And now he can see…

So we picked up my son’s glasses Friday night, and at first he was elated.  “I can SEE!” He kept sliding the glasses up and down the bridge of his nose. “I can’t read that sign.  Now I CAN.  Now I can’t see that …. Now I can.”

Next thing he said was, “Hey, did you guys [speaking to the store lady] know that the bottom of your door there is really smudged?”  I swallowed a big ole LOL at that one.  The lady looked mortified.

All the way through the mall and back out to the car, I heard all about what he could see.  “Hey, I can read that store name over there.  Those clothes are 70% off.” And once outside a big whoop and a “Whoa, I can see the berries on that TREE!!! The bare branches are beautiful against the sky.  They’re so detailed.”

He was positively gleeful and read the road signs to me all the way home, including the one that said do not pass.  “MOM, it said do not pass!  What are you doing?!”

“Honey, that means do not swing out of your lane in order to pass cars in front of you.  I’m not crossing the solid line at all.”

“Oh, I thought it meant do not pass the sign….”

Then we arrived at home, and in the driveway it was, “I can see Maggie through the window.  Ah, man, she’s so cute!”

Oh, yes, I was all smiles.  WHO wouldn’t be?  He was such a cutie-pie, so grateful for the gift of sight, so appreciative that he had glasses (instead of whining about it).  Then we walked in the house.

“Hey, Mom, the carpet is filthy!”

Hmmm.  I guess it’s good he can see that now.  No amount of my nagging seems to get through to him about not tracking mud in the house, so perhaps 20/20 vision will help.  No excuses anymore.

Anyway, he looks so much more grownup in the glasses.  He doesn’t want his picture taken at this point, but maybe I’ll photograph the specs alone….  The thing is that he looks very intelligent and mature in this pair, though not overly so.  They are kids’ glasses to be sure, bought in the kids’ section at the store.  But they are pretty stylish and unique, in an understated way.  He’s got good taste.

Looking at him this afternoon as he explained his latest achievement in Spore (his video game that he saved for four months to buy), I kept being blown away by how time has flitted away.  I can see that he is gaining in confidence and independence with every passing day. And I’m so glad that he is doing well.  Just seems like it went by awfully fast….

Walking the dog…while the guys run away

So I think I mentioned before that my son and husband have taken up running. This was part of a deal we made with my son, who wanted to quit playing travel team soccer this year after playing the sport since he was four (he’s almost eleven, so quitting is a big deal). We have all signed up for a road race on October 18 to help raise money for an orphanage in Kenya, and the guys have been training hard for their 5-mile run, and I’ve been, well, er, thinking a lot about training hard for the 5-k walk I’ll complete.

Anyway, our son really has set his heart on running as a sport now and is eagerly awaiting the day that he will be old enough to enter the Olympics. (He’s calculated when the first games will be held for which he will be eligible to compete–2016–and he’s been asking where those will take place.) We agreed to let him quit soccer (yes, we are that controlling as parents) but only if he had some other form of regular exercise. Let’s face it, one 45-minute session of gym each week at school just doesn’t cut it!

So I’m happy to say that the guys have worked up to running three miles now, at six a.m.! Pretty impressive, I think. Of course, for this to work now that my husband has a long distance to commute to a new job, we all have to get up at six a.m., and I need to take the dog for a walk almost immediately while the boys get ready. They pass the pup and me somewhere during the first half mile leg of my one-mile walk with dogga (I need exercise, too, right?!) We turn around at the entrance to the State Forest and head home to heat up some oatmeal for breakfast. At least I do the cooking. The dog does the worrying. You should see the pained look in her eyes when she sees that once again her beloved one (the hubster) is running, oh joy RUNNING towards her … only to pass her up yet again, and then disappear from view…

