Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Curse of the Mothers

When I was about sixteen years old, my mother expressed her earnest desire that, someday, I would have a daughter just like me. I wish I could say that her statement was a well-wishing of sorts; that I was a model child and the greatest possible blessing my mother could bestow upon me was her hope that I, too, would someday parent such a virtuous daughter.

Sadly, the truth is that I was a rebellious, defiant teen with a vulgar mouth and a temper that erupted like buckshot, peppering and wounding anyone within projectile distance. When my mother said, “I hope you have a daughter just like you, someday,” it wasn’t a good thing.

It was the Curse.

The Curse has plagued my maternal family tree for generations, and the catalyst for its invocation seems, routinely, to be a matriarch finally reaching the end of her proverbial rope. Muttered in quiet moments of desperation or shouted in a fiery rage, the Curse is utterly irrevocable and completely effective.

My great-grandmother took no chances when it came to spiritual warfare. She refused to allow even a deck of playing cards into her home, as cards of any type are, clearly, instruments of the devil. (An insanely ironic but fun fact about my great-grandmother is that she was known to read tea leaves, and by all accounts, was quite accurate. Let’s review: Divination is bad, unless it takes the form of reading tea leaves.) Devout Christian that she was, my great-grandmother sought to raise my grandmother with the purest of hearts and to keep her safe from the ever-present devil that, to this day, lurks behind every tree and around every corner.
Had my great-grandmother not been so stubborn, she would have literally died of horror when my teenaged grandmother asked permission to go to the community social. After all, there was to be dancing, and Lord knows – the devil loves to dance. Confident that her sweet, properly-raised daughter would make the decent and Godly decision, Great-Grandma said, “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t go, but I want you to know that if the good Lord comes back to Earth while you’re in there dancing, He’s not going to come in after you!”

My grandmother danced not only that night, but many more besides. She eventually went on to win the local “Charleston” competition three years in a row – because she could perform the entire dance on her toes! No one is certain of the precise moment Great-Grandma uttered the Curse, but it is largely accepted that the breaking point may have been a photo and newspaper article about the local “dancing girl” star.
Grandma, having narrowly escaped the fires of hell, grew to raise three daughters herself. My mother, a teenager in the heyday of the micro-mini, fulfilled the prophecy of the Curse by challenging her mother’s hemline requisites and—hold on to your pillbox hat, Grandma—riding around on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle. The Curse was handed down in short order, as you can imagine.

And then, there was me, by far the worst of them all. I was a sullen, brooding teen who cursed like a trucker, snuck out to get drunk and smoke pot with boys and insisted on sending my allowance to Greenpeace. I got in trouble for stealing a school vehicle (it really was just a misunderstanding) and elevated mother-daughter conflict to new heights.

One night, I came home puking-drunk (Lord help me, it was actually Mad Dog). As my mom held my hair back, she unleashed the condemnation of the Curse, willing that I, too, should have a daughter so reckless. I deserved such a fate, after all I put my mother through.

As luck would have it, my body decided, after the birth of my son, that it would not tolerate any more childbearing. I’d done it! After generations, I’d beat the curse! There would be no “daughter just like you” for me, because I wouldn’t have a daughter at all!

It’s a long story, but today, I have five daughters… The Curse lives on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stirring the Great American Melting Pot

It’s no secret that my family is politically active. I fully admit to schlepping my seven children into the offices of legislators – each started lobbying before potty-training. I confess to offering up my offspring to march in parades and doorbell for candidates. To date, my kids have perhaps worked on more political campaigns than James Carville.

It was nothing out of the ordinary, then, when I carted my seven little activists to the state Capitol for an afternoon of meeting with Representatives and Senators last week to lobby for affordable housing. The Capitol is, and always has been, a place of education and empowerment. It is during Legislative Hill Day at our state Capitol and our annual trip to Washington, D.C. that my children have learned how government works and the power of our voices, as citizens.

This particular Hill Day provided a unique teaching opportunity.

A scattered crowd of men and women walked up and down the sidewalks, toting signs proclaiming their respective beliefs. I delighted in the opportunity to use the act of demonstration to educate my protégés on the benefits of democracy. “Look, children! A group of people have gathered at the Capitol to exercise their First Amendment rights!” I exclaimed, as my husband and I led our brood toward the Legislative Building. “Do you know why they can do that? Because we live in the Great Melting Pot of America! Everyone is different, and has different views. Our country promises us the right to say what we want, without fear of persecution from the government, even if we don’t agree!”

My lesson was cut short by a loud altercation brewing on the other side of the roundabout we were approaching. A large man was exercising his First Amendment rights by shouting obscenities at a small group of frightened-looking female demonstrators. When the man started calling the women vulgar names, they tried to walk away, but he followed them, verbally berating them the entire time.

