Posts Tagged ‘teenager’

On Learning a Lesson

March 5, 2011


I underestimate my youngest boy. Most of the time he surprises me in the end.  He decided, at the last minute, to try out for the high school baseball team.  In our town, if you don’t start baseball at the earliest age, follow through with private hitting lessons, then Fall ball,  and finally, Winter conditioning, you are not taking the game seriously. You don’t get picked. Everyone knows it.

Ryan’s older brother did all the  things expected of him.  In thirteen years of baseball, encompassing all the above into his routine, and with his determination, love of pitching, and the defensive play of his equally committed teammates, he won a State Championship. Ben never missed a practice, or a game until his face caught a line-drive off the bat of the player he was pitching to. He refused to have his nose reset and his sinus bone was too fractured to be repaired. The one game he missed was under doctor’s orders. His spirit was on the field. His body stood behind the fence at home plate, clinging, cheering his teammates on. He was back on the pitcher’s mound in less than a week, throwing for thirteen strike-outs. Baseball kept him together. Baseball was serious business. Baseball was his passion.

Ryan does things his own way.  His priorities are what suits him at the moment.  Baseball is a spring sport that takes a back burner to a birthday party or a trip to the theme park. No summer ball for him, he goes to the beach when the weather’s hot. To heck with Fall ball, bike rides on mountain trails are much more fun.  His thumbs are the only parts of his body  that get a serious workout in winter, playing Xbox-Live with his buddies. It’s all about his friends and fun. That’s his passion.

He put his baseball bat down two years ago in favor of a paintball gun, and hadn’t picked up the Louisville Slugger again until the night before tryouts. He hadn’t thrown a baseball in two years either.  His cleats no longer fit and his baseball pants had long been donated to the local thrift store.

“I need some metal cleats for tryouts,” he said to me Monday.  He had the day off from school for President’s Day.  “and some baseball pants.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m trying out for the baseball team,” he said.

“Really?” I asked. He’d just bought a new paintball gun, and won all kinds of nifty stuff at a paintball tournament for his tactical skill. He hadn’t practiced or played baseball in two years.  Why would I waste money on a pair of metal cleats that would last him a week of tryouts?  Baseball pants are twenty-five dollars a pair and all the ones at the thrift store are picked over or sold already.  Baseball season here starts at the end of January (not the actual season, but for the serious players it begins while snow is still forecasted.)

“When are tryouts?” I asked.

“They start tomorrow afternoon after school.”

“And you didn’t know this until today?”

“No I knew about it last week. I just decided I’d go out for the team today.”

This is Ryan, flying by the seat of his pants, decisions made at the last minute, hoping for the best. It’s a wonder I have hair left on my head.

 “Do you know how much I’m going to have to pay for cleats this close to season, even if we find a pair in your size?”

“My old ones were too little anyway,” he rationalized.

We went to the store, and Ryan found cleats on clearance a half size too big.  “I’ll wear an extra pair of socks,” he said.  We found a pair of gray baseball pants in his size.  He knew better than to ask for a three hundred dollar bat.

When we got home, he went into the attic and dug around for his brother’s gear.  He dragged the bat and glove downstairs and went outside for thirty minutes of practice with his Dad.

I heard the “ping, ping, ping” of ball on bat and a bit later, the “twack” of ball in glove. They are sounds I associate with spring and boys. I smiled a bittersweet smile.  It was a shame that he would have to learn the lesson that putting down a bat and glove for two years, at the crucial point of eighth and ninth grades, would land him a cut on the high school team.  This was a lesson he needed to learn on his own though. I was supportive of his efforts and gave him the supplies and encouragement he needed.

We were eating supper that night when Ryan said, “Oh, I need a physical before I can try out.”

My hand hit my forehead and I glared at the boy. “Tryouts start tomorrow Ryan,” I said. “You have school tomorrow.”

“School doesn’t close and the doctor’s office doesn’t just stop what they’re doing to let you come have a physical,” Bruce said, looking up from his potato salad.  “You need to learn to plan ahead, son.”

“Can you call them Mom and just see if I can get one sometime tonight or tomorrow?”

I could feel the steam rising in me, now a physical.  I slammed the phone book onto the table and started flipping pages.  Ryan came up and hugged me from behind.  “Here,” he said, taking the phone book  from me, “let me look it up for you.”

“We can fit him in at 5:45 tomorrow evening. That’s the earliest we can do,” Sharon, the evening nurse said to me. I growled out my frustration to her about teenagers, and she said, “Yeah tell me about it, my Jared was in here for his physical just today because he didn’t tell me about baseball tryouts until Saturday.”  It made me feel better, that I wasn’t alone in this journey through teenagedom.

