Friday, June 16, 2017

Whose Hand Got Cut Off?

Our youngest proves to us frequently that listening and hearing are two different things.

While on our summer vacation to South Dakota two summers ago, Wayne was telling some story to me (me, mind you, not to all occupants of the car), about someone at work who asked someone to hand him his sandwich. Marissa, who always seems to be on the cusp of listening to our conversation, misheard the word "sandwich" and asked, "Who's hand got cut off?"

Throughout the rest of the trip, whenever she would ask "What?" we would reply, "Whose hand got cut off?"

Last week the four of us were in the car, driving back from the girls' soccer game. They are both taking a summer recreational soccer league, and were placed on the same team, which makes it convenient as can be for us to go see them both play.

We were talking about a teammate of theirs who plays goalie. She is a great goalie, and a few times during the game took a ball to the head or chest, shrugged it off and kept playing.

"She sure is resilient," I said.

"No Mom, she was born in Russia," Marissa said.

It took us a while to figure out that she thought I said, "She sure is Brazilian."


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I Can Wait


Today is my eldest daughter's 8th grade graduation. She is excited to have middle school behind year, nervous for her high school years.

When I was pregnant with her, people with children would tell me, "Nothing prepares you for becoming a parent." (Some of the most unhelpful "advice" I've ever been told). Now I keep hearing those with graduating high schoolers or adult children say, "Don't blink, these next four years will go so quickly."

Thanks...I think. As if the first 14 years weren't a whirl.

When she was a newborn, I couldn't wait for her to be big enough so I could take her skating with me in the jogging stroller. When she was finally 6 months old, I took her around the lake for the first time. When I put some speed on, I looked down and she had her hands up next to her head, a look of wonder on her face, which slowly became a smile, then a giggle, and then a full-on laugh.

At age one I couldn't wait for her to learn more words, so I could be done with the pointing and the crying and the random temper tantrums because we could not understand her desires.

When she was 2 I couldn't wait for her to be done with diapers, especially since we had a second baby on the way.

The family at Dana Lake. You can hear the whining, right?

When she was 6, I was thrilled when she move to a larger booster seat so she could finally belt herself into the car. Now I just had to contort my body into strange pretzel shapes to get one child into the backseat, while she sat there safely buckled in, waiting to go.

When she turned 10 I was excited for her to move on to movies that others in the family also wanted to watch. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Disney animated film, but there's only so many times you can watch "Finding Nemo" before you don't care if he gets found.

When she was in 7th grade I couldn't wait for her to be old enough and responsible enough to not need before-school and after-school care. For the first time in years I could just get myself ready and out the door, knowing that the eldest would be responsible enough to lock up after the two girls left for school. We suddenly had extra money in our budget that could now be used in other ways.


We used some of that extra money to have date nights, because we no longer had the added expense of a babysitter whenever we went out. We went on our first spring break trip as a family, where many fantastic memories were made.

Now she and I connect in different ways. We share books. She'll find a good series on Netflix and we'll watch it together over the course of a few weeks. I can share some of the movies of my past that tickle my funny bone, because she'll get the humor of them, too.

Yes, she is surly at times, prickly, impolite, pick your adjective. But she is also expressive, funny, sensitive and caring.

These next four years? I can wait.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Felix Felicis, or "Lucky Potion"


My birthday was Friday. I love my birthday every year, it doesn't seem to matter what number it is. I was fed by my company for two of my three meals, and went out to dinner with my Big Sweetie to Murray's steakhouse, established 1948, and in general had an amazing day.

My amazing day continued into Saturday, when I was running errands. And I mean...errands; a whole lot of running around that had built up over the past few weekends. And I noticed something from the very first stop.

Everyone was soooo nice. I had a consult with an orthodontist and they managed to squeeze me in for impressions for a new retainer. I returned flowers to Home Depot and they gave me a full refund for a partially used flat. At the local vinegar and oil store they gave me a 10% discount because they knew I would bring back the bottles. Caribou Coffee gave me my free birthday drink even though it was only supposed to be good on my actual birthday.

Small things all around, but all day long. What could it be?

