Charlotte

Charlotte was dark with large eyes and long legs. When she walked, she held her head up high. She was also fiercely jealous – becoming enraged whenever anyone came into close proximity to my father. When my parents went for walks and held hands, Charlotte would barge between them, causing their fingers to separate. She would proceed to press her body against my father’s leg, pushing him away from my mother.

Charlotte was a Nubian goat, the kind with long floppy ears. She was actually very pretty … for a goat. Her coat was made up of blacks, browns and whites. When my father brought Charlotte home to our little farm, my brother named her Charlotte after his favorite book Charlotte’s Web.  

But our Charlotte was nothing like the kind, demure spider E.B. White created. She was aggressive with a rather sadistic streak. Whenever my father would let Charlotte out of her pen, she would scan the lawn for me, lower her head and charge. More than once I had been obliviously playing, minding my own eight year old business, only to be whacked by Charlotte ramming her head into my body. (Thank goodness she was de-horned.) Another time she sniffed my hair before proceeding to grab a mouthful and pull it out by the roots. I was scared to death of her.

When not occupying herself with terrorizing me, Charlotte enjoyed showing off for my brother. It was as if she sensed testosterone was near and was suddenly overwhelmed with circus-like energy. Charlotte would run up the side of the barn and do a backwards flip, which resulted in much clapping and yelling from my brother. This would encourage her to do more tricks.

As much as Charlotte adored my father, her sentiment was not reciprocated. Her purpose was for breeding and not as a pet. This meant she was loaded into our Jeep and we drove her to a farm where she could have a “date” with a male goat. This did not go over well. Even though Charlotte was technically in heat, (meaning, she was fertile and should have been in the romantic mood) she did not approve of the male goats that were presented to her.

The male goats did their male goat thing: peeing on themselves. Snorting. Charging. These wooing tactics usually work like a charm for other female goats, but not our Charlotte. Her standards were higher. She wasn’t interested in any of the huffing, strutting, urinating bucks. For an hour we watched Charlotte dodge one frustrated male goat after another. Even I – who truly had no affection for Charlotte – felt bad for her.

In one last ditch effort, my father tried having a male goat visit Charlotte’s pen. Like a horrible blind date who just won’t leave, Charlotte had an obnoxious suitor in her pen for two days. This was also a disaster. Finally, the rejected buck was sent back to his farm and my father decided Charlotte needed to find another home as well. If she wasn’t breedable – he had no use for her.

Finding a home for a female goat who wasn’t interested in male goats, and could be aggressive, was difficult. But after several weeks, Charlotte was loaded back in the Jeep and we drove her to her new residence. I sat in the back seat, terrified she would rip more hair out of my head. The ride seemed endless. At last, we pulled into the driveway of Charlotte’s new home: a farm that used animal’s blood for medical research. Every day, someone would take a vial of Charlotte’s blood and use it to develop medicines.

I watched as one of the lab personnel attempted to drag Charlotte away from my father. She resisted – her long ears standing parallel to her head. Suddenly, she looked up at the man who was pulling her and all at once she relaxed. Without giving us another glance, Charlotte walked alongside the man, her head held high. She had replaced my father … or she was eyeing this new guy’s hair and planning her next scalping.

 

 

 

WTR! (What the Reflux!)

My daughter entered this world the traditional way: with a nice strong epidural and lots of yelling at my husband. I will never forget the moment she was born. She let out a high pitched scream and didn’t stop. My obstetrician paused, looked over at my daughter and said, “Well! There’s nothing wrong with her lungs.” He then pulled off his gloves, tossed them in the garbage, and left to go deliver another baby.

My husband and I looked at one another with raised eyebrows. Even though this was our first baby, we both had a suspicion that if an obstetrician comments on how loud an infant is crying, it can’t possibly be a good sign. We were right. She did not stop screaming. Even the newborn nursery – where I tried to put her so I could sleep – brought her back.

“She can’t stay,” the nurse said cheerfully as she wheeled my crying daughter into my hospital room, “She’s keeping all the other babies awake.”

