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.

I Couldn’t Stand Being Left Out

I mentioned last week that I didn’t believe I had substantively much to offer here these days.  I’m saving my blogself for “The Road Trip” which is to commence in T-minus three days.  After rerouting no fewer than fifty-three times, at last our hotels are booked, activities planned and purchased where that could be done prior to arrival, and Caleb the Wonderdog has visited his day care provider, AKA my husband’s brother and his family, to acclimate.  *pleasedon’twreckalltheirshitpleasedon’twreckalltheirshitpleasedon’twreckalltheirshit* 

I’m 82.4% certain that this adventure is going to be pretty cool, and only 17.6% (but often it feels exactly like 100%) that my failure will go down in the annals of family history as epic.

I’ve dubbed 2017’s summer The Summer of Appointments.  I cannot recall two consecutive days where I haven’t trotted one or both children to a symphony of piano lessons, a dentist, orthodontist, orthopedic surgeon, pediatrician, emergency room, physical therapist, imaging department, or sports medicine specialist appointment.  And that doesn’t even include baseball practice or games, and my children do NOT maintain freakishly overscheduled lives.  Despite having been fitted for an orthodontic retainer of my very own at MY AGE, I must have been feeling neglected, left out.  I wanted my very own orthopedic injury.  Kid #1 has a broken collarbone and Kid #2 has that separation in his bone growth plate, but what about me??  I want to be like the cool kids.  Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa, I want an Oompa Loompa right now!

Somehow I’ve destroyed my rotator cuff.

And yeah, I say “somehow” because I have not the slightest inkling how the injury occurred, aside from just being old(er).  Naturally I blame the dog for having pulled fiercely when I walked him, because he’s a total jerk on his purple leash, and only walks decently, OK, really, like a canine prince on his Weiss Walkie leash.  His misbehavior is the most likely culprit, legit.  In the runner-up spot for destroying my shoulder is yoga, but I do not believe that my centering has taken me this far off-center.  I don’t.  I don’t know how I wake up one day having lost the capacity to move, but who am I to argue with nature?  It hurts.  Like makes-me-cry hurts when I engage in certain angles of movement.  Getting old and overuse is Bachelor #3 for etiology, but I just don’t wanna go there. Crap. 

A short list of things rendered excruciating by a wrecked rotator cuff:

  1. Sleeping.  Holy shit you guys, what I wouldn’t do to sleep on my side or belly.  Or not wake up yelping in pain.
  2. Walking the Wonderdog, although with the Weiss Walkie leash, it’s mostly OK.  I feel like the Weiss people should flip me a couple bucks for my endorsement here.  Right?
  3. Putting on or removing a bra.  I have preparatory tears as I consider retiring to bed tonight.
  4. Sitting erect.
  5. Typing on my laptop.  I hate this computer, but until this week it hasn’t inflicted physical pain, just emotional.
  6. Hold the phone.  This is not figurative language.  It hurts to hold my cell phone in my hand at the position and angle needed to you know, see it.
  7. Washing my hair (and washing the floor, but let’s not fool around here–I’m no more likely to wash the floor now than I was before).  Most hygiene tasks are complicated–shaving my underarms or applying deodorant leap to mind–and if you think that’s too much information, clearly you are new here.  Welcome. How are ya?
  8. Cutting food with a knife and stirring.  Also, cutting pizza hurts like hell.
  9. Eating.  But I like to eat, so I suck it up.
  10. Pretty much extending my arm more than about 40 degrees in any direction, crossing midline, raising my arm, and moving my neck to the left.  Super for driving. And being.

I’m a quirky kind of ambidextrous.  I consider myself a lefty because I write and eat with my left hand; I also bat and play tennis left-handed.  But I throw with my right hand, cut food with my right when I eat (but when I prepare food, the chef’s knife is in my left), and I use a right-handed scissors.  What I do with one hand I absolutely cannot do with the other though. Drat my quirky.  It’s my left shoulder that’s jacked up, so my body is so confused.  And so, so tired.  I’d donate my spleen to sleep longer than three connected hours. Do you even need a spleen?  Like a lot?

