Category Archives: memoir

Goodbye, Terra Centre

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After 13 years of near daily walks to our elementary school, it has finally happened. We are no longer part of the TCES community; we have “aged out.”

It started in 2003, when my oldest began kindergarten. My youngest was still inside me; he had a few more months to bake. Save for those early postpartum winter weeks after my youngest was born, and about 30 days to use Kiss & Ride on “weathery days” I walked my kids every day to and from school.

The path to school is gorgeous.

 

It was perfect to quiet the mind and give the body just a little jump start to the day. Often it was leisurely and we did see all the things in the images above. I am not a huge believer in stressing out being late to elementary school. What do we miss? Perfect attendance? Or the little TV show they broadcast each morning which announced the cafeteria menu, the weather outside, TC birthdays, and anything else of note … but … please. All of my kids say no one ever listens to that broadcast. I could often be overheard saying to the boys, “It’s not Harvard. We have time. Look around the path… look around this place…” And we would.

Once the final baby came along, so came the daily use of the double stroller, that godsend and albatross. I remember grabbing the leash of our faithful golden, Maggie, wrapping it round the handle of the stroller and pushing off for school as she would keep perfect pace with me, never wavering from her parade. My middle son who is my mirror, often made the experience more melodious than many people were likely ready for so early in the morning. Because he wasn’t a student there yet, he saw little need in going to school to drop off Big Brother. We disagreed daily.

We had a song for him,

Oh I won’t ride my stroller to school
I told my mommy I’d walk
But now my mommy won’t pick me up
So I’m gonna screech like a hawk.

More often than not, we were just on time.

Our first year at the school, around winter break, it was struck by a Norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a vomiting illness. I was walking home the first morning back from break and a TV crew was outside on the main road leading to my house. A well-known female roving reporter, Gail Pennybacher, asked me if she could interview me. With her cameras. I was a new public school mom, recently postpartum with Thing 3, and she wanted to talk to me about the outbreak.

“Are you a parent at the school over that way?” she asked, pointing to TC which you could see now the the trees were bare.

“Yes… what’s this about?” I asked, I’m sure.

She talked about her intentions.

I had no clue about the outbreak. It was over. I guess there was some form of communication from the school before it opened after winter break but I was barely functioning.

I noticed that the disgusting low-pile industrial carpeting was replaced by shiny linoleum tiles, but that was all I knew. Gail told me about the outbreak and asked me if she could film my then-kindergartener son and me washing his hands. I said yes, immediately followed by the caveat that my student son wasn’t home and that I had to put my kids down for a nap. It being a Monday, a half-day back then, I assured her he would be home in three hours.

But I felt weird, as though I was betraying the school. Being a new mom and knowing NOTHING about FCPS and Terra Centre from a parent standpoint (plus people can be assholes), I didn’t want to make enemies over there. During the meantime, I reached out to the principal to let her know that the news crews were stalking the neighborhood.

That was my first interaction with that principal. She called me back and asked me for intel. She said I sounded like I was someone who was media savvy. She was gooood. I said I had worked in PR and was a freelance writer. She said I would be helpful to her. She prowled up to her saucer, got down on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her hips, slowly lapping. “Tell me more…” she said. I told her about me, and then she asked me how to handle the news crew.

That night, the news was on and I saw our segment. My jaw hit the floor when I watched that woman OWN that reporter. She played me. I was so naive. Over the remaining nine years, she and I barely spoke. Outside of the Carter administration, I considered her one of the least effective leaders I’d ever witnessed. I learned over the years that parents had tried unsuccessfully to oust her at least twice before we got there.

I made friends through Terra Centre. Some I still know, others have faded away or moved away. But while I have faded some, I have not moved, which is an oddity here, in one of many communities referred to as the Pentagon’s bedroom.

Most families who roost here are military or somehow entwined with the federal government in public service, civil service or as a contractor.

Once again, my team is an anomaly of two anomalies. I do not hail from a government family, nor does my husband. His family, I think a third-generation Washingtonian tribe, was in private business and my family was in journalism. I feel confident saying there are not many of us around here, those who’ve been here consistently as long as we have.

We moved into this house in 2000. I met this home when it was under contract.

“It’s under contract and it’s higher than your range. Forget it,” Barb, my ever-enthusiastic realtor said.

“I don’t care. I have to see it. Get me in there.” I said.

Barb used her keypad and we were in. I felt dirty, as though I had to whisper everything I said and thought. It was like breaking into a bank vault.

The house wasn’t well-appointed, but it had my requirements: a fenced flat backyard and a basement. It also had other things I didn’t know I had to have: hardwood floors, a playroom, a main floor bedroom with full bath. It didn’t have what I really wanted: a garage, but I’ve found over the years that those just get stuffed with crap no one uses.

“It’s under contract. You can’t be here…” a little woman whisper-shouted in broken English from the top of the stairs. I remember her to this day: graying hair in a bun, half glasses perched on her nose. A floral quilted housecoat. She thought she was protected by the UNDER CONTRACT sign on the post outside her house.

“I understand. I had to see it. I’m compelled to be here. I have a son, he’s 2 and I’ve got another one on the way,” I said, patting my newly swelling belly with the same hand holding my toddler’s wet sticky palm. He flashed his enormous green eyes, long lashes and deep dimples at her.

