Saturday, October 31, 2009

how we celebrate

I love Halloween dearly. At the beginning of October, feeling sassy, I committed to sewing pirate costumes for the Sober Husband and for myself and a mermaid costume for Lola (Iris opted to get a shark costume online, to which she glued cards to make herself a card shark). Once you've dropped a couple of hundred dollars on fabric, you feel committed (and also the children are then held to their choices. Lola made noises, as always, about changing her costume, but I held firm, with yards of three kinds of sparkly green fabric already cut). Feeling admirably ahead of schedule Halloween-wise, I also committed to Iris's tenth birthday party, a Halloween-themed slumber party (which is raging on in the next room as I write; I think I got about four hours sleep. A terrified Henry, normally a cat who spurns my affections, is sticking by my side resolutely, determined to use me for protection). And, if that weren't enough, I signed up to do a craft with the first graders at their Halloween party.

Then I came down with meningitis, meaning I spent much of the month in agonizing pain, motionless. By the time I felt well enough to sew, I had only one week left before Halloween, and that week included Iris's party and Lola's school party (for which I had to buy the craft supplies and prep the craft activity for 57 first graders). I spent the last week as the sole employee in a Halloween sweatshop, sewing from morning until late in the evening.

Lola's highly tailored mermaid costume took me three days to make. It should have been two days, but it turned out too small. Lola couldn't zip the zipper up, and the waistband gaped, unfastenable. I had a meltdown, which reminded all onlookers of the more infantile designers on "Project Runway." It felt so unjust to me, because I had measured Lola and I had adapted the pattern to suit her measurements, taping extra pattern paper to the pieces and using my giant quilting ruler to draft my own pieces. I had finished the sewing while Lola was at first grade, however, so I wasn't able to fit the piece on my model before completing it. "I MEASURED her," I said childishly, railing at the injustice of the world. "I can't help it if I have to sew while she's at school; I'll never get it done!" Lola went back to playing on Club Penguin with equanimity, but Iris uber Alles and the Sober Husband tiptoed about. In a measured rage, I hacked off the beautiful long waistband, intended to be figure-fitting and hugging much of the torso, and improvised a simpler waistband. "Make it work!" said the Sober Husband. I glared at him.

By late Thursday night I had finished the costumes, after an intense six days of sewing. I didn't have time to help decorate the house, instead asking the Sober Husband and children to get out the box of decorations and put them up while I sewed. The casualty this year was the jack-o'lanterns and also a luminaria project I'd intended (I saved up a large number of milk jugs to decorate, which are languishing in my closet). I did buy a smaller number of pumpkins, which were themselves smaller (budgetary issues as well as time issues), which are going to get carved today, on Halloween itself, hopefully. Poor Lola has been asking plaintively for days, "When will we carve the pumpkins?" "When Mommy is done sewing."

If only I hadn't had meningitis. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

holes in our heads

Last week when I was at the ER, I took out the piece of tribal-looking pearl jewelry I wear in my nose for the CAT-scan. I couldn't remove the little ring I wear in my tragus (the little flap of cartilage in the center front of your ear) and the nurse couldn't get that off, either, so I just went through the CAT-scan with that in, and evidently it didn't prevent the CAT-scan from working. A couple of times over the next few days I tried to put the pearl back in my nose with no luck; I was so miserable and stupid with pain and painkillers that I couldn't manage it. Nearly a week later I tried again and realized that my nose piercing had partially healed over already and it was just going to heal up more if I didn't get something back in it, and in a moronic moment, I forcibly re-pierced it myself, at home, under less than antiseptic conditions, because that seemed easier than driving over to Haight Street to have it done by a trained professional. Luckily for me there were no bad consequences other than more pain for a day; I was kicking myself mentally, as the last thing I need is a fresh new infection somewhere on my head.

