Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lenny Bruce is Not Afraid, and Neither is Ella

This is every conversation between me and any of Ella’s teachers:

Teacher: Hello, Mrs. Jennings!  How-


It’s gotten to the point where they grab the tissue box as soon as they see me.

Yesterday, Ella threw a gigantic temper tantrum five minutes before the bus came. 

“I not like my new classroom!  I NOT LIKE IT!”  It was a very typical tantrum, with the throwing of oneself on the ground and kicking and shrieking.  A lot of shrieking.   The bus came and went, and I carried Ella to the car.  She buried her face into my neck and whimpered.

“You love school,” I said
“I want my old class,” she said.
We pulled into the parking lot and snaked our way through yellow busses and children eager to get to their classrooms.  It is hard to walk with a five-year clinging to your leg.  When we got to her room, she reluctantly showed me her new cubby. I peeled her coat off of her.  Her teacher approached us.

Teacher:  Hello Ella!

Ella: NO!

Teacher:  Hello Mrs. Jennings!


We’re quirky.

Then, inexplicably, Ella decided all was cool and she smiled and pushed me out the door, though not before I could grab her and squeeze her while she squirmed. 

“Bye mama!”  She’s the only one of my kids who still calls me mama. 

When the good people at the Kirch Center told me my daughter had a syndrome, I went to straight to the internet.  Of course I did.  Who wouldn’t?  And within five minutes I found a forum of women who had chosen to abort their babies because of 22Q11.2 Syndrome. 

It was at that moment that I thought, this is serious.  This is not a minor obstacle.  This is life-changing. And I didn’t respond with self-righteousness or arrogance or even a smidgen of confidence. 

I was so afraid.

I was afraid for my daughter, for what her life would turn out to be.  I was afraid I was inadequate for the task of raising her.  I was afraid that I’d never be able to explain to anyone that my daughter has a rare genetic anomaly without crying. 

It’s hard to live in fear.  There’s this darkness I’m trying to run out from under.  Ella, of course, is absolutely oblivious.  She is sunshine and I’m living under a self-made shadow.  It’s a rather horrible irony.

There is no solid ground when one is in a constant state of worry.  The world is inconstant, tremulous, foggy.  Every breath made in a state of anxiety is a breath wasted.  Breath is better spent laughing with my daughter, running with my son, praying, writing.
Writing about Ella.  About how this morning, the wind caught the hood of her jacket and I watched her ash-blonde hair fly out behind her.  How she laughed and turned and waved at me.   How those tiny legs climbed that big bus behind three older brothers who were, that day, angry that she accidentally wrecked their lego creation.  How she has no… fear.
Ella is not afraid.
And if she’s not afraid, then why should I be?
"And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?  Matthew 6:27.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Things I'm Learning in Therapy

“You don’t drink enough water, do you?” she asked.

“Oh no, definitely not,” I replied.

“I can tell by your dry lips.  Also your teeth.”

“My teeth?”

“You have lines on your teeth.

“I have lines on my teeth?”

These are the things I’m learning in therapy.  

I’m in therapy because apparently I have issues that can actually be fixed just by… talking a lot.

I’m also learning to handle my anxiety and my depression, which apparently are polar opposites that exacerbate one another.  I’m not even kidding.  I don’t know how I even get up and walk around during the day, what with the anxiety and the depression.

On the way home from my session, I accidentally cut off a car which did not, I might add, have its headlights on even though it was snowing.  The driver beeped and made some inappropriate hand signals.  I moved lanes to let him pass.  He moved lanes, too.  I got off on Buffalo Road.  He did too.  I got into the right lane; so did he.  I decided to pull into a public place and run for help while dialing 911.  I’m not even kidding.  The anxiety had piqued and I was totally flipping out.  TOTALLY FLIPPING OUT.

I pulled into the Home Depot.  He pulled into the Home Depot.  I pulled into a parking space and waited.  I got out my phone.  An elderly man pulled in beside me.  He smiled at me, unaware that I was having a panic attack and was inwardly screaming for help.

The car that had been following pulled up to the front of the Home Depot, and a man of indeterminate age jumped out of the driver's seat.  He reached into his trunk, I was certain, to get a baseball bat or an AK-47. 

He didn’t.

He pulled out a large Home Depot bag and trotted into the store, probably to return some pipes or something. 


My nerves were shot.  I ripped out of the parking lot and drove straight to Tim Hortons, because one needs a donut when one’s anxiety is completely out of control.

I got home about fifteen minutes before the kids' bus and used the time to try out some breathing exercises (also learned in therapy), and then ate a white cream-filled donut.  I have to say, the white cream-filled donut worked better than the breathing exercises.  Caleb walked in the door with an incredulous look on his face.

