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[child|photos] In which we visit a neurobiology lab

Over the weekend, thanks to the good offices of our friend B—, [info]the_child and I visited a neurobiology lab at a major area research institution. Her friend S— came along as well.

We had a terrific tour of the project our friend B— works on, along with a pretty good overview of lab procedures and equipments. Plus we got to see actual neurons in their glia-infused petri dishes. As I said, like potato chips for zombies.

Science was discussed, research processes were reviewed, and fun was had by all.











As usual, more at the Flickr set.

Photos © 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[cancer|child] There’s a hole in the bottom of her heart where all the love runs out

Last night I had another meltdown. By my standards, this one was fairly epic.

Let me ‘splain… No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

We were basementing again, and when I say “we”, I mean Team E— with an assist from [info]the_child. I had gone out to Cartlandia to fetch dinner. When I came back, my daughter was in the garage going through some old papers she’d found in the broken down desk I’ve never quite managed to get rid of.

These were drawings and cards she’d made me from the time she was old enough to hold a crayon until about age six or seven. She appeared profoundly sad. We spoke briefly about what she was doing, then I took the food into the house. After I ate, I went out and found her still in the garage, still looking at the old drawings.

[info]the_child was still so very sad. It was heart-breaking. And I know this precise sadness. Missing a sense of an earlier, simpler time when life seemed happy. The feeling sometimes afflicts me to this day. We talked a little, and she let me comfort her. I said, “Sometimes I miss being a little kid.” She said, “That was the best time of my life.” Meaning, before the dyslexia, before the teenage hormone storms and stress, before the personal issues which are hers to recount someday, before I was ill and dying.

She’s adopted. We know nothing about her birth family, and we never will. My daughter feels that as a profound loss, and perhaps the core issue of her psyche is the dread and pain of abandonment. That sense of past and impending betrayal is a hole in the bottom of her heart where all the love runs out.

And me, in my dying, am abandoning her in the most profound way possible. I am tearing open that hole in her heart, and leaving floodgate that may never shut.

I understand this all too well because of my own history. My parents split when I was about four. My mother took me and my sister and moved back to Texas. When I was about five, my dad got custody of us from my mother. As my very first therapist said, back in 1980, by the time I was six, in psychological terms, I had experienced double abandonment. The continuity of the developmental relationship with both my parents had been broken.

The core issue of my psyche is the dread and pain of abandonment. There’s always been a hole in the bottom of my heart where all the love runs out. This explains the ragingly co-dependent and highly depressive relationship life I led in my teens and twenties. Now, on the back end of 30+ years of therapy, it explains why I chose to go the route of polyamory and practice something of an All The Women Are Belong To Me dating life. By dint of decades of hard work, I’ve directed that energy in a constructive fashion; become loving and thoughtful and kind and attentive as a way of both easing my own heart and easing the hearts of those around me. I do not always succeed in those things, but I do the best I can.

I’ve chosen to repay pain and loss with love and kindness.

Now my child stands on that same path, for similar reasons. I will never be able to love her enough. I will not live long enough to help her through the disaster of my own early death.

As I said to Lisa Costello last night, she looked so lost. In that loss, I see the lost boy I was and to some degree still am.

And so I cried my heart out last night, for her and for me. I weep to even write this now, and doubt the wisdom of committing my words to public view in this moment. But this, too, is part of dying. This, too, is part of living. This, too, is part of loving.

I hope [info]the_child someday finds a way to patch that hole and let the love which is all around her fill her heart. I wish I could be here to see that day.

[child] Went to a basketball game

Yesterday, I made it over to a doubleheader basketball game to sit with Mother of the Child and watch our daughter play in a summer league game. She didn’t play this past fall in regular season for various reasons — a choice on her part which I understood even while not entirely agreeing with — so this was her first game in over a year. They did wonderfully, winning both games by a substantial margin.

This is league is quite short, so those are probably the only games I will make it to. I missed her lacrosse season this year entirely due to chemo side effects. I’m glad I got a chance to see her play. She is a joyous athlete whose inner life is much improved by powerful physical exertion.

Love that kid.

