Monday, August 25, 2014

Ain't and the Grammar Police



I grew up in a home where use of standard English was not a mere suggestion. My parents gritted their teeth through our very early years of learning the language and  seemed to have a basic understanding that it takes most children at the very least two to two-and-a -half years to get verb conjugations straight, particularly with irregular verbs. They were patient as we mastered the art of using adverbs. I don't think they ever thought our miscues were cute, though. It surprised me, then, when looking at  Matthew's baby book, to read my mother's annotation that at the age of two, he substituted the word  Thursday for thirsty, as in, "I'm Thursday; I need a drink of water."  It would have seemed to me that my mother would have been embarrassed to admit that either of us mangled the English language to such a degree.   One thing I found in my own  baby book was, inside a plastic sleeve,  a crumpled paper than had been flattened for many years, but still retained lines from its original crumpling. On the page -- just a piece of computer paper -- was scrawled the word ain't  over and over probably twenty or so times on each side,  in my five-year-old printing. I  had been sent to time out in my parents' library for some offense I don't even remember, and apparently didn't think it was fair, so I expressed my outrage by writing the contraband word as many times as I could fit on the single sheet of paper. i crumpled the paper, put it in the wastebasket, and thought that was the end of the matter. It certainly didn't occur to me that either of my parents would think it was funny or would bother saving it.

When we were in real school, we were expected to speak the language properly. The nuns at our Catholic school we attended for kindergarten weren't all that patient with poor grammar and incorrect syntax, either, but Matthew and I were the least of their problems in that regard. We had barbarian Nazis at home correcting our spoken English. We would have know for years by that time not to say, "I seen him" or "She don't know how to tie her shoes."  The cardinal sin in our home, however, was the use of the word   ain't. Matthew and I certainly knew by kindergarten age that if we were going to say ain't, we might just as well drop an f bomb with it. the penalty probably wouldn't have been any worse.


To the best of my knowledge, neither Matthew nor I was ever caught saying ain't  audibly at home..  It's not that there was no temptation.  If a parent says enough times not to say something, it must be a really fun thing to say, right? I  can remember when we'd be in our car seats or boosters on a road trip, if we didn't have to go to the bathroom, we might not get out on a really quick gas pit stop. As soon as both parents were out of the car and the doors closed, we'd start saying "the A word.": "You ain't getting any of my Skittles, Matthew," I'd say to him even though I new I'd get tired of them before I'd finished half the bag.

"No, you ain't gonna be able to finish 'em. And if you ain't gonna eat 'em all and they don't get et by you,  they ain't gonna go to waste," he would respond.

We seemed to get that certain other syntactical  errors flowed naturally with the use of ain't.  "She ain't  bringin'  us no Dr. Pepper, Matthew, because she don't like us consumin' caffeine," I would tell my brother as our mother approached the car with two styrofoam cupped-drinks, likely bearing root beer or orange soda.

"She ain't really got no idea iffen caffeine don't be good for us or not,"  was his reply.We had the dialect down every bit as well as if we had been brought up by parents who spoke it fluently as a first dialect. The second either parent opened the car door, we reverted to standard English.

Once I didn't want to invite a particular classmate to a birthday party, so I told my mom the girl frequently said ain't. My mother  said that the little girl did not have parents who spoke English at home, and it was not her fault that she used the word  ain't;  she refused to remove the girl's name from the list of invitees.  Years later, I am so incredibly grateful to my mother for taking the stance that she did.. I would have trouble living with myself even fourteen years later if the little immigrant child had been excluded from my birthday party primarily on the basis of my snobbishness attempting to masquerade as a member of the grammar police. 

 Another time, when I was in second grade,  I had a playmate over -- the child of  English-only speaking parents:  a dentist dad   and stay-at-home mom who was a credentialed teacher. The little girl said  "ain't"  loudly in our family room as we were playing. I braced myself for the worst. My mom came into the room where we were playing and explained, using a much softer and kinder voice than she would have used had I been the one to utter what was considered  an epithet in our home, that ain't was not a proper English word, and it was not good for the child to be in the habit of saying it. The little girl responded with, "Lady, how I talk English is none of your damn business." The play date ended abruptly as my mother drove the child home. The child never came to our house again, nor I to hers. We moved about seven months later so it didn't have to turn into some sort of  family feud in the tiny Catholic community.

Now that we are older, my brother and I have seen my dad's true colors. We know that he swears with greater fluency than does the average sailor or truck driver.  Yet still he does not use the word ain't, nor does he commit other errors in English language usage. For example, the pundit on Fox and friends isn't "fucking  stupid;" he or she is "fuckingly stupid."  My father's philosophy is that if one must curse, one should do so using the most standard English possible.

