Just What I Kneeded

What happens after a life-altering knee injury?

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It will never be just one

I was talking to a friend over dinner the other night, and she was telling me how excited she is at the prospect of becoming an aunt.

“I’ll get to see the kid for an hour and then be, like, see you later!”

I’m sort of paraphrasing there, but the hour struck me.

It will never be just one.

When your niece/nephew is a baby, you’ll want to cuddle and sniff their baby heads forever. You’ll relish the times they fall asleep in your arms, even when your arms fall asleep because you’re trying not to move so you don’t wake them. You’ll stick around for hours listening to their chatter as they get a little older. You’ll spend lazy Sunday mornings building Lego castles with towers that reach above their heads and take pictures on your phone because they insist it’s important.

You’ll watch them (and sometimes gasp quietly; other times swear under your breath) as they move from training wheels to two wheels and shout “Watch this!” as they race over the wooden ramp their dad thought was a good idea at the time. You’ll run with them as they race down the street, trying to beat you to the next block. You’ll spend hours throwing the football and making sure that everyone gets equal turns. (And then patiently wait while someone inevitably has a meltdown because the other someone got one extra throw.)

You’ll spend hours trying to find the perfect birthday or Christmas present, even though you know they’re not going to spend more than five minutes with it because they have a hundred other presents. But it has to be just right because they will know it’s from you.

You’ll dance around the living room holding hands and spinning until you’re dizzy because that’s just what they want to do.

When you get your courage up (and they can take themselves to the bathroom), you’ll take them out for Sunday brunch. Just them. No parents. You’ll ask about school and listen as they tell you about the scary principal (who’s not really scary). They’ll tell you wild stories as their imaginations take root and grow. And you’ll listen intently because, by now, you’ve realized this time is going to go by too quickly.

When you really get up your courage, you’ll take them for a weekend. Alone. And it will be big and scary (for you, not the kids), but it will be oh so much fun. Even though you don’t do anything in particular.

You’ll drive two hours just to stand for three more and watch them swim in a meet even though you know it’s going to be hot and sweaty and stinky in the natatorium because it’s important that they know you’re there. That you’re present and cheering for them every step of the way.

You’ll spend an extra 30 minutes simply soaking up all the super-ultra mega hugs of doom your nephew gives because he keeps saying, “Just one more!”

It’s interesting, being an aunt. I never imagined the ways it would change my life, and I never imagined just how much I could love someone else’s children. It’s sometimes hard to articulate exactly what it means to be an aunt and what it entails, but I can be clear on one thing. It will never be just one hour.


One of these characters is programmed to frown when you tell him to smile.



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Happy holidays

I’m freshly back from a whirlwind of holiday traveling, and I’m trying to catch my breath in the short lull before the new year. I’m not complaining though. I’m blessed to have family and friends to visit during the Christmas season, and I try to enjoy as much of it as humanly possible.

My sister’s kids (the niece and one ‘phew) received a Twister game. Despite not having played it in over two decades, my inner competitor determined that I need to school the six and eight year old. I’m not sure my PT would approve the moves I made in order to secure a win, but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

My sister gave our nine-year-old nephew (one of my older brother’s kids, if you’re following along) a catapult. I mention his age only because this particular catapult was for ages 14 and above. An important note on the box that my sister apparently overlooked. My ‘phew asked for my assistance in putting the thing together, and I happily sat down at the table to get to work. The happy lasted for about five minutes. There were SO MANY PIECES. I spent nearly two and a half hours putting that thing together; the nephew bailed after about an hour, but there was no way he could have done it himself anyway.

After I got it together, I flipped the lever, and… the thing barely flopped over. I was completely annoyed after spending all that time (also, the instructions were extremely difficult to follow because there were no words, only pictures). Then, I realized, PHYSICS. I had misplaced the fulcrum. I had to enlist the help of another adult to get a few pieces off and then re-positioned. We tested the catapult with a gum ball, and we nearly took out a window. Holy crap. There was serious fire power in that “toy.” Again, for ages 14+.

I sadly didn’t get a picture of the catapult, but I did snap a few others.

Upturned Christmas tree.

Manning knocked my tree over. Granted, it’s fairly small, but he should not have been jumping on it. This is why I can’t have nice things!

Pic of kids.

It would take a miracle for these two to look the same direction and smile for a picture. There was obviously no Christmas miracle.

Swinging at the nearby park.

Playing on the swings at the park with my niece. What else do you do when it’s a whopping 50 degrees out? Definitely no white Christmas this year. I’m not disappointed.

Picture of the moon on Christmas morning 2015.

The moon about 7:00a Christmas morning.

Cats in front of packages.

