Making Waves

My oldest son, Miles, was evaluated by an educational psychologist last year.  It was a painful process for both of us, because he intensely disliked the testing sessions.  One moment, he would spell college-level words, the next he would refuse to repeat a series of numbers and run angrily from the testing office into the waiting room, burying a face streaked with hot tears into the playful IKEA furniture.

The result of the testing was a letter in which the psychologist wrote that Miles was “brilliant,” but also on the borderline of Asperger’s Syndrome. As we have delved into the literature on children like this, my husband and I have gained compassion and understanding for our little Einstein that usually allows us to appreciate his quirks without being frustrated into insanity.  Usually.  

As we were sewing up the final details of the determination letter, the psychologist said to me, “Do me a favor, no, do yourselves a favor, get this kid swimming.”  

“Swimming?” I repeated stupidly, “Like, you mean in a pool?”

“Yes, swimming.  He needs to use his body and mind together in a way that the body takes precedence, and the best way that I know is swimming.”

“I’ll try,” I said.  

Dread filled my soul.  We had signed Miles up for lessons at the municipal pool when he was four, and it had been an utter disaster.  My husband reported to me each day of those two weeks.  “He spent the first twenty minutes at the side of the pool shouting at the instructor.  Once he got in, he just clung to the edge and wouldn’t listen to the teacher.  What a waste of time.”  

In a twist of fate only possible in a small city like ours, my husband wound up teaching Miles’s poor swim instructor in one of his English classes later that year.  And we still see him at our favorite ice cream place, The Cup, where he dips cones every summer.  He’s a good sport about it, but Miles still gives him a wary look when he hands him his single scoop of Moose Tracks.

So, I pretty much ignored the idea of signing Miles up for lessons.  And Miles and his little brother Eli spent most of the summer visiting their aunt’s small pool, sticking to the shallow end and wearing float vests.  Miles wore a snorkeling mask, the only way he would assent to put his face in the water.   He even refused to go in the wading pool on swimming days at his day camp.  As someone who loves swimming and the ocean, I was rather horrified by the whole spectacle.  And embarrassed.  And scared to death the boys would drown eventually if I didn’t do something.  Clearly, I was falling down on the job.  My kids NEEDED to learn to swim.

On a late August afternoon, donning the emotional armor I keep on hand for Miles’s Aspie-style outbursts at new situations, I cheerfully announced we were going to take a tour of a community center that had two pools, an indoor pool and an outdoor pool.  “We might join!” I chirped enthusiastically.  Miles responded with a positivity that flabbergasted me, “Well,” he said, “Let’s not just take a tour, let’s try it out!”  Eli heartily agreed with a round of “Yeah, BA-BAY!”  I grabbed our suits and towels and we headed out.

I don’t know what it was about that afternoon, but something changed for Miles.  At first, he wore a float vest, but then he took it off.  The outdoor pool was mostly shallow, and his confidence grew.  Eli kept his float vest on but was soon bobbing around like a little otter.  I wouldn’t call what they were doing “swimming,” but it wasn’t exactly drowning either.  

I returned to the community center later that week and signed the family up for a year-long membership.  The first time Miles lifted his feet off of the bottom of the pool and propelled himself a few feet with his face in the water, I startled him with my shouts of excitement.  He hugged me proudly. I hope he didn’t see me crying, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt prouder of anyone. Ever.

We’ve been taking the kids twice a week for the past three months, and the change is incredible.  No float vest.  Swimming, real honest-to-goodness swimming. 

It’s not always pretty.  Miles’s stroke is a splashy disorganized mess. And he still wears his snorkel mask. But he is moving his body through the water.  He is floating on his back, he is jumping in and seeing how long he can hold his breath underwater.  He is not going to drown.

Eli, likewise, has blossomed into a strong swimmer.  I giggle uncontrollably as he swims confidently on his back wearing his supercool blue-tinted goggles and singing “La Cucaracha.”  

Most of the time, I take the boys, but sometimes Brandon will as well.  And on Friday nights, we’ll often go as a family, all four of us having what we’ve dubbed “Family Swim Night.” There are never more than a few other people there to soak in the sunset views through the glass wall.  At times, it’s just us and the lifeguard.

One recent Friday night, Eli swam to me, a big goofy grin on his face.  I scooped him up in my arms and held him like the baby he no longer is.  We floated there for a while, he marveling at the pink and purple streaks in the sky, and me at my beautiful family.


I’m in Limbo.  The space between what you thought you knew and what you now realize you have no clue about.

