DI-Why

When Charlie was just a few months old, he came down with a nasty virus. He was in daycare at the time and our child care center seemed to always be ground zero for the really awful illnesses that my kids caught with such ease. I took time off from work to care for our sweet little Charlie at home and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I knew we had to take him to the emergency room. I had been hanging clean laundry up in my closet and when I finished and reached down to pick Charlie up from the bed, he was stiff. His whole body. He was so little at the time and so new-baby malleable that to pick him up and feel his muscles so rigid was alarming. I knew he was really ill.

Bob and I ended up spending the majority of that afternoon and evening in our local hospital’s ER. Charlie was officially diagnosed with a “virus of unknown origin” meaning, the hospital didn’t know what he had, admitted there was really no good way to figure it out, but acknowledged that it was absolutely making him miserable. It was just something that we had to wait out. They wanted us to remain in the ER so they could hydrate Charlie and monitor him closely for a few hours before discharging him. With a compassionate shrug, the doctors and nurses left us on our own to sit and wait and watch. Our fears placated, Bob and I settled in to spend a few hours staring intently at Charlie.

Now, it should be noted that our local hospital at the time was more urban, less spacious and a bit more bare bones than the hospital we utilize now. The ER in the town closest to where we currently live has private rooms, individual television sets, a staff eager to accommodate and valet parking. The ER we took Charlie to that night had a long wait time, a maxed-out staff, absolutely no snacks, and the only thing separating us from the next patient on a stretcher was a thin curtain and about four feet. I’m certainly not complaining because I didn’t even know ERs came in fancier versions until we moved from the city but still, if we were able to even snag an extra blanket from a nurse that night, it certainly didn’t come all toasty warm from one of those giant blanket ovens our current hospital uses.

Sitting with a sleeping four-month-old and a lack of sufficient snacks left us with nothing to do but eavesdrop on the medical emergencies of those around us. It was fascinating. Directly next to us, on the other side of the curtain, was an intoxicated man who was handcuffed to his gurney and guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. He talked loudly for probably a solid hour about assorted topics before falling asleep and, thus, falling quiet. We heard other random snippets hear and there of bumps and bruises and broken bones but eventually, as evening settled in and the bustling quieted down, both Bob and I started listening intently to a husband and wife that were seeking treatment across the aisle from us.

It turned out, the wife was in the emergency room because she had been experiencing chest pains. It actually seemed quite serious from the tone of the doctor’s voice. The doctor was still unsure of what type of cardiac event she had experienced but he began reviewing with the couple the results of some preliminary testing and explaining to them some additional tests he would like to run before admitting the wife overnight for observation. It was at this point that the couple began to protest. They were concerned about how long all of this was going to take and seemed distressed about the necessity of spending an entire night in the hospital. Bob and I, unabashedly, leaned in for a closer listen.

“You see,” the husband began to explain to the doctor, “we have dinner reservations.”

It was at this point that Bob and I looked at each other with saucer-like eyes and tried not to laugh. Dismissing a possible heart attack in favor of keeping hard-to-get dinner reservations was just the MOST Northern Virginia thing one could do. I mean, I can appreciate a great meal, too, but I wouldn’t risk betting the sommelier knows how to use a defibulator. The ER doctor said about the same.

The conversation quickly escalated between the ER doctor and the husband and wife. Eventually, as the doctor was explaining the “against medical advice” discharge paperwork that would need to be completed before they could leave, the husband looked at the doctor and asked, “So, tell me, what’s worst case scenario here?”

Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at the husband wearily and said, “SIR, your wife could DIE.”

A few minutes later, the husband and his possibly-having-a-heart-attack wife were on their way to dinner to, presumably, eat mussels or foie gras or something like that. Shortly afterwards, Bob and Charlie and I headed home to rest up, recuperate and probably eat some Goldfish crackers.

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Ever since that fateful emergency room visit, Bob and I have used the Worst Case Scenario query to address some of our toughest life decisions.

Should we move the entire family to Richmond? What’s the worst case scenario?

Are you up for having a third baby? What’s worst case scenario?

Is it possible to still buy a waterbed? What would be the worst case scenario?

Maybe we should get that odd rash on the middle kid looked at? What’s the worst case scenario?

Does this egg salad smell weird to you? Worst case scenario?

It’s actually a highly effective tool in distilling a problem or issue down to it’s possible outcomes. If the answer is anything other than one of us dying, we typically proceed.

