Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Almost!) Wordless Wednesday

     The Secret Garden opens one week from Friday. So I probably won't get much writing done. In fact, the time I normally spend writing in the mornings, was today spent on an e-mail to my cast with notes about last night's rehearsal. I have an amazing cast and crew who have made this process absolutely wonderful. So my wordless Wednesday for this week is a scene from last night's rehearsal. It was the first time we rehearsed in our performance space. It's a special kind of magic when that happens.

I wish you could hear the singers! Can you tell how awesome the backdrop is?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Last Day

           This is a piece for the Red Dress Club’s memoir writing prompt. This week we were asked to remember kindergarten.  Mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall. What was special? What was ordinary? What did you feel? Hear? See? Smell?

The Last Day

            My brother tries to wake me up, “Hey Sticky, get up! You have to get dressed for school.”
            It isn’t easy for me to get up in the mornings. I snuggle down into my green and white gingham bedspread. Now Dad comes in to get me up, “Come on, my little chickadee,” he says. “You don’t want to be late for your last day of kindergarten.”
Now I get up. My last day of taking the bus to school—it isn’t a regular bus. It’s a big brown station wagon with wooden paneling on the sides and a yellow and black sign that says school bus. Sometimes the man who drives it takes us through the car wash on the ride home. I’m going to miss that. Dad washes his car in the driveway.
I won’t miss being on the bus with Lisa though. She’s mean to me and says I wear boy’s clothes because my sweater is navy blue—not pink like hers. Lisa reminds me of Nellie Olsen from Little House on the Prairie. She is tall and pretty with blond ringlets and she isn’t very nice. Lisa isn’t going to the John F. Kennedy Elementary School next year and I won’t miss her one bit.
I can’t wait to be in first grade. I’m going to walk to school every day with my brothers. I’m already a really good reader. Someday I’m going to be able to read big books like my sister Katie. She doesn’t go to the Kennedy. Katie goes to West Junior High and takes books out of the library that have hundreds of pages and no pictures.
I get out of bed and get dressed. I don’t need to wear my sweater because it’s summer time now. We are leaving for vacation right after school today. I’ve never been  away before. Nana and Papa live near the beach so usually we see go there during the summer. My parents saved up all their money for this thing called a motor home. It’s a cross between a house and a car. We’re going to see the whole country this summer.
My brothers tell me they don’t have snack time or naptime in elementary school—just lunch in a big cafeteria. I don’t mind not having naps. I don’t usually sleep. I just lie on my cot and look around the room. I really like snack time in kindergarten though. Sometimes we get saltines with peanut butter. It’s the best kind of peanut butter. My mom buys the all-natural stuff with the teddy bear on the jar. It’s okay if you have lots of jelly! But if you’re having straight peanut butter on crackers you can’t beat the kind they serve in kindergarten. It’s smoother and sweeter and doesn’t stick to the roof of your mouth as much. Don’t tell Mom, but I like it better.
I eat my English muffin and drink my juice. The fruit my mom made for our last day of school party is in the refrigerator. She carved a basket out of a whole watermelon and filled it with strawberries and pineapple and melon balls. Most of the other moms will probably bring cookies. I love strawberries—but I like cookies even more.
The last day iss really fun. We play games all day and there are lots of cookies. At the end of the day, my teacher gives me a hug and tells me she will miss me. She gave me a big white bear with a green bow. And guess what? He’s going on vacation with me! My parents pick me up from kindergarten in the motor home. I’m going to have two adventures. First, I’m going to see the entire country and then I’m going to go to start first grade. I wonder what will happen next!

Friday, March 25, 2011

RDC: Sweet Discoveries

            This week’s Red Writing Hood prompt: write a piece, fiction or non-fiction, inspired by this delicious shot. Word limit is 600—I may have gone over ever so slightly.

            I’ve decided to use some of these Red Dress Club prompts to create a back story for the characters that I hope will some day inhabit a novel. I shared my first piece involving Michaela a few weeks back. Constructive criticism is most welcome! Personally, I think the title is a little dorky.