Boo-hoo, Wendy, put on a brave face, load up with ibuprofen, and keep moving.  I am.  Like my firstborn, I am badass with pain.  At my husband’s insistence however, I made an appointment with my general practitioner yesterday.  I say my husband made me, but when I am willing to go see a medical professional for myself, you know I’m one step from the grave.  I don’t go to the doctor unless it’s categorically necessary.  Quirky one, right here.  But I went, was sent for x-rays, and referred to an orthopedic/sports med doc of my very own.  My appointment with the orthopedist?  September 14.  I’ll be paralyzed or have descended into madness from lack of sleep by then, so I’m gonna have to trust WebMD for all my physical therapy needs.  (Also, I’m gonna totally possibly hijack my son’s PT appointment this morning and inundate my ballplayer’s therapist with “hypotheticals” about rotator cuff injuries which are totally in line with pitcher’s rehabs, so my questions won’t sound completely out of left field. It’ll be our little secret though, OK?)

After a star-studded June and July, the Explanation of Benefits statements from our health insurance carrier have begun to roll in, and give it up for Wendy! I only snot-cried like once.  I don’t get paid again until mid-September, such is the life of a public educator, so I’m not all summer eager-beavery about all the checks I am going to have to write.  The Summer of Appointments price tag will run upwards of $4,000 out of pocket.  Maybe that’s not a king’s ransom for you, in which case, you’re quite fortunate.  It’s not going to bankrupt us, but I can’t say it doesn’t sting.  Oh, and I have “good” insurance.

As I checked into my imaging appointment yesterday, the receptionist informed me that they required a $50 co-pay prior to my admittance, and the facade cracked.  The guy next to me was yelling at the woman checking him in about not broadcasting his address (you know how they ask you questions just specific enough to confirm you’re who you purport to be? “And Mrs. Weir, you still live on South Sesame Street?” or “Your phone number ends in 7777?”), and I needed a moment.  Just a quick moment to collect myself.  My eyes prickled from pain, but also from that feeling of “Stop it, weird over-reacty guy! I just want to get out of here, stop yelling at her!” I stared intently into my purse, searching for please-don’t-cry-right-this-second.  Found it!

I’m down, but not out. Never out. I’m the mom, ain’t no time for pain. I got some great mail this week, and mail you can touch and hold from a friend who always seems to know just what you need never fails to buoy my spirits. And my shoulder. 

In my mind, my two sons and I are lined up á la those see/hear/speak no evil monkeys, except we’re bandaged, casted, and splinted. I’m the short, hunched over one in the center.  A modern day visage of Larry, Moe, and Curly, us three. 

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)

I Mean, I Get It

I have poison ivy.  Well, I’m pretty sure I do anyway.  As I changed into my Saturday evening jammies,  I realized I had a rashy patch on the very center of the small of my back.  It appeared quite suddenly, but of course poison ivy didn’t skyrocket to the forefront of my mind as its possible source.  I smeared some hydrocortisone cream on whatever it was, went to bed, and mercifully slept solidly until my 5:15 AM alarm broke my heart.  I love my kid to pieces–to BITS and pieces–but will never welcome a weekend wake-up call for the crack of the bat.  But I do love him like bananas, and I am at least a B+ baseball mom, so I was first one up and at ’em.

It’s driving me bonkers because I cannot quite visualize the rash even with strategically-placed mirrors, so I asked my husband to take a peek.  “Eeeeewww” is never the answer a wife wants to hear from her husband when he examines, well, I don’t know what the hell I thought he was examining.  I did however, know that “eeeeewww” was not on the Hot 100 of responses I’d hoped for.  “Looks like poison ivy,” he stated.

