Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Respectable Recycle

I'm sorry. I'm a terrible blogger, even in the face of lovely encouragement from friends who really enjoy reading my blather. Time, money and inspiration are STILL lacking, so I'm being really lame here and posting something I wrote a long time ago.

Ulterior motive is I want to remember this, and I'm afraid Fairfield Magazine may not keep it their archives forever. This was a guest editorial I did that ran in May of '07. (To see the three feature articles I wrote for that magazine on the topics of autism, 9/11, and divorce, go to and type my name into the search box.)

One Little Piece

A few months ago, a friend told me he had signed up for a workshop in California where he was going to learn to clean oil off of sea birds. After, he would be eligible to be called upon during the next oil spill. I heard myself say, “I want to do that.” He said I could come.

Friends asked, “Why?” Why would I want to fly across the country to learn how to clean birds? It’s because I suffer from a mid-life malaise that I’m sure is rampant in Fairfield County. It tends to rear its head when I’m sitting in traffic on I-95. After I’ve obsessively run through the to-do list (“pick up dog’s medicine, order part for coffee maker, call about Tuesday’s play date…”), my brain goes kamikaze.

It happens in two parts: First, I begin to think about my own insignificance (life is a blip in time between two eternities, etc.), and then I get a bit embarrassed about living here in the land of plenty. This inevitably leads to the hard questions: What am I doing here? How am I contributing to humankind? Am I modeling a life well lived for my six-year-old son?

I, like many others here in Fairfield, really have no time to volunteer. That said, I firmly believe a creative person can come up with a way to do his or her little piece for the greater good. When that friend called me a few months ago, it was like he was holding out that little piece for me.

So I attended the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) two-day “Oiled Wildlife Response Training” in San Pedro, California, at the International Bird Rescue Research Center.

We were taught how to get a vegetable oil-soaked gull––found in a nearby marina, a victim of restaurant waste—washed, rinsed, dried and “re-waterproofed.” The big oil spills affect huge numbers of birds all at once, but the daily polluting from big and small ships and people along coastlines is a bigger problem. Just a drop of any kind of oil can destroy an aquatic bird’s ability to stay dry, warm and afloat.

As you would imagine, a supremely kind and gentle group of people attended this workshop. But those who made the biggest impression on me were the staffers who have made it their life’s work to save birds from the atrocious effects of human progress. Their stories were mind-blowing, and their triumphs awesome.

It’s not that there aren’t other pressing issues out there, but someone has to clean up these birds or they die. This one little piece has to be taken care of. The good news is that with enough intelligence and compassion, all the little pieces out there can be cared for.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bye Bye Bunny, Farewell Fairy

So, as of this morning, the ruse is up. My 7-year-old forced my hand as I was tearing through my closet trying to find any footwear that a) roughly went with what I was wearing and b) had a high enough heel that I wouldn't be stepping on my very long pants. (I ended up in these high, brown wedgie things that I'm pretending pick up the brownish hues in my completely red shirt...)

"Mom, just TELL me. Is the tooth fairy really you?" This, after he found a dollar under his pillow this morning for the tooth lost on Saturday up in the Catskills, where I explained that the tooth fairy knew we were away for the weekend and would deliver the goods once we were back home.

After making him swear a pact with me that he would never tell a younger kid or any kid who still believed, I told him yes, the tooth fairy is me. I asked him afterward if he was sad or glad to know the truth, and he said glad. Then he launched into a bizarre set of questions, including "Once you become a grown-up and have a kid, who tells you that you have to start being the tooth fairy? Who shows you what to do?"

All of this confirmed what he was in knots about all weekend -- the Easter Bunny, too, is just his mom. Even knowing this, though, he was really upset about being away and missing out on the whole waking up and searching for eggs thing. I've always been really good about the magical stuff -- Easter Bunny, Santa, and Tooth Fairy -- but I never realized how much it mattered to him. I thought being away with our best friends -- skiing, tubing, staying up late -- would far outshine waking up with just me and searching the house for hidden eggs. I was so wrong. This stuff matters. He knows it's not a magic being doling out the goodies in the middle of the night, but it's a tradition, it's memories in the making, and it's very specifically and very specially his and mine.

So, the ruse is up but I'm not off the hook for years to come. And I'm actually pretty happy about that.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Little Friday Rumi

This is an excerpt from a Rumi poem that my yoga teacher and friend Erin read in class last night:

When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer's rack of the past and future?

The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear -- to our innocent follies.

Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.

You will come to see that all evolves us.

