Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sick days for the mommy . . .

My husband is too good to me.  Have I said that here yet?  He just really is.  I am beyond blessed with this man o’ mine.  For just being a couple of kids when we got together, we’ve done alright.  And he’s done stupendously.

I’ve been sick for the last two weeks.  Whatever horrid germ it is has worked its way through all five of us at some point.  Today I’m on day two of antibiotics and am starting to feel better, but I think the things are making me nauseous.  I feel pregnant:  the constant sensation of almost-barfing.  It’s helping console me on the whole empty-arms whine I wrote last time.  Blech.

So, this hubby of mine . . . since I was smart enough to not get sick on a Sunday, I’ve had some real down time to get better.  And I’m grateful.  And I know not everyone has this, and I write this to remind myself in darker days (read:  days when I am re-thinking this whole marriage thing) that my husband really does go above and beyond to be kind to me and to take care of all of us.

I thought I’d try a funny post today, but it’s not happening.  Where has all my funny gone?  Maybe tomorrow.  Tomorrow when my brain is not fuzzy, when I don’t feel like heaving my chicken noodle soup.  Tomorrow I’ll tell the tale of Screaming Ruthie.  I’ll contemplate the great mysteries of the toddler who has a 100% potty success rate when she’s naked and a 100% failure rate when thick gotchies are applied.  Go figure.  Tomorrow I’ll reflect on the fact that I think school is driving my children insane.  Tomorrow.

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll tell all the silly tales of motherhood.  Today I’m going to curl up and feel nauseous and revel in my chance to rest.

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It’s time for a baby . . .

but there isn’t one.  I’ll stick that right up front, lest anyone get excited.

But it’s time.  Ruth will be precisely 2 1/2 tomorrow.  Isaac was one week shy of 2 1/2 when Hannah was born.  Hannah was one month and one week shy of 2 1/2 when Ruth was born.  (Makes it look like we are such good planners.  We’re not.)  So.  Now Ruth is 2 1/2.  And I’m supposed to have a newborn.  I can feel it.  I can feel this empty space where a newborn would go.

It’s hard.  It’s hard to explain and it’s hard to come to terms with.  We made a very conscious, a very well-thought-out decision to stop at three children.  And on some level I know it was the right decision, but I’ve been sad about it.  And right now, when my pattern indicates it’s time to be adding someone new to the family, it’s particularly sad.

I think it’s a mixture of being robbed and of being a failure that haunts me.  This decision we made, this likely very wise decision we made, was built upon some circumstances that seem to be either totally beyond our control, or entirely in my control, depending on the day, depending on my mood.  Whichever it was, this decision was not made because I looked at my family with three children and said, “Yes.  That’s the right number.”  And I think I feel that.

Pregnancy was really not good for me.  And, therefore, really not good for my family.  Completely debilitated by morning sickness and depression, pregnancy means, for me, essentially a year of sitting on the couch (the “year” because it also includes the first three months with a newborn who eats near continuously).  For my children it means 9 months with a near useless, totally miserable mommy.  One who is able and willing to do little else but sit and snuggle.  For my husband it means having to be not only the sole monetary provider, but also the sole caretaker of his young family for the better part of a year.

When I was in late pregnancy with Ruth, we decided we couldn’t all do this again.  None of us.  Ry didn’t want to see me that miserable ever again.  I didn’t want to rob of their mother the three children in my arms for the sake of another in my womb.  And I didn’t ever again want to watch my beloved, generous, loving husband weighed down by the burdens of a congregation and the full responsibilities for our family.  I was still pregnant when we made the decision, and part of me thought maybe we should wait until we weren’t in the throes of pregnancy before we made our decision permanent, but I vividly recall the rest of me believing wholeheartedly that it was best that we make the decision while we were in the throes of pregnancy misery lest we forget just how bad it was.

