Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010, huh?

I have to say I'm a little disappointed. It's 2010 and there are no flying cars, transport machines, faster than light travel, and we haven't contacted any other lifeforms from outer space (although, one might have just moved in down the street from me. MIB is looking into it.) I was hoping that technology would have progressed a little more than super small music players and extra large televisions, but I'm not a scientist, so what would I really know? Maybe all these things are already out there and they are just restricted by The Man or something. If so, Let Them Free! If not, get on it guys! I want to move to a new planet with longer years and less gravity so I can be young and skinny again!

Anyway, I really would like to see some progression in the new year. Politically (and I never discuss politics) things have been a little up and down. Our country is led by someone new and different and his entire staff is new and different, too. (Okay, they aren't entirely new, but you have to agree that they are different.) I won't say if I agree or disagree with the way things are going. That would hint at who I voted for and I haven't even told my husband that. I will say that I hope whatever changes are made create a better place for us to live, and maybe eventually work in. While I'm at it, I hope to actually work for a change.

We lost a lot of really big names this year, especially in the last few months. These young celebrities will have some big shoes to fill. Can you imagine anyone even trying to duplicate the infamy of Michael Jackson? He was so much more than the owner of a trained chimp and the father of mysteriously begotten (but never really seen) children. There are very few models who will ever be as well known as the incredibly beautiful Farah Fawcett. What a tragic end to a sparkling woman. And, what man today can be just as sexy in tight jeans as he is an a silk pantsuit and pearl necklace? Patrick Swayze, you are already dearly missed! (I have a sudden inspiration to take up ball room dancing and cross dressing, now.) I hope that the next round of starlets have the proper respect and understand just what they should aspire to become.

Personally this was a big year for me. I will have more W-2's coming this year than ever before! I have broken my previous record for the amount of fees paid to my banking institution. I have learned 63 different ways to re-prepare leftovers. I have even brushed up on my math skills while trying to calculate just how many miles I can get from $2.33 worth of gas. Over the last 12 months, I have lost (and then gained) more pounds than I really care to count (but I'm sure there was a record broken somewhere in there.) I have donated more pounds of clutter than I bothered to count (I can only tell you it was roughly enough to fill up my entire garage.) The first silver streak appeared in my hair (no, not a strand - a STREAK.) I joined Facebook and started my first Blog. (Thank you, my loyal readers. Both of you.) And I finally, after all these years got my nipples pierced. (okay, that last part isn't true, but I almost did it. Really.)

My family has had a pretty major year, too. Little Heart had a heart cath early in the year and has moved one step closer to becoming the bionic child with two stints in placed in her aorta. (no electric or moving machine parts, yet, but I have a lead on a scientist and his experimental nanobots!) She also managed to break the same arm as she did three years ago, but in a completely different place, and she decided to to it on Christmas instead of Thanksgiving! (She's so considerate, that one,) Tiny Dancer got to be a real ballerina (even if only for a little while.) She lost her first two teeth (two days apart) and managed to lose every penny of the Tooth Fairy money before spending a dime. Evil Genius has made it through an entire semester without cold-cocking her locker mate (we are very proud.) She has also perfected her Evil Genius Theme Song. (it's a cross between Darth Vader's theme and the opening tune to Mickey Mouse Club House.) She also lost her first tooth (much to the shame of TD.) Dear Hubby got to build his very own Man Cave in the garage (I am working on the window trimmings as we speak.) My own mother got remarried and moved out of state. Sister #1 moved IN state. Sister #2 had a baby, again. Sister #3 found a boyfriend who holds a regular job. Brother...well, he just IS, but at least I got to see him this year! Even my father got a car of his own and has been a regular socialite visiting all his kids and grand kids and helping everybody out. (Okay, it's mostly me, but but I can't help but be a little stingy with him. He cooks CHICKEN STEW from scratch for me!) Even my dog  had a major surgery during the year (you have never seen anything as, I mean, sad, than a large, black, frolicking, dog on painkillers.)

With the whirlwind that has been 2009, I would like things to settle down a bit during the next year. You know, stabilize a little. I have been trying so hard to keep up with everything and everybody that I am just out of breath. I don't want to party this New Years Eve. I want to SLEEP!

I would make some New Year's Resolutions, but they never seem to work out for me. The one year, I decided to go back to school, I spent mostly in my kids school having parent/teacher conferences. Whenever I vow to lose 20 pounds, the only thing I lose is 20 pounds of clothes that are too small for me. Making those mushy resolutions are no help either. Love more, cry less, be a better person, hope for peace...yadda, yadda, yadda. None of those can actually be MEASURED. I want to know, for sure, that I have completely destroyed any hope of achieving my goals by February, not just "hope."

So, this year I am going to make reasonable goals that I might actually achieve. Here's what I have come up with:

1) Clean my toilet. (seriously, who wants to wake up and realize they haven't done THAT in a year.)
2) Buy a lottery ticket. (you can't win if you don't play!)
3) Eat cake on my birthday. (you might laugh, but you just don't know the PAIN of a cake-less birthday)
4) Find the bottom of my laundry basket (I doubt the clothes will actually get cleaned, but I haven't seen it in such a long time...maybe I'll just move them around a bit...)
5) I wanted to come up with something REALLY cool for #5, but I can't so I'll just resolve to do #3 twice. (Does that still count?)

Here are a few things I resolve NOT to do:
1) Spend more time looking at stupid cat pictures than writing.
2) Consume more calories in ice cream or wine than in vegetables. (notice, I said OR, not AND.)
3) Answer the door in my PJ's (unless he is really cute and so are my PJ's.)
4) Drive around lost for more than 30 minutes without calling someone to figure out where I am.
5) Embarrass my kids in public my singing Britney Spears songs at high volume while imitating the "Oops I did it again!" dance from the video. (that is such a hard habit to break...)

So here's to a new year, and maybe a new pair of shoes...I'm thinking some leopard print kitten heels, because that would be sooooo ironic.

Should I feel guilty?

I found out today that a teacher of mine from high school passed away. Of course, I feel sad, because I always feel sad when someone I know dies. The uncomfortable part is that, well, I didn't really like her all that much. I don't like to speak ill of the dead. It just isn't proper or polite. But, being dead doesn't mean you were always nice, fair, and good. Just because you have passed on, doesn't mean everyone you meet suddenly remembers only the fond things about you and forgets everything else.

I guess I am not proper or polite. I don't wish to offend any of the people who loved her dearly. The following isn't so much about her, but how I saw things back then and how they affect my life today.

High school is a very important part of a person's life. The social dynamics of who's who and the pecking order that falls out of it is something that will always linger with you whether you liked it or not. For the popular, they might use the confidence they gained and become great in their future lives. Or maybe they will trip and fail, wallowing in the disappointment that High School was the best they ever had and ever will have. The Underdog might become a CEO of a major corporation in a fabulous display of "Look What I Did!" They might also choose to live their lives in the shadow of the shame or embarrassment of always being picked last for the team or missing out on Homecoming Queen.

That isn't who I want to be. I am not trying to sound like that crazy old lady that can't get past her school aged days and constantly blames all her problems on "That One Teacher." Ms. Volk was my choir teacher for three out of the four years I was in high school. That meant I saw her more than I saw any other teacher and because of that, she was able to make a pretty big impact on my daily life. Ms. Volk was not the only teacher that influenced me and she wasn't even really the strongest. I'm sure she had good reasons for making the choices she did. I just wish she could have been more up-front about it.

She wasn't an awful person to me or most people. She was an extraordinary teacher. Of that, there is no doubt at all. I just didn't get along with her and I always got the impression that I was a nuisance and a bother to her. I really wanted to sing more than anything back then. I thought I was pretty good at it, even. I loved performing with a choir, too, and reading music, and listening to music. (Mozart's Requiem still gives me goosebumps to this day.) I don't think she ever saw me that way, though. 

She was extremely driven and always had been from what she told us. She wanted us to sound the best that we could and occasionally that meant asking someone to mouth the words during a particular song or maybe just sing very quietly, please. If she had ever asked that of me, I would have known where I stood with her and I would have quietly changed my schedule to Home Ec. or something and been done with it. She never mentioned anything much to me, though. I never knew if I was simply a mediocre singer or if she just didn't care enough to comment.

Ms. Volk took over from another teacher just after the start of my sophomore year. (As would be expected, there was much talk about why he left, but no confirmation so I can't really say why.) Under our previous teacher our choir did "okay" in competition and we always "looked good" on stage. But, when Ms. Volk took over she ran things completely differently. She took  managed to take "okay" and turn it into "outstanding." We got sweepstakes at UIL that year and had more students placed in the State Choir than any other school, from what I remember. There was actually some serious trouble that year when the judges found out that she had written previously some of the sight reading pieces that were used for the competition. None of us had seen any of the pieces before and none of us would have dreamed of actually trying to cheat for the sake of a high score, but the judges thought it was awfully strange that we did so well all of the sudden when we barely made a wave before. Basically, the choir did so much better under her tutelage that no one believed it was possible. All charges were dropped against her and us and we kept our Sweepstakes scores after all, but I think she tried extra hard after that to be both transparent to all the judges and superior as a teacher.

So, there is an amazing amount of evidence that she was fantastic as a choir director. I also know that many of her students have wonderful memories of her and of her work. I am so glad that she made such a positive impact on those students. I know several students completely bloomed under her. I also must state that there was an amazing amount of raw talent present that she inherited from the previous teacher. It is a testament to her skill that she was able to use that talent to such great success.

