Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dinnertime Debate

Dinner was winding down just a few minutes ago, and I was about to pronounce that the rest of the gang was responsible for cleanup and putaway, since I had made dinner and gotten almost everything to the table all by myself. That's when Oldest blurted out that one of her friends is moving away.

Suddenly, the afternoon growling and tears and everything else made sense.

So we launched into a conversation about how, sometimes, friends do move away.

I explained how my closest friend moved in the middle of fourth grade. We lost touch, and I've not been able to track her back down. My next best friend from elementary school, KC, moved the summer after eighth grade. ("I've heard of this KC," Middle said in the middle of the story.) She and I still are in touch, and she got married the week after Hubby and I did, and she now lives in the Philippines.

Hubby talked about how mad he was in first grade, because he thought he was losing his closest friend The Goat to some new kid, Mitchie—who, in fact, became within a few years and is still one of his closest friends. Hubby himself moved away from all his friends after seventh grade, only to turn around and move right back three years later.

All of this led to talking about how Hubby used to ride his bike around to his friends' homes.

"Yes," Hubby agreed, "but I was 11 or 12."

Middle pointed across the table at Oldest. "She's 11!"

I looked right at Middle. "You're nine!"

"I'm 11!" Middle countered gleefully.

"No, you're not! I'm your mother. I may not always get your name right, but I know how old you are!"

Middle grinned impishly at me. "I'm aging very rapidly, Mother!"

My jaw just dropped, and silent laughter hit while Hubby and I looked at each other.

Maybe two minutes went by, and I felt a small hand on my shoulder. "Mama, are you okay? You've been laughing so long, I'm two years older. I'm 11 now!"

I chuckled. "Nice try."

About ten minutes later, I was up in the master bathroom upstairs, and Middle came up to scoop the litter box that's up there.

"Hey, Mama?"

"You're still"—I caught myself—"nine." I had come perilously close to saying You're still eleven.

Middle smiled at me. "You're in desperate need of something."

"What's that?"

She hugged me.

I hugged her back. "You're right. I'm almost always in desperate need of those."

"Mama," she said as she started to scoop the litter box, "you know something? When I first came in, I was gonna try to convince you that I was 11. How do you always know my mind?"

I decided that, discretion being the better part of both valor and parenthood, I probably shouldn't confess to my near-gaffe of telling her that she was still 11.

"Because I'm your mother," I said simply.

Vignettes from Opposite Sides of the House

Just now...

Middle: Mom! Mom! I'll bet you don't know what an "orthodontist" is...'cause I do!

Is it bad that I took so much glee in crushing her hopes that she finally knew a word that I didn't?

Me: I do know what an orthodontist is. I had one.

Middle: You had braces? Wow, I'll bet you looked really different.

Gee, thanks, sweetheart.


Three days ago...

Hubby: Get off me, woman!

Said to the coal-black, mouthy, sneezy, crabby, completely graceless, and slightly-less-ancient-than-Mika, 15-year-old Koa, who had no intention of leaving him alone when she wanted attention. Who cares if he has to go to work to keep her in the lifestyle to which she's accustomed? She had affection needs which she required to have met, and required that they be met right meow.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

In Which We Say Goodbye Again

These little glimpses into our lives, however fun and crazy our days, sometimes they are filled with heartache.

This is a post I could have written two months ago, even three, and had it ready. That's how long I've known this post was coming.

If we acknowledge the realities of life, it's a post that has been coming for 15 years. I don't like to think of life as nothing but a rush towards death, especially as death has overshadowed so much of my life for the past 14 months. But we are born, and we die, and occasionally, we witness both ends of the spectrum for those we love...

Friday, May 4, 2001

Let it be known, here and now, that Hubby is a seriously soft touch. We had gone to visit his family for Easter, and his sister-in-law had told him how there was a pregnant female cat in the group of strays that she feeds on her back porch...a very pregnant cat.

Hubby had looked pointedly at me. "No."

I had quickly swallowed the lump in my throat (pretty sure it was my heart), steeled myself—because I knew what happened to pregnant cats and their kittens in a community of semi-feral toms—and stared him down. "I wasn't even going to ask."

And, truly, I hadn't been. We were full up at home. We had four adult cats, Popoki, Keiki, Mika, and the most recent, Niele. It was just the two of us (and them). We didn't need any more.

