Out of Office

Samuel has been waking every night. There’s nothing happening no loud noises, his diaper is dry, the still-missing teeth are dormant, the world is warm and fuzzy. He has loving parents, a doting sister, a dozen new words every week, a brand new rocking horse built by hand by his granddaddy which he is already climbing and rocking, and at two-o-clock in the blessed AM he just has to share this with someone. And since he is night-weaned, I am his special buddy tonight and every night.

Also. work has gotten very stressful. The person-hours chewed up by the current beast of a project have stretched beyond any reasonable expectation of profit, let alone affable office comraderie. I am following my boss’s erratic mood swings with the anxious foreboding of an inmate watching the guards. At least I telecommute and do not have to “fly low” as my front-line coworkers in the office like to put it.

One miserable night last week I continued to work after the children and Dawn went to bed, trying to solve a file locking problem across a half dozen computers three thousand miles away. After Samuel woke for the third time, I broke the cardinal rule and brought him to Dawn. She was asleep with an amused smile on her face which, in the space of seconds, turned pale, scared, and twitchy. She often has strange horrible dreams, the result of the hours she spent as a preschooler propped in front of the TV watching horror films. So I think in this instance, her waking to a crying, hungry boy was a mercy. I finished work at 2:30 after they were all asleep, and got up at 7:00 to start it all over. I never did catch up on my sleep until after the weekend.

All of this is to say that I am still determined to take a suicidal stab at the National Novel Writing Month, so this will be my last posting for awhile. Starting tomorrow, any spare time that would otherwise be wasted surfing the web, reading novels, paying bills, or sleeping will be redirected to the keyboard as I try to repeat Dostoevsky’s performance of 50,000 words in 30 days. Feel free to check in at my NANOWRIMO blog, assuming I can keep it up to date. Cheers, wish me luck, let me know on Nov 30 who won the elections.

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Halloween

For once we out-socialized the Waldorf folk. Waldorf schools incorporate parents in the education of their preschoolers which, among other things, means lots of family gatherings and parties. Whereas Dawn and I may not walk through the front door of our child’s Montessori school without an appointment (lest we disturb the children’s learning space), the Waldorf folk are in and out of the door as often as they like, or so it seems. So while our Waldorf friends are always telling us about the wonderful rituals they invent and perform at their pastoral landscape, our school has thus far hosted a single Open House in their rented space in the industrial district of Berlin, VT, next door to “The Wig Goddess (‘They’ll never know’).”

I’m speaking glibly of course. I love Rose’s Montessori school and have no trouble at all with the policies. I’m not crazy about Waldorf education, at least not for Rose, but I do miss the community gestalt they have captured. I played a gig at a Waldorf event, watched their singing performances, enjoyed their potluck, was in the band for the square dance, and it was a warm, welcoming, caring crowd, if a bit hippie-dippie.

But today I went to see Rose perform in a Halloween singing circle at school, and then later sent her out with Samuel and Dawn to go trick-or-treating with her classmates downtown. Before she left, we got a call from the Dad of her Waldorf friend and neighbor, who wanted to know if we were doing anything they could join in. They had nothing planned, nothing going on at school. I couldn’t believe that our Montessori school was on top of the situation while they were left out in the figurative and literal cold.

Rose had a perfect time, got lots of treats from downtown businesses, except for the three or four chain stores which offered nothing. We don’t have many chain stores in Montpelier, and they were soundly booed by the crowd as they were passed. Rose also got to keep many of her treats which despite her nut allergy, she could eat . And as it turned out, she met her friend downtown too, and they all had a rare old time. Rare for Rose, who would have been too scared to go out in the dark with only one or two friends along. She was dressed as a flower girl with a white dress with roses and lace, and a circlet of blue flowers in her French-braided hair, and held hands with her new friend Skye for most of the afternoon.

Dawn and I are still planning on an open house next weekend with cider and home-made doughnuts. It’s become our annual Halloween tradition, made more essential since Rose can’t have much in the way of processed sweets anymore.

Dear Postmaster

Oct 24, 2006

Thank you for expediting my order. The 100 thirty-nine-cents postage stamps arrived today, but a small clerical error on someone’s part resulted in my receiving Lady Liberty Flag stamps instead of the Crops of the Americas which I had requested. Since both the postage of each stamp and the total number of stamps were correct, I will not request an exchange. Life is too short to quibble over small details. Indeed, it would be churlish of me to do so, considering how promptly my order was processed. Within twenty-four hours of depositing my envelope in my mailbox and raising its white flag, the new stamps arrived accompanied by my old order form, a new blank order form, a receipt for my payment, and, most surprisingly of all, my original check #5493 made out to USPS for $39.

