Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

A Fortnight For Fortitude

It has been quite a fortnight. Two Fridays before last, Skylar fell off her horse Spot. She cried at first, but than clambered back into the saddle and proceeded to finish her lesson with aplomb. Her instructor, who thinks of Skylar -- with some justification -- as an unusually sensitive person, was extremely impressed with what both of us took for a newfound maturity.

Saturday, Skylar woke up sore, but got ready for Live Theater Workshop, where she's preparing a production of The Music Man, without incident. She was in a really good space, actually, as I drove her down, singing along to her music with exuberance. When we got there, however, we realized that there was no class that week. Unlike her fellow performers, she missed the announcement the previous week because she was unable to attend.

Having made the long trek from Oro Valley to Speedway and Beverly, however -- made longer by the madness of the Gem and Mineral Show -- I wasn't about to drive straight back. So we went to Park Place Mall instead, where Skylar found some nice clothes at H&M, replaced her favorite headphones from Typo, and had a generally relaxing time. We then had a nice meal at P.F. Chang's before heading home. And she seemed to be on the mend, though clearly still not 100%.

Sunday was a day for taking it easy. Since her mom was out of town and I had to attend to my mom in the morning -- her nursing aide only comes for nine hours per week now -- Skylar had lots of alone time, which she is always demanding more of these days. Then, in the late afternoon, I retreated into the bedroom to watch the Cal-Arizona game while she did her usual reading of fan fiction on the couch. Although the game started somewhat poorly by the standards of a Bears fan, it ended with a glorious and extremely surprising triumph that lifted my spirits greatly.

I was feeling happy as I emerged into the Teenager Zone, so much so that I volunteered to leave the house earlier than usual -- I typically put my mom to bed starting around 9:15pm -- to give Skylar more time to do her singing and bouncing on the trampoline, activities she prefers to perform when her parents are elsewhere. I decided to head to Barnes & Noble before driving over to my parents' place because looking at books is something that always makes my good moods better.

Unfortunately, the volume on my phone got turned down accidentally and I missed the many calls that first Skylar, then her mom, and then my dad, on her mom's behalf, were all placing to me. Had I not glanced down at the screen for a minute, it might have taken me even longer to realize that there was a crisis. As it was, I knew within fifteen minutes. But when your daughter is home alone, in pain and unable to walk, fifteen minutes seems like fifteen hours.

I rushed home, trying to piece the details together by phone. She hadn't fallen or done anything otherwise dramatic. She had simply turned her ankle a bit while bouncing. Given the trampoline's forgiving surface and the fact that she had done something similar on numerous previous occasions without significant consequences, I was pretty sure that she was exaggerating her distress in order to tighten the screws on her mom, who was already feeling guilty for not being at home.

I didn't say any of this to Skylar upon arriving home, naturally. But when I noticed that her ankle wasn't swelling, I figured that the pain would go away with some rest. So I did my best to calm her down and got her to bed, making a mental note to wake up earlier than usual, since it would surely take her even longer than usual -- she is a fourteen-year-old girl, after all -- to get ready for school.

When I got her up the next morning, however, it was immediately apparent that she wasn't going to be get around campus. Although her ankle was barely swollen and not discolored in the least, she couldn't but any weight on it at all. I decided to let her rest a while longer, then took her to Urgent Care. After a long wait and two sets of X-Rays, the doctor on-call informed us that the ankle appeared to be broken, which really did come as a surprise to both of us. He referred us to Tucson Orthopedic Center to confirm the diagnosis and figure out what kind of immobilization and protection the injury would need to heal.

As it turned out, the day had turned improbably wet and cold, after a warm and sunny weekend, which made getting around especially difficult. I took Skylar home for a while to rest, then forced her, against her will, to head back out for a same-day appointment. The wait was very long and she was very grumpy, as the full import of her injury started to sink in. By the time the doctor was able to see her, she was feeling very sorry for herself indeed. And once he told her that she would need to be in a cast for at least a month, the gloom outside was no match for the gloom inside.

Although the doctor couldn't be 100% sure what had happened, he conjectured that she had sustained a stress fracture -- the break was on Skylar's almost-closed growth plate, the ankle's weakest point -- and then widened it later, which probably means that the initial injury was sustained when she fell off her horse, since she came down hard on that leg.

Somehow, I managed to get her to school early the next morning for high-school registration. I was permitted the rare privilege of accompanying her around campus until her first-period class started -- she didn't even give me the Death Glare -- and was made viscerally aware of just how big a burden it was going to be for her to spend a month in a cast. Because even though she has moment of wanting to be the center of attention, she prefers to spend most of her time on the margins. Almost everyone who saw her when I was there was nice to her, expressing concern, but that only accentuated her sense of being under constant surveillance.

