Talking until I’m Smurf Blue in the Face

I’ve watched a lot of Smurfs episodes over the last six or seven months — first, because I was pregnant, nauseated, and loathe to run around playing tag with my daughter, and now, because I’m constantly trying to come up with ways to keep her somewhat entertained while I nurse and coddle the sleepless, barfing changeling I spawned. We’re talking dozens of episodes, repeatedly. As someone who never got to watch Smurfs when I was a kid, I now want to formally thank my parents for not getting cable. Those topless little blue freaks are smurfing annoying.

Now that Smurfs are a part of my oldest’s obsessions, however, they are also a part of our bedtime ritual. I have to make up a story involving them every time I put her to bed. In fact, I have spent many lunchtimes pretending to be one or another of them, as well. Last year (and sometimes still) it was the Care Bears that permeated everything we did together. We’d be playing with her plastic zoo animals, and she’d hold up a wildebeast and an ostrich and say, “Let’s pretend this one’s Funshine, and this one’s Grumpy Bear.” And everything would just devolve from there.

Mostly, she wanted me to make Grumpy Bear do grumpy things. Though now that the Smurfs have edged out the Care Bears, she typically wants me to make Grouchy Smurf do grouchy things, like give other Smurfs shots. Sometimes I’m even asked to have Grouchy Smurf give Funshine Bear a shot, and it’s just so confusing. It’s like one big psychedelic trip into a four-year-old’s twisted imagination.

But I’ve noticed something about what the Smurfs and the Care Bears have done for us. They’ve given us an alternative means of communicating our deepest fears and grievances. While my daughter flagrantly uses them to play out her paralyzing fear of shots, I admit I have totally whored out Grumpy Bear to help my daughter understand ME. I sometimes make him seem like a beaten-down soul. When Smurfette gives Grumpy Bear a hug, he softens up a little and explains to her what a terrible day he’s had and how he’s just feeling grumpy because he’s so tired and gotten so run down by Funshine Bear’s incessant talking. Most of my snarky subtext goes over her head, and she gains a little empathy for crabby buttheads in the process, so it’s therapeutic for both of us.

I’m surprised these pretend-play games have done what they’ve done for our relationship, because I’ve otherwise concluded that words have almost zero impact on young children. I can tell my daughter that I love her a zillion times a day, and, God, how passionately I do, but my doing so does just about nothing to take the edge off the fact that I have barely spent a quality minute with her on days like today. And similarly, I can speak to my seven-week-old in the most adoring tone you can imagine, but we all know he could really give a shit what garble is coming out of that toothy hole in my face. He just wants it to shape itself into a smile. While I hold him. And hold him. And nurse him. And hold him. I can talk to him sweetly until I’m Smurf blue in the face, but it’s the caress he’s seeking, the nourishment, the human touch. My nearly five-year-old is not all that different.

Originally published 2009 JLF and the Momplex Blog

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, daughters, marriage, mood issues, motherhood, preschoolers | Leave a comment

The Season’s Hottest New Accessory: My Kid!

At first, I thought that my new baby was kind of cramping my style. I’m literally talking style, because I gained 50 pounds this pregnancy. How does one dress herself when she’s no longer with child and is instead with all the Saltines and root beer she ate over the previous 39 weeks? Not very fashionably, I’ll tell you that. Fortunately, the only way my new baby will stop crying is coiled like a potato bug inside a sling I wear all day long. And seriously, wearing your baby is, like, all the rage these days. I’m super-trendy.

Sadly, my baby likes to be worn in an elasticized black Infantino sling. I don’t mind it so much, but I can tell this sling does not impress the baby-wearing set in our hippie-dippy town. It practically shouts, “I shop at Target and won’t fork out more than $29.95 for my child’s faux womb!” I guess that’s better than the statment I’d make were I sporting an itchy Guatemalan-inspired ring sling in a fabric that doesn’t match anything but Birkenstocks and leg hair. You know, the sort that shouts to the world, “I use all-natural deodorant made from soy and Ralph Nader spittle, and intend to feed my child on demand until he’s 33!”

sling

“THIS is what you’re going to wear to the party?”

