Vibing

Most mornings this summer, I’m up with the birds. In order to be on time for the OR, Bernie often needs to leave the Cape by 5:15am. This means Bernie’s alarm is set at 5:12. So I groan out of bed, assemble some sort of sad breakfast he eats over the sink, hand him an overlarge travel mug of coffee, and kiss him goodbye. Because he voluntarily extends his daily commute by 3 hours to see me (us), it feels a bit unfair to go back to bed after he pulls out of the driveway. So, I’m up with the birds.

The 4th was Bernie’s birthday, and you know, America’s. Summer birthdays cannot be beat, and when yours lands on the 4th of July, even better. Every year we say the fireworks were the best we’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because everyone is a 5 year old under fireworks. This was the first year I noticed everyone standing with hand over heart for the national anthem. Here, in Massachusetts, where every other Prius still endorses Hillary and encourages us to Resist, citizens are concerned and angry and fearful and waiting out another two years, but we still love this land. Maybe we still love each other. Or maybe it was the little kid anticipation of a past-your-bedtime light and sound show. But we stood: proudly, reluctantly, defiantly, impatiently, or resolutely, but probably as some sort of mixed cocktail of these.

The 4th of July feels like the true start of summer here in New England. It’s finally hot. The light lasts so long that dinners are delayed. More lingering happens. I forget to check door locks, read emails, and check toothbrushes for signs of use. My boys, however, are acting like Labor Day is right around the corner and are trying to fit in a gazillion activities and movie nights and sleepovers before that friend goes to camp, or that one to visit relatives, or the other kids to pre-season sports practices. This year, in particular, my boys are very keen on time.

In response, these boys are begging us to let them be. It’s easy for me: they want to be at my house. But for the other moms also trying to make summer memories (and prevent cavities), fetching their boys from the Lee’s to drag them home might be a bit exasperating. Mostly, we let them spend every minute together and acquiesce to an umpteenth Fortnite marathon sleepover. And occasionally, like last night, all of us lounge around the dining table sharing stories, making fun of each other, and challenging Alexa to play the most sing-along-able song. As one of my fave Cape kids put it: “We’re totally vibing.” And we were.

Next summer, half of these kids will be driving. In a handful of years, they’ll be in college. Last night we talked about all of the embarrassing stories we have memory banked for Markie’s rehearsal dinner, certain we’ll all be together for that faraway life milestone, and (for the moms) maybe getting a little teary about how lucky we are to still have singalong nights now, in these moments… fleeting in the lingering light.

Happy Summer, friends. Hope you’re vibing.

36623653_10156483096208770_2312071214304067584_n

Nostalgia

My kid graduated from middle school. This is, like, a thing. I know I know I know, it’s not high school graduation or any sort of milestone that we ever celebrated with sheet cake aplomb way back when, but Brodie has been at the same school for a decade. It was his last day there. I guess I wanted to cry, because I dug up those first day pics when he was posing with a nervous bus stop smile in his little Velcro shoes. Oof. That boy is now almost 6 feet tall. I’ve been writing about being in the sweet spot of parenting for a number of years, and somehow, it keeps getting sweeter.

You know that scene in Lost in Translation? Bill Murray’s monologue about his kids? I’ve always loved it. These small people do get more interesting with every year and inch. They become the best people you know. Brodie crossed a stage and became an official high schooler. But the night before, he fell asleep next to me on the couch after poking fun of my inability to SnapChat. (I’ll never get it.) Teddy asked me if I was one of those moms in texting threads with tons of emojis. I lied. As I find them ever more fascinating, I become infinitely more embarrassing. This is, I’m told, the natural order.

I’m practically pickled in end-of-year nostalgia. I used to think I romanticized teenagers because I didn’t have them, myself. And now that I do, I love them even more. They seem so much more exciting than my own Laura Ashley, white pump memories of being on the cusp of… something. I guess I wanted to cry (again), so I watched the Parkland kids sing “Seasons of Love” that had been shared oodles of times by moms annotating with heart eye emojis. It has been The Year of the Teenager in my own house and in the world.

