Week 16

5 Jul

After last week’s news, I feel like I should restart my numbering. After all, many Americans seem to have decided COVID-19 is done, and my focus is now counting down my mom’s last days. For the time being, I’ll stick with it but I reserve the right to change my mind.

We officially crossed the halfway mark of 2020. Part of me thinks “I can’t wait until 2020 is over,” and part of me thinks, “I need to try to savor every day.”

Mike and Michaela left today, driving to Vegas to pick up our nephew, who is going to spend a week with us. I spent the day with my mom, going through old photos. We picked out a bunch to get rid of, some to scan, some to put in albums, and some to give away. It was nice to spend that quality time together, part of my savoring every day.

The other highlight of the week is my deep appreciation for the friends who have reached out. It’s a little overwhelming to think about replying (“yeah, it totally sucks!” isn’t great reading), so I haven’t quite gotten there yet. But I spent some time this week talking to a dear friend from high school who lost her mom to lung cancer and another friend whose mom was killed in an accident, and I am grateful for their making the time to talk and their advice, and their instant and generous offers to do it again.

I am very lucky.

Terminal

2 Jul

On Tuesday, my mom was given a terminal cancer diagnosis. We’ve been told she has 6-12 months to live.

About 18 months ago, my mom was found to have a tumor on her liver (not uncommon because she has liver disease). She was successfully treated with a targeted procedure called TACE. Her doctor (interventional radiologist) said at the time that she would continue to develop new tumors and best case scenario was, we would play whack-a-mole, with new tumors growing, him zapping them, and that going on and on until it couldn’t anymore.

Six months ago, routine blood testing found an elevated level of a particular cancer marker. My mom went for a CT scan and there was a small spot, but it was so small, the doctor recommended waiting three more months and then looking at it again.

Three months later, my mom went in for more blood work and the cancer marker had spiked. I took her for a CT scan on Tuesday and that’s when we learned she has a large (baseball-sized), aggressive tumor on her liver that is growing into the portal vein and vena cava, and that there are two spots in her lungs and one in the lining of her heart (very close to where the liver tumor is).

This means it’s Stage 4. This means it’s incurable. This means my mom is going to die, sooner than later. This means I’m heartbroken.

Her interventional radiologist walked us through some options. Do the same TACE procedure she had before, recognizing the best it would do is hopefully slow down the liver tumor to buy a little more time and that it would case some pretty intense discomfort for about a month (when she doesn’t have much time…). Do targeted beam radiation — another targeted procedure that would hopefully slow the liver tumor growth, but one that usually takes months to be effective (and again, she doesn’t have much time). Do systemic chemo to try to get all the tumors, which my mom has been very clear throughout she doesn’t want to do, so it’s not really an option. Or do nothing, which is what my mom has chosen.

My mom’s sister died of breast cancer after an incredibly grueling, painful fight that made her last days excruciating. My mom does not want to do that. She wants to focus on quality of life and managing pain. So that’s what we’re going to do.

In spite of literally saying to Mike a year ago that I would never want my parents to live with us, we’ve invited my mom to move in. Our two-story house has bedrooms on the first floor and a bathroom with a large stand-up shower. We’d be able to keep her company and take care of her and keep her comfortable. I don’t know if she’ll accept the offer, but I hope we can talk about it more after a meeting with a hepatology oncologist on Tuesday, where we will learn more about what services and supports are available to her through my mom’s health insurance.

And now we wait. To see how much time she has left. To see how sick she gets. To see how much we can cram into I-don’t-know-how-long.

Michaela has been having a hard time with this. She’s worried about her grandma, and worried about all of other grandparents (she has 5 others) dying. We went over to my mom’s house last night and after, Michaela told me she felt like crying every time she talked but tried not to so she wouldn’t make grandma sad.

I can relate.

Week 15

28 Jun

Another busy week at work, including a day where I was at the office at 5:45 a.m. and didn’t leave until 8:30 p.m.

