Friday, February 24, 2017

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," my husband announced as I stood, bewildered, in the living room. It took me a moment to realize that what he had actually said was, "What about getting a job?"

I was ready to tell him that Amelia is far too young to join the workforce when I noticed that he was talking to me. A job. J-o-b. The word stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. Jooooooobbbbbbbb. 

But I'm already a professional Google searcher, I tried to explain. And a Netflix critic. And a chicken finger connoisseur. How much can a girl possibly take on in one day? "I'm not Wonder Woman," I tell him. 

He thinks that my OCD would benefit from some time away from home. I'd no longer be able to research bacteria levels on kitchen sponges between episodes of Game of Thrones. A job would stimulate my brain; light a spark under my well-rested, growing derriere. 

For once, I have to agree with my husband. The worst thing you can give an OCD sufferer is a search engine and time to think. My symptoms lessen when I stay busy; I focus on the task at hand instead of the million catastrophic risks waiting outside my front door. At the time of this conversation, one of scariest scenarios is just days away: Amelia's tonsillectomy.

February 8th finally arrived. There I was, death grip on my rosary with mascara-stained cheeks, staring at a clock that I swore had stopped moving. I could feel every palpitation of my heart, and for a moment, I questioned whether a big ole scaredy-cat like myself had the strength to do much of anything in this life. I looked all around the same-day surgical waiting room and noticed people snoozing and emailing and snacking on protein bars. I found them to be such calm, fascinating creatures. 




These unenlightened individuals apparently hadn't studied the hundreds of complications that can occur with any given surgery: bleeding, allergies to anesthetic agents, cardiac arrest, infection, thrombosis. Perhaps they didn't have the time; perhaps they had jobs. 

Amelia's procedure lasted fifteen minutes, and the next two weeks were long but uneventful--- she bounced back faster than Britney Spears after 2007. Her pain was manageable the entire time, and all she wanted to do was eat and annoy me. 

Fast forward to Wednesday night. Amelia was pretty much back to a normal routine and Matt was on business in South America. As per our nighttime routine when Matt is away, I crated the dog, alarmed the security system, and tucked Amelia in bed beside me. 

She wakes me at midnight asking for a tissue. Half-asleep, I grab one from my nightstand and hand it to her. "The bed feels wet, mommy," she says. "Shhhh," I mumble. "Mommy is just sweating. Go back to bed." 

Three hours later: "Mommy, I need a drink."  Annnnnnd I'm up. I switch on the bathroom light and fill a cup with water. My bed, now slightly illuminated, looks strange to my heavy eyes. 




I wonder for a moment if I've been sweating blood---or maybe Cabernet. Then a light bulb goes off in my groggy head and I realize it's coming from Amelia's mouth and nose---she's having  a post-tonsillectomy complication. I examine her enough to know that most of the blood is dry and she is no longer actively bleeding, so instead of calling an ambulance, I grab my bra and her coat and rush to the emergency room. 

To make a long story short, the bleeding resolved on its own, and Amelia's back at home under my careful observation. It appears this was a one-off (albeit terrifying) episode and is unlikely to happen again. 

So the circus is back in town. Amelia stayed home from school and I'm back on Google. I open the door to grab a UPS package and our new puppy makes a break for it. Here I am, braless and shoeless, chasing our deranged, escaped dog around the house and into our woods while Amelia is standing in the doorway screaming, "Your boobies are jiggling, mom!" and I'm yelling back, "Stop screaming, Amelia!!! You're going to re-bleed!" 

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or eat more Girl Scout cookies.

Perhaps I'll ask Google. 








Friday, January 27, 2017

Tombstones and Tonsils

"Mommy, what should we write on your grave when you die?" asked my sweet child on our way to school. In all fairness, death has been on all of our minds lately with the recent passing of my grandfather. An avid fisherman, 'I'd rather be fishing' is etched on his tombstone.

"I don't know, Amelia. I really haven't given it much thought. What do YOU think it should say?"

