Overheated

T has his first real babysitting gig this summer. He’s watching our friend’s six year old and seven year old three mornings a week so that their mom can work. Yesterday he biked home, plopped down on the back deck and said, “that was worth WAY more than $30.” He proceeded to regale me with tales of fishing (“…and then the hook got caught in a frog and that was the end of fishing”), finding outdoor activities to entertain the kids (“she said the only thing to do outside was eat grass. That doesn’t even make sense”), feeding them (“…so I said, ‘what do you mean you don’t like it? You haven’t even tried it’ and I made them take another bite since they didn’t even give it a chance) and generally dealing with kids. I nearly bit my tongue off trying not to laugh.

He was still red-faced and sweaty – “I got over 10,000 steps and that doesn’t even count the bike ride there and back – and it’s not even 1:00!” – as I sent him inside for water and food. “I’m so hot I can barely eat,” he yelled through the still-open door. “Drink some water!” I yelled back, “and close the door!”

I grew up in South Carolina, so I made some remark about my wimpy Canadian kids (conveniently forgetting my response to winter) and casually ignored him. Wuss.

This morning, I took a long walk before it got too hot, then headed over to a friend’s house. My pre-teen slept in his attic room until moments before his buddy showed up at 11. His dad roused him & sent him off, tousled and unfed, to the local park. T didn’t have time to complain about how hot his room had been last night before they were out the door. The boys scooted around for over an hour, then took their pocket money and headed to Subway for lunch. Each of them put on a mask before heading inside.

And then: disaster. Apparently T knew that he was feeling nauseated and a little dizzy, apparently they tried to tell the guy behind the counter that T felt sick, but they’re 12 and wearing masks and… he didn’t hear them or didn’t listen until my Canadian boy sat down and threw up.

Horrified, the boys shoved their subs and sodas into a backpack and left. Then the reality set in: what if it’s covid? T’s buddy was stoic. He accompanied him home, mask on, two metres apart, making sure T was ok. When they got to our house, he came up the driveway and found me on the back deck (just getting ready to write, in fact), and blurted out what had happened. Meanwhile, T came through the house, briefly spoke with his dad, and arrived on the back deck similarly upset. “What if I have covid? I have to get tested!

The boys were doing an elaborate dance to maintain their distance, and T’s friend still had his mask on. Both of them were sweating. T was upset that he might have gotten people sick. “I have the symptoms!” he moaned, “I’m really tired!” I was trying to get T to sit down. His friend was trying to call his parents but his cell phone only works on wifi and he didn’t have our password. After a chaotic minute or two passed, I managed to get my hand onto my child’s forehead. As I suspected: cool & clammy. “Heat exhaustion,” I proclaimed, and both boys looked at me doubtfully. Still, I held my ground, and moments later one boy was outside with a telephone and the other inside with a glass of water.

Parents came to pick up T’s buddy, arrangements were made for the left-behind bike, mid-day movies were approved, and everyone was fine. Within the hour, T declared heat exhaustion a pretty good deal: he got to stay in during the day, be on a screen, drink lemonade and eat ice cream. He even dangled the idea that maybe he shouldn’t babysit tomorrow because it’s still going to be really hot, and he might get overheated again. “The problem is,” he said, “I’m so hot that sometimes I just have to play it cool.” I groaned and told him that he’s still babysitting.

As I sat down to write again, I found myself reflecting: T’s friend thought this was the moment that he had been exposed to the very disease we’ve upended society to avoid, but he didn’t leave and he didn’t panic. He brought T home and made sure he was ok. He kept himself as safe as he could and took care of his friend. He even made sure T had his lunch before heading home with his dad.

That is a friend indeed. We’ll keep that kid around.

Almost in: Slice of Life 8/31 #SOL20

Today was going to be my day of not writing. I had pre-forgiven myself & reminded myself that I started this month’s challenge knowing that I might not write every day because our renovations are finishing up and we’re moving home. Yesterday, the movers came & took nearly everything out of the apartment we’ve been renting for nine months and moved it all over to our house. They didn’t take everything because of the *tiny* hiccup where our house has not yet been declared “fit for occupancy.” (See here for the whole story.) Which means that we packed and then unpacked all day yesterday, then went back to our almost barren apartment and slept on air mattresses (with two very freaked out cats).

Today promised to be another long & exhausting day with only the air mattresses to look forward to tonight. I woke up ready but already tired. No point in writing, I figured. No one wants to hear about unpacking. And then this happened:

 

Our friends showed up. Tara and Isabella organized almost our entire kitchen. Ed built one of the kids’ beds while Andre toiled away at the master bedroom. Peter and Anita showed up with beer and more kids. Carmen and her girls popped in to say hello and one stayed to help (her sister had a class, or I’m sure she would have stayed, too). Lara & Reagan came with banana bread and stayed to set up Thomas’s room.

