The Recliner

Today would have been my Grandpa’s 103rd birthday.  A few years ago my mom uttered this infamous – in our family – statement, “It makes me feel better knowing that if grandpa was alive he’d be dead by now.”  She’s right.  If my grandparents weren’t dead already they’d probably be dead by now, but the week bracketed by their birthdays is still one that pulls at my heartstrings.

Adding to the angst this year is that we finally got rid of their recliner.  When my grandma died, I inherited this gem.  I was poor, just out of college, and furnishing my first apartments and home.  Somewhere in there Grandpa’s recliner became mine.  I didn’t care what it looked like because I just wanted a comfy place to sit.

img_5428

Now the recliner has lived with me 16 years, which is longer than it ever lived with my grandparents. The chair has seen me and my boyfriend turned husband through innumerable head colds and bouts of bronchitis: nothing is better than a recliner when you are stuffed up and coughing.  My daughter has spit up, peed, pooped spilled, and snotted on this chair.  Throughout her infancy breast-milk was leaked all over it because I loved nursing in this chair.

img_1502

When our basement construction started, heralding the end of the recliner’s life in the house, the baby chickens pooped on it while my daughter sang lullabies to them in the garage.  I hand medicated little baby Rosie chick in that chair.  There may or may not be mice in the chair because there are mice out there.

img_3978

The time for the chair to leave our home had come.  No more would my daughter recline the back, extend the footrest and launch herself off her indoor playset.  Finally I could stop worrying which kid-friend would end up with stitches from emulating my daughter’s antics.  We will never figure out where that missing thumb screw goes: the one that fell out of the bottom one recline. I’m sure there is a whole set of knitting needles and stitch markers hidden in there, never to be found.

img_3638

Before putting the chair out to the curb I went out to the garage, curled up, and read in it one last time.  The book was A Man Called Ove, a perfect choice because my grandpa could have been named Ove he was so much like that character.  I read, I cried, I remembered, and I watched my cats stalk spiders and mice.  Finally, I turned off the lights and, like a dope, said “Goodbye chair.”  By the time I got home from work the next day it was gone.  My mom said, “It was an awfully big memento,” and it was.

img_5429

The first post-chair evening I was down in my study digging around in my sewing machine cabinet and for a moment I smelled cigarette smoke.  Throughout my childhood my grandparents were both smokers and that scent still calls up memories of them.  At that moment I realized that one of them was reminding me that my sewing machine belonged to my grandma.  I remember sewing Halloween and theater costumes side by side.  I still use her manual, filled with her hand written notes, every  time I need to sew on rickrack.  I still have a big memento and one that isn’t going anywhere.  All I need to do to reconnect to them is sew something and, you know, my husband did just mention that the chicken coop needs curtains.  (Well he actually said “The chicken coop needs window blankets,” but either way it means sewing project.)


Correction 10/28/2016

I misquoted my mother in the original version.  She did not say, “It makes me feel better knowing that if grandpa wasn’t already dead he’d be dead by now.”  The corrected, and even sillier, quote is above.  Thanks mom for pointing out my mistake.  Love you!

Call me farmer Afthead

The Afthead family got some chickens.  After the rough experiment fostering kittens last year we left the mammal group of the animal kingdom in favor of the bird group.  Meet Buffy, Rosie and Hope.

img_4345

“What?!?!  You got chickens?” asks Hope.  The girl with her face in the camera was named after Hope Solo.  We got the chickens during the Olympics and little Afthead decided the representative of the Ameraucana breed had to be named after an American athlete.  As a big soccer fan she decided Hope was a good chicken name.  (Given Ms. Solo’s antics during the Olympics I think having a chicken named after her is appropriate.)

This goofy girl is a Buff Orpington.  I really wanted to name her Buff Orpington the Third, because she’s such a formal sounding breed, but Mr. Afthead won these naming rights.  Buffy was the obvious choice for this brave vampire hunting fowl.  In the coming years I’m hoping that in between laying eggs for our family she’ll star in her own sitcom or maybe a movie about a vampire, werewolf, chicken love triangle.

