Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is This My Child?

So the kids and I got to see little bits and pieces of the inauguration. They liked the part with the musicians (Is he really named Yo-yo, Mom?), and they asked me about the 21-gun salute.

Lauren asked me, “Why do they do that?”

“I’m not sure, honey, but I think it might have something to do with Obama now being in charge of the military.”

“What’s the military?”

“Well, now Barack Obama is in charge of our army, our navy, our marines, and all the people who protect our country.” (I actually have no idea if the 21-gun salute is related to this. It’s just a guess).

At this point, Ryan gets a crazed, but determined look on his face. He jumps off the couch and stands in some sort of demented Jedi pose and says, “I’m still more powerfuller than him, Mom, because I have force fields and can shoot lasers out of my hands that kill people!”

I gave birth to this child?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Life Happens. . .

Many of you know about my troubles with Lauren lately. I’ll give you all the whole story, start to finish.

On January 13, I took Lauren to a new doctor, Dr. Gold, for her six-year well-check appointment. I was a couple of months late, as I had actually forgotten about a well-check at the time of her birthday. I expected this appointment to go as our well-checks always have. You know, “Growth’s on track, she seems well-nourished, have her wear a bike helmet.” And really, it did go that way. But at the end of the appointment, the doctor casually mentioned, “I’d like her to have a TB skin test. I have all my six-year old patients have one, and I just think it’s a good idea.” No problem, I thought. I am a teacher. I’ve had what seems like hundreds of TB skin tests. No big deal.

Well, it’s really no big deal if your skin test is negative, which mine always were. You get a little prick, and bubble forms under the skin, and it goes away within a day. Two days later, you go back to the doctor’s office, a nurse looks at your arm and says, “You’re clear, see you in a couple of years.” Since I had no reason to think Lauren’s would be any different, I actually forgot about her test. It was the kind of thing where I’d be making lunch or something and I’d think, “Damn, I have to remember to bring Lauren back to the doctor on Thursday to get her arm checked! Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget. . .”

So on Thursday morning, I said to the kids at breakfast, “We have to remember to take Lauren to the doctor today to get her arm checked. Don’t let me forget!”

“Mom, will I have to get another one?”

“No, hon, why would you have to get another. . .” And I noticed her arm. Still, it didn’t register with me.

“Lauren, did you get a mosquito bite?”

“No, Mom, that’s where the doctor gave me the shot.”

“It is? Does it itch?” I gave her welt a little scratch and she pulled her arm away.

“No, Mom! It doesn’t feel like anything! It’s not a mosquito bite. Don’t scratch it!”

So I examined her arm closely, and it looked like a big mosquito bite, except it had several tiny little blisters on it, and it felt lumpy. No TB skin test I ever had reacted this way, so I was a little concerned. I called my mom, because that’s who I call when I get concerned about stuff like this. Both my parents tried to dismiss it. My dad said, “There’s no way she has TB. Where on Earth would she pick something like that up? That would be, like, big news!” My mom just asked what it looked like and advised that I take her in after school to have it looked at, and that her reaction was probably within the realm of normal reactions. So I hoped and hoped that this was a normal reaction to a skin test.

But I still called Rick before I took her to the doctor. “You know, hon, her reaction just doesn’t look right to me. I’ve had a lot of these tests, and you know, it’s just not right.” Rick just tried to reassure me and told me not to worry about it before I had it checked out. But you know, I’m learning not to discount my motherly instinct. I hoped it was just a negative, if unusual, reaction. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t.

Well, you must know by now how it’s turned out. Her test was positive. The doctor came in with a little ruler and measured her welt in millimeters, and confirmed my fears. So Lauren has been exposed to tuberculosis at some point in her young life. He peppered me with questions:

“Have you traveled out of the country recently?” No.

“Does anyone come to work in your house? Maybe a housekeeper?” No.

“Have you visited anyone in a hospital recently?” No.

“Do you have any idea where she might have picked this up?” No.

“Well, really, it’s just impossible to know where people pick up these things. It could’ve been anywhere.” Great.