But somehow...when we left, we were carting a cat carrier, borrowed from my in-laws, with a very pregnant, very cranky, very long-haired guest cat.
One very pregnant Inoa

"We are adopting them all out," Hubby said. "Even the mama."

"I know. That's fine."

We had enough friends that we'd find homes for them, including the mama cat.

"We're not naming them. We'll get too attached. We'll call them by number for birth order. One, Two, Three."

"Okay, honey."

That naming scheme worked great for the kittens. But what did we call the mom? Just kitty?

Hubby had a brilliant solution. We'd call her Inoa, the Hawaiian word that meant nameless. I almost chuckled, but it seemed to fit.

(The girl cats—Popoki, Keiki, and Niele—were less than pleased about the presence of feline girly hormones they no longer had. Mika was indifferent.)

Inoa was calm and unafraid of us and trusting, so we figured she had either been left behind when someone moved away (there's a special level of hell for those fiends), or she'd gotten out after moving with her family and tried to come back "home." And found trouble. Or, more likely, it found her. We didn't know how many kittens to expect, but we didn't figure a recent stray—she looked too well-cared-for to be anything but that, especially being a long-haired cat—could have gotten too pregnant.

And we'd never been feline midwives before. What did we know? We just knew we'd promised our nieces and nephews we'd call when the kittens arrived.

Lo and behold, we had a book, so we read up on the subject, and then we made a box and set it up in the second bedroom of our postage-stamp apartment. The book said a cat's gestation period is about nine weeks, and they start to look pregnant at about six weeks. Hubby called his sister-in-law. "Hey, how long has she looked pregnant?"

Val wasn't sure. "I don't know. Maybe around three weeks now?"

Fabulous. We're lucky she didn't drop these kittens in the car!

But here we were, another three and a half weeks later. Hubby was at work, and I was moseying down the hall for the first time that morning.

Erm, afternoon. It was about 12:30. And since nothing had been going on, I suppose we'd gotten complacent.

I stopped in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, and looked down. Huh. That's odd. Inoa had her lower half, including her rather immense belly, wedged into the bottom of our two-"story" kitty condo. "Inoa, are you stuck?"

I crouched down next to her. She was visibly panting, much like Po did when we traveled. Po hated the car, and pretty much panted from start to end of any trip and double-timed her shedding. "Here, let me help you get out of there. That's got to be uncomfortable." I reached under her to gently try to ease her out—the opening began a good inch and a half off the floor, and that'll give anyone a crick in the back, even a cat. Maybe especially a pregnant cat.

I half-muttered something about "a bear wedged in a great tightness," for she was shoehorned in there pretty good, but when I pulled her loose, she didn't come out alone!

Yeah, sometimes I'm not too swift.

A teeny, tiny brown tabby kitten followed her out, mewing in itty-bitty indignance at being so rudely interrupted from her first meal.


I quickly apologized to Inoa, but she ignored me (she was just a little busy), and I raced back to the other room. "Perfectly acceptable box, but noooo, she wants to have a belly full of babies in the kitty condo, which doesn't have enough room for her." I grabbed a pair of rubber gloves, the box we'd set up, took it back to the living room, put the condo in it, then gently placed both mama and the new baby (using gloved hands) in the box.

Within a few minutes, kitten #2 entered the world. This one looked like his mama, but with more white than she had.


I called Hubby at work. "The kittens are coming!"

His supervisor happened to be a cat person. She offered to led him come home right away. He said he was sure Inoa was fine and I was fine; he could stay at work. (She let him stay until he had an hour left in his day, and then insisted he come home to the babies.)

It was probably another forty minutes to an hour before kitten #3 arrived, looking much like her brother except black and white, without a bit of tabby to be found.
Minou, about 6 weeks, with a favorite playmate, Kermit.

Inoa coaxed all the babies back into the bottom of the condo and stuffed her still-obviously-pregnant self back in there.

"Okay, sweetheart," I crooned. "You can have them in there for now."

I tried to keep her from eating every single afterbirth, but I think she snuck them all around me. As it turned out, she probably needed them all.

When Hubby arrived home a couple hours later, I told him, "I know for sure there's three. But I think we might have four. I think one arrived, and I just can't tell, because it's so dark in there. And she's laboring again."