My brother and  I, over the past few weeks, have picked up on a few questionable pronunciations and clearly slang terms that seem to make my dad's skin crawl. My mom doesn't appear to care so much, as she believes  that she did her job in teaching us to speak standard English, and if we're stupid enough to forget it now that it matters, it's our problem. I do think she finds my dad's reaction funny, though.

One of my dad's pet peeves is the pronunciation of the silent t in the word often.  It's become standard though not preferred usage through repeated misuse. If you take any word in the English language and get enough people to pronounce it incorrectly, the incorrect pronunciation will eventually make it into one or more dictionaries as an acceptable if secondary pronunciation.  I've taken up saying often as often as possible, and to pronouncing the t each time I say it.  It drives my dad bonkers, though, as I've told you all before, it's the shortest trip he's ever taken.

My brother has picked up the slang term iffen. I think it just means if, but it sounds so much more like a drunken Isla Vista resident trying to sound like a cool college kid. My brother also mispronounces the word mischievous.  He's taken to pronouncing it mis CHEE vious. You have to add that i to the last syllable to make your mispronunciation really stand out.  He finds more ways of working it into a conversation than I ever could.

As much as I'd love to throw a couple of A-bombs into casual discourse, I do worry about my parents' blood  pressure. I do not wish to be responsible for the untimely death  or incapacitation of either of them.

So iffen you ain't too busy and gots some time on yours hands, read my's blog and respond in you's own best standard English. I does reply to most of my comments. My brother, I wish I could say he do, but he don't often [the t is pronounced] do that sorts of things.




Friday, August 22, 2014

Dreams, Osmonds and Their Impersonators, and Glow-in-the-Dark Teeth

This guy isn't a bona fide Osmond, but he has some serious Osmond teeth going in his favor.


   

                                                                         
pretty cool representation of a kaleidoscope eye, or else a bad case of conjunctivitis: you make the call


the singing portion of the tooth-blinding clan


I went to sleep at midnight because most normal people who don't work odd shifts do that sort of thing. I was awakened a moment ago in the midst of a bizarre dream in which I had somehow joined forces with a band of Osmond impersonators who actually looked like the real thing and performed concerts to packed houses. It was unclear as to whether or not these Osmond impersonators were owning up to being mere impersonators or were pretending to be George and Olive's actual spawn. I wasn't one of the Osmond impersonators for  variety of reasons, one of which would be that I have braces on my teeth. I don't recall ever seeing an Osmond with braces on his or her teeth, although maybe I just missed it and it really did happen. Even when my braces come off,  my teeth may look nice enough, but they will not have that Osmond quality about them.  Furthermore, braces or no braces, I don't bear the slightest resemblance to any known member of the Osmond family.

The Osmond impersonators were also secret fighters of crime, and I believe both their musical escapades and their fight for truth, justice, and the American way were being chronicled in a reality series. I somehow got caught in the middle of one of their concerts in which people were seated at round tables of eight or so. "Donny" was strolling between the tables singing a particularly mindless song, which may have been Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy." At one point he was standing near me as I was crouching near the floor and trying to hide because my medical school supposedly has a clause about not appearing in any reality show without the consent of the medical school administration.. I can understand why they woudn't want their students sullying the reputation of the medical school by appearing as fools on reality shows, and it's a private institution, so its administration presumably has greater leeway to set more stringent policies than publicly funded medical schools would have the freedom to establish. Still, I'm not sure if that's really one of the school's rules or if I just dreamed it.  Tomorrow I'll have to look it up in the materials I have been sent.

Anyway, "Donny" was singing what was probably the Andrew Gold song, and he walked very near to where I was crouching. The lights were low, and a spotlight was following "Donny" as he casually wandered between tables, sometimes pausing to put his arm on the shoulder of a particularly goo-goo-eyed female. Dinner had been served at this concert. Dinner was Kentucky Fried Chicken, served in the typical classy buckets with the Colonel's mug boldly emblazoned upon them.  Filming  (or taping; I pay very little attention to which is which, and couldn't tell you whether most shows are filmed or taped, or why, except I think filming is more expensive and perhaps of higher quality) for the reality TV show was going on at that very minute, and the people at the table nearest me were packed in so tightly that I could not have crawled under their table even had I possessed the nerve to do so. The spotlight was nearing me, which would have indicated that I was likely to end up in reality show footage. I crawled away from "Donny," but he seemed to be following me everywhere I went. How's that for a nightmare: being stalked by a "Donny Osmond" impersonator?

Anyway, I scrambled on the floor to escape the spotlight encompassing "Donny."  At one table, I saw an empty KFC bucket, so I grabbed it and put it over my head. This limited the camera's view of my face, but also limited my vision. It didn't matter, as a lady at a nearby table apparently coveted the look I had created, and grabbed the bucket off my head and placed it on her own head. By this time, I had created a little distance between myself and "Donny" and was able to successfully make it out of the dinner theatre or whatever the venue where the performance was being held was called. 

