Tuesday, November 21, 2023

'tis the season

I know, I know.  I should know better. 

The grocery store two days before (insert holiday here).   I am not hosting Thanksgiving this year, so I didn't need much beyond bread and milk....and coffee creamer...and lettuce.  

I try not to be in a hurry.  Hey, I'm retired.  When it's busy, whats the point? Many are trying to race around, I know it's useless and wastes energy and pisses people off.   I wait patiently for the folks who are taking too long right in front of the canned goods I want, say excuse me (pleasantly) to the individual having a cell phone conversation in front of the bananas, assist the elder woman who can't find the bread she needs.  The hard working employees are busy trying to restock shelves, and doing a great job amid chaos.  

I'm doing just fine as I make my way around the store, enjoying not having to BE anywhere or DO anything pressing.... until I got to the end of the cereal aisle.   I slowly and carefully maneuver around the employee stocking shelves at the very end of the row with an "excuse me" and a smile.  Just then, coming around the corner into the aisle like there's a blue light special is a Karen on a mission.  As I am nearly past the employee, Karen impatiently waits for me to clear the stocker.  She mutters a sarcastic "you're welcome" under her breath as she races down the aisle with a cart laden with carbohydrates.  I responded with a slightly more audible but pleasant "fuck you".  It is the holiday season, after all.

Snort of suppressed glee from the employee.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Springing into health

I wrote the following before two things happened: 

 1. Covid, fortunately mild but with a cough and exercise intolerance that lasted weeks

 2.  Renting a house down south for the month of February, a new experience for this North of the Arctic Circle girl.  It was winter when we arrived, now it's a little spring-like, and nice at the beach.  For an hour or two.  With a sweatshirt and pants.  These southern people embrace it though, so there's that.  

In my retirement I have enjoyed belonging again to  an athletic club and have been doing lap swimming regularly, the only exercise that doesn't tax my knee.  I've also attended some water aerobic type classes but there is only one instructor that really seems to want you to have a good workout.  It's filled with old ladies who love to chat with each other.  I get that it's social, but I really just think it's rude to have conversations when the instructor is pouring her heart into a class and others are trying to get something out of it besides a social interaction and not getting your hair wet.  Change my mind. I'll fight you. I still have a lot of unresolved anger, but I'm working on that, I promise.

The good thing about my facility is that I have to reserve a lap lane in advance, which motivates me and creates some accountability.  I'm partial to lane 4 (of 5), in late morning, when the sun is nice and the staff have cut the overhead lights.  Because laps are boring, and I'm swimming about 50-55 minutes (up to 64 laps in a 25 meter pool, yay me), I purchased an inexpensive waterproof MP3 player with earbuds that also keep out water out of my ears.   After 15 or 18 laps, it gets easier.  I can block out the neighboring lap swimmers, enjoying a kind of sensory zen.  

Well.  Most of the time.

There is one swimmer I really hate to swim next to.  She is quite a bit younger, very fit and focused.

I call her the Water Buffalo, Water Buff for short.  

I don't know if it is a training method, but she literally SLAPS the water with each stoke,  She is trying to punish it.  She is an angry elf.  "I hate you water.  I will kill you"

As if this violence isn't distracting enough, sometimes she puts on a pair of slappy plastic hand paddle thingies, or some slappy plastic fins on her feet.  The worst is when she does this awkward kind of angry hybrid breast/butterfly stroke.  It doesn't move very far.  It is fairly intense.  All of her techniques have in common they are loud and create a lot of splash.

I mostly try to ignore her, but Water Buf displaces a lot of water splashy-splash in my direction, which I find VERY distracting.

Me, I like to try to slide through the water as easily and hydrodynamically as possible, concentrating on the elements of my swimming: breathing, rotation, stroke, pull, kick; a different focus every few laps.  I'm not strict or structured as I lack formal swim training.  I've just always enjoyed it, and music makes it enjoyable.  My playlist is only a few albums of favorites.  Mostly f rom the 1970's, don't judge.  If you've never exercised to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young or James Taylor, I can't even talk to you.

