Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


My beautiful golden girl had a birthday this week and I was called to task for not posting about her.  Mea culpa.  Mea culpa.  Mea really screwed up culpa.  Let me make amends.

     When Jessamyn was born, we were gifted with a bundle of happiness, giggles, and hugs.  A smiling happy child who showed us that -- despite all the problems in the world -- good things really do happen.  As new parents, we got to see the world through brand new eyes; if you are a parent you know the joy that comes from that.

     Jessie gave us more than our share of grief, none of it her fault, mind you.  She was born with a birthmark on the crown of her head.  By the time she was five, Kitty noticed a slight change in the birthmark.  We had it checked out and was told that Kitty was over-reacting.  We went to another doctor and was told the same thing.  Finally, we lied about a referral and got to see a doctor that was concerned.  A specialist from Boston was called in and he was even more concerned.  All this time we were given platitudes about everything will be all right and don't worry.  A biopsy was done and we asked the specialist exactly what he was looking for.  "Cancer, of course," he said.  The results came back and were positive and our hearts sank.  The doctors were unable to operate because the biopsy had not healed.  This led to weekly sessions for over a month where the doctors tried to cauterize the wound.  Despite the extreme pain, Jessie handled the procedures better than we did; on the surface we were calm and rational while in our hearts we quivered with panic.  We also tried to make a disgusting procedure fun (an impossible task), but every week we showed up Jessie had colorful, garish clothes and jewelry and about twenty pounds of make-up.  (she thought she looked beautiful -- and she was, and always has been.)  Turns out this was a very rare type of cancer and had never been identified in a patient as young as Jessie.  It had always been discovered during puberty and was invariably fatal.

     After a month and a half, the biopsy finally healed and surgery was scheduled.  The nurses in the pediatric ward had read Jessie's diagnosis diagnosis and weren't familiar with the cancer.  They then tried to look it up in their reference manuals and couldn't find it, so they were expecting a frail, sickly child.  Instead they got a happy, smiling, lovable little girl who ended up doing wheelies in the hospital corridor with her wheelchair.  (Something her grandfather taught her.)  End result, the surgeon was able to remove all the cancer which was still encapsulated and Jessie went to first grade with short hair and a bandaged head.

     Of course, that wasn't the end of the grief.  When she was twelve, the scar began to change.  Off to the doctors again.  By this time (in the words of her pediatrician) her middle name was "take it out".  No bother with biopsies this time; straight to surgery.  This time it was just the scar growing out.  End result, Jessie had a smaller scar, making it easier to hide under her hair.

      Then she was fifteen and trying out for the track team.  She pulled something and had to have an x-ray.  What we didn't expect was a black spot showing up near the end of her thighbone, pretty much into the hip socket.  More tests and more x-raying and nuclear imaging and the doctors were divided.  One thought it was nothing; his partner was sure that it was osteosarcoma.  We had gone through cancer scares before, but this time it hit us even harder.  It took several weeks of putting on a brave face before we could get her into Boston Children's Hospital for an examination.  After an eternity, the head of oncology came out to meet us.  His first words, "It's not osteosarcoma."  Apparently it was a calcium deposit that had "pearled" over, something not common but not unheard of either.  You often hear about tears of joy; we had them for the rest of that day.

     Of course, Jessie had to give us much more grief along the way.  Like the time when Kitty had cooked a turkey and had just poured the hot, bubbling grease into a pot, telling Jessie to not touch.  Of course a five-year old wlould touch and spilled the entire pot of grease on her.  With seconds, we had stripped her down and Kitty was using the kitchen hose on her while I filled the tub with cold water.  We wrapped her in a blanket and rushed to the emergency room.  She looked pretty blue by the time we got there -- of course she was naked on a cold night and had just been taken from an ice-cold tub.  The emergency room staff credited Kitty's quick thinking for reducing the seriousness of the burns.  Jessie did end up with several first, second, and third degree burns, but the were so small that only she, her mother, and her pediatrician would ever be able to find it.  And the emergency room doctor sternly told Jessie, "The next time Mommy says don't touch, don't touch!"

     Of course there was also the last day of junior high school, which the school had declared a field day.  We got a call from the school adminstration, asking us to come down immediately because out duahgter had been stabbed.  The drive to the school aged us about twenty years.  Turns out a boy from their class was waving a sharp object about and accidently stabbed Jessie in the hand.  A minor cut, thank God.

     I did not have grey hair before Jessie was born.

     Looking back, that wasn't too much grief and it was completely outweighed by her smile, her beautiful soul, her snarky sense of humor, her inquisitive mind, and her amazing talents.  From a tiny girl dressed up in a baby duck costume for her first dance recital, to the self-assured child at her first piano recital, to the young lady who went off to Japan as a foreign exchange student and to Austria and Germany and to England on trips with the high school band, she has always made us proud

     In high school she, her sister, and a friend started a program designed to integrate special needs students into the social life of the school.  (It was amusing to watch Jessie try to explain what was happening during a footbal game to a blind student, and one mother broke out in tears, saying she never thought he would be able to attend a prom.)  We found out later that the program was written up nationally.

     From junior high school, she had volunteered at a neighborhood professional theater.  When a woman had an epileptic seizure in the theater lobby, Jessie calmly ringed off the woman and her caretaker with stanchions and firmly kept onlookers away.  Her attention to detail and friendly manner caused a recruiter from the Air Force Academy to offer his full support if she wanted to attend.  She learned to defuse awkward situations.  She became friendly with a number of professional (and award-winning) actors from Broadway, film, and television.

     Our proudest moments with Jessie were ones that we wished had never happened.  Her husband -- the love of her life -- died of an unexpected heart attack at the age of 31.  She was a sudden widow with two girls, 7 and 9.  Michael died three months before Jessie would have been eligible for widow's benefits from Social Security.  He was not insured; the application for his work insurance was still in his car and he hadn't got around to turning it in.  That evening Jessie and the girls moved from their three-bedroom townhouse into our two-bedroom apartment.  Jessie's patience and care for the girls while she herself was in deep mourning was impressive.  To make a new start, we all moved to Southern Maryland where Jessie worked hard to make her children fit in.  She became active in their school.  She coached Ceili's lacrosse team.  When the girls became active in the local Sea Scouts, she stepped in as a leader.  She drove Amy all over Southern Maryland for swimming practices and meets.  All this time, she also worked at a number of jobs (and for a number of companies that closed during these hard economic times).  She took classes at local colleges and on-line.

     A year and a half ago, she decided it was time that she struck out on her own.   She and the girls moved back to Massachusetts, to the town where she grew up.  It was scary, being some 500 miles away from her support group; she reconnected with some high school friends but they are only able to get together once in a while.  Our house became empty.  Not only were Jessie and the girls gone, the was a dreadful silence of none of their friend around.  Jessie also took the two dumbest pugs in the world with her, so we didn't even have those to play with.   

     One of Jessie's greatest talents is the ability to get a job, anywhere, any time.  She began working in the accounting office of a large hotel.  Turns out the owner of the hotel had driven it into bankruptcy.  Without warning, the hotel closed and Jessie was out of a job.  Luckily she got a phone call a week later asking her to come back to work.  A major corporation had bought the hotel and was willing to invest a good hunk of change to make it profitable again.  So Jessie got a promotion, a healthy raise, and a lot more responsibility.  In the meantime, she's still taking classes and is spending time with her daughters.

     I am not able to express how proud I am of her and how much I love her.

     I am, however, trying to devise ways to get her to move back in with us. 

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