Golden

It’s my big kid’s golden birthday. He’s fourteen on the 14th.  He hung on to life on the inside nine days longer than expected, that giant baby did. I was a house, no, I was an estate by the time he decided to make his way. He was worth every second of that extra nine days’ wait. Happy birthday, my son.

You’ve had quite a run here these last few weeks. In no other place I know, eighth grade students face the immense pressure of getting into a “good” high school.  You vie for “golden tickets” for open houses at the “good” schools, complete online applications, audition, request letters of recommendation, draft essays, and wait in a block-long line to get a space for the formal test.  I don’t recall having done this much groundwork for university matriculation, and I got a really sweet scholarship. The pressures you and your classmates face should be found only in a dystopian work of fiction.  Growing up anywhere else in the world, you’d go to the school nearest your home in the city you live.

You admitted nerves, but you conquered them with persistence. You felt unprepared, but you proved that showing up is half the battle.  I’m proud of you.

Now you wait.  Letters of acceptance arrive in December, and our family’s future hinges on what you read in that mailing.  (Friends, if you’re reading this thinking I’m chock full o’ my usual hyperbole, know that in this case I speak the level truth.) Number 1 and Number 2 choices are solid–I know you’ve got the heart of Husky, but you could be a General too, and that would be OK.   But you were under-impressed by the Owls, and choices four and five simply aren’t choices.  One and two mean we stay; any other return means we go.  We move to another city.  That’s OK.  We’re prepared to do whatever we need to do for you and your brother.

There are days I don’t know what I want to see revealed in that acceptance letter (OK, I WANT choice #1).  I’ve never in my adult live envisioned living outside the city, but would the ‘burbs really be so bad?  Not bad, but not me.  Not us.  Maybe they’ll fit perfectly.  Maybe not.

Wait, this is about you, YOU my boy.  It’s your birthday.  I’ve wondered what to get you, what kind of material gift to give you.  You give away very little, but you let me in on a little secret Monday, and I feel though it’s your birthday,  I received a little becoming-a-mom-day gift from you, and you don’t even know it.

I nag on ya for spending all this time staring at your phone, earbuds ever-present to the point of appearing surgically implanted.  You’re a YouTube zombie–you don’t even hear me when I yell at the top of my lungs for you (and I’m no delicate little flower), and no matter how many times I crab at ya for blasting your music too loud, you don’t seem to heed the lesson.  Neither did I.  Which explains a lot about why my hearing thresholds are what they are today, and though I wish to serve as your cautionary tale, I’ve come to realize that you do have a little bit of your mom’s heart beating inside your own.

Eighth grade me was not skinny or popular or beautiful.  It shouldn’t matter when you’re fourteen, but it does.  I was not confident.  Or cool.  I was hiding inside my room in the dark, trying to figure out just what the hell I was. I was first chair in band.  I was the middle school salutatorian.  I was reliable and dependable. I was the fastest girl sprinter in my middle school. I was everybody’s friend, which was freaking awesome. I got to do a lot, I guess, but I didn’t believe any of that at the time.  I felt never good enough.  I mistrusted every accomplishment as dumb luck, and deflected any positive comment cast my way.

Middle school is a labyrinth of all the unkindest cuts, and I bled.  Wound care was administered in my headphones.  Music was my solace.  LOUD music, the bass thumping so loud that the headphones quite literally bounced off my head.  So loud you could sing along from downstairs.  Lying on my bedroom floor, wrecking the shit out of my hearing despite your grandparents’ strongest protestations, I found me.

And I think maybe you have found yourself.  You’re finding yourself anyway.

I learned this week that all your time isn’t in fact spent watching banal, inane YouTubers riffing video games or opening Pokemon cards.  You’re listening.  You’re picking songs I loved when I was your age when the ancient version of your earbuds (my headphones) were eternally attached around my head.  You love the band Rush.  You hear Subdivisions and interpret the music video for me.  You sing all the right words, just like I do.  You pull meaning from those song lyrics, and maybe the view is a little middle schoolish, but that’s OK because you’re a middle schooler–you’re not supposed to feel like you’re applying for college this year–you’re fourteen.  You get why the guitar solo in Limelight rocks so hard.  You mention that Geddy Lee’s bass inspires you, and until this week, I’d never heard you utter the word inspire.

You used to write, can you recall?  You created notebooks upon notebooks of beginnings.  Your author’s dreams were grandiose, you had designs on writing the next great American (elementary school) novel.  You began hundreds of tales, characters based not-so-loosely on yourself and your friends, and other literary characters you enjoyed.  You haven’t created a great body of work in a while, but now you want to create music.  You wanna make some noise, learn bass lines and play along with your new really old favorite songs.  Guess what you’re getting for your birthday, kid?  Four strings.  Rock. And also roll.

“Dude, we gotta start a band!”


Your birthday fills me with longing–your sweet baby cheeks, your feather light tufts of blonde hair, the corners of your blue eyes, now green, turned up when you smiled. Things were quite simple then–little kids, little problems. . .   Your MD, my “management” of your diagnosis that is, is what made me carve out this outlet, my little creative writing .com of the internet.  However desperately I wish I hadn’t felt that pull to write, I am thankful for this outlet.  What a weird thing to say thank you for.  Thank you, my boy.  Happy Golden Birthday.   Get on that bass and rock, kid. 

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Instrument of Torture

What do you see here?  

Most of you see a manual can opener. That is what I saw until an hour or so ago, nothing but my crusty old, hand-crank can opener. 

For my son, this isn’t a can opener–it’s an instrument of frustration. I had my kid help with dinner after piano lessons tonight. Ace parent that I am, I responded with “tough shit” when my kid whined about having to empty the dishwasher ALL BY HIMSELF. And then, just to rub kosher salt–you know, the really granular, sharp salt shards–I made him open a can of baked beans.  Not because I enjoy torturing my child, but I wasn’t asking the kid to scrub the toilet with his own toothbrush or *gasp!* not watch YouTube or anything. He leads a life of relative leisure.  Dishes aren’t Everest, you guys. 

Now before you crucify my side dish selections, know that the big one just returned from piano and the little one won’t be home from football practice until 8:15. We’re playing dinner real fast and loose these days, so adding a can of chemically-enhanced legumes to the brats completes what is known as a balanced meal, y’all. Just because I used the S-word earlier doesn’t mean I’m a total parent failure. 

The point of this entire story is that every so often I, the mother of one very tall teenager, catch a glimpse into that tall teenager’s future. Except that future is now. Right now. Today. He doesn’t have the grip strength to manipulate a can opener. He achieved a modicum of success, but opening 2/3 of a can, and not a contiguous 2/3 of the can’s circumference, isn’t really success now, is it?

Some days his struggles are more clear than others.  Damn, I hate MD. 

Section 504

In my children’s school district, the school psychologists coordinate efforts for students with disabilities who qualify for accommodations under Section 504.  For the uninitiated, Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  It’s a separate entity from special education (about which I can cite chapter and verse), so I’m a little outside my wheelhouse.  Plus, dammit!, it’s my kid.  Section 504 prohibits discrimination based upon disability.   It’s an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.  Ha!

