Friday The 13th

I’m not superstitious–just a little stitious (that one is for fans of The Office), and actually, it’s Saturday the 14th now anyway. I’m able to mark myself safe from any catastrophic outcomes the second Friday the 13th in 2020 might have delivered. The first Friday the 13th was my last day at the office before the entire world shut down last March. I stopped to pick up PPE for testing on Thursday and felt a pang. Who knew? It’s possible to miss sitting at my cramped, utilitarian desk in my ancient, unattractive office building because of course, it’s not the physical space, but being apart from the people with whom it’s shared that knocks the wind out of me.

It’s 2020, which means that it’s perfectly acceptable to wear slippers when giving a presentation for my SLP colleagues. Normally I’m a heels kind of gal when I present, but what the hell? It’s not like anyone saw any of me further south than my clavicles.

Friday the 13th was just another workday in the bizarre string of everything-looks-and-feels-the-same days of virtual reality. I sat perched atop a yoga ball rather than standing at a podium for my presentation yesterday, and had to repeat the same info in two consecutive Google Meets. I’m much better in the “one and done” world of professional development, but hey, on the upside? I didn’t have to straight-up memorize 50 minutes of content material.

Though it’s cited as something feared more than death by many people, I discovered that I much prefer public speaking in public. Speaking into a webcam is shouting into the void, and I do better with the feedback of an audience. I was already working two screens and keyboards, and couldn’t manage a third to make the Google audience visible to me. I wanted at least to see who was tuned in, but all I heard was pure, absolute silence. Well, there was that one SLP who left herself unmuted. Her open mic sounded to me as if she were doing dishes, and it nearly drove me to distraction. This is the modern workplace, and hey, you got dishes needing a soak? Have at ‘em. I wouldn’t have enjoyed listening to me drone for an hour or so either, but probably I’d have been more discreet. ‘Cause, see, you don’t announce that you’re only minimally working-working, you mute yourself.

The activities on my calendar this week have unveiled to me a number of personal revelations. They don’t all land on the namaste-spirit “quest for personal improvement” pathway. Revelations don’t always or exclusively land in the positive column. Sometimes the light shines on the sunny side of the street, and sometimes it illuminates just how big a weirdo you actually are.

Politics and news were pummeling me, and I couldn’t both engage and remain not nuts. I felt quite a lot like heeding the words of David Rose, one of my favorite television characters of all time: trying very hard not to connect with people with right now.

Some of the revelations, revealed in no particular order:

I learned that my younger son has been paying attention. Kim Ng was named the first female GM in Major League Baseball this week, and he proclaimed it to be a “very powerful moment.” How I love this child.

Mine is not a book review blog, but I learned that it’s possible to love Fredrik Backman’s writing so much that I want to plow ahead at warp speed and devour his work because he is So. Damn. Good. But I also never want it to end, so I find I must pace myself. Anxious People is genius in the way Backman reveals the relationships between and connectedness of the characters. To date, I’ve read 53 books in 2020, a personal record.

My children are lonely, no real-life school, and no extra-curriculars, no social engagements. I suggested they read more than their required texts. I shared with them how books have always transported me, provided the needed getaways I could never make happen in my real world. That I’ve read so many volumes this year probably speaks to my desperate need to dwell in a reality other than my own. My own social engagements are few and far between, and I’ve never felt like more of a misanthrope. Is it even possible for a loud person to be both an extravert and an introvert? (Yes, yes, it is.)

Throwing caution and self-esteem to the wind, I found myself on my bathroom scale this week. I want to lose those last five pounds (again), but not as much as I want to enjoy nightly cocktails.

In related news, it’s November, the only 30 days that Kopps Frozen Custard makes available my favorite sundae, maybe my favorite food in all eternity, available. Two weeks into the month, two Almond Boy sundaes polished off. Two more pounds added to those five. . .

I LOVE loud music, but loathe loud television. Even in this world of isolation, I still seek quietude. It makes me fucking bonkers when my husband or sons walk into a room in which I’m reading or working or writing and blast on the television. I mean sure, my husband’s ear was ripped off his head, and hearing loss resulted from the neurological damage occurring with the crush, but jaysus, that’s loud. Remember, I didn’t say all the revelations were good ones.

This shirt was a gift from Rebecca, one of my dear coworkers, and I absolutely love that she couldn’t wait to give it to me.

Orange and fuchsia are my favorite colors, but I learned that the Milwaukee River, while not the cleanest body of water, sparkled in the most electric, hopeful shade of blue. That particular shade of hopeful blue is my interim favorite color.

I’ve discovered that denying myself something I want is both possible and crushing. I can want and want and not get and not get and that’s just the way life is. It’s a paradox of adulthood: what you want that’s wrong can seem perfectly justifiable, and what’s sensible and reserved can leave you feel like you’re missing something.

I want my children to visit their grandparents and my parents to see their grandchildren, but I am not prepared to carry the burden of the potential spread of the coronavirus to my parents if I arrange for the kids to visit.

My friend Dena, who is probably my biggest blog “fan” if my having a fan is even a thing, became a widow recently. Neil’s funeral was shared via Facebook Live because grieving the loss of friends and loved ones is yet one more human ritual affected by stupid COVID. His was a beautiful service, and I felt connected, however unconventionally, having been able to attend from a distance. I wanted to support my friend in a less tech-y way, so this week I delivered dinner. I see pretty much no one these days, still it was a stunner to realize as we chatted how my social skills have deteriorated.

Dena told me that she missed the frequency with which I had once written here in this blog, that she missed my voice, because reading what I wrote was like listening to me talk, which is about as nice a thing as you can say to someone. I wish I had more to say, I wish I had more to offer my fan (yes, fan, as in singular!)

I felt more clear-headed when I wrote more regularly. That’s the revelation on which I’ll close. Will I do something about it though? I mean, with all the drinking and frozen custard crowding my agenda, where will I find the time??

Election Day

The forecast called for clear skies and sunshine here on Election Day. I rose before the sun, grabbing a front row seat to the sun breaking the horizon over Lake Michigan. As I headed out the door, I mumbled something to my husband about finding or creating some sort of metaphor, confirming that no matter what the day’s outcome, the sun still rises.

Tuesday was un-Wisconsin-like warm, mid-70s temperatures bliss, and I wasted not one moment. I completed a little yoga practice when I returned home from the lakefront. I assiduously avoided the television. Our Echo Show responded as commanded to, “Alexa, play ambient music” and I floated in its trance. I walked the dog. I took photos of this incredible display of urban art along with an incredible display of urban forestry in the form of the reddest maple leaves I’ve ever seen south of Canada’s flag. I muted all social media notifications on my phone. I texted a few people I don’t connect with often enough and love to bits to tell them I was thinking about them. My younger son and I walked for miles. I cracked the spine on Dan Rather’s What Unites Us, a collection of essays I cannot recommend highly enough. I prepared a complicated dinner. I even dusted the living room and Windex-ed up a few windows because Tuesday was a day for making good choices.