As I went through the door, there was a bar. Only one person was seated at the bar. I seated myself several stools away from her and admitted to the bartender the obvious, which was that I was not of age but just needed to chill for a few minutes. He filled a 7-up for me free of charge.  The other lady seated at the bar moved to a stoool right next to me. "What brings you to these parts?" she asked me.

I told her that I was working with the "Osmond" group and that we were no the cusp of catching up with a major organized crime syndicate. The lady took off her sunglasses, and I saw that she was Leah Remini, who was a major player in the mob we were attempting to bust. She smiled, got up,  and ran out of the building. 

As I was debating whether to go back into the dinner theatre at the risk being of caught in reality show footage so that I could warn "Donny" that I had inadvertantly tipped off Leah Remini,  I woke up.  Even if my dream isn't terribly frightening, I often have trouble going back to sleep, so I started a journal of my dreams a long time ago. Originally it was written out in composition books. I no longer write out anything other than class notes  in longhand if I can avoid it, so using the computer is a logical alternative. My dreams took a turn for the morbid and alarming after a few unfortunate incidents in my life. I still have those sorts of nightmares on occasion, but they're becoming less frequent.  A lot of my dreams now are not so much frightening as nonsensical.

I have a history of bizarre dreams. ,When I was very young, as in roughly two years of age, I didn't quite comprehend the concept of dreams, and thought whatever had  happened in my dreams had happened in real life.  It was confusing to my mother when I would bring up things that I or we had supposedly done. she eventually put the puzzle pieces together and realized that I was recounting my dreams. She explained the concept to me, and I grapsed it reaonably well for a two-year-old.

Then I got the idea that I needed to tell my parents about my dreams immediately if i awakened in the night fter having one. I'd crawl out of my crib (I slept in a crib through most of my kindergarten year because it fit me more comfortably than did a twin-sized or junior bed. My mom kept the side low so that I could get myself in and out easily] and into my parents' bed, where I would wake up both parents and describe to them my most recent dream in minute detail. they tolerated this for what must have been for a few months. then I remember my mom telling me, "Alexis, if you have a really bad dream that scares you, it's perfectly OK for you to come wake us and tell us about it, but if it's not a scary dream, you need to just go back to sleep. You can tell us about it in the morning."

I tried this approach, but I found that I often didn't remember the dream the next morning.  so I decided to go back to Plan A, which was to wake my parents again to tell them of my dreams. It was my dad who thought of providing me with composition books so that I culd record my dreams. I was an early readeer and writer, and had the very basics of phonics down by the time I was three. (Keep using those refrigerator letter and number magnets, parents. It's amazing how much a normally bright child will pick up  from manipulating them on a refrigerator with just a little adult input. It's much better for young children than computer games or playing with parents' phones.. My pseudoaunt, who taught kindergarten before practicing law, said she didn't have a single student who came to kindergarten without at least knowing letter names who had the letter magnets on their refrigerators at home.  The concept seems too simple to be effective, but it works.) My spelling tended to be phonetic rather than standard, but I or most aadults could make sense of what I had written.  My parentys would only interrupt if they noticed my light was on for what they considerd too long. They were fine with the idea of me taking five to ten minute to record a dream if it meant I would not wake them up.

Every morning after which I had dreamt, I would take my composition book to breakfast with me and would read to my parents what I had written or would use my writings as a guide for retelling the dream in my own words.  We would discuss the dream and why I might have dreamt what I did. It created in me an interest in dreams which I still have. I've read numerou books on the topic. Freud had tons to say on the subject, as did Carl Jung and Frederic Perls.  Much of what Freud had to say seems a bit over the top to me. 

One more recent dream-related publication I enjoyed was Rosalynd Clements' The Analyzing Your Dreams Dictionary. I ordered it as a child and had it sent to my aunt's house because I was concerned that my mother might consider it too New Age for a little Catholic girl to be reading, but my mom heard about it, read it, and said it was fine for me to read. She did put a stop to my original purpose for buying the book., which was to analyze my peers' dreams for profit, but she otherwise had no issue with the book, as she said it was respectful of religion in general. 

Mrs. Clements (I'm not sure if she holds a doctorate or not) bases much of her theory on the works of Jung. While there is a section of term definitions, much of it is written in narrative and is highly readble. As a note of warning, sometimes the author is writing someting that makes perfect sense, then she'll abruptly go off on a tangent about black goo instead of milk  coming from someone's mother's breasts. I assume someone she knows must have had such a dream or it would not have made it into her publication, but still I find it far-fetched. That's one dream I've yet to have.. Any psychology-related text must be taken with at least a grain or two of salt, anyway.

I'll do my best to forget about the Osmond impersonators and Leah Remini  and go back to sleep, but it is not going to be an easy task. Whenever eye close my eyes, those big white Osmond teeth show up, almost as though threy glow in the dark, which begs the question: do the real Osmonds' teeth glow in the dark?

