Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Usually I get to USC Norris Cancer Hospital a little harried.  Inevitably, I stayed late at the office the night before, trying to clear the deck to be out for a few days.  When I get home, I tackle every possible household chore, so that when I come home from the hospital, I’m not looking at any task that compels me into action – look, I just know myself.  I stock the frig with soups and sparkling water, and try to remind myself to keep drinking water, so that my veins are well-hydrated in the morning for all the poking to come.  I decide which book I’m going to bring along, recognizing that I’ll be drowsy or asleep most of the day from the meds and won’t read much of it.  All too soon, it is early morning, and Karen arrives to drop me off at the hospital on her way to work.  Once the IV starts, I’ve come to be glad for the excuse to sit still and veg out.

Going into this Tuesday’s treatment was way different, and definitely the way to go.  The morning after USC Commencement, Akemi and I jumped on an airplane to the Big Island of Hawaii for a fabulous eight-day vacation.  She had not been to that island before, and I had only been once before with my family 44 years ago.  Throughout the trip, I tried to match up my memories of our family’s 1969 visit with today’s reality.  This photo is of the sunrise over Mauna Lani Bay.  More posts on our adventures to come.

We returned on Memorial Day Monday to the construction zone that has been our house.  The guest bath remodel that started in February and stalled for a couple of months got a lot of contractor attention while we were away.  Although we came home to everything covered in drywall and tile dust, the work was mostly done.  I had the holiday to put the house back in order and get ready for the Rituxan run.

For the first time in the three years I’ve been doing this routine, Akemi was home to be able to go to the hospital with me, reprieving my Relief Society friends from worrying about rides and meals.  Later that evening, she came into my room to suggest we watch a movie.  We decided on an entirely silly one, “Down Periscope,” which had been a favorite of Bing’s to watch with Akemi when she was little.  No matter how many times we have watched that movie, it always makes us laugh, and Akemi was successful in completely distracting me from feeling crummy.   

The WM story is more of the same: the bad immunoglobulin number continues to crawl downward, but the good IG numbers continue to be suppressed and platelets and white cells are not nearly as happy as before.  We’re just playing this out as the returns diminish. 
Our Hawaii good times prevailed over the construction clean-up and the day at the hospital.  Nothing like a paradisiacal vacation to help make the medicine go down, in the most delightful way. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013

I almost didn’t get to be a mother, the consequential damages of the subdural hematoma sustained when I was 28.  I didn’t know until four years ago that the real culprit probably was my platelet bleeding disorder.  Whatever the reason or multiplicity of reasons, including timing which was not my own, I endured years of Mother’s Days at church, trying to be game (we all have our own mothers to celebrate, after all), and remain nonchalant with the inevitable comments in the vein of “well, what are you waiting for?” and “next year for you!”

In my infertility pain, I was somewhat startled to learn from my contemporaries who already were mothers that Mother’s Day wasn’t necessarily a favorite day for them, either.  For some, the attention made them uncomfortable in their insecurity that they didn’t think they were as good at mothering as they thought they should or could be.  Others felt guilty that they thought this mothering business isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.  More and more, I heard variations of what I’d call my mother’s philosophy, which is “every day should be Mother’s Day,” meaning “I just want you to be good and happy.” My mother generally expressed this as “mind me and get good grades.” 

Then there’s the whole present/”do something for Mom” thing.  Wash the car? Who were we kidding that we could wash the car as well as the 25-cent car wash?  Egg shells in the scrambled eggs?  Then there was the Mother’s Day in the Downey house when I fell off the kitchen counter reaching up to a high shelf, crashing to the floor with her second-best plates slipping from my hands.  In true mother response, she was only concerned that I wasn’t hurt as I cried, mortified, amid the broken plates.  I think the next year, my dad made a preemptive suggestion that we get doughnuts, which was popular with us, if not Mom. 

For my first Mother’s Day after Akemi was born, Weeder left a large floral arrangement by our side door, with the note “’Cuz it’s your first.”  During Akemi’s early Colburn years, her big orchestra concert always was scheduled on Mother’s Day.  We’d dress for church and make an appearance at Sacrament meeting in Pasadena, change and drive an hour out to Anaheim for lunch with my parents, change back into dressier clothes and put Akemi in her concert dress, and drive another hour to LA, breathless and stressed to make her call time.  Did we remember the extension cord for the video camera?  Did we put her music in her case?  Of course I loved every occasion to hear her play, but that was really crazy, and I can assure you that none of the other orchestra moms liked spending Mother’s Day that way any more than I did. 

