Saturday, July 29, 2017

My Ripped Genes

A couple of weeks ago, my doctor called me and told me I’m going to die.  Well, maybe.  I might die.  I could die.  It’s possible. No, actually, it’s certain.  I’m going to die.

So are you, by the way.  If no one’s told you yet, I’m sorry to be the one, but knowledge is power, so they say.  So, now that you know, you’re in control.  But, you can’t change the fact that you’re going to die.  That is an absolute.  There are ways though, I’m learning for you to decrease your likelihood of dying young.  Like don’t pick up a heroin addiction, when given the choice, opt for the turkey burger, and don’t text and drive.

There are a slew of other things that increase your chances of living a longer life.  I cannot possibly list them all, but here are a few things to get you started:

Drink one cup of coffee every day, but no more than three.
Drink one glass of red wine every day, but no more than two, three if you’re a man (of course, men!)
Wear nothing less than SPF 30 and reapply midday.
Wear your seatbelt.
Drink water.
Get married.
Avoid stress.
If your marriage is stressful, get divorced.
If your divorce is stressful, drink, but not too much!  Refer to point 2.
Take an Epsom salts bath on occasion.
A multivitamin is good too.
Sleep.  Soundly.  For eight hours every night.
Eat a Mediterranean diet.  Omega-3’s.  Omega-3’s.  Omega-3’s.
Oh, and antioxidants.  Find some of those.  Those are good too.

Another good thing to do is to have someone examine your family history of cancer and then take a close look at your genetic code.

I did this recently, on a whim, and was surprised to discover that my code is broken.  I mean we’re all broken, right?  Really we are.  Everybody has some kind of damage to their DNA.  It’s part of life.  My DNA is broken in a very specific spot on the BRCA 1 gene.  They call this a mutation and my mutant gene happens to put me at a fairly scary risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer.  The lifetime risk for those of us with this gene mutation is as high as 87% for breast cancer and 50% for ovarian cancer.  I’m not great with numbers, but I got a little sweaty when I heard those. I prefer the single digits personally.  Anything much higher than ten and I have to reach for my calculator.  So, 87% basically sounded to me like I had cancer now or that if I didn’t have it today, I would likely have it tomorrow when I woke up.  87% sounded to me like I needed to start writing letters to my children.

But then, it didn’t.  Then, and I guess a psychologist might call this the “denial phase,” it started to sound like fear propaganda.  My neighbors have signs in their yard that say, “Science is real,” but is it really real?  I mean for real, real?  And even if it is, what about that 13%?  That lucky 13%?  That could be me!  Knowledge is power they say, but they also say ignorance is bliss and I prefer to hike in the woods rather than stay back just in case there happens to be a bear.  That’s just no way to live.  I wish I’d never taken that stupid test.  I could be blissfully watching Season 2 of Shameless right now, rather than scanning the internet for cancer sites.

But alas, I do scan for cancer sites.  It’s become a new hobby of mine and I’m getting quite an education.  It turns out the chances of me happening upon a cancer bear in the woods ARE in fact 87%, and not just like a cute little cub, but a big, hungry bear that will eat me fast—a triple negative bear to be exact.  And that 50% for ovarian cancer?  Well, that’s a bear that I likely won’t see until my neck is in his jaw.

So, these are things I think about a lot lately, and truth be told, they’ve got me a little worked up.  Try avoiding stress and sleeping that sound eight hours of sleep at night after someone tells you you have a time bomb strapped to your chest AND your pelvis and it’s any man’s guess when they’re going to go off.

And the more people I talk to, the more I begin to understand that cancer is a very real thing.  And those who have not died from it, have suffered greatly from it, including another woman named Jill whom I met last weekend at a support group for people who have this gene mutation.

Jill has three boys (sound familiar?).  She got breast cancer when her youngest was a baby.  It was so hard.  I could see it in her face and hear it in her voice.  She wished she had had the knowledge I have now.  Another woman had had breast cancer three times.  She was so hurt and angry.  She sat next to me and her pain was hot.  It filled the room.  Yet another, older woman shared her grief.  Breast cancer is even harder when you’re older, she said, and you already have trouble doing so many things due to age.  She showed me her scars without shame, and then she smiled at me.  The smile of a woman who’s still alive to tell her story.

My Aunt Kathy was not so lucky.  My Aunt Kathy, my dad’s little sister, was just 36 when she died.  Her breast cancer was rare and aggressive.  By the time she found the lump and they went in for the mastectomy, the cancer was already stage 4.  My cousins, her children, were four and seven.  I can still see my cousin Andrew kneeling over her at the wake, not wanting to leave her side.  I was ten.  I don’t remember much more than that.  I just remember that she was beautiful and young and so, so beloved.

