Friday, April 29, 2011

Lessons from a 3 year-old

If you ever want to be here, now, take a three year old to the park.

Normally, shortly after getting home from work, I rehash my day and immediately begin thinking about what I need to do next to be ready for the following day... and then I wonder why it feels like work never ends. On Mondays, I do make the time for a yoga class with my favorite teacher (her name is Jen Yost and you should buy her book, Bring on the Joy! ), and I am reminded to try to be here, now. I seem to live in the past and the future, so being here, now is difficult. But with breath, movement, and funky sitar-filled music, I do.

It was Wednesday, not a day I'm normally able to truly be here, now. I was tired from a long day at work (freshman research projects, you know), but my friend's three year old son was waiting for me as soon as I got out of the car. "It's warm, Aunt Beff," he called. "Will you take me to the park?"

I'd taken a pass the last couple of times he'd asked me to go to the park with him and his dad, but his bright orange hair, which matched his bright orange Chucks, peeked out from under light blue engineer's cap that had been sized to fit his little head with a rubberband in the back. He held a blue basketball the size of his torso. He looked at me expectantly, and suddenly my desire to kick off my shoes and settle into the couch was replaced by a need to kick off my work shoes, slip on some flip-flops, and take this adorable creature to the park.

I'm so glad I did. Not only did I get to make good on a promise to my friend's son, whom I call my "nephew," but I got to forget about work and see the world through his eyes.

For instance, my "nephew" noticed that the boys playing basketball were half dressed. (Three-year-old, yelling: Hey, those big boys aren't wearing clothes! Me, more quietly: Yes they are; they're just not wearing shirts.). 

What else? Well, we:
  • Were greeted by a dog.
  • Watched the dog for a while.
  • Tried to guess what the dog's name was.
  • Tried to guess the age of the boys playing with the dog.
  • Made friends with a 4 year old boy and his 1 year old brother.
  • Found out that the dog's name was Luke.
  • Conversed about the state of education in this country. (Me to four year old: Wow, four years old, huh. Do you go to school? Four year old: Yes, I'm four.)
  • Closely examined the mulch, which was dry on top and damp underneath from the recent, record-breaking rainfall.
  • Discussed the value of taking turns and waiting until the kid at the bottom of the slide is off before sliding down on top of him.
  • Watched the rest of the four year old's family play basketball.
  • Watched as Luke the dog sniffed around the damp grass.
  • Noticed that the leaves in the trees were making a lot of noise.
  • Greeted my daughter, my friend, and her baby daughter.

Sometimes I was the spectator. For instance, he:
  • Climbed up steep stairs, stood on a metal platform, held the bars and jumped up and down to see how much noise he could make.
  • Took a slo-mo trip down the long slide, orange sneakers squeaking all the way.
  • Shared the slide with the four year old.
  • Raced the four year old from the bottom of the slide back around to the ladder. (Three year old, admiringly: Boy, he's fast!).
  • Stared into his sister's face.
  • Hugged his mom's leg.
  • Hugged my leg.
  • Held my hand as we crossed the street.
  • Let me kiss him on the keppie (head) without twisting away. 

When we got home, we ate dinner together, all of us tired from the long day and satisfied from our trip to the park. Later, as my friend's car backed out of my driveway, I realized that I had been there, then the whole evening. I hadn't groused about annoying things that had already happened. I hadn't fretted about things that were yet to happen. I was there, with my friends and family every single moment. It was amazing. 

I'll still be going to my amazing Monday evening gentle yoga class, and I'll still be working on breathing and other methods to try to live in the moment, but it's giving me a warm and fuzzy feeling to realize that the here and now is alive and well at the neighborhood park. All I need is my "nephew" to focus my attention.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I'm pretty new to the blogging scene.

Yes, some of my posts date back several years, but keep in mind that my blog was also private for a long time. You may ask, "What's the point of a private blog?" It's a valid question. The answer is, I have always needed to write; I just wasn't all that brave about it. Something about being on the far side of 40 has made me a bit more brazen.

