Friday, August 28, 2009

My neighbor, the nurse

So, the day before I started my new job was quite an injurious day for my son.

It began with an unsuspecting fall off the back of the couch. He likes to balance up there, his tiny bum perched on the cushy part where one would normally rest one's head. There he was, telling me some big animated tale, and the next thing I knew his feet were ascending and he was tipping over backward. A large thud later, there were many tears but thankfully nothing more serious than a sore noggin.

Then it was the bike. He and his dad went for a spin, and I checked in on them after a few minutes. He was riding gleefully, little helmet on, showing off for us and anyone else who'd watch, when he cut a turn a tad too sharply—the evil machine went over in a fraction of a second. Bike hit the pavement, boy simultaneously hit the pavement, and more tears flowed in addition to some blood—and as you know, the presence of blood always constitutes a "serious" injury. Add to the drama some lovely grey pieces of cinder inside the scratches, and you have a pretty nasty knee-and-hand combination.

The third event happened when I was inside after the bike wreck—an inexplicable fall down a couple of steps on our back patio. I missed the whole thing and heard about it later as we sat by the fire pit. (I was actually happy and relieved upon hearing it, because then I knew we were safe and my boy wouldn't plummet into the midst of the burning blaze. You know this stuff always happens in 3s; after that third mishap, we could relax because the third event had come and he was still standing. Whew.)

But even before the boy's evening bath, my husband and I were attempting to administer the necessary bacteria-killing agents to the mangled knee in our tiny, cramped bathroom. Blood-curdling screams burst forth from my son, who flailed every limb with extraordinary agility; we had just resorted to shutting the window (to squelch the sound, thus avoiding a visit from Children's Services) and holding his arms and legs immobile, when my neighbor knocked at our door with her customary "Yoo hoo!"

She wanted me to go for a walk with her, she'd heard the screams from the porch, she'd assumed some injury and figured she'd offer her expert services while encouraging me to get off my behind. Todd let her in, telling her what had happened, and she followed him to the bathroom—easy to find, thanks to the shrieks and sobs emanating from within. She popped in her head—"Hey, do you still have your leg? Did they cut it off? Let me see!" The screams stopped and my son actually permitted her to examine the skinned knee. Then she told him to wash it off in the bath and it would heal, good as new. And she tickled him, as is customary—and he laughed!!!

"Why do you calm down for Susan?" asked Todd, a tiny bit disgruntled at the sudden change in kid demeanor.

"Because she's a nurse!" answered my son, as if that explained everything.

Later, as we took our walk, I chuckled with Susan about the brief but revealing exchange she'd had with my boy. "My dad does it, too," she said. "My mom can't get him to use his walker the right way, he complains he can't get up by himself, makes a fuss, and then the therapist visits and suddenly he's hoofing around and standing on his own. And he gets furious when my mom complains to the therapist that he won't do that for her!" We giggled. "And he's 90!"

Why do we put on the brave face for healthcare folks, but resort to murderous yelps for our own family? What is the magic of a nurse, even when she's in street clothes and a very familiar face to boot? How are we able to be strong for one person but feeble for a team of others? It's silly, and I do believe the deception is far more rampant in men. Is it the male bravado? The need to put up the facade for the sake of the man's image in public? Would studies reveal it to be more prevalent in male patient/female healthcare worker situations?

Either way, the kid stopped crying... so I guess the whole brave face is a good thing. But I do suspect it's a silly boy/man thing.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Met an old student on the city street" *

Last Friday found the boy and I in the city for a free concert that didn't end up happening. Which was a bit disappointing. But the sun shone, people bustled, various construction projects raged (as is standard in the city)... and once we'd finally found over-priced parking, we observed humanity in all its lovely, hideous, often inappropriately clad forms. (The poor dress code of today's workers is fodder for another, much longer post.)

As the kid and I stood beside the supposed concert location, awaiting any sort of hopeful development, we were pleasantly surprised to see my cousin walking down the street, on the job, on the phone, co-worker beside him—amused smiles and waves were exchanged as he hurried on to his next assignment. More people made their way past, some scurrying, some meandering, most simply walking at an average pace. One young woman caught my eye; she was oddly familiar, petite and fair, with clear eyes that brought me back to another period in my life, a much earlier time that I'd all but left behind me. She studied me for a moment as she moved by, I gave her a glance but tried not to stare, and as she continued down the sidewalk I wondered to myself if perhaps, just perhaps, that was a former student that I recalled well.

She came back. As soon as I saw her turning, I knew it was her. She asked me if I'd taught school—I asked her if her name was A. We giggled a bit, now that we were certain, and proceeded to catch up on what had happened in the past 15 years. I introduced her to my son, she told me about her two little ones, we chatted like two moms (which we were). She asked me what my last name was now, and I told her—and then giggled again. "Do you even know my first name?" She remembered it, although I'd never permitted the kids in my classes to use it.

She had always been an absolute delight, in class and out. I was pleased to have run into her again, to see how she's grown, to see the more polished, educated, settled woman she's become. As we talked, it occurred to me that the last time I'd really spoken to her, it had likely been about an assignment, a term paper, a book we'd been reading as part of literature class. She'd been hanging around with her friends back then, in a cheerleading outfit, discussing games and practice and dances and dates. Now here she was, married, a mother, a professional person working downtown. With some quick comparisons, we realized that we are both right now in our same decade of life.

