Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stairs Are Not Your Friend

A little author's note: This little essay is really just one more version of what I seem to write over and over. So, yes, I know I have said these things. I just can't help it that they keep coming up. And, in case you wonder, everyone written about here had the chance to see it all and approve of it being online.

Recently, I got the worst text I have ever received:

I need your prayers right now. Coming home from work because Barbara had to call 911 because David fell. I have no idea any of the details but I did hear him screaming in the background.

My dear, dear friend (like, getting-my-children-if-I-die, basically-named-my-son-after-her “dear”), Brenna, had to write this. David slipped on the stairs while she was at work, and he was at home alone with their two girls. A couple of hours later we learned that he had fractured some ribs and punctured a lung. He received a chest-tube while awake, and then spent 5 days in the highest trauma-level hospital in our area feeling constantly nauseous. Brenna was several weeks pregnant at the time.

From the moment the text dinged, I was sick with worry. Obviously, my concern for David was great, and I was afraid of what the stress of it all could mean for Brenna and her fragile baby. Thankfully, it didn't take too long for the doctors to conclude that the pneumothorax was David's only big problem, but I was scared I may receive another text about some complication. The whole first night, I barely slept, and when I did I had nightmares involving the word “pneumothorax” and flashes from old memories.

Around 4am, I awoke to feed my baby and realized suddenly why this all was tormenting me so. Beyond all the obvious concerns for my friends and their children, this accident struck a deep, tender nerve. It was the stairs. He fell down the stairs. I shook my husband awake, “Rib, Rib! He fell down the stairs. It happened to him too! This is all freaking me out so bad because of the stair thing.” “Yeah,” he answered. “I know. I figured that was pretty obvious.” “Thanks for filling me in,” I thought.

As a child, I was very brave. Very little scared me (except for E.T., but...). I could run and leap and try just about anything. Now, as an adult, I'm afraid of stairs and risk-taking in general. The accident that ended my ballet life happened on a set of stairs. A mistake was made by someone else, and I fell down scenery stairs. “Off” is more accurate than “down.” My invincible youth came to a quick close. Vulnerability arrived, or, rather, was revealed. And then came the pain. Pain that was life-altering, devastating, and yet uncovered a profound strength that I didn't know I had.

As soon as I knew David would be ok, that his injuries were not going to kill him, I kept thinking over and over, “He's going to be a much more interesting, rich person now. His compassion and empathy will expand so much!” “Jealous” is definitely the wrong word, but a certain wistfulness came over me. A kind of deep longing for him to have great results, the kind of results that I have received from all the physical pain I have survived. At the same time, I was thoroughly sad for him and Brenna. Injury had touched them. It got in to their lives. New vulnerabilities were exposed, and new needs for protection would take up places in their minds, their preoccupations. Yes, Pain can be an insightful instructor. In a heart ruled by God's love, on guard for bitterness, it can teach essential, enlightening things. But, the lessons aren't cheap.

I hope and pray that David's pains and fall will not cost him too much (medical bills aside!). I hope his trip down the stairs proves to have been only a misdemeanor offense. For me, the fall turned out to be a shocking robbery. Grand Theft Auto. A homicidal home invasion. There are things I had before that are gone forever, unless God chooses to restore them to me in Glory. Sometimes, I really question whether what I have gained for now is worth all the losses. But, even the deficiencies teach me.

Even before I fell down the stairs, I had formed some positive associations with physical pain. I know what dancers, athletes, know about pain: it can have it's rewards. Muscle aches lead to strength and flexibility. Blisters lead to callouses. Bruised nails get tough. Stress fractures make thicker bones. Exhaustion develops endurance. Practice makes perfect. And, oh! It feels so, so good to be perfect, to do it how you know it can and should be done! My pains as a dancer had their purpose, and that purpose was beautiful and gave me pleasure like I have not know since. If the pain had made me give up, I would never have lived the joy of the results.

My senior year of high school, I was accepted to study for the Summer at the School of American Ballet in New York City. This was a very big deal for me and for my small ballet company in the middle of (ballet-related) nowhere. I could not wait to see myself in the mirrors that so many of my idols had seen themselves in. I would squeal with delight at the thought of being in “George's School,” as my friends and I referred to it. I was obsessed with New York City Ballet. I saw going there to study as THE best thing that could have happened to me at age 16. I prepared for it like the rite of passage that it was. I thought everything through, including the fact that I would have to wear my pointe shoes for every class, for the whole class. This was new to me. It should not have been, but then my training had some gaps. On my own, I decided that I HAD to keep my pointe shoes on, no matter what. Back then, my options for shoes were limited to what I could afford to try and get my hands on via the internet. If I ordered something that didn't really work, I usually wore them anyway because they were all I had. The shoes I finally settled on, I knew later, did not fit me properly and weren't doing me any favors. This is part of why they hurt so badly. But, I kept those boots strapped to my feet as though my life depended on it, and my dancer life kind of did. I bled through the outside satin more than once, and I felt so badass it was ridiculous. I got blisters on top of blisters and bruises in my bruises. But, I did it. My feet did toughen up, and I learned that I could make it through more than I had thought. When I got to New York, one of the first things I did was figure out how to walk to the Freed store, and I, for the first time had a professional pointe shoe fitter help me find shoes that worked better than any I had ever tried, and they didn't hurt like the ones to which I was accustomed. Amazing. My suffering had been worth it.

My fall, though, had no apparent purpose. Immediately, there was no result but disaster, undoing. This pain was the bad kind, not a measured, wisely monitored means to an end. It was a car wreck. It scared the daylights out of me and kept me scared for a long, long time. I still do not like stairs, and I frequently ask Brendan to please walk in front of me and to not touch me while we are on a big staircase. I know what it is like to have your life changed by a fall down the stairs.

So, how did I get to a place where I could have the thought of being strangely excited for David? Not “happy for him” because that's just screwed up; however, “eager” applies. Surviving pain, emotional and physical, showed me so many new things about myself. They are not all good, by any means, but they definitely aren't all bad either. As for the bad ones, I'm working on them. “You can't change what you don't know,” and all that. The knowledge of what I can take, of what can be survived and endured, does encourage me daily.

“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.”

What?! Maybe. Sometimes it leaves you bed-ridden. I did not survive unscathed, and those wounds, though painful still, turn my attention outside of myself. They show me the need for others. When I am weak and bewildered, my family and friends are shown to be strong and sure. When I am without hope, they hope for me. And when they all inevitably fail me, God is there. And he is not the failsafe, not the back-up plan. He is the LORD, and all things are held together in him. He is the only thing that makes it OK to be in pain and hope for a lesson. With God, even bed-ridden can be a place of growth and value.

Whenever I try to sit and write about these things. I inevitably slant toward these neatly-tied ends. I have a few thoughts about that; the first, insecure thought being that I am coming off like some out-of-touch Pollyanna, an idiot in denial. As for how I appear: I suppose I cannot speak to that. While I don't think I am Pollyanna, I do acknowledge that I have an aversion to wallowing in bad memories for too long. I want to get out of the woods, so to speak, so that I won't be lost. I do not see much use in enduring pain, even the memory of pain, for the sake of proving I can. No, I've had way too much evidence in my life as a dancer, former-dancer, mom, and chronic-illness-sufferer that pain, if it ain't headed somewhere good, is best avoided! But, if it is thrust upon you, as a believer in God I can say, better milk it for all it can be worth! I have a longing to write about my short life as a dancer and what has transpired since it was taken from me. There are many reasons for this, but I think these strong beliefs about pain are at the bottom of it all. I just want it to all be worth as much as possible for anyone who cares to know!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Every Phase is Hard

FB, 11/16/2006: Jessica is not looking forward to dealing with her MGMT 403 professor

FB, 9/16/2013: My afternoon has basically been a frat party. 3 wild people in various states of undress are yelling incoherent things and cheering one another toward new heights of foolishness. They are playing some form of Limbo (the youngest chanting loudly: "HELLO- Candy-Go"). And a new cold bottle of beer was taken from the fridge, thrown into the living room, and exploded into a million sticky, little, fizzing pieces. Party on!!!

