Tuesday, January 28, 2014

the moments before you know

This week I have felt the wind whip so cold I thought my lips froze; I have hiked in a tank top sweating in the mug of rain forest; I have lounged shoulder to shoulder with Ben just barely swinging in a hammock; and I have sat in the walled courtyard of the hospital cafeteria wondering if this would be a moment when everything changed.

Ben and I flew out of the snowy single digits last Thursday and landed on an island rimmed with coral.  For a couple of days we alternated between driving on the left exploring the twisting roads, pulling over to following paths through the sea grapes to hidden sandy coves, and lounging at the hotel.  But on day three, stomach pain knocked Ben out.  As we talked about his symptoms, he mentioned that on our first night, he'd swallowed most of a wooden toothpick in his sandwich. What?!?  Yeah, I guess I should have mentioned it.  I just figured it went down, so it would go out.  In the hours that followed, it became clear that his equation might not be true, and he needed to see someone.  Googling "swallowed a toothpick," it turns out, can be traumatizing when, in fact, you have a toothpick lodged somewhere in your body.  It can impale the liver or pancreas on the way out (both of which the GI we met had seen), and depending how that goes, one could, of course -- thank you google -- die.

We drove to the pink island hospital ER and waited in white plastic chairs until Ben's name was called.  The air conditioning made our hands and feet feel clammy.  Soon Ben was moved from a curtained examination room, to a room with a prehistoric x-ray machine, to a room to take blood, and then was asked to wait until the paged GI came in.  

We both liked the doctor immediately.  He ran down a list of possibilities for the deep pain and abnormal blood results.  He seemed generally unconcerned about the toothpick working its way out --  a lot of inmates come in who've swallowed all sorts of foreign objects; it's amazing what the body can pass -- but he wanted to see where in Ben's body it was, if there was blood loss, and if the toothpick could have coincidentally coincided with a more serious source of pain.  Endoscopy it would be, first thing in the morning.  

Despite the unpleasant prep, Ben never complained.  We rented a movie and lounged on the porch reading Wild aloud until it was too dark to see.

At 7 AM, we drove back into the parking lot on the left hand side and parked under a shaggy palm shadow.  The whole procedure took only an hour, but in that hour as I waited, each detail of the room pressed against me: the creamy mint wall that yellowed our skin with it's reflection, the dark turquoise frame of the old hospital bed; the bee-hive patterned metal screening on the outside of the windows; the rust spots going up the leg of the bed-side table.  What would they find?  Probably (hopefully) a toothpick, but would there be more?  A tumor?  Something we couldn't foresee?  I studied a patch of drywall where the bed had bumped it too many times that had been badly mudded and not repainted, the 2 on the door of our room.  

These are the moments we hold our breath; we realign our trust; we wait.

When I found Ben in recovery in his stars-and-moons hospital gown, he looked tired and happy.  He asked me several times about the cafeteria and when and how he'd gotten in that room, blissfully unaware of my previous answers as he ate a sandwich with a single slice of turkey on it.  What did they find? I asked in my head.  What did they find?  He wondered if they'd announced finding a toothpick during the procedure or if he'd dreamed it.  I think I dreamed it.  And we waited, as I told him again about how the cafeteria was a small local scene with glazed donuts and white bread egg sandwiches.  I noticed the bright periwinkle of the wall to my back that Ben got to face and the empty pump soap at the sink.  Ben looked so much himself, but I peeled the tinfoil off his juice cups.  What did they find?  What if he is sick and life is about to change in this room? 

Finally the doctor came in.  Clean organs and a photographs of a 3" (at least) toothpick removed! The nurses handed us a flurry of papers and handouts and instructions for next steps, but Ben, my Ben asking again when I came in, was well.  

We had spent what amounted to a whole day of our getaway in this island hospital, but now as we walked back into the sun, my goose bumped skin relaxing in the heat, Ben was well.  Well!  We drove to the botanical gardens and named the plants we'd seen for days -- Flamboyant, Agave, Sandbox tree, Travelers tree, Spurge -- and then dove into the ocean for our final minutes, climbing on the plane wind-blown and salty and well.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snow Days and Enough

I realized new year or not, I usually walk around packed to the gills with resolves: to spend less on groceries, to stop half-playing pretend with Eden but get down on the floor, to make a vat of yogurt and start baking bread, to wake up early and surrender the day, to go to sleep earlier, to drink less wine or more water, to go to yoga or on walks or runs, to call California, to find a juice bar that doesn't cost my life's savings, to have a date or a double date, to bite my tongue, to catch  up on movies or books or just reading the paper, to let the house stay messy or to clean it thoroughly, not to raise my voice, to breathe from my belly, to stretch, to sing, to make more art with the kids, to write, to structure the day so we're unhurried, to pick up carpet swatches, to have longer good nights.

