Oscilloscope

Okay, so my brainiac friend, Jason Gilmore, just gave me this word, OSCILLOSCOPE, to write about. Essentially, he cracked open my cranium and poured some liquid over my control panel that created lots of smoke and shot sparks and gave off a lot of feedback. I’ve officially short-circuited. Congratulations, Jason. You broke it.

I’m not a scientist. I don’t even play one on TV. In fact, I’m fairly confident that I got a D- in all of my high school science courses. I’m pretty sure, however, that an oscilloscope appears in nearly every 1950’s horror film in some way, shape or form. “Bride of the Atom” or “The Outer Limits” could be a couple of examples of usage. While I couldn’t explain the inner workings of these thingy-majigs, I know one when I see one. I think. And my favorite memory of an oscilloscope goes something like this:

Ben was just 2 1/2 years old and was having surgery to remove his primary tumor on his adrenal gland. He had been in surgery for what seemed like days. I was especially nervous because just a couple of weeks before, another little kiddo fighting neuroblastoma had passed away directly after her surgery to remove her primary tumor. I was a wreck since Ben was in for the exact same procedure. Anyway, when they finally called us back to see him I all but ran to his bedside. My first reaction was “Why is he so pink?” Apparently, they had to give him a transfusion during his surgery and they gave him a bit extra (not uncommon) so he was extra pink. My next thought, which I kept to myself initially, was that he looked like a demented marionette. He had lines coming from every single limb and he was just so limp and lifeless. My warped imagination/coping mechanism immediately grasped on to the thought that “if only he had one of those x-thingys at the top of his head I could make him get up and dance.” Hey. I said I was demented. If he’d been any other color than super pink I would have thought he was no longer living. He still had tape on his eyes to keep them closed during surgery, which the nurse took off right away. I think she felt my heartache.

I sat on the very edge of his bed just looking at him. All the bandages. All the incisions. All the ouchies. It was nearly unbearable but I was afraid to get near him because of all the lines and monitors. Ben was having some heart issues post-procedure. The monitor would show consistent squiggles and then suddenly it would freak out and go all over the place. This made me think he was in pain (which was probably true) and I would begin to panic. If only they had hooked ME up to a heart monitor, we could have had dueling squiggles. Oh yeah. I should state here that the oscilloscope displays the waveform of the heartbeat. At least that’s my understanding. *DISCLAIMER* I DID nearly flunk science. I might be wrong. 🙂

I’d only been a mom for two-and-a-half years so my maternal instincts weren’t working full-throttle. I knew what I needed to do but I couldn’t make myself do it because I was a little embarrassed. I had to sing. And I didn’t want anyone to hear my pathetic singing voice. After all, I’d been one of four people to not make chorus during my seventh grade year (okay, so now you know that I stink at science AND singing… it goes without saying that I wasn’t a stellar student!) So, as I became a little more comfortable moving closer to him on his bed, I started to hum. Slowly, I’d gain a little more real estate next to his small and broken body as I realized that I wasn’t going to hurt him. And hummed a little louder. Moved a little closer. Started adding words. Snuggled right up to him. Belted out a Beatles tune. “Blackbird” in fact. And the squiggles started to stabilize. His heart heard me. And the beautiful part? His heart responded. The measurements between the beats of his heart gained a uniform consistency that made my heart – and singing voice – soar.

I know I’m not a doctor. I know absolutely nothing about medicine. But I do know that NOTHING substitutes for a mother’s true love. Maybe that should be used to calibrate an oscilloscope? Probably not. But it’s a nice thought.

By the way, Ben says I have a BEAUTIFUL singing voice and he still responds when I sing “Blackbird” to him. I haven’t stopped singing since.

Thanks for the word, Jason. I wish I would have sat next to you in science class so I could have copied your work (I failed Ethics, too). You are clearly a super smart dude and I’m sure you’ll (gently) correct me if I’m wrong. I sincerely hope, however, that you won’t make me redo the assignment. Go easy on me and give me a dumbed-down word!

