Retirement Planning (Boundaries, Part 2)

I’ll be honest, when we talked about the pros and cons of having a second child, one of the winningest points was that we’d have double the chances of having someone to care for us when we’re old. I know, right? How were we even allowed to have one kid? It’s true though, I have two sisters, Debra has one. When we have faced parental crises, we had someone else there to share the load. RR has no one. And, if she hates us, we will have no one, too.

This is no reason to have a child. And obviously, if you do go this route, there’s no guarantee it will work out. For example, our neighbor across the street is in her late seventies. She has two 40-something childless daughters. One is married and lives on an isolated farm in a tenant house a few hours away. The other has MS and a number of other health challenges, all of which keep her unable to fully care for herself. She and her two large dogs live with her mother. Neither daughter can help our neighbor on the spot and, as we’ve learned, that’s what neighbors are for anyway.

Over the years we have been the go-to for tricky lightbulb changes, Christmas tree assembly, garden help, and notably, grave-digging for one sweet cat. In the last two weeks, I’ve had to carry one of the dogs into the house from the car twice. The first time, Minnie (the dog) was soaked in blood from burst sutures and Jenny (the daughter) was having a full-blown anxiety attack. The second time was from another suture repair but it had the distinction of being at 10 at night and Minnie was only a little bloody. Jenny was nowhere to be seen.

Last Friday, our neighbor called frantically for help streaming the Olympics on her computer. You see, a large branch knocked her phone and power lines down and the cable apparently wasn’t resurrected when the lines were repaired. Helping the elderly use electronic devices is not my strong suit. However, Debra has begun to flatly refuse to help her and our neighbor was in tears so off I stamped. My heart breaks for her. Life has been rough lately and she doesn’t have any other family but her daughters.

I don’t want to help her. I don’t like that her house smells like cats. I don’t like washing blood off every time Minnie goes rogue. I don’t like answering my phone. I don’t like unexpected visits. I just want to be left in peace. I want to have boundaries. But I ALSO don’t want to be alone when I’m old. I don’t want no one to want to help me. I don’t want to be helpless. I don’t want to cry in front of the nice girl from across the street. I want my daughter to want to help me. And not to be so far away that she can’t.

And that’s the kicker. I don’t want to be the anchor that holds RR still. So I help my neighbor because I hope someday someone will help me. I don’t know if it works that way but I sure hope it does.




You guys.


Holy fucking shit.

My child hasn’t had an accident in almost two weeks. You guys. I can’t even.


This is my new favorite. I work with a lot of college students.

Let me tell you, this is one of those times. Those times that you think, we are so. lucky. So incredibly lucky to have modern medicine. To not only have modern medicine but to have upbringings that have allowed my wife and I to not take no for an answer. To stand up to a doctor and say no. This is not working. Try something else.

I don’t take that lightly. My wife’s mother did something really excellent when she raised her. She helped build a strong person that isn’t afraid of authority and doctors’ cool competence, a person that can listen and then make a reasoned argument, a person that is able to push back firmly and politely and gets shit done.

I’m all over the place here. It’s shock.

The more we thought about our visit with the occupational therapist, the more convinced we became that this wasn’t the angle. At least, not at the outset. We did make RR a schedule with pictures and we considered the ultra expensive body harmonizing music and equipment she recommended. But our guts said this didn’t seem sensory. In fact, the OT said, “well, she could be mildly sensory-seeking but probably we aren’t seeing many signs because she’s so smart” Dude. No one has ever NOT said that. She’s smart. If this is flattery, we’re not having it. If it’s not, it’s still not helping.

A few days after that we were able to get in for an ultrasound of her essentials and a visit with a resident. As I sat in the sparkling new children’s hospital and watched her play, I felt that old tugging, the one that must run in my family blood (or at least that my mother ground in), the one I thought I’d therapied out, that we didn’t need to be there. There is nothing really wrong with her. Other kids need this time more. And then she peed her pants, oblivious.

