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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sailing Away

One day when I have the time I’ll get my bone-on-bone knees replaced. I almost did about five years ago, but then decided I had better things to do with my life. In the meantime, I ache, I throb, I creak, I cringe, but I still manage to eke out a very happy and active existence. On any given day I can walk five miles, ride my bike 30 miles, swim 50 laps and lift the middle-sized Styrofoam weights in my water aerobics class.

However, I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t stand for hours on end and I have to be ever- conscious of my movements. But, I’ve learned to deal. Like when I am pedaling away through Saddle River Park and a floating piece of something gets caught in my knee cap, I simply dismount, put my left leg up as high as my right and left arms can lift it, drape it over a park bench, massage the floater back into place and get back in the saddle and ride another 15 miles. I can’t skip down the stairs so I just do the senior-citizen, same-foot shuffle, one step at a time.  I can’t weed the garden without my old-lady bench and haven’t been able to get on my hands and knees to scrub a floor since the kids hit middle school. I can’t jump off my roof if I have to escape a raging fire like I did in college, but the odds of that happening again are slim.

All in all, I have my aching bones pretty well under control.

Or so I thought. Until I tried stepping from a dock into a dinghy.  

In the beginning of August, my ever-loving spouse and I went on road trip to Maine. We hadn’t traveled together in the same car at the same time to the same place for selfish purposes in quite some time. Years of being pulled in opposite directions with opposing children put us out of practice. But when we got the invitation to spend a weekend with my spouse’s favorite cousins at the wedding of one of their lovely children, we didn’t blink an eye before booking our room in the inn overlooking Sheepscot Bay.

The wedding was as perfect as we knew it would be. The weather, guests and family members all collaborated in cheerful jubilation. The bride was beautiful; the groom was dashing. The parents were proud; the buddies were beaming. The food trucks were awesome and the dogs were well-behaved.

After blueberry pancakes on Sunday morning, we bit adieu to the newlyweds and their entourage and headed north to Rockland to meet my college roommate, Betsy, and her husband, Tom. The plan was to go sailing for the day, then drive south to Higgins Beach to Betsy’s family’s house and stay for two nights

Betsy and Tom are ruggedly efficient outdoorspeople. My spouse is one of those robust and resilient Outward Bound alums who excels at anything remotely athletic. And then there’s me. I’m sporty. I like nature. I appreciate beauty. But I have my limits. I’m kind of a priss when it comes down to it.

I've spent my fair share of time on the water. I've canoed, kayaked, ridden in speed boats and been on more cruises than I can count. But I'd never been sailing. And while it was not on my bucket list, I knew my spouse would love leaning precariously over the side of a sailboat as he learned the basics from master mariners. And I knew that Betsy and Tom would be the ultimate sea dog hosts, enthusiastically sharing their love of the sea with someone who could appreciate their passion.

And I could come along for the ride. 

Betsy has known me long enough to simply shake her head at my intense aversion to sand, and to play into my need for knowing exactly what I was getting into.

“Don’t worry. There’s no sand at the marina,” she told me. “Wear sneakers, bring a jacket, sunscreen, a hat, maybe a beach towel and that’s it. Leave your phone in the car. You can help sail or just enjoy the day.”

I did exactly as she told me, except I broke two rules. I didn’t bring a hat. I have never worn a hat in my life and wasn’t about to start. And, I opted to bring wear my flip flops and bring the sneakers along to put on if and when I needed to. Because, despite how often I get cold feet, having hot feet can drive me to drink.

When we reached the marina I grabbed the canvas LL Bean bag that had been packed up as my sailing day bag for over a week. We parked the car and headed to the dock where Tom was waiting in the dinghy.

Tom and Betsy share a sailboat with Tom’s siblings and consider cramming together in close quarters a vacation. They had just finished a week-long sail up the coast of Maine and for much of the time had other human beings eating, sleeping and peeing on the boat.  

 Tom tossed my spouse the week’s trash and asked him to take it up to the dumpster, instructing me to get in the dinghy while he was doing that.

Now, the dinghy is a little wooden boat named Sandy. It has a little wooden seats and little wooden oars. And a little wooden bottom. Tom was pulled up flush to the dock, but it was a step down. A big step down. For someone with two bad knees and a fear of the unknown. 

I clutched my carefully-packed canvas bag and asked Tom what to do.

“Just get in the boat,” he said. “Just step in the middle.”

