Author Archives: Swistle

What It Was Like To Have a Tooth Extracted

I’m not going to put any gross pictures in this post. Some people like to see stuff like that, and some people don’t. So in THIS post, the only pictures will be of the temporary-temporary tooth (which looks like a transparent impression of my teeth but with a tooth painted on) and of me modeling it. If you would like to see two head-and-shoulders pictures of me grimacing/smiling without one of my front teeth, and a closer picture of my bared teeth so you can see what the extraction site looks like two days after extraction (not gory, but it’s not what you’d call a beauty shot), I have posted them here: Pictures of Swistle’s Missing Tooth.

To review, my body had for reasons unknown decided that the root of one of my upper front teeth was An Intruder, and was steadily working on absorbing it. I found out about five years ago when I had a routine dental x-ray. The dentist sent me to an endodontist to see if the tooth could be saved with a root canal, and the endodontist said definitely not. The dentist said there was no rush and we could keep an eye on it; every so often he took another x-ray and confirmed the steady but slow loss of the root.

In the last year or so I started having a periodic non-painful-but-not-pleasant-either tingling sensation around that tooth and decided to act sooner rather than later. (The danger in waiting is that the area can suddenly become painful or infected, and then it’s no longer as relaxed/uncomplicated a procedure; also, if some of the root is missing/soft, the tooth might not come out in one piece.) I had a consultation with the oral surgeon who took out Rob’s wisdom teeth, because I love her; she’s a small, intense, birdlike person in a lab coat and headlamp, and she’s quick with a dry joke, and she seems like she really LIKES her job. She confirmed that there was no hope of saving the tooth (“Well, that’s a darn shame,” she said, looking at the x-ray), and the only question was When; she agreed the earlier the easier, so we set a date.

I consulted with you guys about whether to have laughing gas or general anesthesia, and you were ALL OVER THE SPECTRUM and there was NO CONSENSUS AT ALL. (Part of the issue, it appeared, is that “general anesthesia” is not a specific term at all, and can mean many different medicines at many different risk levels.) I went with “There are so few opportunities in life to nope-out of unpleasant experiences, so I’m going to take this fine offer.” But I worried I’d wake up feeling terrible and barfy like I did when I had my wisdom teeth out.

Let’s see, I think that catches us up to the day of the extraction. My appointment was in the late morning, and I couldn’t have anything to eat or drink for six hours beforehand. I drank a fair amount of water the night before, as instructed. In the morning I kept getting big rushes of nervousness. I leaned heavily on my “In x hours this will be all over and I’ll be back home” Coping Thought.

I was supposed to arrive half an hour before the appointment. Shortly after I arrived, a nurse called me back and gave me a large dose of amoxicillin. Because I’d opted for general anesthesia, she also confirmed that I had someone in the waiting room who could drive me home and stay with me for the rest of the day, and she asked for a phone number where they could reach Paul later on to check on me. She also asked me what I was having done, probably to make sure we BOTH knew the score. Then I went back to the waiting room.

Nearer my appointment time, the nurse came to get me again. In the hallway, she had me put one of those blue shower-cap-like things over my hair, and she put little shoe-sized ones over my shoes. She brought me into the actual room after telling me not to touch anything in there that was blue; when we went in, I saw various surfaces covered with blue paper sheets and lots of medical instruments. At a sink there was a cup with what looked like four or five doses of mouthwash in it; she had me rinse and spit, rinse and spit, rinse and spit for just over a minute, to sterilize my mouth. She’d mentioned that it would taste bad, but I’m used to mouthwash (I don’t like to brag, but I can go the entire 30 seconds) and it basically tasted like a slightly more medicinal mouthwash.

She had me sit in the exam chair, which was like a usual dentist’s chair. She adjusted the little head support to be comfy, and she took my glasses. Then we were joined by the person who handled the anesthesia (she was dressed like the other nurse, and I don’t know if you have to be an anesthesiologist to do any sort of anesthesia or if there are different job titles that can do different levels of anesthesia, but I will just call her the anesthesiologist). She tied a piece of elastic around my upper arm, had me make a fist a few times, and praised my veins. (I get a lot of praise from medical professionals about my veins. I’ve come to look forward to it.) She put in the IV. She put one of those little oxygen things in my nose and hooked the tubes over my ears. She put an oxygen monitor on my finger. She put three sticky circles on me, but I forget where (upper chest? arm? neck? forehead? non-intrusive places like that). The nurse covered me up to the waist with a big blue sheet. I was starting to feel Very Medical.

The oral surgeon came in and chatted pleasantly for a minute. She listened to my lungs and heart. She said to the anesthesiologist, “Three fentanyl.” We talked another minute or so; she was just going over again what we’d be doing. Then she paused, looked at me evaluatingly, and said, “You should be starting to feel some effect of the medicine—like, a little blurry.” Almost immediately I DID feel a little funny, but not enough to rule out Power of Suggestion. What I remember saying is that I wasn’t sure if things were blurry because I was feeling the medicine or because I had my glasses off. I don’t know if I said anything else after that or not, but what felt like the exact same second I was wide-awake and feeling normal and fine, but I was also tipped way back and the doctor was working in my mouth. This was puzzling. I glanced over and saw the nurse, and she said, “The tooth’s out! It went great!” I could not see how she could be right about this, and wondered if I had misunderstood. It didn’t FEEL as if the tooth were out, or as if enough time had passed for that to have happened, or as if I’d even been OUT yet, but I couldn’t get my tongue over there to investigate.

The doctor said, “Hi! How ya doing?” and I gave a thumbs up. I heard the anesthesiologist say, “Do you want more propofol?,” and the doctor said, “No, I think she’s good hanging out with us at this point, right?” and looked at me and I gave another thumbs-up. What she was doing in my mouth was a little uncomfortable, but I felt cheerful and chill and like I didn’t really care. I remember this from the last time I had fentanyl, which is when I was in labor with my firstborn. It did approximately zero for the pain, but it made me feel as if the pain were over there somewhere and kind of interesting to think about.

