On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.

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Another One of Those Back to School Posts

Today I might lose my mind.

It’s the first day of school for G, but we didn’t get any pictures. That’s because someone “forgot” to set her alarm and decided that applying makeup was more important than eating breakfast, getting dressed, or being nice to her parents. Today was also the first day of carpooling to a new campus. At least we were on time to meet our ride.

After dropping off G, I headed to the local YMCA. I have permission to start pool running again. Just three times a week for 30 minutes at a steady state. It’s been 5 weeks since I had surgery to remove my torn ACL, and I’m excited to move past the tedium of front leg lifts, side leg lifts, and back leg lifts. So of course the pool was closed for electrical problems today.

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It wasn’t a pretty ACL. And now it’s gone. ACL #3 should arrive in November.

Back at home, H accidentally spilled half a box of Rice Krispies. Right after I finished cleaning the floor. And our vacuum is out of service until a new shipment of bags arrives tomorrow.

So I started school with S and H. All was going fine until science. We have been using a fabulous, hands-on curriculum for the past two years. There’s an experiment for every single lesson, and we’ve been learning scientific principles according to their chronological context. The downside to all this great hands-on learning? It’s the perfect opportunity for H to start a fight with S. Today H decided that S was not holding two yardsticks at arms’ length properly; therefore, she wouldn’t participate and needed to storm out of the lesson.

Today the girls were supposed to continue learning about Copernicus and the scientific community’s shift to a heliocentric view of the universe. Instead I learned that an 11 year old can tick off her little sister by holding two yardsticks off to the right instead of holding them off to the left like the illustration in the book shows. Does any of this make sense to you either?!

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Ignore the missing punctuation. This is my back-to-school gift from my father-in-law.

It’s our lunch break now. S and H have mended hurt feelings and are fixing themselves of nutritious organic mac and cheese from a blue box. I’m going back to the Y. If I can’t pretend I’m running in the water, I’m going to sit on a bike and ride to nowhere for 30 minutes instead.

Maybe we’ll take back-to-school pictures this week. Or maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll make it through a school day without tears or tantrums. And if comes down to a choice between pictures or good behavior, I’ll choose the latter every time.

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Summer Plans

Tomorrow is July 1. That means that we have officially used up four weeks of our summer vacation. And so far, this summer has not gone according to plan.

It started with my right knee. I felt a little slower than normal on a couple of runs, and I had to stop twice to rest on a long run with friends one Saturday in May. I took three days off, tried again, took a full week off, and finally called for an appointment at the runner’s clinic. I was hoping I had strained my hamstring where it connects to the knee. After all, the pain was at the back of the knee, and that was a new source of knee pain for me. Instead, an x-ray and MRI confirmed that my hamstring was just fine.

I go all out when I injure something, and I even had a CT scan to add to confirm the exceptional state of my knee. I have a complex tear to my medial meniscus and an ACL that is so lax it makes the ligament more of a decorative accessory than a functional part of my knee. Additionally my right femur has a tunnel that is 14 mm in diameter because of the titanium screws holding my useless ACL in place.


ACL = anterior cruciate ligament

I’m going to need two rounds of surgery this year. Neither of those was on my radar this spring. No, I had plans to take the girls to Washington state to visit their grandparents, beat last year’s time at a local women’s 4-miler in September, and nail a PR at the Richmond Half Marathon in November.

The good news is that my meniscus is going to look and feel a whole lot better in a couple of months. Also I’m getting a bone graft to fill in that huge tunnel. Once my femur is less hole-y, I’ll be having a third ACL reconstruction. The bad news? I’ve already had three knee surgeries and two rounds of extensive physical therapy. Oh, and I don’t really have time want to do all this.


See my shiny new AC unit? It’s the one on the left!

While I’m waiting for my next appointment, Ryan has been busy flying, flying, and flying some more. He’s been pulling double duty for the reserves as well as his regular gig so that we can make the second payment on G’s tuition in August and put some money back into savings. We had a nice chunk of money in savings; in fact, we were planning to look for a new car to replace our 11-year-old kidmobile that prefers not to drive in snow or ice. Now we have a new air conditioning system upstairs. To be fair, Ryan did ask me if I was okay with not replacing the upstairs unit until next summer, but I selfishly insisted that the girls and I couldn’t continue to camp out in the living room and that we might want some heat in the winter.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
             but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
                                                                             ∼Proverbs 19:21

Sigh. That’s life, isn’t  it? We make our plans, and then the air conditioning breaks, or my knee falls apart. If I were more optimistic, I’d say that’s what makes every day so exciting: you just never know what’s really going to happen. Some days are disappointing and some seasons are hard, and sometimes life is just full of inconveniences.

