J gets older, crankier, and we go back to say AAAH!…

Last Wednesday J turned 23; it was more or less a miserable day, and he wasn’t particularly happy or excited.  The height of his joy was connected to the nieces and nephew calling to sing Happy Birthday in the evening.  The rest of the day was as “meh” as “meh” comes…

Thursday, miraculously, a by-then fully 23 years old J was happy and enthusiastic about EVERYTHING.  He was happy, benevolent, enthused, thrilled, joyous, affectionate, bursting with goodwill and cheer.  This streak lasted until Saturday night and was so wonderful that (fools that we are) we hoped it wouldn’t be over too soon.

It was.

Sunday morning dawned and we had surly J back.

In spades.

The weather, rainy and windy, didn’t really help.  Within an hour of waking up, we were all absolutely miserable and cranky.

Monday brought no improvement.

J, you see, has become a hypochondriac of the highest order.  Every day he wants to go to the doctor.  Every day he is told he’s not sick.  Every day he wants his weight checked.  Every day I weigh him.  Every day he asks about his next psych appointment.  Every day I remind him of when it is scheduled for…

Today we went to the dentist.  We were lucky to find an appointment very soon after his referral.  They checked his film from the other dentist’s office, and they did a panoramic thing of his whole mouth.  J was very good about this.  He gave instructions (gloves, masks, light on, light off, say AH, touch here, look there), and -lo and behold- we are back in the OR on the sixteenth.  Not only that…J got to do his pre-op appointment today.

He was weighed twice (he’s lost some weight…whee), had his BP checked twice, had his heart and lungs listened to most avidly.  The issue with his heart is a right branch thing that means his heart has to switch the current, but we were told it is not a necessarily bad thing for the time being, even though no heart things are good things entirely, are they?  Hearts are fragile things…I’ve read of commotio cordis...I am not a fan.

Just like that, in ten days, we will back in the waiting room of the OR, fretting and worrying, anxiously waiting.  It is never easy to sit through these things.  One has all the worst possible scenarios dancing around, tickling one’s worst fears in the chin and laughing.  The last time we did this J took forever to wake up from the anesthesia, and he wasn’t oxygenating properly for a good while.  We had some stressful moments then, and we had to contend with the bad cut he gave himself on the lower lip that we had to take care of, and that left a little scar.  (And this is why we now have a wound care reference book in our family library…thank you.)

So we are, once more, on the brink of dealing with another significant intervention with J’s dental arrangements.  A molar will come out…a rather sizable cavity that reaches almost to the nerve has developed, and it has to be taken care of…and that might mean that, as time progresses, J will find himself with fewer teeth than he’d like.  He is rather vain, you know, and his smile is something he’s rather fond of.

Some of J’s insistence on “being seen” is justified.  Dada has to stop for an antibiotic prescription on the way home from work.  Is J sick?  No.  Does J not feel well?  No, J doesn’t feel well.  Have I been saying we need to trust his complaints?  Yes.  Have I given in to the notion that he might be seeking attention?  Yes.  Do I feel like shit because I have been telling him there’s nothing wrong with him?  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes………

Does J have a hypochondriac streak in him?  Absolutely.  I say this because I was married to his biological father, and I lived in close contact with his biological father’s side of the family, for years.  Considering that thirty-something years ago my ex-mother-in-law confided in me that she KNEW she had cancer and was dying, and she continues to be one of the healthiest people on the planet to this very day, J does have a streak of the melodramatic and hypochondriac in his genetic makeup.  Panic attacks also abound in that side of the family, mostly among the males.

The crazy he gets from my side.  There’s no denying that.  Not only my mother, siblings…he gets it from me.  I confess this much.  I am far from “normal” and consider myself merely “functional” so I am not saying that all this is on J’s paternal genes.  I can tell you, however, that my “functionality” comes from being reminded -day in and day out- as I was growing up that one has to keep plugging away regardless of circumstances.  “Even without a limb, my dear, that floor isn’t going to clean itself, and babies will need their diapers changed…so you use the other three…and when you’re down to two, you use those…and if you’re down to one…”  You get the picture…we plug away at being alive and living.

