Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Nightmare

In December of 2005, I became stuck in marshmallow fluff. Or so it seemed at the time.

Grayson was engrossed in a movie, Rob was changing the oil in the car, and I was going to spend the afternoon embracing the holidays. I had constructed the perfect gift wrapping station for myself: a large square table in front of the couch, tape and scissors within arms reach, and "Holiday Inn" on the TV. Perfect.

The movie had just started - I don't think the opening number had ended. I hadn't even wrapped a single gift when I thought I heard the first call from outside. "Janice!" I relunctantly pushed away from my perfect gift wrapping station and hauled my 5-month-pregnant self off the couch with an eye roll. Before I was on my feet, it came again. "Janice!"

And I knew. I don't know how, but I knew from the sound of Rob's voice that something was terribly wrong. I knew with such absolute certainty that I immediately started shaking, and stumbled over the table leg in my urgency to get out from behind it. And suddenly time began to freeze.

I remember the feeling so clearly. My body falls forwards and slides on knees and palms across the tile floor. I try to stand, but can't. My hands and knees are stuck in slow motion, as if they were pulling marshmallow fluff from the floor. It is a moment of eerie mental acuity. I remember thinking, "This is exactly like those nightmares of being chased, but not being able to run because your feet melt into the ground!"

In what felt like 10-minutes, but was probably just seconds, I crawl to the front door with excruciating effort. The door handle is like a life raft I am pulling myself up with, and throw open the door. Just like that, time restores itself.

Outside, Rob is stuck underneath the car in our driveway.

I run around to the passenger side of the car where his legs are struggling, and see where the broken jack has been spit out and hit the fence. He uses a ragged breath to tell me, "Get the jack!" But I can't. I know it will take me too long to figure out. So I run to the neighbor's house and bang on the door. The wife answers, and my polite upbringing takes over. "Is Barry home?" I ask. "Yeah, let me get him," she says. And I stand there waiting. WAITING! And then I hear Rob trying to inhale and I know the time for good manners is long past. "I need help quick! Rob is stuck under the car," I scream through the open door. "We're coming honey!" I yell to reassure Rob as I sprint home.

I bend over and try to lift the Honda by the front bumper. The small amount I manage to lift enables Rob to get a tiny breath, but when he exhales, the car goes down with him. "Fuck, I'm going to die under here," he chokes out. "Don't talk," I say. "Save your breath. Don't panic. Use your ambulance experience to keep calm." I lay on my back and use my legs to push up on the car. He takes another breath. I feel warm and jittery with adrenaline, and wonder what it is doing to the baby growing inside. I wonder if Rob will live to meet the baby. I am thankful that Rob is not alone.

I look to the side and notice Grayson has come out of the house. He is nonchalant, but staring and trying to process the strange scene in front of him. I don't want my 4-year-old to hear his dad talk about dying - especially if he is. I ask him to go inside and find my cell phone, which he does. Together we try to dial 9-1-1, but my hands are shaking too bad and my eyes can't stay focused, and the call doesn't go through. At some point Barry's wife will bring Grayson over to her house and shield him from the happenings. (His only memory of that day will be getting to watch Jimmy Neutron on TV.)

Barry is running down the walkway yelling to his wife, "Call 9-1-1!" He goes to the other side of the car and helps me lift. Rob gets a little more breath. My legs are giving out and my side of the car goes down a little. Rob screams in agony. Barry and I both yell wildly for help to anyone who might hear. A bicyclist across the street rushes over with her son. They help us lift, and Rob gets another breath. Then we can hear the sirens. I tell Rob, "Help is coming. Hold on. They are almost here. Don't die!" Neighbor Norm arrives and together the five of us are able to lift the car just a little bit higher. It is enough. Rob wiggles out just as the ambulance stops in front of the house. He is pale, lightheaded, gasping, sore. But alive.

I touch him to make sure he is real. I hear him heaving and watch his chest move, and the warm rush of adrenaline leaves me. I'm a puddle on the cement, cold, nauseous, rubbery and faint. The paramedic moves from Rob to me, pleading with us both to go to the hospital.  But we don't. We cry and touch and cry some more. We take a tour of the Christmas lights, counting our blessings and believing in miracles.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Art from the Heart

The girls and I have discovered a wonderful multigenerational art/music class that meets once-a-month in a luxurious retirement complex around the corner from our house. It's super-mellow, non-competitive, fun and free. Residents and kids participate in the classes together; sharing paint brushes, peeling stickers, twirling with scarves, singing, holding hands and tickling bellies.

We usually arrive like a hurricane; me, the crazed working mom, trying to straddle two worlds at once and not doing a very good job in either of them. Lucie, bouncing into the room ahead of me, fearless, full of noisy energy, and posing a serious threat to hips everywhere. Violet alternates between going limp on the floor because she didn't get to put on her shoes by herself and hanging from my clothes and demanding "Up! Up! Up!" thirty-six times.

