Being a grownup at the blood lab

The bell rang and my classroom was empty. I picked up the phone to make the first call.

Me: (After pressing several buttons for the receptionist.) Could you tell me the date of the next PTO meeting or the name of a staff member I can email about it?

Receptionist: You could look on the calendar.

Me: (Searching the school website and not seeing a date for the PTO meeting at my son’s school.) Where would I find this calendar?

Receptionist: Could you hold, please?

(After I held.)

Receptionist: Hello, this is a school. How may I help you?

Me: We were just talking about the date for the next PTO meeting. Could you tell me the date, or tell me the name of a staff member who can?

Receptionist: Well …. I would have to ask … because they are just going to have to look at the calendar as well.

Me: You know, this is a really busy time of day. Maybe if I call back tomorrow, someone could ask for me.

Receptionist: Oh, yes, please call back tomorrow. And what is your name?

We exchanged names. I will call back.

You might be asking yourself why I would want to attend a PTO meeting, aside from the fact that I am a parent and a teacher. Do I not have enough to do? Well, it’s about fundraisers. Who loves fundraisers? This girl!

So on Sunday night, my son Oliver informed me that if he did not sell four items, including two magazine subscriptions, he would not get two small plastic chickens and he would not be allowed to attend a magic show. Last year, he said, he did not participate in the fundraiser, but this year he wanted to and he needed to turn in some money ASAP.

I went downstairs and tried to understand the forms, arguing with Oliver about how much we would need to spend in order to get plastic chickens that looked similar to Happy Meal toys and for him to attend this magic show. I looked at the $14 jars of spiced nuts, the $30 pumpkin cheesecake, the $10 earrings. I considered it all.

“Dan,” I called to my husband, who was in the other room watching television, “get in here and be tortured with me!”

I couldn’t even figure out who I needed to make the check out to because it said two different things on two different forms. I also noticed that it said on the forms, “Please do not sell door-to-door.” Probably good advice just in case anyone had any intention of doing that. I did not.

Dan threw down $15 in cash and asked for a subscription to “Field & Stream.”

“OK,” I said to Oliver, “what if I order a magazine subscription for you, me, Annabelle, and your dad? Will that be enough for the plastic chickens and magic show?”

He thought it would, so I wrote a check, and the next day, he was ecstatic when he showed me the chickens.

Also the next day, I spent the cash Dan gave me on a fundraiser at the school where I work. I am going to get a long-sleeved T-shirt, which is not as exciting as plastic chickens, but it is for a good cause.

That was the story behind the first phone call I made after work today. About the PTO meeting. About which I will call back tomorrow.

Then I called the blood lab. I needed a test, but I wanted to know how much it would cost. I needed a code. The person who answered the phone gave me another number to call. This person gave me the codes. Then she transferred me to the Billing Department.

This is the part where you have to stick with me, but of course I understand if you can’t.

So I went to the lab to have my blood drawn. I had my 8-year-old daughter with me and she wanted to know if she would get a lollipop.

“No,” I said, “because you’re not having your blood drawn.”

“And they probably won’t give you a lollipop because they don’t give grownups lollipops. But once I heard them offer someone a free blood test,” she said.

I can assure you that my tests will not be free. I know this because I called in advance to find out exactly how much they will cost because I have learned the hard way what happens if you don’t.

There was no one in the waiting room when we walked in at 4 p.m. I handed the phlebotomists the sheet my doctor had given me, which listed the tests she wanted them to do on my blood. Unfortunately, it did not list the codes for administering the tests, which apparently are different from the billing codes.

By the time one of the phlebotomists figured this out, the other had left the office. The former was now on hold with Corporate (or whoever) trying to get the code she needed to figure out which vial to put my blood in before she could draw it. When another customer walked in, this totally stressed her out. I don’t know what she said to the other customer, but the woman remarked to her friend as they took a seat that she “didn’t like this place” because the phlebotomists weren’t very nice.

Meanwhile, my 8-year-old sampled the water from the cooler and then flipped through a book in the waiting room about a boy’s first blood test. In this book, the boy gets both a dinosaur Band-aid AND a teddy bear.

“I get the teddy bear if they give you one,” Annabelle said. “I call it.”