Anyway, the doctor was trying to get the implant in. She worked on it for quite some time, trying different things, but the implant couldn’t grip in: it just kept spinning like a stripped screw. This was a little uncomfortable. “Darn,” said the doctor, eventually. “Well, we tried.” So instead she did a bone graft. This part didn’t hurt: it was like the part of getting a cavity filled when they’re packing the filling-material into the tooth. Just a light pressing sensation.

Then she sewed it up. This hurt a little, but not much, and I didn’t really care and I wasn’t grossed out. I thought, “Huh! That kind of hurts a little!” and “Funny how it’s exactly like sewing cloth!” Just kind of la la la hanging out feeling interested and perky. The doctor was meanwhile explaining that although it was disappointing that we couldn’t do the implant the same day, in the long run the bone graft would make it a way stronger and longer-lasting implant: we’d trade three months of waiting-time for years or even decades of implant-life. She said she didn’t think I’d need/want to go under when I came back to have the implant put in, but that we could discuss it when I came back in a week for her to check the extraction site. She added that it was good I’d gone out for the tooth extraction, though, since it had proved to be “a bit tricky. I had to really TWIST it!” (My plan is to get the nitrous oxide for the implant: I’ve been meaning to try it, since it sounds as if the effects vary considerably from person to person, and I didn’t want to try it for the first time for something like an extraction. An implant seems like the right low-stakes moment.)

The doctor left. The nurse gave me gauze to bite on. People started removing things: the IV came out, the oxygen came out, the oxygen monitor came off, the sticky things came off, the blue sheet came off, the shower cap and shoe caps came off. The nurse and anesthesiologist were standing by in case I had trouble standing up, but I didn’t: I felt totally normal and okay and non-queasy and non-groggy. I walked to a chair in a station in the hallway where another nurse was waiting. She changed my gauze, asked how I was feeling. She went and fetched Paul, and then she gave him all the instructions; they were the same sheet of instructions they’d given me ahead of time, so everything was familiar. The only thing that was new was that they told me how much over-the-counter painkiller to take (I was a little disappointed not to get any of The Good Stuff, but I have to admit I didn’t need it). I was very, very, very annoyed with Paul afterward, because I SPECIFICALLY TOLD HIM ahead of time to please take notes during the instruction session because I might not be with-it enough to hear/remember everything, and he did not take any notes, and so then afterward I remembered they’d said I should take three extra-strength ibuprofen every six hours, and Paul said he was absolutely certain they never mentioned ibuprofen but then couldn’t say what medicine they HAD mentioned, though he did remember they’d mentioned SOMETHING—just definitely not whatever it was I remembered. Really, I’m still annoyed about this. He had ONE JOB. Well, two, counting driving me home. AND I reminded him ahead of time. What do I need to do, hold his hand around the pen?

Anyway. The nurse checked the gauze and said I didn’t need to do any more gauze, so that means the bleeding had stopped enough. I could taste a little blood in my mouth, and my upper lip was a little numb and there was a wearing-off feeling like when I have novocaine, but not as much as usual: like, as if I’d had one small shot of novocaine instead of four big ones, or whatever. We drove home, and I made some scrambled eggs for lunch so that I could take some ibuprofen, and then I took ibuprofen. I’d thought I would be kind of out of it for awhile like Rob was after his wisdom-tooth removal, but I felt normal and did normal things. I did take a nap in the afternoon, but I think that was more because I’d had a little trouble sleeping the night before.

I was supposed to put on an ice pack for twenty minutes out of each hour, and I had two bags of frozen peas ready to be called into service; later I wished I’d gotten corn instead, because I could smell the peas. I was supposed to sleep with my head elevated, and I don’t like sleeping on extra pillows so instead I’ve been sleeping in a recliner; I like to sleep there sometimes anyway.

The extraction site doesn’t hurt much. I’ve taken ibuprofen a few times, but just two of them per dose, and I haven’t been counting the hours until I can take more; it’s more like I think, “Hey, that’s starting to ache,” and then realize it’s been ten hours since I took anything. The worst part is that there is a tiny piece of stiff surgical thread sticking out, and the feeling of it grosses me out so much; and every time I eat, food brushes against it. This morning I finally used my tiny pocket-knife scissors to carefully, carefully snip off some of the extra, and that was some relief, but there is still some left (I didn’t want to cut it too close to the knot and then have to explain to the doctor why I thought any of this was a good idea) and I really hate it. My tongue keeps going over to see if it’s still there, but any touching/wiggling of it makes me queasy, so I and my tongue are at odds in our wishes.

I’m also very aware of the feeling of the two extraction-flanking teeth against the inside of my lips. I should ALWAYS have been feeling those teeth since THEY haven’t moved, but I suppose now I’m feeling their exposed corners or something. It feels distressing, like I have new fangs or a fresh overbite or something.

One of the biggest problems was that I’d planned a bunch of soft foods without realizing that if I had the bone graft I wouldn’t be able to have dairy for four days. Or rather, I DID realize it, but the paperwork said “no uncooked dairy” and I thought that meant, like, no unpasteurized/raw dairy. But when the nurse was going over the after-care instructions and said no uncooked dairy, Paul said, just confirming it, “Like, no unpasteurized/raw dairy?,” and she said, “No: no uncooked dairy. You can have pasteurized dairy, but only if you heat it very hot first. Like, you can have cream in your coffee, but microwave the cream separately first.” Which was confusing, because that’s what I thought pasteurization already did: heated it very hot. And so what I’d planned on was cottage cheese, and meal-replacement shakes made with cream, and ice cream, and pudding, and smoothies, none of which seemed like they could be heated nice and hot, or at least not without making me feel a little nauseated thinking about it.