Was it some leftover birthday glitter? I think so. After all, I had a smile on my face all day. Every person I greeted was with a smile and a pleasant greeting, which was returned in kind. Plus, it was raining all day long, so stores were generally less busy and clerks were happy to take extra time with shoppers.

I thought about all the posts I've read about men telling women to smile, and how insulting and abrasive that is. Yes, I would never like to be told by anyone to smile, unless that person was a speech coach. Yet smiles can make the day so much more pleasant. Everyone I encounter with a smile has one in return.

I guess that's my Felix Felicis, my lucky potion. My way of making a little bit of the world kinder.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Lunch with Grandpa

From L to R: My dad, Phyllis, Carol, Dean and my Grandpa, seated
I dreamt I had lunch with my Grandpa and my dad.

It was in my grandpa's small apartment, my mind's vision of some of the places he's lived, merged into a strange concoction of his living space, as dreams tend to do.

The three of us sat around a little table, my father's large frame shoved into a small kitchen chair, his knees hitting the bottom of the table. The meal was peppered with doses of conversation and laughter. I can imagine it was every day stuff, the light that doesn't stay on in the kitchen, the Packers upcoming game, getting the oil changed in a car. Actual conversation was not a part of the dream, just the feeling of togetherness and commonness, of knowing each other so well that conversation isn't needed, just pleasant.

After the meal was done, I picked up plates and started to clean up Grandpa's kitchen. My Aunt Carol walked in, seeming to know when the meal was done so she could help and be a part of the banter. She and I cleaned the kitchen, then we all sat down and visited for a bit. She didn't stay long but popped up and said she had to go back home, and that it was nice to see me.

I awoke with tears in my eyes. Such a lunch was never possible. My grandfather never lived close to my dad and my Aunt Carol at the same time. When we got together with family, it was few and far between and it was a big deal, usually a holiday.

After the sadness passed at having visited with those long gone, I realized that they must have sent me the vision. My father loved his family dearly. He had great respect for his father and reveled in his sister's effervescent joy. Now the three of them are together, probably enjoying heavenly diversions, but the only way I could understand that they're together is by a vision of what it means for humans to commune with others -- by sharing a meal.

My grandfather died in 1996, my Aunt Carol four years ago this past March, my father this past October.  I think this means they found each other and love each other as much now as they did in life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Genders Go Camping

Say what you want, there are some inherent ways that boys and girls are different, whether a person identifies as one or the other.

While chaperoning at Marissa's 6th grade retreat, the girls in my cabin got about an hour of free time before lights out. During this time, they took showers, got ready for bed, then often spent the rest of their time braiding each other's hair, telling stories or joking around. One girl, a budding artist, sketched quietly in her bunk, the "scritch scritch" of her pencil heard throughout the conversation. Marissa worked on word searches with a friend and engaged in the room's banter.

How many braided heads can you count?
I took this picture on the last morning of camp -- clearly braiding each other's hair was a popular activity in many cabins for the girls.

In the meantime, I compared notes with a parent who was chaperoning in a boys cabin.

When it was free time, none of the boys took a shower. Instead, they took all the thin mattresses on all the beds and spread them across the floor to make a huge wrestling pit.  The chaperones drafted brackets and they had themselves a wrestling match. The loser of the previous match was the announcer for the next match, while someone else would flicker the lights on and off as the boy trumpeted, "And now...in this corner, we have the ever amazing, ever strong...Evan!!" And they were off.

This chaperone is the dad to two girls and was looking forward to chaperoning a boys cabin because he never gets "boy time," as he put it. I suspect he was the biggest kid in the room.

They had very different ideas of fun, both pursued with enthusiasm.

The 6th Grade Retreat, subtitled "Apparently I Camp"


Marissa and her favorite chaperone.
Each year the 6th grade class does a two-day camping retreat to Camp St. Croix in Hudson, WI. When Lindsey was in 6th grade she didn't want me anywhere near the camp, but Marissa asked me to chaperone.

"You know I don't really camp, right?" I reminded her. I don't do well with bugs, or sleeping bags, or walks in the woods to get to the bathroom. Plus, I was guaranteed to embarrass her at some point over the 3 days, intentionally or not.

