Make a Decision

You know, I’m a competent professional. Part of my work is to make decisions, forecast the future, design plans that will move us forward into new places, and sprinkle the whole thing with innovative ideas. I’m good at it and I like doing it. I’m not a waffler, although at home I’m deliberate; at work I make decisions relatively quickly, accepting that if there are mistakes we can right them the second or third time. That would be a problem in fields where decisions are exceptionally costly or life-saving, but I work at a library, folks, none of my decisions are going to be disasters.

My wife likes to consider all of the possible options before settling on a decision. We’re incompatible this way (at home, I’m not always interested in options) but we are very compatible in that the time I prefer to make a decision (again, at home) is pretty close to the time she needs to consider all of the options. I like to think of it this way – she will lay out a range of options and then I can make a quick decision after having taken awhile to consider them all and we’ll end up landing in about the same place. You might recall that we had paint samples on our bedroom wall for a year.

My mother wants me to make instant decisions about things that are important to her. And then she wants me to do those things right then and there. Under duress, I can usually accommodate one preference, but not the other. For example, she wanted to know if I would take a lovely fountain and a fleet of end tables so that she didn’t need to move them. I said I would on the spot but they will certainly hang out in my basement until I’ve had time to consider where I’ll put them. This will take awhile, my brain space is occupied by other things, and it bothers me not at all that we don’t know where we’ll put them yet (or ever).

It agitates her that I sit on things past the .15 seconds she has provided for a decision. What dates am I thinking of traveling? Where am I planning to go? What do I think I’ll do when I get there? If there’s not a plane ticket, hotels, or a friend’s couch involved, those decisions may well come once I arrive. When we went to Disneyworld, I bent my entire will toward planning out the trip (although leaving plenty of flexibility) but this is not my regular approach. I head somewhere down the middle but closer to the last minute.

For example, earlier this month Debra and I decided that we might go away for the weekend. Two weeks prior, we decided on a location. A week prior, we made a hotel reservation. Three or four days prior, we decided what we’d do when we got there and we decided when to leave about 15 minutes before we got in the car. Of course, this is for a relatively local vacation. I don’t consider most of that last minute but I watched my mother practically tremble with agitation and judgement as we waltzed through this process.

Today I’m spending the afternoon with her wrapping up the tail end of her packing. I am well aware that she will expect me to make more split decisions about what I want to take and leave. I’d prefer to decide later once I’ve brought it home. I’m not asking her to delay any moving things and my decision will have no impact at all on her. I just want the chance to consider the greater picture and, if she behaves as she usually does, this is going to drive her insane. I’m not feeling particularly accommodating today. I’m trying not to think of this as a looming disaster.

I accept that there’s a happy medium here and that the stress she’s under doesn’t give her the flexibility to move outside of her comfort zone. The impending conflict is completely within my control. Clearly, the teenager in me is trying to act out – I could make decisions quickly, I just don’t want to. If I can just get that cantankerous 15-yr-old to cool her jets, I might be able to make it through this.


Red Sky At Morning

Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I think this when I’m in a dull meeting, yes, but also when my daughter so readily slips her hand into mine crossing the street. Sometimes I get reminded against my will, like when the neighbor behind me sends a mild message about getting my tree that’s in her yard inspected again (I know. Just know that’s the case in her eyes.) and I know that our friendly detente over tree removal might be coming to a close. Or when suddenly, midweek, with no warning whatsoever, my kid no longer asks for a lullaby before bed. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. Even wore the non-waterproof mascara, so that’s all I have to say about that.

It turns out that the four years of Sunday dinners we shared with my parents will be over once my mom moves away this summer. That is a welcome but hard change for our family in a few different ways. It felt hard and unsustainable many, many weeks, but there it is. Over just like that. RR suddenly has a new afterschool zookeeper teacher and the old one, the artist, is rarely there when I pick her up. I had a great boss. Now I have a new boss. You see, as comfortable as it is, nothing is permanent. And sometime there’s no warning whatsoever.

A month ago, or maybe last week, I was pretty sure we’d be in this house, in this community, at this workplace until we retired. And then some. But then I visited a different neighborhood in town with charming houses and many of the things we love about our own neighborhood (on the surface). Debra got a new job which also had many of the things she excels at (on the surface). Gradually, some of the things I had taken for granted (even while knowing things change) have evaporated. Flexible work schedules. good soil, a car that both runs and has four working windows, stable mental, physical, and financial health.

