Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fever dreams

There is nothing “easy” about waking up.

I was in bed, warm and comfortable, sleeping peacefully in a tangle of quilted blankets when the alarm went off.

Not that alarm. That alarm doesn't go off until 6 a.m. That alarm, despite being cloyingly shrill, can be ignored for at least two intervals of nine minutes each.

This alarm, which is soft and gurgle-y, goes off in the dead of night. This alarm will not be quieted with a pat on the head.

Mom … I don't feel so well.”

Mmmmf,” I answered from somewhere inside an unusually deep slumber.

If I had been dreaming the scenes in my subconscious must have been serene and without the usual confounding drama. There was neither the anxious panic of not being able to find my twelfth-grade history class nor the sickening heart-race that jolts one awake just before their dozing psyches hit rock bottom.

Everything just felt a little muffled.

The kitten had padded in, as has been her nightly habit of late, and made herself a beard under my chin. She had purred herself to sleep, but now, her long arms stretched in the direction of the whispering discomfort standing at the side of the bed.

Her movements and the chill sent down my collar bones, helped amplify my son's voice.

“I think it's my tummy.”

And then he ran away. Quick, walloping footfalls I could trace to the nearest bathroom, where the boggy evidence of his infirmity sloshed into the septic.

I was groggily awake now. Awake and thankful for his big-boy ability to aim. Awake and pondering all the ways the schedule for this day would change. Awake, but strangely feeling as if I hadn't slept a wink.

Three flushes later, he was curled up underneath my chin – displacing the cat – in a clammy ball of sleepy discomfort.

Wide awake, I begin composing emails, rescheduling meetings and refusing to realize this might not be a twenty-four-hour detour.

Truth is I do not know what to expect. All around me, people had been falling victim to this new and vile virus. I just hadn't paid much attention.

Tummy upset? Tsktsk.
Nausea? Big deal.
Fever? Bring it. We have the miraculous Vitamin I (ibuprofen).

But this one was tricky.

By late afternoon, my pale-faced boy was rosy-cheeked and raring to go.

And then Day Two came. And with Day Two the tummy upset, the nausea, and the fever revisit.

What the ...

Yeah, this thing can last five days,” explained another mother, whom I had only half heard when she shared the agony of her middle-schooler's malaise. “It seems better in the afternoon, but then it gets worse at night and in the morning.”

Soon, Day Two replicated itself twice over.

Then his sister sashayed into my room during the pre-dawn hours, holding her stomach and moaning pitifully.

Mom … I don't feel so well.”

I sat straight up as she scampered off to the loo.

It was the same thing only different: Headache, fever, vomiting.

The only thing I can do is begin to count all the revised promises I will have to break.

And then the unthinkable happened. The mountain of blankets to my left … the one that has managed to sleep through all manners of viral eruptions for the past eleven years started rumbling to life.

Hon … I don't feel so well.”

I hold my breath. This can only mean one thing:

Three down, one to go.

Oh well, at least I might get some sleep.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I sat there on the sidelines, a deer in the headlights, wondering what to do.

Of course, I hadn't been watching. I had been reading some dumb thing about some dumb thing on the interwebs while he was busy running, jumping and kicking. So now I didn't quite understand what I was seeing.

I didn't see him fall over. But there he was, on the mat, crying. He was clutching his stomach; eyes, squeezed tight. The teacher was looking at me. They usually like me to stay at arm's length.

What should I do? What. Should. I. Do?

Now, I was in the process of deciding whether his belly had accidentally collided with another kid's kick at the dojo. And whether this was a mom-should-intervene moment, when another parent came over to tell me what I was looking at was urgent:

“No one was near him when he went down. He just fell face-forward. It looked like he was having a seizure.”

Instinct sometimes needs a kickstart.

His mouth had blood inside. He'd bitten his lip, not his tongue. His teeth were fine.

Sit him up. Give him juice. It's possible he just fainted.

All these actions swirled around me without my intervention.

Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm.

Another juice.

We head to the ER by way of urgent care. He gets an ambulance ride as a precaution. Each person along the way asking different versions of the same questions:

How do you feel? Do you know what happened? Did you feel dizzy or like you were going into a tunnel before you fell? When you woke up, did you know where you were? Push against my hand. Pull my hands toward you. Does this hurt when I press here? Can you touch the tip of your nose … and now the tip of my finger? Tip of your nose again?

Pretty silly if you ask him.

Pretty frightening, if you ask me.

Everyone stays calm except the people who aren't with us.

“He's going to be OK,” I tell them. “This is just a precaution. Don't worry.”

Ittybit breaks down in tears when they load him into the ambulance. His father started texting furiously to my unheeded phone.

"What is going on?"

But I can't pay attention to the pings. I am listening to the EMTs. Trying to stay calm as I answer questions about what I saw and what other people reported. I was trying to be precise. Couldn't be two places at once just then.

