Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Harry's Christmas Spirit

Harry grabbed my camera a few weeks ago and took this picture. Note the refrigerator and the empty magnet container.

Like all of us, Harrison likes other people’s things over his own. When he was really little, we discovered that we could take him to the train table at Barnes and Noble for hours on a cold Wisconsin evening. He loved it. For his second Christmas, we ran out and bought him his very own Brio starter set with the cool Pottery Barn train table. He liked it, but never as much as the one at the Hannah Andersson store or the bookstore. I can’t blame him. The ones at the store are always glued into the perfect configuration with the Round House and every wonderful extra imaginable.

In our neighborhood, Harrison is lucky to have four 5-year-old playmates within two blocks. Each of these playmates have MUCH cooler toys than we do. Then the inevitable started. Slowly at first. Harrison would express interest in a neighbor’s truck or dinosaur and it would be at our house for a visit. These visits lasted from a day to a week. Sometimes the toy would get to visit for a month, although these were usually only the loud toys.

One day a large white stuffed animal entered our home creatively named “Baby Seal”. Cute, yes, but LARGE and WHITE don’t really mix with our SMALL and DIRTY home. For about two months Baby Seal has been Harrison’s best friend. His original owner never really grew attached to Baby Seal and has willingly let him visit indefinitely. In fact his owner offered to give Baby Seal to Harry, but after careful consideration we decided that Baby Seal's aura would not be the same if Harry adopted him. It was much more special thinking that he was on loan. So the magic continues. Baby Seal goes everywhere with him. For the last six weeks or so, each Friday, for Sharing Time (a.k.a. Show and Tell) he “shares” Baby Seal. EVERY Friday. From what I can gather, he gets up in front of his classmates and just shows it to them. No dialogue. No seal facts. I think he thinks it’s just wonderful enough to carry itself without a lot of annoying verbal distractions. Baby Seal sleeps with him, goes on errands with us, and travels “home” every week or so for a time out. Yep, if Harrison gets in really big trouble, the worst punishment in the world is to send Baby Seal home for a time out.

There are definite benefits to having this large, cumbersome animal - with a large, cumbersome flipper that knocks off all the refrigerator magnets at least once a day – he cleans. His long fur is very conducive to picking up the dust on our hardwood floors. He is now a shade of grayish white. The only thing I can compare it to would be the color snow becomes, in mid-March, on the side of the road in Minnesota.

Tonight, while making dinner, I tried to distract the kids (as they were starting to get a bit stir crazy and wild) by asking them some questions.

Me: “What should we get Mr. P (Harry’s teacher) for Christmas?”

Harrison: “I know, I know!!! Baby Seal. Mr. P. LOVES Baby Seal.”

I was swelling with pride. My son was showing a completely unselfish and giving side of his personality. He was willing to give his most prized possession (well…it’s really Emma’s, but who’s keeping track) to his favorite teacher.

Me: “Oh honey, that’s so kind of you. Do you really think you want to give up Baby Seal?”

Harrison: “No, Mom. We have to get another one.”

It was nice while it lasted.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Where did you come from?

When I grow up I want to be a genetics counselor. The field of genetics fascinates me - I’ve even taken some classes. On a field trip to Myriad Genetics last spring, I think I was the only one (besides our school’s biotechnology instructor) who listened the whole time. I have so much to learn, however. Two people. Similar genes and DNA, yet very different. She likes pink, outfits that match from head to toe and babies - real or toy. She likes to organize things and put things in bags or piles. I like charcoal gray, separates and teenagers. I am not organized and usually survive in messes and chaos. Ella is a girly girl. I’ve expounded on this in the past, but she just continues to surprise me with wonderful anecdotes that I really should record more often. Her femininity just oozes out of her. I am her opposite. I care about my appearance, but have never worried about the details. Our differences, though, are intriguing to me and I am finding a whole new world to discover through her.

Yesterday our family all went into an outlet store to find some ski pants for Harrison. As I rummaged through the boy’s section for outerwear, Ella found the girl’s clothes section fairly quickly. She started slowly by picking out a black velour beret. Then she found a leopard print skirt and a coordinating black velour top with leopard print collar and cuffs within seconds. She was a woman on a mission. Suddenly I fell victim to her pursuit. She needed black shoes. There were none in her size. We quickly got rid of Harry and Chris and ran over to our favorite shoe store. In minutes we were purchasing tall black boots. She was absolutely giddy. She wanted to run back to the van and try on her new outfit. If it hadn’t been 25 degrees out, I probably would’ve let her. I think it was one of the first times that I had ever purchased an entire outfit from head to toe. I felt a connection to her. I got it. We were both beaming about her finds for quite awhile.

