Second Opinions and the Tenacity of Hope

A second opinion is really just a second chance to hope. Really, do we seek these out when have already heard what we want to? My much anticipated trip to the research hospital with the impressively credentialed surgeons did not go as expected. It went worse. There’s bad news and then there is you should get your children x-ray’ed bad news.

My hips did not properly form at birth, causing hip dysplasia, which also threatens my right hip and may be present in my children. The surgeon tried to make this condition relatable, and perhaps less scary, by discussing golden retrievers. Apparently, if I were a dog, I would not be the pick of the litter. The analogy was not the doctor’s finest moment during the appointment, but it was an amusing and slightly offensive distraction, which is exactly what I needed. The physician’s assistant had entirely too kind and sympathetic eyes. At one point I told her that I needed her to look at me with cold disinterest or a scowl to keep me from crying.

Though the news was bad, it was exactly what I needed to hear to proceed on this journey to wellness. Clearly, I am not going to Kegel my way out of this. My second opinion, while devastating, was extremely informative. The experience was much different than my first visit to the doctor. The PA and doctor actually sat down and explained my x-rays to me. Prior to this appointment, I did not even see the images of my hip. They also let me know that I had cysts that needed monitoring if I delayed surgery, as if they grow, I could experience bone loss. While I left my first doctor’s appointment scared to have a replacement due to problems 25 years down the road, I left this doctor’s appointment afraid to wait to much longer.

Both doctors agreed on one point, which is that I should schedule the surgery when it keeps me from doing the activities that I love and interferes with my well-being. I am at this point and am now facing the dilemma of scheduling. When can a working mom find six weeks to recover? Scheduling the time off is causing me more stress and worry than the surgery itself.

If anyone stumbles upon this blog post and is dealing with pain and being prescribed physical therapy, demand to see an orthopedic doctor. I went through three rounds of physical therapy and numerous trips to the chiropractor and nobody properly identified and treated the cause of my pain. Instead I was told that I was sitting too much, that my hormones were loosening my ligaments, and that I should avoid gluten and other inflammatory foods. All this was delivered by healthcare professionals with the utmost confidence. That unfounded confidence is costing me my hip.

Advertisements

The Polar Vortex and Other Broken Systems

Two years ago, I was doing aerial splits on the trampoline. Today, I cannot get through grocery shopping without limping and holding desperately onto the handle of the shopping cart. I’ll forever remember this winter as the season that made no sense. The weather has added to the surreal experience, the broken polar vortex offering a nice metaphorical symmetry to my own internal system break down. In the record-breaking wind chills, I ventured to the orthopedic doctor to be told I needed a new hip at age 41. My life has been frozen by unseasonable forces.

The winter howled, iced, and snowed us in for the past month. We have had record snow day cancellations. The symbiosis between the external and internal environments of my body has left me feeling a bit witchy, as if nature is mourning my broken system as well as its own. We are aging poorly, accumulating irreparable damage, but we can’t stop the world. After I returned from the doctor, my son asked if we could go to the bowling alley/arcade because snow days are supposed to be fun. My children, thankfully, have no concept of tragedy. Mom is always going to be alright because she is mom. So I went, limped around, buried the horror, and built a new plan for myself.

My new bright-eyed young physician therapist claims we won’t stop until I am back to 100%. Perhaps I will experience a physical therapy miracle once my hips are realigned and my muscles are stretched and strengthened. I don’t know and the fog of pain and uncertainty shadows my daily life. As much as I want to maintain the persona of the plucky heroine who faces adversity with grace and humor, I sometimes need to let the mask slip sometimes and pout at my aches.

The hardest part is all the ways my life has gotten smaller, how fear of pain has infused itself into my decision-making process. The circumstances create a sort of existential claustrophobia. My only recourse is to pedal the bike at the gym, to pull and push on the rowing machine, to regain the feeling of strength and control over my body. I try to remember that life is bigger than my problems and that my ability to contribute to it does not require physical perfection. But I do not like limitations.

Needs, Wants, Work, and the American Way

Without realizing exactly what I was signing up for, I volunteered to be a Junior Achievement Consultant for my daughter’s first grade classroom. I discovered I would be leading five different class sessions to show the role businesses play in our communities and to inspire future entrepreneurship. Last week, I ran the lesson of needs versus wants. What do we truly need in order to survive? The lesson was presented in a fairly black and white manner. Clothes, food, and shelter were labeled as needs. Luckily, I had a few critical thinkers in the group, in particular, a little boy who challenged the idea that shelter and clothing were “needs.” In truth, these needs may be defined by the weather and the culture of where one lives. Also, not all food, clothes, and shelter are necessities. You may need a home with a roof and heat, but you do not need one with a game room.

