Skunks and Other Minor Annoyances

This was just a banner week in terms of annoyances. It started off on Sunday with a fire that torched the mountain across the way from our house. I smelled smoke and asked my family, “Does anyone else smell that?”

“Nope,” they said. “It’s your imagination.”

I looked out the window later and saw smoke starting to go up and the first thing (I know it’s bad) the FIRST thing I yelled was, “I TOLD you I smelled smoke! The hill is on fire!” The theory is that someone threw his cigarette out their car window, a theory borne out by the fact that a bunch of people saw a dude throw his cigarette out the window, and the subsequent fire.

I just hate that. Responsible smokers clean up their butts. They don’t leave them on the ground or throw them out the window into the pile of dry tinder known as San Diego from April through October. And the next day I saw someone throw a cigarette out the window near the mountain and I swear I came thisclose to ramming them with my trusty mini-van (So THAT’S how your bumper got knocked ajar, eh, Margaret?)

Then on Wednesday night, I was asleep when another smell awoke me. It was chokingly awful, like a mixture of rotted onions, eggs, rancid pot, and a paint thinner all thrown together.

I went downstairs to see Cadillac washing his hands. “I let him out and he got into something. He’s foaming at the mouth.”

“It’s skunk. Can’t you smell that?”

So I fired up the Internet and found the skunk potion: baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and water mixed together, and Cadillac, cursing like the dad from A Christmas Story, turned on the bathtub.

I opened all the windows and blasted the A/C and oh mah goodness. It still stank. I could taste it. It permeated the air.

It took a long time to go back to sleep.

The next morning I was totally knackered (British word, right? I like it! We need to use it here and it begins RIGHT NOW) and I had to take los animales to the vet for their shots. Gatsby still stank. Then I had the brilliant idea to just drop him off at the groomer’s, and after calling around found one that had time to take him and do the de-skunk treatment. It worked on about 80% of the stench. Four days later, he still stinks quite a bit.

Yesterday evening, Cadillac opened the garage door. We have an extra fridge in there, and a litter box for Richard Parker, that semi-feral cat. We leave the door cracked for him. The skunk was using the litterbox. It ran under the car and peered up at Cadillac, unperturbed mostly. We theorize it had appeared for what we call hard rubbin’s. This is the firm petting that our animals get from Cadillac on their backs. He kind of, I don’t know, smashes their backs down, but the animals love it. Like, if I pet an animal they will abandon me to go get petted by him. I am a poor substitute in terms of pettings.

Now we have to trap Richard Parker in the garage at night.

On Friday, Cadillac had to go to Pasadena to do an audit for work and he took us with him to go to the Huntington Library afterwards. It was all going super until I walked into the gardens and felt like I needed to vomit, cry, and lie down all at the same time.

On the way up we made a pit stop at the same Carl’s Junior we’d stopped at on the way to Tahoe, where I got the same food without incident. I was hungry and had only eaten a small bowl of almond milk and puffed rice. I got a breakfast that had scrambled eggs (whole eggs + citric acid!) and a biscuit and tater tots and sausage and bacon. I only ate the eggs and gave the rest to my son.

I think the eggs were bad. Approximately 3.5 hours later, the GI distress hit.

Not to get into many gory details, but I had to stay near a bathroom. The guards were looking at me sideways, no doubt thinking, What is this lady up to? Is she doing drugs in the Huntington Library bathrooms? but I was prepared to tell them the truth.

Cadillac took the kids to a couple of the gardens and we looked at the library and then I said I needed to go. We stopped and got Tums and I basically slept the whole way home, whereupon it really hit me.

See, that’s always my biggest fear when I’m traveling. Getting sick like that and having to ride 2 or 3 hours back in a car. And what if I chaperon something and I get sick? What happens to the kids? How the fuck would I be able to drive home? I would never make it. Is it just me or when you have a vague anxiety about something that finally HAPPENS, do you feel a sense of triumph, like the I TOLD YOU SO phenomenon? That’s probably a personality defect.

So that was my trifecta of sorta bad things.

Of course it could have been worse. I could have been hit with a GI plague so bad the car would have been totaled. The fire could have jumped the road and burned down our subdivision. The skunk could have sprayed me in the face instead of the dog, who was valiantly protecting the homestead. And of course there are far worse tragedies happening in the world right now which I will not mention because I figure you don’t come here for that kind of talk, right?

