Sunday, September 14, 2014

One of the toughest articles I've ever written

My latest article for Seleni has gone live, and I'm very proud of finally bringing it to fruition. It's about managing anxiety when you're parenting after a loss and it was tough times in the writing.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Ten books I obsess over


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Perhaps any book that so prolongs the loss of the protagonist's virginity is by nature fascinating. Oma and I obsessed together over this book: e.g., sleeping on a wooden pillow?! The question still irks me: how was this tender tome written by a man? And why hasn't he written ever again?


Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson.

Did you know you could use a stove as an incubator for a premature baby!? That is is just the tip of the iceberg of the obsessibility of this book. Sponge fishing? "I Wonder as I Wander?" Biblical lore? The relationships in this book are spectacularly realized, I consider it Katherine Patterson's master work, even though the rest of her books are terrific as well. Speaking of which...


Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? I was devastated for weeks after reading this book. I had never had an author screw me up as badly as Katherine Patterson did with this doozy. OBSESS! I named a remote section of our current property "Terabithia" but I respectfully ask that no one DIE THERE just because their friend went to an art museum without them. Thanks.


Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

Any woman in her 40's who doesn't include this in her list of 10 books that "stuck with her" is TOTALLY LYING. Hi, would you like a powdered donut? NO! Because I read "Flowers in the Attic," people, and I know you are trying to slowly, slowly kill me because you consider me to be devil spawn. I also think about My Sweet Audrina with some regularity, particularly when I manipulate the clocks in my daughter's rooms to suit my EVIL PURPOSES.


Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Just oh my GOD. "Beloved" was Sixth Sense-ish before it was cool. Why are the traumatizing books the ones that stick with me so much? The tombstone in this book is seared in my mind. The TOMBSTONE. Also, Toni Morrison did an incredible job creating the house in this book -- I could draw it for you now, so many years after reading this book. Rarely are novelists such good architects.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

This book contains so much disparate juiceness. Hi, Zombies! Greetings, real dirigible terminal on the top of the Empire State Building! Escape artists, comics, nerds and houses on Long Island. The wild ride of the narrative stops before the book does, but by that point you're already obsessed.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

I feel self-conscious including a literary classic in this list, but this book is so visceral, sweeping and sexy. The love scenes beneath the tree are exquisite, and the sibling relationship is unpredictable and kept me on the edge of my seat. Whenever we are driving down through Central California, I get obsessed all over again and start looking for little farms and whorehouses.


The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb.

WHAT?! A cartoon rendering of the first book of the bible? Tchya! It is not a satire, but a straight retelling that pulls no punches. I still think about the drawings and the expressions on the character's faces when they encountered, for example, a burning bush, or checking out their drunk dad (poor Ham!). I check and re-check R. Crumb's latest bibliographies to see if he's tackled any more bible stories.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Road trips, parenting and mental illness: three great tastes that go great together. (Girls! If you find yourself separated from me by a glass wall, do not panic.) This book has been my only brush with philosophy, presented in a way that I mostly understood. But I can still smell the motor oil when I think of this book, which is often.


Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Was Barbara Kingsolver possessed when she wrote this? I think constantly about the strange reaction of American seeds to African soil, and the bugs and the crowds, and the sister jutting out her elbows to survive a stampede. Imagine my disappointment when Kingsolver returned to writing the same type of ecological/relationship stories after she released this book. I USED to love those stories, but Poisonwood Bible wrecked my enjoyment of them -- like going on a formerly-fun merry-go-round after an unexpected Congan rollercoaster ride.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

In which Mama almost loses the snake

I took Slinky out last night.  I carried him around with me while I put the girls to bed, then plopped the five-foot long corn snake in the bathtub. As I have done a dozen times before, I left him there while I folded laundry.

Fifteen minutes later I walked into the bathroom only to see the last ten inches of the snake's tail disappearing into a tiny hole beneath our bathroom cabinet.

I lunged and grabbed onto that last bit of tail for dear life.

Slinky fought me with every bit of his muscled body. He wanted to go into this hole underneath our cabinet, but there were several problems with this:

(1) This newly discovered hole goes directly into the bowels of our house, completely inaccessible (barring destruction of our bathroom cabinetry and drywall).

