Sunday, August 26, 2012

Day 844: The Puking Post

There comes a time in every woman's life when she realizes that it's not all giltz and glamour. For example, when she gets really frustrated driving through awful rush hour traffic with her children in the car on the way to pick her husband up from work so they can all get a jumpstart on the last vacation of the season. It's a gamble, really, because her three year old son had had a mysterious rash the day before that led to him being sent home from school, and her husband had taken him to the doctor, only to be told it was probably allergies, due to the melon they had thought he could eat after all but apparently…he could not. His entire body was covered in hives, but then, they went away, so on the family drove.

After that fight she got in with her husband due to the annoyance with traffic, the drive was smooth, albeit long. She decided to stop at an actual restaurant rather than the same Wisconsin fast food chain that the family always patronized solely due to their corporate policy of placing changing stations in the men's rooms. Oh the freedom of ordering from a menu while sitting down! And yet the three year old wouldn't eat--anything. He was out of control. She herded everyone back into the van, and soon he started crying, claiming "it hurts where I eat." So she stopped at a gas station, looked in his mouth, and his throat was red and inflamed, so she bought cough drops, which he wouldn't touch, and called the doctor, who thought he might have strep. So the next step was to try to find a Walgreens in Green Bay, so the poor kid could have antibiotics if he needed them, as the closest pharmacy to the lake house was 35 minutes away and closed on weekends, and they had gone too far to turn around and go home. Somehow the family found the place, and the prescription was miraculously there, but it took a long time to get it filled. As she waited at the counter, she turned around when she heard a familiar voice and there was her family. Why are they out of the car?! she asked her husband incredulously. Oh, they wanted to run around and stretch their legs, he said. Great, she thought, rolling her eyes.

And then, a few minutes later, her three year old started to vomit all over the store. Once in aisle 2, once on the way out the door, and again in the parking lot. Suddenly she was in full mom mode, telling the staff what happened and apologizing, glaring at her husband for bringing a sick kid into the store, taking her son over to the grass at the end of the parking lot in case he needed to puke again, ordering her husband to drive the van over, finding the pajamas she had packed and changing her son out of all of his dirty clothes, chucking the vomit-laden shoes (worn for the second time ever) into the trunk, strapping him back into the car after giving him some tylenol, and then, after all of that, just laughing and laughing.

She had to laugh, right? Because all of a sudden, that kid was fine. Singing, talking incessantly, making it hard to concentrate on the dark, dark road ahead. He never needed the antibiotics. That whole bizarre illness is just a mystery. A story now, one that this woman realizes can fit into the annals of puke stories that every woman at her stage in life should have. It can be added to so many others:

that time growing up when her entire family had the stomach flu, and a neighbor kindly brought over some dinner when they all started recovering, and that dinner was some greasy duck, and everyone started hurling again just looking at it.

that dorm party freshman year of college, when everyone had the bright idea to mix cheap vodka with fresca, and she bummed some cigarettes, and then quietly went into the coed bathroom, locked herself in a stall, threw everything up in a very confined way in the toilet, made sure no one would be able to tell, and then brushed her teeth, so she wouldn't be one of those entitled college kids who did disgusting things and then expected the janitorial staff to clean up the mess.

that valentine's day when she was 23, when her long-term boyfriend had planned to take her to the top of the Hancock building for the first time, to have a drink and go dancing. All their lives they had lived in this city, and neither of them had ever seen that view. And as fate would have it, they still wouldn't see it, because she started vomiting violently and frequently from some illness that came out of nowhere. She got sick 14 times in a span of four or five hours. Her boyfriend held her hair for her while she puked, made her jello, cleaned everything up. When her stomach began hurting so badly she couldn't stand, she called the ER, positive she had food poisoning, and they told her um…if you threw up that many times in that many hours, yes, your stomach will hurt. And she practically crawled back into bed, and her boyfriend tucked her in, and if in some universe that is romance, well, there it is.

