Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Walk in the Park

Hannah decided early on today that we needed to go for a walk in the nearby county park. She asked, she pestered, she promised to pack a picnic lunch, and she sat silently beside me, staring quietly while I tried to work. I will admit that by the time I finally decided we could go this evening, I was so annoyed with her that my heart was not in it. Emma elected to stay at home with Matt because she didn't want to put down her book, and I didn't feel like pestering her to come.

Naomi, Hannah, Toby, Elijah and I walked through our subdivision and into a back entrance to the county park around 7:45pm. The weather was a perfect 72 degrees with low humidity and few mosquitos, and I began to feel glad to be out for a walk.

"Don't touch any of the weeds on the sides of the trail!" I called out, cautioning them about the poison ivy on either side of the narrow foot path, like I had warned them a hundred times before. We moved carefully along, single file, until we came out on the clearing by goal 19 of the frisbee golf course and skipped down the railroad-tie-lined stairs to a wooden bridge.

Filled with excitement, Elijah called out, "Hey, Toby! We're going down agent stairs! Agent stairs, Toby!"

"Really?" Naomi asked Elijah, "I didn't know these were spy stairs."

"Can you all stop yelling," I grumbled, "I'm afraid you're going to pop my eardrums."

"Don't worry, Mom," Toby comforted me, "it feels great when they pop."

Hannah had brought along some frozen peas to feed the duck family, so I tested Toby's navigational skills, asking him which way we should go to the find the ducks.

"Hmm…" he said, looking around, "my punctuations tell me that we should go this way."

"His punctuations?" Naomi laughed rolling her eyes, "I think you mean your calculations, Toby."

"Yeah," he nodded, "my calculations. Let's go!"

Toby's punctuations turned out to be correct and we soon arrived at the swamp, but the ducks weren't the least interested in our peas, so we headed off to explore some trails we hadn't been on before.

"I forgot to bring the map," I told the kids. Not the least bit worried myself, I teased them, "I hope we don't get lost in the woods overnight."

We soon found a long, wooden walk way that led us through a marsh, and followed a steep trail up a hill to a lookout.

We followed more trails and made our way farther into the park, but eventually I told the kids it was time to head home. The sun was getting lower and it was nearing bedtime.

"Let's see if the kids can lead us back home," I challenged them. "You can each take turns."

"Ooohhh, noooooo!" Toby whined, wilting like a parched flower, "I can't believe how lost we will be when Elijah leads."

"Hey," Hannah whispered, "Let's let Elijah lead us when we're on the wooden walk-way." They all giggled and agreed. Elijah was thrilled and never caught on to their scheme not to let him get us lost.

After the wooden bridge, it was Toby's turn to lead. The very first fork in the path that he came to, he chose the wrong direction. Naomi looked at me, knowing he was leading us the wrong way, but I shrugged and told her that it was generally the right direction. I thought I knew where he was headed and figured he couldn't get us too lost in a county park.

We happily traipsed along the trial beside the swampy woods in the dimming evening light. Toby soon realized that he had no clue where we were, and asked if we should turn around. "Nah," I said, "we'll pop out of the woods on the road soon. But when we finally did pop out, we were at a shelter house that I'd never seen before. That was the first time I realized I was turned around. The sky was cloudy, giving little hint of which direction held the fading sun. I could have called Matt and asked for directions, but I didn't want to have to do that, so I chose another trail through the woods that seemed to lead in the direction we needed to go.

By now Toby and Elijah were tired and worried. "Mom, is it possible we could actually get stuck in the woods all night?" Toby asked.

"No, buddy," I assured him, "I know where we're going." But I was losing my confidence. When that trail dead-ended at a "Private Property" sign, I actually started to worry. We had maybe thirty minutes of daylight left, and at least a mile to go to get back to our subdivision. We turned down another path with my steps quickening.

When we finally popped out in familiar territory, I sighed, "See, Toby, I knew where we were going. That was fun, wasn't it?"

"More like absolutely terrifying!" he retorted.

"I think I touched poison ivy," Elijah worried, "and you need to check me out for fleas."

Crossing a little bridge Hannah noticed a large, dead turtle floating upside down in the water. We all stood, peering over the bridge and trying not to gag at the rotting sight. "Where are its wings?" Elijah asked. I wasn't sure how to answer that.

