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Mentally, I’ve been away.  On a vacation where I’ve prioritized my health above all; rather, my health has forced me to pay attention to my body, and nothing else.  This explains why, since Wednesday night, with brief forays into trying to go to work (with varying degrees of success) I’ve not been up to my usual bloggity self. 

My health care, and my treatment options, have led me to think at some length about the health care legislation Obama is trying to pass, and the mess our insurance companies have us in.  I have reasonably fair insurance.  That is to say, I have to pay $50 to go to a specialist, but I can get any care I need, my prescriptions are affordable, and I can fight to get coverage for things that are medically necessary.  I am lucky.  In facing my choices this week, I began to realize what would happen if I did not have choices, or if my insurance company tried to make them for me.

Option a) Take medication, which would probably cost me $8-10.

Option b) Have a “minor” procedure, which falls under the subheading of “minor surgery” which involves “general anaesthesia” and other things in “quotation marks”. 

I chose the medication.  And I’ve been in acute pain or discomfort all weekend long, unable to sleep, distracted when I tried to go out and do normal people things, and bound to the couch or bed for much of my waking hours.  Then I went to the doctor yesterday, who informed me my condition had not completely resolved and I have to go through a modified version of the medication again.  I asked myself if I’d made a bad choice.  Didn’t I choose the “responsible” thing, the thing with less burden to myself, my loved ones, my insurance company, the hospitals of this country, and the doctors who are now free to attend to emergencies?  Didn’t I choose the thing that should be effective enough in most cases that people with my condition shouldn’t have to go under the knife?  My choice didn’t take up a hospital bed, require the attention of several doctors, nurses, and support staff, make tall piles of paperwork, or cost me more, yet I still question it, as I sit here in still more, unrelenting pain. 

Had I opted for the surgery originally, I don’t know what the outcome would be.  Would I even have a surgery date yet?  I hadn’t even bothered to find out what my copays would be for an inpatient “procedure”, nor what the recovery would be like.  I don’t know if the pain level would be any better, or how long I’d miss work recovering.  I didn’t ask about any of these things because surgery — minor or not — is not something I go into with a light hand.  Less work for me?  Less time in my home in pain?  Nurses with real pain meds at the press of a button?  I just didn’t consider it. 

But I’m glad I had an option.  There are those who would rather take the medication, and deal with the side effects at home, with loved ones there to bring them tea or ice cream, and a sympathetic dog to bring comfort and warmth.  There are those (perhaps without such soothing animals or attentive humans) who would rather have their issues taken care of medically, surgically, hospitally, with as little patient involvement as possible.  But we need that choice.  Medicine is not just about money ($8 pill vs. thousands for a hospital procedure), nor about efficacy (and here I have no idea how effective the two treatments are). 

They talk on the TV, on the radio, in the newspapers about the blue pill and the red pill.  If for 95% of the public, the blue pill works great and costs less, then fantastic!  But for the 5% who cannot tolerate the blue pill, or for whom the blue pill does not work, we need the red pill.  Even if it costs more.  Beccause it’s also about treating the patient, not just the disease.  We didn’t just learn that from Patch Adams either.

Mr. Apron used to work as a standardized patient, posing as a “patient” for medical students learning how to interact with and diagnose patients.  The most important aspect of this job was not to play 20 questions with 3rd year medical students trying to guess that he had had a closed head injury 2 weeks ago; it was the doctor-patient interaction.  The way the doctor makes you feel, treats you, listens to you, will inform your care, guide your decisions, perhaps more even than cost, or efficacy, or the reputation of your health system’s “top docs”. 

In all these efforts trying to quantify medicine, trying to rate doctors on the number of expensive tests they order, tabulate the experences they have with procedures, and count the number of sick patients they see, they are forgetting that, even in the midst of a healthcare system weighed down by debts, inefficiency, and abuses, there will always be good doctors and bad doctors.  There should always be tough decisions to be made, informed decisions to be made by a patient and her family, because that means there are choices, and that we as consumers/patients/human beings have the ability and the right to take care of our bodies and our minds.  No insurance company, no HMO, no hospital, no doctor, no flashy billboard can tell us otherwise. 

With any luck, I should be back to myself within 24 hours.  The advil seems to have finally kicked in (or maybe it was the Fresca, with its magical “citrus” powers), and I thank you all for listening to my rant.  It’s been difficult not to share my experiences this past weekend, but I do need to keep some parts of my life private.  When there’s something more exciting — and less gross — you know I’ll fill you in on all the details.

Until then, feel better soon.

