The Ballad of Nearly Headless Noah, or How to Give a Kid Hair Stitches.

I have paranoid, careful children.

They get it from their father.

I mean, while growing up my family made fun of me for being too paranoid, but next to Chris, I’m basically tightroping across Niagara Falls every dang day.

Having such a careful family does much to mitigate our injuries.

(Other than mine, as I am not as careful when I sleepwalk. But that’s been a while, so there’s that.)

But every now and then, things go awry. And if things are going to go awry, of course they’re going to go awry at bedtime. Such was the case a few Saturday nights ago.

Noah was quite hyper right around bedtime. He was acting the fool in our bedroom while Chris and I were laying in bed taking a moment to zone out before the time came to put the kids in bed. 

…And we were doing the same after the time came to put the kids to bed – because bedtime is Chris’ job and sometimes Chris lets the kids stay up late.

(So obviously, we know who to blame for the forthcoming catastrophe.)

Noah fell purposefully on the (carpeted) floor laughing, but his laughs quickly turned into screams. It took me a couple wails to realize the changeover had occurred, at which time I hopped out of bed and sat down to comfort him, assuming it was just another one of those bumps.

It also took me a minute to notice that his head was bleeding. Somewhat profusely. Not quite dripping-on-the-carpet profusely, but definitely at the level of I-can’t-begin-to-tell-where-you’re-injured profusely. Apparently, his head had found the corner of the rocking chair when in downward motion.

There’s always one parent that is panicky in a crisis, and one parent that becomes more calm in a crisis. In my experience, the Panicky In A Crisis Parent is also the Let The Kids Stay Up Late Parent. So I took over the situation of calming the child and the husband and giving the husband jobs to do to keep him from bashing himself on the head repeatedly for not putting the children to bed two minutes earlier.

(The PIAC parent also constantly analyzes and optimizes every situation to mitigate unnecessary risk, while the CIAC parent has taken all of the ER trips in our 18 years of marriage (dang you, sleepwalking and avocado), so personal experience in a crisis helps.)

I waited until the crying subsided, checked for any signs of concussion (it was obviously a flesh wound and his brain was in proper working condition), ordered a comb be brought to me from my panicky servant, and carefully combed the hair away from the general bloody area, desperately trying to find the offending fault line.

I still couldn’t tell.

I took a picture of the now neater-brushed but still quite bloody head and texted it to two friends: a Pediatrician (that just so happened to be working in Children’s ER at that moment), and a nurse, hoping that one would check out my bloody pictures and tell me whether it was an ER-Worthy head bleed or not.

The Pediatrician called. He confirmed that there were no signs of concussion and said that he thought I could handle it with a bit of careful braiding (“Braiding??” I said, thinking of my son’s short and fine hair, and he said “Well, knotting would work.” Yes, as if that makes it easier.), but he was going to need to see the depth of the wound first – which meant I was going to have to wash that head.  

Thankfully, Noah had calmed down from the initial shock, and was even calmer still at the realization that me handling it saved him from the ER, so was impressively amenable to his head being flushed in the sink. He watched as the bright pink water went down the drain, adding his own squeamish commentary.

“OH! That is DISGUSTING!! That is the NASTIEST water EVER!!”

Wash,

Rinse,

More combing,

Another round of iPhone pictures and texts.

Yes, the Pediatrician definitely thought the cut was such that hair stitches could hold it in place.

“We even do them in the ER sometimes. You just take a little bit of hair from either side of the cut and tie it together. It helps if the hair is coarser…but try it and see what you think.”

So I sat in the floor with my son, carefully grabbing tiny tufts of his silky fine hair from each side of his bleeding brain crevasse, and began tying them together, therefore forcing the two sides to come together and join as one. But the second I let go of the knots, no matter whether I single, double, or triple knotted them, they immediately unwound themselves, reopening the Canyon of Blood.

I knotted. I reknotted. I thought. I sighed. And, uncharacteristically, Noah found himself full of gratitude and encouragement.

He rubbed my arm and said “Thank you for trying to fix my head, Mommy. I know you can do it.”

This kid did NOT want to go the ER and endure real stitches.

Chris suggested bobby pins, and found my stash. As I suspected, they didn’t have enough grip. I dug around in my hair supplies and found two hair clips, but Noah didn’t have enough hair to keep those in place. So Chris fashioned a thickener of rolled-up toilet paper, which acted also as a blood mop, and we placed it across the sealed crack, pulling the two clips, holding the ends of my two hair stitches, in the opposite direction.

