Month: January 2006

odds & ends

When I began writing the following post, I knew I had a couple more topics I wanted to cover. But in the writing I discovered that they weren’t so much topics in and of themselves as a few odds and ends that I needed to clear away.

Both times I had the tumor surgically removed, I was the one to discover it. This is unsurprising the first time around. But the second time around I was told by my ENT that everything looked alright and only a couple of months later I returned to him because I wasn’t sure it really was. This pair of events have convinced me that the primary responsibility for detecting a reoccurance was mine. I’ve spent significant amounts of time in the past 7 years poking myself under the chin trying determine if anything has changed. It’s not an easy task because all the scar tissue and missing salivary glands make the whole area lopsided and lumpy to the touch. Any time I had a sore throat or stiff neck or even an achy feeling, part of me was afraid it was a harbinger of reoccurance. It doesn’t help that anytime I think about the tumor I get psycosomatic aches where it was removed. Every entry I’ve written in my “radiation saga” has left my throat feeling achy. After seven years I still have the fearful voice that gibbers about possible reoccurances. My radiation oncologist gave me some really helpful advice that I use to quiet the gibbering voice of fear. He told me that with a true problem the symptoms will last for an extended period of time and the intensity of the symptoms will increase rather than abate. Application of this information has saved me many uncessary trips to the doctor for sore throats and stiff necks.

At the time of my radiation treatments I was a primary teacher for a church class of 11 year old kids. It was a challenging class. I would work and prepare a lesson only to feel like I was teaching to a brick wall. A really noisy, chattering brick wall that occasionally hit the other brick walls for no apparent reason. A couple of weeks before the beginning of the treatments I found that I couldn’t face my primary class. I didn’t have the emotional energy to try yet again to reach them. Howard ended up pinch hitting for me that Sunday while a friend took me home. I came back the next week to teach. I tried to keep teaching, but it quickly became apparent that I simply couldn’t. Someone else took over the class until after radiation treatments had been over for a month. I don’t even know who substituted for me for those months. I remember one of the kids asking me if I’d stopped coming because they were bad. I got to explain to them about the radiation. I was asked to be their teacher because the class needed stability. Somehow I don’t think I provided that. By the time I returned to teaching the kids were starting to turn twelve and move into the teenage programs. The window for bonding with that primary class was gone. I still feel sad about that sometimes. Those kids are all 18 now. I wish I could have been more important/helpful in their lives, but at the time I just didn’t have anything left to give.

There were bright spots during radiation therapy. Most of them were a direct result of either my kids, or my mom being there with my kids. At the time Kiki had only plain shirts and she wanted some shirts with pictures. Mom helped me break out some paints and we painted decorations on shirts for Kiki. Mom lifted an illustration from Kiki’s favorite book (The Lion and the Little Red Bird) and painted it on one of the shirts. Kiki wore that shirt for two years. Then we put it away. Gleek wears it now, but she has almost outgrown it. I’m not sure what I’ll do when she does. That shirt won’t mean as much to another person. For me it is a gift of love and hope. Mom also wrote a couple of beautiful poems about Kiki and Link blowing bubbles. She put them into scrapbook pages with pictures. I treasure those. I have other pictures of the kids during that time. They look really happy. I’m so glad my kids were happy.

I grew up loving to sing. I didn’t have any professional training as a child, but I learned songs by ear and memorized them almost without trying. I didn’t even realize that was unusual until I was in a church choir and lamenting that I couldn’t read music. But then I realized I was learning the music faster than some of the people who could read music. This musical background has lead to challenges whenever I attempt to sing with other people. For some reason Howard and I simply cannot sing the Happy Birthday song without clashing keys, but if I let him start it, then I can chime in harmoniously on the second line. After my first surgery, my speech was slurred for almost two months. I did not sing in church during that time and I missed singing the congregational hymns. My second surgery didn’t cause that problem. Radiation was another story altogether. During the radiation my throat hurt and my world contracted so I didn’t much care to sing. But once the pain was over and I was ready to resume my life as normal, I was dismayed to discover that I still could not sing. My vocal chords simply would not hold a note. I’d try to sing and my pitch would be sliding all over the place. That was hard to take. I cried for the loss of that part of my life. I feared that the effect would be permanent.

