Thursday, February 26, 2015

Congestive Heart Failure

My eighty-seven-year-old dad's in the hospital again. I spent the day with him. I'm glad I did because I got to talk to his doctors and nurses. He's going to be fine. They have him on a complex cocktail of medications and minerals and a low-sodium diet and they're shooting oxygen up his nose and doing all these healthful things to keep his heart beating as long as it can.

Dad has congestive heart failure. I was ignorant about what that is, exactly, until today. I thought having heart failure meant certain, sudden death. It does mean certain death--none of us will live forever--but it's not necessarily sudden. If well treated, someone can live quite well with the disease. Well, at least until something else kills ya.

When I'm stressed out and worried about things beyond my control, I enjoy doing research. I'm telling you: being a librarian has kept me out of Osawattomie.

This is a fantastic article that explains what congestive heart failure is in an easy-to-understand way.

All I know is, I chose the salad bar in the hospital cafeteria this afternoon. I always become overly concerned with my own health when my dad is sick. It's so weird. Our aging parents are so goddamn good at reminding us of our own mortality. Jerks. Thanks for giving us life, then making us worry about death.

So I sat there and munched on my lettuce leaves and beets and olives and tomatoes and onions and carrots and chick peas and green peas, and Parmesan cheese while I added "up my walking regimen" to my mental to-do list. After lunch I went on a walk and made a mental grocery list that would read like food porn to the American Heart Association. More kale. More Brussels sprouts. More broccoli, cauliflower, olives, and whatever the-next-big-thing-in-the-produce-section is.

I know kale won't keep me from certain death, but I'm hoping it slows the pace down a bit. I want to prevent the pain and suffering that accompanies disease and death. But life does not exist to give me what I want. Life exists. No reason. And then it ends. Just like that. Without bothering to consult anyone about it. That is so scary. We need each other to get through it.

My dad is eighty-seven years old. I must face the fact that he's not going to live forever. My time with him is limited. It was weird to spend the day with him. It felt strange for him to defer the doctor's and nurse's questions to me, like I was the one in charge. My dad and I had such horrible fights when I was a teenager exactly because I wanted to be in charge of my own life and Dad was such an authoritarian back then. But not now. Today I helped my dad change into pajama pants.

Dad's simmered way down over the years and with the help of sertraline. He's this tiny old man with a huge survival instinct. He pays attention to his body and goes to the doctor when something seems not right. Like when he was gasping for air while sitting in front of the TV, not just while out on the dance floor with his single senior lady friends. Oh yeah, he dances. My eighty-seven-year-old dad is a dance fiend. I should dance more, too.

Dad takes great care of himself. He's been a great role model for me to witness ways to take care of myself. Perhaps I shouldn't see my concern for my own health as selfish. I'm taking care of myself, which teaches my daughter to care for herself. Survival of the family tree, long after individual branches have fallen to the ground.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sloth Mom

image by Stefan Laube (Tauchgurke) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I'm not a morning person, and I need more sleep than most people my age. My circadian rhythm is offbeat. After a quick google search, I have diagnosed myself with Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which is a much nicer term than the one I grew up with: lazy bum.

I don't see it as a disorder, just a difference. However, over the years my teachers and bosses and friends who appreciate punctuality would disagree.

If I have no commitments, my body naturally prefers to sleep from about 2 a.m. til noon. I didn't fully consider this when I decided to have a child. The first few years weren't that big of a deal. I was blessed with a "good sleeper". Kate began sleeping through the night at four-months old, and she routinely slept around thirteen hours. So even if she fell asleep earlier than I did, say at 8 p.m., she wouldn't wake up until around 9 a.m., which is way better than the nightmarish stories I'd hear from friends with kids her age. Some of those little monsters would want to go to bed by 7 p.m. and arise by five or six in the morning. I can't even.

I was also blessed with a husband whose circadian rhythm is the yang to my yin, so on days when I simply could not haul my ass out of bed even by nine in the morning, he was there to help our daughter with her needs. And for those days when he had to be at work earlier than I could get out of bed, Will taught Kate how to push the button on the remote to activate our electronic babysitter. I'd wake up refreshed late in the morning and find our sweet girl sitting on the living room floor with her books and toys scattered around her and "It's a Big Big World" on the TV.

