Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tie Your Mother Down

When he's not ridin' the "ho magnet" pimp cycle up and down the driveway, Ethan enjoys a good swimming pool. What pimp doesn't. Luckily our neighbors have a really nice pool -- a gigantic above-ground model complete with neighbor-made deck (he'll say I helped him build it and I kinda did, but the truth is that I put about 2 hours into a 100-hour project, and most of those 2 hours were spent drinking his beer).
The only negative about this pool/deck combo (aside from the fact that it's not mine) is that the decking is pressure treated lumber. For those not versed in the forestreal arts, pressure treated lumber is essentially wood exposed to chemicals (until 2002, arsenic was one of the leading ingredients in the cocktail) under extreme pressure for long durations, then dried in extreme heat resulting in lumber that won't erode as quickly in outdoor applications. How safe is the stuff? Ask the guy at our Lowe's Home Improvement Center. I was in there last summer to buy some lumber to finish off the deck and playground in our backyard* and the lumber department guy's entire arm was covered with a ... dressing? cast? bandage? Let's just say it looked like somebody tried to stuff a ficus tree into a sausage casing. So I asked the guy what happened and he told me his hand became infected from a splinter he got while handling "that damn pressure treated." As the words left his mouth he sneered at the piles of evil wood like they had knocked up his little sister.
So back to Ethan. Our neighbors are hella cool and have extended an open invitation to enjoy their pool whenever the mood strikes. Well, the mood strikes Ethan a lot. So a few weeks ago we took them up on their offer and, guess what, Ethan got a splinter. It was in the soft part of the foot between the balls (stop snickering) and the big toe. There was much limping and whining, but after quick inspection and hedging by the patient, we agreed to wait until we got home to try to extract it -- miles from where anyone can hear you scream! Once home, Ethan resisted. Strongly protested. Kicked me in the nuts with his good foot. After 2 hours of threats ... I mean, textbook parenting, we abandoned rescue efforts and decided to go out for ice cream. But thoughts of lumber department guy were lingering: "Damn pressure treated. You turned my little sister into a whore!"
The next week we're back at the pool and Ethan gets another splinter in the same foot -- this time in the soft skin between the balls (STOP IT!) and the heel. This time we went straight out for ice cream. I'm no fool. My nuts were still sore from the week before. So now he has two ticking time bombs of death lodged in his foot and 2 parents who can't seem to muster the required bravery to deal with it. For the next week we kept an eye on the foot, looking for signs of anything. The only thing we observed was that Thomas threw up all over the couch one day. Not sure how, but I just know that damn pressure treated was behind it. Sister fucker!
Then yesterday opportunity reared its ugly head as Ethan awoke, reporting of a sore throat and sore leg. The leg thing ended up being a blister on his heel (lumber department guy in my head: "That's how it starts!"), but the sore throat seemed pretty real. So Sandi took him to the pediatrician who suggested it was probably nothing, but tested for strep blahblahblah get to the splinters. "Oh, those should really come out." Phew! Relief. Thank god a medical professional's here to take charge. Well, relief until Sandi found out exactly what "taking charge" entailed. She recalls they used a relatively gentle word like "immobilize." A few minutes later they entered the exam room with some Marquis de Sade thingy that bore the astonishingly misleading name "pappoose." Yes, and we "swaddle" violent mental patients.
Maybe we watch too much MSNBC in front of the lad and have exposed him to too many of our opinions on the treatment of Guantanamo detainees, because as soon as he saw this apparatus he went into 'HELL no' mode. I wasn't there, but Sandi's recounting -- albeit colored through a parent's disbelief -- brought to mind the holy water scene in The Exorcist: He screamed, he cried, he contorted, he raged against the machine and he pushed as fervently against his restraints as possible. And 23 seconds later the damn pressure treated was gone from beneath his skin. 20 seconds after that the tears were dry. By the time Sandi put him on the phone to talk to me some 10 minutes later he barely remembered anything had happened at all.
"Hey, baby. How are you feeling? Are you OK?"
"Did it hurt much?"
"Did what hurt?"
"You know, when they got your splinters out."
"Oh. No, I was really brave. Mommy said I can get a toy."
We spoke for about 3 minutes and when he handed the phone back to Sandi she was still in tears. Understandably. In fact, hours later at home when she and I talked more about it she became teary. I became teary. How is it that I know this story ended just fine and that our beautiful son is OK and unharmed -- either physically or emotionally -- and yet I'm breaking down? I wasn't even there and by Ethan's recollection the whole thing was no big deal, yet those damn ugly too-familiar thoughts surge unchecked through my head: "What if I'm not strong enough to see him through ear reconstruction?" "What if he IS eligible for atresia repair but I fold when I need to be at my bravest?" "Am I doing right by him?"
Hey, lumber department guy. I'll see your damn pressure treated and raise you one demon of irrational self doubt. Sister fucker.

