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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

in case you were wondering

We are all still here, and all still healthy. Just a sudden onslaught of labor-intensive projects for me, plus a trip to Chicago to check out Annika. The projects: Our neighborhood threw together a mass of garage sales, and I had too much baby gear stuffed under our beds and stowed in closets to pass that opportunity by. It was all a great success, and more work than I ever, ever imagined. Annika was quite upset by the idea of selling anything that her hands had ever touched, no matter how long it had been since she had played with it. However, once she saw that first person hand over a few dollar bills, she was all over it. She ducked into the house, and came back out with a handful of old birthday cards, which she began offering as a "prize" to anyone who bought something. Most people thought that was cute, but were less amused when she began cornering people and asking for their name and address, with her little pencil poised above her notepad all ready to take down their information. And then she started asking every woman who came up our driveway if she had "a baby in her tummy." Needless to say, I sent her to the backyard. Of course, our town is a Garage Sale Mecca, meaning that people don't pay more than 50 cents for any item of clothing, name on the tag be damned. And there are enough exersaucers on sale on any given weekend to circle the earth several times over, so it's not a real money-making endeavor. But it was kind of fun. I got to meet a newly pregnant woman with my exact same body issues, and who nodded her head knowingly when I confided that my husband affectionately calls my legs "potato stompers." And I cannot count the number of people who warned me that selling your baby stuff was a sure-fire invitation to an unexpected pregnancy. (Annika found this news particularly intriguing, and is quite excited at the prospect of a new baby.) And the women who bought my lovely tea set...Let's just say that I wouldn't ever turn down an invitation to tea with those two. Some quality eavesdropping, for sure. Our town is also chock-a-full of conservative christian types, and I noticed several families who rolled in with their 4-6 children, all wearing "American by birth, Christian by the grace of God!" t-shirts, who took one look at me and hurried back down the driveway. I wondered if it was the heathen music I was playing in the garage at first, but it really did seem more a reaction to me. So at a lull in the traffic I went inside to check myself out, which was when I saw that, despite the upper-80's weather and the double layer of my shelf-bra tank, I was in all-out nipple mode. In the interest of good business practice, I put on a thicker bra and changed my shirt. However, I am seriously considering making myself a Cafe-Press t-shirt that says, "Thighs by Breyer's, Nipples by Relentlessly Nursing Children!" I have also taken over the organizing of our organ donor awareness group's major community project, the county fair. Again, another project that has taken way more time than I imagined. The fair is this week. And then I need to contemplate teaching a course this fall in a programming language that I haven't given much consideration for the past 5 years. So, yeah, a busy couple of weeks.
Annika has been doing great, health-wise. In fact, she ran 1/2 a mile on the track this weekend, barefoot and in her swimsuit. She ran the whole thing in her adorable gait, slightly cross-legged and with her arms held straight at her sides with only her hands outturned, like a debutante sashaying down a promenade. Who knows what prompted her to take two turns around the university's track? Certainly not I. And certainly not her greatest idol, our next-door-neighbor, Sabrina, who turned to me with her knowing 7-year-old look and asked, "How much sugar has she had today?" But we nonetheless live in a state of fear, seemingly unable to escape the feeling that disaster is just around the corner. With Anni's last illness her liver enzymes doubled in a week, and doubled again just one week later (so they were about 10 times the normal value, if you're keeping score). Our transplant coordinator warned that if the weekly trend continued that we were headed for another full workup (biopsy and ultrasound, at least) in Chicago to check out the state of her liver. Thankfully, her labs the next week dropped back down to her normal state, which is still twice normal values. Jörg took Anni in for a regular check-up (called, weirdly to me, a "clinic" visit) this past week, and returned home with the news that a biopsy was in our future, anyway. It seems that her liver doc thinks her liver feels "harder" than the last time, which could be a sign of cirrhosis, and wants to check it out. Because of Anni's bleeding issues, a biopsy of her liver is done through her jugular vein and means a hospitalization of at least one, and probably two, night(s). I always dread the hospitalization that finally sets us back on the road to uncertainty. It's always there, that fear.
And, on the other hand, there are the times that are nothing short of wondrous. Like the way that Annika lay on the kitchen floor tonight and giggled as her baby sister climbed on her and then bounced like a cowgirl on a bucking bronco. And the way that Annika beamed at me and said, "I love you, too," after I gave her a peck on the cheek tonight.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

