Friday, May 22, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

"No good deed goes unpunished." There's a lot of speculation about who said it first, but I suspect it was someone (probably female) who was dealing with a family and an elderly parent at the same time. I'm feeling a bit like the bug on the windshield today.

My mom is 82 and a baseball fanatic. Specifically, she is a Toronto Blue Jays fanatic. It's a good thing that Cito Gaston has been brought back, because I was becoming concerned about her blood pressure last year when the team was playing so abysmally. This year, there was a delay in the broadcast of the games, and mom was distraught. She couldn't watch "her boys" play.

My mom has basic, plug into the back of the television cable. Since analog will be going to way of the edsel in the not so distant future, I did some checking, and found out that she could subscribe to digital cable for a few dollars more than she was already paying, and have instant access to more channels, and more importantly, more baseball games.

She's been on digital cable since Tuesday. Problem was, she needed to learn a new remote for the system. To say my mom is techno-challenged is like saying that the Titanic had a small leak. Anything new that is technical sends her into a tailspin. I set the system up for her on Tuesday, and synchronized the cable remote with the television so that she would only have to deal with 1 remote. Or so I thought. I've walked her through it twice since Tuesday, and my husband has dropped in to fix it for her once, and will be going there again this afternoon after this morning's phone call.

Phone rings.

Mom: "I can't get the television on."

Lisa: (while smearing almond butter on a tortilla for child's breakfast) "Did you try turning it on and off again?"

Mom: "yes."

Lisa: "what's on the television screen?"

Mom: "02 and snow. I told you I couldn't cope with this and I don't know why you did this."

Lisa: (taking deep breath) "Okay, mom, you've got the television off channel 3. We need to put it back on channel 3. Get the little remote for the television and try putting it on channel 3."

Mom: (after pause) "I have sound now. But I don't have a picture. Why isn't it staying on the channel I left it on? It always used to. I'm too old to cope with this. I don't like it. We're taking it back."

Lisa: (another deep breath) "what does the screen say now?"

Mom: "Aux. 1"

Lisa: "Okay, I know what you did, but I can't see the remote to know how to fix it. Read the buttons on the little remote."

Mom: starts reading buttons.

Lisa: "Mom, I'll have to come over to fix it. I can't see the buttons."

Mom: "Better send Dave. You've done enough."

And so my husband has been dispatched to go solve the television crisis...again.

It's not the first time that something I tried to do to help my mom has come back to bite me in the butt. I'm a fixer by nature. My mom doesn't ask for help often, and doesn't LIKE having to ask for help. She therefore tends to accept it grudgingly. She broke her hip a few ago, and although she stayed in her apt, she needed help. I had just started a new job, and in fact, she broke her hip at my apt when she was over taking care of my cats while I was in Winnipeg on training. When I returned, I was going over every night to cook her dinner and do whatever needed to be done for her. Her best friend came up to stay, and I made a pot roast in the crock pot for our dinner at my apt. I went home, prepared to mix the flour and water for gravy and it exploded all over my kitchen and me. After cleaning up the mess, I finished making the gravy, sliced the roast, arranged the potatoes etc and transported it to mom's house. She had called in the interim because they were hungry and she was wondering where I was. I told her I was cleaning the mess..."I knew you should have cooked it here." was the response. Oh, and I didn't slice the meat nicely...

The digital cable is just another in a long line of things that I didn't do well enough. I suspect the digital cable will be returned this afternoon, and I hope my husband is up for the arguement with Rogers about the fee that may result. I'm staying out of this one. As my mother has said, "I've done enough."

So is it wrong that I try to fix things? Is it wrong that I try to make things better? Is it my expectations that are too high? I just don't know anymore. What I do know is that I'm stressed and upset and feeling discouraged and useless. Time for chocolate.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Food Russian Roulette

I play Russian Roulette every time I set foot inside a restaurant. Every bite has the potential to kill me and often, in spite of my best efforts, I am left ducking the bullet. I have a life threatening food garlic.

