Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Close Call

 We eat a lot of pizza. Mostly I heat up a frozen Trader Joe’s one, sometimes I make one from scratch, but ordering one in is a treat for us. Last night the kids were so excited that we offered to pick up one, calling it “a real pizza.” Before my husband went to pick it up, he and my son were joking around about where the best pizza place was. He headed out to our downtown area and when my son saw my phone ringing with his dad’s name across the top he answered “What do ya want?” He is silly ninety percent of the time, so I smiled across the room and listened in, but my son’s face changed quickly. He went from smiling. to confused, to scared, and then quickly handed the phone over to me. I picked it up expecting to hear my husband’s voice but it wasn’t him.

“I am calling from your husband’s phone. Your husband has been in a car accident.” said the voice on the other end of the phone. I was still trying to familiarize myself with this voice. I wondered if it was a friend he had run into and my husband was laughing standing beside him? That isn’t really his sense of humor, so this must be someone who doesn’t know us that well. 

“Is this a joke?” I asked, hoping that it was.

The tone of his response made it clear that he wasn’t joking. I think he said something about wishing he didn’t have to make this call, but my head was spinning too fast to catch on to any of his words or to find any of my own. Eventually, I managed out an apology for thinking he was joking, but I was too afraid to ask the most important question, “Was my husband ok?” I needed him to just tell me. As if I said anything my words would actually have the power to change what had already happened. He told me that his car swerved over the sidewalk and into a wall. He told me my husband had a concussion. He told me that my husband was confused. Those three pieces of new information swam around in my head for a few seconds. My first thought was why would anyone drive into a wall? My husband wouldn’t do that. Then I worried that maybe his phone had rung, or worse he tried to text someone, but that didn’t seem like my husband either. I asked if he was bleeding or if any bones were broken. He told me my husband was sitting up with his legs crossed, confused but talking. His legs crossed. That sounded like my husband.

The man who called me said that my husband's phone seemed damaged and he couldn’t hear me that well. If I wasn’t convinced before that he had been talking about my husband I was certain now. He asked if he could call me back from his cell so he could hear me, and those few seconds waiting for this stranger, who was connected to my important person, felt like forever.  This time when the phone rang, it was a name I didn’t recognize, a person who I hadn’t talked to until a few minutes before, and yet someone I depended on deeply to tell me it was all going to be okay.  My thoughts began to clear enough for me to ask detailed questions. I needed to do something and suggested I come to the accident site, but the man said my husband was likely going to be taken to the hospital. He told me he would stay on the phone with me to keep me updated. He also sent me two photos to show me what the scene looked like. He confirmed that the ambulance would be taking him to a nearby hospital. I thanked him, got my kids in order so I could leave them for a bit, and head out to see my husband.

When I rushed through the doors of the ER of our closest hospital, It was more familiar than I wanted it to be. We had been here before. Just over three years ago my husband and I were hit by someone who ran a red light. We aren’t even done dealing with the mess from that accident and here we are again. In my effort to get to my husband as quickly and safely as possible, I completely forgot about Covid. There was no one allowed in the ER or anywhere in the hospital. My husband had been moved to a room and I was handed a piece of paper with a number to call for updates. I left the ER and sat down outside on the closest bench and cried. Since I couldn’t be beside him, I settled for as close as I was allowed. I texted my husband to tell him that I couldn’t get in, and when he responded to his texts I could tell something wasn’t right. He asked me where he was and then asked a few confusing questions like if the kids were in an accident or if someone was in trouble. My stomach dropped as I reread his questions. 

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I think you are confused.” I wrote. I waited a while longer outside, alone on the bench. I knew I shouldn’t drive until I calmed down. I knew it was common to be confused after a concussion but I didn’t know if that was all he had. I wanted to learn more, to talk to a doctor or just to be told he was going to be fine. . If I wasn’t going to go in to see him after a while I decided to go get the pizza he ordered. The kids would be happy to have it. By the time I parked my car, I saw more texts from my husband, this time all of them made sense. He told me the police came to let him know that the man who had hit his car was drunk, admitted guilt, and was arrested. He told me that the driver was so apologetic to him and kept saying he wouldn’t leave my husband’s side until he knew he was taken care of. He also said that the man who had called me was such a gentle, kind man who helped him out of the car when he was still unconscious and there when he came to wait for the police. Then my husband said I should go get that pizza. 

