I hate to admit it, but I need new glasses.

I really need bifocals, but that’s not going to happen. It’s too horrifying to admit that my eyes have aged along with the rest of me. But they have. . . I can’t see anything up close with my glasses on, and I can barely see distant things, either. My computer is now sporting “large” icons and text, and I silently berate people who use teeny tiny fonts for their webpages. What, is your information a secret? 

It’s annoying, because I can’t actually visit one of the bigger eyeglass shops in town (with a bigger selection of frames) as we’re boycotting them for having crappy doctors. Seriously crappy– I kept telling the main doctor and his aide for two hours that my son had a lazy eye, that my husband and daughter both have the same condition, and that he needed to have his vision evaluated due to that, only to have the doctor declaim that he didn’t see anything wrong, snap at my son for not being able to see the visual illusions on the cards, and finally snarl, at the end of the 2 hour visit, “Well he has a lazy eye. Make him do some exercises. He’ll be fine.”

The other doctor in the practice refused to believe that I was allergic to contact lenses, fitted me for a pair that caused immediate swelling and redness and pain in both eyes, and then charged me an extra $200 for the fitting because they’d already ran my insurance through as a glasses-only fitting. sigh. I still can’t wear those new lenses. It’s not just a case of dry eye, either. Dry eye doesn’t get better briefly when you glut yourself on Claritin and Benadryl, only to have your eyes puff up and turn beet red as soon as the medicine wears off. 

This is the quality of medical care one expects from the 1800s, maybe, but not 2013. So, yeah, we won’t be visiting them again.

So I need a new vision doctor, and I need new glasses, and I certainly DON’T need the new contact lenses that turn me into a bleary itchy runny-eyed mess. 

I’ll have to make the leap and find a new doctor to visit. Our doctor before all this was indicted for Medicare fraud, so he went out of business pretty quickly after that. Shame, he had a nice practice and friendly assistants. 

Getting new glasses is just one of the things I need to do for myself. My clothes wardrobe is pretty much destroyed by age and abuse– haven’t really bought myself very much besides loose t-shirts since 2010. Four years of abuse isn’t kind to leggings and dresses and such– I really don’t have anything left that’s suitable for church. Time to restock and re-imagine what I want to dress like.

Time to lose some weight, too, now that the baby is born and I’m almost past the 12 weeks it takes to get your stroke risk and heart attack risk back to normal afterwards. My blood pressure still has bad days but they’re getting less frequent. I think I can start exercising again. 

Everything will have to be re-imagined, really. How I live, how I dress, what I eat, how much I exercise, what hours I sleep, and what I do with my free time. I’m forty. Time is running out for me to do all the things I’ve dreamed of doing. 

But first, new glasses. And, a splurge that I haven’t had in decades, a pair of sunglasses, too. Prescription ones, of course, since I can’t see squat without them and the world would be a much less safe place if I tried to drive without my glasses. Cat eyes, maybe? Something in tortoiseshell? How dark can we go with those shades?

The possibilities are open before me.



Education, both ways

I’ve been homeschooling various of my children for a long long time. 

I guess you could say that from the moment I became a mom, twenty four or so years ago, I’ve been educating the kids one way or another. And I’ve been learning a lot myself– maybe not as much as I should have, but I have been learning. 

Lately, I have been learning that I still have a lot to learn.

I love the planning part of homeschooling– choosing books, hunting them down, finding the best deal, coming up with a curriculum, designing a schedule. It’s in the execution of the plan where things start to fall apart– so much of the time, I’m just overwhelmed by life. I’ve spent a lot of time ill or juggling a newborn or trying to cope with very little sleep. I haven’t always gotten through the books or forced us to plod through the curriculum. Some of the books remain on the shelves, as pristine as the day they came in the mail.

The half-hearted schooling that we barely scraped through last year has, oddly enough, proved to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of a forced march through phonics, the boys had time to play, to goof off, and, in their own time, to come to realize that words and numbers are IMPORTANT. You see, it’s hard to play video games if you can’t read. People spell words over your head to keep you from understanding what they’re saying. Signs and books and watches are a foreign land and you’re shut out of the knowledge that they possess.

The boys learned firsthand that knowledge is power, and they didn’t much like it that they didn’t have this power for themselves.

So the Ninja skipped past our infrequent phonics worksheets and taught himself to read. The Tank gathered up a handful of letters for himself and started figuring out numbers. Each of them decided that they wanted to learn and went out to find out for themselves how things worked.