(2) Slinky must be kept at a balmy 76-79 degrees, otherwise he will be unable to digest his food and die. Our house is pretty darn cold at night, even in the summer.

(3) The cats would like to eat him. So if he were to emerge back into the bathroom at night (corn snakes are nocturnal, as are cats), he would likely meet his doom.

Therefore, if I were to let go of those last few inches of my daughter's corn snake, Slinky would become a doomed, feral cornsnake, and we would spend weeks, or possibly months, seeking him out -- dead or alive -- in the ductwork of our house.

Slinky writhed fiercely against my grip while Hub-D and I problem-solved.

"What's our plan?" he asked me, as we gaped at each other.

"My current plan is to never let go," I said. And it seemed the snake and I were at a stand-off.

Although I was covered in sweat and had both of my shaking legs braced against the bathroom cabinet, I would not give in.

Nor would Slinky. It seems he had tasted freedom in the labyrinthine bowels of our cabinetry, and was not prepared to relent. I also wondered whether snakes even HAVE a "reverse gear." Could they be like kangaroos, who simply cannot go backwards?

Gigi stood near me while I held this pointy orange tail with everything I had. "You know whose fault this is, don't you?"

"I left him unattended, didn't I?" I said.

"Yes, you did."

It was 8:30pm. Hub-D reminded me that we had brunch reservations the next morning at 11:30am, so that really was our only "deadline" for removing the snake.

But I was NOT going to let go of that recalcitrant tail, even for mimosas.

Slinky wriggled and writhed. I was pretty sure he was going to poop on me. He was mad as hell, and kind of confused, I think.

I felt the same way, except I was mad at myself for leaving a five foot corn snake unattended in a bathroom which secretly harbored a tiny snake-sized hole under the bathroom sink. And I was very sweaty.

Hub-D began to coach me. "Pinch the part nearest the hole," he advised. "Then squeeze below it."

I thought about when I used to milk goats at The Country School in Ohio. I followed my goat-milking muscle memory and pinched the scaly bit closest to the hole.

To my amazement, Slinky retreated one millimeter. I continued milking the snake in miniscule increments until I had about 11 inches of Slinky in my possession, as opposed to my original 10 inches.

"Whose fault is this?" said the six year old behind me.


My face was dripping with sweat, but my hand remained steady. Milking, milking. One more millimeter. Writhing, wriggling, pulling against my hand. One more millimeter.

Then he was still for a moment. Tense, but still. And after long stand-off, during which Gigi asked me to take the blame several more times, Slinky finally switched into reverse. Snakes DO have that reverse gear, I am delighted to report.

And he gradually, very gradually, slithered out of the Hole of No Return. I finally had his head back in my possession and I looked deep into his wee red eyes.

"I am SO SORRY," I said to him, checking him all over for scale damage. He seemed a little resigned and thwarted, but he otherwise unperturbed.

As he scooted back into this cage, I reminded him, "This was my fault, Slinkster." And his warm red light blinked on, keeping him hearty for another day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Love to the mamas taking the "first day" photos

The kids in other people's photos look cleaner than mine, and their clothes and hair look less rumpled than my kids', but I just bet you that those mamas look a little like me right now: it's an intense combination of happy and bereft.

I have yearned for this day to begin -- my kids, especially Gigi, psychologically thrive on being in a school environment. The summer was long and harried for her, and the other girls -- but especially me. The routine of school is good for all of us, and I have several big plans percolating for myself in the next few years.

But now, on the eve of the first day of school, I'm a basket case.

My baby, my Birdy, is flying the coop to kindergarten tomorrow. (And some ass will be mean to her, and I will hate that child forever, even when she decides 11 years from now to go to the Homecoming Dance with him.)

"My special power is I can fly"
I like having my kids here. They are messy and random and they fight over the most ridiculous flotsam ("That was MY two-inch piece of thread!"), but I love it when we're all together. I love it most when we travel together, even for a day trip to the beach. They pretend they are fairies together, and they spend hours deciding which special powers each of them will possess, and what color everyone's wings are. ("I already said my wings would be gold. How about yours are silver?")

Especially when all five of us are together, the girls make us laugh when they angle for treats and they collaborate on funny projects (e.g., a pulley system from the bottom porch to the top one, to transport questionable objects). They all plunk down in the living room and read on different cushions, or they all run next door and jump in the neighbors' much warmer pool on the slightest provocation.

