Monday, September 25, 2006

Sock it to me.

It is my friend Veronica’s considered opinion that right now every mother in the United States is cranky and emotional. She bases this theory on the observation that every mother she knows personally (most of whom are usually models of restraint and good cheer) is cranky and emotional. These women form a broad sample of the socio-economic political spectrum to credibly stand in for the general population of the United States, so her hypothesis is alarming; we can’t all be on the same cycle.

I’d agree with her, but that isn’t any fun when you’re cranky and emotional.

I myself wasn’t off-kilter until this past week. Merely getting Daughter to school creates, on average, three opportunities for exasperating debate. If it isn’t “You can’t wear your dress-up shoes to school, I don’t care what Carly’s mother lets her wear”, it’s “A fruit roll-up isn’t a fruit so you’re not having that for breakfast”, or “That wasn’t brushing your teeth. That was fifteen seconds. That was brushing your tooth.”

Daughter seems to be energized by these skirmishes. It’s entirely possible I gave birth to a seven-pound labor lawyer. Of course, if she’s representing the oppressed masses this would make me Management, so every morning we renegotiate. There is no point so small, no argument so irrational that Daughter won’t bring every morning routine to a screeching halt. Her attitude is “You can smilingly agree to my wearing my outgrown Christmas-themed t-shirt in September, or we can stand around and discuss it so that you, Mommy, will be forced to drive on sidewalks and across medians in order to get me to school just as the final bell stops ringing. Really, Mommy, it’s up to you.”

Usually, I brush these off by the time I have poured tea into my lap. This week, slowly, the crankiness built up.

A few days ago, I picked up Daughter at school, flung her into the car and handed her a snack. It was soccer-practice day -- a phrase not only can I not say without wincing, I cannot type without wincing. I am so grievously miscast in the role of Soccer Mom: sun makes me itch; grass makes me itch; being called a soccer mom makes me itch.

I don’t know why this part of modern parenting bothers me so thoroughly. I bought a dreary mom-car without a moment’s hesitation. I can, and have, talked pre-school minutiae with strangers at cocktail parties, knowing full well how dull this is. I have even worn a Scrunchie in public without shame. But something about standing on a soccer field brings back my inner rebellious fourteen-year old; all I want to do is wear black and sneer.

Instead, I wear my IPod and sneer inwardly at another mother, a woman whose name I don’t know but whom I call “Jamie, GO!” because that is nearly the only thing she says. Her daughter Jamie seems talented enough, which at six means she sometimes stops picking her nose when the ball rolls by, but her mother is clearly thinking she’s got the next Mia Hamm out there. And you know what the horrible part of all this is? Someone walking past might see us and think, “There are two soccer moms. One is screaming ‘Jamie, GO’ until blood vessels burst in her eyes, and the other mom with the iPod will probably start screaming at any moment, because that’s what soccer moms do”

I’m thinking of carrying a large sign which reads “My daughter nagged me for seven months to join a soccer team. I loathe group sports. In my head right now I am in Lake Como, Italy with George Clooney. I am also toying with the idea of hitting the screaming woman next to me very hard”.

Unmonitored, the crankiness festered.

Back in the car, Daughter was eating raisins while I pawed through her gym bag at each stop light. Her gym bag takes up half the available room in my trunk, and finding something in it reminds me of an anthropological dig. I went through the Ballet layer, through the Gymnastics stratum, through the abandoned-but-I-can’t-think-of-where-else-to-put-the-gear Karate level, down to bedrock -- the Soccer level. I found her soccer shoes and her shin guards. The light turned green and it took me another two blocks before I had enough time to plumb the bottom of the bag and determine her soccer socks were AWOL.

I glanced in the rear-view mirror; Daughter was wearing anklets, which would do nothing for keeping her shin guards in place. A quick scan of the car proved futile. Stopping and checking the trunk was equally unsuccessful. I checked the clock; she had practice in fifteen minutes. In my head, I scanned any stores between where I was and the soccer field. I thought of a store and quickly discarded it in horror. There had to be something else.

I drove to the soccer field in my mind, three different ways. Each way proved what I was frantically trying to avoid; there was only one store. There was only one hope.

There was…Ross.

For those people who live in blissful ignorance, I will attempt to explain Ross. It is a discount store, but there are other discount stores which manage to offer low prices without extracting your soul. But Ross, and more specifically, this Ross, appears to have been shaped by Satan so as to flatten your very essence into a patty of processed meat.

