Thursday, December 31, 2009

So long, 2009

The last day of 2009 was capped off in the usual way for us: Michael took Kevin and Joey to work with him (always a treat for the boys to get to go to work with Dad), and then to a local New Year's Eve street fair this evening. Michael contemplated taking Lilah with him and the boys to work today but I talked him out of it. It's one thing for the older boys to occupy themselves with books and video games while Dad gets some work done, but what is a three-year-old going to do with herself? I realized later, though, that I really didn't want him to take her because I'm not ready to be away from her for a whole day. She's been with me every day since she was born; I've never had a day separated from her, and I'm just not ready for it. So she and the twins and Finn stayed home with me and we baked cookies. Much more fun than going to boring old work with Dad!

I've spent the majority of 2009 wishing the year away. Michael was officially diagnosed with cancer early in February, although the likelihood of it became a real fear and possibility in January. And so that nightmare began. Back then, it felt like we were falling, falling, falling into an endless black hole. Fear. Desperation. Shock. Horror. Anger. And then resignation that this is what we were dealing with, and we just had to face it. It feels like we've spent most of the year in survival mode, just trying to get through each day, each week, each month. As recently as a couple months ago, it still felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

And in the midst of all that, Finn had three outpatient procedures in 2009 requiring that we hand him over to a nurse to be carried into an operating room and put under general anesthesia. That was really hard, too.

But here we are. Michael is finished with chemo, although it will take months for him to fully recuperate from it. We reached the light at the end of the tunnel. And Finn is fine, a happy, healthy, growing little boy.

Despite the challenges - the awfulness - of this past year, it hasn't been all bad. The kids have continued to grow and thrive, Michael and I have reinforced the seal of our marriage, friends - real friends - have elicited our utmost gratitude, and hey, we've managed to hold onto our house and pay our bills in the face of a terrible economy and with a sick breadwinner, to boot - when people all over the country are losing their jobs and their homes. So, we have much to be thankful for.

I'm ready for 2010, though. So long, 2009.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas 2009

Christmas was nice. Low key. Being that it was a chemo week (albeit the last one!) Michael hasn't been feeling great the last couple of days. He was asleep early on Christmas Eve while I drank eggnog and rum and cried watching It's a Wonderful Life. After the kids were all asleep, I hauled all the gifts upstairs from the basement and then went to bed. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning in a panic, realizing I forgot to: (a) ditch the Elf who was supposed to fly back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and (b) leave telltale cookie crumbs and milk residue in a glass courtesy of Santa. So I rushed through the house remedying those oversights and went back to bed. The kids were up bright and early, so excited to see that Santa had, in fact, decided to overlook all their transgressions that Mommy kept calling him on the phone about.

We resolved to downsize the mountain of gifts Santa usually leaves under the tree, and discovered that the kids were perfectly happy with three or four gifts each. Everyone seemed happy with their gifts. Michael got me a new video camera - who knew that the latest ones are small enough to fit in a purse? It was a nice surprise; I'm not the easiest person to buy for, as I generally don't have many wants and have a hard time coming up with ideas for things I'd like. I got Michael a mandolin and a new set of pots and pans (he's really gotten into cooking lately). The funny thing is, seven years ago I got him a video camera for Christmas (which is now outdated, apparently) and he got me a new set of pots and pans.

Anyway, after the gift opening extravaganza, we did our traditional big Christmas breakfast. The kids spent the day playing with their new things and we had an early dinner of filet mignon (ala Michael) and cheese fondue (ala moi), followed by chocolate fondue for dessert.

Next year I really want to do Christmas differently - better. I admit that I generally have a hard time getting into the spirit of things, but I'm sure it was made more difficult this year by everything Michael and we have been dealing with. Now that the holiday is over, I feel both relieved and guilty. This is my kids' one shot at childhood, and I feel like I need to do a better job at making the holidays special for them. I didn't even hang their stockings up this year! Not that that's the end of the world, but I know I cut corners all over the place just to get through it.