I am a volunteer teacher for a rather incredible immersive Biology course taught to high schoolers at Harvard Medical School. MedScience uses an interactive mannequin to simulate ER settings to teach basic systems in a clinical setting. Last week’s topic was addiction, and I summoned my most dramatic teen persona and gave them a coked up 17 year old having a heart attack. Behind a one way mirror, I voiced the dummy and answered their questions peppered with drug-addled songs, paranoia about the whereabouts of my boyfriend, and a bunch of 80s movie references for my own amusement. They didn’t giggle when I told them my name was Julia Gulia or when I busted out my best Claire when they asked me if I was sexually active with Johnny:

“No. NO I NEVER DID IT!”

But they were super protective of me. Even after the diagnosis had been reached—that my tombstoning EKG was the result of a line-snorting afternoon– they were sure that my boyfriend was the peer-pressuring culprit. They held my hand and called my mom and told me they would take care of me. Medical schools and residency programs had just begun teaching empathy and sensitivity training when I was a fourth year. Are teenagers today tuned in a bit better? After the year they have had, perhaps.

Just as I’m feeling all mushy about teens in general, and mine in particular… they are gone. A week without children is how Bernie and I are beginning the summer, knowing Brodie is having fun with his cousins (and praying Teddy doesn’t tumble into the Grand Canyon). I’ve already purged their bedrooms of a semester of Latin tests and so many pants and shirts that didn’t keep up with their limbs. And then there it is. Brodie’s pre-K class picture. He dug it out to post on Instagram after Prize Day. Brodie never posts on Instagram. Do teenagers feel nostalgia, too? I guess so.

Seasons of Love (sniff sniff). Enjoy the milestone moments, friends.

46845_428023693283_5369620_n

Boys in Velcro shoes…

 

**For those who found us through Steve Safran’s wildly shared and well-received essay about suicidal ideation and a rather wonderful message of empathy… welcome to Blooms and Bubbles. 

Depression Isn’t Sadness and Suicide Isn’t a Cry For Help… by Steve Safran

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Two gut-punching suicides that have people asking “Why them? They had it all!” Sure, Bourdain lived a hard life, but Kate Spade, the queen of whimsy? She was wealthy, adored and…

Depressed.

We need better words. One of the biggest disservices to the field of mental health is to call the diagnosis of “depression” by the name “depression.” Everyone “gets depressed.” It’s a commonplace word: “I’m so depressed the meeting I planned fell through.” “The ending of that show was too depressing.” “He’s too depressing to be around.”

None of these examples has anything to do with the psychological definition of Depression.

People who live with depression are wired differently. Our brains perceive life differently than those who do not have depression. Let me put it another way.

Suppose you were born left-handed in this predominantly right-handed world. Suppose that was considered OK from time to time, but generally not an excuse to use your dominant hand. Righties would say “Why are you using your left hand? Your right hand works perfectly well.” Or, “I had a cousin who was left handed, but with a lot of work, he forced himself to use his right hand.” Or, “Why not just use your right hand? You wouldn’t need the special scissors.”

But I’m still a lefty, you’d say. I’d like to be a righty, but everything comes out all wobbly and it’s so uncomfortable. Can’t you just understand I’m part of the 10 percent of the population that is left handed?

Depression is exhausting. And it’s cruel. It tells you terrible things about yourself. That’s why Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain died. I can’t speak for their experiences, but I can speak for my own and what I know to be true from many other patients with depression: our minds become ruthless bullies. They tell us the meanest things about ourselves. They stockpile ammunition and open fire. And we have to sit there and take it because, well, it’s coming from our own brains.

45,000 people committed suicide in 2016. Suicide rates are up 30 percent just since 1999, according to NBC news. Only about half of those victims were known to have a mental health diagnosis. We do not talk about this issue enough, and when we do, we don’t really know what we’re talking about, or when we do, Depression is conflated with “feeling depressed.”

