Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Root of Gratitude

I was raised in a huge foster family, where everything that surrounded me was a hand-me-down, from the bed I slept in to the clothes I picked out from big black trash bags that were left in our family's van after church services. When I went off to college my mom and I were shopping at a Kmart for basic dorm supplies and I saw a comforter, bright yellow and white stripes, that just spoke to me. It screamed my personality, the outgoing, upbeat person I planned to become once I left home. I brushed my hand across the plastic wrapping and sighed, saying, "this is so beautiful."

And as a complete surprise to me, my mom turned and said, "do you want that comforter?" She put it in our cart and it covered my bed for the four years I lived in that dorm room. The reminder never wore off. It always made me think of how I had picked it, it had been my choice to have this specific bed covering. And my mom had dug deep in her pockets to buy it for me, even though I had a perfectly good hand-me-down comforter waiting in the car to cover my new dorm room bed.

I often wonder if that is where my deep sense of thankfulness comes from. Finally getting to be a grown up and appreciating that I get to pick for myself now. The clothes in my closet were chosen by me, probably from a rack at Target, but wholly mine. The blankets on my children's beds I found, one by one, on clearance racks, but they were my colors, my choice. I get to set up my own life and chose what surrounds me on a daily basis.

And beyond that, I believe gratitude became part of my DNA as I grew up surrounded by children who were called family for a brief time but could not truly feel like siblings when I barely knew their last names. And knowing their stories, the brief synopsis shared around the dinner table on the night before they arrived, then in the secrets they themselves willingly shared, of pain and neglect and abuse that had landed them in a strangers home. And even in the midst of feeling overlooked myself, in a house overflowing with needy children, feeling I was somehow lucky.

The parents of the house were my parents. I was genetically related to them and had been part of their smaller nuclear family for several years before the idea of foster children even existed. I would not bounce around from foster home to grandma’s house until mom could get her act together or dad could get out of jail. I got to sleep in the same bed and be a part of the constant in the midst of the comings and goings.

Then at 15, I stole away to Haiti, on a teen missions trip, and spent a summer building a cement block building that would house some of the most beautiful orphan children I would ever see. And on our days off we drove into the small town nearby, all of our tanned, healthy, teen bodies clinging to each other in the back of a small pickup truck bed, a tour of the town actually translating into driving through dirt streets and seeing with our own spoiled eyes just how desperate some people’s living conditions could be.

I kept thinking it was a movie set. That these people left their comfortable houses with indoor plumbing and came to put on this show for us, the American teens rumored to be building a dormitory just down the road. So it would match the pictures we saw on TV, of how most Haitians truly lived and we’d go home thankful.

But it wasn’t a show. It was their life. From the day they were born to the day they died. Dirt floors. Tire scraps made into sandals. A toy made of old wire and a tin can. And smiles, bright happy smiles, on children who didn’t know any better. Nursed at their mother’s willing breast, then surrounded by other dust covered children who didn’t have much either. They survived and grew up to have their own chocolate colored children. And they didn’t know they should be angry at their circumstances.

So when Jeff and I were first married, and he was still in graduate school, I didn’t feel entitled to much. I was pretty content with the basics. A sturdy couch from the Goodwill that folded out into a lumpy bed on the rare occasions we had overnight guests. A few cans of beans sitting next to a small jar of peanut butter in one of the three kitchen cabinets. A reliable car in the driveway that got me to my parents house and back when the holidays rolled around.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have wanted more. I could have taught for a few years with my newly acquired teaching degree. I was very comfortable in front of a classroom. With one full time salary and his school loans we could have had a bigger apartment in a nicer part of town. We could have bought clothes that were in style. We might have visited a furniture show room and come home with something that was our own taste. But I had found my life partner and we had decided to start our family earlier rather than later, a decision driven by fear of lingering side effects from a birth defect that was a part of my history. And once that baby was on the way, I knew I’d do whatever it took to be home with her.

And from those days on we have never been rich. We’ve paid the bills and we’ve kept food on the table. And except for a few part time jobs here and there, on nights and weekends, I’ve been home with my babies. And I’ve been thankful. Slowly I came to see how the hand-me-downs have their place. The couch that sits in our living room today was purchased by my parents before I was born. I inherited it when my mom died and my dad moved on, and since it seems to be made of titanium and won’t do us the favor of falling apart, we can’t justify buying another one.