Even the 9-year-olds got involved. We challenged them (ok, bribed them) to clear the 4-ish inches of ice from the front walkway. Look at this: img_2404

Not only did they use an ice chopper and a sledgehammer, but our next door neighbour, Mike, came over and gave them lots of tips while he cheered them on (but didn’t do it for them). They got that entire walkway cleared from a winter’s worth of ice.

And now here I am in a house that is newly full of friendship and laughter. The inspector may not think this house is ready for occupancy, but I know that it is.

And how could I not write about this day?

(PS – I will be even happier when we get to sleep here – maybe tomorrow.)

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Slice of Life: #sol19 1/31

I am in a Starbucks somewhere on Long Island. It was bustling when I walked in, maybe 20 people in this coffee shop in a strip mall  in the middle of the morning, but now it is quieter. Calming, folksy music swirls around me, the kind of music I feel like I should be able to identify but can’t quite place. A copy of the New York Times lays, untouched, on the long table next to me. A man wearing a smart charcoal pinstriped suit just sat down, hitching up his pants and revealing black socks with large pink polka dots. The woman with the four tiny paw prints tattooed behind her left ear has already left.

I woke up at 4:10 this morning with my youngest child’s body snuggled against me. He had nightmares last night and ended up in my bed; I had to get up early, so I didn’t take the time to get up and put him back in his own. I was at the airport by 5 and touched down in Laguardia by 8. A light dusting of snow seemed to have surprised everyone, or so said the shuttle bus driver as he ferried me, alone, to the car rental.

I’ve driven for an hour and am now sitting in Starbucks, sipping tea and waiting in the gray morning to go my friend’s father’s funeral. A year ago, on March 4, I was also writing about attending a funeral of a friend’s father.

As I started to write, I expected to feel morbid or to be reflecting on mortality. I expected to feel more…sad. Instead, I feel lucky. The crowd is picking up again and now I recognize the song they’re playing. The hum and buzz of conversation, the dance of patrons coming and going, sitting with one another and alone, the knowledge that soon I will see my friend – even if only briefly… all of this combines with the slight uptick in spirits that I often feel at the beginning of a new month and the excited butterflies in my stomach knowing that I have committed to writing – and publishing! – every day for a month. I am not sad. Life is so generous, and right at this minute I am committed to soaking up all of that generosity.

In a few minutes I will leave. I know that I will, indeed, feel sorrow. Tonight, after driving an hour back to the airport and flying all the hours home, I will be exhausted. Tomorrow I may be crabby.

But right now, in this slice of my life, I feel momentarily expectant. And… it’s time to go.

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Thanks to twowritingteachers.org for hosting this inspirational month of writing

Tick off

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When the phone rang I was in the middle of giving the “ten-minutes-till-bedtime” warning. But since it was her, I picked up. Because you can tell a real friend hello and goodbye in mere seconds if you need to. Because she doesn’t usually call at almost bedtime. Because I always like to hear what she has to say.

Well, I *usually* like to hear what she has to say. But maybe not when she says, “Hi, um, can you check your texts? I sent you some pictures.” Because, though none of my students appear to believe this, nothing good ever comes from an urgent request to look at pictures on your phone.

Sure enough, I checked my phone and yelped, “That’s a tick! Why are you sending me pictures of ticks?”

As it turns out, the tick had decided to take up residence near her daughter’s armpit.

“Um, that tick is already embedded,” I observed helpfully. Unsurprisingly, they knew that. They had actually called to see if I knew how to get it out. In theory, the answer was yes; in practice the answer was not yet

Since nobody wants to pull a tick out of their child on their own – at least not the first time – and since apparently not yet is better than not ever, they hopped in the car and headed over to my place. Meanwhile, I cleverly googled “how to remove a tick” (pro-tip: pretty much everything except “pull it out with tweezers” is an old wives’ tale) and then called my father.

Now, before you judge me for making an international phone call to a 73-year-old man to talk about a relatively common and seriously tiny creature, I should mention that my dad is an infectious disease doctor. Ok, and I should also mention that I was really just calling for moral support because he and my stepmother basically live in the woods, and I am decidedly a city girl. They have tick experience. Dad told me to pull the tick out with tweezers, but he added some extra things like “watch for fever for the next ten days” to make me feel like the call was worthwhile.

When my friend arrived, we left my boys downstairs, supposedly making their lunches but really listening carefully at the bottom of the stairs to hear if there was any screaming. My friend, her daughter and I headed up to the bathroom with the good lighting to look at the tick.

It was a tick, alright. It  was also very contentedly settled in under the 10-year-old’s arm. With more bravado than bravery, I held the tweezers, her mom held her hand, and I pulled the tick out. That was it.