Now that I'm all out in the open with my writing and blogging, I'm discovering so many amazing blogs and networks of writers, teachers, and otherwise interesting human beings. I'm also discovering things like blog-tags. 

I found this one on a great blog I follow called The Wordsmith Apprentice by Sophie Li, and it linked back to another great blog called A Still and Quiet Madness by Anita Grace Howard. 

Blog-tag works similarly to the way those "answer this question and then post this..." Facebook status updates work. Someone puts down some information about him/herself and invites others to pass it on. It's like viral status updates or notes. Blog-tag simply invites bloggers to partake in exchange for interaction and dialogue with other bloggers. 

I thought I'd give it a go.

So, with all due credit to Sophie Li and Anita Grace Howard, I present:

TAG -- Seven things you might not know about me

1. I have injured myself in ridiculous ways often enough that the emergency room staff has flagged my file. Whenever I land there, my husband and I are separated to verify my explanation of my injury, and I am asked, "Do you feel safe in your home?" I do. I'm just superbly uncoordinated.

2. When I was 14, I punched a fellow camp-mate in the nose for saying something absolutely true about one of my brothers. I cried afterward but it was entirely worth it. Only I get to complain about my brothers. 

3. I read Stephen King's short story "The Boogeyman" as a child, and I still cannot sleep with the closet door open, especially just a crack.

4. You know that fake, yellow "cheese" that comes out of a machine and goes on nachos? The kind I tell my students never to eat? I love it. I don't eat it often because I fear it will turn my innards to plastic, but I love it. 

5. Marzipan is my favorite candy.

6.  When I was in 6th grade, my Hebrew school class walked over a convenience store between classes one evening, and I stole a Blow Pop. I haven't enjoyed one since.

7. One of my favorite books of all time is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. I laugh and cry out loud when I read & re-read it.

It's your turn now.

To participate, post your 7 things on your blog and then leave me a comment/link below so I can read them. Don't forget to extend the invitation.

I'm heading back to Sophie Li's and Anita Grace Howard's blogs to let them know I've joined the game. 

Don't leave me hanging now.... You're IT.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

WAITT (#3): Parking Lots, Pt. 1: Drivers

Welcome back to the series that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you. 


Today we take a short walk from the grocery store to the parking lot... any parking lot. Drivers seem to view parking lots as free-for-alls, but the rules don’t suddenly fall away because the pavement got wider, folks.

Signs, speed limits, and no parking zones apply to everyone.

You know those painted lines and signs all over parking lots? Guess what... they’re not philosophical artistic whimsy. They are intentionally painted and placed, and all of us are expected to pay attention to them. All of them.

The threat of being towed or cited keeps people from parking in fire lanes too often, but the general consensus is that other painted lines are optional.

For instance, the rows in parking lots are indicated by columns of painted rectangles. Those rows function like lanes. See, it’s easier to predict what traffic is going to do when there are lanes and drivers aren’t cutting across parking lots in squiggly lines and wide arcs of indeterminate angle. Pedestrians and other drivers know where to look if everyone drives in lanes. Those squiggly lines and wide arcs make it tough to judge. When multiple drivers decide to forge their own paths through traffic, things get dicy. Clearly, most people have cut across a row or traced their own loops through uncrowded parking lots, but do so very carefully, keeping in mind that drivers who are in actual lanes have the right-of-way because they’re following the rules and you’re not.

Speed limits are important, too. I know they seem impossibly slow, but consider how many opportunities there are for another car to back up or zip through a lane. How many drivers are simultaneously pulling in and out and driving up and down and turning here and there. Parking lot speed limits are low so that drivers have time to stop, which they have to do pretty regularly. There are also pedestrians to think about.

A friend of mine recently came out of a shop with her two young children. She balanced her  2 year old son on one hip and held her 5 year old daughter’s hand as they stopped and looked to see if it was safe to cross. It seemed to be. No one was in the lane that crossed in front of the shops, there was a stop sign (a real, bright red, city-posted stop sign) on the corner, and a 15 mile an hour speed limit. But as they stepped off the curb, a truck came zooming around the corner, blowing through the stop sign, rounding the bend, and gunning it. My friend reacted instinctively, jumping back and pulling her daughter with her... hard enough that she lifted her daughter off the ground. As her daughter’s feet cleared the street, the truck blasted through. Lest you think she exaggerated, let me explain two things.

