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The Day I Killed The Pope

24 Jul

It was ten years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was April 2, 2005. I think it was a Friday. I was 23 years old, second year of law school, and three home pregnancy tests had just informed me I was not alone. 

I was, at the time, in a serious relationship with a fellow law student. We were both stunned by the positive tests and I made a doctors appointment for as soon as possible to confirm. The boyfriend did not come with me to the doctor. Instead, I was escorted by my father. 

My dad and I were always buddies. I was his youngest, his wild one, his ‘Mighty Moe.’ We would play ball in the backyard together for hours. He taught me how to mow the lawn, how to drive a car, and how to shoot beer cans with a BB gun. I asked him, once, if he was sad neither my sister nor I were boys. He was incredulous. “Why would I be? I had you.”  We spent Saturday mornings together on the streets, him jogging and me on my bike. We spent Sunday mornings together in church, him with his head reverently bowed in prayer, me crawling under the pew. We had a secret signal with each other. We were buddies.

It was an awkward car ride. The news of my surprise pregnancy had been delivered by my mother and so I was still unsure of my father’s reaction. He had promised love and support, but was he hurt? Angry? Or, worst of all, disappointed in me?

There didn’t seem to be anything to say right then and so we were silent the whole way. For early April in Chicago, it was a beautiful day. Warm weather, sunshine, soft breeze. The windows rolled down, we continued on side streets through the heavily Polish neighborhood to the unfamiliar doctor recommended by my insurance as available that day. 

As we drove, John Paul II lay dying half a world away. The papal death watch had begun in Rome that morning. Crowds gathered in the square, crying, praying, preparing to mourn. Announcers gave updates in hushed voices, and through the open car windows we could hear the surrounding Polish neighborhood holding its breath. 

We arrived at the doctors office. I asked my father if he wanted to come inside, he grunted his decline. He stayed in the car, radio on. I went inside and figuratively faced the music. 

It didn’t take long for the results to come in – I was definitely with child. I was given some prenatal vitamins and referrals. I was slightly more prepared for the news now that I had three home pregnancy tests under my belt but I was still terrified. 

I stumbled to the car. Dad turned down the radio. “Well?” 

“Yup. I’m definitely pregnant.”

As I finished the “-ant”, the tone on the radio shifted. Black smoke was now appearing. Pope John Paul II had died. My father looked at the radio. Looked at me. Looked at the radio. In a voice filled with equal parts astonishment and amusement, he cried, “You killed the Pope!”

And that was when I knew we would be fine. 



Stepping Up

18 Mar

Once again it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Not only has life been really busy, but I haven’t had anything interesting to report. I haven’t stopped writing though: I joined a small group through my church dedicated to sharing our stories.

Our first assignment was to write about a time we felt powerless. I wrote a short piece about the first few days after Daniel was born. (I’m happy to share it in a separate post if anyone is interested.) The piece was [is?] very short, coming in at about 4 and a half pages, double spaced.

Our second assignment was to take our first story and relate it to one of a few larger themes. I chose: how does our powerlessness relate to and interact with our spirituality? We were to write longer, more in depth pieces, and two people would share each week. I was the last to get the sign up sheet and so I ended up being the first to share.

It was a complicated and difficult question to answer. The story started from before I was born, worked through my childhood and religious upbringing, then tackled the major crises in my life.

I started pouring them out in my journal and couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to miss an important one. I ended up scribbling until one in the morning. And yet I still never even touched on my depression and I didn’t cover all the issues. Exhausted, I put it aside anyway.

I waited a week to go back to it and start typing it up. To my shock and, frankly, horror, it was 8 pages. Single spaced. I sent a frantic and apologetic email. I didn’t know where to begin cutting it down but it seemed unwieldy now, my raw emotions and experiences spilling out over that many pages.

The minister kindly replied, “Wow! That was a story that needed to be told!” She said to maybe pare it down some, but not to worry too much about it.

And so I tinkered – and deleted – and edited – and edited – and edited some more. Still not satisfied but out of time, I printed it out and I shared it.

No one complained about the length. No one criticized the content. I laid my unweildy creation -and myself – out on the table (not literally!), and I was rewarded with acceptance and praise.

So now comes the stepping up. I love to write but I am paradoxically afraid of sharing. Every time I write a blog post, I quell the accompanying anxiety by assuring myself that the posts only go out to a small audience, and certainly not face to face.

Every month, I get an invite on Facebook to participate in South Side Story Club – a live performance of written pieces by accomplished authors, with open mic slots afterward.

