Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

I don’t think the Bionic Man started out this way.

But you have to start with something, and since we don’t have an abundance of seventh ribs to practice carving up, we here at Pinata Central use balloons, printer paper, and old-fashioned masking tape. We also consult a tape measure and the trusty Ironman Action Figure, to make sure we don’t end up with something that looks more like Babe or Benji than Robert Downey, Jr. in a puffy suit. I actually thought a few days ago that I should consult my friend Geo, who is a professional model-maker (as in models for sunglasses and ski goggles, not as in Cindy Crawford) and who has been known to fabricate not a few  fabulous Halloween costumes. (I am not always so good at recognizing the resources at hand.) So as soon as I have a spare minute, I’m going to ask him if he has any tips for pinata construction. If they are not copyrighted, I will share them with you.

This is what the arms looked like today, before the third layer of Sunday Sports and flour paste was applied during naptime:

Hanging by a pipe cleaner: Finally getting our money’s worth out of the chandelier above the dining table.

And hallelujah, there WAS a naptime. After the park, a playdate, pretend flying off the sofa, fighting over a fort, and swimming (well, not quite swimming yet. Highly chaperoned bobbing, dipping, kicking, and splashing). But really–thank the universe and big business for sun, chlorine, fossil fuels and car seats. The combo puts the bots right out, only a few hours after I’m ready to drop. So, Ironman, the Killer Pinata now has arms. And a head (not shown). Next stop: Legs. Do I really need two that look alike?

Yesterday’s news is today’s source of stress and tomorrow’s triumph….maybe.

Mindball: Are You Calmer Than Your Three Year Old?

This cool hat will tell you if you think like a three year-old. Mbot does.

We celebrated Memorial Day by visiting The Stomach Center (Mbot renamed The Arizona Science Center) where, thanks to a game called Mindball, I proved that I can consciously calm my brain more effectively than Mbot can calm his (a fact I know Husbot would question).

Which was a remarkable feat, because, by the last day of a three-day weekend filled with fabulous fun family time (and no time to myself, except for two hours that morning during which I washed the dishes, did four loads of laundry, and cleaned a bathroom), I was feeling anything but calm. I was torn between feeling grateful and joyous at having such a wonderful family (and such good weather for zoo-going, bike-cruising, and water-parking) and feeling stressed and panicked at not having had any time to write. At all.

But here is the Mindball brain-activity read-out, which backs up my claims of my ability to calm myself, although at the moment the picture was taken, only Mbot’s brain activity was being charted, in the window at the left.

How do you play Mindball? See that long plexiglass tunnel on the table? Inside is a metal ball. A player sits at each end of a table, puts on a funky hat with a cord coming out the top, and tries to think calm thoughts. “I am sitting on a beach. I am listening to waves. I have a babysitter for the entire day.”  The ball rolls away from whoever is calmer and more focused. If the ball reaches your end of the tunnel, you lose.

Mbot lost four times in a row, but not for lack of trying, kind of. He switched chairs once, just to make sure I wasn’t sitting in the Magic Chair of Calm. (I wish!) Distractions abounded. All around us were people and other interactive exhibits, one of which replayed, about every three minutes, the sound of a car crashing. I finally had Mbot stare at the ball, place his fingers in his ears, and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” softly to himself. It was really, really cute, but his brainwaves still went through the roof.

I was starting to worry that Mbot had ADD, and then calmed myself remembering that he’s supposed to be this way–he’s three. But it set me thinking, and on the Mindball website, I discovered that the same brainwave technology– EEG Feedback Training— is being used with great success to help children and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.

It made me think, too, of the effect of writing on my brain. It must stimulate my alpha waves. Focusing on communication and self-expression through the written word must calm me, allowing me to focus more, which calms me more–a self-perpetuating zen state. I don’t have a Mindball machine to back up this theory, just years of experience. I wish refereeing disputes over who had the green water pistol and who had the red one had the same effect.

So, wonderful weekend memories, and a sigh of relief at sitting back down at my computer. What was your weekend like? The ball’s in your court.

If I Build an Ironman Pinata, will Robert Downey, Jr. Jump Out of It?