Facebook's new feature, On This Day, has come along just in time for me to begin writing these things down. In the isolation of modern motherhood, Facebook became a way I could reach out for a quick “I hear ya!” or “me too!” I spent, and still spend, time when I craft the occasional status update. Not only is it a little moment to be creative but also a chance to encourage and be encouraged in the strange land of Stay-at-Home-Parenting. I look forward to my little set of On This Day memories. The temporally striated posts give me a two-minute look back at my life phases from college through the past year. One thing is clear: all the phases are hard.

At my Bible study a few weeks ago, it was prayer request time. A new friend had that look like something big was on her mind but also like she might not want to say it. I hope I did what I did in a kind way, but it is always risky to try to draw someone out of her shell.

How about you? You kinda look like you're sitting on something.”
She answered, “Umm, I'm just really tired and feel like I have no right to be, but I am.”
Collective “mm” sounds and subtle head nods went around. I couldn't leave it alone, though.
I don't want to force you, but...”
Oh, come on, Jessica. Yes, you do,” a friend interjected.
Ha, well, it just seems like... well... what's that 'Don't deserve to' piece about?”

I was sitting there with Bran, and she knows I have the other three. I don't recall exactly, but I think I was soon to have my gallbladder surgery. Our hostess had 4 children. Other women had two or three. She is not a mom yet but works two jobs and had been doing a ton of weekend traveling for family events. Of course, she had every right to be tired! But, looking out at the room full of experiences she hadn't yet had, she felt ashamed of being worn out.
I mean, I don't have anyone to take care of. I don't have a baby,” she said as she vaguely gestured in my direction.
Ya know, I think every phase has felt hard. The exhaustion I feel now doesn't feel different to me than the exhaustion I felt before kids. It may have a different quality, but the effect on me is the same.”
The other ladies chimed in, and we all agreed that tough is tough, no matter what phase of life you are in. She absolutely deserved some grace and love for the difficulties she faces.

This little moment at Bible study really stuck with me. I think parents ARE crazy-tired. And it IS different than being tired from work because sleep-deprivation is just a special kind of torture. I laugh very hard at all the comedians' bits about how rough it is to have small children, and I do long for the days when simple pleasures like grocery shopping and long showers and great indulgences like sleeping for 8 solid hours were available to me. But, I don't long for hours behind a desk, dealing with group projects, being stuck in one building 40 hours a week, etc. Every phase is hard.

As parents we turn back and look at the D.I.N.K.S. and kids with jealousy from our high horses of Special Knowledge regarding the value of peeing with the door shut, staying in bed all night, and pursuing personal interests. We wish they knew how good they have it because we think that would cause the people around us to give us more credit for what we are going through. We feel our struggle is undervalued. But, I do remember the jealousy I had of parents, the jealousy I probably would have if I wasn't one. “They get to have the love of their children. They are doing something meaningful every moment! She doesn't have to put on day-time clothes. They are real grown-ups. I don't know if I'll ever be ready for that.”

The truth is: every phase is hard AND comes with unique perks and rich blessing. We should trade monologues. I should tell myself how fantastic parenting is more often than I let myself wallow in how hard it is. People without kids should feel totally free to enjoy their phase to the hilt! Take long showers! Peruse the grocery aisles until you really do find the very best mustard! Don't waste any time feeling guilty about not having kids to look after or being afraid that you won't be good enough once you do.

I got over being bitter towards the d.i.n.k.s. a couple of children ago, but I started looking ahead with some fear and some jealousy too. “Oh, to have kids who can all do {fill in the blank}. To be able to X and Y!” But, I see the moms of teenagers look at me with my baby's head nuzzled up under my chin. Their eyes tell a story of sweet memories and a new kind of Special Knowledge. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” they tell me. “It will go by too quick. Wait til you have teenagers...” I usually hate it when they say that. It feels so imprecatory! I am starting to get it, though. It DOES go by way too fast.

As I sit here, the list of stresses in my head include a husband being away on business for the next 36 hours (who's counting? ME), doing the dog's walk on my own somehow, dealing with Bran and his umpteenth snotty cold by myself all night, picking up and dropping off all my school kids at their 3 different places, and on and on. My phase is hard! When Ezra was a baby, I would give myself awards for leaving the house when he was 4 months old. This time? I have no choice! We have had days of being in and out of the car 9 times! NINE TIMES! “But,” I hear, “wait til you have teenagers!” Well, wait I will. And gladly.

We have to give ourselves the grace we need for the difficulties of our phase. It really doesn't matter what other people are dealing with; their mastery of their circumstances doesn't need to make us feel shame for the measly mastery (or survival?) of our own. Nor does it matter if anyone really gets how hard you have it. (That one is hard for me to believe. I am preaching to myself here.) I want my focus to be on thanksgiving because I have the security of God's love, authorization to do my job well, and approval through his Son. Yes, I will probably be up half the night cuddling and nursing a little sweetie who doesn't feel well, and I need grace. I will need to be gentle and not expect too much from myself for the next couple of days. I also can choose to be so grateful that I get to love, hold, and raise this baby that I dreamed of and wanted so intensely and that my other babies did indeed grow, sleep through the night, and are able to get dropped off, and picked up, and dropped off, and picked up, and...

So, thanks, Facebook, for allowing me to look back at the Jeskies of the past. Do I chuckle a bit at complaints from my earlier selves? Yeah, a little, but I give them credit too because I hope that I'll be gracious to 2015 Jesky someday. I am happy for me for every rock show I attended, every paycheck I received, and every, oh! every long shower. 

May it never be said of me that I missed my chance to enjoy these children during this brief time that they are young because I was too busy making sure everyone knows that it's hard, but, Lord, give me the grace to admit when it is!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Oh! The Gall of It

Life is just so damn interesting, isn't it? We can get assurances from one another. We can plan. We can imagine and hope, but we just never really know what we're going to get- good and bad.

Back at the beginning of my life with Bran, when he was just a twinkle in MY eye (thank you very much), I knew I would need help. I knew I would need rest. I knew that I only would get by on a little help from my friends (and Riberas). I figured POTS might be a problem after delivery, but I was hoping it would stay away. Thankfully, I have not been symptomatic, and I'm now hoping it will not return. Ever. I planned, somewhat, for my potential neediness through the Summer. Things just never go how we plan, though. Death in the family took all my helpers away during the hardest days of my pregnancy. So much for all the long weekends at Grandma's that I had imagined. Thankfully, just when I thought I had reached the very, very end of my rope, God made a perfectly-timed delivery of Bran. The next two weeks passed mostly in bliss, and I had all the help I needed.

Then, I went to the emergency room with a two-and-a-half week old infant. Shortly after dinner one night, I was lying in my daughter's bed with her having a chat when I began to have intense pain in my upper abdomen and chest. This same thing had happened a few days prior, but it started to go away before I really started to freak out. This time, though, it was much worse and continued to worsen instead of fade. As a woman who has delivered four babies with no meds and a chronic pain syndrome, I am familiar with pain and know that I tolerate it well. This pain terrified me, and I started having POTS symptoms too - tachycardia, shortness of breath, tingling, sweating, and upset stomach. Of course, all these symptoms together could mean heart attack. Brendan got the big kids to bed, called a neighbor over, and got me and our crying, hungry infant into the car. I was afraid I would die.

Saying "chest pain" at the ER is a great way to be quickly given a bed. I don't want to describe the whole visit, all the diagnostic results, and the most embarrassing moment of my life, so I'll just cut to the chase: after tons of blood-work for the next two weeks, a CT scan, and multiple follow-up visits- it all came down to gallstones. Apparently, gallstones are one of the many, many things that baby-having increases your risk for that you don't know about until it happens to you. It took me 3 or 4 weeks to really figure out how to prevent the gallbladder attacks. I still get them, but I haven't had a very bad or long one for a couple of weeks now. I'm having surgery very soon to have my gallbladder removed.

See what I mean? You just can't plan for this stuff. My POTS hasn't been a problem at all, but I've been side-swiped by this gallbladder stuff and planning for a surgery within the first two months of my baby's life. Of course, this all got bad just as my relatives are returning to work for the school year. Other family stuff has kept us occupied as well. On one hand, we are doing really great when you compare the status of things now to the days of full-blown POTS, and Bran continues to be an easy, sweet baby. But, as my therapist pointed out, I'm not really getting to behave like a woman who just had a baby and needs help and time to rest. I feel like a Jekyll-Hyde mommy. Somedays, I'm so overjoyed with the absence of POTS that everything is roses. Then on the other days...

