There is nothing like a bad bug to get your priorities straight. I teach small children. I have done this for 20 years and you might think some immunity would have developed by now but not the case. I seem to fall victim to every weird, icky germ that blows through my house/classroom and in what is surely a big joke from God, usually wind up voiceless. Yes, ha ha. Very funny. I get that I talk too much, that I need to process every waking thought by speaking it out loud, that I tell people things repeatedly and issue annoying and often useless reminders to my loved ones on what they should be doing (this would not of course be NECESSARY if they would just do what I said the first time!) but still it seems a little harsh that every sniffle goes right to laryngitis given that I make my living by singing and talking.
Today Facebook reminded me that the voice doctor I saw years ago is having a birthday. I sent greetings and my thanks for having saved me from a vocal tear that developed when I sang right through/over a bad cold. I wound up losing my voice completely and he insisted on three days of complete vocal rest in order to undo the damage. This was a bigger problem than normal as I was scheduled to be the entertainment at a kid’s birthday party the next day. I emailed the mom and offered to come anyway and hold up signs and use recorded music and cut my fee in half. She didn’t have a lot of options so she agreed. I also taught piano by writing notes and using lots of gestures and facial expressions—kind of like communicating in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language. It worked better than I would’ve imagined but I really missed talking and could not sing for weeks which almost killed me.
I come from verbal stock. This was driven home when John spent a weekend with my two siblings and me. He said, “You guys can REALLY talk!” Our parents were both pretty verbal and my mom was a grammar snob and in her later years could talk you comatose about the minutiae of life. But it was more the contrast of me being one of 4 kids and John being an only child that hit home. When you live alone with adults (as I did for quite a while after my older sibs went off to college) things are just quieter. I was always a little envious of those big loud Greek or Italian families you see in movies where meal times are utter chaos. The only memory I have of big boisterous gatherings was vacations at Silver Lake in Wisconsin and occasionally holiday meals. The rest of the time it was my mom and dad and me eating on TV trays so my dad wouldn’t miss a second of Walter Cronkite. I made up for quiet at home by being that obnoxious smarty pants kid at school who always knew the right answer and made sure everybody knew it. Teachers usually liked me a lot. Kids not so much.
A friend’s daughter just posted about germs having ruined their weekend plans but the silver lining of having some fun in her own yard with her own kids. I did not get to go to the movie I’d wanted to see with John, or take my girls to the Rhapsody in Blue performance at the symphony, but I did have a nice long wide-ranging talk with my youngest (from a safe enough distance to spare her my germs) which ended in her telling me she liked spending time with me. We agreed we could safely have a big hug if we both held our breath!
I wound up cancelling a couple weekend lessons and spending 2 solid days in bed. There was some sleeping, but mostly carb loading (that feed a cold thing is not just a wives’ tale!) and binge watching—in my case one and half seasons of Transparent. I do not really think this is a good thing—even in a sick bed. I am all for guilty pleasures but I think the old days of network TV were safer and in some weird way kept us slightly more connected as our fellow humans were watching the same thing at the same time. I remember calling my BFF Betsy Stover at every commercial of Gidget or The Patty Duke show to discuss what had just gone on. It was fun to live vicariously through these slightly older teen characters and have a friend to process it with. Binge watching alone is just a way to burn time and fight boredom. OK when you’re sick (I guess) but possibly a symptom of the great divide that now exists between humans using technology.
Alyssa and I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books together. Every single one. I was talking to her about how much I liked them and learned from them and she confessed that the content was completely immaterial to her and not really memorable. She just liked the time with me. Having her head in my lap as I read. Listening to the cadence of my voice, regardless of what the words were. I know life was very hard for people in earlier eras. All that foraging for food, chopping wood for fuel, baking bread out of scant ingredients. But there was also reading aloud by candlelight and playing a fiddle and singing by the fire. I long at a deep level for simpler times that I know will never come again. At least I think not. The best seller Station Eleven recounts the tales of a traveling acting troupe that formed to spread culture in the aftermath of a flu-like pandemic that killed millions and brought the U.S. back to pre-technology, survival basics. I don’t wish that upon us for a minute, but I do wish we could all unplug.
Without my phone and laptop I might’ve read and written more this weekend. I might’ve gotten more sleep. I thought I was doing a good thing, maybe even an important thing when I canceled cable and even moved the TV and DVD player to the chilly, sparsely furnished basement. But, as always, I was a step behind the times. My daughter has trouble getting school work done because she can just watch entertainment on her phone. (Does anyone else remember when personal computers first came out and experts cautioned that children must only use them in common areas where parents could have full view of the screen? HA! That ship left the harbor pretty darn fast, huh?) I have talked to many parents lately who have to strongly encourage their children to get out of their rooms and actually see friends!
I felt isolated this weekend. I did not want anyone to get my germs and it was appropriate to stay away. But now I crave some human contact. It will feel good to teach again, to go to a couple up-coming social gatherings, to have 4 hours in the car with Alyssa on her first college visit. I pooh-poohed Facebook for years but have lately been finding it a reasonable way to stay in touch with people—a birthday greeting or a quick “like” of a good post. It still has the ability to instantly cause me to find fault with my pretty nice life when people post pictures of their fabulous vacations, perfect children and fun nights out. But I constantly remind myself that nobody ever posts “just dropped my son at rehab—again” and yet surely somebody is living that life too.
I am either getting older or wiser. Maybe both. In younger years I would never have acknowledged illness. I worked through every single cold/flu/virus for years telling myself they just weren’t there and if they were, too bad and BUCK UP! I definitely never cancelled ANYTHING and certainly not anything I was being paid to do. It felt kind of good to just say SCREW IT —I’m sick and my body is saying “stay in bed you foolish old woman and pound a couple thousand calories of carbs while you’re at it”.
Was it a lost weekend? Yes—-and no.