So many people have kindly been asking how I’m doing.
And I always answer the same way: I’m okay. Some days are better than others. Thanks for asking.
But that’s only part of the (long) story.
Previously, on Homeland (except I don’t mean Homeland, I mean in our lives, but in my head I hear Mandy Patinkin’s voice saying it. Anyhoo. Carry on)…
About a year ago, Ella broke her left foot, quite badly. She wasn’t doing anything crazy – just happened to fall off of her scooter exactly wrong – but every single one of the myriad doctors, nurses, and technicians who looked at her x-rays would literally gasp at the severity of the break, usually expressing how shocked they were that she wasn’t screaming bloody murder (always a comforting statement). She had a temporary cast put on, but we were told we’d need to revisit soon thereafter so another pediatric orthopedic surgeon could examine her foot and give his opinion.
When he took a look – again with the x-rays, and also just, you know, looking at her foot – he told us we had a decision to make: he could cast it again now and, because the foot itself didn’t look crooked (always a good sign), keep our fingers crossed that the bones would fuse together and heal properly – as children’s bones usually do – and that would be the end of it. But… if they didn’t fuse together and heal properly… if, because of the severity of the break, they healed poorly and all wonky… she’d need surgery in about a year — big, invasive, painful surgery with a nice, long recovery time. So, that was option one: cast it and hope for the best (the most likely outcome) – but recognizing that if things didn’t go well, we’d be headed down a rough road in a year or so.
Option two was to simply do surgery right then, which would probably guarantee that her foot would mend correctly. The surgery would be less intense than the one she could possibly need in a year, but would still be, you know, surgery — which would mean putting her under, plus a much longer recovery period than just putting her foot in a cast and allowing it to heal on its own. Since that was the most likely outcome anyway, this pre-emptive surgery was just an exceedingly overcautious measure… but it would be easier on her than the potential fix-it-up surgery.
Both options sucked. What on earth should we do? Make Ella go through surgery just in case? Or take things more slowly, assuming her foot would heal as it should – requiring only a few weeks in a cast – but potentially screwing her over even more in the future? THANKS SO MUCH, PARENTHOOD. THIS IS FUN.
Nick and I were unprepared to have the doctor lay it out like that, to put the decision to us. We choked. We sputtered. We were totally lost. And so, while the doctor went to gather his technicians to remove Ella’s temporary cast, I left the room, too… and called Bill. He wasn’t a doctor, but he’d had a lifetime’s worth of experience in the medical field. Surely he could help us through. (He did.)
It’s been been nearly seven years since I was in my own classroom, and man, have I missed it. I love, love, love being home with my daughters (when they’re not maiming one another or painting the bathroom walls with nail polish or wearing my lingerie as dress-up clothes during a playdate; TRUE STORY), but I miss teaching. I miss the students. I miss having my own classrooms and the cheesy teacher posters (“Shoot for the moon! If you miss, at least you’ll land among the stars!” “CAN’T is a four letter word!” “YOU DON’T SCARE ME – I TEACH!”) and even telling the kids that if they use the xylophone mallets one more time before I say go, they’re to hand them over for the rest of the class.
I’d so hoped to be back in the classroom full-time this year, what with Annie in first grade all day, but it just didn’t happen. (Although, with all that’s been going on this fall, can you even fathom if I’d been teaching all day, every day?? Oh, Universe/Karma/Fate, you foxy vixen. I’ll say it: uncle! You knew. Well played.) And then came the chance to sub, and it has been SO GOOD! Back in school again! With kids again! Arriving in the classroom to discover that the teacher didn’t realize that a qualified music sub would be in, and has left a movie, instead; oh hellz no! We will be doing recorders and yes, I CAN teach them to sing that canon in a round, thank you very much! SO VERY GOOD. Once or twice a week, I’m in that classroom, and a little bit of magic happens. LOOK AT ME, I AM SO HAPPY!!