It didn't matter, she wanted me along, and so I signed up.

I and a friend were assigned co-chaperones in a cabin with 8 6th grade girls, most of whom were Marissa's requested friends. During the day I was in Marissa's activity group, which was a different set of kids besides those in the cabin, so I got to know more of the kids in her class.

What a time!

Marissa and her cabin mates: Berit, Allison, Marissa, Carolyn, Eleni, Anjali, Erika and Hattie
Girl power at the archery range.
The first day was all sunshine and warmth. (Warmth in April=55 degrees). The group played games in the "Enchanted Forest," where they had to use teamwork to cross a path or balance a board with all teammates on it. The evening activity was a townhall where kids voted to preserve St. Croix or sell it to a developer who spoke an awful lot like Donald Trump.

Day two promised rain, and it started just after breakfast. It poured, then lightened up enough for Marissa's group to go to the pond for an aqua ecology lesson. The other chaperones and I quietly took bets on the side on which kid was going to fall in; I won. I know, not very chaperone-like, we can't be perfect role models all the time.

The second night's activity was the campfire. I told Marissa that the counselors had asked me to sing "Kum Bya" to the entire grade and that I had agreed to do it. The reaction I got when I finally told her I was kidding was priceless.

Marissa turned a new shade of red when she found out I wouldn't be singing.
The last day was the best activity ever, Predator and Prey. All the kids are split into animal groups; wolverines, skunks, rabbits and others roamed the property looking for food, water and shelter. Those at the top of the food chain could hunt those down the food chain, while others, like Marissa in the rabbit group, spent their time running and hiding. We all roamed fields, woods and water playing this game -- the places to hide were immeasurable, and with 150 kids playing, it was an absolute blast.

For me the biggest downfall was the lack of sleep. A hard and small mattress meant my shoulder was shoved into my ear for most of the night, and by the last day I awoke with the start of a migraine and tight shoulders. Not to mention the two bathroom requests in the middle of the night which required a chaperone to walk with a child to the bathrooms.

This was far outweighed by watching my daughter enjoy the outdoors and play with her friends, and by getting to know the other students and parents in her class. I'm so glad I was able to be a part of her memories of this trip.
Marissa's cabin which sleeps 12 people.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Marissa-ism

Our family has been watching "Parks and Recreation" on Netflix. By far our family's favorite character is Ron Swanson, the government employee who does not believe in government. He hates people, he hates parties, and he absolutely hates healthy food.

The characters on Parks & Rec swear, but instead of swearing, they bleep out the words and blur out the person's mouth so you can't tell what they're saying. Even in the original airing you never heard them curse, it's just a technique that's humorous, for some reason.

Marissa was watching an episode yesterday where Ron has to organize an employee appreciation picnic, something Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler's character, usually does. He is telling others what he's going to have at the picnic and says, "And there will be no bleeping vegetables."

Marissa didn't hear what he said, so she turns to me and says, "There will be no fucking what?"

The look of surprise on her face was hilarious. We all had a good laugh.



Friday, March 10, 2017

Struggling in Secret

Overwhelmed. That is the only word for all the emotions I'm feeling.

Overwhelmed by the issues facing Lindsey. Overwhelmed with the amount of information I'm learning about GI conditions, about natural treatments and cures, and the impact diet may have on a person's digestive system. Overwhelmed by thinking of the possible causes of Lindsey's issues, be it a physical ailment or an emotional one that affects her physical body.

More wonderfully, overwhelmed by the support and advice of my tribe.

Here's what I've learned through sharing our family's story: lots of people have been through this. Many parents told me stories of their teenage children struggling with digestive symptoms for which no "standard answer" was found. Each of them went down different paths of doctoring, diet, supplements and therapy. Most of them eventually got to an answer, but for some, the answers took years. Years. That might be fine for adults, but for teenagers, that's their entire adolescent experience.

My question is this: Why are we all struggling in secret? Let's share our stories, pool our knowledge, and find the quickest and surest path to health. Yes, the causes are different, the ultimate answers are different, but the symptoms are the same. How are families getting their children to school when they are struck by random bouts of diarrhea? What diet changes did they find worked? What didn't work?