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother." -- Kahlil Gibran

*Women: Why do you get so aroused when your men build playgrounds, decks and such? Please explain this lust for guys who build stuff. Seriously, it's like foreplay with y'all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Get 'cher motor runnin' ...

OK, still waiting for Dr. Brad to evaluate Ethan's newer, re-sent-er CT scans -- now with more coronal flavor! You'll wonder where the axials went.

Oh sure, we could sit around watching the phone, cursing it for its unringingness. But we ain't goin' out like that, yo. Aw, HAY-ull no. We pimps, we rides. We jump on our motherfuckin' Spiderman bikes and we rides. We put on our phat-ass pimpin' helmets and our reflective pimpin' shades and we hit mad driveway like it owe us money, yo. Is like dat.
Oh, and we hide behind trees, too.

Hope to have something to report soon. And in case you're wondering what's with the hand gesture, that's Ethan's "I smack a bitch" move. Keepin' his pimp hand strong. We out.

"And show her the picture of Charlie when he shit his pants at Niagara Falls." -- Stuart Mackenzie

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

Being the parent of a one-eared kid can be a pretty surreal gig, no doubt. As I mentioned, we're pretty committed to a surgical solution for Ethan, which means we pretty much spend every waking second looking for signs that we're making the right decision. Most days the only thing we can offer is a silent prayer to no one: "Please don't let us fuck him up too bad."
So when we realized that Ethan was hearing things wrong -- song lyrics, TV dialog -- we thought we had all the validation we needed. In one specific example, about a year ago Ethan started calling people "Schmoody Bounden." He said it like it meant something and that we all should know what that something was. Even Thomas, who speaks fluent Ethan, had no idea what he was talking about. We shrugged it off until one day Sandi flat out asked him. He said, "You know, Schmoody Bounden, like they say in Ice Age." (What!? They don't say anything LIKE that in that movie, and I should know because we only watched it 3 times a day every day for 6 months!) So, with our fact-finding hats donned, we brought the DVD in the van with us and put it on heavy rotation, asking Ethan to tell us when that line was uttered. Turns out he misheard Sid the lisping Sloth saying, "Sure he found them?" Schmoody Bounden. That counts as validation, right? Sure it does. No, not really. Well, it does now. While I was saddened to see evidence of his muddled hearing, I was a little relieved for the reinforcement. Which it was. Reinforcement.
Then last week the universe presented me with another one of those god damned "Connections" moments. Stupid universe. Long story short, I took the kids out for dinner and a movie (ironically, Ice Age 3-D -- not their best work, but decent. Before I put in the end paren here, I just gotta say I LOVE 3-D MOVIES! Man, Ethan, your generation is LUCKY as BALLS!! Our movies blew and in our day kids' movies were the worst -- embarrassing even). So the Friendly's at which we ate was pretty new and had a really good sound system through which they pumped rockin' hits of the 70's (Aw, HELL yeah!) for all to hear. Me, shameless child of the 70's, grew up with all these tunes and, between the occasional break to stop a fight or remind the boys that I would indeed kill them if they didn't knock it the fuck off, I blissfully floated down memory river. And then this one particular song came on: Don't Call Us (We'll Call You) by Sugarloaf. I hadn't heard that tune in like forever, but I remember it well. Because Friendly's was a little on the crowded side, I refrained from singing along, which I guess gave me a chance to really hear the lyrics. And I must say they were in no way like I remembered. For instance, this is what the singer really sings: "Did you relate to our quarter-track tape? You know, the band performs in the nude." This is what I grew up thinking he sang: "Do you relate to a cold 8-track tape and do you dance the bump in the nude." Schmoody Bounden.
Of course, I chalked my mis-hearing up to the fact that the 70's were entirely in mono and were rarely played on anything bigger than a 2-inch aluminum foil speaker. Uphill both ways, hand-me-down shoes and so on. But it turns out such misunderstandings are not cause for alarm, or even unique. There are entire Web sites dedicated to misheard lyrics, and some of the examples aren't so much bad hearing as they are obvious cries for help.
So here I am thinking I found every reason I ever need to have my son cut open -- because he misunderstood a cartoon sloth with a speech impediment. By that logic, had my parents known all the songs I misheard (you mean it's not "Slow Walkin' Walter, the Fire Engine Guy"?), they would have felt perfectly justified in going all Clockwork Orange on me, me droogies.
So now what? Now I'm resigned to trying to trick Eth. It's all I got. I wander around behind him whispering stuff to him while he's watching TV, then ask him to repeat what I said. So far he's 127 for 127. Prick -- I mean, darling boy.