Hubby bent down and scratched behind Inoa's ears, talking softly to her. He was able to get a better look inside the kitty condo, and sure enough, we had four kittens now. The fourth was a little all-black spitfire.

Inoa seemed to be struggling with delivering the next kitten, so Hubby gently moved the four others out into a laundry basket with some clean dish towels and coached her through the birth. (Yes, Hubby can list feline midwifery among his skills.) This kitten was big, and another little brown tabby girl. No wonder Inoa was tired.

That's a baby Minou, by the wall,
at the far side of the kitten pile.
When another hour and a half had passed and no more kittens had arrived, we assumed we were done having kittens. (Don't you like how we say that? "We"?) Hubby put in the promised call to his brother's house and asked to speak to the nieces and nephews. While he's talking to them, I went over to the kitten box. Hubby had taken out the kitty condo, and put the top on the box (we had sacrificed a colored-cardboard storage box for this little adventure, figuring it was tall enough the kittens wouldn't get out until they were old enough). I lifted the lid to check on the babies and Inoa, and did a double-take. I counted again. "Honey, we've got another one!"

He hurried over, phone still pressed to his ear, to confirm.

The sixth kitten, also a hefty chunk of a thing, was coal-black like kitten #4.

After he hung up the phone, we sat and watched a very good mom taking very good care of very tiny babies, being very trusting of two humans she's known a very short span of her life.

Six. Kittens.

And we realized... Good golly, we live in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment that we now share with eleven felines.


The next eight weeks were a delight as the kittens became bouncy little troublemakers and did all the cute kitten things. Kittens 1 and 6  were named Amber and Zeta, and moved in with very dear friends of ours, Snarky Dad and his wife, who took our advice to get two kittens, so they'd kill each other and leave their much-older cat, Niban, alone. Kitten #2, the lone boy in the lot, Max, went to live with my friend Airman, who was also expecting a baby in a few months. Pregnancy was rough on her, and she
Minou was unthreatening, even to squirrels.
was looking forward to having a baby to cuddle ahead of schedule. #5 got the illustrious name Ceayte, and found a home with a dear college friend of ours, who moved in with us for awhile in a whole other story. And kittens 3 and 4...well, I had always wanted a black kitty, and Hubby had said we could keep one of the kittens if it was black and a boy. Sneaky #4 was in no way a boy, but certainly made it her life's mission to stay with us. You've met her. Her name is Koa.

Kitten #3 departed our home for a short while, to live with a co-worker of Hubby's and his French wife. They gave her the name Minouchette, which translates as sweetiepie. When the wife's allergies proved to be too much, the little long-haired black and white fluffy bundle came home...and never left again. We considered renaming her, giving her something Hawaiian to go with everyone else's names. But we couldn't. Minouchette was the perfect name. It suited her well. We kept it. We kept her.


August 3, 2016

I halp.
A soft meow claims my attention. If I don't make room on the loveseat, Minou will. I moved aside some papers so she has a place to settle next to me. Settling is not what she wants. My attention is what she wants, and in these last few weeks she's been very aggressive about getting it. She wants to be near me, she wants to be on me, she wants to "help" me work.

In the last year and a half or so, since we had to say goodbye to Pa'ani so suddenly, we've watched as Minou has no longer hidden upstairs in the bedroom so much. It's been nice. The Apparition, as Dad often called her, now regularly haunts the house, and perhaps, we mused, Pa'ani's happy-go-lucky, weaselly little self had had far more of an impact on the feline hierarchy of the house than we thought, because here Minou was. Not hiding.

I have claimed you, hooman.
A lot.

Just like today.

Today is different.

Today, I'm a little more tolerant of the interruption to my work.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, and this is no less true in animals. Minou's eyes have been her most effective communication, particularly in the last few weeks.

The dramatic weight loss—from a healthy 12–14 pounds in February or so, to a startlingly small 6.5 pounds last week, bringing her weight lower than Mika's for the first time in, oh, probably 13.5 years—has been nearly as eloquent.

Still surprisingly nimble, Minou alights on the cushion next to me. Our eyes meet. I can only see her right clearly, the left pressed deeply back into the socket by chronic swelling of an old cyst site that has flared again, and done what the vet has warned us it would eventually do, turned into a cancer we cannot see.

Her gaze is clear, though, love still shining through the knowledge of her condition. She knows. She knows I know.