“I’ll be right back,” my husband said, and started to walk toward the commotion. Oh, no, I thought. Here we go. My beloved suffers from a “knight in shining armor” complex. He’s the first to rush to a damsel’s aid – sometimes even before realizing she isn’t really in distress. The children and I waited for several minutes, watching the rescue effort. The women safely dispersed, but my husband continued his exchange with the man. When the complaints about the cold began flowing and the restless toddlers began crying, I left our eighteen year-old daughter in charge and walked across the roundabout to fetch my wayward man.

The large man’s face was tightly screwed into an ugly countenance of hatred as my husband gently but firmly said, “You have a right to your opinion, just like everyone else. It’s one of the benefits of living in this country. I’m just saying that you stand a better chance of people listening to you if you are respectful. You weren’t being respectful to those women.” Well done, Sweetie. Now let’s go. I tugged slightly on his hand. I didn’t even care what the two had been talking about. I just wanted to leave.

Suddenly, the ugly-faced man exploded with rage. “You’re an idiot! A complete moron!” he shouted at my husband, stepping aggressively toward us. “Anyone who believes the Bible is… is…” He was nose-to-nose with my husband; spit flying from his mouth like a rabid jackal.

The Bible? That’s what you two were talking about? Well, he’s entitled to free speech, just like everyone else...

“… is a complete idiot!”

Instantly, my perspective on free speech changed. Certainly, the jackal had a right to express any feelings he might have about the Bible, but who did he think he was, insulting my husband, who had expressed nothing but respectful sincerity? Suddenly, I remembered that free speech applied to me! I had a right to put the maggot in his place. My mama bear was poised, ready to lope into the verbal fray…

… but my inner evangel was faster. “Actually,” I said, coolly, “anyone who doesn’t believe the Bible is going to hell.” There. I said it. We can go now. I turned to leave, still holding on to my husband’s hand. Across the roundabout, I saw relief on my kids’ faces that we were finally on our way back.

Our return path was blocked by the jackal, who had one more thing to say.

“You’re a (fornicating female dog)!” (his words were a might more colorful, but I’m editing, on the chance that my pastor or grandmother is reading) he screamed in my face. I took two quick steps backward to put some distance between me and the spittle-spraying lunatic, and chanced a look at my kids.

Our eighteen year-old had one toddler on her hip, and our twelve year-old had the other toddler on hers. All seven kids were watching. What would I be teaching my children about an individual’s right to demonstrate and speak if I tore the jackal apart? If there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I refuse to back down in an argument. My brain and my mouth become short-circuited, and the faulty current prevents my brain from shutting my mouth the hell up.

“Hey, you (fornicating female dog), do you even know anything about translations? Do you know how much of the so-called ‘Bible’ has been lost through translation?” He just wouldn’t quit. At once, I knew I was going to go off, mercilessly, on the ignorant bastard.

It’s true… the Bible’s been translated over and over again; along the way, it’s been “dumbed down” and made easier to read. About six more translations and even YOU might be able to read it, Jackass. “(Fornicating female dog)?” Is that your entire, intelligent, argument? Let’s sit down and compare IQ scores. Mine’s Mensa-caliber. Did you photocopy your hate literature on the job—the job that the Society for Jackass Employment helped you get? Nice Velcro® sneakers… couldn’t figure out that “loop and swoop” thing?

If my mouth opened, I wouldn’t be able to stop. A small part of me was scared of losing control, but the larger, louder, tougher part of me looked forward to getting the last word – and I knew, without a doubt, that I would.

Fortunately, my knight in shining armor came to my rescue. Stepping close so that he was chest-to-chest with the Bible basher, my husband quietly cautioned him to wisely choose his words when talking to a lady (“You can’t talk to my wife like that.”), and gave him some health advice and tips on longevity (“If you do it again, I’ll kill you.”) which must have made an impression, because the man began walking away.

I still hadn’t had my “last word,” though. Before I could stop myself, I turned back and shouted at the retreating loser, “Don’t you love free speech? GOD bless America!” My husband yanked, hard, on my hand, dragging me quickly away.

And that, children, is called “stirring the pot.” That concludes today’s lesson on the First Amendment.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Step-Wives: The Good, the Bad, and the Butt-Ugly

Step-Wives. Lynne Oxhorn-Ringwood and Louise Oxhorn coined the term in their book by the same name in 2002 to define the ex-wife and current wife of the same man; the mother and step-mother of the same children.

I count my blessings or curse the stars - depending on the day - that I have not one, but two step-wives. Of the three of us, one is good, one is bad, and one is, well... butt-ugly.

When Heidi made her entrance, it was not as a step-wife, but what I termed my "shack-in-law." That is, she shacked up with my then-husband, Rick. As scandalous as that sounds, I should make it clear that Rick and I had been separated for years but were not divorced, due to a lengthy custody battle over our son, Leif. To further complicate matters, my shack-in-law was pregnant with my husband's baby, and had two other kids of her own. Jerry Springer, here we come!

