mood surfer


Is it possible to be happy when your teen is miserable?




Statistically you have more of a chance of a piano falling on your head or of becoming spontaneously bilingual than you have of keeping your happy vibe around your morose teen—but you can always try and good luck to you.


A moment ago my teen was staring out the window, tracing the patterns of rain rivulets on the glass, and singing Moon River with great feeling when suddenly she jumped up, raced outside, and began turning cartwheels on the lawn.  When she returned, soaking wet and laughing to the point of stumbling, she began texting selfies of her drowned- rat look to her friends.  Currently, at this moment, now, she is sitting quietly, eating grapes, dripping acid rain on the couch, and looking as though someone has just sucked all the joy from her life with a curly straw.


I am not going to be reeled in, I think, as I try to walk by her quickly so as not to catch her misery—and believe me it is contagious—I wonder if there’s a vaccine?  A Teen Angst vaccine? You just go to your doctor and say: “I can cope with measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, typhoid, and hep B, but for the love of God—tell me you have the T. A. in stock?”


Instead of dead viruses, the Teen Angst vaccine would consist of dead hopes and dreams, exsanguinated joy and strangled angst—along with the requisite mercury and formaldehyde just to keep it stable—ha.  I wonder…If I spike her breakfast smoothie with formaldehyde, will it stabilize my moody teen?


(This is what I’ve come to after fifteen years of protesting the harmful side effects of vaccines).


I reach the library and sink with relief into my armchair—Dang. I left my book, Algebra for the Utterly Confused, in the den.  (As a mother of a teen, I highly recommend this book.)


Desperate to hold on to my good mood, I decide to take a different route to fetch my book and thus avoid my grape eating teen and the whole I hate my life; I don’t get polynomials; school sucks; nobody gets me; I look terrible; my t-zone is all broken out—just like my heart—AND the guy I like doesn’t even exist, and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t notice me anyway— rant.  


      “I NOTICE YOU,” I shout from the kitchen, forgetting this conversation is in my head, “I CAN FEEL YOU EXISTING FROM THE OTHER ROOM!”


“Does insanity run in the family, Mom?” My teen asks.


“Well, it doesn’t walk!” I snap.


She sighs a great big dramatic I’m doomed kind of sigh.


I open my mouth to say, “What is wrong, Honey?”  But to my surprise an emotionally charged diatribe comes spewing out instead.


“WHAT?” I throw up my hands and storm (recklessly un-vaccinated) into the living room. “What can possibly be so TERRIBLE when you were laughing your head off over a text message just five minutes ago? I heard you! I even have it on tape!”—I hold out my mini tape recorder triumphantly—“Aha! This time I’ve got proof! Now what, my darling, could possibly have happened between the laughing and the sitting here like misery eating grapes?”


She looks at me like the tragic heroine of a bad T.V. movie of the week.  Fierce tears form in her limpid green eyes as the static-y soundtrack of her recorded laughter plays in the background.


“I’m sorry, Mom!” she yells, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me!!! I’ll just go and feel like I’m losing my mind and my spirit is dying in my room where I won’t bother anyone!”


“Well, do you maybe want to talk about it?” I ask, rummaging around in my D.N.A. for my sympathetic mother gene.


“No—it’s Okay.” She smiles bravely, “I’ll go.”


Now I feel bad.  How can I go blithely along my happy trail when my child is suffering and may be on the verge of a psychotic break?


“Is it polynomials?” I ask, nodding sympathetically.


“I DON’T KNOW!” she wails.


“Oh. Is it a boy?”


I wish. I gotta go now.”  I watch as she drags herself off the couch with less energy than my grandmother had on her one hundred and fifth birthday.


“Don’t go. Stay. We’ll talk,” I hear myself saying. (What is wrong with you? Quel est le problem avec vous?— My inner voice is yelling at me in two languages—Shut up! Fermer la bouche!)


      She shakes her head. “You can’t help me.  Nobody can.”