Sweet Discoveries

            Saturday morning cartoons sedate the kids while they eat their Honey Nut Cheerios. I’m  on my hands and knees in the bathroom trying not to gag as I wash the floor. How do three people manage to get a room this disgusting?
            John calls from downstairs, “Mom! Adam’s truck is in the driveway!”
            I smile at the thought of him dropping by and then catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. I’m wearing a bleach-stained Patriot’s tee shirt from the 2005 Superbowl that’s a little too tight and faded khaki shorts so old and stretched out they hang from my hips. My hair is in a ponytail and a headband to keep my mop of hair out of my face while I clean. My face isn’t even washed.
            I briefly consider trying to make myself look better but the task seems hopeless. “Besides,” I tell my reflection. “He’s dating a single mom—he can’t possibly be expecting a super model at 9am on a Saturday.”
            I wash my hands and head downstairs.
            “This is a surprise,” I say when I open the door.
            “I don’t mean to intrude,” he hands me a white bakery box tied with a string. “I have a new client who is a baker. She was really happy with my work and sent doughnuts over. I thought you and the kids would like them.”
            “The kids will be thrilled—thanks! Come on in. The coffee’s already made.” I tell him as I lead him to the kitchen.
            “I hope you weren’t in the middle of anything.”
            “Just cleaning. Nothing that won’t wait.”
            Brianna and John leap up when they see the box in my hands. “What’s that?” Brianna asks.
            “Are those doughnuts?” asks John.
            I look down at the box. There is a gold seal that reads Delores’ Doughnuts—terrible name I think. Adam reads my expression and laughs. “I didn’t come up with the name,” he tells me. “I’m just the landscaper not the marketing guru. Yes John, these might just be the most delicious doughnuts on earth.”
            “Turn the TV off and come in the kitchen,” I say.
            I pour milk and coffee and set out three plates. The kids reach for the gooiest looking chocolate doughnuts. Adam notices that I don’t take one for myself. “Aren’t you going to have one?” he asks.
            “I’m not a big fan of doughnuts.” I tell him.
            Adam reacts as if I told him I’m not a big fan of oxygen, “Really?”
            “I don’t dislike them,” I assure him. “I’ve just always felt like they weren’t worth the calories. If I’m going to splurge I’d rather have some Ben & Jerry’s or something fried.”
            He shakes his head and tells me, “These are different.”
            “They’re gourmet doughnuts.”
            Gourmet doughnuts? I think to myself. Is that like gourmet Velveeta? Or gourmet corn dogs?
            “Try this,” Adam insists. He lifts a shiny pink confection out of the box like it’s a holy offering. “This one is raspberry margarita.”
            “Really?” I begin to cave. I love the combination of raspberry and lime. I guess he’s been paying attention in the short time we’ve been dating. The doughnut is small and the icing is the color of raspberry sherbet with a few white and pink sprinkles. He holds it closer to my mouth and I take a bite. It reminds me of the raspberry lime rickeys my grandmother used to make when I was a kid. So sweet but saved from being too sweet by the sharp tang of citrus. I take another bite. I’m hooked. He’s right. These are not just doughnuts.
            “Well,” he says. “What do you think?”
            “These are amazing,” I confess. “What is that grin on your face about?”
            “You just look really cute with pink frosting on your nose.”
            I wipe it away and he adds, “And you look really hot in that Patriot’s shirt.”
            Well, he was right about the doughnut. Maybe he’s right about that too.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Germ Warfare on Standardized Testing

            Yesterday after I got the boys on the bus I did 50 minutes of cardio, wrote a rough draft of a short story, did some correspondence, and tried on 80% of the clothes in my closet looking for things to wear for the weekends of my play (I’ve poured my heart and soul into this project for eight weeks, I’m not wearing jeans and sneakers). By 2:00 I was feeling somewhat accomplished but a little hazy so I set my alarm to go off in 40 minutes. I read for ten and closed my eyes for a thirty-minute power nap. And then the phone rang.
            I don’t have caller ID because I’m cheap frugal but I absolutely knew who was calling.
            “Hi. It’s Fran Nelson* the nurse at the Hancock School. It’s Owen this time.”
            Well that was nice. At least it was a different kid today. Fran and I have talked a lot over the last two years. She and I have been through hives, vomiting, a chronic cough, an anxiety attack and a variety of abrasions and contusions. We talk so often I’m thinking of inviting her to be in the Christmas card picture next year.
            “Owen is running a temperature of 100.8”
            “I’ll be right there.” I told her. I bid goodbye to my lovely down pillow and memory foam mattress topper and pulled on my clothes and headed out the door.
            I wasn’t terribly surprised by the call. Owen had been complaining the day before of a headache and a little nausea. He seemed fine otherwise, so I attributed it to stress. It’s MCAS testing at school this week. MCAS testing is one of the standardized testing hoops kids jump through here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I’m not a fan of standardized testing. I understand why people feel we need them, but I feel like they suck the joy out of learning and being a kid. Oh, and they stress out my baby—and that just pisses me off irritates me.
            When we got home, Owen immediately fell asleep on the couch. Poor thing clearly wasn’t doing so well. Around 3:00 he woke up and we cuddled up and watched an episode of “The Jacky Chan Adventures” from Netflix instant view. After the first episode he started getting sick. Really sick.
I wasn’t feeling that well myself—it was time to get James from the bus stop. There I was rubbing the back of one kid while his little brother was about to get off the bus three blocks away. If I took the time to clean Owen up and get him into the car my six-year-old would get off the bus and there would be no mommy there.
I was already feeling a little guilty about sending Owen to school in the first place. But I knew I had no other choice. 
“Owen,” I said. “I’m going to leave you here while I get James. Okay?”
“Okay,” he said. It didn’t seem to bother him one bit. It bothered me a lot.
“I’m going to lock the door. Don’t open it for anyone.”
I gave him a hug and left him alone in the house for the very first time. I knew he’d be fine. He was too sick to get into any mischief and I’d only be gone ten minutes or so. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to leave my sick kid alone for a second. But that’s part of the parenting gig, isn’t it? We just have to do the best we can with the options and information we have available to us. Besides, I have a chance to make up for it today. I not only have Owen home with me, but James woke up feverish this morning too. Looks we’re having a “Jackie Chan Adventures” marathon today.

