the days and weeks when we hold our breath
it started out, the story of a sprain. a plain old twisted ankle. only drama here, i thought, was that it happened on a hilly winding road along a godforsaken lake the other eve, not long past dusk, when the murky fingers of the night creep in from the woods, make it hard to see and be seen. and when you’re a boy who’s had a bump or two on trails, you know, learned the hard way, that you don’t go out for runs or rides without a way of calling home.
well, he called home, all right, when he went down, when the ankle curled and caved and came screeching to a halt.
only, silly parents, we didn’t get the calls. and there were 12 of them. kept calling me, he did, but i was on the phone with my dear aunt, and didn’t know the incessant beeping noise was something other than a battery winding down, running out of phone-call juice. and his papa, well, he’s not so attached to that little ringing box we call the cell phone, so he’d left his out in the car.
poor kid rang and rang and rang. no one answered. and the murky light got murkier, near dark. and there he was, miles from home, and not even hobbling, and way up north in michigan, where just the summer before he’d ached so bad in the woods it took months and months for him to heal, to heal in ways that don’t involve just muscles.
at last, after turning down 911’s offer for an ambulance (he thought that a bit much to arrive home a la siren for a simple twisted ankle), he got through.
at last, i’d hung up with dear aunt nanc, and heard my little ringing box do its ring dance.
right away i saw the name, his name. looked out the window, saw the dark. thought, oh geez, please no. please just be calling me to say the moon is swell, i oughta get down to the dock and drink it in.
i heard the tears, the where-in-the-world-have-you-been, the i-am-hurting-and-it’s-dark, mom, and i’m-2.4-miles-down-a-long-and-winding-road, and i-can’t-walk, mom.
i barely touched each step of the stairs as i bounded down. got to the bottom, said, it’s will, he’s hurt, and as we ran we heard the moans coming up from all of us, all three of us, who’d once before picked that boy up off a trail, when he came to us bloodied and broken and asking if he’d die.
your insides don’t forget those days, and they all come rushing back when it is dark and you have just heard tears on the other end of the line.
the little one, especially, gets sick with worry when it comes to his big brother. couldn’t let go of me in the back seat, as his papa drove, like it was some northwoods speedway, the hilly lakeshore-hugging road, and i stayed on the phone, talking the hurting one through each turn and twist and up and down of that old country road. we’re coming, i kept saying. we’ll be right there. we’re coming ’round the bend.
but that’s not why i’m telling you this story.
i’m telling it because i thought it was a story about a twist, and then it became a story with a twist.
we got the boy home, of course. slapped on some ice, popped some anti-swelling pills, and drove back from the lake early the next dawn, racing home for, of all things, dinner with a dear, dear friend who happens to be an ER doc. he’s the one who told us, get an x-ray, there might be something there.
we got the x-ray monday afternoon. i was right there, looking at the screen, because when it’s a kid, they let the mamas tag along.
right away i thought i saw the crack in question. saw a big egg-shaped spot right where the twist had come–or so i thought. even the x-ray tech standing next to me thought the same.
go sit down, they said, someone will come out with the news. so the nice man came. said it wasn’t fractured, just a bad sprain. call the doctor in the morning.
dodged that bullet, we all thought as the lanky one hobbled home. hmm, i swore i saw a crack. oh, well. that’s why i’m a mama now and not an x-ray guru.
tuesday morn, that ol’ ankle was still throbbing some, and the hobbler was due to school in an hour or so, due to take a tour of the big new halls he transfers to as a sophomore. i called the pediatrician. said i was wondering what about the sprain. what should we do to make walking just a little easier?
and that’s when it took a long, long time for the nurse to come on the line. and when she finally came, she apologized. said she’d needed to grab his chart, talk to the doctor. hmm, thought i, for simple instructions about a sprain?
and that’s when she told me that they’d found something not on the leg bone in question, but on the other one. don’t freak out, she told me, but it was one of those words that ends in “oma.” most likely, she told me, it was benign. but we needed to see an orthopedic surgeon right away. and we needed to go straight downtown, not muck around near home.
all signs, in my head, start spinning toward that slot on the dial i’d rather skip over. this is starting to feel, i thought, like a phone call i can’t believe i’m having.
turns out we’re going to see the surgeon they call the “lumps and bumps doc,” the one they lured, the nurses told me proudly, from sloane-kettering in new york, the one i happen to know is mostly a cancer center. and since i used to be a cancer nurse, these are words that start to trespass into territory that’s not where i, the mother, want to be.
since he’s a doc who sees kids only once a week, they are squeezing us right in. but it won’t be for a week, and it will be the first day of school for my second grader, the one who already is asking me if i might stay nearby till lunchtime the first few days, since he already feels so homesick.