Finally making our way back through the frisbee golf course, we met a deer, quietly standing and staring at us. We watched her and whispered, and quietly walked toward her. She flicked her ears and her tail at us and finally walked calmly into the woods.

Eventually we found goal 19 and the foot-path to our subdivision, stepping out onto the streets just as the streetlights were coming on.

"I can't believe Emma missed our adventure!" Hannah moaned. "We saw a really long wooden bridge, a huge hill, a deer, a dead turtle…"

"…agent stairs, fleas..." I added.

"…and we got LOST," she continued. Emma's going to be soooo sad!"

At last, after probably a four-mile walk, we stumbled into our home, only to find Matt and Emma happily challenging each other at a 1990s Super Nintendo soccer game.

"Oh man," Matt said, "You guys missed out."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Toby, Brave and Charming

When we moved to our new house last fall, we moved 20 minutes away from the nearest hospital. Given my kids' health history and semi-frequent-flier status at the ER, I was thrilled to see a brand new urgent care clinic being constructed this spring just five minutes away from our new house. Every time I drove by I thought to myself, "It won't be long until that's going to come in handy."

Yesterday all Toby could talk about was going to the pool. He wanted to go first thing in the morning when he woke up. Unfortunately, we didn't have much food prepared in the house, and I had to spend the afternoon cooking. I told Toby I would do my best to get us to the evening swim session from 6-8pm. He spent the rest of the day asking every few minutes if it was time to put his swim trunks and sunscreen on.

"Is it time to go to the pool yet?" he asked at 1:00pm. "Should we get our swimsuits on, just to be ready?"

"Buddy," I answered, while chopping red peppers and onions, "by the time I get done making the chicken salad sandwiches and flatbreads it's going to be 3:00, and by the time we got to the pool after that it would be closing for swim lessons at 4:00. We're going to have to wait until the 6:00 swim session. That's five hours away. Go find something else to do for awhile."

"Ohhhhh!" he whined, staggering backward with the pain of this news, which I'd already told him twice before, "I can't wait! I'm going to go off the diving board like fifty times! Seriously, I can't wait!"

"Toby, go away," I cautioned him, losing patience, "I will tell you when it's time to get ready."

He managed to spend some time playing in a cape in the back yard, but the heat only reminded him of how much he wanted to swim. He wiggled a loose tooth, and them came to me and begged me to pull it out for him. Growing more annoyed with the interruptions, I grabbed a paper towel and yanked it out, which made him happy for a good fifteen minutes. Eating chicken salad sandwiches on warm, fresh flatbreads cheered him up for awhile, but it wasn't long before he was back to pestering.

"OK, fine," I caved at 5:00pm. "You guys can go put on your swimsuits and sunscreen. Hannah, can you help put the boys' sunscreen on? Emma, bring me your hairbrush and pony tail holders. Let's get ready to go."

"Whaaaahooo!" Toby cheered, running back to his room. "Time to jump off the diving board!"

Within a few minutes we were suited up and lathered up, and Toby was begging to unlock the van. "Sure, buddy," I said, peering into the hallway mirror and smoothing the last bits of sunscreen on my forehead. Toby cheered, turned around, bent over like a track star, and ran full-speed-ahead around the corner toward the kitchen. One second later there was a loud crack, followed by a horrible scream.

All moms know their children's' screams. We can identify from four rooms away which scream means "She stole my legos," which one means, "Someone's chasing me with a squirt gun," and which one means, "I have a paper cut and my life is flashing before my eyes." I have sat calmly and sipped coffee in front of guests who are panicking when my children scream. "No, no, I assure them, that child just stubbed their toe on the bathroom door and they will appear hopping on one foot in three…two…one… cue the hopping child." There are very, very few screams which will raise my heart rate at this point in my mothering career, and when they happen I usually find myself scolding my wounded child with something  like, "Good grief, Hannah, I thought you were actually hurt. I don't want to hear a scream like that again unless you're missing a finger."