“I’d like to try,” I say, practically shouting over my inner voice. (Seriously, Get out now while you still have a shred of hope and a soupesance of a will to live! Sortezy maintenant alors qu’il y a encore espoir et un soupesance d’une volonte de vivre!)


      (When did my inner voice become bilingual, I wonder?)


She gives me a weak smile, “Not everything is about you, Mom.”


That’s because it’s about you, Ma Cherie.  “I just want you to know that I care; I want to be involved in your life.”


“Then buy me clothes!


“I just bought you clothes!”


“Yes. But I’m changing my style,” she informs me.


“Since last week?” I ask.


“Yes,” she says unperturbed. “I was on the brink of changing last week, but I didn’t know I was on the brink when we bought those things.


“Well, I’m on the brink and I still have clothes from 1987,” I tell her.


“We’re just different, Mom,” she shrugs.


“If we’re so different, how come you take all my clothes?” I ask.


“VINTAGE,” she says.


“1987 is vintage? Oh my God!”  I am having trouble breathing.


I suddenly feel like all the joy has been sucked out of me and I’ll never be cheerful again. My teen is a Dementor—I need chocolate. J’ai besoin de beaucoup de chocolat






My daughter and I began our journey into Raw Veganism two years ago and we haven’t looked back! There is something primal and sensorial-y satisfying about raw food that makes us happy.

Preparing raw food requires less utensils and more hands and fingers—and intuition. That is why I don’t bother about measuring cups and spoons. I prefer to go by taste and feel.

Here is a very delicious and entirely nutritious raw cookie recipe.

My daughter loves them for breakfast.


Combine in a bowl:

1 part oatmeal + a pinch of Celtic grey sea salt (ground into flour)

1 part raw almonds (ground into flour)

(The Magic Bullet with the single blade attachment works perfectly for grinding.)


Coconut Nectar or Agave Nectar to taste

(FYI—coconut nectar doesn’t spike blood sugar like most sweeteners)

A small amount of cacao butter or coconut oil (optional)

Juice of a freshly squeezed orange—enough to bind the mixture and form a workable dough

Rind of an organic orange

Vanilla bean (ground) to taste



Chunks of Raw Chocolate (I prefer Giddy YoYo Orange, Maca, or Salted Vanilla bars) broken into chunks.  You can also use cacao nibs for more of a chocolate chip cookie feel.

Form into balls and place on a dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate at 105 degrees until cookies are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and the chocolate is warm and melted. A few hours is all they’ll need—if they last that long. Most of the time my daughter just eats the dough!

Let me know how yours turn out!

©Robin Skelhorn



photo by L.S.

photo by L.S.



Does your teen jump out of bed all pink cheeked and cheerful in the morning then search the house to find you so that you might have a nice breakfast together before you both go your separate ways?


If your answer is, “Yes.” Then A) you are lying; B) you have done everything right from the moment your child was born and are most likely some kind of perfect parent alien from a star planet in another galaxy farfaraway; or C) Watch Out—your teen may one day (could be today) just snap and set fire to your house with you in it.


The hardest part I find about coping with my teen at the breakfast table is that she won’t actually come to the breakfast table. She prefers to eat in her room and not talk to me from there. She prefers not to see me at all in the morning because she says that I rush her and more than anything in the world she hates to be rushed.


She hates to be rushed, but she wakes up twenty minutes before the bus arrives, does her hair in an elaborate do that would take me an hour and two professional hairdressers; applies her makeup to achieve a fresh, Audrey Hepburn-esque pink lipped and cat-eyed look—I need at least ten minutes and two cups of coffee to achieve a cat eye—which inevitably ends up more like a Cocker-spaniel/beagle eye—yet,  when I suggest that perhaps if she set her alarm, just, even, ten minutes earlier…she kind of yells at me.


“I set my alarm, Mother, for seven-thirty, but I set my clock ahead an hour so that when my alarm goes off, I think it’s eight –thirty and I get this lurch in my stomach like, ‘oh my God, I am so late,’ then I remember that my clock is an hour fast so then I’m like, ‘Phew!’ I have lots of time and I don’t need to rush—only sometimes I fall asleep for a little bit more and when I wake up, I’m a bit late—but I can still make it if I can just be left alone.”


