Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blood Phobia

I was out to lunch with my parents recently and somehow we got on the subject of my blood phobia. My mom started to talk about the sound I made when I injured my arm, the incident that started the little problem, and I had to ask to her to stop because I was getting dizzy. I think I've gotten better over the years, but when one of my kids has a bleeding injury, I go into panic overdrive. When Daisy was 2 years old and got a cut near her eye from falling out of her crib, she asked, "Mama, are you OK?" and I burst into tears. Nice bedside manner.

What happened was . . .  I was playing in my backyard when I was seven. I would get the tire swing going then somehow jump from the tire to a swing on a playset and back. It seems impossible now, but I spent a lot of time perfecting the maneuver. So anyway, as I was jumping from the tire to the swing, I missed the swing but fell against the chains holding the swing and my arm was ripped open by a very thick, exposed s-hook. I still remember the moment I realized I was hanging by the hook in my arm. I called for my dad. It seemed like there was complete silence, then he came and unhooked me.

It's funny that my mom works in the medical profession now because she didn't respond very calmly to the situation. She got a clean cloth diaper to hold against my arm but was sort of walking in circles. My next memory was lying next to my dad in the cab of his pickup truck. My dad commented on me not crying and wondered what my mom was doing now. She jumped into the cab next to me and we sped off to the medical clinic. When we were talking about this the other day, they had no idea where my middle brother was when they left, but they think my baby brother was alone in his playpen in the frontyard. This from two of the most safety-conscious grandparents there are . . . I think my dad might actually be a card-carrying member of the safety police.

We had to wait awhile to see the doctor but when we did, I was happy it was a female doctor. Maybe happy isn't the right term as I seemed to be observing the whole process from somewhere else. I didn't say much. Anyway, my arm was ripped open pretty good and I was lucky that I didn't sever a major artery or sustain muscle damage. The doctor lost count of the stitches after 100, but she was very personable and told me stories as she stitched up layer after layer.

I left the hospital with a big bandage on my arm and a new sense of fear. I still had my bandage walking home from school one day when a boy from my class followed me for a good part of the way, saying obnoxious things and half chasing me. I felt that in every step I was in danger of falling and hurting myself. My mom contacted the school and the boy had to go to the principal's office. I remember thinking that this was going to do wonders for my social life (not).

And that's really it except, I've had a phobia around injuries and blood ever since. I can handle a shoot-em-up mafia movie or something like that, but once while watching a movie on the Russian Revolution as a sophomore in high school, I fainted in class after the portrayal of the hemophiliac son falling down the stairs. So embarrassing, especially because I was one of the only younger students in a class filled with juniors and seniors.

I was escorted to the nurse's office and as rumors spread, various friends stopped by to get the scoop . . . Drugs? Disease? I owed the drug rumor to the teacher as she had said it was a possible drug overdose when calling the nurse for help. Great . . . thanks a lot. I told people I was just low blood sugar. Food was then promptly delivered (never underestimate the mass communication abilities of teenagers . . . this was even before cell phones). I couldn't bring myself to tell the truth: I went into shock because even the idea of someone bleeding to death freaked me out, and when I got up to ask to go to the bathroom, I was lightheaded and passed out right in the front of the classroom. Why faint at all unless you have everyone's full attention?

I've learned a few coping strategies since then, but the phobia comes up on occasion. It might be a movie or something a student writes (there are some twisted young minds out there) or I'll come across a scene in a book that I have to skim over. I guess I thought I would be cured after going through childbirth because . . . damn! But no, it's different.


Friday, June 26, 2009


I had good sleep last night. You have no idea what that means to me. I had one of those long vivid dreams that I woke up from relieved that it wasn't real, though it wasn't all bad.

At the beginning of the dream, I come home to a Goodwill truck parked in my driveway. I look inside and it's jam-packed with furniture and other household stuff, as well as a huge grizzly bear. I release the bear and it rambles off toward the ocean. I suddenly find myself at the beach on a cold day and watch the bear walk into the water.

I visit a couple who I don't really know in real life and offer them everything in the truck. Their place is empty, so I figure they need it. They accept and I leave.

