Archive for December, 2010

Every year, our friend Tom has his annual “Christmas Walk,” where about 25 of us congregate in the lobby bar of the Roosevelt Hotel, walk up Fifth Avenue to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, cross the street to look at the way the windows are decorated at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral before finishing up at the lobby bar of the Omni Berkshire Place hotel on 52nd St. and Madison Avenue.

Rockefeller Center Angel

Here’s another way of describing the walk: go the Roosevelt Hotel and slam down two bourbons. Step outside, walk a few blocks and then Tom cracks open a bottle of champagne, which we all drink on the sidewalk out of plastic cups. I make my way to the tree at Rockefeller Center, at which point I’m so toasted, I usually just stare glassy-eyed at the tree’s colorful lights and miss the group photo taken out by Fifth Avenue, with the tree in the background. Another bottle of champagne is opened at Rockefeller Center, and we walk across the street to look at Saks’ windows, which usually tell a story I never understand because I’m so wasted, and it’s so inane. Plot is not the store’s strong suit.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

When we get to St. Patrick’s cathedral, I usually have one mission and one mission only: find St. Bernard. At  the Christmas Walk of 2001, my father had died just two weeks earlier, and as I strolled through St. Patrick’s, weepy from alcohol and my father’s recent death, I came upon St. Bernard, and I burst out laughing. I’m Jewish. My people don’t have saints. But if we did, I’m not sure we’d name them after dogs. I knew if I was going to light a memorial candle in honor of my father, who had a sense of humor like Peter Sellers, it would have to be in the little chapel dedicated to St. Bernard.

The following year, I stumbled around St. Patrick’s looking once again for St. Bernard, and he was nowhere to be found. I felt a profound sense of loss. How could a saint be there one year and not the next? He had a statue and a gold plaque with his name on it. It wasn’t some temporary installation like a Picasso exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I figured if there was going to be an unreliable saint, a fair weather friend, it was going to be one named for a dog. And then the following year, when I once again wandered around St. Patrick’s woozy on bourbon and hunting for St. Bernard, he reappeared, like an apparition. And he’s been there ever since. It turns out he shares his little alcove chapel with St. Brigid. She’s on the left side, he’s on the right. In my bourbon haze, I saw only St. Brigid and failed to see St. Bernard on the other side.

I knew the walk was going to be different this year, given that I was pregnant and not drinking. I anticipated conversations that become repetitive and orbit the same point. And I knew my husband, Bruce, would get drunk, and that he, too, would become silly and repetitive and that his breath would smell like alcohol and cigarettes because he likes to smoke when he’s had a couple of drinks. What I didn’t anticipate is that Bruce would get lost from the rest of the group – half a block from our starting point at the Roosevelt Hotel – and that we’d all have to wait for about 20 minutes on 46th Street in the cold as everyone who had Bruce’s cell phone number tried to get in touch with him and tell him where we were. Tom had just opened up the first bottle of champagne, and we were poised to make a toast when it became clear that Bruce and one other member of the party, a man called James from Barbados, had gone missing.

Santa on 46th Street

“Why are we waiting?” I said. I rolled my eyes.

I was annoyed. I had watched the whole thing unfold and knew it didn’t have to have happened. We all walked out of the hotel together, and then suddenly, James and Bruce, who were at the back of the pack, got it into their heads that Tom had not come out of the hotel yet, and they wanted to wait for him.

“He came out already. He’s up ahead,” I said.

“No, man. I saw him in the bathroom. He was behind me. He hasn’t come out yet,” James said.

“He did come out. He’s up ahead,” I said, pointing to the group as it was crossing Madison Avenue.

“I didn’t see him come out,” James said. “I’m going to wait for him.”

“I’ll wait here with James,” Bruce said.

At that point, the group was less than a block away on 46th Street, but I couldn’t get James or Bruce to budge.

“I’m going. I’ll see you guys later,” I said and walked across Madison Avenue to meet up with the others.

When Tom opened the champagne and was about to make a toast, people started to wonder where Bruce and James were, and I kept pointing over to the hotel. I finally walked back to where I had left them, but they were gone.

Our friend, David, continued to try to call Bruce and after about five minutes,  Bruce finally picked up and said he was already on 50th Street.

“What the heck is he doing all the way over there?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” David said. “You’re the one who married him.”

