It’s been a long time, and that’s because, compared to the trauma of August (recall Tristan’s hand being crushed by a rock) and the joy of September (a supremely fun month during which we met Buster Posey, were on the field for the first pitch at a Giants game, and had a birthday party for Tristan attended by two firetrucks), well, I’m almost afraid to say this, October and most of November were relatively…normal? quiet? uneventful? It was a relief, but, as a result of the peace and quiet, my muse went into a coma or took a distant sabbatical. I wasn’t getting any communications from her. Total silence.
Now, after scrabbling for something of interest to write about, things are, once again, escalating to the level of insanity to which we have grown accustomed over the last year and a half.
Most recently, three nights ago Tristan, Phoebe, and I missed a shootout in downtown Eureka by ten minutes, all because we wanted to show off the kids’ karate gear to Gary’s parents. When Tristan and I picked up Phoebe after her playdate at Noni’s house, the kids changed into their gis and showed their grandparents a few moves, which put us ten minutes behind our usual arrival time at their karate class — on most lesson nights, I help them put on their gis at the gym. As we approached the dojo and tried to park, we encountered a thick jungle of police cars and flashing red lights and yards of yellow tape sealing off the whole block. As we were redirected by police officers down a side street away from the dojo, I asked one if I couldn’t get my kids to their class down the block. “Class is cancelled tonight,” he responded with a scary gravity. It soon unraveled that there had been a shootout directly in front of the dojo, an armed man who ran from a traffic stop and then attempted to hijack a car. All of the students and instructors from the class before Tristan’s and Phoebe’s, as well as the early arrivals for my kids’ class, had belly crawled to the back of the gym and spent two hours huddled in the boys’ locker room to avoid stray bullets and then to wait for the police okay. A 13 year-old black belt named Precious emerged as a superstar when she crawled back across 50 feet of mats, toward the guns and mayhem beyond the dojo’s huge glass windows, to take a toddler from a mother who was struggling with two small children. She army crawled back to the locker room with the child to her chest. The Eureka police department will honor her courage with a plaque. I was glad we had opted to put on the kids’ uniforms across town. We were all very shaken.
Other recent excitement involved a visit from Noah and his family the weekend before Thanksgiving. Tristan and I met Noah and his mom Susan over a year ago in the Oncology Clinic at UCSF. Susan and I talked while our miserable boys got their chemo, and, in the conversation, I realized that Tristan and I had, some weeks before, met Susan’s firefighter sister in the Ocean Beach Safeway. She had told me about her nephew with leukemia. Then fate brought Susan and me and our boys together in the clinic. Since then, Susan and I have become good friends, and Tristan and I have stayed many times at their house in the Bay Area when we drive down for his treatments. A few days before Thanksgiving, the whole family, including Dad and Noah’s big sister Maisy, made the long drive to Humboldt County and spent a couple of days with us on our mountain. It was such a pleasure to have them. Noah and Tristan played beautifully, and Phoebe and Maisy were attached at the hip, fully committed to Legos all weekend. We ate a lot, drank wine, sat by the fireplace, took a hike on our property, and talked. So happy to have met those guys.
Although the visit was loads of fun, there were events that weekend that portended bad stuff. Susan said that they had had to stop ten times on the five hour drive up for Maisy to pee. She was worried. Later she told me that the drive home was the same, and that Maisy drank absurd amounts of water on the way. Susan got on the internet that night and diagnosed Maisy with diabetes. A trip to the doctor the next day confirmed it: Type I diabetes. Susan found herself again on the familiar sixth floor of UCSF’s Children’s Hospital in the Hematology-Oncology ward, in a room Noah had occupied for weeks after his leukemia relapse last Christmas. Noah was angry. “Maisy, that’s my bed,” he said. They spent Thanksgiving in the hospital and are now home again, while Susan masters balancing Maisy’s blood sugar levels and giving her ten shots of insulin a day. How on earth does this happen? Just plain unfair. Susan and Al are dazed, stunned.
