Agony

It’s 1:49 am and Nick is struggling to breathe. It’s hard to listen to him sleep, the rasping through his throat is frightening. He took Advair at bedtime. Then, at 11:00 pm, I gave him Xopenex. I don’t remember how much I can give him. I don’t know if the Xopenex opens his esophagus which is the problem he’s having this time. I thought it only affected his lungs lower down.

I can’t sleep. I tell you. I really can’t. He wakes himself now and then, but in between, he rasps. I wish the lights were on so I could tell if he were pink or blue. In the light of the television, he still looks pink I think.

There.

An easy breath. I could sleep here in the living room if this were the sound he was making all night. Normal snoring. I had been about to close my eyes. I was warm, wrapped up in my blanket, the television set to a low volume to mask the sounds he’s making. Then his breath sounds deepened, became strained. I was awake instantly, throwing off the blanket, pacing back and forth, trying to remember how much I could give, which parts of his lungs it opens, looking at the notebook in which we mark his doses, the date, the time, and the amounts. This is his second steno pad. It’s nearly full. Adrenaline flows in my veins, not a lot, but enough that I can no longer sleep.

Damn that nurse who said he might not struggle in his sleep, that with the asthma, he might slide quietly into asphyxiation. That conversation occurred more than six years ago, but I still remember her words. Can I listen for hours? Can I stay up all night until he wakes in the morning and fall sleep then, after he’s safely watching television again? It’s agony. I want to wake up Mike to ask about more Xopenex. I want to call the specialist and ask if more Xopenex will even have any affect on his esophagus. I can’t stand it, this listening. I’m so tired. I don’t remember the answers. I just know he’s struggling, that he’s so tired after being awake for 41 hours that he’ll sleep through his distress, through my agony. Damn that nurse.

Thank you for listening, jules

Glue

I actually said it today, the thing I’d been thinking. I said, “I think the two of you would be better off if I weren’t even here.” I know I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. It was a bad moment, a bad day.

I was upset about homework. No, I don’t have homework, if that’s what you’re thinking. I spent a lot of energy this week coaxing, planning, and, yes, even nagging Nick to get his homework done. He’s in sixth grade. Homework is getting more intense. I could see how he could finish the two projects along with his normal workload, I told him, if he stuck to a schedule and kept at it. Nick argued. I argued that he didn’t have time to argue, that all the kids had the same work and I hadn’t assigned it. He procrastinated. I pushed him to stick with a schedule. He spilled water on his desk, nearly on his computer, and I cleaned it up. He pushed. I pushed back. It was exhausting.

Today, I found his vocabulary packet and a completed page of math on the dining room table. He’d finished the work, but didn’t remember to turn it in. I cried. Yesterday was the end of the quarter. He wasn’t going to get credit for this work at all, even if he does turn it in on Monday.

“I’m so tired of nagging you to do your homework, Nick,” I said.

“But Mom, I need you to nag me so I’ll remember,” he said.

“I feel as though I’m in one of those awful group projects in school all over again. You know the ones I mean. The other kids always wanted to be in my group. I was a good student. I worked hard, got good grades, and everybody knew it. I hated those group projects because I was the only one who ever did any work for them and then I never got a good grade because I couldn’t keep up with the work that three or four kids could actually do if they were all doing something.”

Nick and Mike just sat there and stared at me the way those kids in my group used to do.

It made me cry all over again.

It isn’t just that I was a good student. I also liked learning new things. I still do. I love art. I love reading. I like watching movies and get drawn into them, but mostly, television annoys me. It’s the inane commercials. I gave up trying to watch ‘You’ve Got Mail’ the other night because the network couldn’t even let me get through a scene before they jammed another round of commercials into my brain. I was given four minutes of a scene and then had to wait ten for the show to come back on. So, here I have a boy who hates to read, loves television, and could care less about being a good student. He gets a bit curious when he isn’t pushed at school. He likes history. He likes listening to stories, so Mike and I still read to him. Mostly, he’s the exact opposite of me when it comes to interests and grades. The only reason he has for looking at my art books is to see nudity in them.

I ask you – How could I have conceived a boy who is so entirely different from me? How am I supposed to help him manage his problems when I so totally don’t understand them? I read for fun when I was his age. I read to escape my miserable life. Reading seems to make Nick’s life miserable. The worst part is that Nick’s like me in temperament. What we have in common is drama, temper, and sensitivity. Oh, it’s a bad combination and I think I really meant it that maybe they’d be better off without me, that Mike’s patient nature would take over where my volatile one leaves off. These two people are so tight that I feel excluded when we’re all at home together. Mike likes television and video games too. I can’t even walk forward, look around, and shoot all at the same time when I try to play a game with Nick. When Mike tells Nick to do something, he does it. When I tell him, he ignores me until I repeat myself five times, then yell at him. I hate it. I try to punish him by taking away television and video games, but Mike will then come home from work and click the damn thing on and the whole thing goes out the window. In the end, I feel as though I’m punishing Mike whenever that’s the sentence I hand down to Nick for infractions.