But this scream sent an immediate jolt of adrenaline into my mama brain. "Toby!" I called over the screaming. "Come here! Let me see it. OK, buddy, let me see," I coached as he came running with his hand clasped over his left cheek and blood dripping down his face onto his swim shirt and down onto the hardwood floors. Judging by the amount of blood I immediately changed my mind and told him not to take his hand off the wound while I rushed him toward the bathroom.

Of course, the bathroom door was locked, and the occupant was unable to unlock it at the moment. So I shuttled, poor screaming Toby toward the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood drips behind us. I must have had blood on my hands at that point because as I swung my hand up for the paper towels I splattered blood on the counter, the Kitchen aid mixer, the butcher knives, and the wall. I used the first wet paper towel to uncover Toby's face, and the second to dry the wound enough to examine it.

"OK, buddy, OK, " I repeated, "Let me see it. Shhhhh! Take a deep breath and blow it out like birthday candles. There you go. Blow it out again. OK." Trying to keep him calm, I looked at his blood stained shirt and joked, "Well, I don't think you'll be wearing that swim shirt to the pool today."

Instantly Toby's tears welled up again, "Well, can't we just rinse it out or something?" he pleaded.

But looking at the half-inch long, deep, and gaping gash on Toby's left cheek bone, I knew I had to break some tougher news to him. "Kiddo, I don't think we're going to be able to go swimming tonight. I need to let a doctor look at this. You might need stitches."

This is where poor, brave Toby lost it. Talk about adding insult to injury. All he wanted was to go swimming, and now we were heading to the doctor instead. Puddles of tears ran down into the wound and soaked the paper towel he was holding. "I'm so sorry, buddy. I know it stinks, but we need to get you taken care of," I consoled him.

"Do stitches hurt?" he asked.

"Not too much, they give you a medicine to numb your skin so you don't feel much, and sometimes they can just use a glue to hold the cut together."

"Glue?!" he asked again, with wider, wet eyes. "Does glue hurt?"

"Not much at all, I said. You'll be OK, let's get ready to go. Everybody change back into clothes!," I called out, "we're going to go visit the new urgent care building."

By the time we arrived at urgent care and were called back to be seen, Toby was calm and the wound wasn't bleeding much anymore. The doctor looked at the the gash and told me that it was too deep and too gaping for derma-bond glue. "I think it'll come together nicely with a couple sutures," she said.

"Sutures?!" a keen-eared Toby piped up. "What are sutures? Do they hurt?"

The doctor left briefly to gather her supplies and find an assistant. I held Toby's hands and bent down to look in his eyes. "Listen, bud," I coached him, "it's a lot like a blood draw. Remember how you sat so still and brave for your last blood draw, and everybody was so proud of you? Remember how it hurts less if you sit still and brave, and it hurts more if you fight? It's the same with stitches. We need to do them to help that gash heal well, and the doctor will be as gentle as possible. She doesn't want to hurt you, but you have to help her out and be brave, OK?"

He nodded, with his blood-shot eyes all brimming with tears, "OK."

The doctor appeared with a tray of suture supplies, and the assistant came in with a large sheet in her hands. "I think we'll just wrap this around him to help him hold still," she said.

I declined. "He'll be alright without that," I assured her. "He's a tough guy, right Toby?" Toby nodded.

I held Toby's hands, and the assistant helped hold his head still while the doctor washed and sterilized the wound. Elijah and Hannah kept crowding around, trying to watch and I kept shooing them back to their chairs.

"Are you a homeschool family?" the doctor asked. When I said that we were, she replied, "I knew it. I can always tell. They're so well behaved."

"Aw, thanks," I answered, "you hear that, Toby, you're doing a good job!"

The doctor smiled, "He's doing awesome."

The worst part was the needle with the numbing medicine. Toby tensed up. Tears welled up again. I coached him to take deep breaths and blow them out and he followed my instructions. Once he realized the the wound was numb, he relaxed and smiled. Then he turned on the charm.

"Can you feel that?" the doctor asked, pinching his cheek.

"Nah, I'm good," he responded cooly, and giving a thumbs up. He laughed a little as the doctor pulled the sutures through his skin under his eye and tied them up. We talked for a minute about how a third suture might help, and I told the doctor to go ahead and put a third in if he needed it.

"Yeah," Toby agreed, "go ahead. I'm good. I'm so good."