But it’s okay. Because we have the things that matter. Just ask any resident of Port au Prince or Santiago. We have to be thankful. We have food in our cupboards and clothes in our closets. My children are safe and warm. Our beds are covered in soft fluffy blankets. We are rich indeed. And I am thankful.

Warm Bed

I laid in bed this morning, trying to make myself sleep in (it’s the weekend, for goodness sake...) but soon realized I went to bed too early last night so it wasn't going to happen. I couldn't stop thinking about the people in Haiti and Chili. I thought about how so many of them who were left to wander the streets after the earth stopped rumbling, would give anything to have my warm, familiar bed.

I thought about how the little things in life, like this bed I know so well, that radiates the scent of me, my hubby, a nine year old who still likes to come cuddle in the mornings, covered by the comforter I picked out myself and love to wrap up in on cold nights, is all so simple, so basic, and yet so comforting. It would be one of the biggest things I’d miss if I were rocked out of my comfortable world by a sudden earth shift.

I click on the stories as they surface on my Yahoo opening page. But I cannot linger there. I see their pain, their suffering, their endless days ahead that will be filled with uncertainty and it makes me feel guilty about the simple pleasures I will enjoy today, and tomorrow, and probably, God willing, the day after that.

I guess I'm hoping that by thinking of them, by carrying some pain in my heart for them, they will somehow sense, from a thousand miles away, that someone out there cares. A mommy, wrapped up in clean, warm, dry blankets, is thinking of them. And cares.

Olympic Hopeful

Being the third of four children, Isaac rarely gets to be alone with me. He is my funny kid, with a dry humor that sneaks up on me every time. So far his first year as a teen has been pretty smooth (someone please knock on wood) and he still makes me laugh just about every day.

So yesterday it was a treat for all of us when Isaac ended up going on an errand alone with me, and as a bonus, dad came along too. Just Isaac and his two parents. He couldn't get over it and I couldn't get over how he still thought it might be a good thing to be seen alone, in public, with your parents.

On our way to the grocery store we passed a brand new fish place. There's an old building that sits on our main drag in little East Greenbush New York, that seems to be a different restaurant or ice cream shop every time you turn around. That's when it's not being a vacant, boarded up building, which seems to be how it spends most of its time.

So we decided to stop and try out this new-old place. I have to give credit to anyone who will try opening up a fish fry place in the middle of the long cold New York winter. We drove through the snow plowed parking lot, tromped through the slush of melting snow and entered the stark, but warm little place. We were not disappointed.

A couple of fish and chips baskets later, and some great conversation with our newest teen, and we were on our way to the discount grocery store.

I love it when I get help at the grocery store. You can imagine how much food gets hauled into this house on a weekly basis, when I am in charge of feeding two adults, three teens (and their revolving friends) and a rapidly growing nine year old boy. It's a lot of hauling of groceries...from the shelf to the cart, the cart to the conveyor belt, the bag to the car, from the car to the kitchen, from the counter to the get the idea. It's a lot of work.

So I welcome help. Especially help that makes me laugh.

We had made it halfway through the store when Isaac noticed the canned cat food. Our animals are lucky to get the good brand of DRY dog and cat food. I have never bought them anything wet (the treat for our dog is putting tap water in her kibbles). And the only reason they get the good brand of dry food is purely selfish on my part, so I don't have to visit the vet that often. My philosophy, based on nothing scientific, is 'healthy in, healthy out'. So far it's worked pretty well.

But this doesn't stop my Dr. Doolittle child from picking up a can of fancy cat food and putting on his 'please mama?' face. I have to admit, I got caught up in the moment. It was so fun just hanging out with hubby and this one easy going kid, that I caved. The "it's just sixty nine cents, mom!" argument won me over. I got myself a few peanut M&Ms every now and then...didn't the patient, loving kitty at home deserve a treat now and then too?

But just to cover my own butt, I had to add, "But you can only give him half the can at first. We don't know how he'll react to a different kind of food and I don't want to be cleaning up any messes."

"Oh.." Isaac says. And with a totally straight face he adds, "So who's going to be eating the other half of the can? If my name's on that list I'm switching my choice from salmon bits to tuna medley...."

It still makes me laugh, even as I type that sentence.

Then our second great moment came when we were hauling our load of groceries out to the car, through the slushy snow. I had lagged behind, checking out next weeks ad on the store window, and when I looked ahead to see my man and my boy with their grocery cart snow sled I couldn't figure out what Isaac was doing. He was half bent over in front of the cart, making a weird motion with his hands. I picked up my pace a bit, trying to find a clue to explain his behavior.