All I can do is listen and hope they understand.

Time does its roller coaster thing; it slows down and then speeds up. First there's not enough of it to think and then too much.

Eventually, things do return to normal.

There is a diagnosis: Vasovagal Syncope, a scary-sounding medical term that simply means benign fainting. Precautions and preventions are discussed, and we are sent on our way. Tired but relieved.

Soon he is his annoying lovable self again only this time he has a new superpower, which is curiously resistant to the word "NO." A word his sister is now putting into full practice.

“Did you faint yesterday? No? I didn't think so.”

I believe it's called guilt.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

All the rage

Skrit, skrit, thump. Skrit, skrit, thump.

My face is red. My hair is plastered to my neck. A trickle of water twines its way down my cheek. I am halfway there.

Skrit, skrit, thump. Skrit, skrit, thump.

Three times a week (give or take) since the first frozen day of winter I have dutifully climbed onto the most torturous device in the western hemisphere and performed my best impression of a gerbil on a wheel.

I'm not sure why I thought the treadmill would be easier than braving the elements, which I've forced myself to do on the seventh day, when normal folks are resting. It hasn't turned out that way.

Who am I? I wondered silently, trying to drown out the pounding bass that is hammering loudly from secret speakers stashed throughout the gym.

A year ago I was not just happy but amazed with my new-found ability to jog around the block.

Now a slave to a tiny conveyor belt, I am a rodent on a wheel, counting every mile as if collectively they would reveal the secrets of the universe. So long as I am able to cross the finish line of my first half-marathon in May.

A part of me, I realize, has gone crazy.

I don't know why I thought this would be easy.

Set a pace and go, I thought. Don't worry about road hazards, I thought. There won't be wind or ice or snow.

But I didn't think about the monotony. Or the drudgery. Or even the rats on the wheels next to me.

I didn't think their breathing and bravado would bother me.

But there they were each week. An ever-changing gaggle of annoyances I could usually ignore.

Until this week.

The guy and his trainer took over the three machines next to mine, ramping one up to top speed while he jogged on the other, and she cheered him on. Then, quick as lightning, he jumped from one machine to the other as she proceeded to reenact Hanz and Franz.

I tried not to be distracted. I tried to keep my eyes forward and my foot falls even. I tried to block them out. But I failed.

A spastic movement caught in my peripheral vision set me off kilter. I shifted unevenly and lurched forward, accidentally hitting the emergency stop bar with the crook of my arm.

Everything came to a stop. My elbow hurt but my anger dulled the pain.

And worse than failing at focus, I had utterly failed at composure.

I stormed off. Angrily stuffing gear into my bag and slamming locker room doors as I flew off the handle. I didn't even bother changing my shoes.

A demented Mr. Rodgers singing in my head: “You. WON'T. be. my. Neighbor,” as I chuffed out into the parking lot.

“What happened to me?” I wondered as I sat in my car, waiting for calm to reappear before I turned on the ignition.

Exercise was supposed to make me happy. Running was supposed to make me relaxed. I don't want to be this way. I don't want to be THAT person who complains about the other people at the gym. Angry that they are breathing heavily or grunting … or just using the treadmill next to mine.

I mean … Did I even wipe down the machine I was using before I stormed out?


Could the mixing of gym culture and Daylight Saving Time produce such an explosive side effect? And then it dawned on me: I must be experiencing a contact 'roid rage.

I hope it's not habit-forming.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Unhappy endings

It was time for bed.

Which means it was time for books.

Which means there would inevitably be twenty questions no matter what time it turned out to be.

And, mostly, these questions would be rhetorical:

“Do you know Koko is the first gorilla who could communicate with humans?

“I read about her in school. Do you know how she communicated? She used sign language. She also had a pet kitten.

“I'd like to visit her one day.”

His choice for this particular evening, however, was a photographic book on polar bears that he'd borrowed from the school library.

It was a beautiful, uplifting volume about a little bear named Knut, who was born in the Berlin Zoo. Each full-color page elicited the same exclamation: “Aww, how cuuuuute.” It was an involuntary response.

Knut's perfection was unreal, as if, instead of fur and flesh, this baby polar bear was made out of stuffing and fluff at a factory at the North Pole. Each picture cuter than the next.

But as I leafed through the pages, I also felt a chill.

For some reason, my father's voice popped into my head: “Do you remember when we took you to the National Zoo when you were little,” he'd asked. “I always felt bad about that,” he added with a laugh. “It was not a stellar moment in parenting because right after we went to the zoo we took you to the Museum of Natural History. All I could think about was how first we take you to see the live animals, and then we take you to see the same animals, only now they're stuffed.”

I'm not sure I made the same connection as a youngster staring into the glass-bead eyes of a lion while we strolled through the Hall of Mammals. But, more than 30 years later, it seems impossible for me not to follow this story to its likely conclusion.