When your kid has a physical disability, no accommodation on earth can play as a leveler.  Ostensibly, 504 plans allow for equity.  As an example, it would be “unfair” for my son to be graded similarly to his able-bodied peers in physical education.  It might be unfair to hold him to the same time constraint for passing between classes if he cannot motor across campus in the three minutes or so allowed for everyone.

I experienced a particularly challenging evening with my number one son last night after his first day of school.  Much of the evening was spent crying in my car (me) while he railed back in frustration.  I was on guard at #2’s rainy/stormy football practice while on the phone trying to talk #1 through something I believe he should have been able to cite chapter and verse.  I would have loved to have been home with #1 to assist, but I worried the storm might force practice to close up early–the last thing I would’ve wanted was to leave my kid, covered in heavy equipment, some of it metal, out in a thunderstorm.  But in so doing, I failed #1 in a big way.  Sometimes a child’s disability cuts through the dark delight of his mother’s ignorance more like a laser than others.  Last night I was sliced to ribbons.

So this is how I spent my afternoon, in response to my son’s school’s school psychologist, who’d emailed me about beginning his Section 504 referral.  It’s time.  I’ve managed to delay this reality for more than two years.  But it’s time.  She needed some background information about his diagnosis and functional effects.  Laying it down in print startled me a bit.  I felt a small measure of clinical detachment as I answered her questions, so why were my eyes tearing up?

We were told on January 21, 2015 that he has some type of muscular dystrophy.  At this time, his official diagnosis is “myopathy” which is a general term for muscle disease.  He also has chorea, which is a neurological disorder characterized by twitching, jerky, involuntary movements; in him they’re particularly notable in his hands.  He has undergone some genetic testing which ruled out the 25 most commonly occurring types of Limb-Girdle MD, which is the subgroup he’s most highly suspected of having, but without a full genetic panel, he hasn’t been assigned a particular subtype yet.  It may be that he is one of seven or eight people in the world with another of the incredibly rare subtypes.  He underwent a brain MRI in July, and that did not return a specific diagnosis.  The MRI was done because the neurologist he sees felt he may be having some problems with his brain actually firing the muscles at the cortical level.  MD is a progressive, neurological disorder meaning every day is the best day he has left; there is no cure and he is very likely to progress into requiring a wheelchair for ambulation.  The estimate is 10-20 years between diagnosis and wheelchair.  He’s 2.5 years in.

The functional results of the MD for him are weakness, discoordination, and fatigue, affecting his legs and arms predominantly.  The chorea renders his hands unstable and weak.  He experiences difficulty with ADLs (activities of daily living) across the board.  Walking is tiring for him; he often just needs to sit down and rest.  He’s extremely clumsy and has very poor proprioception—he doesn’t know where he is in space, so walks into things and people; he misjudges steps and the pressure his body needs to change positions.  Regarding fine motor, he has weak grip strength, so opening bottles or using a knife or pizza cutter for example are hard, carrying a plate of food can turn south quickly.  He drops things easily and often.  He needs more time to maneuver the lock on his locker or grab books or other materials and when there is a time constraint, he becomes anxious and his hands tend to work even less well.  He has a splint for his left (the weaker) hand which he is to wear at night to prevent muscle contracture.

He’s followed at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Neurology on at least an every 6 month basis, and he has periods of occupational and physical therapy depending on how he presents at clinic.

Is this a decent start?

It was sufficient, probably more than sufficient, she replied.  And again I kinda wanted to cry.  Acceptance comes in stages and waves for me, but the fact remains:  I fucking hate that my son has MD.  The previous evening’s homework/problem solving fiasco reminded me that nothing comes easily for my kid.  Can’t there be just one thing that’s a cinch?  Just one??

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My kid’s already pissed at me from last night, when he tells me that he and his gym teacher had a little tete-a-tete about what he could do in gym right now.  Completely separate from MD, my son’s collarbone is still healing from its July break, and he’s been restricted from gym class at least until September 28.  I VERY CLEARLY communicated that to his principal, homeroom teacher, and gym teacher, yet for some reason the gym teacher felt a little chat with my kid felt about what he felt comfortable doing in gym today was enough to green light it.  I am so far beyond pissed right now, I’m seeing stars.  I KNOW he’s in eighth grade and they’re supposed to be more independent.  I KNOW that his immobilizer has been removed, so he looks fine.  But the thirteen year old DOES NOT DECIDE what he thinks he can do in gym when under express orders to the contrary.

On his best day, physical education is a crapshoot.  This is a child who walks into walls on a fairly routine basis, a kid who trips because he can’t quite feel where his body is.  Having smashed his clavicle sure as hell did not improve that condition.  The 504 plan saddens me; it reminds me that something in my genetic code resulted in my kid’s being born with MD, and I never don’t feel responsible for this shit diagnosis.  I did this to him.  But in a quirk of timing, starting this 504 today reminds me that I have to do what is best for my kid, because no one else is his mother.  Even if he is in eighth grade.  Even if he is a 6’1″ thirteen-year-old.

Even if he is so far beyond pissed at me, he’s seeing stars.

I Live In A Van Down By The River

Just call me Matt Foley.  If you have no idea who he is or why it’s funny, come out from underneath that rock and check it out.  Click here to view a Saturday Night Live masterpiece. You surely will not regret it.  

And then check these.  These are my boys, then ages 3 and 5, turning up their very best preschool impressions of the hilarious Chris Farley character.  And yeah, we let them watch the skit when they were tiny.  Because we were terrible parents.  Or maybe awesome parents–depends who you ask, I suppose.

Matt Foley is the world’s least successful motivational speaker.  Well, maybe second least successful.  Probably I win (lose?) that designation.

At the close of our speech-language department’s monthly meetings, I or another of my colleagues end the meeting with what we call Closing Thoughts.  These presentations, not truly “motivational speeches,”  but a short 1-5 minutes in duration, are meant to impart a message of positivity.  Sometimes the messages are hopeful or gushy, some contain sentiments of gratitude or mindfulness, but always the objective is a moment of contemplation about our place in the SLP world.

I’m up for next week Friday’s meeting.  It’s our opening meeting for the year, and this meeting above all others, is long with procedures and policy.  It’s where our speech paths learn what the new mandates are (there are MANY!), and how much more of their time will be co-opted by paperwork and administrative crap over what really matters: speech-language therapy.  No one ever leaves procedural meetings uplifted.  Beaten?  Overwhelmed? Inert?  You betcha!  But not quite enthusiastic.

Being the senior (not in age, but in experience, ahem) program support teacher, I volunteer often for the jobs no one else really wants to do.  I’m no martyr or anything; I just feel at some level responsible for the success of our entire department, and especially for the happiness and contentedness my four office mates, so if I can relieve someone of a stressor or inconvenience, I do try to do that.  I think I’ve developed a pretty good opening message for this year, but revealing it here would be anti-climactic.

Instead, I’ll leave you with how I opened last year, which actually borrowed heavily from a blog post I’d written here, but people seemed to like my talk, so the message bears repeating.  This back to school stuff is killing me.  The shoulder-induced lack of sleep is one thing when you’re just hanging with your children, but when reality forces you to wake long before dawn and be smart on command all day long. . .  #epicfail, y’all.

