Singing my kids (and my neuroses) to sleep

IMG_0631.JPGAt bedtime a few nights ago, the girls were giggling and telling Joe, “Do it again, Daddy! Do it again!”

So Joe re-entered Neve’s room, stood at the foot of her bed, and starting crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” like a jazz singer wannabe.

My brows hunched in full-puzzlement mode. This was what led Lily and Neve into hysterics?

But then Joe arrived at the song’s bridge, at which point he started jumping up and down, and his face, though still smiling, became more intense. It was as if Black Flag’s Henry Rollins suddenly appeared, pounding out iconic lyrics as angry thrash metal: “Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far BEHIND MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

The girls both doubled over, laughing so hard their eyes watered.

And I thought, “Thank you, universe, for these crazy, crazy people.” Continue reading

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You’re so vein, part deux: What the treatment’s really like

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One almost-healed leg next to one in the post-procedure stocking phase. (Pro tip: if you happen to share my painfully pale Irish skin tone, get the beige support stocking. No need to draw extra attention to your temporarily crazy leg situation, especially during shorts/skirt season.)

To follow up on my last post: last Thursday, I had the varicose veins in my right leg ablated, so I’m just going to tell you a bit about what the procedure is like, and what it involves. (Ablated = shut down. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the legs, while veins with “one-way” valves help the blood defy gravity and travel from the leg back up to the heart. When a valve leaks, the blood pools and enlarges the vein, causing varicose veins. Since the affected vein isn’t functioning properly anyway, the treatment involves using heat to cauterize/close the varicose vein. And that’s one to grow on.)

the more you know psa public service announcement the mo you know

First, after filling out even more paperwork, you’re led to a room with a few lockers, where you remove and lock up your super-valuable pants and pull on a big, stretchy pair of shorts and a robe. But don’t get too excited. It’s not a luxe spa or hotel robe; instead, it’s the fabric version of quilted paper.

2. You’re led into a patient room, where you read the same issue of Popular Science, with Obama on the cover, that you read at your last appointment until a nurse comes in, gives you a black Sharpie to write your initials on the leg they will be working on – to avoid any confusion, I guess?! – and asks you to stand with that leg extended in front of the other. With that same Sharpie, she marks up each varicose vein that they will be ablating on your leg. Which just feels odd.

I’d been through this before with my left leg, two weeks earlier, and because that leg had the lion’s share of visible varicose veins, I’d thought that the right would be a breeze. But then she kept marking. And marking. Crap. This might be slightly less intense then the first time, when they ablated 38 veins, but … not by as much as I’d expected. Shazbot. Continue reading

You’re so vein: when seeking a medical treatment feels like self-betrayal

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What my inner left thigh looks like. Aging ain’t for sissies, people.

When you’ve kept a specific part of your body hidden for years, it’s terrifying – to say the least – to make arrangements to expose it to a series of strangers, and have that area not only studied from close up, but touched, repeatedly and extensively.

Yet that’s what I did a few weeks ago. I called a medical office that specializes in varicose and spider vein treatment, made a consultation appointment, and said nothing more about it. To anyone. Because I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Not just about my left leg – the area most plagued by the errant veins – but also because I’ve spent my life thinking that I’m someone who embraces the idea of natural aging. I always wanted to be Helen Mirren, not Cher.

Yet after several years of sheathing myself in leggings, pants, capris, and long flowy skirts, something I couldn’t look away from so easily arose, which is: now when I go running or do yoga, I feel some achiness, some pain in those varicose areas. Plus, I’d seen ads that suggested that health insurance companies usually covered varicose vein treatment, so I thought: “They wouldn’t do that if it was just a cosmetic procedure, right?”

With this in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I did a web search for local options, took a deep breath, called for an appointment. Continue reading

Family life in the Easter/Passover divide

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On a few mornings during this past week, my 4 year old daughter Neve has crawled out of bed and asked, “Is today when I can’t eat bread?”

When I say, “No, that starts Friday night, when Passover begins,” her whole body visibly relaxes.

It’s more than a little comical. Neve’s (admittedly very narrow) eating life focuses primarily on things not kosher for Passover: bread, dry cereal, and hummus. This is a girl who often eats slices of bread as a snack, so the thought of going without her first food love for several days is clearly causing her a little, well, tsuris.

In the past, only Joe kept Passover – since he’s the official Jew and all, in addition to being an adult – but last year, we took a step toward easing me and the girls into this holiday tradition. The compromise? We left bread items in the house, but none of us were allowed eat any of it when we were at home during those 8 days; and when the girls ate at school (and I ate at work), or out at a restaurant, all Passover bets were off.

This year, though, we’re trying to go all in. The girls are intrigued by the idea of gathering and selling our Chametz – though Neve keeps mistaking that word for “hummus” – to a neighbor and then buying it back after Passover; I am, too, since I’ve never done this before. And in this post-layoff time of upheaval and transition, I’m making a more concerted effort to be a little adventurous, and thus keep depression and self-doubt at bay. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Nice girls finish last?

piggy-bankWhen I pick up my daughters at the end of the day, it’s not the typical “grab backpacks and firmly herd them out the door” kind of scene.