The other thing I never imagined is that it would be September 15th, and my children are still not in school. "I just need to make it to September 9th," I would often think. "Then, I'll be able to have quiet time to rest and recover from all this craziness and get some rest before my surgery." I now have zero confidence that any of that will happen. BUT, I do have confidence that God will keep surprising me. Just as I cannot have predicted that I'd have a life-changing gallbladder problem for the first weeks of my new child's life or that I'd still have 4 children home most of the time, I cannot have predicted that my POTS would be so absent. I cannot have predicted that Bran would be born just when I knew I couldn't take it anymore. So, I wait with open hands. I try not to worry about general anesthesia being around the corner. I try to trust that my laparoscopic, day surgery will not be a big deal and that I'll recover quickly and well. I try to trust that Bran will do great on bottles. I trust that my extra days with my boys home will continue to bless me (and challenge me).

Life is not boring.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First Shopping Trip with 4

Yesterday I grocery shopped with my four children for the first time. I know that we moms post about this a lot, but I'm doing it again because it really is so frustrating. I live in a city that thinks it's really good at caring about people and giving respect to all people. I must not be a real person because I get blatant dirty looks when I'm in public with my kids. And yesterday, the kids were only operating at like a yellow threat alert level. I hope this is my fear projecting itself, but I feel that people's faces basically say, "well, you asked for it; and now we all get to be irritated, and you're responsible."

Children used to be considered an asset not a liability. Are they disruptive? Yes. You were too, I bet. Are they inconvenient? Heck yes! You were too; I'm certain. They are immature - at least they have a chronological excuse. 
But they grow. They will invent new technologies. They will find cures. They will love animals and the planet. They will vote and make decisions. They will love each other. IF I teach them. IF I love them and model for them.

The result of all the bad feelings I get when I go out to non-child-centric places is that I stop going. This is a problem! Sure, Amazon is convenient. So is InstaCart. I don't have to try taking kids to the library because I can request everything online, drive by, and pick up books we want. I love those services, and they are a great help to me. However, we already suck at actually being friendly and connecting with each other here in Seattle. Most of our major publications have published on the subject. The irritation we feel over each other (including my own at being shamed via the use of frowns and eyebrows) drives wedges deeper. And if I only ever take my kids to playgrounds or bouncy houses, they are deprived of the learning contexts that will help them mature into people who, I pray, by God's grace, are not completely inwardly focused and selfish. (So maybe they'll hold the door for those who need help, reach a jar from a high shelf, or help pick up the ten thousand gift cards that were knocked off the rack...)

So, my apologies, shoppers. I'm going to keep dragging myself out into the daylight with my brood. I am going to remind myself that I don't really know what others are thinking, and that I don't know why they are being so crabby. I will be ready to nicely, humbly apologize with and for my children when they are actually causing trouble. And I will do my best not to cry when you mumble under your breath. You better hope I don't because I've got a motley crew that don't like it much when people make the queen cry...

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Bran Raphael

The first thing I'll say is that this is one very delightful baby. He has truly not cried for more than about 10 seconds at a time- and if he goes that long, that's his version of a real fit. Of course, he's only 39 weeks and 5 days, so it's a bit early to make any personality-type predictions, but I have my hopes. He weighed 7lbs 9oz, and was 19.5 inches long when he was born at 6:33pm on Wednesday, July 22nd.

It's hard to say when my labor with Bran truly began. I did my first nearly full night of early labor contractions on July 11th, and I did harbor some hope that he'd be born safely early on my birthday, the 12th. But, those contractions fizzled away, and we chalked it up to a change in the barometric pressure. About a week later, following acupuncture and Serafina's signature eggplant dish, I had another night like that. Again, fizzle. Now, I had set myself up from the beginning to expect Bran to be late, but these teaser sessions really started to make me long for him to come early- that and the fact that I really needed a break and knew I couldn't get that until he was born! Being so pregnant, with a baby that is so low, is exhausting already. Add the hottest summer on record for Seattle, swelling, and three big kids to entertain, and I was really getting worn out. In spite of those factors, though, I also had lots of nesting energy and in many, many ways felt more "normal" and better than I had throughout the pregnancy (and most of the last 2.5 years). My fear that I had had earlier in the third trimester that I wouldn't be able to manage labor and delivery with the fatigue and pain from POTS faded away as I kept making it pretty safely through very busy days of kid-wrangling and major cleaning projects.

On Tuesday morning this past week, I took my kids to see a $1 movie at the Regal Cinema. You should totally check that out if it's available in your town. As we chuckled at Peabody and Sherman, with my big girl in my lap, I started noticing a lot of what I figured were just Braxton-Hicks. But, they were a little different that the usual. I didn't pay much attention. After the movie, we headed to PCC to grab a few things we needed and pick a lunch. The kids weren't any more crazy than usual (I don't think), but for some reason they really drove me to the brink! I lectured the whole way home about how they need to try on purpose to be more calm and how stress over their disobedience was not going to help me get their brother out! I got ALL worked up as the afternoon wore on and wound up having a major emotional meltdown. I convinced myself once and for all that the stress of not resting and not being at peace with these wild people around all the time was going to surely delay my labor and leave me pregnant until 42+ weeks. Then that thought just made me cry and cry and cry. I cried out loud to my God, "please, help me!"

Eventually, I calmed down and got busy doing some cleaning and laundry. While I worked, I realized my contractions were seeming consistent again. "Oh, great" I thought. "Another night of teasing to keep me awake is probably coming." Still, I got a little excited and started timing them. 8-10 minutes apart. When Brendan got home and we were having dinner, the got a little closer together. I got very excited and then felt like maybe my big breakdown earlier had been the result of good flood of labor hormones. We went to the playground after dinner, and the kids played with Brendan while I did laps around the park. I enjoyed discovering the paths through the little wood behind our community center and had my first sour-but-almost-there blackberries of the season. My contractions jumped to 4-5 minutes apart, and I let Brenna know that something may be starting. These contractions didn't hurt enough yet. When I got home, we got the kids to bed, and my contractions continued. I took a shower and drank a ton of water, and they just kept coming, but still didn't hurt. At 10, I decided to let my midwives know that they should probably get some sleep. Cindie was out of town, right at the beginning of a 2 day trip, so I would be working with Stephanie. I was sad for Cindie to not get to be with us, but I was also looking forward to having Stephanie as I really like her and have worked with her with my doula clients before. Right after I talked to Stephanie, I had a small gush of amniotic fluid. I let myself get excited. The contractions did feel a bit stronger, but they still didn't hurt. That was bothering me.

Brenna, Elisabeth and Stephanie all arrived shortly after my little fluid gush. We figured that if my water broke I'd probably have a baby in a few hours. Around that time, something weird happened. I got this flood of fear that felt very physical. My mood went from excited to somber and unsure very quickly, and I started to shiver. Labor hormones can definitely cause shivering, but the fear was strange. I laid down to deal with it. Eventually, the sensation faded, and the shakes lightened up. It left me feeling tired, though, and my contractions spaced out a bit. We decided to all try to get some rest. The three ladies went to chat in my living room for a while and eventually, very adorably, all slept slumber party style on the fluffy rug. I was having too many contractions to get much sleep and kept waking up every 10 or 15 minutes with a flood of confused thoughts. Brendan was supportive, but I eventually quit bothering him as it was late, and I knew he would need the sleep he was able to get.

At 2:30 in the morning, I got up to pee. While sitting there, I felt what I thought was a big kick from Bran and heard a popping sound. Nothing happened until I stood up to get back in bed, and when I did a lot of fluid came pouring out. I had a lot of bloody show as well. I got excited again! "Ok! Let's do this. Bring on the painful contractions! They'll probably start any minute." Well. They didn't. I finally fell asleep around 5am with the thought that when the sun came up I could eat and start walking and maybe get the labor re-started. I woke up at 6:30, and I was having almost no contractions. I sent everyone home. We had a talk about how most women get into labor within 24 hours of the rupture of membranes and how that would probably happen with me. I felt ok about it all. I was excited that, now, no matter what, I'd be meeting Bran soon. But, I also was tired and discouraged and starting to think through what I would do if my labor didn't start. The thought of winding up at the hospital was depressing.

