Concussed… and Changed

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and got a concussion. There’s no sugarcoating it: getting a concussion sucks. I hate pretty much everything about it.

Except I think having the concussion has changed my entire approach to life, parenting, and how I treat myself. And I think this approach is better than my old one.

But everything else I hate.

One of my favorite refrains is, “I got this.” It’s a source of encouragement when I’m overwhelmed; a battle cry when I’m underestimated. A 12-hour work day on five hours sleep? I got this. Boot camp, despite a knee injury? I got this. Installing a dishwasher by myself? I GOT THIS.

Most of the time, perseverance is a really good thing. But sometimes, this insistent independence can be a problem. See, I’m super awful at asking for – or accepting – help. I usually try to go it alone because I don’t want to bug anyone. I got this.

Likewise, I am terrible at giving myself the chance to rest. Days after my c-section with Annie, I defied my OB-GYN’s orders, lifted up two year-old Ella, and tore my stitches. Years ago, after pulling a hamstring, I eschewed rest and began to run again almost immediately… which, brilliantly, resulted in my inability to run for a full 12 months.

Resting is anathema to my ADHD self. Even when I follow the experts’ advice and “rest,” it’s a modified version – like when you tell kids not to draw on the walls and they draw on the door instead and are all, “WHAT? I’M NOT DRAWING ON THE WALL!”

Then, I fell down the damned stairs. And everything changed.
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Langston was very concerned about me…

Not that instant, though. Even as I huddled on the floor, bruised and bleeding, I brushed off Nick’s concerns. “I’m fine! Nothing’s broken!” I showered and got the kids off to school as though everything were normal. And then my head really began to hurt.

After posting a self-deprecating story on Facebook , several friends said they were available to offer assistance, so you’d think I’d have taken them up on the offer.
Nah. I got this.
Totally drove myself to urgent care because I didn’t want to be a bother.

Lemme tell you what would have been an even bigger bother: asking a friend to post bail if I’d hit a tree  because my concussed brain couldn’t think straight. SUPER AWFUL AT ASKING FOR HELP.

Honestly, I figured I’d be back to mostly-normal pretty quick – modified, Emily-style “rest.” I told Nick, “People get concussions all the time. It’s no big deal.” “No,” he countered, “People get concussions all the time and they think it’s no big deal, which is why they’re not taken seriously.”

It became apparent really fast that a concussion can, indeed, be a big deal, and that I couldn’t “rest” my way out.

No matter what I did (or didn’t do), exhaustion would overtake me. I hated that.
I hated being tired. I hated napping. I hated that this one little fall, this seemingly innocuous event, had turned me into a version of myself that I didn’t recognize and didn’t want to be.
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Flying + Concussion = VERY SPECIAL

I couldn’t drive. For a week. Not even home from urgent care (Nick got me).
I hated it.

I hated not being responsible for my own self. I hated Nick leaving work to take me places. I hated feeling like I was burdening him.

Nick never once complained. NOT ONCE. Not even when he drove – after a full work day – to the wrong place to pick up the printout of my CT because I neglected to tell him it was at urgent care and he drove to the radiology office instead. This is a man who lays on his horn at least twice daily, and not once did he so much as raise an eyebrow at being my taxi. Which was more than a little humbling.

People like to help. I know this, because I like to help. One of my biggest parenting priorities is showing the girls how amazing it feels to help others.
But receiving help was a whole different ballgame.

The “cure” for a concussion? Lie down, I’d been told. Minimal screen use. Don’t read. Dim light. Limited exercise. Most important: rest. Let your brain rest. It’s been banged up. It needs to heal. REST YOUR BRAIN.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that resting your brain is REALLY FREAKIN’ BORING. “Boredom” is not something I typically experience. I am Energizer Mom, Super-Emily. Even in my so-called down time, I’m multitasking – folding the laundry while listening to the girls read; sorting recipes while watching a movie; painting nails while drinking wine (#fail).

Heck, at least when I’m sick, I get to dive into a good book or watch a Star Wars marathon. I hated not even being able to read a magazine or scroll through Instagram. I hated being unproductive. I hated feeling like I was wasting time.

Still, just this once, I listened. I took it easy. I was tremendously fortunate that last week was spring break because it allowed me the opportunity to rest and withdraw without missing out on work or the girls’ activities.
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Lying on a beach chair is good for a concussion

We headed down to Kiawah and visited my dad and stepmom. I think I now understand what nursing home patients feel like, with their caretakers all up in their business, not allowed to do even the simplest of tasks. My dad would not let me be. “How do you feel? No, you may not ride a bike today. How’re you doing? How’s your head? Lie down. No, you’re not doing that. Yes, you are doing this. How do you feel? Let me help.” 

I hated it.
I hated feeling trapped. I hated being hovered over.
I also hated that I really needed it to happen. 

I’m still annoyed with the whole nursing home treatment, but I know he was right. I’m lucky my dad was there.