Some days I'd look at the screen and sigh. I wish I were a sloth like Snook, the protagonist on the PBS Kids show. Life would be so much easier if I'd been born a sloth instead of a human. Everyone accepts that sloths are slothful. It's just the way they are. Not as many people understand human slothfulness.

Luckily, Will understands, or even if he doesn't understand, he accepts. He's a workaholic, full of energy and drive, but he doesn't bug me to be more like him. Like a person gifted with a high IQ doesn't expect someone with a low IQ to understand complex thoughts, Will understands my need to sleep.

Will himself needs just five or six hours of sleep each night. He's one of those "early birds" who hops out of bed and flits around like it's going to be a great day or something. Once, when were were first dating, I went on a camping trip with Will and his parents. I was appalled at the entire family's morning chipperness. I'd stumble out of my tent with the sun high up in the sky, only to be greeted with such obnoxiously friendly comments as, "Good morning! Or should I say good afternoon!" and "Did you sleep well?" and "Would you like some eggs with your coffee?" The nerve. Who are these people? What kind of weirdo wakes up happy to start a new day? Oh, seemingly everybody but me? Well shit.

Kate began foraging for her own food in the mornings at a young age. Occasionally she'd get a hankering for something she couldn't make on her own. Don't all three-year-olds request broccoli for breakfast? But usually she'd find something within reach on the counter to eat. I remember feeling so proud of her the day I awoke and discovered that Kate had figured out a way to get a banana out of its peel, despite not having the strength to twist the top off, by slicing the side of it with her fingernail.

Our morning routine worked fine until Kate started school. I was hoping she'd get assigned to afternoon kindergarten, not realizing that must have been a Seventies thing. Like playing hide and go seek with your friends until the street lights came on, and standing up in the back seat of your mom's Vega as she drives, arms outstretched, pretending to fly until--whack!--Mom has to brake for a stop sign and you go flying into the seat in front of you. Nowadays most kids go to all-day kindergarten, and even the ones who go a half-day only have the option of going in the morning. I was screwed.

Kate's in third grade now, which means I've been chronically sleep deprived for four years. I guess it's karmic payback for sleeping so soundly during Kate's newborn years when my friends' kids were turning their hair grey. Maybe I'll catch up on some sleep when Kate's a teenager.Yeah, I know. I doubt it, too.

8:10 a.m. That's what time Kate has to be at school. Which doesn't bother her at all. In fact, just this morning on the way to school she said to me, "I like mornings!" I tisk-tisked under my breath and told myself she can't be just like me. She's half-Will, too.

Plus, I couldn't exactly scold her for being so chipper in the morning after she let me sleep til 8:00. "Mom, it's time to get up," she said brightly while gently tapping my shoulder. When Kate was little I'd often awake with her lying next to me, face-to-face, staring into my eyes, saying, "Mama, ti' ta git uh now." It was mostly sweet and a tad creepy.

"Oh, Honey, I'm sorry I slept so late," I said, looking at the clock. "Why didn't you wake me earlier? Do you need me to make you breakfast?" I swung my legs over the side of the bed and used my feet to find my slippers, trying to rub my eyes awake.

"Nope. I made it myself," Kate said, cheery and bright.

"Good," I said. I coughed up some nighttime phlegm and rose from bed. "I'll pack your lunch in a minute. I gotta pee," I said, walking toward the bathroom.

"You don't need to pack my lunch," Kate said, following behind me.

"Oh, are you gonna eat the school lunch?" I asked.


"Well, Honey, you can't go without lunch. You'll be too hungry--"

"I packed my own lunch," Katie explained.

For a moment it was as if time stood still, we were in no rush to get to school on time, no alarm clocks beeping in our ears. Just my daughter and me, standing there in the hallway.

"Look at you! Big kid," I said, poking Kate in her soft belly.

Her smile was proud, confident, strong. She needs me to take care of her less and less each day. Which makes me feel both happy and sad. It seems only yesterday I still had to tie her shoes and remind her to brush her hair. Now I'm standing here looking at this bright girl, hair neatly pulled back in her butterfly hair clip, dressed in clean clothes, sneakers tied, ready to greet the new dawn.

We made it to school on time. No tardy slips today.

"Have a great day, Punky," I called out as Kate headed toward the front doors.

"You have a great day, too, Mom," she briefly turned and waved, then stepped inside her school.