Did I say that out loud? Sorry. Clearly I’m getting a little tired of the hard-core baby-wearing set. I do actually enjoy being able to get our little potato bug to sleep in the sling. And it’s not terribly inconvenient having him close to me while I take care of people and things that would otherwise be left to mold, cry, or pile up. But frankly, I’m not trying to be part of an anti-establishment parenting faction. I’m not trying to make some sort statement with my sling.  It would be more truthful to say my son is making one. He does not want any other sling, damnit. He wants the Infantino.

So, he happens to heavily favor a cheap sling that isn’t popular with the aforementioned cult. Many of whom continue to treat me as if I’m some sort of greenhorn that needs to be guided toward a finer baby-wearing device. (And let me just clarify here that by “finer,” I actually mean a carrier that’s more primitive: The more it emulates something worn in the rice paddies, the better.)

I do own a very nice ring-sling by the way. And I tried on a zillion other baby-wearing devices before buying it. With my first baby, I owned a pouch. And a Maya Wrap. And an expensive-as-all-getout backpack. And various other devices that made her scream at me as though it were foot-binding, not baby-wearing. With my son, however, the ring-sling turned me into a 24-hour convenience mart: Strapping a baby’s face against milk ducts is like setting meat on a lion’s nose and expecting him to take a sleep, ever, instead of eat, constantly.

I’ve found that when I wear my baby in the ring-sling, I tend to attract other baby-wearers. It’s like a secret club. The first rule in Ultimate Baby Wearing Club is definitely NOT like the first rule in Fight Club. It’s the opposite. DO talk about it–constantly, if possible. But wearing my baby in a ring-sling doesn’t mean I want to talk about it. It also doesn’t mean I’m automatically like-minded with the next woman wearing her kid. It doesn’t mean I use hemp diapers or had a placenta-eating ritual after giving birth in a wooden washtub. It doesn’t really mean anything other than my baby likes this thing, and I don’t want him to cry all day, so he wins.

Yesterday at my daughter’s preschool, I decided to introduce myself to a pair of new moms on the playground. Maybe I should have heeded the warning. I mean, one of them was wearing a serious ring-sling, a quilted and perhaps even homemade specimen. (The second rule of Ultimate Baby Wearing Club: the more primitive, the better). She took stock of my Supertarget Supershit Sling, and reminisced about the time she’d tried one on and how awful it was.

“Have you ever tried a Mei Tai or a ring-sling?” she asked. “My son really loves his.”

She was referring to her 14-month-old, who instead of being loosed on the playground with the other children was bound tightly around her hip. (Mama loves her accessories!) I explained that I actually use a ring-sling sometimes but don’t prefer it, because it makes my baby frantically root on me. Her disapproval was almost palpable.

“And there’s something WRONG with that?” she asked, judgement steaming out of her flared noseholes.

Truth is, I’m actually quite fond of nursing, but not while shaving my legs, emptying the garbage, or doing various other things that are part of my decidely non-tribal, modern, industrial existence. So, yeah, lady, the day I decide it’s cool to nurse while eliminating in the loo is the day I expect my family to stage a breastfeeding intervention.

Okay, after I swallowed back the hot puke that came up my throat, I explained that I simply prefer not to nurse him every 15 minutes and that I actually wear him in the Infantino because it’s the one place he’ll sleep. Knowing that so many of the Ring-Sling Rambos and women in the Mei Tai Mafia think a baby’s naps are more of a luxury for mom than a necessity for baby, particularly when compared with the benefits of breastfeeding every 2-3 seconds, I should have expected what came next. What came next was her explaining to me that 50 years from now parents will probably all be doing as she’s doing. She said they’ll disdainfully look back at our generation of parents and shake their heads in disbelief.

I’m sure.

Maybe I should start going topless and strapping my baby to my front-side using braided corn husks. Oh, the skin-to-skin contact! The everlasting breastfeeding-on-demand! The primitive gorgeousness of it! Then, as is my obvious wish, maybe future generations will look back at me as if I were some sort of mother-goddess. Yeah, I’ll show them all.