 

Familiar with the six word memoir?  The story goes that a magazine editor challenged Ernest Hemingway to write the shortest narrative possible.  He submitted “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”  Six words.  Six words that provided character and conflict, that told a complete story.  A simple Google search returns this version of the tale along with 1.24 million more hits confirming or denying its veracity.  Whatever the truth, SMITH magazine supports a website dedicated to the six word memoir and its role in creative writing and self-reflection.

Last summer, my big kid attended the College for Kids Young Writers’ Academy at UWM.  On the showcase day, audience members, mostly parents and other family members, were invited to participate in a challenge much like the students had been doing all week.  One of the instructors threw down the six word memoir challenge.  I absolutely froze with writer’s block.  Not everyone did, and from the room came a handful of charming mini-bios.  Among my favorites:

I found you; I found me.  (And the “awwwww” went up from the entire audience.)

I am not good at this.  The audience bust out laughing at this young lady’s clever spin.

Life sometimes strides; Life sometimes sucks.  This one also drew laughs from around the room, and I couldn’t have been more surprised at its author:  my son.

Around this same time, I’d just returned from one of my Barenaked Ladies concert road trips.  The refrain I hear often from those around me after I return from another show is, “Don’t you ever get sick of it?”  That, “don’t you ever get sick of it?” would NOT be MY memoir. If I continued to do something that bored me to tears, I wouldn’t continue to do that something.  It’s why I have the ever-changing career I do.  It’s why I do the creative writing project I do.  It’s why I’m a people person, because my brain isn’t wired to be a tasks person.

You want to ride horses or buy your own spray-tan machine?  Cool.  You are captivated by Lularoe leggings or have 34 pairs of Toms shoes?  Good on ya.  Enjoy them!  I won’t judge.  And therein lies the difference–I won’t judge you for spending money and time in ways that make you happy.  I might not get it for me, but I don’t have to.  If you get it for you, it should be enough.

Try as I might, my six word memoir remains unwritten. How does one capture one’s essential self or perception of self?  Including one attribute eliminates space for another. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. I’m a speech-language pathologist.  I dabble in many roles, but star in none. But getting back to my son’s memoir: Why was he, all 5’10″ of twelve-and-a-half years of him, able to crank it out in the allotted time frame and belt it out in a roomful of people?  I wondered, does it accurately reflect how he views the world?  He nailed it–life does sometimes stride, and it most assuredly sucks at others.  It’s profound.  Alternately, it’s middle school shallow.  It is balanced though, right?  Much can be revealed in six words.  Maybe that’s why getting it right matters so.  Have you written your six word memoir?  I can’t do it in six, so here’s seven:

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Image found at kikki.k Stationery

As you move forward this year, do more of what makes you happy here in your work as a speech-language pathologist.  If it’s creating cutesy, Pinterest crafty stuff in your therapy activities, do it.  If it’s mentoring students through an activity such as robotics or Girls on the Run, do it.  If it’s developing a laser focus on strategies for working with students with autism or phonology, do it.  If it’s taking a break at lunch time and walking around the block to get your steps in, do that.  Do it even if you get weird looks from your staff.  Do it even if it’s inconvenient or forces you to step out of your comfort zone a little.  Do it even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone but you.  I don’t have to get it for me, but if you get it for you and it makes you happy, that should be enough. You being happy will very likely make you a better, more effective clinician.   So though it’s one word too long for a six word memoir:  Do more of what makes you happy.

 

RIP, Jerry Lewis

As a child, I was completely annoyed when my Labor Day television viewing was co-opted by the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon.  Back in the olden days, kids, you had but four network options:  NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and maybe on a good day with aluminum foil coiled around your antenna just right, a fuzzy UHF independent signal floats in and out.  I was too old for Sesame Street by then, Hatha Yoga was just too bizarre, and I hadn’t developed the appreciation for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that comes with adulthood, so I was a total punk kid, crabbing that the stupid telethon was the only thing on.  *petulant huff*

“Jerry’s Kids” to me seemed weird and a little bit scary–in my world, there wasn’t a single person who looked like one of his kids, and I didn’t get why he adopted this passel of wheelchair-bound, misshapen children.  That alone speaks volumes about one, living in a small town, but even more two, the influence of media.

I didn’t particularly appreciate his brand of humor.  His early films, what cemented his fame, the humor in that escaped tween me–he just wasn’t of my generation.  Yet I tuned in year after year, squawking the whole time, but dying to pick up that phone and make a pledge. Who didn’t want to be part of that tote board??  My mother would have killed me for making a long-distance call (again kids, in the olden days, each telephone call out of our small town was billed by the minute), let alone promising someone money I didn’t have.  I never made the call, and eventually I came to realize that you could spend Labor Day planted somewhere other than in front of the television.  I probably hadn’t thought much about MD outside of the Labor Day weekend until January, 2015.  Since January 21, 2015, MD is never not a top-5-of-the-day thought.  Jerry’s telethon marched on, but with declining viewership.  Now kids had hundreds of television channels.  Now kids had the internet.  No kid these days has to feel forced to watch one of only four channels.

Because of the incredible commitment Jerry Lewis made to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, his benevolence and the awareness he created, my kid gets to attend MDA summer camp.  My kid, and others like him, receive therapies and equipment, clinical trials and treatments because Jerry Lewis made the world aware that MD is a thing.

Thank you, Jerry Lewis.

The telethon is no longer airing annually–sign of the times–today the internet buzzes with fund-raising requests.  Now it is YOU who answer the call to click.  I didn’t make “the call” when I was a child, but I have helped raise nearly $10,000 for the MDA in the three years since my son was diagnosed.  YOU answered when I asked.  YOU stood beside me as I crumbled that first year especially, and YOU still prop me up when I can barely put one foot in front of the other at the Muscle Walk.  YOU read my ramblings here–you don’t do rainbows and unicorns, blindly assuring me everything’s gonna be OK, but you tell me you’ll stay with me through this wild ride.

Thank you, friends and family.

Jerry Lewis said this:

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

THIS is what you do when you are gifted with the social influence that often accompanies fame:  good. You do good.  Let’s go do some good today, shall we?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled solar eclipse.

At The Intersection of Ellen & Clark

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The city of Niagara Falls, Ontario has either no clue whatsoever, or had the most serendipitous, visionary civil engineers naming their streets for weary families seeking their own good old fashioned family fun a la Clark and Ellen Griswold from the Vacation film franchise.

The Weir branch of the Griswold family tree’s road trip has reached its final destination: home sweet home. How I do love my family.  But I would consider dyeing my hair back to its natural color to be in a room all by myself for ten connected minutes.

We covered more than two thousand miles in nine days, traversing eight states and one Canadian province, sleeping in six different hotels with two still mostly happy kids, one still-solid marriage in our trusty ol’ Ford Edge.

The adventure was that–a true Griswoldian family adventure, but my retelling of it tastes a little like a flat Pepsi. Maybe I’m loopy from now three weeks of rotator cuff tear pained-induced sleep deprivation. I’m at a point I can’t recall how it feels to live agony-free. Juiced with ibuprofen though, I lived fully on this trip. I stepped out of my comfort zone, I took it all in–I remained patient with the kids always (they are GREAT kids 95% of the time), enjoying their enjoyment. I toasted with and sipped from the glass half-full, walked on the sunny side of the street and carpe-d the hell out of each diem.  Smiling through shoulder pain, sleeping too little, I was the model Ellen to Tom’s Clark.

