Thursday, June 24, 2010

Goin' On Vacation, Worrying About My Boobs

Pretty soon I will be spending most of my time in a swimsuit, and my thoughts, like any woman's, naturally turn to my bust. Or lack thereof, such as the case may be.

We females spend a lot of energy worrying about our boobs--be they too large or too small, too saggy or so wide-awake that they become weapons when there's a chill in the room. Entire episodes of Oprah's show have been devoted to flattering swimwear and bras that fit; clearly, this is the most important issue facing womankind today.

Every year as I pack up my swimsuits for the family vay-cay, I worry. Will these suits cover me appropriately? Will they lift and separate? Will they kick my humble cup size up a notch? If I get up the nerve to jump off a diving board, will I have an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

This year I have an added breast worry; at my annual MRI screening, the radiologist found a lump. I am leaving for the beach soon and will not know before I leave whether this is just a cyst or something uglier.

I spent 2 hours yesterday in various exam and waiting rooms of our local breast health center getting a diagnostic mammogram (which showed nothing; my girls don't like having their picture taken that way) and an ultrasound, which actually showed a second abnormal area. After talking to several nurses and a radiologist, I've been assured that my un-lovely lady lumps are probably fluid-filled cysts or normal, benign lymph nodes. But because there's a chance that they're not, and because I have a pesky personal history of cancer and radiation, the radiologist wants a needle biopsy to give him proof that what he's seeing is not breast cancer.

I knew this would come eventually. Three years ago when my radiation oncologist decided that my mammograms weren't clear enough, given that the radiation my girls soaked up makes them more prone to acting up and growing bad cells, I started having an annual breast MRI. MRIs show everything and the biggest downfall of that test is that many women get false positives and have benign growths removed unnecessarily. I was warned that in all likelihood I would get a call back after one that something irregular had popped up. But the alternative was to continue to get mammograms that the radiologist noted were "dense" and very hard to read (but as a a tech told me once, "dense" translates non-medically to "perky", so it's not all bad.)

But I had a streak going, and getting good news several years in a row has a way of making you think it could never happen to you. I went into this year's test like I always have; knowing that I would get that wonderful "everything came back normal" phone call right before our vacation like usual, which makes that first margarita on the beach taste so darn good.

This year, though, not so much.

The week after I come back from my shenanigans on the beach, I will be getting my first-ever needle biopsy and waiting for the results. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried despite the assurances from the radiologist that the abnormalities don't look malignant. I know first-hand that doctors can be very wrong. But I have a strong family history of benign cysts on my side (my mother has been down this same path half a dozen times since her early thirties). So I will be trying very hard to not let this worry ruin my time on the beach in our happy place.

Though Mr. Tequila and Mr. Lime may have to help me leave my worries behind.

This may be my last post for a while as we prepare to leave the K-Y behind for a little while. I will be back after some sun and fun; take care of yourselves, and rest assured that I will be doing my best to take care of myself...and my girls.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Carnivore's Dilemna

Ainsley has started to ask where her food comes from.

This is fine when she asks what noodles are made out of; when she starts asking about her hot dogs, I struggle with the answer.

Since she's started asking, we've pretty much hit all the major carnivorous food groups and told her what animal they all come from: we've had bacon, pork chops, and sausage ("That ALL comes from a pig?") Hamburgers, steak, and roast beef. And of course turkey and chicken, which you wouldn't think needs an explanation but still got our 7-year-old to ask, "Where does chicken come from?" before realizing that question pretty much answers itself. (Or does it? There's a philosophical element there involving the chicken and the egg; discuss.)

All that answer-giving at the family dinner table has made me re-think my meat-eating habits. One Saturday night, which in the summer is often grilled rib-eye night for us, telling her that we were eating cow made me see that beautiful cut a little differently. I had a hard time enjoying it once we switched from eating "steak" to eating "cow." I pictured Norman from City Slickers with his big, brown eyes and gentle demeanor. Norman doesn't taste as good as steak.

When I cooked some bad pork chops one night that turned out more like shoe leather than food, I thought out loud, "Maybe I could be a vegetarian. Sometimes I just don't enjoy eating animals. Someday I'll give it a try."

Jason and Ainsley gave me an "Are you crazy?" look and went right back to sawing their way through Wilber.

For a while now, I've tried to prepare one vegetarian meal a week. I do this partly to save money, partly to save our arteries, and partly to appease my carnivore guilt. Just when I was ready to expand this out to more than one night a week, and found myself listening more closely than usual to something smug vegan Alicia Silverstone was saying on TV, my husband asked to be taken to a Brazilian steakhouse for father's day, and now I can say...

All vegetarian bets are off. I am firmly and unabashedly a carnivore.

