Saturday, November 19, 2011

Money Week

Bill’s company reimburses employees for certain adoption expenses. We received a hearty reimbursement check a few weeks ago. It was a mere fraction of our actual expenses, but it was still nice to have that little bump. For a few days, we were rich!

Sunday: We arrived at church both on time and reasonably well groomed. Unfortunately, we also forgot Ruslan’s walker. This meant that one of us had to carry him or two of us hold his hands as he walked to church and the car. After church, we went swimming. In light of our new finances, Bill talked me into a family membership at a local health club (left to my own reasoning, I could have easily proved that it is more economical to remain unhealthy and die young rather than pay the monthly membership fee). We’ve been going swimming on Sunday afternoons because their “therapy pool,” which is kept at a balmy 96 degrees, is open for free swim on Sundays. Oh, to be WARM! It’s almost worth the price (almost). It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. We have something to look forward to after church and the kids come home wiped out so my essential Sunday afternoon naps are uninterrupted. The one drawback of the day was that we also had to carry/walk Ruslan to and from the pool since we still didn’t have the walker. On that note, things with Ruslan have been much, much better. I’ll write more about that later. Thankfully, he is improving significantly.

On Sunday night, Bill mentioned that he ordered a new bike on e-bay that he’d been obsessing over for a few weeks, bringing his total up to three bicycles. Discretion forbids that I name the price here, but suffice to say that it was more than my first car and a good chunk of that reimbursement check. We were poor again.

This is our following conversation:

Marnie: “This is why we are all starving. You keep squandering all the grocery money.”
Bill: “I knew you were going to say that. Nothing you say can surprise me anymore.”
Marnie: “Good, in that case I’ll just let you know right now that we are going to adopt two more girls.”
Bill: (pause) “Ok. Just let me have some say in the whole thing.”
Marnie: “Of course you’re going to have some say. It’s going to be your idea.”
Then I gave him a kiss on the cheek and left to rake the living room.

On Monday we began horseback riding lessons at a new farm. Ruslan and Will are getting “Horse Therapy” once a week at a farm in town. Three of my other kids got wind of the deal (how does one say, “no” to one child and “yes” to another?), so it was three riding lessons plus two horse therapy sessions each time. Oh my, that was painful. I started calling around and found a local farm that offers lessons for about half the price and is only three miles from our house rather than fifteen. As soon as I turned into the driveway of this farm, I was struck with the sin of covetousness. It is BEAUTIFUL. The farm is in a small valley and butts up to the mountains. They have an incredible mountain view and I am going to get to see it every week, for half price! (Thank you God, for that view.) I wonder how they ever get anything done. If I lived there, I would spend all my time just soaking in those mountains. It was cleansing for my soul, which is good because…

Later that night I mentioned to Bill that maybe we could buy a second walker for Ruslan and just keep it in the car. My reasoning for this is that our garage is in the basement (I know, what total idiots would adopt a handicapped child while living in a multi-level house?) and helping Ruslan down the stairs and into the car is a full-man job, usually falling on me. One of the other kids will take Will down, but for some reason, I am the one who usually ends up making the trip back upstairs to get the walker, if I remember at all. This means three trips to the car for every outing: one for Ruslan, one for the walker and one for whatever it is that I realize I forgot as I’m backing out of the driveway. Plus, I finally found a reasonable supplier ( and I got our last walker for $200 (negligible considering I was steered toward $2000 walkers when this all began). So, I made the case to Bill and (brace yourself) biker-boy actually said to me, “I don’t know. $200 seems like an awful lot of money just to eliminate a trip upstairs.” I did not mention the bike/healthclub membership at this time because in the next breath, Bill asked me if I had found any girls to adopt. I hadn’t even started looking. This was a gloriously unexpected opening. I decided I would be more effective if I fumed over the money issue for a few days and went to look at special needs girls available for adoption on the internet.

On Tuesday, I fumed.