“Maybe I need to go somewhere for a couple of days, let you two manage things on your own. Nick, no one will nag you to read or to brush your teeth or to shower. No one will care if you play video games for sixteen hours. No one will care if you get any exercise or eat junk food or go to bed late. No one will worry that you didn’t do your homework. Getting good grades won’t matter either.”

“But Mom, you’re the glue that holds us together,” Nick said.

It’s exhausting being the glue.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tucked In

It turns out that being left out isn’t all that bad sometimes. Sure, I missed out on some fun stuff today, sledding and snow shoeing, but I took some time for myself. Last night, I watched a couple of movies. I liked one but in the other, the weather killed the bad guy. How many times has that worked out for you, that just when you were about at your wit’s end, a river rose up and grabbed the stalker and took him. Yeah, I thought so. Me neither.

There I sat, watching this dumb story, and when that happened, I yelled out loud at the television. I admit it. I suddenly hated this movie I’d been tepid about just a few minutes before. Give me a romantic movie that seems just a little plausible, will you?

I liked the other movie, though I could complain about its unwieldy title: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Funny movie. Lousy title. I especially liked the character ‘Sorry’ but they were all a little quirky, yet not altogether outlandish. The guy wearing the Dunkin Donuts T shirt was funny too, even though he’s one of those actors whose name I don’t know and he had a small part. Don’t you love that, when even small parts in the movie are played well?

This morning, I went back to bed and slept until I was done sleeping. No one needed anything. I didn’t have to make breakfast, except for me. There were no errands to run, though I can admit to you that I should have taken down the Christmas lights. At least it’s still January. I talked to Mike midday and he said they were coming back early, that one of the boys had a bit of frostbite. Bummer! He said it had been hard for them all to stay warm enough though they did pretty well last night will all their sleeping bags. After that, I took the dog for a long walk and went to Third Place Books for fun. They had music. They had books. They sold a killer salad, split pea soup, and a foamy little tea latte that made me feel cosy. After the long walk, letting Teddy run with a couple of labradoodles, I figured little time just for me was in order.

About the time when I was relaxing into my book and drinking my latte, Nick called.

“Mom, can you come get me?” he asked.

“Where are you?”

“We’re back at home, you know, at the house where we left from,” he said.

“Honey, I’m more than a half an hour away. What’s Daddy doing?”

“He’s with the other Scouts. Can you come get me?”

“Honey, I just sat down to my dinner and I’m not even at home. I can’t jump up and come get you. I thought you were going to get in at 7:30.”

“I know, Mom, but can you come now?”

“You sound tired. Are you tired?”

“No, I just want you to come get me, okay?”

“Sweetie, if I walked away from my food right now, it would still take thirty minutes to get to you. You’d be home already.”

Silence on the other end of the line.
“Honey, can you put your dad on the phone?”

Mike told me that they’d be on their way as soon as the last Scout was picked up. In the end, it took twenty minutes and they were five minutes from home. I knew all that when Nick called. Still, I knew I’d never be able to relax and hang out. I ate my dinner quickly, only scanning the book I’d hoped to finish, gathered my things, and just as I stood up to put on my coat, the musicians began to play. It was jazz. I like jazz. Well, crap.

By the time I got home, the two of them were stretched out on the couch. Mike was asleep and Nick was watching ‘Underdog’ on television, a bleary look in his eyes. Their lips and cheeks were pink from the cold. Mike’s hands were chapped and bleeding a little. I managed to get Nick to brush his teeth and within thirty minutes of getting home, got him into bed. By the time I left Nick’s room after saying goodnight, Mike had already slipped into bed and fallen asleep.

Being out in the cold really takes it out of you. It’s eight degrees at the pass right now. That’s cold. I’m glad they’re home.

But now I’m here, by myself, not willing to go back out into the cold to go hear the rest of the music, but not ready to slide into the warm bed either. I can’t turn up the music on the stereo. I don’t have another romantic comedy to watch unless I’m willing to put up with commercials.