#1 - An onlooker was so outraged at what had just almost happened that he briefly chased the truck, screaming at the driver, “You almost killed that kid! Slow the f*@& down!” before turning to my friend and asking, “Oh my god, lady! Are you okay?"

If we were in my home state of New Jersey, that wouldn’t mean a whole lot, as we tend to be a vocal lot, but out here in Central Pennsylvania, a bystander chasing a moving vehicle while hurling warnings and obscenities is almost unheard of.  The only other case I’ve witnessed around here involved me chasing down and leaping onto a moving car that had blown past flashing school bus lights as kindergartners piled on to the bus. That, though, is a story for another day. 

#2 - A few moments later, after my friend had staggered into the nearest shop, a Starbucks, and collapsed into a seat, her daughter looked up from her hot chocolate and said, “I’m really glad I didn’t die, Mommy.” Yeah. Even the 5 year old knew it had been a close one. It took a little while before my friend was able to get up and get the kids across the parking lot to their car without shaking.

What does this have to do with you? You need to understand that your tardiness or impatience does not entitle you to endanger others. Slow down. Stop at stop signs.

This brings us to another rule:

Yield to pedestrians.

As long as they are not jumping out of speeding vehicles from between parked cars, pedestrians have the right of way. (Don’t worry, pedestrian sins will be covered in Parking Lots - Part Two: Pedestrians.)

The goal here is to let people walk in and out of stores without being run over. It’s like I said before; it doesn’t matter that you’re in a hurry. We’re all in a hurry. Let the lady with the cart of groceries pass. That’s why there’s a stop sign in front of the crosswalk.

I used to get very annoyed, waiting for multiple cars to blow past the stop sign and crosswalk while my grocery-laden cart and I waited for a break in traffic. Then one day I realized - this cart weighs a ton. From then on, if it’s just me and my cart, I wait until it’s my turn (not until someone deems it my turn), and I go.

The pedestrian rule doesn’t just apply to cross-walks and hard-and-fast traffic laws, either. Be a decent person. If it’s raining and you’re in your car, warm and dry, be decent. Let the person standing out there getting soaked to the skin cross, even if you have the right of way. 

Give people space.

If there are two parking spots, don’t pick the one directly next to the person trying to get his kids and their belongings into his car. You can walk the extra few feet. If you can’t, you should have no trouble obtaining a handicapped parking tag so you can park in wide, designated parking spots

I suppose this rule applies even when there aren’t two parking spots. You shouldn’t be honking at a grandma who is struggling to figure out how to get her grandson out of his car seat, and she shouldn’t have to squeeze herself between the door and the car, her grandson howling, as you pull into that particular spot. In most cases, there is another spot for you somewhere. Find it or be patient (see parking rule 2 for more details).  

Wait your turn. 

If someone is obviously waiting for a parking spot, don’t zip in because you have faster access from the other side.

And if you are waiting for a spot and see someone get in her car, wait patiently. Do not rev your engine aggressively, honk, or call out the window, “C’mon, already!” That’s her space until she chooses to leave it. Besides, maybe she’s not leaving yet. Maybe she’s come out to find her purse, which she’s left in the back seat. Maybe she’s waiting for someone. Maybe she doesn’t like the way you revved your engine at her as she closed her door. Who knows? Chill out and wait your turn.


You've heard my take on how to drive in a parking lot as if you share it with others, which you do. What's your take? I know you've got opinions about these things, people. Comment and turn this rant into a dialogue. 

And I repeat: we're all in this together. Act that way.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Merry Monday

Yes, I'm absolutely merry on a Monday. It's unusual, but I'm going along with it.

