Dan Finds Things Change with Hannah’s Rehab

Last July Hannah broke her leg and both our lives changed.  We had no idea how, but we had entered a new phase in our relationship.  Let me give you a little back story to set the stage of what I experienced during her rehab.

Ever since our marriage on her dad’s Christmas tree farm in Penfield, New York some forty years ago, we have made a priority of our relationship.  When we had preschoolers we’d always have Saturday morning breakfast dates.  Often in early winter evenings, we sit in front of a fire with a glass of wine.   We exercise together, be it running the five mile loop on the country roads around our house or hiking in the Mountain West or Appalachian Trail East.  Intention and commitment were partners in our marriage.

When Hannah broke her leg water skiing, the strength of our connection was held up to the light of day.  Never before having broken a bone or surgery, Hannah enrolled in Rehab 101 with months of daily tests and all-nighters.  My role was to support her; I had a new dance to learn that I’d never danced before.  Our lives were tossed in the air and changes were inevitable.

Clearly we were not going to Crater Lake in Oregon in August as planned.  When traveling to Virginia to see our grandson Owen in late summer, we didn’t take our usual side trip to hike the trails in the Shenandoah National Park nor bike along the Potomac River.  Becrutched, Hannah was taking three months of baby steps til her bone mended.

Then there were new jobs around the house for me.  I changed the kitty litter, shopped for groceries at Demoula’s Market Basket, washed dishes, hung the laundry, and organized the recycling and took out the trash each Thursday.  This change turned out to add meaning and purpose to my day.  I would miss it when she returned to active duty.

Daily routines changed, too.  We no longer drove to the Costal Fitness gym in nearby Kittery together to exercise.  Walks which we would take two, three times per week were out.  We no longer biked the country roads to the beach.  These were adjustments, not sacrifices.  We sucked it up, knowing recovery was in months, not years.

I massaged her left leg twice daily.  (See my blog Dan Reports on Hannah’s Fractured Tibia Seven Weeks Later – September 15, 2012).  Tending to Hannah after her ministering to so many of us gave me a chance to give back.  With no hint of altruism, this silver lining had me massaging this beautiful woman’s leg week after week.

Occasionally people would ask how I was doing.  I was doing as well as Hannah was doing.  Our moods mirrored each other as she led our dance.  Playing second fiddle and being part of the background, I liked seeing Hannah playing first violin in her orchestra of life.  She often defers or can be forgotten.  Navigating on crutches made her hard to miss.

Throughout, there was uncertainty.  It was all new territory.  We didn’t know for how long or what a healed Hannah would be able to really do.  Being mindful (i.e., staying in the moment, the now), I had a technique to quiet such doubts.  As Mark Twain said, I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.  Simple trust and faith stood by me throughout.

Until she’s walking and exercising as she once did, the Dan and Hannah journey continues.   Paraphrasing My Way, made famous by Frank Sinatra (1969), I summarize my experience with a Paul Anka song.  [This big ending works best if you sing the words not just skim read them.  If you choose, find a room where you are alone.]

Changes I’ve had a few

But then again too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exception.

It turns out, like many people, I just rolled with the changes and came out the other end better for the experience.  As with most people, I just did what I had to do.

Dan and Hannah’s Grandson Owen Goes to Daycare

Daycare!  It can’t be easy putting your newborn in daycare.  The bond between mom and dad and their newborn happens instantly.  It’s this magnetic pull of the earth that nature creates.  It’s sugar and spice.  Until you have kids, it’s hard to fathom this amazing connection, and the tears with separation.

Hannah and I never faced the daycare decision.  For twelve years Hannah was a stay-at-home mom for our three kids.  It was a choice made easier by the fact that our first house in Tempe, Arizona cost $21,000, and it was furnished!  Only when our son Will was in middle school in Maine did Hannah return to full time work as a volunteer coordinator at a health and hospice care facility.

I grew up in the Leave it to Beaver white bread world of the 1950s suburban northern Jersey where my dad went off to work as a high school principal while Mom stayed home taking care of us three kids.  Things are not so simple these days.  For Molly and Tip, either one staying at home was just not an option.  With rent for a two bedroom apartment close to $2000/month in Arlington, Virginia outside of Washington, DC, she and Tip pay more in rent in one year than Hannah and I paid for our first house.

Our grandson, Owen Daniel Rawding, was born in July.  As a public school teacher, our daughter Molly was able to stay home with him for the months of August and September before returning to teach in October.  Despite the sleepless nights and the sleepwalking days of Owen’s first months, Molly and Tip are naturals as parents; they cuddle Owen, care for him, and smile through it all.  No matter how tired, they make time to Skype with each set of grandparents on a regular basis.  Their bond with Owen is liquid nail strong.