On the way home I had a sudden burst of energy, as if I took Katie's words as an order. HAVE. A. GREAT. DAY! I began planning all the things I'd get done today. Dishes, laundry, dusting, sweeping, mopping, bathing the dogs, cooking dinner, writing, reading, walking. So many things to do. Oh, and I need to go to the grocery store, and email the basketball team I coach, and call my mom, and pay our credit card, and oh, what's that last thing I'm forgetting?

By the time I got home, I was so exhausted just thinking of my "to do" list I immediately headed to bed and enjoyed a nice, long nap.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This is what democracy looks like!

Will, Kate, and I joined the rally at the Kansas State Capitol today. It was great to see so many people show up to stand for love. You can see us in the crowd toward the end of this video clip!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Normal has changed over the years

I was talking to two co-workers about the time my friends and I got chased out of Godfather's Pizza by a group of homophobic jocks back in 1988. They both gave me this look like "I'm so sorry that happened to you" and "that's awful". I kept rambling on, telling them the story, which I had always thought of as a funny story since it shows what an awful driver I am in a car chase, but I could tell that, to them, it was a sad story of being the victim of bullying and hatred and homophobia.

Homophobia was just a given when I was growing up. It wasn't even called homophobia. It was called normal. It's amazing how much normal has changed over the years.

I got to thinking, "You know, this would be a good blog post."

So on my day off, I opened my blog and began to write the story. Then a tiny voice in the back of my mind whispered a reminder to make sure I hadn't already written about this incident.

Sure enough, I had. I wrote it nearly one year ago and I had forgotten. Our memories are so tricky. How is it I can remember so vividly the incident of getting chased out of Godfather's twenty-seven years ago, but I can barely remember having written about it just one year ago?

You know how you read so many books that sometimes you get through a few pages before you realize you've already read that one? I've been blogging for over three years now, so much so, I sometimes forget that I've already told a certain story.

So, as the incomparable Morrissey sang, "stop me if you think you've heard this one before". Here's the story I wrote last year about getting chased out of Godfather's by a group of homophobic bullies:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is Governor Sam Brownback Bizarro Robin Hood?

Kansas is broke. Governor Sam Brownback lowered taxes on the wealthiest Kansans a couple of years ago, hoping it would stimulate our economy. It didn't work. Now our state has a huge budget deficit. Governor Brownback has another great idea. He announced yesterday that he will cut education spending. Big shock. 

Go after the kids. They don't vote. Those bums just mooch off the state. They don't have jobs. They don't contribute to society. They just take and take and take and take, and what do they give back to the state?

Well, how about this, Governor Brownback? Kids give our state its future. Or are you too short-sighted to see it? I don't understand someone who robs from the poor and gives to the rich. It's as if our governor is Bizarro Robin Hood.

When my eight-year-old, Kate, was sick a couple of weeks ago, she woke up one morning and announced that she wished she could send her germs to her enemy, our governor, Sam Brownback. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea. "We don't wish illness upon our enemies, Sweetie," I said. I felt like we were back at the playground, learning how to get along with bratty kids. My parental advice has evolved from "we don't hit other people" to "we don't practice germ warfare" as Kate grows and experiences unfair attacks. 

Kate's been mad at Governor Brownback ever since he won re-election in November. She hears her father and me complain about his policies which aid the wealthiest citizens and ignore the neediest. She becomes righteously indignant. She needs help channeling her anger for good. 

"Try to remember Ruby Bridges," I tell Kate. Last year she binge read books about that brave little girl who was the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. "Remember what her mom told her to do: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I admit, though, it's hard to pray when you're angry. I certainly didn't feel very loving toward our governor when I read the news yesterday.

I find that when I don't know what to do, when I feel helpless and powerless and voiceless, when it feels like my prayers go unanswered and my love isn't strong enough to pierce my enemies' hardened hearts, the best thing I can do it write.

Here is the letter I sent to Governor Brownback this morning:

My daughter is a third grade student at a public school in Overland Park, KS. Her school needs more funding, as do all the public school across our great state. We need to prepare these young minds to be competitive in a global marketplace. We need to give public school students the opportunity to learn and increase their brain power so they can come up with solutions to the many problems we will face in the future. These students will be in charge some day. They will be taking care of us when we are old. I want them to be fully prepared to lead, and to come up with innovative ways to strengthen our communities. The best way to prepare a child for the future is to provide her with an excellent education. Excellent public schools need funding to operate. If you cut funding to already under-funded classrooms, our future leaders and innovators will not receive the education they need to do their future jobs. I understand that our state needs to balance its budget. To alleviate the financial crisis, please raise taxes on our state's wealthiest citizens to the levels they were before you took office, rather than raiding the institutions that serve our most vulnerable citizens: public school children.