So that was a little discouraging, and I’ve been having trouble finding things I can eat. Applesauce. Scrambled eggs. Instant soup with those tiny noodles—but it can only be warm, not hot, per instructions. Coffee, too, can be warm but not hot. I’d thought that since it was a FRONT tooth, chewing wouldn’t be much of an issue, so I’m surprised to find it’s quite difficult to chew. I tried having a salad last night and eventually had to give up. I couldn’t seem to herd the leaves effectively.

All of these things pale in comparison to how I feel about the way I look. As with most things involving physical appearance, I am sure that my own feelings about the way I look dwarf the feelings OTHER people have about the way I look: like when someone else has a pimple and wants to stay in a dark room until it’s over, and I am like “You can barely even SEE it, stop drawing people’s attention to it by mentioning it!” But in our culture, missing teeth are fairly rare, particularly missing FRONT teeth. It IS a little shocking, it really IS, it’s not just me feeling self-conscious. It looks as if I blacked out a front tooth for a costume, and it’s approximately that weird to go out in public like that. I don’t think the photos I took really capture how shocking it looks in 3D.

Before I had the tooth pulled, I had an appointment at the dentist to make me a temporary-temporary tooth. I’ll have a longer-term temporary tooth (a “flipper”—like a tiny retainer that attaches to the two flanking teeth and holds a temporary fake tooth in place) at the end of next week, but this was to tide me over until then. (Normally they could have made the flipper ahead of time, but my dentist’s original plan was to attach my own removed tooth to the implant, which they couldn’t do until the tooth was extracted and they’d had time to modify it. I assume that plan is now off, since the implant couldn’t be installed after all—but maybe now they’ll make the flipper out of the extracted tooth? I don’t know.) They took molds of my teeth, and from those molds made a thin clear piece that covers all my top teeth. Have you ever had a custom whitening tray made, one that fits your particular teeth? That’s the same thing as this. Except that there is a fake tooth painted on to the inside of it:

When I wear this, it takes away the Startle Factor:

(My face is so red because I recently had a bag of frozen peas pressed to it. I did not sufficiently plan out this photo session.)

It’s pretty okay, especially in a small photo. But in real life, or closer up, it doesn’t look right. There’s a black gap where the painted-tooth doesn’t quite cover. And more importantly, the tray gets spit in it. And since it’s normal for spit to be blood-tinged for a few days after the extraction, what happened when I put the temporary-temporary tooth in was that the tray immediately filled with blood, masking all my front teeth, giving what I think I can safely call a far-worse effect than the missing tooth. If you need to schedule a tooth extraction, may I suggest scheduling nearer Halloween?

Also, the little tray is uncomfortable, and if I wear it too long the extraction site starts feeling kind of icky and achy. I can’t talk clearly with it in, which is tiring. If I smile naturally, my lip goes over the top of the tray and gets stuck there. I wore it to my first ceramics class (more on this another time) and I didn’t feel like myself at all: I hadn’t realized how often I smile until I couldn’t do it, and I was minimizing my words because I was hard to understand and self-conscious about the tray, and I was worried the tray was getting bloody without me realizing it, and by the time class was over I was exhausted from the effort of being Normal Human.

Last night I was moping and Paul said, “Is there anything I can do to make this better?,” and I said, with one hand covering my gappy mouth, “No. I can’t eat right, I can’t talk right, and no one can look at me. It’s just going to be miserable for awhile.” I can’t believe there’s more than a week until I get the temporary tooth, and even THAT is going to be on a little flipper I have to take out when I eat. But it should be more comfortable to talk and smile, and that will be a big relief.

Oh, one interesting thing is that I have a faint, dream-like, non-distressing memory of having felt a very intense but non-painful/non-scary feeling where my tooth was. Propofol affects memory as well as consciousness, so I’m interested to know how awake I was during the extraction. That is, to me it feels like I skipped it; but if I could go back and tune in at the time, would I be more aware than I REMEMBER I was?

Well. As mopey as I am, I am also very glad to have this first step over with: it was by far the most distressing part of the entire procedure to contemplate, and now it’s done.


Here is something I had in high school, and would like to find again now: friends I can turn to and say, “Hey, you know what I want? DOUGHNUTS. Do you want to go get a dozen different doughnuts and eat a bite of each one??”—and the friends say “Oh hell yes” and nobody, NOBODY, says anything about “being so bad,” we just eat the doughnuts because they taste good and this is a fun idea. And now we are older and we like coffee, which makes the whole thing even better.

I don’t know if you saw the happy update on this post that I DID get into the pottery class after all! I’d emailed and asked if they had a waiting list (the site is a little old-school, so I thought they might have one even though there was no way to access it online), and I got an email back saying actually they had one more opening in that class if I wanted it, and I DID want it, and so now I am in! I am very excited! I haven’t yet acquired the cheap washable fake-croc-type shoes I want (Kay W. mentioned in the comments that it is nicer to rinse off one’s shoes rather than ruin them, and that sounds like a solid plan), so I’m going to wear my tall pink polka-dotted rain boots! I am going to be THE CUTEST! Also, you are all getting lumpy mugs for Christmas!

I have a peeve to report, which is that one of my favorite radio stations got rid of their perfectly good normal unnoticeable DJs and have switched to a Bratty Assh0le format: guys laughing in a hysterical high-pitched grating way about crude/mean things and thinking it’s edgy to mention dild0s and b00bs just like the grown-ups—and this is on MORNING RADIO. But I’m reluctant to change that pre-set, because I still like the music when they are playing it instead of using the toilet-flush sound effect.

Well. One cannot have everything one’s own way. One cannot expect to get into the already-full pottery class AND keep the normal DJs. Somewhere else in my broadcast area there is someone who tried to get into the pottery class and could not, and it is making them feel better that at least their favorite radio station got those hilarious new guys who crack themselves up with all those “That’s what she said!” jokes.

Night Sadness

I typed the title of this post, and then I opened up the archives, thinking maybe I had already written on this topic. The first match was another post, with the very same title! …Oh, it’s the draft of this post.