The night before her college roommate's wedding in Los Angeles, when she was 27, when she went out on the town with one of the bridesmaids and another of her roommate's friends, to a bunch of different places in Little Tokyo. After having some sushi and saki, they ended up at a karaoke bar, where it became obvious that they weren't from around here. So the cute bartender kept sending over free drinks--huge, complicated, strong drinks. Fifteen free drinks between the three of them, one of whom had to drive back to the hotel. As she got increasingly drunk, this young woman who really didn't drink much at all got quieter and quieter. She began to realize why she wasn't much of a drinker, given that most people become more animated, not less, that most people don't just retreat into themselves at the height of their drunkenness. And she had the worst hangover the next morning, giving her another reason to be that girl who didn't drink that much. She got so sick that she became hungry for having nothing in her stomach, and she turned to that generous basket of food her friend's mother had left in the hotel room, and she ate oranges, the result of which was that she didn't eat oranges again for a very, very long time, because they didn't taste very good coming up.

The day when, at age 31, she experienced a replay of the original story here, and her entire family of three was laid out with the flu. As her daughter, nine or ten months old, recovered more quickly, she just began crawling over her sick parents who couldn't move from the floor. Mom or dad would get up only to go puke in the bathroom, and the baby would quietly go into the corner and look at a book, a portent of things to come.

That time, soon after she started her current job years ago, when she felt so sick at work that she knew she wouldn't make it home even if her boss gave her permission to leave. So she got sick in the employee bathroom, told her boss about it, and he said, ugh, just go, get out of here, and she rushed to her commuter train, hoping and hoping she would make it home before getting sick again. The motion of the train made things worse but she held on, bolted out the door at her stop, and puked all over the sidewalk. People walked around her in disgust. It was winter, and she had vomit in her hair and on her down coat and the wind was whipping it back into her face as she heaved. And she felt pretty damn alone in the world, until a woman walked up to her, quietly asked her if she was all right, and gingerly handed her some kleenex before walking away. And today, six years later, she can still recall that woman's face.

That other time when the family of three (four, actually, as she was pregnant with her son at the time), was driving up to this lake house, and it was the daughter who started puking in public, in one of those fast food restaurants previously mentioned, and the staff had to be alerted, and she continued to vomit in the car, but it was so dark in the north woods roads that she had to sit in the back and watch her while her husband drove, and they made it up to the house, but things didn't get better. Neither she nor her husband got sick, but her daughter was so miserable that they began to understand what "listless" meant, as she just sat there, mute, not moving. So they cut the vacation short, hoping to not ever go through something like that again.

And then those times, so many of them, when the thought of living one more second with that nausea was the worst thought in the world. Those times, at age 34 or 35, when vomiting was a relief. The time she got motion sickness just from making love to her husband, the other time when she ate her first normal meal in weeks and then felt so off-kilter she stuck her fingers down her throat and forced herself to throw up while her husband patted her bald head and told her it would be all right. That endless feeling of nausea, when just the smell of food warming in the kitchen sent her upstairs away from the family.

This story just became one more in the list, the one of the kid with the hives and sore throat puking in a random drugstore parking lot and then engaging her in a conversation about the color of his vomit, suddenly not sick anymore but more interested in the philosophical question of what does it mean if your throw up is blue? Well, it wasn't honey, it was red, and full of grapes. But what IF it was blue? but this time something was different. It was different because she knew it was a story right away, she knew to laugh at it, she knew not to worry or be disgusted or disappointed. She knew it was possible that they would all spend their entire vacation sick as dogs, but it wouldn't matter, because if that was going to happen, it might as well happen in a beautiful place during a time when no one had to go to work or go to school or even walk out the door once they got to the house in that remote, remote place. It didn't matter, because they would be together, having learned some things from the other stories.

And then this--the memory of this. As she waited for the prescription, before her child had arrived to defoul the pharmacy, a woman came up to the window, looking a little lost and embarrassed. She waited for a minute, for the other younger woman there to go away, apparently. She didn't leave, so this woman, in her late forties probably, a few cans of pop in her cart, asked the pharmacist: "Do you have anything for hot flashes?" And somehow, the pharmacist, a woman herself, couldn't help. They started joking, and she said, well dump yourself in a bucket of ice? haha, well obviously this woman has never had hot flashes or she would know that shit isn't funny, and then she suggested black cohosh, and the younger woman found herself nodding her head, knowing that was suggested, though it never had worked for her. After a minute of listening to this conversation, the younger woman turned to the other woman and told her they made something called i-Cool, and though it might not work for her, it was worth a try. The older woman looked confused, like, why does she know that? And the pharmacist couldn't help her locate it.