On Wednesday, my friend Maryann called. She’s the one who lost her husband in a biking accident in May. She misses him dreadfully and my heart aches for her on a daily basis. An officer from her base in Japan was in the states and he called that day asking if he could stop by. She invited him to dinner and about half way through the evening, he mentioned that the military was finished investigating the bicycle accident. They had held onto her husband’s bike and helmet during the investigation. Since it was over, he was returning them to Maryann. He had brought the bike with him to the states, assembled it, and he had it with him. He told her there was still some blood on the helmet, but the bike was undamaged. He put it in her garage before he left. She still hadn’t looked at it when we talked, but eventually, she’s going to have to walk into that garage. So…. That was hard.

Talking with Maryann served to remind me that my husband does have some redeeming qualities. He is, after all, alive. I brought up the walker again, mentioning this time that it is a mere FRACTION of the cost of his THIRD bike. Then I paused for effect. Then I told him that I forgive him for being imperceptive about our money, but if he doesn’t agree about the second walker, I’ll write about it in my blog. He said, “Go ahead. If you do, I’ll take pictures of our living room and post them in the comment section.” However, I am not afraid of this. I reminded him that most of my readers are women and that both of our mothers like me best. He told me to order the walker.

On Thursday I got a report back from a gait clinic where I had taken Ruslan in August. After three months, they finally sent me his evaluation. The doctor decided that his condition was not severe enough for surgery at this time, but asked to see him for another evaluation in two years. In the meantime, they recommend that we continue with physical therapy, horse therapy and swimming. This freed up a bicycle-sized chunk of money that would have gone toward the deductible/copay of the surgery: anesthesiologist, drugs administered, surgeon, use of the facility, and follow up appointments. I know this because of what we went through with Will’s eye surgery. We were rich again.

Later that night, Will told me, “my tooth hurt.” I suddenly remembered that Will had so many cavities when I first took him to the dentist, they recommended putting him under general anesthesia and filling them all at once. At the time, Will had eye surgery coming up, braces he was getting used to, trips we were about to take and family coming to visit. I decided to put it off for a while. Sadly, so much has been going on in the meantime that I totally forgot about his teeth. Pitiful. I had left him with unfilled cavities for six months! I felt horrible and spent the night berating myself and hoping that he would wake up pain free.

On Friday morning, the first thing Will said to me when he woke up was that his tooth hurt. Perfect. I should have taken care of this months ago. I spent most of the morning in a guilt ridden state. My dentist doesn’t work on Fridays. Apparently she is not alone in this. I left a message asking for an appointment to put Will under the general anesthesia and get the other cavities filled. Then I started calling dentists to see if anyone had an opening between now and Thanksgiving. I thought if I could just get that one problem tooth taken care of, we could get through Thanksgiving pain free and deal with the other cavities later. I finally got an emergency appointment and ran to pick up Will from school. He was in the middle of his Thanksgiving feast, wearing a T-shirt dyed brown, cut with fringes and painted with Indian-type stuff. He also had a paper headdress with six feathers (he’s an important Indian) and I brought along Cookie Monster, Elmo and the “Big Yellow Bird,” just in case. He was the picture of special needs cuteness. I sheepishly explained our situation to the dentist who looked in Will’s mouth expecting a mine field. What she found was that his teeth shouldn’t be causing him any pain, but he had an ulcer on the inside of his cheek. It was $85 for the office visit. For the second time this year, I had taken my child to a doctor, only to find out they really didn’t need to be seen.

Last night Bill asked me again about girls available to adopt. I found about ten that would fit easily into our family. So, I showed him the list and we picked a few that I am going to ask for more information about. I didn’t mention the fee schedule. From my perspective the children are a given, it’s the money that comes and goes. We ended up talking about a few house repairs/ improvements that we really need to take care of and Bill handed me an application for a 0% credit card. We are poor again. …It’s better this way.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Husband Shaved His Legs

My husband shaved his legs. 

I’m having a hard time dealing with this emotionally.  After all, the man is half Norwegian.  It’s not like he was particularly hairy to begin with.  Before we married, I mocked him enough about his lack of manly­­ chest hair that one of our groomsmen gave us some of his own chest hair as a wedding gift.  I tried to implant them with a safety pin as Bill was sleeping but it didn’t really work.  Plus, shortly after that I learned that the “waxed look” was in, so I let it go. 

