As Valentine's waltzes it's way closer and closer, I hadn't given much thought about it until today in the aisles at Target, where every department seemed to have it's own red, white, and pink display of love and all things chocolate.
When I was still with Agent M's dad, we didn't celebrate Valentine's Day. I never received a Valentine's gift or card from him, and don't remember doing either for him. My own parents did not celebrate the day when I was growing up, so I didn't think much of it aside from the occasional ping of jealousy when I would hear what friends had done with their loved ones on that day. On my part, it wasn't a dislike for the day, just simply believed that love should be shared every day. Eventually, I just didn't feel into it and wanted to thumb my nose at all the sugar sweet decorations each year as they came out, feeling they were there to personally taunt me that things in my marriage were amiss.
But then we had Agent M, and eventually Agent M hit kindergarten. Cue the 180 on my opinion. I wanted to decorate, buy Valentines for everyone we knew, and make cookies in the shape of hearts. This was not to be, as Agent M's dad and I were separated at this point and money was tight. Being a class room helper, I was happy to settle on helping 28 kids glue tiny paper hearts to hand drawn cards, and was over joyed to get not only a bag full of sweet things from Agent M, but also two Valentine's personally given to me by the two kids I worked with the most in class. Here I had been feeling unloved and very much single, but those little tokens of love written in sideways letters and delivered with big hugs around my waist made me feel renewed.
Talking about the day with a friend tonight, I kept trying to explain my feelings for Valentine's Day but could not peg my feelings for it just right. Finally, it hit me - I hate how the day focuses on the romantic aspect of love. More than the holiday itself, I hate how it has become marketed to single out single people more so on this day - why should a day claiming to inspire love cause such sadness? Couples are expected to plan big dates and give lavish gifts. But what about the love of friendship? What about the people who have decided not to date, or who still feel the sting of heartbreak? What about the people who have lost their loved ones to old age or illness? No bag of chocolate nor Hallmark card addresses these audiences.
This presents the dilemma of how to celebrate the holiday with Agent M with genuine love without feeling like a big faker. My friend made a joke about me just not wanting to be "a grumpy old fart" and that's when the heart shaped light bulb went on over my head. When I was a teenager, my grandmother had spent some time in a nursing home. As we visited, I was always concerned about the people who did not get visitors. My friend's comment made me think of those people (not exactly in the most polite way, but nonetheless...), and how easy it should be to contact a local nursing home or retirement community and see about bringing by some simple Valentine's treats and smiles. I haven't had the chance to fully look into it as I type this, but this idea has gotten me thinking about other little ways to cultivate love that day. I plan for us to make a few phone calls and emails to family that I struggle to stay in touch with. Agent M and I can make small cards with messages of love and deliver them with homemade treats to the women's shelter. Maybe even take a cue from Operation Beautiful and leave some post-it notes with words of encouragement in unexpected places. More than anything though, I want to show Agent M that even when your heart has been hurt, love will heal it and love can be cultivated all around us. I want him to go to bed that night knowing he is loved.
I don't know how something as cool as the packs of Kool-Aid Fun Fizz ended up at one of our local dollar stores, but it was definitely the find of the week! Myself being hypoglycemic and Agent M having family histories of diabetes on both sides, sugary drinks are a rarity in our home. Typically, we drink plain water or carbonated water with natural, sugar-free fruit essences added when we're feeling "fancy". Even juice is limited to special occasions, simply because of the high sugar contents. When I spotted the Fun Fizz packets, the first thing I noticed was "only 5 calories" on the front - usually a sign that there's hope for a low sugar content. Sure enough, a quick reading of the package revealed that it was 100% sugar free, though it did have aspartame. Agent M was game to trying them out, so we got a package of each flavor - Gigglin' Grape, Partyin' Punch, and Laughin' Lemonade.
Each package held 8 "drops" - slightly smaller than a quarter sized tablets, individually wrapped and ready to be torn open and plopped into a glass or bottle of water. They recommend one tablet for each 8oz of water, but in Agent M's rush to try them out, we ended up just filling a glass with water and plopping a Gigglin' Grape tablet in. Agent M oooh'd and ahhh'd while watching the tablet fizz and bob around the glass. I was impressed with the lack of stirring needed and watched the tablet fizz and bubble around almost as excitedly as Agent M. Once the fizzing slowed, Agent M grabbed the glass. Half a glass later, Agent M was grinning, licking his lips, and sporting a purple mustache. For $3.00, I had become the coolest mum ever in his eyes. Grape not being my favorite flavor, I eventually convinced him to let me try the Partyin' Punch. I was surprised by it's lack of carbonation and how sweet it was. Just going by taste, you would never guess it was sugar free, and I actually did a double check on the package to be sure I hadn't missed something.
