Monday, April 28, 2014

Ups and Downs

Much of the weekend was lovely. But both days my mom sounded really off, and Sunday afternoon, it just hit me.

My energy levels plummeted and even dragging myself through an Insanity workout didn't help. My friends from downstairs came up for a BYO dinner, and she watched the kids while I struggled to barely tidy the kitchen.

This morning, against my will, I forced myself to bike to work, knowing the blood pumping through my legs and the fresh air coursing through my lungs would cheer me up.

And sometime about lunch time, I was better.

My brother's been reading a Buddhist book on death, and his advice to accept my mother's imminent death suddenly clicked.

Let me be clear. This is not what I want. I want her to live for twenty more years. I want her to see Calliope graduate from high school. I want her to meet her future grandchildren. I want her to retire gracefully from the law firm she founded, and to go on fabulous trips around the world. I want her to take the Sisterhood by storm, and make small but significant changes in the world.

This is not what's going to happen.

And that sucks.

But fighting that truth won't change it. Hoping for each miracle, and protesting its failure won't change the final outcome. It will just bring me misery.

So I'm quietly changing my expectations.

I'm not going to advise her on how to cope. Thank god, I have never had to be in her shoes.

I will be here for her in whatever way I can. I'm going to visit her (alone) this weekend. I'm hoping to take her on a trip in a few weeks. I will spend the summer with her.

But I will stop fighting. And gracefully, I hope, accept the blessing of what time we have left.

Calliope was so tender with Baby Eliza and didn't want to put her down... I think we are
both thinking that one of these might be just the thing for our family!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Little More Bad News

... And if that's not a title to repel a reader, I don't know what is!

The MRI showed my mom has a little bit of cancer in the brain. But it's in a part of the brain I've never heard of, so I'm not sure what to make of that. Must be a pretty small part. My mom said her nurse practitioner was "relieved by how small it was" -- after seeing my mom last week so sleepy, and hearing that she'd been pulled over for "erratic driving," she expected much worse.

So I guess that's good.

She seems okay. It's weird. She's never been an emotive person. And even now, with all this, she has yet to show any real emotion to me. I don't tend to show emotion to her, either, probably because she's always seemed so detached.

So I have no idea how she's really doing. A lot of me is grateful for this, honestly. Facing someone else's darkest fears with them is pretty terrifying, especially when that person is your mother, once the source of all comfort.

I'm encouraging her to pursue options for mental health support, and she already has some connections. Truthfully, even if we were the closest of close, I think it's better for her to lean on someone who is not her child. Surely she feels some impulse to protect me, and that will keep her from getting enough support from me.

The thing that sucks about all this, well, a big thing that sucks, is that I remember this sequence from when my father died of a brain cancer five years ago. There's no status quo. You just keep on getting little pieces of bad news, one after another. Even when you know someone is terminal, there's still denial and hope and prayer that it will be a long and easy journey. And each time you get a piece of bad news, you have to face that judgment and disappointment all over again. And it stuns and hurts and smarts each time, all over again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Decision Has Been Made

Thanks for the new bike, Grammy!

... I'm spending the summer at my mom's. Calliope will attend a local daycare a few hours a day, as I think it would be terribly hard for her to be torn away from her routine and her "social life." She needs structure and she needs little buddies to play with. It will be hard for me to provide either in MA without structured childcare.

Of course, I need structure and friends, too. I have a couple friends sort of nearby, and family scattered around, and I'm thinking about signing up for something, maybe a [prenatal?] yoga class. Not that I'm much of a yogi, but something to get me out of the house. And we will make a long weekend trip to Vermont to see a friend, and we will take a week in August to go on our second annual camping trip with another SMC and toddler.

And hopefully, having that little face and piping voice around the house will cheer my mom's spirits. She's been taking antibiotics for a possible sinus infection, and sounds totally un-foggy today. Totally like herself, absolutely with it. It's so weird to think that, in essence, she's dying. It's sort of horrible yet slightly cathartic to use that word.

I think I was in denial when my dad was dying, somehow trying to stay in the role of clinician, and his entirely predictable death came as a huge shock. I don't want to experience that again.

I don't think the summer will be fun for me, exactly, but it will be something to feel good about. And if there's any possibility of Calliope remembering her grandmother, this is the way to do it -- lots and lots of mundane time together. Not Disney vacations. Just many meals and bedtime stories and Play Doh sessions.

Right now, it doesn't sound too hard. I can drive to doctor appointments and track medications, if she starts to have trouble with memory, and grocery shop and cook and clean up. And take care of Calliope, too, of course. We've agreed that if she needs physical help with tasks like toileting and bathing, we will hire a nurse's aid, as we did when my dad was dying. She already has a cleaning lady that does laundry as well as house cleaning.

