A Note in Chinese

Eight years ago, I had the inexplicable honor of traveling with my brother to China as he and his wife, Avisia, adopted their first child, Henry.

Yesterday, Henry had his second surgery to correct a cleft lip and palette. As I watched him smirking and squirming on his recovery bed, and telling everyone “I’m fine!” I was reminded what a brave little dude he is. 

I wrote this shortly after returning from China in 2008, for Henry, David, and Avisia. 

A NOTE IN CHINESE

 The note I hand the cabbie says, “Please take me to the airport, international gate” in Chinese. The guide from the adoption agency wrote it for me last night, when I told her I had to leave three days early because of work. It would be no big deal, I thought, when we planned this trip, when my big brother, David, bought my tickets, to skip out just a little early on the two-week adoption process. David would take care of Henry all by himself, just like a regular dad, and could do it fine without me. I’m just here to help; and I’ve helped. Now it’s time to go.

I should be ready to go, and I am. There is no Jimmy John’s in China, and no pancakes on any menu that I have seen. I have missed my husband, my daughter, my pillow-top bed, and HGTV.

But I have also held Henry, bathed him, bounced him on my legs, and made him laugh out loud. I have blown bubbles. I have nicknamed his morning diaper (Big Trouble in Little China) and I have used my favorite gray tank top to wipe up his drool. I have kissed the bottoms of his feet. I’ve never kissed the bottoms of anybody’s feet.

It will be hard for David, with nobody to hand Henry off to when he gets tired. It’s no picnic keeping a 20-month-old entertained in a small, un-child-proofed hotel room. It’s no picnic navigating the hotel breakfast buffet and grazing for two with only one arm free. For some reason, David has been stubborn in his resolve not to rent a stroller, so Henry perpetually clings to him like a baby koala. It would take a load off if he had something to put Henry and all the diaper gear in, I try to tell him in the two days before I am to leave. But he just shrugs me off, straps a shoulder harness on, tucks Henry’s legs around his waist, and off we go. Me holding the diaper bag, Henry bouncing along with his big almond eyes and his look of wonder.

The cabbie hands my note right back after barely glancing at it. The bellboy already told him, I suppose. And anyway, where else would an American woman be heading with all her luggage, here in this city that seems to be built solely for the purpose of adoption? Here in Guangzhou, you can buy pull-up diapers and The Communist Manifesto in the same gift shop, and all the menus include a section especially for Chinese toddlers. Rice porridge. Steamed egg.

I instinctively reach for a seat belt, then remember for the hundredth time that they don’t really do that here. They don’t shell their shrimp, they don’t mind if you smoke indoors, and they don’t wear seatbelts.

I turn toward the rear window and see that I’m moving away from them quickly. I expect to see David walking back inside, but the two are still in the car port as the bell boy shuffles away. Henry’s eyes are glossy and wide. Suddenly, the skin on my face weighs ten pounds; my jaw throbs. David remains still, holding Henry at his waist with one mammoth arm.  He looks like someone just handed him a note in Chinese.

Day 1

When we finally get to China, I feel as if I’d walked the entire way. My brother looks like I feel, and all I can smell is my own sweat, or perhaps it’s his sweat, or worse, that of someone else on the plane. We have traveled twenty hours, and it is mid-May. We disembark into ninety-degree heat, and I feel as though I’ve been dipped in honey.

My brother is in China because he is about to become a father.  I am in China, rather than David’s wife, Avisia, because David is about to become a father twice. Just a few weeks after David and Avisia saw their first pictures of Jien Da (who they will name Henry), they found out Avisia was pregnant. Apparently, that happens a lot. A couple tries and tries to conceive, spends months and years taking hormone shots and buying ovulation kits, finally throws in the towel, fills out several reams of adoption paperwork, and Whamo! Buy one, get one. Another one of those examples of God and his rapier wit, I guess.

So, I was asked to be David’s travel companion and adoption assistant. The idea that I am on the opposite end of the world from my family, my chocolate lab, my brand new Simmons Beautyrest bed, my blender, my book collection … makes me nervous. All I have in the world is my brother, my laptop, and my feather pillow. And soon, Henry.

We arrive in Guangzhou about 10 p.m., China time. The hotel is a short walk from the airport, and I use the time it takes to fantasize about the shower I will take when we get there. The bath in the extremely posh room we stay in that night is equipped only with a short nozzle, forcing me to take a sit-down shower, and the water pressure is practically non-existent. David, who once spent a semester of college in France, says the odd plumbing configuration is the Chinese imitating the French style. Whatever. I would shower under my dog’s dripping jowls at this point.

 

Day 2

The first hotel is posh, vast and mostly empty. The three-story entryway is like a black and white marble church minus the pews. On each level are several conversation areas, which contain majestic, ornate couches and chairs in purples, reds, and golds, but no people having conversation. And if there were, it would be a little comical, I think, envisioning a family of petite Chinese resting on these enormous, velvet perches. I give David my camera, and he snaps a shot of me in a chair with a back rest that reaches about two feet above my head. I am on another planet. A rich, beautiful other planet with tiny people and huge furniture.

Walls are covered in life-sized Chinese murals depicting country-side scenes and bold colors, and fish. Lots of fish. Blown glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Perhaps we have come during a slow season. We see hardly any other tourists on our way down the escalators to breakfast. Every step echoes in the grand lobby.

I snap a picture of one of the many fire extinguishers positioned throughout the hotel. Alongside the extinguisher is a stash of gas masks, brightly packaged and illustrated with models wearing the contraptions. Dressed for success, and chemical warfare.  The red box reads: “119.”

Bellboys and girls stand by expectantly, waiting for the remotest chance to assist us in their best possible English. I begin to learn that the Chinese who see a lot of Americans often adopt European names so that we don’t have to be bothered with learning how to address them in their language.

At the breakfast buffet, our waiter, “Jeffrey” places napkins on our laps and dips his head politely. David informs me that the French Danish is the real thing. I load up on pineapple and baguettes. I could totally get used to China.

 

Day 3

David and I make the flight from Guangzhou to Fuzhou, where we will find our guide, who will help us find our hotel, where we will stay for a week, getting to know Henry and waiting for paperwork to be processed. The next morning, David tells me, we will meet Henry for the first time.

On the plane, a stewardess with a smart navy dress suite and a green bow in her ponytail gives us a bottle of water and a package of “health biscuits,” which, near as I can tell, are shortbread cookies. Most of the packaged foods have both Chinese and English on the packaging, which is a great relief. What I’m enjoying even more than the bilingual courtesy are the actual English translations. The package of freeze-dried banana slices I bought at the hotel gift shop reads: “Delicious for you by finest chef!” and “You are the new man! Banana piece.”

The plane to Fuzhou is of course much smaller than the jumbo jet that brought us to China. The seats are much smaller, and David, with his size twelve feet and legs to match, is like a Clydesdale in a phone booth. He reaches for the overhead light and fan panel and unleashes what turns out to be an underwhelming stream of cool air that feathers the hair on his head just slightly. He lets out a long sigh.

Then, as if he’s talking to somebody who might know, my brother turns to me and says, “Sis, what the hell am I doing? Am I in over my head?”

