It’s “Hairball Awareness” Day

Really. I’m not joking. Be Aware of the Hairball. Today is not necessarily a day of celebration, but merely a day of being aware. I wonder if it has a ribbon?

I’ve had lots of cats over the years so I’ve seen my fair share of hairballs. Some of my cats never had any problems at all but some cats just seem to be plagued with them. And nothing would help. Not leaving an open jar of Vaseline and baiting the cat to eat it nor feeding said cat a special diet of “hairball-remedy” food could alleviate the issue. If they were prone to them you just kinda had to live with it.

The worst hairball offender that comes to my mind is the cat that belonged to my step-dad, Rob, before he and my mom got married. I met this cat when I was 12 years old, when the cat was just a cute, wee-little kitten. I loved going over to visit the man who eventually became my dad especially because of the side benefit of getting to play with the adorable little kitten. I don’t believe Rob was in the market for a cat, but when his neighbor dropped it off one day at his house – kind of like a “drive-by” catting – it was love at first sight.

When I first met this cat, I asked what his name was. Rob said that he didn’t know because the cat had not formally introduced himself, which I found to be hysterical. Anyway, Rob eventually ended up calling the cat “Anonymous”. And while “Anonymous” was an aesthetically beautiful cat, he was the most foul little beast I’ve ever encountered. Don’t get me wrong, he had some redeeming qualities, like playing “fetch” with a wadded up paper ball (no joke!). But “Anonymous” was most famous for his “running three-room hairball”, where he would skid out in the kitchen (sounding like Fred Flintstone starting his car) and bolt through the hallway only to slide to a stop before ramming into the sliding glass door in the family room. Of course, this mad sprint was performed in tandem with laying a hairball that stretched from Point A to B. Heinous.

Other foul things that “Anonymous” did: The infamous roll-top desk hairball (yeah, try cleaning THAT up!), the “use the back leg to scratch behind the ear only to pop a giant cyst all over the bathroom mirror” maneuver, and then the “I’m not fond of you so I’m going to “mark” you”. I swear I’m not making this up.

“Anonymous” was not apologetic for any of his actions. He’d perform these amazingly disgusting feats only to eye you as if to say “Are you going to clean that up, or what?” He became quite the curmudgeon in his old age, often sitting on the gate to my parent’s driveway in German Village and hissing at the passers-by on a lovely spring day. My mom posted a sign by his “perch” that said Chat Lunatique (Crazy Cat en Francais) , which was a big hit in the touristy community. In fact, despite the passing of the “Anonymous Cat” – he succumbed to cancer – there have been many folk stopping by to ask about the Chat Lunatique and they are almost always disappointed to learn that he’s passed on to Kitty Heaven. If only they knew about the running three-room hairballs that my parents had to put up with….

I would never want to be any sort of animal that had to bathe myself or my offspring with my tongue. I have a feeling that I, too, would be susceptible to hairballs. Fortunately, one of my two offspring is currently follicly challenged, so grooming him would not be overly time consuming or resulting in many hairballs.

My poor little Bean. He’s really struggling right now. We knew that the days following his high dose chemo treatment would be horrible but I was hoping that those stem cells would be a little more helpful in creating a speedy recovery. Ben was discharged last Saturday from his round of high dose chemo. We went back for his stem-cell “rescue” on Monday, and by Tuesday he was struggling with a sore throat. He was admitted to the hospital because he stopped eating and drinking, and then began throwing up blood. By Wednesday he was absolutely miserable. Mucousitis was plaguing him from his throat to his stomach, making it impossible for him to take anything by mouth. No food, no water, no medicine. He was in a lot of pain. Since then he’s been sleeping a lot with the occasional foray into vomiting up blood. Tonight was a bit better than earlier today, hopefully tomorrow will be even better. The docs seem to think he might be ready for discharge by Monday, and I’m sure Ben will be more than ready to get out, too, but we’re not going to let them push him out before he’s really and truly ready.

