Feeling guilty even though the massage was shiatsu

By Jane Flanagan

Ask a mother anywhere and she will tell you she’s feeling guilty about something. The emotion has got to start prenatally. And then there are the days the guilt-o-meter goes into the red zone.

Here’s how one of them began for me: I had been wanting a massage for months. One Friday afternoon I picked up the phone, got a last minute appointment and headed out the door for an hour of “it’s all about me.” Now, before I tell you why my son’s school urgently needed to reach me during that hour, I feel compelled to mention a few things.

This was not your typical, “pampering, rubbing and oils-type massage,” okay? This was Shiatsu. I’m mean, they walk on your back, okay? This was not for sissies. And at my advanced mother age, I see it as necessary therapy to keep me in fighting form. There are just too many vital body parts to throw out at this stage. You can’t take your kid to school if you are in traction, okay?

Hold on, I’m catching my breath.

So there I was on that Friday afternoon standing in the cramped unisex dressing room, hurrying to change in case some guy needed to get in. (We shiatsu people are a rugged lot, we don’t flinch at unisex dressing rooms. If we have to stress before and after our stress-reducing hour that’s okay with us.) I had a white towel wrapped around me and was about to close the locker when I saw my cell phone sitting on the counter. I hesitated. “What if the school needs to reach me in the next hour? What if there is an emergency?” But then I thought, “Oh you always think an emergency is imminent. Knock it off and RELAX. Shiatsu massage hurts even more if you are tense!

So I stuck the phone in the locker, hurried out the door, bowed to my masseuse and entered a room cut off from all communication. And that’s when the school began calling. Nurse Karen first tried me at home. Then she tried my cell. While I was lying on the massage table, it seems my 7-year-old son, Rusty, was in the schoolyard vying with the other boys for a football. They do this every day. Only this time they tripped and fell over each other and somehow Rusty went head on into a brick wall.

Nurse Karen next tried my husband. Bob, who has never had a massage in his life, was exactly where he was supposed to be — at his desk working. He sprang into action. After leaving a message for me, Bob sent an e-mail cancelling Rusty’s afternoon playdate. Clearly Nurse Karen reached the right parent. Instead of me “Oh my Goding” all over the place, Bob had the presence of mind to cancel a playdate. How did he even know Rusty had a playdate?

A short time later I left the massage office, swirling my head around and marveling at my stressless neck muscles. I picked up some lunch and headed back to work. I logged onto my e-mail and scanned the incoming subject lines. I stopped abruptly at “Rusty fall.” It was a CC of the playdate cancellation.

I snapped the laptop shut and punched in my husband’s cell number. I reached him in a cab on the way to an Upper East Side plastic surgeon, the name of which he efficiently obtained from a school parent. Speaking calmly and smoothly Bob explained, “Rusty is such a brave boy, and his wound looks really good. We are going up to see the doctor now.”

I scribbled down the address. Running out the door, I suddenly remembered I didn’t have any cash. What mother doesn’t carry cash for emergency trips to the plastic surgeon! I’ll bet Bob had cash!

I finally got to the office and discovered that the doctor wasn’t there yet. “Well at least I beat him,” I thought. Suddenly, another physician appeared in the waiting room and announced to no one in particular, “Oh good, the mother is here now.”

It turns out Rusty needed 10 stitches. He weathered it well, but I was surprised by how pale he was. Then I learned that head wounds bleed profusely and his was no exception. Up in Connecticut that weekend, we ran into a woman who looked vaguely familiar. I inquired if her son attended Rusty’s school. Turns out he did and I proceeded to introduce myself. Turning behind me, I said, “and this is my son, Rusty, he’s in first grade.”

“Rusty!” she said. “Are you okay? We saw all the blood!” I would hear this from many parents over the next week leading me to finally remark, “I’m so glad I wasn’t there!” Hearing this, Rusty said, “Mom, you’re glad you weren’t there? How do you think that makes me feel?”


Well, the stitches are out now, the wound is healing and thankfully that day is long behind us. Well, almost. The other night, just before going off to sleep Rusty had this to say. “Mom, the day I cut my head? I’m really sorry I made you leave work early.”

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