Tag Archives: caring for cancer patient

Now, THIS is crazy!

28 Jun

Image from Zazzle.com

It’s Father’s Day. I’m sitting with my Dad on the patio.

“How are you, Dad?” I ask.

“Not very good,” he says, looking down at his hands. I’ve never seen him this sad.

“Your mother rejected me,” he says and tells me, through tears, that my mother left him.

I start to cry, not knowing which is worse, telling my father that my mother died nearly four years ago or letting him believe she’s still alive and left him.

“Dad,” I say, as gently as I can, “Mom’s dead. She died almost four years ago. She would never leave you.” He looks up, confused. He’s confused nearly all the time now.

“You took such good care of her, do you remember that?” He’s trying. “She had emphysema and you took such good care of her. She was just too sick. We had to let her go, Dad.” I wonder if he remembers making the decision ending life support. He believes me. He believes and he’s sad, but he’s calmer.

I visit my dad every week these days, but I never know where it’ll be. Last week, it was Denver. He was waiting at his hotel, while my mother and grandmother shopped for houses. They’d come to Denver for a convention, something they did a lot. Traveling to conventions, that is, not traveling to Denver. He seemed anxious about buying yet another house, but he’d never really been able to say “No” to my mother. I told him I knew the feeling.

Another visit saw us in Hong Kong, having dinner with a group of executives my dad clearly didn’t like because they’d kidnapped me. Yet another visit saw us in Rochester at a bicycle factory. There was our visit in an undisclosed location in Romania, where my dad told me he was forced to sit on a minaret to escape the men trying to capture him in Saudi Arabia. Recently, my sister married the Shah of Iraq, so we have an Arabian theme going lately.

My dad’s delusions are nothing compared to the other residents. There’s the woman who gathers all of the baby dolls and stuffed animals and arrays them on a table. She dresses them all and sets them down to sleep then complains about how she has so many babies to care for. There’s the 105-year old woman who was once a singer. She still tries to sing but it comes out as screeching wails. There’s the woman who sits quietly and, when she catches your eye doesn’t say “Hello,” but “I’m afraid.” “Afraid of what?” I asked. “Of dying,” she replied.

It’s hard not to make the leap to The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or whatever look-inside-the-loony-bin movie was popular in your particular generation. This, after all, is what crazy people are and do.

But I know better. My father and his housemates aren’t nuts. They have a terrible disease that literally eats at their brains, destroying the web that connects a lifetime of accumulated memory and leaving them with a stew of thought they continually try to make sense of.

No. They are not crazy; I am. At least, that’s what my society says. I have bipolar disorder; I am bipolar. I never know which description to use, so I use both. But no matter how I reveal my condition, I get a universal reaction, spoken or no. “That chick is crazy.” Someone even told me, “Wow. You’d never know to look at you!”

I suppose that’s a compliment; the self-harming, judgmental thoughts, over-spending and insomnia don’t show on my face. Of course, the medication helps. More likely, it’s an indication of how crazy Americans are about mental illness.

I happen to come from a family of crazies. Alcoholism, schizophrenia, drug abuse were things I learned about early. None of the crazies looked crazy. Well, ok, the schizophrenic lived in another state, so I didn’t see him very often and can’t really say he never looked crazy. Still, “you’d never know to look” at any of them that they lived with demons.

So, I don’t usually tell people I’m bipolar, though I’ve been doing it more often lately. Maybe it was the “you don’t look” it comment; maybe it’s my own growing acceptance. I’ve been more active in the blogosphere lately and the anonymity it affords makes it easier for crazies to hang out and connect with each other.

In America, you can pretty much tell who’s a flag-waving conservative by, well, the flags waving on their houses. I decided, some time ago, to take back the flag. This is my country, too, I thought, and hung the flag on our porch.

So, I’m taking back crazy. I’m a mom, a writer and a teacher. I have two great kids and the obligatory pets that go along with living in one of America’s most famous suburbs. I’m happily married.

This is what crazy looks like, people.

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Death Becomes Dad

19 Apr

It’s the middle of the night. My dad is up from his bed, again. He does this every night, getting out of the bed for any of a number of reasons. Sometimes he just needs to pee. Sometimes something about his bed is bothering him.

“What’s going on, Dad?” I’ll ask. “Nothing,” he says. “I just have to get away from that bad environment.” I have no idea what it is about his bed that makes it a bad environment. It adjusts to make him as comfortable as possible. He can sleep with his head elevated. He can sleep with his feet elevated. He can sleep with his head and feel elevated so much that he’s almost in a fetal position.

