Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mr. Dracula, Jr., for now; and other things, loosely connected

I've been thinking about time this week, and scale.

Time is essentially meaningless to my grandmother these days, except in the narrowest of senses as she works to get through each day. There are good days, or rather good hours, unexpected by now. Sadly, at this point stumbling onto one of those elicits wonder more than anything else. They are tough to take advantage of, since they come on unpredictably, and leave just the same way. If I am on my way to class and my mom calls to say they just had a good conversation, calling grandma after class probably means she won't know who I am anymore.

And most of the time it's not even close anyway. She is forgetting people, and confusing those few she still remembers. The apartment she's lived in for the past nearly nineteen years is not familiar enough to not confuse her, and the other day she didn't know who my father was. She's known him for nearly thirty seven years now. She's confused my aunt, her younger daughter, for my mom more than a few times. She's erased generations and jumped decades.

Humans, I recently learned, have to make sense of their environment. (I don't mean colloquially-- we kinda all knew that. I mean as a scientifically demonstrable observation, shown by careful and controlled laboratory experiments.) We have an "interpreter" in our brains (located in the left hemisphere, if you care) dedicated to figuring out what's going on, or, lacking sufficient information to do that, making up a somewhat coherent story. These days, it seems, my grandmother's brain lacks sufficient information most of the time. And for some reason, the stories it makes up to compensate are not of the happy and content variety.

Her brain keeps telling her of danger, of people who want to kill her if she should remain alone in the apartment or at an unfamiliar doctor's office. Unfamiliar is terrifying, and a lot of the time even familiar becomes unfamiliar. Sometimes her home care givers are the scary ones. They mess with her medicines, or they want to take her money. She's afraid a lot. So far she always remembers my mother, and that's who she calls when she gets scared. But the things she wants my mom to do about it swing wildly and don't, usually, make a whole lot of sense.

It must be exhausting being her. Being scared so much, her body must be drenched in fight or flight hormones. Her brain must be in overdrive even if in reality it's just spinning wheels in place. I feel like talking to her when she is not all there is kinda cruel-- she can tell she is supposed to know who I am, but she doesn't, so she uses these neutrally-familiar sentences, and she and her brain work to get through the conversation. But I wonder if that doesn't just make things worse, doesn't overtax her, doesn't push her over the edge of what remains of comfort.

I think, I hope that she doesn't understand how sad her existence has become. She can't make any real plans for the future, and so doesn't have much to look forward to. If she has a doctor's appointment, she needs to be told repeatedly, to prepare her for needing to go. But not too far in advance, or she will get confused. The day before and the day of, many-many times. That's what the time has shrunk to for her.

It's not fair that she has to work so hard now, at the end of a life that was filled with loss and hard work from almost the very beginning. One day I will write about her remarkable life, but that's not the point now. I think the point is that I feel like her life, the remarkable part of it at least, is pretty much over. I feel like we are at the "make her as comfortable as possible" stage. And yet, how does one do that when what's making her uncomfortable is her brain, trying to make sense of the world?

My mother is having major surgery next week. I don't even know whether grandma knows or understands. She certainly isn't, can't be what a mother in this situation should be, what she has been most of her life. Instead, it's mom who is worried about what will happen while she is in the hospital and recovering.

We are looking at nursing homes now, in the city where she and my parents live and here, by me, too. The trick is that we need one where there is a critical mass of patients and personal speaking the Old Country language-- what gains she once made in English are long gone. If we are extremely lucky, maybe we can create a new reality for her-- one where the here and now is routine, comforting, and comfortable enough for her brain to rest.

It sucks that this is the best we can even hope for. I feel like time is circling around her, cackling at us. There are so many things I didn't get to ask. I have (and make) her hamantashen recipe, but not her gefilte fish recipe. If you think gefilte fish comes from jars-- PHE! And also HA! You are sadly mistaken. Gefilte fish used to come from my grandmother's kitchen. The I was thinking about it this Passover as I experimented with new variations on her matzabrei recipe (turned out great, btw-- you should've come over for a taste) and, with Monkey and JD enjoying hospitality of a far-away land, ate the gefilte fish straight out of a jar (without bothering to re-stew it for the somewhat significant taste improvement that would've still fallen miles away from the grandma gold standard). More than that, it's the family stories, likely gone now forever.