On my way back to the kids I drove to the site of the accident. There were huge skid marks, shattered pieces of plastic, shards of glass, and a piece of what was once our bumper. The tire tracks went right up on the sidewalk and threw the planter of dirt that had been behind the cement barrier that was shattered into crumbles. We don’t know exactly how the other car hit ours and from what direction since my husband blanked out for the entire accident, but we were told the whole thing was caught on video. I don’t care about the car. I'm not worried about the details of insurance, or lawyers. I don’t have it in me to be angry at the man who drank and caused the accident, but I wouldn’t go as far as my husband who feels bad for him. It is over now. What I do care about is that I almost lost my husband, again and I am so happy I didn’t.

When I drove from my house to the hospital I saw neighbors out walking their dogs and I was jealous of the simplicity of their evening. I thought about how long it has been since life has felt normal. Every time I reach for a piece of even a new normal, it slips from my fingertips. The next day my husband was home. He was checked and given the all-clear.

 He was told to expect his head to ache for a few days and maybe his body too. I woke him every few hours as instructed to make sure he was okay. When I brought my kids home from school, my son asked for help with his math homework. My husband jumped at the chance to sit with him, and as I watched them both I felt the words “Thank you!” flow over me. Things may not be normal for a while, but if the four of us are together, then we can wait as long as it takes.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Being Negative

 This time last year we took our kids' first day of school photos of them out in front of our house like we always do. They didn't have backpacks and they didn’t have shoes on. They also didn’t go anywhere but straight back in the house to log on for school. They did not return to school until mid-April and when they did finally go in it wasn’t all day and it wasn’t every day. Last year we locked down at home in the face of a raging pandemic. My husband, my two kids, and I spent every day working separately, but together all from inside the house, all of us in front of our computers. It was fraught with problems, but we did what we had to do and got through it. 

This year when my children stood side by side for their picture on the first day of school, they were finally actually going to school. It was the smoothest first day of school both kids ever had. There were a few nerves, but no tears, and overall a lot of excitement. They both came home looking more enthusiastic than I have seen them in a very long time. It was then that my emotions kicked in. I was all over the place. I was thrilled for them, but suddenly furious about what we lost last year while staying home. To see the light on both of their faces, to see the twinkle in their eyes, making it impossible not to realize how long their sparks had been out.

At drop-off at the elementary school the next day a pediatrician friend of mine joked that she gives school one week before it shuts down again. I feigned a smile and a laugh, walked away, and tried not to show my concern. The Delta surge is posing a big risk, especially to unvaccinated people, which is the entire elementary school student body, but one week? I know we will likely have some positive tests and some, maybe many families will need to quarantine, but I just want my children to have normalcy back in their day to day. I was hoping for a few months, or at least weeks, but we might all have to settle for days. 

I am not prepared to have my children at home for another school year. Without a doubt, it was not healthy for any of us. Children need other children, and I need quiet time. When a friend mentioned to her husband that she needs a plan if the kids end up having to be home due to Covid, he told her she was being negative. I don’t agree with him on this one, we aren’t wondering what will happen if schools shut down. I think it is likely that they will at some point shut down again. Maybe just for a group of kids, or a grade level, class, but it will likely happen. I don’t have a plan in place for how it will work for my family, but I do know I will scream.

We have all been thrown into the fire, we have experienced collective trauma, and all of us have had to mourn life as we knew it two years ago. The rate at which our lives changed was so rapid that eighteen months later, we are still trying to process it all, and we are adults. For our children the idea that one day they can go to school, and the next they can’t is baffling. I remember that first month of the lockdown being faced with so many of my children’s questions, none of which I had answers for. We still have a long way to go with this virus, and there will be a lot more unknowns about what the future will look like. 