I didn’t want to deal with the emotions attendant on this discovery so for almost a year I didn’t sing at all. Then gradually I began singing in a low voice during congregational hymns. But more often than not I’d use managing my kids as an excuse not to sing at all. Then I was called to be the secretary for the ward choir. I was to take attendance, manage the music, and sing. It was not an easy calling on our family. Howard didn’t like having to haul kids home by himself. Gleek was a crawling baby and then a walking toddler. She’d play on the floor, attempt to play the piano, and on one memorable occasion she fell and cut her lip. After that I sent her home with Howard too. That made him even less excited about the calling. Despite those difficulties, the calling was a gift to me. My vocal chords had healed enough that I could mantain pitch. The practice strengthened them. By the end of 18 months of choir singing, my voice was better than it had ever been. I had regained one joy that I thought radiation had permanently stolen from me. I still cry thinking about it. It made me realize in a way that I could not before that I’d won. That tumor could have ruined my whole life if I’d let it, but there I was reclaiming my joy in singing.

I was released from my choir secretary position when Patches was born. I haven’t sung in the choir since then because my kids need me to be home right after church. But someday when my kids are a little older I will sing in the choir again. I look forward to that. For now I thoroughly enjoy the congregational singing and whatever other random singing comes my way.

And the story of my singing seems to be an excellent way to end my posting about radiation and my tumor. The medical treatment of that tumor was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet here I am. I’ve survived, more than that, I’ve thrived. I hope I never have to go through anything like it again, but honestly I’m not sorry to have been through it. I am a stronger, more compassionate person for the experiences I’ve had.

Well, look at that. I think this box is empty now.

Time for bleach

I am hereby declaring this next week to be cleaning week. The micro organisms in my house are getting ready to take over. I know this because Patches has a fever, Gleek has “bad coughs,” and Kiki has a raging head cold. All of that and the mildewy patches in my bathroom are getting ready for an assault on the bedroom. This week I’ll be breaking out the chemical weapons. My house will be smelling like a swimming pool from all the bleach. Or at least that’s the plan so long as I don’t get sick, or kids don’t take up all my time, or I don’t get lazy.

Why do I get motivated to clean at 10 pm instead of 10 am? I just know all this zeal will be gone by tomorrow morning. sigh.

I’ve been watching my african violet, waiting for it to bloom. It usually blooms in January, but I forgot to water it in December and it went dormant. I’m longing for flowers and so I’m watching the bud stalks slowly creep upwards. It’ll probably be in bloom next week. This african violet was given to me in January of 2000 by some good friends who knew it was the anniversary of radiation therapy and wanted me to have flowers in the winter. It has given me flowers every winter since then and I love it every year.

I got my wish about lots of snow and I find that, while snow is better than bleak, what I really want is spring. But before spring comes I want to be completely done with writing about my radiation experiences. It sent tendrils into my life in many unexpected directions. Some of the tendrils are so sneaky that I didn’t even know they were there until I began writing these entries. Mine was not the only life affected.

After the party

I have survived the birthday party. My voice is hoarse and I have no motivation to do anything else for the rest of the day, but I have survived. My four kids and six guests attended this party. Howard was in the grip of a scripting jag and was hidden away in his office. Or maybe he was just hiding. Trying to keep 10 kids happy during The Opening of Presents is a huge challenge. Patches did not understand why all the presents were for Gleek. He cried mightily over this unfairness. One of the guests clearly would have preferred to keep the gift she brought. She was ready to cry. In desperation I hollered “Cake & Ice Cream!” then stashed all the opened gifts away under a blanket for the remaining half hour of party time. There was chaos, there was joy, fun was had, everyone went home happy. Mission accomplished.

The party was short (only 90 minutes) because I’m not insane. We decorated butterfly wings cut out of posterboard. Then the girls all wore their wings for some of the games. Naturally they got to take home the wings. Kiki also carefully drew pictures of My Little Ponies and gave one to each girl. Those also went home with the guests. The third take home item was a My Little Pony paper doll that I printed off the internet. Note the similarity here, I gave the guests only paper to take home and they were delighted. I am so sneaky. This party cost $1 for the shiny stickers we put on the butterfly wings, everything else I had on hand already. Add in $2 for the gifts that my other kids gave to Gleek, $1 for the cake mix, and $1.50 for frosting. The total cost of Gleek’s birthday comes to $5.50 and she is the happiest little girl I’ve ever seen. Having a big birthday party has been a big dream of hers for almost a year. Today her dreams came true, she got to be the center of a huge crowd of friends and loved it.

Her actual birthday will be next week. She’ll get to pick what we have for dinner, open her one remaining gift from her grandparents, and be five years old. There won’t be any more cake. Between my birthday cheesecakes and her birthday cake all of us have eaten way too many sweet things. The quiet celebration on her actual birthday will be much more to my taste, but today she got to have the birthday party that she wanted. All is good.