That was the part that blew my mind. Because I'd started teaching right out of college, and in upper grades no less, only about 6 years separate me from this charming young woman who once was my student. It hits me, that moment, what totally different people we are now from the children we were then, not just because we're older but because she is no longer my subordinate. I am no longer assigning her chapters or essays. We are on the same playing field, comparing notes.

And it was so nice to see her. But a tad disconcerting. I felt old. I am old. She is not yet old, but she's not a kid, either. And although we must look at least somewhat the same as we used to, we're so removed from those roles of the past that aside from physical similarities, I wonder if there are any other recognizable characteristics that remain.

People from your past. They surely do make you ponder, don't they?

* Any one else remember that Dan Fogelberg song about bumping into someone he knew?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The project philosophy as marriage theory

Ahhhhhhhhhh, a few coerced moments on the computer at last. I nearly had to arm-wrestle for access to the *#!?*& thing.

We tackled one of the aforementioned home improvement projects last week. If it weren't raining right now, and if the ladders had been put away and the porch swept back into shape, I'd provide a photo: The front of our home now sports lovely, chocolate-colored railing, trim, and gutters. What a difference! Perhaps next time I'll show you the nearly edible loveliness.

For now, though, all that recent work and (sometimes reluctant) teamwork has me thinking about projects in general. It seems to me that all projects follow a similar course. Professional projects, outdoor projects, remodeling projects, whatever—they all proceed in roughly the same fashion.

• First, the project looms, sometimes larger than life. Even small projects, when examined in detail, can be a bit daunting. All those minute points, hidden complications, the sheer thought of attempting such tasks can deter even the most brave and seasoned worker. What? We'll need a taller ladder than we own? Will we have to rent it? We need to scrape all that first? I never noticed how intricate is the scrollwork on this crazy trim... What a pain.

• Then, the details are wrestled into submission. The project is placed into sections, is ordered properly, different portions are prioritized, and the work begins. A ladder is borrowed, paint and supplies are purchased, work is tackled. At first, it may go smoothly, stay on schedule, follow the expected course... The workers' confidence may soar, and additional projects might even be discussed in the heat of success.

• And then, an unforeseen obstacle. Something unexpected happens, or is uncovered. Darnit, the eaves under this gutter are rotten. And the gutter is leaking and clogged at the same time—apparently hasn't functioned properly in years. We need wood, we need more caulking, we need sealant... But we will conquer. Camaraderie reigns yet.

• The project proceeds. More unforeseen obstacles; even with the dark shade, two coats are most definitely needed. Rain is forecasted, days of it for Pete's sake. And the rest of the household chores are looming—they have no respect for the big job in process. They cry out for attention as well. And the neighbors, those friendly chatty neighbors, keep distracting the workers from the job at hand. Interference! Where's the ref?

• At last, crunch time is reached. A new away-from-home work schedule hangs in the near future, in addition to inclement weather on its way, not to mention that one worker is planning to travel out of town in just a few days. All those factors bring about the just-buckle-down-and-get-it-done mentality in at least one team member, and that member's panic and grim determination eventually bleed onto the other members; work commences with steely force, marked by new intensity. The neighbors sense this and steer clear, recognizing the set of the workers' mouths, seeing and knowing that such a speechless, driven approach can only mean that "Just work, dammit" has become the mindset and small talk, even among the workers, has been set upon a shelf for a friendlier future time.

• And then, achievements accumulate, genuine and observable achievements, and the workers are fueled for the finish. Maybe they're still speaking, maybe not, but work continues at a still-somewhat-breakneck pace because the end is in sight. We can taste it.

• Finally, it's done, or so close to done that it feels done, and life can go back to normal, whatever normal looks like.

And that's the project. Nearly every project I've ever been involved with. And you know what I'm realizing? Marriage itself is a project—a project that happens to contain countless other smaller projects. To say this has been an odd, stressful summer would be an understatement. And I'm seeing that daily, especially in stress, this whole project procedure also describes intimate personal relationships a bit. The initial thought of marriage is intimidating, then do-able, then you plan it, then you take the plunge, obstacles arise and you work through them, more arise, you wonder what you were thinking, you get through it, normal is achieved once again, and this pattern repeats many, many times. Occasionally, the obstacles encountered are mind-numbing, might have kept you from starting the project if you'd known it would involve this... You work through them. You have no choice. It would be nice if the majority of married time was spent in that clear-cut, prioritized period where work is accomplished and people feel good about it. But many days, it's not there. Sometimes it's in that "just work, just get it done" phase where the only thing that keeps you working is that you started it and you'll finish it, by God.

Thankfully, marriage includes many moments between projects—happy, carefree periods of employment, of busy but not frenetic schedules, times to enjoy life and have plenty and take things for granted. Memories that are savored when the excrement hits the fan and suddenly every conversation is short and loaded, when Just Work, Dammit is the phrase on your lips and you have to bite your tongue and keep pressing forward, clinging to the knowledge that you made a promise, made a covenant, and you're in it to stay.

