Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Bad Scissors & Good Neighbors

It was only last June that Sylvia cut Eli's bottom lip clean in half with scissors. She was only 2-and-3/4 at the time; he was just a 6-month-old babe.

On that day, it seemed life slowed -- the tears, blood, and hospital images entered my brain in half-motion.

That day, Eleanor, Sylvia, and I worked on a tie-dye project in the artroom, while Eli flapped his arms like a baby bird and pecked at the various toys on the circular outer rim of the exersaucer located in the adjoining room. This very lame version of tie-dye required one to tie dye-soaked strings around a shirt and then soak it in water. We had our shirts, the string, and the craft scissors. This wasn't a scissoring project; we only needed them to cut the string to appropriate lengths. Hence, my Mama Danger Guard--which would usually require all scissor-wielding children to be figuratively glued to their chairs, where I could watch them with a burning hot eye-- was lax. At first I wasn't concerned when Sylvia left the room for a minute. Then, just as I rose to check on her, I heard it: the heart-wrenching, soul-piercing scream of my precious baby boy.

Let me just clarify: my Eli is not, and was not then, one who cried. For the first few months of his life, he was so happy, content, and mellow, that I sometimes wondered aloud whether something was wrong with him. (I stopped doing this when Tobin-- in an uncharacteristically straightforward way-- said, "Would you please stop saying that? He is perfectly healthy and normal. He's just happy!") I had not built up any tolerance to his crying, having rarely been exposed to it. Thus, the sound of this cry pushed my big, red panic button with the searing intensity of a hot fire poker.

I ran to Eli, and saw nothing but blood. Blood everywhere: all over the saucer, his hands, his face. It took a second to determine the source, but it quickly became obvious, as his lip spewed blood like a miniature geyser.

And there was Sylvia, standing in front of him, still holding the weapon of his lip's destruction, staring alternately at me, then at Eli, her face wordlessly asking, "How did that happen?"

I scooped Eli up and held him to my chest. I grabbed a cloth diaper and applied pressure to his lip. My mind raced for a solution: Call 911? Go to the neighbor for help? Call Tobin? All the while, my mouth babbled incoherently, and entirely without my permission, "oh God, oh God, oh God."

"Mama, you are making me feel scared with those words," Eleanor exclaimed, and the terror in her eyes jump-started my panicking brain. Okay, I have a plan for this. I can do this, I thought.

"Sit on the couch and do not move until I come back," I said to the girls. They quickly scrambled to comply, guessing that their obedience would help their brother. I carried Eli across the street to Ruth's house, a 70-something neighbor who is usually home during the day. I can't imagine the sight she saw when she opened her door to me. Later she told me that Eli was actually smiling at her from behind the cloth, and I was the only one crying. I asked her to watch my girls, quickly explaining that I needed to take Eli to the E.R. She said she could but they'd have to come to her house because she was also watching her Grandson, who was sleeping in the back room.

I flew down the stairs from her house to retrieve my girls, adrenaline now coursing through me in full-force. Half-way across the street, I was met by Leslie, a 40-something mother of 4 children spanning ages from 16 down to 8. In her wisdom, she didn't ask me what happened. She simply said, "What can I do to help you?"

"Go get my girls and take them to Ruth's house, please," I replied, and she did so with such haste that she beat me back to my van, where I was strapping Eli into his carseat. "I'll drive you," Leslie said, instantly relieving my mind of the burden of how I would drive and comfort Eli simultaneously. "Where should we go?" Leslie asked, and I turned the question back to her, knowing her husband is a doctor, and thinking that she'd know the best place. "Children's Hospital," she replied, and then drove me there without incident.

By this time I had recovered most of my sensibilities. My brain scrolled through all of the Emergency Information that I'd stored away from perusals of various sources. I obeyed a tip I once read on BabyCenter that said you should call your primary care doctor on the way to the E.R. so that (s)he can coordinate your treatment, and perhaps get you bumped to the front of the queue.

After Eli & I were settled in at the E.R., and Tobin arrived (via special drop-off from his van-pool buddies), Leslie departed-- taking a taxi home-- so that she could relieve Ruth of my children, since Ruth had a prior evening plans. Eli waited his turn on my lap, tears long dried, and smiled at each and every person who bothered to look his way. Yes, I said he smiled, in the ultimate testament to his cheerful nature and persevering character: each half of his bottom lip dangling wildly, now free to dance to its own tune rather than in unison.

It was revolting. I finally asked the nurses, "Um, I don't mean to sound rude, but would you mind not smiling at my baby anymore? He can't stop smiling back at you and I fear it will make his lip worse, or make me pass out from the look of it."

While we waited at the hospital-- to be seen, to be assessed, to be stitched up by the mercy-wielding hands of a kind plastic surgeon-- I called another neighbor, Seattle Mamacita, who is in our neighborhood playgroup as well as baby-sitting co-op, and asked her to pick up my girls at Leslie's house and take them home for bed.

Then, after leaving Eli with Tobin in the exam room for a minute so that I could use the restroom, I came back into the room to meet a woman who started asking a lot of questions. I wasn't quite sure who she was since she hadn't introduced herself, but I assumed she was one of the many doctors that we'd been waiting to see. Tobin stopped the conversation after a few of the woman's questions, saying with a meaningful raise of the eyebrow, "Ally, this is so-and-so, one of the social workers from the hospital."

Oh, those kind of questions, I thought. These are the kind of questions I see playing out in my caseload at work. Only this time I am the Bad Mother, miscast in this terrible drama as the one whose parenting ability is to be examined under the light of the CPS microscope. "Do you have any history of alcohol or drug use? Are you involved in a domestic violence relationship,?" she asked, and I replied, "No, no," but thought, why would you ask me that question right in front of my partner? If I were in a DV relationship you know I wouldn't be able to answer in front of the abuser! What kind of training did you get, anyway?