And now.  Now I think I have forgotten just how bad it was.  But I don’t forget how amazing it is to have a whole new little person in my arms and at my breast and in our family.  And I also feel so better armed for the pregnancy journey now that I know going in that pregnancy creates depression in me.  Maybe I could take an antidepressant while I’m pregnant and actually have an enjoyable pregnancy experience.  And I now have all these crunchy resources for dealing with morning sickness, maybe I could even do pregnancy without feeling like vomiting all day every day from weeks 7 through 22.  All of these what if’s . . . But the decision’s been made and ratified, and I’m not sure any of us would really be willing to take the chance on the what if’s.

Yet still.  It makes me sad.  I watch births on TV, I read birth stories online, and I cry.  I cry that I will never do it again.  I mourn the baby that never will be.  I give myself a sound beating for not having been better at it.  For not having been better at accomplishing the biological task my body was designed to do.  And I beg God for a miracle.  There.  I admit it.  I beg God for a miracle baby.  We have, after all, one more empty chair at our table.  Of course, then I give myself a sound beating for being so greedy.  For not being simply grateful for and satisfied with the three wonderfully healthy babies we have, and the fact that I have held each and every one of my babies, when I know so many women who haven’t had that much, ones who never got to hold their breathing babies, ones who held them for far too short a time.  Then I try to remind myself of these thoughts.

Sigh.  Pity party.  And you know what?  That may be all I have here.  I’m still not ready to see the hope in it, to see the Good News of it.  I’m just not.  I’m having my pity party  today.  I wanted a fourth baby, and, because I can’t be pregnant without inflicting profound misery on my whole family, I can’t have one.  Or, maybe I didn’t want a fourth baby, maybe I just wanted the opportunity to think about having a fourth baby in terms of normal questions like, “Do we have enough room in our house?”  “Do we want to start all over again?”  “Is somebody still missing here?”   But because of my pregnancies, that really wasn’t an option.  And I’m mad.  And sad.  And not very glad at all.  I guess crummy pregnancy symptoms are part of the Fall.  And as such, they should piss me off.   And they do.

Maybe as Ruth rounds the corner away from 2 1/2, away from the age at which kids become big brothers and sisters around here, maybe it will become less painful.  Maybe as she gets older and easier and we start spending all night every night with just the two of us in our own bed and everyone is using the toilet independently and everyone can put on their own shoes and socks and so on, and so forth . . . maybe it will grow less painful and I will grow more content with our family of five.  I hope (and pray) that I don’t endlessly continue to look at that sixth chair at the dining room table longing to fill it with another offspring.  I hope and pray I can sincerely look at it and desire to fill it with a stranger in need of a place to sit and eat.

So maybe I do have some hope here after all.  A little bit.

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Filed under being The Mommy, Family Life, grieving

Two very different girls . . .

I think about this a lot.  This parenting thing.  It’s been my primary vocation for 8 years now.  (I start counting with Isaac’s conception, as that was the point at which I began obsessing about the whole parenting enterprise.)

It seems everybody’s got their ideas, their philosophy.  Rules to follow, guidelines to lead you in leading your children toward adulthood.  I tried to qualify that adulthood:  healthy, well-balanced?  productive?  But every little nook and cranny of parenting-lore has its own goal in mind.  There are some Christian circles where the name of the game is obedience:  raise your kid to be obedient to you so that when they are adults they will be obedient to God.  There are some Non-Christian circles whose goal seems to be adults who are capable of finding their own way, their own path.  And everything in between and a zillion hybrids.

There are some things I’ve learned in these eight years of parenting.  Well, 7 1/2 years with a kid I can actually see and touch.  These rules.  These guidelines.  These “Do XYZ for ABC results” applied to kids?  Bunk.  A whole lotta bunk.  Who are we kidding?  Kids did not come down out of a shoot from a factory.  There is not one model.  There is no model.  They are individual people–hear that.  People.  From birth.–with their own particularities and peculiarities.  Just as different one from another as adults are different, one from another.  Why is it that we expect our kids to fit some sort of mold, follow some sort of rule (if X, then A), when we know enough never to expect the grown ups around us to work that way?  When we encounter adults, we know to expect the unexpected, always prepared to respond to what comes next, knowing that what comes next is not always predictable?  Why do we view adults this way, but not kids?