This could actually be the reason I’m here. I’m not well traveled, having never even off the continent, and I don’t know a lick of Chinese (not even “thank you” or “bathroom” at this point). Given that I adopted my stepdaughter when she was already 11, I actually know almost nothing about how to care for a toddler. After only two days away from home, I’m already homesick. I’m basically useless, but for the fact that I can easily, and without even blinking, look my 37-year-old big brother in the eye in a foreign land on a plane bound for Fuzhou, and very calmly lie.

“You’re going to be fine.  You’re exactly where you need to be, doing exactly what you need to do. You’re ready for this.”

David’s face lifts, and he reminds me briefly of the little boy he once was, delight all over his face after hand-feeding a deer in the woods by my grandfather’s house.

“Thank you.”

No problemo. What I’d really like to tell him is that, in my estimation, life as he knows it is basically over in a way that he can’t even comprehend, and that sometimes, he’s going to wonder why he did it, and who can he possibly talk to about undoing it and getting his life back. What I’d really like to say is that when I heard that Avisia was pregnant, my first thought was, well, I guess it’s not too late to stop the adoption process, right? I mean, one life-changing, finance-draining, family-leave enacting thing at a time, right? Then they told us they were going through with the adoption, and I thought, Cripes. Typical over-achieving first-born. Next he’s going to tell me he’s going to continue his doctoral thesis work and keep playing in his Irish folk band on the weekends. (Flash forward: Yes. And yes.)

I don’t know if my brother is in over his head. When I legally adopted my husband’s daughter, she was already living with me, eating my oatmeal cream pies, talking my ear off, and ruining my sex life. When I signed the papers, it was just a new chapter in a book already half-written.  It had started with weekends, then every other week, then “custody,” and along the way, people started referring to me as a “mom.”  As she moves into her teen years, I’ve gone from in over my head to drowning. And she speaks English.

I want to tell David everything will be alright, and mean it. But that’s just … bullshit.

We arrive in Fuzhou and find our guide, Helen, and her assistant, Molly, who take us to a waiting minivan and driver. Helen is small, plain and sturdy. She wears her hair short and bobbed, and seems unaffected by the heat, despite her pilled blue sweater and gray tweed dress pants. Molly is small-boned and fashionable, with black-rimmed glasses. Helen has done this a million times; Molly holds the clipboard.

David and I make our way to the furthest rear seat of the minivan because it is the only one, far as I can tell, that will accommodate David’s long legs. Helen appears poised to object, perhaps for proprietary reasons we don’t know about, but then observes that David’s legs stretch all the way up the open space on the door side of the van and past the middle row. She takes a middle seat, turns to us, and in what seems to be very practiced English, begins telling us what is going to happen.

David asks Helen what her real name is. She tells us, then David repeats it, perfectly. She flashes an approving smile. Two minutes later, I couldn’t tell you what that name was for all the tea in China.

“First, of course,” Helen says, “we will go to hotel conference room and you will meet da baby.”

I glance at David to see if he’s caught that.

“What?”

So, yes, then.

“Yes, you will meet da baby.”

“The baby’s there? Now?”

“Yes! Yes!”

David turns to me for that ever-so-necessary lying thing I did on the plane. It’s short notice, but I straighten, look him right in the eye, and say, “OK. I’m sure it will be fine. It will be fine.”

“Uh, OK.” David says, but doesn’t sound quite so convinced this time.

Helen continues talking about the week to come, but little of it penetrates for us. We are stuck on da baby. Will he scream? Will he cry? Will he stand on the highest piece of furniture and demand representation? Will he like his auntie Caroline?

I don’t know why this is such a big deal. I guess we just thought we had another 12 hours to talk about how exciting it all was or to wax philosophical about Chinese culture versus American culture, or run around taking pictures of cool furniture.

We like to talk a lot in America about being “emotionally” ready for something. We need time to “process” our “feelings” and to meditate on the possibilities and weigh all the pros and cons over coffee and white chocolate raspberry scones.

As we near the city of Fuzhou, I start to catch short glimpses of the traffic situation in this city. If the traffic is any indicator, the people of China afford themselves little time for “processing” or emotional readiness. The closer we get to the city’s center, the larger the swarms of people, bikes, scooters, cars and minivans. There is no apparent system to what is occurring, just droves and droves of wheels all headed in their own directions, not really slowing for each other and not crashing, just bumping, screeching and honking.

Helen turns again and says, “As you can see. Wary, wary busy city here.”

I glance at my brother, who is sweating and gripping what we long-legged Americans like to call the “oh shit” handle on the ceiling of the minivan. I have run out of reassurances to give him and I can no longer lie. We are about to become responsible for a 20-month-old Chinese boy who has never seen a big white dude in his sweet little life, and who doesn’t speak English, and who will undoubtedly think we are kidnapping him.

That’s if we live through the commute.

After about an hour, our minivan lands us at the front doors of the Lakeside Hotel.  Helen instructs us to hand our baggage over to the busboy right away, that we will meet Henry even before we check in.

The hotel is 24 stories high, and likely was considered quite grand 15 or 20 years ago.  Helen moves us quickly past all the marble and all the Asian businessmen who have turned to look at us. Fuzhou, Helen explains, sees very few American tourists.

We are hurried up to a conference room on the third floor.  As we approach, I can hear a toddler wailing angrily. When we reach the door, I can see that there are three other families meeting their new children in this same room. The screaming toddler is a little girl. Her new parents are speaking to her in French, and appear not at all upset by her reaction to them. As her new mother holds her, she reaches back to a middle-aged Chinese woman, bellows, “Mahhhhhhh!”

On the other end of the long conference table that spans the room, an American family with four other small children is having a picture taken with a giggling Chinese boy with mismatched clothing and a crew cut. They break from their pose and resume playing a game of catch that revolves around their new brother, stopping only to pet him or hug him, which makes him giggle and scream with glee.

David is speechless, glancing about the room for Henry, who he has only seen in fuzzy, emailed photos.

As if anyone could even begin to overhear us, he turns to me and whispers, “Could you go get a toy?”

A toy! Here we are, kidnapping an orphan child from a foreign country without so much as a Nerf ball to entice him to like us. I am grateful for the opportunity to escape this room of screams and laughter and words I don’t understand, now in both Chinese and French. I rush back out the double doors and head for the elevator.

In the hotel lobby, I root around in David’s enormous tote bag and find a packet with a soft Spiderman ball and a matching disc. This is some kind of game, I guess, but there is nothing on the packaging to tell me what it is. Never mind. I don’t know much, but I do know that when it comes to children at Henry’s age, this is as good a gift as any. I grab a camera, too. This will be another function of mine on this trip: to capture moments in China as they happen for the people who didn’t get to be there.

When I return, my brother is sitting at the conference table with a little boy on his lap. Already, the ladies from the orphanage have him working on signing a pile of paperwork half an inch thick. Henry’s tiny body is dwarfed by David’s huge shoulders and frame. His hand clutches a goldfish cracker; his lips are pursed. I put the toy on the table and grab my camera. Helen is talking and singing in Chinese and making clicking noises with her tongue at Henry, and although I know she is trying to keep him entertained, I wish she would stop with the noise-making. It just adds to the carnival atmosphere, the feeling of anxiety, discovery, pain, and joy all packed into the crowded room.

Henry makes a whining noise that we will later call his “creaky door” then throws his goldfish cracker to the floor.