Hopefully, this week will be better. BlogHer and Comic-Con!


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The Accidental Skin Cream Spokesperson



So this is kind of interesting.

I sometimes use a site called YouBeauty, and one day they emailed me and said I’d signed up to be a beauty panelist (or something like that, I truly don’t remember, I think I signed up for it a few years back) and would I like to try a sample of something called Resveratrol?

Sure, I said.

I tried it and it actually worked very well, so well that I wrote a review of it. It actually worked so well that I regretted it working so well– good skin hydration, fewer lines– because the stuff is kind of expensive.

Then the SkinCeuticals folks saw that review and asked if they could edit it for use in an email blast.

Thus, my spokesmodel career was born! Er, not really. But they did send me a couple of samples.

(And they didn’t ask me to promote it on my website or anything like that.)

The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have


The Absolutely Definitive Answer to How Many Children You Should Have

Have you been wondering how many kids you should have?

Have you read article after article telling you you’re selfish if you have one, you’re crazy if you have more than two?

Have you been spotting endless Dear Abbys and Dear Prudences asking HOW MANY SHOULD I HAVE? and then letting the whole world weigh in?

Have you just been hopin’ and waitin’ and wishin’ that somebody would just TELL YOU WHAT TO DO?

Here’s the answer.


It’s nobody’s damn business but yours and the person with whom you’re raising the kid.

I hear you. Dilloway, you low-down dirty double-crosser. That title was nothing but click bait! Something to get you on this page! That’s no real answer! WHERE ARE MY PARENT VS NON PARENT WARS? THE LONELY ONLYS VS ONE AND DONES? All the other manufactured debates about parenting invented to get your eyeballs onto pages and to whip up froths of parenting controversy?

Okay. Let’s talk about this a bit more.

How about this?


Are you a selfish person if you don’t personally experience the joys of parenthood?


There are already too many people in this world who have kids they don’t have any interest in raising. Too many who thought, “Eh, I SHOULD have a kid b/c that’s sort of the most socially acceptable thing to do” but they really don’t want one.

However, if you don’t want a kid, then you shouldn’t be joined with someone who does. And vice-versa. That’s just not fair. If your partner says, “I never want kids,” then don’t think, “Okay, I’m going to marry this person anyway,and then change him!” NONONO. Give me your best friend’s phone number, so I can tell him or her to slap you. Lovingly.


Having had 1 kid, do people always ask you when you’re having another? And you’re considering it, just because you think you *ought* to? Do people say stuff like, “Oh, only children are always spoiled” or “so lonely” blahblahblah?

Don’t do it.

Only have two if you really want two. If you can sustain, emotionally and financially, two.

I know lots of only children who are perfectly fine.


That is a discussion not for me but for you and your partner.

After you have two kids and they’re out of diapers, do you really want to get up all over again and do all the diapering/preschool/etc AGAIN?

Are you and your partner strong enough to take on three? Do you have enough SUPPORT? Do you have enough money?

The reason we had her is because we were always feeling like there was someone missing. I’d set the table and look at seat three and wonder, do I need to set three places? No?


Cadillac, the youngest of four, wanted four originally. “That way we can have even numbers at Disneyland,” he said. Totally legit reason for having another human being, right? Well, that got kiboshed quickly. Me+pregnancy=not pretty. I think I might honestly die if I got pregnant again. Like, literally for real. Not just metaphorically. ]

Plus, the third did us the f in, in a big way. Like, you feel all energetic and stuff with two, and you’re in a groove, and handling things, and then THREE hits, and it’s like being flattened by a boulder. I have heard the same from others. Obviously not from everyone, because I know families with four and six and eight children who seem to have it more together.


Again, beyond my experience. Therefore, it’s up to you. You can have as many as you like, provided that you don’t hire them out for reality TV. I think that’s a pretty good clause in the unspoken parenting contract.

The bottom line is, there are pros and cons to everything. An only child might have more chances to do more stuff because he has more resources spent on him, but a kid with siblings has different experiences. No one answer is right for every single family or person on earth.

Do what’s right for you, and don’t pay any attention to anyone who tells you how many kids you “should” have.