News organizations have taken to posting suicide hotline numbers when they run stories about suicide. That’s a responsible act of journalism, but it’s like running the number for 911 in an article about a car accident. People with depression know there is help, but their brain is telling them it’s time to die. The evil mix of ill-behaving neurotransmitters and whatever they have been through in life lands on a singular message: You must kill yourself.

Even in that moment, they know they have friends they can call. They know there are hotlines. But they are not interested in anything other than stopping that message, stopping the pain.

I suggest much more empathy in this area. As someone who has lived with anxiety and depression since the days of mixtapes, I’ve heard lots of well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) people say it all: “You’ve got a great life. What do you have to be depressed about?” (I don’t know. What do you have to be left-handed about?) “There are lots of people who have it worse off than you.” (Yes. And I still have depression.) “Just smile. How hard is it just to be happy?” (As hard as it would be for you to become left-handed while people insisted you use the regular scissors.)

My personal experience with this rotten condition has been horrid. I am certain I would have been more successful in my career without depression. For years, especially when I was younger, I wasn’t treated properly. As I got older, I was blamed for the illness that gripped me, as though it was a choice I made. I was called “lazy,” and put on meds that had me gain a ton of weight. People I loved mocked my illness, likely out of discomfort they may have it themselves. (They’re not much in the picture anymore.) In any case, there was not a lot of empathy.

We can’t stop suicide and depression. But we can understand it a lot better. I raise money for Movember, which supports research for men’s cancer and also the depression that can accompany it. This is something tangible I feel I can do. But all of us can do this: we can stop telling people with depression to “cheer up.” We can be more sensitive to this very real, very misunderstood disease.

Those of us with depression do not want to be treated as a protected class. We don’t want special rights or to be treated gently. You can’t make me depressed any more than you can make me a lefty. Empathy and acceptance are an enormous gift to those struggling to ignore the mean messages from their own minds.

Think about Robin Williams. Think about Kate Spade. Think about Anthony Bourdain. Think about the joy they brought you in their unique ways. Think about what you would have said to them, knowing they were going to take their lives. “Don’t do that” would not have worked. Instead of shameful, head-shaking whispers, let’s acknowledge suicide as the growing epidemic it is, and insist health care do more to support mental health.

Depression is not about what we have; it’s about what has us.

Ice cream… by Dan Hines

Guest blogger, Dan Hines hopes you enjoy the warmer months. Savor his words, and maybe a vanilla cone, dipped in butterscotch.

Ice cream isn’t just ice cream.

Right? Follow along… you know this.

A scoop next to your slice of birthday cake? Joyous. A scoop at 1am, watching reruns of shows that were awful the first time around while sleeplessly pondering life choices? A little sad, a little soothing. It’s nearly a weapon, the power ice cream holds for me. A weapon with Hershey’s syrup. As a kid, we rarely had ice cream in the house. Ice cream was birthday food. But then summer would arrive: ice cream season! For me, ice cream has always been about people, places… and Dad.

I spent most of my life in Southern PA. But for 4 long, dark years during middle school, I lived in Bath, Ohio. It was a beautiful area with great friends, but I was bullied. A lot. I don’t know if my folks knew, but was it a coincidence that during the bleakest times Dad would suggest, “Miniature golf?” Ice cream included was understood. My father is a man of few words. He’s a man who speaks through actions. But he’s a magician. He just knows. You don’t need to say a word, he just knows. He knows when ice cream needs to appear.

Yesterday, my father came to town. He visits twice a month to offer assistance, given my current condition. We visit the doctor, run errands, get haircuts… I’m 10 all over again. 10-year-old Dan. Only the 47-year-old version with the cane can’t keep up. Across the parking lot we see it at the same time. Dairy Queen.

“Want some DQ?”

“Yes!”

