Thursday, February 16, 2012


Two doctor appointments and many still-to-be-totaled-prescriptions-and-over-the-counter-medicines-and-boxes-of-Kleenex-and-related-groceries-later, the flu rages on, and with it since last night: Pink Eye! It has been a week for the record books here, and while I would love to be the type of pure sweet soul who never utters a complaint during pain or illness, I am clearly not yet that person. It seems like every waking thought I have had since last Saturday has been one of how utterly miserable I feel and how afraid I have been that I will lose my job due to having to call off sick again. I had a good and messy crying jag when Mike got home from work last night, all stuffed-up sobbing with my mouth wide open and (pink!) eyes glued shut, tears trickling into my plugged-up ears. In case you think I exaggerate, while at this afternoon's medical appointment, the doctor briskly entered the exam room only to lose her smile and greet me instead with a startled "Girl, you are a MESS!" No, I really couldn't possibly be any more attractive this week, Ladies. Don't even try to compete. :)

Never having had Pink Eye before, I read some about it last night to prepare for today's appointment and learned that to diagnose it, doctors sometimes numb the eye before swabbing it. My friend Marylou gave me a quick pep talk on Messenger/chat today before I headed over for my now-dreaded eyeball injection or eyelid-scraping or whatever else, so I was most pleasantly surprised to be asked by the nurse merely to read lines off a standard vision chart and then told to sit back down and wait for the doctor. I think I actually said a quick "Thank You" to God as the nurse closed the door behind her, but then the joke was on me when she stepped right back in with the giant black toolbox pictured above and said, "This is for the doctor. And she'll be right with you." I probably had the "Ohh nooo!" Mr. Bill expression at that moment--hammers?! pliers? drills? DRILLS?!--but YES! Thank! You! God! I never found out what was in The Scary Box.

A prescription for my eyes, a variety of things for my throat until the lab results are back and I find out what's wrong with it--Strep has been ruled out, but Heartburn aside, I've never known such pain as whatever's been happening with my throat since last Saturday, like swallowing a broken glass-filled scouring pad over and over day and night for six days now--and I am not allowed to work tonight, so a little more rest and time to heal. Thank you for all the good wishes on my last post. I have been online at all hours this week with tea and popsicles when unable to sleep, and all the comments and emails have cheered me.    Also on the bright side, I have a new empathy for anyone with chronic pain issues. And a renewed gratitude for a husband who called me "so cute" even after my crying jag last night. And so much else to be thankful for and hopeful about, as always. This February has been a bit much, though, and now, with another swallow of the scouring pad as my eyes cloud over again, I sign off and look forward to March. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sore Throats, Shy Eleanor, and Snow

'Have been over the flu less than two weeks and am sick again. A child in my care at work spent yesterday coughing into my neck and shoulder, and I could see my own next bout of sickness coming as surely as my mom used to call me "Typhoid Mary." While Mike has caught up on laundry and whatever else, I've spent most of today and tonight in bed with a book under piles of blankets and quilts beside the space heater.  

I've been reading Joseph Lash's Eleanor and Franklin and grrr-ing over Eleanor Roosevelt's mother's calling her "Granny" as a child due to her plain face and somber manner. Mike has heard my intermittent rants today about how photos of a young Eleanor Roosevelt show a pretty little girl, not at all what I'd consider plain, but regardless, what a rotten thing to make a child believe about herself. And if I had been Eleanor's mom--Eleanor would not have become the Eleanor she became, so it's all good in the end, I KNOW, but--I'd have been kind to her and let her be quiet and thoughtful, if that's what she was, and I'd have helped to build her up and make her feel more secure and not dragged her out in front of company only to refer to her mockingly as "Granny" and reinforce her shyness and thus make her feel even more awkward and ill-at-ease around others. And some people--too many people--have children because they wish to raise new/tiny versions of themselves as kids, and when their children surprise them by being quite different than they are and very much their own people--e.g., an earnest little Eleanor being raised by her outgoing socialite mother--they don't handle it well. Oh, Mike's gotten an earful today. He is probably hoping loss of voice will soon follow my sore throat. But look at her!