As school started this fall, Ella needed new shoes and we bought sneakers without incident, but when it came time to buy flats, she could find none – none! – that fit. I took her to (I am not kidding, and yes I actually counted) ELEVEN stores, from WalMart to Nordstrom, and she tried on every single damn pair of flats available, and NONE OF THEM WORKED. At first, I assumed she was just being exceedingly fussy and picky (I believe I may have actually muttered to her something along the lines of, “Sometimes, shoes don’t FEEL GOOD, but you just WEAR THEM ANYWAY!” because that’s always an awesome strategy), but finally, many tears later (both hers and mine; she’s eight, so she has an excuse; I’m just a crier), it dawned on me: her once-broken left foot was wider and shorter than her right. So, in fact, she wasn’t being fussy or picky; truly NOTHING fit.
Patted myself on the back for quite a nice long time after that one, I did. AWESOME JOB, MAMA.
Long story short, I finally tracked down some wide, impossible-to-find shoes that cost as much as the ones I wore for my wedding, and they fit and she was thrilled and the angels sang and chocolate poured forth from the heavens. But the shoe fiasco reminded me that it was nearly a year since Ella had broken her foot, so I’d better schedule her follow-up appointment with the surgeon, especially because they fill up so far in advance, I knew I’d have to book something immediately if I wanted to get her in anywhere near the twelve month mark.
Naturally, they’re not open on weekends, and afternoons are dicey because of piano lessons and Annie, so I chose a weekday appointment, smack dab in the middle of the day so that Ella would miss lunch and recess but as little actual instructional time as possible. Because of TESTING and COMMON CORE and ELA and MATH PROBLEMS THAT I CANNOT DECIPHER BECAUSE THEY SAY THINGS LIKE, “USING AN ARRAY, EXPLAIN WHY EQUAL GROUPS HELPED MIGUEL FIND OUT HOW MANY APPLES TO BRING TO THE MORTUARY.” Third grade is not what it used to be.
Anyway, I made the appointment and, knowing that this office tends to run at least an hour, if not two hours — TWO HOURS — behind, I was in constant communication with the surgeon’s receptionist, the school’s secretary, and Ella’s teacher, keeping the appointment time in flux so that she’d be there to learn how to help darling Miguel with the apples. PRIORITIES, PEOPLE.
OH! Subbing is SUCH A JOY! Sorry for the excessive caps lock, but it is. I LOVE IT!! Have I mentioned that? No, really. I do.
But, sheesh, the scheduling. If I teach first thing in the morning, Nick needs to get the girls off to school. If I teach at a school that ends after my own kids’ classes end, I need to find someone to watch them until I can get home. All doable, but still… scheduling. If I teach on a day when I have piano lessons starting at 3:00, I need to either only teach a half-day or cancel my first piano lesson. Add to that mix Nick being out of town on a relatively frequent basis, and it’s been a hell of a thing keeping it all straight and figuring out when I am available. There have been days when I’ve received an email — not a first-thing-in-the morning, OH MY GOD WHO DIED? phone call, but just a friendly email — asking if I can sub… and I look at it, and everything in my brain gets a little wavy, like that time I was on Vicodin for knee surgery and Nick and I went to a hockey game and I asked him to get me “a drink” – you know, like a soda – and he assumed I mean an alcoholic drink and I didn’t have anything else to imbibe, so I drank that, and the booze mixed with the narcotics and suddenly I was watching the action on the ice, the teammates sliding prettily back and forth, saying to him, “Wow – the players down there look like a school of fish!”
So sometimes, my brain gets school-of-fish-y just looking at the subbing emails, and suddenly everything is so overwhelming, I can’t even beGIN to think what my schedule is next week, and I just burst into tears. Right there, in the kitchen, and the dogs are all, Was it something we did? We already apologized for eating the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (also: true story. Except they didn’t apologize). Crying. In the kitchen. Because I just can’t think straight, not even about something I adore.
The office told me they were running about 30 minutes behind, so I called the school secretary to let her know, then tended to some things around the house and let the dogs out one last time. I called them in and Langston came running immediately, but Jambi did not. Wondering if perhaps she had found another apple from the tree and was ignoring me, I set out to bring her in, but no, she wasn’t by the apple tree. Nor by the playhouse. Nor the garden. Nor, well, anywhere. Both gates were locked, so I knew she hadn’t gotten out of the yard that way, and although Joey (our
jackass other dog) can both go under and climb over the chain link fence, Jambi has never indicated that she can, so I was dumbfounded. Where could she be??