Her shoulders softened. Her voice warmed and she descended the stairs to just three from the main floor. She was Filipina.

“My name is Corazon,” she said.

“That means ‘heart?’ I said back, smiling. We nodded.

“If the contract falls through,” I said, “Please call my realtor. She’s leaving her card. Please. I need to be here.”

Corazon gestured to the kitchen and said, “the yard … for him.”

For them, I thought to myself. Peering through the windows, I agreed, “it’s lovely.”

“Shade,” she said.

I continued out the kitchen door on to the “deckette” to look at the flat fenced back yard, feeling a little breeze and cooler air than the front. We were nestled beneath a canopy of Oaks, Dogwoods and Sugar Maples. I tried to keep my composure. I needed to be in this house.

It was August. We were still in our bright and airy seven-year-old townhouse. Well, sort of.

Y’see, we don’t have much luck with real estate endeavors. Long story short, our first buyer was under-qualified. I knew it when I saw him cross the threshold late during our open house. When you’re pregnant, you don’t ignore your gut. They wanted to close within 30 days. They were hot to trot. We hadn’t found a house yet. So we got cooking.

Most of the houses around here don’t last long on the market, but it was a weird time. The ones that lingered were absolutely horrendous, smelly, dark and dreary as though the people in them were having to leave against their will. “Aren’t these people motivated to sell?” I would ask my agent, shaking my head and feeling lost every time we unlocked a door.

After living here, in Burke, for almost 16 years though, I get it. People DON’T want to leave here.

Eventually our townhouse sold. It might’ve even been larger than the house we’re in now. My husband likes to think so. I heartily disagree. Doesn’t matter. The first buyers of each house fell through. Our buyer was a cabbie. I knew it was him and he was a cabbie when I saw him drive by in his work vehicle and slow down in front of the house, indicating to his riders (I think his mother and wife or sister) that this was going to be their new home.

My stomach fell out of my body, My vision honed and I got prickly all over my skin witnessing his gestures and sitting there in front of my house under the hot sun. There was no way they had the money. I panicked. I called my husband, he was certain I was wrong. I called our agent, she was telling me I was pregnanty-nervous. She used to be a nurse. I’m really glad she got out of that gig, she had no empathy skills. She listed “weight lifting” as one of her hobbies.

I knew it would fall through. It did. It fell through likely about two weeks after our contract on this house was accepted. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts and pregnanty-nervous. I pointed at my husband and chided my agent. The bad news is that we were effed.

The first buyers of this house walked on the contract because of a Radon issue. Two days after we dropped our card for Corazon, they walked. Her agent called my agent at night. My agent called me. The next morning we went to put an offer on the house contingent with Radon remediation, which she had a contractor there installing that afternoon. My husband hadn’t seen the house until we wrote on it.

Our agent was all “this school and that school… and oooh and shopping and oooh metro… and banks and conveniences…” and I was all, back yard. Shade. School? What do I know of schools… It turns out we landed in a really good school district.

I remember when my husband first stepped on to the tiny deck, “Land!” he said. It’s not a lot, but it’s ours. The kitchen is modest. When my children were very busy and smaller, it was manageable. We did finger painting and conducted general mayhem in the kitchen. Now that they’ve grown, it’s a little tight a lot of the time, even after our renovation. They “eat” (it’s more of inhaling and grunting) at the breakfast bar. We don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. I have two man-childs and another one, the one who just left elementary school, burgeoning. Soon though, the biggest man-child will be off to college so it will be less man-childs.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that either. It feels like it’s all happening so fast.

Terra Centre used to be underground. Well, not really underground, like sub-level, but it was covered in grass. We used to call it the EduCave. But it’s been renovated and that renovation came with a new principal who is leaving…. TC teachers are strong, many of them have been there for at least 10 years and despite the administration being yet again in flux, I have very few reservations about TC’s promise. The class sizes rarely hit above 28 because our neighborhood is 30+ years old; all gross residential development is over. It’s a good school. It’s so good that it’s hard as heck to find a house in this ‘hood.

The other day a realtor came to talk to me about the house next door to me that sold in 4 hours. I had met her clients when I was staring down my sprinkler. They asked me questions about drainage and the walk to the school. They didn’t win the bidding war and the husband was in tears. They loved the house. They loved me too.

The walk to Terra Centre, for me, was part of my routine too. It is 1/3 a mile door to door. Going there and back twice a day ensured I saw other people. It meant exercise, community, sisterhood. I volunteered at the school to assist the teachers, absolutely, and to help the children, no doubt. But I also volunteered to improve my life. To not feel like a failure for not having a job, and for not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons.

I’m not a nostalgist in the least. I’m a “GSD” (Get Shit Done) person. But I am sort of taking my time here. I think that makes people nervous: when someone like me, who’s normally driven, Type A and a go-getter, decides to sit, feel and write and emote… it can be off-putting. Luckily for me, my boys know how I value feeling the feelings so we can process them and get through them. They know I’m not going to run off to the basement with a bottle of vodka and deny myself into oblivion.

