Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hell on Earth is the pain of a child

Our dentist as he pointed to the x-ray: "You paid $7,000 in orthodontia, you simply have to get these out of there before they wreck all the good work done."

On Monday, an important milestone was reached by our oldest.  You see, we run in only the very well-heeled social circles of American society where state health plans reign and orthodontia is the order of the day.  And with that lifestyle of champagne dreams and caviar wishes, Olivia endured our culture's coming of age ritual that might be akin to the certain ritual of other cultures, namely, female circumcision; the forcible wrenching of her "what'd we ever do?" yet-to-have-erupted wisdom teeth, but in only the very best of oral surgery offices that money can buy!

The lady at the front desk: "Nothing to eat after midnight and DO NOT FORGET your medical and dental insurance cards with you to the appointment." (her real message being, it would be better to forget Olivia rather than forget the insurance cards.)

Initially it seemed funny showing up to the cattle call of the "8:45am arrivals for a 9:00am start" families, the children silent, unfed and unwashed for their perp walk to registration.  Parents were apprehensive while the kids all wore the same facial expression, almost a mask that said, "I got this" but so thinly veiling their dread and hunger.  And all in similar suburban uniform...loose fitting t-shirts, running shorts with girls in flip flops and boys in sneakers.  In the waiting room, we Moms sat with our sewing or our books because we know the drill.  Awkwardly, the Dads mostly came unprepared for their 90 minutes, either playing with their phones or glancing at Sports Illustrated for ten minutes before staring blankly at the walls, arms folded across their bellies before finally, yes you know it...dozing.  Typical.

"Olivia Hunter?" The governor had not called in a reprieve.  We walked hesitantly to and through the doorway down the long corridor to a stark dental office.  Meet and greet with the surgeon, plan discussed, questions answered, kiss on the forehead, squeeze of the hand and I was sent packing, passing three assistants in the hallway masked, gloved and gowned.  She was probably asleep before I even sat back down in my chair in the waiting room.

All the kids were gone when I returned, secreted through more than one door by numerous ladies in blue.  My one attempt at gallows humor, God love me I cannot help myself.   I said to the woman across from me, "Well, that was like walking the plank..." She stared through me without acknowledgment of my comment like they often do in Wisconsin and put her head down with a vacant smile.  I am constantly left hanging when it comes to the spirit of humanity here in the Midwest so nothing new there.  Finally, two dads who knew each other struck up a conversation much to their own relief and mine and the silence was broken.

the plant was more engaging than the woman across from me
I had time to reflect...the guy snoring next to me distracting me from my book...on the utter privilege of parenthood that affords so many gifts but has steep prices that must be paid, like subjecting one's kid to something incredibly painful even in doing the right thing.  The worrying never fucking ends, people.  It's all what I call, "The BIG Lie".  Getting them to their 18th birthdays, buying them laptops and trundling them off to college so that we can resume some sort of carefree pre-kid existence?  What kind of a joke is that?  I'm a lunatic now, thank you very much.  There's no going back to my former state of mental health, if ever there was any.  Parents of soldiers, firefighters and police know about the big lie.  That they can move forward with their own lives not curled up in the fetal position, knowing their kids are in danger every day, that's real heroism.  I guess ultimately I'm made of the same stuff but sitting in this waiting room Monday knowing the brief but intense pain my kid would endure over the next few days made me queasy.  They'll come back alive alright but it will be us doing the triage and mending and nursing afterward.  No Walter Reed for the post-extraction pain patients.  Just mom and the sofa.

Three days later, her pain is still never lower than a 5 out of 10, she cries when it gets to 7, she's hungry for real food and fatigued by pain.  I have accidentally overdosed her with Tylenol this morning hence we may need a new and different clinic later this week for a replacement liver.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Jersey I know and love

the reader and the thinker

I found myself searching for the right words to explain "my" Jersey shore to a friend who’s never been.  What makes it special?  Because I can smell funnel cake on the wind and hear the blood curdling screams of children being flung about sketchy amusement park rides from my beach chair? Because being physically trashed by dangerous waves is awesome?  Because I like to walk and eat from a gigantic tub of caramel corn as an appetizer to my dinner?  Because I like to whoop my kids' behinds at miniature golf?  Because I love low flying planes that drag giant banners advertising lobster dinners and five dollar “Pink Grenades” at the bars in Wildwood?  How do I love thee?

