Nearly five years of health-related nonsense left me depressed, anxious, over-tired, over-weight, and feeling defeated. Until I shared a glass (or two) with my girlfriends and they insisted that I not give up. I didn’t. And that’s how I finally found out what was actually wrong.
It was one of those four thousand snowy days in New Jersey, where the kids were off from school for the second day in a row and I was getting some serious cabin fever. The roads were still a mess and too icy to go anywhere, but I needed company. “Cabin Fever Cocktails?” I texted my neighborhood girlfriends, all in walking distance of my front door. “OMG YES” they texted back, and at 5 p.m. on the dot, my winter emotional rescue team walked in. My grandmother used to have a cake in the kitchen for anyone who might stop by and share a cup of coffee. I, apparently, always have bubblies on hand, and we popped open a couple bottles and sat around with our feet tucked and caught up with life. Maybe it was the cozy fire, maybe it was too much self-reflection after 48 hours of being cooped up, maybe it was just the vibe of the room of supportive and caring people, but I finally confessed to my (skinny, fit and fabulous) friends how frustrated I was that I was having such a hard time losing weight, and feeling crummy in general.
Weight has been an up and down thing for me my whole life. Puberty and middle school was an awesome time of growing sideways first, then sprouting taller and leaner. College freshman fifteen, up, down. Pregnancy did not make me a baby-bump glowing human – I gained just as much weight in my butt as I did in my belly. I used to say it was nature’s way of making sure I wouldn’t tip over. Baby weight on, baby weight off. Up. Down. By the time the pounds had started creeping on in my late thirties, I blamed age and a lack of time to exercise, and decided to make some lifestyle changes, really try and take care of myself once and for all. Then I tried some fun anti-anxiety meds, which packed on 50 pounds in six months. I wasn’t anxious – because I was a zombie. I stopped the meds but couldn’t get rid of the pounds. For the last two years I had been really trying, seriously trying, to little avail.
“I just feel like I’m stuck – like if the answer really is that it’s just that hard to lose weight when you’re older I get it, but this is ridiculous,” I told the ladies. “What have you been doing?” they asked, wanting to listen, wanting to understand, the way good girlfriends do. I explained how I had joined a gym in the fall, and had been seeing a trainer three times a week for an hour at a time, and was on the Peloton bike one or two times in addition to that. I explained how I had joined a meal delivery service and was eating 1300 calories a day. How I read an article that said sleep was important for weight loss so I was maniacal about sleep health and sleep hygiene and was getting eight hours a night and had started using essential oils so I would have better sleep and despite all of this, I hadn’t seen a difference on the scale.
“That’s not normal.”
“You’re working too hard for there not to be success.”
I’d never been so glad to have other people tell me there was something wrong with me. That’s how I’d been feeling too. A couple of years of raised eyebrows, and a serious six months of WTF?
They asked me more questions. Was I seriously not sweating sitting so close to the fire? Nope. I was usually chilly. My feet were always cold. I wore socks to bed every night. I had rosacea that started in the fall as well – my whole life I’d always had great skin and now this was a new awful WTF thing. They asked about my poop, periods, pimples, all the good things that good girlfriends want to know.
“That’s too many things. I think it’s auto-immune,” Marni said. Amy agreed. “Could be thyroid. You know that stuff runs in threes too, right? You could have a bunch of things going on at the same time.” Mandy nodded. “Your body is acting like it’s starving to death, it’s holding on to every ounce of fat it can.” “You’re working so hard, there should be results with all that work!” Chris exclaimed. “Go see my doctor,” said Kristen, “he’s a functional medicine doctor. He’s like a detective. He doesn’t take insurance but he’s worth it.” And then we drank some more champagne and complained about our kids and families and parents and spouses and dogs. And I felt so much better, because of all of it.
I decided to go see my primary doctor again. She’s a general practioner, and I’ve always liked her. Plus, she takes insurance, so for $25 maybe I could get her to order me a blood test to check my thyroid and I could find out what was wrong and get a magic thyroid pill and be skinny. Right, skinny and healthy. But really what I was focused on was wanting to be skinny again instead of feeling like I was trapped in a fat suit. Dr. M saw me the next day. She came in and was friendly and curious why I was there. I’m either super healthy, or super not healthy. I won’t need to talk to a doctor for three years and then I’ll get bronchitis and cough and break a rib. Or get bitten by a neighbor’s dog that leaves teeth marks around my arm and requires a tetanus booster, just to be safe. You know, fun stuff like that.