Hot Dog Stand on Fifth Avenue

Everyone knows this part of Bruce. He’s always the guy who gets lost from the crowd because he’s not paying attention, either because he was buzzed and became enthralled by some blinking light in a shop window, or he was sober and rode his bike away from the pack to investigate some building or monument off in the distance and then couldn’t find where everyone else had gotten to.

Under normal circumstances, I find this part of his personality irritating. With a baby coming, I find it alarming. What if I go into labor, and I need him, and he’s nowhere to be found. There’s already been several instances where I’ve tried to call him, and he failed to answer his cell phone because he’d put it on vibrate hours earlier and forgot to put the ringer back on.

“Dude!” I said, as he came walking up the street to rejoin our group. “What the fuck?”

“I didn’t want to leave James,” he said.

“Yeah, right,” I said. I suddenly hated James.

Rockefeller Center Tree

We lifted our plastic cups and had our toast and then made our way over to Rockefeller Center. As we walked, Bruce and I once again got separated, but that always happens on the walk as it’s one of the few times we see these people all year, and it’s nice to catch up with them. When we got to Rockefeller Center, I left the group behind and moved through the crowd to get to the tree, trying to dodge the oncoming stream of people who’d already seen the tree and were trying to get back out to Fifth Avenue. I made my way to the front row, overlooking the ice skating rink, and stood by myself looking up at this spectacle as I do every year, and despite being stone cold sober, the tree looked glorious. Tall, chock full of multi-colored lights, its long branches swaying slightly in the wind like a hula skirt. Suddenly, I felt someone come up behind me and put their arms around my waist.

“Nice tree,” Bruce said.

“Gorgeous,” I said.

We stood there looking at the tree, us three, me, Bruce and baby Eddie.

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I was on the subway last week trying to read my book but was distracted by the small blond child seated next to me who kept kicking his feet up in the air and then dropping them back down. As his little shoes would come crashing back down on account of gravity, his foot would hit the side of mine. Before I was pregnant, I would have wanted to strike the child. But with my own baby coming, I seem to have more patience, in part because I truly am more patient, and in part because I’m trying to be.

The boy uttered something incomprehensible, and I watched his mother struggle to understand what he was saying.

“The people have blue shoes?” she said.

He repeated this unintelligible gibberish.

“The bubbles don’t work?”


“The bubbles need more structure?”

I empathized with the woman. Some mothers seem to do everything right, from knowing the perfect foods to feed their children (never, ever feed babies honey!), to understanding precisely how to discipline them so they listen rather than lash out in retaliation. Me, I bought my child a beautiful antique iron crib, similar to the iron bed in which me and my husband sleep and was warned the crib may be covered in lead paint that the baby will surely eat. I situated the crib in front of the bay window in the nursery, thinking the baby would be nourished, like a plant, by all the light and air that flood in –only to be chastised for having a crib so close to windows on which there were no child guards. I’ve slept in a dust-filled house, seven months pregnant, as contractors put in a master bath so we could have a second bathroom for when the baby is born. As part of the project, I stained wood paneling, painted trim, and lifted heavy tile, to the point where one friend warned she would call child services if I lifted another paint brush. Some of the things I do are out of ignorance or simple oversight. Others, out of stubborn-ness.  Either way, this mothering business clearly does not come natural to me — at least when it comes to OSHA-type issues.  I appeared to have found a compatriot in this fellow traveler.

“I never understand what they’re saying,” I said, sliding down the subway seat a little closer to the woman so she could hear me. “I’m glad to see even their own mothers don’t even understand them all the time.”

“Oh, I usually get it. I’m just a little out of it right now,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, moving back a little toward my side of the bench.

One Small Step for Man

“He’s actually pretty articulate,” she continued. “The other day, he said, ‘I want to be an astronaut, because I want to go in a rocket into space.’ That’s very articulate for a two-year old.”

Her voice had the pride of someone whose dog has just won, “Best in Show.”

And here I thought I’d found a mother potentially as unfit as myself,  someone else who might inadvertently have fed their baby honey. It turns out she was just having an off day. I picked up my book and began reading again, content that at the very least, the conversation had distracted her little brat long enough for him to stop kicking my foot.