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, general mockery, motherhood | 2 Comments

My Hot Date Night

From the Momplex archives, 2009:

Today my husband and I begin “date nights,” honoring our commitment to set aside Wednesday nights for just each other. Of course, like any other night in our home, these nights will have to start out with nursing and rocking (the baby, not my husband) and wondering why, oh, why my husband thought it would be wise to show our daughter the enticing little crawlspace that leads to our sump pump in the basement. Also, mindlessly eating a dollop of penne con salsicce that I’d dropped on my nursing baby’s bared groin. Bleck. Bedtime for the kiddos has to be handled, too, so I just finished nursing the wee one until even the lung under my boob nearly collapsed. My husband’s still working on the older kiddo’s bedtime.

Wednesdays kind of suck for me, because they’re the one weekday my daughter doesn’t have preschool. When your kids wake at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 7 p.m., and you barely interact with another soul all day, it sort of makes you want to get your tubes tied. (If you’ve never played an hour or so of Mommy Has to Talk for a Herd of Miniature Plastic Horses, you might not know what I mean.) Anyway, I tried. I took the kids out for a walk to the park. Then we went over near some giant rock and dirt piles so that my daughter could play mountain goat. A game of hide-and-seek in a nearby woods followed. As did some tree-climbing. Then we were off to my daughter’s swimming class. Next, to a cafe for lunch before heading over to the zoo to play some more and ogle and harass the meerkats. All this time, by the way, I was wearing our three-month-old (lest you forget, which I surely shall never let you do).

I should mention the baby has his first little cold and was spitting up milk left and right. We were both covered in it. So, I stopped off at Target to buy some magic formula that’s supposed to help reduce spit-up. When I got home, I commenced cleaning and getting dinner started as fast as I could. Then I made a noble effort at dolling myself up in high-heeled boots and jeans and a sexy black blouse before sitting down to nurse the crying baby while also reading a book about dinosaurs to my daughter.

Well, as the royals say in Windsor Castle, screw that horseshit. Seriously. Tomorrow, it’s back to mediocrity, which as far as I’m concerned, is aiming high enough right now.

Wanna know what my husband said when he got home from work? “Awww, man! You didn’t use that $5 formula coupon on the fridge?” Wanna know what he’s getting out of this date night? Scrabble.

Posted in babies, breastfeeding, marriage, motherhood, sexuality, sleep | 1 Comment

The Dump on Sharp Road

Today’s writing was prompted by a weekly meme called “Where I Lived Wednesdays,” from Ann Imig at Ann’s Rants. Want to join the fun? Just click here and leave your link!

Way out in Six Shooter Canyon, in that time, nobody cleaned up their dog poop. There were piles of it in every yard, including ours. We used to let it sit out there for days, maybe weeks, wondering who was going to pick it up. In the desert sun, the turds dried until they were light and hard as chalk. My best friend, Anne Marie, and I made a game of spraying these with the garden hose. The best ones sent up a puff of dust, then shrunk away, layer by colorful layer, like an Everlasting Gobstopper. It was the best game ever, after Nun Rock, which was when we put ladies’ skirt-slips on our heads like wimples and solemnly circled near my waterbed humming monk melodies. Then we’d ascend a little step ladder and tear off our habits to jam out like punk rockers.

Sometimes in the fall when I came home from school, I burned energy by practicing my gymnastics in the side yard. It ran along the giant garden kept by our neighbor, a rotund Mexican man who looked like an old Diego Rivera. His was a garden overgrown, too much food, and yet we once caught him stealing plums off our tree. I liked that he kept his garden sloppy and was never out there picking, because I didn’t want his audience. What I really wanted was for the boys on my street to happen by on their bikes and catch me turning aerial cartwheels and back flips. Usually it was just a boy named Mark, who looked like he’d stepped out of a De Grazia painting—irises black as his pupils, and hair to match, stick straight and shiny. He was probably cute, but I didn’t think so at the time. If no real boys happened by, I’d flop into the yellowing grass with my dog, Molly, who could be found snacking away on her own poop. “Stop that,” I’d say without really trying to make her stop. Later, my dad would let Molly lick his face all over, even his mouth. I didn’t tell him.

