Friday, October 2, 2015

The Smallest Sister

Lately I haven't been writing as many blog entries because I haven't had as much time as I used to. This week I haven't written anything because I don't know how to tell this story, the hardest one I've ever had to type. How do you write down in words that your 25 year old sister has cancer? I guess I just did, but it still doesn't seem real. It's like my fingers are typing something my brain doesn't know how to hold. I hate writing the words down because then they can't fly away anymore.

The details are easiest to share. That it's colon cancer, the most treatable kind of cancer. That last Friday they removed two feet of Maddie's colon and a tumor that looked like a shrimp, which is ironic because she always eats all the shrimp at Thanksgiving and the family Christmas party. That we're waiting for the pathology report to come back to know more. "It takes seven to ten days to be ready.", "Yes, it's torturous waiting," I say over and over again. 

I can hear myself saying things like "How terrible" and "This must be so hard for them" and "It isn't fair" when I've received similar information about other people. Now that it's happening to us, I can barely pray about it.

I think about my bad days before and I want them back; a butchered haircut, a mean co-worker, a flat tire, a silly fight, that time I hired a cleaning lady and she broke the mermaid statue I brought back from Peru. 

Last night I was laying awake thinking about what a lactation consultant told me after we speculated that my formerly overly-enthusiastic milk supply was suffering due to stress. She said if I can get it back up I can give my 25 year old sister breastmilk if she has to do chemo. I was staring at a night light at 3:05 a.m. thinking about how now I am probably more motivated to keep breastfeeding for my sister than I am for my newborn. The consultant said to give it to her in a champagne glass, not a bottle, of course, but I know we will make jokes about her drinking it from the source because it's awkward and laughing always feels good. 

Last week Scott and I went to get haircuts in the evening with Avalon. The hairdresser from Boston was pregnant with her fourth boy, so I asked her a hundred questions like "Did you breastfeed each and for how long?", "What are their names?" and "Which age has been the hardest so far?" She said eight has been the roughest age yet because her oldest son, just beginning third grade, has a few hours of homework every day. "Every night he loses it because the other two are playing X Box and he has to sit in his room solving math problems and writing short essays! I just think they could have eased him into it, you know? Started him off with a few nights of homework and then worked up to the every day routine." I nodded my head enthusiastically because the blowdryer was on and I hate when people make life harder than it already has to be. But then the other day I was thinking about how nothing could have eased us into to this cancer diagnosis so maybe a third grade teacher piling on stressful homework out of nowhere is just a third grade teacher mimicking life.

I remember when Maddie was in third grade and I was in ninth. I was attending school without my sisters for the first time in years. I panicked. I hated it. I cried often. I moved a couch cushion into their room and slept on the floor. After school, Maddie and I would ride our bikes to the construction sites down the street and pretend we were in Egypt, living in castles with our dog Bailey. Maddie let me keep my childhood alive without a second thought. I looked forward to being with her every afternoon. She was the only person who just let me be who I needed to be at the time. I would climb around the framing of the new homes to get to the second stories before the stairs were built. I've always wanted Maddie to think that I was brave, even tonight as I paddled out once the water was black while she and her friend Kara watched from the cliff. But she is the brave one. She has always been herself out loud. She knows what she wants. She speaks her mind, but in a gentle way that doesn't intimidate you. She loves without hesitation.

When I first found out the diagnosis, my faith in God wavered for a moment, but my faith in Maddie never did. I know the smallest sister will be the strongest. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Summer of Sprout (Dear Sprout,)

Dear Sprout,

It's hard to tell what will be a good memory until some time has passed. When I was pushing your stroller the other day I started thinking about this time my dad, your Poppy, took my sisters, our neighbors and I on a hike in the yellow colored canyon behind our house on a similarly sticky summer morning. We found tadpoles and carried them home in small plastic cups filled with smelly water. Six weeks later we all had frogs hopping around our kitchens.  

Not much time has passed since you arrived, but I feel like I already know we've made good memories. Right now I feel like I'll remember them all: the way your eyes almost closed when you smiled big; how hot the house was at night; the way your hair dried like Donald Trump's after the bath; how badly I wanted to help you feel better when you got your first shots, but it ended up being "The Monkey Swing"; how you let me kiss your cheeks a hundred times like a possessed European; how frustrating nursing was; how ants attacked us in our beds during the July heatwaves; even how your diapers smelled (never that bad to me, honest). In case I do forget something from this summer, I decided to write down a few more memories here...

+You smell like milk, diaper cream and dirty hair (We wash it often, honest!).

+My index finger is too big for you to wrap your whole hand around.

+When we kiss you, you open your mouth and try to eat our lips. 

+One night, when I was up feeding you, Daddy woke up and sat with us. I said "Why are you up?" and he said "Because I hear my family."

+It was the hottest summer in the history of the world in California. We had to have every window open and when you would cry we would run around shutting them all to spare the neighbors.

+One day, a few weeks after you were born, I was trying to sleep after a long night. Daddy went to change your diaper and I could hear him exclaim from the other side of the house, "We have an explosion over here!" I got up and ran in to the room saying, "Oh! Let me see! Those diapers always make me feel good!" He said, "There's nothing like crap to brighten your day!"

+The first few times I unpacked your stroller from the back of the car I basically just threw it on the ground.

+I listened to the song Your Mess Is Mine on repeat every time we drove to the lactation consultant. 