The response to my last post, "I Don't Say This Lightly," featuring the work of a former student, and the  two previous posts (in the "We're All In This Together"[WAITT] series) has been fabulous. I'm hearing from people all over the US and beyond, and I seem to have hit a nerve with the WAITT series. This is fine by me because I am enjoying writing the things I hold back in person. Usually. I'm from New Jersey, after all. Occasionally something slips through the filter.

Meanwhile, there are 34 days left to our school year (no, I'm not keeping track--several people told me this, unsolicited), I'm knee-deep in freshman research projects, cyber-summer school looms on the horizon, and my muse keeps whispering in my ear way too late at night. I shouldn't complain about that one. It's lovely not to have to seek her out. 

Much of my writing has been about my childhood, so expect a poem or two since that's where those memories seem to settle. I'm working on the next installments of WAITT, too, though, so you won't have to WAIT too long!  (Sorry - I had to do it. It's my blog and I'll pun if I want to.)

In the meantime, it's nearly yoga time, so I'm off to stretch, breathe, and shuffle some prana.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Don't Say This Lightly

One of the negative sides of being an English teacher is that I have to force kids to write. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, research papers... even poems, and most kids fight it the whole way.  Every now and then, however, I have students who like to write. I always encourage these kids to keep it up, to express themselves, even if their writing shows very little sign of voice, talent, or individuality because I think it's an important outlet. Besides, who am I to be the sole judge of their talent?

The frustrating ones, though, are the reluctant writers who have that thing. You know that thing. It's voice, it's talent, it's individuality, and it all clicks together, audibly, in the writing they care about. When that happens, I share this with the student. "You are a writer," I tell them. 

I had a teacher in 9th grade, which was in the junior high school back then, I think her name was Miss Andrews (it's been several decades!), who took me aside one day and told me, seriously, "You are a writer. I can hear it in your writing, even if your handwriting is shameful." I already knew that I was a writer and had horrible penmanship, but her endorsement make me feel like I'd been selected, knighted even. So when I tell a kid, "You are a writer," I never do so lightly.

Several years ago I had a student called Dan Whitely. He hated writing. His formal writing was hit or miss, largely because he didn't really give a crap. Every now and then, though, when he was trying to be a smart ass, and he's been a champion smart ass at least since his freshman year of high school, I'd catch a glimpse of that thing. He didn't care. It wasn't his thing, you see. Science was his thing, and he didn't see that one didn't exclude the other. 

When it came time to pick a college, he very happily told me that he had chosen a program in which he would not have to take an English class. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was going to be writing, writing, writing regardless of that, but I did groan and chastise him for running away from writing. "You've got voice," I told him. "You're a writer."  "No," he said confidently, "I hate it."

I think this is why he tagged me on his latest Facebook note - a beautiful poem that made me literally cheer and post, "Ha! Double HA! I love that I was right about you and writing. Beautiful!" I love being right about these things, and I couldn't be prouder of him.

Therefore, with his permission, I present to you, "The Likes of Angels" by Daniel Stephen Whiteley, who swore up and down that he wasn't a writer, he was a scientist. As you will see, he is surely both. Author bio follows poem:

"The Likes of Angels" by Daniel Stephen Whiteley

Far above, the likes of angels,
from departed souls they fly,
alight then with a band of friends
and take their place amidst the sky.

Each blessed before they start to shine,
bestowed with honor, tact and might,
awarded with a place of power,
trusted with the gift of light.

Shinning with the light of lifetimes,
clad in robes divine and white,
bathing us in faith and virtue,
from the rafters of the night.

Dan Whiteley graduated from York Suburban High School in 2008 and is currently pursuing a bachelors in Astrophysics at the University of St. Andrews in Fife Scotland. After graduating he hopes to work as a high school level science teacher in southern Africa.

Friday, April 22, 2011

We're All In This Together (#2)

Welcome back to the blog that reminds you that there are other people in the world, and they’re just as important as you.

An increasing number of people operate as if they are, indeed, the only person in the world, and it seems to be more and more acceptable. But guess what? It’s not, and this big-mouth is going to break the code of silence surrounding acceptance of rude behavior. Ready?


