One day Anni was twirling and singing one of her original compositions.
"It's my gift!" she declared.
Dizzy, she fell with spectacular gracelessness.
Laying on her back on the tile floor she began flapping her arms and legs
as if she were making a snow angel.
"Falling down is also a gift!" says she.

Monday, June 27, 2005

when you marry a logician

We are all sick around here. Ugh. But on the way home from the pediatrician's office Annika reminded me of one of my favorite Jörg-Annika interactions. (Yes! I'm using real umlauts now! For a truly international feel.) A few weeks ago we were driving back from Chicago. Jörg was listening to Robert Earl Keen on the front speakers, Frankie was snoozing, and Annika, having tired of her LeapPad and books, was into a rousing game of "I Spy" with me. If you have never driven south from Chicago on I-55, you are certainly missing out on the astounding monotony of the middle of the U.S. Annika mostly enjoys playing "I Spy" with objects outside of the car, though, which means that you are seriously limited in your choice of targets. Having bored of the game, but not quite ready to give it up just yet, Annika took to always guessing, no matter what clue I gave, "It's the grass! OK, my turn!" And then she would give her own clue, ignoring any protest I might care to give that, actually, no it wasn't the grass. Truthfully, there wasn't much protest, as I was much too tired and, frankly, happy that I didn't have to expend the mental energy to locate an object when it was my turn to give a clue. Jörg, though, has a well-developed sense of order, and I noticed him shifting uncomfortably in his seat when Annika announced for the 15th time, "It's grass! OK, my turn!" when the clue given was something like "I spy with my little eye something purple." Finally, Jörg intervened with, "My turn! I spy with my little eye something that is not grass." Dead silence from the back seat. For several long moments. And, then, the grace to admit defeat: "Is it that orange sign?"

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Most Ludicrous Reason to Sob Big Fat Tears of Sorrow

That last entry really took it out of me. Hence the weeklong silence - although I did discover that leaving those entries up there for so long sometimes draws out some new commenters (breaking the uncomfortable silence?). So I was a bit sad and also a bit busy. We had the filming of the organ donation PSA here on Friday. I had envisioned having lots and lots of post-transplant kids frolicking joyfully in our background (filmed through a vaseline-smeared lens, of course), but in the days before the actual filming, all the kids cancelled except for Joey, a boy about Annika's age, and Jorie, a fantastic woman who was transplanted as a child 21 years ago! Wow. Of course, that's the way it goes when you're dealing with post-transplant kids. Your situation can change overnight. And it's not just your child's health, although that does always feel like a tightrope act, but also all the emotional and financial stress that just naturally come along. Still, I was disappointed, and a little worried that so much would now depend upon Annika saying something that didn't make it sound like standard post-transplant care includes putting kids on LSD or other mind-altering substances (standard Annika quote: "You have the Pusky Power!" or "Darn it, Bandit Me!"). Luckily the other 4-year-old, Joey, was not camera-shy in the least (once his parents left the room, that is), and didn't display any tendency to speak in his own private made-up language. And he was just unbelievably cute and dimply. Annika avoided looking at the camera as much as possible, and completely freaked when they tried to put the microphone on her (I should have explained that one to her beforehand, as she has the typical overly-hospitalized child's fear of people attaching things to her person). The (reporter?/producer?) T.V. woman was quite good with kids, though, so she just put the microphone on herself and sat on the floor near Annika, while still remaining out of the shot. Annika was not being very cooperative until we hit upon the idea of having her "read" her favorite stories for Melinda (TV woman). Finally she seemed to forget the camera was there and, although her stories were sometimes a bit disjointed, she did look up and give the cameraman a big smile as she pronounced, "And they lived happily ever after!" Now if they can't use that in a PSA designed to emphasize the happy success of organ transplants (which is how Melinda explained her concept to me), well then I don't know what to say.
Annika's going to swim lessons 4 days a week. Yes, 4. But I was pretty sure that was the only way she was going to make any progress, as the 6 once-weekly lessons that we took at the Y seemed to have no impact whatsoever. She has already passed to the second level, and even went off the diving board last week (when I didn't have my camera with me - can't they just implant that thing somewhere in my arm or hand?) after only 7 lessons and she was the only one in her class brave enough to take the plunge.
Linguistics Degree at work (No, those weren't wasted years! They weren't!): Frankie's begun pronouncing Consonant-Vowel-Consonant clusters. So, for example, "milk" has gone from "muh" to "muhk". Actually, it has gone from "muh" to "muhccccccchhhhhhhhh," with that last consonant sounding like the back-of-the-throat gargle of the German "ch," as in "Bach," but pronounced by an American who is way too concerned about staying true to the correct German pronounciation and so drags out that last sound much too long for comfort. That's what she sounds like. Yay, Frankie!
Finally, a special section called The Most Ludicrous Reason to Sob Big Fat Tears of Sorrow (age 1 1/2): Your book won't stay open (OPEN! OPEN! OPEN!)when you remove your hands from the pages. (age 4 1/2): Your mom tells you that you will be on T.V. ("But how will I get out? I want to stay with you! PLEASE!") (age 34): Tie: Your $20 MP3 player, which you have been anxiously awaiting and bragging about for days like the loser cheapskate you are, doesn't actually produce any sound detectable by the human ear, although the display is nifty. OR Someone sends you an email denigrating your suggestion for a textbook as "inappropriate" on the same evening that you watch that PBS special that again trots out the (accurate, but nonetheless painful) assessment that adjuncts are bad for the University system in this country. (Yup, I'm an adjunct with no prospect of non-adjunctness.) Alright, I didn't actually cry about those last two. The first two, though, are actual genuine tear-producing events of cataclysmic proportions. So, anyone have any other good ones to add to the comments section?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

