Giving sorrow words

I have a pretty regular Tuesday lunch date with a friend of mine. She brings along her almost 4 year old and her 8 month old niece. Occasionally another friend of ours joins us with her 1 year old. It’s one of the highlights of my week. The four year old runs and jumps into my arms when I see him and the baby always greets me with a huge smile. This week, I was marveling at how scrumptious the four year old is and wondered aloud, “Why do I not have a 4 year old daughter”, thinking I could arrange a marriage now.

And then it hit me. If things had worked out differently, I would have an almost four year old daughter.

Sometimes, the grief hits me out of the blue. On Mother’s Day, I attended a worship service that celebrated all mothers and the sacrifices they make daily for their children. Included in the list of mothers that they acknowledged were foster mothers. And, just like that, the pain was as fresh as it was the day we had to hand Madelyne back to her father after raising her as our own since she was 2 days old.

The other day, I was in a baby store buying a gift and my son said to me, “All of this stuff reminds me of Madelyne. It makes me sad”. It’s not just me — he feels it, too. I’ve said many times that the experience changed us — for the better. And it did. But, sometimes it just hurts. When we first brought Madelyne home, I was amazed that suddenly, I had a whole new place in my heart that was full of love for somebody that I didn’t even know existed just a few days before. And now that she’s gone, the love is still there, but there is an empty place in my heart that just remains empty. And, sometimes I wonder if she also feels a void in her life, even if she doesn’t understand it.

Moving was hard for a number of reasons.  For starters, we knew we were leaving her behind. I felt a lot of guilt about that, but as it turns out, even if we still lived in Washington, it’s very likely that we wouldn’t have any contact with her now, which is another story all-together — although I will likely not write about it anytime soon because it violates my self-imposed rules in that it could violate relationships or confidence.  The bottom line is that I have not seen or heard from anyone who has seen her in nearly a year.   In one way, it’s kind of good. If I was still in Olympia, I would be consumed by the fact that I wasn’t seeing her regularly. It’s not a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, but being far away does make it a little easier to deal with, I suppose. But, it is also hard because our new friends here don’t know that part of our story. I remember somebody coming to our house one day and asking who that baby was in a picture. “That’s Madelyne”, I replied. “Our foster baby”. She had no idea, and I’d known her for several months at that point.

I like to think that I will perpetually be in the last stage of my grief, accepting the reality of our situation and hopeful for the future. But occasionally I find myself flung back into the chaotic places of pain and guilt and anger and loneliness. Sometimes, I think it can even make me physically ill. I suspect that will never change.

One of the things I know for certain is that the love we gave Madelyne in those first couple of years, and especially the first few months, will shape her whole life. That alone has given me whole new perspective on how much we can impact a child’s life, no matter what our ultimate role ends up being.

Anyway, I’m glad I have new little people in my life to love.

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break. – William Shakespeare, MacBeth

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Death by Caffeine

A couple of weeks ago, I was taking some kids in our carpool home and they were talking about how their moms make them eat breakfast every day (seriously, kids today are so abused). One girl said that she will usually just have an energy drink or two and I caught my 12-year old looking at me in the rear view mirror in horror. You see, I have pretty much forbidden caffeine consumption by my son. He has a Tetralogy of Fallot — a congenital heart defect — and while it has been “repaired” and doesn’t really have any physical restrictions, his heart still works differently than a normal heart. You can read more about Tetralogy of Fallot here, but the bottom line is that he still has a leaky pulmonary valve, which causes his heart’s right pumping chamber to have to pump a little harder than it otherwise would to pump more blood – both the backward-flowing leaked blood and the incoming blood from the heart’s right upper chamber. Imagine if you only worked out your right bicep muscle — it would become significantly larger than the left. That’s the same thing that can happen to the heart. Over time, the extra work can cause the pumping chamber to enlarge significantly and could lead to heart failure. It’s something we monitor annually, so the likelihood of it happening to Jake is slim, but there may come a day when that pulmonary valve has to be replaced. What does that have to do with caffeine? Caffeine elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, which also cause the heart to have to work harder than it normally does. I see no reason to make Jake’s heart work even harder, so that’s why I have been pretty adamant about the issue.