Time also doesn't mean diddly squat to the Cub, but in a different, much happier, way. His tummy tells him when it's time to eat. He gets cranky when he is tired and needs to sleep. It is nearly always time to smile, laugh, or giggle, and, whenever possible, it is time to grab, reach, or even butt-bounce (or otherwise locomote) over to a place from whence he can reach some objects. In order, of course, to put said objects into his mouth. DUH!

It's not that he is indifferent to people around him. He clearly knows who we are. He pretty much always turns to look at the right person if you ask him where So-and-Such is and he has a particular look of joy for us that is different than the way he looks at other people. It's just that when you are gone, you are gone. He is happy to see me when I get back from work, and, unless he is in the middle of a particularly exciting round of eat-that-toy, he is definitely up for cuddling and catching up. And when Monkey's face appeared above his car seat yesterday, bright and early, as we picked up our world travelers at the airport, the smile that bloomed on his face was of surprise, recognition, delight, and of course adoration. Take two as JD stuck his face into the back seat for his turn. But when they were gone, they were gone. He only knew that he'd missed them when he saw them again.

Time's easy on my boy, and that's a good thing. He turned eight months on Wednesday, and though of his last month JD's been gone all but five days, no adoration, no familiarity, no joy is lost. (To be fair, there were some Skype calls there, but still.)

Here's Mr.Dracula Jr. now, in all his five-toothed glory.

I took this picture last week. Wanted to preserve the effect, as I was afraid that tooth number five, upper center left, would make itself too visible and spoil the symmetry. Turns out I was right, although it's not altogether gone just yet.

But it will be, soon enough. Like the Cub's unwillingness to roll over was gone-- poof-- one sunny morning nearly four weeks ago now, when he woke up, smiled, and rolled. One way and then the other, never losing the giant grin that said-- ha, NOW I get it, this is actually pretty fun. Like his initial resistance to the whole idea of having to open his mouth to let the spoon with the cereal in. Like, I am sure, the last missing skills in the pull self up and crawl skill sets will be, alarmingly soon.

Like his heart murmur. It, too, is gone-gone-gone-gone. The fact that was cheerfully announced at our follow up this week first by the NP and then by the big shot pediatric cardiologist himself. We did all the right things, they said. Which is to say we did nothing medical, played our usual baby gymnastics games, indulged his love of swimming in the big tub, and just watched. (Doesn't seem like much doing, does it? Hence the internally cocked eyebrow and a sarcastic grunt, internal again, at the whole "did" thing.) No future follow up, they said. Not even a need to mention on any future medical form that he ever had a murmur. I nearly burst. I had been preparing myself to hear that we will need to come back in a bit for another follow up, so the unexpectedly definitive verdict packed some serious buoyancy.

And relief. Because while I played it cool, and we played gymnastics games, I had been checking on his breathing when he sleeps more than is strictly reasonable. For a normal person, that is. Before the appointment, in the (few and far between) moments when I'd allowed myself to imagine the outcome that actually came to pass, I'd thought that should we escape, I would be able to cut down on the whole sleep-time vigilance thing. In actuality if I have, it's not been by much. I'm working on it though. I know there are more layers to this, and so I am slogging along.

So I've been thinking about time and scale this week. Two years ago I was writing about being newly bereaved at a grocery store. A year ago I was talking about reverse pain olympics and wearing maternity and obsessing about making it to 20 weeks before delivering, should the baby die. This week I packed away most of the maternity clothes, and took the first flowers of the season to the cemetery. And as I am finishing writing this, I can hear on the monitor that the baby is stirring in his crib. Crazy, isn't it?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


JD is overseas again. This time for pleasure, and with Monkey in tow. They be having a great time. I be less wound up than when solo piloting the craft that included buttload of work deadlines in addition to the usual complement of school drop offs and pickups and the numerous extracurriculars. But I am not what you would call chilled. For one thing I have a crazy long list of things I am trying to get done, what with fewer things I have to do, aka everyone's favorite game-- catch up. For another, and more to the point, it turns out that having no reliable me time, courtesy of the unpredictable schedule of one teething infant, wears you down. Single parents everywhere, can I buy you a drink?

So, the list. I am making progress, slogging through. Many things on it that unquestionably need doing, but only a couple that I look forward to. King of the hill in the latter category is "the reader," as in my Google Reader, the oft-neglected, long-suffering aggregator of the flotation device that is my friends inside the computer.