I do not say anything because I do not know what to say yet—I will need more coffee—but she gets defensive anyway and snaps, “Well it works for me!”


One of the main reasons that she prefers not to see me in the morning until the bus is pulling in at the end of the street, is that no matter what she is wearing—it is too late for me to do anything about it. If she is wearing her favourite boots because they match her outfit, which expresses the particular image she wants to project that day, and I say, “Honey, it’s hailing outside and there is three feet of snow so you’d best wear your Winter Boots,” then she can say, “Sorry Mom, I don’t have time to change, I hear the bus—gotta run!”


The days of yogurt cups and bowls of porridge and jam on toast; of little cheeks stuffed with pancakes and the cheerful chatter and adoring eyes of my little girl—are gone.


But when she gets to end of the drive, secure in the knowledge that it is too late for me to  interfere with her outfit in any way, she turns and blows me a kiss to let me know that she still loves me, even if she would rather throw herself under the bus than cope with me at the breakfast table.

muthahuvateen!#$%&^*!! MY TEEN IS MAKING ME BIPOLAR


“How I See My Mom” painting by L.S.


I wake up happy. I pull back the curtains and let in the sun. I grind up a handful of organic, fair trade, coffee beans, and as I wait for the kettle to boil, I step outside into the warm air.  The  scent of lilacs hits me as I feed the birds—throwing handfuls of seeds out of my milk pail and humming to myself like a Disney princess.


Then I hear it. A haunting noise. A terrible godforsaken cry—and it is coming from the direction of my teen’s bedroom. My heart pounds. I fling the last of the seeds onto the pile and rush inside yelling: “WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S WRONG? ARE YOU ALL RIGHT???”

I arrive in the doorway of her room. My teen is combing out her long brown hair and looking at me with wide blank eyes.  Turns out she wasn’t crying at all, she was singing— Coco Rosie, with all the feeling and pathos of a mother elephant watching her baby die in the desert from lack of water.


“Oh! I say, laughing a little in relief. “It sounded…beautiful…haunting…very moving—it certainly moved me.”


“Thanks,” she says, looking at me blankly and waiting for me to leave.


I decide to put in a load of laundry. I think I hear screaming coming once again from my daughter’s bedroom. Over the noise of the washing machine, it sounds like someone is pulling out her fingernails one by one and I fondly imagine that my would -be- diva has resumed her singing.


I go to see if there are any more clothes on her floor that need washing. I find her flung across her bed face down. She is not singing.  She is screaming like her appendix has just burst. I wade through the piles of clothes—it looks as though she has emptied all of her dresser drawers onto the floor—and mine too—….—….It takes me five minutes to get to her, but that’s because I’m used to it, and I worry about the paramedics should they prove necessary. “WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS WRONG?” I cry.


“I can’t find my 70s top ANYWHERE!” she wails.


“Oh! Well—can’t you wear something else?” I ask. (Rookie mistake and I know it but the words are out before I can stop them.)


“NO-UH!” she says.  “It’s the only thing that goes with these jeans and my hair and my eyeliner!”


Suddenly I get a sharp pang, like the eruption of a duodenal ulcer, as I remember that I just threw that particular item into the washing machine. It is now swishing blithely about with the rest of the dark and brights. “Surely we can find something in this pile….?” I begin.


“There is nothing! It’s all slavery made, Mom! I’m not wearing clothes made by children. You just don’t know what they do to them. It’s horrible! At least vintage doesn’t support slave labour!”


Vintage! I go upstairs to my closet and grab my favourite 1960s blouse.  I run downstairs and offer it to her.


Her eyes light up. “But, Mom…are you sure? This is your favourite shirt!”


“My darling,” I tell her, “I would give you my favourite kidney if it would only make you stop screaming and go to school.”