Because Joe is the family cook – and he won’t be home until after Neve’s pre-school closes at 6, anyway – it frankly makes no difference to me whether the girls want to linger and play with their friends or leave right away. So on most days, I take a seat and play with them, or chat with the young women who are their caregivers, or just spectate.

While doing the latter on a recent evening, Neve and a friend were playing with a plastic toy garage, with curving car ramps, when a younger blond girl approached the table and pulled it toward herself.

Neve yelled, “Hey!” and yanked it back, like a reflex.

I, meanwhile, did the thing you expect mommies to do. I said, “Neve, she shouldn’t have grabbed it from you, but you don’t have to freak out, either. You could just pull it back and say, ‘Excuse me, we were playing with that.’”

But even as I went through the motions of saying these words, I wondered if this is how it starts. If these are the subtle ways that girls are taught that “being nice” is prized over backbone and action. (You might think, “You’d say that to a son, too” – and you’re right, I probably would; but boys aren’t usually groomed in the same way girls are to “not make waves” and to always put others’ needs before their own.)

The timing of this particular parenting question is no accident. Since my layoff happened on January 6 – 33 days ago now – I’ve been accepting free-lance assignments from a number of sources: theater companies, local arts-oriented websites, news organizations, etc. But because I’ve been out of the free-lancing game for nearly 12 years, I found myself immediately staring down my least favorite part of this racket: negotiating a price for my labor. Continue reading

The Layoff Diaries: Down the rabbit-hole

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I’m a lifelong skeptic, so I have great difficulty explaining why, on a fairly consistent basis, I stumble upon things in my reading life that address, in an uncanny way, something I’m experiencing right at that very moment.

For instance, last year, when my father-in-law had a handful of long stints in the hospital, and I was on my own with the girls one night because it looked like he might be facing his final hours, Lily randomly chose (for her reading practice) this Shel Silverstein poem from the collection, “Falling Up”:

Stork Story

You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it’s their time to go?

Zooms right down and scoops them up,
Then flaps back out the door
And flies them to the factory where
They all were made before.

And there their skin is tightened up,
Their muscles all are toned,
Their wrinkles all are ironed out,
They’re given brand-new bones.

Ol’ bent backs are straightened up,
New teeth are added, too,
Tired hearts are all repaired
And made to work like new.

Their memories are all removed
And they’re shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.

I’ll confess, I struggled mightily to keep myself from sobbing as Lily read these words aloud. My father-in-law had long been suffering from a rare form of skin cancer, so these images of renewal and release and rebirth worked like a salve on an awful night.

And last night, after dinner (and a couple of games of the kids’ version of Apples to Apples), Lily and Neve made tunnels out of the couch cushions and pillows and asked me to read from the book Joe recently started with them: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

You can see where this is going.

The chapter where Joe had left off reading, “The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill,” tells what happens when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his housemaid; as she tries to carry out his wishes, she takes a swig from a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and grows so big that Rabbit’s house can barely contain her.

Alice, in this moment, thinks to herself, “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole – and yet – and yet – it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me!”

You and me both, Alice.

For although I may not have bumped into you on my way down the rabbit-hole, we’re both clearly taking up semi-permanent residency in Wonderland, with all the delights and horrors contained therein.

Indeed, that’s what this strange, surreal post-layoff time ultimately boils down to. There’s sheer terror and worry underlying each day; but there’s also a palpable spark of hope for new adventures, too. You feel more alive than you do before, but at the expense of – well, being able to take care of expenses.

Unlike the days and years that came before, you just have absolutely no idea what’s coming up ahead (looking at you, trippy hookah-smoking caterpillar).

And depending on your mood on a given day, that notion will make you either jump up out of bed or burrow ever deeper under the down comforter.

Out of work, out of whack

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(This photo was taken on the last day of operations for the original Ann Arbor News in 2009.)

Last Wednesday morning, I stood in front of my closet and asked Joe, “So what do you wear to get fired?”

The line was kind of funny, in a gallows humor way; but this wasn’t just a joke, and I wasn’t speaking hypothetically.

After receiving a late-in-the-day Tuesday email – containing three clues that blinked like a neon sign, pointing to my imminent layoff – I’d stayed up late, uploading the hundreds of videos and photos (mostly of my daughters) from my work-issued phone, and sending documents and contacts I wanted to keep from my laptop.

It was like living out that “If you were stranded on a desert island” scenario, but with your two most essential gadgets.

We tried to hold to our usual morning routine on Wednesday, getting Lily to the bus stop, and dropping Neve off at preschool; but then I stepped back into our quiet, empty house, left to twiddle my thumbs until nearly noon.

Which led to the next question, “What do you do while waiting to get fired?”

I’d thought a bit about this the night before, while frantically uploading, and I’d decided that this would be the perfect window of time to finish up my year-end wrap-up of local theater highlights and news. I was off the clock, and year-end pieces like this had recently gone the way of the dodo, but I’d wanted to do it, anyway.

It would be my swan song, my parting gift to a theater community that had weathered a pretty tough year; and as it happened, this gift was mutually beneficial, in that I felt grateful for being able to focus on pulling together story under a tight deadline – just like old times – and leaving my nearly 12 years in arts journalism with a story that only I could write. Continue reading