It looks like I’m far more open to a significant life change than I thought I’d be once the conditions that enabled the current state started to melt away. I had been so busy reminding myself about the small things (don’t forget to pet the dog! he won’t be here forever!), I totally forget to remind myself that the big things can change on a dime. I missed the warning signs because I’ve been trying hard not to try to read the future. Now I’m back to soothsaying again, looking for the signals, trying to see where to put the cushion before there’s a fall. Wish me luck.



Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.


**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.

RR Hates Camp

Well, it had to end sometime. RR’s three weeks of bad-planning bliss have come to a close. You see, back in April (APRIL) when we had to sign up for camp, Debra and I were grappling with how to afford both school tuition and camp fees in July. June was okay, no tuition. But July and August are double months. Ouch. At the time, we were already on a shoestring (thank god for a raise) and so we made the decision to keep her home for two weeks. Turns out we didn’t schedule three weeks so Debra and I have passed RR like a hot potato since the fourth of July. Mostly that fluffy steaming pocket of goodness landed with my wife because work didn’t go the way it was supposed to go and not only could I not take her during the day, I missed several bedtimes as well.

This worked well for RR. This is a child who abhors organized fun. She loves the moment and is nonchalant about what’s next. She loves her mothers. She loves cool, quiet spaces. She loves drawing for hours on end. She loves to dance and run and hide and chase when she gets bitten by crazy. She connects with one person. She sometimes stutters when rushed by others who wish she’d spit it out already. She likes to take naps. She spends hours, happily, playing in her room. She wants to read, and add, and decode secret messages. She wants to play music and twirl.

She does not want your woven bracelet.
She does not want your bus songs.
She does not want your Boom Chika Boom.
She does not want your broken crayons or your markers on the high shelf.
She does not want your “time to go!”
She does not want your comfort, your chants, or your smiles.
She does not want your ball games.
She does not want to capture your flag.
She will not have your toilets. NOT A SINGLE ONE.

The rivers of urine, you guys. She came home soaked each day. She came home in tears, left in tears, and cried at bedtime. She sobbed that it was too loud. She sobbed that she couldn’t tell she had to pee. She held our hands and screamed at the bus stop. You can understand the agony we felt in sending her back.*

But send her we did. We sent her with headphones for the bus. Our miracle-worker physician prescribed a new medication and the accidents she had with us had almost stopped. Debra emailed the camp to describe the predicament. We bought a new backpack that matched the other kids’, replaced her water bottle so it didn’t leak, and got new shoes that didn’t reek of pee. We bribed the unbribeable child with a game of Crazy 8s, a lollipop, and dance classes. You’re six now, we said, you can do anything. You can do this.

Today is only Tuesday, which means we really only have Monday to go on. I’ll whisper this so there will be no karmic backlash**: She came home dry. She came home smiling. She didn’t cry herself to sleep. There were storm clouds this morning but no tears. Cross your fingers that when we pick her up today we’re on the same track. I’ll just take one of those things. Anything is a miracle.

*Nope. No other full day options that aren’t identical. No friendly neighbor or sister or grandmother. No way to manage another 4 weeks of having her at work. It has to be done.

**I know that karma doesn’t work this way, yes.


I Thought it Would be the Chickens

We narrowed our choice of schools for first grade down to two – our public school or the up-to-8th-grade Montessori school in town. We’re huge Montessori fans, finding that it provides a beautiful trellis for RR to send her shoots up and wind her roots around. While I’m not deeply knowledgeable about Montessori in the elementary years, I know my child, at least right now, and, for now, the method fits her.

But. I’m a tremendous fan of public schools and public school teachers and, after all, there is no tuition for public school. So off we went for a tour.

Depending on the angle, I could probably list dozens of pros and cons for RR about the public elementary. This is one of those touchy things, right? Like how you choose to diaper and feed an infant. The reasonable folks live and let live (or at least keep their gentle judging to themselves) but the important part is that it’s right for your family. After the tour and a lot of soul searching on our end it just isn’t right. Except the cost. The cost is right. I love my paycheck. I wish we could see each other more often.

Here’s what I think RR will take from continuing in Montessori. She will be able to continuing learning the way she has begun. Her pace will be individual to her. She will work in a garden or feed the chickens as part of her day. She will learn to be a mediator. She will have an art studio and music studio. As she gets older, she and her peers will plan their own field trips related to their work, make their own reservations, arrange their own transportation. She will bake and deliver food to retirement communities, do community service, participate in city council meetings.

I thought it would be the chickens that won me over. It wasn’t. It was the capable children running a store, tending a row, baking bread. It was the first grade classroom learning geometry and building complex paper boxes. It was the little girl who muttered to herself I want to draw now… what will I draw? and then thumbed through a tremendous pile of how to books. It was the Head of School saying we let them learn the hard lessons…we don’t step in to save them. It was the little boy who was having a moment and when the only visible adult briefly removed him to gather his composure it was inconsequential to the rest of the room. No one stopped working. No one paid any attention. No one leaned over to giggle and point with another child.