A Whole Lot and Nothing Going On

I spent three hours on the telephone with a friend last week–three hours!!–and I can honestly say I’ve not spoken to another person on the telephone that long outside of work in an age. It was nice. Really nice. She told me she looked forward to reading my blog to “catch up” in the way written communication allows us to hang out these days.

All I could say in reply was that I wasn’t feeling creatively inspired much lately. I know this was as obvious to her as it is to any of you who check in with me here.

To prevent me from feeling I needed to fill the space and atone further, good human she is, she responded saying something like, “Well, there’s not much going on to talk about these days, is there?” Well, there is and there isn’t.

Happy Birthday!

Let’s begin by celebrating my husband’s birthday today! After last year’s accident, hitting 50 was no sure thing, yet here he is, blowing out 51 metaphorical candles on his birthday pie. Flying in the face of my frosting obsession, he prefers birthday pie (and pineapple upside down cake and Boston cream pie) to birthday cake. And while I can’t make any piece of bakery or anything really look pretty, I can throw canned pie filling into a pastry shell, however inelegant it looks. It looks like this. Not pretty, but also not the most unappetizing food I’ve concocted either.

My friend Moriah is right–you should always take photos of the pre-baked pie. The details and edging look more even before browning. And clearly, I missed a few spots with the egg white wash. *sigh*

Not that you’ve asked, but I’ve got your unappetizing. . . Unappetizing was the special trail of “presents” our ailing, weak-stomached, cute but idiotic dog left all over the living room floor this morning. Because it’s his birthday and I’m not a total ass, I took on steam cleaning duties. Before 5:00 AM. It’s wrong to want a boozy drink before sunrise probably, but if it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. Ugh.

The birthday boy had some reconstructive surgery recently, and it went well. It did not go as well as he would have liked though, and that broke my heart a little. I think maybe he was hoping for a more pre-accident symmetry result, a turnaround that would leave him looking just like nature originally intended again, but no amount of surgery performed under even the most expert care can undo paralysis, it turns out.

All things considered, he looks pretty good though, huh? I mean, the not dead part is awesome for starters. And when did I become so little??

Parent-Teacher Conferences

The first academic quarter has drawn to an end. 100% virtual for everyone in my household. I don’t love teaching virtually, and I don’t believe my sons are receiving the type of education experiences they and their classmates deserve, but my sons have been present for each and every class period, tuned in (probably?), completing assigned work, and consulting with their teachers as needed. They are both KILLING IT when it comes to grades this quarter, and I’m immeasurably proud of their commitment to achievement in the face of adversity. I’m also endlessly amused during Block A1, Percussion Ensemble class, where my number one son pounds out beats above my head, he in his room, me directly below him in my dining room office.

It’s parent-teacher conference week, which meant that Monday I slumped at my keyboard from 7:30 AM until 8:20 PM. Conference attendance wasn’t great at the schools where I provide service, but I was grateful for the meetings I did have. Given that I essentially barge into my students’ homes once or twice weekly, I feel 1) like an intruder, and 2) like I’ve come to know my students and their families better than I would have pre-COVID-closure; I wasn’t devastated that I didn’t have a high turn-out. I call/email/text parents more than ever now. But I am not meant to sit in a chair thirteen consecutive hours nor are my wrists not meant to type that many keystrokes in one day.

In total “semantics hair-splitting” Wendy non-sequitur fashion, can I say that it bugs me that teachers refer to my child as my student? Educators, when speaking or writing to parents at large, say, “Your student” as in, “Your student’s evidence” or “Your student’s classroom participation.” He’s not my student; he’s my child. He’s YOUR student. Just had to get that one out there. K? Thanks.

The Return of the MDA Telethon

Since my big kid’s muscular dystrophy diagnosis five years ago, FIVE YEARS already!, we had participated in the MDA Muscle Walk, an annual fundraising event. Through your staggering support of my family and me, together we have raised over $10,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The MDA funds research, community outreach, summer camp, and a host of other supports for families affected by neuromuscular disease and ALS. I’ve written about what their work has meant for me, the mom of a child with MD over and over and over. As I skimmed some older posts linked there, I read “life-changing” more than once.

But after the accident last year, I just couldn’t find it within me to ask people to donate to the Muscle Walk this year. What my readers, friends, and family had done to help me through my husband’s near-death experience and the subsequent losing of my shit is beyond measure. I could not possibly ask one thing more from my circle. Not. One. Thing.

So I’ll just leave this link here, and you can click it if you find yourself feeling philanthropic. The MDA is rebooting the telethon with Kevin Hart hosting the MDA Kevin Hart Kids Telethon. The event is streaming live on multiple social media platforms as well as YouTube this Saturday evening, October 24. I’m goofy that Dan Levy has lent a hand to the reboot–his genius and advocacy are inspiring. And if you don’t find his David Rose to be among the top characters in television history, fight me. I think I know just what I’ll wear–

Loooove the utterly ridiculous Snapchat filters. Better than Botox, y’all.

As you can imagine, financial support for non-profits is down in 2020, and events like the Muscle Walk, like everything else this year held virtually, have suffered in attendance and donation. So why not watch Kevin Hart and his coterie of socially-distanced guests this Saturday? You’ll probably laugh a little, and you can’t tell me you don’t need a little belly laugh these days.

Virtual Reality

The first months of my sons’ freshman and junior years of high school are in the books. Our district reopened 100% virtually, meaning all students in all schools receive all instruction via their district-issued Chromebook screens. If one more person uses the phrase “new normal,” I’m gonna lead the revolt.

It’s both understandable and appropriate that huggy, emotional high school students as well as boogery, teary-eyed kindergarteners are prohibited from sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in school hallways and classrooms right now. I get it. I hate it, but I get it, and I’m not looking for an argument. I could and I do focus a lot on what my boys are missing right now, but that doesn’t serve me here.

Remember that week back in March, when the world shut down and everyone realized how much they appreciated their kids’ teachers? Those were the four finest days of my career! I’m kidding, but what fries my beans right now is that people think virtual learning is the easy way out for teachers–you think this is easy?? We hear of parents complaining how they should get a property tax refund because they’re “homeschooling” while teachers are “not working.” I’m sorry, what??

Parents, we need you like never before. And we have always needed you. When schools were closed last March and working from home/distance learning became a necessity, I said that I could not possibly have done my job if my children were any younger. I cannot imagine the strain of trying to work while ensuring my children were tuned in in a meaningful way. And here we are. Still.

For those of you in the back, let me be clear: (almost) NO ONE PREFERS TO BE TEACHING VIRTUALLY. VIRTUAL REALITY SUCKS. WE 99.9% WANT TO BE SPENDING OUR DAYS IN OUR CLASSROOMS WITH OUR STUDENTS.

But we can’t complain, even though here I am doing the very thing. I put my smiliest, happiest face forward when I see my students for I am genuinely elated to see them. I acknowledge the weirdness, tell them I wish we were learning together, practicing our skills face-to-face, sure, but do I complain? No! My tone sets the tone for their time with me, and I need them to be up! So I’m up. And my students don’t know this, so let’s keep it a secret, OK?, but that they show up is a joy that’s carrying me.