All women’s clothing sold by Ross will feature gold grommets and an unidentified stain.

There are slightly melted and dented scented holiday candles which feature the same grinning homunculus who wears a red cap for the Christmas candle, a green tam for St. Patrick’s Day and fuzzy ears for Easter. I can only assume a scented homunculus Veteran candle was floating around somewhere in back.

There are bulk packs of Calbin Kline underwear, the underwear slightly grimy where unknown quantities of people have stuck their finger through a hole poked in the plastic.

There are piles of children’s toys strewn across the floor, as if an extended family of bonobo monkeys does the restocking. The toy boxes have the weathered appearance of objects found floating at sea, and the dolls all appear to be from the Jerry Springer Collection.

They paint the walls with Glidden’s Despair, with a trim color of Anguish.

Why if I feel the way I do about Ross do I know the place so well? Because I kept having people I know swear to me that Ross offered up gifts beyond measure for the patient. I would hear rumors about the pristine Prada blouse, the darling little-girl Ralph Lauren dress, the fun and incredibly cheap summer sandal. So, readers, I tried. For longer than you might think, at least twice a year, I would plunge into the Stygian depths of Ross, only to hurl myself out again minutes later, sweating and disoriented. Finally, I decided I didn’t lead the sort of life which required a Prada blouse at any price; that Daughter had enough damn dresses; my summer sandal needs were met. In short, I need never go into Ross again.

Except when it was the only store for miles which might have long socks and Daughter’s practice started in minutes.

It’s comforting to be able to tell you that in this world of rapid change and evaporating traditions, Ross was just as depressing and grim as I had recalled: the only difference was having Daughter with me. After finding the socks we needed, my tiny union negotiator attempted to talk me into purchasing a doll whose name I believe was L’il Skank. It came with a faux leather vest, knee-high boots and its own Chlamydia test kit. Daughter was unwavering in her belief that life would be shadows and ashes without this eleven inch-tall token to low self-esteem.

That was it. My latent crankiness exploded. I did a solid three minute-long hissing list of all the things I do for her and how little I expect in return, except for when we are in the most depressing store in Los Angeles buying her soccer gear -- so I can stand around outside and mainline Benadryl and sunblock--I would like her to not fixate on the trashiest-looking doll I have ever seen in my life.

The lawyer sensed she had overstepped her bounds. She shifted quickly back into a small girl.

“Thanks for the socks, Mommy”, she whispered.

My cranky mood lightened considerably.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Let’s go pay for these.”

We walked down the broken escalator towards the check-out counters. There were six cash registers, of which one was open. Fifteen people were waiting in line watching with undisguised hostility the woman who was tentatively poking at the cash register, a large “TRAINEE” pin on her shirt. There was no one supervising her.

This might be the nationwide maternal bad mood talking, but the next time I set foot in Ross, they have a liquor license.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Food network.

Here’s a fact: I prepare victuals for at least ten living things every day. I am not counting any squirrels, skunks, opossums or raccoons who might be benefiting from outdoor feedings; let’s call them collateral consumers.

Here’s another fact: only one of them shows any enthusiasm about my food preparation. Depressing but true.

The enthused party certainly isn’t me. As I have mentioned before, I have a strange relationship with food. I can think about it, I can prepare it, or I can eat it, but I cannot do all three. By the time I have thought of what to make for dinner, purchased the ingredients, crammed them into our piteous storage space, tugged them out again, cooked them in some appropriate manner and delivered them to the table, I am so done with this meal I don’t want to eat it. I want to check it off my “to-do” list, bury it, and sow the ground with salt. Also, what with my not having much of a sense of smell, I have virtually no sense of taste. This means I define most foods as either a) appealingly crunchy, or b) could be crunchier. I think you could sprinkle MSG over packing material and I would eat it until the bag ran out. I choose what I eat because it’s healthy, because it’s quick to prepare or because it’s the first thing which falls out of an overstuffed shelf onto my foot.

Clearly, I am not the culinary sort.

Is it Consort who thrills to my cooking? Nope. Consort prepares much of his own food. I don’t eat meat; Consort would eat the dog if he was hungry enough. I’m not one of those vegetarians who refuses to cook meat but I won’t taste it on the stove. Also, I am a little vague on the gradations in meat-preparation so Consort can either cook his steak to his liking or live life on the edge by gambling on what my interpretation of “medium-rare” might be.