Doe

“I’d recognize that look anywhere,” I muttered to myself as they wheeled her son into the PACU. She had hair that had been hastily pulled back. Her cell phone was glued to her hand and giving constant updates to those who were concerned about her son. And that look. The look of a deer caught in the headlights. The anesthesiologist was giving her the run-down of what happened from a pharmaceutical standpoint, like all the drugs that had been administered during the surgery and what to expect when her kiddo finally woke up. She nodded as if she was hearing every word. I knew better, however. That time post-surgery is spent inspecting your child – much like how you gingerly touch your newborn – to make sure they’re okay. Ensure that they’re breathing normally. Grateful to finally see that precious face after what seems like hours of waiting. It is truly like a rebirth. Starting over. Hopeful. Now that they’re in your arms (or as close to that as possible), you pray that from here on out they have a life filled with health and happiness.

THAT’s what goes through your mind. You don’t have the energy to hear what the doctors are saying because you’re just so thankful your child is okay. I’m sure this is why discharge papers were invented – so you could read what happened at your leisure.

Me? I knew the ropes. As it was, I was standing by my own child’s bedside, waiting for him to wake up from his surgery. My well-weathered skin had been toughened by the procedures – the chemo – the radiation – and whatever else came next. My leathery appearance had been subjected to beating after beating of what we go through as parents of a child fighting cancer. This is not to say that I am not affected when my son has procedures – I most definitely am. But I’ve learned to compartmentalize a lot better than I could in the beginning. Not this lady though. She was a newbie. Her scared, soft center came oozing through every pore. There was not one thing about her situation that I could envy.

We are on the backside of Ben’s therapy. It’s been a roller coaster for sure, but we’ve come to a valley where things have smoothed out and we have the option of getting on with our lives – or at least – what’s left of them. We’re missing some limbs (or a rib, in Ben’s case) and our hair is mussed from traveling at high speeds, but as far as Ben’s health goes, we’re in a good place. Matt has worked diligently to get Ben enrolled in a new Phase 2 study that might have some preventative aspects to it, which is always welcome. This study is in Kansas City and should be minimally invasive both physically and emotionally. The travel will be much lighter. The side effects will be fewer. And, we can stop at any time without any ill-effects.

Oh, I like to think I know how to handle what’s coming next. But, in all honesty, I guess I’m more doe-like than I realize. Apparently, I’m destined to have the sort of life that will always blind-side me. Will always throw curve-balls. Will always surprise me. I don’t know why I think it’s so different from anyone else. We’ve all got our own hooey to deal with, right? I should figure out a way to not be surprised when things don’t work out according to the plan I have concocted in my head, because it just never, EVER, will. Of that I am certain.

I’ve always liked John Lennon’s quote of “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” And when I think of Mr. Lennon I’m reminded that his life didn’t exactly go according to his plan, either. But he lived with great passion until he was murdered at the age of 40. I’m four years past that age myself and am wondering how the rest of this is going to play out. Interestingly enough, eleven years ago, I held my infant son against my chest in a Baby Bjorn as I wandered through the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame perusing an exhibit of John Lennon’s life. Things he’d written. Things he’d touched. The church pews that were the anchors of the bed that held him and his new wife as they promoted peace. But it was a snapshot. I saw the beginning, the middle, and the end. It was beautifully touching. The exhibit chronicled the pieces that meant something and the rest was left to just blow in the wind. I need to figure out how to best chronicle my life. Just HOW do I let the crap go? And HOW do I embrace what’s coming next?

Frick. I never wanted any of this to happen. I thought I was setting my life up to be something all-together different. But, it is what it is. And I can either feel its warmth or get run over by it. I guess I’m just tired of running.

So, I’m just going to stop.

Soup

This word makes me happy. Not because I’m a giant fan of tomato soup (I LOVE me some tomato soup), but because the last time I had soup I was sitting across from a dear friend. Actually, it was the very friend who gave me today’s word. I don’t know why she chose this word but I want her to know that if anyone else had suggested the word “soup” that I would have ended up writing about her. Ain’t life funny?

Her name is Valerie. I’ve known her for a really long time. We went to school together. Valerie was brave enough to come along on one of our annual pilgrimages to South Carolina for my mom’s family reunion. She willingly accepted the challenge of riding in a car for hours on end through not-so-fun states and dealing with the fast-paced and slurred-together dialect of my southern relatives. Honestly. It gets to the point where you can’t try to understand any longer. You just do your best to keep up and laugh when they laugh and anxiously await the opportunity to run like hell when there’s a break in conversation. Or, you can always shout out “the cornbread’s fixin’ to burn” (preferably prefaced by “Lord Almighty!) while running away at top speed. A true Southerner will understand. Anyway, Valerie saved my sanity on that trip. I am grateful for her dedication to our friendship to endure what she did that week. She was briefly rewarded with a day trip to Myrtle Beach where we spied on super cute guys. We were teenagers, after all, and that’s what young girls do. That trip remains a very sweet memory of mine.