Have I mentioned lately how much I HATE CANCER? I hate it. I really do. I hate it a whole real lot. I cried yesterday while looking at my teeny-tiny son lying there, refusing to snuggle with me because he was miserable, unable to talk to me because his mouth hurt, shooting up out of his bed when the pain got to be too much, throwing up due to a combination of the mouth sores, the pain meds, and not eating for several days. I cannot wait for this part to be over. I know I keep saying that… I can’t wait for surgery to be over, I can’t wait for chemo to be over, I can’t wait for the aftereffects of chemo to be over… and it’s all true. I can’t wait for ALL of it to be over. But I can only muddle through one section at a time. And I can’t wait for this part – the part where Ben feels absolutely horrible – to be over. Forever. Completely. All gone. Adios. I want my son to have “normal” normal. Not just the normal we have because we’ve been doing it for so long. I hate that this life of cancer has become our “normal”. So not cool.

I’d really rather be cleaning up hairballs.

It’s “Tell A Story” Day

Have I got a story for you. Don’t I always? And you love them. Don’t you? You know you do. Admit it. You can’t wait to immerse yourself in the gooey, sticky mess that surrounds me. I’m catchy. Addictive. I’m crack. Fly paper. A train wreck. A can of Pringles. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Not even if you wanted to.

I’m an underdog, so it’s highly likely you’re rooting for me. Well, most of you are. There are probably some who would like to see me maimed on the sidelines. Bleeding profusely. Might even take pleasure in finding me decapitated. But you’re reading, too. Because despite your disdain for me you’re addicted to my every move. It can’t be helped. I hope you can find the courage to be thankful you’re not me. But that’s another story. And one that I’m willing to share some other time when the wounds are not so raw.

Yep, I’m waaaaay off today. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m ready to run away but am stuck in my own ooey-gooey mess.

I’m lying here in the bed snuggled up next to Ben. I occasionally reach over to rub the fine hair that is trying – in vain – to grow. Any day now the chemo is going to say, “Enough of that growing! Away with you!” And his whispery fine locks will come out in my hands. Scatter themselves across his flannel pillowcase. Get stuck in the saliva that seems to be congruent with mouth sores. Damn Cancer. I am so flipping sick of you. Taking my Bean’s childhood. Taking our friend Taylor yesterday evening. But I have to put up with you. You’re here, you’re destructive, and I have to figure out a way to deal with you.

But that mound of laundry is sitting in the corner of the bedroom. And it’s staring at me. Giving me the evil eye. I start to drift off to sleep only to be shaken awake with a nightmarish sensation that they’re coming to get me. The stains have formed an impenetrable bond and are able to stand on stiff legs. They’re raising from their mass grave that I’ve tried to bury them in and they’re surrounding the bed. Clamoring for a piece of my soul. “I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, LAUNDRY! YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!” And that’s when they destroy me, ripping me to shreds, leaving me with nothing clean to wear at my funeral.

Cancer and laundry are very similar in the way that they simply take over if given enough room to spread. I’ve been on a mission lately to save my son from cancer taking over his sweet little body, now I’m going to raise awareness for the silent killer that stalks us all: Laundry.

People Against Dirty Clothes. Wash for the Cure. Pray for Tide (with or without an infusion of Febreze). The ribbon will be dirt colored marred with a variety of stains, but with a tiny area on the corner bathed in brilliant whiteness. The scratch and sniff version will have a slight tinge of bleach surrounded by the overpowering smell of congealed ketchup. At least, that’s what MY kids’ clothes smell like.

See? I told you I had a story. Aren’t you glad I’m not your mom? Aren’t you glad I’m not tucking you in at night and telling you my terribly demented tales? Actually, I don’t do this to my kids. I’m too busy telling Madeline stories about a character I’ve named “Princess Nine”. She’s a bit of a brat but always learns her lesson before the story is over. And then Ben. I used to tell him stories about Buzz Lightyear telling him the need for a good night’s sleep so he could help save the Universe. But lately, I’ve been using story-telling time to reassure him how wonderful he is. How many lives he’s changed. What a strong boy he is. I hope he believes me because that story is simply NOT a fairy tale.

Okay! Okay! Stop staring at me. Which load wants to go first?

Lalalalalalala. No. No. No. I’m NOT LISTENING! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! STOP! NO! I REFUSE TO LISTEN TO THIS!

