Dear Easter Bunny, Enough with the Rejoicing

Rejoice, for new life bursteth out of the egg (or the bed), and will astound you with its very aliveness, no matter what the hour. (Come back later for an explanation on the outfits.)

“Rejoice! For new life bursteth out of shell and room, and will astound you with its very aliveness, even in the darkest hour.” (Madeupians 3:30) (Come back later for an explanation of the outfits.)

Dear Easter Bunny,

I realize that Easter is a time for rejoicing, but next year, I’d like to do a little less of it.

Next year, please do not stop at our house first, like you did this year. I appreciate your thinking that, with duty done, you could sleep peacefully through the night, eliminating a 5 a.m. wake-up call for basket dispersal, but it did not work that way. This is how it worked:

Mbot woke up at 2:30 a.m., discovered his Easter Basket and called out to me gleefully. I staggered, still half-asleep, to his room chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” to find him in a fully lit bedroom; I had never before realized that we’d installed stadium lighting. I squinted in the glare at Mbot, fully animated and investigating the contents of his Easter basket with his tonsils. After joining him in rejoicing in his good fortune for ten minutes, I convinced him to return to bed, curled up with the stuffed snake the Easter bunny had brought. I turned down the lights.

I went back to bed, rejoiceful. And if that is not a word, it should be.

At 3 a.m., I was just drifting back to sleep when a high, joyful call pierced my semi-conscious state. Gbot. I stumbled down the hall again, chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” and into the stadium lights under which both bots now crouched, unwrapping chocolate bunny bars with vim. I pulled up a chair and sat, in order to rejoice with a lower heartrate–one that might mimic the forty beats per minute of sleep. I exclaimed happily for ten minutes, after which I convinced them back into their beds. I turned down the lights. I went back to bed. I rejoiced at this.

At 3:30 a.m., I tried to tell myself that the familiar footfall marking Gbot’s approach down the darkened hall was just my imagination. “Mom,” he said softly, dispelling my fantasy, “Spruce Bear is not in my bed.” I remembered that at bedtime the night before, I hadn’t been able to find Sprucie, and put Gbot to bed hoping the absence would not be noted. Fat fluffing chance. I rose. Together, we went looking for Spruce Bear, who we eventually found, reclining in a particularly beautifully dark corner of the living room. I rejoiced with Gbot at finding his bear.

I went back to bed. I rejoiced again.

At 4 a.m., Gbot’s angelic voice entered a dream in which I was superbly prepared and extremely confident. “Husbot,” I said, “Could you please go this time.”

Husbot pretended to be asleep, but I knew he wasn’t, because he’d just hacked up something that his allergies had deposited behind his uvula. I repeated myself.

“He’s calling for you,” said Husbot. He’d gone to bed grumpy with me for being grumpy with him for something that, due to lack of sleep, I can no longer clearly recall.

“Please,” I said.

He rose, muttering, and shuffled out into the hall. I sank back into my pillow, highly rejoiceful. I tried to re-enter my dream, unsuccessfully, but apparently sleep found me, because the next thing I knew, Mbot was on the bed, telling me it was morning! Not just any morning, but Easter morning, and the Easter Bunny had come. A blissfully soft natural light glowed through my closed lids from the bedroom window. I rejoiced at soft natural lighting.

Husbot took the bots in the car to get special juice. I have never rejoiced so deeply in the existence of special juice or, for that matter, cars, or Husbot. I lay unmoving for another forty-five minutes, rejoicing in the marvel of the modern mattress.

So, Easter Bunny, just as a recap: Please stop at our house last next year, so I can rejoice in the exuberance of life, the joy of the new, and the miracle of transformation of one’s bedroom from barren to brimming with never-before-allowed-candy — after six a.m.

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.

Read the Next-to-Last Line From the Bottom

flaksafdlkSome days, you just can’t. You’re too close to it. Too focused on a specific piece of it. Too tired. You see a design, and maybe even a pattern, but you just can’t read it. Or write it. So you take that old medicine: sleep. You go to bed, and wake up with a more helpful perspective. Maybe regain with the ability to arrange twenty-six symbols in fantastic ways.

It’s cricket weather again, and one is thrumming on the other side of the wall. It is comforting, now, before the insects start moving in, start dying on my kitchen floor. Crickets should be heard and not seen. This one is singing me to sleep.

Goodnight, cricket. Goodnight, alphabet.

A friend of mine can’t go to sleep without a ticking clock. Slows down her brain. Mbot needs his bear. I hear him telling himself stories. Gbot needs his sippy cup. I hear him sucking on it. My mother goes to sleep best if she’s thinking about a sewing problem, a puzzle of some sort. I need a writing conundrum. Its rhythms and repetitions pull  me into sleep.

 

What sings you to sleep?

 

 

You Say Dhoni, I say Doni, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Venus of Willendorf, c. 24-22,000 BC (Matthias Kabel, wikipedia)

A friend called today to find out how the root canal went (see Wake Me Up When the Light Turns Green). I forgave her for not reading the post because she’s got a big office job and a ten-month-old daughter. Her parents help out. This woman is smart, beautiful, funny, independent, and has always had a deservedly high opinion of herself. But she’s feeling inadequate because, after a nasty bout of mastitis, complete with 103 degree fever-borne hallucinations, her milk supply is dwindling. And because those around her are making fun of her for not finishing things. Like combing her hair. Like buttering a piece of toast.

Did she not just finish making an entire human being?