David stops signing, picks it up, says casually, “That’s my boy.”

 

***

 

When all the paperwork is signed, we are at last given key cards for a room with double beds. A bellboy brings us a baby-blue metal crib for Henry to sleep in, which we place in between the beds. When the last of the brigade of Chinese ladies has finally left for the evening, when no familiar faces are clicking, singing, or jangling keys in front of his face, Henry finally begins to assess the situation for what it is, and at the moment, surrounded by nothing and no one that he recognizes, it is a big old shit sandwich. He begins to cry.

He cries and cries, and we take turns holding him, his 21-pound body tired and hot. We glance at each other with wan smiles. We were expecting this, but that doesn’t make it any less disarming. We don’t ask the question out loud, but we are both wondering, “How long will it last?”

David calls Avisia at some point, and she reassures him about Henry’s crying. Avisia has looked forward to this baby her whole life, has worked in day care centers for many years, and now works for the department of education. Sending me on this errand in place of her is a little like the Vikings putting Martha Stewart in to play for Brett Favre. As Avisia has predicted, it takes about an hour before Henry’s crying turns to soft whimpering, then at last silence. He is asleep.

Despite the heat, it is the way of the Chinese to keep their children well-covered. Careful not to wake him, we peel two layers of long-sleeved shirts, soaked with sweat, and one pair of long pants off of Henry, then lay him down in a clean diaper and t-shirt.

It is then that I finally get to take him in. I stare at his black spiky hair, his sweet mottled nose, and his lips, which give just the slightest hint of the gaping hole that goes from the roof of his mouth to his nasal passage. Henry’s cleft lip and palette are why his parents left a newborn boy (normally a valued commodity to a Chinese family) at the door of an orphanage when he was only three days old, with a note safety-pinned to his shirt stating only his birth date. The outward affect is a small crease below his nose, a crooked little watermark on his soft rounded face.

I’m so grateful he’s asleep, and I’m so tired I can’t even speak. But when we get up the next day, David and I both admit to the same thing: listening to him breathe almost all night long. I don’t know why I did that. As if he hadn’t been breathing successfully without me up until that point.  As if a baby can’t sleep without help.

 

Day 4

Henry awakens with a cautious smile on his face. David lifts him out of the crib, kisses his hot cheek, and sets him on his feet.

“Good morning, Sir!” David announces. When David was little, our dad used to call him “Sir Hiss,” after the Jungle Book character. “Sir” fits Henry just fine. He is like a little man, stout and serious, seemingly wise.  He walks bow-legged to the end of the room and contemplates his next move, which as it turns out, is to plop down on his diapered but.

The orphanage ladies told us that Henry loves cars, so I am ready with a blue and yellow plastic jeep.

“Hen-reeee!” I say, all sing-songy. I drag the thing backwards on the blue carpet, which winds it up. I set it down, and it sails straight at Henry, knocking him square on the knee.

Oh, shit.

He startles a little, readjusts, then, mercifully, gives a huge grin.

He says, “Lah-la!”

And I am in love.

 

Day 5

The food in China perplexes me.

Henry’s favorite food is called con-gee, which is basically rice porridge, often served with spiced pork or egg sprinkled in. Blech.

As for grown-up food, I want to want it, but I can’t. The food here is prepared so much healthier, so much closer to God and nature and the sea and the ground it comes from. There is nothing breaded or fried or sweet-n-soured here. It’s simply fresh or steamed seafood, veggies, eggs and rice in a million different forms, and it’s absolutely no wonder why I have yet to see a single obese person in this country – who isn’t American.

Still, I am grossed out. Still, I can’t eat anything that comes to me wearing its tail or its head or – God help me – its beady little eyes.

My best meal of the day is obtained at the breakfast buffet because there are also some breads and cereals offered among the fish and eggs. Every other meal is kind of a crap shoot until I discover that the room service hamburger and fries meal is actually quite good, then proceed to order it for lunch four out of the six days we spend in Fuzhou. This annoys my brother, who has basically brought me all the way to China only to watch me run from the culture like a scared rat. Hey – a girl’s got to eat.

In the afternoon, Helen takes us to a downtown supermarket so we can stock up on munchies and juice for Henry. It’s like a five-story, super-packed Walmart, where a person can get just about anything he or she may need. Food, sandals, maxi-pads, T-shirts, white rice up the yin yang.

Though it is a Tuesday afternoon, the place is absolutely jammed with people. David puts Henry in the cart, begins to push forward, and suddenly, a Chinese woman passing through grabs my hips and moves me out of her way. I’m about ready to huff, but she just breezes by casually without even a nod. Then another woman knocks into Helen’s side and Helen simply adjusts her stance and lets the woman by, without even seeming to notice.

The market is hot and the air is still, and Henry, who has never really set foot outside of his orphanage out in the country, vacillates between whimpering and silence. In this market, David, Henry and I have one thing in common: we are overwhelmed.

On Helen’s recommendations, we pick out some oyster crackers and some orange-flavored juice. We stare at Henry’s behind for a good ten minutes, trying to determine what size diapers we should buy. It feels critical that we get this right. As if they could yank Henry from us if we fail the diaper test.

The three of us collapse back into our hotel room, Henry rushing for his new favorite toy, the blue and yellow jeep. David wants to take a nap. I want to read my book, a fascinating first-hand account from a former Sing-Sing prison guard, which I haven’t opened for two days.

Suddenly, Henry throws his truck to the floor. Then he starts to cry hard.

“Maybe he’s hungry,” I suggest. He hadn’t eaten any of his dumplings at the restaurant Helen had taken us to. We try to give him some leftover con-gee, but he just continues.

The cries turn to loud wailing, and David tries to hold him, but he’s not having it.

Soon he is screaming. His little body goes stiff, and when it finally takes a break from being stiff, it is flailing. We try to move toys and shoes away from him on the floor, but sometimes he hits things anyway. I notice a hairline scratch on his stomach and feel panic. I would give anything for this to stop.

Henry continues like this for minutes and minutes. David’s face is cross, tired. I am confused. What is he trying to tell us?

After about 15 minutes, it is clear this is beyond our control, and we are in this for the long haul. Avisia had warned us about this. David grabs some earplugs, then offers some to me. I try them, but they hurt so I take them out.

David says, “If you want, you can go take a walk or something.”

I want to go, but I don’t. I’m glued there, watching my brother stroke his son’s belly. Henry is giving David the business, and he is taking it like a man.

When Mariah came to live with us, she was eight years old. None of us had wanted the move to happen, but her mother’s personal problems had made it necessary. Jim was working and going to school full time, I was a budding reporter working toward magazine writing, so children had been placed into our “someday” file along with skydiving and swing dancing classes. Mariah had only ever lived with her mother, visiting us on weekends and holidays.

I remember explaining the situation to a co-worker of mine at the time.

“Wow,” she said, “You’re lives are really going to change.” I didn’t know quite what she meant. But I just said, “No… she’s already eight years old, and she can dress herself and take care of herself pretty well already.”

I’ll never forget the way that woman looked at me.

Six years later, and actually, Mariah has done a pretty darn good job of taking care of herself. I mean, I came around eventually, after years of processing and examining my feelings, after about a thousand cups of coffee with my sympathetic friends, and after making sure everyone in the world knew how much work it was.

