It was a few days before Thanksgivukkah and I was at home working when suddenly, the phone rang. As I picked up the receiver and looked at the caller ID, my throat tightened because the number that showed up was that of the elementary school my children attend.
You cannot tell me that those of you with kids are not catastrophists like yours truly. In today’s world with its school lock-down drills, shelter-in-place drills, stranger-danger exercises, nut allergies, sex offenders wandering freely among us, head lice, hoof and mouth disease, BPA poisoning, all that radiation from our iPhones and iPads zipping straight to our kids’ tender brains, concussions from g-d damned soccer, not to mention all those meteorites and asteroids flying randomly throughout space (how not one of them has smashed into us and blown our planet to smithereens truly baffles me), and all that other crazy shit we are bombarded with hourly by the media, can you really blame me or any parent for being for being just a wee bit neurotic? It would be downright weird if you weren’t, in my opinion.
So yeah, I am a catastrophist. I am the person that “goes there” when in reality there are about a bazillion and a half potentially rational and non-drama filled reasons in between here and “going there” to explain away almost anything. But that never matters when it comes to my children. If the school bus is 30 seconds late, I am on the phone with the district’s transportation office, silently praying to the god of school bus safety, making all sorts of deals with the higher power in exchange for my kids’ swift and safe return. It’s terrible, exhausting, overblown, I know. My first thoughts are never, “Oh, there must be a little traffic” or “Maybe a mom stopped to talk to the driver about something having nothing to do with my kids or their safety.” And never, ever, never is there a time when there are no thoughts at all. No, you see the way I am wired, I get the Fast Pass right to freak out each and every time…
So with the receiver in hand, in the five seconds it took me to push the “talk” button, I ran through all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios. Someone is hurt, someone is bleeding, someone is hurt and bleeding, someone fell down, someone broke something, someone is crying, someone is getting airlifted to a trauma center, someone failed a math test. And my amygdala kicks into high gear.
Here’s the thing, though, with the exception of the missing bone spectacular, I usually freak out internally, so that only I experience major league hysteria. I keep myself in check for appearance’s sake; that’s right, to the outside world I am all LLCoolJamie, but on the inside, if you could cut me open, all this pure New-York-City-Woody-Allen-Jewish-neurotic-blood would pool in puddles at your feet. (For purposes of maximum enjoyment of this story, the voice of LLCoolJamie will be played by Billy Dee Williams and the voice of Woody Allen will be played by, well, Woody Allen). I play it cool because it is social suicide to wear your heart on your sleeve. Remember what happened to Howard Dean and his very public lunatic scream when he wanted to run for President in 2004? Or if you don’t remember that, how about the story of Chicken Little? I try to play it cool so that my kids have one less thing to confess to their therapists when I am long gone…
With a deep breath and heart in my mouth, LLCoolJamie answered the phone, “Hello?” “Mrs. Grossman, this is the school nurse calling.” And with that, I was dying, just fucking dying (but remember, only on the inside). Internal organs were being deprived of oxygen, vision was blurring, legs were weakening. For I was certain that with this eight word opening sentence, Armageddon was just on the horizon. Someone was definitely hurt, someone was bleeding, someone was hurt and bleeding, someone was crying, someone broke something, someone was getting airlifted to a trauma center…. I guess the bright side was that I could eliminate “someone failed a math test” because it was the school nurse calling and not the math teacher.
“What!!!??!?!? What? Wha-wha-wha-wha-what? Oh my god, What happened? Who is it? Who-Who-Who-Who-Who??? Tell me g-d damn it!!!!!” my internal Woody Allen was screaming at the nurse. “Everything is fine Mrs. Grossman.” Woody was practicing deep breathing techniques: Breathe in. Breathing out. Breathe in. Om Shanti. Then LLCoolJamie elbowed Woody Allen out of the way, while smoothing back his hair and said, “What can I do for you, Mrs. School Nurse Lady?” “Well Mrs. Grossman, your daughter took an eye test last week and she failed the test. In both eyes.”
