Lake Effect

It turns out that blogging is much more easily accomplished from a Days Inn hotel room in an unfamiliar town during a blizzard than on a birthday or a visit home for the holidays. I’m not sure I have anything particularly insightful or pertinent to put out there, except to express my gratitude for warmth and safety. We sat on Interstate 90 for hours today with our surprisingly patient four month old in her car seat in the back, chattering (I’m assuming) about her hopes that we would change her diaper and feed her again some day. Finally, the state patrol kicked everyone off of the freeway and we found ourselves on even more treacherous country roads. There’s nothing like seeing car after car in ditch after ditch to remind you how lucky you are to be creeping at a snail’s pace ahead. On that potential metaphor, I think I’ll call it a night– only adding that in the past, I’ve spent the first few days of new years looking back and tallying up signs of progress. This year, I would rather look out at sideways snow and be glad that there’s more than a car between it and my family. Snow.

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Mom-athy Part 2

I finally got back to work as an Artist (Writer) in Residence at the children’s hospital last week. My warm-up was an art project at a tree lighting ceremony for chronically ill kids. It went beautifully, but when I got home and discovered I just missed tucking my baby into bed, I was a wreck. All I could think was, how do moms do this? How did my mom do this? Late that night I was as actually happy to wake up at 1 and 4 and 6 a.m. to feed and snuggle my little one. I didn’t know how I was going to leave her for eight hours that day and worried over whether or not I’d left enough milk for her. This must be the Italian mama in me. You know the ones who cook the ten course meal and wonder if that’s enough. In any case, getting back into the swing of things went more smoothly than I expected. It helped that the other artist and dancer I worked with are amazing and that one of the first patients I met said she loved, loved, loved Shakespeare. What I didn’t expect was how much it would affect me to see unwell babies and their parents.

A few weeks ago, I created the word, mom-athy. Now I feel that its definition needs to be expanded. Evidently this sort of deep empathy extends not only to your own ailing child, but also to those of total strangers. You don’t usually take an infant to the hospital unless something is very wrong, so you can imagine the condition of the babies I saw when I first walked through the automatic doors.

Most of my first year working at the hospital I was pregnant. Moms loved to ask me how I was feeling and to tell me about their experiences. Several of them remembered me upon my return and were thrilled to find out that I had a little girl and to see her picture. (I always thought people carried pictures with them to show off their progeny. Now I’m convinced it’s a way to deal with missing them.) I felt so grateful that the baby waiting for me to come home at the end of the day was healthy, and I felt and so deeply compassionate toward the moms who weren’t at the hospital to write stories and paint pictures. Then, I remembered that was what I was there to do.

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To Date is Mortal, to Love is Divine…

I’m an older person than today’s “target market”, I’m currently in the 52nd year, graying hair (although I dye it), achey knees and I enjoy sitting on my couch eating ice cream rather than going out and hitting the bar scene.  However I’ve lately been extremely interested in all the dating apps and websites that have been making the news lately, yes, I’m talking about “Tinder”.

Now I wouldn’t know Tinder if it popped up on my iPhone screen (which, trust me, it doesn’t), but I’ve seen many different late night talk show hosts and radio commentators talk about it lately.  I even heard that they turned down a buy-out offer in the billions (!).  Anything worth billions must be popular, and to turn it down!  Yeesh…

But it got me to thinking of what dating has turned into in this modern era of constant connectivity… Not only that, but what did it USED to be.  Where are the screened calls, pebbles thrown at windows, notes and roses, all replaced by unrequited text messages, friend requests and direct messages.  Weird how that works.

It seems the first thing a society does with new technology is have sex with it (strange, but true), and the second thing is seems to do is divide itself into factions.  Somewhere between 1 and 2 you have dating, a way to find someone else to spend some time with.  The Internet, with it’s incredible prominence across nearly the entirely of humanity, is a perfect place for this, and it shows.