Tonight, though, is different. Tonight, he’s not getting away from something. Tonight, he’s getting ready to go somewhere. He walks into the bathroom and washes his face then carefully combs his hair, the things he does every morning. But it’s 2 a.m., about four hours before he usually does these things. So, I ask, “What’s going on, Dad?”

“I’m getting ready,” he says.

“What are you getting ready for, Dad?”

“A meeting. I’ve got a big meeting with an architect.”

“Where are you meeting an architect, Dad?”

“Downtown,” he says, clearly agitated. Of course, the meeting is downtown. He went downtown to his office everyday for years. I should know this, he seems to be saying as he glowers at me. In his world, I’m the delusional one.

“There’s a meeting tomorrow, Dad. But it’s with your doctor. It’s Sunday, Dad.”

“Okay,” he says in a tone that indicates what I’ve said is clearly not ok. He throws his hands up in frustration.

Fast-forward two months. Dad’s in a nursing home now. His cancer is in remission. The medical kick in the teeth, though, is that he’s dying. Somehow, the chemo, the radiation, the nights my sibs and I spent tending him weren’t enough. He has dementia, pneumonia, urinary retention, leaking heart valves. He might as well have the cancer back.

I know my dad is dying because someone told me. I couldn’t figure this out on my own. That makes me feel stupid. Dying is huge; how can I have missed this? But I am a rational human. When the palliative care professionals tell us that Dad is not likely to get better than he is right now, I believe them.  At least, I believe them enough to tell them I believe them. Then I go home and do what I always do: I google “dying.”

Of course, the Kubler Ross stuff came up, but that’s not what I needed to know. Anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. I know where the anger is going: straight to my husband who gets to deal with me railing against whatever I am railing against at the moment. It’s never that my dad is dying. People die. Getting mad about Dad dying seems ridiculous; getting mad because my son did something bone-headed and my husband let him get away with it makes perfect sense.

I’m down with the denial, too. Dad’s not dying; he’s got pneumonia and he’ll get better. He’s got dementia but at least he thinks I’m my cousin, who has a vague resemblance to me even with that New Jersey accent. His cancer is in remission. It’s a beautiful day. Nobody dies on beautiful spring days, never mind that Mom died on a beautiful summer day.

Bargaining? Does promising myself to call more often count? Does taking the kids out of school to visit Grandpa count?

Acceptance? Getting there . . . and part of getting there is getting to know what it is I’m accepting. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I would mysteriously become paralyzingly depressed. Then, just as mysteriously, I would feel better. A lot better. Then, out of the blue, I’d be blue. A diagnosis isn’t a cure, but at least I know what I’m dealing with now. I’m not making it up when I can’t get out of bed. I’m not a stress monkey when I can’t get to sleep. The cycles make sense and the medication makes it easier.

Getting to know death—at least what constitutes dying—has me ticking off the items on the Diagnosis: Death checklist.  Eating less. Check. Sleeping more. Check. Seeing friends and family who aren’t there. Check. Pneumonia. Check. Getting ready to go somewhere important. Check.

I’ve read that many dying people believe there is something very important they must do. Not like, “Oh, I have to apologize to the neighbor for calling him a son of a bitch for years.” Not that kind of thing. Here is how Ulla Mentzel, of A Good Dying, describes it:

A man who loves to sail might ask us to get the map. The all important map. Don’t you know? It’s in the drawer over there.

A soccer player might draw a playing field with an arrow pointing outside the field. Getting ready to leave the playing field.

A farmer might tell you that she has to take the cows into a different field. The one over the hill. It is very important to take them. Soon.

I’ve said more than once that I’d rather be shot in the head than live the way my father is now. “If I can’t walk, can’t remember who you are, drool, wet my pants, poop in my pants, forget to put on my pants,” I said, “put me out of my misery.”

I realize I am a coward and I should have known it. I call myself a Buddhist but I don’t meditate regularly and I am frequently not in the moment. Still, I know that dying is part of living. I place flowers on an altar every week or so. They bloom, they fragrance the house. I leave them in the vase. Their petals droop, then fall until there is nothing on the stem but a flower head. I leave them on the altar. Finally, when they are dry, I take them out of the vase. The cleaning lady admires them when they are fresh, then advocates their removal when they die. But I know, now, that they were dying all along.

