Spaces

I’ve seen this picture more times than I care to count.

It’s the photograph on the wall outside the CT scan unit at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center where I have waited a half a dozen times as Thing1’s colon — and now the space where his colon used to be — was scanned for abnormally abnormalities. He was having pain last Friday, and, as the pain worsened, we called the doctor and were sent to the ER, hoping it was ‘just’ food poisoning and not something related to his rearranged plumbing.

A few hours later, we were sent home with a mostly clean bill of health – the new plumbing was still holding up, but there were some new growths on his liver that needed to be checked out — and a reminder that, even though we had removed his diseased organ, he still has an auto-immune disorder and likely will for the rest of his life (Lord keep that pre-existing condition coverage in place).

He had other worries that weekend. Saturday, he and SuperGal, for reasons that they can each describe on their own blogs someday, broke up. The ultimate reason was, as her mom and I ultimately concurred, the one that separates so many high school sweethearts in their first year of college — they’re growing up and little apart.

The Big Guy and I, while unconditional supporters of Thing1, still care very much about SuperGal and her family. We know they will be healing on their end of town, and we’ll be missing them on ours. When the weather warms, I’m hoping the two of them will grow their way back to each other as friends — as they have been since they were small.

Thing1 will make the journey up to Dartmouth by himself this month for the follow-up. We started planning for him to take over the navigation last year because growing up, as he was reminded on Friday night, isn’t about the end of childhood and challenges. It’s about understanding that there will always be new ones, and, sometimes to keep growing, you need to do handle them on your own for a bit.

Walk Therapy

I was about to slam the laptop shut Sunday evening but remembered it wasn’t mine just before I closed it with enough force to break the screen.

“Ugh! People suck!” I yelled at the wall of books across from my desk. My last chatter had come to the tech support queue ready to do combat, spending the first few minutes of our session telling me how horrible our software is. I’ve done this job long enough to know the only way to cut the RED wire on AN EXPLOSIVE PERSONALITY USING LOTS OF CAPS is to kill it with kindness. That strategy stopped the ticking long enough to diagnose and resolve their issue. I typed, ‘Have a nice evening’ before reading, not a thank you for rescuing un-backed up data but a parting shot at our developers’ mental faculties.

“You okay, Mom?” Thing1 peered into my office, hanging on the door frame so that only his head and shoulder crossed the boundary of my work world (The office is a happy place – my studio/study when I’m not working, but, during the work day, I have seriously considered posting a sign over the door that reads, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”)

“Fine.” I sat rubbing the computer glare from my eyes, contemplating what kind of junk food would be best for a post-battle binge.

“I meant are you okay for our hike?” He asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m thinking about skipping it.

“Are you sure?” There was concern but not reproach in his voice. Thing1 stood up to his full height and slid over the threshold. As the family personal trainer, he takes the encouraging approach to getting the best performance from his team.

“I just wanna sit on the couch and munch on something,” I said. I knew as soon as I sat down, all creativity and activity would cease for the evening. The couch is an anesthetic, and food is the beer chaser. But after a day of snark, my first instinct is to go for the buzz.

But Thing1 was determined to get us out the door and hiking.

It’s still cold and icy out, but each day we walk to the town hall and back, we all get a bit stronger. He runs ahead of us and then back to walk for a bit. Thing2 tried to keep up with his brother.

Between sprints, we talk. We talk about the 5K, about relationships, and the latest Marvel movie (Thing1 and Thing2 are planning to go together – it’s one of the few mutual interests that doesn’t recognize age barriers).

It was lighter but still freezing when we got back. Our cheeks were red and we all knew our legs would be sore later, but our heads felt clearer. There was the kind of serenity that usually only comes with meditation.

Somewhere on the muddy, icy road between the brisk air and probing discussion of how to build a perfect PC, we became devotees of walk therapy. I know I’ll want to vegetate on the couch again tonight. But I also know can count on Thing1 to pull the three of us back up the driveway for another session. I’ll grumble, but I’ll go because in the end, I know we can’t afford not to.

