Where I’ve Been: Recovery & Coffee-Mate-Gate

First, a technical update: Six weeks post-op two-level cervical arthroplasty. The post-op x-ray shows a textbook-perfect cervical spine with two shiny new titanium discs “well-placed.” The pain is mostly gone, except when I wake up in the morning or I do too much (still). I can’t remember the last time I felt pain radiating down my arm, or the last time I took a muscle relaxer (well, except – last night). The incision is healing, but still looks like I got caught in a street fight. I am cleared to live my life.

I went back to work. I so needed to get back to a purpose that didn’t require hours of “healing” rest and endless, useless doses of Tylenol. First day back I was feeling the pain by mid-afternoon, but Todd and I still wanted to go out to dinner. One – because it was the plan we’d made, and two – it would be the last night for two weeks that we’d be able to dine outside.

ICYMI: The east coast was pummeled by rain and thunderstorms for two solid weeks, widespread and flash-flooding. Hershey Park and Knoebels were under water. The restaurant Todd and I went to that night is in a small, old waterfront town that was later under voluntary evacuation.

So we went to dinner. They don’t take reservations so we had a 40 minute wait. Todd had a beer and I had a club soda, while we stood on the deck overlooking this band of middle-aged white men playing top-40s who had the audacity to play Let’s Go Crazy and everybody who knows me knows this is NOT something I want to hear. But – I listened because I couldn’t escape it and noted that the guitar skills weren’t half bad. Still – please don’t.

After dinner we walked back up the hill to the car and my legs wouldn’t move. I was literally breathless and taking two steps at a time and stopping. The only other time I ever had that happen was when I arrived at the hospital in labor with V and I got halfway across the parking lot and couldn’t move. Kind of scary.

Anyway. Weeks 4 & 5: I worked a full-time schedule. It was a BEAR. One was an 11-hour day that I came home from and hugged V and just started to cry. That is what happens to me under extreme exhaustion and [unnecessary] emotional stress I put on myself.

Opac had senior pictures taken. It was in the high school auditorium, and I sat there all tense trying to hold back tears. Am I handling my son’s rapidly-approaching adulthood well? Ask me again in 3 months, when he turns 18. Or at his graduation – I’ll be the red-faced, swollen one clutching a handful of wet tissues and blind with tears. I’d…. say…. No. I cried at his preschool graduation. He was five.

I worked my last Saturday morning for a while (new schedule means I don’t work weekends anymore, except for one in rotation). Todd and I went to an antique store in Havre de Grace. It was crammed with so much vintage stuff, I was just turning around and around trying to take it all in. Todd lasted about 20 minutes and went outside to break the itching from the dust.

We drove to Concord Point Lighthouse and walked the decks lining the Chesapeake hand-in-hand like tourists. I don’t think of Havre de Grace as a touristy place, but Todd schooled me: Historically, it was considered for the state capitol, but lost to Annapolis. We took pictures and saw residents walking their dogs, an old woman in a wheelchair under the shade of a tree overlooking the Bay, and a 50-something couple blasting music from an iPhone, dancing like they were all alone at a  Dead concert.

The next day: Costco on an empty stomach and I scored one chicken and cheese ravioli in pesto sauce, a small cup of diced pickled beets, and one piece of a Snack Factory Pretzel. It was not a terribly stressful shopping trip, all things considered. (The man who blocked the entire display of blueberries, inspecting every package for Just the Right One.) Sometimes the state of humanity can be summed up in one trip to Costco and, in worse cases, at Walmart. For all that Walmart is and isn’t, I’ve never found anyone there to be nasty. Inconsiderate and oblivious – yes – but not nasty. Meanwhile, more people at Costco are giving the stink eye on the day God rested than anywhere I’ve been recently.

V was in Avalon with her dad last week, and Mom came to visit for a long weekend here. We took her to the Chesapeake Inn for an early dinner – another marvelous restaurant on the Bay with valet parking, live music, and great food. Had two Pain in de Asses, or maybe three? Mom took it upon herself to order us another round while I was in the bathroom.