Mbot’s Ironman Action Figure

Because it feels like after all this work, he really should. Or at least send some of his box office proceeds to stuff into the near-life-sized limbs of Ironman, The Killer Pinata.

I’m making it for Mbot’s fourth birthday, and even if Robert just sent a boxful of one dollar bills, it’d make Mbot the most popular guy on the block. Maybe we could invite the neighbor who called not only the animal control people but also the police when she saw Junebug, our twelve-year-old Caninus Benignus, on the grass outfront without a leash. That might soften her up. Or wait–we could put that lady inside the pinata…but that is so unneighborly of me.

Leonardo da Vinci’s other lost notebook. Medieval renderings of an Ironman-like figure discovered within. Not for sale. Bill Gates, eat your heart out.

I have a soft spot in my heart for arts and crafts, but I have never made a pinata, and the last time I did paper mache, I couldn’t yet ride my bike (even though it had training wheels). But I am never as happy as when I face off with an artsy fartsy challenge with no step-by-step set of directions.

I would have prefered to make a much smaller pinata. I would have prefered to make, say a Saturn pinata. Or even a monster pinata, because monsters can be round with party hat horns. But although I did everything but repeatedly whisper these ideas into Mbot’s ear when he was asleep, he refused to change his mind. He wanted an Ironman pinata. And so I searched the internet and there were none (and if there is, I can’t imagine how much it would cost.) And then Gbot and I were in Party City searching for the perfect balloon to use as a form, and there, on the wall of two hundred mylar balloons, was Absolutely Nothing.

We were just about to give up, buy the giant round balloon and paint a picture of Ironman on it. Lame. And that’s when I spotted the giant “It’s a Boy” balloon. Well, obviously, it was made to be Ironman’s torso.

Obviously, this balloon was designed to be Ironman’s torso, only upside down. We could have picked the “It’s a Girl” one, but decided this was more appropriate.

My plan is to make several really small round pinatas, along the way, to ascertain how many layers of The New York Times I will have to shred to make a pinata that breaks under a reasonable amount of pummeling, but that doesn’t break too soon. (If anyone has any idea, please don’t hesitate to chime in. Suggestions would be cheerfully welcome, just please try to refrain from calling me a big fat delusional optimistic over-achieving idiot on my own blog)

Mbot rescued a picture of a baby and a picture of a ballerina from the glue paste. They are now on the refrigerator door. Maybe forever.

I think the test spheres will be valuable because, a few months ago, we attended a party where the Beauty and the Beast pinata withstood no less than forty wallops with a baseball bat. Finally the birthday girl’s father–who if he were given a red and gold bodysuit could reasonably pass for Ironman–had to attack it himself–and it took him about ten swings to finally break the damn thing. It was eighty degrees out and he was worried that the chocolate inside would melt. Husbot could not reasonably pass for Ironman, and it would be embarrassing to have to take a hammer to it. But it would also be unfortunate if it broke on the first swing.

In spite of everything–common sense, past experience, the little voice inside my head (I swear, there’s only one)–I am enjoying the process–the whole process: from discovering the giant bottle balloon to figuring out how to make the forms for his limbs. (After brief internet research, small balloons, printer paper, and masking tape, I think).

Two coats of paper mache. Don’t laugh. I swear it will look like Ironman by June 23. I am in deep doodoo if it doesn’t.

But I am discovering that, like vomiting, paper mache is an activity best undertaken alone. The bots helped me apply the first layer of newspaper and flour paste to the recalcitrant, helium-filled bottle balloon, and it was a thirty-minute exercise in fast-twitch muscle use and multitasking skills. Gbot mutinied after ten minutes, which was almost worse, because I could not physically insert myself between him and danger. I was elbow-deep in pinata paste. The only thing that lends itself less to simultaneous child care is deboning a chicken.

Stay tuned for The Further Adventures of Ironman: The Killer Pinata.

Why I Feel Good About the Feathers in My Car’s Grill

Maybe I should have made a really ugly hat. (

Or, to bastardize Emily Dickenson: Self-Forgiveness is the Car with Feathers in its Grill.

Doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s because sense has little or nothing to do with it. Sense is the thing that tries valiantly and in vain to override instinct, synapses, chemicals–namely, hormones.