Finally I yelled out, "Isaac! What are you doing?"

He looked up, with that goofy grin, hands held out in front of him like they were holding some invisible stick, and said proudly, "Curling!"

He had been scurrying along in front of the grocery cart, imagining he was in the Olympics, sweeping his cart to victory. How do I deserve this child?

As we loaded the canvas bags into the van Isaac asked his dad how he'd done, with his curling form. Just as straight faced as his son, my hubby answered, "Great job, Son! You got the Silver Medal."

"But dad, I was the only one in the race...did someone else get disqualified?"

"No," replied his dad, "but later we'll discuss the difference between disqualified and unqualified."

It was the best shopping trip I've had in weeks.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Pleading for Precipitation

And so finally it came.

The snow we’ve been waiting for since the last leaf was raked out of the front yard. We are winter people. We love the things winter brings. The sledding, the snowmen, the skiing, and most of all the snow days.

That magical moment before the sun comes up when the first child to turn on the TV gets to scan through the school closings then leap in the air when ours is listed, rushing through the house with the big announcement. No worries about unfinished homework or sports uniforms that didn’t get washed in time. A free day that hardly feels connected to any calendar, to just hang out and enjoy 24 hours of time off.

We had many of them when we lived in Utah. Some years the spring thaw uncovered Halloween decorations that had been covered in winter’s white blanket for a full six months. There were plenty of snow plows in Utah but sometimes the snow just fell too quickly and we’d get a few magical days off from all school and work responsibilities. We knew we’d have the same kind of life in New York.

The first year we lived here there was plenty of snow - from November through March, with a few really big ones falling two weeks apart in February. There was so much snow that Jeff gathered up our kids and their cousins who were visiting from Georgia, and by the time my sister and I came back from our day exploring in New York City, they had a snow ramp built off the back of our garage. My warm climate nephews were sledding all right, right off the top of Aunt Judy’s garage roof, rocketing into the woods behind her house. Since the day they left our state they’ve imagined we live out our days surrounded by that kind of snow every day of the year.

But this year it has not come around as much as we’d like. Sure there has been snow. My family back in the Midwest has been pummeled by snow storms. Growing up in Missouri, we rarely had big snows and if we did, they came as one big storm in the middle of March. Kind of an end of season last hurrah. Christmas’s were rarely white. This year however, my Missouri nephews not only had snow for Santa, they’ve had snow days in almost every month since.

My sister’s teenagers in Dallas experienced the biggest snowfall their city has ever received. In a climate where they have been known to swim in their backyard pools in February, suddenly they had a snow day because nine inches of snow covered their backyard patio set. My sister never dreamed she’d ever see a snowman standing guard of her backyard shrubs.

And everyone knows about the huge storm that kept our friends in D.C. trapped indoors for a full week. They were going stir crazy as every snow day ran into the next and soon the stockpiled supplies had to be replenished. We watched the news of their storm with envy. We’ve had big storms like that and yearned for one to happen to us this year.

At first it seemed like we might get our wish. The forecast sounded promising. Two big storms in a row, packing as much snow as the D.C. storms, were headed our way. We got the first one, and the snow day that came with it. But then our big second storm fizzled out. To add insult to injury, the second storm didn’t bring snow, but rain instead. Keeping my kids inside, away from the opportunity to play in our newly fallen snow, and washing it away, one drop at a time.

I know from experience that winter is not over. This is New England. We could still get ‘the big one’ before bags of spring potting soil show up on the shelves of the home improvement center. So for now I will have to be thankful for the one almost big storm that did give us one grand snow day. I will cherish the pictures of giant snowmen who grew out of teenager excitement on the night the big storm started. And I will keep the snow shovels standing ready by the mud room door. Because maybe, just maybe, we aren’t finished using up those handy snow days that are so conveniently built into the school year calendar.

I’m ready for at least one more great snowman to stand in my yard before I pull out the trowels and plan spring flower beds.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Value of Video Games

One of the main reasons we moved from the West Coast to the East was my in-laws. Not just Grammy and Grandpa, but the three of Jeff’s four brothers who also live in New Hampshire with their families. We try to go there as much as we can, even if it’s just to hang out with these fun people we are related to. But sometimes they make it easy on us, and they come here.