I called her, over and over. I walked the perimeter of the fence to look for holes where she might have escaped. NOTHING. She was nowhere to be found. And I had to leave in three minutes to take Ella to her appointment, the one that had taken two months to properly schedule, the one where they’d tell us if all had gone well or if she’d need major surgery. But I couldn’t leave, because I couldn’t find Jambi.
See, it’s not like your own pet just running off, where maybe you could be all, She knows where she’s fed, I’m sure it’s fine! and go about your business. Because Jambi isn’t ours. I mean, she is for the next ten months, but technically she belongs to CCI; she’s just living with us. There was no way in hell I could just allow our 10 month-old service dog-in-training, who had never so much as wandered (alone) ten feet beyond our property line, to just go on an adventure through the neighborhood and assume she’d come back safely. Have fun! Smell some hydrants for me! Catch ya later! No, I had to find her — I HAD TO FIND HER RIGHT THEN — and if I couldn’t, I had to keep looking until I did.
Nick, as is always the case when something unexpectedly calamitous happens, was out of town, and although he was empathetic when I called him in hysterics, trying to calm me down and helping me to see that Jambi had to the the priority here — Ella’s appointment could, technically, be rescheduled, but Jambi needed to be found — it wasn’t long before he had to say, “My flight’s about to board — good luck!” and I was on my own. No one else could take Ella to her appointment, and I couldn’t really ask neighbors to track down Jambi; I needed to find her myself, to make sure she was okay. Minutes ticking by, Ella’s appointment slipping ever further away, I got in the car and set off around the neighborhood, screaming Jambi’s name out of the windows.
Pinterest is a dangerous place. I don’t just pin madly; if I see stuff that I have no interest in (scrapbooking and making anything that involves a sewing machine, I’m looking at you), rather than be intimidated or self-deprecatory or vindictive or spiteful, I just move on. To each their own.
But when I find stuff that DOES grab me, hoo boy. It is ON. Hermey (our Elf on the Shelf) is going to have some mighty fine adventures this year, let me tell you, and the entire family agrees that that recipe for crockpot cilantro chicken kicked some serious boo-tay.
Such was the case when I found the pumpkins. After all these years of just carving, WHO KNEW?? There was an entire WORLD of pumpkin decorating out there, just waiting for me to bring it into my dining room. Yes, the girls oohed and ahhed over what they saw on my Pinterest page, but who are we kidding? I was the one with pumpkin-decorating fever. It took no prodding at all for me to “convince” them to go to Michael’s at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, nor did I have any trouble filling the cart with the necessary accoutrements. I CAN USE BOTH MOD PODGE AND A GLUE GUN FOR THIS DESIGN? There is a God.
The dining room was filled to the brim with pumpkins for a solid ten days, and they were GOOD days! Happy days! Each time I saw them, they made me smile, big, shit-eating, jack-o-lantern smiles. WE ARE SO HALLOWEEN-Y AND CRAFTY AND LIFE IS JUST HUMMING ALONG RIGHT NOW!!! Once soccer ended, we wound up with a free Tuesday afternoon (a free day! OMG!), and the girls and I spent THREE STRAIGHT HOURS decorating pumpkins. I could physically feel myself relaxing with the application of each sequin. Ooooh, pumpkins. I love you so!
I drove around looking frantically for Jambi for forty-five straight minutes, until my voice was hoarse from the screaming and my eyes stung from the crying. She was nowhere. Before I could stop them, the litany of possible horror stories invaded my thinking… She’d gotten hit by a car. Someone had come by and taken her. Her collar had fallen off and no one would know who she was and we’d never get her back. We’d never get her back. What would I tell CCI? How could I ever explain? We’d never have another CCI pup again. This was it. Our darling puppy was missing.