With a cool and dangerous focus, she pulls on the shirt and surveys herself in the mirror from every angle.


Uh oh…I think randomly. I hope it matches her—eyeliner…


She smiles into the mirror.


…and her teeth.


“Thanks, Mom,” she says, giving me a brief hug.


“It’s a match!” I heave a sigh of relief and help her stuff her science project into her knapsack. We are nearly there. The bus will be here in three minutes.


She is now singing 4Nonblondes and I join in—happy, for a brief moment, that the generation gap between us is so huge that it seems to have come around again—in both fashion and music.


Life is good. We are singing together and soon she will be in school….


Suddenly she stops and shouts. “OH MY GOD!”


NO! I scream silently. NO, ‘OH MY GOD’!  NOT NOW! NOT WHEN WE ARE SO CLOSE. “What? What is it?” I cry (literally, I begin to cry). Then I pull myself together and say “Tell me what it is and I will fix it.”


“I forgot my headphones and I can not get on the bus without them. The stupid boys scream and say stupid things and it gives me a headache.”


I begin to run. “Where are they?” I shout, heading to her room with the determination of an Olympic inline speed skater.


“They’re in my room somewhere. On the floor—I think.” she says. “Hurry, Mom! I hear the bus!”


My heart is pounding as I dig through the mounds of slavery-made clothing on her floor like a family member in the aftermath of an earthquake, and suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see the headphones wound around my best cashmere sweater.


I grab them and race down the street after her. “Wait! ” I yell, “I found them!”


She turns and looks at me with a horrified expression on her face. I realize, suddenly,  that I am still wearing my pajamas—which were probably hand sewn by Indonesian orphans.


“Thanks Mom,” she says doubtfully, grabbing them from me and lining up for the bus.


I wave to my daughter and—to her credit—she waves back (even though I’m pretty sure that my hand sewn by Indonesian orphans pajamas don’t match my eyeliner, my teeth, or my ass.)


I turn back and it isn’t until I reach the lake that I realize I have overshot our house by half a block.


I see Sally sitting on her porch, chain smoking, and drinking her morning coffee. The scent of Kahlua wafts over to me. She has two teens. A boy and a girl. (Her boy was recently suspended for vandalizing school property.) We smile weakly at each other as we think fondly back to the days when our daughters dressed up in funny hats and had tea parties in the same yard. Now they straighten their hair, cry over boys, and text each other from opposite ends of the street.


Liz walks by me. She is the mother of two teen boys. Still, she is always dressed in the latest fashion—her pajamas actually match her shoesI don’t know how she does it. I smile and nod, but she doesn’t recognize me…poor thing.


I hurry home and throw my pajamas in the wash. I go to my closet. It is empty except for the black suit I wore to my grandmother’s funeral and the blue sequined dress I wore to my sister’s wedding. Neither seems appropriate for today. I look in my dresser drawers and find two thongs. I put them both on. The rest of my slavery-made clothing is lying in a heap on the floor of my daughter’s room.


I catch sight of the drapes hanging in my bedroom window and recall the scene in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews makes play clothes for the children, and I wish with all my heart that I had taken Home-Ec in high school instead of typing.


Then I remember that I bought the drapes in Little India and they are actually saris! I pull one down off the rod and wrap it around me. I put a red dot on my forehead because I am a married woman—and then I put on several more because I am a  muthahuvateen.!#$%&*^!!!


I go outside to finish feeding the birds and pretend I am the fifth non-blonde (who actually is blonde) and I sing, “Hey Hey Hey, I say, Hey Hey HEYHEYHEY I say Hey…..WHAT’S GOING ON??????”


(Excerpt from novel)

 by Robin Skelhorn


We were finding one hundred things to put in a jar. This was Lula’s project for school and she was carefully counting out buttons, acorns, and beads before dropping them into a large pickle jar.

Suddenly she slid off her chair, walked out of the kitchen, and disappeared down the hall. I assumed she had gone to find more objects for her jar, but when she didn’t come back, I went to look for her. I found her lying on her bed, curled up on her side with her purple fairy wings sticking out behind her. Her eyes were open and appeared to be staring at the crayon drawings on the wall, but her focus was inward and far away. She was perfectly still.