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December 17, 2010 Candyland

contains 10% juice

I’ve always had a love affair with sugar. When I was a kid, our pantry had so many cans of Hi-C juice, it looked like we were stocking up for the winter with motor oil. Our “candy drawer” in the dining room buffet was renowned among our friends.  I had such an intimate relationship with Crumb Cakes, Yodels, Yankee Doodles and Pop Tarts, I had a favorite way of eating each one: Crumb Cakes were toasted, Yankee Doodles were eaten frozen, Pop Tarts were put in the toaster oven with chocolate chips on top, and a Yodel was consumed by first eating off the chocolate coating and then unrolling it. I felt a longing and a deep frustration watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” like young boys must have felt looking at that poster of Farrah Fawcett in the orange swimsuit. So I can’t say I was shocked to be told I’d failed the one-hour glucose test, which is given to pregnant women to determine their risk of getting gestational diabetes. I now had to take the three-hour version.

I’m not sure there’s even a connection between one’s sugar consumption and diabetes. In fact when I was young, my mother never said anything about diabetes. She said if I ate too much sugar, I’d get worms. Still, I always wondered whether my love of sugar would lead to diabetes, and it now seemed my fears were founded.

But while I wasn’t shocked at the prospect of diabetes, I was surprised by the attitude of my OB-GYN’s partner, who called with my test results. I like my OB-GYN, but her partner is prickly. I’d already had one bad experience with her, in which she showed poor bedside manner, was abrupt when my husband asked her a few questions, and she told me I should stop my morning walks on account of my placenta previa, advice that was later contradicted by the doctor who diagnosed the placenta previa in the first place. I wouldn’t mind these minor issues if I never had to see her again, but as my OB-GYN’s partner, there was a chance that if my own doctor was off duty or unavailable when I was ready to give birth, she would deliver my baby. When she called with my test results, she told me I’d have to come in to their office to pick up a prescription for a three-hour glucose test. I asked her if she could just fax that prescription over to Quest, the diagnostic center at which I had the first test and all of my blood work. No, she insisted I come in to pick up the prescription in person.

“I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying,” I said. I was standing out on the street outside the 125th Street subway station in the bitter cold, yelling into my cell phone so she could hear me. “You want me to drive 25 minutes to your office, and 25 minutes home, just to pick up a piece of paper that in the past has been faxed directly to Quest?”

“Well, I don’t know anything about what’s been done in the past. Who’s been faxing it?”

“Your partner? The receptionist? I’m not sure. But someone has been calling or faxing my prescriptions over to Quest. I have never had to come in and pick it up,” I said.

“Well, I’ll do it, but if it gets lost, that’s not my fault,” she said, almost spitefully.

Did she think someone at Quest was going to steal it off the fax machine? It’s not like it was a prescription for Oxycontin. If someone wanted to undergo a three-hour glucose test, I say they can have my prescription.

The three hour test, as the name implies, takes three hours to complete – and all three hours are usually spent in the testing center’s waiting room. An initial blood sample is drawn, the patient then drinks 100 grams of thick, syrupy sugar juice – similar to the simple syrup used in, say, a mint julep — and blood is then taken every hour after that for three consecutive hours to see how the body absorbs the glucose.

In that time, I watched several hours of morning television and learned that Rachel Ray refers to her cast iron pot as a ‘he,’ and that it’s not uncommon for men to bleed when they have sex – though they should see a doctor if that happens. I also learned that the white nurse at Quest hates to cook because she hates to clean up, and she dislikes going to grocery store with her husband because he wants to walk down all of the aisles and read the labels on every package of food. The black nurse, on the other hand, loves food shopping but hates clothes shopping. And like me, she used in vitro fertilization to conceive her daughter, though it took her five tries and she went through about 25 eggs – and all of her insurance coverage — before she was successful. She loves multi-colored cookware and wants a full set of Rachel Ray pots for Christmas.

“What do you like to cook?” I asked her as she drew my blood.

“Well, I made a roast last night,” she said.

“How?” I like to hear about food when I’ve been fasting, as I was required to do for this test.

“I seared it, and then I cooked it in a big pot with onion soup, baby carrots, and cabbage,” she said.

“What else?” I asked, as she put a band-aid on my arm.

“I cooked up some mashed potatoes, and I put some cheese and bread crumbs on top and put it back into the oven to crisp up,” she said proudly.

I was getting hungry.

On the second blood test, I started to tell the nurse about my placenta previa, and after explaining to her what it was, I said, “I can’t imagine why I was telling you all that.” The glucose was starting to whirl around my system.

