On a Learning Curve

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


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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.