Beep Beep

And then one day, that baby they handed you sixteen-some years ago starts driver’s ed.

When families add a driver, parents kid about skyrocketing insurance rates and their utter lack of faith in their teen’s ability to drive responsibly or safely, sure.  Most parents don’t have to consult with their teen’s neurologist about whether their kid needs to identify himself as a person with a disability when it comes to driving.  It’s been quite some time since I’ve written about muscular dystrophy.  My kid’s recent appointment did not suggest decline and his care team felt that he could commence driving without incident.  Yay for 90% of me (100% for him) and holy crap, my kid’s learning to drive for the other 10%.

I once believed that I’d never live another moment that wasn’t consumed by my grief or sadness over my kid’s diagnosis.  Funny how managing another massive health status change (ya know, getting run over by a truck as an example) kicked MD from my front and center.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten my ol’ pal muscular dystrophy–it’s lurking always, lying in wait just around the corner ready to cuff me upside the head.  MD hangs back sidestage, while I wonder now how I’ll ever live another moment not consumed by the accident and its considerable aftermath.

At our most recent speech pathology department meeting, a guest presenter spoke to us about flexibility and resiliency. The professional development section was designed not for me personally as its title might suggest, but rather to help speech-language pathologists more effectively serve neurodiverse students.  If that’s a new word for you, neurodiverse has come to include people with diagnoses similar to what many people consider autism spectrum disorders and/or individuals with significant emotional or behavior disabilities.  The presentation was meant to better my practice, but me being me, I made some of it personal.

The older I get, the less flexible I want to have to be. My job however is one that requires me to at times drop everything and run across town to cover a last minute meeting or evaluate a student and write a meaningful education plan with two days’ lead time. I used to mind that less than I do now.  I do it of course, not only because it’s my job, but also because I’m committed to my career and maintaining what I’d like to believe is a solid reputation. I enjoy predictability more than I’d thought. Hmm.

The dictionary tells me that a resilient person is one who is able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions, see also “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”  I was feeling all, “Damn, if I’ve learned nothing else from 2019 it’s that I’m one badass, resilient woman.” Then I read more carefully, noting those sticky, tricky adverbs quickly and easily.

My employer has finally terminated its blood-letting.  After twenty weeks, I’ve “paid back” the couple thousand dollars they withheld from me when I (fucking naively) applied for FMLA instead of calling in sick the days after Tom’s accident.  Still, I have over 1500 sick hours accrued, an account balance that’ll grow or hold steady until I die retire. Still, not one person, no one from any department from payroll to employee relations, has had the common fucking decency to contact me directly about it.  I bet if I worked at Apple or Dunder Mifflin or McDonald’s, someone would have at least had the decency and integrity to call me with a howdy heads-up.  I thought I’d be done feeling bitter once I received a regular paycheck, but you know what?  Still fucking bitter.  You can tell because I used the f-word three times in this one paragraph.  Bitter, not resilient.

Super scattershot post, but there is a theme.  Well, in my head anyway there is a central thread, and it’s maybe this:  Most of us are fortunate enough that we don’t have to be taught flexibility and resilience in an explicit manner, so what, that makes us lucky?  All of us lucky ones though, some of the time, have that flexibility and resilience tested.

Navigating our world compels us to be flexible.  The world forces us to build resiliency, because the alternative to carrying on in the face of adversity is surrender.  Surrender though feels intoxicating, like a warm, lavender-scented bubble bath from which you never want even your pinky toe to emerge.  But you can’t surrender.  People need you, and even if you don’t feel like being needed, you don’t get to pick, so surrender isn’t an option.  Then your kid starts to drive, which for the average parent is unnerving.  For the parent of a kid with a disability, it’s a bit more than that.

And there you are: grinding forward, a fake-it-til-you-make-it expression fixed on your face. Flexibility and resilience. I got ’em.


The drummer from one of my favorite bands passed away last week.  Neil Peart, Rush’s wizard of percussion and lyrics, succumbed to brain cancer.  Rush was my first favorite Canadian band.  Their music was my constant companion during middle and high school, and more than just occasionally played here still.  My big kid became a fan too, inspired to play bass by their music, spinning my old vinyl records on his school radio station.  I was stunned by the news, and days later, still feel a pang.  I never met the man, but I will miss him. His music has been important to me.  Nothing whatsoever to do with the “theme” of this post, and I use the word “theme” loosely, but writing tells me how I feel, and I miss Neil.

How Lovely Are Thy Branches

I was a hardcore live Christmas tree person.  And by “live” Christmas tree, of course I literally mean dead tree, because no Frasier Fir takes root in anyone’s living room.  Even as a broke-ass college student, I scrounged up enough to buy a real live (dead) pine tree for my friends and me to adorn for the holidays.  It’s a shame social media had yet to be invented in my youth, because our handcrafted Bon Jovi Christmas ornaments, ripped from the pages of Metal Edge magazine, made for some real Kodak moments.  Oh, Dawnster, how I love you and loved your beat-to-hell silver Corolla, tree roped to the roof.

This live Christmas tree thing was instilled at birth.  For reasons I don’t fully grasp even now, it was a family imperative that my mom, my dad, my brother and me, as a collective, shopped for and agreed upon the one tree which would become THE family tree.  We’d traipse from this lot to that one across town, in search of the perfect pine, and we all HAD TO AGREE.  Any dissent meant the quest continued, and you’d think that once I became a horrible teenager, mortified even to be seen with my family in public, I’d have OK’ed the first one that even kinda rang my jingle bells.  False.  We’d bitch and roll our eyes the entire time, my brother and me, but refused to budge if a tree revealed the tiniest of bare spots or a wonky trunk.  You had to give my parents credit for their optimism and/or Clark Griswold-like commitment to a good old-fashioned family Christmas.  Wait a minute. . .  Maybe they just wanted to torture us, and making my brother and me suffer provided their particular brand of wry Christmas cheer.  In any event, pine trees cut from a forest were part of our Christmas tradition.