Ella’s appointment time had long come and gone, and after leaving a watery message for the surgeon’s receptionist saying we hoped maybe we’d still get a chance to be seen, I’d told the school secretary to just send Ella off to lunch, realizing that I sounded every bit as frazzled and maniacal as I felt.
I finally came back home, hoping that perhaps Jambi had returned and wormed her way back into the yard. I stopped briefly in the kitchen, screaming out her name (no, I mean it, SCREAMING) in a way that would put Marlon Brando to shame.
After a particularly hysterics-filled shout-out, I took a deep breath and said out loud to myself, “Holy shit. Maybe I’m actually going insane.” Wandering aimlessly into the backyard one last time, once again painstakingly walking the fence perimeter, looking behind the shed, looking in the shed (even though it was closed and locked), calling and calling and calling… I couldn’t see her anywhere.
And then, just as I’d turned to go back into the house, I heard something. It wasn’t a yelp, certainly not a bark, but maybe a little bit of whining. I whirled around, trying to see where it was coming from, and happened to notice a tiny bit of rustling behind the wisteria tree that is pressed against our house. Wedged between the tree and the house – the exact same tawny color as the tree trunk, and smaller than it by quite a bit (which would explain why she was essentially invisible) – was my girl, shaking uncontrollably, whimpering, and clearly as glad to see me as I was to see her.
She’d been there all along.
The pumpkins were SO FREAKIN’ FUN. I genuinely loved each and every one of them, especially just relaxing (much needed) and being with the girls while we got our creativity on, and am so excited that we now have a whole bunch to add to our collection for future Halloweens, as well as a few other (fake) ones I bought on sale for next year, because heavens knows there are a whole bunch of ideas we never got around to. LONG LIVE PUMPKIN PINTEREST!!
But, oh dear god, the mess. The glue sticks that globbed onto the floor. The hot glue that burned my fingers. The paint all over the dining room table, despite careful preparations to protect it. The googly eyes and the stick-on gems and the superfine glitter — oh, sweet baby Jesus, the superfine glitter — that has seeped into EVERY SINGLE CORNER of our home. There was SO MUCH MESS, and only so many hours in which to clean it, which meant that surely I’d be going to bed MUCH TOO LATE yet again.
(For all of the tea in China [wait, is that even an appropriate metaphor anymore?], I canNOT get myself into bed at a reasonable hour. It’s not that I sleep poorly… it’s that I don’t go to bed in the first place. Just put your butt under the covers earlier, you say. And I’d agree. Except if it were that easy, I’d be under the damn covers.)
The girls helped with the clean-up, of course. They’d definitely made a good portion of the mess, so they were really good cleaners, but still a lot was left to me. The best time to do the cleaning was after they’d gone to bed, but it was just so hard. There were so many other things I needed to do — make lunches, fold laundry, answer essential emails — and then other things I wanted to do, like finally looking at YouTube links that friends and family had sent me weeks ago, or editing photos (I haven’t edited my own family’s photos SINCE MARCH, Y’ALL), and by the time I looked up, it was freakin’ 1 a.m., and the dining room was still a disaster, and it was just too much — all of it too much — and there was nothing left to do. Except cry.
I ran over to where Jambi was, and immediately saw why I’d failed to notice her during any of my prior searches of the yard: she had curled herself into a tight ball on the ground between the wisteria tree and the house, and – being the exact same color as the tree trunk – become invisible. Hiding in plain sight for nearly an hour.
Although she whined some as I called her name, she never barked at me, nor did she leave her perch and bound up to me, which would have been typical. As I got closer, I called her again, reaching out to her, but still she didn’t budge. By now, I was beginning to think that something was seriously wrong – maybe she’d broken a leg or something? – and I leaned down to examine her hind quarters for any injuries, but could find none.
What I did, find, however, were wisteria vines — oodles of them, wrapped all around our sweet Beast and binding her in place as though she’d been tied there by a stagecoach bandit. The harder she struggled to free herself, the more the vines constricted, leaving her absolutely stuck. It took only a moment for me to reach my hand under one of the offending ropes and snap it in two, which in turn loosened the remaining coils, and Jambi sprang loose like a magic snake shooting out of a fake peanut can.