pirate booty

I put Frankie down for her nap today, leaving Annika half-snoozing as she watched Kiki's Delivery Service on the sofa. When I came down 15 minutes later, Annika was fully awake. In fact, she was jumping up and down. "Great news, mama! Great news!" "What's that?" She led me to the kitchen, and pointed dramatically at the floor. "Someone bought me a hugging bear! Isn't that great?" Yes, she managed to find where I had hidden a present for her birthday, still 2 months away. I spotted this being clearanced for $15, so I thought I could keep it hidden for a few months. I'm quite sure she wasn't purposefully looking for it. Just a sudden curiosity about the laundry room, I guess. She's been asking for this little ewok-sounding thing for nearly a year already, so she was understandably excited. Evidently wondrous treasures do just appear magically when you go exploring.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What is that? That freaky thing?

Frankie, fast approaching 22 months, is not yet weaned, despite my best efforts. Well...efforts, anyway. I have tried taking away one nursing session gradually, working our way down to zero, but find that she ends up in a full-blown panic as I decrease. And, as I have always given 2 years as the age at which I absolutely must stop nursing a child, I just don't have the gumption to deny her when she seems so desperate. Today was another of those days. It was only a few hours since she had nursed, and suddenly I had a tear-streaked, pitiful toddler tugging at my shirt wailing, "Nursie...nuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrssssssssiiiieeee...peeeeez mama, peez." Finally, I gave up and sat down with her. I am such a sucker for a good "peez". She latched right on, took a few draws, then pulled her head back to give me a huge grin. Then she, I am not making this up, clapped my breast between her hands and shouted, "Boo-yah!" You might be wondering how I can be so sure that she actually exclaimed "Boo-yah" given the tendency of toddlers to mangle words and all. Her latest non-stop request for music? The Naked Mole Rap (lyrics). Ron always gets a Boo-yah when Frankie's in da house. And if you're curious to hear the song itself, the Amazon page has a link for a sample (in which you will notice that he raps "girls" not "girlies." Hmmm. I guess Ron is a budding feminist? Also you can hear the voice of Bart Simpson as Rufus, the Naked Mole Rat. Also I notice that in the new 2005 edition they have cut the track Work It Out from Brassy. Are they crazy? That turntable action in the middle of the song is the best part of the whole damned soundtrack. You can get an inkling of it from this live performance at SXSW '01) But back to my breasts. This is all just further evidence that Frankie needs to be weaned. Anyone else have experience with a child stubbornly attached to the breastfeeding experience long after most nutritional value has been superceded by said child's tendency to sit in your lap and graze from your plate (thus taking the breast as middleman right out of the equation)? And did you ever succeed in breaking suction?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Sacred Naming Ceremony

