Sometimes Ethan is too smart for his own good. The latest:

Ethan missed a few days of school last week because he was sick. His homework was sent home with a classmate, and in the stack of papers and books was an envelope with a note from his teacher. It also included a graded math page, one of Ethan’s timed tests. It was crumpled from being shoved in the back of his desk. The note said the paper should have come home on Tuesday, but  that Ethan tried to hide it. The note said that Ethan missed 20 of the questions because he skirted the rules.

See, the teacher told the class that she would allow the students to finish any number they started on the paper when she called “time.” (She meant that if the answer was “20” and someone only wrote the “2” when time was called, she would allow the “0” to be penciled in before handing in the paper.) But Ethan interpreted that a different way. He found a loophole to her direction.

Ethan looked at the 40 problems on the page and scribbled a line next to every.single.question. This was his way of “starting numbers” so that he’d have a chance to finish them when time was called. So the 20 questions he missed still had a one-ish looking line next to them. Technically, he STARTED the question. He thought, based on the direction given, that he should be allowed to FINISH his answers. Obviously, the teacher did not allow this.

The situation might have been just a funny story, an example of how the kid is just too damn smart. But, the letter continued – Ethan completely LOST it when he wasn’t allowed to finish his test. He started screaming at the teacher. He was crying. He was incredibly angry. Ethan received a lecture on respect, lost some recess time, and was removed from the classroom until he calmed down.

On one hand, wow, he figured out how to get more time on a timed test. Go, Ethan. Even if the teacher didn’t allow it, the fact he thought of “starting” numbers is pretty awesome.

On the other hand, he cannot get THAT angry. He can’t disrespect teachers. He has to know when to give in and how to calm down. The world is not black-and-white, and Ethan really struggles with that. The problem comes from not seeing him get THIS angry when he’s with me. Maybe he knows he’ll have firm consequences if he carries angrily when he’s with me, or maybe I don’t present enough grey situations to warrant his outbursts.

Obviously, if Ethan is disrespecting people and demonstrating extreme anger (as was described in the teacher’s note), he has to be disciplined. (Ethan had to stay in his room all day Saturday, coming down only for meals.) It’s also something I brought up with his therapist in our meeting this week.

This parenting thing is hard…

Two-for-one: sick kids

Ethan came into my room yesterday morning, complaining about a sore throat. One look inside and I knew it was strep – this is the fourth time in 2012 for him so I’m somewhat of a strep-diagnosis expert these days.

But that wasn’t the worst part of the morning.

When Lauren woke up a few minutes later, things seemed normal. I picked her up from her crib and cuddled her. “Stairs,” she said pointing, indicating that she wanted to go down to see her brother and grandma.

I set her on her feet and she fell over. She stood up, took a few steps, then ran into the dresser. Back up, few steps, fell down.

“Maybe her foot is asleep,” I thought.

“Let’s go to mommy’s room for a minute, Lauren,” I said, holding out my hand to help her down the hall.

It was a weird walk, down the hall from her room to mine. She was pulling to the right quite a bit and was very unsteady. She wasn’t upset or fazed by it, just wobbly.

I carried her down the stairs and called my mom into the room. We watched as Lauren stood up and fell. Stood up, took a few steps, and ran into the wall. Then she threw up. “Ear infection?” I said, looking at my mom. She nodded, “Probably.”

Since I had to take Ethan to the doc anyway for strep, I made an appointment for Lauren. In the couple of hours we had to wait before we left the house, Lauren seemed to get a little better. She wanted breakfast, wanted to drink something. And she seemed to get a little more steady on her feet – she still had to be watched closely, but it was a little better.

The doc appointment was LONG. Yes, Ethan had strep, but the doc couldn’t figure out what was going on with Lauren. Her ears were clear and there wasn’t a fever or any other obvious symptoms. By now, Lauren could walk the length of the hall without help, but she would have to hold out her arm like she was walking a tightrope every few steps. Or she would have to slow down when she was moving to the right uncontrollably. Still, MUCH improvement from the morning.

The doc (not our usual pediatrician, but another in the practice) consulted with the others in the office. A neurologist from the local children’s hospital was called. No one could figure it out. Since she was showing signs of significant improvement, the docs didn’t think there was an immediate, urgent problem (anymore). Thoughts for what could have been wrong included: a virus that was messing with her inner ears, baby vertigo (rare but not without possibility), a seizure, or a form of migraine. (SIDENOTE: I was diagnosed with migraine auras about 20 years ago. I don’t get the pain of a migraine, but I get weird symptoms that last for up to a few hours: numbness in one side of my body, loss of speech, dizziness. It’s scary and almost stroke-like to anyone watching me, but it goes away, leaving me tired but functioning.)