This result seemed all-too-easy for such a dramatic situation, so we fretted for a while about whether or not we’d gotten the whole tick. Our concerns mostly led us to poke the poor child’s tick bite repeatedly with the (sanitized) tip of a safety pin. She was surprisingly patient with our ministrations, possibly because she was convinced that if we left any of the tick behind undefined but horrible things would happen, possibly because she guessed that her friends were downstairs listening for screams.

Finally, we declared her tick-free, swabbed just about everything we could reach with rubbing alcohol (because that’s what the website said to do), and headed back downstairs. The boys pretended that they had spent the whole time packing their lunches, the girl grabbed the dinner she had brought along (we had rudely interrupted with our concerns about her potentially imminent death-by-tick), and her mom put the bottle with the tiny tick corpse into her pocket – “just in case it has Lyme disease,” she said, though I’m not sure how having the tick body will help. We hugged, they left, and just like that the drama was over.

New definition of friendship: will remove a tick from your child’s body, during dinner and/or at bedtime.

What surprises me

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What surprises me when I see her 6 weeks later

Not the mock shyness as she stands in my doorway, eyeing me.
She asked to see me.
Not the slender length of her limbs.
She’s four; she might have grown.
Not the wild flare of her colorful skirt as she twirls around.
She is still all energy.
Not the hand-knitted heavy socks defying August heat in blue plastic shoes.
She has her own style.
Not the shameless request for food as her mother sighs, “I just tried to feed her.”
She knows where I hide the treats.
Not even the soft scratchiness of her newly-shaved hair.
I have seen the pictures.

What surprises me is the heat of her head as she tucks her whole body into my embrace;
What surprises me is the sheer hot truth of her.

 

Today, after nearly 6 weeks away, I got to see my friend’s child for the first time since she started chemo. She is doing well & the chemo is doing its job. There is a long journey ahead, to be sure, but right now it is marked by optimism. Much of our visit was the same as always; much of it was not. When they left, I couldn’t stop thinking of her and chose to write this.

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The doctor is IN

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I was sitting in the English office, staring at the computer, chin resting awkwardly in one hand when she came in with two dozen eggs. Two dozen farm eggs, collected this morning before school. “I HAVE YOUR EGGS!” She is always this enthusiastic.  “WHOA! YOU DON’T LOOK SO HAPPY!” She is even this enthusiastic when she is being empathetic. She pulled out a chair and plopped right in. “WHAT’S WRONG?” Even this enthusiastic when she is asking questions.

What’s wrong? Well, nothing and everything of course. I’d been sitting at that computer, staring it down, wondering what to write for today’s slice. I usually write my slice on Mondays, but that hadn’t happened because I was distracted by a thorny issue. Okay, thorny issues, plural. Today I’d had a meeting before school, another at lunch and one more was scheduled for after school. I’ve been running like crazy, and I’ve had no time to breathe much less think. I’ve been so caught up that I haven’t even replied to the comments on my last post, haven’t even started reading today’s slices. In the moment of quiet before she came in, I’d been mulling things over and trying to sort the public from the private. I wasn’t so worried about what to write as what not to write, and what not to write had been weighing me down.

Though I hadn’t thought to seek her out, I couldn’t have asked for a better sounding board than our chief custodian. She is amazing. I swear I can tell she’s coming before she opens the door. She laughs so loudly you can hear her a hallway away. She curses freely in French. She sells us farm eggs and Epicure cooking spices. If you report a spill, a clogged toilet, graffiti, a broken window… anything, really, she will have it fixed, sometimes before you manage to tell your office mates you’ve reported it. She dressed as Super Mario for Halloween. She posts all the funny results of her goofy Facebook quizzes. Everyone in the school talks to her. I’ve threatened to put a picture from Peanuts where Lucy plays Psychiatrist  – The doctor is “in” – on her door. She is a force of nature.

Five minutes after she sat down, five minutes after I just spilled all the things that I haven’t been able to talk about with others because of that whole public/private issue, five minutes after she focused the whole of herself on me, I was done. “OUAIS,” she drawled, her English peppered with French, “YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, FOR SURE.” She nodded, thoughtfully, considering her next words: “YOU ARE FRIED. GO HOME.” I told her about the meeting after school. “WELL THEN, GO HOME AFTER THAT. YOU CAN HANDLE IT.”

And you know, she wasn’t wrong. I am fried. I did need to go home. I can handle it. And now, thanks to her, I’ve written my slice, too.

She turned around as she left the office, “ALSO, YOU OWE ME EIGHT DOLLARS FOR THE EGGS. YOU CAN BRING IT TOMORROW.”

 

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Read more slices every Tuesday at https://twowritingteachers.org – and maybe join in!