Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Mommy: first part in what may be a tribute series unless I get tired of it

Note: I cannot post a picture of my actual mother here, so I am instead posting pictures of various TV moms I used to imagine as replacements for my own mother.

This character  might have been the perfect mother.. She played Deborah Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.. If she was wigged out about how weird Raymond Barone's family was, she would have totally gone catatonic over my father's family, and would have been so grateful that I was turning out to be nothing like them that she would practically have worshiped the ground on which I walked. whatever excess energy she had left over after complaining about my father's family would have been expended in complaining about how little my father did to help her around the house even though she was a full-time stay-at-home mom. She would have had no time to worry about me.

This TV mom, from Growing Pains was practically perfect in every way. Her only liability was that  her character was married to a shrink. Having a simple MD for a father makes life difficult enough, But a bona fide psychiatrist? No way. At that rate I might just have moved in with Dr. Jeff, AKA Chairman Mao, and his family.
This TV mom, from 7th Heaven, along with her pastor husband,  were so preoccupied with premarital sex, drugs,, and vandalism that most of the insignificant mischief into which I might have gotten would have flown under the radar.  The pastor's kid thing would not have bothered me all that much because I spent so much time in church anyway as a kid because I was a church musician. I will declare on a stack of Bibles, Books, of Mormon, Korans, Torahs, writings of L. Ron Hubbard, or whatever, that the dad on this show gave me a serious case of the willies long before the negative publicity came out.

This TV mom, from Gilmore Girls, seemed extremely cool and liberal to the extent that it often seemed as though her daughter was the one actually in charge. She came with the added benefit of no spouse, which would have equaled one fewer parent.
Sometimes . . .not often enough,
We reflect upon the good things,
And our thoughts always center around those we love.
And I think about those people
Who mean so much to me,
And for so many years have made us so very happy
And I count the times I have forgotten
To say thank you
And just how much I love you.

Those are lyrics from an old and obscure song off an equally old and obscure Carpenters' album. I didn't even know it was an actual song. I thought it was just some filler that someone at BYU had made up.  It had no meter to speak of, and the notes of the tune, if you would even call it a tune, rambled all over the place and made no sense at all, musically speaking. 

My dad completed his undergrad work at BYU, and [to make his mother happy] did a single year with their musical variety troupe, The Young Ambassadors, which was basically BYU's answer to The Grinning Americans or Up with People or one of the ubiquitous groups of smiling, singing, poorly-choreographed dancing young people who would change the world with their uplifting messages delivered through song. This was one of their songs. My dad was able to convince his mother that he could finish his undergrad work, due in part to a heavy load of high school AP courses, in three years if he dropped both the school's tennis team and The Young Ambassadors.  He was able to get by with just a one-year sentence in a zone somewhere between purgatory and hell, as he describes his time with The Young Ambassadors.

In any other family, if the song had been sung at all, it probably would have been sung with some degree of sincerity. Of course such was not the case with my family. My dad, who was the only one who actually knew all the lyrics because the rest of us made conscious effort not to learn them (I had to look them up just now to include them here) would sing them in his most faux sweet voice (dulce voce, musically speaking) when relations between one family member or another were contentious for one reason or another, which was probably about one-quarter of the time as a rough estimate. 

I'm using the lyrics to the infamous-in-my-family-though- unknown-to-the-saner-segment-of-the-world's-population  song in an almost sincere way to introduce another of my notorious series. My series are notorious for the most part only in the sense that I tend to start them and then never go past episode one or two. I'll try to do better with this one.

I've been awake for over an hour. No one else in the house has been awake, so I didn't want to disturb anyone, yet I didn't want to lie awake in bed doing nothing. I took the extra blanket off the foot of my bed and slipped across the hallway with my laptop  to Claire's old room. It's not quite the same feeling as being in Claire's room in the  house across the backyard from my old house,  where we spent so many hours and so many nights. Still, it's the same quilt covering the bed, and the same furniture. I did spend one weekend here at this house with Claire, so I spent a couple of nights in this room. 

It's not an eerie feeling. There's nothing creepy to me about being in the room of a friend I just lost. I know her parents don't mind my being in here, as they offered me the option of sleeping here when I first arrived on Thursday night. At that time I told them I'd be more comfortable sleeping in Claire's little sister Laurel's extra bed.  Now that I'm awake and the rest of the house is asleep, though, it feels right to take advantage of the extra space. i'm using the extra blanket to stay warm so I won't cause the bedding to need to be changed when I'm only going to be here a couple of hours at the most.

Claire's death, and  additionally in part, my brother's update following my surgery in which he wrote kind things about me, made me more conscious of the importance of saying the things one might say at a funeral while the person whom you are eulogizing is actually around to hear and appreciate them. Perhaps even if they're dead they hear them, but perhaps not. Some people claim to know one way or another for certain, but I'm skeptical of such claims, including the dead-and-came-back-to-life- experience memories. I'm not skeptical of life after death, nor am I totally convinced of it. I just flat out don't have any idea.

