On a Learning Curve

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


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Today’s Lesson

Today I buried a gerbil.

That definitely wasn’t on my to-do list this morning. Carpool drop off, school work, physical therapy, and a load of laundry were what I had meant to accomplish this morning. After carpool drop off, the schedule derailed.

S: “Mom, I think Latte is dead.”

And he was.

Me: “I’m sorry. Do you want to put him in a box or just straight into the ground?”

S: “A box please. I’ll pick him up if you find a box.”

If you know our family or have read some of my blog posts, you already know that my girls have an affinity for rodents; you also know that we’ve already buried five hamsters. Latte, however, is the first gerbil to expire in our house. Strangely enough, he lasted exactly as long as a typical hamster lives: two years.

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S and Pepper the hamster

So we buried Latte–his full name was actually Chai Latte–under a rose bush this morning. Thanks to our quirky Virginia winter weather, the ground wasn’t frozen, and it didn’t take me long to dig a hole large enough for the Dexcom G4 CGM box that served as his casket.

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Once school was under way, S’s performance was decidedly less than stellar. That’s when I said something stupid: “Well, at least he wasn’t your favorite.” While my words were true, my daughter’s heart was wounded, and I quickly tried to backtrack and apologize.

We eventually finished our school day. H and I played a rousing (?) game of Win the Peloponnesian War, and S dutifully filled out 3×5 cards on the life of Marie Antoinette. But S is quieter than usual, and Mocha–the lone gerbil–has gotten more attention in the last eight hours than he has in many months.

I love that my girls have tender hearts towards their animals, even if I’m not wild about their choice of pets. I think it’s a valuable thing for them to learn to be responsible for the well being of tiny living creatures. But I hate the part when their beloved companions die.

We certainly don’t shield our children from death. All three of the girls know the life stories of their brothers Seth and Owen and sister Lucy, and we certainly don’t equate animal lives with human ones. However, there’s a part of me that mourns when they mourn. It’s not that I don’t want them to experience grief. It’s just that I’m not sure that I’m ready for them to grow up yet.

 


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A Tiny Little Tooth

Sometimes it’s the little things that cause the biggest problems. Take, for example, H’s baby tooth. It’s technically a lateral incisor (see chart below), and it’s been loose for more than two years–no kidding. Unfortunately, H decided she needed to keep it and the permanent version. When our dentist gave her 10 days to wiggle it out or come back for an extraction, H chose to call her bluff.

That was last Wednesday. That was the day that I spent 10 minutes listening to H asking a million questions in an attempt to stall Dr. Todd. “Will it hurt? Are you going to use your fingers? Can I see what you’re going to use? If I let you touch, do you promise not to wiggle it? If I let you wiggle it, do you promise not to pull it?” You get the idea.

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Then I spent 10 more minutes trying to find a comfortable way to lie down next to H. That didn’t work. Both of us are officially too big to fit in one chair together. Finally I sat near her feet and waited for her to exhaust her supply of stalling tactics. I held her hands, and Dr. Todd assured her that the tooth was so dead that it would simply pop out.

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The infamous tiny tooth

Of course that’s not how it actually happened, but eventually her tiny little tooth was dislodged from its too comfortable home.

The whole visit was ridiculous. After H had her extraction, S needed one of her front teeth fixed again. That repair work prompted a stern lecture about gingivitis, flossing, and diabetes. When our well-meaning dentist asked me if I had thought about withholding privileges until the flossing improved, I bluntly stated that I was not interested in withholding any more privileges, Kindles, cell phones, or makeup than I already do.

Only G escaped with a glowing report. Which makes complete sense since she is my child who routinely loses her toothbrush and simply doesn’t brush her teeth, much less floss, until I notice and magically produce a new brush.

Last Wednesday I remembered why I had stopped taking all three girls to the dentist at the same time. And all of this is why Thursday caught me completely off-guard.

“Hey, Mom, want to see the tooth that I just lost?” H asked me as we were reading something for school the next day.

“You have another loose tooth?!” I replied.

“Yeah, I told the hygienist last month, but it just fell out.”

And I just stared stupidly at her. After 14 years of parenting, I still haven’t quite gotten the knack of this job.

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A fancy green tooth holder for all of H’s old teeth


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Hobbling but Grateful

Let’s say you’re a mom and you’ve just had knee surgery–your second surgery in four months. Let’s also say you have a thoughtful friend who sends you a bouquet from Edible Arrangements. What do you think your children will do?