Valerie and I had similar interests (besides spying on super cute guys). We both liked photography. We both enjoyed music. We listened to the Doors over and over and over again. But then, of course, we grew up and went our separate ways, as dear old friends sometimes do. I like to think this happens to dear old friends like us because it makes the reunion so much sweeter. I hadn’t seen Valerie in a long time and when she suggested that we get together for a brief moment while I was in town two weeks ago, I couldn’t wait. This latest trip to Ohio wasn’t really a “visit with friends” trip, I had a lot of personal stuff to take care of (as well as see Peter in concert, which will ALWAYS be a priority!) but I needed to see Valerie and meet her twelve-year-old son, Michael.

I’m always stunned by how little we truly change despite the incredible circumstances we find ourselves in. Valerie was always even keeled on the surface but she had a delicious helping of “quirky” on the side. I know that’s why I was originally drawn to her. And when we reconnected two weeks ago, I was pleased to see that her delightful sense of humor was still intact. See, Valerie’s son is disabled. Now, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the exact nature of his disability or what it’s called, but he is in a wheelchair. He cannot communicate verbally. He still eats baby food. He’s beautiful. And watching my dear old friend as she loved her little boy was awe inspiring. Her gentleness. Her grace. Her love. It all shone brighter than sunshine.

Despite my having been through health challenges with my son over the past several years I cannot even begin to imagine the pressure and exhaustion that Valerie faces every moment of every day. There were times during Ben’s illness when I shut myself in a closet or stepped out of earshot to scream my head off over being so angry about what my son was going through. Valerie cannot leave her son alone for any length of time. I take for granted the things that Ben CAN do. Ben will more than likely live to become a young man. Hopefully he’ll go to college. Get married. Have the opportunity to live his own life. I get so wrapped up in the fact that he had cancer and what bad thing might be coming his way next. And I’m an idiot for that. My kid has a pretty solid shot at normalcy. Yes, our situation has had some sucky moments, but I cannot let that overshadow the beauty we’ve seen in our lives. Valerie doesn’t. Oh, I’m sure she has total crap days. I’m sure she gets mad about her son’s disabilities. But to talk to her – no – to WATCH her with her son. It was out of this world. That boy might not ever be able to solve a mathematical equation but he does know that he is LOVED. How many of us truly know that without question? To watch as he turned up his face to his mom – his way of asking for a kiss – and to never be turned down by her, touched me in a way that I can’t explain.

The complexity of his disability was overshadowed by the simplicity of the way they communicated with one another. I honestly could have done nothing else but watch the two of them interact with each other. As I sat across from my dear old friend as she patiently picked up another dropped toy, or gave another kiss, or encouraged him to watch a movie so we could chat, well, there was nothing we needed to catch up on, really. I saw it all right there in front of me as I ate my bowl of soup. She was still funny. She was still loving. I was still drawn to her and her amazing talents, even if those talents were being used a bit differently than how I remembered them.

As I sat there, awestruck, my mind drifted back to the two girls laughing in the surf on a sunshiny day so many years ago. Looking for super cute guys to spy on. Not knowing what the future would hold for either one of us. And interestingly enough, still not knowing to this very day what tomorrow will bring and finding the courage to be okay with that.

We rock, sweet soul sister. I love you so very much.

Heart Shaped Box

I know, this isn’t just one word. And I didn’t ask for anyone to give me this word – or, I suppose I should say, phrase. I’ve been stuck in a small rut lately and, while I’m not truly ready to come out of it, I know it’s time to do it anyway. My rut-loving self wants to stay in bed all day and pull the covers over my head and tell the world to leave me alone. But I can’t. I have to get on with my life.

Two weeks ago I went home. My primary reason was to go see Peter Frampton with my BFF, James. He bought tickets a long time ago so I knew I’d be flying back to Ohio  in early August to see my musical Idol (the concert was phenomenal, by the way, Peter never fails his fans). Anyway, the other reason I went back to Ohio was to go through my mom’s belongings that had been stored in my dad’s hangar. He just recently moved from German Village to Bexley and the house that he and my mother shared had been cleared of all the stuff he wouldn’t be taking with him.

