Archive for August, 2008

no more books about cancer… please…

Friday, August 29th, 2008

A few months ago, a group of we ISE’s decided to start a book club. We like to read. We like to talk. Seemed like a good match.

If we read another book that makes me cry, I’ll jump off my roof. Ok, I won’t. But I swear I’ll quit and go back to reading travel guides and emails exclusively.

Tonight not even bothering to fight back choking sobs and a flood of tears, I finished “My Sister’s Keeper.” It’s a book about a 13 year old girl who files a lawsuit against her parents for medical emancipation: her older sister has a rare form of leukemia and she’s only been conceived in order to donate needed things to her… and now she’s filed a suit for it to stop before they cut her open to take a kidney.

I saw the ending of the book coming a mile away. Didn’t make me cry any less.

It isn’t just about the death that surrounds the book that made me cry so hard. It’s about being a mother. A daughter. A helpless witness. It’s about watching someone die of cancer. It’s about the moment I sat in the belly of Duke Medical Center waiting for my mom to have a cat scan (the memory of the sound of the automated voice on the machine saying “breathe in… hold it… release… “ still gives me chills) and seeing a child whose head was all bandaged up, wandering the halls holding her mommy’s hand on her way to the next appointment or treatment or bad news or good. Although I felt like there really wasn’t any good news to be doled out within the walls of that hospital. It’s about that feeling when I saw that child that I had to say “better to be here with my mom than with my baby” even though that’s a choice no one should ever have to make. And it’s a thought I’ve never stopped feeling guilty about. It wasn’t that I wanted my mom to die. It was that it was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through and the idea of going through it with Kaitlyn was crushing… I was sure it would be a test I wouldn’t survive. It’s about that feeling while you’re watching a person you love more than you can express dying of cancer… and feeling like you’re the only person in the world who’s ever been there. Even though you’re sitting in a waiting room overflowing with people all in the same position. Because in some weird way, each of us who loses someone that way is the only person who’s ever gone through it. Because no one else in the world has experienced your relationship… your laughter… your tears…. your denial… not exactly. And yet there’s still this unspoken bond when you find out someone you know also lost someone… also went to countless appointments… watched pain that cannot be measured on some stupid scale…. listened as people struggled to figure out what to say… and got mad when they said “oh, I’m so sorry,” like it death was the certain end to the story even though you hadn’t gotten to it yet. Even though it was. Even though when they said it you had to know deep inside that was where it was all heading but you were yet to admit that to anyone, let alone yourself.

The book was about the choices we make or want to make. About the uncertainty that surrounds us… always. No matter what we do. How hard we try.

I was telling a friend on the phone today that the hardest part of this ISE assignment is the uncertainty. The idea that we don’t know exactly how long we’re here. Or where we’ll go next. Or, shit, what will happen in between. And after. But that’s the thing. We never know. Sometimes we get to pretend we know. But we never really do.

better watch out

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Today was a girls’ day shopping in Geneva. I dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 so I could be ready in time for the short road trip with two friends.

We didn’t really have anything we needed to buy. We just needed the day of window shopping, eating and Starbucks.

Ok, one of us did have a shopping mission in mind. She wanted a watch. She’s done lots of research. She pretty much had one picked out. She really just needed to try it on. So we went from watch store to watch store (easy to do in Geneva) as she tried on four different $5000 watches then would ask our opinion. Our opinion was easy: it isn’t our $5000.

At one point, she talked me into trying one on. Well, she and the salesman who were buttering up we friends with offers of champagne or mojitos.

And after a while of looking at all of these very expensive, presumably very precise, watches you start to not only think “yea, those are pretty,” you start to think “I need one of these,” followed by “$2500 isn’t unreasonable.”

It’s a little bit like when you go to Disneyland and surrounded by Mickey Mouse heads you think to yourself “yea, I could use dishes, socks and towels with mouse heads on them.” Then you leave, glad you didn’t buy all that stupid crap because no one over the age of 6 needs anything with Mickey Mouse on it.

Two chai tea lattes and a lot of walking later, you climb back in the car to drive home. You have your fancy watch catalogs. Back at the house you flip through them and realize “what kind of nut goes around with a watch that cost that much?” Ok, my friend. And I don’t know which is nuttier. The one with the new watch or the one with the $500 shoes… did I mention the shoe store?

would never happen in the U.S.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I woke up to day two of a migraine… and an empty box of my prescription for it. Not that the prescription works miracles, but it does make getting off the couch possible after a couple of hours of napping. Minus the medicine, the day is pretty much dedicated to lying in the dark. Which isn’t very realistic with a 5 year old home from school for summer.

