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Picking My Battles Posts

Mother’s Little Helper

 

Driving by Fields on a Snowy Day

Today was the first time I’d been out of the house since the surgery. I figured out how wrap my cast and get a shower before the Big Guy chauffeured me to my follow up appointment. I’ve been using the enforced break from the activity of daily life to get a better handle on my priorities, but today, trying to get back into it, even just for a couple hours, gave me an unexpected lesson in empathy.

My doctor prescribed Percocets and Ibuprofen for pain management. Paranoid about getting addicted to any opioid, I’m usually pretty pigheaded about avoiding leaning on Vicodin or Percocets. This week, mindful of the kids I now work with whose lives have been completely upended by adults struggling with opioid addiction, I’ve been even more stubborn about disciplining myself to rely mainly on ibuprofen or Orange Tabby Therapy, and I’ve been pretty lucky with the pain.

Until today.

By the time the doctor finished changing my dressing and cast, I could feel my Frankenstein foot gently begin to throb. The Big Guy and I got out to the car, and the pain was amplifying. There were a couple errands to run, and, even though I sat in the car for them, having the foot not elevated seemed to help push the pain up and down my leg.

By the time we got home, the three hours of ordinary activity had turned my leg into a constant throb, wiping out any hint of energy. I got back into the scooter chair and then into bed, knowing I was going to take the opioid and not the ibuprofen.

And then it hit me. Before any relief, before the purring of an orange tabby on my chest could lull me to sleep.

This is where the stories of those kids begin. They begin with a person in pain, with all the best intentions, looking for relief. For help. They may get it for a time until help becomes a disease and the disease a source of shame and judgement.

I’m guilty of passing those judgements. Of seeing only the impact of the disease on the people around the addict. Of forgetting that anyone could become the addict.

I used the help in the orange bottle this afternoon and knew I might use it again this evening. Tomorrow I will go back to the non-addictive pain management with purpose but also a little more humility and empathy. Recovery is not linear, and, in the setbacks, there are potential pitfalls that can upend anyone’s life.

I don’t know what makes the difference between the person who becomes addicted to these miraculous, terrible drugs and the person who uses them for a brief time and moves on. I know I won’t find the answer as I reach for my orange bottles over the next few days, but I’m determined to keep asking the question rather than living in judgement.

Blessed Boredom

I got as much homework as possible finished before the surgery, leaving a little to do on Sunday. Sleeping off the anesthetics and first round of pain killed time on Friday night, but Saturday was completely unscheduled. The unusually un-booked day unexpectedly gave me one answer to a question we’ve all asked ourselves every time the Super Lotto reaches fantasy levels:

“What would you do if you won the lottery and you didn’t have to do anything at all?“

Most of the worst pain from the surgery has receded. Ibuprofen and snuggling with Jim-Bob takes care of the rest. For the next few days, I am cursed–or blessed–with hours to fill.

Normally, I fill Saturdays with a rush of errands and housekeeping (what I call housekeeping) and, occasionally, a night out with the Big Guy and the kids. When the sun falls, witching hour begins, and I retreat to my office to write or paint, often feeling as though picking up the brush is more something I should be doing even on nights I desperately want to.

Saturday morning I got myself into the scooter wheelchair and retrieved sketchbooks and watercolors from my office. I grabbed a journal and iPad and made sure all my supplies were within reach on my nightstand before hoisting myself back into bed for the rest of the day.

This was the creative time I have been trying to carve out of the frenzied schedule that I’ve built. Somehow, however, even surrounded by supplies and time, I couldn’t think of anything to draw. Nothing on Netflix or Facebook or the Internet held any interest, and I knew I had hours of restlessness ahead of me.

The boys were still in bed. The Big Guy was making breakfast and getting ready to go to the dump, and I was alone with thoughts and daydreams and all the other flights of ideas that happen when you start to get bored.

I stared at a painting on the wall for a few minutes, trying to think of something to draw. Then, without thinking,I picked up my phone. Instead of opening another social media app or webpage, however, I automatically opened the Notes app. I hit the microphone and started to write. For the rest of the day, I migrated between my journal and iPhone, posting and writing poems and making an attempt at flash fiction.

By one in the morning, I was still writing and reading and writing, and I laughed, trying not to wake up the Big Guy. I spend so much of my hectic schedule trying to carve out creative time, knowing that the frenzy is partly a search for whatever it is I was born to do—that thing we are each driven to do. It’s also the excuse for not trying or, subsequently, failing.

It took winning the surgical lottery, being thoroughly bored to cut through the chaos to give into a more creative fervor and, now recognizing the continued process as its own reward, enjoy the blessed boredom.