Also, defying both geography and genetics, Consort’s digestive system is convinced he is either in Spain or Brazil. While he will politely sit with Daughter and I as we dine at a dinner-ish sort of hour, he has the appetite clock of a barn owl; he starts getting peckish around about midnight, if not later. Some mornings, I have shuffled into the kitchen to make Daughter’s breakfast and found Consort just finishing desert.

We can rule out Consort as the ardent fan of my ability to slop food on a plate.

Daughter? Oh, please. Daughter longs to live in her own house, where kittens shall run eternally free (and remain eternally kittens), where a kindly household staff never insists she make her bed, and a full-time chef prepares her nothing but pasta with Parmesan on it. I am getting vegetables into her system but each bite is a victory hard-won, each cruciferous hill taken a bloody slog, each trench a fusillade of anti-oxidants…

Sorry. I got a little lost in that one.

The point being, unless I am prepared to make cheese pasta three meals a day with a side-dish of candy corn and lemonade on tap, Daughter is not the fan of my cooking.

Is it the dog? Sure, the dog inhales anything I put in her bowl. But the dog tries to eat anything that hits the ground and doesn’t quickly scuttle away. It is hard to feel honored that she eats what I serve when I have just cleaned up what was left of her mid-afternoon snack: two skeins of needlepoint yarn and a packet of needles. You read that right; two weeks ago she ate half a pack of needles, including the plastic casing. Shockingly, she seems to have made it through without incident. I’d like to think this was the first time she ate needles but, thinking back, there have been multiple unexplained absences of needle-packets over the years. This is the first time she left evidence.

The dog gets excited when I pour her food; she gets positively ecstatic when I’m walking her and it’s a really hot day and a trash can has leaked a viscous puddle of fluid she can reach. For her, my food is a place-holder until she can move to a fast-food dumpster.

Are the cats writing me mash notes about my skills with kitty stars? No, but each one is convinced— nay, obsessed—with the thought that I am pouring better kitty stars for the other cat. Each day is a feline version of “Spy v. Spy” -- Charlotte the outdoor foster cat trying to get in through windows or doors to get at Lulabelle’s food bowl which is filled with the feline equivalent of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. All the while, Lulabelle is sitting on the roof, waiting for Charlotte to disappear (you know, into the house, to inspect Lulabelle’s kitty stars), so she can shimmy down and scarf up the high-priced spread I’ve left out for Charlotte. They get identical food, of course, but this is immaterial to them. This isn’t about the food. This is “The Art of War”, as written by Sun Mew.

I sense your impatience.

“Who,” you ask with justifiable irritation, “actually likes your cooking?”

The rabbits like my cooking. Clarification; I think the rabbits appreciate my food-handling ability, but at least three of them think I am a red-tailed hawk trying to fatten them up for some high-holy red-tailed hawk holiday. I come outside every night and see at least four brick-sized objects waiting expectantly in the periphery for dinner. As I near, three of the bricks scream in inaudible rabbit voices, “Eek! The hawk who brings food and fresh water nightly!” and they plunge into the shadowy depths of the nearest hedge. One rabbit, however, stays put. Not only does it stay, but it hops towards me. I think if it could clasp its little paws together in glee, it would.

I put the bag of food on the ground and unroll the top. The bold rabbit skips closer.

RABBIT: Is that…food? For…me?

QUINN: For all of you, yes.

RABBIT: This is so exciting! What did you make us?

QUINN: I’m going to throw some timothy hay on the ground. I also have some carrot tops for you.

RABBIT: I love timothy hay! And I also love carrot tops!

QUINN: I know. You tell me every night.

I scatter food in the usual place. The furry connoisseur gets on its hind legs and looks into the bag.

RABBIT: What’s that in there?

QUINN: Timothy hay. And carrot tops.

RABBIT: I love timothy hay! And I also love carrot tops!

QUINN: I’m very glad to hear it. Could you possibly crawl out of the bag now?

I cook, but I don’t care about food on the level which allows me to love cooking or become a truly wondrous chef. This might be the closest I ever come to someone going into ecstasy over my food. Being as the rabbit lives outdoors, and it is prey, some night I am going to come out with food and it won’t be there, and it won’t come again. I wish I could find it a home, but everyone who wants a rabbit, has a rabbit.

