Dear Husbot, Thank You, But Did You Have To…

$16.95 + $4.95 shipping, from Crate and Barrel. That’s $33.90 + $9.90, for two.

Dear Husbot,

Thank you for killing the black widow spider hanging in front of the front door.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? The one with the whimsically stripy handle that makes me feel not quite so bitter about sweeping?

I mean, I’m totally thrilled that you a.) identified the spider that I incorrectly identified as “not a black widow, I didn’t see that red hour glass on its back,” b) didn’t snicker while pointing out that the hourglass is actually on its tummy and c) stomped on it repeatedly because my simply throwing two issues of the Sunday New York Times on it the night before when I incorrectly identified it was obviously an inadequate murder technique.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? Without telling me? And not replace it? Immediately? In a household in which gravity is twice as strong as at other locations on Earth, and in which at least once a week an object fabricated either of glass or ceramics explodes on the tile floor?

Really. Thank you for compensating for my ignorance regarding the Insects of the Desert and their feeding, sleep, and recreational habits. I had not known that a spider hanging no more than eighteen inches above the ground in a lit doorway at night would be a spider that could poison my children. Forgive me: our children. And that a black widow has a tough exoskeleton that renders it impervious to the impact of even a month’s worth of lightly read Times. And that after suffering such an insult, it would scurry into a hole until darkness fell again, at which point it would resume hunting. In our doorway.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? I still don’t quite understand why. When there are four extremely tender feet that depend on my using it almost daily. Did you throw it away because of the black widow, or because you then used it to reach the giant cockroach that I spotted camping out high on the wall, after you’d killed the black widow? The one that instigated a call to Pete the Bug Guy who I thought you’d called last month?

Thank you for killing the giant cockroach.

But did you have to throw away my broom?

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Shelve the Guilt, Girl, and Go

Girl’s Night Out: Not only increasing your own health and happiness, but giving your bots the best possible chances of survival. (examiner.com)

Husbot returned Thursday night from two days on the road (work), and when he asked about weekend plans, I reminded him that I was flying to Denver for forty-three hours to attend a party celebrating the thirty-fifth wedding anniversary of dear friends whom I hadn’t seen in ten years..

“Oh,” he said. “I forgot.”

He was stressed out from work, the dog had been peeing twelve times a day, not always outside, and I know he’d been looking forward to a respite. “It’s okay,” he assured me, sincerely, but after a moment of silence. “I just forgot it was this weekend.”

Although he spends hours each day and most of every weekend with the bots, it’s an entirely different gig if you’re playing solo.

“Ginger’s coming for fours Saturday and again on Sunday,” I added. “And Grandma wants a couple of hours each day with them, one at a time. And I’ll be back at 9:30 Monday morning.” The heavy silence told me he was trying to remember the last time he had taken a vacation, but was probably too tired to recall.

I am fortunate that he recognizes the value of vacations. But I wanted to explain to him that, although I am thrilled to be going, although I will have a splendid time because I love these people and I will get to sleep in on Sunday morning and none of this will feel like work, this isn’t a vacation: It’s part of my job.

When I gave birth to Mbot, I was teaching a college writing course, nursing and pumping a combined ten hours a day, and patchworking together an average of five hours of sleep in every twenty-four. Every single second of every day was accounted for. Every moment I spent lying down, nursing, pumping, teaching, reading, writing, errand-running, laundering, cooking, showering, emailing, talking on the phone with sister, brother, friends, I asked myself, “Am I using this moment to its greatest efficiency? Does this really need to be done?”

I found myself justifying the time I spent emailing and on the phone (let me tell you, not much) and at the same time it was daawning on me that I was the one upon which responsibility wordlessly fell to create and send out birth announcements, bot pictures, updates, birthday cards. To respond to offers to help and invitations to dinner. To take bots to visit friends and out-of-state relatives. These last few things fell under the umbrella of social secretary—not social-ite.

And I found that no one took seriously the time or energy necessary to maintain our connections with family and friends. It’s the sort of thing that men, I think, consider an extracurricular activity that women do because we’re just gabby girls and like to do it. And I do enjoy much of it. I also find much of it a pain in the ass: (summoning patience during my mother-in-law’s sililoquies, updating my (woefully unupdated) Facebook page).

It’s probably taught in Sociology 101, but it took motherhood for me to figure this out: what might be labeled by society as mindless, frivolous socialilzing serves a very specific purpose: the maintenance of a community that will not only support and nurture the bots as they grow, but will support them and nurture them in the event of my absence.

By spending precious time and energy (and Husbot’s time and energy in the form of American Express), I’m strengthening bonds that will very likely help my children survive and thrive. I’m sending out the message: I care about you. I’m there for you. And please don’t forget about us.