Leif returned home after a visit with his father, referring to Heidi as "my other mom." Livid hardly begins to express what I felt at hearing my son use MY given title in reference to some little trollop who got herself knocked up with my husband's baby. No, "livid" wasn't the word... and I found many other, more colorful words to convey my feelings the next time I saw Heidi.

"Well, when Rick and I get married, I will be his mom or, at least, his stepmom," she said.

"You two are getting married? That explains a lot about why he won't sign off on our divorce... I wouldn't divorce me, either, if I had to marry you!" I shouted. Yeah. I actually said that. Then, I did what any smart girl would do after a comment like that - I ducked. Just in time, too. She's got a mean hook.

Believe it or not, Heidi is the Good Step-Wife.

The past eight years have allowed both of us (mostly me) to mature and focus on what's really important - Leif. Heidi and I speak regularly about Leif's schoolwork, courses of discipline and social calendar. It's not unusual for us to work out solutions together before discussing them with our common husband.

When Heidi and Rick did get married, their collective kids stayed the night at my house so that their parents could enjoy their wedding night, sans children. My kids stay the night (or week) at Rick and Heidi's when I go out of town. Our families barbeque together. We go to family reunions. Our relationship is so functional; it boggles the minds of divorced people worldwide.

Did I mention that while Heidi was shacking up with my ex-husband, I was shacking up with my now-husband? Ah, yes... I'd found my Mr. Wright, and he came with accessories - four of them. When I met Greg, he was a single dad with custody of his four kids. He was light-years ahead of me on the divorce train; he had a parenting plan, for Pete's sake!

I made an effort to play nice with the children's mother. Really, I did. When she told the kids that the reason I worked nights and paid for things with small bills was that I was a stripper (Hello? I was a waitress!), I chose to take the high ground and be flattered that she thought I had the body for it. After all, it must be tough on a gal for her ex-husband to find a younger, thinner woman to raise the children she gave birth to. Gosh, did I just say that in my outside voice?

Guess which step-wife Greg's ex is.

I won't keep you in suspense. I'm the Butt-Ugly one. Know how I know? Greg's ex told me, as in, "If I were as butt-ugly as you, I'd have to get cosmetic surgery so I could look in the mirror."

Naturally, I followed that schoolyard remark up with a much more mature one: "Shut up, trailer trash. You are so... ghetto!"

Yeah, I actually said that. Suffice it to say, that remark resulted in me being labeled a racist, since "ghetto" refers to the inner-city plight of, largely, the African-American population. Of course, Greg's ex didn't want her children living with a racist, and she told him so.

The whole situation was blown way out of proportion, and the defiant, hurt part of me wanted to fall back on Sarah Silverman's declaration: "I don't care if you think I'm a racist... as long as you think I'm thin." The truth is, though, I did care. I am an empathetic and compassionate person. I feed the homeless. I love everyone. Well, at least, I try to.

Why can't I love her? Oh, wait a second... I'm receiving a text message... "You are a lying, crazy b****!" Oh. That's why I can't love her...

Perhaps it's simply that she is so openly hostile toward me, as if it's my fault she got the short end of the divorce-and-custody stick. I didn't even know Greg when all that went down... how could it be my fault? Or maybe it's that she punishes her children for showing any affection toward me. I hate when people mess with my kids' heads.

I remember how I felt the first time I heard Leif call Heidi "Mom." It hit me, hard, in the chest and knocked the wind out me like that misjudged line drive that ended my junior high shortstop career. I've never been so jealous in my life; not over status, not over money, not even over a man. During that long-ago yelling match with Heidi, she asked me, "Why do you have such a problem with someone loving your son? If there's one thing kids need, it's all the love they can get. Does it really change your role as a mother to him if I become one, too?"

Though it took me years to not feel threatened by the love that my son and Heidi share, I am now grateful for it. Leif has not one, but two moms who love him to the ends of the world and would do anything for him. He's a pretty lucky kid. During the rocky in-between years, Heidi extended no small amount of grace to me when I felt possessive, jealous and bitter.

I know a Bad Step-Wife who could learn a lot from her.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Education Limbo: How Low Can You Go?

Am I the only one who has an agonizing physical reaction to reading poor grammar, misspellings and random punctuation in the literature that our schools produce? It starts with a sharp, stabbing pain behind my left eyeball and leads to fits of screaming, accompanied by an unavoidable urge to throw things.

The “dumbing down of America” is a reality, and I blame the educational system.

Our school district’s newsletter arrived in the mail last December and, as always, started with our superintendent’s report: “The holiday’s allow us to spend time with our family and friends… Students have been involved in food drives… giving tree, and various other projects…” Holiday’s? Is that possessive? If so, what belongs to the holiday? Is it a contraction? Did he mean to say the holiday is allow us? And what does he mean by our family and friends? Is there only one family among “us?”