We have shorthand and private jokes and the house is full of life during the summer. Chebbles makes elaborate drawings of hummingbirds, Gigi creates new harnesses for her leopards and Birdy cranks out one love note after the next, individually addressed to each member of the family, which she delivers with kisses up your arm, a la Pepe le Pew.

We work well as a team, the five of us, but this team isn't forever. At almost-nine, Chebbles is halfway to college, Gigi is heading into full-day first grade, and Birdy, oh my kindergarten Birdy!

The cleanest backpacks in the world are sitting in their cabinets, filled with labeled snacks and a few random treasures (Gigi has packed a big pink jewel).

And I am wracked with physical pain.

One last ice cream run before school starts
As I type this, it is 10:30pm and Gigi is still crying. This is the same sleepless routine as last year's first day of school, and yes, I've pulled out the big guns (Hello, Benadryl). Quite by accident, she is expressing what I am feeling. This is a transition that is joyful and upsetting at the same time, for both of us.

So I want the other moms to know I would love to see their faces too when they ship their kids off to school. We've worked hard to get to this moment, to ship our babies off on the bus. It takes some serious grit to hug the last babies goodbye, and I think I got some of it in my eye.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chebbles' tonsillectomy

I wanted to avoid the tonsillectomy. But once Chebbles' speech therapist, pediatrician, and three separate ENT's all said she should have them out, it didn't seem avoidable.

But when push came to shove at the surgery center yesterday, I doubted myself mightily.

Chebbles has suffered from a strange fatigue over the past two years, in addition to a lisp so significant it earned her an IEP from the school (i.e., free speech therapy) and a constant feeling like she wasn't able to breathe enough air or get restful sleep... all indications that her enlarged tonsils (3+ on a scale from 1 to 4) were getting in the way of her living a full life. So Hub-D and I decided to, in his words, "Whack 'em."

Yesterday, Chebbles and I set forth for the Children's Hospital surgery center -- an outpatient surgery facility attached by a bridge to the actual Children's Hospital.

Just a small part of our shopping spree
The day before she had made peach Jell-O, which was now setting in the fridge. We had also spent $200 at Safeway, denuding the shelves of Popsicles, ice cream, puddings, pumpkin, apple juice and Pedialyte. She had carefully packed her bags with all of the recommended items: plenty of books, her favorite pillow, and comfy clothes for the ride home.

We arrived well ahead of time, allowing Chebbles time to settle down in the pre-op bed, and to chat at length with the anesthesiologist. He brought her a series of scents from which she could choose -- the gas that would put her to sleep could be grape, cherry, root beer, bubble gum or orange flavored. The attentive anesthesiologist, along with a resident in the hospital AND the cheerful ENT (hand-picked by Chebbles from the field of three possible surgeons) all chimed in with their recommendations. Chebbles smelled each scent dutifully, rejecting each of them until she came to orange. Despite the ENT's rooting for the bubble gum, Chebbles chose the tangy orange scent, and her choice was applauded by the anesthesiologist, who told her that grape or root beer would have stained her face anyway.

We talked a long time with Tom, the Child Life social worker who helps the kids and parents facing surgery. He had also met with us the day before to review what Chebbles and I should expect from our day at the surgery center. It was his shopping list that had resulted in the Safeway spree, and his recommendation that I photograph as much as possible from our day at the surgery center. (He also recommended the orange scented gas.)

Chebbles and I stayed very quiet behind the curtains in our bed because we were enjoying hearing all of the other languages around us. We may have been the only native English speakers on the unit yesterday afternoon. There were remote translators assisting the other families through speaker phones, and it sounded so funny to us. We would hear the nurse ask, "Can you please ask Mom if her child has had a cough in the last two weeks?" and then a Chinese dialect unfamiliar to us came burbling out of the speakerphone, and it seemed to go on for several paragraphs, the conversation between the two Chinese speakers. Then the translator would just say, "No," in English, to the nurse.

Chebbles was dearly hoping to overhear Swahili or Tagalog, both languages she saw for which the surgery center provided translators, but she was ultimately disappointed. I was also surprised to learn that all of the translators work remotely. It makes sense, of course, from a cost standpoint. But we were hoping for a United Nations-type fleet of translators to be stalking around the hallways, possibly in native dress (the Dutch translator in wooden shoes, for example).