With the vaccine there came a sense of calm, hope, and freedom. I thought it was the beginning of the end, and maybe it still is, but the initial restart button on our lives didn’t stay pressed long. With the Delta variant, the lambda, and other variants we don’t know about yet, we went one step forward and two steps back. I am relearning the Greek alphabet while I try to keep track of variants. I make sure my kids leave for school each morning with water, lunch, snacks, books, and the right mask. Simultaneously things feel normal and bizarre as we go from hardly leaving the house to full days of school, meetings, sports, after school activities all within the last week.  Just walking up to the gate of school on the first day, my muscle memory kicked right in. I walked up instinctively as I had for years, but then I saw the cones lined up to mark off the lines the kids were to stand in before entering the school. I saw the sea of masked faces. I saw the parents being asked to move into a line beside them to avoid crowding. It is impossible to not feel the impact this virus has had on all of us, but when I see these kids excited in line waiting to enter their school, I am grateful. For each and every day that they get to go to school this year I will celebrate. 

Wishing all the kiddos out there a fantastic normalish year ahead while I am also being as realistic as possible. As soon as the school starts testing all the students there will be calls home to come pick up your kids from school. It is only week two into the school year and already three friends of mine at other schools have their kids quarantined this week due to a positive covid test for a child in their child's class. So while I hope for negative tests all around, I don’t think I am shooting negative vibes into the universe when I think about when not if someone around us gets a positive test. I will make sure to stay distanced when I find out, not just because it's the safe thing to do, but also because my scream is likely to break the sound barrier. Desperate times call for desperate measures!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Wires Crossed

 As a former competitive athlete who suffers from anxiety, I have spent much time this week thinking about Simone Biles. My first reaction to her pulling out of the Olympic all-around events was admittedly selfish: I was disappointed. I wanted to see the GOAT win it all. I was excited to see her lead her team to glory as she flew through the air, nailing her signature moves. As the experienced Olympian on the team, I watched the way she had inspired her teammates when they were getting cold feet about stepping into the Olympic arena and competing at such a monumental level. She was the role model guiding the rookies through their first Olympic games. She seemed unstoppable, unconquerable, and undefeatable. She was solid, strong, and in amazing shape until she wasn't.
I don't know what it is like to compete on an Olympic level, and perhaps many of our daughters won't either. The weight of an Olympic gold medal for the country may never lay on the shoulders of many of our children. The press might not follow them around, snapping photos of their every move from what they ate at breakfast to who you spend your time with and what you wear. Regardless, their lives will come with their own share of strife. Simone Biles has shown us all that even among the best of the best, no one is perfect. Even if you can gain a perfect score, it comes with a price. By stepping down, she wasn't letting her team down; rather, she was gracefully taking time to heal. It just shocked a lot of people when it came from her, an athlete with limitless potential actually reached her limits.
There is so much to learn from Biles' decision to take the time to care for her mental health, for women, and especially for our daughters. We are given mixed messages early on. I was told to step out of my comfort zone, put on a stiff upper lip, or even to suck it up. Sometimes these are motivating, and effective, but more often than not the reason someone said these things to me was so that I would get over whatever I was feeling and press on. We know at this point with enough evidence that different genders are capable or incapable of doing the same thing, yet it still seems that there is a stigma when it comes to mental health for any gender that one who is struggling is weak. 
As a parent, I have made efforts early on to allow my children to feel what they are feeling. I don’t want them to push past sadness, anger, or joy because someone tells them they aren’t allowed to feel the way they feel. I tried to acknowledge what they are upset about when they are sad, mad or frustrated. That being said, I strive to give them the tools to recognize their emotions and assess what is happening for them, so that they can learn how to process their feelings for themselves. I make mistakes all the time though and have heard words come out of my mouth when I am impatient, that contradict the things I have said when I am calm. When I heard myself say “you don’t have to cry about that.” I bit my tongue a bit too late. The words fell and left my messaging confusing. 
We are all human. Some, like Biles, are capable of superhuman athleticism, but we can all learn from her to take time to care for our mental health when we need it. Even if the timing is terrible and there is a lot on the line, mental health comes first. Many of us get injured and injury needs to stop being looked at just as a physical issue. She is not a quitter in my book, but a winner for recognizing she needed help. It takes courage to choose to protect your health over winning a medal. This was not an easy decision and it took a lot of bravery for her to speak up about her needs. 
The message her decision sends is one that has been long overdue, especially in the world of competitive sports. She was direct with herself and her needs. She took them seriously even as the world around her expected her to do something entirely different. Historically, we have seen athletes push themselves even when they are injured to the point of breaking. Simone Biles has already dealt with so much pressure, pain and trauma. She knew when to put her foot down for herself. That is worth more than gold. 

Simone Biles doing goat yoga