Friday, September 30, 2011
I've actually started to understand the notion of never to getting too caught up in any one place emotionally.
The ground under our feet shifts so often... it doesn't make sense to accept feelings of devastation or elation.
I just go with the flow, and that flow keeps moving me to new and unexpected places.
Yesterday night at 9:30pm I sat in the waiting room of the local Children's Hospital emergency room with my four year old son who had been diagnosed 26 hours earlier with orbital cellulitis.
I hadn't heard of this before, and was really surprised by the diagnosis. (I'd thought maybe he stuck a rock up his nose at recess, causing the redness.) I wasn't emotionally prepared for an infection near the eye that could rapidly progress to loss of vision, meningitis or infection of his brain.
When she told me that he would need to be hospitalized on IV antibiotics if the oral antibiotics didn't work within 24 hours, my entire gut clenched. What? Hospitalized? Within a single day?
It seemed surreal.
When I went to pick up his extra strength augmentin prescription, my pharmacist friend told me that he was being dosed at the highest possible level before toxicity for a person of his size. Tears poured down my cheeks as I signed for the medicine.
"He'll be okay," she smiled warmly. "He's a fighter."
(Like me, our pharmacist has been through many of his injuries and illnesses over the last 7 months.)
At that moment, all I wanted in the world was to go back in time. Back to the prior weekend when he and his brother and I spent a fabulous four hours washing the car, blissfully ignorant that we'd soon be facing another crisis.
* * *
After the diagnosis it was touch and go for 24 hours. I hovered over his bed, taking his temperature every few hours. We started the medicine at 8:30 - his fever broke at midnight.
The doctor saw him for a followup in the morning and was pleased - even though his swelling had not gone down, the redness had vanished. "That is a very good sign," she said.
Just when I'd begun to accept that this was over and we could go back to life as normal, he began to complain of feeling dizzy and lightheaded with a headache.
"Are you hungry?" I asked. "Could it be a side effect of the Augmentin?"
We called the pediatrician's office. The doctor on call (not his actual doctor) recommended that we rush to the ER to get a CT scan... to make sure that pressure wasn't building behind his eye due to the cellulitis infection.
Yet, looking at my little boy I had the strongest feeling in my gut that he was in fact well. He seemed enormously healthier than he had one day prior. I believed he would be okay. My sensitive mommy radar ~ acutely aware when any of my children are remotely in danger ~ was silent and still.
When we arrived at the ER, the head nurse validated that feeling. "He looks pretty good to me," she said. "We'll take a look at him if you like but usually children who have orbital cellulitis are a lot more swollen than he is. If you ask me, his antibiotics are working."
"I know!" I responded. "I think he's looking much better too! I don't really want to expose him to all of the radiation in a CT scan unless it is essential."
"Have you tried giving him ibuprofen or Tylenol for the headache?" she asked.
"You might want to consider doing that to see if it helps, before you check him into the emergency room... we'll still be here in a couple of hours, if that doesn't ease his pain."
"Thanks, I appreciate your honesty. We'll talk it over," I told her.
My son and I went to sit down with a stack full of paperwork to fill out.
"How is your head feeling, buddy?" I asked.
"It hurts," he responded.
"Okay, then we'll stay!" I began to fill out paperwork.
My son looked around the room at all of the other sick children waiting to be seen. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed him taking it all in - children coughing, crying, moaning, sleeping on their parents' laps.
As I started to fill in the last row of questions, he spoke up.
"My head feels much better."
"My head. It feels better."
"Yes. It doesn't hurt me anymore."
I looked at him very, very closely. As before, I still felt he looked much better - almost normal. The redness covering his sinuses had vanished. Swelling was down. Fever long gone.
"Are you sure? You want to go? I'm way too tired to come back here tonight. You need to be certain because if you need to come back in a few hours it will be daddy that brings you, not mommy."
"Okay. I'm sure. I want to go home."
"What about your headache?"
"It went away."
Moments later I turned my packet of paperwork back to the woman at the front desk and explained to she and the head nurse that we were going to return home.
The nurse nodded.
"We'll be here all night. If he gets worse, you can always come back. Honestly, I think he looks really good. I'll be surprised if we see you here again tonight."
"Me too," I agreed.
We drove home in silence under a wide starry sky.
Upon arriving home I bathed him, he ate a second dinner, we read a story, he fell fast asleep.
Nine hours later we awakened to a brand new world.
Fever still gone, swelling mostly gone, redness gone. We spoke to his real pediatrician and she confidently gave us clearance to take the little family vacation we'd been planning for months.
"If his fever has been gone for 36 hours now," she encouraged, "I think you've seen the worst of it. You should go. He can take antibiotics anywhere."
So, we went.
* * *
If anyone had asked me last night in the ER where I would be tonight, I would've said:
"I'll be happy anywhere as long as my boy is healing and not in a hospital ward."
Two days post-diagnosis finds me sitting in the living room of a darling Catalina Island cottage, 32 miles off the Southern California coast where we boarded a ferry this evening with three (healthy) children, a bicycle, a stroller, a precious bottle of Augmentin Extra Strength and an impressive amount of luggage.
The wind on the water was strong as we crossed and our ferry, one of the smaller boats in their fleet, rocked and rolled across the waves with large sprays of whitewash casting over its sides.
My little boy cuddled into my side; his toddler sister hunkered down in my lap.
Every time she cried when we hit another powerful wave ("I want get out of boat Mommeee. I want go home,") I told them both to pretend we were riding a rollercoaster.
"Here we go!" I laughed as the big waves kept smacking into our boat head-on. "Say Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!"
"Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" giggled my little son.
Together we rode the big waves toward a snug and safe harbor.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
We get our information from a variety of sources and examine it through our individual (often different) lenses on the world.
My husband was a biology major in college. He hails from a long line of physicians.
This background gives him confidence in his assessments of scientific matters.
He also listens to a lot of National Public Radio.
I am a reader. I have zero family background in the sciences, although my musician father did hold a bachelor of science degree in Naval Studies and worked for some time as a Navy code-breaker... something I find to be quite cool.
So my claim to understanding anything scientific comes mainly from reading. I read websites, newspapers, government publications, scientific studies in their original form ~ and I pay special attention to the Cochrane Review which aggregates studies and provides a meta-analysis of various issues.
One of our recurring environmental debates has surrounded the issue of transportation.
Which form of mass transportation (whether moving goods or people) is least harmful to the Earth?
We've gone many rounds over this one, with my husband insisting that air travel is the most efficient and me taking the stance that a filled passenger train or bus is better for the Earth than an airplane.
(I'm sure everyone talks about this stuff over dinner, right?) :-)
Recently we got smart and finally asked the person we both trust most on the issue, my husband's brother, for the real answer.
Ewan* is a sought-after sustainability manager who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Systems along with a Master of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Not to mention, he's a freaking genius and an all-around great guy.
So, if anyone knows the real answer about the environmental dilemmas we tussle over, Ewan would be that person. My husband and I take his word as gospel, and we enjoy bringing our environmental questions to him.
Happily, in terms of the transportation efficiency debate Ewan affirmed my view about buses vs. airplanes ~ giving us a very thoughtful, scientific, articulate explanation ~ and now my husband owes me dinner.
(Hey honey, I like French food!)
We've brought lots of sustainability questions to Ewan over the years, asking about such things as:
- Does it really make a difference to the Earth to buy local or organic?
- How can we reduce our family energy consumption?
- How can we become more efficient in our water usage?
- Grocery bags - paper or plastic or bring-your-own... which exploits the most resources?
I love the way he always has an answer which goes far beyond the original question, examining our small family dilemmas from more of a global and long-term perspective.
In all honestly we've both had trouble sticking day-to-day with some of the practical, Earth-friendly housekeeping advice he's given us along the way... but at least my husband and I both know that Ewan is right and we are grateful that he frequently opens our eyes to deeper truths about our consumption as a family.
Today, Ewan sent me a link to the most wonderful blog... something recently designed by two of his friends to communicate solid environmental choices to everyday folks. They've only just begun to post but already I am incredibly impressed with OroEco (oro = gold, eco = green). I love their tagline, Turning Green to Gold.
Their most recent post about the virtues of buying local vs. organic vs. eating less red meat was eye-opening to say the least. I highly recommend reading through it, as it gives a point of view based on hard facts that I would not have guessed.
* * *
I've always felt that the environment (and how we modify our human behaviors to protect and support it) is crucial to our species.
In the end nothing else really matters if we drive other species into extinction and cause our planet to become uninhabitable by human beings.
Who will care about social security if people lose their ability to reproduce thanks to contaminated soil and water? Who will worry about taxes if the human race can no longer breathe the air within our planet's atmosphere?
I think one could argue that climate protection and environmental support NOW is the greatest "Social Security" we could leave behind for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
* * *
365 days of meaning is designed to be give a unique voice to my own perspective about the meaning of life, so that I can forever share my own thoughts and beliefs with my three children.
