Archive for July, 2016


Five Cats

 

20160604_143655We never intended to have five cats. Rob and I had plans and ideals, and one of those was that the perfect number of feline pets was two. They would groom each other and keep each other company, but not overburden their humans with litter box odor or food costs. We agreed that, as the cats aged, it would be acceptable to add a third pet, a kitten who would keep the older felines on their toes, and provide comfort when the time came that one would pass away.

And so it was, for the first several years of our marriage. Chantilly and Angel moved with us from Wyoming to Vermont in 1996. We were fortunate that we lived with my parents at first, and then in various apartments that allowed us to keep our pets at home.

Around the turn of the millennium, even though Chantilly and Angel weren’t all that old, we drove three hours from home just to adopt our third cat, Loki. We’d been married about five years, and four of those years were spent trying to get pregnant. I was on the kind of drugs that, in addition to helping me ovulate in a timely manner, also played havoc with my psyche and emotions. Loki wasn’t a real baby, but he helped ease the pain of childlessness, being a playful and affectionate addition to the family.

Both Rob and I worked at Vermont Technical College, where we’d earned our Associate’s degrees. The Vet Tech program there took in dogs and cats each year, and before the summer they all needed to find homes. I made the mistake one day of stopping in to visit one of my friends, who was in charge of the lab, and asking her if any of their cats needed some snuggling. She put Finny in my arms, and I was instantly in love. He just wanted to be held and cuddled, something that helped my childless heart bear the pain a little better. We had then been trying to get pregnant for almost ten years, as well as having competed our foster parent training but inexplicably not having a child placed with us. We let him stay in the empty room we’d decorated in preparation for a child, letting the cats get to know each other through the crack at the bottom of the door.

Four cats was too many. But we weren’t done yet.

After eleven years of trying to get pregnant, we finally had a foster daughter and we were enduring the endless trials of waiting for the termination of the birth parents’ rights and her release to finally be adopted. Our daughter, then seven years old, told me there was a kitten on the porch. Although I didn’t believe her (lying was and still is one of her greatest vices) I went to check, and was amazed to discover it was true. Bug-riddled and starving, the kitten waltzed through the front door and never left.

It was late autumn. He’d probably either been born in or abandoned in the woods across the street from our house. It was unlikely he’d survive the winter. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking him to the humane society; here was a helpless furbaby, presented to us without any prompting or begging on our part, while we were praying and hoping that we could adopt our daughter and maybe, just maybe get pregnant before my body was too old to safely carry a child.

We took Simon in. (He’s watching me write this; the other four cats each passed away over the last several years.) His boney ribcage filled out that summer, and human-administered medicine got rid of

the bugs. He and the other cats thrived, and the next Spring we finalized our daughter’s adoption.

And a year after Simon came to us, I finally had a baby girl of my own.

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Doc apt booksIt took eleven years of trying and a lot of different infertility treatments for my husband and me to get pregnant. In 2007, we finalized the adoption of our older daughter and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. We named her Rhiannan.

The tumorWhen she started walking, I found a lump on her back. The pediatrician was concerned, but said she would check again at Rhiannan’s one year appointment.

The lump was still there.Crackers

We went to the hospital for an ultrasound. Rhiannan was happy because there were all kinds of toys to play with, and the procedure consisted of snuggling Mommy while some weird lady but sticky stuff on her back and rubbed a wand over her. I, however, was worried when they told me “Wait here. Your pediatrician wants to talk with you.” I was then instructed to take my toddler directly to onconolgy. They were making an appointment for her then and there.PreMRI

The word terrified me. It means cancer…something we can’t cure and something no child should be afflicted with. I will skip ahead, and tell you it wasn’t cancer, but something else. And it has a happy ending.

The crib after the first surgery, when she was still wiggly.

The crib after the first surgery, when she was still wiggly.

Because Rhiannan was so small, the MRI of her back included most of her torso and hips. It was the MRI that saved her life because, although the lipoma was the main concern, it turned out to be the symptom of something bigger.

