Turning Points

I’ve had a rough week with my daughter Brianna, and today my mind went back in time and I was reminded of a moment when my dad was really angry with me. I was sixteen and it was late September and a bunch of my friends were gathering at Bob’s house after school. I wanted to be there too. My dad didn’t like Bob, but I’m not sure why. I truly think it was because my older brothers didn’t like Bob’s older siblings. I asked my dad if I could go and he said no. Uncharacteristic of me, I went anyway. And later that evening when I came home, my dad was furious with me—for disobeying him and for not calling to let anyone know where I was when I didn’t get off the school bus at home. My dad yelled at me that night. It was the first time he had ever done that and I was devastated. I knew what I had done was wrong and my heart ached with the guilt of having disappointed my dad. As it turned out, my dad and I never discussed that night again, and in my mind we never resolved our feelings. A little more than two months later my dad died. I carried guilt from that after-school outing through all of my life until last year, when a spontaneous email discussion helped me to finally have closure. You can read about it here.

In looking back on my life, I never considered that argument with my dad to be a turning point—the point at which a significant change takes place. In my mind, the death of my mom and then two years later the death of my dad combined into one major turning point. Everything about my life changed. Everything. Right down to my personality.

I was reminded of that argument with my dad in the midst of this tough week with Brianna. Yesterday morning I shouted at Brianna in much the same way my dad shouted at me all those long years ago. This argument with Brianna had been going on for a few days. With the help of modern technology, it had a longer than normal life through text messages on phones and instant messaging through the Internet. At one point in the argument Brianna extended it to include her three sisters by sending a Facebook message to us as a group. Now, as I write this and have some distance between me and this argument, I can smile about that. Imagine getting a group message on Facebook in which you’re thrust into the middle of an argument. You have no idea what started the argument, why such a trivial thing even matters, and how you got involved in the first place.

Kate, my oldest, brought a bit of perspective to the argument when she wrote about how she was holding a two week old baby with casts on both legs. It made the trivial argument seem so lame. Indeed it was. But each one of us knows that Brianna wasn’t really arguing about the trivial matter. What caused Brianna’s anger to rise was that she felt none of us were there for her when she needed us.

Feelings of abandonment are some of the most crushing feelings we can ever feel. Such feelings can be devastating and can take months, even years, to heal. It’s interesting for me to note that a majority of the turning points in my life occurred at moments when I felt all alone in the big, scary world. Sure there were family members around me and I had friends in my life but I didn’t feel they were really there for me. Maybe they thought they were helping or trying to help, but my feelings told me I was standing alone in the world. Because I felt I had no one but myself to rely on, and because I had this innate need to survive, I was forced to put one foot in front of the other and find my way. Maybe I am a stronger person for it. Maybe those moments wouldn’t have been such powerful turning points if I had had someone else to lean on and guide me.

Knowing today that my youngest daughter has those same feelings is tough to acknowledge. We live in the same house. We talk and interact every day. I thought I was helping and guiding. The last thing I’d want any of my children to feel is all alone in the world. It’s also tough to accept that I would yell at my daughter in the same way that my dad yelled at me, a moment that caused so much guilt and disappointment, that lasted most of my life. It was a turning point for me at sixteen. And now, it seems this new argument is another turning point for me. Will the argument of yesterday morning be a turning point for Brianna? Sure wish I had my dad to talk to about this one.

Happy Birthday, Kate!

This was published on September 18 but some glitch caused it not to show up in my archives. I’m posting it again in the hopes that it will now show up.

Today is my oldest daughter’s twenty-eighth birthday. Truly, the math is impossible because I’m not old enough to have a daughter that old! One week ago tomorrow, she gave birth to her second child, a son. She did something I could never accomplish in life—give birth to a son.

I called her today to wish her a happy day, but it wasn’t necessary. Her voice sounds so strong and in control. And she is still sailing high on the aftereffects of new birth. There is absolutely no greater joy in life than having a newborn baby laying on your chest, skin to skin, bonding.

The photo I share is of me, holding my grandson who is only five hours old in the photo. He has been so alert and awake, taking in all around him. Only minutes old, he lifted his head and turned it so he could follow the voice of his older sister, a high-pitched voice he undoubtedly heard daily for the last nine months.

I am so proud of my daughter and her husband for the beautiful family they have created, for the job they are doing as parents in this tough, tough world in which we live. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet these grandchildren, fully aware of the fact that neither of my parents lived long enough to meet any of my children. And I am overwhelmed once again at the miracle of birth. I never grow tired of such miracles.

