Thursday, July 23, 2015

Feeding the Bear

Four years after I watched my son die, I find myself having to do the second hardest thing a mother can do, five days a week:  I drop my daughter off with her grandpa, my father, for daycare, and I walk through the door, allowing someone else to spend more waking hours with her that day than I will, essentially placing someone else in charge of raising her.  I depart for work knowing she is happy, healthy, and will be apart from me for at least the next eight hours.

I'm fortunate that I love my job, because I don't have much choice other than to do it every day.  I live in a trench of student debt that must somehow be repaid and not working is simply not an option.  I'm further fortunate that I have family to look after Eden - If she can't be with me or her daddy all day, who better than her grandpa?

Being a working parent comes with a great deal of internal conflict.  I'm not the employee or lawyer I could be if I didn't have a child at home.  I don't come in early, I state late only a few nights a week, I rarely come in on weekends.  I'm hard-pressed to be able to take on an extra shift at the bar on the rare occasion that Lynn needs me to do so.

I'm also not the mom I could be.  I come home tired. I skipped our evening walk and rushed through bath time last night because I was just so exhausted.  Still, that seems small in comparison to the fact that I just don't get to be with her for such a significant part of the week.

Perhaps the greatest struggle I face is that I haven't completely let go of the life I had before Eden or even Marcos came along.  When Gabriel died and Ben left I learned that I had to find my happiness outside of them, and I did.  I made friends, the best friends I've ever had, and we had fun, and with them by my side I re-built my life, from finally securing a position as an associate attorney to buying a new car, stabilizing events grown from the ashy remains of instability.  It is not with a natural selflessness that I decline invitations to join my friends at dinner, a trip to the beach, or an evening of drinks at the bar.  Rather, I turn down these opportunities out of pure obligation, knowing I have a brief window during which to shape what I hope will be the long life of my daughter, and that means many days and nights, I have to be home instead of with the homies.  These are choices that I make, and perhaps I even make the "correct" choice most of the time, but they are not choices that are easily made. I can never figure out if this makes me an outlier among mothers, or just honest.

The most liberating moment I've had during motherhood is also one of the saddest.  The day I told myself, "You're not going to force yourself to breastfeed anymore" was a milestone day.  I was sad not because I wouldn't be sharing that time with Eden anymore, but rather because I didn't feel sad that I wasn't going to share that time with Eden anymore.  I hated breastfeeding.  It was never the bonding, convenient experience that I was told it would be.  I felt vulnerable, exposed, and at risk every time I did it, remnants from a sexual assault that otherwise, interferes with my life very little at this point.  I felt chained to my house, refusing to make myself vulnerable in public, surely an even riskier experience.  I felt at odds with Eden, because many of the times she wanted to feed, I didn't want to have to feed her - And by "many of the times," I mean every time.  All of this felt very inconvenient. So when I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would be formula fed, I felt free.

Still, my decision to attempt breastfeeding in the first place was born out of a love for my daughter and a desire to make the best possible decisions for her health.  She wouldn't rely on breastmilk or formula for long, in the grand scheme of things, so I turned my attention to a mission dedicated to feeding her only whole or minimally processed foods for the first year of her life (but for the formula, of course).  She skipped grains initially, such as rice cereal or oatmeal, as Marcos and I opted to start her on solid foods with vegetable purees, which I made myself.  Through this process we also introduced starches and grains such as potatoes and barley and rice.

Purees were as easy to bring along as a jar of processed baby food would be, but when she began eating pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit our outings required more planning.  Even sending her to daycare every day with the foods I want her to eat requires work, and a dedication that I was never willing to put into breastfeeding.  But with that dedication and Marcos' support and his own hard work, we met our goal, introducing Eden to refined sugar for the first time on her birthday, with her very own birthday cake.  Watching her eat her cake, slowly and skeptically at first but with a mounting joy that resulted in a messy but happy baby, was another sad moment for me.  The love of wholesome food that I had worked to establish in her had seemed to come undone with one cake.

But my fears were proven unnecessary and irrational when the next day, she went right back to her whole food regimen with no troubles.  We've since begun to incorporate more, but still minimally, processed foods into her diet, such as dairy, bread, and pasta.  Choosing her foods isn't a complicated process. For the most part I shop for groceries on the perimeter of the store where the produce, dairy and meat counters are located.  Weaving through the aisles becomes a matter of looking at a label and putting something back on the shelf when there are too many or unrecognizable ingredients, or worse, ingredients I've learned to recognize as artificial sugars.  At the end of a grocery run, most of my cart is filled with whole, label-less foods.  The effort has paid off.  She could take or leave pasta, really, preferring spaghetti squash and eggplant pizzas.  She is her mommy's girl, and has never met a cheese that she doesn't like.  She's still never had rice cereal, a teething biscuit, a Puff, or fruit juice.