Unlike some food allergy sufferers who become physically ill or experience severe pain and diarrhea after ingesting something they are allergic to, my reaction is swift and potentially lethal. My throat starts to close...and stays that way for hours after. It's an anaphylactic reaction...and not a whole bunch of fun.

Case in point. We went to brunch today for Mother's Day. My father in law is severe celiac, I have the garlic thing, so as a family, we're a bit of a challenge to feed. We've been going to this restaurant for the past 5-6 years because the food is good and plentiful, and there is enough variety to allow for me and my father in law to eat. I always look forward to the fresh omelette bar because they wash the pan in between each omelette, so there's no fear of cross-contamination, one of the hidden dangers of food allergies.

We got there this year, and discovered that the owners had been busy. The whole interior had been renovated, and it looked stunning. To pay for it, apparently, there were many changes to the menu, and the salmon and omelette bar was gone. There was a bowl of plain lettuce, but every other salad on the salad bar was already dressed or was mayonnaise based. There is garlic in all commercial mayonnaise. There were scrambled eggs, eggs benedict, bacon, ham, waffles and then the hot entrees, which included roast beef, chicken, lasagna and some kind of fish thing.
I wandered around the food and could quickly eliminate 95%. The meats and lasagna were seasoned, and I could smell the garlic, and in some cases, see it. I took some scrambled eggs (I hate eggs benedict) some ham and a small piece of chicken and sat down. The eggs were rubber;they'd been sitting in the hot tray for too long. The ham was okay; 2 bites of chicken and lunch was over for me. There was garlic in it. I watched the rest of the family enjoy their Mother's Day brunch while I took small sips of water, waiting for the spasm in my throat to subside. I'm still waiting.

I take responsibility for my health and my life, and if I'm going to a restaurant I'm unfamiliar with, I call ahead to talk to the chef to determine what I can eat safely. We had been to this restaurant many times and I knew I was safe with the omelette, so I didn't call ahead. My bad.

I talked to the manager and was told that the omelette bar was eliminated because the "grease from it wouldn't be good for the new paint." What a load of malarky. The omelettes were cooked on a hot plate, and there wasn't much splatter. My husband talked to the owner and was told that only about 10 people of 250 ordered the omelette. That's a load of crap, because the lineup was always longest at the omelette bar. I sat behind it last year; I know. I waited a long time for my lunch because they were made one at a time...and fresh. In both cases, the response was assuredly and clearly "sucks to be you." Well that may be true, but next year, our $135 will be going to someone else's establishment.

If one customer comments, how many others noticed but didn't bother? 3 people at the dessert bar commented on the lack of omelette bar. There's a saying that you tell 2 people about a good experience, but you tell 10 about a bad one. Here's me, telling about a bad experience. Yes, I could have eaten rubber eggs and cold bacon, but I didn't pay $20+ to eat cold bacon and rubber eggs. I wasn't asking for special concessions, I wasn't even asking for a discount. I was stating a problem that was caused by the disappearance of the omelette bar. That's all.

This Mother's Day brunch is usually popular. There are 3 sittings, and in the past it's been packed. There were historically 2 rooms, and the tables were crammed together, there were lineups everywhere and the servers worked hard. This year, in addition to the changes in the food selections, only the main room was in use, there were noticeably less tables set up, and significantly fewer people. Next year, I guarantee there will be 6 less-our family won't be back.

Restaurant owners have an untapped potential in food allergy sufferers. We're a loyal breed, and tend to go to the places we can eat without getting sick or dying. I once had a restaurant owner give me an index card with every selection on her menu that I could eat without dying, so if she didn't happen to be there, I could still safely order. Where do you suppose I went to eat more often that not? I've called ahead to places on more than one occasion, only to be told "well, perhaps you shouldn't eat here, then." Okay, I won't.