And then the kids came in, and the next vomit story commenced, but not before this happened. After her son got sick in the store the second time, she knew she should just rush him out the door. But she saw the other woman still looking lost and miserable, so she handed her son to her husband and told him to take him outside, she would be just a minute. And she went to the area of the store where they have the stuff for hot flashes, because she knew just where it would be. She grabbed the box, went over to the other woman, and put it in her hand. This woman looked at her with such shock that she felt she should explain: "Look I went through menopause from chemo. Maybe this will help you." And the woman just looked at her, not knowing what to say, so she said "Oh, wow, thanks. Thank you!"

And then, that story became that other story. The one she told her husband once they were back on the road, kids clean and happy again, and he laughed and high fived her, and told her she had done her part. That one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 840: KatyDid 37

Why do we celebrate birthdays? I mean, don’t get me wrong. I believe that I am entitled to a birthday celebration that is at least a few weeks long—especially now. I throw myself parties and bake myself cakes and take time off of work and guide my husband towards gifts that I actually would like and go out to dinner and minigolf with my kids on a school night and raise a glass and initiate birthday sex and in general just breathe a huge sigh of relief and take a quick look over my shoulder, on every August 22.

Especially now.

But really, what’s the birthday celebration all about? It seems like we should be congratulating our mothers on the anniversaries of our births. What did we do, after all? We were just BORN. It’s not like that’s an achievement.

Except, maybe, it is. Sometimes you have to fight to be born. And maybe, just maybe, you show yourself, your true colors, from the start. The story of the long labor that led to my birth is legendary, especially because my dad told the nurse he thought I was trying to wiggle off of the hospital scale. He was told that was impossible, because newborn babies really can’t move. And then, the nurse looked over, and said, Jesus, that kid is squirming to get off the scale.

You know, just trying to get the hell out of dodge. Always looking for an exit—that’s me.

Lenny was not interested in the whole thing—I had to push her for two and a half hours. The heart monitor fell off inside my body, AFTER her heart rate plummeted precariously following the epidural. When she was born, her head was cone-shaped and beat up from the fight. She didn’t cry. Gabe wondered if she was even alive. She didn’t feel like eating, she had trouble hearing out of one ear, she had jaundice. And yet, people in the hospital came to see her—nurses, other doctors I had never even met-- and marvel at how pretty she was. Through it all, she just sat there—looking, always looking, waiting to see what would happen next.

Augie couldn’t wait to get the party started. He came three weeks early, spared me the 8.5 pounds my bum hips probably couldn’t withstand, and was completely healthy at just under 7 pounds, wailing and eating and looking pissed off right away. After nursing furiously every few minutes for hours after birth, he fell asleep for two entire days. Within weeks he was laughing in his sleep.

So maybe that’s what we celebrate—the fight, and the way we experienced it, and the fact that we’ve had the opportunity to do it again, for one more year. The initial fight is one that we will never remember, that lives on only through stories told to us by people who were there. And that story begins the story of our lives, the lives that so many have to fight for every single day.

I wrote a pretty damn good blog for my birthday last year, if I do say so myself. I summed it up near the end, saying, “I think about getting old, and I still hope I get to do it.”

And that’s the truth. I don’t think about getting middle-aged, or worry over my lost youth. It helps, I suppose, that I still get carded sometimes, and that kids 15 years younger than me whom I see as potential babysitters assume I am around their age until they find out the truth and then they say things like “wow you look GREAT,” (for your age you freaking dinosaur lady, I mean my god when I’m that old I will be this short of THE GRAVE.”)

I suppose it helps, but really, I want to be 37. I definitely feel 37. I’ve felt like an old lady since I was a child. I don’t mean that in a negative way. But life, and the experience that came with it, was always very much with me. I tell my kids that all the time—this age? This specific number of years? I’m proud of it. Lord knows, I’ve earned it.

The kids see things differently, of course. They want to be older—right now. Augie figured out when he was 2 that it would be 19 years until he was allowed to drink a beer, so at age three he has switched that question around: “Mommy, how old do I have to be to drink wine?” Lenny always wants to guarantee that she will be three years older than her brother NO MATTER WHAT. She asks how old I was when I got married (never when I met her dad, because, in her mind, we have always been married, waiting around for her and her brother to miraculously be born), what year it was when I learned to drive or left for college. Those questions are on her easy days. Other days, it’s “mom, is there anyone in our family who was alive 90 years ago?” “No one lives to be 200, right?” “When the universe began…”

CHRIST LENNY, ENOUGH! Can’t you just ask me about the legal drinking age like your brother?

