The Freaking Liquor Store

June 13, 2006 at 10:31 am (Uncategorized)

We are delighted to be back home in Montana. The sky seems bigger, the air is cleaner, and I have Internet access, as well as the greatest thing in the world after grandmothers – a babysitter. Unfortunately, we also brought back a few bad habits from our journey east. After being home for less than 24 hours, Andrew has displayed a ferocious unwillingness to follow anything resembling a schedule. Here’s a sample of my day. “OK Andrew,” I say as sweetly as possible, my voice trilling up a bit. “It’s time for breakfast.” Or, “It’s time to go potty.” Or, “It’s time to get dressed.” Or, “It’s time to stop chasing the cat with the two giant foam sticks you pulled out of the garage.” The response to each of my motherly nudges: “NOOOOO!!!” Occasionally he adds, “I don’t want to.” I alternated between wanting to whack him on the head and bribing him to obey him. I did neither and just ended up feeling very tired.

He’s also expanded his vocabulary. From my mom, who spent the better part of a week in Philadelphia reading the same 20 books over and over to Andrew, he has learned that “halt” is a synonym for “stop” and that “rapid” means fast. From his Grandpa Steve and Grandpa Don he added “Times Square” and “Central Park” to his geographical lexicon. From his Uncle Isaac and father he picked up “bachelor party.” And from his mother, the person tasked to instill him with virtue and good manners, he got, “Oh my God. We’re back at the freaking liquor store.”

In my defense, Philadelphia has an awful lot of one-way streets that invariably went the opposite direction of what I needed. (For added fun, creative people in the neighborhood of our borrowed apartment also reversed many of the one-way signs.) If by chance I did end up on a major artery, it would usually mysteriously ferry me across a bridge to New Jersey. Also, the City of Brotherly Love seems to have ripped up most of its streets in “construction” projects that look like all the workers left for Mexico after digging giant holes in the middle of the roads; those streets not torn to shreds typically have large delivery trucks blocking the one existing lane.

After a few days of this, I was, shall we say, frustrated. I reached my nadir returning to our borrowed apartment after a long day of doctors’ appointments at Penn. I had just had a long tube with a light and camera attached to one end shoved up my nose until it came out in the back of my throat, while the doctor cooed, “This might be a little uncomfortable.” Then I had an hour of pulmonary function testing, in which I was locked in a little airless booth and had to blow into a tube while my nose was pinched shut with clamps. I lost my car in the parking lot, couldn’t find my wallet , and had a whopping headache. Then I had to drive around the City Next to New Jersey. I spent – and I kid you not – a good 45 minutes circling the neighborhood in South Philly where we were staying without once crossing the piddling street I needed. (It was a one-way thread of a street that ran for only one block between two other one-way threads of streets). Everything looked familiar – the park where people congregated to smoke pot five feet away from children playing on the monkey bars and where a charming four year old boy hucked a crumpled beer can at my son’s head; the laundromat where the Cambodian owners practically cried when I told them I had been to their country; the trash strewn everywhere, including the trees. But I could not find our street. I finally resorted to calling Jay in his office in Helena. I think my desperation came across the line loud and clear because he pulled up a satellite map and navigated me home. I love that man.

That evening, my Mom and Andrew and I went out in search of a grocery store. We needed dinner ingredients, and we needed something to drink. Well, I seriously needed something to drink; maybe my Mom was just being polite and going along with it. The nice lady who lived next door, and whose son we saw snorting cocaine off his dresser one evening, wrote down directions for us. We made it to the grocery store by navigating around semi-permanent barriers erected to contain a construction site. We found crab legs and salad ingredients. We found apples for Andrew, and Andrew found cupcakes for Andrew and was distraught when we didn’t put them in the cart. However, we did not find beer. Apparently, in Pennsylvania you have to buy all alcohol in state run liquor stores. “Fine,” we said, and got directions from someone in the parking lot to the liquor store.

Although the liquor store was in a strip mall directly behind our strip mall, every road between the strip malls and then all the roads adjacent to those were ripped up. So the directions took us on a wide circle of the neighboring streets, jolting across the rutted dirt that formerly paved roads had been reduced to by the ever-zealous Philadelphia road workers. We arrived, almost surprised that we hadn’t gotten lost. I could almost taste the local brew, a canned wonder called Yuengling, and waited in the car with Andrew while my Mom went in. She emerged empty-handed. In Pennsylvania, we learned, you must buy your beer at liquor stores distinct from the liquor stores that sell wine and hard booze. Even though there is not even a shadow of logic in this system, clearly, the state’s efforts to control drinking have worked. Now our little neighborhood’s apparent drug problem finally made sense. Desperate for a can of Budweiser after a hard day’s work digging asteroid-sized craters in their streets, and realizing that it would be quicker and easier to drive to New Jersey than to the liquor store a block away, the residents near our apartment have turned instead to using drugs in local parks. Hooray for blue laws.