It’s made them more patient and more interested in learning than their older brothers ever were. I wish I’d had the leisure and ability back them to just let the boys develop at their own pace instead of pushing them into public school. I did the best that I could at the time, but they bear the scars of my mistakes.

I’m learning, too, that the things we do are taken to heart by our children even when we think they’re not making an impression. The Tank is hard to read books to– he wanders off, he starts playing with toys, he gets bored, he whines. It makes it sometimes feel like it’s not worth it. Yesterday, though, we were picking up groceries, just he and I, and as we walked out through the parking lot he told me (out of nowhere): “I love you, Mom. You’re really good at reading books. I like stories.”

I’d read to him that afternoon, in a rare moment, because I realized that I was losing my temper with the boys while trying to clean their room. I was getting increasingly frustrated with their glacially slow progress in putting away the contents of the costume box, and I was just about to scream at them both. I had a moment of inspiration, though. Instead of yelling at them about the capes and masks and bead necklaces, I picked up a library book (Emma’s Lamb, by KIm Lewis), sat down on the bottom bunk of their bed, and just read them a story. 

It calmed me down enough that I was able to plow through the rest of the cleaning without any shouting. And I guess it lodged in the Tank’s mind, even though he wandered away and didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the cute book. 

I still have a lot to learn about parenting and homeschooling and everything else. But I learned yesterday that keeping my temper has many more rewards than just sparing me a sore throat.

Humbling. But important.




Why UNattended Childbirth advocates scare me

In the summer of 1998, you may have thought I was a great candidate for a “natural” birth. Maybe even an unattended one, although maybe not out in the woods. I hate bugs.

I’d had two spontaneous vaginal deliveries, both of them at 42 weeks, of large babies– one 9lbs and the other one 8lbs 15oz.  I was 41 weeks along with a healthy pregnancy and 5 cm dilated, 80% effaced. My baby had “dropped” a month before, and each week my OB was frankly disbelieving that I hadn’t gone into labor yet. I was 24 years old. My blood pressure was perfect, I’d gained a moderate amount of weight, and I was active and kept busy chasing around my 5 year old and 3 year old daughters.

I opted, at 41 weeks, to be induced. My 3 year old daughter had recently been diagnosed with autism and I was frankly exhausted. She slept about 2 hours a night, which meant I only slept two hours a night, too. It was summer in Texas, and I felt like I was walking around with a bowling ball on my perineum. I was sure that I’d go into labor within another week, and I’d strenuously fought against being induced with my previous two post-dates pregnancies, but I was too tired to deal with another week. My doctor suggested simply breaking my water and letting my body figure out the rest. After all, I was so dilated already, it surely wouldn’t take long. My first labor had only taken eight hours and my second labor was over and done in only four.

So I went into the nice comfortable labor and delivery ward, very modern and cozy, and my doctor broke my water. And then I walked around the halls for an hour, hoping that my mild contractions would turn into something real. They petered out, however, and by 7am I wasn’t contracting at all. So they gave me a very small dose of Pitocin. Within an hour, they shut off the Pit because my body had remembered what it was supposed to do and I was in labor for real.

My labor was reasonably quick after that– 3 hours later I was ready to push. I pushed three times and the baby’s head emerged– just like my second daughter had done.

And then the baby’s shoulders got stuck.

There are moments of true terror in life– this was one of those moments. The doctor and the nurses leapt into action, hauling me into the positions to dislodge a shoulder dystocia, one of the nurses leaping up on my belly, the doctor manipulating the baby’s head this way and that. The atmosphere was suddenly deathly serious.

After a few minutes, probably no more than five or six, each of which seemed nightmarishly long, they finally wrestled my son out of his deadlock with my pelvis. They handed me my healthy, blessedly alive 9lb 5oz newborn son and sewed up a minor tear that only took two stitches to close. We went home the next day, happy and alive.

If I’d been at home, unattended, I can only imagine what would have happened. My son would likely have died. I’d have had a real possibility of death myself. There were no signs such as “turtling” of the baby’s head– he was so low in my pelvis that he was practically out already by the time it came to push. He wasn’t significantly larger than my other babies had been and was, in fact, a week “younger” than they’d been. I was able to get up and move around during labor, I didn’t just lay flat on my back. There was no warning that this was going to happen.

That’s why I get shivers down my spine when women say they want an unattended birth or a birth attended only by their spouse or mother or doula. You just don’t know. Intuition only takes you so far. And blind luck isn’t on your side . . . just play poker for a while and see.