Enter energy drinks. And middle school. Energy drinks are marketed toward young people. Young people are easily swayed by marketing. And, peer pressure. Middle schoolers like to tease other middle schoolers, saying things like “oh, your Mommy doesn’t want you to drink caffeine” and other nonsense. Twelve year olds don’t generally worry about their mortality because they are 12. They also start to worry more about what their friends think than what their parents say. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Last December, Anais Delilah Fournie, a 14 year old girl in Maryland died after drinking 2 energy drinks. My understanding is that she didn’t drink them back to back — it was within a 24 hour period of time. Even so, those two drinks caused caffeine toxicity which basically overloaded her heart and it began to beat irregularly (cardiac arrhythmia). And, she died. Of a heart attack. At age 14. Here’s a clip from Anderson Cooper:

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Let’s talk about Caffeine toxicity. Toxicity refers to a degree of being toxic. Toxic = poison. As parents of young children, I imagine most of us taught our kids about Mr. Yuk — and locked away anything that might be remotely poisonous so that our kids would not get into them. Many of us may have even called that number on the Mr. Yuk sticker. I know I did at least once. We diligently follow the recommended dosing chart that our pediatricians give us to determine how much Tylenol we can safely give our kids based on their weight.

So, why on earth — now that they are older are we letting them put poison into their bodies? Is it that we aren’t educated about the dangers of large amounts of caffeine? Do we not know the caffeine content in these drinks? Do we not know what “safe” levels of caffeine consumption are? Are we convinced that they are safe because they are available to buy? Or are we unaware that our kids are drinking them?

As a parent, I call BS on “not knowing”. The facts are available to anyone who looks for them. Granted, we have learned some of this the hard way. When these drinks first began to come on the market, we did not have the knowledge that we do now. But, we do now. And, this is the United States of America and we have a 24 hour news cycle and internet access and smartphones and we just don’t have an excuse not to know. And, if you still don’t know, here are some facts:

  • A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that energy drinks pose potentially serious health risks. The report found that between 2005 – 2009, the number of emergency room (ER) visits due to energy drinks increased ten-fold from 1,128 to 13,114 visits.
  • 30 to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks (in other words, that glossy advertising targeting young people works).
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents should not consume more than 100mg of caffeine daily. One 16oz can of Monster contains 160mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to almost 5 cans of soda. However, this caffeine level does not account for caffeine from additives, like guarana, or ingredients with stimulating properties, like taurine and ginseng, which most energy drinks also contain. In other words, it’s impossible to know just how much caffeine is in those drinks. The labels reflect the MINIMUM amount of caffeine.
  • Consuming large quantities of caffeine can have serious health consequences, including caffeine toxicity, stroke, anxiety, arrhythmia, and in some cases death. Young people are especially susceptible to suffering adverse effects because energy drinks market to youth, their bodies are not accustomed to caffeine, and energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine and stimulating additives that may interact when used in combination.
  • The FDA has the authority to regulate caffeine levels in soft drinks to .02 percent or less of the product – about 71mg in a 12oz soda. The agency also has the authority to regulate additives in beverages to ensure they are safe for their intended use and when used in combination with other ingredients.
  • Most energy drinks are currently marketed as dietary supplements, therefore they do not need to establish evidence of their products’ safety or adhere to a limit on the level of caffeine. At the same time, many energy drinks come in single-use containers ranging from 8oz to 32oz and are marketed like beverages. Rockstar Energy Drink’s website says, “enjoy this fully refreshing lightly carbonated beverage.”

Responsibility #1 is on the part of parents. We need to educate ourselves. And, then we need to educate our kids. If we teach our kids to wear a seat belt and that smoking is bad for them and that they shouldn’t drink and drive, then we need to take this just as seriously (and while we’re at it, we need to tell them not to text and drive, but that’s another post entirely).