Manning (grey) and Mowgli (b&w) think they’re master wrappers. They’re not. They’re a nuisance when it comes to paper.

Cat and remote controlled dinosaur.

An epic Christmas morning battle between a cat (ironically, in this case, named Zen) and a robotic Velociraptor (the new interloper). My money was on the orange beast. (Also, I think it’s important to note that Zen isn’t mine, lest you think I’m a crazy cat lady.)

December has been a busy month. It’s a good end to a long year that had a lot of ups and downs. I’m looking forward to starting 2016 off on the right foot and seeing what the new year has in store. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, there will be a few mistakes.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ― Neil Gaiman

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North Carolina and my ruined childhood

I set out last week to go to North Carolina to spend a few days with my brother and his wife. When I mentioned the trip to one of my friends, she excitedly asked, “Are you going to where they filmed Dawson’s Creek?” Having never seen that particular show, my reply was somewhere along the lines of, “Obviously not! That would be a boring/dumb trip.” But that’s exactly what we ended up doing.

This was the view from the Southport Ferry as we were on ur way to say hi to Pacey, Joey and Dawson.

My view from the Southport Ferry as we were on our way to say hi to Pacey, Joey and Dawson.

While we were talking about the numerous shows/movies that have been filmed in NC, my brother randomly said, “You know Andy Giffith was kind of a jerk.” Uh, excuse me. The sheriff of Mayberry was definitely not a jerk. He was one of my childhood heroes. On a related note, I also watched Matlock religiously because I had an eighty-year-old’s taste in television as a preteen. (Diagnosis Murder, anyone?)

Except then I asked Google if Andy Griffith was a jerk, and there were enough reports to back it up that now I’m unsure. I thanked my brother for ruining my childhood.

While we were in Southport, we went to a Christmas shop that is open year-round. It’s in an old house, and it’s packed to the hilt with all sorts of Christmas ornaments and other accoutrement. Literally packed in every nook and cranny. I ventured upstairs and turned a corner only to see Santa and Mrs. Claus in bed together. The whole tableau creeped me out. I think it was mostly the wooden faces frozen in smiles that didn’t quite meet their eyes.

Santa and Mrs. Claus dolls in a bed.

See? Creepy, right?

I haven’t seen my “little” brother (I use quotes because he’s younger but a good 7 inches taller than me) in over two years. That’s a travesty that I had to remedy! It was so much fun hanging out with him for a while. We’re still apparently two peas in a  pod. I’d never before met his wife’s family, but they were marveling at how similar we are in a number of different ways. For example, we both fold candy wrappers in to neat little squares and have an affinity for peanut butter cups. We both hate mushrooms. We both love James Bond. We share a sense of humor. We blush the brightest shades of red with the slightest provocation. The list goes on.

My brother asked repeatedly if I was ready to move south. As impressed as I was (there are trees everywhere!), he lost me when he told me that it gets to over 100 degrees and stays that way for weeks in the summer. Uh, no thanks. I’m a delicate flower, and I’d melt in that kind of heat. Especially since it’s a muggy heat. Ugh. I will, however, plan to visit more frequently. His in-laws have promised me a tour of numerous places they were outraged my brother didn’t show me. So much to look forward to next time!

***Edited to add… For anyone keeping tabs on my knee, it survived 22 hours in the car in a relatively short period of time. If you count the trip to the beach and back, it was really more like 27 hours in the car. That’s huge. I had so much trouble sitting in the car after the surgery that I was limited to a two-hour radius from home. It’s come a long way in the past year. I’m a bit sore today (one day after getting home), but it’s totally bearable.

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The burrowers

Burrowers. Not to be confused with The Borrowers. Never saw that movie, but I know it’s out there.

The last few weeks–ok, about 10 or 11 or 12 at this point–have been a bit difficult. In a protective measure, I’ve unconsciously drawn in to myself. I’ve spent more time alone in the last two months than I have… ever, really. I can count on one hand the times that I had someone over or I went to someone’s home. Both scenarios on one hand. And I haven’t been out in all that time.

This is unusual for me. To spend SO MUCH time with only my own thoughts to occupy my mind. There are actually a number of good things that have come from this time, but what’s on my mind tonight are what I’ve decided to call the burrowers. Though, even as I write this, I realize that’s not the nicest sounding name/description.

What I’m referring to are the people who have burrowed into my life and who refuse to leave. Even when I’m disengaged. As I slowly start to actively engage again, I can’t help but be immensely thankful for these people. The ones who reached out and leaned in. The ones who sent inquiring texts and uplifting messages. The ones who told me my self-imposed hermitude (it’s a word because I just used it) needed to stop. Those who didn’t disappear under the guise of giving me my space.

