One mother's adventure in negotiating her own crazy while shielding her daughter from the world's crazy…


Sixty Years Ago

Growing up, I heard the most amazing stories about my Uncle Oliver. I heard tales of my father and his brother’s adventures with nuns on ships and sheep and rolling hills. The boys were shipped off to live with relatives in New Zealand during the war. They were best friends – and his presence in my life was huge, although I never met him. (The Girl’s name would have been Oliver if she’d been a boy. The Cat’s name was just a coincidence, but I’m pretty sure it gave him a part of his power.) My bedtime stories were tales from their childhood in Scotland in the 30’s and 40’s.

One of the most haunting and tragic of course is the story of the dream my Grandmother had. One night, she dreamt that her beloved son, Oliver, had crashed on an island while flying for the RAF in the Korean War. Days later, the knock on the door came. His plane was missing, the worst was feared. Weeks later, his plane was found on an island.

Oliver’s body was never recovered and I know, for all his life, my dad has held out hope that maybe he was captured, taken prisoner, and still alive somewhere. He did  a little searching back in the internet’s younger days and never found anything.

Two nights ago, I decided to do a little searching. I didn’t discover him still alive. But I did discover the reported date of his death. Sixty years ago today. (Although, by the time I post this it will be after midnight – so yesterday, I suppose.)

I am grateful that I discovered this when I did. The Girl and I lit a candle for him tonight and spent the evening looking through old photographs.

You are missed Oliver.

ImageElspeth, Roger, Oliver, and my dad, the baby of the four siblings, circa 1936, Colzium, Scotland

ImageMy dad looking at the memorial to his brother at John McGlashan College, their old boarding school in New Zealand.

Be Well, Oliver

My cat is sick.

After the accident, he was more anxiety ridden than I’ve ever seen (we were only a mile and a half from home, I’m pretty sure he could smell us). His eating decreased, but he was still feisty. Then, a week ago he didn’t eat at all. I took him into the vet, they checked him out, took some blood, sent him home. The next morning, he ate some, then jumped up on my tummy and purred his little heart out. All was well, I convinced myself.

Then the phone rang. He needed to go in to the emergency vet.

I’ve never cried so much as I did the four days he was in there. And of course The Girl was out of town so there was the added stress of the possibility that they wouldn’t get to say good-bye.

Not to mention the loss of my cat. We’ve been together for twelve years. He was with me when I got married. When my child was born. When I got divorced. When I got my first teaching job. When I moved – three different times.

He’s more than “a pet” to me. He is a partner, a companion, a child, a comfort. I’ve never met a cat so attached to one single person. The vet had to ask me to come in and give him his medicines in the emergency room because he wouldn’t take them for him.

Someone on the internets replied to a picture of him, “Be well, Oliver.”

This statement above all others gave me clarity. I used it as a mantra in yoga last weekend, repeating over and over, “Be well.” And I realized that it was not really about Oliver and his health. It is about me and my health as well. Since the accident I’ve struggled. And I can’t take care of my child or my cat if I don’t take care of my well-being.

So, when the vet laid out my options for me, I was able to make a level-headed decision. I could keep him in the emergency clinic for a few more days, where he was scared and miserable (he had “AGGRESSIVE!!!!” written all over his form) to buy anywhere from a week to a few more months with him. I could take him home and inject him with sub-cue fluids (that’s fancy doctor lingo, eh?) every day for the rest of his life (again – a week? A year?) thus transforming the one person he has been able to trust into a monster who pokes him with needles. Or, I could take him home, pet him and offer him whatever food his little kitty heart desires, and treasure our last few days together. And I knew, as painful as this decision was, that this was what I needed to do. Because life isn’t about your body functioning. It is about your happiness being fulfilled.

So he is home (one week today!), and The Girl has made it home to be with him. (She told me, mid-week, that if he was in pain, to just let him go, even if she wasn’t home yet. I’m so thankful it didn’t come to that – my sweet brave girl deserves to be with her cat.) And he and I have spent more hours curled up and purring together than I can count.

