On a Learning Curve

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


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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.

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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

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.

 


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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

See?

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


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17 Years

It’s that time of year again: Saturday was our 17th wedding anniversary. As is our custom, Ryan and I celebrated in different states. This year he sat on reserve in New York, and I stayed home in Virginia. That’s just how life works when you decide to marry a pilot.

But he’s a smart pilot, a faithful husband, and a good listener. He sent me these gorgeous flowers, which is proof that he remembers the part of the conversation we had where I told him that no woman is serious when she says she doesn’t want anything for her anniversary (or birthday). Isn’t he sweet?

20150912_172716In return, I thought it was time to write something in response. Here is my tribute to 17 years of marriage.

1: A clueless couple who said, “I do,” way back in 1998.

We're flinching because my brother (top left behind Ryan) was lobbing bags of birdseed at us.

We’re flinching because my brother (top left behind Ryan) was lobbing bags of birdseed at us.

2: Hurricanes that we actually evacuated. Brett in ’99 and Ike in ’08.
3: Apartments that we’ve rented. We lived across the street from a runway in Pensacola, within walking distance to the Gulf of Mexico in Corpus Christi, and in converted WW II officer barracks on MCAS Cherry Point. There’s nothing like being able to read by the light of the tennis courts from the inside of your apartment. Or waking up to early morning PT in your side yard.
4: Times Ryan deployed. Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Bahrain.
5: The number of states we’ve called home: Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia. Coincidentally, it’s also the total number of bones our family has broken in the past 17 years. (2 collar bones, an elbow, one rib, and something in Ryan’s foot.)
6: Our children: Seth, Owen, Grace, Sarah, Lucy, and Hannah.
7: Years we lived in North Carolina. That’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in one stretch.
8: Different addresses we’ve written in the upper left-hand corners of envelopes. I can’t begin to remember our different phone numbers.
9: Not including invertebrates, this is the number of pets we’ve cared for. Greta, Clara, Popcorn, Brownie, Oreo, Pepper, Beanie, Mocha, and Latte. Do you sense a theme?
10: The current age of our car and truck. Much to the embarrassment of our 12-year-old, we don’t drive cool, late-model vehicles. At least I don’t.
11: Trips we’ve collectively taken to various emergency rooms; however, Ryan remains the only one to have gotten a helicopter ride.
12: It’s a tie between the number of years Ryan served on active duty and the number of years I’ve been teaching since we married. Neither one of us wants to trade jobs.
13: Will be the number of candles on the next birthday cake. It’s official: G will become a teenager in 4 weeks.
14: States that Ryan and I have actually visited together. At the same time.
15: Hours it took us to drive from Norfolk to Pensacola on our honeymoon. We stopped in Anderson, SC, and learned that you couldn’t buy beer on a Sunday. Fortunately the bed and breakfast where we stayed had an enormous 8-person hot tub in the middle of our room. I just can’t make up stuff like this.
16: Times we’ve packed and unpacked cardboard boxes. It’s like a bad habit that we can’t quit.
17: H’s blood sugar at birth. She arrived 4 weeks early, and this was a full year before Sarah’s diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes.

That’s 17 years in a nutshell. By the grace of God, we’ve made it this far, and I’m sure the next 17 promise to be equally full of adventure.

Happy anniversary to us, Ryan!


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Lessons Learned from Mothering

Compassion created this amazing blog post earlier this week in honor of the hard work that mothers around the world do every day. Take a minute and hop over there to see some gorgeous pictures of real moms in action.

Speaking of moms, I learned most of what I know about mothering from my own mom, Jane. She’s amazing, and yes, she lets me call her Jane. That’s another story for another day, but I find that I need my mom at the tender age of 41 almost as much as I needed her while I was still her legal dependent. Here are 7 truths that I’ve learned about mothering from my own mom and from my own experiences.

1. Mothering is tough work. It’s exhausting physically, spiritually, and emotionally–especially in the very earliest days. As soon as my babies were born, they physically demanded my attention for milk, dry pants, and comfort. They didn’t remotely care whether I got enough sleep or whether I had recently showered; they just needed me. My children’s demands are payback for the countless hours that my own mother has devoted to me. Long after I left home, she accompanied me to three knee surgeries, welcomed home her three granddaughters, ran my household for weeks while I was on bedrest, comforted me after the loss of her grandchildren, and even shared her home for two months while we were transitioning from Texas to Maryland.

Chubby-cheeked little S with Grammy.