Then I'm in The City with my friend Quinn. It's a foggy day and we are in some area that I don't know my way around very well (in other words, pretty much anywhere in The City). As I'm walking down the street with her, we get separated and I'm totally lost. I spend a lot of time trying to find her. I realize there's a guy walking with me, and he tells me he'll help me find her. I think I see her turning the corner in front of me, about to disappear out of sight again. I speed up but the guy suddenly pulls me back and kisses me. It's surprising what a good kiss it is because I hardly noticed him standing there before. I walk away from him, sort of disoriented, and catch up to Quinn.

We get in her car and she tells me the couple I gave the truckload of stuff to is badmouthing me because it wasn't really proper for me to give it away. They're disgusted because it's actually a truckload full of donations from other people. I get defensive and tell her I found it in my driveway and we talk about what I should do.

She drives us over the Golden Gate Bridge, and the bridge is a vibrant orange in contrast to the gray and choppy ocean. The traffic is really bad and Quinn is trying to prevent people from cutting in front of us because everyone's driving really aggressively.

As she's explaining how we shouldn't let people cut in front of us, people riding a red roller coaster on an invisible track above us start looping through traffic at odd angles. Some of the roller coaster cars fly off the track and land with a huge splash in the cold ocean. They float away calmly as if it was all part of the ride.

I wanted to write this one down because it involves the ocean . . . I don't dream about the ocean often, but when I do, it always seems to be more significant than the average dream . . . the type of dream that you remember years later. Not quite sure what this one is about.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is This Normal?

It's the beginning of my weekend . . . thank the lord baby jesus. Two weeks down, seven more to go. The summer schedule is a shock to my family. I was home early today so I spent the last few hours trying to improve the situation, but it was like trying to fill a bottomless pit of neediness with a teaspoon. I'm taking a time-out to avoid shoving that spoon where they might really notice my efforts.

I met my sister-in-law for happy hour last night. Love her. She has a sense of humor like my brothers', although she's married to my husband's brother. Shortly after she met my middle brother, they spent the day talking to each other in Sean Connery accents and it was funny (at least at first . . . then I started silently pleading for it to stop but they never tired). I don't normally take shots or drink tequila but I do when I'm with her. We talk about serious things - for some reason we talked about cancer last night - but we spend more time laughing, telling stories, riling each other up . . . the bartender joked that he was going to kick us out. I'm pretty sure he was joking.

So I'm partly to blame for my current situation because I only saw the kids for about 15 minutes yesterday. But now, I have a few days to make it right. I also need to locate my sanity as I realized it might be missing this morning. During the morning commute, I started thinking about the conversation I had with my sister-in-law about cancer. Then I thought about people I've known who have died of cancer and from there, what I would do if I had cancer, what I would want my kids to know before I go . . . tears were streaming down my face. I wasn't sobbing but I couldn't stop the tears and then I wondered . . . is this normal? Hmm . . . this doesn't seem like normal, healthy behavior.

I tried to get a grip and reached for my second venti-sized mug of coffee that I had wedged next to the first one in the center console, but instead, knocked it over into my lap. I was momentarily startled then it occured to me . . . I just happened to be wearing something that wasn't going to show the coffee stain and would pretty much dry instantly. I might smell like a coffee shop for the rest of the day but REALLY I was lucky. So I wiped off the make-up smeared under my eyes and derailed the emo train. Moving on.


Thursday, June 18, 2009


One of the things I'm missing with my new summer school schedule is the social life around Daisy's school. It's one of those things I never thought about before having a kid in school . . . parents are thrust into a social arena based solely on geographical location and the age of the offspring. When I was a kid, I assumed all adults knew and liked each other.

The main thing we are missing out on at the moment is our playdate schedule. My father-in-law asked if I was making that term up or was it an actual thing. I can tell you that I heard that term before I really understood it. I'm not sure if it's like this in all neighborhoods, but at least in this one, kids aren't able to walk out the front door to find someone to play with anymore. In my childhood, my brothers and I ran wild with a ragtag assortment of neighborhood kids. We moved several times and it was always an option. Now, kids in the elementary school set have a social life organized around playdates.