It’s these people who mean the most to me. I’m humbled by the magnitude of their caring. And eternally thankful that they choose me.

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An ending

“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
-Shel Silverstein

As we were casually eating brunch one lazy morning in late September, I said to a friend that I felt this fall was going to be a season of change for me. I could feel that there were decisions to be made, steps to take and change to experience. I didn’t know at the time how big at least one change would be.

We were going through photographs a few days after my dad passed away, and I was surprised to realize that I’d never seen photos of him as a little boy. I’ve seen pictures of him when he was in his 20s, 30s and so on. I’ve seen pictures of him on the day he married my mother. I’ve seen pictures of him cradling his newborn children. But I’ve never seen pictures of him when he was a tow-headed little kid.

I was struck by just how much one of my nephews looks like he did as a kid. So similar, in fact, my brother-in-law was like, “Where did you find that old-timey picture of N? No, seriously. Who is that?!”

A photo of my dad when he was about 5 years old.

My dad. The photo wasn’t dated, but I’m guessing he was around 5 years old.

Grief is an interesting thing to experience. At first, there are few other thoughts. It’s impenetrable. Then when you get your wits about you again, there are subtle reminders in quiet moments every day. Then there are some good days followed by days where you have to find an empty conference room because the tears won’t stop at work. It’s fleeting and hard to pin down and ignores your attempts to tie a neat bow around it to put it away on a figurative shelf.

It’s been a little over a month now since my dad died, and every day is a little bit better than the last. Life goes on, and there are still decisions to be made, steps to take and change to experience.


Fresh air

Do you ever get the feeling that you can’t breathe? That no matter how hard you inhale, no matter how much air you pull in to your lungs, it’s not enough? A feeling that you’re suffocating, even when you’re breathing? That pretty much sums up how I felt for most of September. I need October to be different. To be better. I need to be able to breathe in the fresh, crisp air of fall and feel that my lungs are finally satiated.

I started the month with a nasty staph infection. The infection and double antibiotics used to treat it knocked me on my ass for weeks. I felt awful. I was exhausted. I took more sick leave in the first two weeks than I have in the last 10 years (excluding time off for knee surgeries). When I did go back to work, it was exhausting. I would go to the office, work for eight hours, come home to sleep for four hours, get up for dinner and go right back to bed for the night. It’s only been in the last 10 days or so that I’ve really felt like myself.

Somewhere in there, my little brother–someone who is so much like me, it’s scary– and his wife suffered through a miscarriage. It was devastating. I hate seeing people hurt and knowing there is not a thing on earth I can do to ease their pain.

Then. Then my dad passed away early last Friday. It was unexpected. And it blindsided me. Even after I got the call that he’d been admitted to the ICU, I didn’t think the end was near. But he was there barely more than 48 hours before the doctors told us he’d suffered extensive and irreparable brain damage. He was not breathing on his own. I watched and wept as they removed the life support, and he took his last breaths. Now, I find myself tearing up at the most random times. When I see a guy with a grey beard standing in front of me in the grocery store. When I hear a certain song on the radio. When someone softly says, “Oh, I just heard…”

I know that things will get better. I know that time will march on and the pain of the last week will eventually fade.

But right now, I need a chance to catch my breath.

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A convo with the nephew

I’ve talked about brunch with my niece and ‘phew before, and I took the kids out for pancakes yesterday when I was in town. I love taking them out to brunch and getting to chat with them one on one. Well, two on one.

This convo with the 5-year-old ‘phew yesterday was too much for me.

Me: What are you up to in school these days?

‘Phew: You do NOT want to go to Mr. Bakle’s (the principal) office.

Me: What? Have you been there lately?

Him: NO! And I do not want to go. If you get turned to blue, you have to go to his office.

Me: What do you mean turned to blue?

Niece (helpfully chiming in): That means you are in trouble (they have a card system for behavior, I deduced later), and you’ll have to go to his office. But you don’t want to go there.

‘Phew: No because he’ll talk in his loud voice! (This was accompanied by hand gestures that are similar to when he roars like a lion.)

Me: Well, maybe you’d just better be on your best behavior so you won’t have to go to his office.

Them (in unison): Yeah!

What makes this hilarious is that their principal is actually a really great guy, from all accounts. He’s one of those hands on principals who are actively involved in the day-to-day with the students and teachers. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him, so I find it hilarious that the ‘phew even brought this up. I have no idea what brought it on.

This reminds me… did you learn to spell the different principal/principle by saying, “The principal is your pal?” So many tricks to learning the English language.

Bear-shaped pancakes.

He got bear-shaped pancakes this time instead of the usual pig. “Aunt Laura! Take a picture, take a picture!”