Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Merry Crisis to All

I don't have a middle name.

My first name is worry.

From the moment I sluice out of bed each morning until I pour myself right back in at night, I am a full glass of anxiety.

The whole season leading up to this day just adds to the confusion. Consumerism. Praxises. Pressure.

I move through it like a clockwork mouse – quickly and in circles. So many thoughts. So many directions. Same old things: MOM! Did you send our Santa letters? … HON! Did you get my text? … MOM! When is Grandma coming? … HON! Did you get to the Post Office?

So, I wasn't really terribly surprised when a scratchy throat on Sunday evening turned into a raging fever and crippling body aches by Monday morning. I just grumbled: DAMN YOU, FLU SHOT (that I never got) how could you forsake me?

Only to have the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine reply, “How many times did you go to Target in December? Speak to my plunger, you lilly-livered sap, I KNOW you saw my sign.”

Oh yes. It was laughing at me as I just lay there on the couch in a miserable, radiating heap. “You'll just have to sweat me out.”

My husband took over, bless his atheist soul, and unlike most Hollywood plots would have it he directed the choo-choo station traffic with better precision than I ever seem to manage. I didn't even have to get out of bed to give “kisses goodnight.”

He juggled all the balls I threw his way with grace, but by Friday I was crazed:

I. Am. Going. To. Die. My kids will be motherless. (And they won't even miss me.) Their dad will be a widow. (Until he decides which of my friends to date.)

You can't really blame me. Fevers each day. Feverish dreams each night. But blame you shall: “Get thee to a doctor and muster some little pink soldiers to knock down this invading army of microbes, you twit.”

Or was that my husband?

No matter.

Physician, who had previously advised “Heal thyself,” was now piping: “Here's Z-Pak to-save-the-day.”

Of course, with the first dose I felt better immediately and just in time to witness (if not fully participate in) the amazing three-ring-spectacular that would be a “Craftacular Birthday Party” to mark the start of Ittybit's Year 8.

Three weeks' planning and about 65 tons of glitter went into the extravaganza to which her entire Second Grade class (which if you add for sound and excitement factors equates to approximately 3,004 children) and their siblings (another 5,000) would be invited.

Did I mention it would be at our house?


Should have. Sorry.

Sure the doctor told me to “REST!” but I was feeling better just one day with the Z-Troops. I could go up the stairs. I could go down the stairs. Up. Down. Down. Down. I'm gonna sit down. For a while. Am I having trouble breathing? Do I feel light headed?

I settled the question by answering the 11th hour Phone Call of Concern: “You know, SO-AND-SO nearly DIED when they were recovering from pneumonia? Be VERY careful.”

I'm picturing it all over again.

I. Am. Going. To. Die. My kids will be motherless. (Only this time a birthday will be ruined forever.) Their dad will be a widow. (And he's met many new, potentially single mommies at the party I missed while I went to the ER.)

But I do feel light-headed. I AM having trouble breathing. I need to go get checked out, so a friend takes me.

When the nurse hooks me into the vital statistic pole, it's painfully obvious to me that everything is under control except my anxiety.

I'm lucky it's a slow day at the ER because we're home for the opening of presents.

I'm also lucky to have a husband who is so good in a crisis. I'm even pretty sure he would have been able to talk me out of mine if he hadn't been juggling 8,004 little crafters with only a handful of very lovely assistants.

Merry Christmas to all, and may all your crises be small.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

All scars heal

“Where do babies come from, Mom?”

It's the question du jour from the inquisitive four-year-old.

Especially a four-year-old whose new neighbor is getting ready to celebrate an entirely new birthday come the New Year.

And all this newness seems to attach itself quite indelibly and in opposite proportion to the fact that our little ones aren't so little any more.

It doesn't surprise me that the place to reminisce has always been around cakes with growing number of complexity and an increasing number of candles.

In fact, I'm beginning to think birthday parties and birth stories go together like cake and ice cream.