Wow. Wow. Ummmmm. Wow. Turns out I shouldn’t have eliminated “failure of test” from my list of catastrophic possibilities… Would never have occurred to me that an eye test would be something that one of my offspring would fail. We never fail tests. We never really even get B’s. So this was somewhat of a shocker. I was no longer paying attention to the nurse, as I was somewhere lost in thought, ticking off the possible culprits for my daughter’s failed eye exam– the environment at-large, acid rain, my advanced maternal age of 38 when I conceived her; of course then there’s Monsanto and all that GMO corn, the city water (always thought it smelled a little off), the cured meats, sushi and shots of tequila I may or may not have ingested way before I even knew I was pregnant with her, and ultimately, the hunky husband’s flawed DNA, when I was interrupted by Mrs. School Nurse Lady once again, “Mrs. Grossman, are you still there?” “Oh, yes yes. I am sorry. Did you say she failed the eye test in both eyes?” “Yes, she did. I will send the test results home with her today and I strongly suggest you make an appointment with an eye doctor right away.”
“Yes, yes, I will do just that. Thank you.” Click
Wow. Wow. Ummmmmm. Wow. I held the phone to my heart. I felt so sad. For I, like mothers everywhere, pride myself on being so in tune with my children’s needs. I can sense when they are hungry, sad, bored, tired or nervous. You’d think that sensing whether or not your kid was blind as a bat would be a relatively easy thing to detect. But it wasn’t. She was reading fine. Her coloring, now that I thought about it, was atrocious, but I just figured she inherited her distaste for coloring within the lines from me. She never complained of headaches or not being able to, like, see anything. She never ever walked into walls. She noticed every detail about her stuffed animal line up on her bed with hawk-like precision, like if I moved Dolphin-Dolphin to the spot on the bed usually reserved for Beluga-Beluga and Baby Seal, she’d go ballistic. And she happens to be pretty good at archery (this last thing is a joke), and so it never was a thing I thought I needed to worry about. But I guess I was wrong…
So I took her to the eye doctor right away. This eye doctor was a seriously goofy man. Which I guess is a good thing when you are a pediatric eye doctor because you want kids to warm up to you to build up that trust just before you blind them with chemicals. Man, he had his schtick down. He spoke in this very bizarre rapid-fire rhythmic verse type of way; it was both amazing and unnerving at the same time. Kinda like Dr. Seuss on Quaaludes. I’ll admit I had a short internal debate about whether we should just turn and high-tail it out of this guy’s office, but the facts were that he came highly recommended, my daughter seemed to like him, and he appeared to know what he was doing. After the two-hour long appointment, replete with his weird eye-doctory rap, he confirmed that her eyesight was indeed very very poor, but correctable with glasses. So that was a relief.
But here’s where I got pissed off with Dr. Seuss. He proceeded to cross-examine me with this holier-than-though tone that just really stuck in my craw. “Mrs. Grossman, how is it possible that you never thought to have your daughter’s eyes checked in the past? She’s five years old now.” He got all Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde on me and I’m all like, “What the FUCK, Dr. Seuss?” and “Back the FUCK off!” and “Don’t get all Department of Family Services on me…”
But what I really said was, “Ummm. Well. Ah. Gee. You see. Well. Ummmm, I’m not sure….”
Ignoring my stuttering response, Dr. Jekyll continued, “You know Mrs. Grossman, I can diagnose a newborn puppy’s eyes for vision problems with just a simple flashlight. You really should have had your daughter’s eyes checked when she was six months old.” I’m pretty sure I heard some tooth-clucking tinged with a hint of judgment and disapproval coming from his mouth as he scribbled down her prescription, so then I said, “But I didn’t, doc, and we are here now. So what the fuck good is that color commentary gonna do me, shithead? Fuck you, Dr. Seuss and your stupid high-speed rhymes, and your stupid and useless ability to diagnose puppies’ vision problems. And by the way, aren’t all puppies born blind??? That’s a real neat party trick, you asshole, but I, for one, am not going to fall for it. Why do you think they give vision tests in the schools, you prick? This is your cash flow booster, baby. So fuck you and the blind puppy you rode in on. In fact, I’ll bet you bought your oceanfront beach house and new Mercedes S-class solely from the spoils of the annual kindergarten vision screenings, you scum-sucking opportunistic windbag. HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME? I do not feed my children McDonald’s, we eat nitrate-free deli meat and drink organic milk, I spend quality time with my children checking homework and doing crafts and validating their g-d damned emotions, we do not drink soda, I limit screen time. I love my children more than life itself, I would take a bullet for them, I would lift a bus for them! I am a G-D DAMNED GOOD MOTHER….you douchebag!!!”
You know I absolutely did not say any of that. In fact, I think I acted all majorly impressed by his ability to diagnose canine vision problems with a household tool, and then I hastily grabbed my daughter’s prescription for new glasses, gratefully shook his hand and made my way to the door, but not without scheduling a follow-up three-month appointment.