“Walruses aren’t German, are they?” he asked.


“Are donkeys actually Japanese?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Connor said… oh never mind.”

A moment later, my therapist called with a reminder for me to do something, and asked how I was doing.

“I was stalked on the way home.  But then I wasn’t.  I imagined the whole thing,” I said.

She paused for several seconds.

“Do we need to schedule another session this week?”

Ay, it’s been a very weird day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sore Loser

Married, over 13 years, and I’d never played Monopoly with my husband.  Now that we’ve spent an evening doing just that, I can tell you this:

My husband is a total a-hole when it comes to Monopoly.

Caleb received the game for his birthday, which was on Sunday.  Caleb was the car, John was the battleship and I, of course, was the top hat.  Because I look good in hats.

John greedily took Park Place and Boardwalk, was spiteful when I got a hold of Marvin Gardens, and had a look of utter glee in his eyes when I landed on his two-housed Indiana Avenue Also, he tried to trade Caleb one utility card for Connecticut Avenue, which would have given him a monopoly.

I quickly put a stop to that. 

The protective instinct is strong in mothers, even during games of Monopoly.  What I don’t understand is why Caleb, despite my allowing him to pay half in rent when he landed on Pennsylvania Avenue, still hooted when his father tried to financially bankrupt me.  After I stopped yet another shady deal between John and Caleb, I looked Caleb squarely in the eye:

“Say you don’t appreciate that, Caleb.”

“I don’t appreciate that, Caleb!” was his response.  He and John howled together.  I felt dumb.

It should come as no surprise to you that I lost. In the end, I had a house on Baltic and two “get out of jail free” cards.  We didn’t exactly finish the game as the board was destroyed by an encroaching Australian Shepherd.  As far as we can tell, Caleb, thanks to landing on the Free Parking spot several times, came in at a close second, and John, thanks to his shrewd business sense and lack of pity, won.

Toward the end, I considered Monopoly divorce just to get half of John's Monopoly cash and real estate.  Unfortunately, there are no “Monopoly divorce” guidelines.  They should probably add that in the next edition.  I bet fewer boards would be thrown across living rooms.

(I get a little emotional during board games, which is why we don’t play Scrabble any more.)

Here is a fuzzy picture of fuzzy Kiah before she went all Napoleon Bonaparte on our board game:   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Muddy Days are Hard on Dog Owners

60 degrees today, and the backyard is filled with melting snow and mud and, well, dog excrement.  It’s disgusting.  On days like this, one actually has to actually (gasp) walk the furry ball of kinetic energy or risk total destruction of one’s home. 

You’d think the lack of the front right long might slow even an Australian Shepherd down, but alas, when she’s running, you can’t even tell she’s missing a limb.  Case in point: the other week Daniel let Kiah out the front door.  She took off like a bat out of hell, and within seconds, was completely out of sight.  I thought that was it.  She was gone.  It was over.

“She’s gone,” I told John. 

“Well, that’s it then.  It’s over.” 

We're a worst-case scenario kind of a couple.

The kids sobbed and moaned.  We all piled into the van and drove slowly around the neighborhood calling her name and waving beef jerky in the air.  Ten minutes later, we pulled into our driveway and found Kiah sitting in the middle of it, staring at us imploringly: Why did you guys leave?  How could you do that?  How was I supposed to get into the house?  You know I can’t live without my toilet water and the kids’ favorite stuffed animals.

The thing with having a three-legged dog is, every time you venture out in public with her, someone assumes you adopted her three-legged furry self from a shelter.

“Wow.  Good for you,” they say before you can explain.  “More people should adopt special-needs dogs.”

And I pause. 

“Yes, well, we just couldn’t resist her,” I say.  And for a brief moment, I feel really proud of myself for rescuing a special-needs dog.  

Except I didn’t.  But explaining the whole convoluted story of how we lost Kiah, thought her for dead, and then got her back minus a leg is exhausting.  And retelling it makes me feel like a truly rotten dog owner, though I know in my heart the story of how her leg came to be no more is nobody’s fault. 

The kids opened the van door and Kiah hopped into it, ready for a road trip.  There was great rejoicing in the land.  Then we put her safely back into the house and debated whether or not to give her the beef jerky, because we didn’t want to reward her running-away behavior.  That is exactly the kind of behavior the dog obedience class was supposed to get rid of. 

I want my money back. 

Today, I don't feel like dragging the kids out for a walk so I put her into the backyard to go to the bathroom, and she curls up in a puddle of mud, sticks her nose in it, perks up because she hears something in the distance, and runs frantically to the fence and begins barking like a maniac.  When she runs, she is fluid, beautiful, a soft streak of black and white fur.  The mud flies off of her like rain.