What about giving tree, as opposed to the Giving Tree Project? Is it some new oral sex technique I am not familiar with? Pretty soon, teenage boys across the country will be rating girls based on rumors like, “I hear she’s great at giving tree.”

A few weeks ago I read a story that contained this sentence: “Little did he know what was in store on that faithful day.” I’ve never thought to describe a day as faithful. In fact, I’ve had plenty of days that made me feel every bit a woman scorned. I suppose the writer could have capitalized the phrase and fooled me into thinking Faithful Day was a new national holiday, petitioned by James Dobson. Naturally, the new holiday, in the interest of equality (and by ACLU petition), would have to be balanced by observance of Unfaithful Day. Imagine your best girlfriend cheerily reporting, “I knew he wanted to do the dirty with his secretary, but he waited until Unfaithful Day. I am so lucky! He’s so romantic!”

When my son began elementary school, he did so a year early and with test results that placed his vocabulary on par with an eighth-grader. I wasn’t an alpha mother who sent her kid to a Mensa-approved nursery school. The truth is, as a single mother, I didn’t have anyone else to talk to; so my son became the full-time recipient of my nonstop babbling. He picked up new words and ideas with ease, and I always encouraged him to use proper grammar.

At the point that writing was introduced in his classroom, I dutifully helped him with homework and showed him how to use a dictionary to look up words he found difficult to spell. Little did I know that I was at odds with a classroom instruction technique that would give me heartburn for years to come.

During a parent-teacher conference, my son proudly showed me a story he wrote. I read it with great interest, praising him for his creativity and use of vivid words. When I spotted a misspelled word, I said, “Oops! Can you think of another way to spell that word?” just like at home. The look that my son’s teacher gave me is exactly the one I would expect if I had said, “Hey! Let’s go home and skin your kitten alive!”

“We encourage creative spelling,” the teacher informed me. “There is a lot of good ways for children to learn to spell, and creative spelling is one of them. It helps them to learn phonics.” Really? I wanted to ask. IS there a lot of good ways? Are you encouraging the “creative” use of the English language by refusing to properly identify plurals when you speak? There ARE a lot of a good WAYS, you ninny!

Of course, I didn’t say that. Instead, I smiled stiffly, said, “Of course,” and resigned myself to the fact that spelling and grammar must be taught at home, like butt wiping.

I freely admit that the spell-check feature of my word processor has saved me on many occasions. Thank you, Microsoft. The only catch for users is that they have to use it in order for it to be effective. Our preschooler’s holiday program boasted a song titled “I Want a Hippoptamus for Christmas.” What, exactly, is a hippoptamus? Maybe I want one for Christmas, too, and I just don’t know it yet.

Of course, spell-check won’t catch correctly spelled, but incorrectly used, words. The program instructed audience members to join in the singing of “Hark! The Harold Angels Sings.” Who are the Harold Angels? Are they crime-fighting, feathered-hair vixens played onscreen by Hollywood darlings? Or, should I ask, who is the Harold Angels, since he or she sings? Certainly, if the Harold Angels were plural, they wouldn’t sings.

I thought maybe the preschoolers actually crafted the program, until I read the production crew notes on the back, where I learned that the program author was Mrs. So-and-so, one of the most highly respected teachers on staff. My husband had to nudge me when our daughter walked onto the stage, because I had my pen out, editing the offensive program. I can’t help it. It’s a reflex.

The movie Idiocracy (starring Luke Wilson) parodied the rapid generational decline of intelligence until the population was so stupid that no one could fathom even the most basic societal functions, like growing food and managing trash. The movie was, in my opinion, not even that entertaining, but it did trigger a steadily growing alarm in my brain. When are our children going to be taught the difference between “lay” and “lie?” When will they learn to spell correctly? When will grown adults stop writing “it’s” (it is) when they mean “its” (possessive)? When? When? When?

Our educational system is an example of a good idea taken too far. What started as an across-the-board effort to encourage children who struggled has now become a credo: We can’t correct our students. It would make them feel bad. As a result, many teachers have adopted relaxed grading systems. Some give fewer tests, and others assign less homework.

One of our sons actually had a sixth-grade teacher who defended his “progressive” choice to assign absolutely no homework by explaining that it was unfair to students whose parents were not invested in the educational process and therefore would be less likely to lend assistance with any homework assigned. The effect of the homework-free year was undeniable when we moved to another school district and our son started middle school. His grades were abysmal, and he struggled with any sort of structured homework routine. Hooray for progressive education.

When will educated people stop addressing holiday envelopes to “The Wright’s?” Our WHAT? I don’t even read the cards inside. I make my husband do it. My theory is that the overuse of apostrophes will be corrected in the next generation, since today’s youth compose more text messages than term papers, and I don’t know many who actually waste the thumb energy to hit the apostrophe key. Maybe even the correct uses of apostrophes will disappear, and contractions and possessives will just run together and become accepted.

