the medicine I needed

It has been a tough couple of weeks around here.

Last week, we decided to surprise Lucy with a trip to Great Wolf Lodge. It was a big splurge, and we kept thinking of other ways to spend that money. But for our little swimmer, dedicated to being in the water as much as possible, we knew it would be a gift. My parents took me and her, plus my brother’s family, last summer. She has talked about it every day since. Danny and I booked the hotel and giggled to ourselves every day for a week. We were going to surprise her.

Surprise was on us. She was elated, of course. When we drove into the parking lot, she threw her hands into the air and squealed. For an hour, she was dazzled, walking from the wave pool to the playground sunken in water to the big bucket dumping water on people happy to be shocked by it. By the time we were allowed to check into our room, however, she was starting to plummet. She looked at her little bunk-bed “wolf den” and smiled, tired. She crawled up onto our big bed and asked to take a nap. This kid hasn’t napped in nearly two years. Of course, we said.

She woke up crying. And she pretty much cried for the next two days. Her sniffles had turned into something more pernicious. We should have gone home that night but we had paid for the trip. And we didn’t know how bad it was yet. She wanted to tour the hotel, although she didn’t have the energy. She wanted to eat, but before the food could arrive, she crawled into a little ball, her head on my lap, and heaved sobs. I picked her up, told Danny to bring our meals back to the room, and walked her to our room, right to bed.

She woke up every 45 minutes, screaming. Her ears hurt. Damn it. Ear infection.

We didn’t stay long the next day. I was ready to leave by 8 am, eager to be home to hold her on the couch until we could see the doctor. But she swore she felt better. “I don’t want to leave,” she said. We walked around the lobby. She wanted breakfast. She watched the dinky little show, animals singing about the forest. She tried to put on her swimsuit and walk into the water. Quickly, she started sobbing. “Mama, I need to go home.” And so, we did.

(I kept thinking of something my wise therapist said to me years ago: “Expectations are premature disappointments.” That vacation didn’t go as planned. However, I must say that I am mightily impressed by Great Wolf Lodge. They have an entire protocol in place for gluten-free customers, with separate cooking spaces, knowledgeable servers and cooks, and gluten-free buns for kids who have celiac. Bravo to this company.)

The doctor’s visit confirmed it. Double ear infection. There were plenty of viewings of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and naps and cuddling with mama on the couch before the antibiotics kicked in and we had our girl back.

By then, Mama caught her cold. And it moved quickly to a sinus infection. My cheekbones felt as though they would explode. I sort of wished they would. The next day, it all surged into my ear. I haven’t had an ear infection since I was a kid. Can I just say that this is the worst pain I have ever experienced? C-sections have nothing on the pulsing pounding pressure of what seems like a thousand pounds of infected mucus smacking up against the ear drum. There were two nights of very little sleep, where I sat up in bed crying, trying anything I could to make the pain go away. I don’t drink much, but the second night I asked friends of ours, who have a distillery here on Vashon, if they could bring over a bottle of their vodka. Four shots later, at 2 am, I was still awake and in terrible pain. (The vodka’s delicious, however.) I was reduced to sitting on the couch, watching any bad tv I could find. For a few moments, I forgot the pain as I watched the Kardashians for the first time. Why, America, why?

Suddenly, it sounded as though an iceberg was breaking up behind my eardrum. I clutched the couch in the most intense moments of pain. There was an hour of this. And then something leaked out of my ear. A lot. And the pain was gone. My eardrum had ruptured.

So that’s fun.

I’ll spare you the details of pain, wooziness, dizziness, continual leaking (that’s the weirdest sensation), and the loss of hearing in my right ear. And this after I have been visiting doctors for months, perplexed by an ever growing list of symptoms that plagued me. (We finally figured it out. The medication I have been on for three years to prevent breast cancer turned against me when I hit perimenopause. As soon as I went off it, I started to heal. Until this.) I have seen enough doctor’s offices for awhile, thank you.

But there we were, back at the doctor’s again, to make sure my ear was healing, to make sure the infection wasn’t spreading to the bones in my skull or my brain. (Luckily, yes. And no and no.)

