I can’t manage my back problems by myself anymore. My physical therapist stated the obvious as we were going through a pattern of exercises designed to stretch out my hip flexors and prevent them from over-rotating, which is one way my body compensates for its limited motion between my shoulders and my hips.
“You’ve done a fabulous job of staying fit and flexible,” he said, as he pushed his fingers around my hip bone and held the muscle in place while I slid my leg slowly up and down the table.
I turned on my left side and relaxed my right shoulder so he could reach under my shoulder blade and pin down the muscle under my scapula. I raised my arm from the elbow up and down, slowly, as if it were a new part of my anatomy I was testing. I started sweating as the muscle throbbed through the rotation.
“I’ve seen a lot of patients in much more pain who’ve had considerably less surgery. You’ve got a lot going on in that back, with all that hardware and the muscles that haven’t moved on their own for years. I think you’d benefit from being stretched out this way several times a week,” he said, burrowing his fist deeper into my shoulder. “You’re contracted across your upper back, and by having someone help you lengthen the muscles several times a week you can counteract that effect.”
I was silent, remembering the last time I had to rely on someone to help me with physical therapy. Before my first spine surgery, my mom and I got up early every morning to do a series of exercises intended to stave off the need for surgery. My mom handled it perfectly. She’d wake me up and we’d head to the den, with my mom clapping and singing all the way, like the only thing she had to do or wanted to do all day long was hold my feet and arms in various awkward positions while I twisted and turned, trying to strengthen the muscles on either side of my stubborn spine.
I’ve known this time would come. For the past several months I’ve had to lie down each afternoon to rest my burning muscles. At night it’s difficult to sleep when the nerves in my arms and legs tingle and my fingers and toes get numb. And I know it could be worse. I remember thinking before that second surgery that I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 if I didn’t do something drastic. The surgery was drastic, certainly, but since my recovery I’ve been able to resume most of my activities and Jazzercise without falling on my face or crying in agony. I’m much better off physically than I have any right to be.
All the same, it was a humbling afternoon when Jon, Bill and I met at therapy so Bill could learn how to work my hips and upper back. Jon stretched my left hip flexor, then showed Bill how to do it. Bill’s hands felt familiar, of course, but less certain than Jon’s.
I had to close my eyes and concentrate on the muscles Bill was holding, telling him to pin deeper, or higher, and I reminded myself that while I felt helpless, he was feeling the pressure to get it right. He had on his “Bucy face,” his look of greatest concentration. I named this look after a favorite, challenging law professor of ours twenty years ago. He wore that face every minute of her class, as if he thought that relaxing his jaw and eyebrows would make every bit of criminal law he’d retained magically disappear.
We’re embarking on a new era, one in which I’ll have to depend on him to help me manage this body, with all its frailties and kinks. Our plan is to try the exercises at night, and to look around for a massage table so that we won’t have to get on the floor to work out. I have a hard time getting up and down from the floor, and it’s easier for the therapist (or husband) to perform the maneuvers in a standing position.
I’ve talked with the boys and told them my back just isn’t as strong as it used to be. I might lie down more often in the afternoons, or need a bit more help around the house, particularly with lifting laundry and groceries. I explained to them that Daddy and I would be working on my back so I could stay strong, and that if they wanted to watch or to learn how to help with the exercises, I’d love it. I grew teary when I talked to them. I’m used to being the savior, not the saved.
Finn was sympathetic, hugging me, telling me it would be fine, pointing out all the activities I could do. Drew listened and reminded me that he loves to chop ingredients for dinner as long as he has a good knife. Porter assured me he’d still snuggle with me every morning while we listen to NPR.
And so this Flashback Friday, I’m looking back at our family as it was , and how we are now. And I’m wondering how the future will be. But I suppose that’s true for all of us.
Family Portrait 2000
Me and the guys, 2009
Me and my new therapist
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Hoards of readers have written to ask about the finer points of vermicomposting, whether I was joking when I said I was keeping the worm bin inside, and how the red wigglers are faring.
Those of you who didn’t know we have a full-blown worm farm in the house can click here for the story of the genesis of this operation.