On the upside, we had a follow up appointment a few days ago to see how Tristan’s hand has been healing. The PA we saw pronounced Tristan’s hand in good shape, no need for additional follow ups. He expects the flexibility of the healing finger to continue to increase, and he does not think the scarring will cause any restrictions on the its movement.
The PA was a big, friendly, pony-tailed, Humboldt County kind of guy. He asked Tristan about school, and if Tristan has friends at school. Tristan answered, “Technically, just one.” “What’s his name?” Lance asked. I gritted my teeth and prepared for Tristan’s response and the PA’s reaction. “Bastard,” my son said. “Um, what was that?” I watched the astonishment wash across the guy’s face as Tristan repeated his pronunciation of his best friend’s name. “Baxter,” I interjected. “It’s a pronunciation thing. A small problem with the letter X.” The guy almost busted a gut.
Throughout the fall, Tristan continued to go to preschool down in town two half-days a week, though somewhat spottily thanks to a case of chicken pox at the school and an epidemic of hand-foot-and-mouth disease that swept through northern Humboldt County. We have now developed a system with the teachers at the school for checking in about new kid diseases and measures of green snot at the school, so as to avoid the half hour drive to town on days when it isn’t safe to take Tristan. My son, however, is unconcerned about green snot and seems to love going, and his friends (of which there are “technically” more than one), are so sweet and so excited to see him each time.
For most of September, Tristan was unable to do karate classes while his finger healed. He sat in my lap and watched YouTube videos that could only appeal to a four year-old (e.g., of other kids dressed up in superhero costumes doing somersaults in their backyards) while I watched gentle, kind Phoebe learn now to plant roundhouse kicks squarely in the crotches of other sweet, adorable kids. Her instructor has bestowed upon her the nickname “Killer” in friendly jest. With her big blue eyes and her bouncing ponytails, she looks about as far from a killer as you can get.
After Tristan was cleared by the orthopedic surgeon to resume karate, he didn’t want to. For most of October, he sat on my lab during lessons. Eventually it dawned on me that YouTube was the problem. I told him no more YouTube during karate. Four and half milliseconds after I related this devastating news, he said to me, “Mom, I just membered [sic] how much I love tatti [sic]”. Next class, he was back on the mat in his gi. Now, in addition to continuing to join Phoebe’s class for the warmups and stretches, he attends the Little Dragons class for small kids. He keeps asking when he will test for his yellow belt, although he hasn’t yet learned a single technique. His long-suffering instructor is still trying to teach him left from right.
Of other news: Tomas and Phoebe finished up their soccer seasons; Tristan got a few weeks in on his first soccer season after his finger was sufficiently healed; Phoebe was a Spider Queen for Halloween; Phoebe is READING!!; I ran a sloooowwww, rainy, half marathon under the redwoods on the Avenue of the Giants; we’ve had our first snow; and Tomas, entirely of his own volition, has joined the cast for a production — Charlie Brown’s Christmas — at the Ferndale Repertory Theater. My shy big boy says his lines beautifully and is confident and comfortable on the stage. So proud of him, and wish I had done the same when I was his age and beat my stage fright back then.
Finally, Tristan and I have made three trips to UCSF since I last wrote. Each visit was smooth, and Tristan continued to do fabulously with getting his chemo via IV in the back of his hands. I watch him carry himself through the clinic visits with such composure and awareness, and I am so thankful to be rid of that damned port. Best thing his doctors ever did, to give him the option of having it removed and receiving his treatments through a peripheral IV. Strange as it may seem, our visits to the clinic are filled with funny, sweet conversations with our lovely social worker Jenee (who lost a leg to bone cancer when she was 15), with our outpatient nurse Ilana (who answers my emails at 10pm on a Saturday night), our favorite chemo nurse Andrea (who always fishes the best prizes out of the supply closet for Tristan), and our team of incredible doctors, who never seem too busy or rushed to answer all of my questions. It would have been better had cancer not happened to us, but our lives have been enriched by the fantastic people we’ve met over the last 15 months.