Winters were short and mild, and when we got snow, it was a magic like looking into God’s mouth. Of course, the flakes came down in millimeters not inches, and only every couple of years. That’s why the schools would close, because we didn’t have plows and the buses didn’t want to risk the trip to the Apache reservation. It wasn’t enough snow to cover the dog poop, and one winter I packed a lot of turds into snowballs. These I collected into a bucket, which Anne Marie helped me carry down to the end of Sharp Road, where the neighborhood boys had been pelting us. I pitched a big one at Chad Cecil instead of Chuy Casillas or Frank Grice. Chad was the popular kid with blonde hair and the shit-eating car-salesman grin, all teeth and not very nice. He shot his arm up in the air like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and caught the snowball and froze in that position with a smug look, like he was something else. But the snow had crumbled so that he was holding a pile of dog crap in his mitten, and I think he almost cried when he saw it. I was very happy that day.

In the spring, our grass would finally green up. That’s when anyone could tell the exact size and location of our septic tank, because the blades were more vibrant there, like emeralds, and much thicker and taller. This was my favorite spot to lay down in the yard and listen to the locusts, counting down the days to summer and hoping my mom wouldn’t notice I had nothing to do. When she did notice, she’d bring out the weeding tool and pay me five cents a dandelion, but only if I got them out by the roots. I’d end up with a pile big enough to get me to the movies in town, which cost only two dollars for a double-feature that started with cartoons. The theater was lorded over by greasy Carl with the glass eye and the polyester pants and Colonel Sanders beard. He greeted everyone with a devilish smirk, conspiratorially, like you were about to see a peep show and he might call the cops on you, or not.

It costs $8.50 now to go to the theater, but Carl might still be there. I saw him last time I was in town, years ago, and he gave me that same smirk and it was like he hadn’t changed a bit in 30 years. I couldn’t say the same for my house on Sharp Road. The door to the garage where Anne Marie and I used to hold séances and haunted houses was peeling and cockeyed. The weeping willow tree from where the locusts used to serenade me was gone. Of course you can come in, the woman at the door told me. I’m so sorry about the way things look. Dad passed away two weeks ago. He had Alzheimer’s, and we didn’t know it had gotten this bad. Piles upon piles of detritus were everywhere—papers, cans, jars, clothes. It felt dark in there. And interestingly enough, it smelled like dog poop.

There's dog poop in them there hills.

There’s dog poop in them there hills.

Like the Momplex? Buy my book! During March 2014, my publisher will be donating 80% of proceeds from the sales of my book to the Restoring Hope Transplant House, a home away from home for transplant patients and their families. 

Posted in Globe, home, humor, motherhood, poop, whereilivedwednesday | 16 Comments

Blurred Lines

“It’ll be fun,” she said. “All different ages,” she said. “You won’t be the oldest.”

So I unclicked the MAYBE box and changed my RSVP to YES. I’d never been to one of these home parties. Sure, I’d attended ones where you buy jewelry, cooking gadgets, even couture clothing. But never one with dildos and lubricants.

It was nice of her to ask me and the other moms from work. Oh, sure, she and I are more than just co-workers. We’ve been for drinks together. We joke about who stunk up the first-floor bathroom. We exchange off-color stories. (Mine are from 20 years ago. Hers are from last year.) But it’s one thing to get along well with a much younger co-worker and quite another to peruse vibrators in her living room.

Still, it wasn’t a pity invite. And I do appreciate the occasional night away from helping with homework, doing kids’ bedtimes, and retiring on the couch with my lovely husband. So, I drove the fifteen minutes away from my cornfield suburbs, through the autumn night and off to her downtown apartment, which was decked with strings of pretty white lights. Ah, the city life. Oh, to be twenty-something again. And she was right: There were women of many ages, all sipping on beer or wine, nibbling on chips and wraps, and seated in a ring around some professional party hostess that was older than I am.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. There were some big vibrators there. A few looked like miniature submarines. Others had tips fashioned to resemble, I think, tiny woodland creatures. But it wasn’t all vibrators. There were pretty lingerie pieces, too, and pretty sparkling lotions you could rub on your décolletage. Or your vagina. (The paid hostess assured us that this is a great trick to play on a partner just before heading out for a dinner date, just a quick little seduction to leave him with proverbial egg on his face—or glitter, as it were. Heh, heh, heh. Look who doesn’t know he’s got a sparkling moustache!)