I read blogs for years before I felt any real need to get me one of 'em too. When I did, completely coincidentally exactly two years ago-- how's that for a nearly missed, entirely forgotten up until this very moment (so much so I just had to click through the archives to check) fortuitously most appropriate piece of trivia,-- it was because I needed to speak. I've been talking a bit, in the comment sections of the few loss blogs I found by then. But I had more to say, to get out, to hold to the light and examine, on my own terms, in my own time. I hoped not to be talking entirely to myself, but I wasn't banking on it. I needed to speak, and so I started speaking.

But at some point there, I wasn't talking to myself. There were others. Suddenly, there was this incredible gift, given to me over and over-- to be heard, to be validated. When I jumped in, I had no idea how much I would need that, how attached I would become to it. This community that listens, embraces, and stands by you through thick and thin, that does not avert its eyes from the scary, the ugly, and the very painful, that knows better than to succumb to platitudes. This community that abides.

This community that is made up of amazing individuals--
generous, warm, unique-- un- matched. Faced with the same realiza- tion one fine and busy work day, incredible Kym conceived of a physical manifestation of this very concept-- the Sock It To Me funky sock exchange. Do you see the genius of the idea? It has it all-- the warmth, the support, the funky personal touch. Damn, but it's good.

And do you see the bounty of colorful goodness that the lovely Katie of The Happy Hours has gifted me with? The label said missmatched. But, forgive the bad pun, it's really should be unmatched. Just like the community from whence the exchange sprang, and to which it testifies. Check the built-in metaphor: we are all funky and unique as these here socks, but we mix, and we match, and we go together. Ok, ok, I'll stop with the metaphor murder now, but if you want to see more (and often way more laconic) tributes to this here community, be sure to visit the Sockeroo headquarters and have a click around. That sounds vaguely dirty. But you know what I mean, don't you?

(Psst... Katie is, these days, counting down to her beta. So, if you are so inclined, please go over, admire the funky socks she is sporting, and keep her company while she waits.)

As the weekend runs away from me in the (admittedly relaxed-like, but still) haze of various and necessary tasks, I keep looking forward to the soul food that is beginning to catch up on my reader. My plan, by the way, for when the catching up is fully accomplished, is to add more blogs to teh old reader. I have a list of those I've been meaning to check on more regularly, or to begin reading altogether. Fittingly, Katie, the giver of the unmatched socks, admitted, in a lovely card she sent with (decorated with sock stickers-- kid you not!) to having been a lurker around these parts.

So to wind this post down in style, and because I also, in my typically lame fashion, missed that delurking day when, apparently, it's acceptable to pester one's readers to come out of their individual bloggy closets, I thought I'd do it now. Hence-- for my blogoversary present, pretty please, with sprinkles on top, tell me who you are. The reader doesn't grow itself, you know.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Plans, best-laid (as usual)

Last time I wrote here was the day after JD left for the very far away place. And now it's something like day four after he got back. And a day shy of three weeks since my last post. Oy!

I definitely didn't mean to go this long between posts. In fact, for a while there I was going to write one titled "Just in time." It was going to mention a few coincidences, chief among them the fact that not three days after I finally took that picture of my neighbors' pink commode on the curb, it disappeared. I was going to talk about how nice it was of the aforementioned neighbors to have waited for weeks and weeks until I got my act together enough to take a picture, before losing hope of garbage men taking a hint, and the commode with it, and hauling the thing off, presumably to a commode farm, themselves. It was going to be an uplifting tale, leaving not a dry eye in the house. Until I realized, this past Saturday (or two weeks after I first noticed the absence of the pink elephant and conceived of a post titled "Just in time") that the commode is not gone. It has just been pulled back off the curb and to the side of the house. Make of this what you will.

A few things ate the time since my last post. That thing in the picture up top? The cover? It took a giant chunk of it, and the cake. Teething didn't help any. Like at all. Finally finding a use for rolling over was a neat trick, and certainly worth bonus mama paranoia points for getting on with it while sporting a nose nicely stuffed and frequently leaking (on account of that whole teething thing).

I keep thinking, as every weekend shows up on the horizon, that this is when I will find the time to do X, Y, and Z, and that the week after doesn't look too bad either. And then the weekend is here, and over before I have a chance to exhale.

Pesah starts tomorrow. Luckily, I am not hosting a seder this year. Hopefully that means I will have the time to tell you about the funky socks I got for the Sock It To Me exchange. And maybe that I will finally get the time to do X, Y, and Z. Definitely Z.