I think I will offer Water Buff the use of my MP3 player.  She seems like she could use a few laps of "So Far".  


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Still dirty

 Sometimes the past kind of hits you in the face, even if you are wearing a mask.  At a routine Dr. visit,  I encountered just such a blast from the past.  As we were talking about what I was retired from, the nurse disclosed that she was also a former ER nurse, albeit management (*cough*bullshit*cough)  turned infection control.  As we played the six degrees of separation game, it occurred to me that it was this very nurse

Then I laughed for a half hour.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

My children of 911...20 years gone by

This post was originally published on the 10th anniversary of that awful day.  

10 years ago I was working as a school nurse for the sixth graders' annual 5 day Nature Camp trip.  This was always a fun experience for all, and highly anticipated by those of us fortunate enough to go.  The week was carnival time for faculty, a "Get Out of Jail Free" pass, Wonka Golden Ticket.  It was five days of  not sitting in a classroom.  The kids were our responsibility for three meals and overnight, but otherwise they were herded like sheep from activity to activity and supervised by the camp staff for purposes of learning and soaking up the nature.  Compared to school, it was a free for all.  There was plenty I could have done instead of going, always the first couple of weeks of school were busy.  Lots of consultations with parents and doctors, meetings with teachers, health plans for some of the more fragile kids.  I had already spent two weeks prior to the first day of school preparing for the trip as well as for the kids in my school with health needs.

These 6th graders had just moved on to the middle school, but I knew them well.  They had been my responsibility for grades 3-5, with their health problems, adjustment issues and daily boo-boos. Although there was a camp nurse (a clueless new grad) who would be distributing meds, my presence was pretty much redundant.  It was my guarantee of being there that sealed the deal for parents that their kids would be safe and well cared for.  Oh, I  checked peak flows and did asthma checks so as not to be awakened for nebs in the middle of the night for wheezy kids.  I located the kids who forgot to show up for meds.  I could tell by a look who needed special attention or a pep talk.  I managed the diabetics exclusively.  On occasion I made a trip to the ER for a few stitches (those kids always got treated to a burger or ice cream on the way back to camp but were sworn to secrecy).   I always had a few kids who had never left home for as much as a sleepover, kids who were on the verge of illness, or kids who were allergic to everything including clouds, dirt and air.  Every year there was one or two new kids who had moved to town and didn't have a single friend,  and inevitably arrived with some sort of medical issue.  I gave the really nervous parents my cell phone number since we usually left for the trip only 3 days into the school year and the mostly middle school faculty were new to the kids.  Up until that year, no one had ever called me although I did make a few calls home so they wouldn't worry too much.  Since the kids were forbidden to use the phone, it was always appreciated.

My own kids were nearly grown; my daughter was 21 and had already started her 3rd year of college the week before.  My son was starting his first year at a Boston area college the day after I returned.  It was going to be a busy week and weekend, but it was all under control.

On that day, September 11, 2001, the kids were settling into their second day of after-breakfast activities with their camp leaders.  The other 9 teachers and I had a precious 2 hours and 15 minutes until we were needed to chaperone free play time, and then lunch for the kids.  We were enjoying the beautiful sunny day on the deck overlooking a sparkling blue lake.  It was summer still, but with that unmistakable crispness that meant fall would not be far behind.  I remember how we admired the color of the sky and the green of the surrounding mountains, dotted with just a touch of red and yellow of early-changing leaves and how pretty it was as the view was reflected in the lake.  Some teachers were milling around, reading the paper on the deck and enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee or just sitting and chatting.  Two of my good friends were 5th grade teachers.  We were making a plan to escape to Dunkin' Donuts for some adult time and maybe taking out a few sailboats later in the afternoon when the kids were with their learning groups.  Joe, a grade 4 teacher drove up in his car.

"Hey", said Joe, "Something really bad happened in New York at the World Trade Center.  A plane crash.    I'm going down to the rec room TV to check on it".

We quickly followed, collecting most of the other faculty en route.  I remembered that there had been a bomb attack maybe ten years earlier.  I thought about the logistics of evacuating those buildings and what a nightmare it must have been.  In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined the horror that was to come.