After I had Little Girl, I ran into a woman I knew at a preschool event. She looked at my kids and shook her head and said, “Three? You’re crazy, girl.” And let me tell you, that was an incredibly helpful statement to make after, you know, I ALREADY HAD THREE KIDS.

So the final piece of advice: if you think X should have Y number of kids, please. Keep your mouth shut about it.


The End of the School Year

The school year’s come to another close, and I I was going to use this post to tell you Important and Fun Summer Activities to do with your kids, but instead I’m going to gloat. I have no at-home summer activities to do with your kids. I don’t care about summer organization anymore. Every single craft kit and Pinterest summer fun idea has either gone unused or been done in half the time it’s supposed to take. So why bother?

I’m not even wringing my hands at how little time my kids spend outside and how I can’t just push them out the door and tell them to come back at dusk. You know why? It’d be useless. There’s nobody to play with around here, so what are they supposed to do?  That’s simply the reality of the situation.  

So. This is my summer activity list:

Give kids a list of chores to do every day.Which includes reading though that doesn’t really count as a chore anymore than “eat chocolate” counts as a chore for me.

The end.

My kids are now 15, 12, and 8. Which means they should be able to do everything except drive places. Cook, clean, scrub the pool, walk the dog, everything. In fact, maybe I should just leave for the summer and let them Lord of the Flies it out.

I have to say I’m not dreading summer this time around. Could be because Little Girl is almost 9, which means she’s more like a tween, practically, which means she likes to sleep the hell in. Woot! She sleeps until 9, and the other kids just tend to sleep as long as possible, which is good for my work because if I get up early, I can get a lot done. But it’s bad for my evenings because the darn kids are hanging around preventing us from watching our shows. I know. So sad.

I’ve also signed 2/3 kids up for a couple weeks of day camp  AND we have a vacation already set up. It’s 100% unheard of. We’re going away with Cadillac’s extended family, minus a few, one of whom is house/dog sitting for us. And after all that’s over, it’ll be time to get ready for back to school, almost.

In the old days, Cadillac’s extended family (brothers and their kids and his parents) would go camping at Lee Vining. They’d take a motorhome and whatever extra kid friends were hanging around and go up there for a week or two. 

But Cadillac’s the youngest of his siblings, and their kids are generally a decade older than our kids, so my kids never got to do that kind of family vacation because his parents were over it by the time our kids showed up. So this will be a good way for our kids to make some neat familial memories with hopefully some shenanigans involved. Sure, there will be Grandma telling us we’re mortal sinners because we don’t go to Mass every week (which, as you can imagine, is a HIGHLY effective method of getting us to go) but at least we don’t have to camp like the old days. We’re renting a house. (Yessss!) There are advantages to missing out on some things and waiting for others.



Welcome to the Disney Family!


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My parents always described me as being stubborn, and it’s true. While this might not be such a desirable character trait when trying to get me to like peas (which I will never like), sometimes this works in my favor.

Because I generally don’t like to talk about things before they are solidified, few people know that for the past couple of years, in between adult projects, I’ve been working on a middle-grade fantasy novel that’s a retelling of a Japanese fairy tale, MOMOTARO. I’d always loved the tale and I’d never read a fully realized version of it. I wanted to set it in contemporary times and introduce the story to English-speaking readers.

It went through countless drafts before I got it right. It was entirely possible at one point that I’d never get it right.

Fantasy, unlike what some people think (like this woman who scoffed that Harry Potter isn’t stimulating enough for adult minds), is an extremely difficult genre. You have to create a whole world with different rules than ours– and those rules have to make sense all the way through. The adventure needs to start pretty soon, but not too soon. The way the characters get into the world must be believable. The main character has to be fighting some kind of inner struggle, too, and all the characters have to pop (which isn’t really different than other genres).

I stopped working on it for long periods. I cut out many characters. I restarted the whole story from ground zero three different times. I wrote it from third person and from first. It was never quite right.

But one day, I had a breakthrough.

Maybe it was when I decided to go for broke and not listen to my inner adult anymore. To put in the things that me the mother might have thought were a little shocking or rude or whatnot but that kids adored. (In other words, I had a LOT of fun).

Then I test drove it in my daughter’s 3rd grade class. The kids loved it. I mean, they responded so raptly and with such laughter that I got goosebumps.