Mike, who is much less conservative than I am when it comes to COVID-19, had a shoot in a neighboring county. He said he went into a brewery that was packed with people, none of whom were wearing masks, elbow-to-elbow, whooping it up like nothing was different… And even he was like, “is this really a good idea?”

Michaela did a week-long, half-day art camp. They kept the group very small (there were fewer than 10 kids in the camp), each student had their own supplies (no sharing), and they did temperature checks and symptom screening each day. She enjoyed the art and even made a friend (they’ve already emailed each other). I’m glad, since that’s probably the only camp she’ll do this summer!

The last thing worth noting this week is I went and got my hair done. I desperately needed to get my hair done in February but was too busy. I made an appointment in March but the county closed hair salons before I could get there. As time went by, I got shaggier and shaggier. More and more split ends. Highlights grown out farther and farther (seriously, like 5 inches). I have to do a lot of on-camera TV interviews, so I have been joking about how you can string the stories together to watch me get more and more bedraggled (and, ahem, heavier).

My stylist is the loveliest person, and she and the salon where she works were very on top of things. Symptom screening and temperature checks, hand sanitizer everywhere, stations six-feet apart, masks for everyone, all stylists have taken a special course from Barbicide about preventing the spread through their work of COVID-19.

You won’t see me getting my nails done anytime soon, and while I’d love a massage, I can’t see that happening, so this was my investment in grooming. I got a cut and new highlights and I feel like a new woman.

Week 14

22 Jun

I have gotten later and later in writing these recaps lately. I guess that’s a sign I’ve gotten comfortable with this new normal?

Highlights from last week:

Michaela did her first (and second) Outschool classes! She did a class on how to draw kawaii (cut) manga-style cats, which she adored. The class itself was about 45 minutes and was only $12, and best of all, she spent the entire rest of the day drawing. So it was well worth the price. I also signed her up for a class about dogs that she didn’t like as well, but that’s totally our own fault (we thought it was a drawing class, but it was really a class where kids could show off their dogs and talk about them, which isn’t very exciting for a kid who doesn’t have a dog). Michaela starts a twice weekly American Sign Language class this week through Outschool, and I’m excited to see how that goes.

Our new bed came! We had a mattress custom made by a local place and it arrived, along with our new sheets, duvet cover, and pillows. Our bedroom looks awesome! It’s a total oasis of serenity, and I love it.

We (SDCOE) released our guidance on reopening schools. COVID-19 has taken over my life, and lately, it’s been all reopening all the time. The guidance was a massive lift, and the release seemed to go pretty well, all things considered. Well, the release was the victim of Murphy’s Law (our food service director emailed it out to all his contacts before we shared it wit superintendents and charter leaders, so we had to scramble to get it out right away, not at the time planned; and then once we sent it out, the website crashed and no one could access it for a while), but it was well-received.

And most importantly, we celebrated Father’s Day!

Mike is really into shows about Alaska. We watch “Deadliest Catch” (crab fishermen on the Bering Sea), “Gold Rush” (gold prospectors in the Yukon), “The Last Alaskans” (settlers who live in the Arctic), and “Life Below Zero” (people who live in Alaska). So when Michaela and I were trying to decide what to do for Father’s Day, we decided some theme-ing was in order.

Michaela made a mountainous backdrop on a big cardboard display board. We threaded cotton balls onto string and hung them from the ceiling to make snow. She fashioned a fire out of cardboard scraps and we made melted snowman sugar cookies to go next to it. I got out our Alaska travel book and Beatrice, my beloved stuffed bear (because there are bears in Alaska!). We filled a mason jar with some gold-colored rocks, made a pick axe, added a colander as a gold pan, and a scale — our version of the set up on “Gold Rush.”

I grabbed takeout breakfast from a local restaurant, getting crab cakes Benedict for Mike. Because, you know, Deadliest Catch!

Michaela wrapped his presents in snowflake-festooned paper, and we put on the snow clothes we bought when we went to the Colorado mountains earlier this year.

It seemed to go over pretty well! We had a lazy morning, then took a long drive out into the desert, and grabbed deep dish pizza for dinner. All in all, a nice way to celebrate the best dad I know!