Next year, I resolve to get all my Christmas shopping done much earlier than I did this year. And get everything wrapped earlier. Decorate the house up. Get the work part of it out of the way as early as possible so we can actually enjoy the season. Get out and see sights and be among people and enjoy, you know?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Today was a big day for our family, and most especially for Michael. It marked the official end of chemo for him! He sat for the IV drip for the last time on Monday, went home with the pump infusing chemo drugs into his PICC line for 48 hours, and today went to his oncologist's office to have the pump disconnected for the last time, and to have his PICC line removed. We made it a family affair because this is so momentous.

This is our beloved Dr. Alexson, and his nurse, Kathie (who each, it so happens, have a child with Down syndrome!). I can't say enough good things about Dr. A and his staff. I am so grateful for how they've taken care of Michael and done everything they can to put our family at ease and give us hope and optimism.

Kathie gets things ready.

This is the PICC line Michael has lived with for the last 10 months.

The big moment; Michael wanted to pull it out himself.

Sandy, another of Dr. A's nurses, Michael, Kathie, and Dr. Alexson


It was pretty emotional. It doesn't seem very long ago that it felt like there was no end in sight, and the truth is, it's been a very difficult road to travel. But here we are, almost to the end. There are still a couple loose ends to tie up, and we are anxious but optimistic about the PET scan Michael will undergo in a few weeks to tell us the status of the cancer. We are, of course, hoping to hear that he is cancer-free.

In the meantime, we are thankful that we've made it this far.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Mother's Body

During a recent discussion among a group of women friends in which a few of us were taking pot-shots at ourselves about our post-baby bodies, one friend in the group passed along this website: The Shape of a Mother. I spent some time reading submissions posted to the site and looking at photographs, and it all just brought me to tears. First, because I think the women shown are beautiful - in body and spirit. And secondly, because it makes me feel sad that I have such a poor self-image.

I am 42 years old. I have given birth to and nursed six children. At 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 128 pounds, I am not overweight. I am actually within the healthy weight for my height and build. And yet, it's the heaviest non-pregnant I've ever been in my life. I sometimes look at photos of myself from 10 and 15 years ago and pine for what I used to look like: thin, lean and angular, flat of stomach. It's so true, that old saying, that youth is wasted on the young. I surely didn't appreciate the body I had then. I didn't even recognize that it was anything anyone might be envious of. It certainly never occurred to me that one day, several years into the future, I would look back at my younger, leaner self, and wish I still looked that way.

The truth is, though, that I spent a good part of my younger life being underweight. It wasn't anything I aspired to or put work into - it's just the way my body wanted to be. I'm probably at a healthier weight now than I was when I was 25.

But now, time and five pregnancies have changed this body forever. There are bulges and rolls where there used to be flat valleys. Certain areas are beginning to head a little southward. I have a pot belly covered with baggy skin from having been stretched out so far, so many times. My abdominal muscles are like pudding and just can't hold it all in anymore.

When I glimpse myself in the mirror, unclothed, I quickly look away. I hide in the bathroom to get dressed or undressed; even my husband doesn't get to see me in the light of day anymore. I feel embarrassed about my body, and mildly contemptuous. Sometimes I wear a Spanx under my clothes to smooth the bulges. Sometimes I fantasize about having plastic surgery - a little liposuction here, a little tuck there, a little lift here.

Why do I do this to myself? If it were a friend saying all these exact things to me, I would say to her, "You're beautiful. Look at all the amazing things your body has done. I am in awe of you." But I know that I am not alone in these feelings. So many of my friends also have poor feelings about their mother-bodies. We lament and make jokes about the stretch marks and saggy boobs and flabby bellies. Why can't we embrace who and what we've become? Why don't we see the beauty in ourselves, in those very marks of motherhood, in what our bodies have accomplished? Why do we feel embarrassed and ashamed?

I have long been of the opinion that pregnant women are truly beautiful. Personally, I have never felt more beautiful, more complete, than when I have been pregnant. The rounder and fuller I grew, the more fulfilled and happy in my own skin I felt. I loved wearing form-fitting clothes when I was pregnant. I was not afraid to bare my belly, and even sat for a revealing photo shoot when I was about six months pregnant with the twins. I treasure those photos, and I love the way I look in them, round and ripe.

I still remember after my first baby was born, taking a shower for the first time after giving birth, and being a little horrified at the shriveled, wrinkled little mound my belly had suddenly become. And I think ever since then I've been struggling with my body self-image - trying to make peace with what my body has become, and mostly failing. How can I love the body that is accomplishing something magical, and hate the body that is left in the wake of the magic?