Entry into the hangar was overwhelming. There were boxes and boxes of stuff to go through and while I often got discouraged with just how much stuff there was, I kept at it. Fueled by Mtn Dew and a strong will to find my mom’s Limoges collection (which I did eventually find).

There were things I knew I’d come across, like her china and glassware, but then there were small surprises along the way, like her collection of glass frogs that she seemed obsessed with collecting. I’m not talking about a frog as in the animal, but something that is used to to hold flowers in place in a vase. Look it up if you’re curious. Mom had a ton of these. The funny thing is, I don’t know if she ever even used them. Mom was a master gardener and had glorious flowers to display, but I’m not sure she ever cut her flowers in order to use her prized frogs. I wonder why that is?

Why are there things that we collect or hold onto that seem to fit perfectly into our lives yet we let them go unused? Just the thought of this stirs something inside of me that something is terribly wrong in my life. I’ve wasted so much time collecting for an event that is never going to come or is just waiting for me to grab it but I’ve been too afraid.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The true treasure in those boxes weren’t her frogs. She loved them and they made her happy but they were just something to collect to fill the hole she apparently had in her heart. But way in the back of the hanger was a box that was severely damaged. It was a box that had seen better days and I’m assuming had been in the hangar for a very long time. I started to precariously sort through a box that had been long abandoned – visited by mice – inhabited by spiders. Inside that box were treasures that my sister and I had created as children. At first I was a little offended that she had obviously moved this box to the hangar herself since it had been there so long. Why didn’t she want to keep these treasures in her home? Then, I dug deeper. I found pictures. Pictures of her high school friends. Then her yearbook. Unfortunately, that could’t be saved. It had gotten wet along the way and it was beyond repair – just like her graduation cap. Both had been destroyed.

Then the box. A Prince Albert cigar box that was obviously from the late 50’s. I opened it to find mementos. A long faded corsage. A rusted button from a pep rally. A program from a play she had been in. Removing these items one by one slowly revealed handwritten notes on the bottom of the box. Dates she had listed that had been important to her. Meeting a boy. A first date. Things that altered her life. Things that had been important to her. Things that made her happy back when life was a dream to be achieved. Before other things – like being an adult – got in the way.

I broke down. It wasn’t the first time I cried that day, but it was certainly the hardest. Where did her life go? And why was I finding it inside of a crusty, mouse-poop filled box?

I think the thing that hit me the hardest was that I have a box like this, too. And I thought we had nothing in common all these years. My box is filled with things that other people have given me. Notes that meant something to me. A smiley face on a post-it note from a friend on a particularly bad day. An uneaten (and now petrified) Power Bar from a pastor who saved me from passing out at the DMV. Things that make me happy. My box is beside my bed. I get it out every so often when I need a boost. I looked in my box as soon as I got back from Ohio. It didn’t take away the pain of my mother being gone but my box sure does have a whole new meaning now that I know my mother and I shared something so sacred.

We’re both dreamers. We kept our boxes to ourselves. The desires of our hearts. The love we hoped we’d never lose but inevitably did. I’m trying to learn from my heartaches and move on. I’m not sure what she did with her heartaches but I’m pretty sure it went into collecting things that really didn’t mean the world to her.

I want to use my collections. I want to use my gifts. I’m tired of hiding them in a box just waiting for someone to find them after I’m gone.

I’m sure someone might find that as a treasure someday, but why am I waiting until then? I’m opening my heart shaped box for everyone to see.

I have nothing to lose.

 

Trade show

In 1993 I was a social worker for a mental health facility in Columbus, Ohio. My job was to rehabilitate people living in the state hospital – mostly schizophrenics – to the point where they could function in the community. Why would I do this, you ask? Well, state hospitals cost a lot of money to run, so the Reagan administration threw out a big word called “deinstitutionalization,” which basically means “let’s throw all the mentally ill out on the street”. Many of the folks I worked with had been in the hospital for years. They had no idea how to do laundry or to balance a check book or cook a meal, so that’s where I came in. After all, I was in my early 20’s. I had finished college two years before. I knew how to clean up after myself and cook my own meals, but interestingly enough, I still lived with my parents. I hadn’t been deinstitutionalized myself.