OMG I LOVE YOU!! I’VE BEEN HERE THE WHOLE TIME! YOU WERE CALLING AND CALLING AND I COULDN’T GET TO YOU! IT’S BEEN SO GODDAMN SCARY! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! YOU ARE THE BEST HUMAN EVER! DO YOU HAVE ANY TREATS FOR ME??
After all that – the driving around, the shouting until I became hoarse, the sheer panic and horror, the hysterical sobbing, the wondering if she was gone forever or dead or if we’d ever again have another CCI dog – she was right there all along, not making a sound.
(‘Course, if she’d made any noise while I was looking for her… let out even the tiniest of barks… I could have found her so much sooner… But, ah well, it’s only my sanity we’re talking about here. No worries.)
I so wanted to just play with her, to let her know that I hadn’t meant to strand her all wrapped up in wisteria vines, and I tried to hug her wriggly-fish body… but then had to usher her immediately inside and into her kennel because there was still the slightest chance that Ella could be seen that afternoon. Tears dried, purse grabbed, car started, GO.
To put it mildly, it has been a crazy fall, with typical back-to-school nuttiness combined with new sports schedules, additional homework (Miguel isn’t going to get the apples to the mortuary alone, y’all), Nick’s MBA program, my subbing… It’s a whirlwind. And so that’s a huge part of why I’ve made very sure to make time for me as often as possible. Sometimes, it’s just a Caramel Macchiato while I answer emails (Starbucks, holla!), or extra time flipping through People while I’m on the can. Other times, it’s making sure that Nick and I watch Homeland together, or going to a concert (even if I come home smelling like a patchouli factory).
Still others, it’s making time to hang out with friends, be it chatting around the soccer field or going out for dinner with rebel Girl Scout moms. Those times have been my saving grace this season; sitting with a group of girlfriends – or just one fabulous pal – talking, sharing a bottle of wine, and laughing. Oh, the laughing! GIRL POWER, PEOPLE!! TIME SPENT WITH MY HOMIES! It is so awesome and healing and just generally fabulous.
It’s taking those moments just for me that make me remember that I still AM me. Thank God for being selfish every now and again.
I barreled into the lobby of the school (except that you can’t “barrel” into any school these days because of heightened security measures, but anyway), doing my best to look all I’m Not Completely Insane So Sorry For Phoning You 83 Times This Morning Where Might My Daughter Eleanor Be? The secretary, ever-patient with me, directed me to the lunchroom, where Ella’s class had just gotten seated. I tried calling for her across the cafeteria, but that was as effective as trying to light a candle in a waterfall, so, whooshing past the other third-graders in a mad rush to reach her before she dug into her food, I whisper-shouted to her to Hurry up! We need to leave NOW!! Um, please.
She dutifully grabbed her tray and her jacket and we hustled out to the car. While we drove, as she balanced her lunch on her lap and chattered away about her morning, I explained why I’d been late.
“But Mom – Jambi could have gotten hit by a car!” I know, baby.
“We might never have seen her again!” I’m well aware, kiddo.
“She was by herself and stuck all that time?? Poor puppy!” Breaks my heart, too, sweetie.
“CCI might never have let us get another dog again!” Preaching to the choir, ma’am.
Once Ella was satisfied that Jambi was safe and sound, she turned her attention to the appointment at hand. What would the doctor be doing? Why did he need to check her foot again? If it hadn’t healed properly, what would happen?
I answered the first few questions, but kind of lied about the last one. “I’m not sure, honey. But I bet it’s just fine! How’s that pizza?”
I, myself – still feeling the rush of adrenaline from searching for Jambi and not forgetting my “Stella!” moments in the kitchen – had no appetite, but I ate the leftovers I’d brought, anyway. It could be a long afternoon, and I didn’t want to have an empty stomach on top of it.
One morning, after a wonderful evening out with a friend – just a couple of hours, but so very needed and good, with each of us drinking a single beverage, talking the rest of the time about how we were both handling some fairly emotionally harrowing times – I received an email from her, asking how I was doing. The night before, I’d told her I’d been doing okay — actually, pretty fine. I felt good. I was coming out of the fog. I was feeling put together! Yay me!