P.S. Just imagine if the girl with kaleidoscope eyes mated with an Osmond with glow-in-the-dark teeth. Wouldn't the product of that union be a sight to behold?




Thursday, August 21, 2014

Checked Out the New Residence


This is a view of the piano in our condo. Ha ha ha. That's really funny, isn't it? This is how I wish our condo looked.  


I'm home after traveling north for three days with my brother to the area of my medical school. We were checking out the condo, the neighborhood, and where all the buildings are that we'll need to report to initiallly. My dad was there part of the time, and he was able to show us our locations, because he did his residency there and still does some  research there.

We checked out the convenience markets, the closest grocery store, pizza places, and haircut places, even though I have Alyssa cut mine most of the time. Matthew may need someone to cut his hair because he keeps it relatively short.  I'm doing really well with not pulling my hair out, which is nice. My braces will be adjusted by a relative of the pseudos about eighty minutes away. It's a bit of distance to drive, but he's good and he's taking care of my braces free of charge.

I like the condo, and it's plenty roomy for the two of us. It has a third bedroom, mainly in case my dad decides to make the place his home away from home. I'm trying to talk him into buying a condo in a wooded area not far from Santa Cruz, or perhaps one near Tahoe. That would give my parents a  destination besides Matthew's and my condo. We love them, but we need space.  I may have an entirely different take on  that in about two months.

We had dinner one night with my very brief significant other. We're not really awkward around each other because we've known each other forever. In addition to the five-year age gap, it was probably almost incestuous for us (despite lack of technical consanguinity) to have been together anyway, even though we never got past first base and I'm not even sure he ever really hit even one clean single. He's in his internship there. He's not sure if he'll complete his residency there, but is leaning toward it. He will specialize in emergency medicine. I'm not sure how it works, but his career will be best served by having board certification in general surgery. He may accomplish that with a fellowship and exam, or may just extend his residency.


The piano my uncle ordered arrived. I actually got to pick this one out.  I love my piano at home, and I love both of my mom's pianos, and I'm sure I'll love the next one my mom is buying to put in the third story loft. Still, every piano has its own unique touch and sound, and it's very special to be able to pick  the one that's perfect for you. Matthew doesn't care. He's not that discerning where pianos are concerned. As long as they're more or less in tune and the keys don't stick, he'll play them without complaining. The new piano is close to in tune, but it needs to settle for a couple of weeks, and then be retuned. My dad will probably just do  it himself because it's logistically simpler than opening the place for someone else even though the dealership provides a free tuning. I suppose it could be done right before school starts when Matthew and I go back.

The security system for the condo still needs to be upgraded. The place  came with a basic alarm, but I won't be able to sleep at night without one of those high tech ones such as are advertised on TV. The condo is in a nice complex populated mostly by medical residents and their families. I think my parents bought  there because they knew the neighbors would complain if we turned the place into the local center of debauchery, not that I would have done such a thing, anyway. Even the area surrounding the complex is not unsafe. Still, an ounce of prevention is worth a whole truckload of hindsight. Matthew may end up spending a lot of time elsewhere, as it isn't his job to babysit me, and I'm not sure how well Matthew would fare against thugs with weapons, anyway.  A really good security system, even if it can be annoying at times, will allow me to sleep at night.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mentally insert the most obscene words you can conjure here.

an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth


I just lost a complete blog to the ether. I saved  a million times, including after the final edit, just before adding photos.   I am easily angry enough to throw my $&(!! laptop through the living room plate glass window. The only thing keeping me from doing so is that my dad has already said that if I do that, he will take my violin out of its case and throw it through the window right after my computer. Such is the height of stupidity. How do two wrongs make a right?. How would ruining an exquisite musical instrument compensate for the very justified action of propelling the piece of junk that has caused me so much heartache and so many headaches through a very easily replaceable window?

I need a Mac in the worst way, but my mom says I can't buy it until September 1 for some arbitrary reason to which only she and God are privy. Perhaps it came to her in a vision.  Maybe either the Angel Moroni or the Blessed Virgin personally visited her and said, "Don't let Alexis buy her Mac until September 1." Or perhaps  the message appeared in an image in her whole wheat toast, which she has for breakfast most mornings. Either way, there's no reasoning with a person devoid of logic.

I am highly tempted to tamper with her laptop.  I'm not particularly techno-savvy, but I could do some damage if I gave it a bit of effort. I'm not sure what I would delete or what virus I would introduce to her system, but my attack would be vicious.