Every month, I think to myself, “Wow, I’d love to do that. But I’m not good enough. I don’t have anything good to say.”

This month was different. This month I rsvp’d yes. This month (next Tuesday!), I will try to sign up for one of the open mic slots. And I will try to read without blushing, crying, or running away in sheer terror. I’m not afraid of the crowd – I’m afraid of not being good enough. Of not being as good as I like to think I am sometimes. Of not being funny enough, or interesting enough, or talented enough.

Further complicating things is I don’t know what to read. Not the spiritual piece – too personal and too long. Do I pick something I’ve written before? This months topic is Science – do I write something new in that vein? Or do I write a brand new piece entirely in the hope that it’s not perfect for a later months topic?

Time will probably end up making the decision for me. And I may not even get an open mic slot – I’ve never gone before so I don’t know how hard it is to get one. But no matter what, I will keep writing, keep sharing, and hope for the courage to be as good as I think I am.

I like to end with a picture or two so here you go:

Trio Trio Trio

14 Jan

Things that come in 3s:

– most shamrocks

– the Holy Trinity

– rings in a circus

– Lord of the Rings books

– Dogs at night

– this guy:


(For those of you who are unfamiliar, that’s the aptly named dugtrio)

And now, we can add to the list: – Family ER visits.

It all started with the realization that a) we really needed a vacation, b) Ken could easily take off work between Christmas and New Years, and c) Groupon has some really good last minute travel deals. We initially envisioned a road trip (“Let’s drive until it’s warm,” I said), but another deal caught my eye.

A hotel in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin with an indoor pool. A free Cranberry Museum in town. But the most attractive part? “5 minutes from skiing!!”

Ken and Daniel had never skied. Ken and Daniel both wanted to learn to ski. And I, against all sanity and reason, wanted to ski again.

Yes, again. I went skiing once before this trip. It was 11 years ago and ended with me in the hospital with a concussion and broken thumb. But other than that, it was fun! I clearly remember enjoying skiing! Yes, I clearly remember hitting a tree with my head, but it would be different this time!

And so we packed up, bought outdoor gear, and headed to middle of nowhere Wisconsin for 4 days of relaxing: skiing and swimming and lounging in the hot tub.



2015/01/img_1027.jpg We were prepared.

We all started off with a ski lesson. Daniel and Ken both did great for their first time. The instructor was impressed. And it all came back to me! And I was doing awesome! Before sending us off on our own, the instructor had Ken and Dan go up to the first pole of the ski lift and ski down. They aced it. Misunderstanding the instruction, I went to the second pole of the ski lift and skied down. Aced it.

Quick trivia question: what did Luke Skywalker say was The Emperor’s weakness in Return of the Jedi? Answer: His over confidence.


*fist bumps Palpatine*

I went to the ski lift and fell 3 times trying to get up the hill. I eventually decided to abandon my ski poles as someone promised to bring them up after me. (I think they’re still on the hill somewhere as I never saw them again). I wiped out getting off the ski lift. And yet, there I stood, surveying the view.

2015/01/img_1040.jpg The view! I can do this!!

2015/01/img_1041.jpg Overconfident selfie!

I can skiiiiiiaaaaiiiieeeee…..!

Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.

That’s not the sad trombone. That’s the sound of me flipping over three times, left ski flying off (to find my poles?), and finally cracking my head on the snow at the nape of my neck. There I sat, about 1/5th down the hill, only one ski on, debating if I could slide on my butt the rest of the way down. Luckily the nice man with the snowmobile and stretcher came and took me to first aid.

It was pretty obvious I had a concussion. Having several before, I’m quite familiar with the symptoms now. I was nauseated, seeing double, and couldn’t remember my husbands name. So this is the next picture I have:

2015/01/img_1042.jpg That would be me laughing at something the paramedics said. And that made ER visit #1. The rest of the vacation was me in the hotel room. By Friday, I was feeling better, enough to make a side trip to visit friends in Milwaukee.



2015/01/img_1074.jpg Worth it.

By Sunday night, I was pretty well healed. I was even going to try to go to work the next day. In anticipation, I tried to go to bed early, around 10 pm. I was immediately awoken by loud yells and crashes in the kitchen. Running downstairs in my pjs, I stopped short, surveying the apparent crime scene in my kitchen. My husband was standing at the faucet, deathly pale and whimpering, and there was blood everywhere.

Apparently, the pillar candle needed trimming. Apparently, the best tool for this job was our son’s Boy Scout pocketknife. Apparently, he didn’t listen to the safety lecture he just gave the Scouts.