I’ll spare you the details, because 1) you too can diagnose me via Dr. Google, 2) I’ve shown you time and again I’m not a horror writer, and 3) it’s gross.  BUT it’s relatively small, so it could be grosser.  Google Images proved that fact  to me time and again.  It’s not a big deal, annoying to be sure, but leaves me with the musical question:  How the hell did I contract poison ivy?

poison_ivy_leaves

I mean, I get it.  I have it, that is.  I have poison ivy, so I get that it happened.  But how?  I live in the ‘hood.  I spend my days doing city things and baseball things, but I can’t for the life of me puzzle out where I may have come into contact with it.

As I was swabbing yet another calamine lotion-drenched cotton ball on my back, poison ivy and life got me to thinking about other things that I get, but don’t get.  Like I understand that these items are realities/facts/truths, but how?  The world works in mysterious ways, boy howdy.  Here’s proof:

How do you expect city electricians to work on lifts or down manholes when there’s gunfire exploding around them?  I mean, I get it.  Nighttime streets need to be lit for safety (ah, the irony), and you need guys to repair those lights, so you send them out on second and third shifts.  Electricians control the behavior of city residents not one iota, so when someone gets pissed off on the basketball courts, the pop, pop, pop of handgun is the next natural step.  Jaysus.

How do I, now forty-nine years old, need a retainer for my bottom teeth?  NOW??  I mean, I get it.  My teeth have migrated, and they need some type of anchor to keep them from further misalignment.  But really?  How did I not know in all these years that your teeth can drift back??  Technically my dentist said that as you age, your teeth move forward and down-ish.  Fucking gravity.  My childhood orthodontist used me in his grand rounds, so bad was my dental starting point and so spectacular was his work that he featured me as a before/after “model.”  Yep, fakey quotes are appropriate there.  My dentition was horrendous, and I have oft said that braces were the very best thing my parents ever did for me.  And now I’m returning to the favor to myself.  You can keep your “she’s so vain” comments to yourself.  Damn right I am gonna do what I can to keep my smile anchored in my skull, even if I was the only post-menopausal kid at the orthodontist today.
Why does my dog never leave my side?  I mean, I get it.  I’m delightful company, and rock the scratching behind the ears gig.  I’m about 83% amenable to sharing the couch/chair/floor spot with him, so it makes sense.  But why all the time?  ALL the time.  All.  The.  Time.  Yesterday I choreographed a little routine.  No lie.  I walked back and forth in every direction just to see if he’d follow each and every step I took.  He did.  *sigh*  My husband found it hilarious, and I believe even he was shocked at how committed Caleb is to not extracting himself from my behind.   (PS–I know I split the infinitive here, but it really does work better, more conversational-sounding.)

Why don’t kitchen floors clean themselves?

Why does our political landscape feel more like the grey dystopian state featured in The Hunger Games films and less purple mountainous majesty and amber waves of grainy?

Why do I still recall each and every word of Seven Year Ache by Roseanne Cash when I haven’t heard it since 1981?  My husband was genuinely tripping at my ninja name that tune, artist, year, and sing every damn lyric skills the other day.  He was flipping through all the channels as quickly as he could, and I knew every last one of ’em.  No, that’s not true.  There was some ’80s emo piece of crap that neither of us recognized, but otherwise?  As Negan of The Walking Dead would say, my skills are “freaky deaky.”  But please don’t ask me to retrieve the correct ingredient while I’m staring into the fridge making dinner.  It’s a confined space, Wendy, how hard can it be??  Pretty hard.

In a related story, why am I not on Beat Shazam?

Also, semi-related?  How can my son fail to locate a 9×13 dessert pan in said refrigerator.  It’s a confined space, which I believe we’ve already covered.  And no, son, a bowl of Jell-O is not a 9X13 pan.  Again with the Jaysus.

Why are individuals with mental health problems marginalized so?

How did I get so lucky to have accumulated this collection of wonderful, diverse friends in my life?

Why don’t I read more often?  I mean, I get it.  But this one I do not want to address.  I love reading, still read  a lot, but I want to read more.  Life provides a rich parade of distractions though.