Assuming I have not made a mistake filling out the check, I thought you might like to have the payment back. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for all your hard work.

Luck

Our car is a fairly roomy Saturn station wagon, a luxury model with a V6 engine. We need the luxury even less than we need the V6 engine, but we adored our Saturn wagon in Alaska, and it was the only one on the lot when we landed in Vermont and desparately needed a car.

Despite it dimensions, it is far from a RoadMaster, and my skinny tush is wedged in the back seat between the plastic frames of car seats on either side. Rose sits on my right facing the same direction as me, leaning over to touch my arm. Samuel sits on my left, rear-facing. I occasionally lean over and say something ridiculous to him such as “YesYesYesYesYes” after he has said “No!” or perhaps “nooma nooma nooma nooma,” which he then repeats. Either makes him smile big.

Dawn is driving, and her father is riding shotgun, because even though he is skinnier than me, he is also well over 6 feet tall and there is no leg room in the back. It hardly matters, because the children would not tolerate him in the back seat even if he could fit. He lives in Texas, and after a week-long visit he is still not more than a tolerated stranger to the children.

We are returning from the weekly Dad’s playgroup at the Family Center where we spent ninety minutes in a large basement room filled with dolls, books, blocks, airplanes, dinosaurs and plastic food. There was an indoor sandbox where Samuel spent all night – we will be washing sand from every nook and cranny of his body later. In one corner of the room a hammock swings from a large wood frame draped with netting. In the opposite corner there’s a full size upright piano, with oddly colored keys where the ivory has flaked off, a drafty kind of piano that reveals its internal mechanical construction from several viewpoints. The hall outside is filled with tricycles and ride-on toys. The cinderblock walls painted in pastel blues and covered with science and sign language posters. It’s a perfect place to let children run wild, so most Dads sat and chatted with each other. I didn’t really get to know any of them for about a year, because I would spend the evening playing with Rose.

Tonight Dawn took Thomas’s wife, Roberta, to Finkleman’s Bar-B-Cue, so Roberta could try some northern ribs. But we only have the one car, so Dawn had to drop off Roberta after dinner and come back to get us. We are all tired and itchy from the sand, and our breaths reeked of macaroni and cheese.

I ask Dawn how her dinner was. The barbecued tempeh was tempting, but the tomatoes and spices would have given Samuel a rash, so she stuck with a hefty salad. But even a salad tastes better when it isn’t interrupted with whining and kvetching.

“What did Roberta have?” I ask.

“Baby back ribs.”

“Were they any good?”

“I think she liked them.”

Rose asks, “Why did she eat that?”

“Well sweetie,” I answer. “Granny and Granddaddy aren’t vegetarians like us. They’re meat eaters.”

“Oh.” The tone of voice says she understands, but she is not fully satisfied with the answer.

There’s a lull in the conversation, and I realize that I can’t see much through the windows from the back seat, especially in the dark. I look down at the children staring out the window and cannot imagine what they see. So I scrunch and slouch down to their height. Only the dark sky and the tree tops and the power lines, and I suddenly remember long, dull, mesmerizing rides in the back of the car on family vacations, watching the power lines swoop in endless gentle parabolas. The illusion would create a rising and falling sensation in the pit of my stomach, like a gentle roller coaster and I would have to look somewhere else to not get sick.

“Why did she eat people?” Rose asks.

Three adults answer in unison, “What?!”

“Why did she eat people?” Her voice is calm and curious. Perhaps a trifle worried.

“She didn’t eat people, ” I answer. “They were ribs from a cow.”

But Dawn gets the connection I missed. “They call them ‘baby’ ribs, because they’re small, not because they’re from babies. We don’t eat people, dear.”

“Right,” she answers, and the relief is evident. “Because there are no cannibals. Right, Papa?”

“Yes, Rose, there aren’t any cannibals in the world anymore,” I answer, not knowing if this is strictly true, but knowing it is the answer she needs to hear. I scrunch back up to full height, and place a reassuring hand on her head.

Cannibals

Our car is a fairly roomy Saturn station wagon, a luxury model with a V6 engine. We need the luxury even less than we need the V6 engine, but we adored our Saturn wagon in Alaska, and it was the only one on the lot when we landed in Vermont and desparately needed a car.

