Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Some Days.

On a day-to-day basis, I don't think about life being any different than what we're living. It is what it is. We're together, we have AJ, we're moving home soon- all of that is great. Perfect.

But some days.

Some days, I want TBI to manifest itself into something human so I can punch it in the face. Repeatedly. And often. I'll take the physical disability hurdles over the mental ones any day, a million times over, and I reckon Aaron would, too.

Some nights.

Some nights, like last night, we have to face an ER trip and deciding how to do it without taking the baby in with us. She is not yet able to care for herself (infants are notoriously bad at that, I hear) so thank gods a good friend answered the phone and was downright perky about driving 45 minutes after midnight to spend the next 4 hours in the ER with Aaron. If baby girl weren't eating weirdly and at all hours, I would have gone but I didn't know what she was going to do. And while the ER isn't the most enthralling place to be at 3am, a screaming baby is probably less enticing. So I was here, and Aaron was in the ER. Feeling like you have to choose between your husband and child really sucks, by the way. I've been there with Aaron for 3 years. This was the first time I sent him off into the night alone.

Sometimes, many times, it just sucks. You'd give anything to take it all back. Be normal. Wonder how it would be to be moving all over the world, setting deployment goals, having homecomings, making new friends every few years, and just basically not being us. Aaron could have finished 20 years or more. I would have finished a degree and started my own career. Don't even get me started on the things he will never do with his daughter because of all of this.

Some days, it's not so bad. Every once in a while, he or I will experience something that almost makes all of this shit okay. We've met some neat people, been some amazing places, and had some truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. And some of those days, we're more than okay. We're awed at what people are willing to do for us. Just the idea of us.

But some days, we're just tired. Just so tired and it's like it's impossible to catch up. Will we ever not need help? We will go back to something that we can pretend is normal? We have so much to feel grateful for, so much love all around us and in us and in front of us, but it's just not that simple. Some days, the blessings are exploding. Other days, they are hard to see, like missing the forest from the trees.

Just some days, there really aren't any words.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What the hell, Food Giant?


I live just steps away from a Fresh Market grocery store and Trader Joe's. If I need something not available, I go to Target. If I can't find it there, I will buy it online. However, I am trying to curtail my Amazon habit since the company treats its employees so inhumanely. But I saw an ad for Beech-Nut baby food, and wanted to look at some canning jars for homemade purees, so I decided to go across the street to Food Giant.

This was a massive mistake. I have learned that a routine and consistency are key to a smoothly operated week, especially with a baby and disability in the picture. I have a system and it works for me. Convenience can be pricey but it's often worth the cost. 

First of all, this particular Food Giant is in a busy shopping center with terrible service road placement so it was kind of a pain to get there, even though it's less than a mile away. All the carts are outside the store, where the front is thick with huge storage pods (I think that's what they are) and fall squash. Dirty carts and a clogged entrance. All that is missing is this:

The layout is a bit weird. I couldn't find a lot of choices for organic produce, but there was a "healthy eating" section. I found some baby food and frozen organic vegetables, but not what I was looking for. So, off I went.

It was crowded. I've never seen more products in my life. I think this place must sell as many items as Costco. I finally find the baby food, and it seems that the Beech-Nut is on sale. Nice! It's only a few cents but it brings it down to a dollar per large jar. I gather up some Stage 1 and Stage 2 flavors and then head to check out. My cart is full, so I look for an employee operated check-out line instead of self check-out.

This is where everything falls apart.

Food Giant is apparently attempting a "work for them" model of shopping. There were at least a dozen self-checkouts, including longer conveyor belt operated aisles for larger purchases. All lanes had "12 items or less" on the signs but some were dimly lit while others weren't, and yet others were brightly lit. I am now moderately confused. There seemed to be only one or two lanes with actual employees, and of course people backed up. I decided to self check out for lack of options.

I began to make all the wrong moves. I pushed my full cart up to a dimly lit "12 items or less" self check-out stand, but was quickly corrected by a suited employee. Okay, fine. I needed to go to one with a conveyor belt. So I go find a full lane, one that resembles lanes operated by employees but with the self check-out computers at the front. I had 1.5 liter bottles of Smartwater, but they wouldn't roll down the conveyor belt. The same employee came over and instructed me on how to place the bottles on the belt correctly. He then scanned a few more items, including sending my bread items down the line first so all the cans and jars following could smoosh the bread. Awesome. I am now slightly more-than-moderately confused and more-than-moderately irritated.

So now I needed training to check-out at the grocery store. A grocery store that has employees, but operates fewer check-out lanes with staff than Wal-Mart on a Saturday the first week of school.

I am not apt at scanning a cart full of food. I have worked probably 30 different jobs in my lifetime, but working at grocery store has never been one of them. I can scan sweaters and shoes with the best of them, but not food. I had to place the scanned items on the belt before you could scan the next one, where they had to pass through a red laser line. Even checking out a dozen jars of baby food was difficult. Some of them didn't check out with the sale price, but I was too flustered to stop and go check at this point. I think this is intentional. I had to look up all the produce items manually. There were multiple opportunities to put in incorrect items, whether intentionally or accidentally. I can't imagine what their theft loss looks like.