I remember sitting at Daisy's preschool orientation, excited because it was a coop, meaning that parents work shifts to keep the tuition low. My boss was flexible enough to allow me to do it. The teacher leading the orientation explained that us parents would probably become close friends, and years later, she was still friends with some of her fellow preschool moms. I looked around the room . . . uh, no . . . I don't think so. I'm just really selective about women - and there were mostly women there - that I trust enough to get close to. Partly because when I was working 50+ hours per week, I found that I couldn't meet the expectations of a new female friendship. I was barely able to participate in my husband's social life and I already had my college girlfriends, childhood friends, and work friends. I didn't feel like I had the room.

I didn't do playdates for most of preschool, and sadly, my daughter suffered from my lack of participation. Once in awhile, I would have time to take her to the playground next to her preschool, where many of the parents congregated after school. The other kids seemed to pick up on the fact that we weren't a regular part of the group and often treated my daughter badly. It broke my heart and after one particularly bad day, I told her that we were leaving. She turned to a group of girls she considered to be her friends, "I have to go now." One of the girls turned to her and said, "I don't care," then turned back to the group, "Does anyone care that she's leaving?" They all shook their heads. Daisy cried on the way home.

It was time for me to put aside my own perspective and jump into the playdate scene. But I did nothing until I lucked out that one girl, who my daughter considered her closest friend, had a mom who reached out to me. She asked me if I'd be interested in having a playdate. I said yes, not only to that playdate, but to a fixed schedule of alternating playdates between us. From there, we added another regular playdate with another family.

For the last year or so, we continued our playdate schedule and that's about all my schedule could handle. The other days were reserved for job hunting or tutoring, while the kids were in daycare. After Daisy started kindergarten, we met new families and there were more playdate offers. I realized that playdates are kind of like actual dates. You're not sure if it's too early to ask the other party out, and when you do, you're not sure if you want to make it a regular thing. You're not sure if there are enough common interests to sustain something over the long run. Also, playing hard to get might lead to more offers.


Friday, June 12, 2009


Yesterday was Daisy's kindergarten graduation. Her dad went to the ceremony, and I took her to the park for the celebration with 80 kindergartners and their families. We kept Violet at home, who's still sick.

I can't believe Daisy finished kindergarten already. It was quite a year for her. I was surprised by the sophisticated social structure the girls created in kindergarten. In general, the boys learned to sit still on the carpet, struggled to control their impulses, missed their mommies and chased the girls at lunch . . . while the girls created clubs, alliances, frienemies . . . established what's in and what's out, and thrilled each other with sordid, exaggerated stories.

We had a particularly shocking start to kindergarten. In the second week, my daughter told me something that another little girl had said to her that was in the category of sexual harassment. It was a serious situation that was dealt with delicately and fairly for all parties concerned, but it was a rough welcome to elementary school. My husband said at the time, "What's next? Gang wars?"

Daisy's tastes changed quite a bit this school year. Daisy began talking about High School Musical, even though she's never seen it and begged for the pajamas. She told me "Hannah Montana is so exquisite." Wah? Her interest in Disney princesses and Barbies became so last year. I purchased music that I thought might appeal to her . . . Natasha Bedingfield, Adele, Colby Caillat . . . hoping to influence her musical tastes before she discovers the Jonas Brothers (shudder). I do realize that kids grow out of their poor musical tastes . . . I listened to the Osmonds and even an album "sung" entirely by birds when I was her age, so I can't be too critical.

The girls in Daisy's kindergarten class were obsessed with creating clubs, the main focus being who was going to be excluded that day, and everyone was banished at one point or another. I choked on my dinner one night when Daisy told me that they had formed the Hot Girls Club and her nickname was Hot Lava. The teacher fought back by instilling the idea that the only rule of school was We're Friends. The girls compromised by creating a general Girls Club and directing the boys to create the Boys Club, and then some of the girls, my daughter included, switched to the Boys Club and joined in chasing the other girls at lunch. See, the girls are dynamic like that.