I think I’ll finish reading my book. Maybe I should make myself another cup of tea too. I could even put on my pajamas. It might be cosy. You can’t get away with wearing your pajamas at Third Place Books, not unless you’re six. This might just be that time to myself that I’d been craving, only this way, I don’t have to wonder if either of them is chilly in their beds. I know they’re warm under quilts that I made for them myself. I’m going to read and have my tea for just a little while before I join them.

Thank you for listening, jules

Left Out

I’ve packed my guys off to camp in the snow. They’re excited. All I could think about is how they’d stay warm. Then, I got a load of the way Nick had dressed for camp. He wore long underwear, shorts, camouflage pants, snow pants, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, a fleece vest, his parka, a furry hat with ear flaps, ski gloves, wool socks, furry snow boots, and a pair of ski goggles. He was so broad in the chest from his clothes, he looked like a very short Viking warrior, camouflaged, of course. I think he’ll be good down to about fifteen below zero. Mike packed similar clothes, but since I’ve seen him on winter camping trips, I know how he’ll be prepared. The man packed every single sleeping bag we owned for the trip along with all of our sleeping pads, which he says can make the difference between a miserable night and a warm one. I threw in my bivy sack which can add ten degrees to the rating of any sleeping bag. I think the sleeping bag count between the two of them was eight. When we got there, one boy had brought two warm bags. Another boy and his dad had five bags between them. I think they’re set. Without asking any other boys, I’m certain there are at least two sleeping bags per person on this trip.

I say ‘when we got there’ because not five minutes after Adrian and I waved them down the road, Mike called and asked me to drop by where everyone was meeting with a couple of things he’d forgotten, his rain jacket that he’d worn just yesterday and hung to dry, and Nick’s new snow camo gear. Well, okay. That is my professed job, after all. I am the runner. If they need donuts. I’m their woman. If someone has forgotten gloves, I can bring a couple of pair. If someone needs me to go to REI or Cabela’s, I’m happy to make a shopping run.

It was tempting to beg to go. I know why Mike thought I should stay home. I have trouble staying warm and my sugar levels would have been a liability in the cold. When I’m burning a lot of calories, it’s hard for me to know how many carbs I’m supposed to eat. Who wants to be the reason a trip ended up with a contingent converging on the emergency room? Not me. If they’d been staying in cabins, I might have considered it, but I still could have had the problems with the sugar.

Oh, there’s the man thing too. It’s hard for me to admit, but my guys need man time. They don’t want to hear anything about brushing teeth or treating each other with respect. How clean are those dishes, really? Did you bring a book to read? You ate what? My only problem with Nick eating junk is that if he eats too much sugar, I’ll have to go pick him up because he’ll have a stomach ache. Don’t you hate when a kid has all these medical issues that mess up a good sugar frenzy?

When I dropped by, I brought donuts. Entenmann’s donuts. What camping trip should begin without them? So, it’s not your tradition? It was always what Harold’s mom bought for us to munch on while we waited to get ready for our trips back when I first met Mike. Is it bad that I brought donuts? I know I shouldn’t nurture people with food, but I do. Would they feel the same way about me ten years from now if I always brought a veggie tray before a camping trip? I don’t think so. If they remember that I brought donuts for Nick to share, there’s something warm in that. Right? Besides, they’re going to be so cold, they’ll need all the carbohydrates they can get. Hot chocolate, oat meal, noodle soup. Those are cold weather foods for a reason.

When I got back home, Adrian was still on our couch playing video games. Technically, Adrian is not my boy. He lives next door, but spends the afternoon and lots of vacation days with us. He feels like my boy. I think he felt a little left out, watching the preparations. I’m not entirely sure why he didn’t go with them. He sounded enthusiastic about the trip, but maybe his parents have plans for the weekend, or maybe the gear was too expensive. I wanted to offer to make him hot chocolate, but figured he’d need something better than that. So, he and I loaded the dogs into the car and walked around at the park. It’s always entertaining, watching the way the dogs play and talking to the people there. Adrian lost his funk about half way through, just about the time the pit bull puppy was dancing around his pug, trying to play. Imagine, these two furry bodies that were about the same size, one quiet and one wiggly. The little pit had these really expressive ears that looked like they belonged on a piglet since they were mostly white and pink and translucent.

I think Adrian helped me feel less left out of all the fun too. I didn’t come home to an empty house. I had somewhere to go and dogs to walk before things got really quiet.

It’s dark now. I can imagine that the guys have arrived, schlepped their gear to their sites, and have put up their tents, maybe in the dark. By now, they’re cooking. The boys will make some cataclysm they call a meal and the adults will be enjoying the two cups of honey that’s one of the ingredients in Mike’s special chili.