People will test you, sometimes for no apparent reason. Often, I’ve learned that “no apparent reason” means “to show dominance”. At Mr. Apron’s work, he often comes across parents who have every intention of signing their children up for the programs, yet feel the need to tell him just how expensive, how inconvenient, or how otherwise not ideal they are for their child. And in these cases, when one is asked questions there is no answer for, I really want to ask back, “What do you really want to know?” or “What do you really want to say?”

The answer to that question is, “I just want to test you, to make you feel like shit, and let you know who is in charge here.”

When I started work last fall, I felt like I was being tested. If I showed the slightest hesitation in my approach to the classroom rules (seeing as every classroom has different rules, observing is a great first step unless you want to end up asking questions every 3 seconds), they’d jump on me, telling me what to do. Not as if I’d never been in their classroom before. Not as if I was new to the company, or even to my profession. But as if I had never worked with children before.

As I wondered aloud to a child, “Now, how do you transition from your walker to your chair?” an aide piped up, “Oh, he won’t be able to tell you that.” No kidding. That’s why I’m working with him. Maybe you could help me?

As I worked with a child during lunchtime to try to keep him seated during the meal, “You know, if you put your foot behind the leg of his chair, he won’t be able to push it out.” Thanks. Did you invent that one?

And on and on. It’s no so much the content of these comments, if they were only meant to be helpful, but the manner and tone in which they’re delivered cuts sharply. How about watching me and seeing how I approach the problem, much as you’re supposed to do with your students, to see if I can solve it on my own? Finally, toward the end of the school year, as one of the aides was preparing to go onto a new job, she admitted, out of the blue one day, that she and the lead teacher had tested me back in the fall. To put me in my place? To see if I had enough mettle to stick around and work with the kids? Oh, they admitted to being tough on me because they’d had some slack-ass speech pathologists in the past, some who had never worked with children. And that was exactly as I’d been treated, thought in some cases, I’d had as much experience with 3-5 year olds as they did. N

ow, I’ve started at a new center, and I feel the testing all over again. New teachers I’ve never worked with before. Blunt comments that seem meant to put me in my place. Letting me fail, it would seem. Today, I was pushing kids on a safe, up-to-date version of a see-saw. One little kid, who does not talk much and who will likely soon be on my caseload, seemed interested in helping me push the see-saw so the other kids could ride. So I took one side, he the other, and we pushed the other kids. He was engaged with other children, sustaining an activity, getting some exercise by coordinating his muscles, and, most importantly, enjoying himself. This went on for a full 10 minutes before a teacher started yelling at all the kids who had now joined to help us push, telling me (after the fact, of course) that they don’t let kids push because they could get hurt by bonking their chins when the apparatus comes back up. A teacher who was, the whole time, sitting 2 feet away. Did she want to scold the other kids, by letting them do “the wrong thing” first? Did she want to correct me by setting me up for failure? Or, as she showed last week when she failed to even get up when a child fell off a tricycle, was she just not watching the kids and not caring until it was convenient and she could get someone in trouble?

This woman will try my patience, that’s for certain. Her interactions with children are inappropriate, rude, and brash. Her interactions with adults are no better. If I stick it out, will she let me become her coworker, and learn to respect, if not me, then at least my actions and decisions in her classroom? Granted I’m on her turf, but she’s a new teacher in this room, so she has no seniority where that’s concerned. But I’ll be tougher. I’ll show her that she may be able to yell at the kids. She may try to undermine me, but I’ll keep doing my job, with her, or in spite of her.

Mr. Apron and I sat down at the kitchen table last night to enjoy our dinner of Exploding Pizza, the kind of crust that comes in a tube, and when you peel back the paper it kind of pops, and therefore contains a warning to point it away from your face.  We call that Exploding Pizza.  On the table was a brochure for Piffaro, a musical ensemble which performs renaissance and baroque music using period instruments, such as recorders, harps, shawms, and, my personal favorite, sackbuts.  As I glanced at the various performance descriptions for 17th century Spanish music, I spied a familiar name in the November performance – the husband of a woman led my Early Music Ensemble in college.  He came in a few times to support those of us brave enough to take on the shawms and dulcians, which are sort of proto-oboes and proto-bassoons, respectively.  We obviously had to go. 

“I love taking you to these performances, buddy,” said Mr. Apron as he made a mental note to take me to these performances, “but I hate that it always makes you so sad.”