From: That Lives In Us

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Laundry Lesson

I work in a casual office, so I can wear pretty much anything within reason and it won’t raise any eyebrows. Most of my day is spent in a cubicle and my computer screen is the only thing checking out my attire for any length of time. For this reason, I am saved from the hassle and the enormous expense of dry cleaning. Sure, I have a few things that simply cannot withstand being washed with water. I resent them for it, though, and they sit for many long weeks in a nylon bag before I bite the bullet and drop them off at the money-pit on the corner.

I don’t have a lot of dry cleanables, but unfortunately neither do I have much that I would call entirely “machine washable.” I mean, yes, my lovely little cotton tops and fancy jeans can go into the washing machine. But the “able” part stops there. They are incredibly high maintenance. When did this happen? Their labels are persnickety, annoying, idiosyncratic, didactic, unreasonable. Have you never thought about it?

Wash inside out. With like colors. Gentle cycle. Cold water. Tumble dry low. Remove promptly.

Remove promptly! What, are you supposed to carry around a timer so that you’ll be poised and ready to zoom to the basement when that buzzer sounds?

Lay flat to dry. Line dry. Colors may bleed. No chlorine bleach. Oh, and then there’s: Hand Wash. Do not wring. Cool iron only. Excuse me, what’s the point of a cool iron? It doesn’t do anything more to my wrinkly blouse than the side of my car would if I stood in my driveway, pressing the fabric against it on a cold day.

What I end up with in my basement is a little tiny pile of light colors that need to be washed in cold, gently. A tiny pile of dark colors that need to washed separately, in cold, gently. A pile of one pair of pants who might bleed. And a stack of wet stuff that needs to be hung (oh dread, hanger points in the shoulders), or lain flat, or cool ironed, or lightly fanned dry at 70 degrees by a pygmy possum….

Enough. I’m sick of it. Dealing with my bossy and confusing laundry labels can lead me to a state of exhaustion and stress that requires a bottle of wine and a Xanax.

My ex-husband refused to read labels. And though I obviously concur that it’s a heinous part of life, note that he is now my ex.

So while I will continue to moan about them, and curse in the basement every week, I will slavishly and anally, read and obey to the letter every last label. My lovely little tops and fancy jeans make me happy. And I have plenty of wine and Xanax to get me through.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Angels in My Midst

Christmas was not welcomed with open arms this year. Cards did not go out. My tree committed suicide (stopped drinking its water). My Christmas spirit was nowhere to be found.

I talked about it with a couple friends. I sounded whiney. "I don't have a family now, I have a fragment." It's just my mom, my son, and me. (And my ex-husband, who is legally not my family any more, as of March 29th of this year, but still and somewhat awkwardly part of my daily life.) With my dad here, we were enough of a family that it all seemed worth doing. Without him, it just felt completely empty and pathetic. For the first year ever, there was no tree at my parents' house, and so there would be no presents under a tree for me. I'm an only child, so presents under the tree for me is what I'm used to, even at 42 years old. My mother filled a stocking for me up until this year.

Holidays are hard after you lose someone, this is a universal truth. Their absence is everywhere. And for me, his absence is more than a hole. It's like a tectonic shift, where a whole piece of the continent broke off and what's left is not recognizable as the former mainland. It's a new place entirely, foreign and lacking.

So, if you're thinking, c'mon, you have a 7-year-old son, you have to step up to the plate here and be an adult, for him ... don't worry, that is in fact what I did. He had a decorated house and tree, a stocking, presents, the whole shebang. On Xmas eve, we put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. (He put out our entire container of Xmas cookies, and I asked him "don't you want to save some for us for tomorrow?" So he grabbed paper and pencil and wrote: "Santa pleas dont eat all the cookies." Then he ran back and added: "you can eat most of the cookies").

It turns out that while I was whining, and dreading Christmas, and shoving myself up to that proverbial plate, angels were at work.

First angel intervention: A couple weeks ago, I went careening off an icy road with my little guy in the back seat, and somehow steered us between a telephone pole and a steel cable with a grand total of about 3 inches on either side of us. And came gently to a stop against a broken sign post, which cracked my parking light.

Next, a special person who seems to care a lot about me (and felt bad that he was going away when I needed people and care even more than usual) left me with a bag of presents to put under my tree. Presents under my tree for me. Okay, maybe he's not an angel, but that was angelic behavior for sure. (For shizzle, to use my new Yiddish ebonics.)

