I wish I labeled my photos better— I know this was Cambodia, but I couldn’t tell you where. Perhaps I need to rethink my organization systems since clearly memory alone does not suffice.
Dear Little Elephant,
This morning you woke up wanting to sing with me “You are my sunshine”. We cuddled in bed, my arms holding you tight, as we sang it 5 times, each time you were able to sing more of the words, by the end, taking the lead. You then bounced up, wanting to find a book about sunshine to read.
If, in your enthusiasm, you had looked back, you would have seen the relief in my heart to no longer be seeing that song. It took all I had, to sing those verses, over and over, knowing you were okay, without crying.
The last time I sang you that song, we were in London, in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and you were resisting general anesthesia and I was failing at holding back my tears.
At 11 am, we had had an appointment with a dermatologist to see this fingernail sized “bad freckle” hiding by your hairline behind your left ear. This doctor was the reason we had flown to London. In 30 seconds, she discarded it as “not yet a problem”. Further discussion led to the conclusion that it needed to be removed and, given your age, you wouldn’t lie still for local anesthesia and a full biopsy plus stitches.
It was 11:32 when I walked out of the office. I had to feed you by noon and from 12:00 to 14:00 you were allowed only white liquids. At 15:00, we were to show up at the hospital for a 18:00 surgery and overnight stay.
The timeline was daunting, not allowing me to really think. Food first. Then call Daddy in Chile and Grandparents in Wisconsin to let them know. 28 minutes to find a restaurant and eat a meal. We ended up at one of those bakery/ sandwich shops. I bought an avacado shrimp salad and a deluxe sushi tray that had both raw salmon sushi and cooked shrimp sushi. Grapes and a berry smoothie to top it off. Little Elephant, you are your Mama’s daughter. You loved the sushi (including the raw fish) and you insisted on learning to use chopsticks during the meal that had a hard end time.
Back we went to the hotel for a nap and a few frantic calls and emails to multiple continents. I packed a bag while you snored.
I hate waking you from naps, but the nurse said I had to. Into the stroller and off we went to a hospital specializing in and well known for children’s cancer. They had 18 beds and we had one.
I can’t even express how privileged I feel to know that I was able to fly to another country to get the best care in Europe, that I was able to be in the private healthcare system where I was given a bed the same day, that the people seeing my daughter (for the most part) dismissed my fears as they see much much sicker children every day. I don’t for a second want to say that I am ungrateful. But, the possibility of what could be, what I couldn’t bare to imagine, was hard to avoid when all the signs and brochures in the hospital were about it being a renowned children’s cancer hospital— the signs didn’t give me a sense of encouragement, more, they made me face my terror. I was checking my 3-year-old into a cancer hospital for immediate surgery.
Meanwhile, Little Elephant, you were crying, telling me you were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. Begging me to take you back to the hotel.
We had watched a Sesame Street episode about Big Bird being hospitalized and I kept pointing out similarities. I was grateful that you had that as a point of reference; it helped you to understand what was happening. Only, you didn’t really understand. I wouldn’t let myself really understand.
We were led to a solitary room; you refused to put on the hospital gown– they agreed they could dress you after you were asleep. They covered your hands in a numbing cream and covered it with tape. The very sweet nurse drew a happy face on the tape, but you were not fooled.
We went to the playroom, seeing that I was completely overwhelmed, a “play specialist” brought us into their sensory room, a quiet closet filled with bubbles and colored lights. She could tell it was my first time.
“Has anyone talked to you about the anesthesia?”
“It will likely be a mask. You will be asked to hold her while they put it on. If you can convince the anesthesiologist to hold it up to the face to get her tired before strapping it on, that would be best. Kids hate how tight the mask feels and fight more”
“Right before she goes under, her whole body may feel like it convulsing. This is normal. It is not a seizure.”
“They will bring you up to your room after she is asleep and someone will get you to bring you down again. If you are lucky, you will be there before she wakes.”
“Ask questions of the doctors if you need to.”
I was in shock and had no words. I had no questions. I am so thankful to this woman. She is the only person who really took time to explain things. Luckily, she was the only person who had time— like I said, my daughter ended up being the healthiest kid in the hospital.
When we went down to the operating room, the anesthesiologist tried to get you to breath to fill up a green balloon that was attached to the mask giving you the gas. I was supposed to encourage you to blow the balloon up. You fought. I started singing “You are My Sunshine” and you grabbed at me and looked into my eyes as you feel asleep. I felt your whole body go limp and placed you on the table. You looked so tiny on that table!
