Thursday, November 7, 2013

Comfort and Heartbreak

The Newborn Intensive Care Unit is one of the most hopeful and hopeless places I've ever been. Tiny bodies fight so hard to survive, to live, to thrive. They want to breathe, to heal, to move.

The day after Baby Rah was born, he was cut open and repaired. He could not move for the first week: he lay still, ventilated, sedated. The first time I held him was one week after he was born. The nurses kindly resituated the dozens of tubes and cords that connected him to monitors, oxygen, hydration, nutrition, pain medication, and one that drained body fluids. His body was so light and tiny, so worn out, so beautiful and heartbreaking.

Two days later he underwent his second surgery. His face was swollen and bruised. His nose was enlarged and his lip bloodied. We joked that he looked like he'd been in a bar fight. But I knew this meant we'd be in the NICU even longer. Longer hours, days, weeks, months.

The longer we stayed, the more jealous I felt of those families who left so soon. The baby who was hooked up to ten different machines when he came in was home within ten days. The baby whose parents giggled through their discharge training left after a day. Even the baby with spina bifida who had fluid on his brain was discharged after two weeks.

Discharge is an emotional time in the NICU. Everyone is so happy for the family whose baby finally got to go home and be with his or her family. But it is such a reminder to those of us who stay that our babies are still there, still on pain medication, still not eating or breathing on their own. I must have listened to the infant CPR video six times before our official discharge. I can still hear the speaker's voice in my head: "Say it like you mean it: 'Hey you! Call 911 now!'" While it seems silly in the video, our nurse Jane made sure we understood that if we don't say it like we mean it, the other person may stop and say, "What's going on?" We need to be forceful, so we don't waste time.

Baby Rah has given us plenty of scares in this last year. He was five days old when the nurses took him off the ventilator and he stopped breathing. Jane kindly looked at me and gave me permission to leave while they revived him. He had such severe reflux in the spring we wondered if there was a problem with his esophageal repair and rushed to the surgeon for another esophagram. He had even inexplicably passed out a couple of times. It was May when he had a sedated echocardiogram. I couldn't believe how emotionally taxing it was. He was sleeping, but looked so much like that baby we couldn't hold, who stayed so still for his first week. Then there was the night in August Ji decided to bring Rah up onto his bed, which Rah immediately rolled off and hit his head. That's what I get for leaving the room for one minute.

It was mid-September when James rushed into the room with a limp baby in is arms. He recovered quickly after a few chest compressions and blowing air into his face. The next morning it happened again. My dad's doctor referred us to a gastroenterologist to try to figure out the problem. We were given stronger medication.

But the problems didn't stop with the new medication. The day before his first birthday, we hit crisis.

It was around 3:30 Rah finished eating his bottle, and I laid him in his crib for a nap. Ji was asleep in the room, so the room was dark. He cried for a little but then quieted down. Not long after the crying stopped, I stood outside his door and heard gagging and gurgling sounds. I turned him on his side so he could throw up. He was vomiting most of the milk he had just drank, but I then noticed he hadn't inhaled since he started throwing up.

I carried him to the hallway and performed about four cycles of CPR on him before he revived. He was grayish-blue and limp. His eyes had rolled back. Boo came home in time to call 911. She was so brave. She told them what was happening and gave them our address. Ambulances, police cars, and a fire engine showed up outside our house. Our dear friends and wonderful neighbors, the Wilsons, brought Boo and Ji to their house.

We spent some time in the local ER, but they transferred us to Primary Children's within about an hour because of all of Rah's complications. He took a good nap on the ambulance ride, so he was cheerful and cute by the time we got to the hospital. I'm sure the staff was thinking, "What's this baby doing here?" He had a bottle at bedtime and, once again, started vomiting and turning blue. The medical staff revived him, and we were sent to intensive care.

Baby Rah spent his first birthday undergoing a series of tests and being deprived of food. We started with another esophagram. His esophagus appears to have no strictures or leaks or lesions. He had a swallow study done that showed his delays in swallowing and risk of aspirations with thin liquids. But the swallow study didn't explain the apnea episodes. Rah's good friend, Dr. Meier, came with his ENT team and did a larynoscopy to check out his nose and throat. Still, no answers.