Religion was a surprising topic that came up this year. Daisy came home from school with lots of questions . . . "Are we Jewish?" No. "What are we then?" Well, that's sort of complicated . . . We have a general Christian background on my side of the family and they're atheists on your dad's side. I personally prefer not to identify with any specific religion but stay open to various spiritual beliefs . . . "But we're not Jewish (disappointed tone)?" No, sorry.

And then there was the time when I was in the hot tub with Daisy and she turned to me and said, "I don't believe in God. I only believe in the devil. The devil is awesome. I love the devil." OK, who's been talking like that at school? "Kate." Well, Kate is going for something called shock value. The devil's make believe. "No, mom. The devil's real." No, it's pretend. Santa and the Easter Bunny are real. The devil's fake.

I often asked Daisy about school after picking her up. Her response was usually something like "nothing" or "I don't want to talk about it right now. Stop asking me questions." When she did tell me about school, it was about the social drama. I became concerned . . . but what did you learn? School is about learning! Recently, she shook her head and told me condescendingly, "Mom, school is about being big. I've already learned everything. I'm big now." No, you learn for the rest of your life. I'm still learning. You never stop. But she wasn't convinced.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Middle Brother

I was thinking about siblings and how much my middle brother used to piss me off after writing the last post. We are a little less than two years apart, and I don't think I ever got over the way he inconvenienced the family when he was born. My memories start at his birth. It was very traumatic.

We had to share a room when we were little, and I had the top of the bunk bed. I would sometimes wake up on the floor, having fallen out overnight, and I could smell that sour baby-bottle breath coming from the bottom bunk. I tried to avoid him but he followed my friends and I around. It was okay as long as he would follow directions. He let us put old make-up on him, which gave him a nasty case of pink eye. The result was that my mom had to get him an ointment and keep the lights down low while he rested on the couch with a wet washcloth on his face. What a baby.

Following me around almost caused his early demise. I was running back to a camper in a beach parking lot with another little girl, and my brother trailed behind as usual. He was hit by a teenager on a motorcycle and had to go to the hospital. The next day was Easter so no egg hunt, all because of his dumb injuries. I went with my dad to pick him up from the hospital, and I was so disgusted when he came out in a wheelchair with my mom. I asked him suspiciously,"Why are you in that? You're not THAT hurt." Not the most empathetic time of my life. He even got settlement money from the accident, which I somehow attributed to him being lucky.

My family moved around quite a bit and it always took me awhile to make new friends. My brother, on the other hand, made friends instantly. He would flutter his big, blue eyes that he always got so much attention for, and a friend would appear. I remember sitting on the floor with him at a bank, waiting for my mom, and a kid came up and became my brother's new best friend in five minutes. I was so insulted. The kid probably wondered what was wrong with the nice kid's scowling sister.

When we were a little older, my brother thought he was a spy (few too many James Bond movies), so he would do missions around the house. He found my friend and I smoking cigarettes in the backyard when I was in junior high, and the little sneak kept the cigarette butts. I didn't know until I overheard my mom confronting him about the butts she found in his room. I heard his delighted tone when he told her they were mine, but I was the one who was delighted when I heard my mom's response, "Stop spying on your sister!" She must have realized the risks of having a spy as a child because he eventually unearthed some sensitive information about her. His googly eyes were wide with excitement when he came to my room to share his findings.

It's funny to think about how annoying it was to have a brother . . . the name calling, hair pulling, kicking, hitting, yelling, tattle-telling, judging, tallying . . . I was convinced he was the golden child of the family (still am) and he thought I was the favorite (still does). We have another brother as well, but he's seven years younger so he was never so irritating. I can't say my middle brother felt the same way as he broke my younger brother's collarbone TWICE (I guess I still enjoy telling on him).

Now my brothers are two of my favorite people in the world. Even though my middle brother lives on the East Coast, I have never felt closer to him. We've had a few rough spots over the years - even as adults - but I wouldn't trade him for anything. I have to admit my brothers are more entertaining than I am, but we share a sense of humor born out of the struggles of growing up together. The prize that came from annoying the hell out of each other for years is that these days we can make each other laugh like no one else.