Mahjong Dream Club: Playstation hopes to attract men to this traditionally all-women table game. (www.siliconera.com)

This responsibility—the keeper of connections–falls, traditionally, on the woman. And judging from Husbot’s nonexistent social schedule, if I counted on him to do it, people would start thinking the earth really is flat and that we’d fallen off the edge of it.

Of course, if you’re Facebooking instead of feeding your bots breakfast, you might want to consider scaling down your social network. But otherwise—drop the guilt, moms. When you’re chatting on your cell with your best friend from college instead of folding minature pants? You’re just doing your job.

Airplane Tip #28: Traveling With “Help” May Not Be Helpful

If only I could just carry on the whole rental couch, traveling would be SO much easier.

…Unless the help is hired, in which case they should fear being fired and so will respond favorably to a dirty look thrown at them with the force of a grenade. Help in the form of relatives, however, especially older adult relatives, cannot be fired.

I gleaned this tip, which I’m only guessing is #28, on Friday, traveling home from the beach, with Grandma, Uncle Marty, and Uncle Sammy.

When you’ve got a 30-month-old and a 48-month-old, no one travels quite like you. I did not realize this until we stood twelfth, thirtheenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth in the security line at John Wayne International Airport. “It will be so much easier for you, flying with us,” Grandma said.

Now, unless “easier” has been redefined to mean “more stressful and irritating,” she was wrong.

Imagine that I use the word “stood” is the loosest of terms, at least in relation to the bots. They were weaving in and out between legs and wheelie carry-ons and spontaneously squatting to snuggle with bears who were strapped to their wheelie carry-ons. I manage these behaviors. I do not restrict them. Do I like my children collecting cooties on the airport floor? No. Do I like that it takes several seconds to corral the bots for a three-foot move forward? No. That they don’t stand still? No. But you makes makes your choices and you takes your chance and this–accomanied by bots–is how I choose to travel. And it always works. We have not contracted any major life-threatening contagions. We have never missed a flight. We have never been the subjects of a lawsuit or been to jail.

On Friday, I was never so aware of our unique way of traveling, pointed out to me by the three adults who felt it necessary to “help” us.

I appreciate a little help from strangers–someone who pushes my fifth bin along the x-ray belt when my hands are otherwise occupied. Or who makes the bots laugh, and therefore stand still, for twenty seconds while I am shoving our boarding passes back into my bra. But I do not need or appreciate others dictating the speed at which we travel or the directness with which we move from Point A to Point B. I say, get a job with the TSA if you want to do that.

But I also realized how strange our travel has become. I realized, standing in the Starbucks line with a fidgeting Mbot and not minding it at all, that the bots and I have become our own little solar system, two little planets revolving at varying speeds and in erratic orbits (that sometimes intersect) around a sun, with one fluffy, oversized moon orbiting each planet and various interplanetay detritus present, asteroids and meteorites in various shapes and form that wreak their own havoc. It is a young solar system, alive with eruptions and quakes–although the sun is gaining mass as it passes through middle age. The whole shebang migrates on an unpredictable course through space, and woe be unto the force that tries to alter that course or the speed at which it progresses.

I realize that we have evolved this way without my realizing it. The universe is expanding, and the space between us and the single, childless travelers and parents who do not fly with their small children–is widening.

Now if I could only stop the expansion of that solar system’s sun….

Texting at the Wheel is Nothing Compared to This

image from livingthetravelchannel.wordpress.com

On this, the fifth day of my mother’s visit, she awoke from a dream about her grandchildren. Now, Nanny is known for her vivid and amusing dreams (see Passengers in Zone 4, Please Board While Doing the Charleston) which take reality and give them a Coen brother’s twist. So this morning, after five days of nonstop bots–swimming, Stomach Center, more swimming, library craft hour, watching the bots while their mother went to traffic court (er…more on that later), water fights at Grandma’s, trying (in vain) to get my camera to work again after Mbot’s last photo shoot (it was ancient, it was time for it to die), etc., etc.–she told me the dream she’d had moments before waking.

She was driving, in a car on an interstate. The interstate was deserted except for a lone police car cruising in the opposite direction. Gbot was sitting on her lap.

Steering.

Suddenly a tollbooth appeared up ahead, resenting the imminent need to drive straight and decelerate. She decided it was time to take control. She awoke from the dream as she was trying, in vain, to pry his plump wee fingers from the wheel.

That pretty much sums up our week. We’ve taken the scenic route, but the bots have sped right by all the rest stops.

And now we’re off to the dinosaur museum. I’m going to drive. At least literally. Figuratively, I think we all know who’s at the wheel.

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.

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.

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. (muchadoaboutfooding.com)

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.