I could easily live without pig (until you remind me that bacon is pig; a life without bacon is a life maybe not worth living.) Pigs are very smart and probably deserve better than having their loins smoked in hickory. I don't like lamb. Chicken and turkey only appeal in the boneless-skinless-white-meat form. But after eating my weight in beef yesterday, I see that I really, really enjoy cow. Sorry, Norman.

If you've never been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you must save your pennies and go. Servers walk around with 15 (!) varieties of meats on spits and come around to your table and ask if they can carve you off a piece. That's it. There's no menu. Just perfectly grilled meat and a salad bar so you can put a few bites of something green on your plate even though, clearly, you're there to make a meal of 15 varieties of meat.


I'm not even sure of everything I ate. I remember bottom sirloin and top sirloin. I remember filet. I remember the bacon-wrapped boneless chicken breast that made Ainsley's eyes widen at the first bite. There may have been short ribs at some point and something that tasted like prime rib but wasn't called that. The protein coma I went into has played tricks with my memory.

It was all perfectly and simply prepared and each cut of beef was different from the one before it. Until they're all presented before you at once you don't realize what a complex food beef is. I've always loved the saying that God gave us beer because he loves us and wants us to be happy; I think the same could be said for cow.

Someone may get on here and leave a comment about how raising cows for food is environmentally and morally wrong. My little trip to Boi Na Braza made my carbon footprint a few inches wider. Perhaps. And I do feel a little guilty. But I also look on it as one of the best dinners I've ever had in my life, so my foodie side trumps my liberal hippie side. I do have some organic milk in my fridge and buy produce from a farmer's market in the summer; doesn't that let me slaughter the fatted calf every so often?

Tonight we're having salmon because I'm not really sure my conscience or my digestive system can handle red meat for a while. It will be a tasty and healthy dinner I can feel good about serving my family.

But secretly, I'll be dreaming of beef tenderloin dripping with juices being dramatically carved over my plate. Beef: it's what should be for dinner.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Kid's Gotta Have Goals

Ainsley's new TV obsession is Man V. Food. This is what she wants to watch on weekends too wet to play outside and at night while we're all winding down for bed. I don't blame her; it's as addictive as a Chipotle burrito.

I am all for kids developing an interest in food that goes beyond "What toy came with my 4-piece-nugget Happy Meal?". I love that Ainsley has started to want to cook with me and that we have gotten her to eat a pretty wide variety of food and can take her to almost any restaurant. I don't know how I feel, though, about her declaration, probably Man V. Food inspired, that someday she want to take the "Blazin' " challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings.

From a kid whose one area of food pickiness is spicy heat, it seems a daunting task. But who am I to doubt? Someday she could very well make me cry joyful tears of pride as she polishes off a dozen wings spun in a sauce approximately as corrosive to your pipes as Liquid Drano and gets her name on a plaque and wins a commemorative t-shirt. The sports world is full of stories of athletes who beat the odds; why should the competitive eating world be any different? A little girl who complains when I put too much black pepper in the macaroni and cheese could someday pull off a victory in the ultimate challenge of Girl V. Wing.

She took down one food challenge today that she's been wanting to conquer for a while: she ate her first foot-long sub from Subway. Not quite the whole thing, but almost (as she cleaned up after herself in my library, she informed me she had two inches left.) More than I ate, certainly. And more than anyone as skinny as she is should be able to eat. I have no idea where 10 inches of sub went as she has a long and lean frame like her father.

I kept telling her this was not a challenge, and that she could take whatever she didn't eat to her Mamaw's later, and to not bust a gut, but she's been wondering for months now if eating a foot-long sub is a possible task for a kid her age. Ah, the power of commercials and catchy jingles. She had a two-hour swim and dive practice this morning and, like Michael Phelps, needed fuel to replace the calories lost from hours of freestyle and butterfly. Hunger and too many hours with Adam Richman over the course of a stormy weekend convinced her today was the day to take down a huge ham-and-cheese sandwich. I don't know whether to be alarmed by her gluttony or impressed by her tenacity.

I've been waiting for Ainsley to develop a competitive streak; Jason and I are both fairly competitive people who push ourselves pretty hard, but Ainsley has always been laid back. Unlike me, she doesn't beat herself up or compare herself to other people. During last year's swim and dive team, Ainsley hopped out of the water after most heats not even winded, not even too concerned with what place she came in. The times that she won, she gave a brief "Yay!" and then became more concerned with Dippin' Dots. When she lost by a mile, she gave a brief, "Awww," and then (you guessed it) wondered out loud about the Dippin' Dots.

Huh. Maybe this recent obsession with food isn't so surprising after all. I guess it's always come back to the Dippin' Dots.