As I watched the pink-smocked nurse leave, I burst into tears. I didn’t get it. Weren’t babies supposed to sleep? How was I going to sleep with this red faced, screaming little person in my arms? Welcome to parenthood.

The hospital made us take her home. She cried the entire way there. She cried the rest of the day. Then all night. She cried, and cried, and cried. For weeks. And months.

She also vomited excessively. No sooner had I fed her then everything she had taken in would come right back up. Our pediatrician, an angel in the form of a stocky Italian man, was concerned about the weight she was losing. He also wasn’t pleased with her incessant screaming. He diagnosed her with reflux and so our journey began.

My daughter is almost ten now, so most of us are familiar with the term “reflux” being associated with infants. But back in 2003, it was a relatively new concept, and this concept generally did not go over well with the majority of people.

“Reflux? Whoever heard of a baby having reflux? That’s for adults”, “In my day it was called colic”, “How can you medicate a six-week old infant? Aren’t you worried what that will do to her?” “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”, “Who is your pediatrician?” These were only a few of the comments I heard when I tried to make excuses for why my daughter was so fussy…and didn’t sleep…and why I looked like something out of Night of the Living Dead.

People tried to commiserate with me. “It will get better once she turns three months old.” (It didn’t.) “I know exactly what you’re going through. My son was so colicky when he was born! He didn’t sleep through the night until he was five weeks old!” (Excuse me while I sob.) “Have you tried burping her more?” (Thanks Einstein. Never thought of that.) I found I wanted to kick these people even though they were trying to help.

The word “reflux” became equated with a naughty four letter word in our household. A pacifier was the only thing that would occasionally soothe her, and yet when a well meaning acquaintance told me that her children never used pacifiers (since a good mom should know how to soothe her baby without the use of a pacifier – her words, not mine) I threw it away; Only to drive out to the grocery store late at night to replace it.

I felt inadequate and not up to the task of caring for this puking, crying, squirmy, rashy, insomniac baby. Was I accidentally assigned the wrong daughter? Wasn’t she really supposed to go to a great mom who could handle everything? A mom who makes her own bread and soap and doesn’t own a TV and drives a Prius?

Shortly before her 4th birthday, the doctors discovered that my daughter had a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. In other words, the muscle that was supposed to tighten around her esophagus to keep her esophagus closed and stomach acids in her stomach was not working at all. The doctors suspected that even though she was on reflux medicines, they would never provide adequate relief. At this point, the only option was surgery.

If the idea of my four year old daughter undergoing major surgery hadn’t freaked me out, I may have felt vindicated. Her reflux had been really bad. I hadn’t been overreacting or wrong to use medicine. She wasn’t sleeping because she was in pain, not because I put her to bed too early or too late, or because she didn’t nap. I had done everything I could, and what I had done had not been wrong.

Six years ago on July 12th my little treasure had a Nissen Fundoplication to correct her reflux. The surgery was four hours long and it seems like just yesterday we were sitting in the OR waiting room of the children’s hospital, watching parents leave because their kid’s surgery was over but my daughter’s was not. When they finally wheeled her out of the OR, she looked so tiny on that big gurney. As I approached her the anesthesiologist put his arm around my shoulders and said, “She did great and you’re doing great.” They were the kindest words I could have heard at that moment.

My daughter opened her eyes and looked around with heavy eyelids. “Mommy,” she mumbled groggily, “Get me out of this thing.”

The nurses placed her in my arms and I rocked her back and forth, knowing that the worst was over. Knowing that when we left the hospital the pain she had always known would finally be gone.

Pardon Me. I Just Need to Press Your Mute Button

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone came equipped with mute buttons? That way, when you realize a conversation isn’t headed in the direction you had planned, you could simply lean over and press the button and not hear what is coming next.

You would need to use these mute buttons wisely, of course. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily want to hit your doctor’s mute button when she enters the examining room and says,”We have the results of your CAT scan and it appears that you have cancer of the – BEEP!”

You also wouldn’t want to use the mute button with your boss. It probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing to hit your boss’ mute when he starts to give you a new assignment: “Starting tomorrow, you will need to – BEEP!” (Let’s be adults about this – the risk of unemployment far outweighs the pleasure of pressing his mute button.)