Let me start again: Every May, drivers in Phoenix are treated to a feast of aviary roadkill. It is often found in pairs. Doves, I think. Of some kind. Rather small. Gray and feathery. In May, one will notice couples of these birds crossing the road, chasing one another from one lane to the other–blind to oncoming hazards much bigger, much harder, and with much more inertia than themselves.

For those of you who haven’t guessed it already, May is, for these birds, mating season.

Made me think of my own mating seasons. The strange, bad, funny, head-shakingly inappropriate choices I made in love on the road to Husbot. In disecting the intricacies of my intimacies, it is easy to not forgive myself some of the remarkable detours along the way. In my MFA Creative Nonfiction program, we were warned about this. Be kind, we were told. Be kind to your younger self. You were only a child. A teen. A young woman. Still a young woman. And be kind to yourself, now. I know everyone preaches that. But it begs the question: If I’m TOO kind, then how the hell will I EVER learn ANYTHING? Ah, that darned rationality stepping in again.

I recommend to everyone who can empathize to drive under the speed limit toward two birds walking in the road–one named Romeo, the other Juliet–expecting them to fly away at the last moment, thus miraculously avoiding contact with your car as birds always do–and then thwump, feeling the impact on your grill and watching a shower of small gray feathers wash across your windshield. It might make you realize that we need to forgive ourselves our mistakes in love. And consider ourselves lucky in all cases in which we don’t end up just a feather under the windshield wiper.




The Girl Pocket: Why Don’t I Listen To My Own Derned Self?

Last Saturday evening, twenty minutes before leaving for a family graduation celebration, as I bent over to retrieve the bots’ sandals after a frolic under the hose, my phone fell out of my bra and bounced through the grate into the gutter, landing softly on a bed of leaves and probably spiders below.

As I rushed to get the bots (not to mention myself) ready for the evening, Husbot, already in his dress clothes, disappeared outside and reappeared five minutes later, with my phone (announcing, “I wish I could do this sort of thing for a living,” to which I replied he probably could). I don’t know how he did it, something to do with a coat hanger and duct tape.

But the moral of the story is, I Was Right. About not carrying my phone around in my bra. it would have served me well to have recently reread The Girl Pocket, and so I am reposting it today. (You will notice that the reason I note for not carrying the phone in my bra is not that it might fall into a gutter minutes before an important family gathering, but still. I Was Right.)

The Girl Pocket

Fisher-Price Trio helicopter. The Trio: better than Legos for the three-and-under set. And with rounded edges, easier on the girls.

As I was getting ready for bed a few nights ago, the eyeball in this picture fell out of my bra. For those of you familiar with Fall Apart Chubby (posted 9/13/11), you already know that I consider my best, most convenient pockets to be the two in which my breasts also happen to reside. If men can carry a Man Purse, why can’t women have Girl Pockets?

A miniature Batman figure fell out alongside the eyeball. The night before, it was a paperclip and a twist tie. Talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex (You Can’t Shoot the Toy Fairy, posted 9/24/11). This happens every night, except the detritus doesn’t usually stare back at me like, “It’s not my fault women don’t have pockets.”

Of course that is not entirely true: women do have pockets. And we could use them. But stuffing chest pockets is unfashionable (witness the Pocket Protector); using hip pockets is uncomfortable; and using back pockets is unthinkable if not impossible.

But the bra? Now there’s a pocket—two, actually—in which only a few of us feel like we’re carrying enough. And, thanks to the forgiving physiology of the bra’s chief inhabitants, it seems like there’s always room for more. For years, even before giving birth, I found it a convenient repository for many of life’s necessities: credit cards. Driver’s licenses. Boarding passes. Lipstick. And now: milk bottles (for short periods, between car and house, for example). Diving sticks (or anything that you don’t want to forget to bring with you as you whiz around the house late to swimming lessons). Car keys.

The bra is not recommended for everything. A few examples spring to mind: sewing pins. Nail clippers. Half a cracker. Cell phones. (You sweat. They die.)

I am, admittedly, a slow learner. I attended a women’s college twenty years ago and didn’t become a feminist until I became a mother. I am not going to rant about the need in the western world for pregnant lady parking spaces and drive-through grocery stores, but is a pocket really too much to ask?

