Thursday, December 24, 2009

Babes in Toyland

With Santa’s arrival just over the rooftop, I join my niece for the required visit to Santa Claus with her two sons. Strollers and diaper bags packed, we inch along the gold braided path. A Rudolph-themed village entices anxious children and our toes tap to the music of childhood.

“We are Santa’s elves…”I hum to the surround sound of plastic trees and shredded snowflakes.

Wes, a mere breath away from three-years old, waits in anticipation to present Santa with his wish list. The look on his face leaves no doubt – this is serious business.

Once on the red-velvet knee, Levi puckers-down and the magic dissolves into reindeer tears. Quick picture snap and exit baby until next year. A seasoned-pro, Santa remains cool like the frost on a Winter breeze.

Now one-on-one with the Man, Wes chats at length; engaged in intent conversation.

We shrug shoulders and wait. After all, a year’s a long time between good friends.

A nod of understanding, the two come to an agreement. With a tip of Santa’s hat, Wes waves goodbye; his list delivered now and safe in Santa’s keeping.

I bend down to kid-level and ask, “Did you tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas?”

An experienced Mom, I brace for the usual barrage of hot toys and must-haves.

With a twinkle he says, "I asked Santa to bring you a present."

Speechless, I hug Wes and embrace the innocence of childhood, letting it perfume my body with wonders old and new.

Pleased, I see Santa wink as he rubs his belly and lets out a cheerful jolly.

"Thanks," I whisper to the one-who-knows-all and then turn to Wes and say, "He already did."

And that is what Christmas is all about.