We sat riveted and in shock as the events of the day unfolded.  It was like a bad dream; many of the teachers had tears streaming down their faces.  One teacher was married to a National Guardsman, another to a federal agent.  Both wondered not if but when and where their husbands would be called to duty.

At some point, it occurred to us: "What do we tell the kids?".

I suggested that we tell them nothing.  There were 10 of us, how could we handle the emotional needs of 180 kids who might have a grandfather who works in one of the towers, or whose aunt lives in New York, or  cousin working for an airline or the fire department?

Joe agreed.  He suggested that we talk to the school principal; after all, it should ultimately be their decision.  We anticipated being called home right away.  Parents would be calling the school and the camp.  We had to be prepared for an onslaught of parents driving the two hours to scoop up their kids and bring them home, and who could blame them?  

Cathy was a 5th grade teacher who worried about the safety of us all.  With planes targeting the Pentagon and White House as well as the Twin Towers, who knew what could be next?  Was it safe to even be on the roads?  What about our families?

Two 6th grade teachers, Sally and Carl were the undisputed team leaders.  They thought the best plan was to keep things as normal as possible until we heard otherwise.   As a group we agreed, then scattered to meet up with our kids before lunch for 45 minutes of free time.

Joe went to find the camp director; Sally tried to contact the school principal and/or the superintendent's office.  Overloaded telephone systems and a serious lack of cell phone service prevented her from reaching anyone.  For the next several hours, in fact for the next three days, we were cut off from the world and on our own.  

During the lunch break, camp staff were taken off and briefed by their director who ordered them to keep things as normal as possible for our kids.  Some were unhappy about that, but we were insistent. They would stick to the program. 

It was late afternoon before Sally was able to speak to anyone from school administration.  They agreed with our course of action.  After a hasty meeting with parent organizers the consensus was that as long as we, the  faculty, were OK with staying, the kids would remain at camp.   The only deviation in play was that we would leave after breakfast on Friday and arrive home before 1 PM instead of 5 PM.  Teachers on all three buses would brief the kids on the way home.  

 So, as our country grieved for the lives lost, the threat to our freedom, and the near-destruction of our piece of mind, our kids learned and played.  They bonded with teachers and classmates as a group, communed with nature, and made memories.  They missed home a little, and school not so much.  They had the freedom to eat peanut butter and jelly instead of veggie burgers, and some enjoyed their sloth, showering and wearing clean clothes only when compelled to do so.  For three more days our students did  all the normal things they had a right to do as kids.  They did not have any access to TV's or newspapers; our only link with the outside world was a few moments of news casts several times per day and newspapers, which we kept hidden.  The kids were isolated, not having access to either.  We, their teachers, protected their innocence for just a few more days, shielded them from fear and from the rest of the world.

That Friday as I drove home, I felt as though I had landed in another world.   American flags were flying from homes, schools, fire stations, police stations, public buildings.  Hand made signs and banners proclaimed that we as Americans were still strong, that nothing would break us.  There were pleas for vengeance and retribution. There were prayers for peace and for the families of the victims.  

I remember crying as I hugged my family.

For Baby Boomers like me, the assassination of President Kennedy was a tragedy that changed a generation.  For this generation, it is September 11, 2001.

But for our kids, our 180 students, our group of 11 year olds who had left home on a Monday and returned to a changed world on Friday, their experience was significantly different.  In their before-and-after-world of 9/11, there was a big pause filled with childish things, a right of passage unmarred by those attacks in our own backyard.  The world stood still for most of us, but for these sixth graders life was as it should be.

I've often wondered how their  experience at Nature Camp may have shaped their future; perhaps in a completely different way from most kids their age as they played and learned with their classmates in isolation from the sadness of the rest of the country. 

