Looking For The Llama

I wrote this October ’19, but didn’t have the heart to publish it at the time. I slept under Grandma Anne’s quilt last night and thought it was time. We all still miss her.

My grandmother died last week at age 94, leaving her husband of 73 years behind. I thought I was fine saying goodbye since we all knew it was coming, since Grandma herself had been ready.

The night she went into hospice care I dreamt of their old house. I could hear every familiar creak of steps and doors and tinkle of M&Ms in a glass jar and the constancy of the grandfather clock on the mantle, smell the dill in the kitchen and tobacco that my grandfather had quit smoking before I was born, feel the texture of the sofa cushion embroidery and the claws from that mean, fat Tabby when I sat on his davenport.

Everything was there. Every last plastic Donald Duck juice cup and glass jar of spoons and iron cat doorstop and tiny, embroidered foot stool. Everything except my grandparents.

My grandfather will turn 97 in December. Ninety-seven. Imagine a life that began in 1922. Imagine a family that started with an offer to drive the Homecoming queen in the parade, which lead to a 73-year marriage, 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren.

Eight cousins
The 8 grandkids, then
Now

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Grandpa had a small fall at the funeral reception and my aunt and I got him back up and resettled, but the worry about his well-being and safety wrecked me and continues to eat at me now that I’m home. I’m laying plans to kidnap him and take him home with me or to my aunt.

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My dad’s mother died when I was in college, but I still had three biological grandparents until I was 41. Four decades of simple, easy acceptance and unconditional love. There are no foundations better than that.

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When all the guests and most family had left, my brother and I sat in the sun, waiting to leave for the airport. And I suddenly remembered the llama: My grandparents had a piece of driftwood in their garden that looked just like a llama sitting patiently. Grandpa put a dog collar on it for a couple years. I don’t know the llama’s origin story.

My brother, two cousins and I trooped the half block to the old house, now sold and filled with someone else’s things, but uninhabited and unchanged. It was overgrown, but I found the fallen-down, rotted wood llama in the weeds that used to be a sweet little patio garden. No collar. I don’t what I was expecting. I didn’t take a picture.

Man and dog
Grandpa and Sadie. The llama lived just out of frame.

I tried the doors and windows while the other three reminisced. I got a glimpse of the porch we spent late nights on the few days a year we got to visit, for my efforts, and an idea of what it would have been like to be the grandkid who lived just up the street instead of 800 miles away, from their conversation. Both were mildly bittersweet discoveries.

*****

The kids and I were drained from the week, so I kept them home today, watched some of the Hobbit, and went through pictures. I know I never had one, but I was still hoping to find a picture of the llama. Grandma wasn’t sentimental and gave away all her pictures over a year ago. It meant there were just a handful to show at the funeral, and that now I have 80 years worth, all jumbled together. Mom’s baby picture next to my prom and graduation photos. I went through them all. I did find some gems, but no llama. Somethings, there just is no finding once they’re lost.

Grandpa and Grandma
Three Generations: Two grandfathers, Dad and two brothers
Mom
A baby, my mom, now Grandmother herself
and her Granddaughter

Thanks, Grandma Anne for you and all that happened because of you. ❤

Visiting The Wyoming Dinosaur Center

A year and a week ago, we visited the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, and just had to go back. I always tell people my nine-year old is “a bit of a dinosaur enthusiast,” which, while true, is an understatement, and ignores that both his father and I are even bigger nerds about it. I mean, how often do you get to see the actual feather imprints of dinosaurs?!?

close up of Microraptor fossil with feather imprints visible
Microraptor (early Cretaceous, China) with feathers on both upper and lower appendages. Wyoming Dinosaur Center

This year, after spending the night in Thermopolis, WY…

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in our favorite hotel (warm cookies in the lobby in the evening) and running along the boardwalks and suspension bridge that criss-cross the World’s Largest Hot Springs, we headed over.

