Category Archives: Family

My Baby’s Sick

As a mom, the worst thing in the world is when my child is sick.  I’m a natural worrywart… but with Eve, I have a good excuse.  When she was 2, I put her down for a nap one afternoon, turned on the monitor, and called my husband.  I immediately said to him, “She’s making a funny noise.  I’m going to go check on her.”  When I picked her up, she was hot as an iron.  Her eyes had rolled back into her head, and her hand was shaking in tremor.  The sound was her choking on drool.  Within the space of two minutes, she had developed a nearly 106 fever and began to seize.  I rushed her to the ER, moaning, “Hang on, baby” the whole way.  They were unable to bring her fever down below 103, but she began to stabilize.


The doctors needed to rule out life-threatening conditions, like meningitis or tumor… so in the space of eight hours, they subjected my tiny girl to a CAT scan, blood tests, urine tests by catheterization (which I know as an adult was excruciating for me).  She was terrified, in pain, and horribly sick.  I thought our hearts couldn’t break into any more pieces.  But then came the spinal tap.They administered an intravenous sedative – Twilight Sleep, they called it – and said she would be semiconscious, but would not feel or remember anything.  Her face soon glazed over, and I was relieved that she was at least unconscious and could be spared further trauma.  When they inserted the catheter into her tiny spine, her little face remained expressionless and frozen… but one tiny tear slid down her cheek and dripped off her chin.  My baby was awake and feeling everything – but could not move or scream for help.  That sight, that knowledge, will forever remain etched in my memory as one of the worst moments of my life.  It never fails to crush me, every time I remember.

Almost four years later, she is now free of the inexplicable, sudden life-threatening fevers and seizures – and 911 calls and ambulances, ER visits, and multitude of tests – that plagued her for over two years.  But whenever she is the slightest bit ill – especially when she has a fever – I panic.  I can’t help it.

But Eve, almost six and very precocious and cunning, knows this… and milks it for all it’s worth.


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Our Christmas Traditions

It’s sometimes difficult for new couples to blend holiday traditions, but my situation was a little unique.  My husband Eduardo is from Peru, and his Christmas traditions are markedly different than mine.  In Peru, Papá Noel (Santa Claus) is known to bring gifts, but the baby Jesus is thought to bring presents to Peruvian children.  The children would get a few presents, usually something useful.  At midnight, the baby Jesus is placed in the manger of the family’s Nativity, and thus Christmas begins. Panetón and spiced hot chocolate are served; then the family attends Midnight Mass. When they return from church, the family eats a traditional, specially selected and spiced turkey (or chicken if turkey cannot be afforded, which is a very sad occasion!) with onion salsa and pan drippings, special side dishes, and alcoholic beverages.  In the middle of the night!  That would have been the most exciting thing to me in the world, as a child.

On the other hand, although my father is Swedish-German-English and my mother is of German descent, my family’s traditions are American with an English bent.  We had an advent calendar, and all five of us kids would fight to be the one to take the last candy off on Christmas Eve.  That night, we would have seafood for dinner – usually Seafood Newburg or Coquille St. Jacques – and would lie awake, listening for Santa’s reindeer hoofprints on the roof.  We would wait on the landing for my mother to awaken (she had to have her coffee), becoming more anxious with every minute, until we could tear into the stacks of presents and our stuffed stockings.  There was always an orange in the toe, which we never understood – but knew that no Christmas stocking was complete without it.  Then came 10:00 Mass, then a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, a warm, fragrant onion bread from the German deli, and perhaps some smoked salmon.  We weren’t hungry when dinner came, but we gorged anyway:  standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding made with beef suet, crisp salty potatoes, puffy rolls, apple pie and ice cream (and perhaps some cheddar cheese).  And yes, a fruitcake with hard sauce (which no one ever ate).

How to mesh two very different cultures’ traditions?  The difference between the two lay, for me, in the purpose and meaning:  the Peruvian traditions are more centered on religion, whereas the American traditions are more material.  But the common ground will always be the ritual of family traditions, passed from one generation to the next.

So when we decorate our tree, the first thing we do is hang the first ornament we bought as a couple – together.  We stay up till midnight, have Peruvian alfajores filled with manjar blanco, pepparkakor, and hot chocolate.  Just at the stroke of twelve, we place the Baby Jesus in the manger at the stroke of midnight.  We leave cookies out for Santa, have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner, eat panetón (and save the Peruvian turkey for New Year’s Eve).

