Quite an Experience

I. Thursday and Friday

Thursday June came off the school bus sobbing.  She’d twisted her knee the weekend before when she wiped out on her bike going down a hill too fast.  We’d been icing it regularly and keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage and it seemed to be gradually getting better.  But while she was waiting in the bus line at school two squabbling girls crashed into her and knocked her down, re-injuring the knee.  She cried for over an hour after she got home. I cancelled her violin lesson and was seriously considering getting her on a bus and taking her to the emergency room of the hospital two blocks from our house when she finally stopped.

By the next morning she still couldn’t walk very well (she was hopping everywhere) so we decided to take her to the health center attached to her school for a preliminary medical opinion to help us decide what to do next.  We had a feeling staying at school wasn’t in the cards. In some ways the timing was lucky (and in other ways unlucky) because Beth and I were both already planning to take the day off.  The kids had a half-day and Beth and Noah were leaving in the afternoon for their annual early fall camping trip (“Notes on Camp” 9/30/07).  Beth was planning to pack in the morning, but I was hoping there’d be time for a mini-date–coffee or a Netflix movie or maybe both.

At school I delivered a form and check for an after-school cooking class June wants to take. (It’s full, but I got her on the waiting list.) Then we delivered a bag of the kids’ old t-shirts and sweatpants to the health center.  They requested them for kids who get sick at school and need a change of clothes. Then the nurse had a look at June’s leg, asked us some questions, and recommended we have a doctor examine her today.

She offered June a ride to the school doors in a wheelchair, which June accepted with half-suppressed pleasure. Over the course of our errands, the assistant principal, the principal, and two mothers of June’s friends inquired about what had happened to her. June, who does enjoy this kind of attention, later commented, “That was quite an experience.”

At home, Beth set to work making a lot of phone calls, communicating with June’s pediatrician and trying to get an appointment at an urgent care.  The funny thing was we already had a pediatrician appointment that day (for the kids’ overdue annual exams), but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon and if we waited until the pediatrician appointment for a referral to somewhere with an orthopedic specialist, it could have delayed Beth and Noah’s camping trip.  At the second urgent care Beth tried, they told her they didn’t take appointments but the wait was only about a half hour, so we headed over there.

During the intake questions, we were asked if June drinks or smokes.  Apparently they have to ask everyone, but one does wonder if they could make an exception for the under-eight set.

The doctor–who later inspired Beth to remark “They let awfully young people be doctors these days”–felt June’s leg all over and said there were no broken bones or torn ligaments and it was just a deep bruise that should feel better in a couple days, a week at most. Basically, her advice was to keep doing what we’d been doing—painkiller, ice, and compression.

We came home for lunch and to wait for Noah to get home so we could leave for the kids’ pediatrician visits. The nurse practitioner there looked at June’s leg again, and went over the headache journal I’ve been keeping to track June’s debilitating headaches. When I said the most obvious pattern was that they almost always occur in the late afternoon, she said it could be dehydration, but when I mentioned they seem more common right after the temperature drops, that she feels the pain only in the front of her head, and they make her vomit, she said migraines without aura were more likely.  So we got a referral to a neurologist.  Meanwhile, she gave us a handout about migraine triggers and alcohol was one. We pointed out for the second time that day that our second grader is not a lush.

June’s been having these headaches since she was four, at first just a few a year but now about once a month, and I’d been dreading the day someone told us they were migraines, but I found once I’d heard it, it was actually a relief. It means we can get some advice about treatment and coping strategies. There’s a next step.  Finally, we got a cream for her persistent chin rash, and then it was Noah’s turn. His exam was uneventful. Both kids got flu shots and we were out of the office in less than an hour.

June was walking a little better by this point, well enough to stop at Starbucks for refreshments before driving home, where Beth and Noah finished packing and Noah practiced his drums.  On their way out of town, Beth dropped June and I off at Chuck E. Cheese’s, so we could attend a fundraiser for her school.  Earlier in the day I thought attending this event was out of the question as June could barely stand, but now she was a lot better.  Except for the relatively brief time we were eating, she was on her feet for the hour and fifteen minutes were there.

Here I must concede that the whole experience of attending a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese’s was considerably less horrific than I thought it would be. Yes, it was loud, and there were a lot of kids there, including several from June’s class, but the space is big enough that it didn’t feel claustrophobically crowded. Most of the arcade games were available when June wanted to play them either right away or after a short wait.  The system was pretty easy to understand. You buy game tokens with your meal, use the tokens to play games, tickets spit out of the games after you finish, and then you redeem them for prizes.

With the twenty-five tokens I bought her, June netted forty-seven tickets. That plus the fifteen bonus tickets we got for attending the fundraiser translated into a set of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth, a top, and two rolls of sweet tarts.  June was well satisfied with her prizes. I bought her a bag of blue cotton candy for the road, and we headed out into the night. I’d been planning on catching a bus home, but she’d been fine standing for a pretty long time, so I thought the fifteen minutes it would take us to walk home should be manageable. It seemed like a better idea than waiting a half hour for a bus.

June was elated and chatty on the walk home.  “It was an exciting day,” she said, “but this was the best part.”  She said it was “creepy” walking home in the dark, but creepy in good way. She said she loved the sound of the crickets and “the sweet heart of the night.”  She’d given me a handful of her cotton candy and as it melted in my mouth, I had that walking home from the carnival feeling I associate with the boardwalk, and I had to agree.