I explained why I was there. How frustrated I was that I wasn’t losing weight, and that I’d been anxious and depressed and exhausted and generally having a hard time.
“What are you eating?” she asked. And I explained about the meal delivery plan and how I’d been following it for six months and wasn’t having success.
“Are you really only eating 1300 calories a day?” Dr. M asked me. “Well, mostly,” I said. “If I get really hungry I might eat an apple or some almonds,” I confessed. Dr. M nodded. “Yup. That’s your problem. An apple is too much. You should never eat a whole apple. A THIRD of an apple. That’s a snack,” she told me. “Look at me,” she said, and I did. She might be four foot eleven and I doubt she weighs triple digits. She’s super cute and super little. “I eat nothing – that’s how I stay looking like this.”
I bit my tongue. I think my skeleton (or left boob) might weigh more than her full corporal form. “Do you really think that a whole apple instead of a third of an apple is my problem though? My girlfriends suggested I might have a thyroid issue?” She started writing out a blood work form. “We can test you for thyroid. You only need Free T4, I don’t need to test you for T3.” I tried to remember what Amy had said about the full panel of thyroid testing, but I was feeling fat and badly about my existence and all of a sudden lost my ability to ask questions or advocate for myself. In the six minutes Dr. M had spent with me in the exam room I went from thinking about my written list of symptoms to wondering if I could survive on a third of a piece of fruit. She handed me the lab form. “If you want to talk to me about a gastric sleeve we can have that conversation. I’m not against that,” and she walked out of the room.
A gastric sleeve?
OMG. Was everyone looking at me and thinking “Jesus, she needs to get her stomach stapled, what is her problem?” and I was thinking I was fat, but like in a just a little fat kind of way? I thought about my half-hearted joke that I needed fatter friends, like Chubby Checkers, how I went to Disney World and felt skinny and was so glad I wasn’t on a jazzy scooter. Was I one giant turkey leg and a big gulp away from needing electric transport to roll my fat ass through life?
I had my blood drawn at the lime green lab of lost souls down the hall and walked outside. I called my sister from the car.
“I need to ask you something and I need you to be completely honest with me. Because if you are lying to me you are not helping me and I need the truth from you right now,” I started out, not even saying hello.
“Okay…..” she said. “I can do that.”
“Do I need gastric bypass? Are you all looking at me and talking about how morbidly obese I am and not telling me? Because I just saw my doctor…” and I spilled my guts on the whole thing. My sister was furious. “If you tell me where she lives, I will egg her house,” she said. “She didn’t listen to you. She isn’t trying to help you. She’s blaming you. This is not what you need. Go to another doctor.”
So I did. I called Kristen’s doctor who didn’t take insurance. I had my first test results from Dr. M by the time I went to see him. Thyroid T4 or whatever was normal. No further follow up requested. I wondered if there were giant GMO apples I could buy.
I told Dr. Z “I was on the phone with my sister this morning on my way here and she was glad I was coming to talk to you. She said she didn’t want to sound mean but that I’m kind of a bit of a mess right now.” Dr. Z smiled. “What does your sister want me to know about you?” And I went through my story again. Dr. Z listened and asked questions. For an HOUR. We talked about how I’m tired ALL THE TIME. We talked about my weight gain and inability to lose pounds, my restrictive calories, working out with a trainer (who also said I should see a doctor and get my blood checked, because even SHE thought I should be more successful than was my reality), we talked about my depression, anxiety, rosacea skin, my tendency to complain and then make jokes, my blog, my kids, my dogs, my parents and my childhood, my vitamins, my husband and marriage, and how I love to travel. After an hour, Dr. Z asked if he could do an exam, and then we talked again. We did a fasting blood draw and he explained that the last test I had wasn’t “as complete” as what he would be ordering. “I can’t tell you much right now,” he said, “we’ll need to see what’s going on with the blood work, but I think something is definitely out of balance. We’ll get you back on that path where you want to be.”