Unfortunately, I was neither a member who owned the "raw talent" nor did I bloom very much. In fact, by the time I graduated, I was pretty bitter about the whole experience. Part of me wants to get really irate and scream about how mean she was to me. That wouldn't be fair, though. I can't say she was actually mean, just rather indifferent. In a choir filled with lots of drama and social dynamics, I felt like I was just not a part of the whole picture.  I never made it into the advanced level choir, called A Capella. Everyone else that started in the beginner choir was eventually moved up except for me. I can't deny that I was very hurt about that. I guess I took it personally. I had done very well in choir before she became my teacher but apparently I wasn't up to her level of talent. I felt as if I was ignored and passed over for some reason that I could never figure out. Maybe she felt that I didn't work hard enough to warrant being with the more serious and talented singers. Maybe she thought I didn't practice enough, or that I didn't learn fast enough. Maybe it had nothing to do with me? Perhaps she just figured that my last choir teacher didn't advance me for a good reason and left it at that. Did I really suck as a singer? Was there a personal issue I needed to deal with that prevented me from being A Capella material? Whatever reasons she had, she never shared them with me.

After I didn't make it to the advanced choir my third year, I started working extra hard to show her that I was "worthy." Then, she assigned me the office of "Librarian" for the beginning choir. What should have been an honor and a sign that I was both mature and reliable felt more like a slap in the face to me. It was as if I was being told that I was not good enough to be considered a singer, but I didn't have the intelligence to figure it out on my own. Here was this "job" to keep me busy since I couldn't sing, but I was obviously going to persist in being a part of the choir. Maybe that wasn't the idea she was trying to get across. I couldn't say. I was 16 and deeply swayed by my teen aged cynicism. I was heartbroken that I wasn't considered "quality" in the one talent I felt I had.
Hindsight being 20/20, I can see several opportunities that I passed up that would have most likely changed her opinion of me. I missed a few performances, which was simply the worst thing to do in the eyes of your teacher. They weren't my fault, but that really couldn't make a difference. I attended all that I was able to but didn't actually sing at most of them. Every time there was an event, it seemed like I got a cold and a sore throat and then I lost my voice just in time for the actual show. It actually got worse each year. Maybe it was psychosomatic, that I was afraid of actually performing.

My senior year my fellow classmates elected me President of the choir. It was not much of a boost to me. There was only one other senior in our class by then, and usually it was one of the oldest girls who was elected. I just couldn't help taking it personally at that point. As President I can't say I did very much. I don't actually remember having any duties other than when the teacher was out I was supposed to help run everyone through practicing. That really wasn't as important as it sounded. It made me very unpopular when she wasn't around, probably because I didn't have the social finesse to be in charge and get respect at the same time. I suppose it was a "learning" time for me.

 I was going through a tough time at home and in my social life, and I had a flair for the dramatic. It could be that I just annoyed the hell out of her. I was never extremely popular, though, I did have plenty of friends. Maybe she felt I wouldn't be a good fit because of that. All I know is that I felt so isolated and left out. All my classmates were learning real music and I was stuck being the top of the lower heap. I really stopped caring whether she liked me or not. I figured I must not be a very good singer and I was pretty lame for not taking a hint sooner than that.

I felt back then, and I still do, that maybe if I had been given a small chance, an opportunity to succeed, perhaps I would have done much better. If I had been given a small boost of confidence or even a compliment, I think I might have done things much differently.  If I felt that working hard would actually had paid off I would have bent over backwards to do what I need to do. When I did work hard it seemed to have no effect at all. A little support and even constructive criticism would have gone so far. Singing was the only thing I really wanted to do but I couldn't work hard enough to succeed at it. That can be a hard thing to overcome.

I can't say that this has ruined my life. I have a wonderful husband (which would have really surprised her, I think.) I have three beautiful daughters, all of whom are artists in their own way (I have a visual artist, a dancer, and musician.) My life is filled with blessings every day. I have not lost my love for music one bit. I have, however, lost any confidence I once had in singing. Many of my friends from school have gone on to be performers or music teachers or both. Karaoke is apparently great fun, and I should really try it some time. The thought of signing in front of anyone other than my kids makes me kind of want to throw up, though. I once tried to get back into the singers' way of things, but I haven't sung with a choir in several years now. I often sing in the car, but that is as close to a public performance as I get.

I don't blame Ms. Volk for destroying my self esteem. If I didn't cultivate my musical skill it falls on my shoulders and no one else. The decision to let something like this guide my life or to get past it is no one's choice but mine. I have to admit, though, that I still feel a little hurt about the whole choir experience. I'm sure I'm taking this too personally. After all, there were literally hundreds of other students that this teacher had to teach and I was just one, and obviously not the most promising one at that. I can't help but feel shuffled aside though. It makes me sad that I probably will never sing in front of people, like I wanted. But, I refuse to be that person who sings poorly and doesn't know it and no one is confident or rude enough to tell her.

This is a lousy obituary for someone who affected and guided so many students throughout her career. Regardless of my personal opinion, I hope her family will find peace and I am sorry for their loss. May she rest in peace. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fun and Exciting

LH has a broken wrist.
It isn't all that bad. It was diagnosed as a right radial buckle fracture which means the bones smooshed a little when she fell on them. The bones are not displaced from each other so there is no need to set it and it should probably heal pretty well on its own. We will be heading to the ortho on Thursday morning (way too early) to get more x-rays and see if the fracture will require a cast, a brace, or nothing at all. She doesn't hurt very much and she is doing fine getting around with the temporary expansion cast.

The incident happened on the 23rd, while family was visiting and LH was enjoying the nice weather. She decided to ride her bike and was trying to learn how to ride while standing up. Thankfully, she had on her helmet and she actually was holding on to the handlebars when she hit something and proceeded to fly superman-style over the handlebars.

At first it looked like she just had a case of road rash on her left elbow and a her right palm was a little bit scratched up. I was more worried about the elbow than than the wrist. After I cleaned her up and gave her some bandages, she was right back out playing (although the bike was quickly moved to the back yard where it has stayed). She had no visible bruising or swelling in her right wrist and there was no indication that anything was wrong at all, except for her inability to lift more than  pound or so.

I feel pretty awful right now, because I really didn't think it was anything to really worry about. I thought she might be over-reacting. I thought she might have a slight sprain. I have fallen so many times and strained my wrist in the process. I know that there is very little to do about it other than ice it, wrap it, and take some Tylenol. I gave her a wrist brace to wear for a day or two, and I figured that wold take care of it. After two days, she told me it still hurt, so I grudgingly took her in for x-rays on Sunday afternoon.

I also have to mention that there was another injury that she was dealing with that had me much more concerned. She developed a small staph infection around her left thumbnail. I also know very well how to take care of things like this (having been a terrible nail-biter growing up) so I did what I could here at A few days before, I made an appointment for her to see the pediatrician about it, but I ended up canceling and trying to take care of it here. After 10 days, though, it didn't seem better, and it actually started to seem worse. When I took her into Children's hospital for the wrist, I was planning to ask the staff to look at the thumb as well.

It turned out that both of the injuries were, indeed, something to worry about. Now I really felt horrible for waiting so long to take her in. The nurses brought in an expansion cast first. After a few minutes she was splinted and had the arm propped in a sling. No problem there. But, when the nurses saw the thumb, they started to call in other doctors for observation and I knew there was going to be a little more to deal with. They wanted to attack the infection aggressively because if it were to spread, it could very quickly become a blood borne infection that could travel to her heart and infect the stints that she had placed just last year. They decided to give her an hour's worth of IV antibiotics and to lance and clean out the wound so it could heal more easily.

The major issue here is that LH is phobic of needles. I don't mean "oh, please don't stick me!" kind of scared. I mean running around, screaming, turning white, kicking, punching, pushing and needing multiple nurses hold her down for one booster shot kind of scared.

When the nurse came in and explained what was going to happen, she turned white. Then they brought in their best tech to handle things and she started to panic as soon as she saw the IV kit. The technician was named Zachary and he was just awesome, though. He was patient, kind, and straightforward and really helped to keep the process moving without letting LH stall too long. It was about 30 minutes of prep for her and 2 seconds of "pricking" to get it over with. She was pretty brave about it, all things considered and only yelled some, and cried a little, and didn't fight at all.

There was a teensy problem, though. Zachary promised her only one stick. It was only 15 minutes later they came in to tell us what they were going to do for her thumb. This entailed FOUR shots of numbing stuff and then the poking of the thumb where it hurt the most. I can tell you that LH was completely pissed about that. She had been getting through everything so far with the idea that she wouldn't have to deal with anymore needles and now they were coming right back in with more stuff to stick her with.

She told me the biggest reason she hates all of this is that the doctors and nurses always tell her that the shots won't hurt, but they always do. In her mind there is no such thing as an acceptable level of pain. You either hurt or you don't. To say that a shot doesn't hurt is a complete lie to her and she feels very betrayed by that. I can't really say I blame her. She is so used to having to just sit and deal with pain, and pokes, and medicines that taste like crap that by now she just doesn't want any more.

As a mother, it is heartbreaking to see your child upset, or sick, or in pain. It is a thousand times worse, I think, to see them in a panic. There is almost nothing you can do about it, except be there for them until they can get their senses back and calm down. I have learned the best way to keep calm and try not to add to her panic, and I know where to stand so I'm not in the way of the technicians but LH can still see me. I have still shed tears almost as often as she has during shots, IV's, and blood drawing. She becomes a completely different child all of the sudden and it is heartbreaking. She swings back and forth between "Wait, just give me another minute to calm down!" and "I'm so sorry I am acting like such a baby!"

By the time the nurses came in to handle the thumb, I guess they just didn't want to drag it out any more so there was very little waiting and talking. They just kind of pushed through and did it. I think she did her best but she was so panicked and angry that there was not a whole lot of coping left in her. There was a LOT of screaming. I have told her that if she has to yell in order to keep still, she can yell all she wants. She takes that as far as she absolutely can, I think. It still took one nurse to hold her hand and another to actually give her the shots and lance the thumb, but we didn't need anyone to actually hold the rest of her down, and that is an improvement over the past few "episodes." She thrashed and kicked a bit, but when she realized that the nurses were going to stick her no matter what, sh relaxed and just started screaming as loud as she could. Better that than a choke hold and restraining straps. You think I'm kidding about that, don't you?

I really don't think the Novocaine, or whatever they use, really works all that well on her. They used a topical solution on her IV site, and she still felt everything. They used a topical cream on her thumb for 30 minutes before they came in with the shots and she still felt everything they did there, too. Her father has the same problem. He has to have roughly twice the amount of Novocaine as anyone else does when he goes to the dentist. Perhaps it runs in the family.