When my winter semester ended, I had the choice of whether or not to teach more classes, as I already fulfilled my yearly contract. If I were to work more, I would earn more money. And as my Junior Achievement Consultant Handbook explained, money is necessary to supply both one’s needs and wants. However, it did not explain the harm of pursuing more money to purchase more wants. If I were to work more, I would have less quality, stress-free time with my children; I would have less time to read and write for pleasure; I would not be able to exercise as much; I would not be able to cook as many healthy meals; I would spend more time sitting and less time outdoors, etc.

I make enough money for the necessities of life and some savings. If I work more, it would be for items I truly don’t need. I am fine driving an older model Equinox I found through Craigslist, even though I don’t really like the color. I could work harder and purchase a newer, more stylish vehicle, but for me, the cost of working overtime is not worth the benefits.

Yes, I realize I am lucky that I have the luxury to choose. But a number of people could work less and have less. I marvel at how the picture of middle-class life has changed since I grew up.

According to Bloomberg, “In the 1890s, Americans had an average of 400 square feet of residential space per person. But by the early twenty-first century, that figure had doubled to 800 square feet.” Not only do these large homes cost more to build, they cost more to heat and cool. My childhood home was a modest ranch modular home. It was cute and comfortable, but no more than what was necessary. We bought our current home, which is an older cape cod structure, because we liked the peaceful setting and school district. Yes, higher ceilings, a large master bathroom, and an open staircase would be nice. But I believe a mortgage payment of under $800 is nicer.

Another change I see is in the school parking lots. Instead of driving vans, families want to drive Suburbans, Yukons, and Expeditions. It is not surprising that people are complaining that they no longer can live on middle-class wages. You can’t if you want to have all these so-called “necessities.” What happened to living below one’s means? It seems we are all being expected to live at the ceiling.

The big takeaway in the Junior Achievement “needs versus wants” lesson was the idea that individuals need to budget and prioritize. This concept is applicable not only for money management, but for time management. We can get buried in busy without actually accomplishing the items that are most important for our well-being and personal success. Time, like money, is a finite resource. And sometimes, we need time more than money.

Right now, I am a bad cog in the capitalist machine, as I am choosing time over money. Still, I can’t help but feel a twinge at guilt when people ask, “Are you off for the summer?” And I am not really off. I run a department, which means meetings, scheduling, staff interviews, etc. I am also expected to professionally development and plan my fall classes. Still, I am not working as many hours as I can, which doesn’t does not seem like the American way.

In my composition classes, we analyze the following commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNzXze5Yza8.  The Cadillac commercial should be viewed as a satire. Instead, it is a realistic portrayal of American consumerism: “As for all the stuff, that’s the upside of taking only two weeks off in August.”

A New Year of Daily Intentions

Spending New Year’s Eve sick was the best dose of reality. New year’s day was not the day I would begin my marathon training; it was not the day I would sort through my closet and minimize; it was not the day I would begin writing ten pages a day. It was the day I took care of myself, so that I could heal faster.

The best advice I read for the new year was to set daily intentions instead of one overarching resolution. On a given day I may intend to create a new lecture, clean out the fridge, write a blog, or rest and drink lots of liquids. It means taking a moment to read the day, consider my obligations, and gauge my own personal needs. Some days I genuinely need to work out, not to meet a dictating resolution for the year, but to clear my head and balance my emotions.

In my field of composition and rhetoric, I have learned that timing is key. A writer crafts his response to fit a particular moment. The action is co-determined by the setting, the current conversation, and audience. Likewise, my everyday actions are also determined by multiple factors. Perhaps it would be different if my life did not involve children and a job that has varying demands day by day. All I can do is make the best decisions in the moment. This is what I can cook and eat with the available ingredients and the allotted time. I have had write this blog post in pieces because sometimes a six year old appears on my lap or the noise level in the house escalates beyond the point at which I can concentrate. In those moments, I move on to a different intention, which doesn’t require the same cognitive labor or better serves the needs of my household.

My goal is not to set myself up for disappointment or agitation but to still have expectations. I have discovered when I have set up unsustainable goals, such as I am going to write 500 words a day, when I fail, I quit. A daily intention is not about a streak of behaviors that can be broken. It’s not a diet you can fail. It’s about waking up each morning and planning what you have to do and what you want to do. Today is the last day of my children’s winter break. My intention is to remove the holiday decorations, visit with my parents, let my children dictate some fun activities, and prepare for a work day tomorrow.

Ode to the Junk Drawer

Today, I was finally going to sew on a button– one of those things I always say I am going to do, but never do. At the end of last summer, the button popped from one of my favorite pair of jean shorts. They had seen me through a variety of shapes and forms, and I was not ready to retire them quite yet. I put the button in an empty margarita glass where I now keep my odds and ends. The fact that I keep spare buttons in a margarita glass says everything about where I am in my life at the moment. Nearly a year later, as I prepare for vacation and realize I will not have the luxury of every other day laundry, I went to sew my button on, but the button was gone, as well as a good portion of my other odds and ends. My husband decided to do my a favor and clean out “the junk.” Of course, I was livid. He was less than apologetic, as he genuinely thought he was doing me a favor. It’s easy to be judgmental and dismissive of the things people keep, which made my wonder, why do I keep so much “junk”?

