Friday, November 30, 2012

Her name was Elle





To the rest of the world, it’s just another Facebook photo, of just another kid, posted by just another  proud mom.

It’s not a special photograph. In fact, it’s rather poor quality. Dark and a little blurry.

It's just a cell phone photo of a blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl wearing purple girly pajamas and holding a pair of puppies. 

Probably no one else zoomed in for a better look. And looked really hard at the face, at the hair, at the eyes, at the body, at the setting.  Or searched for signs. Of sorrow, of fear, of overall health and well-being. Of what might have been.

To the rest of the world, she's just another child. But for the better part of the year 2001, she was my child. The child I dreamed of. The child I prayed for. The child I yearned for.

The child I prepared for. The child I built a nursery for. The child I bought that first yellow and blue blanket for. 

The child I named Elle -- because everyone was expecting me to name my child something with an "L."

But I never got to see her. Never got to hold her. Never got to take her home to her white nursery or wrap her in that blanket.

Just 19 days before the date I had circled on the calendar, her mother had a change of mind.  I won’t call it a change of heart. 

Never in the six months I knew her did she say she wanted that child. More often, she said she didn’t. She had already lost custody of three babies, under circumstances never fully explained by her or understood by me. She never expressed much regret over that either.

In her seventh month we sat together in the waiting room at the doctor’s office – my doctor’s office --  watching a toddler, well, toddle.

“That’s exactly what I don’t want,” she said of the adorable straw-haired little boy bouncing from chair to chair in the room.

I looked at her in utter amazement.

“That’s exactly what I do want,” I said.

Just days after that, I got a call from my attorney, who was telling me that the boyfriend who had dumped her all those months ago and set her on the path to me, wanted her and the baby – and any money we were paying her for it. Just days after that, I was driving her to the attorney’s office for a face-to-face meeting with him so she could see if he was telling the truth. She said she had to look him in the eyes. In my heart I knew what was coming.

We left without them both.

And I never saw them again.

Until a few months ago when, on a whim, I typed her name into the Facebook search box. And there she was. Alone. No children. No him. Lots of high scores on Farkle.

I had never stopped wondering where they were. How they were. If they were taking care of the daughter they decided to keep.

So I guess I can forgive myself for checking on her again, on another whim. And I can forgive my heart for squeezing a little bit at the sight of the girl I named Elle and they named Sam. And another child, a boy. 

And I can forgive my mind for trying to imagine what might have been.

If everything had gone as originally planned, after we got that other phone call from that other mother in the fall, today we would have two 11-year-old girls in our family, in our house, in our lives, and in our hearts. One light. One dark. Both tall. Elle and Lora Leigh.

But everything did not go as it was planned. It went as it was meant to be.




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Adventures in sports writing

Many, many moons ago, one of the five prep sports editors I had at the veritable Times-Picayune newspaper sent me on the road to cover a high school basketball game in the teeny, tiny town of White Castle, Louisiana.

There isn't much in White Castle. There is a lovely Louisiana plantation home named Nottaway, where my BFF spent her wedding night. And there is a high school that is has been both good and not so good in sports over the years.

Not wanting me to be on the road alone in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, my husband (or he may have been my boyfriend) elected to accompany me on this trip. My job was to go to the game, take notes during the game, add up stats after the game, get a quote or two then use my trusty computer to send this story back to the newspaper in New Orleans. All by about 10:30 p.m.

The Toshiba 1100 was one of the first laptop computers. All bulky and plastic, it was standard issue for newsroom reporters back in the 1990s. It really was just a word processor, used only to type a story. There was no World Wide Web back then (that we knew of). And it had no games or apps. Not even Solitaire.

 Some of us were lucky and had one with a flip up screen.

Lucky. Until mine was stolen.

Others had to make do with the one with the little window on top of the keyboard that showed a word or two at a time.
Not so lucky

I couldn't tell you today any details about that game. Who won, who lost, who played well or didn't. I just know what happened afterwards, when it came time to send said story. Then, as now, reporters need a way to do this.

Our Toshibas had these fancy, dancy things called couplers:



To send a story using these, you would dial the number with your fancy dancy phone, wait for that screechy fax/dial-up/nails on a chalkboard sound you may remember, then stick the receiver into the couplers.

The problem, often, was finding the phone.