“I’ll just go to the first meeting after school and tell the coach I have my physical appointment at 5:45,” Ryan said.  “Maybe they’ll let me practice without the form.”

They didn’t.  He called at five minutes after four to tell me that the coaches had to have his physical form before they would let him step foot on the field. I picked him up from the parking lot.  He missed the first day of tryouts.

He remembered to take his physical form to school the next day and knew to turn it in to the Athletic Secretary.  She wasn’t at her desk when he went by, so he kept it in his bat bag.  The baseball field is behind the Elementary School,  a half mile across the road from the high school. The potential players were there, answering roll call for practice the second day when Ryan’s name wasn’t called.  He raised his hand with his form.

“You have to have the initials from the Athletic Secretary before you can practice,” the coach said.  “You can run up to the school and bring it back signed if you want to practice.”  

Now he had two strikes against him, but he ran to the school and back with the signed paper, got in line for drills, and when he poured himself into the car at six thirty after practice, he was more tired than I’ve ever seen him.

Later that night, he came into the bedroom where I was.  “You’re going to be really mad at me,” he said.

That statement is usually followed by a reason why he failed a test, quiz or couldn’t hand in a paper on time. “What now?” I asked.  

“I left my backpack on the baseball field,” he said.

I put my coat on over my pajamas, handed Ryan the flashlight, and drove him to the school.  His backpack  wasn’t there.

“I hope one of the coaches put it in his car,” Ryan said.  “He probably did. I’ll check in the Athletic office tomorrow.”

All I could do was shake my head and think.  Hmmm, there’s your third strike.  Coach figures 1.  Kid can’t get his physical on time, misses first practice. 2. Can’t follow directions, has to miss part of second practice running to have form signed. 3. Now, can’t keep up with his things, I have to tote his books around for him.  In my mind, Ryan didn’t have a chance.  I began wondering what use I might have for a size eleven and a half pair of metal baseball cleats.  I guessed I could put them on myself with four pairs of socks, and aerate the yard.  The baseball pants would just be a loss, too stretchy, too small.

Thursday was rainy, no practice. Friday brought high wind warnings with sixty mile gusts, no practice. I got a text message from Ryan before I left work.  “If it’s OK, I’m going to Tomas’ to spend the night.  Tryouts are from ten to one tomorrow.  Can you pick me up at nine, so I can get some breakfast first?”

Sure, I thought. You’ll stay up until all hours, refining Xbox or paintball strategy with Tomas and drag around on the baseball field tomorrow morning for the coaches.  Lessons, I thought to myself, we all have to learn lessons.

Ryan is not a morning person.  He was standing at the end of Tomas’ driveway with his arms folded and his eyes closed.  He dropped into the seat and laid his head over onto the passenger window.  We drove home in silence.  He sat for twenty minutes watching cartoons, eating an egg and cheese bagel I handed him, then got dressed fifteen minutes before ten.  He arrived on the field at exactly ten o’clock.

My phone rang at five after one.  “I’m ready,” he said. “Can you come and pick me up?”

He got in the car smiling.  “Good practice?” I asked.

“I made the team,” he said.

“You did?” I asked trying to hide my surprise. I should have known. When Ryan decides to do something, he puts all of his effort into the thing.  He is competitive and tenacious when he wants to be.  He dug deep and remembered all those drills from Little League and Babe Ruth ball.  He caught with two hands, gripped the bat knuckles over knuckles and stepped into the pitch. He made his first step back in the outfield and took a secondary lead off first when it mattered.

“Yeah, JV.  And guess what?” Ryan asked, leaning back against the seat with his eyes closed and a smile on his face.

“What?” I asked.

“Stevie, Aaron and Josh are on the team too. Remember them from Little League? They were hilarious.  It’s gonna be a good season.”

For Ryan, it’s not about finding one passion in Kindergarten and sticking with it to the end. It’s about trying on different suits, maybe a baseball uniform in spring, swimming trunks in summer, and bicycle shorts in fall. He likes the look and feel of camouflage for paintball tournaments  down the road in Glasgow, and a pair of worn sweats while sitting in his gaming chair, headset donned in winter, giving his thumbs a workout. He’s figuring things out his way, and always finding friends along the way.  

He’s also teaching his mother a few lessons in the process.

Jane Eyre and the Mammogram

December 31, 2009

     “High school freshman literature is a killer.”  This statement comes from Ryan’s English teacher.

      He’s right, it’s one long read after another.  It’s also a fourteen year old boy’s nightmare.  The year begins with the Odyssey.  It may have all the violence and adventure that teenage boys crave, but it is also written in ancient language that they can’t understand.  Ryan didn’t need glasses to read the Odyssey, he needed hip waders to slog through it.  “Torture, Mom, that’s what it is, pure torture.  How could anybody enjoy a book where you have to read each part at least twice, ask your friends what they think it means, listen to your teacher drone on about what it means, which is nothing like what you and your friends think, and finally you have to go read the spark notes to understand it.  How could that possibly be interesting?  There are 24 chapters of it.” 