I managed to eat a little cereal but decided to forgo any coffee… rather than risk it making me even sicker while at the pool for Kaitlyn’s swimming lesson. After she frustrated her teacher for a half hour (she can’t seem to understand that one doesn’t bend her arms while swimming the backstroke)… I dragged her to the pharmacy.

I’d finally found my prescription but was fairly certain that the French scribbles indicated I had one refill for the migraine medicine. (one? What was that doctor thinking?) And I’d filled it. Still, I had to try. So I showed the prescription to the lady at the pharmacy and said I wasn’t sure if I had more. “Non.” So I asked if they have something else I could take. Certainly a pharmacy would be a good place to find something to relieve the pain. Yes, they have lots but she wouldn’t know what to recommend. Since I was beginning to think severing my head was a viable solution, I didn’t care what she recommended. I tried to tell her that I didn’t have anything. Somehow, she thought I meant I didn’t have any money. Maybe poor people go into the pharmacy all the time begging for migraine pills. I assured her I could PAY for the bills… if she would just offer to SELL me some.

I didn’t really understand the next thing she said. But she got a box of the prescription medicine and rang it up for me.

When I go to the doctor I’ll have to ask her just how that happened. And just how it was she thought to only give me one refill in the first place.

who knew? Tuscany has a beach

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

We’ve just gotten home from our vacation, and it was great. Maybe one reason is not staying up late feverishly hand-writing tales of each day’s events. Yes, I gave myself my own little blog-free vacation. Still, there are some things I don’t want to entirely fade from memory… so I will try now to relate each before it is too late.

I’d planned a vacation at the Tuscan beach resort of Viareggio. Italy’s biggest beach resort. Beautiful pictures online. Or, at least, I thought that’s where I’d planned the vacation. My exhaustive research on Trip Advisor had actually led me to a hotel just outside Viareggio. italy-hotel.jpg

And by just outside, I mean that if you stood on the sidewalk in front of our hotel, you could look down the street and see the sign welcoming you to Viareggio. But the actual charming old part of town was too far to walk with a five year old… so at first I was mad. Then I realized being mad was not how I wanted to spend my vacation. One evening we rented bikes from our hotel and pedaled our way down there. What we found were overpriced stores that had already closed (and it was only a little past 7 at night), overpriced restaurants and, well, that was about it. Maybe the beach by our hotel was a little like the Jersey shore minus the pulled taffy… but it actually had better, unique stores, open later, and was kinda fun.

The beach itself was like nothing we’d experienced before. Only a very small strip of the beach is public. You have to pay to burn your feet on nearly every inch of sand along that coastline. The fee covers something to sit on (chair or lounger… the latter being more expensive) plus an umbrella. italy-beach-umbrellas.jpg There are private changing rooms, but our hotel was only a block away. There’s also a bathroom which was clean. And a snack bar complete with a grumpy waitress. The beach is pretty wide and covered with a sea of umbrellas. Different colors for different “clubs,” I guess you call them. italy-beach-club.jpg italy-beach-kk-ocean.jpg

It was days before we ever bothered with the beach. (Well, our first day we wandered down just to check it out and after Kaitlyn went in the ocean some guy came up and informed us we were on a private beach.) She loved the pool at the hotel. italy-kk-jump-pool.jpg It was very pretty…. lined with and surrounded by marble tiles. Slippery marble tiles. She took a couple of spills, including one smack onto her belly while trying to jump backwards into the pool. (Yes, she’s gotten rather confident in her swimming skills over the past week or so.) We spent one entire day at the pool, which we realized that night was a mistake when Kaitlyn became so tired she was entirely unreasonable and we ended up ordering room service for dinner. She spent a couple of afternoons at the pool flirting with an 8 year old boy from England… Benjie. Seriously, I think he’d have done anything she’d asked him to do. When Benjie’s family left, luck smiled on us and another family with two girls just a bit older than Kaitlyn arrived. They became fast friends. Once the girls got past Kaitlyn’s tendency to ramble on with an impossible-to-follow stream-of-consciousness which I think is partially brought on by the thrill of finding another English speaker to listen to her. We even ended up in neighboring umbrellas at the beach one day.

Besides a beautiful but slippery pool and a short walk to the Jersey shore, our hotel offered an ideal location for a few short afternoon sightseeing trips.