I watch Henry in that state for more than an hour. I watch his eyes run out of tears. I hold my breath during a pause, hoping he will finally succumb to a nap. But it’s just a rest break. After a moment, he opens his eyes and starts anew.

This is hard, and it’s scary, and it feels like nothing is mine, and I am nobody’s, he seems to be telling us. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced, what he’s going through, and what Mariah went through when she came to live with us. I’m humbled.

I want to leave the room and walk away, but I can’t, and I won’t.

 

Day 6

When everyone lives in an apartment, and nobody has a yard, the whole city hangs out in the park. The main municipal park is a short stroll and just across the lake from our hotel room, and is the piece of China that I wish I could put in a box and take home with me. Everything beautiful in nature is represented here: flowers, fish, greenery, water, people, music, sky. Led once again by Helen, the three of us absorb the place in sections. There is the open community area, where the men sit around on picnic tables playing chess and cards. Close by, couples ballroom dance to shrill music broadcast on crude loudspeakers. Further along the lakeside, dozens of women move to the music with synchronized tai chi moves. I wish like hell I knew enough moves to join.

There are pathways and pathways lined with hundreds and maybe even thousands of flower pots. Red is a favorite color, meaning luck. Where there are no red flowers, there are red banners and flags. There are ponds loaded with colorful, big-bellied fish, who eagerly peek their heads above the water in the hopes that you will feed them like so many people have before.

David and I stop along a concrete wall near the lake edge for a rest, having given Helen the rest of the day off from entertaining us. We are a strange site to the Chinese: a tall, white man and woman toting a tiny Chinese boy. Before long, we are surrounded by curious, chattering onlookers, who are asking us questions we have no way to understand or answer.

Henry clings to David, whimpering. David, at home in front of a crowd for as long as I can remember, smiles politely, then opens his mouth wide and points to his own upper palate,  indicating a hole with the fingers of that same hand. Several women nod in understanding, make noises of approval, continue chattering among themselves.

“They just don’t understand how we were able to adopt a boy,” David says. He is relaxed here, thousands of miles from home, with me, a part of his past, and Henry, his future.

In two days, we will fly back to Guangzhou, where David will complete all the paperwork for the formal adoption. In five days, I will board a plane and head back toward my family and all the comforts I miss so badly, and I won’t stop crying until at least Japan.

David will never rent a stroller.

With the crowd of onlookers gone, Henry relaxes. There will be more tantrums. But for now, he has assumed a cross-legged position on David’s lap and is beginning an apparent study of his new dad’s mouth, nose, eyes, and forehead. He gazes at David, holds his face with tiny hands, and laughs at his own little private joke.

Maybe he’s thinking, “Is this my dad?”

I take out my camera. Avisia will want to see this.

D&H2

On kicking the bucket (of cookies)

or It’s not Fair.

or That’s a lovely bucket of sorrow you have there, MARTHA.

 

The last three days of my life have been about a bucket of cookies.

This happens every year with the advent of the Minnesota State Fair. It starts with me saying something asinine like “Oh, I’m not doing what I did last year. I need a bucket of Sweet Martha’s like a need a hole in the head.”

Then I have a dream where I’ve grown a special hole in my head just to house more chocolate chip cookies.

Oh, wait.

sweet m

Writer cookie? She’s on the bucket. I ate her … and all her little friends too. (Side note: Why do we make little people out of inanimate objects that we plan to eat? Almost as creepy as Franken-Fan.)

Have you had these little bastards? Let me rewind a moment.

You see, every year, Minnesota has this huge get-together (da Fair, ya), and people come from all corners of our strangely-shaped state by car, RV, and bus.

Some enter crop art or livestock in competitions. Some enter the Beer Garden and don’t leave until Labor Day. (Some also partake in Hotdish on a Stick and Kid Rock. I don’t understand those people. Still others visit the Al Franken booth and fan themselves with cut-outs of his disembodied head. Not as creepy as it sounds, but still creepy.)

I Fair for the cookies.

Specifically: the fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies that taste like chocolate butter orgasms. And, whatever size you get, you are getting a crap-ton of cookies. It makes NO SENSE to get a whole bucket. It’s flat WRONG. A death wish.

Sunday:

1) “Oh, no. I’m not going to get a bucket this year. It’s way too much.”

2) “Oh, so and so is going to want some too? Okay, then I’ll get a bucket. We’ll share.”

3) So and so doesn’t generally exist.

4) I wait in line for as long as it takes. I’m not going to get a bucket, in my head.

5) “I’ll take a bucket, please.” Hey. In for a penny … pass the milk and stand the hell back.

6) The 90-pound college co-ed with the cookie scoop and chocolate-smudged look of apathy scoops me a heaping bucket of chocolate-chip winning lottery tickets.

7) I have a bucket. It’s mine. I never want this moment to end.

Monday:
I’m irritated, I’ve got the sugar shakes, and my fingers are perma-sticky because for 24 hours, I haven’t eaten anything but butter, refined sugar, and chocolate. And milk, of course.

“You could bring the rest to work,” my roommate tells me, from a distance. I totally could. I have no intention of doing that. I hum My Favorite Mistake as I heat two more cookies up in the microwave in an attempt to recapture the magic of  that first day.

Tuesday: At this point, I’m just eating them out of habit. I don’t even taste the chocolate anymore. There’s a new roll of Fair Flubber on my waistline. I think about making a hotdish using the last six cookies and some cream of mushroom soup.

Wednesday, they’re gone. The thought of them makes me ill. AND … I miss them.

I’ll quit tomorrow.

Or, next year.

Because I won’t go.

Or I’ll go, but I won’t bucket.

Or if I bucket, I’ll take it to work.

Or I’ll mail the leftovers to Kid Rock.

Okay, I’d better go eat a salad or something.

Happy Fair, everybody! Cookie sensibly.

A dispatcher’s ode to hysterical mothers, which is just about all of us

Mothers who call about their children can be challenging. Mothers tend to care way too much, yell way too much, freeze up, or try so hard to control the outcome that they get in the way or make things worse. (I’m not judging; those same words could be used to describe me during my daughter’s entire high school career.)

I’m thinking of a mom who called one day, her choking toddler in her arms, panting and interrupting me as I tried to assess what was going on so I could help.

“Ma’am, what is she choking on?” I ask, knowing she probably didn’t hear it. Is she running with the baby? That’s what it sounds like. I also hear a baby crying, which would be a great sign, breathing-wise, but experience has taught me I can’t assume it’s the right baby.

I ask again, “What is she choking on?”

“I slapped her on the back!” she announces, and now I’m really worried.

Never, never, NEVER slap a choking person on the back. There’s a scene in Field of Dreams that makes me cringe every time I see it, (and I’ve seen it many times because Kevin Costner is dreamy).

A little girl watching a baseball game falls off the stands and begins to choke on a hotdog, but thankfully, there is a “doctor” right there (played by the irrepressible Burt Lancaster)! He pauses as though he’s lining up his next great golf swing, pulls his hand back, and thud, thud, right in the middle of her back. Out comes the hotdog.

“She’ll be turning handsprings before you know it,” he tells Costner’s character, tossing the offending hotdog piece nonchalantly. I don’t really know what a handspring is, but …

No. No, no, no. A thousand times no.