When popular culture takes over the written form of the English language, words like “henceforth” and “forthwith” will become obsolete (or at least become “henc4th” and “4thwth”), and attorneys will become unnecessary. No one will need to go to law school, so academic competition and ambition will decrease. Universities and colleges will respond to the waning interest by relaxing course requirements. Entrance standards will have to be lowered, of course, because demanding an excellent high school transcript will seem a little silly, considering that higher education will no longer be teaching any stringent courses. High school students will stop working toward honors because they will no longer need them to get into college, and the high schools will respond by…

It’s not a pretty picture.

Thirty years from now, there will still be a few holdouts – serious eggheads who love the English language too much to desecrate it – but they will be regarded as freaks who may as well be ordering a Big Mac in Shakespearean English. I will be the only one who still writes out “Christina-Marie Wright,” because everyone else will have shortened my name to “crstnamrie rit.” There will be no more capital letters, no hyphens, and very few vowels. Silent letters will be recognized for the waste that they are and eradicated.

get redy 4 the rvolushun.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Epilepsy Meds: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore!

I’d been dreading Curlytop’s visit with her developmental specialist. There were many issues to discuss, but one topped the list of importance: whether or not to give her medication for her absence seizures.

In preparation for the appointment, I read the Johns Hopkins book, Seizures and Epilepsy in Childhood: A Guide, which introduced me to an entirely new level of parental horror. Did the “café au lait” mark on Curlytop’s leg signify the presence of a genetic disorder that, even as I read, was planting tumors in her little brain? Every page seemed worse than the previous, but I couldn’t stop reading.

That was before I even got to the chapter on anti-seizure medications. If you are a person who thinks epilepsy is scary, let me assure you that the condition is unicorns and rainbows compared to the medications that treat it. Watching someone have a seizure is frightening, but so is giving your child a medication that can destroy her liver or damage her bone marrow. How about dosing your child with a substance that will cause “gum overgrowth” that must be cut back by the dentist? Or drugging your child with a chemical that can distort her facial features and cause extensive body hair?

Thankfully, it wasn’t that drug that our specialist was considering. It was a different drug; one that is milder, but known to make kids “dull,” “drugged” and “drowsy.” Many children taking this particular drug experience difficulty in school and have a tough time focusing. Considering that Curlytop is already struggling with developmental delays, I became paralyzed with uncertainty every time I tried to decide whether to try medication for her seizures or not. I simply couldn’t make a decision, afraid to make the wrong one.

We’ve had two neurologists and one specialist in developmental issues tell us that Curlytop is most likely experiencing absence seizures (also known as petit mal seizures). I say “most likely” because she’s had three normal EEGs. The EEG results don’t rule out epilepsy; they just mean she didn’t have a seizure during the test.

At times, I doubted my maternal instincts. Maybe they aren’t seizures, I reasoned. Just because she zones out for a few seconds every few hours doesn’t mean she has epilepsy. Ironically, the first random page I turned to in the Hopkins book was headed, “Is It Daydreaming or a Seizure?” The following paragraphs gave helpful tips on telling the difference: daydreaming typically occurs when the child is bored or tired, whereas seizures can interrupt a conversation or even mealtime; a daydreaming child can usually be “brought back” by calling her name or a touch, whereas a child having a seizure cannot.

I discussed with every person Curlytop spent time with what absence seizures look like. I asked them to log any “spells,” and to include the time of day, how long it lasted, and what she was doing at the time. The babysitters logged spells from three to thirty seconds, during mealtimes and playtime. One of her therapists noted a spell which lasted about forty-five seconds during a gross motor skill exercise that involved throwing and catching a ball. I personally logged spells during bathtime, “tickle” time and other rowdy activities. I developed a test for determining whether each spell was daydreaming or a seizure. I’d say her name. If she didn’t answer, I’d touch her face, near her eye. If she didn’t flinch or blink, I’d log it as a seizure.

When I turned my logs in to Curlytop’s neurologists, they wanted to start her on medication right away. Since no one had “caught” her having a seizure during an EEG, the official diagnosis remained “probable absence seizures,” but our specialists recommended trying anti-seizure meds “to see what happens.” The theory was that if she took the meds and had fewer spells, she had epilepsy; if not, she had something else wrong with her.

“But what will these drugs do to her if she doesn’t have epilepsy?” I asked. The answer wasn’t terribly reassuring: She wouldn’t experience any side effects that epileptic kids wouldn’t. “But have you SEEN the list of side effects?!” I asked for some time to consider the option.

Then I stalled.