The urology folks pumped her full of juice and she was not, I don’t think, scarred by the ultrasound. Everything was so perfectly normal, right down to the type and quality of flow she has. I had such a sinking feeling, sitting there, knowing that I was wishing there was something mildly, fixably wrong, and feeling absolutely horrible about it. For RR’s part, she held it together through the full two hours and Debra handled the end of the appointment when I had to run (unrelated to feeling absolutely horrible).

They tried to counsel good nutrition. I’m glad I wasn’t there. Yet another lecture from a doctor based strictly on what they think they should say and not at all based on fact would have put me in tears. She eats more vegetables than most people I know. She drinks water. It’s like prison over here. Fortunately for all of us, my wife chimed in with a thank you but also really, we have tried everything (though she said this in a much more articulate way). EVERYTHING. Is there nothing else?

And it turns out, there is. I’m sure there were lots of reasons why it took so long to get here. To a medication for incontinence. To bank on the chance that some spasms were making it so that she couldn’t hold it and hadn’t ever learned what it felt like to hold it. Couldn’t hear her own body telling her what needed to happen when. Not because she wasn’t listening or didn’t care or wasn’t smart enough or didn’t like the way it felt or liked it too much. No. There is actually a solution.

I’ll admit, after getting a last-ditch prescription, we were a little reluctant to take the plunge on a medicine not typically given to kids. We went into the weekend waiting for a call back from our super-but-where-the-hell-was-she doctor. And so we did it. We gave it to her. And one day bled into the other and then there I was, a week and a half later, realizing that I have a potty-trained child. No accidents during the day. She interrupts her work to go. She poops. She pees. She doesn’t leak.

I cannot tell you how amazing this is. She still wears a pull-up at night and you know what, she can do that until she’s 40 if she wants to. Accidents in the daytime were holding her back in so many ways. I’ve seen tears in her teachers eyes over this. This is a miracle.


Every so often, I catch myself mourning my cute, round, baby with her giant eyes and solemn outlook. Most of the time, I love her spring-loaded self. One solid strand of muscle devoting equal intensity to chasing, jumping, climbing, coloring, sleeping, and eating. Her flexibility always surprises me (mama, why aren’t there mushrooms on my pizza? a) mushrooms? b) totally mellow when I shrugged). While there are fits pre-loaded for appropriate times, they are nearly predictable and nearly always involve the potty.

You guys. She is now four and some. She is STILL not potty trained. What was mildly concerning and mostly frustrating is now baffling. Why doesn’t she get it? At least the deposits (of both kinds) occasionally make it into the toilet, but a good day is often followed by four accidents in 3 hours or some other feat of bladder/bowel olympics.

As you would, we’ve checked any constipation and tried every training technique in the books. All the books. As we rounded the corner on four we were in constant communication with the doctor. We’ve all been on the same page (all of us but RR). The hold-up doesn’t seem to be medical although we’ve made an appointment with pediatric urology. We were both reticent to go that route, having had our own fights with our bodies early on and the mental scars to match it. There’s plenty of time though, the earliest appointment we could get was for March.


One of her teachers has been concerned about a sensory hiccup and recommended an occupational therapist. We again held off (until now) since by all reports she has zero other indications of another sensory issue. At all. Anything. Except this. We’re off to see that person on today. I am hopeful that she will have a suggestion transcending a sticker chart (her initial reaction) which, you should see RR approach a sticker chart, the disdain. The utter indifference.

RR cannot be swayed.

Some days we go through six changes of clothes. Other days just one or two or none. Of late, now and then, we lose our ability to be balanced and both of us at separate times have been frustrated with her. She and I had a lengthy talk while she angrily sat on the toilet, her insisting that she didn’t have to go and me insisting that she try, given the damp state of the panties I had just stripped off (yes she normally does it, yes I’m usually more sane). I gave in and told her all of the things I would normally not say. That she is smarter than this. That at that moment her brain knew better than her body. That she needed her smart brain to tell her body that it has to try harder. And I walked out and shut the door.