[family|child] On the nature of time and generations

Dad at 49

That’s a photo of my Dad in Outer Mongolia, in 1992, when I and a group of friends and family went to see my parents there. (He was the U.S. ambassador to that country at the time.) Dad was 49 when we visited then. I just turned 49 this past Thursday.

Me at 49

Sometimes when I look at [info]the_child I marvel at how old I have become. Not chronologically, but generationally. I mean, when I went to Outer Mongolia in 1992, Dad was unimaginably older than me. Now, in 2013, he is still unimaginably older than me. We’re just all 21 years older than our former selves.

It is the job of parents to go before their children. We break a trail for them through time, setting a path so they have something to rebel against, and if we’re lucky, eventually a guide to follow. [info]the_child right now is 15, and filled with that righteous anger at the weakness and venality of pretty much everyone else in the world, an emotion that seems hardwired into being aged 15. Someday she will look back at me and marvel.

The cycle of the generations proves to me that time isn’t linear, it’s cyclical, at least according to the secret calendars of the soul.

Photos © 1992, 2013, Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and T. Rotundo.

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This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. and T. Rotundo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

[child|writing] Collaborating with my kid

After a tentative start last week, last night [info]the_child and I began efforts in earnest to write a collaborative story. It’s an idea she had a while back, and a darned good one. At the time I told her I wished I’d thought of it, because I could easily get a novel out of the concept.

We’re working together literally line-by-line. That’s not my usual modus operandi on collaborative work, but it allows us to sit side by side and discuss story, writing process and line level language. So it’s a good bonding experience for the both of us, and hopefully a good fiction writing tutorial for her. So far we’ve discussed the structure and pacing of plot reveals, the technical merits of first person versus third person, and a number of finicky language issues. Plus the composition of pennies.

Interestingly, writing is such a solitary act (even most forms of collaboration are serial solitary acts combined, like having sex by postcard), yet this is a profoundly mutual experience. I hope we can shepherd this piece to completion and find a publication home for it. Whether or not we succeed, this is a lot of fun for both us. I love my kid, and I love writing. What’s not to like?

[child] Outing my daughter on the Internet

As a friend of mine pointed out that this past Wednesday was the first time I had ever referred to [info]the_child by her full name on my blog. [ | LiveJournal ] They asked if I had intentionally planned her online coming out, so to speak.

Well, in a word, no.

I’ve been talking about her online since my first blogging efforts about ten years ago. Early on, I was on Speculations, then JournalScape and Blogger, before moving to LiveJournal in July of 2004, and later, a WordPress blog on my own domain. Only those last two are still active, with 99% common content between them. I’m not sure when I first began using the monicker of [info]the_child, but I first started using that as a LiveJournal handle in 2006.

All this time, I’ve been very protective of her online identity and her personal privacy. She will have to live with the trail of mentions I’ve made all her life. So I’ve been careful only to tell funny or informative stories about her, not embarrass her online (beyond the usual “Oh, Dad…!”), not to publish her art or photography without permission, only to quote her when she agrees, and so forth. In other words, I’ve long worked to enable her own control of her online identity, with considerable pre-editing of choices for her when she was younger.

In the same vein, her mother and I let her go onto Facebook under her own name when she was aged 12. Even then, we kept her account as locked down as possible under Facebook’s privacy settings. Those have since been slowly relaxed as she becomes more mature and sophisticated.

We’ve always been very conscious of the meaning of her online footprint. What she does with it from here is up to her, but I know my daughter has been smart so far. We never did have a plan for outing her by name on the Internet at a certain age, or in context with a certain event. Nonetheless, Bronwyn Lake now has a public presence in her own name.

And I’m okay with that.

Love you, kid.

[child] Sometimes she nails it so hard my heart is like to burst

So I have this kid. [info]the_child. You may have heard of her?

She’s fifteen. She’s got all the usual frustrations and issues of a fifteen year old. Plus the challenges of fairly severe dyslexia. Plus adoption issues. Plus transracial issues. Plus a father who’s been mortally ill since she’s ten, whom she knows is racing the clock to live to see her graduate from high school. Plus all the pressures you might expect all of the above would place on mental and emotional health.

