The Other Shoe

There is an old tale about a weary traveller who stayed for some time at an inn. His room was just below that of a man who worked nights. When that man would come back to the inn after his shift was completed, he would ready himself for bed, starting with the absentminded removal of one shoe. It fell to the floor with a loud thud, waking the sleeping traveller below. Having been startled, the traveller would wait for the other shoe to drop before he would allow himself to fall back into deep slumber. But the upstairs man had remembered by then that there was someone sleeping below him, so he carefully removed his other shoe and placed it on the ground with nary a sound. Eventually the frustrated and impatient traveller would yell out, “For goodness’ sake, would you just drop the other shoe already!?!”

Years ago I was awoken by the “thump” of a falling shoe. It is a long story – one not meant to be told right now – but know my sincerity when I say that I surely didn’t expect to contemplate a bare foot just then. I was distracted with the day-to-day of working and mommy-ing and daughter-ing and sister-ing and wife-ing and house-running that I did not see the signs. Sometimes you just don’t. The shoe just falls.

Afterwards, I felt uneasy. Other things in my life suffered neglect because I was always watching and waiting for that other shoe to drop. But life doesn’t always happen in the way you hope or plan or will it to. Some things happen without rhyme or reason or logic or order. I learned to focus again over time, without always looking over my shoulder for a black cloud or a bad sign or some warning for some unnamed, unknown thing that may or may not ever happen to me. Day by day I slowly moved on and I began to participate instead of just letting life happen to me.

In my mind, the greatest thing about being a human being is what you can learn from relationships and what you can learn from experiences. Not just your own, either, but yours, mine and theirs too. If you truly open your heart and mind to people and adventures then you can learn all sorts of things that have the potential to help you evolve. I’m certainly not always successful, but I do try to pay attention to the lessons that are presented to me along my way.

One of the things I have figured out is that many shoes will likely fall throughout my life. Some I will anticipate, but others will startle me out of a deep sleep. And when they do, I will continue to try to face each challenge with strength and courage and, of course, humor.

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He was getting stronger and healthier. He was gaining weight and an appetite. He was running and biking. His freckles came back out. His hair started to grow back. He could drive again. He was throwing around the idea of starting college in January because the doctors said it might be an option.

Kid A with Braden before Homecoming in October

Then, last Wednesday, another shoe just dropped. Braden’s leukemia came back.

He started chemotherapy on Monday. We will celebrate his nineteenth birthday next week.

It is scary and uncertain and my instinct is to wait and listen for the other shoe to drop before I can go back to sleep. I want to hit stuff and I want throw things and I want to curl up in the fetal position and cry. I physically ache for Braden and his mom and dad and sisters and brothers. It hurts so very much to watch as Kid A lives out this experience. I want to yell out, “Just drop the other shoe already!” And I will.

But I (hope that I have) learned which behaviors are effective and which ones are futile, so I will go back to being strong and believing and praying and having courage. I will do my best to uplift him and his family and, of course, Kid A, as they ride this crazy roller coaster of cancer. And this time I will remind myself that not all shoes come in pairs. Or I will remember that sometimes the upstairs man will lay them down with nary a sound.

Here’s hoping that life’s shoes will be more pretty Louboutins than ugly rubber boots, but I will make room in my closet for all of them.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

The Holiday Wrench

I did all of the laundry so everybody would have clean clothes to pack.  I charged the pump so we could blow up the air mattress for somebody to sleep on when we got there.  I filled the gas tank in the truck so we could get up this morning at 3 A.M. and just drive.  I did a little early Christmas shopping for some bigger items so we could drive them up instead of shipping them.  I’m not even gonna start on the preparations that Grandma and Grandpa made in anticipation of our Thanksgiving visit… the shopping, the cleaning, the cooking, the “little” projects around the house.