Merry Christmas to All

and to

All the Innocence of Childhood Awakened Anew

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No Room for One

Four books in the bag, a pot of coffee in the gut -- I am hostage in the hospital. Mom’s scheduled for a one o'clock test; the hands of my watch point to three o'clock. I flip another page of a year-old magazine and mentally catalog my unfinished Christmas shopping.
Finally, a technician enters the crowded waiting area. The holiday characters on her scrubs warm the room with a cheerful spirit and I set aside my magazine. I count at least ten of the twelve days of Christmas while she checks mom’s wristband.
With Mom’s name and identification number confirmed the employee smiles and says, "Helen, come this way."
Mom pushes her walker to the dressing stall with eighty years of grace. A drop of a sweater and black pants and she dawns a new outfit - blue floral cotton with tie tabs in the back.
Bad news. The carotid angiogram shows a blockage of the right artery and Mom’s charted for morning surgery. I gather my caffeine-riddled body as the outpatient procedure turns inpatient admission. Paperwork, questions, wrong answers. Mom’s baffled. I empty mom's purse for her hearing aid. No ear.
In between blood pressure checks, I spot the eleven pipers dancing along the mid seam, left elbow, on the technician’s top. While in search of the twelfth day of Christmas, I’m interrupted by a brisk voice. An unfamiliar employee’s presence fills the room.
"We're short on rooms right now.” The Cath Lab nurse states in measured breaths. “We'll keep your mom here until the shift change. By then we should have a free bed."
Without a moment of holiday cheer, the no-name employee glances at the overhead monitors and scribbles numbers in the chart. Ms-No-Holiday-Cheer turns on her heels, and disappears behind the pleated curtain. As the night falls silent I question if the hospital has an antidote for the Hum-bug virus.
Hours creep by. Mom sips tepid water. I lean back and finish the remnants of another cup of coffee. Gingerbread latte, peppermint mocha and cinnamon spice. I’ve exceeded my limit of holiday concoctions. I’m ready for the New Year.
Swamped, the staff scrambles to find empty beds. Dusk arrives and still no room available, we relocate for a temporary stay in recovery. Patients moan and intravenous bags hang on hooks. Tucked in a far cubicle, we order dinner and wait for a vacancy. Flat on her back I spoon feed Mom peas. One disappears down her gown.
"Everyone's so nice." Mom jokes with the staff and savors the attention.
"We're not used to having patients that can talk." The recovery room nurse chuckles and brings me salt for my bland potatoes. Low on fuel, my body craves chocolate. I smell a dark blend on her breath and spy the See’s candies at the nurse’s station.
“I was wondering if…” I glance towards the spread of goodies.
“…Happy to share,” she hands me a slice of fruitcake leftover from a staff holiday party. I pick around the chunks of petrified fruit, choke down the stale offering and cough a dry thank you. Define happy. I wonder if I can file a union grievance.
Restless, I bend and stretch. The recovery room cubbyhole stifling, my skin starts to sweat sterile spores. Unconsciously, my foot taps to the cadence of the heart monitor and accompanying blood pressure bleep; my body begs to dance in rhythm.
“Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree,” I hum, orchestrating the bells and whistles of the machines to my own concerto. Not bad.
Mom’s fingers curl around my hand, a joyful smile kisses her parched lips and she whispers, “…How lovely are your branches.”
Together, we finish the song and the night is brighter.
Thirty minutes creep by and we drift into silent holiday memories with an occasional “Remember when…?”
“…I remember,” I say and hold back my thoughts. I remember every wonderful moment.
Layers and layers of spent holidays unwrap like crinkled photographs. Between a giggle of a long ago memory of paper angel wings for a junior church choir the staff member checks mom’s incision.
"Nurse, did they find me a room?" The words slur and mom struggles to hear the answer.
"Soon," with a reassuring pat and a practiced smile the conversation ends.
Early evening we arrive in the telemetry unit. A tiny artificial Christmas tree welcomes visitors and patients; the symbol of the season comforts like a familiar blanket. From a neighboring room, a radio plays Away in a Manger. The words repeat in my mind, “no room for a bed” and I emphasize.
Settled into her room, Mom slumbers as I gaze at the city’s nightline. A kaleidoscope of red, green and white lights blink. Beside the hospital sign a Christmas tree welcomes visitors and staff. The glass holds away the noise of the outside world and I drift deeper into life’s threads.
Stockings stuffed with apples, oranges and nuts. A miniature box of Whitman’s chocolates wedged in the toe. Sticky cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate; the upset stomachs. A tapestry of traditions.
But this tradition; this snag in the tapestry, this stitch I’d rather not have.
Beyond the thin veil of sleep, Mom’s eye lids flicker and a peaceful mew escapes on her breath. The IV drips, the nightlight casts gray shadows and the bedding reeks of industrial- strength-baked cotton. Not chocolate chip cookies.
I sit in a nearby chair and wonder how the days ebbed into years of silver. Lost in reflections, I stroke her worn hands and wish for laughter again.
The effects of the angiogram gone, Mom can use the restroom. Wobbly from the recent stroke, she grasps my arm. We shuffle to the toilet area as a pea rolls to the floor.
Half past late, we hear the rattle of rails. I lean from my corner spot. "You're getting a roommate."
"What's she like?"
"Well," I peek around the end of the bed and say, "Your roommate's a man."
"No…" She squeezes my fingers and gasps.
"…Yes. Remember the shortage of beds.”
"What am I suppose to do? I only have this flimsy gown," she motions for me to come closer, "and no panties."
"He probably doesn't have any either." I touch her shoulder and smile. "So what's the problem?" I sneak a peek again and fan my face. "He's a stud."
"Good grief…"
I catch a glimpse of Mom as she finger combs her silver strands, primps her cotton gown and attempts to camouflage a grin. A man’s coming.
Wait! I’m the one with a new man on my Christmas nice-to-have list. Santa crossed our wish list. Or did he? Widow or divorced, mother like daughter, I rearrange her covers and wink approval.
The nurses push the gurney towards the window. "Helen meet Lillian."
Her roommate lifts a palm and waves. Mom swats me with her good arm; a hue of rose colors her cheeks.
"So I'm the bad seed." I concede. Best time I have had all day.
Curled on her side, Mom twinkles and says, “You’re just like your mother.”
I laugh and realize it’s the best time we’ve both had all day.
Tis the season to be jolly…fa, la, la, la, la.