Bill hit puberty a few years later and grew enough manly body hair to put him farther along the spectrum.  Even though God graciously made up for what might be considered a deficiency, Bill has no appreciation for God’s merciful bounty.  He shaved it off last Wednesday night.  I think he may be taking particular evil glory in this, because he waited until bedtime, when I was certain to be nearby.  First he went at it with the electric clippers then he took a razor in the shower. 

I now have a husband with prettier legs than me.  I also have two teen age sons who are paying very close attention.  For the past few days, every time Bill walks into a room, they sort of shriek and hide their eyes.  And then we have the “bald” comments to add to the family conversations.  When Bill said, “Reilly, I’m putting my foot down...”  Matt muttered “I’m putting my BALD foot down...” and so it goes.  

It all started a few years ago when Bill bought a road bike.  He’s steadily been getting faster and faster until this year, he realized he had a shot at hitting the top spot in the “Masters” category for triathlons in his series.  Not entirely according to talent/training mind you.  The man is an engineer.  He figured out the point system and then realized if he went to the less well attended races, he had a better shot at placing high and getting more points.  On the last race of the season, he had a chance at the top spot --if his competition didn’t show up.  He did show up, of course, and beat Bill by one second.  So, Bill missed the first place Masters spot over one second.  

I gave him a new nickname (Loser) for a few weeks after that, which was really fun for me, but it’s only fair to note that what happened next is partly my fault.   Bill took revenge by signing up for the Beach to Battleship Iron-Man Triathlon in North Carolina.

The triathlon works like this:   Swimming is first with the entry at the tip of Wrightsville Beach and a frigid swim up the bay for 2.4 miles.  The racers exit at a dock and run to T1 (Transition 1) where the racers can change out of their wet suits, into their racing clothes and grab their bikes.  Then they bike for 112 miles and end up at a second transition area (T2), on an island where the battleship North Carolina is dry docked.  Here they drop off their bikes, change into their running shoes and then do the 26.4 mile marathon (Freaks).  They finish at the same T2 spot where everyone has a good cry and then we all go home.

Thank God, Bill is not a complete idiot.  He signed up as part of a relay team.  Relay teams have an advantage because they don’t have the built up fatigue of the other racers.  Also, for the transition, all they have to do is meet and pass off an ankle bracelet with the electronic chip/timer.  They don’t have to change clothes/shoes like the other racers.   Bill did the bike race while two of his friends, Glen and Casey, did the swim and the run.  

Have I mentioned that we have six kids?  Bill said he would go alone but, “it would be more fun if you came along…”  Then he went through his check list:  smile, look her in the eyes, adopt loving, hopeful expression, a gentle squeeze on the arm, count silently to 100 and wait for response.  Repeat as needed until subject complies. 

We took the kids out of school early Thursday and drove the rest of the day to Wilmington, NC.  On Friday, Bill drove the bike course, went to the pre-race meeting and we met up with his team mates to eat dinner and humbly pray that the racers, their wives, children and marriages all survived the next day.

On Saturday morning at 5:30am we snuck out of the hotel room and I drove Bill and Casey to the race site and dropped them off.  I now had two hours to wake/feed/grab the kids and get back to T1 to see Bill off.  When I tried to wake them, Matt and Paul merely rolled their eyes.  Reilly smiled and said, “no thanks Mom,” and when I asked Sharon if she wanted to come with me to watch Daddy start his race she said, “not even one little bit!” and put the covers over her head.   This left me with Ruslan and Will, my least mobile children and Mary (Casey’s wife) and their three kids ages 6, 4 and 2—not exactly mobile either.

We got to T1 about 8am.  It was a mad house.  There were 750 people doing the full triathlon and 1,000 doing the half (as in “half the distance,” 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.2 mile run; for the more emotionally well-adjusted racers).  The swim started about 7:20am and Glen was such a fast swimmer that by the time we found Bill, we really only got to talk to him for a few minutes before Glen ran into T1.  Glen was the tenth swimmer to finish, but since they had such a fast transition, Bill was the second cyclist out of T1. 

He told me later what a rush it was.  As the second cyclist out of the transition area, the crowd was going NUTS!  The streets were lined with patches of cheering people all the way out of town.  He passed the first cyclist about two miles into the race so for the next fifteen miles, Bill was the lead cyclist.  There was a motorcycle that trailed the lead biker, so they all knew Bill was in the lead.  Then he got passed and he was second again until about ten miles before the end of the race when he got passed again.  Every few miles, there were aid stations with water, food and people cheering like crazy.

