Category: Ramble-amble-ambling Along


So, a lot has happened since writing last. The 12 of you who read this blog probably know most of it. My daughter had surgery to remove the last of the big bits of tumour from her spinal cord. She passed through that with flying colours, and is now in dance class. My primary client for the first 6 months of 2012 took a break from my services to attend to other matters, and I squeaked by while helping another person, whom I can now call a friend, close her business and attend to another chapter in her adventurous life. I now work out of 2 studios, or at least that’s the idea, now I have to get to the getting of work to carry on there. To that end, I’m re-launching my business, Artemisian Studios, soon. More in another post about that.

On to the meat of this post: Several incidents over the past year have challenged both my daughter and I, and reinforced the necessity of raising this girl to be self-reliant and both emotionally resilient and physically capable of defending herself at the very least. She’s petite, a quality which is an advantage in clothes-shopping, but a huge disadvantage in dealing with predators and bullies, the latter two having cropped up more frequently than the former. Another challenge is that she is naturally “cautious” in her physicality. She’d march across a street without looking, but jumping off the curb is reason to pause and consider the potentially painful ramifications in their infinite entirety. She learned early that gravity is a tough mistress. Increasingly, she is afraid of creepy-crawlies, an acquired phobia (among many behaviours and ideas) from some of the other girls on the playground who react to a common centipede like I do to the cinematic human variety (shudders). I understand the desire to fit in, the adoption of social norms that are at odds with my nature for the sake of blending where difference is met with disapproval and ridicule. I get that. But secretly, though I guess not anymore, it pisses me the fuck off that other parents observe and condone these burgeoning weaknesses in their own children. I said weaknesses, because being paralysed by fear of a bug or slug or the stigma of not being afraid of them is a weakness. “Sugar and spice, and all that’s nice – that’s what little girls are made of.”

But I’m not raising a little girl; I’m raising a future woman. Most of my female identified friends were socialised to be the girlie-girls with bows in their hair, and dreaming of their dream wedding, flowing gown, the dashing man they would walk down that isle to, and their eventual 2.5 children. We’ve all spent hours listening to the dashed hopes and dreams of friends from Jr high to this day as they try to reconcile the supposedly ideal world they were sold as reality in youth from peers and society, with the often swarthier truth of bugs in the house, abuse, complex relationship issues, interpersonal power politics, conflicting desires, and the need for economic stability. Why? Because those “shoulds” of our forgotten pasts get in the way of our acceptance of the is that we eventually experience. The shoulds of girlhood (and boyhood, but I’m addressing my daughter’s development) become the foundation of our expectations as women. I want to change that for her. I want her to build upon the backs of her fore-mothers’ hard-learned truths. What’s the adage? “The smart man learns from his mistakes; the wise man learns from others’.” But we’re just repeating the same ones over and over.

“Girls will be girls” is another one of those old sayings, but this one is untrue. Girls will be women. Well, most of them. But they get the start that our patriarchal (aww, shit! I just busted the “P” word out) culture wants them to: namely, they are trained to accept their infantilisation from an early age. Please excuse my generalising, I realise this is not every girl’s experience, but there are trends and norms within groups that define the culture. So the value of a woman is still primarily revolves around youthful attractiveness, whereas intellect, athletic development, political involvement, personal ambition, and opinionated outspokenness are negative traits in girls and women while being the positive characteristics for boys and men. Those latter traits, the ones that rise from the developing mind (even the athleticism, as it a discipline) of all people are sold as undesirable and dangerous to the programmed goals of finding Mr. Right and becoming his dependent inferior. “Guys don’t like smart/strong/dominant/ugly/mannish girls.” How many times have you heard that? Have you said that? Do you still believe that? Boys are trained in that thinking, too. “She’s too much like a dude.” “What a dyke/bitch/cunt.” “You just got beat by a girl!” And this shit perpetuates itself.