I reach up and stroke her now-dainty head. It's funny to say that, but the weight loss is so extreme that it's even affected the shape of her head. "I know," I whisper.

There have been times I've sworn I've seen her eyes wonder and toss questions at me: I see that you see, Mama. I know that you know. I'm sick. I'm dying. ... Why am I still here?

The one thing I've never seen is censure.

Over the last two days, I have whispered my goodbyes at night, before going to bed. "It's okay, sweetheart. You don't have to stay. You can let go. If I wake up in the morning and you've gone home, that's okay. You don't have to stay for us. It's okay."

I was terrified, though, of the kids finding her like that, of me finding her like that.

Youngest and Minou
It seems she knew me better than I did, and refused to do that to us.

We'd told the kids on Monday when Special Edition and Mr. Nurse made a special trip out to say their goodbyes. Special Edition had been astonished when she touched Minou at just how much weight had simply vanished. Youngest, in particular, didn't want Minou to die; Minou was her baby. She'd developed a very strong attachment to her in the last year or so. But it was time. Oh, it was time. In fact, it was probably long past time. Minou was ready.

I gently rub her still-soft ears. "I was there when you were born. I will be there when you leave this life here." I whisper the promise gently, having already made the call. "I will not let you go alone."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

It's been a terribly rough morning. Hubby opened, so I was up very early to take him to work. The first thing I did when I came downstairs was to see how Minou was.

It was both a scalding relief and a searing pain to have her walk out from the dining room.

The twins had early counseling appointments, and then I had to find something to make to take with me to the August potluck for my monthly writers group. Is it selfish of me to go, after what will happen this afternoon? Is it bad that I'm leaving Hubby to deal with the kids, and going to be with my friends, knowing I just need to get out of the house after all this?

I had enough time after errands and appointments to get home in time to make the cupcakes and pull them out to cool, and then I fetched the carrier from the upstairs hallway. I pulled out the filthy towel that was inside it; apparently this carrier had sat out after the last vet visit (probably Makaha's) with the gate open, and someone had hacked up a hairball. This would not do. I grabbed a clean one and rubbed it all over my arms and neck. Minou should at least smell me, and not some laundry detergent or fabric softener. Not on her last trip.

I cried as I carried it down the steps.

"Mama, why are you crying?" Middle asked.

I tried to rein in my temper. "Because of Minou," I managed to say.  I set the carrier on the island and bent to pick up Minou, who was at the water bowls, unable to stop my tears. She meowed as I cried into her fur. She's so light! I think she's lost even more weight!

Everything within me rebelled at the though of putting her in that carrier. I did not want to do it, even though I knew this was the right thing. I knew this was what she wanted. I knew this was what she needed, to not suffer anymore, to not be so sick anymore, to not lose what decency of life and dignity she had left. Her eyes had been giving me permission to act for weeks. They spoke that this was what she wanted, release from the disease that had corrupted this body.

It did not make it any easier to do, even as she did not fight being put into the carrier, and did not try to escape before I closed and latched the gate.

Youngest wanted to hold her on the way down. That was impractical. I put the carrier on the front seat, removed the ring on my right hand so she wouldn't cut up her face on it, and let her stroke herself against my fingers on the drive down. We picked up Hubby at work, and he drove us over to the vet while I held her in the carrier on my lap.

In the conversation during the short drive between Hubby's store and the vet's, we talked about what was going to happen, how the kids could come back if they wanted, but didn't have to, and could see as much as they wanted, but leave if they felt uncomfortable. As we pulled into the parking lot, Middle asked, "Are vets murderers?" There was a devastating pause as Hubby and I just stared at each other. "Because I think they are."

Hubby took a deep breath. "No, they're not. When you get a cut, what do you do?"

"I get a bandaid."

"Well, kitties can't do that for themselves, right?"


"And when you're sick, what do you do?"

"Tell you or Mom, and you take me to the doctor."

"Minou doesn't talk, so she can't tell us what's wrong. But we know she's sick. She's lost a lot of weight. Her body is starting to shut down." This was definitely true. I was glad Hubby was the one answering her, though. He went on, "We see these things that are happening to her, how much weight she's lost. She's lost most of her teeth. And her fur doesn't look as nice anymore, because she can't take care of it. It hurts her to move to do that. She's very old, and very sick. And as good pet owners, we know that sometimes we need to act when our pets reach this point."