At the end of the day, he was finally able to eat four ounces of milk.

As suspected, Rah's episodes were likely a combination of several factors. We were never given one explanation because one does not exists, as far as we could tell. He had a mild cold and parainfluenza 4, so the viruses likely contributed to the problem.

Not everyone will have these kinds of experiences; I realize that. But last year before this baby was born I didn't suspect we would spend forty-seven days in the NICU, put him through four surgeries, or have to revive a blue baby.

So here's some advice:

Learn CPR. Everyone should know CPR. Everyone who ever takes care of an infant should know infant CPR. 

Stay calm. Once everything is under control, you can lose it. Cry your eyes out later, but don't freak out until the situation is handled.

Pray. A lot. The Lord brings us comfort even in those hopeless moments when we wonder if this is it, we may not be able to do any more. Because even if we can't, He can. And He does. Even if it means letting go.

Just remember that life is a blessing. That blessing may be brief or long. It may be joyful or tragic. But we are blessed to live, every moment we are given.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Things Have Changed

Music is an inherited passion. My dad is a guitarist; my mom is a singer. My siblings and I grew up with Devo, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, The Cars, and even Adrian Belew blasting from the record player and eight-track.

Music is more than soundtrack for me; music is memory. It's the reminder of the first boy who said he loved me and gave me "Something." It's the mad heartbreak that drove me to "Precious Things" and the loneliness of "Circle." "Marrakesh Express" is my sister dancing with a green sweater at the thrift store. "I Want You" is the hope of a life I never lived with a boy who gave me more disappointment than faith.

As a teenager I gathered friends who shared my musical passions: The Beatles, Tori Amos, Grateful Dead. I once collected CDs---singles, rarities, anthologies, anything---from my favorite artists. There once was a time when I would follow the careers of a several musicians and make sure I never missed out on new albums or concerts.

Last year, about ten days before Baby Rah was born and our lives went into a tailspin, I went with my sister, Kirstin, to see Garbage . . . and an unbelievably happy/drunk Shirley Manson forgetting the lyrics to her own songs.
Kirstin in her Garbage shirt

Despite, or because of, Shirley Manson's whiskey-inspired declarations of love for her band and lying on the stage with a drunken cat caller and explaining "this is my show," the concert was unforgettable.

Two days later Kirstin texted and told me Aimee Mann was performing in Salt Lake---that night. I've never seen Aimee Mann in concert, even though I've been a fan for more than a decade. That was the first time she had come anywhere near where I lived, and I had no idea she was even coming.

Check out my favorite Aimee Mann video (from her latest album):

Aimee Mann "Charmer"

I hadn't really thought about concerts this past summer, but then at my dad's birthday party Kirstin mentioned that Bob Dylan was coming to Salt Lake . . . in five days.

The first time I saw Bob Dylan in concert was summer of 1999 when he was touring with Paul Simon. I woke up early on a Saturday and stood outside Smith's with my boyfriend at the time, waiting to get tickets first day they were available. I was nervous the show would sell out before we made it to the ticket window.

This time we bought James's ticket at the door.

Bob Dylan doesn't play guitar anymore. He didn't talk to the audience. He didn't jump around. He never showed any enthusiasm. He played piano. He sang. He changed the tunes and lyrics of his songs. I'm not even sure he ever smiled.

He opened with an unfamiliar rendition of "Things Have Changed," the Academy Award-winning tune from the Wonder Boys soundtrack. This was the first new song Dylan released after the end of a relationship that I had thought would be forever. All other Bob Dylan songs were connected with the boy who had gone. "Things Have Changed" helped me move forward, accept the change of plans---maybe in the most cynical possible way. (The chorus is, after all, "I used to care, but things have changed.")

But on this breezy, summer night, I felt it. I found the change all around me---in the wind and the scents, the arms around my waist. Things have changed. Everything had changed. In the fourteen years since I first saw Bob Dylan on stage, I have discovered which things really matter: God, family, stability, confidence, real love.