so, already, i am feeling torn. but of course, i go with the one going to see the lumps and bumps doc. and the little one rides with his papa in his papa’s new car, which somehow seems to have distracted him–for now–from the fact that i won’t be there, waving at the schoolhouse door.
but all of that, i tell you, is preamble. preamble for the tidal wave of thought that tumbled over me, all day yesterday; still now.
there is every chance in the world that this will all turn out to be a blip, that the doc will take a look and say, let’s watch it. oh, sure he might say, let’s operate. but i will get to that when we get there.
for now i am consumed with how suddenly we find out that what we take for granted is really all a flimsy curtain cascading there before the box with all the switches and the levers.
i am thinking how the halls of hospitals are filled with lovely people who’d been going about the business of their humdrum lives when, suddenly, they were tapped on the shoulder, told that fever in your little boy, it’s leukemia. that tumbly toddler who can’t keep from falling down, it’s a tumor in her brain. your father who you thought was driving home from the movie rental store, well, he got hit; he won’t be coming home.
and so, knowing all of that, feeling that much closer to the far side of the line between the lucky ones and the not so, i will spend this long week ahead looking down at my tall one’s leg. i will pray and pray some more. i will scan his face for signs of wan and ashen color. i will offer up my leg, and both arms too if it will help, just so he gets the all-clear sign.
i think of all the hours in our lives when we are holding our breath, between inhale and exhale, thrust into that netherworld where suddenly everything is more vividly colored.
where we notice the wind, taste the bite of the coffee, behold the grace of a butterfly wing gliding onto the basil that grows just beyond the kitchen sill.
where every unfettered hour feels like a swing on the trapeze. where we understand, finally, thuddingly, that just making a dumb old grocery list–with nothing else to clutter our thoughts–is pure mercy, unfiltered.
it is these days and weeks of breath-holding that put the bas relief into our lives. without the undulation and shadow, it’s all washed-out and blindingly white.
the breath-holding, of course, comes in a zillion forms–waiting for the phone call from the boss, sitting outside the x-ray department, clicking on the computer to see if the email from the college, the boyfriend, the madwoman, has come.
it is the interstitial hours, i believe, that sharpen who we are in the midst of lives we start to take for granted.
it is in the not-breathing when the sharp outlines come, and the blurriness fades away. when we look and see not just a boy who leaves his room a mess more often than i care to discover, but an almost-man whose brilliance, whose sheer force of belief in how he’ll change this world, better it, gives me hope, and, more importantly, faith.
this breath-holding, maybe, is every bit as essential as the breathing.
we would be numb to all the days of making beds and pouring coffee into mugs, of shuffling papers on our desks, and clocking miles on the track, if not for the occasional lapses into holy fear.
when it all comes clear. when we see how close the bullet grazes our heads. when we wake up from our stupor and tingle down our spine at all the ways the spinner falls in our favor.
and yes, mostly, more often than we deserve maybe, at the end of these protracted hours, the great rush of hallelujah, how-narrowly-we-escaped comes. we kiss the ground. we thank the skies, the leaves, the blades of grass. we pay attention to the clouds that day. taste the succulent tomato. douse it all in extra olive oil. what the heck.
we fill our lungs. feel the sweet soft air soak into crevices and dark places that had gone without sustenance for the days of our worry.
we return to living. and, if we’re smart, we carry with us the knowledge that at any minute the nurse can get on the line and tell us there is something growing where it shouldn’t be. and it’s the leg bone of a boy we love, we birthed, at stake here.
it is a recipe of fractions and milliseconds and happenstance, this thing called life.
and if, in between our breathing, we can take in the blessed holy miracle of the ones we love, the rustling of the leaves, or birdsong in the dawn, well then we are making art of the filling of our lungs.
forgive me if i got dark there. blame it on my irish. or on the simple fact that i am old enough and wise enough to understand the roulette of the everyday. my hope, and my intent, was to raise up these hours of fear and examine how it is that they weave what matters most into our very being. have you had chapters of breath-holding? and were you able, in any way, to hold onto a piece of that to make you pay attention to the colors all around?
turned out last week while i was away was another week of breath-holding for all of us at the newspaper where i still happen to work. some 80 souls got phone calls that their time was up; i didn’t get the call, not this this time. for those 80 i send up prayer after prayer. these are breathholding times indeed, and may each of you find your colors once the fog and tears are cleared. we will carry on, those of us still newspapering, and try our damnedest to make you proud for what you started, and did so blessed well.
dear dear bam, if I could, I would bring you some milk and a blanket of love to surround you in this time of waiting.