As I criticized myself up and down for that reaction, no matter how measured my tone, I heard her tiny voice piping through the door, talking to her body. explaining. She was earnest and lengthy. She peed. A lot. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I can only imagine how she feels.

As much as I would like to say that discussion (hers and mine) closed the door on this business, yesterday happened as normal. Damply. This is an endless stress in our home between my wife and I and us and our daughter. There are plenty of good things. But this thing. It’s maddening, saddening, frustrating, baffling. I hope one of these appointments helps, because time and neutrality (and stickers and rewards and pre-rewards and encouragement and self-care and indifference and so on and so on) hasn’t been.


Perhaps my expectations are too high. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that my four year old would consistently use the toilet but perhaps it is. Perhaps it’s tantamount to my mother putting trash in the can and NOT in the sink. Physically impossible.

I realize that after almost two years of lamenting about this to you, I neglected to share the pay off, the really exciting news, the actual pee in the potty. You deserved it and I’m sorry I cheated you. On the other hand, I’ve probably saved you the letdown I’m experiencing which, when I say letdown, is more of a catastrophic deflation.



Now that you know that, I feel like I can share the excitement without the disappointment because you will be reading and thinking aha, I know this does not end well and I will have saved at least one of us from wondering if I’m a terrible mother, an inept caretaker, or both, probably both.

After a marathon weekend attempting to potty train her, employing our friends (and our friends’ children) as back-up, we finally achieved one incidence of pee IN the potty on Memorial Day weekend. We took her to school that Tuesday, armed with panties and the promise of a reward (specifically a DVD. Specifically Frozen. And I have plenty to say about that.) if she managed a repeat. She did not. In fact, she simply wet her pants all day. I kept her home the next two days in a boot-camp style effort which…worked. By Friday, she was reliably peeing in the potty.

Mind, this required reminders. How do you do foreshadowing in a blog? Doom noises? This?



And so we have continued on in panties, rarely making it a whole day without a change, although I can’t tell if that’s because of a long nap (which I understand), or poop (which, I can’t even figure out how to train), or because she just…doesn’t manage it. Even at home, where we have some more control over the situation, she sometimes just wets her pants. And it’s not as though she tells us, she just carries on as if nothing has happened. I could belabor this point but, suffice to say, after spending a weekend with her, I’m not sure she’d go if we weren’t reminding her.

This is not potty-trained.


Montessori, while working for her wonderfully in every other aspect, isn’t into reminders. So if she’s wet, they send her to change and, since that’s often, she comes home reeking of urine every other day. At least. I want to unequivocally love them but I am getting increasingly frustrated by the combination of my inattentive child and the hands-free staff.

A month in and I’m not convinced she’s getting it. I don’t think it’s oppositional although she sometimes gets belligerent if you ask her to try and she’s already wet. It is definitely not making a point or being on purpose. I think it falls more into the category of forgetfulness. She is, and has always been, so committed to any task she undertakes that she simply doesn’t notice the world around her. It is no surprise that she isn’t listening to her own body either.

Which begs the question, if the solution to an intensely focused kid is timers and reminders AND she is in school all week where there are no timers or reminders, how long will it take for her to get it? I can tell you, it’s longer than a month. Which then begs the questions, am I a terrible mother for allowing it to continue, a terrible mother for not being a stay-at-home mom who can magically manage all things potty-training, a terrible mother for not being aggressive with the school, a terrible mother for not taking her to a new school, a terrible mother for dwelling too much, a terrible mother for not taking her to the doctor (more on THAT gem later, my friends), a terrible mother for letting her smell like urine, or a terrible mother for being frustrated? Tell you what, I’ll bet the answer is simply a terrible mother.

So no, there is nothing to celebrate around here.