And, so I did. Or I thought I did. But whatever I did, I did it wrong.

Because, there I was, spread-eagled with my right leg in the dinghy and my left leg on the dock. The dinghy tilted and tipped and water splashed in Tom’s face. He didn’t yell. He didn’t laugh. He simply grabbed the dock to steady the boat. And I took the plunge, knowing I had a split second to keep from a landing a full-out split. I leaped into the hull of the boat, landing on all fours, one leg twisted behind me under the little wooden bench seat, the other in praying position. I turned my head in time to watch the little canvas bag go bobbing away in the bay.

A quick-thinker, Tom grabbed the bag with an oar, saving one of my favorite blue Nikes, orthotics intact. The other sneaker floated off, under the dock.

Meanwhile, inch-by-inch, I managed to right myself. I wasn’t scared of broken bones or bruised egos, but just that I’d capsize the boat completely. But somehow that didn’t happen.

“Let me take you out to the sailboat and then I’ll go back for your spouse,” Tom suggested.

I climbed red-faced up into my college roommate's warm embrace, a task infinitely easier than getting down into the dinghy. Betsy cackled as I told her about my traumatic take-off. But,efficient first-mate that she is, when she saw the soaked specimens that I had so painstakingly packed, she got right to work wringing out my wet belongings.

“I did bring sneakers like you told me,” I promised.

And with that, the boys rowed up, soggy shoe in hand. In a life-defying maneuver, Captain Tom was able to rescue the runaway, and unsinkable Nike from under the dock.

I settled in to my seat on the sailboat, vowing not to make a move for the rest of the afternoon. My spouse got right in on the action as I knew he would and learned to do whatever it is they do on sailboats when the captain yells, “Hard-a-lee.” 

I sat in my corner, holding on for dear life as we glided across the picturesque Penobscot Bay. 

And eventually, the serenity of sailing got the better of me and I bravely made my way to the front of the ship, sitting on the point which I’m sure has a real name, with my dear old friend. Two Betsy’s, as different as can be, watching the world go by while our ever-loving spouses sailed us around on a picture-perfect day.

Tomorrow I am heading out on my yearly cruise with Penny (aka Patty). And while she's been a wreck about the impending hurricane, I'm way more concerned about the excursion we have booked in Bermuda. 

We're going sailing on a catamaran.

But maybe this time I'll have an umbrella drink or two before I board.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

And they're off...

They’re going fast and furious, the college-bound.

We read about them on Facebook as they take off for parts unknown. Logan leaves for Arizona, Danielle shakes it up in San Francisco. And Isabelle shuffles off to South Carolina. Juliette jaunts out to Morgantown, Daniel moseys off to Massachusetts and Jordan makes his way to Maryland. Raquel drives down to Delaware and Alex flies to Dublin. As in Ireland. 

One by one they’re going. And parents across America are so distraught that they completely forget all the times they prayed to gods they didn't believe in to make this day come quickly and quietly.

And when the day comes, you're a mess. You hoped to be happy, but you find out you're sad. You expected to be tearful, but instead you're ecstatic. There's no accounting for the emotions swirling inside your head and your heart and the only sure bet is that you'll be blindsided, one way or another.

It’s easy for me this year. I don't have a freshman so the only pain I'm feeling is financial. Leo, as the two others before him, convinced me it was way more economical to live in an apartment than in a dorm sophomore year. After many trips to IKEA, I realize I've spent more on his apartment than my parents spent on my tuition. 

But I remember. 

Last year at this time I was facing what I had both longed for and feared for twenty-some years. An empty nest.  I had great plans. Candlelit dinners, European vacations, clean closets. But I blinked an eye and it was Thanksgiving. Then the very, very long winter break. And then the interminable sixteen week-long summer about which I wrote fourteen weeks ago. And yes, it went just as I expected.

Just a lot quicker.

And here we are again, that time of year when parents are posting precious pictures of their kindergarten-turned-college-bound children.

“Where did the time go?” they lament. And their friends respond with heartfelt advice for surviving the semester.

I sent three children off to college and experienced a totally different emotion with each.  Unadulterated joy. Overwhelming sadness. And unfamiliar emptiness.

When I dropped my first-born and favorite daughter in North Carolina, I fist-pumped the air and let out a whooping whoo-hoo! 

She did the same.

She had gotten into her dream school and I knew that her dreams were going to come true. I had no doubt that she was going to have the time of her life and meet lifelong friends and learn life’s hard lessons along the way. It was exciting. It was joyful. It was life. It was time.