Anyway, I'm digressing. My point is that if we have something nice to say about someone, we should say it to them before it's too late. I intend to do just that.

My mom gets number one billing because she gave me life. I suspect it was with trepidation that she chose to conceive again after losing premature twins at almost 24 weeks [I think]. Then when she found out for certain that she was carrying twins again (she wasn't very surprised because she has painful ovulation and said she felt it twice in that cycle), I heard that she went into full-blown panic mode. She was on bed rest for the final month of the pregnancy.
She and the doctors were walking a tightrope in a way. My brother was ready to come out much earlier than I was. 

The OBGYN was reasonably convinced that the pregnancy was a case of superfetation, in which a woman who is already pregnant ovulates in a later month and conceives again. The doctor thought this accounted for the difference in our sizes. My mother, on the other hand, was convinced that it was not superfetation. She says she's felt it every time she's ovulated since she started ovulating at the rather late age of eighteen. She's fifty now and still ovulating, and she still feels it every time she ovulates. Many months it's multiple ovulation, but her tubes are tied, so she doesn't have to worry about twins or any other babies joining our family. My parents may be Catholic, but they're also practical.

Anyhow, the doctors wanted to try to keep the babies in utero long enough for me to have a fighting chance but not so long that it was too long for Matthew. I know that the final decision was that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and they weren't going to sacrifice the baby who was likely to be healthy for one who might make it. When we were born, Matthew was six pounds, nine ounces, and as healthy as a newborn could be. I believe his apgar scores were perfect. I was, at two pounds, two ounces, a bit bigger than had been anticipated, and had surprisingly strong lungs for my size. I breathed unassisted from the beginning. They supplemented my breathing with an oxygen tube in my nose as a precaution, but it was purely precautionary. Though I looked like an outer space creature as a six-year-old might draw it, my survival was never in doubt.

Because I looked so fragile compared to my brother, looking at me was a bit scary to my mom. I reminded her much more of her babies who didn't make it than of her healthy baby  boy. She really didn't believe that I would survive until her older sister brought and showed her a picture of her as a newborn. She, too, was a twin, and was the smaller twin. She had weighed three pounds exactly, and the picture of her in her incubator looked remarkably like I looked in my little isolette. At that point she began to believe I might survive.

It was hard for my mom to care for two babies, especially because I mostly cried all the time no matter what she did, and I didn't like to eat. She had made the decision to breastfeed Matthew because she didn't have the milk for both of us and he could latch on, when  I couldn't. She spent hours each day trying to force formula down me and keep me from throwing it up. Sometimes after she had fed, burped,  and changed me and I was still screaming, she just put me back in my crib because there seemed to be nothing she could do that would make a difference.

When my dad got home from work, he would take over, and he had a bit more success. He was the oldest of ten children and had more experience with babies than my mom had. She had nieces and nephews, but she said she never paid all that much attention to them until they were old enough to talk.

Eventually my parents found a formula that worked well enough to keep me alive at least, even though I hovered between the first and second percentiles on the growth charts.  I know it was very hard work to take care of a baby who didn't want to eat or sleep and usually cried even when she was held, but my parents didn't give up.  

My dad told me recently that they weren't exactly expecting me to have cognitive deficits, but with my low birth weight and rough start in life, it wouldn't have come as a total shock to them. So it was a surprise when I spoke very early. My parents cannot reach consensus as to how early it was. My dad says I was five month old when I made my famous first utterance: ""No SMA!" in response to my mother reaching for the canister of powdered SMA brand formula. (My parents received a lot of free samples so that they could try multiple brands to see if one brand worked better than others.) My mom says I was more like seven months. Either way, it was early by any standards for a baby to speak. 

The two  of them agree that I had my first tantrum through most of the night when a well-meaning relative gave me a sip of Coke when I was eleven-and-a-half months old. I liked it and wanted more. I screamed, "Coke!" while I alternated trying to shake the rails of my crib and kicking my little feet against the mattress and the foot-board of the crib. Both of them agree it was the longest night of their lives. My mom said she was sorely tempted to open a can of Coke and give me a sip, but she knew as an educational psychologist and as a person with at least a little bit of common sense that giving in would produce more powerful tantrums in the future, and that they needed to let me scream it out. For the record, I don't think I got my next taste of soda pop of any kind until I was at least four years old. To this day, I would live exclusively on the stuff if it were possible to do so and still remain healthy.