The doctor ordered X-rays and a complete blood test to be done before she was to go back to school, so could I take her over to the hospital right away for her tests, please? The doctor told me she was most likely not contagious, since she had no symptoms of TB, and he expected her X-ray to be clear. But still, with a positive skin test, she really could not enter back into school until they knew for sure her lungs were clear. Also, the doctor went on to tell me, when children test positive for TB, they were to go on a 9-month course of antibiotics, and the antibiotics could potentially inflame the liver, so they needed to do regular blood tests to make sure her liver was tolerating the medicine well. Also, our whole family had to be tested. And, oh, by the way, he also needed to notify the Ventura County Public Health Office, so they would most likely be contacting me.

I left the doctor’s office stunned.

I sat in the laboratory waiting room at the hospital with my head spinning. Nine months of antibiotics? Potentially inflamed liver? X-ray? Tuberculosis?! Were antibiotics the only choice? Antibiotics that can give her hepatitis (doesn’t hepatitis mean “inflamed liver”)? Tuberculosis?! We all have to be tested? Could we all test positive for TB? I mean, my brain went into hamster-wheel overdrive. What does all this mean?

Thankfully, I have a good friend from college who is now a doctor on the east coast. I went to bed on Thursday night with my head buzzing, and when I woke up the next morning, I knew I had to contact him. He’s informed. He’s intelligent. He will listen to any rant I have without judgment. He’s a friend. He cares.

So I called Richard (my friend who cares, obviously). Richard explained the difference between latent TB, and active TB. Latent TB is when you have been exposed to the bacteria. Your immune system holds onto it, and does it’s best to not let it become active TB. Your body develops antibodies to TB, and that’s what goes crazy in your arm when you have a skin test. If you have no antibodies, your body will do nothing when you are given a skin test (no TB exposure). One in ten of these latent TB cases become active TB, and active TB is when you cough up blood, you lose weight, you are contagious, and if it goes untreated, it can kill you. And the treatment is no picnic, either—a cocktail of four antibiotics that are even harder on your body than the one antibiotic the doctor was asking I give Lauren—for six to nine months.

If Richard reads this, I hope I haven’t mangled what he told me too much.

Okay, I asked him next, “Is a nine-month course of antibiotics the only way to eradicate this bacteria from her system?” Yes.

“Will it harm her liver?” Most likely, no.

“Are we more likely to get liver damage from the antibiotic? Or are we more likely to develop active tuberculosis?”

So this is where I had to weigh my options. The chances of the antibiotic harming her liver are small (kids tolerate this medication quite well, apparently, as most kids don’t have a history of hepatitis or alcohol abuse). The chances of her developing active tuberculosis are also small. However, if she does develop active TB, the illness and treatment are horrible.

So, I’ve decided to put her on a nine-month course of INH. I don’t want to mess around with an illness like tuberculosis. I want it gone.

Ryan and I have tested negative for TB. Rick gets tested on Thursday.

Of course, there are only two pharmacies in the county can give me this medication in a form that is good for a six-year old. That is, in a somewhat palatable syrup. And of course, it still tastes horrible. Lauren actually spit out her first dose. I’ve already lost my Mother of the Year trophy with my reaction to that. I think I hissed something like, “Lauren! You are going to take this medicine if your father has to sit on you and I have to shove it down your throat!”

I quickly recovered, though. I apologized, and told her I got mad at her because I was scared. I reminded her she had TB, and while it wasn’t serious now, it could be. The only way we could get rid of it was to take this yucky medicine. And yes, she has to take it for a long time—almost until Halloween. Maybe if she took it with a little apple juice right after she swallowed, the taste would disappear quickly. But soon, it would all be over, and she’d be better. She was okay with that, and we tried again, the second time with an apple juice chaser.

So believe it or not, I haven’t lost any sleep over this. She has never had any symptoms, and she will most likely be fine. But when I wake up at 1:00 in the morning, it’s the first thing I think about. When I wake up in the morning, it’s foremost in my mind. When I go in to give her the final kiss at night on her sleeping head, it’s in my thoughts. And during the day, when my mind wanders, her diagnosis is right there. I’m not overly stressed, but it’s present. Hopefully, as this all gets a little more routine, it will move out of my mind for a while, and give me a break!

It’s amazing, isn’t it? The love, the worry for our children?