Not, not one of these:



One of these:
 

Oftentimes, reporters carried one around with us. Really. Because we needed a telephone line. And it couldn't be on those multi-line phones you might have at your office. It had to be one line. One phone. With that kind of receiver.

Good luck finding one of those. In White Castle. In the middle of the night. The coach's office didn't have one. He had one of those multi-line phones. Couldn't use that.

So, while I typed frantically on my Toshiba in the car, the boyfriend/future husband drove up and down the main street in White Castle, searching for a phone -- a payphone, an open business, anything.

Like, the Pizza Hut!

Good boyfriend/future husband that he was, he went inside and found the manager of the Pizza Hut, explained the situation and asked if they had such a phone we could borrow.

"Sure."

So, in we went. And I, professional female improvising sports writer that I used to be, sent my little 12-inch basketball story while sitting on the floor of the kitchen of the White Castle Pizza Hut, being observed by a fascinated group of teenagers flipping pepperoni, and a pizza-eater or two.

Yes, I made deadline.

Then we ordered pizza.

My now-husband and I were reminded of this little long ago adventure Friday night and had a nice little laugh. You see, my new prep sports boss had sent me to the teeny, tiny town of Abbeville, Louisiana, to cover a football game. My husband, not wanting me to be on the road alone in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the night, decided to accompany me on the trip. Plus, now that his mother is living with us full time, we're excited over any opportunity to get out of the house. Together. (Read the mother-in-law stories. You'll understand).

After the game, during which I kept my notes and after which I did  my interviews, we got into his car. And while he drove, I wrote my story on my fancy dancy new laptop computer. And when it came time to send this story story, I simply pulled out my phone.

This one:






Then I hooked a wire to it, hooked the end to my computer and sent my story via gmail.

We never stopped. He never even slowed down. There was no screechy noise. It took less than one minute. I even checked my Facebook page and my Twitter before I disconnected.

God we've come a long way. And he's still a good boyfriend.


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Fight



It was only a matter of time.

Everyone knew it. Everyone said it. Everyone was expecting it.

The only question was, how soon would it happen? Or rather, how long would my mother-in-law and  and I play nice before blowing up at each other?

The answer: four weeks. To the day.

We were no strangers to the harsh word from the first time she lived with us. Back then we had fights about my parenting, my housekeeping, my cooking, my shopping. You name it. Some good ones, too.

She: "What'd you do? Buy everything in the store?"

Me: "Yes. Yes I did. There's nothing left. Don't ever go to PayLess again."

This go-round we had been having little snits, minor raising of voices over her incessant demands and her overuse of the beeper we bought her to summon us. We all became increasingly frustrated with one another. Being awakened five or six times a night and summoned 18 times in a day will do that to you.

"You can't wake us up every hour on the hour and expect us to be all happy and in a good mood the next day," I said. More than once.

And she had been making snide little comments about my daughter's hair, which is frizzy,  and her face, which is broken out, and her clothes, which are often wrinkled.

Then the day before, she had raised her voice to my child after asking her to find a bag of chocolates on the dresser.  My daughter couldn't find them quickly enough, apparently. So, they had their own little blow out.

"Just pick your battles," I told my 11-year-old. "Walk away when you can."

But I did not heed my own advice.

It started simply enough. It was shortly after 8 a.m., and I was putting away the $78 worth of liquor I had just bought on my way home from dropping the dogs off at the groomer. Inspired by the bottle of Crystal Skull vodka still on display from our little Halloween party, I decided to turn one shelf of my barrister bookcase into a liquor cabinet. Plus, it made for easy access.

To give her credit, she never ashed me why I bought $78 worth of liquor, and actually complimented me on the new boozy display.

"It looks nice," she said.

But a few minutes later, she made a comment about how all her stuff was missing. All the stuff from her apartment, which was packed in seven big plastic bins and stacked in my garage until the next day, when my stepdaughter planned to come over and go through it all with her.

Frustrated, angry and ready to show her that we had not thrown her things away (as she accused), I stormed out to the garage and took a picture of them all with my cell phone, came back inside and showed it to her.

"Look," I shouted. "It's all there. If you want, I'll go get them all and stack them in your room for you. To the ceiling. Then we can call the TV show 'Hoarders.'"

That set her off:

"YOU'RE the one who needs to go on Hoarders!" she shouted. "Look at all this stuff. Why don't you ever throw anything away?"