best worst

A short history of the question

Recently Bettie Bookish posted a very moving entry on her blog about her experience with cancer, calling it "the best worst thing that has ever happened to [her]." This post, in turn, inspired Peripatetic Polar Bear to respond with her own experience of her "best worst thing", and to throw out the question to her readers: "What is the best worst thing that has ever happened to you?" (But she prefaced it with "If you don't mind" in that wonderfully polite way of hers). She got some great responses in her comments section, and many also said that they would have to write an entire post on that question. There were quite a few stories of losing jobs or losing a ministry or health problems that caused a radical reordering of priorities or opened eyes to a new and better way of living. I had to think for several days before I could come up with a decent answer to the question.

A Brief Comical Interlude

I thought first of jobs lost. But the only job I ever really got fired from was a waitressing gig at a country club in a hoity-toity suburb of Kansas City. I worked there exactly one day, in my uniform of a white shirt and black pants. Unfortunately, in my haste to make the 30 minute drive for my first day, I forgot to apply underarm deodarant. It was summertime, very hot, and not only was I quickly sporting my natural God-given underarm stink, but the white shirt showed the sweat marks appallingly. Evidently the country club folk were not so much into my very French disregard for disguising all bodily odors, and I got the call the next day. "Thanks, but No Thanks." In the spirit of this question, though, this story had a happy ending as I soon found work serving drinks on the Kansas City Riverboat*, which had live bands every night and, hey, it was on the water! I ended up dating the drummer from one of the bands, which ended when I discovered that he subsisted on a diet of 15 potatoes a day (by choice) and was obsessed with the fact that his house was down the street from (serial killer) Bob Berdella's. Good times. Good times. Obviously, that story didn't really strike me as falling into either the "worst thing" or "best thing" categories. *I tried to find a link to illustrate the boat I worked on, but discovered that there are now many, many boats on the Missouri River, and they are all lit up like Christmas every night and fully dedicated to "onboard gaming." My memory of those days was decidedly more Mark Twain-ish.
Some brave parents gave their children's medical conditions as an example of an experience that has forced them into being better people. Am I a better person for being the mom of a child with liver disease? Well, surely I have learned some valuable lessons and met some amazing people. But I think I am still pretty damned angry about the whole situation, and I am also quite sure that the experience has brought my Inner Bitch out a bit more. On the bright side, perhaps my I.B. makes me a more interesting person. But, hell, I was just fine with myself before all this happened. I can certainly think of other avenues of self-improvement that I would have gladly taken instead. So still I sat. Thinking...thinking...and then I remembered this. And I think it fits the bill.