I think the worst part of  all of this is that needles, shots, and IV's are a way of life for her. The cardiologist has never had to use them, thank goodness, but the pediatrician has to every year for a flu shot, at the minimum. She also has to go in every few years for a heart cath to check the internal pressures of her heart and the valves so she gets to get poked, knocked out, and wakes up with bandages around her legs whenever that happens.

I have wished so many times that I could take her place whenever we have to do this. If I could get poked and stuck and pushed around so she doesn't have to, I would do it in a heartbeat. This is part of what she has to go through, though, to get the best care possible. There aren't many kids her age still alive that were born with HLHS. She has come so far and done so well. The doctors are extremely aggressive when it comes to treating small injuries and illnesses. She doesn't quite heal the same way as other kids do, and it makes all her doctors nervous whenever she so much as sneezes.

It is times like this that I am thankful that I have done all I can to help her live a normal life in spite of whatever is going on inside of her. It means that she has all the fun and joy she possibly can so maybe these little episodes of pain and sickness won't be what she remembers most about her childhood.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

364 days and counting

In order to spend more quality time with the rugrats and the hubby, I shut down my computer Christmas Eve at about 9:30pm and didn't turn it back on until this morning. I would have happily stayed plugged in all Christmas Day, but I decided this year that I would do my best to focus on the girls and maybe even get a little rest.

Rest, I did! We snacked on leftovers and candy from the stockings all day and Scott made dinner for us all, so I didn't have to cook. We all say around in our PJ's most of the day. The TV wasn't on, and even the computers stayed off most of the day. Everyone was so content trying out their new presents that boredom was not a real issue at all. I never did get around to making those pies for DH, and now that he is out camping for the next five days, I won't have to make them until he comes back.

I will have so many great memories from this year. The girls were up at 6:30 am and were nearly bouncing on our heads to get us up. Our tradition is that no one opens up presents until everyone is up to enjoy the gluttony together. Once the pot of coffee was brewing, my dad was up, so we didn't have to reign in the girls for very long. EG got her first turn to be the "Elf" this year - the person designated to read the labels and hand out the gifts. She was very excited to be allowed to read by herself with out any help.

Our tree is a small one - only about 3 1/2 foot - so we place it on a square side table and we put presents under and around the table as well as under the tree. The whole area was so covered with gifts that it took a good fifteen minuted for EG to pass everything out. Another tradition in my home is that we take turns opening gifts one at a time. This allows everyone to see the reaction the recipient has to the gift and it also helps to help draw out the fun a little longer. Instead of 10 minutes of freakish gluttony, we have a leisurely time over about an hour unwrapping things and oooing and ahhing over every little thing. It is my favorite part of Christmas morning, I think. I very often completely forget about the pile of gifts on my lap while I am enjoying the smiles and OMG's from the rest of the family.

Mommy and Daddy managed to do pretty well in the gift giving department this year. Santa did pretty well, too. He must have gotten their letters very early on because he brought them EXACTLY what they asked for. Gramma and Pops (DH's parents) scored the biggest points this year. They must have been in league with the Big Man himself because whatever Santa didn't bring from the wish lists, they managed to get instead and the girls were just ecstatic. EG's prized possessions this year were a magnetic dress-up princess,  Polly Pocket doll with more clothes, and a purple striped Sock monkey. TD got a piggy bank with a set of markers to decorate it herself, a miniature set of My Little Ponies with dress-up clothes, and a pink striped sock money. LH made out the best, I think with a really awesome MP3 player and a whole slew of art supplies, sketch books, and journals. DH got an adapter to hook up a regular hard drive as an external/portable drive. I got a new set of headphones that I can use at work (no more sharing headsets with strange poeple!) Even Poppa got a stainless steel drinking bottle and a back scratch-er that can break down for transport. I think the best thing all around was the stereo/CD player that we gave to TD and EG to share. LH already had one and she didn't need it anymore now that she had the MP3 player that also plays FM Radio. She gave her boom box to the EG so now EG and TD both have their own stereos. Even better - the grandparents gave each of the girls their own set of ear buds (color coordinated for each girls) so I don't have to listen to a war of Hillary Duff vs. Kelly Clarkson battling it out on high volume all day long,

The stocking stuffers, as usual, were as big a hit (if not bigger) than the wrapped gifts. The tiny, zippered duffel bags from Daddy and the assorted holiday activity books from me have been keeping all three girls quiet and occupied all day. Every now and again one of them will disappear into the bathroom and come out with her hair pulled back by a different colored sparkly headband, courtesy of the the grandparents. Because we kept candy to a minimum (as usual) we haven't had too many sugar-related meltdowns, either. In fact, the only one dealing with a bit of a grouchy mood here and there is EG, which is pretty natural considering she's only six and hasn't gotten nearly enough sleep in the past few days.

So, it's noon the day after Christmas and thing life feels like it's running smoothly again. Maybe this is a good omen for the New Year.

The only hitch now is having to deal with LH and her wonderful habit of injuring herself during holiday breaks. Two days ago she fell off her bike and scraped up her elbow, hand, and knee. Everything seems fine today except for the wrist that she landed on. Also, she managed to get a staph infection under her thumbnail and we have been fighting it for over a week now. 7 days is the limit of how long I will wait before calling in the professionals. So today, instead of going shopping with my gift cards, I will most likely spend the evening in the ER waiting room. It's nothing I haven't been through dozens of times before. At least this year LH has something to keep her quiet and busy (her MP3 player) and I have a a few knitting projects I am working on, so things shouldn't be as painful as they have been in the past.

Wish me luck and that LH's injuries are as minor as I think they are.

Christmas Eve and all is....well?

The snow is falling thick outside and the house is filled with the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. (except for the burned cookie smell that sort of set off the smoke alarm awhile ago.) We are almost ready for dinner and I suddenly find myself with a few minutes of downtime while I wait on the last few dishes to cook.

My mood has improved drastically since yesterday. Well, "drastically" might be a little extreme. I am no longer hiding under the covers and crying. I managed to get up this morning, take a shower, get dressed to the shoes, and even ran a few errands. The housework is, for the most part, done. We are at least 15 minutes away from company ready, which is an incredible improvement since yesterday.

After I wrote yesterday's post I admit I had a bit of a breakdown. The stress of everything  left to do and everything I am not able to do just got to me. (I'm actually surprised that I held out as long as I did.) Sobbed and cried and probably made a pretty good spectacle of myself. Thankfully, it was after the kids were in bed and it was only DH there, staring at me as if I was a two headed PMS monster or something. Really I can't blame him. I wouldn't know what to do with me either. 

In any case, I woke up in a much better mood. It was really  hard not to. The joy and laughter of the girls is just contagious. They were up early and bouncing off the walls singing Christmas carols off key, at the top of their lungs, with half of the wrong words. LH even made three different kinds of cookies before lunch. It still amazed me that she is able to do so well in the kitchen by herself with only a recipe to go by. One of the kinds of cookies didn't really come out right and we had to pitch the dough before we even cooked it, but she still did really good. In the last few days, she has successfully made 3 out of 4 batches and that's a pretty good run for any budding chef.

My dad has been a big help, too. He took me out of the house for a few minutes to take care of some last minute errands. I apparently needed a break because I felt much better by the time I got back. He has also been cooking for me today, and helping reign in the girls every now and then. He feels the stress a lot this time of year, I can tell. He keeps it together very well, though. This week,  have no idea what I would have done without him.

In spite of my best intentions, I haven't finished quite enough of what I wanted to do today. I was planning on making pies but by 3:15, it was clear that it just wasn't going to happen.( The FM is acting up today again, and the fatigue is worse than the pain.) I feel most guilty because I promised DH a pecan and a pumpkin pie and I didn't deliver either. I managed to get almost everything else made that I wanted, but the pies didn't make it. I still have what I need and I will probably get the baking bug tomorrow, so we will most likely have a nice Christmas dinner with more than enough pie to go around.

DH really saved me today, as well. Christmas is one of his favorite times of the year (next to Thanksgiving.) He is such a kid about it (in a good way) that it makes everything seem almost as exciting as it used to be for me. He loves giving and getting presents and unwrapping things and playing with new toys and having the time and the excuse to snuggle our girls. Of course, he doesn't really need an excuse, but he will take them when he can.

He has been able to work from his "home office" all week (the computer desk in our bedroom) which has been really great. I love being able to sneak in and see him all day. It makes my day. He came out of the room on his lunch break and wrestled with the girls and chased them all over the house to help them get out their wiggles. Since the snow and weather is not all the great  to be out in, they have a case of cabin fever.

All our guests had to cancel this evening. We were planning on having 10 or more people over, so now I have a lot of extra food. There could be much worse situations to be in. Suddenly, a lot of stress just disappeared that I didn't know was there. I can leave off the last of the deep cleaning for another day. I know we will have more than enough leftovers to get us through tomorrow so I won't have to cook from scratch again. Also, I just got a glimpse of the pile of things that still need to be wrapped and now I can start on them before 1:00 am.

I am really disappointed that our friends and family weren't able to make it over tonight. I was looking forward to a little bit of fun and some grown-up conversation. My girls are even more upset than I am. EG is crushed that her favorite Evil Friend couldn't make it tonight. LH and TD wanted to see their cousins, as well. The weather is just getting too bad and the roads are awful. the driveway is already iced over so I would not want to even see what the overpasses look like. Most of out friends will be coming from just north of here and getting home after dark would be downright scary. So, as sad as I am to have them all cancel, I am even more glad that they are all safe and sound in their homes and not driving all over the place tonight.

Now I am, off to eat dinner and then snuggle the girls before bed time. We might brave the roads to take them on the annual Christmas Light drive around the neighborhood for a few blocks. This usually has the double effect of giving them a break from the house to ease cabin fever and giving them a few minutes to relax and get sleepy before bed.