We stood on the grass and fell into the music. I was wrapped up in James's arms and feeling the words seep into my skin, pulse through my veins, and tangle in my hair.

The power of the moment didn't come from the stage. It came from the intimacy of sharing my self with the man of my life, willingly giving myself wholly to another, sharing the songs of my past with the present and letting myself be led to the future.

I hope eternity is as beautiful as that moment with my love.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

More Not-Really Classics

I think my attention span is failing.

And my reading rate.

And my vocabulary.

And, maybe, my ability to analyze and interpret the deeper, more philosophical and cultural meanings under the layers of story and allusion in literature.

Because even though I started reading Vanity Fair for fun after finding a cool eighty-year-old copy at an estate sale, I haven't really gone back to it in the last several weeks.

Instead, I'm making more recommendations for reading classics that aren't really classics. This time, though, we're going to the board book section.

One compound word, folks: BabyLit.

A series of colorful primers based on classic literature. Don't expect a story, but your small child will learn colors, numbers, opposites, weather, and ocean words.

Personal favorites:

Wuthering Heights is the ideal place to learn about weather. Lots of atmosphere.

Wonderland: the most colorful place in all of imagination.

Two very different sisters are the greatest teachers of opposites. Let's hope each one learns her lesson by the end.

I'm really looking forward to some of the new primers that have just come out, particularly Jabberwocky: A Nonsense Primer.

Every child should be primed for nonsense.

Find more titles at

Friday, August 9, 2013

How to Read Classics without Orphans or Undiscovered Uncles

Imagine a world where people actually cared about literature. A world where an entire government agency was created to protect literature.

In this world Baconians knock on doors and hand out pamphlets that explain why Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare's plays. And people could easily give evidence as to why he was not. For a few cents, one can watch puppets recite a scene from a Shakespeare play.

This is a world in which no one would ask, "What do you do with a B.A. in English?"

Maybe a few of us would like this kind of world--despite the cloning of extinct creatures like dodos and mammoths, and the overbearing corporation that pretty much runs everything. Well, maybe not.

But I, like most others who have whiled away the hours with Dickens, Melville, and the Brontes, would like a little more credit for the power of literature. Except we don't actually want to keep reading classics over and over. And really, we might not want to read Bleak House or The Mill on the Floss. Man, life is too complicated now to get bogged down in all of that misfortune and infidelity.

Thank you, Jasper Fforde, for coming along with a quirky alternate 1985 and giving us Thursday Next of England's Special Operations Literatech Division.

The series starts with Thursday Next jumping into the original manuscript of Jane Eyre to stop a supervillain from murdering Jane and destroying the book forever. Instead, Thursday manages to change the ending of the book (from the bland ending in which Jane joins St. John in India), and facilitates the destruction of Thornfield Hall, the blinding of Edward Rochester, and the dramatic death of Bertha Rochester.

Oh, the great Gothic romance has never been greater than Jane Eyre.

We later spend time with Miss Havisham in during Thursday Next's Jurisfiction training, hang out with Hamlet, get to know Miss Tiggywinkle, and listen to Beatrice and Benedick bicker in high Tudor English.

I am on book five of seven, which is Thursday Next: First Among Sequels. Confusing, I know.

If anyone is interested in reading about classics, but not reading classics, or reading about writing, but not actually writing, then I recommend Thursday Next. Since it took me a while to figure out the order of the books, I will list them for you here:

The Eyre Affair
Lost in a Good Book
The Well of Lost Plots
Something Rotten
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing
The Woman Who Died a Lot

Now, I need to go back to the world where earning advanced degrees in English literature means grading punctuation worksheets and giving advice on MLA format.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Eulogy for a Beard

James had a job interview today---a white shirt and tie, clean-shaven kind of interview.

So last night we had a brief "goodbye to the beard" party, mostly to make sure the boys would still recognize their daddy.

James set up a chair so Ji could see the process very clearly. Boo was standing on another chair, but it broke about ten minutes into the farewell gathering. I held onto Baby who was most excited to be by the mirror.