the boardwalk at night full of teens and adults....just not together

I’ve been going to Ocean City, NJ since I was a kid.  My friends and I would swim by day and swarm the boardwalk at night looking for good old fashioned boy-girl fun.  During the day we played miniature golf and rode bikes and body surfed.  At night, we put on our lip gloss and sweatshirts, preened for the Jersey boys and ate pizza. Later as high schoolers, we smuggled in beer and drank til our eyes flew at half mast meandering through the streets looking for kids we knew and parties we weren't necessarily invited to.  Nothing too messy, just standard fare in the late 1970s.  Why high schoolers picked a dry town to party in I've never really understood.

annual cut throat mini golf game where Liv always gets a hole in one but never wins
I am an Ocean City legacy.  My dad went there as a kid and my aunt and uncle own a house there now.  My own kids have vacationed in Ocean City since they were born spending at least a week there almost every summer.  I love tradition and never feel like I have enough of it going in my family to my satisfaction.  Norm on Cheers lived a perfect life in my eyes and that's always made Chip grow a bit quiet.  He and the girls generally like to try new places and new things on vacations rather than the same old same old whereas if I had my way we’d have long ago bought a summer house (with magical money that is part of all fantasies) and vacationed the same week in the same place our whole lives.   I married the wrong guy and had the wrong kids again—typical. 

Another August tradition, the annual Ocean City Baby Parade. It may have rained but that didn't dampen the spirits of the Queen Infanta and her ladies in waiting (I kid you not) or the babies who remained baffled for their 101st year on the boardwalk.

There is one more key element to the Ocean City experience for us.  Her name is Aunt Polly and she irons her money… before slipping it in your pocket.  She runs a teenage fantasy camp first for me as a young adult and now for my kids each summer which this year began with a hug and a fifty dollar bill.  She waits on us breakfast, lunch and dinner and stocks all our favorite treats.  She does our laundry daily.  We watch loads of Law and Order and Seinfeld reruns after as many lazy days as we can get baking and swimming at the beach.   She takes us to Atlantic City where we park the girls in a cafe and throw a few quarters in the slots before hitting the buffet, her treat.  All in all, it’s over the top pampering. It's an adolescent spa with full and I mean FULL cable on three TVs, no bedtimes and unrestricted and wanton snacking. 

10pm: “Have a snack.”
10:15pm: "Did you have a snack? Why not?"
11pm: “Do you want some candy?  How about a piece of pie?  Well, have another one.” 
Midnight: “Are you sure you don’t want a snack before bed?”  

Philly hoagie jersey style...a hot I like my men
It’s absurd and perfect.  We ate ourselves silly... from funnel cake to Mack and Manco pizza to Kohr Bros. soft serve, Shrivers strawberry laces and Primo's hoagies.  A feast of sugar laden delectables and fried and fatty turbocarbs eaten mostly on the run.  Nobody sits long at the shore when eating.  The seagulls will get your food. 

We rode the rides at Playland and this year I couldn’t have asked for a better gift from the girls than when they said, “C’mon Mom.  You have to go on the rollercoaster.  It’s our tradition.”  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A harvest of emotions

I've had trouble getting to my blog.  Our last week has been spent with family in eastern Washington, truly one of the most beautiful and lunar looking places in August as the wheat comes time to harvest.  There's been a little focus issue around honing my craft with this little face popping up behind ottomans and end tables for five days.  She's way more fun than turning a phrase.

She's an enchantress whose favorite game is tricking fawning aunts and uncles to walk across the room for a special something she dangles in her hand only to pull it back at the last moment with a giggle and a pointed look at everyone in the room that signals that it is time to applaud.  And by God, you had better clap.

It's an anniversary of sorts.  I started this blog two years ago just a month before my darling father-in-law, Larry Hunter, passed away.  A blog made specifically for the likes of him in fact, somebody who would check regularly on our progress on sabbatical.  He loved photos and he liked lots of details about family, especially his granddaughters.  After he died I couldn't even write about it, glossing over it in one of my early entries as "the past few weeks haven't been the easiest" or something like that. It was unbearable to think about for longer than a minute at a time, let alone sit still and try to blog about it.

I was blinded by my own grief and frantic and cranky about my inability to fix the situation for my husband.  I'm basically terrible when he's terrible - when his dry sockets were giving him trouble I told him to "snap out of it".   It's a bad life partner trait as it turns out and we're currently making arrangements to accommodate it and protect his safety.  He'll be one of the few that actually begs to go to a nursing home in lieu of staying home alone with me when he's ill. 