On the third blood test, I started to tell the nurse that I felt mildly nauseated but that I refused to throw up because I’d read on the internet that if you do, you have to drink another bottle of the glucose juice.

“I can handle the nausea. What’s worse for me is the…”

The nurse looked at me.

“I forgot what I was going to say again,” I said. “This glucose makes me a very interesting conversationalist.”


By the fourth blood test, I wanted to eat everything Rachel Ray was cooking on television. The last thing she made before I had my blood drawn was whole grain waffles, maple plums, and a ham steak. When I left Quest, I got into my car and drove to a diner and ordered waffles, eggs, over easy, and a piece of Taylor ham. As I sat at the table, I could feel the baby kicking up a storm, though I couldn’t be sure if it was from all the glucose or the maple syrup and orange juice I was now consuming.

After I left the diner, I stopped at a grocery store and bought a cut of rump beef and some onion soup and baby carrots, and I went home and made my first roast. But instead of cooking the meat in a bath of onion soup, which I thought might make it tough, I simply patted the soup mix on the sides of the beef. It was the juiciest, most flavorful roast I’ve ever had – good enough to make me forget, for just a moment, that the doctor who will deliver my baby if my own OB-GYN is unavailable may be so overly-cautious as to have poor judgment.

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My cat eats candy corn. It’s one of those cute things I tell my friends because that’s what married couples without children do. They turn their pets into progeny, dressing them up in outfits, regaling people with stories about the silly things they’ve done, and bragging about their notable traits.

And why not. When you’ve got a cat as smart as our little Fish, it’s worth noting. Fish knows which items around the house we’re mostly likely to need –and lies down on top of them.  For a while, she took to sleeping in the upstairs hallway just outside the baby’s room, as if she knows something important to us will soon occupy that space. Yesterday I caught her leaping a few feet into the air, trying to turn the handle on our screen door so that she could get outside. This morning as I emerged from my bedroom, instead of running down the stairs in anticipation that I will be following close behind, she went first into the bathroom because she’s learned that I go there first before going down the stairs. This is one smart kitty. And so with all that intelligence, she has somehow figured out that Bruce is the more lovable parent between the two of us.

It’s seems unfair. Working from home, I spend all day with her. Even if we’re not in the same room, we know where in the house the other is sitting — except if I’m in the kitchen. Then she’s right by my side. She’s like a child that way –obsessed with food. Put a bunch of kids in a room, and they’ll play. Open a candy wrapper in the corner, and they’ll all turn around to see who’s eating what. When I go into the kitchen, my cat is always close behind, standing at the base of the cutting board wanting to know what I’m chopping, and how it’s likely to affect her. I usually give her bits of whatever I’m cooking (she likes kale and yoghurt. She’s not keen on bananas).

She Loves Me Not

I’m the one who makes sure her food bowl is full, and I pressure Bruce into cleaning her litter box when it begins to smell (now that I’m pregnant, I can’t do it myself). And yet as we all sit around the living room at night watching television and Fish wants a lap into which she can crawl, she jumps up onto Bruce and not me, and I have to sit and watch this lovefest from across the room. The unfiltered display of affection sickens me.

It’s not that the cat ignores me. She makes plenty of overtures, though they usually leave a bloody mark. I’ll be walking across the room, and she’ll take a flying leap from behind me like Tarzan and clamp onto my leg, claws out, mouth open, and then drop to the floor, leaving a bloody road map of where each paw had been. She did this to me yesterday afternoon, and I instinctively hit her on the back and then cried, partly because it hurt and partly because I felt bad for hitting her, but mostly because I don’t understand why she treats Bruce with such love and affection and me with such contempt. After I hit her, she laid down on her side and then rolled onto her back, and then back on her side. I wasn’t sure if it was an act of contrition of if she had an itch on her back.

I knelt down next to her and said, “Fishy! Why do you do that?!?” It seems no matter how hard I’ve worked, how much therapy and insight and reconciliation I’ve had, I’ve wound up in a relationship with my cat that is not unlike the relationship I had with my mother:  scratching, retribution and then guilt.