J has to have fewer molars.  That is the gist of it.  J needs to be seen and taken care of.  That is the gist of it.  We are doing all we can to help him, and we will worry and feel like crap because we’ve let ourselves be convinced that his hypochondria gets in the way of him telling the truth.  There is some of his mania that is fed by anxiety, and we have to learn to navigate that while recognizing that he knows when something is wrong.  Like I did when he was younger, I have to learn to trust my instinct while still smelling the bullshit he is capable of issuing…

For now, well, I will do my best to get him through this next rough patch…


The Day Before…

Tomorrow is the day when J’s wisdom teeth are extracted.  He knows there’s something going on, but he hasn’t been told exactly what that is.  It is without any concrete knowledge and last night he was up and tinkering around his room well past his bedtime.  He was also up very early this morning…not just up, but up and about, bed made and everything.

I am pretty sure that J has superpowers.  It’s not the being up very late, or very early.  It’s the “I need a new Slinky.”  The last time he went in for this thing he had the same Slinky he replaced this morning.  No worries, Slinky didn’t go in the trash.  Slinky is actually going into a small display case with a label that says Slinky Summa Fidelis circa 2013-2017.  It’s the least we can do for a loyal companion who, sadly, lost its youthful spring and coil.  It kept snagging on things, and -today of all days- J decided it was time for dignified retirement.  That it was present for, and supportive through, every tooth extraction until this one speaks of a long, illustrious, respectable, admirable career.  If the boxing gloves have pride of place in J’s bedroom, Slinky deserves no less…

The other noticeable thing this morning was that J is favoring his jaw again.  It seems to pop out of place, and that is one of the things that told us he needed the dentist in the first place.  Twice now I’ve told him “they will take care of that tomorrow!”  He tells me GOOD MORNING and then BYE, but I think he’s starting to realize what all the preparations mean.

Yes, I have more ice packs than you could possibly imagine ready in the freezer.  I also bought him a rather large and comfy maternity pillow that you can use to prop yourself up.    Menus will include puddings, yogurts, hearty broths with polenta, ice cream, the silkiest scrambled eggs you can possibly imagine…I’ve even trotted out the recipe for cornstarch pudding that my aunt used to make when I had dental extractions as a child.

We have Legos, movies, music.  A bag has been  packed with books to keep J engaged while the pre-op stuff is done.  We have the TWO iPads, and plenty of music in them.  As far as these things go, we are prepared.

Not much else we can do now.  We just wait for them to call and say at what time to be there.  We then plan the rest of the day, and the eight hours previous to the surgery, accordingly.  And then we come home and we go about the business of recovering, and accepting J’s ill humor (if he has it,) discomfort and pain (that’s par for the course,) and we set in motion all the things we’ve planned for this situation.

Wish us luck.

Doomsday…or Dentist Day…depends on where you’re standing.

We are going on fumes here, people.  We are empty-tank tired.  We are ready for this thing to be figured out.

I am sure all of you know the feeling.  Whether you are the person overwhelmed by the overstimulation of something you cannot explain to others, and feel anxious, or you are the parent/primary caregiver of the person who is overwhelmingly anxious…you know what I mean.

We believe in full disclosure so we told J about the dentist (I even used the proper ASL sign for it,) and – Q.E.D. – we had a lulu of a night.

It wasn’t “bad,” but it was bad.  That is: J didn’t sleep AT ALL.  He was up and about all night.  At 1:47 he came into our darkened room and asked for coffee.

I was startled awake, or whatever passes for that moment between “I hardly ever sleep, but I’m awake now and I can’t really remember where the wall closest to my bed is” and “whoa, Nelly…this is NOT acceptable social behavior!” is called.  I marched him to his room (where every fairly light he owns was turned on) and put at timer on for 6 and half hours from that time.

I mumbled, grumbled, and stumbled my way back to bed.  Dada, poor guy, simply said “my turn next.”  Do you get the feeling we’re old hands at this?  Never mind that we ARE old…this is not our first or tenth, or even hundredth rodeo.

At not-yet four another bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, wide-awake, alert request for coffee was generated at our doorway by the person who had completely disregarded his timer.  Dada escorted him back to his bedroom.

At quarter past six Dada walked past J’s door on his way to make the restorative brew that we had been hearing about all night.  His fairy lights were on.  I went in there and, looking like a sunflower at the peak of its beauty as it faces the sun, J smiled at me…COFFEE?????

I controlled the urge to say “ya think?????”  I told him that he had been up ALL NIGHT, and that it wasn’t nice to keep waking people up.  His smiled faded a bit, but it bounced back quite quickly.  I told him that, since he had found it impossible to manage his urge to come to our room in the dark in spite of a timer, we won’t have pizza for dinner tonight.

Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll be awake at the time…I might, out of the accumulation of a string of sleepless nights, be quite zombie-like by four o’clock.  We all have had those moments when we are so tired we’re not tired anymore…that’s where we’re at right now.