Some nights dinner is a big production, an experiment with a fancy new recipe.  Other nights it's basic chicken and vegetables, the leftovers from which she might eat for the next two days.  Some recipes are a big hit, and others are a hideous miss.  Cooking for Eden has been one of the greatest parts of motherhood for me, and the 'why' bears some explaining.

Five days a week, I have to work.  Every day, I have to eat, and so does Eden.  Like many children of my generation, I grew up in a household courted and romanced by the makers of processed foods, marketed and aimed at working parents such as mine who wanted the swiftest dinner possible to maximize the free time they would get to spend with their kids.  My mom worked all day, came home to make dinner, fed us, bathed us, checked our homework, made our halloween costumes, hemmed our pants, shuttled us to softball or swim practice, and got up to do it all again the next day.  My dad worked nights, packed our lunches in the morning, drove us to school or the bus stop, and prepared a crock pot dinner for us once or twice a week, and after minimal sleep, woke up to pick us up from school and spend the evenings with us before heading to work the graveyard shift one more time.  For my family, boxed dinners were a convenience that enabled them to do ALL of the above.

Why, then, have I chosen to spend my evenings in the kitchen, with my toddler at my feet, wanting me to hold her?  With my husband having to distract her with their shared fun and games while I cook?  Why have I chosen to go to the grocery store two to three times a week for fresh produce when I could be on the floor with Eden reading board books and playing with Ice Bat?  There is the immediate reward, the smile on her face and the contented "Mmmmm" that she produces when I've given her something she really loves.  What I hope I will also see is the long-term effect that I strive for, a love of whole foods, a satisfaction with a peach over a cookie, a craving for a roasted vegetable over a French fry - All of the things I struggle to change in myself today, but never want her to struggle over.  I hope that someday we'll work side by side in the kitchen, feeding our bodies as we must by making choices that are right for them, making up for some of the time lost when I've been cooking while she plays.  For her birthday she got a play-house kitchen, and I watch with pride as she explores it, her synapses connecting as she begins to understand that it is a little replica of our kitchen, and that she can replicate my movements therein.

Ever haunted by my past, even my meals are influenced by my days with Gabriel and Ben.  I couldn't save my son from the fatal defect that claimed his life - But how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't do all that is within my power to minimize the risk to Eden posed by her prevalent family history of diabetes?  I want her life to be long, and I want her to keep all of her extremities for its duration.  I don't want her grandchildren to watch her lose her toes, her feet, her life, the way that I watched my grandmother lose hers.  I have more information available to me today than my grandparents or even my parents ever had - Shouldn't I use it?

I know I'm not a great cook, but I'm the cook that I am in large part because I was once married to a great chef.  He taught me my way around a kitchen, but what he could never convince me to do was to take a risk.  I never wanted to cook for him unless I could be sure of the outcome.  Otherwise, I deferred to him when it came to food.  I was afraid to fail, and especially afraid to fail in front of him.  Now, I live comfortably in a relationship free from co-dependence.  I have less fear of failure, and no fear of disappointing Marcos - I'm sure that he loves me even when I fail, and I know that I don't need his love, though I am better because I have it.  I am eager to please him, but confident that he'll love me one way or the other. Countless nights,  plates of slop have been placed in front of him, supported by the best of intentions but sabotaged by lack of skill, and he dutifully eats their contents and thanks me for dinner.

People often say that I'll grow soft and less diligent with another baby in the picture, but I'm not convinced this is true.  These are lifestyle changes I'm trying to make in myself, and a lifetime of health I am trying to provide for my children.  My goals and my actions are based on convictions that I don't see changing, even though I struggle to make the changes in myself. I've found parenting to be a beastly challenge, wrought with conflict, a constant series of choices to be made and commitments that I can only meet halfway.  When it comes to feeding my Bear, though, I'm prepared to go the distance.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Sapphire Kind of Love

Marcos had no easy task when he set out to select a wedding/engagement ring.  Insistent saleswomen presented him with glittering diamond rings from their exquisite engagement ring line and ask "Wouldn't she like something like this?"