I did mention it in a post called Day Sadness (written about nine years ago when I had an infant and two toddlers and two elementary school kids, hmm, I wonder if that had anything to do with anything, well it’s all a rich tapestry):

Last night I had Night Sadness (lying awake thinking of sad and oppressive things, and all the ways in which I have failed / am failing / will fail), and usually sleep cures that—-but this morning I woke up with Day Sadness. It feels like I do the same thing day in and day out, and like it’s never going to change, and like I’m never going to handle anything right, and like the world is a bad and stupid place. I know that’s not true, but what I know doesn’t have much to do with it.

And I mentioned it in a post called Accommodations, written about six years ago; William was about ten years old then, and I’d forgotten about this:

William gets Night Sadness: feeling in the evening or around bedtime that everything is too awful and sad and hopeless to be dealt with at all.

I think the second excerpt captures the feeling more accurately. The first excerpt’s “Lying awake thinking of every dumb thing I ever said/did” can be PART of Night Sadness, but it’s not the DEFINING part; the defining part is awful/sad/hopeless/despair/everything.

What separates Night Sadness from other moods is: (1) it happens near bedtime, and (2) the only cure is sleep, and (3) the cure works. It can be brought on by over-tiredness, or it can just happen when normal tiredness breaks down the usual coping mechanisms, but the ONLY WAY TO DEAL WITH IT is to go to sleep and wake up the next morning. There is no talking it out, there is no reasoning it out, there is no “have a hot bath and a glass of wine and write in a gratitude journal”-ing it out: just get to sleep. If necessary, using benadryl, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, hard liquor NOT IN COMBINATION WITH OTHER THINGS, etc.

ANYWAY. That post that mentions William having Night Sadness is very encouraging to me, because what I came here to write about is Henry having it. And William had it six years ago, when he was Henry’s age, and I didn’t even REMEMBER that. So that gives me hope for the Henry situation.

Henry has it somewhat more severely, however. A few times recently, he’s gotten such a bad case of Night Sadness, he’s actually thrown up. He gets more and more upset and anxious, and nothing seems to help, and then he throws up and feels better. This seems to me to be crossing the line between “I’m sorry, child, but you’ve inherited your mother’s Night Sadness genes; the jury is still out on whether you’ve got her unreliable ankles” and “Let’s call the pediatrician.” But I haven’t called the pediatrician. Because I am very, very, very, very, very, very, very reluctant to get any kid into the system of Mental Issues, and particularly when pre-existing conditions are such a current and applicable topic. But of course I don’t want to put something off that should be dealt with, or let him suffer with something he doesn’t have to suffer with. On the other hand, it’s not happening often. And William outgrew it.

For my own treatment, the essential piece is recognizing the particular mood as Night Sadness. This does not work with most mental issues (like when my therapist thought that if I REALIZED my anxieties were irrational, those anxieties would MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR!) (no, I ALREADY REALIZE they’re irrational, Genius, which is WHY I AM HERE), but it does help me somewhat with night sadness: I think “Nope. I recognize this. This is Night Sadness,” and I can get benadryl or a tranquilizer or a swift double shot of vodka on board and be asleep while still noping. So my natural inclination is to get Henry to be able to use a similar coping mechanism. I am worried that if I instead consult the doctor, Henry will get put on a daily medication that is not as safe as an occasional benadryl. I am worried there will be Referrals, and Diagnoses, and a suggestion that he See Someone once a week, when really what he needs is some occasional help getting to sleep for the next year(s) while he outgrows it as William has, or learns to handle it as I have. But so far, my method is not working on Henry. It is hard to decide how long to wait.


I had to tell a child for the millionth time that we do not yuck another person’s yum. We do not look at something someone else is eating, and express our opinion that their food is gross; we do not observe someone else’s passionate interest and then volunteer, unasked, the information that we think that interest is stupid and boring and a waste of time. Oh, you don’t like every single thing liked by every single other person? HOW INTERESTING, HOW UNIQUE, WELCOME TO THE HUMAN RACE. We can use empathy to consider how bad it would feel to have someone sneering at what WE like, and know that we should not sneer at what THEY like.

Later that same day, I was thinking about how tempting it is, at this stage of parenting, to idealize the earlier stages: I see someone out with a baby in a baby carseat, and I just want to tell her how LOVINGLY I remember it: the sweet little baby companion in the cart, cheeks within easy squeezing-reach! But wait: when I was in that stage, I rejoiced in the times I did NOT have to take the baby with me to the store. And I absolutely did not want to hear how I should cherish every moment. I wanted to hear how cute my baby was, YES. I wanted to be asked how old the baby was and what the baby’s name was, YES. But I did NOT enjoy being told again and again by what seemed like an endless procession of older ladies that I should be appreciating every moment, and that it all went by so fast, and that I would be sorry when it was over that I hadn’t appreciated it more. Because, as I also remember, that stage was filled with a weeping lack of sleep, and babies who cried unless they were held even when I had things to do that were incompatible with that, and blow-out diapers right after baths, and having to constantly assess the well-being of a child who COULD NOT TALK, and treasuring the two minutes I could be by myself in the bathroom, and having fantasies about getting sent to prison so I could be by myself, and so on.

I was NOT cherishing every moment, NOR SHOULD I HAVE if I wanted to continue being counted among the sane: some parts were just TERRIBLE, and we don’t have to pretend they weren’t, let alone feel guilty in advance for not ENJOYING them enough. Hearing someone else claim to have gone through this same stage and to have emerged thinking of it as the best time of her life made me feel like RUNNING SCREAMING INTO THE SEA. Oh, it’s all downhill from here, then? GOOD TO KNOW, BRB FLINGING MYSELF OFF CLIFF. Oh, I’m going to REGRET not CHERISHING the diaper that required me to mop up the baby as best I could with rough brown paper towels in a public bathroom, then wrap his soiled clothes as best I could in more paper towels so that I could get them home, then wrap the baby in a blankie and go back out into the store to buy him a new outfit on the spot so he wouldn’t have to go out into the sharp winter weather without clothes? In the future I will be looking back on this moment as belonging to THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE? THANK YOU FOR THAT GIANT DOSE OF DESPAIR ABOUT MY SAD FUTURE, OLDER LADY.