Louisville, KY

The tour kicked off in a monsoon at the home of the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum.  Somewhere past Chicago and before Indianapolis, one boy expressed deep regret at maybe having left his bedroom fan oscillating when we left, while the other fretted over that possibility the entire time.  For a moment, I did consider turning around.  I did.  I’ve woken with my house on fire.  I didn’t especially enjoy that experience, so you can imagine I’d be in no hurry for a repeat.  No such (bad) luck after all; the fan had been turned off.

I made the boys promise they’d smile or minimally appease my requests for geeky tourist photos, and to my delight, they obliged.  Our story begins here with a four-story baseball bat, not quite smiling for the camera, but whaevs.  At least they looked in my direction.Nothing of note happened in Louisville, but the “city” in which our hotel was reserved felt like a scene straight out of Deliverance.  We stayed near Mammoth Cave National Park, and friends, near is not the same as in.  I begin with travel tip #1:  You get what you pay for, but it’s a hotly contested battle with travel tip #2 for that top position:  Location, location, location.

Mammoth Cave, KY

You should go there.  We scheduled the Historic Tour, two hours and two miles in duration.  The US Park System doesn’t mince words when its agents tell you it’s a strenuous trek that will make you lose your cookies if you suffer acrophobia or claustrophobia.  I experience neither, but will admit to feeling woozy and gelatinous looking down from high above. Number One Son led our family with me filing behind him, and I misted up three times I can remember, maybe a few more.  He worked like a beast of burden maneuvering through that cave system.  Yes, it’s all marked and lighted pathways, but crouching and squishing through Fat Man’s Misery and Tall Man’s Misery are required.  He managed this with muscular dystrophy–victory #1–AND wearing a splint for his still-broken collarbone.  I beamed with pride at his effort, but couldn’t help but wonder if he will ever be able to do something like this again.

Exiting the cave required a steep climb back to the visitor center, and though he was exhausted, he persevered up that hill.  Later, my husband told me he was struck at the contrast between #1 and #2 walking up that hill.  Our younger son is a rock; he was born with my curse–extremely contoured leg muscles–and is in excellent physical condition.  #1 has absolutely no muscle delineation.  It makes me sad when my husband has these moments of clarity re: MD.

Hi, I’m 12.  I posted a load of vacay photos on Facebook, but this is the shot that has gained the most attention.  I’m such an idiot–an idiot with a good sense of humor, sure, but still an idiot!

Cleveland, OH (Or That One Time I Lost My Son’s Passport)

Like music?  En route from Kentucky to Cleveland, my boys arm-farted Believer by Imagine Dragons in time and in tune.  My husband laughed himself to tears, and OK, so did I.  But do you really like music?  Have any interest in its history?  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame kicks ass, and you should go there.  Travel tip #3 reminds you not to let your freak flag fly while watching a movie about Journey and ELO’s Hall of Fame Induction.  ELO, you guys!!  Journey!!  These bands were the backbone of my middle and high school years.  To see the handwritten lyrics to Can’t Get It Out of My Head??  My head spun.

So we sat watching film, and as I do periodically (you may call it OCD, sure), I counted our passports.  One, two, three.  One, two, three.  One, two, three, holy shit!!!!!!  There’s supposed to be four.  Where is four??  I charged out of the little theater, dumped my purse out on the floor and promptly lost my shit.  Heart to beat out of my chest, sweaty, shaking, and wild-eyed to be sure, I bolted from there back to the parking structure and dialed the hotel we’d just left.  No, they didn’t have it.  Oooooohhhkay. . . breathe, Wendy.  I know that I had it yesterday because I count them periodically.  You may have heard I’m travel-OCD, and this little one, two, three, four confirms my status as a responsible parent.  I didn’t even care that I was a sweaty mess from my midday sprint or that the parking lot attendant threw me that “oh dear” glance before completely avoiding eye contact.  I recovered the missing passport, tented between the door and the door frame of the car.  No idea how it fell out or landed in such a fashion, but Canada, here we come!

My favorite part of the Hall wasn’t observing my personal faves though, but snapping a couple photos for my friend Jill who worships Mick Jagger, and finding a wall full of The Replacements memorabilia.  My husband positively glowed.

and also roll

Niagara Falls, ON

There’s something wrong with you if you’re not impressed with the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, or Bridal Veil falls, especially when they’re illuminated at dark.  They’re gorgeous natural miracles.  Mother Nature has a few cool tricks up her sleeve, so you lay down the cash to hop a boat into the mist.  Touristy?  You betcha!  Cool?  That too!  Then you stroll across an impossibly high bridge back to the US (one, two, three, four passports, check!), hike to the bottom of the American Falls and dive into its hurricane.  Again you position yourself behind your son because it’s 1000 billion percent WET and slippery, and wonder if he will ever again be able to negotiate that catwalk.  You’re moved to tears that he’s made it this far, and no one even knows you’re crying because everyone is a billion percent wet, so it’s all good, yo.

Also, Tim Hortons are on every block.  Ooh!  And also, because this never happens in the US, you catch a dude in an outdoor cafe with an acoustic guitar strumming and singing Barenaked Ladies’ Brian Wilson, so you stop and you tell your kids you love Canada, and they roll their eyes only like 70% of the way back.

Toronto, ON

Toronto, I love you. Love! You!  But there are so many of you, and you each drive your own damn car to and from the city. I didn’t want to leave, and Jaysus, you wouldn’t let me–three hours to get through traffic making our way to oh-so-happenin’ Sudbury.  But while we were in your heart, my own heart quickened. City Hall, other-worldly delicious braised beef poutine at Fran’s, La Tour CN, Ripley’s Aquarium, the railway museum, random needles in the alley (what? I’m sure they were diabetics. . .), the Toronto Zoo, of course a Blue Jays game, and an impromptu coffee date with Katie, Torontonian and one of my #Ladiesladies! I regretted dragging her out of bed early, but that regret lasted only for a moment. I was so happy to see her.

Sudbury, ON

Sudbury was but a way station between Toronto and Mackinac Island, and our hotel was, um, dated?  Only intermittently and randomly updated?  But let us harken back to travel tip #1, something about getting what you pay for. . .

We did bypass a town called Moonstone toward Sudbury, and if you’re not a Barenaked Ladies fan, you wouldn’t care. That’s OK.  I care, and enjoyed a satisfied little smile as I drove. I had no idea this town was just off Highway 400, so seeing Moonstone on the exit sign, and knowing what the song carrying its title is about gave me a moment of quiet maternal contentment.

St. Ignace/Mackinac Island, MI

Through the miracle of international cellular data plans, I learned that my friend Bek had planned to bring her girls to Mackinaw City for the weekend.  I did some quick math, and determined we’d be there at the same time!  What a sweet surprise to enjoy a brief visit with my dear friend, another of the #Ladiesladies.

img_5063-1My husband was so pleased to meet her and her daughters, and I was goofy that some of my very favorite of all earth’s citizenry all got to meet, however brief our time was.