"No."  He would find something in the display case more along the lines of my taste and watch their uncertain reactions and their certain response:  "That's not an engagement ring."  I've already heard the rhetoric - Conflict-free diamonds are out there and I can easily find something that is not the product of slave labor.  But my objection to the diamond is not obvious.  My objection is to the notion that love is proven by the size and the glitter and the expense of the diamond engagement ring that becomes the symbol of a couple's love.

Marcos has found himself in the unenviable position of falling in love with a woman who is severely damaged by her past, stubborn in her ways, and has rejected tradition.  I feel sorry for his plight, but I love him with all of my heart for stepping up to the challenge.  I love him in a way that can't be bought with diamonds, or bound by convention.  I love him with a sapphire kind of love.

In the grand scheme of my own tradition, love has been dependent and desperate, pathetic and harmful.  While I have loved truly and deeply in the past, it's never been a love that was matched by the receiving party.  My tradition has been one of co-dependency and as to be expected in those kinds of relationships, they've all ended badly.

For the past two years I have been in a loving relationship, based on mutual respect and an independent desire to commit to that relationship.  Marcos and I had a baby together because we love each other, we were married because we love each other, we are having another baby because we love each other, and we'll stay together because we love each other - Not because we NEED each other, or are dependent on each other, but simply because we find life is better together.

The man I married is the most loving, sincere, kind-hearted person I've ever known.  I admire his sense of obligation to his family and appreciate it even more now that I have also become a recipient of his loyalty.  I've learned there's not a thing we could do to make him turn his back on us.  I've unfairly put him to the test over and over again, an unfortunate side effect from history of abandonment, but he never lets me down.

He is intelligent, and amazes me almost daily with his ability to think critically and independently, his ability to simply figure things out.  His brain is an endlessly functional tool which can be used in solving technical problems, discussing the likely outcome of a political event, finding symbolism in a movie or television show, or answering the many questions that arise in our parenting adventure.

Every day he makes me laugh.  And I've learned that someone who makes me laugh is invaluable to getting through this life.

He is the best father I ever could have wished for my daughter.  Nothing makes me feel his love stronger than when I see him with our Eden.  By simply being himself, he is setting an example for her as to what a man should be, what she should expect from them, and what she herself deserves.  The love and dignity with which he treats her inspires me and makes me wish the same for every little girl.

And even beyond the love he shows for Eden, he continues to amaze me with the love he is able to show for a little boy he never even met.  He's never treated me like a childless woman, but has always acknowledged that I was a mother before our relationship began, that I have a son, Gabriel, and he is a part of me.  He is a part of our family, even if not physically present.  His memory is a part of the home we're building together.  That's something I didn't think I would find, but means more to me than I could ever say.

Today, my husband's 40th birthday, I find myself reaching into my memory to recall a time when he wasn't a part of my life, and a part of me.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we've lived most of our adult lives without each other, we've fallen so quickly and comfortably into our life together.  I find myself wishing I could have skipped all of the bad-for-me moments and relationships and made my way straight to him.  I know, though, that I never would have appreciated the tremendous man I've married if I hadn't known tremendous heartbreak.  I would have kept seeking the glitter and sparkle of a manufactured diamond facade, perhaps never appreciating that I need a sapphire kind of love.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Rainbow Effect

It started during my senior year of high school.  My then-best friend Heather was rumored to be dating a junior girl, one of my neighbors who lived on the next block over.  She hadn't told me, but one day I saw them holding hands walking down my street.

I didn't say anything to Heather.  She clearly hadn't wanted me to know.  Finally, while we were hanging out one afternoon, she simply said, "I know you know."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was afraid.  You're just so. . . Catholic."  At the time Heather and I were both in the unenviable position of being teenagers, struggling to find our place in the world.  Heather was coming to terms with being a lesbian in a world that was changing but still very unwelcoming to the gay population.  And for the first time, I was unclear about how I fit into the secular world as a Catholic.  For the first time, I was aware that the world was secular, while I was Catholic.

Over the next five years the remedy was simple, as I shunned my Faith when I decided I didn't want to follow its rules.  When I reverted to Catholicism I dedicated myself to finally understanding the Church's teachings that before, I just thought of as laws to regulate our behavior.

These efforts left me - leave me - in a limbo.  My generation has witnessed greater normalization of homosexuality, but the Catholic Church has never changed positions on the matter:  The inclination to be attracted to someone of the same sex itself is not a sin, but to linger on that attraction, to give in to lust in response to that attraction. and certainly to act on that attraction is the sin.  Contrary to what has become a popular belief, the average Catholic doesn't condemn homosexuality out of hate, but out of a deep love and desire to see all on this earth united again in Heaven.  Certainly, that is my goal.  If and when I find myself in Heaven someday, I want everyone that I love to be there too.  My drive has grown even stronger since the day I sent my son that way.