Despite it dimensions, it is far from a RoadMaster, and my skinny tush is wedged in the back seat between the plastic frames of car seats on either side. Rose sits on my right facing the same direction as me, leaning over to touch my arm. Samuel sits on my left, rear-facing. I occasionally lean over and say something ridiculous to him such as “YesYesYesYesYes” after he has said “No!” or perhaps “nooma nooma nooma nooma,” which he then repeats. Either makes him smile big.

Dawn is driving, and her father is riding shotgun, because even though he is skinnier than me, he is also well over 6 feet tall and there is no leg room in the back. It hardly matters, because the children would not tolerate him in the back seat even if he could fit. He lives in Texas, and after a week-long visit he is still not more than a tolerated stranger to the children.

We are returning from the weekly Dad’s playgroup at the Family Center where we spent ninety minutes in a large basement room filled with dolls, books, blocks, airplanes, dinosaurs and plastic food. There was an indoor sandbox where Samuel spent all night – we will be washing sand from every nook and cranny of his body later. In one corner of the room a hammock swings from a large wood frame draped with netting. In the opposite corner there’s a full size upright piano, with oddly colored keys where the ivory has flaked off, a drafty kind of piano that reveals its internal mechanical construction from several viewpoints. The hall outside is filled with tricycles and ride-on toys. The cinderblock walls painted in pastel blues and covered with science and sign language posters. It’s a perfect place to let children run wild, so most Dads sat and chatted with each other. I didn’t really get to know any of them for about a year, because I would spend the evening playing with Rose.

Tonight Dawn took Thomas’s wife, Roberta, to Finkleman’s Bar-B-Cue, so Roberta could try some northern ribs. But we only have the one car, so Dawn had to drop off Roberta after dinner and come back to get us. We are all tired and itchy from the sand, and our breaths reeked of macaroni and cheese.

I ask Dawn how her dinner was. The barbecued tempeh was tempting, but the tomatoes and spices would have given Samuel a rash, so she stuck with a hefty salad. But even a salad tastes better when it isn’t interrupted with whining and kvetching.

“What did Roberta have?” I ask.

“Baby back ribs.”

“Were they any good?”

“I think she liked them.”

Rose asks, “Why did she eat that?”

“Well sweetie,” I answer. “Granny and Granddaddy aren’t vegetarians like us. They’re meat eaters.”

“Oh.” The tone of voice says she understands, but she is not fully satisfied with the answer.

There’s a lull in the conversation, and I realize that I can’t see much through the windows from the back seat, especially in the dark. I look down at the children staring out the window and cannot imagine what they see. So I scrunch and slouch down to their height. Only the dark sky and the tree tops and the power lines, and I suddenly remember long, dull, mesmerizing rides in the back of the car on family vacations, watching the power lines swoop in endless gentle parabolas. The illusion would create a rising and falling sensation in the pit of my stomach, like a gentle roller coaster and I would have to look somewhere else to not get sick.

“Why did she eat people?” Rose asks.

Three adults answer in unison, “What?!”

“Why did she eat people?” Her voice is calm and curious. Perhaps a trifle worried.

“She didn’t eat people, ” I answer. “They were ribs from a cow.”

But Dawn gets the connection I missed. “They call them ‘baby’ ribs, because they’re small, not because they’re from babies. We don’t eat people, dear.”

“Right,” she answers, and the relief is evident. “Because there are no cannibals. Right, Papa?”

“Yes, Rose, there aren’t any cannibals in the world anymore,” I answer, not knowing if this is strictly true, but knowing it is the answer she needs to hear. I scrunch back up to full height, and place a reassuring hand on her head.

Post-surgery

Dawn and I had a date this morning!

The particular venue, arthroscopic knee surgery at Central Vermont Hospital, was arguably not the most romantic choice we could have made. But it was the longest time we have spent together outside the house without children since Samuel was born. So technically this qualified as a date.

It certainly wasn’t the worst date we’ve ever had, though the odds of having a good time were against us. Samuel, our mobile, seventeen-month-old alarm clock woke us at 5:50 AM, and we rushed to get out the door by seven o’clock, leaving a tearful Rose waving from the living room window as we pulled away. Dawn was required to fast before surgery, and Samuel had me up every two hours the previous night. Then, when we arrived we found our reserved room, with its luxurious concrete walls, stainless steel hardware, and twenty-year computer equipment, disappointingly lacking in ambience.