Augie wants to know WHEN his best friend is moving back to Chicago—not IF. He asks when he will go to Lenny’s new school, how many years it will take to get there. The answer could possibly be never, since getting into the public school that Lenny will attend in the fall is as notoriously difficult and absurd a process as anything Kafka dreampt up.

In a way, Lenny understands already, and Augie’s starting to as well.

Time—what a concept. Time keeps moving, but at some point, you stop moving. What a thing to wrap your mind around. To them, time is about experience—the things you get to do, the places you hang your hat. To me, it’s about memory.

How old was I when I started drinking coffee? I don’t remember—probably 15? One day my mom was making coffee for herself and maybe I asked for some, and it was just the two of us living in the house at that point, so she didn’t flinch, or she offered me a mug, or somehow we just found ourselves silently reading the paper and drinking coffee like that’s what we had always done.

What do you mean, there used to be two Germanys? Well, see, there was this wall…we talk about it as if it “fell” when I was 14, but of course that’s not really true, and that physical wall was all tied up with this political concept it is hard for you to understand and this other country that no longer exists. I remember being assigned the role of the Soviet Union in a debate in 6th grade, wherein I was forced to defend my nuclear strategy, and then right around my 16th birthday I was cuddling with my boyfriend at his parents’ house on the couch in the basement and we were watching this whole scene involving an attempted coup, and we looked at each other and actually said, in spite of our youth, we are watching history unfold on the television right now, and within months there was no more Soviet Union, and no matter how much geography you know right now, you really have no idea what I’m talking about, do you honey?

Or, time sneaks up on us when we least expect it to or want it to, and when we are out at the karaoke bar for a fun celebration for a friend’s birthday, right after we celebrated my birthday with a big party at our house that I baked ten different desserts for, suddenly your father disappears. Time is so relative that it takes me a while to realize he has gone. Finally I text him and he tells me that he is out in the car. Excuse me? What the hell are you doing? Well Kate I really wanted to sing a romantic song to you for your birthday but then I just started thinking about the last time I did that at this bar, two years ago when you were bald and in the middle of chemo and everything came rushing back at me and I knew I was going to lose it so I went outside. And at that time and in that moment I knew I should sympathize but I didn’t. I told him fine but you’d better get your ass back in here soon, and when he wasn’t back in a few minutes, I sent him a text that summed up my feelings on the matter and prompted him to scurry back into the bar:

Time’s up.

And it was, in a way, but of course, in another way, it wasn’t. His time wasn’t up yet. Neither is mine. I’ve just had to fight a little bit more for the time I’ve had. So here’s to the fact that Katydid 37, when she wasn’t sure if she would do 35. When I hear another woman my age lament the closeness of 40, I think, girl, I’m TRYING for 40. In 2015, I hope to be able to mark 5 years NED, 30 years of being able to walk again, 9+ years of watching my heart walk around outside of my body, 23 years of wondering if my brain’s electrical impulses would cooperate without help, 40 years of the stubborn, difficult, eye-rolling, trash-talking, fight.

I’m trying for it, for more of this concept called time, because I don’t know any more than anyone else when my time will be up. The jury’s still out on that. The jury’s settled though, on one other matter:

Clocks and calendars keep some of our time, but our stories keep the rest.

Thanks to Tracey Medrano Becker for taking the first two pics in this blog at my awesome birthday party.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 833: Mama Said

I've been going through my son's clothes, getting ready for the changing season. Realizing that he can wear the same size in shirts that his sister, who is more than three years older, can wear in pants. Acknowledging that I will never change another diaper, at least for my own child. Ignoring the fact that when he dresses himself, if I can get him to do that, his pants are always on backwards. Accepting that he will run around the house naked, yelling things like "uh oh where is my penis?! haha!"

Admitting that my baby is no longer a baby.

He's a willful, impossible, exuberant and adorable little boy now.

A boy who still sleeps with his pacifier.

In fact, he has four of them. I thought we were down to two, but somehow two more turned up. He never uses them except at bedtime, when he puts one in his mouth and then holds the other three, like small versions of lovies. He sometimes rubs the silicone against his face.

And he still calls them "mamas."

He knows that they are not usually called mamas, and that the technical name is pacifier, and that other people call them binky or pac or nuk. But for more than two years, we have called them mamas.