I’ve never wanted it to snow so bad.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Meeting

Today was Ella’s big CSE meeting.  John and I walked into a conference room where eight people were seated around a table, ready to discuss Ella.  There would’ve been nine, but the principal couldn’t make it.  The school psychologist, counselor, special education teacher,  physical therapy specialist, speech pathologist, the CSE meeting chair, Ella’s current teacher, and her future teacher had all convened to decide Ella’s future, and ultimately it was decided that Ella will begin transitioning into the inclusion classroom, where the special education teacher works with a general education teacher. 

Halfway through the meeting I started crying.   It was very unprofessional of me.  Someone handed me a box of tissues and I proceeded to blow snot into half of them.

“I feel like such a boob!” I said.  I said that.  In public.

“Noooo!” said eight people all at once.  They gazed upon me sympathetically.

I am such a boob. 

I am overwhelmed, grateful, and thankful- which sounds the same as grateful but the sentiment bears repeating- for these people.  For these people who pour their hearts and souls into their work.  I would throw a parade for them if I could.  With fireworks.  And free ice cream.  And maybe some hot air balloon rides. 

Ella’s teacher cried, too.

“I didn’t want her to go,” she said. 

It’s unbelievable how much progress Ella has made in school.  She has gone from a complete looney-bird to a real live kindergartner who just happens to need some extra help. 

I lobbied hard to keep my twins together, and in the end they’re going to be split up anyway.   Such is life.  I didn’t ask if they would move Daniel with her.  I felt that might be going a little too far.  I mean, there’s being a boob and then there’s being a major boob. 

All in all, a successful meeting.  Afterward, John and I faced the fact that we can never, ever move lest we lose the incredible support our school district has given us. 

“I thought the meeting went really well,” I said.  We sat in silence for a moment.  I sniffled.

Life went on.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Year in Books: 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:  A YA book for adults.  The Fault in Our Stars is a quirky love story about teens with cancer in love.  Hazel is terminal; her lungs have been ravaged by her illness and will only last her a while more.  She walks around with an oxygen tank.  Hazel is depressed, for obvious reasons, and her mother forces her to join a cancer support group for teens where she meets and falls madly in love with Augustus, an amputee in remission.  The smaltzy love story with the “Love Story” ending is saved by its witty dialogue and original characters.   The dry, sardonic humor captures its dark undertones: this is a book about dying.  But it’s also really, really funny.  So long as you don’t dwell on the fact that you’ve never heard such quick, intelligent, droll conversation coming out of the mouths of anyone under 18, it’s a great read.  
The Breakdown: I read 40 books.  30 by women, 10 by men.

This was a mind-candy year for reading.  Many of the books aren’t worth mentioning, and some I’m a little embarrassed I read.  (Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin, anyone?)  And (I’m so ashamed) no classics... but for what it's worth, here's what I DID read (the good, the okay, and the ugly):  

Snowleg by Nicholas Shakespeare:  I bought this book solely based on its cover, which is a perfectly acceptable reason for choosing a novel, and am glad I stuck through the rather slow beginning.  Snowleg is a quiet mystery about Peter Hithersay, who learns his true father is not the man he grew up calling Dad.  He makes a journey to East Germany to track down his birth father and meets a girl and falls madly in love.  Things end badly, partly because she is a citizen of communist East Germany, and partly because Peter makes a terrible choice.  Years later, the Berlin wall falls.  Peter only knows the girl’s nickname- Snowleg.  As Snowleg’s identity slowly unravels, I couldn’t wait to see if Peter and she would be reunited.  A really lovely novel. 

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail byCheryl Strayed:  I will admit that I did not realize there was a Pacific Crest Trail until I read this book.  I knew of the Appalachian Trail, of course, duh, but a trail that runs from California up through Washington?  Who would walk that?  THERE’S NO WATER ON THAT TRAIL!  But Cheryl Strayed walks almost all of it, and who knew walking could be so fascinating.  Toenails fall off, strange characters are met, packages don’t arrive at their destinations: I was very nervous for her though obviously she made it out all right and wrote this bestselling memoir.  Strayed’s long hike was preceded by her mother’s death and subsequent divorce from her husband.  Strayed is terribly flawed, but I think she would be the first to admit that.  The long hike was a cathartic experience, and you have to give anyone credit for sticking with it.  Especially when they hiked alone.  In the desert.  With very very little funding.  A fun read that will make you want to get outdoors.

(Because I was on a read-about-hiking-long-trails kick, I also read the memoir AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller.  This was less introspective and more of a straightforward story about hiking the AT.  I loved it.  And it was self-published!)