This weekend we were fortunate to be so very propped up by our extended family who made the journey with us both physically and emotionally to lay our beloved father and grandfather to rest in peace in a place that I won't mention for fear of internet-lurking park rangers but was a special place for him as outdoorsman and fly fisherman.

They steadied us with their presence and quite literally smoothed the rough road before us.  As for my husband and brothers-in-law, their strength and patience and dignity through the loss of their dad has guided all of us to safe passage as we press beyond our own grief.  Before scattering the ashes, Chip's brother Mike paid the three spouses the highest compliment we could ever hear saying that he saw his dad not only in the grandkids but in us as well.  Gracious and inspired words of comfort from the youngest child.

Grandpa's bell on the 13th hole of the U of I golf course to signal players behind a blind turn that it's ok to hit.  The woman on the right apparently won a box of golfballs for her longest putt at the 2nd Annual Larry Hunter Memorial Golf Tournament.

Rufous hummingbirds en masse in celebration of Larry's return

As wife of the oldest brother, I am translated from Mandarin, Big Mama

The REAL Mama and the baby that is the joy and rebirth and new life of our family

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Not exactly an august post in August

Camp suitcase vomits its contents 
Ally returned yesterday from her first year as a camp counselor.  I've put a positive spin on the putrid laundering that follows each camp week which is that going through the suitcase provides insight into the murky details shared....a burned candle, grass, mud, dead spiders, unused stamped envelopes, a picture.  Sanctioned snooping and there was nothing interesting or incriminating...really a little disappointing.

As I drove her and her friend home from what was described as a really great week, I was struck by how ridiculously negative their conversation was.  I guess keeping a cork in that social bottle for six days resulted in a profound amount of pressure that needed release.

"She acted like she didn't remember me from last year.  She asked me what my name was, can you believe it?  And in my head I was like, 'Shut up Bethany.  Last year you wanted to be me."  

Like adults going for a job promotion, they had been on their best behavior trying to impress the big counselors and the camp staff grown ups with their positive attitudes and helpful natures to better their chances of being chosen again as counselors next year.  That's a long week of holding in every negative thought about other kids, and there are a lot of those thoughts right now.  Negativity rules.   So for 90 minutes in the car they poured their hearts out to one another about their frustrations over the course of the week, laughing uproariously and being incredulous at every social faux pas committed by other kids as I drove in silence listening to their debriefing.   That's what Angelina Jolie told me to do...stop talking and listen.  What, isn't Vanity Fair where everybody gets their parenting advice?  Constantly reminding myself to shut up and drive rather than interject and share is frankly an exhausting way for me to live.

Case studies suggest that adolescent peer groups are also characterized by exclusivity, impermeability, and hostility toward nonmembers (Cusick, 1973).

Being a grown-up girl in my own family,  I think we may need to work out the complex social dynamics of society in preparation for navigating the bountiful yet treacherous waters of adult social life. Women are cruise directors.  We facilitate and encourage passengers to interact and play well with one another while trying to ensure everyone's safety.  We remember the birthdays, the anniversaries, the get well notes and the teacher thank you gifts.   But do we have to get down in the mud first as teenagers in order to function as the social caretakers we become as adults?  Coach Chip and I have talked a lot about this as once upon a time he watched his happy little team of girl buddies devolve into a group made of individual diva princesses delivered to softball tournaments in their own white-stallion-drawn minivans manned by beleagured mother footmen.  The social fabric was tattered for one very long summer as the games began.  Impermeability, exclusivity and hostility, you aren't kidding.  A means to an end?  Arguably, perhaps.
Refusing to disturb the "class", she will not enter

Finally she understands

A 50th surprise birthday party held in a public space for a friend whose adult siblings and friend co-conspirators planned and executed a surprise so massive she literally wouldn't enter the room, mistakenly believing she would be interrupting an adult education class.  She actually was so non-compliant she went missing in the building for a few minutes.  But she was finally and reluctantly dragged into the room to realize we were not a Zumba class but a room full of friends and family there to celebrate her birthday.   I don't think I'll live long enough to sufficiently exhaust the possibilities of teasing around it.

The night ended with a pool drive-by to catch more than I intended of the achingly (literally, people were getting up in pain and doing stretches against the nets) long-winded summer swim season banquet.  My pals below, youngest siblings each in housefuls of swimmers, sum up my take on the speeches but the slideshow finale of a hundred plus kids that populate my world made it truly worth the seven hours of thank yous.

Just because there's a microphone doesn't mean everybody has to use it,  they seemed to say with their eyes