Over the next few weeks, Agent M and I played with the water to tablet ratio, discovering the one tablet per 16oz of water was more to his liking, and it encouraged him to drink more water something I mentally noted would be especially good in the upcoming summer months. After one particularly crazy afternoon, we made the discovery that when the Partyin' Punch is spilled on cream colored carpet, it comes out remarkably easily also. While I tend to dislike individually wrapped products inside larger packaging, these made sense as it made them easier to take just one or two along for long car trips or just to carry in my purse to mix up for Agent M while out and about. I have not seen these at any dollar stores since, but after how much Agent M enjoyed them I would be more than willing to pay full price for them. Overall, we both gave them a big gold star and would recommend them to others.
First, some history. I had surgery on December 8th to repair what was figured to be a torn rotator cuff muscle, figure out why it tore, and make my left arm able to be lifted pain-free over my head eventually. I had never had a surgery before, save for when my wisdom teeth were taken out. Not having a clue what to expect, I made small plans for the worse (letters typed up to be passed out to loved ones in I didn't make it through the surgery), but generally felt like the two months on Temporary Disability would be like a lovely vacation, spent typing, crocheting, visits and daycations with family, and packing for my upcoming move.
I was, literally, to be sorely mistaken.
Wanting the surgery to be well worth it, my surgeon actually found two tears, one on muscle and one on cartilage, plus the bone spur culprit. We were fortunate, he told me at my post-op check up a week later, the tears had been small enough for one stitch each and were in the best areas possible to have tears. I felt fortunate that aside from two days of massive nausea, mild pain meds and cold pack treatments had been keeping my pain to a relative zero. I was instructed to wear my arm sling/wedge contraption for 6 weeks total. Always when going out to protect my shoulder from sudden movements or bumps, but less when at home. While six weeks sounded far longer than I felt I would need it, I nodded and told him I would follow all orders and see him again in 6 weeks.
The first couple of weeks, were decently medicated. It's all a blur of comfy pillows, my mum making me grilled cheese sandwiches whenever I asked, and lots of television. Lots and lots of television. My sling was comfortable usually and I wore it at all times, no problem. As week 3 hit, I was getting antsy. Life was less medicated and being mobile was easier than in week 2, but having my arm out of the sling was uncomfortable usually, my sleep pattern was all over the place, and when I did take my arm out of the sling, I had to still be careful to either support it in some way or let it hang like dead weight. On top of all that, I was still not to use it at all. This usually left me having to support it with my right arm - meaning whenever I had been attempting to do was then moot since that brought me to having no free hands. I began to daily thank all the deities and saints I could think of that this was temporary, and marvel at the competency of people who have lost an arm completely.
The end of week 3/start of week 4 has hit me the worst. The weather has been fridge and the week started in storms. I have been increasingly frustrated with how slowly my progress towards full use has been. Still on physical therapists orders to only use my arm passively, I've had to mentally erase every single thing I thought I would be able to do with my left arm at this point and instead have been making a mental list of the things I've discovered I can do with my right arm. (My handwriting with my right hand is pretty legible at this point and I can easily make pancakes again.) Monday night my arm hurt deep inside, as if something was kinked and could not flatten itself back out. I began to take the pain meds again. Yesterday was worse. I woke up aching, and felt like my shoulder ball joint was sliding on the edge of the socket. This had happened here and there in the last few weeks, but only for a hair of a second and all was fine. Not yesterday. All was not feeling fine, and I had a physical therapy appointment that day too. Therapy was uncomfortable to the point of my eyes tearing up. My physical therapist (John) kept me as distracted as possible, discussing various cartoons of our youth versus what our kids watch now as he pulled and rotated my rm into positions I can not achieve on my own. Most of the rest of the day was spent gasping for air when my arm would suddenly tense into shooting blasts of pain, then trying to move it in to an angle that didn't feel like my arm was about to rip out of socket. The sling was not a help, having it out of the sling was not a help. Painkillers barely took the edge off. I wanted to just cry, admit defeat, not do anything, and give up for a while.
But this is a new year. I have vowed to be a new Ashley.
Sure, I went easy on myself the second half of the day. I let others do more for me. But I also sat up with better posture and stood up with my shoulders back, forcing my left arm to consciously relax. I did the at-home exercises the best I could instead of skipping them. By evening, the pain wasn't as awful and I even slept without the sling. That might have simply been possible because of exhaustion, but it still was a relief. Waking up this morning, my arm was aching like usual. But, it wasn't the sharp, bite-down-on-something pain of the last two days. I kept the sling off as I made breakfast. I sat my arm against the counter and was able to whisk eggs for an omelette. Then I sat down at my desk to read emails.
