Monday, April 23, 2012

The eternal twilight of the sleep deprived

If you've ever brought home a newborn, you've been tired.

Really tired.

A next-level tired that leaves you feeling that your feet aren't quite touching the ground, that colors are either too bright or muted to an oddly large range of gray, that even small-talk is being spoken in a foreign-but-vaguely-familiar language.  Exhaustion like that is akin wearing a full-body biohazard suit made of fog.

I'm visiting that place today.

It's easy to forget what that kind of tired feels like, if you've been getting a reasonable amount of sleep for weeks or months or even years at a time.  It takes the well-rested by surprise.

I am a world champion sleeper.  There aren't many things I'm really Olympic class at doing (my other gold medal events are Icy Glares and Synchronized Scolding), but I've always excelled at Catching Z's.

One night of chaos doesn't much throw me off my waking day.  I can handle two interrupted nights without much problem, and, with the help of our friendly local Starbucks, I can survive three.

But throw me off my sleep schedule for more than four nights, and I am one of the walking dead, minus the gruesome special effects and insatiable desire for brains.  It does kick up my yearning for potato chips a few notches, though.

Today's haze of misery is courtesy of our four-year-old.  It all started innocently -- doesn't it always? -- but quickly crossed into the land of absurdity.  I'd laugh, except that my utter exhaustion has left no energy for mirth.

Our young pumpkin sprang a sudden fever on Thursday morning, which popped as high as 101 through the day and lulled him into senseless napdom late Thursday afternoon.  As I tucked him into bed that night, I reminded him (stupidly, in retrospect), to wake me up if he needed anything.

He woke in the night, shivering with fever, so he came in search of his mama.  I wrapped my sleep-warm body around him and he settled in for a rather restless night.

Ditto Friday night.

Saturday he was himself again, without fever and with all his usual energy and enthusiasm.  But come the wee hours of Saturday night, he came looking for a free ride in the big bed again.

He kicked.  He thrashed.  His outflung arm caught me full in the face, and his sharp little toenails scratched the tender skin behind my knees.  Caught between my tiny tormenter and my snoring husband, there was no escape.

I tried to sleep.  Truly, I did.  Minutes passed, hours passed, misery remained.

So tired.  So sad.  So unreasonably angry.

I nudged, and then shoved, my husband.  His eyes half opened.  "Can you please carry Liam back to bed?"  He glared, grunted, and rolled over.  (My husband doesn't sleep walk, perse, but he does act in completely uncharacteristic ways when he's asleep and then has no recollection the following day.  It is not as fun as it sounds.)

Left to my own devices, I threw off the covers, climbed over my youngstger, and schlepped him back to bed myself.

I returned to bed angry and unable to sleep.  No matter, because less than an hour later, he was back.  *Sigh.*

I was sleepy on Sunday, and a little grouchy.  But I did all the usual things -- church, lunch, grocery shopping, stocking the pantry, picking up the house.  I just did all those things slowly.  Very, very slowly.  And I often found myself in a room with no recollection of what I was supposed to do in it.

Eh, whatever.  Whatever was the word of the day.

So I was ready, really ready for bed Sunday night.  And while I don't remember when the wee beastie came creeping under my sheets, I do remember waking -- multiple times -- to those kicking legs and punching arms and feline-sharp toenails.

And did I mention that he has a textural fixation?  He likes to rub any little imperfection in your skin -- a mole, a bump, a torn cuticle, a scratch -- over and over and over, sometimes sinking in his little claws for good measure.  Most days, this doesn't bother me much.  In the middle of my fourth sleepless night, though, it filled me with red rage.  I wanted to plunk him unceremoniously in the middle of the hallway, lock the bedroom door, and hide under my blankets.

No, I did none of these things.  I carried him back to bed -- but he returned.  Finally, sometime around 3 a.m., I lifted him and put him in the middle of the bed, hoping he might torment my husband instead of me for a few hours.  I'm not sure what happened after that, so perhaps my nefarious (desperate!) plan worked.

So today I'm drinking coffee instead of tea.  My eyes are red, and my industrial-strength concealer is doing nothing to hide the puffy purple bags that are so effectively announcing my age and exhaustion to the world.

Days like this, I feel like an old mom.  But, hope springs eternal -- and tonight, I hope for sleep.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cancer, cancer everywhere

