Monday, August 19, 2013

Dark Night

 I left Clementine crawling around on our bedroom floor and went into the bathroom. I'm gone maybe a minute (I have three kids, I go quickly) and come out to find that she is choking on something. And it's not just the food down the wrong pipe choking- she's gone rigid and is making this horrible noise because she can't breathe.

I grab her and sweep her mouth with my finger. I can feel something lodged in her throat. I'm holding her like a football and my knees go weak because suddenly time stands still and I start to see that surreal moving picture of my life that people always talk about flashing before them. I know in this moment that this is my worst nightmare.

At last the hard something goes down her throat and I sink to the floor and tremble while she wails. But before I can even begin to calm us down she chokes again. And again. Whatever it is is still in her throat. 

I grab the boys and we drive to Urgent Care. They're closing and so they send us to the ER. The boys are with me because Brent's on a nine day rafting trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. "It'll be great. Have fun! Don't worry about us," I'd said just days before, figuring that the worst thing that could happen is that I'd overwater the tomatoes (again). 

My stomach was churning as we drove and Clementine wheezed and sputtered in the backseat. I doubted myself. Should I be calling 9-1-1? When arrived at the ER, the scruffy looking teenage boys ahead of us let me cut in line. Our intake nurse was an old friend from high school, which was comforting, but that comfort also allowed me to lose my shit in the lobby there for a minute. 

They looked in her throat. Nothing. They did an x-ray. Nothing. Meanwhile my friend comes to get the boys because the ER is definitely not a place where you want to hang out with two kids who are up past their bedtime. When we finally see the doctor, Clementine's breathing is more regular, but she's drooling like crazy and when I try to feed her she chokes. She's not swallowing.

"I don't like this," said the doctor. "I want you to check in to Riverbend for the night and see the pediatric surgeon in the morning."

And so at midnight, I walk into the pediatric ward of the hospital to admit my daughter. And I know that the hospital is a place of healing, and I know that we're playing it safe here and that most likely we'll walk right back out of there the next day, but I'm terrified. I'm terrified because the walls are closing in on me and my mind is racing with all the memories of visiting my mom in the hospital when that fucking cancer just kept coming back. And I have to leave the room when the nurse sets the IV "just in case the doctor wants to sedate her" because she screams and clings to me and I can't tell her that it's all going to be okay.

"Try to get some sleep," the nurse tells me around 2. "We'll see what the doctor says in the morning." I'm struck by her compassion, which starts my tears afresh. Once we turn the lights out, my mind goes to a dark place. I can hear Clementine's ragged breathing and she startles awake with a choking fit from time to time. She cries out and I've been told not to nurse her. The IV line beeps and clicks. I think of the babies who've been in this bed. These walls could tell stories and I never want to hear them. Why is she breathing like this? What did she swallow? Will they have to operate? If ever my priorities have been askew, in deep darkness of that sleepless night, they fell into place. I know without a doubt that I would give anything to heal my child.

I think of my friends and family who've slept nights beside their own children in hospitals. Some who have gone home the next day, and some who have not. I see the smallest window into their experience and it floods my body with a fear so thick that it suffocates me. And in that dark room on that very dark night, I'm humbled by the depth of my love for my child.

Though Clementine is able to sleep on and off, I stare at the ceiling and wait for morning because every time I close my eyes they replay those impossibly long moments when she was choking. As I've told the story again and again, the doctors and nurses have gently reminded me that the right way to help a choking baby is to flip them onto their stomachs and hit their backs. And I know this. I've sat through countless CPR classes, smiling and nodding, this will never happen to me, paying my $10 and signing my card. But for some reason in that moment of panic, my instinct failed me. It was my finger that pushed the object down her throat, I'm sure. 

By the time the sun rose, Clementine was decidedly worse. She was irritable and listless. Her breathing was labored and I'm sure she was hungry, though her stomach was distended. We were wheeled down into the bowels of the hospital and Clementine drank barium under the eyes of a radiology team. "All clear," said the radiologist after scanning her esophagus. "Whatever it was is in her digestive tract now."

"Her stomach is full of gas," the technician noted. "She probably swallowed a bunch of air during the choking episode." 

They all seemed relieved and I started to feel the tiniest bit better. Then Clementine let out the mother of all farts and we all laughed. We were wheeled back to our room and she nursed with enthusiasm.

By the time the doctor came to see us, she was clearly improving. He explained that whatever it was must have been stuck in her esophagus for awhile, but had likely moved along while her muscles relaxed in her sleep. The drooling and labored breathing was due to irritation of the esophagus. Keep an eye on her, wait for it to pass. Follow up with your pediatrician as needed. Etc.