See, I had a mammogram last week.  My first since turning 40.  I’d had one in 2004 — after Kerry lost and I started drowning my sorrows in boxed wine and comfort food, but before I saw my ass in the mirror at the movie theatre and resolved to get my body into shape.  At that point I was 37 and was growing deeply worried about dying of breast cancer as my first cousin Cheryse had at around that age.  My nurse practitioner was sympathetic and ordered the scan to ease my mind. It was clear, but it was another chime in the wake up call that led me to Weight Watchers and running.

The technician last week was the same woman who had done my imaging in 2004.  She looked at my last images and looked at me and said, “Wow! You’re so much thinner!”  “I lost 40 pounds,” I told her proudly.  “I started running.  I finished a marathon in 2006.”  

She praised me and oohed and aahed over the lack of fat in any of my images. I lapped up her compliments happily.   As I was snapping up that strange poncho-like top they give you to wear (Why the robe? Why not just ask you to strip in the imaging room?) she said, “I’m not allowed to say, you know, but I think your pictures look fine.  If there is any problem, they’ll call you.”  We parted with warm words and I smiled all day, secretly congratulating myself for my lean physique and all the hard work that had gone into it.

Yesterday at 2pm, the scheduler from the breast health center wiped that smug grin right off my face.  She said the radiologist wanted a closer look at my left breast. “Expect to be here 1 1/2 to 2 hours,” she said. “The radiologist will go over everything with you.”  We had a cut and dry conversation.  I scheduled the appointment for this Thursday at 9:30am, we discussed my insurance.  That was that.

I called Brandon. I cried.  I called Mom.  I cried.  My office door was closed, by my wall doesn’t go all the way up to the door.  My wracking sobs echoed down the hall, I’m sure.  A sweet young co-worker emailed to ask if I was okay.  All I could think of were my boys.  I rocked in my chair, my arms wrapped around my body, hugging myself tightly.  My little boys.  

My boss is a breast cancer survivor.  Thank God for her!  I closed her doors; I’m sure she thought I was quitting.  I told her the news and I could see the fear in her eyes.  “First,” she said, “stay positive.  You don’t know what they saw, you don’t know what caused the radiologist to want another look.  Have you spoken to your doctor?”  

Well, duh.  It’s kind of amazing how one moment you can be a competent grown professional woman and the next you are a wimpy scaredy cat.  In all my self-pity, I became the typical passive patient. That snapped me out of my haze.  I returned to my desk and started dialing.  Meanwhile, my sister, the surgical nurse, emailed to say the same.  CALL YOUR DOCTOR!

When the mammography nurse from my GYN practice returned my call, she read me the radiologist report.  “A discrepancy,” she said, “he wants additional views, ‘just to be sure.'”  Her words didn’t really assuage my fears, but it was time to go home and make dinner, so I pulled myself together and headed home.

So here I am.  I still have 36 hours to wait before I get any more answers. I am trying to stay positive, I know that if the news is the worst, I can fight it.  I’ve run hundreds if not thousands of miles, including 26.2 consecutively!  I’ve carried, borne and nursed two babies.  I’ve raised millions of dollars.  I have the love of a tremendous husband, children, parents, sister, brother and sisters-in-law.  I have some of the finest friends I’ve had in my life at this very moment in time, just when I might need them most.

She’s Been Like This Since January, For Chrissakes!

Every four years, I lose my mind a little.

I’ve always been a political animal. I guess it came from taking note of the injustices of the world at an age when most of my cohort were deciding which Trapper Keeper to carry. At the ripe old age of fourteen, I was gravely concerned about Ronald Reagan’s Latin American policy. So when I found out my congressman — Mike Barnes — was Chair of the House Subcommittee on Latin American Affairs, I convinced my father to drive me to the campaign office so I could stuff envelopes and answer phones. Dad even served as my date at the victory party that November night when I had my first taste of styrofoam straw boater hats and bands playing “Happy Days Are Here Again” in cut-rate hotel ballrooms. Since that night I’ve had more than my fill of picnics, committee meetings, door-knocking and phone banking. It goes in spurts for me, and sometimes I drop out of the retail side of politics in despair and disillusionment, but I never stop thinking about it and discussing it. It’s truly a sickness.

So, you’ll forgive me for being utterly incapable of stringing together blog posts the way I’d hoped and expected I could lately. My free time has been completely sucked up by the presidential campaign. My browser finds its way to Daily Kos with barely a nudge of the mouse. I find myself refreshing the Drudge Report more than would be deemed appropriate in any 24-hour period. And yes, I had my cell phone on the nightstand when the 3 a.m. text arrived.

I know I’m not alone. I see your facebook status messages: Robbie is building an ark, Regina is hand-wringing about the election, Sandy wants to vote even more. We’re all obsessed and it won’t get any easier for a while.

