Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Doing well

This is just a brief note to let you know that Ben is doing beautifully. He is cheerful and happy. His pain is minimal. He only needed meds twice today and even then, it was not to deal with overwhelming pain. We're not going out, or driving in the car (the travel-home day, Monday, was more than enough of that for a while!). And no hikes or carrying things or bending over. (We learned our lesson last time.)

But, video games, Scrubs, bowls of pasta and slices of pizza, and many rounds of Quiddler and Yahtzee with the family seem to be bringing our boy back into the land of the hale and healthy!

Oh, and a new charger for his cell phone (his old one was left at the Ritz). How's a boy supposed to communicate with all his "homies" with a dead phone? The horror!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

happy, healing boy

Ben and I texted each other yesterday morning. He didn't feel very good. He seemed pretty blue. Not that that should be surprising.

They'd moved from the hospital to the hotel the day before and he'd felt really crummy the rest of that day. Hadn't eaten anything except a breakfast of French toast ("It was surprisngly good.") in the hospital. I'd talked to him on the phone in the late afternoon (here)/early evening (there) and his voice was so weak and creaky.

"Hi Mommy."

"Hi Baby. How are you feeling?"

"Really bad."

"I'm so sorry, hon. I'm so sorry you have to feel this way. You'll feel better tomorrow."

I got off the phone and turned to my own mom (I was sitting in her kitchen) and said, "It's so unfair he has to go through this over and over and over." I felt a wave of self-pity and pity for Ben. Why? Why eight surgeries? Why repeated experiences with pain and medications and recovery? To what (ultimate, greater, existential) purpose?

People have told me "It will make him strong as an adult." Yeah, but guess what, he might have been strong anyways. And you know what else? Put your kid under a surgeon's knife 10, 12 times before he's 20 (it will more than likely be that, by the way) and have him sleep in a hospital bed 50, 60 nights before he's 20 (he's already hit 48) and see if that "strength in adulthood" consoles you.

Odd, when I started writing today I didn't realize I was angry.

I was actually going to tell you that later yesterday, after the morning's blue text exchange, Ben called home.

"Hi Mom!"

"Hi! What's up? How's it going?"

"I'm feeling great! And I looked in the mirror and I really think I'm taller now!"

"Wow! That's awesome. I'm pretty sure you must be. Dr. C really got some great extension this time, right?"

"And my curve is 25 degrees! I've been walking around and I ate some Thai curry chicken soup. I'm feeling so much better."

I swear he sounded better than he's sounded in months. Chipper mood, bouncy, bright. A totally different voice. Like a new man.

Did I tell you that after the phone call from my mom's kitchen Mark texted me this: "Post call FYI: he was way better 5 min before and 5 min after your call. Not better, but not as bad. It's great to be a mom." Well, I knew that. Really I did. Mamas get the unfettered emotion. The raw "I feel lousy" stream of whining. It's our job to receive it, especially after our child's 48th night in a hospital bed. Especially when you're way the hell across the country and not by his bedside, where you should be.

But it felt so good to hear that bright and chipper boy on the other end of the phone. It certainly washed away my blues.

Can't wait to see him tomorrow night. And give him a gentle mama's hug.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

touching a nerve

Of all things, I had to have an emergency crown set today at the dentist's office. The culprit, a cracked molar, started giving me trouble on Tuesday and luckily, I squeezed into Dr. McN's schedule before he left for a week off.

Not a great day to have a painful procedure. But I didn't have much choice.

It just so happened that at one point early in the procedure Dr. McN hit the crack with his drill and pain sizzled into my numb jaw. I jumped. I waved my hand (as instructed). "Oww, that hurts!" I said. I had actually been trying to be brave. It had been hurting a little as he neared the really sensitive place and I had tried to hold it together. But when he hit that crack it hurt so much. It was a zing not just to the nerve but to my whole confidence and composure. I suddenly was holding tears back and trying to breathe. I imagined myself at the end of the procedure going to sit in my car and having a really good cry.

