Hurdles

I did something I’ve never done by myself before – something I wasn’t sure I could do. I bought a car.

I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself in the last 14 months. Here is a partial list of the hurdles I’ve cleared:

  1. Changing batteries in fire alarms, which requires standing on a tall ladder, holding my head at just the right angle and uttering a few choice curse words;
  2. Replacing the line in a weed eater, which requires several trips to the hardware store, asking the guys behind the counter many stupid questions, bending over the apparatus with my mouth held just so as I thread the line … and uttering a few choice curse words;
  3. Using the aforementioned weed eater to “mow” the small fenced area in my backyard a real mower can’t navigate. This requires curse words and bandaids, because I always manage to slice up my shins, but I can weed whack the shit outta some stuff, ya’ll;
  4. Purchasing and replacing air filters, which is fairly easy but gross; and
  5. Rolling the trash and recycling bins down the hill to the street, which is also gross and which requires balance and precision so the bin does not roll down the hill faster than you’re willing to walk.

Point of clarification: Yes, I have a teenage son. Yes, he helps with most of these things. However, I am trying to ensure he doesn’t step into the role of adult too soon. One of the first things I said to him after his dad and I separated was I didn’t want him to feel like he had to take care of me. He can help me – he should and does – but I want him to know I can manage it all just fine on my own, thank you very much.

Until now, though, I hadn’t made a big financial decision on my own.

I did some research online and decided what I wanted. I called the credit union where I had my loan to find out what they would loan me and at what interest rate. I was determined to not incur a monthly payment more than my current payment. I had a plan.

As I worked up my courage to test drive cars, I almost asked my boyfriend to go with me. Then I thought about asking my brother … or even my dad. Finally, I said to myself, “Self, are you crazy? Why do you need a male escort to shop for a car?”

So, I went by myself. I drove the SUV I picked out online. I loved it immediately. I was honest with the finance guy about my less-than-stellar credit and steadfast in my commitment to not pay more per month than I was already paying. And you know what? I got everything I wanted, including a much lower interest rate than my credit union was willing to give me.

One more hurdle cleared – and it was a big one!

There’s a scene near the end of “St. Elmo’s Fire” when Billy visits Wendy in her new apartment. She’s finally moved out of her parents’ house and is starting life on her own. She tells him:

I got up last night to go make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And it was my apartment. And my kitchen. And my refrigerator. And it was THE BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich I’ve ever tasted.

So, without further ado … meet Wendy.

Wendy

Okay, so this isn’t really Wendy. It’s been too rainy to take her picture. But this one looks just like her.

I got her with my salary. And my marginal credit. And my smarts and courage. And she is THE BEST car I’ve ever owned.

There’s a lesson here, of course. When is there not? As Glennon Doyle Melton writes all the time on Momastery, “We can do hard things.” If we have to, we can even do them by ourselves. We may slice up our shins with a weed eater (figuratively and literally, in my case), but we never know until we try.

What’s the hard thing you’ve been thinking about doing by yourself? What’s stopping you? Go do it. I promise it will turn out to be THE BEST (fill in the blank) ever.

Emily Day

Today is the 10th Annual Emily Day.

Ten years ago today, I held my 2-year-old daughter as she had a seizure. I had no way of knowing it would be the last time I would see her smack her lips as if she were tasting something awful, hold her as her body grew tight and whisper calmly to her as her eyes watered and her heart raced. When it was over, she fell asleep on my shoulder.

Two days later, she would undergo a second round of surgery to remove what was left of a benign tumor in her brain. The neurosurgeon would also remove a significant amount of scar tissue, essentially leaving her with only 9% of her left temporal lobe.

In Boston for an appointment with a neuro-oncologist, January 2005.

In Boston for an appointment with a neuro-oncologist, January 2005.

Chatting up Daddy on her birthday in 2005.

Chatting up Daddy on her birthday in 2005.