She strokes her tiny chin like she's Aristotle before announcing, "I'd rather be napping."

Oh, children. They really do say the darndest things. I give her a forced smile in the rearview mirror and reply, "Mommies get tired sometimes. It takes a lot of energy to raise a child. And a puppy. Our new puppy makes me very tired."

What I didn't have the heart to tell her was, "Mommy is mentally ill. Mommy has an imbalance in her brain that causes her to dwell on intrusive thoughts until she can hardly function. Mommy is tired because mommy's brain runs marathons everyday."

And this particular week, I'm Usain freakin' Bolt.

Let me explain: Amelia's getting her tonsils out in twelve days. To an OCD brain, a tonsillectomy is the equivalent of a toddler performing open heart surgery on the side of the road with a plastic butter knife.

I can't stop researching medical journals. I scour through case studies in the middle of the night, evaluating each and every risk in my head while watching tonsillectomy videos on YouTube. I've even read up on anesthesia experiments in young monkeys (that shit was bananas!).  I've allowed two small masses of lymphoid tissue to consume my every waking thought. So yes, Amelia, mommy is tired.

I know you other mothers worry, as well---it's part of this job description. I just want so badly to be an "average" worrier; to let my daughter play at the park without first thinking of concussions, MRSA, cerebral bleeds, or rabid raccoons lurking near the monkey bars. With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there's always danger around the next corner; an impending sense of doom.

Ironically, if you were to look for antonyms of OCD, you would stumble upon my husband. I married  a man who, on a scale of 1 to Evel Knievel, mitigates risk by popping a Tums before eating expired chicken. I watch in awe as he goes through life unaware of all its dangers---my very own antithesis. He's given Amelia a world of adventure that I cannot give, and in that, I take comfort.

Oh dearest daughter, I'd rather not be napping. I'd rather be seizing the freaking day. I don't want my gravestone to describe some frail, tired, scared woman. I want it to say, 'I'd rather be listening to Britney Spears' or 'I'd rather be eating cake batter', but it's so hard to be anything other than my OCD.

I wish I could stop being so selfish with my own worries and concerns and focus more on you, this amazing little being, but my brain circuits have gone haywire. I'm a defected mommy with the best of intentions, but oh, how I love you so.  If the doctors could discard OCD like they do a set of inflamed tonsils, I'd be the first in that operating room (as long as it was steam sterilized).

Until then, I'm going to need a nap or two.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

To my Dearest Grandpa Black

“Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man, washed his face in a frying pan…”  My grandfather would sing this to me as he placed his arm around my shoulder. Sometimes he would create his own melody, rhyming my name or humming a silly tune. Even as the years passed, I never grew tired of hearing him sing. In recent years, when he lost his ability to clearly speak, he would still come to my side and put his arm around me, grinning. I know he was silently singing to me; an unspoken hymn between a girl and her grandpa. 

I will miss the little things about him; the simple, mundane memories that are now so significant—his patient, calloused hands gently casting my fishing pole. I would watch with childlike intrigue as he cleaned our catch at the end of the day, expertly filleting what would soon be our dinner. 

I remember the thrill and anticipation as he built us our very own swing set, and I recall my mother’s gratitude as he constructed a bedroom wall in our basement. Wherever there was a need, he met it. My grandpa was always giving of himself.


Since Earth is that much more barren and desolate without you on it, Grandpa, then I can only believe that Heaven is that much more radiant with you in it. I pray that the lakes are boundless and the fish are abundant. I pray that you are once again singing—perhaps the newest alto in the choir of angels. Maybe you are with them now, grinning your remarkable grin and singing, “Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man”….so were you, Grandpa Black. One of the finest.  


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year's Pez-olution

I’m sitting on the couch mowing down Pez from Amelia’s stocking stuffer. My puppy just made a meal of her own feces, and our new security system keeps making weird beeping noises, alerting me to the fact that an intruder may stumble across this sad, sad, scene.