This would explain the minivan filled with little people that pulled into my driveway last Saturday. Sam loves when this family comes to see us. Being the only little kid in our house full of teens, he loves these two male cousins, who are just about his age. Their little sister tags along in their play and gives him a temporary feeling of being the big brother for a change.

They piled out of the van, gave quick hugs to the grown-ups and quickly scurried up the stairs to our toy room. The adults sank into kitchen chairs and began to catch up on life and kids and family news. There was rumbling upstairs but we all ignored it and wrote it off as the good kind of chaos.

Then the inevitable happened. Trying to mix that many kids, with ages ranging from 13 to 4, is not without its hiccups. The cousins were playing fine. It was my kids who were struggling. Big brother pushed little brother’s buttons, just to show him who was boss, and little brother pushed back. Not something you’re proud of, especially when you’re entertaining company, but knowing that the ‘company’ was family, with kids of their own, I had to assume they understood. So we needed a new game plan, and maybe a little more supervision.

We called them all back downstairs and Jeff set up the new Wii game we got for Christmas. We started with boxing, then moved on to bowling and tennis. When keeping two players busy wasn’t entertaining enough for the crowd, we switched over to Rock Band. Fortunately our guitar collection has grown to the point where everyone who wanted an instrument could have one.

It was a huge hit. The little guys played the easiest settings alongside their older cousins, who played expert. The fun was in the thrill of feeling like a real band. There was much dancing, jiggling, gyrating, and bouncing. And there were a whole lot of smiles.

I have to give credit where credit is due. I never wanted any video games. I’m not a girly girl but there are some things I just don’t get about male interests. Video games fall into that category. I played Pac Man on a table top machine at a Pizza Hut when it first came out. I was fifteen. It was entertaining enough but I never understood why my fourteen year old brother seemed mesmerized by it and couldn’t get his dollars changed out to quarters fast enough.

Soon there was a place downtown called Pin Pan Alley. It was where all the teens gathered on Friday nights, the guys to be sucked into the rows of blinking video games, the girls to stand next to their machines, hoping to be noticed once Mrs. Pac Man was eaten by the hungry circle men. I hated that place. There were no overhead lights so it was hard to tell where your friend went once she walked more than three feet away, and the noise guaranteed a headache if you could stand to be there for more than a half an hour. But it’s where everyone hung out (boys!) so I suffered through.

We had the basic Atari game at home but Pong was so monotonous that even my brothers left it to gather dust after a few rounds. Then I was off to college and my grown up life. And I was sure I was done with video games for good.

Fast forward a few years and suddenly my house was full of little boys. Their daddy and I had many discussions about having video games in our house. I just didn’t understand the point. But he was male, obviously, and he loved the idea of another toy to enjoy with his kids.

We inherited an older system from my brother. The boys, and even my daughter, found much joy in the racing games that came with it. There was even a version of Frogger, the only game I ever played at Pin Pan Alley. I began to soften. But I still just didn’t get it. Had I been a single mom, I almost guarantee my boys would have had to go to a friend’s house to ever be exposed to a video game.

And now we seem to have more gaming systems (and games) than I can keep up with. A year ago Grammy, of all people, gave us our first Rock Band kit. Then Santa (at Grammy’s house) left a Wii system under the tree with my kid’s names on it. And now I’m finally getting it.

It’s not my favorite thing to do but I understand it’s value. When it’s too cold to go outside and the house is full of kids, whether they be little ones or big ones, the charms of video games are more than evident. It’s like an interactive board game where wiggly kids get to move around.

And what’s not to like about that?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lego Love

It's one of my favorite school memories...making the Valentine Box to take to school. I loved getting out the colored paper, paper doilies, glue sticks, and creating something special.

You would think we'd have had lots of opportunities to make boxes with our own kids but I guess the trends have changed. With all the school districts we've lived in, you'd think we would have had many chances to show our creative side in pink and red. But most years the kids have made them in class, as a group activity. About the end of January I look for the paper from school, some kind of hint that we might be in charge of it ourselves this year, but most years it never came.

Then it happened. Sam's in the third grade and it's the first time he's been given the task of making his own box, at home. We discussed it briefly and he already knew what he wanted to do. It wasn't a surprise. The kid has lived and breathed Legos since he was old enough to be trusted not to swallow them. (having two older brothers who are Lego crazy didn't hurt)

So when he said he wanted a "Lego Valentine Box" I had a clear mental image of what that meant. We'd go through his latest creations, take lots of pictures of them, then plaster them to the side of a nice sturdy cardboard box. Maybe I could convince him to throw in a red heart or two for good measure.