But, as I answered her email, this is what I said, instead:
Today was okay. Turns out I forgot that it was Crazy Hat Day and also didn’t give Ella her allergy meds this morning, meaning I had a call from the school nurse to see if it was okay for Ella to receive the meds at school because they were having the Bus Safety demonstration, plus recess, and Ella would have turned into one enormous hive. 😐 So there was the slap in the face that, damn it, I guess I’m not as on top of all this as I’d thought. Shit.
Even when I try to take time for myself, to breathe and do right by me, something falls apart. Apparently, I truly just can’t do it all, despite my best intentions.
And then I cried.
We got the to appointment and I took Ella’s hand as we walked into the building. Walking in, her and me; I remembered what it had been like a year ago, taking the elevator or carrying her up the stairs as she attempted to make her way on crutches. So much had happened in just twelve short months.
Ella took a seat in the waiting room – which was unexpectedly empty – and I apologized to the receptionist for the wacky phone messages I’d sent earlier. She laughed obligingly (a good sign, no?) and said that, as luck would have it, because we were late, there was a gap between appointments, and we’d be seen immediately. Ella was actually annoyed with me when I pulled her away from Toy Story II to go to the exam room.
She was weighed and had her height charted (which, thankfully, produces none of the cold sweat in her that it does in me when I see my own doctor, thanks very much), and then the doctor came in. He remembered us – remembered the severity of the break – and asked how Ella was doing. I let her answer for herself, and she told him that she was great. Aside from not finding shoes that she liked (an unforgivable crime at the age of eight), her foot wasn’t bothering her at all.
The surgeon examined Ella’s foot, turning it over slowly and carefully, and told us that although it looked good, we wouldn’t know for sure until she’d had some x-rays. And so off Ella went (no parents allowed; radiation and all), while I waited for her future to be dictated by a single black-and-white picture. I’m not sure I took a single breath while she was in that room.
Even if I could, there would have been no one I felt I could talk to at that moment. Nick’s plane had yet to land, and the person I’d called a year ago when we’d had a crisis with Ella’s foot is only reachable through a medium. And I didn’t happen to bring one with me to the doctor’s office.
Every session, my therapist greets me by asking how I’m doing. Except it’s not the perfunctory, small-talk “How are you?” nor the weird, psycho-babble “HOW ARE YOU?” but a genuine, honest, tell me what’s up. What’s REALLY up.
Well, I began. I thought I was doing well. I thought I was doing just fine. I recounted all of the Ways In Which I Am Doing Well: The girls are good – really good. They seem to enjoy school, even when they can’t figure out how to help Miguel get the apples to the mortuary, and they love, love their extra-curricular activities. It’s been a bit wild trying to work our schedules out, but truth be told, I think that having to fit the puzzle pieces together has actually been helpful for me.
I’m subbing and I LOVE it. LOVE IT!! Nick is doing really well with his MBA. We’ve seen concerts and gone to hockey games. We’ve been doing more together as a family, from bowling to watching movies to tossing the football on the weekends, and it hasn’t felt forced or strange but really, truly good. I’ve been laughing and hanging out with friends, and Halloween preparations have been SO MUCH FUN this year. I Am Doing Well.
But… I’m also crying. Like, a lot. And it’s been just so WEIRD, because one day I’ve had such a good day — I’ve felt happy rooted all the way to my core — and I feel like I can conquer the world. And on those days, or in those hours, I make plans! I am a Pinterest fiend! I play games with the kids! I cook something new and fabulous for dinner! I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD!
And then, just like that, BAM. I’m at the very bottom, and the wind has been completely knocked out of me, and I am so Not Doing Well, I can’t even catch my breath. AND IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY, this whiplash, this roller coaster, this back and forth. What the hell is WRONG with me??
It’s almost, I told her, as though I’m bipolar or manic-depressive, because I have friends who have battled those disorders, and their oh-so-highs, followed immediately by their oh-so-lows, seem an awful like what I’m going through. Except I’m not really bipolar… right?