A Longish Trek to My Guiltiest Moment

Being a first-time parent is a scary thing. That feeling of suddenly being completely responsible for the well-being of such an itty-bitty creature - completely overwhelming. I remember having the nurse in the hospital show me how to bathe Annika, and how to change her diaper, and still feeling like I was in real trouble as we drove away from the hospital with a crying newborn strapped into her brand new carseat. So imagine my distress when a mere 6 weeks later I was again in a hospital with Annika, but this time the nurse was teaching me how to inject through the central line that she would have for the next month or so. I mean, I had just gotten the hang of fastening the diaper tabs so that they were neither too loose (leaky) or too tight (uncomfortable), and there I was pushing a syringe into a tube that went into her chest and right into a blood vessel that was right there by her heart. Her heart. Geez Louise. As I pushed the plunger down slowly that first time, I kept expecting my tiny baby to tense and then start screaming. "What are you doing, Mama?" But I guess it was mainly me who needed to do that. Fast forward 9 months. Again I am in the hospital with Annika. By this time she has had a line again for nearly 3 months, although this one goes into her upper arm before snaking its way around to her heart. I am completely comfortable with injecting sodium into it, as well as heparin, any number of antibiotics, and even I.V. nutrition. She also has two bile drains inserted into her belly, which drain off the foul-smelling, unhealthy sludge that passes as bile for her. I know the name of the major bacteria that have been cultured from either her blood or bile (citrobacter, pseudomonas, and, our arch-nemesis, enterococcus - VRE). I know that every 6 weeks or so we have to change her IV antibiotics, as those damned smart bacteria somehow refuse to die (probably hiding in the tubing of the bile drain, where the antibiotics cannot reach) and then become resistant. I know that the Aminoglycosides that have been used for months to treat her infections are known to cause hearing loss. I know that IV cipro is known to cause cartilage malformation in puppies (no word on children). I know that the drugs she has progressed to are the major heavy hitters, the ones that have to be specially approved before dispensing, the ones for which they have no freaking clue about side-effects in children. We have lived in the hospital for the past 5 months. Well, not the hospital, as we have been bounced around quite a bit (if ambulance transport qualifies for a breezy "bounced around"). By this time, I am what our favorite nurse calls a "medical frequent flyer," which means that we have the luxury of consistency in the nurses that are assigned to us, and we have managed to score some extra pillows. I have also become quite complacent with our routine, which is incredibly circumscribed given that Annika has been put into isolation, thanks to the nasty bugs crawling throughout her system. Perhaps I am in shock; perhaps it's just the normal human resiliency that allows one to adjust to whatever ludicrous living situation arises, but I am no longer intimidated by the medical world. I know how to operate the IV pumps. I know how to adjust the leads plastered all over her body so that they don't alarm for no good reason at 2 a.m. I know how to tell a false reading from a true one on the monitor tracking her heartrate and respiration. I know, I know, I know. Mainly we just try to get through the day keeping Annika comfortable, but our one event, every single day, is Annika's "bath." OK, it's not really a bath, since she has way too much stuff attached to her body to actually immerse in water, but there are towels and water and soap involved. Because of her liver's slow breakdown, not to mention the rampant infections, Annika's smell is musty and reminds me of a kitty litter box. I look forward to the hour or two after her bath and lotion, when she smells like a baby is supposed to smell again. That bath time has become sacred time for me. So one night I had just started Annika's bath, a little late, when the night nurse comes in, a little early, to ramp up the settings on Annika's IV nutrition, which she receives through the night. Somehow, that night, it was impossible for the nurse to reach the IV pole, which was right by me, without interrupting the bath to move Annika. So I said, "I can get it." And I reached over and changed the setting on the pump, and pushed the green Start button. No nerves, no screaming, no fear whatsoever. It was just like changing the channel on the TV. The nurse, peering over the bed, said, "OK! Thanks!" And she was gone. Annika had been put on IV nutrition (called TPN) a few months back when her main GI in Chicago had casually observed, "She's so malnourished she's digesting her own muscle." (What? I looked at those breasts of mine which were letting down my baby so badly. Actually, though, it turns out that I was producing waaaaaaaaay more milk than usual - you should have seen the PICU freezer when I had to pump - but Annika was simply unable to digest without a functioning liver). The TPN was miraculous for her. We could see the improvement within a few weeks. But TPN is also known to cause liver failure. In this case, the reasoning was simply that it was obvious that Annika was going to need a transplant soon, so it would be better if she could go into transplant, a huge surgery, with the reserves that being better nourished would provide her. Bigger babies, overall, just tend to withstand the surgery better. The TPN has to be treated carefully, though. The lipids and the glucose mixture were delivered in separate bags, and only mixed once they hit the IV tubing, which reduces the chance for dangerous crystal formation. And the lipids, which are a big culprit in the possible liver damage, have to be delivered at a slow rate, while the glucose is ramped up after an hour to make sure that her system would not be overwhelmed. But all that was already old hat for me. We had been doing it so long - even hanging and setting up the preparation during our stay on the cooperative care unit in Nebraska. So ramping up the TPN on the pump was really no big deal. Sometime shortly before midnight, the IV pump began dinging. I was still holding Annika in my arms, and I looked up at the message, glowing red, on the pump. It didn't make any sense. It said that the bag was empty, but the pump was set to run its usual 12-hour course. How could the bag be empty? I called the nurse, in that confused midnight state of mind. Did the pharmacy make a mistake? Did they not fill the glucose bag correctly? What was going on? The lights went on...and that's when we saw that the bags had been set up wrong. The lipids bag went onto the glucose pump and vice-versa. Perhaps you are not hearing a menacing DUM-DUM-DUM in your head right now, but you should be. We had just pumped the lipids into her 4 times faster than we were supposed to. Yes, the lipids that cause liver damage, and have to be injected slowly to minimize damage. Yes, in a girl whose liver was already seriously compromised. My eyes were wide open the rest of the night as I listened to my heart pound in my chest. What the hell had I done? I was the one who had increased the flow of lipids into her body, when I offered to increase the rate for our night nurse. Was she going to wake up? Was she going to be alright? I went over and over the whole thing in my head, trying to figure out how this had happened. The previous evening one of our regular nurses had been training two student nurses. The mood in the room when they came in to set up Anni's TPN was really a bit jovial, what with the fresh faces of the