I will stay behind and wrap some more presents and drink hot cider. I am looking forward to a few minutes of peace and quiet to myself. Maybe I will feel a little better after feeling as if i have accomplished something valuable on my own.

What do you like to do on Christmas Eve?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Twas the night before the night before Christmas

I am sitting in bed on Dec 23rd quietly freaking out. I have a presents that need to be wrapped, more presents that still need to be bought, a house that needs to be cleaned (badly, I might add), and I am expecting almost a dozen guests tomorrow.

Sure, part of me says "Get of your butt and take care of business, girl!" Unfortunately, that's not the part I am listening to. I prefer, for now, to listen to that little voice that says, "Relax, it will all get done. Just get some rest tonight and get a head start tomorrow."

Yeah, that's probably not going to happen.

See, I know me. "Me" will probably finish this post, and then start running around the house like a madwoman trying to take care of whatever business I can before passing out at roughly 3:00 am. Things are just more complicated this year. I haven't been this unprepared for a Holiday since EG was born. I feel seriously bad about this. Even a little ashamed.

I have managed to pull off some beautiful holidays over the past few years. I have hosted parties two weeks before Christmas Eve. I have had presents bought, wrapped, and hidden a full week before Christmas night. I have presented glorious meals where everything came out of the oven at the same time and the turkey was done all the way through. This year, though, I'm just not hacking it.

I have been trying to make memories this year, instead of "things" in the hope that it might somehow make up for a slimmer-than-usual Christmas. I have spent time with the girls making Christmas stocking crafts and paper chain decorations. We even got around to painting the snowman napkin holder that we received four years ago and never finished. I've let them all stay up late watching Christmas movies all week and said "yes" to one more cookie before bed. They have been remarkably sweet and compliant in return. I have never seen them so ready and willing to help out with chores. I guess a little honey goes a long way with these honeybees.

I can't help but feel terrible inside, though. Like I am denying them a quality holiday because there won't be as many presents under the tree. Everything about this Christmas is starting to feel half-hearted, now.  I am almost dreading Christmas morning. Will they like what I did manage to get them? Will they be disappointed that there isn't more? Am I being overly nervous about all this?

Perhaps I am just feeling the crunch that I always do. The feeling that I wish I could do more. Every year turns out just fine. The girls are ecstatic with whatever they get. There are always a ton of homemade presents from the girls to everyone else. We enjoy the day snuggling and hanging around in our PJ's and eating Christmas candy instead of a real dinner.

This year, I am more frightened than ever that it won't be that way. That this year they will actually figure out how much hassle and stress I feel. I have never felt so resentful of this holiday as I do right now. Why does it have to be so commercial and stressful and expensive. As I said, I have been trying to pare down the amount of physical things on holidays and try to engage more of the spiritual side of things. I can't even find the spirit of it right now though. It feels like a terrible waste of time and money and paper. I have been working so hard all year to reduce the amount of stuff we have in our home. A few months ago we held a yard sale and sold off half the garage full of things we didn't need. Making extra grocery money didn't hurt either.

Since before we even moved in here 18 months ago, we have been de-cluttering, streamlining, de-junking, prioritizing, organizing. A very smart lady I like to listen to says that you can't organize clutter. You can only get rid of it. You should only keep things around you that you really love. If it doesn't make you smile, release it so it can bless others or throw it away if it isn't nice enough to bless someone else with (if no one else wants it, it is trash, and do you really deserve to have it around any more than someone else does?) Now that  I have spent all this time getting rid of stuff, it feels just wrong to purposely go and gt more stuff that my girls and husband don't really need just so that they can say they unwrapped something on a particular day of the year.

I hope today will be better than tonight and maybe this funk will disappear.

Am I alone in this? Does anyone else ever feel this way? Leave a comment and let me knwo if you think I am crazy or if you are on the crazy train with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The life cycle of Nerds

During this wonderful time of year, I like to sit back and appreciate all the wonderful Nerds in my life. So to thank them all I have decided to dedicate a few moments of my time to The Care and Feeding of Your Nerd*.

(*All statements hereafter are purely opinion and/or humor related. They are not intended to offend, reject, or otherwise cause ill feelings to any of the audience. Unless you WANT to be offended, then by all means - take my stereo-typing and run with it. But, if you start Nerd Bashing or Geek Hunting, please don't bring up my name. I had nothing to do with it. )

For my purposes, I feel I must define just exactly what I mean here by Nerd. By my own method of scientific process (re:personal random opinion) being a Nerd means more than just being a little smarter than your buddy or really liking video games. You must be well-educated, bright, eclectic, and willing to share your knowledge, at least with those you know. Being a Geek takes it a step further they may have limited social skills, but may not be as willing share said knowledge unless pressed or bribed. Dweebs fall into the less-educated but more willing to share facts with strangers category. This should not be confused with the Trivial Person, though, who is generally very social but can pull up trivial facts at the drop of a hat as a party trick. Dweebs, Nerds, and especially Geeks find it very difficult to perform on demand, at least when in an unfamiliar or mixed group of people.

Nerds, Geeks, and Dweebs can often be found in close proximity to each other. Although there is the occasional Lone Nerd or Solo Dweeb, they generally congregate for protection starting at an early age. There are many types of Nerd - Computer Nerd, Gaming Nerd, IQ Nerd, Military Nerd, Cultural Nerd, Boy Scout Nerd, Math Nerd, etc. The Nerd type is also seen in a subtle form in other demographics - Teachers Pet, Fashionista, Skater Dude, and even Eternal Jock. While not as well-rounded, they can easily deem themselves to be "experts" in their prospective fields and can be just as aggravating, freakish, and bizarre as your average Dweeb on a good day.

Something most Nerds excel at is being able to mix up a few different focus groups for the sake of interest. The more categories you can fit into, the more Supreme a Nerd you are. A favorite pastime of Nerds from any category is determining how much of a Nerd you are in comparison to the Nerd next to you. The Nerd with the most titles wins. The bragging rights of Supreme Nerd are well sought after and appreciated by other Nerds of society.

I have come to believe Nerd-ness is genetic, or at least an acquired trait from your environment. It's kind of like insanity - you either get it from your parents or your kids. While there are occasionally mixed families of Normal People and Nerd, generally you'll find that the family that Games together stays together (I am not referring to Candy Land or Monopoly. If I have to define "Gaming" than you won't understand and you'll be confused from this point on anyway.) You can usually pick out the young Nerdling in public. They are the ones who are using words like "gargantuan" and "bilateral" and quoting Shakespeare in an ironic manner. While this might be labeled as simply Precocious, there is a subtle difference. Precocious children like to sound smarter and older but might not truly understand the concepts that they are trying to use. A Nerdling will not only understand, but will be able extrapolate much further and usually can site references.

I don't just speak from an outsider's point of view. I live the Nerd life and always have. I come from a long line of both Nerds and Geeks, though thankfully, we don't have too many Dweebs on my side. (I refuse to make mention of anyone on my husbands side because it is, after all, the week before Christmas and I don't wish to insult the Bearers of Good Gifts. ;-) My Father was a Computer Nerd before computer nerds were cool. He worked for one of the first companies to produce personal computers and was part of their very first IT department. We had our first PC when I was about 8 years old and had three in the house within 4 years (complete with extra phone line for dial-up internet service) We only had one television and no microwave, but we had the fastest processor on the block! My mother was a High Class Nerd who enjoyed Mensa meetings and esoteric musical instruments. Without a doubt, they produced five more Nerds, who in turn, have produced roughly a dozen more. We are all of different types and we all have learned to disguise or embrace our Nerdiness in different ways.

My Nerdiness was apparent early on. Even at a the tender age of three I could tell my mother that I "preferred" my hair in braids instead of simply "wanting" them that way. I would type out my school work on the computer and then hand-copy it for the teachers that would not allow type-written copies (penmanship was so important in those days!) In Jr High I became an Arts Nerd through Orchestra, Choir, and Drama classes. I had a few fellow Nerdlings that I would ICQ and IM (Who remembers Prodigy?) My High School years were spent with Comic Nerds, Music Nerds, and other Art Nerds. I had some Geeks and Dweebs in my inner circle, as well, and it was through them that I first learned how to play Dungeons and Dragons, which Anime was better, and how to play Metallica's One on the cello.

Thankfully, DH is a Nerd as well. (Mixed marriages of Normal and Nerd do not work well very often unless there is a lot of money involved - usually on the part of the Nerd.) He is currently rated Supreme Nerd for the third year in a row in his local Nerdiness Lodge. I couldn't be more proud. Being married to a Supreme Nerd is very interesting, but also very time consuming - at least for him. Currently he is working on his 14th Nerd Badge in Boy Scout Nerd (Building Things for Fun Out of Wood and Leather) but he already has a wide array of Nerd Patches from Computer Nerd and Cultural Nerd, including Reading Non-Fiction Books to Settle Arguments About Ancient War Techniques and Using Physics to Fire Rubber Bands at Co-Workers in Other Cubes.

Ah, yes. Who can deny the awesomeness of a working model of a WWII era tank built completely from card stock and used scotch tape rolls. It was DH who bought me my first miniature and patiently taught me how to prime it and paint it using only the finest acrylic paint and microscopic paintbrushes. Through the last 10 years of our marriage I have taken part and hosted gaming groups from a dozen genres, including one storyline that has lasted more than 10 years. Our childrens' aunts and uncles are quite a bit more tattooed and pierced than your Average Normal Person. Some of our best friends are even engineers. (The weight of that statement won't make any sense to you, either, unless you already KNOW what I mean.) Being a pair of Nerds does make it a little easier for gift-giving occasions. I can get him a track ball mouse and he can get me a computer repair toolkit and neither of us will end up sleeping on the couch because of it. It does make it a little more difficult for romantic rendezvous. What will be a turn on this time - using our role playing characters for Role Playing, thumbing through the latest sci-fi magazine, watching re-runs of Coolest Explosions on the Military Channel? I just never know, sometimes. Luckily, we are able to communicate pretty well with each other. Code words on texts and e-mails have gotten past firewalls more than the bosses will ever know.