Staying home with babies and toddlers was not really my mother's idea of paradise, but she knew that if she wanted her children to be raised as she wanted us to be, either she or my dad needed to be at home with us, and at that point, my dad was the only one bringing in a six-figure paycheck. My mom is very smart, and at times it must have seemed mind-numbing to her to sit on the floor for hours playing with tinker toys, or duplos, or little train tracks, or various Fisher-Price Toys, but she did it anyway, and managed not to act bored as she was playing with us. She says now that she was so grateful that we survived that playing with boring toys and  pretending she was having fun was the very least she could do.  She tells us now that caring for babies and toddlers wasn't really her calling in life, but she faked it very well. She came into her area of strength somewhere around the time we hit second grade, and did well throughout the remainder of our years as minors.

My mom's siblings like to comment on how much like her I am. I think it's less true than it  was when I was very small, and that I have probably as many of my dad's quirks as hers now, but when I was little, I was apparently a virtual clone of her. Because of our similarities, we butted heads a lot when I was small, and she found my brother much easier and more pleasant to deal with. I learned to avoid her as much as possible except for the times she was playing on the floor with us. This once led to a near-tragedy.

It was the day after our third  birthday, if I remember correctly, and I was wearing a pink corduroy overall outfit that my aunt had sent me for my birthday. My mom and I had quarreled that morning because she had wanted me to save the outfit to wear later that evening to a function we were to attend. I promised her I would stay clean all day. She got tired of listening to my complaining and let me wear the new outfit. 

Later that morning, I broke a glass in the kitchen. I was terrified that she would go ballistic, so I tried to shove the pieces of glass as far into the trash can as I could get them. In doing so, I  cut my wrist and my left radial artery. Blood spattered everywhere, including on my new overalls that I had promised not to get dirty. 

I called for Matthew to help me. He grabbed a roll of paper towels to wipe my arm, but more blood kept appearing. He went into the pantry and got a six pack of paper towels, then took me into the family room and sat me on his lap on the rocker/recliner. He brought the kitchen waste basket with him.  He soaked one handful of paper towels after another and had gone through four rolls of paper towels when my mother wandered into the room and saw two bloody three-year-olds, a bloody chair, and a waste basket filled with bloody paper towels.

I still remember the sound of the scream my mother let out when she first saw us. She grabbed the cordless phone and dialed 9-1-1 as she was trying to determine the source of the blood. We were both such a bloody mess that she initially had not idea who or what body part was injured. while the ambulance was en route, she found the cut and applied direct pressure until the ambulance arrived. I don''t think I remember Matthew being in the ambulance with us, so I think a neighbor must have seen the commotion and must have cleaned him up and taken care of him.

I don't remember a lot about the hospital visit. I remember there being much difficulty in getting the IV into any of my veins because they had to use a large enough needle to deliver blood through. I don't think I fought them as they tried to insert the IV.  I was probably too weak to put up any kid of fight.  I do remember that the vein they finally accessed was a peripheral vein in my foot, and that it was an anesthesiologist who was able to successfully insert it.

I may have been sedated throughout the transfusion and stitching process; I remember none of it. I apparently received blood from my mom, my dad, and my Uncle Steve, who was attending the medical school affiliated with the hospital at which I was treated and was paged and rushed to the E.R.  We all have type A +. My mom did not weigh even close to the 110 pounds that blood banks require for donation, but when a relative's life is on the line, some rules don't apply. Still, one nurse questioned my mom's fitness to donate. My Uncle Steve told me much later that my mom screamed at the nurse, "Take my damned blood before I grab the needle and stick it in my vein myself!"

I do remember spending the night in the hospital with both of my parents that night. My Uncle Steve and his fiancee took care of Matthew. Relatives from all over the state came to visit me, all bringing presents. In my memories, the experience was far from traumatic. I doubt my mother could say the same.

When I got home, the recliner in which Matthew and I had been sitting had been replaced with a new one. I suppose it was beyond repair.  My mom threw out the clothes that Matthew and I had been wearing. A nurse suggested that the blood could probably be soaked out of my overalls if they put them in water right them. My mom said she never wanted to see either me or my brother wearing those outfits we were wearing again because it would bring flashbacks of seeing her blood-soaked toddlers.

In fairness to my mother, she might have snapped at me for having broken the glass, but she certainly would not have gone ballistic. And she absolutely would have been more concerned about a child with a severed artery than about a broken glass. It was just my three-year-old reasoning that led me to behave the way I did.

Also in fairness to my mom, she at that point had undiagnosed Graves' Disease, and her thyroid was running at about one hundred miles an hour. People who are hyperthyroid and untreated tend to be manic to some degree. In the olden days, they used to lock such people up in asylums for the insane. So most of my mother's overreactions to my behavior should probably be attributed to extreme hypothyroidism. It was soon diagnosed and treated.  

A couple of years after dealing with Graves' Disease and mild thyroid eye disease, my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. She eventually beat that, as well, in part due to a bone marrow transplant from me, which is documented here. That's documented in greater detail here.