Turns out they were all for naught, though, because we have kids.  And kids come with a cornucopia of wrenches that they will throw into the gears of our lives at any given moment.  And because of a sick wrench, the seven of us are all milling around our house in Georgia instead of driving somewhere along I-77 watching (or just listening to, if you sit in the front seat and can’t view the screen) a Disney-Pixar movie right now.

Exactly what we were trying to avoid
*photo courtesy of Google Images*

On Monday, Kid A came home from school in tears.  She was extremely nauseous and on top of that another girl in her lit class had written an essay about her (a very flattering one, not a mean one) that made her extremely emotional.  Since naps are my go-to cure-all, I immediately sent her to bed.  She felt a little better after that, but ended up not going to school on Tuesday because she got worse through the night.  She had a fever and didn’t have the energy to get off of the couch.  She was shaky and dizzy and icky, but I figured whatever it was would run its course and be gone after 24 hours.  So I kept on packing.

But by Tuesday at 5 P.M., while standing amidst 6 fully packed duffel bags (Sheepdog, of course, waits until the very last minute to pack.  He also feels the need to run every article of clothing past me as he does it, despite my insistence that I DO NOT CARE which damn shirt he wears to drive home), 7 winter coats, 7 sets of hats and gloves, 7 pairs of sneakers, 7 backpacks filled with charged electronics and books, a soccer ball, a football, a few baseball gloves and balls, the travel pillows and blankets, the sleeve of DVDs, the camera bag, the snack bag and the drink cooler, Sheepdog and I made the decision to cancel our trip.

The kids’ reactions were similar… all of them were very sad that they wouldn’t be seeing their Grandma and Grandpa, or their aunt and uncle and cousins.  Kid D started to cry inconsolably and he continued through bedtime.  Kid E was mad at me.  But I saw an ever so slight look of relief pass over Kid A’s face when she realized that she wouldn’t have to fake tough for ten hours riding through the ups and downs of the mountain roads while trying not to even think about throwing up even though she would have the Tupperware vomit bowl within her arms’ reach the whole time.  We would also be sitting right next to her the whole time, breathing her sick air and coming into contact with her cooties, pretty much guaranteeing that somebody else would have what she has for the trip home.  It was definitely the right call.

The next call I had to make was to my in-laws, who were vibrating with so much excitement in anticipation of our arrival that I could feel it through the phone lines.  Ironically, our trip to visit them earlier last summer was canceled on their end, as they were all dealing with some sort of plague that we couldn’t take a chance contracting, especially since Kid A’s boyfriend had just had a bone marrow transplant and was extremely immunocompromised.  I was scared that my mother-in-law would be furious or cry or have some sort of extreme reaction that would cause me even more guilt than I was already experiencing, but she was understanding and gracious and so sweet about everything.

So now we are all home.  We have the gift of an unexpected day with nothing much on the schedule.  Kid A is recuperating and we are all keeping our distance.  Kid B went to the movies to see Breaking Dawn Part II (which was AWESOME by the way… best of the series) for the sixteenth time.  Kid C and Kid D are running around in shorts outside playing some sort of bucket, snoochie boochie game.  Kid E is shadowing Sheepdog while he changes the air filters and applies wood putty to a broken door and generally performs a bunch of Sheepdog chores around the house.  I am going to take a much-needed nap.  And tomorrow, as long as everybody has been fever-free for at least 24 hours and nobody shows any signs of being sick, we will join two of my sisters and their families, as well as my mom and dad for Thanksgiving dinner down the street.

I sure hope nobody throws a wrench into that plan.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Put ‘Em Up

I got in a fight and lost.  Against the Sun.

I made an appointment with my dermatologist to have her look at a little thing on my foot back in late February or early March, but when I returned from Cabo I had a tan.  I didn’t want my dermatologist to think that I was some kind of irresponsible sun worshiper, so I canceled the appointment.

