Reflections from ER

This post is brought to you from the Emergency Room. Clark and I have been here for the last three hours.
Unfortunately, he is the one in the mint green landscape motif that unties in the back. The sympathy contractions (two years too late) that he was experiencing this morning were severe enough to be better safe than sorry. So here we are in a cold, windowless room with the white noise of the IV machine to lull him to sleep, and a dated Real Simple magazine to keep me company. Is it just me, or every time you flip through Real Simple, do you suddenly get the urge to pick up a Fannie Flag novel and a cardigan twin set? He’s got one IV bag left to drip until we can return home to the two pantless children and the pile of half-eaten breakfast dishes that I left with a girlfriend who just happened to be yard-saling in my neck of the woods today. Thank goodness she was here. I feel like I should give her some embroidered holiday towels or a stack of VHS tapes to make up for crashing her bargain hunting adventure. I think Clark will be fine. However, I doubt he will EVER again eat my dad’s homemade trail mix. So, with no cell reception, a sleeping husband, two napping children at home under the care of my friends who missed out on the deal of a lifetime on a yard sale Thigh-Master, I am flipping through the Real Simple’s road tested featured home appliances section very sloooowly and considering this a mini-vaca. Don’t judge me. It wouldn’t matter if it was Biker’s Digest. This may be the first magazine I’ve read in 3 years.

I don’t mind hospitals like most people do. Please don’t think I’m one of those creepy people who hangs out in cemeteries at night because the peace and quiet helps me think, but there’s something about being at the bedside of a loved one sleeping off a trail mix tragedy surrounded by people who are much smarter and who went through way more schooling than myself that makes me feel, sort of… sober. Not in a too-much-Pilsner-the-night-before sort of way, but on any other day, dirty breakfast dishes and inconveniencing a friend and half-dressed children and cardigans would fluster me, but when someone you love is wearing the mint green We-Bare-All-From-Behind hospital gown, no matter what the reason, nothing else matters quite as much, and there is no where else I would rather be.

Before Clark got buzzed off an IV Pain Med and Tonic, our conversation had veered toward the sobering topic of Things-We-Thought-We-Knew-Better-Than-Everyone-When-We-Really-Didn’t-Know-Squat from our twenties. For instance, I was the perfect parent before I had children. My pre-conceived kids would surely sleep through the night, answer “Yes Ma’am” upon command, and for crying out loud, never be caught dead without pants on. Or, better yet, my contribution to bettering humanity meant I had to single handedly solve the urban homeless crisis in Calcutta or be a Bible-smuggler in Eastern Europe (unlike some Western thirty-something sell-out Real Simple subscribers I knew). Right before Clark drifted off into a drugged sleep we asked ourselves the question, “What life lessons would your thirty-something-year-old self pass on to your twenty-year-old-self?”

While I’m just busy doing nothing but catching up on the complete guide to anti-aging lip gloss, I thought I would pose the same question to you. What life-lessons do you wish you could go back and teach your less experienced self?

Doc just cleared Clark to go. Vacation over. Looks like I’m going to have to dig into the toxic trail mix batch if I’m ever going to find out how one lucky reader scored on a Splurge-or-Steal throw pillow with a bird on it. Somehow, I will survive not knowing.

A Picture’s Worth $80,000

I was a Music History major in college. I learned rather quickly that this wasn’t the most lucrative choice of B.A. degrees, as my first job out of school was working at a smoky arcade in Houston, TX– the sort of dignified establishment where retirees risk their entire life savings at the video slot machines at eleven in the morning. Four years of hard work+ $80,000 tuition= Magna Cum Laude dealing virtual Texas Hold ‘Em. Not every mother’s dream for her baby girl, but what can I say… music notes make me happy. Recently, Clark and I indulged our inner-music nerds and quizzed each other on the historical timeline of every musical era from the Renaissance to the twentieth-century. Some married couples get their kicks with Ben & Jerry’s and Red Box on a Saturday night, but for us, its Mendelssohn and 12 tone. To each his own. Needless to say, I shamed my 15-year Sallie Mae loan (at a fixed 4% thank you) as I could not complete the timeline to save my music-loving life. Of course, Clark could, but he is admittedly a bigger music geek than myself. Fortunately, it has served him well.

I don’t get to put my music theory degree to use very often. I am a singer, but aside from listening intervals and the occasional sight reading exercise, I don’t have much use for sheet music, (aside from a few crafty Pinterest projects of course). However this morning, I not only used my theory degree, but my musical knowledge meant the difference between staying indoors or being able to leave the house.

I can usually tell what sort of day Salem is going to have mere seconds into his waking moments. Call it a mother’s intuition or whatever, but I can look into his eyes and simply know if the daytime hours and activities before him will pose a moment to moment struggle in how to relate to the world around him or not.