Like this crabby, old speech path, my children’s teachers are working their butts off trying to get and keep the kids engaged. I know this because my children are working their butts off and engaged. I see their Google Classroom updates, the boys pop down to my basement “office” to check in “between classes.” The innovation required of educators right now in their lesson planning and presentation is unlike anything in my lengthy history as an educator. And, in 2020, you don’t get to pick which new digital platform you’re dipping your toes into–you have to be savvy about all of them, everything, immediately, right now, right this minute!

When my students log in for their session, I provide therapy and then log session data in one online module. When they fail to show, I’ve got to log their non-attendance, document my many contact attempts with the kids and their families, and that’s after I’ve spent the time making those phone calls, and composing emails and text messages. I could detail the minutiae (and I did actually before deleting a ton of text here, so you’re welcome) of why I’m working harder than I’ve worked in my life, but it’s not exciting. It’s exhausting.

By late afternoon, I am bone-weary, mentally and physically spent.

The hardest part of my job right now isn’t service provision though. And it’s not the enormity of therapy planning, delivery, and documentation–I’ve long abandoned the notion of being able to manufacture time. Constant multitasking is taxing my working memory in unsustainable ways. I’m quantitatively less happy and less effective than if I were working in a linear fashion (yes, there are studies and if I had the energy to find them, I’d link them here. Maybe another post). But still that’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is feeling acutely that I cannot be enough of a support to my coworkers who need it. I’m a speech-language pathologist program support teacher, and it’s tearing me down that my support part of the PST gig is falling flat in my estimation.

The innovation and willingness to share “what works for me” demonstrated across our profession is inspiring. It’s also daunting. Speech paths tend not to be real good at not being great at their jobs, so when you hear that Speechie Blogger A has a super cute Bitmoji classroom and Speechie Teachers Pay Teachers Millionaire B is crushing the green screens while Speechie Webinar Producer C’s the Boom Card queen, you might feel a little, um, less than stellar. . . I’ve asked people to find a way to be OK with doing their best, even if it’s not their ideal, but I don’t know that message is what people need or want or are even ready to hear.

Now I’m old, and comfortable admitting I’m doing my best and that’s going to have to be enough. I know my best isn’t as flashy as everyone else’s, but it’s a buoy keeping me afloat in this vast sea of technological overload: I did all I could today. At the end of the day, I don’t even want to LOOK at my computer to surf online anymore–my whole life is on my computer!!! I used to love sitting at my keyboard, creating stories here in this blog, what I once labeled my “sanity-saving project.” Ha. These days I write almost not at all, and hey, you’re welcome for that too.

I want to help others better than I’m able to right now, but I’m also doing everything I can to do my best for my students. I’m doing the best I’m able to support my own children’s learning (and I was never one for classes titled Theory of Knowledge or Global Politics). I’m trying to run our household, trying to keep my family alive and fed and stable. Last week I lamented to a colleague much younger than I that I believed myself ill-equipped to help in the ways people need me to and shared with her a little about what my day-to-day sounds like.

Isn’t this magic? It’s part of a building-side mural in my neighborhood, painted onto the side of a print shop. The mural includes many elements, but this one fits best today.

And what does this wunderkind do? Like a ninja, leaving no trace (was she even ever really here?), she drops a package at my door the next day. From her I receive a copy of the book she and I discussed some months ago along with a perfect drawing of my dog, drawing being her pandemic project, and a bottle of Prosecco. (See, I drink a lot now that I’m home 24/7 and have to wait for happy hour only as long as it takes me to walk upstairs after shutting down my laptop). She also included a beautiful plant, just beginning its bloom cycle. And the plant, though destined to live a short life under my care, gave me pause to focus my energy on growth.

I work with the most incredible people, and I thank this extra-special Speechie for all the goodies, including the pale lavender-pink petals which sparked the reminder that even when we feel buried, we can still reach out and seek the sun. Thank you for the reminder that kindness goes a long, long way. So does laughter. So does hard work.

We are trying, we really are. Before COVID-19, teaching did not involve a jillion Google Chrome extensions like Jamboards or Pear Deck slides or naked parents passing their kid’s Google Meeting screen or tragically here in my town, the murder of a student’s mother, the gunshot fired during a live lesson. Please be kind to your children’s teacher. I’m not saying you’ve got to buy them books and booze, but I’m not saying not to either. . .

Pros, Cons, and Way Too Many Lease Miles

Yesterday was my forty-ninth first day of school.  Kindergarten through high school was thirteen years, tack on four years of college plus two years of graduate school to add another six, and yesterday I embarked upon my thirtieth year in urban education.  Holy shit, I’m old.

I don’t have vivid recollections of most of my first days, but I’m comfortable asserting that 2020’s school opener has to be strangest ever first day of school.  And I know from strange–may I remind you that last year’s first day came on the heels of a complete emotional meltdown subsequent to my husband’s near-death summer?  People are all, 2020 is the worst, and I’m over here, real quiet-like still cursing the nightmare orbit 2019 was for me.  I mean, 2020 sucks for reals and globally, sure, but for a girl whose hopes and dreams were pinned on the fresh start a change of the calendar was to have brought. . .  I guess what I’m saying is blah.  It still sucks as in present progressive, still sucking.

Last week was freshman orientation.  My older son–now a high school junior!–sat at his bedroom desk helping to lead a group of freshmen through their orientation and welcome Google Meet event while my younger sat directly below him in the dining room Google Meeting as an incoming freshman.  Google Meet orientation was not the experience either had hoped for, but they both grew from the experience.  Definitely check the pro side of a pros/cons columnar list.

My brain’s a go, but my heart remains unconvinced that our district’s virtual start is ideal even if it is.  I’ve elected to work remotely, meaning my work with students and colleagues will be based temporarily out of my dining room.  Next week when my own children begin their virtual classes, my “office” will be relegated to the basement, which is fine because I need a work space that’s different from the space where my family and I eat dinner together.  I have an office and eight school sites, so working from home makes sense and is my design, yes, but I’d much rather have a front row seat to my coworkers and students.  I miss talking to people with my whole self, I miss cracking wise, hearing stories about my colleagues who are also my friends’ lives and loves.  I miss how faces light up at the “Heyyyyy, did ya have a good summer?” back-to-school reunions.  I miss those knowing smirks, inside jokes, eye rolls, and snort-laughter. I talk to so few people in real time now that I’ve lost my conversational rhythm and epic timing. I’m not even funny anymore.

But. . .  What kind of mom or mentor would I be if I noticed nothing but what I am missing?  I saw some social media post asking parents to support whatever their kids’ school districts decide for opening, because kids will follow their parents’ leads.  So I am trying to find the silver linings, the items I can tick off as a thumbs-up on my own T-chart of pros and cons.  But I am a very keepin’ it real parent.  I openly tell my children things like, “Yeah, you can think this sucks, guys, because it sucks.” But I also try to remind them that none of us has the right kind of experience to manage what a pandemic really means for our mental health and well-being.  I don’t know what’s the right type of reaction or behavior, and I’ve had forty-nine first days of school!  I should have more wherewithal than teenage boys whose brains are well, the brains of teenage boys.  I should be more capably equipped, but I’m not as OK as I’d like to be.  The photo below is not an inaccurate representation of the current state of affairs in my “office.” Except my Chuck Taylors are pink and yellow.

education-school-back-to-school-student

Instead of having to wake at 5:05 AM to ready myself for work before shuttling my kids to high school, I can stay in bed until 6:30.  Later than that really if I go light on the “ready” part. My commute is a grand total of seven footsteps.  Definitely a pro in the pros/cons tally.