Did I mention that I had two biopsies last week at my regular dermatology check-up? The spot next to my nose turned out to be  a funny looking mole, and I don’t really mind that it’s gone, thank you. That other spot on my left thigh turned out to be skin cancer–a squamous cell carcinoma that won’t require additional cutting, just six weeks of topical ointment and more frequent dermatology visits.

Life goes on though. Wednesday night swim meets still last a billion hours, G still has all sorts of testing and tutoring to get to the bottom of her math woes, H still refuses to read novels on any kind, and S is still in love with rodents. Better yet, we still have the love, support, and childcare services of our local family. But best of all, none of my summer’s woes are a surprise to the God who formed my knees many years ago. His strength has always been sufficient to me in times of weakness, and this summer is no different.


S and Suki enjoying a lunch of mac and cheese last week.

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Two Heartfelt Words

When we lived in North Carolina, we were blessed to be a part of an amazing church. The building itself wasn’t anything special, but the people were. They rallied around us during the biggest crises of our lives and were literally the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re talking meals, childcare, gifts of time and friendship, and even lawn care.

We first started attending Faith Evangelical Bible Church in Newport because a friend had gotten married there and insisted there was a wonderful pastor who had recently been hired. And she was correct. Pastor Norm, his wife Laura, and their young family arrived in the fall of 1999 and were a great fit. Norm is an engaging pastor who has the gift of teaching, and he knows how to preach the Word of God. Laura ministers to the women, and I always looked forward to Tuesday morning Bible studies with her.

Norm is the minister who presided over the two memorial services that we held for our children. He has a tender place in my heart for other reasons, too. He came to the hospital while I was laboring with Lucy just to pray with us and keep us company. A month later when Ryan was in and out of various hospitals, we never had to ask him to visit. He simply showed up.

I know that Laura was a big part of his ministry to us. After all, someone had to keep an eye on their children! Being a pastor’s wife means that other people’s emergencies sometimes take precedence over your own plans. Thank you, Laura, for giving up time with your husband for our benefit.

After we left North Carolina for Texas, and then Maryland for Virginia, we continued to exchange Christmas cards with Norm and Laura. We’ve watched their family grow up and expand on Facebook, too. When I first started blogging, Laura sent me a real, hand-written letter that was so sweet that I saved it–until the great clean-out before last year’s move.

But last Saturday Laura blew me away with her thoughtfulness. There was a box marked Sonlight on the front porch. We don’t use Sonlight’s curriculum and I hadn’t ordered any books recently, so I was intrigued. Inside many layers of bubble wrap I found this hand-painted plate:

Read the bottom rim!

Read the bottom rim!

There was another hand-written note inside the box, too. Like the first one, it contained tender words of encouragement to persevere through our current woes. Apparently we aren’t the only parents who struggle and grow weary.

Today I mailed my thank-you note to Laura, but it didn’t seem quite adequate to me. I know that Laura didn’t reach out to me so that others would notice, and perhaps she won’t like any of this attention. But her painted words are true for others, too. Dear friends who have also let go of your children before you were ready, your babies are also alive in Christ, and you will see them again, too.

And Laura, thank you.


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How to spend your pre-birthday weekend if you’re over 40

Yesterday was another busy Saturday. I got up before 6 and met a few others for 7-mile run. I came home, harvested another five gallons of dandelions from the front yard, and then rounded up the girls. I dropped G at swim practice and then delivered S and H to a friend’s home. (Younger readers, this is why your parents tell you to enjoy your childhood and not to be in such a hurry to grow up.)

About a month ago, Amy, a spectacularly kind friend who’s taken a liking to my girls, had a conversation with the girls about birthdays. She wiggled my birth date out of them, and the three of them hatched a plan to bake me a birthday cake. Yesterday was baking day even though my birthday is still half a week away.

They spent two hours making a carrot cake from scratch. S grated the carrots and ground the walnuts; H supervised the rest. Together they added cream cheese icing and decorated the top with the age they think I’m turning and little rodent faces. While I’m happy to remain 41, the rodent faces were an interesting choice.

I spent my two hours of freedom at Trader Joe’s because that’s the kind of exciting thing you do when you have two hours to yourself and you’re about to turn 42. Then we proceeded with the rest of our day: swim pick-up, two soccer games, dinner with my dad, and a couple of hours with Harry, the world’s most adorable schnauzer-lab puppy. We capped our meal with slices of Amy’s delicious birthday cake.


