Week 20

2 Aug

…And then it was August. How did that happen? How has it been four months since the world stopped (and then reopened in a weird purgatory, with all signs pointing to the right thing to do being to close down again)?

We officially took Michaela out of her neighborhood school and enrolled her in a charter that will support homeschooling her. Mike will be the headmaster and lead teacher at Watson Homeschool Academy, as we’ve been calling it. I will be in charge of being cute and working my day job.

Michaela seems to be fine with the change. I think it helped that all schools in our county will be opening with distance learning. So it’s not like all her friends will be together and she’ll be stuck at home. With Mike’s support, she did well during “crisis schooling” from March through June, so I expect this year will go well. It will be interesting to see what happens with Mike’s work, though; if he starts having more full-day or out-of-town shoots (as he usually does), that will mean a lot more independent learning for Michaela, or help from me.

Not sure how help from me will go, as I’m still (obviously) very involved with my mom’s care. I am happy she finally qualified for hospice but so far, am finding that I have to be very hands-on.

My dad is doing his best, but it’s a lot to keep track of (as an example– in the last week, my mom went from one pill three times a day to two pills three times a day to two pills three times a day and one pill twice a day). He isn’t including to ask a lot of questions, and he and my mom don’t communicate very well, so I feel a keen responsibility to stay on top of everything.

My mom gets a visit from a nurse once a week. The nurse takes her vitals, talks to her about any pain or discomfort or issues, checks her medicines, etc. We (I) get a call in the morning from the nurse saying she’ll be there within a certain window (which has been as short as “I’ll be there in 30 minutes” or, at 9:30, “I’ll be there between 1 and 2:30”). So far, the visits haven’t been on a designated day; they’ve been different days of the week each week. I like to be there for those appointments, so it generally means dropping whatever I was doing and heading over there. I’m happy to do it, but it’s definitely stressful.

On another note: is anyone else afraid of having COVID every time you some some random thing happen? I sneezed after visiting my parents and had a sleepless night wondering if I have COVID, even though I know my parent’s cat makes me sneeze. I had a scratchy throat when I woke up one morning and was convinced I have COVID. Etcetera.

Just me?

Week 19

26 Jul

My mom made it to my brother’s birthday dinner!

It was really, really important to my brother that she go, and she did, and everyone had a nice time.

Phew!

Also, we got Michaela two guinea pigs: Nibbles and Sparkles.

A friend suggested that getting Michaela a creature to care for might help her process everything that’s happening with my mom. Michaela has really wanted a cat, but I’m allergic. Mike wanted a dog, but that’s so much work. So we compromised and decided to explore a guinea pig.

As it turns out, piggies are social animals, so you’re supposed to get two. I talked to the Humane Society but, thanks to COVID, you basically do a phone interview and if they approve you, you go get your animal the next day and take it home. No meeting the animal in advance, no chance to see if you’d bond. And that was just too weird to me! The local small pet rescue didn’t have any openings to meet animals until late August, and we were looking to move sooner. So I was thrilled when someone in our local Buy Nothing group was looking to re-home her two piggies.

Sparkles is about a year old. She had some sort of condition when she was born so had surgery (can you imagine doing surgery on a tiny animal? I cannot!) but is fine now.

FiFi, who Michaela has renamed Nibbles, is 3 or 4 years old. She’s an Abyssinian, which means she is bigger and has very long, unruly hair (fur).

We have a variety of cages and Michaela’s room now looks like a pet store, with the food and Timothy hay and bedding and such. The girls are very nervous still and not acclimated to our house yet, but Michaela is over the moon.

Week 18

19 Jul

Friday, the governor announced that schools in counties on the COVID watchlist shouldn’t reopen campuses. That, of course, includes San Diego County. Fortunately, I was expecting that and was prepared for the onslaught of media inquiries and questions from our employees and leaders of traditional, charter, and private schools. I had been very nervous because my mom, who was denied entry into hospice on Tuesday, was re-evaluated on Friday and I can only do so many things at a time. Luckily, the hospice appointments (three separate phone calls, only one time-certain– thanks COVID) all happened early in the day, so by the time the governor made his announcement at noon, I could turn my attention to that. And, best of all, my mom was admitted to hospice, meaning we have access to resources to help her be comfortable.