I can’t talk to my mother the same way I talk to my sister.  They have two different languages.  Two different senses of humor.  Yes, they are similar in many ways, but in others they couldn’t be any more different.  And this is one woman raised by another woman, taught about the world by her from her earliest days.

Yet.  Yet we get these first kids and we open up these books to find out what to do to them, with them, for them, to turn them into the people we want them to be.  Then we have these second kids and we apply all those same rules to them and expect the same result.  “If I do R (this Rule), this child will do Y.”  But the thing is, the child (C) in the equation (R + C = Y) is not a constant.  The child is one, unique individual and, therefore, a variable.  A variable of enormous magnitude.  So, how can we expect to consistently get Y, the results we desire in and for our children, when we add the same R to a completely different C?  Are you following me?  I have at least one numbers-oriented friend who might be.

We have to change the game.  Change the equation.  Start with the variable.  Start with the C.  End with the Y, sure.  It’s OK to have a goal in mind for your kid.  I want my kids to grow up knowing the Lord, loving him with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and loving their neighbors as themselves.  That’s my goal.  That’s my Y.  So I have a kid, C, who I want to get to equal Y.  Actually, I have three kids, I want to get to equal Y.  Three different equations, one for each variable.  Because each C has a completely different value and measurement and character and you-name-it.  So, I’m left with a general  ( __ + C = Y), but with each child, I have to figure out what goes into that blank.  I have to figure out the Rules, the tools, the means, that need to be added to each different child to get–to the best of my limited abilities–to the results I’m hoping for.

What does this child, Hannah, need?  What does this child, Ruth, need?  What does this child, Isaac, need?  Those are the questions I need to be asking.  If I go to any “rule” books, I need to do so with these questions in mind.  Seeking not rules, but ideas, possibilities.  Things I can try that might work for Ruth, but not for Hannah, things that hit Isaac just right, but send Hannah off the deep end.  Too many of these people selling these books fail to tell you that.  I think these books tell us more about the kids the authors had than it tells us about what we can do for our own kids.  And in some cases, my heart breaks for the kids who came after the author’s firstborn but who likely had the nerve to operate completely differently.

So not where I intended to go.  Shock of shocks.  My real point in writing this, as may be evident from the title, was to share an experience I had last night that demonstrated just how different my two girls are.  My three kids are so very different, one from another.  And maybe that’s why I’m so sensitive to all this.  Maybe not everyone’s kids are as varied as mine.  Mine barely seem that they came from the same planet, I don’t see how they all could have come from the same womb.  I simply cannot treat each one of them with the same set of rules.  I would have broken them long before they came off the assembly line.

So, in keeping with the title, an illustration of just how different are my girls. . . .

Everybody was sick yesterday.  Well, not me, but everyone else.  Fevers and coughing and general flu-like stuff going on.  I’m pretty sure no one’s going to die, but there are buckets of misery being passed around.  Hannah and Ruth each had a fever at dinner last night (in the 104 range), so I gave them each a dose of ibuprophen at 6:30 and sent everyone off to bed (read, 2 1/2 hours later, everyone was asleep).

Around 2AM I hear a distinctly croupy cough and a whimpering “Mommy” coming down the hall.  Hannah and Ruth sound pretty much the same, so I can’t tell who it is until I am greeted by the messy halo of blond and footed-jammies silhouette with the yellow blankie tucked under my toddler’s chin.  Ruthie.  “I want Mommy.”  OK, honey.  I climb out of bed to meet her in the hall, but realize, Boy I really need a trip to the bathroom before I get involved in this.  “Ry, can you keep Ruth while I run to the bathroom?”  “Sure,” says my most beloved, always-willing-to-help-a-kid-or-wife-in-the-middle-of-the-night husband.