I cherish a note written by one of the parents to the 10 of us who were with their children during one of the darkest moments in history to thank us for what we had done to shield them from the horrors of reality:

"Our kids did not watch TV; they did not see the horrible images or the constant replay of planes striking the Twin Towers.  Thanks to you, our kids got to experience normalcy and innocence in a way that none of the other kids at school did, perhaps not anywhere in the country.   We are so fortunate to have such dedicated individuals who put the needs of our children first when there was so much uncertainty in the world.  Surely you feared for your own families, but never showed it to our kids.  Thanks to you, we had 180 of the happiest kids in America".

Monday, August 30, 2021

My life in uniforms

Now that I am no longer required to don any type of conformist herd clothing, I have been reflecting on the uniforms I have worn over the years.    What is it about uniforms that I loved as a kid, and hated as an adult?  I suspect it is because the hype never lived up to the reality, so uniforms were vastly disappointing.  

I attended public school, so no uniform.  In my church, only the parochial school kids were allowed to sing in the church choir, no lovely angelic white robes for me.  No altar girls back then either, sort of when I cut ties with religion on the basis of patriarchal exclusion.  I was always jealous of my brothers who got to wear full-on Little League baseball and Pop-Warner football uniforms.  I didn't count my two months of Pop Warner football cheerleading at age 10, as the required attire was black stirrup stretch pants, generic white Keds,  and a white crew neck sweatshirt, available an any discount store.  My tryout consisted of me asking the coach if I could join.  Aced it.  

My first big opportunity to join something that required a uniform was Girl Scouts.  My 1960's Brownie uniform was exactly as pictured, except for the ankle socks.  I was a knee socks kind of girl.  I'm sure my parents could ill-afford it, but I was allowed to have the whole kit and caboodle.  I happily wore it every Wednesday to school, even on picture day  along with the rest of my troop, consisting of all the little girls from both 2nd grade classes in my elementary school.  Little brown felt beanie with the Brownie logo, how I loved thee.  After third grade I went on to Junior Girl Scouts.  Hated the tie, but there was somethingu about that sash with all the badges I accumulated.  For some reason our troop split in half in 6th grade, can't remember why, but I assume it had to do with adult in-fighting.  After that, it was Junior High, and most of us dropped out at that point.  I was a leader for my daughter's troop for a few years, but by that time neither leaders nor kids wore uniforms. 

There were no organized sports teams for girls in my home town.  Other than gym class, there were relatively few opportunities for girls to do sports at all until high school.  My elementary school gym teacher was 100 years old and likely invented field hockey.  She had been the high school coach in the 1950's, so naturally we were introduced to the sport in 2nd grade.  No wonder I hated it.  We used pinnies for that, also for basketball, the only two team sports we girls had.  Think of a sort old fashioned apron just like great-grandma used to wear.   It was fun in elementary school, but by the time we hit junior high we were over them since they were never washed and smelled bad. 

Junior high school gym suits were a horrible uniform experience, as was junior high in general.  Gym suits were largely viewed as a punishment, and I never understood why they were required.   Color coded by class, they were one piece, snap-up-the front cotton/poly nightmares in navy, cobalt, or pale blue depending on which grade.  They required ironing, something we were graded on.   Many of the smaller girls rolled the legs so they looked like bloomers, not a look I could pull off.   

In 9th grade, the gym suits switched over to a navy spandex-like bike short pre-cursor and striped t shirt.  We were required to bring it twice weekly along with a towel for requisite post-class showers, another rite of passage that today's kids don't get.   For so many stay-at-home moms in those days we were far less micromanaged, and expected to remember to bring our required paraphernalia.  No gym suit?  You got a D for the day.  No towel?  Points off for being a grub and not showering.  Left a towel in your locker from last week that is now moldy and smelly?  Definitely points off.  We were checked, towels wrapped about us, to be sure we got wet.  You were allowed one "excuse" per month.  Splash water on your face and shoulders,  get caught not actually showering more than once, and you got detention.  Group showers in high school, shudder.  As if the hygiene and body image issue was not enough of a humiliating rite of passage and source of sleepless nights. 