"Granny," my foot. Grrrrr.  Would you like to sit with me awhile, Eleanor? I don't want to be out there with those women as they chatter about dresses and dinners and debutante balls either. We'll read quietly and play with my cat. Look, he likes you! You're so good with him! How wise you are to care about living things so deeply and to listen to them so closely! And you watch the world with such gorgeous expressive eyes! You know, your mama is good in all kinds of ways, I'm sure, but she doesn't know everything. You, sweet girl, are destined for wonderful things.

The world outside my book is beautiful today. The city is coated with maybe three inches of snow, just enough to pretty it up.


Back to bed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Photo Booth

Something at work last night reminded me of my and my younger brother's tradition of taking photo booth pictures at the boardwalk arcade on our summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland as kids. We would beg quarters for the machine off our parents all week to get enough together for our picture-taking sessions. I keep a favorite of these photos in a frame on one of my bookshelves, and it always makes me smile. And sure to make me laugh is remembering how one of our many photo booth ventures was thwarted. I don't remember if the booth was just eating our coins, but it wasn't working, and after a few disappointed seconds, I parted the pleated curtains to go find an arcade employee who could fix it. While my brother waited outside the booth, I nervously approached a group of men gathered nearby and told one of them the photo booth wasn't working. They stared at me in silence for a few seconds while I looked up at them, certain I was impressing my younger brother and all proud of myself for acting like such a grownup. The man I had bravely chosen to address finally spoke up. "You know," he said, "I don't work here." Mortified, I nonsensically replied, "I know." (What?!) I made my way back over to Brian, and soon we were quoting me and laughing as we relived my embarrassment. Clearly, I am the smooth one in the family. :) We were soon howling with laughter, the line becoming funnier each time we said it, and we were still saying it hours later back in our motel room with our parents and older brother. "Yeah," we would chortle to each other, setting off another giggle fit, "I know." And now probably twenty years later, I still can't look at any of our photo booth prints without blushing and laughing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

From Februaries Past

This is one of my most-treasured photos and was taken at my grandparents' house in February 1998 after a special dinner that Grandma had made to celebrate her and my two February-born brothers' birthdays. My family was getting ready to leave, but I insisted on a few pictures, and thank God: I love that this moment was captured on film. I was a few months shy of 21 here, and Papa had turned 86 a few months prior. I recently reread something I'd written in my journal years ago in which I mentioned that for awhile after Papa died in 2001, I would sleep holding one of his old shirts. I had forgotten that. I do remember working off and on for years on a poem about him that I began months before he died and never was able to finish to my satisfaction. "You were my first hero, Papa," it began. "...The first man I ever said 'I love you' to." Eleven Februaries later, those are still all the things that first come to mind when I think of my grandfather: We made each other laugh, I was devastated when he died, he was my first hero, and he was the first man to hear my "I love you." And I could not have been any more blessed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Silence for the Lunch Ladies

One of my favorite teachers in the fifth and sixth grade was Mr. M. He is one of those people who makes me happy just by existing. You know about the Mr. Ms in the world, I'm sure, and how you smile when they come to mind and how you are both purely grateful that God thought them up and continually delighted just knowing that they are out there somewhere. My Mr. M was one of the "cool teachers," and he was, I think now, born to work with kids. I never saw him angry or exasperated or looking even remotely stressed during all his teaching days, and when he was disappointed in one of us, he reprimanded us privately but effectively, losing neither his cool nor any of our fondness for him.

Only slightly taller than we were, he would often sit on his desk to teach class, and like all good teachers, he was learning right along with us. In the fall of 1988, Bobby McFerrin's song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was on the radio constantly, and in class one day, Mr. M wondered aloud about one of the lyrics. "'The landlord say your rent is late, he may have to litigate,'" he quoted to us that morning. "I can kind of tell from the rest of the song what that means, but I don't know what 'litigate' really means, do you?" And as we called out our guesses, Mr. M reached for a dictionary and read the definition aloud. Just like that, he had discovered what the word meant! He hadn't know a second ago, but then he used the dictionary, and it helped him figure it out! This was how you learned.