Me: "Oh. You mean like the two bookshelves full of books I JUST threw away to make room for you? Or the bookshelf?"

Her: "Yeah. You keep saying you have a little house. It's not a little house. You just have too much stuff in it."

Me: "You're right. I do. I now have two wheelchairs, a toilet seat, a toilet chair, a bath chair and a walker."

And we went from there. About the 18 beeps. About my daughter's rudeness. About the constant wake-ups. About how stupid it is that everyone in my family's name begins with an "L."  She even said the only reason I married my husband is because his last name starts with an 'L."

If I were a lesser person, I might have told her the real reason I married him...

The truth is, she hurt me. I'm sure I hurt her too. Neither of us cared.

But my husband did when he happened to come home for a forgotten briefcase in the middle of this mess.

I wasn't going to let her see me cry, though. I went upstairs, put on my walking shoes, grabbed my iPhone and left, slamming doors in my wake.

I was on my second lap around the park, with tears pouring down my face, when he drove up in his hot little convertible, got out and leaned against the fender to wait for me.  He opened his arms as I approached and pulled me in.

"If you tell me I can't fight with your mother, I'm divorcing you," I said through my tears.

"No. I told her she can't fight with you," he replied.

And THAT's why I married him.








Monday, November 12, 2012

Just beep me



Well, I thought I was doing us a favor.

Just days after my mother-in-law, Hurricane Jane, moved in with us from her assisted living center (she needed too much assistance, they said), The Coach and I discovered that baby monitors are, indeed, meant for babies. They are meant to keep a watchful ear (or eye, if you dole out the extra money) on cute, sweet little babies who make soft, sweet cooing noises at night. NOT 82-year-old grandmothers who moan, and groan, and snore, and fart, and have to get up to pee every hour and a half.

We learned this after about the second night of no sleep. For any of us. And after about the third day of her calling into midair for my husband, "Mawty" or simply, "Help!" and expecting us to come running. Let's just say it got real old, real quick.

So, Internet junkie that I am, I scoured the webs for an alternative. I quickly found one at this web site called Activeforever.com.   Think of it as a BabiesRUs for old people. Seriously. It has everything you could possibly think of to make life a little easier for senior citizens and those who end up taking care of them. Including this handy dandy little gadget.



It's a pager. Grandma wears the button part around her neck. When she needs "Help!" she can just push the button and the pager will beep or buzz. We were so excited.

For about a minute.

After insisting, "I'm not using that," Grandma got the hang of the button really quickly. And it was cute. We turned the monitors off and got a GREAT night's sleep on Friday.

Then came the weekend. While I was off covering volleyball, and the person we hired to help us during the week had the weekend off, The Coach was on Grandma Duty.

He spent the day Saturday answering her every "Beep."

"I want ice cream."

"I'm finished with my ice cream."

"I have to go to the bathroom."

"I'm hot."

"I'm cold."

"My butt hurts."

At one point, she beeped him from across the room.

"I didn't think you'd hear me," she said.

By the time I got home Saturday evening, half the Bourbon in the house was gone and The Coach was ready to smash that pager to smithereens.

Then came Sunday.

While The Coach and I sat in our living room watching the New Orleans Saints destroy the Atlanta Falcons (WHO DAT!) and my fantasy football team, The Lyons Lions, score mucho points, Grandma sat in her room with her button.

Which she pressed 18 times. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 11 p.m.

18 times.

I know because he kept track. He kept score is more like it.

She wanted toast.

She wanted in her chair.

She wanted out of the chair.

She wanted to go to the bathroom.

She wanted bologna.

She was done with the bologna.

She wanted socks.

She wanted back in the chair.

She needed to go to the bathroom.

18 times.


By the end of the day, The Coach was ready to stick that button where the sun never shines and I think he was ready to kill me for finding it in the first place.

"I thought I had done good," I said.

He just shook his head in wonder.

At least we slept good. But we need more Bourbon.





Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wake up calls

So it's now been a little more than a week since my mother-in-law, heretofore known as Hurricane Jane, moved in with us after being essentially kicked out of her assisted living apartment north of the lake for needing too much assistance.

Really? Has it only been a week? Gosh, I thought it was at least a month. Or more.

