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On Friday, I’m flying to Rhode Island to spend the weekend with my parents and my cousin and her family.  Since my cousin, her husband, and their 3-year-old son live in England, their infrequent visits are a pretty big deal.  Since Mr. Apron is working this weekend, I’ll be transporting myself to New England via US Air.

My cousin’s plane doesn’t arrive until Saturday night, but I’m flying in Friday morning, which means I get almost 2 whole days with my parents.  That means, grossly speaking, with my mother.  When I asked her what flights I should book, based on what time she could pick me up from the airport, she cheerily replied that her whole day is wide open.  Mom is an attorney for the state of Massachusetts, and if she doesn’t have court scheduled or a visit with a client, she’s pretty much flexible in her schedule.

Which means I can prepare myself to get dragged around on pointless errands, wild goose chases for Scandinavian chestnuts or fire-truck-themed party hats, and to see countless things she’s been saving up for me.  I can usually only tolerate a weekend of being home, but I also usually have my buffer/husband around.  Last visit, over Christmas-time, Mom and I had a huge blowout, and I had to keep running back to Mr. Apron for moral support and to gather up my strength to do it all over again.  Last time, I had a meltdown in Nordstrom because Mom dragged me there to help her pick out a new shade of lipstick.  Last time, a major snowstorm stranded us at their house with our energetic, yet not quite potty-trained puppy, Molly, and their 3 insane dogs.  Last time, I struggled to communicate my needs to my mother, my needs to have my emotions allowed and validated.

Because I come from emotionally immature/limited stock, it’s challenging to express any emotions beside contentment, joy, gratitude, and agreeability.  These emotions will only encourage her to ask you to wrap packages, make dinner (nothing normal, of course, but something requiring the shelling of 7048 scalding chestnuts), accept vast quantities of expired and/or unwanted junk food, and “help” her with 3 dozen more mindless tasks.  “I don’t feel like it” or anything more negative than that (anger, depression, resentment, sadness) does not fall in the scope of acceptable. 

This either leads to a grin-and-bear-it attitude through clenched teeth and internalized resentment, or else an explosive drag-out match between logic (me) and stubbornness (her).  Mom is, after all, an Aries (and a narcissist). She finds a way to redirect all conversations to an anecdote about a client, or a tangent about some valuable lesson she learned, neither of which have to do with the issue at hand, but it’s not about the issue.  She doesn’t listen to me when I’m anything but happy, but again, it’s not about me. 

So I get a choice, of sorts this weekend – I can go along and get dragged around, or I can try to assert myself with my own preferences.  That is, if I had preferences.  But what do I want to do?  If I go along, that has to be my choice, too.  Mr. Apron shared a story tonight about David R. Dow, the author of “The Autobiography of an Execution”.  He relates in his book (which Mr. Apron is currently reading), that he, as a 3rd grader, missed a bathroom break at school and later pissed his pants.  Complaining to his father, looking for sympathy, he was met with the father’s maxim: “You shouldn’t do something unless you’re prepared to accept all the consequences”.  I guess my visit to my parents’ house is similar.  Not only the choice to go there in the first place, but my choice to either remain silent and complacent, or to speak up and assert my own preference for  activities. 