Week 13

14 Jun

Michaela finished 4th grade! Not the way she wanted to. Not the way any of us wanted to. But I’m super proud of the way she made the best of distance learning, even though she misses her friends and her routine.

I took the afternoon off since her last day of school was a half-day (whatever that means in these crazy times), but she ended up being so busy painting rocks with friends that she didn’t want to hang out with me. Which was actually great– she had a wonderful time and had a really positive day. We went out to dinner at Marie Callendar’s (Michaela’s pick) and it was, well, weird. The place was a ghost town. Paper menus, way fewer options. Masks for everyone. Michaela was happy, though, and that was all I cared about.

Otherwise, it was a pretty standard week. Lots of work for me and Mike. We’re leaning into summer, though, with late nights and sleeping in. In fact, one night we walked to the nearby ice cream shop, got shakes, and walked home. It was lovely!

We’re at the place in stay-at-home where things are opening up again and many rules have been loosened, but, locally at least, there’s gatherings are still prohibited. We’ve let Michaela spend time with a couple of neighborhood kids, for her mental sanity and for our own. Outside play. Lots of handwashing for all of us.

I went for a walk with a friend today at the beach. We wore masks as we walked along. We were the only ones. Huge crowds, very few masks. I’ve been reading lately we’re still in the first wave… We will definitely have a second.

Weeks 11 and 12

6 Jun

I usually write a wrap-up of the week on the weekend, but we were away last weekend and things were so hectic when we got back that I didn’t write. So this is a two week post!

The last week of May (week 11 of the stay-at-home order) was really nice, actually. Monday was Memorial Day and we went to the coast and took a long walk along the beach and had a picnic lunch. The work week wasn’t too stressful for me or Mike, and Michaela was doing her thing with distance learning. Friday, I took the day off and it was pure bliss. Michaela ended up sleeping in so I had some quiet time to myself in the morning. I did some work, but not too much. We grabbed bagels for breakfast and I got a tea at a local, independent coffee shop. Then we piled into the car and drove to the mountains.

Mike had a two-day shoot in LA, so he ended up meeting us at the cabin we rented. Thank goodness he has camping experience! The place was exactly what I was expecting– pretty rustic–but we slept in beds, had hot running water and a toilet, etc. We cooked meals on the little two-burner stove or on a fire we built. We made s’mores. We hiked. We wandered through the woods. There were very few people at the lodge, but there was a couple who had two girls about Michaela’s age, and they got to play together a little bit, including taking turns swinging (the playgrounds are still closed here; it was the first time Michaela had ben on a piece of playground equipment in months).

When the trip was over we came back and jumped full force into work and life (week 12). Protests over the death of George Floyd (and Ahmed Arbury and Breonna Taylor, and so many other black people killed by the police) were going strong while we were gone, but I had limited cell phone service and was trying to disconnect, so I wasn’t following too closely. In one city in our region, there was some looting, fires, and vandalism. I ended up checking in with my team to do some work around that, but it didn’t go particularly smoothly (and that ended up taking up quite a bit of time on Monday and Tuesday.

I pride myself on being proactive, of seeing a need and filling it before anyone asks. When it came to communicating anything more than matter-of-fact “here are some resources to help you talk about what’s going on,” I really struggled because the fact is, it is exhausting to live as a black person in America.

It’s hard to walk into a store knowing I may not get service because of the color of my skin, it’s tiring to remember to get a receipt because I don’t want to get stopped for shoplifting. It’s painful to think about my brother getting pulled over for a traffic stop and having guns pulled on him (which actually happened, in front of our house, when we were in high school). In my particular corner of the world, it’s hard to be many of my friends’ only black friend. It’s hard to ignore the Trump-supporting crap my in-laws post. It’s hard to surf social media (which I have to do for my job) and see the awful racist stuff people post, the whataboutism, the well-meaning but tone-deaf stuff from “allies.”

So part of what was especially difficult about everything was needing to come up with some words to make it clear that the current state of things in unacceptable and that we have to do better…when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry.

