Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cleaning Closets

Three momentous events happened this week, coming together to create not only much chaos but also much togetherness and laughter with our three grown children.

First, the sucking sound coming from our wallets lessened another decibel as our second oldest child graduated from college.  (Can you hear the angels—or, on second thought, it could by my husband in a soprano voice-- singing, “Two down, one to go?”)  The graduation was a perfect reason for the whole family to be home to celebrate.

Next, of course, was Mother’s Day.  This, in my house, is less of an occasion to honor me as the mother and more of one to remind me of all of the weird and dysfunctional things I have done throughout the years to ensure that the children either end up on a psychiatrist’s chair or at least think they should.  This year, as an example, I was reminded of how I supposedly would put pickle juice in my kids’ sippy cups as an occasional “treat.” 

Okay, I admit, that is weird.  I tried to defend myself and say I created Gatorade before its time.

The third event was putting our house up for sale.  We’ve decided to start downsizing before my husband and I are too decrepit, overwhelmed, or uninterested to want to clean out drawers, the garage, and large Rubbermaid containers that hold things we haven’t seen in decades. 

The collision of these three events led to one overwhelming event called the Cleaning Out of the Kids’ Closets.  I, at the same time, began transferring the contents I keep in a large drawer into a moving box that I always label “Mary’s Cherishables.”  This includes memorabilia, greeting cards, drawings, and such that make me smile or laugh every time I see them.  I figure these will be good medicine to have someday as I sit in my rocker.

Having a method to the madness, the kids each put their contents into a trash can, storage box, or thrift store donation box.  I was thrilled that they were willing to do this for me and relieved to not have to do it for them.  Personally, it took me years to forgive my own mom for throwing away all of my Monkees and Donny Osmond albums behind my back when I was away at college.  I just tell stories about her now to get her back.

I pulled out my daughter’s baby blanket from my drawer, literally worn to shreds, and ran up to show her.  My youngest son interjected saying, “Hoarders, are we?”  Of course, when I produced an elaborate Mother’s Day card that he had made me in sixth grade, my hoarding took on a whole different meaning.  We especially laughed at the parts where he wrote “thanks for giving birth to me” and “thanks for making me Chinese and Japanese food.”  My Asian mother-in-law would be proud.

I also found a drawing that my son, now an artist in New York City, did when he was three.  It shows a bride (complete with Angelina Jolie lips) and groom standing under an arch with smiling family and friends in the congregation.  And then, quite humorously, there is a rather large mouse in the corner standing next to his rather large mouse hole in the wall.  Just what every wedding needs, at least in a three-year-old’s mind.

I found it thoroughly entertaining to listen to the kids laugh out loud as they found things they had chosen to save and others that they had undoubtedly thrown into boxes at the last minute trying to stay ahead of another Army move.  There was the bright pink cast that our daughter had gotten after breaking her writing arm the day before Dad left for a year’s deployment to Korea without us, hundreds of Beanie Babies that none of them could live without, and the outdated clothes they laughed to think they had ever worn.

Then there were the journals that I had them write in every day so I could monitor their emotions while Daddy was so far away.  These have proven to be priceless, especially those when they were little enough to only write three- or four-word sentences.  Even then, they had no trouble explicitly relaying “Brother is a butt” or “I hate school.”

I found it interesting in what each child chose to keep and what they chose to purge.  It was fascinating to see how things they had loved as little ones were still things they appreciated today.  I held back my urge to dig things out of their trash cans, realizing that only they could create their own boxes of cherishables.  It proved to be a grand Mother’s Day, one that gave me hope to tackle those Rubbermaid tubs again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Half Century of Friendship

I just returned from an 18-day trip to Italy with three high school classmates that I have known since the age of five.  We all have birthdays within 1 ½ months of each other, and we creatively decided two years ago (at our 30th class reunion) that going to Italy should be our goal for the big half-century bash.

Little did we know that, in that short time, so much life would happen.  One would renovate the entire upstairs of her home.  Another would help begin a new family business.  One would see her daughter married.  And sadly, one would endure the death of her only child.  In other words, we really needed this trip for rejuvenation!

There are ever-ending reasons to travel with friends one has known for an entire lifetime.  We all had our talents and skills and played on them.  Donna has a no-nonsense approach to life.  Her favorite quote is, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.”  She also has an impeccable sense of direction, a “more guts than brains” approach to driving in a foreign country, and a love for photography that made her the designated photo historian for the vacation.

Brenda was our traveling pharmaceutical dispenser of naturopathic products, determined to keep the group from getting a cold or flu from all of the coughing and non-handwashing travelers.  Who knows; she might have even kept us from the bubonic plague in a few medieval towns we visited.  She was Johnny on the Spot with hand sanitizer, Handi Wipes, chewable Airborne tablets, and even a concoction to spray down the throat.  Brenda also could be a sailor, because she had a keen sense of where the sun was at all times.  East.  West.  High noon.  You get the drift, no pun intended.

Beth’s claim to fame was being the one who could actually pronounce some Italian correctly.  It also didn’t hurt that, being so darn cute, foreigners would actually try to listen…even if she wasn’t pronouncing it correctly.  She was also our fashionista.  Every group needs one of these so we know how good we SHOULD have looked. 

I served as Donna’s co-pilot in the front seat, serving as the GPS interpreter.  Along with messing up foreign languages without trying, my other claim to fame is giggling whenever I am told it is not appropriate.  

Many say I must get this from my mother.

We began our trip in Venice where, the last time I visited, I got pooped on by a pigeon. On my way back to the hotel, I was told by every Asian I passed that this was “Rots of Ruck.”  Let’s just say that Donna and I both became “rucky” on this trip.  Her luck came with a splotch down the side of her hair in Bologna, and mine descended with a plop on the forehead in Fiesole.