“Do NOT slap her on the back anymore,” I tell her. Then I say it again, because she’s still talking over me.

“What do I do?” she says, and I take that as my cue to ask her some questions and perhaps get her going with some compressions. But before I can do that, an officer arrives.

(You’re probably wondering what happened. I can tell you with 99 percent certainty that the baby was fine because I don’t really remember any further details. The handful of baby not fine calls that I have taken stay with me.)

Ingestions are a big deal with mothers; it’s upsetting to imagine that your child has eaten something inedible, and nobody wants to be that mother who just stood by while her child died of (fill in the blank) poisoning.

“My son drank some Windex!”

“My daughter ate a funny-looking berry!”

These calls rarely come from dads. This is not a statement that dads are careless or that moms are overly-cautious, but it’s a true statement nonetheless. If a dad is making this kind of call, it’s usually because the mom is too upset about fill in the black poisoning to make the call herself.

I picture my dad’s reaction to my older brother or me upon having eating any inedible thing: “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. Puts hair on your chest!” (Which, in his estimation, is a good thing. And whatever this thing is, if you want a healthy chest-fulla hair: keep eating.)

As a mother myself, no matter how benign the object or fluid, I always err on the side of caution with these calls. Per protocol, I get an ambulance rolling, then put mom through to the fine folks at Poison Control. Ingestion is their business.

Dispatch: “Poison Control? I have a mom on the line whose 18-month-old son ate a pencil eraser. I’ll stay on the line.”

“Dispatch, do you have an ambulance going on this?”

“Yes, one is started.”

“Cancel it.”

“Copy, canceling.”

I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t want to be the one dispatcher who didn’t start an ambulance and then the little guy dies of PEP. (Pencil eraser poisoning; I just made that up.) No thanks. “You’ve never heard of PEP? Didn’t you hear about that one case in Florida?”

Let me reiterate, PEP isn’t actually a thing. I Googled it. But we don’t have time to Google stuff in dispatch. And I’m pretty sure confidence in us would decline rapidly if we started dispatching by Google search.

“Sir, go ahead and stick some bubble-gum in that gunshot wound. No, it’s cool. I Googled it. Puts hair on your chest.”

Being a mother and a dispatcher can be a challenging combination as well. I know all the worst possible outcomes of any situation. I’ve never owned, operated or even been a passenger on a snowmobile, but I’ve only had negative experiences with them, by phone. Nobody ever calls me when they have a safe and successful ride on a snowmobile, just when someone’s been thrown from one, driven one into a lake, or something equally calamitous. As a result, I don’t like snowmobiles. It’s a grudge, I guess … an educated prejudice.

I also don’t like:

ATVs,

Or motorcycles,

Or teenage drivers, or

drunk drivers, or icy roads,

or four-way stop signs, or large crowds or

small crowds or entire parts of cities,

or any city in which a sex offender resides (which is all of them),

or rap concerts,

or country music festivals

or anything that can impale something (which is almost everything),

or disembodied heads (for obvious reasons).

I could go on.

Now imagine that I’m your mom. Actually, imagine that both your parents are dispatchers, which was my daughter’s fate for darn near five years. Most of those years as a high school student.

“Hey, can I go to Suzy’s grampa’s cabin with her this weekend?”

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know. Like up by McGregor?”

“I’m going to need an address and what county it’s in. And preferably what agency patrols it.”

“Huh?”

“I’m also going to need Suzy’s grampa’s full name and date of birth. Has he always lived in Minnesota?”

“How would I …”

“And what are you going to do at this alleged cabin?”

“Well, her grampa has snowmobiles and stuff …”

“You don’t know how to operate a snowmobile. I’m pretty sure nobody does.”

“I drove one at Jenny’s house!”

“You … what? And didn’t ask me?”

“You would have said no.”

“Damn right. And now you’re grounded.”

***

 

One afternoon, three weeks after my daughter got her driver’s license, I get a phone call at home.

I had planned to take a nap with Jim, but instead stayed up to tinker. The number on the caller ID was not one I recognized. When I picked up, he just said, “Are you Mariah’s mom?”

“Yes…”

“She’s been in an accident. There’s a little bit of blood, but she’s okay.” She was okay enough to give someone our number to call. Yet … there’s a little bit of blood? I hear my daughter yelling and crying in the background.

As a law enforcement major, Jim has had training in driving like a crazed maniac for emergency purposes. The accident was only four or five blocks away, and even though he had woken from a dead sleep just minutes earlier, it felt like he beamed us there in his Taurus. And when we arrived, we were dumbfounded.

Her car was halfway under a school bus.

It was an accident I probably could have had a hundred times as a teenage driver. A little too much speed on a usually open road, a moment reaching for a water bottle, and she had rear-ended a vehicle with a bumper too high to repel her little car. So she was under it, and trapped.

And there was a lot of blood.

Already, there were several squad cars and firefighters on the scene. A civilian, who we later learned was an off-duty paramedic, had immediately placed himself in the backseat of the demolished car, and despite the broken glass, blood and chaos, was keeping Mariah’s neck stable with just his two hands. My daughter was panicked, screaming and stunned all at once.

If there’s a hysterical mother spectrum, 1 being apathetic and 10 being hysterical, I was at 11 on the inside.

I watched in a daze as men and women I mostly only knew from the other end of a radio worked to free my daughter from her crushed vehicle. Firefighters scurried here and there, pulling out equipment, talking about ETAs, extrication, landing zones …

Landing zone? My stomach lurched. They had ordered a helicopter. Logically, I knew a helicopter was appropriate for this situation. But it completely freaked me out that a helicopter was appropriate for this situation.

“They’re going to have her out of there soon,” says an officer from just behind me. I am trembling and crying. I turn to see John Rohow, a cop I had worked with at White Bear Lake PD.

“All that yelling is good. But you know that.”

As I watched, stunned, the men and women of White Bear Lake Fire Department used the Jaws of Life to crack open Mariah’s car like a tuna can. They carefully delivered her onto a stretcher, placed her into an ambulance (the helicopter was canceled), Jim hopped in with her, and they drove away, lights flashing, sirens blaring.

I couldn’t feel my feet.

If I had been in any kind of shape for it, this would have been a terrific learning experience. Here was just about every form of help I could ever need to dispatch, all on the same scene. It didn’t occur to me until much later, how quickly everyone had arrived.

And how many people on how many cell phones had called that one-person dispatch center to report the accident? My head hurt to think of it.

Later, in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), as Jim and I watched our sedated, bruised, but miraculously whole and healthy daughter sleep, I swore I was going to personally thank the dispatcher who was working that day. I wanted to tell her she was not forgotten, and that her hard work saved my daughter.

I never did, and I really have no excuse for that.

So, if you’re reading this, you freaking dispatch goddess rock star: Thank you. Thank you for sending all the people who did all the things, because today my daughter is a living, breathing, special-ed major with a bright future and a bus pass.

Anyway, this is me sending you an awkwardly long hug. Thank you.

-Just another hysterical mom

 

 

 

 

 

On how donating blood totally didn’t kill me. Not even a little.

(Or it’s my plasma, I can swoon if I want to.)
(Or, there HAS to be an easier way to get free cran-apple juice.)
(Or, I guess I DO got time to bleed.)