I can pile my hair up in a bun without even having to rely on a mirror anymore, thereby styling down another few minutes from my AM prep time.  I call it my pandemic ‘do, and was told by at least one person it’s super cute.  That person is my favorite.  Pro.

I took an hour-long walk before work today.  I showered, bunned up the hair, put on makeup, and made it to work with time to spare.  Pro.

I walked my dog around our neighborhood park during my lunch break, sneaking in some belly rubs and a couple thousand steps. Pro. Woof!

No shopping for back-to-school wardrobes, so I saved a boatload of cash on fall clothing for both boys.  My baby already towers over everyone, standing at 6’2″ at age fourteen, so it’s a guarantee that he’ll have outgrown any shorts or tees I’d buy now.  Pro.

No sports for the sport.  We were all hungry for football, looking forward to my little one’s debut as a gridiron Husky pretty much as soon as he hung up his cleats after his eighth grade season.  Con.

No knock-down drag-out fights over the last red 2″ binder you MUST have for Physics class or 10-color multi-pack Crayola markers at the Target Back-to-School bins.  School hasn’t even mentioned the $125 calculator needed for algebra, so yay.  Pro.

I’ve got to learn online apps and virtual service delivery and communication platforms whose names I’d never even heard until recently. I feel like a relic, and that makes me feel sad. Professional pro, personal con.

I’ve received a few emails welcoming me back, telling me how great I am at my job, and thanking me for fighting the good fight.  PRO PRO PRO.

No drum line.  We all lose.  Con.  But the drum line and my kid did make it on his school’s web page.  OK not really.  The top of his head did though, and I swear, I knew it was his hair.  Moms know.

I do miss my afternoon auto concert performances.  Time in my car is necessary for the emotional disentanglement accompanied or maybe fueled by the songs that fix me.  I miss singing loudly (though not well), but all by myself and with unmatched conviction.  I miss the songs I need both to buoy my broken heart and celebrate ordinariness with their extraordinary melodies and lyrics.  The speakers in my new car are so good and Apple Car Play is magic.  Definite con.

I really want to high five my students when they get it!  Their proud faces beam when the skills/strategies I teach them click into place and work!  I’ll see them sure, but the screen dampens even the most genuine of joy.  Student victories?  They’re how you make it to your thirtieth first day, you guys.  Con.

I want my kids to be with their friends.  There.  I said it.  Not at the expense of others’ health and well-being, but I want my kids to hang with kids their age.  I’m still friends with many of my high school friends, which is a gift and a mega-pro.  My freshman son’s friendship stories are gonna be missing their first few chapters.

I travel city-wide on the daily, and log a crap-ton of miles driving from my office to the many schools where I provide services to kids and support to other professionals.  Having no commute has saved me some green in gasoline costs and vehicle wear and tear.  Pro. And that’s better for the environment, so double pro.

All those extra miles I purchased when I leased my new car are laughing in my face now. Con. Total burn.

I leaned a little heavy on the cons, but did manage to find a few rays of back-to-school sunshine, right?  What’s your back-to-school ray of sunshine? We’ve been healthy, so I don’t want to be a drama queen, but this distance and isolation are bound to leave wounds that will take some real time and effortful and intentional undoing to heal.  We all say “kids are resilient” because they are, but I think lately we throw “resilient” around more because WE need to believe it.  This mama needs to believe it like never before.

And That’s The Game

Ever have one of those days where you look at your kid, and find yourself completely overwhelmed at how much you are in love with him? That was my yesterday.

Major League Baseball is just opening up.  Stadiums are empty, even the play-by-play and color commentary guys are banned from traveling, but plate umps are calling “Play ball” across America.  For $50 you can purchase a giant likeness of your face to contribute to the illusion that fans are in the stands, and at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, you can even see stands filled with virtual, digital fans.  Crowd noise is piped in, cheering when the home team lines one to left. And I want to know who got that job?  It’s someone’s actual job now to select the appropriate “crowd noise” when a batter hits or misses and determine the organist’s rally cries via some iPod playlist made possible only by the dumpster fire we call 2020. Anyway.

The MLB’s truncated season got underway the very weekend my baby’s season had come to its end.  That there was a season at all for youth baseball was event enough, here in the the world of COVID-19.  Though the world had been shut down, youth baseball somehow found its way to daylight.  The season was short, cancellations abounded and disappointment ran rampant, but our younger son, to my great surprise, got in two months of ball, and that meant that so did I.

You may wholly disagree with our decision to let our boy play, and that’s your prerogative.  Science is real.  If you think we weren’t nervous to send our baby to his first team practice back in May, or sit along the first base line those early few games, think again.  But this team made a commitment to our son last August, as did we to them in return, and we felt bound to honor our commitment to have him play.  Rules and spaces were changed to accommodate social distancing.  Spectators were to be limited in number, and everyone I saw respected space.  There were no hugs, no high fives.

Youth baseball being open created its own set of losses and casualties.  My son has seen his best friend only once since ball opened.  Honestly, I wondered whether he would choose hanging with his best friend over baseball with an entirely new-to-him crop of kids.  I fully understand his BFF’s mother’s decision to disallow them to hang once our son’s baseball practices opened up our formerly 100% quarantined social circle.  The good guys in green and gold lost their home diamond to city and county park closures, so league schedules were cut and tournaments axed.  Thunderstorms were our constant summer companion (only on game days though!) to a point I actually wondered if the weather knew something we couldn’t.  Maybe those flood- and lightning-forced cancellations would have been fraught with exposure risks?  We’ll never know.  We got what we got: twenty-two forays around southeastern Wisconsin.  And we were grateful for them.

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He even got to pitch once.

No one on or related to his team became ill or has tested positive for coronavirus.  Maybe we were lucky, but you know what?  Luck has been in short supply at Chez Weir this last year (or five. . .), ya know?  My son got to play a game he loves.  We got to meet new families whose goals mirrored ours–to give their sons the opportunity to play the game they love.  Prior to the season, you may have heard me say that I wasn’t interested in getting to know a whole new group of parents, that this season was a one and done, and I didn’t need to become chatty with the other baseball parents.  But man, I’m glad I was and I did.  We were told that the vibe on my baby’s new team was chill, and the reputation was well-earned.  Really good people cheering on everyone’s kid, finding something good to say about every kid, every game.  There were cocktails.  There were laughs.  There were wins. Victory all around.

After yesterday’s final out (with my boy on deck!), I had that teary-eyed moment I expected, and that my kid openly and loudly asked me not to succumb to. “Don’t cry, Mom!”  But I always cry at endings.  Even good ones.  And this was a good one.  This ending also marked the end of an era for us.  After six years of travel ball, my little one is heading to high school now where he will be playing high school ball for the Huskies next season.  Whole new dynamic, whole new color scheme.  Whole new world of baseball-less summers-to-come for his dad and me.