My brain surgery left my body in less than optimal condition immediately after the surgery.  While I’ve pretty much healed up in as much as spontaneous recovery and physical/occupation/speech therapy can do, there are subtle, sub-clinical deficits I still retain.  When in the medical model, one refers to body function, whether it’s strength, range of motion, or activities you can do, in varying degrees of impairment, such as mildly, moderately, or severely impaired.  In my case, I probably fit the description of WFL, three marvelous letters which stand for Within Functional Limits.  This says, essentially, “This person or his body part is suited for all normal functions.”  Not quite as gratifying as WNL, Within Normal Limits, WFL simply allows the medical professional to give a cursory assessment and determine that nothing significant is standing in the way of ADLs, (Activities of Daily Living): those happy life skills like dressing oneself; loading the dishwasher; using a spork; and running for/signaling at the SEPTA bus leaving the curb.

I am WFL.  My body parts all work WFL.  My once-paralyzed left arm, hand, and all five fingers are WFL.  I can buckle my seat belt, cut up food with a knife, fasten a necklace, and open a door.  My lips/mouth/tongue are WFL.  I can chew food, move it around my mouth, form it into a swallow-able glob, and swallow it.  I can find pesky pieces of lunch hidden in my cheeks, and I can use a napkin to locate detritus on my lower lip.  I am WFL. 

If you probe deeper, maybe compare pre- and post-surgery, you’ll see deficits.  Maybe not in everyday function, but in measurable impairments.  I have very little feeling in my lower lip, chin, and lower cheek on the left half of my face.  My left fingertips perceive touch and temperature ever so slightly differently than those on my right hand.  What this means for daily life is that sometimes I do miss a piece of food on my face, or drool if I’m sleeping on my left side (which I wouldn’t feel).  My left hand might not be up to carrying a dresser long distances.  All these differences would not matter for regular old ADLs, but they do matter for a musician.

Immediately after my surgery, my father, a psychiatrist who should have a good handle on brain function, approached my neurosurgeon with some concern regarding my “musical” ability.  Now, in this century we’ve moved away from phrenology and believing concretely that lumps on the head/brain correspond to characteristics, strengths, and abilities, but there is emerging research into localization of some functions in the brain, made possible with fMRI, imaging which lights up in brighter colors which portions of the brain are active during certain tasks.  I read an article once where the brain surgeons had to do surgery on a professional violinist while she was awake to make sure they had localized and avoided disturbing the “music center” while they operated.  They stimulated portions of her brain and then asked her to play the violin to map out her brain during surgery.  So my father, with his concerns about my “music center” was not completely out in left field.  In fact, there’s a study at Harvard University which has discovered that certain parts of the auditory cortex are sensitive to aspects of music.

In the hospital I could do very little.  I couldn’t sit up for any length of time without getting very dizzy and causing my already massive headache to throb even more.  Finally, towards the end of the week I spent as an inpatient, I felt well enough to sit up.  I tried to spend most of my days sitting up to prove to the nursing staff how much my constitution was improving so they’d let me go home. 

My mother plays harp professionally.  She plays a lot of weddings and church-related events such as midnight masses and Christmas concerts.  She has also played for Mothers Day teas at yacht clubs, a Memorial Day event at a cemetery, and concerts for children.  In addition to her concert-sized harp, she has a more portable version, which she brought with her to the hospital, to cheer me up, keep us all busy, and entertain the ward with strains of “If I only had a brain”.  In an effort to appease my father’s worries, and for want of something to do that didn’t involve vision (I had double vision immediately after surgery which conveniently went away as soon as I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist 8 weeks later), I asked for the harp.  Balancing it on the edge of the bed, cradling the harp between my knees, I propped myself up.  My useless left arm lay at my side, but I was able to pluck out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with my right. 

Behold!  They had spared my “music center”!  Not only had the post-operative angiogram shown no residual AVM; they had successfully left intact my musical abilities.  Or so it seemed.  At least my father was relieved.

Unfortunately, I did not have so much success with my other instruments.  When I had regained a little function in my left hand (I became strong enough to lift a spice bottle), I tried the clarinet and the bassoon.  My embouchure, the shape of the mouth and lips when playing a wind instrument, was weakened not only by months of disuse, but also was significantly affected by my new deficits.  I couldn’t keep a seal on the mouthpiece of my clarinet, and spittle flew out of the left side of my mouth.  Bassoon was no better.  Even as the months wore on, and my strength improved measurably in therapy, I had no more success.  Every time I would pick up my bassoon, I would collapse in tears, wailing as I sat in the living room, apologizing repeatedly to the beautiful (some might argue) instrument.  My left hand, as “functional” as it was for the physiatrist, was still too weak to even hold the heft of the 7 pound instrument, let alone support the instrument with my palm and move all five fingers in rapid precise movements.  Websites will tell you that bassoonists don’t actually have to feel the weight of their instruments because they’re supported by seat straps.  While it’s true they’re not lifting 7 pounds constantly, they do have to hold up the top-heavy instrument as it leans ever so slightly to the left. 