About Ben, of course.

I talked to Mark after Ben came out of surgery and found out that Dr. C had gotten tremendous correction (we'll know more tomorrow). That is excellent news. Last time he got only a little and it seemed so much to do for so little a difference. Having a big adjustment is more bang for your buck, I guess. But, big adjustment also means big pain.

Think about this: They go in, move around his muscles, tendons, ligaments. They mess with the ribs, unscrewing the rod. They use pressure and gentle force to move his spine into a straighter position. They tighten the screws. They get out. And, of course, getting in requires an incision and getting out, stitches. That's a lot, for a "minor" surgery.

The after-effect of all this moving around is heavy duty muscle spasms. They come on if he's pushed or poked (think overzealous friends or brothers). They come from nowhere too. They're like Charlie horses in his back. Not easy to deal with. I'm getting myself prepared.

As for me, a second shot of Lydocaine and I was good for the rest of the dental appointment. I sat there in the mint green dental chair, listening to James Taylor, Carole King, and Crosby, Stills & Nash flowing in from the ceiling (ah well, some of my favorites are now dentist office music, sigh) and I breathed as deeply as possible. I didn't try to be too brave, just enough. It really didn't hurt any more after that one zinger. Not really.

When I got out to the car I didn't break down. I did call Mark and Ben as soon as I got into cell phone range (my dentist is in Occidental and there's ZERO coverage there). Ben felt horrible, and not just very, very bad, but really quite sincerely bad. So bad that he suddenly had to get off the phone and Mark said, "We'll call you back!!" and hung up so fast I felt that zing again. Right to the bone.

I took a deep breath. I went to pick up Toby at Shawna's house. Mark called back and told me things had improved. Shawna gave me gluten-free gingerbread she'd baked. I washed the horrible taste of dental cement out of my mouth.

Now, hours later my jaw is hurting. And now, I'm feeling how hard it is, and how hard it was last time, to be 3000 miles away from my boy when he's hurting.

text me you love me

About a month ago we broke the news to Ben that we had a surgery date for his next lengthening. We softened the blow by telling him in the very next breath that we were (finally) getting him a phone. He'd been begging us for one for months because 1) Harry got one and 2) he needed one to text his friends. (Yes, phones are for texting even more than talking with the teen crowd, don't you know.) As with almost all the technology that I have been resistant to (and to which I have finally caved due to pressure from my children), I have found that texting is an amazing form of communication and has opened up doorways between us.

There is a beauty in the brevity of text messages. Had we not been texting, I'm sure we would have chatted a few times on Mark's phone. But all my boys (Mark included) are reticent to chat on the phone, so that call would have felt more awkward. Via text Ben was open to joking, being sweet, being vulnerable, and being present up until the very last moment when (I imagine) he hit send and handed Mark his phone and was promptly wheeled away. And, I have a record of it on my phone to look at and remember.

I've (laboriously) typed it all up for you here and I've left it pretty much as is (spelling mistakes and shorthand left intact). The incredible sweetness of my boy is palpable. It's like poetry. Well, maybe just for me. (I should tell you, especially if you're not familiar with texting, that sometimes the messages seem out of order since I might be texting him a response while he's texting another comment. You might have to jump back and forth a bit to get the drift.)

You can see that Ben was in fantastically light spirits (confirmed by a phone call from Mark right after he was taken into the OR). This surgery is only the second in his memory that is "minor," although, remember they are going all the way to his ribs to do the adjustment. Minor is relative, yes? Anyhow, it is a short surgery comparatively (2 hours) and that is a huge difference for him. Having the knowledge that he got through the last one fairly easily and was out of the hospital in 13 hours, I believe made all the difference.

So here you have it, for text conversation with Ben in the early hours of today.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
[3:25 am]

ME:  Just want u to know I woke up and am thinking abt u

BEN:  Hi mommy

ME:  Hi ya doin?