I was guided upstairs where I called Nana (my Mom) in Wisconsin. Tears streaming down my face, I wanted to know if she or Dad had done the same for me when I had tubes in my ears. 18 minutes later, I was brought down to the OR to pick you up.
I was not there when you woke, I was stuck no the other side of a door that wouldn’t open. You screamed for me and I called back. When we got in, someone was holding you, having rapped you in a blanket. We lay together on the gurney and you begged to go home, to go back to the hotel.
We spent the night in the hospital; they had to make sure you had no reaction. You ate like a champion: smoked salmon, shrimp salad, baked salmon, and your specially requested “pink ice cream”. More than anything, you wanted to take the port out of your hand. You begged everyone who came in. You tried to pull it out yourself. Luckily, someone finally agreed.
We slept together in a tiny bed. Well, you slept.
It wasn’t until nearly noon that we were allowed to go home. Exhausted, you insisted that I push you in your stroller around London. We walked for 6 hours. Two days later, results came in. The “bad freckle” was benign. We flew home, relieved and exhausted.
You are my sunshine. You make me happy everyday. I can’t even begin to think about what it would be if the results had been different. Everyday since I have sent out happy thoughts and the closest I come to prayer for every parent who has ever landed on the other side of that diagnosis. Little Elephant, I love you.
I always loved this photo— actually the place. It is like walking on the moon. I guess, for some, it isn’t much of a landscape. But to me, growing up in Wisconsin, being in the dessert is about as unique an experience as you can find. Even better, if you go the right time of year, it isn’t too hot and I can actually enjoy it.
This photo was taken in 2007 when my parents were visiting and we traveled to northern Chile, Valle de la Luna.
The first day of school, my daughter waved me off, barely giving me a peck goodbye. She had found her place. Finally. She was three, surrounded by friends, books, toys, and learning. There was activity and attention. Cloud nine.
All year, she has loved school. Loved her wonderful teacher, Miss Jenny. Loved her classmates, especially S. Loved to learn. She sings songs, tells me stories, points out characters and uses phrases like “that is quite small”. All year, on days she has school (only twice a week), she wakes up extra early, too excited to keep sleeping. She races to get their first and eats everything they put on her plate.
Today, was the last day of school for her. The school actually ends next week, but we will be away. S has already taken off on vacation. Today, she did not wake up extra early. She lagged in the house, changing clothes multiple times and begging to go back to bed. As we drove to school she complained, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to go home. Then Mommy and I will put back on pajamas and go back to bed. That is what I want. I do not want to go to school”.
Out of the car, she turned around and started walking home. With her bike, I was able to coax her down the path to school. Except, by the time we were at her classroom, she was at it again. She said she was tired. She said she didn’t want to go to school. She tried to leave. And then it happened. Melt down. Tears on her cheeks, Miss Jenny picked her up so I could say goodbye. I did. I left. She was fine. In fact, it was a fun day of school.
But, I wasn’t ready for it. Her first day and every subsequent day had taught me that my daughter would love life and school so much, that she would be able to let go. Today she couldn’t. It was harder then I expected.
Friends invited us over to a little dinner party on their back porch last weekend. We like visiting them as they have a nearly three-year-old as well. M and Little Elephant are fabulous friends and school classmates. He is the sweetest boy who has relentlessly pursued her friendship, hugging, holding hands, and sharing his beloved cars for more than two years. Note: the first toy Little Elephant. slept with was one of his cars!
As she stood by my plate picking at food, M meandered over and announced he wanted to show her something. He then boldly put his hand out, confident that she would take it, following his lead. She did (after eating one last olive— the girl loves her olives). Curious, I followed them into the house.
“This is the kitchen,” he announced.
“This is the hall,” he explained.
That is where I go pee-pee,” he squeeled as she pulled him away. Afraid she hadn’t heard, he announced it again. Louder.
Having finished the tour of downstairs, M invited my daughter up to his room to see the trains. Hand-in-hand, they climbed the stairs.
I decided to leave them alone and ventured back to the adults. I told the story of how cute the tour was and everyone giggled at the “I pee there” reference. I asked M’s Dad if I should be worried about them alone upstairs and if I should check on them. “Clare,” he responded in a playful voice, “I don’t think we have to worry about that until they are teenagers. Then we won’t let him take her up to the room for alone time. For now, they are just playing with trains!”