Dr. Z emailed me the blood work results a couple weeks later. The first test packet came from my typical lab of despair and had a bunch of the usual stuff, some I recognized. Others I did not. I did recognize that my once-perfect cholesterol was no longer perfect. I sent my mom a text thanking her for our crummy family DNA. I am snarky that way. Thankfully my mom puts up with me. Then I read the second test packet, something called a “Custom NutriQuant Panel” and read the first item, Arsenic. It was high, like out of range high. I called my sister. Obviously I was being poisoned by my husband and someone needed to know, so when I wound up dead the police would be pointed in the right direction. “I don’t think that’s how he’d kill you,” my sister told me. “I think he’d find something more modern. Arsenic is so old-fashioned. Unless he’s a time traveler, I don’t think that’s it.” My sister can be so logical. She didn’t argue that my husband wouldn’t kill me. She just thought he would find a more efficient and modern way to do it. “What’s the rest of the test say?” she asked. “I don’t know.” I said. “There’s stuff all over the place. I’m supposed to call the doctor.” “And you called me instead?” my sister asked. “Cool. Go call the doctor.”
So I called Dr. Z. “Which page do you have in front of you?” he asked. “Arsenic!” I declared. “I already told my sister my husband is trying to kill me,” I explained to him. “Mm, well that might be true, but, I wouldn’t worry too much about the arsenic. It could be that you eat a lot of rice or had some fish with some higher arsenic levels. It’s not worth worrying about that but we can retest it again just to check if that would make you feel better.” I sniffed. I was glad everyone was taking my husband potentially poisoning me seriously. We talked about my Vitamin B12 being low, my Vitamin D being low, even a weird level for Copper was low. I didn’t even know the body needed Copper. Was I going to turn green like the Statue of Liberty? “I’m so confused,” I said. “I take a multi vitamin every day with 1667% of Vitamin B12. And for Vitamin D I take 4000IU every morning. How on earth am I still so low?” And Dr. Z told me. “All of these things are probably testing low because your body isn’t able to absorb them. If you turn the page you’ll see you tested positive for Celiacs. You’re malnourished in several areas.”
Celiacs? Malnourished? This was a cosmic joke. Why couldn’t I get skinny person Celiacs? How on earth did I get fat from being malnourished?
I had been so fixated on my arsenic poisoning that I hadn’t bothered to look up most of the other stuff on the test. I had been tested for Celiacs ten years ago when my daughter was first diagnosed with it. I was negative then. I was positive now. Was the test ten years ago wrong? Apparently the negative tests are only correct 71% of the time. Or had the Celiacs just turned on at some point in the last few years? I have no way of knowing. Part of fun and funky thing about autoimmune diseases like Celiacs is that they can activate at any point in life. Katie and I had zero similarities in terms of symptoms. She was nearly two when she was diagnosed, and her pediatrician suggested that we test her because Katie had fallen off the growth chart. She was tiny, hovering near that “failure to thrive” mark. Within 6 months of a gluten-free diet, Katie was growing and thriving and her blood work was back to perfect. All the blood testing helped lay the foundation for her fear of needles, but that’s another story.
My symptoms were different, but apparently not atypical at all. The unfortunate thing is that most doctors think of a “celiac look”, and test people who are really skinny and little. But, according to research, a full 39% of celiac patients are overweight, with 30% actually obese. Malnourished vitamin and mineral-deprived bodies become super efficient at holding on to excess fat. They can get a gastric sleeve, eat a third of an apple a day, and their body will still recognize malnourishment as starvation. I’m convinced that undiagnosed Celiacs is part of the obesity problem in America. Yes, there are some facts and studies that support that. Mostly I just think these things in my own head and have little actual medical knowledge, but I’m totally ok with that.