My son’s season isn’t one for his record books, but he played hard.  He worked hard and improved his game.  He had fun!  In the “Do you feel like you have to play ball or do you get to play ball?” he got to play ball this year.  I’m proud of him for the player he is, and more proud for the teammate he is.  He’s compassionate (you should have seen my boy when a teammate went down after taking one to the face), and he’s as happy for a teammate when he lines one as when he blasts one himself.

I don’t often ask, but I needed a photo to mark this ending.  He played along.  Of course he did–he’s that kind of teammate.  I love this child, you just don’t even know.

It’s the bottom of the seventh, game over, so line ’em up, boys.  Tip your cap (because in the age of COVID, you don’t shake hands to acknowledge your opponent), and say goodbye.  I’m really gonna miss my boys of summer.

 

 

The Melancholy Is Palpable


Subtitle: First World Problems

Sub-subtitle: COVID-19 Is Apparently Not A Youth Baseball Fan


Had the pandemic not hit, this week would have been my Super Bowl.  My Olympic Games.  My Most Wonderful Time of the Year.  Whatever your most favorite thing to do in the world is, that’s what this week would have been for me.  This week’s lineup included three Barenaked Ladies concerts, and what would have been my first solo overnight trip away from my family since “the accident.”  Woulda been meeting my BNL BFF Nikki in the front row in Indianapolis.  Woulda been the annual meeting of #ketchupandmustard.

Instead of heading down to Summerfest, I delivered my number two son to baseball practice last evening at the hour I would have likely been rifling through my closet and trying to calm my nerves so I could lay on my eyeliner evenly.  I can’t explain why I get nervous before a concert.  It’s not like I’m the one going on stage to perform, I get that.  But hey, I don’t get out much, and I want to look and feel decent–an increasingly challenging feat–while I celebrate with my favorite music seated among a few thousand of my closest friends. 

My kid’s baseball team practices far enough from home that it doesn’t pay to turn myself around back home, so I walk the nearby nature paths while he throws, bats, and runs.  As I walk (and as my brain functions as a matter of routine), random thoughts occur to me, and me being me, I give voice to those random nuggets.  Often, and to my great surprise, my friends are kind and/or patient enough to hear me out while I verbally vomit and whatever the text version of verbal vomit is.

I texted a friend last night something whiny about how walking around Brookfield and West Allis was almost as cool as being at my concert. . .  I pouted back through a few more text exchanges, and after the last of which was told that the melancholy was palpable.  Wouldn’t that be a great book title?  I’m no author, but it did inspire me to draft a little story here at long last.  I haven’t had much to say of late. 

I fully acknowledge that in the grand scheme of 2020, concert cancellation is not only the correct, safe route to take, but also it’s a first world kind of problem for me.  I mean, turn on the news!  Well, you can turn on the news. . .  I mean, mostly I don’t because in the internal battle to be sane or be informed, sane wins most days.  I’m less well-informed than I should be, but come at me if you’re gonna argue that sanity doesn’t matter especially now.  There is so much to be angry about, and I just can’t be angry all the time.  My point is that 2020 is a dumpster fire (a generous assessment, really), and with the health, safety, and well-being of us all, rescheduled concerts are not life or death matters for fans. Now for the artists and their support?  It could very well be. They’re losing money, or not making it anyway.  

A blinding headache woke me in the middle of the night, and it’s knocked me out most of today.  But I’m thankful for the medicine that cures my headaches, even if it does leave me feeling nauseated and hungover the rest of the day.  Recovering from this killer vise of a headache made me look to the sunny side of the street, so I’m trying not to be a complete ass about what COVID-19 has taken from my family and me–all of us!–and take note of little silver linings.  

Set your expectations real low, friends.  Real low.  I did say little silver linings.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation:  I mean, no one ever wants to visit the DOT, right?  My timing has sucked for most of my life, but it just might work out for my firstborn. . .  The Wisconsin DOT has temporarily waived the formal road test for prospective drivers.  Under new COVID-19 guidelines, kids under 18 need only to have completed Driver’s Education (check), 30 hours of practice driving with a licensed adult (check), and six Behind The Wheel sessions with a licensed instructor (5/6 complete).  Should the waiver hold another two weeks, my son can become a licensed driver without the stress of the road test.  Yeah, it’s a rite of passage, but no one ever wanted to take their test, right?

Eighth Grade Completion:  My little one completed eighth grade this year.  They don’t call it “graduation” in our district, because they reserve the word graduation for high school completion, to give students a goal to which they can aspire, I assume.  With schools closed, there could be no formal event, and there were technical difficulties with the Zoom “ceremony,” but he did complete–we’ve got the yard sign to prove it!  My baby does not complain, it’s just not in his nature, but surely he could have.  He, along with every other graduate (completer??) missed those important lasts–their last sports events, last awards ceremonies, last class trips, last days of ruling the school.  I assembled a video compilation of well-wishes submitted by nearly everyone I asked, and watching it alongside him was the best.  

Yard Sign

Grocery Store Cake Frosting/Cinnamon Rolls/Baking Bread/Cooking With My Kids:   You know that frosting is religion to me.  During lockdown, I finally found THE recipe for the kind of frosting that makes my teeth hurt and my toes curl.  You can put it on a cake, sure, but there are no rules saying you have to, so you can just have a batch on hand.  It’s delicious dip for pretzels and M&Ms, and fits perfectly on a spoon on its own.  In related news, the bread maker machine I’ve owned for nearly thirty years still works, and I’ve enjoyed our renewed acquaintance.  I didn’t surrender my quest when COVID broke and the end-of-days crews cleaned out supermarket supplies of yeast.  I make OK bread from scratch now, but my cinnamon rolls are nothing short of amazing.  AND I’ve mastered a cream cheese frosting recipe along with my grocery store white frosting.  My children told me that a full batch of frosting is too much for one pan of cinnamon rolls, and I’ve got nothing but to wonder just who are these weirdos speaking the words “too much frosting?”  I’ve enjoyed the kids’ company and “help” with meal prep, and have had the best conversations about their food memories.

Cinnamon Rolls

Baseball:  It would seem that COVID is not a fan of youth baseball.  As soon as the State of Wisconsin’s “safer at home” order was struck down by the Supreme Court, youth baseball opened up, so apparently youth baseball players are just naturally immune or the virus just steers clear of the dugout???  Travel baseball team owners and league and tournament directors provided volumes of guidelines the kids and families were to follow.  I can’t say that the guidelines are 100% enforced as they were developed by epidemiologists and public health experts, but it’s not a free-for-all either.  After a dreadful season last year, my number two son is back. To have heard my baby say “after my dad’s accident last year, I just couldn’t keep my head in the game,” broke my heart.  Shattered it.  He’s on a new team with a new batting stance, as fast around the bases as ever, and the best-best part?  He is having fun.  He smiles, he laughs.  His coaches believe in his strength, and in turn, he believes in it too.  My only gripe?  Who thought white uniform pants were a good idea for teenagers??  I mean!!

