How we roll

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018


Our family of five converged over the long weekend in San Francisco to watch Tomas play a soccer tournament. Our means of converging was somewhat unconventional. Gary and Tristan arrived via private jet, courtesy of Anthem Blue Cross; Tomas hitchhiked from Kneeland; and Phoebe and I arrived from Washington, Dulles via last-minute, emergency bookings. Somewhere along the line, there were threatening sounds in the dark from a fearsome mountain lion and there was an attack by an aggressive pocket gopher in an otherwise friendly children’s park.

What THE HELL are you talking about, Toni?

Nope, I have not been smoking Humboldt’s finest. This is just how we roll. Where to start…

Let’s start with Phoebe. Phoebe is The Middle Child, which means her brothers get all the attention and she is ignored while she quietly draws or reads or makes herself pancakes or colors her white dog pink with sidewalk chalk. Her only recourse is stick tightly to a worrisome diet of unadulterated carbohydrates – white rice with nothing on it, pasta with nothing on it, roasted potatoes with nothing on them – with only the occasional chicken nugget for protein and a side of raw parsley for green. That draws our attention, but, other than that, this middle child falls between the cracks, just like so many other middle children. Huh, funny, I haven’t seen Phoebe for a while…maybe for a few days…

So, somewhere between the 9,000 hours spent watching Tomas play sports and Tristan’s Easter weekend hospitalization and frequent trips to UCSF, I thought it would be a good idea to plan a special trip for just Phoebe and me. We decided that, after I finished my classes in May, I’d pull her out of school for a week and we’d head to the East coast, where I would show her my hometown, introduce her to old family friends, and hit the museums on the Mall in D.C. We would then meet up with Gary and the boys in San Francisco over the Memorial Day weekend to watch Tomas’ soccer tournament before driving home together.

But enough about that middle child. Let’s quickly shift our focus back to one of her brothers. A few days before our departure date, Tristan, who never really shrugged off the Easter cold, spiked a fever early in the morning. On UCSF’s urging, we spent a few hours in the ER at the Eureka St Joe’s getting yet another chest x-ray, blood counts, and blood cultures. We were discharged when everything came back looking fine. Over the next few days, the upcoming trip with the middle child was uncertain, but the fevers subsided and Tristan looked great by the end of the week.

Phoebe and I departed for Newark on Saturday the 19th. We rented a car at the airport and drove to good friends in Pennington, where we spent three nights in their lovely house. Phoebe was enchanted by the black squirrels and red cardinals at the bird feeder visible through the kitchen window. For two full days, I took Phoebe around the Princeton area to visit friends, including many old friends of my parents and their kids with whom I grew up, parents of my school friends, and my favorite childhood babysitter. I showed her a bit of the university and the town, as well as my schools and my old house on Moore St.



On Tuesday, we left New Jersey and headed for my Aunt Zsuzsa’s place in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After Zsuzsa fed us lunch, she took us on a wonderful driving tour of DC. The drive culminated in a torrential electrical storm, with a black sky, sheets of rain, and rushing rivers of water in the streets. I was glad I wasn’t driving! Back at Zsuzsa’s apartment, we had a comfortable, quiet evening while Phoebe and I planned our adventure for the following day: seeing the natural history museum, the exhibit of the first ladies’ inaugural gowns at the American History Museum, and maybe, if we could fit it in, the Air & Space museum.


As it turns out, this middle child was receiving too much attention, so the fairy guardian of siblings-who-bracket-the-middle-child intervened. Wednesday morning, as we prepared to head to the Mall, Gary sent a text. Tristan had spiked a high fever early in the morning, and he and Gary were in the ER. To top things off, when Gary quickly fed the horses and let the chickens out pre-dawn, before heading to the hospital, he heard a mountain lion growling somewhere in the not-far-enough distance. He had woken Tomas to tell him what was going on with Tristan and to explain that a neighbor would pick him up for school later, but, after the lion sounds, he scribbled a note on the kitchen table telling Tomas to stay inside until his pick-up arrived. Never a dull moment.