Oh, no, I must run faster…arrgh what is that thing poking me in the neck..ouch…Training Collar. Sit? SIT??!!! But alpha dog and that boy are running away, and I must join them. The pack is leaving without me. There could be WOLVES in that forest where they are headed! They may need my protection. I must…ouch. Sit. SIT? Fine. Make me turn towards home. I will just wait at the window until they come back, IF they come back. Oh, just thinking of what could happen out there… pains me. Hooooowwwwl…ouch. Damn training collar. SIT? Fine. Have it your way, but don’t come cryin to me when they are eaten by a coyote. Oh, my goodness. Are there coyotes out today. Sniff, sniff. Maybe I can sneak a peek back and still see them before they disa… Ouch. Sigh. Poor alpha dog. I loved him so. And it was so delightful to lick his sweaty face the last time he came home from running away from the wolves. Mmm. Salt. What’s that? A squirrel??? Ouch. Leave it? But it’s a SQUIRREL! What’s wrong with this lady and her jerky leash anyway??? Sit? SIT!!!!! Sigh.

The dog back when she was CUTE!

SIT???!!!!!!   Are you kidding?  Let’s GO!!!

When I had cancer…

When I had skin cancer, I thought a lot about what would happen to my family if I died. I also thought a lot about what I would change immediately about the way I was living my life. How would my teaching alter? Would I even be able to continue teaching? What would I tell my students or would I even tell them? Would I finish those scrapbooks of my son’s last eight years that I keep meaning to get to…just in case? How would I complete Grandma’s book?

I had gone in for my annual skin check at the dermatologist and asked about a suspicious mole on my back. It was irregularly shaped and was two-tone. Uh oh. So when the doctor asked if I wanted her to take a biopsy, I jumped in with a resounding YES. Then I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. I had other matters to attend to.

A week passed and then I was supposed to call to get the results. But the nurse refused to speak to me about it, and in a grave voice said she would have to have the doctor call me back. So for two hours I panicked, thinking, oh, great, now I have cancer.

The nurse called back, not the doctor, and said the doctor told her, “There’s no cancer, nothing abnormal. The cells were absolutely clear.”

Wow! That night at dinner when my family did our little ritual thing we do every night now where we each share three things for which we are grateful, I kept saying I’m grateful I don’t have cancer. 🙂 Then…

The next day I got a call from my regular doctor’s nurse about my recent mammogram. She said, “Well, the technician said that it was ‘questionable’ but that there appears to be an emerging mass on your left breast.”

Stunned silence. Oh, shit! That’s what I get for gleefully reveling in the no skin cancer diagnosis. Now I have something worse.

“We’ve made your follow-up mammogram appointment for September 11th, and they’ll also do an ultrasound to investigate further.”

“Yeh, okay, 9-11. But you said they said it was ‘questionable,’ right?”

So then I waited for two weeks further before my appointment. Mostly I was able to move on with my life, but the sobering realization that this time there really could be something wrong made it hard to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Once more I went through all of the questioning and reevaluating, which made the start of this school year just about the most bizarre ever.

My cousin reminded me, “Nothing’s happened yet. Try to remember that.” And mostly I did. Then the day of the mammogram re-do came and with it all the gloom of remembrance for the great tragedy on that day in 2001. I was fine until the technician had to re-do one of the pictures she just did. Then I lost it.

At first I couldn’t speak as the tears flowed. Then I squeeked out, “Usually these things are nothing…right?”

She handed me some Kleenex, ignored my question and instead replied, “Everyone feels this way. Whether they show it or not, everyone feels this way. It’s perfectly normal.” She took the re-do of the re-do and then showed me where the bathroom was so I could calm down privately.

I sat back down in the waiting room, trying to grade some student’s essay. I have to get my mind off of this…. Then the radiologist came out and told me that there was something, indeed, on the mammo and that she was going to take me over to ultrasound right now. “They will determine what it is and you should get the news today. Nine times out of ten, these things turn out to be nothing serious.”

Waiting in the ultrasound area, I was too stunned to cry anymore. I had convinced myself — at least it was my party line — that the original pictures were just flawed and that there was nothing at all to see in my left breast. But now there was confirmation that something WAS there. I felt a sense of dread mounting.