Opac went out Saturday with friends for a Gym Class reunion. This class was a close-knit group of guys whose teacher baptized them the Mountain Dewds and had t-shirts made up for them. So they went out to dinner and then hung out at one’s house – O spent the night and needed a ride home the next morning. I picked him up around 7:45 – he said he hadn’t slept – and I took a detour to the store for more Coffee-Mate (which we were out of). I was wearing pajamas and he was fully clothed, so I did what any mother would do. I asked him to go in for me.

He is about as cooperative as a tree. First he refused to go in. I pointed out my attire and the fact that I came and picked his ass up. I only needed ONE THING. He didn’t know what he was looking for. I GOOGLED a pic of Coffee-Mate and showed it to him. This! He said, but we’re not at Target (the source of the pic). I told him where to look for it. In the coffee aisle, on the left side, past the cans of coffee, top shelf.

Ten minutes later… he comes out empty handed, looking royally aggravated. That was nothing compared to the storm waiting for him inside the car. He insisted they didn’t have what I wanted, there were all these weird flavors like hazelnut and “some blueberry flavored shit,” I  looked, and you shouldn’t drink coffee anyway, no wonder your teeth are yellow (oh YES he did) and… I’m not going back in there. He hadn’t showered, was covered in pet hair, hadn’t slept, and needed to shave. I told him very matter-of-factly that there was absolutely NO ONE in that store he knew at this hour of the morning on a Sunday, and I KNOW they have Coffee-Mate in there.

He was not going back in there. Well, I told him, I’m not leaving this parking lot without it. The stand-off continued, until my phone rang and it was Todd. I figured he was wondering where we were, since I was gone so long. I explained to him pleasantly that we’ve stopped at the store for Coffee-Mate. Oh, that’s great, he said. I have a favor to ask you.

Now at this point you should assume that my nerves are bristling over the stand-off with Opac, but I’m not letting on with Todd because Opac is still in the car. But I already know that my case is going to go volcanic if I have to ask O to pick up One. More. Thing. But Todd only wants me to stop at the mailbox on the way back, and I sighed heavily which he read only as she doesn’t want to be bothered, and said, you know, nevermind, forget it. I’ll just walk up myself. He had no idea what was going on in that car, at that moment. The twig was just about snapped. We hung up and I tore into Opac.

!!!I’m still recovering from major surgery, I’m in pain, I can’t take meds when I have to drive and I picked you up this morning early because you wanted to come home, my boobs are popping out of my pajama top, and ALL I NEED IS ONE CONTAINER OF COFFEEMATE. He took a loud deep breath and stepped out of the car, pausing to dramatically rest his forehead against the open door to “get some air.” And then he walked back in.

A few minutes later he sent me a pic of the Coffee-Mate refrigerator case – which, by the way – is at the OPENING of the aisle, ON THE RIGHT SIDE. If you’ve remembered the directions I gave him, this is all kinds of wrong. And I know exactly what display he’s looking at, and it’s not the powdered Coffee-Mate I want. I called him. He didn’t answer, little turd. So I start frantically stabbing letters into a text, reiterating the original directions, cause if he comes out again with nothing I will have no choice but to pummel him in the parking lot.

Eventually he comes out, WITH the Coffee-Mate, and all is right with the world again. Don’t mess with momma’s coffee. My mom laughed that I pulled the surgery card, and I told her I also pulled the Nannie-needs-Coffee-mate-for-her-coffee-too card.

There’s more. But my ex just called to ask if he could stop by to drop off some paperwork in an hour, and I need a shower.

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Hanging By a Thread

(from July 11th)

The journey is not epic, but rather a drama mixed with occasional comedy, and full of ups and downs. I know I sound melodramatic, but I’m frustrated and a bit stabby, and occasionally depressed. I think yesterday my tolerance meter nearly imploded.

It’s summertime. I had major surgery (Todd keeps reminding me), and it’s summertime. The kids are home. Every day. Because – summertime. This amounts to [now] two teenagers occupying the peaceful space of my home 24/7, restless spirits who also spend hours behind closed bedroom doors. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “mom” yesterday, I’d be buying Todd that antique Mustang he’s pining for.

I’m two weeks and 6 days post-op. I’ve tried to do things. Sometimes it was okay, but more often than not it didn’t turn out so good. I was told I could drive two weeks after surgery. On that day, I had to explain to Veruca that this did not mean I should jump in a car and start cruising around. She’s been fairly understanding of my condition, insofar as a self-centered 13-year-old can be, like yesterday we went to the store and she insisted on carrying all the groceries in for me, but she also insisted on an extra stop at the pet store.

