Solitary Confinement

My middle-aged body is slowly wearing out from wear and tear. I had a triple arthrodoisis (major foot surgery that fuses three joints in the foot) three months ago to fix arthritis and pain which was limiting my ability to walk. I was not allowed to bear weight for 10 weeks so I got around on a knee scooter. It was my right foot, so driving was out. While a nifty invention, my hands hurt from leaning on the scooter, my knee was chafed and my back hurt. To use my teenage daughter’s favorite phrase, I was a hot mess.

Not being a kvetch by nature, I was sick of myself and pretty sure my housemates were sick of me too. Being a stay-at-home mother, I run the household and keep the trains running on time. Since it wasn’t emergency surgery, I was able to plan ahead for rides, meals and help around the house. To my surprise, the household ran relatively smoothly as I directed family life from the couch.

I would be remiss if I didn’t appreciate that my confinement wasn’t life threatening or permanent, for which I was grateful. So while I had anxiety about the surgery and recovery I was mindful that I wasn’t “sick” which helped keep it all in perspective. I had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer in 2010 so I was well aware what an existential crisis feels like. This was merely a big, fat nuisance.

My dignity definitely took a hit. Dependent on my husband to get in and out of the shower, I developed a new appreciation for my privacy and independence.  Our morning ablution schedule became intertwined. It became a joking power move where I would meekly ask, “Could I take a shower now?” and he would bark like a drill sargent, “You will shower when I tell you you can shower.”

Obviously, a sense of humor was key. Otherwise how could I tolerate hoisting myself up and down the stairs on my rear end or on my knees? My sister came from out of town to help nurse me and found my scooter riding so hilarious that she made a video. Our friends found it amusing and I wondered aloud if it could go viral. My kids assured me that it wasn’t that funny. Now, if I had fallen over, that would have been a different story.

I felt a little disconnected from my kids and my husband. Without the parallel talk time while driving and my going to bed early, they were left to deal with the logistics of their lives. On the one hand, it was a welcome break from all of the mental and physical juggling. On the other hand, I felt a little left out. As I recovered and could be more engaged, the kids resumed being normal teenagers and taking me for granted. I took comfort in remembering something Lisa Damour wrote in a 2016 article in the New York Times:  “Happily, the quality parenting of a teenager may sometimes take the form of blending into the background like a potted plant.” On a knee scooter or on the couch, I could excel at being a potted plant.

I developed a whole new appreciation for physical therapists. I saw the surgeon only sporadically so the physical therapist really was my cheerleader and expert regarding my progress. Mine was a guy named Ken, a few years older than me. I looked forward to my twice weekly sessions. During the time when I couldn’t bear weight, I would lie on the table while he massaged my foot, iced it and used electrical stimulation – all without asking anything in return (other than payment.) I could dump all of my frustrations about my recovery on him and joked that he became my best friend.

I tried not to be a kvetch but I know I wasn’t always successful.  I actually developed callouses on my hands from gripping and pushing down on the scooter and they would fall asleep at night so that I began to worry that I was developing carpal tunnel syndrome. I felt like I was playing a bodily game of “Whack-A-Mole,” fixing one problem as another one popped up.  I confess to having a pity party or two. I am human, after all. My girlfriends were great shleppers and listeners, helping me keep my sanity. I was grateful that my confinement was in the age of Netflix. Don Draper and his crew of “Mad Men” kept me company as did the wacky antics of the gang at Dunder Mifflin in Scranton.

The day came when I was given the green light to drive. I hopped in the car and headed to the bank with the windows down and the radio blasting. I felt like a 16 year old with a new license. The freedom was invigorating. My fantasy was shattered when I hobbled through the parking lot, like the middle age, debilitated woman I was. But in the car, and sometimes in my mind, I’m 16!

Recovery is complete and now the serious rehabilitation begins. Ken, once my masseuse and psychotherapist, is now my slave driver. “You mean I have to get off the table and actually do stuff now?” I asked him. I long for the days of passive physical therapy. Was the surgery worth it? Time will tell. Determined to shed my crutches and resume my active middle age, I will push forward and back out into the world. One step at a time.

A New Direction

woman-looking-map-vacation-directions-driving-car-54303485

I was at a friend’s house recently on a weekend afternoon and asked where her husband was. She said he had taken her son to a birthday party and gotten lost.

“Who gets lost anymore?” I asked.

Not me. I have wholeheartedly embraced Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. This somewhat technologically-challenged middle-aged mom is on board. When my husband first told me about the concept, I scoffed. After all, I usually knew where I was going or I could use the GPS in my mini-van. I didn’t need a new-fangled app thing to tell me where I was going.