This year, I resolved to donate blood for the first time. I’ve wanted to for a very long time, for the following reasons:

1)  I am super healthy. And that’s awesome.
2)  Other people are not healthy, and need all of the blood!
3)  I’m a grownup.
4)  Personal Growth ‘n Stuff.
5)  I am an emergency MEDICAL dispatcher who gets ooged out by blood? That’s just wrong.

But let me give you a brief history of my general aversion to my blood, your blood, most other things having to do with biology, and this one time I almost fainted in an embalming room.

1)  This one time in nursing school, I almost fainted during a lecture in an embalming room. WHY DO WE PICKLE EACH OTHER WHEN WE DIE?? Just … yuck.
2)  This other time in nursing school, I almost fainted watching a simple blood draw in the ER. (I did not finish nursing school, in case this needs to be said.)
3)  I almost fainted when my doctor tried to tell me about Norplant. No no NO, I do not want some little plastic thingy sitting under my skin for two years. And oh please please please stop talking about it.
4)  Let’s also add almost fainting any time I’ve ever had a blood draw my entire life, any time my daughter has had a blood-draw, or any time too much ketchup is spilled in one spot.
5)  And oh yeah — wounds. I’m not a big wound person either. Ditto: impailments.

When matters of blood, the body, and foreign objects being placed into the body are being discussed, depicted, re-enacted, or interpretively-danced, I get woozy. It starts with an uncomfortable heat on the top of my head and under my arms. My stomach gets tight. My head gets fuzzy. Blue Oyster Cult starts singing about a reaper, and I’m pretty sure if whatever is going on doesn’t stop I’m going to …

Faint? Die? Look to my abdomen in horror while a small alien rips its way out? Not sure what my damage is, actually. But I do know it’s just in my head.

So, I wanted to donate blood to prove, in some small way, that I can overcome, overpower, over-logic, the silly, unfounded fears that keep me from donating my perfectly healthy, happy blood, or anything else I want to do for that matter.

My 21-year-old daughter, Mariah, has donated MANY times, and volunteered to come with me on my Mission of Person Growth n Stuff. And when the appointed day came, I promptly tried to get out of it.

“Nobody called me back to schedule an appointment,” I told her.

“I’m sure we can just walk in,” she countered.

“Like a hair cut? What kind of fly-by-night outfit is that??”

“I’ve always just gone right in.”

“Tell me more about the cookies.”

“There will be LOTS of cookies.”

“SHIT.”

Just walking through the doors, I feel the heat rising to the top of my head. And what’s with all these questions about blood n stuff?  By the time the tech administers the blood sugar test, my ears are ringing, I’m sweating, and I’m thinking I should have just resolved to give up cookies.

I can’t even stand a pin prick to my finger. What the hell was I thinking??

But, NO. I want to do this so badly. Plus, my daughter, who sometimes looks up to me, is just five feet away. Also, Personal Growth! I use some yoga breathing techniques I’ve learned. I think about a movie I saw the night before, I try to go to my happy place, hell, ANY happy place. Breathe breathe breathe.

By the time I’m halfway through my Benicio del Toro delivering pizza (and I have no money) fantasy, I realize with glee: My freak-out/hot flash has passed.

I’d love to tell you the rest of the visit was nothin’ but net.

Not exactly. During the actual donating of the blood, there was quite a bit more queasiness, sweating, lots of hand-holding, cranberry juice, Lorna Doones, and yoga breathing. However, there was no running, screaming, punching, fainting or quitting! Score!

“You saved three lives today!” one of the techs beamed as he expertly tended to my arm.

I’m going to Disneyland!

The whole thing took maybe ten or fifteen minutes. My arm got very tingly, but it certainly didn’t hurt beyond the placing of the needle. And everyone involved was incredibly slick and professional.

Presently, I felt a hand stroking my head reassuringly. Benicio? Even better. I looked up and realized it was my sweet, grown-up, college girl telling me I was doing a great job.

At that point, even if an alien had actually begun ripping its way out of my abdomen, the whole experience would still have been totally worth it.

But let me just be clear that did NOT happen. The alien part, I mean.

Anyway: peace and love … and try donating blood!

Cookies.

Ten THE HOLIDAY CALLS!

 

Well, ermagerd. This is my 11th holiday season as an emergency dispatcher.

Someone asked me recently how I like dispatching during the holidays. It’s not bad. There’s usually plenty of junk to eat, lots of “we’re all in the same boat” camaraderie, and at least I know I’m missing out on family time for something essential. (Ringing up flat-screen TVs and sparkly reindeer sweaters would be considered non-essential in my book. Target employees, you have my deepest sympathies.)

So, to ring in the silly season, here is a list of ten THE HOLIDAY CALLS!!

(Consider this an early stocking stuffer, and please keep your turkey basters where we can see them. Because …)

10. One year some guy called us with a turkey baster stuck in his … I mean where the sun doesn’t … anyway, GROSS. Next year, put that guy in charge of the green beans instead.

9. We get all manner of Black Friday mayhem: Man assaulted by the 10-dollar rice cookers. Code 3 for a woman in seizure at Toys R Us. Black Friday brings the hurt, people. That’s why you’ll never find me shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t ever want to collapse from a stress-induced cardiac event while clutching a Blue Ray player. It’s just not dignified.

8. Every year, lots and lots of people think about suicide. There are so many very not-merry people this time of year. Thankfully, most people just talk about it, which is fine with us. Please call! Operators are standing by. We are happy to talk to you about why the holidays suck for as long as you need.

7. Three years ago, I got my very first “stork award“ for delivering a baby on New Year’s Eve. I was missing a great New Year’s party due to work, and was really annoyed. But then this lovely couple in Minneapolis was nice enough to go into labor during my shift and totally push the little guy out while on the phone WITH ME! It was incredibly thoughtful, and better than any party. Happy holidays, dear family, wherever you are.

6. Crashes, crashes, and more crashes. Slick roads plus preoccupied drivers plus more cars equals twenty people on their cell phones calling in about the same accident. Fa la la la la …

5. Lights and sirens to the mall for a Santa Claus with chest pain. Ho … ho … hopefully just indigestion from all those ankle-biters poking at his bowl-full-of-jelly.

4. Snowmobiles. As far as I can tell, snowmobiles just exist so that motorcyclists will have opportunities to suffer major trauma year-round. Seriously. These things are just death-carts with fun paint-jobs and bright headlights so they can be found easily at the bottom of a lake. And, yes. I’m this much fun ALL THE TIME.

3. Along those lines: Cars on thin ice. Actually – don’t drive cars on ANY ice. And super pretty-please don’t call 911 and ask if it’s safe for you to drive your car on Blah Blah Lake. I will tell you it’s a bad idea. Always. As if I want to be the one you blame when your brand new Tahoe goes through the ice (pulling your snowmobile). COME ON!

2. “911?”

“I’m about to punch this guy in the face.”

“Okay … I would like you not to do that.”

“See, we’ve had some eggnog, and he insulted my girlfriend, and he needs to leave before I lose my frickin’ holiday cheer.”

*Sounds of scuffling*

“Where is he now?”

“Right the &%$ here. Have a Coke and a smile, mother$%&er!”