i know this place of waiting, both as one who held someone else’s hand and one who needed to be held. In this space, know that you are loved and know that you are not alone.
as I journey with people who need the help of ventilators, I have thought of the act of breathing and the act of being breathed into life. In the moments where YOU feel like you can’t breath, know that something so much greater than we can understand is breathing life into all of your questions, prayers, fears and hope.
sigh…………………… I take a breath in honor of you and so many others today
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – 11:40 AM
bless your oxygen-filled spaces, my friend, who always brings me milk and blankets in many forms when i need them. i met you in that very way, for those of you who don’t know. slj appeared, like a vision, at the ICU bedside at 2 or 12 in the morning–does it matter when one is at the ICU bedside in a children’s hospital–and, yes, she brought me first a carton of milk and then a blanket that wrapped me as i could not sleep. and with both of those she brought questions that i supplied with answers, and thus began what would become a long and lasting friendship. so how fitting that here she is again, the first to appear, as once again i wait for word on my firstborn. he will be fine, i tell myself, again and again. he has no indication what roils inside me. nor will he, as he rarely ever peeks here. he is too busy these days getting his alternative online newspaper off the ground. and that is as it should be. and will be. it is a mother’s sacred pact to keep her children barely grazed by the worries that some days consume her. we all do that, often, for the ones we love so much it hurts. and we keep the whisperings of our worried hearts to a barely perceptible murmur. amen, amen. as another dear friend keeps telling me: breathe…….
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – 02:13 PM
Scary, scary. Thanks for the wake-up call to notice and not just go through the motions. –Heading for the garden to seek some peace…and to breathe deeply… for you
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – 03:22 PM
Someone very wise once told me that mother’s (and grandmother’s) prayers are like precious pearls that God holds near His heart. He knows that we would unquestionably lay down our lives for the ones we carried and birthed.
Dear slj knows the comfort that He brings and she, in turn, comforts others with … sweet bam, I am lifting prayers for both the tall one and you, dear friend.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – 06:14 PM
oh, bam. first, i am thinking of you and sending good wishes and prayers your way.
second, about writing. i told my english class the other day that i am an english major because writing and reading the writing of others is the closest way of getting to the truth of life that i know. you turn an eye to the truth, make it beautiful, even when it is scary and all too real. thank you, thank you for that. i am learning that community is how people need to operate, how i need to operate. i am glad to part of yours and that you are part of mine.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008 – 09:35 PM
mom of 2
holding you and your son in prayer…
Thursday, August 21, 2008 – 09:25 AM
I hope and pray for good news for your son’s leg. However, IF something iffy is there, which I hope is not, then you and he will be so thankful for the twisted ankle that allowed this lump to be discovered early.
I have a friend who was knocked off her bike by another bicyclist, injuring her ribs and needing a chest x-ray because of it. On that x-ray, the ribs were fine, but there was a miniscule spot on her lung that was discovered and treated, very, very early because of the fortuitous bike accident.
IF the leg lump is something needing medical attention, you will be on the case at the best possible time–EARLY– and with the best possible medical care.
Friday, August 22, 2008 – 08:36 AM
Gosh — I thought I’d check in this week and read tales of overindulgence on cherry pie and mackinaw fudge and north woods fun.
I’m agree w/ Carol on this…that twisted ankle just might be be something to be really thankful for in the end. Here’s hoping for the best.
Love & prayers!
Friday, August 22, 2008 – 09:26 AM
Holding breath reminds me of “3 part breath” and “4 part breath” in yoga….the key being in all practice to hold and then let go. I always imagine being on a swing when I do that practice…..that moment when I am swinging back and high and for just a tiny moment, the swing seems to pause…..and I am caught between fear and wonder that I am up in the air. Then, like a woosh, I am down and swinging forward with legs outstretched, going high with forward speed and then pulling my legs in quickly to keep the momentum going. It is the pauses I remember about swinging, not the momentum….and so it is with your holding breath over this moment. Even though the pauses are what we remember….it is the pumping and momentum that keep us going and make up the enjoyment and get us laughing. Here is to all the swinging we do in life….amen.
Friday, August 22, 2008 – 09:20 PM
and here is to my wonderful circle of chair puller-uppers………big deep inhale and exhale, just for all of you. i cannot tell you the deep tide of comfort that washes over me, knowing you are here, at my back, at my side, at my everything……
it is the weekend now, which means we are at the crest of a hill, and looking out onto the new week ahead. the little one’s birthday party was pulled off, the wake for the fired beloved editor is now over (though the mourning isn’t). i am now free to breathe and focus on the week ahead: getting the little one tucked into second grade (dear God, let the teacher be a dream) and getting the firstborn into that doctor’s office. he is calm as calm can be. focused only on getting his “snarky” (his word) highbrow alternative paper launched this weekend. as it should be. a mama, when she must, can wear her worry well. not let it show, not one iota. if not for the words written here, and a few whispered conversations with dear dear friends, not a soul would know what lurks inside me……certainly not the firstborn i so love. (do you think he wonders why i stop by his room so frequently to kiss him on the mop-topped head????)
xoxoxo and thank you. lamcal, i’m off to find a swing and do me some pumpin’ and three part breathing….