Our last two nights were spent overlooking Lake Huron.  We enjoyed fireworks of the explosive type along with the celestial type in the form of the Perseid Meteor shower.  It was a great place to sew up the adventure.  We ferried from the mainland to the island, and chose to sight-see by horse-drawn carriage. Tom and I went back and forth only briefly over the rent bikes vs. carriage route,  Medical evidence suggested the carriage was definitely the safer way around.  With #1’s arm in a sling, even renting a tandem could have spelled disaster at worst, and discomfort at best.  My shoulder was screaming too, so we ponied up (ba-dum-bum) for the carriage ride.  Fritz and Jeffrey were kind enough not to poop in the street during our carriage.  Fritz and Jeffrey are horses, you guys!  I’m sure.  Actually, upon hearing their names, I felt a little less stupid about my canine called Caleb!  The sun shone crystal clear all day, and we enjoyed the tour.

 

But it was time.

 

Nothing went wrong.

Nothing was terrible–I mean I found the passport and everything.  Nothing was less than smooth. But in terms of a great travel story?  Also, nothing.  We met good people, kindness was shown to us at every turn, and I’d happily revisit any one of the spots along the route.  My children were amazing.  Minus the 84.7 million fart references and short a few please-and-thank-yous, they were in total control.  In spite of marked trepidation leading up to this, and one minor panic in Toronto (I really had no recollection of having been there before. No, I mean I know I was there, but I had no idea about directions and navigation.  I felt like I was supposed to be the tour guide there, when all I knew was that I saw a concert at Massey Hall in 2015.  FYI, the lake is at the south end of the city.  Where I’m from, the great lake is eastward.  Very confusing at first.)  I so feared letting down my Clark, but I think we’re marking this one in the ‘W’ column.

Travel tip #4?  2000+ is a whole lot of frickin’ car miles, yo.

But you learn stuff.  Like you find out your younger son’s favorite kind of days are cloudy, and like you, believes that if the day begins cloudy or rainy, it had better stay that way.  You learn that you’re the more patient of the two parents when it comes to stupid boy stuff, but you love your husband all the more for jumping in, wrestling and instigating as much or more than his sons.  You learn that your son, over whom you fear daily that his loss of physical capacity will make a road trip insurmountable some day, carries more strength and endurance than you dreamed.  Every time you ask how he’s doing, even after some 20,000 steps, he replies, “I’m good” and your heart both bursts and dies a little.


Travel tip #5:  You can’t wait to get home, but you never want it to end.

 

Sunset.  Literally and figuratively.

We Rule The Smaller Markets

Before I scribe even one syllable, I have to thank all of you for hanging in here with me and my kids this week. Between broken collarbones and physical therapy for two kids’ two messed up shoulders, I am toast. I appreciate all the support (and cupcakes!) you’ve given as I have shuttled my boys to their many appointments around southeastern Wisconsin, seeking healing and sanity for us all. 

This is not my best work. You’ve been cautioned.

My husband and I saw U2’s The Joshua Tree tour at Soldier Field in Chicago in June.  I don’t live and die for U2 the way I do for a certain Canadian quartet, but U2 mesmerized me with decibels only a stadium concert could make happen, volume that rattled your bones.  They built a video display wide as an NFL field to complement and extend their musical storytelling.  The crunch of that lead guitar, the driving bass, and that voice.  Oh, that voice.  Bono’s pipes hit all the notes, ALL of them, but what moved me to tears the first time was not what or how he sang, but what he said.  Bono rallied the audience–ONE audience, not one torn by political affiliation–extolling the magnificent country in which we live, the US.  He exhorted us to be conscious.  To be kind.  To help.  To understand.  To celebrate and support women across time and across the globe.  And as they marched from the island (well, tree-shaped) stage on the floor toward the main stage to open The Joshua Tree in its entirety, the power of his words, combined with that guitar intro building Where The Streets Have No Name set against a blood red backdrop, so big and bright I nearly shielded my eyes?  Experiencing an overload of every sense music engages while my husband cheered his favorite band?  I teared up a little.  I did.

I typically don’t enjoy stadium tours.  As I have taught you, friends, second row is not the front row, and you don’t get front row at U2 for under several thousand dollars.  The football field was all general admission actually, which, ugh, just kill me now.

An anxious brain needs to know where its seats are before heading into the venue.  An anxious brain needs to know from precisely which vantage point it will experience the show.  Anxious brains don’t like to have to squat for space and worry that the drunk yahoo sashaying and stumbling in during the fourth song is going to elbow the brain’s body out of its established vantage point.  That shit has happened to me more than once, and I just really, really, really hate it.  Really, really.

It’s time for the front row again, kids.

I’m meeting two of Barenaked Ladies’ most committed fans and my sweet friends Sunday in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Northern Indiana isn’t exactly a tourist hub, but it’s geographically about as close to an epicenter for eastern Michigander Bek, southern Ohioan Nikki, and me, just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world. . .  Sorry, wrong band.  And me, crawling again through Chicagoland traffic from my MKE home to catch my dear friends and my band.

With everyone reminding me of my “big” birthday pending, I’m feeling sorta midlife crisis-y, which is super fun for my husband, you can imagine.  The kids are cool with me taking off for an overnight–they’re so involved in their own business these days that I’m merely a chariot to their destinations.  Sure they hug their chariot driver and say all the right things, but I know where I stand.  I’m feeling moderately-to-mostly crappy that I’ll be leaving my boy with his broken collarbone and missing my younger’s last baseball games of the season, but what if my band never tours again??  What if this is it?  I gotta go.

Reading the last sentences I typed sounds ridiculous unless you’re us, I’ll grant you, but what if?  All those internet memes say tomorrow is not a guarantee, and I’m good at reading comprehension. Plus the internet never lies.  I even own socks that read “Carpe the fuck out of this diem.”  So we carpe.  That’s probs not the correct verb tense, but I don’t know Latin, so whatever.

I cannot wait to give my girls their commemorative tee shirts.  I killed the shirt this time, #nailedit.  There are two in the entire world like them (no, I didn’t make one for myself) and I’m goofy just thinking about them.  As per custom, the message is girly-girl borderline inappropriate, but HILARIOUS, because we are hilarious.  Just ask us.  We totally are.

It’s a surprise, so I can’t show you the front of the shirt yet.


I even compiled a list of things I want to ask the members of the band if we get lucky enough to talk with them after the show.  They’re in my phone’s notes app because I never again want to ask someone I idolize how his thing is.  Seriously.  I’m just gonna go over here and kill myself.

I want to be sure to tell Kevin Hearn how this picture he drew makes my heart skip.  I’m hoping my son is still eons away from requiring a wheelchair for ambulation–stupid @&$^# muscular dystrophy–but when I see kids in chairs depicted in art, well, yeah, I am moved. 


The week my son attended MDA Camp, Ed Robertson hit the Canadian talk show circuit, where he was featured for his support of Camp Oochigeas, a summer camp for kids with cancer. He wrote the camp theme song, and the symmetry of his song for camp kids and my kid’s being at camp was almost too much for me, so naturally, I got all misty-eyed. The point is that I don’t want to sound like a complete idiot this time. Not that sounding like an idiot is foreign territory or anything for me, because #skills, but I can speak cogently. Just usually not around them.