Just now she walked out here where I was typing, to ask me what I was planning to do today. Well, let’s see, what I’d like to do: weed the gardens, mop the floors, do laundry, make some banana bread, finish cleaning out my closet, and pull out the 40lb sewing machine and start sewing. What I told her: resting. She sighed the heavy sigh perfected by teenagers the world over and, with a head roll that likely matched the one in her eyes, went back to her room.

She’s bored. I GET IT. I promise you, nobody is more bored than me. But, I learned my lesson. I vacuumed three rooms – the living room, dining room, and kitchen – last Friday, and spent the rest of the day in pain. And then Todd yelled at me, because, YOU HAD MAJOR SURGERY. You can’t strain yourself. You’re supposed to be resting. And when I look at him, he asks me to stop giving him dirty looks.

I hurt. Every. Time. I. Do. Something. This is bullshit. Everyone keeps saying, take it easy! Don’t rush it! Healing needs to happen first! Don’t do anything to encourage the Steri-strips to fall off! Which, by the way, were by last Saturday literally hanging by a sixteenth of an inch from the skin on my neck and the rest of it was flapping in the wind.

No way in HELL was I going out in public with that. So I took a shower and blow-dried my neck as I have done every day because the instructions said to thoroughly dry the site, and the Steri-strips were flapping like a moth stuck to a light until suddenly…. off!

Have I mentioned that I’m bored to death? I can’t lift anything, I can’t do any of the things I would normally do when I’m home all day. I haven’t been to work in three weeks. Someone posted this meme about “when you go back to work after vacation but can’t remember what you even do.” This made me laugh, because I’m worried it’s true.

So far I’ve watched Netflix, some Netflix, and more Netflix, and finished two books. I’m way too invested in what happens to the folks on Fuller House. I’ve read online articles about Johnny Depp’s downward spiral, followed the breathtaking rescue of the boys trapped in the cave in Thailand, and trolled Facebook which itself has become either boring as hell or annoying me with everyone’s vacations. Sure, I’ve “liked” their posts, even when all I wanted to do was say “you suck!” I’ve tried napping, which only makes me feel like I’ve been drugged.

Meanwhile, Veruca decided to clean the bathroom she shares with O. Except the floor was covered with towels (seven towels. SEVEN.) and dirty clothes she insisted all belonged to him. So she knocked on his bedroom door and bitched him out about the mess on the floor and told him to get in there and clean it up. I held my breath.

Moments later they’re in the kitchen, and she’s bitching at him about the pubic hairs on the toilet and shavings in the sink, and he’s saying those aren’t his pubic hairs. Which was the wrong thing to say, and then an argument ensued which ended with accusations about one of them needing a lawnmower for their pubic hair.

Aside from sibling problems, V has been to a birthday party and a day away at one of her besties’ houses, and Opac started mandatory driving school. He has to go every day for two weeks. The first day was Monday, and the parent (“driving coach”) had to attend orientation with the student. Driving coach? I never signed on for THAT. Needless to say, I heard myself referred to as “old-school” and learned a thing or two about driving in modern society.

He’s getting a lot more driving practice in, while I snap on my “holy shit!” neck brace and people stare because my kid must drive like a maniac.

Monday evening he came home from football workouts with a friend and called me from the driveway asking for help getting out of the car.

What do you mean, HELP you get out of the car?

My muscles in my legs seized up and I can’t move.

How am I supposed to help you with this? I’m recovering from surgery. At this point I’m walking outside, where he is standing stock-still next to Kyle’s car with the door open, and Kyle looks like the cat that swallowed the canary. Opac literally cannot move. I told him to take a few steps and close the door so that Kyle (the hilarity of the situation tickling the corners of his mouth) can go home.

Opac winces and hobbles toward the concrete steps to the front door, says he’s not gonna make it. I call for Veruca to help him, and she does…mostly by holding his hand as he climbs the steps and I am momentarily struck by the sweetness of it all until the moment is shattered by him yelling about the pain. I tell him to take a hot shower to loosen the muscles, and he’s insisting he needs to ice it. A brief pissing match over who is right ensues, so I walk away and tell him to do what he thinks is best, then.