Harry and G


This morning the girls let me sleep until 8 AM this morning, and as soon as I walked downstairs, I discovered why: They were eating the remnants of my birthday cake.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” G told me, “we left you some,” and I glanced at the quarter cake still on the platter. All of the icing on the cake plate and dome had been carefully removed by small fingers, as had even more of the icing–and the remaining rodent face–on the remaining cake.

“Why would you do that?” I stupidly heard myself ask.

That’s when they offered to bring me a piece with a glass of milk–even if, they assured me, the cake hadn’t really been their favorite flavor. It was still good enough to eat, mind you, but they don’t really like carrot cake with cream cheese icing all that much.

“Coffee,” I replied. “Could you at least make the coffee?” And I walked out of the kitchen.

“Mom!” yelled G. “Do you want regular or decaf?”

“Not decaf!” was my response. I didn’t eat my cake either. I’m saving it for later–it will taste perfect with a glass of red wine after the girls are in bed tonight. Then I can think about how much I love my children, how thankful I am for a friend who gave me the gift of two hours to myself, and that my parents who bought a puppy so that we don’t have to.



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Overwhelmed. That seems to be the word that best describes me lately.

Ryan is extra busy with work, which is a good thing. The girls are busy with soccer, swimming, and schoolwork, which is what it is. And I’m busy chauffeuring, sorting laundry, cleaning miscellaneous stains out of G’s carpet, folding laundry, emailing G’s teachers, coaching soccer, teaching S and H, buying a ridiculous amount of fruit, and wondering why there is still so much dirty laundry in the house. For fun I’ve been driving my leaking car back and forth to the mechanic, and for sanity I manage to squeeze out four or five runs a week. I need those endorphins to steel myself against the tedium of too much laundry and too few adults in the household.

There are more reasons why I feel like my feet are being sucked into quicksand. Against my better judgment I did not advocate enough for G last August when her teachers assured me that the small size of the school didn’t necessitate a written learning plan. Now my girl is sinking into her own quagmire. A few of her younger teachers—well-versed in their subject areas but still inexperienced in the parenting department—have forgotten that ADHD is always ready to rear its ugly, impulsive, distractable head. You see, dying your hair with ballpoint ink isn’t necessarily an act of civil disobedience, especially when the hair is attached to the head of somebody with ADHD.

So I spent last week on the verge of tears. It was one of those weeks where I wondered just how much more I could take. I may have told the girls that their antics were “too much,” and I may have said it more than once.

I received many kind words from dear friends after my last blog post. Thankfully, not a single person decided to misquote Scripture or fling an errant Bible verse at me. It’s an awful thing to have someone tell you that God will not give you more than you can handle and insist that it says so in the Bible. No, last week was definitely more than I could handle, and I’ve learned from experience that God does give some of us more than we can handle. I don’t know why, except that I suspect it’s to drive home the concept that we are not in control of the universe and that we need to depend on Him.

On Sunday several members of our church went out of their way to minister to me. They offered hugs and prayers, and they crafted a detailed plan to shuttle the girls and me around while we were car-less. One of them even reminded me that the apostle Paul wrestled with some sort of thorn in his flesh and pleaded with God to remove it.  Instead God insisted to Paul that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s hard to argue with Paul if you think of all he accomplished for the kingdom of God while carrying around that proverbial thorn.

On Monday morning I was working my way through a slew of phone calls. Phone call #2 was supposed to be to the pediatrician, but I misdialed and connected with my dear friend Debby (she says it was “de-vine” intervention). I needed to catch up with her anyway, and we exchanged updates. As we closed the call, she told me that she loves me. Debby is gifted in the ability to shower others with love, and I was happy to have dialed the wrong number.

Later in the day I was still thinking about that phone call and the kind people who’ve recently opened their hearts and lives to my family. They are exactly what I need right now. They can’t take away my pain or change my circumstances, but they can be examples of God’s grace as they overwhelm me with love.  And that’s the best way to be overwhelmed.



Distraction and Grief

I forgot to call my brother yesterday. It was his 40th birthday. Sorry, Matt. I’ve been distracted.

Everything distracts me lately. The power steering in my car went out last week, and the car spent 3 days in the mechanic’s shop. It’s dripping power steering fluid again, so S and H camped out with me yesterday in the waiting room while we waited for a diagnosis.

Last week G decided to dye her hair without asking permission. She used ballpoint ink—a mixture of red and blue that resulted in indigo streaks in her blond hair. After we removed all the dye from the sink and tub, we did our best with two partial bottles of rubbing alcohol to remove the ink from her hair. We were mostly successful with her hair, and we sent her to school the next day. It turns out that “mostly successful” does not meet her school’s dress code. She was suspended for the day, and I took her for an emergency haircut.