Until they weren’t.

I honestly can’t recall in which year it went down exactly that my parents threw in the towel, though my memory suggests I was in college, or perhaps even as late as graduate school after I’d moved out.  I fuzzily remember though, not shopping for the family tree one year, then coming to the realization that the tree in their living room was an imposter!!!  *gasp*  My mom and dad?  Bought a Christmas tree in a box?? A box!

This new instrument of trickery was identified by the retailer as Tree #42, and so “42” took on a life of its own.  42 had songs sung in homage: “O 42, O 42, how lovely are thy branches.” 42 was put on display the day after Thanksgiving.  42 was known as 42–not as “our Christmas tree” or even “the tree,” just 42.  As in, “Hey, we put the lights on ol’ 42.” and “Wow 42, is broader than we expected, and takes up a huge chunk of living room.”  I never said we weren’t weird.

Since our sons were babies, we’ve purchased our family tree at the same family lot, Sanfilippo’s on 27th Street.  Somehow, except for last year, it worked out that the same salesman/tree lot attendant worked with us, and he remembered us, which made for happy memories for the boys.  One year when they were still tiny, he threw the football around with them in the tree lot, so naturally that became what they did when shopping for our tree each year since.  He always cut us a fair deal, to a point that Tom overpaid him last year, giving him more than he’d asked for.  Side note: my husband was clearly not the money manager in our house, even before the head injury.

2019 hasn’t been what one might term “festive” for my family and me.  In light of our advancing ages and Tom’s accident this year, we wanted to simplify things a bit.  Around Thanksgiving, I began dropping hints that maybe we’d get an artificial tree this year, and kids, what do you think?  I’ll tell you what they thought: they did NOT approve.  Now mind you, they always went along for the ride–complaining significantly less than my brother and I did, my good boys–but that marked the end of any actual helping with the Christmas tree activities.  They’d hang maybe one or two ornaments before losing interest, and I’d be left hanging the remainder.  Shopping at that tree lot to purchase their live/dead Christmas tree had become their tradition.

Until it wasn’t.

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I give you the newest member of our family, Sierra Pine 84.

Welcome, 84.  I guess there’s some nice mathematical symmetry between 42 of my Christmas past and 84 of my present, right?  84 is nowhere near as fragrant as the real deal though, I’m afraid.  I couldn’t even look at the sales clerk as I completed the purchase because I was afraid I’d cry.  What exactly did I feel I was being disloyal to?  I felt traitorous to some tree out there, who’d otherwise have given its life to be loved in our home.  Traitorous to myself, my upholding of our tradition.  I felt that I’d let down our children, depriving them of their tradition in a year that forced us to abandon every tradition we’d ever known already.  I felt like I was letting my maybe-depression win by taking the easy way out and not getting a real tree.  When the stock kid loaded the box into the back of our SUV instead of roping it to the roof, OK, I admit that I shed a tear.  I did.

I spent waaaaaaaay more hours than I’d expected to, shaping 84’s branches into life-like perfection (an oxymoron, to be sure), and we didn’t even buy a pre-lit tree, so the prep took more time and effort than I’d anticipated.  Somehow that made me feel better.  Not having to get on my belly to water it twice daily was a little bonus too.  But the best part, the part that allowed me to release any doubt or guilt occurred as I trimmed the tree.

Ours is not a themed tree–we string multi-colored lights, we don’t display only certain styles of ornaments or wrap our tree in festive ribbon. Our tree tells the story of our lives–our family history hung on wire branches.  I’m terrible at decorating, but I’m really good at hanging ornaments.

Unpacking those storage containers, idle since January, opens a part of my sentimental heart every year.  Since our kids were babies, I’ve purchased them an ornament for St. Nick.  I swiped the idea from my sister-in-law Anne, who suggested it to me when mine were babies.  When they grow into their own homes and trees, they’ll have a jump start on their own set of ornaments.

As I admire our ornament collection, I’m reminded of the first vacation Tom and I took early on in our young love lives.  We bought the ugliest, tackiest ornament we could find in the ugliest, tackiest tourist gift shop, and that trend has continued (PS–Niagara Falls provided the worst worst ornament, followed closely by Albuquerque).  These tacky ornaments help us relive our travels.  I’m reminded of Deandre, a paraprofessional who I haven’t seen since we worked together in the mid-late ’90s, but who gave me a dove ornament I treasure.  I’m reminded of my grandma, who after retirement joined a senior center, crafting ornaments on her way through her 70s.  I’m reminded of the kids’ “first” ornaments, and the literary and TV characters they so loved during their little kid days.  I am in love with their kindergarten crafts, gingerbread men speckled with glitter and gumdrops and snowflakes or Santa hats with their cherubic little faces cut and pasted on.  My friend Ann, artist and art teacher extraordinaire, gifts us a handmade ornament every year, one more exquisite than the next.  I’m reminded that even when one of my students lives in devastating poverty, I meant enough to him that he taped up a broken Christmas ornament so he had something to give me.

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My 2019 additions are the pink and yellow Chuck Taylor shoe ornaments to match the much-loved pink and yellow Chuck Taylor shoes of my own.

Trimming 84, I’m reminded of how much love and how many wonderful people are in my life.  On any given day, in the back of my mind I know this, but the reminder doesn’t hurt.  Our artificial tree created the opportunity to reflect in a genuine way.  In a year I’m more than ready to kiss goodbye, I really needed this.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Figurative Language

Kids with language disorders often experience difficulty interpreting figurative language forms.  I’ve been a speech-language pathologist working for many years with students whose language comprehension and expression skills are compromised.  Say to some kids, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” and they’ll look to the sky expecting to be pelted with fluffy quadrupeds.  Ask if they have butterflies in their tummies, and they’ll assure you most definitely that they did NOT eat a caterpillar.  Sadly, kids are entering schools with less and less language and more limited language competency (IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS DECENT AND PURE, PUT DOWN THE SCREENS and TALK TO YOUR CHILD!). My job security is a sad sign of the times.