It’s December 28th, folks, and as I sit here braless, contemplating all that was 2016, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got no plans for this next year. Everyone’s joining a gym, learning a new language, promising to quit some bad habit, and yet here I sit, munching on some Pez. My New Year’s Pez-olution. 

Last year I vowed to lose twenty pounds, which I did (I just didn't vow to keep it off). The year before that, I vowed to lose thirty. It’s always been about weight with me. Losing it and gaining it. Dropping it and piling it right back on. Carrot sticks to Cheetoh Puffs. Health shakes to Dairy Queen Mocha MooLattes.

This year, as I gaze upon American soil from my very own American couch (or more likely Chinese), I’m reminded that my life, which was once a whirlwind of different countries and emotions and experiences, has finally slowed to a soothing, high-caloric lull. I’m home, surrounded with people who sound like me and even look like me. No more tiny people with all their tiny clothes. No more pencil-thin French women who somehow make smoking look glamorous and sleek, while if you stuff a cigarette in my mouth, I closely resemble a Sasquatch on fire.

I vaguely remember years ago trying on a black gown at a little French boutique. There were no mirrors in the fitting room (just another way for the French to body-shame me), and after awkwardly taking no less than thirty selfies to avoid finding my way to the public mirror, I decided that this dress may actually be a winner. The employees (whom I’m certain moonlighted as Victoria’s Secret angels), studied me like a trigonometry equation. I immediately felt self-conscious and blamed my curves on the baby weight. “I just had a bebe, you see,” I explained to Gisele and Naomi. “Ah, oui,” they mumbled in return. I peeled the dress off of my now shamed body, hung it back alongside all the smaller, impossible sizes, and returned home to my  giant, three-year-old baby. 

And here we are now, 2017 just days away, and I can’t help but wonder if all this self-focus is my real problem; that besides all the food I've been consuming, I’m actually just too consumed with myself. And no, this isn’t some cop-out to losing weight (I know I'd feel healthier and more energetic sans twenty pounds), but rather an awareness that I’ve made myself the center of my universe, and in doing so, I've left little room for much else. 

So instead of some cliche resolution where I promise to go to the gym three times a week until April rolls around (chocolate bunnies, of course), I’m going to forego any actual resolutions and simply try harder: try harder to be a more involved mother; try harder to take less selfies and more pictures of my kid; aspire to notice the needs of those around me instead of only obsessing about my waist to hip ratio; aspire to replace anxiety with faith; and above all, and perhaps most importantly, strive to be continually kind. 

This obsession with food and body image is going to be a lifelong struggle for me. I'm never going to tire of frosting straight from the can, nor will I ever wake up one morning and think, "You know what sounds good, Stefanie? Celery! Go grab yo self a stalk!"

But I can be kind. Always, I can choose to be kind. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Weight of It All

Not only did I put on my fancy sweatpants today, but I wore a bra as well. I felt so good about these accomplishments that I walked into Walgreens with a little swagger in my step. For the third time in weeks, I was loading up on medicine for my sickly four-year-old. Three bouts of strep throat since September and two sinus infections. #germbag

Strep made an appearance early on in Switzerland, and every time my daughter gets it, well then so does big mama. I remember sitting in the doctor's office and Amelia gagging and dry-heaving as they swabbed her throat for strep. I was up next, and apparently the doctor was concerned with my lack of gagging. "Has anyone ever told you that you have no gag reflex?" she asked in an accented voice.

Cue OCD panic. Is something wrong with me? Why can't I retch on command? Do I have a failing pharynx? I immediately went home and typed "no gag reflex" into my Google search. Yup, bad idea. A bad, blonde, busty idea.

My anxiety always seems to get me into trouble. It manifests itself through panic and ridiculous compulsions. People have often told me that I struggle with showing emotion. The truth is, I never really show my emotions because I'm too busy eating them. I prefer my anxiety with a side of curly fries; loneliness with a milkshake; and irritability with a crispy chicken salad (hold the salad, please).