I told her that almost every new mother I’ve known has felt inadequate. For one thing, it comes with living in a consumer society. If you feel good enough about yourself, then you don’t have to buy anything to make you better. It’s also a product of, in spite of all the mom blogs and www.babycenter.com, not having a realistic set of expectations.

I told her she is a goddess. There were civilizations, long ago, that worshipped the mother figure–fat ass, saggy boobs, slabs o’ back fat and all. “Whoever’s making fun of you should be bowing down before you instead of going to church,” I said.

I remembered those Earth Mother figurines carved by matriarchal societies twenty-odd thousand years before the arrival of the Son of God were called doni, and so that’s what I Googled for a picture. The computer corrected my spelling to dhoni and gave me this:

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the India national cricket team (www.forevernokia.com)

The star of India’s cricket team. Better than a sharp stick in the eye. When I tore myself away to resume my search, keeping my original spelling, I got a Brazilian soccer player goalkeeping for Liverpool. Could be worse.

Doniéber "Doni" Alexander Marangon, a Brazilian soccer player who plays for Liverpool (www.live4liverpool.com)

Then there’s a link to www.cannabisvoice.com, a proponent of Doni Garden Scrub, an all-natural skin cleanser that comes in four (unlisted) scents. Closer. But still nothing about Mother Goddesses.

I first concluded that, according to Our Googleness, many more people these days worship these dudes than mother goddesses. Can you blame them? They’re so cute. And, after all, there’s only one Dhoni. And one Doni. Mothers are a dime a dozen. But then I realized I was just feeling sorry for myself, and using a search term that had obviously last been used in a Massachusetts classroom in 1989. I found her, at last, yes, under the heading “Mother Goddess.”

Venus figurine, c. 24,000 B.C. (Petr Novak, wikipedia)

Mothers are goddesses. Not an original claim. They create life, they sustain life, they give hope. But no one tithes to them, or even pays them for what they do. This works of course because, between bouts of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion, the job is so great, you’d do it for free. Which is good, because you do. It’s a lot like writing, that way. You generally receive subsidies, from a partner or your office-dwelling alter ego, but anyone who’s ever been on the dole will tell you that handouts demoralize. Getting paid gives validity to your efforts, and confers a certain status: Look! Someone wants to pay me for this! I must be pretty good at it!

But mothers are not about to go on strike.

I sometimes imagine what a matriarchal society that worshipped the Mother Goddess would look like. I envision government-subsidized titanium infant car seats and drive-through windows at every grocery store. Countertops three inches higher, and stoves with burners set back six inches from the edge. Electrical outlets four feet off the ground. Cleaning and kitchen help would be as ubiquitous and relatively inexpensive as having a cell phone. The culture would think the big ol’ chick pictured above is as good-looking as Dhoni and Doni. Everyone would aspire to have an ass like that.

What do you worship?

Wake Me Up When the Light Turns Green


I’d started a post this morning titled “What Really Saved Elizabeth Gilbert,” in which I was going to reveal the true lifeline that hauled the celebrated Eat, Pray, Love author’s soul back through the doughnut hole of salvation, but then I got a root canal.

Or half of one anyway. My endodontist (I never wanted to be able to say that) wants to see me again next week, and I don’t think it’s because he didn’t get enough of admiring my hairless nostrils (see yesterday’s post, The Ex-Con’s Rule). But that may be modesty or the Vicodin talking.

I hate Vicodin. But it hated me first.

After C-section #2 two years ago, I popped one, desperate for some pain-free sleep. I got it, except all night long I dreamed my mother (Passengers in Zone 4…) was doing laundry in the next room. Loudly. It sounded so real that I had trouble believing her the next morning when she said she’d slept through the night and all of Husbot’s boxer shorts were still dirty. But I’d been so tired since the arrival of Mbot, sixteen months before, that I didn’t even notice if it made me drowsy.

The Wilcox-Jewett Obtunder, used at the turn of the 20th century that used a periontal syringe to inject anaesthesia, usually cocaine. (www.dentalassistantschools.net)

Today, when the anesthetic wore off right after dropping Mbot at preschool at noon, my world was reduced to the size of my tooth, which felt as big as my head, and like someone had just slammed it in a door. I felt sorry for all those people in the Stone Age whose  endodontists’ tools were limited to stones. I felt sorry for myself. Not the least because now I wouldn’t get to eat the smoked salmon tortellini that was on the menu tonight. Or drink a glass of wine with it. With a chaser of Brie and ibuprofen, a good red wine is my painkiller of choice. A bad one is my second choice.

I hauled Gbot back to the car and toward the CVS Window of Mercy (our old friend, see Eye-Found-It!). Because I couldn’t open my mouth, I held up a piece of paper with my name on it, as if I were meeting someone I’d never seen before at an airport. I swallowed a pill in the parking lot.

But like I said, Vicodin and I, not BFFs, and by Mbot’s pickup time at three, I would not have passed a sobriety test. And I had a tick under one eye. I put the car into park at intersections because I was afraid of nodding off before the lights turned green. By the time we landed at Grandma’s, my head was doing the loll-and-jerk thing that it hadn’t done since I was nursing Gbot and Mbot was on strike against sleep. I probably should not have been driving, especially with Midgets in the car, but of course without Midgets, I wouldn’t have had to drive. One of those hilarious little Catch-22s life throws at you like a rotten tomato.

Bottom line: Elizabeth Gilbert will have to wait. I’ve got sudsy underwear to dream about.

What’s your painkiller of choice?