In the first installment of “We’re All in This Together,” I touched on basic rules of behavior in the grocery store, but there’s much more to public awareness in than basic cart maneuvers and line choice. Let’s revisit the grocery store, shall we?

Previously established rules:
  • Keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.
  • Lines are there for a reason. Take turns.

Before I move on to etiquette once you reach the register belt and cashier, I need to make one more comment regarding line choice. 

The 10 items or less rule applies to everyone, including you. 

I’m not trying to be a jerk about this. If you think you have 10 things and it turns out you have 12, nobody except a real stickler is going to care. But if you know you have more than that, choose a different line. The rule does apply to you.

Furthermore, if you’re going to be a selfish clod and ignore the rule, own it. More than once I’ve seen adults turn to the people behind them and say things like, “Well, 10 of one thing is one thing, right?”

No. It’s not. And it’s not cute, either. It’s selfish and stupid, so please don’t attempt to win other customers' support. Your comment only indicates that you are fully aware that you are over the maximum and don’t care.

It doesn’t matter if the other lines are really long. The 10 items or less lane is to help people with only a handful of items get out of the store more quickly. Your deciding that the rule doesn’t apply to you inconveniences others and announces, “I don’t deserve to be inconvenienced--you do.” I beg to differ, and if you attempt to pull me into the conversation, I will be quite clear on this.

All right, we can move on now. I feel much better.  The overreaching code of conduct at the belt and cashier is that, keeping in mind that there are other people not just on the planet but also in the store with you, you should attempt to be expedient. Specifically...

If you are going to write a check, please don’t wait until the cashier and/or bagger are done.

Chances are you know the name of the store you’re in and that you’re going to need to sign the check. It’s okay to do these things before you know what your total is going to be. It is unlikely that someone will randomly run up to you, grab the semi-completed check out of your hand, and flee while planning how to empty your bank account. Most stores also require identification to take a personal check, so don’t wait until the last possible second to fish around in your bag for yours.

Put your mobile phone away.

Yes--away. The absence of your phone will help your physical ability to do what needs to be done and keep you focused on checking out. For instance, you will be better able to load your groceries from the cart and onto the belt with two hands.

This does not mean that you should attempt to hold the phone between your ear and your shoulder while you make the transfer, either. It takes a very coordinated person to do this, and chances are you’re going to move much more slowly than you would sans phone or you’re going to drop the phone. If that happens, you’ll have to stop unloading your groceries, fish around under your cart for your phone, and then stand there stupidly saying, “Hello?” If the phone isn’t dead, you’ll have to take a moment to giggle and tell the person on the other end, “I just dropped you! I know, right? I had to fish around under my cart, but you’re still on! Hope that didn’t hurt! Haha!”

The rest of us will be hoping that your phone is dead--for a variety of reasons, some more mean-spirited than others. If I am behind you, for example, I will be picturing myself doing aggressive things like picking up the phone and telling you I’ll hold it until you’re done checking out, kicking the phone under the candy display and out of your reach, stomping the phone to bits, or bashing my cart into yours while you’re lying on the floor. I will do none of these things, but you should be aware that those ideas, culled from a larger lot, came to me instantaneously and not all fellow shoppers will have this restraint.

Putting your phone away will also enable you to do things like, acknowledge the cashier and provide him or her with your frequent shopper card, help bag the groceries, and pay for your purchase. Cashiers say the same things over and over, “Do you have your Giant Rewards card? Is plastic okay? Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you wish to make a one dollar donation to the March of Dimes?” They should not have to repeat any of these things to you because you are on the phone discussing something that could likely wait five minutes.

As a side note, please be polite to the cashier, even if he or she is cranky. You don’t have to have an entire conversation. In fact, please do NOT (that could be its own rule). But it’s the right thing to do... and happy cashiers will move more quickly than ones who want to inconvenience you as much as possible because you’re on the phone or rude.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Making of "We're All In This Together"

The other night, I tweeted the following:

Attention shoppers: Please keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.

Most of my tweets go unnoticed, but this one attracted immediate attention because it touches on a much larger issue--people increasingly fail to acknowledge that they are not alone in this universe! 