Then came the summertime, and I was an irresponsible sun worshipper.  I took the kids to the pool or the beach regularly and, while I sprayed their little backs and fronts and ears and noses and even scalps with hundreds of dollars worth of “the really good stuff,” I will admit that there were some days when I forgot to slather it on my own cheeks.

Summer ended.  My tan faded.  It crossed my mind once or twice to make another appointment with the dermatologist, but other things came up which required my attention.  It was laundry day or dinnertime or someone needed new socks or a new hairbrush or it was someone’s birthday or soccer game or book fair.

That’s weird… “book fair.”  Why did “book fair” just come to the forefront of my consciousness?  Wait a minute.  What day is this?  Oh, crap!  What time is it?  I was supposed to be at the book fair for Kid D ten minutes ago.  See what I mean about the other things taking over?

OK, I’m back.  I barely made it to the media center before his class was shipped out.  When I found him, Kid D was just wandering around with his wish list, looking abandoned and sad.  But it was nothing a few baseball books couldn’t cure.

So I finally got around to making (and going to) an appointment with the dermatologist on Monday.  She told me that my foot thing was nothing and then she did an all over body scan.  While she was staring at my cheek I asked, “Oh, so you like my age spot, do you?”

“Sorry, sweetheart, that’s no age spot…” she responded as she blasted my face with her evil freeze bottle.

Mama said knock you out.

So now I have a nasty cut on my cheek that will take some time to heal.  In the meantime, I am wearing a band-aid over it because it makes me look more like a tough boxer than a dumb sun bunny.  I might even keep the Everlast glove on while I run my errands.  What?  Don’t you judge me.

The doctor confirmed that I am still allowed to go to Cabo in February.  And in the summer I can still go to the pool and the beach too.  I just need to be extra vigilant about anything new or interesting, and I have to remember to put the good stuff on me.  Every single time.

Speaking of time, take some right now and make your own appointment.  Don’t brush me off.

Wait.  “Brush.”  Somebody said something about a brush this morning.  Oh yeah, Kid B broke hers and she needs a new one.  I’ll go to the store right now, I just need to find my boxing glove first.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

I Once Was Blind

At the beginning of the school year a neighbor walked by wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day.  It turns out he recently underwent laser eye surgery to correct his vision, and light sensitivity was a short-term side effect.  Nonetheless, he spoke very highly of the procedure.

When I went to get my hair cut (and colored, if I’m being honest) last month, my hairdresser reminded me that she had the same procedure done about a year ago.  She also was extremely pleased with the results.

That very same week I got a flyer in the mail about the very same surgery from the very same doctor who those two couldn’t stop raving about.  I figured that it was the universe telling me it was time to stop spending all of Sheepdog’s money at 1-800-contacts.  The flyer had a QR code, so I scanned it with my phone and booked a free consultation for the morning after my birthday.

Bad vision or too much wine?

After explaining to both the tech and the optometrist that “my eyes weren’t normally that red,” (I drank an entire bottle of wine all by myself at my happy birthday dinner) they said no matter, everything looked great and I was an ideal candidate.  The only problem was that the thickness of my cornea was borderline and the surgeon may choose to do something more conservative called PRK instead of LASIK on me.  It has similar success as far as results (some say even better), but it is more painful and comes with a longer recovery time.  They recommended not wearing contacts for a few days prior to the procedure because sometimes that helps to tip the scales in LASIK’s favor.  I checked with Sheepdog about the schedule for the surgery and recovery and he gave me the thumbs high.  Excited about finally seeing the world without corrective lenses (and maybe still slightly loaded from the night before),  I scheduled my eye surgery for one week later.

One week later just so happened to be the morning after Halloween.  Not a big deal, except I forgot to do all of the pre-surgery stuff that they instructed me to do.  With Sheepdog driving, we showed up for early morning pre-school carpool without any car seats in the car.  I realized I had forgotten to fill all four of the prescriptions they told me to fill prior to coming in.  And I left the extremely important paperwork folder at home.  I was a total mess.