Our first excursion was to Carrara… to see the mountain of marble. It really is something. It looks like it’s covered in snow. But it’s white marble. At the top, you can see where they’re carving it out of the mountain leaving behind giant white steps where ragged mountain tops should be. We’d hired a private tour guide who told us all about the trucks loaded with marble, marble scrap or marble dust, lumbering through town at frightening speeds. Although she was sure to add that the trucks have good breaks… now. We were there on a Sunday… in August… there was no mining going on so no trucks to worry about. We went inside the only mine that’s inside the mountain. carrara-hardhat.jpg carrara-inside-mine.jpg Kaitlyn’s favorite part of the tour was the gift shops offering every imaginable marble piece. We hit probably four shops. Kaitlyn picked out a little pyramid made of pink marble. She calls it flesh colored. Bill and I took a little longer to decide, finally settling on some marble dice and marble book ends. Before we left the area around all the quarries, we stopped to take our pictures standing on top of some of the giant slabs of marble slated for a future trip down the mountain on one of those trucks. The slabs are about 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide and solid. Kaitlyn and I managed to climb up a couple for the pictures. carrara-on-marble.jpg Then Bill and I managed to heave a few small scrap pieces of marble into the car… for better souvenirs. Don’t know what we’ll do with them, but they’re cool.

Our next afternoon trip away from the pool was to Pisa. Kaitlyn wanted to see the tower because she’s seen a picture of Scooby Doo in front of a cartoon version of it. Or maybe it was Mickey Mouse. Either way, she was excited. She really liked the “knock down tower,” as she calls it. We stood and took the required pictures pretending to hold up the tower. I hope Bill got a picture of the row of people all looking like idiots standing there with their arms in the air. Kaitlyn didn’t quite get how to pose to make the picture look right, so I’m sure she looks merely like one of those people whose arms are in the air for no apparent reason. pisa-bill-kaitlyn.jpg And she was a little disappointed that she couldn’t go inside… no one under 8 allowed. But I was relieved. Last thing I felt like doing was climbing I don’t know how many steps inside a leaning tower in the 90 degree heat. We went inside a couple of the other buildings in the same piazza. I’d worn a tank top… which I nearly never do… and was forced to cover up with a crazy paper gown thing in the cathedral. pisa-me-coverup.jpg It had a funny smell and made me hotter than I’d imagined paper could do so I was really glad when we escaped that. I had a card with a walking tour “away from the tower”… but it was so hot. And Kaitlyn gets tired of walking rather quickly. So we rented a surrey and biked around town. pisa-surrey.jpg Pisa’s actually fairly pretty when you get away from the row of vendors hocking leaning tower statues, fountains and shot glasses. We got a little lost, but only a little. It was really a lot of fun, even in the heat. Although maybe the heat did get to Kaitlyn. She picked out a little knock down tower so her dollies could see it. She chose one that’s purple with green glitter. pisa-trinket-shopping.jpg On our way back to the hotel, we spotted a sign for a Chinese restaurant and figured it had to be better than yet another pizza… so we went. It was delicious. The best steamed dumplings we’ve had in ages. And they spoke English. And it was not expensive. It cost less than our lunch of pizza at the beach. So we went back our last night before coming home. They remembered us and gave Kaitlyn a gift: a small fan which she thinks makes her look just like Mulan. (She wrote on her arm in marker to complete the look.)pisa-restaurant.jpg

Our final mini-road trip was to Lucca. It hadn’t been in our original plan. But everyone under the sun (literally… at the pool) told us to go. So we checked the gps, it was only a half hour away, so we went. We rented bikes and rode along the old wall that surrounds the city. lucca-me-bike.jpg We even managed to rent a little tandem bike for Kaitlyn so she could pedal and she just laughed and whooped and had a great time doing that. lucca-bill-kaitlyn-bike.jpg I found a place selling Tuscan pottery that was actually reasonably priced, so I had a great time. Although getting it from the shop to the bike store on the bike was a bit of a challenge. Kaitlyn’s souvenir is a bunch of plastic dinosaurs… it may not be Tuscan but it was good entertainment while waiting for our meal to be served at dinner. I’d taken along my tour book on Italy with kids and we chose a restaurant from their list. It was very good. And it wasn’t pizza or spaghetti. Bill had steak. I had veal. Kaitlyn had tortellini. (We couldn’t have an entirely pasta-free meal in Italy.)

Florence is only an hour from the shore, but we decided to spend our last two days sitting on our (rented) beach chairs and enjoying the sun. We can always go back. Kaitlyn has already asked us several times if we can. Maybe we will…