I wonder what she would do if  I took money from my savings account and bought the Mac on my own without her permission. Would she throw me out of the house? Would she refuse to ket me live in the condo she and my dad purchased for my brother and me to use for med school?  I'm not sure it's worth the risk to find out, but I'm sorely tempted.  I could take the attitude that she might not even find out, but she would. She's a personal friend of the owner of the Mac store here, so if I bought it here, the knowledge would be hers within a matter of hours. If I bought it elsewhere, the Mac store owner here would have ways of finding out, and, out of sheer spite, would share the information. I'm screwed either way. I could have someone else make the purchase, but that could feasibly end up in one of those ownership disputes that are seen on "Judge Alex" and the lesser court shows on a regular basis.  I'm not all that eager to pay for a Mac, only to have it belong to someone else.

My mother needs to consider this: is it really worth having one's daughter check into the psych ward over a stupid malfunctioning computer?

My father needs to consider that if he throws my violin through a window, at least one of his guitars is going out with it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams


Robin Williams -- July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014


As were many others. I was devastated [as much as one can be devastated by the loss off a person one never met] by yesterday's  announcement of Robin Williams'  untimely death.  He was the ultimate iconic comedic actor of my lifetime. While he participated in the making of  too many brilliant works to list here, my personal favorite was probable Dead Poets Society, although it's hard to argue against either Good Will Hunting or Good Morning, Viet Nam.  My childhood favorite was Mrs. Doubtfire.

The death has yet to officially be ruled a suicide, but it's looking that way. Williams had been treated for depression and for substance abuse related to depression. If his death was, indeed, self-inflicted, we may never know what drove him to such a drastic and final act. All I know is that the world lost a genius far too soon. Rest in peace, Robin Williams.



                                                               

Billy Joel performed "Summer Highland Falls" in a concert that featured questions and answers from the audience. An audience member asked him what inspired the lyrics.  In his answer, which follows his performance of the song,  he alluded to the idea that many artists of one genre or another, or highly creative people in general, often deal with extreme emotional highs and lows.  I don't know if Robin Williams' diagnosis ever included bi-polarism, but it seems to fit.

Eventually effective ways of treating  this very legitimate condition will be found. (It may not yet be able to be spotted on an MRI  as a tumor can be, but it is, nonetheless,  every bit as real.) Progress is being made as I type, but the progress is not happening  fast enough. Until better solutions are found, lives will be affected for the worse or lost because of this very real condition. The world is a poorer place if the Robin Williamses of the world do not live out their natural lives.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Re-submitted because of a change my dad insisted upon and a couple of other I made on my own: Coke as a douche, sexual assault in a school restroom., and other things that may make a person's life seem extraordinary.

This anonymous family bears an eerie resemblance to  one branch of my father's family excpet that the number of spawn would need to be multiplied by at least ten..


One of my readers commented that I've led an exciting life. I don't really think such is the case. Maybe everyone looks at their own lives and thinks, "boooorrrrrinnnng." Maybe even Suri Cruise, the Kennedys, the Hiltons, and the combined Kardashian/Jenner debacle  look at their own lives and think the same thing, though I highly doubt it.

I will admit that my parents are funny people  -- even when they don't try to be funny. For that matter, they're only funny when they're not trying to be funny. Their actual attempts at humor are beyond lame. I have a large extended family of real relatives and an equally large group of pseudorelatives, basically the extended family of a guy who grew up with my father and to whose house my father excaped when the lunacy of his own home threatened to overcome him. More people = more chaos.

My family, like any family, has its sane members, its members who are on the brink of sanity/insanity, as in they're not wholly impaired enough to be kept under lock and key, but not necessarily of sufficiently sound mind to be allowed to run free, and then there are those about whom there is no question: they're certifiable. Everyone has some relatives falling in each of these categories. It's just that the larger one's extended family is, the more people there are  falling into the latter two categories.

One distinction needs to be made. There's eccentric, and there's all-out psychotic. My aunt Cristelle and her husband Mendel, who had the Wiccan wedding in which I was the flower girl who flitted and floated between each row of drunken guests blasting rose petals into their astonished faces with a mega-battery-powered wand, are eccentric.
They may have named their child Blitzen Manx, whom Ccristelle wanted to birth in a wooded field on a bed of roses until the first contraction hit, at which point she was rished to a hospital, where she was grasping the ties of every doctor who walked within her reach to demand an epidural. Cristelle and Mendel do, however,   at least get Blitzen Manx vaccinated, and he wears clothing.

On the other hand, there's my Uncle Mahonri, husband to my dad's sister Marthalene. He works for the Church Educational System. He's also either a confirmed kleptomaniac or an outright thief.  He was arrested while stealing a carton of disposable douches (Do they even make douches that aren't disposable anymore?  I certainly wouldn't know where to go to purchase one.) in the loading zone of a big box store in Sandy or Draper, Utah. (I always confuse those two communities.)  No one has any clue as to what was Mahonri's need for the disposable douches. I don't know if he didn't know what it was that he was stealing, or if there's a rampant problem with feminine hygiene in his immediate family. I try not to stand close enough to any of them to know for certain.