The Family Rawding

So how do you hand over your precious child to strangers?  Molly and hubby Tip had been looking for the right daycare for the better part of a year.  They put a lot of pressure on themselves to get this decision right.  Molly and Tip found an ideal placement where they hit the trifecta: the teacher was caring, gentle and nurturing; she makes home visits before she accepts new infants.  Then, a major bummer; the placement fell through because at the last minute a sibling of a current baby was going to start attending that daycare and took Owen’s spot.

Scrambling at the last minute, they took a recommendation from a mom in Molly’s mother’s group.  They learned of a new place situated on a street in a middle class neighborhood with four houses to an acre, mature trees and lawns for kids’ games and rolling around, similar to where Molly was born in Tempe, Arizona.  By the skin of their teeth, they had their daycare on time on the first of October.


Later that month while Hannah and I are in Virginia, we go with Molly to pick up Owen to see where our grandson spends his days.  Once inside the house, we are warmly greeted by the lead teacher/caregiver.   Immediately her welcoming smile makes us feel like old friends.  Along the far wall of the wide foyer to the playroom are eight high chairs lined up for lunchtime.  Being the youngest, Owen is months away from a high chair and so is fed individually by one of the assistant teachers.  In the main room, eight cribs surround a colorful playroom rug where infants two and a half years and younger spend their mornings and afternoons loved by these three women.  Music plays in a room of windows that lets joyous light pour in.

As we lay back in the foyer, Molly coos to Owen as she picks him up.  Nestled in her arms, Owen stretches and looks around knowing he is already home; which he is any time he is in his mom’s or dad’s arms.

As a first time mother, Molly tells us she feels a sense of comfort knowing Owen is with these women and these kids.  Trust is the first word that comes to mind when Molly thinks of this setting.  I feel love every day that I drop Owen off.  It’s incredible – although it’s a hard feeling to really pinpoint and describe; in my gut, I know this is a great place for Owen. The teachers greet us in the morning with smiles and greet us with smiles in the afternoon after a day with up to twelve little ones.

The first day I dropped him off, I certainly teared up…and so did the head teacher. But from day one, I knew he was in good hands. I missed him, but I was totally confident that he was being loved and cared for.  Each morning, the head teacher welcomes us – when I pass Owen off to her, she hugs him and says something like “good morning my love, good morning Owen.” It’s just the best feeling knowing and seeing her love for my son. 

It’s clear that Owen has a home away from home.  And that’s pretty sweet.

Hurricane Sandy Update from the Owners of the Beach Haven Motel on Long Beach Island, NJ

I emailed the owners of the Beach Haven Motel where we stayed days before Hurricane Sandy to let them know I wrote about them on my blog and to see how things are for them on Long Beach Island.  This is their email response.   Dan

Hello Mr. and Mrs. Rothermel,
     Thank you for the kind email and even kinder report on our motel.  The storm was a real experience.  We’ve lived here 65 years and this was the worst storm we ever had.  The motel suffered 28″ of water in the first floor rooms and office.  We left the island on Wednesday after we lost electricity, water, sewer and gas services.  We have flood insurance and have started to repair and rebuild the damaged rooms.  We hope to have the second floor open by around December 1 and then add additional rooms as they are rebuilt and refurnished.  Believe it or not we have a lot of calls for the roooms due to FEMA and others that need them to rebuild the island.  We would rather not get business this way as there is a lot of displaced persons around here.   In any case we are safe and sound and are working every day to get back to normal .  Again thank you for your kind remarks and for thinking of us.  Regards, Bill and Dennis Flynn
PS  Coming home from Virginia this spring, Hannah and I plan to return to LBI and spend another night at the Beach Haven Motel.

Dan and Hannah Visit Long Beach Island (NJ) Just before Hurricane Sandy Blows In

Just five days before all hell broke loose, Hannah and I were standing on Long Beach Island looking north,

Looking north on Long Beach Island

then south on the expansive beach of white sand on the Atlantic Ocean.

South view of beach

We had no idea this would be ground zero for Hurricane Sandy’s fury in the coming days.

You see, as a child, I went here with my family to Beach Haven on the Jersey shore each summer.  A couple hours down the Garden State Parkway from our home in Fair Lawn, NJ, Long Beach Island was where we walked the docks seeing the yachts and pleasure boats that were alien to our life in the suburbs.  So when heading for home in Maine after visiting our daughter Molly’s family in Virginia, we decide to break up the 500+ mile trip home and head to Long Beach Island for the overnight.