For those of you looking for an upbeat, cute kids or holiday kind of story: this would be where you hit the back button web browser and split. For my more of the glutton-for-punishment type readers, please continue at your own risk.


Adults use figurative language all the time.  “Those maple bacon pancakes are the shit!” does not mean what the words literally indicate, thank stars!  Likewise, “I’m going to lose my shit” doesn’t indicate bowel incontinence. but rather means probably what you, a capable reader, thinks it means.  And I am microseconds from figuratively losing my shit on a large and public scale.

I’m competent with language.  I can string together a clever sentence or two from time to time, and I well comprehend figurative language.  When I was LITERALLY at the most vulnerable moment in my life as a wife and mother, institutions that could have made things easier, didn’t.  Where those institutions and individuals could have helped me (and millions others in similar shoes) navigate those treacherous waters, it was easier to let me float out, lost at sea.

What’s the protocol for what one should feel psychologically or emotionally following a spouse’s devastating accident?  I’ve experienced a grief-like arc of feelings since that dreadful May afternoon.  I’ve painted in shades of straight-up petrified, stunned, sad, humbled, relieved, thankful, hopeful, hopeless, disappointed, frustrated, and now I am painting angry, crimson red.

Here’s a little speech-language therapy compare and contrast activity for us, kids.  Ready?  Here’s what they say to you in the aftermath of the accident that changed every single thing about your life.  And here is what they literally mean.

When someone endures a catastrophic accident like your husband has, we are here for you, and will get back to you ASAP to answer any questions you may have.  We may respond to your email tomorrow, maybe next week, possibly never. 

Certainly we should have covered that–I don’t know how that got missed. Submit those receipts again and we’ll reimburse you for those expenses right away.  If you’re asking for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, you’re looking at a good 3-4 months and several emails.  Go ahead, grab a snack, you’ll be waiting a good while.

We’re family.   By”family” we mean that you’re the weird uncle twice removed that no one wants to be stuck next to at dinner.

You’re the quarterback, you’re in charge.  I’m not even the junior varsity fourth stringer.

Of course we’ll work with you.  We won’t work with you.

Anything you need, you just let us know.  Actually, just don’t.  Please. 

We will try to see what we can do to help you, but we can’t promise anything.  “Trying to see” what you can do to help is doing exactly nothing, which is exactly what you’ve done.

I am miserable company at work, which is about the only company I’m forced to keep. And I’m so sorry, girls, for not being the Ol’ Faithful I was before, for being barely tolerable most days at that.  I still laugh and joke with my coworkers because they’re brilliant and funny, but my own humor too quickly crosses the line from snark to dark.  I can’t be the advocate there right now, and my lack of fire surprises even me.  Even when good things happen, and they do happen, I celebrate them then quickly retreat to the land of glass half empty.  My view feels like it does when you’re trying to hear while swimming underwater–you hear sound–you know it’s there, but it’s so heavily filtered and weighted, you can’t make meaning.

Being forced not only to make meaning in the business world of highly specialized medicine, insurance claims, and payroll, but also to become expert at it is exhausting.  Ironically, though thoroughly exhausted I don’t sleep well or much.  I’ve become mistrustful about what I’m told, and I don’t enjoy feeling like the little guy being set up for certain failure.  Back in May, I told Jen, one of Tom’s ICU nurses whom I loved, that I was “OK smart,” meaning I had a decent grasp of the medical information they provided me in those early days, but OK smart is not near enough now.  Back in May, I knew that the frustration I’m now feeling was on the horizon–I knew I’d get here, to where OK smart wouldn’t cut it, but I don’t much like it here.

My husband didn’t ask to be run over by a truck–he didn’t pick this.  I’m not so naive to cry how it’s not fair, but dammit, it’s not fair.  Our friends and family have moved mountains for us. It’s astonishing how truly right and good people can be. But these and all institutions should do what’s right for those who’ve been wronged because it’s the right thing to do.

A Jackson Pollock Thanksgiving

A friend and I exchanged text messages this week, each of us revealing trepidation regarding our preparations for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Every so often, if I do say so myself, I completely nail a text message, and on this one to her:  I nailed it.

Holidays are good, but not without challenge.  It’s OK to be anxious about that.  There’s always that expectation of the ideal Normal Rockwell family gathering.  Ours ends up being more like a Jackson Pollock painting.

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The idyll you envision your Thanksgiving table to be. . .

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A linear representation of MY Thanksgiving preparations.

Every year since I began telling my tale here, I’ve written a message of thanks and gratitude on/around Thanksgiving.  Though I’m struggling mightily these days, the show must go on.  I’ve left no trail of daisies and unicorns in my wake in 2019, but despite my, shall we call it “malaise,” it matters that I acknowledge the supporting cast and crew who make life a little sweeter and the spirit of Thanksgiving ring a little more true.  If I fail to offer up thanks to the enormous army of good friends, family, and even strangers who showed my family and me kindness and goodwill this year, I’ll regret it.  As I reviewed previous Thanksgiving posts, I was tickled to notice that many in my “I’m thankful for you” crew have stuck with me for years.  Boy, I thought 2015 was going to crush me, but 2019 makes 2015 seem like amateur hour.  I was less tickled to notice I was a better writer in each of 2016, 2017, and 2018.  I thought you’re supposed to get better with practice, right??  Lies.  I’ll just chalk this little slide up to 2019 too.

If you even so much as thought about me or my family in a positive light this year–thank you.  If you didn’t verbally express it or text it, email it, or snail mail it, but you so much as thought about us for one poof of an instant and wished us well–thank you.  I do believe my husband’s miraculous physical recovery is based in his own indomitable spirit bolstered by this type of support.

