Sunday, August 28, 2016

Comfort stations

"Mom. Mom. Mom."

I might have slept through the commotion had my husband not nudged me awake upon hearing a tiny voice repeating the magical word that allows him to stay in bed:

"Mom ... Mom ... Maaaahhmaaa."

Along with the low moaning of a child, I could hear the dog’s nails clicking nervously against the hardwood floor.

It was after midnight, and my 12-year-old daughter was writhing on the floor of the bathroom, willing her body to rid itself of whatever offending bacterium was ailing it. The dog at her side looked at me with a Do-Something-About-This-Will-You stare.

Her Timmy had fallen down a well, and I was moving a might too slowly in the direction of good care.

"What does it feel like when your appendix bursts," she asks wearily as if she could be resigned to such a fate.

I rubbed my eyes and reached for her forehead. It was cool.

I was reassured, but the dog was still pacing.

"Where does it hurt?"

My daughter’s slender hand circled her abdomen a comfortable distance from her skin. "Everywhere," she said with a dramatic sigh. "It hurts everywhere."

"It's not likely to be your appendix," I say with the most reassuring "mocktor" voice I can muster.

I know (from attending the Dr. Google School of Medicine) that appendix pain often starts at the belly button and moves to the lower right side of the abdomen. The pain gets worse as you move your legs, or when you cough, or sneeze, or get jostled around inside heavy machinery.

And while the pain of an infected appendix can wake a person from sleep, I also know this particular person hasn't been sleeping as much as she's been trying to hang on to every last minute of summer vacation by indulging in late-night Netflix marathons with the cast of "Royal Pains."

But to be safe, I check for rebound pain.

"Does this feel better when I push here? Does it feel even worse when I release?"

"No ... it just feels weird and hurt-y all the time."

I suppose it could be a bug. Or maybe stomach upset caused by too many cookies that had passed through her mouth before they registered with her mind.

"Try to go back to bed and get some sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."

She just groaned pathetically and asked me to get her a pillow and a blanket so she could camp out around the comfort station "just to be safe."

I offer ice chips and a puke bucket if she will just go back to bed, but the words offend her sensibilities. She'd much rather weather the elements in the comfort of a cold, tile floor.

She's not a baby anymore. She doesn't need me to hold her hair, but should wouldn't mind if I would be so kind as to bring her a blanket.

I give her a bathmat and a pillow, and she curls up next to the commode. I tell her to wake me if the pain gets worse and go back to bed, feeling a little more tired and a lot less motherly.

"What's the matter?" my husband groans as I steal back some covers. "Stomach ache."

I stayed awake a while longer, listening for signs of distress. But from the bathroom, I heard only the tinkle of collar tags as our canine child circled the girl, and the dog's satisfied groan as she flopped down beside her for the night. I closed my eyes thinking of our furry friend as the real nursemaid of the family.

"She'll be okay."

When I awoke in the morning, I discovered the bathroom campers had moved to the end of my bed, where they had settled together in an adorable tangle. My daughter’s arm encircling the dog's shoulders; the dog’s head resting in the crook of the girl's neck.

Both were snoring lightly.

She tells me she feels better when she awakens a few minutes later.

"Maybe it was just a little pneumothorax?"

At this, the dog lifted her head and yawned.

"It was not a collapsed lung. And no more Hank Med before bedtime."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Last mom standing

"It's not as easy as it looks," said my cousin with a bemused grin. A seasoned surfer, he'd made a detour from hiking with friends at Katahdin's Knife's Edge to surf with my daughter in southern Maine.

Only he wasn't talking to her.

He was talking to me as I dragged my daughter's surf board to the razor's edge of the sea.

What was I thinking?

Of course, he was right. This would not end well. What forty-something house frau -- who on a good day has to plan how to descend to a squatting position after she's dropped something she just can't abandon -- would risk life, limb and the potential for lambasting for a moment of glory?

Points to self.

Even though I know this is a sport for young people who have flexibility and supple joints, I couldn't help but delude myself into thinking that all the time I had spent on the beach -- camera trained on my daughter as she learned to surf -- had somehow rubbed off on me.