The question for me then became a question of how I can lead those around me, especially when I have no idea what I'm doing myself most of the time.  When I think of the number of times I've screwed up, I'm reluctant to be bold in the teachings of my Faith.  I got divorced, I got knocked up, and I showed up to my second wedding with my six month old daughter.  I haven't been exemplary.

Interestingly, it's the divorce that led me to really understand why gay couples want to be married, why they can't be satisfied with civil unions and domestic partnerships.  Marriage is different.  It is real, and special, and changes the nature of a relationship.  If it weren't, the disintegration of my first marriage wouldn't have burned as it did/  If marriage weren't special, I wouldn't have bothered to give it a second chance.  Marcos and I lived together, had a baby together, and we could have just kept the status quo but it fell short of capturing what we have.  Whether one supports gay marriage or not, support of marriage means recognizing that marriage is not just a piece of paper.

I've also had to wonder how much I can accomplish by telling my gay friends, and I have many, that engaging in homosexuality is a sin.  Are they very likely to stop? I'm past an age and station in life when friends will lie to me to avoid the conflict between my Faith and their lifestyle. Friendships just seem to work better when nobody has to pretend like they're something they're not. When Proposition 8 came up on California ballots I put too much effort into lying, leading people to believe that my fully informed conscience would still permit me to vote "no." My Faith called me to vote "yes," ad when I returned to my faith I committed myself to letting my conscience lead me.

I don't pretend to be some free-thinking, cafeteria, pick-n-choose Catholic anymore.  Likewise, I don't pretend to be a Catholic who understands how this whole life thing, and the whole eternity thing, actually works.  It's all just sort of speculation., trial, and error.  My friends know where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality, and they know I stand with my Church.  I make it clear that I bring my daughter to Mass every week. and that I wish for her to have a Catholic education.  I want her to know her Faith and I want to lead her to Heaven the best way I know how.

The best I've come up with so far is just to live as I know how, guided by my imperfect understanding of Church teachings, with my eyes ahead and on the prize.  I spend a great deal of time praying that when I stand before God, He will know my heart, and that I can honestly say that my heart is pure.

Heather stood by my side as my bridesmaid when I married Ben. but thereafter we drifted apart.  It had nothing to do with the fact that she's a great big lezzy, and everything to do with the fact that life just changes and leads us in different directions, and though we live in the same little. big town, the distance from one side of that town to the other makes keeping up certain friendships inconvenient.  I still love her, and I still want her to be happy.  She recently got engaged.  When she met Allison, it was pretty evident that they were both in it for the long haul.  She was happy. and that was undeniable, even if the right for her to marry Allison was denied.  It's been nearly 20 years since heather first came out as a lesbian and in that time I've watched her struggle to find her place in life.  After all this time, I think she's finally found it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shades of Blue





"Andrea Lopez."

I stood, a familiar fear coursing through my body.  Marcos rose with me and we proceeded to the door where we were stopped by the ultrasound tech.  "Just you for now.  We'll come back for him when the first half is done."

I froze and could feel Marcos' fingers gently prodding me forward.  "Please.  I have history of anencephaly.  I don't want to be alone."

She rolled her eyes with a microscopic movement, but relented.  "I'm behind anyway.  Come on in."

Four years, two last names, one yellow house and my son's lifetime had gone by since my world was rattled by the fatal diagnosis, anencephaly.  Still, the machine, the sterility of the room, the sterility of the staff brought it all back to me.  What would have been Gabriel's fourth birthday was less than a week away and somehow even in his absence, he occupied the front of my brain.  As I lay on the exam table for what is for most women a highly-anticipated moment I prepared to receive the bad news that I presumed she would be discovering, a defense-mechanism inevitably developed by members of the infant loss community.

The tech began to explain to Marcos that she would be taking many measurements and making quite a few notes during the first half of the exam.  They don't usually allow spouses or family or friends in during that time because they get nervous and start to think something is wrong when it all takes so long.  Her reasoning was lost on me - I had already received the worst news an expectant mother could get.  Besides, Marcos is unshakeable, and I was already rattled to my core.  When something went wrong, I would know right away.  She couldn't pull one over on me anyway.  I was on to her, from the first shift in her eyes.

She began to ask questions about Gabriel, though I noted that she never asked his name, likely presuming he didn't have one.  "How long did you carry your anencephalic baby?"