And James turned on his clippers.

Buzz, buzz, buzz---down one cheek, sideburn left intact.
Little hands rub the shaven fuzz.

Buzz down the other cheek.
"Am I still me?" Daddy asks.

Baby smiles at his daddy.

"Mustache or goatee next?"
One says goatee. All is gone but a tiny strip at the chin.

"Mustache!" the other cries.
Clip, clip---the mustache is gone.

"Who is this man?" Baby wonders.
"Why is his smile familiar?"
Baby feels shy and hides from the stranger.
Stares at the stranger with his daddy's voice, then hides again.

Daddy takes his baby's hand and rubs the last of the beard,
"It's me, Daddy."
Baby recognizes Daddy from his beard and smiles.

"It's just so different," Boo cannot stop herself from saying. 

White cream smothered on face inspires Ji to call out "Joker!"
White face, red lips, and a smile.

It was a good beard:
The beard of an innkeeper.
The beard of a teacher.
The beard of a writer.
The beard of a brother.
The beard of a husband.
The beard of a father.

The beard will be back. It can't be helped. The beard wants to grow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


It's funny that the primary way we identify people is by their hair since hair is the easiest part of our appearance to change. We tend to describe people as "the red-haired woman" or the "dark-haired man with goatee." Of course, goatees can be shaven; hair can be dyed. I've been unrecognizable to people I've seen every day of my life because of a drastic hair change.

Me? I'm always a long-blonde-haired person.

Mostly always.

I was a long-haired little girl:

Adults would notice me because of all of that hair. Since I was a quiet and shy child, the attention would embarrass me--but I loved having long hair.

When I was twelve, my aunt cut off all of my hair at my request. My mom was so upset she cried. It would have been better if I had talked to her about it first. I think she would have been all right if our family weren't having such a hard time. That was the first time I changed my hair as a protest for all that was wrong in my life.

The short hair didn't last. It was long again by the time I was fourteen. I had Michelle Phillips hair, the ultimate hippy hairstyle. During the adolescent madness (or brilliance!) of my sixteenth year, I recruited a friend to help me dye my hair pink.
I felt like a Krystal Princess. Again, my mom was terribly upset. I can't blame her too much for that. It took about two months for the dye to wash out. 

The next drastic change came just before my eighteenth birthday when I cut several inches from my hair and permed it for the first time. It was a fun hairstyle, but my hair is a little too heavy for spiral curls. So it ended up wavy within a couple of months. By the time I started college the next fall, I (once again) had long blonde hippy hair.

Over the next few years I had a pretty steady pattern of cut off a few inches, grow several inches, trim, cut, leave long. It was always past my shoulders and mostly straight and always blonde. People recognized me from a distance by my hair.

2003 was a pretty bad year for me. That's the year I ran off to Florida "for an adventure" and met the man who would end up my ex-husband. I had already started off the year by creating some new ex-boyfriends, so I can't say romance was my strength that year. The best indication that I was going through some drastic period was when I cut off thirteen inches of hair and permed the rest.

I let my hair grow out again. As usual.

But a divorce seemed a good time for a change. My sister and I had found some really lovely photos of women with deep red hair and fringe. I hadn't had bangs for years. Well, maybe I had. They grow away so quickly, I don't remember. But the divorce took forever, so I delayed the hair change. When it did finalize, I threw myself a party (James was one of my guests). I was teaching two classes that semester, working on the first chapter of my thesis, and starting to spend a lot of time with James, so I delayed the drastic hair change until just before finals. James was pretty overwhelmed by the bright red dye.

So was my poor mother. (I think I've tortured her enough with my hair changes for a lifetime.)

It had faded by the time he came back from Ohio for Christmas break. Plus, his beard had grown in. We were hair happy.

Last summer was my latest drastic change. It came from pure exhaustion over brushing my long locks. So, I asked my friend Grace to cut them all off, and I sent another ponytail to Locks of Love.

