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Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in Hayden (34)

Wednesday
May232018

In the Homestretch

Last month, I went with our oldest son to CHOP for one of several pre-op visits for his upcoming surgery--what will likely be the third-from-final in a laundry list of operations for the condition he was born with. 

 This will be one of the biggest--as Hayden's skull has grown, the bottom half of his face has not kept up and he is slowly losing his airway. As his surgeon was explaining the procedure--using interior metal bars to move everything forward and anchor his neck muscles to jaw/chin, his assistant was scrolling through sixteen-and-a-half years of clinical photos of our boy.

We all turned to the screen, momentarily mesmerized by the representation of time passing in the face of a bald, intubated baby, to a chubby-cheeked toddler, to a little boy with wild, blonde curls, a crooked, jack o'lantern of missing teeth, a shaved head, a mohawk, a scowl, pre-teen bravado, a smidge of sideburns and facial hair, to a grinning version of the handsome big kid beside me. Even the ever-serious Dr. Bartlett stopped talking and watched with a tiny smile.

These clinical photos against a uniform black background are for measuring symmetry and airway, for monitoring growth and the possibility of other complications developing, but somehow, they represent so much more. They reflect resilience and the tenacity of a baby who was once not supposed to make it to the end of the week, to a young man considering following in the footsteps of the doctors who have treated him. Here we are, spitting distance from the finish line, a handful of hurdles between us and graduating from the CHOP craniofacial program.

The thing that feels different this time? The journey on this is Hayden's. Before, his surgeries felt like ordeals for us, the parents, to endure. See us try to distract a baby writhing in pain with his beloved Lovey Tiger, to stop a toddler wigged from anesthesia from pulling out his IV, holding a little boy down for a catheter while he screams WHY ARE YOU LETTING THEM DO THIS TO ME?, sitting through the fifteenth viewing of Beethoven while a pulmonogist pounds his tiny back, standing with him in a crime-scene of a shower as we eke out two feet of bloody packing from his nose and sinuses. Now, as one of Hayden's more recent surgeons put it, J and I are relegated to the role of sherpas. It is our job to schlep his gear and cheer him on as he climbs the mountain of recovery, solo.

 

This time around, what can I do? I can sew symbols of strength and river stones into a weighted blanket for his recovery. I can brainstorm a month's worth of liquid recipes and make lists of distracting John Hughes/Quentin Tarantino movies to round out his pop culture education. We can coordinate, as we did today on another ride to the hospital for pre-op, about when he wants me and J with him afterwards, and when he wants his girlfriend and friends to come visit, and how he will communicate this.

 

Today, after his pre-op appointment, they called us in to look at computer renderings of the procedure, including a 3D model of what he will look like afterwards. I held it together until we were walking to another wing for bloodwork.

 

"Why are you teary?" he wanted to know. "I'm the one who has to go through this!"

"Honey, I wish I could do it for you."

"But why are you crying? I'm going to be fine."

"I know you are. It's just, that last face on the screen looked a little like someone else. And I love you."

I put my arm around him and squeeze. He's running a fever today, and a little achy so he shrugs me off.

"You looked all grown up. You looked like a... man."

"I'm ready, Mom. I've been ready for months."

I don't know if he means the surgery, or growing up.

Probably both.

Then he adds, smiling my favorite crooked smile and squeezing me back, "And I love you too, Mom."

* *** *

 

 

 

 

Friday
May082015

Chicken Wire

The Attack

Two days ago, while I was at the horse barn up the street, a fox killed 5 of my chickens, nearly a third of my flock. He started with Orphan Annie, a barred rock we adopted when our silkies hatched out their babies last summer. Next was Freaky Friday, our crazy-haired Easter Egger of two years, followed by my friend Michelle's Max and Freaky, canoodlinggorgeous silkie rooster Romeo, visiting as part of a genetics experiment.

J left the bodies in the yard, hoping to tempt him back, but when Foxy returned he grabbed Sunny, our gorgeous Buff Orpington instead, mauling but not killing her. Also missing at bedtime roll call were Cleopatra, our flagtailed, high flying Easter Egger whose eggs were the most beautiful green, and Eager, one of our ten week old Olive Eggers. RIP, dear creatures.

 

 

 Our yard looks like a duvet exploded and the remaining girls are pacing in nervous pairs and trios between the coop and our porch. We are sickened by the loss. Here at the Hoffmenagerie, our chickens are part of the family. (See this post about our Hoffmans Happy Hens and my foray into total birdnerdom.) They are also ridiculously spoiled. Eager and her agemates Bindi and Schpeedy were prone to pasty bum this winter, which meant Piper and Quinn frequently brought them in for a chicken spa, bathing, and then wrapping in tea towels and stroked to sleep by the fire. We knew every one of our casualties personally.