"40 weeks, 1 day."

"Oh."  Her face gave away her surprise.  "So you went all the way to term. How long was he with you?"

"Ten days. I guess that's pretty extraordinary."

"Oh.  Yes, that is unusual."  Somehow through the course of the forced conversation it was revealed that I brought Gabriel home from the hospital. "You brought him home?" Her incredulity shone.  Gabriel's story is remarkable, no doubt an anomaly in her anomalous experience with anencephaly.

Marcos was invited to stand next to me to view the images of our baby.  She showed us the heart, the different organs, the active hands.  "I can't tell you what you're seeing, but I can show you."  Her wand scanned over the bright, round skull.  I might never have known how perfect it is, if I had never been exposed to how perfectly its absence appears.  A few tears rolled down my face.  Until this baby is here, until I see and touch its head, I won't feel secure in its existence, but these images would carry me over the remainder of the pregnancy, at least.

The whirlwind that is the ten day long celebration of Gabriel's life followed in a flurry of cupcakes and Post-It Notes and a baseball game and Magic Mullet Run promotion. As seems to happen every year, it got both easier and more difficult than the years past.  Time allows me to feel some sense of security in the life ahead of me, but time also puts more distance between me and the physical presence of my son.  I would peak at the blueberry bush from my bedroom window, intent on spending some time with it to absorb its inspiration and prompt my annual blog about the plant.  But life seemed to keep getting in the way.  This year Eden demands my attention and was folded into the ten days of activities.  She has her own needs, and meeting them is part of what sustains me.  On the anniversary of Gabriel's passing Marcos and I took Eden to release balloons with our family and play at the park.  Things I will never get to do with Gabriel, I finally get to do with a child of my own.

In the days following, I finally took time to listen to my voicemail messages, which I tend to gather for a month before reviewing.  A call from Kaiser stopped me cold.  The genetic counselor needed me to return her call, and she would send me an e-mail with the same information.  In the e-mail she reported that a normal variant had been detected, an oxymoron when one considers normal means "regular" and "variant" means "exhibiting variety or diversity."  Doctors are so fucking stupid.

I called the genetic counseling department and was advised my particular counselor would be out for the day, but they would try to find someone to review my file and get back to me.  No one did.  I must have called eight times the following morning, this morning, but got the department's voicemail instead.  When my phone finally rang, I answered quickly.

"Is this Andrea Lopez?"

"Yes."

"This is Kristy with Kaiser.  You called."

"You called first."

"Yes.  I have your ultrasound results.  Kaiser requires us to go over even normal variants with our patients."  By that time I had Googled "normal variants" and knew that they were generally nothing of concern, but still, I needed a name for my child's particular variant.

"Okay."

"A choroid plexus cyst was detected. . ."

"Spell that."

"C-h-o-r-o-i-d new word p-l-. . ." by then the phrase had presented itself in my search bar, so I clicked the term and followed a link as she babbled.

"Why does it say here that the cyst is sometimes associated with Trisomy 18?"

"Well, I'm getting to that.  Sometimes it is.  In very few cases.  It's not a very high chance."

"There wasn't a very high likelihood of my child having anencephaly, but we were the one in one thousand."

"You refused any blood testing that would have told us sooner if Trisomy 18 were present," she said, with some bite to her tone.  I wondered if she always dealt with such delicate subjects so coarsely.  "When Trisomy 18 is present there are other indicators during the ultrasound, none of which were present in yours."  She could have led off with that. "Underdevelopment, a small baby, lack of fetal movement, especially hand movement."  My mind flicked back to the ultrasound in Urgent Care a few months ago, during which the baby had waved at us assuredly.  "Trisomy 18 is a chromosomal defect. It has no relation to anencephaly."  Again my mind wandered, this time to the genetic counselor I saw after Gabriel's diagnosis, who assured me that the anencephaly had nothing to do with the miscarriage.  The miscarriage was likely the result of a chromosomal defect.  As my brain raced I forced my eyes back to the page of information before me, soothing myself with the facts at hand.  Fetuses with Trisomy 18 almost always demonstrate abnormalities on ultrasound in addition to choroid plexus cysts.  The precise rate of risk is difficult to estimate and somewhat controversial as most doctors believe it is well under 1 percent 1 in 1,000 pregnancies result in anencephaly and a fetus with choroid plexus present but an otherwise normal ultrasound has a better than 99% chance of not having Trisomy 18.  I have every reason to believe there is no cause for alarm.