For today, the meaning of life is to learn how to be a better custodian of our natural world and all of its abundance.
Humans haven't completely ruined the Earth or its delicate ecological balance yet... it's not too late (or too hard) to do our part as individuals and family members to make things better.
Today I walked my son to school rather than driving him ~ saving gasoline, money and reducing emissions into the atmosphere. We also got some great exercise... so as we save the Earth, we also extend our own health and lives.
The way I see it, that's a Win-Win.
This morning my two year old picked out her own clothes to wear for the day. She chose a recycled bright orange t-shirt (a hand-me-down from her older brother!) with the picture of an ice cream shaped Earth melting from the top of a sugar cone.
"Save some for me!"
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the party mentioned
Monday, September 26, 2011
There is so much going on right now in my head and heart.
Swirling. That's what it feels like ~ colors and textures swirling around my canvas.
The muck of life, I think they call it. I'm up to my waist in the muck of life.
It's a glorious mess, part beautiful and part awful... completely vivid and totally consuming.
First, there are the babies.
There are three (or more?) babies on the way into my world right now... three babies I already adore in their various stages of completion.
These little blessings belong to three families that my husband and I consider to be among our all-time closest friends. They are all much longed-for babies and much loved.
One of them ~ a boy ~ is edging closer every day to joining us on this crazy planet, and I can't wait! Just a few more weeks and we'll finally see his darling little face. His beautiful, strong mama has been waiting patiently in the hospital for his birth for a few weeks now and she is my HERO.
So right now, part of my heart is in the hospital with our friends and their little guy. I'm sending them love and prayers all the time.
At the same time a big chunk of my heart is also with another unborn baby boy, my best friend Ingrid's* first child. She and her husband found out today that their baby-on-the-way is a boy (I knew it!!! My gut said boy as soon as I saw her pregnant belly!) and so I am wrapped up in thoughts about him too.
Ingrid is one of my closest friends, someone I have loved like a sister for going on 25 years. I think her husband is fantastic, they are absolutely wonderful together. We've been waiting a long time to see them as parents (given that my husband and I have been "parenting" for seven years now) and I am SO excited about their baby!
When I got her message this afternoon that he was indeed a boy, I danced around the house!
The third precious baby-in-creation is hardly more than a sparkle in the eye of his/her parents (we just learned their great news last week!) but already I am so excited and can't wait to go baby-gift shopping. I'm calling girl on that sweet baby... time will tell!
These babies-on-the-way are absolute joys. Their colors in my "muck of life" are wonderful: whites, yellows, greens, teal blue.
* * *
Then there are some other things cruising through my brain:
- Tutoring, which I love.
- A few students I am tutoring who I am worried about.
- Emails I keep meaning to write, and forgetting.
- Checks I keep meaning to deposit, and don't.
- Babysitting schedule that I need to organize better!
- Household chores left undone, some of which are essential.
- Anxiety about not spending enough time with my children, now that I am working again.
- My mother's vacation with my sister... how are they doing?
- Our upcoming weekend trip and all of the packing I need to do!
- Hope and wonderment about our future ~ house? travel? college for the kids? continued good health!?
- Joy in having seen and spent time with really fabulous friends in the past few days
- Generalized ambivalence about politics, our government and the 2012 election... I was thrift store shopping for work clothes this afternoon when I heard on the store radio that President Barack Obama was in Southern California today... wondered what he and Michelle would say about our economy if they were actually cruising the bargain aisles with my daughter and I, meeting all of the folks we encountered.
- ??? about the new changes coming to Facebook and what all of it may mean for my privacy and online friendships
- Radiohead tour next year! Portishead tour next month!
- Oh, and I'm turning 36 soon! I've got twenty lines in my forehead and teenagers call me ma'am... I stumble on this mentally sometimes ;-)
Just a great big mass of LIFE to deal with. It's a stream-of-consciousness kind of situation, where everything sort of blurs together into one post-impressionistic flourish. One minute I'm helping a high school student write an English paper and then I'm giving my three children a bath while singing nursery rhymes. Inhaling dinner at 9pm (so hungry!) while catching up on the news of the day. Hugging my husband who I haven't seen in 15 hours.
It's beautiful! It's overwhelming!
I wouldn't trade any of it... and I'm glad to be here.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the party in question
Saturday, September 24, 2011
I have a confession to make...
(Don't tell my husband!)
I actually love the days when I have the kids all to myself from waking until bedtime (when he is traveling or stuck at work).
The kids and I usually do really well together on those days and have so much fun.
Maybe I make more of an effort when I know that I'm not going to have any breaks or help during the day?
Perhaps I go out of my way to ensure that they'll have a good time when I know the buck stops with me?
More likely, my three kids (knowing which side their bread is buttered on) just sync themselves to my rhythm and we pace well together all day long.
All I can say (whisper, confide) is that I sincerely enjoy the long hours spent caring for and hanging out with my kiddos... as long as I know that their awesome Dad is going to be back in the near future to spell me.
It would be a different story if something had happened; if I thought for some reason he wasn't coming back.
I wouldn't like THAT at all.
Thankfully, we're looking forward to a long and happy life together.
So... especially since I'm married to the "fun" Dad... every now and then it is really nice to spend quality time alone with my flock and feel like the hero who made their day truly enjoyable.
* * *
Today was one of those days!
My husband left this morning for Mexico at the crack of dawn to enjoy a fun day at the twice-yearly Rosarito to Ensenada Bicycle Race. He was very excited.
We didn't have much time to miss him, though -
We had to be out the door (the four of us) to get to soccer games just an hour later.
Happily, I was given the chance to be their hero!
Both boys had soccer games promptly at 9am - at two different fields 25 minutes apart. With their Dad and all grandparents out of town, it looked for a day or so like maybe we were going to have to choose between our sons to see who got to play soccer today.
I felt like Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice.
How could I possibly choose between my sons?
The answer, obviously, is that I couldn't.
So, I found a way to solve the problem. I hired our babysitter (a soccer fanatic with several little brothers of her own) to watch my eldest son's soccer game while I played soccer mom at his little brother's game. While I was handing out snack bags filled with orange slices, string cheese and granola bars, my elder son was excitedly showing off his soccer skills for Sonya* his babysitter.
The boys were thrilled, everyone enjoyed their time at the games, and by 11am they were clamoring for lunch.
Fast forward past a few errands we ran together...
We decided to come home and dedicate ourselves to a project we've been discussing for months.
The famous "Mommy-Can-We-Wash-The-Car" project!
(It never ceases to amaze me how differently small children look at hands-on jobs most adults consider to be unfortunate necessities. My children drool over washing the dishes. They beg to take out the trash. They ask me every single day if they can rake the yard or make their beds.
If only we could bottle this enthusiasm for manual labor and uncork it now and then when they become teenagers!)
* * *
While their little sister napped and played, my boys and I spent (1-2-3-4) FOUR hours detailing, scrubbing, vacuuming, washing and polishing our car.
And while yes, it *was* dirty and in need of a good cleaning, I would never have imagined how fulfilling and fun the process of washing a car could be - especially with two such eager helpers.
They were eager to dive into all of the worst parts of the job... hunting for old socks, toys and other treasures that had slid under the Driver's and passenger's seats; picking up wrappers from treats that had slid between the seats; helping to wipe down the dashboard gently with damp cloths to get rid of dust.
They were thrilled by the vacuum cleaner! Who knew that one useful machine could appear so magical to two little boys, who chortled and shrieked happily when I vacuumed within two feet of their toes.
Their favorite part, by far - the bucket of suds. My younger son dunked his wash-rags in the water over and over just to watch the bubbles scatter to the sides of the bucket. Both of them were so excited to be actively removing dirt from the car. They were DOING something. They were having a real EFFECT on something large and powerful, something of the adult world.
They focused with great seriousness as they ran their wash rags in circles over the shiny black paint, taking great care not to miss a spot.
Finally, after we dried the vehicle with soft clothes and I windexed all of the windows and mirrors, my sons stood back and looked at their work with pride.
"We DID IT!" they laughed and pointed. "WE WASHED THE CAR!!! DADDY IS GOING TO BE SO SURPRISED!!!"
"That's right!" I responded. "Your dad will ask us, 'Hey did you guys get the car washed yesterday?' and we'll tell him, "We ARE the carwash!!!"
They dissolved into a heap of giggles.
We took photos. They made silly faces for the camera. I vowed not to forget the sweetness of this moment: my two sons - getting along beautifully, having so much fun together - united in their pride of workmanship.
* * *
All in all, the car wash took over four hours. Our day wrapped up with dinner, baths, stories and large helpings of dessert.
"Mommy?" said my younger son as I tucked him in... "I love you."