Several months ago I wrote an entry about the music that Annika adored in her first few years of life (including a link to the rare sight of Jörg dancing). I decided that I wanted to reference examples to some of the less well-known music, and thought 5-10 seconds of each song would suffice to get the idea across without worrying about entering the murky area of (free) internet music downloading. However, I really wanted to put up an entire verse from Sara Hickman's rendition of "You are My Sunshine," and that ran to 30 seconds or so, which left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. So what do you do in the internet age? Why, you google the artist to see if you can come up with some contact info. It turns out that Sara Hickman has a blog, as well as a published email address. So I dropped her a note, asking if what I wanted to do with her song was OK. Much to my surprise, she replied almost immediately, and was gracious in the extreme. Well, I wasn't surprised about the gracious part, but about the immediate, in-person reply. Even more to my surprise, she replied to my "thank-you" email, asking about the name "Annika," as she has a similarly named friend (Anika). We exchanged a few emails, and she even agreed to judge a photo-caption contest I ran a few months back. Her question about the names, though, inspired a rather long reply: I think Annika as a name is gaining somewhat in popularity, as I have now heard of several little Annika's under the age of 5 or so. Your friend, Anika (26! Oh, I love knowing women that age--old enough to have real conversations with, but young enough to be experiencing so much for the first time, and exploring life in a way that you just don't once you're married with kids. At least, that's me...), has the spelling traditional to Spanish or Hindu. We have the spelling from Sweden. It's basically the Scandinavian version of Ann. My husband is German, so we were looking for a name that worked both in English and in German. Of course, there's lots of overlap in the names of the two countries, but usually the name is pronounced quite differently in the 2 languages ("Katherine" vs. "Katarina", for example). I, personally, didn't see that as a big problem, but my husband, always one for living an orderly life, wanted the name to sound good and be pronounced the same way in both languages. This made the naming task nigh impossible. Finally, 8 months pregnant, we were sitting together on the couch watching Law and Order, and one of the minor characters was from Germany and named Annika. So I said, "OK, so what about that?" And he said, "OK." And that was it. As to the meaning, I think it's "graceful." The meaning that I do remember, and liked very much, is that Annika is very close to a Hausa name (Nigerian language--"Annikiye") meaning "sweet faced." My name was invented in order to name me after my father, despite not being a boy. My dad's middle name is Morris, so my mom just took the first syllable and then girly-fied it. It turns out that it is pronounced similarly to a name common in the Slavic world meaning, "Of the sea." Of course I have never even lived within 600 miles of any sea. Unless you count Chicago's Lake Michigan, but that's still 150 miles away. I mostly call my daughter "Anni" (with the "A" pronounced "Ah"), while my husband usually goes for the full "Annika". This led her at one point to start calling him "Daddy-ka," which I thought was a very cool peek into the world of how kids figure out how to work with words (that they are made up of parts that you can rearrange and reuse--an insight that most adults don't even consciously make). It was also great because the -ka can be used as a suffix to show affection in Hungarian, so Daddy-ka actually made perfect sense from that language's point of view. Our second daughter is named Franciska, again a name that works both in German and English, although it is a bit old-fashioned sounding in English. However, I agreed to the name because I realized I could call her "Frankie," which I've always loved. Especially since my two girls are now "Frankie and Anni," a little musical joke ("Frankie and Johnny") that I stopped telling because, apparently, noone else thought it was amusing. She wrote back, although obviously I won't quote here, with a lovely story about naming her own two girls, which involved a big car and the voice of God. To which I replied, in part: I had to laugh at myself a bit when reading your reply--you heard the voice of God giving you names, while I heard the voice of Jerry Orbach (may he rest in peace). That just about sums it up for me. I did not hear back from her again. I think maybe that you are not supposed to make light of the hand of God in the sacred naming ceremony. But, man, she sure is great. My girls are still in love with her kids' CDs.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


