“Borges and I”

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I’m glad this story was merely a single page because I had to read it several times to fully understand it. How can something so brief manage to be so complex, powerful and true? The more I analyzed it the more I understood what Borges was trying to say and I’m glad because what he wrote rang true for me.

This week’s lecture on Setting and Atmosphere says: “Does “Borges and I” have a setting? In a traditional manner, no, but it does project a sort of “outer envelope” that surrounds the text, an atmosphere of thought. The setting might be somewhat invisible, but not non-existent. Perhaps it is what thinking might look like, a kind of dream space. And there are objects and details for the reader to zoom in on: “the arch of an entry,” “the portal of a church,” “the clumsy plucking of a guitar” (Borges 277). If not the mind, maybe time itself is the setting of this very short piece, or a human soul.”

This made a great deal of sense to me. The setting is in the author’s head and his subconscious mind. It exists but not in the same way a city exists. It exists in his mind.

“Borges and I” describes a kind of internal struggle that the author feels between his private and public selves, between what he writes and who he is, between his thoughts and how he expresses them. It’s a way of putting into words what we cannot actually see, hear or touch. How does one describe something that exists only in the mind?

He says: “It would be an exaggeration to consider our relationship hostile. I live, I agree to go on living, so that Borges may fashion his literature; that literature justifies me.” It seemed to me almost as though the author is admitting he’s depressed. He defines himself by his writing and so much so that he would cease to exist without it. It’s not just how he defines himself but it’s also what he lives for. That’s profound.

It’s beyond deep and, yet, I bet every writer can relate to this feeling on some level.

This story made me think of my own story. Not just the stories I write but also the one I’m living. I’d been writing full time for two years when my daughter was born. She wasn’t home a week and I was pitching one novel and writing another. Postpartum depression set in and even thought I fought it and denied it, on some level I knew it was there. Still, to his day, I’m unsure if the depression was entirely a result of childbirth and the lack of sleep that comes with it or the onslaught of rejections that come hand in hand with pitching a first manuscript. It was probably a combination but I knew I had to embrace my feelings in order to get through it. Family and friends urged me to take a break from writing but I knew I couldn’t stop writing because it would have been like killing the part of me that made me who I am.

Writing isn’t just a profession or a hobby, it’s an existence. It’s not just what we are—it’s who we are. We are defined by the words we put on paper as if we gave birth to them.

Borges writes: “Little by little I am surrendering everything to him, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of falsifying and exaggerating.” This brought me right back to Prose and what she says about “good liars.” In a way, writers of fiction are liars in that we are making up stories and telling them in such a way that the make-believe becomes believable. Good writers are able to pull this off much like “good liars” are able to seem genuine.

 

Mommy Confession: Clipping Toenails

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I enjoy clipping my daughter’s toenails.

There I said it. It’s weird, I know.

But when she was an infant, she and I were both afraid of the activity. And by afraid, I mean totally freaked out beyond belief to the point of paralysis. I absolutely dreaded having to clip her fingernails and toenails. I was convinced I’d accidentally clip off an imperative appendage or at the very least make her bleed. I pictured a slasher film with blood spurting and spewing everywhere. I got lightheaded at the thought of it. Come to think of it, I’m feeling a bit queasy now. She didn’t seem thrilled either… maybe she was reading my mind.

Back then, to get through it, I’d do all necessary clipping during nap time. She was relaxed. I was (almost) relaxed. We got through it together. At times, I’d skip the clipping altogether and use an emery board to file her nails instead. Once in a while, my husband would offer to do it for me but the thought of him doing it scared me even more. I’m a weirdo… I totally get that.

But even weirder? When Lyla turned 2, she started asking me to clip her nails. I was like, “Huh? You want me to do it?” She’d reply, “Please, Mommy, please!”

How could I turn her down?

There was a time in my life, a long time ago, when even the thought of someone else’s feet grossed me out. I certainly didn’t want to touch them. Ew. In fact, it took me an even longer time to let anyone touch mine. I did eventually develop a taste (for lack of a better word) for pedicures… most women eventually do, I imagine. There’s just something about being primped and pampered without having to move a muscle. It’s wonderful.

But one day, when I was pregnant and unable to reach my own toes, a spa technician cut me during a pedicure and that completely killed the relaxation… possibly forever. I still shutter and flinch at the thought of it.