(What’s funny is that one of my happy memories ACTUALLY IS the time Elizabeth threw up in the car when my mom and I were almost to Target. She mostly just got it on her clothes, so we stripped her down to her diaper, put her clothes into a plastic bag I kept in the car because car-barfing was not rare, cleaned her up with baby wipes kept in the car for the same reason, and then went into Target and I had the excuse of buying her the darling four-piece mix-and-match Carter’s pink elephant pajamas I’d really wanted to buy her. I went through the line with Elizabeth and the pajamas while my mom waited with the cart and the other kids, and I took her right into the bathroom and put one set on her, and then we continued shopping and she looked adorable, and I felt so RESOURCEFUL to have handled the whole situation, and so HAPPY to have those cute new pajamas.)

Anyway, thinking of both of those things on the same day made me realize one is the flip of the other: we shouldn’t yuck someone else’s yum—but also, we should try not to yum someone else’s yuck. If we know from personal experience that a particular stage of life is filled with loveliness but also with suckiness, we should avoid rhapsodizing about the loveliness in a way that makes the other person feel as if they can’t admit to any suckiness, or as if they alone are finding it sucky whereas WE found it wreathed in roses and angel-song. When someone else is going through an experience universally acknowledged to be rough (even if also glorious), we should avoid telling them it was the best time of our life, even if we now remember it that way, even if it turns out it actually was. It’s not going to sound like good news to the hearer.

Similarly, I saw someone posting on Facebook about something they were worried about, and someone else commented “I’d love to have that problem,” and then added a mention of her own problem, which was indeed worse, and yet the original person’s complaint was not about something anyone would “love to have.” It should go without saying that we do not tell someone else that their worry/problem/issue is actually a POSITIVE thing when compared to our own problems. We do not yum someone else’s yuck, or act as if we think they should be yumming it.

I remember what was my favorite thing to hear, as I was walking through a store with a fussing baby and fretful toddler. I would be fighting my way through a store, and someone would hold a door for me and I would thank her fervently, and she would say, “Oh, no problem—I remember those days!” Or if my child was being loud and unpleasant in a store, I loved to get a sympathetic look from another mom, combined with “Oh I’ve been there!” Do you know what those words told me? That I was one in a long line of women going through this same experience—and that other women had LIVED THROUGH IT. That one day, I would be able to hold the door for someone else, because my hands would be free. And that I would think, “Oh, how nice that my hands are free,” instead of thinking, “OH GOD, MY HANDS ARE FREE AND NOW I AM MISERABLE AND I REGRET NOT REVELING IN WHAT I ONCE THOUGHT WAS MISERY AND NOW PERCEIVE AS PURE JOY WHEN COMPARED TO THE FRESH HELL THAT IS MY LATER LIFE.”

Ceramics Class

Elizabeth went to a wheel-thrown pottery class this summer, and I was really impressed with how good a piece can look even with very little experience. When I went back to pick up her finished things, they gave me a pamphlet about fall classes, and I noticed that they had a ten-session wheel-thrown pottery class for adults.

I had an unusual surge of interest in that idea, quickly followed by all my usual reactions to a surge of interest: new/scary thing, what if I hate it, it seems indulgent, maybe I should wait and see, it’s kind of a long drive, what if I have scheduling conflicts, how can one justify frivolous things in this time of worldwide crises and sweeping injustice not to mention college costs, etc. But I sensed in myself a rare mood of ability to overcome, so I went and got my credit card before I could lose that surge of interest.

As I clicked through the various links to get to the sign-up, I psyched myself up: It’s good to try new things! New things are good for aging brains! Maybe you’ll love it, and if you don’t, it’s okay! It’s okay to do things like this! I felt almost dazed: I was ACTUALLY SIGNING UP FOR IT!!! And EARLY—not at the last minute! And with so little agonizing! I thought maybe I would even ask a friend to do it with me, but I sensed in that idea an excuse to postpone registration, so I continued on: I could sign up and THEN mention it to a friend.

And the class was full. No waiting list. I feel deflated. I was doing it, I was actually DOING it!—and then it was not available. I can do it next session, but that is not comforting: I suspect I will NOT do it next session. It’s so rare for interest to merge with the ability to take action.

I considered trying a different class. I could learn basket-weaving. But there was no surge of interest. I could learn drawing/sketching. But eh. Painting? A slight feeling of interest, followed by total loss of same.

[Edited to add:] Okay, I checked further, and there is a one-session class that makes just one bowl or mug. I signed up for that. If I like it, I can take the full course next session.

[Edited a second time to add:]
I also sent an email to the art-class place, asking if by any chance there was a waiting list even though there was no waiting list mentioned. And I got an email back saying actually there was one place left in the class, and if I wanted it I should call this number. I went back to the website and tried to register that way, because I did not want to call, but it still said the class was full. So I clenched my teeth and made the phone call, and now I am in the class. I am in the class! My cheeks feel hot and my eyes feel wide. I realize there are people who decide on and get into a doctorate program with less fuss and angst, but we are who we are, and now we are someone who is full of fuss and angst AND ALSO enrolled in a pottery class!

Waiting for Email From a College Student

I’m getting together tonight with some girlfriends. We’re going to drink a lot and get choked up about our kids being in college now. I think it’s going to be just the ticket.

Rob is sending occasional indicators that he is still alive: a short video of a fire drill; an email about a detail of financial aid he needed to take care of. But he is not telling us about his classes or his teachers or his friends, or about what the weekends are like, or about what he’s eating, or about what it’s like to suddenly be sharing a room with a stranger, or if the work is more or less than what he expected, or if he’s homesick or if he feels happy and free or WHAT. I sent him an email with some questions, and he answered to say that he’d answer it later. It’s one of my least-favorite answers to get, in part because experience has taught me that people who answer an email that way generally DON’T follow up with a real answer later.