Maybe if I continue to act like a child – the way I absolutely feel like acting right now – I can gloss over the terrible news that people keep trying to tell me.

She’s gone. My friend, Tammy, lost her daughter, Taylor, today. I’m closing my eyes. And shaking my head. Wiping away the tears that are streaming down my face. Because my friend lost her daughter. And I don’t know what to say or do. I don’t even want to hear it. I know I’m an adult. I know I should take this information with a bit more maturity than I’m currently exhibiting. But I’m not. I can’t. I won’t. I have mentally thrown myself on the floor and I am kicking and screaming because MY FRIEND LOST HER CHILD! My friend lost her child. I can say this sentence over and over, focusing the emphasis on a different word each time, and the sentence never changes. It continues to suck.

My friend lost her child!

My warped mind is thinking of the beautiful young girl with a quiet smile and dancing brown eyes, knowing that she was more of an adult in her too short of a life than I’m currently acting with all my 41 years of experience. I’m not rational. But clearly, cancer is not rational either. It’s supposed to attack the elderly who are ready to die. In my mind, an appropriate scenario for cancer to play would be as follows:  It shows up one day at the nursing home and says, “Oh. Hello there, Mildred. You’ve had a heck of a run, haven’t you, my dear? Well, now that you’ve loved and lived and aspired and achieved, it’s time to come with me. Close your eyes, Millie. Let me take over from here.” And Millie, surrounded by her children and grandchildren and memories of her 89 years usher her out to whatever is next. Sure, there were trials and tribulations along the way, but she never had to do anything horrific like bury a child. Overall, my protagonist had a pleasant life.

And putting the “making up crazy stories as a way to cope with my grief ” aside, I know that Taylor was extremely loved during her fourteen years, too. I’m sure she had family – maybe a friend or two – with her during her final hours, doing all they could to keep her as  comfortable as possible. Holding the hand that would never see an engagement ring. Kissing the lips that had most likely never known true love’s kiss. Gazing adoringly at her face, knowing that soon – too soon – she would be gone. Waiting. Breathlessly. For that moment she drew her last.

Oh, my dear, sweet Lord. My friend lost her child.

And this happened today.  A day that Ben and I were sitting in the very same hospital. On the same floor. Ben was getting his stem-cell “rescue”. We were right down the hall. And not that I could have done anything about it, but I hate knowing that this family was struggling right under my stupid nose. Too daft to recognize the swollen faces of the nursing staff – evidently distressed by what has to be a heartbreak that is all too common in their world. How do they NOT get attached to these children? How do they NOT mourn when one loses their battle? I knew something was up, but I was too lost in my own hooey. Too worried to see past my own situation. I didn’t reach out. I just didn’t know. I didn’t know.

I’ve been pulled out of my temper tantrum by my son running to the bathroom to  throw up. No doubt this nausea is an aftereffect of his therapy. He says his throat hurts, which means that the mouth sores are coming. Damn Cancer. You’ve had a busy day.

Rest your head on my shoulder, my sweet son. Let me comfort you. Pray over you. Love you. Maybe we can watch a silly kitty video on YouTube while we’re waiting for your pain medicine to kick in. Try to rest, little Bean. I can’t share this news with you tonight. I can’t burden you while you’re trying so hard to heal yourself. We can cry together later, when you’re stronger.

Although, I know he’s actually a lot stronger than he looks. He comes by it honestly, I guess.

Goodnight, Precious Taylor. Rest well.

Tammy Montelongo Rivera

It’s “National Garlic Day”

Madeline and her Dad have a special game they like to play each morning called “Dragon Breath”. How to play: take turns treating your opponent as a breathalyzer by blowing your high-octane morning breath in the general direction of their olfactory nerve. Rules: 1) You cannot brush your teeth before playing. 2) You CAN fuel up by drinking coffee or having some other smelly breakfast food. Object of the game: Be the one with the smelliest breath to win. It’s good for multiple players, ages 4 and up. Good, clean fun (?) for everyone.