But every day the rabbit shows up. It gets timothy hay and some random vegetable scraps and it seems insanely happy. It might not be a long life, but it’s a well-fed one.

This is my Michelin star.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Miss American Pie

I think we all understand the concept of a bad mood so forgive me if I feel the need to dissect mine, but yesterday morning I was in a really bad mood.

I was in the mood where you have a hole in your head that a doctor needs to periodically ogle, and after weeks of procrastination, you finally make an ogling appointment. You make an appointment for mid-morning, knowing you have to get from one side of Los Angeles to the other after having dropped your kid off at school, and you don’t want to feel rushed. Only you decide to be cute and cut over the canyon, not knowing half the lanes on all the major canyon thoroughfares are currently being dug up and moved three inches to the left. So you get to experience the gut-twisting frustration of seeing a traffic light about a quarter mile ahead of you turn from green, to red, to green and back to red, but your car hasn’t moved an inch. At which point you realize, as you watch the waning moments of your prime years ebb away, that this five-minute appointment will take four hours to complete.

I was in that mood.

Luckily, I had my iPod with me and with the iPod come the podcasts. I love a podcast, I truly do. Since Daughter was old enough to understand the words spewing out of the radio, I have only listened to news when she is out of the car. Unfortunately, on those rare occasions where we're not in the car together, my local National Public Radio station is doing its morning-long exploration of indigenous Peruvian music, which is has a certain charm but isn’t news. Or I catch the opening salvos of a panel discussion on “Sewage Treatment and the Modern Planned Community”. This might be news, but it’s not news I need until I move to a street called Buttercup Lane and my water starts tasting like zinc.

Since I am not listening to the radio on a regular basis, my news options are the newspaper or weekly magazines. I bring the paper in every morning, hide it from Daughter’s eyes (so we don’t start off the day explaining how IED stands for Improvised Explosive Device) and try to read it or a news magazine later in private. But lately it seems, before I can get up-to-date on the week’s current events, I need a cheat sheet. As far as the news goes, I am the person playing poker who gets to the end of the game, squints at her cards, and says slowly, “OK. Walk me through this one more time... A straight does what again? ..And what does a pair beat?”

I understand how to pronounce Shiite. I recognize the word Sunni. But it says something about American education and sleep deprivation that I cannot remember what differentiates them. Thousands of people have died over these distinctions yet, all too often, I find myself frowning at the newspaper and thinking, " it a wardrobe thing?”

But then came the iPod. Each night, I plug my iPod into my computer, where my (mostly free) subscriptions to various news programs are automatically downloaded. Each morning, I unplug it ripe and swollen with up-to-the-minute news and information and I am firmly reminded there is a larger world beyond “Why am I seeing only one soccer shin-guard in the gym bag?" or "Where are your other matching hair ribbons?”

Yesterday, however, was not a day for important news. I was not in the mood for a PhD in Something Long to explain the political hierarchy in Darfur yet again. When a person could walk on her hands more quickly than she is driving, she wants easy company and for me “easy company” means “cooking show”. I download two cooking shows every week and they are wonderful. Both feature soothing female voices talking about things which they and their guests are obsessed about and, as I have mentioned before, I love observing the harmless obsessive. I never actually try to cook anything they suggest so I can listen without ever having a quiz on it later. If I come away with a new fact about capers why, that’s just a bonus!

[The caper is an unopened bud of a flower whose family is closely related to the cabbage family.]

Evan Kleinman, of KCRW’s Good Food, is a jolly and pleasant driving companion but yesterday, as the fingers clutching the steering wheel were threatening to split the skin at my knuckles, I needed the big gun. I needed Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table. Ms. Kasper’s voice is the auditory stand-in for warm milk and just a breath of Valium. She is a chortling, grandmotherly fan of cooking and eating. The first half of her program is dedicated to interviews with fascinating food makers and world-class food eaters. The second half is call-in, during which Ms. Kasper never fails to amaze the listener with her knowledge of arcane foodstuffs and how to prepare them.

Yesterday, trapped in the traffic glacier, I was listening to Ms. Kasper interview a guest who was suggesting culinary excursions in and around Austin, Texas. Being as I was trying to figure out how to get my car to fit into the seven-inch spot which intermittently became available between the cars in the next lane, I was only halfway listening when I heard the most magic phrase. For the briefest instant, I was lifted up and away from this traffic hell. I stopped plotting world domination through lane-changing long enough to replay the sentence. Yes, I had heard correctly.