The fact of all of this is that I’m a little blue. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. And I guess I am. Will I get over it? No, I will get through it. I don’t want to “get over” anything; I want to process things.

Undoubtedly, people tell me to think of the happy memories. That change is good! That I should remember to concentrate on the tremendous growth the boys have achieved. It’s hard to witness it all, frankly. There was a time when I felt that their growth meant I stagnated, but I see it now, we’ve all grown.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: EVERYTHING and EVERYONE we encounter is our teacher. Sometimes they are teachers reminding us to hold our ground, and other times, they are teachers telling us to get our shit together. Terra Centre taught me about service, friendship, neighbors, boundaries, and duty.

I remember early in my volunteering that it had occurred to me that I wasn’t much of a volunteer. I sort of got down on myself a little about that. I grew up in a largely narcissistic environment, so I was conditioned to deal with and for myself because, well, that’s how a kid survived narcissists. You had to be a narcissist… When in Rome…

But I also gave myself a pause. How do we change? By changing. So it was at Terra Centre. It was the first time I was a mom of a student somewhere. At the preschools, they’re all about getting moms out of their houses and out with others: shopping, doctor appointments, taking care of themselves. They are purposely short days 3-4 hours apiece so the kids don’t get antsy and the moms can maybe get a nap.

I was nudged by a neighbor to volunteer at Fun Fairs (think mini carnival populated by  drunken toddlers). She is a child of service members and married to one. I learned that Fun Fair isn’t my jam. So she suggested a dance. Tried it. NFW. Movie night. Nope. I realized eventually, while jumping through the proposed hoops, serving on the PTA, presiding over the PTA and other involvement that I’m more about GSD than telling kids to stop running or to “put that down” and getting other parents to see me as a performer.

While I’m an extrovert, when it comes to getting shit done, I’m a silent partner. I bought a tiger suit for the school mascot. Either they hadn’t had one in a decade or they never had one (since the present principal at the time arrived). So I bought one and the PTA paid me back. I’ll never forget the first day I wore it. It was after school. The Friday before Columbus Day in 2008 and a young teacher was walking the halls and I was in the tiger suit. She screamed and JUST ABOUT passed out. She almost fell down running away. She left the school after that year. I want to say TC Tiger had nothing to do with it but … phobias be powerful… The story is that got engaged and moved to Ohio…

I had no idea she actually had “masklophobia”: a real phobia of people in costumes / mascot suits. She told me about it later. She wasn’t around to see me when I took the tiger head off my head and said “It’s OK! It’s ME! It’s Molly!”

I wore that suit for school events for little over a school year. It didn’t fit me. I looked like a malnourished fake tiger. “TC Tiger” was the mascot name and the kids simply could not get enough of TC Tiger. I was ready to pass the baton despite my obsession to make sure TC Tiger was well-handled: you can’t see less than 4 feet in front of yourself in a mascot suit and so accidentally mowing down a kid is entirely too possible.

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This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

The funny thing about being inside that suit is that you’re smiling but people can’t see you. So when tiny children run away traumatized but you’re in there cooing and making “It’s OK Toodles, it’s just me, Molly,” faces, they can’t see that. All they can see is a giant head, fangs and a stupid smile and huge hands trying to hug (NOT GASH) them.

The principal at the time wasn’t too thrilled with the PTA being so “school spirit-y” she felt that was her job. Sitting in her office, hiding most of the day, biding her time until retirement. She was lukewarm to TC Tiger. Or maybe it was me she was lukewarm to. It was most likely me… By this point, I think all three of my kids were in the school and she and I had cooled from that first encounter when she gaslighted me after Norovirus. Often she was content letting the school be “cleaned” by employees who’d rather be hanging out smoking at Starbucks across the street… Truth. We had issues with that. Hence, the Norovirus.

I learned that exercising my talents: writing, public relations, empathy, awareness of our connection to others, art, rallying for a cause to benefit all, enthusiasm for other people, their right to live on Earth and their promise, is really what works for others and what makes me hum. Doing all the volunteer stuff I was talked into doing didn’t further anythig of any value, for me or them. I learned to advocate and get the attention of the County on important matters such as hygiene, safety and communication.

At Terra Centre, as in any school environ nestled in Power Play central, the real work can be in dealing with adults.

Now I’m talking about the parents… persons with multiple degrees, fancy letters or abbreviations before and after their names, ranks, and connections. I also learned about projection, inadequacy and self-esteem issues, drama, need for excitement, and the predilection for some of those parents to stand on the narrow shoulders of or behind the gentle chests of their children.

The children? They taught me kindness and patience. They taught me boundaries. You have no choice when a little girl grins at you through her gapped teeth, “I GOT IT I GOT IT” when you try to help her with her milk carton.

In May, my youngest banished me from the walk because he wanted to walk alone to school for the last three weeks. A helicopter parent, I am not, but the kid seldom gets out on time, and I like the exercise. We also use that time to chat about stuff. He banished me from the walk home back in November, “I’m 12 now…” so … yeah. There was no excuse / little brother onto place my interest. He was the excuse. He was the little brother.