But Sam had other ideas. He rolled his eyes and patiently said, "No mom, I've got it covered.." and he disappeared upstairs. I worked the evening shift that night at the library and by the time I got home, he'd finished his creation.

His Lego Valentine Box.

Complete with red heart built into the side. Complete with pictures of his favorite dog in the world on the side. And complete with a full Lego Rock Band in concert on top. (big brothers helped create the tiny instruments, it all looked way too fun to let Sam do the whole thing).

He lugged it to school in a cardboard box this morning and by the time I showed up for the Valentine Party, he'd won "most detailed' in the Valentine Box Contest.

I'm thrilled that my boy got to know the fun of making his own box. His own design, his own ideas. Not some variation of what the whole class was doing as a group project.

It was one of my favorite parts of school and I'm glad I had the sense to stay out of his way so he could have his own experience. Because who knows if we'll get another chance to build our own box again. I mean 'who knows if he'll get another chance to build his own box again'.

Yeah, that's what I meant.

Frozen Pups

Sam went to the allergist last week to find out why he keeps getting pneumonia. It's somehow related to his asthma, which may be related to allergies. A big puzzle we're trying to figure out.

After being poked a kazillion times in his forearms he proceeded to pass out and have a small seizure type episode. Just a bit scary for his mother. He got a soda from the nurses out of the deal.

In the end we found out he's allergic to lots of things. He's never shown allergy symptoms (itchy eyes, runny nose) so I don't really know what this all means yet.

But the nurse went over the results with me as Sam sat next to me, listening very closely. He heard her say that he's allergic to dust mites and there are many things you can do to kill dust mites. Cover your mattress with plastic. Pull up the carpet and put in wood floors. Take down drapes and replace with blinds.

And put any stuffed animals you sleep with in the freezer. I guess it kills the dust mites better than any other remedy. So every morning Sam faithfully places his favorite stuffed dog in the freezer, to chill for the day.

And every time (every single time) I go to get ice, it startles me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie Madness

Last Friday we decided to have a movie night. Both big kids ended up being off with friends so it was Jeff and I with our two younger guys. We made the popcorn and piled on the couch. Even though I have a daughter who works at Hollywood Video AND I work at the library, where you can get FREE movies, we decided to get a pay per view movie. (long story, you don't want to hear it)

We flip, flip, flipped through all the choices and came down to three that looked promising. After voting and discussing for over 15 minutes, it was decided. We punched in the password and soon the latest Terminator movie was playing on our TV.

(yes, Arnold was in it (naked, with strategically placed smoke), which led me to wonder how he fit the filming into this busy schedule of being governor and all)

I don't generally 'get' these movies. Bourne Identies, Matrix adventures...I watch to admire the special effects and try to cling on to any dialogue that might suggest a story line. But I really really wanted to spend time with all 'my boys' who were home and on my couch, so I snuggled in for the long haul.

About halfway through I began to think about my sister in Dallas, who has three teenage girls and zero boys. I generally can't imagine the hormone cloud that must be circling their house and am thankful for my nest that is mostly lined with testosterone.

But Friday night I began to see one of the perks of having daughters. When the movie was paused for a quick bathroom break I just had to make one comment to my precious husband. It needed to be said, needed to be acknowledged.

"You know, sweetie," I said in my sweetest voice, "if we had had one boy and then three girls, tonight would have turned out very differently. Instead of me suffering through a Terminator movie, you'd be suffering through a perfectly lovely Jennifer Aniston flick."

The price you pay, the price you pay.

Side Effects

If I'm going to post more about life with one leg I have to tell you a quirky little fact about being sick. It took me a while to figure it out but I finally realized that almost every time my body is sick, with a bad cold, bladder infection, and recently, strep throat, my leg aches.

More specifically my stump aches. I used to go in to see my leg guy, thinking I needed an adjustment of some kind. But anything he did just had to be adjusted back once I felt better. Then it dawned on me.

When my body is low, fighting off some illness or infection, it somehow translates into the nerves in my stump. Like getting a headache when you're sick. Instead, I get a leg ache.