By the time I was stretched out on the ultrasound table in a very dark and very large room, I was crying again. Then the ultrasound technician, whose cheerfulness I will never forget and for which I was immensely grateful (for, who would be so cheerful if the patient in front of them had cancer, right — so it must be good news!), chirped, “Oh, that’s a cist. Don’t worry!” She took a few more pictures and added, “The radiologist will come in and say the same thing in a minute. I’ll go get her.”

When she arrived after a long while (where WAS she that it took that long to come and confirm that I will live to see another day?), she took a quick look and said, “Clear cyst.” But I wanted to know HOW she knew that and how SURE she was. I was not content after all I had been through to sail on blithely through this experience as if nothing had happened. I had cancer, damn it. If I NOW did NOT have cancer, the story had to be as convincing as when I DID have it.

So the stately radiologist lady explained all about ultrasound technology and the way that tumors (solid masses) block the ultrasound waves from penetrating and thus can’t imagine the breast underneath, but how with clear cysts the waves pass through and show the breast tissue on the other side. She showed the cyst on the screen, my cyst. And there was the breast tissue on the other side. Okay. I bought her story.

This little blip on the screen looked huge, by the way, but it was only .83 centimeters. I had not even caught it on a self-exam. But the diligent technicians did. And I am grateful for their caution and care.

I have a big imagination. It’s generally a good thing. Sometimes, though, not so much. Yes, of course, I did not ever really have cancer, thank goodness. But in my mind, I did. I really did. And the experience — just a tiny taste of a much more shattering reality for so many others, I’m sure — did make me stop and think, once more, about what matters, about my priorities.

A sobering reminder not to take any second of this precious life for granted.

…and to get regular mammograms and complete regular breast self-exams.

P.S. I asked for a picture of my cyst from the ultrasound machine so I could put it on my blog! They thought I was NUTS and were ultra concerned about my privacy — really freaked out, actually. But I assured them I would only put the picture itself up without any identifying info. But the printout I did manage to get from them was too dark to scan, so I’ll just have to leave it to your imagination. For the life of me, I can’t think of a good reason not to post about this experience, though the way those two women freaked out gave me pause and delayed my posting by a couple of weeks. Ultimately, though, I decided it was an important story to share. I want to remind women to get those mammograms and do those self-exams. It’s really important. And though it was a scary experience, nine times out of ten everything really is okay!

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

The last orchid of summer…

I don’t understand how orchid blossoms can last so long.  It seems like a miracle.  Week after week, even months at a time, the cluster of orchid blooms cling to a brown stick shooting out of the base of the plant.  MIne had ten blossoms.  I say “had” because suddenly this weekend, they began to drop.  Now I have one.

The last holdout isn’t looking so good.  A bit shrivelled. But it’s hanging on.

It’s perfectly natural for this to happen, yet it feels a little tragic.  Why can’t the flowers remain always beautiful, always there to admire? But, honestly, how greedy of me!  I mean, my plant has been flowering for a good six months and here I am lamenting not to have the flowers even longer…?

That is the way, isn’t it?  I had a year’s sabbatical leave during which I read and wrote regularly and got a good night’s rest every night and exercised and spent time with my family.  It was a beautiful time and a real privilege that I realize by far most people do not get the opportunity to enjoy.  Here I am lamenting that it’s over, though, anyway.

It’s not as if I’m not enjoying being back in the classroom.  In fact, every day I find pleasure in my students and in helping them to learn and grow.  I am beginning to get to know them, and this helps immensely. I recognize that it is also a privilege to be allowed to teach these fine young people. (Er, or not young, as the case may be in my university classes where we have a range of students from traditional college age to older returning students.)  Anyway, you know what I mean.  It truly is an honor.

The last blossom will fall today, perhaps while I am on campus.  And eventually I will get tired of looking at the dead stick with no flowers attached, and I’ll cut it off. Then, when I’ve almost forgotten what color those flowers will be, a new stick will shoot up three inches in one day.  Within a week, the buds will emerge and begin to open.