All this to explain that Bob and I are thinking of renovating our kitchen ourselves. I mean, what’s the worst case scenario here?

Eight

Eight is probably my favorite of the little kid ages. Young enough to want a first-thing-in-the-morning hug but old enough to get themselves ready for school with little intervention. Young enough to still be tucked into bed with stuffed animals each night but old enough to procure their own snacks. Young enough to laugh uncontrollably at a fart joke but old enough to be completely rational about concepts that would send a toddler into a tantrum.

Charlie turned eight years old about a week ago.

Charlie, at eight years of age, has asked for a later bedtime. As it currently stands, I send all three of the kids packing at 8:00 each evening. By that time of night, I have been on the job for 14 hours straight and while I love my children dearly, I no longer wish to see or hear them. To their rooms they must go. Charlie’s quest for a later bedtime messes a bit with my timeline but he was adamant so we found a compromise. I explained that he still had to head to his room at 8:00 p.m. but could now stay awake until 8:30. Charlie considered this a victory. More of a moral victory for sure, since when I check on him each evening around 8:05 or so, he is always sound asleep.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is still petite in stature. He is wee for his age. Shorter than his peers but just sort of tiny all over. His arms and legs are like matchsticks, especially when compared to Millie, who is one solid mass of a kid. I have trouble picking her up anymore but not Charlie. Charlie I can still swing up in my arms with ease and he still wants to be picked up. I feel like Charlie is part rechargeable battery, gathering his energy by hugging others. Most mornings, when I swoop him up for a big hug, Charlie still does that thing that little ones do where they tuck their arms down at their side, pinned almost by your arms so they can lean into you, head on your shoulder and you can completely envelop them in a hug. It’s like a kid version of a trust fall and someday, when you ask me, I will tell you that it is one of the things I miss most about this age.

Charlie, at eight years of age, tries valiantly to hide his emotions. You can see the tough kid resolve when he gets injured or his siblings have wronged him or when something doesn’t go according to plan. For years, Bob and I wondered when Charlie, our high emotion middle child, would cross this bridge. When he would better understand complicated logistics and the nature of time and we longed for the day when deviations and impatience wouldn’t result in a complete meltdown. We’ve finally arrived there. But, Charlie still feels deeply. A couple of weeks ago, a nice man from a neighboring town came to our house to buy our bunk bed set. With Henry in his own room, I was eager for Charlie to have a traditional bed. One that made changing the bed sheets 100 percent easier. After we loaded the bunk beds into the buyer’s trailer, Bob and I went inside and found Charlie’s bedroom door shut. When we entered, we found Charlie sobbing at his desk. We hurriedly asked what was wrong and he tearfully explained, “You’re selling EVERYTHING that I love!” Charlie was upset but didn’t want us to know. Bob and I hid our relieved smiles and promptly went about extolling the graces of his New! Bigger! Better! bed.

Charlie, at eight years of age, is working hard at school. We abruptly switched Charlie to a different elementary school at the beginning of March and he managed the big change with aplomb. He is thriving there, working towards mastering the basics that seem to be so difficult for him to master. His new teacher convened a big meeting a couple of weeks after his arrival. The conference room where we met was filled with various school staff and advocates that all want Charlie to find success. When the assistant principal asked me if I had any insight to share on Charlie, I paused. I thought for a bit and then explained that, yes, school will probably never be a favorite of Charlie’s however, if any one of them around that table were hopelessly lost in the woods, Charlie could help them survive for three days, no problem. Charlie’s skill set lies elsewhere but he’s got a huge team of people at his school working to help him learn, figuring out what interests to tap that will finally make things click. I’m confident we’re on the right path.

Charlie found me busy on my laptop the other day. He asked what I was doing and I said, “Writing! It’s just a modern version of your typewriter, Charlie.”

He grinned and replied, “Well, I AM kind of old-fashioned.”

Yes, you are Charlie. My old soul outdoorsman is now eight years old.

Pumpkinhead

For several months now, Charlie has been infatuated with the 1990s television show, Goosebumps. Based on the book series of the same name by R.L. Stine, the TV episodes are low-budget, poorly scripted and completely outdated in both costume and popular reference. It doesn’t matter to Charlie. He found the series on Netflix this past winter and has watched every show available. (There was a fancy movie version released last year and we have seen it but Charlie does not prefer the updated Jack Black version. Too current, too high definition.)