I’m going to settle down to a Dijon chicken and girl movie unless Adrian calls to tell me they need more chaperones for the school dance. Just why did I go and tell him I could do that tonight? It would be nice to prop up my feet and hang out under a cosy blanket. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not facing a night at 9 degrees in a zero degree sleeping bag, though I do like sleeping on snow because it takes on a good shape when you lie down on it. No roots. No rocks. Still, my zero degree down comforter and quilts with their fourteen inch thick mattress will suit me just fine for tonight.

Thank you for listening, jules

Running in Circles

Mike is home early. He had an MRI on his knee today to see if he’s a candidate for knee surgery. He’s ready, dude. Can’t you see that by the way he walks? We’re both drinking tea, his a decaf and mine a rooibus with a hint of chocolate flavor from the dark square I just finished eating. Mike is sitting on the couch with his computer in his lap. I’m sitting at my computer in front of the window. I cannot use the computer comfortably in a reclining position. He’s left the classical music on the TV. What a good use for TV, to play classical music. I would warrant a guess that the minute I get up to take the dog for a walk, he’ll change the channel to some action flick he already has in his movie library but won’t get up to dig out of the pile. We have this argument over and over.

“We have that movie. Why don’t we put it in so we don’t have to watch the commercials,” I have said many times.

“And miss the good stuff?” he says back as a scooter commercial tells us they can make it easier for us to get to the bathroom. Even when I offer to get up and find the movie, he doesn’t take me up on it.

This music is a parody of classical music. Imagine the stuff you listen to while you’re ice skating. I should let him change the channel. I know it’s driving him nuts. It’s making my lips crack and bleed because I’m sitting here laughing. Don’t you hate when you’re working quietly in a room with someone and you feel as though you have to explain why you’re sitting there laughing while your lip bleeds? Mike knows why my lip is bleeding. He’s been watching the whole gory scene.

Did you want the update on how I’m growing a new lower lip? You didn’t know about that? Well, my dermatologist has me using Zyclara for skin cancer on my face. I finished the second round of it on New Year’s eve, but in the meantime, my lips became a raw bloody mess because of a sunburn I got on them when I was a kid. It started to hurt on December 27th and just yesterday stopped being excruciating. It was pretty gummy and crusty yesterday though, so it was still hard to eat. Today, it bleeds when I bend over, when I yell at Nick, when I laugh, when I sneeze, and when I’m in the shower. I haven’t tried flossing, but that did a job on me yesterday, so I just might skip a day and be grungy until tomorrow. I hate when my teeth are grungy.

There it is. That’s the update. Happy now?

Poor Teddy is standing at the sliding glass door, watching the leaves blow around in circles. He’s whining.

“The leaves get to run in circles,” he seems to be saying. “Just look at that. They’re playing and I’m stuck inside. Was I a bad dog? Did you forget that I am here? Can I use my telepathy to stare a hole in your head to tell you I want, no, I need to go out and play the way the those leaves are playing.”

I’m just waiting for the boys to get home so they can get some exercise too. They may think they want to spend their afternoon in front of the TV, but they don’t. Not really.

Thank you for listening, jules

Soul Sucking

I’ll feel better if I tell you how much it sucks to have huge wet and crusty scabs on my lips. Most of them fell off today. It was revolting. I made Nick sick to his stomach, just looking at me. Since he’s twelve, I could pretend I was going to kiss him to make a joke out of it. I told him we were the perfect pair, me with my revolting lips and him with his greasy hair that hadn’t been washed in a couple of days.

“Welcome to the teenage years,” my sister said when I told her I had trouble getting him into the shower unless girls are involved. I don’t remember having trouble getting into the shower when I needed to as a teenaged girl. Is that a boy thing? There are so many things about boys that I just don’t get.

After Nick went to bed, Mike and I watched an episode of ‘Weeds.’ I can tell you that he and I are very boring in comparison to the characters on this show. Who writes this stuff? Do most people smoke weed? I don’t think so, or maybe I’m just not getting invited to these parties. I was like that in high school too. At least I knew about the parties back then, the ones where someone brought beer and there was always a guy in one of the bedrooms with a joint. I just didn’t get invited. Oh, I know about some of the parties that happen now, the ones in which the moms bitch on Facebook until someone says they should all meet to drink too many mojitos. Yes, I have become boring. I don’t invite myself because I don’t want to get drunk. It’s no fun any more anyway. Because of the diabetes, or near-diabetes, I can only drink a half a beer before I feel all woozy and wake up with a hangover the next morning anyway. Hell, I can eat too many carbohydrates and wake up with a hangover the next morning. It’s also not as much fun watching other people get drunk. It used to be, but now it just pisses me off.