Do your kneecaps move?

About six weeks ago, I knelt down on our living room carpet to pick up dog toys. When I put down my left knee, I cried out, “Ouch!” I pushed over off my knees to look at what I knelt on, but there was nothing there. Nothing hiding in or under the carpeting. I pushed on my knee to find the sore spot, but couldn’t find it. Sure enough, as soon as I knelt again and put pressure on my knee, I felt like a knife was jabbing into my knee. It almost feels as though there’s something stuck between my kneecap and my leg bone and when I kneel down, it hurts!

Last week I resigned myself to the fact that something is definitely wrong with my knee and it’s not getting any better. So I went to my regular doctor and he asked, “Why do you need to use your knees?” I’m not kidding. He really asked me that and he waited for an answer. I decided he was looking for that “quality of life” statement, so I told him I cannot clean bathrooms, I cannot get heavy pans out of the bottom shelf in the cupboard, I cannot dig shoes out from the floor of my closet. That satisfied him and he made a bunch of notes. And then he asked me in all sincerity, “Are you Catholic?” The question was so out of context that I had to think for a moment about why in the world he wanted to know that.

He went on to examine my knee and ask more questions. No matter what he did, he could not make it hurt. He sent me to x-ray, but the films came back normal. “I’m sorry to have to do this, but I’m going to refer you to a sports doctor. I can’t find anything wrong and he’ll have a better idea.” He truly felt bad that he couldn’t diagnose the problem, and that might have been why he decided to say, “Remember the joke, if it hurts don’t do it?” I smiled to make him feel better even though I didn’t find it funny.

So yesterday I went to see the sports doctor. I explained the pain I’m having and he said, “Stop using your knees.” He wasn’t teasing. Since I’m not an athlete and I don’t need to use my knees for my job, he told me to stop using my knees for two to three months. If it’s not better, then I should come back and we can discuss options, like a cortisone shot. “Who’s going to clean the bathrooms and wash floors?” I asked the doc. “Your husband can do those things.” I’m still laughing. And my knee still hurts.

Both of these doctors (both male, is that a coincidence or not?) couldn’t understand why I am on my knees so much. I told them each, “You don’t realize how often you use your knees until you can’t.” I also explained that through this process I’ve learned I have a favorite knee. Just like I write with one hand and use the same foot to kick with, I have one knee that always goes down first. Of course, it’s that knee that hurts.

I pressed the sports doctor for an explanation as to what could be causing this pain. “You probably fell and don’t remember it.” I haven’t fallen. If I did anything, I might have banged it on the desk drawer at work. “Maybe you were in an accident.” Maybe he’s making this up as he goes?

In 1980 when I was in college, I went dancing with some friends. The club had a staircase that spiraled down to the dance floor, and sure enough I tripped and fell to my knees and slid down the last four steps out onto the dance floor. The whole place erupted in applause and cheers. Everyone thought it was the coolest dance move ever! My date had to pull me up because I couldn’t stand up on my own. I had twisted my ankle, but my knees were just fine. That was more than thirty years ago and alcohol played a role that night. But I remember that incident very clearly. I think if I had been in an accident or fell and hurt my knee, I would remember that too.

Anyway, I wanted some kind of explanation as to what could be going on with my knee. The sports doctor told me some story about how I probably scraped the inside of my kneecap and now there’s a scar, similar to a bruise and it’s going to take a while to heal. Or, he offered another possibility, the cartilage could be wearing with age and it’s worn weird in one spot and it’s creating a sore spot. I must have had a bewildered and confused look on my face because the sports doctor took that moment to tell me, “This reminds me of the old joke, the man tells the doctor my arm hurts when I do this, and the doctor says don’t that.”

I didn’t laugh. “Let me see if I’m hearing you correctly,” I said. I repeated back to him this strange story about possibly scraping the backside of my kneecap or that the cartilage is wearing away in a weird way. He nodded his head and said, “The only way to know for sure is to open it up. But I’m not going to do that. I’ve opened plenty of knees to know this is most likely what you’re dealing with.” He went on to tell me that everyone’s kneecaps can move from side to side but that I have “firm kneecaps” because they don’t move. Honest to God! I did everything I could to stop from laughing out loud. I guess I should have been flattered at that point to know that at least I have one “firm” body part at my age. Since he couldn’t make the pain happen during the exam, he declared this not a very serious thing at all. “Stay off your knees for two months or so and it should go away.”