This brings us to Christmas Eve morning. Around 9am, my smoke alarms went off. No fire, but I could not make them stop. They are brain-rattling, piercing, shoot-me-now smoke alarms. I called the fire department. "Um, sorry to bother you, but how do you turn off smoke alarms?" They sent a truck. It turns out that my little man hit one of the alarms on the ceiling with a ball and it caused a wire to dislodge. He was upset, sobbing, afraid that the firemen would yell at him. He hid in my closet. Three very nice firemen came inside, stopped the racket pronto, replaced all my batteries, coaxed little guy out of the bedroom, and gave him a cuddly stuffed dalmation. Sniffling and embarrassed, he said thanks and gave the guys high-fives. Then, in a nice Disney movie moment, the guys got a call on their walkie-talkie and had to rush out, change into their gear in our driveway while we watched from the porch, and go zipping away in their truck, sirens blaring, waving, to a real emergency.

As if that weren't quite enough and something else was needed, later I discovered that my car battery was dead. My battery has never died before. Friends (who are practically family) were with us for brunch, and they had jumper cables (why don't I?) so the two of them pushed my car out of the garage as I steered, and we got it started in minutes.

In recent weeks, I've been talking to my dad (I talk in my head to him, and then agonize over the possibility that he can only hear me when I talk out loud)... and instead of just the usual crying and saying how much I miss him, I've been asking him if he'd be willing to give me a sign. I asked that he just make it loud and clear so I wouldn't miss it or wonder if it was really a sign. If you were the angel version of my dad (and many would say he was already an angel when he was here walking around among us), and your daughter asked for a sign that was loud and clear, might you not just go ahead and set off the smoke alarms on Xmas eve morning?

So there were presents -- and there was presence -- for me under my tree and all around this Christmas. I have angels in my midst, and I think I can do this now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Mornings with the Little Prince

I wish someone would come videotape a weekday morning at my house with me and my 7-year-old. I'd like to have it on tape for him to see as an adult. Partly because it's hilarious, and partly because whatever comes up on the therapist's couch when he's older would be completely offset by the fact that he would see how, in these early years, Mommy's role is pretty much a long-suffering maidservant (with an attitude).

At seven, he still gets a sippy cup of warmed ovaltine every morning, which he slurps with his blankie in front of cartoons. If the ovaltine does not arrive promptly enough, the Little Prince shouts loudly, "MOM!!!!!!! Chocolate milk!!!!!!!!"

So this morning, he impressed me enormously by being somewhat proactive and getting himself dressed and packing up his backpack without my nagging him. The more typical scenario is that I instruct him through every, painstaking step required to complete the morning tasks. ("Finish eating your breakfast," "dishes to the sink," "brush your teeth and hair," "go get dressed," etc., etc.... all of this usually belted out from the bathroom, sometimes over the sound of my hair dryer.)

I was so proud of him, I mean, ridiculously proud. Like, almost teary-eyed.

But then there was this part: I'm in the shower and he comes in the bathroom to pee. It's just the two of us, so we don't have a whole lot of bathroom boundaries yet. So I peek around the door at him and see that, as usual, he has not lifted up the toilet seat. So I tell him, as usual, that he will be required to wipe off the seat when he's finished. I peek around again a minute later and see him wiping off the seat .... with his pajama-covered knee. The joys of boys.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Interview with Lorie

My friend Lorie Parch -- an amazing journalist, wonderful writer, and all-around dear person -- recently interviewed me for a piece she's writing for

Q: The basics: Can you tell me when you were diagnosed, how old you were at the time, what your diagnosis was, and briefly what your treatment was?

A: I was diagnosed in April of '97, the 30th I think, with invasive ductal carcinoma. I had a lumpectomy first, with lymphnode dissection, and then because the surgeon did not get "clear margins" she recommended a mastectomy. My lumpectomy was in May and the mastectomy was in June. I had immediate reconstruction, which means they took out all the breast tissue and left in a device called a tissue expander. This expander got pumped full of saline -- a syringe-ful each week--to expand my skin (and stretch the heck out of my scar).... Until I was gigantic. Like a double-E or something. Then, just in the nick of time, they deemed me stretched enough, and got me booked for surgery to have it removed and the permanent, saline implant put in. I say in the nick of time because it was now August and my wedding day was September 13th. I think it was actually the beginning of Sept. when I had the surgery. All went well and my tight bodiced wedding gown looked fine. I turned 32 in June of that year. I don't remember exactly when but I started chemo as soon as I was sufficiently healed from the mastectomy, so that crazy period was filled with chemo treatments and trips into the city to get expanded. Strange pre-wedding time...

Q: Were you married, single or with someone but not married during this period?
What effect did having breast cancer have on your relationship, both the relationship in general and your sex life, if any?