It. Was. Perfect.

Hair Stitches IMG_4795 s

Now all we needed was a device to keep it from coming undone in the night. Because by now it was 10:30pm and we would very much like to see our son in bed.

We borrowed a cloth hairband from Ali, and our masterpiece was completed.

Hair Stitches IMG_4798 2 s

Hair Stitches IMG_4799 2 s

We had medically cobbled together our son, ALL ON OUR OWN. Albeit with some incredibly helpful expert advice.

The next morning, all was still in place. Not wanting to disturb the lovely healing process going on under that TP, we left the contraption in place – despite it being Sunday – and stuck a beanie (with light-up Christmas lights – which is very distracting in January) on top of the whole contraption. And we threatened him within an inch of his life against any movement in Sunday School other than raising his hand to say “Yes ma’am”, “The Bible”, or “Jesus”.

At the recommendation of the doctor, Noah’s lifelong dream of not having to wash his hair came true (at least for a week), and then we resumed normal life, other than us calling him Nearly Headless Noah on the regular.

Last night, upon the fourth washing of his hair, I inspected the situation and discovered that the scab was fully separated from his head and just hanging out in his hair.

So I sat him down and began carefully removing it, then placing the bits of scab, entwined with clumps of hair, in his hand. He was not nearly as thankful as he had been that first night. 

“Why do I have to hold the scab? It’s disgusting!!”

“Because I don’t have another hand. But you know if you put the scab under your pillow, the scab fairy will come.”

“Why bother? I know it’s you.”

“What?? Do I LOOK like a scabby fairy?!”

“Well you’re the Tooth Fairy so you’ve gotta be the Scab Fairy too.”

“Have you ever noticed that pepperoni looks like a scab? We should call it scabbaroni.” 

I finally got it all out, then inspected my unbelievable, gorgeous, lovely, stunning work. He had a small pink scar, perfectly aligned, with no lumps or bumps. I was definitely ready to be a brain surgeon.

Hair Stitches IMG_5355 s

So what did our family learn through this experience?

…Hair Stitches are amazing and will save you hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours in ER visits.

…Put the kids to bed on time so no one splits open a head.

…And Pepperoni Pizza is not a recommended meal right before removing scabs.

To see allll the pictures of the whole process, click here. Bloody pictures are only for people who like that sort of thing.

Spit and Polish.

My Mom has chickens. And as such, I know way too much about chickens. I know that the rooster shows his love by plucking a ring of feathers off of his favorite hen’s backs while he’s also…on their back. I know that you can buy aprons for favorite hens to protect their poor feathers from being brutally pulled while they are en flagrante. And I know that washing poop off of eggs is the wrong way to go about cleaning eggs – you do not wash poop off of eggs, because that also washes off the bloom which keeps bacteria from entering the porous egg shell – the bloom for which that poor, featherless hen put her life and soul into creating. The way you get rid of chicken poop is by sanding it. You go after those eggs with the same sander that you might use on your kid’s matchbox derby car.

Now let me clarify – if you are the owner of such chickens and well used to chicken poop and the avoiding therefore, you don’t bother sanding it at all – you just artfully crack the eggs, making a seam where there is no poop, and don’t let the inside of the eggs touch the outside. But if you’re giving your eggs to others, who may not be so intimately acquainted of the excrement of egg-laying fowl, you get your sander out and you sand that deuce right off.

(My mom would like me to clarify here that she only sands / gives away the cleanest eggs that have a tiny spot or two. All regularly pooped-upon eggs are used in her own kitchen.)

(And let me add that she makes a seriously fantastic breakfast. Never once has it tasted like crap.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a lot of time at my parent’s house in 2018, hanging out with my Grandmother. My Dad was undergoing a cancer study that required he and mom to stay downtown near UAB for days at a time, and then later in the summer, my parents were in a battle against his failing liver, doing everything and going everywhere they could (including driving to Pennsylvania to see a renowned specialist before they even had an appointment) to try and preserve his life.

Mammaw and I talked about so many things I’ve always wondered – we talked about how she met my Grandfather (who passed away when my mom was 10 years old), we talked about why she never even dated, much less married again in the more than 50 years since then, we discussed her real-life memories of what I was watching on The Crown (my Grandmother and Queen Elizabeth are the same age, so it’s fascinating to hear memories of Queen Elizabeth’s younger days from Mammaw’s point of view), and we talked about the doll that she always wanted for Christmas but never got. (I looked it up on eBay for her – a 1920’s Shirley Temple doll – but I did not, sadly, buy her one for Christmas, as it was $500.)