So we made a deal: he gets out of the house by 8:27 and he could walk by himself. He did alright. But on the last week, I pulled rank. I told him I would be walking with him on the last day of school. To and From. He didn’t balk. I think he got it. For 6th graders, the last day is traditionally a “recognition” ceremony. The kids get “certificates of achievement” of being a student at the school and passing 6th grade. Other awards are given out — it’s lovely actually.

The morning of the last day, it rained, so his dad drove us. The walk home though… I was not giving that up. I would NOT make the day before my last walk home from school. I did not give up a career in corporate communications and PR to miss this moment.

Here’s how it went:

If you watch that video until the end, you’ll see he turns around to look at me. The fades in the video were not my doing, it was the light coming in as we left the shade of the path. The house in my comments is not mine.

At first I was self-conscious about doing it but I quickly put that away. As you will see, our walks to and from school are Rockwellian. I’m good with the video now. I didn’t discover his backward gaze until I watched it last night. That it’s 1:43 in length, “143” being our code for “I Love You” makes the capture all the more lovely to me.

In a sense, I grew up here at Terra Centre. I learned that persistence overcomes resistance and that a gaggle of noisy parents who give a damn can effect real change on a busy over-traveled street. I learned that school principals are just people too and they come with their own dreams, fears, alliances, and hesitations. I learned that rational people can run a school and that kids needn’t be afraid of principals.

Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that it’s ok for me to miss the school. After 13 years, I felt like family. To my kids, it’s a place they where they learned to tie their own shoes. To me, it’s a place where I liked to walk. I always appreciated my walks to Terra Centre.

I will miss it very much, and so I get it when I see moms of kids in high school or college or medical school or living in Manhattan on their own with a family walking their dogs with the moms of kids in third grade… just to see a little kid again or to mosey beneath the shade on the way to another day to ourselves.

Thank you.

The Mad Pooper

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This post contains the use of “shit” a lot.

Something is going on in my neighborhood and it is really strange.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to say, “Don’t go on the grass. That’s where the animals go.”

I was a kid. Words mean things. Especially in their base sense. I didn’t understand what she meant.

Go.

Well, if you’re me, and a kid, you want to go where the animals go. You like animals. They’re animals.

Grandma and Grandpa lived near the zoo, so I thought, maybe a lion has been here. I would like to see that lion. Or a giraffe. Maybe a giraffe is in the back yard, or somewhere on the grass, like in a place that I couldn’t see, maybe behind that tall blue spruce pine she had on the corner yard.

Naturally, I’d venture.

ON THE GRASS.

HORROR.

My mother would hissper (I just made it up: it’s a confluence of hiss and whisper) and gesticulate, her arms flailing wildly, “GET OFF THE GRASS THAT’S WHERE THE ANIMALS GO!!!” as though I was some sort of baboon idiot, that’s where the animals go!!!. 

My brothers or cousins, if they were with me, would giggle. I would likely continue and make a jump to the narrow concrete walkway leading to the backyard, my cape unfurling with my leaps.

“Is this OK?” I imagine myself asking, while in all likelihood I just dashed toward the backyard or to the actual sidewalk toward our car, Grandma likely either passed out, or in a state of apoplexy because I’d gone where the animals go.

Go.

Lots of places were off limits when we were at Grandma’s.

The upstairs for one. I’ll never forget my intrepid oldest cousin, the leader of the pack, who basically decided one day that enough was enough. College was in the wings and she ventured up to the second floor, slowly in the dark because it was always unlit, creaking up the steps, one by one and into a room, we could hear the door open, and she RETURNED, ALIVE and utterly unchanged. The same person. Her hair was not suddenly gray. Her emotional state was totally whatever, teenager, unfazed… so bored.

“There’s just a bunch of boxes up there,” she said.

Just.

Like.

That.

The mystery vaporized. The way Grandma protected that space… Anything, ANYTHING, could’ve been up there: Jesus, a dead teamster, fresh candy, a carousel, a live chained grizzly, or a band of harpies…

But no. Boxes?! It never occurred to me that it would be boxes and a bedroom and no dead bodies or clowns or war criminals.

My grandmother was not a “fresh chocolate chip cookies from the oven stacked on a colorful stoneware dish served with a clear glass of cold refreshing whole milk at a table” grandmother. My grandmother was a “freshly opened bag of Oreos / Chips A’Hoy / Fudge Stripes placed on a floppy paper plate as you waited for a styrofoam cup of fresh skim milk at a table” grandmother. And that’s OK. What Grandma lacked in ease, she more than made up for in humor and kindness. And recitations of the rosary at 11pm when you were waiting for the return of your parents in her living room on the davenport.

So I think I finally got it this morning: “where the animals go.

Go.

She meant “shit.” Grandma meant, That’s where the animals shit.

I’ve been walking my kids to the same elementary school for the better part of nearly 13 years. We use the path we always have, not going where the animals go, and never in my time over the last two years, and this year especially, have I encountered literal dog excrement actually on the path, in a tidy pile or heap or lump. Sometimes it’s a lonesome part of a turd in one place and just when you think you’re safe, you encounter its scattered brethren about 12 feet down the line, smeared or simply waiting.

