Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You Break Yourself

The bullet entered my lower back just as I bent to braid Addie's hair for school this morning. I felt the sudden parting of muscle and nerve, the liquid heat radiate out and down my legs. I twisted just enough to peer at the damage.

Then I could not move. I know I yowled because Cate shuffled downstairs shouting to know what happened, the beginning notes of a cry already in her voice.

In my small twist, I was both relieved and confused to see no blood. The waterfall of heat sluicing down my legs was internal. I felt it pulse downward as I stood motionless. I could not answer Cate's question. I heard only my own quick sighs, lost in translation from their intention as deep cleansing breaths. I tried to turn to her, but could not take a step. Lightening rods of pain laced my back and legs at just preparing the muscles for a step.

Finally I eeked out "I'm ok, but I can't talk right now. Something happened to my back." Problem solver that she is, she said "You go to the doctor today." Just then, her friend arrived to walk to school. I told her I'd be fine and shooed her out the door with my eyes.

When she left, I started to cry. I was stuck. Addie glanced up at me trying to understand what happened, why hair brushing should make me scream and freeze and then cry. But by now she knows that nothing makes me cry like feeling I've lost control.

I somehow sat. And waited. Addie staring at me intermittently, me trying to puzzle out how I'd use these next 15 minutes before I had to get her to school. I budgeted 5 minutes for sitting and planning, 5 minutes for attempting to get shoes and coats and left only 5 minutes for trying to get Addie into her car seat.

A few ibuprofen made this plan sound feasible, but my budget was blown out of the water upon finding out how slowly I'd have to move, how bending down was not really an option at this point in time. So. We were a bit late for school.

After a slow painful drop off, I hobbled home, hoping it would just subside on its own. Cate ordered me to see the doctor, but I was reluctant to do so. Back a few years when I hurt my back leaning over Addie's bath, a phone call to the doctor was succeeded by a frustrating few days of guessing, prescriptions and referrals. The ultimate "solution" was that I was to see a physical therapist 2x per week. At that point in time, our threshold of therapy appointments was maxed out with Addie's PT, OT, SLP and student speech clinic. So I did nothing but wait for it to go away. It did.

After internal deliberation I decided to continue with my morning plans at least, to go meet my Tuesday morning ladies. We knit. The rec department requires that we register for this "class," but in recent history, I was the only one enrolled that wasn't (and isn't) already an accomplished knitter. The ladies have taught me a lot about a lot, including knitting. Though I have not sought concrete proof of this, I do believe I am the youngest one in there by a few good years.

I really relish being a part of (or just witnessing)the cadence and content of non-competitive conversation between women who are living intentional lives. None of them moan about their lot, though there is plenty of heartache in the room. None of them are waiting for prince charming, the ultimate career, a cure, the therapist with the answers, the winning lottery ticket... They are all taking what they have and making something of it: whether it's yarn scraps and dropped stitches, or sick husbands and children with addictions. They come to share who they are, to give what they've become to the rest of us, to offer, to bridge a gap, to listen, to inform, to help.

And so I went to see the ladies. I had a knitting question to ask - I'd finished a project I was not particularly thrilled about. I knew they'd help me figure out what went wrong and have ideas for correction. But of course, before I could ask my real question, I was handed the card of a chiropractor that I was to call immediately and "tell him Pat sent you, he'll get you in right away." Along with the card, came the story of how Pat first started seeing him many years ago for a similar issue and how she would not miss a month now. The story was told in calm quiet tones, certain that I would also get the happily ever after ending if I just called the number.

And the ladies solved my knitting issue with the unanimous suggestion that I must "block" the project (wet it and reshape, possibly pin it until it dries) to get rid of the extra stretch and rolling. I can count on the ladies.

I heaved myself on to my next endeavor. My husband had the brilliant idea that I go hit the whirlpool at the gym after knitting to see if that would help. I never would have thought of that. Partially because I was not real clear on how I'd manage to get my suit on, but I did. Eventually.

Our gym is the Jewish Community Center. We have been members since before we were married. Cate went to daycare there as a baby and toddler. Both girls took swim lessons there. The outdoor pool is where we still spend many, many summer hours. Michael does any necessary indoor training for his marathons there, and during an energized week, I can be spotted in the fitness center at 6am two or three mornings (energized weeks are few and far between these days). While we are not Jewish, the JCC has been integral to all 4 of us for many years.