In our four years together I had seen Lula blowing, blooming, squirming, and humming, and I had often said, “Be still, won’t you?” But she never would. She never could.

A moment later I heard  myself saying, in a kind of sing song voice,  “Whatcha doing, Lulabelle?”

“Just resting,” she answered, in a voice I had never heard before—quiet, alone, receding not reaching—old—not like a little girl who needed her mother.

Some realizations come on so quickly that your body can’t follow you into them. It cannot breathe, or move, or dial 911. But when you are a mother, you turn around and you grab your body and you drag it out the door and down the hall even if you are crying the whole time. Even if you are a walking ocean struggling for form.

By the time I reached the stairs that would take me up to my attic bedroom, there were no longer any edges in my world. Working against gravity I poured myself up the thirty-seven steps, washed into my bedroom, and blinked my way through the blur to find the numbers on the phone that would connect me to my friend Wendi. I sat down at my dressing table and waited for her to pick up.

“Wend? It’s me.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s Lula.”

“What now?”

“Well, she’s just…lying there, on her bed, and her eyes look so….oh my God…I can’t… what if…?”

“What if…what?” Wendi asked.

I tried to take a deep breath. “Well, you know how there have been a lot of little things going wrong with her lately and the doctor said it was all just normal kid stuff and I wanted to believe her, so I did, but that word kept coming to me….and now….Leo’s out on a long distance run and I’m really scared… Wendi she’s not moving… what if it’s the word?!

“Take her to Sick Kids Hospital,” Wendi said. “They’re really good; I used to take Nathan there all the time.”

“I can’t stop crying. I don’t want Lula to see me like this,” I told her.

Wendi went into the slow, firm, careful, soothing voice she used for hysterical friends and uncooperative bank tellers. “You’re an actress,” she said, “so…be somebody else. Who could handle this?”

“Uh…Susan Sarandon.” I said. “There was that movie—she was a mom, who knew she was dying, and she still made that magician cape for her son…I think, maybe,  Susan Sarandon could probably get her kid to the hospital without bawling.”

“Yes, she probably could,” Wendi said in her slow, firm, careful, soothing voice. “So, be Susan Sarandon.”

Susan Sarandon began getting dressed. Then she began putting on makeup. Wait. Susan Sarandon would never sit there putting on makeup while her child lay curled up sick on her bed…“What is wrong with you? You have to get your child to the hospital NOW!”  Susan shouted at me.

As my shaking hand flicked the mascara wand over my wet lashes, it occurred to me that Susan Sarandon was right—something was definitely wrong with me. Then mercifully Susan Sarandon took over completely.

Susan Sarandon picked up the phone and she called Finn to come and take her and Lula to The Hospital for Sick Children. Then she went downstairs and gathered Lula up in her arms and waited for the car.

In the Emergency screening room at the Hospital for Sick Children, Susan Sarandon told the nurse with the blunt cut blond hair all the things that she was concerned about: the yellowish tinge to Lula’s skin; the fatigue; the little bruises on her arms and legs; the scrape on her knee that had never healed properly; the urinary tract infection, the diarrhea accident at school; and finally the terrifying stillness. The nurse listened with a hyper-aware and quiet look on her face and Susan thought, “Oh my God she doesn’t think this is nothing, she thinks this is something.”

Then the nurse looked intently at Lula. “I see you have your fairy wings on today,” she said.

“I’m a earth fairy,” Lula said, “I just take care of all the animals and make paper.”

The nurse smiled. “Mom tells me you’re not feeling well?”

“Well, I can’t fly.” Lula told her.

The nurse nodded sympathetically. Then she led Lula and Finn and Susan Sarandon into a small green room with a hospital bed, a table, a sink, and one chair.

“The doctor will be along shortly,” she said, “and I’ll just see if I can find you another chair.”