In other words, she has far more reasons to be the selfish, self-involved, self-pitying git I was at fifteen than I ever did.

And yet she’s not.

For Christmas, on her own initiative, [info]the_child crafted handmade gifts for almost everyone. A beaten copper bracelet, for her mother. A framed print of a photo she’d taken and developed herself, for her aunt. A handmade block puzzle for her grandfather. Earrings for all her female relatives. The few that were not handmade were very personal — a lovely scarf for Lisa Costello, and something very clever and sweet for her grandmother [info]tillyjane that is half concept, half artifact. I mean, we’re talking some deeply thoughtful effort here.

Then she made these cards. Gorgeous pen-and-ink work, with light color accents. Nicer than what you can find in the store. They showcase her artistic talents, and most of them are germane to the gift given, and to the recipient. I’m talking real class here. And again, deeply thoughtful.

But where my daughter really brought it home was yesterday while we were having Christmas at my Dad and (step)Mom’s place. [info]the_child and Lisa Costello and I were there, along with Mother of the Child, [info]tillyjane (a/k/a my Mom), and [info]lillypond (a/k/a my sister). The Niece was supposed to be there, but her dad’s side of the family had gone to play in the snow up on Mt. Hood and were seriously delayed in their return to the Willamette Valley by significant winter weather. We had Christmas dinner sans Niecely participation, then stalled around a bit until cell phone calls determined that they were hours yet away from returning to Portland. Whereupon [info]the_child suggested we simply postpone the rest of Christmas until today, so the Niece (the youngest of us all) could enjoy the whole present-opening process with the whole family. The motion, which had not occurred to any of the adults present, carried by acclamation.

So, yeah, sometimes [info]the_child nails it so hard my heart is like to burst. Though some among us hold faith, as a whole, we are a secular family. For the Lakes, Christmas is about taking a moment to celebrate and love each other, with feasting and tokens of mutual esteem all around. From start to finish, my daughter upheld that tradition grandly in a way that would flood any parent’s heart with light.

[child] In which The Child makes me proud; very, very proud

One of my editorial policies on this blog is not to talk about the troubles of others without their explicit permission. I spend enough time narrating my cancer, I don’t need to drag the business of my friends and family in as well. But sometimes their troubles intersect mine. Those intersections can be occasionally brutal. Last Friday, for example, my father was in the ER at the same time I was in the infusion center for chemotherapy. That made for a deeply miserable morning across our entire family. As it happens, he is fine, and I am whatever I am on chemo, but no worse than expected to be sure. This past Friday morning, those things were not obvious.

[info]the_child carries a heavy load these days. In addition to the usual assortment of issues any teen aged girl weathers, she is working hard to come to terms with the meaning of the circumstances of her birth and her adoption. She is coping with the hideous stress of my illness, now over four and half years on, and the high likelihood of my early death. Like all of us, she has to manage her own, individual inner demons as well. And finally, she is significantly learning disabled, as I have mentioned a few times here before. This causes numerous issues in school, not the least of which is a fantastically elongated homework load given the length of time it takes her to process and comprehend written text.

Her grandmother, [info]tillyjane (a/k/a my mom), has been a hero of the revolution for spending up to five and six afternoons or evenings a week providing [info]the_child with mentoring and structured guidance on homework. This is a job I have done in the past, but simply cannot do this year, due to chemotherapy destroying both my cognitive capacity and my ability to stay awake. [info]the_child herself fusses like any teen, but underneath it all is quite diligent and dedicated in the face of great challenges.

Yesterday she brought home her first major grade report. Her high school runs on a lesson block schedule rather than a semester schedule. Every three to four weeks, they switch main lessons, and focus on that through the block. So this was her first significant high school academic evaluation, the equivalent of an end of semester grade in a key subject.

She got an A- for the lesson block in Civics. With a very positive write-up from her teacher.

I am proud of her. Very, very proud of her. A daunting amount of work and stress and effort has paid in ways that exceeded even my highest expectations.

Some things just need to be said: You go, kid.