Even though my mother bought a bottle of wine, I really wanted the frothy bite of a beer. So, armed only with vague directions to “the back side of this mall,” we set out again. “I don’t think we’ll make it before they close in ten minutes,” my Mom said ominously. “The guy at that liquor store said it would take us at least twenty minutes.” Twenty minutes? To drive around to the back side of the parking lot? I ignored her and bumped my way along for a good fifteen minutes–past the Ikea, past the brick wall, across the railroad tracks, near the Home Depot, to arrive…where we started.

“Oh my God,” I said. “We’re back at the freaking liquor store.” Andrew, who had fallen quiet in his car seat and was, I suspected, sleeping, immediately chirped, “Oh my God. We’re back at the freaking liquor store.” Then he said “freaking liquor store” at least fifteen times in a row. This was astonishing because for the past week he had developed an adorable (and, according to all the experts, totally normal) stutter, which made it tough for him to get any word out, much less phrases. But “freaking liquor store” emerged perfectly pronounced, without a hitch, every time. “Oh, honey,” I said, in a completely transparent attempt to repair the damage, “Mommies sometimes say things they shouldn’t say. Freaking is one of them. It would be better to say, ‘silly liquor store.’” I caught Andrew’s eye in the rearview mirror and knew that he wasn’t buying this for a nanosecond. “I like freaking better,” he said. And thus entered his new favorite phrase, which he offers up at all the wrong moments. I’m thankful that at least I didn’t say the more profane version of “freaking” that I felt like using and somehow didn’t.

Having my two year old son tell the flight attendant on the trip back home that “we’re back at the freaking liquor store” has quite rightly made me do some thinking about my role as moral guide and protector for my impressionable two year old. One moment of frustration on my part, and my kid now sounds like a hardened drinker. Now I know that he’ll forget this phrase in a few days or weeks if we stay mum about it. (Although he does still say, “Go Yankees,” after a friend’s children taught him this phrase seven months ago specifically to irritate my die-hard Sox fan of a husband. It continues to amuse Martha and Geoff to watch Jay visibly pale when he hears his son – his own son! – cheer for the vile Yankees.)

But I fear that there are pieces of this trip, along with all the other medical trips, that will have more staying power with Andrew. It’s become pretty obvious that the little guy is anxious about his mother’s health. One night in Philadelphia my Mom tried to entertain Andrew with the story of how I got pinched by a crab at the beach when I was a kid. Instead of finding this tale of his Mommy as a young kid funny, as he usually does, Andrew was horrified and started crying hysterically, wailing, “Mooooommmmmy.” I felt wretched. My two-year old shouldn’t be worrying about me. As a corollary to this, he has been clingy and needy. “Mommy, I need you,” has become standard parlance. He doesn’t want to sleep without me; even handing him off to Jay or his beloved sitter Andrea causes crying. I know this is partly due to this dislocation of travel and of having grandparents cycle through his days. In fact, he still starts each morning telling me, “I am sad today. I miss Grandma.” I know that learning to deal with change is an important part of growing. But I also know that my little Andrew has had to cope with far more disruption than a three-foot tall person should have to.

I don’t know what to do about this. I need to travel to get the care I require. The specialists in Helena sent me to specialists in Denver who sent me to specialists in New York. Getting local care is simply not an option. This means that every three months I need to go East. I’ve thought that bringing Andrew along is the best thing for him (and I’ll admit for me). Having one or more grandparents as part of the equation alleviated some of the stress on him, I believed, by making the trip more of a vacation for him. Now I’m reconsidering this. Maybe it would be better for Andrew to spend the time with my parents at their house or mine. I just don’t know. But I hate the fact that the tentacles of this disease have reached past me to ensnare first Jay and then our families and now, the most important person in my world, Andrew. It’s one thing to mess with me, but I feel like a Mamma Bear – albeit one shackled and caged by the confines of her biology – trying to protect her cub.

One of the hardest things about having sarcoidosis is slowly coming to realize that it’s not going to go away. Even in my last, mostly upbeat appointment with the cardiologist in Philly, I was told not to expect to get off prednisone (and this was presented as a best-case scenario). It’s finally sinking in that “chronic” means that the illness won’t disappear one fine morning. And apparently this means it won’t go away for Andrew either. I cannot convey how deeply this saddens me. Contemplating my future – and that of my precious family – sometimes feels eerily like navigating Philadelphia’s maze of streets. If I let my attention lapse for one second, I’ll be heading into oncoming traffic or sailing across a bridge to another state. I spend a lot of my time lost in the grid of illness. And all too frequently, I end up exactly where I started, back at the freaking liquor store.

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