So when Lyla asked me to clip her toenails, it freaked me out. What a little weirdo! But she’s my little weirdo so; somehow, I worked up the nerve and clipped away. I started out taking baby steps, no pun intended, by clipping just a teensy bit here and there. But the brave little thrill-seeker pushed me to clip more and more until her nails were actually, well, well-manicured.

I thought that was a once in a lifetime moment. No way would she make the same request again. Right? But then, a few days later, she asked again. And I obliged. And, since that first time, she now comes to me (at least) once a week and asks for her toddler mani/pedi from Mommy. And I’ve started to look forward to this, perhaps oddly untraditional, bonding time with her.

She points to a toe or a finger and says, “Clip this one!” Then she giggles as I clip and then she selects another. I’ve even learned to relax with it and, while I’m still very careful and meticulous with clipper in-hand, I’m no longer irrationally fearful of sneezing and accidentally cutting her arms and legs off. I even throw in a free foot massage, at no extra cost. She loves those, too.

These days, not only does she request her manis and pedis on a regular basis, but she also picks out her own lotions for her massages and she even lets me paint her nails, too. She’s turning into a bit of a diva while I’m turning into a self-proclaimed skillful nail technician.

So I confess…

I’ve developed a bit of a foot and hand fetish. But only with Lyla. I enjoy clipping, filing, massaging and painting her little fingers and toes. I cherish all of our special moments together and I look forward to someday taking her to a real spa and having “Mommy & Me” manis, pedis and massages together.

I love my little girl.

“OK, you can flush now!”

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There are many words and phrases which surge me with feelings of joy. I am a word nerd, after all. And certain words and phrases cut through the melancholy and get right to the heart of the matter, blessing my life with smiles and laughter.

Every once in a while I like to post a list of my favorites (and least favorites). For example, hearing my husband say “I love you” or my daughter say “mommy” never cease to make me smile.

While hearing the word “peanuts” used in a sentence always makes me giggle, no matter the context. Go on, say it and see if you can keep a straight face. If you can, maybe your mind’s not as dirty as mine.

“That’s the best cupcake I’ve ever tasted” fills me with pride (if I was the baker of said cupcake) and “You were right” feels so damn good. “You can do it” suddenly invokes confidence while “Let’s do it” invokes, well, something else.

Certain words, like “Spring” and “Sunshine” and phrases like “Your child is beautiful” or “You’re my best friend” just have a certain… I don’t know what… but I know they make me feel happy. I have a very long ever-growing list of go-to words and phrases in my mind that just feel good to hear and make me feel suddenly optimistic. They are like little triggers of happiness.

Recently, my house had a problem. It was… how can I put this delicately? Constipated. Not the people in it but the house itself. We had a plumbing issue and the whole place was backed up.

We tried all the usual methods: Drano, plunger, prayer. But nothing worked. So we gave in and called a plumber. He came yesterday and even with his 90 foot (yowza!) snake, he couldn’t satisfy the situation. While he couldn’t get our pipes working properly, he didn’t charge us either (that probably only happens in Iowa) — Nope, not even for his time. Instead he recommended another plumber… one with an even longer, ah-em, snake.

After several days of rotten smells and nasty liquids (and other foul grossness) backing up from our pipes and flooding our laundry room, the man with the biggest snake I’ve ever seen worked his magic this morning and made me the happiest girl in the world when he added a new phrase to my list of favorites…

“OK, you can flush now!”

Another Thing About PKD

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I recently caught a pretty gnarly case of the Flu. My whole family had it. Your whole family probably had it, too. Unfortunately, it’s been going around. In my house, my husband had it first and then I made the mistake of wishing it upon myself.

I said, “I wish I could take it away from you.”

I was being sincere, too. I really love him and if one of us had to be sick, I’d want it to be me. But the problem with wishing is that if you’re not specific enough, the funny little wish fairies like to play practical jokes. Sure, I got the Flu from him precisely as requested. But I got it after he was already done with it. That’s obviously not what I meant! Effing wish fairies! Oh well. No use crying over spilt wishes. But be careful what you wish for… alright?

The worst part, for me, wasn’t the Flu itself. Don’t get me wrong; that part sucked. Is it just me or does it seem like the Flu gets worse year after year? Bigger. Meaner. Stronger. Faster. It’s like the Flu is on steroids. Or maybe it’s being produced by Nike… or perhaps Gatorade would make more sense. I don’t know. But, like I said, the Flu wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the kidney infection that the Flu caused.