He decides on a warm bath, since he called Dad and that’s what dad said to do, because dad is God today. So he’s running the bath and tells me that Kyle just texted him complaining of the exact same problem, and that he fell down the stairs. What kind of workouts are these?

A few minutes go by and I get this…

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My great grandmother always said, Don’t wish your life away. And that statement has plenty of merit, but lawd I neeeeeed to get to my 6-week post-op appointment. I need August.

It Starts Again

After a long summer that didn’t feel like it went all that fast, we’re back to real-life rush hour. The first day of summer always feels like I want to slit my wrists when Veruca is demanding an activity schedule worthy of an organized, intinerized trip. Yeah, I totally just made that word up.

The kids had their vacation with their dad and Todd and I had ours. We spent time together, we spent time apart. Summer slogged along. Then football started the second week of August, and suddenly time jumped on the A train and took off like a bullet.

This is the first year I wasn’t counting the days until the first day of school. Instead, I’ve been checking the tears at every door we pass through. Seriously, two weeks ago I totally used my burning eyes from a long day staring at insurance verifications to cover the tears that kept welling up as I watched Opac begin his 3rd year in football.

To say I’ve been emotional lately would be an understatement. I sat there in the bleachers, watching him across the field, and acutely felt the loss of the little child I held in my arms with his head snuggled into my shoulder.

He’s a Junior this year. He has two years of high school left, before he leaves the nest to go be a college kid and create his own life. Two Years. Two years is a blink in the world of parenting. And I’m not ready. I’m not ready to let him go. Of course, he still doesn’t have his driver’s license, so I suppose he can’t go too far. Yet.

I have several friends who drove their firstborns to college this year and that, itself, has nailed home the reality. Nephtoo began college this year. Which reminds me, he still hasn’t sent me his address so I can send him stuff. And why? Because he’s off living his own life and adulting, and has temporarily forgotten his family.

I hear dumb music and I start to cry. I think about his soft baby hair and his little hand resting on my chest, and the long lashes that curled over his big brown eyes – because I would sit on the couch and hold him while he slept. He never learned to sleep in a crib.

Every moment he walked out my door, he took a part of my heart with him. Every moment I think about the inevitable bearing down on us, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed in a vice. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m terribly emotional about him.

This is the first year I’ve felt the weight of the second child growing up. V started 7th grade this year. I remember my middle school years, probably better than I should. I don’t remember clinging to my mom quite like she does, or smothering her with my love and attention. My mom keeps reminding me that V loves me so much, and that I should enjoy it. I’m not good at being smothered though, which is where I struggle with her. Smothering me was the kiss of death for many a boy, once upon a time.

This year, however, while I’ve been working on setting those personal space boundaries with her – which, ironically, is a topic that figures into my next post – I’ve also begun to embrace the moments she’s close to me that way because it’s inevitable that she may change her M.O. as she enters the teen years. And if my teen years with my mom are any predictor of the future, or at the very least Karma – it’s gonna get ugly.

In any case, I’m experiencing some occasional sadness. It’s not every minute, or every day, but it comes with the suddenness of a drive-by shooting. I’m feeling sadness over my kids growing up, over growing older, watching my parents age and what that means, what life will look like in 20 years.

And these are the times I’m most vulnerable, and then the door to the attic of my soul cracks open and I start to feel everything. Including the things I’ve tried to heal, and locked away. I think of the child I lost, and it opens a Pandora’s box of whys and why nots. And suddenly I’m feeling that loss again, not nearly as acutely as that day, but a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. And I have my reasons for that too, but there are some things I prefer to keep to myself, even as I choke on them.

So it starts again. School is three days underway and we’re back to a bumpy groove, as O has practice daily after school and games every Friday, and V has softball practice at night and games every Saturday. Even Todd has the schedule from hell this week. The four of us have not had dinner together in almost 2 weeks. I’m behind on personal appointments, and I’m picking up extra hours at work. All of those things on my summer to-do list have now been transferred to my Fall to-do list.

I had big plans for the first week of school, but like all plans, even the best laid plans don’t always get laid.