*name changed

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

            On Tuesday nights I have rehearsal and my husband takes the boys to the Y so we only have a few minutes after he gets home to touch base. We need a little time to catch up on our day and keep each other posted on any number of things. This never rarely happens without interruption. Last night was no exception. I was trying to let Dan know about the standardized testing the boys are going through this week. Both boys kept coming into the kitchen with various urgent matters like informing us the new Lego Star Wars game for the PS3 is coming out this week and to ask what’s for dinner.
            When I heard, “Hey Mom!” for the tenth time, I nearly blew my top. Then I looked around and saw this.

There's a wizard in the kitchen.

            “Hey Mom! I’m Harry Potter!” said James. He crafted the glasses and wand out of Legos. I didn’t get mad. I grabbed the camera.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Back in the Saddle

            Friday was both warm and sunny—a double blessing after a very snowy and sickness prone winter. So after I walked my boys to the bus stop I took a jog—the first outdoor run since before Thanksgiving. I don’t wear headphones when I run outdoors. I use them on a treadmill because it SO boring and the music makes me feel a little less like a hamster in a wheel. This is primarily for safety—so I can hear cars and possible assailants (unpleasant but realistic). When my only accompaniment is the sound of my landing feet and the world around me I focus on my thoughts and sort through them. It’s like a sweaty appointment with a therapist.
            If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember that back in January I made the foolhardy announcement that I going on a diet. I figured making that announcement public would keep me honest. I knew making a resolution was silly. I believe that January is the worst possible time to make drastic changes in your life. Especially this January. Like a lot of the country we had record snowfalls and on top of that my kids managed to catch every bug that hopped onto the school bus. I spent more time talking on the phone with the school nurse than my mother this winter. 
            With the snow piled high and the kids constantly sick the idea of eating healthy or limiting portion size was a pipedream. When they were home on February break they wanted nothing but toast or chicken broth with pasta. So that’s what we ate—all of us. Even when I wasn’t sick (because even though Mom can’t get sick, this time around, Mom did) I was drinking tea and eating toast. Salads? Fresh steamed veggies? Lean protein? Fruit? Nope. Tea and toast.
            So when the weather man said that it was going to be sunny on my day off, I promised myself to lace up my Sauconys and hit the road. I started with a long brisk walk. I needed to warm up after being so sedentary for months. Then I told myself to jog to the end of the street. When I made it that far I set another goal and then another. When it was done I rewarded myself with a long slow stretch. I felt great. My body felt the way it was supposed to, not like the achy elderly feeling woman I was morphing into.
            I’ve packed on a winter layer this year and it’s time to bid it goodbye. My plan this time isn’t to drastically alter my life, and make unrealistic resolutions. This time I’m going to set one simple realistic goal at a time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bah Humbug!