Then, we need to put pressure on the FDA to regulate these products. As stated in the Anderson Cooper clip, moms have power. Write a letter to the FDA, contact your representative — let them know that you are aware and you want regulation on these drinks. Don’t know the address? Here ya go:

The Honorable Margaret Hamburg
Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20093

Don’t know who your representative is? You can find out here: Who is my Representative? There is also contact information for each of them once you’ve put your information into the search fields.

Don’t know what to say? Read this letter from Dick Durbin (D-IL). It’s full of good information and lays out exactly what lawmakers are asking of the FDA (and incidentally, most of the facts I listed above were taken from this press release).

And, if you’re reading this and still thinking, what is the big deal? Put yourself in Wendy’s shoes. She lost her daughter in a tragic turn of events that could have been prevented. You don’t want to ever be there. I promise. And, if you’ve read this post, you can’t claim you didn’t know.

The Sheep and the Goats

Universal healthcare, lately refered to as “Obamacare”,  is a hot topic — especially during election years.  I am an unashamed, whole-hearted supporter.  I believe that access to affordable healthcare is a constitutional right — promised in the Declaration of Independence under “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  So, when things  like this happen, it crushes me.

People should not be in an ambulance, critically injured — and worried about how expensive medical care is going to be.

I don’t know Luke personally, but we went to the same church .  I know who he is and we have mutual friends.  I have had the pleasure of hearing him perform and he is an amazingly gifted musician.

My heart is broken that his family has to worry about medical bills when their only focus should be his recovery.  Not only that, because he is self-employed, their income source is now cut off and they have to worry about daily bills as well.

It’s not okay.

This man works as hard as any of us who have the luxury of health insurance through our employers.  Maybe harder.  He made a choice to use his resources to buy health insurance for his daughter, because that’s what parents do.

It’s not okay.

It pisses me off that healthcare is politicized.  Affordable healthcare should not be a political issue.  It’s a humanitarian issue. We have a responsibility to take care of each other.  Stories like Luke’s happen every day.

It’s not okay.

In the end, we all need to think about the fact that many of us are just one freak accident away from losing everything…from being dependent on the kindness of friends…and perhaps strangers…to make ends meet.  Even those of us with “good insurance”.  Unless you’ve had to use your insurance, you don’t really know how good it is.  I know a little bit about using insurance and my guess is that you’d be surprised.

If you have a few dollars and want to help this family out — in what is sure to be a long journey — you can help out here.

 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’   (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)

Old School Baseball, Rivalries and Sportsmanship

It doesn’t help that my mood has been foul for about three days. But, there are a few things that are taking up a tremendous amount of space in my brain today. Since Twitter is generally where my evil twin hangs out, I have been trying to condense it all into 140 characters and there is just too much to say. I’ll just focus on one thing, as I tend to get long-winded. And to be honest, I wouldn’t normally be so worked up about this, were it not for the other stuff. So this might sound small and petty in the grander scheme of life, but it’s today’s brain dump.

The Phillies. I have never liked the Phillies, but I have never hated them either. In fact, the only MLB team I’ve ever really despised is the Yankees. Well, and the Braves. Mostly because I think the fans are arrogant and cocky. Yes, I’m generalizing. I met some really nice Yankees fans in Boston at a Red Sox game a couple of years ago. And, in March, I sat next to some really nice Yankee fans at a Nationals spring training game (although the Nats were playing the Mets, so that could have had something to do with it….) Anyway, when we moved here and I became a Nationals fan, I sort of laughed at the Phillies/Nationals rivalry. Mostly because I couldn’t understand the rivalry. The Phillies have been a dominant team, not only in the NL East, but in MLB in general. The Nationals haven’t. Now that I live here though, I know that the rivalry really is about more than baseball.