As we sipped (or lapped at…I don’t think we could keep our heads up to drink properly until about two minutes into coffee consumption time) our breakfast, J came downstairs to start (continue) his day.  He looked at the board, saw the PIZZA was gone, and shrugged.  Off to the garage to put together his snack box as if nothing had happened.

Dada and I looked at each other.  We KNOW the this concept of “you didn’t let us sleep” is too abstract for him, and he will -after he has finished at the dentist’s office- give us the beaming smile of one who has accomplished something monumental and ask for PIZZA.

There will be, regardless of our best efforts to quell his anxiety, a degree of resistance and panic when we get there.  J is one of those people who can look very cool on the outside, but if you’re holding his hand (or even standing close to him) you can feel he’s extremely tense.  I seriously doubt that he will be discreet about his feelings this morning…


but once they’re done tinkering with him, J will smile as if he has been the most angelic creature on the face of the planet, and he will want his reward.


Either that or we will get this:


The effects of all this anxiety will not be truly felt until tomorrow morning.  We think we’re tired now, but I’m sure that we will be more tired tomorrow…and J will follow suit.  He will have expended all his energy on staying up last night, fighting The Man and his conspiracies this morning, and then negotiating his PIZZA the rest of the day.  Tomorrow morning, well, we will all be more like this…


Maybe then we will be closer to having resolved this.  Or maybe we will be facing a whole other set of problems.

But, as they say, we’re taking it one day at a time.  Or, rather, we’re taking it whatever way it comes in the short-term.  Until we pass this hurdle (and it’s a good one, mind you,) we cannot make plans for the weekend…or even tonight.  Pizza is up in the air until we know what the dentist has to say…

Off I go…to make myself somewhat presentable before I get my son ready for his reckoning…


It doesn’t help that ASL for “dentist” looks like some of J’s SIB…

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.  J has admitted he has a problem.  That didn’t stop him from enjoying his ham soup last night, and it didn’t stop him from enjoying his omelet this morning, but he knows he has to go to the TOOTH DOCTOR on Thursday.

He is not thrilled.

He is not impressed.

He has decided to immerse himself in Katy Perry to deal with the issue.  As he sits on his couch wrapped in a blanket and holding an ice bag between shoulder and face (because, of course, the side that hurts is the side that has the evil arm of SIB doom that must be kept under control…go figure!) he is watching Katy Perry’s movie and looking slightly less forlorn.

We are calling the odontologist that will save (we hope) us from this predicament the TOOTH DOCTOR because the sign for DENTIST is a fist (thumb pointing away from the face) tapping on the side of the chin.  When J saw this sign on the computer screen he immediately perked up, thinking that we were giving him our blessing to punch the bejeezus out of himself.  I explained that it’s a soft tap, but he was smiling too much, and I figured it was best to go the roundabout way to get to our destination.

I periodically check in on him and remind him of Thursday’s appointment.  Whatever SIB is taking place now is significantly milder, but we still ask him to try to verbalize why he does it.  We know it’s partly pain, and we know it’s partly frustration.  We suspect that he also realizes it gets him some concentrated attention from us when he wants it, and then he can control the flow of our presence.  We wish, wholeheartedly, that he would adopt semaphore as a means of communicating his desire to have us near.

The pace of life has changed under these circumstances.  The concerted effort we used to put into doing early chores and moving on to other stuff is gone, diluted.  J helps when he wants to…sometimes when I cajole him.  This doesn’t mean he’s sitting sadly…he’s just focusing on the things that are uncomfortable for him right now.  We read stories, do puzzles, watch movies, go for walks when the weather is fine, but I’m sure it won’t be until after we know about the tooth (and the matter is fully resolved) that J will go back to thinking “oh, folding all this laundry is FUN!  Let’s do bathrooms!  Let’s vacuum!”  Quite honestly, I feel the same way when I’m under the weather.  A lot of “are you seriously telling me I have to clean this toilet???” happens to me when I’m not feeling so hot…

I can hear him giggling.  He’s OK.  He enjoys the things that he usually enjoys, but housework -sad for me to admit- isn’t something he enjoys so much as he knows he has to get through it to get to the good stuff.  I wish I could explain to him that, while I look like I’m on a mission, I feel exactly the same way, but since I’m a grown-up and the adult in charge of this “workplace” my options are limited.  I persuade him to join me by finding the right moment, the right mood.

