. The cat normally decides that I am in pain or otherwise distressed and reacts by licking my face and meowing frantically.

But I still sing, because it makes my heart glad. And I’m not half bad at it. Oh, sure, I’ll probably never make it on American Idol or anything. But I can sing in the church choir and I belt out the national anthem at the fair before the combine demolition derby starts. What’s important, though, is that the songs – any songs – tap into those emotions that I need most at the time. It might be songs from my childhood, or whatever I heard on Daisy's radio station driving home. I sometimes switch from Bing Crosby to Pat Benetar to Pink in the span of a few minutes. I can use a song to cry out my despair when the tears won’t flow, or to dispel disappointment. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, sung with an attitude just on the edge of panicked laughter, is a wonderful way to ratchet my frustration level down from the break point. I can make a despondent friend laugh, or soothe a baby to sleep.

Some people write to express themselves; some paint. Some people keep it all inside, preferring not to let others see what they’re really thinking.

Me? I gotta sing.