young nursing students. They just gave off a vibe of optimism and health and cheer, having never yet lost a patient or watched a child scream in fear. Our nurse watched them string the tubes through the pumps, as we all chatted about something or other. The pumps were clearly labelled, "LIPIDS" and "GLUCOSE." Our nurse watched as they set the pumps going. Of course, it turned out that the students had strung the lines through the wrong pumps. Which means that it wasn't my fault. But, really, it was. Because I knew that the regular nurses always, always checked to make sure the pumps were set up correctly before they ramped up the TPN, an hour after the pumps started. That was the time for the fail-safe, and I had run right over it with my complacent, I-know-my-way-around-an-IV attitude. I had hit that Start button without checking the tubing. And I knew, I knew that our night nurse would have checked it. Still, Anni would have been hit with that hour of lipids suddenly running in too fast, but I had compounded the mistake by doubling the rate at the appointed time. The next day I wanted to tell Joerg, the one person who would have really understood how I was feeling, about it. But I couldn't, for a number of reasons. First, I felt so guilty. How could I tell him what I had done to that little girl he loved so fiercely? How could I tell him that I had harmed her when she was already so fragile? Second, I worried about what that knowledge would do to him. I had already noticed the stress affecting him physically. I watched as his hands tremored when he got upset. I knew he wasn't sleeping, and that he had started smoking again. I admit that I envied him those cigarettes. But I wondered what even one extra bit of bad news would do to him. And, finally, I also knew that Joerg had lately been pushing for Annika to be moved to Nebraska. He was unhappy with how long it was taking for Chicago to act on the living donor option; patience has never been his strong suit, and who could blame him for wanting action soon to help his child? We had waited and waited there in the hospital. While we waited, we watched other children come and go. Some of them received their transplants and went home, looking great and healthy. Some of them died waiting like Anni was waiting. Some of them were transplanted, but were too sick and weak to survive the surgery. Watching these children come and go was hard. With every child who died, my nights got a bit shorter. And, although it was heartening to see children who got better and went home, it was a bittersweet kind of happiness. Why wasn't that Anni? So Joerg was pushing to go to Nebraska, where they promised us that they would have a living donor transplant arranged within a few days. But I had been with Anni in Nebraska, and I knew that, despite being great doctors, they just didn't know Annika as well, and therefore would never be able to provide care at the same level. I knew it was not just a matter of getting her transplanted, but also getting her through the transplant alive. I was afraid of going to Nebraska, where they might not believe that she really did need the sort of super-duper, underground bunker kind of antibiotics she was getting in Chicago. I was afraid that, if Joerg were to find out about this screw-up, he would have Annika on the next ambulance out of there. So I suffered my guilt alone, turning it over in my head until the incident became an entire book-length story entitled, "How My Overinflated Confidence in My Own Abilities Led to the Death of My Sweet Firstborn Child." Thus, I was no longer complacent, but instead a snappish, high-strung bitch, while I watched Annika for signs of the damage done. Sure enough, within a week or so, Anni's labs began to worsen dramatically. She became neon with jaundice, barely awoke (except to scream in complete confusion), her ammonia levels skyrocketed so high that we began worrying about brain damage. Worst of all, though, was her breathing, which had become laborious and painful to watch. In the organ allocation system that is now in place, Annika's worsening condition would have moved her up the list. But Anni was waiting back in the days when the waiting was everything. Time spent on the list was the main determining factor in who was given organs, unless a patient became a Status 1, which means that the doctors estimate the patient has about a week to live without a transplant. Those patients jump to the front of the list, but we also had seen that most of the patients who didn't survive transplant were Status 1 patients. It wasn't a good place to be, front of the line or not. And, in my head, this was All My Fault. Maybe it's hard to imagine how this little incident could have triggered a guilt complex this raging, but I'm guessing that it has to do with the guilt that all parents of Biliary Atresia kids feel. The cause of this disease is unknown. It's clearly not a strictly genetic condition, but there is some talk about a "genetic predisposition." No virus has been identified as the causal factor, but some researchers believe that viruses may be involved. I've even read about theories that blame some sort of environmental pollutant. With all those unknowns, every BA mom I have ever talked to has confessed that there was some incident during the pregnancy that she wonders may have caused the disease. For me, it was the fact that I continued to teach community education classes so late into my pregnancy, exposing me to all sorts of viral bugs, and back in the days before I washed my hands obsessively. So even though the doctors tell you that "there was nothing you could have done to prevent this," still you feel like they are just saying that (because, really, if they don't know what causes BA, then how could they tell us whether or not we could have avoided it??) and you feel the guilt nonetheless. A few weeks after The Incident, the doctors determined that Annika needed to be moved to the PICU for complete liver failure and the suspicion that she was on the verge of ventilator-dependency. She was a Status 1, and all I could see in my head was me hitting that fucking green Start button over and over in my head, harming Anni's liver and making her sicker with that one little push. The living donor transplant was scheduled with my cousin as the donor, but then The Big Call came that a liver had been donated for her. Annika was wheeled into surgery, and 9 hours later she was back out again with a functioning liver for the first time in her life. The surgeon, in his post-op debriefing, announced that Annika's problems with her portal vein were so serious that the living donor surgery would never have worked for her, as a living person could never donate the length of blood vessel she had required. It's very likely that she would not have survived if the living donor transplant had been attempted. I've documented all this before. But what I have never discussed is how guilty I felt for her rapid deterioration, and eventual move to Status 1. On the other hand, if she had not gotten so sick, then she would not have been moved to Status 1 in the PICU. And if she had not moved to Status 1, she would never have gotten a donated liver so quickly. We would have gone ahead with the living donor surgery, and most likely would have lost her. I have never asked the doctors how much the TPN mistake contributed to her rapid deterioration near the end. We all know it couldn't have helped her, but it's a subject that neither I nor the medical professionals, paying out the wazoo for malpractice insurance, have really felt like discussing. In the end I'm happy to think of it as a terrible mistake that may have saved her life. If so, it was certainly worth a few weeks of lonely, intense guilt. My best worst thing.