After everyone left, I cried for a while to Brendan. The thought that really made me cry most was the concern that I'd done something wrong- like maybe I'd jumped the gun or like I shouldn't have gone walking or shouldn't have had acupuncture 5 days before, or, or, or... Brendan shut all that down for me very quickly, firmly, and kindly which was exactly what I wanted and needed. Texting with my mom helped too (and continued to be helpful to me throughout the day). I knew she was praying along with my friends who knew the situation and our family. The kids and dog got picked up by Brendan's parents, and that was a relief. I was sad, though, that Bran hadn't just come in the night to surprise them first thing in the morning. Oh well. I knew that having them all squared-away would help me to focus and allow Brendan to give me the attention and affection I'd be needing. We slept for a while then.

I felt better when I woke up. I was ready to get dressed and attempt to go walking and try (for the fourth time now) to get through some (Stupid, frustrating!!!!) early labor on my way to some real-deal labor that I hoped and prayed would come on its own. We did pray often, and I felt every time like God was answering us with new information (like when my water leaked the first time, and then later popped big), with encouragement (like my mom's prayers and texts), and with new strength. We went walking around Matthews beach and then our little Meadowbrook Pond. Contractions did pick up, and I felt somewhat encouraged. I was leaking lots of fluid, and that was not fun (though I did find it funny every time when I told myself that Bran was peeing my pants...) We went to have our non-stress test with Stephanie then.

I'd never had an NST before, so that was fun and interesting somewhat. I did have one big-ish contraction that made me feel like maybe we were getting closer. Bran's heart rate took some deeper dips during that one, but he bounced back like he should; and everything else looked great. Stephanie did say that she'd like to be with us as soon as the contractions really did get serious so that she could keep good watch on his heart rate.

When we got home, I ate a good snack and we watched some Jim Gaffigan. Humor is your friend at times like these. My contractions got much stronger, and I finally got really excited. Brenna came back over, and by then I think they were about 5 minutes apart, maybe less, and were increasing in intensity. We called Stephanie to let her know, and I called her again in a 1/2 hour to say I wanted her to come over. I had that thought in my head about keeping Bran safe, which was good because otherwise I may not have had her come so soon. Brenna arrived at 4:30, and Stephanie was there by 5:30. By the time Stephanie arrived, I was needing Brendan to help me deal with the contractions. I alternated between sitting on my ball, kneeling at my bedside over a pillow, and sitting on the toilet. Elisabeth came sometime around all this too and started her photo-documenting.

I eventually landed backwards on the toilet and was planning to stay there for a while. Stephanie got started on placing my IV port for the saline we planned to deliver after the birth to help give me a boost in dealing with my POTS. She did a fine job, of course, but it's never fun to have that kind of distraction when you are dealing with such intense contractions. At the same time, I could feel that my blood was pooling in my legs a bit from how I was sitting. Once she finished the IV, I announced that I was dizzy, and they helped me get to the bed to lie down. Brenna massaged my leg to get the blood flowing again, and that felt great. Brendan started using a cold rag on my neck and back. The next contraction was officially one of the most painful of my entire childbearing career, and I had the thought, "oh, man. I hope I don't have to deal with these for long!" At nearly the same moment, I realized that I could push a bit, and it felt better! "I'm pushing!"

I felt Bran move down and out of my uterus. It was a very cool feeling, and I quickly started to feel the stingy, stretchy feeling of a baby's head about to crown. I did not have to push very many times. Everyone was very encouraging. We had planned to try to have me do my own catch, and I felt somewhat able to look down, feel him with my hands, and at least imagine pulling him up on my own. Once his head was visible, I had to actively try to not push him out right away. I panted to try to give myself time to stretch out and think a little bit about how and if I'd be able to get him. Stephanie was wonderful about listening to me and giving encouragement. I kept saying, "help! help!" not in a scared way, but in a "I need you to tell me what to do" way. Once his head was out, I did more panting, and we saw that his cord was around his neck. No big deal usually. It did frustrate my catching plans. Once I pushed his shoulders out she had to get him untangled because the cord was around three times! By the time she got him free (about 2 seconds that felt like forever to me!) I pretty much tore him from her hands! I was ecstatic and screamed, "I did it! I did it! I had another baby!" And I wasn't just referring to the birth, but to our entire journey of deciding to have Bran. I felt so full of confidence in God's love for all of us, and I thanked him. I had very minimal blood loss, and my POTS symptoms have not returned. I'm pretty amazed by it all.

Bran and I instantly bonded, and I have fully enjoyed him ever since. There could be so much more written into this story about my emotions, prayers, wonderful friends and theological ponderings during these days of his birth. I'd also love to write a bit about what the last few days have been like (chronic illness and learning how to care for myself have done me some big favors!), but I'm down to one hand typing now as I nurse my sweet baby. All of us here love him madly, and I look forward to eventually introducing him. For now, I'm guarding every moment and enjoying him as fully as I can. I want my memories of these days to run long and deep.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's This Little Boy Made of?

Top Ten Cravings

10. Cucumbers
9. Gummy Bears (Specifically, THESE)
8. Banana Splits
7. Potato Chips/Tater Tots/Curly Fries
6. Fat Slice of Chocolate Cake, preferably cold
5. Smoked Salmon
4. Bacon
3. Bahn Mi
2. Passion Fruit Slush Boba Tea with Boba and Popping Mango Boba
1. California Roll

Got to say: The cravings have been pretty fun this time around. I mean, look at that list. 4 of those are desserts! I don't usually love dessert (though, I have always loved gummy bears and chocolate cake). Banana Split?? SO weird. I would never pick that normally. Bubble Tea and California Roll have been the two most consistent desires throughout, hence their placements as #2 and #1. I could go for each of those right now...

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The List Project

I have an idea.

For my friends and clients, I usually recommend planning some fun diversions for the last few weeks of pregnancy. It can get so hard to keep waiting on that labor to start when you are so. done. being. pregnant. Especially if you are post-40wks. I am not there yet, but I know that this baby will be here SOON (In the next 4-6 weeks, to be quasi-exact. The way time flies around here, that's not long at all). Unfortunately (or maybe it's a blessing? Hard to tell sometimes...), I don't have much need of planning diversions because as a mother of three in the middle of summer, my calendar is ridiculously full. Day camps, VBS, midwife and doctor appointments, final projects before baby, birthday parties, work BBQs, and on and on. "Take it easy," people say. Whatever. It's not possible. There are too many (very young) people here for me to actually take it easy, but I do try to do my best to rest as I can. Sadly, the haircuts, pedicures, baby-book shopping, beach afternoons, etc, that I usually suggest as fun diversions for my clients aren't really an option around here. When I do get time to try to schedule activities alone, I need to be responsible, lie down, and put my feet up. This isn't a complaint. My job is very difficult right now, but (when I'm not throwing a giant emotional fit) I'm very thankful for my life full of very young people.

So, my idea: mark the remaining weeks with an easy project I can look forward to doing each week from my bed like making top ten lists (or top five, or two... I get tired, y'all).

This week I have a pair of lists as I find myself thinking of these things a lot lately.

Top 6 Things I Love About Not Having A Baby

6. No diaper changing

5. Everyone dresses themselves.

4. No need for naps. This one took me some time to appreciate. At first, I missed having the kids nap, but then it showed itself as a huge plus. We can do whatever we need to do without fear of needing to hurry home before somebody starts to lose it. (Ha! actually, I'm the somebody now...) It's great because places are really pretty empty during naptime, and I'm not such a fan of humans these days. They wear me out.

3. Everyone knows how to go potty. Do they always do a great job with all the hygiene stuff? Not great every time, but usually they just need reminders.

2. People can make their own beds, start their own laundry, put away their own laundry, and even prepare and feed themselves simple snacks and breakfasts!

1. Everyone can use their words. True: they often use them to argue and hurt each other and me. Also True: they make amazing observations, encourage each other and me, express love very, very often to each other and me, display faith and hope, tell me their needs and fears, and explain themselves.