BEN:  Good i slept very nicely

ME:  Excellent you're such a trouper

BEN:  :)

ME:  R u in the taxi?

BEN:  Yes

ME:  Ok that's what i thought. What's the weather like?

BEN:  Blue skys with a couple of clouds

ME:  Sounds nice. It rained here most of the day yesterday. Dark now of course. It's 3:37 am!

BEN:  Haha

ME:  It was weird...I just woke up a few minutes alarm or anything, like my body just knew u were awake and on your way so I should wake up

BEN:  I woke up 2 minutes before my alarm went off

ME:  Yeah. Sometimes there's like a sixth sense

BEN:  Its like my body just new that i should be up u know?

ME:  Yep same with mine

BEN:  It was weird

ME:  I know I couldn't see a clock so I had to turn on my phone and I went "hey perfect timing! Ben's gonna be up now too"

BEN:  Wow thats cool

ME:  I used to wake up in the middle of the night every night, but I haven't for a while now. That's what made this really diff for me.


ME:  I just want to send u a big hug

BEN:  thanks

ME:  I love u so much

BEN:  I luv u 2 mom <3 [heart on its side]

ME:  <3
xoxoxox ((((you)))) [hugs around Ben]

BEN:  :)
We are almost at the hospital

ME:  I was just going to ask
We'll text more later

BEN:  K we are there

ME:  Love u!!!!!

BEN:  I luv u 2

ME:  xoxoxox

BEN:  :)

ME:  Toby just giggled in his sleep!

BEN:  Wow thats kinda creepy

ME:  I guess he's having a funny dream...I'll have to ask him about it in the a.m.

[a little time passes]

BEN:  I just got my wrist band and we are going into the elevator

ME: Ok tlk [talk] later

BEN:  Kk [Okay]
They just took my whigh [weight] and i whigh [weigh]128

ME:  Congrats. :)

BEN:  :(

[Two hours pass, no texts, I slept]

BEN:  There about to come get me for surgery

ME:  Ok I love u!!! How r u?

BEN: Good me and dad watched very funny tv

ME:  sorry u had to wait so long

BEN:  Its ok actually it was nice

ME:   Excellent! You're gonna do great and I'll talk to u when u get out
I'm so proud of u

BEN:  Ok

ME:  It helps knowing what to expect
Doesn't it?

BEN: I like the shoe sock things there comfy
And yes

ME:  Great get a few before u leave

BEN:  To take home i like socks much better than these

ME:  Oh whatevah
No iv yet?

BEN:  Ya anyways mom i luv u vry much

ME:  I adore u

BEN:  Nope get that in surgery

ME:  xoxoxox
(((((hugs from me to u))))))

BEN:  (RE: ((((hugs from me to u) K im in the bed

ME:  Oh thought u were already

BEN:  Im a little nervous
Bye mom ttyl [talk to you later] luv u

ME:  That's to be expected
I luv u!!!!!

[break of several minutes]

BEN: Hiya mom it turns out that i only was going down to talk to the docters and i'll be under in 15 mins so hows it going?

ME: Oh!!!! it's going fine!
I was sending you big blessings.

BEN:  Thats nice im less nervous

ME:  Amazing

BEN: Thank u

ME: How come d'you think?

BEN:  Thats good

ME: How come youre less nervous?

BEN:  I dont know everyones very confedent and calm

ME:  That's great that u can take that in
What did the doctors say?
And did u have an xray this morning?

BEN: That im going to go in breathe then fall asleep and no

ME: Ok
Sounds easy

BEN:  Yup im gonna be fine

ME:  u definitely r

BEN:  Yup u should take somthing to calm down

ME:  And when u get out it's gonna be even easier then the last time
I'm calm, cuz u r

BEN:  Yup

ME:  I should say calmer
I was more nervous last time
But thx for thinking abt me

BEN: Still u should

ME:  I'm fine, sweetie
Just lying in bed
Txting my boy

BEN: Hmm anyways calm down i can feel it in your txts

ME: Oh sorry I really am fine
Maybe I'm asking too many questions...?