Sheepdog thinks I was secretly scared to get blasted in my peepers with a laser and that’s why I was so uncharacteristically discombobulated.  But since most places presume that they will be dealing with idiots, the eye surgeon had me covered and even my juvenile subconscious attempts at failing to prepare were thwarted.  So after signing away my life (or at least my right to have eyes that can actually see) in waiver forms, I was lying on a table with my right eye numbed by drops and clamped wide open.  What was I thinking?  Let the torture begin!

“If you’re going to swap my eyeballs for new ones, will you be sure to give me something really funky… like neon green or amethyst eyes?  I look wicked good in purple.” – Me trying to break the ice with my surgeon prior to PRK.
Photo (and my worst nightmare) courtesy of Minority Report (2002)

Actually, the procedure itself didn’t hurt.  It was definitely weird, but it was not painful (even though I had to have PRK instead of LASIK).  Afterwards, I did mention to the doctor that the smell of burning eyeballs is something he may want to consider warning the folks about.  He gave me a scroll of instructions and a scrip for Vicodin and sent me on my way.

My vision was extremely blurry and I was blinded by the slightest glimpse of sun, but I could already sense an improvement in my vision.  The scroll said that Days One and Two would be tolerable, but during Days Three and Four I “may experience some discomfort,” so I hunkered down and got stuff ready for Sheepdog to be in charge for the long weekend.

I learned several things during my recovery period:

1.  I am a fast healer.  By 8PM on Day One I could no longer keep my eyes open, which meant I was a full day-plus ahead of the scroll’s timeline for “discomfort.”
 
2.  I am capable of hibernation.  I went to bed on Thursday when my eyes started hurting, and I slept until 6AM the next day.  Less than two hours later I was back down for a nap.  Throughout the rest of the day I would sleep for two or three hours, wake for thirty minutes or so, then go back to sleep.  I do not know if I slept so much because my body was healing or because I was so bored.  Probably both.  I could not open my eyes, therefore I could not watch TV, nor could I read.  All I could do was hang out and chat with God, but he was preoccupied helping people in NJ and NY because of stupid Sandy.  So I was basically on my own, without even a bloody-handprinted volleyball to call my friend.
 
3.  Doctors can be tricky little wordsmiths.  “Light sensitivity” can imply that you may need to have a pair of dark sunglasses handy on a bright day.  Yet it can also mean that you have to turn off every source of light inside your home, close every curtain or blind and duct tape the cracks because even the smallest ray will send your brain into a tailspin.  It would be best if you lived in a windowless cave. “Discomfort” is also apparently on a spectrum.  My particular level of “discomfort” was akin to having my eyeballs rolled in sand, boiled, then put back into my head.  The doctor said that my recovery would take longer if I used the pain drops, so I toughed it out.  Fortunately, I am a Jersey girl and Jersey girls are badass.  Also fortunately, the painful part lasted less than two days.
 
4.  You can actually get dehydrated from your own tears.  During Days Two and Three my eyes did not stop watering.  I had a constant river of salty drips streaming down my face.  It was so bad that by Day Four I had a red, flaky fu manchu mustache of dry skin on my face.  I used an entire bottle of Oil of Olay that weekend. 
 
5.  Sheepdog is a lousy nurse.  He is wonderful at many, many things, but caring for a temporarily blind wife is just not in his wheelhouse.  I didn’t look any different to him, so he was over the whole, “But I’m handicapped!” even before that first weekend came to an end.

I am now 11 days post surgery, completely pain-free and able to see so much better than before.  I no longer have to wear my sunglasses at night and I have visual improvement every single day.  I may not have gotten the ‘”I can see!” said the blind (wo)man’ moment that LASIK patients apparently get to have, it is still so amazing to me that I am walking around the planet wearing no corrective lenses.   It is truly awesome.

Oh, and 1-800-contacts bought back all of my unopened boxes of contacts!

Wish me luck for tomorrow…