Top 6 Reasons I Can't Wait to Have a Baby

6. He is tiny

5. He doesn't need to be told to go potty

4. He needs to take lots of naps

3. He needs me to dress him every time.

2. He needs me me to feed him with food that doesn't require any dishes or ingredients from the store, and he (HOPEFULLY) will love it and not complain about the taste or lack of variety!

1. He doesn't use words, but he can express faith, trust, peacefulness, love, fear, and needs to us through his often adorable, sometimes maddening cries, looks, little baby body language, and nuzzling snuggles.

Soon I will enjoy the best (and, yeah, yeah, the worst...) of BOTH these lists!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coping Chronicles: When My Emotions and My Children Collide

I remember the day I first really saw my mom cry. I went looking for her and found her in her bathroom still actively crying. I'm not sure, but I think I was probably 12 or so. The first thing I remember thinking and knowing was that she wasn't crying because of me (and she wasn't), and that thought brought the realization that grown-ups are people too. I assumed it probably wasn't the first time that she had cried about something that had nothing to do with me, but I remember feeling pretty special that she had let me see her and that she was willing to say that she was having a hard time. She didn't cover it up, and she didn't try to act like it was none of my business either. Of course, she had, as I have now, every right to cry tears that were none of a child's business, and I'm sure she, as I, did that plenty of times. I remember what it was about, and I remember hugging her and feeling so good that I had the privilege of comforting our family's number one comforter.

I write often about these childhood moments of crystallization of concepts. I wish I knew more about the science behind them; I would find it fascinating, so if you know something or have an article to link to please post it in the comments! That moment in my mom's suntan tiled bathroom with the dusty rose towels and oak cabinetry was the point at which I decided it's good to be honest with others, especially your family, about your bad days. Of course, that doesn't mean that I began doing that or was good at it from then on (or that I always do that or am good at it now). But, a positive association was formed.

I remembered the physical sensation of that moment the other morning as my almost 7-year-old hugged me while I cried. I could tell from the way he held my head to his shoulder like a much, much older person that he felt proud and privileged to comfort the number one comforter in our family. This child has got the consoling pat down... well... pat. It's just the right kind of firm but gentle touch that tells you everything is going to be fine. Like scrawny, tween me in my mom's bathroom, he had nothing spectacular to say, but he said nothing so very well.

These moments of overwhelming emotion happen to me a lot these days. As I keep repeating to my husband, it adds up. Each hat I wear these days belongs to a character prone to fits of strong emotion. The Pregnant Lady. The Sick Lady. The Mother of Three (One of Whom Hit 106 Degrees on the Thermometer This Week). The Sudden Homeschooler. Any one of these people deserves a few moments of exasperated sighing, hysterical laughter, blubbering tears, and even fuming frustration. But... all together... look. out. I'm like a one woman soap opera.

So, what do I do? What can you do when you are surrounded by people who are looking to you for reassurance and stability, need you to do your job, and aren't even twelve, and you just can't keep it together? There are lots of aspects to this one. I'll start with this: doing everything you can to not be forced past the end of your rope is step 1. This is what you do before we get to meltdown. If you know you can't handle it all, you have to start finding ways to not have to. Please remember: I'm preaching to myself. I probably need more mommy breaks. I probably need to actually set up my Neighborly account. I probably need to quit committing to things until after (long after) the baby is born. When there is so much going on inside that you cannot control, being intelligent about controlling what you can is essential.

Next: Take the long view. Then: Pray. Even if it's not feeling magical or focused or even coherent. Finally: Wait together. To illustrate these points, I'd just like to share the story of how I ended up in tears on my son's shoulder this week.

I woke up feeling terrible every which way. My body was aching, heavy, and exhausted. My mind felt muddled and slow. My heart felt sad, uninspired, and I was just totally dreading the rest of the day. I knew I'd be easily upset and quickly irritated -- not a good way to start a day of homeschooling especially after housebound days with a very sick kid. I proceeded to go through the motions. Sometimes, this is the right thing to do. Routine can be a very good thing and can sometimes get me started when I don't feel like it. Of course, it wasn't long before I ran into a bad attitude from a kid, and my own bad attitude was ready to tango. I escalated a situation that I should have had the judgment to step back from. I should have looked at my mood and told my kid that this was important but that we would need to talk about it later. We can't always do that. Young children need immediate feedback to make connections between their actions and the results, but this was a more philosophical discussion with a kid who is old enough to wait and still benefit from a later discussion.

But, because I felt afraid of being an ineffective mess all day (notice: decision made out of fear), I decided to track it down and kill it. I decided to start a big, subjective, philosophical debate with a kid looking for a fight. Not smart. Here's the first point at which I should have prayed and taken a longer view. The discussion frustrated me, and I got very short and even unkind. The child then proceeded to tell me over and over, "well, you must just hate me." Of course, that was sad for me and frustrated me even further. Doesn't this kid see that the whole reason I'm trying to talk about this with him is because I love him? (Umm. Probably not. He's a young kid.) Doesn't he know that the only reason I am even upright right now while I feel this way is because I'm trying to make sure his world isn't disrupted in spite of my chaotic body and emotions? (Again. Duh. No.) During the back and forth about whether or not I hated my children and the evidence for and against, I was trying to get them all upstairs so we could get started on our reading for school. The other two were not being helpful, though at this point I can't remember exactly what was happening.

We sat down at the dining room table where they all divided my breakfast that I hadn't eaten yet among them. This is back to Step 1. I should have eaten long before this moment. Crabby-hungry was no help in this situation at all. Normally I wouldn't have let them take my food, but I was so desperate for their mouths to be full and their bodies to be still so that we could get on with our day somehow. I couldn't though because now my feelings were incredibly hurt by all the "you're acting like you hate us." My eyes got hot, and the catch in my throat became to much to hold back. The pain in my body and heart and all my fear of not making it through the day as a loving, able human being led to tears as I said, "You know, you can't just say these things to me. I'm a person too. I'm not a mommy-bot with no feelings. That stuff goes into my heart. I'm sorry that I got short with you and that the way I was acting made you feel like I might hate you. That is a terrible feeling, but I can tell by the way you are saying it that you don't really think it. Right? You don't actually believe that I hate you, so you shouldn't say that. It doesn't float away into the air; it keeps going straight to my heart." Honesty. Confession. "I'm so sorry," he said. And he got up and hugged me.

Right then I knew. Right then I realized that I had set out all wrong. Part of coping with bad days (and it was going to be a bad day no matter what because of the things on my plate) is sharing honestly with my family. I had tried to move into the day like I was able to have it go "normally." But it just couldn't. I should have started out with that acknowledgment. I should have taken the long view and remembered that if the risk of our hearts getting shredded was high, I shouldn't worry so much about the shredded appearance of my home or the need to address the dangers of hoarding tendencies. We should have started with prayer for the tough day before Brendan even tried to leave the house.

So, I decided to try to turn things around. Was my heart suddenly feeling strong? Absolutely not. It was a quivering mess. Was my mind clear and ready to attack the day's tasks? Absolutely not. It was more fuzzy than before. Was my body calm? Of course not. But, I knew we had to pray. I wish I could say that the clouds parted as I spoke bold, believing words to the Lord and that a ray of peace shone down on us all. I wish. Rather, my children were irreverent and took the opportunity (and probably all their nervous energy from the very stressful morning) to try to quietly (no such thing) make jokes to each other from across the table while I murmured something like this through my tears: "Oh God. I need you to fix this morning. This day is feeling really screwed up, and my heart and body are so tired. I can't see this day going well at all. But, you're the one who can fix broken things." I opened my eyes, did the dutiful scolding of the kids for talking during a prayer time, and asked each one to tell God something they needed help with and something for which they were thankful. I read our Bible story for the day. And we waited together. We waited for our bodies and our hearts to calm down.

Eventually, it did turn around for us. Things calmed down, and we were able to love each other pretty well. Some of my planning ahead (Step 1, people) paid off, and I got to go to acupuncture and counseling- both of which were helpful. It was by no means a great, effective day of schooling, but in the long view, it was probably one of the best mornings of the week. Who knows? Maybe my son had a moment of crystallization. Maybe he will remember how well it works to just hug someone. I think it's a vital skill! A lifelong skill that his friends, spouse, and children will treasure in him as much as I do. Maybe they learned that just telling God what you need is a great way to pray. Maybe they learned that grown-ups are people too.