To say he is struggling today is putting it rather mildly.

I spent two morning episodes of Blue’s Clues begging God for the grace to get through this day. No sooner than the timer went off indicating TV time was over, Salem refused his breakfast, snapped at his sister (on her birthday), and began furiously flapping his hands in front of his eyes as he often does when he is anxious, tired, or overstimulated. In order to diffuse the situation, I funneled him into the *Recording Studio for a little “me time”. I could hear him tinkering with an ABA iPad app that I recently downloaded for him at the suggestion of Clark’s cousin who is a speech therapist. It is a problem solving app that features a chart picturing 4 objects (3 are in sequence and one does not belong). For instance, visualize a quad diagram of a rooster, a frog, a camel, and a leaf. Clearly, the plant-life does not belong, but to an abstract-challenged little thinker, this is quite the mind bender. An enthusiastic female voice then asks, “Which one does not belong?” Salem needs only to tap on the odd image to invoke a flood of affirmative responses from the automated inquisitor– “Awesome”… “Great Job”… “You’re Super.” I often wonder how I can get “Vickie Voice-Over” on an audio loop so she can flatter me every time I change a diaper or reload the dishwasher. Anyway, one of the images that didn’t belong today was a purple music note– Salem’s current visual addiction. He has entertained a series of inanimate shape and/or object infatuations which include, but are not limited to a plush red tomato, a foam blue letter “x”, a plastic yellow circle block, and a pink bath toy bearing an odd resemblance to the number “8”. While I have great respect for the app writers who are sponsoring my son’s attendance to iPad Preschool, don’t they know that ASD children have manic visual obsessions upon which they fixate so hard and so long that the momentary absence of such sends them into a downward spiral of hyperventilation? Hence, when the object of Salem’s unparalleled affection (in this case, the purple music note) is there one moment and gone the next unable to be retrieved even by Mommy’s frantic touch screen tapping, it is as though a Mac Genius himself is cutting off his blessed oxygen supply. And thus it began– the inconsolable string of tears and incomprehensible syllables. Thinking fast is my new thing, so before Salem, Mia, or I even knew what was happening, I scooped them both up and put them in the shower. All I could make out in his screaming was, “Want the moose-kick note”… “Want the moose-kick note”. I thought about drawing one on the steamed glass of the shower door, but that would inevitably fade resulting in a swell of fresh tears and tortured gibberish. So, underneath the hottest water he and I both could stand, I held him while he cried and I cried and cursed iPads and app writers and ASD and “moose-kick” notes. After about 45 minutes in the steamy shower, we were all prune-y and lightheaded, but before any one of us passed out, we emerged unscathed. Hysteria-bomb: dismantled. But he didn’t soon forget his first love. As I was dressing him in fresh Buzz Lightyear underpants, he asked to see the music note. Thinking fast AGAIN, I rummaged around and found a legal pad and a dull pencil. We all know I am a terrible visual artist, but I DID go to college where I spent (actually, I am still spending) $80,000 and the better part of FOUR YEARS drawing music notes. That ought to be worth SOME-thing, right? I proceeded to recreate the music note he so desperately wanted to see. It didn’t light up when he touched it. It didn’t resound with any recorded praise or affirmation when he identified it. It was a wrinkled up, chicken-scratched, erasable pairing of two 16th notes, and yet that was the moment my Bachelor’s degree paid off. He shook all over with excitement. Thirty minutes later I had dried my hair and dressed for church, and I found him still shaking and holding the penciled drawing repeating the phrase, “Look Mommy. It’s a ‘moose-kick’ note” over and over and over again. Salem rarely expresses his feelings verbally, so when he does, my whole world stands still. He looked at me while I was Velcro-ing his shoes and he said, “Mommy, ‘moose-kick’ notes make me happy.” Then, I started crying (a-GAIN) and said, “I know, buddy. Music notes make me happy too.”

He clung to that tattered paper all the way to church and he kept it with him during his nursery class. So what if he uses drinking straws as drumsticks and carries sheet music with him to church? So what if he IS the only kid who wears big blue Vic Firth headphones on the Chick-Fil-A playground and knows exactly how fast to count backwards from 10-1 during the instrumental turn around of Coldplay’s Paradise? So FREAKING what?! If “moose-kick” notes make him happy then see if I don’t notate my forehead, his bedroom wall, and the side of the family mini-van for crying out loud!

Don’t worry, Buddy. Moose-kick notes make me happy too. Moose-kick notes make a lot of people happy. Some people see the world through Moose-kick notes and it hasn’t turned out too bad for them. I have a feeling that it won’t turn out too bad for you either.

(*Note: The Recording Studio consists of iPad musical instrument apps and a potty seat on which Salem is known to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour banging on virtual bongos or plinking out a blues scales on the virtuoso keyboard. This is not an actual recording studio).