Before we left, he admonished me to continue to take it easy and not immediately return to “Supermom Emily-who-does-everything.” At that, Annie piped up, “She really does do everything. She helps with our homework, she listens to stories, she fixes things around the house, she teaches, she exercises, she cooks dinner…” She looked at me, eyes narrowing, and finished with, “You know mom, you really do do everything.” (Well, duh.)

That’s the way that it is for so many of us moms/primary caregivers, isn’t it? We do everything. We got this. It’s an image and a role that I’ve not only assumed, but cultivated – even reveled in. Moreover, I like it. I like showing Ella and Annie that we as women are capable of doing whatever we set our minds to, from designing websites to lifting weights, repairing washing machines to running corporations. I’ve never wanted my girls to think that being female is a detriment, and I’ve done everything I can to lead by example.

Except… in doing everything, in always soldiering ahead, in perpetual “I got this” mode, I’ve forgotten to show them that part of being a badass, confident, capable and healthy woman is treating your body with respect when it needs to heal – and that accepting help from others is not weak, but strong.

At first, I was embarrassed for the girls to see me couch-bound. Pre-concussion, this would have been unthinkable. I was sad and worried they’d see my incapacity and view it – view me – negatively. I’m the Energizer Mom, damnit; I keep going. Instead, they were confused… but then kind of awed. “Whoa. You’re napping. You must really be tired… And you didn’t try to stay up late doing laundry.

Mom. That’s pretty awesome.”

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Also awesome: the sweet shades Annie helped create to help me use the computer.

Rather than see my doing less and giving myself a break as a bad thing, they’ve become my biggest cheerleaders – and leaders, period. Three days ago, I became exhausted attending Annie’s soccer team dinner. Ella told me to sit down. “But I’ve never met these parents! I should be polite!” She physically took my arm. “Mom. You need to sit. No one will care – and if they do? That’s their problem.”

She was right, of course. So I sat. I accepted her advice, her assistance. This is uncharted territory for me – requesting, and taking, help. But since the concussion, I’ve had no choice. I’ve needed help. I don’t got this. It’s difficult and humbling. I mean, I know it’s true that being willing to admit vulnerability and ask for help is not weak; it’s brave.

I know that.
I suck at doing it.
But I’m learning.

I’m proud of the strong, independent, kickass example I’ve been setting for Annie and Ella. But there are different kinds of strong, and sometimes “independence” goes too far. By neglecting to take breaks when my body needed them, by pushing myself too hard, by trying to go things alone and always trying to “got it,” I’ve done us all a disservice.

How can I expect my daughters to respect their bodies and themselves if I don’t do it, myself?

For the past 18 days, I’ve been trying.
It’s a slow process. I’m not myself yet. I still hate it.

But this *%&$ concussion has caused me to change my approach to nearly everything… which is one of the best things that ever happened to me – and to my girls.

(Plus also I’ve discovered podcasts. HOW DID I LIVE BEFORE PODCASTS??)
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The Root of the Problem

Yesterday, I felt human again for the first time in a week. It had been touch and go and there were honestly some moments when I wondered how I would make it to the next… but here I am, alive to tell the tale.

The cause of my near-death defeat and redemption? A tooth. A *&#! infected tooth.

It began last Wednesday on my way to join Nick in NYC to see Hamilton (yes, it’s worth the hype a hundred times over). As the plane descended, I felt some pain – and pressure – in one of my left upper molars. I’d seen my dentist only last month and everything had checked out okay (I had even mentioned to him that I’d had some pain in that area; it still checked out okay), so I thought maybe it was just my sinuses freaking out from the descent. Tylenol and an Advil Cold and Sinus helped get things under control.

Dinner and the show were uneventful, pain-wise – which was a good thing, because our meal was superb and the show… well. You know. It’s Hamilton, for goodness’ sake.

Overnight, I was awakened by more pain; nothing to write home about, but still, annoying to not be able to just enjoy a hotel room – after seeing Hamilton (it was, like, really good) – without my children. As the morning wore on and we returned to Newark, the pain intensified. By the time the plane touched down in Rochester, I knew something was very wrong. I was ready to schlep myself into the nearest Urgent Care but had a nagging feeling that maybe it wasn’t a sinus infection.

While I waited for my dentist to return my somewhat panicked call (see: “I don’t know what’s going on, but this pain is basically the worst ever and I might be dying so please call me back”), I Googled “sinus infection or tooth infection?” and self-diagnosed that I was probably going to get sepsis. When Dr. M confirmed that it was almost certainly a tooth infection, likely “a bad one” based on my description of the pain, he told me we’d schedule a root canal in a few days and immediately prescribed antibiotics and Vicodin.

This was most welcome news; the throbbing, constant, jackhammer pain was so strong, I honestly worried I’d pass out while driving to the pharmacy. Truly unbearable. The closest thing I could relate it to was childbirth – which baffled me, because… a tooth? That much agony from a measly tooth?