"No further treatment is indicated at this time.  In most cases the cyst resolves before delivery.  Even if it doesn't, it is benign."  I allowed reason to wash over me.  "You could have amniocentesis, but that carries risk.  I find that most women who reject early blood testing will almost certainly reject the amnio."

"It won't matter what an amnio might tell me."  It wouldn't.  I've already fallen in love with this baby, even if it is a guarded, cautious love, it is relentless and unconditional at the same time.  That is my nature, in the aftermath of the storm that was Gabriel, and really, always.  I love with a careful abandon, knowing it might hurt, but knowing I'm going to do it anyway and face the consequences if and when they arise.  I live in shades of blue, bright and bold like the sky, dark and dreary like the storm, soft and soothing like the baby blue of Gabriel's blankets and clothes, deep and true like the promise represented in my sapphire wedding ring.  But always, always blue.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Celebrating 10 Days that Changed the World With Love

It's June 1, and what would be Gabriel's 4th birthday is fast approaching.  This year is different than any other.  This year my life and my heart and my arms are so full that I long to share the joy I've found.  Again, I'll be doing 10 days of activities that honor my sweet Gabriel's life, and I invite you to participate in these personal and community events, to share the color that can come from gay skies, and the brightness that can come from even the darkest of times.

TEN DAYS OF LOVE
HONORING GABRIEL MICHAEL GERARD CUDE IN 2015
1.     Day 1, Wednesday June 10, 2015:  Happy 4th Birthday Gabriel!  In honor of Gabriel’s birthday, do something to spread awareness of anencephaly. Check out the anencephaly.info website for stories about babies born with anencephaly, or look into the lives of some of the exceptional cases of anencephaly in which the children have or are currently thriving and have/did for years, such as Pierce, Vitoria de Cristo, Nicholas, Katie, Angela, or Elijah. 

2.       Day 2, Thursday June 11, 2015:  Cupcake Day!  As has become an annual tradition with friends and family, enjoy a cupcake today as we celebrate Gabriel having beaten the odds when he lived to see 24 hours on earth.

3.       Day 3, Friday June 12, 2015:  Four Year Old Fun.  In honor of what would have been Gabriel’s 4th birthday, look into donating toys or other much needed items for a local preschool or Head Start Program.

4.       Day 4, Saturday June 13, 2015:  Blazing Trails.  Over the next few days I will be selling tickets for the Bakersfield Blaze game on Saturday June 13, 2015 at 7:45 pm against Modesto.  Tickets are $8, and 50% of the sales from tickets I sell will go to Duke University Molecular Physiology Institute.  This year, the Bakersfield Blaze are an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.  My dreams of Gabriel pitching for the Mariners were halted when he was diagnosed with anencephaly, but through the continued efforts towards research, my dream that his life will change the future lives on.

5.       Day 5, Sunday June 14, 2015:  Folic Acid Foods.  We still don’t know what causes anencephaly, but we know that the surest way to reduce the risk of its occurrence is to take folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant.  While supplements are the best way to insure that we receive the recommended amount, there are a number of foods that can help give us a boost.  Today, enjoy a few of the most rich in folic acid, including dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, citrus fruit, beans, peas or lentils, okra, avocado, Brussel sprouts, seeds or nuts, cauliflower, beets, corn, carrots and squash.  Take your pick!  And I guarantee, I won’t be picking beets! 

6.       Day 6, Monday June 15, 2015:  A Bag of Blessings. Join me in creating a paper bag of blessings to give to a local person in need.  It doesn’t have to be much – Maybe a tube of toothpaste, a water bottle, a granola bar, a stick of deodorant, or a pair of socks placed in a paper bag, or a few paper bags, to give to someone you might encounter who may be in need.  You can give them to your local shelter, or be prepared to hand one to that needy soul you see in the same place every day on your way to work. 

7.       Day 7 Tuesday June 16, 2015:  Sing a song.  One of my favorite memories from the 10-Day Celebration of 2013 was the group “sing-along” of “Danny’s Song on my Facebook page.  On Tuesday June 16, 2015, I’ll be posting the opening line to “Danny’s Song” once again, and I invite you to add a line and sing “along” with me. 

8.       Day 8, Wednesday June 17, 2015:  Post It.  Inspired by Cak Alvastad’s celebration for Andrew, take a Post-It note and write something inspiring, then leave that note on a mirror in a public restroom to warm a heart, or several.

9.       Day 9, Thursday June 18, 2015:  Magic Mullet Brigade Day.  Help me advertise this year’s Magic Mullet Run for Anencephaly Awareness by sharing the link to the run, taking a stack of fliers to a local business to disperse, or signing yourself up for this year’s run. 