Aside from the cargo pant, whose pockets were never meant to carry cargo, not really, or athletic pants with a zip pocket big enough for a tampon and a ten dollar bill, women’s fashion is devoid of useful pockets. There is no sexy mommy equivalent of the safari vest. It’s not anyone’s fault; we can’t blame Dolce and Gabbana. It’s just a matter of evolutionary biology. A sexy woman is one who can snap her fingers and get what she wants. She doesn’t have to actually lug it around on her person. A woman with bulging pockets sends out one of several messages: 1. I am homeless. 2. I am desperate. Neither of these things signals a good target for childbearing. Thus: the human male has no biological imperative to find her sexy.

The Girl Pocket is my secret weapon. Now that I am the mother of two toddlers, though, the secret’s out, and not just at bedtime. At the grocery counter yesterday I looked down to find my keys dangling out the neck of my t-shirt. It’s a shiny, jingly clump, so maybe other shoppers just thought it was a brooch. Lady Gaga would go there.

The road to a world where useable pockets are socially acceptable for women is a steep and uphill grade. When I flew alone with Mbot, when he was first learning to crawl (read: he did not want to fly, or be held, or sit), I wore a thin, black wool cycling jersey. It looked  normal from the front, and even lint-free, thanks to Husbot’s lint roller, but those behind me witnessed three kangaroo pockets bulging across the back. Perfect for two milk bottles, a wallet, some tissues, and two binkies (a fresh one and the one that had met the floor, in separate pockets, of course). Look ma, no hands!

“You look funny,” said my brother-in-law as we came through security.

“Smart,” I said. “I know you meant to say, ‘smart.’”

“No,” he said. “You look funny.”

But the eyeball in my bra says otherwise.

Where do you keep your stuff??

Gingerbread Cocktails and the Gloppy Bloppo

This is me, floating on a puff of whipped cream in an oasis of calm. (

I have stepped out of the space-time continuum for sixty-eight hours and entered a world where the most madness occurs in a poorly-written knitting pattern and the most physical activity has been achieved by a monstrously fluffy kitty who murdered a bunny in the backyard.

No, I have not been institutionalized: my friend of thirty-seven years, Solveig, flew me to Colorado for an early forty-fifth birthday present. We have done little but sit and eat Pad See-Ewe and dark chocolate and she has knitted and plied me with cocktails, and I of course have been writing.

But it hasn’t been much fun. The writing part, I mean. I’m at a crossroads which is another way of saying I’m feeling a little lost. One thing I loved about writing for magazines was that I had a specific assignment. Another was that I had a deadline. Another was that I loved learning about the lives of the people I interviewed. I loved the certainty of publication, and that a large number of people would enjoy and/or learn from what I’d written. The downside was the small paycheck, which made it impossible for me to do full-time and also feed myself.

I am not currently writing for magazines or for anyone other than myself and my blogdience. I am considering a rewrite of the novel but must first weigh the value of the intensive time commitment. I am almost ready to pick up the thesis I completed last spring and turn it into a book–a memoir about fumbling my way through one bad relationship after another (The Gay Exfiance, The Sociopathic Candyman, The Congenial Excon, etc.

In the meantime, I have returned to my first literary love: picture books. In the nineties, I made several attempts, received several  extremely polite rejection letters and requests for more work, and then, due to youth and impatience, I think, quit trying. My early lack of persistence was astonishing.

But this blog reminded me of my love for combining words and images. And, I cleverly became a mother, thus creating my own captive audience–an audience that has no qualms about expressing boredom if a character is dull or a plotline is predictable or my verbal flourishes are self-indulgent. Really, it makes the learning curve MUCH shorter.

And so now I’ve recently finished a manuscript called Squeak and the Gloppy Bloppo. It’s eight hundred words, and with any luck, they are the right ones.