A few days ago Boo was at her friend's house and gained several stripes of pink and turquoise throughout her golden brown hair. I admit I'm a little envious, but I need to keep my hair conservative for work.

And people always mistake Ji for a little girl because of his long, curly golden brown hair. I know we need to trim it, but how can I take scissors those curls?
Summer term started a few weeks ago, so James cut his hair and beard. His time as an actor and male model is closing down. He may not be mistaken for a Muslim or homeless man once he has a short beard and hair, but he's still recognizable to our children. I worry the most for Ji if he ever shaves his beard completely. I think Ji will search everywhere for his daddy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Being Undead Really Bites

Did you read Dracula when you were a teenager?

I started the book. It scared me so much I quit. Then I didn't sleep well for several nights afterward. I removed the paperback from my bedroom and finally relaxed.

For some people a good scare is enticing: shivering around a campfire while telling ghost stories; watching a movie about a mysterious murderer who creeps around a corner and slashes his next victim; screaming on the Tower of Terror at California Adventure.

And even though I've done all of these things (and I'm a big fan of Tim Burton and his morbidly imaginative movies), I'm not really a scare seeker.

Maybe that's why this vampire craze that has taken over bookstores and movie theatres perplexes me. But the thing is that, as scary as Dracula is, people seem to see vampires as romantic heroes rather than terrifying monsters that eat people.

Have you seen the young adult fiction section of a bookstore lately? It sort of looks like Hot Topic without the super-loud, crappy music. Since Twilight it seems like vampire romance novels are all over the place: Vampire Diaries, The Morganville Vampires, Eighth Grade Bites, City of Bones, etc., etc., etc.
All right. I confess: I've never read Twilight or even seen the movies. My sister and sisters-in-law all read them, but I really can't force myself to read sub-par prose. (My husband read the first book as a talking point; my sister quit in fury when she found out that the third book was not, in fact, the conclusion of the series.) So I didn't understand the Team Edward and Team Jacob thing until people stopped to explain who the characters are. Oh, right. Vampire and werewolf. Great guys for a high schooler to date.

And I guess the fact that this teenage girl (or is she twenty by the fourth book?) marries a 200-year-old undead, sparkly vampire gives me the creeps. But women love this Edward. I've heard weird stories about women who are looking everywhere for a man like Edward: sneaking into your window to watch you sleep, deciding what's best for you without asking your opinion, suicidal journeys upon hearing of your (false) death, leaping out of windows while carrying you in his arms, and skin as cold and hard as marble. 
One adult woman's obsession with Edward inspired her to ask her husband to bathe in cold water so he was cold to her touch.

Is it just me, or is that nasty?

I think while people are busy romanticizing vampires, they forget one important element: death.

Not only do vampires kill people, but they are actually dead people.

The truth is, being undead couldn't be anything but awful. Let's say you're bitten at fifteen: you stay in your awkward fifteen-year-old body forever, always wishing you could grow into your adult figure. You can't go out into the sunshine: the sun burns you up. You have no reflection (maybe that's why Edward's hair looks so weird in the movies). Your diet is based on human blood. If you don't kill the humans around you, you outlive them anyway.

It sounds really lonely.

I think that's why my nomination for best vampire story ever is Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabriel Soria, and Warren Pleece.
Imagine you are the undead, slave to the owner of all-night convenient store, forced to watch pathetic wanna-bes pretend they're vampires.

And no one has a freaky undead baby at the end.

Now that's a vampire story worth reading.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hogwarts Blew into Our Basement

Around here, we love a good party.

Every birthday I swear I'll simplify, but then I do something goofy like make a fondant Rapunzel (that makes me want to cry because her head won't stay on)
Boo's seventh birthday

or paint a large, sightless monster for a fun-filled game of Pin the Eye on the Monster.
Ji's first birthday
 (Or pull together a carnival for James's birthday.)

Boo had been talking for months about having a Monster High birthday party. She and her friends at school play Monster High and pretend to be characters like Skelita Calaveras (daughter of Los Eskeletos), Jinifire Long (daughter of the Chinese Dragon), Draculaura (daughter of Dracula), Frankie Stein (you guessed it, daughter of the Frankenstein monster).