I waited as long as I could. I expertly pushed the follow-up appointments out and dodged questions from social workers while wondering if my failure to give Curlytop a medically-recommended dose of poison could be determined grounds to stop the adoption process. What kind of mother is she? She’s withholding medical treatment from the child in her care! Call the emergency shelter care home… we’re going to pick the kid up and get her appropriate medical care.

“Curlytop’s seizures aren’t the big, scary kind,” I explained in defense of not medicating. “She’s just sort of… gone… for a few seconds. I mean, she’s three years old. She isn’t swimming alone, or crossing the street alone, or driving a car… And there’s a good chance she will grow out of them,” I reasoned. “I think we should wait.”

The doctors and social workers agreed, for a time, and I relaxed, confident I was making the right decision. Then our developmental specialist explained that seizures, even absence seizures, are very disorienting. The person who has the seizure often requires a period of readjustment to figure out where they are, what they are doing, and what’s going on. This period of readjustment, he explained, could be affecting her ability to learn and, in fact, could be the very root of her developmental delays.

I’ve had one documented seizure in my life. I was twenty-three years old, and I was having a glass of wine with my boss in the lounge of the restaurant in which we worked. He was talking to me about being a father, and I was politely listening, but his voice was sounding farther and farther away. “Pete,” I said, “Something’s wrong. I can’t feel my hands or feet and everything sounds really distant.”

Then, according to witnesses, my head fell forward and I had a large, scary seizure of some sort. Pete caught my head before it hit the bar and somehow I got moved from my barstool to the floor, but I have no idea how any of that happened.

When I regained consciousness, a woman was screaming in my face. “Hello? HELLO! Are you okay? I’m an EMT. Do you know where you are?” I didn’t know. My co-workers were gathered around me, but I didn’t recognize any of them. I’d peed all over myself and I felt so hot, I started taking my clothes off. Bit by bit, my surroundings came into focus and everyone was insisting I needed to go the emergency room. Did I want them to call an ambulance? No. I wanted them to call my boyfriend. He was out of town, someone reminded me. I told them to call my ex-husband instead.

In the hospital, I was subjected to a whole lot of questions and tests that revealed very little information. Epilepsy couldn’t be ruled out (Would I lose my driver’s license? Was there a chance my son could have inherited it from me?), but it was more likely that I had a convulsive syncope, or “fainting seizure.” While not terribly common, some people do experience convulsive seizures when they lose consciousness. These seizures are not considered particularly dangerous, and they are not considered epilepsy, since they are only likely to recur when and if the subject faints.

While my seizure was not caused by epilepsy, I clearly recalled the experience of disorientation and fear that accompanied it. What if Curlytop is going through that experience ten or fifty or a hundred times a day? It’s no wonder she isn’t learning… If her seizures were the absence variety, she shouldn’t have any confusion, just gaps in memory and consciousness. However, if her seizures were complex partial seizures, which also involve staring, the confusion factor would be incredible.

Still, I struggled with the decision. To medicate, or not to medicate? That was the question, and it was a big one. If medication could alleviate Curlytop’s learning delays, who was I to deprive her of the opportunity to grow and develop, without additional challenges? Still, I couldn’t get past the irony that the answer to her developmental delays could rest in a medication that was known to cause learning problems in otherwise “normal” children.

Finally, I relented. At the next appointment, I decided, I would agree to medicate Curlytop. The appointment was two months away, and I would carefully track her seizures, as well as her learning progress, so we would have a baseline for comparison of any side effects or changes.

Then, the most amazing things happened. Suddenly, Curlytop’s developmental progress increased so dramatically and so quickly that it we couldn’t keep up with her. Her noticeable seizures went from several per day to hardly ever. By the time our most recent appointment arrived, I had virtually no seizure logs to show our specialist.
“Hmm… it’s possible she’s outgrowing the seizures. Let’s not medicate, and see what happens,” he said.

Isn’t that what I was saying all along? Always trust a mother’s intuition.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How the Phone Thwarted My Birth Control (Or... Why Disconnecting the Phone is 95% More Effective Than Vasectomy)

“What are you doing for birth control these days?” Our family doctor was going through his checklist of routine questions at my last exam.

While I found it amazing that he didn’t have a record of my answer for the prior three years, I obliged him with a fully informative reply. “Well, we were using vasectomy, and that was pretty effective for a while, but now I think I’ll have to get my phone disconnected if I am going to prevent any more unplanned children.”

My doctor, bless his heart, offered his well-thought medical response to my report. “Huh?”

I should make clear at this point that I am the mother of seven children. Though some assume that my jumbo-sized clan is perhaps proof that my husband and I need a different form of recreational exercise, I got off easy (no pun intended) – I only had to give birth one time.

Had that single birth resulted in seven little precious souls, I wouldn’t be writing this piece now. I’d have my own reality show. It would have the chaos of Jon and Kate Plus Eight and the substance abuse of Intervention. Luckily for me, I was spared the fame and notoriety. Being chronically broke builds character in a way that celebrity just can’t.