For me, I spend a lot of time imagining what my future self may do: from sewing buttons to creating steampunk art (see my Pinterest for proof). The beads, charms, buttons, and random pieces contain possibilities. Unfortunately, I rarely have the time or energy to create much beyond meals and class plans. To throw them out, though, would be dismissing the possibility that I ever will have the time. That’s too much to bear. I like knowing I have a drawer full of treasures waiting to be rediscovered. I like knowing that I may make a piece of collage art, put together a necklace, or bring new life to a pair of jeans.

Being a working parent of small children, I had to put aside some pieces of myself. I don’t have hours to get lost in projects or to follow my whimsies. Instead of making messes, I am cleaning messes. It will not always be this way. I don’t know if keeping all these things is exactly healthy, as it is a form of hoarding. It also seems to go against the “be present” mantra of today’s preferred self-help operating mode of mindfulness, as it is an activity designed for “someday.” However, collecting, organizing, and revisiting my little treasures brings me joy. That is enough of a reason for me to keep “the junk.”

The Iconic Summer Road Trip: Niagara Falls

19417225_10154805630435885_96576413528810557_o

Growing up, the few family vacations we took were not centered around amusement parks, luxury resorts, or current cultural trends. They were centered around iconic natural and historical landmarks: the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Gettysburg, and Washington D.C. We did not travel to relax; we traveled to explore. This is still how I like to travel. I have no desire to lounge around poolside or on a sandy beach. I want to see new places and be active within those environments. We kicked off our first summer trip with this spirit, taking in the iconic Niagara Falls. I was only there once twenty-five years ago and that trip is only a hazy memory.

My husband was reluctant to travel there, worrying about the tourist trappings that formed around the natural wonder. It was not a concern without merit. The surrounding area boasts of many “must-see” attractions that are low-rate productions, and it is hard to find a reasonably priced meal among the cost-inflated chain restaurants. Thanks to a Groupon deal we ended up staying at a tourist city staple, the Waterpark hotel. While it did detract a bit from the larger purpose of the trip, it’s hard to deny the value of active water play. I had a larger problem with the arcades, which my children think are a vacation requirement and I think are gaudy money pits. Still, we were never bored and entertained ourselves into a zombie-like state of fatigue every day.

Even with all the money grabs and tourist traps, the integrity and wonder of Niagara Falls shined through. Thanks to the fact that my son and I are early birds by design, we were able to sneak into the Niagara Falls parking lot before the gates came down and had a perfect, unobstructed view of both the Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls without any parking fees. The children were properly awed, and we enjoyed breaking out a selfie stick for the first time. However, after taking in the sheer scope of the falls, it took a lot of convincing to get them on one of the boats they saw braving the waters. When we went to the American side to take in the New York state park, we bought an attraction pass to climb along side the waterfalls, take a voyage on the Maid of the Mist, watch a movie on the legends of Niagara Falls, and visit the aquarium. My favorite part was getting close to the waterfalls and really experiencing their power. I did not remember getting that wet when I took the boat ride many years ago, but both the Cave of the Mists and the Maid of the Mist soaked me pretty well. The only real disappointment was the aquarium, which is quite small and centered on one attraction, sea lions.

Overall, it was a great trip. The children enjoyed entering another country and were fascinated by how many different languages they heard spoken by the tourists. It wasn’t the Disney Cruise my son wanted, but I think it was a much more valuable world experience. I would definitely go again.

Return to Meditation

It’s funny how the less busy I am, the more I need meditation. When I have my normal teaching schedule, I have a clear set of tasks. Grading papers, because of the focus required, seems almost like meditative training. When your mind begins to wander, you must always return to the paper, like a meditation guru returns to the breath.

However, when my days are not filled with eight hours of must-dos, I am unmoored and pulled in the many directions of want-to-dos. I want to work on my garden. I want to write more. I want to plan a summer schedule. I want to clean my office and bedroom. I want to cook some healthy dishes. So I turned to meditation today in order to increase my productivity and avoid decision paralysis — what should I be doing now? When starting to read Tim Ferriss’ Tools of the Titans, he stated 80 percent of his 200 featured “titans” had a type of meditative or mindfulness practice. As I titan-wannabe, I gravitated to this actionable item. I can do this.

When I hit play on my Google top search result of five-minute meditations, I was struck with the irony of doing a mindfulness meditation now in order to do more later. I was focusing on the present in order to better perform in the future. Part of mindfulness is letting go of the rehashing and rehearsing cycle we all fall into. It was hard to use meditation to prepare for the day without bringing in a rehearsal of what I could write or do. The meditation I chose asked me to focus on my feet, stomach, and breath. It did not ask me to draft a to-do list. And that is a good thing. I need to appreciate what I am doing now instead of thinking about what else I should/could be doing. If I do this, no moment will be lost.