People are eating out less, and the restaurant owners who survive the downturn are the ones who respect their customers-all of them. Customers with food allergies are not a problem, and for the most part, we are not difficult to please. We are also ridiculously happy and loyal when we find out we can eat safely. After all, sucks to be you works both ways.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Am I a Twitter voyeur?

Melissa Gilbert is taking her child to school. Martina McBride performed in Chicago. Jann Arden has one of the world's cutest dogs, and some of the funniest posts. Michael Ignatieff's posts sound scripted. Gilles Duceppe tweets on his way to the opera...I am a Twitter voyeur.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the famous people I follow on Twitter. These are people that I have long admired for their talent, their work ethic and their willingness to be honest and open about their lives. People tell me that I'm courageous because I'm honest and truthful in my blog posts. I don't see it as courageous, I've always been honest and truthful-often to a fault. I would make a lousy politician because I don't suffer fools lightly...and if you don't want the answer don't ask me the question.

The problem with Twitter, of course, is the temptation to tweet back when someone makes a comment that is funny or interesting or compelling. I don't know these people. I know only what I have read in magazines, which more often than not is a variation of the truth. They don't know me at all...I do know that I admire their talent. In the case of people like Kirstie Alley, Valerie Bertinelli, and Oprah Winfrey, I admire their honesty when it comes to body image and weight issues, because it helps me to deal with my own...if THEY can do it...Valerie Bertinelli's book was one of the most inspirational I've read in a long time, not for the dish on Eddie, but for her candour in dealing with her emotional eating. Been there, hoovered that.

I used to work in Customs, and I have crossed paths with more than my fair share of celebrities over the years. I always treated them with respect and courtesy, and only was tongue tied and starstruck a couple of times. I'm trying to apply the same rules to my tweets.

So Martina, Kirstie, Melissa, Oprah, Jann, Brooke, Demi, Ashton, Ryan, Gerard...have no fear. I am not a crazy person...just a fan who likes and admires your talent and finally has the opportunity to tell you. Gotta go, tweetdeck just tweeted...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mother's Day Tribute... times 4

This post is all about the mothers in my life. There are 4 of them-2 who play an active and ongoing role, and 2 who are important but often forgotten.

I don't tell my mom, Myrna, often enough, but she inspires me regularly. My mom was 37 when she and dad adopted me, and mom was essentially a single mom for large stretches of time. My dad was a professional fundraiser in the days before the positions were in-house, and he had to be where the campaign was. That meant that dad lived out of hotels in Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John's, Regina and a host of US cities. He would be gone 6-8 weeks at a time, and my job was to spot him at the airport as mom drove slowly by. We would go where he was in the summers, but for the most part, mom was on her own for much of the school year.

When my father lost his job in the era before older workers were valued for their contribution and experience, my mom stepped up to fill the gap. Mom never finished high school, but she is one of the smartest people I know. She took an income tax course and worked at HR Block. She went to work for my uncle, who was a family physician, and when that didn't work out (big ugly story best left in the past) she took a typing course and then ran another doctor's office with military precision until she retired at 67. She kept the ship off the rocks on the home front, and although we were tight for money, it was never obvious.

My mom grew up during the Depression and World War II and that early experience shaped her. She is frugal, thrifty and smart about stretching a dollar. She doesn't particularly like cooking but has signature dishes that are still favorites. No one cooks a turkey like my mom. She is a minimalist, and she doesn't like the feel of new clothes-probably because she always wore her sister Helen's hand me downs. It's hard to convince mom to wear new clothes-she's always "saving" them. She never had much, so she made do.