Maybe in time for summer…

Dog Idolatry

Please do not be offended. It’s not my fault that idolatry is tolerated in my home. I am certainly not guilty of it! My son isn’t doing it. My husband isn’t…well..isn’t doing it, per se, though he is the object of devotion, a household god of sorts.

Our dog, as I think I’ve mentioned before, adores my husband. Adores might not be the right word, if you get my drift. Really she worships him.

This summer the hubster has been taking two on-line classes in preparation for launching a new career in IT. And right now it’s final exam time. So hubbie is locked away in the den working on his C Programming final. The dog is not happy…

Prostrate before the almighty, she offers herself, a living sacrifice. “Take me, oh, take me, alpha dog,” she cries. Sigh. Double sigh. “When is he coming out of there?”

I took this picture with my cell phone and sent it to my husband, thinking he’d get a kick out of it later. Turns out he had his phone with him in the den. As soon as he saw what was waiting for him on the other side of the door, he got up and greeted his loyal devotee, who was beside herself with joy. “Ah, let me nibble your ear, O Wise One! You have emerged from the great beyond at last!”

Is it any wonder she continues with such encouragement? My husband is a marshmallow. 🙂

Anniversary Gift

This week my husband and I marked our 18th wedding anniversary. The hubbster gave me a thoughtful and well-written card (he’s a fabulous writer), and I gave him my annual poem written for the occasion and enclosed in a less thoughtful and well-written card. But, hey, he got a poem, so I’m off the hook for the card, right?

My poem this year, no surprise, arose out of my research on the ancestors. Turns out that in Swedish, the word for married is GIFT! (Not at all pronounced as it is in English, but when reading the word on my geneology, it tripped me up each time.) Anyway, the poem is about the ancestors who were gift in the past and the choices they made to be with one another, to make a life together, and in some cases to leave their life in search of a better future in a new land. Thank God they were so brave and strong!

So yesterday I gave my partner his poem even though Tuesday was actually our anniversary. But he is taking classes (in addition to working full time) and had to finish up final exams and all that this week, so we postponed our official anniversary card exchange, etc., until Saturday. On Tuesday, though, we did manage to watch some of our wedding video with our ten-year-old son, who had never seen it.

Wow! First of all, we were SOOOO young! I mean, compared to now. We got married when we had both just turned 26, which is young, sort of, though not really that young to get married, I think. But looking at us! Oh, my, we were so goofy.

Then my attention was grabbed by grandma and grandpa, who were all over that video. My heart skipped a beat when I first saw them. I had no idea that I had them on tape. What a joy to see them once more! Grandpa was so funny. He just didn’t understand what the video camera was. Every time my step-sister pointed it at him, he’d say, “Take it. Take it, Michelle!!” He was waiting for the flash of a still camera. They just couldn’t get across to him that they were filming moving pictures. 🙂 All the while there was Grandma, serene as ever, gracious and loving, never once cracking a smile at her husband’s expense. They were married over fifty years.

And last night, after all of this thinking about the anniversary, the wedding, my grandmother, I dreamt one of those beautiful and rare dreams when Grandma came to visit me in my sleep. She and I were walking around together before my wedding. I was marveling how well she was managing to walk. Of course, she used to walk all the time (duh!), but she had many years with a walker and then was bed-ridden in the final years of her very long life. Those later years had taken over, it seemed, in my memory of her. But here she was walking with me, arm in arm, around the hall where I was married. We were laughing and talking, and I was so happy. As happy as I was that day.

And I was very happy that day. I recall with crystal clarity that I felt complete assurance that I was doing exactly the right thing in marrying this man. I KNEW that it was right. I still think that today. Not that everything is always rosy. But I knew going in that life (and marriage) aren’t like that. No, I knew, though, that here was a guy to be tied to for life. A guy I could trust and enjoy and who would work beside me to build a good life together.

A lovely gift.