Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers...and others

I must have a look on my face right now. Gray clouds, lines of worry on my brow. A complete and total stranger asked me if I would like a hug just a moment ago.

Picking up a travel game and a cup of iced coffee at a local book store I was asked by the man behind the cash register how I was doing and, of course, I told the truth, never one to just say “Fine” and be done with it.

“Oh, it’s a challenging day,” I said, darkly, I suppose.

“What’s going on?” He asked me. And I told him.

“My son’s having surgery at the end of the week and it’s just difficult leading up to it,” I said. Wondering why I was sharing with a total stranger. What’s the point, really?

Turns out his nephew had three surgeries for scoliosis as a young child and is doing great now. He passed me my iced coffee. “Well, I hope it all works out for your son,” he said.

“It will,” I assured him/me. “It’s just difficult as it all comes bearing down,” I ended. I turned away, moving towards the side counter to add cream and pop on a cover.

He looked at me over the espresson machine on the other side of the counter. “Do you want a hug?” he asked.


I turned him down with a smile, knowing I will soon be amongst some of my best friends at a homeschool park day and then later on the couch at our therapist’s office. It’s a day of many hugs both virtual and actual. Thankfully.

It’s Tuesday, just one day before Ben and Mark take off for Philadelphia. In less than a week Ben’s surgery will be over and he will be feeling fine, most likely. But the lead up, the waiting, the uncomfortable expectation is so difficult for all of us. This morning Ben’s first words to me after arising from bed were, “I don’t feel good.”

“What’s up?” I asked knowing it could be therapist-itis, post-playdate exhaustion, or pre-surgery blues. It was the latter. “I want a different back,” he said.

Poor guy. It’s hard to shake those blues.

The good news is I was able to arrange with the chef at Sur la Table to rearrange her curriculum to accommodate Ben’s schedule so he could take make up classes today and tomorrow (having missed two days of cooking camp a couple weeks ago due to a cold) before leaving on his journey. I dropped him off this morning in the store’s kitchen where he stood shyly eyeing the pretty teenage girls on the other side of the table as well as the pasta machines piled on the class’s work tables. “Good food and women,” I overheard him telling some friends the other day, “that’s all I need!” I predict his needs will get met this morning.

I haven’t done a very good job of predicting our needs presurgery with these most recent two. Of course, when he had his brain surgery four and a half years ago it all happened so fast I didn’t have time to prepare us. Boom, bang, bop. It was upon us. But this time and the last I had months to mark off the calendar or think about what we’d need and be going through.

As it happened, I was off the mark repeatedly. For the surgery in February I had no clue that in the two weeks leading up to the surgery I would be a germ’s worst nightmare and an absolute freak on an antibacterial crusade. We had all sorts of plans, all ultimately cancelled, during that time period that involved sitting in crowded theaters with hundreds of coughing, innocent but germ-infested citizens, or playdates with children with runny noses. I didn’t even contemplate all the germs we’d potentially encounter on the plane flight back east or the train ride from NY to Philly. It’s amazing we survived without mishap.

This time we had to take a surgery date that conflicted with a camping trip with other homeschoolers in Yosemite. I thought, “Great, one parent will go with Ben, one with the other boys.” Neat and tidy. He picked Mark to join him (“Mom’s my emotion parent, Dad’s my hospital parent.” Logical enough.) and so that was that. I was going to Yosemite. But as the time has approached not only have I grappled with the anxiety that is rolling over me about not being near him while he’s in surgery, but I realized that I will not be sleeping a lot while he’s gone, that I’d have to be focused on getting the rest of us packed up for a challenging camping trip at 9000 feet, and that once I’m in Yosemite I would be out of cell range and unable to talk to him. Clearly, this was not going to work.

I’ve rearranged things now so that Harry will be going on the trip with my good friend Laura and her son, Harry’s friend Wyatt. He’ll get the forest time he needs, attending Yosemite Institute naturalist programming for four days, surrounded by our homeschool friends the whole time. Toby and I have chosen to stay back, close to the phone, our critters and our burgeoning garden. We’ll be spending some happy and distracting time in Santa Cruz with my sister-in-law Sharon and her husband, Alan, as well. No one questioned my last minute change of plans. In fact, all of my friends agreed I was making the right decision. But the stress is much reduced.

I got an email last week from my pen-pal Rona, my emissary of immense good will from Philadelphia. Rona contacted me about a week after we’d returned from Philly in March. The mother of our beloved Dan the concierge, she had read my whole blog (Hi Rona, I know you’re reading this!!) and heard all about us and offered not only her friendship but her love and care of our family. She told me that their family was our adopted Philadelphia family and we embraced her right back. She and her husband will be taking Ben and Mark around Philly on Thursday for a (distracting and) fun tour of their city. I’m just sorry to miss the meeting.

So we are embraced. Embraced at the cash register at Copperfield’s Books, embraced by the cooking teacher at Sur la Table, embraced by our friends and relatives, original and adopted.

I’ll keep you posted.

p.s. I apologize for the lack of photos of late. Having some major technical difficulties here in my house full of IT personnel. Hope to have things ironed out in a week or two.

1 comment:

G said...

Sending you HUGS! I am definately keeping your family in my thoughts this week. I wish I could give Ben a different back....

Under the circumstances, I wouldn't want to be out of cell phone range either, and I think you absolutely made the right decision to skip Yosemite.

More hugs!