I won’t lie, it’s been an especially rough patch lately. But there it was…ice cream. And so I’m sitting across the table from Dad, and we’re talking. But I don’t hear a word he’s saying. His lips are moving, but my mind is somewhere else. I’m having ice cream in Bath, Ohio. I’m licking drips from a cone at a picnic table at Lake Winnipesaukee. I’m ordering a Blizzard at the DQ in Kennett Square. I’m in the parking lot eating ice cream in Winchester, VA. I’m 10 years old with Dad and a new haircut. And I know how lucky I am.

Ice cream is just ice cream. Right?

Nope. Just like Dad….it’s always there, and it’s magic. (You know this.)

wdq

 

News Without Noise…by Steve Safran

Remember what it was like to get the daily news back before it was terrifying or held in your very hand? Before the wrong combination of likes or dislikes or posts or comments could brand you as UNCLEAN for billions to mock or deride, even though you might have only accidentally landed on cut/paste/post while searching for car keys or spare change? Remember when an essay masking as “news” couldn’t be immediately discounted by snopes.com, or when journalism itself was a noble profession assumed to be grounded in a search for truth?

This is my life right now, and I completely enjoy it.

There’s very little I like about Life Without Screens, mind you. My DVR is bloated with episodes I’ve missed, and is now groaning with repeats of shows gone by. My fault. I never envisioned a two-month hiatus from must-see TV. But I am actually improving: up to about an hour of screen time a day now, nearly as much allotted to a well behaved first grader. While moving video will still hurl me into dizzy fits and land me back in my bedroom cave, to Britt’s enormous relief, I’m not sending badly-typed copy either.

I broke my typewriter. And this wasn’t in a fit of frustration. I really meant well, and threaded a c.1930s style ribbon quite expertly, I thought. But maybe not so expertly since all of the keys to the left of “V” now strike the paper in concert, sticking there like so many commuters stopped at a locked turnstile. I may be excellent at fixing electronics, but I’m a hopeless handyman.

main-qimg-49ca4c894a36f015220b7d8b3b4b1c52-c

What I have discovered in my forced vacation from screens is the news. A journalist discovering news? Yes. The news that lured me into this field in 1992 is back, at least the way I consume it. I have an Amazon Echo (“Alexa? What’s the news?”) which gives me frequent national and local updates from NPR and WBUR. I read honest to God newspapers when I can tolerate the light. I discuss current events with Kim and kind friends who have been coming by to visit. It’s 1989 up in here.

I’m a digital media guy, and I wouldn’t like to live this way forever. I’d prefer to get news from a variety of sources around the world. Due respect to our city’s newspapers, but I prefer many different points of view. And I’ve always been the social media guru, traveling from station to station to lecture the importance of a strong social media presence. Photophobia kept me, until this past Sunday, from more than a minute in the light without severe pain. But one glance at a simple news story after a two week break, and I was reminded why I don’t read Facebook comment threads anymore.

News has become, in large measure, a kernel of truth surrounded by outer shells of noise. The networks are all the same:

CNN: TRUMP SAYS A THING, COULD END HIS PRESIDENCY

FOX NEWS: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HILLARY STILL NOT IN JAIL

MSNBC: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HERE’S A MEANDERING HOUR THAT WILL NOT MAKE IT ANY CLEARER IF IT’S A THING AT ALL

I love digital media. But I have to tell you, it’s like I’ve been chasing a runaway ticker tape for 20 years, and I finally just get to linger over some clean copy in Courier. Take my advice. This summer, even for a few days or a whole week, do this:

Go dark.

 

Seaweed Lover

Never meet your heroes, they warn. Their real world persona will never match up to your imagined excellence, and the effect will be a staggering disappointment. The only thing that can murder a hero is ordinariness. And because most of us are afflicted with that, even the best of us cannot keep our capes pinned to our shoulders in real life. Maybe a few can. Maybe Beyoncé. But better to never meet your heroes, they say.

I saw mine last night. Professor Craig Schneider, “Doc” to everyone who has ever taken his class was in town as an invited lecturer. When his son told me Doc would not only be in Boston, but would be holding court with slides and everything, I was all in. So was my friend, Lisa, who also partially credits Doc for putting her on a path to a PhD. Rooting through old photos to share with them at the event, I found my favorite shot from graduation. In this picture, Doc is younger than I am now.