Finally we have Rosie, the littlest of the chickens.  From the beginning she’s been the sweetest, the most friendly and, of course, was the one that almost got sick and died the first week.  Yeah, we appear to attract sickly animals.  After panicked googling, visiting feed stores, and syringe watering this little girl she’s now in great health.  All that hands-on attention in those early weeks has made her brave, well socialized and willing to pose for pictures.   “Who’s a pretty bird?  You are Rosie!”  Momma Afthead got to name this one, and I went for the obvious color-related name for this member of the Rhode Island Red breed.

So that’s our flock.  Really, I have no idea why we are trying this adventure.  We aren’t big local food people.  We aren’t even big egg eaters.  I think Mr. Afthead wanted a project, and converting little Afthead’s old playhouse to a chicken coop seemed like fun.  Of course little Afthead was in: what kid doesn’t want chickens?  It’s all I could do to keep her from grabbing bunnies, turkeys, miniature goats and peacocks from the feedstore the day we got the birds.  Man, that kid loves animals.

Me?  I’m still on the fence about about being a chicken farmer.  While I love them much more than I expected I don’t appreciate my morning, “Are the chicken’s dead?” routine.  I’ve never cared if skunk, fox, coyote, stray dogs, feral cats, or opossum lived in my backyard before, but now they are all chicken dismembering predators waiting to infiltrate every nook and cranny of our chicken habitat.  Ugh.  I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we can get these girls through to the spring, so at least we start getting some eggs.  I’m also hoping if something gets them it isn’t a week when my husband is traveling.  I don’t want to handle a chicken murder scene alone.

Now off to go find some overalls, a nice straw hat and a toothpick to chew.  Come back soon, y’all.  I tell ya more chicken stories.  Ah yup.  “Bawk!”

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Kid Phase

img_3867

Now that my daughter is a rational, reasonable, logical human being (mostly) I love traveling with her.  Her bodily fluids stay inside of her (mostly.)  She’s helpful at the airport (mostly.)  Her eyes see wonders that a solo traveling adult would miss.  We wait to watch the airplane drive under us on the walkway to the terminal.  (Yes, airplanes drive under walkways sometimes.)  She notices a friend at a neighboring gate, and we have a lovely conversation that I would have missed with my head down in my electronic device. I’m an observant traveler, but she really makes me be present.

My absolute favorite trick to traveling with kids is a game I made up on the spur of the moment.  It works for any kid who can count to at least 20.  The day the game was invented we checked our bags and headed toward the security line (cue ominous music).  In one of the mysteries-of-TSA moments the line was long.  So long.  Longer than the line had any business being.  All around me adults were “F-ing security!” and “F- you, why didn’t we leave sooner?” and “F- I’m going to miss my flight!”  In response to my rising panic that my kiddo would hear these angry adults, inspiration hit and I said, “Kiddo, how many big steps do you think it will take to get through this line?”

We started counting big steps.  “Mom, how many do you have?  12?  I have 23.”  I watched as she took an extra big step and stood too close to the person in front of us.  She nodded and said, “24.”  We made it through one wiggle – a phrase coined during the game development which means one length of the barricade wrapped line – and after she tallied our steps she proudly announced, “I’m winning!”  Of course because she has smaller legs it took her more big steps to travel a wiggle so she won.  Silly grown-up me had assumed we were trying to get the least number of steps in per wiggle.  Any game my daughter always wins is a great one, especially in an aggravation filled place like the airport.

Now we play the giant steps game through security.  We play it down the jet way.  We play it wherever there is a line where adults are acting like children who need to have their mouths washed out with soap.  She always wins.  It’s worked for five years, this giant step game.  This year, at 8, she was a bit more shy and afraid of what people would think of our game so we played, but quietly, and she still won.

