Having a kid with cancer is enough to worry about.

March 4th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 8.25.52 AMOn and off over the years, I’ve volunteered as a writer for an organization called Small Can Be Big that helps connect individual families in crisis with short-term funding, often for things like rent or repairs. I hadn’t done a story for a while, but just last week I offered to do one and totally by coincindence, it happened to be a request from a family whose young son has cancer. The mother has had to stop working to take care of him, the medical bills are stacking up, and they’re now behind on their mortgage payments. (You can read their story and help them here.)

This is an issue very close to my heart.  Ever since Clio’s diagnosis, I’ve been acutely aware of just how “best case” our scenario is, in terms of what our life looked like going into the ordeal: We were all healthy (not counting the cancer, I mean). My depression situation was and has remained (amazingly!) stable.  Our marriage and home life was good, and our finances were, too. We both had flexible jobs, and could still keep working to some degree. We had a large, loving circle of friends and relatives to support us.

We’re also lucky enough to live in Massachusetts where (thanks, Mitt Romney!) we have an excellent health insurance system. Any co-pays or expenses related to Clio’s care that our private insurance wouldn’t cover have been covered by Medicaid.

We had all this. All these advantages. And it was still so goddamned hard.

I can’t even imagine how much harder it is to be dealing with a seriously ill child and serious financial strain. Or other health issues. Or addiction. Or abuse. Or any of a million other things that regularly complicate people’s lives.

I can’t imagine it, but I try to. In fact it’s the scenario at the heart of the novel I’m working on right now: What it would be like for a very dysfunctional, very unstable family to have a child with cancer.

But I swear it’s not a completely depressing book! Honest!

Anyway, if you can, go pitch in a few bucks at Small Can Be Big to help a family who could use a hand right now.

And if you’re feeling further inspired, check out Pinky Swear — an organization with a pretty amazing story that’s dedicated to providing financial assistance to families of kids with cancer.  They reached out to me recently* after reading my post for Dana Farber on ways to help families facing childhood cancer. And they are doing excellent work.

It’s good to know that there are folks out there trying to make things easier on families going through what we did.




*I’m choosing to take Pinky Swear getting in touch, and the Small Can Be Big thing, as signs that I’m writing the novel I should be writing. Or something. Right? (Work with me here, people.)

Four feet and counting

February 24th, 2015

Tubular Elsa

No, that title doesn’t refer to the amount of snow we’ve gotten in Boston in the past month. (That would be seven feet and counting.) It’s about something far cheerier and that — bonus! — doesn’t cripple major public transportation systems. Not that I know of, anyway.

So. Last week was February vacation (because we totally needed more time off from school after 6 snow days in less than 3 weeks), and we spent a couple of days up in Maine, visiting my parents.

On one of those days, we braved 17-degree temperatures to take the girls snow tubing – something we’d never done before. I’d previously toyed with the idea of taking them somewhere for a skiing lesson, but once I tried to actually imagine it (dealing with rentals, dealing with the girls freaking out at how the boots felts and how hard it was to walk in them, dealing with the immense expense) I said screw that. I’d be doing shots in the lodge by 10 am. And I don’t even do shots.

With tubing, there are no rentals, no crazy moon-boots that are impossible to walk in if you’re a human being with ankle and knee joints, and little to no risk of tears of frustration – just big rubber tubes, a little magic carpet to ride up the hill, and a bunch of lanes to zoom down from the top. AND it was less than $80 for the four of us.

We also got to enjoy a mini-milestone for Clio: The deal at this place was, if you were under 4 feet, you had to go on a double-tube with an adult. But if you were over 4 feet, you needed to go on your own.

Guess who’s finally made the 4-foot mark? Read the rest of this entry »

New Yorker Cartoon Caption Entries, second-grader style.

January 20th, 2015

I know, I know. My blog is becoming derelict. With Clio’s treatment done (she finished her last dose of Bactrim — an antibiotic that provided some extra coverage while her immune system was rebuilding — last week, so she’s officially off ALL meds!) I haven’t had the pressing urge. And I’m trying to use all my allotted non-day-job writing time for working on zee novel. BUT, I’ve been meaning to share with the internets some of Elsa and Clio’s New Yorker cartoon caption contest entries. (With their permission.)

Every week, when a new New Yorker arrives at our house —  before it is relegated to the pile of mostly un-read issues on our kitchen table — Elsa turns immediately to the back page for the cartoon contest. She first noticed it a few months ago, and ever since then, she’s been writing in her captions. And, more recently, she’s been submitting them (with our help) to the contest online. (Strangely, she’s never even made the finals.) Clio has gotten in on the game lately, too.

And so, since you’re unlikely ever to see these in the magazine, alas, I thought I’d share some of my favorites here.


Relax.   By Elsa


“I mean, please, do you think I’d show you a man-eating coupe if it was a dime over 50?”


Read the rest of this entry »

Do you see what I see?

December 14th, 2014


“I look weird.”

Not me, that is. (I just look like I have a budding spare tire, thanks to way too much holiday food and drink — on the heels of way too much Halloween candy stolen from my children, and the fact that between illness and work and weather, I haven’t been able to run as much as usual. Ugh.)

It’s Clio. And she doesn’t look weird at all. She just thinks she does.

She’s been such a trooper all along about the changes in her appearance due to chemo and steroids — losing her hair, gaining weight and getting puffy cheeks due to steroids, not growing at all for basically two years while her sister and her peers shot up like dandelions around her.

She complained occasionally about the way other people saw her: she didn’t like it when other kids stared, or said she looked chubby (aren’t children darling to each other?), or mistakenly thought she was a boy. But her distress, for the most part, seemed to be externally focused — it was about how other people saw her. She didn’t complain a whole lot about how she saw herself.

Lately, though, she’s started saying that she looks “weird.” That her cheeks are chubby. That her hair is too thin. That she isn’t pretty. Read the rest of this entry »

Why a Writing Residency Rocks

November 13th, 2014
The view from my studio window

The view from my studio window

So, I just got back from spending a week at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a residency for writers, artist and composers in Virginia. I had a room, a studio, and nothing but time to write, read and take the occasional walk or run in beautiful rural surroundings.

At meals (which I didn’t have to cook! Huzzah!), I chatted with other residents. It is so damned refreshing and inspiring to be around other people who just get it — to hear about their work and their process and their frustrations and victories. There were people of all ages, at all different stages of their careers.

And everyone worked like crazy. A lot of people even worked at night — which, I’m sorry, I am too burnt out to do after a day of writing. Morning and late afternoon are my best times. Noon to two or three, I’m pretty much useless. Nighttime, all I want to do is unwind, read, go to raves, plan jewel heists, destroy property, do blow with hookers, etc. (I almost never do the last few, but I like keeping my options open.) Read the rest of this entry »