I hoped the question was rhetorical.
While we waited for the doctor to examine the x-rays, Ella and I read some of Harry Potter, which served as both a great way to pass the time and a way for me to avoid expressing my fears to her. I might have been terrified that she’d wind up in an operating room within the next few weeks, but she certainly didn’t need to know that.
He made small talk with us as he attempted to pull up the x-rays on his computer, with Ella gamely telling him about the swim team and me sending up a silent prayer to the patron saint of sports that she’d still be able to swim after this appointment. The doctor continued his chit-chat as he showed us the x-ray that had been taken the day she’d broken her foot, then a week later after it had been casted, and my anxiety quietly soared through the roof.
Please, let it have healed well. Please, let it have healed well. Please.
And then he paused over the final x-ray — the one taken just minutes ago — and ran his finger along the computer screen, up the line of her metatarsals. “You see that?” he asked us. I nodded, unsure what he was getting at.
“You can’t see a thing, can you?” Um, no. I don’t speak x-ray.
“That’s because her bone is perfectly straight. In fact, they all are perfectly straight — all three of the bones she broke. You can’t even tell there was ever a problem.
She’s healed perfectly, and she’s good to go.”
Do we need to come back any time for a follow up? I asked, as Ella put her shoes back on.
“Nope. And,” he grinned at Ella, “no offense, because you’re a delightful young lady, but I really hope I never see you again.” No offense, doc, but same here.
On the way back to school, Ella asked what would have happened if the bones hadn’t healed straight. And so, with those options now firmly off the table, I told her – about the surgery, about the choice her Daddy and I had made and why we’d made it, about the gamble we’d taken, hoping with all our might that it would pay off.
“Well…” She paused just a moment. “Looks like you’re pretty smart!”
I gave her a half-laugh that I hoped she wouldn’t hear the fear and disbelief behind it.
“The only thing I’m bummed about is now I don’t ever get to use crutches again. They were kind of fun!”
She returned to school less than an hour after I’d picked her up, with plenty of time to learn how to help Miguel with the apples, my healthy girl trotting down the hallway to her classroom.
It all worked out. She hardly missed any school. We had no wait at the doctor’s office. Her foot was great. Everything was good.
I should have felt relieved. Hell, I should have felt elated. But all I felt was numb.
My therapist’s answer was as swift as it was firm: No. No, you’re not bipolar. (Good to know.) And all of this? This almost fanatical I Must Fill My Time With Something, and the trying new projects, and the feeling so wonderful, followed by the tears and the sadness and the feeling like you don’t know what on earth is going on… it’s not you. You’re not just being impulsive. It’s not your ADD. It’s not you taking on too much because you overestimate what you can handle. It’s not you letting things slip through the cracks. It’s not your anxiety. It’s not depression.
And I was all, DECORATING PUMPKINS AND FORGETTING CRAZY HAT DAY IS GRIEF??
And she was all, MMM HMM.
(Except she wasn’t quite like that, but suffice it to say she’s excellent.)
Grief, it turns out, is like an unpredictable toddler: you never know if it’s going to make your day the best ever with an enormous hug and a lisped version of the ABCs or if it’s going to take a crap in the middle of your living room and throw animal crackers at you while you’re folding laundry. It looks different in absolutely everyone, and it is no better or worse, no harder or easier, for you than it is for the next person. The worst kind of grief is your own.
And also? The manic-like highs and the deep, dark lows? They actually have a name: Manic Defense. As in, you do all of this stuff (maniacally, wildly) because you want to defend and shield yourself against whatever yuckiness is going on. In many cases, it can actually be a good thing, because it’s self-protective.
YOU HEAR THAT, SUBSTITUTE TEACHING AND THEN STAYING UP UNTIL 2 A.M.?? I’m not doing it because I’m CRAZY. I’m doing it because I am apparently INCREDIBLE at PROTECTING MYSELF.
I am a grieving ROCKSTAR.
