Victoria Jelinek


March 19, 2012 re nursing…
March 19, 2012, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

When I started nursing, my goal was to make it to six months, and even as I was also anxious to get my body back after a long time pregnant. In retrospect, I’m surprised that I made it past the first three months. You were “game” from the get-go, though you always preferred one to the other, which meant that my breasts were lopsided.

The first few months I was so sore that I dreaded it every time you fed (which was frequently, my good little eater). Add this to the sense of disorientation and sleeplessness of those early months and with my family ten-thousand miles away, and I’m surprised not only that I continued to nurse you, but that I didn’t go crazy. A midwife was called in to help, to no avail. A lactose nurse was called in to help, to no avail. I used so many creams  – lanolin, wax based, bottom cream for babies, one even for cows – that I did, indeed, feel as though I had challenged “udders.”

But I persisted, and the pain went away almost as quickly as it had come. Six months of nursing you – which all of the doctors told me was the “least” that I could do to help you to get a good start and to fight allergies – seemed possible. We also fed you a bottle in the night because your father was generous and would give it to you, thereby allowing me to sleep through one feed. Once you were three months old and your father was away in the mountains working most of the time, you would have a bottle at your ‘nu nu’s’ once a day when you were there for three or four hours in the afternoon, too. At six months, and during a trip to Seattle to see my family, we integrated food – bananas and rice cereal – into your diet. In fact, it was your uncle Monnix who fed you for the first time. I then thought I’d make it to one year, my ‘secret’ goal, though one I never thought I’d make (hence its being secret), the date to finish nursing you, and even as at nine months, I only nursed you in the evening to help you to sleep, and in the morning, next to me in bed and in order to buy myself some time snoozing.

Now, we’re coming up on your first birthday, and my ‘outside’ goal is almost met, and then I’ll stop nursing you altogether. However, whereas I’d set out thinking that the whole nursing ‘thing’ was a huge responsibility and one that I’d welcome being over so that I could finally have my body back, I find myself feeling very sad. A monumental moment in time that will never be repeated for either one of us is reaching its conclusion. This tender sentiment tells me that it’s the right time to cease and desist. But even so, this tender sentiment is also because nursing you has helped to create an indelible bond between us (and was hugely convenient to do as it turned out!). One that I hope resonates forever, even when you’re too cool for your mother and don’t want to be a “big girl’s blouse” by hanging onto your mother’s protection and love. I worry, too, that because your father is eager and able to participate in your daily care, that I’ll no longer be ‘the apple of your eye.’ Certainly I have not been your primary ‘food source,’ your means to survival, for some time.

Even so, I also understand that this is a necessary milestone for both of us and I will embrace whatever comes to pass, and all of the stages of your life. I enjoy seeing the signs of your growing independence – communicating through your hands, facial expressions and sounds, observing and “commenting” on everything around you…crawling, wanting to explore every inch of any given floor or ground, and pulling yourself up to a standing position…and I look forward to knowing you as you grow and get older. So, I mentally begin to prepare myself for this separation from you next week. And I remind myself that in addition to looking forward to participating in the development of your growth and prosperity, I do look forward to getting my body back (and same-sized boobs) after two years of devoting my physical self, and even more of my emotional self (which will continue), to another creature’s life – you, my darling son.

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Your MMR Vaccine and Another Round of Antibiotics…
January 5, 2012, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

You had your MMR vaccine last week (measles, mumps, rubella) and haven’t been the same since. First you broke out in what looked like hives (though the lazy women at crèche sent you home with chicken pox – varicelle. I asked them where you would have got it and they admitted that there had been a case at crèche two weeks prior though they weren’t sheepish about it, they still acted like you were ‘typhoid Mary’). The skin on your face which is always dry, red and chapped (everything is dry here, I must get better about using your humidifier) got worse. Then your eyes swelled up. Then they started oozing yellow goop and you’d wake up from your nap or in the morning with them sealed shut, scared and crying. Normally calm and easy, you were suddenly fussy and needy, crying and whining if I left your side for even a moment. Of course this all happened on Friday evening and over the weekend, so I couldn’t make an appointment with a doctor. And of course it was the busiest workweek for your father, so while he’s often at home, he wasn’t during this time.