Bras, Condoms and a Drive in the Country

22 Mar

In the past week, I went for a drive, shopped for extra-large condoms and bought a training bra, all in the name of helping others. Before you picture me doing favors for unfortunate strangers though, I should note that these were not random acts of kindness. Each of the others I helped is intimately related to me.

From the time I became a mother, helping others has been a primary focus of my life. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I’ve even resented it. Babies can’t feed themselves, change their own diapers, move themselves from place to place. And they can’t control when they need any of those things done. They don’t care if you haven’t slept more than two hours at a time since they were born. They need what they need when they need it and, if you’re any kind of decent parent, you help them get it.

Aging parents are, indeed, like children. Right now, my dad needs help moving from place to place, dealing with toileting and even feeding himself. The difference between caring for him and caring for my babies? Dad does care about who’s caring for him. He knows it’s tough and apologizes regularly. I sometimes wish he wouldn’t, but in the middle of a night where he’s gotten up three or four times convinced he needs to get ready for a meeting with an architect, it helps.

Being cute is a baby’s way of making its care less onerous. Dad has a sense of humor and even when he’s not trying, provides ample amusement. He can’t seem to remember his surgeon’s name, so calls him everything from Dr. Ballerina to Dr. Bubbalongname. The doctor’s name is Billimoria, but Dad’s names for him make me laugh, so I call him Bubbalongname, too.

Amusing Dad is far more difficult for me than caring for him. He doesn’t read, can’t really walk far, favors watching golf over cooking shows and doesn’t want to learn how to knit. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years; I have no idea what to do there anymore. Neither does Dad.

There is one thing Dad has always loved to do though: go for a drive. Since I was a child, Dad’s been driving. Vacations were spent driving from Illinois to Florida, a two-day trip that Dad relished. I realize now that the drive was probably the most enjoyable part for Dad and not just for the thrill of making good time.

Dad loves driving for the process, not the destination. He doesn’t care where he’s going, as long as he’s going. I am goal driven; I hate the process. At the end of a long drive, there better be something worth my while because I’ve just spent a good deal of precious time doing nothing. So, getting in the car and having Dad say, “Drive out Route 14,” then promptly fall asleep is my idea of hell. Still, I get on 14 and drive, passing numerous turnoffs that look to offer promising destinations. Dad needs help satisfying his wanderlust and I provide it.

Helping my son has become complicated and conflict-ridden. This brings us to the condoms. Sometime ago, I bought my son a box of condoms, intending that he would check them out in order to be familiar with them when the time—preferably far, far in the future—came. There were three. He took one to school, put it (wrapped) in a friend’s sandwich and enjoyed the hilarity that ensued.

So, there were two condoms in my son’s side table drawer for quite a while. And then there was a girl friend. And then there was one condom. That afternoon, I met my son in the driveway and said, “Get in the car. I need to talk to you.” “Why?” he asked. “Get in the car,” I said. “We’ll go get ice cream.” Maybe my Dad is onto something with the driving thing, but a car ride is my go to parenting tactic when I need to confront—I mean—talk to, my son.

In the catalog of things a mother doesn’t want to hear, I think “I didn’t use it because it didn’t fit” is way up there with “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” and “You can’t get addicted to heroin with just one use.” I still can’t figure out how a condom doesn’t fit, but my son was insistent and is gloating about it to his dad. I find this rather unseemly, but figure that’s between the boys. In addition to stern lectures and profound disappointment, I provided condoms that should be large enough for my son, ego included. If he doesn’t improve his grades, I suppose Porn Star could be his fallback career.

And now we come to the training bra. My daughter is perched precariously on the verge of puberty. She can be as smart-mouthed as her older brother one minute and talking baby talk the next. She’s convinced she’s beginning to bud, but her pediatrician and I disagree. Still she’s tremendously modest and I was reminded of this when her shirt obeyed the laws of gravity, revealing most of her upper body as she hung upside down from the neighbor’s monkey bar. We hustled off to Target and secured “bralettes,” which are actually more like cut-off camisoles than bras.

She was understandably and adorably eager to wear one when we got home. In her haste to remove her shirt, she got stuck with it half over her head. Helping her was so easy, I nearly cried; I untied the sash she’d forgotten about. She popped on the bralette, threw on her shirt and ran outside, shouting, “I’m wearing a sport bra!”

The day will come when I need help the way my loved ones do now. I hope it’s later, rather than sooner. When it does, I hope it doesn’t involve extra-large condoms and training bras.