When I was in college I was allowed to call my parents once a week, on Sundays when the calling rates were lower, and they had to cut me off at an hour; I wrote letters/emails in between calls. I told Paul this and he shook his head pityingly. I asked, did he communicate with HIS parents in college? He thought he might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I asked, did they communicate with HIM? He thought they might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I shook my head pityingly. We both checked our phones to see if there was anything new from Rob.

I’m not going to nag him about it. This is a busy transition. He is SUPPOSED to be working on breaking free from us now.

It helps that I have the other kids, though right now it’s making me more sensitive about any of them being away. William was at work this weekend and I found it made me fretful: I wanted him to come back home, and was counting the hours. Why would it matter, when he just sits at his computer or does homework at the table when he IS home? It’s like I’ve hit my Maximum Child Absence Limit with Rob gone, and so now everyone else has to be home. (I don’t feel that way about the school day: I still enjoy seeing the backs of them in the morning.)

Books: My Name Is Lucy Barton, and Anything Is Possible

I have just finished the second of two books that have left me feeling mildly dumbstruck because they were so exactly what I like to read: My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible, both by Elizabeth Strout.

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I should not have been surprised, since I felt similarly about one of this author’s earlier books, Olive Kitteridge. (I know it’s been made into a movie. And there is probably no actress I trust more than Frances McDormand. But I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t urge me. Let nature take its own course, one way or the other.) What I remember is finishing Olive Kitteridge and then being very disappointed by Amy and Isabelle, but I don’t remember anything about why. After reading these two books, I think I need to go back and give Amy and Isabelle another chance.

The books are almost like collections of short stories, but completely interwoven, so you learn more about the various characters through their roles in other characters’ stories. Both books are about the same batch of people, so they should be read one right after the other, starting with Lucy Barton.

College Student Care Packages

I would like to collect ideas for care packages for all the college students in our various midsts. I have sent Rob two boxes so far, though I’m counting them as one. The first was when I had to ship him some mail that came for him right after he left, and it needed to get there quickly, so I used a small flat-rate priority box and stuffed the remaining cargo area with granola bars, Belvita Bites, Ritz crackers-and-cheese—basically one of everything we had for school lunches. Later the same day, I sent the second: an 18-pack of microwavable Kraft Macaroni and Cheese:

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I’d had this in mind as something to buy a big box of and then put a couple servings in each care package, so that he doesn’t have to store 18-packs of various foods. But then he sent a photo to a friend of himself searching online for “Kraft Mac no milk or butter” while holding a box of regular Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and I upped the priority. Plus, there was an online coupon. Plus, we have Amazon Prime, so I could ship it to him directly for free. The cup kind might be better and/or more convenient, but would only ship free with $25 worth of stuff, so I’m starting with the packets and we’ll see if those are okay.

Here are some of the other things I have on my Care Package Ideas List (not to send all at once, of course, but just to consider for each box):

his favorite pens
his favorite little pocket notebooks
trail mix
seed bars
granola bars
beef jerky
breakfast-type things
microwaveable food (popcorn, Easy Mac, ravioli cups, instant oatmeal, Ramen, etc.)
Tabasco sauce
Altoid mint tins
gift card to local pizza place
new toothbrush
Dentek flossers
socks and underwear
photos of the cats
letters from the other kids

I would very much like to know what things you like/plan to send to college students, and I also very much want to know what you liked to receive when you were a college student. I liked to receive candy and snacks, and once my mom sent this giant orange tissue-paper flower (flat, so it could hang on a wall) and I hung that on the wall of dorm rooms and apartments until it finally fell apart. My parents also used to send dried fruit, which was nice to have on hand, and at Easter they lined a box with Easter grass and put an Easter basket’s worth of candy in there, and that was one of my favorite care packages ever.

Post-College-Drop-Off Moody; Books

I have some books to mostly-recommend, but I am feeling moody. I went grocery shopping for the first time since bringing Rob to college, and I kept getting little unexpected shocks. The amount of groceries doesn’t change much when going from seven people to six—but there are a few things that only Rob eats, or that he’s the main eater-of. So instead of getting a pack of bologna, I didn’t get a pack of bologna, because he’s the only one who eats it. And instead of getting another giant bottle of Tabasco sauce, I thought probably I could wait on that, because he and Paul are the only ones who use it. And so on throughout the store. Little weird pangs.

And some happy feelings too: “Ooo, Easy Mac! I wonder if he’d like that? He could make it in the dorm microwave!” “And here are some little Chef Boyardee ravioli bowls! I could send him one and he could see if he likes them!” “Breakfast bars are on sale; maybe he’d eat those on days he’s running too late to go to breakfast?” “What a cute little jar of Tabasco; that might be good in a care package!”

I am still waking up in the morning and doing my usual mental inventory, and then arriving with a startled feeling on the news that Rob is not here and is at college far away. He’s been away for a week before; he’s never been gone this long. And now this is “coming home TO VISIT” territory, rather than “coming home” territory. This is still his legal residence, but he doesn’t live here anymore. But I remember so clearly shopping for his crib. There were so many choices! We ended up following the Consumer Reports advice to get a cheap but sturdy crib and then spend the savings on a good crib mattress.

Sending a kid to college is an aging transition for the parent. I’m old enough to have a kid in college = I’m a certain level of old. This morning I noticed a couple of white hairs at the nape of my neck, among the ones that never get long enough to fit in a hairclip. Obviously those white ones must have been there before we took Rob to college. The skin on my underchin and throat is looking increasingly fragile. Two of my former classmates have grandchildren. There’s such a clear contrast to all those kids just launching now, just starting out now, all the big decisions still ahead of them.