Thinking I was either insane or had the world’s lousiest tolerance for pain, I took to Facebook to see if anyone had insight. Their responses confirmed what I had suspected: infected teeth are tiny baby Satans.
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If you’ve dealt with tooth pain, you know what I’m talking about; we’re members of a secret torture club. (Seeing my inability to stand upright or speak clearly, my pharmacist chided me for coming to pick up the scripts [Nick offered, several times, but I requested that he make dinner instead] and said she would have personally delivered them to me because “you don’t mess with teeth.”) It’s like when you’ve finally seen The Usual Suspects and everything changed; you’d heard Keyser Söze’s name bandied about before and it meant nothing, but once you knew, you couldn’t unsee it. (“Poof… he’s gone…” OMG.)

If you’ve never experienced the kind of tooth pain that requires an emergency root canal, you may think this is crazy talk – or, at the very least, an absurd exaggeration. I can assure you it is not. I’ve had knee, wrist, and abdominal surgeries. I’ve broken bones. I gave birth to two children, the second of whom I attempted to push from my body for over 3 hours without any pain meds (not out of choice but necessity) and then had an emergency c-section; the OB-GYN said it was basically like I’d given birth twice. While I cannot conjure the specific feeling of the pain that occurred with each contraction, I can remember the kind of pain it was, how it was – bar none – the most awful, excruciating thing I’d ever encountered, the kind I imagined might literally rip me apart.

This was worse.
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At least a 12. No joke.

There was no escaping it. It was right there, in my head (there’s no getting out of your own head; I’ve tried), affecting my sight, my sense of smell, my hearing. Nothing made it better – not ice, not heat, not Advil or Tylenol or Vicodin, and definitely not trying to claw off my face with my hands. Admitting defeat, I retreated to bed – an almost unprecedented move for me – to wait for my head to explode.

Once the antibiotics began to kick in, there was marked improvement. Come morning, I was still alive, which was definitely a start. I’ll spare you the rest of the details – there were some reeealllly bad hours, several sleepless nights, and many tears over the course of those five days – but I will say that the root canal was a freakin’ walk in the park compared to the pain that preceded it.

I have a thing for lip balm, which is unfortunate when your lips are numb.

Dr. M said that he expected I’d be pretty much back to myself in 36 hours and that I should, barring some unseen complication, be free and clear by yesterday… And, by gosh, he was on the money. SWEET FANCY MOSES.

Now that I’m on the other side and have had some time to contemplate the ridiculous set of affairs that is Teeth Infections, I’ve drawn a few conclusions. To wit:

  1. Screaming in pain scares the children. It just does.
  2. Moaning in pain alarms the children. And your husband. That’s why doors were invented: to prevent your families from becoming undone when Mama has a tooth infection.
  3. When you are in so much pain that you physically cannot get out of bed and get everything ready for the following morning, the world will still spin and the sun will still rise. INCREDIBLE, I KNOW.
  4. When your spouse (who has never had any trouble with his teeth and therefore can not relate to the death spiral you’re in) says, time and time again, “Babe, that sounds just awful. I’m so sorry. How can I help?” and actually means it and makes good on the helping part… it helps your heart and almost helps with the pain. Almost.
  5. Chronic pain not only hurts, it also makes you feel off-kilter pretty much all the time. There is a quiet (or sometimes really loud) desperation and anger that accumulates when you cannot banish pain. The desperation you understand; the anger is unexpected. (I have new empathy for those with truly chronic pain. Ugh.)
  6. Being angry – and in agony – for days on end is really debilitating and exhausting.
  7. Being chronically angry means being chronically cranky (and certainly not up for things like “games” or “children making loud noises” or “being a good listener”) and prone to tantrum-throwing (see: when the ice cream I’d ordered arrived with Hershey’s syrup instead of hot fudge; blasphemy). This, in turn, makes your children rather cranky. When both of them break down around day three and you recognize that it’s because Mama is there, physically, but otherwise nowhere to be seen, replaced by a moaning, shhhh-ing, complaining wretch, it really sucks.
  8. A canker sore heightens tooth pain. This is a scientific fact.
  9. If you are accustomed to chewing gum or consuming hard candy as a pastime (or maybe to help you not eat that second bowl of ice cream before bed, just saying), being unable to do so will make you lose whatever is left of your mind.
  10. Sometimes, the drugs used to treat the problem cause others – like, for example, an upset stomach. Did you know that pooping requires pushing, and that pushing creates pressure in your head and that that pressure hurts infected teeth like nobody’s business? IT DOES.
  11. Root canals are really no big deal and will come as a welcome relief after the pure hell of the infection.
  12. With that said, tooth infections can really, um… smell. Like, disgusting. Rotting flesh, durian fruit disgusting. I do not recommend it.
  13. This too shall pass. Either the root canal will do its job or you’ll pull a Tom Hanks a la Castaway and decide you have a future as a stunt double. Either way, win-win.