      At parent/teacher conference, I ask Mr. Azano, “What does Ryan have to look forward to after he finishes The Odyssey?”

      “Jane Eyre,” is his reply. 

      Oh great, I think, a teenage boy’s dream read.  I’m sure that Ryan will love  this book.  After all of his trouble with the Odyssey, I decide to read Jane Eyre with him. It wasn’t first on my list of winter reads, but I figure I can suffer with him.  That’s what parents do, right?  They suffer through things with their children.  Children don’t believe that, they think parents cause suffering. I go to Barnes and Noble and pay $7.99 for a book I don’t want to read.  

      Ryan is assigned two chapters per night, then has to answer discussion questions, fill out character analyses,  critically think.  Fourteen year old boys do not think critically, do not analyze or discuss anything other than video game strategy. I am resigned to a long, slow, literary experience.  I have assigned myself Jane Eyre.

      The first night of our assignment, Ryan meets me at the door, wanting to catch me having not done my homework. “Did you get your book?” he asks.

      “I got it, and even read two chapters on my lunch break,” I say, feeling kind of smug for having my assignment complete.

      “Yeah, I read mine too, before you got home.  It’s not too bad.  At least I can understand what she’s saying.” 

      I fix supper, and later that night we talk about the book and he answers his discussion questions.  1. What is your first impression of Jane Eyre?  What qualities would make her valuable as a friend? What qualities would make friendship with her difficult?  Explain.

      Why do teachers insist on making questions multi-dimentional?  I’m not sure whether it’s all boys, or just mine, but I have to pose one question or give one direction at a time.  I can’t lump three things into one sentence. If I do, they only complete the first task and leave off the others, never hearing or seeing past the first.  Ryan wonders why he only gets partial credit on his essay questions. Now we both know why. 

      I decide to take my copy of Jane Eyre to my mammogram appointment.  I figure I can get ahead on my reading while I wait.  I am called in for registration.  The registrar asks me all the familiar questions, address, phone number, emergency contact, work place.  Nothing has changed since 1986.  I live in the same house, have the same phone number, work at the same nursing home, am married to the same man, have the same breasts.  The only thing that has changed is the left one.  It has a lump. She doesn’t ask me about that.

      Back out in the waiting room, I notice how crowded it is for this early in the morning, how many women are waiting to be seen. I wonder how many are routine and how many are not.  I take out my book and glasses and begin my reading.  Names are called, women come and go.

      Jane is unhappy.  She lives with an abusive aunt and mean cousins. She is mistreated and is told that something is wrong with her.  She is damaged, and even though she is in a house full of people, she is alone. 

       I hear my name, put my book away,  and follow a  woman to a dressing room.  “Take off your sweater and bra,” she says.  “Use these wipes to take off your deodorant or any powder and put on this cape.  I’ll be back in one minute.”  I do as she asks and don my cape.  I feel like Super Breast Cancer Woman, naked from the waist up, in my little pink cape.  She returns for me and we enter the mammogram room.  I’ve been here before, but it’s more intimidating this time.  I’m feeling vulnerable.

      The technician introduces herself, but I cannot remember her name to save my life.  She is short and stout.  She is also kind, taking stock of my comfort and calling me “sweetie.”  She is older than I.  She positions me at the machine and adjusts the height as I am tall.  She looks as if she could use a step stool, she’s reaching up, and stands on her tip toes. We laugh about our differences in height.  I stand, feet pointing forward, leaning into the machine, turned just a bit to the right and she moves the press in place.  She asks me if I am in pain as she lowers the press, squeezing my breast and flattening it as far as it will compress.  I cross my eyes and grit out, “no, I’m alright.” 

      I wonder if the lump is mashed to the point of bursting inside me. I wonder if the cells, safe in their nest, begin scattering out and away from the stress, running in other directions to avoid the pressure.  I wonder it this makes it worse, but I don’t ask. The question seems silly.

      My technician peers at her screen.  She says to me, “You know it’s been a while since you have had a mammogram. Don’t wait so long between visits.  We find one to two breast cancers a day, just here at the Women’s Center.  You need to take good care of yourself.”

      “I know,” I say softly.

      She has me follow her back to the dressing room and hands me a plastic bag.  Usually, the technician tells me to get dressed and head back to the waiting room until the doctor reads the results.  This is different.  She gives me a robe to put on over my cape and tells me that she thinks that the doctor will order an ultrasound.  She asks me to have a seat on the “green sofa” and wait to be called.  “It was nice to meet you,” she says.