All that vomiting and diarrhea (Yay! Nothing says Happy New Year like some quality toilet time) took its toll. I’d become pretty dehydrated. And the dehydration negatively affected my kidneys, possibly rupturing one or more of my cysts in the process. When kidneys lack water, they contract. For people with PKD, this causes the cysts to run out of space and press into one another, causing more cysts to form and rupturing some of the cysts which already exist. This causes blood to form in the kidneys, in turn, causing the kidney infection.

Ugh. Kidney infections, if you’ve never had one, are very painful. And they can be difficult to diagnose because the pain doesn’t always originate where you might expect. For example, while I regularly have some level of pain in my lower back and flank areas, where the kidneys are located, when the infections come on, I tend to get a severe pain in my upper stomach area. It’s an awful, debilitating pain that comes and goes and it has a childbirth-contractions-like quality. And much like the Flu, it arrives bearing gifts such as fever, chills and body aches.

At first, I just thought this was some sort of Super Flu (picture regular Flu but with a cape and tights). But soon, I couldn’t stand up. It didn’t take me long to realize what was happening. This isn’t my first PKD rodeo.

I can’t complain. It’s been awhile since I’d had an infection like this. But I’ve been through this before and I know the routine. During my kidney infection sabbatical, if you will, I started feeling invincible. I’ve almost allowed myself to forget altogether that I have this disease. Even though I’ve been drinking my gallon of water a day, as prescribed by my super awesome nephrologist, and I’ve been doing my best to stick to the rules and manage the situation through holistic methods, like yoga and positive energy, I’d somehow forgotten that there are times, like now, when a tougher, more hands-on approach is required.

Hands-down the most effective hands-on treatment for a kidney infection is the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin (AKA: Cipro). It gets into the kidneys and really kicks some kidney infection ass. So I’ve started my 14 days. It’s only a matter of time. Cipro comes with its own sucky side effects, but at least it gets rid of the kidney infection.

While I admit that this sucks (and oh boy does it suck!), I also know there are far worse things and far greater struggles. It’s just another one of those things in life that, while painful, eventually pass (much like gas or kidney stones or bad hair days). This is just a blip in the overall scheme of things. I say that to my friends and family when they’re having bad days or are dealing with issues, mistakes or crappy circumstances which are out of their control. It always seems to make them feel better. And it’s true.

So now I’m saying the same thing to myself.

This is just a blip. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s all. This too shall pass.

And would you look at that? I’m already starting to feel better.

Seeing the Good in Some Not-So-Good News

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I received some not-so-good news the other day regarding the current status of my kidneys. It wasn’t the worst news in the world, but it caught me off-guard and hit me pretty hard. For a moment there, I was down and out about it.

Thanks to some soul searching and a few punches in the arm from some very good friends, I’m feeling much better now.

Basically, my latest labs came back and there was a higher-than-usual amount of blood found in my kidneys. This is most likely a sign that some of my cysts ruptured. It sounds scary, and in a way it is, but it is also pretty standard stuff when it comes to Polycystic Kidney Disease.

I was told that I needed to make additional life changes in order to slow down the rate of my kidney digression. If my kidneys continue getting worse in the next 6 months, my doctor may want to put me on long-term, potentially permanent medication. Something you should know… I don’t like taking any medicine (cold medicine, Tylenol, anything) or putting any chemicals (aside from alcohol but that doesn’t count) into my body. And I hate the thought of being on medication permanently. It’s just not me.

None of this should have or would have upset me. Under normal circumstances, I would have waved my “Philly” finger (that’s the middle one for those not in the know) in the air and said “you’re not the boss of me!” then, I would have simply gone to one extreme or another to prove my doctor wrong. Because that’s what I do. But there was more to it.

The part that upset me was when my doctor said that if my kidneys get worse or if I go on the medication, then I wouldn’t be able to have more children.

To quote my husband, “Well, ain’t that the drizzling shits?!”

Now I could take the easy route and simply “say no to drugs” and hope for the best, but if my kidneys get worse I probably won’t be able to have more children anyway. My kidneys might not be able to handle it. This feels like one of those damned if I do, damned if I don’t situations. I hate those.

Now, the thing is, I have no idea whether or not I even want more children. I know that I love the one I have more than anything in the world. I know I wouldn’t trade her for all the tea in China (or chocolate in Switzerland, or anything else anywhere else for that matter). She is the second greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

But do I want more children? Now? Later? Someday?

Oh, I don’t know. But I do know that I don’t want to be told that I can’t.

So I’ve done some extreme soul searching. Well, first I had a bowl of ice cream to soothe my aching heart but when I quickly realized that wasn’t helping then I jumped right into the soul searching.