Anyway. . .  These are but a few of the “I mean, I get it” train wrecks of thought that clacked along the neuronal tracks of my cortex.  I’ll probably remember another chunk of my random musings in the shower tomorrow morning.  Honestly, it’s where I do my best work.  I probably will struggle to remember to shampoo then condition my hair though because distractions, and I’ll probably be bummed that the really good ones didn’t make the cut in time for this post!   I really need to finish this though because I want to complete the novel I’m reading.  And apply more calamine lotion.  Because poison ivy.

For what it’s worth, my most enlightened hypothesis about the poison ivy is that Numbnuts Caleb sprinted through something at the dog park, subsequently jumped on me, and the oils thus transferred.  It’s actually a fair working theory, and beyond someone poisoning me deliberately (OK, poisoning may be a little dramatic) or the plant oils somehow finding their way to my yoga mat, it’s the theory of record.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

Safe & Sound

My Number One Son is attending College for Kids this week, enrolled in an annual Young Writers’ Academy, which he loves.  On our commute yesterday morning, he asked after what I’d been writing lately, and I admitted to being in what you might call a slump.  “Why don’t you write about me going to camp?” was his helpful, if a bit egocentric, suggestion.  Turned out to be an effective prompt, so here we go.

The best week of the year.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association refers to camp as that, the best week of the year, and they deliver.  They over-deliver, in fact.  At registration, I was told the letter I wrote to the counselors was perfect, which may be (is definitely) shaded in overstatement, but I appreciated the compliment.  I received the most beautiful email from a couple whose son was taken from them in 2012 due to complications of Duchenne MD.  Through the miracle of Facebook, they were connected to this post, and took the time to contact me.  Early in my blogging career (go on with your bad self, girl), I thought it would be a miracle if I could connect with or help or support even one person, and these terrific parents told me I could check that off my list.  Yeah, tears were shed.

Thanks Wendy for your letters to the counselors. I cried reading it to my wife. This brought back many memories when we took our son Todd to MDA summer camp. . . Your words captured what we thought about the camp counselors, we always said thanks, but never really knew how to say more than just that. Your insight was very thoughtful. These young adults give up a week out of their summer to be big buddies to our kids. I always wondered if they truly ever knew what impact they had on so many kids and their families.

Oh my, oh my, oh my,  you are welcome.

I delivered the big kid to camp alone this year, as my husband stayed in the Wisconsin Dells with our younger son for day two of his baseball tournament.  I think going solo made drop-off easier for me this year.  I was responsible for getting all of the things he needed packed and ready and in the car, I had to get up at the crack of dawn and get all Google Mapped out to ensure an on time arrival, and I welcomed the busy-ness.  There’s much less time to wallow in contemplation when one is occupied with purpose.

Just having been there at Camp Wonderland before made the process less scary, more familiar this year too.  There was a moment of confusion, but just a blip at that, as the camp director called down for my kid’s counselor.  “Don’t leave this room until you talk to me again, OK?” Sarah asked, and who was I to wander?  I’m very good at following directions.  Minutes later–nothing but a typo causing the blip–my son was introduced to his counselor who happened to be wearing a YouTube tee shirt.  Bonding start to finish before we even got back to the car to unload!  Back up to Willow Cabin we drove for 2017’s best week of the year, where we unloaded in under 45 seconds thanks to a local chapter of a HOG (Harley Owner’s Group), ready to shuffle the kids’ belongings into the kids’ cabins.


As a mom, you kinda want this to drag out a little.  You kinda want time to linger, to check out the cabin, make face-name connections, learn who your kid will be tossing and turning with over the next five nights.  Instead, you keep your sunglasses on, aver in a surprisingly stable tone of voice well, it’s time, and demand that he bring it in for a hug.  In something of another surprise, your kid obliges with the hug and seems to mean it!   You turn, straighten your shoulders, exhale a too-long sigh, and resume a right-left-right-left cadence.  You only cry a little bit, and you turn around just once to catch that one last glimpse out of the corner of your eye, but you’re already too late.