Tomorrow I'm taking just-turned-seven Lola to have her ears pierced, Lola having promised that she will disinfect her ears dutifully and not fuss if she loses an earring. She has been nagging me for some time to get her ears pierced, and she's planning to rehearse tonight how she will sit still and hold her mother's hand. The Sober Husband is opposed to all sorts of voluntary needle usage, from piercing to vaccinations, and he will be safely ensconced far away at the office during this procedure to spare his delicate sensibilities. Indeed when I had my nose and tragus repierced after turning 40, he was distinctly pissed. Back in the day I was one of the Modern Primitive pioneers, getting various piercings from the Grand Master himself, Jim Ward, in assorted sordid basements before piercing became legal and regulated, but over the years of lawyering, I allowed virtually all of those piercings to heal up. After turning 40 and realizing that I have a lot of freedom now that I'm no longer an attorney, I got a few of those repierced, which made me happy. I felt younger looking in the mirror, and I was willing to put up with some marital wrath. The Sober Husband fought in vain to get me to take these piercings out, going so far as to cut me off sexually for a while. When he admitted he was doing that, I wasn't angry. I laughed uproariously. "YOU are cutting ME off?" He wasn't able to maintain that position for long.

Despite their father's shudderings, the children are more interested in following their ornamented mother's path than their father's more utilitarian one. My own father was deeply opposed to all forms of piercing, forbidding me to have my own ears pierced when I was young. It wasn't until I was 18 and a legal adult that I could even get my ears pierced at all. My father's argument was "you might as well put a bone in your nose; it's just as barbaric", and to some extent, I suppose he was right. A pearl is not a bone, but tribal-looking is not far from barbaric.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

another entry in the "this is going to come up in therapy" bad parenting files

So I've had a problem for a couple of years, which is that my Iris uber Alles, currently in the fourth grade, is scarily advanced academically and bored and underchallenged most of the time by her schoolwork. When Lola began school, she was also ahead of grade level, to the point where it seemed ludicrous. Last year when I went by the kindergarten, I would see some perfectly written, perfectly spelled, punctuated paper hanging up amongst all the regular kindergarten work. Amidst all the "i lov mi dg" sort of things, there would be something by Lola, saying "I wish everyone was a vegetarian" or "I would not like 100 Irises."

It is so tedious when parents of smart kids go on and on about how smart their children are, and I'll spare you. I hate hearing that kind of self-serving bragging, too. But the children's lack of challenges and boredom at their elite private school (I learned today that one of the gubernatorial candidates sends her child to this school) is currently my top problem as a parent. Iris has lost her natural curiosity and love for mathematics; Lola is upset with the sight words she is supposed to be learning (this is a child whose sight words include "crescent" and "vegan", and she's being sent home flashcards with "the" and "to" on them).

Iris's teachers do try to give her extra challenges, but there is so much they can individuate the work for a particular child. Each child in the classroom has parents who are paying top dollar for that child to get special attention, and there is so much a teacher can do for Iris (even when, as last year, she really was the teachers' special darling) as she needs to also be meeting the needs of all the other people's little angels.

As part of my dealing with this situation, I went down to tour a school for the gifted down the peninsula. Many people thought I was insane for even looking at this school, and I had a lot of qualms. I had met some parents from this school before who were pretty hellish, and I hated the idea of labeling my children as "gifted." I'd done some research on gifted children, and it seems pretty clear putting that label on them can have some terrible consequences later in life. I was disarmed when I said this to the admissions director, who told me that she'd had some issues with the label as well. And then I toured the middle school, and I fell madly in love. In one room, they were studying the Holocaust. In the next, Japanese. In another room, they were studying chocolate, and this struck me as the most fascinating. The children were looking at the packaging and asking, "What is the company trying to tell us with this wrapper?" They were looking at the history, geography, and agriculture behind the chocolate. They were considering the social justice aspect: they remarked to the touring parents that the cacao bean pickers were horribly underpaid but that some chocolate growers are now paying a fair wage. It wasn't just the workers' point of view that concerned them, though; they had also watched a videotape of an entrepreneur explaining how difficult it is to start a chocolate company. And finally, they were eating a lot of chocolate. I was enthralled. Also, the parent volunteers accompanying the tour were all delightfully normal and friendly. I felt besotted with the school.

Of course this school is significantly more expensive than the children's current school, and of course I am determined to apply for them. And here we enter the annals of crappy parenting: this school screens its applicants with an IQ test. Children must have an IQ of at least 130 to be considered for admission. I have signed my children up for IQ testing next month. My nightmare is that one tests over 130 and one falls short (I shared that fear with my friend Joyce, who told me how funny it was that she and her brother had exactly the same IQ, so coincidental!, and then she realized that obviously her mother must have been lying about that to spare one's feelings and to diminish sibling rivalry. Joyce resolved on the spot, laughing, to call her mother about the IQs).