I want white people to stand up for people of color. I want white people to take on this work and to say to their fellow white people, “knock this shit off.” It’s not about being colorblind (I want you to see my color! It’s impacted my life. And yours, too, whether you know it or not). It’s not about a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote about nonviolence (first, his protests were consistently met with violence, and secondly, he was murdered– an act of violence). It’s about examining the biases that are built into our systems and changing the systems to eliminate that bias. Period. That’s it. So yes, change your social media profile picture to a black square, but also DO THE WORK.

So yeah. That was a lot in the early part of the week. And still, too, but I’m trying to be better about recognizing my triggers and stepping away.

In other news, we got new carpet in our upstairs and new furniture, and I finally — as of last night — unpacked the last of our boxes from when we moved nearly two years ago. Hooray!

The coming week is Michaela’s last couple of days of school and she’s very sad. She was in our room this morning crying that this isn’t how she wanted her year to end. I feel really sad for her, and we’re going to come up with something to make it special. Because she deserves that!

Mike has been in the thick of things with virtual graduations. Since gatherings aren’t allowed, schools have been trying to figure out how to do promotion and graduation ceremonies. Mike has done virtual graduation videos (some pieces where they’ve had people do speeches and then edited it together into a full ceremony, some more like slide shows) for a number of schools across the southland. Some clients are more challenging than others, and he had one that has ben particularly difficult. Lots of stress. Thankfully that project is behind him and he can turn his attention back to other projects.

So now it’s the weekend and we can take a break. All of us slept until about 9:30 today, which was glorious. Mike and Michaela are making breakfast and I’m going to turn my attention to our taxes, which desperately need to be organized in order to go to the accountant.

Just another weekend in stay-at-home times!

Week 10

24 May

Last week was the 10th week of no-school. The 10th week of mostly staying home.

It was starting to feel normal, to me at least. But the state and local governments have started lifting some restrictions, so it feels like now we’re trying to recalibrate.

One of our favorite neighborhood restaurants — a small, independent, locally-owned place — opened for dine-in. I want to support the business, but I don’t want to go sit inside and wear a mask when I could order food and eat it at home (as I said to a friend, without having to wear real clothes or a bra). So while Mike would like to go eat there, I’m decidedly “meh” about it. It just doesn’t sound enjoyable. But I feel like that’s sort of where we are with a lot of things now.

The limit on gatherings hasn’t been lifted, but it seems like more and more people are having get togethers. And once again, I feel this weighing of options going on. I don’t want to violate the public health order but I want my kid to have some kid companionship, especially considering she’s an only child. I have high blood pressure and Mike only has one kidney, so we’re in the vulnerable populations, but Mike is willing to risk it. It just feels very heavy sometimes.

The same is true on the work front. Every bit of reopening of non-school stuff puts pressure on schools. And we’re working hard to plan for reopening, but it’s also hard to plan for September when we don’t know what the public health rules will be like. And don’t get me started on the ridiculously unhelpful guidance from the federal government, or on the proposed 10% cut to school district budgets at the same time we need to basically re-create the entire education system. Schools want to do the right thing for kids, employees, and families, but it’s really tough. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

That being said, things are generally good at Casa Watson. Mike had shoots every day last week, including four days shooting content for virtual promotions and graduations. Michaela is chugging along with distance learning (although when Mike is gone all day and she’s home with just me and my zillions of Zoom meetings, it’s definitely less academic than days when Mike is home). We’ve been working on home projects, including buying carpet and furniture.

Let me tell you– furniture shopping during a pandemic is quite the experience. You have to make an appointment. You have to have your temperature checked before entering the store. You have to wear a mask. Int he case of one store we went to, we were limited to a party of two (so Michaela had to stay home) and had to be escorted around the store. In spite of all that, we managed to buy a new buffet that we put in our entryway; a bar we’ll use in the master bedroom as a tea and coffee station; a new bed, dresser, and table for our room; and a media console for the family room. We’ve lived her for nearly two years, so it’s nice to make good progress in furnishing the place. We still need some other stuff to be done, but we’re much closer than we were!