The latter is tricky for me – not in general, but in Rhode Island.  Since I didn’t grow up there, I don’t have any friends there.  I don’t have any old stomping grounds or hang-outs or places I remember going.  My longest period of time there was a summer I worked at Ben & Jerry’s and went with a coworker to gay clubs every weekend.  I didn’t exactly establish community or a sense of belonging.  I don’t have a childhood bedroom, or a space that is mine.  Everyone in that house seems to gather in the kitchen anyway, much the way kitchens functioned before central heating in Colonial times.  The kitchen was the center of activity, the hearth, the core of a home.  The living room and dining room are sealed off from dogs, as is the family room, or as we’ll forever call it, The Addition.  It will never quite be a part of the home as if we’d grown up with it.  We never played endless games of Monopoly in the family room, or opened Hanukkah presents there.  We never did homework sprawled on the couch or had sleepover parties on the floor.  My brother and I never built pillow forts or fell asleep under warm dogs there.  My father has installed a Rube Goldberg machine of a sound system  such that my mother and I can’t even sit down to watch Sex & the City without his tech support, let alone a movie.  During Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the last movie I watched at their house, the amplifier overheated every 9 minutes, letting out an ear-piercing spark, killing the circuit, and necessitating being reset. Though Dad has allegedly rectified the problem with another contraption, I think I’d have PTSD effects if I tried to watch any more movies there.  We watch TV instead on the 10” set mounted on their kitchen wall, while not lounging on the $5000 leather sofa purchased for The Addition, but perched instead on $5 folding chairs from Rite Aid while seated at the kitchen table.   We never established a use of the room as a family room, so it will always remain The Addition. 

I guess I never established use for Rhode Island either.  I’ve explored the far corners of the nation’s smallest state, from Purgatory Chasm to the Norman Bird Sanctuary.  I’ve hit all the small towns full of antiques, from Block Island to the shops of Newport, and I’ve seen Blackstone Bay, where my brother once took us sailing.  We’ve had soft-frozen lemonade and coffee milk, and the Mayor’s marinara.  We’ve eaten within walking distance of the East Side and on Federal Hill.  I’ve been to county fairs and triathlons.  I’ve been hiking in the woods of Chepachet, and partying in the mansions of Warwick Neck.  I’ve done it all, but as a tourist.  It’s a fantastic little state, but not one I’ve ever lived in.  Over the years, I’ve even managed to take Mr. Apron to all the sights I enjoyed, but none of them are mine.  And so when Mom asks if I have any special plans for my visit, I usually demur. 

I don’t have a solution right now, so I’m dreading the visit, as usual.  Maybe I should take a page out of Mom’s book, and invent some bullshit activity I have to do, like cutting out a dress pattern, or sourcing an obscure flavor of yogurt, so the running around will be on my terms.  Then I can make her chauffeur me around, since I don’t drive a manual, and every single one of the 5 cars they have parked at the used car lot their house is stick-shift.  Maybe I have to make her come with me to buy styling products to maintain my new hairdo.  Maybe I have to go to an antique store in Barrington, or look for cufflinks carved from Dodo whiskers for Mr. Apron.  Maybe I have to hunt down shoes and a headband to match my as-yet-uncut dress pattern.  Maybe I have to do things her way in order to do things my way.

This weekend, on Saturday night, I went to a coworker’s play.  It was “just” a community theatre production and she was “just” in the chorus, but she was excited, she had worked hard on the show, and she had brought fliers to work so we could read all about it. 

When we went up the stage after the show to greet the cast and offer our congratulations, she was stunned that I had come.  I guess if you believe no one will come, you’re set up for lower expectations, and won’t be as disappointed when no one does come.

Like my craft show the following day.  I’d been talking it up at work, somewhat shyly at first, as I like to keep work separate from home, and I don’t like to brag.  I, too, was excited, I, too, had worked hard for my show, and I, too, wanted to share it with my coworkers.  I sent out the mass e-mail to everyone in my building, I fielded questions about it all week.  And then Sunday came and went, and the only person who showed up was a colleague who literally lives 2 blocks away.  He bought a skull-appliquéd necktie, which he promptly announced he will never wear.  I had advertised the ties as being “for your inner hipster,” and he insisted he had no inner hipster to speak of. 

Aside from that lukewarm support, no one came.  I sent out a Facebook message to everyone on my so-called friend list who lives in SE Pennsylvania; it was about 73 people in total.  Three people bothered to tell me they wouldn’t be coming due to prior commitments, two put themselves down as “maybe” (ah, “maybe,” the bastion of false hopes), but no one, outside of my husband, RSVP’d that they’d be coming. 