I think my own Nerdiness has blossomed with his help. Being more comfortable with my own quirks have made me a better person. I am able to raise my girls with a lot more self confidence and a much wider-opened mind than I might otherwise have had. That's a very good thing because my girls are all three well on their way to following in their family's footsteps. Each one is unique in her specific category of Nerdiness but they work together so well, it's like little cogs in a little Brainiac Machine. They all have their own set of multi-sided dice so they can play Hero Quest with DH on the weekends. Little Heart told me this afternoon that she was frustrated with the plastic sword she was playing with against the neighborhood kids - it was not balanced enough to be able to use properly (too heavy at the tip, she said.) Evil Genius, of course, is currently trying to soak up every bit she can about Medieval Siege Engines. (Very important for the eventual task of World Domination.) We very conveniently gifted the small-scale Trebuchet to a (distant) family friend for the time being out of fear that she will be able to replicate a full scale one in the backyard. No one wants to see what a 6 yeaar old can do with Beanie Babies and a properly calculated counterweight. Even Tiny Dancer has her own Nerd qualities about her. She has embraced the Cultural Nerd affinity, I believe. So far anything Chinese is her interest, but she will also jump at anything relating to Native American contemporary or historical culture. (No, we're not actually Native, but that doesn't dampen her spirits a bit.) If she could I believe she would eat her Navajo fry bread with chopsticks just for fun. She also refuses to wear matching socks - ever. It's just too Normal for her.

Well, being the week before Christmas, I have plenty do to prepare for the upcoming Holiday. We must prepare a Soltice Feast for their grandfather, string CAT 5 on the Christmas tree, and wrap the Manga graphic novels for stocking stuffers. Now I am off to make a gingerbread replica of a medieval dungeon and bake sugar cookie nerd cutouts with little candy glasses. I love this time of year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Pain is something I have come to deal with on a daily basis. I am so familiar with it that it is often more remarkable when I DON'T have pain than when I DO.

I used to think I was tough. I felt I could grin a bear it through pretty much anything. I didn't like to take medication unless I absolutely had to. There was a time when I only needed a half dose of OTC pain or cold medicine to do the same job as a whole dose would for anyone else. About six years ago, things started to get a little haywire though.

My struggles with pain specifically started just after EG was born. I was laid off just after I found out I was pregnant and wasn't able to find a job again until she was about 10 weeks old. One week after I started, I went to the ER for stabbing pain in my stomach and I was admitted immediately. I had my gall bladder removed the next day. The recovery was not as easy as I had hoped. The surgery was laproscopic, so I only had three small incisions but the fatigue and immobility were what really drug me down. I was trying to nurse (and pump three to four times a day at work,) recover from surgery, and work full time after almost a year of being at home. I just hurt so much more than I was supposed to, according to my doctor.

Once I was back at work after the surgery, I got the flu, then a stomach virus, then a cold and I just never seemed to improve. I would get sick and then not recover fully before getting sick again. When I wasn't sick, one of the girls was sick, and that meant no school or daycare until they were better. Back-up babysitters were hard to come by for us and none of them were old enough to stay by themselves at home. Darling Hubby did the best he could to take turns staying home with them when we had to, but I still called in to work 5 times in the first four months of that job. That was the first time I got fired, but it definitely wasn't the last.

I had already been seeing a doctor regularly for symptoms of that they called Depression. I call it the Big Gray Monster because that is what it feels like. Gray and hideous and chewing on you all the time. Recently doctors figured out that general pain and discomfort can be a very real part of depression and that there is a treatment for it. A few years ago, I had never heard of them being related so I felt like I was a real whiner whenever I thought about asking my doctor about it. It was still tolerable, though. Nothing to really stop my day, just enough to make me grouchy (or grouchier than I already was.)

About a year after my gall bladder was removed, I got an awful sinus infection. It caused the worst headache I had ever had in my life. I was used to a little sinus pressure every now and again when the weather would change or with a cold. This was nothing like that. The only way I can describe it is like having a thousand, angry, red ants attacking you on the inside of your skull. It was completely unrelenting and debilitating. I started having troubles with side effects from my anti-depressants on top of the headache and it was no surprise when I lost my job again.

I thought perhaps the headache was stress-related but even when things improved (financially and otherwise) the headache still continued without any real break. I started seeing a neurologist along with my regular doctor and even added in a psychiatrist as well, just for good measure. Between the three of them I tried out almost every anti-migraine, anti-seizure, and anti-depressant available. One would cause me to gain weight. Another caused my hair to fall out and gain weight. A different one caused me lose weight but I lost some short term and even long term memory. One of them caused me to cry at anything and everything. That is on top of all the other random side effects they come with. Not one of them got rid of the headache.

I had MRI's, CAT Scans, X-Rays; I was hooked up to a monitor for two or three days at a time.
Everything was "Inconclusive." I used ice, heat, pressure points, vitamins, food combining, and special diets. I saw a chiropractor for awhile and considered acupuncture (although I haven't gone that far yet.) Sometimes I would have a good month and I would only need migraine arrest medication or narcotic pain killers for 4 out of 7 days a week. Other times I might be in bed for 6 straight weeks without any relief at all, no matter what I tried. Let me tell you this does quite a number on home life. DH was feeling like a single parent and the girls were walking around singing, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless chi-ild....."

I remember lying down with a pillow over my face praying that the pain would stop, hating myself for not getting up, but unable to move without making the pain worse. I spent a lot of time alone, in bed. If I was up and around I tended to snap at the family and I would much rather have been completely absent than yell and scream at them for no reason at all. I lost days and weeks at a stretch from various pain meds and treatments. Just when I thought I was getting better, I would go back to work, they would increase intensity and frequency and I would lose that job, too.

The thing is, I was dealing with my Gray Monster on top of the pain. There were times I wasn't even in that much pain, but just thinking about being in public was too much to consider. It is so hard to separate one from the other when you are in that deep, dark place. I am ashamed to say, I probably hit the pain meds a little too hard, as well, at times. Being fuzzy and detached was preferable to whatever was going on in my mind.

My personality and habits have changed so much because of the constant pain that I hardly recognize myself anymore. I have always been a shower-every-day kind of person, but there are still times that I can't drag myself into the shower more than every other day, if I am doing good. Baggy t-shirts, jeans or sweats, and sneakers are my main uniform and I only wear makeup or jewelery if I have a specific appointment. I don't like looking in the mirror much at all. It isn't because I think I am ugly. I am mostly ashamed of what I have done to myself out of neglect and self-abuse. Weight gain and loss has always been a big problem for me and of course, sleeping for days at a time isn't very good for that. Well, it might have been if I wasn't waking up every few hours feeling miserable and deciding that I really "needed" something to help me feel better. I wasn't a junk food junkie before, but in the last three years, especially, I have put more junk in this "temple" than I care to even think about. I will readily admit that I have an addiction to cola - Dr. Pepper specifically. Ice cream is also a band-aid for bad moods that I have used far too often.

Right now I am looking at an extra 50 pounds or so between me and my "ideal" weight. On a 4'11" frame, 50 pounds is a very big deal. I have never been slender but I used to have pretty nice figure. I have boobs and a butt, and hips for birthin' babies. As much as DH loves it, that all adds to the pain as well. Sporting a pair of 40DD's is not conducive to good posture or a healthy spine. I have had arthritic knees since high school (related to a birth defect of my legs) so walking, running, climbing stairs, and pretty much anything that will break a sweat is generally painful to do. That makes exercising a very difficult thing to get motivated about. Unfortunately, you can't get rid of 50 pounds by diet alone, and so it stays for now.

God bless DH for putting up with me and dealing with me through all of this. I feel terrible for him at times for having to put up with me and all of this. When we met I was smaller, spunkier, happier, and much more confident in myself. It is so hard to connect the woman I am now with the woman I was back then. He has to pull double duty as a Dad AND a Mom so often, the girls forget when I'm home and awake that they can come to me for what they need. I do my best to let him know how much I love him and how much I appreciate him for his patience. His answer is, "I did say in sickness and in health." (Actually, he didn't because we wrote our own vows and that wasn't part of it, but I get what he is trying to say.)

Now, after 5 1/2 years of headaches, the rest of my body has started hurting too. It often feels like I have a pulled muscle or strained something in one of my joints. Most of my body is tender to the touch, especially my calves, hips, and back. Scratching an itch feels similar to getting punched or hit with a dull object and it can ache for hours afterwards. My current job is as an on-site transcriber for a few hours in the evenings. Three or four days in a row of working and it usually feels like I have been lifting 50 pound boxes all day and night. Imagine the symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that go all the way up your arms and into your upper back and down your spine.

Three out of four doctors have said that my body pain is caused by Fibro Myalgia. That isn't even a disease - it's a description of a series of symptoms that have no real known cause. It literally means "Muscle Pain" or "Muscle Sickness." I am not saying that it isn't real, I know far too well that it is. I am just incredibly frustrated that there is no cure or even a disease to point at, just a diagnosis that is the conclusion after a process of elimination. The symptoms that come along with the condition are not the same for every one. There are 18 points of pain that are most common for FM sufferers and there is almost always fatigue involved as well. I am waiting for a referral to a Rheumatologist for a final diagnosis, but I am pretty confident of what they will say.

One of the more common medications to treat FM is one that I am already taking. An increase in the dosage hasn't really decreased the pain, but it has helped with the fatigue so I'll take what I can get for now. I have managed to quit drinking Dr. Pepper (for the 5th or so time) and that seems to help the headaches a bit, too. Also, once I got over the initial fear that I was becoming addicted to painkillers, I realized that as long as I am mindful about when and how I take it, I am doing alright. I have learned that taking a small dose as soon as I feel pain is better than waiting and putting off taking something and then needing a larger dose. As long as I don't take more than I need, take it more often than I need to, or take it when I don't have any pain, I am in control.