            I have a confession to make. I really don’t like St. Patrick’s Day. I am of Irish ancestry (among other things) and I love LOVE all things Irish. The only graduate level course I ever took was called The Celtic Heroic Age. My favorite vacation was exploring some of the ancient fortresses, cairns and castles of Ireland with my husband Dan. Our wedding rings have Celtic knotwork etched into them. Ireland is a country that took the language of it’s oppressors and made it sing with writers like James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Brian Friel, Sean O’Casey, John Synge and on and on. I am very proud of that heritage.
With a family tree that includes names like Gillen, Crowley, and O’Callaghan, you might think I’d celebrate like crazy on St. Patrick’s Day. But I really hate to see a culture so rich in history and tradition reduced to green beer and gross food once a year. For the record—the Irish don’t really eat corned beef and cabbage—Irish-American immigrants ate it because it was all they could afford.
            I know, I know, I KNOW… I’m a big-giant killjoy. The thing that really pushed me over the edge was the stuff my kids hear in school. Apparently leprechauns now leave those little chocolate gold coins in some children’s shoes the night before St. Patrick’s Day. Oh, Come on! I’m already Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Now you’re telling me I’m supposed to be a leprechaun too? Leprechauns are not those cute benevolent little guys you seen on the cereal box. They are sneaky, scheming little tricksters who do NOT SHARE THEIR GOLD. In traditional stories about leprechauns, the humans usual come to a very bad end. Trust me, they may be little, but you do not want to mess with a leprechaun.
            I have a few suggestions for great books for kids that take a more authentic view of Ireland and it’s wonderful storytelling tradition.
 Tales from Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle and Niamh Sharkey

 Fin M’Coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill by Tomie dePaola
Daniel O’Rourke: An Irish Tale by Gerald McDermott

            And if you want to introduce your child to St. Patrick, you might start with Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola which chronicles St. Patrick’s beginnings as a slave through his life spreading Christianity in Ireland.

            I may be a bit of a St. Patrick’s Day scrooge, but if I find myself in a bar tonight, I’ll be sure and lift my glass to Ireland and my to my readers. Slainté!

Full disclosure: this is a bar in England, not Ireland but I do love to drink Guinness.

            Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go research a piece to write about St. Joseph’s Day, which is tomorrow. St. Joseph is the patron saint of Italy and if I don’t give equal time, another branch of the family may never forgive me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Winter's on the Wing: A Wordless (almost) Wednesday Post

            Things have been pretty crazy around here lately. The Secret Garden opens three weeks from Friday. So I haven’t done much writing lately. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’m still getting up early every day to write in my journal. But journal entries are mostly incoherent rants, observations and to do lists. Some of what I write in the morning turns into blog posts…eventually. But about 98% isn’t fit to share and for the moment I don’t have much time to polish my words into blog posts. So today, I’m stealing borrowing an idea I’ve seen on a number of blogs. May I present, my very first Wordless (almost!) Wednesday, accompanied by lyrics from (surprise, surprise!) The Secret Garden.

It doesn't look like much, but the first sign of a crocus means Spring is on the way!

Clusters of crocus,
Purple and Gold.
Blankets of pansies,
Up from the cold.
Lilies and iris,
Safe from the chill.
Safe in my garden,
Snowdrops so still.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Mankie

This week's assignment from Red Writing Hood is to write about something ugly and find the beauty in it. This piece is exactly 600 words--which is the limit. Constructive criticism is welcome.