IMG_5499

Me and Doc, May 1993

 

Texting with Lisa, we wondered if he would look any different. Probably not, we mused. We figured everyone at the lecture would fall half in love with him and decide to study seaweed tomorrow. Just like old times. I mean… it’s Doc.

Twenty-five years later, I’m sitting in an audience of prep school faculty watching Doc school us on conservation snafus in Bermuda and how DNA sequencing of algae is changing the field of Biogeography. As soon as he loads up the first slide, I’m 19 again. My first feeling was muscle memory panic that I wasn’t taking notes. Then middle aged me took a sip of Pinot Grigio, and I just enjoyed marinating in nostalgia.

Everyone has a favorite teacher: the one you wanted to impress the most, who could hold your attention for the entire 48 minutes, whose class you wouldn’t miss for even the worst hangover or the cutest boy. Doc was that teacher for me, likely for many of us. And listening to his lecture, I was transported back to those days when I could name every alga washing up on the shore of the beach in late spring. Ulva, Vaucheria, Fucus… I remembered a boy in the dining hall scribbling “Seaweed Lover” on my notebook, which made me giggle, but also filled me with a bit of pride. Apparently, I talked about algae more than the average co-ed. More normal undergrads acquired titillating memories of after-hours frat parties and naked quad antics. I kid you not, a true highlight of my college days was visiting a bog. Naturally, by senior year, I was one of Doc’s kids, an honor student doing her senior thesis under his direction.

Though he taught me how to succeed in the lab, and also to learn from failing, Doc didn’t care that I would never be more than an armchair phycologist. (Aside: Autocorrect knows how to spell Beyoncé, but does not recognize PHYCOLOGY.) I was gunning for medical school, but another year of murdering large rats in the Physiology lab left me with enough dread to switch majors entirely. This fear landed me in Doc’s office, terrified that Prof. Simmons would shun me for abandoning his projects in favor of pond scum. Plus, everyone knew if you wanted to get into med school, you had to kill those rats.

But Doc led me to a different path–one that led to a pond in a cemetery, the Long Island Sound intertidal, a publication, acceptance at a handful of medical schools, and ultimately a funded MD/PhD position. I’m not sure he knew that I credit him for all of that. But last night I got to see him, to tell him.

All these years later, Doc memories are still recounted any time I’m asked about my academic background. High school and college students—and quite often, their parents–wonder if there is some foolproof path to the kind of academic success that leads to the white coat. There isn’t. It’s usually a slog of hard-earned A’s, missed parties, and a million pots of coffee.

But if you’re lucky, there are heroes along the way. And if you’re really lucky, one day you get to meet them, tell them, and call them “friend.”

 

Who are your heroes?

 

 

 

 

In the Dark… by Steve Safran

For the past two weeks, I have been living in a Hell that feels especially designed for me. The staff at Dante’s Fitting Punishments were inspired when they green-lit this one for Stevie: I can’t look at a screen without getting sick. Yes, your faithful computer-addicted correspondent, status updater, and occasional blogger is writing this on a 1936 Royal Portable typewriter, fitted with an ancient ribbon that makes this draft a bit of a challenge to read, and more than a pain in the ass for Britt to transcribe.

A fortnight without screens has been—forgive me, for “fortnight” and this pun—an eye-opener. Make no mistake, this isn’t one of those Author Unplugs and Discovers Life essays. No, I’m way behind on a lot of important work. Among other pressing tasks like taxes, kid graduation, and wedding planning, there is a softball team to organize. Not that there’s any danger we’ll ever play, with incessant nor-easters making fools of our Opening Day.

I have, however, rediscovered books—the bound and print kind!

Side note, on the 1936 Royal Portable, typing that exclamation point required period, backspace, apostrophe. With an economy of keys, a capital “I” subs in for a number one. And though this trusty, 30lb “word processor” inside of its carrying case was the war correspondent laptop of its day, it would easily topple a tippy Starbucks table. If I want to write, I’m stuck right here at home.

