5 Aug

I run downstairs to get the anti-itch pill that the doctor prescribed to him, when I hear Gus call out “Mom, I’m just going to take a little nap in the tub!”

“No no no!” I call back, “I’m coming with your medicine.  Don’t sleep in the tub, silly!”

I hurry back upstairs to find him playing quietly.  He is sliding around on his belly in the tub with his mouth open wide and then lifting up his head and letting the water drop out.  It’s been such a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, I just let him and don’t chide him not to put the bath water in his mouth.

I admire the stark contrast between the brown of the small of his back and his white butt as he slip slides around. A summer well spent.

He finds his way out of the tub and I gingerly pat him dry.  It’s been a week since he first got poison ivy, but it only seems to be getting worse. New blossoms of red appearing every morning, every evening.  When will we be on the downward slope of this particular boyhood rite of passage?

I keep re-reading articles on the internet about poison ivy hoping to glean some new information that can make it stop.  But there is no new information.  It all says the same things.  It usually lasts two weeks but can last longer.  You can only get it from touching the oils, not from touching someone else’s rash. You can’t spread it to new parts of your body by scratching it and then touching another part of your body. (Well you can, but only when there is oil still on it.)  New patches can appear long after the first ones appear  for a variety of reasons.  It will look as if the rash is spreading, but it is not actually spreading.  It is just finally awakening what was there all along.

I read about it each night and wonder the same thing: how many more blossoms of poison ivy are hiding on this sweet child, waiting to bloom?

He hates the creams the doctor prescribed to him. One for his face. One for his body.  But he sits docile on his floor and allows me to hunt down the red splotches that weren’t even there this morning and rub the cream in.

I help him dress tonight.  I put him in some of his older brother’s pajamas. Loose, breezy, covered. He is happy to be channeling Henry for the night. Dressed for bed as one of his heroes.

He does not complain about the creams, or the itching, or the fact that he’s completely, utterly, totally exhausted.  He just crawls into bed and I shut off the light. He looks at me seriously “Mom, I don’t think I can sing tonight. I think I can only listen to singing tonight.”

So I sing our song, and he listens, He is immediately drowsy. I watch his pupils dilate and his eyelids droop and then some thought or sound brings him back to me and he looks at me alert and smiles contentedly. And then he’s fading into sleep again.  Over and over we do this through the whole song. And I am singing as soft as I can, which is requiring me to remember how to use some very rusty vocal technique, but I want this song to last as long as I can make it last.

When I am done, my silence brings him back to alertness. He smiles at me, content. I kiss his forehead which smells of shampoo.  He watches me until the door is closed.  I know this because I close it, and then need to open it almost immediately for one more look at him. I find his eyes still fixed on the crack of the door where my face just disappeared.  I blow him a kiss and then finally close the door to let him sleep.

I descend the stairs feeling a fresh blossom of love blooming for him, like ivy. The opposite of poison. Deeply rooted. Always there. Just waiting for the right moment to appear.


Two Pairs of Socks

10 Mar

Craig and I said goodbye this morning with a quick and sleepy kiss.  We won’t see one another again until Sunday night around 9 pm when I (hopefully) get home from work.

I came downstairs to a hysterically crying Gus.  Somehow he had inferred that his brother Henry was telling him that he was not allowed to eat any of the cereal that he had specifically chosen at the grocery store the day before. Henry was defensively explaining that he was NOT saying that Gus could not have any but that he was only saying that he, HENRY could ALSO have some.  This escalated and became shrill and intense. There was much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth.  I felt sad that my day had started thus. Again.

I mediated and then doled out the Lucky Charms thinking “this is what I get for actually letting my kid pick out Lucky Charms. Chocolate Lucky Charms, no less.”  And then I headed upstairs to get myself dressed and maybe slurp down some coffee before descending back into the madness of morning school drop off.

On the stairs, I found a love poem Craig had left me…  One he’d written specifically for me.