It doesn't help the situation, of course, because not only do I feel yukky in my body, but on top of that my leg hurts when I walk too. Just another way my body forces me to get the rest I probably needed anyway.

Okay, that's it. Quirk of the day. My strep throat from last week is gone so my leg is feeling good again. Off to the races of normal life....

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ups and Downs of Plastic and Titanium

I have recently realized that I don't write much about being an amputee on this blog. It is so much a part of my life, yet so little of it, since I generally get around pretty well.

But it occurred to me that I have a unique experience, living this life as a mom with one leg, so I am going to make more of an effort to share with you the little quirks that you might not experience, if you are living with two legs.

I like to dwell on the positive things in life but sometimes I need to share more of the struggles too. Just so you can understand a bit more what an amputee life is all about.

For instance, I use a shower chair, which makes the tub pretty crowded for my two legged family members. So not only do we have the usual 'discussions' in our house, about which way the toilet paper should roll, and whose job it is to put the toilet seat down, but we also have never really agreed about who should put the chair back when it's getting in the way of regular bathroom traffic. The person who stumbled over it? The person who last used it? (me). Just like the other issues, it usually just comes down to mom caving in and doing it. (I have to give him credit, Jeff is also good about moving it back, it's mainly the kids who think it's invisible, even if they've just tripped over it)

I only take off my leg at night, when I'm getting ready for bed. So I have to be strategic in the bedtime hours. I can't just 'hop up' to do some last minute chore that didn't come to mind until I was perched in bed. I either con one of the kids into it, hint like crazy until Jeff does it, or let it wait until morning. (most likely)

Putting my leg on is easy, and doesnt take that long, but it's just not convenient for a quick errand. I would equate it, in time and effort, to putting on your tennis shoes. So imagine that you are in bed and you remember you forgot to write that appointment on the calendar so you want to just pop over to the office and jot it down. Before you can do that, you have to put both shoes on, then tie them. (then untie them and take them both off when you get back to bed) Not a problem, just not worth the effort for a small chore.

Even getting up to go to the bathroom in the night is a gamble. When you wake up and realize you 'kinda' need to go, but are not desperate, if you knew you'd have to put on both shoes then tie them, would you do it?

One of the truly negative consequences of my limb situation happened this morning. At 5:30 a.m. I'd had yet another night with no sleep. On my third night of dealing with a nasty case of strep throat, I had hoped I could finally get a good nights sleep, since I'd started antibiotics the previous afternoon. No such luck. Another endless night of waking up every time I had to swallow. Another night of rolling around, never finding a comfortable spot, watching the numbers on the clock click by.

By 5 a.m. I realized I needed to go to the bathroom. Might as well, I thought, since I was awake anyway. I sat up, tried to moan quietly so I wouldn't disturb poor hubby's last minutes of sleep, then sat for a few minutes with my head in my hands, so frustrated that I still felt so crappy.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed, went through the motions of putting on my leg, then stumbled through the room to the bathroom. More quiet moaning with head in hands, as I did my business.

I stumbled back to bed, trying to be optimistic that I could get at least a half hour more of sleep before the day began. I reached down and pushed the button that, in normal situations, would release my leg out of the socket. Nothing moved. My leg was stuck on my body.

Having no energy or patience to deal with it, my first response was to just fall back on my pillows and sob. All I'd wanted to do was go potty and get back to bed. Ten steps, max, to the toilet and back. Not a big deal for most people. And on most days, not a big deal for me.

But for some reason, this morning, it became a big deal, because I could not get my leg off.

You might wonder why I didn't just sleep in my leg. I could have. And in my mental state, I probably should have. But it feels really confining when I'm in bed, not to mention it has a shoe on my fake foot so it catches the covers in an awful way. It's like you going to bed in hiking boots.

I hated to bother Jeff. I'd disturbed him enough in the past days of moaning and illness and although he's a very patient man, I don't like to bother him if I don't have to.

Of course he woke up and saw me struggling. Without one complaint he got up and came around to help me fix the problem. In the dark. At 5:30 a.m., on a cold NY winter morning.

I have to be honest. When he traipsed off through the living room to get my purse (which contains my leg repair tools) I let myself cry. Quietly sob a few times, then wipe my tears before he came back in the room. I knew it was just frustration. I was so tired. Bone tired. I was so irritated with being sick. I was so mad about not being able to eat for days on end, or feed my family, for that matter. The one night I had hoped to finally sleep had not come to fruition. Oh, and I am pretty confident I've been having what my doc calls 'pre-premenopausal' symptoms, so some hormones could have been playing a role.