"Mommy!" said my elder son as I tucked him in... "You're so silly. That was a fun day!"
By 8:30pm I found myself sitting alone, exhausted but so happy. Children fast asleep, house peaceful and serene, having accomplished something tangible while paying 100% attention to my two favorite little men.
Best of all, there had been NO fighting ~ everyone got along.
It was - dare I say it?
Don't tell my husband but sometimes, I really love spending long days alone with our kids.
It's nice to get the chance to be their hero AND the "fun" parent :-)
Friday, September 23, 2011
I have a really close friend on pregnancy bed rest right now.
Her experience reminds me so well how awful it is to be stuck in bed for weeks on end with nothing physical to take your mind off of all of the errant thoughts flitting around in your crazed, exhausted brain.
I know how this feels, because it happened to me 2 years ago. It sucks.
It really isn't normal to be stuck in bed for weeks or months, especially when you have small children and a husband who need you.
I was trying to think of something that might help my friend bear the long, long hours and it occurred to me that a project might be nice.
In fact, projects - for many reasons - are quite lovely. Bed rest or not.
I am reminded that there are many other ways to be stuck too. Many other situations in which having a project to focus on can be a real lifeline.
A person can be stuck in their life. Stuck in a rut. Stuck on the couch.
Stuck behind the computer screen!
I'm guilty of the latter...
I spend far too much time stuck here behind the computer, and far too little out working on creating interesting, concrete things with my hands.
* * *
My dear friend may crave a project. I'll definitely ask her.
I'm realizing though, that I need a project too!
Not that my day-to-days are dull or spiritless. There are certainly a million things I need to be doing at every single moment.
(In fact sometimes I have so much to do, just thinking about the endless nature of my list shuts me down a bit. I find myself zoning out just because I don't know where to begin.)
'To Do' lists are NOT the same as having a project though.
For example, my "To Do" list might read:
but that isn't really a project. It sounds more like a chore.
A project would be:
Create an organic, gluten free lasagna from scratch
Bake a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin
Plant a vegetable patch in the back yard
Knit a sweater
Organize all of the family photos
I would like a project!
Maybe what makes a project so special is that it transcends the minutia of RIGHT NOW.
It takes shape within your vision of the future!
(A better future, in which you and your family are seated around the common hearth loving every bite of the world-changing lasagna you have created with organic ingredients, using your own clean hands.)
Projects represent higher order thinking; the ability to conceptualize a complete product or event which does not yet exist, then commit yourself to bringing your inspiration into actuality.
They're like dreams you can hope one day to hold in your hand!
* * *
Have I mentioned this, though?
Projects require focused attention. I think I could really use some of that.
The truth? My brain has been heavily impacted over the past ten years by email and online social media.
Like many people in the age of Facebook, I have become accustomed to thinking about multiple things at once: a friend's birthday, someone's baby announcement, prayer requests, and photos/news/music which brighten my day but fill it with "chatter".
Sometimes I wonder if I have actually forgotten how to focus intently on any one thing for a real length of time.
When I was younger I could sit and read a book for 12 hours, getting up only to use the bathroom and get food.
Lately I have trouble reading an article without myriad thoughts and plans interjecting themselves between each and every sentence.
This isn't something I'm proud of. I don't feel great about the fact that half-way through changing a diaper my mind begins to wander toward the keyboard, wondering what my friends are up to around the world as I sit in the bathroom singing to my kid.
I would like to rebuild my ability to remain fully focused and attuned in the present moment. I want to be fully committed to HERE and NOW.
So, this seems like a great time, the perfect time! for a new project.
Something juicy! Something fun. Something that will make me feel good when I think about it. Something that requires no computers and preferably gets me outside of the house.
(I suppose one could argue that I am already juggling many projects concurrently right now: raising 3 kids, writing this blog, building a tutoring company, getting myself healthy again... but somehow I have the feeling that another small but vibrant project could really bring a lot of joy into my busy, chaotic days!)
So it's a deal.
I'm excited. I wonder what my new project will be!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Just got off the telephone with my mother, aka my saving grace.
She is the woman who makes all things possible, and shows me by example how to do the same for my children.
Tonight Mom is vibrant with excitement. She is on her way tomorrow, along with my sister, to enjoy an Atlantic cruise into Canada. Highlights will include time in Montreal and Prince Edward Island.
Any adult (okay, especially any adult woman) who grew up reading the "Anne of Green Gables" series will know exactly what I mean when I say that I've dreamed of Prince Edward Island since I was a little girl. I am jealous AND excited that the ladies in my family will soon be traversing the paths of L.M. Montgomery.
Saying goodbye to Mom though is a little hard.
It isn't that I see her every day. Weeks can pass without us getting together in person, even though we live in the same city.
The last time Mom traveled away from home, I was reminded by her sudden illness that our remaining time together may be limited.
I hate feeling like my mother could be an entire nation away from me ~ thousands of miles ~ at a moment of crisis or turmoil.
What if she needs me? What if we need each other?
* * *
Mothers are not all that rare; after all, everyone has a mother at some point in their life.
They are, however, extremely precious.
I don't say this as a mother. I have no idea what I truly mean to my own children at this point in their young lives. (They are too little to know themselves!)
Rather, I say this as a daughter. Nothing on Earth could be more meaningful than the closeness I feel to my mother.
I am now her nearly 36 year old child... and to this day, she knows me better than anyone else on the planet.
* * *
My mother is gorgeous. She is however, not a spring chicken.
When we say goodbye for simple things like voyages or vacations, it is starting to feel like a practice run.
Getting ready for the Big Goodbye.
(The one I had to say already to Dad.)
The goodbye after which you can never take anything back, change your mind, apologize.
With Dad, the goodbye happened to be one-sided.
He was no longer capable of saying anything meaningful, poignant or important to me. There were no apologies. No regrets. No expression of love or joy from him to me.
It just ended.
* * *
I talk to my Dad in my head sometimes, now that he's gone.
On occasion I even feel like he answers me.
I know the answers are my own brain conjuring up memories of his voice. The Dad voice never says anything novel; never adds any new idea or phrase.
It's just a repetition of things he's said to me before.
"Hi Honey," I can hear him say in my subconscious. "It's Dad. Take good care of your mother for me. She's a one-of-a-kind woman."
When I want to really freak myself out, I listen to speeches by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada.
I think the guy himself is questionable; but to my wonderment he has my father's voice! When Harry Reid gives speeches and I close my eyes, it is easy to pretend that my father is the one talking.
About coal. Or taxes. Or party politics.
It's weird. Harry Reid of Nevada/Utah speaks with my deceased midwestern Dad's voice. Same tone, inflections. Everything.
* * *
I wonder what Mom will be saying to me in my head, down the road, when she's gone.
I'm guessing it will be something like, "Hi sweetheart. It's Mom. You're fine."
That sounds like something she would say.
Even though it's that simple, it turns out that hearing a person's voice is important.
Not just the physical voice; but also their inner voice.
* * *
Sometimes my six year old son brings up this blog with me; the 365 days of meaning blog I've been putting together for our family over the past nine months.
Typically he wants to know what day I'm working on - "Day 286? Wow! That's cool mom!"
Other times, he wants me to read a blog entry out loud to him. I choose selections that are funny, light hearted and usually involving silly conversations that he or his brother have shared with their little sister.
He loves to hear these and laughs hysterically.
I've been honest with my sons about the fact that the blog represents our REAL life, including the hard or bad times we face as a family.
"Sometimes I write about great things that make us feel happy - like your soccer goals, finding our new house, taking vacations," I recently explained to him.
"Other times, I write about the challenges we face together - like when you fight with your brother, or someone gets sick. I tell the truth in my writing, so that when you grow up you will get a glimpse of our life the way it actually happened."
"I like to hear about the good times, Mommy," he smiled ~ and we left it at that.
* * *
Saying goodbye to my mother tonight as she prepares excitedly for her Canadian cruise reminds me again why I invest long hours into the creation of my own story in this format.
It is not easy for any child to part from a mother; a parent.
One day my children will find themselves parted from me; divided by a sea that none of us can cross.
When that day comes, I feel so gratified to know that thanks to this 365 blog those three kids will still have my voice. Maybe not its actual tonal qualities; but my internal voice, my perspective.
Reminding them of all I have ever Believed. Hoped. Dreamed. Loved.
Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 18 that:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
I'm no Shakespeare but the ideas in this stanza resonate so deeply with me.
As long as my words live on;
As long as my children (and grandchildren!) read my words...
As long as this blog exists, I will be with them.
Through my writing, my children will also get a real sense of their amazing grandparents.
* * *
I love you Mom. I'm wishing you a smooth journey this time, and a magnificent adventure!
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Six years ago when our eldest child came onto the scene, I wasn't ready to stop working.
We'd gone from 0 to 60 in no time at all. One minute my lover was slipping a ring on my finger and we were exuberant about the lifelong adventure we were about to embark upon together.