You see, the night before, when I dragged myself up to bed,  my husband said he was going downstairs to do a load of laundry and would see me up there in a minute. (that’s not even the romantic part.)  And while he was downstairs sorting and folding and hanging, he must have thought, “Gen has two days of work coming up and she probably doesn’t have any of her favorite work socks upstairs and she’ll forget them on Saturday morning and be too tired on Saturday night and she’ll certainly forget them on Sunday morning”  And so he folded them and brought them up and left them on the stairs for me where I would be absolutely sure to see them.


I swear I looked at those socks and thought, “I have to be the most happily married woman this side of creation.”

And on I went with my day, eagerly awaiting 9 pm on Sunday night.


8 Mar

When I was pregnant with Sam and my body decided that it was time to push, there was no stopping it.  The nurses begged me to stop pushing.  The doctor isn’t here yet.  Don’t push. Don’t push. Breathe. Breathe.  They chanted it to me with a desperation that I understand now that I am on the other side of health care.  And I tried to stop my body from doing what it must.  I tried to, but I failed. I breathed and panted and yet my whole body squeezed itself into the contraction.  Someone came into the room and said my doctor was “on the way” and had said to just turn up my epidural.  I refused.  I don’t want more epidural.  I won’t be able to feel anything at all to push once she gets here!  I don’t need more drugs.  I need to push!  I yelled out to them as my body pushed and they begged me to stop.

Craig jumped in and demanded another doctor be brought into the room to deliver my baby.

I wonder now who it was.  Who was this savior who stepped into place and pretended to be an authority?  Certainly it had to be someone unqualified.  First year resident maybe.  Been on L&D rotation for 2 weeks.  And here she was being brought in as the expert. I admire her, whoever she was.  She stepped into my room and assured me that all was fine.  Even though her heart must have been hammering away inside her chest.

And so my body pushed.

Later my actual doctor walked in.  She was angry with me that I had not followed her directive.  That I had not allowed her to medicate my body into submission for her tardiness to my birth. Craig asked her how are you Dr. D?  And she glared at him and said like a steel blade, “Harried.”

And we carried on. Later, in the pushing she made a point to make eye contact with me and said “if you can’t do any better than that with your pushing, I’ll get this baby out myself in the OR.”  I wanted to reach between my legs and grab her throat and strangle her.  But instead I pushed as hard as I could.  I pushed harder than I could.  And I ripped myself in two, very nearly, just to be rid of this awful awful woman.  And Sam was born and the world pivoted.  And we all forget about the Dr. that I later learned everyone in the hospital referred to privately as Dr. Diablos.


This week I admitted a baby that needed a to be intubated (a breathing tube.)  The doctor worked patiently with the residents and allowed them a moment to attempt intubation on this tiny human.  He spoke quietly to them, stopped them gently when they were about to do something that might cause undue discomfort, he encouraged them and even gently guided their hands and said yes yes, look, you are doing it. And then the baby cried around the tube and we all exhaled as he pulled the tube out and stepped in to do it himself, still offering praise and encouragement to his pupils. You very nearly had it!

He quickly (and easily) intubated the patient and then it was my job to secure the tube in place. I lined up the device and confirmed with my respiratory therapist that I was in good placement on the other side before pressing the adhesive to the baby’s face.  As she said yes and I looked to see if it was well placed on my side before I pressed down, the doctor grabbed it from my hand and slapped it down.

His patience had been bled dry for the residents. I was too timid, too slow, too hesitant and he was exhausted by it. Bled dry of his praise and encouragement.


Later, when he left the room, the therapist and I had to redo the job to prevent the patient from accidental extubation.

I’ve ordered myself a new daily planner.  It is a detailed planner created for high achievers like CEOs.  For people like my husband who are strategists for large businesses. Serious women and men who wear snappy suits and have meetings that require them to plan long range and talk about profits and quarters and employee engagement.  It is meant to help them set goals and then create plans to pick away at them and achieve them.