The other exciting thing for the week was I booked a cabin for next weekend on Mt. Laguna. I am taking Friday off and Michaela and I will drive up in the morning. Mike is in LA that day, but will head to the cabin when his shoot is done, and we’ll have a work-free weekend. I can’t wait!

Week 9

17 May

Just wrapping up week 9 of staying at home.

Mike’s starting to get really tired of quarantine. We’re trying to decide if we’re going to take our Route 66 road trip this summer in the Airstream. Strangely, though, he’s a no and I’m a yes. My thinking is, we’ll be staying in our Airstream and it’s a lot of roadside attractions, not crowded places like amusement parks or airports, and since the route takes us exclusively through red states, things will be open. I think we’ve decided to push the decision off for a few more week.

That being said, I am definitely ready for a change of pace. This week was crazy stressful (again) and I found myself working 12 and 13 hours days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. So on Thursday when I looked at my calendar and say I didn’t have meetings from 3 p.m. on, I texted my boss that I was going to take a break, and step away from email. I sat on the couch and read a magazine for an hour and then looked at my phone, saw I missed a call from a reporter on deadline, and ended up having to get up, put on nice clothes and makeup, do a TV interview, and then do a bit more work. So my afternoon “vacation” ended up being a dud.

Michaela accompanied Mike on his shoot in San Bernardino on Friday. He goes up each Friday morning to shoot a COVID-related press conference they hold. This week, he also shot some videos on reopening and needed a cute brown girl to demonstrate eating at a restaurant in the new normal, and going to a retail candy store. So off they went. (I asked them, “what was it like to sit down in a restaurant?!?” It’s a thing I miss about the whole situation, although not as much as I would have expected, to be honest).

When they got home, Michaela was wiped out. It’s hard to be polite and “on” for such a long time. And when your role in the videos is to sit across from one of the county supervisors and make polite small talk over sit-down Mexican food… Well, it would tire me out, too! The fact that their second shoot was at a candy store where the little old lady proprietor plied Michaela with tons of candy probably didn’t help, either. Sugar crash!

After Michaela was asleep, when Mike and I were chatting about the day, he told me she told him, “After two months of not being around a lot of people, I’m kind of peopled out!” And I can’t help but wonder if that will be all of us eventually.

Week 8

11 May

I’m a little late with the update this week because of some changes on the back end of the site. On the bright side, week eight wasn’t full of groundbreaking excitement, so it’s not like you’ve missed much.

We continued to make progress on our home renovations. In fact, on Sunday (Mother’s Day), Mike and I ventured to a furniture store. It was so weird! It’s by appointment only, and max of two people in your party. They take your temperature from behind this massive plastic bubble before you go in. You have to be escorted around the store. And of course you have to wear a mask. What strange times we’re living in!

We bought a little bar that will be a coffee bar in our master bedroom, a buffet-type console that we’re going to put in the entryway, and a bookcase that was too good a deal to pass up but we don’t have a specific spot for. That will go either in our family room or in one of the offices.

We also decided on carpet for our master bedroom and will put our order in tomorrow, hopefully. Then we can order a new bedroom set. California King here we come! And best of all, once we have carpet and furniture, we will be able to unpack the boxes in our bedroom– about a year and a half after we moved in. Woo hoo!

(I probably should have saved that for next week’s update, so there’d be something fun to report for week nine. Ha ha.)

Mother’s Day was delightful. I was the first one up and sat by the fire reading and drinking tea, which is my favorite thing to do in the morning. When Mike and Michaela got up, they made me a delicious gourmet breakfast. I laid around and entertained myself by scrolling through social media while Mike and Michaela cleaned up the kitchen. I opened presents — a beautiful dress, a gorgeous notebook from Michaela, and new wireless headphones — and then Michaela called her various grandmothers (she has three!) before we took a short walk. We left her at home while we did our furniture shopping, then grabbed take out for dinner. Played cards and has tres leches cake (my favorite) to end the night. It was lovely!

I’ll end with a funny story that would otherwise be lost to history.