Like many children, one of his first words, before his first birthday, was mama. Augie, like many boys, spoke coherently much later than his sister. Out of guilt, I had him evaluated when he was 17 months old and I was at the tail end of chemo. He showed a speech delay, albeit minor. The child never stops talking now, so I guess I was too quick to worry. But I digress. Around the time he was uttering his first tentative words, I found out I had breast cancer. He was weaned within six days. The week before my diagnosis, I couldn't nurse him on the left side for about 24 hours because of the pain from the 7 core needle biopsies and because the milk was filled with blood, evidenced by the pink substance that looked like a strawberry shake that came out when I pumped on that side. After the biopsy, he was confused, but accepting, of his relegation to the right side.

After my diagnosis, when suddenly, just like that, he never nursed again, he was hurt.

I know that now. I can tell myself what I told myself then, that he was confused, that he had only ever had a bottle when he woke up in the morning once in his life, so he didn't understand why his dad was walking into the room instead of me. I can say that it was the change in routine, the comfort he got from those five times a day that he calmed down with me, that made him angry.

I could tell myself that he was a baby, and that babies feel things differently than adults, but it would be a lie.

I saw his face on those mornings, and it was the look you get from a man who knows you are leaving him forever, the look you receive from a friend when you say goodbye knowing you will never write. He looked old, somehow worn down by the understanding. He was hurt that I left him like that without explaining.

He started calling his pacifier "mama."

He started calling me "mommy."

Just in case I didn't understand that there was a difference.

Now, when he gets in trouble, as he so often does through his outlandish but still entertaining behavior, one of the only things that works is to threaten to take his mamas away. The other day he was left with only one. Last night, though he was well behaved, I tried to reason with him that other three year olds don't use mamas, he never uses it at school for naps, why doesn't he just try to hold them instead of putting one in his mouth? I told him that he will go to his first dentist's appointment soon, and that his mamas weren't good for his teeth. I told him that babies use mamas because they get used to breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle and it soothes them but big boys don't usually need them.

He pouted and grouched, gave me his angry face, and walked away. A little while later I brought it up again. He looked at me with that old expression that I remember so well and asked me: "Why do I have to stop putting my mamas in my mouth?"

And I didn't know what to say.

So I found the fourth mama under his bed, read him two stories, sang to him, gave him a kiss and told him that I loved him.

And when it comes time to really make him give up his mamas, I'm going to make my husband do it. And I am going to keep however many are left of them, perhaps in the drawer of the nightstand by my bed, only taking them out on one final occasion: when he leaves our house for college or work or whatever he's destined to do when he's 18.

If I live long enough, I'll take them out one last time, and then I'll throw them away.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 823: A Mother's Perspective on Breast Cancer

I have been getting a little sick of my own perspective on things, so I asked for some other points of view. Here's my mom's guest post.

Guest Post by Martha Jacob

When you asked me if I wanted to guest write your blog, I said Sure, just let me get settled from our move.

We’ve – my second husband and I - left the townhome in Chicago and settled into a little bungalow in Oak Park – back home…kind of.

I raised you and your brother here. Lived here 30 years, as a young married, as a divorced woman going back to college in my late 30s, then working and then grad school in my 50s. You were born at West Suburban (your brother was born at Central DuPage when it was one small building in the middle of cornfields). You went to pre-school here (the teachers loved your sense of humor), grade school (you played violin and basketball and floor hockey and just a year of t-ball – as for baseball, you said you would rather be your brother’s biggest fan –and you were), junior high (where cliques were formed and you found out it was better to be on the outside and you went to the high school for math as an eighth grader – understanding geometry better than all of us), and high school (when you kept your emotions locked up in your tiny bedroom, much to my dismay and when, to my chagrin, you told me it wasn’t really fair to compare your heartbreaks to the holocaust – only following my mom I said– It could be worse, you could be leading your children into the gas chambers she would say, meaning my concerns were diminished and I wish I had remembered what that felt like).

You came home from Macalester for breaks on the Greyhound. I would pick you up at the station in Chicago on Harrison at 4 or 5 in the morning after your 8 hour ride and there you would be, Pumbaa doll strapped to your back pack, signaling that absolute disinterest in how you appeared to others – the groundwork as it were for your ability to go everywhere bald and care little how it looked to others, knowing it was important somehow to get that message across.