I kid you not, the music playing as we walked in was the same as what my husband and I walked, together, down the aisle to: Bach Cello Suite No. 4 Sarabande (What a gift to have Nils Bultmann play at our wedding.) I was geeking out and tried hard not to get overwhelmed before making it to the main room this year. No luck. It is such a phenomenal collection of specimens from the beginning of life on earth. So much of what is on the floor is the real fossil, not casts or models, and it is mind-boggling. True, it has amazing, huge specimens of Supersaurus (“Jimbo” for those in the know) and Camarasuarus, but everything here is amazing: Stromatolites, first arthropods, fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles and on and on and on. Absolutely worth the two (or eight, or 14) hour drive.

It’s a small museum, but it is absolutely packed with incredible fossils. It has the most complete fossil archaeopteryx on display in North America,

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(although The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta has a replica of the Berlin imprint/fossil that is indistinguishable from the real one.) I made it up to a stony, fossil skeletal lystrosaurus, “the most humble badass of the triassic,” before I couldn’t absorb any more.

I handed the camera over to my six-year-old and the rest of the photos are hers. I love seeing her view of things.

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Rhamphorhyncus, Late Jurassic
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Look at that perfect framing of her dad in the jaws❤. Definitely a child of mine.

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Supersaurus in the middle, Camarasaurus rising in background

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Go see for yourselves!!

On Being Six and in Chronic Pain

Pattern:

  1. She wakes up miserable.  She feels terrible.  She woke up half a dozen times and coughed her rattly cough and told you she felt horrible and barfy.
  2. You do you best song and dance to get her to eat some toast and tea, get her dressed.
  3. You cajole her and pamper and tease and goad and get the socks she forgot and zip up the jacket and put the mittens and hat on her and get her out the door.
  4. She drags her feet on the driveway, but then she picks up speed like you knew she would, and skips to the bus stop so she can be first in line.
  5. She gets on the bus and you breathe a sigh of relief.
  6. 10:15, you get the first phone call from the school nurse.  You talk to her on the phone and you don’t ask if she needs to come home and she doesn’t say it, so you tell her to rest up and go back to class when she’s ready.
  7. You call back at 11, but hear nothing from the nurse and assume the best.
  8. 1:30 is the second call, from her teacher, saying she just started crying in math, so you say you’re on your way.
  9. You rush over, sign her out, trek down to her room to find her in the hallway, getting dressed to go home, all smiles.  You sigh inwardly.
  10. You wait and pick up her brother, too, who shares his pretzels and the two skip down the street, happy as clams.
  11. She tells you all the things that went wrong today, then all the things she wants to do tonight (go get ravioli, no, go out to dinner, watch a movie, go to Menchie’s).
  12. And you just get angry.  You haven’t slept well in more than six years.  You are done with this roller coaster of her feeling horrible and then suddenly skipping with her brother, and then feeling terrible again  You’d think that when she felt great, I’d feel better.  Relieved.  Happy.  I don’t.  I feel bitter and tired and deeply crabby.  I can’t stand the sound of her croupy, month-long, cough any longer.  I get angry when she has energy and is playful.

Here’s the thing.  When she feels bad, her tummy hurts, her forehead hurts, its visible.  You can see it in her eyes that it’s truly bad.  When she wakes at night because she doesn’t feel good, she legitimately feels very bad.  And I’m so done with it.  We’ve seen her (useless) pediatrician a dozen times, the neurologist twice, an acupuncturist, three different chiropractors.  I’ve met with her teacher and the school psychologist.  We’ve cut out dairy and gluten and sugar and food dyes.  We’ve added water and magnesium and magnets and early bedtimes and fiber and more fresh fruit and whole grains and vegetables and laxatives and even a miserable enema…all the things we’re supposed to do and nothing changes anything.  And sometimes….she feels great.  Really great.  And I’m so tired I can’t stand her constant chatter and requests.