Charlie’s love for Goosebumps was so consuming that it even propelled him to put pen to paper, a task that Charlie finds rather loathsome and tedious. He stayed up late one night earlier this year carefully crafting his own Goosebumps fan fiction starring his favorite show’s characters. I was okay with the moderately scary storylines if the whole thing got Charlie interested in a. writing and b. reading and c. something OTHER THAN fighting with his brother over Nerf bullets.

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Then, on a seemingly unrelated note this past spring, Charlie began talking about planting pumpkin seeds.

“You want to plant a garden?” I asked. “No,” came the reply. “Just pumpkins. I want to plant pumpkins.”

Charlie became laser focused on growing pumpkins. It was all he could talk about.

Since I greatly dislike gardening of any kind I, at first, tried to dissuade Charlie from planting pumpkin seeds. Planting pumpkin seeds seemed like it might be kind of complicated and probably involved soil that was dirty and possibly weeding something and definite contact with bugs and all of that is just simply not my jam. In a last ditch effort at redirecting his endeavor, I may or may not have told him that you needed a permit from the city to plant pumpkins. (I’m not super proud of this but it was the last couple of weeks of school and my head was under water.)

Hitting a roadblock with me, Charlie then approached Bob with his entire pumpkin plan and because Bob is the Fun Parent, the Yes Parent, Bob promptly drove Charlie to the hardware store in town to purchase pumpkin seeds. The two of them carefully chose a window box-like container, added some potting mix, planted the seeds and away we went: Charlie as pumpkin farmer.

Charlie tenderly watered his potted seeds as needed, checking for change daily when he returned home from school. And, honestly, much to my surprise, right before we left for vacation in June, little green shoots appeared. Charlie was ecstatic! I didn’t know it at the time but his plan was taking shape.

We left the window box full of baby pumpkin plants in the trusted care of neighbors for the week we were in South Carolina. Charlie went over the strict care and watering instructions with our friends and with a certain amount of trepidation, he bid his pumpkin plants farewell.

When we returned, we were wholly surprised to see that the pumpkin plants were absolutely BURSTING from the window box. For a brief minute, I entertained the idea that our neighbors had somehow managed to kill the old pumpkin plants in a week’s time and done some kind of panicked switcheroo with much more mature pumpkin plants. Sort of like what you would do if a beloved goldfish belonging to your child died and a direct replacement was proffered before anyone was the wiser. However, (after admitting that they had, indeed, thought of a Plan B in the case of an untimely pumpkin plant demise on their watch), our neighbors assured us that they had not done anything more than follow Charlie’s careful instructions.

With the window box at maximum capacity, it became readily apparent that the pumpkin plants needed more room. They were not thriving in such a small space. So, Bob and Charlie scoped out the perfect spot near our basement steps and went about relocating the pumpkin plants. This involved trips to the local feed store for fencing and stakes and all manner of pumpkin support and protection items. We were all nervous that the trauma of new ground would just be too much for the tender little plants but we really had nothing to fear. The pumpkins did just fine.

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In fact, they did better than just fine. They thrived.

When it became apparent that this venture of Charlie’s might actually prove successful, I asked him what he had planned for his pumpkins. I assumed he had remembered something from school about roasting pumpkin seeds or making pumpkin pies but he instead informed me that he wanted to make a scary jack-o’-lantern.

“Oh, for the front porch, bud? For Halloween?” I asked. “That’s a great idea.”

“Well, yes for Halloween but not for the front porch,” Charlie said. “The jack-o’-lantern is for my head.”

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Charlie’s plan had come full circle.

Charlie explained that, for Halloween, he intended to dress up as a scary jack-o’-lantern just like a character found in one of his favorite Goosebumps stories and the pumpkins he was growing were meant to complete his costume. He would wait patiently while a pumpkin grew on the vine, then he would pick it, clean it out, carve out the scary face and terrorize the neighborhood.

I absolutely commend his foresight and am incredibly impressed with his ability to plan.

I, however, have doubts about if these pumpkins can grow to a useful size.

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Hand for scale.

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Hand for scale.

If these little pumpkins don’t get a move-on, we might still yet have to pull a switcheroo, come the end of October, with something of a more suitable size.

And, in the ultimate Goosebumps-like finale to this tale, the pumpkin plants appear to be taking over our yard, our railing and our basement steps, reaching their long tendrils and big leaves straight for the house. This is the current view from my bedroom window. It’s only a matter of time before our house is consumed. It’s like something straight out of a horror show.

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