I originally planned to make this a 2-night BNL tour.  The big kid expressed interest in attending the EAA Fly-In and the Barenaked Ladies concert in Wisconsin Monday night. My band is finally coming to my home state, but their show here is general admission (see above for GA commentary).  On his best days, there’s no way my son has the endurance not only to walk around all day, but also then stand for a couple hours before and during the show.  And now with the broken bone slung to his side?  It’s a no-go, Houston. Sad face. 

I’m ever-grateful to connect with a faction of my #Ladiesladies. This will be the third show Ketchup & Mustard, and Relish are a trio. The first time we snuck into sound check, which SCORE!!! and the second time was a big city/small venue.  Nikki says we rule the smaller markets.

I offer commentary like, “I would sever off my arm to hear When I Fall live,” because I am comfortable with hyperbole and I ramble a bunch. Hearing my besties’ faves, Keepin’ It Real or Toe To Toe, would make this trip magic. My Barenaked Ladies fandom wouldn’t be at its zenith without the girls. See, ours is a story of friendship as much as it is about the music.  

And the road trip.  Ladies and Ladies, start your engines. 

Ghost In The Graveyard

I slept poorly last night.  Three times I nodded off while reading my book, set my glasses and novel on the night stand, then promptly popped right back into full consciousness.  That hazy space between barely awake and bizarre dreams was highjacked by mom guilt, until mental exhaustion finally won out around 1:45 or so.  If cerebral activity could be measured in distance, I probably mentally marathoned last night.  Maybe ultramarathoned.

The kids went camping, cabin-ing to be precise, with my super cool friend whose bravery is a blog post all her own.  She drove her son, my two and two other boys to a riverside cabin in south central Wisconsin.  Being the “I love not camping” girl I am, I not-at-all subtly avoided volunteering to go with them. My husband got stuck covering second shift, and I was looking forward to some Saturday evening alone time–a little Meijer shopping junket, Orange Is The New Black (My heart is still not 100% into the fifth season though I really want still to loooooove it), and a dinner of popcorn, ice cream, and Blue Hawaiians.  My friend Jane texted me as I browsed health and beauty, did I want to hang out?  I replied with my dinner menu, confirming that I was entirely serious about “dinner.”  Unfazed by my blatant disregard for nutrition, she drove over anyway.

Chatting outside on our patio late Saturday, solving the world’s problems in the cool, evening breeze, Jane heard our landline ringing.  “Is that your landline?” she asked incredulously, like, “it’s cute you still have a landline” and I was like, “Oh, it’s 10:00 and our phone is ringing?  That can’t be good.”

It wasn’t.

I then grabbed my cell phone, which was set to Do Not Disturb mode, and noticed a call from the same number.  I didn’t want to be one of those, “Did you call this number?” people, because wrong numbers happen, you guys, but with a call to both my cell and home phone, I thought I’d better do some investigative work.  I called the number back.  My son answered, frantic.

They had been playing Ghost In the Graveyard, he whimpered.  “What I didn’t see was the tree stump” over which he tripped and was propelled into a tree.  It hurt really bad, and he had to stay inside while the other kids were sitting around the campfire making s’mores.  In perhaps my single worst parenting decision ever, and folks, there are several on my highlight reel, I asked if he was more hurt or disappointed.  I honestly believed he was more sad not to be in there with the rest of the guys, that he felt excluded, and that disappointment was more painful than the pain.

My son’s pain tolerance approaches the preternatural.  Muscular dystrophy means he falls a lot, crashes into things–walls, furniture, all of the things–more than your average klutz does, and he never complains.  I’ve seen him crash hard, get up and dust himself off, and keep plugging.  Thinking about how bad those incidents have to hurt makes me feel like I have to vomit sometimes.  It’s that kind of pain I see him endure with regularity.

I cried along with him on the phone, angry at muscular dystrophy for making him less agile and nimble, for taking away his ability to maneuver at speed of life.  I agreed, it sucks, kid.  It’s unfair.  No argument.   I talked him through some deep breathing via telephone, believed that hearing his mom’s voice and a few ibuprofen were calming enough to get him over the hump.  I did ask if he wanted me to come pick him up, which he considered then declined when the rest of the kids came back inside from the campfire.  Watching Ghostbusters, the original one, and receiving a s’more another kid made for him, was medicinal enough.

My friend got on the phone, confirmed that he could move his arm, and agreed with me that some of his pain could have stemmed from not being in there with the rest of the guys.  NOT that he didn’t smack the living hell out of his shoulder, ’cause oh, did he ever!  But did I need to come retrieve him?  Probably not.  I agreed.

How many ways could I have been wrong? Let’s start here.

My husband and I go pick him up last evening around 7 PM.  He’s clearly favoring his left arm, proceeding gingerly, but slings his backpack over his right shoulder, grabs his pillow, and lurches over to our car.  He has that boy with bruises/chicks dig scars false bravado, admitting though that his shoulder does hurt.  At home, I help him remove his shirt to get a look at the abrasions and bruises.  We–my husband, son and me–decide to call his pediatrician first thing in the morning.  The bruises are gonna be spectacular!  But then we notice a slant, real asymmetry in his shoulders, and I see his scapulae are not even.  Not at all.  “Did you brush your teeth today?” I inquired.  “No?  Let’s go do that.” Less than an hour after his return home, we cruise over to the emergency room.  They can take my $100 co-pay and tell me he’s fine, but I think he’s maybe less fine than I initially hoped, and I thought he should have fresh breath for the occasion.

I cannot say enough about the emergency medicine department at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.  We were the fourth family in line when we arrived to sign in last night.  In classic I’m such a jerk form, I texted my husband, “F-word.  There’s like 4 families ahead of us just to check in.  We won’t be out of here til tomorrow.”  The ER is where many uninsured families wind up for routine or urgent care needs.  A sign posted at the ER’s entry states that every child and family has the right to emergency care, regardless of ability to pay, insurance or Medicaid status, so the kids in front of us with maybe ear infections and coughs would be sure to get the care they needed.  Underserved and underinsured children populate probably 80% of the school district in which I work, so I understand how so many sick kids wind up in the ER rather than at a pediatrician’s office.  I don’t want to make any assumptions, but you can’t help but overhear the answers to the intake staff’s inquiries:  stomachache, cough, “not herself” were mentioned.  Urgent care issues to be sure.  But this is not a treatise on the status of  health care inequities in the US.  Many more learned people are writing about that very thing all over the internet these days.  Read those; they’re better.

I believe we’re in for the long haul–we brought books, phone chargers, and Tom even packed us snacks and sandwiches for our ER picnic.  But then I become reacquainted with the term triage.  Though I was unawares, the medical staff knew when we walked in what his diagnosis was; in hindsight, I recognize how they hurried us through.  From start to finish, we were in the ER for 75 minutes.  From “Date of birth, any allergies?” to “Your pictures are in.  Your clavicle is broken in two places” to “Call your pediatrician first thing in the morning” took only over an hour.