When I read this list to Ben he said, that's a great list, and I laughed because when I read the list I felt crushed by all to do and be.  I have questions this January about how to get out from under the pressures I create and live more freely.  I'd love to make big-picture goals for how we're living -- the list above could be boiled down to a couple -- rather than choking checklists of demands.

Snow days might be a great example of how I lose perspective.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up some romantic notions about what a snow day *should* look like: snuggled in the house, hot chocolate, paints, papers, pastels, crayons, glue sticks, all over the table, a fire crackling (we have no working fireplaces), games and books and conversations in forts.

If there isn't really snow on the snow day because we live in Washington DC, the pressure gusts in as a free wide open day to pile in the car and head downtown to climb over slippery marble monuments in our snow boots, or stand and throw sticks into the river, or tromp through a museum.
In short, I seem to think snow days are like birthdays, a day (with no advance notice) to create magic for the kids.

Instead what happens is Silas and Eden deck themselves out in snow gear and sled down the 5' slight dirt incline out back until they are literally scraping the sled down mud and their mittens are soaked through.  Then they smear through the door and leave a giant pile of soggy muddy clothes and boots on the floor.  We make some hot chocolate but don't have any marshmallows, and, it turns out, they don't really feel like doing anything I suggest except maybe building a fort, but it was more the notion of a fort that sounded good to me because in reality I don't want to drag all the bedspreads to the basement and try to make them stick to the couch arms by myself.  So we sit around.  In no time they are happily curled up to the heater vents like little cats, but I start feeling the breath-on-my-neck-pressure to TAKE us all somewhere and not waste the day ("waste").  But, really, the thought of putting wet coats on and wedging Maeve's feet into snow boots she can stand but not walk in and putting socks on her hands to keep them warm (ha!), and joining the DC drivers on Mass Ave. does not appeal.

So I start being generally mean to everyone because I feel like I've failed.

The ridiculous part is that I've only failed me, and the only part of the day that's wasted is mine.  No one else had a list of expectations for "a worthy day."  It's a snow day!  I was trying to remember snow days growing up: I remember sitting riveted by the radio early in the morning waiting for Q107 to announce the school closings.  And I remember sledding with friends, but that's really it.  Maybe we made some Swiss Miss with mini marshmallows, but mostly we just sat around happy because DC is a sucker for tiny snowfalls, and that fact alone was enough.

I think I miss what's enough sometimes because of some picture I've created (or seen on pinterest or in Sunset magazine or in my friend's living room or _fill in the blank_) -- losing the forest for the trees, we call that.

So as far as resolutions go, the big picture kind, in 2014 I'd like to see the enough's.  And I'd like to look long enough to see they're often overflowing...

Sunday, January 05, 2014

the Dishwasher

There are times when one must unload the dishwasher.

That is what I'm doing right now (or, to be precise, was doing before I reached for the computer).  Ben has been away, and I am my own team today.  Rain is slushing up the frozen snow that's covered the yards and iced into chunks along the walkways for days.  I'm listening to the neighbor's snow shovel scrape the concrete as I sit with chapped lips here in winter.

There are days, so many days, when you just have to do it.  No one can hold what you are holding, carry what you are carrying, climb into your skin and know.  There is no one fully capable of putting the mixing bowls and steak knives away nor scrubbing the chili from the soaking pot.  There is no one fully capable of seeing the chunk of prayers I hold for 2014, the dark rock in my hand, light glinting off the mica.  We all walk around with those rocks clutched in our pockets, in one way or another.  And then we do the day.

Today, it's just me sitting on the step stool in the kitchen as birds flit from slush to feeder, Silas and Maeve rustle in the legos and blocks downstairs, Eden, burrowed in her room, builds cabin from lincoln logs.  We are doing today.  For that I am grateful.