A desk, a decision

A few days ago, I bit the bullet and purchased a rolling computer desk at Staples.  It was a somewhat involved transaction with my turning in a hoard of used ink cartridges and redeeming a coupon I had received in the mail, to offset the cost of myriad small items plus the desk in a very heavy box in the cart, which the cashier said I did not have to take out. Eventually, I got rung up and navigated the keypad with my rewards card number and credit card. My total seemed a little lower than I expected, but since my Lyme disease, I can no longer do math in my head, so I tried to sort out my mistake as the cashier bagged my items, and couldn’t.  As I rolled my cart out of the store, I tried to let go of the mental math, and couldn’t.

I stopped just outside the doors, on the sidewalk with my cart, to scrutinize my receipt. I scanned up and down the receipt looking for what was missing, first by the unintelligible product descriptions, and then by the amounts charged. The only big ticket items were boxes of printer ink. I realized, it was not that my total was a little low; it was that the subtotal for everything but the desk was much higher than I had expected, and the desk was totally not there.

A number of thoughts occurred practically simultaneously, as if thoughts could run through my mind playing crack-the-whip:  “I’m outside the store and it’s their mistake,” holding tight to a disingenuous “maybe it’s there and I should go home and check the receipt more carefully,” alongside “there are eight items on the receipt and the desk is not there,” and “but I’m kind of in a hurry,” and the final thought “well, not really, but I could have been” seeming to spin away into oblivion.  The novelty of indecision in a situation like this jolted me out of my mental morass. I am a mom who has modeled honesty for her children at every opportunity.  I thought, what the hell is going on with me – money is tight, there are no witnesses, and I suddenly have no moral compass???

To top it off, a number of things made this random cashier error seem weirdly significant:

1. Just as I was walking past a closed register, a cashier had arrived to open it and announced he would help “the next person” in the really long line at the only other open cashier. I hung back as a person from the existing line walked over and stepped in front of me up to the register. No one else in the really long line made a move, and I said to them, “I know you all were here before me. Do you want to go ahead of me?” Most did not respond; the ones who looked up all shook their heads. Not a big deal, but seemed a little unusual to me.

2. I noticed that by a freakish coincidence, my cashier resembled Don Cheadle, the actor who played the angel in the movie Family Man. Great movie. We see the character playing a man trying to get service from a cashier, and later in the movie, as a cashier himself. When people did not do the right thing in this movie, you had to think, “No, no, no, you small-thinking, small-hearted human beings.” I thought that anyway. At the movie. And at myself standing outside Staples.

So I wheeled the cart back in. The cashier had disappeared, and there was again the one lone open register. I did not want to make a big deal by going to the manager, so I scanned the front of the store and saw my cashier walking toward the back of the store down one of the aisles. I called, “Sir, sir!” He looked up and I waved my receipt and said, “Could you just help me understand this?”  Once he walked over, I said quietly, “I don’t see the desk — did you charge me for the desk?” He looked over the receipt, said slowly, “No, I didn’t. I can do that now.”

As he opened the same register and rung me up again, he looked very solemn. I wondered if he had been going on break and was not happy that my coming back in had delayed him. I said lightly, “Do you think I’m crazy for coming back in?” He looked up from the cash drawer and said, “No, it’s great that you came back. People think they save money sometimes, but everything costs you; later you lose much more.” I took this to mean he believes that what goes around comes around, there is karma, everyone gets back what they give out, which made me think that he did not so much mind coming back to ring me out again.

I try to remember things like this when I feel like I don’t know what I am doing as a mom.  I try to remember that even when no one is looking, I try to do the right thing.  That has to count for something.

Epilogue:  I set up the new desk in the dining room, with the newish flat screen monitor.  I took a day to get the stuff on my old desk in another room sorted out, in preparation for moving my desktop computer tower to the new desk in the dining room.  Apparently the monitor and desk were not just sitting there in the dining room waiting for me.  They were calling out to my son.  He asked me if he could put his laptop on the new desk and hook it up to the new monitor, and I said yes.

That was the beginning of getting him out of his room to hang out with the family more.  So what if I still work at my old desk with a behemoth of a CRT monitor.  So what if his idea of hanging out is to be playing Minecraft on his laptop while he listens to the Food Network on the TV in the adjoining room.  So what if I will never know for sure that this truly is my reward.  So what if I could never know that a desk one walked away with without paying for could never have called forth this beautiful result.  I feel blessed knowing that just as crap and bad things happen every day, small yet wondrous things happen every day too, and it’s okay not to know why for sure, but it’s also okay to think that maybe the small things we do, they matter.

April 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Tears for a friend

I hear my son laughing, Skyping his friends as they play online together.  He is not yet aware that a girl he went to school with has ended her life, and that her body has been recovered from the park where they once played.  Her close friends found out within minutes of her mother finding the note, texting and calling each other.  The neighborhood found out as we heard and saw the first responders converge on the park by car, firetruck and helicopter, searching for the lost girl.

My husband and I talk about how to break the news.  Should we wait until we have more information?  What if he finds out from someone else?  That is not likely.  He is engrossed in his game, temporarily shut off from the world we consider real, in a different world inhabited by him and his friends, and their electronic allies and enemies.  The teenagers in the real world around us are of minimal interest.  Our teenager is no longer close to that crowd, having left them in middle school for extended stays in the hospital.

Even during the most difficult times, we were grateful that our son’s mental health issues had been discovered while he was young enough to want to return to our home and be with our family, while he still enjoyed our company, while he still trusted us, and before he could learn to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.  The friends he plays with now are from his new school, a school for kids like him, and his isolation from friends from the neighborhood, from our old church, from elementary and middle school, is no longer as painful to him as it once was.

For me, the change was almost unbearable.  The end of his social world was the end of my social world, and I exchanged my work, parent coffees and volunteering for questionnaires, consultations, and waiting rooms.  The camaraderie I had enjoyed with other moms was gone.  No more conferring over those compelling questions, how long to let him play on his Gameboy, how much to spend on a birthday present for a friend, whether or not to require him to exchange valentines with classmates.  The questions were different now, the stakes higher.  Where do you draw the line with aggression?  Zero tolerance for physical violence, sure, but what about threatening posturing?  Yelling?  Sarcasm and disrespect?  How intrusive should you be when they seem down?  How much independence do you give them around taking their medications?

In my new peer group, the common bond is a profound love for our children, alloyed with profound sadness, weariness, and a bent towards self-blaming.  We help one another on the path to a healthier place.  It is still painful for me, but it is a pain I embrace, knowing that while our family is no longer in the social mainstream, my son will have the support he needs to deal with whatever comes his way.

As we talk about how to break the news, I wonder what kind of support he will need.  He may not need any.  After all, he spent months in the hospital with other kids with mental health issues, some of whom tried and failed to end their lives.  I’m sure they talked about it.  During one of our visits, he said he felt bad that an older teen who had been discharged, had had to come back to the unit.  I remember thinking, it was good that his family had access to great mental healthcare for him, and that they had known how acutely he needed it.

I know that later I will have to go in and talk with him about stopping the game and going to bed.  The dread I sometimes feel in advance of a difficult discussion is not there.  Whether or not he goes to bed on time, or at all tonight, seems trivial.  I hear him laughing with his friends.  I think of the girl we knew, and her friends and family down the street, weeping.  I am so sorry for them, and for the first time, I wish that other families could know what we know.

April 23, 2012. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

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