It almost makes me wish there were more breakfast foods with garlic as a main ingredient. I usually don’t play “Dragon Breath” with Matt and Madeline, but I might if I ate, say, garlic frosted corn flakes. Or powdered garlic donuts. Or French toast stuffed with garlic. Okay, I’m grossing myself out (which is pretty darn difficult to do).

I do love garlic, though. Spicy garlic chicken, mmmm. Oven-roasted garlic on melba toast crackers, double mmmmm. Flat bread pizza with mozzerella, basil, tomatoes and slivers of garlic, supersize mmmmm. I always have bulbs of garlic on hand in my kitchen. It’s good on everything. Well, except the majority of breakfast foods.

Not only is garlic delicious, but it wards off evil, too. I’ve used it in many “bad boyfriend” scenarios. It’s usually my last resort, but if a boy is particularly bad, I’ve been known to pull out my garlic necklace and wear it until the bad boyfriend returns to his casket. Or walks out into the sunlight and bursts into flames. Whichever comes firsts.

I’m wondering if I should make Ben wear a garland of garlic in his fight against cancer? It couldn’t hurt, right? The poor kid goes through so much already, I don’t want to further punish his self-esteem by requiring him to wear bulbs of garlic around his neck. I guess I’ll pass on that notion for now. But if it ever gets to that point where researchers say that garlic cures cancer, well, we’ll play a round of “Dragon Breath” after ingesting copious amounts of garlic and making Ben the breathalyzer. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.

I’m at the point where I’m not telling him what’s next in treatment. It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything from him, it’s just that I’m tired of telling him one thing and then having to change the plans. It’s not worth stressing him out until we know the exact facts and when they are going to occur, which is often just seconds before a procedure actually takes place. This last trip to New York was so incredibly frustrating that I’m still trying to decompress even though we’ve been back in Colorado for more than 72 hours.

I won’t go into all the details for fear of boring the pants off of you – or frustrating you beyond belief – but the basic overview is as follows: Ben had surgery with the famed Dr. LaQuaglia at Memorial Sloan Kettering 10 days ago. While we don’t have the final pathology reports back yet, Dr. LaQuaglia believes that what he removed was scar tissue. Whew!

Here’s where it gets a little more confusing. Dr. Kramer, Ben’s oncologist, stopped by right before he was discharged to let us know what would come next. She mentioned something about chemo in Denver with a stem-cell rescue and then return back to NYC in a couple of weeks to repeat scans before starting the antibody therapy. We knew he would do the round of chemo, but we didn’t know if it would be in Denver or in NYC. And this was the first I’d heard about a stem-cell rescue. Dr. Kramer was talking about collecting stem-cells from Ben (via a catheter in his neck!) but I told her that I was confident that Ohio State still had stem-cells from his 2004 collection that we could use. She asked if we could verify that and Matt (via speaker phone) said that he would contact Ohio for a transfer. I have to give props to Matt here… he did a great job of coordinating the stem-cell verification and transfer.

The rest is a bunch of back and forth, too many cooks spoiling the pot, mass confusion, total frustration, desire to surrender but knowing that was not an option, culminating in the parents knowing way more than the physicians. I’ll say this now: WE NEED A COORDINATOR WHO KNOWS EVERY DETAIL OF BEN’S TREATMENT PLAN. While Matt and I know enough to muddle through, we are NOT doctors. We keep getting new information thrown at us from so many different outlets. It’s a “hurry up and wait” scenario and we’re juggling between three different facilities in Ohio, Denver, and New York. CRAZY!

I’m going to start throwing bulbs of garlic at these people.

So, all I know now is not much more than I knew several days ago. I’m taking Ben to Denver Children’s today for lab work. Columbus Children’s is working on sending Ben’s stem-cells to Denver for the chemo/stem-cell rescue procedure that is planned for sometime in the supposed near future. We’re scheduled to go back to NYC on May 13-14 for scans. And that’s all I know.

Until then, I’m gearing up for the ultimate round of “Dragon Breath” tonight. I’m thinking an Italian menu – garlic bread, homemade sauce with loads of garlic, with a side of garlic and extra garlic… might as well celebrate today to its fullest extent.