The best gifts cannot be wrapped

Today was my birthday and it was a really good one despite the dearth of wrapped presents. My friend J gave me a zoo/museum pass that will last for a year. Chalain & Chaliren took Howard and I out for dinner. (They probably didn’t intend it as a birthday event, but it was kind of them and I’m claiming it as a birthday gift.) Howard cooked yummy scones for a birthday lunch. The birthday cheesecake was supplied by Howard’s sister. There were also leftovers of an extremely rich chocolate cheescake I froze last fall. Online friends said very kind things about my writing. I always treasure evidence that my writing is appreciated.

The one wrapped gift I opened was a CD from my parents. It is a remastered recording of an old scratched record I loved as a child. (I babble about it here: The CD itself is wrapable, but the real gift is the memories attached to the music. I suspect that is true of most gifts that I recieve or give. The wrapped item is only a physical symbol for the love and appreciation that the giver feels.

Howard has been a little sad this year because we couldn’t afford for him to go buy a gift for my birthday. But you see, I don’t need him to. He shows me daily that he loves and appreciates me. I’d much rather save the money and use it to buy more time for Howard and I to make cartooning profitable. Of all possible birthday gifts, that one would be best. It would work great for Howard’s birthday next month too.

It’s been a good birthday. Now I’m officially 33 and it’s a good place to be.

Rabbit holes again

Today is Lewis Carroll’s birthday. I’ve decided I like sharing a birthday with Mr. Carroll. Come with me down the rabbit hole…

“Mommy come and see!” 4 year old Gleek radiated awe and excitement in both her voice and face. I looked at my bills and thought about the waiting piles of laundry. I didn’t really have time to go look at an interesting rock.

“Mommy please! You have to see this!” Gleek had begun to bounce in place. Obviously whatever she had to show me was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen. Or at least the most amazing thing since the rock earlier this morning or yesterday’s bug. I reminded myself that as trivial as these things seem to me, they are truly important to Gleek. Children are little, and so small things are vital. Small things like mommy coming to see the newest discovery. Gleek was tugging on my hand by this time, so I allowed her to pull me from my chair and accompanied her outside.

The first thing I noticed as I stepped out the door was warm air. The air was far too warm for January in Utah. I thought of all the times Gleek protested wearing her coat, saying she wasn’t cold. This was her world and it was warmer than mine.

“There!” whispered Gleek in awe as she pointed to a cloud. It was an interestingly wispy cloud, but still, a cloud.
“Wow, that’s a really interesting cloud.” I feigned enthusiasm.
“No!” Gleek turned on me in disbelief, giving me a look that declared my stupidity and utter blindness. “Not the cloud! Look at the horses!”
“Horses?” Puzzled, I scanned the sky again.
“See? They are dancing in the cloud.” I didn’t see. All I could see was cloud. Then a warm breeze blew across my face and I blinked. Was there movement among the wisps up there? Yes there was. The more I watched, the clearer I could see the herd of flying horses. They did appear to be dancing.

Gleek smiled at me. “They are dancing for the rainbows to come.” Then she led me around the corner of my house to a place where it was summer.

In that place flowers bloomed. The dance of the horses must have worked for a rainbow shafted through the sky to touch the earth and become a rainbowed river. In this place the fairies danced and Gleek danced with them, more beautiful than them all. Then she rode upon a flying horse and danced in the sky to make more rainbows come. I stood to the side and only watched. These sorts of dances were not for me. My feet were too heavy with the weight of responsibility. But as I looked around I realized that this was a place I had been before in a time I only half remembered. In that long ago time I too had danced.

Afternoon fled and Gleek was ready to return indoors. She happily ate a snack and ran off to play a computer game. But I was drawn to the window. The wispy cloud had long since blown away. I stepped outside. A chill January wind whipped past and made me shivver. Snow covered the place where Gleek had danced among flowers.

A child such as Gleek travels roads that are closed to adults. I think that tomorrow I’ll follow her again to see where we go.

More about scouting

First I want to thank everyone who responded to yesterday’s post. It was really good to hear from so many people who had such positive things to say about scouting. Reading the responses spawned thoughts in my head and forced me to look closely at my feelings about scouting. My feelings are mixed, but most of the reasons are not logical at all. So I’m going to lay the thoughts out here so that anyone who wishes can comment and help me see things in a new way. One warning, many of these thoughts/opinions were formed when I was in my early teens and have never been re-examined since.

The bad things:
It was a club which, as a girl, I couldn’t join. Blue Birds and Brownies are not even close to the same thing. Sour grapes.

It was founded in the same era as the Hitler Youth. That parallel seems disturbing.

Lots of bad press about sexual abuse in scouting.

We have boxes and boxes of old scouting patches and books left over from Howard and his dad and even his grandfather. None of this stuff has any emotional meaning to me. It is all just clutter that I can percieve no future use for and I’m not allowed to get rid of.