Eli Third to Home

Hiking around Lake Geneva:  Pre-pandemic, my husband arranged for us to spend the third week of June in Mexico.  After last year’s near-death experience, who, more than my husband, deserves a beach vacation?  (hint, it’s ME!)  The pandemic had other ideas about our getaway however, so we settled for a couple nights in a nearby lake town.  So instead of baking in the sun on the white sands of Cancun, my husband thought it’d be cool if we hiked around the lake.  Literally around the lake.  The perimeter of Geneva Lake is about 23 miles; it’s said that an “average” person in “average” condition can walk it in between 8-10 hours.  Well, color me average.  Have you ever walked for 8-1/2 hours?  IN A ROW??  Don’t.  It’s really dumb.  But it’s also really amazing, and I can say that I did it!!  Even more incredibly?  My husband did it.  Recall that just over one year ago, the trauma surgeon who stapled his skull together told us that most people with skull fractures as large as his don’t survive.  Well, he made it.  And continues to make it.  One of my favorite comments about our little endeavor came from a friend who said that people train for this, and we just do it.  Yeah, we do.  Determined was the word of the day.  The word of the next day was blisters.  Jaysus.  My feet looked like fresh cuts of meat.  So gross. 

Medical Appointments I Neglected In the Year Post-Accident:  Now that medical facilities have reopened, I made and kept one of the four appointments I was supposed to have made and kept last year.  It’s a start, people. 

Elective Surgeries:  Two of my nearest and dearest were able to schedule surgeries thought impossible back in March.  I’m happy and then some that both patients’ procedures were considered successful.  Love you!

Reading Like It’s My Job:  In dark days such as those we’re living this very moment, being transported to a different dimension, a different time or place is an escape I need.  I plow through some reads so quickly, I barely remember them a week later.  But that’s good, right?  To become immersed and distracted by character, time, and place that I’d rather be there than anywhere else AND forgo real-life sleep (OK, and forgo housework and maybe even sometimes my kids. . .) is time well spent.  

Little Messages of Hope: I’m super sentimental and dorky, and I loved all the messages of hope and community that neighbors created, especially early in isolation. My fave was a post-it left on my trash bin that proclaimed, “Everyone knows you’re the coolest person in Bay View.”  Well, obviously.

Namaste:  A few local yogis offered Zoom and Facebook Live yoga sessions.  For whatever reason, being “live” made it feel more real to me than watching some random yoga video, and I was happy to meet them on my mat.  Early in the quarantine, I practiced almost daily, and feel nothing but gratitude for Annie and Jess’s generosity.

She’s Awesome: I may not be attending live music events, but lots of musicians have been streaming home performances via Instagram or Facebook Live.  For a few months, my BNL friends connected virtually every Friday afternoon.  Ed Robertson, did you know I adore him and his band?, had ya heard? would play live from his cottage.  He played MY song a couple times early in his home concert series, and also played another song I requested.  Ed performed Take It Back at my request, and said that I was awesome.  And then I goofed like a moony teenager for a day or two, and even my husband was totally OK with this iteration of “I love Ed!”  Take It Back contains the lyric, “save me from a villainous imagination,” and you’re a damn genius if you can make that work in a pop song.  

Beach Glass:  Nearly every day since school was canceled, I’ve walked my idiot dog from my home to Lake Michigan.  I’ve walked about 750 miles in these fifteen weeks.  You think I’d be thin as a rail, wouldn’t you?  You’d be wrong.  But I feel good and what once seemed like a stupid-long, gonna-brag-about-it walk is now routine.  And I was able to walk for an entire day last week, which was a laughable idea pre-COVID.  So yeah, thanks pandemic. *insert eye roll*  I find the lake to be centering and calming.  If you asked me to define centered, I couldn’t; I just know that seeing the water brings a sense of peace and contentment, even in the crappiest of weather.  Back in March I began picking up shards of beach glass for no particular reason other than I thought it was pretty.  Upon my return home, I’d dump the glass into a dish, and I liked how it looked, so I left it on the counter.  The dish soon became insufficient to hold the glass, so I transferred the collection to a little Mason jar.  Soon enough again, I had to transfer my stash into a larger vessel and then an even bigger jar, and now they’re halfway to filling a decent-sized vase.  Some have chronicled the quarantine in photos, Snapchat Stories, or Instagram posts.  Me?  My quarantine story is told in the most beautiful, waterlogged shades of greens, blues, and even a couple reds.  And black and brown.  I do love my Rawr-Rawr.

Caleb Walking

What valuable, silver lining takeaways has the coronavirus provided you?  (And y’all, if you didn’t catch my tone here. . .)  Yeah, I’m melancholy.  Even with bright spots, and there are bright spots to be had, I’m just not shining bright like the sun these days.  Everyone hates 2020, but I’m still not quite over the hot mess 2019 was for me and our family!  Like most people I know though, I’m doing the best I can.  My kids’ fortitude during the lockdown though is beyond my wildest dreams.  They’re what keep me going, what give me hope.  

 

I Need Endings

You know how some people need to mark an occasion, to acknowledge the event in some formal, if formal even for just a moment, kind of way?  No?

Hi, I’m Wendy, and I’m the kind of person who needs to mark an occasion, to acknowledge events in some formal, if formal even for just a moment, kind of way.  I don’t know if this need is seated in some psychological obsessive tendency or maybe comes from something profoundly sad and terribly lacking in my personality inventory.  I really don’t, but I do know that I need endings.

Sentimental dork and easy-cryer that I am, I don’t especially like endings, but they’re inevitable, and I need that balance, closure, some equalizer like that.  I’m always the “Well, it’s the last time I’m going to be (wherever)” person.  I take a moment to study the scenery, take a mental snapshot, cross the real or imaginary threshold, and bid it goodbye.  Sometimes I even say the goodbyes aloud.  Aaaaand after writing that I’m thinking my need to mark endings is less healthy than I’d thought previously.  Anyway.

Friday is my last day of school this year.  I know what you’re thinking–that technically my last day of school was March 13.  That was the last day I was physically present at work, true, but many work days since the COVID-19-imposed quarantine have gone considerably longer than those worked when I was physically present in a school. Side note: working from one’s dining room table doesn’t allow one to “walk away” from work at the end of the day at all easily.  When things don’t go your way, you carry that crabby the too-short distance between the dining room and your kitchen–I’ve discovered that my work commute, while bonkers on the nerves some days, is actually quite therapeutic on most of them.  I downed fewer alcoholic beverages before being “safer at home,” begging the question, “Am I truly safer at home?” One personal discovery after another here in the zombie apocalypse. . .  *insert eye roll here*

Anyway.  I didn’t bid last school year its formal adieu because of my husband’s accident. I bolted from the building immediately upon hearing the news, and literally never looked back.  Pre-pandemic, I believed that last year would be the weirdest end-of-school-year I’d ever experience.  Ha!  Ha ha, said the universe!  You thought last year was weird, well, let me show you what 2020 has in store for you. . .