BEN: Sure u r sure

ME: Lol
I wouldn't send u there if I didn't believe they would take excellent care of u
Well it's my job to be a little nervous!
But really I'm just fine

BEN:  Yeah

ME: =)

BEN: Sure u r sure.......O.o

ME:  8)

BEN: jsshdikisabusukjkszdekjdszeksejzjzjedsmeds im not crazy BOOGA BOOGA MOOGALY tell that to tubs [Toby]

ME: Um...ok...when he wakes up.

BEN: Wait what time is it

ME: Hey! did they give u something to make u loopy? Cuz it suuuure seems like it!
7:33 am

BEN: No im just naturly crazy and oh thanks

ME: Too much time on your hands, it seems...

[long break during which I play Spider Solitaire on my iPhone]

Hey u there?

BEN: Barely
I am about to go
i luv u soooooooooo much

Love u more!!!

BEN: <3<3<3<3<3<3<3
         <3<3<3<3<3<3<3 [32 lines long!]

ME:  You're the best! xoxoxox

Sunday, April 17, 2011

another surgery

The anticipation is the worst part. The waiting and the knowing. It's really all well and good for other people to talk about how hard this is and to talk about how quickly it'll all be behind you. But for you it is another story.

This next surgery will be your eighth. (Started with a hernia at age 5, four brain surgeries/followups at age 8, the implantation of the rod and staples a year ago, and the first lengthening last summer.) Eighth. You have had more surgeries than most people have in a lifetime. A lot to hold. And this one won't even be the last.

So, if you've done this eight times then you know what to expect. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see the doors slide open to the hospital lobby as you climb out of the taxi. You know the flutter in your diaphragm when you put on your hospital gown and stow your things in the cabinet next to the bed. You've done this before. You lay down on the gurney in Anaesthesiology and watch the tiles on the ceiling, the lights and goofy posters on the walls slide by your vision as they wheel you away from your dad into the OR.

This operation is small potatoes compared with what you've experienced six of the eight times. Even the recovery is less work for you. But, you know the feeling coming out of the pain killers and it makes you tired, exhausted even, to contemplate another month passing by in your young life, a month of Valium and Hydrocodone and Ibuprofen keeping the edge off and the muscle spasms at bay. A month of shuffling around like an old man.

You're doing ok, though. You've chosen many days this past month to spend extra time in your jammies and wallow a bit in your life predicament. But for now, a few days before you say goodbye to your mom and brothers and head to the airport with your dad, you are upbeat, laughing at raunchy sitcoms and filling yourself with Indian food.

You are so strong and so fragile. You are only thirteen. Some boys at thirteen read from the Torah, their rite of passage to the next phase of their life. You, my son, you crossed that river years ago.

Weary traveller...blessings on this journey and may your doctor's hands be guided by the angels and may your healing be swift and easy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Farewell, Oh Beautiful Swing Tree

A few weeks ago during a tremendous storm we lost our beloved swing tree.

The enormous old twisted oak that was the anchor for our new home, on whose swing I first fell in love with our property, silently gave up the fight. She had been unwell for a while now and we'd cut the swing's ropes a couple years ago to prevent a terrible accident from happening. She fell down over our pasture fences in the middle of the night, didn't even wake us up. Though Mark and Harry have sawn up much of her limbs and branches, her huge trunk still lies across a part of our field and when I look at that fallen tree I grieve her loss. We designed our house around her architecture, we watched her leaves bud out each March in fuzzy pink new growth, we enjoyed the screen she gave us from the road when popping in our hot tub on the deck, and the shade she gave the equines in summer.