It’s “Big Wind” Day

On this day in 1934, the staff of the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire recorded the highest surface wind ever measured, which was officially recorded at 231 miles per hour. In honor of this crazy big wind, the ‘powers that be’ created “Big Wind Day” to celebrate what probably would have blown Dorothy and Toto way past OZ. Probably even past Hogwarts.

Wait, though. Hold the phone. This record was toppled by Typhoon Olivia as she barreled through Barrow Island, Australia in 1996. Olivia was caught speeding at 253 mph, breaking the record held by the “Wind with No Name” from New Hampshire by 22 mph. I’m sure the “Wind with No Name” was seriously bummed.

So, when these records are broken, does the holiday still exist? Is it mandatory to move “Big Wind” day to whichever day Olivia blew Barrow Island to bits and pieces? I don’t have that answer. It seems I don’t have many answers these days. You think you know what’s coming next and then “BAM!” It all changes in an instant.

And over the past few years I’ve learned to accept the wind of change as it blows through our lives. Here lately, however, it’s been coming at us faster and without any sort of pattern, hellbent on breaking its prior record. Good thing I don’t put a lot of effort into my hairstyle because it’s getting blown to bits.

Usually I’d have something familiar to grab onto. A familiar city. A familiar person. A familiar hospital. But all of this is new. New doctors with new ideas. They don’t know Ben. They don’t know me. We don’t know them. Interestingly enough, I don’t feel lost. I’m not sure exactly what it is that I’m feeling. At least I’m still feeling, right? I’m not completely numb. That’s good, right? Sure it is. But it seems like I’m always waiting. And then once a “plan” is in place, I rush furiously to keep up with the gust, hopefully landing where I’m supposed to.

Ben had surgery on Friday. He was in the pediatric observation unit (AKA: the POU) with plans to be discharged to the main oncology floor yesterday. Seeing how it was Sunday, there weren’t any new kiddos scheduled to need the POU, so they allowed Ben to stay. Until 3 AM this morning. The nurse woke me with a shake and said “You need to move out of this room.” My first instinct was “this is a weird dream”. Then I realized that most of my waking moments are some weird dream. I shook off sleep as quick as I could, packed all of our stuff, and carried Ben to our new room. We’ve never been “inpatient” on the oncology floor at MSKCC before so it was all new to us. I laid Ben on the bed and unpacked to some degree, just so I would know where my essential items were. I located the nearest bathroom before either of us had an emergency. I tried to make a new plan based on our new surroundings. I tried to figure out how the bed worked.  Three AM is not the best time to introduce me to a new program.

Even the nurses didn’t know we had moved in. One nurse came in to what she must have thought was an empty room only to be surprised by our “squatting”. She yelped in surprise and used her “stern voice” to ask ‘what are you doing in here?’ Duh. What are we doing in here, indeed. All right, the gig is up. You guessed it. I shave my kid’s head and crash oncology units in the middle of the night just so we can have a place to sleep. I guess I’m just glad she didn’t lay down on top of us, or eat her lunch, or start smoking a cigarette before she realized we were there. She changed her tune quickly enough but I have to admit it takes someone with some special skills to make an outsider feel even more like an outsider. Guess what? I don’t wanna be a part of your club. But while we’re here, at least you can be cordial. Oh wait. I forgot. This is New York City. I forgot that this is where the wind has blown us for the time being.

So, I’m sitting here typing my little heart out, getting as aggravated as I get, wondering when the next gust of “big wind” will come bursting forth. Waiting. Knowing it’s gonna happen. Trying to be prepared but not knowing what I’m preparing for. I know it’s going to happen today. Will it be discharge? Will it be chemo? Will it be something altogether different? Maybe it’s not treatment related? Maybe it’ll be divorce papers? Maybe terrorists will infiltrate MSKCC? Maybe an asteroid will fall out of the sky or we’ll all be abducted by aliens? Who knows? Certainly not me.

But bring it. I’m ready.