But Mammaw also napped a lot, and so I found myself wandering around my parent’s house, reading or editing photos or helping the kids with school or staring at the patina of my parent’s lives. And one day, during the especially dark days after my Dad had gotten terrible news and things were looking very bleak and desperate for all of us, I noticed a picturesque sight – a sight that spoke to me at a primal, ridiculous, find-humor-in-the-darkest-days kind of way.

It was this.


chicken sanding IMG_5268

Immediately I pictured it as the front of a poetry book. If I wrote poetry, it would sum up my worldview perfectly: Cynical. Sarcastic. Yet desperately optimistic.

This is my poetry book that will never exist.

sanding chicken IMG_5275

As an added bonus, a friend pointed out that it sings perfectly to the tune of “Standing on the Promises of God.”

Go ahead.

Take a second.

Sing it.

Sing it aloud – it really lifts the spirits.

Don’t forget to go high for the refrain at the end.

So the second half of 2018 was marked by pain I’d never experienced before. My Dad passed away in September. It’s something I still struggle with daily, and I’ve come to recognize my coping mechanisms well: when I feel sad and don’t realize it yet, I love to obsessively online shop for deals. I immerse myself into a book. I crave sugar. I want to watch a mind-numbing television show (preferably British Dramas – we’ve made it through The Crown, Victoria, and are now working through Poldark.) I sometimes do all of these things at once. I’ve tried replacing my shopping with selling now, and have found that it is just as therapeutic to sell things on eBay and Poshmark as it is to buy them, and way more healthy for the budget. I’ve explained to Chris that I’m not exactly selling things to make money – I’m selling things to feel better. How bad can that be?

But I’d like to take a moment, and sand off the free-range chicken shit of the year, and talk about the good things that happened.

…The kids and I started a Hiking Club. It grew to 50 families by the end of the year, and we hosted 174 hikes and covered 657 miles. My kid’s love of the outdoors, along with their endurance, increased dramatically. And, in those hundreds of hours in the woods, we all grew stronger friendships and made new friends.

181106-walking-on-clouds-oak-mountain-IMG_0281 S
181103 oak mountain in the fall IMG_9589 S

…The kids and Chris set state running records for their ages (pro tip: find a running length that doesn’t have a record yet for your age.) In October, we took part in the Endless Mile race with our friends Christen, Luke, and Levi. The race was beyond fun – I highly recommend joining us next year. Chris ran the 48 hour race, and ran a total of 101 miles, snagging the 100 mile record for his age. Ali and Noah, along with Luke, Levi, and Christen, ran the 6 hour race. Ali ran 18 miles – but only 17 counted in her 6 Hour state record because she finished the 18th mile 10 seconds too late. Noah and Levi tied for 6 Hour the state record and ran 14 miles. Luke also got a 6 Hour state record for his age at 17 miles. Christen ran 23 miles. I had signed up for the 6 hour race, but ended up bumping up to the 24 hour race to help Chris finish – I ran for 15 of those hours, and did a total of 42 miles (no records for me, alas – except for a personal distance record which I don’t plan on besting anytime soon.)

endless mile IMG_0885 2

Endless Mile IMG_0947

endless mile IMG_1078

…I found a near-miraculous solution to my back pain and improved my running abilities.

Picture Birmingham grew incredibly, being able to donate three times what I’ve donated every other year. God brought about many fantastic opportunities to design art for corporate spaces and to be able to do much bigger projects with my photography. By the end of the year, over $33,000 total had been donated to The WellHouse, and $14,000 of that happened in 2018.

…I got to spend all of the aforementioned wonderful time with my Grandmother, and was able to get to know her better. And through that opportunity, she blessed me greatly by allowing me a reason to regularly be with my Dad in his final months.

So was 2018 a bad year? Yes. It was a bad year. It was a terrible year. It was a year I never would want to experience again, and still brutally marks my every day. But was it a good year? Yes. It was a great year. It was a year I’ll never forget and a year I’m thankful for.

Because I’m cynical. Sarcastic. Yet desperately optimistic.

Backwards Blessings.