But I have to be honest, it was one of the few times I got frustrated about having an artificial leg. I wanted, for just one day, to be able to get up and go to the bathroom without having to worry about my leg getting stuck.

The problem resolved itself pretty quickly but I'm afraid Jeff lost his last hour of sleep. He's a gem. He never complained. It's a part of his life as much as it's a part of mine. He deals with the consequences as much as I do at times.

So there you have it. One of the glitches I live with because I have an artificial leg. The next time you get up to take a quick tinkle in the night, and pad back to bed in your easy, sock covered tootsies, think of me. And appreciate the gift of having two feet.

It's Hard to Swallow.

It must be pretty obvious that a woman who only has one foot understands a thing or two about appreciating the little things in life. I see pictures in my amputee association magazines and posters on my prosthetist's wall and I am reminded how lucky I am.

I have two knees. The knee joint is hard to replicate in metal and in fluid gate. There is great stuff out there, new technologies are being introduced every year, but I feel very blessed that I have two real knees.

I have two arms and two hands. The intricate motions that fingers can make are even more difficult to replicate than the whole knee joint issue. Bend down and tie your shoe. Watch all the different ways your fingers have to move. It's so simple yet mind boggling. I'm thankful for my two increasingly wrinkled hands and how they never fail me in the tasks of my every day life.

So generally I walk around pretty thankful for life and parts that work. My leg guy is great and has provided me with a plastic leg and metal foot that keep up with me much better than my old flesh and bone set up ever did. I feel like I'm pretty in tune with gratitude.

Then this week happens. My arms still work, all ten fingers are great. My legs have given me no problems, they've been there when I've called on them for service. But sometime in the mid morning part of Tuesday I started to lose my ability to swallow.

That soreness and tightening in my throat seemed familiar enough. It meant a cold was coming on. I swear by a simple remedy. (ask my kids, I've drilled it into them) Start chewing up some Vitamin C tablets and get extra sleep. That's it. I swear by it. Sometimes it keeps my cold from coming on at all and the rest of the time I am convinced it turns a ten day cold into no more than three or four days of sniffling and sneezing.

So Tuesday I chewed up some Vitamin C and made an effort to get to bed on time. As soon as Leno was over I rolled over and turned out the 'just one more half hour show', I was fighting off a potential cold.

But the cold never came.

Wednesday I woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. No, I take that back. Tuesday night I never really went to sleep. Me, the one in our union who sleeps like a rock for eight hours every night, was awake just about every hour. The aching crept in and no matter how I turned, I hurt.

Wednesday was awful. Sam had an appointment with a lung specialist that would take six months to reschedule. I had to go. I convinced my kind daughter to be our driver because I was in so much pain I could hardly concentrate on our conversation, much less traffic rules.

We made it through the appointment, gleaned valuable info from a great doc about keeping my boys' lungs clear, and I went home to collapse in bed.

Finally, on Thursday, there was time for mom to see a medical professional. I got the kids off to school, called in sick to work, then laid in bed moaning until my one o'clock appointment time. I almost burst into tears as our doctor, who is also a great friend of mine, took one look at me, put her arm around my shoulder, and said, 'You should've come to see me DAYS ago.." Just that little bit of mothering almost put me over the edge.

She did the culture and made the diagnosis. "Your tonsils look TERRIBLE!" Classic case of strep. The kind that makes you feel like you've been hit by a mac truck. The kind that closes off your throat and rewards you with stabbing knives if you dare to even take one sip of water with a tylenol.

For four days I could not swallow. There was nothing wrong with my stomach. I was hungry. Very hungry. There just wasn't a way to get food down there. I smelled the meals that Jeff and the kids made, I just couldn't eat them. I craved a tylenol, just to see if it would take the edge off, but it was hardly worth trying to pass one through the knives. I didn't sleep for three straight nights because every time I'd doze off, I'd have to swallow, which involved clutching my throat, making a horrific face, and then saying "OwOwOwOwOw..." about sixteen times when it was all over.

Today, at 11 am, I started to feel a little bit better. Meaning I could stand up and walk around without moaning. The aches were almost totally gone by mid afternoon. I love the science of antibiotics. My throat is still sore but I have had a meal. It was hot and it was good and I only winced slightly every time I had to swallow. I am confident by tomorrow I will be feeling even more back to normal. Or as Sam said, when he walked through the kitchen and saw me upright, actually making dinner, 'Mom! You're back in business!"