I pull the Batman sheets off my son’s bed, careful not to include any of his stuffed animals in the laundry. The top bunk is cluttered with creatures from a traditional brown teddy bear to a fantastic green dragon with shiny wings. Amid the plush menagerie is a baby’s blanket. Years ago it was powder blue with soft shiny trim. Now it’s browning with age and gets a little crusty between washings. The satin binding has been repaired many times. My uneven zig zag stitches create small lumps here and there.
When Owen was small he didn’t want a pacifier and he didn’t suck his thumb. He never even took a bottle. For the first few months of his life I was the pacifier and I was getting very tired of that role. Upon hearing my complaints one day, my mother said, “He needs a blanket with a satin edge.”
I couldn’t imagine why that would help. Why would one particular kind of blanket work when every brand of pacifiers on the market had failed? But I was willing to try anything at that point. “We have one,” I told her. “There was a blue blanket like that in the gift basket they gave me at the office.”
She hunted around the nursery and found the blanket. She presented it to Owen as if it was the Holy Grail. He immediately took it in his arms with a smile and rubbed his face against the satin binding. From that moment, the only time he was without that blanket was when I pried it from his hands so I could wash it. My mother was right. He needed a blanket with a satin edge. Apparently, when you’ve raised four children and had ten grandchildren and sixteen nieces and nephews, you learn a thing or two about babies.
Owen squeezed and chewed the blanket as he fell asleep for years. He wore it as a superhero cape. It cured carsickness, nightmares, hurt feelings and insomnia. Owen didn’t use the pronoun “it” when talking about Mankie, he would say “he” or “she”. I forgot to pack Mankie on one vacation—Owen barely slept for five days.
A children’s librarian once heard me call Owen by name and suggested we check out the book Owen by Kevin Henkes. In the book, Owen is a mouse who has a favorite yellow blanket named Fuzzy who goes everywhere with him. A nosy neighbor named Mrs. Tweezers convince Owen’s parents that he’s too old for Fuzzy. They try dipping the edge of Fuzzy in vinegar and being stern but Owen does not want to let go of Fuzzy.
As I read the book to my Owen I could feel him getting tense and holding Mankie closer and closer. At the end of the book, Owen and his mother come up with the idea of cutting up Fuzzy and making handkerchiefs out of it. I should have read Owen The Shining by Stephen King. He would have been less disturbed.
We created some rules about Mankie as Owen got a little older, but I never tried to make him give it up. Mankie lives in the bedroom and can only come out to be washed or taken on long car rides. Mankie is threadbare and stained and smelly, but sometimes it comforts my growing boy. I was given many baby blankets when I was pregnant—quilts and hand knitted blankets and countless flannel swaddling blankets. And there was a beautiful blue blanket with satin trim. I didn’t know a blanket could do more than keep a child warm.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stress? Me? Nah!

            I’ve been toting a four-inch thick three-ring binder everywhere with me these days. It contains the script and vocal score of the production of The Secret Garden I’m directing for a local community theatre group. I’ve been spending my lunch break pouring over my script and it has attracted some attention. Some coworkers sit elsewhere assuming I’d like to be left alone but others ask about it. I really don’t mind either way. I do most of my work at home but if I can block a page or two in the break room it is just a little bonus for me. If I’m interrupted, that’s fine too. I’m as eager to talk about my show as a grandparent showing off pictures of their newest grandchild.
            One of my coworkers caught my eye as I was pulling the binder out of my locker the other day. “How’s your show going?” she asked me.
            “It’s going really well,” I told her.
            “I bet it’s really stressful,” she said.
            I thought for a moment and said, “You know, it really isn’t.”
            I’m definitely under stress. It’s no easy trick to juggle a show, my blog, my family, my home, and my job. But the show itself isn’t particularly stressful. It seems like it ought to be—doesn’t it? I have a cast of thirty actors (some of them children), plus stage parents, plus crew and a thousand decisions to be made. How high should this platform be? How white should Lily’s costume be?  Do we want floor microphones or stand microphones? Would my character touch his character? What color should the flowers in the garden be? What should the clouds on the backdrop look like? Can I get a haircut? Do I have to shave my beard? Should we go out for a beer after rehearsal? Obviously, some decisions are easier than others.
            I listen to these and a thousand other questions at each rehearsal and production meeting. I get them as e-mails and text messages and on my Facebook wall. Do they stress me out? Nope. They are like oxygen. I am back in my element and I have missed it. I can be exhausted from dealing with customers and helping my children with their homework and getting dinner on the table. But the moment I start working with the cast, I am invigorated.
            Managing to get everything done—that’s stressful. Helping the boys with homework while making dinner and realizing I am missing a single key ingredient to every dish I can think of because I didn’t get to the grocery store—that’s stressful. Trying to make lunches for the kids to take for school while I’m making breakfast because I was too tired to do the night when I got home from rehearsal—that’s stressful. Running out the door on a Friday to work a night shift and saying goodbye to my husband whom I have hardly seen all week—that’s stressful. Coming up with a really great idea for a blog post and not having time to write it down—that’s stressful. But the show? Not stressful.
            I am blessed to be working with a cast and crew that is not only talented, but thoughtful, hardworking and dedicated as well. There is not one prima donna among them. The stress of juggling it all would no doubt be too much without my remarkably supportive family. My husband has helped out in a thousand ways both small (like encouraging me to nap on Saturdays) and large (like taking on the Cub Scouts). He is there with an encouraging word and the occasional cocktail at the end of the night. The boys don’t quite understand why theatre is so important to me yet. But someday they’ll find something they are truly passionate about and they’ll understand. Unless they don’t. Now that will be stressful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

RemembeRED: Sleepy Time

            This week's memoir prompt from The Red Dress Club was: Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to tell them about yourself. Instead of reciting a laundry list of what you do or where you're from, please give us a scene from your life that best illustrates your true self. Word limit is 600. Constructive criticism is most welcome. I must admit I had a hard time choosing one scene from my life for this assignment.