The other upside of this game is that we almost always attract the attention of someone else who is just trying to make the best of a crappy situation.  We’ll get a smile or a nod, and it makes me happy being goofy with my kid and making others a little happier with our silly game.  The downside of this game?  I abhor long lines at airports when I’m not with her.  It’s all I can do to keep from challenging the angry “F-ing” guy next to me – “Hey, jerk-o, which one of us do you think can take more giant steps through this line?”  Wonder how that would turn out?


The final in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.  Also check out the infant phase and toddler phase posts for other tips and tricks.

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Toddler Phase

IMG_0586

Traveling with an infant is uncertain and scary, and traveling with a toddler is just like that, but louder and more mobile.  There’s less screaming for no reason and more, “Want down now!  Now!  Now!” followed by the toddler death screech.  These are the children holding their parents hands walking up and down and up and down the aisle whenever the fasten seat belt light is off.  In my opinion, toddlers are the hardest travel companions.

Melissa, from Parenthood and Passports echoed my thoughts in her comments on my infant post, “The infant days were much easier than the toddler days, I have come to realize.”  She’s so right! (Check out her site if you travel with kids or travel at all!  It’s a fun read.)

How do you travel with a toddler and keep your sanity?  Let’s start with the no/low-cost suggestions:

Talk about the airport ahead of time

Make your toddler aware of the whole flying process.  Talk about the security lines and sending the suitcase off when you check it.  Explain where all their stuff is going, so you can remind them as you go through the process.  “Now remember, this is when blankie goes in your bag and through the x-ray.  Then we’ll go under the bridge.  First you, then Mommy next.”

Make flying an adventure

If you grouch and gripe it doesn’t help, but the airport is filled with amazing things. Notice them with your toddler.  “Don’t the security policemen have cool blue uniforms?”  “You are so special!  You don’t have to take your shoes off!”  “Do you see our bags going on the plane yet?”

Make others like your kid before they become obnoxious

Teach your kid the three rules of flying before you go, repeating them over and over.

  1. You MUST stay in your seat when the seatbelt light is on.
  2. You MUST NOT kick the seat in front of you.
  3. You CANNOT smoke when the no-smoking light is on.

Have your kid repeat these rules as soon as you get on the plane.   Point the lights out.  Explain what the seatbelt rule is and that it is not your rule, it is the plane’s rule.  It won’t end the “I WANT TO GET UP!” tantrum, but it will provide a way to explain without it being your fault.  Also, fellow passengers will appreciate hearing that if their seat starts being kicked endlessly by little feet you are their ally.  The smoking thing is just funny.  Trust me, a three-year old saying the third rule is “No smoking!” is hysterical.

Finally, teach your kid that take-off is called “blast-off.”  Nothing is cuter than a tiny voice shouting, “Mommy?!?!  Is this the blast off?!?!”  Your kid is adorable.  All toddlers are.  (If kids came out at 18 months old and potty trained I’d have a dozen.)  Let their cuteness shine through before it gets tarnished by hours in the plane.

Bring familiar foods and treats

You love the chance to try exotic foods prepared in local styles when you travel.  Your toddler does not.  On the plane bring their favorite cup, and fill it with their favorite drink after you get through security.  Bring bags of their favorite foods.  Slip in a treat or two that they don’t often get to eat.  My kiddo was a pacifier blankie loving toddler, so she got her pacifier and blanket the entire flight.  She also had a sippy cup of juice, sliced apples, and goldfish.  When she wanted a treat she got a ring pop: the pacifier in lollipop form.  Throw away your rotting teeth and nutritious food worries for the duration of the flight.  Make it a comfortable, special smorgasbord.

IMG_9242

Now, if you are lucky enough to have a little extra money to spend there are some higher cost things you can do to make your trip more enjoyable.

