Cup of Hope (Make Room)

On this long holiday weekend I find myself awake too early again, before my alarm, before the sun. I'm not unhappy to be awake but I was hoping for a little more freedom from the lists of things marching around in my head.

So I get out of bed.

Not a tiny bit sleepy I go directly to make coffee more out of habit and taste than need.

The K-Cup machine that I rely on waits patiently in its prime corner counter spot.  I turn it on and when the light blinks I put a K-cup in and hit start.

While the coffee brewed I put cups from the sink into the dishwasher and wiped the counter down. Then I peeked into my coffee cup to see if it was done and and it was empty.

I shake my head. Melissa, you're getting old. I wonder if I'd put a K-cup in, if I'd hit start and try hard to remember these autopilot moments.

 No, no I'm not getting old, I'm sure I made my coffee, I think and half-believe myself.

Just in case, I toss the K-Cup, turn the machine on-off and make another cup.

While the machine brews I move things here and there like a puzzle to make room in the dishwasher for two more things and then it's full so I turn it on.

The K-cup machine is still gurgling and brewing so I spray bleachy cleanser around and wipe the kitchen sink and then peek in the coffee cup.

It's empty.

This time I know I'm not crazy.

 I have to have my coffee.

So I try it again and superstitiously pour out all the water and replace it with new water. I turn it on and off and now only one of its usual three buttons light up.  Ohh, it looks sad. I unplug it and wipe it down, then pull it close to me and hug it only thinking for a second that its a good thing the kids are asleep and not here to heckle me.

 Then go for Plan B and hunt my stovetop Cuban coffee maker. Where is it? In the pantry? on the counter? Oh, down there by the blender. It looks rested and ready for action.  I fill it with water, add the middle part and spoon three heaps of Cafe Bustello in there and twist the top part on.

While the Cuban coffee simmers on stove I wipe down the table and pick a few things off the floor, then empty the trash can. The coffee still isn't ready so I look for something else to clean, like I've found my new favorite minute-to-win-it game.

Nothing.  The kitchen is clean, I win, so I supervise the boiling roiling coffee and when the bubbling stops I pour the thick Cuban coffee into a regular sized coffee mug and add a bunch of half and half to compensate.

It's good, but it needs sugar, so I pour a little in, taste it, then pour more. It's really good but no way can I drink a mug of this.

But while I'm standing there by the sugar I can't help myself and plug the K-cup maker back in.

Again it lights up with only one of the three lights working.

Again I pet it, hug it, give it a little pep talk and then push the only button that was lit.

The machine spurts a little and then, miraculously, coffee spews out right where its supposed to spew out from.

But the coffee cup, instead of waiting hopefully for THAT coffee, was in my hand, full of a bitter cup of thick coffee.

 I remember once hearing you have to make ROOM for blessings and for things you hope for, and I failed this cardinal rule.

So quick, quick, quick, I dumped my cup of Cuban coffee down the drain and filled it with the coffee I'd been waiting for.

After that, I was ready for whatever comes next. 

Balls and Leadership

I'm sitting in carpickup early, watching kids play on the playground.

A pack of kids chases a big ball this way and that way around the field cheering screaming.

Someone kicks the ball too hard and it goes to the kindergarten playground, the one that's fenced off to protect the little guys.

 Right now there are NO little guys over there so one speedy machine of an athlete squeezes between impossibly narrow bars and runs after the ball.

Kids scream after him NOOoooo! NOOOO! You'll get in TROUBLE! STOP! but the kid is back across the fence before trouble could come.

Because of him, the game goes on.

I shake my head and smile, delighted to have witnessed a born leader in action.

The Alex Project: Part 1 - Starbucks, Staircase, Laughter

If this were a movie it should open today, May 20 in my office.  Perhaps the camera would come from the sky, through streets of canopy oaks and through a college town into my office window. 

There you see April, Alex’s aid, sitting on a chair alone, listening intently.

In front of her, in a circle around a computer is me, then Alex in his wheelchair, tilted back a little but as close to the screen as his chair will allow.

Next to us on the unused part of the desk are remnants of the breakfast I brought and fed Alex. He’s so skinny and since his movements are so limited he can’t get himself food or easily have food delivered so I do my best to drown him in calories every time I see him. 

This past Saturday my daughter selected Alex’s menu: Panera macaroni and cheese with a brownie followed by a Starbucks caramel crunch frappaccino and brought it to Alex's group home where he lives with profoundly disabled, mostly nonverbal people. 

Alex calls the people he lives with “clients” and I tease him that it sounds like he lives in a hair salon.  He thinks its funny too, like the people who live there would book themselves for a long stay in a small house.

In the year I’ve worked with Alex I’ve seen hundreds of people look over him, through him and around him. I’ve heard people talk for him, over him and around him as well, so I’m listening very carefully. I’ve learned to sit and not interrupt him and offer say for him what I think he was about to say.

He takes a deep breath and swallows hard.

“Find the one from my exam about the home schooling.” He didn’t get the sentence all at once, but he got it out, twisting himself with effort.