Responsible midwives are a different story. Birthing centers are a different story. But the story of a woman giving birth alone in the freaking woods is a horror story in the making.

Don’t forget the hard-won advances we’ve made and the women who died from the lack of trained and educated assistance. There are still women dying in this world simply from the lack of proper medical care– either because there isn’t any in their region or they can’t afford it. How silly would it be to add to their numbers simply because one was convinced that “nature” knows best. Nature is red in tooth and claw, lest we forget.

Unscheduled events

So according to the medical terminology used by my hospital, I had a “scheduled” c-section in the middle of the month of May.

Hmph. Scheduled in that they tortured me for 24 hours first and had time to reserve an operating time and room to suit my doctor’s plan for his day. Essentially UN-scheduled in that my baby wasn’t due for another three weeks and I certainly wasn’t planning on having him that day.

Such are the indignities of pre-eclampsia. My vision of a natural childbirth fled before me once my blood pressure started spiking and my kidneys started to do Very Bad Things.

Magnesium is Not Fun, and I had to be on it for four hours before my delivery and then twenty-four hours afterwards. And since I was on mag, I was also confined to bedrest, stuck with a catheter and little pressurized air boots, and continuously monitored for blood pressure and oxygen levels. Did I mention that I’m allergic to medical devices? My catheter, my IV, the little boots, all the tape and every place a plastic/silicone device rubbed my skin, all of them were swollen messes. I can assure you, being allergic to a catheter is no joking matter. Benadryl and Vistaril only helped somewhat.

And my precious boy, my ultimate son, my skinny little under-cooked 37 week baby, ended up in the NICU within 12 hours of birth, struggling to get enough oxygen into his blood thanks to pulmonary hypertension. He spent the next six days in there, and I didn’t get to hold him until day 3 after his birth. I didn’t even get to touch him, actually, because my spinal anesthesia knocked my arms out entirely for about 6 hours during/after my surgery. Not being able to touch your baby is pure hell. I feel extreme sympathy for all NICU moms– it’s awful.

But we’re both alive.

This is good. We had a close call, both of us. And he continues to struggle, having already battled off a horrible cold that threatened to turn into pneumonia, sleep apnea, and epic diaper rash from the antibiotics we used to fight the infection. Plus he’s been on steroids for swelling in his throat. And he’s apparently allergic to something in the house and has chronic congestion problems.


I am helpless in the face of all this. This is not how I envisioned the first two months of my youngest and (presumably) last child’s life. I had cozy images of a nice breastfeeding relationship and quiet peacefulness and an uncomplicated delivery. But I didn’t get those things, due to circumstances mostly beyond my control. The baby turned out to be a slow feeder who much preferred the bottles he’d begun getting in the NICU to the squishy realities of momma’s appendages. And my middle-aged post-surgical body decided that milk production was superfluous when I was still so sick myself and shut off production. Life’s been crazy around the house with lots of chaos and un-planned-for events. And my doctor freaked out when confronted with my history of 2 shoulder dystocia events, three sonograms showing a kid large for dates, and pre-eclampsia. So there went the entire vision of simple and natural.

But I’m alive and he’s alive, so it’s okay.

But it shot my plans all to hell. And woke me up to reality. Memento mori, valar morghulis, whatever you like to call it– we’re all going to die. And I’m not exempt.


So, yes, I’m going to die, and I don’t get to dictate the terms of THAT, either.

I’d better get serious about this business of living, then, huh?


Let’s get to it.



When I was a newly-minted nurse, stuck on the graveyard shift and alone except for my tech and infrequent med nurse, I made myself a promise. It wasn’t a hasty promise as much as a hopeful one: I promised myself that, by 40, I would read the 100 Best Novels list by The Modern Library.

I still have the leather journal that I bought to document this process– the list is pasted in the front and the first half dozen or so novels are laboriously commented-upon in my uncertain handwriting. As the years went by, I had varying success with keeping to the promise. Some months would go by without my reading anything, followed by torrid reading fests where I gulped down the classics as fast as I could. I made some progress. Right now, two months shy of my 40th birthday, I’ve read 63 of the novels. That leaves 37 to go, impossible even if a) I read a book a day except on weekends and b) the “novels” consisted of only a single book each. Many of the selections are actually for multiple-book series– Parade’s End, The USA Trilogy, and the Studs Lonigan Trilogy among them.