What if one of them has a bad day? I don't think I myself would score 130 or better. It seems ridiculous to have a big decision riding upon the outcome of a two hour test (I note that scoring 130+ only gets them the right to complete the application process; it is no guarantee of a space in the school). I feel very queasy about this whole IQ test thing, but yet I have signed them up for it, and they are eager to go. I would have just called it "meeting with a teacher" or something, but the Sober Husband, believing in full disclosure, spelled it all out in vivid detail. "And if you fail, that means for the rest of your life.." he launched merrily, and I cut him off sharply before he could finish his thought. "Don't talk to them that way!"

Many a person has suggested to me that I solve my problem by home schooling, but that is no solution, in my opinion. If I were to home school those children, they would major in computer games and minor in sibling rivalry. Also, they have friends and really enjoy spending time with other children out of the home. I just need them to get more challenging work and try not to create too long a list of Things They Will Need To Discuss In Therapy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

but still pretty stupid

Since I finally went to the hospital, I've been on narcotics. This is highly satisfactory to me; it takes my quasi-unbearable headache and brings it down from being the only thing going on in my life to background noise. I can read (although I feel too stupid to read a new book; I'm rereading old books I love, which is a much better pastime when you are sick). I can play a little Warcraft with the sound down or off. But the medications don't exactly bolster my IQ. Yesterday I couldn't manage how to put my pearl nose screw back in (I took it out for the cat scan). After some ineffectual jabbing with it, I decided to leave the problem for another day.

Meanwhile, the husband is talking to me as though I had a functioning brain. I pointed out to him a message I got with a doctor recommendation, and he starts haranguing me about what is my meaning. "Why are you presenting me with this information?" Umm, maybe because you spent a whole day allegedly trying to find a new doctor for me? At one point, when I was half-asleep, he snapped the voter information brochure at me quite firmly. "There's an election coming up, and I don't know anything about it." He affixed me with a bit of a glare. (In the division of marital duties, it is my job to research all elections and provide a suggested How To Vote guide).

I feel a little more at home conversing with Ray Charles, my weird little cat. He gives forth with a long and whiny mmmmmmmmmrrrrrrrrooow, and I say, "Baby!" We go back and forth like that for some time: mmmmrrow "Baby!" meeeeeeowwwww "Baby!: mmmmmmyowwww "Baby!"

Meanwhile everyone in the family was very well impressed by all the lectures we received about how I should have been taken to the hospital sooner. As a result, everyone is continually asking me all the time if I need to go to the hospital. Especially if I make the mistake of complaining abut the pain, we're bound for a big round of "Are You Sure You Don't Want to Go To The Hospital?" It's much easier just to stay with Ray Charles. Mmmmrrrrrrrroooow. "Baby!"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

not quite as much of an idiot as I was all week

Yesterday, after spending hours vomiting in pain, I threw my antique cowbell across the room to attract the Sober Husband's attention. When he came within reach, I grasped his arm and said, "Take me to the hospital. NOW."

We stayed at the UCSF emergency room from the early evening until about 2 A.M. It was the best night within memory. I got a CAT scan, which showed no anomalies, and prescriptions for compazine, vicodin, and industrial strength ibuprofen. I felt a little bit better as each hour went by, as I was plugged into an IV and not just sugar water was pouring into my veins; my IV was heavily spiked with narcotics. I went in with a pain level of 10 out of 10 (like giving birth naturally to 9 pound Lola) and came out with a pain level of 4 out of 10 (like the time I had a bicycle accident and broke a couple of bones).

The nurses were all very kind and warm and kept lecturing me over and over again to go to the hospital, to go to the hospital, to go to the hospital IMMEDIATELY the next time. I lectured the Sober Husband as well later. "Next time make me go to the hospital! Right away!"

At the hospital the nurses gave Iris and Lola unending cups of juice and a couple of popsicles apiece. Iris's only disappointment was that she wasn't able to go to my cat scan and experiment with bits of metal. Since they didn't get to bed until about 2 AM, they were allowed to stay home from school today and rest. Their main source of amusement has been that when their sickly mother dozes on the couch, her cat, Ray Charles, keeps pressing his butt firmly on the side of her face.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

a week of hell

Last week, on Tuesday morning, a powerful headache took control of me, and it hasn't gone away. Yesterday I spent much of the day vomiting from pain. I haven't left my house since last Friday, and then I felt too unwell from the pain to drive.