At one point, I let said hostess smear scented lube on the back of my hand. I rubbed it in and sniffed at it like the other ladies in the room. “Mmmn!” I agreed. “That does smell good!” I did this on the tail end of her most embarrassing sales pitch of the night:

“Let’s face it, we’ve all had dolphin sex, right?” She was miming a bedroom scenario in which there was a last-second mix-up in entryways. Lurching slightly forward with a dreamy expression, then suddenly snapping her eyes open wide, she flapped her arms and screeched like Flipper. If I’d been given a safe word when I got to the party, I would have shouted it right about then.

Don’t get me wrong. I did have fun, partly because it was interesting to listen to how the younger women talked about sex. Whereas they were intrigued with a magic spray that instantly spirits away wet spots on the sheets, I was fascinated by a sweet little, gel-filled, heart-shaped massager that warms and firms up when you bend a metal disc inside of it:

Dear 20-somethings: This gel-filled heart will make you yawn ALL NIGHT LONG.

Dear 20-somethings: This gel-filled heart will make you yawn ALL NIGHT LONG.

So, I bought one. It promptly went to live in a drawer.

Fast forward a few weeks, when my son came down with explosive diarrhea and violent vomiting. This wasn’t just any stomach bug. It was third-world. He spiked a wildly high fever. He had to sit on the toilet with a bucket at his tiny ankles so that he could unleash the curse of the damned from both ends of his body at one time. “I’m so cold,” he said, shivering in his bed in his fourth pair of underwear for the evening. “My skin hurts.” I couldn’t find the heating pad. We don’t own an electric blanket. And then I remembered THE HEART. Boom! Magic! He slept with it against his belly. He cuddled it to his face. We boiled, cooled, and activated the thing over and over.

The next evening, it was my turn to battle the bug. It never fails that I get these stomach viruses more violently than any one else in the family. Every time, I think I might die. I lose four or five pounds. I can barely walk. At one point, I was on all fours, crawling across our cold tile from the bathroom, dizzy and thinking of cholera. “Stay away from me,” I moaned at my husband, who was shouting out offers of help from the next room. “I don’t want you to get this thing.”

As I tried to catnap on the kitchen floor, I started thinking about the heart. I really wanted that thing. But it was all the way up on the counter. I bargained with God. My skin was so freaking cold. My belly was cramping in agony. Dragging myself up to standing, I grabbed the heart, pressed the metal disk in it, and watched it warm up. Then I rubbed it’s silky-soft warmth all over my aching, green-tinged skin. Oh, yeah, baby. I could do this all night long. Mmmmmnn.

Right around midnight, my condition started to improve. I was about to go to sleep when I heard low, miserable groaning upstairs. “Mommmmm, my belly huuuurts.” Now it was my daughter’s turn to dance with the devil. She spent most of the next six hours with the toilet and a bucket. At this point, I was still holding out hope that my husband would be spared, so I soldiered on, playing the part of nurse, rinsing buckets, wiping away tears, cleaning up towels, and heating and reheating that heart.

By morning, my husband was hit. He’s got a powerful immune system, rarely gets sick, so I figured it would be a mild case. Even when he had H1N1 several years ago, he seemed to be enjoying his time off. Not today. He was literally moaning in pain. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my poor, strong man boiling that pink heart. Ahhhh, he said when I rubbed it on his skin. Mmmmmmn. 

You want to talk about intimacy? The Norovirus can make anyone sound like a 500-pound man straining to lift a 1,00o-pound barbell. And no amount of Poopourri is going to cover things up. Try this: Try having gut-wrenching dry heaves and explosive diarrhea within earshot of that special someone. It doesn’t get more intimate than that.

So, yeah. Against my first instinct, I went to one of those parties. I let a stranger rub something called Coochy cream on my forearm while I pretended it wasn’t weird. I handled all manner of so-called adult toys. I even bought one.  And I can tell you, it was worth every single penny. Talk about blurred lines.

Was that good for you? Get more true stories of beauty, shame, and horror, in my book, After Birth: Unconventional Writing from the Mommylands (Possibilities Publishing, 2013), available in both Kindle ($4.99) and paperback ($8.95) formats. During the month of March, 80 percent of profits go to the Restoring Hope Transplant House, a home away from home for transplant patients and their families.

Posted in advice, humor, husbands, illness, marriage, motherhood, sexuality | 5 Comments

School Matters: Who Knew the Earth Had a Foreskin?

