Monday, February 25, 2013

Just like the Little House on the Prairie episode where Ma gets gangene. Almost.

Hey, do you all remember that Little House on the Prairie episode where Ma cuts her leg on a rusty fence wire and almost dies because she's left alone in the house and the cut gets infected? And for one terrifying moment you're certain she's going to cut her damn leg off with the knife she's just heated in the fire, but then she cuts the wound open and the infection drains out, saving her life?

Yeah, this almost happened to me. Sort of. Way less dramatically. In as much as a I got a cut, and it got a bit infected, and I felt pretty awful for a while. Thank God for modern antibiotics.

I gashed open the top of my foot on the dirty, rusty spigot on the bottom of our hot water heater in the laundry room. I could explain how this happened, but it would be much more fun for you to picture various scenarios where this type of accident makes sense. So however you're seeing it, let's just say it happened that way.

I immediately thought of Ma Ingalls and hot knives and raging infection, so I cleaned my wound, doused it in Neosporin, and laboriously tended it for over a week, keeping it clean and covered. When at the ten-day mark it still hurt so badly I could not wear shoes other than Crocs, and when I noticed the redness and swelling had gotten worse, and when the back of my tube of Neosporin told me that redness and swelling after seven days was cause for calling a doctor, I had it checked out. By that time I also had a sinus infection bad enough to cause nose bleeds, so my doctor prescribed a strong antibiotic.

I will not have to amputate my foot in a prairie wilderness amidst biblical fever dreams. At least not this time.

So this is why I haven't written in a while. My head is finally clear, I can finally wear shoes (every Kentucky girl's dream!) and life is back on track. While I was at no point in any serious danger, and the infection was localized, I realized after about 36 hours on the antibiotic that I had really not been doing well as a whole and the cut and sinus infection had done a most excellent job wiping me out and making me not feel quite myself.

A day or two more of a little extra rest and fluids and I am sure I will have something as important to say as I ever do.

And remember--even in the 21st century, cuts can get infected, especially when the cuts happen in the dingiest corner of your home. The next time you cut yourself, and it's not quite bad enough for a trip to the ER for stitches but bad enough that you spend a while looking at it going, "Huh. That's a fairly gruesome spectacle," maybe you should get it looked at sooner rather than later. Remember me. Remember Ma. Remember the hot knife.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Not creepy at all.

We've all heard that the pope is stepping down. But what we all may not have heard is that the next pope is probably the last one before the end of days, before the tribulation period and a fiery, violent end to all humankind at the hands of the anti-Christ. At least according to some saint who lived a really long time ago and wrote some prophecies which may or may not technically be medieval forgeries. But, you know. It makes for some good light apocalyptic reading if you're into that kind of thing. Just be sure to put your tinfoil hat on first.

While I was reading about these prophecies for the first time (and I have no idea why I haven't heard of these before; I do so love a good conspiracy theory, thanks to the history teacher in high school who spent an entire quarter convincing us that there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll), I got sincerely and thoroughly spooked. Religious mysteries have that effect on me. I blame it on the time I checked out a Mysteries of the Unknown book from the library and was reading about the Shroud of Turin during down time in chorus. I was a lowly freshman and not yet vocally sound enough to make our chamber choir, and they were rehearsing at the time. Just when I was completely sucked in to reading about carbon dating and ancient pollen and photographic negatives and rapid release of energy as it relates to the Shroud, the 12 singers quietly broke out into this song. Every hair on my head stood up and I dropped my book. The holy spirit became the holy ghost, and I was sore afraid. For the rest of my life, "O Magnum Mysterium" will be the soundtrack that plays inside my head in all instances of religious creepiness.

Which is why lunch time yesterday was not the ideal time for one of my computer lab aides to knock loudly on my office door. There I was reading about the papal prophecies, hearing a little Victoria in my head, when my student needed to get my attention. He got it, all right.

"Did I scare you? I just wanted to ask you something. Are you okay?"

Sure, kid. I'm fine. That stripe of white hair has always been there. Now go get that portable defibrillator outside the nurse's office, would you?

I was mostly over that little scare by bedtime last night. Until Jason and I opened Ainsley's door to tuck her in and found her being guarded by Brownie.

Brownie is her giant teddy bear, and sometimes she snuggles with him at night. Last night, we found him not cradled lovingly in her arms, but sitting bolt upright next to her, lifting up her covers, taking a protective stance.

"Don't worry, Brownie, that's not creepy at all," Jason whispered as we backed slowly out of the room. We knew it was where Ains had twisted and turned in her sleep and raised him up, but still. Shiver.

I am a logical, rational person who realizes the bumps in the night are probably where our house is settling or creaking in the wind and not indications that the house is haunted. Probably.