A: My then fiance was great during my breast cancer. He just stood by me, stoically, went to appointments with me, slept in my hospital room the nights I had to stay over. He was great. I remember him taking all these pictures of my breast after the lumpectomy. It was kind of gross and funny and poignant all at the same time. I don't think it had any effect whatsoever on our sex life. We had been living together for a almost a year at that point. One cool thing about Scott was his attitude toward the nipple reconstruction. When I came out of the reconstruction, I had a big, red scar going diagnonally across my fake boob. He looked at it and told me he didn't think it was worth going through another surgery to have a nipple put on. He kind of felt like the redness of the scar was serving that purpose... And stickign a fake nipple on top wasn't going to do anything for anyone.

Q: What was your body image like before you had breast cancer?

A: I had a good body image for the most part. I've always wished I had longer, thinner legs. And good skin. I liked my breasts, always thought they were a good size and all.

Q: Did it change and if so, how?

A: It was hard losing the breast purely from a sexual enjoyment perspective. I wasn't thinking that Scott wouldn't be attracted to me with my strange, fake boob. I was just thinking there's one less sexual part of me. I liked having two nipples. They're sensitive and sensual and it's better to have two than one.

Q: Did you lose your hair during treatment? If so, what was that like?

A: I had CMF, so didn't lose my hair. I was very lucky to walk down the aisle with my own hair.

Q: You were young when you were diagnosed: Did you make treatment decisions with an eye toward preserving your fertility? If so, how so? [This is for another article we may add for younger women and fertility.]

A: It was very, VERY freaky to know that the chemo could knock out my fertility. Scott and I were both huge kid people. Couldn't wait to have a baby. So we would celebrate every time I got my period during those 6 months of chemo. After my treatment was over, my oncologist and I talked about tamoxifen. And he told me that he didn't feel it was worth it to get the small reduction in risk of recurrence when I would have to forgo trying to get pregnant with my new husband for five more years. It turned out to be a wise decision. I got pregnant with my son two years after my breast cancer, and when I tried to get pregnant again a few years later, it didn't happen.

Q: Any other physical changes that were difficult to cope with – or, conversely, ones that you thought might be tough but were easier than you expected?

A: The chemo gave me grey hair. Just a sprinkling, but I don't think it would have arrived for several more years had I not had chemo. It also put weight on me. The constant semi-nausea made me nibble a lot and I put on some pounds during those 6 months. The fake breast has always been kind of a conversation piece for me. So while I didn't expect it to be hard -- I really had no problem saying goodbye to a breast in order to get rid of the cancer -- it was really super easy for me. I will show anyone who wants to see what a reconstructed (sans nipple) breast looks like. There there have been moments and still are moments when I feel sorry for myself and wish I had two breasts. But they're few and far between. I'm so, so fortunate to have my life and my beautiful little boy. Who's now 7!

Q: It’s been a while since you had cancer – have your feelings about your body changed at all during the years since you first recovered and now?

A: The bummer is that the real breast weathered 10 years of life, a pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight gain, weight loss ..... And gravity. While that perky little saline implant just sits there and doesn't MOVE! So I'm way lopsided now, and really need to get "fixed." I had an appointment with a plastic surgeon at Yale to talk about my options last year, but never made it because other bigger priorities took over. It's a goal for this year. I'd like to have it redone so I match, and I'd like to replace the saline with silicone, which apparently is a much more natural look and feel. I just would really like to go bra-less now and then and be able to wear any shirt and any bathing suit without having one boob 6 inches higher than the other!

Q: You’re dating someone seriously now, right? How long have you been together?

A: Just broke up with a boyfriend. Am dating now, having fun. Just met someone who's great.

Q: Has dating been in any way challenging owing to having had breast cancer?

A: No -- I'm really comfortable with my body and with sexuality. I'm lucky -- it just isn't an issue. I tell people upfront about my breast cancer, that I only have one breast. I let them try and guess which is the fake one. And since I've been divorced and had a couple boyfriends, I really realize how little that stuff matters. Men seem to have absolutely no problem with it. I'm more of the mind to ignore the fake one -- because it has absolutely no sensitivity and is just a salt water balloon to me, not part of my body -- but the men I've been intimate with seem to want to be very gentle and loving to it, as if it somehow represents all that I've been through.

Q: Is there any advice you’d give to a woman going through this to help her preserve good feelings about herself or keep her sex life from going astray? (I think you said you have a good body image, and always have, so it'd be great to hear how you maintained it during this time.)

A: Sex is so not about having two intact breasts. It's nice having two breasts, sure. It's also nice having a flat stomach and beautiful, smooth skin, and long legs and a million other things I don't have. But when it comes down to getting under the covers, very little of that stuff matters. Sex is all about everything else ... Guys don't care. They really don't. If one part is missing, they will find another one they like just fine .... :-)

Q: Are there any resources – websites, books, organizations – that you’d recommend?

A: SO important for young women with breast cancer ....