It's another bout of aseptic meningitis. I haven't had one since 1996, and I thought it was over for good. I have a rare syndrome where I have repeated episodes of aseptic meningitis. A neurologist once confided in me he was going to write a medical journal article about me, saying he thought I was setting a record for this syndrome of Most Meningitises Ever, yay me; I wonder if he ever did. For the worst episode, I was hospitalized for a week. During other episodes, I was hospitalized for a night. This time, however, I have no doctor, and so I'm getting through the whole thing with only over-the-counter generic Motrin. In the wee hours of Monday, I actually felt like killing myself to put myself out of my own misery, but my head hurt too badly for me to actually do anything involving leaving my bed (and every time I changed positions, the pain was agonizing).

Today I still feel like hell; it particularly hurts behind my eyeballs, but compared to yesterday, I seem to be on the mend. The Sober Husband pulled my "meningitis FAQ" out of the files (a list of all the times I had meningitis, all the places I was hospitalized, etc..) and was working the phones today to try to get me in with a doctor, with no luck. (I tried out one doctor already since my dear Dr. Scott moved to Kaiser Oakland, but I don't want to see him again, and a friend's recommendation isn't accepting new patients, etc.., etc..).

In the middle of this, I had to pull it together for Lola's birthday party. As soon as the last guest left, I immediately went back to bed, skipping dinner. Lola's party went perfectly, and I don't think anyone noticed me continually chugging Motrins. That was difficult, but not the hardest thing I've done during these episodes.

I actually passed the California State Bar at the end of a meningitis episode. I got special permission from the Bar to bring my prescription painkillers to the bar exam (I had a doctor back then to write me prescriptions). I was doped to the gills on painkillers, but I squeaked through. I wanted to postpone it, assuming I wouldn't pass with all the painkillers and the, you know, actual pain, which doesn't help one's thinking, but the law firm I was joining took a dim view of that. I was told that it would look better for me to fail the bar than to fail to take the bar, which would make me look like a flake, whatever medical excuse I had.

If you live in San Francisco and have a competent physician, please leave me a recommendation in the comments. I promise I will be more entertaining to you as soon as this awful fucking headache goes away.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

crazy cat lady behavior: genetic?

My mother spoke to Iris on the phone today and asked her, "How many cats do you have now?"


My mother was not impressed. "I have that many just sitting by me!"

Thursday, October 01, 2009

gone but not forgotten

I like to screen phone calls in general, thus avoiding many an annoyance, but the other day, for no reason, the phone was ringing off the hook. Out of laziness, I took to carrying a cordless phone around with me and actually answering the phone, so I wouldn't have to trot upstairs and turn off the answering machine each time I screened a call. Thus I was taken off guard when John, the new owner of my faithless ex-cat, Bob Marley, called.

"I wanted to talk to you about Bob's knee," said John. "His knee is bothering him, and I wanted to know if you know a feline joint specialist."

John went on and on and on, describing Bob's knee issues. Evidently Bob dislikes having his knee palpated but when it is manipulated in various ways, it appears not to hurt him. It all sounded confusing, and I was recoiling silently in horror at the anticipated cost of it all.

I observed to John that Bob must be at least 18 years old and has been morbidly obese for at least ten of those years and so some wear and tear on the old joints must be expected. John went into denial, asserting that Bob couldn't possibly be that old and wasn't that fat. I could relate to John's defensiveness: I used to be humiliated when Bob lived with me, as people used to walk by and say, "Oh my, that cat is going to have kittens at any minute." "Actually, he's been neutered," I'd say defensively. You just can't control the weight of a feline bon vivant, as there are no end of neighbors keeping canned food about for his delectation when he visits.

During this long, long phone call, I was determined not to commit to paying for a joint specialist for a cat who hasn't lived with me in years. Coldblooded as that may be, I've moved on; I have my own newer cats to pay for.

We danced around the topic gingerly, one determined not to pay and the other one hinting but not asking out right, and then John took an unexpected tack which seemed rather passive aggressive to me. He urged me to give him a bill for my expenses for the years I'd had Bob, because he was now having all the enjoyment of Bob. "Oh, no, no," I demurred. "But you had his adoption fee," pressed John. "Send me a bill!" I think I was supposed to say, "Oh, no, YOU send ME a bill", but I just got off the phone, urging John to give Bob a hug for me. "Oh, I will," said John a bit smugly. "We enjoy him so much over here."