But you’re OK.

And so is he.

He is better than OK, and you’re grateful in every conceivable way.  You’re also grateful in one especially weird way–you miss him less than you believe you should because you know, you KNOW!, he is where is meant to be.  He is home.  He’s home with the only other group of people who knows what and how he feels.  You miss him less than you should because part of you doesn’t want him to have to come to your home, his real-world home; you want that camp never to end for him.

The closing photo montage this year featured an acoustic version of the song Safe and Sound by Capital Cities.  How these people don’t cry their way through this presentation is nothing short of miraculous to me–I misted up immediately at that underlying message: camp is where our kids are safe and sound; that theme was not lost on me.  They are.  In closing, Sarah thanked families for trusting her, the counselors, and the medical staff.  That she could only imagine how terrifying that could be–to leave your child and trust that he or she will be OK.  Not me.  Never terrified.

Photo swiped from the MDA Southern Wisconsin Facebook page

Thank you for sending my kid to camp, my friends.  Thank you for hanging in with me every step of the way.  I lack the depth and breadth of vocabulary to express just how much you mean to me.  You will just have to trust me.

Dear Counselors,

My son goes to MDA Summer Camp Sunday.  Last week I received a call from his camp director who asked if I’d consider writing a letter to the incoming counselors.  Their meet & greet and training are to occur Saturday prior to the kids’ arrival.  Sarah, the director, told me these letters from parents would be opened and read by the counselors during their orientation.  The intent, I gathered, was to provide the counselors insight about how important and valued their role is to campers and their families.

I mentally drafted 70% of my letter while still on the phone with her, and forgot it immediately upon disconnecting.  I’m not sure what I ended up with was exactly what she was looking for, and I didn’t edit as well as I’d have liked.  Golly I miss having a functional short term memory, so I had to rely and draw heavily from the blog post I wrote upon his return home last year.

Words, as the always seem to, fail me when I need them most.  To those of you magnificent souls who helped get him there, I thank you.  I thank you again and always and then a few times more.  Whether you donated to our Muscle Walk team, showed up on walk day, said, “Hey Wendy, I’m thinking of you and your kid,” purchased items from the camp Amazon.com wish list, or read and/or commented on one single blog post here, you were with me, you made this happen for my kid and others like him.  May your kindness and generosity be returned to you one thousand and three times over.  One thousand and four. 

I will miss my boy tremendously this week, miss him like bunches and bunches of crazy, but I am not worried.  Not one bit.  He is where is supposed to be this week.

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Here’s what I concocted for the Saturday night counselor campfire.  What do you think?

Dear Counselors,

Thank you is always a good place to start, right?  So thank you.  You could do a million billion things this week, and you have chosen to spend it with kids socked with one of the many forms of muscular dystrophy.  Thank you.  That alone, your being there, says something about your character and human decency.

If you haven’t volunteered for MDA or any summer camp before, maybe you’re thinking this will be a good experience, something that looks good filed under community service or an impressive add to your college application.  And you’re right about that, it will.  You will find that being a counselor at MDA camp is more than just a resume-building experience though.  You’re changing lives, and there really isn’t finer work you can do for kids (or yourselves, frankly) than being there, being someone who cares about a kid who needs you.  I suspect by next Friday, you’ll leave this place changed.  Sure, you can check off camp counselor on your to-do list, but the imprint you leave on the child you’re paired with won’t be so easy to check off and move on from.

When we meet at drop-off tomorrow, I’ll be trying really hard not to cry while my thirteen-year-old son is trying really hard not to die of embarrassment.  Thirteen-year-olds don’t give away a whole lot, and the thought of his mom getting emotional (again!) in front of you will make him crumble inside, though he probably won’t tell you that.  But you will learn things and experience things with him that I never will get to do.  You’ll see a side of him where he feels at home, feels confident and capable, the side that feels and actually gets to be exactly where he is meant to be.  You’ll see the side of him that believes he is a part of something, and not the odd one out.  You’ll see him do really brave things and take risks.  Take note of those things; they are a gift to you, a relative stranger, but soon to be my son’s close confidant.  You get a gift his mother will never receive.