You know, there really is nothing worse than sitting in the vet's waiting room, with a bunch of you wearing teary-eyed, shell-shocked expressions, with a carrier...and a small cardboard box next to it. Everyone knows why you're there, and everyone hates to be you. You're like some sort of vile disease, as you sit there and wait to be called back, twenty-five minutes past your appointment time.

The tech finally called us and we went back to the exam room. He pulled up Minou's chart; her weight two and a half years before was 15.25 pounds. I gently pulled her out of the carrier and we got her on the scale. Five pounds, 15 ounces. I answered the tech's questions about why we were there, and he said the vet would be in to talk to us.

Oldest did not want to be in the room with us, but nor did she want to be in the waiting room alone, so she settled for the furthest corner of the exam room by Daddy. Dr. M came in as I held Minou—who was not fighting being held, a pretty unusual thing for her—and did a brief exam as I explained again the sudden weight loss, the loss of bodily control, the signs of pain we'd started to see quite suddenly, the eye pressure that she had to be experiencing with her left eye. Middle and Youngest crowded close, wanting the comfort of touching their beloved friend. I asked them to step back at the same time Dr. M very kindly did, too, as she moved on to palpating Minou's belly and other things most cats offer up strenuous objections about.

Minou did not complain. Minou did not try to jump down after Dr. M finished and waved the girls back over.

Dr. M was wonderful; we have seen her before, and she explained everything she was going to do before she left to gather supplies. She looked between Hubby and me and confirmed that we were in agreement about euthanasia today. We both nodded. Dr. M left the room and came back with a soft fleece, a legal form for us to sign stating we had asked for this procedure, and the sleepy drug she had said she would use first, that would basically send Minou into a very drowsy, sleepy state, where she would feel no more pain. Dr. M laid the fleece on the table, and gently positioned Minou on it, so she wasn't laying on cold, hard, stainless steel, and injected the first drug along Minou's back. I don't know that Minou even felt it, tiny pinch that it was. It was so effective, so fast, that I was terribly afraid we were actually going to lose Minou before the barbiturates were administered.

That seems so silly to write...but I suppose I was afraid she was going to suffocate under the effects of the first drug and it would cause her pain, and that's what we were trying to avoid, giving her more pain, more suffering. But Minou merely drowsed. Middle and Youngest joined me by the exam table as we told Minou how much we loved her, how much we would miss her, that she should go find Poppa when she got to heaven, and we cried. But we loved on her as much as we could in those last few moments.

When Dr. M came in with the barbiturate, Oldest asked if she could go back out to the waiting room. We let her go. We knew she would process her grief in her own time. Youngest turned tear-filled eyes to Hubby. "Daddy, I don't think I can watch." He opened his arms and she ran into them, burying her face against his chest.

Dr. M gently shaved off some of Minou's surprisingly still-thick fur on  her back leg, located a vein, and pushed the final dose. Middle stood by me, her hands on Minou's shoulders the whole time. I felt the last gentle puff of air exhale with Minou's final breath, and cried in relief that she was at peace. "I promised," I whispered nearly inaudibly into her fur. Dr. M pulled her stethoscope from her neck, popped in the earpieces, and pressed the bell against Minou's chest. "No heartbeat," she gently confirmed. "Stay as long as you need to, okay?"

Hubby came over with Youngest and the four of us stood there and cried. When we were ready, Dr. M helped us carefully move Minou's body into the small cardboard box we'd brought with us. We would, we explained, take her home and bury her there with her brother and sisters.

As we helped funnel dirt back over the body of our dear friend, whose life we have had the privilege of caring for, from before her birth until today, her last day, Oldest wandered over with some flowers. She'd wanted to write on the flagstone we used as a marker, too. "I miss her," she said.

I squeezed her shoulder. "I know you do. I do, too."

My faith tells me that God loves His creation—all of His creation. He believes all of it is good. And if God cares enough to know that two sparrows are sold for a farthing, if He cares enough to daily dress the lilies of the field, if He promises to redeem His entire creation as His word says, then I know Minou now races in His presence.

As Middle wrote on the stone, we will see you soon, dear one. See you soon.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Youngest's Update

Ahhh, Youngest. She certainly kept our summer from being boring.

