Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Ladies and the Clamp

Today I had my first ever mammogram. I thought I knew what to expect but it turns out I was wrong.

My breasts have always just been there. They sprouted when I was about 11 years old and have never bothered anyone, unless you count the prepubescent boys who thought it was hilarious to snap bra straps. Even they tired of the game fairly quickly, their attention spans weren’t exactly endless. Mind you I imagine that was just the first step on a lifelong journey of breast appreciation for them.

It wasn’t until I had children that my breasts once more became the center of attention.  It was at this time that I discovered they weren’t quite the same as a lot of breasts out there.  The severely inverted nipples prevented me from being able to breastfeed but did provide some degree of amusement when I found out that my mother in law, who was typically unshockable, was horrified with the use of the word “nipple”.  As I said, hours of fun!

When my kids got a bit older they seemed to find endless ways to inflict pain on my left breast. Not the right one, just the left.  It is astounding how accurate their aim is when it comes to my left breast.  Always the left breast. I have been head butted, elbowed, hit with objects too numerous to mention, squeezed, poked, grabbed, spilled on, and the list goes on.

So I imagined that having a mammogram couldn’t be any worse than all that.  I had put off getting one for several years.  Not that I recommend such behavior nor do I really have a good excuse.  I turned up early for the appointment, I had dressed nicely and even put on makeup.  I don’t know why, it just seemed to be the proper thing to do. 

I was the only one there, all other patients had been deterred by an impending snow storm but I braved the cloudy sky and arrived to sign pages of consents and swap them for a bracelet with my name on it.  I was then ushered into a cubicle where I was to remove all my clothes from the waist up and wipe off my freshly applied deodorant.  They pulled out a gown for me to wear (after looking me up and down, putting away the one already laid out and replacing it with a fresh one from the ‘large lady’ bin), I didn’t hear which way around it was supposed to go so I put the opening in the back. 

I was then led into what I am now calling the dungeon of doom.  It wasn’t a large room, it had mood lighting and a giant silver duct reaching from floor to ceiling and pulsing gently in the corner.  The instrument of torture stood in the middle of the room.  The lady showed me a set of pictures illustrating what would happen if the breast tissue was not squished properly.  Namely, a completely useless scan which would no doubt require a second torture session.

She explained that she liked to work from right to left so she went about positioning me properly.  At this point she had me remove the gown and replace it with the opening in the front since that is, in fact, where my boobs are located.  She then proceeded to lift and place and stretch out my already not so perky specimen so it was in just the right place for its first portrait.  She had me move my feet, hips, arms and head at her direction until finally I was standing in a very strange pose.  At this point she “swept” my underarm fat to one side with the words “we’ll just put this over here”. 

Then it happened.  I knew to expect it, it shouldn’t have come as a shock, I had been warned.  The top of the machine came down like one of those presses they use to squeeze as much wool as they can into the bales in a shearing shed.  It was automatic but after it was done the woman reached for a knob I had hither to before not noticed.  She gave a few turns for good measure and the vice tightened even more.  I stopped breathing, the pain was radiating throughout my “tissue” and it wasn’t easing.  I heard a voice from far away telling me not to breath.  I pondered whether it would be possible for me to fall down if I were to pass out given the grip this machine of doom had on my bosom.  Just as I was wondering how much longer I could go without breath I heard her say cheerfully “you can breathe again” and I was released.

There was a second view needed then which required even more mammogram yoga and another brutal booby hug.  Then she was on to the left side.  The side that had been beat up so much over the years that I would have been surprised if it still had feeling in it.  Well, wouldn’t you know, it did still have feeling and it had not been dulled by the years of abuse.  The pain was even worse on this side.  The lady asked if the nipple had always been inverted on this breast and I felt like saying “no, it must have seen you coming”. 

The torture was finally over and she asked if I would like to see my pictures.  I agreed and was genuinely surprised to find there were no speech bubbles coming from my mammaries with words like “aaaaarrrrgh!!!”, “make it stop!!” and “I swear it wasn’t me!”

I was then led back to my cubicle to dress in my own clothes, retrieve my belongings and go and console myself with a very large coffee.