Now that the pain is gone and I can actually chew on both sides of my mouth, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. Tooth pain = perspective. Huh. Further, I’m considerably less cranky (well, aside from my usual crankdom), which is welcome news to everyone.

Also reassuring: my lip balm game? VERY SOLID.
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When half your mouth is numb, smiles are… wonky…

 

Opioid Bill – Coming to a School Near You!

Remember back in, say, kindergarten when special “characters” would visit the classroom? Like whenever a letter of the alphabet was introduced, its corresponding Letter Person would appear to herald the new sound? (If memory serves, my kindergarten Letter People were small, anthropomorphized inflatables in the shape of each cipher; according to my kindergarten journal, Miss A was my favorite because she “goes aaa-aaa-choo and I do too.” So introspective, me.)
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Please tell me your grade school also began with these fantabulous creations…

My own girls had the likes of Zero the Hero, who swooped in every tenth day and enjoyed unrivaled popularity on the 100th day of school. They also had Dirty Dan, about whom I expressed some concern on Facebook:

“Tomorrow, Mrs. B said she’s going to bring in Dirty Dan!”
Pardon me?
Dirty Dan! She says she really loves him.”
Shouldn’t Mrs. B keep these things at home, like, in her bedroom?
“What? No! Dirty Dan loves to do dirty things.”
I bet he does.
“He’s really fun to play with.”
Mmmm hmmm. Is he inflatable?
“I’m not sure. Mrs. B can squeeze him and his mouth comes out.”
Does Fifty Shades have anything to do with this?
“Fifty what? We haven’t done fifty. Zero The Hero has only come twice.”
Does Mrs. B’s husband know about this?
“Yes! She brings Dirty Dan home and shows him!”
Kindergarten is way different than I remember it.

I’m still not sure what Dirty Dan was doing, but I trust it was… special.

Although my girls have long passed kindergarten, I still encounter these characters as a substitute teacher. Plus, I have a gazillion teacher friends whose Facebook feeds keep me abreast of current instructional practices, like the wedding of the letters Q and U (no joke; how fun is that!). So this line of thinking is alive and well in my brain.
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Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees this and thinks of the movie Hercules

 

All of this might help explain why I was puzzled when, a few weeks ago, I noticed a headline titled “Opioid Bill Reframes Addiction As A Health Problem, Not A Crime” on my NPR news app and immediately jumped to some… unusual… conclusions:
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Opioid Bill.
Hm. That’s interesting. Never heard of him before.

It seemed a bit odd to be anthropomorphizing drugs and making them cutesy, but maybe schools decided that scare tactics don’t work? I mean, everyone my age sat through the “Just Say No” campaign and watched the “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” commercials (the one with the egg in the frying pan was particularly… memorable) and drugs were still, you know, available on my high school and college campuses, so maybe they have a point…

Heck, if a cuddly Opium critter can help kids avoid getting hooked on morphine, who am I to judge?

First, I tried to imagine the various scenarios in which Opioid Bill might be useful in the classroom and what points he’d help to make. “Hey, kids! My name is Opioid Bill and I’m here to tell you about the rise in opiate use and how they’re being abused! Addiction is a serious issue, and there are consequences for doing drugs… but addicts need medical intervention, not jail time! Let’s sing the ‘Opes are for Dopes!’ song together!”

Next, I began to envision what exactly Opioid Bill looked like. A plush medicine capsule that giggles when squeezed? A flexible, dinner-plate sized Fentanyl patch that could double as a frisbee? A Vicodin bottle hand puppet? A rubber, foot-tall poppy plant with google eyes and a winning smile? ALL WOULD BE TREMENDOUS.

After pondering the physical characteristics of Opioid Bill, I then considered if he was a stand-alone guy or part of a team. Was there a Demerol Dan who discussed the dangers of injection? Narcotic Nellie, accompanied by crosswords and word searches that introduced kids to alternative pain treatment options? Did Stimulant Sam sing catchy ditties to warn children not to crush and sniff Ritalin?

SO MANY OPTIONS, SO LITTLE TIME.

As I ran through all of these possibilities, perplexed as to why my teacher friends had never shared the wonders of Opioid Bill and his Drug Brigade on their Facebook pages, I glanced again at the NPR story. It was only then that I saw the text written above the photo: the lower case b in “bill” and its article, “the.”

The bill about opioids.

Not “Opioid Bill.”

I actually laughed out loud.
Clearly, I have reached the B Side of summer. Only four more weeks (not that I’m counting) until the cherubs are off, life returns to normal, and my Summer Brain is put away until next June. NONE TOO SOON, my friends.

I realize that opioid addiction – and the terrible problems associated with it, including incarceration versus treatment – is a very real and complex issue. I can also see how maybe it would be have been a little… inappropriate… to use cuddly, animated creatures to discuss this subject with grade-schoolers.

BUT OH!, admit it.
If Opioid Bill did suddenly join Zero the Hero and Dirty Dan in kindergartens across the nation, it would be KIND OF AMAZING.