Broken bones put you ahead of ear infections in the triage conga line.  It’s really the only time you hope, but you don’t really hope for something more serious.  My son’s collarbone is broken in two places.  When the x-ray came in, I pulled a total Wendy:  “Holy crap, kid!!!”  And I got the giggles telling him he did a real number on his shoulder, all right, as we viewed his insides.  The breaks were unmistakable.  Unmistakable.  Like tectonic plates shifting up creating mountains unmistakable.  He laughed looking at the image too, but pretty quickly acknowledged, “I don’t know why I’m laughing.”  I believe we call it “nervous laughter” kid.  Funny/not funny/need a release/yeah, that’s it.

Though I didn’t relish the thought, I had to tell my friend that his collarbone was broken, and I knew she’d feel terrible.  She does.  It’s not her fault, not her anything, and she has always had a very squishy spot for my kid, for them both, which I love.  There ain’t no way I’d have taken four boys camping, and I am so happy she included mine.  Because kids love camping.  Me?  I love not camping.

The stripes are supposed to horizontal, not diagonal

 He made it thirteen-and-a-half years before visiting the ER, so hey kid, thanks for an amazing run!  It will be some time before I allow myself not to feel guilty for not hopping in the car Saturday night.  I apologized to him over and again as we walked back to the car from the ER–I should have intuited.  Aren’t moms supposed to sense this stuff?  How did I NOT know?  I would have driven to the ends of the earth to come and get you if I’d known it was a broken bone.  It will be some time before I figure out just how this immobilizer thing pieces together.  They don’t cast clavicles–so your ER visit is brief by comparison, but I have to assemble this contraption for him.  I’m terrified.  I can’t even wrap a gift decently, and I have to wrap up my kid’s arm and shoulder to protect him.  Aaaand I’m pukey again.

This kid?  He’s so tough.  He is tougher than you, I bet.  This pain should have just about knocked him out–it would have taken me down.  He told several ER staff what happened–they do that, several people ask several times to check for consistency of stories–and the crash went down exactly as I had imagined it did when we spoke on the phone Saturday night.  But I had no idea, NO IDEA, how much badass that kid had inside him.  He’s a rock star.

He’ll need some help, but it’s already been inspiring to watch him triumph over this immobilizer.  He works so hard when he is made to, and I never caught this perseverance in him until the MD diagnosis.  Today it’s all I see: strength over adversity.  I’ll probably have to help him shower, which he’s not super looking forward to, but we did share a little Barenaked Ladies moment over it:  “You think you’re so smart, but I’ve seen you naked, and I’ll probably see you naked it again.”  He laughed, maybe a little nervously, but genuinely too, which hurt him and stung me too.  The line is a lyric from the song Blame It On Me, and friends, I own that blame.

Broken hearts (mine) and broken bones (his)

Namaste, Y’all

Book One

When we moved to our current home in 2005, an elderly lady, Miss Irene, owned the duplex next door.  Every day while my big kid napped, I would lounge around the patio table with my very pregnant feet up and read.  I read to my son every day, all the time, but I longed to read something with chapters!  Something longer and less sturdy than the steady diet of board books my son devoured.  My kid napped like a champ, so I usually had at least ninety connected minutes to disconnect from motherhood.

Typically more than half those ninety minutes were co-opted by Miss Irene.  She was a lonely soul whose “family”–daughter-in-law, granddaughter, grandson, and their crew–inflicted the worst kind of harm unto her.  Without reliving the experiences, let’s just say that her “family” drugged her (they were all in love with the heroin), and ran up her credit cards.  The goods they purchased they fenced from the front porch.  I came to know these details only much too late, after our neighbor, a long-time neighborhood resident filled us in.  He was the one who got her the help she needed, and the Department of Aging stepped in to remove her from her “family.”  We were new, so weren’t familiar with any of the players, and I kept busy trying my hardest not to throw up every minute of the day.  #2’s was a tough pregnancy, but I digress.

Miss Irene would amble over and chat me up each day the weather allowed me to sit outside.  I think she kept her eyes trained to her side window in hopes of a friendly face.  I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of silence as I made friends with yet another lawyer or homicide cop of some mystery author’s imagination.   But more often than not, I heard stories of Miss Irene’s youth–the dances she attended and the fancy dresses she chose, how the streets of Milwaukee had changed since streetcars were replaced by buses, her long-dead and deeply missed husband.  Her wonderful children.  (I didn’t know how truly awful they treated her.)

At that time, though I craved solitude, I listened to Irene’s tales.  Irene reminded me of my grandma, who would chat up every waitress, clerk, or bank teller in southeastern Wisconsin.  My grandma outlived most of her friends, so didn’t get much company as her years added up.  I always hoped that those souls who leaned in just a touch too long to listen to her stories were kind to her.  So that’s how I chose to be with Miss Irene.  I would hear the same stories nearly every day, sometimes twice or three times in quick succession.  Still, they were her memories and they mattered to her.  Talking to her made her happy I could tell.  So I let her talk, always hoping that someone would have shown my grandma the same kindness.

Kindness Gift (2).jpg

 

I walked my dog late this morning, and met a woman clearly not 100% in control of her faculties.  She was carrying an open half-gallon jug of milk (still cold judging by the condensation on the jug), and within the first minute of our chat, I learned that her husband had died five years ago.  He was an alcoholic whose demise was sped by the passing of their pet cat, gone now nine years.  Sally from HUD was unforgivable due to the shoddy job she did handling the sale of her husband’s condo.  Andy, her late husband should have just paid off that condo instead of wasting his father’s inheritance on booze.  But not beer, because a man can’t be an alcoholic if he drinks only beer.  And eight employees of her current address had quit or been fired since 2016.  She shared these details with me, random stranger, in fewer than five minutes.  Then she told me most of them again.

I relay this to you here not to poke fun, no.  I tell you because I’m no martyr, but it cost nothing to be kind to this woman.  She talked, I’d say “we” talked, but really, it was all her for about ten minutes before I really did need to keep moving. It was hard to break from her, as whatever diminished capacity she had impaired her social interactions as well, but I managed to extricate myself and bid her a good day.  I hope she gained something in those ten minutes, even if it was just a random stranger’s ear to let her tell her stories.  I would like someone to do that for someone I loved, or hell, for me when that time comes.

Book Two

My big kid’s brain is normal.  I’m not sure whether I am supposed to be relieved or disappointed about that.  I pick relieved.   Reading the radiologist’s report on my son’s brain MRI was a throwback to graduate school gross anatomy, and I was able to piece together some meaningful info about his brain as I read.  My son’s neurologist hypothesized that in addition to his muscle weakness, presence of chorea suggested there may be some problem the way the nerves were being fired at the cortical level.   I have no idea what any of this means for his future, but don’t I sound like I do?

My little kid’s arm is abnormal.  He rode the bench for the first time last night, and I felt immensely proud of him.  He did go 2/3 at the plate, which pleased him no end, and he didn’t seem overly fazed not to play defense until it came time to trot out to first base during the first inning.  He looked as if a giant iron gate had slammed shut just catching the tops of his cleats on its way down, locking him out of the game.  He consciously had to sit his butt down, but he did.  Just like he was supposed to.  He said it felt weird, but he did keep his coaches entertained with his expert play-by-play.

Book Three

It didn’t kill me.