But the end of the world and possessed, overprotective teddy bears? I can explain that away as shenanigans, too. Eventually. Someday. Maybe not today.

Friday, February 8, 2013


When you survive a bad accident or a life-threatening illness, birthdays change.

The birthdays I've had since 2003 have been emotional for me; when I found out I had cancer another lifetime ago, I wondered how many more I'd see. My goal was five. Five more birthdays. If I could just hang on five more years, I thought, I could see Ainsley start kindergarten. She would be old enough to remember me. And, I reasoned, I'd get to see the final Lord of the Rings movie.

So every birthday I've managed to see since 2008 has been a bonus, really.

I am a woman, though, so eventually that little number that goes up every February 12 has started to bother me. Instead of feeling like, "Yay! I've lived to see another candle on the cake!", it's become more like, "Yay. I've lived to see another candle on the cake." I don't know if you can hear it, but the second version was positively dripping with sarcasm.

This birthday has crept up. January, that horrible month that usually makes time slow to a crawl, was gone before I knew it. Jason's been nagging me since Monday to make some kind of plans and tell him and the kid what I want this year, and I seriously just realized I age up next week. I'm fairly self-absorbed, as I'm sure you've noticed (when you sign up for a Blogger account, checking that box is part of the user agreement), so it's unusual to for me to not be looking ahead to my birthday and purchasing the celebratory champagne and making the dinner reservation a month ahead of time. I really don't care this year.

Except that this is the last 30-something birthday. And if I think on that too long, I care. Deeply. From the bottom of the new wrinkles around my eyes.

The reasons for this, as so much else I don't particularly care about this year, are due in part to coping with the loss of my mom. If I don't care, and don't make a big deal about these first holidays and special occasions without her, maybe it won't hurt so badly.

But with this one milestone, if I don't care, I will actually be doing my mother a disservice. For there is nothing she cared more about than her children's and grandchildren's birthdays.

I don't know why our birthdays were such a big deal to her. As kids, we never had big parties or anything. Her signature gesture, though, was that she surprised us every year with a special gift. Even when I was older, even when I begged her to not spend money on me for my birthday, she couldn't help herself. Birthdays were a time to get her girls some ridiculous gift they would never buy for themselves.

If you have ever complimented me on a purse, or a necklace, or a pair of shoes, chances are the item you liked was a birthday present from my mother, dropped off on my birthday in a beautiful gift bag regardless of whether I was home or not. For Christmas, she generally played it safe and stuck with things we needed. But birthdays were for presents that made you say, "Oh, crap," when you opened the box. Not because you didn't like the gift inside, but because you knew she spent more money than she should have.

And under no circumstances was any birthday to go by without having her over for a piece of bakery cake with butter cream frosting. That part wasn't for us; that was how she celebrated/mourned her daughters or grandchildren getting another year older and reminding her that she was getting older, too.

Toward the end of my days with Mom, on an afternoon in her hospital room where she told me she didn't really think she was going to make it, she said, "I can't believe I won't live to see another birthday."

At the time, I thought she meant her own. But she dreaded her own birthday and hated that she went by a number that did not represent how she looked or how she felt. She lived (and dressed) about two decades younger than she actually was. No, I think she meant that she wouldn't live to see another one of ours. She wouldn't get to surprise us and delight us with something beautiful and meaningful. She wouldn't get to come over for a small piece of cake (because she was watching her weight, of course) and then take a big slab home for later when she didn't need to feel quite so lady-like.

So the moral of the story, I guess, is that I need to suck it up and have a good birthday. I might not love the number, but I should try to love the day. I should celebrate another year that I am on this planet, given that I am pretty damn lucky to still be here. I should buy myself something pretty, something not like me, something I wouldn't ordinarily purchase for my cheapskate self but that I will absolutely love after the sticker shock wears off.

More than anything else, though, I should have a huge piece of chocolate bakery cake with rich icing and lots of flowers.

So, Mom, happy birthday to me. I will miss you, as I do everyday.

But because I know you would want it this way, I will try to make sure I miss you in a new pair of girly shoes.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Someone take my credit card and check book away until swim season is over. Seriously. Thanks.

Uh, oh. It just got serious.

Let's get the bragging out of the way first. The kid qualified for state Junior Olympics in one of her individual events in swimming. For a kid who has been up to this point (and when she ages up next year, will be again) a very middle-of-the-road swimmer who works hard but is not a supernaturally gifted athlete, this has been a very big deal and a very big surprise. Proof that hard work and pure, unadulterated love of a sport can yield at least modest success even among those who were not born superstars. Rudy! Rudy! Rudy! (And all of that.)