She Loves Me

We spent the next several hours in separate corners of the house, though by dinner time, she was back in the kitchen at the foot of the butcher block table wanting to know what I was chopping. Last night as I started to fall asleep, I felt the distinct bounce of my fat cat jumping onto our bed, and slowly, she walked up my leg and across my torso and settled onto my bulbous pregnant belly and began kneading my pajamas with her two paws like it was dough. She then put her head down on my chest, and I could hear her breathing like it was a motor running. And I thought, she must not see very well in the dark.

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I’ve always viewed the events of my life too closely. It’s as if the things that happen to me occur inside a shop window, and I’m watching them with my nose pressed up against the glass. When you do that, you lose depth, context. You think when someone is rude on the subway, it must be because you suck and not because they’ve had a bad day or were just told they have cancer. I take photographs the same way. I like face shots, filling the lens with my subject rather than shooting them in their surroundings. So it shouldn’t have surprised me to hear my baby and its placenta have implanted themselves too close to my cervix, the narrow passageway through which the baby exits the womb.  The placenta is actually pressing up against my cervix, a condition known as “placenta previa” — or as my husband, Bruce, calls it, “Pasta Primavera.”

Google Health describes “Placenta previa” as a complication of pregnancy in which the placenta grows in the lowest part of the womb (uterus) and covers all or part of the opening to the cervix. I take issue with the word “complication.” It conjures up images of sirens, a heart machine flat-lining and a doctor using a defibrillator.

The Mayo Clinic’s web site is even more dire: Placenta previa is an uncommon pregnancy complication that can cause excessive bleeding before or during delivery. The Mayo folks don’t even bother with a definition. They just skip to the messy consequences.

My doctor said way back when he was a resident, women with this condition were actually hospitalized. For now, he suggested I just take it easy, cut out the three-mile brisk walks, refrain from having sex, and try not to lift anything larger than my cat. He also said in most cases, the placenta moves away from the cervix as the uterus expands, and that he was hopeful that would happen in my case. Yet in my follow-up ultrasound about six weeks after the initial diagnosis, the doctor initially thought the placenta had moved. But then after reviewing my original ultrasound images, he came back a few minutes later and said it actually hadn’t moved much at all. Its nose was still pressing against the edge of my cervix, as if it were trying to look outside.

“Have you had any bleeding,” the doctor asked.

“Nope. None, “ I said. It felt like an achievement.

“If you have any bleeding at all, get yourself to an emergency room. You don’t want to play around with this,” he said.

“Well, how much bleeding do you mean? I don’t want to run to an emergency room for a little spotting, and then have them poke around and do more damage than good,” I said.

“Significant bleeding,” he said.

I hate when I have to use my discretion. I don’t trust my discretion. It’s like hanging out with someone whose judgment you question. I get weak-kneed at the sight of blood so significant to me might be average to someone else. And then sometimes I fear I’m being overly dramatic about a health issue so I’ll underplay it, calling something a flesh wound when I’m dealing with a severed a limb.

I think I’ve actually felt the placenta bulging through my cervix, like a water balloon or a bubble that’s emerging from between my legs. I imagine it starts to fall out of my womb, and I’m dragging around this sack until it falls on the ground and ruptures and everything pours out onto the floor – though at least then I’d know to get myself to a hospital. Worse would be to walk around with a slow leak, like when Bruce once carried home leftovers from an Italian dinner, stopped at a grocery store on his way home, and drunk, didn’t realize he was holding the leftovers sideways. As he walked up and down the grocery aisles, he left a trail of greasy tomato sauce that betrayed everywhere he’d been. I’d hate to be the last one to know my placenta was compromised, like stepping on toilet paper and carrying it around on the bottom of your shoe.

My acupuncturist is convinced he can move my placenta by placing his needles on certain acupuncture points. He puts three needles on the outside of each ear, a needle at the top of my head and several on my wrists and feet. It’s hard to imagine how this could shift a placenta the two centimeters it needs to move, but he says he’s done it for other patients. But then I also thought he could get me pregnant without assisted reproductive technology, and that never happened.

It’s funny that of all my traits, my unborn child would have inherited my habit of viewing life events from too close a vantage point. But then I’m glad he’s got one of my traits at all. By using a younger woman’s eggs to conceive, a woman my age is able to get pregnant, but I’ve had to reconcile the idea that my child will have none of my DNA. And yet this child has somehow picked up my need to park myself front and center, up close and personal, right where the action is, like dogs that always situate themselves in doorways or a student who always sits in the front row. I just hope he doesn’t pay dearly for it.

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