It’s “8-Track Tape” Day

Some people had memberships to exclusive country clubs. Others reserved their membership budget for a summer pass to the local pool. Our family? We were members of The Columbia House Record and Tape Club. Our membership benefits included an initial eight selections of our choosing for the low cost of $5.99 (plus S&H), and then a ninth selection for only a penny. We had all the new releases: Hotel California by the Eagles, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, and then the occasional “Director’s Selection” that was automatically sent because we didn’t return the postcard back to Columbia House in a timely fashion (additional postage required). Or at least that’s the excuse I gave to friends when they made fun of the Helen Reddy and Sonny and Cher tapes we had in our collection.

I remember being offered the opportunity of picking out TWO 8-tracks for my birthday and I chose The Eagle’s Greatest Hits and The Village People’s Greatest Hits. Clearly, I was still developing my musical taste and had to afford myself a heinous misstep here and there. The Village People quickly landed in the “Don’t open in front of ANYONE” drawer that also included The Starland Vocal Band (Afternoon Delight) and Vicki Lawrence (The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia).

Oh, yeah, baby. That’s the good stuff.

What always freaked me out about the 8-track tape was the fact that right in the middle of a song – usually during the chorus – the song would start to fade out only to give way to a very loud and intrusive CLICK, and then fade back into the song a few seconds before the CLICK so rudely interrupted. As if it was trying to fool you into believing “you didn’t just hear that. And we made up for it by re-playing the bit before the CLICK. That didn’t happen. You are getting sleepy… ” Riiiight. I wasn’t fooled. Even if I was only seven.

Hey! With all that clicking going on, maybe we were being conditioned to react to something? Much like “clicking” for positive reinforcement during dog training. Perhaps the creators of the 8-track system were thinking along these lines: “When you hear the click, you will love 1970’s music.” It certainly worked that way for me.

Technically, I prefer albums. Of course, albums are not very portable and could never rival the ease of use that compact discs and MP3 players offer. Could you imagine trying to play an album during a road trip? Or while running on the treadmill? I can see it now – walking into my gym lugging my turn table, finding a place to precariously balance it to keep it steady, hoping that nobody nearby is planning to jump or make sudden movements that would make my record skip. And then hooking up my extra large headphones, which connect me to my stereo with that springy spiraled cord, dials on the side of my padded ears to adjust the volume.  This cumbersome getup begs the accompaniment of tight polyester athletic shorts, tube socks pulled to the knees, Puma sneakers, and a mesh shirt. Sassy.

Makes me wish Gold Circle was still around. Remember that place? You could get EVERYTHING at Gold Circle. Groceries, mesh shirts, 8-track players… they had it all. Not quite as cool as Target, but it was the best Central Ohio had to offer back in the day. Unless you were more of a J.C. Penney Outlet kind of shopper.

Gold circle olentangy wiki.JPG

Anyway, 8-track tapes lost their popularity near the end of the Harvest Gold and Olive Green decade. I should add here that one of the only 8-track tapes worth any sort of money is Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood. Not many were produced thus making it very attractive to collectors. Too bad all I still have in my collection is the 1973 release of Frampton’s Camel. I doubt it will end up in my will.

CLICK!

So, Ben and I are in New York City at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. We are in the Pediatric Observation Unit (AKA: the POU – pronounced “poo”). Ben had surgery bright and early Friday morning to remove that suspicious spot hanging out on his rib. Dr. LaQuaglia only needed a little less than two hours to snip out the rest of that rib and decide that it was NOT cancer. He believes it to be scar tissue (here’s where we all exhale a very long and audible sigh of relief). He used all of Ben’s original scars – same location for incision (had to take it a wee bit further this time), same scar for his chest tube, etc. As of today, 48 hours post-op, he’s been relieved of his foley catheter, the chest tube, the epidural to control his back pain, and the heart monitors. The only thing he’s currently hooked up to are fluids. He can take pain medicine as needed, but so far he’s refusing additional pain meds. He says he hurts a bit but not bad enough to take the meds. He doesn’t want to be groggy anymore. WHAT A KID! He is a true superstar.

He’s not enjoying the exercise the nurses are making him do. He is currently required to periodically sit in a chair and take walks around the POU. He is certainly favoring his left side and says that the location of the chest tube is actually more ouchie than the incision on his back. Right this moment he is sitting up in bed, playing with his little Pikmin character, and watching Spongebob on TV. He ate three of six chicken nuggets. And his hair is coming in very dark. Too bad that this next round of chemo is going to knock it out because I’m very interested to see what he would look like with brown hair.