Sleepy Time
            According to the unkind digital face on my bedside table, it’s almost 3am. When I first started working a nightshift it wasn’t unusual for me to have trouble falling asleep when I got home. Now two years have gone by and I can usually get to sleep within an hour or so. But tonight I had a difficult and angry customer. I replay the scene over and over again in my head—things he said, things I said, things I wish I had been clever enough to say. As I lay in bed the need for sleep becomes urgent. A mother can function on very little sleep but she can’t do without it altogether. I try to push the confrontation out of my mind. My skin should be thicker after all these years in customer service, but it isn’t. I’m angry at the customer and frustrated with myself. I take way too much to heart. So I’m still awake when James comes in the room.
            “Mommy?” he says, unable to see me in the dark room.
            “Are you okay Sweetie?” I ask.
            “I had a bad dream.”
            I pick him up. He clings to me. His skinny legs wrap around my waist and hold on tightly.  He’s shaking a little. “Let’s get into your bed,” I tell him. “We’ll cuddle up and you can tell me about your dream.” He rests his head in the curve between my shoulder and neck and I feel him begin to relax as we walk down the hall. He is four years old, but in these hours between night and day he is still my baby.
            The boys’ night-lights make the apple green walls glow softly. I put James into the lower bunk and climb in after him. There is plenty of room for both of us—neither one of us is very big. I pull the Lightning McQueen blanket over us. He still clings to me while as he tells me his dream.
            “There were monsters,” he whispers.
            “What were they doing?” I asked him.
            “They were chasing me.”
            “Maybe they just wanted to play tag with you,” I said.
            I feel James shaking again, but this time he is giggling softly, “Mommy! Monsters don’t play tag.”
            “Are you sure? Did you ask them? Maybe they were bored.”
            “I’ll ask them next time,” he says. “Mommy? Will you stay with me?”
            “Of course Honey,” I tell him. I plan to go back to my own bed after he drifts off to sleep.
            He cuddles closer and plays with my hair as he falls asleep. It is something he used to do when he was nursing. I think about our late nights together. My elderly pediatrician told me I’d miss those moments. As a sleep-deprived new mother, I didn’t believe him. I was wrong.
Sleep finally finds me in that darkened room with my baby in my arms. I comfort him. He comforts me. My frightened child has exorcised the angry customers from my mind.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wham, Bam, Thank You Mam

            This is a continuation of the blog post I wrote on Friday as I awaited a follow up appointment I was asked to make after my first-ever mammogram. If you haven’t read it, you can check in out here.