P.S. Thank you, Richard.

P.S.S. Ryan’s been exposed to lice.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Day with the Dinosaurs

So have you been to the L.A. County Natural History Museum in Exposition Park? I had not been there for years, maybe even 30 years. When the kids and I went there today, I was reminded of what a great place it is for kids and adults.

First of all, it’s everything you imagine a great urban museum should be--a cool old building, grand rotundas with marble walls, huge exhibit halls, floors polished to a high shine. The first things we saw when we walked in were giant replicas of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops fossils. The kids were won over, right there. Then there were the standard, but still cool, exhibit halls of all natural history museums filled with gems, Native American artifacts, stuffed animals in their “natural” habitats. On the bottom floor there’s a Discovery Center for kids filled with hands-on exhibits, along with an insect zoo that has every creepy crawly you never wanted to see.

The best thing about our day was talk given by a docent at the museum about a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Thomas. During this talk, a life-size, very realistic puppet of a Thomas came out to be part of the demonstration. Thomas grunted, snarled, and stared at all of us like we were prey. I noticed Ryan at one point curled up on the floor hiding his eyes, while Lauren scrambled near me and clutched my arm. The whole presentation was fascinating and scary, and the docent did a fabulous job acting and pretending to be nervous while teaching us about T-Rexes. Kudos to the museum staff for this show!

It was a great way to spend a dreary day in L.A!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Recent Quotes from Ryan

“Is he a cactus man?” He was talking about Gumby.

Ryan was recently showing me a house he constructed with our toy bricks. “Here’s a wall, here’s a door, here’s a bridge, here’s an old gun I keep under the stairs . . .” What?!

“Mommy! I can spell HBO!” Did I tell you he’s a genius?

“When’s the snow gonna come?”

“Look everyone! I have no pants on!” He said this one as he was pulling up his shorts in front of Lauren’s kindergarten class so that it looked like, well, like he had no pants on. Sometimes being a parent makes me swell with pride.

Lauren Is Six!

When kids are younger, they often have a comfort object. It might be a blanket, a doll, a bear, their binky, something. But my kids had me. When they needed comfort, they needed me. I tried to introduce comfort objects. They slept with lambies, I shoved binkies into their mouths, Lauren even sucked her thumb for a while, but nothing ever stuck. I was their comfort object. I loved it, but at times I resented it, too (that’s what sleep deprivation will do, I guess).

I remember feeling a little guilty about it. Was I too indulgent? As the mother of a young child, I’d often strike up conversations with people or neighbors about motherhood. Often they would remark things like, “I’ve never seen a baby who doesn’t love their bottle!” A well-meaning family member once said, “YOU are their comfort object. I’ve never seen that before!” Maybe my own mother questioned it, too. I don’t know, because I don’t think she’d ever tell me if she did. I know all their words were meant with love, but I felt a tinge of judgment, too.

You know, when my kids nursed, Lauren always touched my neck. Her hand would go back and forth, back and forth, massaging my neck. Ryan would touch my face. He’d stroke my cheek, over and over. The whole feeling was so warm and secure. I loved that feeling I could give to my kids.

Well, now Lauren is 6. Her 6th birthday was November 14th. Amid windy and smoky skies (many parts of LA were on fire on this day), we had a birthday party at Jolly Jumps. I invited her whole kindergarten class, and a lot of them came. The kids jumped like crazy for 1 ½ hours, they climbed the rock wall, and then we had pizza, juice boxes and cupcakes. I sent them all home with bags of candy and a balloon. Lauren loved her birthday. “The best birthday ever!” she crowed.

Of course, we are in a new place. The moms’ faces are all new, but I like all of them, and I work in Lauren’s class on Tuesdays, and I love all their kids, too. I would have loved for Ainsley, Justin S., Anna, Justin L., and Daniel to all have been at her party, but the new group I had was lovely. Lauren waves excitedly at her friends as we walk into school everyday, saying at the top of her lungs, “Hi Gracie!” or, “Hi, Karlee!” She loves school, she loves her new friends, and I know their parents’ love and work have made them into the darling kids that they are. We have so much to be grateful for here in our new home.