The next minute we were (surprise!) pregnant, then married.
I'd just landed a new job, one I was thrilled about. A dream position.
I could not imagine giving it up!
So I didn't.
I went back to work when my baby boy was 6 weeks old.
My schedule read "75% position" but being me, I gave it 150% anyway... worked around the clock.
I put in 80 hour weeks.
Parenting was hard. I didn't understand it. Couldn't get my head around it. Everything about being a new mother exhausted me.
Work offered familiarity. Refuge. Intellectual stimulation. Success. An opportunity to make a difference. And... the chance to pretend for at least seven hours a day that nothing had changed; that I was the same person I had always been.
Except (haha) everything *had* changed.
My husband now stayed home part time with our child. He missed being in the office, running his company. We also had a nanny in our house, nearly a stranger (with great references) suddenly caring for our infant for hours on end, during the times when both he and I needed to be at work.
We also had a small, fractious human being crying at all hours of the day and night. (Who we loved passionately, wholly and beyond reason.)
* * *
Some days my office telephone would ring at two or three.
"Where ARE you?" my husband would ask. "I need to GO. I need you to GET HOME."
"I'm so sorry," words would tumble out of my mouth. "Time got away from me. There was a meeting. A student got injured. I had to send 20 emails. You know how it goes."
"You SAID you'd be home by 1:30," he'd sigh in frustration. "I need to know that you're going to be here when you say you will."
Throwing hours of grading in my satchel and racing home across the city, I'd feel like a failure.
Somehow, even though I was still putting in an A+ effort to meet the overlapping requirements of my life and work, for the first time I was consistently returning home with C- grades.
There just weren't hours enough in the day to do it all.
Or, at least to do it all WELL.
* * *
A year later we found out about the second baby.
"Maybe it's time you stayed home," my husband suggested.
Staying home sounded good. Tired of coming up short on both home and work fronts, I reasoned with myself that at least I would succeed in one arena of life.
"It's the most important job, too," I confided in my friends, "because at work you are quickly replaced but there is no-one who can truly replace a mother or wife. If I can only succeed at one thing, I choose my family."
For a while ~ and when I say a while, I mean for two years ~ this seemed to work really well.
We had enough money to get by as a family of four. My husband and I created a fair and balanced schedule for work and childcare, making sure that we each had a lot of time with our kids and some time left for ourselves.
"I'm so happy to be a stay at home mom," I shared with anyone who would listen. "I love my work."
I meant it, too.
* * *
Then came the snowball year: 3rd pregnancy, complications and hospitalization; death of Dad; poor US economy; husband's business grappling with said poor economy. Premature baby at home.
The jump from 2 to 3 turned out to be a quantum leap.
My elder children began to fight much harder, jockeying to cement their familial roles now that they had yet another competitor for our attention.
Staying at home became less fun.
I felt less well.
Stress reigned in our house.
* * *
"It would be great if you could go back to work," my husband said. "We could use the extra money and frankly, I think you would enjoy going back to work. I think you're bored. Or depressed."
"But I don't WANT to go back to work," I snapped. "I love being a stay-at-home mom. I want to be here for our kids."
Money got tighter.
Our smiles grew tighter.
I looked for a path toward healing and happiness.
And I found it!
* * *
We moved to a less expensive house in a fantastic neighborhood.
I enrolled our boys for school.
My little girl and I thrived.
Our dreams began to beckon.
And suddenly, going back to work didn't sound half bad.
So I did!
And I am!
I work now. I am a private tutor again. I LOVE my work. I love working with students and get so much satisfaction out of the job. I work hard, but it is always worth it. Always a joy.
I'm bringing home money to help out with the family budget.
I'm growing my clientele.
Best of all, I still get to spend time with my children. I've found a way (or so I thought) to do everything.
* * *
Tonight though, I came home late.
Here is what my day looked like:
cook homemade oatmeal with jam and cinnamon
bathe two kids
make a lunch
get everyone dressed
jump thru shower
9:00am take child to allergist
calm child thru appointment and skin testing, many tantrums
talk over results with doctor
give child lunch
1:30pm arrive home
put child down for nap
2:00pm - 3:00pm work on house & family stuff
3:00pm pick son up from school @ 3:15
3:30pm return home, get dance shoes and snack
4:00pm drop son at dance class
6:13pm drive to other client's house
8:15pm drive home
8:30pm home, need to eat!
My second client had four projects to get done for his Humanities class. They were due tomorrow. There wasn't really a choice about staying, at least not in my mind. My job is to support students in crunch times like this by helping them to stay organized, on task, and actively using their intelligence.
I left his house at 8:20pm and raced back to kiss my children good night. Flew across town and made it home by 8:30pm. Arrived exhausted, hungry and a little stressed. Fulfilled by the work though, with cash in hand to share with our joint account.
By the time I kissed the kids good night (made one of them an extra tortilla) and ate dinner, it was well after 9pm.
"Well? I'm tired," my husband sighed. "I've had a long day. I'm going to bed now."
"What? I just got home!" I protested.
"You were late," he pronounced.
"But I was working!"
"I work too, but I was here and did everything I was supposed to do. I made you dinner. You were late, and now I'm tired."
"Really? You're going to bed?"
"Maybe next time you can get home on time."
* * *
So it seems, the pendulum continues to swing.
When I work, it brings time stress into our home, and I can't adequately meet the needs of my husband and kids.
I barely saw two of my children today. My husband went to bed frustrated that I wasn't here to hang out with when he had time.
I feel badly.
When I stay home full time with our kids it brings financial stress into our home. I also get a little bored and depressed with endless piles of laundry to wash and tantrums to quell. My brain does need a little bit of an outlet, as much as I adore life with three kids.
So where are we left?
Do I work?
Do I stay home?
Can I do both, and do both well?
Is it possible for me to work without letting my family down?
* * *
I need to figure out, creatively, how to be a good mother and a good worker without breaking promises to anyone or putting too much stress on my sweetheart of a husband.
At a loss for answers right now...
Our pendulum is swinging again. I guess it's time to hold on tight and hang on!
Sunday, September 18, 2011
The other day I was laughing with the mother of one of my tutoring clients over how crazy and chaotic home life can be with small kids.
Specifically, I was sharing with her my struggles to be a good mother and recounting the recent episode in which our daughter overdosed on Vitamin B-12.
She, a remarried woman with two children in their mid-to-late teens, laughed along with me but then asked,
"Would you mind if I gave you a piece of advice?"
"No, of course not," I smiled, "Tell me! What do I need to know?"
"Pay attention to your husband."
"I mean it. I wish this is something someone had shared with me when I had small children. I remember crawling into bed after a long day with my kids hanging all over me and thinking to myself, 'I just want five minutes where NOBODY TOUCHES ME.'
So it is understandable. But, I wish I had known to pay more attention to my husband during those years - things might have turned out differently in that marriage."
I appreciated her candor, especially given that we don't know each other all that well yet.
Since becoming a mother I have learned that many people you meet will have well intentioned advice for you about parenting... starting with breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding... continuing with advice about strollers, cars, furniture, what food to feed your kid, when they should go to the doctor, their sleep schedule.
You name it.
Strangers will come up to you in elevators and grocery stores and put their hands on your pregnant belly. People will tell you about their grandmother's remedies.
So over seven years (starting with my first pregnancy) I have become extremely comfortable receiving unsolicited advice. I take everything with a grain of salt and I know that whether friends, family or strangers ~ people generally mean well and just want to help make life easier by sharing their experiences or point of view.
Few people, though, actually give relationship advice once you have children. Especially unsolicited relationship advice.
So, my ears perked up. It was really sweet of this mother to share so candidly her sense that the relationship between wives and husbands needs attention, especially while in the throes of child rearing.
And why not?
Even though things are going well for us in our marriage, I've given her advice some thought and I would love to be a better wife to my guy!
He is a pretty amazing human being, very easy to love.
It would be great to do something especially nice for him!
I woke up this morning wondering to myself exactly what I could do today (my personal day, so I've got some free time while he has the kids) to make him happy.
I'm thinking I'll cook a special dinner.
My husband is such a sweetheart and he has taken our three kids today out to a lake many miles east of home, where they will ride their bicycles with their tiny little legs for hours.
Last time they embarked on this same journey, they (including our four year old) biked eight miles together!
So, he isn't just taking care of the kids today... he is giving them an adventure, great exercise and the love of nature.
He's giving me a bonus gift too!
By the time they get home, they will be so exhausted we will have early bedtime and a quiet house tonight.
What a star :-) Everybody wins!
This is why I think that cooking a special dinner would be a great surprise because they will arrive home tired and hungry. It would be wonderful for him to have dinner already prepared so that we can feed them immediately and then get them ready for bed.
I've been scanning through recipes, trying to find one that will make him happy.