 

Schpeedy, Bindi and Eager in the CHICU

This loss brought back an old debate to the breakfast table--should we pen our free-range girls? Originally, before I purchased birds, I did hours of research, ultimately deciding I wanted them to be happy, daylight free-range hens, able to wander our property eating bugs, scratching the mulch out of the landscaping, and drinking from the stream. Quality of life over quantity, which they have in spades.

However, chicken is on almost everyone's menu. J researched that humans consume 4 BILLION chickens every year. It's a risk; I get it. 

Seasoned chicken owners warned me that with this philosophy, I would need to be okay with predator loss. As a friend remarked, surveying the chickens dotting our grassy yard -- a wide open flat, surrounded on three sides by woods, brush and stream, "This is the kind of place where in a war, you would not want to meet your enemy."

Before this, I was mostly okay with the losses. Hayden watched everyone's favorite Esme get picked up by a hawk. Magda, Pai and Prima did not come home at night. Lucky was not-so. Fancy Pants admittedly hit us hard, so that J and I were out walking late into the winter night with a flashlight, hopefully calling. But our most recent loss was months ago--Bright, our young troublemaker rooster, picked up mid-crow on Christmas eve morning. Even then I thought, okay, foxes deserve a festive dinner too.

 

But I was not prepared for a slaughter of this magnitude, in the middle of a sunny spring morning, while Samps snored on the couch. Research revealed some disturbing discoveries: red foxes do attack in the day, especially in late spring when they are feeding babies, and again in August, when those babies are learning to hunt. They do not regard large dogs (like Sampson) as a strong deterrent, knowing they can outrun, cut and deke them. They will kill as many as they can in one attack, possibly returning for the carnage, limiting their exposure. And finally, once you are on their radar, they will return until your flock is gone.

 the girls gathering for breakfast of yogurt and granola

The Chicken Wire

I posted about our recent loss on my private Facebook group, Crazy for Chickens. Beyond sympathy and tales of casualty, what evolved has been fascinating--I'll call it the Chicken Wire. Local owners are using the thread to keep each other updated on Foxy's location.

--"He just left my house and headed your way, look out, Lori!"

--"I almost hit him dropping the kids at school this morning!" (We're all thinking, accelerate!)

--"Any sightings? He's usually stopping by around now."

--"I hear a ruckus at your place? Girls okay?"

Chicken owners are banding together, fortifying coops, exchanging articles and theories, methods of predator control. We are all trying to figure out how to keep our girls safe and happy, so we can return to our lives. This is the same community that has been rattled by far more serious tragedy this spring--cancer, suicidal depression and domestic violence. Perhaps after all this confusing devastation and heartache, it is comforting to rally around something more elemental, the natural circle of life?

Moving On

How will we go forward at the Hoffstead? Maybe we will pen our girls, though the night before our loss, our neighbors lost a staggering 28 out of 30 chickens in one enclosed attack. This also debunks my crazy chicken math that maybe if I just got SO SO MANY chickens, the losses woudln't be as hard to take. I'm visiting a friend's rotational pasture system this weekend for ideas. Our best silkie mama Nugget is sitting on 8 fertile eggs, so hopefully in a few weeks there will be some replenishment and new babies. My sister suggested not keeping them as pets, but instead just getting a large group of generic, high-laying Rhode Island reds. Unfortunately, I'm not wired that way. I'd find distinguishing marks and character traits, and secretly name them, and love them all anyway.

In the meantime, I think of my chicken friend Lori's wisdom, "If you want to have livestock, you have to be willing to have deadstock as well."

Today, I'm sticking a little closer to home with my girls, grateful to have my Crazy for Chickens community, watching over each other's flocks.

* *** *

 

Nugget mothers Lucy, Mrs. Judy and Rosa

 

 

 

Friday
Jul112014

World's Most Famous Bubble-Wrapped Harmonica Player

planning his futureWhen our oldest son was born, almost thirteen years ago, he weathered a long stint in the NICU in the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. Sitting over his isolette, my husband told Hayden's nurses, "Remember this kid's name. You are looking at the future, world-famous bubble wrapped harmonica player." They laughed while he explained that after everything we had watched our son go through, all traditional sports were off the table. For our son, there would be no football, baseball, lacrosse, hockey, soccer... The list went on. "And none of those big string instruments either," J joked. "Do you know how heavy a cello is, what could happen if that fell on him? He'll play the harmonica. In bubble wrap. Nothing dangerous about that."

 

 

 Fast-forward five years later, to November 2006, when we realized that winter in the Northeast with two little housebound boys might cause us to do bad things to one another. Against all our earlier proclamations, we signed the whole family up for ice hockey. Hayden became a goalie--safest position on the ice--and his little brother followed in his footsteps a few years later. 