Keep in touch, keep talking, share knowledge to help those coming down this path after you. I can guarantee I will do the same for you.



Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Leave of Absence

One thing that always brings a smile to Lindsey's face: Beauty.
Nothing has yet solved Lindsey's GI issues. Not the detailed food diary she's been keeping that we are pouring over, looking for potential food triggers. Not eating small, bland meals every two hours. Not the GI specialist, with whom we had probably the absolutely worst visit with a physician that I've ever experienced. Not a daily dose of Zantac, herbal teas, probiotics and other medicines.

Of the four full weeks in February, Lindsey missed school for three of them. She missed two straight weeks, went back to school for a week, then the stomach issues came back again full force.

I felt guilty leaving Lindsey home alone for hours at a time while everyone was at work or school. And I know she wasn't taking the best care of herself. We would come home to see the doses of medication still sitting on the countertop, herbal tea packets unopened, and for lunch she had a bag of gluten-free chips. Yes, she's a usually a mature, responsible girl, but when it comes to caring for her health, she is still 13.

The stress for our family became apparent when what was supposed to be a "quick" run for a blood draw over my lunch hour turned into a 4-hour ordeal. We ended up waiting in the emergency room for a blood draw, because that was the only place in the hospital that would use a "j-tip" for the procedure, which makes it completely painless.

Guess what waiting for a procedure you're already nervous about does? Yep, it increases your anxiety.

Lindsey nearly passed out during the procedure. It's a good thing she was already prone, or we would have been picking her up off the floor. She actually doesn't remember much of it because she was so out of it.

Instead of going back to work, I ended up stopping in the office to pick up my laptop so I could work remotely for the latter part of the afternoon. I missed a strategy meeting that I was looking forward to participating in. Lindsey apologized to me for taking so long for what should be a simple blood draw.

My child, apologizing to me, for having anxiety around a condition that is causing her pain. This was too much.

That evening Wayne and I decided that I would take a leave of absence from work to manage Lindsey through this, whatever "this" is. I was trying to work a full-time job while working another full-time job as Lindsey's healthcare and education manager. It wasn't fair to my employer, to Lindsey, and especially to me.

Unfortunately the timing is bad at work, with a couple of people having recently left the organization. I was willing to work some hours at home to keep projects moving along, so we arranged it so that I am working part-time on a temporary basis, able to come back to more hours when things get better at home. I am so grateful to work at a place that is so understanding and accommodating.

And so this week our new reality begins. We are all hoping that we can get to a diagnosis and a solution for her soon. I do not wish for this to become our "new normal," I'd rather go back to our old normal, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

What Now?


How ironic that I just posted about solving Lindsey's tummy troubles and trying a dairy-free diet. I wrote in such hope that perhaps dairy-free would be the answer, while also wishing that it wouldn't be because this Wisconsin girl finds dairy-free cooking/eating to be exceedingly difficult.

What's more difficult is taking the day off work to spend 5 hours in the ER with your daughter who cannot eat a thing without pain.

She missed school on Monday due to diarrhea and a stomach ache. She didn't eat all day, ate dinner with us that evening, and spent the evening curled up in a ball in agony.

I was hoping that a good night's sleep would help (now I ask myself, "help what?"). She awoke late Tuesday morning groggy, having not slept well due to a stomach ache all night. I couldn't coax her to eat until 11:30 or so. She had a brunch of a fried egg, gluten-free toast with jam, and a small side of potatoes. Granted, not the most balanced meal, but not the worst thing I've seen 13-year-olds shovel in their mouths.

She went up to her room and 20 minutes later I checked on her. She had beads of sweat on her forehead and was rolling in her bed in pain. She probably would have thrown up had it not been for her fierce aversion to vomiting.

We were in the ER by 12:30 and discharged around 4:30, not bad for a major metro emergency room. After an X-ray and a blood draw, they determined that she has no blockage, no inflammation, no other exceedingly obvious problems that would cause these issues. We already had an appointment with a pediatric gastrointestinal specialist (which is pronounced "expensive"), but not until late March.