Even a novel-length letter would never adequately convey my gratitude with words.  Words are insufficient to express what beats in my heart as I think about what MDA camp means to my family.  The depth of my thanks, the way my heart is skipping right now as I try to say what I mean to say?  I want to get it right.  I won’t.  Words like so, very, incredibly, really, extremely are mere fillers.  I’m the kind of person who has a song for every occasion, but since I’m neither a singer nor songwriter, and my favorite musicians have yet to write a song about this, my thank you song remains unsung.  Plus, you don’t want to hear me sing.  Trust me on this one.

I will miss my kid, but during camp, he will need me less than I need him around.  It’s the way it’s supposed to be, I understand, and I think his week will be perfect.  He needs YOU.  Though he may seem aloof, and not exactly socially gifted, he needs you.

I wrote this next bit a year ago after my son returned home from MDA camp.  Reading it again a year later, it feels like another lifetime.  But at the time, the emotions were fresh.  THIS is the kind of impact you make as a counselor:

We’re ready to go.  I get our car queued up; my son’s had help getting his gear packed, so all that is left is to say good-bye.  Dillan (his counselor last year) hugged my kid hard, told him how much he enjoyed being around him, and told my kid he loved him while my weird, giant seventh-grader held on for dear life.  I think his counselor had to prop him up, no small feat there (because he’s 6 feet tall), because all my kid could do is hold on, nod his shaggy head in agreement and sob.  I’ll never forget that moment.  I’ll never forget that my oft-detached child found home right there, right then.

“Why are good-byes so hard?”  That’s a question for the ages, kid, I told him.  Hours later, he unleashed emotions that before then I’d never known him to express.  “I want to go back to camp.  I want to be with my friends.  I just want to be with those guys.  I finally felt like I fit in, that I wasn’t the odd one out.  I found friends where I belong no matter what. I just want to be alone.  Or I just want to be back at camp.”

So, counselors, thank you.  Thank you for making camp my boy’s home away from home. Thank you for being there for him, for all the kids.  Thank you for donating a week of your time.  If you ever wonder if what you’re doing matters or makes a difference?  It matters.

Have fun!  Don’t forget to have fun.  Ever.

Wendy Weir

But I Don’t Actually Play Tennis

We joined a tennis club.  I can barely stand on two feet these days–I literally fell off my shoes after my concert last Tuesday.  So I can hardly walk like a proper grown-up, let alone play tennis, yet tonight I found myself at New Member night at “our” club.  My life is just chock full o’ twists like that.  I reeked of imposter as my big kid and I entered for the first time as members.  Really?  I’m the kind of person who would be lurking out back by the dumpsters, attempting to catch even the most distant glimpse of how the other side lives.  I’m not on the other side.

My friend Jane is super smart and kind.  She has perhaps an even more wry/dry/sly sense of humor than I do, and outside of my inner circle of fans of my band, she is one of few who understand the celebrity boyfriend phenomenon.  That alone is reason to want to hang out with her all the time, but really that’s just icing on the cake.  And you know I DO love my frosting.  Anyway, Jane.  She DOES play tennis, and so do her husband and her two sons.  At the club.  Last summer she invited the boys and me to an afternoon swim, and began her pitch for us to join the club too.

For all the right wrong reasons, I wanted in.  OK, really the reasons are two:  1) Jane.  Hanging out with her and her family more often, and 2) The Big Reason. My big kid could swim all summer long without having to take a swim test, which he would never pass.  Our community system of public pools requires that each kid each day pass a swim test, granting them access to the deep end.  My kid can’t swim like they require him to (MD, ya know), so any trip to the pool ended in frustration (his) and tears (mine).  No kid who stands 6′ tall wants to dally in the shallows when all the cool kids are in the deep end.