I nod my head. I know what he means.

I downloaded over 3000 student bloopers from history exams into an excel spreadsheet and have worked on sorting them by era and key word and the idea of hunting for one particular blooper is mindnumbing. 

And not what we’re working on right now.

First we need to make the cover.

He says he doesn’t know how to do art things so I pull up a page of templates. His eyes widen. He can’t hold a pencil,  a cup, pen, spoon or a brush but he can do art, I know he can, and I want him to have this and say he designed it.

Alex picks the image he wants to convey – stairs, because they symbolize all the obstacles he has to face.

 I nod and agree and pop a few images up.

Alex asks for this color, then that one and after a few decisive responses he has a big part of his project done, but not the biggest part.

 In order to finish his work for my class he has piles of work to go through  but our attention is taken away by voices coming from the office next to us. A student is talking to a professor about his grade. I’m not sure the conversation was private; if so the student didn’t do a good job of using his inside voice.

The student asked why his grade couldn’t be an A and the professor said something about a print out of grades that show the student didn’t earn an A, wasn't anywhere near an A and in fact had done not a single bit of A work all semester. 

The student isn’t satisfied begs outright for a grade change based on nothing but the fact he was willing to beg until the professor caved in.  

A long “buuut whyyyyy?” crossed from the other office to mine and that’s all Alex can take and he throws his head back and laughs loudly.

I try to cover for his laughter by reading a line from the spreadsheet in front of us, of a college history exam where a student wrote that Columbus came to America and met Napoleon. 

Alex laughs at that, and so do the rest of us in the room. 

He nods his head, use that one for our project, and I mark it for the second round. . 

Fun is fun, but we have work to do. 

A Week in the Life of an Organ Hoarder

Sometimes the best part is to start in the middle of the story. So let's do that.

I figure the pain isn't going away and go see Dr #1.

I tell her this is what's wrong with me, here's a simple fix, please let's fix this today.

She does some tests and shrugs and asks why do you think THAT is wrong with you? Let's get you to an ultrasound, stat. I need you there in 10 minutes.

Out I go.

 I feel rotten and I don't want to be poked and prodded. I want relief NOW and I'm grieving a quick fix and cursing traffic but I get myself to the ultrasound.

It's empty and clean and it smells good. This is a nice sign. The man behind the desk introduces himself warmly and I feel like I found a concierge until he mentions he's in my online class. I straighten up and smile. Yes, the online class that starts this week. We talk about the book he needs and what's due the first week then I sit in a quiet chair and hold my sweatshirt like a teddy bear.

The ultrasound is quick, the most painful part being that it was administered by a Gator fan with a large but tasteful Gator statue prominently placed. 

The next morning the nurse calls.  My X looks fine, my Y looks fine, there seems nothing wrong with my Z either, but I should go see Dr 2 because maybe, just maybe...

So make the appointment. Part of me says no, let it be, but the other part says this HURTS and I'm tired, and I cannot live with this pain, no way.

The week passes. The appointment comes.

He is a nice man, one I've known for the better part of 15 years.

I saw him last year for a pain like this, one that wouldn't go away forever and he offered to take the pain away by removing the offending organ(s).

He spoke of it like it was an inevitable part of the aging process, give into it, get it over with.

I didn't.

Now I'm back. He goes over the new ultrasound.

There is nothing wrong with my X. Nothing wrong with my Y and Z either. Nothing at all.  But still, he agrees that MUST be where the pain is coming from and offers to put me on pills.

Pills? No. I don't want pills. I took a long stroll down pill road and don't want to live there again.

Then you know what the next option is, he says, throwing it out there, then sitting back, fingers laced.


He nods.

I ask if it would be the small surgery he offered last August, the surgery that I never scheduled.

No, this time it would be XYZ. The only option considering my age and my level of pain.

I shake my head but don't say no.  This would be elective because I'm not diseased, right? This isn't urgent, I'm not in harms way.

He agrees, then brings up my age and the inevitable demise of unused organs.

I tell him I'm still using all my organs and they all look good. But I can't live in this pain.

He nods and says try the pills, give it a few months, if you're not better we should schedule.

I leave quickly, more in shock than anything. I don't want to have my organs harvested. They haven't been found guilty of any offense, and it seems wrong to indict them for this without a shred of evidence.

I don't cry, I don't get mad. I also don't pick up the pills.

I decide I'm going to live with this pain, even though its growing, because it's just pain and I'm not sick. By this point the most I can do is sit on the sofa under a heating pad, wondering if I'm a closet organ hoarder, a crazy lady who keeps harmful rotting things inside her. I shake off the thought.

Then I check my voicemail.

It's Dr #1.

They got more results.

 I was right it was what I'd said.

It wasn't my XYZ and I don't have any problems with my XYZ it was DEFINITELY something else entirely.

They prescribed me the pill I asked for over a week earlier, and I picked it up, happily.

Camp Horny Aloe: Subtitled "I am Not Kuwait"

I got there before she did and sat in the car staring into space.