On the DC end of things, I was falling apart with worry over Tristan, and a nagging sore throat that I had felt every morning since arriving East suddenly blossomed into a raging infection. Gary and Tristan were in ER limbo – the requisite four or five hours in that dreaded place when nothing happens, nobody really tells you what’s going on, murky plans change over and over again, and you’re bored out of your mind and extremely uncomfortable. As Phoebe and I had breakfast, bits and pieces of news reached us: Tristan had a chest x-ray that confirmed pneumonia; he was blasted with IV antibiotics; maybe he would stay at St Joe’s but maybe he’d need to go south to UCSF. I was sort of out of my mind about the whole thing, but, until we knew what Tristan’s plan would be, Phoebe and I decided to forge ahead with our plan for the morning.

Poor Phoebe. As we walked through the loud, crowded natural history museum, I was getting phone calls from UCSF and text messages from Gary. The plans kept changing. In front of a shaggy bison, I learned that Tristan would be admitted to St Joe’s for at least a night to make sure his breathing was okay…near the giraffe splayed out to drink at a watering hole, no, they needed to go to UCSF…by the howling wolf, change of plans, they’d stay in Eureka. At one point (in front of a boa skeleton) it seemed settled that Tristan was perfectly stable and UCSF was happy for him to stay at St Joe’s while they managed his care over the phone with the St Joe’s doctors. With that news, I managed to relax a bit as Phoebe and I made our way through a fabulous live insect exhibit and butterfly room. Phoebe loved it when butterflies landed on her, and she stood very still. That was the high point, but, somewhere between the natural history museum and Melania’s white slit-skirted inaugural gown, St Joe’s said, sorry, we don’t know how to take care of pediatric oncology patients and we’re way understaffed and we don’t feel comfortable with your son here and you should go to UCSF. Worse yet, he’d need to be med-evaced down.




We made our way through the gowns, and then through a really neat neighboring exhibit on transportation, with whole train cars and city buses and a 1950’s camper van on display. My head was not there though, and my throat hurt, and Phoebe said she was tired. We agreed to head back to Zsuzsa’s after a ride on the merry-go-round. Sweet Zsuzsa picked us up on the Mall. I spent the ride back to her place on the phone with United trying to figure out how to get back to Tristan as soon as possible.


Phoebe and I flew out of Dulles early the next morning, having scrapped the final leg of our trip – two days in Pennsylvania with three generations of very close family friends who haven’t seen Phoebe since she was a tiny baby. We arrived at SFO, grabbed our luggage, and took a taxi straight to the children’s hospital. We arrived to a cheerful, pink-cheeked Tristan and a rumpled, exhausted Daddy. Phoebe and Tristan were happy to see each other and I was relieved to be there and to see that Tristan looked so well. He hadn’t run a fever since the night before.



Not long after we arrived, Tristan was discharged from the hospital with the recommendation that we stay in town for another day or two. We moved down the street to Family House for the night, dined on take-out from the nearby food court, and hung out in a common room where Phoebe helped a little boy with his homework and Tristan shared his new art kit with another child. We watched movies and went to sleep early.


The next day – Friday – after I made a visit to UCSF’s acute care clinic for a strep culture and antibiotic prescription, we had lunch in the food court, played in a park, and made our way to the Millbrae hotel Gary had reserved for his soccer tournament weekend with Tomas. As we parked the car in the hotel lot, Tomas’ schoolteacher pulled up behind us to deliver Tomas. (He didn’t really hitchhike – his teacher was bringing her kids down to the same tournament. But almost!) And there we were, all five of us, together in the Bay Area for Tomas’ soccer tournament, arrived via private jet, last-minute booking from Dulles, and delivery by neighboring Kneelander. It’s how we roll.