"Let's pee in the corner. Let's pee in the spotlight, loosened by religion."
-- REM

Monday, July 13, 2009


From the moment our older son Thomas came out of the womb he's been -- how do I put this delicately? -- edgy. For instance, I used to imagine that what to us sounded like incessant crying was actually him yelling at his legs for not doing what he demanded they do. You know when your kids come home from school or camp complaining about some kid who's always trying to tell them what to play and how to play it -- right down to the actual words and inflections they're supposed to use -- and they can never get it right even if they're mimicking him exactly and then that kid breaks into tears because he thinks your kid ruined the whole game? They're talking about Thomas. He's a handful. (Not bragging, but quite a few "experts" suggest that his personality quirks are indicative of extreme intelligence. Yeah, that and a $15 co-pay will fill my Valium prescription. Serenity now!)
Anyhoo, needless to say Thomas puts the FREAK!! in CONTROL FREAK!!, as well as possibly a few extra exclamation points depending on his mood. So obsessive is he, that he has trouble coping when he encounters things that defy categorization. And so it was in our house the other night when Thomas casually asked me what Ethan was.
"What? What do you mean 'What's Ethan?'"
"I mean what IS he? You know, like, I like to draw all the time so I'm an artist. Mommy cleans and yells, so she's a mommy. You toot and fix stuff, so you're a daddy. What's Ethan?" (Ethan Ethan Ethan. Echo echo echo. Please rise for our national anthem anthem anthem.)
Whoa. What the hell IS that kid? He certainly does draw, yell and fart, but he doesn't really do any of those things with sufficient intensity or regularity to be defined by it. This is going to take some thought.
And think I did. For 2 days. Then, as luck would have it, I found myself looking at a photo from our recent vacation to DisneyWorld. And I remembered something: Riding the bus back from the park on the first night of vacation I happened to look over at Ethan who was sitting next to me. He was smiling and hamming it up for the little girl sitting across from us, and she was eating it up with a spoon. For the rest of the week I noticed that on every bus ride we took, Ethan would flirt with the cutest little girl he could find. Every time we stopped anywhere to eat, same thing. Hell, he wasn't even holding out for little girls -- he was flirting with college girls. And doing better at it than I ever did. I dredged my memories. His school: most of his friends were girls. Summer camp: most friends are girls. When we've gone out to eat: flirting with girls. Movies: girls. Grocery store: girls. Playground: girls.
Holy shit, my kid's a pimp.