It had been a very long eighteen years.

When Max transferred to the University of Southern California, I felt no joy. It’s possible that the price tag on that education usurped any feelings of happiness I could possibly have mustered up, but I think there’s probably more to it than that.

Sending your child to college in California and expecting to ever see them again is kind of like sending a kid into a room full of puppies and hoping they say, “No thanks, Mom. I don’t really want one.”

We flew out to LA together, spent copious amounts of money at the local Target and had a ball tooling around town for three days before school started.  I woke up on our last day together feeling rather out of sorts but bumbled through the day swallowing hard when I thought ahead.

When it came time for me to leave for the airport, Max walked me to the garage where my rental car was parked. We hugged hard but I held it together until I saw him saunter away in the rear view mirror.

Then I really let loose with twenty years of stored up sobbing. The heaving, can't-catch-my-breath, passion-filled, exhausting type of tears.

Until, Tap. Tap. Tap. I looked to my left and there he was, witnessing my breakdown. He had come back to say goodbye one more time.

When Leo left for college last year, I thought it would be a piece of cake. After all, he was only going 40 miles away and I had been through this before. Twice. I knew just how quickly time goes and how easily we adjust to life without uneaten meals and overflowing laundry baskets and left-up toilet seats. I knew that life goes on and attacks the void with a vengeance. 

But still.

Leo had never been a talker. I used to joke that he had only said 18 words to me in 18 years. But when the two of us made a 500-mile overnight drive to get him home for a high school baseball game after his sister's college graduation, I said, “You better talk so I don’t fall asleep.”

He talked the entire way home and still hasn’t stopped.

Leo become my pal that summer before college, something I was kind of bitter about. It would be a whole lot easier to say goodbye to someone who still just grunted. Instead, it was like I had just met a fascinating friend who was moving away.

The days leading up to his departure were filled with kids. Slamming doors. Blaring music. Empty pizza boxes. And lots of laughter. Yet my house and my heart had never felt emptier. 

I watch and grin as university names show up on Facebook profiles and college stickers make their way onto back windows of family cars. Some are crossing the country and some just crossing the county. They're going to Penn State and Pitt. Temple and Towson. UT Austin and Colby College. Arizona and Georgetown. Notre Dame and Northeastern. McGill and Montclair State. Dominican College, Becker College and Post University. Rutgers and Rowan and College of Charleston.

I get misty-eyed thinking about all the hope that's wrapped up in those last parental hugs. All the dreams. All the possibilities. All the expectations.

I laugh out loud as I imagine what's running through the freshman brain in the midst of those stronghold hugs. All the freedom. All the adventures. All the beer.

And then I gulp, thinking about what's to come. My first college graduate moved halfway across the country and isn't apt to return to her attic bedroom anytime soon. But, the next is graduating this May.

Would he, could he, move back home?

Well, if nothing else, it will give me something to write about.

Here's hoping all you freshman have an absolute ball. And, don't forget to call your mothers.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Nerve!

My kids go to the dentist like it’s Dairy Queen. They don’t cringe. They don’t hyperventilate. They don’t cancel the appointment three times before they’re brave enough to go. Of all my parenting faux pas, one of the few I did not commit was the passing on of my dental phobia.

The boys have never had a cavity, but the poor girl hasn’t been as lucky. She had her first root canal when she was nine. On a baby tooth.

I had a root canal. When I was pregnant with her.  

“I can give you novocaine, but have to give it to you without the epinephrine so we don’t harm the baby,” the could-be-a-little-more-empathetic (and since forsaken) dentist announced.

“What’s the epinephrine?” I asked, stricken.

“That’s what makes the novocaine last. The staying power. So, if you feel it wearing off, just raise your hand and we’ll give you another shot.”

So, there I sat, white-knuckled and waiting for that inevitable zing of metal-on-nerve while the dentist dug his little ridged files, one after the other, deep into the root of my tooth.

A decade later, when the pediatric dentist recommended a root canal on the baby tooth of my firstborn, I agreed. I’d like to think I questioned her motives and at least made an attempt to circumvent the procedure. I really don’t remember. Either way, I consider it poetic justice.

But, suffering builds character and courage. I suspect that was my father’s thinking.

“Ah, the kids don’t need novocaine!” he’d tell Dr. Lang, the family dentist.