Mahonri's elsest daughter, Marthalette, is the cousin who thought pregnancy could be prevented by douching with Coca-Cola shortly after doing the evil deed. We know how effective is that method of birth control, as Marthalette conceived her first child shortly before her sixteenth birthday.  She married the lucky sperm donator, and the pair has since spawned eight more offspring. I don't know if she thinks she's the next Michelle Duggar and really wants all those children, or if she's still going with the Coca-Cola douche method of birth control. Sooner or later that magic amusement park with all those rides that go up and down, otherwise known as menopause, is going to put a stop to this madness. In the meantime, I'd expect at least another eight children -- possibly more if multiple births are invloved -- before she either dicovers that cococola douching is ineffective as a method of birth control or the government discovers the landfill so thoroughly ensconced in the filth of Marthalette's offspring's diapers that measures are taken to prevent another outbreak of Duggaritis. One thing my dad suggested recently is that Marthalette's choice of douching substance, if she's still using it,  may have something to do with the offspring of her children.  An acidic pH is advantageous to male sperm.
Marthalette has nine boys. It could be random, or it could be the Coca Cola inserted in that most strategic of body cavities..

Then there's Aunt Elyse, who has eleven kids, but can't cook, sew, comb a child's hair dedently, clean a toilet, or accomplish any other domestic task with any degree of competency or without going into some sort of manic-depressive state. (I'm aware that bi-polar is the preferred and politically correct term now, but manic -depressive more accurately depicts Elyse's state of mind during one of her episodes. She cycles from one extreme to the other with the rapidity of the Tilt-a Whirl at the county fair.) I happen to know - and if the rest of the family did, WWIII would break out - that my grandmother pays someone to clean her house, cook her meals, shop for her, do her laundry, and keep tabs on her children. With the time Elyse has because she's freed up from domestic chores, she designs crafts for Relief Society projects. She's the one who came up with the Santas crafted from unused tampons. (Mahonri should've stolen a crate of tampons. Some in the family might have actually had a use for those.) She also fashioned  portraits of both Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith by crushing egg shells, dying them, and gluing them strategically onto canvas. My dad said the two portraits looked a hell of a lot more like John Lennon and Yoko Ono than the two whom they were intended to represent, but he didn't say that to Elyse, because her husband is 6'5" and over three hundred pounds. He'd never catch my dad in a million years if my dad saw him coming, but were he to successfully pull off a sneak attack, the results could be devastating if not fatal.

That is the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the weirdness is my family.  My whole life is not my family, though. I've had my share of bad things, good things, and stupid things happen to me, just like anyone has. Part of what might make the casual observer think my life is to eventful to be true is that I had a roughly one-year span of unbelievably bad luck. In less than a year  I 1) broke multiple bones in a freak hurdling accident, 2)was temporarily placed in an immobile state and with a kidney infection in the care of incompetent relatives who left me by myself in their third-floor attic with something toxic burning in the oven, forcing me to injure myself further in escaping, and 3) was sexually assaulted in a school restroom.  

Over the course of a lifetime, that much bad luck will fall upon most of us. I just happened to have it all happen within a very short period of time.  My life isn't all that much different that anyone else's. I've never been to  India or walked on the Great Wall of China. I've never been to a Super Bowl, World Series game, or NBA championship game.
I've never been in the Olympics, or even to the Olympics. I've never seen a baby be born. Hell, I've never even seen a puppy or kitten be born. I wasn't within three thousand miles of the World Trade Center when it went down. I've never met a President or Vice-President of the United States. I've never been in a hot air balloon. I have climbed Mt. Whitney barely. So out of fifteen major milestones, I've achieved a grand total of one.

I have a weird family, and I had a string of bad luck, including a mother who had leukemia. Those are my total claims to fame. The rest is just my OCD memory, which is really just an inability to forget. Everybody has done stuff like purchased proctology textbooks in Goodwill Stores, gone to children's parties dressed as "Trailer Trash Barbie," and attended sleepovers at mortuaries. Most people just don't remember the details quite so thoroughly.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Time I Saved My Mother: A True Story

what my bone marrow transplant probably  looked like at the onset of the procedure