If you guessed that they will immediately fight over who gets to eat the chocolate-covered fruit and suck the helium out of the balloons, then you must also be a parent.

There are definitely more serious problems to have than my example. And Schuyler, thank you from the bottom of my heart. The chocolate-covered salted caramel slices are definitely aiding my recovery.

Instead I would like to acknowledge that I am forever indebted to three families who graciously made tissue donations in their times of grief. To each of them I would like to offer my profound gratitude.

In July of this year, I received two donor bone grafts to close up significant holes in my right femur and tibia. When I had my ACL repaired at the age of 18, my surgeon used titanium screws that loosened over time and created tunnels that couldn’t hold a new graft.

Yesterday my surgeon used two pieces of my own hamstrings plus an additional piece of donor tissue to construct a new ACL for my right knee. Apparently I have dainty hamstrings that aren’t large enough to create a graft on their own.

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I wasn’t awake to hear the explanation of why there’s purple thread in my knee, but you can see the dissolving screw on the left side of my ACL graft.

As my knee heals and strengthens over the next year, this graft will allow me to return to running, coaching soccer, and being an active participant in my children’s shenanigans. I know this may sound trivial to those of you who think running is bad for one’s knees or who don’t wonder why I just don’t give up running.

If, however, you understand that regular physical exercise is an important component of emotional health, then you probably understand why I’m not ready to retire at the age of 42. If you’ve also ever experienced the frustration and helplessness that comes from anxiety and/or depression, then you know that exercise is a tool to combat these afflictions.

While I wish that I weren’t intimately acquainted with anxiety, I refuse to let it rule my life. Running is just one of the ways that I find calm and balance. Returning to running shape, therefore, is important to me, and I am thankful that there are kind-hearted people who are willing to help me reach my goal.

And for a lack of anything more profound to write, I hope that I am honoring the lives of these three individuals by being a good steward of their gracious gifts to me.


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Distracted

I am a distracted writer. I don’t know how to separate life and its disruptions from my writing–or anything else really.

For example, last week S turned 12. I wrote half of a solid blog piece, and that’s where it ended. It bothers me to have half-finished things, so I deleted the entire post. Here’s the picture that I would have posted if I had finished writing.

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S and her beloved rat Nori. I have no explanation for her love of rodents.

We also had a few rough days of parenting in between the birthday festivities. I was torn between typing up my frustrations and violating the privacy of G, who doesn’t read my blog anyway. In the end, I scrapped that piece, too.

Needless to say, I don’t seem to have the hang of this parenting job just yet. We’re 14ish years into this vocation, and I still manage to be surprised by how ridiculously hard it is. One thing I am learning is not to judge other parents by the behaviors of their children. If Ryan and I are trying this hard, other parents also must be pulling their hair out, crying their eyes out, and wondering what’s gotten into their children’s minds, too. Right?

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Watching and waiting…

For a pleasant bit of distraction, I took H and her friend MC to our local Christmas parade on Sunday. We live in a small town, and anyone was welcome to walk in the parade. (The latter fact helps explain why a propane delivery truck was also one of the entries.) I love our newly adopted home town, and I was loving the fact that we could watch an entire parade in just 20 minutes.

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It’s not a Christmas parade without Santa and his draft horses.

Unfortunately, it takes me longer than 20 minutes to write. I wrote most of this piece yesterday while S and H were taking their weekly classes at our homeschool co-op. I did so in between emailing G’s teachers for make-up work because her body decided to succumb to strep; checking in with Ryan; and finding three co-op parents to keep an eye on H and S next week while I am recuperating from knee surgery.

If everything is for a season, then I suppose this is simply my season to figure out how to stay focused on what’s important, weed out what isn’t, and persevere when something–or someone–needs extended time.


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Thankful

Me: “S, did you take a rat into my bathroom while you were feeding the gerbils?”
S: “Why, Mom?”
Me: “Because I think I just wiped up rat pee from my bathroom counter.”
S: Silence.

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One of the possible culprits

Of course the gerbil cage is in my bathroom. We’re dog-sitting my sister’s poodle, so the gerbils need a sanctuary while Perry visits. Since the rats already take up a sizeable amount of space in S’s room and the gerbils are too messy and too loud to bring into the other girls’ bedrooms, my bathroom is the natural choice.

This is my life. I’m surrounded by a zoo: three children, two rats, two gerbils, and a large white poodle. And I’m thankful for every last one of them–most of the time.