I debated titling this post "Adventures in House Arrest," because Youngest spent quite a bit of time confined to the house and yard this summer, not being able to go very far, due to a series of back-to-back groundings as a result of her riding around the neighborhood, well beyond allowed borders, on a number of occasions, without telling anyone she'd left or where she was going, with me only finding out afterwards. So Youngest found herself stuck with me, while I worked at home, rather than playing, or doing distasteful chores.

And there was the low-level larcenous behavior, too, of breaking into our neighbor's (unlocked) home, saying hello to Garden Lady's kitties, and perusing her freezer to find a box of 100-calorie ice cream sandwiches—and eating the five left in the box, leaving only the empty box behind. (When Garden Lady's mom told Hubby of the "break-in," and the startling theft of only ice cream sandwiches, it became obvious the perpetrator was under 5' tall.) Needless to say, Youngest will have to replace Garden Lady's ice cream sandwiches with her own money.

But it hasn't been all bad, really. She is our child who would rather ask forgiveness than get permission, that's for sure, but she has a kind heart and she loves her friends.

And, as I mentioned in this post, she is a source of surprises and amusement.

Mom has been out to visit on several occasions this summer. Never for very long, due to our cats and her allergies, but Mom has come out for a couple of days here and there. The morning after Middle's surgery, Mom handed me a ball of soft material. "I found this in the bathroom trashcan upstairs. I have no idea what it is, but it wasn't there last night when I was last up there."
Add caption

I took the wad of cloth from her, recognizing it immediately (I'm so sorry, SunshineLady). Swimsuit material. To be more specific, the flowy fabric part from the tankini top of a bathing suit set my college friend SunshineLady had bought—three matching suits for my darling girls, several summers back. They still fit the twins, barely. The tops were these little bralettes with this fabric that flowed down and around that hooked together in the back, so that, with the bottoms, it made pretty much a full-coverage suit. I liked them. And I knew that, with this fabric cut off, the top was basically...a bra. One very, very similar to Oldest's new purchases, in fact. And the one sibling who was most jealous of new girly things was...Youngest.

"I know what it is."

"What is it?"

"It's swimsuit material." I looked from the ball in my hands to Mom. "It's from a tankini top." She still looked confused. "It's the bottom part of a tankini top. And I'm pretty sure why it was done."


I leaned in conspiratorially. "Someone wanted a bra."

"Oh!" Mom chuckled.

When Hubby got home that night, we both sat down with Youngest, who did confess that she was the one who cut off the material. "Why did you do that?" Hubby asked her.

"Because I thought maybe I could craft with it," she mumbled.

There was a short discussion about how we do not destroy clothing (even if it's our last summer of wear) for crafting purposes, and we especially don't do that without checking with Mom or Dad first.

Hubby paused for a moment, then leaned over the kitchen island a little, in a secretive yet nonthreatening way. "Were you going to use it as a bra?"

"What? No!" Youngest denied, while looking like she'd swallowed a small eel.

"I thought maybe that was why you did this," I said. "Because you wanted a bra like Oldest's."

"Maybe a little?" Hubby said with a smile.

Youngest nodded.

Cow hugs!
"Yeah, we kinda thought so." He smiled at her. "It's okay to want big girl things. But Mom and I know when you'll need them. And when you do, we'll get them for you. So let's not cut up any more swimsuits, okay?"

We take Cow Appreciation Day
very seriously!

Youngest was also very brave on July 12. As anyone near a Chick-fil-A knows, July 12 is Cow Appreciation Day, and it was the first that Hubby's store was experiencing, since it's only been open since late January. Show up in any kind of Holstein gear, and you get a free entree. Youngest was determined to get a picture with the Chick-fil-A Cow, who also made an appearance that day. And for still being sometimes a little shy around people—and cows—she doesn't know, she did really well, and got a picture with the Cow before we left.
Happy cows.
Watch out for this guy. ;)

It was the happiest riot I've ever seen in any fast-food joint. I even saw a guy come in with a Cow Tails caramel cream pinned to the bottom back of his shirt. (Genius.) Even the crew got in on the fun, many of them decked out in cow-themed gear.

We're saving our shirts. I can hardly wait until next year!

Middle's Update

I started writing this post the night I was watching the women's 200-meter backstroke semifinals, live from Rio, and this is mostly because I was waiting for Michael Phelps to come out and stun the world again.