Meanwhile, Mary and I were back at T1.  It was a 112 mile race, so if Bill averaged 25 mph, that meant just over 4 hours to walk back to the car, drive to the hotel, wake/feed/grab the other kids and drive about 10 miles to a ferry to take us to T2.  We needed every second.  It was murder.  Suffice to say that it involved two closed roads, missed directions, Droid internet not working (!), an invisible trolley and me jumping a curb and parking on grass in order to catch a “water taxi” over to T2.  We didn’t get there until 12:30 and I was frantic thinking that we’d missed Bill.

The second transition area is on an island on the Cape Fear River.  There is NO WAY it was a big enough area to hold 1750 racers and their families.  It was packed!  Plus, apparently, the island floods every day at high tide.  We waited by the road on a strip of land about three feet wide with the racers on one side and a swamp on the other.   It was cold and windy.  Mary, Glen and I had nine total kids between us aged 2 to 14 that we were trying to keep on the three foot strip, out of the water, out of the road, warm, entertained and alive while we watched for Bill.  There were tons of racers coming in because 1,000 of them were just doing half the distance and coming into the same T2 area.  There was no indication re: which racers were from the full or half Iron Man.  We finally decided to look for expensive bikes/helmets and shaved legs.  I was expecting Bill at 1:00 at the very latest, but that time came and went with no Bill.  I felt better thinking that we hadn’t seen many other racers who might be  doing the full race, but the minutes were starting to add up.  1:05, 1:10, 1:15, the last time he was this late, he had wiped out and left half his left hip on the roadside.  I was getting worried.

In fact, I was near tears for most of the morning.  While Bill was biking, there was no way we could communicate.  I was worried that he was cold or hungry, that he was getting rained on, that he pulled a muscle or was cramping, that he wiped out or that he was dead.  He normally averages about 23 to 25 miles and hour on flat land and he has wiped out and hurt himself in the past.  Plus lurking in the back of my mind was the fact that Maryann’s husband, Bruce, died in a biking accident just five months ago in May.  It was a hard morning for me.  As we were driving toward T2 Matt finally asked me, “Mom, what is WRONG?”  So, grabbing the teachable moment, I said to him, “Matt, you’ll understand someday, but when you get married, it’s like God takes part of your soul and melds it with the other person’s.  When they hurt, you hurt, and that’s just the way it is.  It only gets worse when you have kids, because the same thing happens, until your soul feels like Swiss cheese and you just don’t have much left to work with.”  Matt looked over at me, rolled his eyes, said, “Geez Mom, it’s like you’re Voldemort!” and I felt my teachable moment end.

Bill finally arrived at about 1:25.  He was the 17th fastest out of the 750 racers, but since Glen swam so fast and their transition was so quick, Bill was among the first few racers with shaved legs to arrive.  We were waving like mad but he never saw us.  I rudely left Mary with the kids and ran over to T2 to find him.  He looked AWFUL.  He was in so much pain, he couldn’t move but he couldn’t stay still either.  He kept stopping, then leaning, then moving around again, then stopping, then leaning, trying to get the cramps out, but knowing he didn’t have enough energy left to stand on his own to stretch, and looking for somewhere to lean again.  I’m sure his blood sugar was low.   He was cold.  He was wet, and he kept saying things like, “Don’t EVER LET ME DO THAT AGAIN!!”  and, “It was SO WINDY and IT RAINED!”  and “Everything HURTS!”  and, “If I EVER even TALK about doing this again, take a baseball bat to my bike!”   (NOTE: It’s a carbon frame.  The whole bike would shatter.  This was our one moment of complete unity throughout the day.)

He looked like he was about to collapse and he needed to eat so I went back for the kids and we finally found him sitting on an ant hill with his back against a wall and his eyes closed, oblivious to the world.  He eventually laid down next to the ants and fell asleep for about two hours.  In the meantime, I found a quiet corner to plant, water and feed my kids and spent the rest of the time running back and forth between Bill, Mary and my kids.  The sun drifted West, more-half racers arrived, it got colder and more windy.  Bill finally woke up and we all went to wait for Casey at the finish line.