It’s all well and good to hear people offer airy praise about my crafting, to ask if I sell on, to pay lip service to boost my ego by complimenting the things I make, but if they don’t actually show up to offer real support, it’s almost meaningless.  It’s almost like a fib.

Granted, not everyone is into a craft show, a haymish little affair at my branch library where they serve homemade lemon squares and elderly Jewish spinsters.  Not everyone is into jewelry or ceramics or furniture, or baby gifts or knitted items.  But I thought they were at least into me.  Apparently my craft fair and I are too easy to ignore. 

I know social loafing is in effect.  I know mass e-mails are easy to ignore, and shameless self-promotion is all the rage.  I receive e-mails soliciting donations for charity walks, inviting me to alumni social events, and asking for money for every possible cause there is.  These appeals, by and large, come from “friends”.  I know the return rate on a blind appeal is something abysmal like 2%, but these are allegedly my “friends”.  These are colleagues with whom I spoke in person, individually.  I thought that made it harder to ignore.  I thought it made me harder to ignore.

When 4pm had come and gone, without any more familiar faces, I sank into a stupor.  I had netted about $204 from the show, probably my all-time high in the 3 years I’ve been doing the $25-$30 table fee craft fair circuit (If you can count 5 shows as a “circuit”). Yet I was depressed.  I was utterly crestfallen that no one had come.  I checked and rechecked my e-mail, looking for acceptable excuses, looking for a smattering of guilt that might have trickled in, some half-assed apology out of a sense of obligation, as to why they had missed the show.  I would have been mollified by a good excuse.

“So sorry we missed your show!  The dog had explosive diarrhea all over our front foyer and we physically couldn’t leave the house!”

“You won’t believe what happened!  We went to the movies last night and fell asleep.  They locked us in and we couldn’t get out until just now. So sorry we couldn’t be there.”

“My car died.  When I had it towed to the shop, they said squirrels had gnawed through my ignition wires, and, due to my phobia of germs and public transportation, I couldn’t take the bus to your show.”

“I have Legionnaire’s Disease, which is extremely contagious and I didn’t want to infect the old biddies at the library.  Fortunately, it has a short course, and I’ll see you at work on Monday.”

“On my way to your show, a freak hail storm blocked the road.  Though I finally made it through the storm, the road was barricaded.  I tried to get a National Guard escort to the craft show, but the troops were all tied up trying to restore power to the tri-state area.”

I might have even believed them.  Instead, I began to believe they were not truly “friends” as I had thought of them.  Friends are supposed to show up even if it’s not their cup of tea.  Friends are supposed to be there, to stop by, to support you in small ways. 

A few years ago, when Mr. Apron and I were married, I invited nearly all of my high school friends, even though I hadn’t seen most of them in years.  They were scattered from West Coast to East, from Washington State, to Florida, to D.C., to Connecticut and Minnesota.  And they came.  More high school friends, in fact, than college friends, attended my wedding.  They even brought guests who I hadn’t been as close to, including my Senior Homecoming date.  They bought plane tickets, stayed in hotels, and came to my wedding.  I felt privileged to have such dedicated friends. 

Until I noticed a friend’s last name had changed abruptly on Facebook, signifying that she had completed her engagement to her long-time beau by becoming his wife.  I was aware of her engagement, having congratulated her on her Facebook “wall”, the only socially appropriate thing to do.  Of course, there were photos online of the nuptials, including photos of many of the same folks who had been at my wedding.  That was probably the first significant event I felt truly excluded from by a group of girls I had thought were my friends.  Middle school is torturous for most, and I was no exception, but if I was tormented by trying to decipher the code to popularity, I was at least under no delusions that the popular girls were my friends. 