After all, my father had had twelve cavities drilled in one sitting in the Navy. Without novocaine. 

And he was quite a character.

My daughter grew up to have character. And courage. She teaches underprivileged children in the Katrina-ravaged city of New Orleans and is bravely adding grad school to her schedule this year. She spent several weeks backpacking in Thailand and Cambodia and some place called Laos this summer. Alone. And, she somehow survived the blood and subsequent stitches after stepping hard on a sharp blade that inexplicably flew out of a blender and onto her kitchen floor.

But still, she has never had dental work without novocaine.

A month ago, while munching my nightly popcorn, a molar, that had been minorly aching for quite some time, broke off and was consumed as a kernel.

Sadly, my beloved dentist, Dr. Apfel, had recently left his practice to fulfill a lifelong dream of living in Israel. I had been going to him for at least 15 years and he knew all about my tootsie roll habit, the prohibition of sharp, metal objects in my mouth until completely numbed and the genuine joy I'd emote when he’d dismiss me with a “Let’s just watch Number 16.”

But alas, there I sat, broken-toothed and dentist-less with bile rising in my over-anxious stomach.

I started texting frantically for recommendations.

When my friend Susan replied, “I LOVE Dr. Tsatsaronis,” I didn’t bother trying to pronounce his name. I just called. Because, really, how often does anyone say they love their dentist?

Much to my chagrin, he fit me in that day. I went shaking and quaking and had lengthy meaningless conversations with the lovely ladies at the front desk, spewing out non-sequiturs and telling tall tales while they apologized profusely for keeping me waiting.

Keeping me waiting? They could have kept me waiting for three hours and I’d never complain.

Nor did I have a thing to complain about when a half-hour later I waltzed out of the office without having had a single metal object poked in a single open wound. After swearing that I had no pain, the good doctor assured me I could go off on my little vacation and be just fine. I could get the crown upon my return.

And, so off I went, on my little vacation to Maine where, though I was constantly cognizant of the cavernous hole in which my tongue hung out, I didn’t even feel a pang of pain when I haphazardly crunched on a sourdough pretzel nugget.

But, all too soon, my little vacation was over and it was time to visit the good doctor once again.

And despite all the little mind games I played, I still couldn’t shake my fear.

I tried reminding myself that I had endured three c-sections, one gallbladder removal, a hysterectomy, a three-week bout with pancreatitis, including a week in ICU, a double mastectomy and a hip replacement, not to mention the everyday aches and pains of raising three hellions. But my brain responded with, “Yeah, but not one of those things can compare to the blood-curdling zap of an electric drill hitting a live nerve.”

I told my spiraling-out-of-control mind that it would all be over in two hours. But two hours is an awful long time to be tortured.

Yes, the appointment was two hours long. But there's no second appointment. The office is ultra-modern and has a little machine that creates crowns on the spot. You just have to wait while it’s molded. No temporary. No return. One and done.

My legs stuck to the faux-leather chair as the dentist and his assistant, appropriately named Mercy, lowered me down, down, down. I warned them not to gasp. Not to say anything like, “Ohhh. Much deeper than we thought.” Or, “Never seen anything quite like this.” Or, “You should have thought about this before eating all that crap.” I made them promise not to exchange knowing looks over my head nor to drill for too long at one time. I begged for additional doses of novocaine.

I started feeling better when I discovered there was a television in the ceiling and I could watch Access Hollywood while he drilled. And drilled. And drilled.

But he never hit a nerve. Or if he did, I didn’t feel it.

I got to thinking, as I skipped out of the office with that shiny new tooth, that it had probably been at least 40 years since the long deceased Dr. Lang sharpened my nerves with his power tool.

And in my blubber-lipped state of mind, I wondered if it really was as bad as I remembered. Maybe the way to get over my dental phobia once and for all was to take it like a man. No novocaine. Like my father in the Navy. 

I used to be scared of bumblebees. But when my sister moved into her old house and I opened a built-in bureau drawer and got swarmed and stung, the pain was nowhere near as bad as I had feared all those years.

I also remembered that I used to be scared to be a mother. And then I became one. Three times over. And while I was able to ease the pain of childbirth with a nice stiff shot in my spine, I soon learned there's nothing like the pain a mother feels with every one of her children's broken hearts, broken dreams and broken teeth.

So maybe I should forget that silly notion of nixing novocaine. Because whether it's given by needle or by hug, a little numbing is sometimes exactly what we need.