This Mother’s Day I’m remembering her second solo recital when she was 11.  It was July 14, 2001 – not Mother’s Day at all – but I’m thinking of it as a most favorite mother’s memory, because it was her first recital at Colburn, I got to play with her, and it turned out to be the only occasion when all four of her grandparents and her dad were together to hear her play.  Her dress was hand-painted French silk, a present from my mother, and she’s carrying flowers sent or given to her from Leigh, Linda, Janice, and other women who have been generous and important to her in her life. 

Fortunately for me, when you have a daughter as hard-working and talented as Akemi with her head on her shoulders, I have a precious bank of mother’s memories of special and celebratory times, with the promise of many more to come.  Whenever I am congratulated on having been such a good mother to have raised such a wonderful daughter, really I demur – she makes me look good.  When Akemi was young, the Parkins gave us a book Mr. and Mrs. Smith Have Only One Child, But What a Child!  If you only get one, she’s been the one to have, and that is certainly gift abundant.  She’s texted and we will “celebrate” in a few days when she comes home for a visit from Boston. 

Now for my mother this Mother’s Day, I am quite proud of what I’ve gotten her.  She has always loved wisteria, a very Japanese thing – the first kanzashi she gave me for my hair featured wisteria blossoms.  For years, she has admired the wisteria that Bing planted to trail across the front of the garage, combined with complaining that she always wanted my dad to plant her one, and he never did.  I hesitated from getting her one, because she’d have to have a trellis or some kind of structure built for it.

Then a couple of months ago, we were at a Japanese restaurant with her which had a wisteria plant trellised in a pot, large enough to get the effect but small enough to be contained.  More admiring/complaining, but now I had the idea.  So I am about to pack a five-foot trellised wisteria plant into my car, with a large (plastic) pot, and a large bag of potting soil.  I’ll assemble it at her house, and then drive over to my brother John’s with her for the afternoon with the local-area grandkids.  She knows about it and is excited about it; it’s nice to make her happy with a tangible present outside of the “get good grades” category. 

John has bought the roast (his kids are big-time meat eaters), I’m bringing the fixings for a favorite Sunset magazine salad, and hopefully someone else is bringing a box of See’s candy.  However you spend this day, I wish you a happy one.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On Tuesdays I try to remember to get away from my desk at lunchtime to walk to the tamale stand that sets up across the street on the north side of the campus.  I recommend the pork ones and corn ones, both doused with tomatillo sauce.

My brothers and I come by our tamale appreciation honorably from both sides of the family tree.   With her roots in Boyle Heights, my mom grew up eating homemade Jewish food and Mexican food.  She has told stories about having pregnancy cravings for burritos and pastrami sandwiches on rye, dispatching my father from their Downey house into LA to fetch the real things from the neighborhood stands.  I, who could not hold down water during much of my pregnancy with Akemi, have always stood in awe over the notion my embryonic self was nourished by the likes of tamales, salsa, and deli meat.  But I digress.

My dad talked about how when his family was farming in their longest-lasting Garden Grove location, they became friends with their next-farm neighbors, the Sanchezs.  The Sanchez women came over to help make the Kameis’ new year’s mochi, and my grandmother and aunts went over to the Sanchezs’ home to help them make their Christmas tamales.  I don’t know if the Sanchezs ever became fans of pounded, molded rice or not; I figured that the Kameis got the better end of the deal, coming home with ready-to-steam, secret-family-recipe tamales.  

So there was an era when my mom ambitiously tackled making her own tamales.  She made the rounds of the local Mexican mom-and-pop grocery stores to order the masa, the corn husks, and the combination of ingredients for the filling according to someone’s secret-family recipe (I’m not sure whose).  

What I am sure about is that us kids didn’t do a very uniform, high-quality job of wrapping the tamales.  Some were too stuffed; some were too skimpy; some fell apart during the handling and steaming.  No matter the aesthetics, we devoured them as they came out of the steamer.  Only because my mom made so many and imposed some discipline on us did we have enough to freeze to enjoy at later dates.  It was always a “find” to unearth some ice-caked tamales from the depths of my parent’s freezer.  A little steaming resuscitated the left-overs nicely.

It became easier to order Christmas tamales from friends and eat their secret-family versions.  Bing’s office manager’s aunt was one long-time source.  Then it became a family in our ward who sold them to make some extra Christmas money.  Their tamales were so generously sized  and their price so inexpensive that I worried about whether they really were making any money.  They swore they did, and I sensed it would have hurt their pride to have pressed more money on them, but I still worried.  I do think they really loved that we all really loved their tamales.  It was a sad day for our ward, for more reasons than just about their tamales, when that family moved.  In the meantime, the Kamei grandkids likewise developed a taste for the homemade tamale, and arriving at a family event with a batch in hand makes one very popular.

These days, though, it’s about down to the good folks who bring their coolers and steamer to the little campus farmer’s market once a week.  You’ll have to excuse me now while I finish my tamales.