So, the thing is it is absolutely 100% certain that I’m going to die.  Eventually.  But, maybe, if this science stuff really is real and I continue to wear my seatbelt, eat salmon regularly and have my breasts and ovaries removed, maybe I can put off death for a few more decades.  There’s no guarantee.  I could get bit by the wrong mosquito or get on the wrong plane or even walk under the wrong icy tree branch at the exact moment that the weight just gets too heavy for it to bare.

But what are the odds of those things happening?  It’s just not realistic for me to try and prevent everything that could cause my untimely death, but maybe it is realistic for me to remove my high risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.  Maybe I’ve been given a lifeline that so many others wish they had had before it’s breathing down my neck, before my neck is in its jaw, before I feel the pain that comes from something that’s over way too soon.

And so I’m worried, yes, and still pretty shocked and thrown and adjusting to this new stuff I know, but I’m also grateful, grateful for the chance to consider cancer before it considers me.
And grateful for all the cancer survivors and previvors who share their stories.  I may not be great with numbers, but their stories resonate with me and every story I hear or read is gradually woven into me in a way that may shape or change my own storyline, perhaps even extend it by a few extra chapters, which could be the best chapters, written with an extra careful hand that realizes now just how delicate the thin pages really are.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Play-By-Play

I always get a full description of the daily events from Charlie when I go into wipe six years old.

Here's what today's report was:

"So, Momma, first I pooped the Himalayas and then I had diarrhea and then I had a bunch of little poopies.  I did a courtesy flush because the Himalayas were really stinky and I did not like the smell of that.  First, it was like one big poop and those were the Himalayas and then I had like a bunch of small poopies.  Now my legs are asleep."

Your welcome, Reading Audience.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sleep Training Gideon...still

Gideon is still, at 2.5, a terrible sleeper.  We can come up with all sorts of reasons why.  We can blame him, we can blame ourselves, we can blame it on his tummy troubles, his ear infections, the move, the rain.  Whatever the cause, I have needed a recent reminder that I am in charge.  It is hard to say no to my children, to disappoint them, to listen to them whine and complain and kick and scream when they can't get what they want, but I am their mom and that is my job.  To draw the hard line and stand firmly behind it.

It is not cruel to draw the hard line.  It is necessary and loving.  And I am the one who needs to do it. So I pray for strength.  "Be tough, Jill," my dad would tell me when I was little.  "Be tough, Jill," I whisper to myself to this day.  Or as my sister-in-law Charlotte would say, "Sometimes, you gotta put on your big girl pants."  I tell myself that quite often too and I always whisper it in Charlotte's Kentucky accent for emphasis.  It works.

So, we've let the sleep issue slide for a long time, through a year of David working out of town, through an adjustment to a major move to Chicago, through travel and sickness and everything else that makes it hard to add one more fight to our plate.  But now, the dust is settling and I can see with clear eyes what's going on.  Gideon is old enough to sleep on his own.  It's a life skill he needs to have.  We are in charge of teaching him that.  And it's time.

But there's another element at play that complicates things--he is my last baby.  So, when I lay with him and he grabs both of my hands in his, when I lay with him and he insists that I wrap one arm around him, when I lay with him and he occasionally climbs over to my pillow to press his face onto mine--well, why on earth would I want to put a stop to all that?

Because it's not about me.  I will have to take my snuggles where I can get them during the day.  Gideon needs to learn to sleep on his own.

So, last night, we talked about it--man to man.  I told him I would lay with him for a few minutes and then I was going to sit in his rocking chair.  The last time I tried this, a few months ago, he would just hop out of bed and come over to the rocking chair.  I had to keep putting him back in bed.  Eventually I had to leave the room and put a baby gate up at his door.  He cried for three hours.  I pulled him into bed with me, exhausted.

But, last night, he stayed in bed.  I read multiple chapters of my book by flashlight while he chatted quietly to himself.  I continued to remind him to lay his head down, close his eyes, and get quiet--and eventually he did.  He fell asleep without me beside him in less than thirty minutes.  8:30 and I could watch a show on the couch with David!  Until I realized David was snoring beside Finny in his bed while both Finny and Charlie were wide awake and reading to themselves.  You can't win em all.

The next miracle came at 11 p.m.  Gideon got up and came up to our room.  I didn't grab him and put him in bed with us in a tired stupor.  I got up.  Told him he has to sleep in his room.  I brought him downstairs, tucked him back in and left.  I didn't lay down next to him and he didn't cry.  He went back to sleep.  On.  His.  Own.  Again!

And then, he slept through the night.  It's 6:30 a.m. while I type this and he's still asleep.  Miracle.

And I realize, if Gideon sleeps by himself, we all win.  Gideon learns a valuable life skill, David and I get uninterrupted sleep, and this morning we all get the big, happy snuggles that come from missing each other, that come from a little time spent apart.