It seems that every niche has it’s own dating site or app, they have sites only for farmers, only for black people, Jewish people, even Sweden has it’s own dating site.  It seems that just about everyone, everywhere, shares a need to get with someone that they can share a commonality with, and perhaps, have a bit more fun with as well (keeping it PG here, but you know what I mean).   This is one of the things where, we knew it was a fact, but it took it being exposed easily (through a few clicks of a mouse) to become apparent to us.  What’s it like when a BILLION people need to find a date?  Well, it’s big business, apparently.

Plenty of Fish, a dating site started only a few years ago, recently sold for a staggering 500 million dollars.  The owner of it was just one guy who knew how to program and understood some of the psychological realities of the dating scene.  This is in combination with myriad other sites that are just as, if not more, popular then POF and are each valued in the hundreds of millions show you just how monstrously large the dating scene is, when seen on a global scale.

It’s crazy insane that dating, once a personal (although obviously not unique) journey for individuals, is now something that can be commoditized and analyzed in such a way.  I just think all these changes, happening in the last 20 years or so, are such a phenomena to behold.  Maybe I’ll try to focus on this more in my writings going forward…

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Late Night Flooding

So I was reading back some of my old blog posts and I realized that most of my observations and commentaries were about relatively abstract things. I complain about my mother a bit, not getting famous, snow drifts, etc. etc. I realized there was not much down-to-earth commentary. Well that is about to change. Last night I had myself a good old fashion overnight plumbing emergency, along with all the great fun (sarcasm) of broken pipes and flooded basements. What a charming experience. Now that I’ve gotten it all taken care of, and the frustration and tiredness out of my system, I can sit down and put my thoughts on paper.

It was about 11PM and I had just finished up an excellent book I have been reading (“Better” by Atul Gawande, an excellent book about striving for performance in medicine and other fields, but I digress) and I was about to hop in the shower before going to bed. I get into the bathroom and I notice the floor was wet. I thought this strange because I hadn’t used the bathroom or showered since this morning, and the moisture/condensation is usually long gone by the time I get home in the evening/nighttime.

Lo and behold the water is coming from under the sink! I investigate further and I see that the water seems to be spouting from the pipe underneath the sink. Starting to panic, I don’t know what exactly to do. I live in my own home so I don’t have a landlord or super to call for help. I start pacing back and forth before I remember there is a shutoff valve that I was once told about. There is one is the bathroom itself, so maybe that will work. I go in, find the valve (near the wall next to the toilet) and pull it tight in whatever direction it will budge (I don’t know if it’s on or off).

Doing this seems to work. And it looks like the crisis is averted for now. I still need to get a plumber and figure out what the heck is going on, because I need to have running water in my bathroom, but nonetheless, I don’t have to worry about any more flooding or leaking pipes tonight. Or so I thought.

Going downstairs I am now relegated to the fact that I won’t shower tonight, and I will have to call a plumber in the morning. I start to settle and calm down a bit and go to the kitchen to get some water before bed. I start to hear a weird “swishing” sound and I can’t quite figure out what it is. I follow it a bit and realize it’s coming from the basement. Starting to feel a trickle of panic I open the basement door, look down, and see a fucking mess. There is water at least a foot deep, the swishing is coming from a busted pipe somewhere and water is gushing out. I see papers and books FLOATING IN THE WATER. I can’t believe it, something like this has never happened to me.

Now I panic. What do I do? I almost freak out and call 911, but realize this isn’t that kind of emergency, I just need an emergency plumber, so I google “emergency plumber nyc” and frantically click on the first result that I see. I talk with a man who must have dealt with people like me his entire life because he was so helpful and calm, it really calmed me down. He eventually said he would be there in 20 minutes and to just sit tight.

It was time for me to have a drink. I don’t usually drink but I figured if I was ever going to have a martini at 1 AM, this was going to be the time. So I sat and waited for him, panicking the whole time.