It was not made for 41 year old brand new nurses trying to keep tiny humans alive through the night.  People who have no discernible schedule or rhythm to their day to day life.  Who wake up and basically put out blazing fires all day (all night) long. It was not made for people who are so low on the totem pole at work they may as well be the part that is buried in the dirt.  It was not made for mothers of three school age children who all have such deeply different schedules and needs and all seem to be missing their mom in some secret message sort of way.  It wasn’t made for people who can’t seem to keep their house clean for more than 3 minutes or cook proper meals more than two times a week; people who can’t eat healthy or exercise regularly or volunteer at church or at school or at Scouts.  It was not a planner that was created for people like me.



My natural state is one of tension.  Not unlike my body was during labor with Sam.  Tightening, wrapping itself forward and pushing onward with no discernible plan other than to do more than what I am already doing.  Always this press to do better, do more, to excel in all arenas, to pick apart all my own minor failures and magnify them so as to better examine and fix them.  My list of what I’d like to accomplish is absurd. Yet, I press on with this list as if it is written law. And I exhaust myself in the absurd effort of it.

Well, I am using my planner to lasso this natural tendency  of mine to white knuckle it.  And I am strategically setting some goals to slow my roll.

Yesterday, instead of cooking dinner for my children, I threw some leftovers on plates, heated them up and then snuck into the living room while they ate.  I sat in the sunny patch on my couch reading Bel Canto and ate a big bowl of chips. And when I was done, I went and checked it off my list in my planner. Like a motherfucking boss.


A Morning Alone

26 Feb

I have the day off from work today and all three of my kids are at school.  It’s sunny outside.  And before we walked into the preschool Gus and I stopped to listen to the birds chattering.  The impending sound of spring. I said they’re so happy, aren’t they? And he replied, yes they are because now they can play with their toys…. wait… do birds have toys.  And I replied, Of course they do!  They have wings!  which seemed to satisfy his four year old brain immensely.

It was a nice way to start the day because just minutes earlier he was angry at me and giving me the silent treatment because I took screens away from him after school for disobeying me and being disrespectful when we were trying to get out the door for the morning.

I’m grateful for the sweet little conversation about birds.  And he seemed to be too.

I had a brutal day at work on Saturday and I am still not fully recovered from it.  Yesterday I felt like I was recovering from the worst hangover of my life.  My theory is that my adrenaline was pumping so fast and hard all day Saturday that my body basically collapsed in on itself on Sunday.  I had to go to a Scouting event Sunday afternoon and I was nervous that my face looked as exhausted as it felt.  If it did, no one really said anything.

I still don’t really feel fully physically recovered today which seems weird.  I told this to Henry as we drove to school and didn’t he think it was weird that I was still worn out from work 2 days ago? (He did.)  He seized on this point as an opportunity to express that he does not think it is fair that I get to rest today on a Monday when he has to go to school. And how he is tired of grown ups telling him that what he does is not work because he actually does work very hard at school and then it sent him into a spiral of talking about all the things in his life that he thinks are unfair.

Internet, truth be told, I wanted to reach in the back seat and slap him for taking like that because I just can not even cope with comfortable, healthy, beloved people talking about how life is not fair to them at the moment.  I have no space for it in my brain.  But he is my son, a human that I deeply love.  He is also only 8.  And frankly, at this moment in his life, his proclivity for discontent is essentially Craig’s and my responsibility. So I worked on it in the drop off line. We chipped away at that big “unfair” chip he often hoists up onto his shoulder.

I left the dog outside during drop off because she enjoys eating rabbit poop in the yard.  I normally FREAK out about her eating the rabbit poop and demand for her to come inside because it makes me so sick to my stomach that I feel like I’m going to vomit.  But today, I just let her have the moment because I didn’t have to think about it while I was gone.  She’s getting lots of gray all over her head and snout.  And she is truly one of the most gentle, shy little souls who ever walked this planet. So I let her feast on poop and then I gave her a greenie. I’ll take her for a short walk later.  She can’t handle distances.  But we’ll just take it slow today and listen for the birds.