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Perry doesn’t mind being a pillow for S and H

Ryan is flying the friendly skies this weekend because that’s what he does on national holidays. While we’d rather have him home with us, I realize that this is the life we chose; and this is the life we’ve grown accustomed to. Ultimately, this is the life for which we are profoundly grateful.

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Ryan’s inconvenient schedule is what allows me to stay home with the girls, homeschool them, and have access to world-class healthcare. And, as I was lecturing a certain 14-year-old just yesterday, it’s the reason that we have food, clothing, and tuition money. I may have phrased it a little differently though.

 

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Our 14 year old has a new hobby: forensic science.

As I sit here reflecting on the blessings of my life, I realize that there are far too many to list in this small piece of writing. But for now, while the girls are still asleep and though Ryan is three time zones away, these are the people who ground my days. These are the people–and their beloved animals–who are my world.

 


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A Little Scare

If you heard random screams from our backyard on Sunday afternoon, the first two belonged to me. The extended hysterics belonged to H. Want to see why?

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She claims that this preying mantis purposely jumped at her. I’ll admit that I screamed in surprise. After all, there is something sinister about a 6-inch bright green carnivorous beast who sneaks up on you while you’re weeding and removing leaves from garden beds. Right?

H also claims that the PM was trying to sneak into our house. As proof, she showed me how he was at the back door. And she was right. My photo clearly shows that it had four of its legs on the threshold.

In its defense, the PM had probably heard how warm and wonderful our house is–from the ants, lady bugs, and silverfish who happily reside inside despite our best attempts to remove them.

Sigh. Wait until H grows up and gets to drive morning carpool for teenage girls–or has to choose a presidential candidate. That’s way more scary than any preying mantis.


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Dig Out Your Shoeboxes…. It’s that time again!

Are you weary of political talk, political polls, and political speculation? Are you tired of reports of scandalous behavior and FBI investigations? Have any of your Facebook friends threatened to “un-friend” you if you vote for the wrong candidate?

I’m done with this election, and we still have another week to go.

So I’m going to suggest that you ignore the political arena for just a bit and do something that will truly impact someone’s life for good: Go fill a shoebox for a child in need.

Forget about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for just a minute. Forget about yourself, too. Instead think about someone who won’t be getting a Christmas present and forget about our American first-world problems. In short, do something to change the life of a child forever.

In countries all over the world, little children–and their parents–need to know that they are loved. A shoebox filled with gifts of clothing, school supplies, toys, and toiletries communicates that love in a concrete way. But it does more than that, too. It comes with the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the assurance that God loves them no matter where they live, what color their skin, if they have running water, or whether their government is corrupt. That’s why a shoebox is so life-changing; it can have an eternal impact on a child’s life.

H is modeling 2 of this year's shoeboxes. Isn't she cute?!

H is modeling 2 of this year’s shoeboxes. Isn’t she cute?!

Filling a shoebox is simple, and I promise that it will take your mind off our American election woes.

First, find an empty shoebox. You get bonus points if you wrap or decorate your box, but it’s okay if you leave it emblazoned with Saucony or Sperry.

Next, decide if your box will go to a boy or a girl. Choose from 3 age groups, too. If you’re indecisive, pack multiple shoeboxes.

This step is the best part: go shopping and fill your box with thoughtful gifts. Or if you don’t want to leave the house, build your box online.

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Action shot!

Don’t forget to label your gift  and to enclose $7 for shipping and handling. Find a drop-off site near you, and that’s it.

A few pointers on the gifts:

  • Start with a big item like a soccer ball, doll, or stuffed animal. Remember to deflate the ball and include a pump.
  • School and art supplies are great.
  • Accessorize with socks, mittens, a tee shirt, hair bows, or a flashlight with batteries.
  • Add non-liquid hygiene items like a bar of soap, toothbrush, or comb–the same things that your grandmother put in your Christmas stocking.
  • Hard candy is a nice gift; melted chocolate is not.
  • Fill as much of the box as possible, but don’t include war-related toys, knives, or toy guns. Duh.

The possibilities are endless. You can make something or include a kit if you’re crafty; write a letter if you have a few minutes extra; or even include a family photo. But the best thing you can do is to pray for the child who will receive your box.

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We found Mickey and friends for $5 at Target

Visit Samaritan’s Purse to find drop-off locations in your area. Don’t wait too long though. The national collection week is November 14-21.

P.S. Consider purchasing a tracking label online here. It’s an easy way to pay for shipping, and you get a label that lets you follow your shoebox’s journey. We do this in our home, and we’ve had the excitement of discovering that our shoeboxes have gone to Central America, Africa, and Asia.