The phlebotomist told me to go into the back room and have a seat in the green chair.

“Did you ever get the code?” I asked her when she joined me.

Not exactly, was her answer. And it wasn’t fair for them to leave her alone when she was new, she told me. I agreed.

“I think I would just take the blood and get the code later,” I offered.

She couldn’t do that, she said.

“I’m sorry about your wait, if that’s the problem,” she said.

“No, I mean, there wasn’t much of a wait. I was just … trying to be helpful. Hey, as long as you use a clean needle, I’m good. And it looks clean …”

The phlebotomist was in no mood for my humor.

“I can pull another one out in front of you if you want!” she said. I wasn’t sure at that point if she might burst into tears.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I was just, um, kidding.”

I did not get a dinosaur Band-aid.

“That was kind of awkward,” the 8-year-old remarked when we got into the car.

I thought about explaining to her how people get stressed out at 4 p.m. when they have two customers and they don’t know the codes and the codes are there so no one knows what the tests actually cost because it really depends on how much your insurance will pay, if you have insurance, and if you don’t, then you experience even longer waits for state-of-the-art health care, delivered by people who haven’t had a smoke break in way too long.

But I didn’t bother. Instead, I thought about writing a story for grownups about a blood test, not completely unlike the one for children that Annabelle read at the lab, but with a few more details.

When I go to the PTO meeting, I am going to offer some suggestions. I know that my suggestions are not always helpful and my jokes are not always funny, but I hope you have enjoyed this story even though the main character did not get a dinosaur Band-aid. And if you need some nuts, wrapping paper, chocolates, earrings, or a magazine subscription, I know where you can get some.

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What people think about at 4 a.m.

I woke up at 4 a.m., which I wish I could say is unusual, but it’s not at all. Pretty much every other day I wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. You don’t have to tell me I should cut down on caffeine, drink tart cherry juice, exercise more, try journaling before bed, or take a sleeping pill. I have tried all those things and they do sometimes work to some extent.

My husband Dan said that if I’m going to get up in the middle of the night, I should try writing down my thoughts/to-do list.

This morning I was mostly preoccupied by thinking about what I am going to wear on Back-to-School night this week when a bunch of parents will be coming into my classroom wanting to know if I am a decent, hardworking person who intends to be nice to their children. Some of them would appreciate it if the children actually learned something in my class and most of them are hoping I am not the type to assign a crushing amount of homework. I know this because I am a parent and, as a parent, homework is hell. Mine, theirs, all of it. Because, you know, we need to eat dinner, take showers, clean the litter box, and change the sheets sometimes. Yes, it is true that my kids may be playing video games while I am doing these things myself and that is another part of parenting that stinks, but really, parents should not have to feed their kids a steady diet of vending machine crackers and fast food just so we can make time to slog through a few hours of homework with them every night.

And then there are the parents who think their kids need to be challenged and want them to do more homework.

But nobody is going to be able to focus on these details if all they can think about is the ugliness of my orthopedic shoes. If parents are anything like high school students, they care deeply about shoes, maybe more than they care about homework, although few would admit it.

I often read a blog for moms that is aimed at showing middle-aged women how we can wear trendy clothing without looking like idiots. In this blog, there are links to products from stores like Nordstrom because women my age are supposed to be able to afford things from Nordstrom. For example, one of the bloggers might take a photo of herself wearing a black, oversized sweatshirt with black leggings, black sneakers, and hair pulled into a loose ponytail. Her post will explain that this is her new favorite “edgy” look. The name of the brand of sneakers is highlighted so that you can click on it and it takes you to the store’s website, where you find out that these sneakers cost $298 even though they look almost exactly like the ones you just got on sale at the mall for $29.99.

So I read these stories periodically in effort to figure out how I can look more the way I am supposed to look instead of the way I do, which according to my husband and mother is “fine.” Isn’t it nice of my husband and my mom to say I look fine? Wouldn’t you find that comforting?

I also read blogs by other teachers about how they decorate their classrooms. The new thing is that everyone is turning their classroom into a cybercafe with couches and lamps and cool rugs and stuff. I am all down with this idea except for the small issue of space, funding, and possibly, learning actual things.