As I saw her paddle out, turn her board in the direction of the wave, and wait for her moment, I held my breath.

When her chance came, and she started to paddle hard to get herself ahead of the wave, I felt myself dig in.

But it was she who popped up and rode the current in. Not me.

I had been living vicariously.

No matter it was my turn now, and I was going to take it. Somehow I had gotten out there. I had hopped small waves and crashed through large ones. I had tried not to give the ocean too much of me to smash.

When my turn came, I pushed off, paddled as hard as I could until the ocean swished me around in its gaping maw and spat me out.

It wasn't pretty.

But I stood up, tugged at the board and headed back out.

I'd like to tell you this Old Lady conquered that sea. I'd like to tell you I managed not to make a fool of myself. But I know you don't believe in mermaids or fairytales.

I never made it to standing.

A half an hour later I was exhausted.

The next morning my body felt like a sticky, gelatinous substance one has to scrape off their shoe.

But I couldn't quit. She wouldn't let me.

"You can't give up, mom. I'll teach you."

This would not end well. What could a tween child -- who on a good day talks herself In circles as if her internal podcast was caught in a scratch on a vinyl record -- do to alter the time/space continuum. She couldn't return me to an age when I mightn't risk life, limb and the potential for lambasting so I could bask in a moment of glory?

Maybe it was just an exercise in futility. "Find your balance," she hollered as she leaned in and tipped my board sideways.

Stop that!

"Try to stand up."


"I think you're goofy footed. You should switch the leash to your left ankle."

I had no idea what she was saying.

Use English!

"Paddle out now. … Now come back. … Now paddle out again."

You are enjoying this, aren't you?

She smiled broadly.

How could this be any more mortifying you ask?

Is that the ACTUAL surf instructors right next to us watching and laughing?

That's how.

"Just push me out," I pleaded.

"Ok. If you think you're ready," she drawled with disdain.

One heave and a wave had taken me. And while I expected to be rung through the sea's spin cycle, something unexpected happened. The board steadied in the current and gave me time to crawl to my feet, where I crouched partway between down and up.

I'd like to tell you this Old Lady conquered that sea. I'd like to tell you I managed not to make a fool of myself. But I know you don't believe in mermaids or fairytales.

I never made it to standing.

Still, I was laughing. And I was surfing with my daughter, not caring who saw.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Assumed names

I wasn't myself.

Officially, I mean.

Crowds had lined the street. Some were holding signs. Some were ringing cowbells. Everyone was yelling something encouraging.

"You have got this! Almost there! You're doing great!"

A few were even calling me by name, "Patsy."

And that was the problem.

Technically, I was a bandit. And I was about to cross the finish line after running six point two miles toward a tiny lighthouse in Portland under an assumed identity.

Now, granted, the bib had been bought and paid for fair and square and the date for legitimate transfer had long since expired. It would have just gone to waste as the rightful titleholder was unable to run.
But it was the fine-print that was inside my head. Fine-print and the knowledge that there are some in the running community who devote all of their free time to outing bandits.

Guilt was getting the better of me.

It was also making me feel a bit discombobulated.

In fact, I had no idea where I was or how I got here. I knew I was in Maine, on a tree-lined street, with about six thousand people in brightly colored stretchy clothes who were checking and rechecking their watches.

I knew my friends had worn bright orange shirts, of which I'd taken careful note. It was kismet I thought since I had chosen to wear orange as well.

But I couldn't relax.

I just knew I'd never be able to retrace my steps without help. As soon as the gun sounded and the one-two beat of soles against pavement kept time, I was alone with my thoughts and my audible breathing for 62 minutes and 25 seconds.

The alarm had woken us before daylight, and I had slipped into clothes I had laid out the night before when the offer to run in place of a friend had climbed its way up the phone tree and settled in my resolve.

Hours earlier, I was still groggy and silent as my husband steered the car northwards. He was a trouper, providing shuttle service from point to point when he could have been sleeping.

The sky was a red color, orange like our shirts, and at this time in the morning the hue was not a happy omen.

Still, this was an opportunity not to be missed, a message my husband kept repeating to appease my guilt.

