Her Bad Mother

Thursday, October 23, 2008

He's A Cowboy, On A Swedish Moose He Rides

Why it's generally a good idea to think twice before saying to my husband, oh, hey, maybe you could play with the baby while I go take a shower/a nap/Ativan:


If you could continue to spread the word about this, it'd be much appreciated. My sister needs to raise a minimum of $1,200 in order to do the 'Run For Our Sons,' and every penny goes to Duchenne's research, so. I know that there are a lot of causes out there that need your dollars, so no pressure - a Tweet or a link spreading the word is just as helpful as a donation. Thanks ever much.

And speaking of other causes... THIS supports a good cause but does not require running or engaging in any other activity that causes one to produce sweat. I'm going to try to go - if you're in the Toronto area, you should go, too. Because pampering is good. (Also? if you go HERE and leave a comment before 5pm tomorrow, you could get one of two free passes. Which is worth about $175 in swag alone, so, you know, you should totally go for it.) (Not least because there are only, like two comments there right now, which means that that swag bag of cool goodies and afternoon of mani-pedis could totally be yours. What are you waiting for?)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sings The Tune Without The Words

It's been four years since my nephew, Tanner, was diagnosed with the condition that will kill him. During that time - which moved slowly at first, the disease not seeming to have taken hold in his little body, until he began growing faster, and it began its ceaseless attack on his muscles, crippling them and consuming them as the rest of his body grew - I never once saw my sister, his mother, cry. I knew that she did cry, of course, when the children weren't looking, when she didn't need to maintain a front of fierce composure, but her tears never spilled where anyone could see them. She was scrupulous about that. Tanner needed her to be strong, and so she was strong.

I wasn't prepared, then, when she broke down in front of me last month, after we'd spent a week at the bedside of her eldest son, Zachary, as he lay hospitalized - tubed and wired and monitored against the infection that was attacking his spinal cord and nervous system - a week that we'd spent clutching hands and holding each other and her patting my back whenever my eyes welled up with tears: it's okay, Cath, she'd whisper. Here, let me take Jasper if you need to leave the room. She hadn't cried - although I felt her grief like an electric current, like a surge of energy that lashed out in so many broken wires, snapping and hissing, every time the doctors refused to give a prognosis, every time his father, her ex-husband, called and said that he couldn't visit until very late, every time he flinched from pain, every time we left his room - she hadn't cried, until we were many miles away from his bedside, and when the moment came, it surprised me.

I'd accompanied her to her doctor, to get some forms signed that would allow her to take yet another compassionate leave from work, so that she could attend to the business of watching over one sick son - too many miles from home, at the hospital for sick children - while making sure that the other son, the dying son, and the daughter, were cared for. He asked her how she was holding up, she told me as she walked out of his office. He asked her, and she burst into tears. The tears were still streaming down her face.

We were silent as we collapsed Jasper's stroller and loaded it into the minivan, in the back, where Tanner's wheelchair sits on the lift that was specially installed so that Chrissie could drive him around, so that he could go to school and to swimming and on errands with his mom, just like a regular boy. She didn't say another word until we were in the front seats, her keys in the ignition. I feel like I've been raped, she said, the tears still streaming. I feel like I've been raped and beaten. It hurts that bad. She put her head on the steering wheel.

I told the doctor, sitting at Zach's bedside, watching him, worrying that he would die, it was too much hurt, she said, not lifting her head. I told him I feel like that this was a dress rehearsal, like I was practicing for sitting by Tanner when the time comes, except that I won't be hoping he won't die, like with Zach, I'll be knowing that he will die, knowing that he won't leave the hospital, ever.

Her hands gripped the steering wheel, her knuckles white, her head still down as her body shuddered, sobbing. I put my hand on her heaving back; I stroked her long hair. I didn't say anything. I didn't have any words for her.

I didn't have any words for her, because there are no words. There's no lesson to be pulled from her experience, no philosophy to apply, no narrative that will make things better. This story already has its narrative, and although it's tempting to impose philosophies and draw lessons - how precious life is, how precious love, how fragile the former, how enduring the latter - these are meaningless against the impending conclusion of this story, the loss that looms not like storm clouds but like a great, gaping black maw, a black hole of nothingness. There is only the inevitable conclusion of this story, and its finality. If it holds a poetry it is a wordless poetry, a song without lyrics that strums the distance between love and loss, light and dark. If it holds this poetry, it is well beyond my grasp to seize it. I can only witness, mute.

I have no words. I have nothing to give to my sister, only love, which is everything, I know, but still - it's nothing in the face of so much pain. And so we can only march, together, bound by love, bound by pain, struggling with these and against these bonds to wring as much love-beauty-joy from the journey, while it lasts.

I can do one thing with my words, though: I can ask others for help. Chrissie will be running, in a few months, in a marathon to raise money for Duchenne's research. There's no cure for Duchenne's, but there's always hope, and Chrissie is running, as always, for this hope. With my words, I can cheer her on, and I can ask others to cheer, and to help by cheering and to cheer by helping.

You can donate in Tanner's name here. It probably won't change the ending to this story, but it will help the narrative maintain a recurring theme of hope. And that, right now, is all.