My husband–the one who actually plays tennis–rebuffed my efforts to prod him (us) into joining.  It’s expensive.  We’re broke.  True and true.  My husband–the one who has never paid a bill in the course of our marriage–was worried about the cost.  Legit, but I was all like, “Now you’re paying attention?”  When I calculated the approximate cost of a single baseball bat we purchase for the small one, a season of family fun allowing the big one a chance to find a happy place paled.  It felt like a sound investment to me, but Tom still wasn’t on board.  Jane and her husband have mad persuasion skills, and somehow convinced my hubby to join.  I wasn’t there, but skills, y’all.  Next thing I know, I’m completing application packets, writing big checks, and boom! I’m told my husband is signing me up for social tennis (??).  I was led to believe it was mostly about day drinking, so I was all “IN!”  And soon I’ll be playing social tennis.  Which apparently is a thing.

So the six-footer and I go to the new member night tonight.  We received our membership cards, and were met near the entrance for a tour.  We had a very nice chat with one of the board members and his wife.  We explained that half our family was at a baseball game, so couldn’t make the opening reception.  They asked my big kid if he was into baseball or tennis (a perfectly logical question, no?).  He replied that, no, he wasn’t, that he was really there for the swimming.  They continued to talk with him, talking up tennis lessons, and maybe he could take lessons there?  Again, he denied athletic inclination, saying, “I’m really not a sports guy.”

He’s looking over at the pool, and asks, “Do you need to take a swim test every day here?”  I’m sure to them it seemed an odd inquiry, but I knew precisely where he was going with it.  “Because I have MD, that’s muscular dystrophy, and it’s hard for me to pass a swim test.”

You could have knocked me over with the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Wait, what?  It was the first I’d ever heard him introduce and talk about it in the real world.

They told my kid that at one time, kids had to swim a length of the pool in order to gain access to the diving well, but they weren’t sure that rule was still in place.  The relief on his face was enormous.  After but a few minutes of acquaintance, this woman said to him, and really to me, something like, “I’m sure your mom will be here to make sure you’re never in a place she feels you’d be unsafe.  My son’s a lifeguard here, and all the lifeguards here are great and will keep an eye on you too.”

Hugging a total stranger felt inappropriate, so instead I thanked her, and thanked my lucky stars it was sunny.  Ray-Bans to the rescue, because there’s no crying in tennis.  You know what?  Yeah, there is.

The pool opens tomorrow, and a certain thirteen-year-old wants to swim.  According to my WTF app (What The Forecast), it’s looking like mid-50s/low 60s weather for opening day.  And did you catch the Pig Latin??  This is my kind of smarty-pants app!  Swimming tomorrow feels like a no, kid, but I’ll get you there.  Soon and often. That’s a promise.

 

Weird

A slap in the face can come in the form of words, not actions.  I don’t recall ever being physically slapped in the face though, so any such slap has been a figurative one.  The Mother’s Day slap stung harshly.

The sky shone blue on Mother’s Day, a sapphire so perfect and rich it looked like it had to be a painted stage backdrop.  My husband and the boys decided we would take an early morning trek to our funky, local coffee shop for breakfast because 1) coffee, 2) I love going out for breakfast, and 3) Mother’s Day goodies for everyone!  The shop is one mile exactly from our home, usually a doable walk for us all.  About two-thirds of the way there however, my big kid complained of pain, and needed to take a breather.  I fall down a mountain and report back in excruciating detail about my bruises and abrasions until the last of them has faded.  I trip down the stairs with regularity, and anyone in the 53207 postal code hears me fuss.  My big kid though?  He doesn’t complain.  It’s just not in his DNA.  So for him to complain, I knew he was struggling.