Early this summer/late spring, a little boy called my dear daughter a bitch because she wouldn’t let him take something of hers, and he felt entitled to it. Now, I have heard her be imperious, strong-willed, opinionated, and controlling at times to this same child (age 5), mostly in response to his trying to take her things and tell her what to do while screaming over her protests as if to drown her out, to dominate her. I can understand her frustration and unwillingness to deal with this kid, but his older and much less grabby and abusive brother is her friend, and an advocate for her in his younger brother’s presence. But what possessed a 5 year old to call my daughter a bitch – apart from poor examples at home and in the immediate community – is his butt-hurt over not being able to control her or her things. How early this drama begins! I heard the exchange outside the front door, and I was enraged. I was enraged at the kid, his parents, and the whole of Western civilisation back to the Mycenaean invasion of Crete. What my daughter said next gave me pause and quenched my fury, somewhat. Without missing a beat, she told him “Nobody talks to me that way, and I will not accept that language!” This, from a seven year old (nearly seven). This is what I want for all our girls, for all women to feel. There’s a Roseanne quote floating around Facebook, and whatever your opinion of her is, this line is powerful: “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.” Hell to the yes, this.

Religious, and therefor, legal texts codify inequality. Fathers and mothers, friends and neighbours, and social institutions reinforce the idea of inequality in the minds of the young and old. It’s written into the DNA of our current paradigm. My strong-minded daughter is under attack every day. By her nature, she wants to fit in, and abhors confrontation. Her peers are falling into the traps set out before them like generations before, and we think it’s adorable. Her school seeks to break down that mindfuck, and I appreciate that oasis, and the great examples set by the staff, but the kids go home to their families and places of worship and after-school extra-curriculars. The change has to be on the macro scale. Social re-engineering on a massive scale, much like the digital revolution. Indeed, I was hopeful that the advent of the internet and its ability to transmit and share information would make it easier for this to happen. Maybe it is, slowly. Looking at websites designed for women, though, I see the same content as the 1886 copy of a local mid-western women’s magazine, which was written and edited exclusively by men. Family, home, cooking, entertainment, horoscopes, advice for coping in a man’s world. More reinforcement of acceptable ambitions. Young women eat this shit up, only to realise later in life that it’s all just a pink smokescreen spread to hide our disenfranchisement.

We need to think critically about our world, not mindlessly accept it as it has been presented to us. We need support our assumption of the power that is ours and not give it away to someone else. We need to provide real-life examples of great women, instead of the radically self-absorbed and shallow caricatures portrayed on TV and in music and fiction books and mirrored by their consumers. We need to create a world in which our children assume equality and respect for each-other instead of assuming it must be fought for tooth and nail. We need to pass down our proverbial Wonder Woman Underoos – the gift of wisdom from our experiences and lessons from our mothers – to the generations coming up, and start early.

So how does this change occur? Who even cares? What’s Snookie’s weight at today? I heard that Tasha blew the whole football team – what a slut. Calculus is stupid, I dropped it. I think Shane’s going to pop the question, finally! Mom is really putting on the heat for a grandchild. I’m such a terrible mother. Ooh, watch Chastity dance in the talent show just like Beyonce! We don’t discuss those topics, it’s impolite.

Matt Damon, you suck. I picked up the movie We Bought A Zoo from Redbox to watch tonight. It’s about a comfortably middle class white family in which the mother has died and everybody is working through their grief when dad uses his sizeable inheritance to purchase an ailing animal park on a whim. Actually, it is a mediocre bit of schmaltzy rehash. I enjoyed it like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich except for this one shard of broken glass that runs through the whole movie: mom. Healing and reconstructing a life after her loss is the theme, so she figures prominently. Normally, this would be okay. Poe would have thought the plot to be well grounded, I think.

I just can’t do death, anymore. Me. Ms. suicidal teen USA. Mary, Queen of Macabre. My art was filled with gore, torture, and themes of death. My writings mirrored that. I still prefer black to any other colour in my attire. She who even recently considered becoming a mortician. I, I can’t handle the concept of death, anymore. I’m so disappointed in myself.