So long as she doesn't make foot-long ham subs (no toppings on it because, as she so wisely put it, "You don't need toppings on a foot-long. That would just be crazy.") every day, I guess I am okay with her having a competitive eating streak. And for aspiring to eat some blazing chicken wings someday. So long as she's a healthy and active kid, her being mildly obsessed with the feats of Man V. Food is okay with me.

After all, another goal she talks about all the time is how she wants to be on T.V. someday. And Adam Richman will, eventually, need a replacement.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Thursday night was date night. A rare occurrence these days, what with my mom having her own date nights and not volunteering to have the kid spend the night as often. So we cherish them when we get them and try to go somewhere where we can be a hip, young couple for just one evening.

We were at our favorite date night haunt, a great little restaurant with ample outdoor seating and an extensive list of microbrews, when Jason pointed at a car parked on the street close to our table.

"That should be your next car," he said. "That car just looks like you."

I wasn't exactly flattered. It was a Honda Element, which isn't what you can call sexy. It's a nice car, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't inspire lust.

I opened my mouth to contradict him, but the more I looked at that car the more I thought that the words you would use to describe it really do describe me. Boxy and neat with clean lines, yet inelegant. Practical and roomy. Good for hauling around kids, gym bags, and groceries. A little preppy, maybe, but not snooty.

Okay, so I do look like a Honda Element.

It just so happened that earlier in the week I had come out of the grocery store not immediately remembering where I had parked, but discovered that it's really easy to find my car. It jumps out at me in a lot because it reminds me of me. It's small-ish but with a bottom that's wider than its top. It tries really hard to look young and sporty but can't hide the fact that it's a station wagon in an SUV's clothing. It's compact, dense, and neat. But, like the Element, not sexy.

I so wish Jason weren't right about what car I look like, but he is. That's a hard pill to swallow from a guy who drives a sleek dark-gray Prius that I find, as I find the man who drives it, to be very attractive. He makes that car look gooood.

I've always heard that people choose cars that look like them. Most of my family and friends have chosen vehicles that at the very least reflect some aspect of their life and personality. The practical people pick practical cars, the tall people pick tall cars, and the stylish pick stylish cars. Every car my dad ever drove, from his first brand new car (a navy blue Ford Fairmont that I swear had his "eyes") to the burgundy Chevy S-10 pickup he said was his favorite until it caused him to fishtail on an icy highway one night, looked like so much like him that my mom didn't like to drive them. She said it just didn't feel right. So she eventually lobbied for a car that fit her in the early 90s: a bright red Geo Prizm. Like my mom at that time, the car was petite, feisty, a little tempermental, and absolutely adorable. As she grew older, she graduated to a golden Cadillac (it matched her hair) and now to a maroon Buick LeSabre, the perfect little old(ish) lady car.

And at this stage in my life, I apparently am somewhere between a Pontiac Vibe and a Honda Element.

This is not the car I thought I'd be. When I was much younger, I dreamed of someday having a Corvette. I think the 1980s Corvette embodied that woman I thought I wanted to be back when I was a teen: lean, but curvy; adventurous; classy and expensive and high-maintenance while still being a little white-trashy.

As I got older and became a mom, I quit dreaming about dream cars. I mostly just want something reliable that gets me from A to B. Until we visited some friends in Louisville this winter and were introduced to a classic sports car they have bought and are fixing up.

I began to dream of taking long rides in this hot little car with a scarf tied around my hair, big Hollywood sunglasses on, and the top rolled down. I thought of how fun it would be to leave my family car in their driveway and go on a Thelma-and-Louise road trip with my girlfriend. (Without the Thelma and Louise ending, of course.) Of how cool it would be to be a sexy girl in a sexy car getting envious looks from the soccer moms at red lights. And maybe, just maybe, get a whistle or two.

I understood at that moment why folks buy sports cars during mid-life crises. A car is one way to say to the world, "Here's who I am." No matter how open-minded you think you are, you make a different assumption about a guy who pulls up next to you in a BMW Roadster than the guy who pulls up next to you in a Taurus. A guy (or gal) who feels pigeon-holed and stuck in a rut by either job or family or both can get a loan and get a vehicle that shows who they would like to be rather than who they really are. And while they're in that car, it can be easy to be the adventuresome, fun-loving person they were at 18. Just in a little older package that's easily camouflaged by shapely metal.

Will I ever take the plunge and get an outrageous, impractical car? Probably not. When the Vibe dies years from now (that Corolla engine will keep going and going and going) and I am in the throes of middle age, I will probably talk myself into another practical and gas-saving vehicle. It will probably look exactly like me. The little red crossover will win over the little red Corvette. Because that's just who I am.

But maybe, just maybe, you'll find me some weekend in a sexy borrowed or rented sports car, trying on a new identity. I'll be the brunette in the scarf and sunglasses; be sure to whistle.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Flashes Before Their Eyes

Sometimes I look out my front window on a summer day and watch all the children play and wonder:

How does anybody actually survive to adulthood?