Saying Hello

A little over a week ago, I made plans to visit friend in the hospital. It was a well laid plans, but it was not meant to be, and that’s OK.

Knowing my friend was dealing with some big decisions and wanting, most of all, not to intrude on her privacy, I texted her the day before to make sure she’d be up for or even want a visit. She texted back “Anytime.” The response wasn’t out of character for her, but I planned to text again, just in case her status changed.

Last year I was working weekends so that I could do a teaching internship a few days a week. The arrangement kept me locked to my computer most of the time and torpedoed most of my social life and lay waste to creative time. My one bit of girlfriend time came on Saturday mornings when I went to work at a favorite café. My friend would join me for a little brunch, and we would sit and solve the worlds problems for a couple hours while I worked.

It was such a little thing, and yet, for me, it was huge. It kept me (and I hope, her) tethered with the kind of social interaction everyone needs. It was our way of saying “hello” to possibilities.

Our brunches tapered off in the summer –she still worked every other weekends, and I was busy with the kids — but we still texted, always making the attempt to connect.

By the next afternoon, it was clear that her status had deteriorated. Seeing no response to another text, I went about some errands and went home, not wanting to disturb her privacy or quiet. I was sad, knowing it might be the last chance to see this person, but visits are about what the person in the hospital needs, not what the visitor may want.

Another friend is chronicling her story on his blog as he helps her navigate hospice. I know, given her condition, we may have said our goodbyes, and, while I will mourn when she passes away, I am choosing to focus on the ways we said “hello” to each other. I know that you never really say goodbye to people who have made a difference – however briefly- in your life.

This is Not a Cat Blog

This is not a cat or pet blog, but if it were, I’d write that I’ve always thought of dogs as the guardians of their humans and cats as our benevolent dictators. I’m not sure what I’m seeing in Jim-Bob this weekend, but I am seeing a lot of him.

When I wake up, Jim is curled up in the scooter chair right next to my bed. As I fall asleep, Jim is settling himself into the crook in my arm. When I get up for a bathroom run or to roll down the hall for a change of scene, he is behind me and then in front of me and then right next to me all the time.

I’m no cat psychologist, but he seems to be trying to reassure the both of us that everything is all right. Either that or, like any reasonable monarch, he’s making sure the peasants stay strong enough to keep his dish filled and his head scratched.

Tell Me a Story

Word Art

I’m a geek for historical literature.

I don’t always love the language — some 19th century authors seem to go out of their way to use 25 words where 2 might suffice — but I love seeing day-to-day lifestyles through the eyes of people who lived them. I’ll happily wade through six hundred pages of Vanity Fair because it’s a window into what the author actually thought about the early 1800s in 1847. Ditto for Tolstoy and Chekov.

The stories that give me the best time-travel value, though, are the ones written by women. So few history books describe the lives of women (not too many led armies or signed treaties), and, until recently, few women authored history books. Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, however, gave us windows into their daily lives. How did they manage a household? What rules of the day did they follow in spirit or to the letter? What did they actually think about the business of marriage?

What did they think?

It’s a question that popped up for me earlier this month as I was gathering readings for Black History Month. A number of retailers were already sending marketing emails with book suggestions, but they were often books by white writers telling the history of African Americans, books that had been ‘redecorated’ for Black History Month, or, the perennial classroom favorite, To Kill a Mockingbird.

I love Harper Lee, and she will have a place in class sometime this year, but the initial idea offerings seemed uninspiring.

The first week was drawing closer, and I stumbled on an anthology of Langston Hughes’s writings. His poem, “Let America be America Again” has been enjoying renewed popularity on the internet in the last few months. I thumbed through the volume, marveling at the breadth of work he had generated in a relatively short life, thinking how he had set a great example of how varied a writing career could be.

And then it hit me (you can say it, that took a while).

I’d been looking for a way for my predominately white students to learn what African Americans thought and think about the American experience.  I, obviously, can’t speak about that experience as anything other a sympthetic observer. The kids are also quick to point out that English class is for English not History, but behind the grammar and the literary devices, English class is about learning to understand stories. 

It’s about understanding who’s telling the stories and why.

And for me, teaching literature is also about showing the kids where to find the windows into other people’s ideas and lives — and, then, why they should.

To do that this month (and beyond), I decided to lean on the writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a great excuse to introduce favorite writers and poets  and artists from that era, connecting the kids to them through poets and rappers from this era. And, in the end, deciding to shut up and let the authors and artists who lived and still live Black History do as much of the storytelling as possible may have been the easiest and best way to get the kids to hear it.

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