Anna Quindlen

My mother forwarded an article about Anna Quindlen the other day that was an NPR book review of her latest work: ‘Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.’  I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of her books (next stop after Hunger Games).  I didn’t realize that for years she had an op-ed column in the New York Times.  The NPR article talks about how she put her readers at ease because they could relate to her everyday struggles.  Because, aren’t we all really going through the same thing?  Is anyone really that unique that their problems have never been dealt with by anyone else?  You have kids that are acting up?  Check.  You feel like you have too much crap in your house and you can never get it quite clean enough?  Check.  You have the breast cancer gene? Check. Check.  Misery loves company.
I am never happy to hear that my friends are having a rough time, but it was nice to learn that something I had written helped make a friend feel better about her day.  Whether I’m writing about my toddler misbehaving or my health issues (and who doesn’t have something in that area to complain about?  PMS even.  It’s a totally legit day ruiner.), we’ve all been there.  Not that my audience can be compared to Quindlen’s NYTimes readers, but I hope her comforting effect on her masses is akin to what I offer you, my readers (yes, both of you).
The main reason my mother thought the Anna Quindlen article would speak to me is because they cite her take on motherhood as “scut work” of “endless diaper changes, baths, books, Band-Aids, doctor visits. It’s as though we were working long repetitive shifts on an assembly line, and in the end we had the Sistine Chapel.”  I hope my girls one day feel like they’re my Sistine Chapel.  That I have put enough love, time, and creative energy into their growth that they realize they are each a masterpiece of epic proportion equal parts wonderous and beautiful.  I mean, I’m always telling my 2 year old she’s a piece of work.  And to you, Rosie Riveter of Motherhood, I hope your days on the line provide the same satisfaction and joy as we look back on this time in hindsight.  I’m grateful to all my fellow line workers for their support when I’m down, I hope I’m doing the same for you.  Darnit, I should’ve saved this one for Mother’s Day.  

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FairyTales

We’ve been watching a lot of Disney princess movies lately. I loved them when I was little and I love watching them through the eyes of my older daughter. We have tea parties with Belle and Cinderella. We watch Tiana go from human to frog to human over and over again. Although it’s fun to watch my little girl pretend she is a princess, for a fleeting moment I worried that it’s not such a great thing.
What concerns me is setting unrealistic expectations. Yes, I’m definitely over-thinking this. Don’t all girls dream of being a fairytale princess? What’s so bad about it really? Are there positive teaching moments that I can take away from these movies? What can my daughters really learn about life from these fairytales?
My conclusions are as follows: in the end, it’s never about the riches, the perfectly matched outfits, the body images (although they’re all pretty hot), or how cute their prince is (although again, they’re all pretty hot). All of the princesses face some kind of fairly awful adversities. They all have something to overcome before they get their happy ending.
Take Ariel, she sells her voice to Ursula so that she can get legs and be closer to Eric. Lesson: don’t try to give up part of yourself to be closer to a guy. Belle sacrifices her own comfort and safety so that her father can be freed from the Beast’s emprisonment. Lesson: she showed bravery and loyalty to her family and looked beyond mere appearances to find her prince. Rapunzel escaped her tower to find her destiny and befriended everyone on the way. Lesson: don’t accept another’s fear tactics to keep you from exploring the world around you, be brave enough to do something about getting what you want. If you’re kind to those around you, they may help you along your journey. And Cinderella, poor Cinderella, look at all the bitches she had to put up with.
These medical obstacles I’m facing now are just a hurdle for me to jump over as I run towards my happily ever after. I’m fighting what I’m genetically predisposed to by excising the potentially threatening areas so that I can live a long and healthy fairytale existence. I mean, why else did I fight my middle part cowlick and train my bangs to go to the right like Ariel all these years if I didn’t expect to secretly become a princess?
My point is that I hope my girls realize someday that even princesses don’t just get everything handed to them. There’s no silver platter in life. Everyone faces hard times and hurdles that they must overcome. But if you demonstrate strength of character, intelligence, courage, loyalty, and kindness, good things will happen. I hope their fairy tale dreams all come true!! In the meantime, I have dibs on playing Ariel. Prince Eric is the dreamiest!