So put swallowing on my list. That list of things you never think to appreciate. Gathering spit in your mouth, or savoring a perfectly seasoned bite of food, and letting it slide down your throat. Without fighting off the urge to scream out in pain.

The simplicity of swallowing. Let's give it the respect it deserves.

Now I'm off to go dig up a cool bowl of creamy strawberry yogurt...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another Big Kid Birthday

Not even three weeks ago I wrote about my sacred daughter and how her 18th birthday was so emotional for me. She had counted down the days to the big event and we all celebrated in an appropriate fashion when January 5th finally arrived. In contrast, her brother whose birthday is three weeks after hers, said not one word about his own approaching big day.

It was a giant calendar on my office wall and a call from Grammy, offering to come help us celebrate, that were my reminders. He went about his days as usual, playing video games and Rock Band, going to and from school, running track, bugging his brothers. You’d never have known he was turning 17 in just a few short days. No mention of what gift he might want, no discussion of whether he should have a party. He never even told me what kind of cake he’d like.

But that’s the kind of boy he is, and always has been. His style is to lay low in everyday life and shock us with the occasional surprise. His due date was Groundhog’s day, February 2nd. Instead he arrived early in the morning, on Super Bowl Sunday, just hours before all of our college friends arrived from out of town for the big party in our tiny duplex. His birth was quick and complication free so we were able to take him home just after Michael Jackson’s Half Time show, to meet all the people who had gathered at his house.

Then he just settled into the role of little brother and was the built in playmate for his just-a-bit-older sister. She set up the games and he played along. He was my sweet baby Michael, always with a smile. He was an easy going baby then a happy go lucky toddler. It wasn’t until big sister went off to kindergarten that he realized he could have his own friends and his own point of view.

He is my child who is never sick. In most of the places we’ve lived he would not have had a medical file if it weren’t for well checks and immunizations. Everyone in the family can have a cold, sniffling and sneezing around the dinner table, and Michael will be well, not a sneeze or fever in sight. It’s become a family joke that nothing is strong enough to take Michael down. With a few exceptions. When Michael has medical issues, he gets the weird stuff.

An innocent fall to the ground as he joked around with a friend at the bus stop resulted in a broken leg. Three months later, again fooling around with friends, he broke his arm in almost the same way. Then there was the case of chicken pox, that he didn’t tell me about until the day he complained about his ‘weird mosquito bites.’ It was the middle of January, no mosquitoes in sight. He was also the first in our bunch to get Lyme disease. Again, I would’ve never known if he hadn’t collapsed on the couch with the complaint, “I just don’t feel good, and my knees hurt..” Michael never felt bad, I knew something was up.

But in regular life, this is my sweet boy. He gives quick hugs in the kitchen as I make dinner and can turn my day around with his thousand watt smile. The teen years have had their speed bumps but most days I can still see my sweet, easy going, baby Michael, somewhere in those blue green eyes. His charming nature has enamored his aunts and his willingness to help keeps him in good graces with grandparents. The little cousins follow him like puppies when we are all together, because of his patience and quiet leadership skills.

I know we’re not done with the teen years and there is always potential for rough waters ahead. He is our first born son so the job of paving the way falls on his shoulders. His two little brothers watch him as he navigates these years and are learning just what mom and dad will tolerate and exactly what they won’t. It’s sometimes a tough row to plow and we are all learning along the way.

Michael was our only baby who came on his own time, not a tightly scheduled pregnancy, like his siblings. I have always felt like he was our bonus baby. I hadn’t planned to have our first two so close together, but God knew what he was doing. He knew Meredith was going to love having a brother who idolized her for the first four years of his life, and He knew that our other two boys were going to need a strong, quiet leader to be their role model. We had always planned to name our first son after Jeff’s dad, who died just months after we were married. When Michael came along , the name and the legacy fit him like a glove.

I cherish every one of my children for the distinctive things that make them so uniquely special. And as my first born son turned seventeen on Sunday, with little fanfare and just one request - a very chocolate cake - I am forced to face facts. He has just a year and a half left under my care. His growing up years seem like such a blur. He has sprouted up right under my nose but somehow flown quietly under the radar.

He was my gift on a Super Bowl Sunday, so many years ago. And I will never stop being grateful.