The night The Girl got home, she fell asleep with her hand on my heart. The Cat was lying on my belly and reached up and put his paw on my heart. And I felt like the luckiest person alive.

I know it is a matter of days at this point. He still is happy – eating a little, purring a lot, enjoying the sunshine. We won’t make him stay once he’s ready to leave.

This last week with him has been an amazing gift. And I am thankful. Even though it hurts.

Be well Oliver.


*Edit* Oliver passed, peacefully and beautifully, hours after hearing the final chapter of Charlotte’s Web on May 17, 2012.



I Hate Cars

In two hours, it will be one week since the crash. I really can’t complain because I am sitting here typing and my sweet girl is drawing pictures in her room and bottom line, that is what matters. There are, still, so many, many frustrations that have arisen from this thirty second nightmare one week ago. I should be getting ready for yoga right now, but my doctor told me I’m not allowed to do yoga for a while.

Instead, I am talking to person after person about cars. Cars. The last fucking thing I want to think about – and yet they are all consuming. I’ll think I have zeroed in on something I should get (can I get a magic bubble to wrap around us? Do they make force fields standard issue yet?) and some problem will arise: Car A: you’ll feel like you’re in a vault but really can’t afford the slightest maintenance for it. Car B: affordable, relatively safe, but so small I’ll feel like The Girl and I are naked on the street just waiting for the next maniac to plow into us.

And then there’s the issue of my car, the late Popsy. I’m currently paying $20 a day (don’t forget the towing fee! the rudest imaginable human being informed me in a surly voice) for the car to be on a police hold at the impound lot. I can’t get The Girl’s soccer shoes out. Or our dance shoes. Or my irreplaceable birthday pre pisses me off because that was my favorite street to drive on.

But the outpouring of love from the majority of people I’ve encountered has been amazing. Everyone at The Girl’s school has been so supportive. And everyone at my school. And random strangers who read the article.

Thank you again, world, for being so kind.

Now if I could just wave a magic wand and solve this car issue.

Entering Back Into Reality

The past few days have been unreal.

The outpouring of love has been incredible. Thank you.

This evening we re-entered real life. We left the shelter of our home (where nothing outside of the two of us and the events of Monday evening have existed.) Slowly. With a toe dip. In the best way possible.

A few months ago, The Girl joined the Girl Scouts. It is a brand new troop and I accidentally became one of the co-leaders (the more I learn about the Scouts the more I love the organization).

Tonight was our Gifts of Investiture Ceremony.

Last week (it feels like a year ago) the girls had each identified a tennet of the Girl Scout philosophy to represent. (Honesty, Service, Cheerfulness, Respect, Responsibility, Awareness. The Girl chose “service”. Of course.) They placed a token representing their tennet into each girl’s bag so that, at the end, the bags contained six tokens.

Tonight, the girls stood in a line, with their parents behind them, and received their bags. Then the parents pinned the ceremonial, official Brownie pin onto the sash, signifying the official start of their  journey with the Scouts.

And then, with a whoop and a holler, all thirteen little girls ran out the door to play. Including mine. She laughed, she pranced, she climbed, she played. She could do all of these things.

And I don’t take any of them for granted.

Thank You

There are things I never want to have to experience again:

  • Looking into the back seat of my car to see the metal twisted around my daughters seat, her face covered in blood.
  • Watching her go pale-face and ashen in the shower as I work to clean 11 stitches in the top of her amazingly beautiful head.
  • Seeing her throw up from the shock.

Let me state that I am an absolutely blessed woman in this moment because my daughter is sleeping soundly in bed, guarded by her stuffed animals, with nothing more than 11 stitches to show for it.

And I don’t know how.

She told me that Charlie the Werewolf had asked her to lean towards the middle of the car and that’s why she wasn’t sitting straight in her seat where a Ford F150 came plowing through her window (estimates put the speed at between 65 – 90 mph) before hitting the next 3 or 4 cars.