It had been a long year and a half since she had her first seizure, prompting an emergency MRI at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. The test revealed a walnut-sized tumor. She was immediately put on anti-seizure medication, which made her tired and irritable. Her neuro-oncologist assured us the tumor “wasn’t angry” and that we could wait to see how she reacted to the meds.

Turns out, her seizures could not be controlled medically. When her seizures broke through the meds, she had up to 10 a day. The right side of her face drooped. She began losing vocabulary. Her speech was slurred. She was sleepy all the time.

After months of monitoring and weeks of tests, her team advised surgery to remove the tumor. She had her first craniotomy in March 2005. By May, her seizures returned. We started the testing process all over again.

Day four of a week-long hospital stay for a video EEG. She's pretending to talk to her neurosurgeon on the phone.

Day four of a week-long hospital stay for a video EEG. She’s pretending to talk to her neurosurgeon on the phone.

This time, there was no conclusive evidence more surgery would result in no seizures. Charles and I were left with this decision: accept our child would have a lifetime of meds and seizures or put her through a painful surgery and hope one day she could be med-free and seizure-free. We struggled mightily with that decision.

One sunny, breezy day in October, I took her to the playground in her stroller. I put her in the toddler swing and gave her a push. I was wiped out emotionally. I sat quietly on the bench next to the swing set, listening to the creak of the swing and the wind blowing through the trees. I looked up at the bright blue sky and watched the clouds move across it.

Suddenly, these words came to me: “Be still, and know that I am God.” I took a deep breath, and I looked over at Emily. Within seconds, she began to have a seizure. I scooped her out of the swing and held her close. I knew exactly what had to be done.

The second round of surgery was not easy. There were complications. Her sutures wouldn’t close properly. As a result, spinal fluid leaked from them and dripped down her chubby face. We spent three weeks in the hospital. She had two more surgeries. The last time I handed my screaming toddler over to the surgical team, I broke down in sobs. I screamed at her neurosurgeon, “You fix it this time, because I can’t do this anymore!”

The third time was the charm. We took her home the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I’ve never been so grateful.

Home after surgery, slighly swollen and bruised, but happy.

Home after surgery, slighly swollen and bruised, but happy.

Today, she’s seizure-free. She is sassy, funny, talented and smart. She takes meds for anxiety and ADHD, but they don’t have near the negative effects anti-seizure meds would have. She has a learning disorder in reading comprehension, which means she has to work extra hard in school and will soon have a tutor. She has very little impulse control, which means she speaks and acts before she thinks. These things make middle school difficult, because being different in middle school is the last thing you want to be.

In our day-to-day life, I forget how lucky she is to only have ADHD and a reading disorder. I forget there was a chance she’d never talk – that her vision would be damaged – that she’d never be able to drive a car for fear of having a seizure behind the wheel.

And this morning … I actually forgot Emily Day. She had to remind me. So, I’m writing this blog post as proof that I remember.

I remember it all, baby girl.

I remember your pediatrician looking at me, saying “Oh, Jennifer. That’s a seizure.”

I remember the radiologist who wouldn’t meet our eyes as he informed us the neurologist was waiting for us in the clinic down the hall.

I remember how you slept in between me and your daddy every night for almost two years so we would know if you had a seizure.

I remember how your teacher at day care carried you on her hip all day because you were too sick and tired to play with your friends.

I remember your four-year-old brother being shuttled back and forth between friends’ houses while we took you to Birmingham for appointments.

I remember keeping you up all night so you would sleep during your MRIs.

I remember quitting my job when your seizures returned.

I remember you waking up from a nap after that second surgery, your pillow soaking wet from spinal fluid.

I remember holding you down on the exam table while you screamed as the surgical residents replaced your stitches in an effort to stop them from leaking.

I remember sleeping in the hospital bed with you every night for three weeks.

I remember you walking around our house when you finally came home, saying “I so happy be my house.”

I remember the day you took your last dose of medication and how relieved your daddy and I were when your seizures never came back.

Happy Emily Day, our brave, strong girl. We love you. Here’s to 10 more healthy years.

Halloween 2015. Our Super Supergirl.

Halloween 2015. Our Super Supergirl.