Whenever my OCD symptoms worsen, so does my unhealthy relationship with loaded nachos. I've gained 15 pounds this year, hence the sweatpants (though I do have a pair with rhinestones). Most of this came on during my move back to the United States. As soon as our last box was packed, I fell into some sort of anxiety-ridden frenzy that has yet to loosen its grip on me.

How will Amelia reacclimate? Should I find a job? Will this weight gain lead to diabetes? Will Amelia make new friends? Is there an underlying medical issue as to why she keeps getting strep throat? Should I go for a master's degree? Are there bats in my attic? Should we try for a second child? Does my husband still think I'm enough? Could our new puppy have roundworm?

This question reel goes through my mind about every other second. I'm like a hamster on amphetamines who can't come off its wheel (except maybe for the wheel part---too much exercise).

And then, in what seemed like divine intervention and the timeliest of answers, I found out I was pregnant. Just like that, I had my direction: I was going to be a mom again. I was elated, terrified, and grateful. Most of all, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.

And then I miscarried.

I've always suffered from inadequacy. I've let it eat away at friendships; at my marriage. And now it was eating away at my body. Why had it failed me? Why couldn't it just do its damn job?

I feel back at square one. Like I have something to prove. And although I know this sounds very self-deprecating (albeit hormonal, as well) and not completely true, it also feels real. Grief, no matter how you calibrate it, always feels so very real.

Amongst all the chaos in my mind and a few very choice words for God, He had a little something for me in return. On my way home from dropping off Amelia at school, I stumbled across a picture she had taken while I was driving. A curly reminder of how blessed I already am.

 
I don't pretend to understand what God's plan for me is in all of this; only that I know there is one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In Pieces I Lose Him

I sometimes stop and wonder how he left his room that day. Perhaps a drawer remained slightly open, or worn tennis shoes were tucked neatly under the bed. I wonder if a pair of wrinkled pants were thrown across a chair, left to be worn for a day that would never come. When the mind wonders, it wanders…

Matthew left us on an ordinary day. Nothing historic or monumental shook the world or even our city that night. Since I was old enough to understand death, I always assumed it would shatter the atmosphere and destroy my surroundings when it arrived. Turns out, it only destroyed all the people; the world’s rotation never missed a beat.

I met Matthew when I was sixteen years old in the kitchen of his parent’s house. He was the older brother of my very first boyfriend, and it was my first time meeting the family.  I cautiously introduced myself as he sat eating spaghetti with his girlfriend Jackie, the aroma of garlic bread filling the kitchen.  He eyed me with caution, as if to assess whether I was worthy of his baby brother.

Matthew, Jackie, and I spent the next chapter of our lives attending Northern Illinois University and experiencing the best that college had to offer.  Seven years later, as I sat in a stuffy car outside of church, my phone rang with the news of his death. 

All I could smell was garlic bread.


One of my scariest moments in childhood was having the wind knocked out of me after a fall from a swing-set.  I remember lying there helpless, frozen with fear in my seven-year-old body, terrified I would never catch my breath.  Often when I think of Matthew, I fall off that swing-set all over again, only this time I am rational enough to know that it will only be a matter of seconds before my breath returns to me---the hardest realization is that Matthew never will.

I dream of him often.  Some nights, when I least expect it, he comes to me for a fleeting moment.  The illusions are never long or vivid, but he is there sometimes in the background, always silent and always observant.  For months I have been haunted by a dream of Matthew sitting in a fold-up chair at a cookout, his large hand holding a single red balloon.  He is emotionless and statue-like, yet his amber eyes are aglow with meaning.  Of all the dreams, this one will not leave me.


I drive around aimlessly now, usually at sunset, gathering my thoughts and seeking answers through a blurred windshield.  During one of these drives I saw a house---a small, white ranch sitting on the corner of a street.  A sign read “Caleb’s 10!!!” and tied to it was a single red balloon.  I stopped my car on the side of the road and wept.