They say that after an accident you are supposed to remember that awful sound of metal and crunching. I don’t remember that. I don’t remember any sound. I don’t remember much. I remember feeling something hit the back of my head, I remember feeling my car lurch forward. I remember turning around and seeing metal and glass where my baby’s body should have been (extra steak bones for you tonight, sweet beautiful Charlie). Her eyes met mine in shock and blood poured down her beautiful face. “I’m okay, Mom. Don’t worry, Mom. I’m okay,” she repeated, because her first thought was for me.

I remember undoing her seat belt and getting her into my lap before fully taking in the scene in front of me. Car after car ripped apart as though made of Styrofoam. I remember the look on the face of the dog in the truck in front of me as he tried to escape. I’ve never seen such terror on a dog’s face before.

I remember a lack of comprehension – a fender bender shouldn’t cause that much damage. Surely I had imagined the damage to my car in my state of panic. Even if the car that hit me had completely missed the fact that there were cars waiting at a red light (how could they? We’d been waiting for a while – there was plenty of time…), thirty mph shouldn’t cause that much damage.

I remember the look of panic on the woman’s face who ran to my door and realized it must have mirrored my own. That woman was an angel. I watched her take the jacket off her own body to wrap my child’s bleeding head in.

I remember the instantaneous mom-rage: that bastard that asshole how dare they hurt my child. I remember talking myself down from it: we all make mistakes. How easy would it be to misjudge a stop  (I didn’t know until 3 and half hours later when picked up by my friend – she told me that he’d been going 90 mph. That he’d hit a car .6 miles earlier.)

I remember the first responder to the scene. A witness. He came over and took my baby’s vitals and talked to her and kept us comfortable.

I remember looking across the street at the man sitting on the opposite curb. He watched us for a while and put his head down in his hands. And I thought, ugh, the horror of an incident. He’s going through this trauma too. (I didn’t know, then, that he was the man impaired by, what? Percocet they say. Certainly not in any condition to drive. Complete disregard for the lives in front of him. And I certainly didn’t know then that he didn’t have insurance – is that why he was running?)

I remember alternating between complete and total panic and complete rationality as my baby reached up and patted me and told me again and again: “I’m okay. I’m okay. I love you. You’re a good mom.”

I remember the feeling of dread at seeing the bicycle handlebars strewn on the ground. The feeling of relief that the bicycle had been strapped, riderless, to the back of a car. (What if a family had been crossing the street?)

I remember feeling that I couldn’t stop touching her. I had to have my hand on her. And the panic I felt when they were strapping her to the board. And the look of fear on her face. And those EMTs. I have so much respect. We were treated with love and kindness and confidence.

I remember the wave of nausea that hit me when I walked around to see the passenger side of my car. To see that I had not imagined it. That that car was obliterated right where my baby was sitting. (How, how were we okay? Don’t question. Be thankful.)

I remember walking to the ambulance with the little girl in it and realizing that she was not my little girl. That was the wrong ambulance. Then realizing that there was still another little girl sharing my baby’s ambulance. How many little girls were there in this mess?


I remember the EMT knowing how to spell my name because he, too, is Scottish. I remember the beautiful nurse bringing the stuffed tiger to my baby (“Mom, I know what I’m going to name him. I’m going to name him courageous.”) and seeing the look of relief in her eyes at having a stuffy to hold. I remember the police officer with the kind eyes talking so gently and telling my baby how remarkable she is and how brave. (That was repeated all night. So brave. So brave. And everyone involved was so brave.) I remember the CT scan operator letting me stand as close as I needed while my baby went through the “portal to another dimension”. I want to buy flowers for half the city of Boulder.
I remember the look of pride in my baby’s eyes as she got her hair cut in bangs just 30 minutes before the crash and feeling so angry that she was robbed of that.

I remember the crowd of police and nurses watching my little tiny child get her head sewn up while she told an animated story about rabbits.

I don’t know how every person in that crash (nine cars. NINE CARS) walked away relatively unscathed. Even the dog.

I don’t know how I will regain my sense of trust. The thing that panics me panics me is that there was not a single goddamn thing I could have done differently to impact the outcome of that. It was sheer dumb luck (or werewolf miracle) that she was in the position she was. That we weren’t a few inches farther back on the road.