(I'm closing comments. Please use whatever energy you might have spent sending your love and good wishes and use it to pass this story along, or, maybe, to click the link and give a dollar or two in Tanner's name. Thank you, as always. Thank you thank you thank you.)

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Hold The Mustard

I don't know at what point I realized that I was doomed to one of the worst public humiliations of my parenting experience, but it might have been when the elderly lady walked in on Jasper and I in the ladies' restroom at our local Kelsey's restaurant and noticed a) his nakedness, b) the slick of mustard poo coating that nakedness, c) the slick of mustard poo coating me, and d) the slick of mustard poo coating every visible surface in the room, and then, without a word, turned on her heel and walked back out again.

We hadn't planned to go out to dinner Saturday night. But we'd ended up driving out to the countryside to visit friends and hadn't planned for dinner and so had hatched the ill-conceived plan to just stop on the way home so that Emilia might fall asleep in the car afterwards. It occurred to me at some point that our car-stash of diapers and pull-up pants and wipes was low, but I reasoned that Emilia would use the toilet at the restaurant - she's been using the toilet fairly reliably - and that we could make it through the evening with just a spare pull-up and no wipes. I forgot that we also had a baby, and that at five months old, he's unable to use the toilet and, you know, control his bowel movements.

We'd been at the restaurant for about twenty minutes when Jasper started to fuss.

"He probably needs a change," I said. I did a mental calculation of baby supplies on hand. Zero. "You're going to have to go out to the car," I told my husband. "There should be a diaper in the backseat." I figured that I might have a wipe or two in a crumpled-up travel pack of no-name wipes in my bag. I didn't bother to check.

So it was that five minutes later I was in the ladies' restroom with a baby in need of a change and only one diaper, no change of clothes, and one or two dessicated wipes. Which wouldn't have been a problem, necessarily, if said baby wasn't loaded from stem to stern with - how to put this? - a shitload of effluent that had just begun leaking through his clothes.

Leaking through his clothes and onto mine.

Leaking through his clothes and onto my clothes and onto the floor.

Leaking through his clothes and onto my clothes and onto the floor and onto my feet.

Mustard poo, as any new parent knows, does not, strictly speaking, smell like poo. It has a sort of cloying, sweet organic smell, like the smell of dead roses, or of rotting fruit, or wet hay, with a bit of a sharp, mustardy edge to it. I had a lot of time to think about this as I wrestled my fat, naked, poo-slicked baby in the ladies' restroom of the Bowmanville Kelsey's. I had a lot of time to think about this, because it is very, very difficult to clean a poo-slicked baby in a public restroom with only one wipe. Actually, it is very nearly impossible to clean a poo-slicked baby in a public restroom with only one wipe. Which is why I spent close to half an hour just standing around in my poo-stained shirt, holding the naked poo-slicked baby and a clutch of paper towels and wondering what the f*** I was supposed to do, during which time the elderly woman wandered into the restroom, correctly assessed the situation as off-putting to one's dinner, and exited immediately.

I needed to act. I knew that if I took much longer, one of a number of things was going to happen: 1) someone else would come in wanting to use the restroom, which by this point looked like the set of one of those alien movies where aliens get slaughtered and splatter gummy yellow effluent over every surface, 2) my husband would send the server - who was maybe twenty-years old and prone to responding to every request with a giggle and 'okay, awesome!' - in to find me, which would contribute nothing but nervous tittering and an added element of spectacle to the scene, 3) Jasper would release another blast of poo and I would burst into tears, or 4) all of the above.

So, gripping Jasper under one arm, I filled the sink with soap and water, dipped him butt-first into the bubbles and scrubbed at him with paper towels. Then I threw paper towels over the change table, three or four layers thick, for later wiping, and shoved some more paper towels against my poo-smeared chest so that Jasper wouldn't get re-smeared when I held him against me. Then - still one-arming it - I pulled the clean diaper onto him, and his wee cardigan, which had mercifully escaped being shat upon. I contemplated tossing his clothes into the wastebasket, but decided that that would just prolong the smell, and so I wrapped them in more paper towels and then - holding Jasper an inch from my damp, decoupaged chest and summoning every ounce of dignity I could muster - marched back through the restaurant to my husband.

"Take him," I said, "and get the waitress to bring a plastic bag for this." I dumped the paper-towel wrapped package of poo-soaked clothing on my chair, grabbed my own cardigan, and walked back the restroom, where I stripped off my reeking, soaking shirt and shoved in the wastebasket. Then, clad only in my bra, I scrubbed myself down - myself and all the other surfaces slicked with poo - before zipping my cardigan over my more-or-less naked but also more-or-less shit-free chest and heading back out into the restaurant and to my family: Jasper now clean and settled back in his carseat, my husband holding out a large glass of red wine for me, and my daughter grinning madly over a plate of mini-hamburgers.

And clutching a big squeeze-bottle of mustard.

If we never go out for dinner again it will be too soon.

If you have a worse poo story, I'd like to hear it. Also, I'd like to know if I'm the only parent who regularly finds herself short of supplies at critical moments, because a former grad-school colleague just messaged me saying 'good story, but when I'm a parent I'm going to keep a package of diapers in the car' and I was all, like, 'ha ha good luck with that' until I realized that maybe my particular form of slacker parenting is not the norm and that, perhaps, I should be deeply embarrassed about my general ineptitude. Yes/no?

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