Goodbye, February. We’re glad to see the last of you.

After that doctor’s appointment, we could think of nothing more comforting than dinner at Delancey.

You must know about Delancey already, right? Our friends Brandon and Molly own this restaurant, which has been well-documented and well-loved for a few years now. We knew about it before it was launched for the public, as we listened to Brandon’s stories of traveling across the country to sample the best pizza crusts before creating his own. Most of the chairs, and the giant Hobart mixer, that now sit in Delancey were stored in our garage before it opened. We have a huge soft spot for this place. We’re hopelessly biased.

But Lu wasn’t even here when the place was being hatched. And she loves it more than we do. “Can we have pizza at Brandon’s restaurant?” she asks us, pleading. After the past couple of weeks of pain and sleepless nights? You bet.

We three love Rachel’s Ginger Beer, sharp and tangy and slightly sour and full of lemons and ginger. It’s great for sipping while contemplating the bar menu from Essex. (Essex is the newish bar, created while Molly was pregnant with June, which is now attached to Delancey.) Roasted broccoli with siracha vinaigrette and aged gouda? Bring it on.

Look, Delancey is a pizza place, so you wouldn’t think I could eat there. But Brandon has always been particular about making sure that I can eat there safely. (And thus, anyone else who has celiac too.) If I call him ahead, and bring in a pre-baked gluten-free crust, he’ll put it in a special pan and make me a pizza in the wood-fired oven. It’s bliss.

But yesterday, with this aching ear and sleep-deprived energy, I didn’t make a pizza. All I wanted was this salad.

Delancey makes the best salads.

The folks at Delancey always take care of us. Danny made pizzas briefly at Delancey, when they first opened, to help out Brandon. So we really do know everyone there. Last night we took a corner table by the window, ordered our food, and started reading the stack of books we bring with us wherever we go.

Once again, books got me through this time. I read all of A Thread of Grace this week, astounded by the story, the random chance of characters dying or not, and a slice of history I didn’t know much about: Jewish immigrants surviving in the wild terrain of northern Italy at the end of World War Two. I only knew about it because I heard Nancy Pearl talk about literary characters she’d most like to meet and asked readers the same question. Several folks called in to say they’d like to meet a character from A Thread of Grace. What? And I’d never heard of this book? I raced through it this week and cannot stop thinking about it now. Wow. The literary character that most people wanted to meet? Atticus Finch. When I told Danny this, he told me he has never read To Kill a Mockingbird. We took care of that right away. I started reading it to him that night. After years of teaching that novel, it’s a wonderful grace to read it aloud, sharing it with him. We’ve been on hold while I’ve been so sick but we’re going back to it soon.

Lucy, last night, asked once again for When the Sky is Like Lace. We’ve been reading this book for nearly five years now, since I started reading it to her when she was still in my belly. Molly bought this for Lucy, actually, before she was born. It had been one of her favorite books when she was a child, especially when her father read it to her. With lines like “…the fern deep grove at the midnight end of the garden” or my favorite, the line that describes the grass that “…feels like the velvet inside a very old violin case,” it’s no wonder this book helped Molly become a writer. Lucy asks for it again and again. We’re still trying to figure out how to make spaghetti with pineapple sauce taste good.

Set up with much-loved books, a ginger brew, a pizza for Danny and Lu, and that salad, we were happy and at peace for the first time in weeks.

There was an unexpected visit with Molly and baby June, who looked with delight at Lucy playing peek a boo behind my shoulder. Our wonderful friend Sam stopped in to share roasted radicchio with grana with us. And there was this dish, simple simple and utterly perfect: maple-roasted carrots on top of house-made ricotta. I could eat this every day.

Sometimes I think we make too much of food these days. We want the best! the most innovative! the stunning! the new! And in searching for that, we critique and bitch and shave off points and wish for more than we had hoped. But for me, the food last night is the point. Good, roasted, every ingredient consciously chosen, shared with friends —— this was the medicine I needed after weeks of discomfort.