*blam!*

“Okay, I’ll send someone to talk to him. Hello? Sir?”

“I punched him.”

“Pretty sure I asked you not to.”

“Sorry.”

“The officers are on the way.”

“Okay. Merry Christmas.”

“And to you, sir.”

1. This is not a “call,” but it deserves to be number 1 anyway. Every year, one of our paramedics pretty much singlehandedly provides Thanksgiving dinner for the whole department — for all the medics, dispatchers, and anyone else stuck working. Turkey, taters, pie … she brings everything. She is a holiday goddess. She has class up the … well … refer back to number 10. Anyway, she’s awesome.

Note: Anyone wishing to be mentioned in my next blog is more than welcome to bring a festive holiday spread to my dispatch center on Christmas Day, where I will be for 12 hours of merry fun times. I’m thinking some lasagna. Maybe a nice cheesecake …

Have a safe and happy season, everyone! Peace and love.

 

 

When I say you’re beautiful, I mean it in ALL CAPS

Recently a friend of mine had  200 or so pictures taken of her in a lush, green, outdoor setting, her long wavy hair framing her deep set eyes and her flushed cheeks, the sun setting through the trees all around her.

She looked amazing. In something like 150 of 200 photos, she looked so beautiful I felt teary, and not out of jealousy for once. Just adoration. She radiated joy.

She didn’t like them. At first I was floored to hear that, but then I remembered: She’s a chick. We do that.

When someone I see as beautiful doesn’t see it, it hurts my heart. No … it feels like five hundred Peruvian soccer players have torn my heart out and are practicing long kicks with it.

Yet I’m not surprised she didn’t like the photos. Most of us don’t know our own beauty. My own self-loathing feels perfectly justified until I see other women I love do that to themselves, then I realize we’re all just encouraging each other to self-hate.

By self-hating ourselves.

“What are you up to today, Buffy?”

“I’m going to an 8 o’clock Zumba, then I’m going to self-hate myself for a while.”

“Good idea! I mean about the self-hating. Zumba is too bouncy.”

Enough, already.

If I tell you you’re beautiful, believe me. Here’s why. Because I am going to define it for you, and you will see that my logic is IMPENETRABLE. (This goes for the men in my life, too.)

First off, if I say you’re beautiful, it does NOT mean the following:

  • You look like you’ve finally gotten down to your goal weight of 86 pounds.
  • You don’t have a single blemish on your face.
  • You bought the exact right pair of designer jeans.
  • You borrowed me money.

If I say you’re beautiful, THIS IS WHAT I MEAN. (Don’t even try to argue with all caps.)

  • You walk in, and the Von Trapp children start singing in my head.
  • You smile at me, and I feel like I’m ten years old and somebody just picked me to skate during the Snowball.
  • You make my eyes happy, which are connected to my brain, which is connected to my heart.
  • You make me feel beautiful.
  • You allow me to feel beautiful without guilt.
  • The sight of you reminds me of all the times you’ve hugged me, made me laugh, or listened to the contents of my sometimes daft brain.
  • You brought me something sweet or sugary at some point.
  • You’re gorgeous. In all the ways. In the classic ways, in the new ways, in all the ways that draw people to people.
  • You are you.

Right now anyone who knows me very well is crying “bullshit,” because this rant probably makes me sound like someone who knows she’s beautiful. I don’t. Not in any permanent, reliable way. Generally for about for five or ten minutes at a time, and then it’s gone again.

So, this is for me, too.

(Maybe I can stretch it out to half an hour some day! Baby steps.)

My friend with the pictures did eventually come around, by the way, and found several that she wanted to keep. But she should keep them all. Because she fits all of my criteria, plus a few I haven’t thought of yet. She’s beautiful. And some logic just can’t be argued with.

Swimsuit season for the enlightened! (And the rest of us.)

Last week, plus-sized model, blogger, and all-around temptress Tess Munster told the world that she is looking forward to swimsuit season. Why? Because she rocks everything she puts on her big, yummy bum, and it is big, and she is not ashamed of that, and if you don’t like it, you can kiss it.

Tess Munster gets a shit-ton of hate-mail. Now let’s all just stop acting surprised and indignant about that before we even start. That kind of thing happens all the time, even with most of us walking around pretending to be all enlightened. Tess Munster makes people uncomfortable. She is a threat to how we’ve always done things. She must be stopped. Because …

Hells yeah.

Hells yeah.

How dare she love herself in a swimsuit.

How dare she love herself, period.

How dare she be immodest (vain, even!) when she’s clearly … fat.

Shouldn’t she hide under a muumuu and just read self-help books until she loses a hundred pounds?

Shouldn’t she be apologizing for something? Anything?

How dare she give other heavy women permission to love themselves in a swimsuit, or in anything else?

How dare she suggest that she is healthy and happy in her body. Right now. Not a hundred pounds from now. Not ten or twenty. Right now.

I’m not fat. But sometimes, all I see in my mirror is someone who is not ready to be seen. Someone who falls ten or twenty pounds short of worthy.

Tess Munster thinks you shouldn’t have to wait to be beautiful. Wear what you feel like, with confidence, on your body. Now, not later. Including and especially a swimsuit. Or a pair of tight yoga pants. Or a hat. Or anything that says “I’m not going to hide under a rock so you don’t have to notice that I’m here, and not perfect.”

Swimsuits are especially interesting, because women are always waiting to be worthy to wear them. “It’s almost swimsuit season!” said every fitness instructor, everywhere, every spring of my whole life. “Are you worthy of enjoying a day at the beach, (perhaps ten more Zumba classes from now)?”

We have all kinds of interesting attitudes about women who dare to bare lots of skin at the beach (which we never say out loud).

These attitudes vary depending on body size, and they go a little like this:

1) If a woman is reed thin with tiny breasts, we think she is a poet-hippie-dreamer and we long to spend long hours staring at her perfect clavicles and talking about creative nonfiction. The less she wears, the better. She is just expressing her creativity!

2) If she is large-breasted and thin, we think she is flaky and fascinating, but also a bit slutty. And while we wrestle with our conflicting emotions about her, we can’t stop staring at her sternum. The less she wears, the better! (Though she shouldn’t be surprised that everyone is staring at her sternum. Serves her right for dressing all slutty.)

3) If she is kinda heavy, we think she has a right to be at the beach (with her kids, anyway), but wish she had the appropriate Land’s End cover-up so we don’t have to see any cellulite. Except cleavage. Cleavage is totally acceptable.

4) If a woman is really heavy in a swim suit, we think she should run home, hide under something earth-toned, and eat only broccoli until the rest of the world can abide her impossibly smug and irritating lack of self-loathing.

Me-freaking-yow, bitches.

Me-freaking-yow, darlin’.

Tess Munster knows people feel that way, and she doesn’t care. She is just all leopard-printed, lip-glossed and fabulous on a beach towel somewhere — waiting for the world to catch the hell up to her. Knowing we probably never will.

So, I’d tell you to go find Tess Munster’s site and give her some love, but she doesn’t actually need it. Not as bad as the rest of us.

Do it anyway, of course, and look at her. Look at that gorgeous face. Can you hear her? Those big dreamy eyes beseech: “Wear the swim suit. The hat. Wear nothing. Stop fussing. Be beautiful.”