Monday, June 13, 2005

oh, the inappropriateness of it all

I am getting really tired of the non-stop promotion of Disney movies, especially when I have the feeling that it's not a movie that Annika is ready to see. The latest bombardment is the Lavagirl/Sharkboy movie. Last night, Annika had non-stop nightmares about a shark coming through the window and eating Hepburn ("Oh, mommy! Our cat was ruined!") Now this morning she was telling me that she wanted to go see the "Lovergirl" movie. "You mean Lavagirl?" "Yes, Lovergirl... She lives in Ho-land." (yes, pronounced like "hoe," with its double meaning and all) "You mean Holland?" (remember, we flew through Amsterdam on our recent trip) "No, Lovergirl lives in Ho-land" Whatever. Not entirely inaccurate, I guess, given the general open-mindedness of the Dutch on matters of prostitution and such.

Friday, June 10, 2005

neverending soundtrack

It was just a matter of time before Frankie fell in love with this song too, what with Anni sighing dramatically throughout (and now even mewling like a little kitten when she hears it - I have no idea what that is all about, but it works). So here are 10 seconds, featuring Frankie's vocal just goes to show you why Joerg and I have been discussing using the rhythm method of birth control*. We don't really want to have another child, but when you are surrounded by this all day, the idea of doing it all over again...well, it doesn't exactly seem like the worst thing. *Maja, this is exactly what you were talking about when you wrote me about the problem of knowing your mother-in-law reads your blog. You're right. Apologies, Elke.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

If You're Happy and You Know It

I'm still on about the Shrek soundtrack. Our car lately has been the scene of wild mood shifts as I accommodate first Annika's request to hear the melancholy "Hallelujah," followed by Frankie's bouncy favorite, "I'm on My Way." And then back again. Every time Anni hears the final strains of "Hallelujah," she gives a deep and satisfied sigh. I said, "Wow. Anni. That sure is a beautiful song." She said, "Yes, it is. And very sad." So finally it hit me what it is about this song that so appeals to her. It's sad. We have a fairly large collection of children's music, plus adult music that I've deemed "good kid's music," and have therefore stored in the playroom. But what I have denied her is exposure to some good, cry-your-eyes-out, light-a-candle, heave-a-sigh sad songs. It makes sense, though. Who wants to dress their preschooler in black turtlenecks and inspire Morrissey-level fits of depression at an age when putting shoes on their hands, and then having the shoes debate the merits of ballet versus tango is just another afternoon's activity? And, yet, even when you're not depressed, there's something deeply satisfying about hearing a half-whispered, tortured ode to sadness. Who doesn't remember the first time they heard a really super-sad song, and then had to listen to that song 58 times in a row in your room with all the lights out? For me it was Elvis Costello's "I Want You" from the appropriately mordantly titled Blood and Chocolate. All those teen hormones running rampant, and there I was sobbing along to a song and wondering when, oh when, I would find someone who would really get these deep, deep, deep feelings of mine. I guess I just wasn't anticipating that Anni would need or want that type of catharsis at age 4. But then later that evening I told Annika that it was too late to go over to Sabrina's house. She melted into tears; her face had "tragedy" written all over it. And because she is also just learning the important skill of putting her emotions into words, she was wailing, "But I am so sad about that! I am really really really sad." I managed to keep a straight face, because nothing pisses that girl off more than me finding amusement in her extravagant misfortune, and offered a few sympathetic words. Struggling to make it even more clear how really sad she felt, she said, "I wish I could be in that Hallelujah song right now." So, yes, I guess I need to find a few more moods to offer up in our musical experiences. Although I think I'll skip the rage music. Steroids and thrash metal before full frontal lobe development? I don't think so.