I return from the bathroom to find my Ruthie snuggled in bed with her daddy and chitty-chatting away in a chipper voice:  “Dem was WRobots.  Da wittle one was WRushy.  What dem peas doing?  What was Pa Gape doing?  Dem was singin’ ”  And so on.  And on.  And on.  Ruthie had watched a lot of TV on her sick day, and is retelling much of what she saw.  Chipper and happy and ready to go.   Ry and I are laughing, despite the fact that it’s 2 in the morning and we are both desperately tired.  Ruthie’s just so funny.  I feel her forehead, to check on how her fever is doing and she is burning up.  I run downstairs for the thermometer and ibuprophen.  102.3.  Hot enough.  She’s chipper, so perhaps I shouldn’t worry about bringing the temp down, but I want her to be comfortable enough to sleep well, so I drug her up.  I send Ry off to Ruth’s bed while I hunker down with her in ours.  When she lay down, she has some big, wet coughs and she throws up.  After cleaning up, we both start to drift off to sleep.

Next thing I know–and very little time has passed–I hear yet another croupy cough and whimpering.  Hannah.  She whimpers and whines her way up over Ruth, straddles my legs and just whimpers and whines.  I try to tell her I need her to get off my legs so I can go get her daddy to help her–so Ruth can stay asleep–but she won’t move, won’t speak, can only whimper.  I’m trying desperately to quickly get her up and out of my room before she awakens Ruth, but she’s beside herself.  I also know that she’s going to throw up, because she always does when she’s sick like this with excess mucous–she’s always choked and gagged easily–so I’m also trying to get her to get off my bed before she does.  But she can’t do anything but whimper and whine.  She’s just pitiful.  As predicted, she barfs, mostly getting it off the side of the bed to the floor as instructed–though the bed does not go unscathed–and continues to whimper and whine and tremble.  My poor, poor baby.

I carry her off to Ruth’s bed (in the room next door to ours, so as not to disturb Isaac who shares Hannah’s room) while my beloved cleans up the mess and changes our sheets–have I mentioned how wonderful he is?–and Ruth, long since awakened by the hullaballoo, wanders around between both rooms chattering away, chipper and happy, despite her rosy cheeks and glassy eyes.   Hannah huddles into a shivering ball under Ruth’s blankets.  I get the thermometer and ibuprophen.  102.8.  And miserable.  Drug her up good.

I send Ry off to bed with Hannah, so she has someone to snuggle and keep her warm, and again I hunker down with Ruthie who is really ready to go now, chitty chitty chat chat.  And I marvel at the difference between my two girls.  Both with the same symptoms, the same grade fever.  One happy-go-lucky, bubbly, chipper, ball of energy, one shivering, trembling, whimpering, most pitiful creature.  So different.  Neither good nor bad, just different.  And if they can’t even have the same response to the same virus with the same symptoms, how can I expect them to have the same response to anything else?

Wow.  I’ve rambled.  Blame the fact that I haven’t been blogging much lately.  Blame the utter lack of sleep.  Blame the encroaching virus.  But who am I kidding?  It’s my way.  It’s who I am.  It’s one of the ways God made me special.  It’s my own little way of being different.

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Filed under attachment parenting, Hannah, Ruth, sick kid

I lift my eyes up . . .

1I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
3He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7The LORD will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.

I’ve had a lot going on lately.  Specifically, had a crazy couple of weeks back in the middle of September. On September 14th, I received a call from my mother. She and my father had just returned from an appointment with my father’s neurologist.

Back in the early spring, my 63 year old father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This was a hefty blow to the former Marine Master Sgt., and a Teamster who made his living carrying refrigerators around. It was also a mighty blow to the three women of his life: his wife of 41 years and his two grown daughters. Visions of watching this strong, proud man who had worked so hard, so well, his whole life—beginning at the age of 12—physically weaken and deteriorate before our eyes began creeping in from the deep, dark corners of our minds.