Nick’s plane landed shortly after Ella’s appointment ended, and because he needed to change his clothes before going to the office, I met him at the house. I told him – most importantly – about Ella’s foot, about how it was completely healed, about how we never need to visit the surgeon again. Then, I told him where Jambi had been, how frenzied I’d become, how terrible I felt that she was there all along.
“Em,” he sought to reassure me, “you know this wasn’t your fault, right? You didn’t do anything wrong. The gates were locked, the yard was safe, you checked on her regularly. You searched the neighborhood. There was absolutely no way to know that she’d become tangled up in the vines, especially if she didn’t bark at you. You did everything you could. And look – it all turned out just fine!”
I know I should have felt good about that… pleased… reassured, if nothing else. Instead, I (wait for it…) began to cry.
I’M JUST SO SICK OF IT!
Sick of what?
Sick of all this. Sick of feeling on top of the world, decorating pumpkins with the girls yesterday and feeling like it was the best afternoon I’d had in forever, and then sobbing because the dining room is a mess. Sick of being so thrilled for the girls that GranMary sent them the coolest Halloween cards of all time and then bursting into tears when they open the cards and I know that Grandpa Bill’s name isn’t on them. Sick of Jambi disappearing, and instead of taking it in stride, falling apart and screaming like a lunatic in the kitchen. Sick of some stupid crisis occurring when you’re on a plane and wanting to call your dad so much but I FUCKING CAN’T BECAUSE HE’S NOT FUCKING HERE ANYMORE AND I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THAT CAN POSSIBLY BE TRUE.
I’m SICK of it. I’M JUST SICK OF IT.
There were hugs, of course. Lots of them. And then these words before he left for work, promising to return home early because he understood that I was completely depleted, that I’d just had it for the rest of the day, “I’m so sorry that you’re so sad about my dad. But I’m not sorry that you had such a great relationship with him. And I’m sick of it, too.”
When I told my therapist about the Jambi/Ella incident, I asked for her, again, to please tell me that I wasn’t crazy, because I sure as hell felt crazy when I was going all “Stellllaaaa!” in my kitchen. She looked at me like I had three heads.
No, of course you’re not crazy. YOU’RE GRIEVING.
Yes, yes. I know. Grieving.
You need to cut yourself some slack!
I know, I know. Be gentler with myself. And I am! Or, at least, I’m trying to be… I KNOW that I can’t do it all. I KNOW that I’m likely to forget stuff like Crazy Hat Day – and there’s comfort in that, in knowing it’s not my fault. But I’m still forgetting, and it’s frustrating… And I seriously freaked out about Jambi.
But, Emily… You thought you’d lost her.
I know. It was awful.
It sounded terrible! But think about it for a moment… You thought you’d lost her. FOREVER. You thought she was GONE FOREVER… which is not exactly a foreign feeling to you right now.
Oh yeah. Right.
And you lived in that state – that complete and utter state of terror – for almost an hour, all alone, AND you were worried that your daughter might need surgery.
When you put it like that…
No wonder you seriously freaked out. If you HADN’T seriously freaked out, I think that would be much more crazy.
Well, I AM a grieving rockstar, after all.
Think of it as walking on thin ice. You’re not going to fall through – don’t worry about that – but it might crack around you, and you’re never quite sure when. You can make it across… you WILL make it across… but you’re going to get your feet wet along the way.
So… I guess that’s how I’m doing. Practicing my kick-ass Manic Defense skills, inching along, trying my damnedest not to get my feet wet but knowing that it’s inevitable.
Some days, I cover a lot of ground. Others, I slide backward. My feet are prune-y, but overall, there’s forward progress. And I manage to take time, every single day, to genuinely appreciate how beautiful the ice is, cracks and all.
I’d love to sit here and be philosophical with you some more, but there are Christmas catalogs to pore over with the girls – I LOVE ME SOME CHRISTMAS CATALOGS!! And we’re hosting friends for Thanksgiving, and I cannot WAIT to find new recipes to try! Plus, it’s almost time for Hermey the Elf to appear, which means that I have a date with Pinterest tonight.
I’m okay. Today is a good day.
Thanks for asking.