Saturday was gorgeous and sunny and breezy, and we headed for Crocker Amazon Park to watch Tomas play. But, because things are how they are for us, before we got to the games, Tristan was bitten on the finger by a pocket gopher. Yeah, that’s right. Bitten by a goddam gopher. Med-evaced from the clutches of pneumonia straight into the jaws of a pocket gopher. As I sat on a bench in a sore throat / penicillin fog, Tristan and Phoebe made friends with a bunch of kids. Soon bored of playing with a bouncy ball, the kids found an abandoned milk crate and devoted their attention to trying to capture one of the cute fuzzy little gophers that were popping their heads out of burrows. I did say, Hey, don’t get bitten, but nobody listened. As we were leaving the park to see the start of the first game, Tristan couldn’t resist poking one of his adorable little fingers into a gopher hole. Suddenly he was howling, tears streaming down his face, holding tight onto his finger. “Mommy, I got bitten by a gopher!” he screamed. I turned around and looked at him. Seriously? I thought. I mean, can this really be happening? I envisioned the pocket gopher massacre to follow, the public health department teaming up with Fish & Wildlife to trap and rabies test the park’s whole gopher population. (The city’s gardeners would be happy – the park looked like a pitted mine field.) I imagined the response at UCSF’s ER, when I told them my cancer kid had just been bitten by a wild animal…and that I HAD LET my cancer kid get bitten by a wild animal. I pictured Tristan undergoing the rabies treatment, which I’ve been told is no fun. Can they even give it to an oncology patient? Dunno. And you know what? I was FURIOUS. I stomped back toward Tristan and demanded that he show me the finger. He released it from the tight grip of his other hand and held it up. Nothing. Not even a mark. I yanked the hand sanitizer I had just lifted from Family House out of my purse and squirted buckets of it onto both of Tristan’s hands. I smeared it all over his grubby little fingers and then I wiped his tears away with my sleeve. I asked him if he was crying because it hurt or because he was scared. Scared, he said. Phew. A disaster narrowly averted. Very, very narrowly. I feel like I live in a connect-the-dots between disasters! This is just how we roll.



I hope you’ve enjoyed Phoebe’s illustrations and narration of our trip, above. She’s actually a pretty good speller, but her interest in the written part of the journal was minimal, and she, too, was distracted. Needless to say, Tristan was not bitten by a golfer, and, as far I as know, we did not fly over any oceans to get from Dulles to SF. Those discrepancies, however, add some richness to the story, I think. Also, given what our lives are like, either of those things could happen anytime. It’s just how we roll.

Of other news:

In early May, Tomas and I made a trip down to San Francisco to pick of his Certificate of Citizenship, which had been over a year in the making. (He’s had a US passport since he was a baby, but we were urged by a non-profit specializing in international adoption to get the CoC; under the current political climate, they said, only the Certificate is the true and undeniable stamp of citizenship.) He and I had a wonderful day and half in the city during which we ate a lot of excellent Chinese food. Best of all, on the street we happened to bump into a tour group of Indonesians and have a chat with them while waiting to cross an intersection. They chuckled at running into a Bahasa-speaking American and crowded close to take selfies with Tomas and me.

Tristan and Phoebe continued to enjoy t-ball and softball, respectively, and Phoebe tested for her blue belt in karate. There were some tough forms she needed to learn for the new belt, and she worked hard to get them down.

And now, a bittersweet note to honor the passing of my mother’s dear friend, Ann. She died very suddenly just a few days after Phoebe and I visited her and her husband John in Princeton. I’m grateful that I was able to see her again, and that Phoebe was able to meet this gracious, kind, smart, and funny woman. She looked terrific and had the same spark and spirit I remember from my very early childhood, when I played with her son Scott and Nikki was friends with her daughter Jenny. She’ll be remembered fondly and missed by many.


2 thoughts on “How we roll

  1. Toni – I so enjoyed our time together at lunch in Princeton – Keep blogging…loved reading and seeing your pics! Keep in touch! xoxo Donna aka – your favorite babysitter!


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