 

Other People’s Stories

Last month, a very random, very intriguing, very odd thought occurred to me:

How many stories are we in?

Lemme back up. Every one of us has stories where strangers play the starring role – the hilarious stories, the devastating ones, those times when someone did something extraordinary or was a complete jackass. Those stories become family lore.

Which means that complete strangers are a part of my family’s history. Like the man and his son (we assume) who were headed out of the theater after seeing the first Shrek (yes, Nick and I watched cartoon movies even before we had kids). The man was holding the little boy (who was maybe three years old) and telling him, “Look – every time other people think something’s funny but you don’t think it’s funny, you don’t have to yell out, ‘THAT’S NOT FUNNY!'” This amused us so much – the young lad, clearly not understanding the Shrek jokes that went over his head, becoming mad when everyone around him was laughing at what was OBVIOUSLY NOT FUNNY… and then yelling at them to stop – that we have told this story for more than ten years.

We also have a story about the guy in front of us in the dairy barn at the Minnesota State Fair who turned around and paid for Ella’s and my ice cream, just because. We told everyone about him and still revisit his kindness ourselves from time to time.

I have no idea who these people are. Moreover, I doubt that they have any idea that they are being discussed around someone else’s dinner table (or blog *cough*) – and yet we share this bizarre connection because they have helped weave the fabric of our family’s life.

I’d just never stopped to think about the fact that if other people are in my stories, surely I’m in other people‘s stories, too.

People who I’ve never met have talked about me – in the car on the way home from the theater, near the copy machine at the office, over Thanksgiving dinner. I am a fixture in other people’s stories.

HOW WEIRD IS THAT!!

(Side note: a parallel idea occurred to me after returning from a trip to Disney World as a kid. I noticed that the same family was in the background of more than one of our photos – on different days, in different locations – which meant that my family was probably in other families’ photos, too. Which led to my wondering just how many strangers’ photos I appear in. Which led to a vague idea for a movie [a thriller? drama? Academy-award-winning, obviously] centered around searching for the random people in photographs. If you have insider cinema connections, do let me know. This could be big.)

ANYWAY.

Some stories, I can probably anticipate. I broke my leg rather spectacularly in third grade: tripping over a classmate while playing capture the flag and then being accidentally slid into by another classmate (exactly where the break was), then attempting to walk on those bones (which, according to the doctor, were broken so badly it looked like I’d “fallen from a second story window)”, then screaming “loud enough to wake the dead” (according to my BFF). It was epic and is certainly part of my family lore… but it never occurred to me until now that perhaps my classmates remember it, too.
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Yes, the cast ran the length of my leg. And yes, I was hospitalized – for 8 days.
SPECTACULAR BREAK, Y’ALL.

Maybe, when my third-grade peers share stories about That Time In Elementary School, my wake-the-dead screams play a prominent role. Or maybe, when they visit a museum and see a kid on crutches, they tell their date of the time when their classmate was carried up the staircases at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by their teacher. (True story. Every time she hoisted me into her arms, Mrs. Danielson would say, “Good thing I ate my Wheaties today!”)

That story – the broken leg – I can understand being included in someone else’s anthology. It was an obvious, shared Moment. I’m sure there are more, however; Moments that I thought were private. Like that day in middle school when I stepped out of the orthodontist building and onto a sheet of black ice that sent me flying sideways – as though my legs literally had been knocked to the side by some unseen force – and crashing to the ground. My mom and I laughed so hard, we could barely breathe; when we tell the story nearly 30 years later, we still chuckle. I don’t remember anyone else being around, but what if someone was (like, sitting in their parked car or in the building across the street)… and they saw it… and they’re still chuckling about my ridiculous launch? My “private” Moments may not have been so private after all.
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Braces, seventh grade.
This is just… Um… Wow.

And what about the times I don’t remember at all, the Moments I didn’t know were Moments? Did I cut someone off and cause them to miss a flight? Did I say something breezily casual (“I like your necklace!”) that turned out to be the only positive thing someone heard that day? Did I say something in passing that wasn’t meant to be heard (“Omg – is he blind?”) but someone did hear and their son was blind and now I’m the cautionary tale of how people can be asshats?

So many possibilities, really.

These kind of Moments happen often for people whose professions put them in contact with masses of folks on a regular basis: healthcare providers, transportation workers, cashiers and retail employees. I would venture that doctors, taxi drivers, and waiters have entire volumes of their lives where random people are the central characters. And teachers? Oh heck yes. Ask any teacher for a “good story” (whatever that means to him or her) and you’d better pull up a chair, turn off your phone, and pour yourself a glass.

(Side note 2: I was reminded by a friend a while back that, although certainly teachers’ stories are entertaining and enlightening – often containing true “teachable moments” that resonate far beyond the classroom – there is still a great value in not sharing all of those stories… at least, not with every audience and not without discretion. Kids deserve privacy even when they do the darndest things. They especially deserve it from those whose job it is to educate them and make them feel safe. It’s a lesson I’m still learning; I so appreciated the reminder.)