But we rose above these limitations. A guilty and undeserved freedom made us relatively light-hearted. My demeanor, while plodding, absent, gray, with unbreachable periods of vacant staring, might not qualify as giddy, but it was certainly a cut above my daily “Are You Dead Or Alive?” brooding. Dawn herself displayed a certain adolescent nervousness and anticipation, which, I flatter myself to think, was not merely her fear of surgical knives. I wore a button-down shirt for the occasion, and slip on loafers. Dawn looked lovely in a green hospital gown with matching bath robe that she wore jauntily over her shoulders the IV drip not suitable for sleeves.

Being somewhat out of practice in courting, our conversation stumbled along in short bursts delivered in quiet tones trying to please and be pleased. The silent spaces in between, unmolested by crying, whining, appeals for attention, were breathtakingly novel, but it took professional help to spark the conversation along.

Usually this service is performed by an experience restaurant waiter or waitress with wit and discretion and a taste for gratuities. He or she must flatter the lady without offense. They must provide attentive duty to the gentleman without fawning. They must have a humorous quip ready at the tip of the tongue and disappear immediately after it is precisely dispensed.

Carol, our post-op nurse performed this role admirably, meeting all of Dawn’s physical needs, graciously paying attention to my irrelevant comments, while spinning yarns about her son who caught and broke his finger in his baggy cargo pants running in the back yard. She conspiratorily complained about other patients whom apparently skipped or failed kindergarten, but her relaxed tone and her cheerful attention to Dawn’s needs made it abundantly clear we did not fit in this category.

Dawn had worked out in advance with her anesthesiologist that she would have a spinal block rather than general anesthesia. But when she entered the OR with anxious teeth chattering, he told her, “I’m going to give you a little something to help you relax. You might not remember the next fifteen minutes.” Which was nearly true. She has no memory of the monitors and tubes being attached. She does remember lying on her side and arching her back away from a painful spot in her lumbar region, at which point the anesthesiologist reminded her that she had agreed to a spinal block and would she mind holding still for a moment. She slowly became numb from the waist down. She could not wiggle her toes. She could not even feel her navel. But she could feel her leg floating up in the air somewhere over the nurse’s shoulder. It was very strange, she later reported, and gave her some insight into the phantom limb sensations reported by amputees.

The next hurtle was the video. She definitely wanted to watch the procedure and get a good look inside her knee, but she had to get past the one part of the procedure she feared she could not stomach, the initial violation of her skin. The surgeon held her knee, his thumb appearing on the monitor, and said “Here is my thumb, and here is the incision.” In went the probe, and Dawn wasn’t bothered in the slightest. As her real leg was floating above the nurse’s shoulder somewhere, why should she be bothered by someone else leg viewed remotely on the video screen?

The rest of the surgery was pure fascination for her as they took a little tour inside her joint capsule. The surgeon described all the things he found two meniscus tears, a 5mm divot in the head of her femur, some chondromelasia (which, as near as we can figure, must be a small enclave in the Ural mountains), some missing house keys, an odd sock lost in the dryer, etc., etc. In between he kept up a running conversation with the anesthesiologist and the two OR nurses about the golfing tournament they had all attended the week before.

After the procedure, I was permitted to see her, laid out on a gurney in post-op with several small white blankets drapped over her. We waited together for the spinal block to wear off, and bit by bit her lower body returned. Starting from the navel and working down to the toes, she first regained her ability to move, followed by the ability to feel external stimulus, followed by an unrelenting itching sensation that worked it way down her backside.

When she could wiggle her toes, they brought us back to the pre-op room, but they would not release her from the hospital until she could pee, and they would not let her try to pee until she had enough motor control to squeeze her buttocks together. I didn’t understand the physiological connection, nor was it explained to me, but Carol, the post-op nurse, admitted that they do allow women some slack in this requirement. When I asked why, she said “Well, it’s easier for women to pee. A woman’s urethra is rather short [she held up her hands about three inches apart], while a man’s is general much longer.” I stared disbelieving at her hands, now fifteen inches apart, before responding, “I wish.”