The deep dark secret I have though, is that I am almost afraid of what will happen if I do manager to overcome all this pain. I have been hurting in one place or another for so long that I have begun to identify myself by it. What would I do if I could wake up everyday with no pain and a clear head? What would life be like without either being in pain, feeling the relief of pain killers, or waiting until the next headache hits? Of course, I WANT to be free of the pain, but I have lived with it so long now, I don't know what I would do without it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Evil Genius Heart

My third heart is my wonderful little Evil Genius aka Eyeball.
Giving her a title like this might seem a little mean, or perhaps that I am setting myself up for trouble in the future by giving her permission to do evil things because of her nickname. I can assure you, neither of these are true. She is called Evil Genius because she wants to be.

At 6, she is the only one of my three to have been in trouble for fighting at school. One of the boys in her kindergarten class decided to get her riled up by calling her by a nickname instead of by her full name. In EG's defense, she did give him several warnings, and even told the teacher to get him to stop. He refused to quit, so she pushed him down on the playground (two hours later) when the teacher wasn't looking.

Imagine, if you will, a smallish, pale, blonde with long curly hair and huge, bright, blue eyes. She is classically beautiful, almost elf-like, but you can see that deep in those big eyes lies a deeper understanding of things around her. That's where "Eyeball" comes from. When she really gets focused, she looks at you and all you can see are yer big blue eyes framed by pale, ethereal curls of gold.

EG has a tongue like a whip and wit that will drop your jaw. Nothing could have prepared me for the little bundle of intelligence and humor that she has evolved into. I am amazed every day by the sorts of things she will come up with. Her dry humor rivals that of any adult and her sense of timing is impeccable. When she was not even four years old, she was taking songs that she learned in school and changing the lyrics to make jokes about her sisters and even herself. The running joke around here is how goofy Little Heart is, the constant buzz of activity of Tiny Dancer, and how much enjoyment Evil Genius gets out of making fun of both of them. Thankfully she can take whatever she dishes out and is perfectly happy with laughing at herself along with everyone else.

Of course, a wit like that doesn't come without considerable intelligence. During the last parent/teacher conference her first grade teacher asked me, "Just how high a reading level DOES she have? I don't have anything in the room hard enough to challenge

We have figured out she is at least 3 years ahead of her peers in both reading and math. That's as best we can tell anyway without more in-depth testing. She won a raffle at school recently and got to pick out a free book from a box (best gift EVAR!) She picked out a 20 page book, about 2nd grade level or so. Of course she plopped right down at the earliest convenience and proceeded to read it (it took about 5 minutes or so for her to get through it the first time. Then she read it again, slowly to enjoy the pictures.) An older girl (probably 5th grade) came by an was surprised that she had such a big book.
"Can you really read that?" she asked EG.
"Of COURSE I can. I can read Harry Potter Books. I can read ANY chapter book. I can read and do math at a fourth grade level, you know."

Now, I'm sure this sounds like a brag-a-thon about my girls, but having kids at this level is not all fun and games. When she gets mad, she gets MAD. When she wants to plan revenge, she takes her sweet time and BAM! she will get you when you are least expecting it. Little Heart delights in hiding just out of sight and jumping out to scare her little sisters when she gets bored. EG got her back just the other day by "innocently" offering her a drink of water with an ample amount of lime juice in it. LH spewed the water, not expecting anything in her water at all, and EG laughed so hard, she cried.

Think about the planning on her part to pull this off. She waited until she was already in the kitchen getting herself a glass of water, and she offers one to her big sister "just to be nice." (I know, I would have been suspicious, too, but LH is undeniably gullible.) So, she decides to spike the water as a prank and chooses lime juice because it was nearly undetectable by sight or smell, was decidedly yucky, but would not actually cause any harm. Not only did she plan this out, but the execution was beautiful! Not a giggle of anticipation or a pointed look escaped as she handed the sour flavored water to her sister. Think of the the sheer sneakiness of it! Not only that, but I really couldn't get mad about it. I have no problem with a good hearted prank every now and then and feel she was well within her rights, I felt, to get a little of her own back after being stalked and harassed as often as she has been. Being the youngest of three girls can be pretty hard, you know. Plus, as I said, she can take it as well as she can dish it out so I chalked it up to good old-fashioned fun, and let them duke it out.

As I mentioned, she also has a very dry sense of humor, and can be quite sarcastic at times (not sure where she gets that from.) Her favorite pastimes include, working on her Evil Theme song, creating art work of an evil nature (skulls, crossbones, princesses attacking dragons), and of course, perfecting her plan to take over the world. So far she has worked up a scenario in which she will go to the zoo, go to the monkey cage and throw stuff at them but make it look like the elephants did it. Then she will go to the elephants and make them believe that the monkeys are throwing stuff at them (probably poo, since monkeys are well known to throw poo.) Then in the ensuing chaos that will erupt, she will use an evil mind control device to get the elephants and monkeys to do her bidding and she will use them to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

Of course, she hasn't quite worked out just how the elephants and monkeys will help her to enact the global coup and this does all hinge on whether or not I will actually TAKE her to the zoo. For the time being, I have planned on staying at least five miles away from any facility that has caged animals on site. There is no telling just how loose a definition of the word "zoo" she will be using.

Sitting down and talking with her about this is like having a conversation with a small, incredibly adorable adult with a propensity for quiet, well planned, violence.

This is really all in fun. When EG isn't working on her plans of world domination (or at least the submission of the ENTIRE TRI-STATE AREA!) she is an amazingly mature and well organized child. She loves her routines and checklists for her daily chores. She even loves doing the chores. (I REALLY have no idea where she gets that from!) I can always count on her to be the one to pick up toys, load the dishwasher, and even - yes - clean the bathroom right down to scrubbing the toilet. I feel a little bad for her sometimes because she has to share a room and bunk beds with Tiny Dancer who is many things, but tidy isn't one of them. (As precious as TD is, she is most likely to be covered in dirt, something sticky, and whatever she had for lunch.) EG goes nuts at how much of a mess her sister makes in their room.

How I managed to get such cool kids, is really a mystery to me. I can see LH as a miracle in everyday life. The fact that she is such a sweet and cool girl is awesome beyond that in spite of her tendency to be a little high strung and high maintenance. TD is the popular, athletic, cheer leader type that I never was growing up. She's a little bit of a mystery to me because of that, but I do my best to support her however I can. Before EG was born I wondered what she would be like because it seemed LH and TD were as polar opposites as two sisters could be. EG has burned her own path in a completely different direction I could never have anticipated. It makes for a three ring circus just about every day. It's ok though. I love those little circus peanuts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dancer Heart

Another one of the "hearts" in my life is my middle daughter. I call her Tiny Dancer.
From the moment she was born she was different from my first daughter. First of all, she was healthy. It was so amazing to be able to cuddle her right from the start. Getting her dressed or giving her a bath was actually pretty emotional for me. To see her skin and chest, un-scarred, whole, it choked me up sometimes. Having a newborn, or any child for that matter, at home without having to schedule medication doses and scrutinize each milestone for delays was a new and wonderful experience.

Also, she was a screaming banshee. All the time. While Little Heart was smiling and happy and hardly ever made a noise that wasn't happy (in spite of the surgeries and everything else) Tiny Dancer introduced me to the wonderful condition called "colic." Starting at about four weeks old she would scream for hours at a time, every day, several times a day. I could not find a pattern to why or how to relieve it. I tried EVERYTHING - wrap her up, loosen the blankets, music, toys, pacifiers, baby massages, outside, inside, bouncing, rocking, swaying, walking, nursing, and everything else that could be imagined. It seemed everything would work - once - for a few minutes. Then, it was back to the scream-fest. The only thing that for sure would calm her down is the sound of the car in the drive way. As soon as Daddy would come home, she immediately reverted to Angel Baby and my husband was mystified as to why I looked as though I had been pulled through a ringer backwards - until bedtime (when we were already tired) and she would crank up again.

Then there was the spitting up. Actually, that is a polite term for what this child did before, during, and after each feeding. If you have never seen a baby with a "spitting up" problem before, it is very...unsettling. I am still amazed that she was able to grow at all because it seemed as though she could throw up 6 times as much as she could ingest. Somehow, the 4 ounces of breast milk or formula I had just fed her became 3 or so quarts of disgusting-ness on its path right back out.

Little Heart spit up only two or three times - ever so I was not prepared for the entirely different change in feeding and living patterns that were now required. I had to fill my diaper bag with not just several changes of clothes for her, but dozens of blankets and rags as well as extra clothes for me. She seemed to be offended by clean clothes because the instant I would change, she was not happy until she had "blessed it."

In spite of this, I was dedicated to the concept of nursing full time (no bottles or formula) which meant that I was having to nurse roughly every hour or so for 20 to 30 minutes. I felt like I had given birth to a human suction cup that was now permanently attached to one breast or the other. After 10 weeks things started to get even worse. The stress of juggling a newborn and a heart patient was too much and I had to relent and add in formula to supplement after just 12 weeks. It didn't help the mass evacuation of milk after every feeding, but it allowed me to pass her off to others to help with feeding so I was able to get a little more rest.

Suddenly at about 4 1/2 months, the crying just stopped. I was so used to it at first I didn't notice it until she had been quiet for about 3 hours all together. My first thought was "What's wrong?!" As soon as I verified she was healthy, and even happy, my next thought was "How long will this last?" Then of course I felt relief, then guilt at the relief.

Those months were some of the hardest I have ever been through. Beyond juggling the new baby and recovery for for her big sister, I was hit with the worst Postpartum Depression, imaginable. I had never really dealt with anything like it before and it scared the living daylights out of me. In retrospect, the colic might have been caused or at least exacerbated by my stress and anger and sadness. I couldn't sleep at night and I was exhausted all day. When I did manage to sleep, I was so exhausted that I couldn't wake up fully. I was angry for no reason and I felt overwhelmed and stressed even when there was nothing to be upset about. The absolute worst part of it was the awful apathy that would creep in at times. There would be the baby, in her crib, crying and hungry, or needing a change, or just to be held. It was everything in my power to make myself get up off the chair or even just wake up to care for her. Somehow this twisted, ugly, dark monster crept into my brain and sucked all the maternal instincts out of me and replaced them with anger, resentment, and even self pity.