The nurse called back about yesterdays’ stuff while I was driving and I hung up just as I pulled in her long driveway.  Don’t ask me exactly how the nurse said it but it came out mechanical and even hurried like I was annoying her. Basically she said here is step B, step C, and now do this and this. Understand? Goodbye. 

And because I did understand I got off the phone and sat there quiet, waiting for my friend to pull up and bring her sunshine. Which she did. 

This is a special day, anyway because we are in this tiny space of time between when college classes end in May and when public schools end in June. 

In three weeks we will both have our kids 24 hours a day. For now, our kids are at school for a blessed bunch of hour while we are totally free. This freedom is earned and will be enjoyed, no matter what.
She shows me around her house. It feels homey, peaceful and safe. I imagine her kids sleep very well.  

As we step into the backyard a gorgeous cat greets me. There’s a pool (clean!) and a huge grapefruit tree. Over there are berries, there’s the corn (corn!!) growing, and over there is the broccoli.

She deserves a trophy for even imagining this, much less getting it done. I’m proud of her for having a home like this in her heart and actually doing the hard daily work of making it a reality, but I don’t tell her because that would be awkward.

So we sit down outside at the wooden table with the huge umbrella.  The cat patiently lets me pet it and we start talking about this that and nothing.

Then it comes back to the news.  I want to talk about it; I don’t. I have choices, I have options, I have decisions.  I can do something before it gets worse,  or just wait until it gets worse. My first instinct in life is to wait for a few counts, don’t rush. Doing nothing isn’t a long term strategy but it’s a short term coping mechanism I’ve mastered.

Now that I understand what’s going on with me, I feel like I can deal with it mentally, I don’t need more medical intervention than that.

There, next to the cat and under the umbrella I think I’ve decided to do nothing, and if hurts I’ll just think, “Oh, that’s to be expected” and then go on with my life.

Until the wasp comes.

 It’s a HUGE wasp probably lured by the delicious garden and giddy drunk with Spring smells.
The wasp divebombs between us and I duck. I fear no roaches, no rodents, no cats, no birds, no dogs, no snakes. But wasps are evil and not to be trusted.

Unlike me, my friend stands her ground.

Before the wasp can even decide if we are worthy targets she pulls out a towel and whips it at the wasp, putting it on the defense.

I’m pretty sure she also yelled a few choice things at the wasp, but I was too much in shock to say anything. I’ve never seen a woman fight a wasp.

This is awesome.

It retreats for a moment, looking shocked, then comes back at her.  

Now she’s mad and really tries to kill the wasp before it can attack us.

I’m shaken out of my own fear and point out “OMG YOU’RE FOLLOWING THE BUSH DOCTRINE! ATTACK BEFORE YOU’RE ATTACKED!” and we laugh so hard we forget the damn wasp and go inside.

Suddenly the Bush Doctrine makes sense to me. I mean, I’m not about to attack Iraq, but I get why it’s good to attack first instead of waiting to see IF the wasp was going to really sting us. 

We continue with our mid-day round of storytelling and such. 

She needed this. I needed this. She cooks for us, just a few things, but it’s a feast I haven’t known in forever and the timing couldn’t be better.

I check my watch. Too soon I’ll have to get Zack, but we still have another hour.

Because this is my first time at her house she gives me the formal tour of the rooms and cool light fixtures, then we go outside so I can see the rest of the backyard, the part on the other side of the pool. There are flowers, there’s cactus, and there’s a… what?

What IS it, I ask, staring half in shock, half in admiration.

It’s aloe. She says, shaking her at the shocking plant.  

I didn’t know aloe could do that. I guess this one is male? And that it likes us?

The two of us stare at the long thick stalk coming out of the usually quiet aloe plant. I have never seen an aloe plant with an erection, but this one looks downright gloriously fertile and obscene.

We love it, and I take a picture to forever remember this.  I’d post it here, but it doesn’t do the plant justice and also, I like to keep my writing PG. This aloe is XXX. Trust me.

I check my watch again. Ten minutes until I need to be in the car.

We go back to the table under the umbrella.

The wasp returns and dive bombs at me.
I duck and scream “I’M KUWAIT! HELP ME!” and we fall over laughing because 20+ years later Operation Desert Storm is that interesting.

She shoos the wasp away (again, my hero) and I get up to go.  We will do this again next Wednesday and the Wednesday after that until the kids get out of school, so it’s a quick and easy hug hug goodbye see you next week.

In the silence of the car on the way home I let the thoughts run around my head…. the doctor, the Bush Doctrine, Kuwait.

Things are supposed to make sense, really, they are, if you just line them up and look at them the right way and let them become a story.

Before Zack’s bell rings, before I have to put on my mommy face, it all comes together.

Then I get it. I’m not Kuwait. I don’t want to be like Kuwait. I’m supposed to learn from history. 

Kuwait just sat there and Iraq invaded them. Colin Powell and Stormin’ Norman will never come rescue me.

That’s how I came to decide I’m not going to wait for this to get worse.

I will face this, I will be fine.

I will come back next week and the week after that to Camp Horny Aloe and we will all be fine.