Feel free to use my letter as an example when crafting your own letter to Governor Brownback. You can email him here. Maybe if enough of us contact him he'll start to listen. After all, he asked for it. This is the response I received after submitting my letter to Governor Brownback:

It is an honor and a privilege to represent you the citizens of Kansas as Governor, and in order to help our great state continue to move forward I want to be responsive to your needs and concerns.  Please help by contacting my office and sharing your views and concerns about those issues facing our great state. Thank you for contacting my office to express your views and concerns. I always enjoy hearing from my fellow Kansans, for there is no better guide to decision making. --Governor Sam Brownback

Let's see if he keeps his word and uses it as a "guide to decision making".

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mom, Dad, and Kate

"Mom, I want to tell you something that you're probably not going to like. About your parenting."

So began our discussion last night as I tucked our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, into bed.

"Eight-and-a-half," she would correct me if she saw what I just wrote. Why are children in such a hurry to grow up?

I couldn't help but smile. Not that I'm a masochist or anything. I hate being criticized for anything, especially my parenting. But I love how Katie exudes calm confidence when advocating for herself. I was raised to think that children should not "talk back" to adults. Adults know what's best and kids should be quiet and listen and not argue.

It never occurred to me to question this power struggle until I was a teenager. My dad and I screamed at each other so much during my young adulthood that it eroded our relationship. It's only been in the last decade or so, after both Dad and I were prescribed at separate times by separate doctors the anti-anxiety medication, sertraline, that we've been able to pick up a few crumbled pieces of our relationship and build another foundation.

I still struggle with self-advocating my needs, but each year gets better. It's difficult to unlearn destructive habits such as ignoring your personal needs until you feel like you're going to explode and so you default to screaming at someone rather than calmly stating how you feel. But if I want a kid who calmly talks to me about how she feels and not some screaming banshee running loose in the house, I've got to set an example.

Stay calm. Listen to what she has to say before jumping to conclusions, I told myself. "What do you want to tell me?" I asked Katie.

"Well," she said from under three layers of covers, all of which have chew holes from the dog. "I want to tell you to quit calling Dad 'Daddy' when you're talking about him," Katie explained.

"What? Why?" I asked. I totally wasn't expecting that response.

"Because I like to call him Dad now. Like how I like to call you Mom," she explained.

"Oh, so you want me to call him what you call him?" I asked.

"I just don't want to feel like a baby," she said, lowering her eyes.

"I understand," I said, sitting on the edge of her full size futon. When I was a baby, I shared a bedroom with two of my older sisters. Our only child has her own room and her own bunk bed. With its full size futon as the bottom bunk, it sleeps three people even though she only needs a bed for one. We wanted her to have something for sleepovers. We need her friends to feel comfortable, to like us and stick around and be there for our daughter in the way the sibling we can't provide her would do. In the same way Will always goes out for donuts the morning after a sleepover. Bribery. As long as you stay loyal to our daughter you will always have access to a comfy bed and donuts the next day.

"I remember I was in third grade, too, when I decided to start calling my dad Dad instead of Daddy. 

"What made you decide?" Katie asked. She loves to hear stories of what it was like when her dad and I were kids. I think it reassures her that we really do understand what it's like. We've been there. We know how much it can suck to be a small person in a big person's world.

"My sister Glenda came over to visit," I explained. "You know, she's fifteen years older than I am, so she was a grown up when I was in third grade."

Katie nodded.

"She kept calling our dad Dad. Not Daddy. I thought that sounded very big. I wanted to sound big too, so I stopped calling our dad Daddy," I said.

"Yeah, that's why I want to stop calling Dad Daddy," Katie said. "I don't like it when people treat me like a baby."

"Well, just so you know, lots of people still call their fathers Daddy throughout their life. My mom still called my grandpa Daddy when he came to live with us the last few weeks before he died. She was in her fifties and she still called him Daddy."

"Yeah, but no one in my class still calls their Dads Daddy," Katie said.

"No one? How do you know."