Don’t Hold The Mayo

1 Mar

I never really liked sandwiches. I was a hot lunch kid in elementary school, although this may have had something to do with my mother’s great distaste for cooking of any kind. I still would rather eat something that requires a knife and fork than a variation on the Earl’s invention, with the exception of the exceptional BLT from Buzz Café in Oak Park.

So I am more than a little annoyed to find myself part of the Sandwich Generation, that lucky group of people taking care of aging—and often ill—parents, while still nurturing nested offspring. In the words of me, it sucks.

It wouldn’t be so bad, I think, if it just sucked for me, but it sucks for everyone involved.

Let’s take the aging, ill parent. The ham and cheese in his sandwich scenario, he’s slogging through chemo, radiation, insomnia, tremors, muscle rigidity, chemically-induced anorexia, nightly enteric feeding because of the anorexia, and boredom. He’s on a break from cancer treatment, a little physical vacation in preparation for massive reconstruction of his digestive system to remove the tumor from his esophagus.

The whole wheat and white bread holding his life together are my sister and brother, respectively. They do the heavy lifting, which often requires heavy lifting, of caring for Dad during the week. This consisted of driving him to doctors’ offices, hospitals and treatment centers, preparing his meals, coaxing him to eat his meals, and attempting to keep him awake during the day so he would sleep at night.

With the break from treatments, there is nothing much to break up the day, so now my sibs are looking for things to keep from shooting themselves in the head out of  boredom while providing a stimulating environment for Dad. My sister, an artist, has developed a homegrown art therapy program that consists of her encouraging his artistic talents through watercolor painting. My father is an engineer by training. My sister sets the stage, supplying Dad with brushes, paper and water. She encourages him, saying things like, “Dad, you really have a feel for the materials.” Dad, playing along because he’s that kind of guy, says something like, “My heart isn’t in this.” My sister then posts Dad’s artwork to Facebook, titling it “My heart isn’t in this.” Everyone’s happy-ish.

As boring as the days may be, the nights are full of activity. For the first two or three hours after hitting the hay, Dad sleeps an average of 10 minutes at a stretch, waking to do any combination of the following: readjust the sheets, walk to the center of the room then walk back to the bed, call out for confirmation that he is in the bed, or pee. These do not necessarily happen in a fortuitous sequence.

Once the initial settling in period is over, Dad will sleep for about 1 to 2 hours at a stretch. Naturally, so does the caregiver.

Obviously, no normal human could maintain this schedule for an extended period of time. My sister does a two-day shift, my brother another. Due to excellent financial planning on my dad’s part, he is able to afford a professional caregiver two nights each week.

And where do I fit? I am the lettuce and tomato in Dad’s weekly care. I’m sure everyone could get along without my assistance, but I’m really good to have around. I take the weekends. From sundown on Saturday to sundown on Sunday, Dad and I hang out together. Since I don’t paint and Dad doesn’t want to learn how to knit, we watch golf together. My dad doesn’t golf and I’d rather rub sand in my eyes, but we watch golf. My brother and sister get a break and I get to feel less guilty about them doing so much during the week.

If I’m the lettuce and tomato at Dad’s house, I’m the challah at home. And between my jobs, my kids, my pets and my husband, I’m feeling sliced pretty thin lately.

The jobs—there are three—are probably the biggest drain. See, each of them is the kind Rick Perry is so proud to have created: low pay, few hours and fewer benefits. But, hey, they don’t begin to pay the bills, so there’s that.

The kids are mostly doing ok. The son can be counted on to call Jimmy John’s or put a pizza in the oven. He can also be counted on to bring his girlfriend home from school, but that’s another blog post. The daughter is showing some signs of wear around the edges. She recently got unlimited texting thanks to her brother’s $300 worth of overage. So while I’m at Job One, I’m treated to messages every fifteen minutes. The most recent spate started with “I had a BAAAAAD day” and went through “I’m sad,” “I want to cry,” and “Why should I tell you?” until I had her dad call her to see what was wrong. “Nothing,” she replied to him.

The pets should soon be less of a drain. I think it’s only fair that with all the angst she’s added to my life, the new girlfriend appears ready to provide a home for the world’s worst cat. There is still the issue of the dog’s confounding penchant for soiling in his crate, but I can only expect so many serendipities in one lifetime, I suppose.

The husband is a wonder, which sounds sort of like something you’d say about an ugly baby, but he’s picking up what slack he feels comfortable with, trying to add skills that weren’t critical until now and, most important of all, being Mr. Good Supportive Husband. He’s even agreed that Mr. Perry can have back one of his jobs, so I’ll be saying goodbye to Stalker Boy soon.