The best compliment I got was from one little boy who said that one passage, “sounds like poetry.”

Thus bolstered, I sent it off to my agent, who is very picky. He loved it and sent it out immediately. After my agent sent it off to the publishers, I sat around, chewing my nails. At that point, there’s zero you can do except wait.

My main character, Xander, is half Japanese (of course, like me) and I have this whole big world and plan imagined for him. I was a little bit afraid that nobody would buy it– I’d heard through the grapevine that publishers say that Asian characters (especially boy ones) simply don’t sell well. (Some of you might be following the #weneeddiversebooks movement, which asks publishers to provide more multicultural children’s books. Here’s an infographic showing how the number of children’s books with by/and/or/about people of color hasn’t changed over the past 20 years).

Well. My boy Xander is going to prove everybody wrong. I’m beyond happy to announce that MOMOTARO has sold to Disney-Hyperion in a two-book deal to editorial director Stephanie Lurie. Stephanie edits Rick Riordan and others.

We spoke on the phone and it was finding the one stranger at the party who laughs at all your jokes and feels like an old friend after you’ve been standing in the corner all evening. There’s no better feeling for a writer. What you’ve been trying to do has, at last, been understood.

Here’s some of what she said about my book:

As you might imagine, I have received several Percy Jackson-esque submissions over the last few years. They always pale in comparison to Rick’s writing due to slow pacing, lame attempts at humor, a generic main character, and a lack of heart. Margaret Dilloway’s MOMOTARO was a refreshing change. 

And then I collapsed into a puddle.

I have to admit, Disney-Hyperion was my first choice. They have a small list (maybe 4-5 middle grade books per season as opposed to 20) but the power of Disney. It will have illustrations! It will have a second book! (I already had ideas for the second book and talked to Stephanie about them during our conversation).

Now that my heart has started pumping again, let me share the Publisher’s Lunch announcement:

 Author of How to Be An American Housewife Margaret Dilloway’s middle grade debut, MOMOTARO, about a half-Japanese kid whose father disappears in an unexpected storm, and who discovers he’s the latest in a line of Momotaro heroes when he embarks on an epic journey to find him, along with his best friend and his dog, with only a comic as a guide against a maze of of obstacles (acid waterfalls, angry giants, volcanoes, and more!), to Stephanie Lurie at Disney-Hyperion, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal, by Daniel Lazar at Writers House (World English).

And that is where being stubborn gets you.

Writing Wednesday: Should I Write to a Genre, or Just Write What I Want?

Writing Wednesday

This is one of the most frequent how-do-I-write questions I get. You’re working on The Great American Novel you’ve harbored in your heart. Should you change it to fit into some genre?

I’m probably not the best person to ask.

With my first two novels, I just had these very specific stories to tell. When I was done, I was told they fit into Women’s Fiction. Mostly.

I’m also told my books cross genre into “Literary.” I’m not entirely sure what “Literary” (yeah, always with a capital L) means, except that it gets more respect than “genre” writing. I think literary novels focus more on character than on plot. And it might include certain stylizations of language, in my case, sentence fragments (sorry, English teachers!). Also, my novels tend to be a bit “grittier” than standard (that means my women are kind of “difficult”, a whole ‘nother story). In fact, it was voted Best Women’s Fiction by the Literary Tastes Committee (ALA) because it was more literary(a librarian confided!).

Sometimes “genre fiction” is used pejoratively, but I don’t think you should think of it like that. Genres are umbrellas under which your books fit. It’s so your books can be properly shelved at the library and bookstore. So a customer coming into a store, looking for a thriller with lots of blood and guts, does not have to wander for 10000 hours to find that.

A librarian at the ALA convention last year, where I spoke about crossing genres, said that you simply can’t have lots of subgenres. There would be too many. Can you imagine someone coming in and saying, “I’d like a women’s fiction book with an irascible lead that doesn’t focus too much on romance and has rose growing in it” and the librarian busting out, “Oh, you want the Womens’ Fiction/Difficult Leads/Gardening section.” It just gets to be too much.