My husband has told me that to him, a woman isn't really a woman until she becomes a mother. And even as I cringe and shy away when he puts his hand on my belly, he tells me that I'm beautiful. Why can't I see myself through his eyes?

Where does this notion come from, that youth and physical perfection are goals worthy of self-torment? Why do we mothers believe that firmer and harder is better, more beautiful? Can you imagine if we instilled in our children that physical perfection, that holding onto youth, rather than being healthy and happy, are what they should strive for? Wow, that's something to think about, isn't it? Kind of makes you wonder at what point in our lives our priorities change so drastically. I know that it would break my heart to see my daughters develop this sense of self-loathing someday. I want them to believe in their beauty at every age and stage of womanhood.

I am 42 years old and my body isn't what it used to be. But it's done some amazing things, and I would like to learn to take pride in that - in the physical evidence of what this body has accomplished. That is going to be my new year's resolution: to learn to love myself.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Blahs

I think I must take after my dad when it comes to the holidays. "Bah humbug!" he used to say. I know that he was kind of kidding - putting on the Scrooge persona like an old sweater - but also he probably really meant it to some degree.

That's what I feel like: Bah humbug.

What's the holiday season supposed to be about, anyway? I mean, if you're not of the religious persuasion. A season of giving, a season of goodwill, I suppose. And it would be nice to believe that people are nicer this time of year, and that I feel closer to those I'm close to. But those feelings seem to be fleeting; I glimpse moments of goodwill, and that feeling of closeness and connectedness comes in occasional waves.

But for the most part, this time of year boils down to a lot of additional stress.

There's so much pressure to feel a certain way during the holidays - to get into the spirit of the season! There's pressure to provide my kids with memories they will treasure. Oh, and gifts too. There's pressure to come up with a special gift for the hubs - and then the stress of "Will he like it?" There's a lot of guilt, too. I always feel like I'm failing, falling short of what I should be doing for my family this time of year.

I dread shopping, I procrastinate about wrapping, dealing with a tree that little ones won't be able to keep their hands off of feels like a chore, and all that holiday baking? Some years I summon up the energy and motivation to do it, some years I don't. This year I won't. I don't think. I'm still going back and forth on it in my head. If I go ahead with it, it will be one more thing to feel stressed about, and if I don't do it, it will be one more thing to feel guilty about. It's really a no-win dilemma.

It's a week till Christmas, and we have not a single decoration displayed. The holiday decs are all out in the garage and have not been brought in yet. We have lights strung across the front of the house, never having been taken down from last year, but they have yet to be lit this year.

Bah humbug.

I think the reality is that it's just never the same as when you're a kid. When you're a kid, you can just sit back and watch it all happen for you. When you're an adult - a parent - you're the one who has to make it all happen, and it's just not nearly as much fun. And, I think, the holidays tend to magnify people's feelings of loss and isolation, wherever those feelings stem from. For a lot of people, it seems to actually be kind of a sad time of year. I know that I always start feeling a little sad around Thanksgiving, because that's when my dad got sick eleven years ago, and he ended up dying shortly before Christmas that year. So, yeah. Sad.

And then there are the kids. You'd think that with the threat of Santa watching to see who's naughty or nice hanging over their heads they would be magically transformed into little angels this time of year, but it's just not so. Not in our house, anyway. I actually resort to calling Santa on the phone and tattling to him right in front of the kids. It goes something like this:

Me: "Annabelle, help clean up the playroom."
Annabelle: "But I don't WAAAAAAAANNNNNNNT to!"
Me: "Go clean up NOW."
Annabelle: "But it's BOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!"
Me: "Okay, have it your way. I'm calling Santa."

And then I walk over and pick up the phone and fake dial, to all of the kids' horror. Okay, well, not Kevin.

Me: "Umm, Santa? Yes, this is Lisa Morguess. Yes, hi, we're fine, how are you? And the reindeer? Good, glad to hear it. Listen, I'm calling about my daughter, Annabelle. Ummm, she doesn't want to help clean up the playroom. She says it's boring."

Annabelle starts freaking out at this point. It's quite entertaining, this whole cause and effect thing. I feel so powerful!