The weekday chasm was evident upon walking into the pool area. To my left was the kiddie pool, filled with toddlers and preschoolers, splashing and shouting. At the rim sat the young mothers. I imagined them discussing natural and organic lunch options for the kids, which schools they will attend in fall or the fall after, who is taking ballet class together. And then to my right was the lap pool, a few older men, but mostly women in their 60's, 70's and beyond. A water aerobics class just let out, so there were small clumps of women chatting at the edge of the pool.

I turned to my right and had the whirlpool to myself for a few minutes. Then a water aerobics pair sauntered in. One got in swiftly while the other just dangled her feet in from the side. She explained to the first that her high blood pressure prevented her from hopping all the way in, but that her plantar fasciitis compelled her to indulge her feet for a short spell.

The ladies discussed ailments for a few exchanges when the one with high blood pressure cheerily summed up "If it weren't for all these aches and pains, it would be a beautiful world."

To which the other equally cheerfully retorted "Oh, it is a beautiful world. But boy, you just don't realize what's coming when you're young."

For the 2nd time in a few hours, I felt another bullet. Shot with the understanding that at age 42, having just hobbled from knitting class with a bad back, I was no longer the clueless young. I do realize what's coming. Despite still changing diapers and watching Nick Jr, I had more in common with this older set of pool visitors than with the young moms on the other side. I cannot take the movement of my body for granted anymore. I am not young.

But I am not yet really old. Where am I on the continuum, where do I fit? It's clear I do not fit at the pool in the middle of the day as I believe I represented those in their 40's and 50's all with my own solitary early middle aged self.

As I mulled this over in the whirlpool, shifting to keep the strong jets on my lower back, the beautiful world ladies discussed lunch plans upon their exit. To my surprise, I saw there had been another woman in the hot tub all along. I did not see her enter after the water aerobics class ended. I glanced in her corner of the whirlpool to find her unabashedly watching me.

"You moof not comfortable." She speaks with sustained eye contact and small spaces between each word, the spaces and Russian accent setting the declarations up as poignant and sage. Not to be questioned. Not to be brushed off.

I explain that I am moving gingerly because I hurt my back and was in the whirlpool to find relief. She politely inquires how I hurt it. I tell her that while I'm not entirely certain, lifting a 50lb child into and out of her car seat multiple times per day probably doesn't help. Bending over to help her with certain tasks, bearing her weight on the stairs, manhandling her during defiant moments all probably contribute. Light in tone to ward off the pity that sometimes comes with the revelation that I am the mother of a child with a disability, I glibly summarize with "She is heavy. I am old."

My hot tub mate maintains eye contact, but cracks no smile. She waits a moment - I am not certain if she gathers thoughts during this pause or the words to express them.

"She vill get more heffy. You vill get more oldt."

I laugh, but quickly realize she was not trying to amuse me.

"You find someone young. Someone help you."

She waits for my confirmation that I will take that simple step, just find someone younger than me to help care for my daughter on a daily basis. I want to laugh again, but I realize she intends to give, to help. She did not have to speak to me, to inquire. She, like my knitting ladies, wants to bridge a gap for me. My gift back can be to respectfully accept it. I tell her I will find someone, I will try, but she does not look convinced.

"You haff no ozzer choice. You break yourself."

I don't want to laugh but cry. Yes. I did break myself. It's true. I can't expect to always be able to do it all myself. The painful dawning shows and the lines between my eyebrows can be read like the Cyrillic alphabet: how.

She slowly uncoils her longest strand of words yet.

"You ask. De peepul say yes, alvays sayingk yes. You vill see."

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Two, alone

Exclusively so

Though face to face, devoted avoidance

Fears dismissed, mutual

One disregarding the other, taking pains not to inquire

The other feeling the sting and leaving it lie

Aggressive in the leaving

One claims ownership of pain and will not identify it elsewhere

The other’s aches compounded by

Being made to eat them

The other contends the first is incapable of change

Finished, flaws glazed and final


Neither ailment nor loss will move one to the other

Seated at either end of the table

Thin wisps of history and obligation between them

Not seeing, not hearing

Stubbornly separate

Folding farther inward


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Bounced Q

Get thee to Hopeful Parents for my monthly post:

The Bounced Q

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I'll thank you for coming back, taking the time to read and sometimes comment. Writing FJC is certainly satisfying in and of itself, but it's the reader that makes blogging fun.