I cried… I ranted and raved… I meditated… I got over it.

I am not ready to make any huge life decisions. I’m not quite ready for a new kidney or another child. I’m not sure if or when I will be ready for either. If something changes or if one or the other happens to happen while I’m still trying to get ready, well then I’ll hurry up and get ready.

And, you’d better believe, I will embrace every change that comes my way and love my life and everything and everyone in it no matter what.

Of course, it probably goes without saying that, I’m not ready to give up. That’s not how I roll. So, instead, I’ll try harder because that’s what we do when we know that quality (and quantity) of life is the most important thing.

For the sake of my life and for the sake of those I love and who love me, I will make additional changes.

It’s not going to be easy. But it’s the least I can do, really.

What’s That Smell?

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For an entire afternoon, I searched for a very bad smell that seemed to be following me everywhere. It wasn’t until later when I realized…

Yep, it was me.

Isn’t that the worst? Deny if you must, but I’m sure we’ve all been there. Or been “it” for that matter.

Nobody wants to admit being the source of the bad smell. But it happens. So I feel obligated to admit it when it happens to me. I’m occasionally the bad smell. I might as well fess up. There have been times when I’ve skipped a shower, forgotten to apply deodorant or when I’ve passed the point of being able to deny a passing of gas or blame the person next to me – with a straight face anyway. So what? Bad smells happens to everyone!

And since becoming a mom, the smells are far worse than they used to be. I’ve smelled of sour milk, formula, strained peas, vomit, urine, day-old apple juice. Show me a mom who hasn’t?

But this time was worse. It was poop. Gross, I know! Let me explain…

My daughter is going through a pre-potty training phase where she often feels the urgency to rip her diaper off and run around. Ordinarily, this is adorable and funny. If watching a toddler run bear-butted and free, giggling in joy, doesn’t bring a smile to your face then you’re simply not human, or you’re probably not the child’s mommy anyway! Toddler tushies are priceless and, yes, I’ve taken photos and even video of my own toddler’s tush. I hold myself back from posting the pictures in any public forum, on FaceBook or showing them off to friends and strangers. But I have them and I plan to keep them. Someday I vow to embarrass her with them.

But this particular time wasn’t quite so adorable. This time, the diaper was full of poop when she tore it off and before I had a chance to stop it from happening it was already all over her, me, our clothes and everything else!

Of course we removed the soiled clothing, soaked, showered and scrubbed the poop off. Then while she napped (pooped from all the pooping, I guess), I scrubbed the floors and walls. Then I showered again.

It wasn’t until later – much, much later, when I realized I must have missed a spot. And, for the record, there’s no such thing as missing just a spot when the topic is poop because that “spot” followed us around all day. It was everywhere. To be honest, I did not think for a second that it was me. But it was.

While Lyla slept, I continued to clean and disinfect and even lit a candle and opened the windows to air out the place. When she woke up, we went for a long walk on the beach and every now and then I swore I still smelled it – when the wind was just right. I didn’t think much of it, thought it was my imagination rather than a real lingering smell. Later, we ran a few errands together and made a trip for groceries. I’d put the moment and the smell behind us. Or at least that’s what I thought. But in the supermarket, I smelled it again. And others smelled it too. I saw them scrunching their noses in the classic ‘what’s that smell?’ fashion. I scrunched mine back as if to say I smelled it too. Still not wanting to go back home post-poop-episode, we decided to grab a smoothie and a Happy Meal (Lyla loves fries, but who doesn’t?). I swore I smelled it in line, but ignorantly assumed it was someone else. Finally, after enough time had passed for the coast to clear, we went back home.

Then the doorbell rang. It was UPS ironically dropping off a shipment from diapers dot com.

I answered and I could tell immediately the UPS guy smelled it too. He didn’t even try to hide his expression as he literally turned his nose up at me. The smell must have smacked him right in the face when I opened the door. Or maybe he saw the actual spot. He didn’t say one way or the other so I still can’t be sure. Although unlikely, it’s entirely possible because as it turns out he came face to face with it. In fact, his face was almost as close to “it” as mine.

After signing for the package and shutting the door, I noticed the smell was still there. I must have missed a spot, I thought to myself. But where? It seemed to have been following me around all day. That could only mean one thing. It had to be on me.