That’s where I’m sending my paycheck. You know those fairy tales where the price is always your first born child? Well, turns out in a way that’s true. It also turns out it’s a price we’re willing to pay.


This Is Actually About Nothing At All

I’m sure this never happens to you. An utter traffic jam of thoughts, none of which can squeak past any of the others onto the page. Sometimes I manage to jot a note on a sticky pad when I get to work only to find out that I’ve forgotten what it means when it’s time to write. Like the bright pink one that said only “JAM”

Other thoughts get as far as my phone where I tap them out without editing and rarely ever go back to them, usually because they are incoherent or because they are the sorts of things that were better left unsaid to begin with, like this gem:

noteJealousy is super adorable, isn’t it?

And then there are the questions I mean to answer for myself but then decide those thoughts are too self-indulgent, too dark, or too without answers and so I don’t begin. For example:

Why is my co-worker such an asshole?
Why don’t I like to cook anymore?
How do other people manage to go to the gym, have supper with their family, and read stories without getting having to go at 8pm?
Is this just what life is?
Why is the Great British Baking Show so soothing?

I have a running list of cancer items, of course, but I get so tired of sobbing every time I let my mind slide around them and, since we’re friends, I feel like you deserve a break from the oceans of tears. At the top of that list is a post likely titled “WHY THE FUCK DID YOU THINK FRANKINCENSE OIL WOULD CURE A BRAIN TUMOR?” but I’ll probably dial it back to “RESEARCH IS AN ACTUAL THING YOU GUYS!”

I’ve got other things that fall into the category of venting:

My sister’s recent visit. My other sister’s upcoming visit. How I’m totally turning into my mother. I’m incapable of taking care of myself. Work is hard. Life is expensive.

And then there are the things this place is, at least superficially, about, like RR’s parent-teacher conference wherein we all learned that the sum total of RR’s life is Art. I am parts delighted by her dedication to turning out one drawing after another and concerned that all of the drawings are the same. Don’t worry, I have slightly less creepy photographic evidence. Also, asking for advice on teaching her to ride a bike (as in, this child has never agreed to try to pedal anything, not even a tricycle). And updates on the Search for a First Grade which is not as easy as you’d think and involves a fair amount of patience with ones wife* and school administrators. That list item drags behind it a whole host of controversial musings on testing, after school care, taxes, Public School, city practices for special needs children, The Smell, arts funding, and money.

*Me. I suspect that I can only moan “but who is RR, really?” so many more times before my wife simply enrolls her somewhere without telling me.



So is there a bear…or isn’t there? I imagine we’re about to find out for sure. File this away in Reasons I Spent The Day At Home With RR.

L Word Fans?

You guys, I’m watching Season 4 and Shane now has a kid brother on the scene. Is this Cousin Oliver syndrome? Should I just give up now?


You know what’s really awesome? Rights.

Also, hearing someone say that my family and I are the ones who changed his marriage equality mind. You guys, you guys, the difference this decision has made for so many lives. It’s miraculous. And to all of you who couldn’t marry and to all the ones who could but couldn’t have it count, congratulations. We have fought. And we have made it. There will be more fighting but we can breathe and prepare and you guys…there just aren’t words for this kind of happiness.

The devastating things bookmark our minds. My mom remembers when Kennedy was shot. When Elvis died. Where she was, what she was doing. I remember the Challenger (in a classroom, watching the launch in a dimmed room on a small screen and not understanding, not at all). I remember September 11th (not 9/11, not where I was, in Africa in a warehouse on a sunny warm afternoon where they huddled us into the Embassy and I didn’t understand yet, not really.) I remember the elation of voting for a woman in a presidential primary (the dark booth, blue curtain, and tears too, a few) and the elation of voting for a black man (the school hallway, the anticipation, the drawing of a dinosaur wearing a safety belt.)

But the profound things, they seep through us. I remember standing on a street corner with my wife when my sister texted the news that we could marry, officially, finally. And I will certainly remember the dull room, the mindless meeting, the way every word blurred into wah wah wah, when I met my wife’s eyes and held up my tablet, SCOTUS decision blazing on the screen. We left together, not discrete in the slightest, to celebrate in the room next door. This is a monumental time to be alive.

RR is so very lucky to grow up in this world. We are so very fortunate. And happy. Blindingly happy. Here’s to all of us.

Panic, Brought to You by the Cancer Center

There I was, back at the fucking cancer center.