Bee Mine

8 Feb

I was whining to my mother in law on the phone yesterday– telling her about the frantic pace of my life these days, about the weird nature of my sleep schedule, about how everything just feels so hard.  And she reminded me to take care of myself a little bit more which seems like simple enough advice but I find it very hard to follow.

So this morning I decided to heed her advice and work out. I did a fitness blender routine at home because I didn’t want to fix my hair  or fix Gus’s hair or drive to the gym or pay for the child care there.  The dogs were so puzzled and concerned.  They both laid at my feet impeding my workout and sort of whimpered. But I persisted and worked up a sweat. And it was good.

And I thought maybe I’d just keep the ball rolling on things that make me feel good and check in here. It’s been a long while and I do enjoy writing so much.  I’m a bit rusty though, so maybe I’ll just do a ten things lists.  Ten things about life right now.

  1. I keep having a recurring dream about work — I am taking care of a premie who is in an incubator.  And in report I learn that the baby both gets and gives a powerful electric shock any time any part of it’s body touches the incubator.  So every assessment is terrifying.  And every time his little foot or arm flies up during a diaper change or an NG placement, this huge arc of light fills my dream and we both get zapped.
  2. Sam was stung by a yellow jacket inside our house on Super Bowl Sunday.  That truly happened.  How was that bee alive ? And inside our home?  And inside his shirt?  In the middle of February?  I am so confused.
  3. Craig bought us tickets to a full day of screenings of Best Picture nominees.  So we are seeing 5 movies in one day.  I can’t wait.  Think how much buttered popcorn I can eat!! There are actually two days of screenings, but we can’t go to the other day.  So we’re going to piecemeal it as best we can. The one I most want to see and is not a part of our marathon day is LadyBird.
  4. The other day I worked a 16 hour shift, then went home and slept for about 5 hours, then had a regular day with my kids, then went and worked from 7pm- 3 am, then came home and dozed on the couch for 2 hours while listening to Tom Segura and then went and had an EGD done to see if my reflux may be the cause of my chronic cough (results: no reflux. chronic cough still a complete freaking mystery) and then I came home and slept for 5 hours or so and then I got up and got ready and took Sam to a basketball game where I stood behind the bleachers watching and willing myself not to collapse (whether from exhaustion or the drugs from the procedure I do not know). I came home feeling irate with Craig because that makes no sense at all. And he gently suggested that maybe I should go straight to bed. I glared at him and he sat by me, steadfast, deftly leaping over each tripwire I set in my irrational exhausted rage.  When I finally relented, he tucked me into bed sweetly and never mentioned my childishness again.
  5. Henry is obsessed with wearing cowboy boots.  I imagine we’re going to need to cut off the tips of his boots to allow his toes to poke through the ends before he will allow us to get rid of them.
  6. We are all crossing our fingers for a whopper of a snow day tomorrow.  We need a good sledding day in this family.
  7. I have been giving a good deal of thought lately to the presence of adult cliques.  They are so prevalent and it’s so so so so weird. It’s almost as weird as the bee in our house during the SuperBowl.  Just that a thing like that exists at a time and place that you thought you had gotten past it. I thought bees were done, both literally and metaphorically.  The number of grown women whose purpose seems to be to huddle up, gossip, and exclude others surprises me. Just stingers out and at the ready. I find it equally parts hilarious and depressing.
  8. I took on my first primary assignment at work.  Which means that I take care of this child most times that I go to work. I felt compelled in a very strong way to take this child as a primary assignment and I’m glad I did.  But my heart is going to break a little when they leave our unit.
  9. I am thinking that I would like to have some item to remember certain special patients by who have had a significant impact on my life and shaped me in some way as a nurse.  Those rare sort of holy nights of nursing. So far, I have two people that have impacted me this way. But I don’t know the best way to sort of keep them. Or if it’s even right or fair of me to want to.
  10. We are caught up on This is Us.  Are you?  I won’t spoil anything.  Though I think it’s odd that people call them spoilers, because we all knew from like episode 3 the fate of the character that no one wants spoiled. Who do you think is the best actor on the show?  I personally am floored by Justin Hartley.  His work in the episode called “One” was haunting.  That moment outside the apartment where he loses the necklace and is frantic and then just starts begging for help… can ANYone please just help me.  Brilliant acting.  Brilliant.