When, in a parent meeting at the beginning of the season, her coach told us that his goal was to get each swimmer at least one JO cut, I exchanged a look with Jason. A look that said, "Riiiiiiight." But something magical happened to not only our kid, but most of the girls in that age group on the team--they blossomed. In both obvious physical ways and more subtle ways. They want to win. They want to make finals and time cuts and kick other teams' asses. They went from being adorable little creatures who danced around singing Katy Perry songs on deck waiting for their turn in the water to being ferocious competitors who stretch, jump, slap their muscles, and "get in the zone" while in the line for their heat. There is nothing cute about these girls anymore; the kittens have become tigers.

Tigers who wear "fast suits."

What is a fast suit, you ask? It's a $170 swim suit the cool kids wear this time in the season, a suit that all but guarantees Phelpsian record-setting, but that loses its magic after a mere 30 hours in the water.

So some parents are forking over serious cash to buy a ten-year-old girl a swim suit she will be able to wear for 2-3 swim meets at the end of the season in the hopes she shaves a few hundredths of a second off her best time. And our kid is pretty much the only kid whose parents are abusing her by making her stick with the team suit. Clearly, we don't want our daughter to win. Because we can't afford good beer AND a fast suit. Or we're not willing to spend roughly a week's worth of grocery money on a swim suit, even if it makes the wearer practically poop out 1st-place medals. One of the two.

Her coach told all of the parents that he does not find these suits necessary to young age-group swimmers and that their purchase isn't all that helpful at this stage. But the suits have still spread like the Norwalk virus, infecting swimmer after swimmer.

It started last meet with just a handful of the elite swimmers in that age group, swimmers who regularly make finals and have close finishes for the top 5 spots in any individual event. I could sort of get that. But by the end of that meet, a few more of Ainsley's team mates wore the fast suits after making finals. And by the meet we just wrapped up last night, a "last chance" meet for kids to get time cuts before championship season, everyone was sporting Speedo's best marketing ploy ever.

Everyone save one.

We've had some explaining to do. As team mates zoomed past her and into finals this weekend wearing Fast Skins, we've been asked why we're not bending to the pressure and buying the suit. Because to her, we are the worst swim parents on the planet for not giving her what all the cool kids have.

And I have multiple answers for this:

1. You don't need it. Your coach said so.
2. We are not, and never will be, supportive of your wanting something just because everybody else has it.
3. Swimming is already an expensive sport. Be glad you're even doing it.
4. You have posted some really great times (faster than some of the fast-suit kids) the past two meets with just a normal suit.
5. You have also posted a couple of really not-great times the past two swim meets, and we both know those had nothing to do with what kind of suit you had on.
6. It gives your misfit, independent, stubborn parents a source of pride to see you following your coach's recommendations and actually wearing your team suit in a sea of fast suits and being the little paradoxical non-conformist rule-follower we know your genes want you to be.

I've held strong. But what Ainsley does not know is that I visited the swim shop at the meet this weekend and stood longingly in front of a rack of swim suits that each cost more money than a small Coach handbag. If I'm not willing to buy myself a nice purse, or pair of shoes, or a special-occasion dress that looks like it was designed in this century, why did I pick up the size 28 Fast Skin and consider it for the briefest of seconds? Why would the thought of buying a child a freakishly expensive suit that will outlive its usefulness by the second weekend in March have such a pull over a woman who buys her casual clothes from Target and, when she really feels like splurging, Old Navy? I do not believe in status symbols; if you've ever seen my house, or my car, or even my wedding ring, you know this. So why was I standing there holding a swim suit that would basically be bought for no other purpose than to make my child fit in with the upper echelon, holding it the way Samwise Gamgee once briefly held The Ring, contemplating how one can go from ordinary to extraordinary?

Because my daughter is my "precious". And that kind of devotion makes people do some crazy shit.

I eventually came to my senses and put the suit down and walked away. An hour later I might have gone online and found the same suit at the bargain basement price of $120, and I might even have added that suit to my cart, but I did not buy it. I will not buy it. I am almost completely sure of this.

Just in case, though, I have hidden my credit card and check book. (Not really! Yet.)

I know, deep down, that how Ainsley does at the end of this season is not going to come down to what kind of swim suit she's wearing. It's going to come down to her technique, her focus, her nerves, her drive. How many more cuts she makes or whether or not she makes finals will not, in all likelihood, be decided by mere hundredths of a second. She's just not at that level this year. As badly as this one cut has made me want to see her get more, I have to be realistic that she's a good swimmer, but not Olympics-bound. This needs to be something she does to stay active, have fun, and learn the value of hard work. And she can do all of that wearing her perfectly-fine and well-maintained team suit at meets.

But, um, if any of you find a great deal on a fast suit (and by "great deal" I mean "almost free"), do let me know.