What’s next you might ask? Well, tomorrow morning, the surgeon will come by and take a look at him. Then his oncologist will come and take a look at him. We’ll be discharged from the POU and probably re-admitted to the oncology unit for chemo. If that goes as planned, he’ll have five days of inpatient chemo and then we’ll have a maximum of three days to high-tail it back to Colorado before his blood counts bottom out. Once his counts drop, we’ll most likely end up in the hospital for neutropenia. I’m sincerely hoping that we can make it back to Colorado before this happens. Juggling all this hooey is a menace.

Overall, I’m pleased with how well Ben has rebounded from this surgery. The main issue I’m seeing is that he seems to be struggling with being more emotional than usual. He’s mad (NOT common for him) and wants out of this place BIG TIME. I mean, really. Who wants to be stuck in POU?

We’re just waiting for the next CLICK.

APRIL FOOLS!

I’m all for pranks as long as they aren’t mean. I don’t find it funny to tell someone that a loved one has died or that they’ve received something they really really really want only to say APRIL FOOLS! I like my April Fools jokes to be within the realms of good taste and fairly harmless.

For instance, last year the kids and I concocted a good one to play on Matt. We rigged the sprayer on the kitchen sink with a rubber band, so as soon as the faucet was turned on the sprayer would go off. Now, we waited until the evening to do this so his work clothes wouldn’t be messed up. The kids were stationed right by the sink and did a very good job of keeping quiet. I was making dinner and pretended to need help with the potatoes. I asked Matt to scrub a few of them for me because I was tending to something on the stove.  We were lying in wait as Matt’s hand lifted the faucet handle and got a perfect view of him jumping away from the sink when the water came squirting his way. We all had a good laugh and the worst that happened was the need to change into dry clothes.

I know you remember my tales of teaching boating at a summer camp back in the late 80’s. Well, in order to be Red Cross Certified to teach others how to row, canoe, kayak and sail, I had to spend two weeks in Connecticut learning all I could about small-crafts. There were five of us who would be teaching at the same camp in Pennsylvania and many others who would be counselors elsewhere. I was the only female in the entire group. Well, that’s not completely true. There was another girl, Beth, and we became fast friends but she ended up contracting Lyme’s Disease and had to leave camp. I cried as the car carrying my BFF that I had known for only three days drove away – leaving me alone with approximately 50 stinky boys.

This camp was primitive at best. We slept in tents that I could only describe as rejects from World War II. Frayed and sun bleached army green canvas, tent flaps open forward and aft (could have been secured with ties had they not lost most of their limbs in the war). Cots that had most likely carried the maimed and the dead from the Civil War era, stained with God Knows What. Minimal privacy, but the directors of the camp made sure I was stationed away from the boys in my own barracks. The showers, however, were co-ed. Single stalls, open at the top (allowing nature to surround you at all times) and a small, never steady, spit of alternating hot and cold water whining from the rusted pipes. *Shudder*.

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that Connecticut was experiencing its single worst infestation of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars ever. For those of you who have experienced these slimy worms of doom, you know how terrifying they are. The horror film industry has done a disservice to their particular genre by not exploiting these mutant caterpillars to their fullest capacity. They are truly heinous, foul little beasts. *Shudder x 1000*.

Gypsy Moth - gypsy moth caterpillar

And this is just ONE. Imagine an INFESTATION! Let’s put it this way. I had to take a swimming test when I arrived at camp – you know – 10 minutes of treading water and then swim from the dock to the bouy and back. I had taken off my shorts to jump in the lake and start my test. I imagine I was in the water less than 15 minutes and within that quarter of an hour, my shorts were COVERED with these filthy little buggers. Ick. I shook them off, put on my shorts, stuck my hands in my pockets only to find MORE! Aaargh! Horrible! I DETEST THESE ABOMINABLE LITTLE CREATURES! Is my disdain coming through loud and clear?