I can do all of the range of movement exercises with my facial muscles, and my left hand strength is now pretty good for a non-dominant hand, but it is nowhere near agile enough to play a musical instrument.  The rapid movements, the precision, the muscle memory needed for arpeggios, for reaching all of the 17 keys on a bassoon, for sealing the holes of the instrument…I just don’t have those abilities. 

When we go to a concert, be it classical music, early music, Indonesian music, or any other genre or instrument I have played, I get sad.  I think of how I used to play, used to be in ensembles and have concerts, and go out for Dairy Queen afterwards.  I have been in marching bands of 100 pimply teenagers, chamber orchestras made up of physicians, school bands, wind ensembles, early music ensembles, quartets, and summer orchestras large enough to have 8 bassoonists and 40 flautists.  With varying degrees of proficiency, I have played piano, recorder, harp, bassoon, clarinet, bari sax, dulcian, krumhorn, viola da gamba, cello, and gamelan (Indonesian percussion) instruments. 

I wish I could pick an instrument back up.  It’s been so long now that I’d have an uphill battle to relearn the instrument as well as reteach my hands how to play.  I avoid even trying.  I keep my bassoon locked up in the basement, where I don’t have to think about it.  When I pluck out notes on a piano to help Mr. Apron learn his music for plays, I keep my left hand in my lap, ashamed to try to use it.  It would be so hard now that I don’t even try.  That if I did, it would be so difficult I would get frustrated and give up.  The sadness also stems from the fact that, if you hadn’t gathered from my list of instruments and ensembles, music was a pretty big part of my life until my surgery.  It’s also a pretty significant part of my family’s life. 

My mother, as I mentioned, is a harpist.  She is also a pianist.  My brother dabbled in drums for a while before returning to piano, his first instrument.  Last time I checked, he had completed his college majors in physics and music, ripping through sonatas and pop songs at the speed of lightning.  My sister, too, started with piano, and branched off into brass, picking up the trumpet, mainly, but also trying out the euphonium.  She also plays the shofar annually at my parents’ synagogue’s High Holy Days celebration, blasting the announcement of the holiday from the ram’s horn for all to hear.  My father, though never quite reaching proficiency on the piano, stuck with woodwind instruments.  He started with clarinet, as did I, and then moved to bassoon, as did I.  I followed his path, waiting for my hands to grow even a smidge more so I could play the bassoon like my father.  My first ensemble was a duet with my father.  He had put down his clarinet since probably junior high, but dug it out of my grandmother’s closet to play when I started playing in 5th grade.  And when I picked up the bassoon, he dusted his off from where it had lain, dormant under the piano, since I was born. 

Though the years I’ve had many “clarinet buddies,” playing duets with me, or starting impromptu ensembles.  We helped each other improve, and I may have actually done more practicing when playing with a friend.  As I moved into high school, I found clarinet buddies in marching band or other low woodwind players in orchestra to be my bassoon buddies (I was always the lone bassoonist).  In college, I never quite found any bassoon or clarinet buddies.  I couldn’t figure out how to socialize during the breaks at orchestra rehearsal.  I was just a shy freshman, the 3rd bassoonist in a section meant for 2.  It didn’t seem like much of a loss when I quit orchestra, and, subsequently, bassoon lessons.  I hadn’t been motivated to improve in a long time.  Away at college, I missed the camaraderie of having music buddies.  I didn’t have the motivation to play, or any of the benefits that had always come with music for me.

As Mr. Apron and discussed music last night, I started tearing up.  I guess he thought I was again regretting that I have put down my instruments and am afraid to try again.  It was all this talk about clarinet buddies.  I was realizing that neither Hannah, nor Nadia, nor Jamie, nor Alison, nor Sandy were my first clarinet buddy.  My father, who himself had put down his instruments when I was born, was my first clarinet buddy.  Though we had built a pink dollhouse together for my 3rd birthday, and gone skiing together when I was 6, the most consistent and longest lasting activity we have shared is music.  Music did not care if there was 24” of powder on the ski slope.  Music did not care if we had wrist-guards while rollerblading.  Music did not leave sawdust in our eyes or require Mickey Mouse ear protectors.  Music is something my father supported me in for many years.  I understand his fear of my losing my music because of my surgery.  He hadn’t realized then that my deficits would not be in the region of the brain that is sensitive to rhythm, melody and harmony, but in my fingers and my discouragement. 