Well that’s 10.  I shall go shower and take my son to Target as promised to pick out Valentines to hand out next week at school.  Remember your Kleenex box of Valentines and how exciting it was to open them up and lay them all out?  Little thrills like that?

Hope someone sweet gives you a tiny postcard next week to remind you just how beloved you are. XOX.  Will you BEE mine?



The baby on the blanket next to mine

1 Sep

I worked four  twelve hour 7 pm to 7 am shifts in a row this past weekend. For those of you who don’t know — I’m a new RN in my first year of my first job in a level III NICU in the Chicagoland area.

By night four, I was feeling rather depressed.  I missed my kids.  I missed my husband. I missed my friends.  I missed seeing the sun.  I missed not feeling sick to my stomach with tiredness.  I missed feeling competent. I missed a lot of things beyond that too.

Plus we had a crazy high census, nonstop admissions, and sky high acuity.  In others words, we were drowning in really really sick babies. Plus, one of the babies I took care of in the past and feel rather attached to had decompensated over the last few weeks and was having a really rough few days. The emotional toll of that is excruciating for families, but it also affects staff.  And I can’t say that I was unscathed on this particular stretch of four.

So on Wednesday, I finally had a night off.  We had plans to go to Ravinia with our friends and it was a crazy beautiful night.  Megan had packed a huge basket of snacks.  We had yummy beer.  Blankets. Chairs. A cool breeze. A sunny sky. A roomy comfortable dress. Brett Dennen and John Butler Trio.  It was really shaping up to be a perfect night — with no sick babies to tend to.

On the blanket nearby, there was a mom and dad and a beautiful little baby boy who was about six months old.  He was a little roly poly and I couldn’t help but to lean over to Craig and remark about how nice it was to see a healthy little baby for a change.  I mean look at him.  He’s so perfect and round and he’s developmentally appropriate and he’s happy and engaged and I could just eat him up. The mom kinda heard me because I have an unfortunately loud voice that I seem unable to control.  She looked back at me and I said I hope you don’t mind.  Your baby is just so adorable and perfect.  I work in a NICU so it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a healthy lovely little baby.

The parents replied, “Oh really?  You work in the NICU.  He was in the NICU for 35 days!”

And eventually they brought their son over to me and set him right in my arms because they were so thankful for the work that I do (and because I couldn’t stop staring at him.)  He looked at me and he smiled and he grabbed my necklace and my cheek and my hair just like all 3 of my sons did so many times.  The parents went on to tell me that their son was on ECMO.

I nearly fell over with surprise.  That just could not be.  Not this kid.

For those of you who are not aware of what ECMO is, here is a picture (not of the baby I held, just one from the internet) of the intense level of care that a person on ECMO receives.  I would argue it is the highest level of care a person could get, and though I do not have statistics, many (most?) do not survive it.

And this little perfect human being that was about to break the chain on my necklace as he smiled into my face, had been an ECMO kid.

I cannot tell you how gratifying it was to hold that boy and to see with my own two eyes his life stretching out before him with these two loving parents.  They were such an encouragement to my bumbling new NICU nurse soul.

One thing I struggle with most in my position is that many of the necessary procedures seem painful and difficult for our patients who are the absolute most vulnerable population you could find. And though I understand clinically and intellectually why our interventions are necessary, I still have not emotionally come to grips with how it feels to implement them or with the fact that we do not actually get to know most of our patients long-term outcomes.  What happens to these babies after all of our difficult care? When they leave us, though they are healthy enough to go home, they are still newborns and the lasting impact of their stay in the NICU is not yet discernible.