Aunt came to stay with Dan, I pulled boots on over my pjs, and took husband to ER #2.

2015/01/img_1080.jpg He was really happy about it.

Several hours and 14 stitches later, we were finally home. It was now 4 am on Monday. My head was starting to hurt. It hurt even more when I got up 3 hours later to take the boy to school. And the next morning, Tuesday, it really hurt as I shoveled our driveway.

We managed to get the boy to school. I managed to make it all the way back to our kitchen before fainting. Ken managed to get me awake and into the car for ER #3.

2015/01/img_1083.jpg Turns out, if you overdo it, and do too much too soon, and lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk (you know, like snow), you can have something called a “post concussive episode” which is medical-ese for ow ow OWWWW.

So here’s the final numbers:

1: neck x-Ray

2: head CTs

3: ER visits

14: stitches in Ken’s hand

24: hours I was hooked to a heart monitor. (I named it George).


God only knows what would have happened if we’d just taken a road trip.


Tests and Measures

19 Dec

A long, long time ago, back when I was a fresh faced eager undergrad, I took a class called Tests and Measurements to satisfy the lab requirement of my psychology major. We discussed the general difficulties that accompany any psychological assessment, debating the best ways to evaluate intelligence, mood, personality, and various disorders.

We discussed the history of intelligence tests – the difficulty of racial, cultural, and language barriers. We discussed the difficulties of administering intelligence tests to children. And, as an example, the teacher brought in the WISC and asked for a volunteer. You can guess who jumped all over that shit.

Part of the test involves memory. You are given a series if numbers and then told to repeat them – backwards. Examiner says 7, 3. You then say 3, 7. And so on, with longer and longer strings of numbers. I fucking rocked it. My classmates and teacher were impressed as I got into the 7 and 8 digit strings with no mistakes. I was mighty pleased with myself.

The next part of the test was various colored shapes you had to manipulate to match the given picture. I Could. Not. Do. It. Seriously. A monkey could have gotten a better score. The quiet admiration turned to guffaws, even chortles. I hung my head in shame.

So it was with great trepidation that I acceded to my therapist’s request that I take a variety of psych tests. I was worried I would turn out to be crazy. Or, even worse, not as smart as I like to think I am.

The testing was yesterday and it began with the WAIS. “Oh no,” I thought. “I hope it’s easier this time.”

That’s right, I actually hoped the adult version would be easier than the children’s. This probably should have been the beginning and end of the intelligence test then and there.

The examiner started out by handing me a box of cubes that had a solid red face, a solid white face, and faces that were half and half. “Now I’m going to show you a picture and I want you to arrange the blocks to match….”

I almost wished I was a monkey because then I could a) get a better score and b) fling the blocks around the room.

At least I still rocked the numbers.

The tests continued. I smirked at some, remembering the discussions of their ineffectiveness all those years ago. I actually got to have a real Rorschach test and a TAT.

It did not go well.

I did not realize the poor examiner would be required to keep up with everything I said. I went into a detailed discussion of how one slide looked like a bat. The transcript will look like this :

the feet look like bat feet because have you ever seen the animated New Adventures of Batman from the mid to late nineties because in the first episode the villain is Man-Bat who is kind of lame but he’s half man half bat and when he flies his feet look like that and he was a lame villain but it was a good show Mark Hamill did the voice of the joker oh my god you are literally writing all of this down?

The examiner was even less pleased when he showed me a slide, asked what I saw, and I said “an inkblot.” I think he was ready to throw some shit (figuratively, not literally) at that point.

Next was the Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT. You are shown ambiguous pictures and you are supposed to tell a story: what just happened, what’s happening now, what will happen next, and how does everyone feel.

I debated – do I let my creative side run wild or do I try to describe the picture as accurately as possible? I opted for the latter in the hopes of seeming normal. Some were hard and I had to get creative, so both the examiner and I were surprised when I was shown one and, without even thinking, had the answer right away.


“Oh,” I said. “He just killed that prostitute.”

I can’t wait to get my results.

Existentialism Meets Special Needs Parenting

15 Oct

I don’t know when it was, exactly, that I first fell in love with philosophy, but I do remember how. I picked up a book called “Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy” by Jostein Gaarder. It must have been my junior year of high school, but maybe my senior year? Again, I don’t remember the ‘when’, just the ‘how.’ I devoured that book. The further into it I got, the less I understood, but I managed to digest a lot of the concepts, which served me well later in life. (Mostly college. I ended up helping teach my Intro to Philosophy course. Thanks, Sophie.)