Devices and television are your friend

Sure, if you are lucky, your toddler will fall asleep when the plane takes off, but if you aren’t lucky it’s okay to ruin their brains with TV on a phone or tablet while they rot their teeth with treats.  It’s a vacation!  Fun fun!  Also, sometimes there are built-in televisions on a plane that cost a bit to purchase.  Trust me, if you only buy one TV, it’s better to get Disney and Nickelodeon for your kid than HGTV for yourself. Invest in some over the head folding headphones for your toddler.  They won’t be able to keep the earbuds in their ears, and you risk a “I CAN’T HEAR!” tantrum.

Get them their own seat

I know travel can be expensive but if you are traveling solo with your toddler it helps to have an extra seat and an extra under the seat.  I used to travel with my daughter’s carseat because her seat was a familiar space for her.  Also, she was a great car sleeper, and often that translated to a plane sleeper if she was in her own seat.  From a safety perspective, it was easier to ensure she was belted in if she was in her carseat.  That said, try hauling your gear, your kid’s gear, your kid and a carseat sometime.  I had wheels I could put on my carseat, but I have vivid memories of me wearing a backpack, pulling my roller bag – with her bag strapped to it – and carseat on wheels while balancing my daughter on my shoulders walking out of baggage claim.  I swear, I must have grown two extra arms to pull that off.

One thing to know, if you do travel with a carseat make sure it is approved for flight by the FAA and that you put the seat in a window seat.  Those two steps will save you embarrassment and the attention of angry flight attendants.

Pay for stretch seating

If you don’t splurge for the extra seat, try splurging for extra legroom.  My daughter spent many hours on the floor of the plane playing between my feet.  Yes, it is filthy.  Yes, you risk the little one eating some random dropped food.  Yes, it’s amazing to get your child off your lap and get a little space during a long flight.

There is one thing you must do if you are traveling with a toddler, and it will cost you nothing.

Rely on the kindness of strangers

People will be jerks and mutter nasty things under their breath.  People will recline their seats so your kid can’t see the TV.  You can get yourself all bent out of shape, or you can look for the kind smile from the lady across the aisle who has been in your seat.  You can marvel over the car rental person who, when you were returning your car, noticed the toddler in the back and says, “Get in the passenger seat, I’ll drive you to departures.”  There will be an uppity business man who talks Dinosaur Train with your kiddo the third time she launches Buddy at his head.  Turns out he’s a dad under that suit.  I remember the awful flight to Orlando in generalities, but six years later I remember the specifics of the people who were wonderful to me and my challenging, adorable, loud toddler.


The second in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.

Kiddo Travel Hacks – Infant Phase

img_3867

I love traveling with my daughter.  She’s at an age where she understands that the pain of the drive, the airport, and the lines is more than worth the adventure at the other end.  That said, I remember preparing for infant trips with a pit in my stomach.

She took her first flight when she was a few days shy of six months old.  My husband’s dear aunt was supposed to come visit us, but instead of flying she was doing another round of chemo.  Her cancer was back, but I desperately wanted her to meet her grand-niece.  “No problem,” I said, “We’ll come to you.”  Brave words, but the idea of flying with an infant was terrifying.  On the plane there is so much stuff to bring and so little control over her.  Who hasn’t wanted to rip their ears off because of an infant screaming during an entire plane ride?  Did I want to be that mom with that kid?  While I knew most problems could be solved by baring my breast and feeding her I was not confident nursing in public, so I came up with a backup plan.

My brother-in-law was traveling with us.  Rather than sit with our family, I asked if he would sit in the row in front of us.  Then I made my request.  “If she starts screaming, will you please stand up and start berating me?  Loudly?”  He looked at me with surprise and I justified, “See, I can’t handle some stranger going off on me, but if you preempt it and just start telling me to ‘shut your damn kid up’ and that I’m ‘a terrible mother’ you might circumvent others yelling at me.”

All of my in-laws think I’m crazy, and I did nothing to change my brother-in-law’s mind that day, but he agreed.  I boarded the plane confident that the worst I would have to endure was a baby crying and my brother-in-law acting like a maniac.  I could handle that.  I was armed with bottles, pacifier, diapers, changes of clothes, toys, and digital devices to keep her happy, but if those didn’t work I was also armed with a plan to keep the meanies away.  As usual, when you’ve planned every contingency, the flight was easy.  My daughter fell asleep drinking her bottle as we took off and woke up as we were landing.