I’ve become a capable distance educator since we’ve been sent to our quarters.  I’ve created Google Classrooms, updated our department website, participated in too many Google Hangouts and Zoom meetings to inventory, uploaded, downloaded, created Boom cards, snail mailed, emailed, texted, and phoned families and colleagues.  Working in the fourth most impoverished city in US comes with a unique set of online learning challenges, chief among them: kids not having computers or internet access in their homes.  I miss my students’ faces and voices.  I appreciate that I’m still working though I haven’t loved all of it–I’m a social being and a job in communication sciences and disorders is a pretty social gig–but I’ve managed.

Shonda Rimes School

Every teacher meme you’ve seen about the challenges of immediate upheaval of every practice you’ve known?  Accurate.  Every meme about the challenges of teaching your own children while trying to work from home?  True!  And my kids are old enough to manage independently.  I can’t imagine working from home with children being any younger than my kids’ current ages.  I could do without the “I’m quarantining more perfectly than you are” meme wars though.  People, there’s enough uncertainty in the world–now is not the time for online vitriol.  I mean, not that any time is a good time for being mean, but I think you see where I’m going here.  Like the rest of the planet, we inhabitants are a bit off-balance. Be nice.

Anyway.  Anyway for the third time now in this short post. . .  I didn’t get to say goodbye to my school year my way.  Again.  How can the school year be done if I haven’t even tucked it in and said gnight?  I love the end of year “parties” we celebrate in Speech.  I love going out for lunch with my terrific coworkers–just like real professionals do, real grown-ups who also get to use the bathroom whenever they feel like it do–on the last day.  I love hearing and saying, “Have a good summer!”  I love cleaning off my desk, seeing a dust-free, clear desktop for about ten whole minutes, just sitting there soaking up the end until that bell rings one final time.

Not this year, I guess.

The ending I’m missing this year is nothing in comparison to what graduates of the Class of 2020 who watched rather than walked along to Pomp and Circumstance are missing.  There’s something really lovely and hopeful about graduation types of endings.  I remember well each of my four graduations.  I was invited to speak at two of my ceremonies, and while at the time petrified a little, I was cognizant enough of the honor bestowed upon me to be recognized in this way at such a big event.  Those days and events mattered to me, as they should and do to this year’s grads.  I’m really sorry they don’t get to walk.

Last May, I sat in the hospital cafeteria, signing off to the group of about 40 SLPs I support, saying something like “tell the ones you love that you love them, because you never know what can happen once you walk out that door.”  Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamt that the final 1/3 of this school year would be canceled by pandemic, and the world being locked down has once again changed everything we thought we knew about going out that door. . .

I guess I’ll sign off this year with a similar reminder.  Continue to be safe, and take care of the people you love most in this world, including yourselves.  The pivot we’ve been forced to make as distance educators hasn’t been easy, but (and this comes as no surprise to me) my coworkers continue to rise to do what’s right for each other as colleagues as well as their students.  I’m proud to be among such impressive company.

Have a good summer!

Lucky Penny

I knew I’d be weird this week.  I mean, the whole world is weird right now, so our collective baseline for weird is completely jacked even to begin, right?  Even mid-pandemic, I’d venture to guess that my weird stands on its own.  I wish I wasn’t one of those people who formalize anniversary dates, but you don’t get to pick your quirks, do you?  Sumus quid sumus says my dad: we are what we are.

It’s totally cool if you stop reading right here.  I won’t know you left, and my feelings won’t be hurt or anything. . .  There’s nothing fun or funny whatsoever to be found in Volume 335 of my goof of a writing experiment here.  335??  Wow.  Proceed with caution is all I’m sayin’.


The skies last May 7 may have been clear and sunny, but that Tuesday was the darkest day I’ve known.  My husband and I woke up, probably just like we did any other day.  We got ourselves and our kids up and out the door probably like we did any other school and work day.  My Hamilton crazy was nearing frenzy-level because we (finally!) had tickets for Chicago’s Friday evening show, and I do obsess over music/artists/albums like few others I know.  Friday, the 10th was our wedding anniversary and we’d both taken off work to spend the day in Chicago, so everything on my phone was Chicago/Lin-Manuel Miranda/Hamilton Twitter notifications and Hamilton soundtrack.  I remember arriving at one of my schools for an IEP meeting, checking and then screen-shotting my notifications screen thinking, “Well, I guess my phone belongs to Lin-Manuel now,” and I was happy to hand it over to him.

This was the last picture I took before everything crashed.  Figuratively and literally.

I departed that school for another, ready for my afternoon of therapy.  It’s chronologically inaccurate, but my mind tells me I received the call from my supervisor around 2:45 PM.  My classroom phone never rings because I’m at this school only one half-day per week, and my student kinda laughed, saying something like, “Well you better answer that because no one ever calls you!”  I picked up to my department supervisor’s voice relaying the message that her supervisor contacted her in an effort to locate me because Central Services Human Resources had contacted him. “The City of Milwaukee called and said there’s been an accident. Does that mean anything to you?”  Uhhhhh, yeah, it does.  I escorted Emanuel back to class, then called another supervisor, my husband’s, who informed me that there had been an accident and Tom had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was instructed to meet him in the Emergency Department.

My cell phone doesn’t get a signal in my classroom, but as soon as I hit the parking lot, my phone was pinging off the charts.  Two hours worth of missed calls and voicemails stacked up, and texts started dumping in.  I didn’t recognize any of the numbers, but with the accident intel, I redialed the most recent random number as soon as I caught a signal.  My husband’s good friend answered, and I felt relieved, because I figured he’d fill me in, calm me down, you know?  I asked him if he knew what happened, and he matter-of-factly (read: possibly in shock?) replied, “Yeah, I ran him over.”  He apologized for wrecking our anniversary plans, said that Tom was fine, gonna be fine, that they’d taken him to the hospital, and then I heard someone in the background kinda tell him to shut up, which was OK I guess, because at that moment, I received a call from a number that looked business-y, lots of zeroes in the caller ID.

This random caller identified herself as Stacy from Froedtert Hospital, calling she said, at my husband’s request, telling me I needed to get to Froedtert’s Emergency Department as soon as possible.  Park in red-painted spots in Structure 3, they’re reserved for Emergency Department patients, she said, in the structure nearest the Emergency Department.  Your husband knew your phone number, and that’s a really good sign she said.  It was probably that statement–that he remembered my number and what a good sign it was–and that she repeated it three or four times, that first cued me into just how bad this might be.

Or maybe it was being met by hospital security, officers from the Milwaukee Police Department, the City safety supervisor, and a chaplain that finally punched me in the face.  And friends, let me tell you that you NEVER want to be greeted by cops and a representative of god after being told “There’s been an accident.”  I swear on the stars that I found a shiny penny just outside the doors, and pocketed it–the finding spare change in the street bit is a running “contest” between Tom and me.

It was hours before I was able to see him, or maybe not.  I know it felt like hours.  I’d been fed the “He knew your phone number and that’s a good sign” mantra so many times by then, I thought I’d snap.  But I wasn’t snappy.  I was pretty flat affect as I recall, kind of out-of-body-ish, aware I was part of this emergency room waiting area tableau, thinking this couldn’t possibly be ME living this version of real life.  Finally I said to the City guy, “You keep telling me this one thing is a good sign.  What aren’t you telling me?  How bad is he really?”