*I began this a few days ago, and then read Amanda's moving post with the same title. I decided to leave the title as is, but it seems fitting to link to Amanda before even beginning* I'm going to say it again... my girl is tough. Over the weekend we went with Cliff to a festival at a nearby town. Of course, we went straight to the carnival rides and bought our little adrenaline junkie a bracelet for unlimited rides. Only 10 minutes into the fun, she slipped off one of the rides and fell to the ground (the ride wasn't moving yet, and it wasn't very far down, lest that last bit sounds too scary). She banged her tummy, head, lip, and chin, and was lying there in the dirt. Still, she bounced right up and announced, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" Then blood started spurting from her lip and chin, and she let herself cry as I scooped her up in my arms, dust from her clothes puffing up into the air as I rushed her over to the shade of a tree. I pressed the tail end of my white cotton shirt to her chin to staunch the blood flow, while Jörg searched for some wipes to clean her up and assess the damage. We checked her pupils, checked her tummy, and all appeared well. I sent Jörg to the car for our first-aid kit, as he was agitating for a trip to the E.R. I figured a few minutes away from the bloody situation might lend a bit of calm. Having gotten most of the dirt off, and the bleeding mainly stopped, Annika sat in the wagon waiting for Jörg to return with the band-aids and the antibacterial lotion, and she shared a package of mini-Oreos with her sister. I'm pretty sure that all first-aid kits should include a package of mini-Oreos. Jörg's impulse to take her to the E.R. was not completely unfounded. With her latest illness, her platelets had plummeted to 44,000 (normal is around 140-150,000). Annika's platelets tend to hover around 80-90,000 due to her enlarged spleen, so her count had halved with this infection. Platelets help the blood to clot, so there is always the worry of uncontrolled internal bleeding with any fall when platelets are low. Still, her doctors don't usually get concerned about the platelet count until they fall below 25,000 or so. And she really didn't fall that far. And she was munching Oreos in a pretty healthy fashion. So I convinced him to let her continue on with her fun, although he held her hand pretty tightly. Here she is, back in the saddle: And the resulting bruise (the stuff around the lips is the result of yet another expedition into the world of cosmetic entertainment, aka "lipstick"): A few weeks ago we had some friends over in our backyard for some sprinkler/pool action. There were 9 kids in the yard, most of them older, and Annika was in that state of excitement that defies description - a state something like vibration, with giggles. Actually, all the kids were having a great time with 6 super-soaker water shooters in action, a volcano sprinkler, and a fairly large wading pool strategically positioned at the bottom of our slide. One of the girls, though, was a bit exhausted, and therefore kept falling over. And had no patience for getting hit in the face with water. Finally, she got a little bonk on the head when she zigged left just as Annika zagged right with one of the super-soakers. It was clearly an accident, and also clearly not even a bump-inducing knock, but she collapsed into a fit of weeping. Her mom decided a nap was called for, while I was over trying to convince Annika to apologize. Now Anni has no problem apologizing for things she does on purpose or for which she clearly is at fault. But she has a real problem with apologizing for things that are completely accidental. I'm not sure if it feels too much like admitting guilt or she doesn't see the point or what. But the best she could finally manage was asking her if she was alright. To which the girl sobbed, "No! You hit me on the head!" And then Annika just gave up and went on with her life. And the girl went home for a much-needed nap. I went back to the table in the shade where I and another mom were watching the action. "She just doesn't get it," I sighed. "Really?" the other mom asked. "I think if it had actually been a hard hit, accident or no, she would have seen the point of apologizing. But she just doesn't understand that something like that would have been so upsetting, I think. Some of these social rules are kind of hard to get at four years old, aren't they?" "Yeah. That developing empathy. It really takes a while. She's still working on it?" "Well, no. She's got all sorts of empathy for some things." The truth is that Anni showed empathy (and sympathy) at an incredibly young age. And she's also a girl of action - never one just to feel bad, but not try to right the situation. My favorite example, of course, was her campaign to convince the docs at CMH to remove all NG-tubes from the babies on the floor. But what was going on here was something altogether different. An NG-tube, an I.V., anything involving whirring machines operated by techs in scrubs or injuries involving spurting blood - those are the kinds of things that get Annika feeling bad for her fellow children. She understands those things as bad and scary. A little bonk on the head, a splash in the face with water, a fall onto 3 inches of soft rubber mulch - those are the hurts that Annika can't quite understand as tear-worthy. And that's a whole new level of emotional development - understanding and feeling bad when people are tossing a fit about something that seems no big deal to you. Hey, I'm not sure I always manage that one. I mean, not really, although I think I usually make the appropriate noises and at least make an effort. Let's face it: emotional development is not like walking or 2-footed jumping, which you just sort of do one day (or not depending on your particular situation - so substitute in whatever milestone you wish). It's a lot more difficult, a lot more complicated, and likely still underway at age 4, 24, and even 54. There are plenty of days that I don't even understand exactly why I am feeling the way I do, when just listing the reasons I feel down don't seem to justify the depths of my down-ness. So expecting that kind of understanding of someone else seems a pretty high standard. Of course, I do seem to expect that on a regular basis of my husband, which I figure would rank pretty high on our list of marital stressors. And I suspect I am not alone (although I confess I may be projecting a bit reading Jessamyn's entry). So back to our backyard...It only took Annika 5 minutes or so to start asking if she could go check on her friend. "Is her head OK?" she asked. And I told her that she was mostly just tired, and was taking a little rest, but I was sure she would be fine later on. That answer didn't seem to satisfy her completely, and I confess that I was happy to see that little shadow pass over our sunny day. After all, we might not always be rational creatures and our hurts might not always be based on the best reasons, but they are hurts nonetheless. I like who this girl is becoming, but this stuff is not easy.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Cliff is here!

Originally uploaded by moreena.
My cousin, Cliff, was the donor for Annika's second transplant. I'm so glad they're getting a chance to develop a relationship. Annika doesn't quite understand it all yet, and we're not forcing it on her - after all, it is a bit of a mind-blower even at 35 - but she knows there's something special about him.