The ortho nurse held out her open palm for us, displaying a tiny blue ring. To demonstrate its extraordinary flexibility, she squeezed it between her perfectly manicured salmon-pink nails. It could have been a tiny blue floaty for some tiny insect who might enjoy swimming in a pool.
She went on to explain that these tiny little blue “spacers” would be placed between my 8-year-old’s teeth, to yes, create spaces to later fit his expander. He has a crossbite. (Google it. You’ll wind up with Frankenstein YouTubes of a metal plate locked onto your teeth and glued to the roof of your mouth.)
I stared at the tiny blue ringy spacer thing, trying to focus on this ortho demonstration, but all I could think about was my mother. I’d left her on our futon living room lounge chair back at the house.
“I’ll be fine,” she’d said. She’d just visited the bathroom and I’d left her lunch tray beside the lounge chair so there was really no reason, (God, please forbid!) that she would have to get up while we were at this ortho consult – an appointment I’d already had to put off twice, due to activity conflicts such as Ryan’s guitar recital.
Unfortunately, my mother’s fall was not a conflict on the calendar I could reschedule.
She’d fallen two days before, surviving knocking over her television with only “chest contusions” – an euphemism for painful-as-hell bruised ribs.
After a day in the emergency room, I’d driven her back to our house, in only her nightgown and those sticky-feet hospital yellow socks. The boys didn’t seem particularly phased by Gramma arriving without a suitcase and in only a nightgown; (the last time she’d fallen she’d also been only in her nightgown when whisked away by ambulance.) They gave her big hugs and Kenny showed her how he’d learned to kick a small rubber ball off his heel to catch in one hand.
The ortho nurse continued to take out things to display on her neat desk. It could have been a teacher’s desk, with, besides a box of fake teeth and various elaborate shiny braces things, only a pencil holder.
She pulled from her box a fake upper jaw with the metal thing on it.
This casual little lesson was all meant to make my son feel more comfortable about the process. He stared wide-eyed, barely breathing. He could have been watching the dissection of a frog. Or a cat. I stared wide-eyed as well, though was envisioning my mother on the lounge chair. Suddenly having to get up. And being unable to.
This was not the first time I have felt the need physically to be in two places at once. The first time my mother fell, seven years ago and broke her hip, I had a nursing infant. So we’d piled the family into the car and my husband sat in the hospital parking lot until 1 am while I was in the emergency room with my mother. I would come out to the car to take nursing breaks.
There would be other falls. The last one, when she was cleaning out the kitty litter plan. I got the call while we were at church, so I arrived at the emergency room in my Sunday best.
Oddly, or not so oddly, depending on your obscure, drunk, or insane perspective, I’d been in church again when I received this call. I began to wonder if it would be better for me just not to go to church at all. That sitting in a church pew was a bad omen.
She usually calls me first because she can’t decide whether or not she needs an ambulance, from where she can’t get up off the floor but can at least reach the phone. Yes, she does wear one of those hideous medical alert buttons that looks more like a 60s peace necklace. You’d think with all our gadgets getting smaller and smaller, they could come up with an alert necklace a bit,well, daintier….
Oh, I digress. In any case, she has yet to have to use it which is a good thing as, when we have occasionally tested the damn thing, it has taken some time for the snoozing alert people to feel alert enough to check in.
Back to the orthodontist’s: Once we left the nurse’s teacher-like office, my son was directed to sit in a dental chair. In a big open room full of dental chairs; classical guitar emanated from hidden speakers somewhere. What looked like miniature sharks cruised back and forth in a huge tank. Everyone could have been there for a massage, except they were mostly teenagers on their backs with latex-gloved ladies probing their mouths. And the miniature sharks were not particularly calming – Ryan stared as wide-eyed at them as he had at the tiny blue ring. As wide-eyed as he then stared at the scans of his head and even neck vertebrae that the orthodontist displayed in front of him on his computer screen.
“You have a ginormous brain,” his younger brother said. “And extremely long teeth.”
“Well, that’s actually his skull which is of normal size, and those are the roots of his teeth,” The nice Ortho doc said, grinning way too broadly.
Ryan didn’t speak, lost in awe and confusion at the site of his own skull, jaw and vertebrae. Otherwise, I’m sure he would have called his little brother a numb skull.
The Ortho doc said if we were ready to go ahead with the expander, which would in total be about five visits, he could set the mold for Ryan’s teeth right then and there, and it would take only 20 minutes. 20 minutes! It would save us a whole other visit!
But twenty minutes was a long time when you’ve left your elderly mother on a lounge chair. My daughterly intuition set in and I said no, we needed to go. Now.
I raced home. “Why you driving so fast, like 200 miles an hour or something?” Kenny asked.
“I left Gramma on the lounge chair.”
“Oh.” They didn’t understand or ask for details. They both gazed quietly out their windows at local stores whizzing by.
Risking a ticket was a good thing; I got home as my mother was trying to leverage herself up off the lounge chair which, far too comfortable and cushy, proved to have been a terrible mistake. It didn’t have enough support for her to push herself up, and if she moved the slightest wrong way, she was in acute pain.
The last time we were in this position was last summer at the lake when she couldn’t get upright out of the water. It had taken us a good 40 minutes then too, to strategize.
A lightbulb, however dull and flickering in my frizzled brain, lit up. I moved a small bench close to the lounge. Ten minutes of gentle maneuvering, and she was on the bench.
But it was still too low for her to be able to stand upright without pain.
“I do need to go….” to the bathroom.
Think, think, think.
Then I spied my ergonomic stool over at my craft table. the one that swivels up and down! I wheeled that over, and after another fifteen minutes, was able to slide her onto it. Then swivel it up to full height so all she had to do was walk off of it by leaning on her cane.
And from there we made a turtle race to the bathroom. Just in time.
There are always crises in motherhood. As the first time one of our boys went to the emergency room, when Kenny at age 3 just before bedtime, climbed up onto the baseboard and sliced open his foot.
But I wasn’t prepared for this, what, as the years have gone by, it now means to be a middle-aged mother with an aging mother of my own.
But then again, who is prepared for most things that can happen to you in this life? And so you live moment to moment, as my 7 year old did, waiting for Gramma to come out of the bathroom so he could show her another trick, one of his favorites.
“Bet you can’t do this Gramma,” he said when she’d come out and stood there, hunched over her cane.
He slid his thumb on and off.
She smiled, concealing her pain. That’s amazing!”
And so this has become our new normalcy. When you have a truly beloved Gramma whom you can’t help admiring for her tenacity to hold onto her independence. To withstand risks of falling just so that she can still call her life her own.
Oddly, life can go on normally when it is far from normal at all.