Friday, January 4, 2013

The things you don't expect

     We have been in Michigan for five months now. Happy months, for the most part, up until a few weeks ago, when our boy started having panic attacks. After dinner one night, he was restless, pacing and then he was terrified, his blue eyes huge in his pale face. He said his heart was racing, he felt like he was dying, convinced that his food had been drugged. The look of desperation on his face, the horror of his gasping, whispered fears, these are things I never dreamed could come from him. Finn could be intense, obsessive in his interests, but has always been a sunny guy. The kind of kid who sings while he's alone in his room. The kind of boy who will make up a crazy dance to see someone smile. But his face became tight and drawn. He became increasingly afraid of eating and lost weight rapidly. He was afraid to be alone.
     His fears expanded to the point that anything could set him off. He heard about someone overcoming cancer and was immediately certain that he had it. He was afraid he would get blood clots from sitting. He was afraid that mercenaries would blow up the building when we went to the doctor. Smells, sounds, lights were all potential threats. It was heart breaking and maddening to see his fingers begin to twist and pick and squeeze uncontrollably as the tension mounted in his body.
     I searched the internet for information on panic attacks in children, panic attacks after eating, panic attacks in adolescents. There was a comforting amount of information. Panic after eating was especially common. We went to a pediatrician who was very reassuring, but who also prescribed a low dose of xanax to be used when the panic was overwhelming. I was thankful to have something to use as an assist when things were bad, but gutted at the thought of actually giving him the medicine.
     The night after Christmas, the wave of anxiety built and crashed down on him. Finn was convinced he had diabetes from eating cookies and that if he didn't get medicine, he would be dead in three hours. I talked to him, explained that diabetes didn't work like that, you couldn't get it from one day of eating, but he was already crying and my words didn't help. I asked if he wanted to try his medicine from the doctor. He said he would try, but when he saw the pill, he erupted in absolute mortal terror. This was DRUGS, his biggest fear. Even though Shawn and I and the doctor had all explained the difference between medicine and street drugs over and over, in that moment, he was confronting death in his mind. I bit the tiny pill in half. It crumbled in my mouth and I said,"See, I took half and I'm fine." He was screaming and crying and crouching in the corner of my bed. Shawn came in and tried to help. To see your child helpless with fear and have the thing that would calm them be the thing that drives them nearly insane is unbearable. I told him I wouldn't force him. I left the room and let Shawn try. 
     Three hours later, Finn took half a xanax and went to sleep saying he felt so much better. I don't know if it was the xanax or just the physical release of crying and screaming for hours that brought him relief. His body was telling him to fight or run all the time, but with no real threat to overcome, there could never be any resolution. Fighting us was something to aim that adrenaline at. And something that could be over, resolved, so he could feel calm for a while.
     So now, we work on it. Homeopathics, diet and exercise, doctor and therapy appointments. We work through his anxiety workbook and talk about how the kids in the book felt just like he does and they learned how to feel better. Will he? Will he ever be silly and sunny again, or will that tickle of fear live in his heart forever, something to be managed, tamped down? I try to stay here, with him, and not get lost in imagined futures. This is not a present I could have imagined, but here it is, and I will not leave him alone in it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


So. We just shoved all our stuff into cars and trucks and drove away. Far away from the flat, white California heat, far away from everything and everyone we knew. We blundered and worried our way across the country to Michigan.

We had no destination when we left. We aimed for Oxford and hoped for the best. We got the call that we had a rental house waiting as we cleared Colorado. It was all just awful, really. This numb, zombie-like coating holding in all the fear. We stopped in hotels, which made it worse. The only solution was to get there, keep driving and get there.

I have never felt so unteathered in my life. The little house, by far the smallest on the street, with its rust-stained siding and gigantic black maple tree hanging like a cloud over everything. Inside was no better. It smelled of dog and cigarettes and old fried food. The carpets were filthy. The basement reeked like cat pee and underground. I felt myself going into shock. Shawn had still not left California. I stood in that house with my mom and the kids drifting around me and I came unglued. I wanted to get back in the car and drive home.

We went to Shawn's cousin's house. She knew I was not ok. She fed me homeopathic remedies and found us a hotel to stay at. I can't really remember much about the hotel. My mom had to fly home to California. I didn't want her to go. I felt like I was dying from sorrow at the thought of her leaving and me being here with the kids and the horrible little house. I couldn't breathe. We went to lunch on the way to the airport and it was like eating at a table of ghosts. The kids were fussy and out-of-sorts and my mom and I could hardly speak. They all seemed so faint. So far away.

Somewhere, on the ride to the airport, I felt a my spine straighten. I knew I had to get my shit together or there would be no way I could drive the 45 minutes back from Detroit. So, I decided to be okay. I hugged my mom, told her I'd talk to her soon, and drove back to the hotel. Somehow, I didn't cry.

We spent the days until Shawn arrived wandering through the rooms in the little house, exploring, absorbing the fact that we were there. I let the kid's excitement buoy me. I let the beauty of the scenery sink in. Trees and lakes. Blue sky and clouds. Cardinals. Like a kiss from my grandmother, cardinals. I began to breathe.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


As much as I love, and I do mean LOVE, cold and rainy weather, there comes a time when something in me shifts and I'm just ready to feel some sun on my skin. I know I'm getting ready when the smell of freshly mowed grass is exciting rather than somehow annoying. Ta-da! Spring!