It's not always easy cooking for the son of the best cook in the world! My husband himself is by far a better cook than I am, and he definitely knows the difference between passable and great.
I think the advice I got this week was really thoughtful though, and I *would* like to show my husband that despite the general noise, mess and excitement around our house - I haven't forgotten how dear he is. I'm a lucky lady.
Hopefully nothing says love like a chicken casserole!
Thursday, September 15, 2011
When I think of Christianity and good Christian values, one of the first phrases to float through my mind is "Love Thy Brother", followed shortly thereafter by "Cleave Unto Thy Wife."
After all, one of the primary roles of the Church is to sanctify the bonds of marriage between two people who commit to support each other for the rest of their lives.
Here are just a few quotes from the Bible about the commitments of marriage:
"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh" (Eph. 5:31)
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it [her]." (Eph. 5:25)
"The woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives." (Rom. 7:2; cf. Rom. 2:11)
It goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis:
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh". (Gen. 2:24)
* * * * *
Pat Robertson, a prominent fundamentalist Christian minister who has previously campaigned for the presidency of the United States, recently told a 700 Club viewer:
"I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something he should divorce [his wife suffering from Alzheimer's] and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."
Robertson was responding to the query of a man whose wife suffered from the affliction, wondering whether it was morally acceptable to leave his wife.
I am not a deeply religious person, nor am I well versed in Christianity.
But even to me, a "progressive" liberal, Robertson's response seems terribly wrong.
* * * * *
This is an issue that strikes very close to home for me.
Two years ago my own father passed away after a protracted battle with Alzheimer's disease, a struggle which lasted approximately ten years.
For most of those years, my mother acted as his primary caretaker.
Her responsibilities during those years continued to expand.
At first, she helped him to remember things that he had forgotten - names, dates, events.
After a while, she assumed all of the driving responsibility for him - ferrying him to appointments, out to dinner, to see movies, to go swimming.
She also helped to "cover" for his failings, especially around those who he did not wish to know that he was suffering from dementia.
In 2005 I got a call from my father while at work, letting me know that he'd had an 'episode' (stroke) but that everything was going to be okay.
Pregnant and hormonal, I wept to learn of my father's struggle for the first time.
When I learned that he had known of the problem for many years; that my mother had helped him to hide it, I felt angry.
"It wasn't my secret to tell," replied my mother calmly when I confronted her. "Your father asked me not to discuss it."
From that time forward, my father declined steadily and then rapidly. His cognitive function degenerated quite drastically between '05 and '07 to the point that, by the time my second son was born in June 2007, my father was no longer able to function independently and needed round-the-clock assistance.
My mother was not sleeping at night, forced awake every few hours by my father who had regressed into an child-like state; waking with cries, soiling his bed, having terrible nightmares and hallucinations. Soon he needed home nursing care, which was expensive and invaded my mother's privacy.
* * * * *
Through it all, my mother stayed by my father's side.
I don't think any of us - the five children and several spouses - would have blamed her for giving up. Her work to care for Dad was exhausting, not just physically but also mentally.
My mother would weep. "I mourn the man I married," she would cry. "I miss him."
Yet never once, not one time in all those years, did my mother ever suggest divorcing my father to leave him in the hands of a caretaker.
It would never have occurred to her.
"Your father has been so good to me," she would explain to us gently. "I love him very much. He is not the same man I married, but he is still my husband and I am still his wife."
Watching Mom care for Dad at his worst -
This taught me the meaning of true love.
* * * * *
Mom believed that the least she could do, as a loving-loyal-respectful wife, was to honor the man Dad had been (brilliant, kind, handsome, charismatic, funny, political, athletic) by taking the best care of him possible.
To that end, my mother wore her hands to the bone caring for him. At times, we worried that we would lose her first ~ thanks to the stress of the situation.
When my father lost full control over his bodily functions (in addition to the mental clarity which had been gone for quite a while) my mother at last placed him in an assisted living situation close to where we lived.
Wracked with guilt and sorrow over needing to make this choice, Mom visited Dad every single day - devoting her entire day to him. She never missed a day.
Mom would sit for hours by his side, combing his silvery hair and trimming his beard. She helped dress him and bathe him. She talked to him, read to him, held his hand. She sat with him in the dining hall as he ate his (ridiculously expensive) cafeteria style food. She put up with the antics of all of the other patients in the Alzheimer's wing, many of whom were in far worse shape than Dad.
* * * * *
Here is the thing about Alzheimer's that Pat Robertson seems not to know:
Alzheimer's is not a steady decline.
The disease takes people in loops. It goes in fits and starts. They decline. They come back. They decline again.
Some days, I would arrive to visit my father and he would greet me warmly with a hug and kiss.
"Hi honey!" he would say. "It's good to see you! How are your boys?"
Other days, I would arrive to find my father running naked up and down the hallway of his wing, shouting at the nurses and refusing to put his clothes on.
With that kind of illness, you never know what you're going to get.
Some mornings my Dad would wake up and know who he was. He'd know his name, his family history, and how he was related to all of us.
Those were the saddest days for him; my father would weep in despair as he came into brief, fleeting consciousness about what was happening to him.
Yet on those days, Dad needed us the most. "Where is my WIFE?" he would bellow at the nurses. "Call my WIFE! I want to see her!"
The days when he remembered us - when he remembered himself! Those days were precious treasures, rare jewels where we clung to every moment.
"I'm here with Dad," I would telephone my brothers in New York, "and he is pretty lucid today. He'd love to talk with you. I'm putting him on the phone."
* * * * *
I cannot even fathom, not in my wildest nightmares, how awful it would have been for my father to wake up on one of those rare but precious mornings ~
...to discover that his wife was long gone. That he'd been abandoned. Divorced. Left with a caretaker. Declared "dead" by his true love.
The mere idea of it is heartbreaking.
* * * * *
My father passed away in June 2009. For the week leading to his death while he was cared for by Hospice my mother, brothers and sister held vigil by his bedside.
(I was hospitalized, giving birth prematurely to the granddaughter my father would never meet.)
As he lay dying, Dad was surrounded by love.
The woman he had promised to honor, cherish and remain faithful to for all of his days... where was she?
Had she divorced him and left him to start a new life?
No. She sat by his side, praying and weeping and holding his hand.
She loved her husband right until the very end, and she taught all of her kids the meaning of true love by example.
My father was never alone, never abandoned. He died peacefully and I *know* without a doubt that he was conscious of my mother's presence - he wanted her there.
* * * * *
When we choose to marry, we agree to the vows of marriage.
One of those vows says, "In Sickness and in Health".
We don't promise to stay faithful and true, "as long as you stay smart and cute"... or, "as long as I'm still happy with your body."
The whole point of marriage is to bind yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually and legally to be a person's truest partner for life.
My husband is an avid cyclist. One of his close friends says it's a matter of *when* and not *if* my husband will be hit by a car.
I absolutely hate thinking about this, so I don't.
If I got the call today, though, that my husband had been hit by a car and was mentally incapacitated or handicapped ~ would I leave him? Would I forsake him in his hour of need? Would I divorce him to go "start all over again" (as Robertson recommends)?
* * * * *
I love my husband. I agreed to marry him, to honor him, and to be there for him for the rest of his life. Ups and downs. Ins and outs. Rich and poor. Everything.
Brain damage. Alzheimer's. Whatever.
We live in a society that is so ME-focused. So fixated on having our needs met at all times, as quickly as possible.
Yet true love doesn't work like that.
Marriage doesn't work like that either.
So here is my answer to Reverend Pat Robertson:
Go sit with a couple that has been married for 30 years where one partner suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Stay with them for a week. Watch the kind of pure, full-hearted, innocent love showered by the Alzheimer's patient upon his or her spouse. Witness the devotion of the caretaker spouse to his or her partner. Experience the fleeting highs, the tragic lows. Cry with them.
See for yourself the poignant moments of tenderness that remain between two married lovers, even after all mental and physical strands of their relationship have been withdrawn.
You may learn something about the meaning of marriage.
(This photo (above) was taken during the last six months of my father's life, when he was already 9 years into his battle with Alzheimer's and "long gone" mentally. As anyone can see, my father still deeply loved and cherished his family... even then.)
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
There's what I want
...and then there's what I notice happening all around me.
I guess the trick is to stay focused, positive, and optimistic about achieving what I want
...and ignore what I notice happening all around me.
I WANT to be 100% healed and healthy.
I got back test results today that indicate I've got a long path ahead before that happens.
I was SO READY to be done with lyme disease. To move on... ignoring the inconvenience of my allergies, thyroid quirks and arthritis.
Maybe it sounds silly, but I'd sort of convinced myself that despite some recent bumps in the road I am doing really well.
* * * * *
(Except when I'm crazy exhausted...)
(Except when I start to fall asleep driving.)