In July of 1993 I was sitting in my psychiatrists office. I was still reeling from the deaths of a couple of my clients who had no business being released from the hospital. That was, unfortunately, part of the process. Release all these people and see what happens. Some will fly. Most will sink. A few will die. I just couldn’t wrap my head around this particular job. I hated it. I wanted to leave it so I came up with a plan. I was going to take a break and move to Colorado for one ski season. I would come back to social work – perhaps in a different capacity – after one ski season. As I was working on this plan with my doctor I kept fiddling with a lump in my neck. My psychiatrist noticed that I was poking at something and mentioned that I should get it checked out soon. I told him I would.

Within a week, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a “bad cancer” – I mean, it wasn’t neuroblastoma for crying out loud – but it still required me to go through treatment. I had a couple of surgeries and some radiation therapy. Five year follow-up. Anticipated that I would survive for a long time. Blah, blah, blah. But to my 25-year-old self, I decided that it was time to get on with my life.

I quit my job and, as soon as I had enough range of motion to turn my head, I drove all the way to Colorado. I got a job with what eventually turned into Vail Resorts. My first job was as a hostess. Then I moved to the front desk, which lead to a management job. Then I got my dream job as an interviewer in the HR department. I love to talk. I love to match people with jobs. I love to talk people down from their fear of taking a drug test. I had reached my job nirvana.

I got a call from my supervisor stating that the marketing department was going to a trade show and one of the marketing folks had come down with a cold and couldn’t go. The company had already paid for two employees to go and they didn’t want to lose out on the airfare/room so they made a really weird decision to send an HR person. I was the chosen one. My supervisor told me that she didn’t expect me to hire anyone while I was there – this trade show was geared toward condo sales and selling season tickets – so there was absolutely no pressure on me to perform. Wait. You mean I’m going to get paid to go on a road trip, have an expense account, and there’s absolutely no expectations of me? Sign me up!

The next day, I jumped a plane to Portland, Oregon. I immediately fell in love with this place. The beautiful shades of green. The constant precipitation. How clean everything smelled. It was beautiful. I checked into the hotel and met my “teammate,” a super suave dude named Mark. He was all about making the sale and, while he didn’t really understand the point of my being there, was glad to have the company. We went out for dinner and planned our line of attack: he was going to sell a lot of condos and lift tickets. I was going to look cute and pass out candy (this trip just happened to fall on Halloween).

I’m not sure what happened once I arrived to that big room filled with tables and booths. I was in my element. Every person that came to us got an earful of how much I loved Keystone Resort and how it changed my life. I would give them a tootsie roll in exchange for Sarah’s story of How I Became An Adult. By the end of my yarn people were so entranced that they wanted to buy a condo AND a season pass. And, lo and behold, five people wanted a job. I told them, of course, that they’d have to pass a drug test.

Five Portlanders came to me that ski season. They had the time of their lives and two of them returned for a second season. I was never so proud. I feel like I taught them how to fly. And that was something I was never able to teach my schizophrenic patients.

I am confident that I truly knew who I was when I lived in Summit County, Colorado. My one ski season turned into eight years. Of course, I didn’t have the cares that I have now, but that time of my life is when I truly became an adult. I knew what I wanted. I understood “Sarah”. I don’t know when I lost sight of that, but I often mourn that I didn’t stay in touch with that girl….

I think I’m going to have to look her up.

 

Sean Reid gave me this word. It’s technically two words but I knew I had to write about it. I generally don’t like to do too much thinking about the words I’m given but I went into a bit of a mourning period when I saw “trade show”. I’m so sad that I’ve given up so much of myself to things I just can’t control. I’ve forgotten how to live.

I haven’t known Sean for very long. I’ve met him a couple of times and we talk often enough so I know that I sincerely like this person. He’s smart and funny and ultimately very caring. He lost his young daughter a few years ago and understands what it means to face adversity and struggle with the tough stuff life throws at him, yet he’s still standing. I admire that. Plus, his mom and dad are super awesome. I put in a bid to be adopted by them over a year ago, I think we’re still tangled up in paperwork. Thanks, Sean, for your friendship. I sincerely hope to call you “brother” some day.