Me: "Yes. Uh huh. Oh, now she's having a tantrum. Yes. Oh, you want to hear her tantrum? Okay, hold on . . ." (and I hold the phone out to the room, at which point Annabelle is in serious danger of losing her mind.)

I know, I'm probably scarring my kids for life. But really, who am I to deprive them of a reason to seek therapy some day?

So at that point, usually the offending child will comply, but geez. It's a band-aid solution.

I also invested in one of those Elf on the Shelf deals. Have you seen it? It's this little elf doll who is supposed to be in cahoots with Santa. He comes to your house and sits on a shelf and watches the kids to see who's naughty and who's nice, and he flies back to the North Pole each night to give a report to Santa. Each night after the kids are asleep, the parents are supposed to find a new place for the elf to watch from, so when the kids get up in the morning, they have the illusion that he really left during the night and came back and found a new place to watch from. It's a cute idea, but it's so not working in my house. I forget to move the damn thing usually, for one thing. The first morning he appeared on the fireplace mantle in our living room and I explained to the kids that it's a real, honest-to-goodness elf straight from the North Pole, Annabelle ran into her room in hysterics - she was terrified of it. Geez. Anyway, the elf is doing a poor job of keeping my kids in line, and I'm considering booting him out on his duff.

Ahhh, the holidays.

So this weekend we'll get a tree and decorate it. Somehow I will get the Christmas shopping finished and the presents all wrapped between now and next Thursday.

When all is said and done, and the kids' eyes light up on Christmas morning, of course it will all feel like it was worth it, but honestly, I'm usually ready to shut it all down by the end of Christmas day.

Bah humbug.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rest in Peace

So tragic. I'm heartbroken. I didn't know him, but he was a local boy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Missing Person

This is in my neck of the woods, which is why I am taking a special interest in this. Here's some additional information. It's scary, and until some answers come to light (hopefully, ultimately, the safe return of this guy), I am keeping my kids a little closer to me and being a little more cautious myself.

Please keep your eyes open for this young man.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Things My Kids Have Taught Me

I've been thinking about this a lot lately . . . about how naive and unenlightened I was before my children taught me so much about the world and about life. I truly was in the dark about so many things. But among the many gifts my kids have given me, one of the most significant is wisdom.

Here are some profound truths I've learned from my kids:

~ I hardly exist until I am: (a) on the phone, (b) in the bathroom, or (c) trying to put the baby to sleep. These activities result in immediate and desperate need of my attention by at least two screeching children.

~ The number of buttons children push directly correlates with the severity of my PMS.

~ It is against the rules for me to say "No." Ever.

~ Children, on the other hand, are allowed to let "No!" fly around willy-nilly.

~ Twelve-year-olds know everything. I know this because my twelve-year-old's response to everything I say is "I know."

~ Twleve year-olds have attitude. So do three-year olds. Actually, so do five-year olds and seven-year olds. One-year olds are still very sweet and pliant, however.

~ The surest path to complete annihilation of one's self-esteem is to allow one's young children to witness one in a state of undress. They like to point. And laugh. And say things like, "Mommy, you have a BIIIIIIG butt!"

~ Vegetables are to children what kryptonite is to Super Man.

~ Terrible two's? Haa! Three is when it really goes downhill.

~ There is no sound more piercing than the screams of a child thwarted from getting his or her way.

~ Energy knows no bounds when the task at hand is to drag every single toy and book across the house and scatter them across the living room. Cleaning up, however, is far too taxing on a young mind and body.

~ I am here merely to amuse and serve my children. Any goals outside of those pursuits are simply unacceptable.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A little holiday cheer, anyone?

I admit it: I have not felt even the slightest twinge of the proverbial holiday spirit. Too bogged down by everything else going on and really just kind of hoping that if I pretend Christmas isn't just around the corner, maybe it won't actually get here.

But last night was my book club's annual holiday dinner/celebration. Throughout the year, we read and meet to discuss a book a month. But in December, we skip the reading and get together for dinner, drinks, and a book-gift exchange instead. In the past, we've had our little shindig at a local fondue restaurant, but this year, Angela graciously offered (was tricked into?) hosting at her lovely house.