I don't think we'll be starting any new projects right now. Yes, there's time, there's man- and woman-power. But I think for now, we'll just savor this moment between projects. We'll get back on a schedule, we'll simply BE for a bit. Down the road there'll be time for more projects, for discomfort aplenty. And it will come. Oh, it will come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Value, and values, clarified

In a time of limited supply, of uncertain future, one must consider the true, lasting values of things.

We’re pinching pennies here. And that’s forcing us to consider some things from a new point of view. We’re prioritizing like never before. We’ve done that in the past, certainly, but probably not to this degree—at least not since college or those first poor years after graduating. And not since we had a child and dropped to a single income.

Is a new cell phone necessary? No. Come to think of it, is a cell phone necessary? Nope. We already ditched cable several years ago. It’s like sugar; I miss it less and less as time goes by. Once you’re distanced from the unnecessary item, you can begin to recognize it for what it is: a sweet but shallow substitute for something really satisfying…like carbs. Sigh. (I’ll never stop missing those…)

We’re even re-thinking home projects. Which ones will provide the most bang for our buck? The continued yard re-design? Or painting the front trim on the house? Or the ugliest of all: the remodeling of and wood stove addition to the basement? We’re leaning toward the basement work, which is of course the most expensive project. But we know a long, lonely winter is coming, and we’d rather be ready for that than gazing out upon a lovely, refinished, snow-covered yard. Warmth will likely matter more than beauty. In the end it always does, just like brute strength is always the inevitable decider.

The people of this country are being forced to consider true values of things; that much has been evident in the last few weeks. Yes, my doctor is hard to reach, and sometimes I think he gives me too much medicine… But boy, I like being able to pick which doc I see. I like knowing that I have options when it comes to all that expensive medicine. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason people leave Canada to have surgery elsewhere. Yes, sometimes folks leave the States to have surgery elsewhere, but I believe the bulk of those cases involves elective, mostly cosmetic surgery, and I just can’t put that in the same category as surgery surgery.

As humans, it’s our nature to weigh the value of something only when we’re in danger of losing it… or have already lost it. I’ve been down that path with jobs and money recently. I’ve traveled that road with relationships of all kinds, with personal freedoms that are threatened, with both potential and realized losses of everything from friends to “me” time. In jeopardy, we are often forced to wax deeply and philosophically about how important something really is. Thankfully, desperate times give us clearer lenses. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken so long for the American people to wake the #*&! up and rebel a little bit. Times haven’t been desperate enough to stir us to serious thought and action.

It feels like we’re there now, doesn’t it? Uncertainties and untruths abound. Jobs disappear. Control is sought and wrestled for. It’s feeling sort of desperate to me. And as a result, honest and genuine worth is becoming easier to spot.

We sat out on the porch yesterday, watching a storm. Rain misted over us, the boy pointed at lightning, we all jumped when thunder shook, my husband pulled a blanket up over his son’s legs to keep them dry. It was a valuable and worthwhile moment, not to be missed but to be held dear. If we’d been rolling in the money, comfortably ensconced in a job and busy-ness, we probably wouldn’t have been there, perhaps wouldn’t have even been home. We might have missed it, groveling for that extra dime.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say; I guess I’m just urging us all to savor this moment of clarity and seek truth and wisdom instead of pursuing further distraction. Myself included. Because clarity can be frightening, and may even require some painful prioritization and uncomfortably expressed passion for that which we hold dear. I’m not getting a new cell phone, and I’m not being unpatriotic when I speak up against something that I think is a bad idea. I’m putting my money where I think it belongs, not where the culture tells me. I’m putting my foot down when I see cockroaches under it. I’m standing by what’s really meaningful, what lasts.

We’ll ride this out, all of us, by clinging to the important stuff. Hold tightly to it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Preparing to be turned on my ear

I accepted a job offer today, and will begin at the end of this month.

No, really. I did. You might have noticed my conspicuous inactivity of late in the blogosphere; it's been quite busy here at our place. Freelance work for my hus, and interviews for me. Three of 'em in 4 weeks. And I turned down a fourth option just this morning. There are still jobs out there, people. Don't listen to the news. And these jobs mostly definitely do NOT exist because of that asinine stimulus bill... But that's another entry.

The job I've taken is part-time, at a non-profit tutoring center 10 minutes from my home. The boss is great. The other folks I've met are great. The hours? They stink. Truly. Because guess when tutoring happens? After school, into the evening. Yep. And even though I won't be tutoring much, I need to be there when that's going on.

There are a lot of good things about this opportunity, other than those wonky hours. Mostly, it'll give my other half the time to pursue his type of work; that was the main reason I was looking, after all.

I have fears. Many of them. It's been awhile since I've worked for pay and recognition. And I've never tried to work while I have a family hangin' at my cozy home without me. Yet, I figure if I'm going to do this, I'd choose to do it with these people at this type of place. And those bills... they just keep showing up. So, maybe there's really not a lot of choice about it.

Wish me luck. Say a prayer. Tell me it'll all be okay. Remind me that God is faithful and an awesome provider. Please.