It’s because of my baby. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I’m going there on the 25th of June, it looks like. The date for surgery is the 25th. They’ll attempt another resection of what is left of her tumour. My ex still has questions, so we’re going to meet with the surgeons on Wednesday next. I could come up with more questions, but those I had, have already been answered. We’ll see how it goes with my prayers.

Every time she goes under anaesthesia before the MRIs, ever since the first one, I have to put myself under with her. I swallow the panic and fear that would otherwise drown me when her eyes flutter, roll back, and she becomes unresponsive. This surgery will be different than the first; it should be shorter, less traumatic in scope, more precise. In may ways it will be the same, though. the anaesthesia room kiss before she is rolled into the operating room. She will be catheterised, rolled onto her stomach, strapped down, the IVs inserted into each hand. Long rods will be screwed into her skull through a large metal halo that will ensure she is immobilised through the procedure. Electrodes will be inserted into her major muscle groups from the waist to her calves, monitoring nerve response.

After the initial incision, her trapezius, rhomboideus major, and erector spinae muscles will be severed and retracted from the spine around the T3 to T5 or T6 vertebrae. The dorsal bit of the spine will be removed from these vertebrae in a laminectomy, the old screws will need to be removed. Once the bone and it’s ligaments are removed, revealing the dura mater – the sheath that envelops the spinal cord, it is cut through, careful to avoid vital blood vessels which are sparse in this part of the spine. scar tissue from the first surgery 2.5 years ago will have to be assessed and dealt with. Once at the spinal cord, the precise location of the tumour is re-checked and an incision is made into the centre of the vital bundle of nerves that allow for communication between the brain and all the lower part of her body. Nerves are necessarily severed, and here the damage/healing starts. The tumour differs only slightly from the surrounding healthy nerve tissue. A narrow tube that vibrates at ultrasonic frequencies is inserted where the surgeons believe the tumour is. they liquefy and the tissue is immediately evacuated through the tube. Every so often, they check for damage to the different muscle groups via the aforementioned electrodes embedded in the muscles. No or limited response and you stop sucking in that area and move on to another. Rinse and repeat until the surgeons are confident they have taken what they can, then everything is sewn and screwed up in reverse order. The electrodes are removed, as are the long rods, the intubation tube, and she is wheeled into recovery.

We won’t know what damage was done to what nerves until after she wakes up, and is coherent enough to take simple instructions to see if she can move her legs, feet, and toes. She will have 2 IV shunts to switch between morphine and saline to keep her hydrated. The morphine burns every time it enters the vein. The day after surgery, she is wheeled into the MRI to get a follow-up and see what the results of their efforts were on the tumour. After 2 days she will be slathered in plaster to make a mould for a clam-shell brace to support her spine while the newly attached ligaments, tendons, muscle and bones heal together. If hr legs are strong enough, and her brace comes in, she will have the opportunity to try to walk on the 3rd day. Barring any complications, she will have the catheter out on the 3rd or 4th day after surgery, and we will see how her bladder control is. Hopefully, she will be able to have a bowel movement, too, and that will be the end of the hospital stay. Then it’s back home to recover for a few weeks followed by any physical therapy that may be needed.

Within 2 weeks we will have the tissue results that will tell us if the tumour was still grade 1, which is benign, or if it has “upgraded” to a higher level that may require other measures, including chemotherapy or radiation treatments at the Cyclotron here in Bloomington, or if it’s a grade 4, to enjoy what time we have left together, usually 1-5 years from diagnosis.

Some of our friends have been on the receiving end of a miracle or two, a couple never got theirs. We’ve been blessed with one, already, and I am forever grateful for it. But there is that horrid dread that supersedes worry, hiding at the edges of my psyche. My ex has it, too. We all have it. But it can’t be shown leniency, it must be held back. There’s no time for that when the dishes and clothes and homework have to be done, tickle wars have to be waged, and every giggle, laugh, word and deed must be cherished. I want to hug her into me, to protect her, keep her safe from the world outside, but it’s the trouble within that confounds me. I’m powerless. I can’t kiss this better. All I know to do is to pray, love, laugh, and cry. Tonight, Matt Damon made me cry and fear. I may never forgive him for that.