One day we took a seven-hour food tour where, within the first two hours, Donna dropped her cheese, bent over to clean it up, and splashed red wine down the front of our tour guide’s white tee shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes.  In her defense, no one should be offered wine that early in the morning in the first place. 

A balloon trip had been on Brenda’s bucket list so the rest of us were determined to make it happen, especially after her loss of Michael.  We were actually able to keep it a secret until the trailer pulled up next to us.  Brenda’s claim to fame was being able to step into and out of the hot air balloon’s basket as if she was stepping into a shower.  The rest of us, with much shorter legs, looked like we were struggling for our lives.

Beth was the only one that refused to spit off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  She is the most refined on the trip, but the rest of us (farm girls that we are) believe she chickened out because she was never taught to properly chuck a loogie.  It could also be because she works in a law office and knows certain actions get you behind bars.

Unfortunately, my biggest memory-making moment was a “Lost in Translation” one.  In Italy, ciao (pronounced chow) is used for hello or a casual bye.  For example, “Ciao, bella” means “Goodbye, pretty woman.”  Using my haphazard knowledge of Spanish, I assumed that adding an o to bella would mean “handsome man.” 

“Bello” does, in fact, mean good-looking man.  What I was told, after eight days of already saying this to every male cashier I had dealt with (some of them toothless), was that I was saying something completely inappropriate.  When a woman says, “Ciao, bello” to a man it means, “Let’s go to bed.”

This talent I did not get from my mother.

Despite this, the trip was a fabulous one.  Few people are fortunate enough to say, “I want to relive my 50th birthday all over again” or “I’ve had a close friendship with so-and-so for a half of a century.”  Even fewer can say they’ve taken an 18-day trip with friends without killing each other.  Now THAT’S true friendship.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Once a Nurse, Always a Nurse

Thanks to a string of bad luck this week, I had plenty of time to reminisce with nurses in Urgent Care clinics and the Emergency room.  I will tell you that tripping on a 3” pot hole on the sidewalk can lead to a damaged hand, and that a 24-hour flu bug with more trips to the bathroom than one can count can lead to major dehydration.

But that’s a story for another day.

I decided that once a nurse, one’s always a nurse.  Even when one’s been out of the system for 20 years, things of importance come back to you.  The fall elicited the skill from within of how to splint an injured hand using a flat pack of gum and an ACE bandage.  Not being able to sit up without my ears ringing meant I was dehydrated, not that angels were humming to me.

What I remembered most, though, were nursing school stories and the things nurses find themselves doing to help our patients, for better or worse.

I graduated from nursing school in 1984.  This, to some of you, is equivalent to the Dark Ages.  We drew blood without gloves, some nurses still wore traditional nursing caps, and we used glass thermometers with mercury that one had to shake to get back down to zero degrees for the next patient. 

One of the exciting new additions in the hospital in 1983 was an electric thermometer, the kind they now put under your tongue and…beep… displays the digital reading of your temperature.  Our contraption had a 50-pound base that plugged into the wall.  Attached to this base were four lightweight packs (less than 1 pound each) that nurses removed, hung around their necks, and took into their patients’ rooms when gathering vital signs.

I remember being at the nurses’ station as a student.  Suddenly the chief nurse was running up and down the hall frantically shouting, “Someone’s stolen our new thermometer machine!”  Then, at the far end of the hall, I saw my classmate laboriously lugging the heavy base from one patient’s room to the next with the long cord dragging behind her.  She innocently failed to realize there were portable units.

A nurse friend of mine tells of the time a genuinely grumpy doctor was doing an exam on an elderly woman with poor hearing.  Every time he would say, “Wiggle your toes for me,” she would instead stick out her tongue and wiggle it.  Perhaps this is funny only after working a 12-hour shift, but we laughed and laughed…not at the patient, but at the mental visual of how the not-humored doctor reacted!

Sometimes experience is the best teacher.  A nursing classmate was in charge of collecting and refilling the water pitchers for every room on our hospital floor.  It was her first time.  Suddenly there was a swarm of nursing students coming to her rescue before the instructor could see what had happened.  She had collected every male patient’s plastic urinal and had begun filling them with ice and water.  The only way to save this classmate from getting an F was to come to her aid. 

One of my favorite stories as a brand new nurse took place at Walter Reed in Washington D.C.  I was on the neurosurgical floor with another nurse who followed protocol and textbooks like the law.  That evening we had a young soldier with a brain tumor that could not go to sleep because he kept seeing chickens in his room.

I knew the correct thing to do was to bring him back to reality at all costs.  I wanted to “chase the chickens out of the room” to calm him down, but I also knew I was working with the other nurse who would totally disapprove.  I asked for her help, and she walked into his room to ask what the fuss was all about.

Claiming that he was surrounded by chickens, the nurse stoically walked to his door, methodically looked up and down the hall, and—with all of the composure in the world--walked back in.  She looked at me squarely in the eyes and said, “Let’s do this.”

And with that, she and I started swinging our arms while beckoning, “Shoo, Shoo, Shoo” as we chased the foul out of the room.  Not surprisingly, the patient slept calmly for the rest of the night.

The same nursing classmate who had “stolen” the electric thermometer would later pull another faux pas.  This time she was checking the hearing of a patient.  It is protocol to inform patients to raise a hand when they hear a high or low-pitched sound in the earphones.  Other nursing students walked in half-way through the test.  We stood in amazement as sounds were sent to this patient’s earphones, one after another, with no response. 

Suddenly, the patient jumped from her chair and said, “Whew!  That was a LOUD one!”  Unaware to the rest of us, my friend had failed to tell this woman to raise a hand whenever she heard a sound. 

Let’s just say that I bet her ears were ringing, and this time it wasn’t from dehydration.