My Dad would watch me heft their giant gear bags into the car, bigger than they are, and sigh, "Boo, really, have you given any thought to the harmonica plan?"

I remember Max's second Triple A goalie game last year, when his team had no skating subs. They were grossly outmatched, getting killed, 2-16. I watched from the stands as the shots kept coming--rattling off his face cage, right in his gut, a hack to his exposed wrist as he covered the puck. 

"At this level, just so you know," one of the dads told me, "they don't stop shooting when there's a blowout." I could see Max's shoulders shaking with sobs as they scored on their seventeenth breakaway, and then they fucking celebrated, and it took every scrap of restraint I had not to storm out on the ice like Susan Sarandon in Safe Passage, yelling, "Alright! Enough already!" pick my kid up under my arm and carry him home. The physical shelling was horrible, but I also feared was what was happening inside. 

Hayden up a tree, 2012

 

 Fastforward another few years to Isla de Utila, where we lived for six months on a remote Caribbean island. Here, our children swam with whale sharks, broke a world record SCUBA diving, monkey-climbed limbless palm trees, and jumped off the roofs of rickety waterfront bars into the water. They ran barefoot and snorkeled through caves. The closest medical care was on the mainland, a flight away.

 

On the whole, we have done a lousy job of bubble-wrapping our children. They play ice and roller hockey, lacrosse and soccer. They swim in questionable water, bounce on trampolines, and have turned our driveway into a longboarding body luge. They rollerblade and skateboard, leap off boathouses and rope swings, ride bikes and horses. 

 

 

 

Fastforward to last week, when Piper (7) and I headed out on the trails behind the barn where she has been riding for the past 9 months. It was a dreamy, much anticipated mom and Pip moment. Though we ride in the arena together often, and I have loved returning to my childhood love of horses with my daughter, this was our first trail ride. 

It was going beautifully--a little paddling down in the creek, our horses quietly walking over branches the recent summer thunderstorms had downed, and then a little trot down a country lane. Piper called to me she was losing her stirrup, and I turned to tell her to stop, when I saw it happen. She was falling perfectly, over the horse's left front shoulder, poised to land with a tuck and roll that would protect her helmeted head, and put the majority of the landing on her impact vest. It was looking like the kind of fall that would shake her up, but she would ride home from. Except on the way down, the horse's hoof caught her in the neck, and then despite his best efforts not to, when she hit the ground, he stepped on her chest and shoulder, breaking her collarbone and ribs, but worse, puncturing her lung. 

Back in the ICU at CHOP, with Piper on a rebreather, as I curled at the foot of her bed like a pet mommy and watched the numbers on her machines, as the adrenaline of the day ebbed and I replayed and wallowed in gut-souring what-ifs, I remembered almost thirteen years ago, and our vow to raise the world's most amazing bubble-wrapped harmonica players. I was physically sick over the fact that I had broken our little girl, that I had lead her to this sport I love, and she was here because of it.

 

"Pip," I told her, while the machines beeped and her oxygen hissed, "there's a saying about how you 'have to get back on the horse.' Most people use it as a metaphor, meaning don't let hard things that have happened scare you, or face your fears. Horsepeople use it to mean don't end a ride on a fall or you'll lose your nerve. But honey," I took a deep breath, "this was a big fall. And you do not have to get back on the horse. Ever, if you don't want. We can stop riding now."

Let me say again that I love riding. I grew up riding throughout my childhood. When I was sixteen, I managed a three-horse barn. I took my naughty off-the-track Thoroughbred to college with me, trained beach-ride horses in Grand Cayman and rode as a jockey in a Caribbean race season.

 

 

When our daughters were 5 and 6, my sister and I bought a 3-lesson Groupon to a local stable. "Let's see if it takes..." we said, remembering our years with horses. It took.

Piper and Callie, 2013I have loved watching Piper evolve as a strong, independent, confident little equestrian, because I know from my own childhood that all those elements carry over into life. We both had plans to start competing this summer, and she talks of the mother-daughter barn we will open, after we visit the ponies of Chincoteague, when she has her golden birthday, age 19. 

"What?" Piper said, stricken, her voice garbled by the mask. "I'm not going to quit riding!" 

Later, while she slept, I texted one of my oldest friends. We grew up riding together, harmonizing 'You Are My Sunshine' and belting out Reba McEntire as we cantered on mountain trails, galloping around cornfield perimeters and vetting boyfriends by how they acted around horses. She lives across the country, and her daughter rides, a gutsy, fourteen-year-old pole-bending barrel racer. 