At the age of 14 I was finally old enough to be a Candy Striper, something I had craved to do since I was 8.  I always knew I wanted to be a nurse, and  I had read and re-read the book "Candy Striper" about 50 times  Being somewhat of a chunky athletic girl, the white short sleeved blouse with the Peter Pan collar and smocked drindl skirt and pinafore just didn't look as I had imagined.  I spent that summer working as a volunteer in the hospital coffee shop, far from the anticipated flower-delivering, water-pitcher-refilling, pillow-fluffing, baby-soothing candy striper I had been expecting. I learned to make tea, toast, oatmeal and coffee, an ominous harbinger of the future.  

High school sports did require uniforms.  Field hockey was actual kilts, and white blouses with numbers on the back. I was terrible at field hockey, and wearing a skirt on freezing November days was not any kind of fun.   I was a JV basketball player for 2 years, but my heart was not in it.  Those uniforms were the same as field hockey, except the kilt was replaced with a plaid culotte thing, I suppose now you'd call it a skort.   For softball we were given t- shirts.  I was a catcher so I wore long pants, I don't think we were even given hats.  Nobody came to our games, anyway.  

Cheerleading was the Holy Grail of high school sports, at least for me, although it was a last minute decision which to try out for, drill team (sort of a dance team) or cheerleading.  My dilemma: drill team had beautiful, short, navy velvet a-line dresses with white fur trim around the collar and hem.  They performed before games and at halftime, wearing white spats over their white keds.   They also did a simple baton routine sometimes, the reason I took lessons for 3 years.  I wasn't great, but I was a definitely better than most on the team.  

I switched gears on that tryout, my best friend was going for cheerleading and I went along and tried out too, shockingly making the team.   In fall, the attire for football cheering was woolen ski sweaters, a white turtleneck, and short wool pleated skirts in school colors with white socks and saddle shoes, yowza!  It was probably the first uniform that actually looked good on my more athletic frame.   It did look better on me than the velvet and fur-trimmed number I suppose.  A plaid kilt, white turtleneck and blue knitted vest with the ubiquitous saddle shoes for basketball cheerleading did not look as good.  I was short, the vest too long.  I resorted to rolling it up and sewing it to prevent bunching.  


I did a brief stint at the drug store soda fountain one or two summers (referred to in an earlier post), which required a really ugly 1950's style waitress-type uniform with a perky little pleated cap thing, which we steadfastly refused to wear. The button-down dress hastily thrown over street clothes was a hideous shade of green that has never existed in nature, ever.  The uniforms were abolished when the soda fountain was demolished to make room for a gift counter.  Man, I missed that grape juice machine.  The uniform sucked, though the new light-blue polyester 3/4 sleeve button-down pocketed smock we were required to wear was only a slight improvement.  

After high school the nurses aide uniform was  a polyester pinstriped, aqua-blue, short sleeved button-down-the-front affair, paired with white stockings, and white Clinic Shoes.  And a very silly cap that matched the uniform.    Nursing school was about the same, only it came in gray and fit much better.  

We were pretty proud of this uniform, as I recall, although they were not the most practical. We earned those suckers.  

Following fashion trends, nursing uniforms went from white dresses, to white polyester pantsuits,  to white scrub dresses with a colorful scrub jacket usually stolen from the OR at my tiny community hospital.  This was followed by a white skirt and colored blouse, and the continuation of white stockings.  At that time it was trendy to also wear white TEDS hose with our dress or skirt, usually stolen from the floors.  Eventually it was just scrubs.  The caps went by the wayside sometime before the 1980's, and  Clinic shoes were mostly worn by older nurses who wouldn't ever have worn anything else.  I loved my white, then black clogs most of my career, as I could never do sneakers.   As for scrubs,  I never hopped on the bandwagon of cartoon character and scrubs-for-every-occasion, it just wasn't me.  I had some prints, but mostly opted for navy, ciel blue, OR green, and of course, black.  During my stint as a school nurse, it was a white or blue scrub jacket over street clothes in which I felt most comfortable.    

Aside from scrubs, there was only one other adult uniform I was required to wear.  I was on an adult figure skating team for years, and we had lots of team attire; jackets, warm up pants, matching skate bags, hats, scarves.  As far as uniforms go, those were the most fun.