May 13, 2010

Knee, Myself and I

Has anyone ever said to you: 'Make the most out of life, tomorrow you might get hit by a bus!' In my case, it wasn't a bus, it was a car. Not that that makes any difference in the long run; the end result is basically the same, I'm sure.

It was like a cartoon. For a moment, I was Wile E. Coyote, about to cross a seemingly deserted street. It was one of those carefree mid-summer evenings back in 2002. I'd worked all day and was on my way to the train station along a shady sidewalk. At the last minute, I decided to take Nat King Cole's advice and direct my feet to the sunny side of the street. It was a decision I regret to this day.

As soon as the pedestrian light turned green, I stepped off the curb. There was a zzzooooooom and a screeeeeech and then a whaaaaam! I remember thinking: 'Ok, this is not really happening'. But it really was. I remember every minute detail - first a flash of metallic blue of the car, then the continuous summersault I managed to do over the hood of the car, then the unmistakable sound of glass shattering as I collided into the windshield and then pavement flying beneath me as I was being launched about 6 yards from the car. I finally came to a stop and despite feeling incredibly disoriented, I managed to recognize the contents of my purse which was strewn all over the street. One of my sandals was lying near me, the strap was broken due to the force of the impact. People around me were frozen in shock. A young girl was even crying! I was so embarrassed, I wanted to get up immediately, grab my belongings and get the hell out of there. Only when I tried to stand up, I couldn't. Something was very very wrong with my knee.

Almost eight years later, I am 'handicapped'. I put 'handicapped' in apostrophes because I have this notion about what a handicapped person is, and I do not feel I fit into that category. The fact remains, however, that my knee hurts all the time (the pain ranges from tender to excruciating), is partially immobile and chock-full of arthritis. Prognosis? I'm 34 years old with the knee of a geriatric, and it's only going to get worse.

After years of therapy to treat, among other things, my beloved Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (I actually had it twice, due to pig-headed denial the first time), the best piece of advice I ever got was not from my shrink but from a career counselor. She suggested, whenever I want to do something that might be tough on my knee, I should discuss it with my knee first. I laughed when I first heard this, but now I find I am often in discussion with my knee, (whom I call Mr. Knee), about some physical activity or other I'd like to attempt.

A typical conversation between Mr. Knee and I goes something like this:

Me: 'Hey Mr. Knee, want to go to a market this weekend and try to sell some mialeentje stuff?'
Mr. Knee: 'No.'
Me: 'Oh, come on, it'll be fun!'
Mr. Knee: 'Don't wanna.'
Me: 'Oh please! It'll be just us two...'
Mr. Knee: 'Don't feel like it.'
Me: 'I promise I'll sit down a lot!'
Mr. Knee: 'Well...maybe. I'll think about it.'
Me: (a bit later) 'So, did you think about it?'
Mr. Knee: (groaning) 'oh... ok fine. But I'm going to have to give you hell till Tuesday.'

Starting my own business was fulfilling a dream I'd had since I was a kid, but being an entrepreneur is clearly not Mr. Knee's ambition. When I go to market to sell my wares, it involves a lot of walking, carrying, standing, more carrying, kneeling, bending. In fact, simply picking up a pencil that has fallen to the floor and rolled under the table presents an enormous challenge for me. When I think about it, my daily routine involves just about everything Mr. Knee and I can't actually do together anymore. It's like we broke up, but are still living together in the same flat, forced to live harmoniously when we've actually grown apart. We don't even have the same taste in music anymore. At the end of the day, Mr. Brain and I decide what Mr. Knee has to do, but Mr. Knee protests and will express its discontent by blatantly taunting me with intense throbbing, swelling, stiffness and just plain pain for the days that follow. But Mr. Knee gets its way too sometimes - it has managed to wipe a few of my dreams clear off the table.

I used to be a singer. Although the accident did not damage my vocal chords in any way, the idea of performing onstage is something Mr. Knee disagrees with whole-heartedly. I used to do art direction for film. Mr. Knee does not like the idea of spending days on end building a film set. I used to take walks along the beach. Mr. Knee does not like uneven surfaces. I used to travel around the world gathering inspiration and styling ideas for my job as a fashion designer. Mr. Knee would rather stay home and wash its hair than have to weave in and out of crowds of people in busy shopping street, let alone stand in lines, carry heavy shopping bags, climb up stairs, climb down stairs, get into metros, step over dog-poo... Mr. Knee is pretty much against any physical activity whatsoever and would really prefer it if I just confined myself to a wheelchair right now and got it over with.