This was not how it was supposed to be. We had all grown convinced of an entirely different scenario for his death. His own father, along with his father’s brother, had died of sudden heart attacks at the tender age of 42. Their sister also had her first heart attack at 42, however it wasn’t until suffering her second at 54 that she joined her brothers in early death. Losing his father when he was twelve and a most beloved uncle when he was 16 left my father with an immense appreciation for life. He never took a moment for granted, and began counting every year past age 42 as an especially precious gift.

The other side of that coin was that, as a family, we all assumed that my father, like his father before him, would be cut down swiftly and in the prime of his life. That image, that fear, truly was a driving force in our life.

But. But then came the diagnosis in the spring: Parkinson’s. And our vision of my father being struck down suddenly, in all of his strength, were replaced with shadows of deterioration and longterm care. Devastating. And certainly bad enough.

Now. Back to September 14th. . . . During this, my father’s second visit with the neurologist, issues beyond my father’s tremors were raised. Behavioral changes, cognitive changes—changes we had attributed to something else—changes observable to the neurologist, put something new on his radar screen: dementia. Specifically, Lewy Body dementia.

Suddenly our vision for my father’s last years shifted yet again. Instead of a strong body failing and deteriorating, we now imagine my father’s mind failing, growing incapable of speech, of even recognizing me or my sister or the woman he’s loved since he was 17 or even his 5 grandchildren.

The thing is, I don’t have to work very hard to imagine the realities of dementia. My 64 year old father-in-law is in the later stages of his own bout with dementia. Diagnosed nearly seven years ago with a form of dementia called Frontotemporal Dementia (or FTD)–go ahead, do the math . . . that’s right, he was 57 when he was diagnosed—the dementia’s effects on him are profound. And heartbreaking.

When I heard of my father’s possible diagnosis of dementia, Ry and I were actually waiting to hear details on his step-mother’s trip to visit her brother on the other side of the country. Feeling a deep need to visit her ailing brother, my step-mother-in-law reluctantly asked if we could go and care for my father-in-law while she left town for 5 days. We were happy to oblige. Our plans were confirmed midweek: we would leave Sunday to spend the week with my father-in-law.

Ry and I slogged through that week: spending extra time with my mother and sister—all of us reeling from my father’s new diagnosis—making arrangements with the school to get work for my 2nd grader to do while we were out of town for a week, both of us preparing sermons for Sunday morning in two different pulpits. Too late to arrange for pulpit supply for Ry, and with me as the pulpit supply at another church, we decided to head south after we all returned home from church on Sunday and packed up the minivan with all our stuff and three kids. We began the 530 mile trip at 3:30 in the afternoon and arrived at my in-law’s at 2:30 in the morning. Ry’s step-mother left home at 10 the next morning, and on two to three hours of sleep for each of us, Ry and I hit the ground running.

Our week consisted of a whole lot of care-taking, lots and lots of dishes, and what seemed to be a continual parade of meals and snacks and drinks. And our week was filled with amazing blessing as we were able to express our love for my father-in-law in real and tangible ways, and watch our children learn by example our family’s expectation for loving one another.

However. I’ll be honest. Our week was exhausting. And our week was overwhelming. And because the days following my own father’s diagnosis were spent in that flurry of activity, I hadn’t time to stop and really think things through, to really process it. Still the news was weighing on me, and somewhere around mid-week, on a morning after both my father-in-law and our youngest had a bad night’s sleep, I hit a wall.

On Wednesday morning, I had a few quiet moments to myself in the only place a mom can have in her own home, provided the room has a room that locks: the shower. In the quiet, I reflected on my week. I had spent the week caring for my father-in-law, loving on him, his face with only glimmers of expression, his brown eyes only occasionally finding my own in any meaningful way, sometimes confused, often simply staring to space. These images of him raced through my mind, but then before I knew what was happening, the images changed. My father-in-law’s brown eyes were replaced by the clear blue eyes of my father, the expressionless face grew broader, fairer. My mind continued down the path of foreseeing. Thoughts of how I would explain to my children how the brain of their other grandfather now has something wrong with it. I wondered if they would begin to consider this brain deterioration as simply the way the world works and then would begin to worry about their own father’s brain or even their own. I began to wonder how my mother with her own health concerns would be able to care for my father and I realized she would need a great deal of help from my sister and me. I started to think about how after seven years it seemed I was finally putting that Master’s of Divinity to work, serving churches, but how would I balance that now? Throughout my thoughts of all the ways my life would be affected by my father’s future, my father’s face, superimposed over my father-in-law’s condition, continued to come in and out of focus before my mind.

