Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Reliable Informant

I am many things to many people. Mom. Friend. Hiking Buddy. Babysitter. Weighlifting Partner. Wife.

Recently, though, I seem to have added another title - Reliable Informant.

There were inklings of my new status while I lived in Marin. Around election time, people would begin to ask me "Who should I vote for?" Not "For whom are you voting?" Nope, they were asking me for the name they'd put on their ballot. We've all done it. Does your neighbor work in the courthouse? I bet you've asked her for recommendations on judges and district attorneys before you made your decision. I looked at my questioners in the same light. They knew I attended School Board meetings even before I was elected to serve. Closeness to the operation in question seems to be the go-to point when information can't be found elsewhere, I guess. And so often, especially on small local boards, the ability to get along with one another is the difference between success and or dissension. Having watched the players, I was an obvious person to ask.

Then G'ma fell and entered the hospital on her first night here in Arizona. She was tired, and in pain and incapable of answering the doctors' questions. She knew enough to tease the ambulance driver when he radioed in that they were transporting an "elderly" woman, but she was hard pressed to do the math to figure out her age. Her birthdate and her social security number were firmly fixed in her memory, but not much else that they were asking was available to her. She knew it was in there, she just couldn't access it. I have never wanted to diminish her by answering questions in her stead; now I was forced into the role by color coded hospital workers with paperwork in one hand and needles in the other. Allergies? Surgeries? Medications? It's a good thing G'ma kept it all on a list in her wallet

(If you haven't done this for yourself stop reading right now and do it. Don't worry.... I'll wait til you get back.... Believe me, you never know when you'll be the patient in the ambulance.... you probably won't have a lot of time to prepare.)

Anyway, the admirable hospital personnel aimed their questions directly to G'ma, while accepting my answers as her own. Over time, I began to recognize the answers she could give herself and the ones she needed me to supply. We had our routine down pretty smoothly by her second hospitalization; she'd glance at me and I'd step in, defusing any tension by introducing myself as "her reliable informant".

And then there was the issue of sharks and the San Diego vacation. The Amster and her boys were planning a week-long trip to an oceanfront apartment, but the 6 year old was frantic. He'd seen Jaws at the home of a friend and he knew just what would happen when he went into the water. After she got over her fury at the friend's mother for allowing her baby to be exposed to an obviously inappropriate for his age film, she began the process of reassuring him that she, his mother, who loved him and cared for him and carried him under her heart for 9 long months would in no way endanger his health and well-being by putting him in an unsafe situation. He stared right through her, not buying a word of it. She talked up the joys of the waves and the sand and the shells and the exhilaration of swimming in an endless pool of water and all he could do was shake his head. No way he was going in the ocean. He had seen the movie.

Over bench presses we discussed the dilemma. Having been through a similar experience with the Big Cuter, I was pressed into service. Picking him up from the Kids' Club at the gym after straining our pecs and triceps for an hour, we waited at the Juice Bar for our smoothies. Mr. 6 was leaning against my leg, a most serious expression on his face. No doubt about what he was thinking - his little brother was babbling on about the ocean and the sand and while Mr. 6 still had his head stuck in Bruce's maw. Or maybe it was his arm on which Bruce was chomping. Regardless, he was freaked.

"So, Mommy tells me you saw Jaws," I said, still rubbing his back as he leaned harder into my thigh. "Y'know, my boy was worried about sharks, too, when he was small." His head perked up, just a little. "REALLY???" This was obviously a kid who'd been fed similar lines and was wise to the tales. "Sure, since he grew up near the ocean he was worried about sharks all the time. And he knew people who'd been bitten, too." That got his attention big time - and had the added advantage of being 100% true.

Spinning my story in a matter-of-fact voice, I related the high schooler's afternoon on a surfboard "way far out in the water", his noticing the shark, his frantic paddling, and the rescue efforts (evacuation helicopters landing on the beach and all) and hospital care for his many bite wounds. "So, he died, right? He was eaten up, right?" Back again to the rescue and the helicopter and the hospital and the recovery. "Well, in the movie they all died," he retorted, certain of his facts and that my story was another attempt to delude him into thinking that the ocean was a safe place for a 6 year old. He KNEW BETTER, and his face showed his conviction.

"True," said I, "but that was to make the movie better. After all, attaching balloons to a house can't really make it fly, can it?" A small smile began to appear; the first glimmer that he was beginning to distinguish between fantasy and reality. That's not easy for a little one, especially in his media saturated world.

"You know that I grew up in New York, right? Do you know what's right next to New York? The Atlantic Ocean." "And we are going to the Pacific Ocean," he murmured. "Yes, and my parents took me to the Atlantic Ocean all the time. And that's the Jaws ocean, y'know." All of a sudden he was really really interested in my monologue. "And I used to be as scared as you are, and as my boy was. But once I knew the facts, I really liked the ocean." SURE, said his face, what makes you think I'll believe THAT?

Undeterrerd, I plowed on. "Do you want to know the facts? Or do you still want to be scared?" "Facts, please." And so I spun a tale of safety being tied to never being the swimmer who's the furthest from the shore. How watching to insure that there was always some out beyond you made you responsible for your own safety - a crucial point for an older brother who needs to be in charge at all times. How sharks were lazy and stupid creatures (what else would think a license plate made tasty chewing?) who would take the first meal presented to them, so having a buffer between you and the beast's rows of teeth made sense. I rambled on in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, sharing knowledge but not addressing his fears. And gradually, he stopped leaning into me and his shoulders came out of his ears and he turned to his little brother and said, "I'll be in charge of watching for people further out than we are" and that was it. His nightmares vanished. His enthusiasm for the vacation returned. And he had a new fact in his arsenal.

I was, officially, his Reliable Informant.

I think I'm liking this title.

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