Dogs do not “go” on the path naturally; they like the dirt, grass, forest or mulch. Hell, they don’t even want to be seen on a sidewalk or path; dogs are fauna. Expecting your dog to defecate on concrete or asphalt is contrary to their Dogness, their very DNA. I suspect having a human following them around picking up their contributions to the ecosystem is an insult to their sense of being. I can’t say I blame them. I’d like to give up the habit altogether, but I know it’s not healthy for the community.

I digress.

So what the what with the people whom I’m convinced are out of their God-loving minds?! Who are very likely totally jacked-up on some substance and take their dogs’ leavings and purposefully deposit them on the paths?

If it were just the path to school I’d think that it was one dog and that it shits wherever it does because this is its way. That this particular canid was raised by ignorant humans and that it shits on the floor in the living room or kitchen despite its instinct to shit somewhere private, out of the way, because essentially the human place it lives has become its place.

So the owner takes the dog out and the dog shits on the path, on the street (no shit!) and even on the wooden bridges over the little streams in the ‘hood?!

To quote a dear friend, “Who does that?!?!”

Yesterday I took my dogs for one of our standard long walks. We were about two miles from the house. As we crossed a wooden footbridge where people like to fish near a pond, Charlie was ahead and he stopped in his tracks to lift his paw, sniff and move around a bagel-sized mound of “frexcrement.” (Another made-up word by yours truly, a blend of “fresh” and “excrement.”)

Charlie actually looked back at me as if to say, “Watch out, Ma, Cugo was here about 10 minutes ago and he’s really pissed…Step over this one… >sigh<…”  Murphy was disgusted.

So experiencing that turd pile so far from home blew my proximity theory: that the person responsible for either letting its dog shit on the path or for actually placing its dog’s shit on the path lived nearby.

I had a short list of suspects.

One is an jerk I’ve known and mutually disliked for years. He’s an ass and his dogs are massive, but I doubt it’s him because he walks that path too and as much as I dislike the guy, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t boobytrap himself…

The other suspect is a tenant in a house we pass en route to school each day. It’s an out-of-state family whose reason for being here escapes me as I don’t see anyone in a military uniform or seasonally appropriate clothes ever. The woman is likely younger than I am but doesn’t seem to live on our plane(t) so she looks like she’s from the Medieval era due to her ignorance of hair arrangement appliances, rain coats, boots or sanity.

Often I witness her and her child on my walk back from school (admittedly moments late because Thing 3 simply can’t be bothered to rush and I dig that about him) desperately reaching into a crumpled bag of Chee-tos and sharing a Dr. Pepper. Others they share a canister of Sour Cream Pringles and take turns swigging from a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Sometimes the child is engrossed in a video game along the steep grade to the school, angered by mother’s insistence of eating the Frito-Lay of the Day breakfast.

Don’t assume I’m entertained by this duo. I’m not. It’s frightening for me because while I don’t want to go there, I will: it’s a little close to home for me as my childhood mornings were just as frantic, save for the maternal accompaniment on the journey to school on frosty mornings or rainy mornings or sunny mornings… mornings in general. So while this mother might be wearing a sun dress, with no evidence of an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder on a frigid morning as she cravenly grabs into the Pringles canister, at least she is there. She’s walking her kid to school.

I suspect her and her tribe because there’s a dog in that house and the deposits have been on the the increase since they moved here. The last time I saw that dog was when it was in her arms… so… umm…. maybe not?

Anyway, lots of the poops are on the pipestem they live on and they go the distance to the school (I honestly can’t believe I’m writing about this…), but their freshness implies she’s been upright to let the dog out, but maybe it’s her child… However, as I said, the shits’ distance from the house now leads me to suspect there is a drugged-out or totally psychotic human being who is filled with enough rage against society to purposely deposit dog shit on the path.

Evidence of people stepping in it is everywhere: sneaker tread imprints, smears, feckless efforts to wipe it off on the asphalt or fallen leaves…

Are you bored yet? I almost am. It’s nearly over…

My incidence threat will be dramatically reduced soon because my kids are growing up.

I was saying to Thing 3 this morning that I will miss our mornings together as we walk to school, but that I won’t miss the poopy path.

He’s going on to middle school next year. My oldest is graduating and off to college and while the college he’ll be attending is literally less than 5 miles from our house, he will live on campus and have the full experience, so he won’t be here. And that will be different. I don’t want to say “and that will suck” because well, it won’t. It won’t suck. Yes it will.

Naturally it’s reminding me of when my older brother left for college, and that sucked. That whole scene was challenging because we moved from our home the same week he graduated from high school. The night of his graduation and related parties, he returned home to a massive Mayflower Moving truck in front of our home.

The next day that truck was packed, and pushed off from Buffalo to Northern Virginia and the day after that was my mother’s 47th birthday and we met it in front of our rental home. That was a radical time.

I’ve never understood the rush to get here that week. We usually would spend July in Canada but we came here instead. On her birthday. To the unbelievable humidity and heat and to my mother’s precipitous emotional collapse in a house she never saw and in a town she never accepted.

So I suspect I’ve taken to writing about the dog shit on the path because I don’t want to write about my kid taking off. I was texting one of my SILs the other day and I said, “Weren’t we just 26 and newly married last week?! wtf.”

Tempus Fugit.

Thank you.