1.   Day 10, Friday June 19, 2015:  A Boy and His Dog.  It’s no secret that I love my boy, and I love my dog.  The love I can’t share with Gabriel often gets transferred to Gideon.  On this day, do a little something special for your four-legged comrade who’s seen you through hard times. 

ANGELVERSARY!  Saturday June 20, 2015:   It’s the Feast of St. Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude.  As has become an annual custom, I will be releasing balloons in celebration of the day my sweet boy’s soul was lifted to Heaven.  Join me at University Park in East Bakersfield, or release one on your own.  After the balloon release, stick around to enjoy some park time with my little rainbow, Eden.  Timing and final location to be announced. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leanne Longcrier: Diamond in the Rough



The news engulfed us, like the fire that consumed her car.  In the early hours of Sunday May 3, 2015, Leanne's car had crossed the median divider and gone off the road.  My first thoughts were of her burning to death as she thought of the two young children she would leave parentless.  Later, when news reports indicated that she had struck two trees before wrapping the car around a third, causing the car to burst into flames, I reasoned that she must have died on impact.

Information came to me in bits over the course of Eden's first birthday party.  First, a message from Lynn:  "Call me if you can."  A few moments later, one from Chris:  "I heard about Leanne.  Wow. :-(" The ominous tone of the messages caused a shudder down my spine, but I convinced myself that they must be benign.  "She finally did it," I thought.  "That prude finally cut loose and she must have got drunk before her shift.  Lynn needs me to come in to work, but I can't."

Then, another message, this time from Shane: "Happy birthday to Eden.  I'm sorry it's such a sad day also." Something was wrong. I urgently Lynn, who must have been fielding a number of urgent phone calls that she wishes she'd never had to take or make.  When she didn't answer, I called Shane. As the phone rang, as Shane answered, as he began to preface the news, I looked at Timothy, sitting on the couch, the only adult in the room, and I knew that he knew that whatever Shane was about to tell me was terribly, horribly bad.

"The car went off the road, and I guess she didn't make it."  The words hung in the air. I looked at the knowing look in Timothy's eyes.

"I have to go."

"Are you okay?"

"I - Yes.  I have to go."  As a matter of formality, Timothy asked "What happened?"

"Leanne's dead."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, with our party guests chattering and munching on the last bits of food, I learned that Leanne's body had been mangled and burned beyond recognition.  Her medical records would need to be obtained the following day to confirm her identity.  Later reports revealed that the police could not even confirm that there were no other occupants in the car, it had been crushed so severely.  Friends told me they had driven by the accident site that morning, unaware that it was Leanne's car that had been split like a banana by the tree, causing them to lift up a prayer that the driver had at least gone quickly.

For three days now Leanne's friends and co-workers from The Wright Place have been wrestling with the news.  The glaring, unspoken lamentation of an outsider looking in might be the tragedy of a woman who was so beautiful having been so disfigured in her death.  The lack of information as to whether alcohol was involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 1:30 AM has caused ignorant speculation as to what kind of mother this dead woman must be.

I'll tell you what kind of mother Leanne Longcrier was.  She was the kind of mother who left at just after 5 AM, five mornings a week, to report to a company where she'd worked for over ten years, because the job provided health benefits to her children.  She is the kind of mother who, two years ago, took on a job working an additional two shifts a week to give her daughter and her son, whose father had passed away when they were both quite young, a good life. If you knew Leanne for ten minutes, you knew that she had two kids, a boy and a girl. If you spoke with her even a minute longer you knew that her son Michael wanted to go into the military, but a part of her hoped he would get over it because she didn't want to lose him, and her daughter Gabi wasn't sure but she maybe wanted to be a lawyer, but in any case, both kids were going to college, because that's why she was working so hard.

Rick and Lynn had to have been slightly out of their minds when they hired her, undoubtedly.  She is the kind of woman who never made sense as a bartender.  She didn't drink, she didn't swear, and the dirty jokes told by the dirty old patrons and the dirty hardened bartenders all went over her head.  She stuck out like a sore thumb around there, just as her absence does today.

"Leanne, you need to do some things for yourself," I would often tell her.  "Your kids are growing up.  They don't need you around as much anymore.  You need to get your own life."  She'd smile and look at me with doe-eyes and it was plain on her face that she disagreed.  How I regret those words now, even while I thank God that on this occasion, she had left her children at home.