In another class, we were supposed to have recorded ourselves reading something on a cassette tape player, and when Mr. M finished playing one student's recording for us, he went to turn off the recorder only to hear the girl continuing to talk about something related. It was about her grandfather, I remember, and how much she thought of him. "Oh, that's nothing, you don't have to listen to that!" she rushed to tell him as we all listened to her tape, but Mr. M shook his head and said, "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. That's how everyone should feel about their grandparents." And since he said it--Since it was Mr. M saying it--no one laughed at her, and instead we all thought about his words. Twenty-four years later, that is all I remember about Bobbi Rae: She admired her grandfather and was embarrassed and Mr. M made it better. This was how you treated people.

The hardest subjects he covered in those late 1980s classrooms were ones in which he clearly wished he didn't have the life experience that he did: Missed opportunities. Regret. Mr. M had had been a star athlete in high school and college and had had the opportunity to try out for the 1984 summer Olympics, but he didn't. He just didn't. We were now in his class five years later, but we all remembered the pep rally in the school cafeteria our little elementary school had held in his honor in 1983. I had never given it any thought after that. I doubt any of us had. But there we sat in Mr. M's classroom one day listening as he wondered aloud, while perched on top of his desk, why he hadn't tried. "What was I thinking?" he asked us. "And now I'll never know." Whenever we were blessed by such opportunities in our own lives, he told us, we needed to be brave and to see how far we could go with them and chase our dreams as hard as we could. We were not quite uncomfortable as we sat in silence watching Mr. M gaze off into the distance over our heads, his mind seeing Olympic glory that his eyes never had, but we were saddened. Our Mr. M was so wonderful, surely he could have done anything he put his mind to! Why hadn't he? It was hard for all of us to understand, and we sat together in our rows of desks in front of him a little longer, letting it all sink in, remembering the American flags and "Sam the Olympic Eagle" mascot coloring book pages we had colored for his pep rally years before. This was how you learned from someone else's mistake.

The last day before our school's Christmas vacation began in 1988, there was a rap on the door of Mr. G's room right before our sixth grade class was to head down to the cafeteria for lunch, and we all looked up to find Mr. M bounding into the room looking more mischievous than usual. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. G," he greeted our startled teacher, "But I've got an idea I want to run by your students. I just thought of a really good Christmas present we can give the lunch ladies!" We twisted around in our chairs, curious and already smiling along with him. We giggled as we listened to his plan, and even Mr. G smiled as Mr. M used his last few minutes of class time going over his idea with us. Minutes later, we all marched silently into the cafeteria, our entire sixth grade class joined by a few younger grade levels' classes, as well, a couple hundred of us making not one sound as we sat ourselves at the long brown fold-down tables and joined the line for milk, juice, and hot foods. The cafeteria staff was puzzled, but as instructed by Mr. M, we didn't let our poker faces slip, and we remained silent throughout our thirty-minute meal. Silent! A school cafeteria filled with ten, eleven, and twelve-year-old kids just a couple hours before their Christmas vacation started: Silent! By the time we were to line up to return to our classrooms again, the lunch ladies had come out from all their work stations to stand in front of us waiting to see how this rare and much-appreciated easy-on-their-ears lunch period would end. We looked to Mr. M for our cue, and when he grinned and nodded, we knew the moment had come. "MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!" we all shouted to the cafeteria staff, and our hardworking lunch ladies laughed as they realized this lovely half-hour of peace and quiet had been our gift to them. It had been Mr. M's idea, of course, but we were so thrilled with ourselves, you'd never have guessed it as we noisily chattered about it on our way back upstairs. This was how you loved people.

Many of us made the trip back to our elementary school to stop in and see him and some other favorites once we started junior high the following year . And some of my former classmates' children are likely being taught by Mr. M now. I sent him a letter my freshman year of college to tell him just how much we had loved him and his classes as kids. Mr. M is still working in our small town school district, and a recent news item in my hometown newspaper brought him to mind and made me want to write to him again, now that I am old enough to articulate why we all remember our time with him back in the 80s so fondly. The letter I send him next week will include a few old and new photos and more than a few memories, one of which will surely be our Christmas '88 silence for the lunch ladies. This was how you touched us. This was how you made us better. This was how you made a difference. This was how you were one of the cool teachers.