This is the transition site/island with the Battleship in the background.
Besides the twice daily flooding, the island we were on is bordered by the Cape Fear River.  There were no fences around the edge, just a few rocks and then a drop off into the water.  The finish line was on the outside of the island and every few minutes a child would dash off toward the river.  We almost missed Casey coming in.  He finished in 3 hours, 10 minutes and he was the first full Iron Man racer to cross the finish line.  I have to say, it was awesome to watch OUR GUY run into the tape.  He was great though.  He didn’t break it.  Because he was a relay runner he gave the tape back to the officials so the lunatic-freak-Iron-Man who actually did the race all by himself could break it.  He arrived 18 seconds after Casey, having done the swim, bike and run all by himself in essentially the same amount of time it took our team to do it as a relay.  Knowing how much time, training and emotional effort Bill and his friends had put into this as a relay, all I could think was, “that man is either single, or he is about to be.” 

In fact, our marriage was in greater and greater jeopardy with each passing moment.  Bill had gone to sit with Casey in the “warming tent” –for athletes only.  It was still cold, still windy, the kids were still tired, still hungry and starting to implode.  I finally put my head in the warming tent and hollered, “BILL, It’s TIME!”  The lines for the water taxi were so long that we decided to risk it and walk to the trolley/bus stops, which turned out to be half a mile away.   I figured out later that I carried Ruslan over three miles by the end of the day.  We have a wheel chair, but with all Bill’s gear and the kids stuff, we didn’t really have room.  Plus, even if we’d taken it, there was no way we could have gotten it on the water taxi, nor moved on the grass.  Ruslan could not maneuver through the crowd in his walker and that left me carrying him.  Usually there is only one transition area and parking nearby so we didn’t expect this to be an issue.   This race was just not set up for the handicapped.

We got back to the hotel about 8pm.  My arms and back were killing me.  I hadn’t had a decent meal all day and I was up to my ears in whining/bickering/tattling.  To make matters worse, there was no use complaining because Bill had a worse day than me.  He kept asking why I was so quiet and I kept telling him, “I’m just wiped out.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I’m done.” Then I finally quit saying anything and hid under my covers in a fetal position, hugging the heating pad, and debating about what form of penance I was going to inflict on Bill, while he finished putting the kids to bed.  I decided I want him to stand in a wind tunnel for nine hours, in two inches of cold water, and every three minutes I’m going to send in whiny children to peck at him with pencil erasers and half-eaten pieces of cold pizza. 

By the next day, Bill had gone from, “I’m NEVER doing that again!” to “If we do this again…” and half way home I noticed he was saying, “The next time we do this…”  which morphed into, "The next time we do this, you need to drive ahead with the kids and meet me at every aid station.  It would really help if I knew I was going to see you every twenty miles," silent nod of the head, "that would really help."

How does one say, "NO" to this?

Another factor: the first prize is really cool.  It’s a piece of teak wood flooring from the original deck of the battle ship. It's impossible to hold that wood in your hands without thinking of the men who walked on those boards, where they were, what they endured, who they were missing, and whether you'll meet them all someday in heaven.
This is the first place award.  Here is a link to some stuff about the ship:
About every three hours now, Bill's eyes will glaze over, he’ll get a sort of dreamy smile on his face and say,  “Marn,  I was the lead bike.  I was the lead bike for fifteen miles.  Everyone who saw me just went NUTS cheering.”  On the one hand, it’s really endearing.  On the other hand, we had a horrible day, we were both nearly collapsing from fatigue.  Everyone was tired, aching, sore and grumpy.  So, half the time I’m happy for him and the other half I want to ask, “Who cares if a bunch to total strangers are cheering for you?  They don’t even know you!  Besides, North Carolina went to Obama in ‘08, and half of those people cheering probably voted for John Edwards!” 

I keep waking up at night with visions of Will falling into the Cape Fear River and me jumping in, but not able to find him in the muddy, rushing water.  Then I roll over in bed and my hand or leg will brush up against Bills smoothly shaved legs.  God only knows how long it’s going to take to get those back to normal.