Thinking back to that time, I still can recall those emotions so vividly and I feel shame and regret. I know that my girls were all cared for during this time. Most of the negative emotions were all in my head. I also have been blessed with the most amazing man for a husband. He was right there whenever he could be, caring for me and the babies, cooking, cleaning, shopping. He was an award winning Mr. Mom. There is no way I could have gotten through all of that without him. The patience he possessed then, and still does, is awe-inspiring at times. He was there to help me get through the healing and recovery process of my own self doubt and self loathing as well as be 100% of everything else he needed to be. Today, Tiny Dancer is still Daddy's Girl. I don't know if it has anything to do with those first months or of they are just made from the same mold, but those two are definitely a pair to witness!

She is 8 now and has reached the age that is so much fun to be a part of for me. Little girls become Big Girls at that age. But, she is my Tiny Dancer because she is ... well, tiny. She reminds me of a little bird sometimes, hopping around. She might weigh about 40 pounds now and it is all arms and legs. We also call her Tiny Dancer because not only does she love to dance, but she is actually fairly skilled at it. She has taken ballet and cheer classes and has excelled at both of them. No matter what else she might be doing at any point, she is probably dancing at the same time. Plie's during breakfast, pirouettes in the living room, and sashes down the hall at night. Even when she is sick and running a fever, she is laying down watching TV and kicking her legs in dancing motion.

She is also my little social butterfly. Neither of my other girls have half as many friends as she does. Recently, I took the younger two girls to an evening event at the school. TD was running around the whole time with a gaggle of girls, talking, laughing, and of course, dancing down the halls. I can forsee a future of cheer team parties and homecoming dances already. My pocketbook is cringing.

I think what I love most about TD is the amount of joy she spreads like fairy dust all around her. Once she was old enough to be mobile as a baby, she learned how to make people smile and she hasn't stopped, yet. With all of the medical issues and everything else her older sister has had to deal with, it is sometimes just refreshing to witness the raw beauty of little-girl-ness. I consider her my solace. When I feel like things are crazy around here I can count on her to come up, give me a hug, tell me she loves me, and then dance off. I remember when she was about 2, her older sister had started school and I had a rare moment home alone with nothing to do but be with her. "So this is what it is like to enjoy motherhood," I thought.

Don't get me wrong, I love all my girls with all of my heart and there is no "but" to add to that. They are all three just so different that I can appreciate each of them for their differences. TD is just snuggly, and sweet, and darling, and loves everyone to be happy. Littleheart is just more involved with everything around her. She can't just BE, she must DO. TD is just happy to BE - as long as she can dance while she does it.

Having babies

Today I read an article on (see Mom fights, get the delivery she wants.) that got me inspired to share again.
First I would like to state that I understand each pregnancy is as different as each child that is born. What works for some does not work for others. Every parent has personal reasons for the choices they make and I would never want to unintentionally step on anyone's toes. (disclaimer closed)

This mother was having her second child and had to fight with the doctors in her local hospital on what kind of delivery she should have. Her first child was born by C-Section (due to labor not progressing) and her doctor insisted that she have another C-Section scheduled. She wanted to try a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) but she was told that her hospital would not deliver for VBAC's because of a slightly higher risk associated. Instead of agreeing, she traveled 2 hours to a larger city and a better hospital so that she could have the birth she wanted. Baby number two was delivered fine and Mom and Baby are both healthy.

This is a touchy subject for many moms. The medical community is polarized on the topic as are mothers and mothers-to-be. It really comes down to these points - safety and preparation vs. unnecessary medical procedures and old fashioned "man run" medicine.

It is extremely disturbing to read that 1/3 of all births in the US are by Cesarean.
There are many reasons that OB's suggest C-Section births, and most of them are completely legitimate. According to this article, the number one reason is "failure for labor to progress." If there is any distress to the infant or the mother most OB's will opt to take the baby as fast as possible because a child and a mother are easier to treat separately than together. This does make a lot of sense. In the situation of a breech birth (especially for a first time mother) or a compressed umbilical cord a C-Section is almost always the route that is taken for the health of mother and baby.

A C-Section is major abdominal surgery. You are cutting muscle, tissue, nerves, your inner girl parts - it is nothing to be taken lightly. The recovery can be difficult, and as risky as the recovery for any other surgery, except more-so. The body is recovering from birth as well as from a medical procedure. There is indeed pain involved, and most women (not all, but most) do not regain their pre-pregnancy shape as easily or quickly as they would had they had a "natural birth."

If it is to preserve the health of mother and baby then of course, the benefits outweigh the risks. But, what about when it is not medically necessary at all? How many of those C-Sections are actually elective? Those numbers are a little bit more fuzzy. When I say "elective" I'm not talking about when a mom has been in labor for 36 hours and is exhausted and the baby just isn't moving. I'm talking about a pre-scheduled operation to remove the baby for convenience sake. How about when an OB is going on vacation and the mother (or doctor) would rather have the baby delivered before they leave? What about a mother who wants to take care of things quickly and doesn't want to attempt a vaginal birth? Why on earth would doctors, and mothers for that matter support a practice that involves promoting elective surgery on healthy mothers?

The most distressing reason, I believe, to schedule a C-section before the mother's due date is that the mother has had a previous C-section with a lateral incision (hip to hip as opposed to navel to pelvis.) The medical community has been a swinging pendulum on this over the last several years. Many years ago, all C-sections were done top to bottom. This damages the abdominal muscles and the uterus in such a way that normal labor contractions can often cause a uterine rupture. Every birth after that has to be a cesarean out of necessity. These days, virtually all incisions (except for rare emergency situations) are made laterally which greatly reduces the risk of rupture and other complications. For awhile doctors felt that the risk was low enough to recommend a VBAC when there were no other extenuating circumstances. Then, reports came out that the risk of uterine rupture was higher than first thought and the number of Malpractice Lawsuits began to rise and doctors quickly switched sides again.

Can't there be an in between? Why can't VBAC's be attempted more with the option for a C-Section if things do not progress. The OB's I have spoken to about this feel that it is preferable to have a baby in a controlled environment instead of an emergency one. When decisions have to be made under stress, mistakes happen and people are hurt. I can agree with this, but most cesareans are not done under emergency or even urgent conditions. They are frequently done out of choice by either the doctor or the mother, when other options are still available.

I think maybe doctors have lost sight of the actual goal here. Pregnancy is not a medical condition in and of itself. It's a perfectly natural part of life that can progress pretty much on it's own. Women conceived, were pregnant, and gave birth for hundreds of thousands of years on their own or with only the help of a family member or midwife. Introducing the medical staff into this equation is not necessary in every case.

Now, I am not trying to imply that women stop seeing their OB's for pre-natal care or that every baby needs to be born at home. I am merely suggesting that doctors take a step back and try consider more natural alternatives before jumping at the chance to perform major surgery for and expedient outcome.

I have had three babies under three very different circumstances. I have also helped to coach a few more and I am honored to have been able to. This gives me quite a unique outlook on this sort of thing.

My first girl was by C-Section. I had started out my pregnancy with her wanting as natural a birth as possible. I was seeing a midwife and I planned to give birth at the birthing center instead of in a hospital. Thankfully, I chose to have an elective sonogram where they found the defect in her heart at just 16 weeks along. (At this point, I must personally thank Dr. Christine Brown at the pregnancy clinic on Swiss avenue. She found what many other doctors would have missed and made sure I was taken care of.) Plans quickly changed. I started seeing the doctors at the high risk pregnancy clinic and a neonatal cardiologist (Dr. Jane Kao) and surgeon (Dr Cleveland.) Of course all hopes for a non-hospital birth were right out the window. After arresting pre-term labor 10 weeks early, and holding it off for only 6 weeks, she was still four weeks early, breech, and had already been diagnosed with an extremely serious CHD. In this case I agree that the C-Section was completely necessary. It ensured my baby was cared for the way she needed to be and was not under any stress that was not strictly needed. I bore the scars gladly, (I call it my mommy smiley face) knowing that I sacrificed just a little bit of pain to make sure she had the best start possible. After 12 years, she is a poster child for kids with her condition and I have no doubt it stems from the wonderful care she received before and just after her birth.

Three years later, my husband and I decided to expand our family, but now I was considered High Risk from the very start. My OB was adamant that a VBAC was entirely too dangerous and refused to consider it as an option. I was healthy, the baby was healthy, and the pregnancy was normal so there was no medical reason for this other than the history of a C-Section. Instead of fighting for my birth plan (or finding a new OB,) I let the doctor make the choice and I was scheduled for a C-section three weeks before my due date. This is a decision I regret to this day. The spinal block they gave me was even more uncomfortable than the epidural I had with my first one, and the recovery was much more difficult. I had a toddler to look after as well as my new baby and I overdid things and nearly hemorrhaged. Six weeks after #2 was born, #1 went into the hospital for her third open heart surgery, and was there for four weeks. Chaos ensued. I was barely recovered, physically and mentally drained, and I had to go back to work full time after just 10 weeks. Let's just say I have better memories of cleaning toilets.

After another year or so, I became pregnant with my third baby. The day I found out, I was flooded with mixed emotions. I was so excited to grow our family, but the very thought of going through the same birth process again filled me with a sense of dread that I really didn't anticipate. I realized the apprehension I felt was due to the idea of another baby, but the idea of another birth. I made a decision that I would not go through that again if I had any choice in the matter. I opened up the phone book and called every OB/GYN in my area until I found one that would even consider a VBAC after two cesareans.

I had done a lot of research on it since my last pregnancy because I felt cheated and railroaded by my last OB. I knew the risks involved and I simply wanted a doctor to give me the benefit of at least trying to give birth naturally. I understood that it might not happen, and that if there was any sign of complications at all, I would be immediately moved to the OR for surgery. I just wanted the opportunity to at least go into labor on my own.