It’s no joke– Squirmy and his friends reside in the area once known as “the living room” but now known as “the ping-pong/laundry-folding/worm room.” The space we used the least has now become a hub of activity, now that we stored the fancy rug and candlesticks and have games to play, work to do, and worms to care for.
The weather has been a bit nicer lately, so I’ve taken the bin outside so the worms can get some fresh air, and that’s where I took these photos to demonstrate the latest in composting with worms. Squirmy and his friends eat, poop and reproduce at an astounding rate.
As you’ll recall, they live in a set of stacked bins, and when they’ve munched everything in the bottom bin, you add one to the top and start adding food scraps to it and the worms climb up to the food and work on that tray.
Looking at a working tray is not going to take your breath away. Once you lift the lid and pull aside the newspaper, what you see is a conglomeration of food, shredded paper, dryer lint, coffee grounds, dry leaves, and anything else you’ve stuffed in the bin.
And if you dig into the mass a bit, you’ll find worms. Thousands of worms. You have to take their picture quickly or they’ll burrow back down to finish their eating or pooping or lovemaking. Single-minded, these worms.
The tray below is much more satisfying to look at. The worms are about finished with it, so it’s mainly full of compost. Actually, it was totally compost, but I had so many worms crowding the upper tray that I stuck a little food from the top tray that was almost completely digested, and added several hundred worms to see of they’d get fatter when they have more room. No one has suggested this is a good or bad idea; it’s just a wormy experiment I’m conducting. It’s better than trying to magnetize them with batteries, for God’s sake.
Here’s a closeup of the compost. Look at that rich soil!
The fact that it’s really worm poop grosses out my boys. Yes, the boys who announce, “Don’t leave yet– I gotta take a big dump” when we’re already late for drums. The boys who brag about burping and farting simultaneously. The boys who love to yell “frank ‘n’ beans” just before disrobing.
Dude, you pour the liquid from that tray onto your garden and you will see some pansies that look like they’ve been hanging out with Jose Canseco.
Anyway, the horny worms that just want to make love and don’t want to do their fair share of eating and pooping hang out here. They hide on the sides of the tray. Every once in a while I have to gather them up and dump them back in the working tray.
“The orgy is over– back to work.”
So far I’ve mixed the compost with water and watered my winter plants, which have all perked up like the steroidal pansies. When it’s time to change to warm weather plants, I’ll incorporate the actual compost into the soil. I’m giving vermicomposting two thumbs up here. It’s easy and entertaining, depending on how exciting the rest of your life is.
Two years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Blast From The Past: Potty-Training Nomad Style (contains rear nudity)
Don’t forget- this week’s Flashback Friday theme is “There Once Was…”
It’s hard to write coherently when things are falling apart all around you. Finn has the flu and is pitiful to behold. A boy who doesn’t have the energy to taunt his younger brothers is sick indeed.
Last night I asked Porter to move the sheets from the washer to the dryer, add a dryer sheet and turn it on. When he did, an enormous rattling commenced. Upon inspection, I found a good handful of dog food twirling in the dryer with the sheets. The dog food was already dry. Using my well-honed CSI skills (I’ve finished Miami and am now onto New York, and why didn’t any of you tell me about that hot Danny Messer?) I deduced that Porter had dropped a pillowcase into the bag of dog food while making the transfer then thrown it in the dryer, oblivious to the kibble adhered to it.
Boys. Teaching them to be self-sufficient is a tine-consuming process. “Check the wet laundry and make sure no strange objects or dog food are stuck on it” has now been added to the laundry check list.
What started as a simple task well before dinner ended with Bill and the boys carousing in the kitchen, waiting on the Pasta Puttanesca to be served. It was a big deal when the Silver Palate cookbooks came out. My mom went nuts cooking dishes that relied on fresh, new ingredients instead of cans of cream of mushroom soup.
Pasta Puttasnesca was a meal that my sisters and I adored, and my boys loved it, too.
1 lb spaghetti
2 35 oz cans tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup drained capers
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 T salt
Boil water. Add salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain.
While pasta is cooking, combine tomatoes and olive oil in skillet and bring to boil. Add remaining ingredients one at a time, stirring frequently
Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook until sauce has thickened to your liking.