While we were waiting for the doctor,  a quick moving nurse with short red hair and an interested air came to take Lula’s temperature and vital signs. “I’m going to need a vial of her blood for testing,” she informed us.

Susan nodded.

“Who are you?” Lula asked.

“My name is Debbie,” the nurse answered.

When Nurse Debbie approached Lula with the needle, Lula screamed and scrambled into Susan’s arms, clinging to her, her limbs rigid with fear—like those monkeys you see on television where the little one clings to its mother in the cage while a human in a lab coat tries to pry the baby away to use for some “cruel but necessary” scientific experiment.

“Now, Lula,” Susan said, rocking her, “we have to let Nurse Debbie take some blood so we can find out what is making you sick.”

“You can stay on your mother’s lap if you want to, Lula,” Nurse Debbie offered.

“I will hold you,” Susan said, “and you just keep looking at me and it will all be over before you know it!”

Lula whimpered, her body limp against Susan’s chest. Susan gently pried one of Lula’s arms from around her neck and held it firmly. “It will be all right, Lula, I promise,” she said calmly and nodded at Nurse Debbie.

Nurse Debbie sprang into action. “Can you make a fist for me, Lula?”

Susan closed Lula’s fingers into a fist and held her arm still.

“There!” Nurse Debbie said, when it was over, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Lula opened one eye to glare at her.

Nurse Debbie applied a Sleeping Beauty band aid over the blood-letting site and brought Lula a box of stickers. This seemed to appease her for the time being.

Finn went out to get coffees (with a sticker of a fish on his forehead) and came back with a stuffed marmalade kitten for Lula.

Nurse Christa came in wheeling a portable entertainment unit. Nurse Christa had wisps of pale blonde hair and willowy limbs that moved gently, independently from her core—a stem of strength supporting a fragile bloom.

“Which movie would you like, Lula?” Nurse Christa asked. “We have Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Snow White, or A Bugs Life?”

“I would like Fantasia,” Lula told her.

“I’ll just go see if I can find that one,” Nurse Christa said.

“What is your cat’s name?” Nurse Debbie asked.

Lula was still mad about the blood Nurse Debbie had taken and didn’t answer her.

“He doesn’t have a name yet,” Susan Sarandon volunteered, “Lula’s uncle just got him for her.”

“Would you mind if I named him then?”  Nurse Debbie asked. “I have a cat at home that looks just like your cat and his name is Riley. Riley likes to sit on my head and watch television.”

Lula raised her eyebrow but said nothing.

After a while Susan left to get some juice for Lula. When she returned, the cat was sitting on Lula’s head and they were watching Fantasia.

“Did you get Riley some juice, too?” Lula asked.

“I thought the two of you could share,” Susan Sarandon said, holding up two straws.

Lula turned back to her movie.

They waited.

At three forty-five p.m. Finn went out for more coffee.

At three forty-seven p.m. the doctor came in. She moved into the room carefully, all rounded calves on comfortable footwear. Her eyes were looking down and to the side at something she was holding in her mind.

Susan watched the doctor’s mouth, waiting for her to speak. Her lipstick looked expensive,  like it might be called Tea Rose. The doctor was thinking and nodding and searching—for the protocol she had been trained in, perhaps? For the exact words she would use? She was holding a clipboard in the crook of her elbow, and she was wearing the white lab coat and stethoscope combination that entitled her to say pretty much anything that needed saying, no matter how devastating it might be for people.

Her long brown hair had been curled with a curling iron and Susan wondered, admiringly, where she found the time?  This doctor was sure of herself, and she was sure of her information, but she was unsure of Susan Sarandon.  Finally she said, “Is your husband coming back?”

“He’s not my husband,” Susan replied, not taking her eyes off the doctor, “he’s my brother.” As she spoke, Susan realized that she was enabling this carefully treading doctor to tell her the one thing that she did not want to hear.

The doctor nodded and came further into the room and looked sideways and then she said, “The blood tests have come in.” Now she was looking at Susan carefully, firmly, and she was gathering. She gathered all the air in the room to her Tea Rose lips and then she breathed, “Your daughter has leukemia.