I’m trying not to text him or email him too much. His college strongly recommends that during the first few weeks the parents leave it to the students to initiate conversation. But then I got nervous that he’d think we didn’t care about him and weren’t interested in what he was doing, so I emailed him to let him know that the college said that.

A number of years ago, a boy from our town went to college and died soon after in a fraternity hazing incident. I think part of the reason that story lingers, besides the obvious horror and tragedy and STUPID POINTLESSNESS of it, is that, at least for me, my gut instincts are misinforming me on whether or not it is safe for My Baby to be so far away. Just as when he weaned as an infant, just as when I put him on the bus for first grade, my feelings are that this is WRONG and BAD and I need to STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING. I am consciously overriding those feelings, because I know that it is good and right for him to go. But I imagine that other mom thinking, shocked, “I was right. I was right.” And every year there are parents whose worst fears are justified.

That’s too low. That’s too low to be thinking. He’s having a good time, and I will hope that he will not be one of the kids who dies because of alcohol in a funnel or whatever. It’s really very few kids that happens to. I really do mostly feel happy and good about this. The college’s convocation was streamed live, so I got to watch it, and so many of the speakers were talking about how diversity is crucial and good, and science is crucial and good, and how we need to support each other and have each other’s back at times like this, and how we need to work together to make a better future. He is living in a good place. He is doing what he is supposed to do next. If we kept him home with us he could still die.

I am having some regrets about my own college experience. I keep thinking how amazing it is that he’s in the strange stage of life where he is surrounded by ONLY people his age: so much friend potential! so much romance potential! relationships everywhere he looks, in a situation where usual social boundaries are waived because everyone is new and it’s okay to approach and talk to anyone! Not that he will realize that. Not that I realized that, when it was me. I wish I’d talked to a lot more people. I wish I’d made more friends. I wish I’d dated more people.

Hey, how about the books. It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything I’ve wanted to tell other people to read, and none of these books are the sort where I’d grab your upper arm too tightly while telling you to read it. But I liked them.

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Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory. This is about a family of people who have minor supernatural abilities: one can move a small item, for example, if he practices ahead of time; one can tell if people are lying. For the first large part of the book (a third? half?), I was kind of bored, and/or tense in a bad way (nervous about someone else’s money situation, for example). Then suddenly we switch to the point of view of someone else, and everything changes, and I was all in.


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The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. Many, many times I was yanked out of the story by noticing the author’s writing. Still, I liked the story and was very interested in it, and I found myself thinking of it a lot, both during and afterward.


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The Secrets of My Life, by Caitlyn Jenner. I am very particular about autobiographies. They have to be the right mix of insider info, snark, name-dropping, self-awareness, humble self-mockery, and confiding chumminess. I like to come away feeling FONDER of the person who wrote it. I expect, and will tolerate, certain levels of narcissism, self-indulgence, and one-sided storytelling, as long as I get the balance in dirt and charm. I wasn’t familiar with Bruce Jenner before the Kardashians, and I was only the baseline level of aware of the Kardashians, but somewhere I saw a review of this book that made me want to read it, so I tried it—and I was glad I did. I liked it. I found it the right level of informative and charming, and I did indeed come away feeling fonder.

What It Was Like To Take a Child to College

Every college has its own drop-off system. But I can tell you how it went when we dropped off Rob at his college.

Beforehand, looking at all the papers, the process seemed overwhelming. Here’s your group! Here’s your check-in time! Don’t forget this! Don’t forget that! Don’t bring this or that! This lot is okay to park in and this one isn’t! Put this sign in your windshield! Label all your things! And you may remember the part where the college told us only a couple of weeks ago that there were assigned check-in times and that it was “CRUCIAL” to follow them—but when I emailed, they said no, those were just suggested times, an answer that suffused me with both intense relief and intense annoyance. Rule-makers, do not TOY WITH your rule-followers.

One way I calmed down was by figuring that it is to the school’s advantage to make things go smoothly, even more than it is to mine; and that the school has way, WAY more experience with this than I do. I printed out the labels and maps, but I trusted to some extent that even if we showed up at the gates without any information at all and without following any of the guidelines for car-marking and luggage-labeling, there would be people there who would guide us through it. This turned out to be 100% correct.

There were signs at the entrance. There were signs at every fork. There were people at every stage to meet us. There were people at every stage to lean down to our car window and make sure we’d been though the necessary previous stage. There were people wearing college t-shirts EVERYWHERE, and they were cheerful about answering anything. I was worried that someone would question us about arriving early and I would have to explain, but no one noticed or cared or viewed any information that would have told them that that was what was happening; it was a complete non-issue.

The whole thing from arrival to departure took about 2.5 hours. A large part of this was waiting in the first line: arriving cars were directed into a series of lines by very! spirited! student helpers, and then the incoming students could get out and walk over to a table where they could pick up their room keys, IDs, student-orientation-group assignment, and goody bag. Rob came back to the car and then we waited for a long time to be included in a batch of cars sent on ahead to the luggage-drop-off part of the process. The spirited helpers came over periodically to chat, tell us their majors, ask if we had questions, apologize for the wait, etc. I’d started leaking tears as soon as I saw the welcoming party, so I was glad Paul took over here, but no one seemed at all surprised to see tears. One student helper said sympathetically to me, “Is this your first college drop-off?,” and all I could do was nod. “Next time you’ll be an expert!,” she said.

When we got to the head of our line, we were sent in a little batch of about four cars to the next stop: it was basically “take a right, and then your next right,” not anything difficult, and there were signs directing us. An adult with a clipboard met us and told us how it was going to go down: we were going to pull into a little cul-de-sac and park; we were going to unload all the stuff onto the sidewalk/grass; and then one of us was to drive the car far, far away to another lot; a shuttle could bring that driver back to us. We parked as directed, and a student helper came over to introduce herself and tell us where/how we could sign out a luggage cart. Other student helpers were going cheerfully from car to car, helping with the unloading and asking where people were from and what they were majoring in.