Monday, June 06, 2005

she's prancing through a field of wildflowers

Tonight Annika looked at me dreamily and sighed, "I want to fall in love." Ah, we are entering a romantic phase. I suspect she has watched Shrek a few too many times. We took no movies with us to Berlin, thinking that there would be no time for such things in our busy days. And we were right. But the only problem with this utopian scenario was that Annika really needs something to help her settle down sometimes. Something to lure her into sitting still and quiet for a nice long spell. Children are not built for non-stop stimulation. Reading will do the trick, and oh boy we read like crazy for the first two weeks or so. But when Norma offered to loan us Shrek for the remaining 10 days, I jumped at the offer, my sorely overused vocal cords barely able to eek out a "Thank You." And the girls, mainly Annika, watched that movie. Repeatedly. Anni began memorizing lines, and throwing them back at me. So that one day when I asked Anni to sit down now, she nodded her head at me and replied, "As you command, your highness." (I may have misquoted that slightly. I didn't watch the movie as many times as Annika. But I appreciated the sentiment.) And whenever Annika began feeling a bit upset or stressed, she would shout, "I'm a donkey on the head!" (Actually that line was, "I'm a donkey on the edge!" But I liked her version better.) Even Frankie would pop into the bedroom where we had set up the computer to watch for a bit. She would lean her elbows back, crossing her ankles as she propped herself against the bed, in a chubby-thighed James Dean pose. Frankie's favorite part was when the dragon appeared, and she had little use for the rest of the film. As with most movies, the music quickly became the most important part of the experience. So I've gotten the girls the soundtrack to listen to while we're in the car or splashing in the wading pool outside. Frankie's favorite song is "I'm on My Way" from The Proclaimers ("More uh-huh!" she begs, and we always give in.) Annika's absolute favorite song is Rufus Wainwright's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Definitely a romantic phase. (although I do suspect that it has more to do with the lovely tune and the song's relatively high Dora score)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