When traveling with an infant, figure out what scares you the most, and make a plan to deal with that.  Puke?  Pack two changes of clothes.  Poop?  Do the same.  Germs?  Bring a bag full of 3 oz bottles of hand sanitizer.  Mean people?  Bring your own meaner person.  Travel with an infant is a total wildcard, so do what you can to address your own fears.  If you are calm, you’ll be able to better deal with whatever surprises come your way.


The first in a series of Kiddo Travel Hacks where I share my best advice for not just surviving, but enjoying travels with kids.

There is a tiny girl

There is a tiny girl.  Her story is not my story, but her parents.  Her parents are my friends and like most children of my friends she got a hat when she entered this world.  A hat with a poof as big as her head.

IMG_4544_medium2
She got sick in her second fall and after days and weeks and months of horrible tests the worst imaginable diagnosis came back, but that is their story, not mine.
It’s winter now and my hands have longed to help my friends.  We bought them meals, but I wanted to do something personal, so I cast on a hat.  A bigger hat with a tiny pom pom.    A hat with a brim, because it is cold this January and my friends are so cool.  Their daughter needs a hat to keep her warm this winter.  Her parents need a hat that tells them their friend still thinks about them and cares.  I hope it isn’t too big, because the tiny girl may not have time to grow into things, and that is the tragedy.  There is a tiny girl, and soon she will have a new hat knit with love and sorrow and friendship for her, her family, for all they have endured and all they have yet to endure.

Santa Sighting

The Afthead Christmas season begins with a trip to Main Street of my hometown.  The four blocks are lined with trees covered in tiny white lights, dark until Santa arrives.  He travels in the back of a truck waving to the kids, and when he reaches the beginning of a new block the lights magically illuminate. This year it was cold and snow flurries painted the sky.  My daughter and her friend were bundled three layers deep topped with Santa hats.  Both of them believe completely in Santa, and while they know this is not the real guy, eight years of a tradition have made him special.  

The girls call in unison as Santa passes.  

“He saw us!”

“He waved at us!”

Because they are bigger and the crowds stayed home to avoid the cold this year I ask, “Do you want to go down another block?”  They do.  This year we see Santa four times and he sees us twice, by the girls’ counting.  Only at the last block do I have to threaten, “Girls,are you really hitting each other?  He is right there!”  Their cold bodies extend for one final wave.  

They leave singing  a song they proudly made up on their own:  “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus right down Ma-ain Street.”  

Knitworthy

A friend of mine coined a phrase that has stuck with me.  She said that in order to hand-knit something for a friend or acquaintance they had to be knitworthy. Knitworthy is not an overall measure of the quality of a person, but a judgement on their ability to appreciate handmade gifts.  Gifts that usually cost more to make, in materials alone, than it would cost to buy similar objects.  Gifts that take your time and effort to produce.  Gifts, to be fair, that are sometimes lopsided and funny looking but come with all kinds of personality built in.

Lots of wonderful people are not knitworthy.  Let me provide a parallel example.  I am not foodworthy.  Inviting me over for a fancy four-course meal is an utter waste of your effort.  I am a simple eater and cannot tell the difference between a meal that takes 4 hours of sauteing, braising, and chopping and a crock pot meal.  Do not waste your culinary wizardry on me.  Invite over another friend.  Oh, and if you are serving fancy wine, just pour me some water and enjoy it yourself.  $15 and $50 bottles of wine are the same to me.  I am a nice, good, lovely person who does not have the palette to appreciate fancy food.