Apparently, there is a restaurant near Austin which serves pie at a reduced price for two hours every afternoon. Isn’t that the most civilized thing you’ve heard all week?

Pie Happy Hour.


I know. Americans are hugely obese. But really, how much worse is this than a drink? Beer also has calories, but virtually no nutrients. Beer doesn’t have fruit in the middle. Mixed drinks make you fat, and mixed drinks make you sloppy and inclined to kiss the cute intern. Pie never made anyone do something they weren’t already going to do.




Worried that I was starting to lose my fragile, non-pie enhanced mind, I called my friend Veronica.

“We’re going to Austin. I mean hi it’s Quinn we’re going to Austin.”

“Okay. Why?”

[This is why many people love Veronica.]

“Pie happy hour.”

“Oh my gawd, yes! I’d start with pumpkin, then do some fruit pie…”

[This is why everyone must love Veronica.]

“Finish off with lemon meringue?”, I suggested.

“Oh, yes”

For the next few minutes, we discussed how best to layer pies in the digestive system (we agreed to disagree over whether pumpkin was too heavy for a starter) and the appropriate beverage accompaniment (coffee vs. iced tea). When we rang off, the day-tripper from Texas had moved on to extolling the virtues of some local German restaurant which made its own bratwurst. Being as I am a vegetarian, I didn’t even bother to listen. My body stayed immobile, trapped in a car which was moving a few inches a month. My brain, however, was sitting in a restaurant in Texas in the late-afternoon. A kindly woman with a name tag reading CHERIE and seasonal dangly earrings was leaning over my table, pad in hand, taking my order.

“I’ll try the cherry first, and then the pecan", I said out loud in the car, dreamily. "No, wait. Apple streusel, then cherry, and then the pecan. And keep the ice tea coming, please.”


(For those reading who know the saga well enough to be asking “Still with the head, Quinn?”, please know the doctor says I have enough steak now so he can do the surgery within weeks)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Patrick Thomas Dwyer, 1964-2001

I am participating in the 2,996 Project, for which 2,996 bloggers volunteered to write a memorial for one person who perished in the attacks on 9/11.

Patrick Thomas Dwyer, 37, Nissoquogue, NY. Bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald. Left behind a wife JoAnn, a son Brendan and a daughter Sarah, who were five and three at the time of their father’s death.

When Patrick was randomly assigned to me, I stared at my computer screen blankly for a long time. Weeks, in fact. I wanted to do the right thing by this man, but what do I say which doesn’t become political, maudlin, or somehow all about me? Even the best eulogy becomes as much about the speaker as the departed, and I don’t claim to write a world-class eulogy. The memorial becomes doubly difficult when you don’t know the person intimately, and I had no desire to write something general and inane about how he was a nice person and that this was such a tragedy. My first rule with this blog has always been: “Tell your truth, Quinn”, and I certainly wasn’t going to break that rule now.

I never met Patrick Thomas Dwyer. From what I have read about him, this is my loss. Patrick loved what he did for a living and did it well enough to find plenty of time to enjoy his family and friends. He and his wife centered their lives on their kids and their friends and extended family. They loved entertaining.

I have never met nor spoken to anyone in his family. I do, however, know what it’s like to have your father die when you are very young. The brutality of losing a parent when you are a child is that the death continues to reverberate forever. It isn’t a huge single loss; it’s a continuum of huge single losses.

Patrick was there to teach his son to ice-skate, but he wasn’t there to teach his daughter.

He was there to see his son go to school for the first time, but not his daughter.

Brendan will remember him, and probably idolize him his entire life. Sarah might not have anything but filaments of memories from a birthday party or an afternoon at their pool that last summer of 2001 -- memories which are half-real, half constructions from photos she has seen or stories she has heard. Brendan and Sarah will grow up, and laugh, and cry, and slam doors, and graduate, break bones and win awards. And each time something happens in their lives their father will be dead.

Within their family and their community, they will be Patrick and JoAnn’s kids. There will be plenty of people around them eager to tell them what a funny guy their father was, what a sports fan and a true friend, and what a great marriage their parents had. But as they grow up, and make new friends and meet new people, there will always be that hanging question: “You were how old when your father died? When did he die? Oh my God, did he die on 9/11?”