I am a writer, so people are often surprised to learn I skipped a grade in math. Maybe it’s not because I’m a writer that they’re surprised. Maybe it’s because I seem kind of dumb with numbers. In truth, I sort of am. It’s not so much that I’m naturally, intrinsically dumb with them. It’s just that muscles atrophy when you don’t use them. (I know my brain isn’t a muscle, but just go with it.) After two decades of me writing and editing for a living, the math part of my brain looks like this:

mathbrain

Just for reference, here is the writer side of my brain:

writing1

So, just to be clear, here is the whole thing:

wholebrain

(Guess where the art center in my brain is located?)

I have not needed my full gamut of math education nearly as much as my math teachers threatened I would—until now. But because of recent experiences in my life, I just want to warn all the little kids out there:  YOUR MATH TEACHER IS NOT LYING. YOU REALLY DO NEED TO PAY ATTENTION IN MATH CLASS, BECAUSE YOU REALLY ARE GOING TO NEED IT ALL.

The most important reason to retain it–the teachers don’t tell you this–is so that you will not look stupid when, later in life, your child asks you for homework help. I mean, what are you going to do when your fourth-grader is coming at you with questions like, “Which one of these is a rhombus?” and “Did I get the area of this triangle right?” And there you’ll be, hanging onto your shred of dignity, squinting over a Stove Top Stuffing box as you and your grade-skipping self struggle with mental math to make one-and-a-half times the suggested amount.  What? You’re going to sneak over to the iPad and whisper, “OK, Google…how to calculate the area of a triangle” right in front of her? No! You’ve got to prove your salt by knowing as much as she thinks you do. Don’t you know a 10-year-old girl is just one hormone-surge shy of deciding you’re the world’s biggest idiot?

If the math doesn’t kill you, the science will. Because someday, as God is my witness, your 5-year-old is going to demand answers. Like, is Pluto a planet or isn’t it? WELL, IS IT? And when you answer incorrectly, your daughter’s friend from the fourth grade is going to survey you with shriveled brow and an Elvis lip and say, “Um, Pluto used to be a planet.” (I wasn’t sure if she was correcting me or wiping me off her shoe.) God, I actually knew that one! I did! But she caught me off-guard!

But therein lies my point: As a parent, you’ve got to be ready to do things like name the planets, spell Potomac, and define a hypotenuse off the top of your head and even while cleaning pee off the base of the toilet. (Which is what I was doing during the Pluto debacle.) Your teachers are telling you that you need to remember this stuff because you DO. Total recall, people, or you’re going to screw up your children.

Which one is Tattooine?

Which one is Tattooine?

Tonight as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I told her how embarrassed I was at her younger brother’s parent-teacher conference this morning:

“Out of the blue, do you know what he blurted? He said, ‘Someone in my family—I think my mom—said you were wrong about something even though you think you’re right.’”

I told her how I’d explained that he must have overheard a conversation about my daughter’s teacher. I mean, that teacher is the one who changed my daughter’s spelling of blond to blonde, which technically wasn’t correct, given the context and this one weird spelling rule that most people don’t know.

“But, geez, I just sounded ridiculous,” I told my daughter. “Because your brother then pointed at his teacher and said, ‘No, Mom, someone in our family said that about HER.’”

Turns out, it was my daughter. “Sorry, Mom,” she said, “but his teacher had taught him that at the end of the earth there’s something like lava.”

“Honey, she must have meant the center of the earth, which is pretty much like lava,” I said.

“I know, Mom, but she said end of the earth, and anyway, it’s not lava.”

Do you know what I said? I said, “Well, that’s just an easier way for a preschool teacher to explain that stuff to little kids. And I know it’s not lava, but it’s similar. It’s smegma.”

Yes, I seriously said smegma, as if the Earth is one big foreskin. No, I did not realize my mistake right away, not even within a minute. My excuse? This:

wholebrain

On a more serious note: Remember that I’m donating 80 percent of the profits from March sales of my book to the Restoring Hope Transplant House–a home away from home for transplant recipients and their families. Already own one? Recommend it to a friend, or better yet, buy some copies as gifts. 