I am feeling very grateful today. I know Easter is not the holiday where I am supposed to list what I am thankful for, but I am just not in the mood in November. So, here goes:

I am thankful for a husband who loves me, even when I am trying my hardest to be un-loveable.

I am thankful for children with different (and often difficult) temperaments. I have learned so many things and been reminded that I really don't think there is one right way to be in this world.

I am thankful for the ocean because it doesn't care a thing about all the problems that overwhelm me.

I am thankful for a cat who wants to sit on my lap.

I am thankful for books and words and all the endless stories that can come from the arrangement of 26 letters.

I am thankful for you, a friend who was surely a sister in another life.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I didn't commit forgery until 9th grade

My dear son has me beat. Apparently, he cheated on a math test last Friday by using a calculator. His teacher sent a note home for me to sign. Which he did.

I feel oddly calm. Maybe because I am so fed up with the school system anyway. Maybe that's what happens when you tell a room full of third-graders that if they get an F in math, they will have to repeat the grade. Maybe I am so sick of trying to cram my kids into someone else's idea of what they should be.

Do I want my kid to be a big ole liar? Of course not. But I no longer think I can punish, lecture, guilt or otherwise force him to be honest. I think if he felt good, his behavior would be good. Obviously, something is wrong, but he is the only person who really knows what it is.

He kept asking what his punishment was going to be. I finally said, "I've punished you for lying before and it hasn't stopped. So now I'm interested in hearing how you are going to change this behavior." He just kinda stared at me like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then we made a list of what he could do instead of lying or cheating.

I sent him outside to sweep the leaves. Not as a punishment, but so he could feel capable and useful. Eventually, we all ended up out there, sweeping, weeding and scooping the piles of leaves. Finn said, "Yay, family work!"

I hope so.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Science is fun!

Life after weight-loss surgery is mostly one thing: awesome. But the second runner-up is: confusing. The big deal is vitamins because the surgery removes part of the intestine where micro-nutrients are absorbed. The goal is to take 200% percent of what our bodies need to make up for the malabsorption. Ok, that sounds simple. I'll take two vitamins instead of one, right? Not so fast.

See, certain vitamins block others from being absorbed. Like calcium blocks iron. Other vitamins need help to be absorbed, like iron needs vitamin C. And iron blocks E. And A, D, E and K are fat-soluable so they need to be taken with fat to be absorbed. Calcium works best when taken with magnesium at a 2 to 1 ratio, but you don't want to start with that level of magnesium or you will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom. See? See how not "Oh, I'll just take two Centrum" this is?

But here's the thing-I LOVE IT! I love adding all the grams and micrograms from all the different sources and figuring out the perfect schedule so everyone gets absorbed happily! Let me just say that if I followed the nutritionists advice, that would be the nutritionist who works in the surgeon's office, I'd be screwed because that lady has NO IDEA what she's talking about. Her advice was 3 calcium and 2 Flintstone's chewables a day. But it turns out that the levels in Flintsones aren't adequate and are from sources that are hard to absorb post-op! Thrilling! On with the hunt, you know? So I read research and efficacy data and long-term studies like a med student. (A real one, not the kind always having sex in closets like on TV.) I get an actual adrenaline rush from this.

What's the point of my geeky confession? I don't really know. Maybe I'm just saying it out loud so the part of me that's figuring out what I should do with my life will hear it. I am happiest when I am a student. Research is a sport to me. Is it the subject matter or solving the puzzle or catching my prey? All of it. When I am working and studying, I feel I'm on the right path.

Do you have that? Do you have things that make you feel in the groove, fufilling your destiny kind of feelings?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I have been working on such new-agey crap as being in the moment. Observing my reactions without judgement. Gag, I know. But I think it actually helps.

For example, when my daughter got off the phone with her BFFFEF (she lost me after the second F. Suffice it to say she likes this kid.) and said BFFFEF tells my daughter that her BF services will no longer be needed because she just had the BEST PLAY-DATE EVER with her NEW BF, well I calmly observed that I had a strong desire to slug a 45 pound 6-year-old. I am a Zen master.

But, really, rather than getting all bunched up and trying to arrange even BETTER play-dates to win back the friend and generally flailing around helplessly, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this will happen approximately 750 million times in my kid's life. Especially with the girls. I don't know why. I can't fix it. I can't prevent it.

I hugged my girl and tried to help her give her feelings words. We talked about what makes someone a friend and what it takes to be a good friend. About kindness and forgiveness and people who feel good to be around. I tried my best to be stoic, but my heart hurt for her with her big blueberry eyes all red from crying.

Today I picked her up from school and she had a hand written invitation to a Puppy Party at the friend's house. I asked her if she wanted to go. She said "Of course! I want to bring chicken tenders." Living in the moment...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Today I sorta lost it at work and told my boss that I can't stand my job and pleaseohplease is there any possible other thing I could do around here? I could be your personal assistant/gofer/order placer? No? Oh...ok. I'll just be slinking off over here, heh heh.

My Capricorn go-getter-ness in full effect. Today, the coffee shop; tomorrow, the world.

I somehow feel better for having said it. It was a tiny, spazzy step, but a step none the less.

Totally unrelated: my daughter's face has changed overnight. Who is this big girl?!