This is not a fatigue that goes away.  This is not something a date-night or Moms’ Night Out can cure.

She was sleeping a few weeks ago.  For the first time in her life, she was sleeping from nightfall until morning and it was disorienting but so welcome.  And then I made the mistake of telling someone and she stopped.  She’s back to waking two to six times a night, me with her, to tell me how bad she feels, to cough on my pillow, to tell me her terrible dreams.

I forgot where I was driving, *while* I was driving three times this morning.  I forgot my keys and phone and purse at a friend’s last night.

I stood in the kitchen for 27 minutes not making dinner tonight.  Not thinking.  Not deciding.  Just standing.  And then it was dinner and I opened a can of olives and called it a night.

 

So when I finally tuck her in and she drips back out to tell me for the millionth time how very bad she feels, I rub her chest with Vick’s, and fill her up with a teaspoon of honey for the cough, give her a drink with Kids’ Tummy TLC, Rescue Remedy and Lemon Balm Calm for the sore tummy and the nerves, ten little pastilles for croupy cough and tension headaches, and a Moon Drop for sleep.  Because I can’t keep giving her ibuprofen, which doesn’t work on her headache anyway.  Because maybe, just maybe, she still believes in magic pills and homeopathic cures.  I don’t. Not anymore. Please, stranger on the phone and in the store, tell me again how essential oils will help so much.  Add it to the list of things I have hardened my heart against.

I’m so, so tired.  I am worn right down.  I’ve done all I can to take care of myself once I use all my best parenting powers to get her to school.  And for the most part, I’m back to full-strength to keep taking care of her when I need to.   I do not know how parents of kids with special needs, or high needs, or serious or chronic health issues do it.  It is chronic for us, but it is not life-threatening or dire or scary.  Just constant.

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I wrote the above a month ago.  I wrote On Being Five (and in chronic pain) a year and a half ago.  This afternoon we head back to the doctor.  Again.  The same useless one. (looking at this, I’m realizing AGAIN that I need a new pediatrician.  Done.) Because it has been another month and no change.  I have no answers.  Add the shame of that to how I already feel about her “not feeling good all the time.”  What are we doing wrong? How have we lived this long just hoping she would feel better?  What do we do now?

 

 

Countdown

The entire house smells like pee.  Cat pee from Stuart’s protest pee on the vent by the front door.  The bathroom from some errant slipstream from a child.  The bedrooms from twice nightly accidents from the little girl with a cold and double swimmer’s ear sleeping like the dead.  The kitchen where all the pee blankets, all the blankets in the house in fact, are waiting their turn in the washer.  Pee.  And my workout clothes too, because I haven’t been able to wash anything other than blankets and have been grabbing biking jerseys that not only are sweaty and damp, have been stewing with pee pajamas for two days.  Pee.  All the time.  Everywhere.
There’s a dried yogurt smear on the floor.  The paper towels are on the floor too.  So are all the grocery bags we’ve ever gotten.  And all the Playmobil ever made.  All of it.  On the floor.  Because the all the art work from the school year sits on the cabinets and the Sculpey we haven’t baked is spread all over the bay window and the candle scaping gems and junk mail are all over the telephone table and the shipping boxes are on the sofas with the towels that were once clean but are now coated in cat fur.  And the Play-Doh and pirate art and the compost bowls and dirty dishes and the library books and the broken picture frames from that time someone slammed their door and they shattered in the hallway.  And the running shoes and rain boots and dirty socks and Candy Land cards and all the stuffed animals with the doctors kit and the bow and arrows and the dying house plants and the cupcake tin filled with rocks and beads and the play dollars and coins and the broken crayons and the spilled bag of bug sprays and sunscreens and the discarded clothes and the catnip mice and the Fourth of July footrace prizes and the dinosaurs and the unopened bottles of Nature’s Miracle waiting to be used on the pee smell.
I get to have a conversation next week Wednesday about which medicine I’ll start with the intention of slowing down the progression of the MS.  I’ll start them when we come home from a westward road trip.
Did I forget to tell you?  I finally got my MRI results back. One new silent lesion. This is six weeks ago:

Sunday, June 5

Watch friends do the Lake Mills Triathlon.  Cry twice.  Once when a runner with spasticity troubles runs by.  Is it MS?  Is it ALS? Parkinson’s?  I don’t know.  But he trucks on past and I cry.  The next when a friend runs by smiling when I tell her she looks like a million bucks and says “This is so, so hard.”  Is it weird to be emoting this much on a trail, clapping and cheering for strangers?  Who can say.

Tell my dad and mom the radiologist found something on my MRI, a silent lesion near the cerebellum, one so small the neurologist can’t see it. That for me, it feels like three strikes and I’ll go on medication, probably thrice-weekly injections, come August to help slow the progression.  My dad asks if the lesions ever get smaller.  “Actually, the first lesion has shrunk.”  I say.

Dad: “Whoa!  That’s just like The Shrinking of Treehorn!”

And I laugh.  Hard.  Like I haven’t in many days.  And all is right with the world again.

I’ve wrapped my head around the injections.  But I’m starting to crack under the very idea of having to discuss them.  I refreshed my memory about the side effects of the options.  Almost all of them include the most common being depression and liver failure.

Did you know that “Depression is frightfully common in multiple sclerosis, so much so that about half of those with the disease will have at least one major episode. Worse, this depression is not the simple result of being bummed about having MS or coping with increasing disability.”  (Read more here.Do be forewarned, though. Reading stats about depression, is, well, depressing.)

This terrifies me.  I know depression.  I remember.  I live in its shadow to this day.  What arose in the darkest chapter of my life took years to squash back down and I’m reminded often of how shallow it lies beneath.  I have a security blanket in the form of a pill I take every day and don’t you dare even look funny at my blankie.  Without it, I don’t know who I am.

What worries me the most about this diagnosis and about treating it is how it will change the way I get to interact with my kids.  I have made choice after choice to be here, now, with them.  What happens now?  What happens if I’m too tired, to depressed, to preoccupied with myself?  It seems that depression lurks in the malady and the treatment. What is my future and if it includes suffering, who suffers the most?

So, I contemplate the future, and retreat as I do.  The house reverts to its natural, disgusting, state.  I run and bike in gorgeous places and exercise until I can’t any longer.  I binge-watch compelling shows (thanks for the heartbreak, Penny Dreadful.) I sleep until someone pees in my bed to wake me.  I plan vacations and write down training plans.  I go to movies alone and clap and gasp.  I sit in coffee shops and write.  I say nothing for days then keep my husband up late and spill it all.  And then I get up and I’m better.  I watch Mindy outtakes and answer my daughter with a proud “yes!” when she asks if girls can be president.  I think about seeing Yellowstone for the first time, and about camping with my kids in the Badlands and seeing the Perseids for the first time.

I think about how far I’ve come and how lucky I am.

Pure, A Dystopia for Today

From my sister blog, “Eileen Oxford’s Bookish Blog”, where I sometimes read stuff and talk about it….

Eileen Oxford's Bookish Blog

I just finished reading the first book of The Pure Trilogy, Pure, by Julianna Baggott. And yes, of course, I have some thoughts on the book.

My first one is “Another dystopia book? Count me out.” My feelings about dystopias and “after-the- fall” types is that we already live in an unreal place. This week alone, the governor of my state side-stepped two pointed questions about his belief in evolution, and proposed cutting $300 million dollars from the budget of a world renown university system while attempting to change said university’s mission to one of increasing the state’s workforce rather than one of service and “the search for truth.” Oh, and proposing a flush $220 million in bonds to a new basketball arena. Sigh. Also this week, three young students were killed in North Carolina and headlines read “Motive: Parking Space Dispute” instead of “Tragic Hate Crime, Young Muslims…

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