My mind was whirling, buzzing, with all of what would be required of my family in the coming years, while at the same time feeling intensely the heart-wrenching burden of my father-in-law’s condition. Aching for him, and for his wife and for my husband. Knowing that the end is in sight, realizing the huge hole that will open up in our lives without him in it. And my heart ached for my father, for the things he’d have to go through before he lost awareness. Truly, this was not all about me.

Whirring, buzzing, spinning, turning, every which way a big, scary mess. Until finally I found myself completely overwhelmed by all that lay ahead.

And it’s at this point that I did the only thing I think anyone in those circumstances would do, can do. I cried out to God. “Lord, how am I going to get through this? How are we all going to get through this?” An image had formed in my head. A mountain. I was staring at this enormous mountain in front of me and somehow, some way, I needed to climb up and over it and pass through to the other side. “How, Lord? How am I going to get over that mountain?!”

It doesn’t happen often. I think because I don’t listen often enough, but I believe the Lord answered me. And he answered me with his very own Word.

I lift my eyes up to the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

To be honest, I heard the verse in the form of the song I know. “I lift my eyes up. Up to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from you, maker of heaven. Creator of the earth.”

How many times had I sung that song? Countless. Countless many. Many many. With my hands raised and my eyes closed (even though I’m Presbyterian), I had envisioned a vast open space with big mountains, like the rockies—enormous, jagged, imposing mountains. Mountains that demonstrate the power of the One who made them. I envisioned God above those mountains. You know, kind of a Mt. Sinai vision: God, himself, dwelling on a high, rocky mountain. God of power. Beautiful vision, truly. I had sung the song marveling at God’s awesome power to have created such magnificent mountains and to be so beyond the scope of those magnificent mountains, that he dwells above them and beyond them. So to this point this song, this Psalm, was a song that reminded me of God’s strength and power, but in a far off sort of way. God, Big God, way above the mountains, providing help to me. A beautiful image. Truly.

But not the one that came to mind on that day I cried out to him and he answered with this Psalm. Suddenly, I saw things much differently. Suddenly the mountain was not evidence of God’s majesty, of his amazing power of creativity. Suddenly, the mountain was this overwhelming task that was set before me. In my mind I was now at the foot of one of those enormous, imposing Rockies, and my task was to scale it. And I’m no outdoors-woman. But God was assuring me I would make it over to the other side.

When I had a chance to sit down with a Bible and look at the rest of the Psalm, it came into still fuller clarity for me. It does not describe a far-off God providing help from on high. It describes a God who is my climbing partner and then some. “He will not let your foot be moved.” I trip a lot. The image of God holding onto my foot so it doesn’t slip on the graveled terrain? Wow. Suddenly I had a clear image of the ultimate hiking partner. One who would stay right by my side and compensate for any uneven terrain, keeping me on track.

He who keeps you will not slumber.” You know this is talking about a place where critters come and eat you in the night while you sleep. But God never sleeps, so when you need rest, he keeps things going, he keeps you safe. I was assured that even in the midst of the worst moments to come, there would be time and space for my rest. I cannot keep watch at all times, but when I can’t, the Lord, who never sleeps, will keep it all in his sight and care.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” Day and night, the Lord will be there, protecting me from the elements, protecting me from the harsh realities of the journey.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” I will survive this. I will. I will not plummet to my death. I will not be buried in an avalanche or a mudslide. The Lord will keep me.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” The Lord will be here with me through it all. Wherever I go, whatever I do. In this life as well as the one to come.

Praise and thanks be to God for his Word.

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Filed under Gospel living, theologizing