                            An Organ Donor of Sorts

My mom was first diagnosed with leukemia when I was five. Her initial treatment was the gold standard of over fourteen years ago, which was a particular cocktail of chemotherapy drugs and some radiation for good measure. The drugs appeared to be accomplishing their purpose, but the leukemia did what it sometimes does, which is to come back even stronger than ever inside a body that has been ravaged by the effects of chemotherapy and radiation and is strong enough neither to fight the disease nor to withstand another round of the drugs that might wage the battle. This is the point at which bone marrow transplants often come into play.
My dad had anticipated the possible need for a bone marrow transplant long before the need became an actual reality. As an oncologist/hematologist involved in research pertaining to particular forms of leukemia and lymphoma, he had in the initial months after the diagnosis anticipated an eventual need for the transplant and had quietly gone about the work of having all willing blood relatives tested for compatibility.
My mom expressed to my dad in the early months of the illness that, were a bone marrow transplant ultimately needed, she would be unwilling to receive bone marrow from my brother or me, or, for that matter, from any child. My father had downplayed the possibility. Children aren't often compatible donors for their parents, he told her. Then, as my mom's five available siblings (the sixth sibling was herself battling breast cancer and was not even considered as a donor) turned up one after another as unsuitable donors, my dad, on a whim, had himself tested. In what came as a major surprise to the rest of the medical community but not for some odd reason to him, my dad was a far more suitable donor for my mom than had been any of her siblings. He still wasn't a perfect match, but had no other donor been available, his bone marrow would have been close enough to attempt. He knew, however, that if he was an acceptable donor for my mother, that any offspring produced jointly by him and my mother would most likely be an even better match.
My brother and I were tested. Matthew was a good match. I was a better one. That knowledge was filed away in the hope that it would never be needed. It was, unfortunately, needed, as was discovered when the leukemia again reared its ugly head.
How does a team of medical professionals go about harvesting bone marrow from the body of a six-year-old girl without her mother's knowledge? It took the form of a bit of subterfuge involving a supposed
trip to Disneyland for the mother's six-year-old twins. My Aunt Heather devised a scheme in which my mother would believe that she and my Uncle Steve were taking my brother and me to Disneyland. Another aunt's van was loaded with Matthew, me, and our suitcases. My mom stood on our front sidewalk, leaning on my dad for support and waving at us, watching as we pulled out of her sight. I believe she may have been crying, though she had a forced smile on her face. Her condition was probably as grave as it was since she had received the diagnosis. I wonder now if the thought had occurred to her that she might not see us again. I can still hear her in my mind arguing with my dad about the Disneyland trip late the night before we were to depart. She told him she didn't feel right about it, but was unable or unwilling to articulate her specific concerns. My dad was unusually adamant that we absolutely had to go on the trip, which wasn't, of course, a trip to Disneyland at all, but a way to get me away from my mother for long enough for medical team to give me the preparatory treatments and harvest the substance of life for my mother without her knowledge that I was in any way involved.

Three blocks away from our home, the van was stopped. The other aunt took her van back with Matthew in it. Matthew and the other aunt drove away to an amusement park that wasn't quite Disneyland but was close enough to pacify Matthew. My suitcase, my car seat, and I were loaded into Uncle Steve's car, and he and Aunt Heather took me to the hospital for the final round of blood tests and the first of the five injections to prepare me for the transplant. Additionally, I needed to be fattened up and nourished to the extent that could be done in the short amount of time with which the doctors had to work.  I was still recovering from  undernourishment to the point of actual illness resulting from an extended family member who was hired to care for Matthew and me while my father was dealing with my mother in the hospital,  but who instead  essentially left the to of us to fend for ourselves while she slept, watched mindless TV, and ran up our phone bill with long distance calls to her boyfriend. If the "babysitter"  ventured from the family room sofa beyond trips to the refrigerator and microwave to prepare her own frequent and calorie-laden snacks (Matthew and I 
were on our own in that regard), to the bathroom, and to her bedroom, I never witnessed it.