The parents kept thanking me as if I had anything to do with the health of their son.  But holding that ECMO baby, their flawless son, was a gift to me.

I laid back on the blanket and watched the trees, listened to the music and let it settle in that clearly sometimes… it all works out perfectly in the end.


22 Apr

I recently found out that I have “these really wacky astigmatisms” in both of my eyes.  Apparently, they go diagonally. When I asked the doctor what it meant to have an astigmatism — especially a wacky one — he thought about it for a long time before telling me “You have fantastic sight. You see better than 90% of the population. But you see it wrong. You see it distorted. Virtually no one else sees it like you do.”  I have thought about the way he phrased it. I know he was only discussing my eyesight. But I found his phrasing simultaneously complimentary and offensive.

I’ve been re-rewatching The Office. It is really the only thing I watch on television, and has been for some time.  I have watched the entire series two times in the past several months.  Craig tries to entice me to watch something else, but I can’t stomach it.  I crave the little office where the people are so deeply flawed yet so loving and kind.  It feels nearly utopian to me. Though they are always in chaos, the people are just so good.  Like deep down, they are.  I have no tolerance lately for anything with even a drop of cruelty, violence, or mean-spiritedness. The Office makes me feel good about the human race.  Isn’t that strange?

I feel frightened by the news and have started avoiding it. It is not something I’m proud of.  Yesterday as I fell asleep I actually thought, God help me, I’ve buried my head in the sand. Social media makes me physically ill sometimes.  And work can be quite beautiful some nights and then the next be an absolute horror. The other night I left and thought, I just got paid to torture a baby and wondered if God would forgive me. Some people would say we saved that baby’s life.  And we did – for that night anyway.  But I did not leave with a feeling of pride. I left with a great shame for what we did to that sweet child.

It’s odd. In the moment of care, I am so focused on the tasks and on accomplishing them in the correct way and on time and understanding why they are necessary for the patient’s care that it occurs almost entirely out of context from the child I am treating. Like “I am trying to get an IV.  And I need these supplies. And I need to do these steps. And I am getting the IV because the child needs this medicine.  The child needs this medicine because he has this problem. And I am going to monitor these things once the medicine goes in… and so on.” And then when I step out to my car and ride home, I think of the 35 little tasks that we did and put the whole picture together and feel repelled by what I put the baby through. But then I feel confused because it was necessary to keep the baby alive.  Which is the goal. Usually.  Except for when it shouldn’t be the goal anymore.

I work in a unit that treats exceptionally ill infants. And I am a new nurse. So you can imagine that I’m still really fumbling around how to make sense out of my vocation. It’s going to take some time. And in the meantime, The Office helps.

Tonight, my son went to his first Scout weekend campout.  He went with a group of boys that he really doesn’t know and he went without either of us. Isn’t he brave?

When I was lying in bed tonight reading to Henry and Gus, I felt such a wave of gratitude. Usually by the time bedtime rolls around I am just so tired and eager to tuck them in and turn off the lights and have a moment to myself.  But not tonight. Tonight, while I read, I just thought My God, how did I get so lucky to be lying in this soft bed next to these two warm, bright, happy children reading them this silly book? The smell of their clean hair. The softness of their arms pressed up against me. The sound of Gus sucking on his fingers. The little laughs at the pictures and funny voices I made. It all washed over me like a wave and I let it pull me under knowing that the little moment of zen would be brief.

Sometimes I wish that I had more lightness in my thoughts. It’s not that my thoughts are always sad. In fact, mostly, they are not. But I do feel like they always have a weight that can be burdensome — a gravity. And it would be nice, every once in a while, to just float in my own thoughts. Easy and light.

The eye doctor says no glasses yet. Not until I need my readers.  He says “if your wacky astigmatisms don’t bother you, there is no reason to fix them.  Because you see absolutely perfectly. You just see it wrong.”