Susan Sarandon nodded her head. Then she was gone. Leaving me alone with THE WORD.

The word blows through my fingers—an elusive wind.  I close my hand too late and am left standing like a child who doesn’t understand the adult conversation around her.

My neck is stiff; the air is pressing down on my head. I am aware of a black hole that has opened up behind me on my left. I can see Lula’s curly head like a golden ball behind me on my right.

I am afraid to turn around in case I see in her eyes that she is leaving me, that we are losing each other forever. I sink into this feeling for a moment and the black hole moves in, greedy for my grief. Out of the corner of my eye I see Mickey Mouse in a wizard’s hat frantically trying to sweep away the water that threatens to drown us all.

Then some kind of ore from the ground beneath the dingy green tiles of the hospital floor climbs up into my body and I make a decision.  NEVER. NEVER, LULA.  I WILL  NEVER ENTER A MORNING THAT DOES NOT HOLD YOUR FACE.

All the while my head is bobbing up and down on the stick where my neck used to be.

The doctor is watching me.

“So, what do we do now?” I ask her.

The doctor smiles and nods encouragingly.  She is relieved there will not be a scene, for Lula’s sake as well as her own, I think.  I imagine she comes from a large family and they all get together on holidays and eat a lot of lovingly prepared food, and talk in an effusive language like Greek or Portuguese or possibly Italian, and laugh loudly and avoid confrontation.  I stare at her mouth as it forms geometrical shapes and I wonder what language she might be speaking?

“We will begin treatment immediately. We are going to get Lula a room on the Eighth Floor. She will be given a blood transfusion—you may have noticed the peticulae, the little red marks, on her face?  They indicate that her platelets are low, so we’ll need to give her some of those. We will start her on chemotherapy tonight.  More tests will be done to determine what kind of leukemia Lula has and then we’ll have a better idea of…” she hesitates… “the prognosis.”

A child has no defense against most adult barrages. A word storm might whip up suddenly and a child is at its mercy—always. There is an uncomfortable residue sticking to me from this doctor’s  insinuations, and spelling of things, and mouthing them over my head while I wait for something good to happen. For someone to take me to the corner store for an orange popsicle.

Finn arrives with more coffees on a tray. His head and shoulders precede him as he enters the room. He walks like our father, unwilling to claim his true height. His forehead is high like our mother’s, and his hair is fair like mine, but his hands are his own—like a young boy’s, still finding their way in the world. He is so familiar. Nothing else is.

“It’s leukemia,” I tell Finn.

He turns white and nods his head. He does not want to look helpless standing there with his tray of coffees, so he moves past the doctor, his green eyes darting back and forth, searching for a suitable place to set down his tray.

I turn to Lula, who is lying on her side, with Riley on her head, looking at me with eyes that know something is broken, that our world is changed today, that there is a black nightmare howling behind us, waiting for us to give in and let it take us.

It is a terrible bond —soul to body, child to parent —at once clinging and repelling.

I do not pull away from her in fear. No, something has shifted and I move in closer, connecting with her, filling her with my life force. I retract the outstretched arm with the flat palm and the big dreams that once shouted “I’m more than just a mother, you know!”  In my mind I hear Lula’s reply, for the first time, “What’s more than a mother?”

“I saw they had croissants when we comed in.” Lula says. “And I haven’t had my second brea’fast or even my lunch. Do they have macaroni and cheese here?” she asks sadly.

“It’s all right for her to eat now,” Nurse Christa says smiling.

“Oh!” I gather my parental wits and look around for my purse.

Finn offers to go, but I think I would like a break from the astringent, clinically lit room with the peeling wallpaper border of blissfully oblivious princesses.

I pick up the macaroni and cheese for Lula’s lunch in the cafeteria, and a croissant at the coffee shop, but when I arrive back in Lula’s room, she is lying on her side,  listlessly staring at the television monitor. I set the white bag with her croissant next to her and she wraps her arm around it, but makes no move to eat it.