For the two years that Leanne worked at The Wright Place, she never quite fit in.  She didn't change, as so many of the bartenders that I've seen come and go over the years, and even as I have.  She was the same woman the last time she walked out of that door as she had been the day she walked in.   I think that's got to be why we all came to love her so much.  I know that's why her death has rattled our community so.  We had all known a lot of somebodies, but we had never met anyone like Leanne, a sparkling jewel among the rough.

Just days before her death, unknowing that we wouldn't see her again, someone summed up her place in the bar: "She can't poor a drink for shit, but you just don't care."  You can find booze just about anywhere.  There was only one Leanne.


A Go Fund Me Account has been established to raise funds for Leanne's burial: http://www.gofundme.com/u7qcrxk

Her children are young, ages 12 and 13, and have requested a traditional casket and burial for their mother. Any funds that can be raised for this burial will enable the family to reserve the funds from Leanne's life insurance policy to be held in trust for the children as they grow up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Iris



"I think it's a weed."

"I think so too," I agreed, scowling as I stared up at the near 6 foot tall stalks growing in my new-to-me garden.  "I'll never be able to get those out of here without leaving a big hole."

"I'll remove them," Marcos assured me, "but first I want to see what happens when they bloom."  There were multiple buds at the top of the stalks, ready to burst.  Sure enough, the next day the scarlet blossoms had emerged to be admired.  I sent a picture to Marcos, who did a google search for the name of the plant.  "They're called hollyhocks," he later informed me.

"And it's a weed?"

"No.  People buy them and grow them.  Those other stalks over there," he said, pointing to another bunch of five stalks at the south end of the yard, "those might even bloom in a different color.  They come in lots of colors."  A week later I was still surprised by the large pink blossoms presented by the hollyhocks.

We've been in our new house for two months now, and surprises in the garden await us at every turn.  It's a veritable paradise in continuous bloom.  The snapdragons, a favorite of mine, have withered away in the dry Bakersfield warmth of April, with a promise to return again when the weather is more favorable.  In their place some of the more drought-resistant, heat tolerant shrubs and plants have begun to flower.  Tufts of lavender grow fuller and more purple every day.  The three bougainvillea climb their trellises, their pink petals reaching for the sun, falling and carpeting the ground to make way for fresh new petals.  A cluster of fortnight lilies have made their appearance.  There are more varieties than I can identify, with new ones cropping up with routine.  Though our grass has struggled with the local watering restrictions, the flowering plants have remained resilient.



With the blooms have come the humbingbirds and the bees, peppering the space around the plants. Hummingbirds hover in the air, saturated by the possibilities. Honeybees and bumblebees dance among the blossoms. I was recently stung for the first time in my life, and Marcos was stung the very same day, leading us both to worry about Eden.  We'll have to instruct her soon that though the garden is beautiful and appealing and even tempting, it presents a certain danger when we're not careful, a lesson I suppose that will require a lifetime of reminders.

Longing for a touch of the yellow house, I bought a couple of irises.  The irises, which first bloomed for me in my third spring at the yellow house, came to symbolize for me a sense of surprise and newness as I found my post-baby loss, post-divorce self.  Their bold purple evoked a hope in me that had been smothered to but an ember among the ashes of the life I've left behind.

My thumbs are anything but green and I don't find much promise in the new irises.  The irises in the yellow house would have bloomed by this point. . . Except that they haven't.  When I make my weekday drive by the yellow house as I take Eden to daycare, I stretch my neck for signs of the irises, but even their proud stalks appear wilted this spring. Perhaps they've left with me.

Maybe my new irises will bloom, and maybe they won't.  I hold out a tentative hope, but have learned that they do best when I just stand back and let them grow as they will.  With or without the irises, all around me a lush Eden grows, bright and fresh and continuously changing, seeking a delicate balance of love and support without overbearing.  The garden is a gift I hadn't anticipated and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.  I know that maintaining its beauty will require a series of trial and error, learning when to plant an a perennial and when to give up on an annual and where the sun hits and when and constant lessons in how to keep the bursts of color reappearing year after year.

Trial and error don't seem like the best ways to manage the care of the gifts that I've been charged with, but they are the tools that I have. While I don't like to be unsure, and I don't like to lack a book to consult for a guaranteed answer, I know that I love the hope that bursts from the promise of the flower's bud.  I love every stage of growing, from the first appearance of the tender green sprout to the stretching of the stalk to the forming of the bud to the unveiling of the petals. Even with its dangers and uncertainty I'm enjoying every day of my Eden with a heart that sprung anew from the iris.