Of course, men being pigs I should totally be proud (and I totally am). But I've begun to notice other behaviors that, considering this "total playa" vibe I think I've identified, I am less willing to dismiss as coincidence. Among the red flags:
- Ethan hates wearing underwear. If he could, he'd always be naked.
- Ethan can and does wink.
- Ethan dances like he's air-humping something really rubbery. He even does the spank move, which I thought was cute until now.
- Ethan can spend hours alone on our computer playing games on the internet (well, he says he's playing games, but he's probably chatting up the honeys).
- Ethan knows in which rooms of their houses all the little girls in our neighborhood sleep.
- Ethan spends an inordinate amount of time in the shower.
- Ethan obsesses with his hair.
- Ethan can unhook a bra.
- Ethan can pair wine and food like a master.
OK, that last one's not true. Yet. Maybe by First grade.

Before we knew the gender of our sons I wished for boys for a few reasons. First, boys are harder early on, but get easier to handle as they age (if that ends up being a lie I'm so gonna smack somebody). Second, boys have way cooler toys. And third, boys don't have boys chasing them all the time. So when both our kids ended up being boys I felt relieved. Well, until now I did. And now that I'm letting my mind loose to imagine the future, I see angry fathers and shotguns and fake passports and disguises. I see broken hearts from Amalfi to Zanzibar. I see Dateline NBC specials and an entire week on Oprah. I see a book deal. A movie. A brief recording career. A romance with Demi Moore.
And after all this I still don't know how I'll answer Thomas if he again asks what Ethan is. Probably something like "Ethan has his whole life ahead of him, just like you. Don't be surprised if he surprises us all." And maybe, depending on how many milligrams I'm up to that particular day, I'll throw in something like, "And by the way, here's $50. Keep an eye on that one."

"There are times for falling apart, and there are times for getting' funky. This is one of them funky times." -- Undercover Brother

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Get Crazy With the Cheese-Whiz

A riddle: When is bad news not truly bad and good news enough to make you happy you got the bad news which isn't really bad? Yet?
The answer: Right now, if you're us.

In our last episode we were awaiting Dr. Brad's evaluation of Ethan's atresia repair candidacy. Welp, we got it and it's not great news -- at least not the news we were expecting. Dr. Brad tentatively grades Ethan a 6 out of 10 on the Jahrsdoerfer scale, and says he would probably not be a good candidate for atresia repair surgery. The reasoning is that while he does possess a normal inner ear structure and has normal hearing with bone conduction, the existing canal is extremely narrow and the facial nerve is slightly further aft than is desirable. The facial nerve is also exposed (whereas it's usually covered by a small bone) which makes it extremely vulnerable. According to Dr. Brad there would be a 50% chance that surgery could result in normal or near normal hearing. Would be, except Dr. Brad suggested he might advise against having the surgery at all because of the risk to the facial nerve.
Pretty bad news, right? Not so fast, punk.
Notice the conditional words scattered throughout? 'Probably' not be a good candidate? ... 'Tentatively' grades Ethan? ... Suggested he 'might' advise?" Turns out the CT scan we provided did not include a coronal version, only axial images. (OK, that totally sounded like I knew what I was talking about, right? You're impressed with me, right? At the risk of losing your love, I had to go look these terms up. And I still don't know what they mean.)
Now, I'm not blaming anyone for this mix-up (coughs "AI DuPont Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware" into hands). Some people just get so excited burning a CD that they don't wait to make sure it's completely written before they go popping the damn thing out and showing it off to their friends. It happens.
As a result of this premature ejection, Dr. Brad, while damn near a superhero, is bound by the physical limitations of human-ness and is therefore unable to make a completely thorough assessment of Ethan's condition. With a coronal version of the CT scan, he will be better able to evalutate the situation with the facial nerve as well as other details.
So last night after speaking with Dr. Brad on the phone I called DuPont imaging to make sure they had a coronal version on file and that Ethan would not need to be rescanned. They assured me they did have it and would burn me a copy right then, so I drove over last night and picked it up. Today I'm sending the package off to Dr. Brad in the hope that there may be hope.