Maybe not, but they were still the right things for me to teach. I have no doubt of that. And I learned a lot.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Reality Check and SLIME FEST 2015

Personal and Pregnancy Update (Feel free to skip this part):
So, we had a horrible month that ended about 3 weeks ago. I figured I'd written enough about the crappy times and felt no inspiration to write any further.

The 3 week window was lovely in spite of adding a major (potential) stressor: homeschooling for the rest of the school year. The "why" of all that is long and complicated, but the short version is that I felt my first grader, our budget, and we would be much better served by a highly personalized, low-stress environment for completing his first grade acquisition of skills. So far, this has turned out to be a fabulous decision, and already Ezra's reading and writing have improved quite a bit. More importantly, though, he is getting control of lots of bad habits and is returning to a more peaceful state... mostly! There is a lot that I love about homeschooling. I do have lots of fun with the kids, and we all get along better the more time we spend together. Go figure. I also have reveled in the opportunity to tailor-make a schedule and curriculum that specifically support and address my child's needs mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It has been fun to have a project to set my mind to and a fresh cause for each day.

Part of the reason, though, that it all went so well for a few weeks was that my health held steady for the longest stretch of the last several months. What a blessing! Over the past week, a POTS flare has slowly built and is in a full-blown rage now. I also crossed the line into my third trimester! Woohoo! I love this baby like crazy, and just like with the other ones I already like him and enjoy hanging out with him in his little wiggly moments each day. The pregnancy aches, however, are all starting to take a toll as is the third trimester sluggishness. I can't believe how much worse I feel this week compared to last, and it is very discouraging. I needed the reality check, though. I was starting to romanticize the notion of homeschooling for next year. I still kind of am, but it's good that I'm getting a taste of what it would be like if I was feeling symptomatic (and the baby isn't even on the outside yet). Once again, the thought of having the kids away for events and engagement at school sounds attractive. Meanwhile, I'm glad to know that I do actually like homeschooling them, and I may try to get back to doing/being more of my old self when it comes to doing projects with them at home. I also feel re-inspired to keep up on our overall spiritual health as a family. Taking a holistic approach to all that (rather than feeling like I need to have some separate agenda for the kids instruction) is really the best way to go! They learn what I need to learn or read on somedays, and other days I learn or read what they need; in the end, we are all being well-fed everyday.

And now...

SLIME FEST 2015!!!! (AKA: What the BLEEP was I thinking?!?!)

I'm just a fun (read: crazy) lady. I just can't help it. I like to eat fun stuff. I like everyday to have some surprises in it. I like to do wacky projects and promote wacky ideas. So, naturally, as my little homeschoolers and I studied space for two weeks (thanks to the stuff I borrowed from homeschool mom EXTRAORDINAIRE, Bethany Robbins), I started to form a pretty Jesky-fied plan for week three:


"It'll be great!" I thought. "We can just have a week to go nuts and learn about all the extreme weirdness in the universe and on our own planet. We'll write our own stories and dream our own dreams about what may yet need to be discovered. I'll inspire them to think big about God and our world and plant all these lovely seeds that can grow into their own hopes and vision of what they may add to society..." and ON and ON. I got very pumped up. I gathered library books for hold via the internet like a BOSS. I cued up alien slime and fluff recipes like a MAD SCIENTIST. I didn't even realize that May the 4th would land on our awesome week, and then did realize it, and then pulled a Star Wars day out of my... hat... like a JEDI. I planned to spend a couple days talking about Antarctica and the deep sea, the most difficult to explore places on Earth. I basically developed enough material to keep us busy for a few weeks (which I am totally going to do...).

Then reality swooped down like it tends to do. My body reminded me that I'm A: 7 mos pregnant and B: diagnosed with POTS and Chronic Disease Anemia. I pretended these things wouldn't make a difference for as long as possible. Then Monday on May the 4th, our recess plan of having an epic light saber battle turned into an appalling battle over who deserved to use which color of light saber (blue or green. it wasn't even about who should be red! these were good guy colors!) and ended in one child trying to run away from home because the rest of us are "meanies." This then led to me BANNING the use of the term "meany" forever. We were lucky to get anything done due to the amount of spiritual counseling and correcting required for all parties. It was a day with it's own kind of learning, a crucial kind, but it definitely had me wishing I had Darth Vader's power to use The Force...

On that same day, because I am DUMB, I decided to never say die and continue on my insane quest to inspire and delight. We went to the park (mistake for a POTSy preggo number 1) and went to the store (mistake number 2) to get the things we needed to make Foam Dough (mistake number 3). While we were at it, I figured I'd pick up extra ingredients to maybe try some of the other recipes for fluffy, soft doughs that I had seen before including the flour/oil mix and cornstarch/conditioner mix. The kids were THRILLED that I sat them down with these things. "Aw heck," I thought "I'll just let them go nuts. This is great for them." They mostly had fun, though my kids are way less happy than you'd think to be messy. In the end, we did end up with a few pretty decent balls of soft, fluffy dough. I also ended up with a ridiculous mess. I put the kids in the bathtub and then in front of a screen so that I could clean up. It was awful. Partially, it was awful because I had let Hazel, age 3, add water and flour to her batch... I AM DUMB. I had to be on my hands and knees scrubbing and sweeping. It wore me out terribly. I had to stop halfway through to make dinner (mistake number 4- say it with me, "Dick's Drive-In is your friend.") Then, when I got back to floor-scrubbing, I'm pretty sure I pulled some deep, essential muscle in my belly which now still hurts like crazy if I try to move my right leg at all. Obviously, I kind of need my right leg. Please remember, we are still on MONDAY.

This was Hazel's spot for making foam dough. I had already cleaned most of the surrounding floor.

Before the light sabers were taken away, Ezra put on this get-up and called himself "The Ter-knight." Pretty clever.

I did call Brendan around 5pm (good move number one and only) to let him know that he'd better get packing and head home to catch me. By 6, I was watching the drive-way like a hawk. At 6:12, I got a text that Brendan was just then changing his clothes to ride home. I informed him that he owed me $50 (which, BTW, Honey, I'm dead serious about. And I'm using it however I see fit.) He responded with a photo of an open draw-bridge that he should have been crossing and the number "75." (Again, Brendan, my love: please hand over the cash soon!). He arrived around 7. The night then proceeded to include many more frustrating moments of which we shall not speak. We simply shall not. 

On Tuesday, we did have a better school day, and I had the sense to make our only crazy project be the baking of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Blessedly, Brendan had planned to work from home for half the day because of contractors coming by in the afternoon, and he doula'd us through a few hard moments in the afternoon. I was feeling pretty terrible for most of the day.

I was really looking forward to today. REALLY. This was the day I had talked up the most. The day we would make this slime.  I was prepared. I had a plan for which book to read to get us ready. I had the science connection cued. I had all kinds of neon colors and holographic glitter specially ordered to add to our slime. I let the kids build LEGO space stations that they could attack with the slime. We had to wait until 1 so that my middle boy would be home from preschool and join the fun. By noon, I was crying to Brendan (working from home again for more delivery/appointment reasons) about how terrible I felt and how I would definitely need to crash. This always happens. I fake it, and I fake it, and I fake it, and then my body puts it's foot (or maybe my autonomic nervous system) down and forces me to face facts. Still, I had talked up this slimy moment, and we were going to do it, dang it!!! I roped Brendan into helping, and we gathered all the people, supplies, and ingredients in the bathroom. I thought I was being super slick and prepared this time by doing it in the bathroom/bathtub. This way, clean-up would be a cinch! Right? RIGHT?!?!

Let me take a moment here to publicly curse all bloggers who lie about how "easy" clean-up is. It ain't.

The slime mixing was going well at first. I stayed one step ahead of Brendan and the boys doing their batches while working up one with Hazel. We made it so pretty. 3 glitter colors and neon pink liquid watercolor. A real professional looking slime was coming together. I then put Hazel into the bathtub with her bowl of sparkling, beautiful slime filled with glass pearls and crystal hearts to play. Meanwhile, for some reason the neon yellow slimes belonging to each boy sitting next to her in the tub weren't gelling up quite the way my pink one did. While Brendan and I began trouble-shooting by adding more liquid starch, things started to go awry. First, Hazel, naturally, stepped into her bowl of slime. I decided to let that go. Nothing I could really do at the moment anyway because I was covered in still-very-gluey neon yellow slime. "This is the whole point," I thought. "Just let her get messy and go nuts. We were going to all need baths in the end anyway."