I went to Washington State University. I’m a lifelong Denver Broncos fan. I spent years in Seattle watching the Mariners struggle through terrible seasons. Sure, each of those teams has had success, but none of them have been dominant for very long. So, I get losing. I’m okay with it. It makes victory even sweeter, I think. And, as a result, I tend to root for the underdog when I don’t have a vested interest in the game. So, here I am, rooting for the underdog again. Pretty typical.

DC is an interesting place because in large part, everyone is “from” somewhere else. Often, the fans for the visiting team are the majority in the stadium. We experienced that in Phoenix, too — especially at Cardinals games. It’s the nature of a transient city. While I do have my favorite teams, I also have a “when in Rome” attitude, so we’ve generally always supported the hometown teams in the places we have lived.

Last year, I was given tickets to a suite by a colleague for one of the Nationals/Phillies games. We have come to expect that the stadium is usually packed with Phillies fans. And, this day was no exception. My 12 year old son and I were the only Nats fans in the suite. This would have been fine except that the Phillies fans were just plain rude. To my son. And, he wasn’t smack talking, he was simply cheering his team on. Even when they were down by a couple of runs, he was a good sport because that’s what he’s been taught to be. And when the Nats scored and took the lead, he didn’t get obnoxious. And when they won, he didn’t get in anyone’s face and scream “Phillies Suck!” No, that was behavior that I witnessed by adults in Phillies gear, who like to refer to Nats Stadium as Citizen’s Park South.

The Nats ended 2011 with 80 wins and 81 losses. There was one game that they never got to make up, so they conceivably could have finished with a .500 record. Regardless, it was a good season for a team that had been dismal in years past. The off-season proved fruitful and the fans have been excited for the new season which has started off very well. I have been around long enough to know that April doesn’t mean a lot in the larger scheme of things, but the fans were beginning to show up and stay longer and cheer louder. I’ve heard more than one person say that they have fallen in love with the Nats. And, that’s the thing that will keep fans coming back even when they get in a slump. It’s good for the team and it’s good for our city.

The marketing team came up with an idea to “Take Back the Park”, where you could pre-purchase tickets to the Phillies games only if you were from DC, MD and VA. Now, of course this didn’t mean that they weren’t going to allow any Phillies fans in the stadium (and certainly, there are plenty of them living in DC, MD and VA anyway)…but it served as encouragement for people to show up and support the home team. Additionally, the hashtag #Natitude was unveiled and the fans have embraced it. It also helps that Bryce Harper was called up from AAA and has been killing it on the field.

We have noticed a few Nationals fans getting a little cocky. A colleague of my husband’s talked some friendly smack before the Dodger games (he’s bled Dodger blue since he was a little boy). And, we saw what happened there. There’s a fine line between supporting your team and being obnoxious — and until you have a real record to stand on, it’s best to keep it low key because as any sports fan knows, anything can happen.

So, the Phillies get to town. Their fans are determined to make a showing. And, they do. And, they lose. Twice. Sunday comes and things start to get tense. Cole Hamels decided to send Bryce Harper a message and beaned him on his first at-bat. We all knew it was intentional, and he went on to admit it was. I’ve seen people praise the move, saying it was bad-ass and that Harper is arrogant and needs to respect the veterans. Bryce Harper, on the other hand, didn’t get rattled. He went on to steal home plate. Who’s the bad-ass now? Arrogant or not, kid can play. And everyone knows it. Hamels defended the move, saying he was just trying to get back to old school baseball.

What annoys me is how Phillies fans have gone on to react, insulting Nats fans, the #natitude hastag and the players in general. They cheered in the outfield when Jayson Werth broke his wrist. To me, it’s just all bad sportsmanship. It’s not a good example — by the players or the fans. And no…I didn’t like it when Zimmermann answered back. And, I’m not saying that all Nationals fans have had exemplary behavior either.

When asked about it, Harper simply said that “Hamels threw a great game tonight”.