As you stand there watching your children tear through presents and serenade each other with off-key songs with added verses that have been around since you were a child yourself, or choruses of “cha-cha-chas” as is the new way, you can't help but go hurling back in time however many years to the moment this crazy, whirling dervish came into your life.

How many times have I mentioned that “I can't believe they'd let me take an infant home?” I'd hardly ever so much as babysat an infant besides a few minutes of holding them at arms-length, praying they wouldn't cry before their moms got back from the restroom.

So many women. So many stories.

And though each of us has a slightly different experience, we are part of a collective. I stand there blinking as I learn the majority at this party have had caesarian sections. Only one was lucky enough to go the natural, no-drugs way.

I stop myself from adding to the choruses of reassurance that having the doctor hatch them was the only way that our babies were ever coming out. Could things have been different is something I've filed away in that place that makes the disappointment less of a nagging reminder.

These days, though, I'm not doing a good job of reassuring myself that was entirely the case.

So many children. So many questions.

The Big Question, right about now is not exactly “Where do babies come from?” though, that's just how they ask it. They frown a little when you point to your abdomen and tell them they grew inside. “No no no no no no: “How do babies get out of your tummy?”

My best friend in the entire universe gently steered her son from his train table to a popular birth reality television show when a pushing, grunting, screaming woman brings life into the world the conventional way.

“That's pretty much how it works.”

He thought that was pretty cool.

I thought I got lucky … There's only reality for us.

All I have to do is point to my incision and remind them a doctor had to go in and get them.

As they look at me in naked awe, I know there's no need to rationalize the scars that brought them to me. All scars heal but only some scars remind you of something so amazing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

For sale - best offer

You ever look at something so closely that you can't quite see it at all?

That word that you say over and over again until it loses its meaning?

Sitting in front of the old coffee shop, waiting for a friend you haven't seen in god-knows-how-many-years. Maybe you're early. So early that you'd drink your weight in caffeinated beverages if you went inside.

So you sit in your car, waiting. Perhaps you run through the radio presets. Check your bag. Write a list. Think of all the things you have left to do before Christmas. You check the time. Still too early, but getting closer. Once you've exhausted the entertainments inside the car, you turn your attention outside.

Place seems dead. Not like the old days. How many customers have come through the door? You've not been paying attention. You don't think much of it. Times change, people find new hotspots, trends come and go.

Squinting through the windshield you start reading signs:

“Parking for customers only.”

… with dramatic emphasis.

“Parking .. foooooooor cuuuuuuuustomers owwwwwnnnnnleeeee.”

“For Sale – Best Offer.”



“We've Moved!”


Weeeee've Mooooooooooooooooooooooved.

“Oh wait … They moved.”

You read the sign a little more closely, and without the Aussie accent, and head over to the new address … where you find an automatic coffee machine and a few packages of individually-wrapped slabs of marshmallow and puffed rice cereal.

And your friend … looking a little lost, too.

That's a little like the way I felt – lost – reading a piece this week in the New York Times about the unwholesome connection between the nation's schools and the food industry.

“How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid's Lunch” tells the story of how 32 million children in this country – 21 million of them eligible for free or reduced priced meals – feast each day on farm surplus food that, in many cases, began its journey through the elementary canal at the commodities level. It begins its round trip as fresh meat, fruit, milk -- provided free – which is then turned over to for-profit food processors, only to return to the schools' defacto kitchens as nutrient-poor chicken nuggets, potato logs and HFC-laiden fruit drinks.

It's not as if I haven't been reading the lunch menu that comes home monthly with Ittybit. I know the lunch choices in any given week offer two kinds of pizza, two kinds of minced and re-formed chicken substances and the wildcard offering: burger, hotdog or taco.

When I was a kid, walking the school lunch line was a different experience. We had pizza and tator tots on special occasions, it's true. But we also had women dishing out food they'd made from the boxes of greens, sacks of potatoes and trays of whole chickens that waited for their attentions – on a loading dock or walk-in-cooler – each morning.