Chebbles was mostly worried about the IV in her arm -- she was creeped out by the notion of someone putting an IV in her hand while she was asleep. She wanted to know if it would hurt when the IV was removed from her hand, or while it was embedded in her vein. The nurse, savvy to Chebbles' love of vocabulary, explained what "IV" stands for in great detail, and the explanation seemed to soothe her.

Finally, it was "go time." We had waited far beyond the time that the surgery was scheduled, and had been hanging out (Chebbles playing Fruit Ninja on Child Life Tom's iPad) waiting, that it was almost a surprise when it was time to wheel her back to the operating room.

How does Orange taste?
Tom had recommended that I go back to the room with her, and stay with her until she fell asleep. This seemed like a great idea, and I knew she would want a photograph of herself asleep, since she would have no memory of that time. They rolled her bed to a special antechamber outside the operating room, and fired up the orange gas.

I kept photographing her as they put the gas mask on her face, I thought I'd capture "the moment" when she lost consciousness, so she could see it all later. But the anesthesiologist got frustrated with me (based on Birdy's birth, I'd thought that all anesthesiologists were pro-photography) and he told me to stop documenting and focus on parenting her in that moment. Instead, I wanted to kill him in that moment. And as her eyelids fluttered, opened, then slid shut again, I didn't have my iPhone protecting me from that horrible moment.

It is awful. There is no way around it. You do NOT want to watch your child lose consciousness. Once minute she's joking about Swahili translators and the next her body has gone completely slack and she is in the hands of strangers, beyond your control. You know she is in for a world of pain when she does wake up and she is in the gears of the surgical system. And there isn't a goddamn thing you can do about it.

I was shocked by how hard I cried once she was asleep. I realized then how much I had been acting like a chipper mom to keep things light and less fearful for my girl. I was terrified. Once her eyes were closed and she was completely unconscious, I sobbed in the hallway. They closed the door behind me and I was out of the picture. Tom, having worked in the surgery center for decades by this point, had predicted this moment, and he whipped out a box of Kleenexes for me.

"Can I have two? I don't think just one will do it," I said to Tom.

"I got this entire box for you, Mom," he said.

(I had never been called Mom this much in my entire life. That's what people at Children's Hospital call you when your child is a patient. You stop being Erica or Mama... when a doctor or nurse says, "Mom," you snap to attention. That's you.)

I used almost the entire box, sitting in the hallway, desperately texting my sister and Hub-D, feeling like hell. My entire lap was filled with balled up, snotty Kleenexes and my heart was filled with regret. This surgery wasn't absolutely necessary, she could have lived her life with extra large tonsils, what was I thinking? Then Tom rematerialized in the hallway and asked me how I was doing. I said, "Why did I think this was a good idea?" and he told me that every parent questions their decision right after the child goes under anesthesia.

My sister reminded me, via text, that sometimes I do need other people. I had thought I could tackle this whole "Bring your kid in for surgery" project as an independent contractor. But Tom said, "Next time, if there ever is a next time, having another adult with you makes a big difference."

That wasn't on the packing list!

We had the special pillow and the soft pants but we neglected to bring the other adult to comfort this "Mom" person I had become. (As opposed to "Mama," which is what the girls call me.)

The surgery was scheduled for 45 minutes. I hadn't eaten much all day so I forced myself to go buy a bowl of soup in the cafe downstairs. It was incredibly hot. I didn't have enough time to wait for it to cool, so I ate it anyway and it burned my mouth and tongue. I didn't care, I just ate that burning soup so I could be up at the surgery center when the doctor came out to give us the "all clear."

Hub-D arrived in my hallway of self-hatred, and I was so relieved to see him. I do hate having an ugly cry in front of my husband, but it couldn't be helped, I needed some mopping. All the while, my eyes were fixed like lasers on the door to the surgery center, waiting for the doctor.

The good-natured ENT emerged right on time, and she let us know that the procedure went very well. The tonsils and adenoids were out, and everything went just as planned. Of course I hugged her, and she hugged me back very nicely.