We made it to the coffee shop life and limbs intact after all, but my big kid was definitely not himself.  You run through the maternal 5-point illness/injury probe: with one pointer finger, point to where it hurts; is it stabby pain or throbby pain?; did it just start hurting like right now, or have you been pushing through for awhile?;  do you have to poop?; can you move or do I need to run home and return with the car?  OK, it’s not technically a protocol, but man, I was hoping it was just an “I have to poop” thing.  If you have sons, you know exactly what I mean here.  “I have to poop” is I’m sure at the root of many mommy panic attacks and midnight calls to the nurse practitioner triage line.

Days later I remain fuzzy about the symptomatology and unsure of its etiology.  I do believe it was MD-related, which he denied.  He fatigues easily, which leads to a weird MD cycle: When your muscles fail, you get tired easily so you don’t develop the endurance to walk long distances.  Because you cannot walk long distances, you don’t develop good cardiovascular health, which affects endurance.  Because your cardio and lung capacity is reduced, you don’t engage in extended physical activity, and so on, and so on, and so on.  We stopped three times on the way home, which was A-OK by me, and it was at the third stop where all (well, some) was revealed.

Sir Trips-A-Lot accidentally took out a classmate’s chair Friday afternoon.  Proprioception not being one of his special gifts, he accidentally kicked the leg of the chair next to his, and his buddy went down.  The substitute teacher on duty was certain it was done with intent and malice aforethought, so told my kid he would be telling his regular teacher.  Big kid made it right with his friend Friday before the end of the day–it WAS an accident of course–but he feared the consequences he thought were to come.

“How do you want to handle this?” I inquired.  “Do you want to see what Ms. S has to say to you Monday or would you like me to email her before tomorrow to explain your version of the story?”

I was impressed that he wanted to handle it on his own for starters.  I told him that he if thought he was being treated unfairly, then I would contact his teacher if he believed it necessary.  I also told him that his regular teachers understand he has MD, and that sometimes his body does weird things.  I say this not as a free pass for him, but as a statement of fact.  If he took the kid out intentionally, we’d be having a very different conversation.

“Some of my classmates say I’m weird,” he ventured.

“You ARE weird,” I replied without missing a beat.  The look on his face???

“We’re all weird, it’s cool.  Some of your friends are weird or do weird things, right?”

Both my husband and I talked with him in the moment in generalities about weirdness and uniqueness, but I was the only one of us three whose eyes were teary.  See, the outliers know they’re different before anyone has to tell them so.  I know I’ve used those very words before, but they remain true.  It’s one thing as a mother to know these things, but quite another for your child to share them voluntarily.  He never complains, as I said, so I knew it mattered.  This parenting gig is not for the weak, people.  It was Mother’s Day, but I no longer felt super celebrate-y.  I felt lovey and squishy and nostalgic for their lovey, squishier toddler hands and bellies, and a bit sad that adolescence is doing what adolescence does.  Adolescence with MD, I can only imagine, complicates things that much more.

Later Sunday afternoon, he came out to the patio where I sat, bundled in my winter coat and blanket, reading a novel.  Yay for Mother’s Day leisure reading for fun under a warm(ish) spring sun!  He came out to tell me that he thought I was weird too.

“Oh, what makes me weird?”

“Well,  your BNL obsession for one thing.”

This was neither the time nor place to discuss the semantic distinction between obsession and concentrated hobby, so I let it go.  Instead I replied with something like, “Yeah, most moms don’t chase their favorite band across the Midwest.”

“AND Canada, you actually went to Canada.  That’s weird.”

“Yes it is, son. Tell me now one thing about me that you love.”

“You take care of us.  You do all the responsibilities around the house, and you say you love us like every day.”

“I do love you, big kid,”

“I know, mom.  Love you too.”

*end scene*

I’ll take being viewed as weird in exchange for an unprompted “I love you” any day.  I guess my Mother’s Day gift was the gift of gab from that one.  He’s typically short on effusive expression, sticking with the seventh grade one-to-two word answer grunt script.


He wrote me a note, which included an acrostic poem using Mother, very much prompted, this time by one of his teachers.  Trustworthy and Heroic he wrote.  I’ll take it.