After thirty-seven hours of labor and nearly three more of just pushing, my son was born. I swore to my first husband that I would never go through that again and, true to my word, I never did. I was happy to parent my boy as an only child. After all, when you only have one kid, you are the perfect parent. You relate closely to your child, one-on-one. You carefully explain everything. When my son was a toddler, I gently corrected him… “We don’t run in the house, sweetheart, because we could trip and fall and gash our heads open on the sharp edge of the coffee table. We’d have to go to the hospital and get stitches. No one likes that, do they?”

Fast-forward five years. Five children are whizzing by me at speeds bordering on breaking the sound barrier. “We don’t run in the house, darlings, because…” Zoom! Slam! “… because we could trip and fall and…” Whoosh! Crash! “DAMN IT, STOP THAT RUUUNNNNING!”

It wasn’t that my parenting philosophy changed. What changed was the fact that I went from having one child and being the perfect parent, to having five children and fighting for my sanity. It started with a phone call.

My first marriage fell apart as only young marriages can. I think we both woke up one day and finally decided what we wanted to be when we grew up, and found that we wanted very different things. Meanwhile, Mr. Wright was producing four children with a woman who would one day wake up and decide that what she wanted to be when she grew up was to be a carefree single gal without the pesky encumbrance of raising kids .

Our divorces happened at about the same time. Mine turned into one of the most complex custody battles in the state at the time. Believe me when I tell you it was horrific, and included such glamorous highlights as contemplating smuggling my child over county lines to circumvent an ambiguous court order. By comparison, Mr. Wright’s custody battle was simple – his wife “punished” him by leaving him with four kids.

In the end, Mr. Wright and I both ended up with primary custody of our respective children. We existed separately as relatively content, if not capable, single parents. When we met, I was ready for a fling that would fit into my non-custodial hours. Why not? He told me he had four children; I called him a liar and kissed him.

He lived three hours away. It was the perfect relationship. He’d visit me when neither of us had kids at home, and he wasn’t around to bug me all the time, you know? He wasn’t around to mess with my relationship with my son. He wasn’t around to interfere with my job as a restaurant staff manager. Time with Mr. Wright served as my reward for being a devoted mommy and manager. When I was with him, I could relax and have fun.

That perfect relationship lasted exactly two months.

Eight weeks after we met, an arsonist burned down my restaurant. Two days after that, my roommate, another single mother, told me she was moving out of our shared six-bedroom house to live with her boyfriend. Since she had three children versus my one, she paid two-thirds of the household expenses. I quickly calculated that, with no job and no income, I could not afford to stay in the house.

Just like that – in one week – I became unemployed and homeless. Mr. Wright called one low night while I was doing the dishes. I cried and sobbed through my story. When I finished, he said, “You could always move in with me, you know.” I laughed at his little joke and felt a little better. Things would work out. Certainly, I would find another roommate and gainful employment.

Three weeks later, after an exhaustive job/roommate search, I packed everything I could into my Ford Probe, squeezed my son into the front seat, and drove to Mr. Wright’s house. When he opened the door, I said, “I hope you were serious…”

Fast-forward four years. Mr. Wright and his beautiful, talented wife (that’s me!) were minding their own business, raising their five high-spirited children, when the phone rang. The caller was the State of Washington. Well, it was one of their social workers, anyway. She informed us that our nephew’s daughter had been placed in foster care and asked if maybe we, as family members, could step in and take care of the seven-month girl for a little while, “just until the parents get on their feet.”

Of course, we would. Who wouldn’t take care of a baby that belongs to the family? Who wouldn’t step up to help for a little while? We sailed through the background checks and home studies and welcomed our little great-niece into our home.

We quickly caught on to the fact that no one with any understanding of the case actually thought that the parents would ever “get on their feet.” Almost immediately after we walked through the door with the infant, the social worker called to ask us if we would consider adoption.

While we were still “considering” adoption six months later, the phone rang. It was the State of Washington again, asking us if we could possibly make a trip to pick up our other great-niece, who just made her world debut at a delivery room one hundred fifty miles away. After all, the new baby had the same biological parents as the child we were already caring for, and it just made sense to place them together. We wouldn’t want to separate siblings, would we?

Of course, we wouldn’t. And we didn’t. Instead, we became parents of seven children, and resigned ourselves to eternally hearing the standard question: Are you Mormon, or Catholic? We always tell the inquirer that we’re sexy Pentecostals.

It was a phone call that promoted me from mother of one to mother of five wonderful children. Another phone call brought me my sweet curly-haired girl, and yet another gave me my big-eyed baby.

Maybe I’ll keep my phone, after all. Just until I “get on my feet.”