Well-meaning moms here told me you had conjunctivitis (pink eye) and that it’s highly contagious. I had to suffer through lunch with a smug mom whose three-month-old son slept the entire time and the only time he woke up he ate from her breast and then looked cutely around while you fussed, threw things everywhere, and scratched and itched at your eyes and face. The waitress repeatedly remarked on how cute the other little boy is without thinking how that’d be for me, or you (I didn’t tip her for this and because she was an awful waitress). Granted, my gorgeous boy (you!) wasn’t up to par and looking your best, but still.

Bright and early Monday morning I called the doctor and when they told me it was ‘complicated’ to get an appointment for the same day, I begged and prevailed. I then got lucky and got a parking spot not hideously far from the office so that I could slowly and carefully carry you through, and over, the snow and ice. The doctor determined that you have an ear infection and bacteria on your face and in your eyes, and prescribed a general antibiotic. I took it, thanked him, and left. But then I got to thinking that you’d just had the MMR vaccine (and had had a cold when given it) and that takes a lot out of babies…and that you’d had antibiotics – twice – in September, a mere three months prior…and that you’d just seen another doctor the week before (for the MMR and 9 month check up) and she’d not noticed that your ears were infected, and she had looked…so then I got to thinking that I’d maybe done the wrong thing by starting you on the antibiotics, that maybe I should have questioned these things more when they were prescribed, that I shouldn’t have had the MMR done while you had a wee cold (though I did mention this to the doctor), that I am a ‘bad mommy’ and I’m hurting my wee boy.

Panicked, I was up till 2am last night reading various articles online that scared the living hell out of me about the MMR vaccine being linked to Autism, and antibiotics and asthma…I had made fun about the trend in Seattle for intellectual mothers NOT to vaccinate their children due to fear of autism, and even the doctor who prescribed you antibiotics for an ear infection in the US then, had hesitated as they were worried I’d protest, loudly. I’d thought then, and still do think so (but you’re my little one and I want to do the best by you) that by not vaccinating one’s children folks are sending us (western society) back into the dark ages, and that vaccines are the best thing to have happened in the last century.  Yet here I am, worried that I’m wiping out your immune system and that you’ll get autism and my sweet, gregarious, sociable child will withdraw from the world and be ‘lost’ forever…

A friend of mine in London who is smart and modern, I respect her, told me when I told her about my fears, that there’s a rise in children getting measles and mumps, that death from measles is on the rise again in England ‘cause middle-class moms aren’t vaccinating their children and that I did the right thing. Your nu nu (Emma) that I trust and respect (two very hard things for folks to get from me) said that she didn’t vaccinate her boys due to all the information, too, and one of them got the measles. That she also knows that once you start antibiotics you have to finish them, so maybe this will wipe whatever is in your little system out once and for all, and she advised I go to the chemist and try to see if there’s something I can get to help your intestines build up their ‘good flora’ again.

Well, I didn’t sleep much last night and today I was looking at you carefully in a paranoid manner to make sure that you still look one directly in the eye. But for the first time in several days it’s a gorgeous day and as my mother says ‘all things seem possible’ on days like this. So, I will make a point of going to the chemist after part 5 of my root canal and asking them about building up your ‘good flora’ again after telling them what the issue is (in French – bon chance!) and I’ve scheduled a doctor appointment for ME in a couple of days and I’ll cheekily raise a couple of my concerns regarding you, then.

I wish I’d studied medicine. Or car mechanics. Something useful.



Your First Christmas 2011
December 31, 2011, 3:47 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

It was your first Christmas this year. Since spending the winter holidays with Danny (your cousin) when he was just under two years old, I’ve believed that Christmas is best when shared with children. The wonder and the magic of it all…the lights, the decorations, the gifts, the music, the stories, the cartoons, and the celebratory spirit shared with family and friends.

Your father and I took you to see the Christmas tree and Maire’s office lit in the town square, and enjoyed a glass of vin chaud while you shook your little legs in excitement at the crowds and watched all the kids running around. We took you to see Pere Noel as he sat in the back of a horse-drawn cart (really!) while you rather rudely stared at the people behind us smoking. We took you to see carolers and a flutist while you played with my scarf. We bought you your first sled and took you out for a wee slide in the first, big snow of the season while you chuckled as Oscar (our family cat) bounded around in the snow and “harrumphed” at us for making you wear mittens. We kept you up past your bedtime on both the 24th (your father’s Christmas) and the 25th (my Christmas) so that you could eat with us while you dangled a straw from your high chair for Oscar to play with.