"Because when they talk about their dads they say Dad," Katie said, like duh, Mom. "And when their moms drop them off at school, they don't say things like, Daddy will be here to pick you up this afternoon." Katie raised her voice in an artificially sweet version of my own voice. I felt the sting of that shot.

"Oh, I see," I said. "OK. I get it. I'll try to stop calling him Daddy. Give me some slack, though. It's hard to change what you've been calling someone for eight years," I said.

"Eight-and-a-half, Mom."

I sighed. "Well, goodnight, Katie--hey, wait a minute. If we have to start calling each other Mom and Dad, not Mommy and Daddy, that means we get to start calling you Kate, not Katie!"

I figured Katie would immediately protest. When she was four, she began insisting that we call her Katie, not Kate. When Will and I decided to name our child Katherine after my sister and great-grandmother, we decided on the nickname Kate to eliminate confusion. My sister's nickname is Kit or Kitty, which is the same nickname our great-grandmother had. I wanted my daughter to have her own nickname.

Will and I both love the name Kate. Will said, "It seems like all the pretty girls at school were named Kate." I said, "Kate Carleton sounds presidential."

But when Baby Kate turned four and began forming her own opinions, she informed us that from there on out she would be known as Katie, not Kate.

I admit, I was disappointed at first. Katie Carleton sounds like a great babysitter, or cheerleader, or romance novelist. Katie Carleton does not sound presidential. But I also understand that the best way to raise a kid who has the confidence to lead a nation is by letting them make important decisions when they are little bitty. So I caved and started calling her Katie.

Over the years I've slipped up a few times and accidentally called her Kate. Each time she has corrected me. "It's Katie," she'd insist.

But this time was different. This time, when I pointed out to her that if she gets to call us the more mature versions of our nicknames, then it's only fair that we get to do the same with her nickname.

"OK," she said. "You can call me Kate again."

"Hooray!" I shouted. "I've always loved the name Kate."

"I know, Mom." Kate smiled. A little too maturely for my taste.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let Assholes Be Assholes

I was in the right lane, driving 60 in a 65mph zone. It's snowy and the wind is blowing hard, so I had slowed down to be safe. Then the car behind me starts following way too close. I don't speed up because, you know, hazardous driving conditions.

After a few seconds the car behind me jerks around and starts to pass on the left. I heard a honk as the driver flew by me. At first I thought someone else was honking at this unsafe driver, but then I realized the unsafe driver was honking at ME.

I stayed calm. My pride is not worth a car wreck. Then suddenly I had to brake. The unsafe driver had pulled right in front of me, and in doing so fishtailed and had to slow down so the car didn't spin. Because I was driving slower than usual and paying close attention to the road, I did not slam into the unsafe driver's car.

I *did* think very bad thoughts about the unsafe driver. I might have even, if only for a split second, thought I hope that asshole gets in a wreck up ahead. Immediately, I felt bad. But come on. Nobody's perfect. I'm not Jesus. I mean, it's not like I wanted the asshole to wreck into someone else's car. Just a nice little slip off the road and into the guard rail would suffice. Air bag would get deployed. No one would get hurt. Just, you know, teach 'em a lesson.

There's this German word, schadenfreude. I love the word schadenfreude. It basically translates to English as "feeling good about another person's misfortunes." Schadenfreude is what was going on when I momentarily wished a car wreck upon that stupid driver.

But you know what? The good feeling didn't last long. As soon as I pictured the car crashed into the guard rail, it felt like I'm the one who'd become the asshole, not the unsafe driver. I don't want to be that person. I want to be better than that. It's human to experience feelings of schadenfreude from time to time, but is it right?

I thought about all this while I kept driving. I made my exit and then realized where I was going. I was on my way to drop Katie off at church for choir practice.

Wait a minute? Is this guilt I'm feeling? Do I feel bad for hoping that asshole wrecks because of all this time I've been spending at church? What the hell?

I don't know about all that. I don't believe a person has to go to church to know how to be a good person. But it made me think. If Jesus were alive today, I wonder if he'd have road rage? Probably not. If Jesus ever got in a car wreck he'd turn around so the other car could slam into the other side. Sometimes Jesus seems like a show off. He's such a golden boy.

But Jesus is right. I feel better about myself when I don't wish bad things upon other people. Let assholes be assholes. Don't let them turn you into one, too. That's a quote from the Bible, right?