So I’m not going to make it. The promise will remain unfulfilled.

Except . . . .

When I made this ambitious reading plan for myself, I really had no vision of myself at forty. My mother died at thirty-six, and like many adults who were orphaned early, I was unable to move myself past that age. Something would surely strike me down before I passed her by, some tragedy would lay me low before I dared to outlive her.

But it didn’t. I struggled mightily the year I was 36, and very nearly did die at 35, but somehow I made it through. The years have slipped past, each one bringing a little more gray to my temples and a dubious amount of wisdom to my mind. In another month and a half, I’ll hit the magical 4-0 and be, finally, something very like middle-aged.

I am still trying to resign myself to this process– just becoming older than my mother did not necessarily accustom me to the indignities of ageing. Miss Clairol is my boon companion. Creams and lotions of all sorts have started filling my shopping basket. I am not yet old– indeed, I’m due with another child in early June– but I can feel the pendulum swinging. Things are beginning to break down, and if I live to be 80 this is indeed the midpoint of my life.

But I can see 80 from here. When I resolved to read all those presumably mind-improving books, forty was an un-knowable quantity. I couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t put myself in the picture. Who I would be was a joke, for I didn’t expect to “be” at all.

So, in a way, I am not the person that made that promise. I have grown, stretched, changed– and not simply in the creases at the corners of my eyes or the sudden in-elasticity of the skin on the backs of my hands. I’ve learned that, sometimes, promises aren’t worth keeping. There are important promises– ones to love and honor, ones to serve– and there are the rash promises we make when we’re really wishing for something else. For certainty, perhaps, or for hope. They’re not true to who we are, and were never really meant at all.

The trick is, I think, not to make many of those second types. They’ll break you as you try to keep them and you’ll end up breaking them.

I’ve broken most promises I’ve ever made.

This will not be the last.

I wish I could promise to only make good promises in the future. To vow that I will always be sensible and constant, faithful and thoughtful, loving and mature. But we all know better than that. I will swear off Coca Cola and end up desperately gulping one down in a McDonalds parking lot. I will vow to never swear and end up taking the name of God in vain right in His church. I will be stupid and unfathomably idiotic in many many ways.

But life is too short to keep bad promises made in bad faith– or in none. I had no faith that I would ever be this person– this woman on the cusp of 40. I never intended to fail, but I never really intended to win, either.

And life is much too short to read things you hate simply because someone put them on a list.

So, I will promise you this: I will learn something from this experience, even if it is just that James Joyce was the world’s biggest con artist. And I will put that knowledge to good use and probably never read “Ulysses.”

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll think twice before promising myself something stupid in the future.


So, I’ve been thinking and thinking about what it means to endure.

To live is, in some ways, to suffer. To live through suffering . . . to endure. . . is simply what’s required of us. If we can’t hack it, if we quit, then it’s lights out, game over, the end of the road. To live is to endure. The alternative isn’t too pleasant.

So I’ve been enduring, been living. But that isn’t quite enough for us prissy middle-class American types. Nah, we want to thrive, to be blissed-out, to have perfection and harmony and a really nice camera to record it all with.

But is that what I want?

Sure, I want to have happiness and goodness and joy. But lately I have come to realize that I am more interested in the inner self than I’ve been in a long while. I want to be good, to do good, to live well . . . and not in the “living well means a new SUV and a perfect house and great food” kind of way. (Although any of those things would be nice.) I want to carve all the hate and fear and selfishness and anger and misery out of myself . . . to cut down close to the bone and remove the dead flesh until there’s nothing left but the essentials. Which, I hope, would be good things.

I have never been a good person. Oh, sure, I did a good imitation for a while and had the external trappings, but in my heart I was awful. And I am old enough, and broken enough by time and sufferings, to know that those selfish ways and hateful thoughts hurt me before they hurt anyone else.

So, if I cannot endure forever, I must search out what I value in the little time that I have. And I value love and gentleness and peace and family. Those things endure through time, past my brief life and on into the future, echoing through the generations to come. If I can give those things to my children, perhaps they can pass them on. And in some small way, I will endure.

There is a sad lament written about the Native American experience that moved me. And proves that something of us does live on, even if it is just a few words spoken at the right time. Here it is:

The Earth Only
composed by Used-As-A-Shield, translated 1918

Wica’hcala kin
maka’ kin
tehan yunke’lo
eha’ pelo’
wica’ yaka pelo’
The old men
the earth
You spoke
You are right.

It is enough.