I do know that my baby is warm and safe and sleeping soundly.

Thank you werewolves. Thank you universe. Thank you Kia engineers. Thank you EMTs and 1st responders and police and strangers on the street. I am a lucky lucky Mama Werewolf.

Let’s Just Eat Some Real Food, Already. Unprocessed October

The Girl and I recently found the Unprocessed October challenge, and since I like to set challenges for myself in case I should ever have a free moment to breathe, and since The Girl is pretty much game for anything, we signed up.

So, I’m a single mom. And I work full-time. And in my off-time I work with a non-profit which requires a ton of extra time, so this really leaves very little time for the kitchen. On the other hand, The Girl’s grandparents have an organic farm a few hours south of here and are Passionate (with a capital P) about food. Which makes The Girl and I passionate about food too.

A couple years ago we were on a big unprocessed kick, and developed some really healthy eating and cooking patterns. Since then, we have slid a little. Not too much. But enough to make me excited for this challenge as an opportunity to reevaluate our eating habits.

So, the premise is, for one month, eat only what you could reasonably make in your kitchen. Not necessarily what you do make in your own kitchen – because that wouldn’t work with my schedule – but what you could make.

So, first up was some education. I’ve found myself researching how things are made this past week and finding out so much! For instance: just what is ascorbic acid? It’s naturally occurring in apples and oranges, so it should be safe… right? Except that when it is listed as its own separate ingredient, it is actually chemically created. So my “Pure Fruit” jam that I was so excited about? Nope… processed ingredients. Grrrr.

And at the store today, I checked fifteen brands of fancy-schmancy plain yogurts before finding one that had nothing added. Thank you Chobani!

Also, discovering things like the answer to “what is tahini?” (I had always assumed it was a spice). Nope, a sesame seed paste. Cool.

I then realized that there were going to have to be a few exceptions if The Girl and I are going to make it through this month:

  • Halloween. This is our favorite holiday of the whole year, and neither of us are willing to be grouchy about some plan I’ve signed us up for… So. All bets are off that day. It’s cool – we’re responsible enough the rest of the time.
  • Pasteurized milk. It’s a little too late to buy a share of a cow for raw milk. So pasteurized it is.
  • Tofu. I don’t eat a ton of it, but neither The Girl nor I eat a ton of meat either, so sometimes it’ll have to be okay.
  • Annato. The Girl just likes the yellow cheese better. Although she did agree to white cheddar at the store today.
  • Socially Unavoidable Meals out. Yesterday, The Girl’s dad called somewhat last minute saying he was in town and really wanted to meet us to buy us dinner at a BBQ place where a friend of his was playing a show. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but the social benefits outweighed the food detriments.

The most exciting thing about this week of preparation and two days of participation have been the conversations surrounding this. Shortly after I posted the challenge on Facebook, seven teachers from my school signed up too! Yay! Even people who aren’t doing the challenge are talking about it and thinking about it. And really, that’s the big deal. Remembering to think about the food we’re eating and exercising caution and not just trusting some “green-washed” label.

So, bring it, October!

The Order of Things

So, I’m giving a talk tonight at TEDxBoulder. And I just got my hair cut this morning. When I told the director of my school that I finally felt comfortable enough to pick out my outfit and schedule my haircut, she balked. “That’s where you and I are different,” she said.

She told me that when she was a La Leche League organizer she would tell new mothers that the hardest time of the day is that pre-dinner time hour, because the baby is so used to be hustled and bustled in the belly before being born, but now the mother wants the baby to be still and quiet so she can prepare dinner. So her advice was to set the table first, because that way you know that no matter what happens dinner will end up on that set table. And no matter what happens in preparing for a speech you will get up on stage in that outfit.

This is something I’m not very good at. Taking care of the easy part first. The final touches.

But either way, the talk is prepared. I’m dressed. My hair is cut. And I’m going to be getting up in front of a ridiculously large audience to speak in a just a couple hours.

Here we go.

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