My sister and I decided Monster High was exactly the sort of morbid, pretty, bizarre thing we would have been into as children. I felt all right with the silliness. The Monster High show would go on.

But then a spark of magic fell into Boo's hands.

Last month Boo was looking for something new to read, so I handed her Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Within two days, she was ready for The Chamber of Secrets. She slowed down a bit with Prisoner of Azkaban and is now about one third of the way through my favorite of the series, The Goblet of Fire.

The Monster High party was forgotten. Harry Potter had cast his spell over Boo.

Again, I thought I'd make it simple. We'd have different tables in the backyard with a few Harry Potter-themed activities. We'd make a Hogwarts table for sorting, a Honeydukes table with candy, and an Ollivanders table where each child could decorate a wand. Boo and I spent the week making signs and posters. Boo's primary president even came over and donated a Hogwarts banner, a collection of potion bottles, a Monster Book of Monsters, and a little owl.

After looking up about fifteen recipes for cauldron cakes, Boo spotted a photo online of Hagrid's cake from the first movie. She wanted that cake, the ugly cake that gets sat on while Hagrid is chasing down Harry and the Dursleys. I could do that.

Everything was under control until six o'clock that night when we started setting up. We'd had more than a week of blistering hot days. An evening party seemed like a good plan for July.
Then came the wind. And the rain. A summer storm like you wouldn't believe---not in the desert.
Friends and family who had arrived a few minutes early helped us rush everything inside. While we resituated the party, James . . . err, I mean Hagrid led the children to the cupboard under the stairs and started quizzing them on their knowledge of magical creatures.

We started with Ollivanders since our new students would need to get their supplies from Diagon Alley before heading to Hogwarts.
The children all wrote down their favorite spells and went to Honeydukes to guess the number of chocolate frogs hiding under a paper towel.
We had fizzing whizbees, Burtie Botts Every Flavour Beans, acid pops, jelly slugs, licorice wands, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, disappearing leprechaun gold, Dumbledore's favourite lemon drops, and chocolate frogs.

Special thanks to Grandpa Zorro for sending the chocolate frog mold.
Since my brothers, sister, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews had all been sorted six years ago in a very memorable sorting ceremony, we gave them the honor of being House Prefects and cheering in our first-year students during the sorting ceremony.
Baby was sorted into Syltherin, just like his clever father. Boo and Ji are both Ravenclaw. I'm the only one of us who is Gryffindor. (I guess that's why when my children see a spider they call for me to bring the little dear outside. Wait. I'm Professor McGonagall in this party, not Hagrid.)

After the sorting came another quick change of plans. The grass was too wet and slippery for Wizard Tag or Spellbound Red Rover where children would be sliding into muddy pools of water. So Jame--Hagrid created a simple balloon game he called Quidditch. The object: Hagrid throws the balloon in the air, kids touch it (hot potato style) and get a point. When Hagrid would call "Golden Snitch!" the kids would rush to try to catch the balloon. Only children nine and under could be seekers. 

After a raucous tournament, it came down to Slytherin versus Gryffindor.

Slytherin won.

Interesting how life reflects art. Isn't it?
McGonagall presents the Quidditch Cup.
The winners select their prizes, another round of thanks to Grandpa Zorro.

The undefeated Slytherin team (plus their Head of House, Professor Zonts)
Hufflepuff House! Winners of the House Cup!
Ravenclaw Rules! Brightest witches and wizards around.
Brave Gryffindor! Never afraid of danger!
After a fantastic battle on the Quidditch pitch, nothing beats a refreshment from Honeydukes or The Three Broomsticks.
That acid pop burned a hole in Boo's teeth!

Goblets of Butterbeer

The best part of any birthday, of course, is the cake. Unfortunately, you need a pretty powerful spell to put out these candles.
Boo was losing her breath by the fourth time the candles relit. She didn't know the putting out spell and didn't have a deluminator to capture the flames. Too bad.

So despite the sudden changes in plans and the crowding. . . 
it was a magical birthday for our girl.