Then, slime started getting in people's hair... and all over my arms... and all over the floor of the bathtub. Then, Ezra decided to stand up and try to get out and realized the tub was now a slimy version of a mini ice rink. So, they all got up. This bathtub is tiny. Ezra then got out, in spite of our screaming, to get his LEGO city from the bathroom counter. He made it back in and poured his whole bowl out over the city, of course. This gave Hazel the idea of putting all of her slime into Ivo's hair. During all this, I requested that Brendan take pictures for the "pinterest fail" style FB post I would definitely have to make. He then started making a Cousteau level documentary of my idiocy. Naturally, the camera was not recording. Then, even though things had now escalated beyond any semblance of control or educational usefulness (ask me if I read a book or gave a science lesson... just try to ask me...), he turned on the camera and made another video. All of this took about 7 minutes total. The next 37 minutes were filled with learning how to remove "EASY Liquid Starch Slime" filled with tiny cornea-lacerating glitter from hair. Ivo was the main victim as the other two completely turned on him and filled his hair and face with slime and the air with their maniacal laughter. NEVER. AGAIN.


I'm thinking about making this slime on Friday halfway through Brendan's three day, two night trip he will be away on.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I Learned While My Family Was Hurling

I think I already knew this, but I definitely know now that I have a little secret. You know all that hard, "thankless" stuff that comes with being the mom? I love it. I always sort of loved it that I was the only one who could make that one baby stop crying. I had all sorts of techniques worked out for surviving the long, lonely hours in the baby's room in the night. I took pride in loving my child so much that I would comfort them no matter what- even if it meant letting them throw up in my lap. At the time, I didn't love all that stuff so much, but I did know that all that stuff meant that I loved them. It was so tangible. That kind of service and sacrifice was a way of seeing how I loved them. I was willing to give up my own comfort for their sakes.

***This is an added paragraph*** Upon reading this, I realize that it may sound hard to anyone in the baby crying all night phase. I don't think that you have to do "mommy" the way I do/did it to be really loving to your child. It looks different for everyone. And it really didn't feel like a picnic. Believe me. I just have a different perspective on it now, and I'll never tell you "Oh, love this time... " because it is really hard, and you just can't always love it. *** K, I'm done***


Suddenly (well, not exactly suddenly...), I wasn't able to do that stuff anymore. I couldn't handle being up 3 times in the night. I couldn't afford to let them cry their snot all over me because I'd be sick for weeks. I couldn't get up the next day and take them to the park or the zoo after a rough night. I couldn't keep breastfeeding. All those exclusive, mommy-only rights started to fall away. I needed more care than they did sometimes! Sometimes, I still feel like the weakest little link. We don't worry so much anymore about overtaxing the kids or skipping their rest time, but we definitely worry about those things for me. I'm basically the baby now, the one whose physical needs can dictate the course of an entire day.

I HATE that part of being sick the very most. It is everything I never wanted. Instead of feeling like the reliable, go-to comforter, I feel like the one everyone else needs to worry about. There are a lot of deep reasons why this bothers me so much. I'm sure I don't understand all the reasons, but I do see that this concept, being the weakest link, worms it's way into most of my fears. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with growing up in the ballet world where there is always someone waiting to take over the minute you can't hack it. There are other old reasons too. Whatever the reasons the challenge exists, the challenge itself is now to not succumb to the wrong belief that I'm useless because I'm physically fragile.

"Wow, she just got really deep really quick, and I thought I'd just be reading some funny puke stories..."

But, enough of this deep stuff. Let's talk about the vomiting family. To set the scene for my profound learning, here is a timeline of our last week:

Monday AM:
Learn that my much awaited hematology visit of the previous week revealed exactly what I didn't want: red blood cells die off too quickly giving me low hematocrit which make you feel crappy but really can't be fixed.
Monday PM:
Get call from principal's office because son is in trouble for "disrespectful, violent talk." Oy. For SOOOOO many reasons...
Hazel and Ivo: sick with colds
Me: POTS symptoms going crazy from stress and allergies. Terror over "violent talking" son's surgery scheduled for next morning. Lying on floor with rib out due to growing pregnant belly crying into my ears and carpet. Quitting "job" via text message to my "boss."
Brendan aka Boss: Leaving work early to scrape me off the floor, so I can go to counseling where I lay it all out. (A good counselor is THE best)
Surgery for son goes well after sleepless night for mother. Mother, me, gets some time to rest.
Things are looking up. Surgery son back at school already. I go on MUCH NEEDED friend date to U.Village with some besties. Get text message (20 minutes after it was sent) that Hazel is vomiting.
Thursday Night:
Hazel throws up every 10 or 20 minutes for 6 hours straight before switching over to uncontrollable diarrhea... in her sleep.
Boys at school. I help Hazel recover and wait to begin vomiting... which never happens.
Saturday AM:
Worried about the girl, I take her to urgent care at Children's to rule out things that would need medication. Ezra begins having abdominal pain. I do my best to be in denial about it all so that I can go to the school auction night with my husband because that's about the best we can do for dates these days, and I've been looking forward to it for months. Seriously.
Saturday around 4:00: 
Ez and Ivo develop fevers. Ivo starts complaining of nausea and crying because he is so scared that he is going to throw-up. I continue pretending I'm going to the bleepin' auction and do my hair. Hazel helps pick out my dress.
Saturday around 4:30:
Ivo vomits on me and the nicest chair in my house, that rocker from Land of Nod. I text babysitter that it's a no-go. Repeat (to myself) a NO-GO.
Saturday around 5:00:
Ezra's pain becomes so bad that he is crying with each cramp. I get on the phone with doctor who says if a tums doesn't do anything to take him to the ER. Tums makes him vomit. Please note: there are now two vomiters.
Saturday around 7:00:
I start getting the people settled for bed. Brendan says he doesn't feel well. I think, "FML."
Saturday after 7:30:
I have people put to bed, and I come upstairs. Brendan takes one look at me and immediately runs to toilet to vomit like a fire hydrant. Correlation does not equal causation.
Saturday 8:00:
Ivo vomits all over his bed and cries for a while because he "is so stressed out. Just so stressed out."
Saturday around 9: 
I settle down to get some sleep only to hear someone screaming for me over the monitor. It is Hazel. She is vomiting. Vomiter Count: 4 people
Hazel vomits and screams about how she doesn't want to vomit. I develop a soon-to-be-patented method of dealing with this involving a multi-layered towel nest. I commit to aborting plan to downsize our towel volume.
Sunday around 5AM:
Hazel finally settles down. Ezra wakes up and comes to wake me up to make sure I know that his tummy still hurts, but he thinks he's done vomiting. Good to know.
Sunday around 7AM:
Two boys come up to tell me that they are awake and feel fine. Again, good to know. Kids then played for two hours together downstairs without incident. REPEAT: TWO HOURS WITHOUT INCIDENT (and I don't mean vomit, I mean cruelty and infighting. This is nothing short of a miracle.) I help Hazel with her "poop squirting all over." I also send a desperate text to my mother-in-law to come with supplies.
Sunday 9AM:
I tuck Hazel and Brendan in to rest in our bed. Even though they don't smell the best, I note that they are the cutest thing ever. Hazel makes nursing face in her sleep. I go out to see the boys and begin their pedialyte/apple sauce regimen. Ezra suggests hot beads as an activity, and they play while I BLEACH THE WORLD.
Sunday around 10: 
Mother-in-law comes with color-coded vomit buckets for the kids and more Saltines and applesauce than any mommy ever hoped for. She also brings me breakfast, Lysol, and Clorox Wipes. She is great.
Rest of Sunday:
I do laundry, change sheets, rock kids, force fluids, wipe bottoms, sneak food into my mouth after bleaching my hands, take a little nap while Brendan and kids watch some Netflix. We have a pretty fantastic, chill day ending with bowls of white rice.
Sunday PM: 
My POTS symptoms become extreme. We all go to bed. We all sleep all night.
Brendan stays home. I sleep a lot. Everyone starts to feel better. I become obsessed with watching Escape to River Cottage. I realize how much I loved taking care of everyone.