            I headed across town for my new appointment a little before 9:45. It isn’t far, but you either hit all green lights or all red lights crossing the City of Champions. I was lucky enough to hit all green lights, which I took to be a good omen. I have the unique ability to interpret just about anything into a good sign—I think I may put that on my resume one of these days.
            So I found a parking space (another good sign) and headed into the hospital. The Women’s Imaging Department is not far from the Emergency Room, but it has been clearly decorated to create a calm atmosphere. Rita (my new best friend) greeted me warmly. I thanked her profusely for getting me an appointment that morning. She assured me it was a win-win situation. Someone had cancelled moments before I called.
            I took a seat in the waiting room and took out my journal to write. I only jotted down a paragraph or two before Karen, the tech who would be taking my new mammogram called me in to change into my elegant hospital robe. She reminded me in voice and demeanor of my friend Pat who has stage-managed many of the plays I’ve been involved with. Pat is in the medical field herself and has a great balance of authority, compassion, and no-nonsense practicality. I felt instantly comfortable around Karne and found myself telling her the same sort of inappropriate jokes I would with Pat.
            “I want to explain why you’re here,” she said. “There was some calcification in the last picture we took. Most of the time that’s normal. Since that was your first mammogram we have nothing to compare it to so we want to take another picture with the magnifier so it will be bigger.”
            I stifled a giggle, “I’m trying not to make a crack about you taking pictures that will make my breasts look bigger. Besides, you’ve probably heard them all.” I said.
            “I probably have,” she laughed. “But don’t let that stop you.”
            Karen asked if I had any discomfort with the first mammogram. I told her that I hadn’t—in fact it was not as bad as I had anticipated. She looked slightly impressed.
“Maybe nursing my kids for a couple of years desensitized me a little,” I suggested.
            “Could be,” she said. “But I don’t think it makes much difference.”
            She took the first picture with the magnifier on the machine. It did was a bit more uncomfortable than the time before. Normally, if something hurts—like a blood test or an injection, I take a big breath. But being pressed up against the machine made inhaling almost impossible. The second picture was done at a different angle and I had to have my arm outstretched. It was not enjoyable. “Oooooh,” I said as the machine was pinched down.
            She seemed impressed again, “Wow, all she says is oooh.”
            I wonder what other women say? Do they swear? Or yell? I was too busy trying to not do either so I didn’t ask.
            When the mammogram was over Karen said, “You were awesome. I really mean that.” I don’t know if they say that to everyone or if I really tolerated the test better than most. I’m choosing to believe that I’m a bad ass.
            I was brought back into the waiting room and told to relax.
            “That’s an order?” I said.
            “I was just going to add that,” said Karen. The radiologist is going to look at the pictures now.” She went on to tell me that most likely it was just calcification and they’d have me back in six months to make sure nothing has changed. I jotted down a few more sentences in my journal. There was a set up in this waiting room with coffee, tea and little packets of graham crackers and saltines. I hoped that didn’t mean I was going to be in here for too long.
            Karen came back in and sat down next to me. She said there was calcification and some other very small spot they wanted to have a look at. Most likely it was a lymph node or a small cyst—both of which were nothing to be concerned about. It became very clear to me that Karen had been very well trained in preventing patients from freaking out. She was absolutely calm and reassuring. “We’d like to do an ultrasound as well,” she told me. “We can do that right now if you want.”
            “Why not,” I said, gesturing to the hospital johnny I was wearing. “I’m here and I already have my shirt off.”
            She laughed and escorted me to the dimly lit room where the ultrasound was to be given. I had an ultrasound in this same room after I lost my first pregnancy ten years ago. If you had asked me the day before to describe the room I couldn’t have told you anything about it at all. But the moment I stepped in I remembered it clearly. Fortunately, I hardly ever see bad omens in anything.
            After a mammogram, an ultrasound is almost relaxing. The tech was a young woman who was just as reassuring and professional as everyone else I had encountered. She couldn’t find the spot the radiologist had seen on the mammogram and wanted to have him take a look. “I’m going to go and see if he’s available. If it’s going to be more than a couple of minutes, I’ll come back and let you know.” 
            He came in moments later, introduced himself and repeated the ultrasound. “It looks like a lymph node,” he told me. “That isn’t unusual. It can be hard to tell on a first mammogram because there is nothing to compare it to. I’d like you to come back in six months just to be sure nothing has changed” He made sure I understood and I was free to go after I had another lovely chat with Rita to make my appointment for September.
            The sun was shining when I went out to my car. I was relieved and tired and ready for lunch. I stopped by the packie* and picked up a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. It’s the good stuff for when my husband and I want to splurge a little. When I was checking out, the clerk asked to see my ID. Apparently, I look pretty young. Now that was a nice follow up to my follow up.

*That’s Massachusetts speak for liquor store

Friday, March 4, 2011

RDC: Normal at the Beach

      This week's Red Writing Hood meme: Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece - fiction or non-fiction - inspired by one or both of these statements. Word maximum is 600.    

      I've been playing with this character Michaela, a young widow, and her family on and off for a while. I'm hoping some day they'll come to life in a novel. Here is the first time they've appeared in public. Constructive criticism welcome!