We will go to that early music concert in November, and I know I’ll get sad.  I’ll also enjoy seeing and hearing the beautiful instruments that I used to hold and play.  I’m not sure where I’ll go with music, or if I’ll even persist with an instrument long enough to find out if it’s even possible to play again.  I’m still fortunate to have grown up playing and listening to the tunes of my family, in the house where we referred to the living room as “the music room.” The music room was where I danced at age 4 to my mother’s harp practicing, where I set up a crude drum set for my brother made out of oatmeal drums and pie tins, and where my father and I played many hours of duets together. 

More than physical impairments, and all the excuses I let my body and brain make for my failure to try again, is motivation.  Maybe again I’ll find motivation in one of these concerts – an open call for a mediocre bassoonist, an invitation to come try out the bass recorder, a song I can’t let go of – or in another source.  Maybe Mr. Apron will find a duet for banjo and something-I-used-to-play.  Maybe I’ll meet someone who inspires me and wants to have jam sessions. 

Or maybe we’ll have to grow me another clarinet buddy.

Ha!  You thought this was going to be some artsy post about some painter!  Boy were you wrong!!

 Monet is a 5 year old girl who had some sort of brain injury early in her life.  Well, she’s only five, so obviously “early”, eh?  I think it was a hemorrhage, a bleed, which can wreak havoc on any brain, developing or geriatric.  Monet does not speak.  In grad school we were taught to use “people first” language, and to describe people’s disabilities as “different abilities”.  People are people first, not disability first.  There’s more to him than his diagnosis.  So the “autistic kid” in the corner flapping his hand is actually “a kid with autism”.  The “albino” is actually “a girl with albinism”.  And my husband is a man with asthma, not “an asthmatic”.  In theory, this is great.  It sets up expectations of fair language, and has largely done away with the acceptability of calling someone “a retard”.  I still think that “person with mental retardation” calls the R-word to mind, and, let’s face it, 5th graders will use anything as an insult.  If “bleeker” became the word for people with disabilities, they’d use that, too.  This P.C.ness can get carried too far, as you might expect.  Children ought not be referred to as “non-verbal” and never “a mute”.  In many circles children with autism, “do not speak yet”.  And we were given a little bookmark-sized handout in grad school with alternative phrasing which told us that a good way to talk about  a person who is nonverbal is to say she “communicates with her eyes”.  This calls to mind a book I read in high school called, “I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes”, as well as “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”.  While there are those who use eye blinks and movement to communicate, this is not the case for Monet.  Monet shows her interests by tearing around the room, vocalizing grunts and shrieks, and reaching to people.  She knows several manual signs (eat, jump, more), but hasn’t really caught on that they are for communicating. 

Today my work calendar called for Monet’s therapy to occur during her lunchtime.  Lunchtime is, shall we say, challenging, for the others in her room, as a direct result of her actions.  In addition, lunchtime is an excellent time to work on communication skills because food is, for many children, highly motivating.  And when you’re working on actions that are learned in a highly behavioral way (think Skinner), food is your go-to tool.  We’ve been working on perfecting the Monet feeding session since the summer, when she started at the center.  It has not gone well.  Monet pockets food in her mouth, spits it out, dumps milk in her mouth and dribbles it down her shirt, reaches, grabs, and intones for the food on the table, and jumps up every 45 seconds for no apparent reason.  She hasn’t caught onto the sitting-down-at-meals expectation.  She’s not a completely safe eater, and the person supporting her always ends up looking like they’ve just introduced mashed peas to an 8 month old. 

I went in fully armed today.  I grabbed the weighted vest (designed for proprioceptive input, and to slow her down), the non-slip scoop bowl (to keep food in it, and to keep it on the table), the adapted fork handle (big chunk of foam with a channel for a regular fork), the adapted spoon (similar), and the adapted chair (with arm rests, to make some feeble attempt at containing Monet).  I also used a bike helmet. 

What science is this?  Is this because of her brain damage?  Is this some crazy sensory integration therapy?  Ah, no.  She just likes the bike helmet (from the dress-up area) and wore it yesterday afternoon and was able to attend to a table-top toy for 30 minutes.  Maybe it helps her “feel” her head like the weighted vest helps her “feel” her body.  Maybe it just feels snug and cozy.  Whatever it was, it seemed to help yesterday.  So I thought I’d try it. 

She used picture icons to request apples, milk, rice, and chicken from me, more than 10 times total.  Initially, I held out my hand, and she just tapped the picture.  I prompted, “Ask me”, and made a grabbing motion with my hand.  She figured it out.  Eventually I took my hand away, and just showed her the picture, saying, “I have apples!”  She not only came to the table, but when I motioned for her to sit down as a requirement for eating, she did so.  She handed me those silly pieces of paper to communicate.  She understood I was the keeper of the food, and that handing me the picture of the chicken unlocked a morsel.  She was communicating. 