I had dreamed of this moment at least a half-dozen times since I took up running a few years ago and realized the premiere race is in our summertime backyard. Of course, the dream had been filed away behind other thoughts in my vacationing brain.

A brain usually preoccupied with the logistics of determining how much gear we should schlep to the beach and whether it's too windy to eat by the ocean once we get there. Sandwiches aren't tasty when they are literal.

But instead of the familiar surf, I found myself surrounded by a sea of bright orange shirts, none of which harbored my friends.

It occurred to me then that I really wasn't myself. I'd even left anything that could identify me behind. No wallet, no keys, no phone.

I could be anyone.

In my soul, I know I am still an outlaw despite an equally firm belief that the cosmos makes most of the rules we end up following. And in the grand scheme of things, letters of laws are usually open to interpretation.

I know it only takes the cosmos four minutes to shut a person out of running this race. If I'm found out, everyone in my orbit could be shutout for life.

And as much as I might like to think of myself as a robber of the rich and giver to the poor, I haven't fully embraced my inner scofflaw. How could I when I still feel slightly panicked at the thought of jaywalking?

The longer I waited to be reunited with my friends and family, the more I became convinced this deception would be discovered.

In the home stretch, now, a man high fives racers as they cross the finish line. He seems to know everyone and calls them by name as they sprint past.

My husband is smiling and waving beside him, amazed by the man's knowledge of names and faces. He hasn't caught on to the fact that first names had been printed under the numbers. (An oversight we will no doubt laugh about later).

But now I avert my eyes hoping to pass by unnoticed and unheeded. The final moment of truth revealed in a duel of differing kudos. But they both see me round the corner and yell at the same time: "You got this, Patsy! Strong finish!!!"

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Afterparty

I never thought it could happen to me.

Center stage. Limelight. Crowds of adoring fans.

I had barely done anything. Just sent an email with our home address and instructions to bring some kind of food item to share, and to remember to bring their bathing suits and towels.

And yet, there I was, standing in the driving rain, balancing in my left arm every single vegetable platter the local grocery store had assembled that day, and smiling like a fool as thirty-seven-thousand pint-sized community thespians took turns pushing each other into our backyard pool.

Did I mention the screaming? From apoplectic to blood curdling, each guest was a star performer.

Not for a single moment did I even consider how literal this “cast party” could get, although I did move the platters of potluck away from a mossy-deck to a place with a little more traction. Just in case.

Cool as a cucumber. That was me. Greeting folks as they arrived, directing them to various corners of the house where they could change into swimwear or grab something to eat.

My husband, on the other hand, was starting to question my sanity.

For days he'd kept asking the same things over and over.

Q. “How many kids are in this play?”
A. Thirty-four.

Q. Are they ALL coming?
A. I'm guessing they are all coming and that some will probably bring siblings.

Q. So … How DID we pull the short straw?”
A. We volunteered.

Q. And how does that work, exactly?
A. You raise your hand before you think it all through.

The questions kept bubbling to the surface, even as he kept one eye on the pool and five white-knuckles on the burger flipper, he could not fathom what was happening around him.

Q. And you raised your hand?
A. Technically, it was your daughter who raised her hand.

Q. But you said OK, and now I'm cooking?
A. Yes. It seems that way.

Q. When does this party end?
A. When all the food has been eaten, or when it starts to thunder, whichever comes first.

Q. Is there an app for that?
A. I'm sure there is … but the internet is on the fritz again.
I felt a little sorry for him. The deer in the headlights look is about as far from his natural expression a wide, easy smile is from mine.

And yet our daughter seemed to blend right in; a new animal that had encroached onto our territory. A natural socialite with chameleon-like flexibility and whip-smart perception.

The party was over soon enough. Most of the food had been consumed, and dusk had fallen. And I was surprised by so many Thank Yous, as well as how many plates had made it to the trash without any assistance on my part.

There wasn't much left to clean up.

My husband even admitted the threat level didn't match his anxiety level. And he only had to use his “Big Voice” once.

“I bet most guests thought it was improv.”

“That would explain all the screaming.”