My mom had strong ideas about how her daughter should be raised, and although I resented it at the time, I'm modelling it now with my daughter. I was sat down at the end of the kitchen table as soon as I could hold a crayon to write thank you notes; it's second nature now. I was taught respect for others and for myself. I was taught right and wrong and was marched back into a store when I was child after I'd helped myself to a gumball. The storekeeper was much more understanding than my mom was. I went to church weekly when I was a child, but mom was smart enough to give me space to decide for myself. She dropped me off at church by myself when I was 13 or 14 and with a parting "see what God tells you to do" she drove away. I took her advice and I still go to church weekly. If she'd forced me, I would have left. My mom and dad taught me about the need to take care of others, and although we didn't have much money, there was always something found for the less fortunate. We supported charities, food banks and other social agencies. We donate used clothes to the Salvation Army because there was some good left in it and throwing it out would be wasteful. Teenage girls had curfews, and there were certain places that I was not allowed to hang out at, and it didn't matter a fig whether all my friends were doing it or not. School was important and homework came before play. I juggled part-time work from the time I was 15, and successfully completed a double-honours degree with a A- average. My mom taught me the work ethic that still guides me.

My figure did not fit teen fashions. I was curvy (putting it mildly) and "the girls" did not fit junior fashion. My mom was sympathetic but insistent that my clothes fit-PROPERLY-and were classic and tasteful. We tramped many hours through many stores to find a prom dress or t-shirts and tank tops that was stylish and age-appropriate. While my sense of style has evolved, and is still evolving as I'm still learning to embrace and accept my curves rather than hide them, the basics that my mom taught me still power my decisions.

My mom has become my close friend as I've aged. She's my sounding board, my grounding, my cheering squad and I was so glad that I was able to give her a grandchild to brighten her days. We talk 2-3 times every day about current events, politics, my daughter, my work, our family. My mom rocks.

I lucked out when I married, because my in-laws are pretty great people. My mother in law raised her boys to be self-sufficient and respectful and they treat their momma (and their wives) well. My mother in law is a loving person and she's scrupulously fair. She's added a bar of chocolate to a Christmas gift to make sure that the value is exactly the same. She loves good food, and she remembers trips by what she ate along the way. I tease her that she was a southern belle in another life; she likes nice things and a life of leisure. My father in law worked many hours and she kept things humming at home; she's earned the right to a cup of tea and her television shows. She's been completely supportive of my erratic, work from home writing career and she likes nothing better than to buy books for my daughter. She buys practical things for her grandchildren that still take into account their individual tastes and likes. She has yet to miss with clothes that she's bought for our daughter-a little bit of bling or butterfly goes a long way.

There are 2 other mothers in my life. They stay in the background, but neither I nor my mother would be mothers without them. I am talking about my and my daughter's birth mothers.

I was adopted at a time when information was minimal and contact was non-existent. My mom said that she couldn't even talk to the foster mom to find out what I liked to eat or what comforted me-I was handed to her and that was it. (In QC in those days, the baby stayed in foster care until the adoption was final to spare the adoptive parents the pain if the adoption wasn't finalized) My birth mom made a loving and courageous decision to make an adoption plan. She knew that the life I would have with her would not be as good as the life I would have with someone else. Until I became an adoptive mom myself, after the pain of infertility, I never understood fully what that sacrifice meant.

My daughter is adopted. I was fortunate to be able to meet my daughter's birth mom, and we have pictures. She was a smart and funny person who had more than her share of challenges and tough breaks. She named my daughter Serenity, because that is what my daughter represented to her, and we kept that name as part of my daughter's go-forward name. I will never forget the look on my daughter's birth mom's face as we pulled away with her child in our car. I can tell my daughter without a shadow of a doubt that her birth mom loved her.

So here's to the amazing and inspirational mothers in my life. Without the courage and love of two young women a few decades apart, neither my mom nor I would celebrate Mother's Day. My mom and my mother in law inspire me, support me and teach me to be a better person, day after day, and give me great parenting models to raise my own daughter. Moms rule.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blood and Guilt


"Mommy, what do you suppose this is?" asked the confused and wide-awake voice of my 4 year old daughter around 5am. She talks in her sleep, and I was hoping that she was dreaming, and was going to fall back to sleep. I am often the object of her nocturnal conversations, usually dealing with something that I am not allowing her to do. One night, I banned her from riding the purple unicorn...the one with sprinkles.