Ella is such a blast. I love her individuality and sense of style. I love that she wants to wear her shoes on the wrong feet “just because.” I think its fun that she likes to wear hats. At age three and a half, she is such a little person. Grasping my hand, she will go almost anywhere with me. I’ve never met anyone more excited about trips to the grocery store. She will grab a hat, the perfect shoes and then she’s ready to go. I can always rely on her ability to make simple errands much more fun.

I’m so blessed to have her in my life.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Mixed emotions

It’s taken me this entire four-day weekend to finally get to a point where I feel a desire to write about how I've been feeling lately. When everything going on seems to be negative, I don't want to focus on it.

It’s our busiest time of the year at school and missing 12 of the last 18 days (flu and my trip to Minnesota) has really made things difficult. I try to only work a solid eight hours, but that’s really impossible. I’m so behind I could stay for twice that, but I cannot give much more. My entire being is wrapped up in caring for my family and my parents. Each evening I call my parents to help with anything they may need. I try to cover the basics. It’s as if I’ve never left. I’m still monitoring my parent’s health. There are so many things to check - calls to doctors, appointments to track, medication and rehab to monitor. I’ve heard that I’m a member of the sandwich generation. Taking care of my kids and my parents. It’s true. My parents are slowly, but surely, letting me take control of many of the details in their life. Unfortunately, this role I’ve been dealt is sucking me dry. Before this weekend I was feeling extremely burned out. I’ve had a good break, though, and am feeling much more refreshed.

Thanksgiving with friends, leaves raked before the snow fell, time to do laundry and clean, time to play with my kids, lots of take out and dinners out – these things make for a perfect weekend. The kids even sense a more relaxed air in the house. They managed to keep their bickering to a minimum.

I wonder how much we would get done if Mom didn’t have cancer, if Dad hadn’t just had surgery, if Chris’ job was so demanding or if I didn’t work at all. I might even have time to make turkeys.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Look at the goodies I found in Harrison's backpack tonight! I guess he got to dress up for their Thanksgiving feast at school today. Main dishes: marshmallows and pumpkin shaped Jello. That's all he can remember. Posted by Picasa

Christmas berries

(I just had to get the penis post down!) Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 18, 2005

Getting down to basics

Harrison to Chris: Boys have short hair and penis'. Girls have long hair and no penis'. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More bad news

I’m lying on my couch, for the second day in a row, suffering from the stomach flu. I think the emotional strain of my stay with my parents has taken its toll.

I’ve had an especially hard time this week after hearing the results of my mother’s CAT scan. They found a tumor that is blocking a tube leading from her liver…I don’t know much, but what I have extracted from my mom is that it is blocking the bile process. It’s a pretty big deal. Her doctor gave her two choices: 1) go see a “gastro” doctor - get a stint that will open the blockage and then continue with chemo or 2) let nature take its course (she would only probably live for about six weeks.) Again, I was completely taken aback. Shocked is an understatement. I still find it hard to believe that she is so sick. She said she needed to sleep on the information before she decided. She told me that she did not have any strong feelings one way or another.

I spoke with her on Tuesday and she decided to call the gastro guy because “…I might not make it till Christmas if I don’t.” Fortunately on Tuesday night she found the strength to call Sid – her mentor in positive thinking/imagery/healing methods – and after their conversation she says she feels better. She’s willing to fight, or as she put it, “…I’m not ready to give up.”

I feel like I’m on a roller coaster. I prepare for the worst and then things get better. I’m not in denial, though. I know that a tumor on her liver is extremely dire, but I’m just glad that she has hope. The last thing I want for her is fear or depression.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

I'm home...finally.

It was so hard to leave, yet so hard to stay another day.

Mom told me that she would be fine and that I wasn't to worry.

I had a hard time sleeping last night. I kept seeing their faces every time I closed my eyes.

The kids surprised me by meeting me at baggage claim. It was so wonderful. Two little ones clinging around my knees. My husband's kisses seemed much sweeter.

We spent the day together doing lots of nothing. Fantastic, yet awful. I'm not sure how to feel happiness when so much sadness is back in Minnesota. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Just when I let my guard down

Took Mom to her oncologist's office this afternoon for an appointment to review her blood work from last week and then get treatment afterwards. They decided to skip her chemo last week due to not having some important results. Since my mom has been so fatigued, they decided to give her body an extra week of rest.

I tried to talk to her on the way to the doctor, but she would not talk. I am pretty good at talking about difficult subjects, but this was different. She wasn't budging and actually got irritated with me for probing. As we waited for the N.P. to come into her exam room, her irritation got stronger. She was really upset to be waiting. I tried to keep up the banter, but she wanted none of it.