Carol was great. She made Dawn a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She brought her hot chocolate and coffee with five sugars. Dawn normally can’t drink these things because they give Samuel a rash when she nurses him. But with the anesthesia she figured she wouldn’t get to nurse him for half a day anyway. When Carol heard this, she reviewed her chart and said, “You got Toradol, which is just liquid ibuprofen. You got Versed, which is a short acting valium-like drug. And you got Novacaine. That’s it. It’s the same thing we give to women during childbirth. They are all safe for nursing.” We found it incredulous that the hot chocolate was potentially more damaging to Samuel than the anesthesia.

Carol then went through the owner’s and maintenance manuals. Do not drive or make important decisions for the rest of the day. Do not shower for five days. The anesthesia in your knee won’t wear off until much later, and when it does you might experience no pain, or you might wake up at two in the morning wishing you had filled this prescription I am now giving you. Ice and elevate the knee for two days. And look out for spinal headaches, which then had to be explained.

In less than one percent of all patients who have a spinal block, the puncture in the epidural sac doesn’t heal and spinal fluid leaks out slowly. After a day or two, enough fluid has leaked out that when the patient stands up, they are treated to an enormous shattering headache that instantly moderates when they lie down again which they all do, immediately. There isn’t enough spinal fluid left in the spinal column to fill the dipstick all the way up to the brain. If this happens, come back and they will extract a bit of blood from her arm and patch it over the spinal hole where it will coagulate voila, case solved. Let us hope this isn’t necessary.

Many thanks are due to Dawn’s Dad and his wife who are cooking and cleaning and filling in with childcare duties for two children who would rather be jumping ontheir Mama’s lap a behavior we have strictly forbidden. This morning Roberta turned her back on Samuel for less than two minutes to put away some dishes. She turned back to find his high chair moved to the counter, and Samuel standing on top and playing with the books, boxes, and pens he found there. She gave up any attempt after that of getting housework done and spent the next few hours chasing him around the house “for miles.”

Pre-surgery

I got tubeless tires
I got phones without wires
I got a hundred-year-old bonsai redwood tree
I’ve had successful arthroscopic surgery (on his knee)
But last Friday a pigeon pooped on me
Something In My Ear by The Bobs

Dawn is going in for surgery tomorrow. She has bad knees – as in physically damaged, not morally deficient. The kind of knees that amateur skiers eventually get if they play the odds too long. The kind of knees that Sunday afternoon basketball fathers get when they play against their teenagers. The kind of knees that, painful as they are now on the hills, are still far better than the arthritic knees she will have when she is eighty years old.

In her case, ten years ago, she had an accident trying to help someone larger than her. It was a singular act of self-sacrifice, performed on a reflex without thinking, and never fully lauded or appreciated as it deserved, though there was a slight pop of applause from the knee itself.

Most of the time her knee doesn’t bother her, but it does complain when forced to run or to carry loads up or down hills. That she has waited ten years to have it attended to is an interesting case study in how human fear, augmented by medical knowledge, can triumph over reason. She works in the medical profession. She loves learning about and watching medical procedures, EXCEPT when she is the patient. This is not hypocracy. Think of how unpleasant surgery sounds to you, a mere layperson, who knows nothing really of medical surgery and would prefer to keep it that way.

For example, one of the things she knows is that the problem isn’t really with her knee at all. It is the miniscus, a padded disk of connective tissue separating the upper and lower leg bones, and cushioning the largest weight-bearing joint in the body. Her miniscus is torn. There is a small flap that waggles in the ichor of her joint capsule, and occasionally gets stuck and tugs when she moves in certain ways. Not very comfortable, and you might think she’d want some relief, but it is infinitely preferable to the sound of microsurgical instruments drilling at high speed inside your leg.

Then one day this summer, we went walking around the neighborhood with our neighbors, pulling our children with ropes attached to their bicycles, and we decided to stop and let them do some jump roping. Rose had never really tried to jump rope before, and Dawn wanted to show her how. She managed four jumps before her knee persuasively argued against such foolishness. The knee itself certainly hurt, but I think the notion that she could not jump rope with her daughter hurt more, enough that she went to see the doctor for the first time in years and had the necessary MRI performed.

So tomorrow we head to the hospital for outpatient arthroscopic surgery. She will be given the choice between general anesthesia (the mask), spinal block (the big needle in her back), or a local anesthetic (the small needle in her leg). To her credit she considered the local for about ten seconds. Right now she is thinking spinal. I’m sure she’d rather have the general, but there is something creepy about another human being shutting down your brain and then starting it up again like a computer.

Send Dawn your good thoughts and prayers. I’ll post the update tomorrow.