And then. I flop down and stare as Lucie shuffles around the circle, picking up the hand of each resident and, stopping just short of a curtsy, greets them, "How do you do?" I'm frozen as I look around at the faces of the seniors which hold no judgment, only a knowing smile. "One day," I imagine them thinking, "when your mind has time too much time to wander and your life is predictable, quiet and all your own, you'll miss this."

So we sing. And dance. And paint. And occasionally tickle.

I go to honor my grandparents, to "give back" for all that I've been given, and always leave with a renewed appreciation for the innocence of childhood and deep respect for those who have walked this path before. My kids go because they want to be there, and I LOVE that they want to be a part of it. (It also helps that visiting children are treated like prized commodities in adult communities.)

So I try not to worry about the Alzheimer resident that Lucie has just "decorated" with green paint, I'll smile and nod with the Grandmas as they fret about being late for dinner (at 2pm!), and I’ll start plans immediately for a storage shed to hold all of the treasures being created here.

Most important, though, I'll make time to dance with my kids and kiss my husband, because he's not going to look this good forever. And I won't forget to wear sunscreen while doing it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lucie and the Problem of Evil

Lucie has suddenly started questioning things. And by things, I mean eternal things.

It all started when she asked if I would read her a bedtime story from the Bible storybook. The book opens innocently enough with the story of creation. There are lions and tigers and bears, and naked people being created from dust. (At this point in the story you’d think questions would arise, but no, kids just seem to go along with it at face value. Which is exactly the reason I've had to work so hard to convince Lucie that turtleneck shirts are not actually made from the necks of turtles.)

Anyways ...

"Do you know why Adam and Eve are sad?" I asked, pointing at the picture of them sorrowfully leaving the garden. "I sure do, " Lucie assured me. "They are sad because they don't have any parents."  Impressive, huh? Clearly, she’d been processing and following along. "Well there is that," I prodded her, "and also they have to leave the beautiful garden because they disobeyed God."

"Of course they were bad," Lucie sighed in complete exasperation. "Remember??? There aren't any parents??"

A mere three pages into the book comes Cain and Abel, who slaughter a lamb for sacrifice and then turn their weapons on each other. Followed up by Noah who floats off in his ark while the rest of humanity drowns. This is Quentin Tarentino movie material, not the stuff sweet dreams are made of. We looked at the picture of Cain laying a lamb on the altar for a long time as Lucie tried to wrap her mind around a God who asked for death and sacrifice. I could tell it was a bit of religious whiplash for her to go from the cozy nativity story to the brutality of Genesis.

That night we got to close with the rainbow, but I know how the book ends and the lessons that lay ahead. In the meantime, I'll continue to gloss over the facts behind Baby Moses' river adventure, and leave the bigger questions to Lucie. Like whether or not it rains where God is? Or does God ever have to go potty?

Say This!

Picture by Grayson (our 9 year-old)
Last week we reached another one of those parenting milestones. At 27+ months of age, Violet said her first real words: "Mama! Me go!"  Three little words so beautiful, so stunning and unexpected, they stopped me in my tracks. Even the other kids dropped their activities and ran out to verify that, yes, Violet had spoken. We hugged and touch-down-danced and, of course, Violet got to "go." When you have a child who is the tiniest bit developmentally delayed, small accomplishments are met with big celebration. Lucie insists on accompanying me on simple errands? I need to figure out a way to sneak out the door more efficiently; Violet suddenly says that she wants to go? Hot dog! Get the video camera and your shoes on kiddo!

Therapists have been coming to the house since the first week of January, evaluating Violet's delays. At her last check in, she had about 15 simple words in her vocabulary -- about 100 words under the charts for a 2-year-old baby. Still, Rob and I had a hard time being convinced that anything was wrong; Violet has always followed along her own little curve. Not to mention the incessant noise coming out of Lucie's mouth, all at a decibel that I'm sure makes our poor dog want to run in front of a car. How's a girl supposed to compete with that?

And then, out of nowhere, a little miracle brought on by my leaving the house for chicken Mcnuggets. Now she's spewing out words faster than a speeding train, like it is some sort of talking competition. She knows most of her colors (chart THAT, Ms. Therapist!) and is obsessed with all things yellow. She loves to go, much like a dog who gets his leash when you jingle your keys. She prefers Dora over Diego, but will sit through Sesame Street in a pinch. She requests more bananas than a monkey with an allowance. She thinks every bottle of milk is delicioso! (as Dora would say).

We had our first conversation this morning over a cup of tea. It went something like this:

V: "Mama's cup of tea?"
J: "Yep, Mama's cup of tea."
V: "Tea hot."
J: "Yes, tea is very hot."
V: "Me no blow mama's tea?"
J: "No, I will blow it. It is too hot."
V: "Oh yeah. Mama blow dat hot tea."

With this kind of reasoning, I’d love to see what she could do with health care reform. Plus, it is impossible to argue with someone wearing fuzzy Minnie Mouse pajamas.