Escaping north from Washington early on a late October Wednesday morning, we watch a ten mile backup on the opposite side in Maryland as we thankfully sail north out of harm’s way.  Off season driving on the I-95 corridor is often easy and in three hours we cross through Delaware and are heading East through the Pine Barrens of southern Jersey.  Truth be told, the Pine Barrens have quite a few oaks.  Jersey highway 72 is a straight shot to the coast and few cars travel with us this autumn morning, long after the tourist season.  Parallel to the highway are sandy trails, meant for four wheelers, not bikes or for walking since the sandy terrain would be too “mushy” for enjoyable riding or walking.

Route 72 in southern Jersey

Crossing the one bridge onto Long Beach Island, we are looking for Surf City.  (Surf City  [1963].  The Jan and Dean classic about two girls for every boy.  Does it get much better than that for a teenage boy!)  We turn north on Long Beach Boulevard looking for a motel.  What we find are vacation homes upon vacation homes packed together on this barrier island within yards of the Atlantic Ocean.  Heading north to Barnegat Lighthouse, we rarely see a motel or restaurant as we sail through Surf City, Loveladies, and Harvey Cedars.  Don’t you love a town called Loveladies?  In late October there are very few people in an area;  it is easy to imagine the congestion that we wouldn’t want to be within 100 miles of in the summer. The island reminds me of coastal Florida: very flat, wall-to-wall vacation homes, wide main boulevards with easy side street access to the beach, and sand everywhere.  No more than 100 or 200 yards wide, this barrier island stretches nearly 20 miles from Barnegat Lighthouse south to Beach Haven.

Hannah at Barnegat Lighthouse

At Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, we see fishermen on the jetties and look out to the next barrier island north where the residents have no idea that their Seaside Heights will be in ruin within the week.

Hannah on beach trail by Barnegat Lighthouse

The park has a ten minute trail through the pines that Hannah negotiates with her one crutch as she rehabs after fracturing her tibia while water skiing.

Beach trail at Barnegat Lighthouse

At this time of year, this would be ideal biking weather for us to ride along the wide shoulder roads with very little traffic.  The beaches are extraordinary and made for miles of evening walks, lovers hand in hand.  Alas we’ll return when Hannah is fully ambulatory.

Still looking for a motel, we punch “motels” into our GPS; many that are listed are closed today, two weeks after Columbus Day.  We pass empty houses on an island with 10,000 full time residents, 150,000 in the summer.  Most of the 10,000 must be hiding today.   Okay, it’s 3P and they might be working.

We see a sign for low rates at the Seashore Motel.  $60 sounds pretty sweet.  I step out of our Hyundai and proceed to the office door.  Asking if there is a room, I am met by a mid-40s woman who tilts her head and acts surprised that I want to see a room.  A min-red flag.  She says there’s a first floor room to our right which is open; we find the room with two double beds, fridge, microwave, and modern TV.  Looks fine, but something doesn’t feel right.  Since it’s the first place we look at, we decide to look at two more motels and see how they compare.  Back into the car, I know what’s wrong instantly.  The woman never smiled.  Big red flag.  Someone in the service industry who doesn’t smile at customers is not a good sign.  It’s off season and rooms are hard to rent.  What other unfriendliness and inattention will we encounter if we stay?

Haven Beach Motel

Further south on Long Beach Avenue, we pull into the Haven Beach Motel.  Immediately engaging Gaelic Dennis Flynn who says he’s got a room for $45. When I ask if we can have a room away from the road, he hands us a key for the room farthest from the road on the second floor.  Smiles all around.  How hard is that?  The room is delightfully open with two full beds, Wi-Fi, flat screen TV, fridge, sitting table and microwave.   Our search for a room is over and we will spend the night here in a room that goes for $170+ in- season.  Tonight only three of the 18 rooms will be rented.

With no Subway in the area, we opt for dinner from the Acme Market five tenths of a mile away.  It turns out we are 40% of the five people in the grocery store’s ten aisles.  Leafy romaine lettuce mixed with potato salad for me, cottage cheese for Hannah will be tonight’s repast.  First though, we toast the night with a fine merlot from the second floor deck outside our room.  Beneath us our 30 some mallards lounging in the motel swimming pool.

Ducks in the motel pool

Dennis Flynn says some motel owners put monofilament fishing line across the pool to keep the ducks out, but he doesn’t because they get tangled in it.  He just cleans up any mess in the spring.