 

Because You Can’t Make this Shit Up. #Customer #Service #humor #insurance

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I went to my gynecologist for her annual spelunking appointment and she wrote me a new prescription today to help with (men, you can come back in a paragraph if you want) my hormone-induced perimenopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, bloating which mimics the USS Dallas (as seen in “Hunt for the Red October”) spontaneous melodrama, night sweats, in-the-basement reason forgetfulness, brain fog, insomnia, inability to make sandwiches, and laundry neglect (that last one’s a gimme).

The medication is relatively new, so I’m relatively freaked out about it. There isn’t too much data on it. It’s a super low-dosage cousin of some rather storied and potent shit out there, so I’m not sure I’m dedicated to the cause yet. I mean, what’s (sorry men, I lied, come back in another paragraph) wrong with some really heavy cramps, ennui, intense bleeding, possible anemia (isn’t the harpie look in this year?), totally inconsistent period arrival and the occasional urge for solace by digging a hole to China under a crescent moon with my bite guard?

Other than Flonase and antibiotics for the occasional lapse of taking my Flonase, I don’t take many prescriptions. I like to go the herbal route. The supplement route. The what-the-fuck-is-in-this?, but-at-least-it’s-not-linked-to-inducing-suicidal-thoughts route. It might not always be efficacious, but I also believe in the placebo effect.

So today, because of this new script, I called my insurance company to learn the ropes about costs and copays and deductibles. Before I got too deep into the details, my very helpful Aetna rep told me I needed to call CVS / CareMark whose wizards would know the answers to all my prescription-based questions.

This is how that call went…

CareMark: Thank you for calling CareMark, may I have the member ID?

Me: Hi, this is Molly Field. I’m calling to find out cost and copay details for a new prescription. The ID number is  1234567.

CareMark: Who do you work for? >slurp<

Me: Uh, myself. My kids. I don’t have a job that provides insurance. I’m a … yoga teacher…?

CareMark:  Are you Daniel?

Me: No. I’m me. I’m his —

CareMark: Why are you calling about Daniel? Are you calling on his behalf?

Me: No. I’m calling on my behalf. My name —

CareMark: Why do I have Daniel’s information then? >clichslurk<

Me: You asked me for the account number.

CareMark: Who is this?

Me: I’m his wife. He’s my husband. I’m calling on my own behalf for me about … me.

CareMark: What is your name and date of birth?

Me: (relieved: now we are getting somewhere.) My name is Molly Field my date of birth is ___ ___ 1829.

CareMark: Ok. Why are you calling? >slurk<

Me: sigh. To get cost information on our policy and how much a new prescription will cost… When I dropped it —

CareMark: What is your account number?

Me: I just gave it to you and it seemed to confuse —

CareMark: Account number please. >skicch< I can’t look up anything without that… Do I have your consent…

Me: Yes. You have my consent. The account number will give you … it’s 1234567.

CareMark: Am I speaking to the spouse?

Me: Yes. On my own behalf about medication prescribed for me.

CareMark: How may I assist you?

Me: Ok. I’d like to know cost and copay information about a medication called STOPSHITTYSYMPTOMS.

CareMark: That’s the 7.5mg dosage, correct? >skicch.<

Me: (after memorizing the promotional crate it came home in, complete with two obscured magnets to keep it closed, what the what is this? a Michael Kors bag?? Now I know where the money is being spent by this pharma) Yes, 7.5.

CareMark: A 90-daysupplyis$97. Untilyoumeetyourdeductible. >skich.<

Me: What is the deductible?

CareMark: Thereareseveraldeductiblelevelsonyourplan. >slurp.< Oneis25anotheris35andthefamilyis65. Per year. >clitch<

Me: (what the fuck is that sound?) Ok. So what’s the copay?

CareMark: What are you talking about? What copay?  >shlink<

Me: (irked and confused and super curious about what’s in her mouth) Ok. You just said … if I’m following you, why would I pay the full $97 for the 90-day supply seeing as how I’d met at least one of the deductibles you mentioned? I mean, even at the 65, I’d only need to pay, what… $32 and so then, what would the copay be after that?

CareMark: You >sklurk< wouldn’t have met the deductible.

Me: But you said the deductible was three levels. You said “25 and 35 and 65.” Those are the figures you gave me. So if I pay $97 for a 90-day supply, I would have already met the deductible. Yes?

CareMark: >slurp< No. Nowhere near the deductible.

Me: (slamming face with desk, wondering about the need for this medication when all I think we need to do is rid ourselves of idiots at call centers) But … that’s close to $400. A three-refill 90-day script, which is what I was given, will cost … $388, way beyond the deductible you quoted me. You just said, “25, 35 and 65 are the deductible levels…”

CareMark: (audible groan) >querlk< HUNDRED. TWENTY FIVE HUNDRED, THIRTY FIVE HUNDRED. SIXTY FIVE HUNDRED.  (you freaking idiot.) That’s your deDUCTible levels.