If you provided dinner for us or if you sent us a gift card for food after the accident, if you brought pie or ice cream–thank you.  You helped nourish our bellies and souls.

If you sent us or handed us money to help cover our bases this summer–thank you.  Prior to our life-altering May, I hadn’t really understood the tradition of slipping cash into a get well card or sympathy card.  Oh, terrifically humbled, I get it NOW, and we wouldn’t have bridged the summer gap without you.  It’s balance enough not getting paid all summer, but to have been docked several days’ pay while Tom’s income took something of a hit, felt insurmountable.  But you helped us climb and summit that hill.

If you visited Tom in the hospital or in our home at any point, and visiting us isn’t something you’d have otherwise normally done–thank you.  I vividly recall him propped up in that complex, behemoth hospital bed, affirming over and over to his visitors that he just wanted to get back to the old Tom Weir.  Before May, I was the type of person who believed that one’s hospital stay was an intensely private affair, and visiting was an intrusion beyond good grace.  My husband loved those brief though exhausting visits.

If you donated to our Muscular Dystrophy Association Muscle Walk this year–thank you.  I was unable to attend the event last June myself, but Team Greater Than Gravity pulled in almost $2700 to support kids like mine and adults with muscle disease.

If you offered assistance for household chores or if you maintained our yard all spring and summer long–thank you!  Yeah, that one’s a little specific, but short of monetary remuneration, how do you thank someone for landscape maintenance?

If you dedicated your band’s performance to my husband’s survival–thank you.  Sure, a little specific on this one too.

If you encountered a very sullen, scatter-brained, ornery, or quiet me and granted me a wide berth–thank you.

Another term I tossed in the text exchange with that same friend is “functional depression.”  I’m not sure I have that, or that functional depression is even a DSM-5 diagnostic code, but here’s my working definition: keeping your shit together in public and for work, because work, and seeking little company beyond the 9-to-5.  I’ve socialized little since the accident, almost none.  At first it was because my husband needed round-the-clock support and I quite literally couldn’t leave his side, and now it’s by my own design.  I participate in the mandatory–jury duty, work, my kids’ school activities, concerts, and games–and I look and mostly behave like a human, but I am not seeking company.  And right now I’m OK with that even if you’re not.  It’s not personal.  Actually, I suppose it is personal, but it’s truly an “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of deal.  It’s me.

Sure, my brain and my Thanksgiving table resemble a work from Pollock more than one of Rockwell’s slices of Americana, but we’re still here.  Messy and frazzled, but rolling out of bed to face each day.  Some days getting up and at ’em is the greatest victory.  Happy Thanksgiving, all!  May you find yourself surrounded by good food and great people!  And if you’re like me, shying away from the spotlight for now, may you be surrounded by good food and great people who accept your laying low.

 

Just Say No

The actions we take to demonstrate love for our children sometimes seem contrary to the very children we love. Sometimes saying no to a child when they want or want to do something a parent knows will be bad or unhealthy or just not possible for whatever reason can make a child angry. “It’s not fair!” is a familiar cry heard by parents worldwide from about the time a child learns to talk until adolescence. OK, through adolescence and even into adulthood.

Saying no to a child doesn’t make a parent mean or abusive or unreasonable. Any early childhood developmental text will teach you at that children crave boundaries. Children need limits, and test those limits in pursuit of their development of sound decision making.

I was selected and sworn as a member of a jury this week.  Being a licensed driver meant that I became part of a group of average citizens hearing testimony on, deliberating, reaching unanimously, and delivering a verdict on a serious case.  I wish not to go into detail because it feels sensational and in poor form even to discuss someone else’s business.  Not being able to talk about my day, and being made to absorb sad and even shocking details took a toll on my well-being this week.  If you believe jury duty to be a free pass or a joke, allow me to disabuse you of that notion.  There was no humor in our case.

Of the many, the testimony of one witness in particular stuck with me.  The lesson that I took away from that heartbreaking Q&A is that love isn’t enough. Giving a child everything he wants because you are afraid saying no to him will make him think you don’t love him isn’t love. Or maybe that’s what love is/was to her; who am I to judge another?  Yeah, I get the irony in my asking the judging question. . .  But never saying no, then enduring a life of abuse and fear from the child you claim to love isn’t a life.  Never saying no is granting another human being tacit permission to wreak hell and havoc without fear of consequence, or even knowing what a consequence might be.

I came home from court that night wrecked, and I immediately ran up to my sophomore’s bedroom.  Once I pried the headphones off, I sat on the side of his bed with him, telling him that sometimes I have to deny things or exert consequences for the stupid shit he does, not because I’m mean but rather because I love him.  I want him to know right from wrong.  I want him to see that his actions are the stone causing ripples in the pond around it.  I want him to understand he is not the sun of the entire universe.  I believe it’s something I’ve been doing his entire life, but after court Tuesday, it was imperative I spelled it out again.  To him this “give your mom a hug moment” had to be an utter non-sequitur.  He played along, agreeable boy that he is, and I was able to sorta vent in some weird way in order to keep my tenuous grip on my sanity that day.

Even when I want to throttle either or both of my boys (see Mom’s Exhibit 1 below), I believe I have done my best to help them understand that being a good citizen matters, and it started early.  When Number One Son did or said things requiring parental intervention, we used to make him “sit on the stairs” for period of time in punishment.  The child, even at ages 2, 3, 4 years old would inquire about the length of his stint on the stairs before committing his “crimes.”  I’d instruct him to pick up his toys.  He’d retort, “What if I don’t?”  I’d say, “You will!”  He’d come back again with, “What if I don’t?  How long will I have to sit on the steps?”  I used to remark then that he’d grow up to be a politician or litigator–funny how my stint in court recalled these exchanges to mind.  I remember fits of “it’s not fair!,” and responding (and I quote): Life is full of disappointment, son.  Get used to it.