I’m three weeks into yoga, and I haven’t died.  I’m actually pretty good at it.  For a first timer.  For a forty-nine year old first timer, thank you very much.  Though it’s summer, my anxiety-riddled brain still races, and I am thoroughly amazed that I can find utter tranquility outside on a tennis court, surrounded by kids’ lessons and ladies who don’t exactly always call in/out entirely accurately.  Since my knees have determined my running career is done, I need to do something to keep my physical self in shape.  I’m not meant to be a thin person, but I prefer being thin to not being thin.  Plus I really like to eat.   On my first date with my husband, I told him that I wasn’t one of those girls who was gonna be all “Oh, I’ll just have a side salad and a Diet Coke.  I EAT, mister, and you have to be OK with that.”  Then I tore into a hamburger and fries, and it was pretty much love.  Obviously.

I can stretch and I can use my body to work against and for itself.  My son can’t do that, and I’m not finding quite the right metaphor here, but I’m going to keep moving somehow, and in some way.  Because I can.

 

Namaste.

 

Three Little Words

Not those three little words.  I present the three words no baseball mom ever wants to hear: Season. Ending. Injury.

OK, six: Little League Shoulder.

Little League Shoulder is a thing.  In the medical community, it’s scientifically known as proximal humeral epiphyseolysis. Little League Shoulder is caused by repetitive force across the growth plate ball end of the upper arm bone causing it to become irritated and sometimes widen, as you can see below.

 

Not long after opening day, during which he pitched his usual, consistent game, my son casually mentioned that he “threw out his arm” in gym class.  I actually chastised him a bit, scolding that he had no business gunning wiffle balls at such velocity in gym class.  I’m certain of a few things: 1) At 5′ 7″ he is by far the tallest, strongest kid in fifth grade, 2) He’s one of only two kids in his class who play organized ball and have any experience throwing an actual fastball, and 3) It’s something of a dick move to use an arm like his against classmates in a dodgeball-style playground game.  I’m not entirely sure I enlisted the phrase “dick move,” though I can’t exactly rule that out.

Shortly thereafter, he drifts into something of a batting slump.  He lacks the concealed-by-a-smiling-face-fire he’s usually possessed of at the plate, and strikes out a bunch.  A bunch.  A “good” outing maybe was a dink grounder that squeezed through or pop up.  His coach doesn’t have him pitch at that weekend’s tournament, and I’m relieved.  That Sunday, he lifted himself out of the slump by hitting one over the fence.  This is not the rarity it was at age 10, and though he’s eleven, he plays with 12-year-olds, many of whom look like they possibly drove to the games themselves after they shaved that morning.  Still, at age ten, eleven, twelve, a homer clears the dugout and lifts everyone’s, less the opposing pitcher’s, spirits.  It’s special.

He’s called to pitch again.  To say it was hard to watch is generous.  He was awful.  And I mean that with love.  He was awful.  My right-down-the-middle kid was skipping ’em a yard before the plate; he was sending air mail to Saskatchewan; he was walking in as many as hit him or as he hit with a pitch.  He looked befuddled by the lapse and felt like he was letting down his teammates.  He met the same fate the next time he was called to pitch, so thankfully his coach pulled him right quick that evening.  Last year, my kid was his coach’s go-to guy.  He was consistent, reliable, and for ten, quite unflappable.  Now?  He’s crumbling up there, looking to be on verge of tears at every throw.

He’s a giant, so he’s often the first baseman.  It’s a good fit for tall kids who mostly can catch the ball.  But they needed someone on third–a position he used to LOVE–so his coach sends him to play third.  He couldn’t make the throw to first.  Like not even close.  And we’re yelling at him to hustle, to get his head out of his butt, act like he’s got even a vague recollection of having played the game before.

And FINALLY, now like six weeks after the gym class incident, he admits what we surely know: I can’t throw.

So I take him to his pediatrician who has him go through a throwing motion, and she hears and sees the pop.  Not good, she observes.  She hypothesizes it’s a ligament problem, and refers us to sports medicine.  Sure, he can still play.  Give him ibuprofen before his games, slap some ice on afterward, and we’ll see what sports med turns up.  In the two weeks between those two appointments, he plays eleven games.  Plays conservatively, solidly at first base and has probably a .666 batting average during this run.  Maybe even .750.   My baby was en fuego.  He was.  And yeah, I’ll brag on him here because his bat was out of control.  You can’t help but smile when other teams’ coaches yell “back up!” to their outfielders.

Last Sunday he reveals that even tossing the ball around the horn between innings hurts, and his arm feels sore all the time.  *sigh*

I could sense that the sports medicine staff knew exactly what was wrong before he removed his shirt for the start of his functional assessment.  The x-rays confirmed “Little League Shoulder” and the doctor told my kid, “I really hate to be the bad guy here, but this is a season ending injury.   You cannot throw with an overhand motion until I clear you, and we’re looking at about 2-3 months before you’re back at full velocity.”  There were more words than that–the doc was an amiable and pretty cool guy, but that message was both the alpha and the omega.  My kid’s a junior power hitter, but even if you have but a passing acquaintance with baseball, you know that throwing is a rather key element in the game.  So no defense.

They described how physical therapy would play out, which made sense, and that REST and a follow-up x-ray was imperative before he could even begin PT. The doc asked if my son had any questions.  He stewed for a minute, but came back empty.  “You can’t throw” I said.  “You can’t play first even.  You can’t play defense.  Do you understand?”  He nodded that he did, and what did I do?  Yep.  Cried.  But only a little because I’m a badass baseball mom.

They remarked that his scapulae “winged out” a little, and I almost pooped my pants on the spot.  Naturally (well, naturally for crazy me) I jumped straight to FSHD, Facial-Scapular-Humeral Muscular Dystrophy.  Because during the past half hour I received not great news containing the words scapula and humerus.  And you guys?  I can’t even.  So I won’t.  Not today.

I spoke with his coach yesterday morning.  “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” was my opener.  “Can he still hit?” was his reply, and I swear that kid (he’s 24 I think, and I don’t really think of him as a kid though I could totally be his mom) could not have chosen better words for me in that moment.  It made me laugh and warmed my heart to hear that his coach hoped his highest batting average hitter could keep hitting.  He has a soft spot for my kid, and though I know he’s not supposed to, I love that he does.  Pretty sure he had some notion about the shoulder thing anyway, having pitched through college himself before destroying his own shoulder.  Yeah, he can still hit.  You may have to tape his arm to his side in the dugout, but he’ll be there to finish out the season.

He’s part of a team, and you don’t quit on your team.

Maybe that is the moral of the story here–that you don’t quit on your team, you contribute in the ways you can.  Or maybe it’s that you REALLY have to tune in to your children, because they will NOT admit to the severity of a weakness if they think they might let you down.  Every time until the very end, when we or his coaches asked, my kid said he was fine.  “No, I’m OK” was his refrain until he really wasn’t–and really?  He wasn’t from the first moment he injured his arm. Eleven-year-olds don’t understand that childhood injuries can mean chronic pain as adults–how could they possibly?  Eleven-year-olds want to have fun, they want to hit the ball and cross home plate.

Please, whatever you do to send good will to the world?  Send up a little wish, prayer, intention, ray of light that the moral of the story isn’t that we were given an early sign of another form of neuromuscular disease.  I want to keep our record at .500 here.