Earlier I had watched a mom hug this same ENT -- the doctor had just put ear tubes in her baby's ears. And I thought, "Hm, I don't think I would be so worried about ear tubes?" but now, on the other side of the "Moment of the Unconscious Child" I completely understood why you need to wrap your arms around the woman who just performed successful surgery on your child. Of course you do.

The surgeon then said that a nurse would come and get us when Chebbles was waking up in the recovery room. This part took much longer than expected. I wondered if something had gone a little wrong, but since I'd been on edge about this for months, I tried not to wonder too hard.

In a nutshell: something had gone a little wrong. Chebbles had a strong, negative reaction to the anesthesia. She just kept throwing up. She woke up and was in utter misery. Her throat hurt and she was seized by nausea. I kept chucking ice chips down her throat, remembering how good it felt when I had ice chips after my crash C-section with Gigi. I felt so helpless as she thrashed around in pain, I asked the nurse for as much morphine as they could safely give her, and she obliged with five additional kid doses of morphine. Eventually, Chebbles stopped freaking out from misery -- she relaxed a little, and told us all to be MUCH quieter, stop talking, stop touching her, just STOP.

So we tried to be quiet. But her cheeks were so sallow that it was worth discussing. Why is our swim-team-tanned kid suddenly so white? Her legs were still tanned, but her head and chest were utterly pale. Then she was suddenly mottled and red all over her cheeks and chest. Then she vomited.

This process took hours. She would lie still, admonishing us to be quiet and stop touching her, scratching at her face with closed eyes (morphine can make a person itchy). Then she would become more and more pale, then bright red and vomit. She had finished surgery at 2:45, and the hours ticked away, with the vomiting and misery seemingly with no end.

Other patients were in the recovery room, and they were acting much different from Chebbles. They would wake up, cry a little, then perk up and ask for a drink, then put on their clothes, and get carried or wheeled back to their parents' waiting cars. Chebbles wasn't even at square one of recovery.

Hub-D wasn't feeling well, so my sister spelled him and he went home to rest. Luckily my sister is also a registered nurse (Thank you, God! And Simmons College!) so she conferred with the nurses on the best course of action with the Patient Who Wouldn't Stop Barfing.

After several hours, we were the last ones in the Surgery Center, the sun was setting, there were no more doctors in the building and there was only one thing to do... We had to cross the bridge.

Heading over The Bridge to Children's. 
At this point, I was so dumb with worry that I didn't understand the logistics of crossing the bridge into Children's Hospital. Would I have to carry her? Did she have to walk? The nurses were profoundly patient with me, explaining that Chebbles' bed had wheels, and we could take it ALL THE WAY into the recovery room at the main hospital.

They explained everything very slowly, for which I was thankful. Chebbles had fallen asleep after her third round of throwing up, so we just spoke in hushed voices next to her. My sister had to leave as well, but she had planted a seed before she left: admit her. The child should be admitted to the hospital, she should stay overnight with the IV in her arm to get her rehydrated and NOT thrust upon her freaked-out parents in this state.

We had agreement about admitting Chebbles rather quickly from everyone in our medical team (suddenly we did have a team, including a Dr. Ana, just like "Frozen" but not at all like "Frozen," and they called themselves The Orange Team, which seemed silly and reminded me of the Pittsburgh road system).

She remained very pale. The nurse who was supposed to give her Reglan to stop the throwing up had accidentally forgotten to give her the Reglan, a mistake caught 30 minutes later by another nurse. I think this was a huge blessing in disguise -- if she'd had the Reglan, and perked up too much, we might have had to start hydrating her at home (essential after a tonsillectomy) despite her fatigue and nausea.

Resting in the main hospital with Mimi
By getting admitted to Children's Hospital, Chebbles kept the IV in her hand, and we could pump her full of fluids and painkillers all night long while she rested. She was assigned a room, and they had to weigh her again, and go through the entire admissions procedure. The room had a surprisingly comfortable bed in the windowsill for us, and a nice, relatively quiet roommate who had also had throat surgery, it seemed (she didn't speak much English and everyone was too tired for sharing health histories).

The anesthesiologist felt terrible. He apologized to me for her having this reaction, and I found myself comforting him. "It's her physiology," I told him, "There was no way to know this would happen."