At the end of the day, I will miss good New York / Northern New Jersey bagels, croissants and crusty bread in Paris, and Carvel ice cream crunchies. But I will not miss my body attacking itself, holding onto excess weight, and feeling exhausted all the time because I can’t maintain needed vitamin and mineral levels. I want my body back in balance, and I want to feel good again. Is a celiacs diagnosis going to cure all my life problems? Maybe. Maybe not. I still have that whole arsenic poisoning thing to obsess about. I’m really good at obsessing in general. Thankfully my girlfriends listened to my troubles and pushed me in the right direction. What we all need is to make sure we are speaking up and pushing for ourselves too. Onwards.
Are you like me? Do you think you have every disease you read about? Here’s some info on Celiacs disease, the extensive blood work you might want to consider, and the link to a great card set called “Fifty Things that Might Kill You”. Because why not?
Facts, Figures, and Fantastical Ideas:
- What the heck is gluten? A protein found in Wheat, Oats, Rye, Malt and Barley. Not the kind of good energy protein you find in eggs and meat and things. Just some weird science protein that makes everyone confused. Technically oats do not have gluten in them, but most farmers growing oats rotate the crop with wheat, and the gluten leaches out into the soil, and then when you plant the oats the gluten gets absorbed into the oats. You can find gluten-free oats in the store because those farmers are following gluten-free farming practices. Tuck that away for your trivia night evening.
- Celiacs Disease is not an allergy. It’s an auto-immune disease. Essentially it’s your body reacting to the presence of gluten in a way that creates an attack on your own self. Your intestines have these cute little villi that are like little fingers or tentacles reaching out to absorb nutrients. In Celiacs, the gluten makes the body think it’s under attack and the immune system kills off the villi. So no more nutrient absorption, and the body becomes malnourished. That’s what the blood test looks for – antibodies in your blood which indicates your immune system is in attack formation. There are three separate tests you need to diagnose celiac (and yes, you need all three, not just one) – Tissue Transglutam AB IGA, Gliadin Deamidated AB, IGA, and Gliadin Deamidated AB, IGG. You see why I didn’t notice I had Celiacs. None of those say Celiacs. Arsenic is way more fun to talk about.
- Celiacs can make people react in so many different ways that there isn’t really a “typical” symptoms list that would make you want to go get tested. I just think every human should be tested anyway. Like a CBC, cholesterol check. Just do it. A healthy gut is too important not to take care of. Did you know that 80% of your immune system is in your gut? So if your gut is sick then you’re just going to feel rotten. Maybe we’re not all sleep deprived because of long commutes and screen time. Maybe we all have celiacs. Maybe celiacs is the magic answer for everything. I wonder if Harry Potter has a spell for that? “Reparo My Gut!”
- In Italy, they simply test every child at age 5. That’s your baseline. And then you can get tested again later to see if you have a change. Or if you’re already Celiac as a kid you know to make changes (a strict gluten-free diet) and you get healthy early in life.
- I also think this Custom NutriQuant Panel was wicked important. We can all take vitamins, but how do we know if our body is absorbing them if we aren’t checking? Think about this. I was taking 1667% of Vitamin B12 thru my multivitamin EVERY DAY. And it was going right thru my body like it was water. While my body is repairing I’m taking B12 as a dissolvable tablet under my tongue so it goes directly into my blood stream instead of needing to be absorbed through my gut. Cuz apparently my gut isn’t working all that well.
- It can take six months for my body to heal while doing this whole gluten free diet thing. As little as one eighth of a teaspoon can be enough to set an immune system into attack mode. There’s no cheating. Or mistakes. Which makes this part really fun:
- Food companies do not need to indicate if their product has gluten in it. The allergy people are much better organized with the lobbyists on this front. The eight major allergens (fish, shellfish, peanuts, treenuts, eggs, milk, soy, wheat) are required to be listed on packaging. Gluten can be hidden in the ingredients – in things like “natural and artificial flavoring” – and when I have called company customer service hotlines (places like Dannon yogurt) to ask them if there is any hidden gluten I was told “the ingredients are proprietary information” (and I never bought a Dannon product again).
- Yes, there is a ton of gluten free options in the grocery store. Some of them actually taste good. Most are in the meh category.
- Gluten can hide in things like soy sauce, rice krispies (because malt flavoring is cheaper than sugar), toothpaste, medications, and envelope glue. Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Susan died from licking envelopes? Again, celiacs might be the answer to all the world’s problems.