“Don’t you want to eat your second breakfast, Lula? I ask.

“I’m just saving my hunger for later, Mama,” she says.

I stroke Lula’s fat cheek.  My fingers get caught in the matted halo around her head.

“My hair has a mind of it’s own,” she says, patting at it.  Her eyes are searching mine. “I see me in your eyes, Mama.”

“Do you, Lula?” I smile at her as my heart moves down to my womb. “Everything is going to be all right,” I tell her.  “You have been sick for a long time and we did not know what it was.  But now we do! And Mama is so happy that we know because now we can start to make you better. I am here with you, and I will take care of you.”

Nurse Debbie tells me that they are going to have to put an I.V. in Lula’s hand to prepare her for her transfusion.

“How do you think she will be with that?” she asks me.

I shake my head-on-a-stick numbly.

Nurse Debbie nods.  “I’ll get someone from Child Life to come in,” she says.

Ten minutes later, an impossibly cheerful young woman, wearing a bottle of bubbles around her neck, comes into the room.  “My name is Darla,” she says, plunking herself down on the chair beside Lula.  “What is your name?”

Lula looks at her suspiciously then holds up her wrist so Darla can read her hospital bracelet.

“Lula! What a pretty name,” Darla says.  “Would you like to blow some bubbles with me Lula?”  Lula takes the plastic yellow wand from Darla and blows, all the while watching Nurse Debbie as she gathers the things she’ll need to hook Lula up to the I.V.

When Nurse Debbie approaches with her pink kidney shaped tray full of gauze, tape, scissors, and butterfly needles,  Lula tries to stand up on the bed. Her ruby shoes, with the lace ruffle straps and the silver heart buckles, scramble to find their balance as her fairy wings threaten to pull her backwards.   She is so weak,  yet she manages to lock her arms around my neck and hang there with surprising tenacity.  “Oh Mama,  oh Mama,” she cries, “I’m only four years old; I’m just a little girl,” she says, pressing her cheek against mine.

“It’s o.k. Lula,” I say, lying her gently back down on the bed and wrapping my arms around her. “This will be very quick, I promise. You just look at Mama and everything will be all right.” I manage to get her to stay lying down on her side, and I keep my one arm around her and stroke her forehead with the other.

As Nurse Debbie takes her hand, she tells me to hold her very still. Lula begins to scream and cry and struggle again. “Lula,” I say, “just lie very still and it will be over very quick.”

“You’ll feel just a little prick now, Lula…” Nurse Debbie tells her.

“A quick prick?” Lula says.

Nurse Debbie laughs, “That’s right, ‘a quick prick.’ Now you tell me when you’re ready, o.k.?”

Lula is looking at me with absolute terror in her eyes. She is repeating “quick prick” over and over again like a mantra.  Bubbles float across the air as Darla waves her plastic wand over our heads.

“Can you count to three Lula?” Nurse Debbie asks.

“I can count to a hundred,” Lula tells her.

“Let’s all count to ten,” Nurse Christa suggests.

“Oh Mama,” Lula says to me with such pleading that I feel myself sink down into the floor, while bits of me escape into the room, in little wisps—like bats.

“1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…” Every body in the room is counting, and then I  begin singing, “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.” I keep singing and stroking Lula’s head and holding her gaze, until it is all over and she is lying there crumpled and exhausted.

“What’s lu…keem…ya, Mama?” Lula asks.

I set down my most prized illusion, my child will outlive me, like a suitcase on the road.  I look into my daughter’s eyes. Someone has betrayed her.  Is it me?  I will travel slowly now.  Empty- handed and surprised.

“It is just a word, Lula….just a word,” I tell her.

I pick my head up off the floor, tuck it under my arm, and  follow Nurse Debbie and Nurse Christa; Darla and her bubbles and Finn and his coffees as they wheel Lula, with Riley the marmalade cat on her head, out of Emergency and toward the Glass Elevators that will take us to the Eighth Floor.