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My Third Birthday in California Or, I Went to Chicago?!

7 Aug

My first birthday in California I spent in Malibu. It was kind of romantic. I was in love with California if not the person I spent it with.  I’m still in love with California.  Last year I celebrated my birthday in Santa Monica with Nicolle and her daughter Katrina:

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

And a few days  later with–of course,  my son Noah. And with–of course, Ben Affleck. Noah spotted Ben across the room at The Hungry Cat Restaurant. When I told Noah (aspiring actor) to  “go over there and strike up a conversation with Ben,” Noah said “That’s more your kind of move than mine, Mom.” So I made my move. Ben’s agent tolerated it. And Noah took a picture.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Ben and me(Please understand, Dear Reader, that I didn’t realize when I coerced Ben into this photo that he was cheating on Jennifer with the nanny.)

ANYWAY, after last year’s celebration, this year looked like it might not stand a chance of being so interesting.  So, I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my dearest, oldest friends. Given how kind they have been to  me through thick and thin, I’d have say they are more family than friends.  (And there’s the fact that except for Noah, I have no family, so I gotta call somebody family!) After a day of teaching English as a Second Language, I got on a plane and landed in O’Hare late at night, and found the Blue Line:

birthday 2015 arrival blue line

Loving the culture shock of taking REAL public transportation, I called Susanna, whom I’ve known since I was 5–and whose birthday we were also celebrating–and told her I’d be at Logan Square in about 30 minutes.

birthday 2015 arrival at Suz's stop

I got off  the train, and the air was humid and there were guys playing chess and flirtatiously calling to women walking by. It was urban in a way that is only Chicago. I LOVE CHICAGO, I thought. I used to think about moving there.

birthday 2015 suz and rise and cocktailsSusanna, or “Suz” as I’ve always called her, and her husband Russ picked me up, took me to their house on Montana Street–where I’ve probably slept 15 times,  and Suz made a killer cocktail and we toasted and laughed at nothing and then all fell asleep within minutes. It so felt like family.  In the morning I was happy to see Max, one of their sons, who is just a year or two younger than Noah.  I’ve known Max since he was in diapers. He was reading Updike.

Birthday 2015 Max readingThen Max and Suz and I took a walk. Their street is pure Chicago.

birthday 2015 Montana streetI felt a strange homecoming.  Chicago is not my hometown, but I’ve spent so much time there, growing up in Champaign-Urbana (two and a half hours away.)  I grew up the daughter of Audrey–my single mother who loved the Art Institute and Oak Street Beach and the Chicago Symphony. We drove up often. And I’ve visited my friends there countless times. Suz and Max and I kept walking, and ended up at a Farmer’s Market, almost next to the Lake.

birthday 2015 me in front of old lamp postbirthday 2015 farmer's marketI realized I’d been missing the MidWest, where there is green grass,  people buying jam, and those big-shouldered buildings overseeing the lake.

birthday 2015 lake and skyline

And then I went paddle-boarding with Suz.

Birthday 2015 paddle board with suzI remembered being in camp with her in Wisconsin one summer. We both loved the lake. She was better with the cold. She was better with the horses. And better with the spiders. Maybe that’s why she’s a world- renowned  doctor?

And then it was time to meet Nicolle, and Howie and Sue, my other great Urbana friends! We met at a beautiful hotel restaurant, and the food was subtle, and it was like old times but better– because we’re older and more subtle.

Birthday 2015 suz and howie

That’s Suz and Howie.reunion me pointing finger at Sue

That’s Howie’s wife Sue and me. Howie’s like my brother. Sue is my sister.

Birthday 2015 girls in the dark

And there’s Nicolle–my California and Chicago sistah, me, Sue, and Suz.

The next morning I flew home. A few days later,  got to celebrate with Noah. And that was so so sweet.Birthday 2015 Noah and mom at Boiling Crab

And then I had dinner with another Urbana sister (once upon a time babysitter!) Peggy, and newer sister, Carol.

Birthday 2015 Carol and Peggy

Peggy and I used to eat Popcorn on Pennsylvania Avenue. And to celebrate my birthday we did again.

birthday 2015 Peggy and me popcorn better

Though there was no Ben Affleck, there was a mysterious stranger.

Birthday 2015 Kirsten and Rex

Well, actually  more like new friend.

My third birthday in and out of California. Still not quite here, Dear Reader. But Close. And I’m glad I went home for the day I was born.

birthday photo with momThank you, Audrey, for this life!

 

 

 

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Orange County Musings Or, The Road My Son Travels

4 Nov

About a week ago I drove to Orange County–a place I didn’t know anything about (and still don’t): a part of California that isn’t LA or “The Valley”(I still haven’t figured out what “The Valley” is.)  Or San Francisco. My parochialism runs deep. BUT, I could tell you where in Redondo Beach to get the best dried kelp, where in Long Beach to find Chinese Herbs for depression, and where in Westwood to get a great Dead Sea facial mask. (Strangely indistinguishable, these various sundries.)

So, there I was, heading to the outback of Orange County for the “Tour de Cure,” a 25-mile bike ride to benefit diabetes research. My son Noah has Type 1; He was diagnosed at 10.

Noah at 10 with Howie's MaxThat’s Noah with cousin Max, a few months  before diagnosis.