We all chuckled at his bravery. "I guess I don't need to hold his head," the assistant laughed.

"Toby, you've done better than a lot of grown men who come in here for stitches," the doctor praised him. "I have an idea, when you come back in five days to get these removed, you can just stay with me, OK? I'd like to keep you."

Toby beamed with pride and with relief when the stitches were finished. After a dab of antibiotic ointment and a dump trucks band-aid, which his mother would be way too cheap to ever buy for him, he was all set to go.

"Toby you can come back and visit us any time you want to, OK?" the doctor said, "We wouldn't mind  helping you again at all."

I thought that might be a dangerous invitation for a seven-year-old boy, but I appreciated the compliment and the grin it put on Toby's face. His grin faded a little when they gave us the final care instructions, which included no swimming for a full week, but he kept his brave face on, nodding, "That's OK, I'm good."

Everyone was chuckling as we left with Toby waving good-bye and thanking them for the stitches. After a popsicle, some Tylenol, and a cartoon of his choice at home, Toby was ready for bed. When I reminded him that the tooth fairy also owed him a dollar for that tooth he lost earlier, and told him I'd pay him upfront, since the tooth fairy is sometimes unreliable, he was all grins.

How's he doing today? He's good. He's so good.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Toby Finds His Flippers

Sometime about four years ago I looked at my five small children and thought: "This summer I HAVE to start teaching this rabble how to ride bikes and how to swim. I might just die before I ever get all five of my kids riding bikes and swimming, but I'll have to die trying. If by some miracle they all learn to ride bikes and swim to save their lives, my work on this earth will be done."

Now, teaching any child to ride a bike or swim is a challenging task, but you have to know that Naomi and Emma have extra difficulties with balance and coordination. Naomi, who has mild autism, also absolutely couldn't stand the feeling of water on her face, and Toby has been afraid to death of water since he was a toddler. He never wanted to be at a swimming pool, splash pad, or anywhere else wet. I had my work cut out for me.

And so, four years ago, I started running behind wobbly bikes, bandaging scraped knees, and encouraging discouraged hearts. I started forcefully holding screaming children in the water while they pled for their lives and lifeguards gave me questioning looks. I stood for hours that added up to weeks, coaching and coaxing my kids to put their ears under water, relax and float, coordinate their strokes, not panic if they got splashed, be brave, put their head under water, relax and kick...

And you guys, by some miracle, one by one, they began to ride on their own! And we cheered and grabbed the camera and threw little parties for each one. And this summer all five of my kids are riding bikes all on their own!

And one by one the girls began to swim. They began to pass the pool swim test and proudly get tagged with the bright orange tag that allows them to jump off the diving board. One by one, they began to gather up their courage and jump off the diving board and I would hold my breath each time until their head popped up above the water and they swam to the edge with ease. And we threw little celebrations in the pool and even the lifeguards smiled.

Toby screamed for a full hour and a half last summer when I first forced him into the water. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, he gathered up his courage and learned to float and almost swam last summer. I hated when the pool closed last fall because I was afraid I would lose all that progress over the winter.

Last week we got our summer season passes to the local pool again and started hitting the pool at least three days a week. I almost couldn't believe it, but Toby got right in and picked up right where he left off last August. In the last two weeks, Toby has learned to back float and swim on his back, swim on his front with a sort-of breast stroke, and tread water. He got up his courage and went down the water slides, even though that meant his head went under the water at the end, and today…today he gathered up his courage and took the pool swim test.

The lifeguard who gave the test, just happened to be one who had watched Toby for three years: watched him sit happily on the side of the pool with a life preserver on while I taught his sisters to swim, watched him scream and fight me last summer, and watched him grow his flippers this summer. "OK, buddy, let's go," he said. Toby clenched his fists and mustered his courage as he walked to the pool, then he floated, and swam, and treaded water in the deep end, and he passed that test!!!

Oh my word, we whooped and hollered, and all the lifeguards smiled, and Toby got tagged!

Ahhh! I'm almost done folks, four kids are swimming now. Maybe, just maybe I'll get Elijah swimming this summer, but judging by the way he screamed when I took his life jacket off today, I might still have some work ahead of me.