Once my brother and I reached school age, my mother went back to work. First she was a school psychologist. Later she was a director of special education and psychological services. Then she was an assistant superintendent over areas including student welfare, social services, psychological services, special education, and specially funded programs.

The last job was too much for one person to handle. She ended up quitting when. a couple of months after the attack,  a job superior suggested to her that her job status was at risk if my family were to pursue legal action against the school district for my attack in the restroom early in my senior year. When the person made the veiled threat, she went directly to her office and typed a letter of resignation -- effective immediately -- made copies for the superintendent and all the board members, and told the job superior who had made the threat, "Alexis has two parents. I cannot unilaterally make the decision not to request compensation from the school district.  I don't know if legal action will be taken or not, but you'd best remember that I was employed here and was covered by your insurance when the accident occurred. It will serve you well to make damned sure the insurance company covers as much of the costs as possible, because whatever your insurance or my husband's doesn't cover, you will pay." Her coworkers helped her to pack her belongings, and she was out of there in less than an hour.

To me as a child, it always seemed that both my parents took the school's side on the relatively rare occasions when I had a conflict with school personnel, For the most part that was true, and it probably was as it should have been. 
on the other hand, when mean Mrs. Moore, my fifth grade teacher, went too far in being mean to me, she switched me to a different school because the principal wasn't amenable to moving me to another class. When Mr. Ryzak (not his real name, but very close) in my chemistry class complained to my parents that I was not raising my hand and answering questions in class, she listened to my side of the story, which was that the other kids picked on me if I answered every question. She suggested to him that his teaching might not be all that effective if I was the only student in the class who was able to answer his questions. 
She suggested  that he should direct a maximum of four questions to me each day so that i would not need to raise my hand, and that I would answer those questions to the best of my ability, but that his lectures did not need to be limited to a question and answer session between himself and me.

When I either ruined or saved the Christmas pageant at my parochial school by playing "American Pie" while the adults in charge cleaned one of the wise men's barf off the stage, she was not there because she was on her way back from Los Angeles for a cancer check-up.   When she heard about the nun who was the principal making me write out pages of "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" for my role in the debacle, and of my aunt's response of starting a phone tree that resulted in the nun principal being transferred to some convent in Nowheresville, Arizona, she laughed hysterically.

Every night that I've spent in a hospital, either she, my dad, or an aunt or uncle has been there with me. I've spent lots of nights in hospitals, so that's many nights she has attempted to sleep in uncomfortable recliners.

My mom is now an associate professor of music at a University of California campus. She teaches piano, voice, and Theory I and II. It pays far more and is a much less demanding job than her previous one. She's more suited to her present job  as well. My mom is too talented a person for her time to be wasted arguing with parents whose combined incomes exceed two-hundred-thousand dollars over whether or not their four-year-old non-potty-trained, non-autistic, non-intellectually deficient, non-medically fragile or otherwise diagnosed child should have baby wipes provided by the taxpayers while said child attends district-provided preschool. The diapers, which are practically Depends at the kid's age and size, are already being paid for by the district. seriously, if Pampers and Huggies and Luvs cater to the current population of parents who are waiting longer and longer to potty train their children and with children being fatter on average, whoever makes Depends and other adult diapers will be in serious trouble, because I think the kiddy products -- even in the larger sizes -- are cheaper. Why pay more for Depends or Tena when Huggies fit you just as well if not better? (Those stupid Tena twist commercials alone are sufficient reason not to buy Tena products.)

My mother has had a good life, but not by any means an easy one. She lost her own mother to lung cancer when she was fifteen. She lost premature twins. She fought Graves' Disease and leukemia (more than fourteen years cancer-free!). She continues to struggle with kidney stones. Still, she's managed to be present for my brother and me the times we've most needed her. I used to watch various TV shows and try to decide which TV mom I would choose to replace my mother. I now realize that my own mother is worth more than a hundred Maggie Seavers, Lorelai Gilmores, Annie Camdens, Elyse Keatons, Deborah Barones (though my mom bears a bit of a physical resemblance to Patricia Heaton), or even Marilyn Milians. God, in His or Her infinite wisdom, knew what He or She was doing when I was sent to my mom.

1 comment:

  1. That Carpenters song is very pretty. I believe it was inspired by a letter written Felice Mancini, daughter of Henry Mancini. Felice Mancini is now herself a well-regarded musician. I see on YouTube Julie Andrews also sang it. I prefer Karen Carpenter's reading.

    Your mother sounds like an amazing woman, Alexis. I love my mom, but she was really not into motherhood. She makes a better friend than mom.

    I think I'd go nuts if Annie Camden were my mother. I don't know if the people on 7th Heaven meant it to happen, but she came off as a bit batshit crazy.