Luckily, I can tolerate sound and I’m searching through the free audio plays at archive.com, though I need to have my faithful fiancée or son Simon queue up “Henry V” for me. Any more than a quick glance at a screen makes me dizzy and initiates instant, blinding headaches. I can only use them briefly, in the dark, with the “Night Shift” setting that takes out the blue light.

Part of the reason I’m sharing (typing) this is to query others about similar experiences. This is scary. I’m worried. The doctors I’ve consulted have ruled out the terrifying possibilities I might find on WebMD if I could look at a damn screen, but they have no diagnosis yet. Until they do, I feel like an outcast, alone in the dark, bumbling through a non-screen life in an all-screen world. And as much as I love my loyal 1936 Royal Portable, I really miss my Mac.

IMG_1683

My “laptop,” the I936 Royal Portable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FREAK US OUT… a message to our awesome teenagers, by Steve Safran

We have heard from our secondary principals that many of our students have reached out to them to collaborate on how best to address the student desire to walk out and express their opinions but do so in a safe manner… We are proud of our student leaders at all levels for the collaborative, thoughtful advocacy they have demonstrated.

This planned walkout, as we see it, is the “lab” experience for the teaching and curriculum we bring to our students. Teaching our students how to lead, think, propose ideas, disagree and take respectful and forceful action on issues is what we do; our students are indicating to us that they have learned and want to take action.

– Massachusetts Town Email to Parents

 

This is nonsense.

As a parent, I don’t want an email from my town explaining– in much longer detail than above– how a school-condoned walkout from classes will be arranged. I don’t want the town organizing with students. I don’t need a “heads up” that my kids are going to walk out of class.

I want them to get up and go.

Where goes youthful rebellion if it’s into the arms of those against whom they are rebelling? This is an angry generation and they have every right to be. They’re being shot at in their schools. We have let them down. We have failed to protect them in what should be a sanctuary. Don’t ask us for permission. The school is on fire and we’re offering you a hall pass for the water fountain? No wonder you’re pissed. (No wonder nothing has changed.)

I’m all for young rebellion. That’s what our country is about; it’s American in the best kind of way. Lobby for change, and let the marketplace of ideas decide. I take no issue with student protest and, in fact, I support it. At Wayland High in the ‘80s, we’d “walk out” in order to demand soda machines. IT’S NO JOKE! WE WANT THE COKE! IT’S OUR RIGHT… TO HAVE A SPRITE! (This may explain why my parents transferred me to private school, where I was once sent home for not having a close enough shave.) As a conservative, wholehearted support of youthful protest might seem out of character. As an anti-gun, pro-choice, anti-religion-in-schools, pro-women’s-rights, free-trade, anti-Trump conservative, however, these days I guess I’m what’s known as a “Democrat.”

But you can’t stick it to the man if the man sends gentle emails with sentences like, “We support this and find it a fine learning experience and we’re going to make it a lab.”

A lab?

Way to take the fun out of it, grown-ups. I officially protest the administration’s support, and will occupy their building. I will, of course, be alone, as the administrators will be outside, patting themselves on the back for being progressive as they make sure students do not wander outside of the “designated protest area.”

Personal politics aside, I think most of us recognize that this generation is creative in ways we do not understand. They are seriously skilled. I mean it– they really are. They make movies and music better than any big screen scene from the ‘90s… and they make them on a device in their hand. The best these Internet, gaming, and video wizards can do is…  walking out with permission? That might make Grandma and Grandpa Hippie sentimental, but today’s teenagers can do better.

Here’s my message to them: don’t walk out, freak us the fuck out. We’re 50. We get spooked by a 1% drop in our IRA. We’re easily panicked. You’re going to need to scare the status quo out of us. Be creative, make movies, share them with your zillion followers. Show us you’ve got more game than a supervised walkout. Take a page from your ‘60s forefathers and put a tech twist on it. Walking into a field while the principal says “Yes. Good. You get an A in civic engagement studies” sure as hell wouldn’t have ended any war. A VR vision of what it’s like to be helpless as you are slaughtered in your own homeroom, even as you have a gun that’s useless against an attacker’s armor? Now we’re talking. Get coding.