Now I just don't care anymore, as I have no idea how I got roped into working for Food Giant and not getting paid. I am past confusion and now just quietly raging inside. It's not like their prices are so amazing that one could fail to notice that they have taken someone else's job. For free.

So right at the end, on the very last item, I get a warning from the computer that I need to stop and bag some things before I continue scanning. But I don't need to scan anymore! I just want to check out! Please! Couldn't someone at least bag all these groceries? No. No one works at Food Giant, except for the poor man in a suit who probably hates this system more than I do. So now I had to get enough items off the belt for the computer to go back to the original screen. I go about this, then head back up the conveyor belt to check out. Finally, something goes as planned. I am having to push the cart back up and down as I do this, though, as there is no clear path of maneuvering. I then went back down the line to bag the rest of my groceries. Since I had not done this before checking out I didn't know if I was going to use any store bags, which cost five cents each (county tax). This is another opportunity of loss to the store and the county, since there is no way to predict how many bags will be used. As I finally bagged up my groceries, another person came along to begin this horrible process for himself. I told him to go ahead as I bagged up my things. I used the cart to go back out to the car even though I didn't need it. I had no place to put it and didn't know what else to do with it, besides push into a display of pumpkins. I have never felt such animosity at a grocery store before.

On my way out of the world's worst grocery store, I see a display full of portable scanners. Apparently, you can grab one of these gadgets and scan your items as you shop the aisles. Okay, cool! But what about bagging them? What if the wrong price is charged? What about honesty? Do you have to go bag these items yourself? Wait in one of the few lines operated by an employee? Or go do it at self-checkout where the computer is going to go off every ten seconds about bagging and item weight? What if you have a kid who takes things out of the basket and puts them back on the shelf? This, too, seems like a horrible experience designed to fluster the customer to the point of not caring what price is charged. "Just give me my damn goods and take my damn money!"

Can you imagine doing this with children in tow? While in a wheelchair or with another disability? Forgetting to scan an item? Scanning too many (well, that's actually not a problem considering how long between items you have to wait to continue). This was an impressively terrible shopping experience. I don't care how awesome Beech-Nut baby food is because it's not worth a trip to Food Giant.

I didn't even get to look at their canning jars, either.
I think I'll order them online.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Doing good, doing fine, so glad she's all mine.

This happy, giggly, active, vocal, plump slice of baby perfection is almost seven months and my heard just explodes with every grin she gives me.  She wakes up and plays alone for half an hour. Then when she starts getting louder, I go get her and sit her up. She smiles every time. Sometimes it's this funny bug-eyed, chin-in-the-neck and mouth-wide-open face. Other times it's softer, a little tired. She's happy to see her parents! Yay! And then we play some more. I'll set her stuffed toys up and let her choose who gets the nibble. I wait for her to fuss to feed her, but even she's crying she always flashes a smile at my boobs. She'll come off just to glow at me.

Aaron likes to flip her around and get her laughing. She doesn't really let the laugh roll yet. I like to project that it's because she's always so happy that laughter just isn't necessary all the time. She'll get a little giggle out, or talk to us as she smiles some more. She grabs Aaron's beard and blows spit bubbles in his face. Then we sit her down on the floor and pile her toys in her lap to watch her choose. Sometimes she'll fall over but she won't cry out; instead, she reaches for the nearest item to touch and work to get in her mouth. She's just that content and happy. She fusses right before naps but goes out pretty quickly.

We're sleeping a little better. It's hell when she's in bed with us, but I still love reaching over to feel her warm, small body or opening my eyes first thing to see her face. When she is knocked out her lips are pursed up in this silly puffy-cheeked way.

This journey down the parenting rabbit hole has been the most joyous path of our lives. Maybe it's because we're coming from so much pain so close to her arrival, but I just couldn't be more delighted to tend to our little benevolent dictator every day.

This has not been a struggle. This has not cost us. This has not hurt. Sure, it has its rough moments. I am sure it's going to cause us pain at some point. But right now, for both of us, we are just enjoying every single moment we can.

"Even the losers get lucky sometimes."

From Ashes Rise The Phoneix.

My friend Jessica and her wounded warrior Flip have been through it. He hasn't even reach his second Alive Day and has racked up more surgeries at Walter Reed than anyone except the guy who's been there about four years. So Jess gets on with life, gets a job working for The Yellow Ribbon Fund helping caregivers, becomes a Dole Fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and overall just really starts doing amazing things for the community. Unlike me, who kind of spent months indoors and then got pregnant and now I just stress about everything all the time. So Jess is actually kind of awesome.