Normal at the Beach     

“Mommy! Look at the size of the fish I caught!” yelled Brianna. She led me over to the old pickle bucket that held the day’s “catch”—minnows, tiny shrimp, hermit crabs and periwinkles. One minnow, slightly larger than the rest swam in frantic circles around the edge of the bucket.
            “Wow, Sweetie. He’s huge,” I said. She grinned at me her and eyes nearly disappeared into her chubby cheeks—the last bit of baby fat left on her. Brianna was getting leaner and taller by the day and leaving babyhood behind.
            “Mom! Can you help me?” called John. “I need to build a moat and make the wall stronger. The tide is coming close to my sandcastle.”
            “Can I help too?” asked Brianna.
            “Yeah, come on! We need to hurry,” he yelled.
            We followed John as he ran through the salt marsh back towards the beach.
The rising tide was only five or six feet away from the thick walls of his castle. A moat and a retaining wall would buy his structure a little time. John, our seven-year-old foreman directed us where to dig and where to pile the sand higher.
My mother, as usual had been right—it had been a good idea to come here. After this winter, we needed to just play in the sun for a while and try to find a new version of normal.
            “You should go down to the cottage as soon as school is out,” she said to me. “Take the first two weeks of July.”
            “I don’t want you losing out on renting it for July 4th weekend Mom.”
            “This is more important than some rent money,” she insisted. “You and the boys need a break. They need to go somewhere they can just be kids—play in the sand, eat pizza and fish and chip, see some cousins, get some air. And you need it too Michaela. You’re too thin.”
            That caught me off guard. My mother had always noticed when I gained weight,. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I was too thin. But then, I had never been a widow before. Barry died in September and we limped through the school year. Sometimes pretending to be a normal family and sometimes not even bothering to pretend.
            John piled more and more sand on the retaining wall while Brianna and I dug the moat. “Do you think this is deep enough John?” I asked him. He scrutinized the trench we were digging.
            “Yes,” he decided. “It’s deep enough, but I think we should make it go around the perimeter of the castle wall.”
            I smiled at his intensity and his vocabulary—so much like his dad. I thought about the last time we were all here together. The two of them working side-by-side all morning building a Cape Cod Camelot. Barry had made sure the castle was built further away from the water—something I had failed to do this time. “Come on Mom!” John insisted. “We need to dig all the way around for protection.”
            We got back to work until the moat surrounded the castle. Tired and hot, we rested on our blanket while the water swirled into the trench. The castle was safe from the tide for now.
            “Thanks Mom. Thanks Brianna,” John said. “I couldn’t have done it alone.”

Yes Mam

I had my first mammogram earlier this week. I had no intention of bringing it up in my blog—I thought it was too personal. Then I realized that if I’m writing a blog to chronicle the journey from the 30’s into the 40’s mammograms deserve a mention. It isn’t all about realizing that confidence is sexier than a tiny waistline. Parts of this journey are not as much fun.  Besides, if I’m going to write about my children’s love life or my miscarriage, a mammogram really isn't that personal.
            The first thing I’m going to say about mammograms is, it isn’t as bad as you think it’s going to be. If getting a little squish means detecting something early, it’s certainly worth some discomfort. For me, it was much easier than getting a pap smear. I think a lot depends upon the technician doing the test. Bonnie was professional and relaxed and seemed to make it her business to make the test as comfortable as possible. After the test she told me that they would make sure the picture came out okay and I’d get a call if they needed to see me again or I’d get a form letter saying everything was fine.
            The other reason I changed my mind about writing about the mammogram experience was the message waiting from me when I got home from work yesterday. It was the Women’s Imaging Center (that sounds so much more glamorous than a place that does ultrasounds and mammograms doesn’t it?). They wanted me to call back right away. Um… I was really looking forward to receiving that form letter.
            I spoke to a lovely receptionist named Rita who booked an appointment for me for Tuesday at 1:00. I had today off but she had just booked the last Friday appointment. That means waiting through Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and half of Tuesday. I’m a “worst case scenario” kind of person. I can’t help it. It’s a genetic gift from my Irish grandmother. Nana would be convinced one of her kids had wrapped their car around a tree if they were fifteen minutes late for a visit. I’m not the only one—the branches of my family tree are heavy with tiny, stubborn, brunette worrywarts.
            So I called Rita right back with my cell phone number and assured her that I could be at the hospital at any time today at a moment’s notice if they had a cancellation. I explained that I’d be obsessing about this the entire weekend. She took the number and then said, “Call me back first thing tomorrow. You never know.” 
            I called while I was waiting for the school bus to arrive and God bless Rita! They can see me this morning. I almost cried with relief when she told me—Tuesday is so far away. Do you know how much bourbon and how many cheeseburgers I could consume yoga and meditation I would have to do between now and then to alleviate my anxiety?
            I realize that this could be absolutely nothing. It could be a shadow on the image or some kind fibroid or calcification. Or it could be something that isn’t nothing. Fortunately I won’t have to wait until Tuesday to find out. Rita assured me that they wouldn’t let me leave until two radiologists had looked at the pictures and someone would speak to me. It’s only about an hour or so away at this point. I think I can wait that long.

            On a MUCH brighter note. It’s time to announce the winner of my give-away! I took a very scientific route to choose the winner. Each entrant’s name was written down on a little scrap of paper, dropped into my favorite Red Sox cap and blindly selected be me. The winner is…Ryan! I will e-mail you the gift code today.

 This post continues here