Paul drove the car away while Rob got a luggage cart and loaded it up. William and I stayed with the rest of the stuff (did I mention William came with us? William came with us) while Rob went off to find the dorm/room; I suggested he ask one of the student helpers but otherwise let him figure it out himself. He came back after awhile with an empty luggage cart, and the rest of the stuff fit on it and Paul wasn’t back yet and wasn’t answering texts, so William and I went with Rob this time.

The hallway was dim and discouraging, and his room was surprisingly small. But I took heart remembering how small my college dorm room looked to me at first, and how quickly I got used to it. And hallways don’t need to be wide or pretty. Paul arrived from the shuttle and met us in the room, after asking for help from a number of friendly student helpers.

Annnnnnd then we hugged Rob goodbye and left. There were “parent orientation” activities that whole day and the next day, but our impression reading over the information was that these were designed to pry parents away from the students. Plus, we needed to get back to the other kids.

We’d discussed this with Rob ahead of time and he knew we were not staying for the parent stuff, but right as we were leaving he got a little anxious, asking if we were sure we were supposed to go yet, and also asking us to double-check to make SURE he got everything out of the car, and asking us to keep our phones handy in case he suddenly thought of something he forgot and needed to contact us. Because we’d checked in early, his dorm floor was virtually empty; this would have been an upside of going at our assigned time. I’ll bet a few hours later there was an RA greeting everyone and lots of noise and kids.

We left him to do his own unpacking. I’d seen stuff about parents wanting to unpack the things, and how kids should be patient if mom wants to make up the bed for the last time, but I didn’t have much of that impulse: it seemed like he should put his own stuff away in his own room. That’s when I feel like I’m taking possession of a new room/apartment/house: when I figure out where to put all my things. Also, he’s been making up his own bed for years. Also, it seemed like a good way for him to kill time before other people arrived.

It did feel distressing to leave him there and walk out of the dorm. That would have been the upside of staying for the parent stuff: it’s a more gradual goodbye. But I was able to talk myself through it, especially with Paul there also talking himself through it. I would have a panicky thought (for example, “What about LUNCH?? We didn’t find the cafeteria with him or go over with him how to use his ID card to get meals!!”), and then both of us would ping-pong assurances back and forth: “He has a map: he can find it,” “Finding this stuff on his own is a GOOD thing,” “He probably still has some car snacks with him,” “He was supposed to check in at lunch time, so there should be an RA around by then, and he’ll help,” “Every single staff member here KNOWS they’re dealing with incoming freshmen who don’t know how to do anything,” “If he misses a single meal he will in no way perish.”

I found it comforting to remember myself being at college those first few days. It was kind of overwhelming and weird, yes, but did I feel as if I were physically and mentally incapable of finding the dining hall? Heck no. Did I feel as if there was no way I could choose my classes, see my advisor, find my way to another building on campus? Bitch please, I was a GROWN WOMAN. Plus, just as the college has a personal interest in making drop-off easier, they have a personal interest in getting the students settled in and feeling comfortable: student orientation is ABOUT getting STUDENTS all ORIENTED so they know where they are and what to do and how to get there.

On the way out I asked if we could stop at the bookstore, because I thought it would make me feel much, much, much better to buy a college coffee mug to drink out of moodily the next day. We’d thought the bookstore might be mobbed, but it was not at all. I got a coffee mug. And a car-window decal. And some pens. Everything was so overpriced, it was silly: four cheapo freebie/handout-quality pens I probably could have taken for free at the Admissions office, $7.98. Coffee mug, $14.98. FREE ADVERTISING FOR THE COLLEGE car sticker: $6.98. WHATEVER. I PAID IT. AND I WAS GLAD.

I continued to feel distressed as we drove away. I kept thinking of anxious things, some of them marginally legit and some more along the lines of “What if we were supposed to stay with him until an RA arrived????” Mostly I was bothered by the mental picture I had of him sitting alone in his room not knowing what to do about lunch. So after about an hour, when William texted Rob, “So how’s college life?,” and Rob texted back, “Pretty good. Having a turkey sandwich at the dining hall,” that took a LOT of weight off my mind: he left his room! he left his dorm! he found the dining hall and figured out how to use it! HE’S HAVING LUNCH!! SOMEONE FED MY BABY!!!

When we got home, we found we could look up the student orientation schedule online and see what he was likely doing each day. Also, there’s a special college Facebook group for parents of students at this college, and they’re being good about posting pictures and videos of orientation activities. (We’re seeing pictures and videos of the “parent orientation,” too, and it looks…dorky. We’re glad we didn’t stay for that.) Paul and I are jumpy about information right now: when the college live-streamed the convocation ceremony, and the camera panned the crowd beforehand, I was about three inches from the screen trying unsuccessfully to find Rob. Paul will cross the house to tell me that according to the schedule Rob is now playing board games with his orientation group.

The whole thing has seemed one part surreal, one part anticlimactic, and one part distressing-at-normal-expected-levels. It’s surreal because it’s Really Actually Happening: this thing I thought about for so long, starting with a weeping fit about it when he was a newborn and I was really tired. Anticlimactic because all that worry, all that stress, all that planning, and then it’s like…”Okay, see ya!” and The Big Emotional Moment is over and life continues; plus, this has been a long road of predictable milestones, so although this is one of the big ones it’s also just the next milestone. Distressing because of course it’s distressing: he’s been living with me since conception and now he lives somewhere else and I only have access to what he chooses to tell me about his life; this is not a small thing or minor transition.

The peak stress for me was the day before we left; once we were on the road I felt better. The second peak of distress was right at leaving time, but then that turned into more of a surreal feeling. The third peak was when I realized we hadn’t figured out his lunch.

I felt better when we got the text from the dining hall; when he emailed the next day and he already had some people to hang out with; and when I had two stiff shots of gin out of my new coffee mug.