It really couldn’t be simpler:  The hole in the wall is a magical portal to the basement laundry area, kids.  Open the door, slide your dirty socks down the hatch, and the socks get returned to you a few days post-insertion, clean.  

Despite the dirty sock evidence here, he’s a decent human being.  They both are.  Even when I take a tone or roll my eyes or make them go to bed early or prohibit the purchase of inappropriate video games or ground one of them for falling asleep in class (!?!?!!!!), they know I love them.  They’ve been told “no” more than once, and they’ve survived the disappointment.  They’re good decision makers in terms of keeping themselves out of trouble, achieving academically, and being good friends.   They’re far from perfect, but who is perfect?  You??  Not me.  

For what it’s worth, the trial and jury process wasn’t TV-shiny Law & Order perfect, but it worked as intended.  It was taxing human drama, and I believe we arrived at the correct verdict.  We obeyed all of the judge’s orders and instructions, upholding the integrity of the jury process.  I’ll never see the other eleven again, and I wish we hadn’t been called to spend a week together, but I’m better for having met them.  I learned a great deal about how courts operate, and learned that even among people with terrific differences of opinion, opinions can be shared and arguments made in a civilized, solutions-based manner.  There’s a lesson in this, and now that I’ve led you here, I’ll leave it to you to figure that lesson out.

I’ve worked in education nearly three decades, my North Star the belief that improving the communication skills of our city’s youngest and most in need will lead to better outcomes for them, improved academics and problem-solving skills are a surer path to success in and out of school.  NOTHING I teach or impart in a therapy session to any kid is going to make a damn bit of difference if he or she lives a free-for-all everywhere else.  Case closed. 

That’s What She Said

That’s What She Said is a party game of twisted innuendoes, so says Amazon, a little up-and-comer retailer you may have heard about.  I think they’re gonna be big, y’all.  Amazon’s description continues on to say the game is an “outrageous party in a box, perfect for your next get-together or adult game night. It’s the board game equivalent of spiking the punch.”  They’re underselling it.

For his big 5-0, my husband wanted not a big party, but a little get-together game night with his family, and that is what went down Saturday night.  Since the accident and the hearing loss it caused, hearing in noise is difficult and sometimes stressful for him.  For that and a few other post-accident reasons, the big party I wanted was nixed.  I mean, what kind of wife would I be to throw a party that would be potentially traumatizing??

After the food, after the outdoor component–a family walkabout to the Pumpkin Pavilion, where hundreds of jack-o-lanterns are stacked and illuminated at the park near our home, after the photos, but before the cake: game time.  The game is similar to Cards Against Humanity in terms of play and inappropriateness, but for whatever reason, That’s What She Said, shines more brightly than Cards.  And by shines, I mean brings you down to your most base, most explicit and suggestive, most “Hi, I’m 12” sense of humor.

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced laughter like that in my life.  Tears ran down our collective faces!  The readers could barely even read the responses thrown down for consideration so intense, hysterical, and MY CHEEKS HURT deep we were into the awkward hilarity.  I’m no prude, and am comfortable around the f-bomb and other assorted profanities, but I wasn’t quite certain my kids should play. . .   OK, they did.  I don’t know that my teenagers understood every card that got played, but they played some beauts and laughed as hard and long as anyone.  Long and hard.  That’s what she said!  *ba-dum-tsssss*

Game night was perfection.  The right-size celebration with the right-size crowd. Thank you family for traveling here to mark the event.

That my husband is still here to celebrate the big 5-0  milestone birthday today is as much a miracle as anything that can be experienced here on earth.  Happy birthday, Tom.  Thanks for not dying.  Thanks for fighting and clawing your way through rehab to come back to me and the boys.  Thanks for being a model of strength, hard work, integrity, and decency for our boys.  It’s your birthday, but we’ve gotten the gift.  Raise a glass to the guy who survived!  The guy whose doctors told him that people with skull fractures as massive as his were don’t usually make it. He made it.

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

For the whole of my entire life, I heard the lyrics to the work tune sung by Snow White’s cadre of little friends as, “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go,” like they were super excited to head off to the mines.  For a few weeks now, I’ve been singing “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work he goes” only to learn that the Seven Dwarves sang not a cheery dirge (oxymoron, sure) so much as an anthem of relief as they skedaddled at quitting time, “Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s HOME from work we go.”

Context?  OK, yeah, sorry.

About five months post-accident, my husband was sent back to work.  Off to work he went, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.  I am not making this up.

A quick survey of current events suggests that even to the uninitiated, NOTHING these days may be considered beyond belief.  No display of human behavior or “decision-making” is off-limits anymore it would seem.  Where once we had shame Where once we demonstrated integrity (and kept our loony little rants in our thought bubbles and not on social media), we now find ourselves in a world of anything goes.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the medical professionals reported bones no longer to be broken, organs no longer to be lacerated, and paralysis no longer to be, well nevermind about that one because the paralysis–while much improved–lingers.  When the docs could check all the boxes, they could declare him fit for returning to work.  Utterly and completely beyond my belief anyway, he’s back at work. Holy.  Crap.

Now me?  I can’t even drive past the site where the accident occurred.  I have a school assignment whose most direct route from Point A to Point B involves driving right by the accident site.  Nope.  No way.  I am taking the scenic route, y’all.  But my husband, warrior that he is, has returned to the scene (no, not THE scene, the scene of the world of work).  His triumphant return hasn’t been completely without incident–some sensible safety restrictions remain, so it’s a ramping up.  But he’s on the ramp.  It’s beyond my belief.

This card and sweet, sweet message of support was left on my desk today by my coworker and friend, Nicole.  Just because, for no special reason.