The mute button would be very beneficial with family – including children. “But mom! I just cleaned my room! It’s not fair! I – BEEP!” The family mute button comes with an extra benefit: Muzak. Instead of listening to your children whine and cry, you would hear Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” performed on a synthesizer, which is the lesser of two evils.

Oh! And with coworkers. And Toppers. You know the kind: you have a headache, they have one too but much worse; you decide to take a vacation, they suddenly decide to do the same, only the vacation is fancier. How delightful if Toppers came with mute buttons!  “Oh you think THAT’S bad? Well! Wait to I tell you about – BEEP!

Mute buttons could also be used on yipey dogs next door. This would save you from those awkward conversations where you have to knock on your neighbor’s door and say that even though you think Pebbles is just so adorable, could they please not leave her outside for sixteen hours a day when she would clearly rather be inside?

Spousal mute buttons need to be handled delicately. As tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t hit this button willy-nilly. They may catch on. Be forewarned that spouses can also ask follow-up questions to make sure you were truly paying attention.

Lastly, we can’t become indignant when someone hits our mute button. It’s gotta work both ways.

Jerks – Just To Make It Interesting

One of my favorite Far Sides is the one where God is creating the earth.  He’s in a heavenly kitchen, and the world is sitting on the counter. God is brandishing a salt shaker with the word “JERKS” written across it.  As he is about to shake the jerks onto earth, God is thinking, “Just to make it interesting.”

We can all relate to this. I often wonder if the cap to the Jerk salt shaker fell off and instead of a sprinkling, there was a dumping.  They’re on the roads, standing in line at the grocery store, at the DMV, and (oddly enough) employed in the curtain department of JC Penny.  Jerks are simply everywhere.  As Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently stated: “People. They’re the worst.”

Sometimes we have to deal with a certain jerk on a regular basis. This may be a co-worker or relative.  Or a friend of a friend, or someone who happens to stop at the same coffee shop – at the same exact time every morning – as you do.  While we may try our darnedest to evade these people, the fact is, often they are unavoidable.

There was a time in my life when I had to deal with a jerk on a fairly frequent basis.  My tolerance was wearing thin, and I sought advice from a friend who has a knack for dealing with difficult people.

One of her suggestions (I admit, I was never brave enough to do this) was to keep a notebook and pen with me at all times.  Then, when The Jerk said something irritating, I would simply open the notebook and start writing. After I was done, I was to snap the notebook closed and set it aside; until The Jerk said something maddening again, in which case I was to open the notebook back up and start jotting something down.

Let’s imagine this situation:  You’re talking to someone and suddenly they whip out a notebook and start writing, only to close the notebook and look back up at you as though nothing happened.  A few minutes later, out comes the notebook again.  When you ask what they’re writing, they answer all blase, “Oh, nothing.”

Wouldn’t that make you feel a little … unsettled?  Which is something all jerks need every now and then.

My friend also suggested that every time I come in contact with The Jerk, I should have a mental theme song. My friend found that the Wicked Witch’s these song from the Wizard of Oz worked well with the jerk in her life.  I chose circus music, and indeed it added a comical element to The Jerk. (Note: you don’t have to limit it to music per se. When I shared this advice with someone else, that person chose the mental sound of the Gestapo’s sirens whenever her mother-in-law’s car pulled up in front of her house.)

The last suggestion was the one my friend wanted me to use – and rightly so.  She reminded me that people are jerks for a reason. Perhaps the jerk was raised by fellow jerks.  Or perhaps the jerk used to be a great person but became soured by something devastating.  Maybe the jerk isn’t normally a jerk, but is simply having a really bad day and has run out of tolerance for others. (We’ve all been there.)  And maybe, just maybe, we’re the one who is being a bit jerky.

Basically, my friend was suggesting that we need to have patience, and we should try to practice grace with others.  Does this excuse jerky behavior? Absolutely not.  But it does serve as a good reminder that we don’t know what is going on in the life of the jerk.  And maybe if we did know, we wouldn’t consider that person a jerk.

Now.  If only I could use that frame of mind with the lady who just waltzed through the door and didn’t thank me for holding it open for her.