This piece was not only read by the author at the recent debut of Motherhood: From Egg to Zine (and everything in between), but is also featured in the current issue of Gonzo Parenting. Purchase your copy online at GonzoParentingZine.com!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

People for the Ethical Treatment of Riflemen

We should have known better. Our families and friends warned us. “A mixed marriage?” they worried. “Are you sure? What about the children?”

To some extent, they were right. It’s not easy to raise children in a home with parents of mixed backgrounds. It’s a tough, bitter truth that I chose to deny when wedding Mr. Wright.

I hear that it’s tough for couples of different races, too, but that’s their story to tell, not mine.

My story is about the radically different couple who chose to wed, blend their children into a frothy marriage margarita, and become perhaps the only family in America to be card-carrying members of both PETA and the NRA.

It’s an old story, I suppose (stop me if you’ve heard this one)… Liberal vegan girl, single mother of vegetarian son, meets conservative hunter guy, single father of four little barbarian omnivorous children who cut their teeth on wild boar marrow.

Ah, sweet destiny!

In my defense, I didn’t know Mr. Wright was a hunter when I fell in love with him. I just knew he was damned cute. When he invited me to his uncle’s cabin, conveniently located at the end of the known universe, I thought he wanted to show me off to his family. Flattering, right?

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up to the Washington equivalent of the Randy Weaver compound. Good old Uncle Wright and his family raised their own food, drilled their own water, had stockpiles of arms and ammunition, and, I suspected, a bomb shelter stocked to the rafters with Auntie’s canned preserves. No neighbors within forty or so miles.

A shining example of the Second and Fourth Amendments in action.

Mr. Wright Puppy (the story behind the name comes later – I use it now to differentiate him from Uncle Wright, because it is particularly important for this sentence) and I spent the night cuddled together on the couch, small and compact, as only the newly in love can be.

In the morning, he was gone. I tried to make small talk with Auntie, who informed me that the boys had gone “over the ridge” to see if they could spot a herd of deer that Unc had been tracking. How sweet, I thought. Out communing with nature, surveying the local wildlife. An animal lover!

The rumble of a truck and a cloud of dust alerted me to the return of my beloved, and I peered out the window to drink in his beautiful, rugged… blood-smeared body as he… hauled an enormous dead deer out of the back of the rig… with a… what was that? A knife?!

As a young waitress, I served plenty of steaks, but I never actually saw the process that brought the sacrificial animal to the plate. Now, here it was, in all its sweaty, bloody glory – and my sweetheart was the Captain of Carnage! I couldn’t stand it. Something had to be done, something that would shock him out of his testosterone-induced madness…

I opened the door. Unc was opining, “This sucker’s a record kill, for sure…” I knew I had to act fast when I saw the satisfied, caveman look in my honey’s eyes. No longer the cutie of my dreams, he was beginning to resemble some Cro-Magnon nightmare…

“Oh, Puppy!” I gushed. “I’m so glad you’re back! I woke up and you were gone…” Pout. Batted eyelashes. Googly-eyed sappiness.

I am pleased to report that the impromptu nickname served its purpose. Unc and Cousin burst out laughing, Puppy blushed, and the thrill was immediately sucked from the kill. It’s hard to maintain a dignified level of machismo when you are being called “Puppy.” Unc was right about it being a record, though. It was the largest buck taken in the state in 2000. Puppy had the head mounted after processing the meat and selling the hide to a local tanner… and, as of June 30, 2004, “Buck” wears my wedding veil. Call it a small protest on my part, but many of the bragging rights are stripped away when visitors laugh at the trophy on sight.

The result of our mixed marriage is that my vegetarian son is now a certified omnivore, the two babies we are adopting are (mostly) vegetarian, my four step-kids have learned to use the term “fake-o steak-o” (introduced to them by an absentee bio-mom, who protests any aspect of my life on principle) only behind my back, and our oldest daughter is planning to pursue a career in veterinary medicine when she graduates high school this year.

She heads up anti-fur campaigns between cheeseburgers with friends…

this brings us to the political aspect of our family dynamic (and the primary reason that Gonzo Parenting takes an apolitical position). In 1992, I was a 17-year old freshman in college and seriously bummed that I wasn’t old enough to help vote Clinton into office. Puppy was a conservative young professional and audiophile who respected only one Clinton – George.

While he’s become a little more liberal, and I’ve become a little more conservative, our children have been learning to develop their own ideas. They hear our often-conflicting points of view on things that matter, go with us to the Washington state capitol and Washington, D.C. to talk with legislators, and have perhaps worked on more political campaigns than James Carville.

Speaking of James, Puppy and I had the opportunity to hear him and his wife, Mary Matlin, speak in D.C. a couple of years ago. In regard to their vastly differing political views, they said something to the effect of: we don’t talk politics at the dinner table.

That’s great advice, but I didn’t get a chance to ask if that dinner table was vegan or omnivore…