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It’s good to have friends. Thank you, Nicole.

I’m a lot of work at work myself, and can’t imagine having survived these last five months without Nicole and the rest of our gang at my side.  I’m not lucky that this happened, but I’m so lucky to have the people I do helping me through.  If I’m repeating myself, I know I am.

I don’t know what it’s like not to worry anymore.  Every second I’m awake, some piece of my brain is dedicated to wonder about what he is doing, where he is working, with whom he is speaking, about what he is speaking, all of it, everything, all the time.  But the broken bones have healed as have the internal organs.  Mostly.  He’s up, he’s out of the house, and he’s back to work.  If you’d seen him lying in that hospital bed, you’d never believe he’d EVER be back to work, let alone be returning within months of the big bad day.  His coworkers are stunned like I am–many of the guys, upon hearing of the accident, wrote him off for dead.  I assume they’re happy to see him haunting the shop now, but what must it be like for someone to say to your face they assumed you’d die?  I hope I never know.  I hope you never know.

His birthday is coming soon.  I’d wanted to throw a gala “YOU DIDN’T DIE and YOU’RE TURNING 50!” extravaganza.  Tom turning 50 wasn’t a guarantee, you know, and I wanted to mark the occasion in a big way.  But my guy isn’t a center of attention, celebrate in a big way kind of guy.  You didn’t die.  You’re turning 50.  Can we at least have tacos??

PS–I know this post lacks a thread to knit my misfiring neurons-induced prose together, but James Joyce wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man more than a century ago, and college professors are torturing freshman English students with that ridiculous stream-of-consciousness garbage STILL, and his husband wasn’t injured like mine was.  I mean, not that Joyce had a husband because he died in the 1940s, which was a considerably less progressive time and was married to his muse, who was female and all that.  And not that I’m comparing my writing to Joyce’s (how is it a classic?) classic, but you catch my meaning, right?

Believe

As I scrolled through Facebook this past week, I discovered a new (new to me anyway) celebration: National Daughters Day.  I don’t have daughters, bud I “liked” the posts my friends put up extolling the beauty, brains, and virtue of their daughters.  It’s fun for parents to brag on and celebrate their children, and I enjoy reading how my friends love their children.  Love begets love.

I’d closed that tiny portal in my brain when I closed my web browser, but then this:  Not to be outdone by their XX-chromosomal counterparts, National Sons Day, according to Facebook posts, arrived a day or two later.  Is this really a thing?  Google’s top hit revealed something different.

Once, behaving like the petulant pre-teen I was, I had asked my mom when “KIDS” day was, seeing as she got Mother’s Day.  I recall a distinct tone as she responded that “every damn day is kids’ day,” and being no dummy, I shut my sassy mouth.  But now there’s actually a daughter and sons day??  It does not compute.  At this point, I find myself mostly bowing out of social media, in a corner, waving a little white kerchief in surrender.

I’d intended to write today about my husband’s return to work.  Yes, you read that correctly: My husband was sent back to work last week.  Four months after nearly bleeding out on a city street, doctors determined him to be in physical form strong enough to return to work.  However vehemently opposed I am to this series of what-the-actual-F medical decisions matters not.  Off he went.  I’ll save this for another blog post.

Today I’m going to write not about my husband’s terrible accident and miracle recovery, and not about my number one son’s muscular dystrophy, but about my number two son.

My little one (“Little,” HA!!  He’s thirteen and stands 6′ 1″) is the nicest boy you’ll meet.  He’s a quiet child.  He’s hilarious, but you might not know that about him because he doesn’t seek the spotlight.  He’s a deep thinker with a deep voice you don’t hear often enough.  He isn’t a crack-up laughing kind of kid, but when he lets loose, his laughter is the most joyful of music to my ears.  He’s thoughtful, writing me birthday messages expressing how proud he is to be my son.  He’s kind, always lining up at the end to let everyone else get in line for the first crack at whatever is up for grabs.  He’s the kid who’ll rub your shoulder when he passes by or lean in to hug you just because.

He had to give a speech in English Language Arts class about a person he valued as an effective leader.  He chose to write and speak about his math teacher, who also happens to be his flag football and basketball coach.  I was surprised initially and just a touch hurt that he did not select his father, given what his dad has overcome in 2019, but the presentation wasn’t about love so much as leadership and inspiration he said.  What’s that about still waters running deep?  I did not get to hear his speech–I asked!  And try as I might have (I may have visited his room more often than usual while he studied his notes in rehearsal), I didn’t actually find out which qualities he ascribed to his teacher/coach.

My kid has a natural athletic build, works his butt off, and swear to the stars, he is almost two feet taller than many other kids his age, but he doesn’t have a killer instinct–it’s just not in his makeup.  I’ve said it before about him, and it’s likely going to hold true: what makes him a terrific human being will likely prevent him from being a next-level athlete.  And that’s OK.  Not that some elite athletes aren’t also nice humans, but it takes a certain intangible to become that athlete.

Sometimes all a kid needs is someone to believe in him, or for that kid to believe that someone believes in him.  And right now I believe that his teacher/coach is that person for my younger son.  Sure, my kid’s size is a gift–you can’t coach height, they say–but size doesn’t magically equal ability or confidence as we learned in baseball.  Baseball season was a total loss.  With my husband’s accident, hospitalization, and rehab, neither of us was present to support our boy like had always been the case prior.  I was a damn dumpster fire of a mess, my husband was incapacitated and/or rehabbing hard to recover what the accident had stolen from him, and my poor kid. . .  he floundered.  Floundered would be generous, actually.  And when it was clear that those around him had lost faith in him, he lost faith in himself.

