May 28, 2016

Lessons Learned From My Optician Gig

Now look right here, I said, touching the space between my brows. Picking up the t-shaped millimeter ruler, I looked directly into the eyes of my patient and measured.

The t-shaped millimeter ruler had a name, but I still don't know the technical name for it even twenty-some-odd years later. It was a tool used by opticians like me way back in the day who worked at optical stores. The place I worked was a franchised shop in the neighborhood mall.

Optician training was trial by fire, but within three years, I learned the difference between progressive lenses and bi-focals; the difference between base curves and diameters; I knew how to UV coat an unfinished lens, set it into the chuck, run the edger and rotate the lenses into the frame according to an axis dependent upon the patient's astigmatism.

Impressed yet?

Of course, there were other things I learned too, unrelated to the fine art of Opticianing. (And no, that is not a technical term. I just made up that word.)

Leave the front lights off and stay in the back of the store until 5 minutes before opening.
Maybe 3 minutes. This is why: in the wonderful world of malls, when a store's doors are closed at 9:52 and the store opens at 10:00, people are drawn like moths to flame at the mere sight of fluorescent lights and an employee standing there in plain sight. The masses will stand outside the doors, begging, clamoring -- pleading -- for whatever is being sold, even if they don't need it or even know what is being sold.
Stay in back. Stay in the dark.
Artwork by My Daughter. #MomBrag

Hexes are Harmless
At my franchised optical shop, special frames or lenses would be ordered from corporate headquarters. The goods would be delivered on a specific date and time each week. This is exactly what I explained to The Hexer. She, in turn, showed up a day early, ready to pick up her glasses which were still enroute to our store from corporate.
The Hexer wanted no part of my exasperated gentle reminder/explanation. Her head briefly exploded and she then eerily calmed down, narrowed her eyes and hissed: The blood of Christ be on you and your children!
I felt a little like Mister in The Color Purple.

Maybe The Hexer believed it was a hex, but I'm a Christian, so um...Yeah. Either way, she finally got her glasses on the appointed day and time, and I was no worse for the wear.

Everyone has a Doppleganger
In the middle of my song and dance about the seasonal frames and lenses sale, I noticed my elderly patient had zoned out and was smiling at her husband. I stopped and asked whether she had questions. Instead she asked her husband Who does she remind you of? ("she" meaning ME) Without missing a beat, her husband replied: Cousin Dodie.
We all laughed, and they ended up ordering glasses. When they came to pick them up, they brought in a picture of Cousin Dodie. Was Dodie even black? Nope. Was she my doppelganger? Absolutely. Chances are, you've got one too.

People Don't See Color When They Need to See
She had Title Nineteen -- a kind of government entitlement to cover vision needs. I had always made a point of making sure anyone using that benefit didn't feel shame or embarrassment. I made sure to be discreet when showing her the velvety black box containing the restricting frame selection from which she could choose under her particular entitlement. And I could tell she appreciated it...until she said:

Wait. Are you black?

I paused for a moment and then answered her question with a question:

Do you still want the glasses if I am?

Turns out she did.

May 8, 2016

Expecting a Baby - How This Mom's Mother Day Began

It's Mother's Day, an appropriate time to not only give a nod Heavenward to moms who have gone on before us, but to also acknowledge how we got here as moms. And by we, I mean women, men, adoptive moms, aunties, uncles, grandpas, grandmas and a whole host of people whose path brought them to motherhood.

It's in this spirit I share a story I had the pleasure of telling at Milwaukee's fourth annual Listen To Your Mother Show.

Because it's all about the journey; and sometimes, despite all the preparation we think we've done, we find out that getting to the destination we call Motherhood is half the fun...depending on your definition of fun.

Expecting A Baby
13 years ago, my husband and I found out we were going to have a baby. Actually, we were expecting a baby. I was going to have the baby. I’d be a first time mom; and my body - this baby’s first home.
When the doctor gave us the news, I thought to myself:
There’s a tiny human inside of me.
Can it hear me?
Is it bored?
Do I tiptoe while it’s napping or sit perfectly still?
How do I even know when it’s napping?
CLEARLY, I was clueless. 