Why does it piss me off to see people get drunk? I don’t like the smell either. You know that smell, the smell of alcohol in the sweat. Maybe I get mad because it seems like a waste of time. It seems like a waste of creativity, of joy, of life. Is it, really?

Yet, I waste my life, playing games on my iPhone and watching stupid movies on television. Oh, I love the movies, but the commercials make me sad. They turn me into a simple source, a bag of blood for the vampires.

So why does it make me mad when I hear my friends complain and say they’re going to get drunk to fix a frustration?

I don’t know. I’m a prude, I guess. I’ve become a priggish bore, jealous of someone who can go out and fix their troubles with something so simple as a bottle of decent Merlot. I can’t fix my problems that way. I can only exacerbate them.

Is this really what you wanted to hear? I doubt it. I wanted to tell you more canoe stories, the stories of love, of what made me happy. I guess I’ll tell you what makes me sad now and then too. It makes me sad to walk into a bar, even with a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class women, with the sole purpose of drinking. It makes me sad to stay up late watching television, letting the vampire commercials feed on the blood from my soul.

Thank you for listening, jules

Waves Over the Bow

I was going to tell you why this place is called ‘Waves Over the Bow.’ Are you interested in hearing about that? The consensus, at the time of the naming, was that ‘hip deep muck’ was pretty good to. Nick liked ‘muck’ but Mike liked ‘waves.’ I was torn, but age prevailed and Mike won.

It’s a metaphor.

There was a trip that Mike and I took for which all I remember were the waves washing over the bow of the canoe. Some times are like that.

We were paddling on the Ross and Diablo Lake system. It was a stunning atmosphere, with our lakes lying low in a gorge. During the summer day, temperature differentials between one end and another causes a blast of wind. It can be calm at 11:00 in the morning and at 11:30, just thirty minutes later, whitecaps go airborne on one and a half foot waves. You throw in some vertical cliffsides with reflected waves instead of an easy shoreline and it can be a recipe for disaster.

Except that I didn’t know that. All I knew was the excitement of the moment. It was like running a challenging river, I thought. Mike knew better about the safety issues than I did. I was always a little ignorant that way. I imagine I still am, but I’ve seen enough river rescues by now to have a better understanding of how powerful that water can be.

There I sat, in the bow of our Old Town canoe, as water began to wash straight over the bow. We had traversed the dam, passed the lovely floating cabins where we would never stay because they didn’t allow dogs. We’d paddled into open water when the wind abruptly began. Mike was worried. I was elated.

The glacial water on the lakes stays at a fairly steady 47 degrees, or as Mike would say ‘butt-ass cold.’ I can’t remember if we were wearing our wet suits. It’s a pretty good bet we were, if Mike’s level of preparation was its usual. Still, we were out in the middle of a large lake, loaded for a long weekend of camping with a dog lying across our gear. Yes, Indiana was wearing her life jacket, albeit reluctantly. We wore ours as well. The wind was such that we were forced to aim the canoe into the breaking waves to keep from being swamped. Mike set the angle of the canoe against the wind so that we would ferry to our island campsite. I didn’t understand this concept until much later, but let me make it easy for you. In a high wind, the canoe is a sail, the paddle in the stern is the rudder and my only job, paddling from the bow of the boat, was to stabilize the boat, to brace.

It’s physics, folks. Do you like physics now? I only began to love physics once I saw it this way, forces on canoes, vectors toward islands. Personally, I think most of physics should be taught from the prow of a sail boat or better yet, in an amusement park, like from the top of the best roller coaster, preferably one with a loop. Now wouldn’t that be a school the kids would love?

So picture me in the bow of my canoe. I bought this canoe for Mike for Christmas in 1987 and by the time we were in this predicament, it was 1996 or so. See, I can’t even remember what year it was. Ice cold water washed over the front of the canoe with every wave. It was invigorating. My adrenaline was running high, but not so high as to create a true fear. I think I was too stupid for fear. Have you ever noticed that? In many dangerous situations, there are only a few smart people who really have a clue as to what might happen next. That person was Mike. I just screamed with happiness, paddling my ass off, laughing as the dog shifted the boat even further to one side or another in a futile attempt to keep dry.

No, we didn’t swamp. Mike was that good. We made it to the island camp, and I’m sure it was stunning the as is every site is along that waterway. Yet I don’t remember a thing except those waves freezing the heat off the summer sun.

You still might want to know why that’s important. See, it’s my life. Every moment of life is that way. I am one wave away from being washed overboard, and here I sit, laughing and screaming for the simple joy of it.

Thank you for listening, jules