Right now, we’ve been told to wait-and-see if it happens again. The neurologist suggested that we go ahead and do an MRI, MRA and EEG on Lauren, just to have a baseline. Orders for these tests have been placed and we can do them anytime in the next few weeks. I’m a little concerned about the MRI/MRA since she will have to be sedated for the procedures.

This morning, Lauren was fine. Totally back to herself, no indication of difficulty walking. She stayed home from “baby school” so my mom could keep an eye on her, but she seems like nothing happened.

Here’s hoping this never happens again…

Anniversary, part four (The End)

If you’re just joining the story, you might want to start with parts one, two, and three.


“Come on,” I said to Mike’s parents as the ambulance drove away. “You can follow me to the hospital.”

His parents looked shell-shocked. Mike’s dad just kept repeating that they couldn’t care for Mike when he was discharged from the hospital and couldn’t he come live at the house? “But where will he go after the hospital?” his dad kept asking, to no one in particular.

I drove to the hospital and walked into the emergency room. “My husband was just delivered here by ambulance,” I told the check in person in the waiting room.

“He’s probably getting checked now, it’ll be a while before you can go back,” she replied.

“Oh, I’m not going back there. Just wanted to get his parents here,” I gestured to Mike’s parents standing behind me. “And to make sure you have our insurance information.”

I handed over the insurance card. I didn’t want to get saddled with medical bills later, so wanted to make sure the hospital had what they needed. Then I walked out and drove home. In a strange way, I felt relieved, almost peaceful.

I called the hospital later that night and talked to Mike’s nurse. His blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit. (SIDENOTE: I will wonder, for the rest of my life, what in the hell Mike’s parents were DOING when they were at my house. They claim they never saw him drink, yet his BAL was FIVE TIMES the legal limit and alcohol bottles were thrown around the basement.)

Mike would spend a week in the hospital, shuffling from a rehab unit to the cardiology unit (his heart was showing signs of distress – even then). Over the course of the week, his parents came by the house a few times to get Mike’s belongings, but they never expressed interest in seeing the kids or having a conversation. And they would always come when the kids were in bed.


When I picked Ethan up from school that day, I didn’t know what to say. His dad was gone and so were his grandparents (opting to stay in a hotel as opposed to staying at the house).

Of everything that’s happened over the last year, it’s how I handled it with my son that I regret. I should have thought that through better, but how could I have anticipated the ambulance, going to the hospital or getting the court order so quickly? I was prepared to tell Ethan about the separation, but now it was so complicated.

I told Ethan that his dad was sick. “It’s the alcohol, isn’t it?” he asked. He was way too wise for his own good – and he had seen and heard too much in his young years.

“Yeah,” was all I could say.

I stayed on the dad-is-sick message for weeks. When he told his therapist that he was worried his dad was going to die, I knew I had to be more forthcoming. Originally, I thought Mike and I could co-present the separation to him. Display a united front to show that we had Ethan’s and Lauren’s best interests in mind. I believed that we could act as adults and have a productive, loving co-parenting relationship.

That wasn’t going to happen. I was on my own. I shouldn’t have waited as long as I did, but I can’t change time. I was as honest as possible with Ethan, telling him that daddy was dealing with his drinking and that he was going to live with his parents in Indiana, but that Ethan and Lauren would have two houses someday. “So, two Christmases?” he asked. I guess that is all that matters to a six-year-old.


When Mike was discharged, his parents took him back to Indiana. The kids and I saw him in-person only two more times between when he was taken by ambulance and when he died.

After the second court date a few weeks after the first (in which a second judge upheld the court order), he Skyped with the kids on occasion, and, at first, called every night to talk to Ethan. In November, the calls became fewer and fewer with more and more time in between. Skyping became even more rare.


That’s the story of this anniversary. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but, well, as you know now, it’s a long story. It’s been a bittersweet time (man, using that word a lot lately) and it seemed the right time to get these thoughts out since I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

There’s more to write, but not today. Today, I’m going to wrap up some work stuff and go play with the kids.

Anniversary, part three

Today I remember 9-11. I plan to write more about that day another time, but for now, I want to thank the firefighters, police, EMTs, and other emergency workers who made sacrifices that day (and everyday). I want to thank the men and women in the military who continue to fight to keep us free. 9-11 is a day we will never forget.


Parts one and two of the story can be found here and here.

The drive home from the courthouse seemed long. I called my mom to tell her the order was granted. She said she was going to leave the house with Lauren so I could talk to Mike.

I went into the basement as soon as I got home. His parents were standing next to the couch where Mike was laying. I hadn’t been down there in several days. It was nasty. The room was dark and smelled awful. Garbage was everywhere – plates of dried food, crumpled paper, wrinkled bedding, empty alcohol bottles. The inflatable mattress where his parents had been sleeping was leaning against the wall; the fitted sheet falling off of it. The only light was coming from the TV flickers.