Monet still terrorized the room when she’d finished eating, sending children shrieking as she stole their toys and bounded about the room.  But as I left I glanced over to the house corner.  Bike helmet still securely planted on head, Monet motioned to a peer with her teacup as she grunted, and the other girl poured them both some tea. 

Whatever skills and desires are locked away in Monet’s head we’ll never know.  Whether she understands and chooses not to listen to her teachers and classmates as they tell her to stop, or sit down; or whether meaningful comprehension of spoken language evades her, is not something I’ll figure out in 15 minutes of therapy a week (though lunch took upwards of 40…hmm).  The sight of that child with her teacup in hand, helmet on head, made me smile.  In that moment, she was any child, dressing up for a tea party with a friend.

On Labor Day, we went to visit my sister-in-law and her new baby, who was extracted (elective, non-medically-necessary elective C-section, remember?) last Thursday, September 3rd, around 1pm.  He’s very cute and looks way too much like my father-in-law, or at least his facial expressions do.  I see my Bianca’s nose, but no traces of the baby’s father in his features.  Looks like Bianca was able to achieve the immaculate conception and birth.  She really is superhuman.  Was discharged a day early (48 hours post C-section), but chose to stay on an extra day, just because.  Was sitting up watching the Eagles game her first night.  The way it was related to us, I expected nothing short of her playing in the Eagles game.  It would be apropo to her Eagles tramp stamp. 

So she and the perfect birth came home Sunday, and we visited Monday.  They’d pulled the bed downstairs into the living room because she’s not supposed to do stairs, but she has to go downstairs (2nd and 3rd floor apartment) to unlock/open the door anyway.  So much for discharge precautions.  We weren’t sure how it was going to be to see her as a mother.  We’d heard the baby’s father had done all the diapering so far, and that the reason we’d been called to come over at that time was to keep her company when the baby’s father had to run out to take his son to his mother.  To keep her company because she was afraid to be alone with the baby.  Well, thankfully that wasn’t entirely true.  She held him one-armed, cradled into a tuck like, appropriately, a football, and managed to change his diaper twice while we were there, muttering, “This wasn’t what I signed up for” and “How ’bout we just wait for your daddy?”  So she didn’t seem afraid of him exactly.  Just inconvenienced.  As she changed his diaper and bundled him back up, she remarked how perhaps Daddy was a better diaper-er, but she was the expert swaddler.  She did look like she knew what she was doing, rolling and tucking him this way and that, but my other SIL and I noticed something.  She swaddled him only up to his armpits, leaving his arms free to flail.  And flail he did.  I kept mum, but my other SIL asked, coyly, if there was a reason he wasn’t completely covered.

“Oh, he likes to have his arms free.”

Ah, the attribution of interests, desires, and preferences in a 4-day-old infant.  I held my tongue.  He flails his arms because they are free, not because he “likes” them that way.  In the womb, he was all tightly cozily curled up, and that same posture (mimicked by swaddling), can help him to “regulate” his sense of body feeling, to be warm and comfortable in your freezingly air-conditioned apartment.  He likes to have his arms free?  He doesn’t even know he has arms yet.  He’s months away from reaching for things, and purposefully sticking his hand/thumb/foot/mother’s earring in his mouth.  Yet I said nothing, because a) she wouldn’t buy it, b) I can’t explain it very well, and c) our relationship is rocky enough since Bianca didn’t receive her invitation to our wedding the exact same day as her sister, and therefore deduced we didn’t want her at our wedding.  (Truth?  Again,  I refrain from comment)

It can be hard to be the one who has taken classes on child development and understands things like reflexes.  It’s hard to be the one who works with young children.  It’s hard to watch parents ascribe movements or gestures to a child’s innate sense of self, or athletic inclinations.  Bianca is already sure her child is going to be  a “bruiser” who will protect his older “intellectual” half-brother. 

“He wants to be fed,” as he opens his mouth when someone brushes his cheek.  “No,” I don’t say, “that’s a rooting reflex that would help him find the breast if you had chosen to give him the best possible nutrition and immunity defenses by breast-feeding.”

“He  likes to pull off his hat,”  as his flailing arms reach his head and nudge the hat off his crown.  “No,” I don’t say, “he doesn’t know he has arms yet and is not making intentional movements.”

“He’ll be a bruiser.”  Huh?

He’ll be this, he’ll do that.  All we can do as parents is to introduce our children to things we think are valuable (in Bianca’s case, the Eagles, and bullying, apparently), and hope they find rewarding and interesting activities to pursue.  I know she’ll be horribly disappointed when he turns out like her brother, my husband: long, lanky, and theatre-loving.  But that’s the way of the world, karmically.  My FIL tried every sport under the sun for Mr. Apron, from football to tennis, to golf, to soccer, to Nascar.  In spite of all this, he loves theatre.  He loves Monty Python.  He used his golf clubs (as you may have read yesterday) to take out adolescent angst on his dresser.  We can’t force our interests on our spawn, especially not on our infant offspring. 