But I’ve decided that this blog is going to be a presidential campaign-free zone. This post is the last time I’ll mention it. Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t get political, but there will be no lipstick and there will be no pigs. I’ve got other fish to fry. And by fish, I do not mean to imply that John McCain is a fish. And by fry, I do not mean to imply that I would like to roll him in flour and submerge him in a vat of boiling canola oil.

Watch This Space…

My goal of posting several times a week is clearly not happening, but something is brewing that will hopefully wind up on the page in a few days.

I think I liked being a part of The Coffee Generation better…

Eleven days ago, I joined the sandwich generation — low sodium bread on one side, whole grain with NO SEEDS on the other.  

On Saturday the 12th, my dad had a heart attack; a subsequent catheterization revealed three significant blockages. He had a successful triple bypass six days ago and came home on Sunday the 20th.


The first day of my life between the slices was not what I’d call triumphant. I returned from a great eight-mile run expecting to pack Miles up and drive him to a pre-determined meeting point where my mom would pick him up for a week of what we like to call “Camp GrandmaGrandpa.”  Instead, as I stood dripping sweat onto the kitchen floor, Brandon was mouthing the words to me:



I call my mom. Twice. She picks up the cell phone and pushes Ignore.  Twice.  I get in the shower.  She calls back.  Now I’m dripping soapy water instead of sweat, a slight improvement.  She tells me Dad had been shooting a wedding in the hot DC sun the day before and felt ill; the mother of the bride was a nurse and thought he looked ashy.  She took his pulse, it was normal.  Still, she insisted he loosen his tie and remove his jacket, something he never does at a wedding.  

“Larry,” she told him, “We all know you’re a professional, please.”  

Mom tells me he finished the wedding, got home, but couldn’t get comfortable.  

Sleepless, he nudged her awake.  “Do you think we should go to the ER?” he said.  Mom says she had one pant leg on before he finished the sentence.  At the hospital, a blood test confirmed that he had, in fact, had a coronary event.

I say, “Should I come? I want to come.”  

She replies, “I spilled coffee all over my shirt this morning.  So silly, I went home and showered and made myself a hot, fresh cup of coffee — I used your travel mug, you know, the nice one you left here last time you visited? And then I spilled it all over myself.  Marc is on his way.”

“I’m coming,” I say.


I have to explain to Miles that he’s not going to Camp GrandmaGrandpa this morning.  That, in fact, Camp GrandmaGrandpa has been temporarily shuttered.  

“Miles, I have some bad news.”

“Well, as long as it isn’t that I’m not going to Grandma and Grandpa’s.”


I run to the grocery store, power shopping a week’s worth of groceries in about 20 minutes.  I pack a bag and kiss Miles and Eli.  I wait for a call from my brother.  He calls and says Dad has a room and the cardiologist is coming in soon to talk with him.  I have my bag on my shoulder as I’m talking to him. “I’m on my way,” I say.  But something is weighing me down.  It’s Miles, he’s pulling on my bag and begging to come with me.

“Grandpa had a heart attack because his blood pressure was high.” he lectures me. “When blood pressure is high, it forces the blood through the veins and arteries harder and puts a lot of pressure on them and they can burst.”

“Yes,” I say, marveling my eight-year old’s grasp of medicine.  

“See? I know lots of stuff, I’m really smart! I can help. Take me with you.”

I call Brandon over to help remove Miles’s iron grip from around my bag and Miles begins shrieking at the top of his lungs, begging to come with me.  Brandon gives me the “JUST! GO! NOW!” look he used to give me when the boys were really small and we were trying to leave for a date.  I bolt for the door and run to the car.  I’m starting the car and suddenly Miles’s shrieking sounds close again.  I look up.  He’s running down the walkway toward the parking pad.  I stop pulling out, put the car in park, lock the doors.  He is pressed against the driver’s side door, wailing and pleading and I’ve never seen him look more pathetic.  

My head drops into my hands and I’m sobbing.  Brandon follows Miles belatedly up the walkway and peels him off the car.  He restrains him long enough for me to drive away.  I can still hear him over the motor.  I turn up the radio.


Over the course of the 3 1/2 hour drive, Miles phones me three times.  First, he tells me that Grandma better come and get him in sixty minutes.  Then he calls to report that it’s been sixty minutes, so where’s Grandma?  Finally, as I am stirring Splenda into my coffee at Rutter’s — the halfway point where I should have been leaving him with Mom — he rings to say that he and Brandon and Eli are going to Lost River Caverns and then to see Journey to the Center of the Earth.  

“So,” he says, “At least SOME of us are going to be entertained.”  

Whatever works, kid, I think to myself.  Whatever works.