Long Beach Island vacation homes

We are a mere 150 yards from the beach down a side street with vacation homes from the petite to the McMansion-esque.  The dunes “protect” them from the ocean waves not 80 feet away.  Many yards are covered with white stones where the vacationers park their cars.  We notice that you can park on these side streets for free, but it’s hard to imagine there is much room in-season.

Dan at beach path

The next morning, we walk to the beach, Hannah’s crutch sinking into the sand.  With 400 miles to drive home to Maine through the maw and gut of New Jersey on its Turnpike and later to cross the George Washington Bridge, we head for home.  Little did we know that Long Beach Island would be the bulls-eye for Hurricane Sandy.  A call I made to the Haven Beach Motel five days later found the line dead.

Days later after Hurricane Sandy

It’s eerie thinking just five days later this island was literally swamped.  (CBS News focused on Long Beach Island [5m 30s]).   Online I find this review from the Newark Star Ledger.  From the article is this quote The nearby Acme supermarket appeared to be intact, but piles of debris littered the parking lot.

Two hours away in northern Jersey my mom lost power for four days at her senior independent living complex.  A teacher friend in Long Island missed seven days of school.  A colleague in Connecticut was without power for six days.  Will this be the wake-up call that spurs us to action?   Our grandson Owen and his fellow three month olds are counting on us.

A member of the next generation

Epilog of 29 Gifts in 29 Days (The takeaway)

So has 29 Gifts in 29 Days changed me?

It has.  I travel through my days looking through a different lens now.  Actively I look to see how and where I might give.  Recently while in Maryland, I saw college kids walking among the cars stopped at traffic lights collecting money to fight cancer.  In the past I would ignore them and  just look straight ahead.  That day I wound down the window and handed them a bill.  Four miles away another pair of students were collecting for the same cause.  It’s my lucky day; I get to give again.  It turns out giving is win/win.  The giver and receiver both are “gifted.”

Seven things I’ve learned about myself in the last 29 days.

  1. I’m one who needs to have giving in my frontal lobe to be sure it happens.  Though I am becoming a more instinctive giver, I still need a daily giving goal to make giving happen.
  2. Except for the road trip from Maine to Virginia with our daughter Molly (Day 25), I found that my gifts were simple ones (e.g., a call, a cup of coffee), not dramatic overtures.
  3. Twice I wrote about the gift of lingering (Days 9 and 28).  Reaching out made my day, too.
  4. My days are fuller and more satisfying since giving helps me make connections; it breaks down our isolation.
  5. I reaffirm that I value sharing experiences over having things.
  6. As I said on Day 25, I think my best gift was really listening.  When listened to, people can feel that they have value; that they matter.
  7.  I don’t want this giving to end with me and my 29 Days.  I want it to touch others, as it did with my friend Ralph (his letter is between Days 19 and 20) who shared this experience with his church family.

Thanks for taking the journey with me.

Day 29 of 29 Gifts in 29 Days – September 27 “Calling Mom”

My 29th gift is one I shoot to do every day but don’t.  Calling my Mom.  She lives 300 hundred miles south in Jersey at an independent living complex.  Since Dad died 16 months ago, Mom is living the life of a widow that she had no preparation for.  Married for 66 years, she and he were compatible and loving; they were comfortable with their daily routines, be they breakfast together, with eggs on Saturday morning, reading the New York Times, going to “current events” on Friday, or dining with friends each evening in the main dining hall.  They didn’t have to be talking or in the same room; just being in the same apartment made them feel safe, secure, and loved.

The last of my 29 gifts is to call Mom today.  Hi Mom.  This is Dan.  I’m just checking in.  Soon she asks how we are doing and specifically about Hannah’s broken leg.  At times, I speak too quickly so I consciously slow down so my part of the conversation is not lost.

I always end with I love you, Mom.  Since Dad died I say that more often to our kids, my siblings, and my Mom as we end a phone call or hug good-bye.  Funny how love expands the more I express it.

Day 28 of 29 Gifts in 29 Days – September 26 “Lingering”

One of my volunteer positions in retirement is as a rounder at our local York Hospital.   As a rounder, I go around to patient rooms to see how we are taking care of them.  Among the questions I ask, Is there night time noise?  Does the staff check in with you regularly?  Would you like to see someone about spiritual care?  What would have made your stay even better?

I always begin my rounding in the birthing unit.  Families with newborns are often upbeat and happy with a capital H.  Moms are beaming; Dads rock their baby contentedly.  Today my gift is to bring the newspaper (e.g., Portland Press Herald) to the parents as a record of the day their child was born.

