Year end

Eliza had her first migraine in well over a month a week ago. It was, I think, the weirdly reassuring capper to a disquieting medical misadventure.

One day this fall, I caught her turning greenish and quiet, and one interrogation later, I’d learned she been having dizzy spells semi-regularly. Once I started tracking them, I could see them happening with increasing, alarming frequency, and the day she had three I took her to the pediatrician because frankly, the fact that my father died of a brain aneurysm means I am immediately at 11 when weird head shit happens. There is no, “Oh, that’s odd!” moment for me, I’m immediately at “Everyone’s gonna DIEEEEEEE.” I have enough wherewithall to recognize that I am nuts and even not to act nuts, but not enough to stop thinking nuts.

Anyway, another interrogation later (this time from an actual medical professional) we had a suggestion for what it could be: a type of atypical migraine kids sometimes develop. A neurologist confirmed she had a textbook case, and we also quickly had a culprit: processed meat, specifically, beef jerky.

Eliza is like me about food in that it’s not per se flavors she won’t like, but random peripheral aspects of food. I can’t deal with the snot-consistency foods (shellfish, mostly), whereas she is really particular about temperature. This has made it a challenge to come up with proteins she can bring to school (I insist on a protein and a fruit or vegetable in every lunch; whether she eats any of them or just the crackers is another matter). Most of the allowable ones (cold cuts, cheese, yogurt) don’t taste right to her at room temperature, and the ones that do (nut butters) are prohibited. I finally threw up my hands and told her to bring beef jerky, which she loves. Yes, it’s salty, I reasoned, but at least it has lots of protein, won’t taste weird if it warms up, and is something she loves enough to actually eat it. Unfortunately, it appears that she’s sensitive to the preservative/salt combo in jerky as a migraine trigger.

She quit all processed meats cold turkey the day we talked to the neurologist, and hadn’t had a single spell since. (There’s also a fun episode in there learning to swallow magnesium pills as a preventative — she tried magnesium powder first but it tastes like licking a fish’s butthole so we abandoned that.) Anyway, Jim’s mom sent us a ham for Christmas so Eliza carefully tried some ham, on the principle that it was a different kind of not-as-processed meat. No reaction. So she had some more. One week into the Ham4Ever extravaganza at this house, she had her first dizzy spell since the diagnosis. Which leads us to the conclusion that it’s definitely processed meat, but that it’s also probably the cumulative effect of eating it several days in a row.

She has been a brave little toaster about all of this — no bacon, people! My child adores bacon! — and did what needed doing, up to taking terrible vitamins and forswearing a sizable chunk of the American tween diet.

But I can tell it really freaked her out, because she has been more prone than usual to draping herself over/near me.

It freaked me right out, too, on a level beyond OH SHIT BRAIN ANEURYSM DEFCON ONE. She’s been getting more independent and somehow seemed less vulnerable than in the days of the giant-toddler-noggin-that-makes-a-terrible-watermelon-thunk-smacking-into-things, and suddenly there were storms in her head. Beyond that, there was the realization that terrible things might be happening to her and she might not tell me. I suppose it was instructive, but I feel like I could’ve skipped that educational moment.

Anyway, she told me about the dizzy spell, and since we’d both been monitoring her carefully ever since starting on the enormous Christmas ham of doom, it was like getting the test results back on an experiment. We have a follow-up with the neurologist in a few weeks, and I suspect he’ll agree with us on our findings.

Beyond this — apparently minor, in the end — medical drama, we’ve been having lots of great conversations about books and movies and music that have offered opportunities for bigger discussions about the state of the world. Her take on the Hunger Games, her speculation on what would happen if… for any number of stories we think about, alternately entertain and engage me.

Last week she had to come to work with me and watched Star Wars 4, 5, and 6. Yesterday we got to the theater for 7, and she loved it. She and her friend speculated all the way home about the various cliffhangers and plot twists.

Her favorite movie this year was The Martian, her favorite album is Smoke and Mirrors by Imagine Dragons, and her book of the year was Hunger Games.

Her favorite colors are at the teal/aqua end of the spectrum.

She is a wonderfully vivid writer firmly at the funny/blunt side of the things. I’ve taken to reminding her she needs to dial it back on writing exams because moderation and appropriateness are not things she appreciates. She barely passed her end-of-year writing exam in fourth grade because she took a question about women’s pay in sports (which, kudos for giving them a real question) as an opportunity to go on a rant about gender equality and the stupidity of the sports-industrial complex. It was funny as hell and full of wacky digressions — but it didn’t quite answer the assignment and her teacher was right to grade her as she did. That said, my chastisement was somewhat less that totally passionate because even as I was telling her it could potentially read as disrespectful, I couldn’t help but admire her damn-the-torpedoes attitude. People said I was a good writer at her age, but really what I was, was a grammatically-correct writer. She has a voice.

That said I hope she continues to be as passionate about robot nerdery. That seems like it’ll pay better.

***

Lucy still sleeps plastered to my side. Preferably in just her underwear (which she picks out new at bedtime), and clutching my pinky, after reading exactly 3 stories. That kid’s sleep habits put even her father to shame for quirky persnickety-ness. Of course, since we once again missed the summer window and are now into the colder months, I have again lost my motivation to detach her. She’s like sleeping with a less wiggly version of one of our cats, one who doesn’t get up to chase imaginary mice at 2 a.m.