Our school, our new routine, and our new friends are the new comfort objects for Lauren. She doesn’t cling to me anymore, she doesn’t need me whenever she’s upset, and she doesn’t cry at the window (like she did in preschool) when I drive away from school. Some of this is because she’s getting older, and some of it is the secure foundation Rick and I have set for her, and some of it is the solid classroom environment Mrs. Vesey has established. After leaving our beautiful home in Spokane, and being so unsure of this new city I knew nothing about, I have so much to be thankful for here. My kids love Camarillo and Southern California.

So tonight, December 5th, our family had another one of our famed movie nights (that is, famed among the four of us). We make pizza, put on a family movie and gorge ourselves in front of the television. We love it! But tonight was a little different, because halfway through the movie, Lauren sidled up next to me on the couch. “I want to sit next to Mommy for a minute,” she announced. I was actually about to go to the kitchen and start doing the dishes when she got up, but I decided to let her sit with me for a few minutes before I got up to do my nightly chores. And you know what? She curled up onto my lap, and then she stroked my neck, just like she used to when she was a baby. I can’t remember the last time she did that, and it just filled my cup. In some ways, she’s so grown up, but tonight, she was my little girl again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Odds and Ends

I never found Ryan's quarter. His doctor told me to stop looking. It will come out, or it already has, and I missed it. He seems fine.

The kids got matching pajamas for Halloween. Aren't they cute? Just ignore the flash glare on the refrigerator.

For Halloween, the kids were Spiderman and Cleopatra. They looked so great! I really missed my friends this Halloween, since Halloween at our house had become something of a tradition in Spokane. Luckily, I was busy enough to not dwell on this. My aunt Betsey and grandmother came over, and we all carved pumpkins and I made some stew. It isn't really dark here until about 6:30 or 7:00, so we went out after dinner and got loads and loads of candy! The kids asked about their friends, but we still had a great time. I loved that my grandmother got to tag along with us. I hope my kids remember that for the rest of their lives.

Last weekend, my friend Heidi and her husband, Rich, invited the kids and I to join them for tidepooling at Leo Carrillo Beach, just north of Malibu. It was so much fun, and I hadn't done that since I was a teenager. We saw sea anemones, hermit crabs, starfish, and (gasp!) we all got to hold an octopus! You know, I have heard that sea anemones sting, but one of the best things about tidepooling when I was a kid was to touch a sea anemone and watch it curl up. I used to put seashells in the center of the anemones to watch them grab them, presumably to devour them. But then a minute or two later, you watch them spit the shells out. So, I tentatively touched one this time, and lo and behold they still don't sting! So I taught my kids how to touch them so they could have the experience of watching them curl up, too. Now, I would say that 10% of the time, the kids explored the tidepools, and 90% of the time they played Star Wars with Jacob and Connor on the beach, but I loved being there to watch them explore the rocky shore for the first time.

So what's the deal? Does anyone know why everyone says sea anemones sting? Is it just certain kinds? Have I just been lucky?

We had rain yesterday. The first significant rain since we've lived here. There were times it just came down in sheets, so fast that the parched ground could barely absorb it. It just makes me wonder, how does this dry land support so many people? And many days, you can see the air pollution, even in Camarillo, near the ocean. It seems that this land is stretched beyond what it can support here. And then it rains, and it cleans the air and washes the dust off of all the plants and makes the hillsides green, and you see what attracted people here in the first place. It can also be impossibly beautiful.

Look for kale and cabbage in the markets soon, it's planted everywhere here right now. First it was strawberries. Then cilantro, parsley, and onions. Now kale and cabbage. And all the citrus trees are loaded with green fruit. You can tell what's in season here by smelling the air. Recently, everywhere we went, you could smell cilantro. And in the fields, migrant workers were picking cilantro in perfect, grocery store bunches and plopping them into some big, bundling machine pulled by a tractor that gobbles them up and, I guess, stores them inside, in bundles, somewhere. I've never lived so close to so much agribusiness, and then small family farms tucked in between here and there. Farming is hard work.

I'm in the middle of Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. Wow. What a poignant writer. I gain so much insight to the human psyche from reading her stories.

More soon. . .