As I round this Wednesday afternoon, my gift is also to linger.  On another visit, I linger with an elderly woman.   We talk of living in Maine and soon evolve to lamenting our poor, dear, sad Red Sox and hoping our Patriots are Super Bowl bound.  Though by rounding I gain helpful information to improve the delivery of service and care at York Hospital, I feel my true purpose is listen to patients and help the time pass more quickly; be some sunshine during a time when they can feel quite vulnerable waiting to heal and learn what’s next.

Day 27 of 29 Gifts in 29 Days – September 25 “Stopping by”

Sometimes it’s easier just heading for home: check email, watch a little Sports Center, and then complete the trifecta by taking a nap.  After biking to get my flu shot at York Hospital midafternoon, I realize I haven’t given a gift today.  Concerned, I consider the rest of my day, and decide to stop by and see my friend Vin; he’s been in the hospital and has been weary of late.

When I arrive, he and Jim, another of Vin’s readers, are on the front patio deep in conversation, this time about who were all the five star generals in the US Army.  When asked if I know them, I nail MacArthur and Eisenhower but come up empty for the rest).  After a brief conversation, I warmly shake Vin’s hand, give him a quick buongiorno (he’s Italian through and through) and confirm that I’ll be by to read tomorrow.  I then head in to see his wife Jean; she and I talk about life, her upcoming annual family party, and her upcoming trip to Utah.

My gift is stopping by to check in with them and keep our connection strong.   Sports Center can wait.

Day 26 of 29 Gifts in 29 Days – September 24 “Who Doesn’t Love Doughnuts?”

I used to operate under the philosophy of scarcity (i.e., concerned about having enough; with a focus on conservation and husbanding of resources for possible hard times) rather than abundance (trusting that by being open and generous, good will follow).

While in Virginia after the road trip with Molly and Owen, I stay at our friend Amelia’s house.  Wanting to thank her tangibly for her kindness in letting me stay at her place, I immediately think of taking her to breakfast before she begins her day as a local school teacher.  There’s just one little problemo (She teaches Spanish); Amelia is up before dawn and out by 615A to go to Mass before school.  Breakfast out is just not really practical.  Later while shopping at the Giant grocery store, I decide to buy strawberries and donuts, sugar, plain, and cinnamon, for her early morning at home breakfast.

Later that day after Molly returns from Owen’s two month baby checkup, I say to her, I’ve got three hours before I leave for Reagan (the national airport within two miles of their apartment).  I’ll watch Owen while you do what you’d like.  She agrees immediately; she first heads for the gym and then later, after feeding him, takes a nap.  As has been so often the case during these 29 Days of 29 Gifts, I get more than I give.

Day 25 of 29 Gifts in 29 Days – September 23 “Road Trip”

Today’s gift is one of those dramatic ones.  Molly, Tip, and Owen drove north to Seacoast Maine and New Hampshire to see their families last week.  As co-breadwinner, Tip had to fly back to Virginia Sunday night and work for the week while Molly and Owen stayed with us.  Alas, there was no way Molly could drive eight-week Owen back to Virginia by herself.  Given my retirement schedule, I leapt at the chance for a road trip.

Leaving at 510A with Owen nestled in his car seat, we start out with me driving for as long as Owen will sleep.  Holding our breath, we pass the I-90 Sturbridge Turnpike Rest Stop, the I-84 rest area north of Hartford, CT and make it nearly to the NY border on the Merritt Parkway in CT before he lets us know he is hungry, wet, and not entirely pleased to be strapped in his high tech, “impregnable to a nuclear attack” car seat.  Molly feeds and changes him and off she drives us through NY by way of the George Washington Bridge, down the New Jersey Turnpike, and it’s into Maryland before Owen stirs again.  Molly feeds him, McDonald’s ice cream cones for us, and on I-95 again with their apartment in Arlington, VA in our sights.

Molly and I have eight uninterrupted hours (thank you Owen) to talk about life, what lies ahead for her and Tip; will she teach at a university once her PhD work is done this spring?  It’s great when a child grows into a friend.  We never turn on the radio, slip away by reading magazines, and don’t check our phones.  Clichés rock: truly the journey was the destination.

That night I stay with our friend Amelia.  We talk and I listen as she shares the current transition in her life.  I give her the gift of listening without the need to provide a solution.  Her answers lie within her anyway.  It gets me thinking that my most useful gift these 29 Gifts in 29 Days is when I listened; truly listened without interruption, without the need to incorporate my story.