- Celiacs is not something you grow out of. It’s a disease you have forever (until they find a cure). The only way to live a healthy life is to be completely 100% gluten free all the time. With all the choices of other things I could have, I’ll take this one, thank you very much.
Here is my wish for today- I wish that we humans can realize that we have more in common with each other than differences that divide us – and I hope that we can figure out this out before the aliens arrive to take over.
Let me confess – I am the first to be declared guilty of not fulfilling my own wishes for our world. I might talk about how the world is becoming smaller, and how isolationist foreign policy ideas don’t work in an age when the bad guys can enter our lives from a basement computer on another continent and shut off my electricity, yet I see differences before similarities all the time. I blame my cave people genetics. Back then things that were different were dangerous. If Cave Mom Me saw a pretty cat and said “Oh look, that kitty looks just like my pet Mittens,” and I neglected to notice that the new kitty had giant teeth the size of sabers, I might be in trouble. Nicolas Cage (the cave dad in The Croods movie) would tell his family stories about “something new” and the stories always had the same ending – “and then they were DEAD”. I get that. I’m a worst case scenario kind of girl, so I see danger everywhere like that boy in The Sixth Sense movie saw dead people. But before I continue down the list of my favorite movies, let me tell you about my real life.
I told my daughter I needed to write about gun violence. Know what she told me? “Mom, be sure you’re not too polarizing. People won’t listen.” She’s right. At age eleven she’s figured out that we adults need to be reminded how to speak to one another in order to fix a problem. But I have hope and belief that we can fix that discourse in our country. We just need to make speaking to each other with kindness and understanding part of the way we fix the other issues. Common sense gun control? Yes. Not lashing out and calling someone an idiot for a difference of opinion on social media? Let’s get there. Together.
My daughter will turn 12 next month. Her best friend at school greeted her the morning after the Parkland, Florida shootings to tell her that her camp friend lost her best friend in the attacks. A friend of mine from college posted on Facebook that her children, in the middle school next door, were safe. Her son had called her from underneath his desk, sheltering in place, to let her know he was ok. I haven’t been able to put my phone out of sight since then. What if my kids were attacked in school and they called me to talk to me in their fear and I had put my phone down to go do laundry or go to the bathroom? My own anxiety is changing the way I act during my regular day.
The six degrees of separation to gun violence are circling and getting tighter and scarier and sadder.
And, yes. There is a gun problem in our country.
My kids practice lock-down drills, shelter in place drills, active shooter drills, and have been taught how to jump out a second story window to escape an attacker. SOMETHING IS BROKEN.
Do I like guns? Nope. But I’m willing to listen to those who do. My sister’s husband is a hunter. He has a gun closet, locked all the time, and he hunts geese, ducks, deer, and other things to eat. My sister makes these amazing duck popper things that are wrapped in bacon. They are yummy. I’ve told him many times that if there was a zombie apocalypse they should plan to come to my house, because we have a generator and he has the weapons. He’s reminded me we wouldn’t last long without the weapons. I’ve also thought I wouldn’t last long without duck poppers. I believe him. I respect him. I just still don’t like guns.
I met Jamie on the bus to the Women’s March in DC in 2017. She lost her brother to gun violence over 20 years ago. She’s been fighting this fight a long time.
“A gun in the hands of a criminal with vengeance in his heart took my brother’s life swiftly and violently. The shock and the horror were unimaginable. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t a nightmare that I would awaken from. I was praying it was so. I literally had to touch hard surfaces around me to make sure I was awake. For many months to follow the only peace I had were the first few seconds of each day when I opened my eyes and for one brief flash forgot what had happened. When the realization hit – it hurt me every morning – again and again.”