I'll have to tell my summer employer that I need to back out, but I reckon the "mother has a terminal illness" excuse won't burn any bridges.

I never imagined that I would make this choice, and I am still sort of reeling at the idea of it, but I'm surprised to find that I'm starting to embrace it, also. I never thought this middle-child-who-always-lived-the-furthest-away would make this choice. Life is full of surprises

Friday, April 18, 2014


Calliope and I are home from my brother's wedding and our family seder. She was such a good sport throughout, but at least once each day, pleaded with me, "I want to go home."

And these last two days we've been back, she has taken to gazing at me affectionately and then scampering over to give me a hug. Today, for the first time ever, she snuggled against me and said, "I love you Mommy."

Be still my beating heart.

Unfortunately, my mother got some bad news today. Her cancer has come back, and has spread to the bones of her pelvis.

My siblings and I suspected the relapse, since my mother's energy dropped off dramatically last week, just in time for the wedding. She had to leave the wedding celebration during dinner because she wasn't feeling well --  she was spotted nodding off at the table.

I'm very, very sad for my mother, of course. She had hoped to work just a couple more years, and then to enjoy a long and well deserved retirement. She only went to law school when I was in middle school, and built a successful law practice when I started college.

But instead, she is looking ahead to mere months, not years.

There's still more treatment options to try, but they will be palliative, not curative.

So I'm sad. Sad for her.

I feel zen for myself. So far. I'm glad we had a few days to emotionally prepare for this likelihood.

The actual indignities of her dying are beyond my imagination for the time being. Dwelling in denial about that for as long as possible.

I'm also very worried about what this means for my relationships with my siblings. I had no idea, when my dad died, how destructive such a thing could be for a family.

So much more to say about so much of this but I will leave it at that for now. It's hard to write honestly. I have this fear that my family will somehow stumble upon this. For those of you who share openly. can you tell me how you got over that fear?


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Party Animal

Standing front and ceremony as the belly dancer
strutted her stuff

This past weekend was our cousin Jared's bar mitzvah.

Originally, I planned to bring Calliope to the service and the luncheon following, then whisk her home to Brooklyn for a nap before dropping her for the evening with friends and returning to Manhattan by myself.

But as the date approached, I realized that there probably was no way for me to accomplish all that and be back in Manhattan in time for the party. And it also didn't sound like a lot of fun for me to scurry back and forth between outer-ish Brooklyn and Manhattan.

So I nervously created an involved plan that kept us both in Manhattan, and figured that I would see how she did at the evening party. And that that would help guide my plans for my brother's upcoming wedding.

Calliope was tired after having my immediate family for dinner on Friday night -- their first time seeing my not-so-new place, since they all live out of town. Though she loved having them all visit. So there were some meltdowns on Saturday morning. We arrived at the synogogue more than an hour late -- on purpose, since it was three hours long. Calliope snuggled into the baby carrier (with the hood covering her head) and I stood on the sidelines of the women's section (this was an Orthodox shul) and swayed for a good forty-five minutes. She never slept but she got nicely hypnotized and seemed to have her good mood restored. We were thus able to stay in the sanctuary for the entire service, which far exceeded my expectations.

After that, we went downstairs to the luncheon. True to form, she only ate bread, and the PB&H I brought along... and then pulled her shoes off and began scampering around the room with her cousins. Next we crossed the street into Central Park for some playground time. I took off her fancy dress, preparing to put on her back up dress (more suited for playing) but she pushed my hand away and insisted on wearing just a shirt and tights. Until she saw another child playing without shoes on. Then the shoes and tights came off... and she started to take off her underwear as well. That's where I drew the line. So our first nice day in spring and she's running around in underpants and a shirt. Oh well.

Playing in shirt and underpants in Central Park 

Eventually we took the train to far northern Manhattan, where she finally fell asleep on my friend's bed. My friend and I had more than an hour to talk and catch up before Calliope woke up. Then we hopped on the subway and headed downtown again.

To my great surprise, Calliope shrugged off my hand and took off for reverberating, dark dance floor with her cousins. She shimmied and swirled all night long.

It was the strangest feeling. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Two and a half seems a little young to be left unsupervised... but she was clearly in her element. When she wasn't dancing with Eliana, age 9, she was wandering hand in hand with her soon-to-be-cousin Ezra. I pulled her reluctant self off the dance floor at 10 pm when Grammy was tired and ready to go home with us, but Calliope was still going strong. I can see I have a lot to worry about for the teenage years!

The aftermath -- napping on Mommy the next day (hasn't happened since infancy)