So this clueless mother-to-be began reading the Rosetta Stone of pregnancy otherwise known as What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I was like a college student cramming for finals. I read that book first thing in the morning, during my lunch break, before dinner, after dinner, memorized passages and highlighted paragraphs.
And soon, I was thee subject matter expert on all things pregnancy. And like a schoolgirl who makes everything about her latest crush, I could turn any topic of conversation into a pregnancy factoid:
Sorry about your headache. You know…headache discomfort reminds me of the tightening of the abdomen that happens as pregnant women approach their delivery date…
Yeah. That.
But there are things What To Expect When You’re Expecting doesn’t to tell you to expect.
Like labor. It says you should expect pain. Like it’ll just be good old generic pain. It doesn’t tell you this pain feels like the tiny yet-to-be born person is twisting on your innards.
It also says you should expect pain will increasingly make it hard to carry on conversations. Like you’ll be chatting it up with Jimmy Fallon while you’re in labor. The fact is you won’t want to carry on conversations because the tiny yet-to-be born person is twisting on your innards.
It tells you to pack a bag for the hospital in advance to make check-in easier. Packing was easy, but the hospital check-in was another thing not covered in the book.
We arrived at the emergency room, and soon, I was in a backless hospital gown reclining on a labor and delivery room bed. An admitting nurse came in to gather information.
Name? Rochelle Fritsch
Address? I gave her our address.
And you are? . . . Tired of this tiny yet-to-be-born-person twisting on my innards?

What was she getting at, anyway? She went on…

You’re black...right? Uh yeah…last time I checked.

Now on to my husband.
You’re the baby’s father? Yes.
Same address? Yes.
And you are?...Seriously wondering if we’re being punk’d right now.

My husband responded: white.
And the baby will be?

Now, what I really wanted to say was:
Healthy; or,
Loved; or,
Someone who will make the world a better place.

Instead I said “We’re starting this and the baby isn’t even here yet?”
I’ll just say both black and white.
The tiny human twisting on my innards didn’t get here by immaculate conception. My husband didn’t click his heels together and magically make a baby for me to birth. We both were…involved in making the baby, so yes the baby is both!
Soon, I was pushing. As suggested in Chapter 9 “Labor and Delivery” my husband was my coach. With the final push, there was another thing the book didn’t cover.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting says nothing about this – the announcement your husband makes, as if by surprise, when he witnesses the very moment your child is born.
He’ll say  IT’S…IT’S A…BABY!!!”
Which is all we wanted our admitting nurse to understand in the first place.

May 2, 2016

Bus Stories From the Sidelines and the Stage

Nearly twenty years ago, I climbed aboard the city bus I always took to get home. I said hello to the driver and smiled at a lady sitting across the aisle. As the ride continued, I could feel her eyes on me. Staring.

You’re The Babygirl, aren’t you? You’re Geneva’s Babygirl.

Here I was on the brink of 30 years-old, but someone knew that I was The Babygirl from long ago. She was a long-time church member who I didn’t recognize or know.

She began to tell me about my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my only cousin and an aunt and an uncle – all of whom passed long before I was born. The bus rattled on, and I sat open-mouthed as she then told the story of my siblings and me being born.

…and that oldest boy, Geneva nearly missed the Christmas program having him. She went on about my sister’s birth, then my other brother and finally me. …we didn’t even know Geneva was pregnant, and one day she came to church with a baby. That was you.

Past generations told stories face-to-face or experienced them from the sidelines like my bus friend. Nothing about anything I had done hopping on the bus that day earned her endearment; her smile and genuine warmth toward me was purely because she knew my story.

I thought of this as I remembered walking in an auditorium yesterday as a fresh-faced young man held open door. I loved him right away and wanted to hug him because I knew his story.

He’s my friend’s son, and I had never met him before, but I knew him through my friend’s stories and from social media pics (albeit few) of him, as well as his sister. Which is why I had to hold myself back from instinctively hugging him. That would’ve just been creepy.

I felt like what I imagine my bus friend from twenty years ago must have felt when I politely smiled at her from across the aisle.

The irony of it all is that this happened yesterday at Milwaukee’s Listen To Your Mother Show, a nationwide series of shows that give a microphone, a spotlight and a stage to moms and non-moms who tell stories of their motherhood journey.

Photo credit: K. Miller
We told stories – some of them painful, others redemptive and introspective, and still others, funny. The audience connected to our stories, and took away whatever resonated with them personally.

We felt the freedom that goes with telling our personal story and having it be heard, and the opportunity to be known – not defined by -- our occupation, or to whom we're married or if we're married at all.

But I’d like to think yesterday’s storytelling even went beyond that. It fell on ears of people who will know our children through us and love them because of the stories we shared.

Who knows? Maybe one day twenty years from now, our unsuspecting kids will have a bus friend of their own to remind them of the stories that make them who they are.

Preshow Shenanigans