--I feel horrible for bringing pip to this. Worried she only does it for me, but she says she still wants to ride. Tell me about Lu's worst fall... I wrote, hoping she would tell me about something I hadn't remembered, something that stopped her motherly heart, that she had replayed in her head as often as I was replaying Piper's--the horrible sound of his hoof connecting with her jaw, the sight of the jagged collarbone tenting her skin. Tell me we'll get over this, is what I meant.

--Lu's worst fall was out of a tree! She wrote, and I remembered her phone call from across the country several years ago, Lauryl's two broken arms, the beautiful but banged up face from the branches on the way down. And I have a darn hard time getting her to wear a helmet and impact vest while playing in the yard! 

Here's the thing she was telling me: this was an accident. It was not the fault of the horse or rider, or maybe even the mom. She was as protected as she could be, short of bubble wrap, in a helmet and impact vest. (Stay tuned for me to write more about the importance of those later. This could have been far, far worse.)

And I still think, how did we fall so far, from the parents who promised, a few floors in CHOP and thirteen years ago, to keep our children safe?

Because life is dangerous. Because there are accidents. 

But there are rope swings to leap from, and trees to be climbed and ponies to be ridden. There is creating a partnership with a person or an animal that stretches our expectations and enriches our lives. There is the feel of the cold winter air in your lungs when you skate across the silver ice at night. There are moments when your team carries you on your shoulders and celebrates your season win, when you conquer a fear or stomach a shelling you didn't think you could do.

Max (in red) and his team take the championship, 2014

 

There are summer mornings when you grin at each other and jump out of bed, pull on your breeches and boots to beat the heat to the barn, and you ride, side by side on your matching ponies while their tails swish and you beam at each other. Piper is home now, expected to make a full recovery, and in a few months, we will both don our impact vests, get back on the horse, and put what has happened behind us.

Summer ride

Because though we have never tried it, I think the view from the podium of the Bubble Wrapped Harmonica Finals might be a little colorless and flat.

* *** *

Friday
Dec132013

12 Days of Christmas (Cards) Day 2 -- 2001

Announcing this year's miracle -- 2001

2001 -- I have written plenty on our firstborn, Hayden, and how his unexpected arrival and the medical hoopla, diagnosis and uncertainty colored so much of that time. But we weren't alone in reeling when the holidays rolled around, December of 2001. I feel compelled to write about that almost every anniversary. 

At the time this photo was taken, we were feeling pretty grateful to have him home at last, to have his first surgeries behind us, to have avoided others, to have finally ditched the feeding tube over Thanksgiving, and to be feeling like we might even be finding our parenting groove. 

I remember the certainty that the worst case scenarios some doctors predicted for Hayden would not come true, and knowing this tiny person in a way I never expected to, and knowing him to be a fighter, someone special. So many people, both back then, and later, have remarked on Hayden's 'old soul'. You can see it even here in his eyes.

I remember also a sense of optimism that our larger world would recover from what had happened the previous September, and we were all forging new connections, finding strength we didn't know we had, and appreciating the small things.

It was certainly true at our house that year. 

* *** *

Wednesday
Sep042013

Twelve years is a long time

This time of year is always tainted by the bittersweet. The return to routine, letting go of the ease of summer, everything exploding, then disappearing like the spring-loaded touch-me-not seeds in the jewelweed clumps my brothers and I used to set off on our September walks to school. 

Twelve years ago on September 4, we welcomed little Jonathan Hayden into our lives. For years afterward, the anniversary effect of this event, coupled with the September 11 attacks and almost losing Hayden after his first surgery have made this time of year bittersweet. I wrote about it several years ago, here, and here.

But twelve years is a lot of distance between now and our baptism by fire into parenthood and the anxiety of raising a family in uncertain times. Twelve years later, I would say while our greater world is no more certain, things here have progressed to a point where I only see and feel the joy. I can still remember the dark, hissing pumping closet at the hospital, and how bewildered I was to find myself in there in a long dress and tights, what seemed appropriate attire for early fall but totally inapprorpiate for pumping milk for my baby living on machines in the next room. I remember seeing the footage on CNN while I was trying to negotiate this small dilemma, the jumpers from the burning World Trade Center, stick figures, really. And feeling numbness. I remember walking outside of the hospital, escaping for a brief breath of fresh air, and seeing the cabs by the UPenn with turbaned drivers and handmade signs in the back windows that read WE ARE SIKH, FROM INDIA. WE LOVE UNITED STATES. I remember all of this, but with distance and the luxury of hindsight. Twelve years is a long time. 

Today, Hayden is healthy. I no longer worry that the hospital will take him back, an irrational fear from the early half of his life. I sometimes Google anxiously, about the other shoe dropping, but mostly I try to just enjoy who he is and where we are, even in the face of world uncertainty. 

 

Hayden, Water Cay, 2013