But this coach believes in him, and if he doesn’t, my kid believes that he does anyway.  Between the sidelines, my baby is a go-to guy, and as much as he says baseball is his favorite sport, he’s better suited for football.  How I love watching their games!  Yesterday morning he scored two offensive touchdowns, and for him, the holy grail of football accomplishments–the pick-six (an interception run back for a touchdown).  He probably snagged 7-8 flags (tackles in flag football) too.  But you’ll never hear him talk about it to anyone else.  It’s just not in his nature, but clearly it IS in mine to brag about him a bit.

If National Sons Day is a thing and not just a Facebook posting prompt, I’d proudly overshare what I love about this kid (well, both of them, but today, just the “little” one). But then I have this little blog, where unlike Facebook, I can write on and on and on.  And on. . .   There’s more to life than sports, there’s also good citizenship, take this for example–

Think back to your formative years.  Who believed in you, who had your back?  Was it a family member?  A coach, a friend, a teacher?  It’s really something, the feeling you get when someone believes in you.  Like love, belief begets belief.

No joke.  Take action.  For the kid or friend or relative or neighbor who needs to know someone has their back–be the one.  Be their believer.  Maybe someone will write a speech about you.  Maybe they won’t, but you can rest happily knowing you’ve made a difference, which is a king’s ransom of a reward in itself.

His And Hers And Hamilton

One Of Us Is Definitely Recovering Better Than The Other: A Tale of Two Recoveries and Some Dangerous Musical Juju

His

Against all odds, and in continued miraculous fashion, my husband has bested every expectation and prognosis his twenty-eight diagnoses handed him starting in May.  He (I believe) overestimates his stamina, so (in my estimation) works just a bit too hard at everything he does.  Naps are no luxury item; they’re necessary.  You will never hear Tom complain–it’s just not in his nature, I guess–so when the “You Have to Go Back to Work” bell rings much sooner than certainly I am ready for, he’ll go.  Without complaint. Therapy, exercise (his physical therapist cleared him to volley tennis balls, y’all!), returning to activities under the terms of his restrictions–he’s on it.  He’s the most drama-free dude you’ll ever meet, but that doesn’t render him “cured” quite as quickly as (I believe) is being demanded.

Hers

Have I mentioned that he is amazing?  He is amazing.  But this looming return to work thing is freaking me right out.  I’m feeling total “mama bear” mode, except the protective instinct covers my husband, so is more like “spousal bear,” but “spousal bear” lacks the imagery and verbal panache “mama bear” carries.

Four months ago, my husband was knocked down and wedged under the truck that backed over him.  Slammed to the pavement, he can remember three distinct thuds of his head on the concrete, matching the stories the long crack from his eye up past the crown of his head and two crushing injuries tell.  He describes watching blood pour out of his head, thinking “this might be it” as in IT, the end.  The day after, he told me he never wanted me to have to know what happened to him, that it was so terrible he didn’t want me ever to have to envision it.  A few days after that, fuzzy from IV meds and brain injury, he related to a team of doctors and those of us in the room the complete, gruesome chronology as he remembered it.  It broke me.  OK, it buckled me.

I haven’t recovered from the crash near as well as my husband has.  I remember a thousand different details he can’t.  I don’t know what it’s like anymore not to worry about him every second he’s alive.

We do this thing at our monthly meetings at work, where we acknowledge good deeds and kind words, a public thank you to colleagues who’ve helped others in the spirit of collegiality and professionalism.  Our supervisor reads them to the department when we assemble as one; we don’t get pay raises or bonuses, so it’s a small way we can recognize each other and give verbal pats on the back.  I’d written a bouquet to thank our department for the wonderful messages of concern and support during the early days post-accident and since then for my supervisor to share.  Instead of her reading those few lines, she asked if I wanted to get up and say something myself.  I did not want to get up and say something myself.  I’m much clearer in writing, and I cry less easily and frequently behind the keyboard, but what do you do when put on the spot?  You get up and you say something.  In the maybe fifteen seconds it took me to reach the microphone, everything flooded back.  I could picture myself talking to the police in the waiting room before seeing him the first time, convinced the lack of information meant he had to be paralyzed.  I could envision the Emergency Department treatment area, hearing him barely able to utter “There’s so much pain.”  I could see the stitches and staples holding his swollen face and head together.  I could picture myself standing in the hallway outside the family center, calling my mom asking for help with the kids and late that first night, getting the late-night text from my best friend asking if everything was OK because I’d called her twice–late–without leaving a message.

I don’t even know what I said at our meeting last week, but I know that 184 people were silent as I stood there rambling.  I am not recovering as well as my husband is, but with weeks of practice now, I can pass as a mostly functional person.  Really, I should be short-listed for outstanding female lead performance in a human drama.

And Hamilton

Today’s my birthday, and as per tradition in our house, my birthday “surprise” was outed long before the actual day.  My husband is hands-down the absolute worst secret keeper on the planet.  He had promised me Hamilton tickets for Christmas last year, then didn’t buy them because his cheap-o wife suggested waiting until after the holiday rush, hoping ticket prices would return to not-Christmas-purchase-frenzy prices.  Then he forgot, which I don’t know how possibly he could, me all performing My Shot 100% accurately and pouting over not going pretty much on the daily. Eventually I bought tickets for the May 10 show, with the plan we’d each take off work that Friday, our wedding anniversary, spending the day with our Founding Fathers and maybe a nice dinner in Chicago.  The universe had other plans for us, and the accident canceled that itinerary.

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Sorry about my ridiculous add, but my husband has been cleared to volley tennis balls, you guys!  The fact that he’s alive is a miracle.

So we’re hopping the Amtrak to see Hamilton today (happy birthday to me)! I feel like the universe has already asserted itself, telling me in no uncertain terms I am not meant to see this show though.  Like something bad is going to happen when we spit in the face of the pre-ordained plan–I mean we have been warned!  What if I actually find myself in the room where it happens (sing it with me)? Superstitious weirdo stuff from me? Maybe.  Yes.  I mean, it’s super unlikely my husband will get run over again, but who knows what else the universe has up its sleeve?? I shouldn’t be going, and we are spitting in its face. But it’s time for us to move forward, universe. Be kind to us, will ya?  It’s my birthday after all.