Special Edition is a little surprised that "we are an Olympics family. I didn't know that." Well, we are not nearly as devoted as, say, Jen Hatmaker, whose nightly posts have been a source of absolute hilarity for me. (I nearly herniated myself, laughing over her observations on Ryan Lochte's hair color. Mostly because they mimicked mine. Intervene, Jesus.)

And the updates on the dear wee ones here ended up having to wait due to my last book project, which was on a deadline, but I'm sure you've been breathlessly waiting.

You need to breathe.

I need to not neglect this blog.


She's had quite the summer. We had her checkup with her pediatric ophthalmologist in mid-June, regarding her exotropia. For those of you not in the know, this is an eye problem that looks kind of like it might be a lazy eye, but it's not. Short version: her eye muscles don't want to work well together, and they are not strong enough or tight enough to force her eyes to focus together like they're supposed to. Her glasses have been compensating for this, but even so, when she's tired, her left eye especially drifts way out of alignment. Both eyes are exotropic, but the left is the most obvious, particularly when she's tired. Despite our efforts, the doctor checked her eyes and determined that Middle was now at the point that she needed surgical correction.

The first available date was the week Middle was going to be at swim camp, and since Middle wouldn't be able to put her head under water for two weeks following surgery, we definitely didn't want to cut swim camp short, so surgery was scheduled for July 7. Middle was both petrified and excited. She finally got to have surgery and get presents like her sisters had gotten for their surgeries!

When we picked up Hubby from work, and I was explaining all this to him, Middle piped up from the back seat that she wanted to pick out her stuffed friend as her hospital buddy. (We've gotten both Youngest and Oldest a stuffed friend for the day of their surgeries.)

"I know what you want," I said, glancing in the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of her in the back seat. A quick look at Hubby showed he was smiling.

"What?" Middle demanded.

"A duck!"

There was an audible, slightly-indignant gasp from behind Hubby's seat. "How did you know?"

I proceeded to quote her, verbatim, from a conversation we'd had no more than two weeks before, "'Mommy, I have to tell you something. Dodo birds aren't my favorite animal anymore. They're my second favorite. I just can't stand it anymore. I need more ducks!'"

Hubby dissolved into giggles, while Medium muttered a mostly happy, "Oh. Yeah," from the back seat.

I risked a glance at Hubby as we sped up the highway. "Why are you laughing? I told you about this last week!"

"I know," he gasped. "It's still funny!"

Medium had, you see, decided about six or eight months ago that ducks were no longer her favorite animal. Dodo birds were, despite their distinct extinctness. While she never fully explained it, I suspected that some pesky third-grade stinker found out about her love for ducks, made fun of her, and so she found something much "cooler" to love, even if it meant shoving ducks to second place and not being able to get any Dodo bird figures for Christmas. She was, however, terrified to hurt Gramma's feelings by telling her she no longer loved ducks. So, when she'd made this pronouncement a couple weeks before, it came as no surprise to me, but the method of delivery was a scream. Hubby had dissolved into giggles then, too.

A couple of days before the surgery, after a mother-daughter disagreement about chores (she wanted to be done; I said she needed to do two more things before she could be done with the den cleaning), I heard something suspicious: the sound of a full garbage bag thumping down the stairs. In retrospect, I should have recognized what was going on as her nerves about the approaching surgery. Oops. I only realized it when I saw the date on the picture I pulled to use here. Innyhoo...I discovered that Middle had bagged up all of her ducks because someday she was "going to have to pass them down to my children, so I'm going to have to get used to not having them, so I might as well start now."

Some days, this girl is so my Mini-me, it's frightening.

Partial Meeting of the AJSFA
We had a conversation about how she's only nine and a half, and she doesn't have to worry about that for a very long time. I showed her a big box in the attic that holds a bunch of my stuffed friends, which I still have, despite my rather advanced number of years compared to hers. I asked if she wanted to see what was in there. She said no.

But within fifteen minutes, she'd changed her mind, and wanted to see what I had in there (which, by the way, was a box much bigger than she thought, as it was a vacuum box, and still doesn't contain the entirety of the Auntie J Stuffed Friends Alliance). So I helped her get into the attic and we brought the box down to the living room. And we squealed over my Friends.

I was really hoping the stuffed duck from my childhood was going to be in that box. I was going to let him go into Middle's extended care.