I think many books lean more toward one kind of fiction than another. And those genres do have conventions that are normally followed. For example, Women’s Fiction usually has some kind of romantic element, and most of the POVs are from women (though you can have male). It’s more about the woman’s journey to overcome some crisis (that she saves herself from), rather than her racing against the clock to save the President. If your “women’s fiction” focuses on saving the Prez, then you probably have more of a thriller on your hands. Could you have a women’s fiction thriller? I think so– the focus would simply be on the heroine’s inner journey rather than the external plot.

So, if you’re not sure about where your book will fit, you should write the book you want to write, then see where it might lean. It might cross genre a bit, like mine do, but still be shelved under its primary genre.

Of course, if you KNOW what genre you want your book to be, you should observe its conventions. To do this, read a lot of books in the genre.

And then make it your own.

Super Strange True Christmas Voicemail


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I forgot about this, but last Christmas, Cadillac got a strange voicemail from a restricted number.

Was it a singing Christmas-gram? Was it meant for a kid? (Soooo scary if so). Who knows?

Anyway. Now you can experience my little nightmare, too.

Introvert Parent, Extrovert Kid


I’m a writer, with naturally introverted tendencies. Sure, I can call out my extrovert once in a while when I’m speaking in public (which I actually enjoy!) or whatnot. But generally, I fritz out when there’s too much activity.

Right now, my kids are at three different schools, and just driving and doing the basics of maintenance are about all I can handle.

Luckily, or so I thought, I’d gotten away with all of my kids being more or less introverted.

Eldest likes acting, but many stage people are introverted (Audrey Hepburn, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep– all introverts). My son wants to be a computer programmer and happy to be on his own. IF somebody invites him to do something he’s usually glad to go do it, but he’s also glad to be a homebody.

Little Girl was the wild card. She was awfully shy at school, but crazy at home. She provides a running commentary on everything and anything. All of the dog’s thoughts. What she did at school. The dreams she had last night. The play she’s working on (costumes, sponsors, dialogue!). Her plans to go to Hawaii with her friends (she dreams big, that one). And of course looking over my shoulder at the computer screen and asking questions.

So we always wondered– is she an introvert yearning to be an extrovert? Or an extrovert plagued with unwanted shyness?

Turns out it was the latter.

This year, softball and Scouts and maturity all conspired to bust her out of her shell. The more activities she has, the better. She’s always ready to go.

And– suddenly her verbal skills bloomed, too. She’s just as snarky as her daddy and her older brother and sister. (If you know my husband, you will realize that this means they’re all trying to out-snark and out-joke each other all day long. Which is entertaining but also chaotic.) This weekend, she had three big events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each would take 2-4 hours.She especially likes to exercise this skill with her sister’s friends (mean age of 16) who will then gleefully say, “OWNED by the little Dilloway!”

When I told Little Girl about this weekend’s schedule, the only thing she said was, “And then what?”

“What do you mean?” I asked her.

“What are we doing AFTER?” she said. “Is that ALL?”

Dear Lord.

I am going to DIE this summer.

I remembered my friend Leah Singer had written an “>article about how she deals with her extroverted kid.

And I do tell her that she needs to just chill out and play sometimes. And if she says, “What NEXT?” I give her some chores to do. There are always plenty of those.

The good news is, my husband doesn’t mind driving around and doing stuff with her. His Meyers-Briggs personality type is The Field Marshal (ENTJ), but he’s just as happy hanging out quietly as he is doing stuff. So he can swing both ways, so to speak.

As for this summer: camp. Lots of camps.

Google Visual Deals Wants Me to Marry Adrien Brody and Thinks Zac Efron is a Piece of Meat


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Every morning, as my brain slowly defrosts with the help of a cup of coffee, I like to read Facebook and some gossip websites. My favorite is called Dlisted. I figure it’s important work, in case I’m ever on Jeopardy! and need to know pop culture. Not because I’m shallow or like to laugh or anything. No! Margaret 100% serious author! Margaret smash! Margaret keep façade!

Also, pop culture (entertainment etc) is also the only category I can reliably beat my husband in when we play Trivial Pursuit.

Anyway, somehow, I got Google visual deals turned on. I almost disabled it yesterday but I’m glad I didn’t. If you’re shopping someplace, Visual Deals looks at the photo you’re looking at and tells you if somebody has a better price on that product. Visual Deals doesn’t work with all photos. It didn’t work with the photos on my site (not that I went through all of them).