So what's the good news that made me happy I got the bad news that wasn't really bad? Yet? Glad you remembered to ask. Well, it's nothing short of my faith in humanity and medicine being restored is all. See, after that last post to this blog where I said we were anxiously awaiting word from Dr. Brad? Well, Ronnie Bean, Dr. Brad's assistant, read that post and sent me an e-mail with the letter attached (thank you to whoever turned Ronnie on to this blog). We still haven't received the actual physical letter, so because of Ronnie's amazing sensitivity we are a full two days closer to closure. In addition to that, there's Dr. Brad himself. While our phone conversation was brief, it wasn't hard to see where he gets the reputation for being warm and compassionate. And even if they end up not being able to do anything for Ethan, just knowing that such caring and consummate professionals exist in this world is really, truly comforting. You don't have to spend a bunch of time in most hospitals -- at least the ones I've been in -- to know just how rare these folks are.
Ronnie and Dr. Brad: Thank you. If every practitioner held to your standards, I dare say the world would be a much happier place.
Now I'm going back to being dark and moody while I wait for word. WOE!

"Kill the headlights and put it in neutral. Stock car flamin' with a loser and the cruise control." -- Beck

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lack of Patience ...

OK, remember how I said that we'd sent our package to Dr. Brad for review? And remember how I said I was amazed when truly great people even acknowledged me, let alone got back to me quickly? Well, Dr. Brad called last Thursday -- which, by my estimation, is within 2 days of receiving our package in the mail (2 day priority, confirmation of receipt ... my woman knows her way around the post office, by god). Considering that we're talking about one of, if not the best in the county, that response time is really impressive. And comforting.
The bad news is that we missed that call. He left a message saying that he'd reviewed everything and would communicate his thoughts in a letter.
(Ooh, that's not good. Am I the only one who has ever been dumped by post? I hate letters. And I'm not too fond of your memory either, Karen Wyler. I hope you're alone, fat and miserable.)
Anyway, yeah, the message was time stamped about 10 minutes before we got home, and even though we tried to call him back immediately, we didn't get through. Holiday weekend. Why, oh why do these things always happen on holiday weekends? In fact, it's because of the holiday weekend that we missed Dr. Brad's call in the first place. That day we picked up the kids from camp and decided to go out to dinner since we were leaving Friday morning to spend the weekend in DC and we didn't want to leave dirty dishes in the sink. because we're anal. and/or too lazy to cook. and could use a lone cloud in an otherwise blue sky as an excuse to eat out. And what do we get for our laziness? One missed effing call.
Yeah, so I have to say this here. I try not to worry about things that are beyond my control -- kind of a life's rule for me. I try, but I suck at it. So even though since his birth I've been truly convinced that Ethan's hearing will be restored, the tone of Dr. Brad's message has me more than a little freaked out. My mind is suddenly open to the worst-case scenario. Honestly, it's never occurred to me to even consider that Ethan wouldn't be a candidate for atresia repair. And I've also been fairly certain that he would be a model patient and that years from now we'd mostly forget that for the first 6 or so years of his life he had amost no hearing in his right ear. And now all those years of denial and trying to remain positive are eating away at my brain and I feel like screaming. I'm hoping like hell that Dr. Brad's letter is in the mailbox when we get home tonight. I'm hoping like hell that I can wait until tonight to check the mailbox. I'd call Dr. Brad but I'm afraid of what my response would be if he tells me on the phone that Ethan's atresia can't be repaired. I'm hoping I can find adequate distractions today to keep me from going crazy. Maybe I'll check out "One Missed Call" on Netflix. Nah, probably not a good idea.

"The waiting is the hardest part." -- Tom Petty

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'm Your Density.