While you certainly enjoyed the fact that your father, me and Oscar were with you all day, and you enjoyed the ribbons on and from the presents (as Oscar does), I’m not convinced that you understood or cared that it was Christmas, with all the attending activities, and that you got some new clothes and toys. You’d go nude if you could, my little savage, and anything to bite on will do to play with.

Being a spring baby like your cousin Danny (your four days apart in terms of the month born), you, too, will be just under two years old next Christmas. I’m positive the greediness of later childhood will not have set in yet (or ever, I hope) and like him, you’ll marvel at the lights, the decorations, the gifts, the music, the stories, the cartoons, and the presence and activity of family and friends. I look forward to our future Christmases together, particularly in the picturesque Alps, and to introducing you to this ‘season of the heart.’



Nov. 30, 2011: Illness
November 30, 2011, 8:06 pm
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , ,

When we flew to Seattle (20 hours door-to-door, despite a direct flight from London), you didn’t sleep at all. Your father had returned home from his summer of work in the mountains with a virus that we were told in the USA, later, had ‘impacted’ in your ears during the flight, causing not only the virus itself but an ear infection. Your breathing was shallow. You were listless and sleepy all of the time. Your nose was alternately runny or clogged, requiring regular suctioning and steam showers. Your sleep was disturbed, to say the least. The doctors stateside gave you a round of antibiotics. Seven days later you weren’t better. I returned to the doctor and after much discussion because a new ‘vogue’ in the Western USA among ‘intellectual’ parents is not to give their children antibiotics (?! good job I’m not an intellectual) we decided to give you another round of a stronger antibiotic because of the flight home and potential discomfort for you. You were lying on the table in the doctors office playing with your toes when the two nurses came in with a shot of the new, more powerful, antibiotic to inject into each of your lovely, pudgy thighs simultaneously. You watched them put on their blue, plastic gloves with growing alarm in your eyes (oh, my trusting child!), then they shot you and your cried. I took you into my arms to console and feed you (it was the first time you bit me on the nipple, and this despite having six teeth for months!). They kept us in their offices an hour to make sure that you did not go into shock (?!). You did get better for the return flight, and were your jolly, calm, self again, but it was short-lived.

One night just after returning to France, you were softly crying and moaning in your sleep and could not be comforted. It was terrifying because your father and I didn’t know what was wrong. We changed you, I tried to feed you, but it was the first time you rejected my breast in your short seven months – truly alarming. Then you projectile vomited all over me and we took your temperature…it was 39.5 c (103.1 f). We dressed you warmly and put you (and a bottle of water and biscuits/cookies) into the car and headed immediately to the hospital. You were admitted. The cribs in the Paediatric ward were like something from WWII – iron, with high walls, reminding me of how a cartoon might depict a lion cage. They gave me a single fold-out cot to sleep in and you a dose of paracetomal, took your blood and your urine (three times, hey ho) but otherwise left us alone. Your father brought me a pizza to eat and the three of us played with ‘found objects’ such as a plastic cup from the vending machine, a straw, a spoon. You were a very good sport and didn’t cry. You even seemed better. You went to sleep, as did I (there wasn’t much else to do) but with the nurses coming in regularly to check your temperature, and the sound of children and babies crying, sometimes screaming, it was difficult going. So I took you into my little bed and while you’d intermittently look to make sure I was still there, you finally slept. Despite the circumstances, and you were released the next evening with a mild lung infection, it was a poignant night for me, the two of us on a single cot with a patch of bright light from the hallway, the sound of the nurses walking to and fro, the crying, and the two of us comforting each other through the night in a foreign hospital.

It’s horrible not being able to communicate with you now, or you to me, other than on a visceral and basic level (are you too warm or too cold? Are you hungry? Are you wet or soiled?) especially when you’re not well ‘cause it’s all guesswork – you can’t tell me where or what hurts….and it’s because of this that I write these notes to you.