And he felt better, and I felt better, and he send me skedaddling to the hospital cafeteria, because he noticed it was going to close in 10 minutes and it was my only chance of having a decent meal.

Walking through the bowels of Children's Hospital at night is very humbling. There are a lot of bald kids, to be frank, and almost every child has something worse happening than excessive nausea after an elective tonsillectomy. There was a teenager with her mother and a nurse on the elevator. At first glance I thought she was pregnant, and I wondered at the medical logistics of pediatric obstetrics, but then I realized that she had a bag of blood on her IV pole, she was misshapen from a serious illness, and this was no "Teen Mom" sharing my elevator.

Chebbles also spotted a toddler with leukemia, and she and I just sat with that sadness for a moment as well. In the morning, I asked a father in the elevator if the breakfast was good. He knew a LOT about the breakfast options. Then he compared it to the lunch options, and how they have changed over the years. He has been at Children's Hospital day and night with his child for years.

But my focus was really on my girl, despite the heartbreaking dramas around us. When would she rise from her state of misery? How long could she stay with that IV in her hand, so she would not risk readmission with dehydration (that is the most common reason that kids are readmitted after tonsillectomies).

She watched about two minutes of television once she was settled in room 4300b. Then she fell into a deep sleep. Hub-D had returned with overnight provisions for me, as well as Chebbles' beloved aromatherapy supplies, so we rested there awhile. Then my sister came like an angel from heaven and relieved me. She borrowed some PJ's from the nurse's station and camped out the rest of the night so I could steal away (and it was creepy, going to my car in the near-abandoned parking lot in a bad section of Oakland at midnight... but I didn't really care at that point).

I was back first thing in the morning. Chebbles' pediatrician and surgeon had already been through to check on her. And the anesthesiologist came back through. He and I talked a lot about the meager educational options for kids like Chebbles in our region. From his conversations with her, he understood that she's a little different, educationally speaking. I stood there with my hair in a greasy ponytail, my face covered with some form of hospital acne, and my kid passed out from her anesthetic reaction, and we talked about how grit ultimately outclasses intellectual firepower.

And eventually, after a lengthy discharge procedure, a wheelchair arrived to remove Chebbles from a hospital for the second time in her life.

I went across the street to get the car from the parking lot, and Chebbles laughed at the volunteer's stories of her fighting cats, then after a relatively short drive, we were home, in a world so completely different from the strange womb of the hospital, with the beeping machines and blinking lights and automatic doors and medical professionals seeping out of every orifice, it was jarring.

I laid out Chebbles' array of drugs -- Tylenol, Tylenol with Hydrocodone, Advil, Ondansetron, and Amoxicillin. Then I created a white board with the times she would need to take each of these medications.

I left the room to fetch her some Jell-O, and when I came back, she was altering the white board with funny saying, and had brushed her hair.

Then when I went to the kitchen for awhile, she came and hung out with me, asking if she could have soup, or a hamburger, or maybe a Slim Jim. (Yes you can have cold soup, but otherwise, no...)

She was quickly bored of sitting in her room and trying to rest, so she spent a few hours in Hub-D's office playing Minecraft, where I fed her a very unique concoction I call "Pumpkin Pie with No Crust" featuring pie filling and Cool Whip.

By the time bedtime rolled around, she was shouting and laughing with Gigi. I was shocked. I hear there will be ups and down, but this was such a steep "up" trajectory. She was happy, and so functional. Nevertheless, I gave her the last dose of Advil for the day, as she said, "it's just like I have a sore throat, but nothing else!" and she was quite merry.

She is sleeping now with a dose of Tylenol on her dresser, in case she feels pain in the middle of the night. But the main drama is over, thank goodness. We are home, short two honking tonsils and a collection of bothersome adenoids. We are home.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Sticker club letters are an act of aggression

After exploding letters and tax audit notifications, a STICKER CLUB letter may be the worst thing you can find in your mailbox.

Therefore, I implore you to review this STICKER CLUB safety checklist before opening mail addressed to your child:

(1) Is the letter from a child who has never written your child before?

(2) Do you detect a subtle guilt-laden aspect to the mother's handwriting on the letter?

(3) Is the envelope suspiciously thin, with just one photocopied disaster of a STICKER CLUB letter inside, rather than the usual kid-folded marker-laden kid-to-kid missive?