I used to watch a show called Connections hosted by James Burke that would detail the sequence of events that lead up to the development of things we now take for granted. The stories always had bizarre tendrils and threads and were totally unpredictable. For instance, Burke would demonstrate, say, how Julius Caesar's aunt's preference for guinea pigs over gerbils ultimately lead to the invention of the Big City Slider Station. Each show was a study of the macroscopic impact of the net effect(s) of tangential-yet-seemingly-unrelated events hosted by a guy who babbled like John Cleese with Alzheimer's on meth. And at times it was as hard to digest as that last sentence. But by the end of each episode, regardless of the implausibility of it all, you realized that if even the tiniest of intermediate details were missing, we today might not know the wonder of the bite-sized burger. I know. Breathe.
Yesterday was a Connections day for me. Follow if you dare: My old college roommate, Mickey, is a fan of Rascal Flatts. Sandi knows he loves this band and yesterday morning she received an e-mail announcing that tickets are now on sale for their concert this September at the Susquehana Bank Center. She forwarded the e-mail to me, I forwarded it to Mickey, we may get tickets. So far so good -- chock full of non-life-changing logic, this story.
I confess I don't know a lot about Rascal Flatts, other than the fact that their cover of "Life is a Highway" is inescapable -- worse if your kids are into the movie Cars and you're forced to listen to it several times a day for months on end (Which reminds me: Hey, Disney/Pixar: YOU CAN STOP THE MERCHANDISING ANY TIME NOW, OK? You're making models of characters that weren't even in the fucking movie!). In fact, I wasn't sure Rascal Flatts even had another song until recently. While scanning radio stations I heard a tune so haunting that it just demanded my attention. I listened all the way through hoping the announcer would identify the artist and name of the song, but all they would offer was some synthetic sounding voice-over chick saying, "That was Rascal Flatts." No song title. Since then it's been in the back of my mind to find out more when I had the chance. Yesterday -- a slow work day to say the least -- it occurred to me to finally cross that item off my "to do" list, especially since the universe seemed to have provided me not only opportunity and motivation, but also a gentle reminder.
I went to the Rascal Flatts Web site and there, under the video button, was the production video for the song I was looking for: "What Hurts the Most."
I watched the video and was nearly as moved by it as I was by the melody and performance the first time I heard it. I watched it again. Then I noticed a comments section below the video screen. Following is the second comment I read:

"On Oct 7, 2006 my two year old was hit by a car and killed. I hear this song a couple of months before he died. The song was played at his funeral because it reminds me of his life and watching him get killed right in front of me and I was trying to be a good mom and there was so much left unsaid. I cry everytime I hear this song and it will always be part of my life. Rest in Peace:Zachary Blake Rodgers" -- zbr_angelabove2006 | April 23, 2009

Now, you know how I hate to tell people their business, but if you hear that song, watch that video, read that post and DON'T cry, you're just dead inside, man. My whole day was colored so profoundly that I suspected I might feel sad later on and maybe not recall why. Then last night after dinner the boys and I went outside to play. The little girl who lives next door stopped by on her bike and casually let me know that our neighbor, a mother of two who lives with her family across the street, had a 2nd trimester miscarriage that afternoon. Her baby was strangled to death by its umbilical cord. Ever get the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something?

Last night Ethan awoke from a nightmare (note: if your 5-year-old tells you they're not scared by the Harry Potter movie on HBO and they're OK staying up later than usual to watch it, they're lying they tiny assess off). He came into our room and woke me up. Now, usually I'd pick him up, carry him back to his room and go back to sleep myself. But not last night. Last night I stayed and rubbed his hair until he fell asleep. Then after he fell asleep I rubbed Thomas' hair for a while. I just watched them. Loved them. And I got to thinking: What if they sense I'm here? What if this little bit of extra time -- time I'm extending because I'm suddenly reminded how precious and unlikely each of them are -- teaches them compassion, which they in turn use for the greater good? And to take it further, what if Ethan's early exposure to medicine courtesy of his ear leads him to become a doctor? How freakin' poetic would it be if those two things working in tandem made him become a doctor who went on to develop a procedure that ended up saving the lives of countless children who otherwise would have died from being strangled by their umbilical cords? And what if one of those kids who didn't die went on to invent some apparatus that drastically reduced the number of kids killed in car accidents? All because Rascal Flatts tickets went on sale. I never felt so much a part of destiny as I did last night.
Of course, that's not to say that Ethan's destiny isn't to become the world's most brutal serial killer. In which case it's obviously all Mickey's fault. And gerbils rule!

"If you create an act, you create a habit. If you create a habit, you create character. If you create a character, you create a destiny." -- André Maurois