Knitworthy means that the person you are giving your knitted item to will gush over it.  They will treasure it.  They will pay attention when you give them washing instructions.  They will take pictures of themselves, their children, or their spouses wearing your knit item and send those pictures to you.  They will brag to their friends that “Someone made this for me.”  They will treasure baby hats and pass them on to other babies that they love.  They will tell you that the blankie you knit is their child’s absolute favorite and they hope you have more yarn like that in case it ever gets a hole.  When they accidentally miss the washing instructions and their beloved hat shrinks into a fuzzy ball and they will beg you to make another, “just like it, but maybe in green this time.”

Today, I presented one of my dearest knitworthy friends with three hats for her kiddos.  When baby number one was born she got a teeny sweater.  When baby number two was born the new baby and her sister got coordinating hats.  Now that baby three is here, the only option was to make all three girls hats.

They were so fun to make and give.  I loved thinking about each girl and customizing the colors and the topper for her individual hat.  I loved giving them to my friend the day after the first big snowfall of the year and knowing her girls heads will be warm all winter.  I love that she slipped the teeny one on her baby’s head before they went outside, so she wore it home.  She is totally knitworthy.  Spending my time and energy making her kiddos stuff makes me so happy, makes her happy and makes her kids happy.  I can’t wait until they are teenagers and she and I can torture them with “another batch of hats from auntie Johanna”.  I think then I’ll make sure they are really itchy too.  She and I will then appreciate how my knitting skills can be used for good and evil.  Hmmm, I should start learning about GPS trackers too.  I could embed them into the hat so we can see what trouble her girls are getting into.

You play the hand you are dealt

My dad is a poker player.  He has been a poker player for as long as I can remember.  When I was a child he played in various neighborhood games.  Then gambling was legalized west of Denver and he added Texas Hold’em to his repertoire.  While I am not a poker player, lacking the poker-face and calculating-odds-on-the-fly genes, I have always enjoyed watching my dad play the game.  When I was in my teens I would go up to the mountains with him and watch him play against the other players at the table.  I’d watch reckless players flamboyantly going against the odds, and methodical players never deviating from what math would tell them to do.  The good players, like my dad, would know the odds, but play the game to maximize the hand they had and the players at the table.

One thing you learn from poker, especially Hold’Em, is that you have to play the cards in your hands.  In draw poker you can trade in the cards you have for other cards that might make your hand better, but once you get those cards, you don’t get other ones.  In the end, you always have to make the best hand you can out of the cards you have.

I think life is like Texas Hold’Em.  You and your family sit around a table and each are dealt cards and you have to play those cards.   Maybe the rules are different because you get more opportunities to trade in your cards, and the stakes are higher, but one thing is the same: once you are dealt a card you have to play it.   You can’t untake a card.

Let’s look at my life.  When I was 23 I traded in my “single gal card” for a “live with a guy card”.  I still had my “loves bad boys who ride motorcycles” card, just in case living together didn’t work out.  Seven years later, the bad boys got traded in for a marriage card and my mate hand was set.

What I didn’t know, and my husband didn’t even know, was that he had a depression card in his hand.  His first episode hit right after we were married.  It took months to diagnose what was going on.  His symptoms manifest themselves physically and he went through a barrage of medical test to determine what was wrong.  In the end there was only one possibility left: that his sickness was in his mind. Therapy, time and medication eased his symptoms and eventually cured him a year later.  We were told that there was a good chance this would be a one time episode, but if he had another it was probably going to plague him throughout his life.

So he had the depression card.  He couldn’t trade it in.  Maybe he was lucky and just had the “one episode” kind, but maybe not.  I had joined my life to a guy who may or may not have another breakdown.  Sure, it wasn’t my card, so I could have left him.  I could have decided that staying with someone who had a chance of another breakdown wasn’t worth it, but I didn’t, because I loved him and I wanted a life with him.

We had a baby together, and when she was four, it happened again.  Now I had a new card, a mom card.  That’s one powerful card, and I spent almost a year keeping her alive as my first priority, and keeping my husband alive as my second.  Again, he has the depression card, not me, but with us drawing the parent card together I was permanently tied to him.  I could help him get well again, or abandon him and risk being alone, divorced from my husband, fighting some future custody battle.  I wouldn’t be married to him, but I would know that he could get sick again and if we weren’t together I couldn’t help him or my daughter.  Worst case I’d have a child whose father killed himself.  I loved our family too much to not try, so I spent another year fighting and we all came through together, but this time I know that it will happen again.