The good news? All the scans the GI specialist would want are already complete, and Lindsey's anxiety around a blood draw doesn't have to be dealt with in the near future.

The bad news? She went home from the ER still uncertain as to whether or not she could eat without pain. Sure enough, about 30 mins after her gluten-free, dairy-free dinner, she had a stomach ache and diarrhea. But she managed to keep it down and isn't losing weight.

I suspect we have more tests and screens in our near future. And, I'm hoping, answers and relief.


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Tummy Troubles



Lindsey has been dealing with on and off stomach aches for several years. When she was younger, we chalked them up to what most parents think -- nervousness or a desire to miss a school day.

In the past couple of years they've become more troublesome and frequent. Lindsey noticed that she was often feeling bloated after eating pasta or breads. One evening I watched her gobble a plate of spaghetti and not even 10 minutes later she was groaning with a stomachache.

I recommended that she try cutting gluten. The stomachaches had finally gotten bad enough that she was willing to cut out her favorite food; pasta.

We found a decent gluten-free pasta, and I started substituting GF flour for regular flour in my cooking. It took a few tries but we found a decent GF bread. Her stomachaches got better, fewer in frequency and not as severe.

She's been gluten-free for 18 months, and for most of it her stomach troubles have been better. That is, until recently.

In the past six months or so she's been having issues again. One day she stayed home due to a bout of diarrhea in the morning. She felt better by noon so she went to school, only to have an accident at recess. I felt so badly for her.

Once again, we wondered if the stomachaches were due to stress or anxiety, but the very real physical symptoms were not at the same time as her stress. She would be working on a big school project, complete it and turn it in, and the following week be out with terrible tummy troubles.

I took her to an integrative medicine physician, who recommended that she take probiotics and switch to whole milk from 2% milk. (Really?) I took her back to the pediatrician recently who weighed her and measured her, and determined that she is gaining weight and growing, which is all good. By the time of this appointment Lindsey reported to her that she was getting a stomachache every afternoon after lunch. Every single day. I would think that knowing that you're going to be in pain after eating would keep you from eating at all.

The pediatrician recommended that we try cutting out dairy as well, knowing that Lindsey had a milk allergy as a baby. On our way home from the doctor's office we bought almond milk, vegan butter and a new probiotic to try.

It's been one week, and Lindsey's had one episode, but for the most part has been feeling well. In the meantime, I am struggling to create gluten-free, dairy free meals the entire family will eat. I made mashed potatoes the other evening with almond milk, and while everyone ate them, they tasted gritty to me. A favorite recipe of ours of chicken with a white wine and sour cream sauce turned out too tangy because there was no dairy to cut the acidity of the wine.

I am hoping that this will be the beginning of the end of her GI troubles. In the meantime, we're all eating healthier, less processed foods.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ice Booms


My sister and I took a walk on Lake Harriet at dusk recently. And yes, I mean ON Lake Harriet. Despite the recent warming spell, the ice was still over a foot thick and safe to walk on.

We walked toward the Minneapolis skyline and bandshell. Icefishers were on the ice and in shanties, their boots crunching on the snow, voices echoing over the expanse of ice.

Sunset.

Downtown Minneapolis catching the sunset.



We stood in the middle of the lake and listened to the silence. It was peaceful and beautiful, and broken by a strange sound. It was a pinging sound that started on one side of the lake and made its way around the shore, a high-pitched twinge. We heard it again in a few minutes, and then again. Finally we realized that it was the ice shifting, as it was dusk and the ice was re-freezing after a sunny day.

It was eerie and amazing at the same time. We both thought of my dad, and of how he loved Lake Superior with its alternating strength and stillness. Kristi recounted going to the shore of Lake Superior with my dad after my grandfather passed away 20 years previous, to see and hear the ice shivering between solid ice and open water.

We began to walk off the ice, and stopped for one last look around, hoping for one last ice boom. The final one came from under our feet. It sounded like a glass breaking in slow motion, following by the pinging sound that reverberated around the lake.