Predictably, the rest of the week was a huge struggle for both of us. Getting around on crutches exhausted her, what with having to make heavy use of muscle groups she hadn't really needed much before. The next morning, I could barely get out of bed and was the target of a massive tantrum once I did. But she did make it to school, though a few minutes late. Thursday was better, in large measure because her friends gave her Valentine's Day treats. When I picked her up to take her to her flute lesson, however, she threw another fuss, saying she just didn't have the energy to go. Although I was able, finally, to persuade her not to cancel, her arms were so tired from the crutches that she couldn't hold her flute up without shaking. Luckily, her instructor was understanding and let her experiment on the lighter, shorter piccolo instead.

When we got home Thursday, Skylar talked to her mom, who then communicated with me that she should be allowed to stay home Friday. I concurred, in part because I just didn't want to have another day of stressful solo-parenting. As it turned out, though, Kim had clearly made the right decision, since Skylar slept in until 2:30 in the afternoon and was still able to get to bed at a somewhat reasonable time Friday night. The body does need time to heal, after all.

By this time I couldn't wait for Kim to get back home. I love my father-daughter time normally, but the circumstances had made it hard to enjoy the week the way I had hoped to. It didn't help that Kim was also dealing with some difficulties at the end of her trip. It may seem strange to have been craving the normalcy of our hardly-normal domestic situation, but that's what I was doing.

When you're the parent of a fourteen-year-old girl, though, the search for stability often seems futile. As I told a friend on the phone last night, this age reminds me of those periods in babyhood and the pre-school years when developmental milestones come fast and furious and often simultaneously. The difference, of course, is that the ones Skylar is going through right now are challenging in a different way.

Breaking one's ankle may not be a universal milestone, but it seemed to signal to her that it was time for other "breaks" to occur. For example, although she had already confessed to me that she had joined her friends in using bad language at school, she hadn't really used it around her parents. All of a sudden, though, the minute she realized that she was going to be laid up for a while, she started cussing like the proverbial sailor. That made the many outbursts during my week of solo-parenting interesting to say the least. Sometimes I started to laugh at the incongruity of Skylar suddenly sounding like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, but that only enraged her more.

It helped somewhat when she discovered South Park shortly before her mom's return home. Although the show definitely contributes to her newfound foul-mouthedness, it also leavens the linguistic barrage and makes it easier to not take personally. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that suddenly falling in love with South Park can be considered a developmental milestone, it does mark a significant change in the way Skylar views the world, the logical counterpoint to her fixation on The Exorcist this past fall. Even if she remains very much the teenager in turmoil, it's much easier to detect an adult sensibility -- at least the ironic sort that both of her parents prefer -- rising to the surface of her consciousness.

While I was relieved that Kim was back, the past week was more fraught than I had hoped. For one thing, Kim was still sorting through problems that had arisen on her trip, combined with having to return to the workplace in an extremely stressful time. For another, Skylar still had her cast on and was in some ways even less happy about it than she had been in the initial aftermath of her diagnosis. The novelty had worn off and the claustrophobia was mounting.

That's why I was selfishly glad that they persisted in their plans for a mother-daughter trip to Los Angeles, though it would obviously be harder to pull off than either had been thinking. I knew it would be good for them, of course, and wanted them to be happy. But I also needed a break, at least to a degree. And I had big plans for making serious headway on my reorganization project that has been delayed over and over by a combination of my attention-deficit issues and all of the other must-be-done-now tasks that inevitably get in the way.

Unfortunately, as was the case on the last few trips the two of them had taken together since my parents moved out to Tucson, I found that much of the free time I'd been eager to enjoy ended up getting absorbed by my caregiving responsibilities. Sure, I could have rushed through my time at my parents' place the way I usually do. And maybe I should have. It's hard, though, to sustain that level of frenzy when it's not necessary to do so, particularly when I can see that both my mother and father do a lot better when I adjust to their pace of existence.

It was also the case that I still need to catch up on my rest from the walking pneumonia that I couldn't shake the whole month of January. My body -- and mind -- were definitely still running an energy deficit and did benefit significantly from the opportunity to slow down and get a little extra sleep. I know that I haven't been sleeping enough since I began taking care of my mom, so it was good to be able to get closer to my goal of seven hours a night.

Now Skylar and Kim are back home, though, and I'm annoyed with myself for not getting more done in their absence. I have a feeling that getting Skylar to school tomorrow will not be easy, since Mondays are tough under the best of circumstances. And I worry that the usual domestic stresses will now come to the for now that the fortnight of exceptional problems has drawn to a close. That said, I'm happy that they are both home and am looking forward to watching the Oscars with them tonight, something we weren't able to do last year, as had been our practice for years, because Kim was out of town.
Tags: everyday, parenting

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