(24 hours a day.)
In most ways I feel a world better than I did one year ago.
So, in a burst of confidence I asked my lyme literate MD to run a test on me called the CD57. This test measures a subset of natural killer cell function. Apparently these particular cells (in the subset) are suppressed only by longstanding lyme disease, which causes them to fall very low. Luckily, with treatment the CD57 can rise to healthy levels again. It can be fixed.
A normal range is 60 - 360.
Anything above 200 is considered very healthy.
I feel pretty healthy, especially on the days when I take my antibiotics. I've been on antibiotics for over six months now. This explains why I asked my doctor to run the CD57 test and told my mother,
"I'm going to get a 200. I know it!"
And I told my husband,
"I'm going to get a 200. I know it!"
Then I walked and danced around full of sass for the entire week after having my blood drawn. I was so confident that the test was going to fall into the ideal range, because basically I feel okay.
"I'd bet anything it's going to come back normal. I can't wait!"
Well, today I got the results back:
"300 you mean?"
Which means that, um, I was wrong.
I do have active lyme disease, even after 6 months on doxycycline.
In fact, this may mean that I need to take a lot more antibiotics... adding in such things as amoxicillin and metronidazole.
(I could be a doctor, no? I speak their language now.)
Which brings me back to my original point ~
There's what I want
...and then there's what I notice happening all around me.
I guess the trick is to stay focused, positive, and optimistic about achieving what I want
...and ignore what is happening all around me.
* * * * *
What I WANT is to expand my tutoring work, think about my children, better myself as a mother, take yoga classes, cook, exercise, expand my brain, help my husband to save up for a house and plan fun trips ~ both for our family, and for he and I alone.
What I WANT is to laugh happily and gratefully, joyful in the knowledge that I am truly well.
What I WANT is to focus more on helping others than myself, solve things for friends and strangers alike. Be there for others. Make the world a better place.
What I WANT is to see more live music, discover new music that I love, and generally have a music-filled life again... just as we did 7 years ago. I would like to share my joy in music with our children.
What I WANT is to find easy answers, straightforward paths, and courage in myself to do whatever it takes to heal and live well.
And while we're at it... as long as I'm being fully honest,
What I WANT is to gain back the weight I've lost so that I look vibrant, not wan. I would love for my husband to see the same girl he fell in love with when he looks at me now, almost a decade later.
* * * * *
So there you have it.
That is what I want.
(I will treat the lyme disease... but I'm not going to waste time thinking about it any longer. Those little bugs don't deserve the energy. They've sucked enough out of me already.)
Monday, September 12, 2011
It could've been worse.
Sure, the house was a mess when our landlord stopped by today.
Yes, my cheeks turned a rosy shade of pink when showing him the back yard cluttered with my kid's toys and dirt "castles" among other delights - like string cheese wrappers and a discarded diaper. (Ugh!)
And yes, he did ask me to keep the lawn better watered.
(I had to explain to him how high our water bill is, when we water it enough to keep it green. That was embarrassing.)
But it could've been worse.
My children could have been home raising holy hell. Instead, one was napping and two at school. So I had the opportunity to focus squarely on my conversation with the man - rather than dealing with a crazy tantrum.
That by itself is a huge positive!
Last weekend I did rake, mow and sweep the yard. So while browner than desired, at least it wasn't overgrown and trashy.
Deep down, I really wish we owned our own home.
But then I remember just how lucky we are to rent this house, this special home.
I remember how lucky we are to live in this neighborhood - this wonderful, lovely, friendly neighborhood.
I remember how happy we've been since we arrived here - and I know that will remain true no matter where we live in this community.
So, despite some my obvious failings as a housekeeper, I just need to be thankful for what we Do have.
We are very lucky.
* * * * *
It could've been worse.
Today I found my two year old daughter in the bathroom, having scampered away from where I was cooking in the kitchen. She had been gone for all of a minute, so I went in to see what was happening.
To my horror, she had pried open a cabinet, located a cardboard box (which happened to contain a lab test kit) and was busy playing with the kit pieces. One of them was a vial, a plastic vial. On the cover was a skull and crossbones, with the words "Poison".
My heart stopped, and my mind began to race.
My daughter looked normal. Cheery. She was laughing.
"Honey did you drink this? Did you drink something?"
"No." She smiled widely, daring me to believe her.
I noticed that the lid of the vial was still screwed on. I am sure my two year old daughter can manage to unscrew any lid... but really, would she have the dexterity to take it off, drink the contents of a vial and then RE-screw it tightly? Doubtful.
I thought about who to call. The pediatrician? Poison control? 9-1-1?
Finally I realized that the right first choice would be the company who made that lab test kit... to discover what, if anything, had been inside that vial.
What a blessing!
They answered on the first ring. The woman at the front put me right through to the microbiologist. I explained the situation, very rapidly.
He asked which test it was, and what color the lid was on the vial.
"Clear," I answered.
"You don't have to worry," he responded kindly. "We send out those vials empty, with no liquid. Your daughter is fine."
"Thank you so much, I am so grateful for your help."
Getting off of the telephone, I gave my daughter a long hug and then tried to explain to her why we don't play with bottles in the bathroom.
I then looked through every cupboard in her arm's reach - and even a few beyond her reach - to make sure that she can't get ahold of ANYTHING dangerous. She is clearly making very poor choices, two year old style, about what to monkey with.
I want her to live through the age of two!
So while the incident undoubtedly added a gray hair or two to my head, I think it's clear -
It could've been much worse.
We were blessed, and now we are warned.
* * * * *
When I look back over all of the events of the last few months, I realize that as stressful as they seemed all of them could have been much worse.
- My son's fingers are healing very well, with no further allergic reactions to his medicine.
- Our budget crunch led me to begin tutoring again, work I absolutely love.
- The recent Southern California blackout gave me information about ways in which we need to better prepare for disasters, without having to experience/survive a true disaster.
- Even my own health problems have led me to a greater understanding of how to eat, exercise and live more fully.
Every single bleak moment has led to something better, a richer understanding of the world, and enhanced gratitude for what we DO have.
So, while I really hope that our skies stay clear for a little while, my faith is growing that even in the soggiest weather there is always a rowboat waiting in the storm to carry our family through the storm toward shelter and beauty.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
I always swore that I would never become a soccer mom.
In fact, as a young and single career gal I actually looked down on "those women".
I came into contact with them frequently in my early work as an elementary school teacher, and even once I transitioned to middle school.
Soccer moms wore loose fitting jeans and sneakers instead of heels.
Soccer moms wasted their entire Saturday watching their kids kick a ball around at the park.
Soccer moms cut up endless orange slices and brought gallons of Tang.
Worst of all -
Soccer moms drove mini-vans.
"If I'm ever lucky enough to be a mother, that is the last thing on Earth I will do," I mused to my friends. "My kids are going to learn how to play guitar, not soccer. I will build them a practice space with my own hands so they can jam with their friends."
Still, sometimes I wondered about soccer.
As the child of a musician and an actor, I had never actually played soccer on a team. The closest I ever came to soccer season growing up consisted of slumber parties with my soccer-playing friends which ended with me accompanying them to the field in the morning to watch their games.
I found that experience mostly dull, as I didn't know the kids on the teams and hated spending hours sitting in the hot sun on the sidelines waiting for my friend to pay attention to me again.
By the time I realized (in high school) that playing soccer looked like fun, it was too late.
All of my friends who made it onto the high school soccer team had been playing since the ages of four or six. I was about ten years late to the party.
In college I enrolled for athletic classes every quarter. I took them pass/no pass so that I didn't have to stress over my grades or performance. I learned a lot about sports during those years - taking courses in volleyball, soccer and weight training among others.
I learned the rules of the games. I also dated college athletes (a few of whom went All-American or played in the Olympic games) which caused me to take more of an interest in the art and finesse of playing sports well. My friends and I attended nearly every football, basketball and volleyball game on campus - also many swim and water polo meets. We even watched quite a few gymnastics events.
What I found over the years was that I loved the challenge and competition of athletics... the heartbreaking lows and intense highs. I admired the discipline of the athletes and their fierce concentration. I loved their all-consuming commitment.
As a college senior I was actually "discovered" in a soccer class and recruited to play collegiate women's lacrosse by the coach who (a) liked how wiry and fast I was, and (b) thought I was a freshman. I took it as a great compliment, and was only sorry that she hadn't found me three years earlier.
By this point in time, I had developed a much deeper appreciation for sports.
Still, if athletics were going to be part of my own long-term future I wanted to date the athlete, or (even better) BE the athlete.
Never in all that time did I once want to become a soccer mom sitting on the sidelines.
* * * * *
Which is why it came as such a shock when my first son came out of the womb clamoring for anything with a ball.
His first word? Ball.
His favorite toy? Ball.
Before my kid could walk, all he wanted to do was play with balls.