I was frank with my colleagues, family, and friends with the second episode because I needed all the help I could get.  Some asked “How do you do it?” “Why do you do it?”  The reality of the situation was that I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want to be married to a man with depression.  I didn’t want to worry day and night about my daughter and him.  But I had to play the hand I was dealt.  The words that meant the most to me while I was struggling was, “This just sucks.”  It didn’t do any good to think about “What ifs”  “What if he hadn’t gotten depressed?”  “What if we hadn’t had a kid?”  He was and we did and we had to do the best we could.  The words that meant the second most were, “How can I help?”  “Can we have you over for dinner?”  “Can I take him out to give you a break?”  What didn’t help were suggestions from people unwilling to jump in and get dirty with us. “You should” and “Why don’t you” drove me crazy.  Those are words of judgement made from the outside and weren’t worth my notice.  No one who didn’t have my hand could really understand what our family was going through, and if you don’t understand you have no right to shout advice from the sidelines.  Trust me, in the World Series of Poker the audience doesn’t get to shout “You should fold” to the players.  The players make the most they can out of the cards they have and the people at the table.

I hate that our family has these cards.  I hate that the cards we have make us fearful of other cards: my daughter becoming depressed; me dying and my husband falling apart; another episode of depression.  We do what we can to arm ourselves against those possibilities.  My husband visits a psychiatrist every 6 months so he has an active relationship with her in case he gets depressed again.  We’ve learned to teach our daughter to stay away from hard drugs as she gets older, because that’s a huge risk to damaging her brain chemistry and causing her problems in the future.  We have a will set up to protect her in case something happens to me and my husband can’t make decisions anymore.  All of that sucks, but it’s part of making the most of the hand we’ve been dealt.

The one thing that makes me grateful for what we’ve been through is the empathy I have for others.  Friends of ours just had their child diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She probably won’t see her third birthday.  I could hide from their sadness.  I could ignore their plight, or I could tell them what they should do.  I don’t do any of that.  I do whatever I can do let them know that this just sucks.  Sucks in a way I can’t imagine, because I don’t have that card, and I can’t imagine having that card.  I can’t understand a situation I’m not living, but I can interpret from the pain of my past the pain of others.  I can acknowledge their anguish, and do what I can to help.  I can’t make it better.  I can’t take their card away.  I can’t make the card never happen.  But I can use what I have in my hand to make their hand the best it can be.  You live the live you are dealt, and sometimes that sucks so bad it’s unfathomable.  You sit at the table with all your friends and family and you do what you can to give everyone the best hand they can get, because unlike poker, there isn’t one winner and everyone else loses.  The players make the most they can out of the cards they have and the people at the table, but in life the winner doesn’t take all.  We are all in this game together.

I Really Want Kittens

I have always wanted kittens.  A litter of tiny kittens I could watch grow from birth through kitten-hood.  I want to see the tiny babies born, licked clean by their momma, and then nursed.  I want to see their ears open, their eyes open, and watch them take wobbly first steps.  I want to have kittens chewing on my fingers, crawling up my leg and sitting on my shoulder.

I am a responsible pet owner.  I spay and neuter my cats just like I’m supposed to.  I think letting your cats have kittens is irresponsible, but I really want kittens.

My daughter wants kittens.  We sit together and watch the Animal Planet show Too Cute, and we marvel over the tiny furry babies.  We coo as they take first steps.  We laugh when the fluffy ones get their first bath and become wet and sad looking.  She asks me, “Mom, why can’t our cats have kittens?”  I tell her that our cats had surgery and they can’t have kittens, but I want kittens too.