(We had real mice this year too. Adorable ones, except we could hear them skittering in the walls at night, and boy howdy THAT is a noise that will keep you up.  I set up humane traps, and caught a family of gray mice and one set of deer mice. Actually, I’m pretty sure I caught the same deer mouse 4 times before he finally realized that no really, we did not want him in the house. The cats were useless in this endeavor because the mice were in the attic and back area of the basement, the only two areas of the house that are not part of their fiefdom. I now have scent and ultrasonic repellents in both areas, and so far, no more skittering, thank god.)

She steadfastly refers to light sabers (a thing in our house, thanks, Star Wars) as lifesavers. On the one hand, she uses adult turns of phrase she picks up from us all, but on the other hand she still lisps and Rs are a sometime thing. She’s no longer really baby-shaped, but she’s still so much smaller than all of us, and compared to my memory of her enormous sister at that age, that she seems impossibly little. The idea that she is entering kindergarten in the fall blows my mind.

Lucy and Eliza’s interests intersect at several points but she is more maternal. Her favorite person at daycare is the baby boy, and she is delighted with the baby doll she got for Christmas. Eliza always regarded dolls with benign disinterest, until even our most traditionalist of her relatives finally got the message. (It was an interesting experience in people seeing what they want to see based on people’s gender. I mean, my kid’s fairly heteronormative at this point, but she REALLY isn’t into dolls, and literally said relative figured that out this year, after 10 years of listening to her rabbit on about animals and robots and NEVER dolls.) She also loves Barbies — how do we have 6 of them? I do not know!

Providing us with hours of amusement is Lucy’s perpetual confusion about Fall Out Boy. She loves him. Or is that them? So confusing, this band’s name, but she is into it! Also Taylor Swift and Welcome to YOO NOYK. Her mispronunciations give me life, and I am so sad each time she figures one of them out. All things Frozen are loved, as are Home and Big Hero 6 (a movie with Fall Out Boy music in it! What could be better!), and 101 Dalmatians is her favorite book. We have a pretty well-written chapter version of the story and it’s the first chapter book she’s really gotten into. She has, by extension, made me love the story. All those dogs from all over London banding together to vanquish a common enemy and take care of each other, because the humans are just hopeless at it. I get a little dust in my eye, too. Plus Cruella is a wonderful foe.

Another thing she is going to figure out soon: The whole Santa-parental conspiracy. Her questions are way too pointed for comfort. There is a real difference in the way these kids approach their world. Whereas Eliza is the quiet observer who researches on her own, Lucy is relentless with questions about everything. She is both more credulous — about God/Godzilla — but also more eager to know how it all works.

She wears only tight pants — do not get her jeans for chrissakes! — and in the morning she lays out her outfit “like a art!”, from underpants on up, before she puts it on. My favorite thing is when she tops whatever she’s wearing with her Olaf hat, which has a sticky-out carrot nose and immediately renders anything she is wearing 1000 times more adorable.

***

As for me, I realized that there is only one thing that is more predictive of whether or not I will like an art than an apocalyptic setting: scrappy assholes yelling FIGHT ME! This applies most obviously to Furiosa and Hamilton (and Captain America: I hope no one has plans for me on May 6 because I have to go see Civil War.), but also to the protagonists of Life After Life, A Good in Ruins and The Secret Place. See also: Ms Marvel, Lumber Janes, Thor, and Saga.

My favorite TV show of the year was probably The 100, which struck me as Battlestar Lite when I first started watching, but which has gone ALL IN on exploring the ramification of so many elements of its world. The conflicts in the second season have been generational, as the youth of each faction has set itself against the elders (and in each faction, that conflict played out in different ways). I also realized that the Grounders’ disproportionate POC population makes perfect sense compared to the mostly white Mountain Men — of course the poor (read, POC) would have been left to the elements, while the rich (white) elite would have been protected and balancing its survival on the backs of the poor. What a fantastic show.

It was such a good year for someone like me who likes to think about meta-narrative and all the underpinnings of a story. Eliza and I geeked out about Cinna’s role in Hunger Games — someone who uses his position on the inside and his artistic skills to construct a place for a rebellion to flourish. There were pleas for someone to “Witness me” and for remembrance in Mad Max shed more light than any pundit did for me on why young hopeless boys turn to extremism, and the validity of female anger and emotion as a counter. I loved Furiosa not just for her anger, but for the fact that she is ALSO terrified and devastated with sadness the whole of her journey. Not for nothing is the rallying music, of the moment where her crew comes together, an amped up version of Verdi’s requiem.

Weirdly, the movie I have kept coming back to this year, though, was Pacific Rim. Its idea of drift compatibility has kind of sat at the edges of my consciousness during a lot of interactions — this idea that with some people, you can just be of the same mind, and that with others, even though you know that they are objectively kind, and skilled, and good people, you will never see eye to eye. It’s the latter that has been especially helpful.

The other thing I’ve found important is the expression “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Maybe, despite my affinity for scrappy assholes who go off all crazy, I am getting smarter about which hills I want to die on.

We all live in hope.

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