Me: (oh hell NO you didn’t…) HUNDRED?! As in Twenty-five hundred dollars for a deductible? Is THAT what you meant? (CareMark Mistress of the Dark is >sklerking< in the background…)

You said “twenty-five, thirty-five and sixty-five” and didn’t say “hundred” after any of those figures. So naturally, I thought you were talking about an entirely different denomination… >pausing to listen< Um, (with obvious bitter disgust) are you eating something? Because I can’t unders–

CareMark: >pause< No. I am not eating any — I am SUCKING on a COUGH DROP. I am SICK today. >SLERK SKECK CRUNCH<

Me: >pause.< Oh. I ask if you’re eating something because I’m having a hard time understanding you. You aren’t speaking clearly. And, that you left out of that deductible information by a factor of one-hundred.

So, then, yes, doing the math that I understand now, I would not meet the deductible. That’s fine. It is what it is.

Now, since CareMark has been our prescription program provider for several years, can you tell me what my family’s history was last year on what we paid for prescriptions so I can get a sense of whether or not we even came close to meeting those deductibles? You know, so I can get a ballpark on —

CareMark Viper from Hell: You want a WHAT? >sklerk< From WHEN?

Me: (fuck you; you work for me) I’d like to know if you can provide me with a … report, yes, a report of what we paid last year for prescriptions so that I can understand how that shaped up… I know some systems won’t give access to data so maybe you need to transfer me (please o please o please transfer me…), but I’m just looking for a snapshot, if you will, of how much we paid —

CareMark succubus: I don’t know what YOU’RE talking >slurk< about, but I can give >sklech< a COST REPORT (you moron) of your prescriptions from last year. I can send it to you …

Me: (incredulous) Mmmmmm Nnnnnooooo. That won’t be necessary; you don’t need to print it out and mail it to me, I’m just looking for a quick-and-dirty here (still trying to be niccccce….) so that I can .. can you just look at it and tell me?

(envisioning bats pipping and fluttering about her head; her face slack, with green from the reflecting the screen) Is there a screen you can click on? Do you have that (carefully choosing my words) ca-pa-bil-i-ty on your sys-tem that will show you that his-tor-ic in-for-ma-tion so you can just tell me the cost report from reading it on your screen? (SMILING a TOOTHY GRIN but with narrowed eyes.) 

CareMark demon: (likely hunched over one of those ancient monolithic IBM 8600 desktop computers we used to call “machines” back in the 90s) You didn’t meet it. >slerk< You didn’t reach your deductible last year.

Me: (oddly proud that we didn’t need that insurance but pissed we paid for coverage for it) Oh. Did we come close? I mean, would have this addition of this STOPSHITTYSYMPTOMS last year, hypothetically of course, would it achieved the deductible? (at this point, i’m not sure of why i’m asking about any of this; something about this woman made me want to pick at her though…)

CareMark: No. >sklerrrrk<

Me: Ok. Well, that’s that. (sincerely) Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.

CLICK.

Me: hello?

She hung up on me. Not a “Thank you for calling CareMark and giving me a job to do and keeping my wages coming in…” or “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” or, I don’t know, “Good bye.”

I think she needs the medicine more than I do.

So then I called Aetna and told them what happened to me. They took a full report.

You’re allowed to be sick. You’re allowed to sklerk on a lozenge. But you’re not allowed to be viperous. You’re just not.

Here’s the final thing: I’m a big girl, I’m healthy, I’m happy and living a very wonderful and stable life. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that this puff adder would somehow meet up on that phone line with someone who’s really in need. Maybe a mother of an infant with a blood infection; a father who’s son is in rehab, y’know: PEOPLE. I was concerned that she would affect a person who’s rattled, whose spouse just had a stroke, or who needs to know about his or her new health plan and that this agent would treat that rattled spouse or parent or patient so horribly that the day would be ruined. 

Truth be told, I thought of my father, who’s 84 now, and if he needed to call CareMark to ask about his prescription benefits. I thought about my mother-in-law, who’s 29, and considered her situation with that agent and I decided I couldn’t let it go. 

So I called CareMark later on and spoke with management. The manager I spoke with was mortified by Elvira’s behavior and grateful that I called back. 

CareMark redeemed itself to me on that second phone call. It turns out it’s not a “deductible,” it’s a Maximum Allowable Benefit (MAB), which is the exact opposite of a deductible. A deductible is threshold you must meet by paying into it, and  it would eventually reduce your out-of-pocket expenses as you go forward. When you reach your deductible, your costs go down. The MAB is an already established account, with funds already in it, that when you buy your medication, that sum is deducted. When you run out of the MAB, you pay more. It’s like a bet the insurance is taking, that you will try to meet. 

I don’t know how that rep has stayed employed.

Why am I in the basement and what am I looking for down here? Geez, I hope it’s not for the laundry.

Thank you.

Frosted Memories

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This morning, before my son and I ventured out for his walk to school, my husband called me down to get his camera phone so he could take a picture, “I think there’s a red-tailed hawk on Tommy’s front yard…” By the time I got to him, it was gone.

“I think it was… It was just sitting there, it was so strange. Like it was looking for something…”

“Like its keys…? I asked, adding, “Where is Gandalf? or Beezer?” referring to our cats. He said they were inside.

Back to work, nothing to see here.

I went to the kitchen and wrestled out a bag of trash to go in the cans by our driveway. The sky was very clear, still a little dawn-ish outside, so no real sunshine, just its rumor. It always amazes me in some really weird way how the sun just hangs out and does her thing. It’s automatic. She doesn’t move at all, there is no sunrise or sunset; it’s just the Earth turning.