Inspired by the slack in pain, I let my fingers walk up the desk drawers as high as I could - an at home exercise that I usual fail. Usually I make it from the middle of the second drawer (waist level) to the handle on the top drawer. It felt fine. But again, today something felt different too and I kept my fingers creeping up the desk, pushing myself to be better than fine. My finger tips got to the top of my desk, curled them over the edge and I paused at the slight ache that was developing. I sat my shoulders back, breathed. Focused on relaxing every single muscle in my left arm, except for my fingers, and used them to pull my arm onto my desk. Tears came to my eyes as I crept my fingers to a point where my arm was resting up to my elbow on my desk. They were not tears of pain - this was accomplishment. For the first time since surgery, I was resting my arm on my desk. I sat and just looked at it, watching it unfeeling, as if it was led there by Thing, the famous Addams family relative, not part of my own body. I wanted to call people, send them cell phone photos of my arm on my desk, and would probably would have if my phone had not been sitting on a table on the other side of the room. At that point, I didn't want to get up, for fear that I would not be able to do it again. Then that thought repeated.
Do it again.
Because I did it. I pushed myself and did it. It ached, but I did it.
And I feel renewed. Inspired.
Welcome to the new Ashley. The Ashley who can do it. The self who pushes even when uncomfortable, and celebrates even minor victories.
I signed the papers and received my jingling ring of keys for my new (rental) townhouse today. As I did the walk through with my new landlady, I couldn't help but grin and it took every ounce of self-restraint to keep from giggling and squealing in excitement.
The anticipation for this place has been huge - at 1300 square feet, it not only is more than double the size of my current apartment, but it also is two-story and unmodified from it's original 1970's style furnishings. Which means Agent M can thump and stomp in his room, without worry of annoyed neighbors thumping back from below, and it has a a subtle kitsch vibe that is making me nutso with decorating ideas.
Olive green was a prominent color at the time, and lives on in my kitchen (floor tiles, oven) and bathroom (shower tiles). Gold pseudo-ornate frames wrap themselves around the mirror medicine cabinets in both bathrooms, glitzy compliments to the embossed patterns on the walls. The dining area is made to feel larger thanks to floor to ceiling mirroring, which I've already made a mental note that now I really will be watching what I eat. Under the half floating staircase is a rock garden, and as you walk up the stairs you can check yourself out in the giant wall mirror that faces the stairs. Bonus is the patio with built in barbecue and storage shed. And the numerous cabinets. And the larger rooms. And the powder-blue eagle sculpture on the front door. (Ok, so the whole place feels like a bonus to me!)
Of course, having had surgery on my left shoulder barely a month ago has not helping in the packing and moving process. I can't use my left arm for much still, so needless to say I have spent many moments in pure frustration at not being able to lift a box from one location to another. Or not being able to pack certain things at all because of their size. The worst though was the feeling of being an absolute jackass today as I watched my Dad and sister-in-law carry boxes down the stairs of my current apartment, load them unto my mum's van, then unload the boxes into my new place. I simply could not carry 99% of what was being moved and felt awkward and in the way when I did manage to get a box tucked under my right arm.
This same frustration is taunting me on the horizon - when I begin to unpack. Packing has been a slow process, but at it's core packing is simply a matter of picking up and placing objects into a box. Unpacking requires planning, finding a place, tucking into drawers, lifting into cabinets. All things that would be simpler with two hands. I fear for how long it is going to take to unpack. Then there's the matter of furniture placement. I've always been the type of person to put all the furniture out, then move it piece by piece into different locations until it all feels right. Much like a giant version of the 9-tiled sliding puzzle games I used to get in birthday party goody bags as a kid. But you can't move a vintage stereo console with one hand. This is troubling to me, but still distant enough in my thoughts that I have not brought out my graph paper and measuring tape to make detailed floor plans and scale representations of my furniture, to be slid around and contemplated in various angles. (As I type this, I did do a mental check of if I had packed the graph paper yet though, so not sure if these thoughts are as distant as I believed they were.)
But the excitement over shadows all else. More room finally! Only 125 square feet less than the house I owned with my husband! As much as I have loved our little apartment, it's just so little! Agent M's room-to-be is double the size of what he is in now. As a child who loves to have every single toy out as often as I will allow, this will be bliss. A real pantry with shelves means I won't have to climb up on a foot stool just to figure out if we have canned green beans or not. The patio means I won't resort to storing unused planters under our dining room table, and the shed means I can sleep a little better at night, knowing our bikes are slightly more secure behind a locked door.
Excitement, anticipation, and a clean, uncluttered space that's only filled with possibility? Indeed, this sounds like a great way to start off a new year.