He began to demonstrate what to do if she choked again, turning her onto her stomach and hitting her back. "I just wish I'd done that in the first place." I began to tear up. "I don't know why my first instinct was the wrong one."

The doctor looked at me with kind brown eyes. "No, your instinct was not wrong. Her airway was blocked and you cleared it. She was choking and you saved her."
iPhone photos while we waited for our discharge papers. Just realized I haven't been consistent with my verb tenses.

And that mysterious foreign body continues to elude us. I have inspected diapers with the intensity of a gold panner. I have racked my brain (or have I wracked it?) trying to figure out what she could have ingested that wouldn't show up in an x-ray. We might never know.

But that doesn't matter. I walked from that hospital with my sweet baby girl in my arms. I came home to my boys and a network of friends and family who dropped everything and came to our rescue. My mother-in-law even did our laundry.

And tonight when Brent comes home I'm sure he will have some amazing river stories to tell. I'll listen patiently and then it will be my turn. I'm sure he won't mind about the tomatoes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shower Power

It was a sunny Friday morning. We were up early brewing coffee and smearing sunscreen on our kids' faces, digging for sunhats, filling water bottles and throwing a handful of granola bars into the console of the car.

We always pick blueberries at the same place, way out Highway 126 past Leaburg, which is a bit of a trek when you consider that this is Eugene and blueberries are readily available all around us. But we have a tradition and they (them, those people) tell you that strong families follow traditions. So...

But the thing about blueberries is that they do not give a damn about your family traditions. It was a bust. We ended up with maybe two gallons and called it a day. Slim pickings, as they say.

We've been spending our afternoons at the pool. I have my system of snacks and napping options and my claimed territory over in the shade. The boys have each made tremendous progress with their swimming and water confidence this summer and Clementine loves to splash around in the warm pool. In Eugene you do not have to coordinate playdates, you just show up and hang out with whoever is there. Love that.

Jack has spent a good part of the summer contemplating the high dive and he finally did it! I was so terrified to watch his tiny silhouette tentatively climb that tall, tall ladder and then so amazed to see him stroll to the end and jump without any hesitation. That's my boy.

I've been working on some home improvement projects including Clementine's room. Those of you who know my limitations when it comes to manual labor should prepare to be impressed. More on that later.

Her room gets the best early sunshine and I often find the boys in there playing with her toys. She's not allowed in their room because of the Legos so she's always thrilled to have their company on her turf.

Anyway, something happened last week to remind me of a story that I've never told you. I've never told you this, internet, because it reflects poorly on my parenting skills and believe it or not, I actually do try to minimize that on this blog.

It all started at 5pm on a Sunday two summers ago. Seasoned parents are now nodding their heads and smiling because OF COURSE it started at 5pm on a Sunday. And they also know that the story involves medical attention because almost all childhood medical attention stories begin after office hours.

We were enjoying a leisurely stroll through the park when Sawyer suddenly started crying about needing to pee. I hurried him to a nearby bush and he whimpered about it hurting. Hurting pee? Yikes. Urinary tract infection was my immediate diagnosis. Am I medically trained? Well, not technically in human medicine, but I did a five year stint at an animal hospital and I've used that training more than once to doctor up my own kids.

Urgent Care was deserted and we rolled right through the waiting room and into the exam room. The nurse came in and wanted to get a urine sample. Now here's where human and veterinary medicine become wildly different. Dogs are easy: you take them out and follow them around with a bowl. Cats can be trickier, but they are nothing compared to a two year old who says it hurts to pee. 

"If you can't get him to provide a sample, we'll have to catheterize him," the nurse explained as I was sequestered away in a small bathroom with Sawyer, a plastic bowl that fit over the toilet seat, and a lab jar.

Catheterize him?  Good god.

Trying to get a two year old to do anything is a struggle, so when you factor in the pain and awkwardness of the situation, I do not believe I am exaggerating when I tell you that what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. After a good ten minutes of me begging and pleading, I got him to pee in the cup by blowing up rubber gloves and making them into weird little balloon animals who talked in silly voices. And when we emerged from that bathroom with that urine sample in hand, it was one of my proudest moments of motherhood.

I was still smiling when the doctor came in a few minutes later and informed me that Sawyer did not have a urinary tract infection.

"Mind if I take a quick look down there, little fellow?" he asked nonchalantly. Sawyer obliged. "Do you ever retract his foreskin?" The doctor turned his attention to me.