I have heard people jokingly tell others that the best way to prepare for a mammogram is to arrange your breast in the refrigerator door and slam it as hard as you can.  I don’t think this is entirely accurate.  I think it would be more helpful to lay down on your driveway in an unnaturally contorted pose and have one of your friends drive their car onto your breast before stopping and inviting all of your own and their kids to climb in and start leaping about inside the car.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Oh Canada - Part Two

We planned to meet with my friend’s host mom, we’ll call her June, over lunch one day.  June’s husband had died some years earlier and she now lived in a newly built condo on her own.  She had actually only moved in the week before we came but the place looked impeccable.

June was an absolutely delightful woman.  She had cooked a full meal which included the most perfectly cooked chicken breast I have ever tasted.  She was 80 years old, I believe, but still very active and had such wonderful stories to tell.  She is the kind of woman you could curl up on a chair next to and listen to for hours as she recounted stories of her life.  We all laughed so hard that day. 

That same night we were going to June’s son’s house for dinner.  We already felt stuffed to the brim after lunch but we carried on like the troopers we are.  We stopped at a supermarket and I was able to load up on obscene amounts of Cadbury chocolate and other delicacies unknown to the American market including the mildly illegal Kinder Surprise eggs.  I thought I was being teased when someone told me they were illegal in the US.  Of all the countries in the world to make a candy illegal I wouldn’t have thought it to be America.

Anyway, we arrived at the host brother’s house to find that he was also entertaining two of his friends.  After mentally confirming that this was not some sort of weird triple dating situation we settled down to catching up or getting acquainted.  One of the men was from a lobster fishing family but didn’t eat them, another sold fancy cars and did drive one and the other was a social worker.

During the course of the evening we discovered that Canadian men drink a lot.  Also they are prone to impulsive acts, namely ordering strange (but not totally bad tasting) fast food to be delivered to the door just so we could taste it.  This after a hearty steak dinner.

I was also offered my first ever joint, actually it was the first time I had been offered anything that you smoke.  I did once accidentally eat smoked salmon but I didn't care for it at all and it is unlikely that I will be repeating that mistake any time soon.  Anyway, our very attentive host asked if any of us would like to partake and then went on to explain that he and his friends didn’t do such things but he liked to keep some on hand just in case his guests did, to be polite.  I had heard that Canadians are very polite but this was taking it to quite the extreme.  We, politely, declined and conversation went back to more legal topics, kind of.

He did tell us one story that had us all in stitches.  His mother had been having a hard time sleeping a while back and it was starting to bother her.  She mentioned it to one of her church lady friends while driving the octogenarian carpool to Sunday mass one week.  The next week this lady handed her a bag of herbal tea.  She explained that one cup of this tea, brewed and consumed before bedtime would set her up for a wonderful night’s sleep.

Well, June was willing to try anything and since her friend, we’ll call her Doris, had given it such a glowing review she gave it a try.  Low and behold, she was able to sleep again.  She made it part of her regular routine and felt so much better for it.  She mentioned to her son one day that Doris has given her this wonderful tea to drink before bed and it was doing wonders, although she had noticed that she had gained a tiny amount of weight, but not to worry.

The son was curious and wanted to know what kind of tea this was, thinking perhaps chamomile or some sleepy blend.  Well, imagine his surprise when she presented him with the bag of leaves and he discovered that his 80 year old mother had been brewing herself up a cup of Mary Jane for the past month and a half!! 

June was rather proud of the fact that she had a ‘dealer’ although she did stop partaking in her bedtime ritual.  We had a good giggle at what we called ‘Aunty June’s Special Tea’.  We were also relieved that we had all declined her kind offer of brownies following our lunch that morning. 

We were a little disappointed at the lack of wildlife, besides Canadians, that we saw on our trip.  We had thought we would be over run by moose and other exotic beasts but really the only thing we saw were seagulls.  Perhaps we should have visited a zoo. 

On the drive homewards we had no sooner crossed the border back into the US than we saw a bear loping across the road and then a baby moose standing in front of us, again in the road.  We were in such shock that I don’t think any of us actually got a photo.  Of course I was driving at the time so that’s my excuse. 