“Mike, I was at the courthouse this morning,” I said. No response. “The judge granted an order of protection, and a sheriff will be serving you the papers in the next 24 hours. I’m giving you the chance to leave with dignity. Get your stuff and get out before Ethan gets home from school.”

He raised his head, “You did WHAT? You fucking bitch! I’m not going anywhere!” Then he collapsed back into the couch, covering his face with a pillow.

I repeated myself and there was no response. Mike’s dad gestured for me to follow him upstairs.

Mike’s parents and I went into the family room. They sat on the couch opposite my chair. “Jackie,” Mike’s mom began. “He needs to go to the hospital.”

“OK,” I said. “Did he tell you that?”

“No,” she said. “We’ve told him that’s what he needs, but he refuses. I think he needs an ambulance.”

“Great,” I said, handing her the house phone. “Call 911.”

“Oh no,” Mike’s dad said. “We can’t do that. YOU need to do it.”

I argued with them for a few minutes about who should dial 9-1-1. I went back downstairs to look at Mike one more time. I kicked the couch in frustration and anger. He probably did need medical attention. It was obvious that even though his mom and dad had been with him in the basement (one of them had been at his side for DAYS), he had continued to drink. They had been unsuccessful at getting him to eat or drink, except for half an apple and a small glass of water an hour before I got home from the courthouse. Basically, Mike had gone almost a week with virtually no food or non-alcoholic drinks.

I dialed the phone and explained the situation to the dispatcher. An ambulance was on its way.

About five minutes later, the EMTs were at the house. I directed them downstairs. One stayed upstairs to ask me some questions. “When and what did he eat last?” he asked.

“Well, Mike’s parents would probably be the best source for anything relating to what’s happened in the last few days,” I said, looking around for them. They were not in the kitchen. They were not in the living room or family room or basement or bathrooms or upstairs or garage. They were gone.

“Just a minute,” I told the EMT as I dialed Mike’s mom’s cell phone. She picked up after about five rings.

“What?” she said.

“Hey, um, where the hell are you?” I asked, trying to keep my tone light. I was panicked and pissed at them.

“We left.”

“What the hell? Where are you? You made me call the ambulance then you BAIL?”

“We’re just around the corner, watching from our car. We’re going back to Indiana when the ambulance takes him,” she said.

“Yeah, couple of things. The EMTs have very specific questions that I can’t answer because I haven’t been with him lately – YOU HAVE. They need you to answer questions about what he’s eaten and drank and what he’s been doing. And two, Mike can’t stay here anymore. I have a court order that ORDERS him out of my house. You need to take him with you.”

They came back to the house and answered the questions. In the meantime, the local police arrived (as is policy when the ambulance is called, apparently). I explained the situation, including having just come from court, to a very nice policewoman.

“You have a copy of the order?” she asked. I handed it over. “We’re not waiting for the sheriff to arrive. I want to serve this,” she said and made a call to the chief of police for the proper paperwork to transfer the power from the county sheriff to her.

The EMTs checked Mike out and argued with him for almost an hour. I was told to stay upstairs, so I could only hear when voices were raised or there was some sort of ruckus coming from the basement.

Mike’s parents stood in a corner of the kitchen. Not moving, not doing much of anything except repeating “we can’t take him” and “where do you expect him to go?” to anyone who would listen. Finally, the EMTs brought Mike upstairs on a stretcher.

His eyes were closed. He was curled up in the fetal position. He looked pathetic, sad. He never opened his eyes or said anything as the EMTs took him outside.

I looked through the front window as they were loading the stretcher. The female officer approached Mike. I saw her mouth move, but couldn’t hear the words. Then she set some papers on his chest – the court order. He was served – he wouldn’t be able to come back to the house or even talk to me or the kids until the next court date. I started to cry, but not tears of sadness – these were tears of “I did the right thing.”

To be continued…

Things you don’t think of – but damn glad you were asked

I received an email today from my alma mater wanting to know how I wanted a couple of donations made to the school noted in the “Roll Call of Donors” section of the alumni magazine. One was easy – my name listed as a donor under my graduating year. The second donation warranted the email: how should a donation to the general fund be listed? Traditionally, when a couple is composed of two alums, it’s listed Husband Name/Wife Name. Since Mike is dead, the school wanted to be respectful of my wishes – should I be mentioned singularly in that section (no mention of Mike), or as Husband/Wife with an asterisk noting Mike’s passing.

Honestly, it didn’t matter to me. But I appreciate the college asking my preference. It would have been weird (and maybe even disturbing) to see his name in print if I didn’t know in advance. It’s nice to have attended a small college where this kind of thing is noticed and opinions are sought before publication.

BTW, I opted for the Husband/Wife listing with the asterisk.