Saturday, August 23, 2008 – 03:43 PM
dear sweet one…always so late i am, but hopefully i can bolster the end of the comments here…
it is precisely the moments that we most fear, that we find ourselves living…when we want to hold on,-it is best to let go…let god, let grace, let faith now not walk with us, but carry us. float there if you can…the waves won’t be so darn high…and here are all your friends and friendships ready, willing and able to keep you afloat.
and the sprain, the rock before the waterfall…thank goodness in a weird way for rocks in our path.
if you must hold on, be it then-to each other.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 – 08:21 AM
ah dear true, you and your wisdom you knock me out…..the rock before the waterfall, indeed…….the stumbles that actually keep us safe in the end. keep us from falling headfirst and hard and furious. how in the world could we have been so blessed, all of us who pull up here, to have found a place where we intersect and over time weave the very net that suspends us, keeps us from falling to the ground. what is life if not for holding each other up, along the way? what matters more than imbuing each blessed hour with grace and faith in each other (faith in each other’s capacity to be our angel wings when we cannot muster what it takes to fly)? doesn’t it all come down to that, in the end?
bless you true. bless you each and every one. xoxox
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 – 01:32 PM
this just in: “this is nothing,” said the orthopaedic oncologist this morn. phew phew phew phew phew…….that’s what the doc said when he looked at the boy’s films of his leg bone……..phew phew phew. did i say that already? benign. benign. benign.
says it’ll fill in with bone as he grows. will always be the knot in his pine plank of a leg. a fine image, one i can hook onto.
then the bizarre part: seems the boy had a complete fracture of his femur, that’s the thigh bone, last year, after coming home from the grueling hiking trip. only–get this–no one ever told us. we thought he had the worst case of tendonitis in the world. turns out, cuz they showed me today, he had a fracture from side to side of his thigh bone, couple inches above the knee. that explains a whole lot of things in retrospect. what it doesn’t explain is how in the world can an xray be taken of a kid’s leg, a fracture be revealed, and no one is ever told of it. he was in PT for months, suffered the humiliations of his fellow campers who thought he was a wimp for not being able to stand. paid a price all year. only just now, one year later almost to the day, did anyone bother to give us the news that it wasn’t just tendonitis, it was a complete fracture. no wonder it took a long time for that knee to get better……
the more i know about the medical system, the more reason i find to worry….i’m on the case, fear not. i told em my only interest here is in finding out how the system could be so broken that such a report wholly fell through the cracks. i don’t want it to happen to anyone else. holy cow. i told the boy he’s like a russian doll, every time they lift the lid with one x-ray we find something wholly unexpected……
bless each and every one of you who prayed, lit a candle, reminded me to breathe, called to tell me you’d had a dream–or simply a clear sense–that all was well. it is. hallelujah. i think i kissed him the whole way home……..
now it’s off to get the little one who made it into the second grade classroom without a tear. his daddy dropped him off. me and grammy get to pick him up. amen amen..
Thursday, August 28, 2008 – 11:41 AM
Greatest news, but somehow we all knew that it would all turn out just fine.
As for the fracture … this just goes to show what we’ve known all along … doctors only PRACTICE medicine.
Thursday, August 28, 2008 – 10:19 PM
hip hooray..dem bones gonna rise again! I am so pleased for you all that I will dance a small jig. I am sorry that his poor thigh bone went through so much too. I guess “practice” does not make “perfect”…have a very well deserved rest from your Labor of parenting and also congrats to Teddy for his first day of 2nd grade. At 57, I have very clear memories of my time in Sr. Giuletta’s classroom. It is a very important year – they all are. Have a Labor free weekend.
Friday, August 29, 2008 – 08:11 PM
just got back and was relieved to see the good news, but the
sad news, if one considers that that sweet tyke had to put up with
pain and humiliation because someone did not take any concientious
steps to properly diagnose his injury too long ago. The Heavens be
praised that the burden of concern has been lifted and you can
return to the world of the carefree…did I utter carefree??? is there
such a time and place anymore? Of course there is if we but get
out our magnifying glasses and dollops of Faith. What a precious
circle of Friends surrounds you, BAM!
Friday, September 5, 2008 – 06:15 PM