My observation is that Harper is the one that showed class. The response I get from some Phillies fans is that I need to remember the record. Yes, the record is impressive. I’m not arguing with that. I’m talking about class, not records. I was then told that class doesn’t win division championships. Clearly not.

I do find it interesting that despite the records, this powerhouse team has only managed to beat the Nationals 3 out of the last 14 times they’ve played each other. Calling the Nats out as being pathetic doesn’t say much for the fact that they only seem to beat them about 20% of the time these days.

Look, I see nothing wrong with a rivalry. It can be fun. But, it can also make for a miserable time in the ballpark, especially when you’re trying to teach your kid some manners. If you really value old school baseball, how about going back to the days when the game was marked by a spirit of gentlemanly sportsmanship?

I respect die-hard fans, even if especially if their team isn’t that good. Baseball is about more than winning. There’s nothing better than a day at the yard. And there’s nothing wrong with some friendly smack talk. Come on out to #ourpark. Enjoy a half smoke and some Nationals hospitality (they are great fans). I’ll even buy you a beer, but only if you’re nice.

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Kick It

This is one of those rare days when I post more than once.  Immediately upon hitting “Publish” on my last post, I read the news that Adam Yauch, aka MCA,  had died.

I actually got tears in my eyes.  I knew he was sick, and had been for quite some time.  But, I never actually considered the fact that he might die.

I’m not here to wax poetic about the musical legacy that Adam Yauch leaves behind or discuss how the Beastie Boys are the first white rap group of any importance.  That’s all true.

But, I’m just sad.

When Licensed to Ill hit in 1986, I was in high school.  I wore out a couple of cassettes during those years, went on to buy the CD and then the iTunes album.  To this day, I know just about every word to every song.  We sang “Fight for your Right to Party” at the top of our lungs at high school parties.  “Girls” was my favorite song. And, even though I didn’t really understand some of the lyrics in “She’s Crafty”, I remember a time when I definitely would have picked it to be my batter-up song. Everyone — no matter who you were — liked the Beastie Boys.  When the Beastie Boys were playing, we were all in the same posse.

To this day, it is a regular base song for my genius playlist for my runs.  And, I like to torture my 12 year old by playing the Beastie Boys in the car, loudly, and singing at the top of my lungs.

At the risk of sounding very cheesy, I think it’s safe to say that the children of the 80’s came of age with the Beastie Boys singing the sound-track.

RIP MCA.  I’ll drink a Brass Monkey in your memory tonight.  You will be missed.

10,000 words

It’s been said that people have at least 10,000 words they have to get out every day.  Actually, I think that may actually be the number attributed to men.  Women have more like 20,000.  Twelve year olds have 100,000.

My husband and I joke sometimes that I must not have gotten my 10,000 words out some days because from the minute he walks in the door, I talk non-stop.  This is generally because these days, when so much of my work is accomplished by email, I don’t really get that many words out when I’m at work.  I’m not a chit-chatter at work…I don’t have time for it.  I work an abbreviated schedule, so I am constantly trying to get 8 hours of work done in 6 hours.  I can’t waste time talking about how big Jessica Simpson got during her pregnancy.  Occasionally, when my “ears gets tired” (the nice way that we ask Jake to just stop talking for 5 seconds), I will have a melt down and blurt out something along the lines of  “I hope you all gain 100 pounds when you get pregnant”.  Stuff like that usually  shuts everyone up and I can get back to work.  I know they are all then emailing each other that I am a lunatic, but I’m okay with that.  Someday, when they are 41 and the “old person” in the office, they will understand.

This morning, I was talking to Lloyd about something that was bugging me (shocking, I know).  He patiently listened as he shaved and when I was finished, he just looked at me from the mirror.  Then I said, “I know…you’re right”.

So, we have made it to the point where we no longer finish each others sentences, we just read each other’s mind instead.  Then he remarked that this is why old men don’t talk.  They don’t have to.

It’s also why women blog.  The words MUST.  GET.  OUT.