Lined up across the street from my house were four tall bistro chairs, upholstered in some form of black bonded leather (essentially vinyl), sitting in wait for the maw of the garbage truck which would come soon enough. Because they were out overnight in the sub-freezing temps, frost had settled on their seats.

My husband was on his way back into the house from running some trash and he mentioned to me as we passed on our walk-up that we should write something in them.

Given the news lately, and my anxiety, bad dreams, poor sleep and general low-grade PTSD from being a 34-year resident of a neighborhood serving as a bedroom and home to top brass in the military (including General Powell back in the day) and other people who work for the government, my thoughts were not rational. My initial ideas about what to write on those seats were puerile, humorous, shocking and primitive.

I’m not sure what my husband was thinking of writing, maybe Peace Be With You or Have A Great Day or I Like Your Smile, because he’s a kind and decent human being. But because I come from different stock, I had all sorts of low-class possibilities in my head. I like one-word hits. My brain is pretty fast at calculating opportunities like that: how to get something impactful done in a broad stroke.

Two nights before, the night of the San Bernadino attack, I woke stunned from a nightmare of black-clad, balaclava’d, and jackbooted thugs opening fire on my family and me in our own backyard. Given this dream, and my apparent anxiety that has been feeding my subconscious, I knew that I have been in dire need of some laughter. Some air in my lungs, the numbing in the lips that comes from the deep breaths of laughing hard.

So when my husband went inside to fetch his gear to push off for work, I scampered up to the seats and scrawled on the seats with my fingernail to cut through the frost.

I saw space or opportunity for four letters: S-H-I-T, I thought, first… well, only after thinking F-U-C-K, but SHIT was right there as a swift shame-driven alternative, right on the tip of my fingernail, I swear. (Remind me to tell you about the first time I said “fuck” in 8th grade in the earshot of the Gray Nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart…)

Prouder than a peacock with his tail feathers at full spread, I ran in to grab my camera phone to snap a pic. “I wrote on them,” I squeaked to my husband as he went back to his car. “Oh?” he said, bemused, concerned and curious.

He walked over and this is what he saw:

FARTchairs

And it made me laugh. Emission (snort) accomplished.

He giggled. “Funny,” he said, slightly relieved I’m sure, at its relatively G-rated content. It could’ve been so much worse, trust me, I wanted to say.

Last night he was the one with the home invasion dream. “Lock all the doors…” he said as he squeezed me in to give me a smooch before driving away. “Take care of Ma,” he said to Murphy and Charlie, our dogs who bark at things that are not there and he was off to save the world from bad mortgages.

I wondered about how a harpie might feel, a rush of anxiety that comes as the sky brightens. I knew the “art” would be like the methane it represented: vapor, as soon as the eight-minute-old sunlight hit the dark reflective surface.

Taking that childlike risk of writing a taboo word (even though it was ephemera) on someone else’s property (even though it was headed to the landfill), was exhilarating. It felt like I was free from fear and that at that moment, everything was just as it should be.

And it was. At that moment, everything was as it should’ve been.

I went inside to show my son, “Look at what I did,” I said, eyebrows up and biting my lip like Bill Clinton.

He was confused. “Fart? Did you do that? Why would you write that?”

I sort of deflated, defended, “Because why not? It’s not super offensive; the chairs are headed for the trash… it will evaporate in a nanosecond once the sun hits it…” I thought of all my kids, he would think it was funny.

“Oh. Ok. Funny. F-A-R-T… that’s pretty clever. You could’ve written far worse… ” he said, and I stopped him from giving me ideas. He’s the youngest of three brothers and he’s in 6th grade, so he’s got plenty of source material and I need to preserve the illusion that he’s still a young baby.

He finished his breakfast, gathered up his stuff and I zipped his jacket. As we stepped down to walk to school, the frost had burned off. “It’s gone, Mom,” he said, a little sad that he wasn’t able to see the actual letters anymore. “I’m glad you took that picture of it.”

I almost wasn’t going to write this post today. I thought that people might consider it lowbrow in light of all the sadness in the news. But I know that I can’t change other people nor can I cater to them, or else I’d never get any writing done. Each of us is on our own journey and we all process grief and fear in different ways. I can’t let myself be consumed by fear.

Given those processes, I know that if I let it, fear can take over me. Sirens blared past my house an hour ago and I went searching for my phone to run a police scanner app I uploaded after the Paris attacks. I opened my local emergency response channel and went to Urban Dictionary to look up police codes. I heard that a building needed to be evacuated because a media room was likely exposed to a gas leak.

Just before Hallowe’en there was an explosion in a science lab at a nearby high school, so I lost myself. I was about to text my son at his high school to see if everything was alright, but he still had an hour to go, and my inquiry could set off a complete meltdown for him. I had to think about him first. I got back in the Moment. I fought the fear: I put down the phone and decided to write this post instead.

My writing “F-A-R-T” in the frost on the chairs is not a nod toward denial and complacency but rather a step into vulnerability in order to own and then release my fear. … emission accomplished. 

Thank you.