Chubby-cheeked Baby S with Grammy, Christmas 2004

As the girls have grown older, they continue to exhaust me. I monitor S’s blood sugar all day and all night long; I think about carbohydrates constantly. I keep tabs on G’s school progress and check in with her teachers weekly. I drive them to soccer and swim practice, coach their teams, and shuttle them to music and art lessons. And let’s not forget about the time devoted to feeding them and shopping for food. Oh my goodness. Will they ever be self-sufficient?!

2. Mothering is heart-breaking and terrifying. I have been blessed to give birth to six children. Seth, Owen, and Lucy have already joined their Creator, but they live on in my memories. Their little lives forever changed my heart, but I am free of the fear and pain that once haunted me. Experiencing the greatest tragedy of motherhood has enabled me to see past other hardships and accept S’s diabetes and G’s attention problems with grace instead or anger. I am thankful for each of my children. Whatever challenges they face, I appreciate that I am walking alongside them.

Full arms and fuller heart.

Full arms and fuller heart, Summer 2007

3. Mothering is character-building. Mothering teaches you patience and self-control. Wrestling your 3 year-old into socks and shoes for an hour requires both fruits of the Spirit; so does biting your tongue when your 12 year-old declares you’re ruining her life. Sitting calmly in Chick-fil-A for 30 minutes while your 2 year-old refuses to use the potty and will not let you pick her up while everyone wonders aloud whose terrible, out-of-control child is blocking the entrance to the ladies’ room fine tunes one’s sense of humility. Being a mother pushes the boundaries of how to actively demonstrate love. And demonstrating love means modeling the same behavior you want your children to develop. The last thing I said to each of my girls tonight was that I was sorry for losing my temper and setting a bad example. True story.

4. Mothering takes a village. Over the years I’ve relied on all sorts of other moms to help raise my girls. Because my sweet husband is often away from home, I’ve just accepted the fact that I need to ask for help. When we were stationed in North Carolina, Jenni, Becky, Heather, and Denise were a few of the special Marine wives and moms who pitched in whenever they were needed. In Texas, it was Marie, Mary, Jackie, and Aunt Sharon. In Maryland, it’s been Debby, Timea, Claire, Sam, Stephanie, and Tracy. I love each of these women because they’ve helped shoulder my burden.

Aunt Sharon and Baby H at G's 5th birthday party.

Aunt Sharon and Baby H at G’s 5th birthday party

5. Mothering is full of surprises. I could write a book about this lesson. Having a child with ADHD, I have an unending list of unexpected experiences. Most involve Sharpie, scissors, and pilfered art supplies. Instead I’ll let these pictures show you some of my favorites.

Easter bunny 001

G turned S into the Easter Bunny one year. At least she waited until we returned home from church.

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This is just one of the times H decided a little mascara would perk up her eyes. She gave herself a haircut the previous month.

G managed to tattoo both of her legs in Sharpie all by herself!

G as the Amazing Tattooed Lady, age 2. At least she spared the sofa.

6. Mothering is a sacrificial calling. My mother stayed home with the three of us until everyone was old enough for school, but I don’t think her life became simpler. While we went to school, she taught other children and tirelessly turned her salary into our school tuition payments. She did this while continuing her own education and often while my father was deployed. She is the original Super Mom.

When I had just two at home and thought I had life generally under control, I decided to start a Master’s in Library Science. Just three classes into my program, I was overwhelmed by life with a preschooler, toddler, and another pregnancy. At that point I let go of whatever my career was going to be. Eight years later my teaching licenses are both out of date, I don’t have an MLS, and I still don’t earn a paycheck. But my girls’ needs are more important, and God always provides. I never intended to homeschool my children or teach PE and art to other people’s children, but that’s where I find myself these days.

7. Mothering is a gift from God. All three of my girls are daily reminders that life is precious and that none of our days is guaranteed. While I wouldn’t mind earning a paycheck or using some neglected skills, I know that all of my previous experiences have prepared me to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing. No, it’s not a glamorous job, but it’s an important one for which I am equipped. 

S made me two Mother’s Day cards today. Both feature gerbils, and I thought I’d share the one she created in Sunday school. Her teacher wanted everyone to write out part of the verse from Proverbs 31:28. Instead, she took some liberties and handed me this. I’m not wild about her gerbils, but I do feel blessed.

S's homage to Proverbs 31:28.

S’s homage to Proverbs 31:28.

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