Amy Inspired by Bethany Pierce:  I heard Ms. Pierce read an excerpt of her novel, Amy Inspired, at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing.  Then I bought her book.  And when I got home I read it.  And I really, really liked it.  Christian fiction has always been more miss than hit with me: if it’s not a saccharine love story it’s a gag-worthy morality tale.  This was a novel with real people.  In fact, the most popular review on Amazon is a 2-star that complains the story is too “edgy.”  Because the bible was so tame, with all the adultery and spilling of guts.  Amy has boyfriend troubles, is a struggling writer, and has a dying mother.  I could very much relate to her, minus the boyfriend troubles and the dying mother.  Seriously- she was a likable character, the novel pulled you right along and the writing was quite lovely.  An enjoyable tale about a girl with faith.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett:  Marina’s colleague has gone to the Amazon to check on the research of their pharmaceutical company’s researcher, and Marina’s former mentor, Dr. Senger.  After receiving a rather alarming and terse report that the colleague has died, Marina descends into the jungle to find out what happened to him.  Part fantasy and part suspense, Patchett plops you in the middle of the sticky jungle for a while and you find you can’t leave- at least not until Marina does. 

Apparently medical personnel  hate this book because it is highly inaccurate.  I found the plot fantastical, almost magical surrealism.  It fit the setting and the plot and quite frankly I didn’t care that the characters chose a c-section over an external version for a delivery.  I understand that inaccuracies can drive professionals crazy: the rest of us didn’t notice and certainly aren’t going to look to the novel as a resource on obstetrics.  (Chill out, medical personnel!)

Worth Mentioning:

Little Bee by Christ Cleave:  An unsettling story about a Nigerian refugee and the English couple she met on the beach.  This book was given to me by my favorite blogger friend, Marsha of Life in A-Town.  I thought , based solely on the title and the fact that the cover of the novel is orange, that this would be a whimsical tale of friendship.  It is not.  It’s a tale of friendship within a horror story.   Cleave is an incredible writer who shifts effortlessly between the points of view of two very different women. 

However, the plot felt forced in places where it didn’t need to.  For instance, in the impoverished village from where Little Bee hails, there was a bible that’s pages were torn off after the forty-sixth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew, so that the last words of their particular copy read : My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

A tad bit ham-fisted. 

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans:  In the spirit of A.J. Jacobs’ hilarious memoir, A Year of Biblical Living, Evans decides to attempt to achieve “biblical womanhood” within the confines of a year.  To live as a woman biblically, Evans followed Proverbs 31 and some other verses from the bible that instruct women on how to conduct their lives.  Her point was to prove that “biblical womanhood,” as it is touted among conservative Christians (and conservative Jews), is an impossible feat.  The book has some amusing anecdotes, and Evans never comes across as condescending or mean.  However, overall, it was not as funny as I’d hoped and was maybe even a little forgettable?  (Rachel Held Evans has one of the most popular Christian living blogs on the web, so my expectations were high.  But what do I know?  I’m small potatoes.)

Gillian Welch:  I took a turn toward the dark side of fiction and started reading Gillian Welch’s sinister crime novels: Gone Girl, which remains on the NY Times bestseller list, and also Sharp Objects and Dark Places.  Gone Girl was black comedic fun:  Sharp Objects and Dark Places were brooding and disturbing.  But addicting.  Like carbohydrates.  I tore through them in a day. 

Big disappointments included Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann, which was almost unreadable, and the immensely popular Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which was gimmicky and manipulative and had a ridiculous plot.  And he used a kid to do it.  A kid!  Did you like this book?  Did you like the movie?  I refuse to watch the movie.  I miss the days when Tom Hanks did movies like The ‘Burbs.  Did you see the film he did with Julia Roberts?  Uck.  Uck, I tell you.

Other books worth mentioning include The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger (takes place in Rochester!); The Lessons by Naomi Alderman (Alderman’s mentor is Margaret Atwood); The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (this is the third time I’ve read it); The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (brings biblical times into sharp focus, however sacrilegious it may be); and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (an alternative “Left Behind” novel.)

Yes, it has occurred to me that I use parentheses too much.

I’ve thought about it, and in 2013 I’m going to steal my Dad’s idea and choose an “author of the year.”  The author?  Wait for it…

C.S. Lewis! 

I’m going to start reading the Narnia books to Ben and am personally going to tackle:  Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and either The Screwtape Letters or The Four Loves.    

I’m proud of my choice because:  1)  These books are mainly non-fiction and 2) C.S. Lewis is not a female.  I tend to read female authors.  I don’t know why.

Your favorite books read in 2012?  Books you are looking forward to reading in 2013?  You loved Incredible Close and Extremely Dangerous or whatever it was called and feel like arguing with me?  Please.  Let me know.