If the letter you are holding meets any of this criteria, I encourage you to recycle it immediately without opening it. End the cycle with YOU and do not risk perpetuating this horror upon other mothers in the community.

"But Erica," you say, "My kid LOVES stickers and would have so much fun getting and sending stickers in the mail!"

WELL AWESOME. Have your kid write, address and stamp letters to his/her GRANDPARENTS, and other people related to them, and ask for stickers. That is the ONLY OPTION you have for morally obtaining stickers through the mail.

And, you ask, "What's the harm in just reading the letter?"

Do you like having white hot lights of GUILT beamed directly into your eyes? Because the STICKER CLUB letter typically contains this verbiage: "If you can't mail this letter to six of your friends, please let my mother know as it would be unfair to the children who have participated so far."

So if you read the letter, you are immediately in the position of having to contact this mother and confess that you hate children.

Everything about the STICKER CLUB stinks.

First, it's not a club. You don't get to shimmy up a ladder into a treehouse and goof off with stickers and your friends all afternoon.

It's a TACKY CHAIN LETTER, with a "this is for the kids" smear of guilt on top of it.

Consider yourselves warned, dear new mothers. The mailbox can be a dangerous place.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The summer of extractions


We have just learned that Chebbles needs to have her tonsils removed. After talking with three ENT's, her speech therapist and pediatrician, the verdict is unanimous: those honkers have got to come out.

We've wondered why she felt tired every morning when she woke up, and why she's had comparatively less energy than she did when she was younger. The pediatrician feels strongly that it's the tonsils interrupting her sleep with apnea, and making it hard for her to breathe in the pool.

So after Girl Scout camp next month, we will take our baby to the Children's Hospital surgery center for this outpatient procedure.

I was delighted to learn that there will be no shots or IV's for her (while she's awake). Her biggest decision will be which flavor she wants in her gas mask -- she is vacillating between cherry and orange. And which smoothie she wants afterwards.

When I offered Chebbles that I could make her my special "Yo Mama" smoothies for the two weeks after the procedure, both she AND the pediatrician rejected this notion in favor of retail smoothies. Note: invest in JMBA.


One neat thing about our property is the massive, century-old Monterey Pine at the end of the driveway. It greets visitors as though to say, "Good luck getting down the driveway!"

That tree is very old, and not in a good way. I've now had four arborists sit me down and tell me that "it's time" for the big fella to be put out to pasture, i.e., to be firewood and mulch for the entire neighborhood.

One of these kind men even used the word "circle of life" with me as I grieved over my dying Monterey Pine. And two branches of that tree are lurking dangerously over my neighbor's backyard, with ominous cracks forming.

Getting quotes for the giant tree's removal has been a strange experience. One man assured me it would cost more than $9K to remove it. Three of them gave me a $6K estimate, and one lone tree-lopper said he could bring it in for under $4K.

I told the last guy, who was Mexican and wanted $6K for the job, about the guy with the $4K estimate and he stood next to the tree, puzzled, and then asked at long last, "Is he ... Mexican?"

"No he's.... not?" I said, desperately hoping he would elaborate. Why would a Mexican tree trimmer suspect another tree trimmer with a scandalously low estimate of being Mexican?

He shook his head and finally left without explaining whether being a Mexican tree trimmer was a positive or negative thing.


I had the pleasure of having dinner at Airbnb headquarters on Monday (and I must say it was delicious! French Farrow, Herbed Chicken and Amber Ale!?). At this dinner, Airbnb executives gave a talk about their efforts to legalize short-term rentals in the San Francisco Bay Area.

But I don't see how they're going to do it. Short-term rentals are illegal in the whole state of California, so San Francisco can rest comfortably on that precedent for years to come. It seems to be the case that, like my child's tonsils and the massive pine, the home sharing economy is fizzling to death.

So, onward and upward! We will move into the fall with lots of firewood to age, mulch to spread, fewer obstructive organs in our throat and one fewer way to travel. I can't help but think that this rainbow of expense, trouble and pain will have a wonderful pot of gold at the end. We just can't see it quite yet.

I do notice, when an old tree comes down, that there is usually a stunted tree near its fallen compatriot who rallies impressively toward the sunshine afterwards. Let that be us.