You chose the biggest bedroom with the half bath in the apartment we rented after we sold the house where you grew up. You were sick of little bedrooms with no closets for your great fashion sense – and I couldn’t blame you. The bedroom in the new apartment had a walk-in closet and fit it all…shoes included….so many many shoes.

Then after we fought over Jon being there (not that I cared since I loved him like a son, but that I did care because it was just too small an apartment) you became at, what, 22? the manager of a big apartment building where you saved the rent you didn’t pay and bought a condo at age 25. I kept asking myself – Who is this kid? Your dad and I did not exactly set that kind of example. You worked to buy your own clothes from the time you were 15 – babysat at 11 (I hated babysitting). You knew how to do it.

We spent summers together at Rehm Pool. Summers I treasure, talking about everything, for many years, your hard break up with Jon – your best friend for so many many years – my job, your jobs, my foray into grad school, your foray into grad school, your new and forever love Gabe, and then, my marriage-to-be.

Never again I said, but never say never is so so so so accurate. I moved from the apartment to Chicago. You were dating Gabe, loved him, he loved you, the time was right, and you married him a little over a year later.

You found the house in Beverly, had Lenny, had Augie, had breast cancer. Weaned Augie overnight and our worlds crashed.

I kept saying I wish it were me. You looked me in the eye and said Mom, that doesn’t help.

It’s not fair. We both said. And it wasn’t – it isn’t. It wasn’t fair to lose that beautiful hair. But it was, of course, in the end, hair. It wasn’t fair for you to be terrified. I will never forget the look on your face the morning you came down the stairs where I was sleeping on your couch to be there with the kids while you went off for surgery. Would they have to do a mastectomy? Would it spread to the lymph nodes? Would you wake up with the cancer gone?

No mastectomy (oh I anguished over that – moms want everything done to the extreme if there is any chance – you did your research as you are so good at doing and knew the difference was not worth it). No spread. But no clear margins and so another surgery.

Not fair. But clear margins finally.

Heart problems from chemo. Acupuncture, scares, second thoughts. You worked through chemo, ran from radiation in your neighborhood first thing in the morning to whatever else it was you needed to do. I went to chemo once, radiation once. I needed to. Gabe took so much on (and how scared he was). Your friends took on meals and babysitting when I didn’t. The support you had was incredible.

All the while bald and, as always, in fashion (something I know nothing about except to know you are). All the while exercising like it was saving your life (and on so many levels, I imagine it has), spinning, eventually even rowing – rowing? The kid who would rather be the fan?

Lenny remembered what it was like to wake up when Mommy had hair. But except for that once or so when you wore the wig or scarf, you made it clear that this was the situation and that was that.

Two years later, I gratefully write this guest blog. Grateful because you wrote it for those long days and months and I could read it and know what you were thinking because you didn’t hide your emotions in that small room. God I needed that. We have always pretty much been honest with each other, but that kind of honesty became the grace that we all needed to get through this with you….since we, I, couldn’t do it for you.

I said to you once and of course I didn’t need to point it out. But I said, You have to understand, You’re my Lenny. Can you imagine if it were you going through this with her?

Scientific advancements being what they are, we will assume that will never be the case. We have to. We, I, you, can’t do anything else.

But of course, we will go through whatever has to be. That is what people do in this situation.

There are no heroes. There are only people who do what they have to do because others are out there loving them, expecting, imploring, begging them to do whatever it takes to be there. Cancer, like any terror, changes the game. And it changes it forever. How I wish I could take away the wait for those few years to pass for you to feel (not get) the all clear. You may well get it way before you will ever feel it I imagine.

So yes, I gratefully said Sure I will guest write the blog. It’s the least I can do. You did the rest. You.

Not Gabe, not me, not your friends, not your doctors, not your legions of other types of supporters….although thank goodness for all of them.




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 819: Why Popsicles?

I had just all but decided that I was done with this blog when I discovered this picture my mom had given me around Easter this year, after she saw Lenny wearing a dress I wore 30 years ago on my 7th birthday.

That picture! That's it. I want to write about that.

I suppose the KatydidCancer blog doesn't need to be about cancer all the time anymore. Especially since it has never really been about that, not entirely. It's been about so many things, the body primarily, the way we interact with and make peace with our bodies. It's been about motherhood and gender and marriage and writing and sex and death and all of those things they used to tell us were "universal truths" when we were in school.

And today, it's going to be about a picture. Or, rather, two of them.