In the past two days, along with polishing off a gingerbread martini, an orange-jalapeno martini, and a pomegranate-elderflower martini, I polished my manuscript and the cover letter. According to Solveig’s handy breathalyzer, I was never legally drunk–when cocktails are stretched out over a twelve-hour period, you can have your drink and your relative sobriety, too. I would have renewed my efforts at researching agents, via the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which provides a wonderful network of writers, illustrators, agents, and editors), except that when I opened my notebook with my list of twenty targets, I found I’d brought Mbot’s field journal, instead. The crayon drawings of angry birds, one-eyed robots, creekbugs, and monsters made me miss the bots terribly and reflect on the dichotomies of passions, careers, quiet time, and motherhood.

It made me think about how one of the easy things about motherhood is that I have an assignment, I have deadlines, I learn every day about interesting people and situations and things, and others appreciate what I’m doing. The downside of course is the low paycheck. Also of course that a bath can be undone in three minutes in the sandbox, and a book is slightly less easy to destroy.

But a children’s book manuscript, by an unknown author, in today’s publishing environment, is not a sure thing. And even if it ever does, it is not helping to pay the Amex bill today. It makes me question whether I’m being realistically hopeful or simply self-indulgent. These are some of the things mothers ask themselves, too, about motherhood. Both writing and motherhood are exercises in persistence, patience, and faith.

But people are enjoying the story. I first told it nearly two months ago, and every few days, Mbot mentions the gloppy bloppo, or Magnolia, the heroine. He asks what I’d do if he turned into the gloppy bloppo, and I pretend to have forgotten the trick to turning a gloppy bloppo back into a little boy.

So we’ll see. Uncertainly is uncomfortable. And there is nothing like being surrounded by peace and calm, kitties and knitting, to give me  a chance to think about the uncertainties. A gingerbread cocktail is comforting, but sadly, it’s only a temporary solution. Learning to live comfortably with uncertainty is the answer.

Working on it.



Potty Rockets (A Play)

Our day:

Act 1 (From a stool in the bathroom, where I found Gbot at 6:02 a.m., smearing my too-expensive old-age concealer all over his pajama top):

Gbot: “I am putting this on my shirt to make my shirt pretty.”

*   *   *

Act 2 (From the back seat):

Mbot: “Mom, are you old?”

Gbot: “Are you going to fall apart?”

I lied of course, and said no. Everything’s relative. And, if, like they say, the dust in one’s house is made up of ninety percent human skin, then yes, I am falling apart and am accumulating at record speed, along with the other ninety percent of our household dust–the dog’s hair–in every corner.

*   *   *

Act 3 (From the middle of a pool of potty on the kitchen floor after an extremely rare accident) :

Me: “Oh, Bug, it’s okay. What happened?”

Mbot: “I got shot by a potty rocket.”

Those darn potty rockets. They’re everywhere. After I’d mopped up with peroxide, he exclaimed, “Wow! Potty makes the floor shiny!”

So email me and for a nominal fee, I will send you an endless supply of custom, freshly homemade potty, made right here in America. It’s just the thing to get all that dust, which is really mostly you, up off the floor. I wonder if it gets concealer out of pajamas?


My Not-So-Simple-‘n’-Easy Intro to Motherhood

Mbot and Junepbear, back when everyone was new.

Mother’s Day seems a good time to remember origins and to give thanks. First, a thank you to my own mother, The Secret Hero, for setting an example that all her children have strived to emulate: even my little bro, in the middle of Japan, cooks a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and bakes a cake from scratch for Christmas and birthdays. This, in a country where beef is hard to come by and sometimes you can’t get butter. The food is of course also a metaphor for the emotional nourishment mom provided. She loves us more than, in the words of Mbot, a cactus loves its prickles.

It’s also a day to remember the origins of my own motherhood: First, a miscarriage, and the realization that motherhood–and the love of that new life–can begin when you first see the + on the little white stick. And when my body bled out that promise, the betrayal I felt from my own body, and the hopelessness of my desire.

Mbot was conceived six months later, and early pregnancy–an experience I had expected would be joyous although perhaps uncomfortable–was tarnished by the daily fear of false hope. Husbot preached “cautious optimism”–a state possible for him, maybe; it was not his body that had invited into itself and was now responsible for a very real and capricious soul; it was not his blood circulating through its veins and back to his heart.