Virginia Does Not Care if You Went to the Chapel

Did you know that hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about marrying my wife? Usually it takes the form of a small daydream about being the first in line at our local courthouse when it finally becomes legal. I wonder what I would need to do to finagle that. Would it help that we were in the paper several times? Sometimes I wonder if we would plan a big party and I consider the venues. I think about new rings. I think about my daughter as a flower carrier or ring bearer. Sometimes she is six. More often she is sixteen. I dream about saying I Do all over again. Sometimes, like today, I feel like it’s too far away to even consider (though I do anyway). There are days when I worry it will be so long that her wheelchair and my cane won’t fit through the courthouse doors.

I have no idea when I’ll get to stop thinking about marriage in Virginia. It won’t be today, that’s for sure.


I’ve always been the sort of person things work out for. Even when those things are long shots. It’s little things like needing to leave my bike and having forgotten my lock just as a friend ambles by and has time to stand watch for five minutes. It’s big things like deciding I’d like to join the Foreign Service and then vaulting right through the (lengthy, competitive) process and into employment. At the time, the odds were 200 hires for every 30,000 applicants. Long shot indeed. Especially for someone who knew no languages (officially) and had read zero foreign policy/international affairs news (ever).

I don’t win contests (usually) but I do win in general (prepare, plan, cover all the bases) and I can’t believe I’m just not going to have a baby (probably). To be clear, I don’t think I deserve or am entitled to the good things that happen. But I do accept that they happen and I’m happy for it. Lots of supremely terrible stuff (brain surgery, that was fun) happens to me, too, and I don’t deserve that either. I’ll tell you though, even when things do derail me, something always happen to save the situation. Evidence:

In college, I routinely broke down in the desert miles from any help. Every single time someone happened by to assist. Once, two threatening men in a tinted window sedan (saved by an elderly couple pulling up right behind them). Another time on my way to a flight to a job interview (saved by I kid you not a menacing looking circus clown in a panel van). On Halloween, a man in a pick-up with guns piled on the seats (given a cookie by his wife in a perfectly normal looking subdivision 10 heart-swallowing miles away).

Also in college, at 2am on the way back from that really disastrous interview (made the flight but blew two tires in a rental car in the snow), I stopped the car from exhaustion. There was too much fog, I hadn’t eaten or slept in more than 12 hours. I didn’t even bother to pull on to the shoulder. But, when the fog cleared for a moment, I saw that I was already on the shoulder, pointed off the road, and had stopped not twenty feet from the edge of a steep canyon.

Things work out for me.

I’m surprised that having a baby is not working out (I was equally surprised that my tubes were clear and that my equipment was well prepared to have a baby). I think I was coasting along assuming there would be a hail mary delivering us a child. Admittedly, my timeline was (is) short and we could keep trying but we talked about it and tried to make the decision in a sane place. Finding a week to do that without hormones was not easy.

I don’t think I can rule out another try completely and I am sitting on an egg at the moment. If you’re at all superstitious, we were in a different room for this IUI. The doctor was wearing a bow tie instead of scrubs. I ovulated earlier than expected. In fact, we nearly missed it since I started checking for ovulation later than usual expecting a kit change on the 19th. We now know which of the staff have kids and how they are doing. We’ve started recognizing and making friends with other patients in the waiting room. It’s time to be done. It’s okay to be done. It’s hard to be done. But I’m done.

Roller Coasters Are a Consolation Prize

Well, you all, I was sure this month we had it in the bag. The sorts of things that happened last month that were hopeful – unexplained nausea and exhaustion – showed up times three this month. We even made it past fateful day 10 where any symptom that could have been pregnancy typically evaporates. Today, the 12th day after ovulation, we took a test because come on! How could I not be?! I’ve never felt this seasick, this bone-tired in my life.

But the test was negative and I apparently just have a novel case of the flu. My nausea has disappeared and my uterus is cramping something fierce even though my period isn’t due until Wednesday. So, I don’t approve of THAT. On the other hand, we’re off to an amusement park tomorrow and while I expect to mostly be on the ground watching RR take it all in, I’m not ruling out flinging myself down some very, very steep hill.