She is fading really quickly. I don’t think it’s going to be three months. I can’t even say I hope I’m wrong, because months and months and months of this would be super difficult for all of us.

On the not-depressing-news front, this week:

Mike and Michaela went tubing on the bay with friends who rented a speed boat. Michaela loves tubing — it’s the highlight of our annual trip to my in-laws’ in Oklahoma — and she was happy to be able to do it here. They also spent a day at the bay with these same friends, kayaking and playing.

We had some friends over for (outside) dinner. It was great to see them, although much of the discussion focused on what is going on with schools and what we’re all going to do. Lots of talk about pods in my yuppie friend circles.

We filed our taxes. Okay, that’s kind of depressing. It would be less so if the money I paid went to helping average citizens instead of bailing out big businesses, but that’s not our lot in life right now.

Perhaps best of all, we had a nice dinner with my parents and brothers on Friday. My family is very… untraditional. Neither my parents nor my brother are into spending time together as a family, so we don’t do regular gatherings and even holidays are spotty. But given everything that’s going on, I suggested that we pick a day and get the food of my mom’s choice. My mom picked a BBQ joint that’s been around forever, I took orders, Mike went and picked it up, and we converged on my parents’ house. We all sat around the table and ate and laughed and it was really good. Easy. Fun. Light. Mike said it was the nicest dinner he’s ever had with my family (and he’s been around for 16 years, so that’s saying something!).

My brother’s birthday is Saturday and we’re all set to go to an early dinner together to celebrate. I’m a little worried it’s not going to happen. I hope it does, for the sake of my brother, who is having a hard time about this.

I’m not the praying type, but if you are, the dinner is set for Saturday at 3.

Week 17

13 Jul

Last week was stressful (duh), but there were also some high points. Namely our super abbreviated Route 66 road trip.

I flew to Las Vegas on Tuesday night and met Mike, Michaela, and our nephew Peyton. The flight was fine– only 36 people on the flight, I sat in the first row, everyone wore masks the whole time, it was only an hour. They picked me up and we headed to Fremont St., which was a really weird and frankly unpleasant destination. There were so. many. people.; masks off as they were smoking, eating and drinking; it smelled like pot everywhere I turned; and people were not great about distancing. We hightailed it out of there pretty quickly and headed back to our hotel, which was a lovely suite on the 32nd floor of the Bellagio.

The next morning, we headed to the pool (easy to do when it’s 100 degrees at 9 a.m.!) for a quick dip. We were the only ones in the pool and the few people who were lounging nearby all wore masks. After that, we got on the road, driving towards the Hoover Dam (closed due to COVID) and dropping into Arizona.

We met up with the Mother Road, as they call Route 66, in Kingman, Arizona. The beauty of Route 66 as a COVID vacation is, you’re not around a lot of people. Much of the trip is driving and looking at old gas stations, Googie architecture, cool motels, etc. It was the four of us in the car (not towing the Airstream as we’d planned when we were going to do the full route), meandering along, generally at about 45 MPH. Very slow and relaxed.

We went west through Arizona. The few places we stopped and, say, went inside a store or used the bathroom, the people we encountered were nice… but unmasked. Coming from California, it was quite a change. And given what the infection, hospitalization, and death rates are in Arizona right now, it was really unsettling. I don’t know if it’s because they’re in small towns and think of COVID as a big city thing or if it’s the politics or what, but it was a trip.

After a day of driving and sightseeing, we made it to Needles, CA, where we spent the night in a hotel that was serviceable and clean, but a far cry from the opulence of the Bellagio. The next morning, we were off for another day of driving– this one mostly on the freeway because we were heading home.

The kids got along pretty well and complaining was minimal. Although they did torture me by singing “99 Bottles of Pop on the Wall,” an experience I could have lived without. Mike had wisely packed a cooler full of snacks, so we had many a nosh at a cool old place, gathered around the tailgate of his truck. It was, for me, less than 48 hours, but a peaceful respite.

The trip whetted our appetite to do Route 66 the way we’d originally planned, hauling the Airstream from Chicago west to Santa Monica. Maybe next summer…

3 Months

10 Jul

My mom and I met with her oncologist on Tuesday. He said she has about three months left if she chooses to forgo treatment. Which she’s choosing. So.

It turns out that Kaiser has its own hospice in our region. Hoping the process of getting the referral and getting the process started is quick.

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.