At the least likely moments, when all they want to do is be normal and anonymous, they will be forced to embody a national trauma and to relive the greatest pain a family can endure.

For a while after my father died, I told inquisitive strangers -- people I never expected to see again -- that my parents had gotten a divorce because that was accepted without further comment. A dead father led to more personal interrogation than I was prepared to undergo. Until my thirties, I would actively avoid telling people he died on the last day of shooting of “The Goodbye Girl”, because the combination of pity and curiosity was nearly unbearable. Brendan and Sarah will never stop being victims of 9/11 and I feel so wretched for some of the stupid and thoughtless things people are going to say to them in years to come.

If Consort gets home late, after Daughter is sleeping, he will always go in and kiss her goodnight. Being a very sound sleeper, she takes this with nothing more than a slight break in her teeth-grinding and maybe a murmured grunt. But Consort doesn’t mind. He says, “She knows I kissed her goodnight. Her skin knows it.”

With a father who took the 5:20 train every morning to get to his desk at the World Trade Center, I bet Sarah and Brendan had a lot of kisses left upon them when they were sleeping. I hope their skin remembers. I hope his kisses give them some comfort today, and every day of their lives.

JoAnn Dwyer, my condolences on your loss. I wish I had met Patrick. I wish I had no reason to be writing about him.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Longer Weekend

[When last we left Quinn, our feeble-minded heroine, she had just discovered the cat scratch on her daughter’s arm appeared to be developing blood poisoning.]

I let her finish her art project, which seemed to take longer than any artwork she had done before. It came out beautifully but I was starting to have horrible visions of myself standing in a hallway in Pediatric ICU wailing, “If only she hadn’t needed the cadmium yellow!”

I carried the still-drying masterpiece flat, like a pizza, as I steered her gently towards the gallery where Consort had gone to take in the main exhibit. We found him quickly and he began to extol the virtues of Daughter’s artwork within the broader context of post-modernism.

Without preamble, I leaned close and whispered in his ear, “She has blood poisoning. We’re going to the Emergency Room. Now.”

We walked casually but with purpose towards the car. Daughter skipped ahead and I restrained myself from screaming “DON’T SKIP! It riles up the circulation!” Consort and I discussed emergency room options, settling on the small hospital where I had taken my eye infection. As we settled into the car I turned around and said enthusiastically to Daughter “Guess what? We’re going someplace you’ve never been before! Someplace with band-aids…and a television!”

As I have always said, know your audience.

I called Kate at the rescue facility and alerted her to the situation. She was sick at the thought of her kitten causing so much mayhem, and promptly quarantined him. Three days before, this cat had been living with his littermates under a building; the odds of him being free from disease weren’t great. I tried very hard not to think about rabies and the multiple shots to the abdomen Daughter would have to endure if she was exposed.

Of course, the television in the ER’s waiting room was tuned to CNN so Daughter was treated to a live news conference detailing the death of a state trooper. She watched for a few minutes ignoring my entreaties to come look at the fascinating pamphlets on diabetes management. Finally, a mattress commercial interrupted the proceedings enough for her to realize we were in a holding pattern of some sort.

“Why am I here again?”

“Because the scratch on your hand got infected and the doctor needs to take a look at …”


“We’ll try to avoid…”


That’s Daughter’s other rule: no shots. Ever. When confronted with a needle, Daughter develops the strength of ten men dusted up on PCP while making the sound of the world’s largest crow.

“Oh, look,” I interjected. “A vending machine!”

Because if you can’t win the argument, change the argument. CNN continued unwatched as Daughter and I stared into the candy machine. I hinted there might be a candy bar thumping down the receiving tray into her future.

I must say, in the ensuing half hour, her manners were nearly flawless for a small child with a bloated and leaking hand. She gave much of her own information to the admitting nurse and made small talk with the orderly who escorted us to the examination room. By the time the doctor came in, her description of the event had all the polish of a novelist spinning anecdotes in the third week of a book tour.

The doctor looked at the hand, turned it over, and looked at the line. He took a pen out of his pocket and traced around the redness, which now comprised about half of her hand, and around the line, which ran down to the horizontal hinge lines at her wrist.