+There's a sign hanging in the corner window of the frame shop down the street. It either says "nope" or "hope", I guess it all depends on your perspective when you look at it, but every time I've looked at it lately I see the word "Hope". 

Almost three months ago I was going into labor in the rain. So much has changed since then. Now one of the challenges of my day is getting your carseat out of the car when someone parks next to us and figuring out how to get the stroller into a public restroom without taking people out. My entertainment is watching you learn to turn pages, suck your thumb and practicing standing and grabbing. Watching people crash their shopping carts into each other during rush hour at the grocery store is also amusing. 

I knew I was going to love you. I felt like I loved you twenty years ago when I was playing with dolls, pretending they were you, but I couldn't understand how you would fill me up and make me feel more whole. How scary it is and yet how wonderful that there is no one else in the world just like you.

I love you my magic, magic girl.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Avalon's First "Surf"

At my baby shower back in May my cousin created a quiz game where one of the questions asked, "Who will take Sprout on his or her first surf?" The choices were me, Scott, my dad or my mom. It ended up being all four of us last Friday evening. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dream Sequence

I used to take my dolls to school with me in my backpack. Maybe not dolls plural, but then again, maybe it was. I actually think I took my twin Kirsten dolls to stay-away church camp once. I had to hide them inside my sleeping bag so no one would see. Everyone else there thought they were too old for dolls, you know. Fortunately my dolls weren't as loud as my real baby or I would have been given away for sure.

It was fun taking Avalon surfing with me when she was as tiny as a seaweed pod and more safely portable. In the beginning no one else knew she was there either. She was my small secret while we shared the same space. Now I'm on my own when I'm surfing, of course, seeing the sun showoff better than fireworks as it sets, while Scott tries to feed her a bottle at home. I'm not ungrateful for the alone time, although sometimes when I kick out of a long set wave I still say "That was a good one Sprout!" forgetting she can't hear me because she's likely crying her head off at home since she hates the idea of trying to be deceived by silicone. 

I keep having this dream where I'm on a boat, sailing around these sea-stacks that are so tall you can't see the sun at all when you're anywhere near them. It's magical and it's scary. I guess it's kind of like real life. 

Last night I had this dream I was surfing this mysto-wave in some harbor all by myself. It was an amazing left, but the only catch was there was a hammerhead shark below. Then, when I quietly tried to sneak out of the water, two clownfish the size of dolphins kept jumping into my arms. I had to keep throwing them back. How could I explain to them that they belonged in the water and not with me on land? I couldn't, so I ended up batting them away with swim fins that magically appeared in my hands. Then I accidentally hurt one. I think I dreamed this because I've been eating chicken lately.

It's been so hot around here that we have two fans on full-blast in our room. They actually kind of blow your hair around, which is saying a lot since I'm in desperate need of a haircut and basically have dreads by nightfall. This hurricane-inspired weather sure makes for some nice sunsets though. The clouds are like puzzle pieces arranging themselves together while I'm arranging this story in my head. The air clings around you like that new expanding foam insulation I saw on HGTV. There's a helicopter headlight peaking through the cloud-puzzle, disguising itself as the first star in the sky. All the kids are out after school surfing until dark, trying to hold on to summer. I feel like I'm at recess again.

As I come up from the beach, the crickets are out already claiming the night and the sand pipers are squeaking to each other on their way home.

It's so warm I have to take a cold shower when I get back. It kind of makes me feel like I'm waking up from another dream.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Somewhere along the way, whether it was before I was born or since I've been living, I feel like I developed an aversion to the idea that we are to expect the unexpected in life. When people solicit this advice I usually nod and then convince myself that it doesn't apply to me because, dammit, I'm prepared. 

I took the parenting classes. I made an earthquake kit. I read a hundred and twelve stories about giving birth. I check the weather report. I tell people what I want for Christmas. 

And yet, it's always, always just like they say: the only thing you can depend on in life is that it's unpredictable. Dammit. 

I think the other truth I need to come to terms with is that life knows what I need better than I do and these things are usually turned loose just when I think I have it figured out. But one of my favorite things to do is ride wild ocean waves and one of my favorite people is a baby, so maybe I've misunderstood my own enjoyment of unpredictable things after all. 

Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia clothing, says "When everything goes wrong, that's when the adventure starts," and I love that line because it reminds me that unexpected setbacks bring good things. 

Even though I took a class about breastfeeding it still took me seven weeks to figure it out. Week five I was in my OB's office tearing up and nodding while she said "You are frustrated because you expected to better at this because you prepared." But then week eight came and I fed my daughter peacefully in the cotton candy colored morning light while the south wind gently blew the curtains and wind chimes around. That moment felt more significant, but similar to that time I got a B- in College Algebra after months of tutoring. I was a hero in my own small story. 

When he asked me how motherhood was, I told our friend Dave that it was the hardest thing I've ever loved. It's true. I wouldn't give up this much sleep or this many waves for almost anything else. And what's hardest of all about parenthood to me is how unpredictable it is. You can't see what's ahead. There isn't really a schedule. There is no map. There is no stopping.

As erratic as my now two month old daughter is, I am figuring out her rhythms. I got her to start sleeping through the night the same week nursing her finally started to seem as magical as it did in the videos shown in the class I took. I am rediscovering my love for trying to put the untamable ocean beneath my feet, even if I bang my knee on the deck of my board every time I stand up lately.

In the end, or at least for today, I've settled on the idea that life is good because it answers questions you didn't think to ask, presents you with problems you didn't prepare for and turns you into a stronger person than you probably meant to be.
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