I approach this annual appointment with trepidation but this year I was mentally armed. I took the whole day off. I scheduled a morning spot, in hopes I wouldn’t have to wait as long. I knew to expect the x-rays and blood work and humiliating nipple stickers. I mentally committed to wearing the ridiculous gown so that they could check all my lymph nodes if they wanted to. I was prepared to inform the cranky intake men in advance that yes, my blood pressure would be high, so that they wouldn’t lecture or threaten. It’s always high, I say, I am anxious when at the doctor. This is an understatement but, unlike my high blood pressure at a routine well visit, none of their business.

It began well enough, considering. Considering the registration desk balked at adding my wife. It only says husband, she said, I can’t use that field. It’s the law, I said pleasantly. I’m sure you can just use that field. We had a tense moment, she and I, but she recovered enough at the end to say congratulations, which I took as a positive sign for the rest of the visit.

In fact, there was no blood work or stickered x-rays. The waiting room was packed but my name was called fairly quickly. The intake person was someone my age who was understanding and reasonable about my blood pressure and didn’t tut at me when I clenched my teeth at the pain of the cuff. She weighed me without comment (I, of course, filled in the lecture about having gained weight since the last visit. I’m beating myself up enough, thank you, I don’t need more help. She deposited me in a room and said I didn’t even need the gown. You guys, it was like I was going to make it through the day without crying. I didn’t even see the colossal anxiety attack coming.

We took a slight trip downhill when the next nurse came in and produced a gown but she did turn up the heat and gave me a second gown and warm blanket. I don’t think I’m so large that a regular gown shouldn’t fit but it was far from being able to close. I pulled out a book to read and distract myself, since the naked wait is usually no less than 45 minutes later. I was pleasantly surprised to the see a resident in under a half hour. And she and I managed all the questions and prodding with only a few measured, deep breaths on my part.

You know though, she and I had the same name. Not only the same, not-so-common name, but the same unusual spelling. Could she have started the visit by commenting? Building some rapport? Would that have halted what was about to come? Could she have become my ally when the whole world got dark on the edges. I think, yes.

And then she left. I waited. Another hour. And, being scantily clad, I opted not to step into the hall wondering about my situation. I had seen the full waiting room. They were surely aware they had an occupied room. And when the NEXT nurse came in, brisk and perky, she acknowledged the wait without apology. They did know. I wondered if this was normal enough for them not to notice. In all though, this wasn’t a big deal. I expected a wait. I came prepared. I was using my keep calm skills. I was mostly okay.

Until I totally wasn’t. It started right around the time of the freezing stethoscope and you should start eating leafy greens out of the blue. Where did the oxygen go? It and my self-control spirited out of the room, and when I opened my mouth to respond, that I do, in fact, eat lots of leafy greens, I simultaneously realized she was lecturing me about the relation of my weight to cancer and making all manner of assumptions about my knowledge of health and my eating habits. I didn’t pass out, but I couldn’t answer when she asked me for the fifth time what my very-obviously-a-crocodile tattoo was and meant. I couldn’t answer because I could not breathe. I leaned over not to pass out, aware that she was asking again. And trying to focus on the other Meridith, the one sitting passively, the one who could have built some rapport, who might have saved me, just by using my name.

And actually, I was still somehow not past the edge. I managed to make a new appointment for next year. I managed to get to the parking lot. I managed to put the car in reverse (though not without fumbling into the wipers, the horn, and the hazard lights) and, as I was about to back up, a probably well-meaning worker began to scold about my space. I shouldn’t park here, he said. It wasn’t marked as maintenance, but apparently it was, and he was undeterred when I pointed out that I was actively crying and I’d like to go. I’m just trying to help you out, he said. For next time, he said.

My father once took my keys when I was too emotional to drive, saying that it was just as bad as driving drunk. So I was tried to hold it together for everyone else that had to drive next to me for the five minutes it would take to get to my wife, who makes everything better. But the worker wouldn’t move from behind the car and I was near to sobbing. I pled with him to please move, couldn’t he see he was making it worse? He was disinclined to hurry.

Some years later, he moved and I made it to Debra, completely in humiliating pieces, and she took me home. I’m trying to decide what the impact will be if I refuse to go back and then get cancer again and HAVE to go back having not been. How much worse will it be then? Weighing mental health and preventative health, how much difference is it making to visit the cancer center AND a dermatologist AND a general practitioner on the regular? As we have now moved to what counts as an glorified skin check, how much preventing is this step doing?

My brain was fuzzy for days after the visit, as if my memory and response time had short circuited. That can’t be healthy. I’m typically medically attentive but this time, I might have had it. I have year before the next appointment. Plenty of time to decide.