“I’m going to start her on antibiotics now,” he said, finishing the tracing around her wrist. “And send you home with some to follow up. If the line moves beyond this pen mark, bring her back in and we’ll probably have to admit her”

I looked at Consort, who was looking appropriately concerned. I started thinking in the very slow and careful way I do when I don’t want to scream out loud. Daughter, mercifully oblivious, was now enjoying the exam room television where Huell Howser was bellowing with joy over some tree in Yucaipa.

Admit her? Hospitalize Daughter? Do you know what this means? It means I broke the kid. Because I was talking with my friend and I wasn’t doing my job, I put my only precious child in harm’s way. Now she’s going to go into the hospital and be hooked up to an IV drip for days and days, only it won’t work. And she’ll die of some previously undiscovered strain of cat-borne bacteria, and I will walk the earth alone for decades, and people will point at me furtively and whisper to each other, “Didn’t you know? She broke her child. She just had to talk to her friend.” That’s what I was thinking.

What I said out loud was, “The antibiotics you’re going to start now…are they…oral?”

The doctor looked at me as if I was the dumbest woman he’d ever met who wasn’t comatose.

“No,” he said, adding as many O’s to the word as you can.

She was going to get an antibiotic shot. I’ve had an antibiotic shot. It was the single most painful medical thing I’ve ever done which didn’t result in an infant.

Son of a…

“Someone’s getting Skittles!” I sang out, and ran from the room back toward the vending machine before the nurse showed up with the works.

During the shot, Consort took the back end where he lay on top of her legs to keep them from giving the nurse a nice roundhouse kick. I took the front end, which was screaming, sobbing, and accepting the odd Skittle. This was not an irrational reaction on Daughter’s part in that the business end of the hypodermic was the size of a broom handle. It seemed to take half an hour to get the honey-thick serum installed deep in my baby’s right glute. When the nurse finally finished, she came around front to talk to Daughter, to try to get her calmed down a bit.

Her first conversational forays went nowhere, until the nurse asked “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?”

Daughter, a river of tears, snot, and Skittle drool, looked up from under her bangs and narrowed her eyes.

“I’m going to be a doctor,” she hissed. “And you’re going to come to me, and I am going to give you a shot!”

That’s my girl; skip self-pity and go directly to revenge.

[Here's a fact I offer to those people who are inclined to pet unknown cats: I thought we had avoided the worst possibilities because she had been scratched and not bitten, and the mouth of the cat is where I've been told the big problems are. But, as the doctor explained, cats groom constantly (some might say obsessively); everything in their mouth is going to end up on their body, including the nails.]

She slept that night, but not easily. Her hand hurt and her butt hurt. Even with the pillow bolsters Consort had rigged up she woke up several times. Also, the follow-up doses had to be taken every eight hours, which meant waking her up at three AM. She has been on antibiotics only twice before in her life. The other two times it was an antibiotic made for children that came in a friendly pink color and tasted like bubble-gum. This antibiotic is far more serious. It has a flavor which makes her start wincing an hour before her next dosage is due.

She has another five days on the stuff.

But her hand? Her hand is good. Her hand is no longer swollen. Her hand is the same color as the other hand. The two punctures are nothing more than tiny red scabs. She made it through the week without a second trip to the ER or a stay in the hospital. And so far the kitten shows no sign of rabies, and his blood work came back normal for the major diseases.

I can only hope Daughter will remember all this next time she’s about to stick her hand into a box of kittens, but somehow I doubt it.

I’d like to end this saga with some sweeping statement about appreciating life for its awful and wonderful fragility and brevity, but if my thoughts start heading that way again, I’ll have to type while breathing into a paper bag.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Long weekend.

Did you barbeque this weekend? Did you see a few friends? Go to the beach? Get ready for the new school year or just sit in your back yard and marvel at the speed at which the summer came and went?

Well, didn’t you just miss out on all the fun.

Saturday afternoon, Daughter and I went to visit a friend who is also in the cat rescue game. She and I were talking when Daughter went to a cage in which there were five kittens. Without asking permission, Daughter opened the cage, reached in and grabbed the most adorable. I was about to say something obvious like “Please don’t do that without asking permission” when the kitten dashed through the opening. Daughter leapt upon the kitten, grabbed it, and put it back in the crate. She then burst into tears and ran to me, holding out her hand. On the back of her hand was enough cat hair to knit a fur maxi-coat, and a filament-thin line of red.

“She scratched me!” Daughter said, torn between indignation and horror.