– Jamie Checkett McLaughlin
Gun Violence Prevention – How to Get Involved
(reprinted with permission from Jamie Checklett McLaughlin)
Even though I was personally devastated by gun violence with the murder of my brother Chet in 1992, I did not become involved in activism until the massacre of 26 souls at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (2012). The hole in my heart grew that much larger, and I finally found my “voice” the next day with the help of Moms Demand Action when they called and asked me to be a “Face of Courage” and share my story. It was the first time I had written down my experience and it was intimidating and cathartic at the same time. My story:
I think technology has officially passed me up. I was thinking about The Jetsons the other day, and the episode when Mrs. Jetson was overwhelmed from the machines and gadgets that were supposed to simplify her life. I understand Jane so much better now, as I throw in the towel for my two latest tech additions in our house – what should be a simple alarm clock, and a freaking scale. Like there wasn’t enough wrong with either of those items to begin with, I have now teched it out beyond recognition.
The Jetsons shows us the future in year 2062 – 100 years from the actual airdate of 1962 (and yes, thank you, we are closer to 2062 than we are to 1962 so let’s all freak out about that later when we can schedule some time to do so properly). Pressing so many buttons made Jane’s fingers tied, twisted and cramped, and she was diagnosed with some sort of futuristic carpal tunnel syndrome. Being a housewife of the future had overwhelmed her hands to the point of debilitating pain and stress. She truly “needed” to hire a robot maid to help her with all the strenuous button pushing. At the time I originally watched this episode (probably during the 1985 reboot) I was in disbelief. Who could be overwhelmed by technology?! She had it so easy! A press of a button solved everything! And now here I am. I have technology that is just the press of a button (not even a real PRESS – just a TOUCH) and I am a twisted cranky person as well. And for the record, I have wanted a robot maid (and other futuristic inventions) for quite some time, which you can read here in my blog from 2015.
So, today’s tech fails in my life. Let’s start with these two – the scale and the alarm clock – and then I can obsess about this until 2062 and keep you updated on others as they occur.
Do you remember when the Elf on the Shelf first came on the Christmas scene? It was back in the day when small bookstores still dotted neighborhoods, which is where I first saw the Elf, and his book. This was back before the Elf had clothes, gender identity, pets, or any other marketing accouterments. He had a BOOK. And in the book, he explained to children that he was coming from the North Pole every morning to watch them, and their behavior, and then skip off to the North Pole each evening to report to Santa. I stood in the little bookstore (which has since closed, sadly) and read the entire book (as one can do in a little book store) and dreamed of what this could mean for me in my house during the month of December. The original publication date was 2005, but I don’t think the elf came around to our house until 2006. 2006 was Katie’s first Christmas, and I was in the throws of making a magical Christmas for my toddler Alex, with a newborn Katie strapped to me in a baby bjorn or sling or some baby holding device since she did not want to be put down, and I was feeling a wee bit tired. So an elf, on a shelf, reminding a toddler boy to be well behaved and not throw legos or other choking hazards at his baby sister? I might have day-dreamed in the store, thinking about how all I would need to do would be to point at the elf after any infraction and Alex’s toddler behavior would self-correct, and I could go back to regular life, like emptying a dishwasher while holding an infant. The elf would save time! The elf would help behavior! The elf would be the Christmas miracle I needed!
Now, I admit, there is a definite creep factor involved with this. My Katie, who is now 11, pointed out just last week that the elf is much like the creepy Christmas carol “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. We were in the car listening to Christmas carols, as one does, and the song came on. “Mom, just listen to the actual WORDS,” Katie implored, and so I did:
I’m not usually a Bah Humbug kind of girl, but this year I’m in a bit of a funk.
Maybe it’s a year of politics that has me wishing for a third party. Or no party.
Maybe it’s a year of “#metoo” and realizing that I think life is more like “who hasn’t?”
Maybe as I’ve gotten older and realized that what I actually want to do when I grow up is become a (real/paid/famous) writer and that means I am trying to reorganize and prioritize my life and activities so there is time every day for writing (breathing out) and reading (breathing in), and adding in a few dozen extra tasks between Thanksgiving (which we hosted for 37 people) and Christmas Eve (when we host 19 people) is making me stressed and anxious and feeling selfish and guilty all at the same time.
Maybe it’s because trying to be a real writer means that for the last six months I’ve actually approached agents, publishers, writing residency and fellowship programs and started getting my first rejection letters, which I am told is the badge of every successful writer. Just for the record, these badges feel crappy. And totally do NOT go with my outfit.