But mostly, we just enjoy watching our daughter’s excitement and  happy anticipation, her delight when she carefully opens her presents… and creating new Christmas memories.

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Filed under Culture and Tradition, Family, Food

Flu Confidential

Monday, November 2, 5:01 PM
I leave work at the Empire State College Registrar’s Office in Saratoga.  I unlock my car, get in, turn the ignition.  Notice a little tickle in my throat; wish I’d remembered to fill up my water bottle at the cooler before I left.

Monday, 5:35 PM
I manage to park my car in the driveway and stagger into the house.  My husband catches me, alarmed.  My temperature is 102.  I fall into bed, wracked with chills.  I’ve never been so crushed by an illness. This is a whole new animal.  Pun intended.
Eve, unconcerned with her mother’s fate
Tuesday, November 3, 6:35 AM
I awaken to my daughter’s face peering at me.  She is poking me in the head.  She has had enough of me being quarantined, and wants breakfast.  I tell her she has to stay away from Mommy for another few days.  She bursts into tears and cries, “I just want a hug!”  So I make her put a blanket over her head and hug her around the waist, from behind.  She is mollified for the time being.

Me in all my pathetic, bloodshot glory
Tuesday, 8:32 PM
I haven’t eaten anything all day.  My husband orders Chinese food, which is not exactly convalescent food – but I didn’t have to make it, and that’s all that matters.  He makes me lots of tea, and take comfort in the honey and hot liquid that is just slightly hotter than my burning throat, though my glands are so swollen that I can hardly swallow. I’m coughing so hard that my back and stomach muscles ache.

Wednesday, November 4, 12:13 PM
My fever is still out of control, nearly 103.  No one’s home to police my actions.  I’m delirious and and can’t remember when I last took medicine.  I pop five ibuprofen and wait an hour – nothing.  I start downing Tylenol; suddenly dizzy, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve overdosed.  If it’d help me sleep through these wracking body aches, I would actually welcome it.  My father calls.  I make the mistake of telling him I have the swine flu.  Now I have two panicky parents calling every half-hour with advice and new warnings.

Thursday, November 5, 3:15 PM
I started to feel a little better… but then my fever spikes back up to 101.7.  I’m shaking like a leaf while I wait for the afternoon kindergarten bus to arrive.  I’m hacking up a storm and I feel like I’m going to start bleeding out of my ears.

My sweet girl’s note
My husband, who has been great through this – staying home to keep our daughter out of my quarantine, taking care of meals, making me tea, giving me medicine – says, “Did you orchestrate this so we’d know what it’s like without you?  We get it!  Get better already!”

When will this ever end?  Damn pigs!  When I recover, I’m going to eat as much bacon as I can stuff into my mouth!  Or maybe Westphalian ham… or serrano… or prosciutto… or pancetta…  lots of delicious ways to get my revenge.

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A Gift from My Grandfather

Excerpted from my grandfather’s will. He died when my father was ten, making him an orphan (his mother died in 1928, of complications that arose from my father’s birth) and immersing the family in a fierce custody battle over him between his very young stepmother and his much-older siblings. My father had found a box of old papers and photographs that had been given to him when his sister died; and he was so excited to show me the dozens of court documents that detailed the turmoil of his young life.  This last page of his father’s will was among them.  It is especially poignant now that my father is 81 and ill with cancer.  

Rather than saddening me, it gave me an unexpected moment of peace and joy.  Somehow, a man I never had the opportunity to know had reached across decades to give a bit of comfort to his son and unknown granddaughter.  It showed me, in an instant, how the truly good soul of my father had been shaped in ten brief years.

And it reaffirms a universal truth:  the gift of a father’s love is utterly timeless.
Thank you, Grandfather. Until we all meet again.  

New Rochelle, N.Y.
February 24th 1937.  

If this will is found with my effects after my death it will be my only will and it is my last will, and cancels any will I may have made prior to this date.

In this my last will and testament I leave my love and hopes to my children for a long and happy life and ask that my furneal [sic] be of simple form, with least possible expense, and above all things remember that I have just gone ahead for a while so smile and make the best of the changed conditions, and be of good heart, and never forget your God, place your full faith in God and always look upwards and you never need to fear for the future or what is called death.

My love to all of you my children who have always been fine, beautiful and everything any father can hope for, I only wish I could feel that I was as good a father as you have been children.
Until we meet – again.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year first above written.
HC Olsen

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Filed under Family, Grief and Loss, Parents