Needless to say, I've had to make a lot of adjustments for Mr. Knee. But my life as it is now is not exactly Mr. Knee's utopia either. Without telling Mr. Knee, I got pregnant. Twice. So now I have two toddlers who have trouble with the concept of basic communication, let alone understanding that mama's knee hurts too much sometimes to bend down and pick them up. But if my two-year-old Bram should hurl himself onto the ground and throw a fit in public, which he has been known to do, I have little choice but to bend down pick him up. Mr. Knee opposes this kind of thing, but my children tend to be louder and more dramatic about getting what they want, so they usually win.

Anyone with a limitation has undoubtedly heard someone say to them: 'Don't dwell on what you can't do, just be happy about what you can do!' This just makes me cringe. It's like saying to someone who is clinically depressed, 'You should just smile more!' I am 34 years old. I should be able to do all the things I can't do. I don't pay that much attention to the things I can do, since I can do them. But what I can't do stops me in my tracks, forces me to come up with a less painful alternative, it frustrates me, saddens me, brings up bitter memories, makes me feel insecure, inferior. A cripple. It is next to impossible to simply shake those feelings of helplessness and utter frustration off and think: 'Chin up, at least I'm not dead!'

After therapy, when the worst memories had ebbed away and the claim against the insurance company finally ended, I really hoped Mr. Knee and I would get along again. I don't speak up about our conflicts too often, which tends to confuse people around me when they suddenly see me walking with a pronounced limp. My loved-ones know better though, and know how to support me, now that I know how to let them. To admit I need help is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do; in fact, it's so hard, I still can't seem to do it.

In case you were wondering: no, I have not overlooked the most important aspect of this tale, which is: I am alive. That is a fact I should be, and am, thankful for. So why all the moaning? Every so often, I am a cripple. Emotionally and physically, since for me, the two are indisputably connected. When I don't pay that much attention to Mr. Knee, I feel glorious. If Mr. Knee makes its grievences known, I feel weak. Sometimes I'm strong. Sometimes I'm helpless. As estranged as we might be, Mr. Knee and I still make up one whole human being together, and will just have to develop a symbiotic relationship we both can live with in this particular body.

I can just imagine what our next discussion will be like:
Me: 'Mr. Knee, I'm putting my foot down.'
Mr. Knee: 'What is it this time?'
Me: 'I still have a lot I want to do, dreams I want to fulfill, and you're just going to have to come with me, whether you like it or not.'
Mr. Knee: ' we have to?!'

May 09, 2010

Mother's Day Facts

I have been a mother for exactly 3 years, 3 months and one day.
Essentially, this means:

I have a brain so I can think about the kids.
I have a mouth so I can communicate with the kids.
I have a nose so I can smell when the kids need a clean diaper.
I have ears so I can hear when the kids are crying.
I have eyes so I can see when the kids are doing something they shouldn't be doing.
I have a lap so the kids have a place to sit down.
I have legs so I can run after the kids.
I have arms so I can carry the kids when they've fallen asleep.

What do I have over 5,000 pictures of on my computer?
The kids.
What's the last thing I hear at night?
The kids.
What's the first thing I hear in the morning?
The kids.
Who do I talk to every day?
The kids.
What do I talk about every day?
The kids.
What do my husband and I talk about?
The kids.
What do I talk to perfect strangers about?
The kids.

What is my floor ridden with?
Kids' toys.
What do I kill my back picking up every day?
Kids' toys.
What do I tend to find buried in the sandbox?
Kids' toys.
What do I regularly trip over?
Kids' toys.
What do I secretly wish I had more of?
Kids' toys.

What is my business all about?
Kids' clothes.
What do I spend every day thinking about?
Kids' clothes.
What am I constantly washing pee stains out of?
Kids' clothes.
What am I regularly wiping snot off of?
Kids' clothes.
What is always full of sand, dirt, pine needles and dead flowers?
Kids' clothes.
What is the laundry hamper incessantly full of?
Kids' clothes.

What am I most proud of?
My kids.
What makes me laugh so hard I often pee myself?
My kids.
What moves me?
My kids.
What inspires me?
My kids.
What do I love more than anything?
My kids.
What makes me feel loved more than anything?
My kids.

And that's a fact.