Peace to you.

(photo by John B, grins by good times with friends)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


His small elfin voice is lobbed through the playground chain link fence to where Addie and I rush to line up. He tells us about the pattern on his hat and on his shirt. Yeesh! That was the math homework - Addie was supposed to dress in patterns and be able to explain the pattern to her friends. I look down. Whew. She has a plaid shirt on, at least. But I didn't program anything in...

My lament is loud as I literally smack my forehead for my audience of 2 first graders: "I forgot Addie's talker!" (Her talker is what we call her communication device, a DynaVox V.)

In the morning craze, compounded by the first defrosting of the car of the season, I had forgotten to put her device in the car and didn't realize it until we were already lining up just before the bell.

I briefly apologize to Addie and assure her that as soon as she goes in, I'll swing right back home to get the talker and bring it to her classroom. I am still figuratively kicking myself - it's the first time I've ever forgotten it in 3 years of use at school.

The little elfin voice continues through the fence. "Don't worry, Addie's mom. Addie can understand ALL of our English and then she can just talk in signguage [a term Carl coined last year to refer to sign language - it just works somehow]. Because you know she can speak in signguage and in ah, her talker. She will be ok until you can bring it. You don't have to worry."

The bell rings as I think about what an honest and genuine friend this young fellow has been since he and Addie met last year in Kindergarten. Carl gives her all the credit in the world for being another goofy, fun-loving, endless-potential kid, just like himself.

Somehow he ends up in line in front of Addie. He is telling the fellows in front of him "Addie's mom forgot her talker!" Small outrage ripples forward. He lays out the plan for Addie's other classmates. "So, we'll all do signguage until her mom can bring it. If you don't know her sign, just ask me."

I scurry back home knowing that Carl, a 6 year old boy, will bridge this lapse for me until I can deliver for Addie.

As I shuffle back to the classroom fumbling with the device to have it powered up by the time I place it on Addie's desk, I see her special ed teacher in the hall, Mrs. M. Addie has an aide or the spec ed teacher with her at all times during her day in a regular 1st grade classroom. A grinning Mrs. M meets me and tells me that I need to bring it in myself - and take the blame - because Addie's been "yelling" at her for the 10 minutes since she settled into the classroom for the opening routine. Mrs. M demonstrates the very animated and adamant way Addie signed for her talker, complete with those focused wide eyes I know so well, locked on who she deemed the responsible party. Mrs. M added that Addie even got up to go look near the outlet where it sometimes charges. She was plain angry. As she should have been.

I slipped into the room and put the device in front of her on her desk stealthily. Addie reached for it with both arms and scooted it closer in a territorial way. She navigated to her classroom pages immediately. I crouched down and asked her to look at me. "I'm sorry, babe. I just forgot it," I signed and spoke. She leaned forward slightly to offer me her straight lips in a very brief and light kiss. As she leaned back into position facing her talker, the back of her right hand brushed my shoulder firmly to let me know that she was no longer angry, but that I need to go now. I did as I was told. Her classroom teacher looked on and offered a knowing smile.

Mrs. M and I chatted a bit just outside the door. I thought I might be keeping her from Addie in the classroom, so I began to back away. She stepped away, as well. She must have seen my flash of confusion. She explained.

"Oh, I have nothing to do at opening so I usually hang out in the hall working on other stuff. Addie doesn't need anyone until Reading and Language Arts starts. But opening? Your girl can do that on her own."

The energy I (willingly) spend convincing people of what Addie's abilities are, what she can do, is immeasurable. Today, Carl and Mrs. M have taken my work from me. Today a child and an adult assured me that Addie is seen clearly, that she has consorts outside her family who will take her lead to ensure that others see and hear her clearly.

Not only do I not have to do it all - I don't get to. It's between Addie and the world she lives in. And I'm good with that.