We land in November with a dull thud.  Thanksgiving is mere weeks away, the election (thank goodness!) will be come and gone soon, and Christmas is already seeping into everything.  We have a very small turkey to mark the November holiday, a bottle of good scotch to ride out the election night news, and all the Twelve Days shopping is done.

We just have to get over the tooth, and figure out if the SIB goes when it goes.  The rest, my friends, is cake…not necessarily chocolate cake with a creamy chocolate frosting, but cake nonetheless.  It’s a question of whether it requires more milk than usual to choke it down, or whether it is moist, delicious and fragrant.  Maybe it’s a lovely three-layer chocolate cake that deserves to be on the cover of some food porn magazine, or maybe it’s fruitcake…the kind that you use to prop a door open.  Who knows?

We just go forward…and a little sideways…

Addressing the elephant in the room…now that we know it’s there

J’s tooth hurts.  J has admitted that something in his mouth is causing him pain and discomfort.  J now allows his face to show that he is not happy with this situation.  He keeps his hand wrapped up because, like I do when I have a headache that won’t go away, he’s trying to send the actual pain there…where he can handle it.

I know this because I have been doing this all my life.  For some reason, I learned early on to say “I am going to send the pain I feel in my tooth/back/whatever location is truly painful to my little toe…and it’s going to sit there and it’s going to stay there.”  I don’t know where I got that…maybe it’s something someone said to me when I was young and I misinterpreted its meaning.  But, yes, other than when I stub my toe while navigating a room in the dark (I swear the furniture moves to block my path,) I send pain to my little toe so that it becomes manageable.

Now that we know the hand is the lesser of his problems (but a problem nonetheless,) we can handle this better.  Early Thursday morning we’re having his mouth checked by the same surgeon who did the last extraction.  I’m trying to introduce the subject of how, from unpleasant experiences, we need to remember that good things can come…  The look of skepticism in J’s face says it all.

As for the hand…

The reading of J’s x-rays from the other night says there’s no fracture, but the words “apparent mild medial deviation” and “early degenerative changes” are in there.  They are referring to his fingers and the joint at the base of his thumb.  The hitting of the head isn’t, as we have known all along, harmless or easy to ignore.  That it’s still early days in J’s life and these things are officially on paper…well…you do the math.

Of course, that we know these things now doesn’t cancel the concern we feel about possible mental health issues for J.  We are not trying to, as they say back home, “cover the sky with one hand.”  The dreaded grunt was back last night, and all because I asked him to take off his band-aids while we did a family task together.  I even put a timer.  The grunt happened, as did the SIB.  It took some stern negotiating to get at the kernel of truth lying somewhere in his mouth…

None of this (meaning J, the future, his health, our health) will be easy.  If anything, complications will become the nonpareils sprinkled on top of everything.  We will have them in areas we don’t think they should be…nonpareils on meatloaf, tuna tacos, cake, coffee, Vicks VapoRub, weekends, holidays, a random Monday morning in the month of May.  Complications and surprises…

I wonder how many of us think about this when we’re hoping to have children.  I wonder how many of us think of it as our children get older.  Children are, for so many people, the culmination of a dream, the extension of  a life plan.  When you find someone you think you truly love you think “do I want to grow old with this person?  Do I want to have children with this person?”  Ours is not that scenario where the kids come back from college seeking asylum until life sorts itself out.

This is it.

Complications and surprises that we are half-expecting…half-hoping won’t happen…

We move forward, the elephant in the room is present and accounted for, and maybe on Thursday the view will be a little less blocked by it.  We move forward.

This could be as simple (and as complicated) as a wisdom tooth…

Yesterday was a gloriously quiet day.  Today? Not so much.

A side of J’s face is swollen, and he has asked for Tylenol.  I gave him an ice pack.  All this, of course, after quite a bit of SIB and anxiety.

Extracting the information of what bothers him is quite laborious, but I managed to persuade him that telling me is better than not.

There is a rather angry-looking wisdom tooth there.  It has come in crooked, and if that is what is causing all this ruckus, well, glory glory hallelujah, I say…

Of course, we still have to pass through the test of walking through fire and fighting the Gorgon…going to the dentist.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s all it is?  Wouldn’t it be horrible if that’s all it is?

The countdown begins…

It is the Monday of the last week of school.  J isn’t having a good time there.  I got a message from his teacher using the expressions OCD and SIB.  Nice!  The kid who has been behaving nicely at home is being a handful at school.  He broke his headphones.  He didn’t mean to, but there you have it…they are broken, and this made matters worse.