Long story short (too late) is he came and fixed the problem. Brought a wet-dry vac and started getting the water out of the basement. Said we would come back with a better pump to do the rest of it.

Thank god for him! What a night!

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Clean Laundry (Room), Clean Conscience

So I left home the other day not sure what I was going to do with my day. I walked and pondered the universe for a few hours, and it was a really nice time. I came home with a renewed energy to get my house in order. My laundry room had always annoyed me, because it wasn’t the most polished and nice looking room. It was more utilitarian, with baskets and detergents, tables for folding clothes and an extra sink. It was really like an old washroom which has been modified to fit some tables and the washing machines. There was no custom paint, no cute little wall decals, and no aura of cleanliness and homey feel that I think a good laundry room should have. My hours of wandering and pondering brought me to the conclusion that I need to change this.

My first order of business was to take account of what I had and the condition it was in. Firstly, the washing machines themselves were a bit old. I’ve had them for at least 5 years, and while they seem OK, they are quite loud and have taken to break every year or so, requiring a visit from the repair man. Perhaps I should consider some nice, shiny, new washing machine/dryer combos? I know, a bit expensive, but I think it may be worth it. I’ll have to do some research (EDIT: found this site which is very helpful) and make a decision on that.

Next up was the wall paper (or lack thereof) and the paint. I wanted to add a much nicer color scheme, something like a bright white with blue lining. It would give it a bright and clean feel, as opposed to dark, dusty, dirty, and oppressing. It would also pave the way for some wall decals, wooden panels with funny/corny quips about laundry or home life, stuff like that (I’ve seen a few examples at my friends houses and I want to mimic them). This shouldn’t be too hard to do and should certainly be less expensive than brand new machines.

Finally I think I’d like to rearrange the spacing. I’d want to maybe make some more space, perhaps by using a stackable washer/dryer combo. This would give me more space to add folding areas, and open up the atmosphere, perhaps even giving more room for light to come in through the window. More light is key to giving the clean and open feel (which reminds me, I should probably just clean the windows more).

So what do you think? Any other ideas how I can revamp my laundry room and move away from a Tide-filled dungeon to a Norman Rockwell painting? I’d love to hear them…

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How We Didn’t Become Famous

… and how I became that mom.

You can already guess, this is more minutiae than crucial. If you want something on the grounded and meaningful side from me, go back and read my birth story.

This all starts back when I was a kid and wanted to be an actress more than anything besides having lots of dogs and rabbits and a pony. I took acting classes, got headshots, and did a victory dance when a local talent agency wanted to sign me. Then my lawyer mom read all the fine print and became concerned about someone “owning” any part of her daughter. End of my career, thanks Mom. (Just kidding. I find writing far more rewarding.)

Cut to: Monday night when I got an e-mail looking for babies 1-3 months for a commercial shoot with a certain famous toy company. I thought of my friend’s niece who was all set for college by age five because of the Baby Gap ads she did, asked the potential star’s daddy for permission, and sent in her pictures. The next day I got a call that yes, they wanted to “use” Francesca and maybe me as well. Could I send in a full-length shot of myself? I was flattered, but completely unprepared. I found a couple of candids where I’m holding Francesca, and I’m wearing tennis shoes and not much makeup. Why was I surprised when the response from the agent was… “Yeah. They just want Francesca.”

So, for a hot minute I almost got to live out my childhood dreams. Well, not really. I saw myself as being Juliet at the Shakespeare Theater, not baby mommy on a toy commercial– but you get the idea. Then, I was to await details for the shoot. They pushed it back 15 minutes so that I could make it from teaching my class. Details arrived after business hours yesterday, and required that I complete a New York State Child Performer permit, open up a trust account for the kid, sign a contract (don’t worry Mom, it was non-exclusive), and fill out a W-9. That’s when I remembered that we had no idea where her social security card was. I knew we needed to go apply for a card, but I didn’t anticipate my 3 month old getting a job so soon.