In the absence of information, the deep and illogical fears in my imagination coalesced into their own version of just-how-bad-is-it hell.  Convinced he was paralyzed, I couldn’t not ask if that was the result no one wanted to be the one to tell me.  I knew the City supervisor had seen him with his own eyes.  Eventually, and with something like an “I’m not a doctor, but. . .” caveat, he relented, relaying that Tom’s head had been bashed in pretty good, he had a pretty long cut (“cut” apparently is code for 9″ skull fracture covering eyebrow to temporal lobe), and he’d lost a lot of blood.  It was taking so long because they were doing lots of tests to make sure he would be OK.  Lots of tests.  “Lots of tests” is code for emergency facial trauma surgery to reattach the ear and surrounding flesh that had been torn from his head and stapling his skull along that enormous fault line.  To be fair, OK sure, there were lots of actual tests too; I saw his chart.

When I did finally see Tom, he was covered in blood.  Though conscious, he lay completely still.  “There is so much pain” were the first words he spoke, and that was the longest utterance he strung together over the next several days.  Like an idiot, I mentioned I’d found a penny outside the ER–like THAT was gonna lighten the mood or fix anything. . .  I stood there over him, “lucky” penny in my pocket, watching for movement, any movement that would contradict the paralysis I’d come to believe was our now-reality.  I vividly recall my internal race-monologue, “I need to ask I need to ask I need to ask I need to ask I don’t want to ask I don’t want to ask I do NOT want to ask this is the last minute of my life I don’t know he’s paralyzed and as soon as I ask I will have to know that he is paralyzed and I don’t want to know and right now I still don’t know so I can’t ask but I have to ask.”  I stood over him, looking with unseeing eyes for even the slightest movement in his legs.  I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and asked Jodi, the ED nurse, if he was paralyzed.  Her chirpy “Oh, no” perhaps elicited more tears than if her response had been the opposite.

I was booted from the ED after that brief reunion, then escorted to the family waiting area of the main hospital.  Being a guest of the City, I had a tour guide of sorts, and I did have an entourage.  I knew that my husband’s supervisors were handling me; I was aware even then that I was being “handled,” but I didn’t mind being handled.  Quite possibly I’d still be wandering the hospital if I hadn’t been directed and small-talked along that route.  All his supervisors, called by duty and I’d like to think a bit of compassion and human decency, along with a handful of his coworkers–really good guys, called by their professional respect for my husband, met in my private waiting area.  Needless to say, I wasn’t great company.  I had to get out of there, breathe, by myself, for a second.  I had to call my kids!  At some point I announced that I felt like the really bad host of a super shitty party.  Even on the worst day of my life, I made them laugh.  I’m sure it was their duty to laugh at the guy who’s probably gonna die’s wife’s pitiful wisecrack, but I appreciated one brief moment of something other than internal chaos.

Can you imagine what it’s like to call your children, telling them that their dad had been horrifically injured, and that they’re being picked up and delivered to the hospital?  Because, just in case he dies, kids, you’re gonna want to have seen him “one last time,” even if he is bathed in blood and swaddled in bandages.  Oh, and don’t watch the news tonight and don’t talk to reporters if anyone knocks on the door, OK?  Don’t imagine it.  Just don’t.  Imagine not taking them home yourself, promising them you’ll be home by 9.  9:30.  Hopefully 10.

Can you imagine having to search for your husband’s set of work keys, sifting through bags of the scissor-cut clothes he’d worn to work that day, all having been removed and bagged as “patient belongings,” still wet with his blood?  Don’t do that either.

This wasn’t even near the end of that first day.  The conversations I had with my people who showed up those first 24 hours are both crystalline and a blur.  I couldn’t sleep that night, and writing tells me how I feel, so I wrote a narrative I will never share.

I don’t know why I can’t stop reliving this hell on earth, or why I’m taking you down this macabre path with me.  I do know that my head’s gonna explode if I don’t write it down and try to unload it somewhere though.

One full year plus one extra leap year day post-May 7, I am not the same person I was before.  I miss my husband, my before husband. I miss before me.

If you remind me that it could have been worse?  Thanks, but I don’t need the reminder.  I know.  I do.  But it doesn’t mean that grief occurs only when you experience that total loss.  And it doesn’t mean that sadness doesn’t beat you upside the head when you least expect it. Or even when you do.  Grief and sadness paralyze too, in unmeasured ways and along timelines for which you’re unprepared.

Maybe that lucky penny was good for something.  All the good, all the miracles, all the unimaginable generosity and kindness the world has shown my husband, my children, and me that terrible first day and then the 365 that followed?  Beyond any words I could string together.  Sharing all of it though would amount to some type of betrayal to myself and to my people.  My people. You showed up.  You did everything I asked.  I will never be able to repay you for that.  And I know you’ll never ask.

 

 

 

Observations From My Saddle

Today is spring break in Wisconsin Gorgeous, with a capital G. Temperatures hit the mid-60s, skies are cloudless, shades of blue otherwise found only in an artist’s imagination, and spring flowers have begun to unfurl.

I had a real shit day yesterday, so felt determined not to repeat my sad, sulky disposition. I hopped on my bike, steering roughly east toward Lake Michigan, my head clear and my heart content.

I’m a rotten photographer with inadequate equipment, but this cliff is straight down, probably a couple hundred feet.

You can’t multitask while riding a bicycle. Well, I can’t anyway. I can only be present, and hope I remember the deep thoughts observations and random, ridiculous ideas tripping my neuronal connections. I don’t listen to music while riding; I’m old school that way I guess, but I love the sound of my tires grooving and gears clicking. For whatever reason, music, otherwise my constant companion and savior, is an intrusion.

Here’s what I do remember:

  1. About every third car parked on any given street is a black GMC Acadia or Chevy Equinox/Traverse. Go ahead, try not to see one now.
  2. OR a serial killer panel van.
  3. Sighting an elderly man in a sleeveless tee shirt is not the rare event you’d think.
  4. That moment you realize a bug flew into your mouth is as disgusting as ever.
  5. Worse actually, because given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, you can’t really spit it out. Or shouldn’t anyway.
  6. The memory of having swallowed the bug stays with you a lot longer than the action.
  7. Despite walking 3-wide on a reasonably and appropriately narrow recreational path, people still seem genuinely startled when you holler “On your left” to alert them to your intent to pass.
  8. What you really think, but of course don’t say is, “On your left, you flippin’ twit.” Eye rolling is implied.
  9. Your kid is totally adorbs, and I know you’re “documenting the quarantine” for your Instagram feed and all, sure. But if you park your fucking stroller in the middle of the path, in the middle of a 90-degree turn that follows a massive climb, we all think mean thoughts about you. I really tried not to use the f-word here, but, trust me that it’s warranted.
  10. People still say hi as you pass them, and I LOVE that. That acknowledgment has always been and continues to me one of my benchmarks of how decent a human you are. Even as we observe social distancing, most of us make an effort to smile, nod, or wave.

Today is a better day.