Everyone giggled (including me).
But, the worrywart in me took over, so I went to check on them. I just wanted to be sure they weren’t playing with plastic bags or getting into the medicine cabinet. They weren’t. They were fine. In fact, they were hugging and giggling and rolling around on the floor together so much that they didn’t notice me come in, take pictures, and leave. I now have photographic evidence that we might need to have the birds and the bees talk a little earlier than planned. Although, not yet. Afterall, they are only three.
This man has been at his craft for many decades… and even passed it down to one of his nephews. His work was amazing and loved his little shop in the “bazaar” in Gjirokaster. Still wondering if I should get my Little Elephant his carving of Mama and baby elephants…
Dear Little Elephant,
Today, you turned three years old! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone, how big your have gotten, how much you make me laugh, and how proud I am to be your Mommy. I can only hope to watch you reach 103!
You love graham crackers. This is unfortunate, as they are hard to find overseas. Luckily, we know where to find the supply locally and when they get in a shipment, I buy multiple boxes. Then, I take the boxes to my office and bring them home only one at a time (you still haven’t figured out this trick, but I am sure you will soon— you really are too smart for your own good). The office trick is necessary as otherwise you would just sit in one place until all crackers from all boxes were in your belly. Anyway, the other day Liza told you that “Mommy said we can only have 1 graham cracker”. You thought about it and replied “No Liza. I can have as many as I want. You just need to tell Mommy that I only ate one.” Ahh, little dickens you are— but your deception did not work. And, worst of all, Liza made you fess up!
We went to buy flowers for Matthew’s Mommy today. Between the two flower stands, a bit back, is a place the sells ice cream. I have never pointed this out before, but today you noticed. “Daddy, you whispered to him, I think I need to go look at something over there.” Luckily, he figured it out to and distracted you. We may have to not visit the flower shops for a while.
You still love going to school. Your new goal is to get their first. So, you wake up at 5 instead of 7. Unfortunately, this plan often backfires because Mommy is so tired by the time school runs around, that we can’t get moving. School doesn’t open til 8, I tell you over and over like a broken record, but unfettered you explain “but Mommy, I need to be first”.
This is not the only time you fight sleep. Funny, now you have started to repeat back to me the things I say as I plead for your to sleep. For example, when in bed, if you have to go potty again, you emphatically tell me: “Last time Mommy. Just 1 last time I need to use the potty. Then, I will not make you sick.” When I ask for clarification about the sick part, you tell me, “Yes, I will not make you sick. We need to sleep to be healthy. I will not make you sick. One last time to the potty.”
The school had an end of the year show. Despite only attending part time, you made sure you knew each of the words. You would sit on the potty and practice “ooly gooly had a worm…” On the day of the show, you recited “Roses are red. Violets are blue. Sugar is sweet. And so are you.” Despite the microphone, I couldn’t hear a word. You did happily recite it later that afternoon for Liza though. On the other hand, in the middle of a song, you glanced up and noticed the flower decorations hanging from the ceiling. Louder than the other 8 kids singing together, you shouted “Mommy! There are FLOWERS hanging from the ceiling! Mommy! Did you see the flowers?”. You repeated that over and over, while Miss Jenny tried to hush you and I tried to contain my laughter. You joy is infections. You now take “Three little kittens who lost their mittens” and change the word mitten for whatever you can’t find (socks, truck, shoes) to let me know that something is missing.
We had a joint birthday party with a neighbor yesterday (more posts on that later this week). A friend from down the block came. She has three little ones: 8 years old, 5 years old and 1 year old. When she said that Little Elephant was turn 3, the 8 year old responded “No way! I thought she was older. She sure is smart and talk a lot!” See? Verdict is out and I am not the only one who thinks that L.E. is one smart cookie!
Every morning, when we get up, you say: “Mama, are you staying all day with me?” If no, you respond, “Okay. Liza can stay all day with me. Then you will come home.” Yes, dear, I always will! When I leave for work, you shout, “I love you sweet Mama” after the car. And, when we go to sleep at night, you whisper, “Mama, do you know I love you?” And I do. Plus, I love you right back and a thousand times over.
Hugs and kisses to my dynamic daughter. Good luck for this next year. I can’t wait to explore it with you!