The talent agency was still open late yesterday evening and suggested that we go to the social security office when they opened to get the temporary card. That was the only way. Before dawn, I scrambled to get my little beauty ready, cleaning spit up out of her hair and goo out of her sleepy eyes. And off I went to teach my online guitar lesson class (and to fax in all the contracts and such) while my husband, who had done some fine work in a Bud Light commercial himself back in the day, went with babe in arms to get the social security card. He succeeded and made it home to fill out the work permit online just in time for me to come back and swoop up America’s next top baby.

That’s when I checked my messages. In the span of thirty minutes, during which I was teaching and could not answer my phone (that would look pretty bad when I admonish the students for using theirs), I got three calls. 1. Did you get the social security card? 2. We’re worried you didn’t get it. 3. If you don’t call me back in five minutes, we’re canceling.

I called back. I assured them we were all good to go, but they had already canceled and told the “Mom” (meaning, the mom actress) not to come out. Too late. Too bad, so sad. But I can be her mom! I am her mom! That’s in italics because I thought it but didn’t say it. Let’s be proud of me for that.

Wasn’t I the one who said I didn’t want my kid to be an actor but a “normal” person? Wasn’t I just this morning worried that they might put goop in her crazy hair or that if we stuck with this, she might be wearing makeup at age 3? And haven’t I admonished stage moms and made fun of the mom on Real Housewives of New Jersey for pushing her daughter on talent agencies, coating her lips with liner, and saying “Melania, fabulous!” every time she took her picture? It was raining out; we could have gotten in an accident on the long drive out to the shoot or on the way back. She might have missed her nap, and sleep is precious. She might have gotten hungry or fussy or hated the whole thing. They might have said she wasn’t as cute in real life as in the pictures, although I doubt that. She might have spit-up all over herself again. And the “Mom” might have given her swine flu. The possibilities for disaster were endless.

But here I am feeling like the time when I didn’t get a callback for “Annie” at age 8 after my incredible rendition of “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly,” complete with cockney accent. Kimmi, we could use some Therapy Thursday. You were a child actor/model. She’s not really missing anything, is she?

P.S. How does anybody accomplish anything on this little sleep, let alone be rational or start a glamorous new career?

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Pre-Existing Condition

61807I was thinking of going to the dermatologist. Should I tell my provider that I have skin? This was my reaction to a dizzying fight over the bill I received for the delivery of my baby and our hospital stay. We’re lucky to have insurance, I know that. But imagine my surprise when my provider wanted me to pay a penalty of several hundred dollars for not clearing it with them when I arrived at the hospital at 2:30 a.m. to have a baby.

“You must have known at some point that you were pregnant, and that’s when you should have told us.”

“You’ve been paying for my pre-natal visits. Isn’t that–?”

“With your doctor. This is a hospital bill. It’s completely separate.”

“Why exactly? Never mind. I did pre-register with the hospital, and we did call you to find out what would be covered months ago.”

This is really nothing compared to the nightmare my friend is facing. After severe back labor at her home for 14 hours, she went to the hospital and was advised to get an epidural. Now she’s got a bill of a few thousand dollars for using an anesthesiologist who wasn’t in network. Evidently she was supposed to ask in the thirty seconds between contractions. They would have told her that he was the only anesthesiologist in the hospital, so I’m not sure what she was supposed to do after that.

With these headaches, you wouldn’t think that women also pay up to 84% more than men for individual health plans that exclude maternity coverage. And in the individual market, only 13% of health plans available to a 30 year old woman across the country even provide maternity coverage (“Still Nowhere to Turn” from the National Woman’s Law Center). Gender rating makes being a woman in itself a pre-existing condition. And if my anecdotes are evidence of the standard, even a new mom with a plan may not be covered as well as she thinks she is.