When I came home and told my husband he has to clean bathrooms until my knee feels better, he told me to get a second opinion. I’m going to a different doctor next week.

Oh, and by the way, my husband’s kneecaps don’t move side to side. Neither do any of my daughters’ or their husbands/boyfriends. Do yours move?

Mom’s Songs

The summer before my daughter Kate’s senior year of high school, she burned a CD of many of her favorite songs and gave it to me for my birthday. She pointed out one song in particular, “I Hope You Dance” sung by Lee Ann Womack, and told me that was “our” song, the song she and I would share our whole lives. No one had ever shared a song with me before, not even Kate’s dad, and it touched my heart. It also started a tradition.

About that same time my daughter Rose was developing a diverse love of music. It amazed me that she could find joy in listening to Bach and Pachelbel, Dylan and The Beatles, Streisand, Paul Simon, yes, even Sinatra, all the while listening to The Smashing Pumpkins, Korn, and Kurt Cobain. For a while she played one song repeatedly and the tune is etched in my mind but I do not know the name of the song. Whenever I hear it, I am immediately taken back in time to her high school years. But it wasn’t until Rose was in college that we found our song. One night I was making supper and Rose played a CD with the song “Hallelujah” sung by Jeff Buckley. After that, there was never any doubt about our song.

My daughter Emily is the musician in our family, playing seven different instruments. All through high school and college she was passionate about marching band and drum and bugle corps. Every summer she disappeared, touring across the country, playing in stadiums, marching in record-breaking heat, returning to us in late August looking like a trim and fit body builder. My relationship with Emily has improved quite a bit since she was in high school, but not to the point that she would admit “we” have a song. But we do. “Seven Nation Army” was the song her marching band played every Friday night as they escorted the football team onto the field. Rain or snow, hot Indian Summer evenings or freezing cold playoffs, they played that song. It is our song.

My youngest daughter and I have never really agreed on our song. No matter the song we eventually do agree on, for me our song will always be “Hush Little Baby.” It goes back to when Brianna was six months old and she came down with a sudden high fever and refused to eat or drink. I called our family doctor but he was out of the country on vacation. I gave Brianna some medicine which brought the fever down to a tolerable 100 degrees, but she would not let me put her down. If I set her in her crib she cried hysterically. I tried putting her next to me in my bed but she screamed just the same. I found myself in the rocking chair, gently singing, “Hush little baby, don’t say a word.” I didn’t know many of the words, but I sang it anyway. It calmed her and she fell asleep. Every time I attempted to get out of the rocking chair, she would wake and scream. So that night I slept sitting in the chair with Brianna on my lap facing me, her arms wrapped around my sides.

The next day I called and got an appointment with one of the other doctors in our clinic. She looked at Brianna and said, “If scarlet fever wasn’t so rare, I’d say that’s what she has.” Say what? The doctor went on to describe all of Brianna’s symptoms, right down to the “raspberry tongue”, but told me there was nothing that could be done. “I won’t say she has scarlet fever because that’s too rare. Whatever she has, it’s a virus and it has to run its course.” After much begging on my part, the doctor very reluctantly agreed to give me a stronger baby pain reliever. That’s all. I returned home and spent the next two days and nights sitting and sleeping in that rocking chair. And I learned every word to the song, “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.” I’d give Brianna her meds then get as many liquids into her as she could take, because the meds seemed to work only for an hour or so. After that, her fever would spike and again she would refuse to eat or drink.

On the fourth day, our family doctor was back in the clinic and I pleaded with his nurse to squeeze us in. Brianna’s fever had come down and she was beginning to take more liquids, but she was still not herself. The doctor listened to my story and examined Brianna. “Sure sounds like scarlet fever to me,” he declared. He said she probably should have been admitted to the hospital, but that she was now on her way to recovering. He prescribed some more meds and praised me for being such a good mom. I cried. I was so exhausted and felt such affirmation that he understood.

For all of Brianna’s life, when I hear that lullaby I think of her, but she doesn’t like the song. Could it be she associates it with being sick? I’ve always wondered.

This past Mother’s Day, Brianna made a video for me and gave it to me as a gift. It was a collection of photos from all the years when my four daughters were growing up, and in the background was the song “We Found Love” sung by Alisha Popat. I’m not quite ready to accept that as our song, but it’s comforting to know that Brianna is still searching.