The border crossing was just as uneventful as the previous one.  Apparently the US was happy with my passport, complete with photo taken in my dining room by a 10 year old, and my green card got its first official workout.  We told the officer that we had a car load of candy and he seemed unfazed by that. 

So far no child has choked on any of the toys from the Kinder Surprise eggs although several of them were almost maimed when they snuck in and ate my Crunchy bars.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oh Canada - Part One

Early last summer I had two friends visit from New Zealand.  We planned a bit of a road trip from my place in Massachusetts up to Nova Scotia in Canada.  This would be the longest (and only) time I’ve been away from my family ever and I was seriously excited.  Giddy even. 

There were plans afoot for a heatwave at home so I was hopeful that Canada would get that memo and turn it on for us too.  That didn’t quite work out but I packed as if it would anyway. 

It was quite exciting to go across an international border in my car, we don't typically do that in New Zealand since we are a series of islands.  The Canadian border control guy had no trouble welcoming us to his fine land and we forged ahead into the great unknown. 

We were headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia as this was the place that one of my friends had spent a year as an exchange student back in high school.  We were going to check out her old haunts and visit her host family. 

We arrived to our first night’s accommodation somewhat late.  No one had informed us that there is actually a time difference of an hour from one side of the border to the other.  This left us searching for dinner somewhere close to 11 pm.  We found a restaurant (recommended by our friendly inn keeper since his wife owned it) and settled in.  Not that our stay there would be long, they were almost ready to close up.  The waitress apologized (Canadians are good at that) and then I, for one, delighted in saying thank you over and over again just to hear her say “you’re very welcome” over and over again.  She was so polite she said the whole thing every single time. 

We ate very quickly and made our way back to our rooms.  It was a spliced up old house, perfectly comfortable.  It comprised of a bedroom with two single beds and then a hallway leading to a kitchen with bathroom attached.  In the kitchen there was a small dining table and a double bed where I slept.  It was quite convenient.  If I had wished, I could have cooked breakfast without having to get out of bed.  I didn’t, but I can mark off 'sleeping in a kitchen' from my list of interesting things I have done. 

We continued on our way the next day and enjoyed the scenery immensely, the coffee not so much.  Oh well, Canada can’t have everything.  I have to say, in the 5 or so days of driving around an admittedly small piece of Canada I think I may have seen one police officer on the road but only from the corner of my eye.  It’s probably a good thing because being so close to the top of the world does tend to make the car go faster. 

When we got to Halifax we actually stayed in the dorm rooms of a local university.  We each had our own room and shared a bathroom.  There was a kitchen too but we were far too fancy to cook.  It was really rather nice and extremely affordable.  We even had a mouse.  There was an ultimate frisbee tournament or practice or something going on down below which was entertaining, as well as the soccer team practicing and a runner getting his starts right.  That was a little annoying because he didn’t keep going around the track although it was a little bit entertaining when he almost got hit by the soccer ball.  It turns out he wasn't very good at kicking the ball.

We drove to some coastal towns and they were truly delightful.  At one such town we stopped and went walking.  At this point it was getting rather chilly and since I had packed my bags with hope in my heart that Canada would turn on the sun I was experiencing some regret.  We found a little shop that sold all kinds of souvenirs including clothes.  I picked out some gifts for the family and also a jersey for myself.  As I was paying, the owners of the shop were making small talk.  They wanted to know where we came from and what brought us to their lovely little village.  We explained that we were all from New Zealand but that I lived in Massachusetts.  The conversation went like this:

“Why do you live in America?”
“Well, I married an American you see”
“Oh, I’m sooooory” (husband and wife in unison and in tones of deepest sympathy)
“I do quite like him you know”

Of course I was, at that moment, buying him a t shirt that has a picture of a man all alone in a boat with the words ‘if a man speaks at sea where no woman can hear, is he still wrong?’

On another day we went in search of a lighthouse.  There were a lot of them but we wanted to see this one beach that had sea caves.  We arrived when the tide was out and they were pretty amazing.  Completely empty caverns that you could walk right inside of.  We didn’t because there was still a pretty sizable stream to ford before getting to them but we did walk out on the beach and get pretty close.  When they fill up with water you can apparently go kayaking into them. 