After four months, there was less fear and more exuberance, and a moment of horror when I finally saw myself in a full-length mirror and realized that my sexy new pregnancy swimsuit didn’t make me look sexy and pregnant at all–it made me look fat. Husbot went out and brought home two pints of ice cream, with hot fudge sauce. That made me feel better. And then the ladies at the pedicure place gathered around to point at my newly abundant and impressive varicose veins and babble about them in Vietnamese. But I had bigger concerns–I had to poop, and when I had to poop, I mean I had to poop right now.

Then, at seven months, I began to feel extremely tired. Everyone said it was normal. I was after all, in biological terms, old. The prime years for Homo sapiens to bear children coincide with the prime years for us to become Olympic gymnasts, and I was thirty years beyond that.

At eight months, I was still extremely tired, I had a headache, and I felt sick to my stomach much of the time. I had diarrhea. I would dream I was having painful contractions but wake up with only a stomachache. The doctor said, “You’re older. You’re pregnant. it’s normal.”

One week before Mbot was due, I went in for the scheduled check-up and my by now enormous-looking bump, that felt so big and so low I could only waddle in an irritatingly stereotypical pregnant-lady way, measured too small. For some reason, Mbot had not gained the weight he was supposed to in the last seven days; he possibly had even lost weight. They did an ultrasound and found the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. I was sent to the hospital for a fetal nonstress test. McDowell Road hadn’t seemed so long since Husbot had driven me to the ER, doubled over in pain, just over a year before.

Now, thirty-nine weeks pregnant, during the hour that I was hooked up to a nonstress test machine that measured our heartrates and my bloodpressure, it was determined that Mbot was fine. He was fine. I was so relieved that it was with little alarm that I received the news that I, on the other hand, had a bloodpressure that had, in sixty minutes, risen from 110/70 to something like 168/90. Blood was drawn. It was not as it should have been. I was handed a cloth gown, off-white to blue, with a tiny blue pattern, a four-petaled floral motif, each petal the shape of a tear–of sorrow? of joy?–and I was admitted.

I can’t remember exactly when, during that evening or night or the next early morning, I was diagnosed with HELLP Syndrome–I would have to look at my chart–but by five a.m., my platelet count had dropped from 250,000 to 100,000, and the nurses were drawing blood to see if it could clot.

HELLP Syndrome is a variant of preeclampsia. The acronym stands for Hemolysis (which means the breaking down of red blood cells), Elevated Liver Enzymes, and Low Platelets. (Platelets are the blood cells responsible for clotting.) It was discovered just in 1982. According to The Preeclampsia Foundation, morbidity and mortality rates have been calculated at as high as 25%–partly because it is so difficult to diagnose. It presents in different, subtle ways that can easily be mistaken for flu, gastritis, hepatitis, or just…being old. It usually occurs in women under thirty and over forty. It is currently impossible to prevent, except in subsequent pregnancies–during which a single baby aspirin a day lowers the chances of recurrence almost completely.

By seven a.m., my platelet count had fallen to 90,000 and I was finally rolled into the OR for an emergency C-section under general anesthesia. Blood was on hand in the event that I needed a transfusion. My father (the Guru), a retired surgeon, had sounded unworried and confident over the phone a few hours before. The fact that he had not boarded a plane from Idaho to Phoenix was a source of comfort. And so I believed I was being dramatic when I feared that I might never meet my son. Ninety-five percent of me believed. The other five percent was genuinely terrified that I wouldn’t wake up.

But I did. I hadn’t even needed a transfusion. My first thought upon waking was “I’m awake. I made it.” My second thought was the one I expressed aloud, as Husbot handed me a six-pound, six-ounce squinchy-eyed thing in a hat: “He’s even cuter than Tesserwell.” I was floored by that realization because I have always claimed the antique cat was fashioned from my own rib. I loved Mbot–we already knew his name–immediately and fiercely and unreservedly. I was relieved by and completely unprepared for the depth of that connection.

The normal arc of HELLP Syndrome is that, once the baby is delivered, the mother’s body continues to deteriorate for two days, and then it begins to heal. This does not always happen. In some cases, there is permanent liver and kidney damage. In the worst cases, the mother seizes due to high blood pressure before delivery, and the fetus dies. Or the mother dies. Or both. Often, the onset of HELLP occurs in the second trimester, and the mother is kept on bedrest and magnesium for as long as possible to give the fetus more time to develop. But delivery is the only cure. Mbot and I got very, very lucky.