I took my son to the doctor because Noah had some hives on his shin and abdomen.  When the doctor asked if Noah  had been eating or drinking anything unusual, we both said that he’d been drinking lots and lots of water, juice, soda, and peeing a lot.  The doctor’s expression changed, and then he took a little blood from Noah. When we asked why, Doctor Lambert–who’d known Noah since he was 6 months old–said,

“Just a check. He might have diabetes. Thirst and heavy urination are typical signs.”

Dr. Lambert left the room and Noah and I looked at each other; I wanted nothing more in the world than to run out of the office with my boy and go far far away. Because what the doctor had said seemed true. And how could I not have known?! Of course those were signs of diabetes.

It’s not quite true that all I wanted to do was run away; sobbing and  curling up in the corner was super-appealing. But that is not what moms do; moms are fearless and nurturing and always have a solution. At least they provide cookies. No cookies this time.

So, last month I headed to Orange County to bike  the “tour de cure.” Friends and acquaintances had given very, very generously toward my ride (THANK YOU!)  At  22, my son has  had diabetes  for  12 years. I believe there will be a cure in his lifetime.

I arrived in this little Orange County desert town–built ten years ago at the most?–and checked into my hotel. When I opened my suitcase, I found a test strip–which Noah uses about twelve times a day to determine his blood sugar level. Whenever he borrows my suitcase or car, the test strips turn up, signs  of Noah’s life, diabetes bread crumbs. Finding these little markers of his condition, I am unable to throw them away.

Tour de Cure test strip

In my hotel, I watched stupid TV until it rocked me to sleep. In the morning, for good luck I put on the Hamsa  earrings that a few years ago Noah brought me from Israel.

Tour de Cure earring

Then I drove to the Tour de Cure starting point. The sky was beautiful.

Tour de Cure Morning sky

The first five miles went by like a breeze, and then there was, almost too early, a rest stop: water, energy bar consumed, and I was on my way.  In the line of cyclists I was pretty far back, and that was fine. But I was disappointed that almost everyone was in groups or couples. The only people I saw who were also cycling solo were those rail-thin bike guys in their 50’s who do this sort of thing every weekend with a facial expression that suggests: Tour de France!

About mid-way through the ride, one of them said to me, “Only fifteen more miles!” I laughed; we were at mile 16 at least. I was feeling pretty lonely, and the biking was harder than I’d expected: a lot of hills.

On the day that Dr. Lambert tested Noah’s blood sugar for diabetes, my son went straight to the clinic restroom after the doctor told us his guess about Noah’s symptoms. He had just started Hebrew lessons for his Bar Mitzvah–several  years down the road–and his newly learned prayers breathed through the door that I was leaning on.  Noah’s  voice was thin but determined, speaking Hebrew, a foreign tongue to me–the non-Jewish parent.

The blood test was positive. I felt that this was impossible and yet it wasn’t. We got into the cold car, and Noah asked, “Will I still be able to have a baby someday?”

“Of course you will. As many babies as you want,” I replied, having no idea if diabetes affected fertility. Then we both cried, pulling out of the parking lot with the car wheels crunching over dry, heavily salted snow.

During the diabetes bike ride, I got lost. As a lone rider,  I had to navigate the way myself and  I guess I wasn’t  very good at reading the map or the signs.   Twice, I  waited for quite a while for other cyclists to come by so I could ask, “which way?” And then I found out that that Tour de France guy wasn’t joking. When I thought we had about three or four  miles left, I found out we had ten more to go.

Tour de Cure dry mountain scene

Noah must sometimes feel lost,  as if  “the signs”–carbohydrate counting, insulin to exercise ratio figuring–are of no use. And of course, the road of diabetes is lonely. No matter how expert the endocrinologist,  how supportive the family and friends, the diabetic is mostly alone with the disease: trying to figure out why, although he/she counted the carbs exactly and took precisely the right amount of insulin, she/he is still nauseous and angry and with a pounding head: hyperglycemia. Or he/she feels dizzy, faint, and is unable to form words: hypoglycemia. This can happen a couple of times a week.

A few years after he was diagnosed, Noah  went on a hundred-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS. At thirteen, he was one the  youngest riders. I was terrified, and followed him in my car for part of the ride. He didn’t love that. Here’s Noah in the last two miles:

Noah on Aids Ride

I thought a lot about Noah during my unexpectedly long last lap of  the Ture de Cure, and I texted him “OMG, 6 more miles!” He texted back “Go MOM!” I kept pedaling. Along the way there was some lovely scenery:

Tour de Cure nurseryA nursery with huge patches of flowers. And these crazy cacti!  (Thank God for that fence):

Tour de Cure Crazy cacti

And then,  when I was pedaling hard on the outside and crying on the inside, this:

Tour de Cure Still NightDo not go gently into that (I know,  in Dylan Thomas’ poem, it’s that  “good night,” but I thought  of  the line anyway. Who names a street “Still Night”? Where was I?)

Just as I became delirious with despair I was hurdling through the finish line!  (And then consuming vast amounts of bland chicken cutlets and lemonade.)

The ride had been harder than I’d expected. I texted Noah, “Done!” He texted back, “Proud of you!” “Backatcha,” I wrote.

Noah’s road is harder than I wish,  and he travels it alone. Every day.

Noah Head shot November 2014Congratulations Noah, on the road you ride with  vigilance, perseverance, even humor.  I’ve learned a lot from you about loving  life–about demanding everything  that it has to offer, and about offering to life all that you have to give. So much.