That’s when I realized a teensy tiny speck of my child’s feces was on my glasses. It had been there the whole time. I’m not entirely sure how it got there or how I failed to notice it. It must have either splattered up onto the wire frame of my glasses (better there than in my eye!) or perhaps my daughter touched my glasses (better them than my face!) with her poopy hands while I focused on cleaning her up. I’d obviously removed them from my face prior to showering but didn’t even think about checking before putting them back on my face. Why would I? To my knowledge, I’ve never before had poop on my own glasses. But there’s a first time for everything, I guess.

So the spot I’d missed was literally right before (or beside) my eyes the entire time.

Next time I smell a bad smell, I’ll know to check there first!

Happy PKD Day!

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Today is PKD Day. March is Kidney Month. March 12th was World Kidney Day. This reminds me of how I like to celebrate my birthday. November 11th is my actual birthday, but every day when the clock says 11:11, I have mini celebrations. Then, come November, I like to celebrate all month long!

So why not celebrate my kidneys for a whole month too?

I have plenty to celebrate. After waiting a year to take the MRI I blogged about a few blogs ago, my results came back and my wonderful doctor said my kidneys look pretty much the same as they did a year ago! Mind you, they didn’t look great a year ago. They were already each three times the size of a “normal” kidney due to swelling and cyst growth. BUT, they haven’t gotten any worse, and I’m so happy!

I feel like I won the lottery! I’ve cried several times since hearing this news. The news means so much…

It means I have more time. More time to enjoy my current kidneys, even the left one – the one I complain about regularly (it has a tendency toward being a jerk). More time to do the things I want to do and enjoy my life in its current status with my current kidneys before having to think about the possible next step. Chances are strong that I will someday receive a donated kidney, quite possibly from a loved one. Kidney transplants do not frighten me. They are highly successful and highly necessary. But, I’d still like to put it off (for me and for my future donor) as long as possible. But if and when the time comes, I will not hesitate. I love life, and I will do whatever it takes to live.

It means that if my husband and I decide to have another baby, we can do so without worrying too much about whether or not my kidneys can handle it. Now, I have a little more faith in them. Of course, that road won’t be easy. It comes with complications worth discussing. Estrogen increases cyst growth, and getting knocked up releases a flood of estrogen. Kidney infections are typically treated with Cipro (Ciprofloxacin), a very strong antibiotic that’s a definite no-no for fetuses, preggos, infants and nursing mommies. If I was to get an infection along the way, and chances are that I’d get at least three, I’d have to be hospitalized and hooked up to an IV to treat the infection. It’s a lot to think about. We haven’t decided yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

It means that we’ve been doing something right. Research shows that water is important and on recommendation from my doctor, I’ve been drinking a gallon of water a day to flush and saturate my kidneys. Also, animal protein has been linked to harming the kidneys and speeding up cyst growth. So, originally, I switched to a 100% vegetarian lifestyle. After six months or so, my husband and I started incorporating fish and important meats, like bacon, back into our diet. Let me tell you, a little bacon really makes a veggie burger sing! Now, we’ve found our balance. We eat mostly veggies and fish, occasionally incorporating meats and poultries. It works for us. And (knock on wood) it seems to be working for my kidneys.

My husband, Jason, is a Godsend. He walks with me and holds my hand through all of the crazy things this crazy life brings. He has since the day we met. Since my first Walk for PKD last year, he has been wearing a yellow “Donate Life” bracelet. He never takes it off. He loves meat (He’s a man! Plus, he’s from Omaha!), but he didn’t hesitate to give it up with me, for me. Of course, I picture him binging on burgers and Slim Jims in his car on his way to work and whenever I’m not around, but that’s OK. In similar fashion, he’d previously supported every silly diet I did back before being diagnosed, from every detox diet to Atkins (very bad for kidney function by the way!), so why stop now? I’ve said it before and I’ll never stop saying it, my husband is the most amazing man on the planet! If it wasn’t for him… well, I don’t even want to think about it.

For people with Polycystic Kidney Disease, everyday is PKD Day. If you or your loved ones have a disease, any disease, you have it and are affected by it every day. Whether or not you have PKD, please celebrate with me this month. And, celebrate YOU and your life every day. Celebrate each and every opportunity you’ve been given. Celebrate your birthday, the month of your birth, the time you were born. Celebrate sunrise and sunset each and every day. Love your life and everyone in it.

We must appreciate the wonderful people in our lives and the time we have been given to spend with them. This life is a gift, a blessing, a miracle. However you choose to define it, it’s pretty stinkin’ awesome, and we have every reason and every right to celebrate.

So, happy PKD Day! Happy Every Day!