I've seen the neighborhood kids do some really, really stupid things. Things that make you question whether or not they have any common sense at all and make their parents come running out of their houses hollering, "Stop doing that before you kill yourself!"

The daredevil girl across the street, who also happens to be Ainsley's favorite neighborhood playmate, has one simple philosophy in life: Never, ever apply brakes. Why slow down when it's so much more fun to ride your bike full-speed into garage doors or jump off of it while it's still moving and land on your feet an admirable 90% of the time?

Her parents have rewarded her adventurous spirit by buying her a motorized scooter. It's a hallmark of the banging class; why force your 6-year-old to be self-propelled and largely silent when you can give her something really fast, really lazy, and really noisy?

"Mommy, daddy, can you buy me a scooter like Clarissa's?" Ainsley asked last weekend, sadly pushing her "old" Razor scooter, which she wanted more than she wanted fresh air to breathe just a year ago.

"No," we both said in unison, not even looking up from watering the plants.

"Why not?"

"Two concussions," I said. "You don't need a third. Even with your helmet I don't trust those things at your age."

Because you're the most accident-prone child I know, I thought.

Just last week I got a call from Ainsley's school. Ainsley ran into another kid at recess and, because she apparently is part dog and runs around with her tongue sticking out of her mouth, she bit through her tongue.

"We did get the bleeding to stop, but she has a deep cut in her tongue where one tooth went all the way in. She's convinced she bit a piece of her tongue off and we can't get her to calm down. Can you come look at it and see whether or not you want her to go back to class?"

She did go back to class, and except for not being able to eat solid food the rest of the day, she got over it and healed up. But every parent worries that something awful is awaiting our children just around the next curve, and they might not be able to get over it.

Because even smart kids are dumb.

I should know; I was a mostly smart kid who did some really, really dumb stuff. Stuff that made my life flash before my eyes. Stuff that I've never told my mom about, because as big of a worrier as she was, if she had had any clue how close I came to death at various points in my childhood she never would have let me out of a padded room.

Like the time I was flying my kite in the backyard, a backyard that happened to have overhead utility lines nearby, and despite warnings about electricity and kite strings, I let the kite get too close to the overhead lines and get caught in one of them. I guess it was just a telephone or cable line since I am still here. I dropped the kite twine and hit the ground, my heart pounding in my own ears. When I was convinced that I was alive I just let the kite break off in the spring winds and fly away to go be with the birds.

"Did you lose your kite?" Mom asked.

"Uh huh," I said, and hid my shaking hands. And went straight back to my bedroom to recover and wonder how on earth I was still alive.

Or the time I sucked an Atomic Fireball into my throat where it lodged for the most terrifying 10 seconds of my life. Mind you, it went down my esophagus and not the trachea, but still. It completely closed off my throat and made me feel a panic I'd never felt before. Rather than get help, I crept into the bathroom to wait it out; even a slow death by jawbreaker was preferable to admitting to Mom that I had sucked on one of those things without first smashing it up with the handle of a table knife, which was mandatory when I was a kid because "those things will choke you to death!" Had it gone down the other pipe, I have no doubt that it would have, because that thing didn't budge until the coating started to come off.

I also ran my bike into the side of a moving car once after completely not looking both ways at an intersection like I had been told countless times to do. See? Dumb.

What's scares me the most about these memories is that I was, by and large, a cautious, thoughtful kid who mostly followed the rules and did as she was told and believed in applying the brakes when the situation called for it. Ainsley's friends, and Ainsley herself, take more risks and live life either in the fast lane (Ainsley's friend across the street) or at the very least the passing lane. If I cheated death three times that I can remember clearly from my childhood, and who knows how many more times that I've blocked out, what's in store for them?

Sunday saw Clarissa playing a cool new game with her new scooter of death: rev it up, speed toward people, and hope that they can get out of the way quick enough. And giggle evilly when they don't. Because in this kid's mind, when playing chicken with a motorized scooter, it's funny when you hit your older sister.

Ainsley wasn't allowed to play that game. After Jason had put a stop to it, he came in, shaking his head.

"That girl," he said. "I'm not sure that there's any common sense there."

Of course not. She's a kid. And kids are reckless and dumb (and in the banging class, mechanized.)

The best we can do to keep our kids from having their own brushes with death and having their own lives flash before their eyes is to watch them, talk to them, and never, ever buy them anything with a motor. We can helmet them, we can monitor them, we can teach them. But we can't be them, and we eventually have to untie those apron strings.

And thinking about that just makes my own life flash before my eyes all over again.

What was the dumbest thing you ever did as a kid? How many times did you cheat death? A nervous parent who lives across the street from hell on wheels wants to know.