II. Saturday

You might think it would be hard to top a day in which you got to ride in a wheelchair through the halls of your school and go to Chuck E. Cheese’s for the first time, but Saturday gave Friday a run for its money. A friend of Beth’s at the National Education Association had asked her if June would like to be filmed for a commercial. They were looking for kids in grades one to four. June definitely wanted to but I wanted to play it by ear because I’d have to take her into the city on public transportation and there would be several blocks of walking. She seemed to be on the mend, however, so on Friday, we confirmed we’d be there.

Before June got hurt, I’d been planning a full weekend for her. She likes to keep busy and even more so when Beth and Noah are out of town and she’s feeling a bit left out of the festivities. There was a creek clean-up Saturday morning and she wanted to participate in it, much to my surprise because when I took both kids last spring she’d been whiny and difficult about it. Over the past couple weeks she kept seeing the signs and saying she wanted to do it and I’d been non-committal.  But I didn’t want her clambering around on the rocks of the creek in her current condition, so no creek clean-up this fall.

There was also Takoma Play Day, an event Beth has taken her to in the past. I’ve never gone so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I know June spent all her time at the last one playing tennis and Beth says the focus is on active play, so I decided to skip that, too.

Megan called on Friday evening, inviting June over for a Saturday morning play date so that took care a few hours.  When I picked June up, she was complaining of a slight headache so I said she could rest at home but she wanted to go the playground, so I took her, but we only ended up staying five or ten minutes because I wanted to be careful of her leg and didn’t want her to play on the creek boulders or climb up the outside of the tunnel slide and where’s the fun in that?

When we got home, we iced her leg and I read to her from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Next, she watched some television.  (She seemed not to notice the irony that we’d just finished the Mike Teavee episode one bit.) When I came into the living room at 2:35, five minutes after her show ended I found the television turned off and June asleep on the couch.

This was a problem because I wanted to leave for the commercial shoot in twenty minutes, but Beth and I have learned that it’s not a good idea to wake June when she falls asleep in the afternoon. It’s often how her body responds to an incipient headache and if that’s the case, the longer she sleeps the less pain and vomiting she has to endure.  However, she’d also had an exciting couple days and she could just be exhausted. I called Beth to confer and she advised I let her sleep.  So I did, even though I knew if June missed the filming and she hadn’t even have a headache, she’d be hopping mad.

Around 3:40, June stirred on the couch and sat up a little. “Did I fall asleep?” she asked. I said yes and asked if she’d had a headache when she went to sleep.  Just “a teeny one,” she said. How did she feel now, I enquired. Fine.

I’d hoped to be on the 2:55 bus and the next one wasn’t until 3:55 but if we had dinner in the city after the shoot instead of before (my original plan) and if we had good luck with the bus and train, I thought we might make it on time.  And we did. We arrived at the studio at 4:53, seven minutes before our appointment.

The first thing the wardrobe person wanted was to see June’s extra clothes. There were very specific instructions about what to wear and what not to wear and you needed to bring multiple outfits. Solid colors with no logos and no black, white, or red, no skirts and no shorts was the gist of it.  It turns out June doesn’t have a lot of clothes in solid colors and I wasn’t sure if they just meant no stripes, plaid, etc or no graphics at all. She also thought a dress would be okay because it didn’t say no dresses, though I was doubtful.

Anyway, June was wearing a pink dress with a fish on it and solid teal leggings. The wardrobe person asked for the extra clothes and selected orange leggings and an orange Henley with pink ribbon trim. June changed and I filled out a consent form while the hair and make-up person took out her pigtails, combed her hair, sprayed it with hairspray (June later complained it smelled funny) and powdered her face.

We waited in the green room a while, watching cartoons and eating fruit salad and tortilla chips. When they called June, we went to the studio and watched the girl before her. This scene was of a mother in a rocking chair, reading to a child in her lap.  The photographer rode a little cart that went back and forth on an arc of track. The image of the mother and child was on computer screens all over that people were watching.

When they were finished, it was June’s turn. Her scene was different. She was sitting and reading a book by herself.  The director told her to turn the pages, look interested, and look up every now and then, as if imagining to herself something about what she was reading.

Well, three years of summer drama camp or June’s naturally dramatic personality paid off here.  At first I thought she was over-doing it, but people kept saying “Good job!” and “Nice head tilt!” and things like that. Given that they filmed kids for ten hours for what I imagine will be a thirty-second or one minute commercial, it’s unlikely any of June’s footage will make the final cut, but still it was a very satisfactory experience for her.

We had dinner at the Shake Shack afterward—Portobello burgers and fries for both of us, a peanut butter shake for me, and coffee frozen custard for her.  Walking through the bustling neighborhood of Dupont Circle toward the Metro, and admiring the big puffy, salmon-colored clouds in the sky as the sun went down, June sighed and said, “I love cities.”

“Do you think you’ll live in one when you grow up?” I asked.

“I’m planning to move to China,” she informed me.

Who knows? Maybe she will. Sunday she spent a quiet day at home resting her leg and reading, but she wants to go far, that’s for sure, and a little thing like a sprained knee is not about to stop her.