For three days, I was on medication to lower my blood pressure and had IV drips in both arms, one dripping magnesium sulfate, a muscle-relaxant, into my bloodstream to eliminate the possibility of a seizure. I was catheterized, and I was on pain meds for the C-section incision. I was voraciously thirsty–a side effect of the magnesium. For the next forty-eight hours, my platelet count continued to plummet. Seventy-five thousand. Sixty-thousand. Fifty-five thousand. When it hit twenty-two, and then eleven thousand, which indicated that my liver was still ripping apart my blood cells as they passed through it, the nurses began to ask every hour if I felt  pain in my upper abdomen, which would further indicate that my liver was failing. I didn’t.

I couldn’t change my newborn’s tiny diaper, which was the size of a pocket handkerchief, but I could hold him when he was placed in my arms. He only opened one eye in the first twenty-four hours, and it stared up at me like the eye of a whale surfacing, dark smoky blue and unblinking. It was very unnerving. Sometimes it was downright frightening. He seemed to know everything, see everything, even though I knew he really couldn’t see much at all. On top of that, he seemed to be accusing me of something, but I didn’t know what. Welcome to motherhood.

I was tired, I hadn’t washed my hair in days, and photos from that time will show that I looked like hell. In spite of Husbot’s presence every night (he caught a terrible cold from sleeping directly under the air conditioning vent, on a fold-out sofa we theorized was filled with iron filings–I vowed I would never, ever, get mad at him for anything, anything), I wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours out of every twenty-four. There were interruptions around the clock. Along with almost constantly nursing Mbot, who was an impassionate grazer, my blood was drawn every four hours–which more often than not entailed several painful attempts, as my veins are master get-away artists in the presence of a needle. The IVs were checked and adjusted several times an hour, the bathroom was cleaned, drinks replenished, pain pills brought in, the catheter bag emptied, the garbage can emptied, my nursing record studied, and the damned alarm on the heartrate monitor kept going off because my resting heartrate is naturally so low. (They never seemed to be able to readjust it.) I kept a chart for one two-hour period which showed an interruption on the average of ten times per hour, and then I gave up keeping track.

My hemmorhoids, which I hear from about once every ten years, chose the first night to rear their fiery heads and when I became irrational with pain, a nurse, fearing a seizure, shot me full of some tranquilizer to keep my blood pressure down. Husbot will report that I babbled to invisible people for an hour afterward. But I tell you, they weren’t invisible.

On day three, to everyone’s intense relief, my platelet count began to climb. My blood pressure dropped to still high but less-than scary numbers, and I was eased off both the blood pressure meds and the magnesium drip. A nurse came to help me relearn to walk. I stood up and almost fell over–muscle relaxants will do that. I shuffled down the sterile hallway feeling euphoria at being out of bed, at moving, and, (melodramatically, I’d like to believe) for being alive. For Mbot’s being alive.

On day four, we went home. Mbot was much smaller than most of the newborn clothes we had. He was completely outmatched, size-wise, by his orange car seat, whose elaborate five-point harness was still a mysterious, magical thing to me. It was 112 degrees outside when we exited the hospital, but it was so good just to be outside again, with a healthy baby, and regaining my own health, that I forgave even the Arizona weather, at least until sleep deprivation really set in, and I couldn’t even forgive Husbot for using too many paper towels to dry his hands.

To my fellow mothers: Happy Mother’s Day. We are a fucking lucky bunch.

For more information on HELLP Syndrome, go to The Preeclampsia Foundation.

I Hereby Relinquish Control: Teacher Appreciation Week, in Retrospect

Please accept these mushrooms as a token of my appreciation. (

Not that I have a strong opinion one way or the other, but whoever came up with the idea of Intelligent Design is an unqualified, certified, card-carrying moron. In three hundred years, people will look back at us, the founders of that stupid idea, like we look at the preCopernican world. Because it’s basically the equivalent of believing the sun and all the other planets revolve around the earth. Which was actually worked out, mathematically, but according to Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design, the equation was a solution neither simple nor elegant. When they did the math for all the planets, including (gasp!) the earth, rotating around the sun, the equation was both.