Our last cat we adopted from the shelter was a foster cat.  A seed was planted.  A lovely woman I met at the shelter had my kitten at her house, and had cared for the tiny kitten until she’d grown “big enough.”

I found the program.  I signed up.  I went to training.  I was interviewed.  I went to more training.  My house was inspected.  Finally I got the e-mail that I was an approved foster parent.  If I could get to the shelter within the hour I could bring home kittens.

My daughter and I had discussed the perfect number of kittens.  Three: one for each human in our house.  We wanted them to be fluffy.  We wanted a momma and her kittens.  No, we just wanted kittens.  We wanted them to like our other cat.  We wanted them to love us.  We discussed how we’d have to give them back when they were 8 weeks old and 2 pounds.  That would be hard, but we could do it.  We dreamed about our kittens together.

We did not discuss the other side of fostering, but I learned.  Kittens die.  Kittens get horrible diseases.  During my interview I heard about an entire dead litter.  Kitten after kitten inexplicably dying.  It had only happened once, my interviewee assured me.  Pan Luke she said, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I heard about ringworm that infected your entire house and sounded like lice on steroids.  That had only happened once my interviewee assured me.  There were terrible things that could happen, but I really wanted kittens.

We came home with three tiny fluffs.  They were four weeks old and black head to toe.  They were exactly what we dreamed.  Two tiny boys and one big girl.  We laughed at the mistake we made at the beginning assuming that the aggressive big one was male and the small one we named Tiny was a girl.

Tiny had a purr inversely proportional to his size.  Holding him would start a motor in his chest that could be heard across the room.  His sister Adventure would purr, but not as big.  His brother Blackie had a quiet rumble that you could feel but not hear.  They all had personalities and we fell hard and fast.

Something wasn’t right with Tiny.  He ate less each day while his brother and sister got bigger.  He’d climb onto you and sit and purr but wouldn’t drink and wouldn’t play.  Five days after we got him I took him in.  I knew something was wrong.  They tested him and said the horrible words: panleuk, not Pan Luke.  He was going to die.

He sat on my shoulder while they filled out paperwork.  Someone mentioned the other cats in the litter.  Tiny just sat while I said I’d take any litter mates that weren’t sick.  The kittens had to be quarantined for two weeks.  They might as well all be together at my house.  They brought the two litter mates in.  One more time I heard panleuk.  There were five kittens in the litter and two died.  I brought three home, but not the same three I brought from home.

I watched my daughter when I told her, “Tiny died.”  She crumpled in a way I’ve never seen before.  This grief was bigger than any she’d ever felt.  I watched her and for the first time saw her feel sadness the way I feel sadness.  She tried to stand tall, but all she wanted to do was curl up and sob.  We are too proud to show that grief, but we feel it, and you can see it as our head drops and shoulders slump.

It took us four days to name the new cat.  Finally he became Sneaker because of his ability to escape.  As if the name had attracted the attention of unknown spirits the next morning he was lethargic and had lost weight.  I took my daughter to school and we both worried silently.

At home alone I went to the kittens.  I held all three and sobbed.  Alone the tears fell and the cries become audible.  How could I have done this to my family?  How could I have done this to myself?  I wanted kittens.  I didn’t want dead kittens.  What kind of person does this to herself and her family?  All three kittens purred in my arms as I wiped my tears and snot from their soft fur.  Then I e-mailed the shelter and made an appointment.

“It’s negative.” she said looking at the test.  He was sick, but he wasn’t dying.  Or if he is dying it’s of something else.  I’m instructed to give him a huge shot of fluid under his skin twice a day.  Gleefully I box up the same three kittens and take home the needles and fluid.

He spent the day next to my heart in my jacket.  It wasn’t fair for me to keep my distance because I was hurt by his brother.  I wanted kittens.  His warmth and motor kept me company through spreadsheets and graphs and conference calls.

“You are such a good person.”

“I am moved by your dedication.”

“You are an amazing person and foster parent!”

“Thank you.” I reply, but inside I know I just really want kittens.