So, here's what I learned while my family was hurling:
I still can physically care for the people. God gives me what I need when I need it. They saw me as comforter, and none of them acted surprised. They still see me as Mommy and bearing all the qualities I want to have included in that glorious title. I appreciate the ability to physically serve in a way I never did before. Now that those "thankless" jobs aren't always a given for me, I'm so happy when I'm able to do them! This is a huge encouragement to me because I have been concerned about how I'm going to deal with a newborn. But, there is a part of me that is looking forward to the opportunity to lean on God in new, dramatic ways for that privilege of rocking a baby in the night. I know it will be hard. I KNOW. I know with the knowledge of a lady who had 3 babies in 3.5 years and then got sick with a "probably forever" kind of sickness. But for every degree of difficulty I can fathom, I have knowledge too of what God can do and does do through people who pray and trust in him.

Thanks to everyone who prayed for us and in any way covered and provided for us over the last couple of weeks! I'm praying for you all to be blessed for your kindness!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Coping Chronicles: Kids and Chronic Illness

I participate in a few POTS groups on FB. There are some awesome conversations happening there. People are forced to ask very personal, difficult questions and share some sad circumstances. For the most part, it's been a great community for me, though I was VERY slow to join in (hard to participate when you'd rather be in denial about being one of those sick people). One of the groups is dedicated entirely to POTS, family life, and pregnancy. Pretty much right in my wheelhouse. Today a young woman asked for help for her and her serious boyfriend as they work through the difficult question of whether or not kids and family could be in their future. The responses were great! I took the time to write these two paragraphs. This is info I've been wanting to write out and share as part of my effort to help other moms figuring this stuff out. Not too fancy, but some practical stuff and a little encouragement:

I have three children all under the age of 6.5, and I chose to get pregnant one last time after my POTS diagnosis to add that fourth kid we had always imagined. I've made a few choices that help. These may not be possible for everyone, of course, but they are good to consider. 
1. We bought a house that has good indoor and outdoor spaces for play b/c I'm not always able to get the kids out for a walk or trip to the park. Big outings like museums/zoo are only possible with another adult. When I do choose to blow my energy on a big outing or family event, I enjoy it fully, but I just plan to pay for it with a few days of recovery. 
2. I have one afternoon of babysitting every week, so the kids can be with someone who is able to be active. I can use that day to crash if I planned/achieved something fun or big earlier in the week.
3. I force myself to be completely honest with a handful of friends about how hard it really is. That way, they can sort of help spread the word if I'm unavailable or other acquaintances start getting crabby about me not showing up for stuff or not taking on enough volunteer responsibilities at church/school/etc. 
4. I have learned to let go of some cleaning/aesthetic preferences in my home! I basically keep just a couple areas looking good for my own comfort/sanity, but I try to be really flexible about the rest. If I'm not, I just turn into a tyrant! 
5. I think it's good to spend more money on occasional cleaning/organizing help rather than childcare. Kids will only need this intense, regular attention for a few years (unless you homeschool, but even then it gets less demanding as they get older.). I'd rather lie on the floor doing puzzles or watching them play than bust my chops to get the kids babysat for me to spend my scant energy on less important things like mopping.

Oh and... I have seen some really beautiful character qualities beginning to develop in my young kids because I am a sick mom. They care more about people and experiences than doing everything just so. They are empathetic and perceptive to other people's needs and pain. They know it is ok to need and ask for help. They know that other adults in their lives are great resources of love and wisdom- not just mommy (though they do still love me the best!!) They are learning that a person's worth is not based on how much she can accomplish! I always hoped to be a supermom. I always told myself that I was going to be cheerful and energetic... But, here I am. I'm seeing that my vision of being a good mom and actually choosing each moment to be the best mom I can be are very different things. I and my family are learning tons of great stuff, and I try to take the long view when I get really bummed out or overwhelmed with the immediate difficulties.

I will add here that I 100% get overwhelmed by the immediate difficulties sometimes. There is very real, hard stuff going on here, and this week I've been beaten to tears by all the stress more than once. Without the prayers and love of first my God, then my great husband, and then my family and friends, I do not know that I would climb out of these pits that I sometimes find myself in. My counselor helps a lot too!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Artist's Challenge

Perhaps you have noticed the "Artist's Challenge" going around. It's as contagious as the flu. As an artist who met a challenge that was too great to overcome, the whole thing has pretty much made me feel like I have the flu. The symptoms of artistic nostalgia, intense fits of longing, and a heart full of stifled movement cannot be managed by medication. However, gratefulness is an antidote to the bitterness that threatens to develop. I wouldn't have posted this except that I was actually nominated, and I'm grateful. I wish that I had piles of beautiful ballet photos to share, but I don't. I do have a few from my student days, and I'm so happy that I was allowed a taste of living that dream. My dancing days are going on being half my lifetime away from me. It's a weird sensation because I still identify as a dancer on the inside (and still use ballet as my excuse for my ugly feet when the pedicurist rolls her eyes!). My own little "artist's challenge" for years now has been figuring out how to live artistically and express myself without access to the medium In which I was trained.

I have managed to find some ways to do this- mostly through dance partying with my children. But, I also like to cook, garden, work as a doula, write, make jewelry, create terrariums, and (lately) felt. Here's the thing, though: I'm pretty consumed these days with my main job, being a mother. All those other things fill in the gaps, the very few and narrow gaps. I think that what is important is to apply the love and skill I had for dancing to all the other areas of my life. Training to be a professional ballet dancer requires great commitment, sacrifice, risk, and LOVE. You have to love it so much that you are willing to keep going. You have to believe that it is worth pursuing- not just for you, but for the world. So, I try to believe that creative pursuits are worth the trouble. It is easier to live mundanely- MUCH easier. It's less messy, less risky, but less fun. Choosing to do crazy things like covering my kitchen counter in dirt, plants, rocks, and moss for an afternoon of putting terrariums together even though I KNOW my kids are going to get dirt all over my house is my way of being an artist now. Are the results always terrific? No. Does my world feel richer? Yes. 

My willingness to live in this manner has been challenged by the development of chronic illness in my body. So far, my life displays a pattern: fall in love with something; become damaged in some new way; try to move on without bitterness. My life is not uniques in this. I think that's just being here and growing up, and we all have to do that. I think the real nugget of goodness in this whole "artist's challenge" business is that it reveals what artsy people know already: it's ok to be proud of what you make. It will feel weird most of the time, and it comes with lots of insecurity. But, artists love what they do so much that they just can't help but do it anyway and hopefully share it with the rest of us. So, I'm writing a blog post that makes me feel insecure. But I love writing, so I'm doing it anyway. And I'm willing to believe that posting it will be worth the risk of exposing myself. And I bought the America's Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook because even though I can buy pickles, I love them so much that I want to figure it out myself. The pursuit is worth the time to me. My kids will know where pickles come from! And I submitted a terrarium full of hand-felted plants to the school auction because even though it may actually be extremely dorky, I loved making it and want to share it.

I don't dance for very many people any more, but I certainly don't love dancing any less. For me, the risk of pursuing an artistic life did not pay off in the way that I hoped. At least, though, I learned that the pursuit itself is worth it to me. Enjoying creativity at the cost of practicality is a challenge I hope to meet everyday- even if I'm doing it from my bed. My children love to talk about and even re-enact (oh, the joy) my ballet accident because even though it makes them sad, they see that moment as the start to their own stories. "Mommy loved ballet so much, but then she got hurt and couldn't do it anymore. So, she had us and now she has a job she loves even better than ballet!" What a great story! The thought of my kids growing up to love something like ballet actually terrifies me because I know how painful it may be if it doesn't work out how they want. But, if I can communicate to them through pursuing my own interests over and over, engaging them in the messy, rewarding processes, that art is for knowing more love and beauty and sharing with others- and not necessarily about "success," then I know they will be blessed by it for a lifetime as I am. 

I nominate anyone I know to accept the challenge of doing something you love even if it may be a bit inconvenient. I challenge you to share something with someone else. 

Clearly, photography is not one of my gifts!