I’m probably never going to love the life I’m living right now, but I’m reminded of one sandwich that I crave. Take two slices of white bread. Slather both with as much Hellman’s mayonnaise as they can hold without dripping on the counter. Place a slice of cold meatloaf in the middle. Enjoy. Proof of one of my life’s organizing principles: enough mayonnaise can make just about anything bearable.

Let’s Make Nice

22 Feb

I don’t really let what other people say about me bug me too much. Not that I don’t have my moments of monumental insecurity over some seemingly innocent remark, but I can usually recover and get back to a normal background level of neurosis quickly.

Lately, though, I’ve been hearing things said about me that have me questioning some fundamental self-truths I hold dear. People are saying I’m nice . . .and meaning it.

Now, I know many things about myself. I am smart. I am funny. I am a perfectionist. I like to argue. I’m demanding. I’m fair-minded. I expect the same of other people.

But I am not nice. Nice people are, well, nice. I can be generous. I’ve been known to be empathic. I can even be silly and frivolous. But nice?

The first person to accuse me of being nice also noted that I am cheerful and optimistic. I know! I know! Me! Cheerful! Optimistic! Obviously, this was someone who knew me not at all. And, indeed, she was a reader responding to my Hanukkah column on my son’s refusal to participate in our Hanukkah festivities.

The short story is this: I was able to get him to help me light the driveway menorah despite his insistence that he, as an atheist, would not be celebrating the holiday. I wrote that I hoped he would keep Hanukkah with his own children when the time came. One reader noted how difficult it is being Jewish in Naperville and how her sons love Hanukkah and celebrate it despite being marginalized by the surrounding society. Another reader jumped on the “life sucks as a Jew in Naperville” bandwagon, giving me a literary pat on the head for my cheerful, optimistic presentation of what is the drear reality of the west suburban diaspora.

Never having been accused of being either cheerful or optimistic, I laughed out loud. I called my husband; we laughed out loud together. I’m pretty sure I told my sister and she laughed out loud, too. First, though, she said, “You? Optimistic?” Or maybe that was my best friend. The whole “Janice as an optimist” thing was so disorienting it could have been the cat saying, “You? Optimistic?”

One person who doesn’t know me saying I was nice, cheerful and optimistic (I’m laughing while I type it! You’re laughing while you read it. I know you are. It’s ridiculous!), could easily be dismissed, but people who know me are saying it, too!

I’ll grant you that the sales clerk at the local music store is hardly a bosom buddy, but we’re on close enough terms for the man to make a fairly accurate assessment of my temperament. I swear I haven’t been on my best behavior when making my weekly—sometimes biweekly—appearances at the place. I have even been downright rude at times! And yet, just a few days ago, said clerk—we’ll call him “Bob”—said I was nice.

Now, he didn’t just say, “Hey! You’re nice!” He couched it in a very nice compliment about my appearance. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” said Bob. “You look younger!”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m not feeling younger. I feel pretty old and tired, actually.”

“It’s probably because you’re nice,” Bob explained.

According to Bob, another woman he hadn’t seen in a while came in looking considerably older than she ought.

“What does being nice have to do with looking young?” I asked.

“Oh, all that being mean makes you look older.”

I saw no point in arguing with Bob about genetics, cleaning living and exercise. I left him with his delusional opinion of me. He told me I looked younger!

I’m not sure why I don’t feel very nice about being called “nice.” The nicest woman I know is a good friend. I like her a lot. She’s smart and funny, like me. But I believe she’s also got an unshakable conviction that the world is a good, good place. My strongest evidence of that is her existence.

My dad even told me I was nice recently. I suppose that shouldn’t blow me away, but it does. I know my parents loved and respected me but they weren’t exactly the cheerleading type. They were as aware of my failings as my fabulousness.

We were sitting in the living room of his home at two in the morning. We’d been trying to get him to sleep for longer than ten minutes at a time since about nine the night before. He’d brushed his teeth, put on his jammies, had his warm milk and gotten tucked into bed. He had pillows and blankets and all the things he could need to get his chemo-wracked body to submit. It wouldn’t. He would drift off for a few minutes, then some demon—anything from needing to pee to feeling driven to escape—would force him from the bed.

After five hours and two Ambien, we gave up. We sat in the living room, dad and I and the feeding machine. It whirred. The clock ticked. And my father stared into the dark wondering what he’d done to deserve his lot. “Everyone is so nice,” he said. “You, Alan, the kids. You’re all so nice.” As if whatever he’d done to earn this punishment should deny him the right to human kindness as well. We sat a few minutes longer, listening to the pump push food into his body. “Dad,” I finally said, “I may be nice, but I’m also tired. Let’s try to go back to bed.”