I know no one sits around in the hospital room talking excitedly about when little Johnny will roll over on his own, or the first time Felix will pee in the toilet and not in Mommy’s face or in his Pamper, or even the first steps little Eunique will take.  All these exciting landmarks, by and large, do not differentiate our children from the masses.  Sure, we all hope they’ll develop normally (well, exceptionally, and ahead of schedule, actually), eventually be potty-trained, and learn to talk, but what seems to excite people more is talking about their future careers (architect because he plays with blocks, engineer because she enjoys disassembling her toys, hair dresser because she gave Barbie a mohawk) and which varsity sport they’ll play in high school.  I accept that, even as I stared at the baby snoozing in my lap.  He is a little half-swaddled bundle of potential, one in whom Bianca has invested her hopes and dreams (“All I want is for him to be a star running back”). 

I only hope we’ll get to spend some time with him to show him the Dark Side of performing arts.  At least we can provide some balance in his life, even as he “watches” the Eagles game this weekend.  His visual acuity, Bianca?  He can only see about 8-15 inches.  But will I say anything?  Only on this blog.

Well, Jeopardy! was a rerun from the Ken Jennings series, which I had no desire to watch, which means I’ve spent approximately the last hour trolling the internet doing nothing.  I complain to Mr. Apron I have no time to blog, but I could have written a novella in the past hour instead of looking for strange things on Craigslist. 

Sometimes I get stuck.  It’s usually a weeknight, usually when Mr. Apron is working late, or an evening after a slow day at work, and I just don’t feel like doing anything.  I’ve plugged back in my sewing machine after we rearranged the office post-painting, and even set up a full-size ironing board to replace the little travel-size dealie my mother complained about when she came to visit.  The new board is, appropriately, a house-warming gift from her.  I used to tutor in the evenings, sometimes 2 nights a week and often Sundays as well.  I would grumble and groan as I left the cozy couch, fuzzy dog, and company of my husband, to brave the cold evenings of tutoring.  I just wanted to be home, or just not to have to be somewhere.  Now, as the days get shorter, and I worry, like a lame-O suburbanite, about my precious prime parking spot, I’m reluctant to leave the house once it’s dark.  A far cry from my college student self, who would think nothing of getting on the 9:30pm shuttle to Boston just to walk around, and catch the 2:30am shuttle back to campus.  Not that I was a partier in anyway, but now I feel like I shouldn’t go out on a weeknight, like there’s a karmic prohibition on doing so. 

Tonight Mr. Apron is working late.  He came home for dinner, and now he’s back at work for a late meeting.  Unable to motivate myself to finish sewing a cute baby romper I constructed out of one of Mr. Apron’s old oxford shirts (what is it with all the babies being born?), even though I only have to sew on 2 buttons, make 4 button-holes, and hem the sleeves, I find myself floating between the two screens in our home — the TV and the computer.  At least I get exercise running up and down the steps between the office and the living room.  The bugger is, I don’t depend on Mr. Apron to entertain me.  I don’t need him to play Skip-Bo or Scrabble with me just to keep me busy.  There are many nights when I’m the one  frantically finishing “just one more step” of whatever project I’m invested in.  Yet I don’t want to relearn buttonholes on my fancy sewing machine.  I don’t want to bake cookies for the pre-wedding potluck we’re going to this weekend.  I don’t want to pick out a dress for the wedding.  I don’t want to read my new Japanese craft books or start the new novel Mr. Apron’s librarian mother picked out for me.  I don’t want to load the dishwasher or make my lunch for tomorrow.  I don’t want to do anything.

Melancholy?  Depression?  Agita?  Pick one.  I find myself lacking the motivation even to take a walk around the block in this safe neighborhood I told myself would be a boon to the lethargy I felt when we lived in the city and didn’t feel comfortable walking around at night.  I’m just stuck. 

I don’t often whine, moan, or bitch on this blog.  I’ve tried to keep it light, funny, heart-warming (where appropriate, but not too Chicken Soupy), and interesting.  Maybe a little snarky.  All blogs are supposed to be snarky.  But sometimes, when I’m stuck, the only thing I can do is realize that I am stuck.  I wonder when Mr. Apron will get home, and then I get sad that, as it’s already past 8:30, we’ll be starting to bed soon after he comes home, whenever that is, and I have to go to work tomorrow.  And that, I really don’t want to do.  An elderly seamstress named Amy, with whom I worked one summer, wisely told me, “That’s why they call it work.”