Today I noticed when my cursor hovered over the pictures Dlisted linked to, it gave me some pretty interesting suggestions, so I took screenshots of them.

Cameron Diaz. Suggestions: circus clowns, Care Bears, Dr. Seuss characters, a cute baby invitation thing.

cameron diaz visual deals

Kendall Jenner. Pinatas, Backyardigans, Balloons. Oh, My!

jenner visual deals

Zac Efron. Bourbon cinnamon flavored something (mmm actually that sounds yummy). Pumpkin scented candles. Key lime cake pops. Chocolates. Steak.

Oh my gosh. Google Visual Deals just made me fall in love with Zac Efron.

zac efron visual deal

Adrien Brody. Beautiful white horse with long flowing locks. Wedding cake. Wedding bouquet. Gift tags. Obviously Google Visual deals thinks he’s good White Knight husband material.

adrien brody visual deals

And finally, for Jane Child, nothing. Because she’s Jane Child and there’s no comparison.

jane childs visual deals

An Introduction to Grief


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This is an essay I wrote a few years ago. My then-editor and I had talked about finding it a home someplace, so she asked me to pull it from my blog, but nothing came of it. I saw it in my “unpublished” folder and decided to re-publish it today.

My husband cannot cry.

I say he must be able to, because his eyes have not dried up and fallen out; but he says ever since he got hit by a car when he was 11 and his skull cracked, he has been unable to shed tears. He says he wants to, wishes he could.

We are getting ready to say good-bye to his sister. She is just fourteen months older than he is and the sibling he is closest to.

Deb’s third kidney transplant has been failing for a while. This decline is not entirely unexpected. How can it be, for someone who has been sick her entire life? Yet it still comes as a shock. She will not go on dialysis again. She doesn’t want to. It hurts too much, and she will likely never get another transplant. She’s had this kidney for about two years.

Three hospice workers sit around my in-laws’ dining room table. Two of the hospice workers are warm and businesslike, mirroring my mother-in-law, who goes over the pile of paperwork with a calm, even cheerful attitude. This is what you need to get through this—to concentrate on the business at hand, I think. They tell me grief counselors will be available for the kids, give me hand-outs. But the third worker, the ride-along newbie, has an expression of sympathy that cracks me, and I excuse myself to the bathroom. On the way back into the living room, I burst into tears again. My mother-in-law hugs me and all I can think is I should be the one hugging her.

Deborah does not want us to feel bad for her.

She’s stubborn like that, always has been. You need to be to survive dialysis for over a decade, like she did before her last transplant.

She went to live in Kansas after college, got a job at a chemical company, then as a chemistry teacher. She got a Master’s Degree in Chemistry, volunteered at the Royals every single season as an usher, went on trips around the country visiting ballparks. During college, she toured Europe, worked at Mount Rushmore. Over the years she’s been all over the U.S.
She visited us in Hawaii after her transplant and went hiking up Diamond Head, snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, touring at Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl. I was way more exhausted than she was. Every year, at the beginning of baseball season, she’d sent all of us her picks for the year. Cadillac would laugh at her picks, always hopeful, never realistic to him.

We moved to San Diego around the same time Deb decided to move home from Kansas last year. She inspired the main character in my new book (THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS). That scientific way of thinking, that no-nonsense way of talking to people. Mostly, the kidney stuff. I interviewed her about her kidney problems, and she told me everything. I’d known some of it, but not all the grueling details. She told me about a doctor who thought an allergy to IVP dye was psychosomatic. She showed me the plastic tubes, the grafts, permanently implanted in her leg and arm. The veins so collapsed they could not draw blood any longer.

When I was done writing, I had her read it. She enjoyed it. There was a rose genealogy chart I made up in the book. The editorial staff said it didn’t make sense and asked me to change it. Deb said, “It’s based on me, so it made perfect sense to me!”

More important, I just liked her. She was the one who got me. Who sat with me at family gatherings and laughed at my jokes. When Cadillac was going to be out of town and I wanted to go do something, I thought to call her.