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The Tribe You Cling To

In Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the lovable narrator, 14-year-old Arnold Spirit (based on Alexie himself), touches on an idea that’s been goading me for years. We spend most of our life running from or trying to get into a particular tribe. By tribe, I mean social group identity.

Being from nowhere once made me feel like I had no place and therefore no “people.” Of course, I have many tribes, probably three of four that resonate most with me. There is something poignant about Arnold’s quote below, with its wonderful teenage-hood ness and cultural context. In 2009, how relevant is the fact that we are being asked to step away from the one or two tribes we clutch to in order to breed some tolerance in this world? Very, I think.

But how does one do this without watering down an identity?

I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.

And the tribe of cartoonists.

And the tribe of chronic masturbators.

And the tribe of teenage boys.

And the tribe of small-town kids.

And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.

And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.

And the tribe of poverty.

And the tribe of funeral-goers.

And the tribe of beloved sons.

And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.

It was a huge realization.

And that’s when I knew that I was going to be okay.

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Something Beautiful

I found myself online late last night, later than I wanted to be. I try not to be on the computer after 10 p.m. anyway, but it happens. When it does, I don’t like closing the internet browser on a work-related screen or on something disturbing or sad. Instead, I find something good, true, or inspiring before I shut down and go to bed.

Last night, having already browsed my favorite sites of beauty and community, I typed “something beautiful” into Google and hit “I’m Feeling Lucky.” And Google took me straight to the blog titled “Something Beautiful,” subtitled, “When everything seems to be going wrong, something beautiful can really help.” The blogger says, on the About Me page, “When in need of an antidote to negativity, I often turn to beautiful things on the Web. I know when I have found something beautiful because I can feel my inner chemistry change almost the moment it appears on the screen.”

I didn’t even click on any of the links, nor did I plumb the 5 year archive (the site began in October 2004). I felt better, lighter, just knowing that someone else is out there seeking, and finding, the Beautiful.

Beauty in a Wicked World is a weekly column by Jennifer Gandin Le. It appears on Wednesdays.

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“Don’t tell Mom.” = An e-mail from my sister.

“I know.” = My response.

We hadn’t done anything illegal (you’re shocked, I’m sure). We hadn’t broken anything or hidden any evidence, and we weren’t re-enacting the Christina Applegate movie. We simply decided to protect the woman who bore us from: news of the Return of the Thrush. It may not be grammatically correct to capitalize the name of the infection or to put “the” in front of it, but it feels appropriate. We just weren’t sure Mom could handle it, even though she’s dealt with much greater crises with one hand behind her back and the other one cooking a gourmet dinner. You could hear her teeth grind every time she asked, “Is it any better?” and a pained sigh every time I said, “No, not really.” And I might have thought she was overdoing it a bit, had I not discovered for myself that knowing that your daughter is in pain is a whole new kind of anguish.

My mom will never let me live down the day when I told her, “I am too apathetic.” Eight years old, I didn’t understand what she meant by needing to walk in someone else’s shoes, let alone the difference between empathy and apathy. Now I think that empathy isn’t a strong enough word to describe what I feel when I see Francesca’s white thrushy tongue or how I felt when she got her vaccines last week. She looked up at me in horror and screamed what could only be translated as a mix of “how could you?” and “do something about this!”

“She’s going to make me cry,” I told the nurse.

“It wouldn’t be the first time. We had a dad crying in the corner this morning. And a few months ago, I had a mom who sobbed more than her baby. I told her that next time she might want to bring some support. Guess who she brought.”

“Her mother?”

“Yes. And just by chance, I was the one who gave her baby the next round of vaccines. So then I had baby, Mom, and Grandma all in tears. I told her, ‘Honey, that’s not exactly what I meant by support.’”

Of course, I did tell my mom about the Thrush. That’s why I’m not so covert as to refrain from regaling you of it here. The problem is that no one but Mom can offer the mom-athy I’m describing. That, and the fact that she could tell I was hiding something.

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