I miss the days when I could just sink money into the most adorable Disney Princess Halloween costumes possible. Katie has been Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Anna from Frozen, Sleeping Beauty (which at the time was before Katie perfected her speech articulation and she called her Cheapy Booty which gave my family the hysterics) and Merida, which was probably her favorite because it included arrows – and weaponry when you have an older brother is really a fabulous idea.
Here we are. Two weeks and counting. And there will need to be not one, but two, acceptable costumes for my tweenage daughter.
Because what eleven year old girl could commit to just one outfit in a day?
Princesses are no longer an acceptable avenue of dressing up. My feisty and fiery independent girl is now balancing her desire to be whatever her imagination creates alongside her friends who may or may not want to create a group of themed costuming. Two girls considered being Salt and Pepper, then a third wanted to join in and they switched to Rock Paper Scissors. A fourth was interested and suddenly the other original costume friends have moved on to other groups. “How does that make you feel?” I asked, unsure if this will be something that will send my daughter into hysterics. “Mom,” she tells me, rolling her eyes, “They’ve known each other since kindergarten. Of course they need to do something together!” I exhale. Drama averted. For now.
My relationship with our country and its symbolisms is a complex one. I’m not a flag waver. I’m not a flag burner. I grew up with both in my family. I broke bread at the same table as the patriot and the hippie. It was interesting, as a child, to watch these two men eat meals together, knowing that they could not possibly be more different, yet there they sat, respecting each other and both loving my grandmother’s amazing whipped potatoes. Those potatoes transcended mere mashed potatoes – she whipped those taters til lumps were a distant memory. I didn’t even know mashed potatoes could have lumps until I was in high school.
My grandfather was named Jack, and he was part of America’s greatest generation. He signed up to be a Navy fighter pilot before he was 18 and convinced his mother to sign the permission to enlist form by promising her he’d keep one foot on the ground. He never broke that promise – he brought a bucket of dirt up in his fighter jet every time he flew, and kept one foot in the bucket. Jack didn’t believe in lying. He landed jets on giant aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean and passed his final exams with flying colors, identifying friendly and enemy aircrafts shown on a giant screen for just a fraction of a second. Some of his classmates found the answer key and cheated. Jack thought he should study anyway, and ignored the answer key. In the end, anyone who had used the answer key was dismissed – it had been a plant by the instructors to see who would lie, and it was designed to root out the liars. During visits home in New Jersey, Jack would fly his jet through rain clouds over the skies of Clifton so he could make it rain below for my grandmother, where she worked as a nurse in the hospital. The hospital staff would run for cover, unsure if it was Germany or Japan or friendlies. My grandmother knew it was Jack, courting her, changing the weather just for her.
The forks are missing. This is a catastrophe.
Yes. There are amazing and important things happening in the world, in my country, in my town. I’m even involved, doing my civic volunteer duty. My girl scout troop is running an encampment to introduce younger girls to the joys of nature and camping. My Junior League colleagues and I are launching a state-wide initiative to offer training to anyone who wants to be more involved in helping to run nonprofit boards (by the way, registration is ending soon so you should visit www.getonboardnj.org asap to register if you haven’t done so already – shameless plug but it’s really gonna be amazing). There are also one thousand four hundred and fifty seven end of year school events that are on my calendar. So that will be fun.
But what is it that has me really laser-focused at the moment? Scheduling? Organizing? Increasing registration numbers for important things like nonprofit training? Or perhaps finishing the edits on my book so I can finally submit it to agents and maybe be a famous writer? Or at least a published-not-famous writer?
The forks are missing. The forks are not broken, the forks are not dirty. I do not have forks where the tines are crooked which I can’t stand because I have OCD and the crookedness feels like evil in my mouth. The forks are just unavailable. The forks are freaking gone. WTF forks? And WTF family? How can I have raised children that allow this sort of catastrophe to happen? How can I live among animals where utensils are not a treasured and respected part of daily life? Take a fork. Use it. Put it in the dishwasher. Maybe the sink if you truly cannot find the energy to open the dishwasher door because of the lethargy induced by eating whatever it was you ingested with said fork. But did you throw out the fork? Did you put it in a couch cushion? Is it hidden in some dark recessed place in our house? What has happened?