No, but I really might put a couch and some lamps in my classroom for the poetry readings if it weren’t such a long way for my one husband to lug it up two flights of stairs by himself. And he has enough to do. Presently, it is Sunday morning and he is at the school where he teaches making copies for his classes tomorrow. On Friday evening, we tried to take a nice relaxing walk through our neighborhood, but then some neighbors flagged him down and started talking about various repairs that he could make on their home at some point.

These are the things that cross my mind at 4 a.m.

I also read blogs by other teachers about what they do on Back-to-School night. In addition to wearing cool outfits and having classrooms that look like ads for Pier 1, they have slideshows that include an “About Me” slide.

What might I say on my “About Me” slide? That I am one of millions of English teachers who got her start writing bad poetry in her bedroom at age 12? I could mention that crickets and other insects have, on occasion, managed to cause major distractions in my classroom, but that because of my belief in karma, I sometimes prolong the situation by chasing the insect around until I catch it with my bare hands as the children shriek with excitement, shouting “Eew” and “How can you touch that?”

I could mention that I did, in fact, change my earrings four times before leaving the house and I could explain the process: I started with small hoops, which I thought might be too boring. Then, I tried some dangly moonstone earrings, but those were too much with the big tortoiseshell glasses I have to wear ever since the day I got the contact lens stuck in my eye. So then I tried the cupcake earrings, but wouldn’t those send the wrong message? I’m not actually all that playful, whimsical, or fun. Finally, I decided to put the small hoops back in even though they are boring. That is what I could tell people because there is a 90 percent chance that is what will happen.

I remember once hearing someone with a British accent say, “If people notice what you are wearing, then you are not well-dressed.”

There is a ring of certainty to anything spoken with a British accent.

Thank you for working through this with me. What I wear is not what matters most. It isn’t about me or my woman v. self conflict regarding cupcake earrings and orthopedic shoes. It is about growth. I am moving toward inner peace. As my favorite yoga teacher says, the divine light in me salutes the divine light in you. Namaste.

Do you think anyone will find that offensive?

Marigold’s Nest

Marigold lived in a cottage with her mother and two older sisters. As the youngest, she stayed behind to tend the cottage when they went into the village. Marigold was the one to sew the dresses, wash the floors, make the bread, feed the chickens, and get water from the well. She also had to water the toadstools along the mossy path leading away from the cottage. Her mother said the toadstools would die without water and then their family would no longer be able to follow the path into the village.

Marigold’s mother prized Marigold’s long, flaxen hair and would not allow anyone to cut it because, she said, when it reached Marigold’s waist, she would develop magical powers to see the future and to grant wishes. This would bring the family fame, recognition, and wealth.

Marigold came to see her hair as a burden when it fell like a curtain down her back and draped at her sides as she did her chores. As it continued to grow, Marigold would go outside each morning to brush it herself so that when strands of the golden hair fell out, they would collect on the mossy ground. The birds carried the hair into a tree near the well where they used the long strands to weave a soft nest.

One day, Marigold’s mother and sisters came home from the market with a green-eyed goat which had two curved horns and a long scruff of hair beneath his chin.

“Marigold, hold this goat while we ready his pen,” her mother said, handing her the rope tied round his neck.

No sooner than Marigold took the rope did the goat begin to buck and jump, tearing away from her grip. He followed the toadstool path out of the yard and toward the village.

“Stop him!” Marigold’s mother demanded. “We need that goat. He carries a spell. As long as he drinks water from the well, it will never run dry.”

Marigold’s mother insisted that her two sisters find the goat and bring him back.

“You fool!” Marigold’s sisters taunted her. “Look what you have done!”

But they obediently left the cottage in search of the goat.

The sisters searched until dark, knocking on every door in the village, but they could not find the goat.

“What will we do if our well runs dry?” Marigold’s mother asked her.

The next day, an old man knocked on the door. With him was the green-eyed goat.

“I have come to see the girl with the flaxen hair,” he told the mother. “This goat has told me that she can see the future and grant wishes. My son is sick and I wish for a cure. His body rages with fever and his skin burns with rash. Grant my wish that he be well and I will give you back your goat.”