Shock and Awe, Indeed.

ed note: I wasn’t sure I’d write about the war and other political issues on this blog, but I just can’t help it this morning. I don’t want it to become a focus here, but sometimes, well…

The New York Times is reporting that shoddy electrical work at US bases and outposts in Iraq — outsourced to KBR, naturally — is killing and injuring many more soldiers than previously admitted.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country, documents obtained by The New York Times show. Two soldiers died in an electrical fire at their base near Tikrit in 2006, the records note, while another was injured while jumping from a burning guard tower in May 2007.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

As I was reading this article and growing more and more furious, I heard NPR report the story in their top of the hour newscast. I’m hopeful this means the story will be a major focus of the news cycle today. But that doesn’t assuage my anger.

Perhaps if the current administration had done ONE THING right in the past five years in Iraq this story wouldn’t have legs. But every single step they have taken during this ill-conceived folly has been a disaster. This latest example is especially enraging because it demonstrates both the danger of relying on contractors like KBR for everything and the extent to which the government lacks the resources to handle the scale of the operation in Iraq:

Officials say the administration contracted out so much work in Iraq that companies like KBR were simply overwhelmed by the scale of the operations. Some of the electrical work, for example, was turned over to subcontractors, some of which hired unskilled Iraqis who were paid only a few dollars a day.

Government officials responsible for contract oversight, meanwhile, were also unable to keep up, so that unsafe electrical work was not challenged by government auditors.

Several electricians who worked for KBR have said previously in interviews that they repeatedly warned KBR managers and Pentagon and military officials about unsafe electrical work. They said that supervisors had ignored their concerns or, in some cases, lacked the training to understand the problems.

(emphasis mine)

I’ve never seen a more costly and tragic example of failing up in my entire life.

That Green Blob Is Just A Critical Mass

It’s coming.  The tidal wave of green design, energy generation and lifestyle choices seems unstoppable at this point.  According to iSuppli, for instance:

Worldwide investments in the production of Photovoltaic (PV) cells will rise to the same level as those for semiconductor manufacturing by 2010, due to booming demand for solar energy, according to iSuppli Corp.

Meanwhile, in Europe engineers are re-designing their power grids into Smart Grids (though admittedly they won’t be on line until 2050).

One of my favorite out-of-the-box design ideas is the Nano Vent-Skin designed by Agustin Otegui. His idea is to wrap existing and new buildings in a “skin” that is made of thousands of tiny wind turbines. Um, wow!

And then there are the smaller-scale changes, like those made by the Redmond family in Virginia. Those might still be the hardest to implement on a wider scale. When environmental activists shake their collective heads and wonder why more people aren’t making lifestyle changes and rallying in the streets for more alternative energy, I don’t share their bewilderment. Although we work hard to live simply in our own home, I am one of those who will admit to often being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the vastness of the problem. Still, the surge in stories like these have left me feeling much more hopeful lately.

Last fall, Miles and I attended an event in NYC featuring two of our favorite scientists — Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (yes, that wacky Science Guy). During their presentation, there were a few main strands of discussion — the shocking decline in science education in the United States, the possibility of the existence of life on Mars (everyone should hear Dr. Tyson riff on this once in their lives), and climate change.

Nye is a passionate environmental activist, and you might expect him to wiggle an accusatory finger and admonish us all to radically alter our lives to save the planet, but you’d be wrong. First off, Nye reminded us that this is not even about saving the planet. “Earth will be just fine,” he reminded us, there just might not be any humans on it. So, he concluded, what we’re really talking about is saving our species.

But Nye is a realist, he understands American culture. He is sympathetic to the soccer mom with the minivan — after all, she might have once been one of the excited kids watching his show who proclaimed that “Science Rules!” back in the day. Instead, he scolded the scolders, noting that Americans don’t want to be told to “do less with less.” His mantra? “Do MORE with LESS.” He loves watching his electric meter run backwards as his house generates power, eating great food from his own garden. When you hear Nye talk about this stuff, it’s evident that doing more with less can leave one practically giddy, and really, is that a bad thing? It sure beats lying awake in bed at night imagining you can hear the latest unimaginably huge chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf break off.

Not that I’ve ever done that.

We’re still in the baby steps stage at our house, but we’re getting there.  We’ll keep on recycling every single thing we can because it’s fun to see how few garbage bags we can put out each week. I’ll keep dragging my reusable bags to the store and having the same conversation over and over with the cashiers (yeah, I know, they’re bigger, so they get heavier — it’s okay!) because the house feels lighter and cleaner when I’m not surrounded by crinkly plastic sacks after putting everything away.  And you’ll pardon me if you see me sneaking yet another prideful peek at the blue glow of my new solar powered LED porch lights.