In honor of the tree I am remembering one of my favorite books from childhood: A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry. And, I am posting, below, a piece I wrote eight years ago about our decision to move up here to Sonoma county. Our beloved swing tree figures in essentially, at the very read it all!


Blame it on Cooperstown

You’re not sure if it’s the stretch of white board fence, the old white clapboard house, or the verdant green lawn shaded by trees, but your eyes are pulled over to that little photograph in the back of the magazine. You are ruefully perusing the section they have every issue that advertises old, sometimes ancient by your California-girl standards, houses for sale across the country. This one has definitely caught your eye. “Horse Lover’s Fancy” it reads. “7 acres of beautiful countryside, lovely 5 bedroom home, plus carriage house and 8 stall stable. Excellent condition.” There’s more, but you speed through the details. You’ve already peeked at the price. You can barely buy a shack where you live for that.

You sit back and sigh. There you are, tucked away in your comfortable Northern California neighborhood, each home within spitting distance of its neighbor. Your eyes wander back to the ad. “Near Cooperstown, NY.” You take a quick look at to check out the exact location of the city of Cooperstown in the state of New York. Far north. Not even close enough to the in-laws to justify a cross-country address change.

Whoa! What was that? Here you are innocently reading the ads, like they’re open houses on a Sunday afternoon. (Just because you like to look doesn’t mean you’re going to buy, does it?) And suddenly you’re planning, actually looking for a rationale to move. To Cooperstown, NY.

It’s probably the horses. The possibility of horses. You’ve been a horse-fanatic from the age of 3, but never did convince your parents to buy you one. Living in urban Los Angeles didn’t help, not exactly horse country. And even though your knees hurt every time you’ve ridden in the past ten years, having a horse of your own isn’t a fantasy you’re prepared to give up just yet. Even at 40.

Maybe it’s the seven acres. That’s a lot of land. You can’t even picture seven acres if you tried. Your mind drifts out of the office, down the stairs and into the bedrooms of your three sons. Lately, you think, lately life has been loud and chaotic here in your snug house in your snug neighborhood. Your mind flashes to the postage stamp-sized brick patio you knew would never be enough. Three boys need a place to run at full speed. Like an expanse of lawn. Three boys need some trees to climb. And maybe their mom needs a horse. Or eight.

You plot driving directions from Cooperstown, NY to the Long Island house your in-laws have lived in since before your husband was born. Maybe it’s not so far.

Later that night you casually ask your husband, “How far is Cooperstown from your folks?” wanting some verification that it’s just too far. Some really good reason to abandon this fantasy. “What’s it like?” you ask. He laughs, and describes winter in Cooperstown. Snow, piles of it. Weeks and months of it. You can barely imagine that much snow. At the high school you went to in Southern California, you could take surfing for P.E.

But that vision won’t go away. The next day you find the website dedicated to the sale of “Horse Lover’s Fancy”. Just for the fun of it you search their other listings and find yourself gazing at a ranch in northern Montana, copper-colored grasslands with a view of snow-covered mountains. And then there’s the home in southern Oregon on 40 acres (why dream small?) with miles of trails already groomed for you and your horses.

A visit to your therapist feels like the thing to kick this tickle-that-feels-like-an-obsession-brewing out the door. But when you mention “I’ve been dreaming about moving to the country,” she says “Go with it,” and you go deeper and uncover some visions you have about your sons, about the over-stimulation that comes with city living, about how you gave up on the big backyard when you were looking for the bigger house because big yards are just hard to come by in the city. And you talk about your husband, now one-year unemployed, a casualty of the dot-bomb era. Even though you were the one who convinced him to stay home and enjoy a slower pace for a while, you’ve been worried about the rut he’s gotten into, the amount of time he spends on computer games, and the grayness that seems to be hovering around him like an aura.

At the end of the session your therapist says, “Go with it,” again. So you return home thinking about moving to the country.