It takes forever to get home

I've not updated in a while, despite having days bursting with chaos and fun and adventure. So here's my attempt to catch up a little, complete with another photo explosion, a harrowing tale of survival, and a catchy tune to listen to. We are home (home!home!home!). 22 hours after we awoke to catch our flight, we emerged from our little airport here in town. After a month we had forgotten where, exactly, we had parked our car in the free long-term lot. Luckily the lot is not that huge, and the airport is isolated enough that Joerg didn't disturb anyone by setting off the alarm with the remote in order for us to track it down. As we followed the sound of our car's beeping, we looked out at the sun setting over the field of native prairie wildflowers and grasses planted just beyond the airport as a few geese flew home to one of our town's many small man-made lakes. After a month in a bustling city, it seemed so surreal. Like we were walking into someone's romanticized version of midwestern America in a novel. The streets were nearly empty as we drove home, and Joerg and I both marvelled at the generous width of our streets, bordered by more green than concrete, and the unhurried pace of our fellow travellers. As we pulled into the driveway, our neighbors came out to welcome us home. Annika was clearly relieved to see that Sabrina stilled lived next door to us, and Anna and Demi still live behind us, and all was as it should be in our home, abandoned for so long. It really was all so cliche...and I love that it is really our lives. Our last week in Germany was quite tough. Hence the lack of updates. We had some wonderful days (click image to go to Flickr photostream for a larger view): The excursion to Pfaueninsel - Peacock Island: DSC04352 DSC04343 The pilgrimage to Tempelhof to view the neighborhood of Joerg's childhood: DSC03864 The trip to the Botanical Gardens: DSC03902 DSC03916 DSC03911 DSC03930 DSC03937 Norma and I's long walk to McDonald's with the kids ("Oh, no, you Dih-ent!"): DSC03963 DSC03991 DSC04009 DSC04045 DSC04063 Her first game of table tennis: DSC04177 Hanging with Lydia: DSC04068 IMG_1476 Feeding the ducks (illegally, as it turns out): DSC04262 Climbing her first tree: DSC04271 DSC04274 DSC04286 Hitting the parks: DSC04302 Searching for bugs: Jumping in the fountain near our apartment (her La Dolce Vita moment): DSC04455 Plus all the extra time with Joerg: DSC03859 (OK, that didn't all happen in the last week. But it did all happen.) But during the last week Annika also had some unbearably horrendous mood days. We had to cancel several arrangements that we had made to meet people simply because I was worried about taking Anni too far from the apartment in the state she was in. The thing about Annika is this: Normally, she is a delightful, charming, sweet, gentle, hilarious, wildly imaginative and joyful kid. But the flip side of being so completely engaging is that she also has days when she simply appears to lose all control - sad, mad, and frustrated all at once. I'm sure it is partly her age, and partly (maybe a lot) due to all the drugs she is on. At least two of them are known to cause hyperactivity and mood swings, and some of them have unknown side-effects when taken by children. On her bad days, it is really like she is on speed - she spins about wildly, unable to stop herself, and then crashes spectacularly, thrashing and screaming. It's shocking to observe, even for me. One of Anni's crashes happened while I was out alone with the girls meeting our friend, Judit. As soon as I realized that Annika was out of control, I headed for home right away. But getting home was a little walk, and then several S-bahn stops and a subway ride away. Annika ran away from me one time, and we just barely caught her before she ran right into a busy street. Then on the S-bahn, she kept saying that she was mad and she wanted to get off at the next stop. So at every stop, she pushed the button for the door to open. Judit had bravely agreed to come along with us, and she kept getting up and grabbing Anni back before she could get off the train. Thank God she was there, because I was too exhausted from wrangling Anni to the station to do much more than watch in mute shock. As Judit sat down again beside me she asked in a quiet whisper, "Would she really do that? Would she just get off the train without you? All alone?" A big sigh and a nod from me. Again, the dark side of having a brave kid. I'm sure that a lot of Annika's problems stemmed from the cumulative effects of lack of sleep. Both girls had trouble settling in at night, and woke up way too early. I'm not sure if it was the unfamiliar environment, the sleeping together in the same room, the strange noises, the days jam-packed with excitement, or the fact that Berlin is already having sun for 16 hours of the day. Probably a combination of all those factors. And then I think that she was becoming fairly worried about the house, the cats, and all her friends back home. And on top of that, she had several scary experiences. Including: You may remember that Anni locked herself in the bathroom at Joerg's sister's house, and that it took some work to get her out. You may also recall my mentioning that it was actually the second time she had locked herself into a small space that week. But, yes, it got even worse. On our last day before we were to leave, we were invited to a birthday party for Lydia, Annika's new friend in the building. By the time we left at 9 to go pick up a birthday present for her, the day was already hot and sunny with the still air of a city that we wind-whipped prairie folks are just not used to. Feeling expansive with all the time we had before the party was scheduled, I indulged Annika's overwhelming urge to travel in the elevator to "-1" (the basement) before going back up to the ground floor exit. I began to regret that decision as soon as we stepped into the tiny space, its air redolent of fart (who would do that? can't you just hold it 30 seconds until you're back out into the world of circulating air?) with its glass windows on 3 sides letting the morning sun bake the interior. I really didn't want to spend any more time than necessary in that stinky oven, but I had already agreed to the adventure, so down we went. Annika loved going to -1 because the elevator doors open onto total cave-like darkness. If you stand there until the elevator doors shut, the dark is completely engulfing, heavy, and damp. On some days, we let her bring along her penlight to play along the walls. Then she would rush over to the tiny little orange glow that marked the light switch on the wall, which she would triumphantly throw on with a flourish worthy of Thomas Edison demonstrating his light bulb for the first time. Then we would wander a little ways along the corridor while Annika intoned, thrilled, "Spoooo-oooooo-oooooooky!" She always checked to see if the door to the underground garage was open, and if it was she would stare at the cars hiding out below our building like she had just discovered the lost treasure of Pirate Island. Today she had no pen light, and the garage door was closed, so our trip was thankfully brief. We called the elevator back, and it was a bit sluggish opening