He is my last baby, but just like the others, I will still need to raise him up and gradually let him go.  Without sadness, but with pride instead at the independent individual he will become.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Letter to My Boys About Our Values

Dear Boys,

Last night your dad and I fell asleep on the couch trying to stay up to see the results of our 2016 presidential election.  This is the first election where you've been so aware of what is going on.  You've seen the faces both real and cartoon of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton plastered all over the TV and magazine covers for months.  You've listened carefully and watched us carefully to try and understand where we stand, why we stand there, and where that leaves you.  There is so much you don't understand and won't understand for years and years.  And there is a lot we were unable to explain to you, so unfortunately, due to my own inadequacies, I often reduced it to "Donald Trump is a bad guy.  We don't like him."

But now he's your president.  And that position carries with it high esteem.  He is someone you should respect and look up to.  He is the leader of our country and the keeper of our country's values.

But I told you he was a bad guy, and so that must seem a little scary to you.  I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have scared you like that, and I wouldn't have scared you like that had I thought for one moment that it was possible that he would be elected president.  To you, a bad guy should be taken out with nerf bullets, captured, arrested, locked up, not standing before you in a position of power and esteem.  How confusing this all must be to you at eight and five!

But you will move on.  Your day will fill with kickball games and farts, running and playing and climbing and laughing.  Your cartoon watching won't be interrupted by political commercials anymore and you will move on.  So will we.

But there is something I want you to know about our values because our values are what we put on the line here during this election.  And these are values that we share as a family, Mommy and Daddy, Grandmas and Grandpas, regardless of how we voted or how it all turned out.

Love one another.  Not-- Love those who are just like you.  Love one another.  Regardless of skin color, nationality, gender, race, sexual preference, ability level or political standing--love one another.  It is not loving to stereotype entire groups of people based on their religious backgrounds or their skin color.  It is not loving to treat women as sexual objects to be taken and groped.  It is not loving to pick on anyone or leave anyone out.  And if you hear someone who is doing that, reject IT.  But not THEM.

And that is the mistake I made with you during this election.  Do not reject President Trump, but if he espouses hateful speech and discrimination, reject THAT.

It is hard for me to accept the results of this election because I have not seen a man who represents me and my values.  I have not seen a man who respects me or values me.  I have not seen a man of wisdom, kindness and humility--three of the characteristics I value most in a leader.  I have seen only a narcissist.  But now he stands before me as president-elect, chosen without a doubt by a majority of my countrymen as the man they want to lead us, represent us, fight for us.  It makes me feel incredibly disconnected from my own people.  It makes me feel like I missed something.

And maybe I did.

So, I go back to that core value.  Love one another, which also means, love Donald Trump.  Love him.  Don't love his speech if it's filled with intolerance and misogyny.  But always Love him.

This morning when I didn't know what to say, I told you to pray for him.  And Charlie when you came down for breakfast and you told us,"While I was going to the bathroom, I prayed that Donald Trump would say nice things,"--that was perfect.

And that will be my prayer now too:

Lord, please help President Trump to say nice things.  My children are listening.  Let them hear love. And Lord, please help me to say nice things.  My children are listening.  Let them hear love. And Lord, please help my children to say nice things.  Let them respect their elders and show kindness to all.  But Lord, if they hear racism, sexism, and discrimination, help them to put down their nerf guns and fight with their words and their voices.

Grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change,
The strength to change the things they can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.



Monday, July 25, 2016

276 Feet High

I rarely blog anymore.  Moving back to Cincinnati coincided with having Gideon, and a year later losing David to a weekly commute to Chicago.  In the past two years, life happened big and fast and moments where uninterrupted time and mental energy occurred simultaneously have been merely fleeting thought bubbles in my head as my arms sit elbow deep in dishwater, moments before someone needs to be wiped or sent to his room or held again, just because.

The days often loom before me busy and scattered and full of picking up and putting away.  They end before I know it in a heap of exhaustion which has become--"Read to yourselves tonight, boys" as I collapse in Gideon's bed.  Whatever remains to be done will be faced with a sigh in the morning, the dishes or the laundry exactly where I left them--unfinished.

It's been a full and hard two years, filled with wonderful, joyous, amazing things--new baby, new kitchen, new job, new friends, new life taking place in the exact same space where the old one left off.  A good, full, wonderful life where mothering has become the fullest of the full-time jobs and writing has become something I once did.  Sometimes I fall asleep drafting a page in my head, but rarely do I find the time and energy to actually type it out.  So, now I find myself at 4:30 a.m., days away from leaving, trying to capture two years in two pages before everyone wakes up and the day rockets into chaos.