So, as The Champ was brushing his teeth, I Googled Knut.

“Dif you glnow that (spits) polar bears' fur is hollow? Its fur isn't really white, either, it's transparent.”

“Mmmm hmmm,” I answer distractedly as I peruse Wikipedia for more information.

“I glerned awl alout (spits) Knut in school today. He didn't walk around or open his eyes until he was a few weeks old. His mom rejected him so he had to be raised by zoo keepers.”

“Sounds like a nut to me,” I tried to joke.

“Not funny, mom. It's pronounced CahNooot! And he could have DIED if it weren't for those zookeepers.”

And just as he said the "D" word, the passage I'd been dreading was there before me: 'In 2011, Knut died suddenly at the age of five, probably the result of an infection, as hundreds of visitors watched in horror.'

Of course, the book left that part out.

And, of course, my son cut right to the chase:

“So … if we go to Germany, will we be able to see Knut?”

“Well … I'm not sure,” I stammered.

But he didn't bother waiting for me to cobble together something warm and comforting. ...

“Not every story has a happy ending, does it?” he asked.

“It's true. Not every story ends happily. But most stories have a few really good chapters.

“And, hey, Koko's still alive. I checked. She's almost 44 years old.”

“But how long do gorilla's live?”

“Oh! Look at that … Dang internet is down.

“Remind me to look that up in the morning.”

Sunday, March 01, 2015

High points and Lowes points


It starts innocently enough. Dolls sit prettily, if un-played with, in a tidy row on a shelf. Other beloved interests follow suit, becoming opaque or waning altogether. Each past-time is slowly replaced by something that dances across a computer screen. It's "future" time.

There are uncomfortable questions, but even more alarming are the uncomfortable silences. Closed doors, loud music, laundry in heaps.

Even though I'd barely noticed I'd been ending most of our communications with “… in that mess you call a room,” I am not blind to the fact that she is growing up.

Frightening, really.

But the terror of all terrors – the moment I've been dreading for SIX YEARS – arrived with a request and a ceremonious presentation of the latest Pottery Barn catalog …

“Pleeeeeeease, mom ….”

Did I mention the puppy dog eyes?

“I can't stand pink.”

Of course I knew this would happen. From the moment she picked the Pepto-Bismol colored paint when she was five, I knew there would come a day that same hue would turn her stomach. Every time we pulled into the driveway at night and her walls winked at us from the corner of the house – “Oh look, Ittybit's home,” I would say with sarcasm, a reprimand for not turning off her lights -- I knew I was just one more snide remark closer to a trip to the paint store.

“You realize what this means,” I said with a sigh …

She looked hopeful …

“You will have to clean your room …

“And be nice to your brother …

“And put away the laundry …

“And turn off your lights …

“And pave the driveway …

“Is that it?”

“Oh … and bring about world peace. That's all.”

She squealed and jumped up and down.

Seems silly, I know. But EVERYONE hated that pink. House-guests who were unlucky enough to arrive after the lumpy couch in the living room and the low-rise bed in the drafty sewing room had been snapped up by other visitors would require sunglasses and cocktails to fall asleep in the electric-colored room.

Everyone except for me. I didn't hate the pink.

When I looked in her room, it wasn't the mountain of toys or tangle of clothes that made me sigh. It was the memory of a five-year-old girl who had helped paint every single wall, visible brush strokes and all.

Deep breath. “What is this going to involve?”

She dove right in ... She searched through paint samples, floor plans and fabric swatches. She found light fixtures and room accessories one Google search at a time. Finally, she came up with a proposal I couldn't refuse:

Paint. Move furniture. Make curtains. Dust hands.

And so, when the fateful day arrived – a day that happened to coincide with the last weekend of the winter break and a sub-arctic temperatures – the three of us traipsed off to the hardware store and watched, in rapt silence, as the clerk mixed up a gallon of “Mexicali Turquoise.”

Back at home, the kids jumped around the supplies in excitement.

The rules were reiterated: No whining. No fighting. No horseplay. I WILL need many coffee breaks. And the first person who doesn't listen and/or follow directions is going to have to just sit here and watch paint dry.

There was a roller lesson: “Roll letters on the walls – W and Y works best.”

There was a brush lesson: “Dip the brush halfway, and then scrape both sides against the inside lip of the cup.”

And there was the “Uh-Oh” tutorial: “Keep looking at the floor. If you see a drip, use a damp rag to wipe it up.”

I couldn't stall any longer.

Two and three-quarter hours later – the walls (and parts of the ceiling ... and a few dots on the floor) were a glorious and refreshing shade of blue.

As we stepped back and surveyed our work, I could see Ittybit was giddy. But she could tell I was a little disappointed.

“What's wrong,” she asked wearily.

“Nothing. I just noticed I can't see any visible brush strokes.”