Nov. 21, 2011: My father’s birthday
November 21, 2011, 10:48 am
Filed under: Letters to Leo | Tags: , , , ,

Today is my father’s birthday, your grandpa…he died the day before his and my mother’s 48th wedding anniversary…August 22nd, 2001. I was there. Me, (my brother and sister) M and J had given him a sponge bath the night before – rather ceremonial…that same evening, my dad’s last evening alive, though he wasn’t conscious, my ex-husband, T, had cooked salmon lasagna and brought a bottle of absinthe from GA (not sold in the states – it’s said Toulouse Lautrec, the painter, went crazy on it) and he, my mother and me drank that, firing up spoons of sugar to put into it, talking quietly. Your aunt J sang ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen, in it’s entirety, to her little daughter, your cousin K, to get her to sleep on the couch nearby…her voice was like a flute. It was a lovely, somber evening. We had ‘shifts’ to administer morphine to my father – groups of two – and T and I went to bed with a shift to come up two hours later. But an hour after we went to bed, your uncle M came to the door of our bedroom and said that I was to come downstairs. I went and my father was dead. We stood in a circle around his hospital bed in the den, our arms around each other encircling him. I remember thinking he looked smaller….that maybe there was something to a soul ‘inflating’ a body.

I remember it started to rain heavily then…the hospice workers came in the dark and in the rain, in a type of white cargo van with no windows; it was a woman with really fried-out 80’s-type hair and a run in her pantyhose, and a man in a cheap suit. They put my father’s body on a gurney in a black plastic bag, zipped him into it and took him away into the rainy night. I went upstairs and cried and cried in bed. The next morning, I stood on the front porch, it was still raining, and called family and close friends to let them know what had happened. I’d borrowed a dear friend L’s old VW convertible bug (as I came from LA) and drove that day back to the airport in it, the rain coming through holes in the ceiling of the car – the whole world seemed to be crying.

T and I boarded a plane for LA. I was in shock. We couldn’t get seats together and no one would move to let us sit next together and it was started to dawn on me that my father had just died. Silent tears started rolling down my face. T was up and trying to convince the stewardesses to move us, to do something, that he needed to be near me to comfort me. I remember this man and woman who were flirting with each other across the aisle, the woman sitting next to me as I sat in the middle seat, saying ‘Oh dear! Now look at him, he’s walking around as we’re taxi-ing’ as a ‘dry’ sort of comic making-fun-of-others for the benefit of the man, and I quietly said ‘My father died today. He wants to sit next to me.’ This shamed them enough to stop talking but not to offer up their seat. Then quietly a woman at the window said ‘He can have mine.’ By the time I got to LA – only about a 2.5 hour flight – I was a mess and really regretted flying back ‘home.’ I called my family’s house in McMinnville from the LA airport and my mother put my father’s brother D  – who had just arrived from Nebraska that day, but not in time to see his brother – on the phone. I remember being shocked, and soothed, and saddened because my Uncle D sounded exactly like my father – there was a certain accent, Midwestern USA, but soft, too…it’s hard for me to explain it but I’d recognize that voice anywhere…
In the weeks and months that followed my father’s death I had this irrational desire to talk to him for even just an hour…I would beg the gods I didn’t believe in for this hour. I wanted the opportunity to apologize for being such a willful, often unappreciative little brat growing up…I wanted him to know that I missed him, and that I’d not realized how much I would…that I was sorry for not appreciating him more while I still had the opportunity. Finally, I gave myself solace remembering three very poignant telephone conversations with my father that last year: one was from LA and I remember speaking to him about his living will, his wishes to ‘live and die with dignity’ and the humanity of this…the other was from Cologne and I’d had a breakdown feeling that I’d wasted my life, squandered the opportunities available to me, and he’d told me that I hadn’t, that he was proud of me…and the other was in McMinnville as he’d shown me where all his sketches and paintings were and complimented me on my understanding of his work. I still ‘sting’ at the memory of a couple of times that I was hateful in the wake of his being kind and thoughtful, vulnerable, particularly during his last trip to LA, but I couldn’t do more than I did at the time with what I knew…and I believe, I hope, that he knew that I loved him.