"What will you do differently the next time your child wants to use scissors," the Social Worker asked, the syrupy sweetness of condescension dripping from her words. Tempted to answer her patronization with baby-talk, I resisted, knowing full well that only the fine gauze of her judgment shielded my family from a CPS report. Finally, she pronounced, "Well, this sounds like an isolated incident, and I don't think a report to CPS is appropriate." Having shrunk down, down, down, until I was nothing but a miniscule morsel of mama-ness, I squeeked my reply in a tiny, tiny voice: "Okay, thanks. Thanks so much for that. Now I'm still in the running for the Parent of the Year Award." But she didn't hear me, because I was way too small.

I could tell you next how agonizing it was to watch the needle thread my son's lip back together, how he actually turned his head toward the needle in an attempt to nurse on it because he was so hungry at that point, how even when the reconstruction was complete he couldn't nurse because everything was too numb, and how the whole experience of watching my child suffer and being powerless to stop it took a few days off my lifespan.

Instead, I'd like you to hear the beautiful part: that which happened when I got home. But first, recall with me my favorite episode of Little House on the Prairie, entitled, "A Harvest of Friends." Here, Pa goes into debt to start up the Ingalls farm. Just when he needs to harvest his field, he falls out of a tree (trying to rescue Laura's kite at the church picnic, that loveable and handsome Pa!), breaking four of his ribs. Laid up, Pa agonizes about how he will get his crop harvested and loaded into the wagon to take into Sleepyeye to sell.

Do you remember this episode? It culminates as all of the male townspeople come to Pa's rescue: they harvest and bag the crop, then form a line of muscles, passing the bags down the line until they are safely deposited into the wagon. Pa lays, propped up on his elbows, in the corner of the store-house, tears running down his face, grateful beyond words for the generosity of his friends.

This is how I felt when we returned from the hospital. Because this is what greeted me at home:

the smell of freshly-baked banana bread, which Seattle Mamacita helped my girls to bake, before she gently tucked them into their beds and cleaned up all of the blood in my house so that I wouldn't have to see it again;

a torrent of emails, starting with Bgirl's Call to Action, which stated, "I don't know any details, but Eli had to go to the hospital today, and our neighbors may need our help... please reply with your availability regarding providing childcare for the girls, meals, treats, or other services;"

and a phone message from TCE, who had seen me leaving for the hospital, stating sweetly, in her usual understated way, "it looks like there was a stressful situation over there today and I'm just calling to see if there's anything you need."

As a family, we learned two lessons last June.

Lesson One: even small craft scissors can hurt. Sylvia's 2 year-old brain connected the dots quite nicely the next day: "Scissors are only for paper. Eli's not paper." Well stated, child. Glad to hear you figured that out.

Lesson Two: there's nothing like the love of good neighbors to heal what ails you.


I've written this post as the first of a series that explores the idea of being a good neighbor, getting to know your neighbors, and the simple idea that neighbors knowing their neighbors could change the world. If you'd like to write anything along these lines, please send me the link as a comment to this post and I'll reference it in a list at the end of this series.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hope Takes Flight

This blogging thing is strange, isn't it? Originally, I created this blogspot account for the sole purpose of commenting on my friend's blog over at Little Monkies. Her blog didn't let me comment anonymously, so I jumped through the hoops--created an account. And then. Well, I couldn't just let it sit there idly, could I?

But I never expected to discover a vibrant community of women who care for and support one another. How does that happen, over the internet for goodness sake?

I started following some links, reading some blogs, commenting as I went. Soon others started reading and commenting on my blog. I discovered some amazing, poignant, hilarious writers, most of which I related to on some level. Most nights, I laugh from the gut at what you people write. Sometimes, I'm reduced to a blubbering mess as I read about the trials you face.

Recently, Canape said that her friend, WhyMommy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't personally know WhyMommy. In fact, I only know Canape through her blog. So when Canape asked fellow bloggers to click over to WhyMommy's site and lend some support, I admit that I did so with a guarded attitude. I wanted to remain aloof, to let Canape and the folks who've known WhyMommy for years support her during this time.

Who am I to intrude up this person's privacy? I don't even know her. Do I really want to become emotionally invested in this person's life? These were the selfish thoughts that ran through my head.

And then I started reading. I learned that WhyMommy has 2 beautiful children: Widget (almost 3 years old) and Little Bear (almost 6 months old). She's a wife, a scientist, a mother, a friend. Reading her eloquent writing, I got a glimpse into her big ol' brainy brain, the beauty of her loving family, and the inner-workings of her life. I learned that WhyMommy is loved by, and gives her love, to many. I learned that WhyMommy would really appreciate our support, regardless of how well or how long we've known her.

A switch inside of me flipped from objective observer to compassionate human. I rediscovered that place inside my heart where I care about others, invest in their future, think, believe, hope, and pray.

Because really, how hard is that? What for another human being and all; a fellow mother, wife, and friend. I'm opening up wide, knowing that WhyMommy, and all of you, would do the same for me if I needed it. Will you join me?

Here are some of the ways that you can support WhyMommy:

1) Pray.
2) Send her your encouraging words to
3) Email teamwhymommy AT gmail DOT com to participate in a secret project to surprise WhyMommy.
4) Join Team WhyMommy to form a wall of support. Email Canape to get on the list and get the code for the blingy button on your site.
5) Pray.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops-- at all--

And sweetest--in the Gale is heard--
And sore must be the storm--
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm--

I've heard it in the chillest land--
And on the strangest Sea--
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb-- of Me.

Emily Dickinson, 1861