Sesame Street

My life is like an episode of Sesame Street, brought to me by the letter P: peepee, poopy, puke, pull-ups, pampers, playgrounds, playdates, puzzles, paint, pink, purple and lots of patience in partnership with one passionate prince and two pretty princesses. Perfect!
I hardly ever update my Facebook status, but that was one of my recent status updates.  As I was thinking about it today, I thought maybe I’ll add some more P’s: PMS, panties, pap smears, and psych ward.  Sometimes I feel like that’s where I am.  My wardens are 7 months and almost 3 years old.  We are constantly discussing feelings: “Are you frustrated?  Are you sad?  Are you angry?”  We are trying to handle these emotions in a way that’s appropriate for all three of our age groups.  At times, I feel like each one of us is Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde.  There’s no telling when one of us is going to lose our mind.  None of us are able to go to the bathroom without someone watching and we are not allowed to use sharp objects without heavy questioning and a presentation of reasoning: “Why you got those scissors?”  “Hey, don’t touch those scissors, they’re sharp.” Our neuroses kept us up all last night and there were already 3 major meltdowns this morning (2 from the 2 year old, 1 from me, and the 7 month old is getting our best behavior award for the day; ok fine, she gets it everyday).  I did, willingly and whole-heartedly, admit myself into this institution.  Shouldn’t I get to check myself out for a bit? 
Last night, after a discussion about how my husband thinks I need to get more help (or was it just to “get help”?), I was reading a book that my mother gave me when my youngest was born.  Alexandra Stoddard’s Things I Want My Daughters to Know.  It has been on my bedside along with my self-help Mom books (The Happiest Toddler on the Block, books about how to get your toddler to eat well, discipline solutions, etc.).  I finally started reading it and can identify with a lot what she writes.  I just happened to open right to the chapter entitled “In Really Tough Times, Regularly Take Time Off.” 
No one is dying and I do try to keep everything in perspective, but I’m finally feeling like it’s ok to admit that I’ve felt a little overwhelmed for the past few weeks.  It’s not really tough times, but they’re not the easiest either. With all of the breast tests looming over me, it was always in the back of mind.  I think I do a fairly decent job of keeping it back there and not letting it affect my everyday attitude; but of course, I’m only human and my negative thoughts do rear their ugly heads at times.  That coupled with typical two year old tantrums has made me less than patient and I don’t like that at all.  It’s not fair to my kids, my husband or myself.  So while my response to my husband’s suggestion was, “I’m not a lady who lunches, that seems too over-privileged for me.  Military Moms do this with like 5 kids on their own for months or years,” I am kind of agreeing that I do need an occasional break.  Some me-time would probably do us all some good.
So I’m going to follow everyone’s advice (my husband wasn’t the only one who said that to me yesterday: my brother and Alexandra Stoddard did too). I’m going to try to let go of some of the Mom guilt and take a little time for myself.  If nothing else (and I say this often when I’m trying to justify leaving for a bit), it will help prepare the girls for my future absences.  I’m going to bust out of this joint and try to regain some sanity… sometime soon.

Dreams of Highbeams

I had my first dream the other night that I had no boobs. It was post surgery and I had a lot of scarring. The new boobs were pre-reconstruction and had these tiny almost flat, pencil eraser nipples. They still had sutures and were definitely looking raw. It was not a comforting image but I remember thinking, “well at least I won’t highbeam again”.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to it’s when your nipples pop out as if the turkey’s done. Watch any episode of Friends and tell me when that studio was cold based on the state of Jennifer Aniston’s nipples. (hello, pervy YouTubers, welcome back). I don’t like it when that happens to me in public. I cannot think of any situation when I want that to happen again (outside of my home, where I don’t care what happens).
So now I’m wondering how I should request they be designed by the plastic surgeon. Do I just ask for a small raised area? Or totally flush? I have heard that they can be tattooed on. So do I opt for some funky design? Flowers? Lots of decisions to make re: nipples.
Other than for cosmetic reasons, they will no longer serve a purpose. They won’t have any sensation anymore and they won’t be used for breast feeding. So do I tell the surgeons not to worry about them? I know I should be looking at magazines to see what size and type of boobs I want but should I get a Playboy subscription so I can check out the nipples too? I’m laughing to myself as I picture my husband’s face as he picks up that mail unexpectedly. Confusion? Embarassment? Elation? Priceless! Ok Hef, here comes your newest subscriber.