I guess it just feels that way because of the time change and all. We gained back a whole hour of our lives, right? (Or did we lose one? I forget.)

I know this: I have lost a copious amount of sleep over the past week.

Seriously. Sleep is seriously underrated.


We have moved Hurricane Jane into the room at the foot of the attic stairs in our quirky old house, andwe had a wall built to close them off. We used to have to go through this room to go up the stairs. Now, when we want to go upstairs to our bedroom or to my new home office, we have to go outside  through the side porch door then in through another door to the stairs. Weird. I know.

I did this yesterday wearing nothing but a towel after my shower.

That kooky room has had many incarnations. It once was my office, then my daughter's beautiful white nursery, then her disaster of a toy room, then her really cool stage room (Yes, we put up a stage with lights), then her cool tween hang out, then my beachy-themed mom cave (for about a month), then my daughter's beachy-themed cave, then dad's baseball themed cave. Now it's Jane's cave.

Lora's stage! The stairs are behind that wall.


And it is a cave. She's not a vampire, really, but she doesn't like light. Any. So I had to put up curtains to block out the sun for her.

And unlike the first time she moved in, with everything she owned in a small plastic grocery bag after Hurricane Katrina took everything else, this time she showed up with a wheelchair and a walker and a contraption for the toilet and a contraption to take a bath and a bed and a dresser and a chest of drawers and an electric recliner chair and a BIG 52-inch television. And I was supposed to figure out how to put all that stuff on ONE ROOM.

I did.  (But the BIG 52 is about to go.)

The first night was miserable. 

My husband went out and purchased a brand new baby monitor for her room. One receiver is in the living room and the other is upstairs in our bedroom. The first night, we lay awake all night, listening to her breathe, and snore, and moan, and groan, and talk in her sleep. We both were reminded of the first time we used a baby monitor, when our baby girl was but a baby and we used to listen to make sure she was, indeed, breathing.


We were reassured often, however, because about every other hour, she calls out to her son to come help her go to the bathroom. (She can't go by herself. We have to get her out of bed, take her to the bathroom, put her back in the chair, and put her back to bed.)

"Mawty."

Of course, just as he did when our daughter was but a baby, he sleeps right through it. I hear it, however, and get to nudge him to get up.

But after about the fourth time, I start to feel really sorry for him. And her.


It was a rough night, that first one. I could not sleep at all, thanks to her breathing and moaning and groaning and snoring on the baby monitor and The Coach snoring beside me. I got snoring in stereo.

And I was a wreck the next day..

The second night was a little better. But still she would wake up about every hour, complaining that she wasn't comfortable and/or she had to go to the bathroom. A few times she just said, "I have to get up."

Where she was going, we don't know.

By the end of the week we realized that she was the princess, and there was a pea under her mattress somewhere. The bed was too soft. Too lumpy. And every time she woke up, she figured she'd just go pee.

So bright and early one morning we went down the street to the local furniture store and bought her a new extra firm mattress. We asked if we could take naps on it first, but they said no. And we did try out a few sofas to see if we could find one for the naps it appears we will be taking. Often.

I also hugged the lady when she promised the new mattress would be delivered later that afternoon. And that night was better.

Then on Wednesday we hired a sitter named Freda, someone to come during the day and tend to her needs so I can go up to my new home office and do what I need to do. And take a nap.

But the nights are hard. Last night she called him five or six times. Unable to hear us say, "Coming!" she yells over and over again until one of us gets there. Sometimes she just yells, "Help!"

I have taken to wearing earplugs again, to try to drown out the sounds of breathing and snoring and moaning  -- both of theirs. It only works sometimes. I rolled on about 90 minutes of sleep on Thursday, fueling myself with leftover candy and cakes from our Halloween party the night before.

I can't even fathom how the Coach gets through a school day.

Just like when the baby was a baby, we are learning to sleep when she does. And nap when and where we can.  Sometimes at inopportune times and places -- like the furniture store.

So don't be offended if we nod off at hour house. On your sofa. Or at the red light down the street. Just tiptoe around us. Even if we're awake.

Right after Lora was born, my old boss said to me, "Don't worry. You can sleep when you're dead."

We will have some serious catching up to do.



















Thursday, November 1, 2012

Print is dead

He's The Internet.
What else would a laid-off newspaper reporter be for Halloween but a dead newspaper?