This weekend’s events only seemed to strengthen that feeling of being left out, abandoned, and forsaken.  I doubted my worth as a so-called friend, doubted the strength of any of my relationships, be they family, friend, or collegial.  I began to wonder if my continual reluctance to share anything emotional, personal, or upsetting with any of my friends had finally caught up to me.  Maybe, I thought, they don’t even know me, because I am too afraid to show any weakness, even with friends I have known for years.  None of them, save one, even knows about the miscarriage.  They don’t know me because I have not let them.

At work this week, there have been the usual pleasantries and polite exchanges about weekend goings-on.  Half a dozen coworkers have inquired, uttering bullshit excuses.  I just didn’t make it.  We got really busy.  We lost track of time assembling our Ikea TV stand (that one I believe).  Or not at all.  They ask how it went, and I say, “Great.”  After all, I did alright by the books.  There was plenty of traffic at the fair.  I received the usual compliments on my work (without accompanying purchases).  But it wasn’t great.  It should be reinforcing, but it’s not. 

Mr. Apron related this to receiving praise from people who “don’t count”.  It’s one thing for him, an actor/singer/performer in all things Gilbert & Sullivan, to hear the shriveled old lady from the front row gush compliments and ask if his (real) teeth are “joke teeth”; it’s quite another entirely to hear an ardent G&S fan, or a respected actor commend him on his interpretation of the role.  So, too, does it “not count” as much when my parents or my husband tell me how great my work is, or how creative I am.  As parents, they have to say that.  And as for my husband, he remains the most supportive person I have ever known.  And because he’s in love with me, his opinions of my greatness are, at the least, biased, blinded, and horribly skewed.  He can’t help it. 

He would do anything in his power to make me feel supported and empowered and lauded, but he cannot substitute for friends and colleagues stopping by, getting to know one more piece of me through my extra-curricular activities. 

On Monday night, he and I traveled a short distance to a private high school auditorium, to hear an 11th grader perform a scene from “Proof”.   She is a student I have been tutoring in various subjects for almost 3 years.  We sat on choral risers propped on the stage, my ass going numb as we saw confident 11th graders say “fuck” and “cunt” in front of their parents.  The scenes were from real plays, good plays, and I enjoyed the shock value.  What I enjoyed even more was the e-mail she sent me later that night:

“Thanks so much to you for coming to see me in my drama performance. It really meant a lot to me. Thank you for always being there for me whether through tutoring, on stage, or just being a good friend.
p.s.  I’m so sorry that I didn’t get to go to the craft fair, but I’m sure you made some awesome stuff, and I hope you raised a lot of money :)”

I firmly believe half of any job, task or responsibility is just showing up. Showing up implies ready to work, ready to listen, or just here to say hello.  When you get hired to your first fast-food job, the most important thing you can do is show a basic level of responsibility by showing up.  When people sit shiva after a Jewish funeral, the point is just to be there, to sit with the family, to support them.  They may not remember what kind of desiccated fish they ate, or what you said, but they will remember that you were there.  Maybe that’s too high of an expectation for other people, but it’s still important to me.   I’ll keep showing up, and maybe one day, my friends will, too.

Well, folks, the verdict is in. Over the last month and a half, Mr. Apron and I have been subject to all sorts of painful, awkward, and intrusive testing to try to pinpoint the cause of our infertility. Today, I met with my doctor for a follow-up, and I found out that we are completely, hopelessly, and wholly normal. That’s right; everything tested within normal limits, which means our diagnosis is now the ever-so-helpful, nothing-for-it Unexplained Infertility. Which is a medical way of saying, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you, so we can’t really do any interventions that would ‘fix’ it.”

Which is kind of what I heard from my GI doctor a month and a half ago when I got the results from my diagnostic testing. Well, it’s definitely acid reflux, which I’ve known and managed for the last 9 years, and it’s definitely gastritis, which means my stomach is inflamed and irritated, but it’s such a non-specific diagnostic indicator, it essentially means, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you, so we really can’t do any interventions that would ‘fix’ it.”

Isn’t modern medicine fun?

