‘Not your normal stomachache’ tale
It didn’t even take a day. In fact, my old seat at the Ledger was barely warm when calamity struck; my mom said it was poetic justice.
I shouldn’t have ignored my son Zane’s calls – all 75 of them. You would think I would learn, but it was my first day back as a summer staff writer, and I had pressing stories to deliver before deadline. In my defense, I did answer call number 56.
“Mom, I have a stomachache,” Zane said.
A stomachache? Seriously? I am an important news writer, and he interrupted me for an insignificant stomachache? For Pete’s sake.
“Zane, I’m on deadline,” I snapped. “I will check on you at lunch.”
(It crossed my mind that now that he’s 15, it might be time to cut the proverbial umbilical cord. My daughter, Sage, says Zane is a monster I created myself by “carrying him around on your hip since the second he was born.” I suppose it’s possible that I’ve coddled Zane into becoming the needy and high maintenance young leech he’s “grown up” to be. What can I say? He’s the baby.)
Even after I told Zane I would check on him at lunch, the calls to my cell phone kept coming; I continued to ignore them. At 2 p.m., when my story was done and revised, I called him back.
“MOM, I AM IN NEED OF MEDICAL ATTENTION. NOW!” he shouted. “THIS IS NOT YOUR NORMAL STOMACHACHE.”
Is it possible for the any one of the Richmond brigade to have or do anything that’s “normal?” When I asked him where the pain was, he said it had started in the center of his stomach and moved to his right side. I couldn’t believe it. Our son, Blake, had to have his appendix out over spring break; what were the odds that less than three months later, Zane’s would have to come out, as well?
(I maintain that as the boys share a bedroom, there are clearly environmental factors that contributed to what was later classified as a “medical coincidence.” I caution other parents who, like me, regularly gag on the stench of dirty sweat socks, testosterone, and Axe that emanates from their teenagers’ rooms to heed my warning: that smell is toxic and is fully capable of causing body organs to become infected and shut down.)
When I got home, Zane felt warm, and he was doubled over in pain. I called the doctor’s office (still on speed-dial) and was fortunate enough to get an appointment 15 minutes later. Upon examination, the doctor said Zane had all the signs of appendicitis. After several tests and after his pain continued to increase, Zane was admitted to the hospital.
Before he’d even had the CT scan that would confirm he needed his appendix removed, I wanted to get something straight with Zane.
“Can I write about this?” I asked him, eyes pleading. If I had to call Mr. Wilson and tell him after one day on the job, I needed a leave of absence, I wanted something to buffer the blow.
People always ask me why I don’t write as often as I once did; it’s because my best material hit their teenage years and put the skids what they now classify as “exploitation.” My son, Jasper, once reveled in having people in the community openly refer to his index finger as his “booger pickin’ finger.” Those days have long past. Frankly, I think classifying taking a little poke at everyday family life as “exploitation” is a little harsh; Zane even went so far once as to call me a literary “pimp.” The kids do not share my belief that because I gave him life, I own the commercial rights to our stories. I’ve tried to honor their request to keep things on the down-low. I admit, though, I was hoping Zane would throw me a bone this time. Maybe it was the morphine they were pumping into him, but he cheerily gave me his blessing.
“The way I see it, Mom, this is a mutually beneficial relationship. I give you stuff to write about, and you help me pass English and speech. It’s a trade-off,” he said.
I told him I thought that in this case, the term “mutually beneficial” was radically deceiving. The fact is, he’s a lecherous barnacle and as his host, I continually get the short end of the stick. The mutual benefits have proven very limited; in fact, he’s sucking me life out of me.
The surgery on Friday was fairly uneventful, which surprised and worried me; I needed column fodder. The surgeon used terms unfamiliar to me like “text book case,” “standard” and “routine.” He obviously didn’t know who he’d operated on.
True to the Richmond name, though, Zane didn’t disappoint. About 10 o’clock Saturday night, running a fairly high temperature and jacked up on morphine and Phenergan, Zane suddenly leapt from a sound sleep over the side rail of his hospital bed on the side opposite his IV pole. The IV tubing was being pulled so taut that blood was coming out of his arm. He was mumbling and trying to pull his pants down. I hit the call light and shouted into the speaker as if I’d dialed a 9-11 operator.
I tried to steer Zane around the end of the bed, closer to the IV pole. I wanted to put some slack back into the IV line before he ripped his arm wide open. Zane wanted no part of it, instead running around the end of the bed toward the door where he attempted to do some unmentionable business in the sink the nurses use to wash their hands. I managed to halt that sordid business just in time for him turn and run into the bathroom, where he went ahead and did his unmentionable business in the bathroom sink instead. He was still mumbling and making no sense at all. That’s how the nurses found him.
(“Oh, gawd, no!” he moaned the next day when I told him this.)
The nurses and I got him back into the bed, and we tried to bring him back to planet Earth.
“Zane, where are you?” I asked him.
Three times he tried to tell me he was at “Nick Fitch’s house,” a name I didn’t recognize. Later, he was adamant that we were in a some far-off place called “Nin.”
“We are in Nin,” he repeated several times.
When I asked him where Nin was, he got upset and shouted, “WE’RE IN NIN! NIN, I TELL YOU.”
Nin. Probably fairly close to Narnia on the map. Population: Zane.
I moved on, asking him if he knew who I was.
“You’re Mrs. Wright,” he said.
“No, Mrs. Wright is what the kids at school call me. What do you call me?” I asked.
Again, he said, “Mrs. Wright.”
He went on for some time calling me “Mrs. Wright” and I finally said again, “Zane, Mrs. Wright is what the kids at school call me.”
He shot back, “Then why are you so surprised that I’m calling you that?”
I had to laugh as I tried a second approach.
“Zane, am I your dad?”
He broke out in a fit of demonic giggles before he responded, “No, you’re my mom.” Then, amid more demonic giggling he said, “You didn’t know?”
It was this comment that disarmed me, my laughter and tears mingling at the humorous poignancy of this remark.
Yes, Zane, I am brutally aware that I am your mother. Yes, the perks are limited, but I will still happily continue to serve as your mother, your host, your caregiver, your confidante and your number one fan. Truth be told, I actually relish helping you pass English and speech. With each passing day, you’re getting older and more independent. You’d much rather be with your friends now than hanging out with you’re “dumb” mom so I’ll seize every opportunity to be in the blessed company of a boy whose favorite word is still “poop.” Four days with you – even if you didn’t know who I was for a large percentage of them – was time well spent.
Even if I don’t always tell you, being a mom to you and your siblings is the job I cherish most, far above teacher or writer. (Although I know I’m probably not as good as it.) Even though it’s often utterly exhausting, I know I will miss being an integral part of your daily lives when you’ve gone. (Although you did promise to stay with me until you turn 40 when we were reunited after that time you got lost in the mall.) I’ll be here as long as you’ll have me.
Besides, was there ever really any question that I am your mother? Who but your mother would spend four fun-filled days at your side in the hospital, sleeping on a bench the size of a splinter, my hair unwashed and growing greasier with each passing moment, waiting on your every whim, being addressed as “Mrs. Wright,” and watching every episode of Teen Mom in existence?
Really, Zane - who but your mother would accompany you to Nin and back, and live to tell about it?