As you may have guessed during this past blog-free week, I was on vacation with Mr. Apron.  Either that, or you thought my vegetarian blog was so hot, I had to let it cool off.  In any case, I did not advertise our trip to Maine in advance, for fear you might break into my uninhabited home and steal my bassoon, or my sewing machine, or my cheese slicer, three things of great value to me.  Even if I had told you I was going to be away, and given you the exact dates, you wouldn’t have found the house empty, because the painters were here again!

Mr. Apron or I had this great idea to have them come while we were on vacation!  We’d be like a real Main Line couple and have “work done” without the inconvenience that usually accompanies having workmen in the house.  Especially because our bedroom (including closet) was painted, we had to purge the closet of all our precious clothing, and heap it all on the bed, it would have been very inconvenient indeed.  So my in-laws (THANK YOU!) let the painters in each morning, collected our mail, played with the lights, and held down the fort while we cavorted up in Maine.  (Vacation highlights and photos coming soon…)  We sunned, we hiked, we biked, we sailed, we shopped, we dropped, we bowled, we ate, and ate, and ate.  And all the while, our house was transforming.

The wallpaper is gone, folks.  All the old-lady wallpaper (except in the downstairs powder room, where it’s almost inoffensive, and would be more trouble than it’s worth to redo in a room that small) is gone.  Our room is a lovely earthy mossy green.  Our office is a slate blue.  It feels so good to be home.  I don’t just mean having space to ourselves again, and not learning about the financial woes of our neighbors at the B&B due to their loud cell phone conversations.  I don’t just mean being able to unpack, do laundry, and cook.  I mean the whole thing.  I mean being back in a place where we’re truly at home, in our own skin, surrounded by our stuff, our decor, the clothing and furniture that’s meaningful to us, or at least familiar.  Even in our nasty 1980s kitchen with its poop-brown cabinetry, and vomit-colored cobble-stone sheet linoleum flooring, and decaying drop ceiling, as I heated up two masala veggie burgers (Trader Joe’s = awesomeness.  Tasted like samosas on a bun.) in a little stir-fry pan, I moved around the kitchen pulling out utensils, finding plates, and serving up a very simple late dinner, and it all felt familiar.  This doesn’t mean I’m not going to cry tears of joy as we rip the flooring up and tear the “ceiling” down, ‘cuz you better believe I will.  It just feels good right now, after having been away since last Friday evening, almost 10 days.  We haven’t been away this long since our honeymoon! 

We stopped at my parents’ house in RI to pick up the dog, watch old home movies (slipsofthetongue’s 4th birthday on Betamax — much worthy future post), and spend quality time with my parents, (baking scones, being dragged by dogs, and walking around the neighborhood).  They suffer from an unfortunate lack of space compounded by having had to move to a smaller house due to real estate prices on the east coast versus our previous home in the midwest, where the cost of living is quite low.  And they have stuff.  Stuff from 30 years of marriage, 27 years of having had children, and lifetimes of other stuff (dolls, harps, dress shirts, shoes, neckties).  It feels a bit cramped, and you have to relearn where to find things everytime you go back. 

“Well, the keys are now in the closet where the fridge used to be.  The fridge is near the backdoor now, so of course we’ve moved the trashcan over to the butler pantry.  We keep the extra folding chair by the door to the dining room otherwise the dogs go in and get stuck and have “accidents”.  Also, if you want Diet Coke, it’s in the basement fridge, so while you’re going down there, stop by the sewing room (which is now in the basement) and see if you like any of the shoes I’ve laid out that your uncle just sent me.  Careful opening the fridge because the light is out, but you can use the one above the table saw.  Also, the watermelon might fall out, so hang onto it as you open the door to grab cokes and clementines for your drive.  Also, take a package of masala burgers (ah, you see where our dinner came from?) from the freezer.  Don’t use the shower in the hall bath because we have a leak, so you can shower in our room, the third floor, or on the first floor.  The dogs need to be fed, but Holly only eats this $60/bag dog food, so make sure Annabella doesn’t get into it.  Their bowls are up on the counter in the butler pantry so Annabella (the chocolate lab) doesn’t think they’re a chew toy.  Feed Holly (paranoid border collie) in the corner so she doesn’t think the other dogs  want her food, and watch Annabella so she doesn’t help herself to Finley’s food once she’s done.  ”

It is nice to be home.  Aside from the heap of clothing on our bed, and the fact that the painters decided I should put my sewing machine near the window, things are pretty much how we left them.  And that feels pretty damn good.

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September 2009