Tips for Testing the TaTas

When I had my testing done, it was a beautiful Spring day; warm but with a little chill. On my way out the door, I grabbed a really soft wrap to throw over the light sweater I wore. I am so happy I brought it with me. The radiology area may as well have been the Arctic. It was awesome to have something cozy to wrap around me, keeping me snuggly over the hospital robes. Despite all odds, the wrap made the robes look chambray, almost like washed denim and dare-I-say a bit fashionable. And on that same note, while I’m sure it won’t elevate the overall look, bringing socks will keep your tootsies warm. They were the one thing I thought of the night before, but forgot to put in my bag. Oh – not the one thing, I also forgot food and a drink. Yeah, kind of essential to pack some snacks. Especially when a 2 hour appointment turns into a 5 hour appointment. Luckily they had free coffee and fruit there. Other things to know: no metal (ie. jewelry) in an MRI and no deodorant for a mammogram. They’d rather you look and smell like a hobo during the testing.
Even though I felt like I was in a fashion nightmare, wearing this fairly hideous pajama-like ensemble in front of strangers, I was thinking about what made me feel relaxed while I got my tests done the other day. If you can have a companion with you, obviously, that’s the best way to ease the nerves. Choose that friend wisely though. You know yourself, so do you want someone who makes you laugh? Do you want someone who will just listen? Do you want someone who provides thoughtful insights and lively debates? If you don’t have someone to go with you, what will distract you while you wait? For me, it was the Tina Fey book. For others, it could be sudoku or a movie on the iPad or an iPod full of music.
Last, but not least, think of something to do when you are done. Visualizing your exit helps to be optimistic. When I realized how close I was to some of the best museums in the world, I thought about going to one and walking around for a little bit before hopping on the train home. Unfortunately, by the time I got out, I had to make my way straight for the train as battletime… I mean, bedtime for the girls was fast approaching. But instead of hailing the first cab I saw, I enjoyed a stroll along Central Park and past the Guggenheim for 10 minutes. It was the fresh air, the city’s beautiful scenery, and all the little kids just getting out of school that cleared my head before I dashed back home to enjoy my own little ones in their much cuter jammies.
So to review and for easier planning:
– Bring something cozy to wrap around you
– Bring socks
– Bring food and drink
– Don’t wear jewelry or deodorant
– Bring a friend and/or distraction
– Plan something to look forward to …. like living a longer, fuller life.

Community

It is so important to feel a part of a community. When you go through adversities in life, it is helpful to have the support of loved ones, people who want to be there for you, and people who have been in a similar place. One of the values I most hope to teach my daughters is the importance of giving back to your community. My parents instilled that in me from a very young age. It is my feeling that you must actively try to do what you can for a community that you identify with. Be it geographically, religiously, or based on some found common ground or value (all with good and peaceful intentions).
A friend of a friend who is becoming a friend (got that?) told me about Bright Pink. http://www.brightpink.org A non-profit focused on prevention and early-detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women while supporting high-risk individuals. Sounds like the perfect community for me to be a part of. I joined via email today. I’m not sure that there is a chapter where I live, but I hope there is. And if there isn’t, I’d be willing to start one. I’ve said it a lot here that I really want to spread awareness and help people protect themselves from breast and ovarian cancers like I’m trying to do for myself. I’m sure meeting other women who are in the same boat as I am will be wonderful too.
Although I can barely find the time to brush my hair or put makeup on (sorry to all of those who have to look at me daily), I’m itching to make a contribution in my community. I joined an organization years ago but dropped out after 3 years of service because I really didn’t see the goal being realized or a tangible difference being made in the local community, as promised. I met a lot of lovely women who I am still friendly with but I had to move on and use my time elsewhere. So I hope that I can find the right way to contribute to this new community of “previvors” (a cool moniker they’ve given themselves) and help grow this group at the same time. I also hope the time I spend volunteering will show my girls that I practice what I preach.