Life seldom feels the need to provide answers, yet it comes equipped with enough questions to drive a person to one’s knees.  Matthew died early on an unsuspecting Sunday morning, and days later, in a somber church parking lot where we said our final goodbyes, the crowd gathered with balloons and sent them sailing up, up, up, to find our Matthew somewhere in the skies above.  It seems I had forgotten this.

The dream no longer haunts me---I suppose they reached their destination.      

Matthew was twenty-four years old.  I replay this number over and over in my head, adding and subtracting and trying to make sense of a senseless equation.  In twenty-four more years he would be forty-eight, with a family and a home and a near-flawless golf game.  In twenty-four years after that, he would be seventy-two---a grandpa, perhaps, successful and retired…

I never did much care for math. 


There is always a mist of sadness that permeates every room in which Matthew should be.  I find myself occasionally glancing at doors wherever I go.  I look for him; I seek him out in crowds.  My mind is still convincing me he is gone, that he will never again walk into a restaurant, a party, a house, or my life.

I look for him anyways. 


There is no beauty in death.  Some say there is so much light to be found in the darkest of places, but I have yet to be illuminated.  Death approaches with torture and brutality and departs with a piece of the rest of us. It destroys lives in its path.

Death is opaque. 


I wonder what Matthew saw before his brain quit his body.  I wonder if it hurt.  I wonder if he sees the destruction he left behind, the hopeless longing to rewind to November 16, 2008 for just one moment.  I would have picked him up from the bar---he and Tony both.  I wonder if he knew that. 

*******************************************************************

Matthew left his room on Saturday without knowing he would never return.  He put on his favorite sweatpants for the very last time, and he tied his shoes for one final occasion.  He ran a brush across his short brown hair, and he casually grabbed a wallet that would never again be needed.  I wonder if he closed his door behind him. 

When the mind wonders, oh how it wanders…


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Little Bit Batty

I wouldn't be writing this if Ben Affleck was flying around my bedroom---but when a bat with Michael Phelps' wingspan put on a drunk airshow in my living room, I did what any logical adult would do: I called four doctors, a scientist, animal control, and the health department. I figured the CDC would be overkill.

For all those unfamiliar with the second largest order of mammals, let me give you a fun little fact about these webbed nightmares---they can transmit rabies.

As sure as the sun will set (and that Britney's next album will be a roaring success), OCD will rear its ugly head at the slightest sign of illness or disease.  There is no worse time for me than when I'm in the throes of an OCD episode. So after the bat was finally killed (husband with a wiffle ball bat and a mediocre swing), panic ensued. Since around .005% of bats are thought to be rabid, you can surely understand my trepidation.

Let's begin with my doctor buddies: they gave me the all clear. No one appeared to be bitten or scratched and the bat was now dead and tossed in our woods.  I was reassured for about an hour until I discovered the CDC website on rabies.  Apparently bat bites can go undetected during sleep, and their tiny fang marks can be nearly impossible to detect, especially if one is a child or in an inebriated state. I have a child, therefore I also have nightly wine. Shit.

The health department confirmed my fears. A post-exposure rabies vaccine (which is a complicated series of expensive shots given over a month's time) is recommended if a bat enters a bedroom where one is sleeping unless the bat can be tested and ruled out for rabies---so in comes animal control. They need my bat. Unfortunately it's been tossed in our two acre woods without a proper marking or gravestone. I scour the forest for signs of the corpse, but to no avail. Finally, a very irritated husband comes homes from work and retraces his steps. Alas, we have our suspect.

I'm not usually one to partake in Google reviews, but I must say that Macon County Animal Control gets five stars for efficiency. They came faster than a delivery pizza, placed the bat in their vehicle, and drove it straight to a Springfield laboratory for testing. 

I must also give accolades to the Health Department for their role as liaison. They called to inform me that the bat's brain was indeed testable, but that I would probably need to call the lab for results since I was technically next of kin.

My dear, headless bat finally got a clear bill of health. If he still had a heartbeat, there would be nothing stopping him. Turns out he was one of the 99.9% of bats without rabies. Go figure.

I've since been told that I may have overreacted. What can I say? I'm batshit crazy.