One day last week, Mike had a shoot so he was gone. No problem, because I work at home now! I can be there if Michaela has issues with her distance learning! This is great!

(I hope the exclamation marks convey my wry tone.)

Michaela came to ask me if I’d look at the pencil sharpener. “It seems like something is stuck in it,” she said.

The sharpener is in the garage, so I trek out (in my work uniform of panties and a t-shirt) to try it. Yup, something’s wrong. It’s one of the old school, wall-mounted sharpeners, like we had at school when we were kids. I get a kabob skewer and poke around inside. It seems like something’s in the spot where you put the pencil. Weird. I get a Phillips screwdriver and disassemble the sharpener. Look inside. Something’s definitely stuck in there. Bang on the sharpener but nothing comes loose.

Me: It looks like a pencil eraser in there.
Michaela: Really?
Me: Yeah. Do you know how a pencil eraser would have gotten in there?

Michaela dissolves into tears.

“I put it in there. I was curious to see what would happen.”

I suppress all the bad words that want to come out and ask her to bring me a flat head screwdriver. I stab at the eraser inside until I break off enough of a chunk that it’s not wedged in there anymore. Bang the piece until the eraser comes out. Start to reassemble the sharpener. Cut my fingers (the blades are freaking sharp!). Cue more tears from Michaela. Put it back together. Test pencil. It sharpens fine, my work here is done.

These are the things I’d be missing if the world wasn’t turned upside down. In that alternate universe, her teacher would be dealing with erasers in the pencil sharpener, I’d be wearing pants, and I’d have no blog fodder.

Week 7

3 May

Apparently week seven is when people start to lose it a little bit? I felt like Mike and I were grumpier with each other at the end of this week than we had been before that. Here’s hoping it’s just a bump in the road.

Speaking of bumps, Michaela was stung by a bee last Sunday… ON HER FACE. Right near her eye. The result was no mere bump.

She had been down the street looking at a hive some neighbor kids told her about; she said she was pretty far away from it (which I believe, because that’s the kind of kid she is) but one got her anyway. She quickly walked her bike home, crying all the way, and came in the house with a giant wail. Mike removed the stinger, I washed and put cream on it. And then it swelled. More and more and more. Her face swelled up so much her eye was swollen shut, and it turned a purple color.

We gave her Benadryl, which didn’t seem to help, and put an ice pack on it. Granted, our Benadryl was really, really old. Like, expired in 2010 old. So we ventured to Rite Aid (my thinking was, they also have Thrifty ice cream, so it was a win-win.) There we were, the three of us wearing our masks — one of us looking like we’d beaten her, with her swollen, bruised eye — at a time child abuse is going up and reports are going down. But it was just a bee sting, I promise!

Anyway, Michaela’s eye was really bad for 48 hours and then subsided somewhat, getting less swollen each day. Now it’s a week later and there’s still bruising around her eye, but it’s not swollen and doesn’t itch anymore. And we’re all being a lot more careful when we see bees!

I spent yesterday working on some home projects. As I told Mike, I’m not going to come out of staying at home with any new skills like making sourdough, but I can have a more put together house, darn it. We’ve spent the last couple of weekend days installing hardwood floors in our upstairs hallway; yesterday I hung a gallery wall of family photos at the end of the hall, and today I hung up some other paintings. I also did boring but necessary chores like laundry (four loads, ugh), mopping floors, and watering the garden.

The other highlight of the week, for me at least, was that our county loosened the stay-at-home rules and re-opened parks for walking and picnicking (as long as you physically distance yourself). We loaded Michaela’s bike into Mike’s truck and went to Lake Murray, my favorite place to take a long walk. The parking lots of closed to prevent people from congregating too close together, so we parked on the street and walked into the park. Michaela rode her bike ahead of us, which is one of my favorite things to see; I love the combination of independence and competence it embodies. It was a beautiful spring day and I was so happy to be somewhere other than my ‘hood!

As I type this, Michaela is trying to make s’mores in a solar oven she made out of a cardboard box, black construction paper, and aluminum foil. She just came in and declared they only need 10 more minutes. Yum!