      I find out the “green sofa” area is a holding place for those of us who are different, who have special needs, who are not normal.  We sit there, lined up in our little capes and white robes, waiting.   The “green sofa” has a small pillow with a pink breast cancer symbol bow attached. The pillow rests there, waiting to remind us.  I’d like to throw it across the room.

      I take out my book and begin reading again while I wait.  Jane is in the red room, she’s been locked in there and told to sit on a chair and not move.  She knows her uncle died in this room and is afraid.  She’s afraid she will see his ghost.  She is the most frightened she’s ever been.

      A cute blond girl comes out and calls my name.  I follow her to an examining room.  It is dark and quiet there, the drapes are closed. She doesn’t say hello,  how are you, it’s a nice day outside.  She gives no pleasantries, no comfort.  She does say, “You can lie down on the table here and uncover your left breast.”  She unwinds a cord, squirts some jelly onto my breast and presses a device into the jelly and over my skin, moving it back and forth, pressing it into me. She pushes buttons on a computer screen as she works, making little “beeping” sounds.  As she is working, I have an overwhelming surge of emotion. I feel the tears behind my eyes, pressing to get out and run.  I will them to stop. I will not cry in front of this girl. When she is finished, she hands me a towel, tells me to wipe off and to get dressed.  She will come and take me to another room to wait for the doctor.

      This room is smaller, stark, with two chairs, hooks on the door and wall. I think it is another dressing room.  I take out my book and begin to read again.  Jane is crying uncontrollably.  She doesn’t understand why. Even the things that normally delight her, don’t now.  Bessie, the house maid and nurse, the only one who is remotely kind to her, worries about Jane, reads her stories, sings to her.

      There is a knock at the door.  A woman, near my own age, walks in. She has dark curly hair and a kind smile.  She extends her hand to me and introduces herself at Kate, the Breast Wellness Nurse. She asks me to come to her office.  The word office, has a scary sound to me.  Office can only mean one thing in this instance, and it isn’t good news.  I follow her, trying to be brave.  It’s a nice office with warm  dessert colored walls and open drapes. The view of the Blue Ridge is comforting, like a little piece of home.  Kate motions me to have a seat on her couch and she sits in her swivel office chair facing me.  “Dr. Payton, the radiologist, is reading your results now,” she says.  “He will come in and let you know what he’s found and what he suggests.  I see that you found this lump yourself,” she says. “That’s good, breast self exam is important.”

      I explain the story of finding it the day my mother called about my cousin’s breast cancer, how I put my hand to my heart and unconsciously started palpating my own breast, how I found the lump and how my left breast now feels like the 800 pound elephant  in the room.  We laugh together. She smiles, touches my hand with hers. She is concerned.  She has chosen the right profession. She is good.

      Kate leaves to find Dr. Peyton.  I take my book and start again.  Jane confronts her aunt. She tells her exactly what she thinks of her and her cousins. She is being sent away to school and hopes never to see her aunt’s house again.  Jane is nothing else, if not honest.  She boards a coach for the fifty mile trip to boarding school. She is alone, but excited.

      Dr. Peyton comes in, all starched in his royal blue shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair spiked with gel, expensive watch on his arm. He’s young.  He shakes my hand and sits down, leans forward.  “I have looked at your mammogram and your ultrasound and I think this is a complex cyst. I don’t think it is cancerous, but I want to have it biopsied just to make sure.  We will send your results to your primary physician who will call and make an appointment for you to come in and discuss the results and your options.”

      “What are your recommendations?”

      “I would recommend that you see a breast specialist and have a needle biopsy.  He or she will numb the area with a local anesthetic, insert the needle and aspirate some of the fluid and tissue.  That’s sent off to pathology and you get the results in about three days.”

      “I would rather make the appointment for the biopsy today.  My cousin and aunt’s doctor is Dr. Summer.”  Dr. Payton looks a little surprised

      Kate jumps in.  “Let me call your primary physician and see if they will allow us to make the appointment for you.”  She dials the office with the number I give her and asks to speak to Dr. Hargrove.  She is given permission over the phone and calls Dr. Summer’s office.  I have an appointment for a needle biopsy on Dec. 16th at 11:30 a.m. I have to be there at 11:15 for registration and prep.

      I am feeling better about this lump.  Two physicians telling me they think it is a non-cancerous cyst reassures me.  I still won’t sleep well until I have the results from the biopsy, but I’m not quite so nervous and scared.

       I’m thinking Ryan and I will be well into Jane Eyre when the 16th rolls around.  I wonder where Jane will find herself during the biopsy visit and how she will be facing her challenges.  Ryan and I will just have to wait and see.