I doubt most people think of their lives in two-year chapters, but that has come to be a norm for me.  Two years here, two years there, two years back again, and now how many years gone again?  That's the question.  Is Chicago a brief stop, another chapter which will turn into another city, another life?  Or is Chicago a lasting destination?  A place, a community, a neighborhood where our family tree will grow roots that spread and drink deep?

People ask me, "Will you be back?  Is this forever?"

I wonder if anyone can see my smile inside when my shoulders shrug, "I don't know."

I recognized the very same smile last night when I sat beside Finny in the dark, 276 feet high.  We were strapped into the Kings Island Drop Tower at the end of a full day, his first day standing just barely 48 inches tall with shoes on riding roller coasters.

I couldn't see him behind the shoulder harness.  I didn't know his eyes were closed.  Mine were open and I drank it in--the view, the lights, the unknown.  I knew we would drop far and fast, but I didn't know when and I think that was strangely my favorite part.  The not knowing.  When we did finally drop, it was terrifying and thrilling and so fast and over so soon.  But as we walked away holding hands, we were so proud of ourselves, of each other, for being so brave, for taking a leap and trusting that we would land safely at the end.

People also ask me if I'm excited.  I tell them that's not the word I would use to describe it.  But maybe it sort of is.  I'm at the top of the Drop Tower, looking out at my life, my home, my Cincinnati, and I can see so many things sparkling around me. The memories that I thought would continue to grow and stretch and evolve right here on this piece of earth.  My children live in a neighborhood where no less than a gazillion kids are out playing baseball, catching fireflies, riding scooters, running through sprinklers, eating Popsicles, and swinging high on the swingset we built just two short years ago in our backyard.  They gather all of their basement instruments and start a band on the back patio.  They sell lemonade and show off their missing teeth and they fight with and love each other all at the same time.

And it's not just the children being raised here, it's their very grown-up looking parents too.  The parents who drink beer beside their baby monitors in the street.  The parents who light fireworks, who giggle all day over poop in the road, the parents who are trying so hard to be responsible adults when very often they just want to dress up and drink too much whiskey and maybe even smoke a cigarette here and there.

Sparkling brightly around me is the bus stop, the driveway, the red plastic cars zooming up and down the sidewalk.  Sparkling brightly around me is that initially suffocating cul-de-sac that became the biggest home we've ever lived in--no walls, no ceilings, just one big yard filled with abandoned bike helmets and mole trails.

Everything looks shiny when you're 276 feet high, in the dark, and preparing to drop.  From that vantage point, you can no longer see what's in the dark spots--any conflict, sadness, boredom, or grief sits in shadows.  You can only see the beauty of the lights.  You can only feel air fill your lungs as your feet dangle below you, wondering what, what, what will the ground feel like when you fall and land in Western Springs, Illinois?  And could it ever possibly be as brilliant as the earth that held you up, that pulled you in, that landed you right here?

So, am I excited?  Yes.  The way you are when you know that very soon, very, very soon you're going to fall far and fast and finally touch the earth again.  But instead of nodding my head, I gulp and sigh because the thrill of the fall means a terrible goodbye to this very moment when everything around me seems so shiny, bright and beautiful, and there's part of me that will just always want to stay, just stay right where I am just a little bit longer before I unstrap my harness and follow my feet to the next ride.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Day Off

The two of us sat on a hospital bed for three hours watching Monsters University, snuggling up while he played Monkey Lunchbox on my iPhone, talking about how brave he was.

It was my day off.  I was supposed to be a lady of leisure, a girl about the town, a free agent.  Instead I had a quick shop at HomeGoods, a bite to eat and then a long visit to the Children's Hospital ER with Charlie, my five-year-old bundle of joy and cuteness and all that is right and good in this world.

Of course, as we do, I grumbled about my missed opportunity for a day off.  I had so many unimportant things to be doing that I wasn't getting a chance to do, like make a return to Gap, wander aimlessly across the vast expanse of the World Wide Web, check out the shoes at Nordstrom Rack.

Instead I got to lay down next to Charlie and watch him spell words on Monkey Lunchbox. The thing is, I could do this everyday if I wanted to, lay down with him on the couch and watch him play games on the iPad, but that sounds incredibly boring and somewhat irresponsible considering all the business I have to tend to--the laundry, the dishes, the organizing, the email responding, the calendar planning.  

But sometimes God has different plans for us.  You think you need a day off, He seemed to be saying this past Sunday, but what you really need is a day to be present.

Your important business, your me-time, there will plenty of time for that later but right now, in this moment, all you need to do is stroke his hair, assure him that he's safe, care for his broken wound, and watch as his big teeth grin up at you beneath the freckles dancing around on his nose.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Sleep training follow-up

He did it!  He fell asleep!  He just stopped crying.  Just like that!

After I went in after 2 hours (3 would be cruel) and sat in his rocking chair.

See you again at 12:45, buddy and 1:45 and 2:45...