In my youth I knew many young men who were required to earn their Eagle Scout badge before they were allowed to drive and were very angry about it.

I’ve known adult men who resented their past forced involvement in scouting. They didn’t like it and their parents made them do it anyway.

All too often with reward systems such as badge earning, the parents scramble to make sure that the boys earn badges. Supposedly this gives the boys a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately an accomplishment is not something that can be given, it has to be earned. Do boys really feel accomplished when mom does most of the work?

If my son doesn’t earn his badges, he’ll feel like a failure. But he doesn’t yet have the discipline to earn them himself. So I have a whole new list of things to get done.

The good things:
I remember tagging along on with my older brother’s cub scout troop. My mom was the den leader and included me in most everything. Those are all happy memories.

Boys love badges and handshakes and silly skits and silly cheers.

Because I’m trying to help Link earn badges I’ll do stuff with him that would not otherwise have occured to me.

Every single badge is a valuable life skill.

Parents have to participate for a boy to earn badges. That parental interaction is worth far more than any badge.

Link is making social connections with other boys his own age.

Now that I write them out at least half of the “bad things” seem petty or ill informed and the “good things” seem solid and valuable. But I am interested in what you all have to say about scouting. I’m going to be involved in this program for years to come. What do I have to look forward to? What are the pitfalls? What are the benefits?


When Link turned 8 he joined our local cub scout troop. He was ecstatic with his uniform and manual. My feelings were more mixed. I thumbed through the book and looked at all the secret handshakes and promises and oaths. All of that stuff is there to create a sense of unity for the boys, an “inside knowledge” kind of thing. It felt a little… creepy. But the actual application of these things is anything but exclusionary. In fact Link runs off to his den meetings every week with high spirits and comes home to babble about the cool things he did. “We made a rattle out of aluminum cans!” Then once a month at pack meeting the whole family goes to play games with the boys and applaud at the boys who have earned badges. When I see the values that are taught and the actual effect that it is having on Link’s life I love scouting. I don’t feel ready to devote my whole life to it, but I definitely support it. It is as wholesome and character building as team sports, probably more so.

Tonight was den meeting. Link earned his first badge. He was very excited. In fact he has been very excited and counting down the days until this meeting for more than a week. Those scout people are smart though. For every badge the scout gets, the scout’s mother gets a pin. They know who really works to make sure the badges get earned. I guess in theory I’m supposed to wear this pin proudly because it gives me bragging rights. “My boy is a bobcat!” I can now picture a row of 1950’s mothers trying to upstage each other with the number of scout-badge pins they have. The scout people are clever to give the moms jewelry, but they made an error. It is ugly jewelry. My pin is a little square piece of metal with a bas relief bobcat head on it. I don’t really picture myself wearing it anywhere. But it doesn’t matter because we have pictures of Link’s ear to ear grin as he recieved the badge. Now of course I have to sew the badge on to his shirt. Whee.

Today triumphant … or at least satisfactory

Today was a really effective day. I got a lot done. Unfortunately very little of it was house cleaning. This means that I feel rumpled and unsucessful because all the things I didn’t get done are lying around and accusing me of sloth. At least I managed to shut most of the dishes up by shoving them into the dishwasher where they will be scalded with hot water as punishment. Hah! Take that dishes!

I will ignore the rest of the accusitory voices because I know I did good work today. Besides they’re all things that are easily accomplished while NotMyBaby is here tomorrow morning. Well okay, not “easily,” but at least they’re physically possible in between moments of snatching small things out of his mouth. I’d forgotten how hands-on toddlebabies are. I’ll be relieved when this babysitting gig ends in June.

What did I do today? Made breakfast, got kids out of bed, supervised morning homework for Kiki, started a load of laundry, sent Link to school, welcomed NMB, sent Kiki to school, hung wet laundry & started a new load, sent Gleek to preschool, took Patches and NMB on two errands and then to the library, put NMB down for a nap, hung more wet laundry, started a third load, started the dryer, ate a snack, did a little recreational reading, got NMB up from his nap, carried NMB on a walk to retrieve Gleek from preschool, handed NMB back to his mom, fed sandwiches to Gleek & Patches, read email, took Gleek & Patches with me to the grocery store, unloaded groceries, drove to pick up Link, ate another snack while reading, separated Gleek from her beloved friend because we had to leave, drove to pick up Kiki, started Kiki on afternoon homework, worked on a sewing project, made dinner, made kids eat dinner, started regular homework time, enforced regular homework time, went to a committee meeting, nudged Kiki to finish up homework, put kids to bed, loaded the dishwasher, and here I am.

And that’s all the thoughts I have right now besides a “things to do tomorrow” list with which I’ll not bore you good folks.