I went into the first stages labor about two weeks before my due date and after helping things along naturally, I gave birth to baby #3 vaginally with minimal intervention - no epidural, and only a small amount of pain medicine via IV. The whole process was so much easier than it had been before. I was able to walk within an hour of giving birth and I was able to keep the baby with me in the hospital instead of relying on the nursery to care for her because I was loopy from pain medicine. Back at home I was able to recovery more quickly than ever before. I was actually able to enjoy the first few days of being home instead of feeling like I was in a pain-filled fog of immobility. Dr. Theilen is a great doctor and a wonderful, down-to-earth man and I am so thankful to him for allowing me to experience that.

After experiencing things all three ways - Emergency Ce-Section, Scheduled C-Section, and Natural Birth - I can say I wish I would have been able to have all three naturally. For those moms out there who want to have an elective C-Section because of the fear of pain or out of convenience - I must say, give Mother Nature a try. She knows what she's doing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Little Heart

My first heart is the smallest heart around me. At least in some ways. In others, it may be the biggest heart I have ever met.

My oldest daughter is my "special needs" child. At 12, she is among the older members of the population to have been born with and survived the congenital heart defect known as HLHS. (For more detailed info look here: ) In layman's terms - the left two chambers of her heart did not fully develop before she was born but the right side did. Her first open heart surgery (Norwood) came at 9 days of age, then her second (Glenn) was at 6 months, and her last major one (Fontan) was at 4 years. All this was a three step procedure to enable the heart to pump with two chambers instead of four. It's really rocket surgery. The last major procedure she went through was last January - a heart cath to add a few stints to improve overall blood flow.

Other than that we have been so incredibly blessed to have had a pretty smooth time of it. Most moms, and indeed most people, never need to learn about the detailed physiology of the heart or what the common side effects are of most heart medications, or even what a stint sounds like through a stethoscope. I am, by far, not an expert. I do a lot of research when I can and I have contacts with several parents who have children born with the same condition. I can say that I have collected a lot of different pieces of information about HLHS and I am willing and eager to share that knowledge as well as my personal experiences. I have found that talking about this and sharing stories, fears, challenges, and triumphs is the best sort of therapy there could be.

Something I am blessed to have beyond all of that is a big family, and a whole heap of history with kids (both mine and others.) I have knitted this all together in a personal way to try and keep some sanity about my life. So far it seems to work out pretty well for us. Our kids are not a huge embarrassment in public (often) and I can describe them as "good kids" from time to time. They all make good grades and haven't committed any felonies (that I am aware of) so at this point I think I am doing ok.

Right now my oldest is hitting the "tween" stage. She is not yet a teenager, but no longer willing to order off the kids menus. To see her come this far is just awe-inspiring. We have avoided many of the health problems and developmental issues that many children with Congenital Heart Defects are faced with. She has only been hospitalized a few times for illnesses not related to her heart defect. As long as we tackle cold and flu season with plenty of rest and lots of hand soap (as well as staying away from malls, churches, gatherings of 3 or more strangers,) we do alright. She was an early walker (I wouldn't wish this on my enemies,) an early and prolific talker (I have invested in really good earplugs, and an excellent cell phone plan,) and she is extremely intelligent and smart for her age ("Gifted and Talented" is school-speak for "Registration of Future Evil-Geniuses.")

Because of her birthday she is "young" for her grade compared to many of her peers. Her parents and their families are also rather short in stature, so she was never destined to play basketball, anyway. Chances are she would not be any bigger or taller than she is today even if she were born with a whole and healthy heart. The HLHS just makes it seem like a bigger issue for her.

Really it is, even though we try our hardest not to make it that way. When she was first born and she was still in the ICU, waiting for her first surgery, I remember vividly looking at all the tubes and machines and nurses. This was my first few days as a parent and nothing was normal about it. Not the baby, not the birth, not even the pregnancy (maybe I'll explain that later) and things were going to get even more weird as the days rolled on.

Everything was so much harder than it should have been to begin with. There were wires and monitors hooked up all over her. She couldn't breathe room air because it was too rich in oxygen for her little heart, so we had to keep her in a hood for or keep her close to a hose/mask so she could breathe the right levels of whatever she was supposed to have. Snuggling her was very difficult and my father in law was so nervous that wouldn't even attempt to touch her for several days. Even nursing was a torment for both of us - she was fed with preemie nipples when I wasn't around and I had never nursed a baby before so I didn't know how to help her learn. But, I was determined and we both figured things out, although it was very painful for awhile (at least for me it was - she had a feeding tube and got fed while she was sleeping if she wanted.)

I had been prepared by all the doctors to expect a sickly child who would need help to achieve developmental milestones in a timely manner - if she survived at all. That was not a scenario that I was going to accept. I made a decision then that no matter what the future might hold for my new family, we would always treat our child (and eventually children) as if they were not limited by anything. That they would make the choice on their own to be restricted or set free. I would make whatever concessions that were necessary for her health and well-being, but I would not raise a child to be a victim of their condition or illness.

I know I was a bit naive. Over the past 12 years I have had to make adjustments and redefine everything I thought I knew about kids up to that point. Nothing could have prepared me for the pint sized ball of energy I was about to raise. ("They will pace themselves and they won't overextend themselves," the doctor said. Hah!) I didn't know that I would have to spend more time focusing on her diet and behavior than I would have to on her heart condition. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the food related temper tantrums or the weekly "talks" with her fourth grade teacher.) That's not to say that it was easy dosing a toddler three times a day - every day - and sending them to daycare hoping and praying that the teacher is intelligent enough to read instructions (occasionally, they weren't.) It only took one case of hives to burn into my skull that you never - ever - give a medication to her unless it has been triple checked by the pediatrician, the pharmacists, and the cardiologist. As crazy as it sounds, her reaction to Red 40 food dye has made a bigger impact on our daily lives than her heart defect has. Well, that and the ADD, and excessive chattiness that defines her, and the intolerable goofiness that comes from being my daughter. (Don't even get me started on the topic of potty training!)

Really, though, we have been blessed with a pretty "normal" life. Well, I guess "average" would be a better description. Well, actually in many ways we have an "above average" life. I guess what I'm trying to say is that our life isn't like anyone else. Not even remotely.

The biggest difference, I would say, is that we have tried to teach my daughter - and her sisters - that nothing separates her from anyone else, unless she decides it does. I insist she do chores and put away her own laundry and bring home passing grades and not set the dog on fire or cut her sisters' hair while they are sleeping. You know - the basics.

I tried to imagine what I rules I would make if she didn't have a heart condition and make adjustments to that if I needed. She has always risen to the challenge and exceeded our expectations. What I didn't realize is what an impact it would make on a kid to tell them "I know you will do your best and I will love you no matter what that 'best' may be," instead of "It's ok not to work as hard as you can because you're sick and you shouldn't have to." What I got was this amazing little spunky thing who is headstrong, and stubborn, and argumentative, and sharp as a tack. I would much rather have that, than a child who has become a victim or a martyr in her own mind.

My little girl will stand up to boys twice her size and two years older if she thinks they are wrong and she is right. She is known as the Elevator Guard. If you are not taking the stairs, you had better be sick, Buster, or she will have your number! She makes her own path and is confident going her own way. When every other little girl wanted a white pony for Christmas, she wanted a RED one. When someone is being picked on - especially if they are considered "special" - she simply can not tolerate it. She doesn't consider herself "special" but she knows how it feels to be treated that way and she can't stand to see that kind of discrimination.

Of course, it isn't always as easy as all that. She is getting to the stage where she desperately wants peer approval. What 7th grader doesn't want to have lots of friends and be envied because of her cute boyfriend? But she is more likely to stand up to someone than let them run her down, even if it makes her less popular. She positively hates to be picked last, but she's just so...little, that it inevitably comes down to that. (Being genetically predisposed to be a klutz doesn't help either. Ask me. I'll tell you.) She loves to read, hates Math, agonizes over the "perfect outfit" to wear to a party. She has the same fights with her best friend that every one else does. She gets razzed because she hasn't kissed a boy even though she has had the same "boyfriend" for over year. (Nice kid. Boy scout, good family. Passed the background check. We have him followed.)

The most amazing part of it is that these are all things average girls and boys deal with when they turn 12. It isn't until you really look closely that you might even suspect she has more to deal with than whether or not she should wear the pink sparkly lip gloss or the gold sparkly one. She is starting to get to the point where her condition is actually limiting her activity on a daily basis. She takes a regular gym class, but sits out when she is tired. It gets her goat to see all the other girls running up and down the gym chasing a basketball while she is sidelined because her face is white and her lips are blue from exertion. The subject of her heart doesn't really come up much - even in gym when she gets dirty looks for walking instead of jogging. So often she will mention to a friend that she has to go the cardiologist or that her chest hurts from the wires keeping her sternum together and they will be shocked because they have known her for two years and never knew she was physiologically any different.

But, there is something about her and her relationships with others that is just... different. Bigger. Deeper. It is instantly recognizable. She is generous to a fault and more aware of others than a typical tween is. Even as a baby she wanted to comfort other babies that were crying instead of joining in with the wailing ("Why baby crying, Mommy? Go help!"). For someone with such a small heart, she really has a big heart. In 4th grade, I found out she had been giving speeches- on her own - to encourage donations to the American Heart Association during their annual Jump Rope for Heart drive. Last month, she wanted to save the animals (no word yet on just how...) Last week she wanted to start a petition to have the elevator code changed to cut down on unauthorized use by healthy kids. This week, she went to the local military base with her father, grandparents, and sisters to help host a holiday dinner for the soldiers stationed on base and their families. Many of her past teachers stay in contact to see how she is doing because she just gets under your skin that way, I guess. I have even gotten calls from friends-of-friends who met her a few times and used her as inspiration to help them get through their own trials.

How do you live next to someone like that? How can you have this celebrity level personality in your house all the time and not feel inferior, at least sometimes? My goal was to let her live as normal a life as possible. What I got was a child who turned her tribulations into an extraordinary personality.
She has more than enough heart to go around - no matter what the x-rays say.