And that kid could throw. Wow. By 18 months we were all amazed by his pitching arm.
"He's the new Whitey Ford!" my husband would laugh. "Where does he GET this?"
My husband and I would exchange glances with bemusement and pride while playing catch with our son. We were both brainy and bookish, fascinated by music, art, computers, writing, cooking - non-athletic stuff.
Not that we were couch potatoes. Far from it. My husband is a sensational swimmer and cyclist. In my day I ran, swam, did yoga and worked out at the gym as often as I could.
Still, we wondered where our child got his muscle coordination and innate athletic gifts.
It was cool.
When our boy began to talk, he began to ask to play baseball. He'd seen a few games on TV, seen other kids playing with their parents at the park.
"Bee-Baw!" he would point and say. "I pay Bee-Baw Mommeee!"
We looked into it and found that children needed to be at least five years old to play league T-ball. This came as unwelcome news to our son, who was only two at the time.
After all, three years! This seemed like an unfathomably long time to wait... longer than he'd actually been alive.
"I wan Bee-Baw, Mommee!!! I pay BALLLLLLLLL!"
After a little digging I discovered that children were allowed to play league soccer in our area a full year before they could begin T-ball.
"Honey, when you are four you can play ball with your feet with the other kids!" I told him joyfully.
"I pay BaLLLLLL! I pay BaLLLLL! Yayyyyyyyy!!!!!"
My husband and I agreed that soccer seemed like a great place to start. "He'll get exercise and also get some of his energy out!"
The outlet alone seemed very worthy of our time. Our son had recently taken to beating on his baby brother and we were hoping to find as many outlets for his energy as possible.
* * * * *
My husband taught my son soccer fundamentals at the park. How to kick. How to pass. How to control the ball.
We waited, and waited, and waited for his fourth birthday to arrive.
At long last, it did!
Two weeks later, we registered him for Fall Soccer.
* * * * *
Our son's first soccer season had its ups and downs:
His coach was fantastic!
The uniforms were cute.
His teammates were fairly skilled and very accepting.
The games took place pretty close to our house.
His soccer photo was adorable.
He didn't really understand the rules.
He kicked the ball the wrong way down the field.
He was more interested in bees and butterflies than playing with the other kids.
He passed to his opponents, and kicked the ball away from his teammates.
He skipped down the field.
Still, he had a great time.
We enjoyed watching him play, cringing only slightly when he would score goals for the opposing team.
"They're just kids," my husband would laugh merrily. "It's a game!"
"He'll learn," his coach encouraged us.
We decided to enroll him for soccer again when he turned five, since T-ball wouldn't begin until Spring Season. After all, it was good exercise.
* * * * *
Then, something happened... something we'd not really expected.
Our son figured out how to play soccer.
And wow! He was fast! He scored goals! A lot of goals!
He loved every second.
Something else happened... something I'd not really expected.
I got excited about soccer.
I looked forward to the games! I loved making snacks for his friends! I loved cheering from the sidelines!
I felt so proud!
In short, I woke up one morning as a soccer mom and realized that I absolutely loved it.
That's right. As nuts as it sounds, even to me...
Soccer was incredible! The whole weekly routine filled our lives with added joy.
* * * * *
We now have two sons playing soccer: a four year old AND a six year old. They practice on Fridays, play on Saturdays. Our weekend schedule revolves around their soccer commitments.
I love that we have activities to keep them busy, tired and not fighting. I love that they are getting exercise. I love that they are making friends on their teams. Maybe I will even get to know some of the other local mothers and fathers while watching them play!
Today both of my sons played their first soccer games of the season. What a great morning:
The little one hung back.
He watched the other kids play.
He shuffled his feet.
He noticed bees and butterflies.
He kicked the ball... the wrong way.
He scored a goal for the other team.
He looked at me more than his coach.
I took a million pictures and cheered.
His older brother, beginning season three in our new community and soccer league, surprised all of his teammates and coach by playing ferociously.
"He's really good," another parent remarked to me.
He was fast.
He took a defensive position.
He blocked many goals.
He ran down the field like his feet were on fire.
He darted between opposing players and intercepted the ball.
He played two full twenty-minute halves with only one water break, and was never rotated off the field.
I took a million pictures and cheered.
In one of the photos from my son's game yesterday he can be seen tearing down the field after the ball, gazing on it with incredible intensity.
I've never seen that look on my child's face before. It's hard to describe in words. His cheeks are flushed, his eyebrows narrowed and eyes fixed with determination on the goal. His cheekbones are chiseled as he runs in the wind. He looks like a true, focused athlete.
"Honey, wow. Can you *believe* that's our SON?" I murmured when I saw the picture for the first time.
Even harder to believe, the dark haired woman jumping up and down and shouting from the sidelines in the photo... that was his incredibly proud mother. Me.
Who would've guessed it?
I love being a soccer mom.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
One would be wrong.
Our house ~ at least while starting this post ~ is sheer chaos and madness at 8pm with small children brandishing flashlights and throwing their blinding beams directly into all of our eyes.
(Letting them split a half-gallon of ice cream probably didn't help matters... but hey, it was going to melt! Tee-hee.)
Sheepishly, I'll admit that rather than writing by hand with pen and ink, I am actually typing on a laptop that shows a crucial 66% battery power remaining. Since I can't get internet right now, it doesn't make much sense to hoard all remaining battery power. It's going to go out at some point; I might as well chronicle our unusual day.
However, I still love the dream of composing in tranquil darkness!
Six hours have now passed since my husband first came to me and said,
"Hon - I think the power just went out."
At that time, basking in the glow of a beautiful (if warm) afternoon, his announcement seemed trivial. We've lived in this state for the better part of our lives and experienced too many outages to remember. They happen for many reasons, most notably winter storms and local technical difficulties.
He decided, since he no longer had electricity, to take our kids for a bike ride.
"That sounds great!" I agreed, thinking that it would be a great time to catch a catnap. I didn't sleep well last night.
My son had left his tennis shoes in our car across the street from the house. Since he knows he is not allowed to cross streets without an adult, he asked me if I would walk him across to retrieve them.
"Sure, buddy." We crossed, collected the shoes, and began to return.
"Excuse me!" called our neighbor… a lovely, folksy woman in her fifties or sixties. We'd only spoken once before. "Have you noticed that the power is out?"
She and her husband have recently come to town from New Mexico and seemed a little more nervous about the power outage than we were. "We can't get cell phone service and were wondering if you have any," she explained.
"I think my husband's cell phone works - he just got a call. Let me go check my cell."
Sure enough, I had a dial tone. I was able to call my mother's phone but she didn't answer - so I offered to try my brother out of state.
"Maybe he can Google "Southern California power outage" to see what's going on."
My brother didn't pick up, so we tried my sister in a different part of California. After a brief internet news search she confirmed that as of one minute prior a massive power outage had been reported covering territories from Rosarito, Mexico to Riverside, CA to Yuma, Az.
Strangely, the timing of the outage coincided almost exactly with President Obama's address to the nation about economic growth and job creation… a much anticipated speech taking place just days before the 10 year anniversary of September 11th.
Now that we knew it was a major power outage unlikely to resolve right away, my neighbor and I decided to go round up our candles and flashlights.
My husband laughed at me. "It'll be on before dinner," he pronounced. "Hey kids, let's go to the park!"
I knew he was probably right but decided to collect our resources anyway, scavenging through the house for useful emergency supplies tucked away here and there. My brother and I finally connected and he told me what they knew about our situation from New York, which wasn't much.
"I'll follow your local energy company Twitter feed," he consoled, "and if I hear anything I will call you."
After we hung up, I located the Red Cross hand crank powered radio that we keep for times of need (this is only the second time we've actually needed it) and located the local AM news station to find out more about what was happening.
At first, the only information coming in came from callers to the station from around our county.
"I'm stranded at a traffic light at the intersection of X and Y Streets," they would say. "There is a line of traffic a mile long and nothing is moving. The lights are all out and there has been a collision."
"We're in our office building and the elevators have stopped running. Everyone is going home early."
Caller after caller described blackout all around town.
Finally, a call came in from someone who knew something substantial.
"My friend is a ham radio operator," she announced, "and he says that power plants are down at Salton Sea and San Onofre. They've exploded or something. They both went offline at the same time."
Chills ran down my spine as I contemplated the import of what she had confided. If indeed, two power plants had gone offline at the exact same moment in an explosive way, this seemed unlikely to be a matter of chance.
The radio personalities on AM radio echoed my thoughts exactly.
"That seems a little too coincidental," they replied. "If in fact two power plants in very different areas went down at once, there is always the possibility of terrorism. It can't be ruled out."
Looking at the bright blue sky my mind flooded with memories of that other September day ten years ago - similarly gorgeous, sunny, vivid azure horizons for miles - when four planes crashed into three buildings and a smoldering hole in a field in Pennsylvania.