Posted in advice, education, husbands, motherhood, preschoolers, schools, speed-posts, transplant | 4 Comments

A Stranger Saved My Dad’s Life, and this Is the Least I Could Do to Pay It Forward

“Yeah, Doug? If you want to go over the contract, we can work on that meeting next week.”

“Mr. Fiore, this is the nurse. Did you need something?”

 In the days following my dad’s heart transplant two years ago, he lost touch with reality and did many bizarre things. One was mistaking the nurse-call button for a telephone. He kept activating it and assuming the answering voice—a female one—belonged to Doug, a man who serves on a board with him. That was Doug Day.

There was also Espionage Day, when he thought people on the hospital room TV were watching him and talking specifically to him. Then came Backwards Day, when he was very cold and kept tossing off his blankets, because—as he tried to explain—being cold meant his body was actually hot and needed fewer blankets so that he could warm up. He also had vivid hallucinations of people dying on the floor of his hospital room, the entire medical staff conspiring against him, and air-vac’d patients being left on the helicopter pad in the rain. It was disturbing, because it was so real to him. That week I learned that temporary psychosis was a normal side-effect of his time on the heart-lung machine. I didn’t learn this from his doctors. I learned it from chat rooms designated specifically for transplant recipients.

Truly, I believe the journey to and from transplant is a little easier when you have comrades in arms, whether they are farther ahead or father behind in the journey. In that sense, transplantation is a little like becoming a new parent. There are many other parallels between transplantation and having a baby: expectancy, uncertainty, fear, new life, more fear, profound adjustment, and finally, a new normal.

I’m amazed that none of these parallels occurred to me before talking yesterday with a woman named Cindy Herbst. She’s the cofounder of Restoring Hope Transplant House in Middleton, Wisconsin. As a relatively new grandma, she could easily see the parallels between birth and transplantation. They’re abundant.

I’ve been curious about Restoring Hope Transplant House ever since my dad received his heart. During one of my many late-night Internet searches while he was recovering in the cardiac ICU, I stumbled across news of this “home away from home.” It would be an affordable and comfortable hostel of sorts for non-local transplant recipients and their caregivers before, during, and after transplantation. And it would be opening not more than 20 minutes from my front door. I’m happy to say it is now up and running, thriving even. But it’s quickly outgrowing its space. The 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom house has already had to turn away families due to periods of no vacancy. Fundraising is now underway to expand it into a 16-bedroom house with private baths.

STARTING TODAY AND THROUGHOUT THE MONTH OF MARCH, I will be donating 80 percent of the profits from the sale of my book, After Birth: Unconventional Writings from the Mommylands, to the Restoring Hope Transplant House. I want this nonprofit to thrive! Here are a few things to know:

  • Families pay $35 per day for a stay at Restoring Hope. The actual cost of keeping each room open and running is $107 per day.
  • Restoring Hope has hosted more than 160 families since the end of 2013. Yes, you read that number and date correctly.
  • Madison is one of the few places in the country where veterans can receive transplants through the VA program, at the University of Wisconsin Hospital. So, many veterans travel here from distant states to receive transplants. My husband, who was a physician assistant at the VA hospital, once had an out-of-state patient who lived in a hotel here for an entire year while awaiting transplant. (A waiting recipient really must be ready to go, right away, when the moment presents itself.)
  • Right now, I can almost guarantee you that you know someone—or will know someone—who is the recipient of a transplant, waiting to receive a transplant, or a future organ donor.
  • Right now, I can almost guarantee that you know someone—or will know someone—who is expecting, is a new parent or grandparent, or plans or hopes to be one of these things. My book is inexpensive and makes a great gift for anyone in that boat. Buy it for a baby shower. Buy it for a mom. Or buy it for a dad (seriously, read this dad’s review of it here).

I want to raise money for Restoring Hope but also awareness about it. And because there are fewer than a dozen such transplant houses in the country, I’d also love to spread the concept and hope it catches fire. Please share this post right now. Then please take the simple and life-changing steps it takes to be an organ donor. If nothing else, file this post away for your future reference: Life truly turns on a dime. You can read a past post about my dad’s transplant here.

Posted in Book, bravery, dads, death, Grief, happiness, healthcare, illness, motherhood, transplant, writing | 3 Comments