It used to be that we only heard about friends’ Moments when they told us in person. Today’s social media makes it incredibly easy for those Moments to become public. Sometimes, this really pisses me off — like when I see a story about someone live-Tweeting a  couple’s breakup, complete with photo “evidence.” (I realize that, because it’s happening in public, this is no longer truly a private moment… But that doesn’t mean I think it’s cool to share another person’s horrible experience with the entire world just for the sake of entertainment.)

Other times, stories about strangers make me remember why it is so fantastic to be a part of the human race. Without social media, the larger world would undoubtedly be unaware of ordinary-but-remarkable Moments (like this time when a young Target employee helped count an older customer’s change, inadvertently teaching a lesson to the other customers in line) – and, as I’ve said before, I think that sharing kindness is pretty much always a good idea.

Now more than ever, all of our lives are intertwined. At any moment, we can become Moments in someone else’s life. At any time, we can enter into other people’s stories… even when we don’t realize it.

Which is a super weird and kind of creepy thought.
It’s also inevitable so I’m gonna try to roll with it.

I have no idea how many people’s stories I’m already in – but I’m going to do my darndest to ensure that I’m in future stories for positive, and not cautionary/asshatty, reasons.

Or, at the very least, I hope I’m a source of comic relief. I mean, if anyone actually saw Fenwick drop a deuce by the candles or Jambi pop a squat in produce… or if that poor man I terrified in Puerto Rico has recovered from his heart attack… or if the other passengers on the plane noticed the ginger ale dripping from my seat… I’m probably well on my way.

 

 

We Really Did It

It was cold tonight. I worried that the girls’ hair – still wet from showering just ten minutes ago – would crackle and freeze.

After the first tentative glides, grins spreading across our faces, I looked in disbelief from one to the other. “Oh my God. We did it. We really did it!”

~~~~~~~

It’s been a weird winter. A few cold days, sure. But the snow? It’s just not happening. Seven measly inches so far (compared normal average of 40″ by this time). While this is actually lovely in many ways, it has not boded well for one of our most favorite winter pastimes: the ice rink.

After our warmest December on record and not even the slightest chance of getting the ice to set, Nick declared shortly after January 1st that he just isn’t feeling the rink this year. Too much work, too few days when the ice might be skate-able; maybe next time.

I was crushed. I’m not sure if that’s because I actually love skating (given that I’m a terrible skater, this seems a bit unlikely) or just because I love the idea of skating, but the thought of not even having the chance to skate made me really freakin’ bummed. I decided to ask the girls what they thought; if I was the only one who wanted the rink, it was probably silly to have it. If they wanted it too, it was probably worth it.

They wanted it.

When I said I’d build it, they were incredulous. You’ll build the rink??” As though maybe I was suggesting that I’d capture a caribou and ride it across the lawn, Chuck Norris style. (I doubt that Chuck Norris has ridden a caribou, BUT HE COULD.)  I told them I most certainly could – and would – build the rink.

So I did.

I sized up the spot in the yard, conferred with the girls on how big we wanted it (smaller than last year so it would freeze more easily and be simpler to maintain), set up the planks (with the girls’ assistance), and put ’em together. With bracket-y things. And screws. And a drill. It was beautiful.

IMG_3532Exhibit A: NO SNOW. Nope. Nada.

Three days ago, the moment for filling the rink came: at least a week of lows in the teens and highs below freezing. It was time.

IMG_3568Exhibit B: January 10th. Still no snow.

I knew what I was doing; I’ve watched Nick for years. When I turned on the hose, it was 50* but was predicted to drop to the teens by nighttime – perfect.

While all of my plans went exactly as – well, planned  the weather decided to be… difficult. Oh, it dipped into the teens, all right. But it did so in the span of 90 minutes (rather than many hours), ushered in by a wind storm so violent, it knocked out power in our neighborhood for over three hours that night. Almost instantaneously, the once-pristine rink was filled not just with standing water but gazillions of leaves and several dozen sticks and branches.

In case you were wondering, an ice rink with the consistency of a thick soup doesn’t make for very good skating.

With Annie’s assistance, we removed as much junk as possible. Then, we waited. I hoped that by today – three days after filling – it would be frozen enough to go.

Things started off well (freezing as scheduled!), then took a turn for disaster (snow melted into the surface and turned it into very deep sandpaper). Disheartened, I had all but decided that maybe Nick was right to skip this year; maybe, with this bizarre weather, it was just impossible.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up, though. We were this close… So I crossed my fingers that maybe a few buckets of hot water would fix things up.

Six hours later, with just enough time to skate before the girls went to bed, I held my breath and examined the earlier repairs.

The ice was smooth.
Not perfect – some bumps remain – but absolutely skate-able.
Thirty minutes later, we were on it.

By God; I know how to make an ice rink. SWEET FANCY MOSES!!