I remembered EXACTLY what I had felt that morning: Surprised. Incredulous. Shocked. Horrified. Worried. Anxious. Angry.
Ten years later, I shivered and brought my attention back to the current situation. "If this IS terrorism, I wonder what is coming next."
At this point I picked up my cell phone and texted my husband at the park.
"Two plants down at once. Outage bigger than we thought. Please come home."
Simultaneously I received a text from my brother:
"They say it could go into tomorrow."
Apparently, we were in for a long night.
* * * * *
As it turns out, my husband and I had very different responses to this outage.
Thrilled by the opportunity to live off-grid for a few hours, my rugged man decided to bicycle to the ocean and go for a swim.
I, on the other hand, buckled our three children into their carseats and went out to search for more gasoline, ice, water and batteries.
The experience of venturing out, even in our quiet and tranquil neighborhood, during a blackout was very interesting. The first thing I did after buckling my children into their carseats was turn on the AM radio again. Local authorities were reminding people about how to drive safely when traffic lights are not working.
"Approach every intersection as though it is a four way stop," they advised. "Do not assume that others arriving at your intersection will drive responsibly or wait their turn. Drive defensively."
Moments later as we approached the first of two stoplights between our home and the local gas station, I saw evidence supporting their word of caution. A truck driven by teenagers barreled through the intersection without stopping, oblivious to the fact that the lights were out. I inhaled, giving thanks for having been alerted to this possibility.
Carefully, I stopped and waited for all of the oncoming traffic on both sides to stop as well before we continued forward.
"The most important thing we need to do right now is get gasoline," I explained to the boys, "It's always a good idea to have a nice full tank."
Yet when we arrived at the gas station on the corner, we saw that all entrances had already been blocked off with orange traffic cones. My gut tightened as I turned the car back into the street and sallied forth to find the next station.
"I wonder if the gas stations have closed," I murmured.
At the second station there were no traffic cones but upon closer inspection I saw that none of the eight or so cars parked near the pumps were fueling. Pulling up to a pump, I turned off the engine and smiled at my kids.
"Mommy will be right back. I'm just going to go and talk to those nice men." The station attendants were mingling with customers on the front step of the service station.
"No gas?" I asked.
"Sorry," a younger man with curly dark hair replied. "Pumps are all off."
"What should we do?" I asked, not fully comprehending what he'd said. "Should we buy a gas can?"
"If you have another car you can always siphon the gas from one car to the other using a garden hose," another man volunteered.
"Thanks. I think my husband would know how to do that."
I returned to the car.
"No gas. Let's go look for ice."
As we pulled out of the gas station I noticed the local drug "superstore" in my rear view mirror. "Since we're so close let's go there."
Rounding the corner we approached the store and made a left hand turn into its driveway. No cones, but as we came closer to the sliding doors we saw that the store lights were out and on the front door a sign hand printed on brightly colored wide card stock: CLOSED.
"Wow," I sighed. "The 24 hour drugstore is closed and it's only 5pm. Let's try the supermarket."
As we drove the three blocks from the drugstore to the supermarket I noticed that my heart had begun to race a little. What if the grocery store was closed too? Did we have enough supplies at home to make it through until morning? Or longer? It has been so hot this week. Did we have enough water?
My heart sank as we arrived at the enormous supermarket and saw that the driveways on all sides had been blocked off with cones. In front of the store, scores of market workers were busily unloading a very large grocery truck, handing boxes of food from one person to the next in a sort of assembly line.
"What is it, mommy?"
"Everything is closed. I don't know if we're going to be able to get the water and batteries after all."
In fact, the only place I saw open in the entire neighborhood as we drove toward our home was a local brewery full to the gills with people drinking beer and talking excitedly.
Then, just as I had lost hope of finding any open market I noticed a tiny corner liquor store with doors open and people streaming through its doors tucked between a larger store and a parking lot.
We parked four blocks away, the closest open space we could find on any street. At this point I knew we were racing with the daylight to get back home safely before dark, given that driving without street lights or traffic lights is not a great idea. Hustling my tired, cranky children toward the corner store I remembered that we didn't have much cash… about $12 total in my wallet.
"What if we need it to go somewhere?" I wondered, and then realized that we wouldn't be getting very far on $12 but the water it could buy might give us a full day of health in the heat. "Water it is!" I decided, and we entered the store.
Small and very dark with aisles set closely together, the store reminded me of a small, dimly lit sanctuary I might have ventured into in Europe while scavenging for adventure.
The owner, a tall Mediterranean looking man with a thick dark mustache and kind eyes, was busy lighting taper candles at the end of all of his shelves, illuminating rows of vodka and wine with an almost holy glow. Rather than worrying about the risk of fire, or wringing his hands over the loss of electricity, he seemed quite at ease in the situation as though he had experienced blackouts many times before.
He and his clerk used a hand-held calculator to tabulate purchases and charged customers exactly the prices marked on the items, often offering to forget the tax or round down the dollar amount if customers (like me) didn't have the coins to give exact change. "I'm sorry, we've already sold out of ice," he told all customers - "but if you come back later we are going to try to get some. Our supplier has a large warehouse full of ice that is all melting right now and he needs to get rid of it, so he is willing to bring many load of ice here to us and we will have them for you later tonight."
By some act of a merciful power my exhausted children managed not to spin out or knock over any of the thousands of glass bottles within fingertip range... and we exited the store ten minutes later with $11.19 worth of water, batteries and candles.
The sun was setting. Time to go home.
* * * * *
We drove back carefully, taking a coastal route well away from the main drag. Once we'd safely returned to the house, our next few hours were filled with chaos and hilarity as I tried to cook dinner on our gas stove in near-darkness while my husband and sons set up a tent in the back yard for their first "camping" experience and our children downed that entire half-gallon of vanilla ice cream because,
"You always say we shouldn't waste food, Mommy. If we let the ice cream melt, that would be wasting!"
(Hard to argue with their logic on such a sultry evening... ice cream sounded pretty nice.)
I also had the joy of changing my daughter's nasty diaper in the darkness illuminated by a flashlight and unsure if I could use the tap water to rinse my hands. That was just delightful. I'm sure a lot of moms and dads shared this same experience.
Every once in a while we cranked up the hand radio to hear announcements from the AM news about the process of restoring power. My husband sat with our sons under the bright moonlight, listening to the voices of our mayor, local officials and the school superintendent announcing that school had been canceled for tomorrow.
Our boys cheered loudly upon hearing this... especially when their dad announced that he'd be staying home from work and perhaps it would be a beach day.
At last, bedtime arrived.
Highlights of their conversion in the tent, as overheard from the house:
"Daddy, why is there so much light in the sky?"
"That's the moon, son."
"But why is it so much brighter than usual?
"Daddy, what if bugs get in the tent?"
"That's why we zip up the flaps of the tent, son, so they won't."
"But what if they do?"
"I suppose they would eat us, son."
"Daddy, he's hitting me!"
"Well HE was kicking me FIRST!"
"You both need to go to sleep RIGHT NOW."
"I need to poop. How do I poop outside?"
* * * * *
My husband and sons are now sleeping peacefully in their tent in the back yard, undisturbed by the quite loud chirping of crickets in the moonlight. Our daughter has been crashed out for hours and I myself am about to turn in for the night; unable to watch television, take a shower, use the tap water to wash dishes, or even see to read a book.
I can't help but think how lucky and blessed our family was today. Right now there may be people trapped in elevators in buildings downtown. Even folks possibly trapped in elevators in parking garages, the thought of which makes my stomach turn. Talk about a claustrophobic's worst nightmare!
All in all though, I think we're really lucky that the situation didn't turn out to be worse. From everything officials have announced on the AM radio, this power outage was caused by simple human error at a single facility, no terrorism whatsoever.
The power is down, which is annoying - and now we are told we must boil our drinking and cooking water for the foreseeable future - but clearly it could have been a real disaster. Instead, we're making the most of what we've got and even having some fun.
Throughout the night I've heard much gentle laughter floating on the breeze from the homes of neighbors and there seems to be a general spirit of ease and appreciation. It's not all bad to enjoy a mellow evening and spontaneous candlelit conversation. Heck, if we didn't have three kids and a campout, this could've even been romantic!
As I fall to sleep then in our warm, silent house with my daughter slumbering only steps away, I feel so grateful for all of the good fortune we've had today. I am also praying for those good people who may not have been as lucky.
May they have the strength to make it through this nightmare, this darkest night. May they survive with health and sanity, any dark hours spent trapped or stranded… and even manage to find humor in the experience.
Lastly, tonight I'm thinking of the brave and dedicated power company workers as they struggle with compassion and commitment through large challenges to bring all of us back into the light. May you be protected. May you stay safe!
I hope we'll all be laughing about this over a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) tomorrow.