Serve immediately over hot pasta.
I use a large can of diced tomatoes and a large can of puree, as I have boys who pick out chunks. I increase the red pepper flakes and use Greek olives. I made this a day ahead so I just had to heat up the sauce and boil noodles on a busy night.
Speaking of self-reliance, it turns out that there is such a thing as teaching boys to be too self-sufficient. I discovered this when both Drew and Porter brought home some sucky grades on their spelling tests. I was particularly upset since I won the 5th grade spelling bee on the word “linoleum.”
“What’s up with this?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a test? I would help you study.”
“Why would we tell you?” Drew asked.
“You would help us study?” Porter asked.
Then I realized that I’ve focused so much on having them do things for themselves that it never occurred to them to ask for help. The last couple of months I’ve been on them like a flea on a dog asking about spelling tests, and I give them each a fake test. They write the words they miss three times each and then are tested again.
They may not be able to spell linoleum but they are improving.
One year ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Albert Einstein Needs Love, Too
Don’t forget that this week’s Flashback Friday theme is Love, Look At The 2 Of Us. For instructions on how to participate, see here.
It took me a long damn time to look at pictures like this without wincing, so it says a lot about my emotional development that I’m able to post them for the world to see and proclaim that they make me giggle.
These pictures are from late 1999. The twins were around 15 months old and Finn was almost four. I was nearing the end of my year of treatment for hepatitis C, but it wasn’t getting any easier on me physically, as my doctor had said it did for some patients. I took the interferon on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and spent Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays wracked with chills, vomiting and headaches.
The medicine affected my memory. I remember leaving a friend’s baby shower and trying to call Bill to tell him I was on the way home. I couldn’t remember our home phone number and resorted to calling information to get it. Between feeling like crap and the memory lapses, I feared that I was missing some fun months with the boys, so I grabbed the camera every time I felt able to hold it without puking. And I’m so thankful I did.
Today I deal with back talk, science projects that spring from nowhere, anti-girl weapons, and pleas for American Idol. But any problems can usually be solved with fines, banishment to a room, or extra chores.
Not so back then. We were covered up in boys every moment– boys who had to be watched or they’d drink out of the toilet, eat dog food, and pull all the books off the bottom shelf of the bookshelf. If Bill wanted to eat, he had to wallow on the floor and be the playground to divert everyone while I fixed dinner. So he did.
I don’t know what Drew is holding, but he’s coming straight at Bill’s eye with it. You can tell Bill’s an experienced father because he’s prophylactically squinching his eyes shut. Or that expression might be caused by Porter’s ankle grinding into his scrotum; it’s hard to tell.
This shows all the furniture we had in the den at the time, with the exception of the changing table in the corner. No lamps, no sharp-cornered coffee table for boys to jump off. I chose the rug especially for its color, which was a fantastic boogery/bloody/fecal combination guaranteed to hide all spills and accidents. For the same reason, the boys didn’t wear clothes unless someone was coming over. Actually, we didn’t put clothes on them unless we needed to impress that certain someone.
Every mom has those hours in the late afternoon when you suffer through the kids’ crankiness and pray for someone to come home and be the playground and offer up his scrotum for a footrest. Here’s a picture that captures the way I remember those hours:
The part that makes me giggle here (actually I snorted) is Finn’s shirt. Finn thought it would be cool to go to Harvard because his aunt was in business school there. He changed his mind once he found out that doing so would require him to spend the night away from home. Ten years later, now that I’m more familiar with Finn’s study habits, I’m thankful he abandoned the Harvard dream early to avoid an emotionally scarring disappointment as a teen.
Porter was generally a happy kid, so I’m guessing he’s crying because he’s starving and my hands are too full of boys to do anything about it. Drew’s plugged up pretty well, but let me tell you– he developed such a pacifier dependency that he’d crawl around the house with three in each hand, and he’d stash another five or six in his bed in case he needed one. Pacifiers were his heroin, and Bill and I stole them all one night and left a battery operated toy train in their place. It was a successful intervention.
There were many pictures from 1999 that made me giggle, but the fact I was able to smile at these under the circumstances is quite an achievement.
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