There was a restaurant right there on the beach and I got my first proper fish and chips in such a long time.  It was glorious.  As we sat we watched the tide come in and start to fill up the caves.  There were a lot of people there but we still made note of one family that were sitting close to us.  I don’t know why we noticed them but we did. 

We drove a little bit further up the road over some covered bridges before looking for a place to turn around.  Now in America (and I assume in Canada) people don’t take too kindly to you pulling up their driveways in order to turn your car around.  In New Zealand this is perfectly acceptable.  We had driven far enough and I decided to turn New Zealand and plead ignorance if it became a problem, we were in a pretty rural area so we figured it would go unnoticed anyway.  We nosed into a driveway and executed a very quick and painless turn.  As I reversed we all noticed an absolutely giant New Zealand flag attached to a flag pole in the front of this house.  We were astounded.  This is not a sight you generally see (unless you come to my house).  We looked at the letter box and noticed that the house belonged to Wayne Jackson.  Actually quite a New Zealand sounding name.  We committed it to memory and carried on.

After we got onto the road to the lighthouse we had been searching for we wound around for quite some time.  Finally we arrived.  There was a small walk down to the actual lighthouse itself.  We started down the path which opened out to a beautiful ocean view but a fairly average looking lighthouse, to be honest.  We took pictures, as you do, and set off back up the trail.  It was there that we encountered the family we had all noticed back at the restaurant.  Since this was now our second meeting and figuring that they were probably tourists like us we decided to strike up conversation.  It went something like this.

“Oh, hi.  We meet again.”
“Yes, ha ha, we must be following you.  Where are you all from?”
“We’re from New Zealand, just on a visit, and you?”
“Oh, we’re locals, just out for a drive.”
“Do you know Wayne Jackson?”
“How do you know Wayne?” (a little suspicion creeping into the voice)
“We don’t.”
“We were just at his house and he has a giant New Zealand flag outside. We thought he must be from New Zealand.”
“Oh, no.  He’s from here, my husband was the best man at his wedding.  His daughter married a guy from New Zealand.  Nice man.  What were you doing at his house?”
“Oh, just turning around in his driveway.”

No doubt Wayne and his family now have a similar story they tell about three strange Kiwi girls on a path to a lighthouse.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Conversations From The Backseat

I spend a lot of time driving from place to place as the mother of four active offspring.  My car is not usually a quiet place but it can certainly be entertaining.  Here are some completely unedited excerpts of conversations I have either had or overheard while driving. I really hope you don't have a mouth full of liquid as you read this.  If you do choose to drink and read I can assume no responsibility for what may happen.

Hey, Mummy and Daddy, this is how you shake it.  

What is it?

A pen.

Hey mama, its actually not illegal to own a flamethrower.

Mummy, Kaitlyn is putting on too much Paris Armour and its clashing with my Pink Chiffon and when it does that it makes me smell like a BBQ. 

Mama, you need to make me one of those dentist appointments really quick.  


Because I lost my tooth and now there’s a gap and I want to show the dentist.  I think she’ll be really happy about it.

Mama, does thumb rhyme?

With what?


Do you want to know what thumb rhymes with?


It rhymes with anything that ends with ‘um’.

Oh, it rhymes with gum then right?

Yes. (secretly happy she didn’t hit upon any of the inappropriate ‘um’ words)

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what thumb it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh.


You are scaring the animals.

Those are not amimals.

Yes they are.

No, they cats.

Mama, how to dogs marry cats?

They don’t.

Then how do they get to be a mother?

Mama, why didn’t you born me first?

How was your day at school? 

Good.  I made a new friend.

What is their name?

I don’t remember.  It was a girl though so it wasn’t Steven.

What meat are we eating tonight mummy?  Is it sheep?

No, its cow.

What would it taste like if you ate human meat?  Can you eat human meat?

No, you cannot

Why?  Does it not taste good?  Would it make you sick?

No, its not allowed

Why can’t you eat your own human meat?  Would it make you die?  What would happen?

You would go to jail

Mummy, this boy on the bus he had real life glasses that he could see my insides with.  He really did, he saw my insides and he said I’m actually an owl on the inside.  I know its true because at night I am an owl.  I don’t actually sleep, I just pretend and actually I’m flying around because I’m nocturnal.