My daughter had a tethered spinal cord.

The doctor explained it to us like this: There’s a bit of sticky mass, like bubble gum, at the base of her spine where her nerves are supposed to spread out to her lower body. Instead of growing with her, the nerves were stretching. She would eventually be in a wheelchair.

Recovery after the first surgery

Recovery after the first surgery

Rhiannan’s first surgery, to remove the lipoma, was fairly simple. Samples of the lump were sent to labs across the country, as is procedure in pediatric cases, and they came back as benign. No cancer. She came home the next day her usual giggly wiggly self.

The second surgery, to release the tethered spinal cord, was more complicated, and much more scary. When I asked my pediatrician “How will I keep a fourteen-month-old still for three days?” she answered “Don’t worry. She won’t want to move.”

Ready for surgery

Ready for surgery

The pediatrician was right.

Rhiannan and I spent three days in the hospital. Since I was breastfeeding, I was the usually the parent who was there with her, as well as sleeping overnight. A sign over her hospital crib sternly warned everyone that she could only be moved in a log roll, she could not be picked up and held. I pumped milk and gave it to her in a bottle. She had bits of real food when she felt like it, but most of the time she was sleeping, and healing.pink car

On the third day, she was allowed to sit up. That went well, so we moved on to the next greatest thing which was being pushed around the ward in the awesome little pink car.

My baby didn’t have cancer. She had two tumors, but with the grace of God and the miracles of modern medicine, both of those were healed. At her one-year follow-up appointment, the surgeon happily told us she’d probably never see us again, and she wished us well.

And well is what we’ve been.

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You can see the slight scar on her right shoulder blade, and the butterfly bandage over the second incision.

You can see the slight scar on her right shoulder blade, and the butterfly bandage over the second incision.

 

 

Back in the days when mustard was purchased in glass containers with metal lids, my parents could make a small jar last several years. It was not a beloved condiment; it was just used to perk up a sandwich made with leftover ham. A little dab would do.

When I graduated from mushed carrots and baby cereal to real food, it soon became apparent that my tastes did not always align with my family’s. For my sandwiches, mustard must be slathered on, not dabbed. Ham and cheese were superfluous. I was more than happy with a mustard and tomato sandwich.

My mother is a good cook and my father’s tastes are simple. When I was growing up, most dinners consisted of an appropriately cooked meat with a matching starch. Rice with chicken, potatoes with just about everything else. Pasta was the occasional treat. My job was to grate some cheddar cheese off the block to serve with spaghetti. Lasagna was a more complicated matter, but much more rewarding. Vegetables were either from a can or frozen, (Salads happened, usually with the lasagna) and were at first heated on the stove and then, in my mid teen years, nuked in the microwave. There were casseroles too, which I loved but, of course, my own children do not.

They share neither my tastes nor my parents’.

Sometime in my early teen years, a Taco Bell came to town. Living in Colorado, I knew that Mexican food existed, even though I had no concept of us versus them when it came to the fact that a significant number of my peers were Hispanic. The fact that our next-door neighbor ate yogurt was just as exotic to me at that time.

My mother took my sister and me into Taco Bell, at my request. It was probably lunch time, because my father wasn’t with us. He would not have found anything there he liked. I distinctly remember that the wrapper for the taco had instructions on how to eat it, as if, by taking bites from different parts of the folded, fried tortilla we could avoid it crumbling by the time we were done. This simple feat was beyond me, which is probably why I developed a preference for burritos.

Mexican food was exotic. We didn’t eat there often. Searching my memory, I think my first visit to a Chinese restaurant didn’t happen until I was in college.

Today I still love Mexican food. My daughters’ favorite is Chinese, especially if it is a buffet. I also discovered Greek and foods of other ethnicities when I started feeding myself instead of eating what my mother cooked.

A developing palate is a mystery of nature versus nurture. One cannot expect one’s own child to enjoy all the same things the rest of the family loves. Sometimes, out of nowhere, kids develop tastes for foods that are rare and exotic.

Like mustard and tacos.