Anyway, I know I had already finished the book by the time my senior year Theology class had “Existentialism Day,” because I know I was already familiar with the fundamentals of Kierkegaard (Hey fellow Dane!! Sorry about your broken engagement!) and Sartre. And I remember that some of the other students struggled with a concept that, intuitively, made sense to me. Even if I hadn’t read any philosophy at all, I completely understood what Jean-Paul meant when he said that by not choosing, he was making a choice. I remember my friend struggling with it. “But you’re not choosing, so you’re not making a choice!” “No,” I replied, “Your choice is not to choose.” I didn’t know how to make it any simpler or break it down any further – it just made sense to me. (We also really liked the “Hell is other people” quote, and we wrote that in each other’s yearbooks.)

And now I am paralyzed by Sartre’s truth- by not choosing, what choice am I making?

A couple of months ago, I went for a second opinion on the infertility. The doctor was actually very optimistic. He gave a variety of options, a variety of choices we could make, things we could do differently this time. I took the folder home to talk it over with Ken, and they recommended calling when my next period started so we could do another round of IVF. Our fourth.

And the folder has sat there since then. And, with each subsequent period, no phone calls have been made. I am not choosing to go forward with a fourth round, but I haven’t chosen not to. I have chosen not to choose. But is that narrowing our window? Is it diminishing our chances? Is not choosing the right choice? This is what I have been struggling with. On the one hand, this is our last, best hope for a child. Given the recent hospitalizations for depression, I don’t think adoption is a valid option anymore. Trying on our own has had no success after five years. If we’re going to have a baby, it’s going to have to be IVF. But am I prepared, emotionally, for a fourth failure? For the door closing for good?

So the folder continues to sit. I have chosen, for now, not to choose. But I worry what the consequences will be.

To be fair, some other things have also kept us busy in the meantime. I have one good update, and one not so good.

Good update: Gloria has transitioned to an assisted living facility solely dedicated to patients that need memory care. It’s a fabulous place. She is doing really well there, participating in the activities, helping the other residents, and the staff adore her. Thanks to my part-time schedule, I have been able to go out and visit her every week and bring her little presents. Last week I brought her a Hello Kitty doll dressed up for Halloween as a ballerina and she carried it all around the facility with her and snuggled with it as I tucked her in for a nap. I’m also really enjoying getting to know the other residents – Laughing Betty, who has a huge belly laugh for everything!, Singing Betty, who still knows all the words to Sinatra songs, and Mrs. McLeod, originally from Scotland and still has a thick brogue and is just sweet as can be. It didn’t really occur to me that I would enjoy going out there, but I do. And it’s even better when I bring Daniel – the residents follow him around like groupies! He is so sweet and patient with them and it warms my heart to see my child treat them with love and respect.

She may not look happy, but she's actually saying 'Cheeeeeese'

She may not look happy, but she’s actually saying ‘Cheeeeeese’

Which leads me to the not so good update. Daniel is still really struggling in school. On the recommendation of … I don’t remember who now…. I took him to a local facility that does evaluations for occupational and speech therapy. I don’t have the full results yet, but the occupational therapy evaluation showed significant delays. I was and wasn’t surprised. I knew Daniel had problems, but I was surprised as to the extent of them. The full report should give a better picture, but in the meantime, I’m beating myself up for not bringing him in sooner, for not noticing, for not doing everything I could right away from the beginning. But I kept telling myself things were fine, that he would outgrow his difficulties. But I have to face the reality – Daniel has special needs, Daniel has delays, and Daniel needs extra help.

And now I have to make another choice – do we keep him at the Catholic school he loves, with a teacher who understands him, a principal who adores him, and the friends he’s made, or do we switch him to the public school, where he can get an IEP and more resources and be closer to our house? I can only choose to not make a choice for so long. I have to figure out what’s best for my little guy, and Sartre and Kierkegaard are pretty silent on that subject.

I am focusing on the positives – he is thriving on the swim team, especially with his back stroke. He went to his first overnight Scout camp and got to fire a rifle (!), catch a fish, ride a horse, and play flashlight tag. He spent a recent day off from school snuggling in bed with me, reading my anniversary present – the complete Calvin and Hobbes collection. (I’m a little afraid he’s going to see it as an instruction manual.)

Hell is not other people. Hell is being responsible for another person and being paralyzed by choices for that person. It worked out well for Gloria. I have to have faith that it will for Daniel, too.

Our little Otter

Our little Otter

This kid and his ribs...

This kid and his ribs…

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