Mama, why do mandarins have orange juice in them?

The driver on the bus says “go home now, go home now”.

We need a disco ball in here.

Is this the August of this year?


Is it the August that starts with an A?


Oh, I thought it was the August that starts with an O

Isabel was trying to reach her drink while strapped into her car seat but she couldn’t and was asking Emily for help.  Emily says “use the force Isabel”.
Daddy, I would never kill the dog.

I was carving my rocks that I found at Papa’s and one of them had a light coming out of it and it scared me so I don’t want to carve them anymore.

Did you find a piece of flint?

I think so.

My music teacher can play the recorder with his nose.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Letting It Go

The week had been a busy one.  The kids had school holidays although we did keep Emily going through the break so she could take some time off later in the semester (the beauty of online school).

As expected, the kids were full of energy so we did a few outings which I felt sure would exhaust them to the point where they would sleep for several days.  Apparently that only works for adults and the kids just keep up the non stop carnage momentum while the adult takes a well deserved nap.  This is a very dangerous phenomenon.

In an effort to pull the house back from the brink of self implosion we instituted a working bee on the Friday morning.  The kids each got a “zone” to bring order to and I started working on the kitchen.  Their zones were all at the floor level since my aged back doesn’t like bending anymore. 

When I clean in the mornings I tend to prefer doing it before I shower and get dressed because it seems wrong to get all cleaned up and then have to put my hands down a toilet.  So that morning I was doing dishes, vacuuming and scrubbing things while wearing my nightgown.  The nightgown was not particularly exciting but it was rather short.  If anyone had happened to peer through my windows that day they may have become blinded, especially if I happened to be bending over at the time. 

Anyway, things were going well as far as the cleaning.  The zones were working extremely well and the threats of pleasures withheld were working like a charm to keep the kids on task.

At some point during the frenzy I was overtaken with a desire to use the bathroom.  On my way there I discovered that the door into the garage was standing open.  Not only that, the garage door to the outside was also open.  I didn’t have the pelvic floor strength to be able to investigate immediately but I did yell out to whoever happened to be listening inquiring where the dog was.  This was followed by a quick search for the dog who was found to be taking a nap under the footstool.  At that time Emily asked “where is Isabel?”

I ran to the front room and looked out the window at which time we discovered exactly where she was.  She had indeed escaped the cleaning frenzy and was at that time enjoying a meetup on the cul de sac island with her neighborhood friend and the friend’s babysitter.  I would have no problem with her playing with her friend, no problem with her playing on the island (we all meet there regularly and let the kids play), my problem at that moment (apart from her leaving the house on her own) was that she was at that time dressed in only a pullup and a Doc McStuffins dressup coat.  No shoes, no shirt, nothing.  She had previously been dressed but at some point during our cleanup she had decided that clothes were not for her and had stripped off. 

My other problem was that I was in no state to stride out there and retrieve her.  I asked Emily to go and get her but after several minutes it was clear that she had also fallen into the trap of the great outdoors and seemed to have no intentions of returning inside.  At that point I attempted to find a section of my front door that would somewhat cover my scantily clad body and cracked the door open just a fraction so I could call out to Emily to get back inside.  I eventually achieved my end, I’m not sure if the babysitter saw more of me than she ever hoped to but I am certain I amused her nonetheless. 

After a reprimand and a sending to her room we continued in our pursuit of cleanliness.  It wasn’t until later when I was satisfied that the state of the house had moved from “send the pictures to the hoarders tv show” to “we almost did it” that I went upstairs to take a shower and get dressed. 

As I walked passed the laundry room in my newly cleansed and dressed body I decided to switch the washing and tell myself what an outstanding housewife I was.  I opened the lid of the washing machine and was met with the sight of about 12 cups of powdered laundry detergent generously sprinkled on top of a load of previously clean clothes. 

Isabel was chatting and singing to herself and her toys in her room and raised her head just long enough to grin at me as I stood there in shock before she turned back, singing “wet it gooooo, wet it gooooo, can’t hold it back anymooooooore.  Wet it gooooo, wet it goooo, turn away and slam that doooooooor”.