I do not. Because I am pretty hands-off when it comes to the boys and their unaltered penises. Oh god, was this a circumcision issue?

"Do you have a sandbox?" he continued.

"Yes!" Now we were getting somewhere as I shuddered to think of penis infecting sandbox parasites living in our backyard.

"When was the last time he had a bath?"

"Um. Well. Er..." Shit. I had no idea. Two days ago? Five days ago?

The doctor finished his exam and sat back in his chair, staring over his glasses at me. "Your son has a dirty penis. He needs a bath."

Diagnosis: dirty penis. Holy mother of all pediatric humiliation. Parenting FAIL.

I hung my head. My cheeks burned. The doctor patted my shoulder as I carried my dirty little boy and his collection of rubber glove balloon animals straight home and into the bathtub. 

And so this week when Sawyer came along complaining of some pain down there, I though about all those hours he's been spending in the sandbox and how easy it is to forget shower night when you've spent the day at the pool. I thought of the mudpit in our front yard that's been the venue for countless hours of good old fashioned boys being boys. I wondered how long it had been since shower night...

But I did not worry about urinary tract infections. Or copays or lab jars or rubber glove balloon animals. I told him to hit the shower, soldier, and make sure all of your equipment gets cleaned. That seemed to solve the problem.

Yup, that's me: the solver of problems. Now, to track down approximately 7 more gallons of blueberries. Then again, another day at the pool doesn't sound so bad, either.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


First of all...

I'm telling you. This baby.

Anyway. So, remember a few weeks ago when I was telling you what a cool mom I was for buying my kids a Wii? Yeah, about that. Turns out Jack is a hardcore video game addict. I kid you not. That guy has a serious problem. I'm not sure if it's our fault for depriving him of technology and popular culture during these critical formative years, or if this is just a precursor to a lifetime of addiction, but it did not take long for us to realize the error of our ways and box that thing up.

It was shocking to me (SHOCKING!) how quickly the Wii became the focus of my kids' lives. I tried to regulate the use, half an hour here, do some chores and play a game there. Earn time on the Wii by reading or playing outside or helping with dinner but it quickly became ALL THEY COULD TALK ABOUT. First thing in the morning "How can we earn some time on the Wii?" last thing before bedtime "Can we play on the Wii tomorrow?" and so on.

For a minute I entertained the possibility of letting them binge on it and eventually the novelty would wear off, right? They couldn't be like this forever, right? Right?

But after my week in California where Sawyer cracked out on my cousin's iPad and the mini DVD player and Jack stayed home and convinced Brent to give him full access to the Wii, I knew we had a big problem. The kids were becoming total technology fiends, stealing my phone, whining about the computer, begging for TV shows, and then flopping around the house claiming they were bored when we said no.

The worst was a 90 degree day when no one wanted to go to the pool. "I wish it was winter already," Jack whined. "Then we could just stay inside all day."

And so I made the decision to go cold turkey. No more screens. It was ugly.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that Jack actually went through some withdrawals. It was just as pathetic as it sounds. It took him a good three or four days to remember how to play again. By the end of a week they were building Legos and riding their bikes again. I got them back on their summer workbooks and we went to the library. We've been to the pool and had playdates with our friends. My kids can have conversations that do not involve Super Mario Brothers. I think we are making real progress here.

And we went to the county fair for the first time.

It was crazy hot and super expensive. The kids ran in a sweaty pack and begged to go on almost every ride they saw. It was loud and bright and trashy and magical all at the same time. We loved it.

I especially liked the exhibit halls where we saw quilts and portraits, tables of candies and cookies, preserves and Lego creations. Jack and Sawyer are already planning their entries for next year.

And so fun to see a friend's entry with a first place ribbon!

I recently had a meal with some really awesome ladies. Some really awesome ladies who have raised some really awesome kids (Hi Jacie! Hi Nancy! Hi Kathy! And hi Emily- your awesome kids are coming!). The topic of technology came up and I was left thinking that I'm on the right track with this cold turkey thing. Nothing like a panel of mothers to validate your intuition and keep your spirits high- thanks y'all!

So even though I am not cool enough to give my kids a Wii, I am cool enough to take my kids to the fair. To coordinate playdates and spend my afternoons at the pool. To read books and find missing Lego pieces. To listen. To give my time.

It took about two weeks for the kids to stop asking about the Wii. Maybe it will come out again briefly in the dead of winter, for a special occasion.

Then again, there's a lot of fun to be had in the winter. So maybe it won't.