Then the news came and it was not good. Her blood work showed some liver distress or malfunction. It also showed problems with her kidney and her cancer tumor marker went up - not significantly, though. It was definitely a strike out.

Cat scan tomorrow. Results on Monday. It could be her chemo or it could be the cancer. Neither answer is better than the other.

I made pot roast tonight. I even made gravy. She seemed to like it. I held her hand after dinner for a little while and she let me.

The rain cloud that just won't leave

It’s hard to write about things going on here as they are tragic and boring all at the same time.

If I stop thinking, I actually get bored – or content – with the day-to-day routine my parents and I have established. My dad has made strides, but is still a bit shaky and fatigued. I really hope that he is much better by Saturday. Mom is the same. She skipped chemo last week and it hasn’t made much of a difference in her energy level. We will find out today if the chemo is working. If it isn’t, we don’t think there is any more chemo for her at this time.

My brother and his three kids are coming for dinner and another family meeting. I am tempted to have a serious heart to heart with Mom before that. No one has talked with her about her deep thoughts. Dad doesn’t want to upset her and I hadn’t considered that things were really that bad until now.

I was watching something the other day that had to do with cancer or illness. I was overwhelmed with sadness. I mean the wave hit me and I just started crying. Out of the blue. The dark cloud over my parents’ house is HUGE. It just emanates through every conversation, meal and routine. Everything in the house is the same, but everything is SO different.

I get to leave. I will call daily and continue to try and support my parents in every way I can, but I will be far away. My dad has to stay. He never gets a break. I feel really bad for him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Day Nine

My dad and my nephew on Dad's first night home from the hospital.

I think I’ve hit the wall. I didn’t make her walk to the kitchen table for breakfast. I didn’t feel up to the fight. I also didn’t “make” her take her potassium pill last night. Again – I didn’t feel up to the fight. I have to cut her pills up so she can swallow them. She has a lot of trouble swallowing. Can you imagine gagging on eight tiny pieces of bitter pill after you’ve already struggled to get your meal down? Dad and I have been conspiring about how to crush them up and put them in her meals. She won’t consider it – says she can taste the graininess. We’re thinking we will have to be very sneaky about it.

Took Dad for a blood test yesterday and had to come clean. I broke the rear view mirror off the Olds Saturday night. I was so nervous about telling them that I waited till yesterday morning. I figured that if I told them right when they could call the dealership and insurance, it wouldn’t be so painful. (Yes, I am still afraid of them yelling at me at age 41.) They were amazingly understanding. I think the surgery has been a great thing for my dad. I don’t like that he had to go through such a dramatic procedure, but he seems much more cognizant of the bigger picture AND my mother’s situation. He now knows how it feels not to be hungry. He knows how it feels to have people poking you in every available vein all the time. He’s more interested in healthy eating and getting exercise. He wants to maintain his quality of life. He never wants to be bedridden.

I’ve started knitting. When I was in grade school, I asked my Oma (German for Grandma) to teach me to knit. I tried and tried, but never caught on. I had her show me in junior high and high school. Nothing. I just couldn’t get it. Since then, I’ve asked my mom a few times and even my mother-in-law. When Harrison was born, I had a Martha Stewart Baby Magazine that had a beautiful “easy-to-make” knit blanket. I bought needles and yarn, pulled out the instructions and began. I managed to cast on one row and that’s about it. I carried the yarn all the way to Utah and it’s been sitting in my basement for over a year. For some reason, I threw three skeins of yarn into my suitcase and the needles – one still had that row of yarn cast onto it. I showed it to my mom and she taught me AGAIN how to knit. For some reason it really clicked this time. I understand how to do it and I want to do it. I thought I would ditch the baby blanket idea (for obvious reasons) and make a scarf. Mom told me that it would be a very wide scarf, though, so now it is going to be a baby doll blanket for Ella. My question, though, is how to do old ladies do it? Knitting really makes my knuckles sore. I must be doing it wrong.

I think we have found some pajamas for my mom. Land’s End. They have petite sizes. She is very picky. They have to be long sleeved, but cannot be too long. They have to be long pants, but not too long. She wants a crew neck, but it can’t be too wide. The package is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. I hope they work. This may be the last straw for me. If I have one more pair of pajamas shot down by her specificities, I think I may explode. That would not be good. My mom has to control things she can control - the size of her dinner plate, the temperature of her water, the sleeve length of her pajamas. I just need to take more deep breaths.
This trip has taught me a lot. I have a better understanding of my mother’s situation. I truly think she is dying. She doesn’t think so, but I need to be prepared. My dad and I have talked about the future more than we’ve ever done before. I have been forced to think about all of these difficult things that I’ve never wanted to think about. Most of all, I appreciate what I have. I miss my “other” family very much. The kids are fine, but I’m not. I need them in my life. I need Chris.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Each day is a little better