Part of me is insanely relieved that there are no structural abnormalities, no glaring issues for us to overcome or circumvent or manage. I made the mistake last night of watching, on a coworker’s advice, “One Born Every Minute”. It’s Lifetime program, so right there that should be a red flag that indicates, “This is for hormonal women who want to languidly drink wine while they curl up on their couches and bemoan their ticking biological clocks.” Yet we cued it up OnDemand, since we’re no longer afraid of our cable box, and we watched. Into each of the women’s (well, couples’, but really? It’s all about the women. It’s on Lifetime, for goodness sake) stories TV producers must inject a healthy dose of artificial drama, to be accompanied by violins playing dissonant intervals and teaser close-ups that make you think something has – gasp! – gone wrong. Last nights’ episode profiled a 33-year old woman who has osteoporosis, a 22-year-old woman who is afraid of hospitals and needles, and a 32-year old woman pregnant with twins from IVF, who has a history of repeat miscarriage and whose belly is so distended she could barely stand upright. So of course there is a teaser for the frail woman saying, “My hip hurts!” which the whole medical team says they’ll take into consideration but ultimately they just ignore. There are repeated segments of the 22-year old freaking out about her IV, the lidocaine, the epidural, the medical equipment. And there is selective broadcast of the OB/GYN’s warnings about the possibility of bleeding with the twin 8-lb babies and the women’s hyper-distended uterus.

And everything went fine. Reality television has to create drama where there really isn’t any, has to selectively film segments that fit into a particular “story line”, and has to give us a happy ending. Why? Because it’s Lifetime, dammit, and that’s what Hallmark Hall of Fame movies have taught us to expect.

My heart of course went out to the woman with twins, who had lost a fallopian tube in her last miscarriage, and who had gone through 4 IVF cycles to conceive the couple’s 2-year-old son. She had something truly wrong with her, something they could fix. While the others just had TV karma, or happened to walk into the hospital at the right time, this couple actually had real infertility issues.

And that’s the other part of me, the part that is longing for a diagnosis, so I can know my enemy, research my enemy, and take steps to vanquish my enemy. So I can be in control and in action.

Back in 2004, when I received my AVM diagnosis, I had been through rounds of testing. My EEG had come back normal, and I’d been carrying around my MRI films for weeks. (This was, amazingly, before the health systems – even major teaching hospitals – had digitized films, and they made patients, like yours truly, carry around the films from lab to doctor to hospital to surgery. It was, strangely, always windy when I was carrying my brain scans, and they flapped about like a sail as I walked from my car to the medical building.) When I finally had an answer, had an explanation, and one that made sense, no less (Since my AVM was seated on the part of the motor cortex that corresponded to my face/tongue, my tongue seizures at once had validation, seen in graphic detail as a dark blob on my MRI.), I was relieved. I did not cry; I did not withdraw. I excitedly talked with Dr. Hart about the discovery, grateful to have an answer, and one that made sense to me, with my background in linguistics and neuroscience. I particularly enjoyed the ego-boost when Dr. Hart asked, “And what is it you do for a living?” and I replied, “Oh, I teach preschool.” Sure, there was Googling, and fear of the unknown. There were more tests, many tears, and a long unfamiliar road ahead, with an uncertain outcome. But I had factors on my side. At only 23, I had youth on my side. Anatomically, I had location and size on my side. My AVM was close enough to the surface, at an easy-to-access place, and it was only 2cm x 3cm. It was thankfully on the right side of my brain, so my language areas were virtually assured to be unaffected. And I had a doctor on my side, in the form of unabashed faith in a neurosurgeon I respected and trusted.

I won’t say that it was something I could face again, or that it was straightforward relief at knowing what was wrong, and working to fix it. But I will say that a diagnosis can be a welcome thing when one is seeking answers.

The only answers I got today opened up one more question:

So if everything is normal, why aren’t we pregnant yet?

Craftster Award

I won an award!

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April 2011