Emotional Topography

There’s this neighborhood bakery we frequent. They sell big-as-your-face donuts along with ritual hot ham and rolls on weekends. Is the Sunday morning ham and rolls a thing where you live the way it is here in the Midwest? Sunday morning, for no reason clearly apparent, my big kid got it in his head to surprise his dad, trekking solo off to the bakery. He set an alarm, you guys, on a Sunday just to do something nice for his dad. I choked up a little, I did.

Living with four males is itself a feat that should place me in the line for living sainthood, or at least in the line for a nice margarita.  “Good talk” is an oft-repeated Wendyism around our house, uttered after many a conversation where I mean to impart knowledge or information to my boys and get maybe a grunt in response, maybe a grunt.  “Shouting into the void” is a phrase that adequately describes some of my attempts at meaningful exchanges with our teenage children. . .  But then you get this slice of heaven on a Sunday morning–your kid plans and does something nice just because.  And you see this glimmer of hope that the life you live, the models you provide, the lessons you explicitly teach your children about being good people are actually making the impact you’d hope.  You can’t help but be buoyed.

Valleys and peaks, summits and the abyss. We categorize feelings and emotions in opposing extremes it seems, which makes “emotional roller coaster” an apt term.  Time is linear, but I have difficulty separating time from the emotions experienced in a given period, so to me, time also has texture.

I understand that one measure by which I mark time is a method wholly unique to my circle of friends and me: identifying chunks of time by Barenaked Ladies-related events.  It’s not the only metric I used to benchmark life events, I mean really!, but here it fits.  I’m still geeeeeeked up about the show we attended a few weeks back, but when the tour was announced back in December I was the polar opposite of geeked out.

So far, the 2015 Pine Knob show has been our only All-Eleven lineup

This weekend, the friends about whom I’ve written before, my Ladies Ladies, eight of them anyway, are getting together for the BNL show in Nashville.  When this tour was announced just before Christmas, I was in a down spell, a way down spell.  You have to understand that when tours are announced, tickets go on sale often within 48 hours, and you have to be ready to go.  Not only was I not ready to go, I wasn’t ready even to think about it.  I wasn’t going.  That was that.  My girls tried talking me into it–they even bought an extra ticket for me despite my insistence I wasn’t going (which gives them a gold star for optimism).  It’s hard for me to take off work ever, especially after the great I’m not getting paid debacle of 2019, and the beginning of any school year finds me just short of chaos.  Plus, I was just down.

I don’t know that I’ve ever acknowledged being depressed, but I know that I wasn’t a real laugh riot the months before Tom’s accident.  But of course, the accident changed every damn thing about my life as I knew it.  It’s hard to explain, but during the first week after Tom was run over, I was consumed by exhaustion, confusion, terror? but I didn’t take a minute to lose my shit.  How could I?  I had two kids who needed to get to school and baseball practice, to drumline rehearsals and bass lessons.  Family and friends took over, ensuring the kids’ basic bottom-of-Maslow’s pyramid needs got met, but I kept going.  Nonstop.  I hardly slept.  How could I?

My Fitbit tells an interesting tale of pre- and post-surgical insommnia.

The full damage report didn’t even hit me until several days after the accident, and by then I was sleeping overnight at the hospital because my husband wasn’t.  He woke on the hour, sometimes more often than that, calling out for me on a loop.  At least when I “slept” bedside, I was able to calm him, reassuring on repeat and repeat and repeat what had happened and why he couldn’t just get out of bed.

I was petrified when they entrusted his discharge care to me, overwhelmed.  Bone-tired and weary with sleep deprivation, but not depressed.  I was too busy to slump.  Once he began to arc up though, my post-accident descent took shape.  I could feel momentum building as my steps down the hill gained speed.  I won’t detail late June and July, because frankly it’s just not that interesting, but I was down and I took myself out.  I was straight-up honest with anyone offering to take/meet me out or to visit:  I’m lousy company.  No thanks.  Just please leave me be.  I didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want to talk much to anyone.

I didn’t know how to be.

The end of summer break forced re-entry into my real world.  No choice but to find a way to be and god dammit, get there.  I was again petrified, but this time at the idea of not being home to care for my husband.

In the span of a few days being back at work, I coerced an internal perspective shift, and I swear I felt lighter.  I’d spent so much time at work being angry and/or frustrated about good stuff I want to have/make happen, but lack the station to enact, but now?  I still want that good stuff obviously–my colleagues count on me to fight the good fight–but I know where I fit.  I’ve always known where I fit, but now I’m OK living there.  No arduous climb to the summit, only to barrel down the other side of the mountain.  I can do the best I can do.  The topography of right now is rolling plains.  My kid set and alarm and bought donuts! My husband continues to recover!  My idols dedicated a performance to my husband!!!  Today it’s all good.

I recently finished Fredrik Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here, a terrific, quirky novel centered around a terrific, quirky character.

Because that is what women like Britt-Marie do. They find the strength when they have to do something for others.

And like Britt-Marie, I think in the end I found the strength to do something for myself. Because also from the same novel–

Though absent from it myself, I am excited for the Ladies Ladies reunion, and while I’ll miss a wonderful girls’ weekend, I’m good not to go.  Sure, I would’ve liked the 2019 lime green version of our “team shirt” and would have shared in the social media song request campaign (Best Damn Friend), but it’s OK.  I’d written the girls that I feel peace in the long view:  I remember how beat down I felt when they began their flurry of planning and ticket-buying.  I recall how heavy my heart felt, because heartache is felt in a physical, real way.  I can recognize now my own optimism about those down memories from many months back, and having clawed back up from them.  How could I not?