It was wonderful to take in the sights and sounds of the lake in the heart of the city.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Standing Up For Each Other

I believe that it is important that we teach our children how to participate in this American experiment called democracy. I'm not going to get into politics except to say that no matter your position, for democracy to work, we have to participate.

So when I heard that a women's march was being organized for the day after Trump's inauguration, I suspected that it would be big. The march wasn't about reproductive rights, or racism, or gender equality, it was about all of those things -- that women's rights are human rights.

Only Lindsey was interested in coming with me. Marissa was worried that people were going to get  hurt; she didn't want to come near it.

After hearing Marissa's concern, and seeing pictures of this sign at the march in California, Marissa's hesitation gave me pause.

"I'm gonna see you nice white ladies at the next #Black Lives Matter march, right?"
This sign was created by Amir Talai, a Persian American actor in California. He has been involved in the Black Lives Matter movement for the past few years; he talks about why he wrote this in this interview by Fusion.

Living in Minneapolis, I've had lots of opportunities to get involved in various demonstrations and protests. Yet I never stepped forward before, nor would I have had my children attend, either.

I had to ask myself, "Why?" The struggles for equal rights is real for people of color -- why haven't I joined them before? It's not that I don't care or haven't considered participating; I have friends who are very involved and they frequently have invited me to join them at various rallies and gatherings.

The answer was easy: I did not feel safe at those gatherings. And not for the reasons you may think.

Let me tell you the story of another march.

This past November, Black Lives Matter organized a march involving Minneapolis Public Schools. Students were invited to take part by leaving their classrooms near the end of the day and gathering in downtown Minneapolis in a route approved in advance by the city. The children of friends and acquaintances took part in this, leaving Southwest High School and walking down the street with signs and banners, then made their way to downtown Minneapolis to join the students from other MPS schools.

Once near the US Bank stadium, on the previously approved march route, police pepper-sprayed the crowd. These are high schoolers, kids from 14 to 18 years of age. My friend's 14-year-old daughter was traumatized by the experience, her eyes swollen shut, her emotions raw from the chaos and fear of the incident.

The media did not cover the peaceful gathering, the police "protection" which turned into violence against the students. It was just another protest by another disgruntled niche of our diverse society.

Need you ask, it was mostly students of color who participated in this march. Their Caucasian counterparts did not join them. If they had, I suspect the police response would have been very different.

In thinking about these two organized demonstrations, I felt safe taking part in a march of what turned out to be nearly 100,000 people, and did not feel safe in a group of 100 people.

This realization told me so much about myself and about our society. I cannot begin to understand to the frustration that people of color feel at being squelched when they protest their treatment. But I can try to relate. And I can stand up for them any way I can, with my voice, my calls to lawmakers and my vote.

Lindsey's Spoken Word Poetry

This girl is something else.
As part of Lindsey's 8th grade Language Arts class (the new term for what we used to call "English"), every student was assigned to write a spoken word poem.

The PTA funded a position with a local poet who worked with the students on this art form. They had to learn to use similes, metaphors, rhyming and rhythm techniques for writing an effective poem. Topic? Any of their choosing.

Some weeks ago her teacher sent out an email to parents inviting them to the final performance, which would take place in the classroom. She mentioned that some of the poems got very personal and emotional. I didn't want to inhibit Lindsey or others from expressing themselves fully, so I opted not to attend.

Lindsey threw herself fully into this assignment, with more enthusiasm than usual. She is a huge "Hamilton" fan and has gained a great appreciation for expressing oneself through spoken word.  In the same way I used to go to "English" class and kids now go to "Language Arts," I think that spoken word poetry is the new name for rap. It truly is an art form.

Her topic was on popularity, and why we as people care so much about how others look or dress, instead of what's inside a person.

This week was their performance day in class, and it was clearly the highlight of her day and week.

Some students were moved to tears by the readings -- one student burst into tears after her performance. Lindsey got a great response and applause after her reading. Topics ranged from loss, to a divorce in the family, dealing with a chronic illness, or just plain loneliness. Lindsey learned through this that a girl in her class is bullied by other students before school, though Lindsey has never witnessed it. She now makes it a point to say hello to her every day.

I'm so grateful that our kids get to have experiences like this through their school.