Matt Hunter, Editorial Director of Zouch Magazine, enjoyed the tweet and suggested that there was room for expansion there. I agreed, said I'd already begun, pointed him toward some of my earlier posts (Three [Simplified] Rules for Attending School Performances and the original Three Basic Rules for Attending School Performances), and began making lists.

It's been super busy, and I haven't had a whole lot of time to write (freshman research season, you know), but I thought I'd briefly revisit the "how to behave in a grocery store" idea to give you a taste of what's coming and try to build some momentum. I think I'll call this series "We're All In This Together."

So, here we go:

Attention shoppers: Please keep your cart to the right so others can pass by while you study canned peas, which are a bad idea, anyway.

If you made it to this suburban store, chances are you drove here and are familiar with the concept of staying on your own side of the road. The same applies when you're pushing a shopping cart. When you park yourself in the middle of the aisle, other people (yes, other people) cannot pass by.

Most of us are not there window shopping; we're there to find what we need and get out. We do not want to wait three minutes while you study the nutritional information on the side of canned vegetables or breakfast cereal, or while you calculate whether it's financially sound to by the "family size" brownie mix. We want to keep moving, get what we need, and get on with our lives.

We all forget to pull our carts over sometimes. It happens. But when people are lined up on either side of you, it's not because we want your autograph. You're blocking the aisle--get out of the way.

Attention shoppers: Lines are there for a reason. Take turns.

It's happened to all of us. You're standing in a long line at the grocery store, when the light comes on in the aisle next to you. However, before you know what's happened, three people who had not even been  on line race over and clog up the newly opened lane. 

I know that some people feel that an open lane is fair game, but I disagree. Think about what that says to the folks who have been standing there for ten minutes while their ice cream melts. Were they not on line already? Does it not count because they weren't on that particular line? And more to the point, is your time so much more valuable? What are you rushing off to do that's so much more important than what the rest of us have going? I doubt highly that you're not (basically) cutting the line because you've got to pay for your frozen broccoli on your way to do an emergency heart transplant.

Even my kids know that when a new lane opens up, you do the decent thing: give the people who have been waiting longer than you if they'd like to scoot over to the new lane. They aren't cheating or getting away with anything if they change lanes. They've done their time already. 


There's more to come, but I just looked at the time (I love that it flies when I'm writing) and realized that if I get offline now, I can get almost six whole hours of sleep before my alarm goes off and another day begins.

But check back. I love to vent about the condition I like to call "hedupyerasis,"  and now I've got people encouraging it. That's all the invitation I need.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Share My Urgency... No, Wait - Don't!

I've played this game enough times to know that as long as a doctor begins a conversation by looking me in the eye, I'm probably going to be fine. When the doctor starts speaking to me while he or she examines a lab report or scribbles in my chart, I know something potentially bad is coming. The same is true about pediatricians. Eye contact is a good thing.
This is why, when my son's pediatrician looked me in the eye to tell me that the one tonsil was still hugely swollen, that some lymph nodes were involved, and that he was ordering some blood tests, my alarm bells did not go off.

"It could be a number of things," he told us. "Nothing to worry about."

In retrospect, though, I should have noticed the other indicator that a doctor is worried--urgency.

That was on Friday afternoon, and we were told to go immediately to the lab with the quickest turn around time to have blood drawn. We did. Saturday morning the office called to say that the blood tests showed nothing. They said to call the office first thing Monday morning to get set up with an ENT, emphasis on first thing. That's when the alarm bells started ringing.

My husband's alarm bells had alerted him to a potential problem as soon as I told him about the lymph nodes, but enlarged lymph nodes can be caused by all manner of things and are not, on their own, cause for alarm.  "It's going to be nothing," I told him.

After that phone call on Saturday morning, though, I started to wonder. Why the rush? Anyone who's been on a medical odyssey knows that the hardest part isn't getting bad news; it's the snail's pace with which the medical system works. Need a referral to a specialist? Want a test done right away so it's clear what to do next? Plan on a flipping a little further through your date book (or phone) to check dates two or three weeks from now. The "test on Friday, results on Saturday, referral Monday morning" thing was disconcerting, so I did what any self-respecting person would do. I went looking online.