Needless to say, I unpacked the bag of ducks and gloriously dumped them back all over her bed at her request.

Surgery on July 7th was very successful, and the surgeon—her ophthalmologist—was very pleased with how well the procedure went. On its surface, it's a simple surgery, putting a dissolvable suture into the controlling muscle to tighten it and thus force the eyes to align. Poor Middle woke up in recovery essentially blind, because her eyes were covered with a massive ice pack, and she couldn't see us. She could only hear us, and the anesthesia does wonky things to the brain. Hearing her say, "Daddy, is that really you?" was heartbreaking. She felt better once she could feel us touch her. The PACU staff were wonderful. Having never experienced anesthesia before, nor narcotics, we didn't know how she was going to react to certain medications. We were so grateful that the anesthesiologist was willing to come back several times to check on our daughter, who didn't seem to be responding to the pain medicine right away. He said that sometimes he sees kids not respond right away to the
Middle with our PACU nurse
medication he used, and then it kicks in with a bang—and that's exactly what happened with Middle. It seemed to take forever to kick in, but when it did, it was very obvious it had. We were able to travel home with popsicles and some cool new sunglasses for Middle's now very sensitive eyes, and between the prescribed pain medicine (which we used at night) and staggered over-the-counter stuff, we were able to keep her mostly comfortable as she recovered.

The following week was my birthday. I did not celebrate last year, despite the decadal mark I hit, because it was so soon after losing Dad, and those kinds of birthdays were always such a big deal in his family. I wasn't sure I really wanted to celebrate this year, but knew I needed to, even if just for my kids. Mom came out again (she had been out the week before for Middle's surgery), and we all drove out to a gorgeous lake about an hour and half away from us. Hubby had been to Ollie's recently, and had found a Civil War book he wanted, so he'd allowed the kids to spend $5 on themselves, and the twins had found a set of walkie-talkies they really wanted. Since we took two cars, we used their walkie-talkies to communicate, and it was an hour and a half of, "Do you read me?" "I read you. But do you read me?"

After several hours of fun in the sun at the lake, including meeting up with my cousins who live within 40 minutes of the lake and were able to come out and join us at the spur of the moment, we headed for home, and stopped at a local Hoss's Steakhouse for my birthday dinner. At one point, before our dinners arrived, I looked next to me to see Middle yanking her straw out of her drink in order to sluck down the soda remaining in the straw. Since I'd just asked her not to do that a few minutes before, she looked impishly guilty when I caught her.

"I can't help it!" she exclaimed. "I'm a hooligan!"

Mom burst into laughter while I fought to rein in my smirk.

"Or," Middle mused, "a hoolibarian. A hooligan and a barbarian." She smiled proudly at me. "I made that word up myself. A combination of hooligan and barbarian."

"I know." I couldn't contain the chuckle. Mom was still laughing. This girl... God, does Dad see this stuff from up there? He'd love this one.

And we have conversations like this all the time with Middle. It's frightening. It's awesome. It's hilarious.

This morning, I was half awake while Middle was talking to me about her library book, about drawing reptiles and lizards, and the conversation had started out about why her book didn't have any pictures of pterodactyls in it, just the pteranodon and quetzalcoatlus flying dinosaurs. I tried to pay attention, I really did, but I was exhausted and zoned out at some point along the way. I know she mentioned something about several of her classmates saying things (all of them boys), but the next thing I clearly heard was, "And then the kitties will have crunchy poop. Yeah, really crunchy poop."

I decided Rule #2 was best employed there and let her keep talking until I needed to go check the load of clothes in the dryer.

Innyhoo, the first follow-up checkup for Middle's eye surgery showed that one of the muscles had been a tad over-tightened. Dr. S was a bit surprised ("It's been awhile since I've done that; guess I have to keep myself humble," she observed). However, the extent of the exotropia in that eye was so severe that she suspected Middle was still relying on old muscle memory to help it keep crossing the way it was, so she wanted to give it a month and see how Middle was then. When we went back a week and a half ago, the eye was greatly improved, and Middle just needs new glasses to help finalize the proper muscle adjustment.

Starting fourth grade and a new school this year has been a big adjustment, and with everything that's gone on this summer, we've been very glad that Middle has her counselor to help with processing the fear of the surgery and the new school and school year and several other events.