Christmas decorations piled high on the dining room table... surely I'm not the only one...

Christmas decorations piled high on the dining room table… surely I’m not the only one…

it’s late January and my husband took Santa Claus off our front door tonight.  I was driving home from work and also noticed that one of our neighbors still had their quite superb Christmas lights glowing so we were not the last.  So I was quite impressed when I walked in and Dick had the Christmas tree stripped of all its ornaments as well.   A little sad too, although I guess having your tree still up on Martin Luther King Day is a little much. The dining room table is piled high with Christmas stuff that will take days to get back into the attic.  I hear from my obsessive compulsive patients that their ornaments and decorations are put up immediately after Christmas.  Certainly that’s the way it was done by my mother.  I am obviously not afflicted with that particular disorder, although a little of it right now would be a blessing.

We had a busy, wonderful and stressful holiday season.  Our son Rob was home fairly early for Christmas break on the 14th so we went Christmas tree shopping on that following Sunday.  There were no Christmas trees anywhere!!!  The Wisconsin Tree Farm people were gone; all that was left was the empty putt-putt golf course, usually hidden by rows of trees.  All Lowe’s had were wreaths and garlands.  The same thing had happened last year, but we had been shopping even later due to the death of my husband’s father.  But the 16th?????   We were flabbergasted as was this other couple who was wandering around Lowe’s with the same angst-filled look on their faces.   So I sent husband and son off on their way secretly whispering over the phone so that the angst-filled couple wouldn’t hear)… and I went home to cook.  My personal theory about the Wisconsin folks was that they were mad that Arkansas had stolen their football coach, Bielema, and had left in disgust.  I got no respect for that idea from anyone.

The tree that they showed up with, well, it had character.  Flat on the top and it looked like a large animal had taken a bite out of it.  Rob further commented that he had had to talk his dad into it since it would not fit into our old tree stand and said father had to buy a new stand – a true Christmas miracle.  But it was a TREE!  It stood in our living room for another week before it was decorated and of course, I didn’t get a picture.  I never get a picture.  We had our customary argument of  “icicles versus no icicles”.  Rob and I won and icicles were artfully thrown at the end.  I didn’t have time this year to make a popcorn and cranberry strand to put around the tree like I have done almost every year.  When I mentioned it,  my husband hung a bag of unpopped corn on the tree as a tribute; it was lovely.  Truly touching.

We spent lots of time with family and friends.  Home for my sister-in-law’s 60th birthday party, a gorgeous event and much fun.  Back to host my friend Dina and her family for Christmas Day and a hiking trip to Devils Den State Park with lots of extremely competitive games.  One night, the four teenagers and my husband played everything from Monopoly to Risk, Taboo to Poker from 4:30 pm to 4:30 am.  Somehow everything is funny at 3:00 am.  It was a hoot.  I cooked and cooked and cooked, and was in heaven.  Rob was home, having fun, old high school friends coming in and out, close talks with dear friends.  After Christmas, the one-year-old birthday party of my great nephew, with my other great nephew toddling around.  Four generations.  Beautiful memories.

I knew it was coming.  I knew it because I remember feeling it myself.  “Mom I probably won’t come home spring break”.  He said it with a little hesitation and a look like he didn’t know how i was going to take his comment, but hoped it would be okay.  I bravely said something like, “Yeah, I didn’t think you would” or,”I was kinda expecting that”.  I am not sure that is really true completely.  I guess I knew it in a mental way, but I had not let myself think what that might really feel like.  I knew that after the summer of my freshman year in college, I had not lived in my home or even in my home town for any substantial period of time.  I hear it from every college kid I work with as well.  It just doesn’t feel the same to go home any more.  So I knew.

And then things got a little more complicated.  Rob had been having symptoms all holiday long that were bothersome; backache, trouble getting his breath.  We thought it was a pulled muscle and had treated it as such.  But something didn’t make sense, especially a hacky kind of cough he had as well.  The last afternoon before he was to return to Vanderbilt, I made him go to the doctor and check it out.  I got the call on Friday.  He said in a curious kind of tone, “Mom, I have a collapsed lung”.   I raced out of my office, hurriedly canceling my 4:00 patient and saying that I would,”Be in touch”.  He had a spontaneous pneumothorax which by the time of the diagnosis had evolved into a tension pneumothorax for all you medical folks reading this.  Happens to tall, skinny, healthy young people.  You really can’t win sometimes.

A Spontaneous Pneumothorax; the left lung (right side of the picture) looks empty because it has collapsed

A week and a pleurodesis surgical procedure later to inflate his lung, we are driving the nine hours back to Vanderbilt.  He had missed the first week of school and would have to catch up, while also “resting and taking it easy on that lung”.  No hard physical activity for at least a month.  No airplanes for a couple of months. Scuba diving gone for good.  I had seen chest tubes pulled in and out of him, one bigger than the size of my thumb, had spent seven days and six nights with him in the hospital. I had watched him be incredibly resilient and handle himself with courage.  Leaving him was going to be…. difficult.

I was not a healthy kid.  I had a neurological condition where my body could not cool itself down if overheated.  I grew out of it slowly, but I could not do much in the summer because I had to remain in the air conditioning or have fans blowing on me.  I had migraines.  I also was on medication for seizures although I never remember actually having a seizure but must have had irregular  brain activity.  I remember going to St. Louis when I was twelve to be evaluated as a candidate for some kind of brain surgery that I ended not having.  Anyway, I was always pushing against my mother who was extremely protective, if not over-protective.  Always fighting with her that I thought I could do something that she and/or the doctors didn’t think I could do.  I never went to camp.  In fact, I had never been away from home more than one night by myself when I went to college.  Now that’s weird.  I was told I might have to come home even then if I couldn’t manage my health issues.

So I teared up when we left.   I watched him walk back to the dorm, telling his friend who was helping unload that he couldn’t pick up anything heavy for a while.   He understood.  I had to let go.  Again.  I am not going to make him fight me.   On the way home, we talked about football because it was the weekend where the NFL was down to eight teams vying for the Super Bowl.   It rained the whole way, really rained hard.  I have only cried once since and that was this morning, maybe because I got up at 4:30 am.   This one is a little unexpected.  I hope he is handling it okay; after all it is his lung.  I will try to choose my times to carefully ask and “be mom”.

Somehow all of that puts a different perspective on him not coming home for spring break.  It doesn’t matter anymore.

And by the way,  I never had to leave college.