Now, I realize this can be a stupid, stupid thing to do (I once convinced myself that the twingy pain I had in my leg was Deep Vein Thrombosis and I was going to end up dead from a blood clot to the lung... it turned out to be just a weird twingy pain), but done right it can be educational and helpful. My checking it out was a little of both.

I'm an excellent online researcher. I don't stick to WebMD or (heaven forbid) Yahoo forums. I find the right terminology and go see what the professional journals have to say. In case you were wondering, the proper way to say that your kid has one swollen tonsil and some enlarged lymph nodes on that side only is "unilateral tonsillar hypertrophy with lymphadenopathy." Apparently, it's not that swollen tonsils are alarming. It's that only one tonsil and the lymph nodes on that side are enlarged. That's when they start needing to rule out lymphoma.

But that's the problem with going online, right? You start with a puffy tonsil and end up with cancer. I turned off my computer, stopped researching such silly long-shots, and tried to remain calm for the rest of the weekend. The key word is tried, but that Sunday I forgot my mother's birthday for the first time ever (daughter-of-the-year, no?), so apparently trying to be calm is different than being calm.

On Monday morning, I called the pediatrician at about 9:00. The office didn't open until 8:30, so I figured that was pretty close to first thing. When I called, they put me through to their scheduler who informed me that they'd already made an appointment for that Wednesday with the ENT.

More urgency. How did they even get through so quickly? I tried to keep it together, but the first free moment I got, I hopped back online and did some more research. Now, before you criticize and say I brought this upon myself, let me explain that I went looking specifically for information that would de-emphasize the lymphoma worry. Unfortunately, the consensus seemed to be that the only responsible way to treat unilateral tonsillar hypertrophy with lymphadenopathy was to excise and biopsy the tonsils.

In my head, the visit with the ENT doctor went like this:

The doctor looks at his chart and examines him, nodding his head as he does so.
"Ah," he says, looking us right in the eye, "This looks like (something I've never heard of). We'll send him for a blood test to confirm, but we'll start him on an antibiotic in the meantime - fix him all up."

"That's great," I say, leaning forward in my seat, "But don't you think we should excise and biopsy them to rule out big scary stuff?"

He nods. "We will have to take those tonsils out eventually, but let's get that test to confirm the (thing I've never heard of) and see him back after the course of antibiotics before we worry about that."

"Is that advisable?" I ask. "The medical literature clearly indicates that excision and biopsy are necessary with this presentation. I'd feel better if we got that ball rolling."

The scene fades away there, with the doctor being responsible but laid-back and with mama-bear pushing for a more proactive approach. In my experience, medical professionals never share the patients' urgency, so I was prepared to push.

Here's how the visit on Wednesday evening really went:

The doctor looked at his chart and examined him.

"Hmmm," he said, putting down his tongue depressor. "I'd like to put a scope up your nose and down your throat," he told my son. "You up for that?"

The scope came out, went in and up and down, and the doctor said, "Hmmm."

The scope scope came up and out and away, and the doctor said, "Hmmm."

The doctor's fingers worked busily around his jaw and neck, poking, comparing, first on both sides, and then on just the one side. They rapidly worked down his neck to his collar bone, to the right, to the left. Then they stopped. Moved right again. Poked and squeezed.

"That hurt?" he asked my son.

"No," my son said.

"Hmm," the doctor said. He stopped examining him, turned back to his chart, picked up his pen. As he scribbled in his chart he said, "We're going to need to excise and biopsy those tonsils. Sooner rather than later. My next surgery date is on Monday. We'll do it in the morning."

My husband and I looked at each other. It was responsible and followed the exact protocol I'd read about. It also scared us senseless.

What happened to the part where I had to convince the doctor that this was urgent? In no part of my scenario did the doctor, without hesitation, book him for his next surgical day. Nothing happens this quickly around here. I was simultaneously relieved and terrified that I didn't have to push for this.