My 92 year old grandmother, my Mother’s mom, moved in with my parents in Mid-April, five months before my dad passed away. I remember the week she moved in – it was an extraordinarily chaotic week for our entire family. Mammaw had had a bad day at her house, which was the impetus for getting her to move in. My sister-in-law’s stepdad passed away the same day. My Dad was in the middle of his first round of Clinical Trials at UAB, requiring him to stay in a hotel downtown three nights every three weeks. My Mom had her Master Gardener’s annual plant sale coming up, for which she was responsible for many preparations. I had a Picture Birmingham pop-up shop at West Elm that weekend. We all pitched in, trying to do what we could…keeping my brother and sister-in-law’s kids so my sister-in-law could be with her mom, helping with Mammaw so that mom could get ready for her plant sale and also accompany dad to the doctor.

Mammaw had moved in because she wasn’t doing well. She couldn’t see or hear very well, and she had an infection that was making her somewhat delirious. She needed a female caretaker at all times, so Mom, Mom’s sister, and I were trading up staying with her. I was super nervous the first time I went to sit with her for five hours. My gifting, unlike my mother, is not care-taking and is definitely not long periods of visiting without doing anything. I am much more like my father – an administrator, someone who needs to be busy when with other people, and a writer instead of a talker. I don’t know what to say in person (if you’ve ever tried to talk in person about something that is vulnerable to me, you are already well aware of this.) But God gave me the idea of reading aloud to Mammaw – I read aloud to my kids all the time, and I had lots of favorite books I could read to her. Plus, the thing that Mammaw missed most due to her declining vision was reading, so it was perfect. I read nearly an entire book to her in the first few weeks, before she broke it to me that she could barely hear me (despite my yelling the pages.) But it helped me get into the groove of sitting with her, and by then I had come to enjoy our time together and had learned to talk better.

But I didn’t realize what a striking blessing Mammaw had specifically been to me until the week before dad passed away. I had been sitting with Mammaw one to three times a week for five months by then. One day I was sitting and talking to Dad after they got back from his last doctor’s appointment. It all of a sudden hit me that I had never, in these last few months of his life, worried that I was not there enough, or that I was there too much. I’d never even wondered if I was bugging them or if I was too distant. I was at my parent’s exactly as often as they wanted and needed me there, and they were thankful that I had been there. Sitting with Mammaw had enabled so many positive things in my life:

– It enabled me to serve my parents in a practical way, rather than feeling useless or wondering how I could help them.

– It enabled me to be present with them on a weekly basis, visiting before and after their appointments.

– Many times just Mom was gone somewhere and Dad was at the house, and Dad would use those days to purposefully invest in my kids while I sat with Mammaw. It was those days that dad taught Noah how to drive the tractor, let both kids drive his truck, and included my kids on making the backsplash tiles for Mom’s kitchen that he was designing out of clay and pressed leaves from their property. Mammaw being there gave my kids more time with their Granddad.

dad and kids

– Mammaw allowed me to never once worry about being there too much or too little or even thinking about those things – and I am prone to worrying, so that in itself is a miracle.

– Serving my parents in that way allowed me to demonstrate to my Dad that I am and will be here for my Mom. I think I have not always been demonstrably servant-hearted to my parents because they’ve always been so very self-sufficient that I didn’t know what could I offer them. Plus, for the last 12 years, I’ve had their grandkids – so most of our interactions have been grandkid-centered. I’d lost the ability to converse / serve / be there for my parents, and I hope that Dad seeing me be there in his last five months assured him that I’d be there for mom after he was gone.

Furthermore, my mom is a caretaker. And Mammaw being there after my Dad’s death is, I think, so very much a blessing to my Mom. She still has her mother, she has someone to care for, she has someone to confide in, and she’s not alone. Mammaw may have wondered at times why she’s still on this earth, why she’s 92 and one of the only ones left of her generation, but I think it’s for my Mom. And, in those last five months, it was also for me.

I was able to tell Mammaw all of this a few weeks after my Dad died, and thank her for what she’d done for me. She cried, I cried, and she said “Thank you, Rachel, for telling me all that. I loved your father so much – he was such a good son-in-law to me and took such good care of me. I’ve felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for your parents during all of this, and it makes me feel so good that I was able to help after all.”

God’s blessings sometimes come in backwards, unexpected ways. Never underestimate your value to others.

190108 Ali's 12 Birthday IMG_0758 sMammaw, Mom, Ali and I at Ali’s 12th birthday. Mammaw is doing wonderfully well now.