Monday, May 14, 2012

"Pain is a Reliable Signal"

(I am stealing this title from a high school classmate of mine who put out a very good album with the same name. You can listen here.)
On Friday morning, while he was packing for a trip to Duke to watch my sister graduate from her nursing program, my dad suffered a serious heart attack. He said that he felt perfectly fine one second and the next he felt a pain so excruciating that he knew he needed to get to a hospital immediately. This from a man who almost died in his own bed from pneumonia and pride. Twice.

We were lucky. My mom got him to the hospital quickly (though we learned that the thing to do is call 911 because the EMTs can begin treatment immediately en route) and he was able to get a stent placed immediately. It took a bit of testing to determine that he had suffered a heart attack; his initial EKGs revealed little at first and left my dad apologizing for the trouble he was causing the same hospital workers who, fearing he would not survive, were asking him about a living will.

My mom called me when I was on the road taking Andrew to school. The kids were listening to my side of the conversation. "Who is in the hospital?" Andrew demanded, and then added passionately, "It better not be Papa!"

Dad looked really bad when we got to the hospital to see him and the staff was predicting he would not be discharged until Wednesday. We even saw him eat a banana, which was truly alarming. He wondered at first what the heck kind of hamburger it could possibly be. On Saturday evening, Brigham and Agustin gave him a blessing. The next morning the doctor felt he had made huge improvement and could go home Monday. He looked perfect today, back at home, and he says he feels just as he did before the heart attack. He will undergo bypass surgery in a couple of weeks.

When we were in the hospital, (the boys donned their marine corp costumes from Halloween to rally him: "He will say, 'Oh, I am proud of myself, I am a marine!'" predicted Andrew happily as he got ready. It was totally their idea) I noticed the Wong-Baker Pain Scale.
My dad had reported an 8 on the pain scale upon admittance, which means that a normal person would have reported a 10. I obviously noted, because I am obsessed, how perfectly the pain scale analogizes to Motherhood, with the children substituting for pain, and realized that I am often at an 8 (children interfering with basic needs--sleeping and eating) and some other number, even 0, simultaneously. I thought about how it was lucky my dad's pain was acute enough to overcome his pathological insistence on avoiding aid of any kind. I thought about the panic I felt at possibly losing my dad. I kept thinking all day Friday about how much my life would change, how much I would miss him, how much my boys would miss him, if he were taken from us.

Papa is such a huge part of our lives. He loves his grandkids so much and would do anything for them--and basically does, the only exception being that he will not deviate from his daily 10:30 am brunch appointment at McDonalds, but he will invite any grandkid along and pay for their hot grease meal. (Post heart attack he is open to trying out Arby's or Wendy's; he suggested getting hotdogs at Costco on the way home from the hospital today. This is actually a positive evolution in the man who thought butter had protein (2001--we had to get out the nutritional label to convince him otherwise) and that rice was a vegetable (Andrew set him straight).) Even when the kids are causing me to register at a 10 on the Wong Baker scale, they somehow never seem to bother him (probably because any tendency to be annoyed is overpowered by a satisfaction and amusement in knowing that he can just look on while his daughters have to deal with it.)

From the reading of depressing poetry about bunnies caught forever in traps and men who will never recover from WWI to the ever-willingness to jump on the trampoline, go on walks, fail to rub in hugely excessive amounts of sunscreen slathered on your face, obsession with hamburgers and television and Civil War maneuvers and conservative politics, life would just not be the same without Dad.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

extemporaneous thoughts, with a little debbie downer mixed in for good measure

I have noticed a rash of people asserting that it is likely that there are animals out there that are smarter than people, but we just don't know it because we don't speak their language. Just to be clear, I am pretty pro-animal rights. I am not out there throwing paint on fur coats, but I am sorta on their side and I've donated to ACPA in my day. I do think that some animals are a lot more sophisticated than we ever knew (like elephants--they recognize the bones of their family members), but it just seems a little crazy to say that there are animals out there that are smarter than people. One guy on an NPR broadcast breezily asserted that octopuses would be ruling the world if it were not for their lack of opposable thumbs, and the interviewer was happy to learn that interesting new true information. This whole line of reasoning seems obviously wrong and crazy, and yet I keep hearing it nonchalantly accepted all over the place.
Porter is obsessed with "doing homework" all over everything. He calls it "EIEIO." It is horribly adorable and sometimes he desperately cries out in his sleep, "EIEIO!" I always wonder what, specifically, he is dreaming.

I realized today that I am in the ranks of annoying people whose needs will always escalate to match the resources. I will never feel I have enough. I am hoping that realizing this and admitting it will help me to correct it. Also, I think this revelation will be surprising to people who see me or my home or the interior or exterior of my car in real life. I definitely do not dress or carry myself like I have this affliction. The hunch of my shoulders under my dirty and wrinkled shirt as I slouch over to someone to file an awkward remark to a cheerful acquaintance does not scream "Materialistic!"
It is pretty unfair, if you think about it at all, isn't it?
Which reminds me: I am the Hester Prynne of drivers. While I am not responsible for the giant ugly "bonk!" (Porter's term) on the back bumper of the car, I deserve for it to be there. The shocked and dignified other mothers at Andrew's school have encouraged me to repair or paint the bumper, but I deserve to outwardly advertise on my car who I really am. I keep getting in these ridiculous accidents. I rear ended someone last week. I scratched the paint on two other cars in the last 6 months. I am really proud of myself for installing my own mailbox a few months ago, but I only had to do that because I backed over it first. I am Mayhem. Interestingly, the common denominator in each incident, besides me behind the wheel, was that I was driving in a city (DC or Baltimore) on the way to a medical appointment for Will. That is your cue to feel sorry for me. Oh, the other common denominator is that two of my victims have claimed physical injuries. I hope that the mills of God do grind exceedingly fine, because both incidents took place under miles per hour, and one had no car body damage at all. >
also, this really is how my kids are, too, so the photo is perfect.