Monday, October 13, 2008

True Confessions

Okay, I have to come clean. I am shamelessly in love with Disneyland. I took Lauren out of school on Friday to take my kids to Disneyland. As a teacher, I had conflicted feelings about this, but I had to weigh my options. I decided it was okay to take Lauren out of 3 hours of kindergarten to go to Disneyland with her Grandma Linda while she was visiting. The kids had Thursday off from school for Yom Kippur, but not Friday. So on Thursday afternoon, we headed down to Anaheim for our big trip.

Rick has oodles of hotel points, so my mom and I took the kids on Thursday afternoon to the Doubletree Hotel in Anaheim. Thursday night we played in the pool, and then we hung out and had dinner at Downtown Disney. We ate at the Rainforest Café, and spent a good hour plus browsing at the biggest Disney Store in the world. My kids are basically spoiled, so we bought them Ariel and Pirates of the Caribbean t-shirts to wear at Disneyland the next day.

When we pulled into the hotel parking lot Thursday evening, my mom took the kids into the lobby while I called Lauren’s school to lie about her being ill on Friday. I feel guilty about this. Can you tell?

My guilt, though, is outweighed by my love for Disneyland. I have such fond memories of it from when I was little. We’d go once a year or so and my parents always bought us a Mickey Mouse balloon at the end of the day. I looked forward to picking out that balloon the whole time I was there. And does anybody remember being so excited about something when you were little that you literally jumped up and down thinking about it? That was how I felt when we were going to Disneyland. My heart would jump seeing a giant Mickey Mouse walking down Main Street, and I’d rush up to give him a hug or shake his hand. It’s so cliché, but for me when I was a kid, Disneyland was magical.

So bringing my own kids to the happiest place on Earth is something that thrills me. I’ve shown them all the movies, we sing the songs, we wear the t-shirts. I don’t care that it’s all unabashedly commercial or too crowded or way overpriced. Seeing my kids marvel and wave at a giant-sized Winnie the Pooh or duck behind me because they’re scared of Captain Hook makes me the happiest clam on the reef (do you get my lame Nemo reference there?).

Ryan’s favorite part of the day - riding on Big Thunder Mountain and the Matterhorn. He loved that they were fast, but he really loved that he went on rides that Lauren was too scared to go on. As the younger sib, he doesn’t have much to hold over his sister, but now he tells everyone that he wasn’t scared to go on the roller coasters at Disneyland.

Lauren’s favorite part of the day - the Princess Fantasy Faire. The princesses were there telling stories and teaching the kids to do dance steps and curtseys and other royal whatnot. Ryan was picked out of the crowd and was supposed to be the prince in a story told to the audience by Sleeping Beauty. At the last second, he chickened out and hid under a chair on the side of the stage. But Lauren was there with him, on the side of the stage, trying to coax him out to take part in the story. The whole experience of meeting the princesses and dancing with them and making crowns with them, well, it just left Lauren giddy.

Three more little stories of the day (not in chronological order), and I’m done:

I was sitting next to Ryan on the tram taking us to the entrance to the park. We went by some statues of Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed in Halloween costumes and surrounded by pumpkins. Ryan turns to me and said, “This really is the happiest place on um, er, the happiest place on um . . . Mom, I’m just super duper happy!”

We were taking the three-minute ride raft over to Tom Sawyer’s Island, and Lauren and Ryan made fast friends with David, a 5-year old from Monterey. They decided that they were all going to hang out together and be friends on the island. So after running through caves, climbing up in the treehouse, and pillaging and plundering the island, I hear David say to his mom, “I finally know who I’m going to marry. Her!” And he points to Lauren.

The night before we went to the park, Lauren and I were sitting in the Rainforest Café. Up on the ceiling there were faux shooting stars going across the sky. I said to Lauren, “You know, you’ve never seen a real shooting star before, but you will someday. And when you do, it will be special. They happen so fast and they’re so beautiful and rare. They’re amazing!” She nodded at me. I continued, “The next time I see one, I promise I’ll think about you and how much I love you, okay?” She said back to me, “And when I see one, Mom, I’ll think about you and Disneyland and how much I love that you brought me here.” Wow, talk about magical! My heart still melts when I think about it.

I looooove Disneyland.