Meeting with the headmaster, emailing her teachers, and squeezing in a salon appointment turned out to be distracting, too. I was supposed to be teaching S and H; they were supposed to have Friday afternoon off because I had accepted a substitute job. Friday simply did not go according to schedule.

A pleasant distraction that appeared last week

A pleasant distraction that appeared last week

More than just distracting, it’s turning out to be tremendously hard to raise a teenager. We grounded G last weekend, which is more of a punishment for me and Ryan than for her. Because we do not trust her judgment, she had to stay within view of one parent at all times for the entire three-day weekend. Amazingly she still managed to turn another section of her bedroom carpet pink.

And we’re growing weary. Ryan is away as much as he is home. He is working two jobs, and we’ve been depleting our savings for nearly a year. My leaking car is almost 11 years old. Unfortunately our commitment to frugality—no vacation, no summer camps, no credit card debt, no car payments—didn’t earn us any tuition aid for the next school year. That letter arrived last week, too.

All of these stresses make our recent family battle with a stomach bug look like a piece of cake.

It’s hard to persevere when life is hard. It’s harder still because this spring has been full of unpleasant anniversaries. The end of February marked 15 years since we briefly met our boys Seth and Owen, and this week brought the 10th birthday of our daughter Lucy.

Very few of our new neighbors, friends or acquaintances in Virginia know that we have six children. Telling someone that you’ve buried three of your babies makes for awkward conversation. Every time we move, we weigh whether or when it’s relevant to share. But our babies will always be relevant to us.

Last week I simply wanted to grieve for Lucy. She’s not grieving for me because she’s having a grand old time with her brothers and great-grandparents, but I still miss her. Every. Single. Day. I miss her despite the fact that I have three living daughters. Or perhaps that’s why I miss her. She never had the chance to test my patience, make me question my sanity, or infuriate me.

And ten years later, the list of people who remember her story grows smaller. I understand why, but that doesn’t diminish the value of my daughter–or sons.

All of this is to admit that my brother took the brunt of my distraction and self-absorption. His birthday falls one day after Lucy’s, which happened to be the same day that we packed up our books and conducted school in a dated, wood-paneled waiting room. Of course the mechanic couldn’t find the source of the leak. He added dye–not ballpoint ink or food coloring–to the system, told me not to top off any fluids, and asked me to call back when the car leaks again.

You see, the car is going to leak again. All the signs are there. I wish I could make a pithy connection between my leaking car and my battered heart, but I can’t. In time we’ll replace my well-traveled Ford Freestyle with some leather-seated model, but my heart is another matter. It cannot be replaced, and I’m not ready to let go of any of the experiences or memories that have shaped it.


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Thoughts on Turning 11

S is celebrating a birthday today. She is now 11, which means that I was only partially successful in selecting her gifts. It’s a good thing that I love her so much.

As I looked through her baby pictures this morning, my cheeks started to ache. I mean, just how cute can a baby be?! I’m not allowed to say these words in front of S, so I feel the need to write them. I’m even attaching pictures so that you can agree with me.

Sarah crawling


And here’s another one. In the spirit of the political campaign season, here’s a little campaign memorabilia that a certain sister-in-law sent us.

Political Sarah

After she opened presents and drank her birthday smoothie, I made two phone calls. First I phoned Animas to verify that they had shipped the order for insulin pump supplies that I placed two weeks ago. Surprisingly, the answer was no. Despite the lengthy conversation we had yesterday, it turns out that someone had faxed the wrong number. Again. Despite the fact that I corrected the number yesterday.

Next I called Louise at the endocrinology clinic. I love Louise even though I’ve never met her in person. She’s the nurse practitioner who talks me down whenever I’ve reached my frustration point with Tricare’s constantly evolving procedures for procuring diabetes supplies. Louise is on a mission today to get insulin pump supplies for S. How can I not love the woman who understands how panicky and completely out of control it feels to be in the hands of changing insurance regulations and misdialed fax numbers?!

Rody: a successful birthday gift

You see, Louise doesn’t realize that she is giving S the greatest birthday present today. This isn’t about new clothes or a bracelet or a bathrobe to replace the tattered one that the gerbils chewed to bits. This is about S’s life. She needs insulin to live. Period. And she is completely dependent on the plastic cartridges and tubing that hold and deliver three days’ worth of this liquid gold.

This isn’t a rant against insurance regulations. This post is a mother’s acknowledgement that life is precious. And fragile. And so very complicated. Happy birthday, S. You’re worth every sleepless night, every anxious thought, and every beautiful moment you’ve brought me.

Sarah first family photo

11 years ago today: S’s first family photo