The last thing one wants to hear when we’re almost to the finish line is “this is not going well.”  I am of two minds about this: J’s an a-hole, or J’s just responding to the lassitude that creeps into everyone as the end of the school year approaches.  Well, maybe (just maybe) J’s an a-hole that’s responding to the lassitude that creeps into everyone as the end of the school year approaches.  He can be persnickety that way.  He’s not ready to call it a day, and he wants everyone to rally like he does.  This will test the most saintly of creatures, and I’m sure that patience is wearing thin over there with a few kids chomping at the bit to not do much for a few weeks, and one stomping around trying to get everyone on board with being all-hands-on-deck and beat-to-quarters to the very last minute.

Today I am working on that blanket of paper we call the summer PECS board.  This year we get to put a road trip on it, and we hope J will be excited about this prospect.  On Friday he will get home and, weather permitting, we will walk at a leisurely pace while I explain the map of our lives for the next twelve weeks: a trip to D.C., visits to the doctor and dentist (he might run when he hears these, but it HAS to be done,) ESY, walks to the pool, gardening, making soaps and such…  If he’s not totally bored to tears by the time we get to our townhouse, we’ll be fine.

I confess that hearing about J’s difficulties this morning gives me pause.  He really isn’t being that way at home.  I have searched and searched my mental database, and I cannot find one single instance of SIB in the past few months.  Maybe he does it when we’re not looking?  There are no signs, though, that J has engaged in any of it.  He has been happy and full of energy; when he wants to be alone, he asks us to leave his TV room.  When he wants company, he comes looking for us.  We do things together, but not so many that it seems we don’t give him space.  His appetite has been good, and he loves going to the gym with TGG.

We did notice that he put on a few pounds (nothing to be alarmed…just four pounds that weren’t there before,) and we checked his wallet and the school-sanctioned snacking continues.  That, of course, will be off the table on Friday.  We take him out and he buys his usual snacks, and he accepts the portions we have agreed to at home.  He gets his cookies, chips, popcorn, cheese, and so on in the measure that is healthy.  He doesn’t complain, and he actually looks forward to the Thursday evening visit from the ice cream truck.  If he’s planning The Great Escape, he’s being more discreet than Steve McQueen et al.  Maybe he’s just taking a page from James Thurber’s The Cat-bird Seat, and we will all look like fools in the end.

We are by now, I think, old pros at this transition process, and we will have to apply all our hard-earned wisdom and knowledge when the time comes (next June…oh my!) to end J’s school days.  For now, though, we are simply adjusting to another shift in the routine, and we need to figure out if J’s just ready for summer, or if he’s annoyed and anxious about something else entirely.

When I go back to the summer I was 20 (many, many years ago) I remember that trip to Europe and the frustration of not getting my Three Coins In the Fountain summer.  My mother and godmother took us to The Vatican more times than required, and we didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel because “it will hurt our necks!  I didn’t come to Rome to end up with a pain in my neck!!!”  In Florence I had to fight for the right to look at Michelangelo’s David without censorship, and the Moulin Rouge in Paris was verboten (“it’s not all fun and games like Toulouse-Lautrec made it seem!”,) but we did get our bit of unwanted nudity at the Lido.  I discovered I had early-onset rheumatism in London, and wasn’t allowed to stay out late in Spain in spite of the fact that the sun had yet to set when we left whatever restaurant we’d gone to for the umpteenth time.  J probably views his life in the same terms; even if we’ve covered his walls with Kate Upton, pin-up girls, and his bedtime is only restricted on school nights (and that because he drags ass with the best of them in the morning,) he probably thinks there’s this huge conspiracy to make him miserable.  Just as I felt that I was on the most anticipated trip ruined by my mother, J probably will think that all the fun and games will be parentally kiboshed while we’re in D.C.  Either that or, in true J fashion, he will be so enamored of the hotel experience (because he LOVES hotels) that we won’t be able to drag him out of the room for the whole four days.  J, it is said around these parts, has a bit of the Hugh-Hefner-in-his-silk-pajamas about him…he likes to lounge and enjoy the AC and the luxury of a room where he won’t be asked to make the bed.

Between now and then, of course, I have to square away the transition to vacation-mode.  I’m sure that the current state of dissatisfaction comes from the limbo between “nose to the grindstone” and “what the heck…it’s the last week!!!!”  We’ll try to remove the SIB.  I’m on it.  I really am…  Especially with the med about to go away and leave us…forever…