Marigold searched through her cupboards for a tincture of lemon, echinacea root, and peppermint. She gave the tincture to the old man and told him to put two drops into his son’s cup twice a day for three days.

The old man handed over the goat.

“Very well. If I do not return on the fourth day, you may keep the goat, but if my son does not recover from his illness, the goat is mine.”

Four days went by, and then a fifth, and the man did not return.

Marigold continued to tend the cottage. When she brought the goat his water from the well, he began to insult her.

“You foolish girl” the goat said. “You do nothing right! The birds that have built a nest from your hair keep me up at night. I am tired and famished. How do you expect me to survive on this bitter water and coarse grass? Let me out of this pen at once, for I am not a goat who can be confined to such a small pen.”

The goat glared at Marigold with his green eyes. She shuddered at the tangled scruff of fur beneath his chin.

As she turned to leave, the goat pushed past Marigold, knocking her down. He ran to the toadstool path and began eating the toadstools until most were gone. She pulled and tugged at the rope round his neck, but she could not stop the goat from destroying the toadstool pathway. Finally, Marigold grabbed him by the scruff of his chin and led him back to his pen. As she left him, the scruff of his hair came off of his chin and remained in her hand.

“Foolish girl,” the goat warned. “Without my scruff, I will not be able to drink the water from the well and it will go dry. You must cut your hair and bury it beneath the tree where the birds nest or the water will go dry and your family will perish.”

Marigold did as the goat told her, burying her hair beneath the tree at sunset.

The next morning, the goat was gone, and so were the birds who nested in the tree above the well. When Marigold dropped the bucket into the well, it was dry.

“How could you do this?” her mother and sisters asked. “With no water and no toadstool path, we will surely perish here.”

Days later, there was a knock at the cottage door. A tall, handsome man with green eyes stood with a goat and a long golden rope made from Marigold’s hair.

“Give me the girl who grew this hair and I will give you back your magic goat,” the man said.

Because they had no water and no toadstool path, Marigold’s mother and sisters told her she must go with the man. He brought her to a stone tower and demanded that she grant his wishes. First, he wanted a feast. Then he wanted a large bed with a mattress of soft feathers covered in the finest silks. Finally, he told Marigold she must tend the tower each day while he was away from morning until sunset for 24 seasons.

“If you have the magic that the goat spoke of, you can do all of this with ease,” the man said.

But Marigold had no magic, so she prepared the feast herself and she built the bed with feathers and she sewed the covers with fine silk. The man would leave each morning at sunrise and return at night for his feast and soft bed.

Each day, Marigold would walk outside the tower and brush her hair so that the birds could use the strands to build a nest. In a tree near the bedroom window, the birds chattered and kept her company during her long, lonely days as she tended the tower, doing the most mundane chores. There were no books for her to read or brushes with which to paint.

As the days passed, Marigold’s hair grew very long, finally reaching her waist. She continued to brush it outside so that the birds could use it.

One morning, the man came to her.

“Those birds awaken me far too early. I am a man of great importance and can not go without sleep. When I return this evening, I will cut your hair and bury it so that those birds may never nest in it again.”

Knowing that the birds would leave her, Marigold remained in bed that day instead of tending to the chores. She wished that the man would not return at sunset, and when the time came, she found that he did not. Hours passed and the sky grew dark. Marigold walked outside the tower and heard the birds call down:

“Run, Marigold! Run away now and he’ll never find you.”

Marigold ran into the forest and walked on all through the moonlit night. When the sun rose over the horizon, she stopped at a stream for a drink. As she bent to get a drink of water, she thought she saw in the water’s reflection the face of the goat with the green eyes, but when she turned to face him, the goat was gone.

Hungry, tired, and frightened, Marigold hurried on until she reached the village, where she found a seamstress.

“I beg a favor,” Marigold said. “If you lend me your scissors to cut my hair, I will stay and make beautiful dresses for you to sell for 24 seasons.”

“Twenty-four seasons is a very long time,” the seamstress said. “Are you certain you will stay?”

“Yes,” promised Marigold. “I will stay forever.”

Marigold cut off her long, flaxen hair and left it beneath a tree for the birds. She lived happily ever after, making beautiful dresses for all the ladies of the village, until she died of old age with the birds singing at her window.