Me? I hate the damn guns. I truly believe this is the generation that will do something about it. Every generation that grows up in fear is the one that brings about change. We hated the day-to-day worry of nuclear annihilation. Anti-nuke protestors took to the streets, while conservatives encouraged Reagan just to spend the Soviets into oblivion. Whatever your macro-political view, it worked. The people who grew up watching their older brothers and classmates die in Vietnam put an end to that. These teens have grown up watching a non-stop war and “Hamilton.” They KNOW they can do something. And they’ll probably make it catchy.

So protest, kids. Skip class, but take the detention. You can’t change the world if you can’t take the hit. Don’t walk into a field and hold a sign. March in the streets. Go to state capitals. Make and share videos that answer the NRA like the Parkland Students did so poignantly and slyly. Be subversive. You have the tools to out-media the media. You can podcast and VR-simulate and disseminate your message virally. You can be so much more creative than we can imagine (we still don’t understand SnapChat stories). Where justified fear and anger meets youthful peak creativity is where change happens. We’re watching. We’re listening.

So go ahead. Freak us out. That’s how you change the world.

parkland florida protests_1519289520467.jpg_13213760_ver1.0

United, they stand. #NeverAgain

Home

Post op day 8. Dad’s hip replacement recovery is going fairly well, but he doesn’t understand why he isn’t 100% already. If you know Dad, this is no surprise. I am here with my parents mostly to provide comic relief and a respite from the boredom of convalescence, to prevent Dad from torturing Mom, to reassure Mom that Dad wasn’t going to fall or die, and to make the 11th hour Wawa run in the snow.

A few weeks ago, as we were enjoying a kid-free lunch after Church, Bernie voiced the inevitable: you should be there after your Dad’s surgery. Most moms—even those with young, independent teens—assume we’re absolutely essential. Bernie assured me I wasn’t. In, like, the best, I’ve-got-this way. So we booked a one-way, not knowing how Dad would fare surgery, and I told the boys I was going home for a few days, maybe a week.

Brodie was confused.

“Wait. You said you’re going ‘home’ instead of ‘to Philly.’”

And I had. Home is where your parents live, I told him. I guess that never changes. I’m home: here in the Over-55-on-a-Golf-Course condo complex where I didn’t grow up and where the only vestige of my youth is this trio of high school graduation pictures.

IMG_5365

Paige and I rocked the ’80s scrunch and mousse ‘do.

Home is where I spend the first hours of the day working the crossword with Dad and making him an egg sandwich while Action News announces anticipated weather that mom will fret over for the entire day, even if we have no plans to go outside. Home is also where Wawa is on the corner, the accent is hilariously homey, and I can order a hoagie.

After marriage and kids, it’s rare to spend this much quality downtime alone with your own mom and dad… rarer still when everyone is pretty much healthy. This is lucky, stolen time. On Sunday night, two Proseccos into a Feast Day cocktail hour, Dad and I predicted with stunning accuracy the scores of flipping snowboarders, marveling at the “big” mistakes that cost Olympians a hundredth of a second and a medal. We’ve also logged 6 hours of golf tournament napping, entire mornings of talk show programming, 60 Minutes, and naturally, a lot of Fox News. We haven’t missed an episode of Jeopardy and dammit if that Vanna White isn’t still stunning.

This is 75. I’m writing the screenplay.