I’m working on it, Tess. Truly, I am.

 

Crazy Cat Lady Disease. It’s a thing.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself at that Greatland we call Target buying pop and paper towels, and happened across this:

hellokitty

Hello, Krazy.

It’s a “Hello Kitty” sweatshirt. For kitties. It’s a kitty-themed shirt for your kitty to wear. Sweet mother of Garfield. And of course, I really wanted to buy it for my dead cat. As you do.

My precious curmudgeonly orange tabby, Sesame, crossed over (and likely burned and then pissed on) the Rainbow Bridge last August, but I still think about him every day. What is this hold he has on me? Even now? Why do I still have two cats and consistently yearn for a new one?

Crazy Cat Lady Disease. It’s a thing.

Science-y people call it Toxo Plasma Gondii (not Gandhi). I call it the most likely reason I have a feline face tattooed on my right shoulder. And possibly why Sesame’s charred toaster leavings are still sitting in a box in my office and not buried next to Harry the Hampster by the shed, where they belong.

After extensive Internet research that involved several five-dollar words and a few worth at least ten dollars, I’m pretty sure I have it. Jim has it too. (Fact: Any disease researched on the wubs will slowly become a disease you are convinced that you have. And your spouse.)

Here’s why I believe I have Toxo Plasma Blah Blah, aka T. Gondii (Let’s call it that from here on out because it sounds like a rapper instead of a disgusting bug that lives in cat colons.):

1) Because cats are its favorite hosts. It can only make baby T. Gondiis inside cat bowels, and therefore … poo. In more than thirty years of cat-tending, I’ve handled what is I’m sure an insane amount of cat product. Get it?? Insane. See, because …

2) Because T. Gondii messes with your head. Research suggests that the parasite causes rats to feel attracted to cats, despite the fact that cats wish to eat them. This may also apply to larger, less intelligent mammals. Such as … Jim. And totally … me.

3) Sesame always seemed like he wanted to eat me. (And kill Jim.)

4) I would have let him. (The eat me part. I would have missed Jim. I really think I’m getting the hang of this science stuff, by the way.)

5) I have lived with cats for more than thirty years; my brain has felt messed-with the entire time.

But hey, don’t believe me. Take it from this really stable-looking scientist who claims that T. Gondii IS ALIVE IN HIM and causing him to make reckless decisions (other than the hair).

T Gondii guy

Biologist Jaroslav Flegr. If Sesame had been a dude, he might look a lot like this guy. Including (especially) the sweater.

Jaroslav Flegr believes that a) he has T. Gondii, b) lots of people have it and don’t know it and, c) the same parasite that can make a rat forget not to get eaten can cause humans to act in self-destructive ways.

OMG, If you’ve read either of my books, you will know why I SO VERY HAVE THIS.

“Indeed, recent findings … suggest that the parasite is capable of extraordinary shenanigans.”

Flegr’s research also suggests that T. Gondii causes men to be more reclusive, while women become more social. Now, when I drag Jim kicking and screaming to gatherings, I will happily announce, “He’s not anti-social, friends. He just has crazy cat lady disease.” He will super LOVE that.

So, parasitic mind control. It’s a thing.

And right meow,  it’s making me want to drive really recklessly back to Target and buy that Hello Kitty sweatshirt for one of my living cats. Heck. Both of them. Maybe one for the dog, too. I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THIS.

In closing, here are several pics of my cat Squeak trying very hard not to model my swell new cat pendant, which I ordered just a couple of weeks before learning of my crippling mental disability. Have a T. Gondii day!

photo (4)photo (11)photo (7)

photo (2)

(Only a person in my condition would take so much time to terrorize her cat in this way, then spend like twenty minutes uploading and selecting photos for such an array. Maybe Squeak should have thought of this before she made me a crazy cat lady.)

 

 

They let me swear on Elephant Journal.

Check it, peeps! A little rant on one of my fave yoga sites.

Happy Friday!

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/05/yoga-doesnt-have-to-be-everything-to-be-awesome-caroline-burau/

On addiction, being vulnerable, and writing about it.

Recently, a friend confided to me that she might have a drinking problem. It made sense for her to tell me because I’ve been sober from drugs and alcohol for 21 years (and very public about it) and I may be able to help.

But as she told me what was going on, I found myself resisting the idea of her being an alcoholic. I wanted to argue.

I realized … I really don’t want this for her.

You’d think I’d be glad to have another pal out in the world who’s all about the sober living, the 12 steps, daily affirmations, blah, etc., but I honestly wasn’t. Because I don’t want her to life to be hard – and sometimes sober living just … sucks ass.

If I let it.

Which sometimes I totally do.

Acceptance is difficult, even after this long. Some days it seems like the whole world revolves around a never-ending countdown to happy hour. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to tell your co-workers how drunk you got last weekend, sometimes the worst thing you can do is tell them that you NEVER get drunk.

A couple weeks ago, a newly-hired dispatcher in my center found out I had written a book about dispatch, so she eagerly jumped on Amazon to read about Answering 911, started checking out the reviews, and realized with a startle that I am a recovering cocaine addict.

I watched her struggle to be politically correct about it. She’s also a paramedic, so she’s seen plenty of active addicts in their worst moments: overdosed, drug-seeking, drains on society who don’t give a crap about anything but their next score.

So, now she gets to wrestle with the idea that she works next to one of them — an addict who claims to be clean and sober. After those initial moments of adjustment, she was totally gracious and kind. She told me she was excited to read my book. She was awesome. Really.

But I was still uncomfortable. It hasn’t always gone that well.

(“The author was a crack addict,” I read in a review on Goodreads once. “There isn’t much worse you can say about a book after that.” Dude.)

It’s nobody’s fault. If I’m being honest, I still have shame about being an addict. It was a terrible time. I did, said and, well, smoked a few things I am not very proud of, and … ugh. It’s all very Lifetime Movie of the Week starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.

“So, why did you include that in the book?” I have been asked.

Because secrecy and silence just help shame grow.*

And because there is plenty about being in recovery that I am really proud of. My family knows I am there for them now. As do my friends. In the last 21 years, I’ve raised a daughter, earned a degree, maintained a loving marriage, written two books, saved a couple of lives and delivered a couple of babies (over the phone), and it’s all there in my history because I got sober and stayed sober. And some days, that is no walk in the park, people.

But that brings me back to my friend. Because she knows I’m sober, she asked me to help her. If I had never told her, or anyone, I would never have that honor. And I need that to stay sober … even if I sometimes resist it.

About seven years ago, my boss at the city police department I used to dispatch for shot himself in the head. He and I had spoken a hundred times over morning coffee about our kids, our cars, the weather … everything but the fact that I was in recovery or that he was actively drinking too much and terribly depressed. The point is not that I alone could have prevented him from killing himself. But how does anyone ever heal if he or she can never be vulnerable? I wish he had been vulnerable with me or I with him. The next time I’m faced with that situation, I will risk it.

That’s why it’s in the book.

Because it sucks less to just put it out there. Even if it makes people squirm. And I know it does. Don’t worry. We can talk about something funny next time. Like maybe my husband. Or our cats. Or some of the bizarre things my husband says to our cats.

I promise.

Peace and love.

 

*(Paraphrased from this awesome TED talk you should watch by Brene Brown.)

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