~~~~~~~~~~

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The girls and I just kept laughing. Annie – ever the daredevil – took one hesitant step (slide?) onto the surface and then was ready, cutting curves around our little rink. Ella – ever more cautious – was surprisingly sure of herself. “Mama, we made this! So I know it’s good. I’m going to work on gaining confidence so I can skate more.”

We made “fishies” and practiced crossovers, spun and glided. At their request, I played Adele from my phone; we circled and soared to “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and “Sweetest Devotion.” We watched snowflakes – huge, glittering – fall to the ice in the floodlights. The air was refreshingly crisp; we didn’t even notice the cold.

And over and over, we kept coming back to the same idea: We made this. We did it. We built it and it worked and now we are on it and it is glorious.

“Mom, how come everyone always asks if we have figure skates?”

“Yeah! It’s not like only boys can play hockey! Why couldn’t we have hockey skates?”

“Besides! Hockey skates are way more comfortable than figure skates!”

“Right! Girls can wear hockey skates, too.”

“Girls can do anything!”

~~~~~~

Tonight? We really felt like we could.

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So very proud of themselves.
Also? Wearing hockey skates. Because we can do anything.

Unexpected Duet

Last month, we visited Minnesota as we do every summer to see our extended family. This trip included attending a minor league ball game with GranMary, welcoming my sister-in-law, Nelle, and her family back to Minnesota (they’re moving home! Woo hoo!), spending time with our hilarious and awesome nephews, visiting with Gigi and Grandpaw Ray, and getting to meet and hold and hug and oooooh and ahhhhh our new nephew (baby of my other sister-in-law, Emi), who is an absolute shoe-in for the CUTEST BABY IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OMG WITH THE CUTENESS award.

It was a superb week – family-filled, relaxing, fun – and although we were sad to leave before the state fair (and Baby O’s 100 days party), we were looking forward to meeting the girls’ teachers when we got back home. We arrived at the airport relatively early; it was crowded but not too crazy. After getting the girls some breakfast at one of the to-go restaurants, I decided to grab a coffee for myself before we headed to the gate.

Although it’s no secret that I’m a Starbucks devotee, I try to patronize Caribou Coffee whenever we’re in the Twin Cities. I like the local-ness of the chain, and the Caramel High Rise is particularly delicious. The line at the airport Caribou was fairly long; they were brewing more decaf, which caused a bit of a back-up, so there were a lot of people milling around. Factor in that the patrons were, you know, due to leave on airplanes soon, and you get a relatively tense and impatient atmosphere.

The cashier asked for my order in a no-nonsense manner (not rudely or brusquely, but she was definitely trying to just move things along) and I was about to reply when one of her coworkers – standing behind her – leaned toward her (and me) and sang, with a tiny, sly grin, “Whaddaya want from me?”

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but I was quite the fan many seasons ago and immediately recognized the barista’s query as a line from the chorus of (season eight runner up) Adam Lambert’s pop hit, “Whataya Want From Me?” (I never knew before right now that it was spelled like that. Hm.)

(If this makes absolutely no sense, check out Adam’s video…)

The barista looked pleased with her sing-song joke but seemed positively stunned when I sang right back, matching my new words to the melody of Lambert’s tune: “I’d like a coffee, please!” Looking up, she grinned back at me without missing a beat and crooned in kind, “I’ll get that right a-way! I’ll get that right a-way-ay!”

No one else seemed to pick up on the barista’s attempt at humor (and song); we didn’t care. Neither of us really knew the melody beyond a few lines of the verse (or, if she did, she preferred the verse because that’s all she mimicked), but it didn’t matter.

“I’ll take it with caff-eine! I’ll take it with caff-eee-eine!”

“Right now she’ll give you change!”

“Hey, I ap-prec-i-aaaate that!”

Nick had asked me to get him a decaf (which I had to wait for), so our “conversation” lasted longer than it otherwise would have. The cashier – the one who was actually taking the order – looked mildly annoyed at first that her coworker and I were slowing down the transaction… by singing… but as we escalated our back-and-forth duet, a slight smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth.

“Would you like a muffin, too? Or maybe a croi-sa-aaannt?”

“No thanks, I’ll be okay! Don’t want the cal-or-ieeeees!”

When I moved over to allow the person behind me to place their order, the cashier could no longer hide her smile. By the time I finished adding sugar and cream, she was laughing out loud at the goofy audacity of the barista’s and my exchange. SINGING. MADE-UP WORDS! ABOUT COFFEE!! AT THE AIRPORT, FOR THE LOVE!!!!

“I’m going to add some cream!”

“Hope that your flight’s on ti-iime!”

“Thanks, have an awesome day!”

“You too! I hope it’s grea-aaaat!”

In a moment, Nick’s coffee was ready and it was over; I was walking to my terminal, backpack on, coffees in both hands. There were planes to be caught, miles to be traveled, bags to be unpacked, dogs to be petted upon our return.

But for that moment? In that moment? It was awesome.
I mean, does it really get much better than an impromptu, ridiculous musical exchange with a complete stranger about coffee? No. No, it does not. 