It seems that I wanted the doctor to share my urgency until he truly did. But there we were, getting the paperwork set and discussing the reasons we needed to do this.

The weekend passed semi-tortuously. Our son was off to a youth group convention (which he'd been anticipating for three months), and our daughter was busy both Friday and Saturday evenings. Their social lives have eclipsed ours, obviously. This meant that there was no monotonous chauffering to keep my mind off of the impending surgery and biopsy.

Still, I managed to keep busy. Maniacally busy. Scarily busy. Please get me a glass of wine right this very second or I am going to spin out of control busy.

I hadn't gotten the chance to use my energy pushing the doctor to share my urgency, and it needed to go somewhere. My main target was the pit that my son calls a room. I spent an entire afternoon cleaning, sorting, doing laundry, and saying, "Oh, my god. What the hell IS this?" I'll spare you the details, but I had three teenage brothers at the same time and I had never seen anything like this. Open, half-filled soda cans in the nightstand drawer? What?

I picked up my son from his trip, and he began getting nervous immediately. The weekend was over, surgery was on the horizon, and the possibility of cancer loomed large in his mind. Luckily, the sight of a floor in his bedroom shocked him out of it for a while. Meanwhile, I just kept moving because any time I stopped, I remembered the doctor's urgency and the feeling of drowning gripped me.

There is fabulous news at the end of this story, by the way.

It started with my son handling the surgery well (though he's still recuperating and is as bored as you'd imagine a housebound 14 year old to be). It continued when the tonsillectomy, anticlimactic in its brevity--a mere 15 minutes long--yielded great news: his tonsils were less asymmetrical than they'd appeared. This meant we could take the "unilateral" out of that horrible medical description, and without the "unilateral" part, there wouldn't have been the terrifying urgency. This finally led, a stunning three days later, with a phone call from the doctor's office: the pathology report was clean: no cancer.

"Whew," one of my colleagues said upon that news, "Somebody pushed that through quickly."

She's right. I'd always been fearful of the no-eye-contact conversation, but it turns out that it's even more terrifying to watch doctors worry enough to move with lightening speed (I've sighted a few new gray hairs I'm going to blame on this experience). But it was that shared urgency, which I'd desired and then cursed, that had moved us so rapidly toward a glorious happy-ending.

So, here we are, just a couple of weeks into this saga, and instead of still pushing doctors to share my urgency, I'm busy pushing my son, my baby, to eat ice pops to soothe his painful but cancer-free throat. (Can I get an amen?)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I Sat on the Deck Railing

Here's another poem in the series I'm writing about my childhood home. Actually, it seems to be developing into a series about my childhood, though everything is linked to that awesome blue split-level.

It's still hugely cathartic. This one turned a sad little weight into a victory for me. It's still in progress, but here is goes:

I Sat on the Deck Railing

I sat on the deck railing before school that spring morning.
The air felt like it was not there, just
Scents of new grass and possibility,
Sun on my skin.

Lingering on my way to school, noticing my breath, I
Shocked myself with an urge to walk past Wilson School and
Into the day. No rule-breaker at 10, I
Let that drift through my mind like a cloud.

The cool darkness of my school’s
Cavernous foyer, vast and formal,
Engulfed me.
Steep stone staircases lined each wall,
Another wider, shallow one straight ahead.
Old-school school.
It was not beautiful to me then, while
Spring beckoned through wide wooden doors, and I
Grieved that I could not grasp that perfect morning.

Yet here it is in my head at 40,
Tactile snippets from my backyard, my slow trek,
The plunge from the sensuous morning into the cinder-block
Reality of school.

Where is everyone else?
At home my three brothers,
My mother must have scrambled about.
Gangs of kids surely lined the sidewalks en route to school.
Voices undoubtedly echoed riotously off foyer walls, but
They are gone.

Three decades later, I stop grieving and find
I’ve won. I’ve kept only the gist,
The perfection of that spring morning:
Weightless air, scents of a world reborn,
Serenity of a solitary moment in my old backyard.