Daughter has a few simple rules for getting through life: all meals should include desert; strict bedtimes are the product of a diseased mind; and nothing which is on the inside of one's body should ever be seen on the outside. Even the slightest hint of red paint dribbled on her skin has been known to set her off. I examined the hand, brushing off a cumulus cloud of hair before staring at the scratch.

“You’re fine,” I said briskly. “Please ask Kate nicely if she will disinfect your hand.”

Note to readers: I am not quite as callous as I appear. I didn’t just negate my daughter’s pain and foist her care off on a friend. Not exactly. Daughter, much like her mother at that age, can make an opera out of a stubbed toe. Any sympathy from her maternal unit ratchets up the emotional opera from “Carmen” to “The Ring Cycle”; that is, it increases its length eightfold. If I give the injury a quick triage and hand her to someone who doesn’t trigger this dramatic reflex, she feels better that much faster. This works nearly all the time.

Kate disinfected and bandaged while Daughter pointedly stared at the ceiling and groused about ungrateful kittens. Convinced Daughter could handle my presence without collapse, I walked over to observe the proceedure. Kate pointed out two small holes in the pad of her thumb which I hadn’t seen upon first examination.

Slightly less sanguine now, I asked, “Kiddo, are you sure you weren’t bitten?”

The mouth of a cat is exciting, especially if you like lists of bacteria that can run a few pages long.

“I’m sure," she said firmly. "She just clawed me when I tried to pick her up.”

Kate attended the two holes even more thoroughly and allowed Daughter to pick out the Band-Aids of her choosing. Three minutes later, Daughter had the satiated expression of the blood-phobe who has been allowed to put seven Band-Aids on one hand. The only thing which would have made her happier would have been a full arm cast, in My Little Pony pink.

I commended Daughter on her bravery. Daughter noted that the traditional gift for bravery was being allowed to adopt two new kittens. I countered with dinner at her favorite neighborhood restaurant. She countered with dinner and an ice-cream cone at her favorite neighborhood restaurant. The contract was signed. Dinner was a pleasant and lively affair, made notable only by Daughter’s taking her Band-Aids off and on repeatedly to inspect for any rogue bodily fluids, and then being surprised when the Band-Aids no longer adhered.

Very late Saturday night, Consort and I were called to her room.

“My hand hurts,” she said, still half asleep.

I turned on the light. The cut on the back of her hand was pretty much unchanged, but the area around each puncture wound was red and swollen. Consort was dispatched to the 24-hour grocery store to get Epsom salts. Daughter got a kids' Tylenol and soaked her hand for an hour or so -- about twenty minutes of which was actual soaking; the other forty was Daughter and I squabbling about whether the water was too hot or just right. After the soak, the hand appeared somewhat less swollen, and Daughter was coaxed into going back to sleep.

The next morning, the hand was swollen again and there was pus leaking from the two holes. I stared at it and waffled. Pus is bad. Or is it? Doesn’t that mean the immune system is doing what it’s supposed to be doing? The Epsom salts worked. Or did they?


Daughter had a point. Either she was healing or she wasn’t, and prodding her palm like a blob of bread dough wasn’t helping matters. We Epsom salted for a second time and I put Neosporin on the wounds. That seemed to help. I re-bandaged before Daughter had a chance to notice she had a whole new inner fluid on the outside.

For the rest of the morning her mood was cheerful and lively, so Consort and I decided to take in a kid’s art program downtown. We walked around and looked at the art in the museum; which is to say Consort looked at art, Daughter looked for the gift store, and I looked at her hand. I had reached the stage where I had lost any sort of perspective and was now wallowing in measuring the immeasurable. Was the palm a fraction redder than it was two minutes ago? Did the thumb look a millimeter larger than the other thumb? Were her fingertips slowly turning black, indicating necrotic tissue?

Maybe watching a “House” marathon on DVD isn’t the best idea for someone like me.

The museum had transformed their outdoor courtyard into an art studio for children. Daughter gathered up all available supplies and settled into creating something magnificent. I watched her hands move this way and that, deciding upon one particular length of yarn and not another, grabbing for the glue, cupping her palm protectively around the glitter jar she saw another child eyeing. That's when I saw the inside of her wrist in bright daylight for the first time since we'd arrived.

There was a definite red line running from the puncture wounds down toward her wrist.

Tomorrow: more.