My Team 50.0

The big five-OMG is just around the corner. Friends and family began asking how I wanted to mark the beginning of the next half century almost a year before it was due, so I felt some obligation to not try to ignore this one birthday.

Just before Thanksgiving, I remembered Thing1’s birthday climb a year earlier to the top of Mount Equinox in Manchester, VT and decided that would be a fun activity (I swear I was completely sober). We thought about doing it as a fund-raiser for a charity that helps children with Ulcerative Colitis. As I investigated, though, I realized a mountain climb in April in Vermont could still involve snowshoes in some parts and would certainly exclude family members who can’t climb on a completely dry day. Finally, wanting to make health and family part of ‘my day’, I settled on running a fundraising 5K with Thing1 and Thing2 and extended family.

There was only one problem with the plan.

It means running a 5K.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, but, even though I’m roughly the shape of a cream-filled donut (and, at the time of this writing may contain almost as much chocolate), I will not be rolling across the finish line in a wheelbarrow.

Which means running that 5K.

Enter Thing1 with his concerned but not reproachful fitness training approach.

Thing1, you may recall, had his entire colon removed at the end of October and then had everything reconfigured in December. You could say it involved a couple of big operations — so big they kept us in the hospital until our bill for 2018 finished its own 500k. He should, by all rights, be still recovering.

Somehow, however, Thing1 is in better shape than the rest of his family, a fact that made him the de-facto personal trainer for Team Barlow. He takes his duties seriously, mapping out a hiking route each day (lots of hills and huffing and puffing), telling us that by the end of March it will be a running route (lots of dubious looks from his team).

The first day, I had to stop in the middle of the first hill. I had to stop in the middle of the second hill. When I stopped in the middle of the third hill, Thing2 stopped with me.

Thing1 was always just a bit ahead, often at the top swell of the hill, waiting for us. He would make a lousy drill sergeant (he’s too nice), but, as he called, “You can do it,” to me/us for the umpteenth time, I thought for umpteenth time what a great superhero he is (his super power is inspiration).

The next day I didn’t have to stop until the third hill. Thing1 was running ahead and then running back to ‘keep it challenging” (yeah,he said it going up a hill). Thing2 was running ahead and then walking slowly to give me time to catch up.

By the third day, I had started running bits and pieces of the route (I still have to stop for a second on the last hill). Today, we’ll walk/run for the fourth time.

I know the race route will be on one of the flatter roads in Vermont, flat being a relative term here, but we are keeping this route until ‘my day’ at the end of April. We may not be running the entire route by then, but my team will be finishing it together.

It’s a good way to kick off the next half-century.

Ordinary Miracles

“It’s been a sad few weeks in the valley,” my friend noted this morning. We had been softly sobbing and hugging each in the middle of her country store for several minutes. The day before, Sunday, we had all learned of the sudden death of a friend — another fixture at the country store and a beloved teacher at the kids’ school. The news came on the heels of the death of another mutual friend. Both women were what my friend and I think of as young, and we were both shocked and then, like so many we’ve talked to, deeply sad.

I found myself tearing up throughout the day, looking for a bright spot in the loss of a mother by three young children and now the extinguishing of a kind and lively soul in the community.

When I got back to the house, Thing1 announced that parts for a computer construction project he’d been working and saving for had arrived. He was waiting for Thing2 to get home so they could build it together. I told him this is how Dell and Gateway got started and realized I was smiling for real for the first time since I heard the news yesterday.

The smile was the recognition that the gruesome twosome had found a shared creative outlet, that their curiosity is taking them down a glorious rabbit hole of research and discovery.

But the smile was also the reminder that there often isn’t a bright spot in the bad events; the bright spots exist in parallel with the sadness. But when there is so much sadness in the valley (and the world), the bright spots — the ordinary miracles — are what light the way through.