Her husband is pretty awesome, too. He's a triple who most recently walked a mile on his legs with knees. He is one of very few enlisted soldiers to have earned a position at West Point, actually becoming Captain America. He is an incredible solider and leader. He and Jess met at West Point, and while she transferred to another school, they stayed together and married after graduation and commissioning. A real American love story.

I know loss. I know what it's like to rebuild your whole life, and how weird it can make you feel about your life before injury. You might get kind of possessive about whatever choices you have left to make, and the things you have left to prove that it existed. So instead of taking the furnished apartment home, or sticking around the hospital housing for as long as possible, Jess and Flip searched high and low for a great rental so they could get their things and their dogs back. I think they are the only other couple I know besides us who did this. You just want whatever normal life you can get, even if you have build it from the ground up.

So it is just completely unfathomable to me that after they get into their rental, modify it, build a fence for their dogs, buy the best adjustable cooling memory foam bed so they both can get some sleep, fill the house with fans to keep it cool because amputees' bodies don't regulate heat well, fill the kitchen with all the things one could need and want to cook again, to have a real vanity for all the fun make up- all this little stuff you don't even think about- that it could just be gone in a few minutes.

Jess and Flip's home burned down the other night. Yesterday Jessica called and asked for a ride out to the house and lunch, which I was happy to oblige (she is the BEST lunch date ever, anyway, so I was happy to have an excuse to sip wine over sushi). I just can't get over how the house is totally destroyed. All the things they bought to make life easier. All the things they brought in from "before" injury took over. Jess said I could take some pictures and share them, so here they are:
 We pulled up to the house to find that someone had left a little reminder.
 The front porch area.
 The bedroom.
 The entrance inside the house.
 I actually can't even tell you where this was in the house.
 Flip's custom wheelchair with power assist wheels. This costs more than most cars.
 The custom electric wheelchair. Even if a lot of this will work, the smell will never leave.
 Soggy insulation everywhere.
 It's always a relief to find a shower or tub that will hold a full sized shower bench.
Headed upstairs from the front entrance.
 More bathroom. I didn't know what damage smoke and water could do on its own.
 Flip and Jess's custom memory foam, cool gel, adjustable base king sized bed. Sleep is hard to come by for the rest of your life as an amputee and caregiver, and anything that helps feels like a god-send. I can't imagine having to swallow purchasing another one of these.
 The garage leading into the house area.
 Upstairs, outside.
 I think this was a ceiling somewhere.
 While the kitchen wasn't burned, the water and smoke has destroyed everything.
 Just from the fire.
 Jess is a cook. She loves it. This whole set of cast iron is now contaminated and can't be used again.
 The landing to the upstairs.

While the donations and outreach has already surpassed any expectations, they still need us. They have at least one whole car to purchase, and might have to pay for some adaptive equipment because of program restrictions (no one is being "mean", you just only get so many adaptations in a period). They already started over once, and knowing what that is like I can not even imagine doing it again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hurled & Birthday.

I had a birthday on the 10th, and we found ourselves out of town for it. Aaron is trying to get licensed to skydive on his own, so I got to meet some of the people who do it on the regular. They were super nice people, and all day Saturday I hung out and got to see how safe skydiving can be. Aaron knew that if I was going to make a tandem jump I would arrive to the decision without pestering. On Saturday night I told him to text his instructor and let him know I was ready to go the next day.

So on my 32nd birthday I let a giant man strap me on himself and and hurl us both out of an airplane at 13,500 feet. Even Saturday I cussed when I said I wouldn't do it. But there I was, with my husband a few people in front of me doing his own jump. He's going for a license so he can jump by himself.

I watched everyone else get sucked out; at least, that is what it looks like when others exit the plane. The camera man climbed out the side of the door to film my exit, but we didn't move. Just when I thought we were good to go, my tandem master motions for the camera man to come back in the plane. We were stuck on the seat belt! So I got an extra three minutes or so to think about what I was doing. The plane circled around, we got untangled, and began to scoot to the edge of the plane. He then rocked us back and forth a few times and hurled us out over Suffolk. I shut my eyes until we were stable, and then I began to enjoy our view. After a one minute freefall, he deployed our parachute and we floated to the ground.

I could write on for pages on the total experience, but I will reduce it to this: It worked for me because I did not have to have any responsibility whatsoever. I raised my arms when instructed then lifted my legs at the end for the landing. I'm too much of an artist-type to be able to think about things while doing something so crazy. I wanted to see the world in a new way, and I did. Aaron loves to skydive and fly airplanes and now I know something new about him. I don't think I'll hanker to do it often, but I'd do it again. I'd encourage anyone who can be amazed by the invention of man, seeing life in a new light, and just likes to get a little crazy to do it. It's amazing that I did something not terribly natural but available because some other nutjobs wanted to jump from high places and live to tell about it.

I've got some things brewing for a new series of posts and details about our impending big changes. Baby girl is doing so well; gaining and growing. I can't get over it. I have the happiest baby ever.