Okay, so, I’m the lone female at this camp. I’m not as strong as my fellow classmates, so I struggle with lifting my metal canoe over my head to carry to the water for our afternoon drills. I struggle with lifting the mast to rig my sailboat. I have a hard time getting back in my canoe after doing a “tip test”. I was bruised, battered, cut, bleeding, and sobbing silently in my WWII accommodations on a daily basis, hoping that no one but those heinous little caterpillars could hear me. Oh, they tried to keep me company. I’d wake up in the morning with one swirling over my head, suspended by its silky thread of doom. And I’d smack at it like a Kindergartener trying to play tether ball. I had the enthusiasm but rarely hit my mark.

And this was how I started nearly every day. I’d trudge down to the open air shower stall and stand in line with my c0-campers. They’d laugh and joke with each other and I’d shoo off the creepy caterpillars as they tried to stake their claim on my shower gear. Then breakfast. Then classes. Long, tedious days broken by restless sleep thanks to nightmares of the hairy caterpillars coming to get me.

Somewhere along the way, the boys thought it’d be funny to start playing jokes on the lone female. That first week of aquatic camp was HELL. Then, one night, at dinner, we had ice cream with chocolate syrup for dessert. The one boy that I thought of as an ally came over to sit by me. He poured a bunch of chocolate syrup on my plate and then shook some salt over the top of the chocolate puddle. He said that the chemistry between the salt and the chocolate created heat. I said, with wide eyes, “REALLY?” and placed my hand over the concoction, expecting to feel the heat radiating from my plate. As soon as my hand was in place, BAM! My friend smacked my hand down onto the plate, which shot a spray of chocolate all over my clothes, my face and hair. The entire cafeteria erupted in laughter. As I closed my eyes and lowered my head, ready to wave the white flag and accept defeat, something burned inside of me. It came rising from the pit of my stomach and came forward in a calm, calculated series of movements that had nothing to do with what I wanted. It came from somewhere else. And with a voice that I couldn’t describe as my own, I stood up and said “All right. That is enough. I know where you sleep. I know where you eat. I know where you shower. And I’m coming for each and every one of you.” And walked out of the cafeteria, still dripping in chocolate.

I plotted my revenge as I stood under the spitting stream of alternating hot and cold water, hoping that it was strong enough to get the chocolate out of my hair. And over the course of that second week of camp, I got every single boy who had played a trick on me back. I used dead snakes in sleeping bags. I rigged sailboats with “parachutes” attached to the rudders so I could speed past them and laugh as they struggled to figure out why they couldn’t gain speed. I got up at wee hours of the morning and kept long hours into the night plotting and executing. But there was one boy, my “ally”, that I didn’t know how to get back. It had to be special.

The last day of camp came quickly. I had gained a lot of respect over that last week and had even enlisted some of the boys I’d already “punk’d” to help me get the rest of them. But I knew this last hurrah had to be of my own doing and I had run out of ideas.

It just so happened that on our last day, my ally and I happened to be standing in line for the shower at the same time. We had some idle chit-chat, talked about staying in touch after camp was over, benign stuff. Then, the heavens opened and a light shot down out of the sky and enlightened me. I heard angels sing. I nearly wept. I placed my hand over the trunk of a tree that was covered with row after row of gypsy moth caterpillars. I said “My stars. There are so many caterpillars on this tree that they are actually radiating heat.” My ally said, “Really?” and I licked my lips with anticipation as the sweat crept up on my brow in anticipation of his hand raising to test the validity of my statement. C’mon. Do it. Raise that hand. And, as if it were in slow motion, his hand started to come up as the expression on my face changed from painful anticipation to pure ecstasy. Yes! Almost there! What had to be milliseconds turned way down to super slo-mo as I watched his hand snap into place over the target. And then BAM! as his hand smacked into the hordes of caterpillars set on their path of destroying the tree only to be destroyed themselves by my ally.

Happy dance (on my part) ensued as my ally wiped off the carnage of the fallen caterpillars. The joy of getting him to fall for the very same prank that had nearly created my demise was a sugary sweet victory. My mission was complete.

Go and have some fun with your April Fool’s jokes, but remember, paybacks are hell.