"Mommy?" The second call sounded a little more panicked, but my husband got out of bed before I did so I figured it was under control and snuggled deeper into the covers, one ear listening.

"I better turn on the light for a moment," my husband told my daughter and then I heard his "what the..." and was out of bed and into her room a moment later to see what was going on. My daughter's bedroom looked like a scene that would have done CSI or Criminal Minds proud. Her pillow was covered with congealed blood, there was blood across her face, on her hands, on her pyjamas and on her quilt. A small trickle continued from her left nostril, and she was covering her face with her hands, because my husband's reaction had scared her and she wasn't sure whether she was in trouble or in danger. Either way, disappearing seemed to be a good option.

I bent down and coaxed her to look at me. The whole lower half of her face was smeared with blood, and the smear on her sleeve indicated how it had gotten there. My daughter had just experienced her first nosebleed. We stripped her, stripped the bed and poured a bath for her. While she soaked the scary away, I went down and started soaking the blood out of the bed clothes. The pillow is a goner; it cannot be salvaged. Everything else was treatable.

I know a little bit about nosebleeds. I used to have bad ones when I was a kid. In fact, I once had to have my nose packed because the hospital couldn't get the bleeding stopped. Going in was not fun; coming out again was even worse. I know from nosebleeds.

For the past year, I've been dealing with blood stains of a different sort. I've been having periods that last for weeks and are so strong that "soak underpants, pyjama bottoms and sheets" have become part of my morning routine more often than not. I've soaked through a super tampon, a maxipad, underwear and jeans in an hour, only to repeat it an hour later. I have a fibroid (named Stan because anything that big living in me needed a name) and a cyst on my ovary, but the specialist is still trying to figure out what's going on. In the meantime, I've gotten good at blood stains...compared to some of my own messes, the nose bleed was bush league.

We got our daughter clean,dry,calmed and clothed in new pyjamas. We were all wide awake by that point, so we put on a pot of coffee and convened in the living room to watch Madagascar II en famille. We laughed more than she did, but she took turns snuggling on mommy and daddy. I told her in simple terms what a nose bleed was and she finally admitted that it was pretty scary. By the time it was time to leave for swimming, she was back to normal, although the 5am wakeup is going to be ugly by about 5pm this afternoon.

I'm now alternating between feeling pretty good that when she woke up scared she called for mommy (usually it's daddy overnight, and when she gets mom instead, she is not pleased) and feeling like the worst mom in the world for trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep while my daughter was wondering why she was covered in blood. Parenting is full of these "best decision at the time" moments that can rip you apart if you let them. We have a sunken vestibule, and when my daughter was starting to crawl, she faceplanted down the stairs...and had been leaning against me a nano-second before. I turned my back to put something down and tumble-silence-scream. We had just purchased a baby gate for that area, and I had moved it to take something out to the car and forgot to put it back. My daughter broke her leg a couple of years ago riding a tricycle in my in-laws' basement, with my husband and his parents sitting a foot away. Wheel jack-knifed, bike tipped, and twisted my daughter's leg, breaking it in 2 places. My husband felt horribly guilty, even though he hadn't hurt her, and he was supervising her well when it happened. It was one of those "oh crap" moments like this morning.

The bed is clean and waiting to be re-made. My daughter has already forgotten her morning wakeup call and is bouncing around, talking a blue streak and being herself. My husband and I are on our second pot of coffee, and are hoping that Vampira will go to bed on time that we can follow suit. And I, I've made a promise to myself that I will respond the first time the next time my daughter calls me in the night. After all, how will she ever know she can count on me for the big things if I don't show her that she can count on me for the little things? Motherhood is no place for sissies.