the doors (foreshadowing...spoooooooooo-oooooooo-ooooooky!). The cool air of the basement made the heat of the elevator all the more shocking and uncomfortable. The doors closed, Anni pushed 3 and held it while I yelled, "No way, Anni!" and pushed 0. The elevator stopped, displaying 0 on its floor readout, but the doors didn't open. I punched 0 a few times, and then the door open button, all to no avail. Which is when I might have freaked a tiny little bit, just for a moment. I definitely have a thing about tiny, hot, enclosed spaces. I began ramming on the emergency alarm button. Over and over. Remembering that Anni had hit it once when she was messing around. We lectured her that she was never, ever to do that unless there was an emergency, but I also remembered that nothing had happened as a result of her pushing that button. So there I was hitting that button for all I was worth, wondering if anyone was up on a weekend morning to hear us. Judging by the noise outside our windows the night before, the entire city of Berlin had had one hell of a Friday night and was surely sleeping it off at that moment. But the Germans, bless their hearts, do believe in making sure that things work the way they should, and the alarm actually connected me to an emergency operator who worked for the elevator company. I was way too upset to even attempt to explain things in German, so I just shouted out in English, "We're trapped in here! In this elevator!" In perfect English (again, bless those German hearts for their resolute commitment to multilingualism at a young age) the operator assured me that someone would be contacted to get us out. Finally able to calm down, I set about trying to somehow reduce the temperature in the elevator. I got the inner doors opened with no problem, but the outer doors (ridiculously dirty, by the way) would only open a centimeter or so. Luckily, though, we were still close enough to the basement that even just that tiny opening let in some of the cool underground air. Annika was beginning to cry, surprising me given that she had not cried a bit during the entire bathroom ordeal, so I got Frankie out of the stroller and strapped in Annika so she had someplace to sit, and moved her into the shady part of the elevator, nearer to the cooling basement centimeter of fresh air. I sat on the elevator floor right beside her, and took Frankie in my lap. Frankie did not cry, but she nuzzled her head into my neck, burrowing in as close as she could get. Anni launched into a 10-minute question session that ran along these lines: "Are we trapped in here forever?" "Will I ever see Grandma Elke again?" "Will I ever see Grandma Bond again?" "Will I ever see Grandpa Bond again?" "Will I ever see Sabrina again?" "Will I ever see Daddy again?" Etc. But this did at least give me the idea of using the cell phone to call Joerg upstairs so that he could come down and offer some moral support to little crumbling Anni from the other side of the doors. I know, I know. It took me 15 minutes to think of using the cell phone! Remember, I'm not used to having a cell phone. Which is why it took me another 10 minutes or so before I finally reached Judit and asked her to call Joerg for me since I couldn't find his number anywhere. Joerg rushed downstairs, and at the sound of his voice, Anni burst into fresh tears. "Daddy! We are stuck in here forever!" (I guess the drama queen period is not yet over). Joerg pulled on the door mightily, but only managed to open it another few centimeters. However, that was enough to let in sufficient basement air to drop the temperature in the elevator considerably. The sun had also risen high enough in the sky that it was no longer shining in directly on us anymore, and I was beginning to feel quite cheerfully optimistic about the whole situation. I reassured Joerg that I had talked to a very friendly, calm woman who had promised help was on the way. But then he asked the very reasonable question, "Did she say how long it would be?" A very reasonable question that I had not thought to ask, of course, which brought me down a peg or two, remembering that it was the weekend, after all. As the morning hour got later, the building began to come to life. Various people came to the elevator, expecting a ride up and instead finding my husband pacing outside, explaining in a disbelieving voice that "my wife and two small daughters are trapped in there!" Every time Anni heard him tell someone this, she would echo back in her small little voice that still mispronounces sounds in that heartbreakingly cute way, "Daddy? Ah we twappt in hee-ah fowevah?" Which Joerg, of course, denied heartily in his best most confident voice. Repeat scene 5 or 6 times. Finally, friendly English-speaking lady came again over the elevator's intercom speaker to give me an update. The guy was at the building, but couldn't find parking. Joerg, apparently about to burst, muttered something about sidewalks and emergencies. 5 minutes later, we heard Joerg greeting someone. I braced for the sound of a crow bar grating against unyielding metal, ready to cover the girls' ears and move them back from the door. But instead the doors slid open in their tracks, as if this guy had just waved his hands and intoned "Abra-cadabra. Open, Sesame!" Turns out all it took was a key. Hmmm. 45 minutes of stress solved that easily just seems wrong. Joerg reached down and grabbed up Anni, who clung to his neck harder than I have ever seen her do. Frankie stuck to me, and we wearily climbed the stairs. Having learned a bit from the art therapist who visited the kids at the Kohl's house after Anni's transplant, I had Annika draw out her feelings about the incident. Much to my surprise, it really did seem to work and she calmed down nicely. She wasn't, however, prepared to venture back out into the big world just yet. For Lydia's present, Annika drew a picture in which elevators and a guy with a toolbelt figured prominently.
Of course, this also means that the elevator was again out of order on the day we moved out, as it was on the day we moved in. Joerg did note that at least it was easier getting 60 pound suitcases down the stairs, rather than up. I joke that she will now turn out to be seriously claustrophobic after her trauma, but of course Anni is made of stronger stuff than that. The next day at the airport in Amsterdam we had a 3 1/2 hour layover, which Anni wanted to spend riding the elevators up and down.
So, yes, we are home. Unpacking has already stretched across 3 days, and is as yet unfinished. Our home was as we left it, except covered with a dusting of soft, fine cat hair, which fluffs up in the air like the particles in a snow globe every time we sit down on any furniture. The girls have touched every single toy they own with loving fingers, marvelling at their permanence, falling in love with their plasticky goodness all over again. I finally vacuumed today, listening to Anna Domino's "Home" on repeat, amazed that a CD that I bought 15 years ago could be the soundtrack for me now, utterly changed by the unexpected turns of motherhood and domestic life. For your listening pleasure (in a new window), a small sample of the blood-pressure-lowering sounds of Anna Domino, well worth paying import prices for: Home