We all know someone who has cancer, had cancer, beat cancer, or died of cancer.  “Survivor” no longer refers to an 80’s hair band – it’s a word for anyone who has received the diagnosis and come out the other side alive.
These days, cancer is more than a disease: it’s an industry. Millions of people in the U.S. send money to Susan Komen and run in marathons supporting “the cure.” We devour news articles telling us how to avoid the scourge, and run to the store to stock up on vitamins and super-foods that may fight those evil, interloping cells.
A decade ago, women everywhere watched Kim Cattrall’s Samantha don a hot pink wig on Sex and the City, and applauded as she plucked off her wig and shared her chemo-induced baldness with a ballroom full of VIPs.
Lance Armstrong taught us to “Live Strong.”  Kris Carr brought us “Crazy Sexy Cancer.”
My own family history is rife with cancer battles lost and won.  “Amma” Stanley, my maternal grandmother and a life-long chain smoker, had breast cancer but died with cancer cells riddling every part of her body, from bone to brain.  Grandma McDaniel died within a week of being diagnosed with adult-onset leukemia.  My mother battled breast cancer seven years ago and is, today, one of the aforementioned survivors  -- and a healthy and vital one, at that.
Yes, cancer is everywhere.  It’s enough to make any woman “of a certain age” a little antsy.
While 40 is the magic number for most, my sister and I have been getting annual mammograms for years now, far sooner than most women bother.  We’ve half-joked that it’s only a matter of time, given our lousy genes.
So when my sister called last week with news that her mammogram had returned with abnormalities, I can’t say that I was entirely surprised.
Horrified, yes.  Surprised, no.
Since she’s a seven-hour drive away, we exchanged comforting platitudes by phone and text.  From me, “I’m sure it’s nothing – just a shadow on the x-ray,”and, “Everything will be just fine.”  From her, “There’s no point in worrying about it. I’m not worried.”
We left the rest unsaid.
We’re both Type A personalities, so when we’re scared, we tend to do two things: 1) Ignore whatever is frightening us; and 2) Get mad.
It’s an involuntary reaction.  Fearfulness acknowledges something frightening, whereas anger implies that you can forcefully beat the scary thing into dust.  For better or worse, our “fight or flight” response always defaults to beating the tar out of whatever was foolish enough to alarm us in the first place.
So we told each other sweet-sounding lies and ignored what was really rattling around in both our brains:  Is this it? The rise of those awful genes?
So today, I’m taking my fear out on this keyboard, banging and clacking instead of tip-tapping as usual.  Today, there is anger, and fear, and worry.
And tomorrow, we will know.


Update, April 16:  Sister is GOOD!  She lost 30 pounds last year, which resulted in her recent films veering wildly from her baseline -- her normal tissue is smaller and more compressed, which made it look like there were masses.  This is something to keep in mind if you're ever in a similar spot!

Friday, April 13, 2012

R2 has left the building

I’ve never been a crafty person. My sister has always been the artist, the interior designer, the girl who looks like a million bucks wearing three dollars worth of clothes and accessories from the thrift store.
When I, on the other hand, purchase clothing at the thrift store…well, let’s just say that it isn’t pretty.
That is not to say that I never try to create art. I’m not bad with pastels; I made some nice still life compositions back in college, and every so often I’ll pull out the old tools to sketch a particularly lovely apple or tomato. I totally get down with Play-Doh, and don’t mind admitting that I can make a mean alligator and a darn cute frog out of anything moldable.
But I’m abysmal with oil paints; those inevitably end in disaster. I have much better luck with acrylics – especially if I can label the end-result “abstract.”
But crafts? Not so much. Evidently, I didn’t get that gene.
My mom is an amazingly talented floral designer; she makes wreaths that make me want to weep. And my sister can create absolutely anything! She’ll buy a table at a garage sale, add some paint or decoupage, and turn it into a family heirloom. Photo spreads of her kids’ rooms should grace the pages of Parenting magazine.
My kids are lucky if I keep the paint off their baseboards and their things “mostly” match.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when I took up crochet.
Truly, it was an accident.
I’m a Star Wars nut, and, happily, so are both my sons. When Waldenbooks was going out of business, I stumbled across “The Star Wars Craft Book.” At 80% off, how could I resist?
Such cute crafts! A Jabba the Hutt body pillow! A tooka doll! Han Solo frozen in carbonite soap!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but the holy grail of Star Wars crafts: An R2-D2 beanie. To be more precise, a CROCHETED R2-D2 beanie.
Well, crap, I thought. I have to learn to crochet.
And so I did.
I bought some yarn and a hook and found some enthusiastic “Learn to crochet!” directions online. And I began. My first project turned out to be a handbag; I made it up as I went along, because I couldn’t read patterns. It turned out surprisingly well.
I bought more yarn, and more hooks. I figured out how to read a simple pattern, and made a scarf, a pillow, another scarf, and a hat. Then I declared myself ready to tackle R2.
I wasn’t.
Oh, how I struggled. I made it halfway through when I realized I’d missed whole rows of increases, and R2 was more of a cone than a dome. I ripped it back. I was a third of the way through when I realized I’d miscounted stitches from the start and absolutely everything was misaligned. I ripped it back again. A week later, and after three tries and hundreds (thousands?) of suppressed curses, we had our very own R2-D2 hat.
My 7-year-old beamed with pride while my 4-year-old wailed with envy. (Don’t worry, he got a C3PO hat a week later.) He wore his wooly R2-D2 hat to school on an 80 degree March day, which warmed my heart almost as much as it warmed his sweaty little head.  R2 accompanied him to school, to church, to Grandma’s.
And two weeks later, R2 was gone.
We turned the house and cars upside down while I railed and my son squirmed under the weight of my anger and disappointment. A week of my life! Seven anguished days! And the R2-D2 hat is gone, GONE! Oh, MY PRECIOUS!!!!!
Yes, it was all very dramatic.
The school lost and found, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, was my only hope – but, alas, the Force was not with us.
Well, I told myself, you can make another. Sometime. When you’ve recovered. After all, he’s only seven. He’s going to lose things.
And then I heaved a great sigh.
So imagine my surprise when, tonight, my husband returned home with R2 in hand.
As it turns out, he was at Grandma’s the whole time.
And I’m feeling very, very sheepish about all my railing, anger, and disappointment. If he were a little older or a little more sarcastic, I think my son would ask me if I learned a lesson from all this.
And I’d have to reply, “Yes. Yes, I'm very sorry, and yes, I have.”