After never living in the same town, Deb took special interest in our kids. She took each on special outings. Eldest went to lots of science programs at the Fleet, where Deb volunteered. (She also ushered at the Padres and tutored students). My son got to eat crickets because of her. Little Girl went to the Safari Park with her. They baked cookies together. She tutored Eldest in math, a subject that used to make her cry, so she started pulling A’s. Over Thanksgiving, Aunt Deb hosted a Star Wars marathon. The kids spent the whole weekend with her, watching the movies and eating a huge host of snacks. At the end, they played a Star Wars trivia game, which Deb won. She gave the prize to the runner up, Son– a Star Wars poster.

Little Girl was at first wary of Deb. Deb didn’t look like other adults. She was small, under five feet. She had lots of scars on her arms from all the places she’d had to have IV over the years, scars everywhere, in fact, from various other procedures. But before long, it was Little Girl who became especially close to her aunt. She’d save up drawings to show, stuff to tell Aunt Deb, for days before we visited. “I’m going to tell Aunt Deb that there’s ICE CREAM at the Safari Park, and she will say, ‘Ooooh, ice cream! I love ice cream!’ and then we will buy some!” One of their bonds was the fact they both had blonde hair. “Aunt Deb is not just my aunt. She’s my friend,” she told me more than once.

These outings made the kids feel important. Special. It didn’t matter what they did. It only mattered that they got to be singled out for a day. It only mattered that they got to spend time with Aunt Deb.

It is Friday afternoon. We haven’t told the kids yet. We go pick up the kids from school. We are taking them to see her.

There have been easier parenting moments.

Right now, the kids are happy and high from sugar. It’s the last day of school before winter break, and they had class parties. In the parking lot by the junior high, where we pick up our oldest, Cadillac and I turn to face the kids. We have to tell them here, because we are going directly to see her. I take a breath. “We have something to tell you,” I say. My voice breaks. I can see them brace themselves. “It’s not good.”

My husband tells them.

They understand, I see, before he finishes the sentence. Like us, they have known about this possibility. They have seen her go into the hospital for infections and deal with dozens of other ailments. Our youngest bursts into tears, covers her face. The oldest blinks, hard.

Our son looks stricken, silent for a moment. He stares out the window. Outside the car, the middle schoolers romp, wearing Santa hats and waving candy canes. “Then, we will cheer her up,” he says.

We drive over to see her. Today she has moved from her bed, where she had spent the previous day, into her chair in the family room, looking so normal the kids aren’t afraid, or concerned. She is alert and nearly normal-looking. As normal as she has been recently.

They remember their aunt is worried about their reaction. They tell her about their Christmas parties, some science mini-series, social studies class. Little Girl gives her treats from class: a polar bear sticker, a stained-glass drawing. Aunt Deborah says, “Oooh.” They make her smile. She jokes with them.

There are no good-bye speeches. Deb doesn’t want to hear it. We don’t have to say these things aloud. She knows. We know. All we can do is offer some company.

Instead, we start watching The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Little Girl sits next to her aunt, peppering her with questions about what is going on. Like, “Why are they going in the closet? What are all the coats doing in there? Why is it winter? Who is that lady? What is her name?” Deborah answers all of them. Sometimes she hacks, sometimes she vomits. Green. She hasn’t eaten in two days, only had water. It’s something to do with the liver and kidney failing. Cadillac and his parents take turns helping her.

The kids look concerned each time. I wonder if they will say, “Ick!” or run away, or ask to go home; but they say nothing. They glance at her, they are quiet, they watch the movie.

In the middle of the movie, we have to pause because the notary has arrived to witness the Power of Attorney signing. I take the kids into the other room.

We finish watching the film. When the lion, Aslan, is killed on the stone table, Little Girl says, “This is too scary.”

Deb says, “Now, this ought to look familiar to you.”

The kids stare blankly at her.

“Who else got killed and came back to life?” she prompts. “What are they teaching you in CCD?”

“About God,” Little Girl answers.

“What about Easter?” I ask.

“You mean the Easter bunny?” Little Girl says, then giggles. She knows the answer. She is playing. “Jesus died and came back to lifeAn i,” she says.

“So don’t worry,” Deb says. “Watch. The lion will be okay.”

After the movie, more people arrive. We bow out to go track down dinner. The kids say good-bye.

“Thanks for coming,” Deb says.

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” the kids promise.

But it’s the last time she’s conscious.


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