Look at me. Look at those eyes, that smirk, that boyish stance trying to make peace with the frilly dress. Look at how I was so much myself back then, in August of 1982, when I turned 7. Nothing in me has changed. I can see that now. Nothing.

And then, look at her. Look at my daughter, wearing my dress, one of the ones my grandfather picked out for me because he had two boys and always wanted to pick out clothes for a little girl. Lenny in that dress is some kind of dream literally 60 years in the making. And there she is, so very Lenny, as she always will be. Those feet, turned in, that half-self-conscious rumpling of the dress, the bruises on the shins...that face.

Thirty years, from one to the other. I passed on my red hair, my big brown eyes, my long legs, and a peach-colored smocked dress. And I taught other things as well. Those 30 years collapse easily when I see my daughter get lost in a book the way I used to do, when I hear her making up stories, creating her own little world in her room by herself. She got some things from me, it's true. That exasperated tone of voice, that impatience, that nerdiness. She prefers the company of one or two great friends over a crowd. She loves shoes. She likes to jump rope, she never sits still except to read or draw, she has little time for television. She talks to herself. Gabe has told me that he envies that in me, my ability to talk to myself, and he wonders what I'm saying. He has told me that he has no internal dialogue. While I have to wonder how two such vastly different people ever got together, I could honestly tell him that I don't either.

What I have is a virtual internal tower of Babel.

There are so many other things that Lenny is that I am not, that she enjoys that I do not. She is dolls, and gymnastics, and geography and arts and crafts. I am bugs and basketball and geometry and poetry. We are different, but the same, me in my tank top, bike shorts and sneakers after spinning, she in her leotard, skirt and sandals after gymnastics, both flexing, both laughing, two goofs in a wide open messy living room.

I see myself in that dress, and I can see myself over the course of 37 years, in a way that begins to make sense. The phase I went through from age 5-7 where I wore dresses and patent leather shoes all the time led easily into a tomboy phase from age 8-12 so severe that at one point I wanted to give myself a boy's name, to hide the girly aspects of myself that were starting to become apparent. And then, I ended up somewhere in between. I can see that in Lenny too, that interest in trying on different aspects of herself. I can see that she isn't yet convinced that there's someone she's supposed to be, that she is going to spend years trying to figure it out, and yet...

She's been right there, all the time, looking into the camera, just so Lenny.

When Lenny was two and a half, I wrote her a poem. I wrote it after giving her and the boy next door, who was not yet two, a popsicle. Those kids acted as if receiving that popsicle was the single greatest thing that had ever happened to them. So I wrote this for her. Gabe printed it out and framed it, and the poem has sat on her dresser ever since, usually covered by toys and socks and hair ribbons and books. A few weeks ago, it fell, and she thought it had broken. I didn't think she even remembered that the poem was there, but oh, how she cried, to think it had broken. The frame was fine, and I told her, Lenny, we could always buy another frame. Even if it broke, I could always print the poem out again.

But, I suppose, that wasn't quite the point.

Why Popsicles?
for Lenny, Love Mom, 2008

Because they're cold?
Because they're sweet?
Because it's summer?
Because of the front steps?
Because you get to choose?
Because you're old enough to pronounce it?
Because the stickiness drips to your elbow?
Because of the jokes?
Because of fireflies?
Because the sun is setting?
Because tomorrow it might rain?
Because we sit together?
Because the flavors never change?
Because thirty years have passed between your eyes and mine?
Or just because?

There are two things that I think about that poem. One is that it is the most practical thing I have ever written, this simple poem that my two year old daughter could understand. The other is that, at the end of the day, it is possible to know everything that you could ever need to know about a person by how she would answer that question.

The last time I handed a popsicle to Lenny, a week or so ago, I heard her--my daughter, the child who never seemed to be listening when I read that poem to her-- mumbling to herself: Because they're cold? Because they're sweet? Because it's summer?

And I wondered to myself, what is your answer? Because I, I am grown. I am no one if not myself. I am Because of the front steps. And your father, I know him well enough to know that he is Because of fireflies.

So it goes, that 30 years after they were born, the front steps and firelies got together and had you, Because you get to choose, and three years later, your brother, because of the jokes.

How I hope that when you are grown, and you hand a popsicle to a child, be it your child or someone else's, that I am there to see it, and that you could tell me, after you have had enough time to be sure, whether or not I was right.

And I suppose I should ask the same question of a different you. So, dear reader, which are you?

Good night.