He did go back to bed, but he didn’t sleep any better. Since then, we’ve found out he also has Parkinson’s disease. While my dad was pretty confused, I know he wasn’t demented or hallucinating that night. He thinks I’m nice. So does Bob. And so do some of my readers. There are probably whole bunches of people who think I’m nice. It wouldn’t be nice to argue, though, so I guess I’ll have to suck it up. Hell, it might be nice being nice.

Say Hello To Mr. Johnson

1 Feb

When I lived in Oak Park, my next-door neighbor was an Armenian woman, about my age, who grew up in the Soviet Union. While she had an M. D. and a Ph.D., was working on curing breast cancer and could speak at least three languages, there was one she desperately wanted to learn. She felt her lack hindered her ability to truly interact with her colleagues.

My friend wanted to learn the language of American vulgarity. I don’t discriminate in verbal acquisition, so my vocabulary includes an extensive collection of American swear words. And I know how to use them.

So on our nightly walks, I would instruct her in how to swear in American English.  We spent at least two sessions discussing the various terms for copulation. I ranked them in increasing order of severity from “fooling around” up to the “F” word. She was astounded at how versatile that word could be, but couldn’t really master its use. Still she was eager to try her newly acquired skills. At a meeting of her research team, presented with a problem that confounded her, she said, “What fuck is this?!”

With the “F” word behind us, she turned her interest to vulgar synonyms for “penis.” Again, she was amazed at the variety of monikers Americans have devised for the male appendage. I don’t think she believed me when I mentioned that many men actually have a pet name for their penis, “just like women have a term for their breasts.” The look on her face told me that Soviet women probably don’t have terms of endearment for their “girls.”

I was reminded of my friend while taking care of my dad recently. Cancer treatment doesn’t just make you tired. It doesn’t just make you nauseous. In my dad’s case, there is a lot of sleeplessness. He also has a feeding tube installed in his small intestine. All night, the adult version of formula is pumped into his body. So, along with the sleeplessness, he has toileting issues.

It was in the course of dealing with one of these issues that I came face-to-face, as it were, with my dad’s . . .um . . .Johnson. I knew what came next. I dreaded what came next. Out of respect for my dad’s ability to retain his dignity in a terrible situation, I got over myself and did what needed to be done.

Dad and I both survived the incident and others as well, but it struck me that we had crossed a significant invisible barrier. In a moment, it became appropriate to do something that had been completely inappropriate a heartbeat prior.

When we were kids, my dad would dress in his swim trunks and get in the shower with my sister and me. With the water beating down on us, he would rock back and forth making storm noises. Now, I’m grabbing a handful of cleansing wipes and helping dad do what he can’t do for himself.

Ironically, it’s now ok for me to see dad’s unit, but no longer appropriate for me to see my son’s. When my son was an infant, I didn’t just see the teeny, weenie peenie, but was its primary care giver. The doctor assured me that post-circumcision care was simple. She lied. I think she did it on purpose. Prior to amending my son’s constitution, she told me “circumcision is completely unnecessary. We used to think the procedure didn’t hurt them, but now we believe that isn’t true.” She then gave me the pursed-lip “I dare you to be a bad mother” look. I gave her the “it’s none of your damn business” look and said, “My husband is Jewish.”

My intimate relationship with my son’s winky continued. He refused to use the toilet any way but the way his father did: standing up. This meant that the only time he did not pee in a diaper was at Brookfield Zoo, where there is a pint-sized urinal in the women’s restroom. At nearly four years old, he finally stood tall enough to (sort of) hit the mark in the potty. He still is only sort of making the mark, but I think he does it so he doesn’t have to share a bathroom with his sister.

The day it became inappropriate for me to see my son’s penis is burned into my mind. I was bringing laundry to his room, just as I had done for years. I seldom knocked. On the day that shall live in infamy, I opened the door and found my son exercising his right to the pursuit of happiness. We looked at each other in horror. I said, “AHHHHHH!!!!” He said, “AHHHHHHHHH!!!! I slammed the door. Now, I knock and he locks.

I don’t think I’ll ever completely recover from seeing my baby boy behaving in a very un-babyish manner. That kind of thing has a way of searing the corneas. But, I’m behaving like an adult when it comes to caring for dad. He needs it and I’m glad to do it.

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