I bring this up, obviously, because this is Teacher Appreciation Week. Sure, teachers get a whole week and mothers only get one day, but I do not begrudge the teachers their week. We love Mrs. Pursell, Mrs. Doll, and everyone at Montessori, and they work their butts off. And so we happily went along with the protocol: a cupcake from the whole class on Monday. A thank you note from each child on Tuesday. A flower from each child on Wednesday. A vegetable or a piece of fruit from each child on Thursday. And, as parent-teacher liaison, I collected small monetary donations for a spa certificate to be presented today.

The stress began on Tuesday. Mbot, who is normally most content when left with pencils and paper, wanted to make rockets out of his Trio set instead. Then he wanted to draw a picture for his friend Ybot. Then for his brother. After three hours of on-and-off trying, we had three pictures (the Spanish teacher needed one, too). But there was something wrong with the amount of stress I felt during this exercise.

Wednesday, on the way to music class, we stopped at Safeway for two flowers. I told Mbot he could pick them out. I gave him choices of the least expensive varieties. He chose the sunflowers. Since they were only $3 for three, we got two bunches. He held one. Gbot held one. The flowers were dragged along the floor. They were swung through the air. They were carried over their shoulders like hobo sticks. By the time they got to music class, I’m sure several days had been taken from their already truncated lives. By the time Mbot had carried them in this fashion down the path to school, through the lobby, into the courtyard and into the hands of the teachers, I had decided that, when gifts are requested from little people, you have to take into consideration the fact that we, as adults, are pressing our standards and expectations and values onto people who have not yet been on earth long enough to learn our ways.

And so, by Thursday, when we went to school via the Safeway produce department, I found myself saying “yes” to the yellow bell pepper for Mrs. Doll ($1 apiece!). And to the carton of sliced mushrooms for Mrs. Pursell. The teachers were just lucky that, on the way to the checkout counter, we passed a display of very attractive strawberries at $1.28 per carton. Mbot agreed that they would be good, too. But if he hadn’t, Mrs. Pursell would have gotten the mushrooms. And I would have been perfectly okay with that. She could eat mushroom soup while admiring her world-weary sunflower and begrudgingly drawn picture of the antique cat.

It has been a week of lessons in weighing value, struggling for perspective, and drawing boundaries. I crawl out the end of it educated and exhausted.

They say that the behavior of three year-olds breaks us in for the behavior of teenagers. We get twelve years of practice before the big stuff starts. I believe it. The whole process has been magnificently designed. By The Laws of Nature. By Evolution. Give it up, all you Intelligent Designers. Relinquish control. If the universe had been designed by a humanlike mind–a truly intelligent female one, at least–there would have been a weekly spa visit included.

Stop! That’s Not Toothpaste!

From the great blog on writing, etc.,

The good news is, if I had any itching inside my mouth due to a yeast infection on my teeth, I won’t any more.

When you are still weak and woozy from spending the previous night on the bathroom floor in a La Quinta Inn,  evacuating contaminated trout from your body, and also from then driving two hours home feeling like little gnomes are swordfighting behind your bellybutton, you may carelessly assume that evening, back home, when you reach for the toothpaste, that the old, crinkled tube you find in your hand is, in fact, a travel-sized Aquafresh. You will use it, because the night before, you threw out the regular toothpaste, after brushing your teeth, tongue, gums, uvula, and tonsil scars, stopping just short of stuffing the bristles up each nostril to flush out every trace of that delicious-tasting stomach acid.

I looked at the label only after I’d squeezed it on the brush, stuck the brush in my mouth, and clamped it between my teeth while I twisted the lid back on. The lid to the Monistat 3 Maximum Strength Soothing Care Itch Relief Cream.

It could have been worse. It could have been the other way around. I would have gotten rid of any tartar problems in my reproductive tract but wondered why the itch was still there.

And no, I didn’t really have an itch, but I’m a good Boy Scout when it comes to itch and pain relief, and I am always prepared. The bots get their chocolate milk and Angry Birds bandaids, I get my cabernet and Maximum Strength Soothing Care Itch Relief Cream. Not To Be Taken Orally.