How wrong I was. I love Waze. I use it, even when I know where I’m going, to check which is the most direct route given traffic, construction, etc. at any given time. Anything I can do to avoid sitting in traffic makes me happy. Sure, I could make use of time in the car listening to books or podcasts but I’d rather be laying comfortably on my couch reading a book or catching an episode of something on Netflix. Sitting in the car for no good reason – not so much.

One may lament the fact that it’s difficult to get lost these days. After all, sometimes the road less traveled takes you to unique, wondrous places. Ah, fear not. The beauty of the crowd-sourcing app is that it takes you down streets and through neighborhoods you’ve never seen without the anxiety of having no idea where you are. You still get the glorious feeling of wandering off the beaten track while feeling confident that you will get where you intended to go. Win-win in my book.

My husband told me that at first he was skeptical of the lovely lady voice telling him where to go, as sometimes it just seemed like an outrageous route she would suggest. It was sort of the equivalent of not wanting to ask for directions. It turned out that he learned to trust her and would get burned if he went against her advice. I too have learned to trust the lovely lady in my phone and have come to think of her as an adventurous, wise friend. My husband went so far as to buy her a stand for my car, a pedestal if you will, where she can easily be perched to safely aid in my following her directions. I hang on her every word.

This app has opened up my world, giving me confidence to drive to places where I may not have ventured by car before. My late mother would argue that public transportation is the way to go – she was a poster child for the subway, but I prefer the comfort of my car with the ability to come and go as I please.

I have a new mission control to help me get around in the form of a handy app. I feel like an explorer. It’s the “Marco” to my “Polo.” Just me and my girl Waze, oh the places we’ll go.

Bittersweet Sixteen

sweet-16-birthday-cakes-pictures

My son with special needs turned sixteen last week. My father reminded me to say a prayer, expressing gratitude for having raised him to this point in time. I am thankful that he is happy, loved, that he walks and talks.

It is, however, bittersweet. Oddly enough, I am most sad that he is not on his way to driving a car – the highlight of turning sixteen for most teenagers in the United States. The ability to leave the house and your family and find your own way is liberating.  I still love to hop in my car and drive away sometimes. Except this time I’m running away from my children. Sweet separation. My eldest son is seventeen and he drives. His little sister once asked where her brother, the new driver, was.

“Out,” I answered.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because he can,” I told her.

I vividly recall my elation at getting my license and the incredible freedom I felt. I remember going “out” as often as I could, to that elusive place where parents can’t find you. Nowadays children can’t be as unavailable as they’d probably like, poor things, because of the homing devices that are their cell phones.

It makes me sad that my second son cannot go “out,” although he doesn’t seem to want to. He is not focused at all on the fact that he is not on the driving trajectory. In fact, he would probably be happy to stay “in” for the rest of his life. He’s happy surrounded by his family and his beloved video games. It’s tempting to let him stay in forever, to keep him safe and sound.

“Maybe he could try taking the driver’s ed course, to see if he could even pass?” I mused to my husband and other children.

They all dismissed the idea as ludicrous. He would be a danger to himself and others, they argued. His lack of attention to the world around him could have disastrous consequences. Are we selling him short? Am I crazy and deluded? Maybe a little.

It’s part of the ongoing see-saw of raising a differently-abled child. I am grateful for the things he is able to do but the grief for what he can’t do lurks in the background. His brothers are tall, strapping young men like their father. I encourage this son to consume as many calories as he can, so that maybe he can be as tall as his five-foot-four-inch mother. I cling to things I may have a touch of control over, to maintain an illusion of normalcy.

There is a popular essay which is given to many parents when they have a disabled child. It is called “Welcome to Holland.” The gist of it is that you were planning a trip to Italy and were shocked to find you arrived in Holland. Once getting over your disappointment at landing at the wrong destination, you look around and discover the beautiful things in Holland. It’s a lovely metaphor to try to make you feel better about the immense sadness and disappointment you feel when you have a less-than-perfect child.

It works for a while, perhaps getting you through the early years of crushing hardship and disbelief. I have a group of women friends who I met in a support group ten years ago, all who have disabled children. My “Special Mom” friends, I call them.

“Holland sucks,” we wholeheartedly agree.

But here we are. We strive to savor the sweet and tolerate the bittersweet.

So Happy Birthday to my young man. Who cares that driving’s not in your future? I’ll teach you how to ride the bus.