I was very late in arriving, due to bad night vision, which resulted in my not being able to make out any of the addresses on her street, which resulted in my driving up and down the street looking for her house, and then parking my truck and walking up and down the street looking for her house, and finally, getting back in my truck and driving home feeling like a complete L-O-S-E-R. Which resulted in my fab hubby insisting on driving me back over there to find the right house, which he did with no problem, and dropping me off. Sad, huh?

But all's well that ends well. I made it, and the food and company were wonderful, as usual. And I left feeling positively festive! Can I just say that I LOVE my book club? It's been going strong for over six years now, and what a great group of women.

My contribution to the potluck was a batch of these Chocolate Peppermint kisses, which were a big hit. They're meringue cookies and actually a vestige of my childhood; my mother used to make these every Christmas and passed the recipe to me at some point.

Chocolate Peppermint Kisses

2 egg whites
dash salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp finely crushed candy cane
chocolate chips for topping

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Beat egg whites and salt at high speed until stiff. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until very stiff. Fold in vanilla, chocolate chips, and crushed candy cane. Drop teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheets and top each with a chocolate chip. Bake at 250 for 45 minutes.

Makes 3 - 4 dozen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Piano Man

Today Joey performed in his first recital. He was one of about a dozen kids who performed various musical talents at a local cafe. I'm so proud of my little guy!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Floss Nazi

How many people actually floss every day? I'd like to know, I really would. I'd also like to know how many people, like me, lie to their dentist about their flossing habits.

I had a dentist appointment yesterday afternoon. Just a regular cleaning, plus x-rays.

I don't like going to the dentist. Not because I've ever had a traumatic experience, or had to have any major dental work done. I have pretty good teeth. I've had a few cavities in my life, but that's pretty much it.

What makes it so unpleasant for me is the lecturing. And really, it's not even the dentist, it's the hygienist. This one particular hygienist, to be specific, who for some reason has assigned herself my personal hygienist whenever I have an appointment. When I went in yesterday (after rescheduling the appointment a couple of times, hoping, I think, that maybe they would just forget about me and I wouldn't have to go in), I kept thinking to myself, "Please don't let it be so-and-so, please don't let it be her . . ." I don't even know her name, but she's this BIG Hawaiian woman. She takes her job very seriously, and is forever on my case about good flossing habits.

Okay, here's the truth: I do floss every day! Ummmm, every day when I know I have a dental appointment coming up in two or three days, that is. I know you're supposed to floss every single day of your life. Not only that, but I'm apparently supposed to be flossing my kids' teeth too! (Teeth-brushing time at our house is, to put it mildly, nobody's favorite time of day. I cannot imagine attempting to add the torture of flossing their teeth to the already hellish routine.) Anyhow, I digress. I know I'm supposed to floss my teeth every day. But I don't. I'm a good brusher - that I don't skimp on. But flossing? Oh, the tedium. And really, what's it all for? I mean, realistically? Because, let me tell you, the hygienist yesterday was convinced that I have actually been doing a much better job flossing one particular quadrant of my mouth! "Oh, I can tell you've been flossing really well over here!" she exclaimed. (In truth, I haven't flossed any of the quadrants in my mouth until yesterday right before my appointment, so she's totally lost credibility with me.)

She went over my teeth and gums with a fine-toothed comb, all the while lecturing me about the need to floss better, every day. I lied and told her that I do floss every day. She quizzed me on what kind of floss I use, and my flossing technique (was she trying to catch me in a lie?).

Like I said, I've had a few cavities in my life, but that's it. None of the cavities I've ever had have been between my teeth. I don't have gum disease. I've never had a root canal or anything like that. So what's her beef?

She goes into this whole thing about how we have to keep our gums healthy because studies have shown that they are ports of entry for bacteria which can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other ailments. She talked to me about "whole body health."

Okay, here's the thing. Did I mention that this woman is BIG? I'm not being mean here, but the truth is, she is easily 100 pounds overweight. And she's lecturing me about heart disease and whole body health? Really?


No cavities yesterday. When the dentist came in to look me over, all he said was, "Everything looks good, we'll see you next time."

The hygienist handed me the usual parting gift: a bag with a new toothbrush and not one, but two, boxes of floss.

I tossed the floss when I got home. Just to spite her.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009