Relatedly, I have realized that the joys of home ownership over renting have been greatly exaggerated in my own mind. I wish we were still renting, looking for The One. Buying a house really is just like getting married. If you buy a project with high hopes of renovations, or deluded fantasies that you won't notice or be bothered by the roar of traffic night and day coming over the freeway wall in your back yard since it has that cute kitchen, you will end up with buyers' remorse when you see too late other homes in your price range that had both. Fortunately I realized that I did not want to marry a project, but unfortunately I was a little desperate when it came to houses. (But I am a huge complainer since our house is great, I would never have thought I would have ever owned it and we are totally blessed to live here). The marriage-home buying analogy is possibly superior to the Parable of the Cave and I could probably write a dissertation on it.

Back before I had children, I thought that I would want to have that kid who can write his own talks and then read them flawlessly from the pulpit when he is in Kindergarten. The kid who is reading precociously in preschool and has other savant-like academic qualities. Of course, things like that are great. But I no longer am harboring desires to sculpt my kids into anything other than the best versions of who they just are. It is freeing to sort of drop out of that race, so to speak. They don't need to be geniuses; they need to be hard-working. They don't need to be the star of the team; they need to have good sportsmanship. I need to teach them to have good manners and be thoughtful and honest boys who live the gospel. I am starting with getting them to not jump all over people's couches within the first three minutes of entering their homes, and trying to find better responses when Andrew asks me, in the context of an argument over why he cannot watch tv on Sunday and his declaration that he would rather be undergoing strenuous testing at school than sit through church, how we even know we are worshipping the right God, anyway.
Relatedly, again, you will learn more about parenting from Cesar than from any other human on earth. Even Nanny Jo, and I am only slightly exaggerating.
I sometimes feel pangs of sadness that I never really did anything with my law degree, or other pursed with any seriousness my other ambitions. Having children can make it more difficult to pursue such things. But I also realized that if I watched less tv and went to bed earlier, the day would not be far off when I could organize myself enough to have hopes and dreams to pursue. I also realized, and this type of realization hits in the small moments, like today when I was jumping and peeing on the trampoline with my kids that they are the best, most important legacy I could ever have, the only thing that will really mattered that I have done, even if I were to find success in other parts of my life. Which I won't.
I gave Will another lesbian haircut yesterday. Brigham is now calling him Butch. I really need to post a photo, but this old one from his singular visit to the Hair Cuttery will have to do. This is what he was looking like, days ago. He has such cute hair and I always think I am going to do a better job than I am.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

where can we live but days?

"What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields."

I wake up each morning, usually late, with just a couple of goals in mind for that day: be firm but patient (I have a harder time with the latter); have fun with them.

I used to have many, many goals: Will must eat X number of calories; we must be to school by 8:50; I must exercise; X number of reading lessons for X number of minutes; well-groomed self and children . . . the list goes on and on and only gets more revealing and probably boring.

I am not saying that goals are bad things. It is important to be goal-oriented, I think, and I am, I think. It is also important that our goals be about things we can control (how can I control Will's caloric intake? Sort of a frustration-inducing goal, since I am not ultimately in control of that.) I guess I am only saying that I am finding that I accomplished fewer of the most important goals in service to the lesser ones (Good, Better, Best, anyone? That is suddenly coming to mind). We did get to school early more often than we do now, but I was almost never patient in the morning on those days. Sure, I still try to be punctual for school, and we usually are, but I am no longer going to make punctuality more important than keeping my spirit calm and happy (and those of my little guys, too!). Now when we are late, well, that's life and getting mad at myself or the boys isn't productive; (getting up earlier and having lunch already made is.) More broadly, when I seek to be happy with them, I find that I do more of the things that matter most, even down to prayer and scripture stuff. I am getting lost in the weeds of my thoughts here because I keep wanting to clarify and explain and hedge. So I will just stop. Take it or leave it, right?

Today was Wednesday, so I went to the library on autopilot for storytime followed by fun in the park. Since it is May, the Concert in the Park series is in full swing. Usually we are not in the park anymore by the time it starts up, since meals are so much easier at home, but we lingered for what was to be one song when we saw friends, and ended up staying for the whole thing. We got home after 1 and barely had time to get through a lunch session before having to load back up to pick up Andrew. No naps, no downtime of any sort, delayed lunch.

Porter, tapping his foot to the music.

But today it was worth it. I just couldn't bring myself to pull Will out of that park. He was so happy, dancing and jumping and playing with friends and meeting new ones. It was just kid rock, with even a little children's rap thrown in, but it may as well have been Mozart or something for the way it seemed to lift all of our spirits. It reminded me of how to be a good mom, what a happy day is supposed to be like, little things to do and make part of these years. Will was just so happy. When I put him to bed tonight, it was so nice to know that his day was filled with that kind of joy.

Not all our days will be filled with sunlight and music and dancing outside with friends, but when they can be, I'll grab them up.