On the chilly December morning of the procedure, I arrived at the hospital before the sun did, wrapped in a blanket and carried by Uncle Steve, and still wearing my Britney Spears pajamas that some harebrained relative had considered a suitable Christmas present for a tiny five-year-old girl the previous December. (The Christmas before, the same relative had given Matthew and me stuffed dolls in the image of Eric Cartman and Stan. My parents allowed us to keep them since we had no clue who the two characters were and had no knowledge of the program.) My hands clutched the stuffed baby harbor seal my Uncle Steve had purchased at the hospital gift shop the previous day after I had cried during the final preparatory injection, and a nurse assisting with the procedure had been particularly insensitive in berating me because at the age of six I was too old to cry just because of an injection. i was told that later my father ripped into the lady as though she had attempted a presidential assassination,which,under the circumtances, was probably appropriate.(The stuffed baby harbor seal is the only stuffed animal that remains from my childhood still in my possession today.)  Uncle Steve handed me to my dad, who had been waiting for us in the hospital's lobby. My dad carried me as we made our way into the elevator and up to the fifth floor.
We were rushed through the preoperative station. My vital signs were taken, an IV was inserted, the anesthesia took effect, and all that was left was for some overweight woman to belt out an aria hours later that day after the marrow was injected into my mother's body.  I spent the night in the hospital as a precaution, but everything had proceeded without the slightest glitch in the plans. Uncle Steve, my dad's younger brother, who was at that time a first-year pediatric resident, stayed  in my hospital room with me all night, as did his wife. Steve was entitled to only three weeks of vacation time all year, and nine of his days off that year were burned in the process of getting me to the places I needed to be in order for the transplant to happen and to caring for me afterward. My dad told me later that he had tried to pay my uncle for his time but that Steve had refused to accept any compensation whatsoever. He and my aunt wouldn't even allow my dad to reimburse them for the  cost of the stuffed baby harbor seal, which, at hospital gift shop prices, probably set them back roughly as much as a week's worth of groceries.
My assumption was that the source of my mother's donated bone marrow was never intended to be a life-long secret -- that my dad planned to someday share the rest of the story with her -- but the particulars had not been broached. As it turned out, it didn't really matter. Some children may be better at keeping secrets than others are, but with most of them, the truth will eventually emerge. It did in my case.
On Christmas morning of that year, my brother and I, after the initial wave of opening presents, had forgotten our greed for just long enough to remember that each of us had made and wrapped little token gifts at school to give to our parents. Our father stood empty-handed as we both thrust our gifts at our mother, eager for her approval. She first opened my gift, which was a crudely-fashioned angel ornament, with a shiny pipe cleaner halo and silvery paper wings, and with my school picture  strategically yet incongruously placed where the face of the angel should have been. Mom smiled and thanked me. Then she opened my brother's gift, which was a refrigerator magnet framed by tiny green- and red-painted puzzle pieces. From my mother's reaction, one would have thought that either my brother or his teacher had personally invented both puzzle pieces and refrigerator magnets, as well as green and red paint. My brother eyed me smugly,  as if to imply, "I guess we know who won the battle of the tacky school-made Christmas gifts this year."
Without thinking, I responded to his sneer by blurting out, "So what? gave her bone marrow!" Oops. Sorry, Daddy. The elephant-sized cat was out of the bag and in clear view of everyone in the living room. 
My dad carried me up the stairs and more or less threw me into my bedroom and slammed the door. I heard the door to my parents' room slam as well, then I heard my dad open it and go in, and then I heard a whole lot of shouting. At one point my brother pounded on my parents' door and asked if he could ride his new scooter outside. My dad told him no and to play with his Thunderbirds Tracy Island toy instead.
Eventually the shouting stopped. We all came out of our rooms. I attempted to throw my hand-made angel ornament into the fireplace, but my dad's reflexes were and still are quicker than mine. the anfel ornament was salvaged.   it doesn't hang on our yearly Christmas tree, but  instead is in a fireproof safe in our home. My parents say that if a Christmas tree ever turn our house into an inferno, they don't want the ornament destroyed with the house, It means something to them now, apparently, that it doesn't mean to me and that it didn't mean at the time my mother first  opened it -- something about a gift from the heart of a child made  a with a few cheap craft supplies in a manner that appeared haphazard having more significance than it would appear at a first glance, and the importance of a child's feelings and of showing proper appreciation for what must have been a difficult task for me. (I remember bursting into tears when I the silver poster board wings i tried to cut, no matter how careful i was, came out looking like everything but angel wings. I believe I cut four sets of poster board wings -- and cutting through poster board with hands the size of a three-year-old while using scissors barely sharp enough to easily penetrate tissue paper was no small undertaking,  before ending up with anything that was remotely close to angel wings. I finished my ornament at recess, long after the other children had moved on to other activities and assignments. Even then, the little shrew sitting next to me remarked that my finished project looked more like a witch than an angel. Mom and Dad weren't particularly impressed when my mom opened the gift,  but my mom says I'll understand more fully why they value the ornament to the degree that they do, and what it taught them about seemingly inconsequential interactions between parents children and the worth of a gift from the heart when, God willing,  I have a child or two of my own.

Relatives arrived at our house bearing gifts and Christmas dinner, which my mom and I picked at and everyone else ate. That night when my mom came upstairs to put me to bed, I clung to her as she hugged me good night. Prying my fingers off her body would have taken more strength than she possessed. She carried me (I don't know where she found the energy, even as light as I was) to her bed and lay down with me attached to her, and I slept in my parents' bed that night. Given the bombshell that I'd dropped earlier in the day, Dad wouldn't exactly have gotten any action even if my mom hadn't been fighting  leukemia.
A nasty  strain of the  flu was circulating, and my mom and I both came down with it. Each of us developed pneumonia as a complication of the flu and had to be hospitalized. My mom was there for more than two months. I was in a hospital in California for about three weeks, until I was stable enough to be air-transported to Florida, where I stayed for the next ten weeks or so with my dad's best friend, an MD, and his wife, a pediatric nurse practitioner turned stay-at-home mom, who took excellent care of me.
We're now months from the thirteenth anniversary of the bone marrow donation. It hasn't been an entirely rock-free path to get us to here from there, but my mom is thriving, with no sign of any return of the leukemia that threatened to take her life thirteen years ago, and I do not in the least miss the bone marrow that it took to keep her here.