I hope that barista is still singing to her customers, and I hope at least some of them are singing back. Maybe she’ll still be there the next time we’re in Minnesota. I’ll be sure to brush up on my pop tune knowledge, just in case.
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Check Yourself (aka Pride, Pups, and Poop)

This afternoon, I took Fenwick with me to the store. Once we were in the car, the radio came to life with “Connections,” one of our local, daily public radio programs. I’m almost always interested in what the interviewees have to say (I got a lot of information for my Common Core post through one of this show’s broadcasts), but today’s discussion was especially riveting because they were talking about service dogs.

More specifically, they were discussing facility dogs in the courtroom and how they help witnesses – particularly children – feel safe and comfortable enough to testify. I found myself nodding (and, okay, speaking out loud ’cause that’s what I do) in agreement with the expert (“That’s right! These dogs are totally All Business once they have their capes on!” “They really DO love working!”). Many graduating CCI dogs go on to become facility dogs, helping out in situations similar to this. That’s why we raise CCI puppies – so that, just maybe, they can go on to do this kind of life-changing work.

When the pre-recorded segment ended, our local host (Evan Dawson) announced that they only had time for a few more callers. (I assumed that the service dog discussion would continue, so when the next caller had a question about her cat’s dental hygiene, I was confused. I guess this is part of a monthly Pet Show, not necessarily a show about service dogs. Anyhoo.) Seeing my opportunity to spread the word locally about CCI – and maybe, just maybe, attract even one other local puppy raiser – I pulled over and called in, assuming that the lines would be busy or they wouldn’t be able to take me but crossing my fingers nevertheless.

To my surprise, I got through to a lovely-sounding lady (I’mma call her a producer ’cause it sounds more official) who asked why I was calling. After a brief explanation, she brightened and quickly told me she’d put me on air. (Score!) Moments later, I heard Evan say that they had time for one last caller (me!), so I turned off the radio and began my schpiel.

I knew the program was about to end, so I did my best to cram in the most important information: we’re puppy raisers raising our fourth puppy for CCI, a lot of these dogs go on to become facility dogs just like the ones mentioned in the broadcast, CCI is an incredible organization that offers dogs for free (FREE!) to people who need them, you can find them online, and if anyone in the Rochester area is interested in becoming a puppy easier, that would really be amazing. It was over in maybe 60 seconds, but when I was done, this crazy high flooded my system: I did it! I gave CCI a shout-out! CCI is awesome! YAY FOR MORE PUPPY RAISERS!
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(Image is from their webpage; you can find the “Unleashed – Diabetic & Courthouse Dogs” podcast here. I’m the last caller of the segment, at 47:00.)

Still glowing while we trotted into the store (after stopping to let Fenwick relieve himself), I actually said aloud, “This is an awesome afternoon!” We’d hardly been in the store a minute when we were approached by two woman who asked if they could pet Fen (side note: always ask if you can pet or even greet a dog that looks like its working). They loved on him, we chatted about what CCI does, and Fen did what he always does when we’re out and about: waited patiently, being a marvelous CCI representative. I beamed with pride.

After putting a few items in the cart, I could feel the joyful adrenaline still coursing through my system and began to grow a little more full of myself. Look at me, making a difference! We are going places! We are gonna change the world! GO ME!!

I had just turned jauntily into a new aisle when I felt the tug on the leash that indicated that Fenwick had stopped moving. Curious as to why my furry Ambassador Of Change had halted so abruptly, I turned back just in time to see him taking a dump in the middle of the home goods section.

Making a difference, all right.

In a ridiculous stage whisper, I hissed at him to let him know this behavior was unacceptable (as though, you know, he could understand), whipping my head in all directions to see if any of the other customers had seen the Special Dog dropping a deuce near the scented candles. Thankfully, it appeared that no one had noticed (although I did steal a second glance at a woman who had paused momentarily when she heard me violently whispering), so I immediately picked up the poop (and cleaned the floor)… and, ever classy, promptly put the poo bag in my purse so that no one would see it.

Fenwick and I hightailed it outside so he could finish making a difference (naturally, despite walking on a grassy embankment for a good 10 minutes, he didn’t do a thing) and then, after disposing of the poo bag, returned to finish shopping. This time, however, I wasn’t feeling quite as ecstatic as I had when we first entered. Getting your pride thoroughly checked will do that to you.

So, to recap:
– Public radio = awesome
– CCI = awesome
– CCI puppies = awesome (even when they pop a squat in home goods)
– Being full of yourself = not awesome

They say that true change starts at home. Perhaps, before changing the world, I could work on that whole pride thing just a bit.
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Adorable, even after causing me to dial it back a notch. You know you want to become puppy raisers… C’mon!

To learn more about CCI, go here.