Surgery is no fun and being on the other side of it for the second time (albeit, a bit removed since it wasn’t me getting the new hip), I’m ever more aware of how ill prepared patients are for what comes next. Dad only heard that the pain of recovery would never match the agony of an arthritic joint. Well, not so fast, amnesic advice-givers. This was, and continues to be, plenty painful. Dad needed every single pain pill… and they only gave him a handful of days to wean himself, never once preparing him that weaning would be necessary, or that we might feel like dope peddling criminals to want more in the house, just in case. I snort-laughed at the 20 year old secretary who handed me a ‘script for a measly, additional day-and-a-half of pain relief for my dad who was dutifully doing his laps around the condo, icing and elevating, and choking down an entire fruit basket to ward off the inevitably awful effects of Percocet. I stopped short of demanding more. I’m here as The Daughter, not The Doctor.

Because he’s not 100% yet, Dad doesn’t feel like he’s turned a corner. But yesterday, his pedometer counted a good amount of steps taken with little more than Tylenol on board. So I’m going back to my boys in the morning—back to the house where I’m the one who birddogs the laundry and dishwasher, plans the meals, and knows the status of the pantry’s snack reserves. My boys spent the past week in an extended culinary celebration of Chinese New Year, eating an insane amount of noodles and dim sum and fish jerky, and getting taller without me. Their stories will hint at how independent they have become, but their hugs will betray them. As we’ve all witnessed in the past week, teenagers are awesome, and I miss mine.

But until I know my own Dad is feeling like his return to 100% is somewhere on the horizon, my heart will still be… home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I get it… by Dan Hines

Danny walks. An update from Dan, who is kind of miraculously, and certainly inspirationally, recovering from Guillain-Barré syndrome. He posted this video a few days ago, which prompted our exchange:

ME: You. Are. Walking

Dan: Sort of. The video you saw was the third try. The first two I fell.

ME: You know I want five paragraphs about that.

And here they are:

 

There’s a scene, a few actually, in the movie ‘What About Bob’ where a young boy stands on a dock. He’s staring at the water and all he wants to do is learn to dive. He wants it, doesn’t know how to do it, and is scared of it. Despite encouragement from Dad, Mom, Sister he continuously backs away, making excuses, and goes back to the house.

I get it.

Some of you know my story so I won’t go through it all, but it was 16 months ago when I last took any real steps on my own without some form of help. Whether it was a wheelchair, a walker, a cane, a therapist’s arm, or even a kitchen counter or wall. A few times in therapy, I was able to do it for, like, 5-6 feet– my therapist waiting in front of me, open-armed, like a mom teaching her baby how to walk. “Come on, I’ve got you’” ‘Cause I am, in fact, a giant baby.

When you go through something, anything really, you go through “the stages.” You know ’em. But there’s one they rarely mention, the one that really matters. It’s the, “Fuck it, I’ve had enough of this” stage.

December was a bit sad for me, personally, which made Christmas a bit tough. New Year’s Eve hit and I made the same declarations as everyone else, “This year will be different!’ I woke up January 1st, and I played the daily game:

“Am I wearing socks?’”

With peripheral neuropathy, you gotta check. I look down…I guessed wrong. Shit. This year is the same.

So January 23rd was a big day. I was growing frustrated. The wheels in my head were spinning. I was missing the things I once had: life, love, ability, purpose. I know my value, but was obsessing over my weakness. About 8:30pm, I reached the unspoken last stage.

“Fuck it. I’ve had enough of this.”

I get up, turn on the lights and set up my phone at the end of the hall. I head back into the kitchen, and turn around. I let go of the cane and the counter. And I start. I get 5 feet and BOOM, I’m on the ground. Now, since I can’t stand on my own, I crawl into the kitchen so I can use a chair to get back on my feet.

2nd try. This time, ten feet and… BOOM. Crawl to the kitchen, grab my cane, and head towards the phone. Like a coach at halftime, I need to review this. I think I see my mistake. I re-set the phone, press record, and start again. Third try’s more than a charm. It’s history.

 

So there the boy stands, on that same dock, with that same view, and those same fears. He knows what he has to do; it’s run through his mind a thousand times. Just dive, just dive, just dive. And from somewhere courage builds. He bends his knees, puts his hands in front him, takes a deep breath. And dives. That dock (the hallway), the unwitting stage.

“Fuck it. I’ve had enough of this.”

And I get it.