When your husband asks how your session went (he does that more now that he’s in therapy, too) he’s pretty surprised that you didn’t talk about him and the fight you had the other day about your sex life, or your lack of sex life. He’s shocked, really, when he hears what you talked about and he even looks a little worried. He knows what you can be like when you get an idea in your head.

And, like a bull dog you persist. Later that night in bed you have a long talk about this fantasy and he says, “I’ll look into it with you, but I’ll tell you right now I’m not moving.” The first part of his statement is really a victory and you know that. Before this year off and the time he’s had for his own evolution (therapy) he never would have entertained even thinking about something that scared him like moving. You remind him that when you moved into your current house he said, “The next time I move is in an urn,” and you both laugh. You, nervously.

Calendar pages fly off the wall. Hours spent doing research on the internet and in books and magazines. You love a project like this. Ordinarily, you do this for trips, but this adventure is more than just looking for motels, restaurants and museums, you’re looking for schools, community organizations, and local newspapers. Together the two of you make lists of pros and cons of moving and staying. Together you name the things you need and the things you want. Need: Good schools. Want: Good politics. Need: Jewish community (three bar mitzvahs are on the horizon). Want: Good produce. There’s even a list of what you can’t abide: Rednecks. Skinheads. Airports three hours away.

You notice he’s gotten interested. He’s been doing some surfing, too. Eyeing pieces of land in the Sierra foothills. And then he suddenly bites onto the concept of building the house himself. He’s an engineer, he knows his hammers from his rat tail files. He has a workshop in the garage that he never gets to use because it’s too cramped and there’s no room to spread out. He did contracting work in college. He’s a fine carpenter. Your favorite piece of furniture in your whole house is the big kitchen table he made from a length of bowling alley. He can do the electrical and plumbing, too. Loves that stuff, in fact.

All of a sudden, this adventure is taking shape. You can feel the movement and you no longer feel that you are in control. The electricity that sparks between you is making you stronger. The fantasy becomes a project and the project is driving you.

The worries arrive just about then. The questions and regrets. You start a new ritual: the listing of the things you’ll miss. Walking to school, your friends, short drives to the market, the preschool you love. And suddenly the house you live in is perfect, the city you live in is perfect and the friends you felt were only acquaintances are professing their love and admiration for you. Your nine-year-old has a teacher who completely understands him. Your business is picking up. Everything seems to be gelling. How can you entertain the idea of moving away from all this?

The more people you tell about what you’re contemplating, the more their responses make you question your choice. You never knew how many people harbored dreams of moving to the country. They live vicariously through you. But you weren’t someone with that long-term dream. You feel like a fraud. You want to stay put. One friend warns you about other friends of hers who had problems in their marriage, moved to the country, built a house, and when the house was done their marriage fell apart. Those stories make you think of all the people you know who had the problems, stayed in one place, and then their marriage fell apart.

You bring the boys up to the country to see different properties you’re considering and they always freak out. These wild, grassy, overgrown places intimidate them. The one who’s always adventuresome becomes clingy and the other ones get bored and whiny. “They have to learn how to play in the country,” someone says.

Then one day you find yourself swinging on a tree swing on a property in western Sonoma county. The swing has incredibly long ropes and when you swing you go out over a slope so far that at the farthest, highest point you’re probably about 20 feet up. It swings so slowly that you feel like you’re flying. You look around. The place is scruffy, there’s no verdant lawn, only an old vermin-infested mobile home and a rickety three story well tower. There’s no white rail fence, but lots of beautiful gnarled oaks, more than you can count. It’s only four acres, but that seems like plenty.

You sit back on the swing, hang on the prickly, lichen covered ropes. You pump your feet, push off from the ground as hard as you can. You want to go high, higher, higher. You fly. You fly on that swing and you can feel your chest expand. You breathe deep.

Your mind floats off the swing and up into the trees. Slowly it comes to you that it’s not about the horses anymore. It’s about living your life as big as you can.