I’m pretty emotionally drained which tires me out, and takes any incentive to write or exercise or do anything, right out of me. Things are relatively better, though. My father is home. He checked out of the hospital before dinner on Thursday night. His adjustment to home has been good. He can get around amazingly well, but was really irritable for about 24 hours. Taking care of two of them is very similar to taking care of my two children. My mom even yells for me from her bed for her morning glass of juice. (Just like Harrison or Ella yell for their first glass of milk.) Yesterday morning my mother had to tell me that she had an accident. In bed. (Just like my Ella who isn’t quite potty trained in her sleep.) I didn’t even flinch. I just got her out of bed and stripped the sheets. I put down a towel, covered her back up and started the laundry.

And so the days go by. Breakfast, Dad’s walks, errands for them (still searching for a pajama set that is small enough for my mom’s increasingly smaller frame), lunch (my mom’s biggest meal), laundry, organizing closets, and dinner. It’s hard to keep track of all the medications and appointments, but my dad will set up a spread sheet in no time, I’m sure. To say he’s analytical and thorough are understatements.

My brother showed up last night for a family meeting. After meeting with the oncologist, and talking seriously with my dad, we have to start planning for all scenarios. After about an hour and a half, we realized that there are no easy answers. They want to go to Florida, but we worry that Mom is too weak to fly. She promised to start eating more to gain strength and to stop sabotaging her recovery (she doesn’t do her physical therapy or take all of her meds consistently.)

I have this increasing awareness that my presence makes a difference. My mother responds to me better than my father or brother. I’m very torn. I feel I should be here for her all the time, but can’t just leave my family. I want her to come and live with me, but we don’t have the room. I called Chris last night and told him we need to add on to the house. That went over well.

We need to take this one day at a time. My dad will become stronger every day. They have asked me to stay another week. I will be away from my husband and children about 14 days, but I know that my absence is necessary. Harry and Ella are being cared for. Chris has been amazing. He never complains and continually tells me how great everything is going.

My heartburn is still there, but my overwhelming anxiety seems to be lessening…or it could be that I’m just getting used to it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I think I need to buy some Tums

Thank you for all the supportive comments. I truly appreciate all the thoughts and prayers you have sent my way. Please continue to sent good thoughts, but direct them to my parents - they are the ones who really need all the help they can get.

Weirdest thing - I’ve had this pain in my chest for about two days. At first it was intermittent, but now it’s constant. It’s on the right side. For a moment I thought I was having sympathy pains for my dad, but I decided that was a bit melodramatic and realized that this is what heartburn must feel like. I’ve also been really tired. REALLY tired. Since I’ve arrived in Minnesota, I’ve been sleeping at least 8 hours, but I’m still exhausted.

About two and a half weeks ago, I had a terrible workout at my spinning class. I was breathing hard, sweating buckets and buckets and I got that pain in my chest. It scared me until the physician to my right reminded me that my heart is on my left side. (Thank God she went to medical school.) I left class after an hour feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up. I shook it off to too much exercise that week and cut back last week.

Now I’m getting a little concerned. I know it’s stress. My body is finally starting to revolt to all of the stuff going on in my life. I’m not sure what I can do to alleviate any of this.

Dad and I have been talking a lot. Mainly about Mom. About her future – their future. She is obviously not doing well, but she truly believes that she will get better. Dad doesn’t agree. We actually had THE talk. The one about what will happen when she’s gone. It was awful. This is so hard on him in so many ways. She is not that easy to deal with right now. She is very demanding and not extremely appreciative. She is very angry with my dad and he’s not sure why. I’ve been doing marriage counseling since I got here. I talk to her, and then I go talk to him. Back and forth, back and forth.

Tomorrow she has an appointment with her oncologist and a chemo treatment. I plan to tell her doctor that she’s depressed. Also tomorrow, my dad comes home and will need some extra help at first. He can’t lift or drive for a month. We really have no back up plan for getting them help, if needed, after I leave. Every time I try to talk to them about this, the subject is changed or put off until later.

I think I know where the heartburn is coming from. This is one of those moments in life when you realize that no one is going to help you - that you are the only one. You are the one who has to fix the problem. I have to pull my head out of the sand and learn about all of this “senior citizen” stuff. Things like health proxies, Medicare, assisted living centers, protecting assets and whatever else I need to know.

I’m worried that I am not too good at any of that, though. I’m better with helping buy her some new pajamas and finding low sodium foods for him. The heartburn is telling me that I need to do all of that AND figure out who they can call, after I leave, if my mom falls again.

I need more time here. How can I do everything I need to do before next Tuesday? How can I stay away from my family any longer than that, though?