My Day with Tina Fey

Well not really. I actually spent the day feeling like I was in Roswell, complete with probing (from an IV drip in my arm, get your mind out of the gutter). Today I had my first breast MRI and mammogram. I had to change my appointment to 5 days earlier than I had expected because my husband’s job is really THAT demanding.
I didn’t want to ask anyone to spend their day sitting in waiting rooms with me, but many thanks to the many friends who offered or were willing to go with me. The tests themselves took about 45 minutes to perform. I was there for over 5 hours. Ideally, I would have loved spending this time with my husband. It is really helpful to have a friend to distract you from the anticipation. (enter Tina). She was there with me the whole day and proved a hilariously delightful distraction. Her witty, inappropriate humor and anecdotal advice on work, motherhood, marriage, etc. felt like I was having a really fabulous, albeit one-sided, conversation with a friend. Maybe it’s my over active imagination or the hallucinogens they put in the IV instead of dye, but it felt like she was there with me. I was really just reading her book, of course. I started to get a little nervous when they told me I was going to have an IV for the MRI (why I didn’t think that was going to happen is beyond me. I know that they do that for an MRI. I guess I blocked that thought out) but I picked up Bossypants and was totally at ease.
I couldn’t bring my book into the actual MRI with me so I had to find another way to calm myself so I didn’t move an inch for the half hour it took to do the test. They had me lie face down with my head in one of those padded ovals they use on massage tables. Except this massage table had two holes for my boobs to be suspended like parallel flying discs. I felt like Blake Lively must have felt when she flew next to Ryan Reynolds in the movie the Green Lantern. It’s exactly like that with the same amount of glamour and weird space noises. So they slid me back into a tube and I thought, “Maybe I will just snooze because, hey, this is the longest I’ve gotten to lay still with my eyes closed during the day since before my kids were born. I may as well make the most of it”. Usually, the thing that wakes me from a light daytime slumber is my 2 year old’s claws prying my eyelids open, “mommy wake up, mommy, mommy” not only reminding me that I can’t sleep on the job but also that I have to cut her fingernails because they feel like daggers in my eyes. This time it was the machine’s rhythmic beeping that made me feel like someone was trying, desperately, unsuccessfully to make music with variously tuned foghorns. Do not get an MRI if you have a hangover!! After a while, I got used to the noise and once again enjoyed the peace of my body laying in one spot for a half an hour.
Then it was on to another waiting room. I have to say, this hospital had a very spa-like feel. They play peaceful music, portray beautiful images on tv screens and have private waiting areas with comfy chairs. So Tina and I got to laugh a little bit more “together” and then I went in for the mammogram.
I have heard all sorts of things about mammograms being super painful and horrible. Luckily, not at all for me! Maybe it’s that my boobs have lost all of their luster and have been reduced to pancakes after breast feeding two babies, but they took to the flattening quite well. Maybe they felt at home in their natural flapjackish shape? It was a little uncomfortable but I just popped out two kids. Being 9 months pregnant is uncomfortable. 5 minutes of this is like having a 5 hour massage compared to that! They put a metal apron on me right under my boobs so I felt like Jenna Elfman when she hangs her boobs over a washboard in Krippendorf’s Tribe. Then the tech warmed up the griddle and slapped them on there. She brought the medieval torture device down, kersplat! (to borrow my oldest’s favorite word from the book The Giant Jam Sandwich – I guess my boobs were the jam?) No biggie, although now I’m starving and am going to have to find the nearest diner.
The last rendezvous was getting to second base with the surgeon. She felt me up thoroughly and said my boobs and my mammogram results were normal!!!!! Phew! (Big sigh of relief.) Although the MRI results won’t be done until tomorrow afternoon, she anticipated good results there too! Hooray! So as I walk out of here (not to return for another 4 months), I’m feeling like a warrior. Strong and fearless; for I was brave and faced my cancerous enemy chest held high (well as high as they can go). I can ride my valiant steed back to my loved ones and rejoice with dancing, merriment, and a feast for a queen. Or at least, I’m on one of the spankin’ new metro north trains, I will probably dance to the Princess and the Frog soundtrack and we might heat up some toddler fish sticks. It all sounds pretty friggin’ sweet to me!!