It seems almost a foreign idea to me that school districts ever provided working kitchens, complete with potato mashers and ricers and hair-netted cooks whose job it was to provide scratch meals for 400 or more children each weekday noon-time.

We've become so specialized, we've outsourced virtually everything.

Someone else can do it better. Cheaper. Faster. More appealing to kids and their picky appetites.

Only, according to the Times article, the savings haven't materialized. Schools may have cut the cost of staffing and preparation, but the fees associated with food processing has made it a wash.

As I sit here, blinking at this new legacy we're doling out like rubbery chicken nuggets, a reality that should have been apparent to me all along finally dawns on me: Even our schools are “For Sale – Best Offer.”

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Virtue that is patient

It wasn't going to be a big deal.

We'd checked with all the doctors. All but one were in the network. And the doc who didn't par with the the plan assured us getting approval to leave the green was merely a formality.

After all, he was the only white coat for miles who specialized and The Champ had been his patient since Day One.

But when I called the pediatrician's office the day before the scheduled appointment -- thinking quite naively that this sacred document known as an Out-Of-Network Referral was as easily obtainable as a prescription for antibiotics in the '80s – I learned the wheels of bureaucracy travel from Point A to Point B in roughly four business days.

Patience is a virtue.

That wasn't the worst part, though.

The rescheduling of appointments I could handle. The contradiction was another ballgame entirely.

As one doctor giveth … an office manager taketh away: According to her experience, it was not only possible but “PROBABLE” that my insurance would deny the request and make an in-network referral of their own.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.



Three offices, five people and seven self-induced heart attacks later I was still holding my breath and my hand firmly on my ...

Eventually it was all sorted out with a few dozen extra steps … Gone was the convenient in-office tests. Replaced with a fun-filled trip to the imaging center of the big hospital, followed by a nearly two-hour layover for the doctor's appointment. Peanuts, however, would be available for a nominal fee at the vending machine.

It would be ok. It really wasn't a big deal. It was just like hopping a connecting flight.

Except I was dreading it.

The instructions were daunting. “Follow the walkway to the main building. Check in at the check-in then go to registration. You will need all of your documents and a picture ID. He needs to be here, with a full bladder, a half hour before the test. … If you have to bring siblings, you will need a second adult to watch them while you accompany your son. If you are late your appointment may need to be rescheduled.”

This is your mission … You have no choice but to accept it.

Truth is, what I really dreaded was spending even a minute in a room marked RADIOLOGY/ONCOLOGY with my boy. I dreaded looking into the faces of mothers whose children weren't there for something routine.

I have to admit, up until that moment, I cursed the insurance company for making me feel as if I were wearing a red foam nose and oversized shoes to jump through their flaming hoops.

But there was my son, dressed in his best worn-out pajamas and bat-winged jacket, selecting a Santa from the coloring sheets and reaching for the crayons one at a time. “He will be a Rainbow Cwaus,” he whispered. “I'll give him to the nice lady at the desk when I'm froo.”

He entertained himself like this from one waiting area to another ... and another ... and another for the better part of hours.

Climbing onto the exam tables. Climbing down. Crawling under chairs. Back up to the exam table. Opening and closing doors. Curtains. Blinds. Fogging the mirrors. Break dancing. Until he realized: The. Rolling. Stool-thing-a-ma-seat!!!!! was out of its garage and ready for a test spin.

He'd just be the valet. He'd drive it on over to the doc once he knock-knocked on the door.

The Champ is one patient who IS truly patient.

Even with the limited space and plentiful requests to stop, sit, shhhh, let go, don't pull on that and leave that thing-I-can't-pronounce alone … he was mostly all smiles … until he had to pee:

“I have to pee.”

“That's good. They're probably going to want a sample.”

“What do they want with my pee?”

“They're going to test it to see if there's anything in it that shouldn't be.”

“Are they going to give it back?”

“Do you want it back?”

And then he was all laughs.

“Only if there's LEGOs in it.”